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The Never-ending Bible Chapter: A Meditation for All-Hallowed’s Evening

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERADevotional Thought of the Day:
1  The fundamental fact of existence is that this trust in God, this faith, is the firm foundation under everything that makes life worth living. It’s our handle on what we can’t see. 2  The act of faith is what distinguished our ancestors, set them above the crowd.
Hebrews 11:1-2 (MSG)

We can explain what faith really means for an individual only by pointing to the lives of those who have lived it in its fullness: Francis of Assisi, Francis Xavier, Ignatius Loyola, Teresa of Avila, Thérèse of Lisieux, Vincent de Paul, John XXIII; in such persons, and basically only in them, can we come to know what kind of decision faith is. As we can see in the lives of such individuals, faith is a kind of passion, or, more correctly, a love that seizes an individual and shows him the direction he must go, however fatiguing it may be—the spiritual equivalent, perhaps, of a mountain to climb, which to the ordinary Christian would seem foolish indeed but to one who has committed himself to the venture is clearly the only direction to take—a direction he would not exchange for any conceivably more comfortable one.

426    In Christ we have every ideal: for he is King, he is Love, he is God.

Hebrews 11, where the quote in red comes from this morning, like the Acts of the Apostles, are chapters without ending.

That is, as Pope Ratzinger does above, the list of people sent by God, the list of those who were seized by the love of God, and shown a way to go, never ends.  They are added to the great cloud of witnesses, the people who are passionate about the passion of the Lord, and seem to overcome things that should exhaust them.

For such people, and yes, that includes you and I, there is only the life God planned for us (Eph. 2:8-10) that is the direction we would take, and the longer we wearily tread these paths, the more assured we are that there is no other path worth taking.

The strength, the confidence isn’t ours, otherwise we would go another way (as we too often try to do!)  It is part of the love that seizes us, the ideal of Christ as we are called to imitate God, to imitate the Christ who has drawn us to himself. And in doing so, He has made us His holy people.

Paul talks of being united to Him, in our baptism, as we die with Him at the cross, and are raised to new life with him.  He talks about the same power that raised Christ Jesus from the dead being at work in us. This is the love(agape/cHesed,charity ) and mercy that is our gift, the grace that saves us, the charity that transforms us.

For us, it is often hard to see this in our lives.  To understand this faith, this trust, this dependence on the love of God, that power which transforms us.  And this is why Hebrews shares with us the faith of a few, and describes the faith of those to come. Their faith, their confidence, even in the midst of their brokenness gives us something to observe, a picture of what is going on in us.

Looking at them, seeing their sin and their transformation, we begin to understand what they counted on, the promises of scripture that they knew were fulfilled in their lives, and is being fulfilled in ours.

So this day, take one person of faith, who trusted in God’s work, in His love taking action, and consider that this is happening in your life as well!

And then cry out, confident in the answer, “LORD have mercy on me, a sinner,”

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.

Escriva, Josemaria. The Way (Kindle Location 1054). Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition.

Reformation Day Is NOT Independence Day

Devotional Thought of the Day:OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

14  I have given them your word. And the world hates them because they do not belong to the world, just as I do not belong to the world. 15  I’m not asking you to take them out of the world, but to keep them safe from the evil one. 16  They do not belong to this world any more than I do. 17  Make them holy by your truth; teach them your word, which is truth. 18  Just as you sent me into the world, I am sending them into the world. 19  And I give myself as a holy sacrifice for them so they can be made holy by your truth. 20  “I am praying not only for these disciples but also for all who will ever believe in me through their message. 21  I pray that they will all be one, just as you and I are one—as you are in me, Father, and I am in you. And may they be in us so that the world will believe you sent me. John 17:14-21 (NLT)

Out of love for the truth and the desire to bring it to light, the following propositions will be discussed at Wittenberg, under the presidency of the Reverend Father Martin Luther, Master of Arts and of Sacred Theology, and Lecturer in Ordinary on the same at that place. Wherefore he requests that those who are unable to be present and debate orally with us, may do so by letter.  (1)

236      A firm resolution: to abandon myself in Jesus Christ with all my wretchedness. Whatever he may want, at any moment, Fiat—let it be done!  (2)  

Four Hundred, ninety-seven years ago, a professor at a University posted the above as the introduction to discuss Ninety-Five thesis about Indulgences.

As far as I have read, his intent wasn’t to start a reformation, yet it is the anniversary of the publishing of this event that history notes as the start of the Protestant Reformation.

To quote one of the characters in a WEB Griffin novel, “i regret that it is was necessary”.

Indeed, I dread the celebration of the events that would follow, as the works of Luther went viral. As that viral nature exploded, as the conversation that he was intent on having didn’t occur. As the church began to splinter apart.

Please understand me, I fully acknowledge that the discussion was necessary, the truths that Luther re-discovered, especially that we cannot merit salvation on our own, that God comes to us in our wretchedness,  Yet this was not Luther’s truth alone, and it needed to be understood, both head and heart.

What causes the regret is the division in the Body of Christ.  The idea that one group can be kicked out, while another group can walk away.  An idea that know has morphed into the idea that I can belong to a church, or denomination, and simply ignore that which it teaches that I don’t agree with completely.

Teachings on the sacraments?  Who cares!  Teaching about what is sin, and what isn’t?  Don’t need to bother with that!  Teaching about the gifts of the Spirit and the role of the church?  Why bother, it doesn’t really affect me today, does it?  Teaching about how to care for sinners, based on the love of Christ seen in His treating us who are sinners?  Not necessary, just condemn them as an abomination.   This is what the church has resulted in, because we choose to divide, rather than to reconcile.

Some treat the Protestant Reformation as if it was a spiritual “Independence Day”.  As if it were a celebration a small portion of the church is now completely independent of the body of Christ.  But the Body of Christ cannot be divided, the Invisible church is always that of one Lord, whom we trust in, One faith in Him, one Baptism where we are united with Christ.  Given the ministry of reconciliation, not of further division, and definitely not of celebrating the division.

Celebrate what Luther discovered in regards to the gospel of Christ – AMEN!  An awesome thing to celebrate.  But not the division that occured then, in fact, maybe it is time to have those discussions, to pursue the truth that is found in Christ Jesus, to work to see the Church reconciled in Him, to abandon our wretchedness and find the glory of being united in Him.

Lord have mercy on us sinners….
(1)  Martin Luther’s Ninety-Five Theses.

(2)  Escriva, Josemaria (2011-01-31). The Forge (Kindle Locations 1004-1005). Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition.

Reformation Day, A Day I Pray Would Become… Obsolete.

Devotional Thought of the Day:

22  “I have given them the glory you gave me, so they may be one as we are one. 23  I am in them and you are in me. May they experience such perfect unity that the world will know that you sent me and that you love them as much as you love me. 24  Father, I want these whom you have given me to be with me where I am. Then they can see all the glory you gave me because you loved me even before the world began!   John 17:22-24 (NLT) 

Most Lutheran churches celebrated a church “holy day” yesterday.  The 496th anniversary of Martin Luther inviting theologians and pastors and people to a dialogue on issues that gravely concerened him. The issue was a very serious one – which affects how we see Christ’ work and the cross.  As you read this, please understand me, this is still the serious issue for me.  It is why I am Lutheran and not Roman Catholic Christian.

But the unintended side affects of that action has resulted in a splintering of the church, as we have taken serious issues, and far less issues and made them “the” points of division.  40,000 divisions, and whether they are over issues like Christ’s work on the cross, or whether we baptize with a little water or much, or what instruments we use, or what we call the guy who preaches and teaches the congregation about Jesus, or about whether something is sin. Those divisions are to be grieved, not celebrated..  Seriously grieved over.

Simply because the division breeds contempt, and often attempts at reconciliaiton – true reconciliation are avoided, ignored, and even mocked. We celebrate these days, and rejoice that God “purified” His gospel, without considering that millions won’t hear it, For if we believe the difference is that important, why don’t we engage is discussion, that the position may be evaluated, tested against scripture, that it might be heard? 

There are times where it would seem like reconciliation is impossible, like when Luther had a death warrant on him.  But that doesn’t mean we stop praying for the church to find that reconciliation, even praying those from whom we are divided. It doesn’t mean we stop engaging in discussion when we can.  It means we trust in God, even risking all, to depend on His working these things out, in His performing miracles.

You see, any sense of unity that would happen, would happen not in board rooms, but at the foot of the cross.  It won’t happen through negotiation, but through absolution.  It happens as we are broken together before God, and we praise Him together for saving us, redeeming us, reconciling us to Him.   Where we celebrate Christ uniting us to Himself in Baptism, and we find we are together there.   That is when I believe that we will begin to find unity that demonstrates the love of the Father for the Son, for the Trinity for us.  That unity is found in no other name, no other label, in unity or disunity with no one else.  For only Jesus can deal with our sins, those very things that divide us from God, those things that divide us from each other.  We can’t deal with sin, any sin, especially the sin of division, unless it is there, in Christ.

Wittenberg All Saints' Church. The "These...

Wittenberg All Saints’ Church. The “Theses Doors”. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I doubt I would ever sit down with my own Synodical President, never mind Pope Francis  (who I greatly admire, perhaps more than any church leader in my life so far) That doesn’t stop me from praying for them, praying to see what the theologians call the “invisible Church” be more clearly manifested in the “visible Church”.  That Christ would be known by the world.

Yeah- I Pray that Reformation Day would become obsolete, preferably by its 500th anniversay…..and I struggle to celebrate it.  Because the next day… matters even more.  The Day we celebrate All Saints, as we have testified along with countless others, that God has one, holy, universal (i.e. small c catholic) and apostolic church.  A church that rejoices together in God making us His people, and it being revealed to us He is our God.

We Need A Mighty Fotress!

An early printing of Luther's hymn A Mighty Fo...

An early printing of Luther’s hymn A Mighty Fortress Is Our God (Ein feste Burg ist unser Gott) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

We Need a Mighty Fortress!

Romans 3:19-28

 

† In Jesus Name †

 May we find ourselves secure and safe in the Fortress of Christ, and as we find ourselves there may our worship takes on a new dimension as we rejoice in His presence and provision!

How powerful is this passage?

In order that we don’t take this day, and this incredible passage from the Book of Romans for granted, I would share with you a story.

There was once a pastor, raised in a great Christian home, sent to one of the finest universities, in the world. Thirty-five years old, quickly becoming a leader in the church.  Yet, one night, everything would change.  Change so much, that he would talk about it using the word, “conversion”.  Here are his words…

“In the evening I went very unwillingly to a society in Aldersgate Street, where one was reading Luther’s preface to the Epistle to the Romans. About a quarter before nine, while he was describing the change which God works in the heart through faith in Christ, I felt my heart strangely warmed. I felt I did trust in Christ, Christ alone for my salvation: and an assurance was given me, that he had taken away my sins, even mine, and saved me from the law of sin and death.”   http://www.biblicalstudies.org.uk/pdf/bets/vol07/7-3_cox.pdf

The passage that was being read from Luther’s commentary was about this passage – especially verse 28, the very verses that so changed Luther, who was also a minister of the gospel when he heard them, that Luther was willing to die rather than forget them.  SO what is so powerful, that men like Martin Luther and John Wesley would use terms like “conversion” and “salvation” when they finally realized what they meant?

Why are these words,  So we are made right with God through faith and not by obeying the law.,” so powerful, so life changing?

I pray, oh I pray, that as we look at these verses, our lives would change as much as Luther’s, as Wesley’s, as King David’s, who wrote the following words when he got this truth,

 I love you, LORD; you are my strength. 2  The LORD is my rock, my fortress, and my savior; my God is my rock, in whom I find protection. He is my shield, the power that saves me, and my place of safety. Psalm 18:1-2 (NLT) 

Why do we need a fortress?

When we sing “A Mighty Fortress”, do you ever think about what you are singing?  It is what can be called a Creedal Hymn – a hymn testifying, confessing the very core of our belief, our creed.

Reducing all the verses down, it is a simple statement.  We believe we need God, that we desperately need His interaction in our lives.  That we need Him to deliver us, and to be our sanctuary, our fortress, that we need Him to be rock solid for us…

It is as much a confession of our need for Jesus’s work as when we confess our sins at the beginning of our service.

We need Him.

We need a fortress. A rock, a place where we can catch our breath, where we can find comfort, where we can know peace.

Not just because of our sin, but because of the unrighteousness we have to deal with each and every day.  Because of the stress the injustice, the unrighteousness of the world deals us daily.  We have to have that place where we can pour out all our anxiety, all our pain, all the crap that affects our lives.

Not just because of our sin, and the unrighteousness and injustice of life, but because of the threat and reality of death.  For that is where the Law seems to get its strength, for death would make the law a victor.  For in death there is no excuses, and based on the law alone, there is no way we can be right with God.  We can’t, we don’t make the standard.  Our thoughts, words, and deeds, well if we look at them honestly, would we want everyone to know them?  Could we stand a record of all that we’ve thought and said (including under our breath) and done be given out this morning?

Yet God knows them all,

And He volunteered to be our fortress, our place of rest.

How do we gain entrance?

As it seems all of our enemies, sin, anxiety, injustice, and the threat of death’s closing the book on us surround us, we have to find a safe place, a secure place, a place where we can recover and heal from our own brokenness. Where we can experience the revelation of what Wesley and Luther and King David and so many have known.  But how do we get to that place?

We don’t.

We find ourselves there.  The lights come on, and we are in God’s presence.  Verse 21,

But now God has shown us a way to be made right with him without keeping the requirements of the law, as was promised in the writings of Moses and the prophets long ago.

That phase, “shown us a way” is literally translated, “He enlightened us”.  This is what Luther wrote in the explanation of the creed, where it says, “But the Holy Spirit called me by the Gospel, enlightened me with His gifts, made me holy and kept me in the true faith, just as He calls, gathers together, enlightens and makes holy the whole Church on earth and keeps it with Jesus in the one, true faith.” Luther’s Small Catechism: Developed and Explained.

God shines the light on what Jesus has done, with kindness we do not deserve, as He died on the cross.  Hear these words again,

“24 Yet God, with undeserved kindness, declares that we are righteous. He did this through Christ Jesus when he freed us from the penalty for our sins. 25 For God presented Jesus as the sacrifice for sin. People are made right with God when they believe that Jesus sacrificed his life, shedding his blood.”

And now hear them, as Luther and Wesley did….

24 Yet God, with undeserved kindness, declares that I am righteous. He did this through Christ Jesus when he freed me from the penalty for my sins. 25 For God presented Jesus as the sacrifice for my sin. I am made right with God when I trust that Jesus sacrificed his life, shedding his blood for me.

This is what it is all about. This is what caused such a dramatic change in Wesley, and in Luther.  It’s why we find ourselves, as if we’ve awakened, in the presence of God Almighty and we realize it will be all right. For we have been made right with God, He has declared us right! He has said to each on of us, that we are His child, and that nothing can separate us from Him.

When we needed a place that was safe; He brought us in, cleansed us, healed us, provided for us and does so each moment of our lives!

That is what this day is about – each one of us realizing that we have unlimited access to God – not just when we are at full strength spiritually, but when we are at the breaking point, when we are broken, when our spirits are crushed my sin and unrighteousness and anxiety and even death….

He is here…for you…

As He has been for so many, including John Wesley, and Martin Luther, and Augustine, and the whole company of heaven… and so you can cry with me the words of the psalm,

I love you, LORD; you are my strength. 2  The LORD is my rock, my fortress, and my savior; my God is my rock, in whom I find protection. He is my shield, the power that saves me, and my place of safety. Psalm 18:1-2 (NLT)

Our place of peace…

AMEN?

The Reformation is only about this: The Lord Almighty Is With Us!

The Reformation is only about this: 

The Lord Almighty Is With Us!

Psalm 46:1-11

 

 † In His Name

 

May the peace of God, the peace which comforted Martin Luther and so many others who struggled with their own sin, and the sin of their time, bring you comfort and peace and stillness….

 

Luther’s Nightmares… do we have such?
Are our dragons… less?

It doesn’t matter which movie about Martin Luther’s life that you watch. There is always a scene which people find troubling,

Luther, not long after his ordination, is in his monk’s cell.  It is late at night and time to sleep.  Even though his confessor tells him there is nothing interesting in his confessions, Martin is tormented spiritually and emotionally.  He rages against satan, and in grief and shame, against his own weakness.

The scene is violent, as Luther storms around the room, flailing and yelling, screaming at Satan, weeping over his own brokenness. He feels God’s wrath for the existence of sin in his life. In the movie made a little less than a decade ago, as Luther faces his own inability to overcome sin, he questions God.  How can a just God create us so weak that we cannot overcome sin in our lives? Luther only saw God as just at the time, for that is how he was taught.

His mentor, His confessor, tries to share with Martin that God is love.  The Augustinian Abbot sends Luther to Wittenberg specifically to study the New Testament, hoping that as Martin does find God’s mercy and love, and when he does, that which torments him will be replaced with peace.

It is the reading from Romans today, that Fr. Martin Luther finally realizes God’s love, and that Luther’s life has been entrusted to God, and therefore he can live in that trust.

Later, coming across the Psalm we chanted, in awe of the incredible grace and providence of God, Luther writes the incredibly Hymn, A Mighty Fortress is our God.

I think there are days, where I am much like Luther, I look at the challenges people face, in life, the challenges of lives hampered and damaged by sin, the anxiety, the suffering there are days where for a moment, the despair that Luther knew seems all to real.

Our hope is the same as Luther’s this Mighty Fortress, this incredible Lord of Heaven’s Hosts is with us.  We will grasp

God is our refuge and strength, a helper who is always found in times of trouble.

Therefore we will not be afraid,

 

As the Psalm moves on from that crucial first phrase into the second verse, I am reminded of a conversation this week.  I had commented, “it’s simple – if you can’t run from your problems, you also can’t run from the One willing to bear those burdens.”

The response was that my comment was beautiful, but I wonder, if in thinking of the beauty of such thoughts, we reduce them to something not real, not practical, not for us.

I think we do this with Psalm 46, as well – we know we need to stop – give pause to the anxiety the world tosses at us, yet we find such a pause… disturbing, and we fill the silence, rather than stop… and stop our fighting God…and know peace.

The World is being tossed aside.
But Compare that to the Heavens streams

 

As I was saying the Psalmist moves from this brash statement, that because God is that refuge and strength, we need not fear – he has something in mind.  He doesn’t get to it directly. He talks of a world devastated by natural disasters, of earthquakes and floods that we should have no fear of, of the disasters that make prior disasters we have seen look like summer rain showers, and 2.0 tumblers.

Even as violent as these storms are, as much as the world shakes, as the mountains collapse, the Psalmist calls our attention to a different body of water, instead of disaster though, this other seen is pastoral, peaceful, glorious.

There is a river— its streams delight the city of God!

the holy dwelling place of the Most High!

God is within her; she will not be toppled!

God will help her when the morning dawns!
Given the pause, the “selah” the break in the meter and psalm, the shift goes from the traumatic, the terrifying, to the peaceful, to the pastoral, to that which is kept and protected by the power of Almighty God – for it is where He dwells.  That is the purpose of the Selah – a time and moment to pause…

To realize what this means  – that God dwells in a place of peace, a place that cannot be toppled, a place that cannot be moved….

Could the Psalmist, looking forward to the promises of God, realize what God would have Paul write to the church in Corinth?

3:16 Do you not know that you are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in you? 17 If anyone destroys God’s temple, God will destroy him. For God’s temple is holy, and you are that temple.  1 Corinthians 3:16-17 (ESV)

As we deal with the pause, the Selah, the interlude, can we realize that it is there – to help us transition from the trauma, from the pain, from the brokenness of the world that would send an overwhelming flood into our lives?

 

It is there the psalmist goes next, to reveal that the shaking and storms aren’t caused in the physical world, but in people, and in their lives.


The Nations Rage, and are tossed aside….
But like the world, all is shattered,

          It’s time to be quiet, to stop fighting..it’s time to be still

Nations rage, kingdoms topple;

It is here that we begin to see the truth, it is not the mountains and oceans that cause us to be shaken, but people and kingdoms  – whether we are talking about kingdoms as in nations, or the kingdoms of our homes.

It is therein we find our greatest shaking, our greatest pains, the greatest storms, and the storms that make us question life … and make us struggle – even as Luther would struggle in his cell.

How do we deal with our sin, with our failing when tempted, with our humanity, and the humanity and sin of others…as our earth quakes, …as they are shattered, even as the evil seems to surround us, to even drown us…

Not just evil as in slavery and murder..

But the evil of gossip and hated, of wanting to get revenge, of the pains of being betrayed, never mind the pain that comes from suffering from the overall weight of sin – even the things we are sure are sin, yet we feel guilt and shame as we endure them…
We might question our hope, our life, our salvation, we might even despair or fight God – accusing Him of unfairness because of what we must endure.

Luther knew this…feeling, this despair…


It is why Romans 3, and the concept of our living, trusting in God was such a revelation – it is not up to us to become the solution to our sin, to the brokenness of the world.

You see the context of that favorite beautiful sentiment, “Be still and know” is not just about being calm in the middle of external struggles, but our struggle with God.

Hear another couple of other translations….

46:10 “Cease striving and know that I am God; I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth.” Psalm 46:10 (NASB)

46:10 “Stop fighting,” he says, “and know that I am God, supreme among the nations, supreme over the world.”   Psalm 46:10 (TEV)

and I love what the great English pastor wrote n this..

That is the great theme of Psalm 46. The nations and their princes are all being addressed; these people who are arguing against God and querying whether there is such a God. ‘And listen’ says the Psalmist, ‘here is the God who makes wars to cease; this is the God who arises and vindicates himself.’ Then, having displayed his case, he says, ‘Be still,’ give up, give in, admit, ‘that I am God.’[i]

Be still, become, look, here is Almighty God!  Here is the Lord of the Heavenly Host!  He is here in all His power, in all His glory! Realize this with awe, even as He feeds you His broken body, and you drink His blood,

He is here for you, to protect you, to keep you, to guard your hearts and minds… for He dwells, not in a city made of hands, but among His people.

And therefore – we do not fear, we live in His peace….AMEN

 

 


[i] Lloyd-Jones, D. M. (1987). Revival (120). Westchester, IL: Crossway Books.

One Holy Church in 40,000 parts?

Devotional/Discussion Thought

From the Large Catechism of Martin Luther:

But this is the meaning and substance of this addition: I believe that there is upon earth a little holy group and congregation of pure saints, under one head, even Christ, called together by the Holy Ghost in one faith, one mind, and understanding, with manifold gifts, yet agreeing in love, without sects or schisms. I am also a part and member of the same a sharer and joint owner of all the goods it possesses, brought to it and incorporated into it by the Holy Ghost by having heard and continuing to hear the Word of God, which is the beginning of entering it.

A week from now, I will preach at a combined services of congregations, as we gather to celebrate Reformation Day.  Last night, the above passage was discussed in a group I am teaching.  The juxtaposition of which confounds me, and to be honest, depresses and saddens me.

I comprehend the details of Luther’s departure from the Roman Catholic Church, and the pain his writings reveal as he went through very dark days.  His reaction towards those who should have discussed the issues is often inexcusable, even as we realize the pain which caused the reaction.

But there is supposed to be one church, a holy, united/catholic, and apostolic/missional church which finds unity not by its own reasoning and strength, but instead in Christ, as they are gathered by the Holy Spirit.  Remember Jesus’ call that His disciples may be one – even as the Father and Jesus were One?  We are supposed to be without sects or schisms, yet there are 40,000 denominations and within those denominations (including the RCC) there are movements and sub-groups which are competitive and divisive and questioned and not trusted.

So do we abandon hope for a church united in Christ?  Or do we justify a decisions with a reference to the visible and invisible church, noting that just because we can’t see our unity, that doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist?  DO we mourn the lack of unity in the church, and the sin which causes it?  Or do we triumphantly rise in our sects and schisms and proclaim that we are the true church, and all heterodox bodies are less loved, less effective, and therefore God is not in control?

I pray, even as we approach the five hundreth year since the divisions in the church manifested themselves, and we are eight hundred and sixty years since the Great Schism, that we all pray, as our Lord did – that we would be one.  Not in compromising our trust in Christ, but instead, allowing the Holy Spirit to work through word and sacrament to do that which we confess He does… making us one, holy, catholic and apostolic gathering….

Lord have mercy on us!

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