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Why Go to Church? Is it Really Necessary?


Altar with communion

Devotional thought for your day:
23  Let us hold on firmly to the hope we profess, because we can trust God to keep his promise. 24  Let us be concerned for one another, to help one another to show love and to do good. 25  Let us not give up the habit of meeting together, as some are doing. Instead, let us encourage one another all the more, since you see that the Day of the Lord is coming nearer. Hebrews 10:23-25 (TEV)

16  I ask God from the wealth of his glory to give you power through his Spirit to be strong in your inner selves, 17  and I pray that Christ will make his home in your hearts through faith. I pray that you may have your roots and foundation in love, 18  so that you, together with all God’s people, may have the power to understand how broad and long, how high and deep, is Christ’s love. 19  Yes, may you come to know his love—although it can never be fully known—and so be completely filled with the very nature of God. Ephesians 3:16-19 (TEV)

667         Haven’t you noticed how people in love dress to please one another by their appearance? Well, that is how you should tidy up and deck out your soul.

I have seen and heard a couple of people challenge the idea of going to church recently.  Sometimes it is direct, saying that people who go to church are needy (we are!)  and hypocrites ( correct again).  Or perhaps the challenge is that you can worship God anywhere (but will you?) or that truly being a Christian is demonstrated in how you care for people. ( it is, but exactly how good are you at loving the unlovable?)

Some may say that I am biased because of my occupation/vocation, that because I often invest 60 hours a week in “church” I have a stake in whether people come or not.  If it was only a stake, if it was only to make my investment of time, talent, and tears pay off, I wouldn’t do it.  The amount of time, whether as a pastor or a lay person is great. But it demands more than that – it demands the investment of your soul.

So why go to church?

Well, the obvious one is in the first quote, simply because God’s word tells us we need to, we need to encourage each other as we gather together, not setting it aside, it is too important, too critical to keep each person encouraged, to support each person in their life, to help guide each other, and sometimes carry each other, into the presence of God.  It is in church that we learn why we find hope in knowing God, and more importantly, exactly what that hope, that incredible hope is.

That is the purpose for the music, which expresses our pain ( this type of worship is called lament)  and the healing God brings, which celebrates His love and His presence.  That is the purpose of the sermon and Bible studies, to reveal the hope that knowing, intimately knowing God’s love. It is even the purpose of the various things we do in church, and everything we take in with our eyes.

It’s all about God… and us.

Which is what Paul expresses in the second quote, where he talks of knowing, of experiencing ( because we can’t fully know/understand) the dimensions of God’s love for us, revealed in Christ Jesus.  The soaring heights as we realized we are loved, the depth of God’s compassion, as He is with us at the rock bottom parts of His life. In the midst of this, Paul inserts the word together.  That all God’s people need to experience this love, together.  That too is what church is, not just what it is about.

It is the moment we hear we are all forgiven of our sin. All of it. Completely.

It is int he moment when we realize God’s peace is with us, and we share that peace with those around us. celebrating the love of God which glues us together, and together with Him.

It is in that moment when we are given proof of that love, as we are given His body and blood, to remind us of His death for us, and His opening the door which reveals God’s love to us, together.  Even that person I was so ticked off at, is there, being loved by God, as I am.  To realize we’ve both been freed of the sin and guilt, the shame and resentment, the burdens that crush and divide us.

It is then when loving them becomes a joy, not a duty obeyed because we have to .

It is then when church becomes more than an organization, or a costly bit of entertainment mixed with some positive “feel good” messages, or a club where we celebrate our being holier than those people out playing golf or watching their kids play soccer, or working.

Church isn’t some obligation, it is what St. Josemaria talks about, a time to get our soul ready to interact with God, by hearing again and again how He has prepared us to be with Him and then spending the time with Him.  the early part of a service, as we are forgiven, as we hear of His love, of his promises, that is like a bride being made ready for her wedding.  And the Lord’s Supper is then the wedding and all joy of life brought together, as we realize how much we are loved.

This is what church is, this is what we need, a place to find hope, healing, reconciliation, and joy as we dwell together in Christ, while helping others find those same things, as God revelas His love to them.

Amen!

Escriva, Josemaria. Furrow (Kindle Locations 2792-2794). Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition.

Time Management and the Church


St Francis Catholic Church

This was the church of my parochial school… a place where relationships were formed… with our students and with God

A devotional thought for the Day:

42 They spent their time learning the apostles’ teaching, sharing, breaking bread, n and praying together.  Acts 2:42 NCV

Chapter 7 Baptism into union with Jesus is the sign of our new spiritual identity with the Triune God and with each other in the church. In baptism Christians embrace the new life that is the gift of God’s grace through Jesus Christ by the Spirit.
Chapter 8 The spiritual life is a living into our baptism—dying to all that is sin and death, rising through the new birth into the new life modeled by Jesus, the one who images humanity completely united to God’s original purposes for creation. The spiritual life contemplates the mystery of God revealed in Jesus Christ and participates in the purposes of God for humanity.
Chapter 9 The spiritual life is disciplined by the rule of steadfastness, fidelity, and obedience; it attends to prayer, study, and work; it meets God in daily life, in material things, and in people.
Chapter 10 The spiritual life is nourished by the church, which is the continued presence of the incarnate Jesus in and to the world. The spiritual life is nurtured by worship that sings, prays, preaches, and enacts the divine embrace in its daily prayer, weekly celebration, and yearly attention to God’s saving embrace in the services of the Christian Year. (1) 

Only from a personal encounter with the Lord can we carry out the diakonia (service) of tenderness without letting us get discouraged or be overwhelmed by the presence of pain and suffering.

A friend put up a meme the other day, that testified to the power of a good hug, one of those so powerful that you can feel the other person’s heart beat, and the ability it has to calm you down and assure you that everything will be all right. I experienced those kinds of hugs on vacation, as some of my friends from junior high got together 38 years after we had last seen each other. It was remarkable and refreshing.  (thanks, Ana, Dina, Christos, Danny, Glenn, and Brian!)

It is the kind of life the church had in its infancy, one we call koinonia or living in communion with each other.  We become a community that is incredibly close, and there for each other.  It is hard to explain, the level of such a relationship, where even years melt away as…. I can think of no other word… the intimacy of the communion is restored. ( Not physical intimacy as in sexual intimacy, but a connection of souls)

Webber would note that such an embrace is possible because of God, of His drawing us into His story, of Him invading ours, not just to purge us of our sin, but to embrace us, to heal us, to bring us into the depth of His peace. The outline of his chapters above shows how this happens in baptism and the spiritual life that is created as we learn to walk with God. This is what Pope Francis was talking about when he mentions our service and ministry of tenderness that begins with a personal (intimate) encounter with God.   If not a part of our lives we will (and still do when we forget to return there) burnt out, we will be overwhelmed.  But with God’s embrace, and with those around us who likewise are locked in His embrace, we are safe… and can find the rest we need, even as we hurt.

Webber went on from the start of the Divine Embrace to note that this spiritual life, this divine embrace is nourished in the gathering of people known as the church.  It is there we find the presence of the incarnate Christ in the world (this is why some call the church our mother and say salvation is not found apart from her! )  As we pray and worship, as we continue in the apostles teaching of the Word of God (Jesus) as revealed in the word of God (scripture)  as we take and eat the body of Christ, and take and drink His blood, poured out to remove all of our sin and restore our relationship with God, this divine embrace, this intimate relationship with God is restored, and it envelops all of us.  

This early description of the church in Acts talks of this – look at what they did! It doesn’t say they held endless meetings or held strategy meetings for growth.  It says that they did the things which reminded us and strengthened our awareness of God’s embrace.  

Maybe it is the time we got back to being the church, rather than doing church.  Our people need it, we need it. and oddly enough God treasures it far more than we can realize.  For He sent Jesus to minister to us, even to the point of offering His life as a sacrifice, that we could be held in God’s hands…

Time management in the church?  Where is our time of understanding God’s word, praying together, sharing our lives and meals together, and sharing in the Eucharist?  It may seem too simple, but the joy we will find being those God called together will be far more contagious than anything we can plan.  

The Lord is with you! It is time to manage our time so that we spend most of it Celebrating that Divine Embrace!

 

 

 

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

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

Why I Don’t Want Sinners to Change their Behavior.


20170124_103703Devotional Thought of the Day:

17 When Jesus left the people and went into the house, his followers asked him about this story. 18 Jesus said, “Do you still not understand? Surely you know that nothing that enters someone from the outside can make that person unclean. 19 It does not go into the mind, but into the stomach. Then it goes out of the body.” (When Jesus said this, he meant that no longer was any food unclean for people to eat.)
20 And Jesus said, “The things that come out of people are the things that make them unclean. 21 All these evil things begin inside people, in the mind: evil thoughts, sexual sins, stealing, murder, adultery, 22 greed, evil actions, lying, doing sinful things, jealousy, speaking evil of others, pride, and foolish living. 23 All these evil things come from inside and make people unclean.”  Mark 7:17-23 NCV

He that examines and prepares himself in this way, he truly uses this Sacrament worthily, not unto judgment,44 but unto salvation. And though all these things are still weak, infirm, and sluggish, yet one should not for that reason abstain from the holy Supper. Rather on the contrary, this very reason will rouse and impel us the more to partake of it more frequently, especially since we know that the Son of God gradually kindles, increases, and strengthens repentance and faith in us more and more through this means. For this medicine has been prepared and provided for the sick who acknowledge their infirmity and seek counsel and help.

Since I entered Bible College 35 years ago, I have seen many programs that are guaranteed to change the behavior of people,  Some are determined to change the practices of giving to the church, some are geared to change the behavior of sinners.  Some are not that blunt, they seek to make the exercise of faith more visible, as people give, pray, attend, volunteer/serve more, worship more “properly”, seeking the joy and peace that was promised to them, if they do.

Most fail.

They fail because o the basic method of formation, applying a force of some kind to the person, hoping to move them into the behavior that is desired.  They use the four main forms of educational discipline; the promise of reward, the consequence of punishment, the withholding of reward, the freedom from punishment.  Or to put it more religiously, the blessings and curses God warned us about.

These methodologies would work if all we needed was to modify behavior.

Jesus tells us clearly, that isn’t enough.  Sin and Faith/Dependence on God is not a matter of changing the externals, it requires a change of our heart (see Exodus 36:35) and the mind (see Acts 2:38 and Romans 12:2) It is not something we can change in ourselves, it goes beyond our ability.  Just as a man cannot perform open heart surgery on himself, so we can’t perform such a spiritual/psychological operation Change the behavior but not the heart and you end up with another sin putting them in bondage.  It’s like the addict who simply changes drug addiction for work addiction or an addiction to sexual perversion.  The matter is deeper.

So how do we deal with it?  Martin Chemnitz puts forth that it would be trusting God, depending on God to deliver what He promises through His word and sacrament. Chemnitz calls the weak, the infirm, the sluggish to the altar, he urges them to head there more frequently, for Christ comes to those who are sick, not to those who are well.  it is the place for those who acknowledge their need, a need caused by our sin, our brokenness.  It is there we find the medicine that comforts those haunted by grief and shame, who long for something different.

This isn’t the religion of the good and proper, those dressed perfectly for the church, those best and brightest.  It is the religion, the way of life, that delivers hope to the hopeless, healing to the broken, life to those dead, and dying.  It is the blessing for the poor in Spirit.

This is the relationship that we humbly, and with great amazement are drawn into, cleanses and brings us to life in baptism!  That is where that heart that poured forth sin is cut out, replaced with the heart of Christ, which begins to transform us, even as we take and eat, and take and drink the blood of Jesus.

The change to our hearts and minds happens, and then behavior changes, prompted by the Holy Spirit, guided by those who help us explore the Father’s love.

All the while stunned by the fact we are surrounded by His peace…   Amen!

 

 

Chemnitz, Martin, and Luther Poellot. Ministry, Word, and Sacraments: An Enchiridion. electronic ed. St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1999. Print.

 

The Powerful Presence of God… some thoughts on the Eucharist, the Lord’s Supper


church at communion 2Devotional Thought of the Day:
15  You are reasonable people. Decide for yourselves if what I am saying is true. 16  When we bless the cup at the Lord’s Table, aren’t we sharing in the blood of Christ? And when we break the bread, aren’t we sharing in the body of Christ? 17  And though we are many, we all eat from one loaf of bread, showing that we are one body.   1 Corinthians 10:15-17 (NLT)

We have quoted all of this here, not to begin an argument on this subject (his Imperial Majesty does not disapprove this article), but to make clear to all our readers that we defend the doctrine received in the whole church—that in the Lord’s Supper the body and blood of Christ are truly and substantially present and are truly offered with those things that are seen, bread and wine. We are talking about the presence of the living Christ, knowing that “death no longer has dominion over him.”7

826      You have to make your life essentially, totally eucharistic.

My father’s 88th Birthday was on Monday, and one picture of my dad continues to come to mind.  It was him, kneeling at the altar rail, wearing his sunglasses (with a  light brown tint )

I knew the reason he wore him, he was afraid of people seeing the tears that would flow as He received the body and blood of His Savior Jesus.  The presence that would lay his broken and wounded heart out, and allow healing to happen.  The tears couldn’t stop while he was there, the was nothing he could do about them.  And there was, in the midst of the tears caused by ripping open the scars, a sense of wonder at the peace.  It overwhelmed him.  There are two pictures of my dad that come to mind when I think of him in his older years, and this is the primary one.

I then think of a phenomenon that occurs when the youngest of children approach the rail in my church.  It started with one girl during an Ash Wednesday Communion service.  She was 2 and a half, and so comfortable at the rail next to her mother that communed that she grabbed hold of it, and wouldn’t let it go.  Her scream pierced the darkened church a moment later, “No I want to stay with Jesus!” she said!  Since then, almost always on their first visit, we’ve seen children do this, again and again, grasping onto the rail, or trying to come back after their parents returned to their seat.  Far too many times for it to be a coincidence, and my elders and deacons know well to simply tell the parents it is okay for them to stay there. They are welcome, and they are at peace.

When I read St. Josemaria’s words this morning, as he advises us to make our lives eucharistic, ( or some Lutherans might use the word Incarnational) it resounded to me.  The words were supported by the observation in the Lutheran Apology of the Augsburg Confession – as Melanchthon reminds us we are communing with the Body and Blood of Christ, the presence of the living resurrected Messiah, Jesus.

We are in His presence, He gives us Himself in this bread, in this wine.  It is something that should leave us in awe at His sacrifice of love, at His desire to be part of our lives, part of us.  That in this meal, at this moment, we find ourselves in the same place as the elders of Israel in Moses day.

9  Then Moses, Aaron, Nadab, Abihu, and the seventy elders of Israel climbed up the mountain again. 10  There they saw the God of Israel. Under his feet there seemed to be a surface of brilliant blue lapis lazuli, as clear as the sky itself. 11  And though these nobles of Israel gazed upon God, he did not destroy them. In fact, they ate a covenant meal, eating and drinking in his presence! Exodus 24:9-11 (NLT)

He did not destroy Him, they were so at peace in the glorious presence of God that they ate and drank ( the NLT adds in “a covenant meal, ” but they were indeed celebrating the Mosaic Covenant – God’s promise to care for them, to make them His people)

I know my dad felt that overwhelmed, even if he had great trouble describing it with words.  Just the thought would bring tears to his eyes, and cause him to struggle to speak.  He would be so overwhelmed he didn’t want to approach it too often, he had to work himself us to go to that place, so overwhelming was the peace and his need for it.  I think kids are more aware of the presence of God than we could credit them for, which is why the altar is a joyous, peaceful place they don’t want to leave.

I could tell you the story of others, whose body language shared how crushed they were by the world, or by the weight of their own sins, only to approach the altar and have all that pressure dissipate, all that weight lifted.

Not because of the pastor/priest, not because of the building, but simply because of the presence of God, Because of the gift, the grace He gives us in this holy sacrament, for He gives us Himself….. and like the elders, we do not die in the presence of God, but He nourishes us, as He reminds us of the covenant, of His promise that we are His.

I pray that you and I could be like the kids, who never want to leave, as we experience His presence, as He heals our broken hearts and souls.  May we yearn for it, not to be considered pious by the world, but to experience the foretaste of heaven, and share in His glory.

May we receive His gift with gladness and joy!  AMEN!

 

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

Escriva, Josemaria. The Forge (Kindle Locations 2935-2936). Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition.

The One Exception to Judge Not… there is someone needing judgment.


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Dawn at Concordia

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

“Judge not, and you shall not be judged,” says the Saviour of our souls; “condemn not, and you shall not be condemned” (Luke, 6:37). “No,” says the holy apostle, “judge not before the time, until the Lord come, who both will bring to light the hidden things of darkness, and will make manifest the counsels of the heart” (2 Cor. 4:5). Oh, how displeasing are rash judgments to God! The judgments of the children of men are rash, because they are not the judges of one another, and therefore usurp to themselves the office of our Lord. They are rash, because the principal malice of sin depends on the intention of the heart, which is an impenetrable secret to us. They are not only rash, but also impertinent, because everyone has enough to do to judge himself, without taking upon him to judge his neighbour. 

As I read the words in blue this morning, I knew I had to write about them.  

I didn’t want to, because the moment I read them, I start judging all the people around me who are not just judging others but condemning them. The spirits of division, of bitterness, of hatred aren’t just seeping into their lives, we are drowning in the flood of them.

We aren’t foolish enough to claim we are more righteous than the world, but we are more than willing to bash people, Trump, Clinton, the Kardashians, people of other religions, heck some even bash the New England Patriots and their loyal fans.  And the bashing is always judgmental, always condemning, always done in a way that raises anxiety

It is a sickness, one which depresses and isolates.  Personally, I long for the days when I was an introvert and could shut out the world. Even as I write this, I see it for what it really is, a form of judgment, a temptation to isolate myself from the evil, without recognizing that I can’t escape from it, for in trying to do so…. I embody what I am trying to flee.

It was the last line from St. Francis de Sales that helped me this morning, the line about everyone having enough to do to judge themselves.

You might think it odd I found this to be good news, the purest of gospel.  For judging myself does bring the gospel into my life, erasing the need to judge others. For there, when I realize my frailty, when I recognize my sin, my instinct is to cry out for grace, to find sanctuary from the evil that not only threatens me externally but seems to well up internally.

In examining myself, I find the need to find a safe place, a place where judgment is cast aside, where burdens are lifted, where hope is revived and finds stimulation.  Where I find a love beyond measure, seen in a grace where God forgives my desire to judge others, and the times where I do so. Examining myself drives me to absolution, and to the altar where God reminds me of His love by giving me His body and blood to eat and drink, where I get to fellowship with Him!

There, I find not just the peace I need eternally, but I find others receiving it as well.  I find it offered to those I struggle with, those I want to judge, those I want to condemn.  And even if they aren’t there as my parish communes, they might be on their own, and they are to be welcomed at all places. 

Not only am I reminded of God’s grace forgiving me, drawing me to Him, into Christ, but I also am reminded that forgiveness is for all….

And for the moment, peace invades my darkness, shattering it, revealing a wholeness, completeness, that will be mine when we are found before Hi throne.

This is life in Christ, this is why I try to remain devout, depending on Him.  For there I find the answer to my cry,, not for judgment, but for mercy.  

For all of us.

Judge not… except yourself, so you may run to Him and find peace.

Francis de Sales, Saint. An Introduction to the Devout Life. Dublin: M. H. Gill and Son, 1885. Print.

Where One Finds Hope….


MarkJ AdventDevotional Thought of the Day:

30  And why should we ourselves risk our lives hour by hour? 31  For I swear, dear brothers and sisters, that I face death daily. This is as certain as my pride in what Christ Jesus our Lord has done in you. 32  And what value was there in fighting wild beasts—those people of Ephesus—if there will be no resurrection from the dead? And if there is no resurrection, “Let’s feast and drink, for tomorrow we die!” 33  Don’t be fooled by those who say such things, for “bad company corrupts good character.” 34  Think carefully about what is right, and stop sinning. For to your shame I say that some of you don’t know God at all. 1 Corinthians 15:30-34 (NLT)

Heaven, then, is none other than the certainty that God is great enough to have room even for us insignificant mortals. Nothing that we treasure or value will be destroyed. As we ponder all this, let us ask the Lord on this day to open our eyes ever more fully to it; to make us not only people of faith but also people of hope, who do not look to the past but rather build for today and tomorrow a world that is open to God. Let us ask him to make us who believe happy individuals who, amid the stress of daily living, catch a glimpse of the beauty of the world to come and who live, believe, and hope in this certainty. (1)

These days, from just after Thanksgiving to Christmas Eve are called the season of Advent, the time where we wait for the second coming of Jesus, and eternity to be revealed.

It is a time of hope, of expectation.

Time we need, for many of us are experiencing a time of life that seems hard, and one without any form of hope.

Advent is not the answer to the hopelessness in and of itself. It simply seeks to remind us of the hope. It is a time where we go through, recognizing our need for hope, our need for something more, that this life is not all there is.

When we know there is something, we learn to wait for it, fully expectant in the promises of God. That hope gives us the ability to depend on God for the strength to endure.

For heaven is waiting, the place we can’t describe, yet what we know is enough.  For we will be with the one who loves us!  As Pope Benedict points out, this gives us a sense of happiness, a sense of joy, even amid the stress of daily living.

Which is why the Lord’s Supper is the ultimate moment in Advent.  It is that piercing the curtain between our mortality and our immortality.  The Body and Blood of Jesus, a feast that God our Father serves us, is the moment we find ourselves in His presence so clearly, so completely.  From that moment, as with our baptism, the hope of heaven is more than a dream, it is real, the presence of God quite tangible.

Which is the point of Advent, amid the stress of life, as it seems we are in the midst of darkness, affected by disease, division, depression and even death; it is then these extra moments, assuring us of God’s promises, and His faithfulness, are so needed.

This is life, as we don’t just walk with God, we let Him carry us… and safe in His arms, expecting a new day, we find peace.

(1)  Ratzinger, Joseph. 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. Print.

Is it too much to ask for a miracle, for peace, this day?


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Devotional Thought of the Day:

16  Some Pharisees and Sadducees who came to Jesus wanted to trap him, so they asked him to perform a miracle for them, to show that God approved of him. 2But Jesus answered, “When the sun is setting, you say, ‘We are going to have fine weather, because the sky is red.’ 3And early in the morning you say, ‘It is going to rain, because the sky is red and dark.’ You can predict the weather by looking at the sky, but you cannot interpret the signs concerning these times!n 4How evil and godless are the people of this day! You ask me for a miracle? No! The only miracle you will be given is the miracle of Jonah.”
So he left them and went away.  Matt 16:1-4 TEV

535    Communion, union, communication, intimacy: Word, bread, love.  (1)

I am struggling with my sermon manuscript this morning.

The struggle is not with the text, it is glorious, it can, and it will preach Christ.

My problem is with my friends acting like the Houses of the Capulets and Montagues. No, I must be honest, there is  a growing desire to call them out and curse them both as Shakespeare wrote, “a pox on both your houses!” There is my problem, the enormous weight that causes my writer’s block.

I am not sure I can get these friends, the fellow citizens to stop attacking each other, to lower the defenses enough to look each other in the eyes and see each other’s struggles and brokenness, and to limp together to an altar and pray for each other. And as I receive emails, tweets, and read posts, I am reaching that point where I question whether I want to anymore.

There is a temptation to wipe the dust off my feet, to walk away and leave people pointing at each other, yelling at the top of their lungs the very same insults, the very same attacks, crying as they are assaulted by the same fears and anxieties.

Though I am not trying to trap Jesus, (or am I? In truth, today, I do not know.) I want Jesus to stop this; I want the miracle that will create the peace that will enable people to stop attacking each other, to know the mercy that will allow them to lower their defenses, to remember that we have been given the role of servants, to facilitate reconciliation.  To allow people on both sides of the issue to be still, and know that God is still God.  That He is our refuge and strength.

But how do we get people to lay aside their sin, the idols they have manufactured to provide the answers they desire?  How do we get them to consider there are hopes greater than what they expect, that what they have counted on to be the norm?  Surely I can’t out yell the masses that are yelling at each other.

I sometimes joke that St Josemaria Escriva is my patron saint, simply because I resonate with what he writes at a level that is deeper than just my poor intellect.  The words in blue above were probably written during the Spanish Civil War, a time of unrest that puts the hatred espoused on Social Media in perspective.  I imagine he grieved for his nation as he saw them killing each other, as a house divided fell apart as the bodies that composed it fell to the ground.

His answer is my answer, the place I must run to find hope, and find the strength to offer hope.  A sacramental, incarnational, miraculous answer found in God’s presence. Fount at the cross, found as well in those things that unite us to the cross – the sacraments through which the word assures us of God’s grace, His mercy and peace.

As God unites us to Himself, as He invites us to feast, as He communicates with us, as the Word comes and dwells among us, as we see and declare His glory.

As we know, love.

As much as I want my friends, to love each other, the miracle happens in Christ, not by logic.  They are delivered from their fears and frustrations, their shattered idols and broken hopes as Christ is revealed.  As they see Him, crucified to bear it all, to bring them healing from it all.

Sometimes the answer isn’t found in engaging in the mess, or getting depressed and angry as I grieve over it.

Sometimes the answer, the hope is found in seeking Christ, in letting His presence assure and comfort me, reminding me that all things will work for good and that nothing can separate us from His love.

Escriva, Josemaria. The Way (Kindle Location 1295). Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition.

 

“Do I have to pray, read the Bible, go to church, etc?”


devotional/discussion thought of the day?
10  I want to know Christ and experience the mighty power that raised him from the dead. I want to suffer with him, sharing in his death, 11  so that one way or another I will experience the resurrection from the dead! 12  I don’t mean to say that I have already achieved these things or that I have already reached perfection. But I press on to possess that perfection for which Christ Jesus first possessed me. 13  No, dear brothers and sisters, I have not achieved it, but I focus on this one thing: Forgetting the past and looking forward to what lies ahead, 14  I press on to reach the end of the race and receive the heavenly prize for which God, through Christ Jesus, is calling us. 15  Let all who are spiritually mature agree on these things. If you disagree on some point, I believe God will make it plain to you. 16  But we must hold on to the progress we have already made. 17  Dear brothers and sisters, pattern your lives after mine, and learn from those who follow our example.   Philippians 3:10-17 (NLT)

33 We should concern ourselves with this revealed will of God, follow it, and be diligent about it because the Holy Spirit gives grace, power, and ability through the Word by which he has called us. We should not explore the abyss of the hidden foreknowledge of God, even as Christ answered the question, “Lord, will those who are saved be few?” by saying, “Strive to enter by the narrow door” (Luke 13:23, 24)

325    Fight against the softness that makes you lazy and careless in your spiritual life. Remember that it might well be the beginning of tepidity … and, in the words of the Scripture, God will vomit out the lukewarm.

Sometimes the question is phrased as you see above, “Do I have to pray, read the Bible, go to church, etc. ?”.  Other times it is more a defensive statement, “I have a great relationship with God and therefore I don’t have to…”  Or perhaps the most dangerous version, “God will understand that I have other priorities….”

As a pastor such questions and statements are the horrific omens, they are the symptoms of life that will be soon going through a kind of spiritual cardiac arrest.  One that will be haunted by guilt and shame that will be easily tempted to some form of idolatry, to put faith in something else.  That idol will fail eventually, that dream and desire will not satisfy, and the comfort of a lukewarm faith will cause us to fall asleep.

I don’t say this simply as a diagnostician, or simple as a pastor who is tired of observing it and picking up the pieces.  I say it as one who struggles with it, as well. I who wants to pass on my morning devotions and get to “work.”  I so want to bypass my examination of my life and praying that God would help me not just repeatedly come to being sorry and apologetic, but to move from contrition to the transformation that is true repentance. I want to grow in overcoming the sin that so easily ensnares me, and I want to help you do the same.

All three quotes above talk about this – from the Lutheran Confessions which tell us to stop trying to probe the hidden mysteries of God, the things scripture doesn’t mention and theologians argue and write about.  We must instead focus on the love and mercy that God does reveal.  What a wondrous thing it is to know how deeply God loves you and me!  What an incredible thing to think of the cross, and how that love was revealed, in an act so merciful that it staggers the mind.  He died for us, and we live with Him!  There is our focus!

St. Josemaria echoes it in his plea that we all don’t get lazy and careless in our spiritual life, that with Paul we forget what is behind us, what is history, and try to possess, to understand, to hold onto the fact that Christ has united us to himself.  To begin to understand how much we are loved, and what it means to be united to God in Christ’s death and resurrection, to be the temple of the Holy Spirit.

The answer to an apathetic faith, to a personal or parish/congregational malaise, is quite simple.  We need to understand the wide, how long, how high and how deep His love is for us, experiencing the love of Christ which is too great to completely understand with our hearts and souls and mind.  Even so, as we begin to explore that love, we come alive, and the power of God is revealed in us.

So you and I, yes we need to pray, and to spend time contemplating what scripture reveals, we need to gather together to hear of this love, to receive the sacraments which are tangible gifts showing that love.

Not because it is law, not because if we don’t, we shall be punished, but because these things are what nourishes our spiritual life, and what makes us aware that God is with us!

AMEN!

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

Escriva, Josemaria. The Way (Kindle Locations 838-839). Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition.

Give Thanks!


Give Thanks!

Luke 17:11-19

In Jesus Name

May the compassion of God our Father and our Lord Jesus Christ be so revealed for you, that you hear Him as He tell you to rise up!

Jesus Frustration:

Jesus asks, “where are the other nine?!” and I can’t imagine hearing that without hearing some frustration in His voice, and maybe even a little pain.

Where are they?

Don’t they realize what I’ve done for them?  And don’t they know that this is only the beginning?

Where are the other nine?

I don’t know how you read it any differently, though it may seem odd to hear God being pained by our inattentiveness, by our being ungrateful, by our not being aware of the incredible mercy and compassion that goes neglected.

But consider this.

God describes himself in Exodus 34 with these words,

14  You must worship no other gods, for the LORD, whose very name is Jealous, is a God who is jealous about his relationship with you.    Exodus 34:14 (NLT)
and in Hebrews we find this,

3  So what makes us think we can escape if we ignore this great salvation that was first announced by the Lord Jesus himself and then delivered to us by those who heard him speak? Hebrews 2:3 (NLT)

This is the God who weeps over Jerusalem, who compares himself to the man whose beloved wife whom he rescued from a horrible life cheats on Him.

Now can you hear the pain in his voice, as he asks, “Didn’t I heal ten?  Where are the other nine?

is it enough to color between the lines?

Where are they?  Why at the priest’s, showing them the healing so they confirm it.  They are obeying Jesus, but isn’t that enough? Isn’t’ that the point of scripture, and the commandments, to get us to obey the commandments?

A quick illustration why it is not enough might help.

Think of  a children’s coloring book – with pictures of great masterpieces in it.

Forgetting the parental requirement to love every piece of art your child or grandchild colors in; is it enough to color between the lines? Can a Van Gogh be as beautiful or a Mona Lisa look as stunning if the colors don’t make sense?

Or to use another illustration – if we stay in our lane on the freeway, does that mean we can travel as fast as we want?

Of course not!

So in this case, while listening makes sense, what they didn’t hear was that Jesus had heard them, and answered.

A quick background – these lepers were supposed to cry out when people approached, “UNCLEAN!  UNCLEAN!”  They were to warn people to not come close, their disease was not only devastating, it was contagious.

Instead, somehow this group recognized Jesus, they recognized that though he wasn’t their Lord, He was one with authority, and they called out to him have mercy, to have compassion on them.  Mercy and compassion aren’t just about feelings, but love so full that it acts, it finds a way to relieve the burdens, to bring comfort and peace to lives that were broken, that were shattered.

As Jesus speaks, he offers them something they could only have dreamt of – to go and show themselves to the priests, to be declared free from the ravaged brokenness they knew, to be welcomed back into the community of the people of God.

And as they left, they were healed physically, miraculously.  Bodies that were more rotting than whole, bow showed skin that was a whole and new and vibrant as any.

This was the Master that spoke, that commanded this.  The Master, the one promised and sent by God. This is the Messiah, the one who would not just restore bodies, but souls. That would cleanse not just skin, but hearts and minds. Who would make them His people for eternity!

And we walked away.  We neglected the salvation, we obeyed the letter of the law, and missed something more important.  The Spirit, the messiah, Fellowship with God.

Even though they obeyed to the letter of the law – they missed what the law was given to do, to show them they were in fellowship with God.
Rise up!  Not only healed – but saved.

There is Jesus, and we’ve just heard him ask where the other nine was, when he focuses on the man again, lying there on the ground in front of him.  Who voice, which was loud when he cried for mercy, was mega loud when cried out God’s praises, when he offered great thanks – using the very word Jesus will use as he starts the last supper and gives thanks.

And what Jesus says is lost in almost every translation.

In this one it says this,

“Didn’t I heal ten men?” Then it says, “Stand up and go. Your faith has healed you.”

A few others say, Stand up and go; your faith has made you well.Luke 17:19 (NASB)

But a few say it this way – reflecting the Greek, ‘Stand up and go on your way. Your faith has saved you.’ Luke 17:19 (NJB)

Not just made well, not just healed, his faith, his trust in God demonstrated in the return to praise God was the trust, the dependence that saw a much greater gift given – and invitation, and the recognition that he was no longer an alien, no longer a foreigner, but a part of the people of God.

Jesus was now this man’s Lord, this man’s master.  Salvation, like the healing that was for so long only a dream, this salvation was now his.

And Jesus tells him to stand, he doesn’t have to grovel, he doesn’t have to lay there in the dirt.  He was made whole and saved, therefore he was welcome to stand!

If there was gratitude when he only knew the healing, can you imagine the gratitude when salvation was what was given?  When eternity, in fellowship with God, given the ability to stand in His presence, to truly live life.

Can you imagine how incredible the mercy, the compassion he cried out for was revealed?

Yet that compassion, that mercy, that love, that acceptance of God is ours.

It is time to revel in it, to give thanks and praise.

And to hear, as Jesus look at the table, and considers the bread and wine, the gratitude he shows the Father, who will allow Jesus to give His body and blood for us, to save us.

For it our time to hear those words, you trust in God has saved you,,, for He has had compassion on you.  AMEN!

Celebrating the Lord’s Supper, the Feast for Broken Folks


Devotional Thought of the Day:
14  So, my dear friends, flee from the worship of idols. 15  You are reasonable people. Decide for yourselves if what I am saying is true. 16  When we bless the cup at the Lord’s Table, aren’t we sharing in the blood of Christ? And when we break the bread, aren’t we sharing in the body of Christ? 17  And though we are many, we all eat from one loaf of bread, showing that we are one body. 18  Think about the people of Israel. Weren’t they united by eating the sacrifices at the altar? 1 Corinthians 10:14-18 (NLT)

69 True and worthy communicants, on the other hand, are those timid, perturbed Christians, weak in faith, who are heartily terrified because of their many and great sins, who consider themselves unworthy of this noble treasure and the benefits of Christ because of their great impurity, and who perceive their weakness in faith, deplore it, and heartily wish that they might serve God with a stronger and more cheerful faith and a purer obedience.
70 This most venerable sacrament was instituted and ordained primarily for communicants like this, as Christ says, “Come unto me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest” (Matt. 11:28). Likewise, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick.”8 Likewise, “The power of God is made perfect in weakness.”9 Likewise, “As for a man who is weak in faith, welcome him, for God has welcomed him” (Rom. 14:1, 3). For whoever believes on the Son of God, be his faith strong or weak, has eternal life (John 3:16).  (1)

He says to her: “Unfortunately I can live and dispense love only in the small coin of everyday life—but then there is that person whose television is too loud, who makes so much noise, or who is so uncouth; then I have to try to understand him, to keep calm and to smile, and this will be true love without all the rhetoric.” And he tells us a brief parable that reveals him as he really is. An Irishman, who has done little good in his life, dies and comes before the heavenly tribunal. He stands in a long line behind those who are already being judged, and he hears and sees how the Lord scans the ledger of each individual and then says to the first: “I was hungry and you gave me to eat. Paradise!” And to the second: “I was thirsty and you gave me to drink. Paradise!” To the third: “I was naked and you clothed me. Paradise!” And his heart sank deeper and deeper, for he had done none of these things. So he comes in fear and trembling before the judge and can hardly raise his eyes. But in one of his timid glances he observes what seems to be an enigmatic, mischievous smile in the eyes of the judge. And the Lord consults the ledger and says to him: “Well, there’s a lot missing here. But once I was unhappy and you told a joke and made me laugh. Off with you—Paradise!” This is typical of John Paul I himself. That’s exactly how he was. He not only told us a joke, but he bequeathed to us his smile and gave us a glimpse of what humanity really is; he let us surmise something about our lost paradise. (2)

Forty-three years ago, as I watched a priest commune people at a prayer meeting in our home, I realized that was what I wanted to do with my life.

It doesn’t matter whether it is a 91-year-old lady in her room in a residential care facility, or hundreds at pastor’s conference. It doesn’t matter whether it is in a grand cathedral, or in a humble chapel.

It is also why I grieve the disintegration of the church, as more and more divisions split her, and break the fellowship that is found in Christ, and in His death and resurrection. I have wept as I refrained from communion at a friends church (3).  Likewise, I weep as I hear men say they would never commune one “one of them”.

Even as we as God’s people need to take and eat, to take and drink the Body and Blood of Christ, it is not a right. It is a need, not a membership benefit.  The Lutheran confessions I quoted above in blue make it clear, the way you are “worthy” to commune is not because of your membership, or how mature you are, or how strong a believer.  Rather it is because you recognize you need God’s presence, His healing and His mercy.

We recognize we aren’t able to live and the nourishment of Christ’s Body and Blood sustains us, renews us, revitalizes us. It is that “coin of everyday  life” that Pope John Paul 1 mentioned, and while his illustration of the Irishman is how he pictured himself, it is a fine picture of the Lord’s Supper, the Eucharist as well, and the ministry that is provided through His Body and Blood does in our lives.

For once i was unhappy, broken, crushed by sin and unrighteousness, and then you invited me to a feast, and made me laugh and know joy and peace.

This is what happens as we celebrate the Lord’s Supper, as we celebrate His life, lived in us, and therefore our life, lived in Him.  This is why this feast, this sacrament is so precious, so important that theologians can’t explain it, but a 8-year-old can desire it.  It is Christ in you, the hope for those of us broken, the hope of sharing in God’s glory!

So come, all you are burdened, who are weak in faith, and find rest, and life and laughter.And God will give you rest.

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

(2)  Ratzinger, Joseph. 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. Print.

(3) Because of different beliefs, different denominations have different rules about communion.  Not to be picky or self-righteous, but because they believe a person can eat or drink judgment on themselves (see 1 Cor. 11) and they can’t actively be a part of that.  Such actions are often taken as hostile, but they should be viewed as a call to unity and to settling the matters that divide us.  Understanding this, even as my friend and I desire to commune together, and it pains us not to, we long for the day when we shall.

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