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The Difference Between a Preacher and a Pastor

DSCF1421Devotional Thought of the day:
5 For you can have 10,000 instructors in Christ, but you can’t have many fathers. For I became your father r in Christ Jesus through the gospel. 16 Therefore I urge you to imitate me. 17 This is why I have sent Timothy to you. He is my dearly loved and faithful t son in the Lord. He will remind you about my ways in Christ Jesus, just as I teach everywhere in every church.   1 Cor. 4:15-17 HCSB

How beautiful is this gaze of Jesus, how much tenderness is in there!
Brothers and sisters let us never lose trust in the patience and mercy of God!

But what is it to pray that his name may become holy? Is it not already holy? Answer: Yes, in itself it is holy, but not our use of it. God’s name was given to us when we became Christians at Baptism, and so we are called children of God and enjoy the sacraments, through which he so incorporates us with himself that all that is God’s must serve for our use.

As I was working through my readings this morning, the first, the reading from Paul’s letter to a church he loved (and struggled to love) kept coming back to mind.   And then as I read Pope Francis, and Pastor Martin Luther’s words, I saw great examples of what Paul was teaching.

Anyone can deliver a lesson, a sermon that is exegetical and explains the Bible passage more completely than someone can see at first glance. To be honest, you don’t even need a good preacher to do so, for we have 2,000 years of commentators like John Chrysostom, Augustine, Luther, Lenski, Matthew Henry and William Barclay who will do that for you.

Someone whose primary goal is preaching can do the studies, or borrow them from someone else, and lecture you, mailing you on what you did wrong, showing you how you must behave, and reminding you of who God is, helping you explore the incredible knowledge we have in scripture.  They are instructors, and we need that kind of information.

But a sermon, a real sermon, is something a pastor crafts and delivers.  It is a pastor, someone who acts as a spiritual father.  Someone who has learned from their errors, and cares enough to help you when you are in error, guiding you back to the way that is “in Christ”.

The pastor brings you to see God in all His glory, the glory that comes from our love and our mercy.   He wants you to experience the healing that happens when seeing Christ, you respond to His love being poured out upon you. When you realize as Luther said, that God through His word and sacraments, just doesn’t teach you, but see you incorporated into Christ that our thoughts turn to Him, depending on Him to care for us. 

A pastor shepherds you to the place where you realize what a treasure it is to know God as your Father, when you realize the difference that makes in your daily life, no matter how challenged, no matter how boring, no matter how broken.

you see this in the words of Pope Francis, and Fr. Martin Luther.  You see them not just wanting to impart knowledge of God, but helping people experience the love. 

Imagine a boy learning to teach.  The instructor tells him all about the bait, all about the rods and reels, all about the way to study the river or the lake.  The pastor father takes the young man fishing, watching him learn, urging him to be patient, applauding him when he catches something, consoling him when the big one gets away.  This is the father-pastor at work, and that care needs to occur in the midst of the sermon, in the midst of the worship service.  Helping people “catch” God, who is never far away….reading to be caught, ready to be devoured, ready to be incorporated i our lives, as we are incorporated in His.  

This is a pastor’s calling… to help people experience the love of Christ, even though it is too great ot understand fully (see Ephesians 3:19) while being made complete with all the fullness of life and power that comes from God.  AMEN!

Pope Francis. (2013). A Year with Pope Francis: Daily Reflections from His Writings. (A. Rossa, Ed.) (p. 216). New York; Mahwah, NJ; Toronto, ON: Paulist Press; Novalis.

Tappert, T. G. (Ed.). (1959). The Book of Concord the confessions of the Evangelical Lutheran Church. (p. 425). Philadelphia: Mühlenberg Press

Can We Recognize the Ministry of the Average Christian? (and help them accomplish it?)

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

Devotional Thought of the Day:

11  And to some, his ‘gift’ was that they should be apostles; to some prophets; to some, evangelists; to some, pastors and teachers; 12  to knit God’s holy people together for the work of service to build up the Body of Christ, 13  until we all reach unity in faith and knowledge of the Son of God and form the perfect Man, fully mature with the fullness of Christ himself. Ephesians 4:11-13 (NJB)

Hence the highest office is that of the ministry of the Word, with which all other offices are also conferred at the same time. Every other public office in the church is part of the ministry of the Word or an auxiliary office that supports the ministry, whether it be the elders who do not labor in the Word and doctrine (1 Tim. 5:17) or the rulers (Rom. 12:8) or the deacons (the office of service in a narrow sense) or whatever other offices the church may entrust to particular persons for special administration. Therefore, the offices of Christian day school teachers, almoners, sextons, precentors at public worship, and others are all to be regarded as ecclesiastical and sacred, for they take over a part of the one ministry of the Word and support the pastoral office.[1]  (Italics mine)

Everything that has been said above concerning the People of God is intended for the laity, religious and clergy alike. But there are certain things which pertain in a special way to the laity, both men and women, by reason of their condition and mission. Due to the special circumstances of our time the foundations of this doctrine must be more thoroughly examined. For their pastors know how much the laity contribute to the welfare of the entire Church. They also know that they were not ordained by Christ to take upon themselves alone the entire salvific mission of the Church toward the world. On the contrary they understand that it is their noble duty to shepherd the faithful and to recognize their ministries and charisms, so that all according to their proper roles may cooperate in this common undertaking with one mind.  (Italics mine)

Thirteen years ago, I was installed as the pastor of a Lutheran Church for the first time.  I had served those people for well over a year as a vicar, (basically a student pastor) while going through a time of transition.  I was glad for the 30 months or so of transition, it gave me a chance to work through the differences in theology and the difference in practical ministry.

There were two sermons were given that day, one directed toward me, another directed to me and the people of Shepherd of the Valley.  The latter, given by Greg Seltz was basically about the unity of pastor in people.  A unity that is found in our baptism, a unity that is seen in our mission, our apostolate.  It is not pastor over people or people over the pastor, but pastor and people.  It was a great sermon, and something we need to understand in every congregation, in every parish!

We don’t always get this correct.  Many people think the pastor is the evangelist, the only one that works in what the quote from Vatican II calls the salvific mission of the Church.  Pastors don’t save anyone, neither does the average person, but they are saved by Christ, through the work of the Church. 

We both have roles, even as Walther writes in Church and Ministry ( an incredible nook from the early days of the Lutheran Church Missouri Synod).  He says they are to be recognized as ecclesiastical and sacred, as part of the ministry of the Word, supporting the pastoral office.  

Yet there are clergy and laity in both the Roman Catholic Church and in Lutheran churches that don’t understand this.  They don’t get that the ministry is God’s, entrusted to the entire church together.  It is our mutual responsibility, to reveal to the world the Love of God, and God’s desire to reconcile all to Him.   Each has their own role, each has their own God-given place in this ministry. 

Such a responsibility isn’t to be hoarded like Gollum’s precious ring or relegated to the pastor/priest alone, to provide a convenient scapegoat when the church shrinks.  Nor is this responsibility a duty, with checklists and deadlines.  It is best done, when all, so in awe of God’s love, work naturally, sharing it with those around them, and then bring them into the family of God.    Serving together, ministering together, we see the world turned upside down, amazed not just at our love for each other, but the love of God that pours through us, to them.

We, the church, pastor, and people, are here for the world. To reveal to them the greatest treasure, the greatest of blessings, which brings the news of the greatest love, and the greatest of peace.

It is time again, to work as the church, the people of God.

Lord, have mercy on us and help us be your body, reaching out to the world.  AMEN!

[1]Walther, C. Church and Ministry : Witness of the Evangelical Lutheran Church on the Question of the Church and the Ministry. electronic ed. St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1999, c1987.

Catholic Church. “Dogmatic Constitution on the Church: Lumen Gentium.” Vatican II Documents. Vatican City: Libreria Editrice Vaticana, 2011. Print.  Italics mine

How can I fail to take up your soul….?

church at communion 2Devotional Thought for our days:

 15  GOD then said, “Dress up like a stupid shepherd. 16  I’m going to install just such a shepherd in this land—a shepherd indifferent to victims, who ignores the lost, abandons the injured and disdains decent citizens. He’ll only be in it for what he can get out of it, using and abusing any and all. Zechariah 11:15-16 (MSG)

15  And I will give you shepherds after my own heart, who will guide you with knowledge and understanding. Jeremiah 3:15 (NLT)

14  “I am the good shepherd; I know my own sheep, and they know me, 15  just as my Father knows me and I know the Father. So I sacrifice my life for the sheep. John 10:14-15 (NLT)

There was a mother who, like all mothers, was passionately fond of her little child, whom she called her prince, her king, her treasure, her very sun.
I thought of you. And I understood —for what father does not carry deep inside some maternal feelings?— that it was no exaggeration for that good mother to say: you are more than a treasure, you are worth more than the sun itself: you are worth all Christ’s Blood!
How can I fail to take up your soul —pure gold— and place it in the forge, and fashion it with fire and hammer, until that gold nugget is turned into a splendid jewel to be offered to my God, to your God?

As I begin to read St. Josemaria Escriva’s devotional book the Forge, I came across the words in blue in the prologue. It describes the heart of a pastor, a priest, a shepherd and caretaker of souls.

It is a heart to aspire to, at least in my mind.

I have been involved in a couple of conversations recently about pastors and their relationship to their people, to their parishioners.  One raised the question of whether pastors could be friends of their parishioners. Another was about the difference between worship and work at the church.  A third was about pastors retiring from ministry, and finding something completely different to do in their retirement.  Let’s just say I was in the minority in several of these discussions, and to be honest, I don’t understand the idea that ministry is work, that it is just a job, like caring for inmates or hotel guests.  

I think our hearts have to break when our their hearts break.  I think we have to desire what God would have for our people, to realize the treasure He sees in them.  To give them the sacraments, assured of the blessing we are giving them, as we untie them to Jesus death and resurrection, as we give feed their souls, as our words (actually His words) mend and heal broken hearts and souls.  

So how could this be a career, isn’t it our very life?

I won’t claim I have arrived.  There are still long days that weary me out, there are still people who ability to get under my skin challenge the pastoral heart I want to have.  There are people that hurt me, and I struggle to have a pastoral heart toward them, Or the people who won’t listen to God, and choose lives that are lived in rebellion to God.  Those people cause frustration, and often tears.  ( I want to say I would love to just stuff them into St Josemaria’s forge)  I am not going to say pastoring these people is easy, but it is necessary.  A pastor can’t just dismiss them as alligators, that decision and judgment is not in our pay grade.  Weare simply to try to reconcile them to Jesus.

This is why Jesus talks about good shepherds, as opposed to the stupid shepherds that have served his people in the past.  About shepherds who will have His heart for His people, which can mean laying down our lives for them, sacrificing time, energy, money, whatever it takes to see them drawn to Christ, and made holy by the Spirit that works within us all.

Again, even as I write these words I am torn.  For that is what I would desire as a pastor, yet I know I fall short, often too far short.  That is not an excuse or a reason to stop desiring to see my people grow.  Their failures and mine are not a reason to distance me from them as if that can reduce my brokenness.  Instead, it is a reason to cling all the more to God, for He will pour out comfort and mercy, continue to transform me, and yes, He will continue to cause us to grow, to forgive our sins, to transform us into the image of His son ( see 2 Cor. 3:16ff)

Lord, have mercy on Your shepherds, break our hearts and give us hearts like Jesus, so that your people can be assured of their salvation, and set apart to walk with You!  Amen!

Escriva, Josemaria. The Forge (Kindle Locations 226-231). Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition.

The Words That You Need to Hear Me Say, but “I” dont say them.

Altar with communionDevotional Thought of the Day:

19  On the evening of that first day of the week, when the doors were locked, where the disciples were, for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood in their midst and said to them, “Peace be with you.” 20  When he had said this, he showed them his hands and his side. The disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord. 21  (Jesus) said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.” 22  And when he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the holy Spirit. 23  Whose sins you forgive are forgiven them, and whose sins you retain are retained.” John 20:19-23 (NAB)

So rejoice my friends, based on your confession and your faith in Christ hear these words. As a called and ordained servant of Christ, and by His authority, I therefore I forgive you all your sins in the name of the Father and of the  † Son and of the Holy Spirit.  adapted from the Lutheran Liturgy, Confession, and Absolution 

22 We urge you, however, to confess and express your needs, not for the purpose of performing a work but to hear what God wishes to say to you. The Word or absolution, I say, is what you should concentrate on, magnifying and cherishing it as a great and wonderful treasure to be accepted with all praise and gratitude.

It is necessary to discover anew the meaning of the scandal that enables one man to say to another: “I absolve you from your sins.” In that moment—as, for that matter, in the administration of every other sacrament—the priest draws his authority, not, certainly, from the consent of a man, but directly from Christ. The I that says “I absolve you …” is not that of a creature; it is directly the I of the Lord. I feel more and more uneasy when I hear the facile way in which people designate as “ritualistic”, “external”, and “anonymous” the formerly widespread manner of approaching the confessional.

It does seem scandalous, every Sunday as I stand in from of my parishioners and guests, and dare to forgive their sins.  Who am I to have just a great task.  Or worse, in those times where people aren’t repentant, to hand them over to Satan for a season.   ( 1 Cor. 5:5,  1 Thes. 1:20)  

But who am I to dare tell Joe that his sins are forgiven?  What if he is a man who cheats on his wife, or is verbally abusive toward his co-workers?  What if he’s been stealing and breaking into houses, or cheating on his taxes?  What if he constantly gossips about political figures?

How dare I stand there, look at him, and say, “I forgive your sins…”

Luther has it correct, the focus is not on me, but on you hearing what God desires you to hear.  You are freed from the bondage you put yourself into by sinning.  The eternal consequences have been transferred to Jesus on the Cross, they are not yours.  You need to cherish these words,  value them as life-giving, life-restoring.  It is a spiritual form of CPR and first aid. 

Pope Benedict seems to resonate with these words as well, as he discusses the delegation of Christ’s authority (see Matthew 28:18) to forgive sins is given to the pastor to use, for the benefit of God’s people.  THe “I” there is no longer dustin the sinner, but it is Jesus speaking to you.  

His authority, His message, His decision.

You are forgiven.

It is finished.

For by the stripes Jesus bore, you have been healed!

Rejoice!

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

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.

The Necessity of Ministry…and those who minister.

church at communion 2Devotional Thought of the Day:
18  If people can’t see what God is doing, they stumble all over themselves; But when they attend to what he reveals, they are most blessed.    Proverbs 29:18 (MSG)

36  As he saw the crowds, his heart was filled with pity for them, because they were worried and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. 37  So he said to his disciples, “The harvest is large, but there are few workers to gather it in. 38  Pray to the owner of the harvest that he will send out workers to gather in his harvest.” Matthew 9:36-38 (TEV)

914    How pitiful are those crowds—high and low and middle-class—without an ideal! They give the impression that they do not know they have souls: they are a flock, a drove, a herd. Jesus, only with the help of your merciful love will we turn the flock into a legion, the drove into an army, and from the herd of swine draw, purified, those who no longer wish to be unclean.

The coach of my favorite football team has two very simple and yet profound slogans.

The first is “do your job.”  which helps keep focused each member of the team, from players to coaches, trainers, the owner, and even entry level office staff and custodians.

The second talks about the nature of the focus.  “No days off.”  That speaks of the team as something more than a job, working on that team is what theologians call a vocation. It is who you are, it is part of what defines them.  These two catch-phrases have come with a fair share of success.  Actually, according to some, far more than just a fair share.

These are lessons those in the church and who lead it need to understand.  Our ministry is more than just a job.  It is a vocation, it is what we’ve been sent to do, our apostolate, our mission. Because of the nature of what we do, it demands our focus, and it should define who we are.

It is critical, far more critical than winning trophies and wearing five rings.

We see this in words from the Old Testament, a passage often translated  “where there is no vision, people perish” or sometimes “where there is no prophetic vision.”  But the translator of the Message has its sense – for the vision is not of what we are called to do, but what God is doing.  It is the vision of the promises God the Father has given to us, delivered in the death and resurrection of Jesus, the Lord who delivers us from evil. This isn’t just a vision for the church to grow, or build a new building, or raise money for this and/or that.  It is the vision of God, gathering His people from every tribe and language, to live with Him.  The vision of God being their God, and they being His holy people.   

It is the vision that pastors, teachers, evangelists, prophets and apostles are to give them, what our worship is to cause them to be aware of. Which is where we come in, and where Jesus’ words about shepherds are so relevant.

People need those who are ministers in their lives, so that they might be drawn to God, and be given the vision of what God is doing in their lives.  This is our job, primary and completely.  It is the care these souls need, it is the mission that our sermons are tasked with, our Bible Studies, and why we baptize and commune people.

For without that, they are lost… they may not even realize what a soul is, never mind that theirs needs to be cared for, to have life spoken into it.  It is only with God’s help that this is changed, only His Spirit can breathe life into them who are dead, trapped and imprisoned by sin.

This is what we do, and as we study, as we visit and teach, as we lead and inspire, may it be focused, every day, on Christ, and drawing people to Him. 

Escriva, Josemaria. The Way (Kindle Locations 2126-2129). Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition.

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.

The Secret of a Pastor’s Success. The “M” word.

Devotional Thought of the Day:

1 Give thanks to the LORD, for he is good,his mercy endures forever.
2 Let Israel say: his mercy endures forever.
3 Let the house of Aaron say, his mercy endures forever.
4 Let those who fear the LORD say,his mercy endures forever.  Ps 118:1–4 NABRE

1  Church leaders, I am writing to encourage you. I too am a leader, as well as a witness to Christ’s suffering, and I will share in his glory when it is shown to us. 2  Just as shepherds watch over their sheep, you must watch over everyone God has placed in your care. Do it willingly in order to please God, and not simply because you think you must. Let it be something you want to do, instead of something you do merely to make money. 3  Don’t be bossy to those people who are in your care, but set an example for them. 4  Then when Christ the Chief Shepherd returns, you will be given a crown that will never lose its glory.     1 Peter 5:1-4 (CEV)

And a minister who turns away from the inner source of his ministry can neither serve other people nor find fulfillment in his own life. There are many reasons why the reality that is the Church, which in the 1920s seemed to awaken so much expectation in souls, is regarded today as an alien and alienating mega-institution. But the most crucial reason is always the defection of a priest who ought to personify the institution and make her present in his own person, but who becomes instead, not a window, but a wall; who turns against his ministry instead of letting it become a trusted witness of the suffering and struggling of his own faith.  (1)  

Most pastors don’t want to admit it, but when people think of a church, or a ministry, they are the face of the ministry.  Not the physical face, but the reaction to the church itself is tied to the persona of its pastor, of the man who stands up, and has the responsibility of speaking for God.

It’s a heavy responsibility, a burden that easily tires out those who accept it.  Often, it tires them out too soon, and they determine that being a pastor is something else.  Instead of shepherding, they see themselves as communicators (preachers)  or leaders, or authors/bloggers, podcasters, who can remain at a distance, say what needs to be said, and walk away.  A couple of years ago I even heard one indicate that it wasn’t about pastoral care, because the ministry had changed, and we were no longer pastors, but ranchers.  He expected “real pastors” to leave pastoral care to lay servant ministers.

You see this in the modern drive to abandon the pastoral office to run para-church organizations, to be consultants or coaches, or to direct bureaucracies  What this does, far too often is that it distances them further from the people God called them to serve.  It becomes too easy  to become the wall that Pope Benedict describes, and their own spiritual life becomes dry and lifeless, institutionalized and alienated.

But, theoretically, safe. 

Safe from people realizing how broken we are, how desperate we are,  Safe from failing in the expectations we have, or that others place upon us. Safe from our doubts, our fears, our anxieties.  In doing so, we also become safe from the needing the faith, the dependence on God to survive.

You see, the more we are distanced from the pain our people endure, the anxiety that keeps them awake at night, the heartache that causes them to doubt God’s presence, the easier it is to become numb to our need to depend on God. When we weep and laugh, cry and rejoice with them, they see we struggle as well, that we share in this brokenness of life….

And hopefully, they see us run to the cross, to give thanks over and over for this mercy, this incredible loving kindness, this presence of God which comforts us when there is nothing left.  For that psalm to hit home, we need to know that mercy, we need to realize the power in it, the comfort, and for our people to “get it” they need to see this in us, a natural reaction. Then the psalm above wouldn’t just seem repetitive, but it would be a joy to hear, and it would undergird our meditations.

The mercy of God is the inner source of our ministry, it is the strength that sustains us when we are at our weakest, it is what enables us to have a sure and confident hope in God.  When we are in awe of His mercy, our people become in awe of it, and they depend upon it!

If only seeking and find that mercy revealed could become what we are addicted to, that which we crave more than life itself. If that was what we tweeted and posted about, even more, what we shared with our neighbors, co-workers, families and friends.

If only they saw God comfort us in our weakness, forgive us in our brokenness, if they saw us count on His mercy and grace.  How wonderful that we would know this intimacy this well, and no longer hide!  How wonderful that would be, for then, this would be real, not an academic exercise, and our souls would be the windows through which they would know God’s desire to work in their lives.

Lord, Have mercy on us!  AMEN.

(1)   Ratzinger, J. (1992). Co-Workers of the Truth: Meditations for Every Day of the Year. (I. Grassl, Ed., M. F. McCarthy & L. Krauth, Trans.) (p. 150). San Francisco: Ignatius Press.

A Dream for the Church I pastor…

Devotional and Discussion Thought of the Day:My Church's Building - our goal - to see it restored and filled with people who find healing in Christ Jesus, while helping others heal

2  People from many nations will come and say, “Come, let us go up to the mountain of the LORD, to the house of Jacob’s God. There he will teach us his ways, and we will walk in his paths.” For the LORD’s teaching will go out from Zion; his word will go out from Jerusalem. Micah 4:2 (NLT)

“A few places in the world are held to be holy, because of the love which consecrates them, and of the faith that enshrines them.  One such is….”  Celtic Prayer Book, Reading for 8/11)

For the last couple of months, I have been praying about my congregations, the church that gathers here in Cerritos.

As a entity, there are necessary complications to ministry.  How do we deal with an aging facility, how do we accomplish evangelistic outreach and meet the needs of people in our community.  How do we make disciples of all peoples – of those young and old, of the stranger, of our own people.  How do we effectively use all the talents God gives us.  Big questions for sure, and we are working through them as a people.

But the biggest answer for my dream for our church is seen, not in our future plans, but in the green words above.

It doesn’t matter if we have a sanctuary that sits 500.  Or if we have a school.  Or even if there are 50000 people that attend our services and watch them on television, hear them on radio or live-feed them from the internet.

What matters to me is that where Concordia meets, becomes known as a place of holiness, a place where the love of God is known, a place where people’s trust in God’s faithfulness sees them through their lives.  Where people are devoted to God, where His vision compels them to act in others lives, bringing that holiness there. What disciples become crafted, not just through intellectual stimuli, but by worship, by adoring God, by the thoughts about His love.

I think that was what the prophet Micah is referring to, the ways we are taught by God, to walk His way, That is the change that God’s word makes in our lives, it opens up a relationship defined by words like cHesed, agape, phileo, charis… love, mercy, grace.

If the people of Concordia (or your church, or any church) grow in these things, then we have succeeded as a church.  We are a place where disciples are made, where God’s ways are treasured, where people live the life of those cleansed by God, and are immersed in His life. Where they are sure He will be with them, even until the end of the earth!

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A Most Overlooked Blessing…

Devotional Thought of the Day:

28  Nevertheless, listen to my prayer and my plea, O LORD my God. Hear the cry and the prayer that your servant is making to you today. 29  May you watch over this Temple night and day, this place where you have said, ‘My name will be there.’ May you always hear the prayers I make toward this place. 30  May you hear the humble and earnest requests from me and your people Israel when we pray toward this place. Yes, hear us from heaven where you live, and when you hear, forgive.  1 Kings 8:28-30 (NLT) 

 20  As he spoke, he showed them the wounds in his hands and his side. They were filled with joy when they saw the Lord! 21  Again he said, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I am sending you.” 22  Then he breathed on them and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit. 23  If you forgive anyone’s sins, they are forgiven. If you do not forgive them, they are not forgiven.John 20:20-23 (NLT)

If we say, ‘We have no sin,’ we are deceiving ourselves, and truth has no place in us; 9  if we acknowledge our sins, he is trustworthy and upright, so that he will forgive our sins and will cleanse us from all evil.1 John 1:8-9 (NJB) 8

192  If ever you fall, my son, go quickly to Confession and seek spiritual guidance. Show your wound!, so that it gets properly healed and all possibility of infection is removed, even if doing this hurts you as much as having an operation.  (1)

 

It is one of the major events in the history of Israel.  it is right up there with the events at Mount Sinai, and the walk through the Red Sea.

As one of the wonders of the Ancient World was dedicated to God’s glory, the thing that the king prays for… is… forgiveness?
Really?  Not to dominate the world?  Not to have all his people become wealthy and successful, not for the kids to all be brilliant and well behaved… but blessed?

Forgiveness?

That’s the key to the Temple?

A Jesus appears before them in the upper room, after assuring them that there is peace – the very first thing He does there, is bestow on them the responsibility of fogiving (and retaining) sins.  Even as He breaths His spirit on them, this incredible ministry becomes theirs…this ministry of reconciliation, this ministry of forgiveness.

Forgiveness again?  Really – that’s the first thing Jesus wants them to know they have the power to do – as His apostles?

It’s still a amjor issue with John when he rights his first epistle – an epistle devoted to love.  Because I tell you something – you can’t love others, if you don’t know the forgiveness of God in your own life.   if you don’t know you are forgiven and cleansed, if you don’t get that God isn’t out to “get you” and “condemn you” for those sins, but would so much rather clanse you and bring healing into your life – you won’t get life. You will live defensively, your cynicism will rule over you, and anxiety will so cause you to defend yourself, that you won’t see the people you are called to love – much less be able to love them.

Forgiveness.  God’s forgiveness.  Complete, cleansing, healing, redeeming, reconciling, restoring…

Forgiveness.

I need it, you need it, we need to hear that we are forgiven, that God will make all things work for good, that everything is okay.

Years ago, there would be lines of people at Lutheran Churches, at Catholic Churches, waiting for private confession at mourning benches in Methodist and Holiness churches, people seeking the freedom of knowing their sin was forgiven, that they were purged of all unrighteousness, of all unholiness.  That God kep His promises. That’s what happened at the dedication of the Temple, it’s what the Tabernacle celebrated, it’s the story of the upper room – both on the night before He was betrayed, and on the night He appeared, wounds in His hands and side.

it is a blessing we need….

So as Josemarie is quoted above – even if it hurts to confess your sin – rush to those who are set apart to help you with this – to proclaim on God’s behalf that you are forgiven.  Don’t let it rot your soul, your heart, your mind…. Rush, confess your sins – as James says in his epistle – to another… and hear that you are forgiven.

And know the depth of the love of God, is greater even than your sin……

God’s peace… for you were meant to live in it.

Forgiveness?

 

(1) Escriva, Josemaria (2011-01-31). The Forge (Kindle Locations 866-868). Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition.

The Pastor/Watchman’s tears and the Heart of Christ…

Devotional Thought of the Day:

16  After seven days the LORD gave me a message. He said, 17  “Son of man, I have appointed you as a watchman for Israel. Whenever you receive a message from me, warn people immediately. 18  If I warn the wicked, saying, ‘You are under the penalty of death,’ but you fail to deliver the warning, they will die in their sins. And I will hold you responsible for their deaths. 19  If you warn them and they refuse to repent and keep on sinning, they will die in their sins. But you will have saved yourself because you obeyed me. 20  “If righteous people turn away from their righteous behavior and ignore the obstacles I put in their way, they will die. And if you do not warn them, they will die in their sins. None of their righteous acts will be remembered, and I will hold you responsible for their deaths. 21  But if you warn righteous people not to sin and they listen to you and do not sin, they will live, and you will have saved yourself, too.” Ezekiel 3:16-21 (NLT) 

673      We can never attribute to ourselves the power of Jesus who is passing by amongst us. Our Lord is passing by: and he transforms souls when we come close to him with one heart, one feeling, one desire: to be good Christians. But it is he who does it: not you nor I. It is Christ who is passing by! And then he stays in our hearts—in yours and in mine!—and in our tabernacles. Jesus is passing by, and Jesus comes to stay. He stays in you, in each one of you, and in me. (1)

674      Our Lord wants to make us coredeemers with him. That is why to help us understand this marvel, he moves the evangelists to tell us of so many great wonders. He could have produced bread from anything… but he doesn’t! He looks for human cooperation: he needs a child, a boy, a few pieces of bread and some fish. He needs you and me: and he is God! This should move us to be generous in our corresponding with his grace. (1)

I heard something the other day, that unnerved me.  A pastor told one of his members that he didn’t have the gift of compassion. That it wasn’t his calling to care about people.  Part of me wishes I could be so callous, part of me knows that I would be wrecked if I was, i would simply shut down.

The reason I wish I could be so callous is that it hurts to watch those who are entrusted to our care fakk into judgment, to walk away from the love of God that would heal the bruises they don’t want to admit they have.  It is not like having a part of you, ripped from your body, and watching it slowly rot before your eyes.   I guess you could be callous and realize your body has other parts, that it will survive, that you could ignore the pain. While we can’t brutally force them to stay, we can’t let them go without tears, without praying that somehow they would listen, they would hear – not our voice- but the voice of God. And when they walk away, we should weep, not for the failed efforts, but for their souls, for that which they will endure until like the prodigal, they come home.

I’ve known a few of these tears recenlty – know many in the past.

That is the price of being co-redeemers with Christ, about being the child who brings a couple of fish and some loaves. About being Peter, who grew from his own failure to be God’s voice, to be Dorcas, the Lady who loved and served. Yes, some of us get the “upfront” jobs Others work behind the scenes, others are there when all the chips are down. Yet it is God in all, working through all .  It is Christ’s call our to people that we utter, in sermons and in coffee shops covernsations, by bedsides and in Bible Studies.

We have compassion, because He has compassion – it is He that desires to be there for them, through us. There is no option – we must learn to care as He cares.  To be there, to bring His love and mercy and healing, things that come from being in a relationship with Him.  There in peace, and security, for when we and they, hear the word of the watchman, we find our refuge, our keep, our fortress…. is Jesus.  The One who is passing by… and taking us with Him.

So cry hard for those who have not really heard.. but pray even more for them, for the Father desires their homecoming, and Christ is going to go to them…

(1)Escriva, Josemaria (2011-01-31). The Forge (Kindle Locations 2475-2484). Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition.

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