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Have I Become What I Struggle Against?


Devotional Thought of the Day:
9  He told his next story to some who were complacently pleased with themselves over their moral performance and looked down their noses at the common people: 10  “Two men went up to the Temple to pray, one a Pharisee, the other a tax man. 11  The Pharisee posed and prayed like this: ‘Oh, God, I thank you that I am not like other people—robbers, crooks, adulterers, or, heaven forbid, like this tax man. 12  I fast twice a week and tithe on all my income.’ 13  “Meanwhile the tax man, slumped in the shadows, his face in his hands, not daring to look up, said, ‘God, give mercy. Forgive me, a sinner.’ ” 14  Jesus commented, “This tax man, not the other, went home made right with God. If you walk around with your nose in the air, you’re going to end up flat on your face, but if you’re content to be simply yourself, you will become more than yourself.” Luke 18:9-14 (MSG)

For a legalist, spirituality is tantamount to saying, “I think the right way, live the right way, associate with the right people, read my Bible, pray, go to church, and avoid worldly ways; therefore I am spiritual.” This person might be a “good” person, live a straight and disciplined life, be a good friend and neighbor, and support the church and its ministries. But legalism is not true Christian spirituality, for in the end it looks to self to achieve a condition of spirituality by adhering to a predetermined set of rules and fixed doctrinal interpretations. It goes beyond what the Bible teaches and what the common tradition embraces.
Legalistic spirituality is not directly situated in God’s story of creation, incarnation, and re-creation. Legalistic spirituality is situated in derivative rules and doctrines determined by a particular cultural expression of the faith. This sort of spirituality, instead of contemplating the mystery of God’s vision and participating in the life purposed by God, measures a person’s spiritual state by the secondary rules and doctrines that ask: “Are you keeping the rules?” “Are you adhering to the doctrinal particulars espoused by this particular church?” Legalism focuses on the self and how well the self adheres to the group expectations.

As I read the Webber’s words, into my mind popped a number of legalists that I deal with, or have to deal with the consequences of their actions.  They frustrate the heck out of me, and to be honest, the consequences of their actions and their decisions scare me.  I’ve seen too many people give up on the church, and some even give up on God because of the legalism.

But as I re-read the words, I have to wonder, how often do I (and you can and perhaps should) turn into the very thing I struggle against, the same thing that frustrates me, the same thing that pisses me off.

Is it possible that I could become what Webber calls a legalist?   Have I become so antagonized by their actions that I justify myself in order to feel more righteous than those I can’t understand, or for that matter stand?

It is all too easy to become the Pharisee, to find the attitude inside myself that finds others less holy (usually those I catch doing that to others – but that doesn’t excuse or justify my sin)

As Webber says, I can be good, I can know all the right doctrines, I can express them fluently, but the moment I count out that to justify me, at least compared to them.

And that is the point, I stop comparing myself to Jesus, I stopped seeing my own faults, and therefore the need to cling to Jesus, who justify me and would justify them.  That’s what spirituality is to Webber, the reason he called the book the Divine Embrace.

It is there on the cross that I can find the peace I need, and the ability to love those that frustrate me, to realize that those who I find as legalistic I can find compassion for, and I can find the hope to not be legalistic.

For God is with us….. and therefore, there is hope!

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

Where Renewal Starts…..


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Or is there an option?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Justice, Mercy, Thirsting for Revenge or Righteousness?


Devotional Thought of the Day:

6  Arise, O LORD, in anger! Stand up against the fury of my enemies! Wake up, my God, and bring justice! Psalm 7:6 (NLT) 

A few days ago I wrote about mercy.  A disclaimer, I was struggling with the topic myself.  In at least 3 cases, I was trying to figure out how to respond mercifully, and yet honestly.  Try to seek reconciliation, and pursue what is right and just.

After reading that day’s blog, and a couple of tweets, a good friend asked how we are to balance justice and righteousness.   In fact, she asked me to write on it.

Darn it, now I have to think it through!

That’s what real friends do – they help drive home the lesson God is trying to teach you!  And so my friend did for me….and others helped.

Tough question, not just because of the thought needed, but to face the answer, I don’t want to face.

I just want to pray with David the top quote from Psalm 7.   Bring JUSTICE!  Trash my enemies.  Get rid of those who are my adversaries!  Whether they be ISIS/ISIL or whether they be… well, God knows who I am struggling with presently.  Anf I find myself too often wanting revenge rather than justice.   Revenge is never justice; it is a judgment against some in my favor.  It is, therefore, contrary to justice.

I thank God for some other friends that study the Bible with me a couple of Thursday mornings a month.  We looked not only at Psalm 7:6, but the verses before and after in the chapter.

If we are to hunger and thirst for justice/righteousness AND show mercy, we need to find the point where both are valid.  In the Psalm, as we discovered, there is the answer.

1  I come to you for protection, O LORD my God. Save me from my persecutors—rescue me! 2  If you don’t, they will maul me like a lion, tearing me to pieces with no one to rescue me. 3  O LORD my God, if I have done wrong or am guilty of injustice, 4  if I have betrayed a friend or plundered my enemy without cause, 5  then let my enemies capture me. Let them trample me into the ground and drag my honor in the dust.  Psalm 7:1-5 (NLT)

Developing a heart that desires justice and mercy starts with examining one’s own heart, and one’s behavior.  Knowing how easy our heart can deceive us, we do what David does, we don’t examine it.  Rather it is in prayer we beg God to examine it.  We welcome His judgment, and the means He will use to bring about in us humility.  The humility needed to answer a call to holiness; the humility needed to trust God to make things just, to make things right in our lives.  The humility to know we need His mercy, we must depend on it.

For otherwise, a call to the purest form of justice will see us judged.

We need to be examined, cleaned, healed.

Foremost of us, this process of being refined will be painful.   It will be difficult; it will be filled with grace, applied to the darkness, most sin-dominated areas of our lives. That grace will sting at first, but will soon turn sweet, and joyful.

It is then we can thirst for justice, and to love mercy.  Mercy for our enemies, adversaries and those who we see being unjust.  Our being refined will counter that as we realize that God’s justice, at this point in eternity, is still synonymous with other words.

Reconciliation.

Restoration.

Healing

Those things are just and right, and exactly what the Great Physician ordered.

Lord, have mercy on us all!  AMEN!

Are You Brave Enough, to Receive This Blessing?


Featured imageDevotional Thought of the Day:
23  Search me, O God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. 24  Point out anything in me that offends you, and lead me along the path of everlasting life. Psalm 139:23-24 (NLT)

27  So anyone who eats this bread or drinks this cup of the Lord unworthily is guilty of sinning against the body and blood of the Lord. 28  That is why you should examine yourself before eating the bread and drinking the cup. 29  For if you eat the bread or drink the cup without honoring the body of Christ, you are eating and drinking God’s judgment upon yourself. 30  That is why many of you are weak and sick and some have even died. 1 Corinthians 11:27-30 (NLT)

240    Ask for light. Insist on it … until the root is laid bare and you can get at it with your battle-axe: the particular examination.

I know a lot of men who can make a valid claim to bravery.  Some are those who faced the enemies of our nation, like my father.  Others work the inner city streets and the jails.  Some armed as police and sheriff, others who go into those same streets with a Bible, and the sacraments that will help bring healing.  I know others who are brave in a different way, as they face challenges of health such as cancer or Alzheimer’s or the death of a loved one.

But even in the midst of courage, there are few people who are willing to take another step that requires great courage, even though what is promised is a blessing, not some danger.  Though to do so will result in a change in our lives as great as those who battle external or internal enemies.

The courage to examine one’s conscience, to let God look inside us, diagnose our sin, and go about cleansing us, healing us.

It takes courage to bare our souls to God, yet it is something we need to do and do often. We overlook it, perhaps out of fear that quenches our courage.  A fear that God might break His promise, and not lead us into everlasting life.  Perhaps even a greater fear, that God will take a part of our lives, and remove it, change it, remind us that it isn’t good for us.  Parts of our lives that cause great shame, that we think cause pleasure, and may for our instant.  Or parts that make us feel superior to others, or give us power and control.

Our fear of confession, of the self-examination that scripture encourages, may also come because of a fear of intimacy. Many of us, not only men, are afraid of that word.  We are truly afraid of it when God is the one driving the intimacy, who wants to know every nook and cranny of our lives.  He wants to, not to break us, but to heal our brokenness.  That means letting Him plunge into the deep dark places in us.  We need to let Him see the parts of us that we don’t want to admit exists, the narcissistic, dark places of our hearts and minds.

It takes more than faith, it takes courage. It also takes encouragement, which is why I think the blessing of confession and absolution is so needed.  It is why Luther prayed that private confession would never fall into disuse.  It is why I rejoice when I hear of churches that have lines, waiting for people to receive the blessing that comes from self-examination and letting God show you where He is working in your life.

For God is working there.  He isn’t restricted to the good and joyous parts of your life. He isn’t just helping you know what you should do, or where you should go.  He’s not just giving you the gifts you need to serve His people, or guiding theologians in their pondering of things mystical and mysterious.  He is not just declaring you righteous and holy, He is at work, crafting a masterpiece, getting rid of that which mars and ruins the depth of the masterpiece.

He is healing you, where you need to be healed.

Just like He is doing in my life.

If you have the courage, go to you pastor, your priest.  Ask them for guidance in this, ask them to hear your confession, to tell you God is forgiving you.  That is what they are there for; it is something that is a great blessing to them as well.

You weren’t meant to do this alone… God is there…for you.  And he’s put men there to be for you as well.

To help you see the height, depth, width and breadth of His love, revealed in Christ Jesus.

So come, take courage, and let God work in you!

Escriva, Josemaria (2010-11-02). The Way (Kindle Locations 648-649). Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition.

Self-Examination and doing great things for God


“I don’t want you ever to lose your supernatural outlook. Even though you see your own meannesses, your evil inclinations—the clay of which you are made—in all their raw shamefulness, God is counting on you.”  (1)

There are times, when I am about to start a sermon, or a Bible Study, or say the words of institution and serve the people of God the Feast He has prepared for them, that I have a moment of panic.

What am I doing up here?  Why do I think I have the role to “play” at being a pastor.

I know myself, well, not really.  I think I do.  As described in the quote above, I see my own issues, my own frailty, and there is a tendency to focus on those things.  And when I do, it makes no sense that God would call me, use me, work through me…. work in me.  How could something so sacred work in something so… human, fallible, broken.   It is a challenge that I often feel – and I am not alone.  A pastor with over 30 years experience and I were  talking about this very thing – and he noted he even once consulter a psychiatrist about the nerves and issues he goes through, as he is about to preach….

Such thoughts I know as well – go through the mind of people who aren’t pastors, who know God is nudging them to do something – whether it is something grand like heading to the mission field, or something even more scary – like inviting their neighbor to church.  Or reaching out to that busybody or grouch at work, or challenging the dysfunction in their family, as they desire to bring God’s healing and peace to where it has been never known before.  And in the back of their minds, just as in pastors…there lingers doubt – not of God’s will or God’s faithfulness, but of our suitability to be used by God for something holy.

To you (and to I) the words of St Paul bring…a reduction of anxiety, and a quite assurance that God can.. and will provide all we need to see His will accomplished.

15 Here is a saying that you can rely on and nobody should doubt: that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners. I myself am the greatest of them; 16 and if mercy has been shown to me, it is because Jesus Christ meant to make me the leading example of his inexhaustible patience for all the other people who were later to trust in him for eternal life. 17 To the eternal King, the undying, invisible and only God, be honour and glory for ever and ever. Amen. 1 Timothy 1:15-17 (NJB) 

If God can take a murderer like Paul, or a murdering alduterer like King David, and transform them, equip and empower them to do what God accomplished through them… then indeed He can do what He is calling us to let Him accomplish through our lives.  He is counting on you – not to do things by your own intellect or power, but simply to follow His lead..to allow His love to work through you…

For then like Paul, you will see that all honor and glory is His, even as He invites us to dwell with Him in it.

One last thought blessings.. for this day:

 20 I pray that the God of peace, who brought back from the dead our Lord Jesus, the great Shepherd of the sheep, by the blood that sealed an eternal covenant, 21 may prepare you to do his will in every kind of good action; effecting in us all whatever is acceptable to himself through Jesus Christ, to whom be glory for ever and ever. Amen! Hebrews 13:20-21 (NJB)

(1)Escriva, Josemaria (2011-01-31). The Forge (Kindle Locations 1934-1935). Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition.

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