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The Paradox of being a Christian Leader…

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Dawn at Concordia

Devotional Thought of the Day:
3  All praise to God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. God is our merciful Father and the source of all comfort. 4  He comforts us in all our troubles so that we can comfort others. When they are troubled, we will be able to give them the same comfort God has given us. 5  For the more we suffer for Christ, the more God will shower us with his comfort through Christ. 6  Even when we are weighed down with troubles, it is for your comfort and salvation! For when we are comforted, we will certainly comfort you. Then you can patiently endure the same things we suffer. 2 Corinthians 1:3-6 (NLT)

Therefore, anyone who seeks an office in the Church must know that he thereby declares himself ready for a greater share of the Cross. For, properly speaking, the real pastoral activity of Jesus Christ, through which he fashioned the Church and will never cease to fashion her, is his Cross, from which there flow for our blood and water, the holy sacraments, the grace of life. To want to do away with suffering means to deny love, to disavow Christ. It is impossible to struggle with the dragon and not be wounded. That is why what the Lord says in the Beatitudes is valid for all times: “Blessed are you when men revile you; blessed are the meek; blessed are the peacemakers” (Mt 5:11, 5, 9). It is true, too, that where the Lord is, where the Master is, there must his servant be also. But the Master’s place was, ultimately, the Cross, and a shepherd who seeks nothing but approval, who would be content to do only what is required of him, would certainly not be taking his place where the Master has taken his.

I was once told that if I could be content in any other field, to avoid becoming a pastor.  At the time, I didn’t understand.  Today I do. 

The blessing requires a high price to be paid.

I look at my friends in ministry, those I admire the most sacrifice so much to serve.  Some are pastors and priests, others missionaries serving far from what most would consider their home.  Some are teachers and youth workers, others are the leaders most don’t consider professionals.  The elders, musicians, those who teach the Bible to young and old. 

The costs are high, and while I am not talking about financial costs or the time demanded by the needs of those we serve, they cannot be dismissed either. The deeper costs include betrayals, it includes weeping with those who are weeping, crushed in grief.  It means disciplining people that may not like be corrected.  It means being willing to accept the loneliness of the prophet, being dismissed as we bring messages of hope, of being sent to stubborn and stiff-necked people as the prophets encountered.

It’s not about reports and strategies, it’s about laying aside our plans when someone is hurting, and helping them bear that pain.  It’s not about giving a vision, unless that vision includes the cross, leading to the resurrection.  It’s about the joy of the sacraments, and the pain when we see people in need for the comfort and strength they give, but who dismiss them.  It’s about not giving up on the prodigal, it’s about showing mercy to the prostitute and tax collector, the drug addict and the scoundrel. 

This is ministry, this is service, this is finding that as we minister to those who are drawn (and sometimes dragged ) to the cross, we find our healing occurs as well.  For we are at the cross, where Jesus raises us from death, heals us from brokenness, comforts us in our grief, and gives us hope, even as we despair.

That is the paradox of Christian ministry, the sacrifice, the life surrendered at the cross is the great blessing of being such a servant leader. 

Which is why Paul, the one we imitate as he imitated Christ praises God int he midst of sacrifice and suffering….

as will every leader in every parish, in every congregation, and throughout the Church in history, and throught out the world. 

AMEN

 

Ratzinger, Joseph. Co-Workers of the Truth: Meditations for Every Day of the Year. Ed. Irene Grassl. Trans. Mary Frances McCarthy and Lothar Krauth. San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1992. Print.

 

Is the Return on Investment Enough? The question of discipleship…

Devotional Thought of the Day:
(Luke 9:57–62)

Church Christmas Eve 2015 outdoors

18 When Jesus noticed the crowd round him, he ordered his disciples to go to the other side of the lake. 19A teacher of the Law came to him. “Teacher,” he said, “I am ready to go with you wherever you go.” 20 Jesus answered him, “Foxes have holes, and birds have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lie down and rest.”
21 Another man, who was a disciple, said, “Sir, first let me go back and bury my father.”
22 “Follow me,” Jesus answered, “and let the dead bury their own dead  Matthew 8:18-20 TEV

479    Don’t let it bother you. The “prudent” have always called the works of God madness. Onward! Be daring!

If you lived back in the days of Jesus, would you have left everything behind and followed him? Would you have left your work, your friends and your family behind, and followed this man who had no home, no means of support?

Would you be afraid of people thinking you are mad?

What about today?

Or would you take account of your assets first?  Would you consider your obligations where you presently are at, and weigh them in the balance?  Would you have to know the cost, and weight it against the potential “return” on your investment?

I suppose I could give you the stories of that show great sacrifice, and how God honored such hard work and dedication.  That might inspire us to be daring, to set aside life as we know it, and spend years wondering why God didn’t honor our work and dedication.  It would focus our journey on the results, and we would put our investment into achieving the results.

Discipleship isn’t about the results, though we rejoice in them. Following Jesus isn’t about the number of responses and conversions, the size of the churches we establish and maintain. It isn’t the number of people we serve, or the cost of doing so in time, talent or treasure.

Following Jesus isn’t about the size of the sacrifice or the size of the return on our lives invested!

It is about walking with Him, knowing His faithfulness, His mercy, His love! It is about having confidence in Him, even when we don’t know what tomorrow or the next day brings, if it even will.

That’s why some count it madness!

But you know better.  Reconciliation in God’s minds is not simply accounting and balancing the books.  It is about His bringing together, about reuniting hearts, about finding the healing of brokenness. It is about the Holy Spirit bringing comfort, peace, and joy, as we realize the presence of God in our lives, as we explore the dimensions of His love.

There is no way to measure this, no manner in evaluating the measure of value of knowing and living in Christ.

Come, follow Jesus, and abandon yourself into the love which saves you! 

Escriva, Josemaria. The Way (Kindle Locations 1173-1174). Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition.

 

Peter’s (and our’s) unrealized betrayal… how could we neglect this blessing?

Devotional Thought of the Day:

 Then Jesus said to him, “Amen, I say to you, this very night before the cock crows twice you will deny me three times.” 31 But he vehemently replied, “Even though I should have to die with you, I will not deny you.” And they all spoke similarly.
The Agony in the Garden. 32 *Then they came to a place named Gethsemane,i and he said to his disciples, “Sit here while I pray.”j 33 He took with him Peter, James, and John, and began to be troubled and distressed. 34 Then he said to them, “My soul is sorrowful even to death. Remain here and keep watch.” 35 He advanced a little and fell to the ground and prayed that if it were possible the hour might pass by him; 36 he said, “Abba, Father,* all things are possible to you. Take this cup away from me, but not what I will but what you will.” 37 When he returned he found them asleep. He said to Peter, “Simon, are you asleep? Could you not keep watch for one hour? 38 *Watch and pray that you may not undergo the test.k The spirit is willing but the flesh is weak.” 39 Withdrawing again, he prayed, saying the same thing. 40 Then he returned once more and found them asleep, for they could not keep their eyes open and did not know what to answer him. 41 He returned a third time and said to them, “Are you still sleeping and taking your rest? It is enough. The hour has come. Behold, the Son of Man is to be handed over to sinners. 42 Get up, let us go. See, my betrayer is at hand.”   Mark 14:30-42  NABRE 

They have confused renewal with comfort. To give a small but concrete example: a religious reported to me that the downfall of his monastery began very concretely with the declaration that it was “no longer practicable” for the religious to rise during the night to recite the nocturnal office. But that was not the end of the matter. The religious replaced this uncontested but significant “sacrifice” by staying up late at night to watch television.  (1)

As I read Pope Benedict’s words this morning, they stung.

Have I done so? Have I justified my own comfort, my own desires, in such a way that I claim it is really about renewal and revitalizing my dependence upon God, and how that is practiced in life?

I had already realized something that I hadn’t seen before. Peter had already denied Jesus three times, prior to being questioned.  He denied him in the garden, as his need for comfort outweighed his desire to have fellowship with God.

I’ve been there recently (Thursday and Friday), with a schedule so overwhelmed I haven’t taken the time I usually spend with God, praying, reading, meditating and journaling/blogging  (my blog is just my journal, the coalescing of my thoughts, reading and a lesson).  I said Thursday I would catch up with it later, but by the end fo the day, I passed it on to Friday and Friday to this morning.

Oddly enough, a friend had shared with me on Wednesday how devastating a similar experience had been. I would say I caught it before it was too late, but it was too late, when I sought my own physical comfort before quenching a physical thirst. Denying the time I desperately need with God.  I missed out, and while God still used me, and I still saw His glory in the lives of those around me, I also experienced some spiritual emptiness, and my experience with God’s glory became more like an outsider looking in, than as a participant, one invited to share in it.

It is all too easy to fall asleep in the garden, to adjust our time to provide enough “rest and relaxation.” (or to become like Martha and avoid that time because of our “work”)   To view our time in prayer and meditation on God’s love as a duty, and not the incredible holy blessing it is. For to take that time – to set it apart to pour out our hearts, and to listen to Christ’s heart poured out for us, that is a blessing, a foretaste of heaven, a time to realize His presence; to experience the peace that is beyond understanding.

To let Him guard and heal our hearts and minds.

Lord, Have mercy on us, and don’t let us fall asleep on you, or seek our comfort more than your face.  Spirit, help us, lift us to see the blessings, to experience the glorious presence of God in our lives, and see Your work in Your Church.  AMEN!

(1)  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.

What We Can Learn About the Missio Dei from the Blues Brothers…

Devotional Thoguht of the Day…..

1  With Christ as my witness, I speak with utter truthfulness. My conscience and the Holy Spirit confirm it. 2  My heart is filled with bitter sorrow and unending grief 3  for my people, my Jewish brothers and sisters. I would be willing to be forever cursed—cut off from Christ!—if that would save them.
Romans 9:1-3 (NLT)

Jake:  Me and God, We got an understanding
Elwood:  We’re on a Mission from God. 
(from the movie, “The Blues Brothers)

466      The enemies of God and his Church, manipulated by the devil’s unremitting hatred, are relentless in their activities and organization. With “exemplary” constancy they prepare their cadres, run schools, appoint leaders and deploy agitators. In an undercover way—but very effectively—they spread their ideas and sow, in homes and places of work, a seed which is destructive of any religious ideology. What is there that we Christians should not be ready to do, always with the truth, to serve our God?  (1)

They claimed to be on a mission from God, a mission to save the home, the orphanage they grew up in so that others would have a place. 

They did what they had to do, or perhaps what they thought they had to do.  With little option, they got the band back together, did a little touring, and raised the money that it took, even though they broke a few laws along the way. They raised the money even though it meant they would suffer, that they would serve time.

I am not advocating breaking the law, but I see the same desire, the same passion in Paul’s words to the church in Rome.  He grieved over the fact that they didn’t know Jesus, that they didn’t have the peace of God.  They were cut off from life and hope, from dwelling in the presence of God, because either actively or passively they rejected Jesus.  They denied Him.

This grief was so intense that he indicated he would even take their curse, which he would be willing to be eternally cut off from God; if that is what it took for them to be reconciled. Jake and Elwood understand and would approve – they were willing to do time in the Illinois State Pen, and based on the movie – several times their efforts brought them close to death.

Josemaria asks us a similar question – what is the that we should not be ready to do, always with the truth, to serve our God?

Is going to jail a possibility?  Yes

Is jumping a drawbridge?  Of course!

Is playing the blues, dancing like a fool, wearing a thin blue tie and a cool hat?  If that is what it takes.

Is dying?  Yes

Though we can’t give up our salvation, that desire can and should be there, if we see a friend, or an enemy, who needs to know God’s love!  

Is enduring poverty?  What about enduring being the victim of crime?  What about being humiliated? Yes and Yes and yes.

After all – we got an understanding with God.  He loves us.

And therefore we are on a mission from God.

Escriva, Josemaria. The Forge (Kindle Locations 1780-1785). Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition.

 

 

The Soul of the Mission: The Lord’s Supper?

Devotional Thought of the Day:
6  In our union with Christ Jesus he raised us up with him to rule with him in the heavenly world. 7  He did this to demonstrate for all time to come the extraordinary greatness of his grace in the love he showed us in Christ Jesus. 8  For it is by God’s grace that you have been saved through faith. It is not the result of your own efforts, but God’s gift, so that no one can boast about it. 10  God has made us what we are, and in our union with Christ Jesus he has created us for a life of good deeds, which he has already prepared for us to do.   Ephesians 2:8-10 (TEV)

For where God’s Word is preached, accepted or believed, and bears fruit, there the blessed holy cross will not be far away. Let nobody think that he will have peace; he must sacrifice all he has on earth—possessions, honor, house and home, wife and children, body and life.
66 Now, this grieves our flesh and the old Adam, for it means that we must remain steadfast, suffer patiently whatever befalls us, and let go whatever is taken from us.
67 Therefore, there is just as much need in this case as in every other case to pray without ceasing: “Thy will be done, dear Father, and not the will of the devil or of our enemies, nor of those who would persecute and suppress thy holy Word or prevent thy kingdom from coming; and grant that whatever we must suffer on its account, we may patiently bear and overcome, so that our poor flesh may not yield or fall away through weakness or indolence.”  (1) 

The sacraments, however, especially the most holy Eucharist, communicate and nourish that charity which is the soul of the entire apostolate.
One engages in the apostolate through the faith, hope, and charity which the Holy Spirit diffuses in the hearts of all members of the Church. Indeed, by the precept of charity, which is the Lord’s greatest commandment, all the faithful are impelled to promote the glory of God through the coming of His kingdom and to obtain eternal life for all men-that they may know the only true God and Him whom He sent, Jesus Christ (cf. John 17:3). On all Christians therefore is laid the preeminent responsibility of working to make the divine message of salvation known and accepted by all men throughout the world.  (2) 

I was recently reading a document which described the mission field as one where suffering may be more likely than not.  It wanted to prepare (and or scare off) potential missionaries, warning them that life would be hard.

But it is not just missionaries in exotic foreign places who are to live life in that manner.  It is as well those who are missionaries here. All people who pray that God’s kingdom would come.  All who understand the grace of God, having received it in awe, and in awe spent time in adoration and thanksgiving.  This is the glorious work that God has given all the church, both its shepherds and sheep to do.

Luther is deadly with his recognition that there is a part of us that we balk at living lives full of suffering.  We don’t want to be self-controlled, living simply to put first in our lives God’s priority – that of bringing the message of salvation to the world, making it know and helping all to accept it.  Being brutally honest, I think sometimes we are glad when they are repulsed by it, or when we offend them enough to drive them away. It is easier to say “we tried and failed” than “we tried, and because we love them, we will keep praying and trying.” Vatican II says it well – it is our preeminent responsibility, this work of the gospel.
Being missional, being part of the apostolate (same term) requires us to suffer, to be patient, to be driven by the Holy Spirit, enduring to the end that people know Jesus.

Throughout this article, I haven’t used the other word, Sacrifice.  I have not used it, because honestly, giving up money or fame, separating ourselves from our idols and false gods is not sacrifice.  At least we learn it is not, as we find ourselves at the cross.  That was sacrifice.  Our giving up things, our endurance is simply the process of sanctification, as God himself separates us from that which distracts us from His love, from His presence, from the sacrifice of Christ’s love.

It is for that reason the passage from Vatican II calls the sacraments, and especially the Eucharist, Communion, the Lord’s Supper, the soul of the apostolate, or as some would know it, the soul of being missional.  It is there, in that intimate moment as God gives you and your family Christ’s Body and Blood, as the covenant is renewed and celebrated, that we find again what is so precious.  Time with God, the refuge of peace that overwhelms us that assures us that He loves us, that He will heal us, that He cares for us.  God is our refuge, our strength, our very help in time of suffering.

This celebration of Christ’s sacrifice which unites us to God is the soul of our mission; it is what is so amazing that we know others must know it as well.  That life is simply not the same without it.  We have to reveal it to others, we are compelled, not by force, but by love to do this.

It doesn’t matter whether we are in the mountains of Papua New Guinea or the coastal towns of Sicily.  It doesn’t matter whether we are in the suburbs of Boston, or in the urban city of Bellflower, California.   It doesn’t matter whether we are risking our lives preaching the gospel in the Sudan, or in Istanbul, or having breakfast with friends in Cerritos.

The need for us to reveal God’s desire to meet their deepest needs, to bring healing to their brokenness exists.

This is our mission; this is why we are part of the apostolate, those who walk with Christ bringing light and salvation to the world.

We are Christ’s masterpiece.  We are united to Him, and doing the good words God has created in our lives.


(1)  Tappert, T. G. (Ed.). (1959). The Book of Concord the confessions of the Evangelical Lutheran Church. (p. 429). Philadelphia: Mühlenberg Press.

(2)   Catholic Church. (2011). Decree on the Apostolate of the Laity: Apostolicam Actuositatem. In Vatican II Documents. Vatican City: Libreria Editrice Vaticana.

Which is Your Hope: To Be Comfortable, or Comforted?

Devotional Thought of the Day:
3  “Happy are those who know they are spiritually poor; the Kingdom of heaven belongs to them! 4  “Happy are those who mourn; God will comfort them! 5  “Happy are those who are humble; they will receive what God has promised!    Matthew 5:3-5 (TEV)

 Instead of divine consolation, they want changes that will redeem suffering by removing it: not redemption through suffering, but redemption from suffering is their watchword; not expectation of divine assistance, but the humanization of man by man is their goal.

In his book on the Rapture, Tim LeHaye justifies his belief in the rapture based on the emotional appeal that Christ would never allow His people, the Bride of Chrsit to suffer.  (p.65-69) He pictures the church not surviing such suffering, such pain, such horrors.  He pictures Chrsit wanting to eliminate suffering for all believers, now, not just in eternal life. He fears the Tribulation, and even suggests that the church would not be able to sruvive it, should she be left behind.

I don’t want to focus on errors in his eschatology, but rather in the presupposition that God wouldn’t allow the church to suffer.   This is a much larger issue in American Christianity, for it is not just those that hold to the teaching of a premillenial rapture that would come to the conclusiont hat God wants the church comfortable.  i don’t know fo a theological system that doesn’t fall prey to this at some point, including those who like me express theology in a Lutheran or catholic-sacramental context.  ( In our modern version, this often means saving people from martyrdom or political oppression.  Or in our denial to seek help, whether it be from a father confessor, or a counselor, or a doctor. )

We all have our desire to be comfortable manifest itself in ugly ways. It might be in our attempts to isolate ourselves from the ugliness of sin, or to hide anything that would cause us to feel sharem, or grief.

I think it is a matter of maturity and faith when we can set aside this desire for being comfortable with the desire to be comforted.  And when faced with suffering or sacrifice Benedict XVI was right, we want to be redeemed from suffering, to be saved without experience the guilt and shame that tells us we need to be delivered.  If we want to be saveed – it is from the guilta and shame, not from what causes it.

But to desire to be comforted, even in the midst of the pain, is something radically different. It means relying on Jesus, on His wisdom, on His promises that what we are going through doesn’t seperate us from Him.

That’s different.

The article I quoted form Benedict above had another quote qorth including:

Before this image, the monks prayed with the sick, who found consolation in the knowledge that, in Christ, God suffered with them. This painting made them realize that precisely by reason of their sickness they were identified with the crucified Christ, who, by his suffering, had become one with all the suffering of history; they felt the presence of the Crucified One in their cross and knew that, in their distress, they were drawn into union with Christ and hence into the abyss of his eternal mercy

There is something about that which cries our with great comfort.  We do not walk alone, that we are not abandoned by God to make it through this vail of tears on our own.   The Lord is With In our brokenness, in our need for answers, in our need for hope, we find Him, we realize that He is holding us in His hands, bearing our sorrow, our grief, our sin.

So how do we grow in this, how do we lay aside our rights, our comfortability, our pleausre?  How do we take up our cross?

By trusting and depending upon Jesus.  By finding our refuge in the comfort of His love,  by dwelling in His presence, for there we know His peace, there we know comfort, and we experience a joy that sustains us.

Seek His presence, seek His kingdom, there is comfort there… and the more you know it, the easier it becomes to seek.

 

Ratzinger, J. (1992). Co-Workers of the Truth: Meditations for Every Day of the Year. (I. Grassl, Ed., M. F. McCarthy & L. Krauth, Trans.) (pp. 122–123). San Francisco: Ignatius Press.

The Greatest Challenge To “American” Christianity

Devotional Thought of the Day:
28  And we know that God causes everything to work together for the good of those who love God and are called according to his purpose for them. 29  For God knew his people in advance, and he chose them to become like his Son, so that his Son would be the firstborn among many brothers and sisters.   Romans 8:28-29 (NLT)

2  When all kinds of trials and temptations crowd into your lives my brothers, don’t resent them as intruders, but welcome them as friends! Realise that they come to test your faith and to produce in you the quality of endurance. But let the process go on until that endurance is fully developed, and you will find you have become men of mature character with the right sort of independence. And if, in the process, any of you does not know how to meet any particular problem he has only to ask God – who gives generously to all men without making them feel foolish or guilty – and he may be quite sure that the necessary wisdom will be given him. But he must ask in sincere faith without secret doubts as to whether he really wants God’s help or not. The man who trusts God, but with inward reservations, is like a wave of the sea, carried forward by the wind one moment and driven back the next. That sort of man cannot hope to receive anything from God, and the life of a man of divided loyalty will reveal instability at every turn. James 1:2 (Phillips NT)

42      Desire nothing for yourself, either good or bad. For yourself, want only what God wants. Whatever it may be, if it comes from his hand, from God, however bad it may appear in the eyes of men, with God’s help it will appear good, yes very good!, to you. And with an ever increasing conviction you will say: Et in tribulatione mea dilatasti me… et calix tuus inebrians, quam praeclarus est!—I have rejoiced in tribulation…, how marvellous is your chalice. It inebriates my whole being!  (1)

So often we quote Romans 8:28 to people who are going through hard times, who are suffering, who are grieving.  It often becomes a modern Christian cliche, a pious version of “don’t worry, God’s got this!” 

But I wonder if we realize the important of verse 29, and what that means.  That the reason God has our back, is because we are to be like his Son, Jesus.  We are to be Christlike.  a

That’s pretty cool when we think of the promises of reigning in heaven.  Not so cool when you think of the suffering and death he endured, even though it was for the joy set before him.  Being Christ-like means to love our enemies, to serve those who need our love, to embrace suffering to do it, as is necessary.

But how are we with embracing suffering, with trusting God through times where we put our own desires, our wants, even our own needs (and those of our families and friends) aside, to care for those God puts in our lives.

Think about this, we struggle and argue to take in people whose lives have been ravaged by war.  We would rather kill a baby who was conceived in rape than come alongside the victims (not the plural) and provide them with what they need spiritually and physically. We do everything we can to hide signs of aging, suffering, and death.  (This I think is one of the strengths of the millennials, btw – they are less likely to hide their grief, sorrow, and pain)

Even in the church, this is true, as we have experts telling us why the church is dwindling in number, for reasons that cannot be our fault, our sin, and to our shame.   We don’t teach our people to sacrifice; we don’t help them to learn to pray to embrace the cross.  We don’t help them learn to trust God in a way that will convince them of His presence in the midst of the suffering they endure, that they even embrace. 

That’s right; I said embrace!

Embrace sacrifice and suffering?  Be willing to embrace sacrifice and suffering?  

Isn’t enough that life throws enough suffering, sorrow and grief into our lives?  Isn’t that enough?

Maybe, but probably not.

Just so you are clear, this isn’t about earning your salvation, it merits nothing in that regard.  You don’t get a better view of the throne, or get next to sit next to King David in the choir, and your mansion isn’t going to be any bigger.

It is this, your joy will come, both then and now, from being in the presence of God, and knowing peace that pervades and comforts and satisfies like nothing else can.

For you will be imitating your brother, Jesus, walking with the Holy Spirit, and knowing you are a child of God.

And that my friend, we will learn is more than enough.

May God bless you, as you walk with Christ.

Escriva, Josemaria (2011-01-31). The Forge (Kindle Locations 382-387). Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition.

Monday: A Day to Die for….

Devotional Thought of the Day:
I have been put to death with Christ on his cross, 20  so that it is no longer I who live, but it is Christ who lives in me. This life that I live now, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave his life for me.  Galatians 2:19b-20 (TEV)

8  Live close to Christ! You should be another character in the Gospel, side by side with Peter, and John, and Andrew. For Christ is also living now: Iesus Christus, heri et hodie, ipse et in saecula!—Jesus Christ lives! Today, as yesterday, he is the same, for ever and ever.

I have written some blogs about Mondays.  A lot of that comes from the attitudes I encounter before I get to my office, either in real life or on Facebook.  It is as if we dread Mondays more than death.  Sometimes I think this is an exaggeration, and other times, I am not so sure.

I dread them as much as anyone else, as another long week gathers steam.  Maybe death is preferable?  Well – not physical death, per se, but the death we were reminded about as we shared in the Body and Blood of Jesus yesterday.

We have died with Christ on the cross.  Our old nature was nailed there, with all of its sins, with all of its brokenness.  With all of its rebellion against God.  With all of the desire to say, I don’t care what God reveals in scripture, my way is just as valid a way to be with God.

The challenge on Mondays remembers that Jesus lives in us, that we live so close to Him, as close as the apostles did, because of the cross.  We are a character in the gospel, for we died in Christ, that we may live in Him.

This is a critical thought to start the week with, that it is not just What Would Jesus Do” but what is Jesus doing in and through me today!

Its’ not about thinking and meditating about what Jesus would do, and then 20 minutes later doing it.  The Christian life is spending so much time in prayer, so much in His word, so much talking to Him that your normal reactions become like Christ’s.  That you love as you are loved, that you show mercy even as you’ve been shown it, that you share in the greatest treasure you have.. your relationship with God.

For it is that which makes Monday worth dying for, the idea that you are not alone, that it is not hopeless, but that it is a wonderful opportunity because we live in Christ.

God speed.

Escriva, Josemaria (2011-01-31). The Forge (Kindle Locations 262-265). Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition.

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..

“I Thought I Should…” The Battle of Our Reason Versus Obedience

Devotional Thought of the Day:

11 Samuel asked him, “What have you done?” Saul explained: “When I saw that the army was deserting me and you did not come on the appointed day, and that the Philistines were assembling at Michmash, 12 I said to myself, ‘Now the Philistines will come down against me at Gilgal, and I have not yet sought the LORD’s blessing.’ So I thought I should sacrifice the burnt offering.” 13 Samuel replied to Saul: “You have acted foolishly! Had you kept the command the LORD your God gave you, the LORD would now establish your kingship in Israel forever; 14 but now your kingship shall not endure. The LORD has sought out a man after his own heart* to appoint as ruler over his people because you did not observe what the LORD commanded you.”1 Sam 13:11–14 NAB-RE

 Afterward, however, David regretted that he had cut off an end of Saul’s robe.b 7 He said to his men, “The LORD forbid that I should do such a thing to my master, the LORD’s anointed, to lay a hand on him, for he is the LORD’s anointed.”c 8 With these words David restrained his men and would not permit them to attack Saul. Saul then left the cave and went on his way. 9 David also stepped out of the cave, calling to Saul, “My lord the king!” When Saul looked back, David bowed, his face to the ground in homage, 10 and asked Saul: “Why do you listen to those who say, ‘David is trying to harm you’? 11 You see for yourself today that the LORD just now delivered you into my hand in the cave. I was told to kill you, but I took pity on you instead. I decided, ‘I will not raise a hand against my master, for he is the LORD’s anointed.’ 12 Look here, my father. See the end of your robe which I hold. I cut off an end of your robe and did not kill you. Now see and be convinced that I plan no harm and no rebellion. I have done you no wrong, though you are hunting me down to take my life. 1 Sam24:6–12 NAB-RE

Thus she came to understand Chesterton when he described men and women who, signed with Christ’s Cross, cheerfully walk through darkness. Finding this hidden life means releasing the sources of this world’s energy, linking the world to the power that can save it, giving it the resources for which it seeks in vain within itself. It means digging for and uncovering the wellspring of joy which can save and transform things and people and which has the power to undo and make good past suffering. (1)

The line from King Saul typifies the battle that so many “first-world” Christians have to face today.  “I thought I should…”  Saul was trying to be ready to fight the enemies of God, things weren’t going well.  He knew things would change with the sacrifice that was to be offered by the prophet-priest, but he wasn’t there.  Saul was King,  didn’t that give him the right to take any role in his kingdom?

And so, in thinking, in following and obeying his own mind, rather than the command of God, he lost everything he was trying to protect.

We do that, we enslave ourselves to our logic, to our reasoning.  We listen to what we think, rather than what God reveals.  We will dismiss what God reveals in scripture, we will dismiss what He commands us to do, and we will find a way to see disobedience and dishonoring God as logical.

We will set our logic, our reasoning in the place of God, make it an idol, and worship it by obeying what it teaches.

Well, maybe it won’t be our reasoning, as in yours and mine.  No problem, we can all find brilliant theologians and philosophers whose brilliance is proven by the fact they agree with us.   We can find a way to avoid hardship, to avoid self-sacrifice or suffering.  We can justify our own pleasure, and we can do it with the resonance of righteousness.

Well at least self-righteousness.

Even as we contend that scripture isn’t as reliable as it should be.  Or that it is outdated or outmoded.

Compare Saul’s obedience to his reasoning to David’s obedience ot God.  There is a price on David’s obedience, the price of discomfort, the price of being hunted, the price of even being an outcast and an exile.  He had the power to change that, one quick action would have given him the kingdom.  But he chose to disobey the wisdom and reasoning that would call him to disobey God.

He embraced the darkness, the hardship, the pain. And he worshiped and obeyed God.  God brought him through it, and through other challenges.  Sometimes David would see it right away, sometimes he too would forget and need to be called to repentance.  The key is to find the humility to remember that God is God. To live in the grace of a life forgiven, a life where we hear the Spirit, and the Spirit draws us into obedience, into a life of awe, not matter how dark.

Like the lady in Pope Benedict’s story, David cheerfully embraced the darkness, knowing that God had promised and God had commanded. It was a willingness to obey even though life may have looked freer, and more joyful, had he simply killed off those trying to kill him. He loved instead, and at great personal cost, and cost to those who were loyal to him.

I am not sure what your wisdom and reasoning calls you to dismiss  from God’s word.  Maybe it is sexual issues, maybe it is a call to servanthood, to give up your “rights”, in order that someone else may benefit.  Maybe it is simply accepting that His word is His word.

I know this, it is a temptation for all of us, a chance to say, “I thought”, and in that thought, contradict what God has commissioned.  A temptation that can only be overcome by looking to Jesus, and letting His love cleanse us from it.

Together then, let us cry out to God to have mercy on us.

 

(1)  Ratzinger, J. (1992). Co-Workers of the Truth: Meditations for Every Day of the Year. (I. Grassl, Ed., M. F. McCarthy & L. Krauth, Trans.) (p. 26). San Francisco: Ignatius Press.

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