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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.

Do We Still Hear Jesus As We Walk With Him?

Devotional Thought of the Day:
But now in these last days God has spoken to us through his Son. God has chosen his Son to own all things, and through him he made the world. 3 The Son reflects the glory of God and shows exactly what God is like. He holds everything together with his powerful word. When the Son made people clean from their sins, he sat down at the right side of God, the Great One in heaven.  Heb 1:2-3 NCV

I conversed recently with a pastor who was agonizing over the conflict between his head and heart. Even though this person is a well-trained seminary graduate with an appetite to know and teach the Scripture and has a comprehensive view of the Bible, his heart feels empty and dry. “I’ve even attended to the disciplines of spirituality,” he said, “but they don’t do anything for me. I can’t seem to feel what my head knows.”
Eventually this pastor put his finger on the real problem. “I’ve done everything I can to make myself spiritual,” he said, “but nothing seems to work.”…. (a couple of great paragraphs then this critical one:)

I think this pastor and others like him have a hard time connecting head and heart and, as a result, experience the contradiction between what they know and what they feel for two reasons. First, they situate spirituality in something other than God’s embrace. Second, they look for spiritual nourishment outside of the church and its worship.

Martin Luther, in ch. 2 of his commentary on Galatians, says of this argument, “I believe that if believing Jews had observed the Law and circumcision on the condition which the apostles permitted, Judaism would still stand and that the whole world would have accepted the ceremonies of the Jews. But because they argued that the Law and circumcision were necessary for salvation and established their worship on this basis, God could not endure this and therefore He overturned the temple, the Law, the worship, and Jerusalem.”

To walk in hope is to walk next to Jesus in the darkest moments of the cross when things have no explanation and we do not know what is going to happen next.

With the exception of Pope Francis’s account, I could have quoted the entire readings I had today in the other selections. ( Maybe I am sill to put my words beside theirs – but I need to process these things in my own words, which is the real reason I write these words)

I know all too well the danger Luther speaks of, where we take our practices, the rituals and observances we practice and use them to justify our solution.  Hey, I go to church, therefore I am a Christian!  I study the Bible, I spend time in prayer, I even teach others.  That should get me the deluxe mansion in heaven right?  Or at least make sure I get in the door?

THat leads to the burnout that Webber talks about ( I highly recommend his book The DIvine Embrace – probably 50 times he put into words that which I struggle with experiencing, never mind describing!) in these two excerpts from a conversation with a fellow pastor.  I have been there as well – looking for ways to be more spiritual – pushing myself with devotions, punishing myself with the reading of Leviticus, trying to spend hours, (okay half hours) on my knees in prayer.  I know Paul’s misery in Romans 7, and what is worse – when I did do the things I longed to do, they didn’t sustain me, they didn’t make me stronger in my resistance to sin, they didn’t create in my a super preacher that everyone longed to come hear.

When we try to become spiritual on our own, we will fail, because spirituality isn’t the goal, it is a result, really a by-product of our walking with Jesus. Being spiritual is not about our behavior, it is about hearing His voice, of accompanying Him to the darkness of the cross, because there, our darkness is nailed to it, as we are united with His death, and with His resurrection. That is the point that Pope Francis makes, that Webber shares when he encourages his pastor-friend this,

I counseled this minister whose heart felt empty and dry to cease striving to be spiritual and see spirituality as a gift to contemplate. “Delight,” I told him, “in the mystery of God revealed in Christ, who, by the Spirit, is united to our humanity and opens the way to our union with God. Delight in the incarnation of God in Jesus, in his sacrifice for our sins, his victory over the powers of evil, and the good news that everything that needs to be done to unite us with God and establish our spiritual relationship with God is done through grace by faith in our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Affirm that Jesus, in union with God, dwells in you and you in him, and see the world through God’s divine embrace. Then live in your freedom to participate in God in the life of the world!”

This is why Luther could say that if the Jews didn’t count on following the law for the salvation, Jesus and the apostles wouldn’t have taken it away from them. They mistook things that would help them see Jesus, things that could help them walk with Him, for that which proved they were okay with God.

And we do that today, all the time. That’s why some who observe us find our religion empty but still want to know Jesus. The Jesus we know, but try to impress.  We simply need to walk with Him, to delight in His role in our lives, to realize the work He is doing,

For He hears your cry of, “Lord, have mercy on me, a sinner”

And I can tell for sure, His response is heard well in these words, “The Lord IS WITH YOU!”  Amen.

 

 

 

Webber, Robert E. The Divine Embrace: Recovering the Passionate Spiritual Life. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2006. Print. Ancient-Future Series.

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

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.

 

Christian, Are You This Courageous? Do you have this strength?

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERADevotional Thoughts for our days:

10 “Stop fighting,” he says, “and know that I am God, supreme among the nations, supreme over the world.” 11 The LORD Almighty is with us;  the God of Jacob is our refuge.  Psalm 46:10-11  TEV

A mighty Fortress is our God, A Bulwark never failing; Our Helper He amid the flood Of mortal ills prevailing: For still our ancient foe Doth seek to work us woe; His craft and power are great. And, armed with cruel hate, On earth is not his equal.

Did we in our own strength confide, Our striving would be losing; Were not the right Man on our side, The Man of God’s own choosing: Dost ask who that may be? Christ Jesus, it is He; Lord Sabaoth His Name, From age to age the same, And He must win the battle.

This is important: the courage to trust in Jesus’ mercy, in his patience, to seek refuge always in the wounds of his love.

As we approach the 500th anniversary of the reformation, I have spent a lot of time reading and thinking through the history, and how it affects the Church today.  Not just my congregation, or my denomination, but the entire family of God’s children.  And what it means to reform.

For example, in my news feed, this morning was a great story of Pope Francis and liturgical reform. If I dare say, it is very Lutheran.  At the same time, there are those who are trying, with intent or ignorance, to divide the church further.  Not in the hope of reform, but in the desire to keep what they know pure.  And in the process, lose what Luther found the greatest comfort in, the love and mercy of God. 

Ninety percent of the time I hear Luther’s classic hymn quoted in green above, it is done with the power and energy of a military anthem.  Full crescendo Organs, loud brass, even clashing cymbals, as if it is a call to battle, something to unite the forces of good behind as we go to war.

Given that it is derived in part from Psalm 46, I am not sure that interpretation is valid.  It is not a mighty anthem, but a recognition that we are not that strong, that we need a refuge, that we cannot have confidence if we are dealing with Satan or the World.  I see Luther, inspired by the Psalm, writing this to a soft broken melody of one who knows despair, who is confused and hurt, and who is beginning to realize his hope is found in the one who was nailed to the cross, the Lord Jesus who is portrayed on the crucifix he sol tightly grasps. I see this as the resolution of a man who has searched for hope, finding it with his last gasp… the music of reeds and deep strings.. as the words are whispered out…. from broken, contrite spirits that are finding refuge… and rest.

We have to have the confidence to hide in CChrist we must depend on Jesus’ mercy and his patience and to seek and find refuge in Christ, who we are united to in our baptism.  

So stop fighting the world, stop striving against the powers of evil, (or those you just think are evil.) Have the courage, the confidence to trust in God.  He is dependable, He is the one who has the victory, and in Him…

we are safe.  we can rest.

TO do so takes a lot of courage, a lot of strength, to stay firmly planted in Jesus, despite every temptation to fight or flee.  It, in fact, takes far more to endure, to wait on Him.  Yet the Spirit helps us in our weakness. For the Spirit works through the church to remind us of this fact.

the Lord Almighty is with you, and God is your refuge.  AMEN!

Martin Luther – A Mighty Fortress is our God

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

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The Cost of Fixing Injustice

clydes-cross-2Devotional Thought for our day:
22  Then Peter took him on one side and started to remonstrate with him over this. “God bless you, Master! Nothing like this must happen to you!” Then Jesus turned round and said to Peter, “Out of my way, Satan! … you stand right in my path, Peter, when you look at things from man’s point of view and not from God’s”
24  Then Jesus said to his disciples, If anyone wants to follow in my footsteps he must give up all right to himself, take up his cross and follow me. For the man who wants to save his life will lose it; but the man who loses his life for my sake will find it. For what good is it for a man to gain the whole world at the price of his own soul? What could a man offer to buy back his soul once he had lost it? Matthew 16:22-26(Phillips NT)

When you want to control your abandonment in the hands of God, the tenderness of your filial relationship is lost. Neither ideology nor psychoanalysis or sociological interpretation of the mystery knows of tenderness. Rather, they know the art of manipulation, not of caress.

You want the world to change.

You can’t understand why the problems in our society exist, why there is hatred, why people can’t work together.  You want them to change (whoever “them” is) and you easily get frustrated by their actions.

I get that, I am tired of my own anger at people who are angry at people who are angry because they are reacting against what they perceived as unjust.

I’ve got some news for you (and it applies to me), the change and the peace we seek doesn’t begin with their change, it begins with the change that needs to happen in us, in you and me.  It starts with your giving up all rights to yourself.  It starts with your relationship to God.  It starts with you letting God be God and trusting Him to do exactly what He promised to do in our lives.  You need to let Him guide you in life, and listen and follow. Not partially, but totally.

As Pope Francis notes, you can’t really control your abandonment in the hands of God.

There is a reason for this, which he explains as “the tenderness of our filial relationship is lost”.  What that means is that as we play God, as we determine we are in control of our lives, we forget and lose track of our relationship with God.  We forget about the fact we are His beloved children (hence filial – that of a son), we forget that He desires we walk with Him. , we forget about the love our Father in heaven has for us.

All this happens as we try to take control of our destiny, for 10 minutes or for a lifetime.  THat is what Jesus talks about in that trying to save our life, we lose, but if we abandon it to the care of the Father, to the guidance of the Spirit, to the work of Jesus on the cross, we gain it.

And we gain a sense of justice, a sense of righteousness that God fills our life with.  We realize that righteousness means we love those we consider unlovable, and rather than just condemn those who acts are unjust and unrighteous, we put them in God’s hands,  We pray that He would spare them by transforming them just as He is doing to us.  We work to help them realize they are His beloved children and that He has saved them from their sin.  That is how injustice is fixed, first as we remember that Jesus’ work has committed us into the Father’s hands, and then, abandoning our will, our destiny, our life into his hands, we see Him work miracles, reconciling others through our work, as He guides us to love them.

Easy?  No, and yet yes.  He does the work!  We have to just stop fighting Him…..

The cost?  Already paid for on the cross of Calvary.  The blood of Christ that was spilled that sin would be covered, and separated from the sinner.

This is our hope, whether the injustice is minor, or national.  That Christ came to redeem the ungodly, and we have seen it happen in our lives.

So go, in His name, and love.

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.

Being Effective Is Not Always a Blessing!

clydes-cross-2Devotional and Discussion Thought of the Day:

20  He also asked, “What else is the Kingdom of God like? 21  It is like the yeast a woman used in making bread. Even though she put only a little yeast in three measures of flour, it permeated every part of the dough.”   Luke 13:20-21 (NLT)

5  In coming to the other side of the sea, the disciples had forgotten to bring bread. 6  Jesus said to them, “Look out, and beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and Sadducees.”  ………11  How do you not comprehend that I was not speaking to you about bread? Beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and Sadducees.” 12  Then they understood that he was not telling them to beware of the leaven of bread, but of the teaching of the Pharisees and Sadducees.    Matthew 16:5-6,11-12 (NAB)

397      Don’t place obstacles in the way of grace. You need to be convinced that in order to be leaven you must become a saint, and must struggle to identify yourself with Him.  (1)

The exquisite elites know how to pucker their noses when confronted with failure; they are scandalized. They prefer to set up models of the Church based on “common sense” rather than on the failure of the cross.

Being effective is not always a blessing.   In fact, some of the most effective things in the world are deadly, those viral and bacterial infections that can run amok and kill or gravely would everyone that comes in contact with them.

The scriptures above show this as well, as two different things are compared to the idea of yeast or leaven.   The Kingdom of God can be like that, as we see the church explode during the time of the apostles, and in certain parts of the world today.  Growth that goes beyond anything pragmatic, that causes us to scramble to try and adjust our plans to compensate for the growth.  Yet the other passage shows a negative form of leaven, that of the teachings and practices of the Pharisees and Sadducees, groups that promoted a very pragmatic approach to being the people of God.

Yet their very approach was an obstacle to grace, a way that blocked people from identifying themselves as God’s children,  And they were very effective – so effective that they were able to kill God, even as they nailed Jesus to a cross.

St. Josemaria talks about effectiveness that arises out of faith, not of reason.  That the leaven we need to become is found in our holiness, in our being set apart to God,  It is found, as Francis says,, not in models set up in common sense, but in the failure of the cross.  For drawn to the cross we find Jesus, that is where the Holy Spirit unites us to Jesus, binds us to His death and resurrection.  That is where we are given gifts like repentance and faith, where we are declared God’s people, where we are cleansed. At the cross, we are infected/affected by His great love and mercy, and find ourselves set apart to Him. It is here we become infectious and spread the gospel simply by being in people’s lives.

Not a very pragmatic or reasoned approach, this dying and rising to life, this admitting our failure and our desperate need for God.

Yet it is how God would affect us, infect us, and see our effectiveness, as the Kingdom of God testifies not only to our presence but His presence in us.

Lord, help us see you on the cross, and know the depths of your mercy, and know you have risen, as it testifies to Your immeasurable love, and may our lives be effective, as we are united to You. Amen!

(1)  Escriva, Josemaria. The Forge (Kindle Locations 1548-1549). Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition.

(2) 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.

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.

We had One Job….

clydes-cross-2Devotional Thought of the Day:
49 One of them, named Caiaphas, who was High Priest that year, said, “What fools you are! 50 Don’t you realize that it is better for you to let one man die for the people, instead of having the whole nation destroyed?” 51Actually, he did not say this of his own accord; rather, as he was High Priest that year, he was prophesying that Jesus was going to die for the Jewish people, 52and not only for them, but also to bring together into one body all the scattered people of God.  John 11:49-52

9 Without boasting, it is manifest that the Mass is observed among us with greater devotion and more earnestness than among our opponents.
7 Moreover, the people are instructed often and with great diligence concerning the holy sacrament, why it was instituted, and how it is to be used (namely, as a comfort for terrified consciences) in order that the people may be drawn to the Communion and Mass. The people are also given instruction about other false teachings concerning the sacrament.
2 Meanwhile no conspicuous changes have been made in the public ceremonies of the Mass, except that in certain places German hymns are sung in addition to the Latin responses for the instruction and exercise of the people.
3 After all, the chief purpose of all ceremonies is to teach the people what they need to know about Christ. (1)

Today Jesus might, at first glance, appear to be boring and not so exciting, but in him are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and charity, all the richness of love, faith and hope.

In the words of Caiaphas, I find some hope this morning.

He didn’t realize what he was doing, and yet, he pointed tho the cross of Christ, and our need for the death of Christ Jesus. He pointed to Jesus, who would die for all of us, to bring us together in one body, all of us scattered across the world, all of us scattered across time, all of us scattered across 42,000 denominations.

Sometimes we who preach and teach, are more like Caiaphas that we want to admit.  We intended something else, and the Holy Spirit made it work just like it did with Caiaphas. We speak of Christ, we teach people what they need to know about Christ.   They are drawn to the sacraments, they find in them the comfort and peace the world and their sin doesn’t offer.

We had one job, and our desire to astound people with knowledge, or convince them of our political position, our pragmatic superiority of mission,  or even to give them a “lutheran (insert your own denominational/non-denominational tag) identity” twists the message, and imparts something extra.  Something different that what should come out of our mouth did.

And we rejoice in God working, not at all realizing that we had one job, and only one, and we screwed it up.

We didn’t give them Jesus, that wasn’t our intent.

He came to them anyway!  While we were patting ourselves on the back, praising each other for the job we did, and celebrating as if our sermon or blog, our podcast or summit was all our work.

Like Caiaphas, the Holy Spirit worked through us, and we didn’t see it, and let’s be honest, we might not have heard it.

This is one lesson that is taught over and over as I teach people about ministry.  It is found in the section from the Augsburg Confession above.  I bastardize it a little, changing the word on occasion to ministry, or pastoral care, or even life. And I change the word teach to the word give, so it ends up as,

The chief purpose of all ministry, all life, is to give/teach people what they need to know about Jesus.

There is our job, whether we are a pastor, a priest, someone who facilitates the response of people to God’s love (what we call worship leaders) or someone having coffee with a friend. They need to know Jesus, heck we need to know Him, and giving/teaching others about Him answers that need.

This is orthodoxy at its best – worshipping and giving glory to God for what He’s really done.  What Pope Francis says, finding in him the treasures of charity and wisdom, the incredible love, faith, and hope.

That’s what we need…. that’s what we need to know about Jesus. More than anything.

We don’t have to be like Caiaphas, we can remind each other, encourage each other, pray for each other, and correct each other when we needed.  All to accomplish our one job….

To give all people what they need to know about Jesus.

That He answers our prayer, “Lord, have mercy on us sinners”, by coming to us, cleansing us, and the Lord is with us!  AMEN!

 

 

 

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

The Real Controversy​ in the Book of Jonah

Devotional Thought of the Day:

9 But God said to Jonah, “Do you have a right to be angry over the gourd plant?” Jonah answered, “I have a right to be angry—angry enough to die.” 10 Then the LORD said, “You are concerned* over the gourd plant which cost you no effort and which you did not grow; it came up in one night and in one night it perished. 11 And should I not be concerned over the great city of Nineveh, in which there are more than a hundred and twenty thousand persons who cannot know their right hand from their left, not to mention all the animals?” NABRE Jonah 4:9-11

Missionary activity is nothing else and nothing less than an epiphany, or a manifesting of God’s decree, and its fulfillment in the world and in world history, in the course of which God, by means of mission, manifestly works out the history of salvation. By the preaching of the word and by the celebration of the sacraments, the center and summit of which is the most holy Eucharist, He brings about the presence of Christ, the author of salvation.  (1)

“I have learnt with sadness of the killing this morning at the Church of Saint-Etienne du Rouvray. The three victims: the priest, Father Jacques Hamel, 84, and the authors of the assassination. Three other people were injured, one very seriously. I cry out to God with all men of good will. I would invite non-believers to join in the cry! “ (2)

A lot of people focus on the fish (some call it a whale) in the story of the prophet Jonah.  To be honest, the controversy there is silly, a game played to avoid what is truly controversial. The sin that is challenged there, and not met with repentance, the sin of Jonah.

Imagine today if an evangelical leader was called to go to Iraq or Syria, to preach repentance to the cadres of ISIL, or to AAfghanistanand preach to ISIL’s history enemy, Al Quaeda. Would they look for the nearest beach, rather than taking a ship to the location of their new ministry?  Would they and their friends get mad if they saw their enemies repent, throwing a tantrum as Jonah did?

There is the controversy, there is the place where ministry could occur, and those who know the grace of God are tempted to turn their back on not only the people God would have heard their gospel, but on the mission of God, and really on the heart of God.

God calling you on not loving your enemies?  God calling you on loving a “thing” ( in his case a plant, of for us, our way of living ) more than you love the people.  That’s controversial.  There is a conversation that will hurt, that may drive us from the room, or perhaps to our knees in repentance.

Look at the quote of the ArchBishop of the priest who became a martyr.  He prays for the two assassins – and calls them victims!  That is controversial!  Even more controversial than Pope Francis reminding the cChurch that Christians can be very violent as well.

We are all sinners, we are all victims of unrighteousness as well.  The unrighteousness of sins committed against us, the unrighteousness that springs from our being led into sin by those who should be carrying us to the cross. From those who should help us see our epiphany, who should help us see Jesus revealed as the one who cleanse all people of all sin, and all unrighteousness. Who desires that so much, that he is even patient with us as He waits for us to get our act together, to live as Christ lived, to love our enemies even as Christ loved us.

Jonah was pissed at God, for he couldn’t see why God would let a plant die.  Yet Jonah was willing to write off a city, and was ticked at their repentance.  God called him on that…

And perhaps now, or perhaps as we head forward to communion this weekend, we need to examine ourselves, confess our sins, our time of acting like Jonah.  To get past the little miracle to the big issue of Jonah.

God loves our enemies as much as He loves us.

It’s time to rejoice over that fact… and realize those who like us, were enemies of God, are our brothers and sisters.  Whether they are Muslim, or Sikh, Jewish by faith, or simply genetically, atheist or agnostic, Lutheran or Catholic.   God is calling them, and calling us to deliver that message.

Lord have mercy on us ALL!

AMEN

(1)  Catholic Church. (2011). Decree on the Mission Activity of the Church: Ad Gentes. In Vatican II Documents. Vatican City: Libreria Editrice Vaticana.
(2)  Archbishop LeBrun http://saltandlighttv.org/blog/general/press-release-of-the-archbishop-of-rouen-following-hostage-situation-at-church-of-saint-etienne-du-rouvray

Why a Lutheran Pastor Would Quote the Catholic Pope about the Church’s Mission…

Featured imageDevotional Thought of the Day –

For God’s Kingdom is not a matter of eating and drinking, but of the righteousness, peace, and joy which the Holy Spirit gives.  And when you serve Christ in this way, you please God and are approved by others.   Romans 14:17-18 (TEV)

 John said to him, “Teacher, we saw a man who was driving out demons in your name, and we told him to stop, because he doesn’t belong to our group.”  “Do not try to stop him,” Jesus told them, “because no one who performs a miracle in my name will be able soon afterward to say evil things about me.  For whoever is not against us is for us.  Mark 9:38-40 (TEV)

 Of course some of them preach Christ because they are jealous and quarrelsome, but others from genuine good will.  These do so from love, because they know that God has given me the work of defending the gospel.  The others do not proclaim Christ sincerely, but from a spirit of selfish ambition; they think that they will make more trouble for me while I am in prison.  It does not matter! I am happy about it—just so Christ is preached in every way possible, whether from wrong or right motives. And I will continue to be happy,  because I know that by means of your prayers and the help which comes from the Spirit of Jesus Christ I shall be set free.    Philippians 1:15-19 (TEV)

“The Church, the holy People of God, treads the dust-laden paths of history, so often traversed by conflict, injustice and violence, in order to encounter her children, our brothers and sisters. The holy and faithful People of God are not afraid of losing their way; they are afraid of becoming self-enclosed, frozen into élites, clinging to their own security. They know that self-enclosure, in all the many forms it takes, is the cause of so much apathy.

So let us go out, let us go forth to offer everyone the life of Jesus Christ (Evangelii Gaudium, 49). The People of God can embrace everyone because we are the disciples of the One who knelt before his own to wash their feet (ibid., 24) ” (1)

If you haven’t heard, Pope Francis is visiting the USA.  In green, you see one of my favorite quotes from him, one that hasn’t been pushed much on Twitter, or quoted on FB.   It is both this lack of attention AND the truth of it, that makes it possibly my favorite quote of his.

Some people are excited, some people are worried, some people are mad, and want everyone to know that the visit of the one they think is “the” anti-christ, in combination with a harvest moon, in combination with the green stuff growing in their refrigerator resembling the hairstyle of a prominent presidential candidate means the means to the end is near.

I do think it providential though, that the gospel reading this week contains the middle quote from scripture. The one that has Jesus crying out, “do not try to stop him!”

Let me start out with this,  According to the doctrines of the Catholic Church, some of what I preach is anathema.  And likewise, some, repeat, some of the things that are doctrines the are to hold to are heterodox and even heretical.  One could do several Ph.D. thesis outlining these things.   And several more outlining the things upon which we agree. Those need to be discussed not hidden.

But therein is the rub.  To dismiss each other entirely it is to dismiss where we agree as if it were as false.  For example, the truths found in the three Creeds.  Or the promises that God is faithful to the promises He makes to us, including the promises attached to the proclaiming of the Gospel, the promises attached to Baptism, the Lord’s Supper, and the forgiveness given us in Confession.  We can never dismiss each other entirely, because the core of our creed, we share in common.  We share a hope found in Christ Jesus.  For me to presumptuously say everything the Roman Catholic Church teaches is wrong is to dismiss the Christ in whom I find hope, and the mission, the apostolic mission given to the Church.

With this particular Pope, Pope Francis, what resonates of his message is what is found in 1 Peter, that God doesn’t desire any person to be lost, but that all would come to repentance, that all would be reconciled, that all would know the love of God, and the mercy poured out on us because of the death of Jesus Christ, and His resurrection.

That message of his won’t make the evening news often, nor will it make the conservative or liberal blogospheres in either of our church bodies. That won’t get attention, because it won’t cause hits to come in large numbers.  Controversy does that.  It draws us in; it creates elitists, groups that will become, as Francis points out – apathetic.  They will become apathetic to the real ministry, to the real mission, to the real apostolate. Their focus will go from that to their own personal crusade, and the Missio Dei will become a distant memory for them.  Not for all, for God has promised that as well.   That Missio Dei is our mission,  the reason we are sent to this world, which is the reason Christ was sent,

as Francis says,

“to offer everyone the life of Jesus Christ.”

May we bring that life to all,

A life in which Jesus guards our hearts and our minds, a life of peace the world cannot give, a life of incomparable peace which the Father in Heaven desires to share with us. The peace that is the answer to our prayer,

Lord have mercy on us sinners… AMEN!

(1)  From the Homily given by Pope Francis on 9/24 found here http://opusdei.us/en-us/article/canonization-of-junipero-serra/

Salvation is More Than Forgiveness of Sins

Devotional Thought of the Day:Featured image

14  Their minds, indeed, were closed; and to this very day their minds are covered with the same veil as they read the books of the old covenant. The veil is removed only when a person is joined to Christ. 15  Even today, whenever they read the Law of Moses, the veil still covers their minds. 16  But it can be removed, as the scripture says about Moses: “His veil was removed when he turned to the Lord.” 17  Now, “the Lord” in this passage is the Spirit; and where the Spirit of the Lord is present, there is freedom. 18  All of us, then, reflect the glory of the Lord with uncovered faces; and that same glory, coming from the Lord, who is the Spirit, transforms us into his likeness in an ever greater degree of glory. 2 Corinthians 3:14-18 (TEV)

10  We are God’s work of art, created in Christ Jesus for the good works which God has already designated to make up our way of life. Ephesians 2:10 (NJB)

298      My Lord Jesus has a Heart more tender than the hearts of all good men put together. If a good man (of average goodness) knew that a certain person loved him, without seeking personal satisfaction or reward of any kind (he loves for love’s sake); and if he also knew that all this person wanted from him was that he should not object to being loved, even from afar… then it would not be long before he responded to such a disinterested love. If the Loved One is so powerful that he can do all things, I am sure that, as well as surrendering in the end to the faithful love of a creature (in spite of the wretchedness of that poor soul) he will give this lover the supernatural beauty, knowledge and power he needs so that the eyes of Jesus are not sullied when he gazes upon the poor heart that is adoring him. Love, my child; love and hope. (1)

As i came across the quote from St. Josemaria this evening (above in blue), I had to think through it several times. It’s not that I don’t know this, but it seemed so different from the conversations among Christians and pastors on-line recently.

So often are conversation is about justification, whether it is evangelicals trying to be missional and covert people, or whether it is Lutheran theologians attempting to focus on our ineptitude to obey Christ (and applying that to the redeemed as well as the unregenerate).  In either situation, salvation is reduced to the forgiveness of sins.  There might be a mention of eternity in heaven as opposed to hell. Even that seems to be diminished these days, in light of glory of being righteous in the eyes of God.

But we can’t describe heaven well, apart from what isn’t there, and a vague idea of God seated on the throne, and the activity around Him, like the praise songs being sung.

But what makes our lives the work of art that Paul tells the church in Ephesus about?

What did theologians talk about, when they mentioned the life of the baptized?

What is this transformation that the Corinthians hear is happening to them, this work of the Holy Spirit that happens as we reflect the glory of God.

That means something is going on now, this transformation in our lives, this work of art, this being created (re-created) in Christ Jesus to do that which God ordained us to do.  Not to sit and argue about, not to dismiss because it makes us uncomfortable.  The idea of being close enough to Christ to experience His glory, to reflect that glory to a world, broken and comfortable in darkness is a challenge.

I like how Pope Francis put it,

“”We feel safer in our sins, in our limitations, but feel at home; leaving our home to answer God’s invitation, go to God’s house, with others? No. I’m afraid. And all of us Christians have this fear hidden deep inside … but not too hidden.” (from a quote from “Divine Office” on facebook)

We want to hide in the comfort of our sins, as Israel did. We want a veil that keeps us at a distance….

God will remove that veil, enabling us to walk in a relationship trusting Him.  He will make our lives that masterpiece, He will transform us into the very image of Christ.  He will walk with us, and we will be so amazed by that, we may not even notice the rest of what He is doing…..

That is His love for us.

That is the baptised life….

That is salvation.

(1)  Escriva, Josemaria (2011-01-31). The Forge (Kindle Locations 1211-1218). Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition.

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