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Do We Take Sin’s Cure Seriously Enough?

chemnitz-on-us-dwelling-in-jesusDevotional Thought of the Day:

26  The LORD said, “Do not make idols or set up statues, stone pillars, or carved stones to worship. I am the LORD your God.   Leviticus 26:1 TEV

16  Make this your common practice: Confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you can live together whole and healed. The prayer of a person living right with God is something powerful to be reckoned with.
James 5:16 (MSG)

Marcion taught, on the basis of the opinions of his master Cerdo, that there is one god of the Old Testament, just, stern, and punitive toward sin, who rained down sulfur and fire on Sodom, Gen. 19:24; and there is another god of the New Testament, merciful, beneficent, long-suffering, who “causes His sun to rise and sends rain on the just and the unjust,

 

Our Saviour has left the holy sacrament of penance and confession to his Church, that in it we may cleanse ourselves from all our iniquities, as often as we should be defiled by them. Never suffer your heart, then, Philothea, to remain long affected with sin, since you have so easy a remedy at hand. A soul which has consented to sin ought to conceive a horror of herself, and cleanse herself as quickly as possible, out of the respect she ought to bear to the Divine Majesty, who incessantly beholds her. Alas! why should we die a spiritual death, when we have so sovereign a remedy at hand?

I have to wonder how much Marcion’s idea of two gods, one of the Old Testament and One of the New affects our viewpoint of sin.

The thought is prevalent today among many in the church, and it drastically colors our viewpoint of sin.  We tend to dismiss things in the Old Testament that were prohibited  (and not declared clean like bacon and Gentiles!) because we see the God of the Old being different, and having different standards than Jesus.

Perhaps that is why we don’t take the cure for sin seriously?

We all are sinners, whether it is gossip, or sexual sins, or hatred and name calling. We’ve developed our justifications, our defenses, such as – well that was in the Old Testament, and life is different in the New Testament.  We even have simply gotten to the point where we deny that sin is sin.  We ignore its gravity, its pain, its horror.

Worse than the horror, what we are really doing is robbing ourselves, and those we teach, of a wondrous gift, a gift that is more valuable than anything we could purchase.  We don’t cover up and hide the sin, we bury and hide God’s glorious love and mercy.

We rob ourselves of forgiveness, of the healing and restoration God has promised us.  We rob ourselves of being right with God, of knowing His love and presence.  As De Sales teaches, why should we embrace a spiritual death, when our remedy is so at hand?  When that remedy is the body and blood of Jesus, given and shed for you, that this covenant promise would be yours – that you would be righteous, innocent and holy, being freed from sin.

Paul’s words in Hebrew echo again here – run to Jesus, for if e neglect such a great salvation, what else is there?  And if we are neglecting it because we don’t want to deal with sin, what is there?

The challenge is presenting this, not as the choice between wrath and paradise, for that is not the primary purpose of forgiveness.  That purpose is so that we can know, that we can be assured that God is our God, that we are His people, that we are in fellowship, a deep intimate relationship that is based on the deepest of love.  His love which doesn’t ignore our sin, but heals us. That was His plan throughout the Old Testament (read the dedication of the Temple if you don’t believe me) and is fully revealed in Jesus in the new.

Which is why Chemnitz follows his comments about Marcion with the beautiful, intimate description of our dwelling in the Word of God  (that is, Jesus) as a baby dwells in the uterus.  Safe, secure, nourished, until we find the day where glory shines… and all that is God is revealed.

Til then, we dwell in His peace. Amen!

 

Chemnitz, Martin, and Jacob A. O. Preus. Loci Theologici. electronic ed. St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1999. Print.1885. Print.

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

Out of Sight? Out of Mind?

pope-francis-on-the-building-of-the-churchDevotional Thought of The Day:

33 “No one lights a lamp and then hides it or puts it under a bowl;p instead, he puts it on the lamp-stand, so that people may see the light as they come in. 34Your eyes are like a lamp for the body. When your eyes are sound, your whole body is full of light; but when your eyes are no good, your whole body will be in darkness. 35Make certain, then, that the light in you is not darkness. 36If your whole body is full of light, with no part of it in darkness, it will be bright all over, as when a lamp shines on you with its brightness.”  Luke 11:33-36  TEV

Constantine the Great, having written with great respect to St. Anthony, the religious about him were greatly astonished. “Why,” said he, “do you feel astonished that a king should write to a man? Be astonished, rather, that the Eternal God should have written down his law to mortal men; yea, more, should have spoken to them by word of mouth in the person of his Son.”  (1)

God does not want
a house built by people,
but faithfulness to his word
and acceptance of his design.
It is God himself
who builds the house
but of living stones
marked by his Spirit.

It is a blessing for parents of toddlers, this truth that out of sight, out of mind.  

Yet it is true for us as adults as well, and then can become a curse if we aren’t careful.  For the longer our eyes are taken off of something, the easier it is for us to forget and even neglect that which was once all important. 

Like God.

We can forget Him, if not completely, then enough to obscure who He is, what He has instilled in us.

His peace, His comfort, His mercy, His love.

And what it means to live life in reflection of that love.  What Pope Francis calls “His design”, what He wills, the plans He has laid out for us. The more we neglect seeing Chirst in our lives, the more sin reigns, the more it makes sense, the more it offers false comfort, quickly fading imitations of joy, and quickly tires us out. A lack of seeing Christ leasd us to a life we cannot be satisfied with, on that quickly turns toxic, as we do what is right in our own eyes. 

We need to regain this vision of Christ, we need to let His light enter through our eyes, to contemplate, to think about, to become enlightened to the depth of His love for us, His people, His family.  We need to realize that not only did God love us enough to guide our lives with His law. but that He revealed us the love in and through Jesus.  

He is our light, He is our life, and our thoughts need to be infused by the presence of our God.  Not as in a rote behavior, or religious obligation, but as our very life.  With the joy that comes from walking with One whose love for you is proven over and over. 

So fill your eyes with Him! Fill your mind with those things that we praise Him for, things that are true, noble, holy, just, pure, lovely, sacrificial, (see Phil.4:8)   

He is with you!

AMEN!

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.

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

 

That Manger Has A Specific Message for You.

Image result for coke nativityDevotional Thought fo the Day:

35 The angel answered, “The Holy Spirit will come on you, and God’s power will rest upon you. For this reason the holy child will be called the Son of God. 36Remember your relative Elizabeth. It is said that she cannot have children, but she herself is now six months pregnant, even though she is very old. 37For there is nothing that God cannot do.”
38 “I am the Lord’s servant,” said Mary; “may it happen to me as you have said.” And the angel left her.  Luke 1:35-38 TEV

18  “Here’s what I want you to do: Buy your gold from me, gold that’s been through the refiner’s fire. Then you’ll be rich. Buy your clothes from me, clothes designed in Heaven. You’ve gone around half-naked long enough. And buy medicine for your eyes from me so you can see, really see. 19  “The people I love, I call to account—prod and correct and guide so that they’ll live at their best. Up on your feet, then! About face! Run after God! 20  “Look at me. I stand at the door. I knock. If you hear me call and open the door, I’ll come right in and sit down to supper with you.
Revelation 3:18-20 (MSG)

The second (step to learning mental prayer (1)  ) means to place yourself in his sacred presence is, to reflect that God is not only in the place where you are, but that He is, after a most particular manner, in your heart, nay, in the very centre of your soul, which He enlivens and animates by his divine presence, being there as the heart of your heart, and the spirit of your spirit; for as the soul, being diffused through the whole body, is present.  (2)

Wednesday nights, we’ve been looking at the incarnation for something unique, as we find in the night’s darkness that is shattered by the glory of God, the reason we love Him with everything we are.  As we learn why our heart, our soul, our strength and our mind cry out for his love.

Francis de Sales wrote something quite similar, which appeared in my morning devotional readings.  Teaching a lady about prayer, he commented as you see above.  An intimacy we each have, because of the incarnation.  Just as Mary’s womb bore Jesus, just as He became incarnate there, so too does he become incarnate in the very center our soul. He comes into us, makes Himself home, so incredibly home that He intertwines himself into who we are.

Think of this, as through Mary’s umbilical cord shared her and his blood, so too our life and his life circulate within us because He is there.

That is how He “enlivens (the old quicken in the Creeds) and animates us by His presence. He clothes us, He heals, He corrects and comforts.

All because he is there, in your heart, in the depth of your soul.

He’s there, knocking at the door to you and me…for we are the people he loves. Read that second quote again, and hear His knock….and His desire to be incarnate, to be entwined in your heart and soul, to be your life blood.

May you answer, as Mary did – “may it happen to me as you have said…”

AMEN

(1)  The first step is simply to that God is everywhere, and in everything.

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

Theology that Truly Matters Meets Us….

Devotional THoguht fo the Day:
14  Let us, then, hold firmly to the faith we profess. For we have a great High Priest who has gone into the very presence of God—Jesus, the Son of God. 15  Our High Priest is not one who cannot feel sympathy for our weaknesses. On the contrary, we have a High Priest who was tempted in every way that we are, but did not sin. 16  Let us have confidence, then, and approach God’s throne, where there is grace. There we will receive mercy and find grace to help us just when we need it.
Hebrews 4:14-16 (TEV)

290      Joy, and supernatural and human optimism, can go hand in hand with physical tiredness, with sorrow, with tears (because we have a heart), and with difficulties in our interior life or our apostolic work. He who is perfectus Deus, perfectus Homo—perfect God and perfect Man—and who enjoyed every happiness in Heaven, chose to experience fatigue and tiredness, tears and suffering… so that we might understand that if we are to be supernatural we must also be very human.  (1)

Tomorrow in church we will use the Athanasian Creed, an incredible wonderful set of words that describe the nature of God who is so much more than we can understand or conceive.  It first describes Father Son and Holy Spirit (or for us older folk Holy Ghost).  Mindblowing in both its simplicity and complexity.  Very appropriate as we dedicate the day to thinking about the Trinity, this majestic and glorious God, who has revealed Himself to us.

The second aspect I want to deal with here, well sort of…

It describes, as best as one can, the divine and human nature of Christ.  That he is 100% man, 100% divine.  Theologians will talk about this ad nauseum, with fancy Latin phrases and epic tomes which make us sound far more brilliant than we are.  Where it matters is where the saint who wrote Hebrews mentions above.

Christ has sympathy for us.  Not just a sympathetic ear, but true sympathy for us.  Or perhaps more accurately, empathy.   He’s been here, done this, and instead of having a t-shirt to wear, He has stripes on His back, a gaping hole in His side, and in his wrists and feet.  As the scriptures tell us, he endured the temptations we face, (and then some extras!)  He experienced the fatigue and suffering, the tears and emotional exhaustion.  his sacrifice was on the cross, but it was also His very life.  A life that was an offering for us, and to us, to show us the depth of God’s love.

Which is why, broken and weary, tired and drained, even doubting and in despair, we can turn to Him.  Or more precisely drawn to Him.  We don’t have to avoid the pain, and the sorrow, the tears and the grief.  For there, in the midst of the brokenness, we find Jesus, who was broken for us. We find in our Humanity, the Lord and Savior, who loved us enough to become human, and there, at that moment, we find the joy of His making us holy, and supernatural, as we share in His glory.

So if you are preaching tomorrow, remember to link the Trinity to their beloved, remember to mention the Birde of Christ.  If you are hearing a sermon, worship with great joy, knowing that God is with you… that He has chosen to share your life, and at that moment, know the peace and joy that is beyond all understanding.  For Jesus the Christ is with you, guarding you heart and mind.  AMEN!




 

 

Escriva, Josemaria. The Forge (Kindle Locations 1181-1185). Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition.

Will Anxiety and Fear Stop You from Obeying God?

Devotional Thought of the Day:
17  Love is made perfect in us in order that we may have courage on the Judgment Day; and we will have it because our life in this world is the same as Christ’s. 18  There is no fear in love; perfect love drives out all fear. So then, love has not been made perfect in anyone who is afraid, because fear has to do with punishment. 19  We love because God first loved us. 20  If we say we love God, but hate others, we are liars. For we cannot love God, whom we have not seen, if we do not love others, whom we have seen. 21  The command that Christ has given us is this: whoever loves God must love others also. 1 John 4:17-21 (TEV)

303         A son of God cannot entertain class prejudice, for he is interested in the problems of all men. And he tries to help solve them with the justice and charity of Our Redeemer. The Apostle already pointed it out when he wrote that the Lord is no respecter of persons. I have not hesitated to translate his words thus: there is only one race of men, the race of the children of God!

We dwell in an age of fear, of anxiety, almost to the point of paranoia.

We may fear an unknown enemy, or an unseen one, like ISIS/ISIL.  We may fear those who are seeking refuge, or those who immigrate here.  We may fear a political candidate, and it doesn’t matter, whether they are in our part or not.   We may be anxious about our finances, or our about our workplaces, or about a relationship with another person. Or maybe we simply are afraid of growing old, as our bodies begin to break down.

In fact, most stressful situations we find ourselves in can be dealt either fearfully, or peacefully.  While our reaction may tend towards the fear, we can overcome that fear…if we dare.

Today, in fact, we are faced with a stressful situation, as school districts

Fear isn’t good, neither is its partner anxiety. It destroys and devastates the relationships in which we engage in, and others we should engage in.  For example, welcoming those who flee war, and terror.  Or those who live in poverty, or have led a broken life and been caught for it. Or those who are dealing with cancer, and need someone just to hold their hand.

To state it differently, will you allow fear to stop you from loving the people God has brought into your life (or desires to bring into your life) to love?

Will you realize the person you are ignoring, dismissing, even saying cruel things about as you refuse to consider their need, is human?  A person God sent Jesus to die for, and rose from the dead to show that God will raise them as well?  Will you look in their eyes and see their need for God’s love and the need you have to have them see that love in yours?

Will you set aside that fear, and love them as Christ loves you, confident that God has called you to live like this?

Would you want to live free of the fear, live free of the anxiety, to live in the moment, assured of the peace of God?  Assured that even something horrid, were it to happen, would not separate you from God’s love?

That is how the church is described in Revelation, so confident of God’s mercy and love…

11  And they have defeated him by the blood of the Lamb and by their testimony. And they did not love their lives so much that they were afraid to die. Revelation 12:11 (NLT)

This is what trusting and depending on Jesus does to us, it is what happens as we realize the depth of the love which fills us, as the Holy Spirit resides in us, the Spirit who joins us to Jesus.  That is the promise we have because God cleansed us in Baptism (see Ex 36:25ff)   As John points out, we can love God because He first showed that incredible love to us.

this is what it is to live a life that is full of peace, peace that cannot be surpassed, that surpasses all understanding.

The peace that Christmas exists to proclaim, the peace of God revealed to be living among His people, to be living in His people.

Lord, have mercy on us, and assure us of your peace… AMEN

Escriva, Josemaria (2011-01-31). Furrow (Kindle Locations 1446-1450). Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition.

The K.I.S.S principle: Keep it Simple Sermon-crafter!

Devotional Thought of the Day:

11  This is a sure thing: If we die with him, we’ll live with him; 12  If we stick it out with him, we’ll rule with him; If we turn our backs on him, he’ll turn his back on us; 13  If we give up on him, he does not give up— for there’s no way he can be false to himself. 14  Repeat these basic essentials over and over to God’s people. Warn them before God against pious nitpicking, which chips away at the faith. It just wears everyone out. 15  Concentrate on doing your best for God, work you won’t be ashamed of, laying out the truth plain and simple. 16  Stay clear of pious talk that is only talk. Words are not mere words, you know. If they’re not backed by a godly life,  2 Timothy 2:11-16 (MSG)

242         Sometimes they didn’t want to understand: it is as if they were blind… But sometimes it has been you who did not manage to make yourself understood properly. You must change that!

I will be honest; it is a challenge for me.  It always has been, and as long as I preach, I think it will be.

To explain the glorious, majestic, beyond belief work of God in a simple way, that people will listen too.  Yes, I know the Holy Spirit does the work of imprinting that which God has called into existence on their hearts, but that doesn’t mean we can be lax, or, on the other extreme, so eloquent that even a seminary professor would be in awe of our wisdom and message.

Every time we sit at a keyboard, or for some, take a pen in hand, we risk our words becoming talk that is only… talk.  We may be proclaiming wonderful ideas, incredible theology, mind-blowing insights into theological truths, but if they don’t get the relationship, if we don’t bring people to realize their hope is not in knowledge, but in the intimate relationship with Jesus that  Paul describes.  It bears repeating

2  If we stick it out with him, we’ll rule with him; If we turn our backs on him, he’ll turn his back on us; 13  If we give up on him, he does not give up— for there’s no way he can be false to himself. 1

There is the truth that makes a difference.  There is the truth that opens eyes, causes ears to hear, brings healing and expectant hope to those damaged and broken by sin.

Yes, there will be people who always seem blind and deaf spiritually.  But Paul is equally insistent to Timothy to preach clearly, having studied well. That is the good stewardship of that which is entrusted to us in our ordination, or delegated to those co-misisoned to bear witness to Jesus.

Preaching with simplicity is a craft.  It still may be profound, for the simple truth usually is more profound that the most complex of theories.

God loves you… he proved this as…
God came…for you
God died … for you.
God rose again – for you.

Oh yeah – He’s coming back for us.

That’s pretty profound, yet very simple.

May people hear us tomorrow as we point to Jesus.  May we rejoice as they see the light that shatters their darkness.  AMEN!

 

 
Escriva, Josemaria (2011-01-31). Furrow (Kindle Locations 1203-1204). Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition.

 

The Attitude of Advent: Our dearest Friend is coming to be with us!

Devotional Thought to Prepare us for Advent….
15  I do not call you servants any longer, because servants do not know what their master is doing. Instead, I call you friends, because I have told you everything I heard from my Father. 16  You did not choose me; I chose you and appointed you to go and bear much fruit, the kind of fruit that endures. And so the Father will give you whatever you ask of him in my name. 17  This, then, is what I command you: love one another. John 15:15-17 (TEV)

233         You spoke about the scenes in the life of Jesus which moved you most: when he met men suffering greatly… when he brought peace and health to those whose bodies and souls were racked with pain… You were inspired—you went on—seeing him cure leprosy, restore sight to the blind, heal the paralytic at the pool: the poor beggar forgotten by everybody. You are able to contemplate Him as He was, so profoundly human, so close at hand! Well… Jesus continues being the same as then. (2)

There is an attitude that negatively views contemporary worship (or that of 30-100 years ago) that treats Jesus to0 close, too intimate, too friendly.  They would rather perceive God from the perspective of great distance, and perhaps great fear.

Which would make sense if we were approach Christ’s advent, His coming, with the anticipation of judgment without the cross’s benefit.  To turn advent into a time of anticipating hell, fire, and brimstone, wrath and tribulation is wrong.

Don’t get me wrong, we need Jesus to come back, perhaps even desperately so.  Life is too screwed up, we all need to be delivered from sin completely, we need to come home to God.  But that turns advent from anxiety about Jesus coming, to realizing we and anxiety is more caused because of the wait we endure until He returns.

If we have friends we haven’t seen in ages coming to dinner during the holiday; we look forward to it.  We anticipate it, we work hard, trying to get everything as perfect as possible.  It is the same for Jesus second coming, we desire to grow in faith, we desire to see people come to know Him, to come to trust in Him, because He is our friend, because He loves us so completely.

Those contemporary worship songs which treat Jesus as a friend, they aren’t as far off base.  They bring home that which we need to know, the attitude that Luther noted, makes the difference between one who knows God, and one who only knows of Him,

“For all outside of Christianity, whether heathen, Turks, Jews, or false Christians and hypocrites, although they believe in, and worship, only one true God, yet know not what His mind towards them is, and cannot expect any love or blessing from Him; therefore they abide in eternal wrath and damnation. For they have not the Lord Christ, and, besides, are not illumined and favored by any gifts of the Holy Ghost.” (2)

If we don’t understand God’s desire for an intimate, deep friendship with the people He calls and makes His own, we truly only know a God whose presence evokes fear and brings to the front of our heart the condemnation of guilt and shame. We have to realize the intent of Christ’s incarnation, to head resolutely to the cross, to show us the depth of His love, to bring us healing and forgiveness.

Yes, we should be in awe of God’s presence, we are overwhelmed by His glory, but a glory that pours out grace, that delights in showering us with His Mercy, embracing us in the love, even as the Holy Spirit sanctifies us. The awe of realizing God, in all His glory, desires to be our friend.

Which makes the wait of Advent tense, as if we hear every passing car as if it is our long awaited Friend…

For He is coming!

May your patience and desire to see God sustain you, even as you anxiously await His return.  AMEN!

 

 

 

 

(1)  Escriva, Josemaria (2011-01-31). Furrow (Kindle Locations 1170-1174). Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition.

(2)  The Large Catechism of Martin Luther. The Apostles Creed: Explanation of the Third Article.

Is God Stalking Me?

Is God Stalking Me?
Featured imagePsalm 139

  IHS

 May we revel in the presence of God our Father, who knows everything about us, and yet is determined to show us His mercy and love.

I could see you… WHAT?

You are walking up to someone, you have never met before.  While the person is becoming famous, you aren’t sure why, matter of fact you are cynical about him.

You go to meet him, and as you are walking up to him, and instead of the meeting being all about him, he makes it all about you….

As He does, it becomes very, very personal….

So personal it is eerie…

We don’t know why Nathaniel’s attitude changed so rapidly in the gospel, or what he was thinking underneath the tree… yet…

It was so personal! it was so deep that Nathaniel only had two possible thoughts,

The first was that Jesus was stalking him… how else could he know…

The second was that Jesus was indeed the Messiah, the one that Moses and the prophets promised, that Jesus was the son of God.

It is both frightening and yet comforting; to know that God knows each and every one of us that well.

The gospel reading this morning is a great illustration of the psalm, and this sermon about how well God knows each of you….

The depth of God’s knowledge

David’s psalm should frighten us a little

The psalm starts out with an amazing concept, that God has examined each one of us.  The word there in Hebrew is rich!  It pictures a legal investigation, not just the facts of the case. It is deeper than that, probing not just what we do, by why we do it.  God examines our integrity, our heart, our emotions, and knows even those parts of us, that we don’t want to face.  The parts of us that keep us awake at night, or cause us to shudder.

He knows those times…

God knows our movements, our thoughts, when we are praising Him and close, and when we try to rebel. God knows what we are going to say, and sing even if those words were going to be cuss words, or words that take His name in vain.

The one that hit me as I was reading it this time, was the phrase, “If I go down to the grave.”, or if I translated it, “if I took my place of rest in death”.  The words of despair that King David knew all too well.  This isn’t just a statement about location, there are words born of despair.

We can’t escape Him, we can’t get away from Him.  Even though there are days we are so confused, so anxious, so in pain that we try to run…

We can’t get away!

He is here…. He is here…

Not to condemn, not to chastise, which we deserve, but as the Psalm says,

You place your hand of blessing on my head. 6  Such knowledge is too wonderful for me, too great for me to understand!

It’s too glorious for me
You will support me

If God knows everything about me, if He knows everything, then why doesn’t He give up on us?

If He knows us in the midst of our anxieties, in the midst of our doubt, or depression; if he knows us as we are about to sin, and do so, knowing it is sin, why does He continue to seek us out?  He continues to be ready to catch us, even seems obsessed with the need to care for us.

God, the creator, the Holy One, the One who determines what is right and wrong.

David, the prophet-king-worship leader described as the man who knew God’s heart, thought the reasoning was beyond him.  No wonder I don’t have a clue as to why God loves us.

Seriously, I can’t tell you why God loves us, yet we know He does.  We don’t know why He has chosen us to be His people. We don’t know why our salvation and the salvation of our friends, our family, our peoples is His obsession.  Why He decided to love us, and pour out His mercy upon us.

We simply know He has.

We see that love in the cross, in the very coming of Christ, and the promises that tell us why He came.  To bear the stripes and nails, to satisfy the very wrath we deserve.  We see it as well, as God promises time after time, to call us by name,

He places His hand upon our head… and marks us with His blessing.

No wonder some make the sign of the cross, the sign of our baptism, with such meaning…. For it reminds them of the wonderful things God has done to us!

The promise of His presence, of His guidance, of His support!

Even more… and invitation…

The idea of God stalking us, of God being obsessed with us may seem a bit odd.  Yet that is what He does.  His thoughts are of us, Peter says He desires that all of us come to repentance.

Not all of us at Concordia…. All of us… each one of us.  Peter tells us that He desires all will come to repentance…

But salvation is not just God knowing us, it is about us knowing Him.  About our being as in love with Him, as He is with us.  I love how St Paul puts it:

May you have the power to understand, as all God’s people should, how wide, how long, how high, and how deep his love is. 19  May you experience the love of Christ, though it is too great to understand fully. Then you will be made complete with all the fullness of life and power that comes from God. Ephesians 3:17-19 (NLT)
That isn’t what happens in sermons, but it is why we have them.  It is what happens in the sacred times, especially the one we are about to share in…

Come my friends, to the table of mercy, and know something too wonderful, to glorious, something we struggle to understand, yet that brings us the greatest of comfort, the greatest of support, the greatest of joy.

God has examined you, and loves you, and calls you His own…. AMEN!

A Simple List To Revitalize Church Services: (just 2 things!)

Devotional Thought of the Day:

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37  Right at the crest, where Mount Olives begins its descent, the whole crowd of disciples burst into enthusiastic praise over all the mighty works they had witnessed: 38  Blessed is he who comes, the king in God’s name! All’s well in heaven! Glory in the high places!39  Some Pharisees from the crowd told him, “Teacher, get your disciples under control!” 40  But he said, “If they kept quiet, the stones would do it for them, shouting praise.” Luke 19:37-40 (MSG) 

For ceremonies are needed to this end alone that the unlearned be taught[what they need to know of Christ. (1)

With zeal and patience, pastors of souls must promote the liturgical instruction of the faithful, and also their active participation in the liturgy both internally and externally, taking into account their age and condition, their way of life, and standard of religious culture. By so doing, pastors will be fulfilling one of the chief duties of a faithful dispenser of the mysteries of God; and in this matter they must lead their flock not only in word but also by example. (2)

Yesterday I was sent links to a number of articles about worship.  They were from every aspect of Christian faith, and from different views, even within my own small corner of Christianity, the Lutheran Church – Missouri Synod.

It was funny because each article had a “to do” list, that if you followed these things, your church’s service would be right, and people would benefit, and be blessed.  It was funny because the advice in the articles were often in complete disagreement!!

Dust off that organ!  Ditch that old organ!

Get people to used to the patterns and use of hymnals!  Get them out of rote use of hymnals!

Of course, they both stipulated the need for trained excellent musicians, that would leave the people in awe – whether organists or praise bands, even as they lamented the fact that people would listen to the musicians of the other style, and not sing!

I am not a expert in worship, I don’t have a PhD, or pastor some church of 2000.  I do teach lay ministers, guys and ladies who help their pastors by serving, and I am about to teach a class on worship.  It is the 7th or 9th time I’ve taught it.  In it I do rely on experts, like Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger (later Pope Benedict XVI, Bishop William Willimon of the United Methodist Church, Dr. Robert Webber, and of course the Lutheran Confession – especially the article quoted above from the Augsburg Confession.  I also learn a lot from my minister of worship arts, Dr. Chris….. and this is what I have learned… and taught, based on experience.

If I boil it down, there are only two things that are needed to revitalize worship services,

Give them something to sing about.
Our job is to preach Christ, their hope of glory, to give a reason for why in the midst of this broken world, e have hope.  To reveal to them the height and depth, the breadth and width of God’s love for them – which is so clearly revealed in Christ’s incarnation, life, death, resurrection, and in their being untied to all of that, and given the gift of the presence of the Holy Spirit in their lives.
The presence of God’s Spirit which brings comfort, peace, mercy, assures us of God’s love and promises…

Give them that to sing about…..as they said at Vatican II – dispense the mysteries of God!  (and teach them what you are giving them! Vatican II and the Augsburg Confession both agree on that)

Let them sing
I have heard a million reasons why people don’t sing in church, why men won’t, why young people won’t, that older people won’t sing new songs.  When I came to my present church, it was clearly stated to me, this church has never sung, does not sing, will never sing!  The music choices pretty much guaranteed this, and propagated it.  Songs that required extensive vocal talent, sung in keys that even a first tenor and first soprano found challenging.  Words that couldn’t be savored, sometimes because you need a dictionary to define them.

We sing now, because we can.  We don’t always do it well, but it is from the heart, it is a reaction to God’s love, poured out on them.  From hearing it through every aspect of the service, from tasting it, touching it.  The songs are simple enough, the instrumentalists facilitate it. The people pour out the emotion need to pour out, the praise, the glory, the trust, the thanks, the despair, the lament… it becomes their music the lyrics that resound from their heart, and we let them sing it. (yeah – even those who voices are challenged)

They sing the praises of the God they know is present, they put into prayer the trut they have, to put it all into His care.

it is at the point that we are no longer afraid to let them sing acapella for a verse, for even a song….or a chant.

And it is wonderful….. whether the powerful anthem, or the simple cry of this version Lord’s prayer.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=R4lcfXcZ68I   (this is how we do it – as our time of family prayer ends)

give them a reason to sing…..

let them sing…

give it a try… and see what happens….. as God is lifted up… and praised.

AMEN

(1)  The Augsberg Confession,

(2)  Catholic Church. (2011). Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy: Sacrosanctum Concilium. In Vatican II Documents. Vatican City: Libreria Editrice Vaticana.

Are We Afraid of Sanctification? A Cry for the Spirit to Breath Life into the Church

Devotional Thought of the Day:
Featured image1  The LORD took hold of me, and I was carried away by the Spirit of the LORD to a valley filled with bones. 2  He led me all around among the bones that covered the valley floor. They were scattered everywhere across the ground and were completely dried out. 3  Then he asked me, “Son of man, can these bones become living people again?” O Sovereign LORD,I replied, “you alone know the answer to that. 4  Then he said to me, “Speak a prophetic message to these bones and say, ‘Dry bones, listen to the word of the LORD! 5  This is what the Sovereign LORD says: Look! I am going to put breath into you and make you live again! 6  I will put flesh and muscles on you and cover you with skin. I will put breath into you, and you will come to life. Then you will know that I am the LORD.’” 7  So I spoke this message, just as he told me. Suddenly as I spoke, there was a rattling noise all across the valley. The bones of each body came together and attached themselves as complete skeletons. 8  Then as I watched, muscles and flesh formed over the bones. Then skin formed to cover their bodies, but they still had no breath in them. 9  Then he said to me, “Speak a prophetic message to the winds, son of man. Speak a prophetic message and say, ‘This is what the Sovereign LORD says: Come, O breath, from the four winds! Breathe into these dead bodies so they may live again.’” 10  So I spoke the message as he commanded me, and breath came into their bodies. They all came to life and stood up on their feet—a great army. 11  Then he said to me, “Son of man, these bones represent the people of Israel. They are saying, ‘We have become old, dry bones—all hope is gone. Our nation is finished.’ 12  Therefore, prophesy to them and say, ‘This is what the Sovereign LORD says: O my people, I will open your graves of exile and cause you to rise again. Then I will bring you back to the land of Israel. 13  When this happens, O my people, you will know that I am the LORD. 14  I will put my Spirit in you, and you will live again and return home to your own land. Then you will know that I, the LORD, have spoken, and I have done what I said. Yes, the LORD has spoken!’” Ezekiel 37:1-14 (NLT)

683      When a person really lives charity, there is no time left for self-seeking. There is no room left for pride. We will not find occasion for anything but service!

Imagine you are there, in the presence of the LORD, given the right to not just call him Lord, but to call Him by name.   You are the son of Man, in this vision, the one He takes to the valley of the fry bones.

As the muscles form, as the skin begins to cover their bodies, as the effects of sin are reversed, you look in amazement at the miracle and begin to praise God for the miracle.  You write liturgies to celebrate it, songs to teach people about it, you go off and establish ways to tell people – God has justified His people. 

Yet they are there, still sitting in their pews… err… standing in the valley.  

Without breath, without life, but righteous none the less. 

What happens when the church forgets that God not only justifies us, but breathes life into us, sanctifying us? 

What happens if justification is the end of our theology, not just the core of it?  

Will our churches be like the bones covered with muscles and skins, present, undecayed, righteous and yet…. not alive?

We need to remember the third article of the Creed, the work of the Spirit, who is to be called upon, to breath life into these bodies, to breath life into these souls, for He is the Lord and Giver of Life.  Sanctification is not some minor doctrine, slinking about in the shadows of its big brother Justification.  

Sanctification, the Spirit making us alive and Holy is part and parcel with Justification in the larger concept of Salvation.  Which brings to mind Hebrews 2 – how can we escape if we neglect so great a salvation? 

Sanctification, the Holy Spirit working is us, giving us life, repentance, revealing to us the height and depth, the breadth and width of the Father’s love, revealed in Christ.  As He sets us aside and breathes life into us, that we would become God’s army, His family,  As we begin to walk with God, as our lives begin to be described as St Josemaria mentions – lives lived in charity, where love prevails.  Because we know His love, because we experience it, because our faith is alive…. there is the church – serving, ministering, loving… and as it does… growing and alive.

This is the church, this is the people of God, living in the presence of God.  This is the baptized, sacrificed life….

LORD, you have given us your Holy Spirit in baptism, may that Spirit breath life into your people!  May we never again be so focused on one part of salvation, that we neglect all of it.  May your church be holy, set apart, brought to life and nourished by the Holy Spirit.  AMEN1

Escriva, Josemaria (2011-01-31). The Forge (Kindle Locations 2514-2516). Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition.

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