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The Confusion about “Faith Alone”

Tau CrossDevotional Thought for our day:
20  And when people escape from the wickedness of the world by knowing our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ and then get tangled up and enslaved by sin again, they are worse off than before. 21  It would be better if they had never known the way to righteousness than to know it and then reject the command they were given to live a holy life. 2 Peter 2:20-21 (NLT)

2  For the message God delivered through angels has always stood firm, and every violation of the law and every act of disobedience was punished. 3  So what makes us think we can escape if we ignore this great salvation that was first announced by the Lord Jesus himself and then delivered to us by those who heard him speak? Hebrews 2:2-3 (NLT)

325    Fight against the softness that makes you lazy and careless in your spiritual life. Remember that it might well be the beginning of tepidity … and, in the words of the Scripture, God will vomit out the lukewarm.

In the last couple of weeks, I’ve seen a lot of discussion about the phrase “faith alone” (sola fide in Latin.)  In those conversations, I have read what Reformed think I believe, that Romans Catholics think we mean by it, and even what Orthodox think we believe by the term.

Unfortunately, none of them told me what I actually believe, even though they said they were accurately representing what Lutheran and Calvin mean by the term. (there is the first clue when they claim Luther and Calvin mean the same thing when they use “faith alone”)

As I read St. Josemaria’s words this morning, it got me thinking about the difference between faith being passive (which it is) and faith being lazy or lukewarm.   

Lukewarm or lazy faith is the result of cheap grace, (to use another theologian’s term)  We have the right knowledge, we even pursue that knowledge, but it doesn’t make a difference in the way of life the person lives.  It instead goes for either intellectual or emotional stimuli to determine what is good.  It would rather see that than action, because we know that action doesn’t save, only faith does.  (it, therefore, denies the role of the sacraments in regard to faith!)  And because it lacks roots, it dries up and fades away.  This is not “faith alone” because there is no God that is transcendent, that is here, that is involved.  

Passive faith means that we depend on God, for our salvation, for our life, and our dependence is only on Him.  He saves us, He brings us to life, He causes us to walk with Him, and the Holy Spirit’s presence transforms us, making us holy, taking on the image of Christ.  It is passive in that only finds hope, it only finds an answer in our relationship with God, a relationship He determines, that He defines, that He constantly nourishes.

That is what those who confuse Calvin and Luther don’t quite understand, or those who were trying to represent what I believe (as a Lutheran pastor)  over the last couple of weeks.  They put forth that “faith alone” didn’t leave room for baptism, or the Lord’s Supper.  Yet in Lutheran theology, these things are part of what is “faith alone”, because God ordained them because He promised to work through them, to pour His promises, including forgiveness through them.   “Faith alone” doesn’t deny God’s means of grace, it actually requires us to depend on God working in the way He promised, through those things and times we call sacramental.

And it is because we walk with God that we find our lives being transformed, that we respond to His love almost instinctively, but yet visibly.  It means we learn to love and love others, responding to their needs, to their search for life and for meaning. This is a life of faith, a life trusting in God, walking with Him whereever we go..

God is with us, and knowing that, we can depend on Him.  That is what “Faith alone” really means, to those it originated with …

AMEN! 

 

Escriva, Josemaria. The Way (Kindle Locations 838-840). Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition.

Slogans, Sermons, and The Celebration

A devotional thought for our days…

Jesus went with them, and when He was not far from the house, the centurion sent friends to tell Him, “Lord, don’t trouble Yourself, since I am not worthy to have You come under my roof. 7 That is why I didn’t even consider myself worthy to come to You. But say the word, and my servant will be cured. 8 For I too am a man placed under authority, having soldiers under my command. d I say to this one, ‘Go!’ and he goes; and to another, ‘Come!’ and he comes; and to my slave, ‘Do this!’ and he does it.”  Luke 7:6-8  HCSB

705      Christian responsibility in work cannot be limited to just putting in the hours. It means doing the task with technical and professional competence… and, above all, with love of God.

Yesterday, my birthday presents were delivered a bit early.  Actually, they came just in time for the Superbowl ( my second favorite part of tomorrow!) 

The present included two items, a hat and a sign for my office. 

The first is a new cap, with what I thought was my favorite slogan for sports and ministry.  “Do Your Job” and that is a critical aspect in football, in the military (as the centurion noted) or in our relationship with God and the ministry that is created by God in our lives.  

We simply need to walk with Him and do as He leads.  Which takes faith, the dependence on God that provides the will and ability (Eph 2:13) to do what pleases Him!   Do Your Job, do it trusting in God.  Do Your Job, loving God

The second slogan now hands on my office door, a few feet from me.  No Days Off!  Oddly enough, this slogan was not revealed during the march to last year’s Superbowl victory, but afterward, during the victory parade.  What was the secret to the victory?  The coaches and players lived football, they lived the game, in season and out of season.  They lived according to the standard of their slogans… and did their job, whatever it required.

Can you imagine if the church did this?  If it made the sacrifices to walk with God each day?  If it dwelt in His presence, depended on His mercy, realized His love and peace fills our lives?  If we stopped treated being Christian was a part-time gig, and desired to live in His love, not just part-time (as if to hit the minimum requirements to gain heaven) nor even full-time ( meeting what we think is our duty) but every day treasured our time with Him, and rejoiced in the love that is our, in and through Jesus?  That is really what our “job” is, everything else, worship, loving for others, caring for others, these things are just the impact of walking with Him. 

Then there is the motto I don’t have anything on, one that I couldn’t find applicable in the Kingdon of God.  The most recent slogan, ‘Not Done Yet”

Then I realized where that slogan comes into play in the church.  It happens as the sermon finishes, and for some people, that is the high point of our church time together.

It isn’t even close.

Altar with communionFor the sermon is simply revealing God’s plan in our lives.   But we aren’t close to being done at that point.  The greatest time in the church comes when we approach the rail together, as we bow together, recognizing the presence and invitation of God, and those who can kneel, and as a community of His people, share in the Eucharist as one.

As I preach, my hunger for the sacrament grows, and I pray it grows in my people.  To be welcome at the table, fully righteous in the eyes of God, fully cleansed by Him and made ready to celebrate.  Even as we realize we are not done yet, as we take a knee, the Lord’s Supper is the beginning of the celebration of Jesus completing His work in us,  For He has done all it takes to make us His own.  And the Eucharist is His thanks to the Father, and our thanks to Him, for it is finished.

He Has done and is doing, His job.  
He takes no days off…
And He is not done yet but will be, when He brings the last prodigal home.

Until then, let us walk with, work with and celebrate the love of God.  AMEN!

Escriva, Josemaria. The Forge (Kindle Locations 2578-2581). Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition.

 

Are You Ready for this? Do you really want this revival/renewal?

20141022_100825 - Copy - Copy - CopyDevotional Thought for our seemingly broken days:
5  A man was there who had been sick for thirty-eight years. 6  Jesus saw him lying there, and he knew that the man had been sick for such a long time; so he asked him, “Do you want to get well?” 7  The sick man answered, “Sir, I don’t have anyone here to put me in the pool when the water is stirred up; while I am trying to get in, somebody else gets there first.” 8  Jesus said to him, “Get up, pick up your mat, and walk.” 9  Immediately the man got well; he picked up his mat and started walking. The day this happened was a Sabbath, John 5:5-9 (TEV)

211      Lazarus rose because he heard the voice of God and immediately wanted to get out of the situation he was in. If he hadn’t wanted to move, he would just have died again. A sincere resolution: to have faith in God always; to hope in God always; to love God always… he never abandons us, even if we are rotting away as Lazarus was.

XI. CONFESSION
1 It is taught among us that private absolution should be retained and not allowed to fall into disuse. However, in confession it is not necessary to enumerate all trespasses and sins,2 for this is impossible. Ps. 19:12, “Who can discern his errors?”

XIII. THE USE OF THE SACRAMENTS
1 It is taught among us that the sacraments were instituted not only to be signs by which people might be identified outwardly as Christians, but that they are signs and testimonies of God’s will toward us for the purpose of awakening and strengthening our faith.  2 For this reason they require faith, and they are rightly used when they are received in faith and for the purpose of strengthening faith.

I often hear people saying they miss the way church used to be.  They may indicate the music or the preaching. Mostly what they long to see are the full sanctuaries on Sunday morning, and church campuses that were busy every day and night of the week.   In dact, for a couple decades we can see the phenomena of people moving from one church to another, looking for the one that is coming alive, that seems to have a new life about them.

We want revival, much like the man who was at the pool wanted to be made well, much like Lazarus, to his surprise, found himself alive at the command of Jesus.  ( I love St Josemaria’s idea that he could have decided to stay there, as I think it is descriptive of many of us!)   

But are we ready for it?  Do we really desire it?

For what it will take is the sureness of our absolution.  Revival and renewal, whether individual or parish wife, requires something.  The realization that every one of our sins are forgiven!  Revival, being brought to life in Christ means we know and depend on the promises that nothing, including that sin, can separate us from the love of God. 

What an incredible thing these sacraments are, these sacred times are, when we realize that God is at work as He desires to be, awakening and strengthening our faith, our dependence on Him. 

For that is what having a strong faith means, we depend on God more, not less.  We realize His presence in our lives more, not less.  We let Him guide our lives, much like a leaf caught up in a stream…drifts and goes where the current takes it.

This kind of reliance on God’s mercy and love, these things we call grace, is at the heart of every revival, every renewal in the history of the church.  It is the hope that underlies the Lutheran Reformation, and the Catholic councils we know as Vatican I and Vatican II.  This is Escriva’s “The Way” and what Luther preaches so clearly in his catechesis. 

So Jesus says to His church today and to you and I,  

“Do you want to be healed?” 

“Do you want to be forgiven of your sin?”

“Do you want to be renewed, and revived”

It starts with trusting in God enough to pray, “Lord have mercy on me, a sinner!” 

Holy Father, Lord Jesus, and Blessed Holy Spirit, in your mercy, help us to say yes, letting you in to cleanse us of all sin and unrighteousness, helping us not to fear coming clean as much as we fear to remain trapped in our sin, which drives us apart from you.  We pray this in the Name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit! AMEN!

Escriva, Josemaria. The Forge (Kindle Locations 922-926). Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition.

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

Transcendence…A Long Forgotten Blessing?

20170124_103703Devotional Thought for our Day:

12 I thank Christ Jesus our Lord, who gave me strength because he trusted me and gave me this work of serving him. 13 In the past I spoke against Christ and persecuted him and did all kinds of things to hurt him. But God showed me mercy, because I did not know what I was doing. I did not believe. 14 But the grace of our Lord was fully given to me, and with that grace came the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus.  1 Timothy 1:12-14

5      Lord, we are glad to find ourselves in your wounded palm. Grasp us tight, squeeze us hard, make us lose all our earthly wretchedness, purify us, set us on fire, make us feel drenched in your Blood. And then, cast us far, far away, hungry for the harvest, to sow the seed more fruitfully each day, for Love of you.

We are in a time of “spiritual myopia and moral shallowness” that try to impose on us as normal the “culture of lowness,” where there is obviously no place for transcendence and hope.

A friend reaches out with a hand that is shaking, another’s bright gray eyes water as her hand to reaches out.  Another refuses to look at me, his hand and arm stretched out to desire that which he knows is his, yet knows it shouldn’t be possible.  An old man will stand up a moment later, and as he returns to his seat, his hand brushes up against the baptismal font.  His hand lingers there, caressing it, in awe of the grace given him at another font, some 90 years before, on another continent, in a time even more turbulent.

I often wonder and even get anxious about a question that arises from such moments, How long does the sense of transcendence last?  How long does this blessed moment, this peace, this awareness of the glory and love of God last?   

Are the people aware of what I see happening to them, do they realize what they are experiencing? 

It is well described by the Apostle Paul, as he talks about the grace completely given to him, this incredible ability to depend on God, assured of His presence, completely aware of His love for us.  It is what Josemaria also writes about, as he pictures us, as he wants us to see ourselves, firmly held in the nail shattered palm.   

It is such faith, such love that calls us to want to be thrown into this broken world, wanting people to know this grace.  Not just out of duty or obligation, not because of the gift that was given to us.  The awe that makes us wonder, and then become amazed, as we find ourselves alive, transformed.  We need these times, whether life is oppressive, or going easy.  Whether we lack any hope or have hope that is found in this world, the kind that is too fleeting and fragile. 

This is what the church has meant by transcendence, this time when we are more sure of the presence of God that we are of our own existence. 

it is why sacramental time, whether times like Baptism and the Eucharist or time of meditation and prayer are so needed in our day.  But when do we take the time?

As a pastor, do I teach about this, model it, encourage it? Isn’t this where I am to shepherd people into, the realization that they dwell in the presence of God, who loves them, cares for them, and will cleanse them and restore them?

As I work on my sermon and worship – and Bible Studies – this needs to remain in my mind…..

and by His grace, it will.

 

Escriva, Josemaria. The Forge (Kindle Locations 249-252). Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition.

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.

Is There Hope for the Hypocritical Church?

Devotional Thought of the Day:

19 and if you are confident that you are a guide for the blind and a light for those in darkness,o 20 that you are a trainer of the foolish and teacher of the simple,p because in the law you have the formulation of knowledge and truth— 21 then you who teach another, are you failing to teach yourself? You who preach against stealing, do you steal?q 22 You who forbid adultery, do you commit adultery? You who detest idols, do you rob temples? 23 You who boast of the law, do you dishonor God by breaking the law? 24 rFor, as it is written, “Because of you the name of God is reviled among the Gentiles.  Romans 2:19-24  NABRE

To those, therefore, who believe in divine love, He gives assurance that the way of love lies open to men and that the effort to establish a universal brotherhood is not a hopeless one. He cautions them at the same time that this charity is not something to be reserved for important matters, but must be pursued chiefly in the ordinary circumstances of life……The Lord left behind a pledge of this hope and strength for life’s journey in that sacrament of faith where natural elements refined by man are gloriously changed into His Body and Blood, providing a meal of brotherly solidarity and a foretaste of the heavenly banquet.  (1)

The words from Romans above hit home hard. 

Do we who preach learn the lessons we preach with such clarity?  

Or is our preaching nothing more than a pious role, acting without the faith, but with the knowledge we have bene given?  Is our message nothing more than a false mask, an act which we think they can’t see through?

Does the world, does our community hate God, not because of who God is, or what He has called into existence, but because of our hypocrisy? 

By the way, this isn’t just for those who preach as part of their pastoral vocation, but those who preach with their lives through other vocations, as husbands and wives, employers and employees, and our “vocation” in social media.

You see Paul’s words from Romans this morning aren’t just applicable to the Jewish leaders of his day, but to us, to all who claim to call out “Lord! Lord!” while turning aside our brothers and sisters who are as broken, and are as made in the image of God. 

So this day, do we need to be confronted as Paul did to those to whom he wrote?  Do we need to have the law drive us back to the cross, back to the altar, back to the place where we can cry, “Lord” but add to it, “have mercy on me a sinner!”

We need his grace; we need His love, his mercy, his peace so that we can live by faith.  A faith that betrays the hypocrisy. We can hear the law and the gospel we preach.  We can have the hope of being transformed from a bunch of hypocrites into a community, a fellowship that is charitable and loving.  Not just in the big things, but in the daily struggles we daily have.

That is the effect of the law – the Law we need to hear, as it drive us to the cross, to the place where our brokenness finds compasssion and healing.  Vatican II sees this in the Eucharist, in that moment where Christ’s broken body transfigures ours, and His righteousness, His love, His life is found in us!

This is what each sacrament is, whether the Lord’s Supper, Baptism, Confession nd Absolution, and even prayer.  It is that moment when our hypocritical nature is overwhelmed by the incarnation, where love washes away all that is not love.

As we live in those moments,  then our God is found attractive, not reviled, and as we see Him lifted up in our praises – people are drawn to Him, through our lives.

No longer hypocrites, but those broken, who find healing in Christ while helping others heal.

(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.

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…

A Very Needed Lesson in Church Leadership..

Discussion Thought of the Day:
12  After Jesus had washed their feet, he put his outer garment back on and returned to his place at the table. “Do you understand what I have just done to you?” he asked. 13  “You call me Teacher and Lord, and it is right that you do so, because that is what I am. 14  I, your Lord and Teacher, have just washed your feet. You, then, should wash one another’s feet. 15  I have set an example for you, so that you will do just what I have done for you. 16  I am telling you the truth: no slaves are greater than their master, and no messengers are greater than the one who sent them. 17  Now that you know this truth, how happy you will be if you put it into practice!   John 13:12-17 (TEV)

12  Then the disciples came to him and asked, “Do you realize you offended the Pharisees by what you just said?” 13  Jesus replied, “Every plant not planted by my heavenly Father will be uprooted, 14  so ignore them. They are blind guides leading the blind, and if one blind person guides another, they will both fall into a ditch.” 15  Then Peter said to Jesus, “Explain to us the parable that says people aren’t defiled by what they eat.” 16  “Don’t you understand yet?” Jesus asked. 17  “Anything you eat passes through the stomach and then goes into the sewer. 18  But the words you speak come from the heart—that’s what defiles you. 19  For from the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, all sexual immorality, theft, lying, and slander. 20  These are what defile you. Eating with unwashed hands will never defile you.”
Matthew 15:12-20 (NLT)

Today how can anyone deny the fact that some men of the church are in a state of moral ruin?  The careerism and the temptation to worldliness that the successor of which Peter speaks so often are very real evils.   Some people imagine that they are products of the pope’s imagination.  Alas , clerical narcissism is not just a literary theme. The sickness can be deep-seated.  
In order to turn the tide, we must first reform our interior life. The church depends on the purity of our souls.”  (1)

The quote in blue comes from a book, basically an enhanced interview with a Roman Catholic Cardinal from Africa.  His story is a remarkable blend of suffering and hope, of wisdom born from times of real persecution, and a desire to see Christ.  This is the story of a man who came from a village in the middle of nowhere, became a priest and bishop in a place where his predecessors were jailed and murdered.  His dependence on God was tried in a way we can’t quite imagine, here safe and comfortable in the USA.

His critique of leadership in his church is accurate, and perhaps even more accurate in the Protestant church, and in my comparatively little corner of the church universal known as the Lutheran Church Missouri Synod.  His presentation of where hope is found?  It is also I believe accurate.

If the church is spoken of as being immoral, most would assume we are talking about either sexual immorality or fiscal impropriety. I am not naive enough to deny that exists, but the Cardinal speaks of something just as devastating.  A sense of careerism, and a sense of clerical narcissism pervades the church today.

We see the results in the church, as parishes are closing, and others in steep decline.  Where men are not entering programs that lead to ordination. Some will blame these things on finances, others on the decline of births among sections of the population. Some will say the decline is because they don’t appear to have the right sense of mission, or the appearance of the church, how it looks and sounds is not up to an ideal.

This is a sickness, and it is not imaginary.  These attempts to fix it are attempts to clean up the appearance, to clean up the exterior, while the defiled nature is left intact. That is why a pastor or priest can easily fall into the sin of careerism, can quickly abandon the basin and towel and find the office and title, far away from the parish so appealing.  (though we might on occasion return to give somone else a break)

So where is the hope?  Cardinal Sarah pointed out these challenges given St Francis of Assisi and Pope Francis, and their focus on the interior life. To realize that the church does depend on the purity of souls.  Not pure by their own work, but by a interior life that is simply depending on Christ Jesus.

There in meditating on His work as we are united to Him in Baptism,; it begins the cleaning fo the inside.  There as we kneel and are given the body and blood in the Eucharist, we find ourselves being cleansed still.  There as we deal with our brokenness and confess it, as we hear God absolving us, we find that the old nature has been nailed to the cross.  That the old Adam was drowned in those baptismal waters, that we are free and able to die to self, to give our bodies over as living sacrifices.

This is where the church finds it hope.  Not in men who are pure by the sweat of their own brow, but by men who are broken, yet, who find themselves at the cross. Who are drawn to Jesus who is lifted up, and find themselves being healed, who realize that healing is needed by those around them.  The purity found in walking with Christ, in meditating on that which He has promised and accomplished.

The interior life is not something of our own making or sustained by our internal strength.  It is the work of poiema found in Eph. 210, the work of art created in our lives by Christ. That is where the church finds its hope, for in shepherds who are so broken, who are the chief of sinners, if in them we see God at work, then the church has hope. As in their own healing they begin to wash others feet, as in their healing they bring healing to others the hope is magnified.  The church then hears hope, It comes to know and share that hope with those who are around them.

Our church needs to be defibrillated, but that can only happen as hearts stone hearts are broken and removed, and hearts of flesh, filled with the Holy Sprit as God promised He would.

It is knowing the promise of God, the love and mercy we find as Christ is revealed, and depending on it, that we will find the hope for the church.  May its shepherds learn to cry out what they teach others to.cry out.  LORD HAVE MERCY!

(1)  God or Nothing   Robert Cardinal Sarah, Ignatius Press 2015  pg.100

Feeling Disconnected?

Devotional Thought of the Day:

1  Once Jesus was in a certain place praying. As he finished, one of his disciples came to him and said, “Lord, teach us to pray, just as John taught his disciples.” 2  Jesus said, “This is how you should pray: “Father, may your name be kept holy. May your Kingdom come soon. 3  Give us each day the food we need, 4  and forgive us our sins, as we forgive those who sin against us. And don’t let us yield to temptation. 5  Then, teaching them more about prayer, he used this story: “Suppose you went to a friend’s house at midnight, wanting to borrow three loaves of bread. You say to him, 6  ‘A friend of mine has just arrived for a visit, and I have nothing for him to eat.’ 7  And suppose he calls out from his bedroom, ‘Don’t bother me. The door is locked for the night, and my family and I are all in bed. I can’t help you.’ 8  But I tell you this—though he won’t do it for friendship’s sake, if you keep knocking long enough, he will get up and give you whatever you need because of your shameless persistence. 9  “And so I tell you, keep on asking, and you will receive what you ask for. Keep on seeking, and you will find. Keep on knocking, and the door will be opened to you. 10  For everyone who asks, receives. Everyone who seeks, finds. And to everyone who knocks, the door will be opened. 11  “You fathers—if your children ask for a fish, do you give them a snake instead? 12  Or if they ask for an egg, do you give them a scorpion? Of course not! 13  So if you sinful people know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him.”
Luke 11:1-13 (NLT)

445         If you abandon prayer you may at first live on spiritual reserves… and after that, by cheating.

Of course, God’s name is holy in and of itself, but by this request, we pray that He will make it holy among us, too.

One would think that we have enough examples in scripture, that we wouldn’t forget its importance.

One would think we have had enough examples from our own lives, and from the lives of those who disciple, teach and pastor us.

A few days ago, my devotion quoted the Lutheran Confessions, specifically the Apology of the Augsburg Confession, which said if we called it a sacrament, maybe, then maybe, men would realize the blessing and do it more often.

Far too often I hear people tell of feeling distant from God, who are troubled because He doesn’t seem to be there.  Or they feel overwhelmed and challenged, and the anxiety levels continue to climb.  Who struggle to know any kind of peace in their lives.  It may start in one place, let’s say their workplace.   The stress soon affects other places in their life, their home, their friendships, it can even drive them away from the one place they will be reminded of the answer, and the encouragement that helps us realize that God isn’t so far away, that He isn’t so uncaring.

What our forefathers found so incredible, so necessary, so much a preventative against feeling disconnected is simple prayer.

Not because in prayer we do something that proves our holiness, not because the more time in prayer, the more you cause yourself to grow holier.  It is not a spiritual discipline in the manner of lifting weights, or working out, where our suffering and pain builds us up.

It is because we are being heard, and as we pray, we become more aware of it.  As we become more aware of it, we trust God more and more, we dump the stuff we are trying to deal with at His feet.

Like the idea that we drift away from prayer slowly, it takes us some time to develop a life that is one lived in conversation with God.  It is one where our confidence in His presence, in His listening, in His fulfilling His promises grows.  Not because of our skill, not because of how eloquent we are, but it grows as we learn to trust Him, as we learn to depend upon Him.   And that growth does take time and a continued transformation.

That is why Jesus talks of such persistence in Luke’s account.  It is why Jesus talks about the love of a father that will answer his children’s requests.    It is to cause us to draw near, to drop our self-defense mechanisms, to show God our wounds, the wounds that are healed because Jesus was wounded on the cross.

The more we see that love, the more we find ourselves exploring it, the more we find salvation to make a tangible change in our lives, the more we learn to desire to prayer. And the more we see those prayers answered….

So pray my friends, and if you don’t know how simply start with the prayer Jesus taught us…. in it all things are prayed for anyway.

Lord have mercy on us, teach us to approach the throne with confidence, and give you all, including that which causes guilt, share, fear or anxiety.  Help us be confident that you never will leave us disconnected.  AMEN!

(1)   Escriva, Josemaria (2011-01-31). Furrow (Kindle Locations 1975-1977). Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition.

Martin Luther, Luther’s Small Catechism: Developed and Explained, WORDsearch CROSS e-book, Under: “The First Request”

Is Spiritual Growth Necessary? The Benefit of Prayer, Meditation and Frequent Reception of the Sacraments

Featured imageDevotional Thought of the Day
1  As for us, we have this large crowd of witnesses around us. So then, let us rid ourselves of everything that gets in the way, and of the sin which holds on to us so tightly, and let us run with determination the race that lies before us. 2  Let us keep our eyes fixed on Jesus, on whom our faith depends from beginning to end. He did not give up because of the cross! On the contrary, because of the joy that was waiting for him, he thought nothing of the disgrace of dying on the cross, and he is now seated at the right side of God’s throne. Hebrews 12:1-2 (TEV)

9  For this reason we have always prayed for you, ever since we heard about you. We ask God to fill you with the knowledge of his will, with all the wisdom and understanding that his Spirit gives. 10  Then you will be able to live as the Lord wants and will always do what pleases him. Your lives will produce all kinds of good deeds, and you will grow in your knowledge of God. 11  May you be made strong with all the strength which comes from his glorious power, so that you may be able to endure everything with patience. And with joy give thanks to the Father, who has made you fit to have your share of what God has reserved for his people in the kingdom of light. Colossians 1:9-11 (TEV)

90         Optimism? Yes, always! Even when things seem to turn out badly: perhaps that is the time to break into a song, with a Gloria, because you have sought refuge in Him, and nothing but good can come to you from Him.

24 For the Old Adam, like an unmanageable and recalcitrant donkey, is still a part of them and must be coerced into the obedience of Christ, not only with the instruction, admonition, urging, and threatening of the law, but frequently also with the club of punishments and miseries, until the flesh of sin is put off entirely and man is completely renewed in the resurrection.

I started to write this blog yesterday, and then life seemed to get in the way.  Life can be like that.

My devotional reading this morning again hammered it home, as Paul’s prayer for those who followed Christ in a city named Colossae makes clear.  A life following Christ will be different than the life that doesn’t. It is challenging to hear those words of Paul, who desires we be able to live as God desires and that our actions please Him.

The challenge is seen in the quote in green, that our old nature, which we believe was killed off in baptism, continues to rise, challenge us and dominate our lives. And the Lutheran Confessions (you know – from the “saved by grace, through faith, no works folks – talk about the law still impacting and disciplining the believer.  Of the sin-nature is put off entirely and the   Paul mentions needing to discipline the body as well, and Hebrews talks of shedding the sin and everything that so easily ensnares us.

But what are those things that help us grow?  What are the things in our lives that encourage the growth that transforms us more and more into those who resemble Jesus?

We see it in all the passages, perhaps most clearly in St. Josemaria’s words in blue.  To, in the middle of the darkness of this world, break into praising and glorifying God, in Whose presence you dwell!   We need to take refuge in Him, to seek the peace that comes from being brought back to the Father, cleansed and healed and transformed, conformed to the image of Jesus. (Think that Phil. 2:5-10 is in context with the first verses, the ones that talk about being of one mind, one heart.

It is that transformation that is spiritual growth, and so things that help us grow to know we are in God’s presence, God’s loving, transforming presence, are what cause us to grow in and like Christ.  In Hebrews. This is described as fixing ou eyes on Jesus, who creates faith in us, and sustains it to completion.  In Colossians, we talk about the knowledge of God.  Not knowing about God as we know about Adam and Eve, or BioChemistry.  But knowing Him, the knowledge of His presence, His mercy, His love.

So how do we grow in this?  How does Spiritual Growth happen?

So obviously prayer fits in there, not just a casual Lord’s prayer, but a deep conversation, including listening.
Which brings us to meditating on God’s word, whether we scan a book, or meditate on one verse.  Both have their time and place.  And sharing scripture with each other, studying not in a vacuum, meditating on it with others, that we can encourage each other, teach, and pick up those who have stumbled off the past, or lost sight of Jesus.  Even those who shepherd the people of God need not just to study scripture, but also pray through it, listen and meditate on it.

The sacraments also stimulate this growth, for they not only make us aware of God’s presence but remind us of what happens in His presence. That’s why Luther often talked of remembering our baptism, not just as a passing thought, but considering what God did there.   How we were joined to Jesus Christ, to His death and resurrection.  How our sins were nailed to the cross, and we were cleansed of them.  How the promises of eternal life was guaranteed, and the Holy Spirit began o reside in us.

Communion, the Eucharist does the same thing, as we take and eat, take and drink the Body and Blood of Christ. As He invites us to His feast and again reminds us of how He gives himself for us.  How welcome we are at the feast celebrating His work, His work not just saving us, but re-creating us, of His makin us the Father’s children.

I could go on and on, talking about the blessings of Confession, and hearing our sins are forgiven, of worship and praise, singing and celebrating, I could speak of the blessing of seeing a friend brought to God and made aware of HIs love, or of doing the same for an enemy.

This is the spiritual life, and it is found and grows in His presence…. learning to trust God, and entrust everything to Him.

There is His peace… and may you grow more and more aware of it, in your life, and may it spread from you into your community.

Escriva, Josemaria (2011-01-31). Furrow (Kindle Locations 594-596). Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition.

Tappert, T. G. (Ed.). (1959). The Book of Concord the confessions of the Evangelical Lutheran Church. (p. 568). Philadelphia: Mühlenberg Press.

A Metric for Church Leaders/Evaluating our Ministries

Devotional Thought of the Day

22 “And now I am bound by the Spirit* to go to Jerusalem. I don’t know what awaits me, 23 except that the Holy Spirit tells me in city after city that jail and suffering lie ahead. 24 But my life is worth nothing to me unless I use it for finishing the work assigned me by the Lord Jesus—the work of telling others the Good News about the wonderful grace of God. 25 “And now I know that none of you to whom I have preached the Kingdom will ever see me again. 26 I declare today that I have been faithful. If anyone suffers eternal death, it’s not my fault,* 27 for I didn’t shrink from declaring all that God wants you to know.  28 “So guard yourselves and God’s people. Feed and shepherd God’s flock—his church, purchased with his own blood*—over which the Holy Spirit has appointed you as elders.  Acts 20:22–28  NLT

10 9. We must learn about Christ from the Holy Gospel alone, which clearly testifies that “God has consigned all men to disobedience, that he may have mercy upon all” (Rom. 11:32), and that he does not want anyone to perish (Ezek. 33:11; 18:23), but that everyone should repent and believe on the Lord Jesus Christ (1 Tim. 2:6; 1 John 2:2).

As most pastors do, I regularly get letters and packets, the “best advice” that I will ever hear.  Or invitations to pastors conferences guaranteed to change my ministry.I have to wonder if they share the standard of the apostle Paul, as he writes,

..my life is worth nothing to me unless I use it for finishing the work assigned me by the Lord Jesus—the work of telling others the Good News about the wonderful grace of God.

and

I declare today that I have been faithful. If anyone suffers eternal death, it’s not my fault,

When churches are tasked with evaluating their ministries, there is some metric, some measuring standard that is to be used.  The end result of that standard is a mission statement, and a core list of values, and a general direction for the ministries of a church.  Consultants and coaches are often the givers of guidance, as our national and even international leaders.

But I wonder if these words from Paul, as he seems to realize his days of ministry are coming to a close part of the consideration of whether a pastor,  a teacher, an elder, a parish or even an entire denomination can be content with their work?

Go back through the readings above, hear the Lord asking you if you measure up to these standards.

You may think I am going to give my super secret way of getting to that level of maturity, my 6 plans or some cute five letter acronym to remember to motivate you to do God’s work.  I don’t.

My advice?

Spend more time in God’s presence. Receive the Lord’s Supper more, contemplate the cross and your baptism more. Spend time being relieved of your sin, confessing and being absolved of it Find ways to know and revel in this simple truth.

The Lord is With You.

It is from there, from knowing God’s heart because His love has been shown to you – that is where the desire for ministry comes from, that is from where the dunamis  power and ability comes.  If you want you church to be able to follow Paul’s  guidance, do the same. Feed them the word and sacraments that confirm the covenant, the declaration that they are His people.

Be sure that the Holy Spirit will work through you, and open your hearts and hands to do so.

And rejoice, for they will reach the measure of the fulness of Christ… for that is why you were called. And know this, He won’t abandon you forsake you – for that too is a promise.

AMEN!

Tappert, T. G. (Ed.). (1959). The Book of Concord the confessions of the Evangelical Lutheran Church. (p. 495). Philadelphia: Mühlenberg Press.

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