Blog Archives

The Emptiness of Religion?


Devotional Thought of the Day:

9  but the LORD himself takes care of Israel. 10  Israel, the LORD discovered you in a barren desert filled with howling winds. God became your fortress, protecting you as though you were his own eyes. Deuteronomy 32:9-10 (CEV)

Consequently, in our efforts to work out the theological and anthropological basis of prayer, it is not a question of proving the validity of Christian prayer by the standards of some neutral reasonableness. It is a case of uncovering the inner logic of faith itself, with its own distinct reasonableness.

Yet the mass was not instituted for its own worthiness, but to make us worthy and to remind us of the passion of Christ. Where that is not done, we make of the mass a physical and unfruitful act, though even this is of some good.

I have often heard people criticize the church by saying the Christianity is a relationship, and not a religion. I have to disagree, or at least qualify it.

If by religion you mean something man can study as an observer, measuring its logic, finding ways to make it more productive through analysis and basically controlling it, I agree. I think this is clearly the point Pope Benedict XVI made, when writing back when he was a Cardinal

If by religion you mean doing things for their own value, and not because they interact with God, then, yes, religion is nearly worthless. Luther makes this point clear with his comments about the worship service, what he calls the mass or gathering.

But neither would define “religion” that way, as if it could be simply studied by anthropologists and statisticians. They would, despite their differences, define religion, true religion, as the relationship God arranges for us, and draws us into, a life with Him.

Prayer then, isn’t something to be dissected, in order to prove the validity of it as a practice. It is something we engage in, a discussion with the One to whom logic and reality are a creation, and more than we can understand. It is beyond the ability to study, this form of divine communication. One can’t measure the peace it brings, or the comfort given by God, as we dialogue with Him.

In the same way, a mass or worship service is worthless when we expect it to be special on its own, we we simply become spectators, listeners, those who can critique and make value judgments on it, as if the congregation was an Olympic medal judge, and the pastor and other leaders were competitors. ( which means i have to be careful asking my wife to “grade” my sermons! I should know better!)

Prayer and worship matter because of the interaction, the conversation where God makes us worthy to interact with Him, the interaction when we hear Him respond as we pray and meditate on His word. As we realize His care, His nurture, His was of guiding and protecting us, even in the hardest times.

These times are precious, because He draws us out of our life and into His, even as He invades our life, to create in it something wonderful, something that is so awe-inspiring that He is glorified. This is the religion He formed, the practices He has given us to make sure we know that He is active in our lives.

Without His active presence, spiritual disciplines and gathering together around the Him and the blessings He bestows in the sacrament is nothing. Yet, the ironic thing is, He is active even when we are not aware.

Religion, the Christian Religion, is not empty and worthless, we just need to open our eyes… and see the One who has drawn us into it.

Joseph Ratzinger, The Feast of Faith: Approaches to a Theology of the Liturgy, trans. Graham Harrison (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1986), 18.

Martin Luther, Luther’s Works, Vol. 42: Devotional Writings I, ed. Jaroslav Jan Pelikan, Hilton C. Oswald, and Helmut T. Lehmann, vol. 42 (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1999), 8.

When You Don’t Know How to Pray: A Sermon on Romans 8

church at communion 2When You Don’t Know How to Pray

Romans 8:18-27

In Jesus Name

May you find great peace in knowing the grace and compassion that God has for you seen in the work of the Holy Spirit who intercedes for you when we are weak!

St Patrick’s dream
When I utter those words, “the Lord is with you!” what do you see?  How do you picture that? For a picture is worth all the words you can use.

While going through a period of turmoil and conflict, the great missionary pastor we call St Patrick wrote these words,

“And on another night, I know not, God knows, whether in me or near me, spoke in most eloquent language, which I heard and could not understand, except that at the end of the speech he address me this, “Who for thee laid down his life?” and so I awoke full of joy and again I saw on praying on me, and I was as it were within my body and I heard him over me, that is, over the inner man, and there he prayed fervently with groanings, and during this time I was full of astonishment and was wondering and considering who it could be that was praying in me but at the end of the prayer He declared it was The Spirit and so I awoke and remembered that the Apostle says, “The Spirit also helps us in our infirmities, for we know we should pray for as we ought, but the Spirit itself maketh intercession with groanings which cannot be uttered” that is m expressed in words, and “the Lord our advocate makes intercession for us”  (the confessions of St Patrick)

What an incredible vision!  What an incredible picture, lying there, and seeing the Holy Spirit at our side, leaning over us begging the Father to work in our lives where we truly need it!

I wish that every single one of us could have such a vision as St Patrick, could know the peace and joy that comes from seeing the Holy Spirit so involved in our lives, in caring for our heart and soul. This is what I want us to see when we hear those incredible words, “the Lord is with you!

The Holy Spirit, actually and quite actively working in our lives, comforting us, healing our souls, bringing us to the Father to be blessed, and then becoming a blessing, which impacts our families, our friends, and everyone we encounter!

It’s a challenging vision, especially when we are struggling…struggling with our lives, and if so, often struggling to trust God as well.

The need for help

We aren’t alone in that struggle.  While Paul reminds us that the struggle isn’t even in the same ballpark as to the glory of God we are invited to share in, he also reminds us that we aren’t alone.

Hear how he says it, “All creation is waiting eagerly for that future day when God will reveal who his children really are, Against its will, all creation was subjected to God’s curse, but with eager hope the creation looks forward to the day when it will join God’s children in glorious freedom from death and decay!”

Even so, he goes on to say, “we know that all creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time, and we believers also groan”

I kinda want to give an “Amen” to that last part, the part about we also groan.

It has been a week of groaning and struggling, and I needed to know the Spirit was with us

I needed to know the Spirit’s prayer would be answered, bringing us into harmony with God’s will.

We need that kind of help, that kind of intercession in life.  For along with all that God has created we struggle to the point of groaning in this life.

The struggle could be with our health or finances, with a relationship at work or in our family, the struggle could be dealing with someone in our family, or at our work, or even here at church. The struggle could because of the cumulative effect of the sin of the world, or because of someone who sinned against us, and the struggle always involves our own sin.  Remember, this passage follows Paul;s words about not doing what he should, and doing what he shouldn’t, and therefore he is a wretch!  He needed the Spirit to remind Him that Jesus died for Him, that God would restore Him.

But we groan, even as we wait for the day when death and decay lose all their power over us, when our bodies no longer struggle with sin when we no longer suffer.

The question then becomes how do we wait patiently and confidently until that day when the hope we see becomes fully ours?

We see it, it is more than hope, even so, we wait for it.

Paul talks of this in verse 24 when he says,

“We were given this hope when we were saved! If we already have something (see it as real) we don’t have to hope for it.  But if we look forward (same word as have before ) to something we don’t yet have, we must wait patiently and confidently.”

We have been saved – that is guaranteed, though we don’t see it completely. The way I think of it is like ordering something. We pay for something, and it is ours from the moment the money changed hands.  But while it is ours, it has to arrive for us to fully enjoy it.

It works that way with us, as Jesus death paid for our sins, as God “redeemed us” buying us from the debt of sin. Yet we are still “in transit” to the Father, being drawn there by Jesus, guided there by the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit is the delivery person, and we are safe in His hands until we are delivered to the seen in revelation, where with people of every language, of every culture, of every period in history we surround the throne and sing His praises.  For it is there in that room that we see God’s will revealed completely.

The people He loves gathered around Him, his people, us.  We look forward to that incredible day!

Until then….


Which brings us back to the vision of St Patrick.

This is how scripture describes one of the ways the Holy Spirit works in us, pleading with the Father, straining and pleading in a way that brings us into harmony with the will of God. In groans so deep, so meaningful that they are inaudible – there are just not the words.
Yet God understands and hears, and acts.

For we are His children, the ones He has invited into His glory, the ones He reveals His love to, the ones Christ died to release from sin and suffering, the one’s the Holy Spirit will sustain until we are all before the throne


When Darkness Hides God’s Face…and all hope

Devotional/Discussion Thought of the Day:

 1   My God, my God, why have you abandoned me? I have cried desperately for help, but still it does not come. 2  During the day I call to you, my God, but you do not answer; I call at night, but get no rest.  Psalm 22:1-2 (TEV)

 “When darkness seems to hide His face, I rest on His unchanging grace. In every high and stormy gale, My anchor holds within the veil.

His oath, His covenant, His blood, Support me in the whelming flood. When all around my soul gives way, He then is all my Hope and Stay. ” (1)

There are days when I could be easily convinced that our present time is more oppressed than any other time in history.  The traumas and tragedies just seem to keep coming, the days and week just seem to bring more people, dealing with more pain.  It doesn’t matter whether the trauma is natural (i.e. getting older, physical or mental illness) or self-inflicted, or the oppression caused by another. (the latter two relate to the damage of sin and narcissism/self idolatry) The trauma exists, the pain is real, the tears and groans all too.. overwhelming.

If I look at the hymns of the past – whether the Psalms in Old Testament times such as Psalm 22, or hymns across the ages, I find the same weariness, the same brokenness, the same tears, the same despair.

And the same answer.

A God whom those who cry out to in despair, find themselves worshipping, praising, adoring, as they find rest, peace, and yes healing in God.  I am not saying these battles are easy, or quick, for they never area.  But the darkness that seems to hide God’s face, the overwhelming flood that seeks to destroy us, will not stand against God.  It can’t, anymore than the gates of hell can hold against Christ’s incarnation.  Even though there are days where it may feel like we cannot go on, it is God’s love that will sustain us.

For God has not hid himself, He always will be there, for He promised to, and His presence will sustain us.

The Psalm quoted above finds the one who questioned God’s presence finding resolution and finding God’s presence.  Here is where the Psalm ends:

22  I will tell my people what you have done; I will praise you in their assembly: 23  “Praise him, you servants of the LORD! Honor him, you descendants of Jacob! Worship him, you people of Israel! 24  He does not neglect the poor or ignore their suffering; he does not turn away from them, but answers when they call for help.” 25  In the full assembly I will praise you for what you have done; in the presence of those who worship you I will offer the sacrifices I promised. 26  The poor will eat as much as they want; those who come to the LORD will praise him. May they prosper forever! 27  All nations will remember the LORD. From every part of the world they will turn to him; all races will worship him. 28  The LORD is king, and he rules the nations. 29  All proud people will bow down to him; all mortals will bow down before him. 30  Future generations will serve him; they will speak of the Lord to the coming generation. 31  People not yet born will be told: “The Lord saved his people.”  Psalm 22:22-31 (TEV)

Likewise – rejoicing in the work of Christ, the hymn resolves,

When He shall come with trumpet sound,
Oh, may I then in Him be found,
Clothed in His righteousness alone,
Faultless to stand before the throne!
On Christ, the solid Rock, I stand;
All other ground is sinking sand.

May you find His faithfulness, His righteousness, His peace sustaining you this morning.. for it is there – and it always has been.

God’s peace is yours – because He has born our sorrows, our griefs, our sins, as He walks with us. For that is how Jesus, who was crucified for you, ministers to you as you journey with Him.

English: Icon of Jesus Christ

English: Icon of Jesus Christ (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Even on Mondays.


(1)  2nd and 3rd verses of “On Christ the Solid Rock I Stand”


Church- our Home… where we are neveraway from Home

DEvotional thought of the Day…or was it yesterday…?

A small sanctuary, really a room that doubles as a classroom, a meeting room, a reception area, a thousand and one other things.

Not the largest group I have preached too, in fact, perhaps one of the smallest, fourteen people, with two guests, of which I was one.

Two musicians, struggling to learn to play together – very different in styling – yet the voices soared in praise of God.  It was…… how do I find the words.

the word?  Home.

Thousands of miles away – miles I will travel tomorrow…to once again hold my wife, to hug my son.

Yet this odd feeling of being home… in a land I can’t remember coming to…. relationships seemingly forged in 3 days?

A few hours later, I sit in a hotel room – trying to stay awake to greet my family as they wake up…. thinking about the service 5 hours ago… still somewhat in awe…

That is what being part of God’s family is like – being able to be home – to truly neverbe away from our family….for we find ourselves united in Christ Jesus.  It could only be the Lord of all that could make such a time happen, only he could do that which is describable….yet undescribable.

Would we realize that every worship service is this…. incarnational, this relational, this incredible.  They are… for He has promised to be there.. where He gathers, convicts, heals, blesses, reconciles, loves…grants peace.

TOo often, no matter the style, our worship can seem like work, the humdrum daily grind….  Regarding “work” a priest once wrote:

Jesus, our Lord and Model, growing up and living as one of us, reveals to us that human existence—your life—and its humdrum, ordinary business, have a meaning which is divine, which belongs to eternity. (1)

If God can take doing the dishes, or filing paperwork or baking bread and give it a divine meaning… how much more that time where He calls and gathers us together – to reveal again His love… to bless and pour out Himself….

And if moments like this… are so… transcendent… how much more will it be… when we see Home… our eternal Home?

(1)Escriva, Josemaria (2011-01-31). The Forge (Kindle Locations 2525-2526). Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition.