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The Paradoxical Mystery of Confession


St Francis Catholic Church

Devotional Thought fo the Day:

14 Since the children, as he calls them, are people of flesh and blood, Jesus himself became like them and shared their human nature. He did this so that through his death he might destroy the Devil, who has the power over death, 15and in this way set free those who were slaves all their lives because of their fear of death. 16For it is clear that it is not the angels that he helps. Instead, he helps the descendants of Abraham. 17This means that he had to become like his brothers and sisters in every way, in order to be their faithful and merciful High Priest in his service to God, so that the people’s sins would be forgiven. 18And now he can help those who are tempted, because he himself was tempted and suffered.  Heb 2:14-18 TEV

261      God is with you. The Blessed Trinity dwells in your soul in grace. That is why, in spite of your wretchedness, you can and should keep up a continuous conversation with the Lord.

Growing up Catholic, the thing you learned to fear was that once a week meeting with your priest.  For us at St. Francis Elementary School, the parish priest would come to the school, and though he never made eye contact with you, his presence intimidated you.

You were afraid to mention your sins, and logically, I do not know why.

He wasn’t a mean.
He wasn’t known for asking outrageous acts of Penance, (the usual was 5 Our Fathers, 10 Hail Mary’s and 2 acts of contrition – you could say that much on your way back to class)

But there was something intimidating about confessing to another person, even to a man God put in place to remind you that you were forgiven because of Christ’s death on the cross!

Now some forty years later, and being a Lutheran pastor who absolves people of sins, I realize there is no difference.  People are still intimidated, still anxious, people still struggle with guilt and shame.

Even though we know the solution is found in our merciful high Priest Jesus, we shy away from Him, we put up our defenses, we deny we have done wrong. We try to hide our wretchedness, the wretchedness that eats us alive, that causes our souls to wither, our hearts to break.

We need to learn to trust, to depend on this God who came to us, to be like us, to free us from that sin, that shame, that oppression.  We need to let Him help us, to speak through those He’s called and ordained to do this very work.

We need to hear, “you are forgiven”

There is the paradox, the One we fear the most, the One we want to hide from the most, is the Lord who can do something to cut away our sin,,,to cleanse and purify us.

This is what we need, this is what we’ve been promised, this is what we should run to in hope, this time where God dwells in our heart with all His grace and love.

So don’t hesitate.  There are pastors and priests waiting, desiring to do their job, to tell you that which is the best news you will here today, or any day….

 

Escriva, Josemaria. The Forge (Kindle Locations 1092-1094). Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition.

Do We Take Sin’s Cure Seriously Enough?


chemnitz-on-us-dwelling-in-jesusDevotional Thought of the Day:

26  The LORD said, “Do not make idols or set up statues, stone pillars, or carved stones to worship. I am the LORD your God.   Leviticus 26:1 TEV

16  Make this your common practice: Confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you can live together whole and healed. The prayer of a person living right with God is something powerful to be reckoned with.
James 5:16 (MSG)

Marcion taught, on the basis of the opinions of his master Cerdo, that there is one god of the Old Testament, just, stern, and punitive toward sin, who rained down sulfur and fire on Sodom, Gen. 19:24; and there is another god of the New Testament, merciful, beneficent, long-suffering, who “causes His sun to rise and sends rain on the just and the unjust,

 

Our Saviour has left the holy sacrament of penance and confession to his Church, that in it we may cleanse ourselves from all our iniquities, as often as we should be defiled by them. Never suffer your heart, then, Philothea, to remain long affected with sin, since you have so easy a remedy at hand. A soul which has consented to sin ought to conceive a horror of herself, and cleanse herself as quickly as possible, out of the respect she ought to bear to the Divine Majesty, who incessantly beholds her. Alas! why should we die a spiritual death, when we have so sovereign a remedy at hand?

I have to wonder how much Marcion’s idea of two gods, one of the Old Testament and One of the New affects our viewpoint of sin.

The thought is prevalent today among many in the church, and it drastically colors our viewpoint of sin.  We tend to dismiss things in the Old Testament that were prohibited  (and not declared clean like bacon and Gentiles!) because we see the God of the Old being different, and having different standards than Jesus.

Perhaps that is why we don’t take the cure for sin seriously?

We all are sinners, whether it is gossip, or sexual sins, or hatred and name calling. We’ve developed our justifications, our defenses, such as – well that was in the Old Testament, and life is different in the New Testament.  We even have simply gotten to the point where we deny that sin is sin.  We ignore its gravity, its pain, its horror.

Worse than the horror, what we are really doing is robbing ourselves, and those we teach, of a wondrous gift, a gift that is more valuable than anything we could purchase.  We don’t cover up and hide the sin, we bury and hide God’s glorious love and mercy.

We rob ourselves of forgiveness, of the healing and restoration God has promised us.  We rob ourselves of being right with God, of knowing His love and presence.  As De Sales teaches, why should we embrace a spiritual death, when our remedy is so at hand?  When that remedy is the body and blood of Jesus, given and shed for you, that this covenant promise would be yours – that you would be righteous, innocent and holy, being freed from sin.

Paul’s words in Hebrew echo again here – run to Jesus, for if e neglect such a great salvation, what else is there?  And if we are neglecting it because we don’t want to deal with sin, what is there?

The challenge is presenting this, not as the choice between wrath and paradise, for that is not the primary purpose of forgiveness.  That purpose is so that we can know, that we can be assured that God is our God, that we are His people, that we are in fellowship, a deep intimate relationship that is based on the deepest of love.  His love which doesn’t ignore our sin, but heals us. That was His plan throughout the Old Testament (read the dedication of the Temple if you don’t believe me) and is fully revealed in Jesus in the new.

Which is why Chemnitz follows his comments about Marcion with the beautiful, intimate description of our dwelling in the Word of God  (that is, Jesus) as a baby dwells in the uterus.  Safe, secure, nourished, until we find the day where glory shines… and all that is God is revealed.

Til then, we dwell in His peace. Amen!

 

Chemnitz, Martin, and Jacob A. O. Preus. Loci Theologici. electronic ed. St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1999. Print.1885. Print.

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

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.

The Ministry Of Reconciliation: A Great Untapped Power…


Devotional Thought of the Day:

35 They will say, “This once-desolate land has become like the garden of Eden. The cities once ruined, laid waste and destroyed, are now resettled and fortified.”s 36 Then the surrounding nations that remain shall know that I, the LORD, have rebuilt what was destroyed and replanted what was desolate. I, the LORD, have spoken: I will do it!  (NABRE Ezekiel 36:35-36)

24 Suppose, now, that the invitation (to confess our sins and receive absolution) were changed into a command that all beggars should run to the place, no reason being given and no mention of what they were to look for or receive. How else would the beggar go but with repugnance, not expecting to receive anything but just letting everyone see how poor and miserable he is? Not much joy or comfort would come from this, but only a greater hostility to the command.
25 In the same way the pope’s* preachers have in the past kept silence about this wonderful, rich alms and this indescribable treasure; they have simply driven men together in hordes just to show what impure and filthy people they were. Who could thus go to confession willingly?
26 We, on the contrary, do not say that men should look to see how full of filthiness you are, making of you a mirror for contemplating themselves. Rather we advise: If you are poor and miserable, then go and make use of the healing medicine.  (1)

That is the way you are, too, he says; that is the way you are interiorly, if we look attentively at ourselves we shall know that this is true. We are interiorly stunted and crippled. We lack interior strength because we live only exteriorly. “Everyman”, who abounded in health and life, was interiorly completely crippled, but he did not know it. In his efforts to draw all life to himself, he had failed to learn what life truly is. There appears now on stage a second female figure, who teaches the dying Everyman how to pray again. Thus faith helps to give strength to his works. Supported by faith, his works can move, and he, too, can move—to move along the right, the true road to salvation. Faith gives him from Christ’s strength what Everyman does not have of himself.  (2)

A pastor or priest sits, and hears people unburden their lives, and we see a miracle happen.  Those crushed by guilt and shame are healed, they are made whole.  They are restored.

We can often see it with our eyes, yet the perception goes far deeper, as the grace of God bursts from their hearts and souls through their eyes.  It is such a thing that Ezekiel describes as he calls watching a once desolate land become the garden of Eden. Or a city laid waste, that has been restored.

Pope Benedict wrote of it as Everyman learning to pray again – the line of communication between God and man cleared of all that blocks it from our inattention, as guilt and shame are flushed away, and we can live again. Luther talks about it as a great treasure, this healing medicine of hearing God speak.

But we would rather look in the mirror and see the filth; we would rather look at works, poor and feeble, no better than filthy rags. Because we’ve let confession (and I mean the entire church) and the precious words of absolution be neglected, we struggle to believe them, to perceive the grace we should look for, the guarantee of mercy we should desire!

This is why pastors and priests must return to teaching about this precious sacrament.  So that its power to heal and restore people no longer sits unused, misunderstood, untapped.  Our people need to have this – they need to be able to share the joy of their salvation, to celebrate that God isn’t far off, but in Him we still live and move and have our very being!  This is amazing grace; this is proof of His unfailing love… these words of absolution, these glorious words that we are free…

God is merciful, the world needs to know this, you and I need to know this.

As we are absolved, let our awe turn into praises and celebration, as God throws us a feast, and as we know we are welcomed in His presence.  AMEN!

(1)  Tappert, T. G. (Ed.). (1959). The Book of Concord the confessions of the Evangelical Lutheran Church. (p. 460). Philadelphia: Mühlenberg Press.

(2)  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. 233–234). San Francisco: Ignatius Press.

* ( DIsclaimer: While it may be true that some in the RCC in Luther’s day are accurately described in his comment, the priests of the Roman Catholic Church I know and admire urge people to go, not just out of obedience, but because of the joy that awaits them as Christ assures them of His forgiveness – there are such pastors in every church body, even as there are those who would deny people of the joy of reconciliation)

Has the Church Given Up?


Devotional Thought fo the Day:
20  Now may the God of peace— who brought up from the dead our Lord Jesus, the great Shepherd of the sheep, and ratified an eternal covenant with his blood— 21  may he equip you with all you need for doing his will. May he produce in you, through the power of Jesus Christ, every good thing that is pleasing to him. All glory to him forever and ever! Amen.     Hebrews 13:20-21 (NLT)

8  In every church service I want the men to pray, men who are dedicated to God and can lift up their hands in prayer without anger or argument.   1 Timothy 2:8 (TEV)

372      If you persevere in your prayer, with “personal perseverance”, God Our Lord will give you all the means you need to be more effective and to spread his kingdom in the world. But you have to keep faithful: asking, asking, asking… Are you really behaving this way?

16 Ultimately, if we should list as sacraments all the things that have God’s command and a promise added to them, then why not prayer, which can most truly be called a sacrament? It has both the command of God and many promises. If it were placed among the sacraments and thus given, so to speak, a more exalted position, this would move men to pray

The first quote, from the book of Hebrews, is how we often end our service.  It is a benediction, a blessing, but it is also a prayer.  Interestingly enough, it is not a suggested to be used in most of the liturgies I have seen over the years, as I’ve researched liturgy and worship.  There are others; the Aaronic Blessing is popular, so is one in a Trinitarian format,  but not this one from Hebrews.

It popped into my mind, as I read St Josemaria’s words this morning, (the quote in green) And as I contemplated this blog, I started to think about prayer, especially prayer for God’s people to .. well be the people of God. To live life with Him in a way that brings God great joy.

I thought of the prayers that begin most of Paul’s letters and the prayers of Christ for the church.  You see, this prayer/blessing of Hebrews does not stand alone. I also thought of a great book on Church Revitalization, and the author’s insistence on the prayer team, noting it is more importance than vision casting, or those who work the change.  (I’ve seen that part often dropped as churches adapt the book to their own need)

Then I thought of the articles I read yesterday.  Articles that talked about churches closing, and another about the dwindling numbers of seminarians, and church attendance.  I thought of as well recent conversations with pastors, who talk of dry lives, and as well, struggle to see any benefit to prayer. Is there a correlation between our lack of prayer, and our observation of a church that is weak, sick, and even dying and our lack of persistent prayer?  If we judged the effectiveness of the church based on the prayers of pastors and people, would we have to say the church has given up and surrendered?

Luther would say that we pray, not that God is hindered by its lack, but because we are. Our lack of prayer results in a supernatural pessimism, and even apathy. We know that prayer and faith go together, as we pray, so we depend on God to see those prayers addressed and answered in our lives, in our communities.

So why don’t we pray, and why don’t we pray as this passage and so many others indicate?  Is it because we don’t see prayer as a sacramental act, a blessing where God comes and communes with us?  If we did, as the Lutheran Confessions advise, and see Prayer truly as a sacrament, would it make a difference?

I think it would.  It would stop us from seeing prayer as a duty, and see it as the wonderful blessing it is, we would persevere, not because it might manipulate God, but because of the peace that comes from knowing God is dealing with it.  As we pray, the anxiety is reduced, our trust and dependence on God grows, and we become sure of God’s wisdom and strength at work.  What a blessing this is!  What a comfort!

if we would see the church grow, if we would encourage men to become pastors and encourage people to serve in the church and its ministries, prayer is the key.  Fellowship with God that breeds and magnifies the trust that knows the transformation God works in us, and celebrates our union with God.

This is when ministry is at its strongest, when we are relying and depending on God, and we truly see His work in us, and the joy it creates.

My friends, hold up your holy hands, depend on God and ask Him to bless His people everywhere.  AMEN.

Escriva, Josemaria. The Forge (Kindle Locations 1462-1465). Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition.

Tappert, T. G. (Ed.). (1959). The Book of Concord the confessions of the Evangelical Lutheran Church. (p. 213). Philadelphia: Mühlenberg Press.

 

 

Revival and the Sacrament of Reconciliation


Devotional Thought fo the Day:
5  Finally, I confessed all my sins to you and stopped trying to hide my guilt. I said to myself, “I will confess my rebellion to the LORD.” And you forgave me! All my guilt is gone.    Psalm 32:5 (NLT)

18  And all of this is a gift from God, who brought us back to himself through Christ. And God has given us this task of reconciling people to him. 19  For God was in Christ, reconciling the world to himself, no longer counting people’s sins against them. And he gave us this wonderful message of reconciliation.   2 Corinthians 5:18-19 (NLT)

Since absolution or the power of the keys, which was instituted by Christ in the Gospel, is a consolation and help against sin and a bad conscience, confession and absolution should by no means be allowed to fall into disuse in the church, especially for the sake of timid consciences and for the sake of untrained young people who need to be examined and instructed in Christian doctrine

.126      You asked me to suggest a way for winning through in your daily struggles, and I replied: When you lay your soul open, say first of all what you wouldn’t like to be known. In this way the devil will always end up defeated. Lay your soul wide open, clearly and simply, so that the rays of God’s Love may reach and illuminate the last corner of it!

We used to refer to it as “Private Confession” in the Lutheran Church.  Theologically we refer to it as COnfessiona and Absolution, with the emphasis on the Absolution part.  The quote in green is from our confessions, where it is numbered among our sacraments, and in the minds of our forefathers, too great a treasure to forgo.

My brothers in the Roman Catholic church call this the Ministry of Reconciliation, and I have to admit I like that name as well.  It reminds us what forgiveness does, it makes things right, it applies the blood of Christ to our brokenness, it brings healing, much-needed healing to souls damaged by guilt, shame and resentment which comes along with our sin and rebellion,  It is the duty of the church, it is at the heart of its very mission, to  pronounce this news of God’s mercy, of His care.

It is what brings life back, this far too overlooked sacrament, this anxious moment where we trust God enough to lay our soul wide open.  It is then, as the Lord of Life, the Holy Spirit circumcises our heart with the power of God’s love, that all which hinders our life.

This is a ministry we all need, for we need the freedom that we find as Christ delivers us from sin and death, as He liberates us from the oppression that can so dominate our lives.

Luther makes it clear, that part of this ministry is too timid consciences, those that are unsure of God’s grace, those that are bruised and battered by their own lives, by their pasts, by the fear that they won’t be accepted by God, or by His people.  That is no different today, as people will  gradually talk to a pastor or priest, as if trying to see if the water is scalding or frigid, only to warm up and get to the heart of what troubles them.

They need our ministry, our time, out ears to hear their confessions, our mouths to say what they long to hear, our eyes and hearts to assure them that the forgiveness we speak, is not ours, but we speak it for Him.

Because this life-giving ministry was given to us.

To stand by their side, to encourage them to cry out to God, to cry out, “Lord, have mercy!”

And to know that He has had mercy… and will walk by their side in life.

 

 

(1)  Tappert, T. G. (Ed.). (1959). The Book of Concord the confessions of the Evangelical Lutheran Church. (p. 312). Philadelphia: Mühlenberg Press

(2)  Escriva, Josemaria (2011-01-31). The Forge (Kindle Locations 644-647). Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition.

Where Renewal Starts…..


Devotional Thought of the Day:
26  This means that every time you eat this bread and drink from this cup you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes. 27  It follows that if one of you eats the Lord’s bread or drinks from his cup in a way that dishonors him, you are guilty of sin against the Lord’s body and blood. 28  So then, you should each examine yourself first, and then eat the bread and drink from the cup. 29  For if you do not recognize the meaning of the Lord’s body when you eat the bread and drink from the cup, you bring judgment on yourself as you eat and drink. 30  That is why many of you are sick and weak, and several have died. 31  If we would examine ourselves first, we would not come under God’s judgment. 32  But we are judged and punished by the Lord, so that we shall not be condemned together with the world.     1 Corinthians 11:26-32 (TEV)

109      There is an enemy of the interior life which is both little and silly. Unfortunately, it can be very effective. It is the neglect of effort in one’s examination of conscience.  (1)

For this reason private confession should be retained in the church, for in it consciences afflicted and crushed by the terrors of sin lay themselves bare and receive consolation which they could not acquire in public preaching. We want to open up confession as a port and refuge for those whose consciences the devil holds enmeshed in his snares and whom he completely bewitches and torments in such a way that they cannot free or extricate themselves and feel and see nothing else but that they must perish. For there is no other greater misery in this life than the pains and perplexities of a heart that is destitute of guidance and solace.
To such, then, an approach to confession should be opened up so that they may seek and find consolation among the ministers of the church.  (2)

Growing up in the 1970’s there was a lot of talk of renewal, and movements which facilitated various renewals.  There was a call for liturgical renewal, retreats that offered times of personal renewal, parish and congregational renewal, and the movement which was known as the Charismatic Renewal.

Each form of renewal brought promise, sometimes delivered, sometimes frustrated.

Then in the 90’s we replaced renewal with revival, and then revitalizatiom.

Now it seems that renewal, either personal, congregational, across a denomination, or across the entire church has been tossed aside.  We’d rather close churches, and start something completely new.  We’d rather give up on people whose faith has become dormant, and focus on new conversion.  Or worse, offer hope to those churches and people, not through the renewal of their spirit, but through returning to the forms that left them dried, weary and with a withered faith.

How will these new lives survive when their new churches hit 20-25 years old (the age when some skeptics say churches begin to die)   What will happen to the faith of these people who are guided toward the dry, repetitive faith that caused their churches to dwindle?

Or is there an option?

Could it be found in these words from Paul about the examination of our hearts and souls? Could it be in letting confession and the examination it offers fall into disuse we have hindered renewal/revival in the church, and if the church is not renewed, neither is the world?

What joy have we prevented people from knowing, what joy and peace could we offer them, simply by helping them realize their need for forgiveness while assuring them it is offered?  What joy and peace have we neglected giving our people, what guilt and shame do they bear, not knowing they bear it without need?

We talk of wanting churches to grow, in number, faith and practice, yet we do not offer them the basic respite the psalmists craved, and rejoiced and rested as they received it.

What if we offered them a real chance to examine themselves, to consider their lives, to cry out for deliverance, to cry out in hope?  What if our words assured them of God’s mercy, of the forgiveness He years to give, of the love He would assure them they have?

Our people need to examine themselves, knowing that they are doing so to find their freedom in Christ.  To know that doing so will bring them life, as God sets aside all that would inhibit their life, and transform and make them Holy. For that is what absolution, that is our cleansing.

That is renewal, that is revival, that is life being restored to those who are weary and worn, broken and devastated.

May we, and our people cry out for the Lord’s mercy, knowing He who provides it is faithful.
AMEN!

(1)  Escriva, Josemaria (2011-01-31). The Forge (Kindle Locations 589-591). Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition.

(2)  Luther, M. (1999). Luther’s works, vol. 6: Lectures on Genesis: Chapters 31-37. (J. J. Pelikan, H. C. Oswald, & H. T. Lehmann, Eds.) (Vol. 6, pp. 297–298). Saint Louis: Concordia Publishing House.

Stop Fooling Yourselves, You Need His Help!


Devotional Thought of the Day:
8  If we claim we have no sin, we are only fooling ourselves and not living in the truth. 9  But if we confess our sins to him, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all wickedness. 10  If we claim we have not sinned, we are calling God a liar and showing that his word has no place in our hearts.
1 John 1:8-10 (NLT)

Accept the sacrifice of my confessions from the ministry of my tongue, which Thou hast formed and stirred up to confess unto Thy name. Heal Thou all my bones, and let them say, O Lord, who is like unto Thee? For he who confesses to Thee doth not teach Thee what takes place within him; seeing a closed heart closes not out Thy eye, nor can man’s hard-heartedness thrust back Thy hand: for Thou dissolvest it at Thy will in pity or in vengeance, and nothing can hide itself from Thy heat. But let my soul praise Thee, that it may love Thee; and let it confess Thy own mercies to Thee, that it may praise Thee.

When God names himself after the self-understanding of faith he is not so much expressing his inner nature as making himself nameable; he is handing himself over to men in such a way that he can be called upon by them. And by doing this he enters into co-existence with them, he puts himself within their reach, he is “there” for them.

180 Because of his promise, because of Christ, God wishes to be favorably disposed to us and to justify us, not because of the law or our works: this promise we must always keep in view. In this promise timid consciences should seek reconciliation and justification, sustaining themselves with this promise and being sure that because of Christ and his promise they have a gracious God

As I worked through my devotional readings this morning (which you see some of, above), there seems to be a connection between two themes.

The first is the presence of God in our lives.  That He revealed to us His name, not that we would misuse it, but so that we could use it, to call upon when we are in need when we have seen that need met.

The second is along the use of that name when we most dearly need it.  When sin has broken our lives, and the lives of those we should love. When sin has damaged the incredible blessings, God has given and entrusted to us.

I think both St. John’s epistle and the blunt words of Augustine make it clear, we aren’t confessing what we successfully hidden from God.  For nothing can be hidden from Him, and to pretend we can, is being foolish and ignorant.  To pretend to be sinless, to ignore the things we have done, said or thought that result in a need of healing is not just a lie, but it results in great damage.

Instead, we need to confess, and in doing so, we praise God for being so gracious, for being merciful, for a love that overwhelms the wrath we deserve.  Like the worship that we label lament, the worship of confession is beyond words that can express God’s glory.  For in both lament and confession, we hope for that which is beyond our imagination.

God takes us, in all of our brokeness, in all of our despair, in the depth of human anguish, and lifts us, comforts us, heals us.  As the Lutheran Confessions speak, God sustains those who timidly approach the throne, confident not in their own merit, but sustained by Jesus.

This has to be the message of the church.  The hope that every believer, not just pastors, and priests, passes on to those around them, friend and foe, neighbor and refugee, family member and… well those family members.  It transcends any moral issue, for all are immoral until they encounter the cross. It is the message found in every Bible, and it is our more precious vocation, that of children of God.

So come, confess your sins, yeah even those you wanted to excuse or argue aren’t sins.  Stop trying to defend what you know is wrong. Hear you are forgiven, and rejoice.  For the confession and the joy are praise to the Lord, who loves you more than you can know, and welcome you to explore every dimension of that love.

Never, ever, be afraid to cry out, “Lord, have mercy on me, a sinner!”  For He has. AMEN!

 

 

Augustine, S., Bishop of Hippo. (1996). The Confessions of St. Augustine. (E. B. Pusey, Trans.). Oak Harbor, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc.

Ratzinger, J. (1992). Co-Workers of the Truth: Meditations for Every Day of the Year. (I. Grassl, Ed., M. F. McCarthy & L. Krauth, Trans.) (p. 22). San Francisco: Ignatius Press.

Tappert, T. G. (Ed.). (1959). The Book of Concord the confessions of the Evangelical Lutheran Church. (pp. 131–132). Philadelphia: Mühlenberg Press.

If you don’t have anything good to say…. when you should say it!


Devotional Thought of the Day:
5  A false witness will not go unpunished, nor will a liar escape. Proverbs 19:5 (NLT)

8  If we claim we have no sin, we are only fooling ourselves and not living in the truth. 9  But if we confess our sins to him, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all wickedness. 10  If we claim we have not sinned, we are calling God a liar and showing that his word has no place in our hearts. 1 John 1:8-10 (NLT)

330         I agree, you are saying nearly all the truth… Therefore you are not truthful.

We’ve heard the words all our lives, “if you have nothing good to say, then say nothing at all.” And so from our childhood we have been taught to quibble.  Or with more precision, we have been taught to lie.

Most of us are good at it, though we come up with various ways to spin the art of lying.  We might even twist Luther’s words about coming up with the best construction on the actions, words or thoughts that we know are not right before God.

We are professional “quibblerers”.  Especially when it comes to justifying our friends, or more importantly ourselves.  We have fragile egos after all, hidden behind .well constructed illusions of self-esteem.  Those egos may not survive well, if we handle the truth.

This training is why we are so uncomfortable with the idea of confession, the ministry of reconciliation.  The time where we sit before a priest or pastor and admit things that are either nice or fun.

In private confession, you don’t have to hide anything.  You cannot because God already knows.   You should not, because you need the assurance that sin is forgiven.  Tell the truth, no matter how horrid, no matter how you fear it will reflect on you.  Don’t quibble, don’t try to justify yourself, whether in your mind or to the one you are confessing to, or for that matter to God.  Who is listening for one purpose, to comfort you with His mercy and love.

It’s time to be free of all of that unnecessary work, that unnecessary burden of second-guessing ourselves.

Just be honest, the feeling of freedom will overwhelm you…. even to where the joy will pour out in tears.

Lord Have Mercy on us who are sinners, and help us to hear your forgiveness.

Escriva, Josemaria (2011-01-31). Furrow (Kindle Locations 1548-1549). Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition.

Why Advent is a Blessing for Sinners… (like me)


Devotional Thought of the Day:

7 But if we walk in the light as he is in the light, then we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of his Son Jesus cleanses us from all sin.f 8 If we say, “We are without sin,” we deceive ourselves,* and the truth is not in us.g 9 If we acknowledge our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive our sins and cleanse us from every wrongdoing.h 10 If we say, “We have not sinned,” we make him a liar, and his word is not in us.1 Jn 1:7–10) NAB-RE

“Confession has not been abolished by the preachers on our side. The custom has been retained among us of not administering the sacrament to those who have not previously been examined and absolved.
2 At the same time the people are carefully instructed concerning the consolation of the Word of absolution so that they may esteem absolution as a great and precious thing.
3 It is not the voice or word of the man who speaks it, but it is the Word of God, who forgives sin, for it is spoken in God’s stead and by God’s command.
4 We teach with great diligence about this command and power of keys and how comforting and necessary it is for terrified consciences. We also teach that God requires us to believe this absolution as much as if we heard God’s voice from heaven, that we should joyfully comfort ourselves with absolution, and that we should know that through such faith we obtain forgiveness of sins.”

Part of the purpose of Advent within the Church year consists in reviving once more this awareness in us. It should urge us to confront these truths, to admit the extent of our lack of redemption, which did not simply exist in the world at some time and perhaps still exists somewhere but which is a present reality within ourselves and within the Church. The Christian existence, therefore, includes this as well: that we, out of the distress of our own darkness, like the man Job, dare to speak to God. It also means that we do not think we could present to God only half of our existence and must spare him all the rest because it might grieve him. No—to Him in particular we may and must carry the total burden of our existence in complete honesty.

There is a patterned to which the church year flows, one reflected in the Northern Hemisphere’s calendar.  As the year ends, and begins, the days grow shorter, the amount of light we see daily diminishes, as often with it, hope.  People deal with more depression, and grieve deeply, as the oncoming holidays remind them of the loved one’s they miss.

Sins become more magnified, as we have more time to dwell on them.  Both those sins that were committed against us, and those which we ourselves commit.  Again, because of more time in darkness, we have more time to think, to ponder, to feel the guilt, to be weighed down by the shame.  To realize how much we are beyond any help,

save the help of God.

I think Pope Benedict nails it, in the third quote above, when he say we shouldn’t spare God the grief of dealing with half of our existence, we may and MUST carry the total burden to Him, in complete honesty.  (I am reminded of people who filter out their pastors and priests from seeing ALL of their facebook/twitter feeds, because they feel ashamed, or are afraid of feeling that way!)  If we need help, if we need to be rescued from the crushing weight of sin and shame, then He is the person, He is our Hope, He is our answer.

As the Lutheran Confessions say, when the pastor/priest speaks the words absolving you of sin, they aren’t just his words, they are the words of God you need to hear, that you must hear.  This absolution is the comfort that relieves the guilt and the shame. That is why we talk of it as such a great treasure.

As I’ve been contemplating Advent, and the nature of repentance, penitence, I am realizing more and more we need to go through such times of self-evaluation.  of coming face to face with our sin. Of realizing the depth of it.  Not to end up drowning in guilt and self-loathing, but because it will bring us to the Father in heaven, it will cause us like Job, like Abraham, to work with God honestly.  To run to Him, because He is our hope.

This is what confession is, the very thing God knew we needed.  To hear his voice, through others He called and commanded to be there for you, to say the words, “you are forgiven, in the name of the Father, and the Son and the Holy Spirit.”

So take the time during this advent, during this time when darkness seems to hide all that is good and holy, to consider, confess, and be comforted by God.

AMEN
Tappert, T. G. (Ed.). (1959). The Book of Concord the confessions of the Evangelical Lutheran Church. (pp. 61–62). Philadelphia: Mühlenberg Press.

Ratzinger, J. (1992). Co-Workers of the Truth: Meditations for Every Day of the Year. (M. F. McCarthy & L. Krauth, Trans., I. Grassl, Ed.) (p. 382). San Francisco: Ignatius Press.

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