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A Lesson We Need to Learn. Church is not “Respectable”

closed eyed man holding his face using both of his hands

Photo by Ric Rodrigues on Pexels.com

The devotional thought of the day:

12 Jesus heard them and answered, “People who are well do not need a doctor, but only those who are sick. 13† Go and find out what is meant by the scripture that says: ‘It is kindness that I want, not animal sacrifices.’ I have not come to call respectable people, but outcasts.”  Matt 9:12-13 Good News Translation (TEV)

Neither illumination nor contemplation but rather spiritual attack (tentatio) concluded Luther’s engagement with scripture. For him, when the Holy Spirit breaks our reason and reveals to us the true intention of God’s word, we are not drawn into some sort of heavenly realm or closer contact to the divine by our effort. Instead, all hell breaks loose. The flesh, the world, the devil and any other anti-spiritual power attempt to wrest from the believer the comfort of God’s unconditional grace and mercy. No wonder the psalmist cried out for deliverance from his enemies in Psalm 119!

One of the most serious temptations that lead us to break our contact with the Lord is the feeling of defeat. Facing a combative faith by definition, the enemy under the disguise of an angel of light will sow the seeds of pessimism. No one can take up any fight if, from the outset, one does not fully trust in winning. Those who begin without trust have already lost half the battle.

People are meant to live in an ongoing conversation with God, speaking and being spoken to by him. God’s visits to Adam and Eve in the garden, Enoch’s walks with God, and the face-to-face conversations between Moses and Jehovah are all commonly regarded as highly exceptional moments in the religious history of humankind.
Aside from their obviously unique historical role, however, these moments are not meant to be exceptional at all. Rather they are examples of the normal human life God intended for us: God’s indwelling his people through personal presence and fellowship.

When 3 of my devotional readings go in a certain direction, it is not unusual.  When four do, when I see how they resonate,  the lesson just is about to burst forth, not from the readings, but through experience. So it is today;

I guess I will start with Luther’s thoughts, about this idea that the way we learn about God, is found in its last step in a fight, in the tension and battle that comes as all hell breaks loose, and Satan tries to wrest from us the comfort of the Holy Spirit, the comfort that is found in His cHesed, that incredible combination of love and mercy and peace that comprise what we call grace.

The fight is echoed in the words of Pope Francis, as we deal with an unnatural pessimism, a moment of despair and depression that is not like normal depression but is contrary to it.  As Satan tries to convince us that God wouldn’t care about us, that God sees us as riff-raff, as not worth His time or interest.  We know this is not true, yet, it is so hard to shut out the voice of the ones who are masquerading as messengers of God.

It is hard because we struggle to see ourselves as God does, as the beautiful, pure, bride, set apart as the bride of Christ, as one who deserves the respect and admiration of God.  Instead, we see ourselves as those who are broken, not worthy of a glance, nothing close to deserving respect.

Yet we often treat the church as if it is the place we have to demonstrate how respectable we are.  We might pretend, dressing us, smiling and saying we are okay when people ask, smiling and greeting each other as if every day was a party.  When what we really feel like is staying home, hiding under the blankets and ignoring the world.

I think this is enhanced by how we see what some call the heroes of faith, the incredible men and women we see described in the Bible. Except we forget that Moses was running from Egypt, a prince hiding out with sheep in the wilderness.  That Abraham was an exile looking for his home and future as well, that David wasn’t the hero, but the man broken by his sin, and then by the sins of his children.

As shattered as we are, yet…

Willard reminds us that they are examples of a normal human life and that God was present, and lived with them.   That God walked with them in their brokenness, even as He walks with us.   They are not exceptional, their walking with God, finding hope there, is our example, for we can as well.

After all, Jesus didn’t come to snob around with the perfect and respectful.  He came to draw outcasts, broken folk, exiles and those who struggle to get out of bed every morning.  Because He loves us…..

And Satan will unleash all of hell to stop us from experiencing this, and in that tension, we find God’s comfort, that He is our refuge, our sanctuary, and our hope.

We are His people, He is our God… and He is calling us to His side, so He can comfort and heal us, the children He loves.

Let us pray,  Heavenly Father, in the midst of trials, in the midst of brokenness, and when it seems all hell is breaking loose.  Help us to see Your glory, revealed in Your love and your comfort.  AMEN!

Wengert, T. J. (2007). Preface. In P. D. W. Krey, B. McGinn, & P. D. S. Krey (Eds.), P. D. S. Krey & P. D. W. Krey (Trans.), Luther’s Spirituality (p. xiv). New York; Mahwah, NJ: Paulist Press.
Pope Francis. (2013). A Year with Pope Francis: Daily Reflections from His Writings. (A. Rossa, Ed.) (p. 352). New York; Mahwah, NJ; Toronto, ON: Paulist Press; Novalis.

Willard, D., & Johnson, J. (2015). Hearing god through the year: a 365-day devotional. Westmont, IL: IVP Books.

The Simple Journey of Hope

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The Good Shepherd, carrying His own.

Devotional Thought of the Day:
66  As a consequence of this, many of his disciples withdrew and no longer followed him. So Jesus said to the twelve, “And are you too wanting to go away?” 68  “Lord,” answered Simon Peter, “who else should we go to? Your words have the ring of eternal life! And we believe and are convinced that you are the holy one of God.”
John 6:66-68 (Phillips NT)

Let us follow Jesus, knowing that he accompanies us and carries us on his shoulders. This is our joyful hope that we must bring to this world. Please do not let yourselves be robbed of the hope that Jesus gives us!

It is too easy to lose hope in this world.

We can lose hope after a doctor’s visit or from balancing our checkbook.  We can become dejected because of the words of a friend, or a family member, we can begin to dwell in pessimism after reading the news, and seeing the discord that is prevalent in every part of four society.

Yet, we have to have hope to survive, and we have seen incredible things that have occurred because people dwell in hope, not despair. Because they know what God has promised, and they have learned to expect God’s intercession, that God will make what is going on work for good for those who love him, who are called according to His promises.

But how is that hope created, and in view of our broken lives, our broken society and broken world, how is it nourished, sustained, how can it grow when the world hammers away at us?

In the little devotional from Pope Francis that is one of the books I use for my devotions this year, he notes the strong correlation between following Jesus and the hope we have, that we can infect the world with.

Following Jesus, letting Him accompany us, letting Him carry us, not just walking in steps 2000 years old, but walking with him today, Monday the 8th of October, and tomorrow the 9th, and the 10th, and every day from now on dwelling in His presence.

This is why the Apostle Peter would proclaim that there is nowhere else to Go, for only Jesus can provide the words that give the hope of eternity, and the joy that will come in the presence of the Father in heaven. To share in a relationship, where God the Father identifies us as His children, where Jesus identifies us as His brothers and sisters. This is the love He spoke of, and the life He invites us all to have. To learn of His mercy, to explore the dimensions of His love, to even be corrected by Him, so that we don’t drift away.  This begins the hope we so desperately need.

Walking with Jesus, meditating on His love, on His sacrifice, on His resurrection which we are joined with, that provides hope.  Hearing His promises, knowing that He who created everything stands behind those promises, this gives us hope.

This is what matters in life, so please, please, don’t neglect this hope, or the times of prayer and fellowship that will nourish it.

And may you know God’s peace…. AMEN!
Pope Francis. (2013). A Year with Pope Francis: Daily Reflections from His Writings. (A. Rossa, Ed.) (p. 325). New York; Mahwah, NJ; Toronto, ON: Paulist Press; Novalis.

10 years, 20 years, some thoughts about God’s work in and through us.

10649504_10152396630845878_3341349315020260479_nDevotional thought of the Day:

61 The Spirit of the Lord GOD is on me because the LORD has anointed Me to bring good news to the poor.  He has sent Me to heal the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives and freedom to the prisoners;  to proclaim the year of the LORD’s favor, and the day of our God’s vengeance; to comfort all who mourn, 3 to provide for those who mourn in •Zion; to give them a crown of beauty instead of ashes, festive oil instead of mourning, and splendid clothes instead of despair.  Isaiah 61:1-3  HCSB

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

Today is the 10th anniversary of my installation as the senior pastor of the Concordia Lutheran Church in Cerritos, Ca.  This month is the 20th anniversary of my going from part-time ministry as a jail chaplain and preaching during vacations and when churches were looking for a new pastor, as I became the pastor of First Christian Church of Yucca Valley, Ca.

As these anniversaries approached, other things have happened that have made me think about ministry, of what I’ve seen God do in these places I have served. It’s been an interesting road, with lots of laughter and probably more tears with people I grew to love, that I was sent to care for.

The passage in red primarily applies to Jesus, and a little less to Isaiah.  Yet it is what Paul imitated of Jesus, what he encourages the entire church to imitate in 1 Corinthians 11.  We are to bring God’s healing, revealing His love and mercy, and the presence of the Holy Spirit to people that are brokenhearted, to free those who are oppressed, to comfort those who mourn.

It’s not been easy.  Nor has it always been successful. There is heartache when people would rather deal with the consequences of sin, and the guilt and shame that oppress them. We mourn because of their sin, we mourn as others would rather condemn them than seek to reconcile them back to God.  There are the times where we don’t have the words that we would think are needed to comfort those who grieve.

And yet, trusting Him, the church and those who serve it plod on. We might be distracted for a moment, but by the Spirit’s call, we re-focus again, as we go where God wants us to be, as He guides us to serve those who need His love.

It is bearing such a burden, as I think about the baptisms, the funerals, the sorrow and grief, tears and joy that Pope Francis’s words gave me comfort this morning.  We have to find the courage to trust in His mercy, in His patience, to look for our sanctuary, which is found in His ever-presence.  That is where we are safe, that is where we find peace and find healing for our own brokenness.

But it takes courage, and trust to dwell there.  For we have to lay aside our sorrow and grief, our own guilt and shame, our own “wisdom” and often our own sense of self-preservation. We have to learn to trust God, to be able to cry out, Lord, we trust you, help us when we don’t.

Ultimately, the ministry of the priesthood of all believers comes down to these simple things, to help people know the cleansing, comforting, healing merciful presence of God.   When we do this, it is amazing…. when we struggle, we need to trust God that He will fulfill the work that has begun.

He will.. for He has.

For those who have trusted God to speak through me, thank you.  I hope you have grown in experiencing His love.  May we all see Him at work in all of us in the years and decades to come.

AMEN!

 
Pope Francis. (2013). A Year with Pope Francis: Daily Reflections from His Writings. (A. Rossa, Ed.) (p. 273). New York; Mahwah, NJ; Toronto, ON: Paulist Press; Novalis.

Two Encounters With Jesus: A sermon on Mark 6:45-56

church at communion 2Two Encounters With Jesus
Mark 6:45-56

Jesus, Son, Saviour

May the grace of God our Father and our Lord Jesus Christ cause you to recognize Him, and bring to Him those who need to be made whole.

The Challenge to Evangelism?


In twenty years of ministry, one of the hardest things to see develop in a church is the attitude that we exist and serve to bring others to Christ.  Some call this being missional, some call it recognizing our apostolate.

You see, each of us is sent by God, to live where we are, and to reflect the love of God to those who are broken and so desperately need His touch upon their lives.

The challenge is not in learning what to say, most of us have been taught how to explain our faith. I mean how many of us can say the Lord’s Prayer and the apostles’ creed without looking at the bulletin?

We know the teachings, the basic doctrine.

So what do we need?  What will change us into being a church that reveals to people the Jesus who will make them whole?

The key to Concordia, or any other church, becoming an evangelistic church, is simple. We need to know how to act when we encounter Jesus.

For when our souls learn to recognize Jesus, when our hearts know we dwell in His presence, the intuitive thing to do will be to drag people to Jesus, to the places where we know they will encounter them.

In today’s gospel, there are three encounters with Jesus. Two will show us how we can react to seeing Him.  And the third, well, we will get to it later.

Seeing Him, amazed and confused!
The first way people reacted to Jesus is seen in the boat.  The apostles, tired and weary, still overwhelmed by their first mission trip, and the feeding of thousands, see Jesus.
They see him, the word there is from where we get “identify.”  Picture someone routinely checking driver’s licenses, and then realizing the person in front of them is someone famous. This is how they reacted, and their hearts, confused by all of life, were described as too petrified to take it all in. We all get that way sometimes, as life throws a few curves at us.  As we get overwhelmed, as we are struggling with what is going on, or with the storms in our lives.
The apostles were there, “hey” its Jesus.   Oh no!  It’s beyond natural!  It’s something supernatural!  It’s not something normal.

Uhm, yeah Peter and James and John.  It’s Jesus!  What did you expect from Him, if not the supernatural?

We don’t recognize Jesus all that well at times, or the Holy Spirit’s prompting.  We struggle to see Him during the hard times, and we don’t completely get what God is up too when we see the miraculous happen.

Our hearts are petrified, they are too hard to take it all in. But can we change?

Knowing Him – and dragging people in bed to Him

The second group was the group that encountered Jesus when He got out of the boat.  These people just didn’t identify Jesus, the Greek indicates they knew Him, they deeply knew Him, who He was, and what it meant for Him to be there.

Whereas the Apostles went crazy with fear, these people went crazy bringing every person they could find that was broken.  They ran around, grabbing people on mattresses and carrying them, they even just knew that if they could encounter Jesus, even just touching the edge of their robes, it would change everything….

And it did.

They encountered Him in the everyday mess of life. Though they had no clue about the cross, or the grave, the resurrection, they were sure He was a messenger from God, and they knew he would do the supernatural.  So they brought the broken, the needy, almost without thinking about it!

Imagine lying there on your bed, some guys storm in, and the next thing you know, you are being dragged to meet Jesus, no explanation given. As you encounter Jesus, something more occurs than just being healed.  You are made holy, you are saved. You are made right, perfect.

That’s what happens when you reveal the love of God to someone, that is what happens when Jesus is revealed In your life, what occurs when you encounter Him.

So How?  Close Encounter of the Third Kind

So how do we go from the first reaction to reacting like the evangelists in the second group of people?  How do we go from going crazy because of trauma and stress, to being crazy trying to get people to come to Jesus?  What hope is there for those of us who are overwhelmed, whose hearts are too hard to take it all in?

Because even the holiest and most devout of us can get overwhelmed by life.

I did this week, as the prayer list seemed to explode with people in need.

It isn’t within me to remember 24/7 that God is here, actively working in our lives, actively working through our lives. I get too distracted, I get too overwhelmed by the storm, I get too frustrated by the work that God sent me to do.

So how do we keep centered on Jesus? How do we stay aware of His presence in life?

One pastor wrote it this way,

Only from a personal encounter with the Lord can we carry out the diakonia (service) of tenderness without letting us get discouraged or be overwhelmed by the presence of pain and suffering.  (Pope Francis)

Remember where the disciples were heading with Jesus when they came back from their first mission trip? When they took off and found people chasing them on the shore, and then Jesus fed them?

They were heading off to a place to be with Jesus, to find time to pray, to find time for that personal encounter with God.  To know Him enough to recognize Him.

Jesus did this, He went away for a time to talk to the Father, that was why He had to chase the boat, and if it is a blessing for Him, it is necessary for us.

Not just to please God, though it does.  I need it, and you need it too.  We need to be able to recognize God’s presence in our lives, to expect it, and the healing and peace that He brings. For that presence ties out theology to life, it makes what we say more than words.

To know Him, to encounter Him in prayer, and in the sacraments, they help us to now He is there. And so this week, God blessed me by helping me encounter Him more, as people took time out, and we shared in the Lord’s Supper together.  Then when the storms hit, we know to look for Him, to expect His presence.

For from there, recognizing God at work is easier, knowing He is here, and He will make us whole is easier.  For with Him revealed, we are still, and we know He is indeed God. And that He keeps us, our hearts and minds safe in Jesus. AMEN!

Can I Trust in Jesus for this?

54e14-jesus2bpraying

God, who am I?

Devotional THought of the Day:
And I trust that my life will bring honor to Christ, whether I live or die. 21  For to me, living means living for Christ, and dying is even better. 22  But if I live, I can do more fruitful work for Christ. So I really don’t know which is better. 23  I’m torn between two desires: I long to go and be with Christ, which would be far better for me. 24  But for your sakes, it is better that I continue to live. Philippians 1:20-24b (NLT)

We follow a divine way. Where does Jesus’ way lead us? It leads us to the Resurrection, to the right hand of the Father. It is this whole way that we mean when we speak of following Christ as his disciple. Only thus do we journey the whole way of our vocation; only thus do we really reach the goal of undivided and imperishable happiness. And only from this perspective do we understand why the Cross is also a part of our discipleship as followers of Christ (cf. Mk 8:24). There is no other way for us to come to the Resurrection, to the community of God. We must follow the whole way if we want to be servants and witnesses of Jesus Christ.

Since absolution or the power of the keys, which was instituted by Christ in the Gospel, is a consolation and help against sin and a bad conscience, confession and absolution should by no means be allowed to fall into disuse in the church, especially for the sake of timid consciences and for the sake of untrained young people who need to be examined and instructed in Christian doctrine.

Though our faith, our dependence on God based on His promises begins with the life, death, resurrection, and return of Jesus our Messiah, there are other things we have to depend on Him for, as noted in the epistle in red above.

I trust that my life will bring honor to Christ…

That sounds awesome, 

It also sounds impossible.

This week I am all too familiar with my failings, with my brokenness.  my own failures, my own struggles with sins that plague me.

So how can God use something so shattered?  How can God work through something that has to be so,,, needing healing?

I can trust that He will clean me enough from my own sin and unrighteousnes=, enough that I can be smuggled into the Father’s presence as I dwell in Christ.

But can God work through me?

There are days I am not sure.  (especially Saturdays as I struggle to write sermons)

Pope Benedict XVI talks about needing ot go through the cross to the Resurrection, We have to dwell there with Him, as He takes the pain, as He agonizes under the weight of our sin, As He removes it from us, and bares His own soul to takes on the pain our cleansing and healing requires. 

It is there, with Him on the cross, that we find the same path that He took, that leads through death to the Resurrection.

It is there, on the cross, that we find hope.  It is there. where we find the power that raised Christ from the dead is at work in us. It is there we find the absolution we need to realize that to live is Christ, and eventually, to die is gain.  For if I have died with Christ in all my brokenness, if I have trusted Him to make it all right, If He shows me compassion and consoles me, then there is hope.

This is the power, the reason for private confession, it teaches me the doctrine that God is here, that the Lord is with us, that He is with me.  That He just doesn’t forgive my sin our of some kind of duty, some kind of ill-advised promise, but that the promise exists for the same reason the forgiveness does because He loves us. This is remarkable, it leaves me in tears of awe.. it leaves me with hope, for I know why I can depend on Him

Even the Hope that my life is now His to use, His to work through, and the responsibility to make it something good lies on Him.  Benedict’s successor, Pope Francis explains it this way,

To place our sight on our own death and resurrection causes our lives to change its center from “what we could do” to “what the Lord has done for us” and “will do with us.”

And so He has done for us and will do with us, many things, for He is our God, and we are His people. 

Lord, when we feel broken, when we feel the weight of our sin, remind us that You are here.  COmfort us with the gospel, that Jesus has lifted that sin away from us, and died to release us from its weight. Help us to live in view of His cross, where we were united with Him. Help us to rejoice, and then to depend on you as we find that our life is You. Bless people O Lord, and may we see how you use us to do so, as they give you the honor and praise AMEN!

 

 

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. 140). San Francisco: Ignatius Press.

Tappert, T. G. (Ed.). (1959). The Book of Concord the confessions of the Evangelical Lutheran Church. (p. 312). Philadelphia: Mühlenberg Press.

Pope Francis. (2013). A Year with Pope Francis: Daily Reflections from His Writings. (A. Rossa, Ed.) (p. 145). New York; Mahwah, NJ; Toronto, ON: Paulist Press; Novalis.

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.

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