Devotional Thought of the Day:
16 So let us come boldly to the throne of our gracious God. There we will receive his mercy, and we will find grace to help us when we need it most. Hebrews 4:16 (NLT2)
1 “Our Father who art in heaven.”2
2 What does this mean?
Answer: Here God would encourage us to believe that he is truly our Father and we are truly his children in order that we may approach him boldly and confidently in prayer, even as beloved children approach their dear father.
How often have we made the sign of the Cross, invoking without really adverting to it, the name of the triune God? In its original meaning the sign of the Cross was, each time it was made, a renewal of our Baptism, a repetition of the words by which we became Christians, and an assimilation into our personal life of what was given us in Baptism without our cooperation or reflection. Water was poured over us and, at the same time, the words were spoken: “I baptize you in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.” The Church makes us Christians by calling on the name of the Trinitarian God. From her beginning, she has expressed in this way what she regards as the truly definitive mark of our Christianity: faith in the triune God. We find that disappointing. It seems so remote from our life. It seems so useless and so hard to understand. If there must be short formulas for expressing the tenets of our Faith, then they should at least be attractive, exciting, something whose importance for men and for our lives is immediately apparent.
Moving your hand from your forehead to your head to your stomach, from one shoulder to another, these simple movements are far too often done without thought, just a memory-driven motor response as we walk into a church, or start and end of a prayer, or see something tragic or traumatic.
For Lutherans, and Catholics and some Anglicans and others, it is a practice that we are very familiar with, even to the point of proving familiarity breeds contempt. Too other Christians, it may seem empty, a repetitious vanity that has no apparent benefit. (maybe their estimation is based on our attitude doing them?) These movements become too remote, redundant, lacking attractiveness and excitement and apparent importance.
Unless the movements are tied to understanding, unless we recognize the truth we are confessing in making the sign of the cross, we will do them in a vain and worthless manner.
But if making the sign of the cross reminds us of the gifts of God, they become something that causes us to pause, that makes our entrance into a church a point of transition. A point where we remember why we can approach God boldly.
Because of the Cross, because of the name of God which became what identifies us when God cleansed us of our sin. As Pope Benedict reminds us, we didn’t have anything to do with it! (see Titus 3:3- or Ezekiel 36:26ff) This simple act reminds us of God’s simple but profound act in our lives, beginning the change that is promised to be completed as we see eternity revealed to us.
Perhaps the simplicity is as undramatic as it is, because nothing could adequately signify the incredible blessings this act reminds us of, the guarantee of what awaits us. Nothing could explain the reality that we now can know. Immanuel, God with us, the Incarnation that occurs in each of us, as we are marked by God with His name.
And that the Holy Spirit is working even now, quietly conforming us into the image of the Lord who gives us hope. who loves us more than we can imagine, who brings us into the presence of the Father ( See Colossians 3:1-3)
This simple act reminds us we belong there, with God, for He has made us His.
So slow down, say the words thinking about the promises, the forgiveness of sin, eternal life and the gift of the Holy Spirit, and that He will never ever leave or forsake us. These movements reveal who we are, the children of God, the ones who can boldly enter His presence, and confidently ask for His blessing….
Lord, have mercy on us
Tappert, T. G. (Ed.). (1959). The Book of Concord the confessions of the Evangelical Lutheran Church. (p. 346). Philadelphia: Mühlenberg Press.
Ratzinger, J. (1992). Co-Workers of the Truth: Meditations for Every Day of the Year. (I. Grassl, Ed., M. F. McCarthy & L. Krauth, Trans.) (pp. 163–164). San Francisco: Ignatius Press.
Devotional Thought of the Day:
68 Simon Peter answered, “Lord, who will we go to? You have the words of eternal life. 69 We have come to believe and know that You are the Holy One of God!” John 6:68-69 HCSB
4 I have asked the LORD for one thing; one thing only do I want: to live in the LORD’S house all my life, to marvel there at his goodness, and to ask for his guidance. 5 In times of trouble he will shelter me; he will keep me safe in his Temple and make me secure on a high rock. 6 So I will triumph over my enemies around me. With shouts of joy I will offer sacrifices in his Temple; I will sing, I will praise the LORD. 7 Hear me, LORD, when I call to you! Be merciful and answer me! 8 When you said, “Come worship me,” I answered, “I will come, LORD.” Psalm 27:4-8 (TEV)
The pure in heart shall see God. The seeing of Him will be the sign that we are like Him, for only by being like Him can we see Him as He is. But when shall we be fit to look at Him in the face, God only knows. That is the heart of my hopes by day and by night. To behold the face of Jesus seems to me to be the one this to be desired.
Whenever we speak to God, whenever we open ourselves to God, we ourselves are renewed. Conversely, whenever the world closes itself to God, whenever it turns away from him, it is like a planet broken loose from its field of gravity and forever wandering aimlessly through nothingness. When a person loses God, he can no longer be genuinely himself because he has lost the fundamental norm of his existence. When we cut ourselves loose from our proper norm, there remains only excess or reversion. Some theologians suggest, as a precaution, that theology be so worded that it will still be functional “etsi deus non daretur”: even if there really is no God. But if God does not exist, we will have lost more than just an ornamental bauble on the periphery of our existence. If God does not exist, nothing will be as it is now; everything will proceed from emptiness and will revert to emptiness.
Part of my daily time I spend in prayer, talking to God, trying to listen, meditating on his word includes the two Bible readings above. There is a pattern, an order for morning prayer I use that includes them both.
And every Monday these words hit me in the face, and I feel like a hypocrite. I know God’s words are the words of life, I know how wonderful it is to be in His presence, I know how special it is to be in God’s presence.
Yet Mondays seem so empty of all of that, so distant. Even in this holy week, it’s MONDAY!
So there is a part of me that feels convicted, even judged and condemned as a hypocrite when I say these words. It’s not that I don’t want to feel this way, I want to, but it seems like I can’t. I feel like the theologians who imagine theology to be able to functionally exist if God doesn’t exist.
Monday’s seem empty, which is ironic because the day before was so full of His presence I would think my joy would never fade or fail.
So as I start my time dedicated to being in His presence, it starts out as a struggle, (it doesn’t help that the first reading was also in my readings today,) Or the McDonald reading, or that from Pope Benedict. Each reminded me that this is how I should be. Each reminds me that my reality is not what I want it to be.
Each reminds me of how hungry I am for life to change.
I guess over the years, I’ve realized that these feelings could so easily betray me, these feelings that I am the worst hypocrite, these feelings that I am just going through the motions. The dissatisfaction with my own faith and practice could cause even more of a spiral into guilt-ridden apathy until my cold heart no longer cares. It’s easy enough to stagger down that road. Will I ever be fit to see Him face to face? That is my question on Mondays, when my heart lies, and tells me, no.
I need to read these words of scripture and ask God for help to make them mine. I need to find that desire, and the only way to do it is to depend on Him to renew me, something that happens when I enter His presence as I am broken, tired, empty. For then I do see God as McDonald desires. I do become who I am, as Pope Benedict points out. Because God is the one who renews, who revives. It is His love that draws me into His presence, that makes me aware of it
It seems counter-intuitive to need God to provide the desire, the strength to desire to be in His presence. But it is the reality I’ve come to learn to live with. I have to dive into my pattern, for there, Mondays lose their emptiness, the meaningless.. or perhaps, they have no meaning, because meaning is all wrapped up in being in God’s presence, and the day doesn’t matter.
He is the Lord of Life. I need to know that on Mondays… and He makes sure I do…
So let’s pray together, that on Monday’s we would encounter our Lord, and know we can confidently cry out, “Lord, have mercy on me a sinner!’
He will, that is what He does.
Daily office Meditation for 3/26 (quoted from George McDonald) Celtic Daily Prayer: Book 2
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.
Devotional/Discussion Thought of the day:
13 No one can hurt you if you are determined to do only what is right; 14 and blessed are you if you have to suffer for being upright. Have no dread of them; have no fear. 15 Simply proclaim the Lord Christ holy in your hearts, and always have your answer ready for people who ask you the reason for the hope that you have. 16 But give it with courtesy and respect and with a clear conscience, so that those who slander your good behaviour in Christ may be ashamed of their accusations. 17 And if it is the will of God that you should suffer, it is better to suffer for doing right than for doing wrong. 1 Peter 3:13-17 (NJB)
The next question is obvious: Is the dispute with other religions not basically just as much an instance of Christian self-righteousness as the dispute among the denominations was an instance of denominational self-righteousness? In consequence, it is no longer Christianity that is at issue, but religion as such, which makes its presence felt among mankind under a variety of forms in which it is not basically a question of changing content, but of the inner nature of religion itself, which can be expressed in many contents, even entirely without the word of God. Catechesis is thus reduced to mere information on the one side, to instruction regarding religious attitudes (but with no prescribed content) on the other side, and faith silently quits the field. (1)
“65 As we explained before, we could never come to recognize the Father’s favor and grace were it not for the Lord Christ, who is a mirror of the Father’s heart. Apart from him we see nothing but an angry and terrible Judge. But neither could we know anything of Christ, had it not been revealed by the Holy Spirit.
66 These articles of the Creed, therefore, divide and distinguish us Christians from all other people on earth. All who are outside the Christian church, whether heathen, Turks, Jews, or false Christians and hypocrites, even though they believe in and worship only the one, true God, nevertheless do not know what his attitude is toward them. They cannot be confident of his love and blessing. Therefore they remain in eternal wrath and damnation, for they do not have the Lord Christ, and, besides, they are not illuminated and blessed by the gifts of the Holy Spirit.[i]” (2)
Pope Benedict XVI’s quote this morning struck a nerve in me. It causes me to look within, to try and understand exactly what my motivation is, as I minister. Is it a matter of personal pride in my intellect? Is it, as Benedict asks, a matter of self-righteousness, or worse, a sense of gnostic condescension? That I have the secret knowledge to a good life, even an eternal life, and those of other religions do not, is that my motivation? Or worst of all, have I set my faith to the side?
That question is hard, very hard. It is one that I am afraid to ask.
It is the same conversation that Peter is having with the early church, as he talks to them. Give the reason you have hope, do it with respect. Do it with the love that cares more about them knowing Jesus than you do about winning the argument.
That is what Luther is getting at, in talking about the work of the Holy Spirit. As the Spirit reveals that we live in the presence of God, as He gives us the ability, the comfort, the assurance that God wants to reconcile us all to Himself. Some have only seen God in nature. Others
Christianity isn’t a privilege. Christianity isn’t a combat sport. Christianity means sacrifice, just as Christ suffered for us. Peter talks about this as following in the footsteps of Jesus, Paul encourages the church to imitate him, as he imitates Jesus. They call us to sacrifice and serve, that people would be able to presented perfect to Jesus.
This is far more than finding ourselves more righteous. This is eternity, this is living free of the guilt and shame caused by our sin, by the relationships in our lives that were broken. A relationship with the God who created as to be His “beloved”.
TO engage in that kind of work takes sacrifice, it means putting aside our own pride, our own desires, our very lives. And that requires to take up the faith that we’ve laid aside. It requires that we realize salvation transforms more than our future. It transforms our lives, from our baptism through the day God completes us.
This isn’t pietism, it is the reaction of gratitude to a God who revealed Himself to us, who made known His attitude toward us, who invited us to be part of His work, part of His ministry. It is the Holy Spirit. This is what communing with God does for us. As we kneel at an altar, as we see revealed to us the love of God for the world, as we are given hope, we explain that reason to others.
This is the life of a believer, this is the life of the children of God.
Lord, Have mercy on us, and help us to realize you live in our very lives.
(1) Ratzinger, J. (1992). Co-Workers of the Truth: Meditations for Every Day of the Year. (I. Grassl, Ed., M. F. McCarthy & L. Krauth, Trans.) (p. 32). San Francisco: Ignatius Press.
(2) [i] Tappert, T. G. (Ed.). (1959). The Book of Concord the confessions of the Evangelical Lutheran Church. (p. 419). Philadelphia: Mühlenberg Press.
Devotional Thought of the Day:
8 If we claim we have no sin, we are only fooling ourselves and not living in the truth. 9 But if we confess our sins to him, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all wickedness. 10 If we claim we have not sinned, we are calling God a liar and showing that his word has no place in our hearts.
1 John 1:8-10 (NLT)
Accept the sacrifice of my confessions from the ministry of my tongue, which Thou hast formed and stirred up to confess unto Thy name. Heal Thou all my bones, and let them say, O Lord, who is like unto Thee? For he who confesses to Thee doth not teach Thee what takes place within him; seeing a closed heart closes not out Thy eye, nor can man’s hard-heartedness thrust back Thy hand: for Thou dissolvest it at Thy will in pity or in vengeance, and nothing can hide itself from Thy heat. But let my soul praise Thee, that it may love Thee; and let it confess Thy own mercies to Thee, that it may praise Thee.
When God names himself after the self-understanding of faith he is not so much expressing his inner nature as making himself nameable; he is handing himself over to men in such a way that he can be called upon by them. And by doing this he enters into co-existence with them, he puts himself within their reach, he is “there” for them.
180 Because of his promise, because of Christ, God wishes to be favorably disposed to us and to justify us, not because of the law or our works: this promise we must always keep in view. In this promise timid consciences should seek reconciliation and justification, sustaining themselves with this promise and being sure that because of Christ and his promise they have a gracious God
As I worked through my devotional readings this morning (which you see some of, above), there seems to be a connection between two themes.
The first is the presence of God in our lives. That He revealed to us His name, not that we would misuse it, but so that we could use it, to call upon when we are in need when we have seen that need met.
The second is along the use of that name when we most dearly need it. When sin has broken our lives, and the lives of those we should love. When sin has damaged the incredible blessings, God has given and entrusted to us.
I think both St. John’s epistle and the blunt words of Augustine make it clear, we aren’t confessing what we successfully hidden from God. For nothing can be hidden from Him, and to pretend we can, is being foolish and ignorant. To pretend to be sinless, to ignore the things we have done, said or thought that result in a need of healing is not just a lie, but it results in great damage.
Instead, we need to confess, and in doing so, we praise God for being so gracious, for being merciful, for a love that overwhelms the wrath we deserve. Like the worship that we label lament, the worship of confession is beyond words that can express God’s glory. For in both lament and confession, we hope for that which is beyond our imagination.
God takes us, in all of our brokeness, in all of our despair, in the depth of human anguish, and lifts us, comforts us, heals us. As the Lutheran Confessions speak, God sustains those who timidly approach the throne, confident not in their own merit, but sustained by Jesus.
This has to be the message of the church. The hope that every believer, not just pastors, and priests, passes on to those around them, friend and foe, neighbor and refugee, family member and… well those family members. It transcends any moral issue, for all are immoral until they encounter the cross. It is the message found in every Bible, and it is our more precious vocation, that of children of God.
So come, confess your sins, yeah even those you wanted to excuse or argue aren’t sins. Stop trying to defend what you know is wrong. Hear you are forgiven, and rejoice. For the confession and the joy are praise to the Lord, who loves you more than you can know, and welcome you to explore every dimension of that love.
Never, ever, be afraid to cry out, “Lord, have mercy on me, a sinner!” For He has. AMEN!
Augustine, S., Bishop of Hippo. (1996). The Confessions of St. Augustine. (E. B. Pusey, Trans.). Oak Harbor, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc.
Ratzinger, J. (1992). Co-Workers of the Truth: Meditations for Every Day of the Year. (I. Grassl, Ed., M. F. McCarthy & L. Krauth, Trans.) (p. 22). San Francisco: Ignatius Press.
Tappert, T. G. (Ed.). (1959). The Book of Concord the confessions of the Evangelical Lutheran Church. (pp. 131–132). Philadelphia: Mühlenberg Press.
Devotional Thought of the Day
5 Think of yourselves the way Christ Jesus thought of himself. 6 He had equal status with God but didn’t think so much of himself that he had to cling to the advantages of that status no matter what. 7 Not at all. When the time came, he set aside the privileges of deity and took on the status of a slave, became human! 8 Having become human, he stayed human. It was an incredibly humbling process. He didn’t claim special privileges. Instead, he lived a selfless, obedient life and then died a selfless, obedient death—and the worst kind of death at that: a crucifixion. Philippians 2:5-8 (MSG)
If someone doesn’t care whether they live or die it is hard to threaten them. If our identity lies in whose we are, and not just in who we are, then even the loss of reputation will only be a temporary setback. The need to be someone, to have clout, to command respect, to have prestige or position are the shackles every bit as those of materialism. To been seen as holy, o spiritual mature, someone of depth, having a quiet authority, are these not also ambitions or bolsters of our status?
If we can only reach the true poverty and yielded-ness of not “needing to be” anything (even a humble nothing!) then we will truly be invisible. (1)
For where God’s Word is preached, accepted or believed, and bears fruit, there the blessed holy cross will not be far away. Let nobody think that he will have peace; he must sacrifice all he has on earth—possessions, honor, house and home, wife and children, body and life.
Now, this grieves our flesh and the old Adam, for it means that we must remain steadfast, suffer patiently whatever befalls us, and let go whatever is taken from us. (2)
Nietzsche once said he could not abide Saint Augustine—he seemed too plebeian and common. There is some justification for Nietzsche’s attitude, but it is precisely in these qualities that we discover Saint Augustine’s true Christian greatness. He could have been an aristocrat of the spirit, but for the sake of Christ and for the sake of his fellow men, in whom he saw Christ coming toward him, he left the ivory tower of the gifted intellectual in order to be wholly man among men, a servant of the servants of God. For the sake of Christ he emptied himself of his great learning. For the sake of Christ he became increasingly an ordinary person and the servant of all. In doing so he became truly a saint. For Christian holiness does not consist in being superhuman and in having an extraordinary talent or greatness that others do not have. Christian holiness is simply the obedience that puts us at God’s disposal wherever he calls us. (3)
I could have included a passage or 2 from St. Josemaria that were part of my devotions over the last few days. More passages where Jesus laid into the disciples the concept of sacrifice, where setting aside your life is the way to fulfill it. That anyone who set aside everything will find far more. This even as Jesus mourned as the rich young man couldn’t leave all behind. The words of Paul are encouraging us to imitate Paul where He imitated Jesus. The words of Stephen as boulders crashed upon Him, giving up even his “right” to revenge, that those who tortured them would be healed, that they would receive mercy, that they would rejoice in the love of the God whom they killed.
All those passages and the ones above coalesced this morning into one message.
It is the paradox of following Christ, to abandon to receive everything. It is why we are drawn to Christ, to see our Father’s Kingdom come, His will be done – for the world to come to repentance, to be transformed, to be cleansed, to be filled.
As we are emptied, even as Christ emptied himself, there is freedom and peace. Assured that nothing can separate us from God, we are free to love, to be merciful, to share a blessing that is so far beyond anything we know, anything we used to value, including ourselves. We get to share a blessing that is more than anything that could cause us anxiety, fear, or disturb our peace. We are emptied of all that…
It is simplicity that doesn’t even recognize itself, as we cling to Jesus and know we are His.
It is then the Holy Spirit is free to minister through us, guiding us, helping us love. This is so subtly done we don’t realize it, for we are at peace…even if it costs us our physical lives like Stephen, Paul and Jesus. Or, as living sacrifices where we live trusting and depending on God.
This is our paradox… not to think about as much as embrace. It is our life in Christ.
Celtic Daily Prayer, Devotion for 8/29
Tappert, T. G. (Ed.). (1959). The Large Catechism from The Book of Concord the confessions of the Evangelical Lutheran Church. (p. 429). Philadelphia: Mühlenberg Press.
Ratzinger, J. (1992). Co-Workers of the Truth: Meditations for Every Day of the Year. (M. F. McCarthy & L. Krauth, Trans., I. Grassl, Ed.) (p. 274). San Francisco: Ignatius Press.
Devotional Thought of the Day:
27 God’s plan is to make known his secret to his people, this rich and glorious secret which he has for all peoples. And the secret is that Christ is in you, which means that you will share in the glory of God. 28 So we preach Christ to everyone. With all possible wisdom we warn and teach them in order to bring each one into God’s presence as a mature individual in union with Christ. 29 To get this done I toil and struggle, using the mighty strength which Christ supplies and which is at work in me. Colossians 1:27-29 (TEV)
Ultimately that is what the priesthood is all about: to have seen Jesus oneself, to have received with love him whom we have seen, to live in that seeing, and then to show him to others. (1)
3 After all, the chief purpose of all ceremonies is to teach the people what they need to know about Christ. (2)
One of the greatest challenges for a pastor or a priest in this day is to minister to those who think they are already “saved.”.This includes ourselves and our peers. The challenge is complicated by the fact that we often forget what our calling is, losing it in the various functions of our ministry.
We are expected to be jacks of all trades, able to do plumbing, accounting, music, leading a non-profit, knowledge about employment law, property law, tax law, teach, and keeping the balance between being a solid administrator and a competent theologian. It is this latter role, that of a theologian, which can consume us even more than the rest. In letting it consume us, it can lead us away from the ministry, the ministering to which we have been called, and set apart.
It’s odd for a Lutheran pastor to quote a pope or a Catholic, I probably do it more than most. The above quote in blue is from a pope, but not as some might expect Francis. It is from Benedict, whose writings are as pastoral as Francis’s words. He sees his role, and that of priests (and I would hope pastors ) as simply and clearly as St. Paul did to the church in Colossae. It is also, according to Lutheran confessions, the reason we are gathered together with the people of God. This is seen in the quote in green, our purpose, our reason for existence as the church, is to give people what they need to know about Jesus.
It is that simple, everything we do as pastors, priests, ministers of all kinds in all places, boils down to that. Introduce people to the love of Christ. Help them as Paul says, explore (and be in awe of) the immense dimensions of God’s love for you, for me, for us, that is revealed in Jesus. From the planning of our salvation before the world began, to its creation, to His incarnation, life, teaching, miracle working, suffering, crucifixion, death, burial, resurrection, ascension and even His on-going advocacy for us at the Father’s side; He does this that we would know Him!
Our people need to know this, their friends and neighbors need to hear it. Even our enemies and adversaries (and people who are simply a pain in the… neck) need to know Jesus.
Pope Benedict, a pastor at heart, in the same message, wrote why:
But when a person has once met Christ, when a person has once seen Jesus and really learned to know him, then everything is changed. Then everything else is comprehensible and life is renewed. And you priests have really only one task: to present Jesus to all people in such a way that they see him and learn to love him. Then everything that faith teaches will be self-evident. (1)
There it , it is why we do what we do… why we struggle to do it, trying to keep our eyes on Christ, working hard to see people know His love.
By the way, you are welcome to help as well, and as you get to know His love, you will find a innate desire to do so, for that is how much His love will mean to you.
(1) Ratzinger, J. (1992). Co-Workers of the Truth: Meditations for Every Day of the Year. (M. F. McCarthy & L. Krauth, Trans., I. Grassl, Ed.) (p. 191). San Francisco: Ignatius Press. (devotions for June 13th)
(2) Augsburg Confession, Art XXIV
Devotional/Discussion Thought of the Day:
10 All who are mine belong to you, and you have given them to me, so they bring me glory. 11 Now I am departing from the world; they are staying in this world, but I am coming to you. Holy Father, you have given me your name; now protect them by the power of your name so that they will be united just as we are .John 17:10-11 (NLT)
It’s been an interesting day, that as a “work day” is nearly over.
It started this morning, as I watched Pope Benedict leave behind the papacy, as he was escorted everywhere. It was then I noted that it was a day to especially pray for the church, as I noted many people who seemed to either loose hope, or who attacked a man, who finally could find some rest. I hurriedly posted to FB that this was a good time to pray, and then headed out to teach a Bible Study.
In the Bible Study, we talked about Hebrews 9, and how the tabernacle pictured the ministry of Christ. What a great discussion it was! One of my dear ladies declared that this was the kind of things that kids need to hear today – about how long God has planned and worked the clues to the cross – and to the depth of His love and how He would make us His people, His children. She is right…. that’s what we are to be about!
Lunch with a friend then followed – as we talked about the churches we go to, those we’ve worked with…. and how we need to find our lives, first in Christ…and then with each other in Christ. For that makes the difference.
It also brings me back to my comment… this is a day to pray for the church. For all its leaders, for all its divisions, for all of its people.
That we would find ourselves in the presence of God, and healing of all the damage of sin. For there is much to be healed of… and that healing… and the fellowship that we are made for…happens as we are the church.
Pray as well, especially for the future leaders, including the new pope – that they would be able to bear the burden of their ministry, and that they would see their work focus on revealing the love of God.