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Maybe the Church Should Try This….Maybe We Should

Devotional Thought of the Day:

3  Then the devil said to him, “If you are the Son of God, change this stone into a loaf of bread.” 4  But Jesus told him, “No! The Scriptures say, ‘People do not live by bread alone.’” Luke 4:3-4 (NLT2)

In India following a big earthquake some years ago, relief teams came from all over the world. They asked that a few of our sisters be in each relief camp to organize the work. To their surprise the sisters insisted on beginning each day with prayer and Holy Mass and that there be times to withdraw for meals and prayers. Some did not agree but those who remained saw the wisdom of it. Because there was reliance on God, the teams could continue. Another proof that our strength comes from Him Who said it clearly: ‘Without Me you can do nothing’.
I speak in the name of our sisters everywhere and from my own personal experience: without the strength provided by the Eucharist, it would not be possible to live our vocation.

And now that they no longer have to chatter the troublesome [breviary’s] seven hours, it would be much better if morning, noon, and night they would replace it by reading a page or two of the catechism, prayer book,4 New Testament, or something else from the Bible and pray the Lord’s Prayer for themselves and their parishioners! In this way they would again show some gratitude and respect for the gospel, which has relieved them of so many burdens and difficulties, and they might feel a little shame that, like pigs and dogs, they do not get more out of the gospel than this lazy, harmful, scandalous, fleshly freedom. Sad to admit, the rabble has too low a regard for the gospel, and, even when we have tried as hard as we can, we do not make much of a difference. What can we expect if we want to be as idle and lazy as we were under the papacy?

The battle in my denomination is no different than the battle in so many others today. Ultimately, it doesn’t boil down to worship style, or missional strategy. It isn’t about being traditional, or seeker-sensitive (though there are new terms to describe such, they are still the same battles). It isn’t even about long divisions that are more about personalities and generations of disciples who held grudges. It is even, as I have long thought, about power and control.

Well – not about us controlling versus them controlling.

Simply put, it is about letting God be God, and sitting at His feet, as Mary did. It is about living a life in a deep and intimate relationship with God, realizing that He is as incarnate in our lives as in Mary’s, and that the sacramental life is one which makes all the difference in the world. For a life, spent in communion with God, in prayer and meditation is what makes the difference in us, in our personal lives, in the lives of our parish/congregations. and in the life of our Church.

The temptation is no different than when Jesus was tempted. “Go do this, use your power to provide for yourself, do what is right in your own eyes, in your estimation, according to your studies and theories based on studying what others have done” and assuming that what we see as success, actually is successful. And yet the “missional” types, and the “confessional” types do this, and even do it somewhat triumphantly.

And yet, the passage Jesus is quoting is so contrary to that kind of idea.

2  Remember how the LORD your God led you through the wilderness for these forty years, humbling you and testing you to prove your character, and to find out whether or not you would obey his commands. 3  Yes, he humbled you by letting you go hungry and then feeding you with manna, a food previously unknown to you and your ancestors. He did it to teach you that people do not live by bread alone; rather, we live by every word that comes from the mouth of the LORD. Deuteronomy 8:2-3 (NLT2)

That is the life described in the quote from the Roman Catholic nun in the first article. One of the leaders from the order of Mother Theresa, whose work among the poor is legendary. They needed the mass, they needed the sacramental time with God in order to find the peace that would enable them to serve others. This is the life that Luther had hoped would develop as he preached the gospel. Yet, whether from laziness or temptation the freedom to actually pray in a non-mechanical way didn’t develop, and sermons that were more quotes of scholars that actually matching the word of God to the needs of people, revealing the grace and love of God that they needed to hear.

We must, as the people of God, spend time with Him. We have to spend time in silence, enough that the world drifts away, and we can hear the word of God. We need to struggle to understand what we receive in communion, to realize that this IS the Body and Blood of our Lord, given for us, given to us. Learning to desire this time, which is uncomfortable at first (see Isaiah 6 or Ex. 3:2 ) but grows on us, and becomes the most precious time we have.

And in that time, as we gaze on Christ, we do not realize the transformation that happens. We don’t notice our ability to show mercy grow, and to care for those around us. Yet it idoes…

This isn’t about a methodology about saving the church. It is about learning to let God provide as He has promised. It is about walking with Him, trusting and depending on Him. Hearing His voice.

My dear readers, I beg you, invest the time, push through the distractions, they will fade, and spend time, individually and in groups, learning to adore the Lord in whose presence you dwell. Listen to Him, through the word, through considering your baptism, the our communion together, through the words your pastors and priests share, declaring your are forgiven! And hearing Him guide you in your day….

The Lord is with you (all)!

Lord Jesus, help us to seek Your presence, even as Your Spirit dwells with us. For no other reason that to spend time with You, and to realize what You are doing in our lives. Help us to pray, and to meditate on Your word, and on Your love. AMEN!

Joseph MC. (2012). From Adoration to Serving the Poor. In A. Reid (Ed.), From Eucharistic Adoration to Evangelization (p. 179). London; New York: Burns & Oates.

Luther, M. (2007). Luther’s Spirituality. (P. D. W. Krey, B. McGinn, & P. D. S. Krey, Eds., P. D. S. Krey & P. D. W. Krey, Trans.) (pp. 185–186). New York; Mahwah, NJ: Paulist Press.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

AMEN!

 

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

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

The Lesson the Church Must Re-Learn, to Survive

Devotional Thought of the Day:
1  Imitate me, then, just as I imitate Christ.      1 Corinthians 11:1 (TEV)

22  I gave them the same glory you gave me, so that they may be one, just as you and I are one: 23  I in them and you in me, so that they may be completely one, in order that the world may know that you sent me and that you love them as you love me.
John 17:22-23 (TEV)

74      We all have to be ipse Christus—Christ himself. This is what Saint Paul commands in the name of God: Induimini Dominum Iesum Christum—put on the Lord Jesus Christ. Each one of us—you!—has to see how he puts on that clothing of which the Apostle speaks. Each one personally, has to sustain an uninterrupted dialogue with the Lord.  (1)

It seems like every expert has a reason for the church dwindling in the last 50 years.  Some blame the declining birthrate among Caucasians.  Others say it is the necessary cost for remaining faithful to God, another group says it is because only new church plants grow, and that we invest too much in places where God put his name already.  ( I have to wonder, do they really believe God gave up on churches older than a generation? )

I am no expert, I have never spent money studying the issues, I haven’t left the parish to become a consultant, or a church bureaucrat.  I am not a mega church pastor, or a blogger with 10,000 subscribers.  I shepherd people, broken as I am, into the presence of Christ, and am in awe when He fulfills his promise, the promises I share in sermons, in classes, over a beer.  So take my words for what they are.

I think the issue  is simple,   

We’ve forgotten to share with people that not only are they saved, but that they become the children of God, the co-heirs of Christ Jesus, To use fancy theological terms, which while God hasn’t infused righteousness (He counts us righteous ) He has infused us with holiness. 

We’ve been given the gift of the Holy Spirit, to dwell within us, to teach us, to transform us into the image of Jesus.  Not that we become superheroes, but servants, slaves, those who humbly walk with God. (see Phil. 2:1-10)

What is missing in the church, whether liberal or conservative, confessional or missional, no matter what the label we place on ourselves or others is this.

We’ve forgotten the concept of Christlikeness. 

Or, rather than considering it the promise of the Covenant, the blessing of the Gospel, we turn it into some kind of foreign works righteousness, and dismiss it as the Law we cannot hope to fulfill. 

It is the promise, the gospel, this blessing and privilege of repentance, (see Acts 11) that is granted to all who believe:  Hear Paul’s words,

29  No, a true Jew is one whose heart is right with God. And true circumcision is not merely obeying the letter of the law; rather, it is a change of heart produced by God’s Spirit. And a person with a changed heart seeks praise from God, not from people.
Romans 2:29 (NLT)

It is the change of heart, produced by God, a change Ezekiel 36 attached to God’s sprinkling of water, that Titus 3 confirms happening as the Father pours our His Spirit on us.  

Finally, it is the blessing of the prayer mentioned in John 17 above, as Christ gives us all that the Father gave Him, the unity, the glory, the ability to love. The ability to serve, even to die for those who are in need.  Even our enemies. Even those we would have looked down on.   To wash their feet, to let those betraying us close enough to embrace us, to work with whoever is considered unclean, that they would know the love of God.

This is our life; it is why we aren’t whisked into the throne room immediate after our baptism.   This is being the church of Christ the family of God.

It is time to heed the gospel found in Hebrews 12,

1  As for us, we have this large crowd of witnesses around us. So then, let us rid ourselves of everything that gets in the way, and of the sin which holds on to us so tightly, and let us run with determination the race that lies before us. 2  Let us keep our eyes fixed on Jesus, on whom our faith depends from beginning to end. He did not give up because of the cross! On the contrary, because of the joy that was waiting for him, he thought nothing of the disgrace of dying on the cross, and he is now seated at the right side of God’s throne. 3  Think of what he went through; how he put up with so much hatred from sinners! So do not let yourselves become discouraged and give up.
Hebrews 12:1-3 (TEV)

 

 

 

1)    Escriva, Josemaria (2011-01-31). The Forge (Kindle Locations 484-487). Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition.

Will Anxiety and Fear Stop You from Obeying God?

Devotional Thought of the Day:
17  Love is made perfect in us in order that we may have courage on the Judgment Day; and we will have it because our life in this world is the same as Christ’s. 18  There is no fear in love; perfect love drives out all fear. So then, love has not been made perfect in anyone who is afraid, because fear has to do with punishment. 19  We love because God first loved us. 20  If we say we love God, but hate others, we are liars. For we cannot love God, whom we have not seen, if we do not love others, whom we have seen. 21  The command that Christ has given us is this: whoever loves God must love others also. 1 John 4:17-21 (TEV)

303         A son of God cannot entertain class prejudice, for he is interested in the problems of all men. And he tries to help solve them with the justice and charity of Our Redeemer. The Apostle already pointed it out when he wrote that the Lord is no respecter of persons. I have not hesitated to translate his words thus: there is only one race of men, the race of the children of God!

We dwell in an age of fear, of anxiety, almost to the point of paranoia.

We may fear an unknown enemy, or an unseen one, like ISIS/ISIL.  We may fear those who are seeking refuge, or those who immigrate here.  We may fear a political candidate, and it doesn’t matter, whether they are in our part or not.   We may be anxious about our finances, or our about our workplaces, or about a relationship with another person. Or maybe we simply are afraid of growing old, as our bodies begin to break down.

In fact, most stressful situations we find ourselves in can be dealt either fearfully, or peacefully.  While our reaction may tend towards the fear, we can overcome that fear…if we dare.

Today, in fact, we are faced with a stressful situation, as school districts

Fear isn’t good, neither is its partner anxiety. It destroys and devastates the relationships in which we engage in, and others we should engage in.  For example, welcoming those who flee war, and terror.  Or those who live in poverty, or have led a broken life and been caught for it. Or those who are dealing with cancer, and need someone just to hold their hand.

To state it differently, will you allow fear to stop you from loving the people God has brought into your life (or desires to bring into your life) to love?

Will you realize the person you are ignoring, dismissing, even saying cruel things about as you refuse to consider their need, is human?  A person God sent Jesus to die for, and rose from the dead to show that God will raise them as well?  Will you look in their eyes and see their need for God’s love and the need you have to have them see that love in yours?

Will you set aside that fear, and love them as Christ loves you, confident that God has called you to live like this?

Would you want to live free of the fear, live free of the anxiety, to live in the moment, assured of the peace of God?  Assured that even something horrid, were it to happen, would not separate you from God’s love?

That is how the church is described in Revelation, so confident of God’s mercy and love…

11  And they have defeated him by the blood of the Lamb and by their testimony. And they did not love their lives so much that they were afraid to die. Revelation 12:11 (NLT)

This is what trusting and depending on Jesus does to us, it is what happens as we realize the depth of the love which fills us, as the Holy Spirit resides in us, the Spirit who joins us to Jesus.  That is the promise we have because God cleansed us in Baptism (see Ex 36:25ff)   As John points out, we can love God because He first showed that incredible love to us.

this is what it is to live a life that is full of peace, peace that cannot be surpassed, that surpasses all understanding.

The peace that Christmas exists to proclaim, the peace of God revealed to be living among His people, to be living in His people.

Lord, have mercy on us, and assure us of your peace… AMEN

Escriva, Josemaria (2011-01-31). Furrow (Kindle Locations 1446-1450). Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition.

Traditions, Athanasius and the Best Practices….

Devotional Thought of the Day:The Pantheon, a place once dedicated to worship of idols but reborn to host the worship of God.  May our lives tell a similar story as we realize what God does to us in baptism!
21  The LORD says, “I hate your religious festivals; I cannot stand them! 22  When you bring me burnt offerings and grain offerings, I will not accept them; I will not accept the animals you have fattened to bring me as offerings. 23  Stop your noisy songs; I do not want to listen to your harps. 24  Instead, let justice flow like a stream, and righteousness like a river that never goes dry. Amos 5:21-24 (TEV)

314 “Who said that to reach sanctity, you need to seek refuge in a cell or on a solitary mountain?” That was what a good family man asked himself in amazement, and he added: “If that were so, it would not be the people who would be holy, but the cell, or the mountain. It seems they have forgotten that Our Lord expressly told each and every one of us: be holy as my heavenly Father is holy.” My only comment was: “Our Lord, besides wanting us to be saints, grants each one of us the relevant graces.”   (Escriva, Josemaria (2011-01-31). Furrow (Kindle Locations 1490-1494). Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition. )

Sunday,we will do something in my church, that we only do once a year.  We will pull out of the closet a statement of faith, a creed that is 50 verses long.  It’s one of those kind of ancient writings that demands you stop and think through a verse before going to the next. It describes the relationship of the persons of the Trinity, and the complete unity at the same time.  It describes as well how Jesus is 100% God, and yet simultaneously man.  It is complext, and glorious and needs not 10 minutes to recite it in church, but hours to talk through and realize how incredible this God that it describes is.

Personally, I love it, as I will love the conversation during Bible Study that follows, as we take some time and dissect it.

But I fear that many who will say the words, will walk away, not understanding this complex creed, or why we do it.  That is a pastoral concern, and one we should have. It’s one we must have.

But for many of us, tradition has become what the “monastery” of our age.  We hide in it, find peace and joy in it, and mistake that peace for the peace that accompanies holiness. We find comfort in the old ways, and romanticize and idolize them, thinking they are the keys to our spiritual health, to our orthodoxy, to our faith.  As St Josemaria points out so clearly, it is not the mountain top, or the tradition that is called to be holy.  We are.

That’s why in throughout the Old Testament prophets, there is a condemnation of people’s sacrifices. Sacrifices that God called for, things that were the closest thing to the sacraments we treasure today.  They were supposed to be a means, a conduit of God’s mercy,yet they had turned into something else, a meaningless time, spent in trying to attain a perfection that ignored their very reason for existence. They didn’t communicate that God was their for the broken, there to heal, to forgive, to pour our righteousness, to let the justice that comes from the cross to lift people up.  A purpose to help people realize they walk, their life journey is done with God.

Such is the nature of a baptized, Pentecostal life.  A life lived in communion, in fellowship, in a relationship with the God who created the heavens, and comes to us.

Traditions?  Practices? Creeds?  Do they give people what they need to know about Christ?

They can, they cannot. It is not the traditional practice, whether 1500 years in practice or 15 minutes that makes people holy.  It is the presence of Christ, revealed, known, that the Holy Spirit uses to transform us.  May all we do bring us to know Christ, and the power of His resurrection, and therefore ours.

Amen.

 

 

 

 

 

The Chief Purpose of all Preaching…

Jesus christ(coptic)

Jesus christ(coptic) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Devotional/Discussion Thought of the Day:

 1  When I came to you, my friends, to preach God’s secret truth, I did not use big words and great learning. 2  For while I was with you, I made up my mind to forget everything except Jesus Christ and especially his death on the cross.  1 Corinthians 2:1-2 (TEV)

 27  God’s plan is to make known his secret to his people, this rich and glorious secret which he has for all peoples. And the secret is that Christ is in you, which means that you will share in the glory of God. 28  So we preach Christ to everyone. With all possible wisdom we warn and teach them in order to bring each one into God’s presence as a mature individual in union with Christ. 29  To get this done I toil and struggle, using the mighty strength which Christ supplies and which is at work in meColossians 1:27-29 (TEV)

“Homileticians from a wide variety of Christian traditions advocate the preaching of Christ. For example, the Roman Catholic author Domenico Grasso states, “The object and content of preaching is Christ, the Word in which the Father expresses Himself and communicates His will to man.”  The Eastern Orthodox Georges Florovsky asserts, “Ministers are commissioned and ordained in the church precisely to preach the Word of God. They are given some fixed terms of reference – namely, the gospel of Jesus Christ – and they are committed to this sole and perennial message.” The Lutheran homiletician M. Reu contends, “It is necessary that the sermon be Christocentric, have no one and nothing else for its centre and content than Christ Jesus.” The Reformed homiletician T. Hoekstra maintains, “In expositing Scripture for the congregation, the preacher … must show that there is a way to the center even from the farthest point on the periphery. For a sermon without Christ is no sermon.” And the Baptist preacher Charles Spurgeon says, “Preach Christ, always and everywhere. He is the whole gospel. His person, offices, and work must be our one great, all-comprehending theme.”5 Authors from a broad spectrum of traditions, therefore, testify to the necessity of preaching Christ.”  (1)

Nearly all the usual ceremonies are also preserved, save that the parts sung in Latin are interspersed here and there with German hymns, which have been added to teach the people. For ceremonies are needed to this end alone that the unlearned be taught [what they need to know of Christ]. (2)

Just shy of 30 years ago, I met a very humble and unique man, my first professor of preaching, Doug Dickey.  As I tried to learn to write sermons, Doug instilling in me a mantra, “Dustin, if it’s not about Christ, it’s not a sermon!”  I would try to preach about saving the world, about being a better person, about all sort of good things I saw in the text.  But Doug kept on coming back to the basic concept – it had to be about Jesus and His work to bring us to the Father.  I would love to say I learned quickly from Doug, who also ran the college’s ministry to the huge Cal State across the street, but… well.. I was a typical sophomore… a very wise fool.  Two of the passages that convinced me are there above. 


Yesterday, in starting my doctoral work, I am well aware of the wise fool in my, and my ability to go off on tangents that are stimulating and enjoyable and lack any mention of God’s desire to save us, or His work in setting us apart for His purposes of fellowship and loving service of those we encounter.   It was in my first book to read, that I ran across the quote above, noting that this idea of revealing to people God’s love and His desire for them to share in His glory is not just a Restoration Movement ideal, or that of Luther, but it crosses the lines of the church that divide us.   If there is a point where the church can, no must unite, it is here, in Christ to who we are united in both His death and His resurrection.  In the end, litle else will matter, and in truth, in this life nothing else matters as much.

We can talk about all the sins of the world (but not our own), we can point to the glorious worship (which ever is our style) we can talk of leadership or marriage, of finding fulfilment, of motivating people to save the world.  We can call ourselves missional, or confessional, liberal or conservative, traditional or contemporary.  It doesn’t matter.

Unless we reveal the love of God, unless we share His desire to see all brought to repentance/transformation, unless we show how that is what He is doing in us because of the cross….

Our work is in vain…

Thanks  Doug – for helping me realize that Jesus Christ is not just the core of our message – He is our message.

 

 

(1)Sidney Greidanus. Preaching Christ from the Old Testament: A Contemporary Hermeneutical Method (Kindle Locations 118-126). Kindle Edition.

(2) — Augsberg Confession, Article XXIV, Wordsearch Electronic Edition

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