Devotional Thought for the Day:
12 So then, my friends, because of God’s great mercy to us I appeal to you: Offer yourselves as a living sacrifice to God, dedicated to his service and pleasing to him. This is the true worship that you should offer. 2 Do not conform yourselves to the standards of this world, but let God transform you inwardly by a complete change of your mind. Then you will be able to know the will of God—what is good and is pleasing to him and is perfect.
3 And because of God’s gracious gift to me I say to every one of you: Do not think of yourself more highly than you should. Instead, be modest in your thinking, and judge yourself according to the amount of faith that God has given you. Romans 12:1-3 GNT
The last question summarizes, in essence, all the others: “Are you prepared to unite yourself daily more closely with Christ, our High Priest, and to become with him a sacrificial offering for the glory of God and the salvation of mankind?”
for those of you who aren’t ordained, please read this anyways, it will and does deal with you as well!)
Over 20 years ago, I was ordained.
Since then, I have been installed as the pastor at three more churches. Each time a series of questions are asked, pertaining to what I believe, and how I will care for the people entrusted to my spiritual care. One of the more challenging questions is whether I will ever talk about what is confessed to me, revealing the sins people needed to know God would forgive. (the answer to that is never, even if threatened with jail or death)
But the question above, which my Roman Catholic brothers are asked, is one I wish would have been asked. It is one I need to ask myself each and every day, as well.
Am I prepared and willing to unite myself with Christ, this day? Am I willing to become a sacrificial offering for the glory of God and the salvation of mankind?
It is what Paul urges us to do, to be living sacrifices, and as He explains it, as chapter 8 goes on, doing what you are gifted and called to do, setting aside all semblance of pride, so that others may be served, and thereby saved.
Am I prepared to unite myself to C\hrist? Am I willing to become a sacrificial offering for the glory of God and the salvation of mankind?
I think we fear this, for fear of confusing our salvation, which we can do nothing to merit, nothing to earn, with living a life that is free form sin, from being set apart, from being holy. This is the life united to Christ.
We know the theolgoical answer to this – that we were united to Christ in our baptism, that we are joined to Him, in His death, and in His Resurrection. (Romans 6 and Colossians 2 teach so) But this is far more than an academic theological question.
It is about the stuff of life.
It is about embracing hardship, suffering, not getting the things we desire, about seeing every person we talk to as a divine appointment, as we are put there to help them encounter God (as we do encountering them!) It is about setting aside our frustration, our anger, our joy, even our sorrow for their sake.
It is what the “Missional life” and the “aspostolate” are really about.
It is what being a pastor and priest is about.
It is, as well, about what being the church, the rpiesthood of all believers is about.
So ask yourself the question, “Am I prepared…”
And know that God is with you.. preparing you to say yes, as the Spirit transforms you into the image of Christ. (2 Cor 3)
Father, in Jesus precious name, help us answer “yes” to Your call on our lives. AMEN!
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. 186). San Francisco: Ignatius Press.
Devotional Thought of the Day:
1 I, who am an elder myself, appeal to the church elders among you. I am a witness of Christ’s sufferings, and I will share in the glory that will be revealed. I appeal to you 2 to be shepherds of the flock that God gave you and to take care of it willingly, as God wants you to, and not unwillingly. Do your work, not for mere pay, but from a real desire to serve. 3 Do not try to rule over those who have been put in your care, but be examples to the flock. 4 And when the Chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the glorious crown which will never lose its brightness. 1 Peter 5:1-4 (TEV)
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.
A society that tends to turn people into puppets of production and consumption always opts for results. It needs control; it cannot give rise to novelty without seriously compromising its purposes and without increasing the degree of already existing conflict. It prefers that the other be completely predictable in order to acquire the maximum profit with a minimum of expenditure.
I often receive advertisements for books and seminars about Christian leadership. Books that talk about the management of the church, the proper way to administrate things. Some bring the best and brightest of secular management and leadership theorists into play. This is nothing new, as names like Peter Drucker, John Maxwell and Steven Covey have long tried to bridge the gap between secular leaders and leaders in the church. Most of the church consultants I know use those kinds of models, those kinds of systems.
By leaders, I mean anyone who leaders, whether it be the Sunday School leader, the deacons, elders, or altar guild, or the pastors and denominational leaders that go by terms like Bishop, President or even Pope. My favorite title for a leader, and I have heard every Pope in my life refer to it, is their title, “servant of the servants of God.” Not the King, or the Lord, or high exalted leader but the servant of those who serve.
Back to leadership itself. I think the problem we often see when secular leadership style and theory come into play in the church is the idea of profit. Not necessarily monetary, but the idea of profit as in return on investment (ROI). I’ve seen this as churches prepare budgets, as denominations determine where to plant new churches, and whether to close other, smaller churches. The latter because they use up too many resources (money, land, building space)
St Josemaria calls us o think differently, to work with the love of God. Not just putting in the hours, but truly investing our talent, our knowledge, our competencies, all bathed in the love of God.
Francis likewise warns of turning the church into a puppet kingdom, where we strive for results and growth, forgetting the person’s needs, and basing outreach on maximum profit for minimum expenditure. I’ve seen this in meetings where rather than come alongside smaller churches in urban areas, advisors tell them to become legacy churches, closing and selling their properties to help growing churches thrive. We want predictable and sure methods for growth or revitalization, something with a quick turnaround, rather than something that might consume us.
We come full circle back to Peter’s epistle then, where he tells us not to do out work for pay (whatever the “payoff is – it might not be money) Rather we should do our job from a desire to serve, even as our Lord served. To work, not demanding this and that of those we are entrusted to, but by being examples to those we care for, investing in them, not expecting them to invest in us first. We need to love them, not manage them, Just as Christ loves and guides us, with gentleness and care.
This is contrary to modern business practices, yet it is the nature of ministry, of serving others, it is the nature of imitating Christ Jesus, who expended it all to save a bunch of corrupt and often shameless sinners like you and I.
May we lead our people into the peace and wonder that is found as Christ is revealed, as He ministers to, cleanses and makes us Holy. May we all find that healing available only in Jesus, as we help others heal.
Escriva, Josemaria. The Forge (Kindle Locations 2578-2581). Scepter But 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.
Devotional Thought of the Day:
1 Imitate me, then, just as I imitate Christ. 1 Corinthians 11:1 (TEV)
22 I gave them the same glory you gave me, so that they may be one, just as you and I are one: 23 I in them and you in me, so that they may be completely one, in order that the world may know that you sent me and that you love them as you love me.
John 17:22-23 (TEV)
74 We all have to be ipse Christus—Christ himself. This is what Saint Paul commands in the name of God: Induimini Dominum Iesum Christum—put on the Lord Jesus Christ. Each one of us—you!—has to see how he puts on that clothing of which the Apostle speaks. Each one personally, has to sustain an uninterrupted dialogue with the Lord. (1)
It seems like every expert has a reason for the church dwindling in the last 50 years. Some blame the declining birthrate among Caucasians. Others say it is the necessary cost for remaining faithful to God, another group says it is because only new church plants grow, and that we invest too much in places where God put his name already. ( I have to wonder, do they really believe God gave up on churches older than a generation? )
I am no expert, I have never spent money studying the issues, I haven’t left the parish to become a consultant, or a church bureaucrat. I am not a mega church pastor, or a blogger with 10,000 subscribers. I shepherd people, broken as I am, into the presence of Christ, and am in awe when He fulfills his promise, the promises I share in sermons, in classes, over a beer. So take my words for what they are.
I think the issue is simple,
We’ve forgotten to share with people that not only are they saved, but that they become the children of God, the co-heirs of Christ Jesus, To use fancy theological terms, which while God hasn’t infused righteousness (He counts us righteous ) He has infused us with holiness.
We’ve been given the gift of the Holy Spirit, to dwell within us, to teach us, to transform us into the image of Jesus. Not that we become superheroes, but servants, slaves, those who humbly walk with God. (see Phil. 2:1-10)
What is missing in the church, whether liberal or conservative, confessional or missional, no matter what the label we place on ourselves or others is this.
We’ve forgotten the concept of Christlikeness.
Or, rather than considering it the promise of the Covenant, the blessing of the Gospel, we turn it into some kind of foreign works righteousness, and dismiss it as the Law we cannot hope to fulfill.
It is the promise, the gospel, this blessing and privilege of repentance, (see Acts 11) that is granted to all who believe: Hear Paul’s words,
29 No, a true Jew is one whose heart is right with God. And true circumcision is not merely obeying the letter of the law; rather, it is a change of heart produced by God’s Spirit. And a person with a changed heart seeks praise from God, not from people.
Romans 2:29 (NLT)
It is the change of heart, produced by God, a change Ezekiel 36 attached to God’s sprinkling of water, that Titus 3 confirms happening as the Father pours our His Spirit on us.
Finally, it is the blessing of the prayer mentioned in John 17 above, as Christ gives us all that the Father gave Him, the unity, the glory, the ability to love. The ability to serve, even to die for those who are in need. Even our enemies. Even those we would have looked down on. To wash their feet, to let those betraying us close enough to embrace us, to work with whoever is considered unclean, that they would know the love of God.
This is our life; it is why we aren’t whisked into the throne room immediate after our baptism. This is being the church of Christ the family of God.
It is time to heed the gospel found in Hebrews 12,
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. 3 Think of what he went through; how he put up with so much hatred from sinners! So do not let yourselves become discouraged and give up.
Hebrews 12:1-3 (TEV)
1) Escriva, Josemaria (2011-01-31). The Forge (Kindle Locations 484-487). Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition.
Devotional thought of the Day:
You saw it quite clearly: while so many people do not know God, he has looked to you. He wants you to form a foundation stone, an ashlar, on which the life of the Church can rest. Meditate on this reality and you will draw many practical consequences for your ordinary behaviour: the foundation stone—hidden and possibly rather dull—has to be solid, showing no weakness. It has to serve as a support for the building… If not, it remains isolated.(1)
It sometimes seems like the world is darker than it has been in a century, that immorality and unethical behavior are now the norm for life, It perhaps isn’t, for the time when St. Josemaria ministered in Spain had its times, as of course did the Vietnam Era. Yet when you look at Southern California, and the amount of people in churches, one begins to wonder how few people truly know and rejoice in the love and presence of God.
There is a tendency to bemoan our condition, to think that we have been defeated, that our generation will see more and more churches close, as our part of the world sees the light of Christ snuffed out. After all, most of the pastors I know are not incredibly powerful evangelists, most of us are common, ordinary, bland types. We try hard, but we don’t always see the results, in fact we rarely see them.
That is why I like the quote above. For our work isn’t necessarily to be the beautiful marble of huge temples, we are not the beauty of Roman Basilicas, or English Cathedrals. We are the foundations, those who point solidly to Christ, those who have been strengthened and bear the weight, those whose trust in God is revealed in a faithfulness we may not even realize people observe in us. And such lack of self-awareness is not a bad thing – our awareness needs to be focused on the cornerstone. – the one we take our lead and line from.
The people then, that understand we (and I am not just talking about pastors and priests, but about all those using their gifts to serve others) are like the stones that build up the building, the stones that do gather attention, the lives that are radically changed, the ones who are lifted up, the ones who testify of God’s love… because we were used to reveal it to them.
Not doing something spectacular in the faith – that is okay – be faithful in looking to Christ – love Him, adore Him, find yourself, int he midst of that love, loving others… and you will find with that simply done… not just a church being built up around you, but the church being built in the world.
Remember to look and cry… Lord have mercy… and rejoice as that mercy is revealed in your life and others…
(1)Escriva, Josemaria (2011-01-31). The Forge (Kindle Locations 1804-1808). Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition.
Devotional thought of the day:
Listening randomly to the music on my computer, the last couple of days a song has played, and stuck in my brain. The chorus includes these words,
“use our hands to build your church o Lord, use our hands to build Your church.”
A very good friend recorded the song, and like me, went to a Bible College where we were taught to lead and minister in a manner consistent with Christ’s model. We were called to serve, to sacrifice, not for our own glory, but simply to point people to Jesus. It was held out to us as the way to build God’s church, to do as ROmans 12:1-9 talks so beautifully concerning. Because of God’s incredible living kindness and mercy, present to Him your bodies, to be sacrificed spiritually – for this is the logical way to worship (parker’s paraphrase)
Last night, as Chris and I were side by side, facilitating the worship of our people, I was struggling. A dear friend in our congregation received news that she would have to undergo chemotherapy, not just a course of treatment, but a long haul, to keep at bay cancer. My childhood friend’s dad was in the hospital, possibly having a heart attack (his mom passed away recently) my dad had been taken to the ER. Another friend’s dad, extremely influential in helping me and so many other minister, responded positively despite what most would see as a major setback. As the evening progressed, I found out about others in crisis, and it began to become, well overwhelming.
It is hard to preach on Isaiah 40 when you are crushed. It is hard to preach on casting your cares on Christ, when you almost don’t have a chance for a breath as they come flooding in. Then again, you can’t really know how much God will strengthen you, how much His power is displayed in our weakness, until you really need to know it.
So how does Chris’ song, and all of the suffering work into on theme in this blog?
I was thinking about his song, and our lessons on servant ministry/leadership and about a phrase the influential pastor wrote. God can turn your scars into stars. When all of a sudden, the two morphed into one thought.
Use our scars to build YOUR church o Lord, use your scars to build Your church!
Use our scars to build YOUR church o Lord, use your scars to build Your church!
If we, in presenting our bodies to God to be living sacrifices, to serve and use our talents and abilities to accomplish His will ( 2 Pet 3:9) then He can as well use our anxieties, our illnesss, our setbacks, our crosses our scars.
It takes trust to lay those things down, far more trust than to volunteer to serve a dinner, or sing in the choir, or become a pastor or missionary, or even that incredible sacrifice – a children’s Sunday school teacher ( I am not joking with that btw- I think they are among the greatest of God’s servants) I hate my scars, I even hate more the scars and potential scars I see my people bearing. I would do anything to see them freed from such burdens, and it bothers me when I cannot.
But I see something else at work, for I am seeing God using those scars. I saw my friend, on the day she received such news, come to church and stay for the potluck, her strength an example of the very words from Isaiah. Her husband was one of the men who served that meal, working besides others and encouraging them. I see others, also dealing with issues and anxieties sharing in the same meal. I see a church of broken people, whom God has brought together and lifted up as His church….
And I realized, what I was praying for in my morphing a song and a thought and a phrase, it was already happening…. here.. in our midst. In a glorious-yet tragic-yet inspring-yet full of tears-yet beyond imagination way.
Lord – have mercy on us- bring healing to these lives… and help our unbelief…even as you give us strength, and cause us to rise up on wings as eagles..
Today’s Devotional/Discussion thought…
A quote for leaders… (of every kind)
11:1 And you should imitate me, just as I imitate Christ. 1 Corinthians 11:1 (NLT)
This verse ends a chapter which requires great humility, as we hear Paul talk about not giving offense which would inhibit another’s walk with Christ. As a pastor, and one who works with broken churches, ( every church is broken, some brokenness is simply more visible) I hear these stories all the time. A former pastor who may or may not have cared, a phrase uttered in the midst of a longer conversation, but that stuck with those who heard it. Pains that are decades old, but still as tender, and then something rips the scabs off, releasing a flow of blood that may cleanse the wound, or may allow for infection, given the way it was treated.
That is where imitating Christ needs to become a focal point for leadership – where we put aside what we desire, and sometimes, yeah – what we need. We set aside ourselves that we can be there to nurse the wounded to strength, to encourage their trust in Jesus, to bring them to the altar – not drive them out of the church because we were irritated by them.
That is Christian leadership. I like how I came across Christ’s leadership in this manner in my devotions this morning.
Our Lord is on the Cross saying, I am suffering so that men, who are my brothers, may be happy, not only in Heaven, but also—as far as possible—on earth, if they really embrace the most Holy Will of my heavenly Father. (1)
To my friends in leadership, whether in the church, in government or business, to those who lead from an office, or simply have influence which people follow – please lead sacrificially, lead in such a way that people can embrace God’s embrace of them, in such a way that God’s will is made manifest, and they can rejoice. Serve, not command. Be willing to suffer, in small and large ways. As one who tries to live this, and is occasionally successful …. the rewards of seeing people embraced by God is more than worth whatever inconvenience, or pain.
Imitate Christ, that others may imitate you…..
and when you struggle to make that sacrifice…cry out to Him, and He will have mercy.. AMEN!
(1)Escriva, Josemaria (2011-01-31). The Forge (Kindle Locations 1123-1126). Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition.