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.
Devotional Thought fo the Day:
1 When I came to you, my friends, to preach God’s secret truth, I did not use big words and great learning. 2 For while I was with you, I made up my mind to forget everything except Jesus Christ and especially his death on the cross. 3 So when I came to you, I was weak and trembled all over with fear, 4 and my teaching and message were not delivered with skillful words of human wisdom, but with convincing proof of the power of God’s Spirit. 5 Your faith, then, does not rest on human wisdom but on God’s power.
1 Corinthians 2:1-5 (TEV)
3. Return to God: And Thou, O my God, my Saviour, Thou shalt be from henceforth the sole object of my thoughts: I will no more apply my mind to such as are displeasing to Thee. My memory shall entertain itself all the days of my life with the greatness of thy clemency, so mercifully exercised on me: Thou shalt be the delight of my heart and the sweetness of my whole being. (1)
Twenty years ago, I preached at a small church in the middle of the desert. Two years later, I would become their pastor. And on their letter head was the mission/purpose statement. “Teaching Christ-Centered Living”.
I’ve since come to the conclusion that those phrases, maybe long overlooked, are the key to the church’s misison in that community. That is why they are planted, these phrase, this is a vision God has given those who sacrificed and set down the cornerstone. At my present church, it is the oft repeated phrase, “The Lord is with You!” (and the response to me – “and also with you!” ) You want to revitalize a chruch – you want to see it come to life and share God’s love – discover the reason it was put there in the first place!
So back to Christ-centered living.
We aren’t talking about being religious by rote, or being scholars in Greek and Hebrew Exegesis. We can memorize all the red letters in our Bibles, and still fail to live life centered, focused on Jesus.
SO what does it mean to be centered on Christ in our lives? What does it mean to forget everything bu Christ and His cross?
It means to realize that clemency that deSales speaks of, it means to deligh in the presence of God in our lives, to rejoice in the incarnate, tangible God who speaks and listens. It is to depend on this, and so know a peace that comes from God being our fortress, our sanctuary, our peace.
It means the hope that comes from realizing His comfort, and sharing in His glory, for His glory is the cHesed, the agape, the love, the charity, the compassion of God that draws us to Himself.
To live in awe of that love is Christ-centric living.
And it is our role, as God’s people to use our time, gathered together as the Church, or with a friend over lunch – to teach them what they need to know about Jesus.
My friend, the Lord is with you!
See His love, see His work in your life….. and cry out, “Lord, Have MERCY” or “Hosanna (Save us) ” or “kumbayyah (Be here Lord)” or simply, “thank you!”
(1) Francis de Sales, Saint. An Introduction to the Devout Life. Dublin: M. H. Gill and Son, 1885. Print.
Discussion thought fo the Day….
27 “But will God really live on earth? Why, even the highest heavens cannot contain you. How much less this Temple I have built! 28 Nevertheless, listen to my prayer and my plea, O LORD my God. Hear the cry and the prayer that your servant is making to you today. 29 May you watch over this Temple night and day, this place where you have said, ‘My name will be there.’ May you always hear the prayers I make toward this place. 30 May you hear the humble and earnest requests from me and your people Israel when we pray toward this place. Yes, hear us from heaven where you live, and when you hear, forgive. 1 Kings 8:27-30 (NLT)
41 “In the future, foreigners who do not belong to your people Israel will hear of you. They will come from distant lands because of your name, 42 for they will hear of your great name and your strong hand and your powerful arm. And when they pray toward this Temple, 43 then hear from heaven where you live, and grant what they ask of you. In this way, all the people of the earth will come to know and fear you, just as your own people Israel do. They, too, will know that this Temple I have built honors your name.
1 Kings 8:41-43 (NLT)
But more than that: we want to see heaven, we seek something greater, for the human soul thirsts for God, for the living God. The places of pilgrimage have marked a kind of geography of faith in our country, that is, they make visible, almost tangible, how our forefathers encountered the living God, how HE did not withdraw after creation or after the time of Jesus Christ, but is always present and works in them so that they were able to experience HIM, follow in his footsteps, and see him in the works HE performed. Yes, HE is there, and HE is still there today. It is from this inner encounter with the Lord that there originated the places and images of pilgrimage in which we, so to speak, can participate in what they saw, in what their faith provided for them. (1)
It has become a mantra among modern Christians, “the church isn’t the building, it is the people!”
And as this has become more common, we see the church becoming more disposable, we are willing to let them fade into ruin, we are willing to sell them off and let them become restaurants, or antique shops, or be torn down to make way for homes or strip malls.
Let me be clear, I am not talking about Gothic cathedrals; the Church might be a store front, or a modular building, or an old wooden frame building out in the country. Nor am I talking about a form of worship – either that modified from ancient forms of liturgy, or free-form prayer and study that is equally ancient.
But these places are the church.
Because they are the places, like the temple, where God put His Name, they were dedicated to God’s work, to bring honor and glory to His name by becoming a place where the gospel was shared, where people were taught about God’s faithfulness, where people would be baptized and enter into fellowship with others who depend on God. They are the place where that fellowship, God and His people was expressed and celebrated in Communion.
Not just one generation, but generation upon generation. They are the places of pilgrimage we have been given, Pilgrimages that aren’t once i n a lifetime, but daily and weekly..As such, they do what Cardinal Ratzinger wrote about – “they make visible and tangible how our forefathers encountered the living God, how He did not withdraw from them after the time of Jesus Christ, but is ALWAYS present and WORKS in them so that they were able to EXPERIENCE HIM, follow in His footsteps, and see Him int he works He performed. “
As I watch the church experts these days, there is a new mantra. No longer is it the building that is not the church; the congregations are no longer the church either. More precisely, they find that God doesn’t sustain a church past 25-40 years (they forget the part of the original study talking about rededication – holding on to part that explains their observations) As they have been willing to close the buildings, now we are willing to close down the people.
In doing so, we lose the history, not of this person or that, but of their encountering God on His terms, on His ground, on Holy ground, holy because it was where He put His name, where they built it to honor Him. This is what Cardinal Ratzinger was writing about when he continued,
HE is there, and HE is still there today. It is from this inner encounter with the Lord that there originated the places and images of pilgrimage in which we, so to speak, can participate in what they saw, in what their faith provided for them.
As I talk to people who are broken, there is a need to find something bigger than they are, something that will give us hope, something that will assure us that we can go on, that God is still working with HIs people. That there is something work sacrificing for, not just for our sake, but for our communities. Something that is not just a testimony to this generation, but to generations to come.
These places where God meets His people, where He assures them of His love, where He welcomes those foreign to “religion” to come and pray,t o come and find God’s heart, where they find God revealed to them, can serve in such places, because they always have. They are the gathering places, they are places of peace, because they are places of prayer, and absolution, fellowship, sanctuaries and fortresses where we can find rest and healing.
Sustaining them will take work, sacrifice of time and money. THat’s okay; they took that to build them. It will take a lot of teaching, a lot of sharing why God’s love is important, from scripture and the lives of those who went before. That is okay as well! The greater cost will be found when by closing them, disbanding their people, we send an unintended message of what doesn’t matter to “organized religion,”
They are where we, as a communion meet God. These places, centuries old or decades, large or small, ornate or plain, are where we become part of the church, where we become the church.
Maybe we shouldn’t be so hasty to abandon them, or the people and God that are the reason they exist.
(1) Ratzinger, J. (1992). Co-Workers of the Truth: Meditations for Every Day of the Year. (I. Grassl, Ed., M. F. McCarthy & L. Krauth, Trans.) (p. 165). San Francisco: Ignatius Press.
Devotional Thought of the Day:
10 When the builders completed the foundation of the LORD’s Temple, the priests put on their robes and took their places to blow their trumpets. And the Levites, descendants of Asaph, clashed their cymbals to praise the LORD, just as King David had prescribed. 11 With praise and thanks, they sang this song to the LORD: “He is so good! His faithful love for Israel endures forever!” Then all the people gave a great shout, praising the LORD because the foundation of the LORD’s Temple had been laid. 12 But many of the older priests, Levites, and other leaders who had seen the first Temple wept aloud when they saw the new Temple’s foundation. The others, however, were shouting for joy. 13 The joyful shouting and weeping mingled together in a loud noise that could be heard far in the distance. Ezra 3:10-13 (NLT)
“The place may have powerful significance, but it is God’s purposes that must be made visible and tangible. When we say, “I’m in charge of the ruins,, it must mean that we are guardians of a vision, not curators for the department of ancient monuments” (1)
455 When they were fishing for you, you would ask yourself where they got that strength and fire which burned everything in sight. Now as you pray you realise that this is the source that wells up within the true children of God. (2)
I’ve spent a good deal of my time as a pastor, working with churches that, like the Temple of David, had seen better days, and even lie in what others might see as “ruins”. Significant research has been done, and many now see a life cycle of a church as being 25-40 years, unless something is done to re-create the vision of the church. I would add, often that is simply recreating the original vision.
Such was the time of Ezra and Nehemiah, one rebuilding the temple, one rebuilding the community of God, restoring the people of God and the place He put His name, that they could come and pray, that they could come and receive His promises, that they could be assured of their place in His family.
So as I as doing my devotions this morning ( I am presently using the Celtic Prayer Book -which I highly recommend) I came across both the reading from Ezra and the part of the meditation that is quoted in green above. Obviously, for someone who has and longs to see God bring life to and from that which was dead… these words resonate deeply in my heart.
I’ve seen the people who shout for joy because of new birth found in Christ. I’ve see those who weep and cry out in pain, because the renewed temple/church/people of God don’t quite resemble the glory of what was, of what they so dearly remember. There is a deep tendency in us to guard not the vision, but the memory, To look back and miss what was, not seeing the hope that others are crying out in joy over. How does one minister to both groups simultaneously? Or do you neglect one for the other? How do you keep them from grating on each other’s nerves, for Romans says we should be in common – weeping with others while they week, rejoicing while they rejoice. But when both groups are reacting, and pouring everything they are into their tears or cries of joy…. ? When others see the vision becoming reality, and others struggle to see the vision through their tear flooded eyes?
There is only one place I know of, where you can do both simultaneously…. that is in the presence of God. To realize that He is the comforter of the broken, the strength of those who are weak. That the congregation, that the building finds it existence, not in its past, or its future, but in His purposes. To redeem, to reconcile, to justify and sanctify for God a people of His own calling. There is the room for joy and tears, for repentance and for submission to God’s vision for the future. There is healing, and the Spirit working through us to use that which God has blessed us with, including our churches, including the places where God puts His name – for His people, and for those who need to come, and find out He is real.
For a critical, no, the critical part to seeing the foundations built upon, for seeing the bones of Ezekiel’s dry bones live and have the Spirit breathed into them, is that intimacy with God. It is where the prophets and priests and people of the Old Testament found their strength, it is where the apostles and pastors and saints still find their strength today. It is what brings comfort and strength, it is why we treasure the past as visions came to be. It is the reason we have hope for the future, knowing that same vision will come into being as well – because that is God’s heart. As God refocuses our buildings to be used powerfully for His purpose, He first does the same with out hearts, calling us into a relationship with Him, a relationship that deepens, that grows, that reaches out in love to draw others in, that they may know the healing, the hope, the love.
We need to rebuild so many of our churches, to re-purpose them to the very visions that they were built to see happen. But the power, the strength, the determination that will succeed is found, not in us, but in seeing the building used for His purpose. And His purpose is fairly simple – that we would be His people, His offspring, and that we would know HE is our God..
(1) Celtic Daily Prayer Book – Aiden reading July 8th
(2) Escriva, Josemaria (2011-01-31). Furrow (Kindle Locations 2010-2012). Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition.
Thought of the day:
Last night I finally started writing a book. It’s an odd thing, since I don’t see myself as a wise sage, or a wildly successful pastor. Just a plain ordinary, slightly crazy pastor who believes that God puts churches in places to bring healing to the broken in that community. And the only time a church should “close” is when all the broken in the community are healed and are perfect. In other words, the need doesn’t happen until Jesus returns.
Of course the statisticians will tell you that there are life cycles to church – usually a 40-50 cycle where around 20-25 the church starts slowly dying, or at least losing its significance. I know a few that fit that model, and I know a few that have been around 10o or 200 years, or more. Go to Eurpose – there are some there that have been in use for 1000 plus years – and in India, 1800. So while the stats guys have noticed a phenomena – it ain’t necessarily a law/ My book will be about keeping the church in the business of healing, in the business of salvaging people, and their relationships. There is hope for such churches, and for those who attend them, and for the community that surrounds them.
The hope is found in soup – specifically “stone soup” and focuses heavily on the sacraments, and on Eph 2:8-10 – especially 10:
“2:10 We are God’s work of art, created in Christ Jesus for the good works which God has already designated to make up our way of life. Ephesians 2:10 (NJB)
As a lutheran – we focus a lot on 8 and 9 – and for good reason. But if there is a answer, if there is a way to stop churches from closing, it is in realizing that we are God’s art work, His poetry, and there is much work to be done as we heal from the damage of sin, and the work, the poetry God has called our lives, because He called us, is key in that process of healing, together.
I’ve seen it happen, in churches in the desert – in a church in the suburbs. This isn’t some how to get er done book, with methodologies to implement. It’s a radical way to see the church return to faithfulness, one ingredient at a time. The recipe is a parable, and realizing the truth in it. A truth best described in Eph 2:8=10
So pray for me. as I write a parable about healing broken lives and broken churches, simply with sacred simple things, water, a Stone, and some bread.
oh and realize, that this book is about all of us… for there is hope for all – no matter how broken, how burdened, how alone.. as we heal together in Christ!
Devotional thought of the day:
It started yesterday – about noonish – we started the packing of our “new” trailer, and it took five-ish hours, with my son giving tours to our neighbors. Then a little over 2 and a half hours to drive the 90 miles to the campground, another 2 hours to set up.
While our popup trailer is comparatively comfortable – it will take a few days to get used to it – every morning a three inch mattress will remind it us its not a tempurpedic, but chaDevotional thought of the day: It started yesterday – about noonish – we started the packing of our “new” trailer, and it took five-ish hours, with my son giving tours to our neighbors. Then a little over 2 and a half hours to drive the 90 miles to the campground, another 2 hours to set up. While our popup trailer is comparatively comfortable – it will take a few days to get used to it – every morning a three inch mattress will remind it us its not a tempurpedic, but chasing a five year old will bring that mattress to call to us very welcoming at the end of each day! A
And this is supposed to be rest and rejuvination? Hmmmm…
As we let people know we were actually going on vacation, many said to leave everything behind, just go and have fun… (as if life at Concordia isn’t fun, or at least thrilling in that rollercoaster, stomach twisting kind of adventure way!)
At first I acknowledged their wisdom, but realized that part of me wouldn’t leave Cerritos. I thought it would be my mind, that it would keep trying to work through everything. I was wrong, something is still there, but it isn’t my mind, it’s my heart.
In four years at Concordia (this week is the anniversary – so about time for a vacation?) I have watched people’s faith really blossom. When I got there, they had a unique tradition – every Bible Study starts and ends with the teacher stating, “The Lord is with you!”… This tradition I have come to love, and it really has become that which shapes our ministry here. ANd as I look and pray through our families, it only is made clearer that we truly need that knowledge, that blessing, the assurance than comes with His presence.
And they have gotten it – it is evident as they respond to that blessing, with words I love to here – for they are heart felt – they want me to know God is with me, just as much as they are learning to count on it.
St Paul once wrote a prayer for a church that he loved, and missed, and said,
3:14 My response is to get down on my knees before the Father, 15 this magnificent Father who parcels out all heaven and earth. 16 I ask him to strengthen you by his Spirit—not a brute strength but a glorious inner strength— 17 that Christ will live in you as you open the door and invite him in. And I ask him that with both feet planted firmly on love, 18 you’ll be able to take in with all Christians the extravagant dimensions of Christ’s love. Reach out and experience the breadth! Test its length! Plumb the depths! Rise to the heights! 19 Live full lives, full in the fullness of God. 20 God can do anything, you know—far more than you could ever imagine or guess or request in your wildest dreams! He does it not by pushing us around but by working within us, his Spirit deeply and gently within us.
Ephesians 3:14-20 (MSG)
If I could describe the people of my church, it is often that they are like kids at Christmas, just opening their eyes to the magnificence of God’s love for them…. they are starting to see this – and oh is it a joy to see it, as they witness another person to whom God’s promises are poured out in baptism, or as they see their burdens and anxieties lifted off them as we hear God’s forgiveness delivered, and as we pray…and as we feast together – in our potlucks for sure, but in the more precious meal of Christ’s Body and Blood..
As they live out our mission and motto – that Concordia is the place where people heal in Christ, while helping others heal…
In this, they are being revealed to be the very craftsmanship of God (see Eph 2:10) , or in Latin, the Opus Dei, in Greek – the Poiema – the poem
It is not my mind I left behind, as much as my heart – and the joy of seeing people know God’s love for them.. of realizing that God has called them into a relationship where He is there Father, and them finding rest there…. of them knowing the words, “the Lord is with you” and reminding me in response, that He is also with me….
That’s where I truly and revitalized, and I look forward to being back!