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Does God Still Surprise Us?

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Devotional Thought of the day

22 His answer surprised them so much that they walked away..…33 The crowds were surprised to hear what Jesus was teaching.  Matt 22:22, 33 CEV

 This development reflected the new liturgical awareness which had been growing in these years. At that time, young people were interested not so much in the inherited dogmatic problems of eucharistic doctrine as in the liturgical celebration as a living form [Gestalt]. They found that this form, or structure, was a theological and spiritual entity with an integrity of its own. What previously had been the rubricist’s sphere of operations, mere ceremonial, having no apparent connection with dogma, now seemed to be an integral part of the action. It was its actual manifestation, apart from which the reality itself would remain invisible. Some years later Joseph Pascher put it like this: as far as the structure is concerned, up to now people had only paid attention to the rubrics, to what was printed in red; now it was time to give equal attention to the red and the black print. “There is far more in the form and structure of the texts and the whole celebration than in the rubrics.”

Throughout scripture, I find God surprising people.

Sometimes it is with what they are taught, as in my readings from Matthew this morning. Sometimes it is with the call, the role He gives them in life, as they minister and try to lead the people who need to find themselves, by discovering their relationship with God.

So why does He keep surprising us? Or perhaps the question is “how” He keeps doing so.

The latter question is seen in the words from Cardinal Ratzinger (later Pope Benedict XVI)  We get so caught up in “how” we worship God, how we serve Him, that we don’t hear the words we read, that we sing, that we preach or hear in the sermon.  We get so caught up in the forms and directions for doing them right, (the rubrics – which were printed in red by the printers of worship hymnals, missals, and the agendas – the books that guide pastors/priests) Pascher talks about giving equal weight to form and matter, even realizing there is what is said.

We do that today as well, getting more focused on how we worship and how we live than in the glory of God that surrounds us, for we are His people. That is why some police morality and thoughts more than seek God’s face.  Why some think revival comes from people being corrected in thought, word and deed, rather than realizing that their errors in thought word and deed are forgiven, and the damage done by sin God will heal.  (That is what forgiveness really is, by the way, not just the removal of the punishment, but the healing of the damage done!)

That is why it is surprising when miracles happen, or when prodigals we gave up on come home. It is why we hide our sin and brokenness, rather than talking about it freely, we struggle to believe God will forgive what we cannot believe can be forgiven. It is why we have developed a culture that still is based on shame and guilt, rather than in the hope of restoration and the love that brings it about.

These things are taught in our liturgies, whether complex or simple. It should be heard in our sermons and our prayers celebrated and rejoice over in our songs sung in church and throughout the week.

And when we are surprised by what Jesus reveals to us in His word, then again give thanks, for the Holy Spirit is keeping us focused on Jesus… and the form will naturally follow.  As the ancients taught, as we worship, so we believe … and so we practice.

Lord Jesus, we ask that you keep surprising us, that you keep revealing to us the promises, and even more your presence and love which makes us sure of them.  Lord, help us never grow stale or dull in our dependence on You but keep us marveling at how You sustain and heal us.  AMEN!

Joseph Ratzinger, The Feast of Faith: Approaches to a Theology of the Liturgy, trans. Graham Harrison (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1986), 33–34.

What Does Corporate Worship Matter?

Photo by MIXU on Pexels.com

Devotional Thought of The Day:

23  But the time is coming—indeed it’s here now—when true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and in truth. The Father is looking for those who will worship him that way. 24  For God is Spirit, so those who worship him must worship in spirit and in truth.” 25  The woman said, “I know the Messiah is coming—the one who is called Christ. When he comes, he will explain everything to us.” 26  Then Jesus told her, “I AM the Messiah!” John 4:23-26 (NLT2)

Faced with the political and social crises of the present time and the moral challenge they offer to Christians, the problems of liturgy and prayer could easily seem to be of second importance. But the question of the moral standards and spiritual resources that we need if we are to acquit ourselves in this situation cannot be separated from the question of worship. Only if man, every man, stands before the face of God and is answerable to him, can man be secure in his dignity as a human being. Concern for the proper form of worship, therefore, is not peripheral but central to our concern for man himself.

She knew so little, but enough to hold on to some hope… … …

This lady who had depend on a guy to live, and had to depend on him in the most desperate way, still had a little of her childhood religion to cling too, but often, she must have wondered.

Many of us, even us pastors, wonder at times. in the midst of all of the broken and shattered mess of ife, wonder if that 90 minutes on Sunday, and maybe another 60 on Tuesday or Wednesday night makes a difference.

We pin our hope on the return of Jesus, and that is appropriate, but it can seem so far away, and how do we endure this moment, and the next. Will we be able to stand up after the next one?

She was standing before him, and she realized who she was, and that changed everything. A far off dream became true hope, that is what it means to find yourself in the presence of God who tells you, “I AM”

This is what should happen in worship, as we come face to face with God, who looks at our life, and smiles, and says I AM here, even as He proceeds to clean us up, to heal our brokenness, . That is why we worship together, to witness this happen in each other’s lives, as God comes to us, and reveals Himself.

I was able to witness this Sunday, as my partner in ministry was able to commune his father for the first time. I have seen it as the women abandoned finds hope for her and her two daughters. I see it in the old man broken by health, who lives each week to take the Body of Christ in hand, to pass his own hand over and caress the baptismal font. I see it in the little child who doesn’t go to church, but in its preschool answers, “God takes care of us, He gives us our food, He is always with us,” and another preschooler who scribbled, “He took our sins away, and that makes us feel better”, because they learn these things in chapel together.

In those moments, the broken words seem to have faded away. Political and social crisis don’t matter at the font and the altar.

In those moments, we realize how precious these people’s lives are.

In these precious moments, we realize He is with us! AMEN!



Joseph Ratzinger, The Feast of Faith: Approaches to a Theology of the Liturgy, trans. Graham Harrison (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1986), 7.

Worship is more than a service!

Word, bread, wine, CHRIST IS WITH US!

Devotional Thought of the Day:

40 But God raised him from death three days later and caused him to appear, 41 not to everyone, but only to the witnesses that God had already chosen, that is, to us who ate and drank with him after he rose from death. 42 And he commanded us to preach the gospel to the people and to testify that he is the one whom God has appointed judge of the living and the dead. 43 All the prophets spoke about him, saying that all who believe in him will have their sins forgiven through the power of his name.” Acts 10:40-43 GNT

Worship is not only submission, but also translates into the mystery of ‘communion’ and ‘union’.

A conversation I had this week touched on the idea of liturgical worship and its connection to evangelism. I thought it interesting that it wasn’t considered as a natural progression.

Then again, maybe I shouldn’t be, given all the years of worship wars that have dominated churches, especially those who have a formal liturgy. Who defines worship and liturgy as what happens in a formal, even antiseptic manner as God blesses His people in a gathering and they respond back with canned prayers and hymns barely sung.

That isn’t worship – although it should be, too often we go about it so mechanically that it isn’t worship. It is simply a machine, a time where we keep everything highly organized and controlled. ( I am not sure if this is to stop our freedom, or to place God in a box!)

In the passage from Acts above, we see Peter describing a complete form of worship, the time where Jesus gathers His people around them and blessed them, and shares a meal with them. Here is our model for the mass, for the gathering on Sunday morning where we come to be taught and fed by God.

Worship includes that time of letting God provide for us, care for us. IN order to do that, we get at the heart of what submission is – not to bow in fear of getting beaten up or abused if we do not but submitting and letting someone else care for us. Think of Peter at the last supper, struggling to submit to Jesus washing his feet. Worship is realizing that we need God’s word, we need to hear of His promises and love, worship is letting Him feed us at the altar. This is the beginning of worship and it includes the prayers where we lay our entire lives before God, trusting Him to cleanse us, to heal our hearts, our minds and souls of the brokenness that is caused by our sin, and to allow Him to do whatever He finds pleasing with our lives.

It is that last part that is also communion, that is also the sweetest of unions. And yet it continues past the benediction, past the exit from the church, past the coffee and doughnuts.

That communion, that sweetest of unions occurs even as we reveal that Jesus is the Messiah, the one who judges His people as being righteous, as being Holy, as being worthy of being the children of God.

For that is what we learn, and re-learn in our church services, it is why our confession says “the chief purpose of all ceremonies is to give people what they need to know about Jesus Christ.”

And that is what our world needs to know… all about Jesus.

That is what our families, our friends, co-workers, and neighborhood needs to know… they need to know the love of Jesus…

The Jesus who died for us, and with whom we are risen to a new life, a life lived in communion. A life lived, being fed and feeding others.

Lord Jesus, help us to grow in our dependence on You, submitting ourselves to Your love and care. Thank You for inviting us to commune with You, to be united to You, and the Father and the Holy Spirit. AMEN!

Aguirre, J. I. M. D. (2012). Eucharistic Adoration and Sacred Scripture. In A. Reid (Ed.), From Eucharistic Adoration to Evangelization (p. 101). London; New York: Burns & Oates.

Is Worship Boring?

Altar with communionDevotional Thought of the Day:

14  When I think of the greatness of this great plan I fall on my knees before God the Father (from whom all fatherhood, earthly or heavenly, derives its name), and I pray that out of the glorious richness of his resources he will enable you to know the strength of the spirit’s inner re-inforcement – that Christ may actually live in your hearts by your faith. And I pray that you, firmly fixed in love yourselves, may be able to grasp (with all Christians) how wide and deep and long and high is the love of Christ – and to know for yourselves that love so far beyond our comprehension. May you be filled though all your being with God himself!
20  Now to him who by his power within us is able to do far more than we ever dare to ask or imagine – to him be glory in the Church through Jesus Christ for ever and ever, amen! Ephesians 3:14-20 (Phillips NT)

77    You told me that to tie yourself to a plan of life, to a schedule, would be so monotonous! And I answered, “It is monotonous because you lack love.”

It is sometimes.  Ver much so more than I would like to admit.

It doesn’t matter if it is a high powered contemporary service, or a organ blasting traditional service, or a small intimate worship time on a retreat.

Church services can be boring, even monotonous,

And while the pastor and those who music facilitates our praises can impede or encourage worship, there is one key that absolutely makes the difference in whether you find a church and the worship service.

You.

I’ve seen couples where one is completely engaged in worship, one is actively engaged, and talks about church as the high point of their week.  The spouse, however, was so disengaged that they eventually fell asleep.

What makes the difference in perception is the person.

St Josemaria says it well, it is monotonous because of the truth of this, you lack love.

And if you lack love, there are two options, you are unable to love God and others, or what is necessary to love him, you haven’t been immersed in the reality of HIs love for you.  You haven’t had the opportunity, as St Paul desired for you, to explore the incredible dimensions of that love for you.

Not just know the love as a piece of data, because you can’t fully, it is so far beyond our comprehension, You need to be filled with that love, you need to be filled with God.

And that is the purpose of a church service, to help you explore that depth, and those who lead are simply guides on the journey.  Guides who hopefully are still in awe of the same journey, pointing out this treasured point, and that, how this explores the heights, and that explores the depths.

For if you know how incredible God’s love is for you,

And when you do, the hunger to more will help you engage, to enter the service as a participant as we dance with God, rather than being an observer.  For everyone has a part in worship, every voice has its role, a part in the service.  It’s not just about the guys up there in robes,   We are just there to point you to the love that God has for you, the incredible love that makes a difference in every aspect of your life.

So when you come into a church, expect something special, expect to hear you are loved, listen for it, rejoice in it, walk in it, even dance in it, and then love and adore the God who loves you.

The same service will never be the same.

 

 

Escriva, Josemaria. The Way (Kindle Locations 339-340). Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition.

Our Life in the Christ: revealed in our Church’s liturgy, music, artwork..

Concordia Lutheran ChurchDevotional Thought of the Day:
10  And he gave these orders: “At the end of every seven years, the Year-All-Debts-Are-Canceled, during the pilgrim Festival of Booths 11  when everyone in Israel comes to appear in the Presence of GOD, your God, at the place he designates, read out this Revelation to all Israel, with everyone listening. 12  Gather the people together—men, women, children, and the foreigners living among you—so they can listen well, so they may learn to live in holy awe before GOD, your God, and diligently keep everything in this Revelation. 13  And do this so that their children, who don’t yet know all this, will also listen and learn to live in holy awe before GOD, your God, for as long as you live on the land that you are crossing over the Jordan to possess.Deuteronomy 31:10-13 (MSG)

Christ has died.   
Christ has risen
Christ will come again
We were dead in our sins
Now we’re buried with Him
We are risen in Christ
We are given new life
And Christ will bring us home
Making us his own
Christ has died
Christ has risen
Christ will come again!

The Christian images, as we find them in the catacombs, simply take up and develop the canon of images already established by the synagogue, while giving it a new modality of presence. The individual events are now ordered toward the Christian sacraments and to Christ himself. Noah’s ark and the crossing of the Red Sea now point to Baptism. The sacrifice of Isaac and the meal of the three angels with Abraham speak of Christ’s Sacrifice and the Eucharist. Shining through the rescue of the three young men from the fiery furnace and of Daniel from the lions’ den we see Christ’s Resurrection and our own. Still more than in the synagogue, the point of the images is not to tell a story about something in the past, but to incorporate the events of history into the sacrament. In past history, Christ with his sacraments is on his way through the ages. We are taken into the events. The events themselves transcend the passing of time and become present in our midst through the sacramental action of the Church.
The centering of all history in Christ is both the liturgical transmission of that history and the expression of a new experience of time, in which past, present, and future make contact, because they have been inserted into the presence of the risen Lord. As we have seen already and now find confirmed anew, liturgical presence contains eschatological hope within it. All sacred images are, without exception, in a certain sense images of the Resurrection, history read in the light of the Resurrection, and for that very reason they are images of hope, giving us the assurance of the world to come, of the final coming of Christ.

324 Looking at his mercy, faith comforts and consoles us. Our opponents teach wrongly when they praise merits in such a way as to add nothing about this faith that takes hold of mercy

The readings this morning were just crammed full of thoughts that I needed to hear.  I could have doubled the amount I quoted, and foregone writing.  Except that I need to, for as I’ve said before, my devotions have to be thought through, meditated upon, and brought together in my writing.  It used to be called spiritual journaling, and someone once suggested i put it out there to be shared.

Today, it seemed like a lot of my readings were set up to talk about living within the story.  About faith is a life of dependence on God, living in harmony with Him, rather than a statement of what theological statements we hold to be true.

We see that in the words from the Lutheran confessions, as we take hold of mercy. That is faith, this incredible love of God that is revealed to us, that floods our lives so that we can hold onto it.  For faith is an engagement with God with not our mind at first, but our heart and soul.

Pope Benedict in the longest quote talks about this in the imagery in the early church and the synagogue, when visuals made our sacramental life part of the narrative poured out in visual representation.  And all of that representation is reflected in the resurrection, the very summit of our being made one with Christ.  For we are united to Him in His death, in order that we can rise to our new life with Him.

That is the reason for the reading of the entire community of Israel, over 2 million people, plus the foreigners that make their home among them.  (Note that part about the aliens!) They were to know the covenant, so that they could be in awe of God’s love and provision for them!  Even more than that, this awe was lived out before Him. In other words, not just in His are of vision, but right before Him, in His presence.

As I was reading all of this, I thought of my friend’s version of the liturgical hymn, the Memorial Acclamation.  Chris is not only an incredible musician and professor of worship but has a great understanding of sacramental covenant theology.   So when he recomposed this ancient part of Christian worship, he not only told Christ’s story, but he made clear what was inferred.  That we share in that death, and in that resurrection, and in Christ’s coming again.  What has become veiled and vaguely visible, Chris revealed in a glorious way. ( You can hear a rock version of it at the link!)

Every aspect of our ministry, from the music to the artwork and images, to the words we speak and lessons and liturgy are geared to help us make this transition.  We are not just people reading about history, we aren’t just witnesses to the story, we are the characters in the story, living and interacting in great awe with God.  Just as people have done since Adam and Eve walked through the garden.  Our people may not realize this, so we need, like Israel, to teach them more and more.  They need to know it, they need to experience His love. as do we, as do our communities.

May the Lord make this happen, opening our eyes more and more to His love!

AMEN!

 

The Memorial Acclimation by Rev. Dr. Christopher Gillette
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xSOPkjcqfF4

Ratzinger, Joseph. The Spirit of the Liturgy. Trans. John Saward. San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 2000. Print.

Tappert, Theodore G., ed. The Book of Concord the Confessions of the Evangelical Lutheran Church. Philadelphia: Mühlenberg Press, 1959. Print.

Did Jesus Come For You?

nativityDevotional Thought of the Day:

15 While He was reclining at the table in Levi’s house, many tax collectors and sinners were also guests with Jesus and His disciples, because there were many who were following Him. 16 When the scribes m of the Pharisees saw that He was eating p with sinners q and tax collectors, r they asked His disciples, “Why does He eat s with tax collectors and sinners?”
17 When Jesus heard this, He told them, “Those who are well don’t need a doctor,  but the sick do need one. I didn’t come to call the righteous, but sinners.”  Mark 2:15-17

In revising the Roman office, its ancient and venerable treasures are to be so adapted that all those to whom they are handed on may more extensively and easily draw profit from them.

It is one of the great paradoxes of Christianity, those who think Jesus wouldn’t associate with them are the very ones He came to unite to himself.  And those, who think they are spiritually adept often miss out on the blessing.

I dare say that our liturgies have for too long aided and abetted this problem.  The look and sound more like the pious Pharisee than the broken tax-collector.  The content of our services, from the mass to vespers and then compline need to be in the language that is profitable, that is beneficial for those broken by the weight of sin.  It needs to resonate with their soul and reveal to them the love and mercy of God, their God, who would have them dwell in peace.

I think those at Vatican II and those who influenced the council’s deliberations were starting to see this.  That the liturgy was for all the people of God, not just those who knew the right actions, the right words, and could repeat them without knowing the power of their meaning.  ( I wish my own small part of Christianity would follow suit, but I fear it is heading away from such thoughts)

We desperately need to be formed by the word of God in our prayers, in our liturgy.  And by we, I don’t mean those on the membership roster of our church and the churches we trust.  It means all the people of God, those He died for, those He is drawing to himself, those who may fight now, only to be baptized tomorrow.  The people of God include all who don’t believe God’s mercy is available to them, for in their humility, they will receive it. Those who think they are good enough already, why would they bother? The liturgy can cause us to really cry out for His mercy, and express praise and wonder at God’s love seen as Jesus was slaughtered like a lamb, that we might live.

If the word is to form us, we have to be able to understand it, simply and without a dictionary, lexicon, and thesaurus by our side.  This message is to needed, to precious, to amazing to conceal it with elaborate words, and movements that have no meaning because they are not know, not explained, not heard.

We all, from the youngest to the oldest, from every continent and country, from every economic group, language group, everyone, needs to know that Jesus came for us all.  It is really a simple concept, one spoken originally in simple Hebrew, Aramaic, and common Greek.  We can and show do the same today so that the people God draws to us will know Him, as the Spirit reveals Him to them through our words, our music, our liturgy.

As we finalize our words for the Christmas celebration, may we do so, and may all those the Spirit draws near profit from them.  AMEN!

Catholic Church. “Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy: Sacrosanctum Concilium.” Vatican II Documents. Vatican City: Libreria Editrice Vaticana, 2011. Print.

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The Search for Real Worship

Altar with communionDevotional Thought of the Day:
21  “Believe me,” returned Jesus, “the time is coming when worshipping the Father will not be a matter of ‘on this hill-side’ or ‘in Jerusalem’. Nowadays you are worshipping with your eyes shut. We Jews are worshipping with our eyes open, for the salvation of mankind is to come from our race. Yet the time is coming, yes, and has already come, when true worshippers will worship in spirit and in reality. Indeed, the Father looks for men who will worship him like that. God is spirit, and those who worship him can only worship in spirit and in reality.” John 4:21 (Phillips NT)

17. In seminaries and houses of religious, clerics shall be given a liturgical formation in their spiritual life. For this they will need proper direction, so that they may be able to understand the sacred rites and take part in them wholeheartedly; and they will also need personally to celebrate the sacred mysteries, as well as popular devotions which are imbued with the spirit of the liturgy. In addition they must learn how to observe the liturgical laws, so that life in seminaries and houses of religious may be thoroughly influenced by the spirit of the liturgy.
18. Priests, both secular and religious, who are already working in the Lord’s vineyard are to be helped by every suitable means to understand ever more fully what it is that they are doing when they perform sacred rites; they are to be aided to live the liturgical life and to share it with the faithful entrusted to their care

The purpose of observing ceremonies is that men may learn the Scriptures and that those who have been touched by the Word may receive faith and fear and so may also pray.

When I was a child, my parents had a prayer meeting in our house, that lots of people attended.  It was not unusual for a few priests, a brother, a couple of Baptist pastors and an Assembly of God pastor to be present.  It was there I played guitar with Brother Michael, and there I learned to pray.

I also went to parochial school, and there we had masses and other services that were dedicated to God as well.  I would often serve as an altar boy and played the organ as well.  From those perspectives, I saw more of the mass and fell in love with the sacredness of it, even the parts I didn’t quite understand.

Since then, I’ve played and led praise bands, become a non-denomination pastor, then moved into the Lutheran Church where a form of the historic liturgy is our “style” of worship.  And yet the lessons from the prayer meetings and non-denom worship leading play into the planning of worship as well.

As I read Vatican II’s words in green this morning, I saw them trying to unify the two streams of worship I have known.  Starting with the pastoral training in seminaries, there must be part of that training that teaches the pastors and priests to worship God with all their heart, to understand and actively take part in the mysterion of God, to realize the Trinity is not just observing the mass, but participating in it.

Liturgy must be “lived” whether it is the historic liturgy or the common liturgy of prayer meetings and evangelical gathering.  Those facilitating it must get caught up in it themselves, so that while they are aware of the people’s participation, they first are praising God for all He is, in their life.

It’s not about being the best musician, the best singer, the perfect reader of scripture, the perfect liturgist. ( We can add ushers, altar guild members, sound techs, parishioners)  It is about knowing the presence of God in this place, of realizing the blessings He is pouring out, and responding with others, even helping them to do value this time with God.

These words we say, and in the liturgy they are all from scripture, are the words of God, scripture read and sang and breathed.  They are the words of life that kept Peter and the apostles bound to Jesus when everyone else ran away. They are the words, as the Apology of the Augsburg Confession states. that touch us. That the Spirit uses to draw us into Christ, to develop in us a dependence on Him, and in that dependence, to pour out all we are upon Him.

This isn’t something I think we teach people to do in a lecture, or even in a sermon.  It is something that is modeled and formed in them, and in order for that to happen, it must be modeled and formed in those who lead. Whether this is in a full liturgy, or in a back yard worship time that simply happens among friends.

God is with us, may we realize this, and help those who come to our churches, bible studies and prayer meetings realize it, and when they do, cry confidently, “Lord, have mercy on us”

 

Catholic Church. “Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy: Sacrosanctum Concilium.” Vatican II Documents. Vatican City: Libreria Editrice Vaticana, 2011. Print.

Tappert, Theodore G., ed. The Book of Concord the Confessions of the Evangelical Lutheran Church. Philadelphia: Mühlenberg Press, 1959. Print

Spirituality, Religion, debates, a serpent on the pole (and other theological nonsense)

Devotional Thought of the Day:

26  Anyone who sets himself up as “religious” by talking a good game is self-deceived. This kind of religion is hot air and only hot air. 27  Real religion, the kind that passes muster before God the Father, is this: Reach out to the homeless and loveless in their plight, and guard against corruption from the godless world. James 1:26-27 (MSG)

12 In the third place, such traditions have turned out to be a grievous burden to consciences, for it was not possible to keep all the traditions, and yet the people were of the opinion that they were a necessary service of God.
13 Gerson writes that many fell into despair on this account, and some even committed suicide, because they had not heard anything of the consolation of the grace of Christ.
14 We can see in the writings of the summists6 and canonists7 how consciences have been confused, for they undertook to collate the traditions and sought mitigations to relieve consciences,
15 but they were so occupied with such efforts that they neglected all wholesome Christian teachings about more important things, such as faith, consolation in severe trials, and the like.  (1)

384    Confusion. I knew you were unsure of the rightness of your judgment. And, so that you might understand me, I wrote you: “The devil has a very ugly face, and since he’s so smart he won’t risk our seeing his horns. He never makes a direct attack. That’s why he so often comes in the disguise of nobleness and even of spirituality!”  (1)


When I see individuals or groups opposing each other, I often find that they make the same error. Like my favorite illustration of the pessimist and the optimist arguing about the 16 oz container with 8 oz of liquid in it.  They lose their ability to fight when I reveal that the purpose for the glass is not the discussion, but so I may be refreshed through drinking its contents.   (Usually they get upset at me until I remind them that it was my beer they were arguing about.. not their own)

I see this often in debates about religion, and about spirituality.  Often it includes a debate about traditions, whether those traditions are understood or not.  Or whether the traditions belong to the centuries or that traditions someone has created in more modern times… like over the last decade…. or year.

Either way, the debates come about in such a way that they are competitive and miss the meaning.  They may not be debates even, but blogs and video blogs that try and prove their view right. Or that their preferred theologians kick but on less holy and knowledgable folk.

And all it does it leave the writers, and the readers, scrambling to find the next quote, the next arrow to be added to their quiver, the next weapon to back their position.

And int he meantime, we lose sight of Jesus,  We turn away from the conduits of grace, His word, and His sacraments.  We fail to be in awe, for we fail to recognize His presence.  The very presence that our traditions (whether new or ancient) had a part in revealing to us.

My son last night, as we were reading about the destruction of the serpent Moses obediently fashioned, wondered why people would offer sacrifices to it.   He’s noted that God saved them using the bronze serpent; the serpent didn’t save them.  So it was silly to his eight-year-old mind that people would worship a tool rather than the one wielding it.  But how many other things have been like that.  The Temple, the Ark of the Covenant, Gideon’s breastplate, the liturgy, contemporary and traditional music. Even crosses and church buildings, theologians and philosophers and their writings…

All of that stuff can be good, it can also distract us from offering a glass of water in His name.  It can edify us, or it can prevent us from edifying others.  It can consume our time, and while seeming good, it can also become sin, separating us from spending time with God.  It can blind us to what God has commissioned, a life walked with Him, going where He sends us, to reconcile the world back to Him (and therefore to each other).

This is real life, walking humbly with God…. living for others as Christ did.

May all our traditions, all our practices, point us toward Him, and may we see Him, and not the practices.

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(1)  Tappert, T. G. (Ed.). (1959). The Book of Concord the confessions of the Evangelical Lutheran Church. (pp. 65–66). Philadelphia: Mühlenberg Press.

(2)  Escriva, Josemaria (2010-11-02). The Way (Kindle Locations 970-972). Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition.

Why Are We Afraid of Intimacy With God?

Discussion and Devotional Thoughts of the Day:Dawn at Concordia

 11  I will live among you in my sacred Tent, and I will never turn away from you. 12  I will be with you; I will be your God, and you will be my people. Leviticus 26:11-12 (TEV)

What does it mean to have a god? or, what is God? Answer: A god means that from which we are to expect all good and to which we are to take refuge in all distress, so that to have a God is nothing else than to trust and believe Him from the [whole] heart; as I have often said that the confidence and faith of the heart alone make both God and an idol. (1)

78      Heroism, sanctity, daring, require a constant spiritual preparation. You can only ever give to others what you already have. And, to give God to them, you yourself need to get to know him, to live his Life, to serve him. (2)

I have pondered why the church is anemic in America.

We have incredible theologians, great exegetes, and emphasis on apologetics.  We have Church Growth studies and strategies, church planters, church restorers, more seminaries than anywhere else in the world.

Yet the church in America still is in decline.  It is so bad now, that we actually have experts in church viability, and strategies to close churches.  The key phrase these days is a legacy church – a church which realizes it isn’t viable, and therefore determines how to will its assets to something that will live and thrive.

We’e forgotten His promises, we’ve forgotten that this faith we have, is faith in those promises, a trust that is based in not knowing about God

A trust not founded in theological treatises, or exegeting the word skuballw correctly, or in knowing which studies to use to understand a church, or which programs might work in which context. It’s a trust that isn’t dependent on using a 14th century liturgy, (or one from a red, blue or maroon hymnal) or haing the right contemporary service order.  All these things are tools, they can be used in our churches, But we never, ever dare put our trust in them.  They are not what we count on, they are not whom we believe on, and they will let us down.

It is a trust that comes from knowing God, and knowing Him intimately.

It is then we can study His promises and claim those promises (not promises we or others create) as His promises to us.

But it still isn’t about the promises.  They are incredible, they are awesome… but our faith isn’t in them.

It is in Him.

It is in realize that He lives with us, in us, that He has come to us, and saved us, cleansed us, is healing us, and is shepherding us, His church, that we come to know Him.  Yes, intimately, and we know He knows us more intimately that we will ever know ourselves.  It was that knowledge that caused Him to comes to us, to die for us, for in knowing us, He loves us, and we… amazed, in awe, begin to learn to love Him back.

That love of His for us is what makes us holy..  It is what drives missionaries and martyrs.  It’s what makes grandma’s and great aunt’s pray for their prodigals on their knees, It is what makes all the heroes of the faith trust in God in their darkest hour.  It is what is causing the church in the “third world” or the Global South, to grow in the face of persecution, in the face of famine, in the face of spiritual warfare.

It’s time we remembered that…. its times we shared that, in chruches, and restaurants, in our homes, our workplaces.

God is with us.  God loves us… and share the extent of that love.

 

(1)  The Large Catechism of Martin Luther.

(2)  Escriva, Josemaria (2011-01-31). The Forge (Kindle Locations 493-495). Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition.

Who is more faithful to the faith? Wrong question!

Jesus Christ Crucifix

Jesus Christ Crucifix (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Devotional Thought of the Day

8  Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever. 9  Do not let all kinds of strange teachings lead you from the right way. It is good to receive inner strength from God’s grace, and not by obeying rules about foods; those who obey these rules have not been helped by themHebrews 13:8-9 (TEV) 

Although it seems a paradox, those who call themselves sons of the Church may often be precisely those who sow greater confusion.  (1)

I see a lot of confusion among the people of the church caused by those in the church today.  Matter of fact, the old cliche, “we’ve met the enemy and we are it!” may be at a epic high.  It doesn’t matter what denomination, what movement, what area, there is a battle who is more faithful.  In my denomination, the battle as to who is most faithful often is waged between those who want to abide by the old rules, the old ways and customs and methods of the church in its 1940’s-1950’s heyday, and those who define faithfulness as being tied to ourreach and mission.  We get convinced that only if we can find the right box, with the right walls, then God will bless us – because we are faithful. That God will cause the church to thrive because of our perfect liturgy, our our desire to see people know Christ.

And we lovk ourslves in a box…. Sometimes in fear, sometimes in frustration, sometimes just because we want and need a way to now we are okay with God.

It is ironic.  But then, as sinners, we are good about making it all about ourselves.

In other times, it was waged over music, or church governance or finances or any of a number of good and practical things.  We focus on concepts, on the theology, on the practice… and we forget about the content, the relationship.. to put it bluntly, what I see lacking the most in these battles, is our desire to know and make known the Lord who loves us.

It’s time to cut through the confusion, its time to strip away both new ideas and old man-made requitements and just draw our strength from where it comes.  Hebrews says it is a gift of God, it is grace, it is walking each day in His presence, reveling in His mercy, depending on His faithfulness, trusting ourselves into His loving hands…confident of His faithfulness.

Seeing whatever happens as something He is working through, whether it is joyous or a cross, whether it is in abundancae …well… let me quote Paul

8  We are often troubled, but not crushed; sometimes in doubt, but never in despair; 9  there are many enemies, but we are never without a friend; and though badly hurt at times, we are not destroyed. 10  At all times we carry in our mortal bodies the death of Jesus, so that his life also may be seen in our bodies. 2 Corinthians 4:8-10 (TEV)

Here is the key that stops us from looking for affirmation of our faithfulness- because we don’t need it.  We have Christ.   We have a God who says, “you are my child, I have begotten you… dwell in my love.”

And when we do.. all sorts of interesting things happen…not that we’d notice… for our lives would be constantly praising Him… for His faithfulness.

So stop trying to prove your faithful, that your faithfulness is superior or more holy.. and just dwell in His presence, evjoy His love.. and adore Him..for He is our God, and we are His kids.

AMEN

Escriva, Josemaria (2011-01-31). Furrow (Kindle Locations 1664-1665). Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition.

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