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A Problem: How We Talk About Sin Has Changed.


Devotional Thought of the Day:

61 Knowing that his followers were complaining about this, Jesus said, “Does this teaching bother you? 62 Then will it also bother you to see the Son of Man going back to the place where he came from? 63 It is the Spirit that gives life. The flesh doesn’t give life. The words I told you are spirit, and they give life.  John 6:61-63 NCV

Luther, too, employed this “core” as unquestioningly in his catechism as the Council of Trent did in the Roman catechism. That is to say: every statement about the Faith is ordered to the four basic elements: the Creed, the Our Father, the Decalogue, and the sacraments. The whole foundation of Christian life is thereby included—the synthesis of the Church’s teaching as it is based on Scripture and Tradition. Christians find here what they are to believe (the Symbolum or Creed), what they are to hope (the Our Father), what they are to do (the Decalogue or Ten Commandments), and the ambience in which all this is to be accomplished (the sacraments). Today, this fundamental structure has been abandoned in many areas of catechesis with results that are plainly evident in the loss of the sensus fidei among the younger generations, which are often unable to take a comprehensive view of their religion.

Although all nations see the horrible confusion, vices, and grievous calamities of the human race and feel the burden of sin, yet only the church of God teaches both where sin comes from and what it is and hears the Word of God concerning divine wrath and present and eternal punishments. And though human wisdom teaches us how to guide morals [and] disapproves and punishes actions against common reason, yet it does not recognize what is inherent in the consideration of sin, namely guilt before God or the wrath of God. Alexander saw that he had acted shamefully when he killed Clitus and he mourned as a result, because he made a judgment contrary to nature, but he did not mourn because he had offended God or because he was guilty before God. But the church points out the wrath of God and teaches that sin is a far greater evil than human reason thinks. Nor does the church reprove only external actions which are in conflict with the law of God or reason, as philosophy does; but it reproves the root and the fruit, the inner darkness of the mind, the doubts concerning the will of God, the turning away of the human will from God and the stubbornness of the heart against the law of God. It also reproves ignoring and despising the Son of God. These are grievous and atrocious evils, the enormity of which cannot be told. Therefore Christ says, “The Holy Spirit will reprove the world of sin, because they do not believe in Me, and of righteousness because I go to the Father, and of judgment, because the prince of this world is already judged” [John 16:8–11].

It is now the third generation since the decline of the church in America began.

I have heard many theories about each of the generations as those in the church grieve over their absence.  We mourned the boomers who came and went, sometimes coming back.  Their kids, my generation, some either came and stayed, but others fell aside and rarely come back, even for Christmas and Easter.  It is any wonder why we think the millennials won’t come?

Our situation could be described in the words in blue above, the desperate times, the confusion, the carelessness towards vice and greed.  Those words are nearly 500 years old, but so reflective of our days today.

Except the church has forgotten about how to teach and preach about sin. Part of the church would ignore sinful acts, thoughts, deeds.  The same part would love to condemn and even crucify some specific sins that abhor them. But our focus (and I do mean our) is on “sins” rather than sin.  It is the symptoms that concern us, rather than the cause.  It is act, the thought, the deed that we either want to justify or condemn.

And because we are so two faced in the church, those outside the church only hear our rants about sins and sinners, and never about the issue, sin.

One of the reasons for teaching the basics of the faith with the outline of Commandments, Creed, Prayer, Sacraments was that it causes us to deal with sin, not just sins.  It causes us to face the evil that we live with, that we are held hostage by, that we love and we hate.  To deal not just with sins, the individual thoughts, words and actions that are contrary to scripture, but we must deal with the root cause.

Sin. That which divides us from God. divides us from each other, and shatters us personally.

That’s what needs to be dealt with, that’s the evil that has to be overcome in this world.

Our evil.  Your’s and mine.

That’s what Jesus did.

That’s what we all need to hear – no matter the generation, no matter the age.  That’s what we’ve taught for generations… what we need to teach again.

To give them the hope we all need.

Church – get that straight.. give them hope to deal with their brokenness – help them realize God still loves them, will cleanse them, heal them, declare them to be His own.

They will come for that.. they always have.

 

 

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.

Chemnitz, Martin, and Jacob A. O. Preus. Loci Theologici. electronic ed. St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1999. Print.

The Proper Distinction/Tension of Knowledge & Experience


photoDevotional/Discussion Thought of the Day:

4  “Hear, O Israel! The LORD is our God, the LORD alone! 5  Therefore, you shall love the LORD, your God, with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength. 6  Take to heart these words which I enjoin on you today. 7  Drill them into your children. Speak of them at home and abroad, whether you are busy or at rest. 8  Bind them at your wrist as a sign and let them be as a pendant on your forehead. 9  Write them on the doorposts of your houses and on your gates.   Deuteronomy 6:4-9 (NAB)

The experience of the beautiful love of God in a personal and communal encounter with Jesus Christ is the engine of Christian creativity for the announcement of the Good News.

Second, justifying faith apprehends all those things not as simple history, nor only insofar as they are in themselves true in general, but in such a way that it specifically includes the person of the believer in that promise of grace, so that each believer apprehends and receives Christ in the Word and the Sacraments with true confidence of the heart as given personally to him, and applies them to himself individually. And though this faith is often attacked by various temptations and of itself is weak and languid, yet it surely is faith by which each one specially or warmly21 believes and trusts that sins are forgiven him by God for the sake of Christ, that he is received into grace, [and] that he is adopted into the sonship of God. Jn 1:12; 3:15–16; Ro 1:16; 3:22; 4:16, 23–24; 5:1–2; 8:35, 38–39; 10:4, 9; 1 Ti 1:16; Mt 9:22; Lk 7:50.

In the last forty years, we have often heard people warn against trusting experience and emotion.  We can’t trust them, not our heart.  We need to have a logical approach to scripture, one clearly documentable, tried and true. 

On the other hand, our forefathers often talked about the frailty and insufficiency of human reason in regards to faith. Luther even mentioned this in his training of the youngest in the faith, explaining that it is not by our reason that leads us to faith, for it cannot.  It is spun around, confused by Satan and his minions, challenged by our self-interest and the sin that so easily ensnares us.

So, if we can’t trust our experiences/feelings or our intellect/knowledge, how can we be sure of our salvation?  How can we be sure this isn’t all some dream or some deviants scam?

Simple – we let Him work in both.  We let Him give us the mind of Christ, we let Him change our hearts of stone into hearts of flesh where the Holy Spirit dwells.

We keept them in tension, for it is using all of that and more that we love God, and receive and this message of salvation, this relationship God gives. Melancthon makes it clear, it simply isn’t about knowledge, yet knowledge confirms the message is true.  It does include the heart and soul, for that is where relationships are found, that is where love is noticed and that is where the joy of being loved begins. 

Moses refers to the same thing, as he talks about these words being committed in our hearts. ( the NAB using words instead of commands, for Moses is talking about the entire LOGOS – the entire covenant – not just the terms that bind us)   The entire thing, yet he also knows that is not enough, so he gives us ways to bring them to mind, talking about them, putting them in conspicuous places like the entrance to our homes, our hands, and right between our eyes. 

For we need to know God is our God, there is no other, we need not put our hope and trust in any other hands, including our own.  Rather, we need to let God minister to every part of us, and through every part of us. 

Seeing that, freed from guilt, from worry, we dwell in such peace that loving Him, treasuring His love and work in our lives becomes our life   Alife where our hearts and minds work together, loving Him, and through Him, loving those the world considers unlovable.

This is our blessed life, our entire life in Christ.

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.

Chemnitz, Martin, and Luther Poellot. Ministry, Word, and Sacraments: An Enchiridion. electronic ed. St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1999. Print.

Blinded by Theology: The Case of Perfect Knowledge without the right purpose


OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERADevotional Thought fo the Day:

27 “I have already told you,” he answered, “and you would not listen. Why do you want to hear it again? Maybe you, too, would like to be his disciples?”
28 They cursed him and said, “You are that fellow’s disciple; but we are Moses’ disciples. 29We know that God spoke to Moses; as for that fellow, however, we do not even know where he comes from!”
30 The man answered, “What a strange thing that is! You do not know where he comes from, but he cured me of my blindness! 31We know that God does not listen to sinners; he does listen to people who respect him and do what he wants them to do. 32Since the beginning of the world nobody has ever heard of anyone giving sight to a person born blind. 33Unless this man came from God, he would not be able to do a thing.”   John 9:27-39 TEV

7  Yet every advantage that I had gained I considered lost for Christ’s sake. Yes, and I look upon everything as loss compared with the overwhelming gain of knowing Jesus Christ my Lord. For his sake I did in actual fact suffer the loss of everything, but I considered it useless rubbish compared with being able to win Christ. For now my place is in him, and I am not dependent upon any of the self-achieved righteousness of the Law. God has given me that genuine righteousness which comes from faith in Christ. How changed are my ambitions! Now I long to know Christ and the power shown by his resurrection: now I long to share his sufferings, even to die as he died, so that I may perhaps attain as he did, the resurrection from the dead.
Philippians 3:7 (Phillips NT)

These are great mysteries and far above all human comprehension. But we know that these holy mysteries have been revealed to the church, in order that we might pray to God properly and consider reasons for this marvelous kindness, that God, by an eternal association, joined a human nature to Himself. Therefore He truly cares for us and loves us and sent this Son that He might be the Redeemer and soften His wrath against sin, as needs to be said repeatedly later.  ( from the section by Melancthon) 

As I grow older, I am coming to realize that the biggest handicap for a pastor may be his intellect and reason, and how it is educated rather than formed.  How area minds are taught to seek the deep mysteries, not to be in awe of God, but to be able to teach purely, to be able to note and correct each other.

While there is a need for such correction and for proper teaching, those resources of intellect and reason, the time invested in education are wasted in the purpose is wrong.

We see this in Melancthon’s words, highlighted in blue above.  Talking about the mysteries of the Trinity, and of Christology, he concludes that the reason for the revelation of the existence of these mysteries, and the depth of our knowledge of them is to one end.

These things are revealed that we could pray, that we could communicate with Lord of love who binds us to Himself eternally as He cleanses us and restores us.  Our pursuit must not be the mysteries that are beyond our comprehension, but the love of God which is clearly seen, and which transformed all that it draws and connects to Him.

This is why the blind man could easily see that Jesus was special, that the miracle he did drew him to be Christ’s disciple as well.  And the Pharisees and leaders of the synagogue, the men the mysteries of scripture were entrusted too, could not get past their own doubts. They remained blinded by their theology and didn’t see that they were in the presence of God.

These weren’t men that pursued knowledge for malicious purposes.   They didn’t study the scriptures daily with the intent of enslaving others to a religious system to take advantage of them.  Even Paul, before encountering Jesus, talked of being righteous according to the Law.  But that righteousness he would set aside, that justification of his own actions, so meticulously laid out, was worthless.

He needed to know God.  He needed God to walk with Him, to comfort and shepherd Him.  He needed the Holy Spirit’s presence to lift him up, to draw him to the reconciliation and transformation, not only being justified completely, but being sanctified.  TO know, as he wrote in Hebrews, that he could boldly walk into the Father’s holy, almighty presence.

That is the purpose of theology, the place it starts and ends.  Prayer, that moment we go to God, in desperate need, humbly asking Him to be here, and hearing a response of a God who our mind can’t fathom.  Yet in whose presence our hearts rejoice, and in front of whom our souls dance, free of sin, and sure that we are home with Him.

So next time you pick up that tome, or search that dataset, know what you are looking for, what you are searching for, that your people need to be taught.  The height, the depth, the width and breadth of God’s love for you, and for them.

That will be made clear in His glorious presence, and make this known as well;  THE LORD IS WITH YOU!

 

 

Chemnitz, Martin, and Jacob A. O. Preus. Loci Theologici. electronic ed. St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1999. Print.

Have We Failed to Treasure a Blessing Which Saves us From Brokenness, Stress and Anxiety?


Devotional Thought of the Day”

John 20:21-23 (NLT) 21  Again he said, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I am sending you.” 22  Then he breathed on them and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit. 23  If you forgive anyone’s sins, they are forgiven. If you do not forgive them, they are not forgiven.”

James 5:14-16 (NLT) 14  Are any of you sick? You should call for the elders of the church to come and pray over you, anointing you with oil in the name of the Lord. 15  Such a prayer offered in faith will heal the sick, and the Lord will make you well. And if you have committed any sins, you will be forgiven. 16  Confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The earnest prayer of a righteous person has great power and produces wonderful results.

Article XI   Of Confession they teach that Private Absolution ought to be retained in the churches, although in confession an enumeration of all sins is not necessary. For it is impossible according to the Psalm: Who can understand his errors? Psalms 19:12.(2)

45 You wrote to tell me that you have at last gone to confession and that you experienced the humiliation of having to open the sewer—that is what you say—of your life to “a man”. When will you get rid of that feeling of vain self-esteem? You will then go to confession extremely happy to show yourself as you are to “that man”, who, being anointed, is a Christ—Christ himself—and gives you absolution, God’s forgiveness.  (2)

In the Church History class I am teaching, we talked a significant time about the third quote above.  We were dealing with some of the issues at the dawn of what some call the Reformation.

Back then, people in the Roman Catholic Church, and in the Evangelical Church (what we now call Lutheran) understood the Sacrament of Reconciliation’s importance in the life of the believer, in the life on one who knows and follows Jesus. Melancthon, in writing the Augsburg Confession, was brief and short in Article XI.  Private Confession and Absolution should never fall into disuse. it must be retained. Not because it is easy, not because pastors and priests just love to hear of the dark parts of your life.  But because the result of having heard your struggle, we can assure you that you are forgiven.  We assure you that God hasn’t abandoned you, that you are still His children, still loved, and that He is faithful to you.

That assurance is needed, it eliminates much of what troubles us, much of what causes us anxiety, the guilt and shame that stresses us out, and robs us of peace.  To hear that God is committed to forgive you, to heal your brokenness.  For as St Josemarie speaks of, though it is a brother in Christ, a fellow sinner (for all clergy still struggle with sin, from popes and mega-church pastors, to common priests and pastors in ordinary places) we speak for Him, in His stead, by His command.   For that is why we are sent, that is our mission, our apostolate, the good news we preach – you who have been granted repentance, are forgiven in Christ.

You need this, and those around you need this – for the peace you know, having been assured that God will restore us in Christ.  Having been assured of that, our relationships change.  We find ourselves more patient, more willing to forgive, desiring reconciliation.

We find ourselves in the presence of God, in His peace, we find His rest….

A blessing that changes everything. …..

It is no wonder that Luther, and Melanchthon, and so many others throughout the church’s history talked of our need for this gift, this time……to hear of the depth of God’s love…for us.

(1) — Augsberg Confession, The

(2) Escriva, Josemaria (2011-01-31). Furrow (Kindle Locations 415-420). Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition.

 

A Sermon on the Lord’s Prayer


Why is Prayer Answered?

Luke 11:1-13

 

In Jesus Name

 

As you are overwhelmed by the mercy and love of Jesus Christ, in you may there develop an unquenchable desire to commune and communicate with our Father, with Jesus, and with the Holy Spirit!

 

We can’t understand if… if we don’t understand why…

 

Of all the times I have taught about prayer in sermons, in Bible Studies, in classes, on retreats and in conversations over meals, I have never taken the approach I will in this sermon.

For that, I ask your forgiveness.

For I think that the question the sermon title asks and answers is the only question that really needs to be answered. This question can confidently be answered; one, without cliché’s or well-meaning stock answers that avoid the responsibility of saying, “I do not know.”  This question, why are our prayers answered…silences many of the other questions.

This question causes us to see His heart… we need to grasp how much He loves us, how much He is our Father…and how much at relationship is the reason our prayers are answered.

Or our prayers are simply rote and in vain…as empty as praying to some gold lacquered statue.

So let’s answer the question – why are our prayers answered?

The Burden of Life – Melancthon

Instead of just a prayer sheet this week – I included two short excerpts about prayer. The first is by someone that Luther was a father figure for, the deacon Phillip Melancthon.  Asked why we should pray when we don’t want to… he responded with 9 reasons.  Look at number II. 

II. The great and manifold need by which we are burdened in this penitentiary of the world, and which we cannot sufficiently understand or comprehend by thinking, must less guard against or avert by our effort, should properly move us to pray even all by itself.

In simpler language – we need to pray because this life isn’t easy, and it can overwhelm us all to easily.   Whether it is the challenge of our sin and the struggle to overcome temptation, or the effects of others sin, or the brokenness of the world and even the church, prayer is what will make the difference, what helps us get through the day.

Melancthon is right – we are burdened in this world, and there are times where prayer is barely able to be said, never mind can we grasp what we are saying.  This isn’t something new, it isn’t something we are the first generations to encounter this.  Remember what St Paul said to the early believers in Rome/

26  Meanwhile, the moment we get tired in the waiting, God’s Spirit is right alongside helping us along. If we don’t know how or what to pray, it doesn’t matter. He does our praying in and for us, making prayer out of our wordless sighs, our aching groans. 27  He knows us far better than we know ourselves, knows our (pregnant) condition, and keeps us present before God. 28  That’s why we can be so sure that every detail in our lives of love for God is worked into something good. Romans 8:26-28 (MSG)

It is often in such desperate times we remember to pray… yet would we pray sooner if we understood why prayer is answered? 


The Blessing of Presence

If we pray only in such oppressive times, we do because we hope someone will hear us. Maybe we realize it can’t hurt, or we vaguely remember a promise that God has made.  Melancthon mentions this as well,.

 
IV. Very sweet divine promises draw and incite us, namely that God the Father embraces us with such great love in Christ His Son, that He regards it as pleasing and acceptable if we approach and address Him with our prayers, and He has promised to incline His ears and hear us.

I love this point – and how clearly it is seen in the Lord’s prayer, as God promises to take care of our physical needs (like providing bread) and spiritual needs – helping us with knowing we are forgiven, helping us forgive, dealing with temptation and protecting us from evil.

I love the verses that follow the prayer – those that cause us to think of how we love our kids and our grandkids.  They compare the Creator of the Universe to us – to help us realize our love for them is but a small example of His love for us.  If we want the best things – imagine the “best things” that He has planned and created for us!

But if reason number IV, is true, then look at number V.

V. Likewise, that our mediator, Christ, has bound Himself with the firm promise that He would be present when we pray (Mt 18:20) and as our advocate and High Priest Himself bring our supplications to the Father, and intercede for us, and ask the Father together with us.

Remember Matthew 18:20 (TEV) 20  For where two or three come together in my name, I am there with them.”

Jesus has promised to be here – where we pray, the Father has promised to answer our prayers.  Not because of some incantation or form, or because we are holier than the people praying down the street, or on the other side of the world.

He answers our prayers because He loves us, because He is here, because we are His.

So Let Prayer Arise from within

On the prayer list, along with the quote from Melancthon, is a description of a type of prayer and devotion that is indeed ancient.  It is called Lectio Divina.  The quote is from one of Chris’ mentors.  The man who is the reason he is the Rev. Dr. Chris Gillette.  It’s a great way of doing devotions – one Luther used as well.  Look at the part I underlined:

Let the word touch your heart (prayer, Oratio). In Oratio, the Word of God goes deeper into the self and becomes the prayer of the heart. In this prayer, open your heart so that his light may enter. The goal is like that of St. Augustine, who cried, “O God, our hearts are made for thee, and they shall be restless until they rest in thee.” There emerges within the heart a holy desire, a longing for the text, the Word of God, to be concretized in reality.

Enter into contemplation (Contemplatio). Contemplatio shifts praying the Scripture into a new language (silence). This silence does not ask us to do anything, it is a call to being. Thomas Merton says, “The best way to pray is: Stop. Let prayer pray within you, whether you know it or not.17

This concept is especially true, as we work through the Lord’s prayer, or even the Old Testament account where Abraham learned to pray for those who were lost.  As we know these words, they well up within us, they become part of our life, because God makes them live in us, even as He quickens life in us.

The words ingrain is us these promises – they cause us to desire to pray even more.  They bring the words to life in us, when nothing else brings comfort – a message from God.  When thought through… they cause us to realize this important thing..

Why does God answer our prayers…

Because He is our father… because He loves us… because He is with us….

Use His name, not in vain my brothers and sisters…but as He encourages us to, to talk to Him –  to know Him as our Father… to know His love and mercy…for us.

AMEN!

English: Lectio Divina Português: Leitura Oran...

English: Lectio Divina Português: Leitura Orante ou Lectio Divina Latina: Lectio Divina (Photo credit: Wikipedia)


17 Thomas Merton, Seeds, ed. Robert Inchausti (Boston: Shambhala, 2002).

Some wise words to encourage us to pray


As I was preparing for my message this week – I came across these words… some of which will be in my sermon.  Even though the language is a bit rough to work through… think through them – especially II, IV, V, VI and VII.

297    Mention Some Reasons that Should Stir and Move Us to Pray When We are Otherwise Slow and Lax.

Text of "Our Father" prayer with Tri...

Text of “Our Father” prayer with Trinity in central column (God the Father, dove of the Holy Spirit, Jesus) and Biblical and symbolic scenes in left and right columns. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Since nearly all of us are by nature cold and slow to pray, it is very helpful and necessary to know such reasons and have them ready at hand; when we consider and meditate on them, the Holy Spirit stirs up and kindles zeal for prayer in us.

I. Since it is the will and command of God that we pray, as we have shown above from Scripture. Neglecting and ceasing to pray devoutly is therefore no light sin.

II. The great and manifold need by which we are burdened in this penitentiary of the world, and which we cannot sufficiently understand or comprehend by thinking, must less guard against or avert by our effort, should properly move us to pray even all by itself.

III. Also the boundless benefit and very abundant fruit of devout prayers should invite us. For spiritual good things are not obtained from God except by prayers (Lk 11:13). And temporal things are not good for us, unless they are sanctified by prayer (1 Ti 4:4–5). So also St. James describes at length the effect of devout prayer (Ja 5:15–18).

IV. Very sweet divine promises draw and incite us, namely that God the Father embraces us with such great love in Christ His Son, that He regards it as pleasing and acceptable if we approach and address Him with our prayers, and He has promised to incline His ears and hear us.

V. Likewise, that our mediator, Christ, has bound Himself with the firm promise that He would be present when we pray (Mt 18:20) and as our advocate and High Priest Himself bring our supplications to the Father, and intercede for us, and ask the Father together with us.

VI. Also that the Holy Spirit of God, as the Spirit of prayer, would kindle zeal for prayer, and devotion, in us, so that we cry in Him: Abba, Father (Gl 4:6). Indeed, He intercedes for us with unutterable sighs (Ro 8:26). They therefore sorely grieve that Spirit of prayer for whom prayers are not [a matter] for concern or for the heart.

VII. Since prayer is common to all members of Christ, who call upon one Father in heaven, whom we therefore call “our” [Father]. Therefore he that does not pray thereby severs and separates himself from Christ the head and from the members of His body, which is the church, or communion of saints. And God Himself regards and holds those as Gentiles, who do not call upon His name (Ps 79:6; Jer 10:25).

VIII. Since the practice of prayer is truly a training for all piety and a most useful exercise of all of Christianity, e.g., of repentance, faith, patience, comfort, hope, etc. For the Holy Spirit nourishes, preserves, and increases these gifts in us through persistence in prayer, just as, on the other hand, by ceasing them [i.e., prayers] those gifts are gradually diminished and finally disappear altogether.

IX. Where the exercise of prayer grows cold and is neglected, there the door and windows are open to the devil for all kinds of temptations (Mt 26:41; Lk 22:40).[1]


[1] Chemnitz, M., & Poellot, L. (1999). Ministry, word, and sacraments: an enchiridion (electronic ed., pp. 141–142). St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House.

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