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Why Go to Church? Is it Really Necessary?

Altar with communion

Devotional thought for your day:
23  Let us hold on firmly to the hope we profess, because we can trust God to keep his promise. 24  Let us be concerned for one another, to help one another to show love and to do good. 25  Let us not give up the habit of meeting together, as some are doing. Instead, let us encourage one another all the more, since you see that the Day of the Lord is coming nearer. Hebrews 10:23-25 (TEV)

16  I ask God from the wealth of his glory to give you power through his Spirit to be strong in your inner selves, 17  and I pray that Christ will make his home in your hearts through faith. I pray that you may have your roots and foundation in love, 18  so that you, together with all God’s people, may have the power to understand how broad and long, how high and deep, is Christ’s love. 19  Yes, may you come to know his love—although it can never be fully known—and so be completely filled with the very nature of God. Ephesians 3:16-19 (TEV)

667         Haven’t you noticed how people in love dress to please one another by their appearance? Well, that is how you should tidy up and deck out your soul.

I have seen and heard a couple of people challenge the idea of going to church recently.  Sometimes it is direct, saying that people who go to church are needy (we are!)  and hypocrites ( correct again).  Or perhaps the challenge is that you can worship God anywhere (but will you?) or that truly being a Christian is demonstrated in how you care for people. ( it is, but exactly how good are you at loving the unlovable?)

Some may say that I am biased because of my occupation/vocation, that because I often invest 60 hours a week in “church” I have a stake in whether people come or not.  If it was only a stake, if it was only to make my investment of time, talent, and tears pay off, I wouldn’t do it.  The amount of time, whether as a pastor or a lay person is great. But it demands more than that – it demands the investment of your soul.

So why go to church?

Well, the obvious one is in the first quote, simply because God’s word tells us we need to, we need to encourage each other as we gather together, not setting it aside, it is too important, too critical to keep each person encouraged, to support each person in their life, to help guide each other, and sometimes carry each other, into the presence of God.  It is in church that we learn why we find hope in knowing God, and more importantly, exactly what that hope, that incredible hope is.

That is the purpose for the music, which expresses our pain ( this type of worship is called lament)  and the healing God brings, which celebrates His love and His presence.  That is the purpose of the sermon and Bible studies, to reveal the hope that knowing, intimately knowing God’s love. It is even the purpose of the various things we do in church, and everything we take in with our eyes.

It’s all about God… and us.

Which is what Paul expresses in the second quote, where he talks of knowing, of experiencing ( because we can’t fully know/understand) the dimensions of God’s love for us, revealed in Christ Jesus.  The soaring heights as we realized we are loved, the depth of God’s compassion, as He is with us at the rock bottom parts of His life. In the midst of this, Paul inserts the word together.  That all God’s people need to experience this love, together.  That too is what church is, not just what it is about.

It is the moment we hear we are all forgiven of our sin. All of it. Completely.

It is int he moment when we realize God’s peace is with us, and we share that peace with those around us. celebrating the love of God which glues us together, and together with Him.

It is in that moment when we are given proof of that love, as we are given His body and blood, to remind us of His death for us, and His opening the door which reveals God’s love to us, together.  Even that person I was so ticked off at, is there, being loved by God, as I am.  To realize we’ve both been freed of the sin and guilt, the shame and resentment, the burdens that crush and divide us.

It is then when loving them becomes a joy, not a duty obeyed because we have to .

It is then when church becomes more than an organization, or a costly bit of entertainment mixed with some positive “feel good” messages, or a club where we celebrate our being holier than those people out playing golf or watching their kids play soccer, or working.

Church isn’t some obligation, it is what St. Josemaria talks about, a time to get our soul ready to interact with God, by hearing again and again how He has prepared us to be with Him and then spending the time with Him.  the early part of a service, as we are forgiven, as we hear of His love, of his promises, that is like a bride being made ready for her wedding.  And the Lord’s Supper is then the wedding and all joy of life brought together, as we realize how much we are loved.

This is what church is, this is what we need, a place to find hope, healing, reconciliation, and joy as we dwell together in Christ, while helping others find those same things, as God revelas His love to them.

Amen!

Escriva, Josemaria. Furrow (Kindle Locations 2792-2794). Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition.

Love is, Jesus is, We are: Not Demanding Our Own

church at communion 2Love is, Jesus Is, We are

Not Demanding of our Way

1 Corinthians 13:5

In Jesus Name

 May the grace, mercy and peace of God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ so leave you in awe that you walk humbly with Him, rejoicing in His presence!

Love is not 

The song we just sang, and have sung each week during Lent is a hard one for me to sing.  Simply because it calls me to admit how I feel when I look at what God expects from us when I realize how hard it is to love, to truly love someone else….

When I realize how hard it is for me to love God with everything I am, all of my heart, soul, mind and strength.  To love my neighbor as I love myself.

Especially when loving means that I don’t get what I want, that what is in my best interest, what I think is right has to be set aside.

We hear from Paul that love does not demand its way.  It is not zealous; it doesn’t put all its energy seeking what it desires, what it wants, even what it needs.  Or what it thinks is the right way to go….

And I as read this, the words to that song come to mind…

“my eyes are dry, my faith is old, my heart is hard, my prayers are cold.  And I know how I ought to be, alive to you, and dead…. To me.

I would have thought I would be better at this by this time in my life, that I wouldn’t get so riled up when I didn’t get my way, that I wouldn’t be so hurt when what I know is right is denied by bureaucracy or systems that don’t consider the effect they have on people.

There are still times where I want to shake some sense into people……

You know what I mean?  What were they thinking?  How could they be so blind, so stupid,

and then I read this passage and realize how far I’ve strayed from what God desires….

For even if I am right, even if the way I demand is right, too often in demanding it I will win the battle, but I will lose the war.

Jesus is not

When we consider any aspect of love, it helps to see it in action, and the perfect example is usually Jesus.  Okay, it is always Jesus, for only Jesus was perfect enough to love completely, and only Jesus, in that love provides the cure for when we aren’t loving.

In this case, we could look at the times when people begged for mercy, and Jesus went out of his way to provide it, to provide food for those that wouldn’t leave him alone, and followed him out into the wilderness.

Or we can look in the garden, and see Jesus asking the Father for an option to the cross.

38  He told them, “My soul is crushed with grief to the point of death. Stay here and keep watch with me.” 39  He went on a little farther and bowed with his face to the ground, praying, “My Father! If it is possible, let this cup of suffering be taken away from me. Yet I want your will to be done, not mine.”
Matthew 26:38-39 (NLT)

That certainly is not demanding your way!

And it was done so that you and I could know the depth of God’s love for us, for the cup of suffering he took, included the betrayals, the beatings, the cross,

and death.

He didn’t demand his way, but as Isaiah prophesied, like a lamb, he was silent.

We are not!

So what about us?  How can we whose hearts are dry, whose faith is old, find the strength to love so sacrificially?  How can we deny ourselves and take up our cross, and be silent?

On our own, we cannot.

As God guides Paul to write these words, they are there.  This is what our confessions talk about as the describe the “New Obedience,” the way we begin to live as we trust and depend on God.

As we explore His love, as we come to realize our need and trust in God’s work, the Holy Spirit teaches us we are loved, and brings us to the point where we can love God and those around us.  He shapes us the way an artist draws, guiding our lives as we look to Jesus, as we stand in awe of His love.

The way to love is not just to study the character of Jesus, but to know His love, to look to Him for that love and be amazed, to see the depth of His care for you and those around you, understanding what He promises, and rejoicing and treasuring the hope He gives.

Loving isn’t something that happens easily, but it is something that happens as we know we are loved.

A love that leaves us so at peace, so content, that we simply lay aside everything else to enjoy it, including the way we once so zealously demanded.

That peace is beyond our understanding, but for those who know God’s love, it is our reality, for Christ guards our hearts and minds in that peace.  AMEN!

Limited Faith? Who Set its Boundaries?

clydes-cross-2

Devotional Thought of the Day:
11  And I am not saying this because I feel neglected, for I have learned to be satisfied with what I have. 12  I know what it is to be in need and what it is to have more than enough. I have learned this secret, so that anywhere, at any time, I am content, whether I am full or hungry, whether I have too much or too little. 13  I have the strength to face all conditions by the power that Christ gives me. Philippians 4:11-13 (TEV)

117      “What do I have to do to maintain my love for God and make it increase?” you asked me, fired with enthusiasm. Leave the “old man” behind, my son, and cheerfully give up things which are good in themselves but hinder your detachment from your ego… You have to repeat constantly and with deeds, “Here I am, Lord, ready to do whatever you want.”  (1)

e need to stopIt is rare these days for pe]eople to ask how to grow stronger in their faith.  I am not sure whether that is good or bad. Some might not care to grow, some might be afraid to grow.  While others are growing, their faith being stretched like taffy, or a balloon expanding so fast that you wonder if it will burst.

There is a secret to this growth, a need for freedom from things that tether us down, box us in, that define the boundaries that we think define us, but in reality simply constrain us, and eventually choke out our faith.

Let me give you an example.  As a young man wanting to be a pastor, I set a boundary on where I would serve.  I asked God to send me anywhere, except for the desert. I narrowed the scope of my vision, and I would come to realize that the people in that desert needed the comfort and peace, the contentment that only comes from when you realize you live in the presence of God. (Yes, my first three churches I served were in the desert – and I needed to be there more than the people needed me)

I still occasionally do that, narrowing down where I will serve, or to whom I would “allow” God to send me.  God, you couldn’t have me in that kind of position, or ministering in that kind of church.  God you couldn’t use someone like me like that, etc.

And so do you.

We need to stop setting boundaries, we need to stop tying ourselves down, tethering ourselves to things that stop us from growing in our faith.  St Josemaria considers that might even include good things that hinder our detachment.  Things our ego depends upon to identify us as individuals, and therefore stop us from trusting that God knows what He is doing.

For growth, maturity in the faith is not confidence in ourselves, it is confidence in God, a deepening sense of contentment.  Whether it means we have to go without, or we have to learn to deal with having more than we need.  ( I know some of us find that harder to deal with! ) Spiritual growth is the abandonment of self, assured that God will develop what in us, and dependent on His promises.

Whatever He wants, where ever He wants, however long He wants; depending on the presence of Jesus, the comfort and encouragement of the Holy Spirit

This is faith, a faith that grow and be stretched, a faith without boundaries, a faith that grows significantly, because God causes the increase.

AMEN!!

(1)  Escriva, Josemaria.   The Forge (Kindle Locations 614-617). Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition.

We Will Be Like Him! A Sermon on 1 John 3:1-3

Concordia Lutheran ChurchWe will be Like Him!

1 John 3:1-3

In Jesus Name

 Opening Blessing/Prayer

May the grace and peace of God our Father and our Lord Jesus Christ be with you, as you realize you are the Father’s beloved, blessed children!

Awfully Big Shoes to Fill!

Jesus often taught in parables, so it makes sense that pastors should use them on occasion.  Stories and words that paint a picture, and that we get the lesson of, intuitively.

I also like to use them because I can then address them as “Pastor Parker’s Panoramic Parables.

I bet that doesn’t sound quite as nice in Chinese!

Well here is today’s parable, the kingdom of God is like this,

The kingdom of God is like a child trying on their Father’s shoes!

We are just kids who can’t resist trying on Dad’s shoes.

And while the desire to be “grown-up” seems a good thing, we far too often want to try on God’s shoes and walk in them.  And the usual result is that we fall down and hurt ourselves, and others.

We Can’t Walk in them Yet!

As children, we often want to be like our parents, to act like they do, and putting on their shoes is symbolic of that.  It is a cute thing, but not so much when we try to put on God’s shoes.

It happens, we play God when we want that parental level of authority, we want to be in charge.  Usually, there is another brother or sister involved, and if we have God our Father’s authority, we can judge them and put them in their place.

Instead of being responsible we want to condemn them, or get revenge, or just make sure everything is fair, according to what we perceive!

I mean, even as adults we have trouble loving our neighbors as we are supposed to love them.  Can you imagine the temptation and the damage we would do if we were actually God?

I mean – it would be nice to get on the freeway and command everyone else to get off, so we wouldn’t be stuck in traffic!

Really, we are still kids, we still can be a little self-centered, we can still do things where we try and play God.   We still mess up – we still get self-centered, we still want things our way, and will do things to try and make it happen. We even still throw tantrums when we don’t get our way – if you don’t believe me, wait until Tuesday, when some adults will be poor winners, and others poor losers.  Either way – there will be tantrums, arguments, accusations of cheating and people saying “It’s not fair!”

And God will still be God, and He will look on us and show us mercy and love, and as that love leads us to repent, our sins will be washed away

That is why the Father sent the Son to the cross – to draw us into Jesus, to restore that relationship, to make us again His children,  and to show us what we will be like when Christ appears, for we will be like Him.

But We will – This is assured!

Hear the words of the Apostle Paul that were written to the Colossian Church.

1  Since you have been raised to new life with Christ, set your sights on the realities of heaven, where Christ sits in the place of honor at God’s right hand. 2  Think about the things of heaven, not the things of earth. 3  For you died to this life, and your real life is hidden with Christ in God. 4  And when Christ, who is your life, is revealed to the whole world, you will share in all his glory.
Colossians 3:1-4 (NLT)

This is the same thing the apostle John wrote that we heard today

But we do know that we will be like him, for we will see him as he really is. And all who have this eager expectation will keep themselves pure, just as he is pure.

Holiness, purity, is simply living like Jesus, being like Jesus, and that is the transformation that happens, starting when the Holy Spirit brings us to life, gives us faith and cleanses us in baptism.

It comes as the Holy Spirit transforms us, as we gain that hope, that expectation that God will complete the work, the transformation He has began in us, as He promised.

We like all children will grow up – spiritually, this happens when we arrive at being completely like Christ Jesus.  The good news, is that is His work, and the world of our loving Father.  Want to know what you will be like – you will love the Father like Christ loves the Father, you will love each other the way Christ loves us.

So trust God, depend on God, and know that in Him we have a peace that goes beyond all understanding –  that guards our hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.  AMEN!

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