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How do I evaluate my church services?


OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERADevotional Thought of the Day:

7  Purify me from my sins, and I will be clean; wash me, and I will be whiter than snow. 8  Oh, give me back my joy again; you have broken me— now let me rejoice. 9  Don’t keep looking at my sins. Remove the stain of my guilt. 10  Create in me a clean heart, O God. Renew a loyal spirit within me. 11  Do not banish me from your presence, and don’t take your Holy Spirit from me. Psalm 51:7-11 (NLT)

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. Ezekiel 11:19-20 (NLT)

But the current popular phrases surrounding the worship experience seem oriented around personal perception. “Did you like the worship?” But this may mean, “Did you like the sound?” “Did you like our performance?” “Did you like the preaching?” These questions have more to do with style and preference than the transformation of thought and action. Some have suggested turning the words toward God and asking, “Did God like our worship? Was God pleased with what we did today?” These questions, however, equally misunderstand the purpose of worship. In worship we proclaim and enact God’s story of the world. Therefore, the more appropriate experiential question is “Did God’s story, which was proclaimed and enacted today, make a transformative impact on your life?” Or, “How has the weekly rehearsal of the meaning of human life that is rooted in God’s story changed the way you treat your family, your neighbors, the people with whom you work?” (1)

As I was reading Webber’s quote, I started to think about the way I evaluate the church “services” I officiate.  The questions Webber describes are the questions I have asked, both my members, my visitors, my elders, and staff.

How did you like it, was the experience worth your while? Those questions another hard question, will you be back, will you invest time talent and treasure in this ministry here.  Do you find our church service of value, enough to become part of out community?

I don’t think Webber is saying those questions are completely wrong, but they are not the primary question we need to ask.

Have you met God in such a way that you know He is changing you?  Do you desire that change more now than before?  Would you cry out to God to purify you, because you are confident that He will, that this is His desire, that He wants you to be part of His people?  That if you are struggling with sin, that He would come alongside, and continue to work through you, with you, in you? Basically, that we are no longer talking about His story from a distance or our story as if He is distant?  A million ways to ask it, but the basic idea comes back to this:

DO you and I know, as God reveals Himself to us, that He desires and will make us His people, for He is our God.

After all, that is our role, as agents of reconciliation (see 2 Cor. 5)

And therefore, our evaluation of our church services, whether worship services, or our classes, the work of caring for children or the elderly, or the poor, or the ministry of our people to their family, neighbors, and community comes down to this simple concept.

Are you ready to challenge what you do?

Heavenly Father, reveal Your desire to us, as You heal our brokenness as we dwell in Jesus, and as we do help us draw others to be healed by you as well!  AMEN!

 

(1)  Webber, Robert E. The Divine Embrace: Recovering the Passionate Spiritual Life. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2006. Print. Ancient-Future Series.

Necessary for Ministry: A gentle and humble spirit.


20170124_103703Devotional Thought of the Day:
28  “Come to me, all of you who are tired from carrying heavy loads, and I will give you rest. 29  Take my yoke and put it on you, and learn from me, because I am gentle and humble in spirit; and you will find rest. 30  For the yoke I will give you is easy, and the load I will put on you is light.” Matthew 11:28-30 (TEV)

329         We all need to foresee our lack of objectivity whenever we have to judge our own behaviour. This applies to you too.  (1)

If we are to guide people to Jesus and the cross, we need to do it as He did. 

In the passage above Jesus talks of being gentle and humble in Spirit.  Look into the Greek a little and you will find the words underlying those two thoughts include words like empathetic, compassionate, caring, and subservient, self-sacrificing, not proud.  

It is similar to the list of attributes that Paul lists in regards to love in 1 Corinthians 13, the love which is necessary for ministry, for preaching and prophesying.  The unique combination of love and mercy that puts the good of the other first, no matter what the cost, even the cost of death.  An interesting side note to this was from another devotional book of mine,

He reminded us that the scarlet robe of the cardinals is a symbol of their readiness to undergo martyrdom. The Church explains this in the formula: “He who wears it must be willing to defend the faith usque ad effusionem sanguinis—even to the shedding of blood.”  (2) 

It is that love that results in Jesus, and all who imitate and follow him to be gentle and humble in their ministry to others, calling them not to a legalistic obedience, but to hear God, and love Him back by walking with Him, (and therefore obeying, as the Old Testament promised from the law written on their hearts) 

This isn’t an easy way to minister, and like the cardinals of old were reminded that their ministry could indeed include their martyrdom, we who minister, whether lay or clergy, have to be prepared to offer our lives as living sacrifices.  (see Romans 12)  For most of us, that doesn’t include a physical martyrdom, but one of our will, one of our hearts (which are circumcised by God  – Col. 2) 

Which is St Josemaria’s point in the quote in blue. We have to be aware of our lack of objectivity, we have to be able to recognize when “we” get in the way of His work.  We need to examine ourselves and pray that God would eradicate in us the tendency to be proud and the spirit that is narcissistic.

Not because of some legalistic pietism, and not even so that we actually minister more effectively.  Rather, because we are trusting God, realizing that walking with Him is walking in the promise our baptism, and in letting the Spirit transform us (see 2 Cor 3) more and more into His image results in this. 

Gentle and humble, empathetic and self-sacrificing, ministering effectively because we are allowing  ( and we grow to desire this ) God to crucify our egos, our lack of objectivity, even as we are embraced by God on that same cross. We learn to depend upon Him that much.

This is the life of faith, it is time to live it, it is time to enjoy this peace.  AMEN!

 

(1)  Escriva, Josemaria. Furrow (Kindle Locations 1546-1547). Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition.

(2)  Ratzinger, Joseph. Co-Workers of the Truth: Meditations for Every Day of the Year. Ed. Irene Grassl. Trans. Mary Frances McCarthy and Lothar Krauth. San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1992. Print.

Where We Can Screwup the Doctrine of Justification


Altar with communionDevotional Thought of the Day:

41 Jesus said, “Two people owed money to the same banker. One owed five hundred coins n and the other owed fifty. 42 They had no money to pay what they owed, but the banker told both of them they did not have to pay him. Which person will love the banker more?”
43 Simon, the Pharisee, answered, “I think it would be the one who owed him the most money.”
Jesus said to Simon, “You are right.” 44 Then Jesus turned toward the woman and said to Simon, “Do you see this woman? When I came into your house, you gave me no water for my feet, but she washed my feet with her tears and dried them with her hair. 45 You gave me no kiss of greeting, but she has been kissing my feet since I came in. 46 You did not put oil on my head, but she poured perfume on my feet. 47 I tell you that her many sins are forgiven, so she showed great love. But the person who is forgiven only a little will love only a little.”
48 Then Jesus said to her, “Your sins are forgiven.”
49 The people sitting at the table began to say among themselves, “Who is this who even forgives sins?”
50 Jesus said to the woman, “Because you believed, you are saved from your sins. Go in peace.”  Luke 7:41-50  NCV

42 As a deer longs for a stream of cool water, so I long for you, O God. 2 I thirst for you, the living God; when can I go and worship in your presence?  Psalm 42:1-2  GNT

Let me illustrate this shift toward a spirituality disconnected from God’s story by comparing historic spirituality to this new intellectual embrace of forensic justification.
Historic spirituality looks like this: God became one of us in the incarnation. When the Word became incarnate in Jesus by the Spirit, God lifted all humanity into himself and, by his death and resurrection, reconciled all to himself (Rom. 5:12–21). Spirituality is therefore a gift of God’s grace. God has taken the initiative to unite with us so that we may be united with him. Baptism is the spiritual rite of conscious and intentional union with Jesus (Rom. 6:1–14) and reception of the Holy Spirit (Acts 2:38). The spiritual life is the freedom to live in the baptismal pattern of his death and resurrection, dying to sin and rising to the new life in the Spirit. In this ancient model of spirituality, Jesus is our spirituality because we are in union with God through our union with Jesus by the Spirit. His entire life from conception to resurrection is on behalf of humanity. He reverses our belonging to Adam (Rom. 5:12–21). He overcame sin for us (Col. 2:13–15). He destroyed the power of death (1 Cor. 15:35–58). He begins the new order of creation (2 Cor. 5:17). He does all this in the power of the Spirit. Christ now dwells in us by the Spirit and we in him.
Spirituality rooted in justification without the connection to the incarnation and Christology looks like this: We are justified by Christ who has done everything necessary to reconcile us to God. Christ is our righteousness. God looks at us through the righteousness of Christ and imputes or declares us righteous in Christ. (This is called the forensic or judicial view of establishing our relation to God.) Now that God has made us spiritual through Jesus Christ, we are called to respond to God in thanksgiving by living the sanctified life. The new emphasis in spirituality within Protestantism, in general, is this justification/ sanctification model.

Sixteen years ago, I left the non-denominational brotherhood of churches I was trained and ordained by and became a Lutheran pastor. The Brotherhood had a broad diversity of theology, not just among church members, but in its Bible College and seminaries.  There was nothing that tied the group’s theology together, which made for some interesting conversations over the years!  but this isn’t about them, it is about Lutheran theology, and how it ((and most conservative theology today) screws up Justification.

One of the tenets of Lutheran Theology is that the Doctrine of Justification is the central doctrine of theology.  The first couple of times I heard that I hesitated, and still do on occasion.  Then a wise professor explained it to me this way.  Picture a bike wheel, you have the hub, the spokes, and the actual tire.  The hub is Justification, but it isn’t the only, nor the most important of doctrines, and if you remove any of them, the wheel will fail, sometimes faster, sometimes slower.

That makes sense, but I think today, as Webber points out, we have got the hub but forgotten the tire. We’ve forgotten the reason we are justified int he first place, to be in a relationship with God, to walk with Him, to know His love, to stop the fighting, internally and externally, and simply take refuge in God our Fortress, in God our peace.

This is the error of Simon the Simon, a leader in the Jewish religion.  He had his hub set, the spokes tightened, the rim in place, but he forgot the tire.  He didn’t recognize that God was there, not just to pronounce forgiveness, which is amazing.  He was there to eat and drink with Simon, to share bread, to laugh, to cry, to be with him.

This is our God, whose come to us.  God who wants to share our lives, even as we share in His, and dwell in His glory and peace.   Christ’s death on the cross, enables God to declare us clean, righteous, holy, and that enables us to walk with Him (Or maybe to ride?)  We need to keep this in mind, we need the entire wheel, hub, spokes, rim, and tire.  Missing a part, or getting it out of line, is serious, but the goal is and always will be, to sit down, and eat and drink, to fellowship with Him.

May you enjoy that feast this weekend and always!  AMEN!

Webber, Robert E. The Divine Embrace: Recovering the Passionate Spiritual Life. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2006. Print. Ancient-Future Series.

 

Our Attitude Toward “Those” Sinners… Hatred, Disgust, or…


Tau CrossDevotional Thought of the Day:

10  For those whom Yahweh has ransomed will return, they will come to Zion shouting for joy, their heads crowned with joy unending; rejoicing and gladness will escort them and sorrow and sighing will take flight. Isaiah 35:10 (NJB)

210         At times, seeing those souls asleep, one feels an enormous desire to shout at them, to make them take notice, to wake them up from that terrible torpor they have fallen into. It is so sad to see them walk like a blind man hitting out with his stick, without finding the way! I can well understand how the tears of Jesus over Jerusalem sprang from his perfect charity.

If the Church stays “indoors,” she certainly will age. The Church is called to come out of herself and to go to the “existential peripheries,” where the mystery of sin, pain, injustice, religious indifference and of all human miseries are found.

Right now, I am in the midst of the Psalms, and over and over I see the writers of them describe scornfully those who do not follow God.  There is often no call for mercy, no call for mercy, just a call for harsh, blind, and effective justice.

To use Lutheran-speak, there is a great call for the Law to be applied, yet little for the gospel.

As I look through FB post after FB post, I see the same attitude is prevalent among many in the church today.  Whether their antagonist is a political figure or someone in Hollywood, whether it is all of Islam or those who understanding of morality is contrary to that found in scripture, there is a sense that we have to persecute them, that we have to not only separate ourselves from them but make sure everyone knows they are condemned to hell.

We want to apply the law to them, even as we desire the comfort of God’s grace to be shown to us, even in our struggle with sin.  We overlook all of Jesus’ teaching which calls us to love them, to seek out their reconciliation, to seek them out and share the gospel with them.

While I wish we would recognize that there might be a better way that to shout at them and shake them awake from their soul-sleep; I think we need to grow in the grief that St. Josemaria describes.  We need to know the sorrow and sadness that comes from watching people we know, people we should love struggling without God, without knowing His love, without knowing His mercy.

Look at that person you would condemn, is it that impossible that God would bring them home, with the joy that Isaiah describes? It is possible that God would desire to remove the blinders from their eyes, heal their souls, cleanse their hearts?

Or maybe, it is those in the church that need to be awakened. Maybe we are the ones stumbling in the darkness, who need to once again hear of His grace. That we need to experience the depth of His love and mercy and having done so, now want to share that time, that way of the baptized life with the world.

Lord, help us to grow int he awareness of your mercy, your love, your presence in our lives that Your compassion for the lost becomes our compassion, and that we would see them transformed, even as the Holy Spirit transforms us.  AMEN!

 

 

 

 

Escriva, Josemaria. Furrow (Kindle Locations 1086-1089). Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition.

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.

Contact Management Software and the Missio Dei


DSCF1421Devotional Thought of the Day:

When it was late in the day, his followers came to him and said, “No one lives in this place, and it is already very late. 36 Send the people away so they can go to the countryside and towns around here to buy themselves something to eat.”
37 But Jesus answered, “You give them something to eat.”  Mark 5:35-37  NCV  

191         When I speak to you about “apostolate of friendship”, I mean a personal friendship, self-sacrificing and sincere: face to face, heart to heart.

On any given morning my email box is filled with thirty to a hundred emails, and about 80 percent I simply delete.  What really irritates me are the ones that are form letters sent out by a contact management software, that try to make it look like they are personal messages.

One recently even mentioned that if I had already responded to the previous email, they apologize for the software not being updated to recognize this and that they would stop sending the email eventually!  I get the feeling that if I called the person, they would not know that they “contacted” me.  I know some of the programs are set up to send letters, pre-written, on a schedule.

They didn’t.  Their software program did.

I don’t mind bulk mail, I understand that missionaries and other churches are busy, and I appreciate copying me along with many others for support and prayer.  I don’t even mind advertisements that are automated.  It’s the idea that someone thinks that they will gain by making the advertisement look like a personal contact.

In the gospel reading this morning, the disciples were amazed by the people wanting to hear Jesus.  I imagine they loved the accolades, the great joy (and a little frustration) that comes with being a superstar, or at least part of His crew.   They were learning about the kingdom of heaven, and they would learn a lesson today.

” the show’s over, they need to go eat!” they tell Jesus. We are done with them, you taught, they listened, some were healed.  Good day, let’s pack it up and get the rest, relaxation, and prayer you mentioned.

Jesus’ reply, “you feed them”

Don’t care from a distance, actually care   Don’t just see their need, make sure the need is met.  You can do it, (Jesus knowing he would supply the food) just do it.

That’s how the Missio Dei works, the apostolate of friendship as St Josemaria describes it. Laughing with them, crying with them, being involved.  Not just monitoring responses to a contact system, but actually getting involved in their lives.   Not just keeping in contact, but being in communion with them.  And as St. Josemaria said, this means there is a sacrifice, there is something personal, face to face, heart to heart.  There is cost, but there is also immeasurable grace, mercy, and love.  For God is there.

As I was writing this, I think back to several conversations recently.  The basic idea of each was that the pastor seemed to be writing the sermons directly to the person that heard it.  Pastors who hear this often reply, “that was one I was preaching mostly to myself.”  They are astonished when they realize how that sermon also touched their people’s hearts as deeply as they struggled with it.

I believe this is evidence of the relationship of people and pastor in communion with each other.  It is the evidence of the apostolate of friendship, the communion of saints that we confess in our Creed.  It is about learning what sacramental and incarnational ministry mean, and it is imitating Jesus.

Get to know those people around you, be their friends, share their struggles, rejoice with them in their celebrations.  Whether pastor or layperson, you need to understand you were sent into their lives, and you get to help them explore the love of God. And as you do, with them you will find His love ever more true, every more bright, ever more glorious!  AMEN!

j

Escriva, Josemaria. Furrow (Kindle Locations 1012-1014). Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition.

If You Are Part of the Church, It’s Time to Get to Work: A Call to Love and Service


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The church is always in the midst of a storm… but safe in Him

Devotional Thought of the Day:
11  It was he who “gave gifts to people”; he appointed some to be apostles, others to be prophets, others to be evangelists, others to be pastors and teachers. 12  He did this to prepare all God’s people for the work of Christian service, in order to build up the body of Christ. 13  And so we shall all come together to that oneness in our faith and in our knowledge of the Son of God; we shall become mature people, reaching to the very height of Christ’s full stature. 14  Then we shall no longer be children, carried by the waves and blown about by every shifting wind of the teaching of deceitful people, who lead others into error by the tricks they invent. 15  Instead, by speaking the truth in a spirit of love, we must grow up in every way to Christ, who is the head. 16  Under his control, all the different parts of the body fit together, and the whole body is held together by every joint with which it is provided. So when each separate part works as it should, the whole body grows and builds itself up through love. Ephesians 4:11-16 (TEV)

1         There are many Christians who are persuaded that the Redemption will be completed in all environments of the world, and that there have to be some souls—they do not know which ones—who will contribute to carrying it out with Christ. But they think it will take centuries, many centuries. It would be an eternity, if it were to take place at the rate of their self-giving. That was the way you yourself thought, until someone came to “wake you up”.

The first office, that of the ministry of the Word, therefore, is common to all Christians. This is clear, from what I have already said, and from 1 Pet. 2[:9], “You are a royal priesthood that you may declare the wonderful deeds of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light.” I ask, who are these who are called out of darkness into marvelous light? Is it only the shorn and anointed masks? Is it not all Christians? And Peter not only gives them the right, but the command, to declare the wonderful deeds of God, which certainly is nothing else than to preach the Word of God. But some11 imagine a twofold priesthood, one spiritual and common to all, the other external and limited, and say that Peter here speaks of the spiritual one. But what is the function of this limited and external office? Is it not to declare the wonderful deeds of God? But this Peter enjoins on the spiritual and universal priesthood. In truth these blasphemers have another, external, ministry in which they declare, not the wonderful deeds of God, but their own and the pope’s impious deeds. So, as there is no other proclamation in the ministry of the Word than that which is common to all, that of the wonderful deed of God, so there is no other priesthood[i]

In the ancient creeds, the church is described as “one, holy, catholic and apostolic church.”   But how often do we look at what those words mean?

One, the church is a unit, a body, whose mind must be Christ’s mind.  Whose work, whether it is hands or feet, mouth or ears, eyes, whatever part, works based from HIs lead. (As we heard yesterday – He is the cornerstone of this body, to which all are joined and measured)

Holy, the church is to be holy, which means to be set apart for a special purpose, one that is sacred.  To be holy means to be embraced by God, and to embrace Him. To cry out for a deeper taste of which we see a small portion of in our salvation.  We are to walk (together) with God.

Catholic,  the church is to be the church of all people, in all places, throughout history.  When this was written there wasn’t the Eastern Orthodox, Oriental Orthodox, Roman Catholic, and the myriad of Protestant bodies out there, there was simply the people of God, united by Christ’s blood across georgraphy, across time.  We have a tendency in our fractured body to turn on ourselves, to devour those we think threaten us, rather than love and pray for each other.  We tend to cast those out who, like us, struggle in our faith.

Apostolic, the church seems to forget this, despite the words of Escriva and Luther.  Some want the pastors and priests to do all the work (and then only those on the front line on the mission field)  Others think that only the pastors and priests can do this work. Some don’t even bother with this, thinking that somehow, magically, the kingdom of God will grow into its fullness, without our growing into our fullness as those sent by God to change the world.

Not to make it heaven on earth, but to bring about the change that occurs as people know the love of God for them.  As they start to explore that love as the Holy Spirit transforms them.  This is the life of the church, not matter the label, no matter the location, no matter whether it is 20 people or 20,000. meeting together.

We have been sent by God, we have been given work to do, work that requires us to love people, not just on Sunday morning, but throughout the week. To love those who are friends and family, neighbors and co-workers,  enemies, adversaries and even those who are a pain in the ass.

No one retires from this, no exceptions, we are a holy priesthood.  This is our identiy as the people of God.

Time to wake up and serve those in need of God’s love.

But remember – God goes with you through it all!

 

Escriva, Josemaria. Furrow (Kindle Locations 242-245). Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition.

11 For example, Jerome Emser. WA 8, 247.

[i] Luther, Martin. Luther’s Works, Vol. 40: Church and Ministry II. Ed. Jaroslav Jan Pelikan, Hilton C. Oswald, and Helmut T. Lehmann. Vol. 40. Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1999. Print.

Will the Church Really Hear Their Cries?


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Devotional/Discussion Thought of the Day:

11 “I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete. 12 My commandment is this: love one another, just as I love you. 13The greatest love a person can have for his friends is to give his life for them. 14And you are my friends if you do what I command you. 15I do not call you servants any longer, because servants do not know what their master is doing. Instead, I call you friends, because I have told you everything I have heard from my Father. 16You did not choose me; I chose you and appointed you to go and bear much fruit, the kind of fruit that endures. And so the Father will give you whatever you ask of him in my name. 17This, then, is what I command you: love one another.  John 15:11-17 NLT

811    Do you remember? Night was falling as you and I began our prayer. From close by came the murmur of water. And, through the stillness of the Castilian city, we also seemed to hear voices of people from many lands, crying to us in anguish that they do not yet know Christ. Unashamedly you kissed your crucifix and you asked him to make you an apostle of apostles.  (1)

“You shall not kill.”10 What does this mean? Answer: We should fear and love God, and so we should not endanger our neighbor’s life, nor cause him any harm, but help and befriend him in every necessity of life.

It was just before noon, as I sat on a fountain, waiting for my ride.

The man in the picture showed up, folded out his sign, put in his ear buds and began to be a light in the darkness, a missionary sent to bring heathen musicians to.. hmm – that’s a good question.

I think he symbolized the church in so many ways…. standing there, his sign doing the proclaiming, but his heart and soul focused on what he was hearing. It wasn’t the people passing him by.

Maybe it was a podcast of the latest apologetic guru, telling him how to cause people to submit to his logic and reason.

Maybe it was someone telling him how to be an entrepreneurial apostle. 

Maybe it was someone teaching him how to defend his Bible translation or his style of worship, or trying to provide comfort in his failing outreach, because after all, he’s supposed to be in the world, but not of it.  He didn’t make eye contact with anyone, he didn’t try to pray with anyone.  I want to jump on his case, to make him see what he’s missing, buy am I any better?

This man isn’t a wacko, or a fanatic, he simply is the church today. 

We are so caught up in our own agendas, our own words, that we fail to hear the cries of those who have lost hope, of those who have been broken.  We might even get into a dialog about how they were broke, was it their sin, their parent’s sin, the sin of the world?  We might read books and listen to the greatest speakers, read the greatest blogs,  find the best consultants, and grieve over the fact that they don’t hear us.

But do we hear them?

Do we hear their cries?  Do we go beyond their polite statements to find their pain?  Do we let them know we won’t abandon them in their brokenness, because we are broken as well? Do we stand there, oblivious to the individuals, overwhelmed by the thousands, yet unable to see them?  Do we take our ear buds out of our damn ears long enough to hear them?  

To help them understand God hears them?

Do we try to help them know God wants to hold them in His hands, cherish them, bring about their restoration and healing so that all will understand He finds great delight in their presence, that all heaven parties with great joy when they “come home”

Luther wrote that we should do everything we can to help and befriend our neighbor.  Most hear him speaking physically in the commandment about not killing.  But is it not applicable to our neighbor’s spiritual life as well?  St Josemaria talks about us hearing the cries and praying to God to send us, will we do that, and if sent will we hear them?  Or simply lament their not hearing us?  ( Or worse, will we rejoice that it proves we are on the narrow path and they are not?)

These are hard thoughts to hear, and they may be convicting you, they certainly are convincing me.  But I know this as well.  As I left that day, a man walked up to me and started talking about his journey. ( he thought I was a Catholic Priest) He talked of how God was helping him stay sober after 27 years. He talked of how great it was that I was there, to remind him of God’s grace.  His name was Dave, and hearing him say my presence there was important as it reminded him of God’s love?   That made my day.  I wanted to go back, and see who else I could encounter, or maybe realize that I had, and was too blind to see it. But for once I was able to stop, and hear, and see what God was doing, by sending me to that part of the sidewalk, just for that man to encounter.

God is good, open your eyes and ears, see Him and know His love for you, and all whom you encounter.  ALL whom you encounter.  And rejoice, the Lord who is delighted in your presence, He is with you! Amen!

(1)  Escriva, Josemaria. The Way (Kindle Locations 1867-1870). Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition.

 

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

Has It Fallen off the Church’s Radar?


clydes-cross-2Devotional Thought of the Day:
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. 13  He rescued us from the power of darkness and brought us safe into the kingdom of his dear Son, 14  by whom we are set free, that is, our sins are forgiven.
Colossians 1:9-14 (TEV)

780    Deo Omnis Gloria—“All glory to God.” It is an emphatic confession of our nothingness. He, Jesus, is everything. We, without him, are worth nothing: Nothing. Our vainglory would be just that: vain glory; it would be sacrilegious theft; the “I” should not appear anywhere.

A question arose as I came across these readings this morning.

Do we please God?  

The question began to transform a little, first int this,

DO we care about pleasing God?

and then it hit home,

Have I taught my people about what pleases God?  Have we, as pastors and leaders int he church equipped our people, not just the the knowledge, but the ability and the desire to please God?

Do we, as Paul did for the church in Colossae and others, pray for this for them?

Or has God’s pleasure, what pleases Him, fallen off of the church’s radar?

Have our words praised and glorified God, but our actions and thoughts forgotten what pleases Him, what He desires?

From my Lutheran perspective, we fight so hard against the teaching of works meriting salvation that we shy away from teaching that we should please God after our baptism.  We are afraid our people can’t understand the difference, that they will deliberately misunderstand.  It sounds like a good justification at first, but it is a poor excuse.

We know what pleases God, all you have to do is read the last 6 chapters of Isaiah and see it over and over.  Or hear the parable of the prodigal son or the Good Samaritan.  We know about God finding the treasure in the field, and giving His Son to purchase it, and the joy in heaven over one sinner transformed.  There we find His will, that none should perish, that all should come home.

Yet we don’t do this work alone, it is His will, His desire, and we receive the strength from His glorious power.

That is why He gets all the glory, as we live as He wants, as He revealed.  We live reconciled to Him, and we grow in desire to do what pleases Him, lifting high His cross, seeing people drawn to His mercy, into His grace!  And as we do, we come to know Him better, to rely on  Him more.

Lord, help us, those you have tasked with shepherding your people, to reveal your love and mercy to them.  Help us to pray for them, that they too would understand your will, and as they grow to respond to Your love, to do that which brings You great pleasure.  AMEN!

 

 

Escriva, Josemaria. The Way (Kindle Locations 1802-1804). Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition.

The Paradox of being a Christian Leader…


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Dawn at Concordia

Devotional Thought of the Day:
3  All praise to God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. God is our merciful Father and the source of all comfort. 4  He comforts us in all our troubles so that we can comfort others. When they are troubled, we will be able to give them the same comfort God has given us. 5  For the more we suffer for Christ, the more God will shower us with his comfort through Christ. 6  Even when we are weighed down with troubles, it is for your comfort and salvation! For when we are comforted, we will certainly comfort you. Then you can patiently endure the same things we suffer. 2 Corinthians 1:3-6 (NLT)

Therefore, anyone who seeks an office in the Church must know that he thereby declares himself ready for a greater share of the Cross. For, properly speaking, the real pastoral activity of Jesus Christ, through which he fashioned the Church and will never cease to fashion her, is his Cross, from which there flow for our blood and water, the holy sacraments, the grace of life. To want to do away with suffering means to deny love, to disavow Christ. It is impossible to struggle with the dragon and not be wounded. That is why what the Lord says in the Beatitudes is valid for all times: “Blessed are you when men revile you; blessed are the meek; blessed are the peacemakers” (Mt 5:11, 5, 9). It is true, too, that where the Lord is, where the Master is, there must his servant be also. But the Master’s place was, ultimately, the Cross, and a shepherd who seeks nothing but approval, who would be content to do only what is required of him, would certainly not be taking his place where the Master has taken his.

I was once told that if I could be content in any other field, to avoid becoming a pastor.  At the time, I didn’t understand.  Today I do. 

The blessing requires a high price to be paid.

I look at my friends in ministry, those I admire the most sacrifice so much to serve.  Some are pastors and priests, others missionaries serving far from what most would consider their home.  Some are teachers and youth workers, others are the leaders most don’t consider professionals.  The elders, musicians, those who teach the Bible to young and old. 

The costs are high, and while I am not talking about financial costs or the time demanded by the needs of those we serve, they cannot be dismissed either. The deeper costs include betrayals, it includes weeping with those who are weeping, crushed in grief.  It means disciplining people that may not like be corrected.  It means being willing to accept the loneliness of the prophet, being dismissed as we bring messages of hope, of being sent to stubborn and stiff-necked people as the prophets encountered.

It’s not about reports and strategies, it’s about laying aside our plans when someone is hurting, and helping them bear that pain.  It’s not about giving a vision, unless that vision includes the cross, leading to the resurrection.  It’s about the joy of the sacraments, and the pain when we see people in need for the comfort and strength they give, but who dismiss them.  It’s about not giving up on the prodigal, it’s about showing mercy to the prostitute and tax collector, the drug addict and the scoundrel. 

This is ministry, this is service, this is finding that as we minister to those who are drawn (and sometimes dragged ) to the cross, we find our healing occurs as well.  For we are at the cross, where Jesus raises us from death, heals us from brokenness, comforts us in our grief, and gives us hope, even as we despair.

That is the paradox of Christian ministry, the sacrifice, the life surrendered at the cross is the great blessing of being such a servant leader. 

Which is why Paul, the one we imitate as he imitated Christ praises God int he midst of sacrifice and suffering….

as will every leader in every parish, in every congregation, and throughout the Church in history, and throught out the world. 

AMEN

 

Ratzinger, Joseph. Co-Workers of the Truth: Meditations for Every Day of the Year. Ed. Irene Grassl. Trans. Mary Frances McCarthy and Lothar Krauth. San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1992. Print.

 

Called to Belong: Called to Be His Own! An Advent Sermon on Romans 1


nativityCalled to Belong: Called to Be His Own

Romans 1:1-7

† In Jesus Name †

What People Need?

There are a ton of articles circulating across pastor’s desks, as they have for the prior three generations.  When I was in college, they asked why my generation was leaving the church and provided great statistics on why people like me, the children of baby boomers, weren’t attending church.

I wondered about it a lot, as I had gone to a large youth group in high school, in fact, it was significantly bigger than any church I’ve belonged to, and really, was bigger than all the churches I’ve pastored since.

In the nineties and up to about 2004 or 2005, pastors, church planters, it seemed everything churches did were questioning why people of my age group weren’t in church, and trying to make churches attractive to them.

As if we are all the same.  As if our needs, our anxieties, our challenges, our doubts and fears were the same.

It has changed now, as churches seem to have lost focus on those in my age group – those once labeled genX.  GenX is history, the church “experts” no longer mention us. Now the concern is with the millennials, Marissa, Melissa’s, Kelcie’s age group.  A group that is two or even three generations removed from the days when youth filled every church, when complete families, three and four generations worth of family found themselves sitting together on Sunday morning.

And for the most part, the experts still treat whichever generation they mourn the absence of as if they are all alike.  They want to find the “one” thing that will draw them all, the one key element that will draw them to church,

And perhaps, there is the problem in the first place.

If all we deal with is generalizations, how can we assure the individual whether 25, 50, 78 or 91 that they matter, that they belong?

To be honest, that’s been a challenge, even for pastors I’ve know in my life. Can the individual know that they are important, that God has called them to belong, that He has called them to be His own?

Yet, God calls us, individually here, to be part of this family, and maybe we can learn from that

Why is this good news?

When scripture talks about good news, we need to understand why it was good.  As Paul is writing to Gentiles, we need to understand that this was one of the largest generalizations ever created.

It was everyone who wasn’t Jewish by birth, who couldn’t trace their ancestral tree back to Abraham, Issac and Jacob. A lot of folk.  Good folk, bad folk.  Tall, short, skinny, fat, smart, wise, silly. Older, younger, men and women, Some who wanted to find God to each out for help, others that simply wanted to mock God.  And few that would want to make money off of people, but saying only they knew the way to God.

The only thing they have in common, is that they didn’t belong.  Even someone adopted into a Jewish family didn’t quite make it, and those who were hyphens, those who were half Jewish and half something else, they were treated with less of a welcome.

We were all outsiders, stuck in the darkness, not worth the time for a Jewish Rabbi to share his wisdom, not allowed to hear the sweet words that God had accepted our sacrifice for our sin.  For that is why we became outsiders, our inability to love God with all we are, and our struggles to love others, including our enemies, as God has designed for us to live.  Because of that sin, we were outsiders, out in the cold and dark, possessed by our sin, oppressed by sin’s guilt and shame.

That is why the gospel is good news, For it smashes the demographic divisions, it grinds up generalizations, for what defines us is that we are wanted.

That God calls us to belong.

You.

Look at verse 6.  Let’s read it together

And you are called among those Gentiles who have been called to belong to Jesus Christ.

Though, he wrote this letter to an entire congregation, as you sin in the next verse, that “you” is singular.

You are called to belong to Jesus.

You are called to be a saint, one of God’s Holy People, whom He loves.

You are.  Singular.  Not because you are this age or that, because you have this heritage or that, no because except for this one.

God loves you.

And therefore you belong to Jesus.

He bought you at the cross, freeing you from the sin and hell which had power over you.

This is what Advent leads to, what Christmas and Easter, the manger and the cross.

That’s what has made the difference in every church I’ve been blessed to be a part of, we knew we belonged together, for we now we belonged to Christ.

I want you to hear those words one more time, what we need to hear, each of us in this room , and every person on this planet,

Matter of fact, maybe it will sink in deeper if we say it together,…

And I am included among those who have been called to belong to Jesus Christ. Paul wrote this to me and all who are loved by God and are called to be his own holy people.

Amen!

 

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