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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.

He Set You apart!

He Set You Apart!

Jeremiah 1:4-10

 In Jesus Name

 May you realize the grace of God our Father and our Lord Jesus Christ, who set you apart from before you were formed, who will have you share with others His love, and our need for it!

To the Nations

A few weeks ago, 6 of us had the blessing of picking up 24 youth who were all born in Eritrea.  Just curious, how many of you know where Eritrea is?

Last week, Pastor Bernie shared for a few moments about what happened in the Sudan, where he put stoles that our ladies made, on the shoulders of 16 newly ordained pastors, just as he had three years prior.

Yesterday, some of us went to a Himalayan restaurant in Artesia, and celebrated with a young lady and her family, as she prepares for a wedding next week.

Next week on our campus, our brothers and sisters in the second service will be celebrating Chinese New Year.

As I look out over our congregation or our preschool chapels, I see people from all over the world, from 5 continents.  And from even some very, very different places, like Lawrence, Massachusetts.

It is an amazing thing to think of, as we hear again, God’s word to Jeremiah

“I knew you before I formed you in your mother’s womb. Before you were born I set you apart and appointed you as my prophet to the nations.”

God’s words to Jeremiah, and to us.  Yes, to us.
The message

Jesus has done the same thing to us that He did to Jeremiah.  He set us apart with a purpose, to share a message with people from all of the world.  A message that we all need to hear, even as it has to tear some down, and lift others up.

What we call law and gospel in “Church language”.  That’s the message Jeremiah was given; it is the message Jesus died to reveal, it is what Peter and Paul and others claimed from the Middle East throughout all of Europe to Central Africa to India in one generation.
It is the same message that everyone needs to hear, no matter if they are 3 or 93, no matter their ethnicity or their culture.

It is a message that crushes those of us who think we are the only righteous folk around, revealing to us that we are sinners, and there is nothing we can do to repair what we’ve broken.  For that is what sin does.  It shatters relationships; it shatters family, it shatters us as individuals.

God’s law isn’t just about behaving properly; it is a way God designed for us to live in peace, to know we are loved.  And when we step outside the plans God has for us, it crushes us, as the things He warns us against come true.

One pastor put it this way, use the Law to afflict those comfortable in their sin, and those afflicted by their sin, comfort them with the good news.

The news every prophet, every pastor, every evangelist and every believer counts on and is chosen by God to embrace and share with others.

The news of the gospel.  That God loves us that He will heal our brokenness. That He will make our lives like new.  That our sin will be forgiven, that our the relationships will be reconciled.

This is the gospel that all need to hear, it is the reason we have hope.

God has made all of the creation, and all of us in it, with a purpose.  The purpose of living with him, as His children, as the people He loves.  He loves us so much that Christ died to make this possible.  TO heal our relationship with Him and with others, not just until the next time we destroy it, but for all of eternity.

That is why when we are saved when He cleanses us, there is no need to do so again.

But us?

Like most ministers, Jeremiah had a  problem with God trusting Jeremiah with the message.  We can find a million reasons why we shouldn’t have to share God’s message with our neighbors and family, never mind to the world.

But God has chosen us. He knows us as long as He knew Jeremiah, from since before we were born, from before we were conceived.

The message isn’t complicated, and as we realize it, the inclination to share it is automatic.  God is with you.  He loves you; He wants to comfort you and reconcile and heal that which is broken.

Don’t hold back, let Him do so…and rejoice!

AMEN!

God Knows His Plans For You, Are You Ready for The Hope They Bring?.

Featured imageDevotional Thought of the Day:

11  I alone know the plans I have for you, plans to bring you prosperity and not disaster, plans to bring about the future you hope for. 12  Then you will call to me. You will come and pray to me, and I will answer you. Jeremiah 29:11-12 (TEV)

545    Live a special Communion of the Saints, and at the moment of interior struggle, as well as during the long hours of your work, each of you will feel the joy and the strength of not being alone.  (1) 

The above quote from scripture (the red quote) is often used to lift people’s spirits,  It appears on cards and meme’s with beautiful sunrises and glorious backgrounds.  People share it with those they know need a spiritual boost, a holy “pick me up,” assurance.  jeremiah, the prophet of troubling messages assured us of a light at the end of the tunnel.  He promises, as God’s spokesman, that there is hope, and it is found in the presence of God.  The presence that we are believers dwell in, for we are His people!

He will hear our prayer, He has a plan, He has an answer, and all of that is true.

You might ask where the fine print is, and there is something in the context of this verse that you need to hear. Read this carefully,

7  Work for the good of the cities where I have made you go as prisoners. Pray to me on their behalf, because if they are prosperous, you will be prosperous too. Jeremiah 29:7 (TEV)

Read the verse again?  Do you realize that God is tieing the future of the Babylonians to the future of the Jewish people?  That God’s people are to pray for their enemies, their persecutors, that the future and hope of both Jews and Gentiles is linked?  That the people of God should work hard to benefit those who oppress them,

We are called to love our enemies, to pray for those who persecute.  That is what we do, as we trust in Jesus’ promise to us in the sermon on the Mount.  And it is nothing really new.  That kind of love Israel was supposed to show people back in the Old Testament.  It is very radical, it is not logical by man’s standards!  Yet in 1 Cor. 5 we are told that we don’t judge men by those standards, but by the value Jesus has placed on them. They will become part fo the Communion of Saints, the very people that will lift you up.

God has radical plans for you, plans that are beyond awesome.  Those plans include all He brings into His family, all He wants to bring into His family.  That includes those people, the ones you struggle to love.  The ones who take every bit of trust you have in God to deal with, and then some.

Pray for them, do everything you can to help them… trusting not in their response, but in God’s role in your life. You will be amazed at His plans, at the reconciliation and restoration he accomplishes!

(1)  Escriva, Josemaria (2010-11-02). The Way (Kindle Locations 1317-1319). Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition.

Being Missional is a Happy Thing!

Featured image

How can on not receive this bread and wine with joy? In the same way, how can one not share that joyous good news with others?

Devotional?Discussion Thought of the Day:

23  The LORD says, “The wise should not boast of their wisdom, nor the strong of their strength, nor the rich of their wealth. 24  If any want to boast, they should boast that they know and understand me, because my love is constant, and I do what is just and right. These are the things that please me. I, the LORD, have spoken.” Jeremiah 9:23-24 (TEV)

914      If your prayers, your sacrifices and your actions do not show a constant concern for the apostolate (2 see below for what the apostolate means), it is a sure sign that you are not happy, and that you have to be more faithful. Whoever possesses happiness, and the good, will always seek to give it to others.  (1)

When I first read the words in blue this morning, I was taken aback, stung by them.  I went through a cycle of emotions; first I denied that the words were true (or had an effect on me).  Then I moved on to anger, trying to justify myself by saying they were not trie. Then a brief battle with guilt and shame, as I know I am not always thinking about the mission, even when I am thinking about my ministry.

Once past that smaller rollercoaster of emotions, I started to meditate on these words, and on the Bible passage I earlier read from Jeremiah.  It is the one cited above talking about how our boasting should be that we know and understand God.  It is the same thought, for boasting about God is our mission, our apostolate.

We know His mercy, His love, we know His desire that we have a deep and abiding relationship with Him.  We know that our being in that relationship pleases Him.  We know he does this our of His Fatherly love for us.

How could knowing this not be that point where we know the joy, where we know happiness?  How could we know this and keep silent?  If we are knowing and understanding God and His love doesn’t result in our proclaiming it, we do need to trust Him more, we need to understand His blessings more.

This is not about being forced to be missional, to understand our apostolate. It’s not about being a good Christian or making sure we are checking off all the right boxes in spiritual growth.  Being so engaged in our apostolate, being missional is a sign of the joy that comes from knowing God’s love.  We trust God at promises that exceed anything we can know or experience on our own.  It is about walking hand in hand with God.

That is worth boasting about, that is worth rejoicing over, this God who loves us enough to come to us, cleanse us, and make us His own people.

So boast away my friends, in the love of God for you… and may many hear it, and come to rejoice with you!

Can God Re-Build a Church? Look at His Heart & His Track Record!

Devotional Thought of the Day:

  In the first year that Cyrus of Persia was emperor, the LORD made what he had said through the prophet Jeremiah come true. He prompted Cyrus to issue the following command and send it out in writing to be read aloud everywhere in his empire:  “This is the command of Cyrus, Emperor of Persia. The LORD, the God of Heaven, has made me ruler over the whole world and has given me the responsibility of building a temple for him in Jerusalem in Judah.  May God be with all of you who are his people. You are to go to Jerusalem and rebuild the Temple of the LORD, the God of Israel, the God who is worshiped in Jerusalem.  If any of his people in exile need help to return, their neighbors are to give them this help. They are to provide them with silver and gold, supplies and pack animals, as well as offerings to present in the Temple of God in Jerusalem.” Ezra 1:1-4 (TEV)

“Land of my fathers, how I long to return, to touch the thy earth, and find again they sacred paths, well walked with the Gospel of peace, veiled now in the shadow of mediocrity.  What means these stones, which beset they coastline, who in tristed in agaony cry out in praise and supplication of Him, and the renewal of the faith that bled to secure them there….Yet we would walk again Thy sacred paths, repair Thy ancient ruins, restore Thy Broken Altars, raise of the foundations of many generations….”  (1)

Since I watched a small church in Van Nuys close, the building sold away, the money given to more growing and “growing” churches, some might say I have an attitude problem.

Every time I hear of a church being written off, or the attitude that we can combine parishes, that we can leave churches in “maintenance mode”, until they whither and die I get a bit…. well pissed off is what I want to say, but know I should not.  Experts give up on churches that are more than 25 years old, they say they are in a death cycle, and quote statistics about churches that are 5 years old or younger being the source of most abult baptisms and growth.  We buy into these studies – and dismiss the lessons of scripture – we dismiss the times where God has taken things that have long been broken, or considered dead and/or impotent, and created life that is wondrous and beautiful and so outrageous we say with jaws dropped open….. WOW!

Think about..
Israel in captivity for 400 years plus – rebuilt into a powerful nation

Exra rebuilding the temple – at a unbeliever’s direction and underwriting

Ezekiel’s Valley of the Dry Bones, Jeremiah’s promises.

Hannah and Elizabeth and Sarah  – wombs that were old and dried up (that’s what scripture says)  Their men weren’t spring chickens either…

Though my wife and I aren’t in their age bracket – or in their physical deterioation – we are both within 366 days of being considered “senior citizens” by our community.  And we just found out we are expecting. That kind of shock makes you think.

Or renders you  incapable of thinking.

Gof has interesting plans in life… and life is what His plans are about.  Restoring it, Rebuilidng it, Cleansing it, with all His craftsmanship rendering it into a masterpiece that makes you jaws drop – more than a 48 year, 364 day old man trying to get his mind to consider he will be a dad again.

My point is, if God can do this – why would he want to let a congregation die, or fade off?  Why would he want where his name has been put, to be rendered impotent, the doors closed, the windows bordered up – the building sold and a starbucks or liqour store or antique store put in its place?

I don’t believe He does, it is not how He has worked.  He has brought us, His people, to the place where we can cry out to Him, and like those who have gone before testify to us – He always answers…. Rebuilding our congregations is about trusting Him, hearing Him, knowing His love for us and our community.

So let’s cry out Lord have mercy – and knowing His heart – let us see how He will rebuild our churches, His Church, through us!

 

(1)from Celtic Daily Prayer – Aidan Reading 2/10

Lessons about God re-learned from Candy Crush Saga

Devotional thought of the day….

14  So, when gentiles, not having the Law, still through their own innate sense behave as the Law commands, then, even though they have no Law, they are a law for themselves. 15  They can demonstrate the effect of the Law engraved on their hearts, to which their own conscience bears witness; since they are aware of various considerations, some of which accuse them, while others provide them with a defence . . . on the day when, 16  according to the gospel that I preach, God, through Jesus Christ, judges all human secrets. Romans 2:14-16 (NJB) 

35  Bless the Lord, all the Lord’s creation: praise and glorify him for ever!   Prayer of Azariah 1:35 (NJB)  *

 7  O LORD, you deceived me, and I was deceived; you overpowered me and prevailed. I am ridiculed all day long; everyone mocks me. Jeremiah 20:7 (NIV)

Sitting in the airport the other day, getting frustrated by playing a silly game on my phone, I recognized the same kinds of frustrations that I’ve been dealing with for a while in life.  As I got on the plane, I was reading a new book, recommended to me by a friend.  Written by a Catholic priest, it talked about the lessons of faith learned through watching Star Wars, and how to apply those to ministry.   Very well writtent this book, and so while taking it in, I thought of my frustrations and decided to write this blog.

So here are the things I’ve learned about God from playing this frustrating, addictive game.

1.  Achieving your goal may take some time!
Nothing in Candy Crust saga is impossible.  It just seems like it!  Eventually the little things will line up, you’ll get rid of the bombs and you will finish that level.  It may take you a week, or 30-40 trips to the bathroom (come on – be honest – you play Candy Crush there!).  You might put it down for a couple of days, you might even delete it off you tablet.  But the levels aren’t impossible.  Likewise, we will endure through the struggles in our lives.  Some may take longer to play out, some may be very very frustrating, some may cause us to want to drop out. The funny thing is, we get all excited to finish a level… only to take on… another level!
But we will endure them, and in fact, sometimes we will learn a lot more about life (or the game) because it takes so long!

2.  You aren’t God
How many times have you wanted to choose what colors fall next?  How many times have you gotten wanted to bargain with the processor, just drop me a blue candy there, and I will get you a new SD card, or a pretty new case!  Or gotten angry as that last bomb ticked off, and you had to start again?  There are times I wonder if my failues are deliberately caused by the computer – that they want me to fail.  Most of that anger is silly, but it shows me how much I want to be in control of the game… and of my life.
Sometimes, I’ll be honest – like in the game I want to play God.  Sometimes I am actually foolish enough to think I can do better, or that God is playing with me, like He did with Jeremiah, at least in Jeremiah’s mind (see Jeremiah 20 quote above…) But God isn’t the programmers of CCR.  He’s promised that He’s in charge, that He is our Master, that He has obligated Himself to do exactly that which is good for us.

3.  Mistakes are in the past!
So you failed 40 times at a level. Guess what!  When you hit play, all those failures are history, and they have no impact on the new game, or the new attempt to solve the problem.
Likewise in faith, when we hear 1 John 1:8- when we confess our sins, and trust God to forgive them and cleanse us of all unrighteousness, we start as new as the day we were born, and the day we were born again.  The sins we’ve committed are in the past, the failures are gone, and while they lurk in the shadows, they really can’t affect how we live today,   We might listen to them, we might learn from them, but the glory of the Ministry of Reconciliation that we’ve been given (see 2 Cor. 3-5) is that God’s work is complete.  He has forgiven us, He has cleansed us, and hit the play button again.

I could go on and on about this one… there are things about this game that so mirror the frustrations of life.  There are amazing things, when you think all is lost and a striped candy and a mirror ball show up next to each other with one move to go, and the day is miraculously saved.  But there is one thing for sure, and that will be my last point..

4.  The makers want your time.
I bet that the designers of CCS have an innate or learned knowledge.  They have a goal, expressed in how many minutes we maddle move little things around, trying to achieve our goal.  They want our time, because for them, it means $$$$.  God is neither so manipulative or so greedy for stuff that doesn’t matter.  But He wants our time as well. He wants to spend it with us, showing us His love, showing us His mercy, sharing with us He re-creation of the world, because the blood of Christ was spilled on the cross.  He wants your time, because He loves you, because that’s what this life is all about.  The people of God, and those who have yet to realize that He loves them but will.  Gathered together in His arms, cared for and loved.

As incomplete this silly little game is, that last point, in their brokenness and ours, says it all.  For they realize how precious our time is….and want it.  Not as much as He does, and not for the same reason.

Maybe.. we can spend some more of it with the Lord who loves us, and takes care of our failures, and walks with us through the levels of life.

They Weren’t Supposed to be the Heroes….except in God’s mind.

Discussion/Devotional thoughts of the Day…

 20  Who in the world do you think you are to second-guess God? Do you for one moment suppose any of us knows enough to call God into question? Clay doesn’t talk back to the fingers that mold it, saying, “Why did you shape me like this?” 21  Isn’t it obvious that a potter has a perfect right to shape one lump of clay into a vase for holding flowers and another into a pot for cooking beans? 22  If God needs one style of pottery especially designed to show his angry displeasure 23  and another style carefully crafted to show his glorious goodness, isn’t that all right? 24  Either or both happens to Jews, but it also happens to the other people. 25  Hosea put it well: I’ll call nobodies and make them somebodies; I’ll call the unloved and make them beloved. 26  In the place where they yelled out, “You’re nobody!” they’re calling you “God’s living children.” 27  Isaiah maintained this same emphasis: If each grain of sand on the seashore were numbered and the sum labeled “chosen of God,” They’d be numbers still, not names; salvation comes by (God’s) personal selection. 28  God doesn’t count us; he calls us by name. Arithmetic is not his focus.    Romans 9:20-28 (MSG)

They appear in some of my favorite books an movies, Bilbo Baggins, (not to mention his nephew Frodo), Thomas Covenant, Nicholas Seafort, the apprentices Pug and Thomas and Jimmy the Hand. Arthur Dent…..the quarterback in Longest Yard, the general in “the Last Castle”.

Bag End, as used in the Lord of the Rings films.

Bag End, as used in the Lord of the Rings films. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

It is, I suppose, a special genre…. that of the Anti-hero.  The ones who succeed despite themselves, matter of fact it is their weakness, and their mistakes, that endear them to us… and because of which, they find success.

But they are also my favorite people in scripture, REAL PEOPLE – like Gideon, Samuel, David, Jeremiah, Hosea and of course, the last person anyone would have thought would have been a hero (except maybe in his own mind) – the apostle Peter. They too are the people that were not considered the brilliant, the connected, the famous, the wealthy and powerful.  Yet God used them, incredibly, as He formed them, empowered and equipped them to do what others could not do.

And everyone is surprised… as if God can’t work through the means He chooses.

Which brings me to you and I.

We are God’s artwork, His masterpiece (see Ephesians 2:10)  We may not be much (or some of us, like Peter and I – often – too much!) but God uses us, and uses us to do extraordinary things.  It may be what we accomplish, it may be what we endure.  It may simply be the example of trying to cling to God’s hand with our last remaining bit of strength – then realizing we are safely nestled in the palm of His other hand.  It could be that we are the forefront of a major revival – one where the church is reformed because we were the remnant not to surrender to dreams of past glory, or the machinations to create a future one.

We don’t know – we cannot… we can only trust in God… we can only walk with Him, dance with Him, be cleansed and strengthened by Him…loved by Him.

That is the time – when He receives glory, for the like the cornerstone which the builders rejected – we are found to be an essential block (in my case blockhead) in His building the New Sanctuary… the Body of Christ, those who have been brought to trust in Him, and cleansed by Him.

We are His people – we are His clay…

and He is at work in and through our lives.  AMEN

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