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The Idol of “Pragmatic Ministry”

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Devotional Thought of the Day

During the night Paul had a vision of a man of Macedonia standing and begging him, “Come over to Macedonia and help us.” After Paul had
seen the vision, we got ready at once to leave for Macedonia, concluding that God had called us to preach the gospel to them
. Acts 16:9-10

Why don’t we try to live and transmit the priority of non-quantifiable values: friendship, the ability to simply celebrate the good moments of life, sincerity that encourages peace, confidence and trust? It may be easy to say, as poetic as these values may sound, but extremely demanding to live them, since it requires that we stop worshiping the god of “efficiency-at-all-cost”, so deeply rooted in our post-modern mindset.

In the last 50 years, the church has struggled with becoming “missional”, to take up the “apostolate” and get back to the work the church has been placed in the world to do. The work Paul summarized in Colossians this way, “to present everyman perfect in Chrsit Jesus.”

In the process, we have gotten quite pragmatic. We have taken models of efficient business practices and adapated them to the church. We’ve developed experts and consultants to evaluate our churches based on models and metrics.

In the process we’ve made our goal the replication of what works, and idol of pragmatic, reproducable ministry. You see it in the early days of Evangelism Explosion, (aka the Kennedy model) which had similar models adapted to their own denominational doctrine.) We see it as pastors buy books and try to replicate the best practices of whatever is working, even if it being in a different culture or demographic.

Pope Francis has it right, we’ve become so enamored with pragmatism and efficiency that we will choose them over peace, confidence, and trust. We choose it over friendship and deep fellowship, Those things are less focused upon, because the investment to see them come to fruition is too high, to vague, to unable to be truly measured.

One would even wonder what would happen if we were given a vision of people from Macedonia begging us to come, to assst them. Would we respond to the vision? Would we allow the Spirit to drive us to a place where the gospel is needed? Or would we dismiss the vision, for it dosen’t fit into our vision plan, and it can’t be measured to see if it is a viable mission.

I am not saying we completely fly by the seat of our pants, that we set aside anything that is pragmatic, that we don’t evaluate our ministry’s efficiency. We doo need this, and yet, we need to balance it, spending time in meditation, lsitening to God, growing so intimate with Him that we recognize His voice, and know when we are to follow Him.

Even when it doesn’t make logical sense.

Even when it calls for great courage, great sacrifice, and in the end only changes one or two lives…

Remember, God’s ways are beyond ours.

So walk with Him, stay close, and be amazed at how He leads you.

Pope Francis. (2013). A Year with Pope Francis: Daily Reflections from His Writings. (A. Rossa, Ed.) (p. 100). New York; Mahwah, NJ; Toronto, ON: Paulist Press; Novalis.


Christianity doesn’t make sense… and it shouldn’t!

Devotional Thoughts of the Day:

27  God purposely chose what the world considers nonsense in order to shame the wise, and he chose what the world considers weak in order to shame the powerful. 28  He chose what the world looks down on and despises and thinks is nothing, in order to destroy what the world thinks is important. 29  This means that no one can boast in God’s presence. 30  But God has brought you into union with Christ Jesus, and God has made Christ to be our wisdom. By him we are put right with God; we become God’s holy people and are set free. 31  So then, as the scripture says, “Whoever wants to boast must boast of what the Lord has done.”   –1 Corinthians 1:27-31 (TEV)

Christ is not just a Head all pierced and wounded; he is the Ruler of the whole world. His dominion does not mean that the earth will be trampled under foot, but that that splendor will be restored to it that speaks of God’s beauty and power. Christ raised up the image of Adam. You are not just clay; you extend beyond all cosmic dimensions to the very Heart of God. It is not the one who is scourged who is degraded, but the one who scourges; not the one spat upon, but the one who spits; not the one put to scorn, but he who puts to scorn; it is not pride that raises man up, but humility; not self-glorification that makes him great, but that union with God of which he is capable.

Adoration places us in a ‘Paschal situation’. It is an encounter with the infinite love of God revealed in Jesus Christ and which is made present under the consecrated species. God reveals Himself without condition. He leaves man helpless in the face of the marvel of His manifestation: an all-powerful God Who makes Himself so small, so poor, under the appearance of bread.

You stand there or kneel there, and for a moment, all else falls away.

From the world’s view, it is a piece of stale bread and some really cheap wine. It is a moment the world would pass by, and pass by quickly.

It doesn’t make sense, but then so little of Christianity makes sense. At least from the world’s perspective. The King who serves, the Healer who is hurt, the Sinless one, bearing all sin…

As Benedict XVI noted, the humble end up being glorified, this little piece of wheat (?) and wine end up bieng a feast more meaningful than anything, That cup of water poured over one’s head, something that cleans away every sin, every bit of injustice.

This fact, that in the world’s logic Christianity, is not logical, is an incredible blessing. Here is why,

What has the world’s logic actually accomplished? When has its wisdom brought about peace? When could it heal a broken heart or a tortured soul?

When has it made a difference, in view of death?

And yet, giving someone who trusts in Christ, the bread and wine, the BOdy and BLood of Christ can overwhelm them with peace. Hearing a pastor lead mourners through Psalm 23 or the Lord’s Prayer can bring peace in the midst of tears at a funeral. Hearing that your sin is forgiven, yes, THAT sin is forgiven, and that told by a man God put in place to tell you that, in that very moment.

Those things make a difference, no matter how the logic can’t explain it.

God is with you.. and that, someday, is the only thing that sustains us.

And oh, how is sustains us.!

Lord Jesus, help us realize that it is okay for Your logic to be beyond us.  Help us to accept that Your ways are not ours, not do we get to judge you based on our limitations.  Instead, help us to rely on Your promises, Your presence, Your love. AMEN!! 

Ratzinger, J. (1992). Co-Workers of the Truth: Meditations for Every Day of the Year. (I. Grassl, Ed., M. F. McCarthy & L. Krauth, Trans.) (p. 52). San Francisco: Ignatius Press.

Rey, D. (2012). Adoration and the New Evangelization. In A. Reid (Ed.), From Eucharistic Adoration to Evangelization (pp. 6–7). London; New York: Burns & Oates.

Our Logic and Reason: Can We Trust Them?

Devotional Thought of the Day:
2  The LORD Who are you to question my wisdom with your ignorant, empty words? 3  Now stand up straight and answer the questions I ask you. Job 38:2-3 (TEV)

11  When I was a child, my speech, feelings, and thinking were all those of a child; now that I am an adult, I have no more use for childish ways. 12  What we see now is like a dim image in a mirror; then we shall see face-to-face. What I know now is only partial; then it will be complete—as complete as God’s knowledge of me. 13  Meanwhile these three remain: faith, hope, and love; and the greatest of these is love. 1 Corinthians 13:11-13 (TEV)

I believe that I cannot come to my Lord Jesus Christ by my own intelligence or power. But the Holy Spirit call me by the Gospel, enlightened me with His gifts, made me holy and kept me in the true faith, just as He calls, gathers together, enlightens and makes holy the whole Church on earth and keeps it with Jesus in the one, true faith. In this Church, He generously forgives each day every sin committed by me and by every believer. On the last day, He will raise me and all the dead from the grave. He will give eternal life to me and to all who believe in Christ. Yes, this is true!

I am not sure if it was written in the 70’s or early 80’s, but James Dobson once wrote a book called, “Emotions:  Can you trust them?”.  Extremely popular, it was one of the books that rocketed him to celebrity status in the evangelical world.   And in questioning our hearts, we learned that these emotions easily deceive us.

It’s been 30 years since i read it, but I think we need a sequel to the book.   Specifically, asking the very tough question of whether we replaced our emotions with what we perceive to be our logic, our ability to reason.

I am not talking about outside our churches, although that might be an interesting study.  I am talking about inside the church.  We have tried to divorce our feelings from ourselves, and the church has been lifeless because of that.  We extoll those who present the faith logically, who try to show, step by step, the logic of scripture.  (Side note:  It is not surprising that as Dobson downplayed emotions, exegetical preaching – verse by verse – became “the” way to preach.  Exegesis is good, but it can be blind to the gospel)

But is our intellect, our reason, our ability to be logical all that reliable?  Or does it have the same frailty as our emotions?  Can you actually divorce the two?  The biggest question we need to be asking ourselves is the same question Job was asked, who are we to question God?

You might say that you don’t, that everything you listen to or teach or preach is in complete accordance with God’s revelation.  That your brand of theology is the correct version, and you are sticking to it, come Hell or high water.  That everything else is heretical or heterodox or mysticism or pietism or legalism, and you are contrary to all that crap.

At which point, you have sinned, and placed yourself in the place of God.

Get it straight, even as your emotions can betray you, so can your logic.  That is why John tells us that if we deny our sin, our brokenness, the truth is not in us, we are liars.

That is why we need Christ, that is why we need Him to come to us, His presence revealed and know by hearts and minds in word and sacrament.  Not just emotionally, not just logically, but present here, now, overwhelming us with His righteousness, with His mercy, and with His peace.

That is why we need the Spirit to transform us, to conform us to the image of Christ, and to the will of the Father. That is why we need to lay aside all things, and set our eyes on Christ, the author and finisher of our faith, of our life.

It is then, Paul tells the church in Rome,

2  Do not conform yourselves to the standards of this world, but let God transform you inwardly by a complete change of your mind. Then you will be able to know the will of God—what is good and is pleasing to him and is perfect. Romans 12:2 (TEV)

Be still and know He is God, let Him be your place of rest, and safety, and let Him transform you.  This is the hope you need, that those around you need as well. That He will reconcile our broken reason and our broken emotions to Himself, and gives us life.

AMEN.

Martin Luther, Luther’s Small Catechism: Developed and Explained, WORDsearch CROSS e-book, Under: “The Third Article: On Becoming Holy”.

Is God Reasonable or Logical?

Devotional Thought of the Day: God, who am I?


1  So then, my friends, because of God’s great mercy to us I appeal to you: Offer yourselves as a living sacrifice to God, dedicated to his service and pleasing to him. This is the true worship that you should offer. 2  Do not conform yourselves to the standards of this world, but let God transform you inwardly by a complete change of your mind. Then you will be able to know the will of God—what is good and is pleasing to him and is perfect. 3  And because of God’s gracious gift to me I say to every one of you: Do not think of yourself more highly than you should. Instead, be modest in your thinking, and judge yourself according to the amount of faith that God has given you.Romans 12:1-3 (TEV)

ANOTHER TEMPTATION is to prefer head-values to heart-values. That should not be the case. Only the heart unifies and integrates. Intellect without a sense of piety tends to divide. The heart unites ideas with reality, time with space, life with death and with eternity. The temptation is to dislodge intellect from the place where God our Lord put it. He gave it to us so that we could clarify faith. God did not create human intelligence so that we could set ourselves up as judges of all things. It is a light that has only been lent to us, a mere reflection. Our intellect is not the light of the world; it is simply a flash for illuminating our faith. The worst thing that can happen is for human beings to let themselves be dragged along by the “lights” of reason. They easily become ignorant intellectuals or carefree “sages.” The true mission of our minds is to discover the seeds of the Word within humanity, the logoi spermatikoi.  (1)
On vacation, so a different set of devotions may appear for the next few days.  I left my normal devotional book in my office, and so I picked up Pope Francis’s book off my kindle – and came to this passage.

It addresses far more clearly that I something I have long thought.

We’ve somehow disconnect the heart of our faith, preferring the reason of faith.   We hear “logos” and reduce it to logic, to human reason, and make the “logos” of God submit to our ability to process it, to analyze it, to dissect it and categorize it.

This despite the numerous passages, scripture that remind us how God’s ways are not ours, how His thoughts are beyond ours.

The result is staggering!  Children of the enlightenment, of the age of reason, we consider ourselves judges of everything.  We judge manuscripts, ignoring the 99.996 percent consistency, but that gives us the right and authority to judge which texts are to be heeded, and which we can dismiss.  On the other edge of the spectrum, we build from scripture a legal system that cares less for mankind, but raises the system we produced to God’s writ.   There is no mercy, confession and absolution becomes a duty, not a sacrament (we even consider ourselves lords over the sacrament!)

The struggle is to dismiss the heart, if we cannot create cardio-eunuchs, we are least circumcise our heart until it is smaller than the Grinch’s. We let reason drag our Christianity behind it, as Pope Francis said.

Faith is like loyalty, like volition, a matter of the heart.  It is the relationship, both with God and with those who live life in our midst, or we in theirs.  Faith is a verb, better translated trust, and the trust we have in God supersedes our knowledge.  Just as a young couple in love will not be reasonable in their parent’s eyes when it comes to establishing a home and finances, there are times our trust and love in God will seem unreasonable and even foolish to those around us, and even us.  We will dare to love our enemies, we will forgive those whom logic demands eye for an eye.  We will sacrifice our desires and preferences in order to see people come to know God’s love, and to love Him in return.

We realize that God has planted, as Solomon wrote, eternity into the hearts of mankind.  As Francis wrote – the seeds of the Word.  That capitalized Word is not logic, it is not reason as man understands it. It is Jesus Christ, the one who came and suffered and died, and rose from the dead (which of these is “logical” by man’s standard?

Does our intellect have its place?  Sure!  Can academic theology have its place, a role in helping us understand the love we know?  Yes, but it is a servant, not a guardian.  It is a tool, not the foreman.

The great commands, and the Great commission bear that out – we are to love, God and our neighbor, we are to make disciples, not converts.  We are to proclaim God’s grace, that mercy and peace that is ours because He loves us…. Even though it doesn’t really seem reasonable….

Let us learn well, but let us trust and love the Lord, and may that love govern our reason.

Amen.

 

(1)      Pope Francis; Jorge M Bergoglio (2013-11-18). Open Mind, Faithful Heart (pp. 27-28). The Crossroad Publishing Company. Kindle Edition.

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