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How You See the World (and Yourself) Needs to Change

Concordia Lutheran Church – Cerritos, Ca , at dawn on Easter Sunday

Devotional Thought of the Day:

15  For this reason, ever since I heard of your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love for all of God’s people, 16  I have not stopped giving thanks to God for you. I remember you in my prayers 17  and ask the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the glorious Father, to give you the Spirit, who will make you wise and reveal God to you, so that you will know him. 18  I ask that your minds may be opened to see his light, so that you will know what is the hope to which he has called you, how rich are the wonderful blessings he promises his people, 19  and how very great is his power at work in us who believe. This power working in us is the same as the mighty strength 20  which he used when he raised Christ from death and seated him at his right side in the heavenly world. Ephesians 1:15-20 (TEV)

283    A little diversion! You’ve got to have a change! So you open your eyes wide to let in images of things, or you squint because you’re nearsighted! Close them altogether! Have interior life, and you’ll see the wonders of a better world, a new world with undreamed-of color and perspective … and you’ll draw close to God. You’ll feel your weaknesses; and you’ll become more God-like…with a godliness that will make you more of a brother to your fellow men by bringing you closer to your Father.

There is a vision problem in this country, and in the church.

The way people see the world, their communities, their churches and their own lives, well, lets put it honestly, sucks.

This includes me, perhaps mostly me.

That view point can lead to anger, to frustration, to putting hope in people, who are frankly, no better than the people who have let us down in the past. They are sinners, they are broken, they will at some time or another, let you down.

We look for change, but we look for it in the wrong place.

We might even look at the need to change in ourselves, and try to force it, trying to make ourselves into an image that is not necessarily what or whom we are supposed to be.

And so, maybe in desperation, we hear the voice of saints who knew enough self doubt. One whose words are simply his own reflections on the matter, and one whose words are divinely inspired.

We have to be careful to hear exactly what St Josemaria is saying, and not hear what we think we hear. When He talks of an interior life, He is talking about our walk with God. He is not talking about a brutal self examination where we focus on our own brokenness, our own sin, our own perception of who we are, god or bad.

He’s talking about seeing you as God knows you, (see Colossians 3:1) the real you. Theone loved enough that Christ died for them, and had planned to from before the foundation of the earth. He’s talking about the very thing St Paul writes to the church in Ephesus about – to know the glorious hope, the amazing promises that comes as God is revealed to you, and you realize who you are in relation to God.

It is then, knowing we are beloved, that the world changes in our sight. From being hopelessly broken to seeing the redemption and reconciliation going on, such that we become so confident of it, we patiently wait for the return of Jesus. We begin to see the beauty God created, both in nature and in others, and we see the potential of what it will be like, when it is renewed.

When we see the power of God, that raised Christ Jesus from the dead, at work in us, then everything changes, and our prayer, “Lord, have mercy!” goes from a begging plea of desperation to a cry of confidence…assured of His presence, His promises, His love.

And it can all start, by closing our eyes, picturing Jesus on the cross, and with a growing confidence praying, “our Father, who art in heaven…”

Escriva, Josemaria. The Way (Kindle Locations 749-753). Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition.

Confession of a Burnt Out Minister of God

Jesus foot washingDevotional Thought of the day:

14 May the day I was born be cursed. May the day my mother bore me never be blessed. 15 May the man be cursed who brought the news to my father, saying, “A male child is born to you,” bringing him great joy. 16 Let that man be like the cities the LORD demolished without compassion. Let him hear an outcry in the morning and a war cry at noontime 17 because he didn’t kill me in the womb so that my mother might have been my grave, her womb eternally pregnant. 18 Why did I come out of the womb to see only struggle and sorrow, to end my life in shame?  Jeremiah 20:14-18  HCSB

14. In the world of today, when people are so burdened with duties and their problems, which oftentimes have to be solved with great haste, range through so many fields, there is considerable danger of dissipating their energy. Priests, too, involved and constrained by so many obligations of their office, certainly have reason to wonder how they can coordinate and balance their interior life with feverish outward activity. Neither the mere external performance of the works of the ministry, nor the exclusive engagement in pious devotion, although very helpful, can bring about this necessary coordination. Priests can arrive at this only by following the example of Christ our Lord in their ministry. His food was to follow the will of him who had sent him to accomplish his work.

I always worry when in my devotions I read passages like those above.

No, this confession isn’t mine, it is Jeremiah’s.

But it could be, as it could be the confession of so many pastors and priests and others who work in the church.  It doesn’t matter whether they are volunteers, or whether this is a paid vocation.

Burnout is inevitable.

There are days serving the church where it seems we would be better off dead.  (And we even think maybe those we serve would be as well!)  There will be days where the demands of our duties and the problems they bring will overwhelm us.  Where we would rather lock ourselves in our offices, and simply write.  Or find some passing big fish and dive into it, ala Jonah!

And Vatican II points out that devotion alone isn’t the answer, it also notes that just going through the motions of ministry doesn’t solve the problem as well.  We can do the job, it can bless others, but it is just as empty as becoming a monastic and retreating from the world which needs us, simply because we know we need God.

We can minister more effectively, and help others, even in the midst of burnout and brokenness, when we accept that the weariness is sometimes necessary.  That God is with us, even there.  That the Holy Spirit, the great Comforter, the Lord of life will lift us up, and empower us, and work through our lives to call others to depend on the God who is there.

Max Kolbe, the Catholic priest who died in a concentration camp, probably knew this weariness more than any pastor in the USA today.  Imagine, working with the guards, who denied their actions were evil.  He served the Christians who were in despair, Fr. Max served and died for those who didn’t know Jesus as well.

How did he do such a thing?

Maximilian Kolbe was an individual deeply marked by Christ, wholly ordered to Christ. When he immersed himself anew in the witness of Holy Scripture, he was not searching for theories, not on a voyage into the past. It is impossible to live with a mummy—with a merely historical Jesus; nor can we live with mere words and programs—with a “thing”. But Kolbe lived from and for Jesus. He could do this because he heard in Scripture the voice of a living Person. He heard Jesus as a living Person because he experienced him as a living Person; he could touch him in the Blessed Sacrament in which he forms a Church and is present for us.

The only way to minister through the hardest times and despair in ministry is to hang on to what we’ve been entrusted with as ministers.  Not word and sacrament, but what they are conduits of, the experience of encountering Jesus in both word and sacrament.  Of knowing God loves you, because of that encounter, of knowing His care because it too is encountered in the sacraments.

As Paul writes to the church in Ephesus

14  When I think of the greatness of this great plan I fall on my knees before God the Father (from whom all fatherhood, earthly or heavenly, derives its name), and I pray that out of the glorious richness of his resources he will enable you to know the strength of the spirit’s inner re-inforcement – that Christ may actually live in your hearts by your faith. And I pray that you, firmly fixed in love yourselves, may be able to grasp (with all Christians) how wide and deep and long and high is the love of Christ – and to know for yourselves that love so far beyond our comprehension. May you be filled through all your being with God himself! Ephesians 3:14 (Phillips NT) 

Knowing about God’s love won’t sustain you in the darkness, it won’t keep you moving through the despair. It won’t help you see God at work in the midst of the pain.  But knowing you are known, finding hope in the fact you are loved, being refreshed through the grace and mercy poured out upon you.  Being filled through all your being with God Himself.

That is what we need, and that is what He provides… so relax, hear God!  Hear God! And find rest for your weary soul!  AMEN!

Catholic Church. (2011). Decree on the Ministry and Life of Priests: Presbyterorum Ordinis. In Vatican II Documents. Vatican City: Libreria Editrice Vaticana.

Ratzinger, J. (1992). Co-Workers of the Truth: Meditations for Every Day of the Year. (I. Grassl, Ed., M. F. McCarthy & L. Krauth, Trans.) (p. 281). San Francisco: Ignatius Press.

A Very Needed Lesson in Church Leadership..

Discussion Thought of the Day:
12  After Jesus had washed their feet, he put his outer garment back on and returned to his place at the table. “Do you understand what I have just done to you?” he asked. 13  “You call me Teacher and Lord, and it is right that you do so, because that is what I am. 14  I, your Lord and Teacher, have just washed your feet. You, then, should wash one another’s feet. 15  I have set an example for you, so that you will do just what I have done for you. 16  I am telling you the truth: no slaves are greater than their master, and no messengers are greater than the one who sent them. 17  Now that you know this truth, how happy you will be if you put it into practice!   John 13:12-17 (TEV)

12  Then the disciples came to him and asked, “Do you realize you offended the Pharisees by what you just said?” 13  Jesus replied, “Every plant not planted by my heavenly Father will be uprooted, 14  so ignore them. They are blind guides leading the blind, and if one blind person guides another, they will both fall into a ditch.” 15  Then Peter said to Jesus, “Explain to us the parable that says people aren’t defiled by what they eat.” 16  “Don’t you understand yet?” Jesus asked. 17  “Anything you eat passes through the stomach and then goes into the sewer. 18  But the words you speak come from the heart—that’s what defiles you. 19  For from the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, all sexual immorality, theft, lying, and slander. 20  These are what defile you. Eating with unwashed hands will never defile you.”
Matthew 15:12-20 (NLT)

Today how can anyone deny the fact that some men of the church are in a state of moral ruin?  The careerism and the temptation to worldliness that the successor of which Peter speaks so often are very real evils.   Some people imagine that they are products of the pope’s imagination.  Alas , clerical narcissism is not just a literary theme. The sickness can be deep-seated.  
In order to turn the tide, we must first reform our interior life. The church depends on the purity of our souls.”  (1)

The quote in blue comes from a book, basically an enhanced interview with a Roman Catholic Cardinal from Africa.  His story is a remarkable blend of suffering and hope, of wisdom born from times of real persecution, and a desire to see Christ.  This is the story of a man who came from a village in the middle of nowhere, became a priest and bishop in a place where his predecessors were jailed and murdered.  His dependence on God was tried in a way we can’t quite imagine, here safe and comfortable in the USA.

His critique of leadership in his church is accurate, and perhaps even more accurate in the Protestant church, and in my comparatively little corner of the church universal known as the Lutheran Church Missouri Synod.  His presentation of where hope is found?  It is also I believe accurate.

If the church is spoken of as being immoral, most would assume we are talking about either sexual immorality or fiscal impropriety. I am not naive enough to deny that exists, but the Cardinal speaks of something just as devastating.  A sense of careerism, and a sense of clerical narcissism pervades the church today.

We see the results in the church, as parishes are closing, and others in steep decline.  Where men are not entering programs that lead to ordination. Some will blame these things on finances, others on the decline of births among sections of the population. Some will say the decline is because they don’t appear to have the right sense of mission, or the appearance of the church, how it looks and sounds is not up to an ideal.

This is a sickness, and it is not imaginary.  These attempts to fix it are attempts to clean up the appearance, to clean up the exterior, while the defiled nature is left intact. That is why a pastor or priest can easily fall into the sin of careerism, can quickly abandon the basin and towel and find the office and title, far away from the parish so appealing.  (though we might on occasion return to give somone else a break)

So where is the hope?  Cardinal Sarah pointed out these challenges given St Francis of Assisi and Pope Francis, and their focus on the interior life. To realize that the church does depend on the purity of souls.  Not pure by their own work, but by a interior life that is simply depending on Christ Jesus.

There in meditating on His work as we are united to Him in Baptism,; it begins the cleaning fo the inside.  There as we kneel and are given the body and blood in the Eucharist, we find ourselves being cleansed still.  There as we deal with our brokenness and confess it, as we hear God absolving us, we find that the old nature has been nailed to the cross.  That the old Adam was drowned in those baptismal waters, that we are free and able to die to self, to give our bodies over as living sacrifices.

This is where the church finds it hope.  Not in men who are pure by the sweat of their own brow, but by men who are broken, yet, who find themselves at the cross. Who are drawn to Jesus who is lifted up, and find themselves being healed, who realize that healing is needed by those around them.  The purity found in walking with Christ, in meditating on that which He has promised and accomplished.

The interior life is not something of our own making or sustained by our internal strength.  It is the work of poiema found in Eph. 210, the work of art created in our lives by Christ. That is where the church finds its hope, for in shepherds who are so broken, who are the chief of sinners, if in them we see God at work, then the church has hope. As in their own healing they begin to wash others feet, as in their healing they bring healing to others the hope is magnified.  The church then hears hope, It comes to know and share that hope with those who are around them.

Our church needs to be defibrillated, but that can only happen as hearts stone hearts are broken and removed, and hearts of flesh, filled with the Holy Sprit as God promised He would.

It is knowing the promise of God, the love and mercy we find as Christ is revealed, and depending on it, that we will find the hope for the church.  May its shepherds learn to cry out what they teach others to.cry out.  LORD HAVE MERCY!

(1)  God or Nothing   Robert Cardinal Sarah, Ignatius Press 2015  pg.100

Hope for the Church II: Do Our People….

Devotional Thought fo the Day:
15  After they had eaten, Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon son of John, do you love me more than these others do?” “Yes, Lord,” he answered, “you know that I love you.” Jesus said to him, “Take care of my lambs.” 16  A second time Jesus said to him, “Simon son of John, do you love me?” “Yes, Lord,” he answered, “you know that I love you.” Jesus said to him, “Take care of my sheep.” 17  A third time Jesus said, “Simon son of John, do you love me?” Peter became sad because Jesus asked him the third time, “Do you love me?” and so he said to him, “Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you!” Jesus said to him, “Take care of my sheep.   John 21:15-17 (TEV)

“Thy kingdom come.”
7 What does this mean?
Answer: To be sure, the kingdom of God comes of itself, without our prayer, but we pray in this petition that it may also come to us.
8 How is this done?
Answer: When the heavenly Father gives us his Holy Spirit so that by his grace we may believe his holy Word and live a godly life, both here in time and hereafter forever.  (1)

16 Ultimately, if we should list as sacraments all the things that have God’s command and a promise added to them, then why not prayer, which can most truly be called a sacrament? It has both the command of God and many promises. If it were placed among the sacraments and thus given, so to speak, a more exalted position, this would move men to pray. (2)

79      I will not stop repeating until it is deeply engraved in your soul: Piety, piety, piety! For if you lack charity it will be for want of interior life, not for any defect of character. (3)

There is a secret to ministry, A secret because it seems like we’ve forgotten it, not because someone has hidden it.  It is something Luther and Melancthon, Ignatius and Escriva all understood.

The necessity of prayer. The necessity of what is called “the interior life” or a devotional life.  Prayer not just as obligation, prayer not as a conversation between good friends (though that is part of it).  Prayer that actively turns over to God the things that are His, our very lives, and finds comfort and peace in the midst of it all.

But prayer is the kind of conversation that Jesus and Peter had on the beach, a time where we, broken, finally hear Jesus. It is then that we realize that He knows we love Him, that we realize He accepts us, and is transforming us, and is calling us to serve, even as we ourselves are being healed.

This is the piety that Escriva talks about, the piety that makes the difference, that teaches us to love, (to be charitable, to be grace-driven, not purpose driven) For as we realize the richness of God’s grace, of His love, of His presence, of His knowing we love Him; that love causes us to be devoted to Him, to adore Him.  (I think the old A.C.T.S. prayer model had it wrong, it should be Confession, Supplication, Thanksgiving, Adoration – for adoration flows out of the freedom given in that which precedes it!)

It is from that place of devotion, that place of adoring the God who welcomes Himself into out life, and walks with us, that ministry begins.  It is in knowing he accepts our love that our holiness and piety matures, a holiness and piety that sees the Kingdom of God established and revealed here, in our daily lives.

We do love Him, He accepts that love, because of the incredible dimensions of His love for us.

And realizing that changes everything in the church, including giving broken churches the hope we need to know…..

The Lord is with us!

AMEN!

 

(1)  Tappert, T. G. (Ed.). (1959). The Book of Concord the confessions of the Evangelical Lutheran Church. (p. 213). Philadelphia: Mühlenberg Press.  (The Small Catechism Article III:The Second Petition

(2) Tappert, T. G. (Ed.). (1959). The Book of Concord the confessions of the Evangelical Lutheran Church. (p. 346). Philadelphia: Mühlenberg Press. (Apology of the Augsburg Confession: Article XIII)

(3)  Escriva, Josemaria (2011-01-31). The Forge (Kindle Locations 495-497). Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition.

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