Blog Archives

The Truth about the Ministry.

IMAG0406

The church, is always in the midst of a storm… but safe in Him

Devotional Thought for our seemingly broken days…

16 “I am not able to,” Joseph answered Pharaoh. “It is God who will give Pharaoh a favorable answer.” 
37 The proposal pleased Pharaoh and all his servants. 38 Then Pharaoh said to his servants, “Can we find anyone like this, a man who has God’s spirit o in him?” Genesis 41:16, 37  HCSB

33. Although the sacred liturgy is above all things the worship of the divine Majesty, it likewise contains much instruction for the faithful34. For in the liturgy God speaks to His people and Christ is still proclaiming His gospel. And the people reply to God both by song and prayer.
Moreover, the prayers addressed to God by the priest who presides over the assembly in the person of Christ are said in the name of the entire holy people and of all present. And the visible signs used by the liturgy to signify invisible divine things have been chosen by Christ or the Church. Thus not only when things are read “which were written for our instruction” (Rom. 15:4), but also when the Church prays or sings or acts, the faith of those taking part is nourished and their minds are raised to God, so that they may offer Him their rational service and more abundantly receive His grace.

It is taught among us that nobody should publicly teach or preach or administer the sacraments in the church without a regular call.

One of the most challenging things to teach on in the church is the concept of the ministry.  Specifically, who can and should preach and administrate/officiate the sacraments.  

Some would open up the doors to anyone to do so, and God can and does choose a group of diverse people to serve Him, that doesn’t mean all can/should preach, or administer the sacraments.  To follow this path leads to chaos, and everyone teaching what is right in their own eyes.  Even worse, when someone is speaking on God’s behalf, and by His order, there is doubt about it.  When we make the ministry about our “rights” to be the pastor, we aren’t listening to God.

Others would follow the opposite extreme, reducing every part of ministry to those who are called and ordained as pastors.  This would include things like evangelism and even to teach Bible studies.  This leaves the church weak, undernourished, and unable to meet the needs of a broken world.  The pastor surely is the primary messenger, when he is speaking God’s word” but that doesn’t make him the only servant of the church!

I wish it would be as simple for us as it was for Pharoah, that every person could see clearly whom God chose to shepherd them. That every shepherd could do their job perfectly, without fault or hesitation. Such a thing would be an incredible blessing.

Pastors and priests are human though, and we do screw up, sometimes royally.   We stand in God’s presence as we lead His people, and there are times we do act as Jesus, speaking for Him, feeding His people, drawing them to Him at the cross.  It is in those times where it is not our perfection that matters but His. We are at our best when we realize as Joseph did, that we aren’t able to, but God can.

You see the ministry is never about the man, it is about the Man whom he stands in for, the Man who works through our voices and our hands.  The ministry is about those who receive God’s word and promises, whom the sacraments, these sacred moments are there to bless.  And when we make it about the man standing there, preaching, standing there, putting Christ’s body into the hands of hungry souls, that we have sinned.  We then have taken our eyes off of the Lord, off of the promises, and orbit outside the relationship in order to critique and judge it.

This is contrary to the gift Jesus gives the church, as a simple gift of men He calls the church to recognize His call upon.  Men who are qualified to serve based on God’s teaching.  Men whom He will speak through, and limit their words to drawing people into God’s glory.  men who see the ministry as simply God and the church, and find great joy in seeing them together.

 Focus there, on people hearing God say, “you are my people” and the people saying “You are our God!”  

Catholic Church. “Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy: Sacrosanctum Concilium.” Vatican II Documents. Vatican City: Libreria Editrice Vaticana, 2011. Print.

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

The Search for Real Worship

Altar with communionDevotional Thought of the Day:
21  “Believe me,” returned Jesus, “the time is coming when worshipping the Father will not be a matter of ‘on this hill-side’ or ‘in Jerusalem’. Nowadays you are worshipping with your eyes shut. We Jews are worshipping with our eyes open, for the salvation of mankind is to come from our race. Yet the time is coming, yes, and has already come, when true worshippers will worship in spirit and in reality. Indeed, the Father looks for men who will worship him like that. God is spirit, and those who worship him can only worship in spirit and in reality.” John 4:21 (Phillips NT)

17. In seminaries and houses of religious, clerics shall be given a liturgical formation in their spiritual life. For this they will need proper direction, so that they may be able to understand the sacred rites and take part in them wholeheartedly; and they will also need personally to celebrate the sacred mysteries, as well as popular devotions which are imbued with the spirit of the liturgy. In addition they must learn how to observe the liturgical laws, so that life in seminaries and houses of religious may be thoroughly influenced by the spirit of the liturgy.
18. Priests, both secular and religious, who are already working in the Lord’s vineyard are to be helped by every suitable means to understand ever more fully what it is that they are doing when they perform sacred rites; they are to be aided to live the liturgical life and to share it with the faithful entrusted to their care

The purpose of observing ceremonies is that men may learn the Scriptures and that those who have been touched by the Word may receive faith and fear and so may also pray.

When I was a child, my parents had a prayer meeting in our house, that lots of people attended.  It was not unusual for a few priests, a brother, a couple of Baptist pastors and an Assembly of God pastor to be present.  It was there I played guitar with Brother Michael, and there I learned to pray.

I also went to parochial school, and there we had masses and other services that were dedicated to God as well.  I would often serve as an altar boy and played the organ as well.  From those perspectives, I saw more of the mass and fell in love with the sacredness of it, even the parts I didn’t quite understand.

Since then, I’ve played and led praise bands, become a non-denomination pastor, then moved into the Lutheran Church where a form of the historic liturgy is our “style” of worship.  And yet the lessons from the prayer meetings and non-denom worship leading play into the planning of worship as well.

As I read Vatican II’s words in green this morning, I saw them trying to unify the two streams of worship I have known.  Starting with the pastoral training in seminaries, there must be part of that training that teaches the pastors and priests to worship God with all their heart, to understand and actively take part in the mysterion of God, to realize the Trinity is not just observing the mass, but participating in it.

Liturgy must be “lived” whether it is the historic liturgy or the common liturgy of prayer meetings and evangelical gathering.  Those facilitating it must get caught up in it themselves, so that while they are aware of the people’s participation, they first are praising God for all He is, in their life.

It’s not about being the best musician, the best singer, the perfect reader of scripture, the perfect liturgist. ( We can add ushers, altar guild members, sound techs, parishioners)  It is about knowing the presence of God in this place, of realizing the blessings He is pouring out, and responding with others, even helping them to do value this time with God.

These words we say, and in the liturgy they are all from scripture, are the words of God, scripture read and sang and breathed.  They are the words of life that kept Peter and the apostles bound to Jesus when everyone else ran away. They are the words, as the Apology of the Augsburg Confession states. that touch us. That the Spirit uses to draw us into Christ, to develop in us a dependence on Him, and in that dependence, to pour out all we are upon Him.

This isn’t something I think we teach people to do in a lecture, or even in a sermon.  It is something that is modeled and formed in them, and in order for that to happen, it must be modeled and formed in those who lead. Whether this is in a full liturgy, or in a back yard worship time that simply happens among friends.

God is with us, may we realize this, and help those who come to our churches, bible studies and prayer meetings realize it, and when they do, cry confidently, “Lord, have mercy on us”

 

Catholic Church. “Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy: Sacrosanctum Concilium.” Vatican II Documents. Vatican City: Libreria Editrice Vaticana, 2011. Print.

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

The Challenge of Being a Good Pastor..


Discussion Thought of the Day:

Woe to the shepherds who destroy and scatter the flock of my pasture—oracle of the LORD. 2 Therefore, thus says the LORD, the God of Israel, against the shepherds who shepherd my people: You have scattered my sheep and driven them away. You have not cared for them, but I will take care to punish your evil deeds.b 3 I myself will gather the remnant of my flock from all the lands to which I have banished them and bring them back to their folds; there they shall be fruitful and multiply.c 4 I will raise up shepherds for them who will shepherd them so that they need no longer fear or be terrified; none shall be missing—oracle of the LORD.  NABRE _ Jeremiah 3:1-4

“If there be no bad shepherds,” says Saint Augustine speaking about the good shepherd, “he would not have described the hireling, who sees the wolf and flees. He seeks his own glory, not Christ’s glory. He does not dare to rebuke sinners with freedom of spirit. The wolf catches a sheep by the neck, the devil induces a man to commit adultery. And you are silent and do not rebuke. Then you are a hireling because you have seen the wolf and have fled. Perhaps you might say: ‘No, I’m here, I haven’t fled.’ I answer: ‘You have fled because you have been silent, and you have been silent because you were afraid.’”

16 The holiness of Christ’s Spouse has always been shown—as it can be seen today—by the abundance of good shepherds. But our Christian faith, which teaches us to be simple, does not bid us be simple-minded. There are hirelings who keep silent, and there are hirelings who speak with words which are not those of Christ. That is why, if the Lord allows us to be left in the dark even in little things, if we feel that our faith is not firm, we should go to the good shepherd. He enters by the door as of right. He gives his life for others and wants to be in word and behavior a soul in love. He may be a sinner too, but he trusts always in Christ’s forgiveness and mercy. If your conscience tells you that you have committed a fault—even though it does not appear to be serious or if you are in doubt—go to the sacrament of Penance. Go to the priest who looks after you, who knows how to demand of you a steady faith, refinement of soul, and true Christian fortitude. The Church allows the greatest freedom for confessing to any priest, provided he has the proper faculties; but a conscientious Christian will go—with complete freedom—to the priest he knows is a good shepherd, who can help him to look up again and see once more, on high, the Lord’s star.  (1)

It seems a lot of my devotional reading has been about the interior life and caused me to focus on my internal life.  My readings this morning are also calling for some self-examination, and the prayers for forgiveness and strength, and prayers for those who like me, shepherd the people of God.

I admit, I wonder how to live up to the words of Jeremiah, whether the people I minister to have been able to overcome the fears or anxieties.  I fear the sheep that are being driven away from the church – not just my congregation, and not even the body of congregations mine is part of, the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod.   We spend to much time focusing on division, or drawing lines in the sand, and not enough time in humble prayer.  We spend too much time plotting and setting visions, and not enough in selfless service, in building the relationships where people trust us. They need to trust us enough that we can direct them to depend on God, that they drop the barriers and allow God to refine their souls, and that they can run to God’s presence, where the find that He is their rock, their fortress, their sanctuary.

Like every pastor and priest I know, we start out wanting people to have the freedom, the confidence in God that they come to us, so that we can point them to Christ. So often the burdens of ministry stop us from ministering to them.  This is our call, the reason we are given the responsibility of preaching the gospel, of teaching people to trust in Christ, and the reason we are the stewards of the mysteries of God.

For those of us, who take the time and begin to examine our ministry, and the life devoted to Christ from which our originates, I would point out some simple words in the middle of St Josemaria’s words.  He gives his life for others and wants to be in word and behavior a soul in love. He may be a sinner too, but he trusts always in Christ’s forgiveness and mercy.”  Yes, this is us, we want to be a soul in love.  and we gave our lives for others.  Yet even as we do, St. Josemaria notes we may be sinners (may be is quite generous) who trusts in Christ’s forgiveness and mercy.

We can shepherd because we know His mercy, we must depend upon it.  The gospel we preach, we preach because it means something personally to us.  We can guide people to Him, because we’ve been in the valley and overwhelmed by darkness, and yet have seen Him lifted up so that He might draw us to Him.

This is the walk of the shepherd, one who has been shepherded.  Pray for us, pray for your priest and your pastor,  Ensure they have time to know God’s peace, that they know His love. Encourage them in ways they know theya ren’t just employees, not just servants, but those who care for your soul.  AMEN.

 

(1)  Escriva, Josemaria. Christ is Passing By (Kindle Locations 1163-1178). Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition.

The Ministry is Not About the Clergy!!!

Devotional Thought of the Day:
11  Now these are the gifts Christ gave to the church: the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, and the pastors and teachers. 12  Their responsibility is to equip God’s people to do his work and build up the church, the body of Christ. 13  This will continue until we all come to such unity in our faith and knowledge of God’s Son that we will be mature in the Lord, measuring up to the full and complete standard of Christ.
Ephesians 4:11-13 (NLT)

5  I left you on the island of Crete so you could complete our work there and appoint elders in each town as I instructed you. 6  An elder must live a blameless life. He must be faithful to his wife, and his children must be believers who don’t have a reputation for being wild or rebellious. 7  For an elder must live a blameless life. He must not be arrogant or quick-tempered; he must not be a heavy drinker, violent, or dishonest with money. 8  Rather, he must enjoy having guests in his home, and he must love what is good. He must live wisely and be just. He must live a devout and disciplined life. 9  He must have a strong belief in the trustworthy message he was taught; then he will be able to encourage others with wholesome teaching and show those who oppose it where they are wrong.
Titus 1:5-9 (NLT)

11 If ordination is interpreted in relation to the ministry of the Word, we have no obligation to calling ordination a sacrament. The ministry of the Word has God’s command and glorious promises: “The Gospel is the power of God for salvation to every one who has faith” (Rom. 1:16), again, “My word that goes forth from my mouth shall not return to me empty, but it shall accomplish that which I purpose, and prosper in the thing for which I sent it” (Isa. 55:11).
12 If ordination is interpreted this way, we shall not object either to calling the laying on of hands a sacrament. The church has the command to appoint ministers; to this we must subscribe wholeheartedly, for we know that God approves this ministry and is present in it.  (1)

. Since only general laws can be made where there exists a wide variety of nations and regions, a special “program of priestly training” is to be undertaken by each country or rite. It must be set up by the episcopal conferences, revised from time to time and approved by the Apostolic See. In this way will the universal laws be adapted to the particular circumstances of the times and localities so that the priestly training will always be in tune with the pastoral needs of those regions in which the ministry is to be exercised.  (2)

This summer, there will be a lot of talk in my denomination about the ministry, and in specific the ministry of the diaconate, (Ministry in Greek is diakonos) .  Our problem is somewhat in semantics and somewhat an issue of ignorance. Ultimately, it is a misunderstanding of the ministry, and what it means to be divinely called to serve the church.

Without a doubt, those who serve the Church are a gift to the church.  Yes ,there is a divine call to not just pastors and priests, but to deacons and I believe any who teach in the church. The need to be trained and examined, and prayed over and for as they take up their roles, their vocations.

But the ministry isn’t about them.  The ministry is about serving the needs of those they are called to serve.  The people God would call to be His people, His children.

You see that clearly in the Ephesians passage, as we are called to minister, and even a point to which the job is complete.  (GULP)  But we see it as well, as the Titus passage describes our roles, again using the idea of building up, encouraging, being a Paraclete.

We see this in the idea early Lutherans (the quote in blue from the Apology of the Augsburg Confessions) as ordination is considered a sacrament if the ordination is setting them apart for this ministry of teaching God’s word.  (The first president of my Lutheran denomination included in this group all those the pastor delegated such work to as well!) This is why there was a time where ordained clergy not in dedicated full-time parish ministry was not considered “in the ministry”.  It’s about the care of souls, about urging them to cross, where they will find mercy and love and peace.

We see as well in the Catholic Church’s cry (the quote in Vatican II) to make seminary training about being in tune with meeting the spiritual needs of the people in the area they are to serve.  They clearly understand that what is important is what we do, and our personal identity is to be lost, so that we speak as stewards of the mysteries of Christ.  if our training is merely academic, merely the recitation and repetition of the experts who have gone before, and not tailored to give people what they need to know about Jesus, then the seminaries and universities have failed in their mission.  (as have pastors who train up Deacons and Sunday School Teachers, and all who have part of our ministry.)  What is true fo the clergy is as true for all those who will serve in the church?

It’s about the people being drawn into the presence of God. Our identity as ministers is that of the servant making sure his Master’s guests arrive.   The focus then has to be on the guests, their needs, being met by the church, being served by those who have been called and examined and placed there, because God wants them to be.

This is their ministry, God’s gift to them.

AMEN.

 

 

 
Tappert, T. G. (Ed.). (1959). The Book of Concord the confessions of the Evangelical Lutheran Church. (p. 212). Philadelphia: Mühlenberg Press.Catholic Church. (2011). Decree on Priestly Training: Optatum Totius. In Vatican II Documents. Vatican City: Libreria Editrice Vaticana.

Catholic Church. (2011). Decree on Priestly Training: Optatum Totius. In Vatican II Documents. Vatican City: Libreria Editrice Vaticana.

Ministry, Chalices and the People of God

Devotional Thought of the DayFeatured image
33  I, too, try to please everyone in everything I do. I don’t just do what is best for me; I do what is best for others so that many may be saved. 1  And you should imitate me, just as I imitate Christ. 1 Corinthians 10:33-11:1 (NLT)

15 Even if we grant the freedom to use one kind or both, how can they make the withholding of one kind mandatory? But the church cannot arrogate to itself the freedom to call Christ’s ordinances matters of indifference.  (1)

On Saturday, I wrote a blog that stirred up a bit of controversy among some Lutherans. The proposition was simply, we share our hope in Christ Jesus because we are transformed to love others, as we live in Christ.  I started with the opposite corollary; to not share the good news which gives us the ability to trust in God for our life, for our salvation, is nothing less than a violation of God’s plan for us not to murder, and the plan that we should love people.

Such was on my mind this morning as I went through my devotional reading. I came to the section of the Apology of the Augsburg Confession where the discussion was about the Lord’s Supper, and that people should be able to receive the Body and Blood of Christ.   This was a bone of contention back in the early days of the Reformation, and some in the Catholic Church mandated that the chalice, the blood of Christ was only for the ordained clergy.  It was a bad enough that some forbid lay people the right to do so.

Not for a good reason, (say perhaps they didn’t have enough wine), or so the Lutheran writers tell us. The confessions make the case that this was because of a religious caste system.  That somehow those who were ordained or pledged to a religious life were different, and the chalice was restricted to them.

BTW – this blog is not to question that practice (the Catholic Church has since clarified it), but a practice that is becoming popular in some parts of the Lutheran Church today.

Instead of denying the people of God the chalice, they deny the people of God the ministry entrusted to the church, the ministry of reconciliation. The ministry that Paul defined simply as pleading with people to “be reconciled to God.”   For some reason, some clergy and some lay people would deny this grace, the ability to see God work through them, to lay people.

It’s not their responsibility, some claimed.  Or you can’t make us do it!  If we read your words and feel guilty, well then you are using the law to make us do it by guilt, another claimed. Ultimately the justification was that the ministry of evangelization belongs only to the clergy.  So you can’t tell us that we have to do it, after all, the clergy doesn’t do it

And people who are broken, who desperately need to know the love of God, are denied it.

Ultimately it comes down to

1)  We don’t see the grace of God, His mercy, peace and love to be so overwhelming, to be so healing that we realize that everyone needs it.

or

2)  We don’t love them enough to respond to their brokenness.

In both instances, the issue isn’t clergy versus laity.  It is simply sin.

We conveniently justify ourselves by laying the burden on pastors and priests, on religious workers and those who are “special”.  It would be like seeing a woman bleeding on the side of the road, and saying, “I can’t help, but there are doctor’s and nurses, paramedics and others trained for this.” as you walk away without even dialing 911.

If this post is causing some stress, some tension in you, if you are getting angry at it, or coming up with ways to justify inaction, ways to define this as something other than a sin of failing to do what one should, I ask you to consider where that feeling is coming from.

Is it a reaction to theology that you don’t like, or

Is it the old Adam rising up again, trying to justify not doing what you know you should?

The idea of denying the ministry to all is wrong.  Yes, there are ministries, preaching and administering the sacraments, which are the responsibility of those ordained to do that work.  But Paul wasn’t writing to them when he wrote about imitating him as he imitated Jesus.  He was talking to the entire church.  And the context is clear – that some might be won to Christ, freed from sin. That is evangelistic, that is the ministry of reconciliation, that is the work God has prepared for those in Christ.

Look around you, see those broken by sin, oppressed by guilt and shame, traumatized and in need of someone to love them enough to reach out to them, and give them hope.

You are there, for this moment… reach out with the love of Christ.  And find God’s grace and worksmanship bringing about what God has planned.. and find yourself more in awe of God’s grace!

Tappert, T. G. (Ed.). (1959). The Book of Concord the confessions of the Evangelical Lutheran Church. (p. 238). Philadelphia: Mühlenberg Press.

Why We (pastors and priests) Do What We Do… and Your Role as well

Featured imageDevotional Thought of the Day:
27  God’s plan is to make known his secret to his people, this rich and glorious secret which he has for all peoples. And the secret is that Christ is in you, which means that you will share in the glory of God. 28  So we preach Christ to everyone. With all possible wisdom we warn and teach them in order to bring each one into God’s presence as a mature individual in union with Christ. 29  To get this done I toil and struggle, using the mighty strength which Christ supplies and which is at work in me. Colossians 1:27-29 (TEV)

Ultimately that is what the priesthood is all about: to have seen Jesus oneself, to have received with love him whom we have seen, to live in that seeing, and then to show him to others. (1)

3 After all, the chief purpose of all ceremonies is to teach the people what they need to know about Christ.  (2)

One of the greatest challenges for a pastor or a priest in this day is to minister to those who think they are already “saved.”.This includes ourselves and our peers.  The challenge is complicated by the fact that we often forget what our calling is, losing it in the various functions of our ministry.

We are expected to be jacks of all trades, able to do plumbing, accounting, music, leading a non-profit, knowledge about employment law, property law, tax law, teach, and keeping the balance between being a solid administrator and a competent theologian.  It is this latter role, that of a theologian, which can consume us even more than the rest.  In letting it consume us, it can lead us away from the ministry, the ministering to which we have been called, and set apart.

It’s odd for a Lutheran pastor to quote a pope or a Catholic, I probably do it more than most.  The above quote in blue is from a pope, but not as some might expect Francis.  It is from Benedict, whose writings are as pastoral as Francis’s words. He sees his role, and that of priests (and I would hope pastors ) as simply and clearly as St. Paul did to the church in Colossae.  It is also, according to Lutheran confessions, the reason we are gathered together with the people of God.  This is seen in the quote in green, our purpose, our reason for existence as the church, is to give people what they need to know about Jesus.

It is that simple, everything we do as pastors, priests, ministers of all kinds in all places, boils down to that.  Introduce people to the love of Christ.  Help them as Paul says, explore (and be in awe of) the immense dimensions of God’s love for you, for me, for us, that is revealed in Jesus.  From the planning of our salvation before the world began, to its creation, to His incarnation, life, teaching, miracle working, suffering, crucifixion, death, burial, resurrection, ascension and even His on-going advocacy for us at the Father’s side; He does this that we would know Him!

Our people need to know this, their friends and neighbors need to hear it.  Even our enemies and adversaries (and people who are simply a pain in the… neck) need to know Jesus.

Pope Benedict, a pastor at heart, in the same message, wrote why:

But when a person has once met Christ, when a person has once seen Jesus and really learned to know him, then everything is changed. Then everything else is comprehensible and life is renewed. And you priests have really only one task: to present Jesus to all people in such a way that they see him and learn to love him. Then everything that faith teaches will be self-evident. (1)

There it , it is why we do what we do… why we struggle to do it, trying to keep our eyes on Christ, working hard to see people know His love.

By the way, you are welcome to help as well, and as you get to know His love, you will find a innate desire to do so, for that is how much His love will mean to you.

(1)  Ratzinger, J. (1992). Co-Workers of the Truth: Meditations for Every Day of the Year. (M. F. McCarthy & L. Krauth, Trans., I. Grassl, Ed.) (p. 191). San Francisco: Ignatius Press.  (devotions for June 13th)

(2)  Augsburg Confession, Art XXIV

Are You Brave Enough, to Receive This Blessing?

Featured imageDevotional Thought of the Day:
23  Search me, O God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. 24  Point out anything in me that offends you, and lead me along the path of everlasting life. Psalm 139:23-24 (NLT)

27  So anyone who eats this bread or drinks this cup of the Lord unworthily is guilty of sinning against the body and blood of the Lord. 28  That is why you should examine yourself before eating the bread and drinking the cup. 29  For if you eat the bread or drink the cup without honoring the body of Christ, you are eating and drinking God’s judgment upon yourself. 30  That is why many of you are weak and sick and some have even died. 1 Corinthians 11:27-30 (NLT)

240    Ask for light. Insist on it … until the root is laid bare and you can get at it with your battle-axe: the particular examination.

I know a lot of men who can make a valid claim to bravery.  Some are those who faced the enemies of our nation, like my father.  Others work the inner city streets and the jails.  Some armed as police and sheriff, others who go into those same streets with a Bible, and the sacraments that will help bring healing.  I know others who are brave in a different way, as they face challenges of health such as cancer or Alzheimer’s or the death of a loved one.

But even in the midst of courage, there are few people who are willing to take another step that requires great courage, even though what is promised is a blessing, not some danger.  Though to do so will result in a change in our lives as great as those who battle external or internal enemies.

The courage to examine one’s conscience, to let God look inside us, diagnose our sin, and go about cleansing us, healing us.

It takes courage to bare our souls to God, yet it is something we need to do and do often. We overlook it, perhaps out of fear that quenches our courage.  A fear that God might break His promise, and not lead us into everlasting life.  Perhaps even a greater fear, that God will take a part of our lives, and remove it, change it, remind us that it isn’t good for us.  Parts of our lives that cause great shame, that we think cause pleasure, and may for our instant.  Or parts that make us feel superior to others, or give us power and control.

Our fear of confession, of the self-examination that scripture encourages, may also come because of a fear of intimacy. Many of us, not only men, are afraid of that word.  We are truly afraid of it when God is the one driving the intimacy, who wants to know every nook and cranny of our lives.  He wants to, not to break us, but to heal our brokenness.  That means letting Him plunge into the deep dark places in us.  We need to let Him see the parts of us that we don’t want to admit exists, the narcissistic, dark places of our hearts and minds.

It takes more than faith, it takes courage. It also takes encouragement, which is why I think the blessing of confession and absolution is so needed.  It is why Luther prayed that private confession would never fall into disuse.  It is why I rejoice when I hear of churches that have lines, waiting for people to receive the blessing that comes from self-examination and letting God show you where He is working in your life.

For God is working there.  He isn’t restricted to the good and joyous parts of your life. He isn’t just helping you know what you should do, or where you should go.  He’s not just giving you the gifts you need to serve His people, or guiding theologians in their pondering of things mystical and mysterious.  He is not just declaring you righteous and holy, He is at work, crafting a masterpiece, getting rid of that which mars and ruins the depth of the masterpiece.

He is healing you, where you need to be healed.

Just like He is doing in my life.

If you have the courage, go to you pastor, your priest.  Ask them for guidance in this, ask them to hear your confession, to tell you God is forgiving you.  That is what they are there for; it is something that is a great blessing to them as well.

You weren’t meant to do this alone… God is there…for you.  And he’s put men there to be for you as well.

To help you see the height, depth, width and breadth of His love, revealed in Christ Jesus.

So come, take courage, and let God work in you!

Escriva, Josemaria (2010-11-02). The Way (Kindle Locations 648-649). Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition.

Why Preaching Is/Should Be Different

Devotional Thought of the Day:Featured image

23  The LORD says, The wise should not boast of their wisdom, nor the strong of their strength, nor the rich of their wealth. 24  If any want to boast, they should boast that they know and understand me, because my love is constant, and I do what is just and right. These are the things that please me. I, the LORD, have spoken. Jeremiah 9:23-24 (TEV)

Christian preaching does not proclaim “words”, but the Word, and the proclamation coincides with the very Person of Christ, ontologically open to the relationship with the Father and obedient to his will. Thus, an authentic service to the Word requires of the priest that he strive for deeper self-denial, to the point that he can say, with the Apostle, “it is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me”. The priest cannot consider himself “master” of the Word, but its servant. He is not the Word but, as John the Baptist, whose birth we are celebrating precisely today, proclaimed, he is the “voice” of the Word: “the voice of one crying in the wilderness: Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight” (Mk 1:3).

For the priest, then, being the “voice” of the Word is not merely a functional aspect. On the contrary, it implies a substantial “losing of himself” in Christ, participating with his whole being in the mystery of Christ’s death and Resurrection: his understanding, his freedom, his will and the offering of his body as a living sacrifice (cf. Rm 12:1–2). Only participation in Christ’s sacrifice, in his kenosis, makes preaching authentic!  (1)

As I was doing research about the passage I am preaching from in Mark’s gospel on Sunday, I came across the above quotes.   I suppose it is odd for a Lutheran pastor to be quoting a Roman Catholic pope, but I will acknowledge the truth in his words about pastoral authenticity.

One of my mentors once told me that preaching is different than public speaking, That a pastor/priest who is a skilled at crafting a sermon may be a horrible public speaker.  And just because someone is a skilled public speaker, doesn’t mean that he will have the same effectiveness in a sanctuary that he does speaking at a conference or convention.

This is why, a speaker’s effectiveness depends on his strengths.  His practiced skill, his personal charisma, his training to control his audience.  It is a craft that can be sharpened and honed like a find knife blade.  While a pastor also needs to develop, our strength is found not in our skill and perfection, but from our brokenness, our despair, our desperate need for hope.

It’s not about how much Hebrew or Greek we know, or how much of the Bible we have memorized.  It’s about knowing God, and being so in awe of Him that we cannot help sharing that awe. We lose our “self” in His glory, in the healing that He brings into our lives, in the answer to our prayer to rip open heaven and come show us the mercy we need.

We find our lives and our message in our baptism, that incredible sacrament, where we first die with Christ, that we might live with Him.  We need to recall this repeatedly, daily, seeing that baptismal promise of God renewed, strengthening us.  We know and understand this first and foremost, this life He has given us, this journey we make with Him.

That is what causes the fire in our preaching, it is what must empower the message we share, that we know God does this, because He does it here. in our lives.  It is the blessing we have, that we can say with Paul,

“15 This is a true saying, to be completely accepted and believed: Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners. I am the worst of them, 16 but God was merciful to me in order that Christ Jesus might show his full patience in dealing with me, the worst of sinners, as an example for all those who would later believe in him and receive eternal life. 17 To the eternal King, immortal and invisible, the only God—to him be honor and glory forever and ever! Amen!  1 Timothy 1:15-17 (TEV)

May our need for Jesus’ presence, and His answering that cry be revealed to those who we serve, in order that they will know He will answer their cries as well.  May that authenticity not frighten those who preach, but may they embrace it, that their people would know God’s faithfulness…to them.

AMEN.


(1)  Benedict XVI. (2013). General Audiences of Benedict XVI (English). Vatican City: Libreria Editrice Vaticana.

The Task of Ministering to Others ( For pastors, priests, deacons, elders, and all who serve in the church)

Devotional Thought of the Day:The church, is always in the midst of a storm... but safe in Him

1  I, who am an elder myself, appeal to the church elders among you. I am a witness of Christ’s sufferings, and I will share in the glory that will be revealed. I appeal to you 2  to be shepherds of the flock that God gave you and to take care of it willingly, as God wants you to, and not unwillingly. Do your work, not for mere pay, but from a real desire to serve. 3  Do not try to rule over those who have been put in your care, but be examples to the flock. 4  And when the Chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the glorious crown which will never lose its brightness. 1 Peter 5:1-4 (TEV)

1  So then, my friends, because of God’s great mercy to us I appeal to you: Offer yourselves as a living sacrifice to God, dedicated to his service and pleasing to him. This is the true worship that you should offer. 2  Do not conform yourselves to the standards of this world, but let God transform you inwardly by a complete change of your mind. Then you will be able to know the will of God—what is good and is pleasing to him and is perfect. Romans 12:1-2 (TEV)

The Good Shepherd does not demand that shepherds lay down their lives for a real flock of sheep. But every spiritual shepherd must endure the loss of his bodily life for the salvation of the flock, since the spiritual good of the flock is more important that the bodily life of the shepherd, when danger threatens the salvation of the flock. This is why the Lord says: The good shepherd lays down his life, that is, his physical life, for his sheep; this he does because of his authority and love. Both, in fact, are required: that they should be ruled by him, and that he should love them. The first without the second is not enough.
Christ stands out for us as the example of this teaching: If Christ laid down his life for us, so we also ought to lay down our lives for our brothers.
From an exposition on John by Saint Thomas Aquinas, pastor   (Cap. 10, lect 3)

I received the quote from Thomas Aquinas from a friend who I have never met, yet we feel towards each other like brothers.  He is an older priest in Sicily, just about to turn 80, who still serves a parish.  With the help of google translate, we communicate as we can.

Maybe he sent this to me because of my sermon yesterday, on the passage from Romans above.  Maybe it was his reading this morning at Mass, or in his private prayer and devotional time.  I don’t know.  But on Monday, it is a good, no a very good reading for all of us who serve parishes, whether we are volunteers or paid, ordained ministers or lay ministers.  As we call our group of pastors, deacons, elders at our parish  – the diakonos, simply meaning the servants.

We are called to live sacrificially, yet, eventually we find it is not so sacrificial.  We give of our time, our talents, and our treasure (or give up the opportunity to obtain these things for our own use) to those whom we serve, those who become our children in the faith.  My friend, Fr. Giuseppe, has spent his life as a celibate priest, and yet the pictures of his parish show him with his children and grandchildren and great grandchildren in the faith.  Those pictures show a love and care for my friend that is incredible.

But still we are called to sacrifice, our all, our lives, our hearts, Paul would even have sacrificed his own soul ( if he could have) , in order that these people know Christ. In order that this is not just book knowledge, but deep intimate knowledge of His love.  The kind of knowledge that in awe leads to worship, that leads to adoration.

It’s a challenge and blessing because in sacrificing these things, we have to also give up our pride, our vanity.  We have to remember that they and we are broken people, needing Christ’s healing.   We have to be slow to anger, quick to forgive.  Quick to apologize and make things right, long-suffering and patient to guide them toward the repentance they so need.   This is the laying down our lives that Aquinas talks about – perhaps not being physically nailed to the cross, but spiritually, and emotionally, and often figuratively, as we work until we are exhausted and more.

It is an impossible task, this being examples to our flocks. Impossible save one thing.  We have a God who answers our cry for mercy, who is our example, who doesn’t lord it over us, but serves us in love.  That is why the task is all gospel, not law, because we encounter and need Christ in every moment, in every sacrifice.

May we follow the examples of those who have served before, who followed the examples of Christ.

Top Down Christianity? I Don’t Think So…

Devotional Thought of the Day:photo(35)
Now if your experience of Christ’s encouragement and love means anything to you, if you have known something of the fellowship of his Spirit, and all that it means in kindness and deep sympathy, do make my best hope for you come true! Live together in harmony, live together in love, as though you had only one mind and one spirit between you. Never act from motives of rivalry or personal vanity, but in humility think more of each other than you do of yourselves. None of you should think only of his own affairs, but should learn to see things from other people’s point of view.  Let Christ himself be your example as to what your attitude should be. For he, who had always been God by nature, did not cling to his prerogatives as God’s equal, but stripped himself of all privilege by consenting to be a slave by nature and being born as mortal man. And, having become man, he humbled himself by living a life of utter obedience, even to the extent of dying, and the death he died was the death of a common criminal. Phillipians 2:1- 6ish ( Phillips New Testament)

“In solitude we can come to the realization that we are not driven together, but brought together.  In solitude we come to know our fellow human beings not just as partners who can satisfy our deepent needs, but as brothers and sisters with whom we are called to give visibility to God’s all-embracing love.  In solitude we discover that community is not in common ideology, but a response to a common call.  In solitude we indeed realize that community is not made, but given.  (1)

I have slowly been working through a document assigned to me, about my role within the church at large.  I have struggled with it, because it finds “hope” for the church, not within the body of Christ itself, but within the leadership of the church. I don’t think so, matter of fact, I know from 15 years of pastoral ministry, and almost that long in management, it doesn’t work that way. It instead.  Deacons, Pastors, Priests, Bishops, are not that which around the church grows, even if we are often a focal point during a worship service.

The identity of the Church, whether in a congregational form, or in the sense of the Church being all believers throughout the world and time (what some theologians call the invisible church) is not based in its leadership.  It is based in Christ, and in His love and mercy. It is found when people are brought together in the love of Christ, and begin experiencing that love from others. It requires patience, as we grow in love, and the side effect of that is growing in knowledge.  Let me make this clear – it is not growing people primarily theologically that is the mission of the church, it is growing people int heir trust of God, in their desire to receive His love, which results in them loving their neighbor.  Theology may help in this endeavor, but it will not, cannot replace that which the church should be.

Let me give two examples.  You can have the proper view of the Lord’s Supper, You can define it as well as Chemnitz, be able to receite Acquinas and Abelard and every theological nuance about it.  But if that is what is going through your mind as you kneel at the altar rail, you have missed something.  The words Luther found so necessary to know, given/shed for you. I’ve seen guys who were gang members, and little children be able to know that, to cry with tears of “for me?  Really”, to tears of purest joy as they partake.  That is the church.

Another example. A little less than a month ago, my wife gave me the news that she was pregnant.  At our age, we were concerned and ask people to pray, and many did.  On Tuesday, we were told that Kay had miscarried, something we suspected…yet prayed wasn’t true.  It’s hard to even type these words.  But the church, the church as the entity of the body of believers are coming through.  Many expressions of their sorrow with us, but even more, the words that sound so  powerfully into my heart.  “praying for you”.

Praying for you.

Only two people tried to come up with some kind of theory that they thought would relieve our pain, or make it less. Those explanations didn’t make it less.  But over 100 people acknowledged the loss, the lack of words, gathered us up and brought our pain before God, knowing no other words would offer us help. That’s not top-down church. That’s not the owrk of just one congregation, for there were Lutherans, Catholics, a Methodist.  Young and old, Clergy and laity,. Ministering to my wife and I, in a way that made sense.  That’s just the church, the people of God, having the mindset of Christ.  They know His love, and know that in times like this, that is what will sustain us. That’s the church.  That is the church who will love those around them, even as Christ does.  That’s the church that will reach out to those that are broken, and minister to them, doing whatever it takes, for the broken come first.

The church, gathered, brought together to be in Christ, is something wonderful to behold.  But it is not something that can be driven, It is something that is generated and kindled by God’s love. Can a leader set the example?  Yes, but he cannot demand those who follow to toe the line, or force Christ-likedness.

Lord Have mercy on us!

(1) Hendri Nouwen, from Clowning in Rome (as cited in Celtic Daily Prayer, Aiden Readings 2/27)

%d bloggers like this: