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Why the Little Things in Ministry Matter More…

20170124_103703Devotional Thought for Our Day:

42 And whoever gives j just a cup of cold water to one of these little ones because he is a disciple —I assure you: He will never lose his reward!”  Matt 10:42 HCSB

Mission springs from the certainty of faith that coexists with the thousand questions of a pilgrim.
Faith is not a matter of ideology, existential security, but of an irreplaceable encounter with a living person, Jesus of Nazareth.

Most of us will never baptize 30 people in a day, never mind 3000.  Most of us will never write a book that will revive and change the church at large.  We aren’t Calvin or Luther or Pope Ratzinger.  We aren’t the great minds of the church, nor the servants whose love and sacrifice is honored by millions

Yet our ministry is just as powerful, if not more so, even when it is as simple as praying with someone who is struggling or offering a cup of water to someone who is tired and weary.

Pope Francis explains it well if a bit technically. Mission, the work God sends us to do, doesn’t come about because of our doctrinal knowledge. It doesn’t come about because we have all the questions answered, and know it all.  We will still have thousands of questions, many of them which will go unanswered in this life.  For doctrinal statements are not really statements of faith.

Nor does faith come about just because we have security in this life and for the next. It is not because we are assured of heaven that we spring up to serve others, to care for them, to reveal to them the God who loves them.  We can’t even anticipate what heaven is, it is unfathomable.

But faith, the kind of faith that leads to being “mission-minded” comes from encountering Jesus.  An encounter that is irreplaceable, an encounter that leaves us in awe, and in peace that is inexpressible.  For in our encounter, Jesus takes away our burdens, our sins, our resentment,  It’s all gone.  Even the anxieties of today and eternity, and the academic explanations of religion, they slide into the background,  for there is only Him.

Only Him….

only HIM!

And it is wonderful, it is beyond explanation.

And from there, we find something else happening.  We see our hearts aware of those in need around us, the very people God has sent us to minister too, even when that ministry is a simple cup of water…given because the Lord is with you!

I pray that we all experience Jesus’ presence, revealed by His word, know in His sacraments, and therebt dwel and minister to others in His peace.  AMEN!

 

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

The Church in Decline. Will we treat the problem, instead of the symptoms?

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

Discussion Thought of the Day:
26 Then Jesus said, “The kingdom of God is like someone who plants seed in the ground. 27 Night and day, whether the person is asleep or awake, the seed still grows, but the person does not know how it grows. 28 By itself the earth produces grain. First the plant grows, then the head, and then all the grain in the head. 29 When the grain is ready, the farmer cuts it, because this is the harvest time.”  Mark 4:26-29 NCV

182         What compassion you feel for them!… You would like to cry out to them that they are wasting their time… Why are they so blind, and why can’t they perceive what you—a miserable creature—have seen? Why don’t they go for the best? Pray and mortify yourself. Then you have the duty to wake them up, one by one, explaining to them—also one by one—that they, like you, can find a divine way, without leaving the place they occupy in society.

Perhaps a better way for us to grasp the meaning of theosis and deification is to use the word relationship. However, the word relationship may not be strong enough to express the Eastern grasp of participation in Jesus and through him a participation in the very communal life of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit that theosis and deification imply. In Eastern thought, the goal of the Christian is to so commune with God that he or she is made more and more in the image of Christlikeness, fulfilling God’s purposes for humanity in God’s creation.

Back in the 1950’s and 60’s, former missionaries noticed trends in the church and wondered why the church in America was static and beginning to decline, while on the mission field it began to grow.

Such studies developed into the field of church growth, which my alma mater required all ministry students to major in, as well as their field (preaching, youth ministry, worship ministry, Christian Ed)  An entire industry has been created, with experts and consultants that will come and analyze your church and provide nice neat programmed solutions that may result in growth in numbers, in budget, etc.

Another industry has grown up that counters the church growth movement.  Usually, it calls for more precision in doctrine, a more historic approach, looking back to the glory days of the church when everyone came and the pews and coffers were filled.

The battles between these groups have led to denominations being devoured in conflict, which drives more people away, burns out more pastors.

But what if the answer is found, not in treating the symptom of decline, but what causes the decline?  What if our studies and the raging wars around what to do with the data, are part of the problem.

What if the issue isn’t “church growth” but simply being aware of the presence of God in our lives?  Whether it was Roland Allen or Donald McGavran,  or C Peter Wagner or John Wimber , whether it is Paul Boland’s theories on revitalizing the church, Webber’s Ancient-Future thoughts, there is a focus on prayer, on communion with God.  The call to prayer, the call to awareness of the relationship, the theosis, the intimate contact between a God who comes to us.  It’s there, in all of their works, the essential component, yet so forgotten in most implementations.  Overlooked because there is no way to measure the results, no way to quantify in a timely matter the success of such things.  Overlooked because it cannot be measured against a creedal or confessional statement.  Maybe it is overlooked because we ourselves aren’t actively living a life walking with God?

Let’s admit that Jesus is right – we don’t know how the kingdom of God grows, so why are we focusing our energy on that?  What would happen instead if we spent the time and effort walking with God, exploring the height and depth, the breadth and width of His love?  What effect would that have on our worship?  Our preaching?  Our teaching?  Our lives lived, with the Holy Spirit, in our communities?

What effect does the glory of God have on us, who should have experienced it? We see it in the eyes of those given the first Bible in their language, the crowds that rejoice in mass baptisms, the barely trained evangelists and pastors in the third world who cry fro training because their churches are growing faster than they can manage.

Without programs, often without full Bibles, sometimes not being even able to read.  Yet full of the awareness of God’s love, something happens.  They make Him known.  People come to know God, and know He loves them, they are so joyous over walking with Him, they share this with those who are blind, but will see, with those lost, but are found.  Without the studies, without the consultants, without the experts in growth, these churches are growing – simply because they know Jesus!

God chooses to commune with us!  God is here, not distant!  He loves us!  We have been found by divinity, and He wants us to enter HIs glory!  Here it is, givet this to your people, help them to see

AMEN!

 

Escriva, Josemaria. Furrow (Kindle Locations 974-978). Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition.

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

Christ-centric life….a good reminder!

 

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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.

 

The Nature of Suffering and Ministry: Some thoughts on those criticizing Mother Theresa

Devotional THoguht for the Day:

41  He walked away, about a stone’s throw, and knelt down and prayed, 42  “Father, if you are willing, please take this cup of suffering away from me. Yet I want your will to be done, not mine.” 43  Then an angel from heaven appeared and strengthened him. 44  He prayed more fervently, and he was in such agony of spirit that his sweat fell to the ground like great drops of blood. 45  At last he stood up again and returned to the disciples, only to find them asleep, exhausted from grief. Luke 22:41-45 (NLT)

The joys and the hopes, the griefs and the anxieties of the men of this age, especially those who are poor or in any way afflicted, these are the joys and hopes, the griefs and anxieties of the followers of Christ. Indeed, nothing genuinely human fails to raise an echo in their hearts. For theirs is a community composed of men. United in Christ, they are led by the Holy Spirit in their journey to the Kingdom of their Father and they have welcomed the news of salvation which is meant for every man. That is why this community realizes that it is truly linked with mankind and its history by the deepest of bonds.  (1)

17 Alms could be listed here, (among the sacraments) as well as afflictions, which in themselves are signs to which God has added promises.  (2)

I read a critique about St. Theresa of Calcutta (still Mother Theresa to me) yesterday which said her being made a saint should be controversial because of two things.  The first is that she glorified suffering instead of relieving it, and that she had a strong missional spirit, to the extent she was accused of using her ministry to make proselytes.

I think the author has no idea of suffering, or to be more precise, he makes a generalization about suffering that is too short-sighted.  On top of that, he confuses proselytism with ministry. 

There is suffering that must be relieved – some of it simple, such as feeding and educating the poor.  Or the sacrifices that are made to relieve suffering in the midst of natural disaster and other traumatic experiences. W e need to be there – to alleviate what we can – and to ensure that as we do, they know they are loved.

The is suffering that cannot be relieved (especially in the short run) without a miraculsou healing, which can and does happen.  Yet it is not on-demand, and only God knows why in this case and not that. Such are the poor with leprosy Theresa and her co-workers ministered to, or those on hospice I helped our nurses minister to  as their staff chaplain.  The answer here is not to simply do away with those who suffer, but to be there with them, to make sure they are not abandoned, to offer comfort and peace to them and those around them.  The answer cannot be euthanasia, that is not an answer, it is dismissing the value of the person, who is a valuable part of our community.  SO there is suffering that must be endured – but never alone! 

Then there is suffering which should be endured, for the sake of the gospel, in order to share the love of God with people.  The kind of suffering that Theresa chose, the physical and psychological and even spiritual despair that accompanies ministering to those who are suffering.  This is the suffering that is “sacramental” as the Lutheran confessions explain sacraments.  It is the suffering the church gladly takes on, for in this ministry, we encounter Jesus. It is the suffering the apostles would feel – that would even exhaust them to where they fell asleep because of the turmoil, because of the ministry, because of the grief.

This is where the writer accused Mother Theresa of proselytizing the people she and her co-workers minister too.  As if they did this to grow numbers in a club, or as if they got a bonus from God for making converts. I’ve been in similar circumstances, and often, being there when all others have left, when others can’t stand the pain, the suffering, even the stench of disease, is when we encounter the Holy Spirit at work, and a heart made ready to know a love that makes a difference. 

It’s not caring for people so that they will convert, but as God reveals himself, it happens. They find His love, they find HIs mercy, they find a strength that turns their suffering into something holy, for both them and the one offering care.

That is when suffering, well there isn’t a word I can think of except beautiful or glorious, or maybe transcendent.  When hope prevails over pain, and joy is mixed with the sorrow, when God is present, and when the line between patient and caregiver is blurred, because we realize in that moment God is caring for both of us, and we are simply His kids.  He ministers to each, through the other.

That is something that is hard to notice from an office, from a keyboard or even watching video that recorded the ministry.  You have to become part of it, have a stake in it, and serve those, and be served. It happens, as God dwells among His people.

As He hears and answers their cries for mercy, sometimes in ways not expected, but He answers, and hearts and minds are brought to know a peace that is beyond understanding.

 

(1)  Catholic Church. “Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World: Gaudium Et Spes.” Vatican II Documents. Vatican City: Libreria Editrice Vaticana, 2011. Print.

(2)  Tappert, Theodore G., ed. The Book of Concord the Confessions of the Evangelical Lutheran Church. Philadelphia: Mühlenberg Press, 1959. Print.  (from Article XIII of the Apology of the Augsburg Confession…

Incarnation, Sacramental, and Mystical: Our Communion with God!

Devotional Thought of the day:
10  “Be still, and know that I am God! I will be honored by every nation. I will be honored throughout the world.” 11  The LORD of Heaven’s Armies is here among us; the God of Israel is our fortress.   Psalm 46:10-11 (NLT)

14  For this reason I fall on my knees before the Father, 15  from whom every family in heaven and on earth receives its true name. 16  I ask God from the wealth of his glory to give you power through his Spirit to be strong in your inner selves, 17  and I pray that Christ will make his home in your hearts through faith. I pray that you may have your roots and foundation in love, 18  so that you, together with all God’s people, may have the power to understand how broad and long, how high and deep, is Christ’s love. 19  Yes, may you come to know his love—although it can never be fully known—and so be completely filled with the very nature of God.   Ephesians 3:14-19 (TEV)

54      You enjoy an interior happiness and peace that you would not exchange for anything in the world. God is here. There is no better way than telling him our woes for them to cease being such.  (1)

With might of ours can naught be done, Soon were our loss effected;
But for us fights the Valiant One, Whom God Himself elected.
Ask ye, Who is this?
Jesus Christ it is!  Of Sabaoth Lord! (2)
And there’s none other God; He holds the field forever! (3) 

In a recent blog, I used the phrase, “basking in God’s love”, which apparently upset someone.  Enough that I was accused, behind my back, of advocating mysticism.   Now while I will freely admit to being on the mystical side of Christianity, that is not the same as mysticism.

Rather, it is the approach of being in reverent awe, and meditating on, with heart, mind, and soul, the very love of God.  The devotion, the loyalty and faithfulness of God to a wretch like me, and a wretch like you.  it is coming upon the absolute love of God (see the Hebrew word cHesed, and the Greek words agape and elios) for His children, and as it is revealed, being stunned and pondering its depths, while enjoying the peace that love brings to us. 

It is that sacramental moment, that point of communion with God, where we find out what David advocated, being still, not fighting, knowing that God is God, our refuge, our place of peace, In Him we find that moment where all is abandoned as Josemaria, and our woes, and see them, along with our sin, sliding away (see Hebrews 12:2).

It is that incarnational moment, when we truly understand with everything we are that Jesus the Christ is here, that the Lord Sabaoth is with you.  It is a moment of utter submission, of allowing God to be responsible, to be our benevolent Master, the Lord of Life, to reign over us.

And it is in that truth we need to bask, we need to be still, we need to enjoy those moments. To realize how precious are these foretastes of the feast to come, as we encounter them at the baptismal font, as we hear our sins absolved, as we commune with the Body and Blood of Christ.

That moment where the presence of God is not just a academic theological expression but palpable, a moment where we realize our faith is found in Him.  Not in a leap of our own logic, not in a decision in a case made to prove to us He was a historic figure.  It is a moment that is a mystery, something we can explain the dymamics of, save to save He dwells in us, that this love is the basis and foundation, something that is far more than our words and blogs can explain.  It is sacramental; it is incarnational, a mystery of our faith.

Yes, these moments we need to bask in, not for the sake of the moment, but for the communion of God and man that occurs.  As the church, we need to provide them for those who we care for, those we shepherd, for there they will find Christ, and being amazed by His glory, the Holy Spirit will transform them into His image.It has the assurance that our cry for HIs mercy is heard, and answered, when the world looks on stunned at the peace we know.

Call this being a mystic?  That’s fine; God isn’t small enough for us not to be mystified, taken aback, and to become hungry to explore the dimensions of His love for us, revealed in Christ Jesus.

But it is a far cry from mysticism.

So bask in this love of God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, know His presence, and peace, and as you rest in Him, may you realize you are being transformed by the Spirit’s renewing of your mind.  This is my prayer for you. and for me.

Godspeed!

(1)   Escriva, Josemaria (2011-01-31). The Forge (Kindle Locations 420-422). Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition.

(2)  Sabbaoth Lord – often translated as the Lord God Almighty, it is a reference to Christ being the Lord (commander) of all of Heaven’s armies and strength.

(3)  A Mighty Fortress is our God, quote from TLH at http://www.lutheran-hymnal.com/lyrics/tlh262.htm

Do We De-value the Lord’s Supper?

Devotional/Discussion Thought of the Day:Concordia Lutheran Church - Cerritos, Ca , at dawn on Easter Sunday

16  When we drink the cup of blessing, aren’t we taking into ourselves the blood, the very life, of Christ? And isn’t it the same with the loaf of bread we break and eat? Don’t we take into ourselves the body, the very life, of Christ? 17  Because there is one loaf, our many-ness becomes one-ness—Christ doesn’t become fragmented in us. Rather, we become unified in him. We don’t reduce Christ to what we are; he raises us to what he is. 1 Corinthians 10:16-17 (MSG) 

52  Then the Jews started arguing among themselves, ‘How can this man give us his flesh to eat?’ 53  Jesus replied to them: In all truth I tell you, if you do not eat the flesh of the Son of man and drink his blood, you have no life in you. 54  Anyone who does eat my flesh and drink my blood has eternal life, and I shall raise that person up on the last day. 55  For my flesh is real food and my blood is real drink. 56  Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood lives in me and I live in that person. John 6:52-56 (NJB)

“Don’t recoil: your life is going to be a soothing of suffering. This is why you are a disciple of the Master!”  (1)

“When I made you a present of that Life of Jesus, I wrote in it this inscription: ‘May you seek Christ. May you find Christ. May you love Christ.’ These are three very distinct steps. Have you at least tried to live the first one?”  (2)

When I started writing this blog this morning, I was thinking about the chapel service I led last night for a bunch of seminarians.  Great guys, who for the last three weeks I have been privileged to watch engaged in worship, To engage in worship with for a short period of time.  Last night, I had the greatest honor, as I fed them the body of Christ, as another pastor gave them the cup of blessing.

The reaction of some was gratefulness, thanks, rejoicing… comments I overheard talked about how they felt more united to each other.  That’s cool.

It’s one of the reasons for this blog….those Bible verses above, make it clear – this isn’t just  ritual, it is a communion, a time to give thanks, a time to realize the presence of Jesus Christ’s Body and Blood, given and shed for us, that we may live!

This morning, instead of opening the Furrow, (the devotional book I am reading) for some reason I opened the Way.  (Both are written by the same guy, St Josemaria Escriva)   The two quotes are from the introduction and the forward, They hit me even harder with the necessity of our people to regularly receive the Body and Blood of Christ.

The first is that we encounter much suffering.  In the last two weeks, not only have I seen it in the eyes of my friends, my parishioners, but I have seen it as well in the hearts of my brothers who shepherd God’s people, who feed them the Body and Blood of Christ.  Severe pain, caused by hard transitions.  Some are forced, some are taken on because they knew it was time, even though the pain is excruciating.  (Including the pain of those who second guess and play armchair quarterback)   We are called to soothe each others wounds, and that is critical in our actions, in our life.

And the best place for dealing with such suffering is on our knees, receiving the Body of Christ. drinking from His fount, reveling in His cleansing presence in our very bodies, in our very lives.  For us who are called to soothe suffering and for those who are suffering, this time is precious, it shouldn’t be rushed, it becomes a time of peace.

For the other comment comes into play.  Seek Christ, Find Christ, Love Christ.  For He is seeking you indeed, but here at the altar, you find him.  You know His love, you turn and love in turn.

We devalue this precious time with God in so many ways.  When we think it only worth a twice a month offering.  When we fail to find ourselves united together with Christ, when we fail to work to see the entire Church able to participate in it together.  When we refuse to let what we believe call us to the altar, instead maintaining it must be the name on our church that determines who is worthy.  When we fail to point out the healing that occurs, the relationships mended, the life given.  We devalue it when we reduce our appreciation of it to what we can observe, when we evaluate the celebration and the bread an from a rational, logical, scientific position.  When we fail to recognize the Body and Blood of Christ  given and shared with us, for us.  When we fail to see the Body of Christ, all those whom it was given for.

This time is precious, it is ordained by God.  That alone should be enough for us… but there is so much more…..

Come my friends, you are invited to the feast that is the foretaste of the feast to come…. Let us rejoice and go to the house of the Lord!

(1)   Escriva, Josemaria (2010-11-02). The Way (Kindle Location 72). Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition.

(2)   Escriva, Josemaria (2010-11-02). The Way (Kindle Locations 111-113). Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition.

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