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God’s “safe place”…the place He fits in…

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Concordia Lutheran Church – Cerritos, Ca , at dawn on Easter Sunday

Devotional Thought of the Day:

16 Don’t you yourselves know that you are God’s sanctuary and that the Spirit of God lives in you?  1 Co 3:16   HCSB

1 How lovely is Your dwelling place, LORD of Hosts. 2 I long and yearn for the courts of the LORD; my heart and flesh cry out for the living God. Psalm 64:1-2 HCSB

37 How does this sanctifying take place? Answer: Just as the Son obtains dominion by purchasing us through his birth, death, and resurrection, etc., so the Holy Spirit effects our sanctification through the following: the communion of saints or Christian church, the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body, and the life everlasting. In other words, he first leads us into his holy community, placing us upon the bosom of the church, where he preaches to us and brings us to Christ.

King Solomon once asked if there was ever a place God could fit in.

As I read the readings quoted this moring I thought of Solomon’s words at the dedication of the temple, and as I read that we were God’s sanctuary, I didn’t think about it in view of a huge cathedral’s sanctuary, but the place for someone seeking a home, seeking a place where you “fit in”, where You were loved.  To quote the old song from the show “Cheers”, the place where “everybody knows Your name”.

A sanctuary is a place where you are at peace, where you can rest, and be yourself.  Where it is safe.  Where you are worry free and free to discover who you are, and live as you were meant ot live. Some people mock those described as “millenials” for wanting such a place, for struggling to understand this world and the chaos we have seen it become.

Yet even as the Psalmist desires to be in the dwelling place of God, (something I resonate with a lot, as I struggle with my own sin and the sin of the world)  I find it comforting to know God seeks this place as well.  That God would look for His safe place, the place where He would be who He knows Himself to be, to create and find every part of His sanctuary.  God is far more desirous of that place than we are, and the extreme measures He will go to create that place, to found the place where He fits in, to dwell in the place where everyone knows (and praises) His name.

People reading this may think that I am picturing God as a wimpy needy person, just as they picture the millennials who they berate and mock.  The need for a safe place and a call for it by the younger adults of this day is not about them being wimps, it is about their keen sense of the dissonance that sin causes, the brokenness that our hearts and souls cannot tolerate.

And neither should ours.

We, especially those in the church, should be crying out to God, to make His presence know, to help us to understand that He dwells in our midst, that we are the sanctuary we so eagerly seek out.  We can, by the power of the Holy Spirit, see those out searching for a place, drawn to Him, pointed there by our words, by our lives.  For this church is the place we find ourselves in the heart of Christ, and it is there, as the Spirit dwells in us,.

This is the sanctuary God desires more than anything, for Jesus, died to establish it.  This is the community that is called holy, that is set apart to know and love one another, where everyone knows your name, and everyone knows His. This is His masterpiece, this church made not of wood and stone, but of hearts and souls, the place figured in the words of John 1, where it says he came and made His home among us. This is what all creation culminated in, this sanctuary, this safe place God has made to dwell in with us.

Realize my friends, you dwell in Him, and you are His sanctuary.  For this is His desire, to have this sanctuary for Himself.

Lord,, help ys to realize that in the Sabbath you rest, and envisioned us finding rest and peace with You.  In making us Your Holy People, you created a place where You fit in, where You would rest in peace with those you call by name, who call You by Name and call upon that Name. Help us to do so often so that every burden is lifted, and every praise is sung.   AMEN!

 

 

Tappert, T. G. (Ed.). (1959). The Book of Concord the confessions of the Evangelical Lutheran Church. (p. 415). Philadelphia: Mühlenberg Press.

 

The Confusion about “Faith Alone”

Tau CrossDevotional Thought for our day:
20  And when people escape from the wickedness of the world by knowing our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ and then get tangled up and enslaved by sin again, they are worse off than before. 21  It would be better if they had never known the way to righteousness than to know it and then reject the command they were given to live a holy life. 2 Peter 2:20-21 (NLT)

2  For the message God delivered through angels has always stood firm, and every violation of the law and every act of disobedience was punished. 3  So what makes us think we can escape if we ignore this great salvation that was first announced by the Lord Jesus himself and then delivered to us by those who heard him speak? Hebrews 2:2-3 (NLT)

325    Fight against the softness that makes you lazy and careless in your spiritual life. Remember that it might well be the beginning of tepidity … and, in the words of the Scripture, God will vomit out the lukewarm.

In the last couple of weeks, I’ve seen a lot of discussion about the phrase “faith alone” (sola fide in Latin.)  In those conversations, I have read what Reformed think I believe, that Romans Catholics think we mean by it, and even what Orthodox think we believe by the term.

Unfortunately, none of them told me what I actually believe, even though they said they were accurately representing what Lutheran and Calvin mean by the term. (there is the first clue when they claim Luther and Calvin mean the same thing when they use “faith alone”)

As I read St. Josemaria’s words this morning, it got me thinking about the difference between faith being passive (which it is) and faith being lazy or lukewarm.   

Lukewarm or lazy faith is the result of cheap grace, (to use another theologian’s term)  We have the right knowledge, we even pursue that knowledge, but it doesn’t make a difference in the way of life the person lives.  It instead goes for either intellectual or emotional stimuli to determine what is good.  It would rather see that than action, because we know that action doesn’t save, only faith does.  (it, therefore, denies the role of the sacraments in regard to faith!)  And because it lacks roots, it dries up and fades away.  This is not “faith alone” because there is no God that is transcendent, that is here, that is involved.  

Passive faith means that we depend on God, for our salvation, for our life, and our dependence is only on Him.  He saves us, He brings us to life, He causes us to walk with Him, and the Holy Spirit’s presence transforms us, making us holy, taking on the image of Christ.  It is passive in that only finds hope, it only finds an answer in our relationship with God, a relationship He determines, that He defines, that He constantly nourishes.

That is what those who confuse Calvin and Luther don’t quite understand, or those who were trying to represent what I believe (as a Lutheran pastor)  over the last couple of weeks.  They put forth that “faith alone” didn’t leave room for baptism, or the Lord’s Supper.  Yet in Lutheran theology, these things are part of what is “faith alone”, because God ordained them because He promised to work through them, to pour His promises, including forgiveness through them.   “Faith alone” doesn’t deny God’s means of grace, it actually requires us to depend on God working in the way He promised, through those things and times we call sacramental.

And it is because we walk with God that we find our lives being transformed, that we respond to His love almost instinctively, but yet visibly.  It means we learn to love and love others, responding to their needs, to their search for life and for meaning. This is a life of faith, a life trusting in God, walking with Him whereever we go..

God is with us, and knowing that, we can depend on Him.  That is what “Faith alone” really means, to those it originated with …

AMEN! 

 

Escriva, Josemaria. The Way (Kindle Locations 838-840). Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition.

Christian, Are You This Courageous? Do you have this strength?

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERADevotional Thoughts for our days:

10 “Stop fighting,” he says, “and know that I am God, supreme among the nations, supreme over the world.” 11 The LORD Almighty is with us;  the God of Jacob is our refuge.  Psalm 46:10-11  TEV

A mighty Fortress is our God, A Bulwark never failing; Our Helper He amid the flood Of mortal ills prevailing: For still our ancient foe Doth seek to work us woe; His craft and power are great. And, armed with cruel hate, On earth is not his equal.

Did we in our own strength confide, Our striving would be losing; Were not the right Man on our side, The Man of God’s own choosing: Dost ask who that may be? Christ Jesus, it is He; Lord Sabaoth His Name, From age to age the same, And He must win the battle.

This is important: the courage to trust in Jesus’ mercy, in his patience, to seek refuge always in the wounds of his love.

As we approach the 500th anniversary of the reformation, I have spent a lot of time reading and thinking through the history, and how it affects the Church today.  Not just my congregation, or my denomination, but the entire family of God’s children.  And what it means to reform.

For example, in my news feed, this morning was a great story of Pope Francis and liturgical reform. If I dare say, it is very Lutheran.  At the same time, there are those who are trying, with intent or ignorance, to divide the church further.  Not in the hope of reform, but in the desire to keep what they know pure.  And in the process, lose what Luther found the greatest comfort in, the love and mercy of God. 

Ninety percent of the time I hear Luther’s classic hymn quoted in green above, it is done with the power and energy of a military anthem.  Full crescendo Organs, loud brass, even clashing cymbals, as if it is a call to battle, something to unite the forces of good behind as we go to war.

Given that it is derived in part from Psalm 46, I am not sure that interpretation is valid.  It is not a mighty anthem, but a recognition that we are not that strong, that we need a refuge, that we cannot have confidence if we are dealing with Satan or the World.  I see Luther, inspired by the Psalm, writing this to a soft broken melody of one who knows despair, who is confused and hurt, and who is beginning to realize his hope is found in the one who was nailed to the cross, the Lord Jesus who is portrayed on the crucifix he sol tightly grasps. I see this as the resolution of a man who has searched for hope, finding it with his last gasp… the music of reeds and deep strings.. as the words are whispered out…. from broken, contrite spirits that are finding refuge… and rest.

We have to have the confidence to hide in CChrist we must depend on Jesus’ mercy and his patience and to seek and find refuge in Christ, who we are united to in our baptism.  

So stop fighting the world, stop striving against the powers of evil, (or those you just think are evil.) Have the courage, the confidence to trust in God.  He is dependable, He is the one who has the victory, and in Him…

we are safe.  we can rest.

TO do so takes a lot of courage, a lot of strength, to stay firmly planted in Jesus, despite every temptation to fight or flee.  It, in fact, takes far more to endure, to wait on Him.  Yet the Spirit helps us in our weakness. For the Spirit works through the church to remind us of this fact.

the Lord Almighty is with you, and God is your refuge.  AMEN!

Martin Luther – A Mighty Fortress is our God

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

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A Lenten Devotion: Are you satisfied with just “getting” to heaven?

clydes-cross-2Devotional Thought of the Day:

9  For we are partners working together for God, and you are God’s field. You are also God’s building. 10  Using the gift that God gave me, I did the work of an expert builder and laid the foundation, and someone else is building on it. But each of you must be careful how you build. 11  For God has already placed Jesus Christ as the one and only foundation, and no other foundation can be laid. 12  Some will use gold or silver or precious stones in building on the foundation; others will use wood or grass or straw. 13  And the quality of each person’s work will be seen when the Day of Christ exposes it. For on that Day fire will reveal everyone’s work; the fire will test it and show its real quality. 14  If what was built on the foundation survives the fire, the builder will receive a reward. 15  But if your work is burnt up, then you will lose it; but you yourself will be saved, as if you had escaped through the fire.   1 Corinthians 3:9-15 (TEV)

939    Be men and women of the world, but don’t be worldly men and women.  (1)

As I read this scripture passage this morning, it seemed to confront a popular thought about heaven that I’ve bought into for years.  It is usually expressed this way,

“I’d rather be a doorkeeper in heaven, than to rule hell.”

More often it is seen by an attitude that wants to do the absolute minimum to get to heaven.  That would rather not be bothered with striving to be holy, or to be inconvenienced by reaching out and serving others.  The attitude that acknowledges that pastors, priests, deacons and other ministers are servants, but expects them to serve by meeting our desires, by making us comfortable.  By doing our favorite music, to preaching in a way that inspires but doesn’t challenge, to making us realize the danger of their sin, but not our own.  To show us the needs to send a few dollars to missions over there, but not to see the mission field in our neighborhood.

This is building with straw and wood.  The stuff that doesn’t survive the test on the Day of Judgment.  The stuff that won’t leave us in awe, for we won’t see how God worked through us.

For you see, while we do things with the “gold, silver and precious stones”, those are the things God brings into our lives. This isn’t about being proud of what we have done, what we have built, but being able to see God at work in our lives. It is about our living, really living, beyond that which we are by nature willing and capable of doing on our own.

It is about living the baptized life, realizing we walk this journey with Jesus.  It is about the Holy Spirit transforming us, as we reflect Jesus into this lost and broken world.

So this Lent, instead of giving up chocolate or caffeine, give up a weak faith that is comfortable for one that is built on Christ’s comfort, and shares that comfort with others.

(1)  Escriva, Josemaria. The Way (Kindle Locations 2180-2181). Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition.

We had One Job….

clydes-cross-2Devotional Thought of the Day:
49 One of them, named Caiaphas, who was High Priest that year, said, “What fools you are! 50 Don’t you realize that it is better for you to let one man die for the people, instead of having the whole nation destroyed?” 51Actually, he did not say this of his own accord; rather, as he was High Priest that year, he was prophesying that Jesus was going to die for the Jewish people, 52and not only for them, but also to bring together into one body all the scattered people of God.  John 11:49-52

9 Without boasting, it is manifest that the Mass is observed among us with greater devotion and more earnestness than among our opponents.
7 Moreover, the people are instructed often and with great diligence concerning the holy sacrament, why it was instituted, and how it is to be used (namely, as a comfort for terrified consciences) in order that the people may be drawn to the Communion and Mass. The people are also given instruction about other false teachings concerning the sacrament.
2 Meanwhile no conspicuous changes have been made in the public ceremonies of the Mass, except that in certain places German hymns are sung in addition to the Latin responses for the instruction and exercise of the people.
3 After all, the chief purpose of all ceremonies is to teach the people what they need to know about Christ. (1)

Today Jesus might, at first glance, appear to be boring and not so exciting, but in him are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and charity, all the richness of love, faith and hope.

In the words of Caiaphas, I find some hope this morning.

He didn’t realize what he was doing, and yet, he pointed tho the cross of Christ, and our need for the death of Christ Jesus. He pointed to Jesus, who would die for all of us, to bring us together in one body, all of us scattered across the world, all of us scattered across time, all of us scattered across 42,000 denominations.

Sometimes we who preach and teach, are more like Caiaphas that we want to admit.  We intended something else, and the Holy Spirit made it work just like it did with Caiaphas. We speak of Christ, we teach people what they need to know about Christ.   They are drawn to the sacraments, they find in them the comfort and peace the world and their sin doesn’t offer.

We had one job, and our desire to astound people with knowledge, or convince them of our political position, our pragmatic superiority of mission,  or even to give them a “lutheran (insert your own denominational/non-denominational tag) identity” twists the message, and imparts something extra.  Something different that what should come out of our mouth did.

And we rejoice in God working, not at all realizing that we had one job, and only one, and we screwed it up.

We didn’t give them Jesus, that wasn’t our intent.

He came to them anyway!  While we were patting ourselves on the back, praising each other for the job we did, and celebrating as if our sermon or blog, our podcast or summit was all our work.

Like Caiaphas, the Holy Spirit worked through us, and we didn’t see it, and let’s be honest, we might not have heard it.

This is one lesson that is taught over and over as I teach people about ministry.  It is found in the section from the Augsburg Confession above.  I bastardize it a little, changing the word on occasion to ministry, or pastoral care, or even life. And I change the word teach to the word give, so it ends up as,

The chief purpose of all ministry, all life, is to give/teach people what they need to know about Jesus.

There is our job, whether we are a pastor, a priest, someone who facilitates the response of people to God’s love (what we call worship leaders) or someone having coffee with a friend. They need to know Jesus, heck we need to know Him, and giving/teaching others about Him answers that need.

This is orthodoxy at its best – worshipping and giving glory to God for what He’s really done.  What Pope Francis says, finding in him the treasures of charity and wisdom, the incredible love, faith, and hope.

That’s what we need…. that’s what we need to know about Jesus. More than anything.

We don’t have to be like Caiaphas, we can remind each other, encourage each other, pray for each other, and correct each other when we needed.  All to accomplish our one job….

To give all people what they need to know about Jesus.

That He answers our prayer, “Lord, have mercy on us sinners”, by coming to us, cleansing us, and the Lord is with us!  AMEN!

 

 

 

Tappert, Theodore G., ed. The Book of Concord the Confessions of the Evangelical Lutheran Church. Philadelphia: Mühlenberg Press, 1959. Print.
Pope Francis. A Year with Pope Francis: Daily Reflections from His Writings. Ed. Alberto Rossa. New York; Mahwah, NJ; Toronto, ON: Paulist Press; Novalis, 2013. Print.

The Scientific Method, Agnosticism, and Finding Hope in Misery

Devotional/Discussion Thought of the Day:

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and God of all encouragement,* 4 who encourages us in our every affliction, so that we may be able to encourage those who are in any affliction with the encouragement with which we ourselves are encouraged by God.c 5 For as Christ’s sufferings overflow to us, so through Christ* does our encouragement also overflow. 6 If we are afflicted, it is for your encouragement and salvation; if we are encouraged, it is for your encouragement, which enables you to endure the same sufferings that we suffer. 7 Our hope for you is firm, for we know that as you share in the sufferings, you also share in the encouragement. 2 Cor. 1:3-7  NABRE

20 For however many are the promises of God, their Yes is in him; therefore, the Amen from us also goes through him to God for glory.l 21 *But the one who gives us security with you in Christ and who anointed us is God;m 22 he has also put his seal upon us and given the Spirit in our hearts as a first installment.1 Cor 1:20-21 NABRE

Indeed today’s progress in science and technology can foster a certain exclusive emphasis on observable data, and an agnosticism about everything else. For the methods of investigation which these sciences use can be wrongly considered as the supreme rule of seeking the whole truth. By virtue of their methods these sciences cannot penetrate to the intimate notion of things. Indeed the danger is present that man, confiding too much in the discoveries of today, may think that he is sufficient unto himself and no longer seek the higher things.  (1) 

When the holy apostle St. Paul wanted to console his Corinthians he began by saying, “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may also comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God” [II Cor. 1:3–4]. With these words he teaches us through his own example that the afflicted are to be comforted and that this comfort comes from God and not from men. St. Paul emphasizes this to avoid that false and pernicious comfort sought after and handed out by the world, the flesh, and also the devil. That [kind of comfort] slows down and stops all the benefits and the fruits that come to us from suffering and cross.

One of the cardiologists I had was a world class doctor.  Indeed, among his other patients were a former president and a king.  Though not a Christian, and perhaps only nominally religious, he used to tell me that God would keep him humble. God did this every time he accomplished something extraordinary by simply giving him a head cold. With such, he could not perform surgery, he wasn’t supposed to see patients in poor health and was rendered miserable physically, and because of his inability, miserable because he was useless.

I think the quote in blue helps us understand the problem.  The ability to observe suffering, to encounter that which makes one miserable is undisputed,  The ability of hat observation to do something about, something even as simple as providing comfort and relief is not always possible.

We can do so many things medically and scientifically, but not everything.  We count on our doctors, our pharmacies, science and sometimes the liquor store to provide the answers to every ailment, to every problem, to every struggle. They can’t, and what is worse if our hope has been placed solely in their provision, we’ve lost faith and trust in something higher.

We’ve become agnostic, and in doing so, we’ve lost the comfort and peace the Holy Spirit brings in those moments of horrid, miserable brokenness.

Luther points us back to scripture, to the fact that such comfort does come from God, that secure in HIs presence, we find the comfort when life seems to crush us.  I could have put 12 more quotes from 2 Corinthians, or tossed in Job and Ecclesiastes and Hosea, for that truth is throughout scripture.

Where man’s brilliance fails, God is there, providing comfort and peace. There is compassion, the mercy, the comfort, all that comes through the power of the Holy Spirit, who raised Christ from the dead and works within us.  (it is tempting to wax theologicial here) But the Holy Spirit, whose presence was a gift to us in our baptism, who gives us life, real life, and heals our broken hearts and souls, there is our hope, there is the guarantee that eternity will not be life as we know it.

As one who has had a share of physical pain and suffering, illness and disease, I share this as well, in Christ Jesus, you will find hope. Reminded of my physical brokenness with the very ticks of my heart (two artificial heart valves) and struggling with back pain, and worst of all, these stupid, miserable, nose reddening, sinus pounding allergies, I know this.

The Lord is with you (and with me – as my beloved congregation reminds me very often!)

Hearing that, I find the answer to my quest for mercy; I find the comfort and peace that the Spirit reveals that gives me hope, and I find the strength to share that hope with you.

Scientific method, Agnosticism, and Atheism will not answer the cry for mercy.

But when we cry, “Lord have Mercy!” God answers, for He is our beloved Father.

AMEN!

(1) catholic Church. “Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World: Gaudium Et Spes.” Vatican II Documents. Vatican City: Libreria Editrice Vaticana, 2011. Print.

Luther, Martin. Luther’s Works, Vol. 43: Devotional Writings II. Ed. Jaroslav Jan Pelikan, Hilton C. Oswald, and Helmut T. Lehmann. Vol. 43. Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1999. Print.

 

A Growing Faith & Ministry and Those who Would Prevent It

Devotional/Discussion Thought of the Day:
5  And you are living stones that God is building into his spiritual temple. What’s more, you are his holy priests. Through the mediation of Jesus Christ, you offer spiritual sacrifices that please God.    1 Peter 2:5 (NLT)

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.    Romans 12:1-2 (TEV)

On some occasions I have witnessed what could be called a general mobilization against those committed to dedicating their whole lives to the service of God and souls. Some people think that our Lord ought to ask their permission before choosing others for his service. Apparently they believe man is not free to say an unequivocal yes or no to this proposal of Love. To people who think that way, the supernatural life of each soul is something secondary. They do believe it has to be reckoned with, but only after petty comforts and human selfishness have been accommodated. If this were the case, what would be left of Christianity? Are the loving but demanding words of Jesus only to be heard? Or are they rather to be heard and put into practice? Did he not say, “Be perfect as your heavenly Father is perfect”?8

One of the things that those who observe the church and its ministry is that the millennial generation is more caused based.  That is, they do not want a passive church where they sit and learn academic proofs for the existence of God and the formula for justification. They want an active faith, a trust in God that drives them to serve with purpose.

Some say this is new, but I remember my generation wanting the same thing.  We responded to calls to be servant leaders, not just the bureaucrats and office holders we’ve too often become. What is worse, my generation, and the one before that seem determined to quench the spirit of those who would serve, saying that they cannot serve.

In doing so, not only are they preventing men and women from serving the vocation God has given them, they deny them a chance to grow in faith.  The church should be recognizing the gifts and calling that God has given them.  The church should be laying hands on and praying for the Spirit to bless those who would serve!  Those who stop people from serving as part of the church are restraining them from doing the things that would lift up their pastors. There is no scriptural or confessional reason for this!  ( Luther, Melancthon, and Walther all talk about such assistance as being good and right!)

I think St. Josemaria Escriva is correct, the resistance to letting people serve as God has called them has nothing to do with caring for them spiritually, and everything to do with petty comforts and selfishness.  Harsh words, but to dismiss the supernatural life of souls as something secondary is completely contrary to the scriptures.

For these is a great tie between making sacrifices, and depending on God.  Service and Faith are inseparable.  Just like there is a right call to the office of the pastor, there is a right call to the priesthood, to the ministry of serving, to what in Greek is called the diakonos, that is – the office of deacon.

As a pastor, there are few things more uplifting as seeing the people of God hear the message I proclaim, the gospel I teach and desire to do something with it. It is not a threat to my job, or a threat to my existence.  It isn’t a financial threat to see this!  There is no threat in educating people to serve.  It becomes the joy of seeing the care of souls entrusted to me bearing fruit. What a joy it is, when people say that this person ministered to them, what joy is it to watch a man stand by me and assist in baptizing those he shared the hope he has because of Christ.

What a joy it is to see them hunger and thirst to know God’s love, to help them explore it, to help them be rid of those things that quench their relationship with God. To see them realize that they can please God, that they who were justified by Christ are now sanctified and set apart to live walking with their Lord, guided by the Holy Spirit.

We have a unique opportunity, to see the church’s faith become relevant to their lives, to see them dedicate their lives to serving God and the people in the communities they live in, and the communities around the world. How we do that will determine the church for generations to come, whether it will be weak and die out where we live, or whether it will serve God.

It’s our choice, just as it was Israel’s as it entered the land.

Let’s pray.. and hear God speak clearly.

Escriva, Josemaria. Christ is Passing By (Kindle Locations 1116-1122). Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition.

Do I Need to…. go to church, pray, confess my sins…etc

Devotional Thought of the Day:

41  Many of them believed his message and were baptized, and about three thousand people were added to the group that day. 42  They spent their time in learning from the apostles, taking part in the fellowship, and sharing in the fellowship meals and the prayers. 43  Many miracles and wonders were being done through the apostles, and everyone was filled with awe. 44  All the believers continued together in close fellowship and shared their belongings with one another. 45  They would sell their property and possessions, and distribute the money among all, according to what each one needed. 46  Day after day they met as a group in the Temple, and they had their meals together in their homes, eating with glad and humble hearts, 47  praising God, and enjoying the good will of all the people. And every day the Lord added to their group those who were being saved.
Acts 2:41-47 (TEV)

16 Ultimately, if we should list as sacraments all the things that have God’s command and a promise added to them, then why not prayer, which can most truly be called a sacrament? It has both the command of God and many promises. If it were placed among the sacraments and thus given, so to speak, a more exalted position, this would move men to pray.  (1)

“Thy kingdom come.”
7 What does this mean?
Answer: To be sure, the kingdom of God comes of itself, without our prayer, but we pray in this petition that it may also come to us.
8 How is this done?
Answer: When the heavenly Father gives us his Holy Spirit so that by his grace we may believe his holy Word and live a godly life, both here in time and hereafter forever. (2)

Lord, since eternity is Thine, art Thou ignorant of what I say to Thee? or dost Thou see in time, what passeth in time? Why then do I lay in order before Thee so many relations? Not, of a truth, that Thou mightest learn them through me, but to stir up mine own and my readers’ devotions towards Thee, that we may all say, Great is the Lord, and greatly to be praised. I have said already; and again will say, for love of Thy love do I this. For we pray also, and yet Truth hath said, Your Father knoweth what you have need of, before you ask. It is then our affections which we lay open unto Thee, confessing our own miseries, and Thy mercies upon us, that Thou mayest free us wholly, since Thou hast begun, that we may cease to be wretched in ourselves, and be blessed in Thee; seeing Thou hast called us (3)

The question is asked less of me now than in was in the 80’s or 90’s, and I am not sure whether that is a good thing or as I fear a bad thing.

In the 90’s I heard it more from college students and young couples, perhaps because their children asked it, “do I have to go church?”, “why do I havvvveee to gooo to chhhhhurch?”  Or the “can’t I just worship God in the forest, or at the beach, or playing my music?”

Somewhere along the line I think the answer was changed from the real “why” to simply, “you have to”, and as we often do, we find excuses.   The same of course goes for prayer, or for confessing our sins, or reading the scriptures.  Even for pastors.  Ask yours what he was reading this week, that wasn’t done for preparing for church or a Bible Study. (If you don’t want to embarrass them I have a friend named Rich that would be more than willing to!

Some say that we go to church/pray/commune/confess for God’s sake – that we go to serve.  That is a crappy reason! It’s been seen as a crappy answer for a long time!  It has a partner in crime, the reason that says we go to be served!  (since it is all about us you know!)  I would use a more guttural term for that one.

We don’t go to church so that someone “gets something” or is benefitted,  Neither do we pray or study the scripture for its benefit.  When we use them, we set ourselves up to fail, for often, if we get anything out of church, it is subtle, and takes a while to process and see the effects of going?  We see ourselves struggling with the same thing, fighting the same anxieties.  And who really believes that God is somehow “helped” by our presence, as if church wouldn’t be as glorious without our presence?

So then why do we go?

If it’s not because we HAVE to?
If it’s not because we benefit?
If it doesn’t benefit God?

It is because church, like prayer and communion is about the encounter.  Any benefit is secondary to that encounter.  God and His people, those being reconciled and healed, coming together as one body.   It is that encounter that is life, it is, in every sense, a foretaste of our eternal life WITH God, and the angels, archangels, and all the community of heaven. That’s why the early church met, not just on Sunday and for a special few on Wednesday nights, but daily in the temple.  They prayed together, they ate together, the worshiped and celebrated the Eucharist, and in doing so, encountered God and they encountered His people, even as they were being added daily….

That is why the sermon isn’t the best point, the gathering that begins in the passing of the peace, and flows through communion is.  That is where we come face to face with the God who draws us to Himself.  Note, I said draws US.  Not the individual, not you and I.  He draws US, and gives us a serenity that allows us to drop everything as we encounter God, and His people.

It is this encounter we need, it is this moment that transcends everything,  God, and man, this is the life.

This is why… this encounter… this being with God.

This is what it means to be His church, the one’s whom the Father calls, by lifting Christ high, and drawing us to Him.

AMEN!

(1)  Tappert, T. G. (Ed.). (1959). The Book of Concord the confessions of the Evangelical Lutheran Church. (p. 346). Philadelphia: Mühlenberg Press.  Article XIII of the Apology of the Augsburg Confession

(2)  Tappert, T. G. (Ed.). (1959). The Book of Concord the confessions of the Evangelical Lutheran Church. (p. 213). Philadelphia: Mühlenberg Press.  The Small Catechism -: Article III

(3)  Augustine, S., Bishop of Hippo. (1996). The Confessions of St. Augustine. (E. B. Pusey, Trans.). Oak Harbor, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc.

Incredible, Precious Long-forgotten Wisdom

Devotional Thought fo the Day:

 My child, when you come to serve the Lord, prepare yourself for trials. 2 Be sincere of heart and steadfast, and do not be impetuous in time of adversity. 3 Cling to him, do not leave him, that you may prosper in your last days.  4 Accept whatever happens to you; in periods of humiliation be patient. 5 For in fire gold is tested, and the chosen, in the crucible of humiliation. 6 Trust in God, and he will help you; make your ways straight and hope in him.  (Sir 2:1–6  NAB-RE)

13 Thus you can easily understand the nature and scope of this commandment. It requires that man’s whole heart and confidence be placed in God alone, and in no one else. To have God, you see, does not mean to lay hands upon him, or put him into a purse, or shut him up in a chest.  14 We lay hold of him when our heart embraces him and clings to him.
15 To cling to him with all our heart is nothing else than to entrust ourselves to him completely. He wishes to turn us away from everything else, and draw us to Himself, because he is the one eternal good.

Too late loved I Thee, O Thou Beauty of ancient days, yet ever new! too late I loved Thee! And behold, Thou wert within, and I abroad, and there I searched for Thee; deformed I, plunging amid those fair forms which Thou hadst made. Thou wert with me, but I was not with Thee. Things held me far from Thee, which, unless they were in Thee, were not at all. Thou calledst, and shoutedst, and burstest my deafness. Thou flashedst, shonest, and scatteredst my blindness. Thou breathedst odours, and I drew in breath and panted for Thee. I tasted, and hunger and thirst. Thou touchedst me, and I burned for Thy peace.

292      You should repeat very often: Jesus, if ever a doubt creeps into my soul, setting up other noble ambitions in place of what you are asking of me, I tell you now that I prefer to follow you, no matter how much it costs. Do not leave me!

Bear with me, as a share some background to this post…. Growing up, my first full Bible was a white “leatherette” Bible with a silver cross imprinted on it.  Like the one in the picture, though the leatherette was cracked, and the pages worn…

I remember reading and being asked by Father Alex questions each week about what I read.  I was probably not more than my son’s nine years old then, and I remember reading the book of Ecclesiasticus, or  Sirach, or properly the Wisdom of Ben-Sirach.  Do I remember what I read sitting on the couch against the bay window? No, I just remember it was a book of the Bible that gave me peace. Peace I needed then, as I dealt with a few serious issues in life. The deadly threat of Marfans, often being sick with Asthma, trying to work through the idea I that was adopted, and possibly what would now be known as Aspergers. For by no means did I “fit in” at school, nor could I understand why “they” didn’t fit in with me.

Every year I pick a different translation to read through, thanks to one of my computer programs, and this year it is the New American Bible, Revised Edition.  What replaced my beloved first “full” Bible.  As such it has Wisdom/Sirach in it, as it is a Roman Catholic translation.    First time I’ve probably read this section of the Bible in 30 years or more.

Now I know why I recall the peace that came from it, sitting in my living room – it talks of what Luther calls faith, it identifies what Augustine burned for, what Escriva says we should often repeat, crying out for the Lord to help us remember and stayed focused upon.

This is faith, to cling to God no matter what assails us, to trust God, to do so recognizing His Majesty, His mercy,  His love.  For as we trust in Him, as we depend upon Him, He will make our ways straight,  He will not just give us hope; He will be our Hope.  Maybe as a child I understood that better than I do today, maybe there was less theology, less human insight.  This is what scripture said – cling to God…do not leave Him, trust in Him….

A message I need to hear today, as new problems arise, as even as I serve Him, I find Sirach right – there are so many trials, so many heartaches, so much that challenges my embrace of the Lord, who embraces me.

Probably as some of my Protestant friends are reading this, their mind is going to throw a stumbling rock in the way!  Sirach isn’t scripture, and all the side conversations of what that means.  Perhaps my Catholic friends will be wondering why I can quote Luther next to Augustine or Escriva (some Catholics might question that as well! )

Drop it.  Drop all that crap now!  

Hear the words of Sirach’s wisdom, wisdom that is not only in harmony with three of my “heroes”, or role models, but is in accord with all of scripture.  This is what the covenant means, this is what the promise of God declaring that we are His people, that He is our God. This is faith; this is why we are declared just, why we are made holy. Whther you think this is pure scripture, or a good book, you can’t argue with the fact it is scriptural in its teaching, it is what all of scripture proclaims, and urges us to believe.

That we could know the peace of God being our sanctuary, where we find rest and peace, peace that goes beyond all understanding, that guards our broken hearts and minds, and makes them whole.

Cling to God, no matter what happens as you serve Him. Know His love, know He holds you… even as you cry out,

Lord, have mercy!

You will find He will strengthen your faith, and He will be your hope.  AMEN!

 
Tappert, T. G. (Ed.). (1959). The Book of Concord the confessions of the Evangelical Lutheran Church. (p. 366). Philadelphia: Mühlenberg Press.

Augustine, S., Bishop of Hippo. (1996). The Confessions of St. Augustine. (E. B. Pusey, Trans.). Oak Harbor, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc.

Escriva, Josemaria. The Forge (Kindle Locations 1189-1191). Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition.

The Simple Christian’s Life….


Devotional Thought of the Day:
19  And I will give them singleness of heart and put a new spirit within them. I will take away their stony, stubborn heart and give them a tender, responsive heart, 20  so they will obey my decrees and regulations. Then they will truly be my people, and I will be their God. 21  But as for those who long for vile images and detestable idols, I will repay them fully for their sins. I, the Sovereign LORD, have spoken!”   Ezekiel 11:19-21 (NLT)

295      Any time is the right time to make an effective resolution, to say “I believe”, to say “I hope”, to say “I love”.  (1)

 A god is that to which we look for all good and in which we find refuge in every time of need. To have a god is nothing else than to trust and believe him with our whole heart. As I have often said, the trust and faith of the heart alone make both God and an idol.
3 If your faith and trust are right, then your God is the true God. On the other hand, if your trust is false and wrong, then you have not the true God. For these two belong together, faith and God. That to which your heart clings and entrusts itself is, I say, really your God.
4 The purpose of this commandment, therefore, is to require true faith and confidence of the heart, and these fly straight to the one true God and cling to him alone.  (2)

This morning, my devotional reading contained the green and blue quotes above.  They are simple, they describe a simple life, they describe the Christian life.

I wish they described my life more, I long for that to be my reality.

Or rather, I desire that to be my only reality.

Like Paul, there seems to be a war within me, as various things compete to be my “god”. Or should I say, I choose to allow things to compete for that role.  It is hard to admit, but I want leaders I can trust in, in whom I can entrust my life, my

It is hard to admit, but I want leaders I can trust in, in whom I can entrust my life, my family’s and my church’s future.  I want them – both secular and church leaders who will be just and righteous, gracious and merciful.  Yet I become cynical when they don’t provide when they don’t comfort; when they are proven to be as broken.  For these “gods” I would entrust myself to fail.

But even more dangerous is for me to rebel from them, and make myself my God.  It is an easy thing to do as well, encouraged by the world that tells me I have to look out for myself.  The world that teaches us that we are the captain of our fate, that if we have the right attitude, and a strong enough world, we can achieve what we desire. The same world that laughs, or worse, ignores me, when I fall on my face, and can’t get up on my own.

Enough failures and my heart will become hard, crusted over with by scars and bruises.  I want to become immune to the failures, and I become offensive, assured that it is better than being on the defensive.  But the offensiveness offends, and I can’t endure my own heart, my own attitude, my own life.

It is amid these moments of not just being broken, but being shattered that I come across Luther and Escriva and so many others, men who knew their own brokenness, and battled it on their knees, and in the scriptures,   Men who found incredible hope, and when all is said and done, the answer was simple.

Flee to God.

Cling to Him,

Believe Him and the promises He made us.  Depend on them.

Find the hope for our healing in the new Spirit given us, and

Adore the God, who works in our lives. He who always cares for His people.  My friends, you and I need, desperately need to believe in, find hope and live this God, who comes to us in our brokenness and replaces our broken hearts with one’s that find great joy is singing His praises.

This is the simple Christian life; one lives depending on God, clinging to Him. for He is our God.

It may seem too simple, but it is walking humbly with our Father, our God…..

Because of that, it is a life lived in sanctuary, and in great peace….

Lord Have mercy on us!

 

(1)  Escriva, Josemaria. The Forge (Kindle Locations 1199-1201). Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition.

(2)  Tappert, T. G. (Ed.). (1959). The Book of Concord the confessions of the Evangelical Lutheran Church. (p. 365). Philadelphia: Mühlenberg Press.

 

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