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The Greatest Thing a Pastor/Priest can do! (for you!)


A Devotional Thought for the day:

Sunrise at Concordia

Sunrise on the day of our combinsed service at Concordia Lutheran Church – Cerritos Ca (also home to Passion International Christian Church!)

Foolish people don’t care if they sin, but good people want to be forgiven. Proverbs 14:9

486         That big young man wrote to me saying: “My ideal is so great that only the sea could contain it.” I answered: “And what about the Tabernacle, which is so ‘small’; and the ‘common’ workshop of Nazareth?” It is in the greatness of ordinary things that He awaits us!

When a pastor is ordained, or perhaps is installed in a new church, we often make grandiose plans, and have visions of the church growing, and becoming stronger,  We (and our people – that’s why they called us) envision our churches overflowing with people, with ministries that meet the need of every demographic in our community, and even impact the world through the missions we support.

What is often overlooked is the simple things, the things that are needed, the common work of a pastor or priest.  The sacramental things that make the greatest difference in a person’s life.  Not a great difference, the greatest difference, even though we may also need to teach them about it along the way.

THis great work? This simple thing that will radically change their lives?  For a Lutheran pastor, it is these words,

“Let it be done for you as you believe! In the stead and by the command of my Lord Jesus, I forgive you all your sins!  In the Name of the Father and the Son, and the Holy Spirit. AMEN!”

For a Catholic, Orthodox or Anglican priest the words are different.  The Baptist or Evangelical pastor may simply say, “you’re forgiven”, without backing it up with the formal language.  These words of forgiveness are heard in church service during a baptism, or as we celebrate the Lord’s supper in confessionals, in the pastor’s office or out having coffee. They are said at the bedside of someone who is dying, and while counseling the prisoner in a jail.

It is the simple work of ministry, something we need to hear, something we know we need to hear. Ordinary perhaps, but as those words are heard, as they are understood in our heart, soul, and mind, shame and guilt are swept away as the sin is removed.  We are reminded of God’s love for us, and the relationship Christ’ death on the cross secured and guaranteed for us.  We might even find the strength and hope needed ot ask forgiveness from that relative we hurt or the friend we accidentally betrayed. 

Most pastors and priests will never preach to thousands at once.  Most of us won’t baptize a hundred in a day.  We would love to see that of course, but the best thing we can do is found in what we can do for you…. to tell you of a God who loves you so much that He would forgive you of all your sin, and has.  Who would do so in such a way that you would learn to run for forgiveness, that you would desire it, that you would rejoice when you hear it.

This is ministry, real ministry, a ministry which heals and restores and leaves you full of joy and peace.

So come talk to us, hear the words you need to hear, “you are forgiven of all your sins, (and yes – that one as well!)

See you soon!

 

 

Escriva, Josemaria. Furrow (Kindle Locations 2126-2129). Scepter Publishers. 

Why Do We Play Hide, and Not Seek?


ST MARY OF PEACEDevotional Thought fo the Day:

16  Confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The earnest prayer of a righteous person has great power and produces wonderful results. James 5:16 (NLT)

323         Anyone who hides a temptation from his director shares a secret with the devil. He has become a friend of the enemy.

3 With regard to the time, it is certain that most people in our churches use the sacraments, absolution and the Lord’s Supper, many times a year. Our clergy instruct the people about the worth and fruits of the sacraments in such a way as to invite them to use the sacraments often. On this subject our theologians have written many things which our opponents, if they are but honest, will undoubtedly approve and praise.

There is no hope, no chance to correct the wrongs, no chance to fix that was broken, the person thought.  So they had one of two easy solutions,  Ignore the problem, or run and hide from it. either way, the damage increases, and the help needed to overcome the problem is ignored.

If this was a medical issue, (and yes people ignore and hide from them) most of us would come alongside the person and urge, even beg them to seek help.  If it was an addiction, we might risk their anger and do the same.   But how many of us are going to take such an action on something that is far more critical, the spiritual health of our friends and family?  How many of us would even think to suggest absolution, the ministry, and sacrament of reconciliation, if someone was sharing their battle with guilt and shame?

St. Josemaria’s words are harsh, that when we hide our sins, when we don’t confess them, when we don’t ask for help in dealing with them, we effectively align with Satan, and we accept the bondage of guilt and shame which will paralyze and haunt us. 

That’s pretty serious, and after 20 years of ministry, and seeing the problems that unresolved guilt and shame brought upon people, upon their family and friends, I concur. All we do when we ignore sin, or when we isolate ourselves from others because of it is fall, to trust in Satan’s deception. 

Confession and absolution, the hearing that God does forgive us because of Jesus’ work on the cross, that free us from that bondage, it starts the healing of brokenness that would otherwise crush us. It is liberating, it brings about both incredible joy and incredible peace. 

It’s time to stop ignoring our sin, or hiding from others as the sin and guilt tear our souls apart.  

God loves you and wants you to know, He desires to cleanse you of it all, to restore your soul, to mend the broken hearts.  He wants us to encourage each other to know this, to hear it from those entrusted to speak on His behalf.

Come, know the peace of God, and rejoice in the freedom Christ’s blood bought you!

 

Escriva, Josemaria. Furrow (Kindle Locations 1526-1527). Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition.  

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

Is God Hiding from You? Or You from Him? The Game is Over, and there is Peace!


Devotional Thought of the Day:
3  When I did not confess my sins, I was worn out from crying all day long. 4  Day and night you punished me, LORD; my strength was completely drained, as moisture is dried up by the summer heat. 5  Then I confessed my sins to you; I did not conceal my wrongdoings. I decided to confess them to you, and you forgave all my sins. Psalm 32:3-5 (TEV)

175         You are consumed by the desire to seal once more the self-dedication you made some time ago: remembering that you are a son of God and living like one too. Put your many weaknesses and infidelities in the Lord’s hands. For that is also the only way to lessen their weight.

In Paul’s teaching about the Lord’s Supper in  Corinthians 11, he mentions the need for self-examination.  To ake some time and think through our lives. to think about our sins, to realize the great need we have for God’s mercy and abundant love.

Most of us want to please God, we want to avoid sin and temptation, we want to do better.  We understand all too well though the battle that rages on in our hearts and souls which the apostle Paul describes clearly in Romans 7 and then again in Hebrews 12.  In the latter, he begs us to leave it all behind, this sin which so easily traps us.

Yet many of us are bothered by this idea of self-examination.  We don’t want to see what we know is there, the resentment, the hatred, the lust, the greed and envy, the thirst for what benefits us, no matter what the cost.  We don’t like looking int he mirror, and if we are “made” to, we act like we can clean up our mess.  “Just give me another week, just be more patient, I will fix this,” we tell God.

We can’t, the burden will just get greater, the pressure more intense, the spiritual and emotional crushing pain will go on and it will either eat us up, or will cause us to become callous, and defensive.

With a little humility and some trust, this burden can be removed and in its place, we came know peace and joy, just as the Psalmist says.  We can give to God our weaknesses, our infidelities, placing them in His hands, knowing He will deal with them, forgiving them, cleansing us, answering our prayers to lead us not to temptation, and deliver us from the evil one.

Free of the snares, your heart will be far less burdened, your mind at ease, knowing that what you really desire, to please the God who loves and saves you, is possible.

But you say, how can I do this?  How can I take this step?

You aren’t alone in it, for the Shepherd of your soul, Jesus, has provided you and all the church those who can guide you through this, the pastors and priests who are tasked by God and the church with helping you with this, of hearing you confess, of counseling you through this, and then saying, on Jesus’s behalf (and by His command), “you are forgiven!”

Come, lay down your burdens, and lay down your pain.  Let God deal with your sin, and let the Holy Spirit set you apart as one who is the child of God.  Trust Him, He won’t turn you away, for this is what he wants for you.  AMEN!

Escriva, Josemaria. Furrow (Kindle Locations 945-948). Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition.

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.

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