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The Church in Decline. Will we treat the problem, instead of the symptoms?


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The church, is always in the midst of a storm… but safe in Him

Discussion Thought of the Day:
26 Then Jesus said, “The kingdom of God is like someone who plants seed in the ground. 27 Night and day, whether the person is asleep or awake, the seed still grows, but the person does not know how it grows. 28 By itself the earth produces grain. First the plant grows, then the head, and then all the grain in the head. 29 When the grain is ready, the farmer cuts it, because this is the harvest time.”  Mark 4:26-29 NCV

182         What compassion you feel for them!… You would like to cry out to them that they are wasting their time… Why are they so blind, and why can’t they perceive what you—a miserable creature—have seen? Why don’t they go for the best? Pray and mortify yourself. Then you have the duty to wake them up, one by one, explaining to them—also one by one—that they, like you, can find a divine way, without leaving the place they occupy in society.

Perhaps a better way for us to grasp the meaning of theosis and deification is to use the word relationship. However, the word relationship may not be strong enough to express the Eastern grasp of participation in Jesus and through him a participation in the very communal life of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit that theosis and deification imply. In Eastern thought, the goal of the Christian is to so commune with God that he or she is made more and more in the image of Christlikeness, fulfilling God’s purposes for humanity in God’s creation.

Back in the 1950’s and 60’s, former missionaries noticed trends in the church and wondered why the church in America was static and beginning to decline, while on the mission field it began to grow.

Such studies developed into the field of church growth, which my alma mater required all ministry students to major in, as well as their field (preaching, youth ministry, worship ministry, Christian Ed)  An entire industry has been created, with experts and consultants that will come and analyze your church and provide nice neat programmed solutions that may result in growth in numbers, in budget, etc.

Another industry has grown up that counters the church growth movement.  Usually, it calls for more precision in doctrine, a more historic approach, looking back to the glory days of the church when everyone came and the pews and coffers were filled.

The battles between these groups have led to denominations being devoured in conflict, which drives more people away, burns out more pastors.

But what if the answer is found, not in treating the symptom of decline, but what causes the decline?  What if our studies and the raging wars around what to do with the data, are part of the problem.

What if the issue isn’t “church growth” but simply being aware of the presence of God in our lives?  Whether it was Roland Allen or Donald McGavran,  or C Peter Wagner or John Wimber , whether it is Paul Boland’s theories on revitalizing the church, Webber’s Ancient-Future thoughts, there is a focus on prayer, on communion with God.  The call to prayer, the call to awareness of the relationship, the theosis, the intimate contact between a God who comes to us.  It’s there, in all of their works, the essential component, yet so forgotten in most implementations.  Overlooked because there is no way to measure the results, no way to quantify in a timely matter the success of such things.  Overlooked because it cannot be measured against a creedal or confessional statement.  Maybe it is overlooked because we ourselves aren’t actively living a life walking with God?

Let’s admit that Jesus is right – we don’t know how the kingdom of God grows, so why are we focusing our energy on that?  What would happen instead if we spent the time and effort walking with God, exploring the height and depth, the breadth and width of His love?  What effect would that have on our worship?  Our preaching?  Our teaching?  Our lives lived, with the Holy Spirit, in our communities?

What effect does the glory of God have on us, who should have experienced it? We see it in the eyes of those given the first Bible in their language, the crowds that rejoice in mass baptisms, the barely trained evangelists and pastors in the third world who cry fro training because their churches are growing faster than they can manage.

Without programs, often without full Bibles, sometimes not being even able to read.  Yet full of the awareness of God’s love, something happens.  They make Him known.  People come to know God, and know He loves them, they are so joyous over walking with Him, they share this with those who are blind, but will see, with those lost, but are found.  Without the studies, without the consultants, without the experts in growth, these churches are growing – simply because they know Jesus!

God chooses to commune with us!  God is here, not distant!  He loves us!  We have been found by divinity, and He wants us to enter HIs glory!  Here it is, givet this to your people, help them to see

AMEN!

 

Escriva, Josemaria. Furrow (Kindle Locations 974-978). Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition.

Webber, Robert E. The Divine Embrace: Recovering the Passionate Spiritual Life. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2006. Print. Ancient-Future Series.

Do We Have to Choose Between Dominating or Paralysis?


photoDevotional Thought fo the Day:
13  “Find out where he is,” the king ordered, “and I will capture him.” When he was told that Elisha was in Dothan, 14  he sent a large force there with horses and chariots. They reached the town at night and surrounded it. 15  Early the next morning Elisha’s servant got up, went out of the house, and saw the Syrian troops with their horses and chariots surrounding the town. He went back to Elisha and exclaimed, “We are doomed, sir! What shall we do?” 16  “Don’t be afraid,” Elisha answered. “We have more on our side than they have on theirs.” 17  Then he prayed, “O LORD, open his eyes and let him see!” The LORD answered his prayer, and Elisha’s servant looked up and saw the hillside covered with horses and chariots of fire all around Elisha. 2 Kings 6:13-17 (TEV)

101         The difficulties you have met have made you shrink back, and you have become “prudent, moderate and objective”. Remember that you have always despised those terms, when they became synonyms for cowardly, faint-hearted and comfort-seeking.

There is a fine balance between presumption and courage, between demanding God act and hearing the Spirit’s guidance.

Some fail to discern this by assuming God will only bless them because they are those who are good, only they are righteous.  So their presumption leads them to boldly state they are blessed, and what those blessings are.  They are aggressive in their actions because of such a lack of discernment. They talk about a theology that dominates, that takes the perspective that the world is here for us.

Some, like me, fail because we have become prudent, moderate and objective.  We want to take our time, especially when we encounter difficulties. We don’t want to cross the line and become those who synthesize God’s will and their own desires, so we back away.  We struggle on our own, we fail to hear the promptings of the Spirit.   We don’t act as we should, we end up preferring the minimal comfort of just getting along.

And so the church closes up tighter than a clam, afraid of its own shadow, or afraid to be confused with the extreme.  But there is a balance.

Like Elisha’s servant, need to have our eyes opened, we need to see God’s work in our lives.  For if the servant gained courage seeing the army of God surround him, how much more should we be encouraged by God’s presence?

God is with us, who can be against us?

Do we get this?

We need to know He is with us.

We need to live our lives based on knowing Him, for this is our faith, our hope, our joy!

If we get this – we will manage to avoid the extremes, for there is nothing greater to know!

Escriva, Josemaria. Furrow (Kindle Locations 631-634). Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition.

If You Are Part of the Church, It’s Time to Get to Work: A Call to Love and Service


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The church is always in the midst of a storm… but safe in Him

Devotional Thought of the Day:
11  It was he who “gave gifts to people”; he appointed some to be apostles, others to be prophets, others to be evangelists, others to be pastors and teachers. 12  He did this to prepare all God’s people for the work of Christian service, in order to build up the body of Christ. 13  And so we shall all come together to that oneness in our faith and in our knowledge of the Son of God; we shall become mature people, reaching to the very height of Christ’s full stature. 14  Then we shall no longer be children, carried by the waves and blown about by every shifting wind of the teaching of deceitful people, who lead others into error by the tricks they invent. 15  Instead, by speaking the truth in a spirit of love, we must grow up in every way to Christ, who is the head. 16  Under his control, all the different parts of the body fit together, and the whole body is held together by every joint with which it is provided. So when each separate part works as it should, the whole body grows and builds itself up through love. Ephesians 4:11-16 (TEV)

1         There are many Christians who are persuaded that the Redemption will be completed in all environments of the world, and that there have to be some souls—they do not know which ones—who will contribute to carrying it out with Christ. But they think it will take centuries, many centuries. It would be an eternity, if it were to take place at the rate of their self-giving. That was the way you yourself thought, until someone came to “wake you up”.

The first office, that of the ministry of the Word, therefore, is common to all Christians. This is clear, from what I have already said, and from 1 Pet. 2[:9], “You are a royal priesthood that you may declare the wonderful deeds of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light.” I ask, who are these who are called out of darkness into marvelous light? Is it only the shorn and anointed masks? Is it not all Christians? And Peter not only gives them the right, but the command, to declare the wonderful deeds of God, which certainly is nothing else than to preach the Word of God. But some11 imagine a twofold priesthood, one spiritual and common to all, the other external and limited, and say that Peter here speaks of the spiritual one. But what is the function of this limited and external office? Is it not to declare the wonderful deeds of God? But this Peter enjoins on the spiritual and universal priesthood. In truth these blasphemers have another, external, ministry in which they declare, not the wonderful deeds of God, but their own and the pope’s impious deeds. So, as there is no other proclamation in the ministry of the Word than that which is common to all, that of the wonderful deed of God, so there is no other priesthood[i]

In the ancient creeds, the church is described as “one, holy, catholic and apostolic church.”   But how often do we look at what those words mean?

One, the church is a unit, a body, whose mind must be Christ’s mind.  Whose work, whether it is hands or feet, mouth or ears, eyes, whatever part, works based from HIs lead. (As we heard yesterday – He is the cornerstone of this body, to which all are joined and measured)

Holy, the church is to be holy, which means to be set apart for a special purpose, one that is sacred.  To be holy means to be embraced by God, and to embrace Him. To cry out for a deeper taste of which we see a small portion of in our salvation.  We are to walk (together) with God.

Catholic,  the church is to be the church of all people, in all places, throughout history.  When this was written there wasn’t the Eastern Orthodox, Oriental Orthodox, Roman Catholic, and the myriad of Protestant bodies out there, there was simply the people of God, united by Christ’s blood across georgraphy, across time.  We have a tendency in our fractured body to turn on ourselves, to devour those we think threaten us, rather than love and pray for each other.  We tend to cast those out who, like us, struggle in our faith.

Apostolic, the church seems to forget this, despite the words of Escriva and Luther.  Some want the pastors and priests to do all the work (and then only those on the front line on the mission field)  Others think that only the pastors and priests can do this work. Some don’t even bother with this, thinking that somehow, magically, the kingdom of God will grow into its fullness, without our growing into our fullness as those sent by God to change the world.

Not to make it heaven on earth, but to bring about the change that occurs as people know the love of God for them.  As they start to explore that love as the Holy Spirit transforms them.  This is the life of the church, not matter the label, no matter the location, no matter whether it is 20 people or 20,000. meeting together.

We have been sent by God, we have been given work to do, work that requires us to love people, not just on Sunday morning, but throughout the week. To love those who are friends and family, neighbors and co-workers,  enemies, adversaries and even those who are a pain in the ass.

No one retires from this, no exceptions, we are a holy priesthood.  This is our identiy as the people of God.

Time to wake up and serve those in need of God’s love.

But remember – God goes with you through it all!

 

Escriva, Josemaria. Furrow (Kindle Locations 242-245). Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition.

11 For example, Jerome Emser. WA 8, 247.

[i] Luther, Martin. Luther’s Works, Vol. 40: Church and Ministry II. Ed. Jaroslav Jan Pelikan, Hilton C. Oswald, and Helmut T. Lehmann. Vol. 40. Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1999. Print.

Christmas Materialism: Don’t Be So Quick to Criticize, to Condemn. Look Deeper, See Their Need.


Concordia Christmas Eve 2015Devotional Thought of the Day:

37 “Do not judge others, and God will not judge you; do not condemn others, and God will not condemn you; forgive others, and God will forgive you. 38Give to others, and God will give to you. Indeed, you will receive a full measure, a generous helping, poured into your hands—all that you can hold. The measure you use for others is the one that God will use for you.”
39 And Jesus told them this parable: “One blind man cannot lead another one; if he does, both will fall into a ditch. 40No pupil is greater than his teacher; but every pupil, when he has completed his training, will be like his teacher.  TEV – Luke 6:37-40

The hectic commercialism is repugnant to us, and rightly so: for it is indeed utterly out of place as a commemoration of the hushed mystery of Bethlehem, of the mystery of the God who for us made himself a beggar (2 Cor 8:9). And yet, underneath it all, does it not originate in the notion of giving and thus in the inner urgency of love, with its compulsion to share, to give of oneself to the other? And does not the notion of giving transport us directly into the core of the mystery that is Christmas?

587    They have no faith, but they do have superstitions. We laughed, and at the same time we’re sorry, when that tough character became alarmed at the sight of a black cat or at hearing a certain word which of itself meant nothing but for him was a bad omen.

The cars religiously pull into the parking lots, as people go into buildings.  Some deeply ponder the mystery that is set before them.  Others simply look without seeing and grasp at what they think they need.  Some are full of joy, others severely depressed, all looking for the answers that plague them during these holidays.

But are they at church, or at a mall?

Are they going to ponder the mysteries of life, or pondering what will satisfy and hopefully bring joy to someone they love, or are committed to, or sadly stuck with?

Pope Benedict, back when he was a cardinal, wrote the words in blue above.  They are profound, deeply profound.

As a pastoral counselor, I know the at the first issue ever brought up in the office is the real issue. It may take a session or two or even twenty to find the ultimate issue.  So why don’t I give those who are seeking something at Christmas a break?  Why do I have to tear down, and condemn, rather than build from the heart and soul where they lie.

People at Christmas, religious or not are seeking love, and seeking to be loved.  To in the midst of the darkness, find some comfort, some joy, find something that means more that gift cards and cash, more than jewelry or electronics.

Could we instead of criticizing them?  Could we stop judging and condemning them find in their depths this need, and show them how it is met in a simple manger in a backward, remote community, in a couple that is far from home, in the simple field workers that are told by a million angels, direct from the Father’s presence, “Peace be with you!”

Maybe Jack Sparrow (that eminent fictional Carribean theologian) was correct.  “The problem is not the problem.  Your reaction to the problem is the problem.”

These people have a need, a need to love, a need to be love.  A need to give and receive the perfect gift that demonstrates that love. Perhaps, as our attitude toward them becomes more like Christ, they will see that need met.  For it has been.

In the manger.

At the cross.

in the incarnation that has occurred in your life as well, as Jesus drew you into Him, as He would draw all into His death and resurrection.

This is Christmas – His gathering.  May we seek out those who are seeking to love and be loved, and reveal to them our Lord and His love for them.  AMEN!

Ratzinger, Joseph. Co-Workers of the Truth: Meditations for Every Day of the Year. Ed. Irene Grassl. Trans. Mary Frances McCarthy and Lothar Krauth. San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1992. Print.

Escriva, Josemaria. The Way (Kindle Locations 1402-1404). Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition.

Is Your Church a Refuge Where You Can Really Pray????


OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERADevotional Thought of the Day:

17 He then taught the people: “It is written in the Scriptures that God said, ‘My Temple will be called a house of prayer for the people of all nations.’ But you have turned it into a hideout for thieves!”   Mark 11:16-17 TEV 

 I will bring them to my holy mountain of Jerusalem and will fill them with joy in my house of prayer. I will accept their burnt offerings and sacrifices, because my Temple will be called a house of prayer for all nations. 8  For the Sovereign LORD, who brings back the outcasts of Israel, says: I will bring others, too, besides my people Israel.”
Isaiah 56:7-8 (NLT)

Thus confession of sin is a sovereign remedy against sin itself. Contrition and confession are so precious, and have so sweet an odour, that they deface the ugliness and destroy the infection of sin. Simon the Pharisee pronounced St. Mary Magdalen a sinner; but our Saviour denied it, and speaks of nothing but of the sweet perfumes she poured on Him, and of the greatness of her charity. If we be truly humble, Philothea, our sins will infinitely displease us, because God is offended by them; but the confession of our sins will be sweet and pleasant to us, because God is honored thereby. It is a kind of consolation to us to inform the physician correctly of the disease that torments us.

As I grew up, I preferred walking into St Francis rather than St Joes, and definitely St Basil’s over Mary Queen of Peace or the Formation Center in Andover.

Not because of the priests, or because the masses were better, or because of the music was more to my liking.  It wasn’t that at all.  I loved the stillness, the quietness, the ability to sit and kneel before the cross, to think about the Eucharist (the Lord’s Supper) that we would receive, to just find peace, there in the presence of God.

The other churches were much more friendly, much more interested in you. Those churches were full and had lots of activities.  But as I went into the church, I didn’t have the time, or so I thought, to settle in, to hear the silence, to be in awe of God.

Even today, as I pastor a church without a sizeable narthex, I enter the church just before service, bow at the altar, move over to the musicians, and try to catch my breath, and long for 10-15 minutes of silence. ( as much as I love our worship music, I love our quiet communion in our midweek Advent services…)

As I read the scriptures this morning and considered what it meant to be a house of prayer, I thought for a moment and wondered if they truly are….

Our churches need to be places of prayer, whether silent or sobbing, full of joy and excitement as we come to our Father and share with Him our lives.  There are many forms and ways of prayer, each has their own time and place. But when scripture is talking about the church, or the Temple being a house, a home of prayer, it has something specific in mind.

Something our churches today need to be that we must be, if we are going to make a difference in our people’s lives.  Whether the church is a place where 20 people gather in a storefront, or a cathedral where thousands pray.

We need to realize what that means to have a house of prayer to go to, what Isaiah is hinting at (as Mark cites him,) as he talks of sacrifices and offerings being acceptable again.

What Solomon mentioned, as God dedicates the temple by being present, and listening as Solomon prayer,

19  Nevertheless, listen to my prayer and my plea, O LORD my God. Hear the cry and the prayer that your servant is making to you. 20  May you watch over this Temple day and night, this place where you have said you would put your name. May you always hear the prayers I make toward this place. 21  May you hear the humble and earnest requests from me and your people Israel when we pray toward this place. Yes, hear us from heaven where you live, and when you hear, forgive. 2 Chronicles 6:19-21 (NLT)

If our churches are to be a place of prayer, then they need to be a place where we give God every burden we have, especially the burdens of guilt and shame, the weight that is added to the sin that we commit.

This is the prayer the temple and the church are set apart to facilitate, to make the prodigal (whether they realize they are one or not) welcome home, to dress them up again,, to help them realize they are part of the family.  The ministry of reconciliation; as the incredible love of God is revealed to those who are broken.  As they hear, “you, child of God, are forgiven and restored.”

By the way, this isn’t a Sunday morning thing, this should be anytime you need it, the chance to go and sit in the quiet with God, to talk to a pastor, to hear of God’s love, to leave those burdens at the altar, to walk away with your hunger for righteousness sated, to know you are loved.

That’s what it means to have a church that is a house or prayer….

May our churches be houses of prayer… may our shepherds help us pray, be relieved and overjoyed as we find out He hears us and forgives.

 

Francis de Sales, Saint. An Introduction to the Devout Life. Dublin: M. H. Gill and Son, 1885. Print.

This Church is For Misfits and Outcasts


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Devotional Thought of the Day:

15 Later on Jesus was having a meal in Levi’s house. A large number of tax collectors and other outcasts were following Jesus, and many of them joined him and his disciples at the table. 16Some teachers of the Law, who were Pharisees, saw that Jesus was eating with these outcasts and tax collectors, so they asked his disciples, “Why does he eat with such people?”  17 Jesus heard them and answered, “People who are well do not need a doctor, but only those who are sick. I have not come to call respectable people, but outcasts.”   Mark 2:15-17

580    Humbly ask God to increase your faith. Then, with new lights, you’ll see clearly the difference between the world’s paths and your way as an apostle.  (1)

They were the those who were sent away, either to an island for toys that didn’t meet the standard, or out of the camp of Israel because they had sinned, or perhaps, their sin was just more obvious than the rest.

They didn’t fit in, and to be honest,  I count myself as one of their number, and sometimes, I even wonder if I am a mis-fit in their circles.  I have days like that, even a year or two where I feel that way.

Which is why it is hard at times to realize I do fit in at my church.

If I, their pastor, can feel this way, how many others do as well?

How many of us who gather on a Sunday morning know intuitively or because someone told us, that we aren’t like the others.  Maybe it is a psychological challenge, or one of intellect.  Maybe it is what appears to be a physical deformity or disease.  Maybe it is the weakness of character, or some other distinguishing factor that the world would use to separate us from the norm.

But the church is Jesus’s territory, not the worlds!  It is not so different from the Island of Misfit toys, the place where the outcasts would be gathered, and form a tightly-knit community.  One gathered around Jesus, because He shows us we do fit, we are fine and safe.

The incarnation was not for the people in perfect places, with perfect clothes, with sinless perfect lives.  The incarnation was among the misfits, the outcasts, those who others sent away, as if they were broken, or undesirable.  Such make up the One, Holy, catholic (universal/complete) and Apostolic Church, and indeed, of those who were judged mis-fit, some become some of our greatest heroes of the faith, those we call saints (even though all who walk with Jesus are!)

For the world’s paths can’t be tread by them, and as they learn to depend on God, as their faith increases, as they talk and pray with God, He sends them out to bring the healing they are experiencing to the world. They reach out to the other outcasts, and even to those who have pretended they are not!

This is church, real church, with real people who have real problems, and are sustained by a real God.

(1)  Escriva, Josemaria. The Way (Kindle Locations 1386-1387). Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition.

“Do I have to pray, read the Bible, go to church, etc?”


devotional/discussion thought of the day?
10  I want to know Christ and experience the mighty power that raised him from the dead. I want to suffer with him, sharing in his death, 11  so that one way or another I will experience the resurrection from the dead! 12  I don’t mean to say that I have already achieved these things or that I have already reached perfection. But I press on to possess that perfection for which Christ Jesus first possessed me. 13  No, dear brothers and sisters, I have not achieved it, but I focus on this one thing: Forgetting the past and looking forward to what lies ahead, 14  I press on to reach the end of the race and receive the heavenly prize for which God, through Christ Jesus, is calling us. 15  Let all who are spiritually mature agree on these things. If you disagree on some point, I believe God will make it plain to you. 16  But we must hold on to the progress we have already made. 17  Dear brothers and sisters, pattern your lives after mine, and learn from those who follow our example.   Philippians 3:10-17 (NLT)

33 We should concern ourselves with this revealed will of God, follow it, and be diligent about it because the Holy Spirit gives grace, power, and ability through the Word by which he has called us. We should not explore the abyss of the hidden foreknowledge of God, even as Christ answered the question, “Lord, will those who are saved be few?” by saying, “Strive to enter by the narrow door” (Luke 13:23, 24)

325    Fight against the softness that makes you lazy and careless in your spiritual life. Remember that it might well be the beginning of tepidity … and, in the words of the Scripture, God will vomit out the lukewarm.

Sometimes the question is phrased as you see above, “Do I have to pray, read the Bible, go to church, etc. ?”.  Other times it is more a defensive statement, “I have a great relationship with God and therefore I don’t have to…”  Or perhaps the most dangerous version, “God will understand that I have other priorities….”

As a pastor such questions and statements are the horrific omens, they are the symptoms of life that will be soon going through a kind of spiritual cardiac arrest.  One that will be haunted by guilt and shame that will be easily tempted to some form of idolatry, to put faith in something else.  That idol will fail eventually, that dream and desire will not satisfy, and the comfort of a lukewarm faith will cause us to fall asleep.

I don’t say this simply as a diagnostician, or simple as a pastor who is tired of observing it and picking up the pieces.  I say it as one who struggles with it, as well. I who wants to pass on my morning devotions and get to “work.”  I so want to bypass my examination of my life and praying that God would help me not just repeatedly come to being sorry and apologetic, but to move from contrition to the transformation that is true repentance. I want to grow in overcoming the sin that so easily ensnares me, and I want to help you do the same.

All three quotes above talk about this – from the Lutheran Confessions which tell us to stop trying to probe the hidden mysteries of God, the things scripture doesn’t mention and theologians argue and write about.  We must instead focus on the love and mercy that God does reveal.  What a wondrous thing it is to know how deeply God loves you and me!  What an incredible thing to think of the cross, and how that love was revealed, in an act so merciful that it staggers the mind.  He died for us, and we live with Him!  There is our focus!

St. Josemaria echoes it in his plea that we all don’t get lazy and careless in our spiritual life, that with Paul we forget what is behind us, what is history, and try to possess, to understand, to hold onto the fact that Christ has united us to himself.  To begin to understand how much we are loved, and what it means to be united to God in Christ’s death and resurrection, to be the temple of the Holy Spirit.

The answer to an apathetic faith, to a personal or parish/congregational malaise, is quite simple.  We need to understand the wide, how long, how high and how deep His love is for us, experiencing the love of Christ which is too great to completely understand with our hearts and souls and mind.  Even so, as we begin to explore that love, we come alive, and the power of God is revealed in us.

So you and I, yes we need to pray, and to spend time contemplating what scripture reveals, we need to gather together to hear of this love, to receive the sacraments which are tangible gifts showing that love.

Not because it is law, not because if we don’t, we shall be punished, but because these things are what nourishes our spiritual life, and what makes us aware that God is with us!

AMEN!

Tappert, Theodore G., ed. The Book of Concord the Confessions of the Evangelical Lutheran Church. Philadelphia: Mühlenberg Press, 1959. Print.

Escriva, Josemaria. The Way (Kindle Locations 838-839). Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition.

Is There Hope for the Hypocritical Church?


Devotional Thought of the Day:

19 and if you are confident that you are a guide for the blind and a light for those in darkness,o 20 that you are a trainer of the foolish and teacher of the simple,p because in the law you have the formulation of knowledge and truth— 21 then you who teach another, are you failing to teach yourself? You who preach against stealing, do you steal?q 22 You who forbid adultery, do you commit adultery? You who detest idols, do you rob temples? 23 You who boast of the law, do you dishonor God by breaking the law? 24 rFor, as it is written, “Because of you the name of God is reviled among the Gentiles.  Romans 2:19-24  NABRE

To those, therefore, who believe in divine love, He gives assurance that the way of love lies open to men and that the effort to establish a universal brotherhood is not a hopeless one. He cautions them at the same time that this charity is not something to be reserved for important matters, but must be pursued chiefly in the ordinary circumstances of life……The Lord left behind a pledge of this hope and strength for life’s journey in that sacrament of faith where natural elements refined by man are gloriously changed into His Body and Blood, providing a meal of brotherly solidarity and a foretaste of the heavenly banquet.  (1)

The words from Romans above hit home hard. 

Do we who preach learn the lessons we preach with such clarity?  

Or is our preaching nothing more than a pious role, acting without the faith, but with the knowledge we have bene given?  Is our message nothing more than a false mask, an act which we think they can’t see through?

Does the world, does our community hate God, not because of who God is, or what He has called into existence, but because of our hypocrisy? 

By the way, this isn’t just for those who preach as part of their pastoral vocation, but those who preach with their lives through other vocations, as husbands and wives, employers and employees, and our “vocation” in social media.

You see Paul’s words from Romans this morning aren’t just applicable to the Jewish leaders of his day, but to us, to all who claim to call out “Lord! Lord!” while turning aside our brothers and sisters who are as broken, and are as made in the image of God. 

So this day, do we need to be confronted as Paul did to those to whom he wrote?  Do we need to have the law drive us back to the cross, back to the altar, back to the place where we can cry, “Lord” but add to it, “have mercy on me a sinner!”

We need his grace; we need His love, his mercy, his peace so that we can live by faith.  A faith that betrays the hypocrisy. We can hear the law and the gospel we preach.  We can have the hope of being transformed from a bunch of hypocrites into a community, a fellowship that is charitable and loving.  Not just in the big things, but in the daily struggles we daily have.

That is the effect of the law – the Law we need to hear, as it drive us to the cross, to the place where our brokenness finds compasssion and healing.  Vatican II sees this in the Eucharist, in that moment where Christ’s broken body transfigures ours, and His righteousness, His love, His life is found in us!

This is what each sacrament is, whether the Lord’s Supper, Baptism, Confession nd Absolution, and even prayer.  It is that moment when our hypocritical nature is overwhelmed by the incarnation, where love washes away all that is not love.

As we live in those moments,  then our God is found attractive, not reviled, and as we see Him lifted up in our praises – people are drawn to Him, through our lives.

No longer hypocrites, but those broken, who find healing in Christ while helping others heal.

(1)  Catholic Church. “Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World: Gaudium Et Spes.” Vatican II Documents. Vatican City: Libreria Editrice Vaticana, 2011. Print.

Why Christianity Isn’t a Solo Act


Devotional Thought of the Day:

21  It happens so regularly that it’s predictable. The moment I decide to do good, sin is there to trip me up. 22  I truly delight in God’s commands, 23  but it’s pretty obvious that not all of me joins in that delight. Parts of me covertly rebel, and just when I least expect it, they take charge. 24  I’ve tried everything and nothing helps. I’m at the end of my rope. Is there no one who can do anything for me? Isn’t that the real question? 25  The answer, thank God, is that Jesus Christ can and does. He acted to set things right in this life of contradictions where I want to serve God with all my heart and mind, but am pulled by the influence of sin to do something totally different.
Romans 7:21-25 (MSG)

19  My dear friends, if you know people who have wandered off from God’s truth, don’t write them off. Go after them. Get them back 20  and you will have rescued precious lives from destruction and prevented an epidemic of wandering away from God.
James 5:19-20 (MSG)

1  Brothers, if someone is caught in a sin, you who are spiritual should restore him gently. But watch yourself, or you also may be tempted. 2  Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ. Galatians 6:1-2 (NIV)

59    It’s good for you to know this doctrine, which is always sound: your own spirit is a bad advisor, a poor pilot to steer your soul through the squalls and storms and across the reefs of the interior life. That’s why it is the will of God that the command of the ship be entrusted to a master who, with his light and knowledge, can guide us to a safe port.

It is one of the most grievous things a pastor can observe.  

When a person is driven away from the church in the midst of their need, or in the midst of the pain caused by the need – they try to drive the church away. 

I’ve been there myself, not recently, but not so long ago that I can brush off the pain easily. Being at the end of the rope isn’t good, it is worse when the rope is set afire by fear, by pain.  

Guilt and shame can do this, so can anxiety, so can the unrighteousness of the world. We fear judgment, and condemnation. We fear people pitying us, or looking down in scorn at our brokenness. We may even fear healing, and push away attempts, rather than take a risk that God and those He sends us can be trusted to not do more damage.

Paul knew this – he recognizes he wretchedness, and his need to hear the answer that is found in Jesus. 

Paul also knew the danger of being the person who is helping and warns those who do to watch their own lives carefully, less they find their own brokenness.  We get deceived by our own estimations, we exaggerate our spiritual health until its too late, or are so overwhelmed by the pain we can’t see anything blessed.

We need others to point us to our hope in Jesus,ro remind us of the Holy Spirit’s work, right now, right here, in our lives.  We need to enter His rest, but often we can’t – unless guided, or even dragged to that place.

But what if they let us down?  What if they are drowning too?  What if we drag them down? Been there, had my mind pound those ponderings through my head. 

Logically, I can answer that with another 100 plus Bible passages and another thousand cute, overused stories and cliches.  But the best answer is to simply be there and keep pointing the person to Jesus.  For He is the reason we have hope.  The only reason.

That reason, and only that one, leads to hope, and the hope to peace. Peace found in Christ, in His promises, in HIs love, in His bringing us into the glory of the Father. 

But we can’t get there alone…… we will betray ourselves. But we have our brothers and sisters.  For the church is a place where broken people find healing in Christ Jesus, while helping other heal.  

Escriva, Josemaria. The Way (Kindle Locations 305-307). Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition.

 

Awe: Love that Embraces…. Pain?


Devotional Thought of the Day:
2  Let us keep our eyes fixed on Jesus, on whom our faith depends from beginning to end. He did not give up because of the cross! On the contrary, because of the joy that was waiting for him, he thought nothing of the disgrace of dying on the cross, and he is now seated at the right side of God’s throne.   Hebrews 12:2 (TEV)

9  Love must be completely sincere. Hate what is evil, hold on to what is good. 10  Love one another warmly as Christians, and be eager to show respect for one another. 11  Work hard and do not be lazy. Serve the Lord with a heart full of devotion. 12  Let your hope keep you joyful, be patient in your troubles, and pray at all times. 13  Share your belongings with your needy fellow Christians, and open your homes to strangers. 14  Ask God to bless those who persecute you—yes, ask him to bless, not to curse. 15  Be happy with those who are happy, weep with those who weep. 16  Have the same concern for everyone. Do not be proud, but accept humble duties. Do not think of yourselves as wise.   Romans 12:9-16 (TEV)

Love has certain standard features. Sometimes we speak o love as if it were an impulse to self-satisfaction or a mere means to selfish fulfillment of one’s own personality. But that’s not love. True love means going out of oneself, giving oneself. Love brings joy, but a joy whose roots are in the shape of a cross. As long as we are on earth and have not yet arrived at the fullness of the future life, we can never have true love without sacrifice and pain. This pain becomes sweet and lovable; it is a source of interior joy. But it is an authentic pain, for it involves overcoming one’s own selfishness and taking Love as the rule of each and every thing we do.

As my son, moments after being born, was laid on my wife’s chest, I witnessed a sense of profound joy. Despite the pain, despite the discomfort, despite the complete lack of privacy, there was great joy!  (Enough so that i didn’t realize my mask was on backward and I was about to pass out from breathing my CO2!)

I thought of that scene as I read the words of St. Josemaria.  They are correct, to love people can hurt, it can disappoint, it can demand that we make sacrifices, or embrace situations where our dignity is cast aside. It is not the one who is our beloved that demands this, but love itself means we take action, we sacrifice, and we embrace the pain.

And yet, I think about the smile on my wife’s face, and realize this dear priest is right again – the pain is no less sharp, the tears no less real, and yet the joy given in the sacrifice is wonderful. .There is no one, in the midst of loving another, that would say the love isn’t worth it, that they would rather go without the one they love. ( again I remind you – the beloved does no, should not demand the sacrifice, or require the pain – that doesn’t love)

This involves us, as St. Paul notes, in the joy and tears of those we love. When one hurts, we all hurt.  When one is enjoying life, that sparks joy in us all.   In every way, the community of faith is affected alongside those who are loved by God together. Who are united in that love, and therefore begin to truly love each other.  We truly embrace the costs of loving, just as Jesus did, know the joy that comes from this love, not only in heaven, but now in reconciliation, and in sharing in the blessings of God.

It even makes those who believe they are our enemies, our beloved.  Just as Christ loves us when we were His enemies.

This is love.

While it is unmerited by the beloved, it costs the one who loves.

But the joy, in inexpressible, beautiful awe-inspiring.

You are the beloved, and because of that, you also love.

Escriva, Josemaria. Christ is Passing By (Kindle Locations 1387-1392). Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition.

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