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Great Expectations for the Church in America

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

Devotional Thought of the Day:

9 As Jesus was leaving, he saw a tax collectorq named Matthew sitting at the place for paying taxes. Jesus said to him, “Come with me.” Matthew got up and went with him.
†10 Later, Jesus and his disciples were having dinner at Matthew’s house.r Many tax collectors and other sinners were also there. 11 Some Pharisees asked Jesus’ disciples, “Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and other sinners?”
12 Jesus heard them and answered, “Healthy people don’t need a doctor, but sick people do. †13 Go and learn what the Scriptures mean when they say, ‘Instead of offering sacrifices to me, I want you to be merciful to others.’ I didn’t come to invite good people to be my followers. I came to invite sinners.”
Matt. 9:9-13 CEV

Faith never prospers so well as when all things are against her: tempests are her trainers, and lightnings are her illuminators. When a calm reigns on the sea, spread the sails as you will, the ship moves not to its harbour; for on a slumbering ocean the keel sleeps too.

In the readings for the course I am in, I am finding great hope for the church, even the church in the United States and Europe. The times are similar to the times when great revivals broke out in our past, when people began to worship God, abandoning all else.

The statisticians and consultants will tell you different, but their projections of based on recent trends, and on philosophies that place the future of the church in the hands of the pastors, and those who train and equip them. If it is up to us, this indeed may be the post Christian and post church era. THinking about it more, no not maybe – it is.

But what is our downfall, can be turned into the very thing that will bring revival to our land. For when we fail, maybe some will call us back to what brings revival.

Faith.

This is the time when our faith, that wonderful gift of depending on God for everything in life becomes reality. When in the despair of the storm, we reach out to the Lord who is with us, and He leaves us in awe, as the storm obeys His commands.

It is when we realize that Matthew, that we can join Jesus on His mission to heal the hearts and minds and souls of people, (and when we realize that includes our hearts and minds and souls) that movement in the church happens. When we grieve over our sins, and are comforted by the power of the Holy Spirit, who draws us into God’s presence.

This is what Matthew’s gospel is talking about, when it says that Christ came to invite sinners to be His followers. As the Holy Spirit draws them to Jesus, the church will stop its slumbering, it will stop its decline.

Not because of great preaching, but simply revealing Christ. Not because of powerful praise bands or stunning choirs, but because we simply begin to experience the grace of God, poured out on us, and knowing the relief, the joy, the power of God’s work, we invite other sinners to join Him, depending on Him, and letting all else, including sin, drop to the side.

We are at a point in the church’s life in America where we will realize that our perfect liturgies, our dynamic programs, our logic and theology, our programs won’t grow the church, nor stop it from dying.. The only thing that can is the Holy Spirit, healing sinners by drawing them to Christ Jesus. And those sinners depending on Him. ANd that includes you and I.

Heavenly Father, stir us sinners by the power of the Holy Spirit, to respond to Your invitation follow Jesus, to walk with Him. Help us to welcome the Spirit’s healing our hearts, souls and minds, and not just ours, but those in our community. We pray this in Jesus name! AMEN!

C. H. Spurgeon, Morning and Evening: Daily Readings (London: Passmore & Alabaster, 1896).



Hope for Believers (and Churches) Burnt Out, or Just Going Through the Motions

Concordia Lutheran Church – Cerritos, Ca , at dawn on Easter Sunday

Devotional Thought of the Day:

11  God was performing unusual miracles through Paul. 12  Even handkerchiefs and aprons he had used were taken to the sick, and their diseases were driven away, and the evil spirits would go out of them. 13  Some Jews who traveled around and drove out evil spirits also tried to use the name of the Lord Jesus to do this. They said to the evil spirits, “I command you in the name of Jesus, whom Paul preaches.” 14  Seven brothers, who were the sons of a Jewish High Priest named Sceva, were doing this. 15  But the evil spirit said to them, “I know Jesus, and I know about Paul; but you—who are you?” 16  The man who had the evil spirit in him attacked them with such violence that he overpowered them all. They ran away from his house, wounded and with their clothes torn off. 17  All the Jews and Gentiles who lived in Ephesus heard about this; they were all filled with fear, and the name of the Lord Jesus was given greater honor. 18  Many of the believers came, publicly admitting and revealing what they had done. Acts 19:11-18 (TEV)

We need to “go out,” then, in order to test and experience our own anointing and its power and redemptive efficacy into the “outskirts” where there is suffering, bloodshed, blindness longing for sight and prisoners under so many evil masters.

It may sound harsh, but I wonder today if the church is more like the sons of Sceva than like the Apostle Paul.

We go through the motions, we say the right things (at times) we have a good intent, but we lack the faith, the trust in a God we know, to truly minister to others the way we should.

As our efforts don’t result in any significant change, we slowly give up our our outreach. We begin to rely on what others have said or written, rather than express our awe of God directly. We rely on canned presentations, Bible studies written by someone we’ve never met, who doesn’t know the people we study with and/or teach. Prayer and meditation on scripture become things we will do “when we have time”.

And we wonder why we ministry seems a drain, why people don’t realize the blessing that church should be, and why they never are free of their demons.

The more we do, the more the church gets focused internally, the more church politics rips us to shreds, the more churches close their doors, or become places that focus on things other than Jesus, and exploring the incredible dimensions of His love, experiencing what we can never completely explain.

So what is the answer, how do we go from a church of Sceva’s sons, to being an apostolic church.

How do we live out the work of God that became possible when the Holy Spirit called us, when God the Father united us with Jesus, and the same power which raised Him from the dead gave us new life?

I think Pope Francis has the answer, just “go out”, trusting in God enough to go where there is need, to the broken, to those who are blind and suffering, to those who are prisoners . Asking God to make His annointing of our lives known in our lives as we minister to those He puts in front of us.

In order to know that, we have to know He has indeed redeemed us, that we are His people, not because we are so good, but because He has indeed redeemed us. As a pastor, everytime I baptize someone, everytime I give someone the body of Christ, whether the person kneeling at the altar, or the shut-in in their home, or the counselee, whose burdens are lifted as they experience the love of God, the lesson of my own redemption is renewed.

I’ve seen the same thing when parents assist in their child’s baptism, or a sponsor assists in the friend who has come to know God’s love. Our faith is renewed, our dependence on God becomes a great joy, and we realize the world without hope is indeed full of God’s hope.

You see the church may sometimes act like the sons of Sceva, but she isn’t. She may be depressed, and dejected, focused on survival more than mission, but her Lord is with her, strengthening her, giving her life, and urging her to go to the broken in the world, with the assurance she doesn’t do so alone, or on her own power.

We go with the Lord and Giver of Life, empowered by God to do the works He has planned.

This is our call.. this is who we are..

Let’s get back it, walking with our God.

Pope Francis. (2013). A Year with Pope Francis: Daily Reflections from His Writings. (A. Rossa, Ed.) (p. 190). New York; Mahwah, NJ; Toronto, ON: Paulist Press; Novalis.

Dare We Pray this….how dare we not?

Concordia Lutheran Church – Cerritos, Ca , at dawn on Easter Sunday

Devotional Thought of the day:

“I will live in them and walk among them. I will be their God, and they will be my people.* 17 Therefore, come out from among unbelievers, and separate yourselves from them, says the LORD. Don’t touch their filthy things, and I will welcome you.* 18 And I will be your Father, and you will be my sons and daughters, says the LORD Almighty.*”
Because we have these promises, dear friends, let us cleanse ourselves from everything that can defile our body or spirit. And let us work toward complete holiness because we fear God
. 2 Cor. 6:16-7:1 NLT

2  But who will be able to endure the day when he comes? Who will be able to survive when he appears? He will be like strong soap, like a fire that refines metal. 3  He will come to judge like one who refines and purifies silver. As a metalworker refines silver and gold, so the LORD’S messenger will purify the priests, so that they will bring to the LORD the right kind of offerings. 4  Then the offerings which the people of Judah and Jerusalem bring to the LORD will be pleasing to him, as they used to be in the past.
Malachi 3:2-4 (TEV)

814         Ask Jesus to grant you a Love like a purifying furnace, where your poor flesh —your poor heart—may be consumed and cleansed of all earthly miseries. Pray that it may be emptied of self and filled with him. Ask him to grant you a deep-seated aversion to all that is worldly so that you may be sustained only by Love.

There is a part of me that fears to pray as St. Josemaria suggests.

There is so much to lose, so many things I cannot see apart from myself. Yes, those things include not only what I perceive as the pleasures of life (and are not) and the miseries of my existence.

Could I deal with that radical of a change in me? Could I allow myself to be defined not by broken heart (in my case, both physically and figuratively) but spiritually as well? How can I allow God to take the scar, many of which I find a perverse pleasure in, knowing I somewhat survived them, and not just remove them, but heal the damage they have done?

St Josemaria describes it well as a furnace, for the heat and pain it will take to separate us from these things which haunt us is intense. How do I let Him remove all this, and the sin which so easily ensnares me?(and you as well)

How do I find the strength to pray this?

How dare I?

What if he doesn’t answer the prayer? What if He does?

As Malachi points out – how will we endure it?

I think St Paul has the answer, it is not found in us, but in the promises God has made to us, promises He stands behind, promises that are coming true in our lives, even if we do not see it.

It is in those promises, in His making us holy, that we find comfort and learn to trust Him. In those promises, we find the strength to work, to hear Him in a way our soul resonates with what He is doing, to nor fight against His purifying our lives.

You and I, we need this, we can’t continue to live in our brokenness, even if we have gotten used to its stench. The life that God provides, cleansed, purified, holy, is beyond our comprehension. We see it here and there, our souls thrive on it in the moments we experience it, at the communion rail, deep in lament, in the middle of serving others, As God purifies us, as He applies the heat and we cling to Him, these moments we are aware of Him grow… and we begin to desire them more.

So pray for God to refine you and purify you. Pray for me as well, and I pray we all will realize the blessing of walking with God. AMEN!




Escriva, Josemaria. Furrow (Kindle Locations 3357-3360). Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition.

“Baptized, but not Evangelised” Why the Church seems to be dying.

Devotional Thought of the Day:

7  And so the word of God continued to spread. The number of disciples in Jerusalem grew larger and larger, and a ggreat numberof priests accepted the faith. Acts 6:7 (TEV)

At the dawn of the third millennium not only are there many peoples who do not yet know the Good News, but there are many Christians who need the Word of God to be re-announced to them in a persuasive manner so that they may concretely experience the power of the Gospel.
Many of our brothers and sisters are ‘baptized, but insufficiently evangelized’. In a number of cases, nations once rich in faith and in vocations are losing their identity under the influence of a secularized culture … The Church, sure of her Lord’s fidelity, never tires of proclaiming the Good News of the Gospel and invites all Christians to discover anew the attraction of following Christ. (Benedict XVI, Verbum Domini, 96)
The history of Evangelization across the centuries witnesses that the great missionaries were also great people of prayer, more specifically that they were authentic adorers. Indeed, the Eucharist is ‘the source and the summit of the Christian life’ (Lumen gentium, 11), and the ‘source and summit of all evangelisation’ (Presbyterorum ordinis, ).

608         Against those who reduce religion to a set of negative statements, or are happy to settle for a watered-down Catholicism; against those who wish to see the Lord with his face against the wall, or to put him in a corner of their souls… we have to affirm, with our words and with our deeds, that we aspire to make Christ the King reign indeed over all hearts… theirs included.

The church pictured above has been empty for decades. The doors are bordered up, and voices have long been silent. There is no prayer offered, not voices lifting up praises as the realize the love and mercy of God,

There are other churches just as lifeless, even though the bodies are in them, even though voices can be heard, their words empty, vain. They try to make things better in life, they try to either legislate it or inspire people to behave, to live inspiring, meaningful lives. Some consider themselves traditional (or faithful) and others claim to be progressive and socially active.

And they are as empty and lifeless as St Anne’s.

They have been, “baptized, but not evangelized.”

They’ve been made part of the church, but they haven’t experienced the love of God. They haven’t learned to sit in silence and contemplate how much God desires to be with them, to guide them through life, to fix their brokenness, to forgive their sins.

So they put God on time out, reaching out to him the least amount of times they feel necessary, or reaching out to Him when there is trouble or trauma.

The priests in Jesus day were like that, they knew the scriptures, they put their trust in the promises that were theirs because they were circumcised, but the idea of talking with God, interacting with God, being guided by God, those were all missing.

But they heard the gospel, and they were changed.

And so can our people, our pastors, and priests, our ministers, our worship leaders. They can experience the breadth and width, the height and depth of God’s love.

They can realize they are loved, and adore God, not forced or manipulated, but simply adore Him – because He loves them. And their prayers and their worship will rise louder and stronger, and it will impact more and more.

Lord, reveal yourself through those who serve you, to both the church and the world, and revive both.  AMEN!

Rey, D. (2012). Adoration and the New Evangelization. In A. Reid (Ed.), From Eucharistic Adoration to Evangelization (pp. 3–4). London; New York: Burns & Oates.

Escriva, Josemaria. Furrow (Kindle Locations 2579-2582). Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition.

We aren’t just obligated to go to church, it is something we desperately need

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

Devotional Thought of the Day:
20  By his death, Jesus opened a new and life-giving way through the curtain into the Most Holy Place. 21  And since we have a great High Priest who rules over God’s house, 22  let us go right into the presence of God with sincere hearts fully trusting him. For our guilty consciences have been sprinkled with Christ’s blood to make us clean, and our bodies have been washed with pure water. 23  Let us hold tightly without wavering to the hope we affirm, for God can be trusted to keep his promise. 24  Let us think of ways to motivate one another to acts of love and good works. 25  And let us not neglect our meeting together, as some people do, but encourage one another, especially now that the day of his return is drawing near.     Hebrews 10:20-25 (NLT)

997    Absence, isolation: trials for your perseverance. Holy Mass, prayer, sacraments, sacrifices, communion of the saints: weapons to conquer in the trial.

Growing up, there was a sense that church was an obligation.  In fact, there were days called “holy days of obligation.” To miss going to church on these days was considered a sin.

But I never asked why it was a sin, I was just told it was, and I responded as everyone does when forced to do a task, I rebelled.  Didn’t go, and even if I did, I wasn’t really there, I wasn’t really particpating. So even if I was there, I really wasn’t. 

The one thing I never asked was why we were obligated, and if I had, I am hoping the answer would have been what we see above in Hebrews 10.  There God makes clear that we are welcome there, and there we find encouragement to endure until Christ returns. 

We need to be with each other, we need to be celebrating God’s presence together, we need to share as those who receive His mercy.  (this is why I am so in favor of having the Lord’s Supper weekly, if not offered more frequently!)  
For there together, we find God keeping His promises – reconciling that which was torn apart, healing that which is broken.Bringing together that which was isolated and fitting into the place it fits in His body.  We were created to experience life in community, as part of something that endures, that is sustained, that grows healthy and strong. 

As we realize that this is not an obligation of force, but one of need, our hearts change.We begin to treasure what church brings, we see it as a time that is holy, set apart as a time for us to find rest, and refuge, forgiveness, and the awareness of God’s presence in our lives.  A presence confirmed as others tell us His peace is with us, that He is with us. 

As we realize this church goes from being more than an inspiring message, or uplifting music.  The gathering of people we realize is something sacred, the place they occupy becomes holy, it becomes a moment where heaven is revealed. 

It is what we desperately need, it is what those around us need……and so the more we go, the more we realized we needed to…. 

For this is why we were made…. to live in peace with God and each other.  AMEN!

Escriva, Josemaria. The Way (Kindle Locations 2315-2316). Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition.

Why We Aren’t A Post Christian Society


Devotional Thought fo the Day:

9 *But you are “a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people of his own, so that you may announce the praises” of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light.10 Once you were “no people” but now you are God’s people; you “had not received mercy” but now you have received mercy!   1 Peter 2:9-10

A single hour of quiet listening to the word of God would often be more effective than whole days of sessions and discussions, and a moment of prayer would be more effective than whole stacks of paper, for it is not only what we do that makes us effective. Sometimes the impression arises that behind our hectic hyperactivity there lurks a paralysis of faith, since in the last analysis we have more confidence in what we ourselves contrive and accomplish.

47 For this reason, too, Paul asks, Since we are called according to the purpose of God, “who will separate us from the love of God in Christ?” (Rom. 8:35).
48 This doctrine will also give us the glorious comfort, in times of trial and affliction, that in his counsel before the foundation of the world God has determined and decreed that he will assist us in all our necessities, grant us patience, give us comfort, create hope, and bring everything to such an issue that we shall be saved

For a decade or more, I have the phrase post-modernism adapted and used to describe a weak church, and so developed phrases like “a post-Christian society” or living in a “post-church society.”

I will agree that the church seems to be less “effective” from a business perspective, at least in areas where it was thought to be very “effective” for decades.  Among those of European descent, among those who were upwardly mobile and driven to live life better than their parents did.

But calling us post-church or post-Christian is wrong, for it presumes that the society we are discussing knew the riches they had in Christ, that they were recipients of the grace and mercy, the peace and love of God our Father, and our Lord Jesus Christ, 

And then walked away… not just from the church, but from the love of Christ the church was there to help them explore, to be at their side as they in awe, encountered God revealed to them. 

To call this society “post-Christian” means they walked away from what St Peter describes as leaving the darkness for a wonderful light, that they abandoned being God’s people, and recipients of the mercy that would bring healing and hope to shattered souls. I don’t see people doing that; I see them walking away from meetings and discussions, from stacks of paper describing programs, and from a church that ministered only to their sense of logic, and couldn’t continually keep them in awe.

That which they may have walked away from, did it give them comfort in the midst of suffering, did it bring them a sense of God’s peace that goes beyond explanation and understand?  If so, why would they have walked away from it?

So what is the answer?  Perhaps it is to evangelize the church first, what is called the New Evangelization in some circles.   To teach people that God does answer a cry for mercy, that He hears their prayers, that he will offer them comfort and peace. As this is taught, as it is revealed through His word, and through His sacraments, then the church will naturally evangelize again.  

Teach them about Christ,God incarnate, God crucified and raised, God who comes near, and stays.  God who listens and comforts, who guides and gives meaning to life. Who walks beside them in this lonely life.

It may sound too simple, but simple doesn’t mean wrong, nor does it mean ineffective.  It means that we communicate and reveal the love of God to those who need it, in the church and presently outside it. 

It is time to give people the hope of sharing in the glory of Christ, in the presence of Jesus. 

 

 

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.

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

 

Feelings or Reason: Which do you trust? Why?

Devotional Thought of the Day:

7  Then you will experience God’s peace, which exceeds anything we can understand. His peace will guard your hearts and minds as you live in Christ Jesus. Philippians 4:7 (NLT)

27  “I am leaving you with a gift—peace of mind and heart. And the peace I give is a gift the world cannot give. So don’t be troubled or afraid.   John 14:27 (NLT)

“I believe in the Holy Spirit, the holy Christian church, the communion of saints, the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body, and the life everlasting. Amen.”
6 What does this mean?
Answer: I believe that by my own reason or strength I cannot believe in Jesus Christ, my Lord, or come to him. But the Holy Spirit has called me through the Gospel, enlightened me with his gifts, and sanctified and preserved me in true faith, just as he calls, gathers, enlightens, and sanctifies the whole Christian church on earth and preserves it in union with Jesus Christ in the one true faith.  (1)

For fifteen years or so, I’ve been hearing that we are in a post-modern world, and along with that, a post-Christian society.

Instinctually, I have questioned both claims. Especially the claim that the church, that Christianity is somehow past its course, that it no longer appeals to people. I would contend that it is not the church people have gone beyond, but the presentation of the church that is dependent solely on reason, that appeals to a logical and systematic view of our beliefs.

Nearly a generation after Dobson’s popular book suggesting that we can’t trust our emotions, a new generation is realizing what Luther taught so long ago, that we can’t trust our reason either.  We hear it when they talk of not wanting religion but a relationship.  We see it when they say they love our Jesus, but not his church.  We see it when books like the Case fo Christ doesn’t have the appeal that it had 10 years ago, or Evidence that demands a verdict had 25 years ago.

A generation that bashes an emotional appeal to “come to Christ” is finding out the logical presentation doesn’t create a deeper faith, but often a rather hollow one.  Holiness doesn’t come because of reason, or because of emotion.  Nor can righteousness be measured by either one.  (Maybe we should stop with our generalizations condemning or applauding those options?)

Holiness comes as both our emotions/feeling and reason/logic are sanctified.  It is not a Venn diagram of where they intersect, but the entirety of both, as God comes to us, cleanses us of sin and all that is not right, and sets us apart to walk with Him, as He guides us.  He is both our majestic Lord, and our loving Father. 

It is He who keeps us, guards us, our hearts and minds, in this relationship that is completely dependent, even at the most intimate levels, at the most broken points of our lives, where we realize that both our emotions and reason fail, and are nailed to the cross.

Thye both have to be killed off, and they both have to be raised from the dead, with Christ, in Christ, focused on Christ, in awe of His love, dependent upon Him, cleansed by Him and humbly guided by Him.  

It is then that our prayers are alive, that our desire to worship grows, that we aren’t focused on religious things as tasks or obligations, but rather as blessings, opportunities to see what really matters.   It is here where revival happens, where brokenness is healed. It is this place where sin is set aside, because we begin to see the glory of God, not just as something distant, but something that we are drawn into by the Holy Spirit. This is repentance and renewal. 

This is life in Christ.

Our life.  TO love Him with our reason and emotions, with our heart, soul, mind and strength, because He came and loved us.

This is the work of God!

AMEN!

(1)  Tappert, T. G. (Ed.). (1959). The Book of Concord the confessions of the Evangelical Lutheran Church. (p. 345). Philadelphia: Mühlenberg Press.

Where Renewal Starts…..

Devotional Thought of the Day:
26  This means that every time you eat this bread and drink from this cup you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes. 27  It follows that if one of you eats the Lord’s bread or drinks from his cup in a way that dishonors him, you are guilty of sin against the Lord’s body and blood. 28  So then, you should each examine yourself first, and then eat the bread and drink from the cup. 29  For if you do not recognize the meaning of the Lord’s body when you eat the bread and drink from the cup, you bring judgment on yourself as you eat and drink. 30  That is why many of you are sick and weak, and several have died. 31  If we would examine ourselves first, we would not come under God’s judgment. 32  But we are judged and punished by the Lord, so that we shall not be condemned together with the world.     1 Corinthians 11:26-32 (TEV)

109      There is an enemy of the interior life which is both little and silly. Unfortunately, it can be very effective. It is the neglect of effort in one’s examination of conscience.  (1)

For this reason private confession should be retained in the church, for in it consciences afflicted and crushed by the terrors of sin lay themselves bare and receive consolation which they could not acquire in public preaching. We want to open up confession as a port and refuge for those whose consciences the devil holds enmeshed in his snares and whom he completely bewitches and torments in such a way that they cannot free or extricate themselves and feel and see nothing else but that they must perish. For there is no other greater misery in this life than the pains and perplexities of a heart that is destitute of guidance and solace.
To such, then, an approach to confession should be opened up so that they may seek and find consolation among the ministers of the church.  (2)

Growing up in the 1970’s there was a lot of talk of renewal, and movements which facilitated various renewals.  There was a call for liturgical renewal, retreats that offered times of personal renewal, parish and congregational renewal, and the movement which was known as the Charismatic Renewal.

Each form of renewal brought promise, sometimes delivered, sometimes frustrated.

Then in the 90’s we replaced renewal with revival, and then revitalizatiom.

Now it seems that renewal, either personal, congregational, across a denomination, or across the entire church has been tossed aside.  We’d rather close churches, and start something completely new.  We’d rather give up on people whose faith has become dormant, and focus on new conversion.  Or worse, offer hope to those churches and people, not through the renewal of their spirit, but through returning to the forms that left them dried, weary and with a withered faith.

How will these new lives survive when their new churches hit 20-25 years old (the age when some skeptics say churches begin to die)   What will happen to the faith of these people who are guided toward the dry, repetitive faith that caused their churches to dwindle?

Or is there an option?

Could it be found in these words from Paul about the examination of our hearts and souls? Could it be in letting confession and the examination it offers fall into disuse we have hindered renewal/revival in the church, and if the church is not renewed, neither is the world?

What joy have we prevented people from knowing, what joy and peace could we offer them, simply by helping them realize their need for forgiveness while assuring them it is offered?  What joy and peace have we neglected giving our people, what guilt and shame do they bear, not knowing they bear it without need?

We talk of wanting churches to grow, in number, faith and practice, yet we do not offer them the basic respite the psalmists craved, and rejoiced and rested as they received it.

What if we offered them a real chance to examine themselves, to consider their lives, to cry out for deliverance, to cry out in hope?  What if our words assured them of God’s mercy, of the forgiveness He years to give, of the love He would assure them they have?

Our people need to examine themselves, knowing that they are doing so to find their freedom in Christ.  To know that doing so will bring them life, as God sets aside all that would inhibit their life, and transform and make them Holy. For that is what absolution, that is our cleansing.

That is renewal, that is revival, that is life being restored to those who are weary and worn, broken and devastated.

May we, and our people cry out for the Lord’s mercy, knowing He who provides it is faithful.
AMEN!

(1)  Escriva, Josemaria (2011-01-31). The Forge (Kindle Locations 589-591). Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition.

(2)  Luther, M. (1999). Luther’s works, vol. 6: Lectures on Genesis: Chapters 31-37. (J. J. Pelikan, H. C. Oswald, & H. T. Lehmann, Eds.) (Vol. 6, pp. 297–298). Saint Louis: Concordia Publishing House.

A Prophercy Self-fulfilled: The Church Life-Span

Devotional Thought of the Day:

19  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. 20  May you watch over this Temple day and night, this place where you have said you would put your name. May you always hear the prayers I make toward this place. 21  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.    2 Chronicles 6:19-21 (NLT)

1  If GOD doesn’t build the house, the builders only build shacks. If GOD doesn’t guard the city, the night watchman might as well nap.
Psalm 127:1 (MSG)

About 12 years ago, I was in a program that trained pastors for what is called Intentional Interim Ministry, or what I prefer to call Transitional Ministry.  It trained pastors, many retired or about to retire, in how to help a conflicted church or a church whose identity was found in relationship to their old pastor prepare to be shepherded by someone new.

A lot of the material was excellent, but there was one theory I questioned then, and I question even more now.  It was called the “life-cycle” of a church.  It proposed that most churches were lasting about 40 years, and 25 years into that cycle they began to decline.  Often overlooked in that discussion was the exception.  I questioned the theory and the basis for it.  I have seen too many churches that have existed for hundreds of years and are still a cornerstone of their community. I also wondered about the correlation of the theory to the generation it originated in – the baby boomers.

Now, I see the theory has become self-fulfilling.   But I still don’t think it is accurate.  Here is why.

1.  How we use our talent.
If we buy into the fact that a church has a specific life-cycle, then we will see a move to use our human resources and gifts accordingly.  Our brighter seminarians will be taught that the best will be the large church pastors or church planters.
After all, the statistics infer that the biggest “bang for the buck” is not in established parishes and congregations, but in doing something new.  Those churches in the decline or approaching 40 years will be relegated to men who go through the motions, or as the clergy crisis draws nearer, to retirees who are great preachers, but don’t have the energy or drive to disciple and work in the community.

2.  How we use our money.
What we will see here is similar,  Rather than invest in the costly upkeep of 40-70-year-old churches, we will fund new initiatives, and ministries that make us feel like we are accomplishing things now.  Effectively we will teach the next generation that sacrifice and determination are not as important and that it is better to give up and abandon, rather than dig deep and care for a community. (we already see this in the wastelands of cities that have been abandoned)
By the way, I am not just talking about the gothic cathedrals, but the store front chapels, the inner city, and extreme rural churches.

3. We devalue the people in a place
The first church I was called to pastor was a little place with 14 senior citizens left by the time I got there.  I was told by “the experts” that the most effective strategy was to drive off the people, close the doors, and re-open the church six months later with a new name.  They were willing to put their money where their mouth was and offer me a generous salary if I went with their logic.

But they couldn’t answer how these people would be cared for, where they would hear of God’s love.  I have since heard other leaders say it doesn’t matter; they will find some place to go, if they can’t travel to the new church plant, well they can go to some other church in their community.  These people of God didn’t matter, what mattered more were the resources they were hoarding, that they weren’t using. They didn’t see any value to them.  They didn’t see them as children of God, as fellow brothers and sisters in Christ Jesus.

Where there’s is no prophetic vision, scriptures tell us, people will perish.  When we teach them that their church must leave a legacy, rather than have them share what God is doing, then that is all that is left.  A legacy.  We’ve robbed them of what is theirs in Christ Jesus.

4.  We dishonor God, and dismiss His promises
As I look at scripture, while the church is the people of God, there is always a special bond between the people and the land where they gather with God.  The promised land to Abraham, the altars of Jacob/Israel, the role of the tabernacle and then Solomon’s temple.  God always talked of a place where He would put His name, where He would gather His own.  The only time those places “closed” and something new was started was during times of sin and rebellion.  Times where people did what was right in their own eyes.  Times when the people forgot the promises of God, and leaned on their own strength and understanding.
While a church building today isn’t the same as the Temple – it is still dedicated and set aside for a purpose.  There are still those who are baptized there, where the Body and Blood of Christ is a feast of our communion with God.  Where we celebrate new life, both physical and spiritual, and where we give thanks for those who are part of us, who have died and gone home.

When we invest in the new, as if it is the best, if not only hope for the church, we dismiss God, and we discount people.

But what if we invested in these places, in the communities?  What if we sent pastors who would sacrifice and strive, who would guide and be patient?  What if we rededicated those buildings, and re-read the gospel as the Jews were told to do regularly.  What if we treasured what happened in those buildings, and invited people to join us there.  What if we realize God was with

What if we sent pastors who would sacrifice and strive, who would guide and be patient?  What if we rededicated those buildings, and re-read the gospel as the Jews were told to do regularly.  What if we treasured what happened in those buildings, and invited people to join us there.  What if we realize God was with us there, and put His name there for a purpose, for people?

I bet that would fulfill a different prophecy, and we would see that God doesn’t abandon a congregation, that God doesn’t forget His promises.

That God hears, and forgives, and reconciles and bless His people.  What if that vision were given, in such a way, that the people and the church didn’t perish?

Could we give that a try, rather than just abandoning people and planting new wildernesses?

Pray to the Lord of the Harvest – for these fields are still ready for harvesting..

Do We Hate Sin? Or Just Passively Accept it’s Existence?

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Broken by sin, one lost is returned by the Shepherd

Devtional/Discussion THought of the Day:
29  Levi gave a large dinner at his home for Jesus. Everybody was there, tax men and other disreputable characters as guests at the dinner. 30  The Pharisees and their religion scholars came to his disciples greatly offended. “What is he doing eating and drinking with crooks and ‘sinners’?” 31  Jesus heard about it and spoke up, “Who needs a doctor: the healthy or the sick? 32  I’m here inviting outsiders, not insiders—an invitation to a changed life, changed inside and out. Luke 5:29-32 (MSG) 

1024      Help me repeat in the ear of this person and of that other one… and of everyone: a sinner who has faith, even if he were to obtain all the blessings of this earth, will necessarily be unhappy and wretched. It is true that the motive that leads us (and should lead everyone) to hate sin, even venial sin, ought to be a supernatural one: that God abhors sin from the depths of his infiniteness, with a supreme, eternal and necessary hatred, as an evil opposed to the infinite good. But the first reason I mentioned to you can lead us to this other one.  (1)

Yesterday in our Adult Bible Study the comment came up again, about Jesus’ words. “judge not, lest you be judged”. We were dealing with the Leviticus 19, and the call to confront those we struggle with, lest we carry the burden of their sin.  It seems, that we are challenged, greatly challenged, by what appears to be contradictory commands in scripture.  We are not to judge (actually condemn might be more accruate) but we have to make the judgment that a relationship damaged by sin, needs to be fixed.   We have to risk being judged for being judgmental. (for surely those accused of jduging will be judged!)

Some will say in response, “You have to hate the sin, and love the sinner!”   If this is just a way of accepting the inevitable fact that all of us still sin, and that we have to love people who are dominated by such sin, then it is not accurate. Hating the sin means hating the hold it has over people, the oppression it causes, as people get sucked into its grip. We have to realzie that sin is powerful, it does control and oppress people, and it can do devastating damage to a person, and to those around them.  No wonder Paul said,

 17  But I need something more! For if I know the law but still can’t keep it, and if the power of sin within me keeps sabotaging my best intentions, I obviously need help! 18  I realize that I don’t have what it takes. I can will it, but I can’t do it. 19  I decide to do good, but I don’t really do it; I decide not to do bad, but then I do it anyway. 20  My decisions, such as they are, don’t result in actions. Something has gone wrong deep within me and gets the better of me every time. 21  It happens so regularly that it’s predictable. The moment I decide to do good, sin is there to trip me up. 22  I truly delight in God’s commands, 23  but it’s pretty obvious that not all of me joins in that delight. Parts of me covertly rebel, and just when I least expect it, they take charge. 24  I’ve tried everything and nothing helps. I’m at the end of my rope. Is there no one who can do anything for me? Isn’t that the real question? Romans 7:17-24 (MSG)

Do we hate that feeling that nothing we can do helps, when we are oppressed by sin?  Do we cry out as Paul does here, openly, to the Church in Rome?  Or, have we just given up, and left people in bondage to it, accepting that it just is that way?

Remember why Jesus said He came above.  It’s not for us who think we are whole, who claim we’ve broken the power of sin, and we are holy.

It is for those broken by sin, devastated by it, those who are crying out for help.  Those who need a healing that only Jesus Christ can bring about, as He unites us to Himself, as He takes on our sin.  That’s what the Pharisees didn’t see, that Christ didn’t come to celebrate the good life, but to crush sin and its power. Hating sin as God does means that we want to see people come to that transformation, that incredible thing called repentance, to the freedom from its power. Paul finished off his cry above with this,

 25  The answer, thank God, is that Jesus Christ can and does. He acted to set things right in this life of contradictions where I want to serve God with all my heart and mind, but am pulled by the influence of sin to do something totally different.  Romans  (MSG) 1  With the arrival of Jesus, the Messiah, that fateful dilemma is resolved. Those who enter into Christ’s being-here-for-us no longer have to live under a continuous, low-lying black cloud. 2  A new power is in operation. The Spirit of life in Christ, like a strong wind, has magnificently cleared the air, freeing you from a fated lifetime of brutal tyranny at the hands of sin and death. 3  God went for the jugular when he sent his own Son. He didn’t deal with the problem as something remote and unimportant. In his Son, Jesus, he personally took on the human condition, entered the disordered mess of struggling humanity in order to set it right once and for all.  Romans 7:25-8:3(MSG)

In Christ, we are set right, once and for all. But that means we need to realzie that people need to be set right, they need to be freed from this oppressive thing we know as sin…..

But that means we need to confront, in love.  A tough challenge, a lot of risk. But that is why He came – and that is why we are here….for if Christ didn’t come to care for the well, but the sick, shouldn’t we be following His example?

Lord have mercy on us, help us to hate the sin, and seek healing for sinners from its ravages!

 

(1)  Escriva, Josemaria (2011-01-31). The Forge (Kindle Locations 3623-3628). Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition.

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