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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.

Confession of a Tired Pastor….

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Concordia Lutheran Church – Cerritos, Ca , at dawn on Easter Sunday

Devotional thought for our Day:

3 He said to me, “Israel, you are my servant; because of you, people will praise me.” 4 I said, “I have worked, but how hopeless it is! I have used up my strength, but have accomplished nothing.”  Yet I can trust the LORD to defend my cause; he will reward me for what I do. 5 Before I was born, the LORD appointed me; he made me his servant to bring back his people, to bring back the scattered people of Israel.  IS. 49:3-5 TEV

795         To be happy, what you need is not an easy life but a heart which is in love.

Tomorrow is the 9th anniversary of my installation as Concordia’s pastor.  We’ve had some hard times here, as we closed our elementary school. And harder times, as we’ve lost many to people who were a part of our identity, those people who you can’t imagine our church without their smiles, their laughter, and their antics.

We’ve had our times of great joy as well, as children are born and baptized, as others have realized how incredible the Lord’s Supper, the Eucharist is, as prodigals have come home.

But there have been days where I have been tired, where I understand the words from Isaiah above.  It is the challenge that many in ministry face when we know we are exactly where God wants us, and yet, we don’t see (in that moment) the fruit of our work.  When we’ve used up all “us” and don’t see anything beneficial. 

I’ve been there a time or two in the last 9 years, I’ll confess it, I’ve been tired.  And as I read these words this morning, as I looked at the bulletin that someone saved from my first “official” moment here…. I felt the tiredness again.  And when you are tired, your eyes close, your vision isn’t as sharp, and fail to see the beauty around you.  For the moment. 

My mind focused on the words of the frustrated prophet, they resonated deeply, and I failed to see the words around the passage.  

Words that talked about God’s call on our lives, that our vocation, our service to Him is something from birth (see Eph. 2:10 as well)  (v.1 & 5 & 7) 

Words that promise He is the source of our strength (v.2 & 5) 

Words that remind us our task is greater than it appears, (v.6 ) for we have the world to reach with this gospel.  (Gee more work?)

But what strikes me after catching the entire context, is that miraculously, this passage isn’t describing just Isaiah’s feelings, or yours and mine.  This passage is about Jesus. About his work, not just in the world, but in our lives.  

There could be the temptation to give up on us, for the suffering He endured for our sake was great, and seeing the results in our lives, takes an eternal perspective.  There is the hatred and dismission, not only that the world has for him, but sometimes seen in our lives, as we fight against His word and promises, as we dismiss our time with Him to do something “more productive)  

And yet God continues on, loving us, even when it isn’t easy. And yet, in loving us, we find God full of joy, as He shares with those He calls His glory and the glorious acts that call and reconcile the world to Him.

I wouldn’t say the last 9 years were easy.  Our church’s mission statement and motto bear that truth plainly.  Concordia is the place where broken people find healing in Christ while helping others heal.  But as we see God dealing with that brokenness, as we see Him working in the lives of those we love… there is a special joy and an incredible peace that can’t be explained – only experienced.  

For God has called and is calling us together.  

To Him be all the honor and praise.  AMEN!

Escriva, Josemaria. Furrow (Kindle Locations 3290-3291). Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition.

 

 

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.

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