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Why Go to Church? Is it Really Necessary?


Altar with communion

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

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

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

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

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

So why go to church?

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

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

It’s all about God… and us.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Amen!

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

Can You Hear God Now? Why You Need to!


Featured imageDevotional Thought of The Day:

28  About a week after he had said these things, Jesus took Peter, John, and James with him and went up a hill to pray. Luke 9:28 (TEV)

42  They spent their time in learning from the apostles, taking part in the fellowship, and sharing in the fellowship meals and the prayers. Acts 2:42 (TEV)

551    Flee from routine as from the devil himself. The great means to avoid falling into that abyss, the grave of true piety, is the constant presence of God. (1)

There is a joke (at least I hope it is a joke) about an elderly gentleman and an odd sense of romance.  He was asked by a newlywed how often he told his wife he loved her. The old guy thought for a moment and said, “the day we got engaged.”  Seeing the shocked look on the young man’s face, he followed that up with, “and I told her if I changed my mind, I would surely let her know!”

I can’t believe there exists a woman for whom this would be satisfactory.

And so I wonder why many of us settle for that kind of relationship with God. It’s not that He doesn’t tell us constantly that He loves us, for He dearly wants us to know He loves us, to be aware of His presence.

That is what all of creation is about, about our relationship with Him.

Imagine for a moment that the old man’s wife told the young couple, “Oh, don’t worry about us, I am too tired to pay attention to my husband telling me he love me.  It’s too much work to drop what I am doing, and read a loveletter he carefully wrote me.  I don’t want his comfort, or for him to treat me special. Are our excuses for not spending time with God, with His people, any better?

Are our lives so perfect that we don’t need to be comforted by the Holy Spirit, that we don’t need to be encouraged by our brothers and sisters in the church?  Are we somehow more mature than the early church, who gathered regularly to pray?

If this letter is producing some guilt, that is not its intent. We have been given an amazing gift, a blessing beyond compare.  The presence of God, and in scripture, the proof of His love.  A gift we need to use, a gift that is a life changer, to know we walk through life with God.

Spending time in prayer, in readying and stuyding His word wih others, in celebrating the Lord’s Supper – it isn’t about duty, it is about knowing we are love… about hearing and seein that love…. Together, as His family.. And there is nothing better…

1.  Escriva, Josemaria (2010-11-02). The Way (Kindle Locations 1331-1332). Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition.

On Sunday Morning, Do We Not Hear Christ’s Cry, Do We Know Hear the Father’s Desire?


Devotional Thought of the Day:
Featured image

50  Don’t you realize that it is better for you to have one man die for the people, instead of having the whole nation destroyed?” 51  Actually, 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, 52  and not only for them, but also to bring together into one body all the scattered people of GodJohn 11:50-52 (TEV) 

906      That cry of the Son of God, lamenting that the harvest is plentiful but the labourers are few, is always relevant. How it tears at our heartstrings. That cry came from Christ’s mouth for you to hear too. How have you responded to it up to now? Do you pray at least daily for that intention?  (1)

A few weeks ago, as I answered the call to provide the invocation at my city’s Martin Luther King day celebration, I thought of the charge laid against the church in the 80’s, which may be still true today.  It noted that Sunday morning was the most segregated time in a church’s week.  With few exceptions, (my Concordia is close to being one ) churches in our country are primarily ethnocentric. It is true, unfortunately, that churches, even the most missional ones, are this way. My own denomination’s national magazine recently had our president lamenting that a district hadn’t planted a church in a predominantly Anglo community in fifteen years.

While this may be an issue of passivity and comfort, there is something that is even more staggering.  A move to isolate the church on Sunday from the world. A pendulum swing reaction from the Seeker-sensitivity of the 80’s and 90’s, that is claiming that Sunday Morning worship services are for believers only.  That we have to return deliberately to encoding everything in practices and languages that a unbeliever would not be able to comprehend. This is what is faithful, we are told, to use words like salutary, or beseech, to strive for an ethereal and beautiful service, but one that our own people struggle to value.

Let me be clear, I am in no way advocating the abandonment of the liturgy. if anything, I think word and sacrament order should be made more available.  

But I am saying we need to hear the Father’s desire that all come to the transformation of repentance. We do need to pray for the work, even the work on Sunday morning!  We all need to realize that the harvest doesn’t pause for a station break on Sunday morning as we, the holy people’ recharge.  Evangelism happens as well as a couple chooses to move from their comfortable place, to sit with those visitors and make them comfortable, and explain the service movements.  Harvest work should be seen throughout every aspect of the service. Our spiritual homes must be places of hospitality to all.  That has always been true, even at Solomon’s temple, and at the tabernacle.

The idea that Sunday is only about those who are members of the church is as ludicrous as those who say it should only be about seekers.  Both ignore the fact that Christ would die for those who are already in covenant with God, as much as He died to bring the nations into that covenant.  For all to know that He is God, and we are His people. 

Worship wars, liturgy wars, wars about what is beneficial or not cease, as do the flurry of articles bashing contemporary worship liturgy, as well as that bashing traditionalism, have no place. They do stop when we focus on God’s desire to call all His people, to gather them together as one.  (this includes those that don’t know… yet!)  As we pray that, God would send more workers into the harvest fields, so these battles diminish.  I pray we realize that the harvest is great, not just in Turkey and Ghana, but also in our own sanctuaries.

May our worship teach anyone there what they need to know about Christ – His presence, His mercy, his faithful love…

AMEN

(1)  Escriva, Josemaria (2011-01-31). The Forge (Kindle Locations 3202-3204). Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition.(1(

How to “Change” Mondays


Devotional Thought of the Day:Dawn at Concordia
22  So let us come near to God with a sincere heart and a sure faith, with hearts that have been purified from a guilty conscience and with bodies washed with clean water. 23  Let us hold on firmly to the hope we profess, because we can trust God to keep his promise. 24  Let us be concerned for one another, to help one another to show love and to do good. 25  Let us not give up the habit of meeting together, as some are doing. Instead, let us encourage one another all the more, since you see that the Day of the Lord is coming nearer. Hebrews 10:22-25 (TEV)

66         It is true: we are worth nothing, we are nothing, we can do nothing, we have nothing. And, at the same time, in the middle of our daily struggle, obstacles and temptations are not lacking. But the joy of your brothers will banish all difficulties, as soon as you are back with them, because you will see them firmly relying on Him: Quia tu es Deus fortitudo mea—because you, Lord, are our strength. (1)  

It’s Monday again, the weekend is over, and to be honest, that first sentence of St. Josemaria’s note seems all to real.

On Monday’s we often feel challenged, unequal to the task of a long week, It seems our list of weaknesses is all to real, and we’ve forgotten the lessons learned a short twenty-four hours ago.  We may already be tempted to think about and/or do that which is wrong.  Or maybe, the temptation is just to overlook that which others are doing wrong, or even the risk to their souls.

Mondays are hard, even thought 24 hours or so before, we found ourselves close to heaven, as we gathered with others who have been called to be part of God’s family.  Who have learned that we can trust in Him, that we can know the promises He has made us are sure. To hear God’s word together, and rejoice in the love for us that is revealed.  We get to hear that all of our sins are forgiven, erased, that Christ’s merits have brought healing to our souls. and to the relationships that have been marred and broken.  Incredibly, God invites us to a feast, one that calls to mind the feast that will occur in heaven, the wedding supper of Christ.

Mondays are hard, because we forget the lessons we learned again on Sunday.  We forget the words we professed, the words we know are true on Sunday.

My way of dealing with Mondays is simple.

I start preparing for the next time I will find myself with my brothers and sisters in Christ.  I think about the service (pretty much I have to ) and the message God will share with us. (as long as I don’t get in the way)  I think about the hands humbly reaching out for the Body of Christ, and the visible change in body language as they receive again the promises of God. the promises of being in Christ.  Of our burdens being taken by God, an offering to Him that is pleasing, as we recognize that He is our God, that He will provide and heal.

It is truly good to gather with our brothers and sisters in Christ.

For where two or three, or sixty or thousands are gathered, here He is, in their midst.

And that changes everything… even Mondays!

(1)   Escriva, Josemaria (2011-01-31). Furrow (Kindle Locations 496-499). Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition.

Liturgy, Language and the People it is for:


Discussion thought of the Day:

2  Those who speak in strange tongues do not speak to others but to God, because no one understands them. They are speaking secret truths by the power of the Spirit. 3  But those

Martin Luther, commemorated on February 18 Eva...

Martin Luther, commemorated on February 18 Evangelical Lutheran Worship. Minneapolis: Fortress Press (2006), 15. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

who proclaim God’s message speak to people and give them help, encouragement, and comfort. 4  Those who speak in strange tongues help only themselves, but those who proclaim God’s message help the whole church.    1 Corinthians 14:2-4 (TEV) 

Falsely are our churches accused of abolishing the Mass; for the Mass is retained among us, and celebrated with the highest reverence. Nearly all the usual ceremonies are also preserved, save that the parts sung in Latin are interspersed here and there with German hymns, which have been added to teach the people. For ceremonies are needed to this end alone that the unlearned be taught [what they need to know of Christ]. And not only has Paul commanded to use in the church a language understood by the people 1 Corinthians 14:2-9, but it has also been so ordained by man’s law. The people are accustomed to partake of the Sacrament together, if any be fit for it, and this also increases the reverence and devotion of public worship.  (1)

Last night, during the time my son and I spend reading scripture and now the Augsburg Confession together ( in Kindergarten – he chose that after 10 times reading the small catechism to me!) we came across this passage, one I think my denomination overlooks I think.  I know I do – simply because in a conversation a month ago, I brought up the quote from 1 Corinthians 14 and was told that it wasn’t speaking about Latin and German (and High English) but rather (their words) just speaking in tongues.

Sigh, I allowed them to get away with it – forgetting that in this Article – it is made all to clear that our spiritual forefathers  were talking about using language that people know – and use regularly.

I have also backed down a bit when people claim that the liturgy is not for people seeking God, but rather for the initiated, for those that cherish words like salutary, words like Nunc Dimitis, and grasp the many varied and intricate ways the mass point people to the fact that Christ is merciful, loving and present in their lives.  This is a reaction to those who claim that the church service must be seeker-sensitive ( I think they mean seeker driven – but that is my opinion)  Again – look at our Lutheran Confessions, the ceremonies of our liturgy are not for those with all the knowledge – but are to benefit those without such knowledge.  It’s not for the spiritually elite, but those of us who have been spiritually bankrupt – without understanding what we need to know about Jesus. ( His love, His mercy, His presence – heck even the middle one needs to be unpacked — mercy= His compassionate and careful cleansing us of all that is unjust – our sin and the sins of others that affect our lives )

I so love the attitude of Melancthon in writing this – an attitude that shows me how much our forefathers cared about those who didn’t know God, or those who knew of Him, but didn’t know Him.  I love the balance that says – what we’ve done is good – great – this liturgy speaks of Christ – but let us speak in a language those uninitiated in the faith.

Let our words proclaim His love, His mercy, His presence in our lives!  Let those words be such that they are heard, and treasured.

And may we see the glory of God that is with us, as we see the awe in faces as they hear and know the love of God – and with us begin to explore its depths, heights, breadt and width!  AMEN!

(1)  — Augsberg Confession, Article XXIV

Why go to church on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day…..


Devotional/Discussion thought of the day:

As I was in the place between sleep and waking this morning, my mind wandered and thought of the “work” that lay ahead of me this day…. a marathon of study and writing, and then two church services – and then just a few hours of sleep – then up for yet again another service.  It’s a long day, this last day of preparation for the celebration of Christ’s birth.

And while I know it will be a great blessing, it is a long day as well….and part of me – just longed to sleep in!  It’s the classic battle of our lives!

Some would use guilt, or a call to duty, or other gimmicks to give them the strength to get done what needs to be done.  To be honest, I’ve thought of that, for all one has to do is look at the “successful” churches – and such techniques are used – even as they sincerely desire to have people come and hear of God’s love.   It works – and there will be churches that are full, cathedrals with people huddling in from the cold, as people respond to the call of a “Holy Day of Obligation”, or that come because there is an incredible “show”.

My heart longs for our sanctuary to be filled – but it also longs for a different attitude from those coming.  One that comes, in response to God’s love… to celebrate it, to hear about it, to revel in it.

Christmas Eve, as we re-live the last moments of expectation, and celebrate the coming of Christ, and indeed, Christmas Day as well – are not days of our obligation as much as days were God did what He fulfilled His obligations, His responsibility to us.  That is what these days are about.   Going all the way back to the Garden, God promised to cover our sins, He promised to fix our brokenness, He promised that we would always be welcome in His presence, and He has given us Jesus, His only begootten Son, and the gift of the presence of the Holy Spirit to prove it.

I long for the day, when this is so clear – that we rush to church – to hear it confirmed again, to celebrate this great love, to gather – not because we have to – but because it just makes sense to be with each other, those united in Christ, those who are One in Him.

They may say I am dreamer – but to quote the song, I am not the only one…..

A priest/pastor wrote…

In the interior life, as in human love, we have to persevere. Yes, you have to meditate often on the same themes, keeping on until you rediscover an old discovery. “And how could I not have seen this so clearly before?” you’ll ask in surprise. Simply because sometimes we’re like stones, that let the water flow over them, without absorbing a drop. That’s why we have to go over the same things again and again—because they aren’t the same things—if we want to soak up God’s blessings. (1)

I pray that as we gather this day. and tomorrow, and I pray that you do gather, that our hearts are open wide, are open expectantly, to soak up God’s blessings, to revel in them, to rejoice, and celebrate His love, that you know the depth and height and width and breadth of God’s love for you, in Christ Jesus.  And I pray you pray the same for me…

Merry Christ’s gathering!  (for that’s what Christmas means!)

Escriva, Josemaria (2011-01-31). The Forge (Kindle Locations 2034-2039). Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition.

Connected…


Discussion/Devotional Quote of the day:

In the introduction to a book of Josemarie Escriva’s sermons, I read this,

When we cry ‘Abba! Father!’ it is the Spirit himself bearing witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs, heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with him” (Rom 8: 14–17). This text speaks to us about the Blessed Trinity, which is another frequent theme in these homilies. It also reminds us that Jesus Christ is the way leading to the Father through the Holy Spirit. He is our brother, our friend—the Friend—our master and lord and king. The Christian life, then, means being continuously in touch with Christ in the context of our ordinary life, without abandoning our rightful place. How does this contact take place? Monsignor Escrivá explains very concisely: “In the bread and in the word.”
Escriva, Josemaria. Christ is Passing By

I was recently told that the only hope for the church was to be found in a “annointed man’s” understanding of the book of Revelation and the end times passages of Matthew.

I don’t think so, for Paul declined talking of such things in detail – saying it wouldn’t be of benefit to the church.  What matters – that we understand His grace is all we need. (funny coincidence that I just preached on that!)   That we, because of Christ, and through the Holy Spirit can cry out Abba, Father!  That is where our hope lies!  Not in someone’s speculation – but instead in a intimate dance with the Trinity, as they pull us into their relationship…

That comes, as the introduction tells me this priest points out – as we hear God’s logos, His word, His reason, His plan.. as we see that plan re-revealed as we come again to the feast which is a foretaste to come, as we commune with our Lord, as He communes with us.  This is not just some simple ritual, this gathering of people who walk with God, it is an intimate encounter with God, the I AM – and because He is, as we commune with Him, we find out that we are…. His. It’s where we enjoy the dance, where we are reminded of the depth, height, width, and breadth of God’s love, of that fact that His peace is so incredible, that we can rest in His presence, rejoicing that we are welcome there…

God’s Revelation, the Apocalypse, the Unveiling  (they are all translations of the same word) is not about the calendar – its about the relationship, the assurance that God is with us, that He is always HERE.  If we can learn that… if we can hold on to that… we won’t have to change the church… we will realize that we are being changed… as we walk in Christ.

That is the reason we have hope… when we realize…

The Lord has had Mercy… on us..

Words of Life


Discussion thought for the day:

At lunch yesterday, I was reading a biography of a priest.  He was serving  in Spain during the Civil War that tore apart the country prior to World War II, and as he and many others were escaping across the mountains, the biographer included this…
“The student from Catalonia kept a journal of his experiences on the trip. On November 28 he wrote, “Here the most moving event of the whole trip takes place: Holy Mass. On a rock and kneeling down, almost prostrate on the ground, a priest with us is saying Mass. He doesn’t say it like other priests in churches…. His clear and heartfelt words penetrate the soul. Never have I attended Mass like today’s.  “*

As a Lutheran pastor, such an impact is what I would desire – that no matter the location, a incredible cathedral, a simple chapel, a campground or on a retreat  (this has happened on a few retreats I have been on – where everyone just knew… it was time to drop everything else… and rearrange the day around communion).  It is not the location, by no means, but the miracle of God, dwelling in the midst of His people….

Such words as the student’s…most pastors and priests I know… would love to hear… because it means God is working through us…

To know that God could use, would use our words, much as this priest’s, much as St. Peter’s at Pentecost.  To bring life and hope, to re-create the scene in Ezekiel 37, where life was generated, breathed into being… That the people would realize, not the presence of the pastor/priest, but the presence of God reaching them through the words, through the sacrament…

It brings to mind the words of Peter, as Jesus was abandoned by so many… and Jesus asks if they would desert him as well…

6:68 ‘Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the message of eternal life, 69 and we believe; we have come to know that you are the Holy One of God.’
John 6:68-69 (NJB)

May our words, the words of Pastors and Priests in mass/service, and the words of our people so be heard… for they are not ours – but His – words of eternal life, words that are clear, and heartfelt, but that penetrate souls…

* de Prada, Andres Vazquez (2011-04-19). The Founder of Opus Dei: Volume II, God and Daring (The Life of Josemaria Escriva) (Kindle Locations 3453-3456). Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition.

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