Devotional Thought of the Day:
7 Be silent in the presence of the Lord GOD, for the Day of the LORD is near. Indeed, the LORD has prepared a sacrifice; He has consecrated His guests. Zeph 1:7
Unfortunately, although Christianity is not a department store that must anxiously gear its advertising to the tastes and desires of its clientele because it has merchandise to sell off that it neither wants nor needs, it is all too often compelled to act as though it were. But if this were its nature, we could confidently predict its imminent bankruptcy. Actually, however, the Christian Faith is rather (to use an admittedly one-sided and weak image) the divine medicine that should never adapt itself to the wishes of its clientele and to what pleases them, for that would be to destroy them utterly. Its role must be to require them to turn away from their imaginary need, which is in reality their sickness, and to entrust themselves to the guidance of faith.
I just spent a few days with guys who are called to be pastors. In many ways, they feel like they’ve been drawn ot the ministry, they seen the people’s needs and the call of the people for them for shepherds. I was on a team that had as its goal the task of assuring that these men were ready to take on this burden, and/or what steps would prepare them for it.
They, with one or two exceptions, are called to serve smaller churches, in most cases groups of 20 or 30 people that gather around God’s word, that receive the promises of God delivered through them, as they speak God’s word, and as they feed them the Body and Blood of Jesus. These churches would possibly close without these men or someone like them. But these men need to revitalize these churches, they need to see life breathed into them. Their churches, like mine and every other church I know of, need to have the vitality and life of the bride of Christ.
And of course, in my readings this morning, I come across two passages that deal with revitalizing our lives.
The second one is more obvious than the first. While there is a necessity to understand a church’s context and ensure the church is speaking to the people instead of at the people, all too often that takes the nature of a marketing plan. It requires compromise in the nature of the mission. Marketing cannot compromise the mission, and methodologies cannot change the message, the messenger, or change what the means of change. That is it cannot change the grace, God’s love and mercy delivered to sinners to heal them and give them life, shared in the peace with God. If you do that, you have changed the mission.
Pope Benedict is, in this Lutheran Pastor’s opinion, absolutely correct. We have the medicine, delivered through word and sacrament, that treats what really has broken people. God’s love binds them to Him, having cleaned them of sin, and of its shame and guilt. It also heals us of the anger and resentment that has broken us, as we’ve been the victims of sin.
We can’t change that. To do so would be to fail to deliver what people need the most, Jesus. Nor can we hide it, causing people to need to discover it, and then decode our language and actions we tried to protect and hide it within.
All this brings us to the first, and far more important quote. It brings us to the point of this devotion. And while it is what you and I need to do, right now, and often each day, It is what these pastors (de jure and soon de facto) need to do to revitalize their church.
Realize you are, right now, in the presence of God.
God who is drawing all things together through the blood of Jesus. For that is what the Day of the Lord is, for Christ has become our sacrifice, prepared to deliver us from the power and oppression of sin.
ANd to consecrate us, His guests, to make us holy as we have been drawn into His presence. To be set apart for this relationship with our Heavenly Father, our Almighty God. To be re-vitalized, freed of all that weighs us down. Healed of all the damage a life of sin can cause, restored to be who we were created to be.
This is who we are, in congregations and parishes that make up the Church, His Church, His beautiful bride.
And be in awe… incredibly aware of the glory and power and love of God, which makes this all possible. AMEN
Ratzinger, J. (1992). Co-Workers of the Truth: Meditations for Every Day of the Year. (I. Grassl, Ed., M. F. McCarthy & L. Krauth, Trans.) (pp. 340–341). San Francisco: Ignatius Press.
Devotional Thought fo the Day:
1 When I came to you, my friends, to preach God’s secret truth, I did not use big words and great learning. 2 For while I was with you, I made up my mind to forget everything except Jesus Christ and especially his death on the cross. 3 So when I came to you, I was weak and trembled all over with fear, 4 and my teaching and message were not delivered with skillful words of human wisdom, but with convincing proof of the power of God’s Spirit. 5 Your faith, then, does not rest on human wisdom but on God’s power.
1 Corinthians 2:1-5 (TEV)
3. Return to God: And Thou, O my God, my Saviour, Thou shalt be from henceforth the sole object of my thoughts: I will no more apply my mind to such as are displeasing to Thee. My memory shall entertain itself all the days of my life with the greatness of thy clemency, so mercifully exercised on me: Thou shalt be the delight of my heart and the sweetness of my whole being. (1)
Twenty years ago, I preached at a small church in the middle of the desert. Two years later, I would become their pastor. And on their letter head was the mission/purpose statement. “Teaching Christ-Centered Living”.
I’ve since come to the conclusion that those phrases, maybe long overlooked, are the key to the church’s misison in that community. That is why they are planted, these phrase, this is a vision God has given those who sacrificed and set down the cornerstone. At my present church, it is the oft repeated phrase, “The Lord is with You!” (and the response to me – “and also with you!” ) You want to revitalize a chruch – you want to see it come to life and share God’s love – discover the reason it was put there in the first place!
So back to Christ-centered living.
We aren’t talking about being religious by rote, or being scholars in Greek and Hebrew Exegesis. We can memorize all the red letters in our Bibles, and still fail to live life centered, focused on Jesus.
SO what does it mean to be centered on Christ in our lives? What does it mean to forget everything bu Christ and His cross?
It means to realize that clemency that deSales speaks of, it means to deligh in the presence of God in our lives, to rejoice in the incarnate, tangible God who speaks and listens. It is to depend on this, and so know a peace that comes from God being our fortress, our sanctuary, our peace.
It means the hope that comes from realizing His comfort, and sharing in His glory, for His glory is the cHesed, the agape, the love, the charity, the compassion of God that draws us to Himself.
To live in awe of that love is Christ-centric living.
And it is our role, as God’s people to use our time, gathered together as the Church, or with a friend over lunch – to teach them what they need to know about Jesus.
My friend, the Lord is with you!
See His love, see His work in your life….. and cry out, “Lord, Have MERCY” or “Hosanna (Save us) ” or “kumbayyah (Be here Lord)” or simply, “thank you!”
(1) Francis de Sales, Saint. An Introduction to the Devout Life. Dublin: M. H. Gill and Son, 1885. Print.
Discussion and Devotional Thoughts of the Day:
11 I will live among you in my sacred Tent, and I will never turn away from you. 12 I will be with you; I will be your God, and you will be my people. Leviticus 26:11-12 (TEV)
What does it mean to have a god? or, what is God? Answer: A god means that from which we are to expect all good and to which we are to take refuge in all distress, so that to have a God is nothing else than to trust and believe Him from the [whole] heart; as I have often said that the confidence and faith of the heart alone make both God and an idol. (1)
78 Heroism, sanctity, daring, require a constant spiritual preparation. You can only ever give to others what you already have. And, to give God to them, you yourself need to get to know him, to live his Life, to serve him. (2)
I have pondered why the church is anemic in America.
We have incredible theologians, great exegetes, and emphasis on apologetics. We have Church Growth studies and strategies, church planters, church restorers, more seminaries than anywhere else in the world.
Yet the church in America still is in decline. It is so bad now, that we actually have experts in church viability, and strategies to close churches. The key phrase these days is a legacy church – a church which realizes it isn’t viable, and therefore determines how to will its assets to something that will live and thrive.
We’e forgotten His promises, we’ve forgotten that this faith we have, is faith in those promises, a trust that is based in not knowing about God
A trust not founded in theological treatises, or exegeting the word skuballw correctly, or in knowing which studies to use to understand a church, or which programs might work in which context. It’s a trust that isn’t dependent on using a 14th century liturgy, (or one from a red, blue or maroon hymnal) or haing the right contemporary service order. All these things are tools, they can be used in our churches, But we never, ever dare put our trust in them. They are not what we count on, they are not whom we believe on, and they will let us down.
It is a trust that comes from knowing God, and knowing Him intimately.
It is then we can study His promises and claim those promises (not promises we or others create) as His promises to us.
But it still isn’t about the promises. They are incredible, they are awesome… but our faith isn’t in them.
It is in Him.
It is in realize that He lives with us, in us, that He has come to us, and saved us, cleansed us, is healing us, and is shepherding us, His church, that we come to know Him. Yes, intimately, and we know He knows us more intimately that we will ever know ourselves. It was that knowledge that caused Him to comes to us, to die for us, for in knowing us, He loves us, and we… amazed, in awe, begin to learn to love Him back.
That love of His for us is what makes us holy.. It is what drives missionaries and martyrs. It’s what makes grandma’s and great aunt’s pray for their prodigals on their knees, It is what makes all the heroes of the faith trust in God in their darkest hour. It is what is causing the church in the “third world” or the Global South, to grow in the face of persecution, in the face of famine, in the face of spiritual warfare.
It’s time we remembered that…. its times we shared that, in chruches, and restaurants, in our homes, our workplaces.
God is with us. God loves us… and share the extent of that love.
(1) The Large Catechism of Martin Luther.
(2) Escriva, Josemaria (2011-01-31). The Forge (Kindle Locations 493-495). Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition.
Devotional Thought of the Day:
1 In the first year that Cyrus of Persia was emperor, the LORD made what he had said through the prophet Jeremiah come true. He prompted Cyrus to issue the following command and send it out in writing to be read aloud everywhere in his empire: 2 “This is the command of Cyrus, Emperor of Persia. The LORD, the God of Heaven, has made me ruler over the whole world and has given me the responsibility of building a temple for him in Jerusalem in Judah. 3 May God be with all of you who are his people. You are to go to Jerusalem and rebuild the Temple of the LORD, the God of Israel, the God who is worshiped in Jerusalem. 4 If any of his people in exile need help to return, their neighbors are to give them this help. They are to provide them with silver and gold, supplies and pack animals, as well as offerings to present in the Temple of God in Jerusalem.” Ezra 1:1-4 (TEV)
“Land of my fathers, how I long to return, to touch the thy earth, and find again they sacred paths, well walked with the Gospel of peace, veiled now in the shadow of mediocrity. What means these stones, which beset they coastline, who in tristed in agaony cry out in praise and supplication of Him, and the renewal of the faith that bled to secure them there….Yet we would walk again Thy sacred paths, repair Thy ancient ruins, restore Thy Broken Altars, raise of the foundations of many generations….” (1)
Since I watched a small church in Van Nuys close, the building sold away, the money given to more growing and “growing” churches, some might say I have an attitude problem.
Every time I hear of a church being written off, or the attitude that we can combine parishes, that we can leave churches in “maintenance mode”, until they whither and die I get a bit…. well pissed off is what I want to say, but know I should not. Experts give up on churches that are more than 25 years old, they say they are in a death cycle, and quote statistics about churches that are 5 years old or younger being the source of most abult baptisms and growth. We buy into these studies – and dismiss the lessons of scripture – we dismiss the times where God has taken things that have long been broken, or considered dead and/or impotent, and created life that is wondrous and beautiful and so outrageous we say with jaws dropped open….. WOW!
Israel in captivity for 400 years plus – rebuilt into a powerful nation
Exra rebuilding the temple – at a unbeliever’s direction and underwriting
Ezekiel’s Valley of the Dry Bones, Jeremiah’s promises.
Hannah and Elizabeth and Sarah – wombs that were old and dried up (that’s what scripture says) Their men weren’t spring chickens either…
Though my wife and I aren’t in their age bracket – or in their physical deterioation – we are both within 366 days of being considered “senior citizens” by our community. And we just found out we are expecting. That kind of shock makes you think.
Or renders you incapable of thinking.
Gof has interesting plans in life… and life is what His plans are about. Restoring it, Rebuilidng it, Cleansing it, with all His craftsmanship rendering it into a masterpiece that makes you jaws drop – more than a 48 year, 364 day old man trying to get his mind to consider he will be a dad again.
My point is, if God can do this – why would he want to let a congregation die, or fade off? Why would he want where his name has been put, to be rendered impotent, the doors closed, the windows bordered up – the building sold and a starbucks or liqour store or antique store put in its place?
I don’t believe He does, it is not how He has worked. He has brought us, His people, to the place where we can cry out to Him, and like those who have gone before testify to us – He always answers…. Rebuilding our congregations is about trusting Him, hearing Him, knowing His love for us and our community.
So let’s cry out Lord have mercy – and knowing His heart – let us see how He will rebuild our churches, His Church, through us!
(1)from Celtic Daily Prayer – Aidan Reading 2/10
Devotional Thought of the Day:
It’s amazing how much a five year old reflects the behavior of a society, and even more amazing, the people who make up God’s church in America. ( I don’t know about other countries – yet…)
I happen to have a brilliant five year old. He reads well, he can do 2 and 3 digit addition, but he has a major issue with patience, and sometimes a complete lack of awareness of that which is going on around him. A chip off the old block in many ways (okay – he get’s the brilliance from his mom) Most repeated lesson these days, get what you need to done, without the whining. I tell you – there are times I wish he was a teenager – and had matured past the whining part. (please don’t disillusion me!)
I see in myself, and in churches and among church leaders, the same impatience. We want everything fixed right away, we want to see our people go from just baptized to having the faith of Moses and David and John right away. (we have to remember that John was once a “son of thunder” and I don’t think his transformation was immediate either.)
We whine about the fact that others don’t mature, and that we can’t “go on” or we decide to “go on” without them. If this is in the church – we devalue each other, saying that our personal growth and maturity is more important than the growth of the entire community in their faith. Tough call, very tough call here, but we see the evidence of it in the incredibly high “church shopping” movement. People don’t see their needs being met – even in the mega-churches – and they mvoe to the next one, to the next place that is hopping – and then try to drag their friends there as well.
We see it in the movement today – in those that look at the 25 year studies of churches and note that the “common” thing is for decline ( while we over look the stat in the same study that says this is easily addressed by re-committing to the vision of the church, or adapting it) and that “true” growth occurs fastest in “church plants”. IMHO – that attitude will prove to result in more danger as good – about 20 years from now – as those people see that they created a self-fulfilling prophecy. But it is also there in the movement that has little patience with those who are so excited to discover the grace of God, that they want the world to know! More whining, more complaining, more impatience.
Please hear me – I as much as anyone – want to see people grow in their trust in God, and mature in how that is expressed. And I struggle with the plodding that sometimes is evident, as people don’t see a need to grow – and our content where they are at – stagnant it seems.
But spiritual maturity is a process of endurance, not sprints – it needs to last generations, not just years and perhaps a decade. It has to show the characteristic that we see in God,
3:9 The Lord is not being slow in carrying out his promises, as some people think he is; rather is he being patient with you, wanting nobody to be lost and everybody to be brought to repentance.
2 Peter 3:9 (NJB)
I used to think the patience in this passage, was talking about those that hadn’t rbeen brought to repentance yet – but Peter is addressing the people that are believers already. Could it be that God’s patience is with His kids? The ones who whine and complain about others, the ones who are to be about planting seeds, the workers in the harvest, the church that has been gifted and given the vocation of being the light in the darkness? I think that we have to be careful and to discern the difference between tolerating stagnation, and knowing when to be patient with the slow and steady growth that must occur in the church – the patience that knows that endurance in the ministry means being able to guide people from where they are at, to a greater and greater dependence on God.
It means realizing and ministering to people in their brokenness – and making sure they grasp the wonder of God’s presence in their life, and the need of that presence in the lives of those around them. It means slowing some down to savor God’s presence and rest – while still bringing hope and healing to those around them. It means sticking to the place where God has gathered you – and encouraging each other continually to look to Christ, to reflect His glory.
It’s not easy, its not always popular, but the discipline is that which reflects God’s love to you…. as you work with people, enduring, patient – longsuffering, and as they work with you.
Know this – where you are at – there God’s presence is… learn that it is enough – and that is the maturity that really matters.