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Are Your Ears Burning? They Should Be! A sermon on 1 Thes. 1:1-10

church at communion 2Are Your Ears Burning?  They Should Be!
1 Thessalonians 1:1-10

In Jesus Name

May you realize the grace God our Father and the Lord Jesus have given you, and may that grace be so evident that those around you, and even far away speak of God’s work in your life!

 Is the word ringing out?

Did you ever walk into a room and suddenly everyone stopped talking?  Or walk by a group of people and they all started staring at you?  Or get back to the office and find out that 4 or 5 people needed to talk to you?

There is even an old question that asked if you notice this kind of behavior,

Are your ears burning?

Well, looking at the church in Thessalonica that Paul was writing too in our epistle reading this morning, their ears should have been burning.  People were talking to them, and it was a wonderful thing!

I pray that people are talking about us in the same way!

Here how Paul described it,

wherever we go we find people telling us about your faith in God. We don’t need to tell them about it, for they keep talking about the wonderful welcome you gave us and how you turned away from idols to serve the living and true God. 10 And they speak of how you are looking forward to the coming of God’s Son from heaven—Jesus, whom God raised from the dead!

Do people know that you’ve turned away from idols and false gods?  Do they know of you look forward to the second coming of Jesus?

Are they so in awe of God’s work in your life that they speak of your trust, your dependence, your faith in Him?

How did the people of Thessalonica end up with their ears burning… as they should have been….

And how can we see that happen in our lives?

How can our dependence on God become so strong that it is remarkable, that people talk about it?

I mean, that is a good thing, if I were to invite someone to come here, and the people already knew how strong our faith was, how we set aside ungodly rubbish in order to we look forward to eternity in the presence of God?

So let us investigate what else Paul said about these people!

We know God..

He says in verse 4, We know, dear brothers and sisters, that God loves you and has chosen you to be his own people.”

It all starts there, and I know this to be true about you as well.

I said it last week this way,

The Lord …

Who loves you

Is with you!

For that is what it means to be chosen, to be called.  It is to dwell in the presence of God, to dwell in the glory of God.

God loves you, as He did the people in Thessalonica, He chose you to be His people.  We need to know this, not just with our minds, but deep, deep in our souls, in the places where we wonder how God could love us, and so traumatized by our past, we wonder why He loves us.

It is in those dark, anxious broken places, that God is there… even when we can’t see Him, can’t feel His presence.  When He is revealed there, we realize that He is willing to pick us up, no matter how many pieces there are, that life begins to be transformed.

Hear something else Paul says… and we understand that it is reality too.

So you received the message with joy from the Holy Spirit in spite of the severe suffering it brought you. In this way, you imitated both us and the Lord. As a result, you have become an example to all the believers in Greece—throughout both Macedonia and Achaia.

with joy…..

despite the trials and tribulations, despite the pain that is endured as God heals us.  As God transforms us, as He did Paul, into the image of Jesus.

Imitation – reborn like Paul was reborn like Jesus (POWER)

But how?

That word behind “imitate” has another meaning.  It means to be born, to begin, completely new, completely different.  We talk about being baptized, being born again, that is the same concept here.  To die to our sin, our past, our self-centeredness. To die with Jesus, in order to be raised to this new life, this being born again, in Jesus.

Just like Paul did, and Peter, and so many millions who God has join to Jesus, and to His death and resurrection.

This is why the preaching of Jesus has power, as Paul said in verse 5,

For when we brought you the Good News, it was not only with words but also with power, for the Holy Spirit gave you full assurance that what we said was true”

It is the power, not just to any old miracle, but the incredible miracle that is the reason that God our Father sent Jesus His son into our lives, to live among us, to die for us, and to share that death and the resurrection with us.

One pastor, Chris Gillette’s mentor, Robert Webber, calls this power the divine embrace.  It’s the prodigal’s dad, coming running to him, to smother him, so excited that the prodigal is finally home.

And it is the reason behind all of this…

For when God embraces us, that is the assurance we need. That is the power that is at work, making the love of God, not some intellectual exercise, not something to diagram or diagnose.

And as we rest in God’s arms, as we are welcomed by Him, into His family, as we know His presence, everything changes.  We become an example to others, some older in the faith, some younger.  The word goes out, for people know how much we abandoned to be with God.

And how much we look forward to the ultimate reunion, when Jesus returns, and brings us to the throne, to see for the first time, God our Father, face to face.

This is what it means for God to give you grace and peace, to belong to God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.  AMEN!

Transcendence…A Long Forgotten Blessing?

20170124_103703Devotional Thought for our Day:

12 I thank Christ Jesus our Lord, who gave me strength because he trusted me and gave me this work of serving him. 13 In the past I spoke against Christ and persecuted him and did all kinds of things to hurt him. But God showed me mercy, because I did not know what I was doing. I did not believe. 14 But the grace of our Lord was fully given to me, and with that grace came the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus.  1 Timothy 1:12-14

5      Lord, we are glad to find ourselves in your wounded palm. Grasp us tight, squeeze us hard, make us lose all our earthly wretchedness, purify us, set us on fire, make us feel drenched in your Blood. And then, cast us far, far away, hungry for the harvest, to sow the seed more fruitfully each day, for Love of you.

We are in a time of “spiritual myopia and moral shallowness” that try to impose on us as normal the “culture of lowness,” where there is obviously no place for transcendence and hope.

A friend reaches out with a hand that is shaking, another’s bright gray eyes water as her hand to reaches out.  Another refuses to look at me, his hand and arm stretched out to desire that which he knows is his, yet knows it shouldn’t be possible.  An old man will stand up a moment later, and as he returns to his seat, his hand brushes up against the baptismal font.  His hand lingers there, caressing it, in awe of the grace given him at another font, some 90 years before, on another continent, in a time even more turbulent.

I often wonder and even get anxious about a question that arises from such moments, How long does the sense of transcendence last?  How long does this blessed moment, this peace, this awareness of the glory and love of God last?   

Are the people aware of what I see happening to them, do they realize what they are experiencing? 

It is well described by the Apostle Paul, as he talks about the grace completely given to him, this incredible ability to depend on God, assured of His presence, completely aware of His love for us.  It is what Josemaria also writes about, as he pictures us, as he wants us to see ourselves, firmly held in the nail shattered palm.   

It is such faith, such love that calls us to want to be thrown into this broken world, wanting people to know this grace.  Not just out of duty or obligation, not because of the gift that was given to us.  The awe that makes us wonder, and then become amazed, as we find ourselves alive, transformed.  We need these times, whether life is oppressive, or going easy.  Whether we lack any hope or have hope that is found in this world, the kind that is too fleeting and fragile. 

This is what the church has meant by transcendence, this time when we are more sure of the presence of God that we are of our own existence. 

it is why sacramental time, whether times like Baptism and the Eucharist or time of meditation and prayer are so needed in our day.  But when do we take the time?

As a pastor, do I teach about this, model it, encourage it? Isn’t this where I am to shepherd people into, the realization that they dwell in the presence of God, who loves them, cares for them, and will cleanse them and restore them?

As I work on my sermon and worship – and Bible Studies – this needs to remain in my mind…..

and by His grace, it will.

 

Escriva, Josemaria. The Forge (Kindle Locations 249-252). Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition.

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.

Our Hope: The Transformation found in Stability

DSCN0014Devotional Thought for our days:

God began doing a good work in you, and I am sure he will continue it until it is finished when Jesus Christ comes again.  NCV Phil. 1:6

We often use the word stable to refer to a person who is constant and consistent. We say, “You can count on her.” Or, in Christian terms, we may think of the writer of Hebrews, who admonishes new Christians to endure to the end (Heb. 4:11).
The monastic concept of stability translated into our spiritual life means “stay in your baptism” and “continue to live out of the death and resurrection of Jesus by continually dying to sin and rising to the new life of the Spirit staying in God’s divine embrace.” Obviously such a vow should not be taken lightly.

2   God is my Father! If you meditate on it, you will never let go of this consoling consideration. Jesus is my intimate Friend (another rediscovery) who loves me with all the divine madness of his Heart. The Holy Spirit is my Consoler, who guides my every step along the road. Consider this often: you are God’s… and God is yours.

Stability.

It is an odd word for me.  You see, I have spent most of my adult life changing things.  Changing jobs, locations, residences ( again next week!) I am not sure I have known stability, or for that matter, provided it for my family.

I have to admit, I love change, and love being involved causing change.  Hopefully, the change is on the order of transformation, and not just the chaotic kind of change that causes stress.  Well, let me be honest, I can find that kind of change exhilarating and even entertaining. 

I love change, I am almost an addict of it.  Routine is boring, and I don’t find much alive in getting into a rut.

So this morning, I am writing on… stability? As a positive thing? Really?

There is an area I desperately need stability in, and if that is stable, if that is anchored, all other change simply becomes… negligible.  There is a stability that must invade my life, must always be depended upon.

Webber talks about it as staying in your baptism, what the monasteries and convents were actually trying to provide.  Their strength was not found in their own personal stability, or in the stability that living in a disciplined community caused.   Their stability was provided by the constant reference to the presence of the Lord.  

That is where the stability comes from, the work and promises God did in our baptism, and continues to do until the work is finished with Christ’s return. It’s this knowledge of Christ’s work, the Holy Spirit’s work, that happens in our presence, which reveals we are in the presence of the God the Father.  He is ours, St. Josemaria pleads with us to remember!  We are His!  And that creates a stability that goes beyond our problems, our challenges, our brokenness, our sin. 

It is the divine embrace, God taking us into His arms, our being fused to Christ and His cross.  Nothing is more intimate, more transforming and yet more stable than this.

Know this, hear it over and over;

The Lord is with you!  

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

Escriva, Josemaria. The Forge (Kindle Locations 237-242). Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition.

 

How Closely Should We Cling to God? You Will Not Believe What Scripture says!

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The Good Shepherd, carrying His own.

Devotional Thought for our days:
11 Just as shorts fit tightly round the waist, so I intended all the people of Israel and Judah to hold tightly to me. I did this so that they would be my people and would bring praise and honour to my name, but they would not obey me.”  Jeremiah 13:11  TEV

Loneliness is indubitably one of the basic roots from which man’s encounter with God grew up. Where man experiences his solitariness, he experiences at the same time how much his whole existence is a cry for the thou and how ill-adapted he is to be only an I in himself. This loneliness can become apparent to man on various levels. To start with it can be comforted by the discovery of a human thou. But then there is the paradox that, as Claudel says, every thou found by man finally turns out to be an unfulfilled and unfulfillable promise; that every thou is at bottom another disappointment and that there comes a point when no encounter can surmount the final loneliness: the very process of finding and of having found thus becomes a pointer back to the loneliness, a call to the absolute thou that really descends into the depths of one’s own I. But even here it remains true that it is not only the need born of loneliness, the experience that no sense of community fills up all our longing, which leads to the experience of God; it can just as well proceed from the joy of security. The very fulfillment of love, of finding one another, can cause man to experience the gift of what he could neither call up nor create and make him recognize that in it he receives more than either of the two could contribute. The brightness and joy of finding one another can point to the proximity of absolute joy and of the simple fact of being found which stands behind every human encounter.

“I weep when the Enneagram or the Myers-Briggs analysis replaces the almost erotic intimacy with Christ described by John the Cross in his “Dark night of the soul,” or the stunning challenge to discipleship and companionship presented in some of the great Ignatian meditations on the mystery of Christ. The psychological tools are fun and even helpful, but they create a fascination with oneself and in the end, leave us alone with that fascination. I grow very sad when the paradoxical wisdom of our heroines and heroes is replaced by the strategies and stages of the psychological paradigm. A language that was once very large and awesomely beautiful has been transformed into a language that is very self-centered and very small.)

How closely does God want us to cling to Him? 

According to Jeremiah – as tightly as shrunken old underwear clings!  (Gulp!  How is that for a picture! No object lessons about this in a sermon – please!)

Gosh, that is close, very close!

That is what he always intended, a relationship that is that intimate, that close. That deep, that powerfully intimate and life changing. Nothing is going to get closer!

That is why Webber’s quote in green needs to be understood.  There are a lot of great tools for helping people, but ultimately, it comes down to knowing Jesus.  That is what sustained saints recognized and unrecognized by the church throughout the ages.  This level of intimacy with God that simply leaves us adoring Him with all that we are.  The level of intimacy we find in the sacraments, the intimacy that does fill the emptiness that no community can quench on its own.

Look at the way people have chased that kind of commitment, that kind of bond.  Of course is our madness with sex and the sensual.  But also the many fraternal organizations ( Kiwanis, Lions, KofC, even the Masons) and each tries to create those kinds of bonds and falls short.  The same thing for religious groups and orders, they come close and show this intimacy we need can exist, but they ultimately can’t replace a relationship with God.

Oddly, the Jesus movement started by promising this kind of intimacy, then as it morphed over the decades, it dropped that aside in favor of behavior modification and political power and influence.  This is why mountaintop experiences like prayer retreats and groups like Cursillo are so effective – they introduce that level of relationship, in a corporate environment.  They force us into it, but often fail to demonstrate that relationship is in our everyday life, and in our home church’s worship.  It’s there, but we have to learn to see it!

Ultimately, we are talking about a relationship sustained as we interact with God.  In the sacraments, in our time of prayer, (remember the ACTS outline – do we take enough time to ADORE Him?  We are talking about a relationship where He is allowed and welcomed into our lives, and we understand we are welcome to share in His glory.  

The more we experience it, the more we realize our need for it and hunger for it.  The more that happens, the more we cling to Him!

Even cling to Him like a pair of old torn shrunken underwear…. 

He is our God, we are His people.  We need Him in our lives, and He wants to be there.  This is how it was meant to be….

So go, spend some time with God… think about His love. 

AMEN!

 

 

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.

Webber, Robert E. The Divine Embrace: Recovering the Passionate Spiritual Life. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2006. Print. Ancient-Future Series.  ( Dr. Webber was quoting Fr. Peter Fink in this passage)

God, Why Did You Allow This?

ST MARY OF PEACEDevotional Thought of the Day:
26  In the same way the Spirit also comes to help us, weak as we are. For we do not know how we ought to pray; the Spirit himself pleads with God for us in groans that words cannot express. 27  And God, who sees into our hearts, knows what the thought of the Spirit is; because the Spirit pleads with God on behalf of his people and in accordance with his will. 28  We know that in all things God works for good with those who love him, those whom he has called according to his purpose. 29  Those whom God had already chosen he also set apart to become like his Son, so that the Son would be the first among many believers. 30  And so those whom God set apart, he called; and those he called, he put right with himself, and he shared his glory with them. Romans 8:26-30 (TEV)

149         I must warn you against a ploy of satan—yes, without a capital, because he deserves no more—who tries to make use of the most ordinary circumstances, to turn us away, slightly or greatly, from the way that leads us to God. If you are struggling, and even more if you are really struggling, you should not be surprised at feeling tired or at having sometimes to “go against the grain”, without any spiritual or human consolation. See what someone wrote to me some time ago, and which I kept for those who naively consider that grace does away with nature: “Father, for a few days now I have been feeling tremendously lazy and lacking in enthusiasm for fulfilling the plan of life. I have to force myself to do everything, and I have very little taste for it. Pray for me so that this crisis may soon pass, for it makes me suffer a lot to think it could make me turn from my way.” I answered only: did you not know that Love demands sacrifice? Read the words of the Master slowly: “Whoever does not take up his Cross quotidie—every day—is not worthy of Me.” And further on: “I will not leave you orphans…” Our Lord allows that dryness of yours, which you find so hard, so that you may love Him more, so that you may trust only in Him, so that you may coredeem with the Cross, so that you may meet Him.

Though I am going to direct these thoughts along the way of St> Josemaria’s discussion of dryness, they could be applied to almost any time of struggle. 

Too often I could be the person that St Josemaria was speaking to in the discussion above.  Too many times I have been struggling, and don’t have the “enthusiasm for fulfilling the plan of life”, that is working to do His will, to see this world reconciled to Him.  I recognize the need to force myself to do the things I love.  Part of the struggle is that I feel like I am trying to bail the water out of the Titanic, hundreds of feet under the ocean. Part of it is that for every trauma where people know God’s peace, three more arrive.  The work seems unending and overwhelming, and my emotional and spiritual batteries drain too fast…

Then I come across Romans 8, and wonder how in the world these times of struggle fit into the promise of God.  How can times where my faith wanders, where I feel so weary and dried out, burnt out, and where God seems silent, how can these times actually work for good?

Or is it that I am not one of those to whom this promise was made? (Yes, I’ve thought that even as I try to make sure others know they are…. and I bet I am not the only one!)

That’s why I included more than verse 28 in the quote from Romans.  We know that verse so well, but we fail to see the context is in the midst of a time of weakness, a time of brokenness, a time where even the Holy Spirit groans out in intercession, for the brokenness we endure is great.

But that prayer of the Spirit, that prayer the Holy Spirit interprets and pleads on our behalf with the Father is heard.  The Spirit ensures the connection to God’s heart is there, a connection we need to realize is there.

The context also discusses God putting us to right with Him, indeed, as Josemaria tells us, sometimes these moments are necessary so that we realize the connection is viable, that God is caring. That He is here.

I would never say God causes these struggles, these moments when we don’t know what to even say in our prayers, but I do know how He uses them.  It is just as Josemaria says, that there I can find the depth of His love, the unlimited faithfulness that sustains me.  As well, it from those depths that I find my desire to help people find God as well, that they can find the peace, that they can know He is there.  ( I only pray they don’t have to follow as far in my steps before they realize it.)   That is how amazing this is, that is how I’ve come to know to trust Him, and even though I don’t like the periods of dryness and despair, I have come to appreciate them, and even (grudgingly at first) embrace them.

For I know He is with me, and with us, and that is not just enough, it is incredibly glorious!  AMEN!

 

 

Escriva, Josemaria. Furrow (Kindle Locations 822-833). Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition.

The Question is Not Relationship or Religion. A Plea for Communion with Christ.

Altar with communionDevotional Thought of the Day
21  For God in his wisdom made it impossible for people to know him by means of their own wisdom. Instead, by means of the so-called “foolish” message we preach, God decided to save those who believe. 22  Jews want miracles for proof, and Greeks look for wisdom. 23  As for us, we proclaim the crucified Christ, a message that is offensive to the Jews and nonsense to the Gentiles; 24  but for those whom God has called, both Jews and Gentiles, this message is Christ, who is the power of God and the wisdom of God. 25  For what seems to be God’s foolishness is wiser than human wisdom, and what seems to be God’s weakness is stronger than human strength. 1 Corinthians 1:21-25 (TEV)
The same line of thought can be detected in Newman’s own comment on man’s basic relationship to truth. Men are all too inclined—the great philosopher of religion opines—to wait placidly for proofs of the reality of revelation, to seek them out as if they were in the position of judge, not suppliant. “They have decided to put the Almighty to the proof—with controlled passion, a total freedom from bias, and a clear head.” But the individual who thus makes himself lord of the truth deceives himself, for truth shuns the arrogant and reveals itself only to those who approach it in an attitude of reverence, of respectful humility.[i]

The relationship of spirituality to God’s story has a long history in Christian thought. This relationship has been affirmed, challenged, distorted, lost, and regained in various epochs of history. Today spirituality is separated from God’s story. In his crucial work, Spirituality and Theology, Philip Sheldrake points out that “contemporary spiritual writing is open to the accusation that it amounts to little more than uncritical devotion quite detached from the major themes of Christian faith.”2 In order to understand this separation, I will comment briefly in this chapter on (1) how God’s story was affirmed in the ancient Christian church and (2) how the story was lost through Platonic dualism and in late medieval mysticism. In chapter 3 I will address how ancient spirituality was regained with some moderation by the Reformers and how Christian spirituality was lost again in the modern shifts toward intellectual and experiential spiritualities together. We will look at these points in Western history where the stone skims the water and through this history gain a perspective on the crisis of spirituality in the twentieth and twenty-first centuries (treated in chapters 4 and 5).[ii]

Gandhi has been credited with saying that he loved Christ and His teachings, and if he found a real Christian he would become one. The modern version is those he say they love Christ but hate the religion his followers created. They want a relationship with God, but like too many theologians, they want it on their own terms.  As if man is equal to God as if man gets to judge God, and force God to modify the covenant he created for our benefit.

The religious respond to this, not with understanding, but often with contempt.   Or with the condescension of thinking that we have to logically work to correct their sinful narcissism.

Both Robert Webber and Pope Benedict this morning warn us about this, noting that far too often we have done the same as those we question.  Our theology and philosophy is used to put God into a box, to prove His existence, and to prove our perception of His plan.  The Pope warns of this with the quote, “They have decided to put the Almighty to the proof—with controlled passion, a total freedom from bias, and a clear head.”   As if man could do this!  Webber mentions the same concept as he promises to track the history of the divorce of spirituality (the divine embrace) from God’s story.

We’ve been so eager to know about God, we chased after that without knowing Him.

And those who are critical of us, they pick up on this ironic tragedy.

What they see is either a scholastic approach to religion devoid of the relationship or an experience of God devoid of living with Him as our Lord, our Master.  In both cases we set aside scripture, or have it subtly twisted in our minds, and we get to judge whether it is binding or not, whether it is “clear and logical” or not.

So what is the solution?  How do we ensure our humility, and stop playing as if we have to “prove” God’s logic, while at the same time submitting to its wisdom?

I would suggest it is communion, what Webber calls “spirituality” or the “divine embrace”.  It is what Pope Benedict calls approaching God with an attitude of reverence, of respectful humility.  It is Moses at the burning bush, hearing God and taking his shoes off, or Peter getting out of the boat.  It is David, realizing he was the man in the parable, and grieving over his own sin, it is the man formerly possession by demons, sent home to tell what God did for Him, or the blind man testifying to the religious leaders.

In that moment, when we realize we are in God’s presence and realizing that He is cleansing us, healing us, declaring we are His holy and just people.  When both experience and knowledge are subject to God, and when our pride is overwhelmed by His love. When we stop trying to be observers and judges, and settle for being with our Father, and hearing Him.

This is the moment we need, the awareness of being in His presence, and of His work in our life.  It is found as water is poured over us, as we are given His Body and Blood, and know His peace, for it is found in His promise, that He is with us, and will never abandon us.

We are welcome in His presence, we are welcome to hear Him testify of His love for us, and count on His faithfulness.  AMEN!
[i] 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.

2 Sheldrake, Spirituality and Theology, vii. Sheldrake is one of a few contemporary authors who understand spirituality as an ancient applied theology. I fully recommend this book and Philip Sheldrake, Spirituality and History: Questions of Interpretation and Method, rev. ed. (1991; repr., Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books, 1998).

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

Your Church Doesn’t Need to Be New to Grow.

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The Pantheon, a place once dedicated to worship of idols but reborn to host the worship of God. May our lives tell a similar story as we realize what God does to us in baptism!

Discussion Thought of the Day:
35 Jesus traveled through all the towns and villages, teaching in their synagogues, preaching the Good News about the kingdom, and healing all kinds of diseases and sicknesses. 36 When he saw the crowds, he felt sorry for them because they were hurting and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. 37 Jesus said to his followers, “There are many people to harvest but only a few workers to help harvest them. 38 Pray to the Lord, who owns the harvest, that he will send more workers to gather his harvest.”  Matt 9:35-48  NCV.

Finally, I use these biblical, ancient roots together with insights and practices from Christian history to constitute the foundation for addressing the third issue faced by today’s church: how do you deliver the authentic faith and great wisdom of the past into the new cultural situation of the twenty-first century? The way into the future, I argue, is not an innovative new start for the church; rather, the road to the future runs through the past.
These three matters—roots, connection, and authenticity in a changing world—will help us to maintain continuity with historic Christianity as the church moves forward. I hope what I cull from the past and then translate and adapt into the present will be beneficial to your ministry in the new cultural situation of our time.

858      The first step towards bringing others to the ways of Christ is for them to see you happy and serene, sure in your advance towards God.

In my “different” (some would say twisted) experience in the church, more than once I have come across those who are focused on Church Growth.  Originally, church growth theory came from those who saw abundant numbers of conversions on the mission field, and sought to replicate it now that they were “back home”.  Now church growth is more affected by statisticians and pollsters, men who observe and make judgments based on what they see, trying to replicate what worked in Texas in Missouri, or what worked in Atlanta in San Diego and Boston.

And the cry today is not to grow the church because that doesn’t work!  The idea today is that new starts, new missions, new ideas make the greatest difference, and therefore deserve the greatest talent and the greatest money.

Churches that are forty years old or older and are in decline?  Give up on them, let them die the experts say. We’ve consulted with them, we’ve given them surveys and tests, we’ve tried to transform them, and they continue to dwindle.  Just give up on them, merge them into bigger churches, sell their properties and use it to start new churches. 

There is a greek technical term that describes such advice, taurus skubala!  Translated into English, it is easily seen as bullcrap.  ( I would type bullshit, but some people might be offended!)  

The reason the experts, the consultants fail to transform churches is simple.  They aren’t part of the community. They come in on a wing and a prayer, they don’t understand the dynamic of why God put a congregation in that place, ( see the dedication of the Solomon’s Temple for the reason) they try to create a vision where there already was a vision, where there has always been a vision.

And the community struggles to adopt its new identity. It isn’t them, it isn’t authentic, it’s an act.  And sooner or later they give it up, and give up the hope that was given to it!  They wander around like sheep without a shepherd, simply following what is in front of them, and the shepherds, tired and weary, plod on after them. 

But what if the church went back to what it treasured, and from their roots, used what they treasured in Christ and allowed Him to transform them and the world.  That was Webber’s plea, with his Ancient-Future Church series.  That is what Escriva considered the Opus Dei – the very work of God.  

We can shepherd people toward the God we know, that is our call in a new church plant or in a church that is 1700 years old.   It is the work of the 80-year-old retired pastor caring for the inner city church that can’t afford a full-time guy; it’s the work of the 26-year-old, fresh from seminary.  It is the work of the lay people, who are shepherded by their pastors and priests.  For as we do our job, the people know the happiness and serenity that is found in the presence of God.  There, in His glorious presence, they find all they need, and it is contagious. 

Bring people to Jesus, show them His way, reveal to them His love through word and sacrament.   That is how you apply the Bible to their lives.  That is how you give them hope, bring them healing, teach them to love as they are loved. 

This is what we’ve always done, though somehow we lost that in doing that.  It is the reason for the liturgy, for the praises we sing, for our homilies and sermons, for the sacraments we invite people too, knowing that they can and do experience God as they are washed and absolved and fed.  As they have always been.  Whether they realised it or not, whether we realized it or not.

As we gather tomorrow, may we shepherd the people to Jesus… may they respond as they find healing, peace and joy, and may others come to see Him as well.  AMEN!

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

Escriva, Josemaria. The Forge (Kindle Locations 3040-3041). Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition.

The Powerful Presence of God… some thoughts on the Eucharist, the Lord’s Supper

church at communion 2Devotional Thought of the Day:
15  You are reasonable people. Decide for yourselves if what I am saying is true. 16  When we bless the cup at the Lord’s Table, aren’t we sharing in the blood of Christ? And when we break the bread, aren’t we sharing in the body of Christ? 17  And though we are many, we all eat from one loaf of bread, showing that we are one body.   1 Corinthians 10:15-17 (NLT)

We have quoted all of this here, not to begin an argument on this subject (his Imperial Majesty does not disapprove this article), but to make clear to all our readers that we defend the doctrine received in the whole church—that in the Lord’s Supper the body and blood of Christ are truly and substantially present and are truly offered with those things that are seen, bread and wine. We are talking about the presence of the living Christ, knowing that “death no longer has dominion over him.”7

826      You have to make your life essentially, totally eucharistic.

My father’s 88th Birthday was on Monday, and one picture of my dad continues to come to mind.  It was him, kneeling at the altar rail, wearing his sunglasses (with a  light brown tint )

I knew the reason he wore him, he was afraid of people seeing the tears that would flow as He received the body and blood of His Savior Jesus.  The presence that would lay his broken and wounded heart out, and allow healing to happen.  The tears couldn’t stop while he was there, the was nothing he could do about them.  And there was, in the midst of the tears caused by ripping open the scars, a sense of wonder at the peace.  It overwhelmed him.  There are two pictures of my dad that come to mind when I think of him in his older years, and this is the primary one.

I then think of a phenomenon that occurs when the youngest of children approach the rail in my church.  It started with one girl during an Ash Wednesday Communion service.  She was 2 and a half, and so comfortable at the rail next to her mother that communed that she grabbed hold of it, and wouldn’t let it go.  Her scream pierced the darkened church a moment later, “No I want to stay with Jesus!” she said!  Since then, almost always on their first visit, we’ve seen children do this, again and again, grasping onto the rail, or trying to come back after their parents returned to their seat.  Far too many times for it to be a coincidence, and my elders and deacons know well to simply tell the parents it is okay for them to stay there. They are welcome, and they are at peace.

When I read St. Josemaria’s words this morning, as he advises us to make our lives eucharistic, ( or some Lutherans might use the word Incarnational) it resounded to me.  The words were supported by the observation in the Lutheran Apology of the Augsburg Confession – as Melanchthon reminds us we are communing with the Body and Blood of Christ, the presence of the living resurrected Messiah, Jesus.

We are in His presence, He gives us Himself in this bread, in this wine.  It is something that should leave us in awe at His sacrifice of love, at His desire to be part of our lives, part of us.  That in this meal, at this moment, we find ourselves in the same place as the elders of Israel in Moses day.

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

He did not destroy Him, they were so at peace in the glorious presence of God that they ate and drank ( the NLT adds in “a covenant meal, ” but they were indeed celebrating the Mosaic Covenant – God’s promise to care for them, to make them His people)

I know my dad felt that overwhelmed, even if he had great trouble describing it with words.  Just the thought would bring tears to his eyes, and cause him to struggle to speak.  He would be so overwhelmed he didn’t want to approach it too often, he had to work himself us to go to that place, so overwhelming was the peace and his need for it.  I think kids are more aware of the presence of God than we could credit them for, which is why the altar is a joyous, peaceful place they don’t want to leave.

I could tell you the story of others, whose body language shared how crushed they were by the world, or by the weight of their own sins, only to approach the altar and have all that pressure dissipate, all that weight lifted.

Not because of the pastor/priest, not because of the building, but simply because of the presence of God, Because of the gift, the grace He gives us in this holy sacrament, for He gives us Himself….. and like the elders, we do not die in the presence of God, but He nourishes us, as He reminds us of the covenant, of His promise that we are His.

I pray that you and I could be like the kids, who never want to leave, as we experience His presence, as He heals our broken hearts and souls.  May we yearn for it, not to be considered pious by the world, but to experience the foretaste of heaven, and share in His glory.

May we receive His gift with gladness and joy!  AMEN!

 

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

Escriva, Josemaria. The Forge (Kindle Locations 2935-2936). Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition.

Lord, You Want Me To Preach on What?

Devotional Thought fo the Day:

7 You seduced me,* LORD, and I let myself be seduced; you were too strong for me, and you prevailed. All day long I am an object of laughter; everyone mocks me. 8 Whenever I speak, I must cry out, violence and outrage I proclaim; The word of the LORD has brought me reproach and derision all day long. 9 I say I will not mention him, I will no longer speak in his name. But then it is as if fire is burning in my heart, imprisoned in my bones; I grow weary holding back, I cannot! Jeremiah 20:7-9  NAB-RE

If vocation comes first, if the star shines ahead to start us along the path of God’s love, it is illogical that we should begin to doubt if it chances to disappear from view. It might happen at certain moments in our interior life—and we are nearly always to blame—that the star disappears, just as it did to the wise kings on their journey. We have already realized the divine splendor of our vocation, and we are convinced about its definitive character, but perhaps the dust we stir up as we walk—our miseries—forms an opaque cloud that cuts off the light from above.

In the passage I am preaching on this week, there is what is called a gospel imperative.  In other words, a command of God that only can be realized and heard within the fullness of the gospel.  It has to be heard in a life of prayer, a life which realizes we stand on Holy ground.  

“So let’s not get tired of doing what is good”  Galatians 6:9

The first quote, from scripture above, is one of my ten favorite passages in scripture.  It probably could be described as my life verse, at least it is one I experience a lot.  For working in God’s kingdom is as wearing as building stone walls, or managing a university bookstore in the first weeks of class. It is worse, physically tiring, mentally exhausting and spiritually draining.

If a pastor neglects God, if he is too busy for time in prayer, if he is too busy for devotional time (as well as the business of studying scripture to preach and teach it) he will reach Jeremiah’s position quickly.  We can reach the point that St Josemaria describes, where the dust we stir up in our journey distorts and even eclipses our view of Christ, our understanding of His love for us.

Of course, this isn’t just about pastors, for we are not the only ones who do good.  It is true for every believer, for every perosn who trusts and depends on Christ.  For that is what the faith is, need to cling to Christ (Jeremiah describes it as our being as clingy as underwear!) because He is our source of life, and of serenity and joy.

The answer to burnout, the answer to not seeing Christ is to know Him, to know the fire of the Holy Spirit that burns within us.  TO depend on that rather than what we see and observe.  It is what saints and mystics call the interior life,  This is why St John of the Cross advises staying where we are at, making no dramatic change.  We are to keep praying, to keep receiving the sacraments even when the storms of life blind us, when Satan assails us.  We need to be patient and seek God, remembering that He is our refuge, our fortress, our sanctuary.

It is from this place that we can find His strength, where we find the dynamo that is the Holy Spirit indwelling in us. For dwelling in Christ we can keep on doing good, we can keep on loving the unlovable, we can be patient with those struggling, and guide them into the very presence of God.

For we know where He is… we know where Holy Ground is.  We know where He has put His Name… fo we have met Him at the cross and been united to Him there.

AMEN!

Escriva, Josemaria. Christ is Passing By (Kindle Locations 1146-1151). Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition.

The Prayer, and the Cross.

Devotional Thought of the Day:
29      My God, how is it that I do not cry out in sorrow and love whenever I see a Crucifix?  (2)

They are to correct the mistaken view that prayer is not action. The men are admonished to overcome the false sense of shame that would seek to conceal their interior life—their silent relationship with God—as something unmanly and old-fashioned. Granted, piety is not to become a public exhibition; discretion is always necessary. But neither is it to be hidden away. It should be courageous, for the body, too, belongs to God. Faith is not just a matter of the spirit; prayer is not just interior. The body must pray, too.  (3)

.Yesterday, I thought, and introduced the idea that the Lord’s prayer is not just what he taught us with words, but rather with how Jesus actually lived.  His life was the prayer, a lesson in humility, in being the Son, not the Father.

If we are to be Christlike, if we are to grow and mature in our trust in God, this prayer must be seen worked out in our lives as well.   For it is not enough to just say the words, but rather we need to trust in God hearing them, and answering them, here and now.  That is faith that is not just Spirit, but life.  It is prayer that is not just internal, but the prayer of our life.

So as I encouraged us yesterday, let’s begin to see the Lord’s Prayer lived out again, in the life of the Lord we are called to imitate, to be transformed into the image of.

 Our Father in heaven, may your name be kept holy.  (1)

Here is where it all begins, as Jesus lives as the Son.  Fully obedient, fully adoring, fully bending His will to the will of the Father.  Equal in divinity, the creed informs us, Jesus still submitted in His humanity to the Father.

He didn’t seek emancipation, he didn’t strive to become the alpha male.  He loved the Father, He honored Him, He grew up (as a man) to be like His Father, to the extent that to look on Christ was to look on the Father. The image of the invisible God, that is how He is described.  We know about the love of the Father because we see it in Christ and his movement to the cross.  We know about the Father’s desire that no one should perish, again because of the love of the Son which accomplished the calling of all to repentance.

Something that doesn’t happen unless there is communication. And as Jesus lived in view of the first commandment, He lived in view of the second.  For to use a name, to keep it holy, is to use it well, to pray, praise, give thanks, to pour out your heart.  We see that in the garden so clearly, and in the high priestly prayer.  Prayers we know about, so that we can trust in Jesus, so we can learn to pray as well.

 May your Kingdom come soon. May your will be done on earth, as it is in heaven. (1)

I just referred to this, but it iis one thing to pray that God’s kingdom come and His will be done, and another thing to grow in desire and want it to come here, right now.

To love your enemies, to live life full of mercy and righteousness. To live a life where you live humbly, as Jesus did.  He laid aside it all that was self-centered.  Even facing the betrayal, the kiss of Judas, the denial of Peter, He loved.

Someone once said that Christ would have died on the cross for us, even if they didn’t nail Him there. He wanted the nails though, not because of some masochistic tendency, but because the Father had said they would look upon the one they had pierced.

God’s will, God’s kingdom doesn’t always seem pleasant, or easy, or joyous.  Until you realize the joy is in the one lost sheep coming home, one of the repentant who brings heaven so much joy!

To pray that God’s Kingdom comes, and will is done, requires that we accept the sacrifice of the cross of Christ, that we die to self with Him, and bear our own cross, humbly, and in love of the Father.

We need to pray, not ofor God’s sake, but for ours.  To communicate with Him, to know His love, to see His work, tfor it is in prayer’s dialogue, and in celebrating the sacraments (which is really prayer as well!) that we begin to see the trasnformation God would owrk in us, where faith and work are not longer divided.

It is the beginning of Christlikeness!

So cry out, and pray!

.
(1)  Matthew 6:9-13 (NLT)

(2)  Escriva, Josemaria (2011-01-31). The Forge (Kindle Locations 344-345). Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition.

(3)  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. 98–99). San Francisco: Ignatius Press

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