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The Greatest Leadership Challenge: Waiting

ST MARY OF PEACEDevotional Thought for our seemingly broken days

When the people saw that Moses delayed in coming down from the mountain, they gathered around Aaron and said to him, “Come, make us a god z who will go before us because this Moses, the man who brought us up from the land of Egypt—we don’t know what has happened to him!”
21 Then Moses asked Aaron, “What did these people do to you that you have led them into such a grave sin?” 22 “Don’t be enraged, my lord,” Aaron replied. “You yourself know that the people are intent on evil.  Exodus 32:1, 21-22 HCSB

What is truly great grows outside the limelight; and stillness at the right time is more fruitful than constant busyness, which degenerates all too easily into mindless busywork. All of us, in this era when public life is being more and more Americanized, are in the grip of a peculiar restlessness, which suspects any quietness of being a waste of time, any stillness of being a sign of missing out on something. Every ounce of time is being measured and weighed, and thus we become oblivious to the true mystery of time, the true mystery of growing and becoming: stillness. It is the same in the area of religion, where all our hopes and expectations rest on what we do; where we, through all kinds of exercises and activities, painstakingly avoid facing the true mystery of inner growth toward God. And yet, in the area of religion, what we receive is at least as important as what we do.  (1)

Every leader, whether secular or religious has felt the pressure that Aaron felt in the passage above in red.  Taken from the Old Testament, this is one of the first times that he has had to act on his own as high priest.  Prior to this, he served as Moses spokesman, he said and did what he was told to say and do in the Old Testament Liturgy.

But now, in the absence of Moses, the people urged him to act, they urged him to make a decision, for that is what they thought a leader should do.  They couldn’t wait!  It is restlessness that Benedict XVI calls “Americanized”, the idea of resting and being still cannot be profitable, it cannot provide what we need.  In our mixed up world, waiting and resting has no benefit, no importance, no sense of progress.

Instead of helping his people wait on God, Aaron submitted to their desires (and then lied about it!)  As do too many of us.  We run around, keeping busy, unable to find those moments where we simply wait on God, where we breathe deeply and find in that stillness that He is here!

I find this is even true among myself and my peers in the Lutheran Church, who replace doing with learning or at least acquiring knowledge and passing it on, whether we are able to wisely apply it or not. We move from one guru of the past to another, from one theologian to another, constantly seeking and yet, I wonder if we can ever be satisfied with what we know.

We see this even in a church service, where a long silent pause is even painful.  When we struggle to take a moment to give to God the sins He longs to remove from our hearts and souls, when we struggle to be silent as we commune, unable to wait the time it takes to let our mind run out of the things it would use to distract us, unable to wait for the moment where peace and serenity and the rest that comes from being in His presence happens.

We need to learn to face the true mystery of our inner growth toward God, a growth that isn’t measured in pages read or written, a growth that isn’t measured with watches and calendars, a growth that is simply found, like Martha’s sister, sitting with Jesus, and being in awe of Him and His love for us.  Or like Mary, the handmaid of the Lord, who sat and pondered in her heart the message of God.

Aaron would not be removed from the priesthood, for God was patient with him.  The people would sin more often, and they would wander the wilderness for a generation.  God would forgive them, as He promised, as He will forgive us of our sins, including our lack of patience, our lack of trust, or lack of conversion.  Then again, that conversion is His work, for as Benedict reminds us, what we receive is at least ( I would say significantly more) than what we do.

Rest in God’s presence, dwell in His love and peace… for this is God’s will for you – and for everyone you know.  May God help to desire this and to see it happen.  Amen!

 

 

 

(1)  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.

Why Ministry Is So Challenging…..

Mark Jenning's Madonna

A Painting of Jesus and Mary by my friend Mark Jennings. You can find all his art (and order copies) at http://fineartamerica.com/profiles/mark-jennings.html

A devotional thought for our seemingly broken days…

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)

To serve the people of God is to accompany them day after day, announcing God’s salvation and not get lost in pursuing an unreachable dream.

“We tell people the same exact thing, week after week, using different words,” Words from Pastor Mark Jennings while discussing the art of preaching, and ministry. 

The older I get, the more I observe pastors and those training to be pastors, the more I am convinced of this. 

Being a pastor is an art, not a science.

It doesn’t matter whether we are talking about writing a sermon, or celebrating the Lord’s Supper and savoring every word of the liturgy, or holding the hand of a dear shut-in, who health has separated from her church family and friends.  It doesn’t matter whether it is shepherding the leadership of the church or dealing with a pre-school chapel (which I still think is the most challenging of ministerial roles!)

This is an art, an ever-changing masterpiece with the constant of diversity.  Every situation, every step alongside those we care for will be different. 

This is not a science, with simple rules and formulas and patterns to follow. This is art, requiring a sense of vision requiring a sense of seeing the final picture before the brush strokes are applied before the notes are heard before words are attached to the page. 

That makes it a challenge far greater than most of us who serve as pastors and priests, deacons and others in ministry.  A challenge that I believe is a necessity, a challenge that is our greatest blessing.

For then, we can’t depend just on our mind, for it will lock down on the Greek and Hebrew, or it will turn the experiences of those who have gone before us into rules and man-made traditions that are inviolate. Just because John Chrysostom, or Franz Pieper Robert Schuler or Rick Warren did something, that doesn’t mean it can or should be repeated in our place, in our situation. 

We have to consider who we are walking beside, whom it is God is putting into the masterpiece that is His kingdom, that is His church. As a mentor used to say, we need as much time studying and exegeting them as we do the text in preparing a sermon.   We need to know them, to know their stories, we need to see how God uses their hurts to give them halos, their scars to be the stars that guide them to the Jesus, and the Father. 

This is why ministering to people is an art, helping them realize the same thing, over and over, to reveal to them the presence of God in their lives.  helping them realize that HIs presence is drawing them closer so that they can experience His mercy, His love, His peace.  That’s why my friend and fellow pastor said, we give them the same message, the same sermons, the same lessons, the same counsel, just using different words.  He was an incredible artist and a pastor who realized his role was that of an artist.

We aren’t even the artists, we are just the ones who get to see Him at work, we are the servants whom He has shared His vision with, the vision of the redemption of mankind.

This is what we do,…walking beside them, focusing on God’s work in their lives. and realizing he is doing the same in ours.

My friends, when you cry, “Lord, have mercy,” do so, knowing that the Lord is with you!  

AMEN!

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

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.

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