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How to Restore a Life, a Church, a Community, and Even a Country

Devotional Thought of the Day:

All things came to be through him, and without him nothing came to be.What came to be 4 through him was life, and this life was the light of the human race;5 the light shines in the darkness,and the darkness has not overcome it.  John 1:3-5

Money can buy many things, but not the spirit of selflessness and service. That can, perhaps, be borrowed for awhile from other countries, but when it is lacking for any length of time in the whole organism of a nation, its achievement stands on feet of clay, and its collapse is in the long run inevitable.  (1)

It is amazing how many people make promises that would give us hope.  A new product will change our lives, a new investment program will ensure comfort in our retirement, a politician will make our communities thrive again.

What these ads are telling us, whether we realize it is or not, is that we are impoverished. That we don’t have the ability to truly live life to its fullest, because we lack this essential ingredient.

This is true for individuals, for churches, communities and our country.  These advertisers, selling everything from caffeine, bacon and beer to pecan-pumpkin flavored bleach and political candidates are telling us, “you don’t have a life”, or “your life, such as it is, sucks.”

What they don’t realize, is the only essential in our lives, is Christ… and that changes everything… for it creates life.

Pope Benedict in one of my readings this morning, noted that declining countries are those who are lacking people who are willing to work the people to serve in our nursing homes and hospitals, who will take on the hardest roles where personal sacrifice is called for daily.  We import people to work in those areas, rather than raising up our children and the children in our communities to make a difference. They may be imported from other states, or other countries – but imported they are.

It is not hard to see a correlation between that and the death of churches in communities. For as the church dies, the amount of people who follow  Christ – not just into heaven, but walk with Him, imitating Him, living as He did – for He himself brings life to us, and defines it as He lives in harmony with the Father and the Spirit, even as He calls us into that relationship.

This is our identity, this is our life, this is what it means to be His people, and for Him to be our God.  To be the children of God who love as we are loved, who lay aside our lives for others, that they would be reconciled to God. That they too would be able to share in God’s glory, that they would know and be united to Jesus.

This is why scripture points out that true religion is caring for the widow and orphan!  It points out that the sheep are welcomed into heaven because they served (even though they didn’t realize they were serving!)  We see that in the Augsburg Confession as well, as it talks of obedience and good works as the effect of knowing God’s love. It all starts with His love, and the result of that is a love that brings us to serve each other.

So if we want to see our church or our country renewed, it starts with knowing Jesus, with knowing the love and mercy of God which transforms us into people who serve, and even suffer, as Christ did – for the joy set before us, knowing the love of God for HIs people, of whom we are a part.

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.

 

The Lesson the Church Must Re-Learn, to Survive

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.

Sunday of the Passion: Here is your repentant attitude!


Here is YOUR Repentant Attitude

Phil. 2:5_11

In Jesus Name

May the Grace and Mercy of God, which was revealed when Christ came in human form sustain you as you, as you help others know this incredible comforting peace!  AMEN!

How does this happen?

Paul writes to the church in Rome

15  Be happy with those who are happy, and weep with those who weep. 16  Live in harmony with each other.  Romans 12:15-16 (NLT)

It is something we do here, one of the amazing things seen as we gather at the communion rail, and moments before, as we greet each other with the promise of God’s peace.

Living in Harmony, I suppose I could ask Chris to demonstrate harmonics on his guitar, to show you how a string vibrates when a string nears it vibrates at a precise pitch, without the first string doing anything.  It just happens.

Be happy when others are happy, and yes, far too often it seems like we are weeping as those around us weep, that our hearts are crushed as theirs is crushed.

This is the attitude of someone who is repentant, someone God is transforming.  It is the attitude that Paul calls us to, in His epistle.  Read again the first verse,

You must have the same attitude that Christ Jesus had…

That sounds so hard, yet we see it so clearly, as we look to the way we respond to each other, in times where the peace of Christ must be known, where only God is able to comfort each other, and he does it through our words, our hugs, and the holding of each other, as we pray to God.

The struggle in our souls

The struggle is that we don’t always share in each other’s lives in that way.  We confessed that a few moments ago, as we prayed for God’s mercy, as we recognize that we sinned against God and too often, against each other.

Or does anyone around here want to confess something different, that they do love God with everything they are, and that they love their neighbors, even their enemies, as much as they love themselves?  Remember that passage I used, about being happy and sad with those we love, that we are in harmony with?  Well here is it in context…

9  Don’t just pretend to love others. Really love them. Hate what is wrong. Hold tightly to what is good. 10  Love each other with genuine affection, and take delight in honoring each other. 11  Never be lazy, but work hard and serve the Lord enthusiastically. 12  Rejoice in our confident hope. Be patient in trouble, and keep on praying. 13  When God’s people are in need, be ready to help them. Always be eager to practice hospitality. 14  Bless those who persecute you. Don’t curse them; pray that God will bless them. 15  Be happy with those who are happy, and weep with those who weep. 16  Live in harmony with each other. Romans 12:9-16 (NLT)

Big difference isn’t it?  To know we can rejoice and weep with those we grieve alongside this week; but we are to weep and laugh with those we struggle with, that we may not like, or that we’ve been angry with for 7 years…

How in the world can we obey this?  How in the world does God expect us to love this deeply?

And if we can’t, are we condemned?

John’s epistle tells us that those who cannot love their neighbor, who they can see, how can they love the God who they cannot?

Harsh words, meant to make us think, and make us walk to the cross this week with Jesus…

The purpose of God’s word teaching us that is not to condemn us, not to make us feel guilty and ashamed, but to help us realize where our hope is found; to help us realize where our power is found to endure…

To realize the very work of the Holy Spirit in our lives…
We have to realize we aren’t alone.

You see, that is the message of this passage of Philippians, one of the earliest praise songs, that was common even as Paul wrote his letters, as two of the four gospel were not even written yet.

Christ humbled Himself, gave Himself, loved us in a way one songwriter declared it to be reckless, as he bought grace for us, by allowing himself to be treated violently.

This is why every knee shall bow, why every tongue will praise and glorify Him.

This is what it means for Him to be Lord, not a Lord who desires to control us, to force us, to use every power He has to manipulate us into behaving the way He wants…

He simply uses His love…  and the more we find sanctuary in that love, the more we find rest, the more we can realize the comfort that brings peace beyond all ability to comprehend….

This is how it happens.

You see, growing in the knowledge of Jesus love, of His presence, of all that he is doing in our lives is how we learn to love each other.  It is not some complicated thing, but it is profound.  For as we are drawn into fellowship with God,  as we kneel at this rail and realize that Christ gave His body and blood for us, we can’t help but love the person next to us, and even perhaps, love the guy handing to us the precious body of Christ, and holding out the cup of His blood, a blessing meant for us,

As we praise Him for that, as we know His love, we are transformed.  This is what repentance really is, this transformation God works in us, as our minds are conformed to His. That is what it means to be repentant, to be granted repentance by the Holy Spirit.  The very fact we hurt this deeply for Sandie and for the Jennings shows us that God can make this change in us, that He has done this….for we love them even as Jesus loves them.  And as we dwell in Christ, this shared love spreads out to all…

That this mind of Christ becomes ours…. That we experience a love so profound that those who simply know it, are able to love sacrificially, are able to share the sorrows, and the laughter, of those they come to love.

This is why we rejoice and praise Him, this is why the journey to the cross means so much,  as we are comforted by Him, as we know His peace.

AMEN

2 days Blog: You Can’t Handle His Truth…… or can you?

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

WARNING THIS BLOG POST MAY ANNOY THE HELL OUT OF YOU!

21  Then Peter came to Jesus and asked, “Lord, if my brother keeps on sinning against me, how many times do I have to forgive him? Seven times?” 22  “No, not seven times,” answered Jesus, “but seventy times seven, 23  because the Kingdom of heaven is like this. Once there was a king who decided to check on his servants’ accounts. 24  He had just begun to do so when one of them was brought in who owed him millions of dollars. 25  The servant did not have enough to pay his debt, so the king ordered him to be sold as a slave, with his wife and his children and all that he had, in order to pay the debt. 26  The servant fell on his knees before the king. ‘Be patient with me,’ he begged, ‘and I will pay you everything!’ 27  The king felt sorry for him, so he forgave him the debt and let him go. 28  “Then the man went out and met one of his fellow servants who owed him a few dollars. He grabbed him and started choking him. ‘Pay back what you owe me!’ he said. 29  His fellow servant fell down and begged him, ‘Be patient with me, and I will pay you back!’ 30  But he refused; instead, he had him thrown into jail until he should pay the debt. 31  When the other servants saw what had happened, they were very upset and went to the king and told him everything. 32  So he called the servant in. ‘You worthless slave!’ he said. ‘I forgave you the whole amount you owed me, just because you asked me to. 33  You should have had mercy on your fellow servant, just as I had mercy on you.’ 34  The king was very angry, and he sent the servant to jail to be punished until he should pay back the whole amount.” 35  And Jesus concluded, “That is how my Father in heaven will treat every one of you unless you forgive your brother from your heart.” Matthew 18:21-35 (TEV)

569  If you are annoyed at being told the truth, then… why do you ask? Is it perhaps that you want to be answered with your own “truth” so your errant ways can be justified? (1)

It seems the number of FB and Twitter posts recently that talk about how to treat those who sin against you, those who don’t meet your standards f behavior, those that just tick you off are on the rise.

Most don’t called for a counter-attack or revenge, or so it seems.  But they do, as they justify walking walking away, as they justify completely terminating the relationship, as they call for you to slam the door in the face of the one hurting, disrespecting, annoying and sinning against you.  They might even say that they forgive, but can never forget.  Or they talk about forgiveness, but not allowing the person to hurt or disappoint them again.

But that leads to a question – what good is it if there is forgiveness, if there is not the possibility of reconciliation?  If you cut someone off after the 7th sin, how in the world can they sin against you 69*7 more????

Undoubtedly, some are thinking – what about in cases of abuse, where violence has erupted, where there have been criminal acts like murder or rape?  What about where there are atrocities like genocide?   Are you saying that we must reconcile with “those” people?  Do we have to provide them the option of hurting us again?  Do we have to encourage something that we know could end in more pain?

That’s a good question, a very hard one.

But it is one we have to ask!

We have to realize that true forgiveness requires and hungers for reconciliation, for restoration. It may not happen, but we have to desire it.

What can reconciliation look like?  Can it be done with gradually, rebuilding that which was lost? Can we diligently work to restore that which was broken, to see it healed?  ( Not just tolerating the brokenness)  If our absence is necessary (and sometimes it is until repentance manifests) can we grieve over that, rather than triumph in it?  Do we weep as Christ wept over stubborn Jerusalem?

Jesus never said following Him would be easy.  Paul talked about it in terms of suffering like/with Jesus is necessary here – because of the glory we will share with Him there. So there will be sacrifices we will have to make, especially to our pride, especially to our expectations.  We will have to have the attitude of a servant, for we serve God, even as Jesus did.  Our work isn’t to promote ourselves, but to work at seeing His desire fulfilled… the desire that all come to repentance, that all come and are reconciled and restored, that all are presented perfect in Christ.

Look at the servant – forgiven by God of millions, who wouldn’t forgive such a small debt!  He’s talking about us when we separate reconciliation from forgiveness, when we pull back – not to urge repentance, but out of a desire to save ourselves, to guard our pride, or even our reputation.  We have no problem seeing the servant as evil and wrong, yet do we see the same lesson in our own lives. The truth of this parable stings, it hurts, when we realize we aren’t really forgiving, because we demand with the forgiveness that reconciliation isn’t possible.  That’s not forgiveness – that saying they don’t have to pay the debt – but we will still remember they owe us.  That isn’t right. It isn’t the way of the truth.

If we know this is true, Mercy must reign in our lives.  That we effectively use both God’s law and the gospel correctly to witness redemption occur.

It’s a very tough calling – living this way.  Yet it is His call on our lives, it is the truth that we see in Christ.  In fact, it is the truth that we can’t see outside of Him, and without the Holy Spirit’s help – it is impossible to see this truth revealed in our lives. But we need to see it, it will imprison and slowly kill us until we do.

Lord have mercy on us!  Help us handle the truth, that we are called to live a life of forgiveness… as those who forgive and reconcile, and those forgiven and reconciled!

 

(1)  Escriva, Josemaria (2011-01-31). Furrow (Kindle Locations 2433-2435). Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition.

Merry Christmas, Peace and our “RIghts”

christmas tree

christmas tree (Photo credit: fsse8info)

Devitional Thought of the day:

“As much as possible, and to the utmost of your ability, be at peace with everyone.”. Romans 12:18 (NJB)

 3b  Put yourself aside, and help others get ahead. 4  Don’t be obsessed with getting your own advantage. Forget yourselves long enough to lend a helping handPhilippians 2:3-4 (MSG)

15  But have reverence for Christ in your hearts, and honor him as Lord. Be ready at all times to answer anyone who asks you to explain the hope you have in you, 16  but do it with gentleness and respect.  1 Peter 3:15-16a (TEV) 

I hope this post offends as many people as possible:  Merry Christmas” – (facebook meme from National Liberty Foundation)

My son has had a number of homework projects recently where he had to determine which thing doesn’t belong with the others. You know, where you have 3 circles and a triangle, or 3 clowns and a cowboy.  Look at one of the above statements, does one not belong?  Is there one not in harmony with the others?

In recent years, there has been much disagreement about Christmas.  Some want to ban the phrase “Merry Christmas”, or get rid of historic public displays, some secular and yes some religious, that focus on Christmas. Others want to protect “their rights” of free speech and their traditions and memories of Christmas. Sometimes these discussions (and the facebook posts that follow) can get a bit vehement, and nasty, like the post above.

Seeing it in the context of scripture, we hear the dissonance, we hear that the author’s “rights” trump the nature of the very Holy Day they say they want to protect. It is sadly ironi.

But is their an obligation for Christians to surrender their rights, not to the government, but out of love for others?  Is there an obligation to no react in this way, demanding that we get our way, rather than taking the time to explain the reason for our hope is seen in the fact that God came to dwell with us?  To assure us of His love and desire for us to dwell in His presence, even at the cost of the cross? Even at the cost of Christ bearing all our sin? Can we explain these things with gentleness and respect, as we dwell in the peace of Christ we want them to share? Can we forget ourselves and invest our time in those who would oppose Christianity because they haven’t heard why it is good news? Can we love them more than our rights?  Can we like the deacon Stephen in the Book of Acts, actually love and bless those who would oppress us? ( I dare not say persecute – because in this country we’ve lost all sense of the concept of Martyrdom)

Or has our “rights” become an idol we need to protect?

Or can we, in love, lay aside our “rights”, in the hope of showing people the love and will of  a God who would come to us?

Some tought thoughts, as we look at Christmas during advent.  Not as tough as when we realize that people live without the hope we know, and God sends us to them… to bring His love.

Lord have mercy on us, and help us to have a heart like Christ… who put serving those who were lost above His own rights.

Do you want a “comfortable” life or ministry?

Discussion/Devotional Thought of the Day:

 19  A 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 no place 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 8:19-22 (TEV)

 Copy me, my brothers, as I copy Christ himself. 1 Corinthians 11:1 (Phillips NT) 1

148    Why stoop to drink from the puddles of worldly consolations if you can satisfy your thirst with waters that spring up into life everlasting?  (1)

I am still in awe that the Lord Jesus Christ, through Whom was created everything that has been created, journeyed around thinking nothing of His own comfort.  Jesus should have been afforded every comfort, and took none, sleeping on the ground with a rock ( which He created) as His pillow, the ground as His bed. His service (we like to call it a nicer word ministry) to us was His focus, and discomfort was taken on gladly.  Because of His love for the Father, because of His love…for us.

We are not so willing to follow Him, to make His life our pattern.  We want to have the positions that are comfortable, the ministries that are peaceful and growing, and without conflict or pain.  I myself have wondered recently, what would happen if I got a call that was to a church that was a distance off, far from our families and friends.  ( If it was in upstate New Hampshire or near Boston – that’s cool – but… that’s me looking after my comfort zone again!)  Would I be willing to endure that?  Or what about another conflicted parish?    What about going back to being bi-vocational?

I take my comfort in my electronics – I am presently struggling because my smartphone is in the shop, and I was given an ancient model (circa 2007) to replace it while it is there.  Oh the indignity! Oh the suffering of dealing with a 2 inch screen  (my 6 year old thinks its so cool and retro -cute!)

How much do we look for our comfort, for our lives and not look to where Paul looked,  because he copied (as best as he could) Jesus.

How can we find our comfort, our consolation (look it up in the dictionary – cool word) in the things of this world – the homes, the cars, the safe community, when something more is there…..

Something more fulfilling, more enduring, more incredible.

Something that will leave us in awe…

Can we look to Jesus, the author, finisher, model of our faith… and take up our cross… and for His sake, for His service, for His mission… follow Him?  Can we go where He  wants us to go – not giving thought to the cost… knowing the cost of the sins of people – that they need to know has been paid?

Lord, Have mercy on us, help our perspective, help our will and desires to be copied from You, and give us your strength and power to see that happen.

Amen.

Jesus and Saint Peter, Gospel of Matthew 4.18-...

Jesus and Saint Peter, Gospel of Matthew 4.18-20 Français : Jésus et Saint Pierre, Évangile selon Matthieu 4.18-20 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

(1)  Escriva, Josemaria (2010-11-02). The Way (Kindle Locations 481-482). Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition.

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