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The True Evangelical Life…

Devotional Thought of the Day:

26 Moses knew that the treasures of Egypt were not as wonderful as what he would receive from suffering for the Messiah, and he looked forward to his reward. Hebrews 11:26 CEV

Putting the saint’s observation in simple contemporary terms may help. Bernard was saying that there are more men who give up serious alienation from God, mortal sin, than there are people who give up small wrongs, willed venial sins. And there are even fewer who grow into heroic virtue and live as saints live. If we are not saddened by this realization, we ought to be.

1 The law of God serves (1) not only to maintain external discipline and decency against dissolute and disobedient people, (2) and to bring people to a knowledge of their sin through the law, (3) but those who have been born anew through the Holy Spirit, who have been converted to the Lord and from whom the veil of Moses has been taken away, learn from the law to7 live and walk in the law.

I love to tell the story, for those who know it best; seem hungering and thirsting to hear it like the rest!

Being and Evangelical should not be about a political perspective, To be honest, it shouldn’t even be a theological perspective, as in choosing to be more Reformed, more Arminian, even more Lutheran or Catholic, or catholic.

Being Evangelical is about life, and about our greatest need in life. After reading Dubay’s comments (purple) above, Jackson’s beloved evangelical hymn made more sense to me. I need to keep hearing the gospel, not to celebrate what Jesus has done, but in order to continually be evangelized, to continually be confronted with my guilt, not so I wallow in shame, but because I need the grace of God to be applied to my life today, in this moment.

I need to go from rejoicing and being satisfied that the cross saved me, to imitating Christ. Some might call this sainthood, Wesley would talk about a second infilling of grace. Lutheran theologians talk about it as the Third use of the Law. I prefer Luther’s view of living in the promises made to us in our baptism. Or living the Evangelical life. Letting the news of God’s love, of His mercy being applied and washing away our sin so affect us, that our lives are changed. Not by our actions, but by the power of the Holy Spirit.

We need to realize that God’s work isn’t done in us, yet. Paul would describe this in several ways in Romans. The battle with old Adam, the struggle with feeling like a wretch because we can’t seem to conquer temptation, even the attitude of some that others must eat the way they do, and worship n the way they do, because they’ve arrived and everyone else has not.

We can’t be passive in our conversion, as if just being saved is enough. Not that we active make ourselves holy, the Spirit does, as the word of God, law and gospel bring us healing. We need to learn to desire that, to rejoice in it, to welcome it, and more than anything else, to expect and look for it.

To become like Moses, who would learn to set aside the things of this world, to embrace the suffering that comes with following God. The suffering of having our hearts circumcised, as sin and its cohorts are cut away. Suffering as we share this incredible joy that is affecting our life with others.

That is what the evangelical life is really about…

Lord, help us to hear anew of Your love and mercy daily, and grant that we would never tire of seeing You at work in our lives… AMEN!

Thomas Dubay, Deep Conversion/Deep Prayer (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 2006), 12.

Theodore G. Tappert, ed., The Book of Concord the Confessions of the Evangelical Lutheran Church. (Philadelphia: Mühlenberg Press, 1959), 563–564.

Alan Jackson, “I Love to Tell the Story”

Heavy Burdened for a While? Please consider this!

20170124_103703Devotional Thought of the Day:
These tents we now live in are like a heavy burden, and we groan. But we don’t do this just because we want to leave these bodies that will die. It is because we want to change them for bodies that will never die. 5 God is the one who makes all of this possible. He has given us his Spirit to make us certain that he will do it. 6 So always be cheerful!  2 Cor. 5:4-6

Full of burning affection he toiled, like Jacob for Rachel, until the whole of her purchase-money had been paid, and now, having sought her by his Spirit, and brought her to know and love him, he awaits the glorious hour when their mutual bliss shall be consummated at the marriage-supper of the Lamb.

Of all the people in scripture, I pity, I don’t think anyone deserves it more than Leah. She who was the first wife of Jacob, the sister of Rachel. I thought of her as I read Spurgeon’s words this morning. She didn’t have someone “full of burning affection” for her, she had someone whose marriage to her was like a duty.  He did it, gave her sons (lots of them), but there was no passion, no desire.

There are days I do not just pity here, I resonate with her.  I wonder if God treats me the way Jacob treated Leah. He loves and desires the rest of you, but the cost of that is fulfilling his duty and saving me so that He can bring His true love, YOU, home.

I know the feeling isn’t valid, but it is still there. Using the wedding analogy, you all have your reception at some posh Bel-Air hotel, and I get drive-through at Burger King.  I am still glad to be provided for, I am glad to be in the household, yet am I a second class citizen?

I think this is just weariness from the burden that Paul describes to the church in Corinth. We want to give up theses second class bodies, this life that isn’t really living. This being Leah. We want the first-class life, the real living, knowing that we aren’t just loved, but really loved.

And in this part of life, the weariness gets to us, the burden of brokenness challenges our hearts and minds. We begin to think we are second class, that we belong in the background, that even in heaven, we will be given the “nose-bleed” seats. (Maybe this is why the back rows of churches are so popular?)

It is hard to realize we are viewed more like Rachel than Leah. It is hard to believe God could love billions of people, including us, with that same level of passion. That there aren’t 999,999,999,999 people in front of us for God to care for, to cherish, to love and adore.

There isn’t. He desires your love, your companionship, as fully as He does anyone. You aren’t on His list of things to do today… You are whom He wants to spend the day with, whom He rejoices in the presence of, you are the beloved.

Understand this, He loves you! (me too)  The presence of the Holy Spirit, the promise of our baptism, earned for us at the cross, proves it.  Look at all the promises God makes, to you and me. Look at the love He shows us, directly.  Spend time with Him now, hear Him reveal His love for you, through His word, See His desire for you, and the joy He looked forward to, even while embracing the cross to make it happen.

Think about that… and be at peace… for you are loved like Rachel… by the One who is love.

AMEN

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

 

Really God? You Have to Remind Me of this today?

dscf1215-copy-copyDevotional Thought of the Day:

It’s better to go to a funeral than to attend a feast; funerals remind us that we all must die.  Ecc. 7:2 CEV

Blessed is he who keeps the moment of death ever before his eyes and prepares for it every day.

I guess God likes a sense of irony.

Tomorrow I go under the knife.

Just cataract surgery, but still, it is surgery.

Read through the Bible in a year, and the reading I come to the day before surgery deals with death!  So did the book report I had to deal ith last night, chapter after chapter of dying to self that as awesome, but also passages that told us to desire death

Not what I want to think about, at least that is my first reaction.

But why not?

We need to think about death for a number of reasons, that are practical, and spiritual.

1.  So we learn to value the life we have.
To often we take life for granted, we don’t think about making the most of it, we just let it slide by. Especially in these days of isolation. We can see God at work in every day of our lives, working in relationships good and bad

2.  So we leave things somewhat in order, as a blessing to others.
It can be things as simple as your favorite songs for your funeral.  Or where money is stashed and other issues of that note.  (Of course, now I have to think of all this stuff) Wills, testaments, advanced directives, all that messy stuff.  But it is even messier if you don’t do it.

3.  Not taking even for granted, or the gifts that assure us of our eternity.
Living life fearing deaeth is no fun… I spent nearly half my life living in fear of dying. THat’s what happens when you have Marfans and you think about it. Working as a hospice chaplain, and seeing many people pass away has led to the point where I am not as afraid of dying.
But what I am talking about is being excited about seeing God face to face. NOt just the benefits of less back pain, and less trauma, and no more dang surgeries. But see God, who loves us so much, and being welcomed into His presence, and sharing in the glory and love of God, Father, son and Holy Spirit. That is more than exciting, that should leave us in awe,

Kempis’s thought is that we should think about heaven, so that we behave better in this life. Not quite fear driven, but somewhere between fear and reward driven behavior modification. That might work, but works better is to live life, thinking about the glory and love of God. Of letting the thought of that love, that care fill your life. That will change you far deeper than mere intellect. It will change your soul, and you will desire to see others find that place of rest, that place of pace.

So making me think of death… it’s not that bad.  Actually, it is a huge blessing.

Now, thinking of them slicing my eye open, to replace the lens… ugh!

Thomas à Kempis, The Imitation of Christ (Oak Harbor, WA: Logos Research Systems, 1996), 46.

The Synonym of Happiness… (or how to get happy in the midst of suffering)

20170124_103703Devotional Thought of the Day:
1 If our faith is strong, we should be patient with the Lord’s followers whose faith is weak. We should try to please them instead of ourselves. 2 We should think of their good and try to help them by doing what pleases them. 3 Even Christ did not try to please himself. But as the Scriptures say, “The people who insulted you also insulted me.”Romans 15:1–3 (CEV)

Instead, it took half a lifetime to appreciate, through a million experiments, every one of which proved the same result: that the way to happiness is self-forgetful love and the way to unhappiness is self-regard, self-worry, and the search for personal happiness. Our happiness comes to us only when we do not seek for it. It comes to us when we seek others’ happiness instead.

Happiness has an odd synonym, Or perhaps not a synonym, but a word that is so intimately related to it that they can’t be divided.

Happiness and self-denial.

We see that in the fact that it was for the joy set before Him that Jesus endured the suffering on the cross. We see it in the appeal to Christliness – and the definition of Jesus who age it all up in Philippians 2. We see the same thing in Paul’s words to the church in Rome that appears above. As we are patient (long-suffering is a better transition) with those who are weak, we are focusing on their joy, on their contentment, on their ability to experience the love of God.

That doesn’t mean we condone their weak faith, but we put their growth as more important than ours.

We seek their best interests, we look to strengthen their faith, and in doing so, we find the joy we need. As Kreeft points out, forgetting self in the cause of love is key to joy, the key to happiness.

I know this to be true, as I see people amid suffering, and watch they grow in their faith as the Holy Spirit comforts them as they realize God’s peace. Seeing this happen is the greatest and most enjoyable of blessings.

It is why I love to share the Lord’s Supper, the Eucharist. When I see people realize the incredible blessing they’re receiving, it makes everything else worth it. It’s when I hear that the Holy SPirit’s comfort is helping people through what they are going thru and that a simple word, or just being there helps them, this too is something that is a blessing.

It is the real reason why some pastors work more, ot have more opportunities to see God at work in people’s lives.

A warning about all this is in order.

Don’t just try and start living sacrificially on your own strength. It will burn you out. And examine yourself regularly, make sure you haven’t begun to live sacrificially on your own strength – you will burn out, and even develop a martyrdom complex.

Note that Paula advised this for those stronger in the faith – trust in God is the only way to accomplish this. We have to depend on Him for the joy, as well as the strength to do this, it is our intimate relationship with Jesus, that unity as we are drawn and united to His death and resurrection that makes self-sacrifice not only necessary but the great blessing it is.

He is our joy, and seeing others find that joy and the peace that comes with it can only be done as we are there with Him.

So you want joy, spend time with the Lord of life, the ord of Life, and as you do, you will be transformed, and love in a sacrificial manner as He did.

Lord, help us find life in Christ and find the joy He knew.  AMEN

Peter Kreeft, The God Who Loves You (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 2004), 16–17.

The God Whom You Worship!

 

0This God Whom You Worship!
Acts 17:16-31

In Jesus Name

May the grace of God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ help you worship the God you know…

I Don’t think that word means….

In one of the most quoted moves of all times, a Sicilian mercenary captain keeps on using the word “inconceivable.” Over and over, you head the word come from this short, balding guy, inconceivable, inconceivable, inconceivable!

Finally, his swordmaster utters this favorite quote, ““You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.” ( Inigo Montoya, Princess Bride)

Now, what was funny was all the inconceivable things, well, they were actually conceivable, and doable.

This sort of reminds me of the people of Athens in this week’s reading from Acts. They had all these statues and temples dedicated to “gods.” The Greek gods, the gods of the countries they conquered, any god which they could find someone worshipping, hear of someone worshipping, they even had the one shrine dedicated to a god they prayed to when all else failed.

The “unknown” God.

They had to have a shrine with that name, for they really didn’t understand what a god was, never mind who God is, and how He would relate to all of His creation.

This word god that they used, they simply did not mean what they thought it meant… and for some, that would change, this day.

So my question for you today, when you use the word “God,” do you know what the word means?  If not, I pray you to do by the end of the day!

Who is this God?

Man creates and searches for gods for a reason. They know they need someone else to connect to, they know there is a presence that is missing.

So they create a god for this, a god for that, and attach to these gods a dream. For example, a lot of people are looking to authorities to save us from COVID, or the economic downturn that it has caused.  We blame those we think are interfering with that recovery, even calling them evil or demons.

We put all our hope and the joy that accompanies hope.

And then that god fails, or that dream turns out to be false, and the contentment we thought it promised turns out to be more heartache and more pain.

We need a God that takes care of more than one problem, who is not created, who is more than someone who provides us what we want, or what we think we need for life to be right.  We need the God Paul described.

This God, whom you worship without knowing, is the one I’m telling you about. 24  “He is the God who made the world and everything in it. Since he is Lord of heaven and earth, he doesn’t live in man-made temples, 25  and human hands can’t serve his needs—for he has no needs. He himself gives life and breath to everything, and he satisfies every need. 26  From one man he created all the nations throughout the whole earth. He decided beforehand when they should rise and fall, and he determined their boundaries. 27  “His purpose was for the nations to seek after God and perhaps feel their way toward him and find him—though he is not far from any one of us. 28  For in him, we live and move and exist. As some of your own poets have said, ‘We are his offspring.

This is what a God is, this is Who we need to find peace, to find fulfillment, to have a real hope at life – for as Paul said, in Jesus, in Him we live and move and exist.

This is what happened at the cross, when all that was not god that we invented, all our idols, and the sins they led us to commit, were stripped away.

We realized that we are the children of God, His beloved children!

Judgment is coming.

Which is a good thing, because Paul then moves his discourse into something that could be frightening.

30  “God overlooked people’s ignorance about these things in earlier times, but now he commands everyone everywhere to repent of their sins and turn to him. 31  For he has set a day for judging the world with justice.

Judgment day!

For those who don’t know God, who keep on going back to their idols, who keep on putting hope in some they think will solve all their problems, there is a day when God will ask why – why didn’t you trust in  Me?

Why didn’t you consider my love, which I laid out before you?

Why did you create or find answers that won’t provide the hope and peace you need in the long run?

Why not just cry out to me?

Why not let me save you?

For the judgment day surely has two parts – the full justice of God.

The judgment of idolaters, the judgment of those who would reject God, and the part that truly gives us hope.

31  For he has set a day for judging the world with justice by the man he has appointed, and he proved to everyone who this is by raising Him from the dead.”  

This is our hope… this is everything that God appointed on to judge us, would die to make things just and right. Jesus would not only strip away those things that draw us away from God but would heal us. That would heal the broken hearts, our broken souls, if we would but let Him.

It is time to call out to Him now, knowing this,

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 1:19-20 (TEV)

I pray that you know this God and know what it means that He is your God and that you learn to depend on Him… and trust in Him…matter of fact, let’s pray right now…

Heavenly Father, help us to stop chasing after other gods, help us stop finding hope in things other than you… deliver us this morning, and surround us with your glory, that we may dwell in Your peace.  AMEN!

 

Hell’s Existence a Good Thing? HUH?

photo(35)

The Good Shepherd, carrying His own.

Devotional Thought of the Day:
19  My dear brothers and sisters, if someone among you wanders away from the truth and is brought back, 20  you can be sure that whoever brings the sinner back will save that person from death and bring about the forgiveness of many sins. 
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927    Pray for one another. One is wavering? … And another? … Keep on praying, without losing your peace. Some are leaving? Some are being lost? …Our Lord has you all numbered from eternity!

Can we relate even Hell to God’s love? It is the most unpopular of Christian dogmas and the one most widely disbelieved, even though Jesus clearly taught it on many different occasions. It is disbelieved mainly because it seems to most people to contradict the dogma of God’s love. And if we have to deny one of the two, then of course let’s deny Hell. Hell without God’s love is … well, just Hell. God’s love without Hell is still God’s love.
But in fact the two do not contradict each other. Far from contradicting God’s love, Hell manifests God’s love. It is the other side of the coin of God’s love.

The question exists in many people’s minds.

How could a good loving God create a place like Hell or even the kind of people that would deserve it?

Theologians and Biblical Scholars will tell you the Hell wasn’t created for mankind, and that hell is an effect caused by our decisions to sin, and even more, our decisions to not seek and claim the forgiveness that God promises.

They are right of course, they often are.

But that doesn’t answer the question, why would God create such a place?

The simple answer is, – there has to be a place that is an option to being in a place where you are loved.

This means because hell exists, so does a place exist where God’s love, His mercy, His care, His presence sustaining us exists.

The existence of Hell doesn’t mean God would force any human being to go there, that it is a place where a loving God would send someone to punish people who rejected Him, who chose to worship themselves, or inanimate objects.

It is simply the option for those who would not be in an intimate, loving relationship with their Creator. And as horrendous as hell would seem, cut off from everything that is good, everything that is love, that tells us how incredible heaven is, and what those who are in this incredible, intimate, merciful love of God will experience.

Something we have begun to experience now, here, together.

The question then is simple, will we, who know this, reveal to those who have wandered off that God loves them?

This about why I said that is the question, more than the question being why would people choose hell. I don’t think they do, as much as most would think. Think about it, and love them.

Heavenly Father, help us love those around us in such a way, that they know YOU LOVE THEM. Empower us with Your Spirit to show them the care, the mercy, the deepest levels of love, even as we embrace the cost, as Jesus embraced the cost to show us Your love. We pray this in His precious name, AMEN!

 

Escriva, Josemaria. The Way . Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition.

Peter Kreeft, The God Who Loves You (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 2004), 154.

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).

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