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Do I Have Any Value? How Do I know?

Devotional Thought of the Day:

 10  For we are God’s masterpiece. He has created us anew in Christ Jesus, so we can do the good things he planned for us long ago.Ephesians 2:10 (NLT) 

20  Now may the God of peace— who brought up from the dead our Lord Jesus, the great Shepherd of the sheep, and ratified an eternal covenant with his blood— 21  may he equip you with all you need for doing his will. May he produce in you, through the power of Jesus Christ, every good thing that is pleasing to him. All glory to him forever and ever! Amen. Hebrews 13:20-21 (NLT)

345         What a great discovery! Something you barely half-understood turned out to be very clear when you had to explain it to others. You had to speak very gently with someone, who was disheartened because he felt useless and did not want to be a burden to anyone… You understood then, better than ever, why I always talk to you about being little donkeys turning the water-wheel: carrying on faithfully, with large blinkers which prevent us personally seeing or tasting the results—the flowers, the fruit, the freshness of the garden—confident about the effectiveness of our fidelity.  (1)

There are days in our lives when we wonder if what we do has any meaning.  What we are questioning is our worth as individuals.  Do we mean anything to anyone?

I’ve been there, and I’ve been there when others are asking those questions.  Some of these people are older, people near 100 years old who live in retirement homes; some are a little younger, those trying to make the adjustment to retirement, as they have spent 40-60 years of defining themselves according to what they do.  Some asking the question are younger, the 11-15-year-old, or 20-25-year-old who is not sure what to make our of their lives.

Pastor’s aren’t immune either. Especially those of us who know that the church doesn’t depend on us for our brilliance, our steadfastness, even our gifts, and abilities.

The church existed before us; it will be long after we have gone.

I have to admit, I am tempted to measure my value as a pastor.  (For me that is measuring my value as a person as well)   It isn’t about numbers in church; it is more the comments and questions I get from the sermon, or in Bible class.  It is the way people call on me to remind them that God is with them.

My question – do people know, trust in and depend on Jesus more, because I am here.  This goes for this blog as well, though I admit that I look at the numbers of hits and comments here!  But the question remains, “will people call out to God for help, will they turn to Him and realize they dwell in Him.”

The question helps me keep focused in ministry.  And the few times I do get a response, it lifts me considerably.  I hate to admit it, but I need that encouragement.  As do elders, and all church staff, whether volunteer or professional, ordained, commissioned or lay person.  I don’t have to measure how effective, as much as doing what we are called and put in place to do.

So how do we know we have value?  How do we know if we truly have any meaning?

We can’t evaluate it. As with St. Josemaria’s donkey, I can’t say know what benefit I have given to this world, to my community, or even to my family.  It’s beyond my ability to measure.

That’s okay. It’s not my job to judge. Which is a good thing, because the person responsible for the quality, the worth of what I do, isn’t me.  My worth comes from the fact that He works on us, in us, through us.  That is why St. Josemaria can discuss the confidence about our effectiveness as we trust and have faith in the God who created us to be masterpieces.

That is ultimately our key, to stop trying to worry about our worth, knowing that is in the hands of the Father, and our Lord Jesus Christ.

AMEN.

 

 

Escriva, Josemaria (2011-01-31). Furrow (Kindle Locations 1604-1609). Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition.

Can I Faithfully and Firmly Believe This? (Audio and Manuscript)

Can I Faithfully and Firmly Believe This?
Isaiah 6:1-8

IHS

May the grace and mercy of God our Father, our Savior Jesus Christ, and the Holy Spirit, the Lord and Giver of Life, sustain your trust in their love, and reveal to you more and more, Their Presence in your life!

Featured imageCan I?

A moment ago, if you were paying attention as we began the Athanasian Creed, you might have had a moment of concern as we began, as I said,

Whoever desires to be saved must, above all, hold the Christian faith.  Whoever does not keep it whole and undefiled will without doubt perish eternally.

But the nature of reciting a creed gave you only a few seconds to say this, and before you could process it, we were moving on to the next phrase.

A little way down, perhaps some of you gasped as we read,

Therefore, whoever desires to be saved must think thus about the Trinity.

If you had a moment to think at that point, you might have jotted down a question for me during Bible Study, and if you did, that is awesome – I will try and answer it then.  But really? How can we believe in these words we barely can comprehend as we are reading them off of the page.

And then, my last words,

This is the catholic faith; whoever does not believe it faithfully and firmly cannot be saved.

Which brings me to a question.  Can I faithfully and firmly believe something I just read, even though I don’t understand it completely?  Pastor, someone is thinking, if this is that important, shouldn’t we do it, maybe once a month or so?  At least more than once a year?
What do you think Chris?  Do it monthly?

Back to the more important question….and the one that follows…

Can I faithfully and firmly believe this ancient mind-twisting, theological statement?  And if can’t understand it, does that mean I am not saved?

We will answer that in a few moments.

The Isaiah Moment –

In many ways, saying the Athanasian Creed is like the situation Isaiah finds himself in, as we hear it described in the Old Testament reading this morning.

He’s overwhelmed, and confused.  Everything he thought he knew of, he is unsure of, all he knows is that God is a lot bigger, than he ever contemplated before.  His eyes can’t keep up with all he sees, and you will notice that the one thing he doesn’t describe in any depth, is what God looks like.

Isaiah sees Him, but all He tells us is that God is sitting on the throne, and God is wearing a robe that would take Carol, Linda, Barbara, and Cyndee a lot longer to sew than 18 stoles!

As Isaiah is overwhelmed, he forgets everything he knows about God, and is intently aware of how he doesn’t belong in God’s presence. He’s a sinner, a man who can’t filter his thoughts, and he is surrounded by people just like him. 

All he can think of, is I don’t get it, and no maybes,  (CLICK) I don’t belong here in God’s presence.

That is where his thoughts are going, as he realizes the glory of God, as He encounters it.

As he finds himself dropping to his knees, in awe, unable even to plead for mercy…

Encountering God
That is what happens to us when we sit down, and start to consider what we do know about God, when we try to summarize it, whether in 12 verses of the Apostles Creed, or the fifty of the Athanasian Creed, or in a sermon, or in a book.

It is not easy to get our minds wrapped around all the scripture teaches about God.  Heck I could teach for forty-five hours just on the titles we have for God, and on His name, and on the one line from this creed,

But the whole three persons are coeternal with each other and coequal, so that in all things, as has been stated above, the Trinity in Unity and Unity in Trinity is to be worshiped!

The Grace of God

And in those four underlined words, we find our hope.  We find out that like Isaiah, we belong in God’s presence.  Not because we are good enough, or qualified enough, or know and understand enough, but because of the reason we worship Him.

There was one more line that should give us pause…

And those who have done good will enter into eternal life, and those who have done evil into eternal fire.

He has judged us already, as Christ bore the iniquities of us all.  Because Jesus bore the stripes on His back, and the nail scars in His hands.  That judgment comes when the Holy Spirit is poured out on us, as we are declared His people, as we are promised eternal life.  Because He loves us, because that love and mercy sent Jesus to die for us, and rise again.  Because His death and resurrection brings us into a relationship with Him, a covenant with Him, where God judges us and says, you are righteous, you have done good.

In awe and confusion and fear, we find ourselves in the presence of God.

We hear the angels and archangels, the seraphim and elders, singing the words Holy, Holy, Holy…. And then we are touched, our lips and heart cleansed as God comes near.

And we join in the praises….

For God has judged our trust in His work, our need for Him to do that work, our need to cling to Him, and it is enough.

Enough so that God not only welcomes us into His presence, but sends us out to bring His message to a world that needs it, but needs the work of the Spirit to help them hear it.

There is s a lot of truth in this creed, this statement about the God who we trust, who we know, in who are beliefs are found, revealed to us in Christ.  The creed puts what we know is true, and what we know isn’t true.

Yeah, it’s long and complicated, it helps us know that things like Gnosticism and Subordinationism, that donatism and other things are wrong.  What it does best?  It reveals to us the God who reveals Himself is bigger than our thoughts, is bigger than our theories that try to explain what God keeps as a mystery.

I wrote yesterday that the mysteries of God aren’t there primarily to be solved and explained.  These mysteries are here to leave us in awe, to bring us to the point where we are silent, where we know He is God.

Like Isaiah, before the throne, like us as we bend a knee, and take and eat, and take and drink, the body and blood of Christ.

This is our God, trust in His promises, revel in what He reveals, and know that He is your God, and we are His people, who dwell in His peace, and Christ guards our hearts and minds in that place, and no one can change that.

AMEN!

The Challenge of Being Faithful Is Found in the Little Things

Devotional THought of the Day:

37  “If you love your father or mother more than you love me, you are not worthy of being mine; or if you love your son or daughter more than me, you are not worthy of being mine. 38  If you refuse to take up your cross and follow me, you are not worthy of being mine. 39  If you cling to your life, you will lose it; but if you give up your life for me, you will find it. Matthew 10:37-39 (NLT)

24  Then Jesus said to his disciples, “If any of you wants to be my follower, you must turn from your selfish ways, take up your cross, and follow me. Matthew 16:24 (NLT)

204    Many who would let themselves be nailed to a cross before the astonished gaze of thousands of spectators won’t bear the pinpricks of each day with a Christian spirit! But think, which is the more heroic?  (1)

You hear of the mother of the martyrs, who would share a meal with those who killed her son, and you are amazed.

You hear of the missionaries, who risk their lives, serving those with ebola, or aids, or in places where war is more common than peace, where churches are burnt.

You hear of men and women, giving up lucrative careers, to serve in the ministry, trading comfortable lives fro those who are suffering.

You read the book of Acts and see Peter and Paul, Stephen, Phillip, Dorcas, and the wife and husband team of Priscilla and Aquila doing miracles, preaching to great crowds, ministering to others in ways that reveal the Spirit of God is in them, and you are amazed.

Then you comment that you could never have faith like that, that you admire it, but you know that you cannot be that faithful.

You are wrong.

Faithfulness isn’t about trusting in God to only do the miraculous, and the awe-inspiring.  Faithfulness is tougher than that, because faithfulness isn’t measured by an event, or a moment in time, faithfulness is measured by a life that is lived under the burden of the cross.

Faithfulness is about living in the presence of God, no matter what the circumstances.  To be aware of those around us, and be willing to sacrifice to help them.  To be willing to spend the time to not only note sin and the damage it causes, but to be able to speak of the healing that God’s forgiveness brings.  To think before we speak, understanding not only what we want to communicate, but who we are communicating that message to, so that we can speak with love, so that lives will be healed.  To live under the cross means that we give up trying to justify our sins, or the sins of those we love, but we set the example, running to the throne of grace.

To live under the cross, to strive for holiness on our own merits seems difficult, challenging, impossible.

But it was never meant to be just our work.

This is why we’ve been given the Holy Spirit, who works in our lives through God’s word, through the sacraments, those sacred times when we breathe, and know we are in the presence of God.

The heroic life of faith is one revealed by a change in behavior in the little things.  The words we use, the attitudes we have towards others, the willingness to sacrifice, not in the big things, but in the little things.  Be patient with the antagonist, spending time loving your adversaries, and praying for those who annoy the hell out you.  (they actually do this if you have to run to the Father to find the strength to endure them!)

Even though the faithful life is revealed by these things, it originates in the time we spend with God. In the moments where we realize His love at work in us. We grow in faithfulness when we run to Him, rather than deal with things on our own.  Faithfulness is about our relationship with Him. Knowing He is with us, and so cherishing the time that we make the time to spend it with Him.  Treasuring that time,

Be faithful in what the world considers “little”.  Walk with God, hear His voice, encourage people, lift them up.  Take up that cross, it isn’t as heavy as you thought.  In fact, you might just enjoy it, when you realize you carry it in His presence.

.Godspeed

(1)  Escriva, Josemaria (2010-11-02). The Way (Kindle Locations 587-588). Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition.

Hillary Duff’s View on Marriage, and Church Shopping

Devotional Thought of the Day:

25  Husbands, go all out in your love for your wives, exactly as Christ did for the church—a love marked by giving, not getting. 26  Christ’s love makes the church whole. His words evoke her beauty. Everything he does and says is designed to bring the best out of her, 27  dressing her in dazzling white silk, radiant with holiness. Ephesians 5:25-27 (MSG)

22  So let’s do it—full of belief, confident that we’re presentable inside and out. 23  Let’s keep a firm grip on the promises that keep us going. He always keeps his word. 24  Let’s see how inventive we can be in encouraging love and helping out, 25  not avoiding worshiping together as some do but spurring each other on, especially as we see the big Day approaching. Hebrews 10:22-25 (MSG)

In the interview she also admits that, when it comes to a relationship, happiness might be more important than the commitment, which is why her perspective on love isn’t all that straightforward.I don’t want to sound bitter because I’m definitely not, but I don’t know if people are meant to be together forever,” she tells the magazine. “Things happen over a long relationship that you can’t always fight. A marriage of 20 years, the accomplishment of that must feel really great, but there are also huge sacrifices. I just always want to fight for happiness.”  (1)

As I read the article with Hillary Duff, and the quotes above, I was grieved.  She notes how great it must feel for a relationship to last 20 years, the comments that the sacrifices are huge, too much for her, for her marriage has now failed.

I don’t know what they did to see it through, if there were counselors that were at their side, or if there were people there to encourage, to coach them through.   Not only did they fail, their family, their community, and The Church failed them as well.

Yes, I said The Church failed this young couple.

For in the church, there should be the example of endurance, the example of depending on Christ.  We are to depend on Him, the Spirit’s comfort and strength and ability to bring us through life.  We do this, understanding and looking to Christ, who Hebrews 12 tells us endured, for the joy set before Him.

As I thought about this, I also thought about the church, and the commitment we have to each other.  While some will look and pray for Hillary Duff, others will be scandalized by these words,  The lack of faithfulness to vows made will challenge us, (hopefully?) and the attitude that marriage may not be meant to last a lifetime will see inconceivable.

Yet do we not do that with our churches?  We change things, or even change churches, or forgo church for the same reason that causes Hillary to see marriage as temporary.  We put our enjoyment (whether we prefer traditional, liturgical, contemporary etc.) over what will cause us to draw closer to Christ.  Those of us who lead and plan our services far too often try to make the service something our people will like,

If we don’t like it?  Well, there is the church down the street, or across town.  If we are a pastor or priest, instead we place a call to our district president’s office, (or bishop or whoever works with churches looking for new pastors.  (please note, I am not talking about leaving a church because of continued teaching that is contrary to scripture)

End result, the death of a relationship, and a further division in the family of God,  A division that will be healed in heaven, but nevertheless, the pains of severing that which we pledged to be part of, in times of happiness and time of sorrow.

With each separation, the next separation gets easier, the time between finding a home church becomes less a priority, we find our happiness in other things, in other places.

Until we can’t remember the last time that we were at church.

Hillary Duff is right, there is an incredible reward that is found in a relationship that last 20, 30, 50 years.  There is the knowledge that the one who makes our marriages and our churches possible will sustain them both, through the times of richness and poverty, through times where we, and the relationship are healthy or sick, the times of grief and the times of joy.

Such is our God, the Lord of Life.  Such is what happens when we hear the Holy Spirit, the gift of our baptism. Such is the promise of life, walking with God, both now and for eternity, in the presence of God.

So let us work, to sustain all of our relationships!  To do that, may we look to Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith.  Let us find His healing, His patience, His sacrifice and find in those things, the strength to desire to endure.  May we find as well the strength to help others, to encourage them, whether they are struggling in marriages or in being part of their church.

Lord Have Mercy on us!


(1)  http://www.elle.com/culture/celebrities/news/a27092/hilary-duff-marriage-divorce/?src=spr_FBPAGE&spr_id=1448_153325098&linkId=12668200

Why Teaching People to Obey God Isn’t Nearly Enough…..

Devotional?Discussion Thought of the Day:
16  The eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain to which Jesus had ordered them. 17  When they saw him, they worshiped, but they doubted. 18  Then Jesus approached and said to them, All power in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19  Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the holy Spirit, 20  teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, until the end of the age.” Matthew 28:16-20 (NAB)

280      You know that you will never lack God’s grace, because he has chosen you from all eternity. And if this is what he has done for you, he will grant you all the help you need to be faithful to him as his son. Go forward, then, with assurance and try to respond at every moment.

As I continue to see debates about faith and works online, as I continue see to people demand full obedience to one commandment and not another, I am saddened.  For people hyper-focus on the law, and debates about it, much as the Pharisees, Sadducees, Essenes and Herodians did in the age of Christ.

Because of this, I know quite a few people who leave the church, dismayed either because of hypocrisy, or because of a burden that they are expected to keep, that they cannot on one hand.  On the other, they are dismayed because despite what scripture says, they don’t see the life of those claiming to be believers to be all that different.  There are the same kind of sinners, justified not by the blood of Christ, but because of their own justifications, they still go about life, unchanged, and in chains to sin.

My contention isn’t that we need to teach people to obey the commandments, or to simply live free of them.  My contention is that we don’t do nearly enough in teaching people to obey God.  We go about it wrong in teaching them to obey, and when we reduce it simply to God’s commands, we do something even worse.

First let’s deal with “obey”.  In the very well known passage called the great commission, about half of my translations use obey, some use observe, and a few older translations use keep.  I think the idea of obey comes from that old KJV era use keep, but they in doing so, they cause a problem.  The word in Greek comes from the word to watch over, to guard, to treasure, to protect.  As I have noted before, the keep in a castle was the place of the greatest possible defense, the final point of resistance, the place where children and wives were kept, along with the treasure.

Guard them, treasure them, doesn’t make as much sense when we combine it with command.  or at least it seems awkward.  But consider how much the psalms rejoice in God’s law, in His commandments.  (for example in Psalm 119) Consider the opening of Proverbs 7,

1  My child, remember what I say and never forget what I tell you to do. 2  Do what I say, and you will live. Be as careful to follow my teaching as you are to protect your eyes. 3  Keep my teaching with you all the time; write it on your heart. Proverbs 7:1-3 (TEV)

1  My son, keep my words and treasure up my commandments with you; 2  keep my commandments and live; keep my teaching as the apple of your eye; 3  bind them on your fingers; write them on the tablet of your heart. Proverbs 7:1-3 (ESV)

I put the two translations here for a reason, there is something more to commandments than what meets the eye.  Normally we think of commands as God’s law, the Decalogue, what are referred to as the Ten Commandments.

I would contend that we would be less confused if we replaced commandment with a synonym, commissioned (we call it the Great Commission, don’t we?) But we have a slightly different meaning.  Commissioned doesn’t reduce what is taught to the “do’s and do not’s”.  It beings out the scope to include all God has ever commanded about you, as well as what He has commanded you.

For instance, the declaration of our righteousness, the work of Christ’s life, lived with one mission.

18  “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has chosen me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to set free the oppressed 19  and announce that the time has come when the Lord will save his people.” Luke 4:18-19 (TEV)

it includes His work in completing what He began in us, and in the Holy Spirit’s work in transforming us.  It includes the entire covenant – promises as well as regulations.  That is why spending time heaing and meditating upon what God has commissioned brings such joy, not just bondage to a law.   (btw, the commission concepts works with the Decalog/Ten Commandments)  as well, including what some dismiss as the prelude – the key to understanding it.

This is why the joy is so complete, for what God has commissioned for you and I is wondrous.  It is the full measure of His love, not just His plans for our lives.  It is that we are to become His worksmanship (Eph 2:10), a people He made for His own.

Teach His people, those He has claimed in baptism this Truth, for they are His disciples, His children.  And the joy will be unsurpassed.  As they treasure what God has called and commissioned into their lives, the obedience will follow, naturally and assured of His empowerment.

Godspeed!

Escriva, Josemaria (2011-01-31). The Forge (Kindle Locations 1137-1140). Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition.

Faithfulness, Sex and our Relationship with God

 Treasuring God’s GiftsSAMSUNG

Means We Value Deep

Relationships, especially Marriage

Ex. 20:14, Eph 2:10. 5:27, Luke 10:25-28

In Jesus Name!

May you know well God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, who brings mercy, love nad peace into your life!

Really – This Commandment is a Topic WE need to cover? 

When I started to write out the topics of this series of sermons, when I came to the 6th commandment, my first reaction is that this would be a fine sermon to hear Chris preach on, or perhaps Vicar Mark, or Vicar Albert.

Simply because talking about Adultery means touching on the subject of the three letter word that begins with S and ends with X.

For me, it is one of those topics I would rather not talk about, it is too personal, too intimate, and like many guys, I’d rather talk about anything else, especially in a group with both men and women in it.

Heck, it is a topic I don’t want to talk about with a group of women or a group of men.

But I think my reticence about discussing the topic gives me a hint towards why this commandment, about reserving that level of intimacy, both physical and psychological/spiritual aspects of the relationship, is worth a commandment.

It is because it is so intimate to a relationship, that God treasures it.

And therefore to diminish it, diminishes something God gave us to treasure…..

Because it teaches something about our life, about our relationship with God…..

Let me explain that some..

Why is this so important to God?
While no one will doubt the physical aspects the relationship between a man and a woman, those acts are by no means just physical.

There is a spiritual/psychological aspect to them, something that uses that word that sends shivers down most men’s spines….there is something ….

“Intimate”

Something that takes all of our walls down, that leaves us and our spouse as one, relating to each other, caring for each other.

It is that level of emotional and spiritual intimacy that God desires us to have with Him.  That’s why we heard Ephesians 5 tonight as well as chapter 2. That is why the Old Testament Books of Song of Solomon and Hosea talk of marital faithfulness and love as an example of God’s relationship with His people, and even the unfaithfulness of Hosea’s wife, as an example of Israel’s actions towards God.

A bitter betrayal, the deepest betrayal.

A depth of pain that goes beyond our ability to cope with…..

Yet a level of pain God has endured, as again and again He has picked Israel up from her wandering into idolatry…..

It’s hard to imagine God hurting as the couples I’ve had in my office have hurt.  It’s hard to realize that you or I could hurt the Creator of the universe, that a congregation, that a people could so devastate God by betraying His love.

But we can… and we do…..

We fail to love Him with our entire heart, our soul, our mind, when we trust in our idols the way we are supposed to trust Him.  Even when the idol we trust in is ourselves.  When what we are proudest of, what we are in awe of, isn’t the God who created us, who created this planet.

If how we love our neighbor reveals how we love God, as the apostle John writes in 1 John, how much more does how we treasure our spouse, our faithfulness tell us about our relationship with God?

A Relationship to Cherish, to Guard, to Teach

Hear again Paul’s words from Ephesians 5…

25  For husbands, this means love your wives, just as Christ loved the church. He gave up his life for her 26  to make her holy and clean, washed by the cleansing of God’s word. 27  He did this to present her to himself as a glorious church without a spot or wrinkle or any other blemish. Instead, she will be holy and without fault.

 If what we’ve been working through, that these 10 commandments actually are the Old Testament Beatitudes, the masterpiece of God that is how we, rescued from Satan are to live, then Jesus’s work to render us a “the glorious church, without spot or wrinkle or blemish, makes incredible sense.
It is what Hosea did for his wife, the very model of it.  Even though her sins, like ours, are scarlet red.  It is the depth of Christ’s desire for a relationship with us, the emotional intimacy, the being unified as one.  Not sexually, but in ways that are just as deep.

He is faithful, even when we struggle.  Even when we take the great blessing He has given us, this great example of marriage, that God considers it the model of our special relationship with Him, and we see it trashed around us, and sometimes, in thought or word and deed, we trash it ourselves.  Or don’t speak up when we see it cheapened, and mocked.

God’s faithfulness extends even then, calling us back to our relationship with Him, healing us, restoring us, and yes, He can and has even restored the relationships, He can recreate us, revealing His masterpiece that is creating by uniting us to Jesus.

But it is there, where healing happens, where God ministers to us, Father, Son and Spirit.  It is there were marriages find their healing as well, and the example of faithfulness and yeah – intimacy.  It is there, in that relationship, that all relationships can find the peace that passes all understanding, that peace in which we find ourselves guarded and treasured by Jesus.

AMEN?

Who is more faithful to the faith? Wrong question!

Jesus Christ Crucifix

Jesus Christ Crucifix (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Devotional Thought of the Day

8  Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever. 9  Do not let all kinds of strange teachings lead you from the right way. It is good to receive inner strength from God’s grace, and not by obeying rules about foods; those who obey these rules have not been helped by themHebrews 13:8-9 (TEV) 

Although it seems a paradox, those who call themselves sons of the Church may often be precisely those who sow greater confusion.  (1)

I see a lot of confusion among the people of the church caused by those in the church today.  Matter of fact, the old cliche, “we’ve met the enemy and we are it!” may be at a epic high.  It doesn’t matter what denomination, what movement, what area, there is a battle who is more faithful.  In my denomination, the battle as to who is most faithful often is waged between those who want to abide by the old rules, the old ways and customs and methods of the church in its 1940’s-1950’s heyday, and those who define faithfulness as being tied to ourreach and mission.  We get convinced that only if we can find the right box, with the right walls, then God will bless us – because we are faithful. That God will cause the church to thrive because of our perfect liturgy, our our desire to see people know Christ.

And we lovk ourslves in a box…. Sometimes in fear, sometimes in frustration, sometimes just because we want and need a way to now we are okay with God.

It is ironic.  But then, as sinners, we are good about making it all about ourselves.

In other times, it was waged over music, or church governance or finances or any of a number of good and practical things.  We focus on concepts, on the theology, on the practice… and we forget about the content, the relationship.. to put it bluntly, what I see lacking the most in these battles, is our desire to know and make known the Lord who loves us.

It’s time to cut through the confusion, its time to strip away both new ideas and old man-made requitements and just draw our strength from where it comes.  Hebrews says it is a gift of God, it is grace, it is walking each day in His presence, reveling in His mercy, depending on His faithfulness, trusting ourselves into His loving hands…confident of His faithfulness.

Seeing whatever happens as something He is working through, whether it is joyous or a cross, whether it is in abundancae …well… let me quote Paul

8  We are often troubled, but not crushed; sometimes in doubt, but never in despair; 9  there are many enemies, but we are never without a friend; and though badly hurt at times, we are not destroyed. 10  At all times we carry in our mortal bodies the death of Jesus, so that his life also may be seen in our bodies. 2 Corinthians 4:8-10 (TEV)

Here is the key that stops us from looking for affirmation of our faithfulness- because we don’t need it.  We have Christ.   We have a God who says, “you are my child, I have begotten you… dwell in my love.”

And when we do.. all sorts of interesting things happen…not that we’d notice… for our lives would be constantly praising Him… for His faithfulness.

So stop trying to prove your faithful, that your faithfulness is superior or more holy.. and just dwell in His presence, evjoy His love.. and adore Him..for He is our God, and we are His kids.

AMEN

Escriva, Josemaria (2011-01-31). Furrow (Kindle Locations 1664-1665). Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition.

Evangelical Catholicism Pt IV: Why have churches shrunk?

Discussion Thought of the Day:

“If a robust Evangelical Catholicism, formed by Word and Sacrament to take the Gospel of truth and love “into the deep” of the modern and postmodern world, is the deeply reformed Church to which the entire trajectory of Catholic development from Leo XIII to Benedict XVI points, and which the Second Vatican Council envisioned, then the great postconciliar failure of Catholicism— the collapse of the Church in Christianity’s historical heartland, Western Europe— comes into sharper focus. Western European Catholicism’s demise was not, it becomes clear, the result of an internal civil war between Catholic progressives and Catholic traditionalists. Nor are the prescriptions of either of these exhausted camps likely to lead to revival and reform in the future. The Church in Europe has been in free fall throughout the postconciliar years because too many of its people ceased to believe that the Gospel is true. The crisis of Catholicism in Europe did not come about because the institutional Church faltered and its people subsequently bailed out. The crisis came because the people of the Church (including the clergy) ceased to believe with passion and conviction, ceased to find joy in the presence of the Lord— and sought their happiness elsewhere. Because of that, the institution (which in some countries, such as Germany and Italy, remains extremely wealthy) faltered— and seems to be collapsing in the first quarter of the twenty-first century. The Catholic future in Europe lies not in managerial reforms (although those are needed), but in a renaissance of faith, which will likely come (as such things often do) from outside the formal structures of Catholic life (i.e., parishes and dioceses) and from within renewal movements and new forms of Catholic community. There, the vision of Evangelical Catholicism is alive. And if that vision attains critical mass, following the authentic promptings of the Holy Spirit, it may eventually reform— and transform— the institutional Church.” (1)

What I read above, though directed at the Roman Catholic Church by one of its own, I believe is equally true for all churches and all denominations and especially my Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod.

It’s not a matter a matter of who is right in the worship wars, or the supposed division of being faithful versus being missional.  It doesn’t have to do, as much as we think it might – with who is in power, for I think that where the gospel is preached and the sacraments are administer – that is where the church is.  The hierarchy exists to serve – to be a blessing to the people, as they serve the sacraments and are nothing but conduits through which God’s love and mercy flows.  And I have seen both churches that are contemporary, and that are high liturgical and that are 1950’s dream churches – that all are growing – and that all are failing to reach their community.  (Recently in Rome, I saw a church filled with people for a high Latin Mass – all of the with great joy as they looked to the sacrament.)  As Wiegel notes – we can reform all our admin, we can put allt he right systems in place and run programs and have staffing, but it will be in vain.  And our churches will continue to fail – and depend on what god has supplemented the God who came to us, and died.

I highlighted part of Wiegel’s words above in red for a reason, this is the only thing I see that makes a difference in a church, no matter the size, no matter the budget, no matter whether it is growing or not. It is, clearly this one principal – do they get that they are in the presence of God, do they celebrate His love and mercy and His presence.  Do we get that the Lord’s Supper, the focus of this day, isn’t about the rote movements – but as one of my oldest favorite songs describes – “God and Man at Table are sat Down”  DO we realize His presence, His love, cleansing not just our feet but our lives, healing us, transforming us, the Holy Spirit residing with us!

Do we get that God has invited us to be not just His servants, but as Jesus says, His friends?  To dwell in HIs glory, to be adopted children of the King?

You want such and such style of worship? Fine. You want such and such programs? They are out there!  You want a cozy intimate church where everyone knows you name?  You want a church that is involved in missional work?  Or in serving the poor?  Or in saving the unborn?  Or in educating everyone?  All good things… BUT

Above all, desire this – to be in a place that understands these words:

The Lord is with you!

And respond back… with fervor, with conviction, and with love…

And Also with you ( or and with your Spirit)

(1)Weigel, George (2013-02-05). Evangelical Catholicism (pp. 51-52). Basic Books. Kindle Edition.

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