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How can I fail to take up your soul….?

church at communion 2Devotional Thought for our days:

 15  GOD then said, “Dress up like a stupid shepherd. 16  I’m going to install just such a shepherd in this land—a shepherd indifferent to victims, who ignores the lost, abandons the injured and disdains decent citizens. He’ll only be in it for what he can get out of it, using and abusing any and all. Zechariah 11:15-16 (MSG)

15  And I will give you shepherds after my own heart, who will guide you with knowledge and understanding. Jeremiah 3:15 (NLT)

14  “I am the good shepherd; I know my own sheep, and they know me, 15  just as my Father knows me and I know the Father. So I sacrifice my life for the sheep. John 10:14-15 (NLT)

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

As I begin to read St. Josemaria Escriva’s devotional book the Forge, I came across the words in blue in the prologue. It describes the heart of a pastor, a priest, a shepherd and caretaker of souls.

It is a heart to aspire to, at least in my mind.

I have been involved in a couple of conversations recently about pastors and their relationship to their people, to their parishioners.  One raised the question of whether pastors could be friends of their parishioners. Another was about the difference between worship and work at the church.  A third was about pastors retiring from ministry, and finding something completely different to do in their retirement.  Let’s just say I was in the minority in several of these discussions, and to be honest, I don’t understand the idea that ministry is work, that it is just a job, like caring for inmates or hotel guests.  

I think our hearts have to break when our their hearts break.  I think we have to desire what God would have for our people, to realize the treasure He sees in them.  To give them the sacraments, assured of the blessing we are giving them, as we untie them to Jesus death and resurrection, as we give feed their souls, as our words (actually His words) mend and heal broken hearts and souls.  

So how could this be a career, isn’t it our very life?

I won’t claim I have arrived.  There are still long days that weary me out, there are still people who ability to get under my skin challenge the pastoral heart I want to have.  There are people that hurt me, and I struggle to have a pastoral heart toward them, Or the people who won’t listen to God, and choose lives that are lived in rebellion to God.  Those people cause frustration, and often tears.  ( I want to say I would love to just stuff them into St Josemaria’s forge)  I am not going to say pastoring these people is easy, but it is necessary.  A pastor can’t just dismiss them as alligators, that decision and judgment is not in our pay grade.  Weare simply to try to reconcile them to Jesus.

This is why Jesus talks about good shepherds, as opposed to the stupid shepherds that have served his people in the past.  About shepherds who will have His heart for His people, which can mean laying down our lives for them, sacrificing time, energy, money, whatever it takes to see them drawn to Christ, and made holy by the Spirit that works within us all.

Again, even as I write these words I am torn.  For that is what I would desire as a pastor, yet I know I fall short, often too far short.  That is not an excuse or a reason to stop desiring to see my people grow.  Their failures and mine are not a reason to distance me from them as if that can reduce my brokenness.  Instead, it is a reason to cling all the more to God, for He will pour out comfort and mercy, continue to transform me, and yes, He will continue to cause us to grow, to forgive our sins, to transform us into the image of His son ( see 2 Cor. 3:16ff)

Lord, have mercy on Your shepherds, break our hearts and give us hearts like Jesus, so that your people can be assured of their salvation, and set apart to walk with You!  Amen!

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

Who would weep when those who do evil die…?

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Devotional Thought of the Day:

33 The king was overcome with grief. He went up to the room over the gateway and wept. As he went, he cried, “O my son! My son Absalom! Absalom, my son! If only I had died in your place, my son! Absalom, my son!”  2 Samuel 18:33

19 When David noticed them whispering to each other, he realized that the child had died. So he asked them, “Is the child dead?”
“Yes, he is,” they answered.
20 David got up from the floor, had a bath, combed his hair, and changed his clothes. Then he went and worshiped in the house of the LORD. When he returned to the palace, he asked for food and ate it as soon as it was served. 21“We don’t understand this,” his officials said to him. “While the child was alive, you wept for him and would not eat; but as soon as he died, you got up and ate!”
22 “Yes,” David answered, “I did fast and weep while he was still alive. I thought that the LORD might be merciful to me and not let the child die. 23But now that he is dead, why should I fast? Could I bring the child back to life? I will some day go to where he is, but he can never come back to me.”

55      Is it possible, you asked me, that Christ should have spent so many years—twenty centuries—acting on earth, and the world should be now what it is? Is it possible, you went on, that there should still be people who do not know Our Lord? And I answered you with conviction: It is our fault. For we have been called to be co-redeemers, and at times, perhaps often!, we do not follow the Will of God.  (1)

A man suffers the death of two of his beloved sons.

The evil one, the one who died in open rebellion trying to kill and replace his father, is grieved over.  Grief consumes the father, unbelievable, paralyzing grief.

The innocent one, the one who dies because of his father’s sin, seemingly isn’t grieved over.  The death is accepted, life moves on, even to the extent that God is worshiped, not questioned.

This doesn’t make sense!  Why wouldn’t David have the opposite attitude?  Why wouldn’t guilt and shame and grief eat him alive as his “good” son dies?  Why wouldn’t there be a sense of relief, even a little joy as the son who tried to kill him, who raped his concubines died?  Why does he move on from the first, and become a paralyzed, bawling wretch over the death of the second?

Revealed in David, at this point, is the heart of God.  The God who reveals through Ezekiel that he doesn’t take pleasure in the death of the wicked, the God who reveals through Peter that He is patient, because He wants everyone to be transformed, through Paul that our ministry is one of reconciliation.  And shows Paul has the same heart when Paul says,

1  I am speaking the truth; I belong to Christ and I do not lie. My conscience, ruled by the Holy Spirit, also assures me that I am not lying 2  when I say how great is my sorrow, how endless the pain in my heart 3  for my people, my own flesh and blood! For their sake I could wish that I myself were under God’s curse and separated from Christ.
Romans 9:1-3 (TEV)

This is David’s heart as well.  This is what is meant when he talks of preferring to die rather than Absolom. For if Absolom doesn’t die, there is still hope for reconciliation with God, there is still hope that God will work through all the blocks, and Absolom would find the gift of repentance. The same for Paul, who values his relationship with God more than anything, yet would surrender it, if it meant his people, Israel, would become the people of God again.

(note as well the assurance of David in regards to the “good” son.  I will go where he is…)

I think this is the missing key in St Josemaria’s discussion, the reason we don’t follow the will of God, the reason that the world isn’t saved, that really, no major attempt is being made to do so.

Is is that we count our enemies as something less than those God desires, something not worth Christ’s death on the cross? Or do we value that death enough, realizing that our enemies are not the only enemies of Christ that He died for, for we were once, as well?

I don’t’ think we fix this by having conferences on evangelism, and training seminars on arguing people into submission to our doctrine.  That hasn’t worked all too well over the last 40 years.  Being obsessed with methodology – church growth, liturgical rubrics, etc doesn’t bring about this heart.

What does is prayer, worship, adoration, contemplated on the mysteries of God’s mercy and love. What changes us it knowing in our heart and soul that we are loved, that God is here, that we are standing on Holy ground.

For people to not know this peace?  To not know this love?  For us to not desire it for all we come into contact with?  This needs ot become inconceivable.

Lord, have mercy on us!  Give us your heart, your will to see people dwell with you.  Help us to learn to cry when enemies and adversaries face death, or when they suffer.  May our hearts move to help them, may we serve as servants to reconcile them.  For we pray this in Jesus’ name.  AMEN!

(1)  Escriva, Josemaria. The Forge (Kindle Locations 423-426). Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition.

Will we stop them from coming… and knowing Jesus?

Featured imageDevotional Thought of the Day
36  As he saw the crowds, his heart was filled with pity for them because they were worried and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. 37  So he said to his disciples,The harvest is large, but there are few workers to gather it in. 38  Pray to the owner of the harvest that he will send out workers to gather in his harvest.” Matthew 9:36-38 (TEV)

28  Then the woman left her water jar, went back to the town, and said to the people there, 29  “Come and see the man who told me everything I have ever done. Could he be the Messiah?” 30  So they left the town and went to Jesus. 31  In the meantime the disciples were begging Jesus, “Teacher, have something to eat!” 32  But he answered, “I have food to eat that you know nothing about.” 33  So the disciples started asking among themselves, “Could somebody have brought him food?” 34  “My food,” Jesus said to them, “is to obey the will of the one who sent me and to finish the work he gave me to do. 35  You have a saying, ‘Four more months and then the harvest.’ But I tell you, take a good look at the fields; the crops are now ripe and ready to be harvested! 36  The one who reaps the harvest is being paid and gathers the crops for eternal life; so the one who plants and the one who reaps will be glad together. 37  For the saying is true, ‘Someone plants, someone else reaps.’ 38  I have sent you to reap a harvest in a field where you did not work; others worked there, and you profit from their work.” 39  Many of the Samaritans in that town believed in Jesus because the woman had said, “He told me everything I have ever done.” 40  So when the Samaritans came to him, they begged him to stay with them, and Jesus stayed there two days. 41  Many more believed because of his message, 42  and they told the woman, “We believe now, not because of what you said, but because we ourselves have heard him, and we know that he really is the Savior of the world.” John 4:28-42 (TEV)

54 Meanwhile they neither hear nor preach the Gospel about the free forgiveness of sins for Christ’s sake, about the righteousness of faith, about true penitence, about works that have the command of God. But they spend their time either on philosophical discussions or on ceremonial traditions that obscure Christ.

800    The harvest indeed is great, but the laborers are few. Rogate ergo!—“Pray therefore the Lord of the harvest to send forth laborers into his vineyard.” Prayer is the most effective means of winning other apostles.

I have to wonder what the disciples thought when people who were typically antagonistic towards Jewish peopel started streaming out fo the town towards Jesus. Were they frightened, were they on edge, considering their need to defend themselves? Were they concerned about Jesus reputation, what if the good people saw him hanging out with Samaritans? (Remember they had enough problems when Jesus hung out with Jewish Tax collectors and hookers!)

There is no doubt people are flocking to the United States.  We have people trying to legally enter and people trying to come across both borders.  There are people that come here on tourist visas and student visas and they expire. They are coming for hope, but like the people coming from the Samaritan Village, they may not understand what they hope they seek is found in Jesus.  They come for an opportunity, yet the opportunity they seek may not be the one they need.  Even so, they are coming here, looking for something.  They may even be looking to do harm, as Paul was, as he travelled to Damascus.

The problem is that they won’t find the hope they seek, just by coming to the USA.  As  nation we don’t have what they need. The opportunity, the hope they need is here.

We, the people who follow Jesus, have the hope they don’t know how to find.  What they need is the exact same thing we need, a relationship with God, with our creator.  A relationship where love and mercy overwhelmed guilt and shame and anger. A relationship so tight that nothing can get in its way.  A relationship that doesn’t depend on ethnicity, or gender, or economic status.

They are coming to find that relationship.

Our work, our calling to share with them the new of God’s love starts in prayer. It starts not with philosophical reasoning or with a worship service that impresses God or man. (whether traditional liturgical worship or freestyle or attractional concert.

It starts in knowing the very love of God that resulted in our being delivered from sin into His presence.  It starts in spending time in prayer and awe before God, and realizing how incredible the Lord we trust in is, how deep His love is.  As we spend time looking to Christ we become conformed to His image, an image that would die to see people share that hope that we have.

A pretty famous Christian has looked at the crowds heading toward America and pleaded with the public to urge our government to stop them from coming.  People responding to him have brought back the ideas of camps like Manzanar, about rounding up these people and basically imprisoning them.  Many have echoed their sentiments.  Those sentiments, those ideas are wrong.  I would even say they are sinful, as we put up a protective barrier that would keep them from hearing of God’s love.

Think about this, from the book of Revelation

10  Then I heard a loud voice in heaven saying, “Now God’s salvation has come! Now God has shown his power as King! Now his Messiah has shown his authority! For the one who stood before our God and accused believers day and night has been thrown out of heaven. 11  They won the victory over him by the blood of the Lamb and by the truth which they proclaimed; and they were willing to give up their lives and die. Revelation 12:10-11 (TEV)

As people look at us, as they come to our communities looking for something, may they see the hope we have in Christ, and may we lovingly, patiently share it with them…. as we know Jesus would.

—–
Tappert, T. G. (Ed.). (1959). The Book of Concord the confessions of the Evangelical Lutheran Church. (p. 278). Philadelphia: Mühlenberg Press.

Escriva, Josemaria (2010-11-02). The Way (Kindle Locations 1843-1845). Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition.

The Heart of Theology & the Heart of Ministry is the Heart of Christ

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IMG_6335 (Photo credit: Light from Light)

Devotional/Discussion Thought of the Day:

11  Say to them, As I live, declares the Lord GOD, I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but that the wicked turn from his way and live; turn back, turn back from your evil ways, for why will you die, O house of Israel? Ezekiel 33:11 (ESV) 

210         At times, seeing those souls asleep, one feels an enormous desire to shout at them, to make them take notice, to wake them up from that terrible torpor they have fallen into. It is so sad to see them walk like a blind man hitting out with his stick, without finding the way! I can well understand how the tears of Jesus over Jerusalem sprang from his perfect charity.  (1)

The purpose of observing ceremonies is that men may learn the Scriptures and that those who have been touched by the Word may receive faith and fear (awe)  and so may also pray. (2)

One of the reasons I am a Lutheran pastor, one of the reasons I love our confessions is the same reason I often am found quoting a Catholic priest/saint named Josemaria Escriva, the founder of Opus Dei.  ( It is also the reason I am indebted to my non-denom Bible College professors, especially Doug Dickey and Rodney Vliet, and my fellow alum and now professor Chris G.

For all of the above, and some others in life, there is no division between pastoral practice – how we minister and equip others for ministry, and the depth of our theology.  It’s not the academics against the pragmatics, the “confessionals” versus the “church growthers”.  And while the theology differs a bit at times, there is a…. holistic approach that requires that we realize the harmony between doctrine and practice.  The pastor/priest or whatever form of ministry (professor,teacher,deacon, director of ministry) cannot divide his day by saying, from 8-9 I will pray, from 9-11 I will do theology, from 1-5 I will fulfill my pastoral duties and ministry obligations, and from 7-10 I will do church growth.   It is one constant movement, one constant life.

Otherwise, I would contend, if you think our lives can be divided like this,  you have done none of the above, but have simply whistled into the wind.  The Lutheran doctrine of vocation, and Escriva’s teaching on the apostolate doesn’t work this way.  For both find their beginning point – and entire existence, in one place.

As this blog is titled – “the heart of theology and the heart of ministry is the Heart of Christ”.

Our theology finds itself created, not in books and seminary or catechetical courses, but in our baptism, at the point where God transforms us, begins to conform our mind to that of Christ.   As we are united to the death, burial and resurrection of Christ, theology begins, ministry starts. (yes even as a baby is baptized!)  For as the Holy Spirit takes up residence in us, as the word begins to germinate in us, quickening life, we become theologians, we become ministers, servants of the word.

And it is the sacred heart of Christ which replaces our cold, stone hearts (see Ezekiel 36) and we begin to see the world as Christ does.  The more we see Christ’s heart and desire to be with us, the more we comprehend the depth of the Father’s love, the more we realize that our masses, our Bible studies, our retreats serve not to just impart doctrine – but to lead us to pray, to lead us to worship, to lead us to interact with God as He shares His glory with us as we dwell in His presence.

Ministry and Theology have to find their essence there, in the heart of God.

Otherwise – you can find blog after blog of theologians claiming programs aren’t based in the faith, and pastors who call their seminary experience their death, and their seminaries nothing more than cemeteries.    They both have a point – and the point is the same…..

Without being found and nurtured and developed within the heart of Christ – they aren’t theology and ministry, they are academics and business practices.

But when those very same things are baptised, when they are united with the heart and mind of our benevolent, caring Master Jesus…. when we look at those struggling without Christ as St. Josemaria describes them, as we wolf down theology that shows the glory of God’s work in us, then it is theology, it is ministry, it is one….

for we are one…in Christ.

 

 

(1)  Escriva, Josemaria (2011-01-31). Furrow (Kindle Locations 1086-1089). Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition.

(2) Tappert, T. G. (Ed.). (1959). The Book of Concord the confessions of the Evangelical Lutheran Church. (p. 250). Philadelphia: Mühlenberg Press.

The Heart of God…

Devotional THought of the Day:
“The ministers of the grace of God have, by the Holy Spirit, spoken of repentance; and the Lord of all things has himself declared with an oath regarding it, “As I live, saith the Lord, I desire not the death of the sinner, but rather his repentance;”4 adding, moreover, this gracious declaration, “Repent, O house of Israel, of your iniquity.5 Say to the children of My people, Though your sins reach from earth to heaven, and though they be redder6 than scarlet, and blacker than sackcloth, yet if ye turn to Me with your whole heart, and say, Father! I will listen to you, as to a holy7 people.” And in another place He speaks thus: “Wash you, and become clean; put away the wickedness of your souls from before mine eyes; cease from your evil ways, and learn to do well; seek out judgment, deliver the oppressed, judge the fatherless, and see that justice is done to the widow; and come, and let us reason together. He declares, Though your sins be like crimson, I will make them white as snow; though they be like scarlet, I will whiten them like wool. And if ye be willing and obey Me, ye shall eat the good of the land; but if ye refuse, and will not hearken unto Me, the sword shall devour you, for the mouth of the Lord hath spoken these things.”8 Desiring, therefore, that all His beloved should be partakers of repentance, He has, by His almighty will, established [these declarations][i]

As I was doing research for my sermon for this week, I came across the above quote from Clement of Rome – who provides us with some of the first writings of the church, after the apostles passed on.  He’s an interesting guy to me, as are many of the early leaders of the church.  
Here he talks of repentance, but like many of us, he misses the heart of the matter, literally the heard of God.  
In these precious passages, yet there is a call, even a cry for repentance, but a cry that isn’t just a prophetic warning to avoid wrath.  Look at each in their context, look at the words that God uses, this is a passionate Father’s cry to come home, to return to the family, to receive the love that was meant to be yours! 
If you are a believer, if you hope, your confidence is in God, then it is a cry that you have heard, that cry needs to be heard around you, you need to repeat it to them – not just a warning that people are headed to hell (which should cause our stomachs to be wrenched and our eyes to tear)  but that God so desires them NOT to go..

Instead – to know  the love of God, the fellowship of the Spirit, and the peace that comes to us who have been united to and in, Jesus Christ.

Lord have mercy!

 
 
 
 


4 Ezek. 33:11.

5 Ezek. 18:30.

6 Comp. Isa. 1:18.

7 These words are not found in Scripture, though they are quoted again by Clem. Alex. (Pædag., i. 10) as from Ezekiel.

8 Isa. 1:16–20.

[i] Clement of Rome. (1885). The First Epistle of Clement to the Corinthians. In A. Roberts, J. Donaldson & A. C. Coxe (Eds.), The Ante-Nicene Fathers, Volume I: The Apostolic Fathers with Justin Martyr and Irenaeus (A. Roberts, J. Donaldson & A. C. Coxe, Ed.) (7). Buffalo, NY: Christian Literature Company.

How to Deal with Enemies, Adversaries, and Antagonists

We all have them – the people that drive us bonkers, or cause anxiety in our lives, or simply rob us of Christ’s peace.

It may be the politician in the town who wants to restrict what you can do in your own backyard, or the policies of state and federal folk that endanger your livelihood, or even  want to encourage immorality (as if it needed it)
Our enemies may be a neighbor or a relative, or one we counted as a friend.  It might be even someone in your church body, or even closer, a member of your congregation.  Someone who you aren’t sure whether it was intentional or not, but someone who betrayed you, or hurt you,  the pain of which makes you want to cry out for revenge.

Been their done,  that, bear the scars, or at least I think I do.

The writers of the scripture, especially David and the other psalmists  knew pain well, they were threatened.  They knew enemies and adversaries well – not just the kind we deal with in America today – but those who would kill the body as well as try to kill the soul. Their answer to such people was simple – turn them over to God – let Him deal out justice.

Such is Psalm 140,  where the psalmist cries for the LORD (All capitals means it is His name – not His title)  to rescue Him from them – to keep him from the hands of the wicked.  He calls out for justice for those who are wicked – but if you look at it – that which is called out for is that they don’t succeed in their desires, that they plans are foiled, but for what purpose?

Consider Ezekiel’s take on the wicked (by definition – our enemies and adversaries are… aren’t they?)

3:18 If I say to the wicked, ‘You shall surely die,’ and you give him no warning, nor speak to warn the wicked from his wicked way, in order to save his life, that wicked person shall die for his iniquity, but his blood I will require at your hand.  Ezekiel 3:18 (ESV)

and

23 Have I any pleasure in the death of the wicked, declares the Lord GOD, and not rather that he should turn from his way and live?   Ezekiel 18:22-23 (ESV)

If God puts blocks in the way of their schemes, their actions, if He, as promised saves us from the snares of the evil one ( and his minions) then isn’t it possible, even probable, knowing the heart of God, that in their frustration they might determine that they  plans for evil, God will redeem and use for good?  If they grasp that, then they too will be granted repentance, even as we were.  They they will come ot know God’s peace?

In praying that God rescue us, could that rescue be accomplished by making these people His children?  To trust in God for this – yeah – that’s a level of faith we need to cry out that in His mercy – we find ourselves able to trust in Him.

Lord, may we learn to pray, as our forefathers did, that You turn the hearts of our enemies and adversaries toward you…

And then may we, having seen your mercy.. your heart, your love.. rejoice.

 

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