Maranatha – for the right reason!
Thoughts which drive me to Jesus, and to the Cross
2 Let me see you in the sanctuary; let me see how mighty and glorious you are.
3 Your constant love is better than life itself, and so I will praise you.
4 I will give you thanks as long as I live; I will raise my hands to you in prayer.
5 My soul will feast and be satisfied, and I will sing glad songs of praise to you. Psalm 63:2-5 TEV
We are delivered from ourselves when we finally seek God for Himself alone!
Our union with Him depends on His love for us, which is simply the extension of the Father’s love, through Him, to ourselves. And the charity of Christ, which springs from the Father as from its hidden and infinite source, goes out through us to those who have not yet known Him, and unites them, through Christ in us, to the Father. By our love for other men, we enable them to discover Christ in themselves and to pass through Christ to the Source, the Beginning of all life, the Father, present and hidden in the depths of their own being. Finding Him, they who have long been torn and divided by the disintegrating force of their own illusions are able to discover and integrate themselves in one.
Too often these days, I find myself tired of life… and I know I am not alone.
I want to cry out, “Maranatha!” (which means ‘Come Lord Jesus!) with all I am. I so want Jesus to come back, to bring His people into the presence of perfection in the presence of God the Father.
I want God to return, I really, really want Jesus to return and put an end to all the suffering, all the evil, all the health issues, all that I see people going through…
And as I contemplate how wonderful it will be to be free of all of that, I realize I am praying for His return for the wrong reasons.
I need to grow in this area – perhaps more than any.
I need to want Jesus to return, simply so I can be with Jesus, to be welcomed into His presence, and God our Father. I need to have what Tozer speaks of, to be delivered of everything that is me, and simply seek to be with Him.
Merton is correct as well, that the only way this happens is Jesus. Our union with God depends completely on His work, on the Spirit’s cutting open and circumcising our hearts. It is that love, which spreads through us out into the world, that enables us to praise Him. As the Spirit draws us into Christ, everything the Psalmist says is now real, as God reveals Himself – and we know He is everything.
He is our life, our hope, our joy, our love, and He reveals Himself in us, much as He reveals Himself in and under the Bread and Wine.
Lord Jesus, as we go about our days, help us to recognize your presence. May we see you in the people we speak to, and may they see You as You love them through us! May the Spirit help us to empty ourselves, so that truly our lives are Yours, and may we long for Your return. AMEN!
A. W. Tozer and Gerald B. Smith, Mornings with Tozer: Daily Devotional Readings (Chicago: Moody Publishers, 2008).
Thomas Merton, The New Man (London; New York: Burns & Oates, 1976), 135.
I Need Someone to Pray to… The Probelem with “All Religions are the Equal”
Thoughts which lead me to Jesus, and His Cross
I said, “I have sinned against you, LORD; be merciful to me and heal me.” Psalm 41:4 (TEV)
The error of universalism is that it simply cuts off the move to proclamation. As a result, the God who supposedly loves and elects everyone never gets around to saying it to anyone.
But what do those do who are filled with fear and do not desire to have him come, when they pray, “Thy kingdom come,” “Thy will be done”? Do they not stand in the presence of God and lie to their own hurt?
Every once in a while, i have someone try to convince me that it doesn’t matter which god you worship, or if you even worship a god. All you have to do is be good to people. And then life will be good, and everything will be all right.
I have a significant problem with that.
A god without definition cannot meet my needs. I can’t be assured this universal and therefore unknown God is listening.
That’s a problem. I need a God who listens,
I need a God who hears my cries, whether they are for mercy because my life is challenging, or because I am struggling with guilt and shame. My cries for mercy, for healing—I need to know these cries, these prayers are heard. I need to know God loves me enough to hear and respond.
And a generic god who is an amalgamation of all religious systems, that god cannot tell me he/she/it hears, nor can I have any confidence that they can hear me.
That’s the difference about God who reveals Himself throughout the Old and New Testaments. The God who reveals Himself as a baby in a manger, as the suffering servant on the cross. The God who talks to us, whether as Jesus talks to the apostles and people, or as the Holy Spirit talks to us, as He dwells in the new heart given us in our baptism (Ezekiel 36:25ff)
He’s here, He listens, He speaks, and He heals.
His message–throughout scripture–I will be your God, and you WILL BE my people.
So whether oppressed by sin, or struggling with health, life, finances, relationships, know He will hear you.. and answer.
Gerhard O. Forde, “The Preached God,” in Theology Is for Proclamation (Minneapolis, MN: Fortress Press, 1990), 34.
Martin Luther and John Sander, Devotional Readings from Luther’s Works for Every Day of the Year (Rock Island, IL: Augustana Book Concern, 1915), 431.
Does Worship/Liturgy have to change? The Question Isn’t “if” but “why!”
Devotional Thought for the Day:
27 Then Jesus said to them, “The Sabbath was made to meet the needs of people, and not people to meet the requirements of the Sabbath. Mark 2:27 (NLT2)
6 Dear brothers and sisters, if I should come to you speaking in an unknown language, how would that help you? But if I bring you a revelation or some special knowledge or prophecy or teaching, that will be helpful. 7 Even lifeless instruments like the flute or the harp must play the notes clearly, or no one will recognize the melody. 8 And if the bugler doesn’t sound a clear call, how will the soldiers know they are being called to battle? 9 It’s the same for you. If you speak to people in words they don’t understand, how will they know what you are saying? You might as well be talking into empty space. 1 Corinthians 14:6-9 (NLT2)
For it is the existential presence of the celebrating, praying faithful which makes the liturgy into the worship of God; change is necessary so that their awareness of what is going on and of their part in it are not restricted by extraneous factors. Roman history reveals a most eloquent example of a form of worship which had become unintelligible. After three centuries no one any longer understood the ritual, the ceremonies or the meaning it was all meant to express, with the result that religion dried up and became an empty shell, although it was no less practiced than before. The lesson is that, if liturgy is to retain its vitality and have an influence on individuals and society, there must be a continual process of adaptation to the understanding of believers. For believers too, after all, are people of their time, people of their world.
Over the past 40 years, I have participated in just about every flavor of worship service and liturgy on could imagine. I have play pipe organs in my youth, and electric guitars and keyboards, done traditional non-denom worship, and straight out of the hymnal liturgy.
I have my preferences, and they would probably surprise most people who know me.
Preference laid aside, and it must be, there is only one reason to change the wording of the liturgy or the way a church worships.
It is what Paul is the very pragmatic reason Paul is discussing, in relation to the very real gift of tongues, in 1 Corinthians 14. It echoes Jesus teaching about the Sabbath.
Does your liturgy, your order of worship allow people to hear God, and does it allow them to respond to Him?
The Lutheran confessions talk of the mass’s chief purpose to give people what they need to know about Jesus. His love, His mercy, His presence in their life. What they need to know – not just with their mind, but with their heart, soul and strength.
Do the words said and sung communicate this in an understandable way? If not, reset them. Do the people have the opportunity to experience the awe of being in the presence of God and respond to Him with joy? If not renew your service, focus it on the incarnate God who loves them. Open up the lines of communication, ensure that they know God speaks to them in a way that anyone can understand.
Maintaining the liturgy that doesn’t communicate to people is a waste of time. So is changing it for any other reason is just as much a waste of time.
Lord, help us to guide your people until with heart, soul, mind, and strength realize that You love them all. And then, help us guide their discussion with you, their prayers and praises.
Joseph Ratzinger, The Feast of Faith: Approaches to a Theology of the Liturgy, trans. Graham Harrison (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1986), 79.
Am I Just “Going through the motions?”
Devotional Thought for the Day:
23 How I wish that someone would remember my words and record them in a book! 24 Or with a chisel carve my words in stone and write them so that they would last forever. 25 But I know there is someone in heaven who will come at last to my defense. 26 Even after my skin is eaten by disease, while still in this body I will see God. 27 I will see him with my own eyes, and he will not be a stranger. Job 19:23-27 (TEV)
26 In the same way the Spirit also comes to help us, weak as we are. For we do not know how we ought to pray; the Spirit himself pleads with God for us in groans that words cannot express. 27 And God, who sees into our hearts, knows what the thought of the Spirit is; because the Spirit pleads with God on behalf of his people and in accordance with his will. Romans 8:26-27 (TEV)
57 Get to know the Holy Spirit, the Great Unknown, the one who has to sanctify you. Don’t forget that you are a temple of God. The Paraclete is in the center of your soul: listen to him, and follow his inspirations with docility.
On Monday, at sometime between 7:30 and 8:30, I read the first scripture passage above, from the book of Job. It is a favorite passage, one I love to just think about, especially when life is “job-like” ANd it was in the rotation of readings that were assigned for me that day, by the software that helps me read through the Bible in a year.
The problem is, I don’t remember reading it. Not at all.
And so yesterday, that bothered me a lot. how could i miss such an important passage? How ow could I not have seen it?
What is sadly ironic is that I really needed to see it, not just read it. It is one of those seasons of trauma, those times where I wondered if Job and I could trade places for a couple of hours.
My mind on Tuesday kept beating me up. HOw could I have missed what God had obviously put right in front of me, for that time, for that moment? How could I just go through the motions, reading but not seeing, hearing but not absorbing the word of God?
Am I getting to the point where I am just “going through the motions when it comes to the daily readings of scripture?
Will that start to seep into other parts of my spiritual life, other parts of what I do? That is perhaps the greatest point of fear I have, that how I lead worship, that how I preach, how I administer the sacraments simply fades into a mechanical application of what I have done before.
The feelings move into high gear, alternating between anxiety and guilt, between how have I gotten myself into this place and will I ever get back to “normal” spiritual mode? Then I realize I have not wasted one day, but two…
By God’s grace as well, in this morning’s reading I came to St Josemaria’s words in purple above. My heart focused on the phrase about the Holy Spirit being the one who has to sanctify us. As that resonated and comforted me, the words of the apostle Paul flashed into my head. I realized that while I missed the words Monday, and struggled on Tuesday with the absence of seeing the words, the Holy Spirit didn’t let me forget them.
As I went back and read them again, without the distractions and lack of attention that plagued me Monday, or the guilt and anxiety of Tuesday, I finally saw what I needed to see. Because of the tension, it hits home even more strongly, even being chiseled into my crushed and broken heart and soul.
I will see God, and He will not be a stranger.
No matter how dark my day, no matter how much I’ve bottomed out, the Holy Spirit is there, comforting, sanctifying, even interpreting our prayers, and making everything work out for good…. even the days when I can barely go through the motions.
God is faithful, the Holy Spirit is here… and if I can cling to that promise…I can survive the days when I don’t soar like a spiritual giant, but crawl like a cockroach.
He is here, He is not a stranger..
Escriva, Josemaria. The Way (Kindle Locations 299-301). Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition.
We MUST Experience God’s Grace…
Devotional Thought of the Day:
5 Now that we have been put right with God through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. 2 He has brought us by faith into this experience of God’s grace, in which we now live. And so we boast of the hope we have of sharing God’s glory! Romans 5:1-2 GNT
To be utterly frank and clear, I would like to say once again: ‘It is fitting that seminarians take part every day in the Eucharistic celebration, in such a way that afterwards they will take up as a rule of their priestly life this daily celebration. They should moreover be trained to consider the Eucharistic celebration as the essential moment of their day, in which they will take an active part and at which they will never be satisfied with a merely habitual attendance. Finally, candidates to the priesthood will be trained to share in the intimate dispositions which the Eucharist fosters: gratitude for heavenly benefits received, because the Eucharist is thanksgiving; an attitude of self-offering which will impel them to unite the offering of themselves to the Eucharistic offering of Christ; charity nourished by a sacrament which is a sign of unity and sharing; the yearning to contemplate and bow in adoration before Christ who is really present under the Eucharistic species.’ (Pastores dabo vobis, 48)
The priestly ministry is a ministry of reconciliation. In the Sacrament of Baptism it leads us, through the admonitions of faith, to a fundamental reconciliation with the living God so that we no longer regard him and his world as a threat, but recognize their foundation in love. It is the priest’s role to make God’s gifts present to us and to associate us with these gifts in such a way that, as the Canon of the Mass puts it, we ourselves become a gift together with him.
For God decided not only that we should believe in the crucified Christ, but that we should also be crucified with him and suffer with him, as he clearly shows in many places in the gospels. “Whoever does not take up the cross and follow me,” says the Lord, “is not worthy of me” [Matt 10:38]. And again, “If they have called the master of the house Beelzebub, how much more will they malign those of his household” (Matt 10:25)! Therefore, each one must carry a piece of the holy cross, and it cannot be otherwise. St. Paul says as well, “In my flesh I am completing what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions” [Col 1:24]. It is as if he were saying that his whole Christianity is not yet completely prepared, and we also must follow so that nothing is lost or lacking from the cross of Christ, but all brought together into one heap. Everyone must ponder that the cross cannot remain external.
There is so much in my readings today, that I am struggling to put it all together!
But it all starts with the Christian life that we have been brought into, what Luther described as living in our baptism, this becoming the gift (In Pope Benedict’s words). One of my professors would have called it living the “Incarnational life” or the “Sacramental life”
It is why we, as a church, need to stop just going through the motions of worship, and why we who are taked with leading have to avoid the trap of manipulating the emotions in the way we plan our services, but simply live in the moment as well.
The challenge is then to let go and live in the liturgy we have, to realize how close it brings us to Christ, how it reveals His love in a way that we experience it, in the way it stimulates and strengthens the hope we have. It is why the seminarian is encouraged to spend as much time as possible contemplating and meditating on the Lord’s Supper, realizing the presence of God, His Body and Blood, that we serve our people, that serves us.
It is this feast, this sacrifice that draws us into Christ’s sacrifice, just as baptism and the other sacraments do, that gives us the faith to trust God as we commune with Jesus as we take up our crosses as well. As we embrace suffering for the hope it gives those around us, as they realize we aren’t just going through the motions, or saying what we think we should say.
For if we realize the love, the mercy and dwell in God’s peace, our people will see it. We won’t just go through the motions of worship, we shall indeed live in it, and the words of the liturgy, drawn from scripture will become alive, not just in us, but in all who participate.
Go back up and read the words again, these words from scripture of the Apostle Paul. See the depth of them, this great encouragement to live in the experience of grace, this being so overwhelmed by the hope of living, knowing we shall share in the glory of God, that we live in the love of the Father, who loves us as much as He loves the Son.
This is why we gather, this is why we savor the words we say and sing in our churches, this is why we study for years to lead the people of God. To help them dwell in the midst of His peace, His presence, His glorious love.
And then, we see something amazing, we become the gift….
Lord, help us to move past the phase of “going through the motions” and then having to manipulate worship. Instead, help us to live in the grace of which we speak, and of which we sing. Help us Father, we pray in the name of Jesus, Who live and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, forever and ever. AMEN!
Burke, R. L. (2012). Adoration in the Formation and Life of Priests. In A. Reid (Ed.), From Eucharistic Adoration to Evangelization (pp. 136–137). London; New York: Burns & Oates.
Ratzinger, J. (1992). Co-Workers of the Truth: Meditations for Every Day of the Year. (I. Grassl, Ed., M. F. McCarthy & L. Krauth, Trans.) (pp. 191–192). San Francisco: Ignatius Press.
Luther, M. (2007). Sermon at Coburg on Cross and Suffering. In P. D. W. Krey, B. McGinn, & P. D. S. Krey (Eds.), P. D. S. Krey & P. D. W. Krey (Trans.), Luther’s Spirituality (p. 152). New York; Mahwah, NJ: Paulist Press.
The Holy Sacraments: Not a Theological Construct, but an Encounter with God
Devotional Thought of the Day:
21 After all the people had been baptized, Jesus also was baptized. While he was praying, heaven was opened, 22† and the Holy Spirit came down upon him in bodily form like a dove. And a voice came from heaven, “You are my own dear Son. I am pleased with you.” Luke 3:21-22 GNT
16 The cup we use in the Lord’s Supper and for which we give thanks to God: when we drink from it, we are sharing in the blood of Christ. And the bread we break: when we eat it, we are sharing in the body of Christ.
1 Corinthians 10:16 (TEV)
7 On the first day of the week, we gathered with the local believers to share in the Lord’s Supper. Paul was preaching to them, and since he was leaving the next day, he kept talking until midnight. Acts 20:7 (NLT2)
10 Then Jesus stood up again and said to the woman, “Where are your accusers? Didn’t even one of them condemn you?” 11 “No, Lord,” she said. And Jesus said, “Neither do I. Go and sin no more.” John 8:10-11 (NLT2)
Moreover, the people are instructed often and with great diligence concerning the holy sacrament, why it was instituted, and how it is to be used (namely, as a comfort for terrified consciences) in order that the people may be drawn to the Communion and Mass. The people are also given instruction about other false teachings concerning the sacrament.
There are several communion services in my life that will always come to mind. One of those had its sixth anniversary this week, as I remember a dozen, maybe a dozen and a half missionaries gathering in Macao one afternoon.
Another was my first Sunday in my journey
It started with hearing the elder say these simple words to people. Bod said, “take and drink, the blood shed for the forgiveness of your sin.” He said it with such confidence, such faith that each word hammered into the hardness of our hearts. I don’t remember anything else, save for one thing, as these words of God were heard, not just
The other thing I noticed was the body language of the people. People I knew from the community, people dealing with more brokenness (I would learn) than I could ever suspect. They approached the altar, hunched over, unable to look up, the burdens of the world, and their own sin so oppressing them. And then, as they received the body of Jesus on their tongues, as they drank from the chalice or the little cups, their bodies changed. They relaxed, the stern reverence was replaced with smiles that were filled with peace, and joy.
I know no other way to explain it, except to say they encountered Christ. They were overwhelmed by His presence, His mercy, His love. And when they sang the traditional Nunc Dimittis after communion, they like Simeon, knew God’s salvation. Not as theology, not as some fact, but something that resonated with every beat of their heart.
That joy allowed them to leave the brokenness behind, it allowed them to be free of what oppressed them. One of my professors would later describe this using the word “incarnational” not restricting the incarnation to an event in the Judean hills 2000 years ago but seeing it happen here. This is what the early Lutherans meant by the sacrament comforting their frightened consciences.
And each of the sacraments does this, baptism, the Eucharist, Confession and Absolution, as we participate, as we share in life with Jesus, who brought us to life in HIs resurrection.
This can’t be adequately explained, even by the best of theologians. The sacraments aren’t something that man has the power to research, to “objectively observe.” But they bring about a healing of our souls, as the promises of God become true for us, as the love of God, in all its measureless dimensions, is revealed, As we are transformed, and that is revealed as well, the glory of God reflecting from us, as it did from
Come, let us adore Him, for the Lord is with us. AMEN!
Tappert, T. G. (Ed.). (1959). Article 24 of the Augsburg Confession: The Book of Concord the confessions of the Evangelical Lutheran Church. (p. 56). Philadelphia: Mühlenberg Press.
He Makes His Home with US! A Sermon on John 1:1-14
His Presence Blesses Us as
He Makes His home among us
† In Jesus Name †
May you realize the joy and peace God gives you, as Jesus comes and makes His home, right here, with you!
Home for the Holidays
Maybe it is a certain smell, or perhaps an ornament you take out of the box, or it’s a Christmas Carol being sung in a certain way, but most of us have something that takes us back “Home” for the holidays. You know, that place that exists in time, that defines what your heart knows as being home, as life is perfect.
For me, it is sitting at the piano that now sits in my aunt’s basement, much as it sat in my grandfather’s basement. It was there, playing Adeste Fideles and the First Noel that was a moment I define as being “home”. There are things that remind us of those precious days. And for those who are blessed, you can find more than one example of them. Maybe it is this year that you will find the scene of home that will etch itself in your memory as being “home for the holidays” The time where being with friends and family when peace reigned and was so real
In our gospel reading this morning, we see an incredible statement about being home.
So Jesus became human, and made his home among us.
God became man and found a place to live. Here, among us.
Not just with the apostles back in the day, but here, with you and me. He in our lives, where He still lives and reigns today.
In these incredible deep and complex words that start John’s sharing of the good news of Jesus, these words are the ones we most need to hear, the words that are the most mind-blowing, the hardest to make sense of,
Jesus became man, and made His home among us.
There is a lot in the passage, from the teaching about the Trinity to the description of the world rejecting Him. Theologically, we could spend weeks going over the first five verses. And the “who is God?” questions would still not find answers to satisfy everyone.
The next few verses, talking about some not recognizing and rejecting him, while others would be born again, not a physical birth but something more incredible, being born as children of God.
Theologians have talked and argued and wrote about such things since the first century. Words longer my arm have been used by experts to determine exactly how God did what He didn’t describe.
These verses are all important – please understand me, we have to struggle with them, we need to work them, but tonight, we need to realize this.
God came and made His home among us.
Other translations use the word dwelt with us, and that isn’t a horrid translation, but it doesn’t quite give the passage the full incredible joy that should overflow as we hear this.
First, because the word isn’t just dwelt, it is to tabernacle, to set up a residence with us. For someone in the first century, this was setting up the permanent tent residences in which you would live. It is setting up a home.
There is another sense to this, the idea that the verb is aorist tense. It doesn’t have a definite time period, and in this case, not a specific end. It’s not just about the day Jesus was born, or end the day He was crucified and died.
What this means is that we can say this. Even as He came and made His home among the apostles, He is still coming and making His home among us.
And like the apostles, we behold His glory, we get caught up in His love, we find healing for our hearts and souls in His mercy, we find hope for our tomorrows, for He is present, and promises to never leave or forsake us.
He is here. He has made His home in our lives.
This is the place He calls home.
As we come to the altar, may you realize the glory you behold and the peace of God that will make you realize that you are home with God! AMEN!
Why the Little Things in Ministry Matter More…
Devotional Thought for Our Day:
42 And whoever gives j just a cup of cold water to one of these little ones because he is a disciple —I assure you: He will never lose his reward!” Matt 10:42 HCSB
Mission springs from the certainty of faith that coexists with the thousand questions of a pilgrim.
Faith is not a matter of ideology, existential security, but of an irreplaceable encounter with a living person, Jesus of Nazareth.
Most of us will never baptize 30 people in a day, never mind 3000. Most of us will never write a book that will revive and change the church at large. We aren’t Calvin or Luther or Pope Ratzinger. We aren’t the great minds of the church, nor the servants whose love and sacrifice is honored by millions
Yet our ministry is just as powerful, if not more so, even when it is as simple as praying with someone who is struggling or offering a cup of water to someone who is tired and weary.
Pope Francis explains it well if a bit technically. Mission, the work God sends us to do, doesn’t come about because of our doctrinal knowledge. It doesn’t come about because we have all the questions answered, and know it all. We will still have thousands of questions, many of them which will go unanswered in this life. For doctrinal statements are not really statements of faith.
Nor does faith come about just because we have security in this life and for the next. It is not because we are assured of heaven that we spring up to serve others, to care for them, to reveal to them the God who loves them. We can’t even anticipate what heaven is, it is unfathomable.
But faith, the kind of faith that leads to being “mission-minded” comes from encountering Jesus. An encounter that is irreplaceable, an encounter that leaves us in awe, and in peace that is inexpressible. For in our encounter, Jesus takes away our burdens, our sins, our resentment, It’s all gone. Even the anxieties of today and eternity, and the academic explanations of religion, they slide into the background, for there is only Him.
And it is wonderful, it is beyond explanation.
And from there, we find something else happening. We see our hearts aware of those in need around us, the very people God has sent us to minister too, even when that ministry is a simple cup of water…given because the Lord is with you!
I pray that we all experience Jesus’ presence, revealed by His word, know in His sacraments, and therebt dwel and minister to others in His peace. 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.
The Church in Decline. Will we treat the problem, instead of the symptoms?
Discussion Thought of the Day:
26 Then Jesus said, “The kingdom of God is like someone who plants seed in the ground. 27 Night and day, whether the person is asleep or awake, the seed still grows, but the person does not know how it grows. 28 By itself the earth produces grain. First the plant grows, then the head, and then all the grain in the head. 29 When the grain is ready, the farmer cuts it, because this is the harvest time.” Mark 4:26-29 NCV
182 What compassion you feel for them!… You would like to cry out to them that they are wasting their time… Why are they so blind, and why can’t they perceive what you—a miserable creature—have seen? Why don’t they go for the best? Pray and mortify yourself. Then you have the duty to wake them up, one by one, explaining to them—also one by one—that they, like you, can find a divine way, without leaving the place they occupy in society.
Perhaps a better way for us to grasp the meaning of theosis and deification is to use the word relationship. However, the word relationship may not be strong enough to express the Eastern grasp of participation in Jesus and through him a participation in the very communal life of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit that theosis and deification imply. In Eastern thought, the goal of the Christian is to so commune with God that he or she is made more and more in the image of Christlikeness, fulfilling God’s purposes for humanity in God’s creation.
Back in the 1950’s and 60’s, former missionaries noticed trends in the church and wondered why the church in America was static and beginning to decline, while on the mission field it began to grow.
Such studies developed into the field of church growth, which my alma mater required all ministry students to major in, as well as their field (preaching, youth ministry, worship ministry, Christian Ed) An entire industry has been created, with experts and consultants that will come and analyze your church and provide nice neat programmed solutions that may result in growth in numbers, in budget, etc.
Another industry has grown up that counters the church growth movement. Usually, it calls for more precision in doctrine, a more historic approach, looking back to the glory days of the church when everyone came and the pews and coffers were filled.
The battles between these groups have led to denominations being devoured in conflict, which drives more people away, burns out more pastors.
But what if the answer is found, not in treating the symptom of decline, but what causes the decline? What if our studies and the raging wars around what to do with the data, are part of the problem.
What if the issue isn’t “church growth” but simply being aware of the presence of God in our lives? Whether it was Roland Allen or Donald McGavran, or C Peter Wagner or John Wimber , whether it is Paul Boland’s theories on revitalizing the church, Webber’s Ancient-Future thoughts, there is a focus on prayer, on communion with God. The call to prayer, the call to awareness of the relationship, the theosis, the intimate contact between a God who comes to us. It’s there, in all of their works, the essential component, yet so forgotten in most implementations. Overlooked because there is no way to measure the results, no way to quantify in a timely matter the success of such things. Overlooked because it cannot be measured against a creedal or confessional statement. Maybe it is overlooked because we ourselves aren’t actively living a life walking with God?
Let’s admit that Jesus is right – we don’t know how the kingdom of God grows, so why are we focusing our energy on that? What would happen instead if we spent the time and effort walking with God, exploring the height and depth, the breadth and width of His love? What effect would that have on our worship? Our preaching? Our teaching? Our lives lived, with the Holy Spirit, in our communities?
What effect does the glory of God have on us, who should have experienced it? We see it in the eyes of those given the first Bible in their language, the crowds that rejoice in mass baptisms, the barely trained evangelists and pastors in the third world who cry fro training because their churches are growing faster than they can manage.
Without programs, often without full Bibles, sometimes not being even able to read. Yet full of the awareness of God’s love, something happens. They make Him known. People come to know God, and know He loves them, they are so joyous over walking with Him, they share this with those who are blind, but will see, with those lost, but are found. Without the studies, without the consultants, without the experts in growth, these churches are growing – simply because they know Jesus!
God chooses to commune with us! God is here, not distant! He loves us! We have been found by divinity, and He wants us to enter HIs glory! Here it is, givet this to your people, help them to see
Escriva, Josemaria. Furrow (Kindle Locations 974-978). Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition.
Webber, Robert E. The Divine Embrace: Recovering the Passionate Spiritual Life. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2006. Print. Ancient-Future Series.
Christ-centric life….a good reminder!
Devotional Thought fo the Day:
1 When I came to you, my friends, to preach God’s secret truth, I did not use big words and great learning. 2 For while I was with you, I made up my mind to forget everything except Jesus Christ and especially his death on the cross. 3 So when I came to you, I was weak and trembled all over with fear, 4 and my teaching and message were not delivered with skillful words of human wisdom, but with convincing proof of the power of God’s Spirit. 5 Your faith, then, does not rest on human wisdom but on God’s power.
1 Corinthians 2:1-5 (TEV)
3. Return to God: And Thou, O my God, my Saviour, Thou shalt be from henceforth the sole object of my thoughts: I will no more apply my mind to such as are displeasing to Thee. My memory shall entertain itself all the days of my life with the greatness of thy clemency, so mercifully exercised on me: Thou shalt be the delight of my heart and the sweetness of my whole being. (1)
Twenty years ago, I preached at a small church in the middle of the desert. Two years later, I would become their pastor. And on their letter head was the mission/purpose statement. “Teaching Christ-Centered Living”.
I’ve since come to the conclusion that those phrases, maybe long overlooked, are the key to the church’s misison in that community. That is why they are planted, these phrase, this is a vision God has given those who sacrificed and set down the cornerstone. At my present church, it is the oft repeated phrase, “The Lord is with You!” (and the response to me – “and also with you!” ) You want to revitalize a chruch – you want to see it come to life and share God’s love – discover the reason it was put there in the first place!
So back to Christ-centered living.
We aren’t talking about being religious by rote, or being scholars in Greek and Hebrew Exegesis. We can memorize all the red letters in our Bibles, and still fail to live life centered, focused on Jesus.
SO what does it mean to be centered on Christ in our lives? What does it mean to forget everything bu Christ and His cross?
It means to realize that clemency that deSales speaks of, it means to deligh in the presence of God in our lives, to rejoice in the incarnate, tangible God who speaks and listens. It is to depend on this, and so know a peace that comes from God being our fortress, our sanctuary, our peace.
It means the hope that comes from realizing His comfort, and sharing in His glory, for His glory is the cHesed, the agape, the love, the charity, the compassion of God that draws us to Himself.
To live in awe of that love is Christ-centric living.
And it is our role, as God’s people to use our time, gathered together as the Church, or with a friend over lunch – to teach them what they need to know about Jesus.
My friend, the Lord is with you!
See His love, see His work in your life….. and cry out, “Lord, Have MERCY” or “Hosanna (Save us) ” or “kumbayyah (Be here Lord)” or simply, “thank you!”
(1) Francis de Sales, Saint. An Introduction to the Devout Life. Dublin: M. H. Gill and Son, 1885. Print.