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A Lesson We Need to Learn. Church is not “Respectable”

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Photo by Ric Rodrigues on Pexels.com

The devotional thought of the day:

12 Jesus heard them and answered, “People who are well do not need a doctor, but only those who are sick. 13† Go and find out what is meant by the scripture that says: ‘It is kindness that I want, not animal sacrifices.’ I have not come to call respectable people, but outcasts.”  Matt 9:12-13 Good News Translation (TEV)

Neither illumination nor contemplation but rather spiritual attack (tentatio) concluded Luther’s engagement with scripture. For him, when the Holy Spirit breaks our reason and reveals to us the true intention of God’s word, we are not drawn into some sort of heavenly realm or closer contact to the divine by our effort. Instead, all hell breaks loose. The flesh, the world, the devil and any other anti-spiritual power attempt to wrest from the believer the comfort of God’s unconditional grace and mercy. No wonder the psalmist cried out for deliverance from his enemies in Psalm 119!

One of the most serious temptations that lead us to break our contact with the Lord is the feeling of defeat. Facing a combative faith by definition, the enemy under the disguise of an angel of light will sow the seeds of pessimism. No one can take up any fight if, from the outset, one does not fully trust in winning. Those who begin without trust have already lost half the battle.

People are meant to live in an ongoing conversation with God, speaking and being spoken to by him. God’s visits to Adam and Eve in the garden, Enoch’s walks with God, and the face-to-face conversations between Moses and Jehovah are all commonly regarded as highly exceptional moments in the religious history of humankind.
Aside from their obviously unique historical role, however, these moments are not meant to be exceptional at all. Rather they are examples of the normal human life God intended for us: God’s indwelling his people through personal presence and fellowship.

When 3 of my devotional readings go in a certain direction, it is not unusual.  When four do, when I see how they resonate,  the lesson just is about to burst forth, not from the readings, but through experience. So it is today;

I guess I will start with Luther’s thoughts, about this idea that the way we learn about God, is found in its last step in a fight, in the tension and battle that comes as all hell breaks loose, and Satan tries to wrest from us the comfort of the Holy Spirit, the comfort that is found in His cHesed, that incredible combination of love and mercy and peace that comprise what we call grace.

The fight is echoed in the words of Pope Francis, as we deal with an unnatural pessimism, a moment of despair and depression that is not like normal depression but is contrary to it.  As Satan tries to convince us that God wouldn’t care about us, that God sees us as riff-raff, as not worth His time or interest.  We know this is not true, yet, it is so hard to shut out the voice of the ones who are masquerading as messengers of God.

It is hard because we struggle to see ourselves as God does, as the beautiful, pure, bride, set apart as the bride of Christ, as one who deserves the respect and admiration of God.  Instead, we see ourselves as those who are broken, not worthy of a glance, nothing close to deserving respect.

Yet we often treat the church as if it is the place we have to demonstrate how respectable we are.  We might pretend, dressing us, smiling and saying we are okay when people ask, smiling and greeting each other as if every day was a party.  When what we really feel like is staying home, hiding under the blankets and ignoring the world.

I think this is enhanced by how we see what some call the heroes of faith, the incredible men and women we see described in the Bible. Except we forget that Moses was running from Egypt, a prince hiding out with sheep in the wilderness.  That Abraham was an exile looking for his home and future as well, that David wasn’t the hero, but the man broken by his sin, and then by the sins of his children.

As shattered as we are, yet…

Willard reminds us that they are examples of a normal human life and that God was present, and lived with them.   That God walked with them in their brokenness, even as He walks with us.   They are not exceptional, their walking with God, finding hope there, is our example, for we can as well.

After all, Jesus didn’t come to snob around with the perfect and respectful.  He came to draw outcasts, broken folk, exiles and those who struggle to get out of bed every morning.  Because He loves us…..

And Satan will unleash all of hell to stop us from experiencing this, and in that tension, we find God’s comfort, that He is our refuge, our sanctuary, and our hope.

We are His people, He is our God… and He is calling us to His side, so He can comfort and heal us, the children He loves.

Let us pray,  Heavenly Father, in the midst of trials, in the midst of brokenness, and when it seems all hell is breaking loose.  Help us to see Your glory, revealed in Your love and your comfort.  AMEN!

Wengert, T. J. (2007). Preface. In P. D. W. Krey, B. McGinn, & P. D. S. Krey (Eds.), P. D. S. Krey & P. D. W. Krey (Trans.), Luther’s Spirituality (p. xiv). New York; Mahwah, NJ: Paulist Press.
Pope Francis. (2013). A Year with Pope Francis: Daily Reflections from His Writings. (A. Rossa, Ed.) (p. 352). New York; Mahwah, NJ; Toronto, ON: Paulist Press; Novalis.

Willard, D., & Johnson, J. (2015). Hearing god through the year: a 365-day devotional. Westmont, IL: IVP Books.

Do We Get That Church (the gathering, the mass) is a Celebration?

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Do we go to church for our benefit, or God’s?

Devotional Thought of the Day:

Hallelujah!
Sing to the LORD a new song, His praise in the assembly of the godly. 2 Let Israel celebrate its Maker;  let the children of •Zion rejoice in their King. 3 Let them praise His name with dancing and make music to Him with tambourine and lyre. 4 For Yahweh takes pleasure in His people; He adorns the humble with salvation. 5 Let the godly celebrate in triumphal glory; let them shout for joy on their beds.   Psalm 149:1-5

39 In conclusion, now that we have the right interpretation and doctrine of the sacrament, there is great need also of an admonition and entreaty that so great a treasure, which is daily administered and distributed among Christians, may not be heedlessly passed by. What I mean is that those who claim to be Christians should prepare themselves to receive this blessed sacrament frequently.

Since I started studying for the ministry in 1983, I have usually been taught two things about what happens when the people of God gather together. (You may call this a worship service, a divine service, church, or the mass; but I am talking about the main time a group of people are gathered by God together, where they sing, hear scripture read, a teaching time (called a sermon or homily) and perhaps (more about this later) sharing in our communion with the Lord’s Body and Blood.

Both teachings focused on service.  The difference is who is serving whom.

In the first theory, we go to church to serve God.  We go out of obedience to the commandment which talks about keeping holy the Sabbath. We go to church because it is our duty, and if we miss doing our duty, God will punish us, either actively, or perhaps by withholding the blessings He would have poured out for us.

The problem is that looking at this “active” view of church reduces it to mere duty, and then we start to ask how much is enough.  Can I serve God by going once a month instead of weekly?  Can I get by with once a year or one a quarter?  How active do I have to be to be a Christian?  Why can’t I just be with God at the beach, or in a forest?

The second theory is that we go to church to be served by God. That His servants exist to make sure we receive what we need through explaining God’s word and giving us the sacrament.  This breeds a consumer mentalism to church as well, as we go to the church that feeds us the best.  We want the purest doctrine, explained in an enjoyable way that drives away our sin and weaknesses and makes us stronger in our faith and the way we approach life.

Both of these ways make sense, and in part, they both are true., in that in a church service, in the mass, we should be serving God and He, most assuredly,, serves us.

But the reason we go to church, the reason we are gathered into the assembly of His people (and those that are becoming His people) is neither.

The reason we are gathered is that it is a celebration,  It is a time for us, as the Psalmist says, to sing and dance as we rejoice in the presence of our King, our Lord, our Heavenly Father! It is likewise a chance for God to take pleasure in His people.  It is, as one of my professors was known to utter, “the people of God gathered in the presence of God”

It is why our forefathers called it the “Celebration of the mass” understood as the “Gathering/Communion of the saints”.  Yet this gathering, this celebration is that not just of the saints, bit the saints gathered around and in fellowship with God.  That communion, that fellowship, that time where we and God are together, His people and Him, that is the treasure we find in the celebration of the Lord’s Supper (which is why the passage from Luther’s catechism described it being offered daily!)

This church service/mass and Lord’s Supper/Eucharist isn’t a solemn occasion, though certainly, it is one we should treasure and celebrate with all we are. It is God and man, together, living as one, because of Christ.  It is a Thanksgiving feast, a celebration of peace with God, and the welcoming of the prodigal home.

It is a time we celebrate with an abundance of Joy, it is one God where God looks out on His people and is pleased.  It should be an amazing time, where we realize what God has done, adopting us as His kids, and we adore the one who loves us.

Celebrate this, my friends. and jealously treasure this time with the One who loves us, and draws us together.

Heavenly Father, draw us together with greater and greater frequency, with a hunger to know You, to explore and experience Your love.  We pray this all in Jesus name!  AMEN!

 

Tappert, T. G. (Ed.). (1959). The Book of Concord the confessions of the Evangelical Lutheran Church. (p. 451). Philadelphia: Mühlenberg Press.

The Church Has No Excuse for Aging…

DSCF1421Devotional Thought of the Day:

1  The people say, “Let’s return to the LORD! He has hurt us, but he will be sure to heal us; he has wounded us, but he will bandage our wounds, won’t he? 2  In two or three days he will revive us, and we will live in his presence. 3  Let us try to know the LORD. He will come to us as surely as the day dawns, as surely as the spring rains fall upon the earth.” Hosea 6:1-3 (TEV)

 For I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is God’s power for salvation n to everyone who believes, first to the Jew, o and also to the Greek. 17 For in it God’s righteousness is revealed from faith to faith, just as it is written: The righteous will live by faith. 
18 For God’s wrath is revealed from heaven against all godlessness and unrighteousness of people who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth, 19 since what can be known about God is evident among them because God has shown it to them. 20 For His invisible attributes, that is, His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly seen since the creation of the world, being understood through what He has made. As a result, people are without excuse.  Romans 1:16-20  HCSB

If the Church stays “indoors,” she certainly will age.
The Church is called to come out of herself and to go to the “existential peripheries,” where the mystery of sin, pain, injustice, religious indifference and of all human miseries are found.

In fulfilling its educational role, the Church, eager to employ all suitable aids, is concerned especially about those which are her very own. Foremost among these is catechetical instruction,16 which enlightens and strengthens the faith, nourishes life according to the spirit of Christ, leads to intelligent and active participation in the liturgical mystery17 and gives motivation for apostolic activity.

Romans 1:16 is, for Bible College and Seminary students, repeated often.

I am not ashamed!  

But this isn’t a badge of honor, it is not considering the context. It is a call to go out, and help those who have been caught up by sin, those who are in bondage to it, those who are broken by it.

We are to be there for the people without excuse, but therefore, without hope.  The word for excuse there is the negative form of the word of the apostle Peter uses when he declares, 

15  But have reverence for Christ in your hearts, and honor him as Lord. Be ready at all times to answer anyone who asks you to explain the hope you have in you, 1 Peter 3:15 (TEV)

This world, so full of misery and strife, so full of pain that they have become indifferent to religion cannot realize that they can return to the Lord,  That they can return to the Lord who allowed them to deal with the consequences of the sin of the world, including their sin. 

They don’t know that God will come to heal them, that they can know Him, not just academically, but in a deep rich way, more deeply that can e described by words, but is celebrated as we take the Body Broken for us, as we share in the blood shed for our sins. 

Paul is not ashamed of the gospel because it presents hope to these people who are unaware of that hope even exists, that broken relationships, can be healed, THAT GOD CARES FOR THEM.  

This has to be the message of the church. It is not that we are better than them, holier than them that we go out to encounter the world.  It is because we found hope for our brokenness, hope that we are being healed, being transformed, a work that isn’t always easily visible, but one that God has promised to do.

If we are not ashamed of this hope, of this ability we are all given to interact and depend on God, then there is no excuse for the church to get old. The is no excuse for us hiding within the doors of our churches, waiting for the pastor to grow our church.  We have a world that doesn’t need us to complain about them, but that needs us to give them the hope we have, to help them return to the Lord, to know that anyone can die with Christ and the cross, and be raised to a new life with Him, in Him.

This is the gospel, that God loves us… 

Let us not hide that hope within our walls, but let it burst out as fast as the kids run for donuts after service gets out!

Lord have mercy on us all!  And help us to spread the news you have!

 

 

Pope Francis. (2013). A Year with Pope Francis: Daily Reflections from His Writings. (A. Rossa, Ed.) (p. 192). New York; Mahwah, NJ; Toronto, ON: Paulist Press; Novalis.

Catholic Church. (2011). Declaration on Christian Education: Gravissimum Educationis. In Vatican II Documents. Vatican City: Libreria Editrice Vaticana.

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Don’t Like the Heat? Stay IN the Kitchen!

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

Devotional Thought of the Day:

25  I will take action against you. I will purify you the way metal is refined, and will remove all your impurity. 26  I will give you rulers and advisers like those you had long ago. Then Jerusalem will be called the righteous, faithful city.” 27  Because the LORD is righteous, he will save Jerusalem and everyone there who repents. Isaiah 1:25-27 (TEV)

 The LORD says that his people reject him.7  Because of this the LORD Almighty says, “I will refine my people like metal and put them to the test. My people have done evil— what else can I do with them? Jeremiah 9:5-7 (TEV)

485    Well, so what? Unless your motive is hidden pride (you think you’re perfect), I don’t understand how you can give up that work for souls just because God’s fire which first attracted you, besides giving the light and warmth that aroused your enthusiasm, should also at times produce the smoke that results from the weakness of the instrument!

I don’t like confrontations, and even less do I like politics, of either the secular or church variety.  They raise too much heat, they cause too much stress, they cause a reaction that is to fight or to flee, neither of which is good, right or beneficial.

Yet, as a pastor who is a sinner as much as the flock, he guides towards Jesus, I have realized two things about both confrontations and the politics that lead to them.

1.  Heat caused by conflict is inevitable in the church.

2.  Despite my dislike for it, despite how uncomfortable it makes people, there is always a blessing for those who neither fight nor flee, but depend upon God to resolve the conflict and reconcile those who struggle with each other.

Conflict can dull our enthusiasm for the church, and for the apostolate, the mission God has sent us all on, to bring the message of reconciliation to the people He would call His own.  But the very idea that reconciliation is needed means there is heat somewhere, and that the mission will be uncomfortable.

One of the reasons it is uncomfortable is that part of what the heat will remove, our pride.  This is the refining, the heat applied in such a way it gets rid of the imputiries, Even the pride that is buried deep within us, hidden even from our own conscious view.

If we can remember that even the person we are in conflict with can and will be used by God if we remember even if they are 90 percent wrong, there is ten percent of their statement that is a message from God, sent to purify us.

And it will, and the more pride that is hidden within us, the more the heat will rise. ANd we have to let it, w have to be patient, for to throw cold water on it will cause more of an explosion.   We have to let it work itself out.  It will, For God will perfect us, in His time, and this heat is part of the process!

That’s uncomfortable, but it is okay.  You and I can survive the heat, we can stay in the kitchen.  For I am confident that God will use this for good. He will refine us in it, the Holy Spirit will bring us comfort, even as we are transformed, purified.  (and I still won’t like it!)

For what else can God do?  He loves us, He can’t leave us broken, impure, spoilt. This heat can be part of our salvation, part of our sanctification.

So even as we struggle, even as we hate the challenges, the heat, we can stay, trusting God.  He will work during the time when the heat is up, when we have to cry out,, Lord have mercy!   And we can learn to cry it out confidently, and be patient for the resolution, for the reconciliation.

For He is with us!  AMEN!

Lord Jesus, send forth your Spirit to all who are enduring times where the heat is rising when life is challenging because of conflicts, even those that we try and ignore, or hide.  Lord during these times, help us depend on You, trusting You to keep your promises to us.  Humble us when needed Lord,  keep us pliable and patient, comfort us and sustain us.  AMEN!

Escriva, Josemaria. The Way (Kindle Locations 1186-1189). Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition.

The Church is NOT an Organization… it is an Organism…

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

Devotional Thought of the Day:
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. 17  If someone has done you wrong, do not repay him with a wrong. Try to do what everyone considers to be good. 18  Do everything possible on your part to live in peace with everybody. Romans 12:9-18 (TEV)

Christ exists only in his body, not just as an ideal; that means: with all those others—with the permanent, time-transcending community that is his body. The Church is not an idea, but a body, and the scandal of the Incarnation, on which many of Jesus’ contemporaries came to grief, continues in the vexations of the Church, but here, too, the saying is applicable: Blessed is he who is not scandalized in me. This communal character of the Church necessarily means, then, her we character: she is not just somewhere; we ourselves are the Church. Certainly, no one can say: “I am the Church”; each must and may say: We are the Church. And “we”—that is not just a group that isolates itself, but one that belongs to the whole community of all the living and deceased members of Christ. Thus a group can really say: We are the Church. The Church is here in this accessible we that removes boundaries—not just social and political boundaries, but also the boundary between heaven and earth. We are the Church—from this proceeds our co-responsibility, but also the privilege of being co-workers; from this comes our right to criticize, but we must always begin with self-criticism. For Church—we repeat—is not just somewhere, someone else; it is we who are the Church.

There is no doubt in my mind that the Church appears and truly is dysfunctional.

It doesn’t matter whether we are talking about a Bible study of 6, or a congregation of 60 or 1000, or the Church as the entire Body of Christ, throughout the world, and throughout time. We are dysfunctional; we are broken, we argue and fight, we try to one-up each other.  We allow politics to divide us, then complain about the division.

Sociologists have fun studying us.  

And yet we need, desperately need to be part of such a dysfunctional family.   As much as we need each other, as much as we need to realize the “we” of the church, we struggle with it. 

Pope Benedict XVI wrote of this, trying to help us realize that we need to remove the boundaries. No easy task there.  But it is needed.  We need to picture the Church as the Church.  We need to picture ourselves as more “we” at every level.  We need to be able to weep and laugh with others who are part of this magnificent, beautiful, incredible, dysfunctional family.  No, not just a family, a body.  We aren’t an organization, we, the church are an organism. 

St. Paul gives a great description of what the church should look like in the passage quoted above… the loving sincerely, full of respect, devotion, hope, and joy.  What an incredible idea, to live like this.

Some will reply, how can we do that?  Others more theologically trained will determine this description is law, and they will use that determination as an excuse not to live this way, ignoring how the chapter started, because of God’s great mercy…..

I think Pope Benedict hits on the key, how this dysfunctional group of spiritually immature people become the “we” of the church when he talks about removing not just boundaries here on earth, but the boundary between heaven and earth.   As that boundary is removed, as we realize we dwell in the presence of God, as we are in awe of His love, we are transformed, and those things Paul talks about, those things beome who we are. The more our attention and focus is drawn to God and His glory, the more His presence is revealed and overwhelms us.. The greater this unity is realized as well.  

This is the mystery that Paul refers to in Col. 1:27-28, the idea that Christ dwells in us!  (The “you” there in Greek is plural), It is the blessing of the description of the Body in 1 Cor. 10-13, it is the picture of the redeemed, resurrected united people of God in Ezekiel 36-37.

It is the truth of this, “we” are the church, the people God called out to make His own.  And He has. 

WHich is why the people of God know peace that is beyond explanation, for we dwell, our hearts and minds safe and secure in Christ.  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.

Why the Church Needs to Be One…

clydes-cross-2Devotional Thought for our Days:

18 Here is My Servant whom I have chosen, My beloved in whom My soul delights; I will put My Spirit on Him, and He will proclaim justice to the nations. 19 He will not argue or shout, and no one will hear His voice in the streets. 20 He will not break a bruised reed, and He will not put out a smoldering wick, until He has led justice to victory. 21 The nations will put their hope in His name.

1 It is also taught among us that one holy Christian church will be and remain forever. This is the assembly of all believers among who the Gospel is preached in its purity and the holy sacraments are administered according to the Gospel.
2 For it is sufficient for the true unity of the Christian church that the Gospel be preached in conformity with a pure understanding of it and that the sacraments be administered in accordance with the divine Word.

194      Nam, et si ambulavero in medio umbrae mortis, non timebo mala—though I should walk through the valley of the shadow of death, no evil will I fear. Neither my wretchedness nor the temptations of the enemy will worry me, quoniam tu mecum es—for you Lord are with me.

Our Lord prayed that His church would be one, as united as God the Father and our Lord Jesus Christ are one.  Historic churches usually use either the Apostles or Nicene Creed each week, in which they state they believe and depend upon the Holy Spirit to work through the church, which is one, holy, catholic and apostolic.

And most of us desire the church to be unified, if by unified we mean that those who disagree with us come to our position, imitate our practice, and bow to our superior, more Christ-like version of the one true faith.

But do we ask why we need to be one?

Do we seek the underlying reason to put our own preferences aside, to work diligently through the different understandings, why we need to humbly listen and work with each other?

It is seen in my devotional readings this morning.

This world is broken without hope.  It is walking through the valley of the shadow of death, and it does fear evil, the anxiety seems to be growing at a palpable rate.

Our only hope is in the Lord, who will deal with us with both His incredible power and HIs incredible care.  He will nurse us back to heal, like someone tending a bruised plant, the Holy Spirit’s gentle comfort us will take us and kindle in us a roaring fire.

Our unity directly affects that witness, the ability to give that hope.  That doesn’t mean we compromise on things critical to having trust in God, but rather, we work all the harder at making it happen.  We acknowledge our broken fractured church and pray together, then work to see it become one, for it is one in Christ Jesus.

Lord, give us the desire to see You heal our brokenness, our divisions. Help us to seek you together in prayer, and to work diligently together to give this world the hope it can only find in You.  Lord, have mercy on us all, for we are sinners in need of your healing.  AMEN!

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

Escriva, Josemaria. The Forge (Kindle Locations 873-876). Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition.

Where and How We Worship and Pray: Does it Matter?

St francis at the crossDevotional Thought for our Days….

3“Is there anyone among you who can still remember how splendid the Temple used to be? How does it look to you now? It must seem like nothing at all. 4But now don’t be discouraged, any of you. Do the work, for I am with you. 5When you came out of Egypt, I promised that I would always be with you. I am still with you, so do not be afraid.
6 “Before long I will shake heaven and earth, land and sea. 7I will overthrow all the nations, and their treasures will be brought here, and the Temple will be filled with wealth. 8All the silver and gold of the world is mine. 9The new Temple will be more splendid than the old one, and there I will give my people prosperity and peace.” The LORD Almighty has spoken.   Haggai 2:3-9  TEV

Threats against those who do not love God: Ps. 11:5; 109:17; John 3:19; 1 Cor. 16:22; John 12:25; 14:24; 1 John 3:14.
Threats against those who do not trust in God: Ps. 49:6 ff.; 115:8; Prov. 11:28; Is. 59:4; 42:17; Jer. 17:5; 7:8; Luke 18:14; Mark 10:23.
Threats against those who do not hope in God: Job 8:13; 11:20; Prov. 11:28; Is. 20:5; 28:13.
Threats against those who do not fear God: Prov. 29:25; Hos. 10:3; Deut. 11:28; 2 Cor. 10:6; 2 Thess. 1:8.
Promises connected with love: Deut. 11:5–7; Ex 23:20 ff.; Is. 64:4; Prov 4:6; 8:17; John 14:23; 1 Cor. 8:3; John 16:27.
Promises connected with trust in God: Ps. 125:1; Jer. 17:7; Ps. 37:5; 56:11; 91:14; 31:1; Prov. 29:25; Is. 40:31; Rom. 5:5.

 

It cannot be that we choose for ourselves whether or how we shall worship God: what is important is that we respond to him in the place where he gives himself to us. We cannot decide on our own terms where God is to meet us, and we should not strive to reach him by our own efforts. He can come to us and let us find him wherever he chooses.

Of the three readings I posted above from this morning, the middle one troubles me the most.  Chemnitz’s inventory of threats (curses in Covenantal terms) is pretty clear.  If you don’t love God, if you don’t trust Him, if you don’t find Hope in His words, or aren’t in awe of His glory and power, what you have chosen is wrath and abandonment.  Yes, there are promises if you do love and trust in Him, but the threats, the curses that one could choose?  Why would anyone?  Why would anyone not warn someone who is heading that way?

Compare that to the promise of Haggai, and the people that looked out of their lives and couldn’t believe how far they had come from the beauty they once knew or heard of from their parents or grandparents.  The majesty of the temple of Solomon, where people could pray and know they were forgiven,  The beauty of the place where they met with God, sure that He put His name there  A place where their trust and dependence on God was rewarded, blessed, nurtured.

There is not much difference really, between Chemnitz and the prophet. They are both urging us to listen,, to really hear and depend on God.  We need to do that, and realize that while we are His people, He is our God.  

That means we have to let Him care for us, we have to let Him heal us.   We can’t be the doctor of our own souls. Which means when He prescribes something for us, such as being in a community of others who are struggling to trust Him as well, this is His good will for us, not some kind of harsh discipline. 

That’ why I love Ratzinger (later Pope Benedict XVI’s ) remind us that we don’t get to choose for ourselves.  Nor do we have to seek God out.  He will find us, It is not by our own efforts we are saved, it is not something we deserve or are owed.  

God will go out and find us, and bring us home, but that is where we should stay, in the home, the church where He has placed us so that He can give Himself to us!  This is the greatest of miracles, the most glorious thing we can experience in this life, or in eternity. 

God, coming to us, loving us, cleansing us, and making us a holy people. 

Cardinal Ratzinger went on, “What matters is not just some pious feeling of ours that relegates religion to the realm of the nonobligatory and private but the obedience that hears God’s call and accepts it. The Lord does not want our private feelings; he wants to form us into a community and to build the new community of the Church on faith. The body must share in the divine worship as must the community with its hardships and discomforts.”

This is who we are, the people that have a God whom we can truly and completely depend on, a God who sees us complete, the masterpiece of His creation, a glorious work of grace and love.  

As we cry out for His mercy, the prayer should contain a willingness to receive that mercy, where He has promised to pour it out. 

Chemnitz, Martin, and Jacob A. O. Preus. Loci Theologici. electronic ed. St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1999. Print.

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.

Is Correct Doctrine and Practice Enough? Are We Just Going Through the Motions?

Altar with communionDevotional Thought for our Day:

2 I know what you do, how you work hard and never give up. I know you do not put up with the false teachings of evil people. You have tested those who say they are apostles but really are not, and you found they are liars. 3 You have patience and have suffered troubles for my name and have not given up.
4 “But I have this against you: You have left the love you had in the beginning. 5 So remember where you were before you fell. Change your hearts and do what you did at first. If you do not change, I will come to you and will take away your lampstand from its place. Rev. 2:2-6  NCV

Here we must also mention those hypocrites who put their trust in their own righteousness before God, as the Pharisees in Luke 18:10 ff. Upon such people falls the guilt of many sins, because they do not recognize their own weakness, they do not recognize that in the eyes of God they are worthy of punishment because they have a false confidence and do not call upon God through Christ the Mediator. Indeed, they put their own works forward in the place of the Mediator’s. I have described their attributes above under the fifth degree.

A third point should be added here: when absolution has been given, one should accept the new melody of life and let oneself really be re-tuned to the new rhythm of God. The first indication of this new melody in our lives is prayer, for the new life is above all also a turning to God. 

It seems like a new idol is gaining strength in the church.  That pastors, ministers, and others who serve are being trained to serve this idol.  That people are being led to put their faith in this idol, that if it is served, that if sacrifices are made to appease it, then everything will be okay.  

It really isn’t a new idol, it simply put on new clothes and addresses a certain fear we have, that somehow, God is displeased with us, that this is the reason that churches in 1st world countries are shrinking and closing. 

The church in Ephesus also had to deal with this, look at what the Apostle John wrote it above. 

They didn’t tolerate false teaching, they tested everyone and discovered who was teaching falsely.

They had patience and suffered troubles (even ones they didn’t create for themselves!)  

They had doctrine and practice of that doctrine down pat, so much so that Jesus even praised them for it!  Yet they were as empty as the Pharisees railed against.  When we enter a point where our focus is primarily correct doctrine and practice, we leave behind the Lord we love, (ironically the one correct doctrine should lead us to adore, which is what is the definition of true orthodoxy!)

Please hear me, teaching correctly about God’s grace is important, critical even.  Worshipping Him in a way consistent with what the scriptures reveal is also very important.  Do things our own way, in what makes sense to us in that moment is dangerous.  But making doctrine and practice THE focus of our ministry, or how we judge other’s ministry is still idolatry. 

St John encourages us to return to our first love, the love we had for the Lord who delivered us, who brought us into fellowship by the power of the Holy Spirit.  To change our hearts ( not our minds (doctrine and practice dwell there too!) and return to what we did at first, being in awe, trying to learn how to love God.  It is from such a life of prayer that doctrine and practice really come alive anyway.  The words mean more, they aren’t just rote, the actions we take we find are nourished and strengthed by the Lord we dedicate them to Him!

I love how Pope Benedict XVI phrased this, in regards to absolution.  THe idea of God re-tuning us, transforming us to live in this new melody of life, these new movements, My guitar cannot tune itself, neither can I tune myself.  Yet as God does this, as I get out of the way, I find myself desiring to spend more time with Him.  I find the music that is life sweeter and more comforting, more serene.

FOr it is God turning us to Himself, revealing His presence, His embracing us, even as the prodigal was embraced by the Father who loved him.

For He loves us…and therefore, we can love Him, our first love…

Lord Jesus, help us to know the presence of the Holy Spirit, Tune our hearts and souls so resonate deeply with your voice, that we may love you more, and so that this new melody would be heard by many. AMEN!

Chemnitz, Martin, and Jacob A. O. Preus. Loci Theologici. electronic ed. St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1999. Print.  quote from Melancthon

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.

 

The Millenials Aren the First to Seek Something Deeper and More Meaningful…

Devotional Thought for our days:

14  When I think of the greatness of this great plan I fall on my knees before God the Father (from whom all fatherhood, earthly or heavenly, derives its name), and I pray that out of the glorious richness of his resources he will enable you to know the strength of the spirit’s inner re-inforcement – that Christ may actually live in your hearts by your faith. And I pray that you, firmly fixed in love yourselves, may be able to grasp (with all Christians) how wide and deep and long and high is the love of Christ – and to know for yourselves that love so far beyond our comprehension. May you be filled though all your being with God himself! Ephesians 3:14 (Phillips NT)

Younger evangelical Craig Gilbert writes, “If we are to make disciples, then we are called to long-term care, feeding and education of the soul that we evangelize. To not integrate them into the body of Christ, the church, is to not fulfill the great commission. To fail to faithfully live the example in fellowship and study, prayer and worship, and thereby give the convert a tangible model to emulate, is to fail in our calling.” (Webber notes that this was from a private email conversation)

During the lifetime of Saint Francis of Assisi people experienced a deep yearning for a Church of the Spirit; they longed for a better, purer, more meaningful Christianity and anticipated that this new Church would bring about a change in the course of history as well. To many of those who suffered from the inadequacies of institutional Christianity, Saint Francis seemed to be a God-sent answer to their expectations, and, in fact, Christianity of the Spirit has seldom been so genuinely exemplified as it was in him.

Back in the day, the Irish Band U2 gave us a song that told us, “I still haven’t found what I am looking for”.  According to many who forgot the angst they went through in the 80’s and 90’s, this could be the anthem for the millennial generation.  (We all too soon forget the problems we had with the generation that went before us!)

photo(35)

The Good Shepherd, carrying His own.

The quote from Pope Benedict shows us another generation that went through this – some 800 years ago, during the time of St Francis of Assisi.  One could say the same for Luther, or Wesley or Escriva, where they wanted a church that was more than a machine, more than a system, more than a programmed system. 

They needed a church that would be there, that would provide a care that would last a lifetime, that would nourish them spiritually, that would continually remind them of the presence of God, just as Webber’s young friend notes we need today ( that was 15 years ago) 

Those who complain about this generation being “snowflakes” forget their own tears, their own fragility, their own brokenness. They forget the need for Christ’s cleansing and healing of their lives, of the hope given by the comforting presence of the Holy Spirit, of the true fellowship where we cried with those who cried and rejoiced with those who rejoice.  

What St Paul tells the church is still true, we need to explore the incredible dimensions of God’s love for us, revealed in Christ. It is a love beyond comprehension, of love that we experience, a love that is without bounds.

A love that embraces millennials and baby-boomer, and even those lost folk in the middle, the GenX’ers like me.  As it did the generations before us.

It is a reformation, like Luther’s, like that of St Francis, like even the Charismatic renewal of the 60’s, that will well up from desperate need.

The church has the option – to shepherd it, or to mock it.  To provide the nurture and care we all truly need, or to ridicule those as weak, who simply are honest about it. 

I pray we hear God’s voice and call on those who follow to imitate us, as we imitate Christ!

May we all learn, in our brokenness, to cry out,“Lord, have mercy!” As we cry it out, together, I pray we all here His answer… “I am with you always, even until the end of time.”  Amen!

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

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.

The Hope for the Miracle of Reconciliation

54e14-jesus2bpraying

God, who am I?

I want them to be strengthened and joined together with love so that they may be rich in their understanding. This leads to their knowing fully God’s secret, that is, Christ himself. In him all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge are safely kept.  Col. 2:2-3 NCV

  1. To attribute to God the good one sees in oneself.
  2. To recognize that the evil in oneself is attributable only to oneself.
  3. To make peace with an adversary before sundown.
  4. Never to despair of God’s mercy.  (from the rule of St Benedict)

For at first Jerome, when objections were raised against him (e.g. for his statement, “If anyone says that God demands the impossible, let him be anathema”) simply replied in his Dialog. adv. Pel., Bk. 2 [MPL 23.577], “These things are impossible for our nature but possible for grace.” And he understood grace only in the sense of the aid and renewal of the Holy Spirit. Also Augustine in his first argument with the Pelagians said many things like this: “Grace restores the will so that the restored will fulfills the Law.”

The green words above are from the rule of St Benedict.  They are critical for us to understand in these days where division is growing, where people are reacting not to what is said, not even to what they think they heard, but how they interpret it.

One friend recently said that he wouldn’t watch football because of the protests of players.  He didn’t listen to what they said, he immediately interpreted it through his emotions, and admitted it, bringing into the equation his father, who was buried at Arlington Cemetery. 

I wonder if he realized some of those players have relatives buried there as well?

I am not saying the football teams or those who support their actions are any better at listening to people.

In fact, the anger towards each other is simply reactionary.  It is done with though, but not thought about the other people involved. 

What originally started with one man, concerned with issues far deeper than a meme or slogan, has polarized many in this country, deepening the rifts.  Rifts encouraged by some in the media, rifts that are unavoidable according to some.

Rifts that even divide those in the church, those who are united by something more powerful than anything else known, the power that raised Christ from the dead.

A power that we need to see now.

Chemnitz pointed out that what seems impossible for our nature is possible for grace, specifically the aid and renewal tht the Holy Spirit, the Paraclete/Comforter brings into our situation. The Spirit who is responsible for the good we see in ourselves, and overcomes the evil which we must recognize and take responsibility for, only to accept the grace that will redeem it. 

It surprised me, as Dr. Webber quoted the Rule of St Benedict, to see #71 – to make peace with an adversary before sundown,  But the context is amazing, for in thinking of that task – that discipline, we could easily despair. “I can’t do it”, “it’s impossible” “They will never…”  I could easily despair, to which the Rule responds, “Never despair of God’s mercy”

There is our answer, there is our hope for reconciling the unreconcilable, the hope for healing relationships shattered by history, our present, and concern over our future.

It is the hope we see in Paul’s words in red above, the idea that we can be joined together in love, understanding God’s secret – the hope of being in Christ himself.

Heavenly Father, Lord bring peace to our fractured and divided society.  Bring the hope and love that comes by Your Holy Spirit.  Help those of us who claim to follow you to do so, to hear those who are our adversaries, and to be with them, that we all may be saved.  AMEN!

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

4 Meisel and del Mastro, The Rule of St. Benedict, 52–54.

 [3] Chemnitz, Martin, and Jacob A. O. Preus. Loci Theologici. electronic ed. St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1999. Print.

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