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The Balance Between Communication and Academia

Devotional Thought of the Day

This is a true saying, to be completely accepted and believed: Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners. I am the worst of them, 16 but God was merciful to me in order that Christ Jesus might show his full patience in dealing with me, the worst of sinners, as an example for all those who would later believe in him and receive eternal life. 1 Tim 1:15-16 GNT

Nietzsche once said he could not abide Saint Augustine—he seemed too plebeian and common. There is some justification for Nietzsche’s attitude, but it is precisely in these qualities that we discover Saint Augustine’s true Christian greatness. He could have been an aristocrat of the spirit, but for the sake of Christ and for the sake of his fellow men, in whom he saw Christ coming toward him, he left the ivory tower of the gifted intellectual in order to be wholly man among men, a servant of the servants of God. For the sake of Christ he emptied himself of his great learning. For the sake of Christ he became increasingly an ordinary person and the servant of all. In doing so he became truly a saint. For Christian holiness does not consist in being superhuman and in having an extraordinary talent or greatness that others do not have. Christian holiness is simply the obedience that puts us at God’s disposal wherever he calls us.

When I was a young pastor, God opened the door for me to attend a prestigious small group of pastors studying preaching. It was a little intimidating, as my churches was under 30 people and the other 24 guys averaged 1500 plus!. After the introductions, one of the pastors, an elderly black pastor from Georgia cornered me. Having only been in large congregations for his 40 plus years of ministry, he wanted to know how you trust God enough to live on the edge with a small church. It was an odd, and edifying conversation! Here was a highly successful mega church pastor with a television program wanting to know about a tiny church pastor’s faith?

Jack Hayford, another mega church pastor, used to brag about his “pastor”, a much younger man, new to ministry and pastoring a small church. He went to him to be prayed for, to be encouraged, to be counseled.

I think Augustine would appreciate them both, as would the Apostle Paul.

There is a challenge, as one gains specialized knowledge, in communicating with others. Different vocabulary, different ways of phrasing things, different frames of reference. It is all to easy to think everyone else is keeping up with your pace. In it usually not intentional condescension, but it can come across that way, or as frustration dealing with the difference.

The same problem exists in spiritual growth. Sometimes we forget that others haven’t experienced God’s love, his mercy and His faithful presence we have. We assume they have the same knowledge and experience we do, and struggle when they “don’t get it” or when others, more experienced than us, struggle to communicate to us how they endured.

TO help us in such times, we have the example of these two men, St. Paul and Augustine, and their approaches. I have quoted these words of Paul many times, often wanting to argue with Paul about who is the primary sinner. Remembering the past God has rescued me from, including the sins of the recent past (say an hour ago) keeps my focus on what is important. My knowledge, my wisdom is useless unless I experience the love and mercy of God which is too great to understand. Unless I know the peace that comes from His presence, all the technical theology I know benefits me (and others ) not a bit. But to consider His patience in dealing with me, bringing me back, healing my brokenness, that is what matters the most.

The same with Augustine. He isn’t a saint (in Pope Benedict’s opinion) because of his intelligence, or his increible writing. He;s a servant because he learned to empty himself and minister to others. His words had a purpose, not to show off his intellect, but to help the broken see that they dwelt in God’s presence, and how that all worked.

As church leaders at every level, that has to be an image we can imitate, the servant-leader, the intellect that has become the doulos (one of Paul’s favorite words to describe himself – the slave.), We need to remember the mission we have, the reason we are sent. That is the people we shepherd and teach and draw towards God.

Claiming we are a servant isn’t about false humility, it can’t be. That will show through. Remembering the work Christ has done in our lives, helps us keep the proper perspective in our life.

Lord Jesus, help us to desire to know and understand more of Your Kingdom, but to understand and experience it in a way we can share with others. Help us to be authentic in our service using our intellect, our knowledge and wisdom to benefit others. In Jesus name. AMEN!


Joseph Ratzinger, Co-Workers of the Truth: Meditations for Every Day of the Year, ed. Irene Grassl, trans. Mary Frances McCarthy and Lothar Krauth (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1992), 274.

Get Off Your “But” and Follow Jesus!

Get Off Your “But” and Follow Jesus!
Luke 9:57-62, 1 Kings 19:19-21

† I. H. S. †

May the grace and mercy of God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ sustain you as you walk “in His steps”

Are you listening?  Are you understanding?

Have you ever asked someone if they were listening, and 30 seconds after they replied yes, they ask you “what are you talking about?”

I think that happened to Jesus, far more than it happens to us.

It does today, as one man offers to follow Jesus, and two others responded to His invitation to follow him, but they then realized they had a problem.  They all had a big “but!”  Uhm – that’s but with only one T.

As we look at the call to follow, as we begin to really hear Jesus, I pray we come to understand what it means to follow Him, or as the apostle Peter wrote,

21  For God called you to do good, even if it means suffering, just as Christ suffered for you. He is your example, and you must follow in his steps. 1 Peter 2:21 (NLT2)

The Big BUTS

So the first guy tells Jesus, I will follow you wherever you go!  Jesus tells him, “okay, here is the challenge, we have no support, no place to stay, no place to sleep.”  Oddly we don’t’ hear from the guy again.

Following Jesus isn’t easy or comfortable.

The second and third guys clearly describe their “buts”.

One wants to go home and take care of his dying Father. The second wants to go home and make significant arrangements for his family’s care, cutting off their need for his involvement in their life.

How many of us would have similar issues to deal with?  I mean, before Jesus asks us to go with Him to China, or Jordan, or Papua, New Guinea?  And how many of us have relationship issues that would make leaving with Jesus complicated?

Those “buts” aren’t easy to deal with, and to turn down an invitation to go with Jesus is heartbreaking, or it should be.  I mean if you knew Jesus was going to be at the ordination I am officiating at this afternoon, would you drop everything and come with me?  What about if you could meet him on Pastor Bernie’s next trip to the Sudan, but you had to leave today?

What if it required moving to Turkey and working alongside Christina for the rest of your life? Never ever returning to the U.S.A. but you knew for sure you would encounter Jesus every day?

Could you show Jesus your “but”?

This isn’t theoretical for the people in the gospel!  They had BIG BUTS, major life concerns, as they truly desire to travel with Jesus.

It’s what some would call a First commandment issue, a problem with prioritizing who is our God, who is most important in our life. Who is most involved in it.  For if we can’t listen to God and respond obediently to Him, are we really in a relationship where we realize He is the God who rescues us, and we are the people He listens to, cares and provides for, and loves?

The problem is simple to fix, we just have to get off our “but” and follow Jesus.  Follow Him, not travel with Him. If the people had listened to what Jesus said, they would have understood the difference.

What’s the difference?  Glad you asked!  

The Elisha Example!

In the Old Testament passage, we see Elisha also responding to a call to follow, as Elijah makes him his successor.  That’s why he threw his cloak over him, that is what you symbolically did back in those days. 

But Elisha goes back to his people. He takes care of business, and isn’t rejected by Elijah, the way it seems Jesus rejected those who had big “buts”.

But look at what Elisha did carefully, and you will see he was already following Elijah as he goes back.  He takes his old stuff, the plow, the oxen and uses those things to minister to people.

What the invitation really is

You see, the word for follow doesn’t mean travel with, it means begin to imitate Him.  To become like, to gain the attitudes and heart and desire of the person you “follow”.  There is a word to walk with, but this is far more, it is another word like disciple, or apprentice.

It is to know Jesus is on the journey with us, shaping us, forming us, sending us out to where He would have us minister.  Like the man he delivered from the clutches of demons, often the place is where we call home, sharing the news of God’s mercy with those we love and care about, with those whose lives are broken, and spiritually dead.

Following Jesus is not just physical, it is more, it is transformative, it is incarnational, it is beholding His glory and knowing He dwells among us.

This is what His invitation to believers is about, it is life lived in His presence, hearing His voice, learning to care for and love people as He does.  That is what it means to walk in His steps, to live life the way He does, and we do that by the power of the Holy Spirit.

Lord, help us see the “buts” not as challenges to following You, but as places where You bring us to minister and care for other, with you at our side.


The Simple Journey of Hope

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The Good Shepherd, carrying His own.

Devotional Thought of the Day:
66  As a consequence of this, many of his disciples withdrew and no longer followed him. So Jesus said to the twelve, “And are you too wanting to go away?” 68  “Lord,” answered Simon Peter, “who else should we go to? Your words have the ring of eternal life! And we believe and are convinced that you are the holy one of God.”
John 6:66-68 (Phillips NT)

Let us follow Jesus, knowing that he accompanies us and carries us on his shoulders. This is our joyful hope that we must bring to this world. Please do not let yourselves be robbed of the hope that Jesus gives us!

It is too easy to lose hope in this world.

We can lose hope after a doctor’s visit or from balancing our checkbook.  We can become dejected because of the words of a friend, or a family member, we can begin to dwell in pessimism after reading the news, and seeing the discord that is prevalent in every part of four society.

Yet, we have to have hope to survive, and we have seen incredible things that have occurred because people dwell in hope, not despair. Because they know what God has promised, and they have learned to expect God’s intercession, that God will make what is going on work for good for those who love him, who are called according to His promises.

But how is that hope created, and in view of our broken lives, our broken society and broken world, how is it nourished, sustained, how can it grow when the world hammers away at us?

In the little devotional from Pope Francis that is one of the books I use for my devotions this year, he notes the strong correlation between following Jesus and the hope we have, that we can infect the world with.

Following Jesus, letting Him accompany us, letting Him carry us, not just walking in steps 2000 years old, but walking with him today, Monday the 8th of October, and tomorrow the 9th, and the 10th, and every day from now on dwelling in His presence.

This is why the Apostle Peter would proclaim that there is nowhere else to Go, for only Jesus can provide the words that give the hope of eternity, and the joy that will come in the presence of the Father in heaven. To share in a relationship, where God the Father identifies us as His children, where Jesus identifies us as His brothers and sisters. This is the love He spoke of, and the life He invites us all to have. To learn of His mercy, to explore the dimensions of His love, to even be corrected by Him, so that we don’t drift away.  This begins the hope we so desperately need.

Walking with Jesus, meditating on His love, on His sacrifice, on His resurrection which we are joined with, that provides hope.  Hearing His promises, knowing that He who created everything stands behind those promises, this gives us hope.

This is what matters in life, so please, please, don’t neglect this hope, or the times of prayer and fellowship that will nourish it.

And may you know God’s peace…. AMEN!
Pope Francis. (2013). A Year with Pope Francis: Daily Reflections from His Writings. (A. Rossa, Ed.) (p. 325). New York; Mahwah, NJ; Toronto, ON: Paulist Press; Novalis.

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.

The Job that Pastors and the Church Needs to Be Better Trained to Do

Good News BibleDevotional Thought of the Day:

10 The One who descended is also the One who ascended far above all the heavens, that He might fill all things. 11 And He personally gave some to be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, some pastors and teachers, 12 for the training of the saints in the work of ministry, to build up the body of Christ, 13 until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of God’s Son, growing into a mature man with a stature measured by Christ’s fullness. 14 Then we will no longer be little children, tossed by the waves and blown around by every wind of teaching, by human cunning with cleverness in the techniques of deceit. 15 But speaking the truth in love, let us grow in every way into Him who is the head —Christ. 16 From Him the whole body, fitted and knit together by every supporting ligament, promotes the growth s of the body for building up itself in love by the proper working of each individual part Eph 4:10-16  HCSB

They are to be carefully instructed in the art of directing souls, whereby they will be able to bring all the sons of the Church first of all to a fully conscious and apostolic Christian life and to the fulfillment of the duties of their state of life. Let them learn to help, with equal solicitude, religious men and women that they may persevere in the grace of their vocations and may make progress according to the spirit of their various Institutes.
In general, those capabilities are to be developed in the students which especially contribute to dialogue with men, such as the ability to listen to others and to open their hearts and minds in the spirit of charity to the various circumstances and needs of men.

675    It’s true that he was a sinner. But don’t pass so final a judgment. Have pity in your heart and don’t forget that he may yet be an Augustine, while you remain just another mediocrity.

There is a term I was introduced to when I became a Lutheran pastor.  

It was “seelsorge” or caretaker of souls.  It is similar to the idea in the Anglican Church of being a curate of the church,  The person responsible to see people guided into God’s presence so that their hearts and souls (and often more) can be healed. 

But that just doesn’t include the members of a congregation or parish.  It is the entire community.   As St Josemaria reminds us, those whom we might discount because of their past may be called to something “more.”,  they may become the giants we are looking to as examples. 

It doesn’t matter if they are the mouth of the church, or the heart, hidden away, praying in their prayer closet. Our job as the caretakers is to make sure they have what they need, the ability to depend on God because we know Him.  This drives the ministries of the church, This drives the work of helping everyone mature in the presence of God, 

To help people grow in their dependence (for that is what faith is) in God, to help them grow in knowing and experiencing His love as He is present in their lives, Vatican II was correct.  Those who minister, those of us who pastor and care for souls need to know how to guide them. to help them be conscious of their calling and being sent out into the world, of what Catholics call their apostolate, what Protestants call being missional.

We are to train them, to guide them into the presence of Jesus, into knowing His mercy, His love, His gift that cause us to dwell in peace. This isn’t just the pastor’s job, it is the work of every minister in the church. 

It is who we are… it is why we exist, and it was what we need to be trained to do.  I really think that needs to become more and more how we train our pastors, our deacons, our elders and various ministers of the church.  It is more important than knowing the trivia of scripture or knowing the all the theological information there is.   We have o know God is with us, and we have to teach God will be with them.

We have to know how to use God’s word, to administer the sacraments in such a way that people know they belong in God’s presence, whether they are young or old, male or female, whether their sin is hidden or notorious. Whether they become ushers in the church or the next Augustine or do the really critical work of teaching the children of the church.  (which is all to often overlooked!)

This is the ministry of the church.  The caretaking of souls entrusted to it by God.  Not just the recognized members of the church.. but the church.

Lord have mercy on us and help us to be trained and train people to care for souls.  AMEN!

Questions:
What do you think the hardest part of caring for souls is?

What do you think the greatest blessing is?

 

Catholic Church. (2011). Decree on Priestly Training: Optatum Totius. In Vatican II Documents. Vatican City: Libreria Editrice Vaticana.

Escriva, Josemaria. The Way (Kindle Locations 1568-1570). Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition.

Church, Know Who Your Enemy is… and isn’t!

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

the devotional thought of the Day:

12  For we are not fighting against human beings but against the wicked spiritual forces in the heavenly world, the rulers, authorities, and cosmic powers of this dark age. Ephesians 6:12 (TEV)

1  To you, who were spiritually dead all the time that you drifted along on the stream of this world’s ideas of living, and obeyed its unseen ruler (who is still operating in those who do not respond to the truth of God), to you Christ has given life! We all lived like that in the past, and followed the impulses and imaginations of our evil nature, being in fact under the wrath of God by nature, like everyone else. 4  But even though we were dead in our sins God, who is rich in mercy, because of the great love he had for us, gave us life together with Christ – it is, remember, by grace and not by achievement that you are saved – and has lifted us right out of the old life to take our place with him in Christ in the Heavens. Thus he shows for all time the tremendous generosity of the grace and kindness he has expressed towards us in Christ Jesus. It was nothing you could or did achieve – it was God’s gift to you. No one can pride himself upon earning the love of God. The fact is that what we are we owe to the hand of God upon us. We are born afresh in Christ, and born to do those good deeds which God planned for us to do. Ephesians 2:1-4 (Phillips NT)

The circumstances of various regions being duly considered, students are to be brought to a fuller understanding of the churches and ecclesial communities separated from the Apostolic Roman See, so that they may be able to contribute to the work of re-establishing unity among all Christians according to the prescriptions of this holy synod.
Let them also be introduced to a knowledge of other religions which are more widespread in individual regions, so that they may acknowledge more correctly what truth and goodness these religions, in God’s providence, possess, and so that they may learn to refute their errors and be able to communicate the full light of truth to those who do not have it.

66 These articles of the Creed, therefore, divide and distinguish us Christians from all other people on earth. All who are outside the Christian church, whether heathen, Turks, Jews, or false Christians and hypocrites, even though they believe in and worship only the one, true God, nevertheless do not know what his attitude is toward them. They cannot be confident of his love and blessing. Therefore they remain in eternal wrath and damnation, for they do not have the Lord Christ, and, besides, they are not illuminated and blessed by the gifts of the Holy Spirit.

Even back to my childhood, I remember people telling me who the enemies of God are, and therefore who the Church’s and my enemies are.  And often, far too often, we would rise up to figure out how to start a new Crusade to crush this new enemy.

Some of the enemies were external to the church.  Atheists and Agnostics who were so burnt by the church that they felt they had to “save” people from it.  Other religions that were out to convert us (before we converted them!)  Some of our enemies were internal to Christianity, (ex the Catholics pointing to Luther, the Baptists pointing to the Catholics, the Pentecostals pointing to the less emotional Presbyterians and Methodists.  And some of these enemies were even in our congregations, like those who went to war over worship styles, or those that supported t this change, or those that just wanted them to remain the way they always were.

But we treat our enemies as if we were on a holy crusade against the heretics and infidels of our times.  The church too often focuses on witch-hunts rather than ministering to those who are in need.  Especially the ministry of reconciliaiton, and the ministry of deliverance,salvation.    Deliverance from sin, deliverance from idols, (see Ezekiel 36:25) deliverance from the broknness that plagues our lives and relationships.  THat should be our focus, to the believer and unbeliever, to our brothers and sisters in Chirst, and towards our enemies and adversaries, who, we pray, will become our brothers and sisters in Christ.

As Paul says, we don’t battle against them, but aginst those that hold them in bondage!  Vatican II and Luther note that they have some ideas of God, What they know isn’t enough, because while they understand that God must be just, that there has to be “karma”, a payment your have earned for the sin you have committed, they have no idea that God could be, that God desires to be merciful.

That is our message, that is why we need to understand their religions, not to defeat them in battle, but to realize what they do teach about God, however they have veiled Him, and reveal Him fullu, so that they can depend on Him fully.  We need to tell them the good news about God’s mercy and love, so that the Holy Spirit will fulfill the promise of working through the word, to illuminate their hearts.

We can’t have that kind of focus if we remain in ignorance, nor can we see this as our mission, what we’ve been sent to do, if we think of the people as our enemies and adversaries.  This is why scripture commands us to love our enemies, because, in the final analysis, they are not our enemies.

Get to know them, share wth them the reason that we broken sinners have found hope…. and look to God, who loves you so much, and has an eternity planned for you that is beyond comprehension.

The Lord is with you!

Question of the day:  If we know God is with us, why would we fear those with different beliefs?

 

Catholic Church. (2011). Decree on Priestly Training: Optatum Totius. In Vatican II Documents. Vatican City: Libreria Editrice Vaticana.

Tappert, T. G. (Ed.). (1959). The Book of Concord the confessions of the Evangelical Lutheran Church. (p. 419). Philadelphia: Mühlenberg Press.

Forging the faithful… and standing the heat…. Words of Encouragement for those who serve God’s treasured people

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERADevotional Thought of the day:

28  So, naturally, we proclaim Christ! We warn everyone we meet, and we teach everyone we can, all that we know about him, so that, if possible, we may bring every man up to his full maturity in Christ. This is what I am working at all the time, with all the strength that God gives me. Colossians 1:28 (Phillips NT)

12  He did this to prepare all God’s people for the work of Christian service, in order to build up the body of Christ. 13  And so we shall all come together to that oneness in our faith and in our knowledge of the Son of God; we shall become mature people, reaching to the very height of Christ’s full stature.
Ephesians 4:12-13 (TEV)

There was a mother who, like all mothers, was passionately fond of her little child, whom she called her prince, her king, her treasure, her very sun. I thought of you. And I understood —for what father does not carry deep inside some maternal feelings?— that it was no exaggeration for that good mother to say: you are more than a treasure, you are worth more than the sun itself: you are worth all Christ’s Blood! How can I fail to take up your soul —pure gold— and place it in the forge, and fashion it with fire and hammer, until that gold nugget is turned into a splendid jewel to be offered to my God, to your God?

I was talking to another person in ministry this week, and we were talking about how to encourage young people to make the sacrifices of entering the ministry.  Within the context was also the discussion of the sacrifices we make to serve others. One of the sacrifices you might realize as you read the words in blue above.

If we are to be the instruments that which the Holy Spirit uses to “forge” people, to shape and mold them as we teach them and administer the sacraments, that weans we have to deal with the heat as well. Using more Lutheran terminology, you can’t preach Law and Gospel without hearing it yourself.  For that is how St Josemaria’s forge works, as we are purified and fashioned for the life God has planned for us – to be there for them.

Yet if we spend time at the forge, we have to be there in the heat, we have to hold on, and care for those God gives us to care for, to be there with the fire and the hammer, to work despite the heat, despite how it zaps our strength, despite their sweat and tears (and even the stubborn refusal to bend to God’s will)

Over 20 years of preaching in jails and churches, spending time at bedside and with those who are ill and dying, this is what ministry has taught me.  It is those moments where the heat is the hottest that I remember – not for the pain, but for incredible beauty that appears as the Holy Spirit transforms them, as the Spirit revitalizes them and reveals in them the image of God in which they were created, which was marred and broken by sin.

And being in the heat – you get to witness this, you get to see it. You get to look to God and say – I see what you did there, Oh my, how holy!  How they shine because of Your care, your mercy and love!  How they reflect your glory!  As we see this, the heat is forgotten, the Lord and His beloved children are all our mind can focus upon. It is an incredible blessing to see, more than any discomfort, far worth the sweat and the tears…

Miraculously something else happens, those of us who serve as tools, who endure the heat for others, realize the same heat that transformed them, is why we are able to bear the heat, because we too have been transformed and tempered as well.  While sometimes we think we are not made for this work, God turns our lives into masterpieces as well.

Praise God for the heat of His forge, and the work He gives us…. for it is an incredible thing to have a small part in, as He uses us.  AMEN!

Escriva, Josemaria. The Forge (Kindle Locations 226-231). Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition.

Discipleship, Spiritual Formation and the Mark of the Beast

 

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TDevotional/Discussion Thought of the Week

17 so that no one could buy or sell except one who had the stamped image of the beast’s name or the number that stood for its name. 18 Wisdom is needed here; one who understands can calculate the number of the beast, for it is a number that stands for a person. His number is six hundred and sixty-six. (14)  1 Then I looked and there was the Lamb standing on Mount Zion,* and with him a hundred and forty-four thousand who had his name and his Father’s name written on their foreheads.  NAB-RE REV. 13:17-14:1

75 I know, O LORD, that your regulations are fair; you disciplined me because I needed it. 76 Now let your unfailing love comfort me, just as you promised me, your servant. 77 Surround me with your tender mercies so I may live, for your instructions are my delight.  NLT  Psalm 119:75-78

431    Don’t fear God’s justice. It is no less admirable and no less lovable than his mercy. Both are proofs of his love.  (1)

Looking at the three quotes above, it will at first seem like the first is not like the other two.

It is that passage that has people afraid of everything from Social Security Numbers, to Bar Codes, to Smart Chips and credit card smart chips.  Some preachers use that passage to cause a form a paranoia about the government, as if it can do what Romans 8 says cannot be done.  There in Romans it says that nothing can separate us from the love of God.

Nothing.

Not even the mark of the beast!  For as we see when we dispense with man-made chapter headings, we see two marks, not one.  The mark of the beast – and the mark of the Lamb and our Heavenly Father.

But this fear of the mark gets to the heart of Christian discipleship, to what they call spiritual formation. That is how the passage from Revelation and the quote from Psalms and a blip from Escriva tie together.

For when we understand that God’s discipline, that spiritual formation at the hands of God is about His love, that the differing marks make sense.

David’s words are simple and precise, “we need it.”

First, so that we correct our ways, that we get rid of the idols in our life, that we are freed from those things that would enslave us, as we trust in them, as we turn to them, rather than depending on God.  Forming us means that God is putting in place the barriers that protect us from falling. It is not punitive as much as protective.

We don’t always see God’s discipline as protective, but that is indeed what it is, because it originates in the same place as His mercy – the incredible longsuffering, sacrificial love He has for us; it comes from the desire He has to see us transformed rather than perish. Formation isn’t always comfortable, for we can’t simply go where we want – and trying to may mean running into a wall.  And that can hurt!

David experienced, and therefore knew that God’s discipline, (some translations use affliction ) is followed by comfort, by an outpouring of mercy, by healing and restoration.  It is this pattern, this characteristic; that reveals His love, his devoted benevolent care for us.

We are His people; We bear His name, given to us, marking us in our baptism.

The more we explore that love, its height, its depth, its breadth and width (and we can’t, in this life know it completely) the more convinced we are that God loves us.  The more we entrust ourselves to it, even to reveling in it.  Recipients of this love, this Godly intimate affection we can, with complete abandon praise and glorify Him, with our voices, and with our lives.

Even as He lovingly corrects us, even as we struggle with our brokenness, even as we question how God will make this work out for good.

Such is a disciplined life; such is one who’s been marked, not with some counterfeit mark, but with the name of Christ, and of the Father.

666?  Not afraid of that, for I know the love of God, a love that is willing to suffer, and Will even form me though I may perceive it as suffering.

Lord, have mercy!  (even when it means disciplining us!)

(1)  Escriva, Josemaria. The Way (Kindle Locations 1059-1060). Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition.

Hang On For the Ride of Your Life! A sermon on Deut. 30:15-20

Hang On For the Ride of Your LIFE!

Deuteronomy 30:15-20

I.H.S.†

 May, in the midst of this crazy life we live, you find exploring the height, the depth, the breadth and width of God’s love for you is more exciting than anything you have ever known!

A Pastor Parker Parable

It’s been a while since I did a Pastor Parker Parable, and today’s Old Testament passage seems to cry out for one.

The Kingdom of God is like a Cannonball.

Specifically, following Jesus, trusting and depending on Him is like a cannonball found in my hometown, just a couple of minutes ride from my house.

Specifically, this cannonball (click to picture) the Yankee Cannonball at Canobie Lake Park.

When I was a kid it was the most creaky, rickety, rollercoaster that I’ve ever been on.  It was a blast and very cool…yet scary!

One that wasn’t scary because of the 120 foot first drop, or the sharp curves, or the screams.  Sometimes it looked like this, when they replaced half the sticks holding up the tracks…

Which made it interesting.

Sort of like life.

And like, you can hang on for dear life, and enjoy the ride, or you can close your eyes, and miss it.  For like the ride, life passes by much too fast – I mean where did July and August go?

So when you hear Moses or myself says, God is giving you a choice between life and death, love God, and hang on for life!

Keep Your Eyes Open!!!

There is a temptation, as you start to climb the long first hill of a rollercoaster, to close your eyes.  To ignore the height, you are climbing above the ground, and if you could, you probably close your ears to the tatatataa of the tracks passing underneath the wheels, bringing you closer and closer to the top of the hill, and the change from a gradual, gentle uphill climb to a plummeting descent that causes your cheeks to be behind your ears.

You want to blame someone, whoever caused you to be on this rollercoaster, even as you feel the entire framework sway in the gentle breeze.

And then your stomach is hovering 128 feet above the ground, while the rest of body is bottoming out at 3 feet above the ground and starting to rise up the next hill!  ( you do wonder why you didn’t crash full force into the ground, especially as you noticed a lot of wood missing…)

That is our life.  There are times where our anxiety rises and turns into a paralyzing fear. We want someone to blame for the mess we are in, and we aren’t having fun.  Where we are certain that we are plummeting to our death, or even hell, and we can’t stop and get off of life.

And so we close our eyes to the sin, to the unrighteousness. We try to dismiss it, and say it doesn’t exist, even as it tears at our face, even as we get that sick to our stomach feeling, even as we are sure we are going to crash.
Without Jesus, we would do exactly that.  We would crash into the ground at 5000 miles an hour!  The supports would give out, and quite possibly, we would take a bunch of people with us.

I am not sure we see sin that clearly.  Oh, we might know the anxiety and the guilt and the shame, but do we realize that its end is death? DO you know that sin is disaster?  Hear scripture

17 “But if your heart turns away and you refuse to listen, and if you are drawn away to serve and worship other gods, 18 then I warn you now that you will certainly be destroyed.

Do we get that sin crushes us, destroys us, that it leads us to worship other gods, to place our trust and hope in things that will let us down?

It does – and if the guilt and shame we try so hard to avoid, if the angst and anxiety sin and unrepentance causes doesn’t convince you of your need for Jesus, then take a serious look at hell. Consider life lived with eyes closed in fear, pain, separation from all of those around you.

Imagine enduring that for eternity?
Imagine the darkness closing in on you – that the choice you have, to open your eyes,

Jesus sets before you that, and real life today.  In fact, most of us live with that choice every day.

Life, death, that which is desirable and pleasant, or that which is broken, defective, abandoned.

You’re committed

You see, life is like the rollercoaster – you aren’t in line, you are on the coaster, the wheels are going, the rails are clicking, the wind is blowing past you.

You are committed, but how you react within that commitment makes the difference.

You can close yourself off, from others and from God.

Or you can open your eyes, scream every once in a while, smile and enjoy the ride, trusting in the Lord who is your support, who is your safety, who is your refuge.  Who designed the track, who knows the curves, who ensures that you will keep going!

In our reading – it says the way we “LIVE” is to love God, to treasure all that He has established, the laws, the gospel, the promises, the blessings, and where it says commit – that’s means simply to hold on.

And like the front bat on the rollercoaster, your have on for dear life – and it helps you in the curves and in the drops….

But what keeps you safe is that the coaster hangs onto you – you are belted in, you aren’t going anywhere, until it is time to unfasten this belt, because you find yourself safely back home in the station.  Until you are safely in His presence….even as you are here for a moment, but then for eternity.

He holds onto you – He is the author and finisher of your faith, and He will present you perfect to the Father.

Keep your eyes open, on Him, hold onto Him, knowing He has united you to himself in baptism, and he will not lose you, and live and enjoy the ride.

knowing the peace that comes, even on a roller coaster.  For we are cleansed, made holy, forgiven, healed and never abandoned by our Lord.

And He guards our hearts and minds as we dwell in the peace of our Father, peace that even overcomes fears on a 75-year-old wooden roller coaster!

AMEN!

Not all roads lead to God, yet…

Devotional Thought of the Day:
4  God’s various gifts are handed out everywhere; but they all originate in God’s Spirit. 5  God’s various ministries are carried out everywhere; but they all originate in God’s Spirit. 6  God’s various expressions of power are in action everywhere; but God himself is behind it all. 7  Each person is given something to do that shows who God is: Everyone gets in on it, everyone benefits. All kinds of things are handed out by the Spirit, and to all kinds of people! 1 Corinthians 12:4-7 (MSG)

231         I like the motto: “Let each wayfarer follow his way”, the road God has marked out for him, to be followed faithfully, lovingly, even though it is hard.  (1)

It is one of the hardest lessons to learn as a pastor.  It is one that is not often taught in Christian Universities or Seminaries, except maybe a short aspect of a pastoral care class.

It is simple and profound, it wears you our and leaves you in awe.  Here is one of the greatest secrets to ministry:

You can’t minister to every person the same way, you can’t shepherd 100 people from 105 different places along the same exact path.  They need to be drawn/dragged from where they are at to the foot of the cross, to the very mercy of God, poured out as His blood paid for all our sins.

Yet we are trained to use the same materials, the same processes in our discipleship of those in our churches.  Those processes are based in some core thought that is essential ( for example, afflict those comfortable in their sin, comfort those afflicted by their sin. ) but how that is applied to the people in our churches should fit a particular process.   it is a big job, but discipleship is both corporate and individual.

Is it any wonder that most churches stop discipleship once people have passed a new members class?   Or if there is is a program, some drop out because it assumes a different starting path, and they are too frustrated to wait and see if it comes by where they are.

I know a great example of this, a lady who is a member of one of the churches I have pastored.  She insists that she is a novice when it comes to faith, yet lives a life a devotion to God.  A life I think is far more “along the path” that she realizes.

So how do you do this?  Do you make everyone take the same path?  Study the same scriptures?  Do you not care if people get lost or bored?  Or do you work with people individually?

It’s the same issue that Paul was talking to the Corinthians about. As they would serve in different ways, in different manners expressing the faith and growth in their trust of God.  Not everyone will do the same things, have the same vocations, have the same exact path to spiritual maturity.

So how do we minister this way, effectively discipling people, shepherding them from the basics of trusting God, to actually walking with them?

Not sure yet, but it will be a lot of what I think through during advent.

Discussion very welcome on this one!

Escriva, Josemaria (2011-01-31). Furrow (Kindle Locations 1161-1163). Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition.

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