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Why is He Standing at the Door, Knocking?

Jesus_knocks_on_door_heartDevotional Thought of the Day:
20  “Look! I stand at the door and knock. If you hear my voice and open the door, I will come in, and we will share a meal together as friends. Revelation 3:20 (NLT2)

117 Thus you see how God wants us to pray to him for everything that affects our bodily welfare and directs us to seek and expect help from no one but him.
118 But this petition he has put last, for if we are to be protected and delivered from all evil, his name must first be hallowed in us, his kingdom come among us, and his will be done. Then he will preserve us from sin and shame and from everything else that harms or injures us.

Our God is so eager to forgive that at the slightest sign of repentance he is ready with his mercy. He does not forget the covenant he made with our ancestors.

716    “I don’t know how to conquer myself!” you write me despondently. And I answer: But have you really tried to use the means?

As I read the passage from Luther’s Large Catechism (in blue above) this morning, I found words that explained a key to what we need to do as those who disciple others, or who act as spiritual directors. 

Luther nails it so well, as he explores the Lord’s prayer.  It is something we get so confused as we disciple people, as we serve as their spiritual directors and/or pastors.  In reality, we put the cart before the horse, asking people to believe in God’s mercy, in God providing for us, and in God’s forgiveness before God’s presence is established as a reality in their lives.   We want to help them know they are free from their past, and to be strong enough to overcome temptation.

St. Josemaria’s thoughts are similar, as he wonders about the person who can’t overcome the compulsion to sin and fail when confronted by temptation.  His question about the means of grace come to a similar conclusion as Luther’s.  If you haven’t been brought into the presence of God through hearing His word, and partaking in His sacraments, how can you ever be assured of His mercy and protection?  How can you know that He is guiding you and that all things work for good in your life, as you grow in loving Him?

Which brings me to the title of the blog post today, why is Jesus standing at the door and knocking?  Is it simply to call us to account for our sins, clean us up, forgive us our sins, strengthen us against temptation and then leave us to fight the good fight on our own?

Of course not!  

He comes to spend time with us, in fellowship, sharing in life.  TO feast with us, and for us to know we are there for Him.  It is all about the relationship, not just the things that He does that makes the relationship possible. That’s why Luther says we need to see His name made Holy, to see His kingdom established, to see His will be accomplished among us. All these things are based on God being present in our lives, walking with us, living with us.  This happens before we can know His provision, His protection, and really the power of what it means to be forgiven and free. 

You can’t know those things apart from the relationship described in Covenant, where God promises us that we are His and that He is ours.  That relationship is why He stands at the door and knocks.   He wants to be with us, it is sharing our lives as we share His.

For those who pastor, for those who disciple or direct the spiritual growth of people, (and if you are being served by such) this has to be the priority.  To explore the breadth and width the height and depth of God’s love as we experience it.  This is the end of the means, this is the purpose we exist for, and as we learn ot live in it, we find it easy to ask God and live in the assurance that He will answer our prayers for daily bread, for the ability to forgive as we are forgiven, to overcome temptation and not fall into evil.

Never forget this, the Lord is with you!

 

Tappert, T. G. (Ed.). (1959). The Book of Concord the confessions of the Evangelical Lutheran Church. (p. 436). Philadelphia: Mühlenberg Press.

Pope Francis. (2013). A Year with Pope Francis: Daily Reflections from His Writings. (A. Rossa, Ed.) (p. 223). New York; Mahwah, NJ; Toronto, ON: Paulist Press; Novalis.

Escriva, Josemaria. The Way (Kindle Locations 1679-1680). Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition.

Struggling with Division in God’s Church… WIll We Die With Him?

Featured imageDevotional Thought of the day
8  Always remember that Jesus Christ, a descendant of King David, was raised from the dead. This is the Good News I preach. 9  And because I preach this Good News, I am suffering and have been chained like a criminal. But the word of God cannot be chained. 10  So I am willing to endure anything if it will bring salvation and eternal glory in Christ Jesus to those God has chosen.
11  This is a trustworthy saying: If we die with him, we will also live with him. 12  If we endure hardship, we will reign with him. If we deny him, he will deny us. 13  If we are unfaithful, he remains faithful, for he cannot deny who he is. 14  Remind everyone about these things, and command them in God’s presence to stop fighting over words. Such arguments are useless, and they can ruin those who hear them. 2 Timothy 2:8-14 (NLT)

Augustine tells us that, one day, he tore himself away from his friend Alipius in order to be alone in the garden with his misery, his temptations, his inner conflict. In that moment of overwhelming agitation he thought he heard a child’s voice calling repeatedly to him: “Tolle et lege—Take and read!” He arose, found a Bible, and read these words: “Put on the Lord Jesus!” This was the turning point of his existence. Augustine had, in that moment, discovered the word of God. (1)

Over the years I have spent in ministry, I have struggled with how we deal with division, denominationalism and sectarianism in the church.

Some have the ancient answer, “in essentials unity, in non-essentials freedom(liberty), in all things charity (love, grace, mercy.)  The problem is that they divide soon after based on what is essential, and insisting on non-essentials, and dismissing charity as being weak.

Others handle the division by misquoting Romans 16:17, and the idea that we should toss aside those with heretical and even heterodox doctrines.  I say this because the context includes causing divisions in the church by use of these doctrines, these teachings.  Whether they be teachings about theology or practice.  Heretical meaning that they are against God and His desire to save all of mankind.  Heterodox meaning that they aren’t giving glory to God in their teaching and practive as God deserves.

I’ve been part of both groups at times, and I can tell you the sincerity and intent of both groups are noble.  Even as they fail to apply it properly.  In being a participant and observer of this, I have reached a conclusion.

We are all broken.  We all have our heretical and heterodox practices. As we all have those things that glorify God in their holiness, proving God has set us apart for Himself  Even in the beloved churches I’ve been blessed to be part of, whether it was St Joe’s – Salem NH, St. Francis Church in Lawrence, MA, First Baptist, Salem, The Crystal Cathedral youth group, OVBC, North Orange Christian,  Arrow Hwy Wesleyan, West Valley Christian, First Christian YV, Good Shepherd Lutheran YV,  Shepherd of the Valley, Anze, and now Concordia Lutheran – Cerritos.  I’ve named them all for a reason; I can think of people in each of those church’s who were holy and broken.  Whose doctrine needed to conform to Jesus, and yet who Jesus worked through in diverse and yes, miraculous ways.  Who indeed needed to grow, but were growing.

So how do we do this?  How does a splintered, fractured church see Christ’s church?  Does it welcome people of all beliefs and say that doctrine and practice don’t matter?  Does it instead force everyone to become clones?  I can’t agree with either perspective. Indeed, I think both extremes of full inclusion and full exclusivity miss the mark.  That’s being nice; I believe both are sinful.

If we can admit we have areas of our theology and/or practice that are broken, then we have some hope.As we find healing for our brokenness in Jesus, that healing will bring us the unity we need.

We have the opportunity to do what Paul was setting as an example for Timothy.  We remember His death and resurrection, and the fact that He has united us to Him, bonded Himself to us in that event, so that we can know life, both now and everlasting.

This is what made the difference, this gospel, in Augustine’s life.  To see, to hold in your hands the story of God’s love for you, revealed!   That is our turning point and over and over in our lives we need to have it.  The best example I can think of is a swordsmith, who folds the steel over and over on itself – each time gaining more strength.  So too as we remember Christ, as we hear and read and speak of His love, that strengthens us.  As we hear of the promises given to us in baptism, that strengthens us, as we eat His Body and drink His Blood we again encounter His presence, a presence that leaves us in awe, as we realize His mercy and love.

This is our God, here in our lives.  Listen to Him, Know Him….

And as that happens, the issues that divide us that shouldn’t fade, and we will realize a unity not based on our faith, but His faithfulness.  And together we can cry, “Come, Lord Jesus!”  AMEN

(1)  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. 327). San Francisco: Ignatius Press.

The Church’s Mission is NOT to Convert People

Devotional THought of the Day:Featured image

 26  Anyone who wants to be my disciple must follow me, because my servants must be where I am. And the Father will honor anyone who serves me. John 12:26 (NLT)

356      The first Apostles, when Our Lord called them, were by the side of an old boat busy mending the torn nets. Our Lord told them to follow him and statim—immediately—relictis omnibus—they left everything—everything! And followed him… And it does happen sometimes that we, who wish to imitate them, don’t quite leave everything, and there remains some attachment in our heart, something wrong in our life which we’re not willing to break with and offer up to God. Won’t you examine your heart in depth? Nothing should remain there except what is his. If not, we aren’t really loving him, neither you nor I. (1)

Every once in a while, I hear a financial appeal for finances from a mission group. While they may never use the word “heathen”, that is what they are really saying.  It may be to a inner city mission, or some foreign field in the middle of a desert, or swamp, or jungle.  But the idea is that we must convert them, win them to Christ.  Some may say they’ve had so many say a “sinner’s prayer”, or decisions for Christ. Others talk about the numbers of baptisms.

What they are focusing on is that moment when someone “becomes” a believer, the moment they were “saved”.

But the church isn’t in the business of converting people, of a one time moment that changes life, or at least gives us a guaranteed visa to heaven.

That isn’t what Jesus did, not is it what we are commissioned to do.

We are told to make disciples of all nations, not convert them.  

Jesus didn’t tell Peter and Andrew, or James and John to just believe in Him.  He didn’t ask Matthew the tax collector to do that either. 

What God is after, what He desires isn’t a nice photo album of those who repented of their sins at a crusade, or who were convinced by a logical apologetic speech or emotional appeal.. He wants a family, people who are His, who know He is theirs. A relationship where He can bless His children and care for them.  Where He can teach them and share His glory with them.

You might say, that’s what conversion does.  And yes, there is a quickening, a bringing to life.  A baptism, a prayer, a confession of trusting God.  But our transformation, that work of the Trinity in our lives takes a lifetime, the promised completion date is Christ’s return.

What does this matter?  Why am I saying our goal isn’t to make converts?  Why can’t conversion be our mission our goal?

Image a lady, who wants to become a mother. Has she achieved her goal the moment conception occurs?  Or is there 9 months of pregnancy, and then years of sacrifices and successes, of joy and sorrows?

Our journeys only begins at baptism, our life in Christ starts there, when we go from not knowing God, to finding Him revealed in our lives so clearly that we trust Him. Where a relationship occurs as we walk with Him, as we are taught by Him, as we enjoy this life He has brought us.

We don’t want to just convert people, we want to see them become our brothers and sisters, we want our Father in heaven to adopt them….. our mission is far longer, far deeper, far more important than winning a debate.

It’s helping them to walk with God….. to know His love and mercy. To realize that nothing else is important, compared to walking with God.

to know when we cry together, “Lord Have Mercy!”. He answers.

That is what being missional is about, about what the apostolate is about.

(1)  Escriva, Josemaria (2011-01-31). The Forge (Kindle Locations 1406-1412). Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition.

Can You Hear Him Now?

Devotional and Discussion Thought of the Day:photo

17  But it is in that way faith comes, from hearing, and that means hearing the word of Christ. Romans 10:17 (NJB)

24  Some of them were convinced by his words, but others would not believe. 25  So they left, disagreeing among themselves, after Paul had said this one thing: “How well the Holy Spirit spoke through the prophet Isaiah to your ancestors! 26  For he said, ‘Go and say to this people: You will listen and listen, but not understand; you will look and look, but not see, 27  because this people’s minds are dull, and they have stopped up their ears and closed their eyes. Otherwise, their eyes would see, their ears would hear, their minds would understand, and they would turn to me, says God, and I would heal them.’ “ 28  And Paul concluded: “You are to know, then, that God’s message of salvation has been sent to the Gentiles. They will listen!” Acts 28:24-28 (TEV)

123      Meus es tu—you are mine, the Lord has declared to you. To think that God, who is all beauty and all wisdom, all splendour and all goodness, should say to you that you are his…! and then, after all this, you can’t bring yourself to respond to him!

His name is Paul, but most people in the USA who would quickly recognize his voice, have no idea of who he is, or what he does outside of five words.

But say those five words, and they will picture him, his glasses, his short hair cut, the blue jumpsuit and the arm which is glued to a cell phone, which is glued to his ear.

He is always asking, “Can you hear me now?”  Over and over and over again.

But he isn’t the only one.

The quote from Acts above is replicated in the gospels, it is retold in Paul’s writings, and some would say it originates in the Isaiah.  But the first people to hear it, dwelt in a garden, and daily, physically, walked with God.   Can you hear me know Adam?  Eve, are you listening?

They weren’t.  The people of God in the time of Moses didn’t hear Him that well, in fact, they asked not to hear Him, for to hear God is a scary, intimidating thing.  We are afraid of what we will hear. We are afraid of what he says, and like children or teenagers, we become good at hearing what God tells us, is beloved children.  We busy ourselves with things, some of which we believe will earn His favor, but which simply exist to keep us from listening from being still and knowing that He is God.

We hear Luther’s “A Mighty Fortress” and want to make it the anthem of a church at war with evil in the world, rather than the cry of one who is broken, abused, neglected and oppressed, who finds rest and sanctuary in Christ.  ( Remember, Luther writes that based on Psalm 46, not Revelation)

Will we listen when Jesus calls us to His side, to unite with Him in death, to come to Him because we are weary and burdened, so we can find rest and healing?  Will we listen to the Holy Spirit, not described as a Warrior General, as a spiritual Chuck Norris/Bruce Lee/Yoda, but as the Comforter and Consoler. Will we listen to a God who attributes are love and mercy? (cHesed, Ellios, agape)

Will we listen and hear, and let the word of Christ dwell in us,

Or will we claim there was a bad connection, that the email was lost, that we didn’t get the Lord’s message, or understand His desire?

Will we here Him say,

1   “Do not be afraid—I will save you. I have called you by name—you are mine. Isaiah 43:1 (TEV)

Hear Him, dear people of God… and live!


(1)   Escriva, Josemaria (2011-01-31). The Forge (Kindle Locations 635-638). Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition.

We Need A Mighty Fotress!

An early printing of Luther's hymn A Mighty Fo...

An early printing of Luther’s hymn A Mighty Fortress Is Our God (Ein feste Burg ist unser Gott) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

We Need a Mighty Fortress!

Romans 3:19-28

 

† In Jesus Name †

 May we find ourselves secure and safe in the Fortress of Christ, and as we find ourselves there may our worship takes on a new dimension as we rejoice in His presence and provision!

How powerful is this passage?

In order that we don’t take this day, and this incredible passage from the Book of Romans for granted, I would share with you a story.

There was once a pastor, raised in a great Christian home, sent to one of the finest universities, in the world. Thirty-five years old, quickly becoming a leader in the church.  Yet, one night, everything would change.  Change so much, that he would talk about it using the word, “conversion”.  Here are his words…

“In the evening I went very unwillingly to a society in Aldersgate Street, where one was reading Luther’s preface to the Epistle to the Romans. About a quarter before nine, while he was describing the change which God works in the heart through faith in Christ, I felt my heart strangely warmed. I felt I did trust in Christ, Christ alone for my salvation: and an assurance was given me, that he had taken away my sins, even mine, and saved me from the law of sin and death.”   http://www.biblicalstudies.org.uk/pdf/bets/vol07/7-3_cox.pdf

The passage that was being read from Luther’s commentary was about this passage – especially verse 28, the very verses that so changed Luther, who was also a minister of the gospel when he heard them, that Luther was willing to die rather than forget them.  SO what is so powerful, that men like Martin Luther and John Wesley would use terms like “conversion” and “salvation” when they finally realized what they meant?

Why are these words,  So we are made right with God through faith and not by obeying the law.,” so powerful, so life changing?

I pray, oh I pray, that as we look at these verses, our lives would change as much as Luther’s, as Wesley’s, as King David’s, who wrote the following words when he got this truth,

 I love you, LORD; you are my strength. 2  The LORD is my rock, my fortress, and my savior; my God is my rock, in whom I find protection. He is my shield, the power that saves me, and my place of safety. Psalm 18:1-2 (NLT) 

Why do we need a fortress?

When we sing “A Mighty Fortress”, do you ever think about what you are singing?  It is what can be called a Creedal Hymn – a hymn testifying, confessing the very core of our belief, our creed.

Reducing all the verses down, it is a simple statement.  We believe we need God, that we desperately need His interaction in our lives.  That we need Him to deliver us, and to be our sanctuary, our fortress, that we need Him to be rock solid for us…

It is as much a confession of our need for Jesus’s work as when we confess our sins at the beginning of our service.

We need Him.

We need a fortress. A rock, a place where we can catch our breath, where we can find comfort, where we can know peace.

Not just because of our sin, but because of the unrighteousness we have to deal with each and every day.  Because of the stress the injustice, the unrighteousness of the world deals us daily.  We have to have that place where we can pour out all our anxiety, all our pain, all the crap that affects our lives.

Not just because of our sin, and the unrighteousness and injustice of life, but because of the threat and reality of death.  For that is where the Law seems to get its strength, for death would make the law a victor.  For in death there is no excuses, and based on the law alone, there is no way we can be right with God.  We can’t, we don’t make the standard.  Our thoughts, words, and deeds, well if we look at them honestly, would we want everyone to know them?  Could we stand a record of all that we’ve thought and said (including under our breath) and done be given out this morning?

Yet God knows them all,

And He volunteered to be our fortress, our place of rest.

How do we gain entrance?

As it seems all of our enemies, sin, anxiety, injustice, and the threat of death’s closing the book on us surround us, we have to find a safe place, a secure place, a place where we can recover and heal from our own brokenness. Where we can experience the revelation of what Wesley and Luther and King David and so many have known.  But how do we get to that place?

We don’t.

We find ourselves there.  The lights come on, and we are in God’s presence.  Verse 21,

But now God has shown us a way to be made right with him without keeping the requirements of the law, as was promised in the writings of Moses and the prophets long ago.

That phase, “shown us a way” is literally translated, “He enlightened us”.  This is what Luther wrote in the explanation of the creed, where it says, “But the Holy Spirit called me by the Gospel, enlightened me with His gifts, made me holy and kept me in the true faith, just as He calls, gathers together, enlightens and makes holy the whole Church on earth and keeps it with Jesus in the one, true faith.” Luther’s Small Catechism: Developed and Explained.

God shines the light on what Jesus has done, with kindness we do not deserve, as He died on the cross.  Hear these words again,

“24 Yet God, with undeserved kindness, declares that we are righteous. He did this through Christ Jesus when he freed us from the penalty for our sins. 25 For God presented Jesus as the sacrifice for sin. People are made right with God when they believe that Jesus sacrificed his life, shedding his blood.”

And now hear them, as Luther and Wesley did….

24 Yet God, with undeserved kindness, declares that I am righteous. He did this through Christ Jesus when he freed me from the penalty for my sins. 25 For God presented Jesus as the sacrifice for my sin. I am made right with God when I trust that Jesus sacrificed his life, shedding his blood for me.

This is what it is all about. This is what caused such a dramatic change in Wesley, and in Luther.  It’s why we find ourselves, as if we’ve awakened, in the presence of God Almighty and we realize it will be all right. For we have been made right with God, He has declared us right! He has said to each on of us, that we are His child, and that nothing can separate us from Him.

When we needed a place that was safe; He brought us in, cleansed us, healed us, provided for us and does so each moment of our lives!

That is what this day is about – each one of us realizing that we have unlimited access to God – not just when we are at full strength spiritually, but when we are at the breaking point, when we are broken, when our spirits are crushed my sin and unrighteousness and anxiety and even death….

He is here…for you…

As He has been for so many, including John Wesley, and Martin Luther, and Augustine, and the whole company of heaven… and so you can cry with me the words of the psalm,

I love you, LORD; you are my strength. 2  The LORD is my rock, my fortress, and my savior; my God is my rock, in whom I find protection. He is my shield, the power that saves me, and my place of safety. Psalm 18:1-2 (NLT)

Our place of peace…

AMEN?

Conversion and “Repentance” Evangelical Catholic VI? or VII?

Devotional/Discussion Thought of the Day:

18  When they heard this, they stopped their criticism and praised God, saying, “Then God has given to the Gentiles also the opportunity to repent and live!” Acts 11:18 (TEV) 

1  So then, my friends, because of God’s great mercy to us I appeal to you: Offer yourselves as a living sacrifice to God, dedicated to his service and pleasing to him. This is the true worship that you should offer. 2  Do not conform yourselves to the standards of this world, but let God transform you inwardly by a complete change of your mind. Then you will be able to know the will of God—what is good and is pleasing to him and is perfect. Romans 12:1-2 (TEV) 

8  But now you must get rid of all these things: anger, passion, and hateful feelings. No insults or obscene talk must ever come from your lips. 9  Do not lie to one another, for you have put off the old self with its habits 10  and have put on the new self. This is the new being which God, its Creator, is constantly renewing in his own image, in order to bring you to a full knowledge of himself.   Colossians 3:8-10 (TEV) 

Conversion— metanoia, in the New Testament Greek— is a lifelong matter for evangelical Catholics. Whether one is baptized as an infant or an adult, and no matter how old one is upon first meeting the Lord Jesus in a personal way, the Christian life as proposed by Evangelical Catholicism is one of constant conversion. That process continues until the moment of death, which the Christian should approach as the moment in which the gift of life is offered to the Creator: with gratitude for that gift having been redeemed by the Son, and with confidence that death is, in the power of the Spirit, the moment of transition and purification into a fuller encounter with the Holy Trinity. Living toward death in that way requires a lifetime of preparation, a lifetime of deepening one’s friendship with the Lord Jesus, the conqueror of death. (1)

These are words we are used to dealing with in the church, conversion and repentance.

Yet to adapt a line from the classic movie of movies, the Princess Bride, I think we don’t know what these words mean!

Weigel nails it – when he ties the word metanoia  which is often translated “repentance” to the word conversion.  For indeed repentance and conversion should communicate the same thing – and they often don’t.

I’ve often heard people talk about repentance as our turning our direction, doing a spiritual 180 from heading towards death, to changing to heading towards heaven.  Or some will argue that it means to be contrite and sorrowful for sin.   While contrition is part of it, there is more involved.  For the Greek word breaks apart into “change” and “mind” – calling us to do what Paul will challenge the Philippians to do – to  Let this mind be in you which was in Christ Jesus,  ( Philippians 2:5 (BBE)   Conversion is, having the mind of Christ, one that is not set on things of this world, but rather, things which are heavenly (1  You have been raised to life with Christ, so set your hearts on the things that are in heaven, where Christ sits on his throne at the right side of God. 2  Keep your minds fixed on things there, not on things here on earth.  Colossians 3:1-2 (TEV)

Like so much else of scripture, this is easier to say, than it is to do, hence the need for daily repentance, daily conversion.  It is why Luther would remind us to start and end each day thinking of our baptism, about what God did there.  For we all to soon forget, and live far too often trying to avoid or deal with the consequences of guilt and shame.  But our struggle isn’t that within ourselves, for we can’t fix our brokenness.  We can’t erase our sin.  It is finding the humility to look to God, to receive the gift of conversion, of cleansing, of receiving the blessing of renewal, as God provides for us in word and sacrament, as He calls us from the death of sin, to live – and live as Weigel puts it – towards the return of Christ – either when He returns at the end in all of His glory, or when He calls us home.

For there we find another promise fulfilled, 6  And so I am sure that God, who began this good work in you, will carry it on until it is finished on the Day of Christ Jesus.” Philippians 1:6 (TEV)

You see, that is the concept of conversion  – it is not us striving with all our might to change ourselves, and more than a baby can change it’s dirty diaper.  It is instead – taking a breath – remembering who our Lord and Savior is, turning to Him and finding revealed to us that He has done this thing, He has changed us, and is changing us.

May we become more and more aware of the mercy shown to us, as the Holy Spirit molds us, renews us, and restores us to the image in which we are created.

Godspeed my friends!

(1)  Weigel, George (2013-02-05). Evangelical Catholicism (pp. 67-68). Basic Books. Kindle Edition.

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