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Measuring a Church’s (and Its Pastor’s) Effectiveness

20170124_103703Devotional Thought of the Day:

41 Many more Samaritans put their faith in Jesus because of what they heard him say. 42 They told the woman, “We no longer have faith in Jesus just because of what you told us. We have heard him ourselves, and we are certain that he is the Savior of the world!” John 4:41–42 (CEV) — 

1. Liturgy is for all. It must be “catholic”, i.e., communicable to all the faithful without distinction of place, origin and education. Thus it must be “simple”. But that is not the same as being cheap. There is a banal simplism, and there is the simplicity which is the expression of maturity. It is this second, true simplicity which applies in the Church

I often hear church leaders talking about how effective a church is, and I hear some trying to measure churches to determine whether this church is viable, whether it is still worth the “investment” of talent and treasure made in it over the years.

A lot of these studies are based on numerical analysis – has the church grown, have their offerings been stable, what kind of turnover has occurred among staff and other leadership. Consultants will come in and do surveys for larger churches and denominations.  They, in turn, pass this information on to smaller churches, which but into the theories and lose morale, and eventually close. (That larger churches often benefit statistically from this is another story)

After all, numbers are important, and statistics tell a story that might be hard to refute without knowing the true story of the faithful. In fact, we often do not hear the stories, because the statistics seem so conclusive.

No one would have believed that a church community would have been viable in a remote Samaritan Village. Never mind that the person that got the ball rolling would have been a woman with a past. No one except Jesus.

But look at the statement they make to her!  They had moved from believing in God because she had told them, to believe in God because they had experienced Him. What an amazing statement this is!  One that every pastor should desire to hear! To know our people are experiencing the incredible, immeasurable love of Christ  – not just hearing about it second hand!

I am not saying they go past needing the guidance of spiritual shepherds and prophets, that is part of our role, but they resonate with the teachings of Christ – they realize that God is speaking to them, especially during sacramental times, or when God is silent. Or they recognize that it is the Holy Spirit convicting them of sin, and comforting them as the Spirit cleanses and heals them.

This level of maturity makes a huge difference in a church. And it will see the church do things that go beyond logic, as they serve those around them. People will care, (and struggle when care is difficult) they will give beyond what is reasonable, they will be there when no one else would.

So how does a pastor do this?  I think Pope Benedict wrote about it well. To present the gospel in a simple yet mature way. To not cheapen the masses, worship services, and Bible Studies that we give. Rather  – we need to make them communicate the incredible love that God has for His people – so that they know it – so that they experience it, so that worship is full of the joy that comes, even in the midst of trauma and lament.

The more they know, the more they experience, the more mature they get, the more they can echo what the lady was told  – “we are certain that He is the Savior of the World.

Therefore… out savior.

If our people know this, then we’ve done our job… and the work of the Holy Spirit through us has been effective.

Let us rejoice when we see God working hits way through our churches.  And may e find a way to support it, whether it is 25 people working together in Southgate or 150 in Cerritos, or 5000 in some other place.

AMEN!

Joseph Ratzinger, The Feast of Faith: Approaches to a Theology of the Liturgy, trans. Graham Harrison (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1986), 122.

Is there anything on earth…like heaven?

10649504_10152396630845878_3341349315020260479_nDevotional Thought fo the Day:

“What God has planned for people who love him is more than eyes have seen or ears have heard. It has never even entered our minds!”  1 Cor. 2:9 CEV

When Gideon looked, the angel was gone. 22 Gideon realized that he had seen one of the LORD’s angels. “Oh!” he moaned. “Now I’m going to die.”  “Calm down!” the LORD told Gideon. “There’s nothing to be afraid of. You’re not going to die.” Gideon built an altar for worshiping the LORD and called it “The LORD Calms Our Fears.”  Judges 6:21-24 CEV

Even the atheistic philosopher Jean-Paul Sartre said, “There comes a time when you say even of Shakespeare, even of Beethoven, ‘Is that all there is?’ ” How can we understand anything of Heaven if there is nothing at all on earth to compare it to, nothing heavenly, nothing that never gets boring? Thus either Heaven is boring, or something on earth is not boring, or nothing on earth is like Heaven.
There are two parts to the answer: first, that everything on earth except agape is meant to be boring; and second, that agape is not.

So let us take up this problem: genuine art is “esoteric in the best sense”, say Rahner and Vorgrimler; liturgy is simple; it must be possible for everyone, particularly the simple, to participate. Can liturgy accommodate real church music? Does it in fact demand it, or does it exclude it? In looking for an answer to these questions, we will not find much help in our theological inheritance. It seems that relations between theology and church music have always been somewhat cool.

As I read Kreeft’s words in scripture today, I was amazed by their accuracy. We don’t understand heaven, we can’t conceive of it, even as the Apostle Paul says in the first quote.

I remember a professor quoting one of the early revivalists who said if he could give people a minute of hell, he would never have to convince them to repent.  My sarcastic comment was, “but what if we could give them a glance of heaven?”

Sarcastically said then, but I’ve thought of the wisdom of it – how can we give people a taste of heaven?  How can we help them know the joys of which we should sing?  That which is “beyond” theology, that which defies our explanation?

How can we show them the holiness, the glory, the pure love that we will experience in heaven? How can we help them experience love beyond love, as radical as the day is from the darkest, stormiest night?

The church’s liturgy aims to do so, revealing the love of God as we celebrate our forgiveness, the Lord dwelling among us, the actions He takes to bless and transform us into His holy people, and the feast of the broken bread and the wine, the Body and Blood of Jesus. The feast that celebrates the love, the feast that opens, for a few moments, a view for our souls of heaven.

I love the story of Gideon, especially the verses above. Here he is, somehow missing the miracles the Angel did, then realizing afterward the significance of being in the presence of a holy messenger.  He starts to freak out, the anxiety builds as he realizes his own sin and inadequacy. His glimpse of something holy, someone from heaven, causes enormous fear.

Then the Lord God tells him to chill.

Wait – where was he?

God does speak to us still, just as He did to Gideon.  One of the ways that should happen is in our church’s gathering.  Even as we receive the message we will struggle with, that kills oof our sinful self, and raises us to life with the crucified Christ.  Even as we struggle with that, the Lord comes to us in His feast and tells us, don’t fear, I am with you…

That is why we have a dilemma about the art of leading liturgy and the art of leading songs and hymns that accompany it. The use of the term “art” makes us think it is a showcase for the best o our talents. It isn’t!

What the art is, is not found in the musician’s talent, or the pastor, in the charisma. It is found in the communion, the communication of revealing to people they dwell in the presence of God, and helping them to hear His voice. Therein is the art, there is our target, the goal we strive for, there is our art.

There is our joy as well, for the connection is undeniable, and beautiful beyond words, as people come to know they are loved… as they feast with the Lord, knowing the joy that only comes from knowing you are loved.

Peter Kreeft, The God Who Loves You (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 2004), 88.

Joseph Ratzinger, The Feast of Faith: Approaches to a Theology of the Liturgy, trans. Graham Harrison (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1986), 100.

Does Worship/Liturgy have to change? The Question Isn’t “if” but “why!”

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERADevotional 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.

Only one.

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.

Finding Strength for Tired Believers

church at communion 2Devotional Thought of the Day:
16  We never give up. Our bodies are gradually dying, but we ourselves are being made stronger each day. 17  These little troubles are getting us ready for an eternal glory that will make all our troubles seem like nothing. 18  Things that are seen don’t last forever, but things that are not seen are eternal. That’s why we keep our minds on the things that cannot be seen.   2 Corinthians 4:16-18 (CEV)

Anxious to serve his Master, he finds his strength unequal to his zeal: his constant cry is, “Help me to serve thee, O my God.” If he be thoroughly active, he will have much labour; not too much for his will, but more than enough for his power, so that he will cry out, “I am not wearied of the labour, but I am wearied in it.”

There are days when every pastor, every worship leader, every elder and layperson that serves and attends church are tired.  Sometimes we let that tiredness turn to exhaustion and without a sabbath, we will burn out, and crash and burn.

Our friends and family may witness it… they may be victims of it!

We want to do good, we have a burning need to serve the people of God, to make a difference in their life, by revealing the love of God. Work, that if we are tired, may seem futile, like we aren’t impacting people’s lives, that they are not growing in their dependence on Jesus.  When they walk away or need the same lesson for thirty-fifth time, or look to other sources,

The dissonance that Spurgeon mentions is an incredible reality.

The way he describes the cry of despair deeply resonates with me.

I am not weary of the work, I love it, I need it.  But doing it can devour our energy, our strength, our hope… and sometimes, we get confused by our exhaustion, and its cause.

To those of us in this situation, carefully reading Paul’s words to a tired church helps.

The strength he describes despite our tiredness.  In fact, it may require our being tired, lacking the energy of our own, and dependent on God to simply keep going. Paul directs us not to put one more step in front of the other, but rather to look to Jesus.  To look to the point He guarantees the rest that comes from when we enter the presence of the Father.

With eyes fixed on Christ, the burdens don’t disappear, the discomfort and weariness still are there, and yet, somehow, their impact on us lessens. and the blessings of seeing God at work is magnified. For those things we see Him doing become the blessing we so need.

It is then we find that kneeling at the altar, in prayer, and in receiving the Body and Blood of Jesus becomes so amazing, and those moments, the greatest moments of peace, of rest, or restoration.

So contrary to the normal thought, the idea of rest found away from the ministry.  Rather, rest is found in the ministry.  Not in the meetings, or the casting of vision.  Not in the administration of programs and in training, comforting and disciplining people.

But in the gathering of God’s people into His presence, to be assured of His love, and His presence. He heals and nurtures us, as He declares we are His, and then proceeds to prove that we are righteous, as the Holy Spirit cleanses and transforms us into the very image of Jesus. Showing us the love we cannot explain, can only experience as we plunge its immeasurable dimensions.

That’s where we find the tiredness of being on this mission field evaporate, leaving us with the mission we will never tire of.

Find rest my friends, at the altar, in the prayers, and in the Body and Blood broken and shed for you and I.  AMEN!

C. H. Spurgeon, Morning and Evening: Daily Readings (London: Passmore & Alabaster, 1896).

What Should Make Christianity…. different?

20170124_103703Devotional Thought of the Day:

I tell you that this poor widow has put in more than all the others. 44 Everyone else gave what they didn’t need. But she is very poor and gave everything she had. Now she doesn’t have a cent to live on.  Mark 12:43-44 CEV

By the words “to save” we understand the whole of the great work of salvation, from the first holy desire onward to complete sanctification. The words are multum in parro: indeed, here is all mercy in one word. Christ is not only “mighty to save” those who repent, but he is able to make men repent. He will carry those to heaven who believe; but he is, moreover, mighty to give men new hearts and to work faith in them. He is mighty to make the man who hates holiness love it, and to constrain the despiser of his name to bend the knee before him. Nay, this is not all the meaning, for the divine power is equally seen in the after-work. The life of a believer is a series of miracles wrought by “the Mighty God.”

The pagan knew the fact that our hearts are restless, but he did not know the reason. Christianity supplies the reason, the key to the lock, the answer to the puzzle pondered by the great philosophers Socrates, Plato, Aristotle, Cicero, even by Qoheleth in the book of Ecclesiastes. All these thinkers believed in a God, but they were not happy because they did not know God was love. Socrates worshipped the unknown God whom he would not name and knew he did not know. Plato’s God was impersonal truth and goodness. Aristotle’s God was a cosmic first mover who could be known and loved but who did not know or love us. Cicero’s God was only a vague object of “piety”. And the God of Ecclesiastes sat unmoving and unknown in Heaven while man’s life on earth remained “vanity of vanities, all is vanity”

172 Augustine says very clearly, “All the commandments of God are kept when what is not kept is forgiven.”1 Therefore even in good works he requires our faith that for Christ’s sake we please God and that the works in themselves do not have the value to please God.
173 Against the Pelagians, Jerome writes, “We are righteous, therefore, when we confess that we are sinners; and our righteousness does not consist in our own merit, but in God’s mercy.”

The novel Christian reality is this: Christ’s Resurrection enables man genuinely to rejoice. All history until Christ has been a fruitless search for this joy. That is why the Christian liturgy—Eucharist—is, of its essence, the Feast of the Resurrection, Mysterium Paschae. As such it bears within it the mystery of the Cross, which is the inner presupposition of the Resurrection.

This morning I came across some very powerful quotes in my reading.  I love them, whether it is from a soon to be pope (Ratzinger), an incredible philosopher (Kreeft), a group of rebels (the early Lutherans), or a British pastor who was perhaps, the first mega-church pastor.

They all point to one thing, the fact that Christianity is different. Philosophers tried to point to him, but they couldn’t understand God. That the Eucharist does, more clearly perhaps than anything else, for we encounter and experience Jesus there.  In the mercy of God which makes our broken lives perfect as God grants to us repentance and sanctification – as He completely saves us.

What an incredible concept, this salvation.

But do we really comprehend this blessing, this gift?

I do not think we do, at least not always.

How about this explanation.  We (the church) are like children at Christmas, more interested in playing with the box our present came in than actually enjoying the present.

Salvation, the complete work of God is so large a gift, we cannot understand it. But we can experience it, and it does more than change us. Jesus does more than give us life, He is that life. That is what makes Christianity different, it is the religion that is more than a relationship, for a relationship cannot begin to express what living in Christ is like.

The old lady with the two pennies experienced it. She wasn’t impressed with the box, she simply enjoyed walking with God, and gave what she had that others would as well.

We don’t even know her name, and she could care less.

She was with God, and among His people, as broken, as misdirected, as….unfocused on what she knew and responded to…

May we be more like her….. and enjoy living in Christ, as the children the Father loves.

C. H. Spurgeon, Morning and Evening: Daily Readings (London: Passmore & Alabaster, 1896).

Peter Kreeft, The God Who Loves You (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 2004), 39–40.

Theodore G. Tappert, ed., The Book of Concord the Confessions of the Evangelical Lutheran Church. (Philadelphia: Mühlenberg Press, 1959), 130–131.

Joseph Ratzinger, The Feast of Faith: Approaches to a Theology of the Liturgy, trans. Graham Harrison (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1986), 65.

The context of the bad news, makes the good news so much sweeter…

Good News Bible
Devotional Thought fo the Day

18  Where is another God like you, who pardons the guilt of the remnant, overlooking the sins of his special people? You will not stay angry with your people forever, because you delight in showing unfailing love. 19  Once again you will have compassion on us. You will trample our sins under your feet and throw them into the depths of the ocean!20  You will show us your faithfulness and unfailing love as you promised to our ancestors Abraham and Jacob long ago. Micah 7:18-20 (NLT2)

The text (Joel 2:13) commands us to rend our hearts, but they are naturally hard as marble: how, then, can this be done? We must take them to Calvary: a dying Saviour’s voice rent the rocks once, and it is as powerful now. O blessed Spirit, let us hear the death-cries of Jesus, and our hearts shall be rent even as men rend their vestures in the day of lamentation.

I hate watching hospital shows, whether it is E.R. in the old days, or Gray’s Anatomy or any of the clones today. I actually thought I found one I liked, the ads said the guy did medicine the right way, and I have to admit, it was interesting the first couple of shows. I thought it might be a nicer version of “House.”

But as with all of them, they eventually get to the episode featuring the patient with Marphans, and it gets too personal.

Back in the ’90s, I had a cardiac arrest and had to have CPR performed n me for 15 minutes, then resuscitated 5 times with a defibrillator.  And though I have no memory of when they said clear and shocked me, my body still feels it when I hear those words on a television show.

It is painful to face my own mortality again.

And yet, that same pain renders me thankful for the lady who performed CPR, and for the paramedics and doctors who shocked me back to life.

As I’ve talked to others like me, there is often a different outlook on life. Because we’ve experienced death because we know how fragile life is, life is different.

Spurgeon understands this spiritually, in order for us to grieve over sin, we need to take it ot the cross, to look on the body that was beaten, pierced, and hung on a cross. We need to understand of all those executed in history, Jesus could have stopped the entire charade and made it right. We need to hear the words of Jesus on the cross and realize His entire life was aimed at this very moment.

He chose not to.

He chose to die that you and I could know the wonder that amazes Hosea. The amazement that God overlooks our sins, the compassion that causes Him to be faithful to promises made centuries ago, but to keep those promises for you and me.

I wonder if we can ever appreciate that sacrifice unless we see it in face of our grievous sins. Can we truly appreciate that love, unless we come face to face with our jealousy, our gossip, our desire for the things of others, or our lust, or desire for revenge?  Or simply our desire to play God, and create idols of our own choosing?

You see that in Acts 2, when the people who thought they were good, who thought they were God’s people (and were) realized that they had killed the Messiah. You see it in Paul’s encounter on the road, in the myriad of stories where people encounter Jesus or the apostles, and realize how far they have fallen, and then are picked up, dusted off, and the prodigal is no longer the prodigal, they are a son of God.

You need to realize what you were, not grieve over it, but to rejoice in what God is doing to us, and to look forward to the day when that work is complete.

Rejoice, your sins, which were as dark as night, causing you to decay like a corpse, those sins are forgiven because of the death of Christ.  And because He is risen, so have you.

Rejoice my friends, rejoice.


C. H. Spurgeon, Morning and Evening: Daily Readings (London: Passmore & Alabaster, 1896).

To the Church: Stop trying to be experts in justification!

Devotional Thought of the Day:

If the LORD does not build the house, the work of the builders is useless; if the LORD does not protect the city, it is useless for the sentries to stand guard. Ps. 127:1 GNT

456    To criticize, to destroy, is not difficult; the clumsiest laborer knows how to drive his pick into the noble and finely-hewn stone of a cathedral. To construct—that is what requires the skill of a master.

It seems the church, mirroring the culture, has grown to use to using a pick or a sledge hammer to destroy each other, and the impact is that this destroys our churches.

All I had to do is look at Facebook or Twitter and I see people tearing at the heart and souls of others. It gets tiring, and to be honest I am often tempted to unfriend or unfollow those whose lives are so focused on destroying others.

But to deny this exists, to deny my friends and often my family (and myself) can engage in this type of destructive behaviour, doesn’t do anything about it. Neither often does direct confrontation, for most of us are experts in self-justification.

The problem is that justification is not a skill that we have. For true justification doesn’t tear down over there to build up over here. Justification is not relative, being more just/righteous than those people over there doesn’t mean we are just and righteous.

We need, desperately need to stop making justification or the determination of justification our job. (Even a pastor/priest can declare someone just by the command by declaring Christ’s words) We don’t have the right to sit in judgment over people, condemning them because they don’t meet our warped standard of what is righteous and just.

We do have the ability and the responsibility to urge them to be reconciled to God. We can tell them that He will declared them just and righteous. That He will forgive their sins and heal them of all brokenness living in this world can cause.

We have to remember it is God that justifies, that this is His role as God, His justification is the way He builds His church. He does the building, He does the justification, otherwise it is useless, and vain.

We can thank Him and praise Him for doing so! Meditate upon how great His declaring you just and righteous and how frequently you need this gift in your life. Praise Him, instead of justifying yourself at others expense, help them to know that they too are those God longs to justify, that God longs to reform them, and share with them Him glory.

Rejoice and relax, God has got this justification business down, and his motivation to do so is most compelling, He does it because loves us.

(which is a lot better than doing it from fear)


Escriva, Josemaria. The Way (Kindle Locations 1115-1118). Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition.

Friend or Lord, Thunder or Whisper, Which God will I hear?

Devotional Thought for the Day:

3  The voice of the LORD is heard on the seas; the glorious God thunders, and his voice echoes over the ocean. 4  The voice of the LORD is heard in all its might and majesty. 5  The voice of the LORD breaks the cedars, even the cedars of Lebanon. 6  He makes the mountains of Lebanon jump like calves and makes Mount Hermon leap like a young bull. 7  The voice of the LORD makes the lightning flash. 8  His voice makes the desert shake; he shakes the desert of Kadesh. Psalm 29:3-8 (TEV)

11  “Go out and stand before me on top of the mountain,” the LORD said to him. Then the LORD passed by and sent a furious wind that split the hills and shattered the rocks—but the LORD was not in the wind. The wind stopped blowing, and then there was an earthquake—but the LORD was not in the earthquake. 12  After the earthquake there was a fire—but the LORD was not in the fire. And after the fire there was the soft whisper of a voice. 13  When Elijah heard it, he covered his face with his cloak and went out and stood at the entrance of the cave. A voice said to him, “Elijah, what are you doing here?1 Kings 19:11-13 (TEV)

The heart is like a home. There are houses that are open because they are at peace; they are welcoming because they have warmth. They are “not so tidy” as to make people afraid even to sit down neither so untidy as to become an embarrassment. The same goes for the heart: the heart that has room for the Lord also has space for others.

I look at the two Bible passages above, and they seem to contradict.

One reveals the Lord who is majestic, to whom all honor and glory is given. The God we are in awe, and if realistic, we should fear. The God who speaks commands and things become reality, where there was no reality.

The other reveals God who is our friend, the God who comforts the broken, who brings healing to them, who will wipe away every tear from our eyes. The God who we are in awe of, because He comes to us, invading our lives with His compassion and mercy. This is our Friend, our Abba, Father.

It is the same God, not two different gods. Not the first is the Old Testament God, the second the New. This isn’t a description of Father in the first paragraph, and the second describes Jesus. Both descriptions equally describe the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.

So which God will I encounter?

This may sound odd, or perhaps awkward, but it doesn’t really matter. You can’t control which, and the response should be the same.

Yes, you read that correctly, the response to God is the same, whether He comes as your King, the Father who disciplines you, or your Deliverer, or your Comforter.

In each case, the initial response of awe should come naturally. But what happens next? How will we hear Him? Will we shudder and cower in fear? Will we embrace Him? Will we pour out our pain, and let Him begin to wash our feet? Will we adore Him, will we immediately enter into worship?

We cannot know, but we should have this happen. We should move from awe to gratitude. We should become grateful we find ourselves in His presence. For whether He comes in majesty, or comes as the suffering servant, He is here. He has come to dwell with us, to make our lives His home. And like the church that weeps and laughs and loves in Romans 12, He does all those things in our lives in resonance with us, being the God we need, even desperately need.

The Lord is with you.. and He loves you..

Rejoice and be glad, you are no longer alone…

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), 312.

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.

Faith conquers our sin…

Devotional Thought for the Day:

23 But I see a different law at work in my body—a law that fights against the law which my mind approves of. It makes me a prisoner to the law of sin which is at work in my body. 24 What an unhappy man I am! Who will rescue me from this body that is taking me to death? 25 Thanks be to God, who does this through our Lord Jesus Christ! Romans 7:23-25 GNT

We, on the other hand, teach and comfort an afflicted sinner this way, and we console the afflicted sinner: “Friend, it is impossible for you to become so righteous in this life that your body is as clear and spotless as the sun. You still have spots and wrinkles (Eph 5:27); nevertheless, you are holy.” You, however, say, “How can I be holy, when I have sin and I perceive it?” “It is good that you perceive and recognize sin. Give thanks to God, and do not despair. It is one step toward health when a sick person recognizes and admits the disease.” “But how will I be liberated from sin?” “Run to Christ, the Doctor, who heals the contrite of heart and saves sinners. Believe in him. If you believe, you are righteous, because you give glory to God that God is omnipotent, merciful, truthful, etc. You justify and praise God. In sum, you attribute divinity and all things to God. The sin that still remains in you is not imputed to you but pardoned for the sake of Christ, in whom you believe and who is perfectly righteous in a formal sense. His righteousness is yours; your sin is his.”

Faith is likewise a Yes to God in Jesus Christ, who looks upon me, makes me open, and enables me ultimately to entrust myself to him. Faith penetrates to what is most personal and most interior in me and, in doing so, responds to the Person of Jesus Christ, who calls me by name.

Sin is a serious issue.

The brokenness it causes is even far more serious. It shatters individuals, friendships, marriages, churches, communities.

It rages like a forest fire, and it often seems we are helpless ot do anything about it. We struggle to confront it in our own lives, and we are afraid to deal with it in others.

Rather than do so, we compromise, and settle for the brokenness, even embracing it, for the cost seems to high. Except the cost of NOT dealing with it is higher.

Paul demonstrates that in his plea to be rescued from death, a cry of hope that brings him to the only hope. We have to let Christ deal with it. We have to let the Holy Spirit cut us open, and the mercy of God penetrate to the most personal, intimate, secluded places where the brokenness has taken root.

As the Holy Spirit uproots the brokenness, He plants faith, the ability to entrust ourselves to Jesus, and to grow in our dependence on His work, trusting Him to pardon us, to declare that we are righteous and belong in the presence of God the Father.

Even though the struggle goes on, even if the struggle is magnified by our realizing how deep our sin and rebellion is buried, that very realization is proof of God’s work, unearthing it so He can heal us.

Healing is painful, coming face to face with the pain we thought we had buried, that we had gotten past, burying it deeply within. Yet that pain needs to be truly dealt with, by the only one who can. God.

And He has at the cross, and as you were baptised, and every day of your life, as the Holy Spirit cleanses us deeply, comforting us, healing us, making us the Holy people of God, the children He has call to dwell in His presence. AMEN!

Luther, M. (2007). Luther’s Spirituality. (P. D. W. Krey, B. McGinn, & P. D. S. Krey, Eds., P. D. S. Krey & P. D. W. Krey, Trans.) (p. 168). New York; Mahwah, NJ: Paulist Press.

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. 214). San Francisco: Ignatius Press.

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