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Why We Need the People that We Struggle with the Most!

clydes-cross-2The devotional thought of the day:

14  Yes, the body has many different parts, not just one part. 15  If the foot says, “I am not a part of the body because I am not a hand,” that does not make it any less a part of the body. 16  And if the ear says, “I am not part of the body because I am not an eye,

 

 

” would that make it any less a part of the body? 17  If the whole body were an eye, how would you hear? Or if your whole body were an ear, how would you smell anything? 18  But our bodies have many parts, and God has put each part just where he wants it. 1 Corinthians 12:14-21 (NLT)

666 You insist on doing your own thing, and so your work is barren. Obey: be docile. Each cog in a machine must be put in its place. If not, the machine stops, or the parts get damaged. It will surely not produce anything, or if it does, then very little. In the same way, a man or a woman outside his or her proper field of action, will be more of a hindrance than an instrument of apostolate.

A long time ago, as I was working at a major university and preparing to leave for my first pastoral position, the president of the university gave me some advice on leadership in ministry.

He told me that among the people I want on my leadership team would be those who opposed me. That the best ideas and advice would come from them, and often, they would stop me from shooting myself in the foot.

This runs a bit contrary to what most management and consultant types will tell you.  They will say you want all the people pushing on the same side of the box, sharing the same vision, people who have all bought into the plans.

And while this can be helpful in management or in ministry, you also need that person who will question you, who will keep you humble, who will be there, faithful to the church, faithful enough to say when you’ve messed up.

Of course, you may find this a challenge, having people around who oppose you is never easy.  Loving them and caring for them may be difficult, but they are part of the Body of Christ, they are a necessary cog in the machine, and if you would see it, they are a blessing from God. 

We can’t just do our own thing, we can’t always get our own way, often we don’t have the knowledge or the wisdom that together are needed to make things work.  If we try to be, getting rid of the people that don’t conform to our system, we are the one who is hindering the apostolate, the mission of the church. 

So next time someone gets on your nerves, the next time they question your idea, take a breath, thank God for their presence in your life, and consider what they say.

God’s peace!

Escriva, Josemaria. The Forge (Kindle Locations 2450-2454). Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition.

Will the Church Really Hear Their Cries?

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Devotional/Discussion Thought of the Day:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

But do we hear them?

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

To help them understand God hears them?

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

Should I Stay or Should I God: Balancing Devotion and Ministry

Devotional Thought for the day:

29  So the people of Israel—every man and woman who was eager to help in the work the LORD had given them through Moses—brought their gifts and gave them freely to the LORD.   Exodus 35:29 (NLT)

63 But after a man is converted, and thereby enlightened, and his will is renewed, then he wills that which is good, in so far as he is reborn or a new man, and he delights in the law of God according to his inmost self (Rom. 7:22). And immediately he does good, as much and as long as the Holy Spirit motivates him, as St. Paul says, “For all who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God.”8
64 This impulse of the Holy Spirit is no coercion or compulsion because the converted man spontaneously does that which is good, as David says, “Your people will offer themselves freely on the day you lead your host.9

In the world of today, when people are so burdened with duties and their problems, which oftentimes have to be solved with great haste, range through so many fields, there is considerable danger of dissipating their energy. Priests, too, involved and constrained by so many obligations of their office, certainly have reason to wonder how they can coordinate and balance their interior life with feverish outward activity. Neither the mere external performance of the works of the ministry, nor the exclusive engagement in pious devotion, although very helpful, can bring about this necessary coordination. Priests can arrive at this only by following the example of Christ our Lord in their ministry. His food was to follow the will of him who had sent him to accomplish his work.21

I remember back in the day there were those who thought Franklin Planners and Day Runners were the key to success.  Just use all the little tabs, the priority tools, the calendar and you would be a success in business.

That is of course, assuming you were able to keep track of the $120 leather bound notebook!  We complain about our cell phones being leashes these days! Those things took the place of God in our priorities!

Seriously though, as I read the Book of Concord and the words from Vatican II this morning I was taken back to those days, to friends who assured me that having a organized and structured life was the key to successful ministry, and those who insisted that instead it is a pastor’s duty to first spend extensive time in devotion and prayer.  Not measured in minutes -but hours a day, a day a week – a week a year.  That only then will a pastor be able to endure.

And of course, each was backed up by Biblical examples.

There are still those who put forth those answers today.  That want me to read these books they found – by Steve Covey or by Dallas Willard.  (representative of the two thoughts)  I am torn between the two often – there are people that I need to go see, things I need to plan, and yet there is also the need – a desperate need, to be still, to know that He is God, He is my God, my loving, merciful benevolent Father, and I am his child.

So how do you strike a balance?  Or can you?

I have tried for far too long, more than 3 decades tried to discern this balance.

And the answer is far more… simple.. and thus more overwhelming.

Follow Christ’s will….

There are going to be times we have to lay aside everything and go.  There are times where we have to manage our time.  And there are times – where if we don’t seek God’s face, where we don’t encounter His presence, we will be worthless.

How do I know the difference?

By being in tune with Christ, with knowing He is walking with me.  To understand that I am not the messiah – and I draw my strength from knowing His mercy for me personally. (This is why I have absolutely no problem with a daily celebration of the Lord’s Supper!)    I need to know His presence, I need to know His cleansing work within me.

Then it is simple to hear his voice, then it is simple to know how to give, how to spend that time.

It has to be the Holy Spirit who coordinates that – I can simply keep focusing on Jesus, and depend on Him to make it work.

And so He does.

That is what “Lord have mercy on me, a sinner” is all about.  AMEN!

 

Tappert, Theodore G., ed. The Book of Concord the Confessions of the Evangelical Lutheran Church. Philadelphia: Mühlenberg Press, 1959. Print.  Formula of Concord: Solid Declaration:  II Free Will or Human Powers

Catholic Church. “Decree on the Ministry and Life of Priests: Presbyterorum Ordinis.” Vatican II Documents. Vatican City: Libreria Editrice Vaticana, 2011. Print.

Do I Have Any Value? How Do I know?

Devotional Thought of the Day:

 10  For we are God’s masterpiece. He has created us anew in Christ Jesus, so we can do the good things he planned for us long ago.Ephesians 2:10 (NLT) 

20  Now may the God of peace— who brought up from the dead our Lord Jesus, the great Shepherd of the sheep, and ratified an eternal covenant with his blood— 21  may he equip you with all you need for doing his will. May he produce in you, through the power of Jesus Christ, every good thing that is pleasing to him. All glory to him forever and ever! Amen. Hebrews 13:20-21 (NLT)

345         What a great discovery! Something you barely half-understood turned out to be very clear when you had to explain it to others. You had to speak very gently with someone, who was disheartened because he felt useless and did not want to be a burden to anyone… You understood then, better than ever, why I always talk to you about being little donkeys turning the water-wheel: carrying on faithfully, with large blinkers which prevent us personally seeing or tasting the results—the flowers, the fruit, the freshness of the garden—confident about the effectiveness of our fidelity.  (1)

There are days in our lives when we wonder if what we do has any meaning.  What we are questioning is our worth as individuals.  Do we mean anything to anyone?

I’ve been there, and I’ve been there when others are asking those questions.  Some of these people are older, people near 100 years old who live in retirement homes; some are a little younger, those trying to make the adjustment to retirement, as they have spent 40-60 years of defining themselves according to what they do.  Some asking the question are younger, the 11-15-year-old, or 20-25-year-old who is not sure what to make our of their lives.

Pastor’s aren’t immune either. Especially those of us who know that the church doesn’t depend on us for our brilliance, our steadfastness, even our gifts, and abilities.

The church existed before us; it will be long after we have gone.

I have to admit, I am tempted to measure my value as a pastor.  (For me that is measuring my value as a person as well)   It isn’t about numbers in church; it is more the comments and questions I get from the sermon, or in Bible class.  It is the way people call on me to remind them that God is with them.

My question – do people know, trust in and depend on Jesus more, because I am here.  This goes for this blog as well, though I admit that I look at the numbers of hits and comments here!  But the question remains, “will people call out to God for help, will they turn to Him and realize they dwell in Him.”

The question helps me keep focused in ministry.  And the few times I do get a response, it lifts me considerably.  I hate to admit it, but I need that encouragement.  As do elders, and all church staff, whether volunteer or professional, ordained, commissioned or lay person.  I don’t have to measure how effective, as much as doing what we are called and put in place to do.

So how do we know we have value?  How do we know if we truly have any meaning?

We can’t evaluate it. As with St. Josemaria’s donkey, I can’t say know what benefit I have given to this world, to my community, or even to my family.  It’s beyond my ability to measure.

That’s okay. It’s not my job to judge. Which is a good thing, because the person responsible for the quality, the worth of what I do, isn’t me.  My worth comes from the fact that He works on us, in us, through us.  That is why St. Josemaria can discuss the confidence about our effectiveness as we trust and have faith in the God who created us to be masterpieces.

That is ultimately our key, to stop trying to worry about our worth, knowing that is in the hands of the Father, and our Lord Jesus Christ.

AMEN.

 

 

Escriva, Josemaria (2011-01-31). Furrow (Kindle Locations 1604-1609). Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition.

Worship Wars: What Both Sides Are Missing!

Discussion & Devotional Thought of the Day:10649504_10152396630845878_3341349315020260479_n

12  I will walk among you; I will be your God, and you will be my people. Leviticus 26:12 (NLT)

25  “Then I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you will be clean. Your filth will be washed away, and you will no longer worship idols. 26  And I will give you a new heart, and I will put a new spirit in you. I will take out your stony, stubborn heart and give you a tender, responsive heart. 27  And I will put my Spirit in you so that you will follow my decrees and be careful to obey my regulations. 28  “And you will live in Israel, the land I gave your ancestors long ago. You will be my people, and I will be your God. Ezekiel 36:25-28 (NLT)

9  Then Moses, Aaron, Nadab, Abihu, and the seventy elders of Israel climbed up the mountain again. 10  There they saw the God of Israel. Under his feet there seemed to be a surface of brilliant blue lapis lazuli, as clear as the sky itself. 11  And though these nobles of Israel gazed upon God, he did not destroy them. In fact, they ate a covenant meal, eating and drinking in his presence! Exodus 24:9-11 (NLT)

1  And so, dear brothers and sisters, I plead with you to give your bodies to God because of all he has done for you. Let them be a living and holy sacrifice—the kind he will find acceptable. This is truly the way to worship him. Romans 12:1 (NLT)

43      We should offer the Lord the sacrifice of Abel. A sacrifice of young unblemished flesh, the best of the flock; of healthy and holy flesh; a sacrifice of hearts that have one love alone—you, my God. A sacrifice of minds, which have been shaped through deep study and will surrender to your Wisdom; of childlike souls who will think only of pleasing you. Lord, receive even now this sweet and fragrant sacrifice.

For forty to fifty years there has been a war raging in the church, transcending denominations, dividing churches, causing much pain, and without the sorrow which should be accompanied by such division.  It is known as “Worship Wars.”
It is often said to be about whether a church will use classic hymns, or contemporary praise music.  It is also defined as whether you use us a traditional liturgy, or a simper (yet often more complex) order of service. There is also the arguments over whether a worship service should be planned primarily for the believer, or for the seeker.

The final point of division is thought to be profound:

Is a worship service about man praising God, and the movement from earth to heaven?  Or is a worship service about God delivering gifts to men?

And the arguments go on, dividing the church.  People will actually be so defensive, so demanding, that they are willing to break apart what Christ died to bring together.

And both sides are missing the point.

Worship Services aren’t  primarily about God being served, or primarily about man being served. As one of my professors used to describe the liturgy,

“Worship and Liturgy is about the people of God being in the presence of God”  it is not all about God, and it is not all about man.  It is about the communion of God and Man.  It is about fellowship.  We are His people, He is our God, and He gathers us together to celebrate this reconciliation, this amazing miracle.

It is incarnational, as we find ourselves in the presence of a God who invaded the world 2000 years ago, and still invades and takes up residence in the lives of His people today.

That is what the worship service, the mass, the gathering,  the church service is about.  Nothing less than a feast that gives us a glimpse of the feast to come.  To recognize the truth that God is in our midst together, at work in our lives, giving us the power and desire to to do His will, to accomplish what pleases Him.

To only focus on God serving man leaves the people without a voice to praise Him, it becomes a one way monologue, where everyone becomes passive.  You see this when people can’t sing, where they are limited in serving, where the sermon and sacraments take on a uni-directional focus.  The same passivity is seen if the service focuses only on man serving God, as we start to assume He is silent, that we have to strive to make ourselves acceptable to Him.  This is seen where the sermon becomes a self help session, the worship is led, rather than facilitated.

it’s about God and man, together, as God has always desired, as He has always revealed to His people as His plan.

Receive His love with joy, offer Him your life to use, and go into the world knowing His presence, and His desire to see prodigals come home, and join in the celebration that they do.

Amen.

(1)   Escriva, Josemaria (2011-01-31). The Forge (Kindle Locations 387-391). Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition.

His Plan His Desire take II

 so here is the revision – well not quite, the revision was revised during delivery, and after I listen to it – I may find a way to post it here – or somewhere else….. but here is take two – with much more focus on the idea of our being adopted….
 

His Plan, His Desire, His People, “in Christ”!

Ephesians 1:3-14

 In Jesus Name


May our lives bless our Father in Heaven, as it is revealed to us that He has blessed us with every spiritual blessing! AMEN!

Too personal?  Yeah… so what

It is one of those things that is hard to explain, but every time I preach on this epistle passage, I overlook the obvious connection I have to it.  Perhaps it is because it is too personal, to talk about what it means to be adopted, or I find a way to gloss over it. Make the connection, and move on.

The emotional overload that comes, when discussing the challenges that face an adopted kid are immense – there are incredible joys, and yet incredible questions,  In my case, having met my birth mom 6 years ago this week – there is knowing the incredible love of two mothers, both of whom were intimately involved in making me, you pastor.  I am truly blessed, but even more so when I realize how different, more incredible God’s adoption of all us is…

Preaching on God adopting us is somewhat challenging then, as describing God making us His children opens levels of stuff I am not used to letting people see.  So, I usually don’t.  I come up with other ways to explain it, but a quick online comment of my high school coach made me change this sermon this morning….

But it is important to grasp the intimacy, the intentionality in God’s choice, in God wanting to make us His children, and in paying the price to process it – the price of Christ’s blood.  For if we understand God’s choice,

So be aware, this sermon may be a little rougher than usual, as I re-wrote the sermon this morning, knowing I had to bring it up this way….

For we need to grasp what it means for God to choose us, to bring us into the Family that is the Trinity, to grasp this incredible blessing

Chose us in Him

On April 1st, 1965, when Thomas and Marie Parker went to Catholic Charities in Lawrence, Massachusetts, they weren’t sure what they were getting themselves into.  They had been waiting to adopt a girl, but they had been called a few days before.  The couple originally slated to get me had panicked, or maybe had a vision, and bailed on the process. Some have said that April 1st date was very appropriate…

My folks came and got me, adopted me as their own, and would eventually get the daughter a few years later.  I used to joke with my friends that while their parents were stuck with them, mine chose me. But they didn’t choose me, they chose to adopt, if they had only known what they were getting themselves into…

God’s a bit different.  He knows all about us, every moment of our lives… and chooses to adopt us.  Paul tells us that the Father has “chose us in him before the foundation of the world.”

It is in choosing us, that we find every spiritual blessing coming upon us, it is there that that we realize that we aren’t just after thoughts in God’s plan, but indeed the focus of His will, and His desire.  From before the foundation of the earth, He has chosen mankind to have a special relationship with Him, and demonstrated that choice by placing us in Christ.

There, we find out what He has chosen us for, to be His children, adopted because of Jesus Christ, for it is in Christ that we are found to be holy and blameless, set apart for something special, with nothing able to mar or change that choice.  To share in the life and love of God, in what sounds amazing – to become part of that relationship that exists between the Father and the Son and the Spirit.  To share in such a relationship, as one of my friends has described it in a song – to join in the Trinity’s dance.

This indeed Paul tells us is no accident, it was a choice made from before the foundation of the world.   It is the very purpose of His will – or as another translation explains it – it is the plan to achieve God’s greatest desire.  Peter phrases it this way,

3:9 The Lord is not being slow in carrying out his promises, as some people think he is; rather is he being patient with you, wanting nobody to be lost and everybody to be brought to repentance. 2 Peter 3:9 (NJB)

The Lord’s choice, to choose you in Him, in Christ…knowing everything about you…

Riches of His gift, lavished upon us

When my parents adopted me, there was little idea of the costs, financial, emotional, the nights sitting with me in the hospital over the years, the shock of finding out I have Marfans and the complications it brings.. the challenges they faced because of the odd person I am, but they didn’t know the cost.  That is where God the Father adopting us is so radically different.  He did know the cost… the cost of adopting us, of making us holy and blameless was very high.  Paul writes in verse 7.

In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace, which he lavished upon us, in all wisdom and insight
In Christ’s death, we have been paid for, our lives purchased at the price of His sacrifice on the cross.  He did this that because of the great grace, the gift which he lavishes upon us, why?  Even more incredibly, Hebrews tells us it was for joy that Christ embraced that payment – as He, loving each of us, embraced that cross.

Paul calls this the making known of the mystery of His will, this incredible grace lavished upon us, as God picks us up in our brokenness, and instead of throwing us away, carefully repairs and heals us, bringing us into Himself, that we might be one with Him.  Imagine everything perfect, in His presence, a place where doors don’t creak and neither do our bodies, where our relationships are finally the way they should be, including our relationship with our Father, where we finally let God be God, and we rejoice in knowing we are His children, His people, His chosen people.

This is our lot for all eternity, that which God has planned for us!  It is  the life God has given to us, this great mystery of why He would choose us to be His children, that even as He makes this true now, we struggle to realize it, for we struggle to realize we are in Christ, we are in the Beloved son of God, and therefore share in the Father’s love.

How we got there?

We are the children of the king – waiting for that moment when we reach full maturity, when we share in His kingdom.  It is true now, and yet like a child waiting to reach the age of inheritance, we struggle with it. Indeed, we need to be reminded of it often, and how and when this incredible thing happened.

Paul explains it in verse 13

13 In him you also, when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and believed in him, were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit, 14 who is the guarantee of our inheritance until we acquire possession of it, to the praise of his glory.

It’s the same story throughout scripture – the way we become His children, according to His plan is when we hear the truth – the truth of His love for us, that is this gospel, this good news.

It is the message of His love that causes us to trust in Him, to believe in Him, to realize that our very lives are in His hands, and that this is a good thing!

That when we were baptized, God marked us, He sealed us as His children, the sign of the cross is what we were marked with, that even as we share in Christ’ death, we too share in His resurrection, for we live in Him.

That has been His plan all along, a plan we have only begun to realize.  We are still children, waiting for our inheritance to become ours.  Waiting to reach the maturity of Christ, when we visibly know we are in His kingdom.
Until that day, we have a guarantee, a down payment if you will.  Something incredibly wonderful, something beyond our comprehension!  The presence of the Holy Spirit in our lives, what Peter describes as the gift of God’s Spirit, which Paul will also describe as our being the temple – the living place of the Spirit of God, the one called the Comforter, the Lord and Giver of life…

Here, in us, even as we dwell in Him….even as we are, right now, His children. His heirs, as we live in the Beloved.  Chosen by Him, chosen to be in Him, adopted as His. With all the knowledge of who we are, what we’ve done…..

He made us His.

So knowing this we can rejoice as Paul does and declare, Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places… for we live in Christ.  AMEN?

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