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Can We Neglect Prayer and Meditation? Are they “optional?”


20170124_103703Devotional and Discussion Thought of the Day:
1  One day Jesus was praying in a certain place. When he had finished, one of his disciples said to him, “Lord, teach us to pray, just as John taught his disciples.”
Luke 11:1 (TEV)

49  Zain Keep in mind your promise to your servant on which I have built my hope. 50  It is my comfort in distress, that your promise gives me life.   Psalm 119:49-50 (NJB)

579      There was a young priest who used to address Jesus with the words of the Apostles: Edissere nobis parabolam, explain the parable to us. He would add: Master, put into our souls the clarity of your teaching, so that it may never be absent from our lives and our works. And so that we can give it to others. You too should say this to Our Lord.

Maybe a year ago, a missionary friend of mine and I were talking about the balance of ministry.  He had recently gone through a rough patch, and he realized that he had been so busy that he neglected what he was saved to be.  He as neglecting his time with God.

It is far too easy, in this day when time demands all we have, and far more.  Especially for those in ministry, whether in a congregation, on the mission field, or in preparing those who will minister in the classrooms of our colleges and seminaries. It is tempting to reduce our time with God to the study of His word for teaching others.  After all, it is similar, it is similar motions, it is dealing with the same material.

Yet Jesus did the same things – and still went away to pray to the Father.  He didn’t just count the sermon on the mount and preparing for it as His time with the Father.   And he praised Mary for sitting at his feet, rather than serving those in her vocation as hostess.

There is a time for both.  There is a need for both, but especially for our regular, deeply intimate time with God.  A time where we ask Him to show us how to pray, a time where we ask Him to explain to us His teachings, where the Holy Spirit takes us to school in prayer, so that He permeates our very lives, and from that life, we can give it to others.

We need this time with Him.  It is what underlies the basis of a sacramental approach to God.  Otherwise, we could just replace the church with a classroom, we could make do even with the latest book or podcast, getting knowledge from others. I believe some churches have done this, diminishing prayer and worship, times of meditation and absolution for a longer exegetical sermon that may or may not mention Jesus, and may or may not bring comfort to broken hearts.

The gathering, the church service, the mass is a time of prayer, it is a time waiting on Jesus, listening to Him, seeing His love revealed and given to us, not just taught to us.  Our times of prayer, of spending time contemplating and meditating on His word is similar. This is why the early Lutheran priests talked about prayer as a sacrament, it is why the ancient church fathers talked about how we pray is how we believe, and why the dedication of Solomon’s temple talked all about “when people pray”.

Spend time with God, talk, listen, ask for insight, ask to understand, that what you experience may be an integral part of your life, a delight, and that it may flow from you to others.

I pray that you see revealed and experience the peace of God which passes all understanding, and that found in the presence of Christ, you know He will keep your heart and mind safe in that peace.  AMEN!

Escriva, Josemaria. The Forge (Kindle Locations 2156-2159). Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition.

Where are you? Where is your focus?


20170124_103703Devotional Thought of the Day:
7  And God’s peace, which is far beyond human understanding, will keep your hearts and minds safe in union with Christ Jesus. 8  In conclusion, my friends, fill your minds with those things that are good and that deserve praise: things that are true, noble, right, pure, lovely, and honorable. 9  Put into practice what you learned and received from me, both from my words and from my actions. And the God who gives us peace will be with you.
Philippians 4:7-9 (TEV)

How does your heart stand with regard to God Himself? Does it delight in the remembrance of God? Does this remembrance leave an agreeable sweetness behind it? “Ah!” said David, “I remembered God and was delighted.” Do you find a certain propensity in your heart to love God and a particular satisfaction in relishing that love? Does your heart feel joy in reflecting on the immensity, goodness, or sweetness of God? If the remembrance of God comes to you amidst the occupations and vanities of the world, does it make room for itself? Does it seize upon your heart? Does it seem to you that your heart turns in that direction, and, is it were, runs to meet God? Certainly, there are such souls to be found.

We all have our breaking point.  It may not be caused by the same stresses, the same anxieties, the same temptations, but each of us has a point where we lose focus.

Without regular self-examination, it is all too common for such a breaking point to catch us off guard.  Without a regular time of giving to God our sin and the unrighteousness we deal with, we are setting ourselves up as easy targets.

One of the things to consider is what is our heart resonating with?  Is it the kind of things Paul urges us to think of in Phil 4:8 above?  Are we rejoicing when we consider our time with God?

Or is our heart being torn apart by cynicism, by gossip and complaining?  Does our time feed such bitter things captivate us?  Are we devoting that time to that which is depraved or immoral?  ( we might not even realize it is so…)

The good stuff in Philippians, and in the quote from St Francis De Sales isn’t self-generated.  It isn’t something we can just make up our mind and focus upon. It comes from being sure we dwell in God’s peace.  It is about relaxing in the presence of God, sure that He is our fortress, our strength, our life. It is our focus because that is what is, when we are aware of His presence. It is a more “natural” way of existence.  That is why Paul surrounds this second about our minds being filled with good things with the thought of God giving and preserving our peace.

The key then is the presence of the Holy Spirit, the comforter, the Lord of Life who calms our hearts and sets them at peace.  The Spirit who cleanses us from the brokenness of the world, and heals our souls.

As we open ourselves up to the Spirit, as we search for Him and find He is here, we desire Him more, we desire His presence more, and we see the difference it makes as being a difference the world needs, that our neighbors and family and friends need. For we need it, and are amazed the need is so completely met by the Holy Spirit.

This is the Christian faith, the dependence on God’s presence that makes everything beautiful, everything precious, everything good.

May we desire His precence more and more.  AMEN!

Francis de Sales, Saint. An Introduction to the Devout Life. Dublin: M. H. Gill and Son, 1885. Print.

The Maintenance Man: A Modern Parable



Devotional Thought of the Day:

Very rarely will I post another person’s work on my blog, but this parable reflects a real life event in their life.  And perhaps, as good parables do….. our lives as well. As you read it, consider who you might be, and as needed, approach God’s throne of grace…and maybe bring a friend, a pastor, a professor, a maintenance man, and find the stone who the builders rejected.  To the one who wrote this, thank you my friend, for helping us see.

The Maintenance Man

Well, the stones were all square. That’s what they had in common. And they all

(or at least some of them) got walked on. And yes, they were different sizes, to form a

pattern, but each one had its place, fitting neatly into the matrix of the walkway. Anne

liked how they all fit together, and so she felt a little guilty when she accidentally kicked

one loose. Locomotion required some serious willpower these days, and she hauled

her hesitant feet behind her into the building. Muttering, a maintenance man shook his

head in annoyance at all the cementing he’d have to do to replace that chipped stone.

Unaware of his displeasure, the young lady continued toward the building. She

wasn’t convinced this whole thing was a good idea, but in the face of her obvious

incompetence, she would obey the wishes of friends and administrators. They had

noticed the permanently blank look on her face, her listlessness, and her habit of

assuming failure, and they had particularly urged her to do this. Her response had been

one of apathy and resignation. “I suppose I’ll go, but I don’t know what good it’ll do.”

Mentally she had added, “or why they bother now.”

She knew right where the Pastor’s office was, and she followed the familiar path

there. As Anne walked in, the church secretary forced the corners of her mouth up just

a little bit. With as much work as the Pastor had given her, it was the best she could do.

Anne smiled back to encourage the older woman.

“The Pastor is with someone right now. Do you have an appointment?” His

calendar lay open on her desk.

“No.”

The secretary hated this part of her job. So many people were turned away. “He

is very busy today. Would you like to make an appointment for another day? I think we

could probably fit you in sometime next week, even though things are pretty hectic

around here.”

“No, thank you. I think I’ll just wait, if you don’t mind.”

“He probably won’t have time for you.”

“I shouldn’t be long.”

“OK. Whatever you’d like to do.” The secretary turned back to her typing. Better

not to think about it.

Presently, the study door opened and the pastor emerged from his office with the

new organist. They were chuckling to themselves, and joking about the old, worn organ

the church had.

“Thanks, Pastor. We’ll have a go at these. If the choir can learn them well, I

think they can lead the congregation on Sunday.”

“I’d appreciate that. Oh, and also, the elders think the services are too long, so

let’s try to pick up the tempo a bit on Sunday.”

“We’re already moving at a good clip, but if there’s no other way …”

“Thanks! Have a good day!”

“You too. Bye.”

Anne shook her head to clear the cobwebs.

“Excuse me, Pastor?”

“I’m really pressed for time right now. What do you need?”

Anne followed him into the study. The pastor gave a mental groan as she closed

the study door behind her. Anne noticed. Some things never change.

“What can I do for you?” His office seemed smaller. Perhaps it was the mounds

of paper that had accumulated on his desk and on the floor next to his desk.

“Well, I’ve been having some trouble concentrating – my grades are getting lower

and lower – my advisor told me to come and see you before I flunk out.”

“Why? Did the Professor seem to think there was something I could help you

with?” His brain silently translated, “Couldn’t it have waited till after Easter?”

Anne didn’t really believe he could help her at all, unless he happened to be

carrying something sharp. She was always in somebody’s way. But she answered him

politely. “He thought you might be able to get a handle on why my act isn’t together. I

wasn’t so sure, but I promised him I’d come see you.”

“Anne, we’ve talked about this before, and I’m afraid I just don’t have anything

else to say. Until you do something about your attitudes, things are never going to

change. It’s that simple. You come to church in jeans, you never smile, and all you

seem to care about is home – whether your mom called, your dad’s new girlfriend, or

how much he’s been drinking. You’d think you were the only person jin the world who’s

lived through their parents’ divorce. Take some advice, OK? Go back to the dorm,

have some dinner, and crack the books. Let your brothers and sisters worry about your

parents. The best thing you can do for your grades is buckle down and study.”

Anne didn’t have any brothers or sisters, but somehow she didn’t think that would

matter to him. “Well, I won’t take up any more of your time. Please tell the professor I

came to see you.”

“OK. I’ve really got to go now. See you Sunday!” Pastor hurried out of the

office. He had to get to the flower shop before it closed to pick up those extra palms. If

they ran out tomorrow, the elders would be upset with him. Yes, he had things to do.

Anne showed herself out. Walking slowly, she was deep in debate with herself.

Right, toward the river, or left, toward town? She decided on left, and forced her body in

that direction.

The maintenance man saw her, and hurried to finish the hedges he had begun

when she arrived. Exhausted, he decided to leave the walkway til Monday and head

home. He had a blister on his hand, but at least the hedges would look nice for Palm

Sunday. He kicked the errant walkway stone back into its hole, stomped it down good,

and packed up his things. Anyway, the sky was clouding up.

Somewhere in the back of Anne’s mind it registered. Through the cloudiness,

thunder. Although it tried, the realization didn’t manage to worm its way forward until

her cheek felt the first trickles of the downpour. Weary from the struggle to make her

feet obey, she sought shelter in a nearby drug store.

Greeting cards, prescription drugs, vitamins, magazines – the signs intruded on

her foggy consciousness. Stopping in front of the non-prescription drugs, she tried to

look like she was shopping. The clerk eyed her suspiciously.

Then, as if a breeze blew through her mind, the fog cleared, and she understood.

Smiling, she selected the generic sleeping aids.

The clerk wanted her out of his store. “That’ll be three dollars and forty-six

cents.” She was barely to the counter. Handing him three-fifty, she left without her

change.

Leaning up against a nearby post, Anne was suddenly calm. At least she

wouldn’t be in anybody’s way anymore. Finally spotting a water fountain, she

swallowed the contents of the bottle she had just purchased, sat down on a nearby

bench, and dozed off with the rain dripping off her fingers.

The Professor seemed angry when the pastor spotted him walking into church

the next morning.

“I know she isn’t here yet, but Anne asked me to tell you that she came into see

me yesterday.”

“Yes.” His voice lowered, and took an edge to it. “Well, she won’t be coming any

more. They found her on a bench about two blocks from here.” The Professor paused

to let his words take effect. “Her parents are flying in tomorrow from Ohio. Apparently

she decided to get rid of her insomnia for good.”

The verdict had been handed down.

“She never mentioned any insomnia.”

“You never asked.”

The gavel hit the bench.

The pastor looked disgusted. The Professor left. He didn’t think he’d be back.

Slowly walking out the front door, he stopped half0way down the crumbling path. There

was mud all over, and, dep in thought, he traced something in it with his toe. Then he

shook the wet earth off his feet.

The sentence had been pronounced.

After all, it really is difficult to get good help these days. He called to the

maintenance man, just arriving for church.

“You shouldn’t have left that loose stone, you know. Now all the soil’s washed

out from underneath and the whole thing will need replacing.”

The maintenance man scowled and didn’t answer. He walked in, muttering

greetings to the Pastor as he passed, who scowled and muttered back. Now the pastor

had yet another sermon to prepare this week, and he didn’t have time to deal with

maintenance men.

Closing thought,  from the words of another battered and chipped stone, named Paul. ” 19  You Gentiles are no longer strangers and foreigners. You are citizens with everyone else who belongs to the family of God. 20  You are like a building with the apostles and prophets as the foundation and with Christ as the most important stone. 21  Christ is the one who holds the building together and makes it grow into a holy temple for the Lord. 22  And you are part of that building Christ has built as a place for God’s own Spirit to live.”Ephesians 2:19-22 (CEV) 

Lord, You Want Me To Preach on What?


Devotional Thought fo the Day:

7 You seduced me,* LORD, and I let myself be seduced; you were too strong for me, and you prevailed. All day long I am an object of laughter; everyone mocks me. 8 Whenever I speak, I must cry out, violence and outrage I proclaim; The word of the LORD has brought me reproach and derision all day long. 9 I say I will not mention him, I will no longer speak in his name. But then it is as if fire is burning in my heart, imprisoned in my bones; I grow weary holding back, I cannot! Jeremiah 20:7-9  NAB-RE

If vocation comes first, if the star shines ahead to start us along the path of God’s love, it is illogical that we should begin to doubt if it chances to disappear from view. It might happen at certain moments in our interior life—and we are nearly always to blame—that the star disappears, just as it did to the wise kings on their journey. We have already realized the divine splendor of our vocation, and we are convinced about its definitive character, but perhaps the dust we stir up as we walk—our miseries—forms an opaque cloud that cuts off the light from above.

In the passage I am preaching on this week, there is what is called a gospel imperative.  In other words, a command of God that only can be realized and heard within the fullness of the gospel.  It has to be heard in a life of prayer, a life which realizes we stand on Holy ground.  

“So let’s not get tired of doing what is good”  Galatians 6:9

The first quote, from scripture above, is one of my ten favorite passages in scripture.  It probably could be described as my life verse, at least it is one I experience a lot.  For working in God’s kingdom is as wearing as building stone walls, or managing a university bookstore in the first weeks of class. It is worse, physically tiring, mentally exhausting and spiritually draining.

If a pastor neglects God, if he is too busy for time in prayer, if he is too busy for devotional time (as well as the business of studying scripture to preach and teach it) he will reach Jeremiah’s position quickly.  We can reach the point that St Josemaria describes, where the dust we stir up in our journey distorts and even eclipses our view of Christ, our understanding of His love for us.

Of course, this isn’t just about pastors, for we are not the only ones who do good.  It is true for every believer, for every perosn who trusts and depends on Christ.  For that is what the faith is, need to cling to Christ (Jeremiah describes it as our being as clingy as underwear!) because He is our source of life, and of serenity and joy.

The answer to burnout, the answer to not seeing Christ is to know Him, to know the fire of the Holy Spirit that burns within us.  TO depend on that rather than what we see and observe.  It is what saints and mystics call the interior life,  This is why St John of the Cross advises staying where we are at, making no dramatic change.  We are to keep praying, to keep receiving the sacraments even when the storms of life blind us, when Satan assails us.  We need to be patient and seek God, remembering that He is our refuge, our fortress, our sanctuary.

It is from this place that we can find His strength, where we find the dynamo that is the Holy Spirit indwelling in us. For dwelling in Christ we can keep on doing good, we can keep on loving the unlovable, we can be patient with those struggling, and guide them into the very presence of God.

For we know where He is… we know where Holy Ground is.  We know where He has put His Name… fo we have met Him at the cross and been united to Him there.

AMEN!

Escriva, Josemaria. Christ is Passing By (Kindle Locations 1146-1151). Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition.

Is Spiritual Growth Necessary? The Benefit of Prayer, Meditation and Frequent Reception of the Sacraments


Featured imageDevotional Thought of the Day
1  As for us, we have this large crowd of witnesses around us. So then, let us rid ourselves of everything that gets in the way, and of the sin which holds on to us so tightly, and let us run with determination the race that lies before us. 2  Let us keep our eyes fixed on Jesus, on whom our faith depends from beginning to end. He did not give up because of the cross! On the contrary, because of the joy that was waiting for him, he thought nothing of the disgrace of dying on the cross, and he is now seated at the right side of God’s throne. Hebrews 12:1-2 (TEV)

9  For this reason we have always prayed for you, ever since we heard about you. We ask God to fill you with the knowledge of his will, with all the wisdom and understanding that his Spirit gives. 10  Then you will be able to live as the Lord wants and will always do what pleases him. Your lives will produce all kinds of good deeds, and you will grow in your knowledge of God. 11  May you be made strong with all the strength which comes from his glorious power, so that you may be able to endure everything with patience. And with joy give thanks to the Father, who has made you fit to have your share of what God has reserved for his people in the kingdom of light. Colossians 1:9-11 (TEV)

90         Optimism? Yes, always! Even when things seem to turn out badly: perhaps that is the time to break into a song, with a Gloria, because you have sought refuge in Him, and nothing but good can come to you from Him.

24 For the Old Adam, like an unmanageable and recalcitrant donkey, is still a part of them and must be coerced into the obedience of Christ, not only with the instruction, admonition, urging, and threatening of the law, but frequently also with the club of punishments and miseries, until the flesh of sin is put off entirely and man is completely renewed in the resurrection.

I started to write this blog yesterday, and then life seemed to get in the way.  Life can be like that.

My devotional reading this morning again hammered it home, as Paul’s prayer for those who followed Christ in a city named Colossae makes clear.  A life following Christ will be different than the life that doesn’t. It is challenging to hear those words of Paul, who desires we be able to live as God desires and that our actions please Him.

The challenge is seen in the quote in green, that our old nature, which we believe was killed off in baptism, continues to rise, challenge us and dominate our lives. And the Lutheran Confessions (you know – from the “saved by grace, through faith, no works folks – talk about the law still impacting and disciplining the believer.  Of the sin-nature is put off entirely and the   Paul mentions needing to discipline the body as well, and Hebrews talks of shedding the sin and everything that so easily ensnares us.

But what are those things that help us grow?  What are the things in our lives that encourage the growth that transforms us more and more into those who resemble Jesus?

We see it in all the passages, perhaps most clearly in St. Josemaria’s words in blue.  To, in the middle of the darkness of this world, break into praising and glorifying God, in Whose presence you dwell!   We need to take refuge in Him, to seek the peace that comes from being brought back to the Father, cleansed and healed and transformed, conformed to the image of Jesus. (Think that Phil. 2:5-10 is in context with the first verses, the ones that talk about being of one mind, one heart.

It is that transformation that is spiritual growth, and so things that help us grow to know we are in God’s presence, God’s loving, transforming presence, are what cause us to grow in and like Christ.  In Hebrews. This is described as fixing ou eyes on Jesus, who creates faith in us, and sustains it to completion.  In Colossians, we talk about the knowledge of God.  Not knowing about God as we know about Adam and Eve, or BioChemistry.  But knowing Him, the knowledge of His presence, His mercy, His love.

So how do we grow in this?  How does Spiritual Growth happen?

So obviously prayer fits in there, not just a casual Lord’s prayer, but a deep conversation, including listening.
Which brings us to meditating on God’s word, whether we scan a book, or meditate on one verse.  Both have their time and place.  And sharing scripture with each other, studying not in a vacuum, meditating on it with others, that we can encourage each other, teach, and pick up those who have stumbled off the past, or lost sight of Jesus.  Even those who shepherd the people of God need not just to study scripture, but also pray through it, listen and meditate on it.

The sacraments also stimulate this growth, for they not only make us aware of God’s presence but remind us of what happens in His presence. That’s why Luther often talked of remembering our baptism, not just as a passing thought, but considering what God did there.   How we were joined to Jesus Christ, to His death and resurrection.  How our sins were nailed to the cross, and we were cleansed of them.  How the promises of eternal life was guaranteed, and the Holy Spirit began o reside in us.

Communion, the Eucharist does the same thing, as we take and eat, take and drink the Body and Blood of Christ. As He invites us to His feast and again reminds us of how He gives himself for us.  How welcome we are at the feast celebrating His work, His work not just saving us, but re-creating us, of His makin us the Father’s children.

I could go on and on, talking about the blessings of Confession, and hearing our sins are forgiven, of worship and praise, singing and celebrating, I could speak of the blessing of seeing a friend brought to God and made aware of HIs love, or of doing the same for an enemy.

This is the spiritual life, and it is found and grows in His presence…. learning to trust God, and entrust everything to Him.

There is His peace… and may you grow more and more aware of it, in your life, and may it spread from you into your community.

Escriva, Josemaria (2011-01-31). Furrow (Kindle Locations 594-596). Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition.

Tappert, T. G. (Ed.). (1959). The Book of Concord the confessions of the Evangelical Lutheran Church. (p. 568). Philadelphia: Mühlenberg Press.

Blood, Sweat and Tears – A Way of Prayer and Devotion


Featured imageNot exactly the devotional thought of the day….

For the last three days, another pastor and I have been leading a prayer and devotion time over breakfast. It’s been a good time, and I was asked to share the theory behind the study. So this blog is about devotion, not a devotion.

The theory is basic; it is about learning to let Scripture guide our prayer. It is a method that works great with a brother or sister in Christ, with others who are leaders in the church, for example with elders, or other pastors.  It is a little harder to do alone, but it is possible. It is a very loose adaption of an old method, called Lectio Divina.   In this, it works from the outside in, from how we pray for others to how we minister to how we live.  I call it blood, sweat, and tears.

It starts simple, with acknowledging God’s presence, which He’s called us into a relationship with us.  He is our Father, our Lord, our Savior, our Brother, our Friend.  A prayer desiring His presence, to build our desire for that presence.  It seems odd, for shouldn’t most of us want this, this intimate relationship with our Creator, the one who loves us?  We need to pray for this, even as the man confessing his trust in Jesus also prayed that God would increase his trust.

People familiar with Lectio Divina’s methods may be wanting to move on, to get to the Oration, Meditatio, Tentatio.  You cannot jump this point.  It is this prayer, this time to slow down, this time to realize our priority is His presence that makes this style of prayer and devotion work. It seems odd, but we need to pray that God would help us make our relationship with Him not a priority, but the priority.

So we start there… I usually end this time with a simple creedal statement….Peter’s creed of faith, of dependence.

Lord, to whom would we go? You have the words that give eternal life. And now we believe and know that you are the Holy One, who has come from God. John 6:68-69 (TEV)

We need to know this!  He is the Holy One, who has come to us!

Now we are ready for looking at a passage, knowing that this is His message to us.  For the pastor’s conference, we used the same passage for three days.  Different translations each day, (with some intent by the leaders who set it up) Here is the last version we used.

16  No longer, then, do we judge anyone by human standards. Even if at one time we judged Christ according to human standards, we no longer do so. 17  Anyone who is joined to Christ is a new being; the old is gone, the new has come. 18  All this is done by God, who through Christ changed us from enemies into his friends and gave us the task of making others his friends also. 19  Our message is that God was making all human beings his friends through Christ. God did not keep an account of their sins, and he has given us the message which tells how he makes them his friends. 20  Here we are, then, speaking for Christ, as though God himself were making his appeal through us. We plead on Christ’s behalf: let God change you from enemies into his friends! 21  Christ was without sin, but for our sake God made him share our sin in order that in union with him we might share the righteousness of God. 2 Corinthians 5:16-21 (TEV)

Great passage – the other translations were the ESV and NLT – but this one we saved for last.  And here is what we did with it.

BLOOD – ORATIO  (Prayer)
Discuss with another this question.  How can you pray that your congregation learns the truths in this passage?

Not what they will learn from it, not considering how they will learn it If you aren’t a pastor, replace that word with family, or friends, small group, whoever you minister to among family in friends.  Consider just one thought how will you pray for them, that they learn the truth about Jesus from that passage.
How will you pray for this….

Then pray for them – pray that they would learn about Christ.

I called this “blood,” thinking about Jesus sweating blood in the Garden.  As we think about those people, we influence, directly as shepherds, or indirectly as friends.  But our prayer is that of a servant leader, about bringing our ministry, our service to them, even embracing the pain and sacrifice of being someone who loves and cares, in this case pleads with them to be reconciled.

Though this is the first area of prayer, it is by no means simple, or easy.  It may include significant grieving over the people we will praying for and interceding with them when done for more than brief moments as we did during this conference.

SWEAT – MEDITATIO

So the second stage of meditating is one where we re-read the passage again, but this time spending some time prayer meditation (and if in a group discussion)  on how the passage will affect our prayer for our own ministry.  Not just meditating on how the ministry will change, but how we pray for God’s leading and being aware of His presence as we minister.  Here is how we worded it for this retreat and this passage.

After the passage is read again, discuss with another how will you pray about this ministry you have been given, pleading with people to let Him transform them from enemies into friends.

I am not sure how much time we pray for and about ministry.  Whether we are in the office of ministry, or whether part of it ha been delegated to those who minister/serve (as one of our Lutheran forefathers talked) as deacons, elders, teachers, deaconesses, or within our vocations as neighbors, do we pray?.  I believe we need to, and that may take very challenging forms.  We may pray for the strength to obey, to dare, for the humility.  It may include praying that God would show you the priority (in that case – pleading with people to God transform them)

I call this one SWEAT, because this is both examining your ministry against the what happens in scripture (which can be nerve-wracking – especially if this is done with another brother or small group) and because what might come out of the prayer is some sweating. Sweating as you realize the need to keep conversing with God in this midst of serving others.

And again, even as we consider our prayer life – we pray for ourselves and each other, laying before God that which His word brought out in its reading.

TEARS – TENTATIO

The last section, TEARS, is named such because we are going to struggle the most.  The battle has snuck up on us, and now the passage hits us right between the eyes as we apply it to our core.  Not just to our ministry, but we allow its law to crucify us, and its gospel to lift us, to revive us.  In this particular passage with this translation, it looked like this,

One final time the passage will be read, instead of looking out to minister, spend a few moments meditating on those areas of your life where you need to let God transform your life.

If you are a pastor – applying God’s law to your people or the world may be second nature. But we need to apply it to ourselves.  Our old sinful nature, which is no longer part of our essence in Christ Jesus,  Conversion is both an instant and life, it is passive in that the Holy Spirit does the transformation, yet we can hinder it.

But we need to, and you may find that you need a brother minister to provide absolution.  In our groups, that absolution was heard in the re-reading of the passage a fourth time.  Re-reading it with this modification – applying it personally to each person there. I would suggest that those who try this alone, and not in a small group, would have what we call a father-confessor, or a spiritual director, to help address that which comes to the surface.

But this is a struggle, it is designed to get deep into us, in this case to allow God to reconcile the parts we try to hide from Him. Or that we are afraid to think even of, for the anxiety, fear, guilt and shame.   We need to deal with those things, even pastors.  No, especially pastors.

We need to struggle with what some would call our “old Adam”, our proclivity to sin, doubt, despair. We need to struggle with it, and if we open ourselves up to the Scripture, we will struggle with it.  That struggle is good, if we realize what we started out praying about, that we would desire God’s presence.  That is why this came last, though some might put it first.  By the time we get to the struggle, the passage has already been heard and our hearts considered how to apply it, first to those we are to love, then to our pragmatic application.  It becomes very difficult to avoid hearing ti speak to our souls…having done that.

After hearing the passage a fourth time, we prayed for others, then summed up all we couldn’t bring ourselves to pray for, using the Lord’s prayer.

We then left, with the benediction from Hebrews….and as I sum up what we did, and why, may these words bless you as well.

Now may the God of peace— who brought up from the dead our Lord Jesus, the great Shepherd of the sheep, and ratified an eternal covenant with His blood— may He equip you with all you need for doing his will. May He produce in you, through the power of Jesus Christ, every good thing that is pleasing to Him. All glory to Him forever and ever! Amen!

(ps – feel free to sk me questions about it – or for copies of the actual bulletin guides we used.  )

Do We Desire God’s Presence? Do we Desire Eternity?


Devotional/Discussion Thought of the Day       :This was the church of my parochial school... a beautiful sanctuary in Lawrence, Massachusetts..now used for something else.

4  I have asked the LORD for one thing; one thing only do I want: to live in the LORD’S house all my life, to marvel there at his goodness, and to ask for his guidance. Psalm 27:4 (TEV) 

11  Yet God has made everything beautiful for its own time. He has planted eternity in the human heart, but even so, people cannot see the whole scope of God’s work from beginning to end. Ecclesiastes 3:11 (NLT) 

857 Someone we know well told us sincerely, in confidence, that he had never been bored, for he had never been on his own, without our Friend. It was late in the evening, and there was a great silence… You felt very intently the presence of God… And, in the knowledge of that reality, what peace!  (1)

Each morning that I find myself in my office, I start the day with the morning liturgy from “Celtic Daily Prayer”.  Each morning I do so, after remembering my baptism while making the sign of the cross, the very next thing is Psalm 27:4. I read the words and often ask myself a question.

Do I really want only that – to live in His house all my life, for all eternity?

Let me confess, I struggle with that, as I imagine you do.

And if I struggle with living with Him here, in this time and place; I also struggle with seeing that which Solomon mentioned, that God has planted eternity in my heart.  For often my heart and mind are not centered there.  Some things I desire may be good and beneficial, like seeing people given the gift of faith, and the promises that come from Baptism and receiving the Body and Blood of Christ.  I desire the church to grow, to find reconciliation where it is so needed.  But anxiety over making that happen.

Is my first desire God’s presence, to be where He abides?

There are times it is, and I can think back over the years and long for those times again.  The quiet sanctuaries of my youth, the incredible retreats I’ve been on, the baptisms, the putting into people’s hands the body and blood of Christ. The holding someone’s hand while they passed away, just silently praying.  Praying again with my son, when he fit in the niche of my arm, praying that God would bless him, and through him many people.  They are my treasured times, they are the best moments of my life.

Yes I do desire this, and I cannot but help look forward to eternity, because of promises like this:

9  However, as the scripture says, “What no one ever saw or heard, what no one ever thought could happen, is the very thing God prepared for those who love him.” 1 Corinthians 2:9 (TEV)

The times are precious, when I can sit and meditate on this, when I contemplate my baptism, or the Eucharist, or receiving the incredible news that my sins are absolved.

It is then I realize the peace the Josemaria’s friend new, the silence, the presence of God.  That which we do desire the most, if we take a moment to realize it.

Be still, my friends, and know there is a God, and you are His…..

It is worth every micro-second.  For there eternity, the eternity planted in our hearts is revealed.

For eternity is yours already.  He is with you…

 

 

(1)Escriva, Josemaria (2011-01-31). Furrow (Kindle Locations 3511-3515). Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition.

Are We Waiting for the End of Time with Joy?


Discussion and Devotional Thought of the Day:OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA 10  Announce to the nations, “The LORD is King! The world stands firm, never to be shaken, and he will judge its people with fairness.” 11  Tell the heavens and the earth to be glad and celebrate! Command the ocean to roar with all of its creatures 12  and the fields to rejoice with all of their crops. Then every tree in the forest will sing joyful songs 13  to the LORD. He is coming to judge all people on earth with fairness and truth. Psalm 96:10-13 (CEV)

794         Mary spent three days and three nights looking for the Son who was lost. May you and I also be able to say that our willingness to find Jesus knows no rest.  (1)

Carmelite Vow:   Let each stay in or near their own cell, meditating, day and night on the law of the Lord, and vigilant in prayer, unless otherwise employed by the Holy Spirit!  (2)

As I look at the last quote, it seems odd for me, a Lutheran pastor, to quote a Catholic Monastic Vow.  Luther was not known to praise monastic orders, he saw little use for them.  

But to dismiss this thought entirely, is to forget the amount of time Luther spent in prayer, and in the word of God.

What would happen if we spent this kind of time with God, that whenever we weren’t involved in our vocations of life, we were using that time for prayer.  If we made the time we spent entertaining ourselves, the time we watched “reality shows”, the time we spent just doing nothing, seeking the Lord?  If we gave thought daily to His return, His glorious return? I think we wouldn’t fear it, or see Christ’s return as simply an escape from the day’s trouble. ( I will admit there are days I cry out for his return, just to be done with the trauma and drama of this life)

I think the experience of being so aware of His peace would change us dramatically.  

We would hunger for those times as the Psalmist does, as we read of men like Luther and Wesley who would make a priority of hours a day in prayer. I love St Josemaria’s thoughts as well, what if our willingness, or desire to find Jesus knew no rest – if we looked for His presence, not just in the fifteen minutes of the day, but also for hours, and for the seconds when we have nothing else occupying our minds?

That would change how we view our vocations, how we view the daily grind of life.

It would change every encounter, as fueled by our time with Hi, our hearts would be centered on the glorious day of His return. The time where judgment comes, and rather than fearing it, we welcome it, because of the work of Jesus Christ. We welcome His coming, seeing the Father face to face, knowing as we are known.

Come, let’s plunge into a life of devotion, come, lets spend time with our Lord! Not to impress Him, not because of some expectation we hope to meet, but rather, in love with a God who would come and make His life here… among us.

Lord Have Mercy!

 

 

(1)  Escriva, Josemaria (2011-01-31). Furrow (Kindle Locations 3286-3288). Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition.

(2)  Celtic Prayer Book, Monthy Devotional Thought for the 3d Day of the Month

Are We Afraid of Intimacy With God?


Devotional Thought of the Day:photo

15  So you have not received a spirit that makes you fearful slaves. Instead, you received God’s Spirit when he adopted you as his own children. Now we call him, “Abba, Father.” Romans 8:15 (NLT)

456 You belittle meditation… Might you not be afraid, and so seek anonymity since you dare not speak with Christ face to face? You must see that there are many ways of belittling meditation, even though you might say you are practising it.  (1)

Yesterday, in our adult Bible Study, I asked a question…..

“Would it seem right to pray the Lord’s prayer, “Dad in heaven”.

A number of people were squirming!  “It isn’t reverent enough”, As I asked people what difference it would make, “it would make Him seem closer,”,As we talked through the idea, it also became apparent that it would make Him seem to be listening more directly, and more involved in our lives.

After all, besides my friend the seminary president who dropped in for a visit, none of us addressed our parents as “Dear Father reading the paper”, or “Dear Mother in the Kitchen”!

We want a safe distance as we pray, we want to be able to keep God there, over in the sanctuary, or a reminder on the fireplace mantle, or perhaps, we want to see Him in far out in the Galaxy.  Seeing him sitting on our couch, or at our dinner table, or talking to us in the backyard while we are barbecuing?  Would that be too close for you?  What if God shared even more intimate moments with us?

Does the thought of God living with you strike fear in your hearts?  Does it cause you to think first of that time – where your thoughts were impure, or when you couldn’t resist letting your anger, or jealousy, or lust reign in your life?  Are we terrorized when we read that God knows our thoughts?

Why?

What would happen if we looked forward to that level of intimacy, counted on it?  What if our reaction was the same as when a child is waiting for Dad to get home, to share with him the day, to play catch, to tell Him of our heartbreaks?  What would happen if we took to times of meditation and prayer for what they were – times of intimate, deep times with God, even if a word is not said?  ( I remember my times of walking down the shore road with my dad  – neither saying a word for a mile or two – as some of our greatest times…)  What if our conversations with God resembled Andy Griffith and Ron Howard in the closing credits of the black and white television show?  That is the gift promised and given in our baptism!  The presence of the Holy Spirit, for such is the gift to those God claims as His children!

Scary?

think of this – in times of joy – you can cry out – Daddy – come look and see, (as He smiles, for who do you think set up the glorious moment), in times of great trauma – you can cry our Daddy, and know His comfort and healing will be there, as He assures us, promises us that all will work out… for good, because of His love.   And in the between times, we walk with Him…revealing His mercy, His care, His cleansing our lives.  Revealing how deep, how high, how broad – how wide His love is for us.

Why are we afraid of this/

Cry out!

As we sang as children – with great joy, “Lord, be with us!”

(1)  Escriva, Josemaria (2011-01-31). Furrow (Kindle Locations 2013-2016). Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition.

Why a Crucifix can be so incredibly important… not just during Holy Week


Devotional Thought of the Day:

23  So when we preach that Christ was crucified, the Jews are offended and the Gentiles say it’s all nonsense. 1 Corinthians 1:23 (NLT)

20  My old self has been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me. So I live in this earthly body by trusting in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. 21  I do not treat the grace of God as meaningless. For if keeping the law could make us right with God, then there was no need for Christ to die. Galatians 2:20-21 (NLT)

70  You asked me if I had a cross to bear. And I answered, “Yes, we always have to bear the Cross.” But it is a glorious Cross, a divine seal, the authentic guarantee of our being children of God. That is why we always walk along happily with the Cross.

For some it is a piece of jewelry, or an art piece, and artifact.

For others, it is something they do not want to face, so they remove them from homes and sanctuaries.  They may say it’s divisive, or that they are afraid of it becoming and idol. Even a barren cross is seen as too close, and so they are removed, taken away, hid in a closet or irreverently thrown in a dumpster.

But there is something about a crucifix, about looking at a portrayal of a body wracked with pain, the crown of thorns, the nails through the wrists and ankles, the eyes that through the pain look out upon us.

The reason for the cross.

To make us the people of God,

This is what God the Father gave the son to endure, because He loves us……

This is what Jesus endured, hating its shame, but for the joy set before Him…. the joy of seeing us rise with Him.

This is what the Holy Spirit testifies to, the very power of the gospel that can save us all…..

Christ dying for us… and His crucifixion – the place where we died to sin…. the place where the promise comes home, we have risen with Him as well.

As i go through this life, as I see the effect of sin devastating marriages, crushing families, as I see the challenges of this broken world strike us with disease, as I see us choose, again and again, to tear down, to let resentment build, to seek after something that will quench our pain for the moment, whether it be sex or drugs or the latest television binge.  Escapes that mean little but a moment away.  We need something more substantial, something more enduring.

We need to remember when God came into our lives, dwelt among us, and the glory of God, displayed on a cross.  The love of God so incredible, so unbelievable, so needed. I need to stop and meditate on the wondrous love that would drive him there, to deliver us from all that assails us.  Crosses, crucifixes serve to call us to that point, to remember the love of God…. to remember His work – even now at work in us.

It is “the” game changer, that brings light to darkness, that dispells evil, that brings peace into chaos.

I don’t think we need less reminders… but perhaps far more.

Escriva, Josemaria (2011-01-31). Furrow (Kindle Locations 514-517). Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition.

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