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Do They Hear Me Now? A Thought about How those in Ministry have changed (or should change)


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The Good Shepherd, carrying His own.

Devotional Thought of the Day:
1  “Let me set this before you as plainly as I can. If a person climbs over or through the fence of a sheep pen instead of going through the gate, you know he’s up to no good—a sheep rustler! 2  The shepherd walks right up to the gate. 3  The gatekeeper opens the gate to him and the sheep recognize his voice. He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. 4  When he gets them all out, he leads them and they follow because they are familiar with his voice. John 10:1-4 (MSG)

404         The good shepherd does not need to fill the sheep with fear. Such behaviour befits bad rulers, and no one is very much surprised if they end up hated and alone.

I grew up in a time where, if we weren’t afraid of our priests and pastors, we were certainly intimidated by them.  They were often quite stoic, we thought they were incredible holy and pious.  In some ways, they were our role models, but we always understood we would never, ever be like them.  Their lives were a target, and maybe if we were 50-60% of who they were, we would be okay.

Sometimes though, if we didn’t behave perfectly if we missed something during the service, they were terrifying, for we believed that they could speak God’s wrath upon us, and disappointing them, (or more likely ticking them off) was no different than doing the same to God Almighty.

Now that I am a pastor, and I know many pastors and priests, I know the difference.  The best are the ones who clearly aren’t perfect, who are broken and therefore know how to minister to the broken.  They have had the dark nights of the soul ( and such texts prove this is not new to GenX/Millenials) and easily empathize with those who walk with depression and grief, who struggle with sin and with resentment.  Who is well aware that this life is hard, and know that hope and joy aren’t something we manufacture, it isn’t something we create, but it is found at the cross.  Oddly enough, it is found not only as we laugh with the people we care for, but that hope and joy, and even peace can be found as we love them enough to cry with them and as we cry for them.

As I hear people lament the death of the church in America (or Europe) I wonder if this isn’t what St. Josemaria was talking about, what both Pope Benedict and Francis talk about when they talk about pastoral care, and the work of priests and the religious.  Have we, in trying to lead our people in, in preaching about their need for God in their life, scared them off?  Have we tried to rule their lives, rather than guiding them?  Have we forced them into our boxes, whether we are read for it or not?  If we have it is no wonder that we are alone, that our voices echo in empty sanctuaries, that our words fall on deaf ears.

Jesus addresses this as well, as He teaches about shepherds. If we are shepherds rather than “ranchers”, if we guide the sheep rather than pen them in, if we walk with them, they learn our voice, and that voice is one they will respond to, knowing that we care for them. I am not saying they won’t be stubborn at times or get themselves stuck in the mud, but that they will respond.

They will recognize that we are broken people who have found their healing in Jesus, while helping them heal.  They will know God’s love, because they see it in us.  They will respond to our teaching both law and gospel, because they see how we value it.

God is with us… we need that… and they need to see it.

and they will hear Jesus, and be drawn to them.

AMEN!

(1)  Escriva, Josemaria. Furrow (Kindle Locations 1821-1823). Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition.

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.

Is Your Church a Refuge Where You Can Really Pray????


OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERADevotional Thought of the Day:

17 He then taught the people: “It is written in the Scriptures that God said, ‘My Temple will be called a house of prayer for the people of all nations.’ But you have turned it into a hideout for thieves!”   Mark 11:16-17 TEV 

 I will bring them to my holy mountain of Jerusalem and will fill them with joy in my house of prayer. I will accept their burnt offerings and sacrifices, because my Temple will be called a house of prayer for all nations. 8  For the Sovereign LORD, who brings back the outcasts of Israel, says: I will bring others, too, besides my people Israel.”
Isaiah 56:7-8 (NLT)

Thus confession of sin is a sovereign remedy against sin itself. Contrition and confession are so precious, and have so sweet an odour, that they deface the ugliness and destroy the infection of sin. Simon the Pharisee pronounced St. Mary Magdalen a sinner; but our Saviour denied it, and speaks of nothing but of the sweet perfumes she poured on Him, and of the greatness of her charity. If we be truly humble, Philothea, our sins will infinitely displease us, because God is offended by them; but the confession of our sins will be sweet and pleasant to us, because God is honored thereby. It is a kind of consolation to us to inform the physician correctly of the disease that torments us.

As I grew up, I preferred walking into St Francis rather than St Joes, and definitely St Basil’s over Mary Queen of Peace or the Formation Center in Andover.

Not because of the priests, or because the masses were better, or because of the music was more to my liking.  It wasn’t that at all.  I loved the stillness, the quietness, the ability to sit and kneel before the cross, to think about the Eucharist (the Lord’s Supper) that we would receive, to just find peace, there in the presence of God.

The other churches were much more friendly, much more interested in you. Those churches were full and had lots of activities.  But as I went into the church, I didn’t have the time, or so I thought, to settle in, to hear the silence, to be in awe of God.

Even today, as I pastor a church without a sizeable narthex, I enter the church just before service, bow at the altar, move over to the musicians, and try to catch my breath, and long for 10-15 minutes of silence. ( as much as I love our worship music, I love our quiet communion in our midweek Advent services…)

As I read the scriptures this morning and considered what it meant to be a house of prayer, I thought for a moment and wondered if they truly are….

Our churches need to be places of prayer, whether silent or sobbing, full of joy and excitement as we come to our Father and share with Him our lives.  There are many forms and ways of prayer, each has their own time and place. But when scripture is talking about the church, or the Temple being a house, a home of prayer, it has something specific in mind.

Something our churches today need to be that we must be, if we are going to make a difference in our people’s lives.  Whether the church is a place where 20 people gather in a storefront, or a cathedral where thousands pray.

We need to realize what that means to have a house of prayer to go to, what Isaiah is hinting at (as Mark cites him,) as he talks of sacrifices and offerings being acceptable again.

What Solomon mentioned, as God dedicates the temple by being present, and listening as Solomon prayer,

19  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. 20  May you watch over this Temple day and night, this place where you have said you would put your name. May you always hear the prayers I make toward this place. 21  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. 2 Chronicles 6:19-21 (NLT)

If our churches are to be a place of prayer, then they need to be a place where we give God every burden we have, especially the burdens of guilt and shame, the weight that is added to the sin that we commit.

This is the prayer the temple and the church are set apart to facilitate, to make the prodigal (whether they realize they are one or not) welcome home, to dress them up again,, to help them realize they are part of the family.  The ministry of reconciliation; as the incredible love of God is revealed to those who are broken.  As they hear, “you, child of God, are forgiven and restored.”

By the way, this isn’t a Sunday morning thing, this should be anytime you need it, the chance to go and sit in the quiet with God, to talk to a pastor, to hear of God’s love, to leave those burdens at the altar, to walk away with your hunger for righteousness sated, to know you are loved.

That’s what it means to have a church that is a house or prayer….

May our churches be houses of prayer… may our shepherds help us pray, be relieved and overjoyed as we find out He hears us and forgives.

 

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

Christ-centric life….a good reminder!


 

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Devotional Thought fo the Day:
1  When I came to you, my friends, to preach God’s secret truth, I did not use big words and great learning. 2  For while I was with you, I made up my mind to forget everything except Jesus Christ and especially his death on the cross. 3  So when I came to you, I was weak and trembled all over with fear, 4  and my teaching and message were not delivered with skillful words of human wisdom, but with convincing proof of the power of God’s Spirit. 5  Your faith, then, does not rest on human wisdom but on God’s power.
1 Corinthians 2:1-5 (TEV)

3. Return to God: And Thou, O my God, my Saviour, Thou shalt be from henceforth the sole object of my thoughts: I will no more apply my mind to such as are displeasing to Thee. My memory shall entertain itself all the days of my life with the greatness of thy clemency, so mercifully exercised on me: Thou shalt be the delight of my heart and the sweetness of my whole being.  (1)

Twenty years ago, I preached at a small church in the middle of the desert.  Two years later, I would become their pastor.  And on their letter head was the mission/purpose statement.  “Teaching Christ-Centered Living”.

I’ve since come to the conclusion that those phrases, maybe long overlooked, are the key to the church’s misison in that community.  That is why they are planted, these phrase, this is a vision God has given those who sacrificed and set down the cornerstone.  At my present church, it is the oft repeated phrase, “The Lord is with You!” (and the response to me – “and also with you!” ) You want to revitalize a chruch – you want to see it come to life and share God’s love – discover the reason it was put there in the first place!

So back to Christ-centered living.

We aren’t talking about being religious by rote, or being scholars in Greek and Hebrew Exegesis.    We can memorize all the red letters in our Bibles, and still fail to live life centered, focused on Jesus.

SO what does it mean to be centered on Christ in our lives?  What does it mean to forget everything bu Christ and His cross?

It means to realize that clemency that deSales speaks of, it means to deligh in the presence of God in our lives, to rejoice in the incarnate, tangible God who speaks and listens.  It is to depend on this, and so know a peace that comes from God being our fortress, our sanctuary, our peace.

It means the hope that comes from realizing His comfort, and sharing in His glory, for His glory is the cHesed, the agape, the love, the charity, the compassion of God that draws us to Himself.

To live in awe of that love is Christ-centric living.

And it is our role, as God’s people to use our time, gathered together as the Church, or with a friend over lunch – to teach them what they need to know about Jesus.

My friend, the Lord is with you!

See His love, see His work in your life….. and cry out, “Lord, Have MERCY” or “Hosanna (Save us) ” or “kumbayyah (Be here Lord)” or simply, “thank you!”

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

 

Why We Aren’t A Post Christian Society



Devotional Thought fo the Day:

9 *But you are “a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people of his own, so that you may announce the praises” of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light.10 Once you were “no people” but now you are God’s people; you “had not received mercy” but now you have received mercy!   1 Peter 2:9-10

A single hour of quiet listening to the word of God would often be more effective than whole days of sessions and discussions, and a moment of prayer would be more effective than whole stacks of paper, for it is not only what we do that makes us effective. Sometimes the impression arises that behind our hectic hyperactivity there lurks a paralysis of faith, since in the last analysis we have more confidence in what we ourselves contrive and accomplish.

47 For this reason, too, Paul asks, Since we are called according to the purpose of God, “who will separate us from the love of God in Christ?” (Rom. 8:35).
48 This doctrine will also give us the glorious comfort, in times of trial and affliction, that in his counsel before the foundation of the world God has determined and decreed that he will assist us in all our necessities, grant us patience, give us comfort, create hope, and bring everything to such an issue that we shall be saved

For a decade or more, I have the phrase post-modernism adapted and used to describe a weak church, and so developed phrases like “a post-Christian society” or living in a “post-church society.”

I will agree that the church seems to be less “effective” from a business perspective, at least in areas where it was thought to be very “effective” for decades.  Among those of European descent, among those who were upwardly mobile and driven to live life better than their parents did.

But calling us post-church or post-Christian is wrong, for it presumes that the society we are discussing knew the riches they had in Christ, that they were recipients of the grace and mercy, the peace and love of God our Father, and our Lord Jesus Christ, 

And then walked away… not just from the church, but from the love of Christ the church was there to help them explore, to be at their side as they in awe, encountered God revealed to them. 

To call this society “post-Christian” means they walked away from what St Peter describes as leaving the darkness for a wonderful light, that they abandoned being God’s people, and recipients of the mercy that would bring healing and hope to shattered souls. I don’t see people doing that; I see them walking away from meetings and discussions, from stacks of paper describing programs, and from a church that ministered only to their sense of logic, and couldn’t continually keep them in awe.

That which they may have walked away from, did it give them comfort in the midst of suffering, did it bring them a sense of God’s peace that goes beyond explanation and understand?  If so, why would they have walked away from it?

So what is the answer?  Perhaps it is to evangelize the church first, what is called the New Evangelization in some circles.   To teach people that God does answer a cry for mercy, that He hears their prayers, that he will offer them comfort and peace. As this is taught, as it is revealed through His word, and through His sacraments, then the church will naturally evangelize again.  

Teach them about Christ,God incarnate, God crucified and raised, God who comes near, and stays.  God who listens and comforts, who guides and gives meaning to life. Who walks beside them in this lonely life.

It may sound too simple, but simple doesn’t mean wrong, nor does it mean ineffective.  It means that we communicate and reveal the love of God to those who need it, in the church and presently outside it. 

It is time to give people the hope of sharing in the glory of Christ, in the presence of Jesus. 

 

 

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.

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

 

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 Pastor/Priest’s Kobayashi Maru


Devotional Thought of the Day:

27  And there were many lepers in Israel in the time of the prophet Elisha, but the only one healed was Naaman, a Syrian.”    Luke 4:27 (NLT)

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

7  Do not waste time arguing over godless ideas and old wives’ tales. Instead, train yourself to be godly. 8  “Physical training is good, but training for godliness is much better, promising benefits in this life and in the life to come.” 9  This is a trustworthy saying, and everyone should accept it. 10  This is why we work hard and continue to struggle, for our hope is in the living God, who is the Savior of all people and particularly of all believers. 11  Teach these things and insist that everyone learn them. 12  Don’t let anyone think less of you because you are young. Be an example to all believers in what you say, in the way you live, in your love, your faith, and your purity. 13  Until I get there, focus on reading the Scriptures to the church, encouraging the believers, and teaching them. 14  Do not neglect the spiritual gift you received through the prophecy spoken over you when the elders of the church laid their hands on you. 15  Give your complete attention to these matters. Throw yourself into your tasks so that everyone will see your progress. 16  Keep a close watch on how you live and on your teaching. Stay true to what is right for the sake of your own salvation and the salvation of those who hear you.   1 Timothy 4:7-16 (NLT)

“In the stillness of the little room the bishop sighed deeply.  His eyes saw the bejeweled crucifix that hung at his chest.He prayed silently.  Then he sent for his secretary and ordered the searcht o begin.  Then, alone once more, he split himself into the three persons that all generals of the Church must simultaneously be.  First, the anointed Peter, first bishop of the Christ, with all that spiritually implied.  Second the militant guardian of the Church temporal with all that implied.  And last, just a simple man who believed the teachings of a simple man who the Son of God.
He settled back in his chair and let these facets of himself argue one with another. And He listened to them.   (from Tai-Pan by James Clavell – emphasis mine.)

One of my favorite authors is James Clavell, and his saga of Asia. The way he shows all of his characters, in both their best light and in their darkest moments, make the stories seem so life like, so realistic.  This is especially true about the clergy in the books, especially this Bishop in Tai-pan, who has to make a decision, a hard decision, whether to respond to the needs of an unrepentant sinner and an enemy of the Church  of Rome.

While I am no bishop, I understand the dilemma, the argument the bishop hears from his “three” persons are real.  I’ve been there as well, involved in the pastoral version of the Kobayashi Maru.

Do I make my decision based on what I perceive as is best for the church at large, a lesson for the encouragement of others, who might see my work as representing what I approve?  Would my helping out the sinner lead others into sin? Would the work compromise my ability to minister spiritually to others?

Do I make my decision based on my responsibility for the material nature of the church?  In this case, the Bishop was offered anything in the sinners power to provide a small portion of a rare medication to his mistress, who was pregnant with child.  Should he make the decision to deny this, the hero would certainly use his power and influence to gain revenge on the church.  If he helped, the advantage would be enormous,not just financially, but SStruanhad promised to visibly “convert”, even if he couldn’t in his heart.

The last possible decision, responding to Straun as simply a man to  another man in need.  To respond in unconditional love, to help out just because he felt Christ would.

I would normally say, go for door number three, that is the obvious answer.  Or at least it is the one I expect, even as first two personas kick and screw about the lack of logic in that decision.

Yet, in my heart, I know it is not accurate to make the decision based on the third option.  For my only responsibility is not to the third situation.   As a pastor, I must consider the impact to the entire church, both spiritually and physically.  And like the fabled Star Trek officers test, I must understand the implications, the challenges, and own them.

I love what the Bishop, this leader of the church did, in the scene.  He first prayed, and then he allowed himself to argue the situation out, listening, hearing each of the voices.   I won’t give the story away, but I can say this:

His answer would satisfy in the end, all three concerns.

He sweated it out, he worked through the dilemma, and because he prayed and listened, and was patient, he came to a conclusion.

It would cost him, and yet the cost would be having an enormous teaching moment, a moment to catechize Struan, and his community, and wait for the Holy Spirit to work in the hearts of those involved.  It doesn’t resolve perfectly, in the end, yet, mercy was known, love was accepted, healing happened.

And peace was known, not just by those to whom he served, but amazingly, in his own life.  The kind of peace that is not of this world, nor would seem logical, but is the peace of Christ, the peace Christ gives to all those He treasures.

(BTW – this is applicable to more than pastors and priests. )

The Need to Hear Jesus, and Not Just the Experts


Devotional Thought fo the Day:
“Who are you to put God to the test today, setting yourselves in the place of God in human affairs?*g 13 And now it is the Lord Almighty you are putting to the test, but you will never understand anything! 14 You cannot plumb the depths of the human heart or grasp the workings of the human mind; how then can you fathom God, who has made all these things, or discern his mind, or understand his plan?”  Judith 8:12-14 NABRE (2)

31      O Jesus…, strengthen our souls, open out the way for us, and, above all, intoxicate us with your Love! Make us into blazing fires to kindle the earth with the heavenly fire you brought us.  (2)

As I’ve worked with people who are suffering, I’ve heard a lot of people offer “expert” advice to them about why God caused/is allowing/is fine with the suffering they are enduring.

It is almost as if the friends of Job (where they really?) have been re=incarnated!

Some promise that God wouldn’t allow the people He loves to suffer, or that if they do this, they will be fine.  They will use the often misquoted passage about God not allowing you to bear anything you can’t handle… (sometimes with a disclaimer)

We love to speak for God, but the question needs to be asked – were we lsitenign to him when we spoke?

In the case of the text from Judith, the leaders hadn’t. They were, as so often happens, using their own reason, their own logic, to solve a situation. They didn’t consult God, they had forgotten His promises, they treated His word as if it was, supplemental to the gifts He ahd given them, when He entrsuted them with the leadership of God’s people.

And like us, they failed.

There is a level of humility we as leaders need in the church.  The humility that drives us, not from obligation, but from realizing our need  to be with jesus, to hear His voice, to find the hope that comes, as we conciously dwell in His presence.

Judith noted this, her words to the leaders of her people to her.  They came, and as she convicted them, she also encouraged them to model the faith in God that they had inherited from their ancestors. And she herself mourned, grieved, prayed (even to the extent of laying fully prostrate – a symbol of complete submission)

And she did what was incredibly distasteful, horrid, and sacrificed her own peace.

Not exactly a Christ figure (still working through the God using all things, including Judith’s deception for good.. i.e. Genesis 50:20.. issue in this one)  but there are elements of her work, of her humility, that need to be noted.  She sought God’s face, and

The kind of humility, the kind of submission and sacrifice that only comes when a heart is on fire for God.  When a heart and soul has found its only answer is in the promises God made us, the promises that He will be the refuge and shield of His people.

Hear these words of her prayer,

“You are God of the lowly, helper of those of little account, supporter of the weak, protector of those in despair, savior of those without hope.”

She is right about that.  As is St Josemaria with his prayer, asking God to overwhelm us, humbling us, strengthening our souls, encouraging us to reflect his light to the gentiles and give hope to His people Israel.  It is this adoration of the God who would hang on the cross that is our salvation, for in Him we have life.  Our people need our help to explore the dimensions of His love, even in the midst of suffering.

May we guide people into their rest and healing found in Christ, rather than prognosticate and pontificate about their situation.

Lord have mercy…

 

 

(1) Judith is one of the books from the deuterocanonical books of scripture (i.e. the second canon )  It was included in old Bibles, and would have been considered part of scripture by the early church reformers.  It is not found in most modern Bibles published by protestants.  (Although it exists in translations like the ESV, the RSV, etc)  Lutherans and Anglicans vacillate on it, considering it anywhere from being like a book by a church father, to being a lesser part of scripture, to being part of the canon.  As the translation I am using for daily devotions this year (NAB-RE ) includes it, so I am re-introduced to it.  I found this quote particularly poignant, given issues with leadership in the church and outside it today.

Escriva, Josemaria (2011-01-31). The Forge (Kindle Locations 348-349). Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition.

Pastor and Priests are Shepherds…That is Our Life


Devotional Thought of the Day

34  Jesus saw the huge crowd as he stepped from the boat, and he had compassion on them because they were like shFeatured imageeep without a shepherd. So he began teaching them many things. 35  Late in the afternoon his disciples came to him and said, “This is a remote place, and it’s already getting late. 36  Send the crowds away so they can go to the nearby farms and villages and buy something to eat.” 37  But Jesus said, “You feed them.”   Mark 6:34-37 (NLT)

14  “Return home, you wayward children,” says the LORD, “for I am your master. I will bring you back to the land of Israel one from this town and two from that family from wherever you are scattered. 15  And I will give you shepherds after my own heart, who will guide you with knowledge and understanding. Jeremiah 3:14-15 (NLT)

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. Ephesians 4:11-13 (TEV)

14 We lay hold of him when our heart embraces him and clings to him.
15 To cling to him with all our heart is nothing else than to entrust ourselves to him completely. He wishes to turn us away from everything else, and draw us to himself, because he is the one eternal good. It is as if he said: “What you formerly sought from the saints, or what you hoped to receive from mammon or anything else, turn to me for all this; look upon me as the one who wishes to help you and to lavish all good upon you richly.”
16 Behold, here you have the true honor and the true worship which please God and which he commands under penalty of eternal wrath, namely, that the heart should know no other consolation or confidence than that in him, nor let itself be torn from him, but for him should risk and disregard everything else on earth.  (1)

By the preaching of the word and by the celebration of the sacraments, the center and summit of which is the most holy Eucharist, He brings about the presence of Christ, the author of salvation. But whatever truth and grace are to be found among the nations, as a sort of secret presence of God, He frees from all taint of evil and restores to Christ its maker, who overthrows the devil’s domain and wards off the manifold malice of vice. And so, whatever good is found to be sown in the hearts and minds of men, or in the rites and cultures peculiar to various peoples, not only is not lost, but is healed, uplifted, and perfected for the glory of God, the shame of the demon, and the bliss of men.24 Thus, missionary activity tends toward eschatological fullness.25 For by it the people of God is increased to that measure and time which the Father has fixed in His power (cf. Acts 1:7). To this people it was said in prophecy: “Enlarge the space for your tent, and spread out your tent cloths unsparingly” (Is. 54:2).26 By missionary activity, the mystical body grows to the mature measure of the fullness of Christ (cf. Eph. 4:13); and the spiritual temple, where God is adored in spirit and in truth (cf. John 4:23), grows and is built up upon the foundation of the Apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus Himself being the supreme corner stone (Eph. 2:20).  (2)

This morning I had the greatest 15 minutes of my week since Sunday. I met and visited with a lady who was an incredible blessing to me.  Her words though few, and with a tired voice, encouraged me to be what I am, a pastor.  As I prayed with the lady who has lived in 10 different decades, I watched a beautiful smile, and her tired body relaxed, as she knew again the love of God.  It is the first time we’ve met, and I am already looking forward to seeing her again.

It is not why I do what I do; It is who I am.

That is being a pastor, a shepherd.  It what those called into ministry are called to be. I’ve included a lot of citations above, because they explain it far better than I can.

The reading from Ephesian starts it out by expressing that we aren’t born to be pastors/shepherds, but we are chosen to do it.  Chosen to shepherd (that is what pastor means) and to guide people as they mature in Christ, as they struggle with living out the promise of being someone united to Jesus, as they struggle as the Holy Spirit transforms them into His image. As they struggle with their growing pains. As we hear Jesus command us to feed them (and he had to tell Peter that THREE times according to St. John’s gospel!)

I love how Vatican II puts it, as we see the transformation, even the exorcises all evil from them ( Paul calls this circumcising the heart and Ezekiel speak of it as well)  Paul talks of us pleading with them to be reconciled to God, to being drawn to Him, to bring them to be embraced by a God who is both merciful and loving.

It is of the greatest of joys when this happens, as it did this morning as I sat next to my new friend, the new person I had the honor of reminding that Christ is indeed with her.  Something she indeed knew… but loved to hear again.  There are other times; it is not so easy.  When showing them what Luther wrote of in the catechism means bringing about healing. Treating that which hurts and is painful.

This is why Jesus said pray for the shepherds, that God would send them as promised.  It isn’t easy, it is heart-breaking and frustrating, it is ministering to people who might be angry at you, mad at you, that may think you are intentionally trying to hurt them.

A pastor stays with them, doesn’t discount them, and continues to point them to Jesus.  He keeps encouraging them to cling to Jesus. He keeps reminding them that Jesus is there.  Though it may be tempting, he doesn’t run from wolves or alligators or those who are crying in pain.  He doesn’t run when it hurts him, or even those he loves. He helps them cling to Jesus. To trust in Him rather than their idols.

He is who he is; it isn’t a job, is a vocation.

If you are a pastor or priest, spend lots of time being amazed at what God is doing through you, for it is still He who will provide the food, the word and the Lord’s Supper which nourishHis people with the knowledge and experience of His presence.

If you are served by one of us, pray for us, encourage us, be patient with us, knowing we have to draw you into God’s presence, sometimes even as you are kicking and screaming. As you can help us to – for there are more broken people that we can minister too at times…

At all times – may we cry out together, Lord Have Mercy!

And may we encourage each other by crying out, “the Lord is with you!” and hearing “and also, with you!”

(1)    Tappert, T. G. (Ed.). (1959). The Book of Concord the confessions of the Evangelical Lutheran Church. (p. 366). Philadelphia: Mühlenberg Press.
(2)    Catholic Church. (2011). Decree on the Mission Activity of the Church: Ad Gentes. In Vatican II Documents. Vatican City: Libreria Editrice Vaticana.

A Second Look at How the Church Should Deal With Sinners and Even Evil.


Featured imageDevotional/Discussion thought of the day

24 Here is another story Jesus told: “The Kingdom of Heaven is like a farmer who planted good seed in his field. 25 But that night as the workers slept, his enemy came and planted weeds among the wheat, then slipped away. 26 When the crop began to grow and produce grain, the weeds also grew.
27 “The farmer’s workers went to him and said, ‘Sir, the field where you planted that good seed is full of weeds! Where did they come from?
28 “ ‘An enemy has done this!’ the farmer exclaimed.
“ ‘Should we pull out the weeds?’ they asked.
29 “ ‘No,’ he replied, ‘you’ll uproot the wheat if you do. 30 Let both grow together until the harvest. Then I will tell the harvesters to sort out the weeds, tie them into bundles, and burn them, and to put the wheat in the barn. ”(Mt 13:24–30) NLT

792    Duc in altum.—“Put out into the deep.” Cast aside the pessimism that makes a coward of you. Et laxate retia vestra in capturam—“And lower your nets for a catch.” Don’t you see that, as Peter said, In nomine tuo, laxabo rete—“At your word I will lower the net,” you can say, “Jesus, in your name I will seek souls!”  (1)

I’ve often read the parable above as being about the end of times.  It is an eschatological treasure after all, and challenges those with complicated end times theories.

But this parable has a heavy focus on ministry as well, about how we are to deal with evil and that which doesn’t seem to be correct or dare I say kosher.  To hear this lesson is challenging, because it goes against conventional wisdom, It goes against leadership rules and all those ideas about dealing with alligators in the church.  These people may be your enemies, your adversaries, even your pains in the neck.  But they have been given to you.

To hear Jesus’ words here takes a level of courage, even a level of courage that could be taken for complacency. It actually takes more work, more pastoral concern, more leadership, more devotion and obedience.

Leave them in the field you care for, letting God determine whether they are weeds or wheat at the end of time..

Continue to share with them both their absolute need for Christ, and His mercy that overwhelms that need.

If they walk away, so be it, but don’t push them out of vineyard.  That isn’t your call.  It isn’t within your pay grade to uproot them and burn them in the furnace, or at the stake. Even in times of church discipline, keep them in sight!  Minister to them, plead with them to be reconciled to God. (1 Cor 5 – note it doesn’t say reconcile themselves to God  – He still does the work)

This is going to take courage, and obedience.  it is going to require hearing the Master’s voice, and trusting that He knows what He is doing, what He has commissioned.  It may take sacrifice, and yes, more than a little pain  It will take creativity and ingenuity as you minister to them,  But since when is ministry about the ease of our jobs?

Even as you call them to repentance, even as you shepherd them in view of the others growing in the fields that will be harvested, you need to love them. This is exactly what Peter is talking about, as he mentions the Lord’s long-suffering nature, not willing that any should perish….

So hear His voice… listen to His words… care for those that you think may be weeds..Seek the salvation of the souls He brings into your sight… and love them. ..

God might surprise you both!

(1)   Escriva, Josemaria (2010-11-02). The Way (Kindle Locations 1828-1831). Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition.

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