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The Job that Pastors and the Church Needs to Be Better Trained to Do

Good News BibleDevotional Thought of the Day:

10 The One who descended is also the One who ascended far above all the heavens, that He might fill all things. 11 And He personally gave some to be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, some pastors and teachers, 12 for the training of the saints in the work of ministry, to build up the body of Christ, 13 until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of God’s Son, growing into a mature man with a stature measured by Christ’s fullness. 14 Then we will no longer be little children, tossed by the waves and blown around by every wind of teaching, by human cunning with cleverness in the techniques of deceit. 15 But speaking the truth in love, let us grow in every way into Him who is the head —Christ. 16 From Him the whole body, fitted and knit together by every supporting ligament, promotes the growth s of the body for building up itself in love by the proper working of each individual part Eph 4:10-16  HCSB

They are to be carefully instructed in the art of directing souls, whereby they will be able to bring all the sons of the Church first of all to a fully conscious and apostolic Christian life and to the fulfillment of the duties of their state of life. Let them learn to help, with equal solicitude, religious men and women that they may persevere in the grace of their vocations and may make progress according to the spirit of their various Institutes.
In general, those capabilities are to be developed in the students which especially contribute to dialogue with men, such as the ability to listen to others and to open their hearts and minds in the spirit of charity to the various circumstances and needs of men.

675    It’s true that he was a sinner. But don’t pass so final a judgment. Have pity in your heart and don’t forget that he may yet be an Augustine, while you remain just another mediocrity.

There is a term I was introduced to when I became a Lutheran pastor.  

It was “seelsorge” or caretaker of souls.  It is similar to the idea in the Anglican Church of being a curate of the church,  The person responsible to see people guided into God’s presence so that their hearts and souls (and often more) can be healed. 

But that just doesn’t include the members of a congregation or parish.  It is the entire community.   As St Josemaria reminds us, those whom we might discount because of their past may be called to something “more.”,  they may become the giants we are looking to as examples. 

It doesn’t matter if they are the mouth of the church, or the heart, hidden away, praying in their prayer closet. Our job as the caretakers is to make sure they have what they need, the ability to depend on God because we know Him.  This drives the ministries of the church, This drives the work of helping everyone mature in the presence of God, 

To help people grow in their dependence (for that is what faith is) in God, to help them grow in knowing and experiencing His love as He is present in their lives, Vatican II was correct.  Those who minister, those of us who pastor and care for souls need to know how to guide them. to help them be conscious of their calling and being sent out into the world, of what Catholics call their apostolate, what Protestants call being missional.

We are to train them, to guide them into the presence of Jesus, into knowing His mercy, His love, His gift that cause us to dwell in peace. This isn’t just the pastor’s job, it is the work of every minister in the church. 

It is who we are… it is why we exist, and it was what we need to be trained to do.  I really think that needs to become more and more how we train our pastors, our deacons, our elders and various ministers of the church.  It is more important than knowing the trivia of scripture or knowing the all the theological information there is.   We have o know God is with us, and we have to teach God will be with them.

We have to know how to use God’s word, to administer the sacraments in such a way that people know they belong in God’s presence, whether they are young or old, male or female, whether their sin is hidden or notorious. Whether they become ushers in the church or the next Augustine or do the really critical work of teaching the children of the church.  (which is all to often overlooked!)

This is the ministry of the church.  The caretaking of souls entrusted to it by God.  Not just the recognized members of the church.. but the church.

Lord have mercy on us and help us to be trained and train people to care for souls.  AMEN!

Questions:
What do you think the hardest part of caring for souls is?

What do you think the greatest blessing is?

 

Catholic Church. (2011). Decree on Priestly Training: Optatum Totius. In Vatican II Documents. Vatican City: Libreria Editrice Vaticana.

Escriva, Josemaria. The Way (Kindle Locations 1568-1570). Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition.

No Man is an Island. Neither is the Church.

f68f6ad20bfbc6d47f4c6aab419b44e6e2044849510c043d7b02e848674b9064_1Devotional thought for the day:

5 Then the LORD said to me, 6“Haven’t I the right to do with you people of Israel what the potter did with the clay? You are in my hands just like clay in the potter’s hands. 7If at any time I say that I am going to uproot, break down, or destroy any nation or kingdom, 8but then that nation turns from its evil, I will not do what I said I would. 9On the other hand, if I say that I am going to plant or build up any nation or kingdom, 10but then that nation disobeys me and does evil, I will not do what I said I would. 11Now then, tell the people of Judah and of Jerusalem that I am making plans against them and getting ready to punish them. Tell them to stop living sinful lives—to change their ways and the things they are doing.  Jeremiah 18:5-11 TEV

9 I wrote you in my earlier letter not to associate with those who sin sexually. 10 But I did not mean you should not associate with those of this world who sin sexually, or with the greedy, or robbers, or those who worship idols. To get away from them you would have to leave this world. 11 I am writing to tell you that you must not associate with those who call themselves believers in Christ but who sin sexually, or are greedy, or worship idols, or abuse others with words, or get drunk, or cheat people. Do not even eat with people like that.
12–13 It is not my business to judge those who are not part of the church. God will judge them. But you must judge the people who are part of the church. The Scripture says, “You must get rid of the evil person among you.”  1 Corinthians 5:9-13  NCV

Our goal is not to form islands of peace in the midst of a disintegrated society but to educate people with the ability to transform this society. Therefore, “fruits and results.”

I often hear people misquoting the Book of the Revelation (often mispronounced revelations) advising people to withdraw from society, to come out of Babylon as if somehow they could live a life separate from their neighbors, their family, and friends who do not know that they can depend on God.

Some Christian schools started with that purpose, and there are Christian groups to offer an option to joining secular fraternal organizations like the Boy Scouts, Lions, or Elks.  There are now even coffee shops on church campuses, that some people use so they don’t have to go to that evil Starbucks and grab their venti triple cappuccino with fancy whipped cream and pumpkin froth.

It is as if we want to form special communities within communities, just for those who are good and pure and holy.  It is as we need to create safe islands for believers so that they are not tempted to sin the rest of the evil world.

Will we recognize the gospel there in the midst of Jeremiah’s prophecy, that God will welcome anyone back?  Not just any person, but any people group, any nation.  What a blessed hope!  What an incredible promise!

Will we recognize the wisdom that inspired Paul to make sure we understood that it was sin among the people of God that concerned him, not the sins of the world?  That we aren’t to avoid interaction with normal sinners, but rather to deal with those in the church that struggle with sin first.  Those others, yes they need to be saved, far more than they need us judging them.

Will we hear Pope Francis plea, not to segregate ourselves, withdraw to our own safe places? Rather, as the Holy Spirit works within us, to educate people to have the ability to transform society, to share the hope and peace found in Jesus which will do that very thing.

We have to have more trust in God than we fear the world’s sin.  We have to have more confidence in His love and care than anxiety about somehow being separated from the love of God ( AN impossibility Dontcha know!)

With our eyes focused on Jesus, we need to go to the same places he did.  To those broken by sin, to those blinded by greed, to those who do not understand that God loves them.  To those who are broken, just like we’ve been broken.  We’ve got to invite them into our homes, our churches, into the place of peace and healing we find as we dwell in GOd.

This is who we are in Christ. people’s who work and message is one of reconciling people to God, and therefore to another.   We can’t do that from pristine protected islands where we pretend all is perfect.

So go out there, live and help someone know that God loves them. AMEN!

Pope Francis. A Year with Pope Francis: Daily Reflections from His Writings. Ed. Alberto Rossa. New York; Mahwah, NJ; Toronto,  Paulist Press; Novalis, 2013. Print.

Why I Don’t Want Sinners to Change their Behavior.

20170124_103703Devotional Thought of the Day:

17 When Jesus left the people and went into the house, his followers asked him about this story. 18 Jesus said, “Do you still not understand? Surely you know that nothing that enters someone from the outside can make that person unclean. 19 It does not go into the mind, but into the stomach. Then it goes out of the body.” (When Jesus said this, he meant that no longer was any food unclean for people to eat.)
20 And Jesus said, “The things that come out of people are the things that make them unclean. 21 All these evil things begin inside people, in the mind: evil thoughts, sexual sins, stealing, murder, adultery, 22 greed, evil actions, lying, doing sinful things, jealousy, speaking evil of others, pride, and foolish living. 23 All these evil things come from inside and make people unclean.”  Mark 7:17-23 NCV

He that examines and prepares himself in this way, he truly uses this Sacrament worthily, not unto judgment,44 but unto salvation. And though all these things are still weak, infirm, and sluggish, yet one should not for that reason abstain from the holy Supper. Rather on the contrary, this very reason will rouse and impel us the more to partake of it more frequently, especially since we know that the Son of God gradually kindles, increases, and strengthens repentance and faith in us more and more through this means. For this medicine has been prepared and provided for the sick who acknowledge their infirmity and seek counsel and help.

Since I entered Bible College 35 years ago, I have seen many programs that are guaranteed to change the behavior of people,  Some are determined to change the practices of giving to the church, some are geared to change the behavior of sinners.  Some are not that blunt, they seek to make the exercise of faith more visible, as people give, pray, attend, volunteer/serve more, worship more “properly”, seeking the joy and peace that was promised to them, if they do.

Most fail.

They fail because o the basic method of formation, applying a force of some kind to the person, hoping to move them into the behavior that is desired.  They use the four main forms of educational discipline; the promise of reward, the consequence of punishment, the withholding of reward, the freedom from punishment.  Or to put it more religiously, the blessings and curses God warned us about.

These methodologies would work if all we needed was to modify behavior.

Jesus tells us clearly, that isn’t enough.  Sin and Faith/Dependence on God is not a matter of changing the externals, it requires a change of our heart (see Exodus 36:35) and the mind (see Acts 2:38 and Romans 12:2) It is not something we can change in ourselves, it goes beyond our ability.  Just as a man cannot perform open heart surgery on himself, so we can’t perform such a spiritual/psychological operation Change the behavior but not the heart and you end up with another sin putting them in bondage.  It’s like the addict who simply changes drug addiction for work addiction or an addiction to sexual perversion.  The matter is deeper.

So how do we deal with it?  Martin Chemnitz puts forth that it would be trusting God, depending on God to deliver what He promises through His word and sacrament. Chemnitz calls the weak, the infirm, the sluggish to the altar, he urges them to head there more frequently, for Christ comes to those who are sick, not to those who are well.  it is the place for those who acknowledge their need, a need caused by our sin, our brokenness.  It is there we find the medicine that comforts those haunted by grief and shame, who long for something different.

This isn’t the religion of the good and proper, those dressed perfectly for the church, those best and brightest.  It is the religion, the way of life, that delivers hope to the hopeless, healing to the broken, life to those dead, and dying.  It is the blessing for the poor in Spirit.

This is the relationship that we humbly, and with great amazement are drawn into, cleanses and brings us to life in baptism!  That is where that heart that poured forth sin is cut out, replaced with the heart of Christ, which begins to transform us, even as we take and eat, and take and drink the blood of Jesus.

The change to our hearts and minds happens, and then behavior changes, prompted by the Holy Spirit, guided by those who help us explore the Father’s love.

All the while stunned by the fact we are surrounded by His peace…   Amen!

 

 

Chemnitz, Martin, and Luther Poellot. Ministry, Word, and Sacraments: An Enchiridion. electronic ed. St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1999. Print.

 

The Christian and the Problem of Sin…and Hope

Discussion thought of the Day:

15  I do not understand what I do; for I don’t do what I would like to do, but instead I do what I hate. 16  Since what I do is what I don’t want to do, this shows that I agree that the Law is right. 17  So I am not really the one who does this thing; rather it is the sin that lives in me. 18  I know that good does not live in me—that is, in my human nature. For even though the desire to do good is in me, I am not able to do it. 19  I don’t do the good I want to do; instead, I do the evil that I do not want to do. 20  If I do what I don’t want to do, this means that I am no longer the one who does it; instead, it is the sin that lives in me.
Romans 7:15-20 (TEV)

11  In union with Christ you were circumcised, not with the circumcision that is made by human beings, but with the circumcision made by Christ, which consists of being freed from the power of this sinful self. 12  For when you were baptized, you were buried with Christ, and in baptism you were also raised with Christ through your faith in the active power of God, who raised him from death. 13  You were at one time spiritually dead because of your sins and because you were Gentiles without the Law. But God has now brought you to life with Christ. God forgave us all our sins;
Colossians 2:11-13 (TEV)

7  But if we live in the light—just as he is in the light—then we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus, his Son, purifies us from every sin. 8  If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and there is no truth in us. 9  But if we confess our sins to God, he will keep his promise and do what is right: he will forgive us our sins and purify us from all our wrongdoing. 10  If we say that we have not sinned, we make a liar out of God, and his word is not in us.
1 John 1:7-10 (TEV)

The problem of sin is one that has stalked mankind since the beginning.  

We may try to hide it, sure that people won’t see through our careful concealment, our spiritual camouflage.  We may deny it, or let it rip our souls to shreds. It is there, lurking, stalking us.

As pastors, we see its effect in our people, as they struggle with every aspect of life, from work to marriage to raising their children. I’ve watched it nearly destroy a church, and I know it has destroyed churches and even denominations. We’ve watched it destroy our brothers in ministry, and yes, we know its dark powers all too well.

Yes, sin is a problem in the church, and being a real church means we try to deal with it. We can’t really hide it, denying it and the bondage it puts people in is.. well asinine in that we are committing people to hell on earth, and hell eternal.  We cannot camouflage it and hope it blends into the background. For in all of those options we see the warning of John, indicating that we make God a liar. 

So how does a Christian, whom we teach has been cleansed of sin in baptism (see Ezekiel 36:25ff, Titus 3:2-8, 1 Peter 3, Romans 6 and Colossians 2) struggle with the fact that they still sin? How do we find comfort knowing t  How do we find comfort in the wrongdoing that has been done to us as well, that we will fall prey to Satan and commit a sin, or two, or twenty?  For sin and unrighteousness paralyzes us, it inhibits our faith, especially when Satan tries to convince us the pain is real.

Note:  When talking about sin and wrongdoing, it is important to note that the sin is our wrongdoing, and the wrongdoing John mentions is the wrongdoing, the sin done to us.  When we are declared righteous, when we are purified – both are dealt with.  Yet there is a struggle.  For we don’t always see this done and we live with the pain of sin.

In talking this over with a  friend, and thinking through the passages above, and of note the underlined sections, I came up with an analogy. 

I had a friend who lost a leg, and he often talked of (he never complained) of phantom feelings in his missing limb.  Sometimes it felt like it was asleep, or it itched, or it even caused him great pain as it felt like it was cramping.   The feelings were not “imagined”, they were documentable and real. Sensory nerves were firing, motor nerves were wanting to direct movement.  The brain registered it all.

The symptoms were real, the effects on the body were real, the source?  It wasn’t real. It was cut off completely, removed, and thoroughly as something is removed in a circumcision.  This paradox defies explanation. 

Spiritually, the paradox is much the same.  It may seem like sin controls us, the actions, the results appear much the same as they did before our “circumcision.”(  I love Ezekiel 36 on this – as the Spirit removes our stone dead heart and replaces it with one living, and home to the Spirit)  That sinful nature died on the cross – that is God’s promise.  Surely our sin was forgiven, and the sin of the world was stripped away from us, as if God somehow combined a brillo pad with ivory soap… and could scrub us, without damaging us.

So why does it still feel like we can’t stop sinning?  Why is there despair that is so deep, and so powerful that it could be labeled a black hole?

It’s that paradox again – the phantom power of sin, the illusions that the demonic can try to cast.  Yes we still sin, yes we still don’t do what we should and do what we shouldn’t.  Yes, there are days we feel like a wretch, and our ability to condemn ourselves will run high. Where we wonder if there is hope, if we will ever be righteous and holy and good.

It is then we have to realize the power of spiritual circumcision – that the sin we are battling is the cause of the sin. (this is NOT and should never be an excuse) The way to defeat it is to go and confess, and hear God has forgiven us, to hear that He has healed us. That He has purified us. That He has cut away this sin, and though we feel its effects, its pain, it itching… it isn’t us.

We live in Him. 

Dealing with the phantom pain then becomes realizing how real it is, and isn’t, and running to the one who confirms it isn’t, and letting His promise mean more than our struggle. To trust Him, to depend upon Him, to let Him support us, even as we walk through life, missing that which would have destroyed us, but for His action, His love.

This is our life… in Chirst.

Knowing He has had mercy, even as we cry out fo it!

God’s peace to you, forgiven child!

I Don’t Think This Scripture Meant What You Thought it Meant! Jer 29:11

Devotional Thought of the Day

11 For I know well the plans I have in mind for you—oracle of the LORD—plans for your welfare and not for woe, so as to give you a future of hope. 12 When you call me, and come and pray to me, I will listen to you. 13 When you look for me, you will find me. Yes, when you seek me with all your heart, 14 I will let you find me—oracle of the LORD—and I will change your lot; I will gather you together from all the nations and all the places to which I have banished you—oracle of the LORD—and bring you back to the place from which I have exiled you.   NABRE Jeremiah 29:11-14

386      You lack faith… and you lack love. Were it not so you would go immediately and much more often to Jesus, asking for this thing and that. Don’t delay any further; call out to him and you will hear Christ speaking to you: “What do you want me to do for you?” Just as when he stopped for that poor blind man by the roadside who continued to insist, without giving up. (1)

Verse 11 of Jeremiah 29 is well known.  You see it placed on coffee cups and t-shirts, on various memes and on cards that are sent to people going through tough times.  It is used by pastors and priests to bring comfort, and yes hope to people going through challenges and enduring hardships.

We’ll memorize it, but do we always remember the context?

It is in the middle of a call to repentance, in the middle of Jeremiah’s prophecies about the pain and suffering Israel would endure, because their people followed their own desires.  Because they listened to prophets who gave them false hope. Who told them what they wanted to hear, and so they placed their hope in these men.

Sort of like those today, who maintain that all will be right, that we will be restored to greatness, if only this candidate or that wins an election.  Or if only this or that is done, or only if…only if…

But don’t touch OUR sin.  Don’t challenge us to repent.  Don’t bring up the fact that we need to love our enemies and pray for those who oppress us.

You see, when you finish with the promise of verse 11, you see verse 12, and a cry to come and deliver us.  A cry and another promise, God will listen, He will hear your cry!  He will change things, heal that is wounded, restore that which is broken.  He will create in you a new creation, a creation with a future and a hope.

When the people of God seek God their Father, they will find Him (for it is to believers this is written)  He won’t reject us, He won’t crush us because we sinned and rebelled.

This passage offering a future and a hope is far more powerful a promise, far more a comfort than we think.  For it brings a hope, a blessed expectation, not just to those who are innocent victims of circumstance, not just to those oppressed and poor.  Surely they hope, but this is written to those broken apart, crushed by their own sin. It is written to those of us who do not deserve a future and a hope, but God promises us a future and hope as well.

That is why this passage is far more powerful than we usually think it is.It applies to those who are struggling with their own sin, who don’t believe God could ever care.  To the addict, or the prostitute, to the mobster and the gang-banger, to the politician and to you and I.

It’s time to claim the promise, to let God reconcile you and I to Him.  It’s time to cry our,and keep crying out, depending on a God who came to bring us home.

He is listening, He is with you!

My friend, He has promised this as well, that His peace, which goes beyond our ability to comprehend is your, and that He will keep your heart and mind safe in that peace.

AMEN!

(1)   Escriva, Josemaria. The Forge (Kindle Locations 1511-1515). Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition.

 

Am I My Brother’s Keeper?

Am I My Brother’s Keeper?Concordia Lutheran Church

Ezekiel 33:7-9

 In Jesus Name

 

May the peace of God our Father, and our Lord Jesus Christ be your sanctuary, your refuge, and may you always welcome the journey there!

Cain’s question should haunt us….

There is something special about having friends and family around us.  We see that today, as some have come long distances to help their friends celebrate forty years of marriage.

But there is a challenge for family and friends as well, for no one can disappoint us, no one can hurt us, no one can challenge our ability to love, as much as they do.  It seems like it has always been so, well not always.  Once Adam and Eve screwed up in the garden though, there has always been tension in families, and among friends.

We see it especially in the relationship of their first two sons, Cain and Abel. The challenge of loving each other was brutally sacrificed to bring some sense of relief to the pain and jealousy that found a place in Cain’s heart.

The reason that I bring him up this morning, is a question he once asked of the Lord.

Am I my brother’s keeper?

The son of man hears the answer to Cain’s question, and the answer is found in our Old Testament reading today.

“Now, son of man, I am making you a watchman for the people of Israel. Therefore, listen to what I say and warn them for me.

Yes, we are to work to keep your brothers safe… for if something happens to them and they are unaware, the passage from Ezekiel tells we are held responsible.

That is a heavy burden, yet is our mission in this life.

The Apostle John wrote about this as well:

20  If we say we love God, but hate others, we are liars. For we cannot love God whom we have not seen if we do not love others, whom we have seen. 21  The command that Christ has given us is this: whoever loves God must love others also. 1 John 4:20-21 (TEV)

We have to be watchmen for each other…we have to warn each other, as best as we can, for this is the will of God.

We have to care for the wicked folk too!

As we look at Ezekiel’s watchman, it helps to make the connection between the words watchman and keeper. It’s the same word in Hebrew, to guard them.  TO be on guard is to work for the safety and peace of those entrusted to your care.   A peace and safety corrupted and destroyed by sin.

But note in the Old Testament reading, those entrusted to the watchman’s care are called the people of Israel.  They are named, appropriately, after the one whose name means to struggle with God.  Not after Abraham, the father of Nations, or Isaac, laughter, but Jacob/Israel, the one who wrestles, who fights God.

It goes on to say that these we care for are wicked, and are certain to die unless they change their ways.

Great description of the people we have to keep safe!  Oh wait – he’s describing the people of God.  Uhm, that means the description could very well be of us.

Wicked here means those who are guilty, those who have violated either God’s law or His will.   Scary thought, if that is the definition of evil.  Do we realize we embrace evil when we sin?  Paul said it this way,

29  Their lives became full of every kind of wickedness, sin, greed, hate, envy, murder, quarreling, deception, malicious behavior, and gossip. 30  They are backstabbers, haters of God, insolent, proud, and boastful. They invent new ways of sinning, and they disobey their parents. 31  They refuse to understand, break their promises, are heartless, and have no mercy. Romans 1:29-31 (NLT)

All those people are evil, right?  Do you hear that it includes those who gossip and quarrel? That it includes those who are proud and boastful? What about those who do not show kindness or mercy?

It is them we are called to warn that certain judgment is coming.

Some of you may contend that the watchman are just the Old Testament prophets, and maybe the apostles and evangelists of the New Testament.  We might bristle a bit when we realize it includes the pastor, and that it could include deacons and vicars and elders.

But what if I said that each of one you is called to care, to help your brothers and sisters stand firm in the love of Christ Jesus?

That keeping them, guarding them in Christ by warning them is what we do, because we are called to love them?  Think about it for a moment, is it loving to allow someone to do harmful actions?  Maybe we can’t prevent them, Ezekiel seems clear about that, but we can call them to repentance.  We can call them back to Christ.  We can love them that much because He loved us!

Let this mind be in you…. Which is in Christ!

So what do we do with our past? What can we do when we screw up and fail?  What do we do with our sin?

What do we do with those times when we failed to be our brother’s keeper, to serve Him as a watchman?  When we’ve allowed them to be in bondage to sin without warning them, or when we failed to call them to repentance?  When we’ve failed as watchman, guards, and keeping them safe?   What about when we’ve rejoiced that they got what they deserved, ignoring our responsibility to call them to trust God?

Well, we don’t “do” something.  We listen.

When we confessed it we need to listen and hear of the faithfulness of Jesus to forgive us, and to cleanse us of that sin.   Maybe we need to hear His absolving us again. Maybe we need to hear the words of our baptism, that we are united with His death and sin has died to us.  We need to hear that His blood was shed, His body broken, that we would live forgiven.  We need to hear (and therefore proclaim) His death, until He comes again.

You see, ultimately, this prophecy is about Jesus as well. He is our watchman, our guardian; He is our brother who is our keeper.  He is the one who warns us, and makes possible the very repentance, the change of heart and mind that repentance is.

That is why Acts talks of repentance being granted to the Gentiles, even as it was to the apostles and disciples who were Jewish.

He’s called you out of wickedness, into a life filled with hope, with goodness, with joy as we see Him at work.  As we see Him take people that are gossips and haters and do not show mercy, who struggle with God, and re-create them into children of God.

This is why the cross happened; this is why He died, taking on the burden of the death and condemnation that awaited us.

That is how a brother acts towards his brothers and sisters.  He sacrifices Himself, so that they may live. That is what it took to get our attention, to reveal not just the existence of God, but His love for us.

For our brother, our Lord, Jesus our savior is our watchman – He is the One who is our Keeper, as He keeps us firm our heart and mind in the peace of God our Father. AMEN!

What if We Treated Those Who Gossip Like We Treat… (insert favorite sin to condemn)

Devotional Thought of the Day:

 28  Since they thought it foolish to acknowledge God, he abandoned them to their foolish thinking and let them do things that should never be done. 29  Their lives became full of every kind of wickedness, sin, greed, hate, envy, murder, quarreling, deception, malicious behavior, and gossip. 30  They are backstabbers, haters of God, insolent, proud, and boastful. They invent new ways of sinning, and they disobey their parents. 31  They refuse to understand, break their promises, are heartless, and have no mercy. 32  They know God’s justice requires that those who do these things deserve to die, yet they do them anyway. Worse yet, they encourage others to do them, tooRomans 1:28-32 (NLT)

 10  Whoever breaks one commandment is guilty of breaking them all. James 2:10 (TEV)

800 This is the prayer of a soul who wanted to belong wholly to God, and, for his sake, to all mankind: “Lord, I beg you to work on this sinner, to rectify and purify my intentions, to pass them through the crucible.”  (1)

In the church at large, there is a very unhealthy tension that I am noticing grows more and more each day.  On one side of it, there is a tendency to overlook sin, to justify it, to claim that it cannot be overcome, that it is even natural.  On the other side is the reaction to sin (espcially the sin of others) that wants to immediately condemn and execute the sinner, and purify our church and our communities of those who do “those” things.  The first are like those in the days of Noah, or the churches in The Revelation who need to be called to face their sin, not to hear words of condemnation, but to know mercy, and the transformation and healing that God would bring to them.  The second, well, like the men gathered around the adultress, with stones in their hands, our condemnaiton of others seems little more than hollow words.

In the former case, a treatment which would bring about healing is found in simply asking the question, where do we find the authority to overturn scripture here?  Some will fight it, but again our efforts need to be, not to condemn, but to provide the way yo be free from condemnaiton, to know grace, to say – yeah that’s sin, I own it is as mine, and Lord, have mercy on me a sinner.  Then having confessed it, to walk away rejoicing in its absolution.  No more hiding, no more justifying, no more denying what we know to be true, and try to deceive ourselves.  Quickly, let us confess our sins, confident that He will forgive them and cleanse us from ALL unrighteousness.

I often frin the other case, more frequent.  We would condemn others, for a sin, and for their lack of mercy towards our sin.  A rule I often use in the latter case, when one sin is being singled out, is to ask whether gossips deserve the same treatment, the same attitude as those who repeat other sins.  Most of us know gossips – some quite intimately, even perhaps caught a glimpse of them this morning, as we looked in a mirror to comb our hair.  Do we want to treat the gossip like the murderer, the abortionist, the adulterer, those who have sex outside of marriage between husband and wife, those who hate based on race and ethnicity, those who lie, those who disrespect authorities, those who schedme to take what is others, those who commit very public sins, those who commit them very privately, etc etc,

Do we?

Do we want the gossip to hear the same words as “those” people?  Do we want to treat them the exact same way, with the same words?

YES!

The more I see people, entrapped by sin, enslaved to it, no matter the sin, the more I want us to hear the same words…

Your sins ARE forgiven, Go in peace, and sin no more….

That’s the Father’s desire.  That is why Jesus came and lived and died, and was raised from the dead.  It is the mission that God has given us, the church, for it is saving them, delivering them from sin and the fear of death, into the presence of God, our Creator, the One-in-Three who calls us, the beloved….

Lord have mercy on us, the sinners.  AMEN.

(1)  Escriva, Josemaria (2011-01-31). The Forge (Kindle Locations 2854-2856). Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition.

The Pastor/Watchman’s tears and the Heart of Christ…

Devotional Thought of the Day:

16  After seven days the LORD gave me a message. He said, 17  “Son of man, I have appointed you as a watchman for Israel. Whenever you receive a message from me, warn people immediately. 18  If I warn the wicked, saying, ‘You are under the penalty of death,’ but you fail to deliver the warning, they will die in their sins. And I will hold you responsible for their deaths. 19  If you warn them and they refuse to repent and keep on sinning, they will die in their sins. But you will have saved yourself because you obeyed me. 20  “If righteous people turn away from their righteous behavior and ignore the obstacles I put in their way, they will die. And if you do not warn them, they will die in their sins. None of their righteous acts will be remembered, and I will hold you responsible for their deaths. 21  But if you warn righteous people not to sin and they listen to you and do not sin, they will live, and you will have saved yourself, too.” Ezekiel 3:16-21 (NLT) 

673      We can never attribute to ourselves the power of Jesus who is passing by amongst us. Our Lord is passing by: and he transforms souls when we come close to him with one heart, one feeling, one desire: to be good Christians. But it is he who does it: not you nor I. It is Christ who is passing by! And then he stays in our hearts—in yours and in mine!—and in our tabernacles. Jesus is passing by, and Jesus comes to stay. He stays in you, in each one of you, and in me. (1)

674      Our Lord wants to make us coredeemers with him. That is why to help us understand this marvel, he moves the evangelists to tell us of so many great wonders. He could have produced bread from anything… but he doesn’t! He looks for human cooperation: he needs a child, a boy, a few pieces of bread and some fish. He needs you and me: and he is God! This should move us to be generous in our corresponding with his grace. (1)

I heard something the other day, that unnerved me.  A pastor told one of his members that he didn’t have the gift of compassion. That it wasn’t his calling to care about people.  Part of me wishes I could be so callous, part of me knows that I would be wrecked if I was, i would simply shut down.

The reason I wish I could be so callous is that it hurts to watch those who are entrusted to our care fakk into judgment, to walk away from the love of God that would heal the bruises they don’t want to admit they have.  It is not like having a part of you, ripped from your body, and watching it slowly rot before your eyes.   I guess you could be callous and realize your body has other parts, that it will survive, that you could ignore the pain. While we can’t brutally force them to stay, we can’t let them go without tears, without praying that somehow they would listen, they would hear – not our voice- but the voice of God. And when they walk away, we should weep, not for the failed efforts, but for their souls, for that which they will endure until like the prodigal, they come home.

I’ve known a few of these tears recenlty – know many in the past.

That is the price of being co-redeemers with Christ, about being the child who brings a couple of fish and some loaves. About being Peter, who grew from his own failure to be God’s voice, to be Dorcas, the Lady who loved and served. Yes, some of us get the “upfront” jobs Others work behind the scenes, others are there when all the chips are down. Yet it is God in all, working through all .  It is Christ’s call our to people that we utter, in sermons and in coffee shops covernsations, by bedsides and in Bible Studies.

We have compassion, because He has compassion – it is He that desires to be there for them, through us. There is no option – we must learn to care as He cares.  To be there, to bring His love and mercy and healing, things that come from being in a relationship with Him.  There in peace, and security, for when we and they, hear the word of the watchman, we find our refuge, our keep, our fortress…. is Jesus.  The One who is passing by… and taking us with Him.

So cry hard for those who have not really heard.. but pray even more for them, for the Father desires their homecoming, and Christ is going to go to them…

(1)Escriva, Josemaria (2011-01-31). The Forge (Kindle Locations 2475-2484). Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition.

Dare to Be Christian Means Dare to Be Broken

Devotional THought of the Day”

Matthew 9:9-13 (MSG) 9  Passing along, Jesus saw a man at his work collecting taxes. His name was Matthew. Jesus said, “Come along with me.” Matthew stood up and followed him. 10  Later when Jesus was eating supper at Matthew’s house with his close followers, a lot of disreputable characters came and joined them. 11  When the Pharisees saw him keeping this kind of company, they had a fit, and lit into Jesus’ followers. “What kind of example is this from your Teacher, acting cozy with crooks and riff-raff?” 12  Jesus, overhearing, shot back, “Who needs a doctor: the healthy or the sick? 13  Go figure out what this Scripture means: ‘I’m after mercy, not religion.’ I’m here to invite outsiders, not coddle insiders.”  

229         Teacher: may you be eager to make your pupils understand quickly what has cost you hours of study to see clearly. (1)

I’ve written about this Bible passage recently – maybe a month ago.  But I was rereading it this morning – and I thought about the context.

The calling of an apostle.

The choice of God of who would write the gospel!  The future bishop of Alexandria, Eqypt, from whom all of North Africa would hear the gospel.

And if you hear it carefully … as the pharisees critique Jesus because of who He hands out with.. you will realize this incredible truth.

Matthew was one of the broken.  He was one of the crooks and riff-raff, the undesirable because of how broken he was.  Broken by the work he ended up doing,   I have wondered before if all the quotes of the propehts in Matthew weren’t just about the need to prove Jesus was the Christ, but perhaps even more, that Matthew knew the need to be re-assured that these promises, that this Christ, came for Him.

To restate it this way – if we work with Christ, if we have a relationship with Him, if we follow Him- – that means – we have been broken.  Broken by our own sin, by our own narcicism, by the sins committed against us, that we struggle to forgive and we sturggle to heal from.

And this is a lesson that we learn the hard way, those of us who have grown up in the church, those of us who have studied for ministry and are trained to be theologians aren’t taught this lesson in Bible Colleges and Seminaries.  We don’t make sure people have learned it  beore sticking them in Sunday School classrooms, or elect them as leaders of the church, or help them

I love what Josemaria Esriva says – we need to teach our people this – that lesson that has been so brutal for us to learn, that we are often dqueamish about about even remembering, never mind discussing.  It’s uncomfortable to dare to do this, to be that transparent, to relive those pains, to remember being that… broken.

Being a Christian is about following Christ, as He comes to us in our brokenness – as He is healing us, He takes us to others whom He is going to heal.

We can teach them about His work in their lives – only because we know.

But that means – we have to dare to be broken…

So we can teach them what has taken us so long to learn…..

and we find it even more incredible…..

God’s come to us. to all of us…

Words in Red Gospel of Matthew (6)

Words in Red Gospel of Matthew (6) (Photo credit: Lex Photographic)

 

(1)   Escriva, Josemaria (2011-01-31). Furrow (Kindle Locations 1157-1158). Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition.

 

Churches that are full of sinners… can be a great blessing to you!

Devotional thought of the day….

 15  This is a trustworthy saying, and everyone should accept it: “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners”—and I am the worst of them all. 16  But God had mercy on me so that Christ Jesus could use me as a prime example of his great patience with even the worst sinners. Then others will realize that they, too, can believe in him and receive eternal life. 1 Timothy 1:15-16 (NLT)

What compassion you feel for them!… You would like to cry out to them that they are wasting their time… Why are they so blind, and why can’t they perceive what you—a miserable creature—have seen? Why don’t they go for the best? Pray and humble (original mortify)  yourself. Then you have the duty to wake them up, one by one, explaining to them—also one by one—that they, like you, can find a divine way, without leaving the place they occupy in society. 

Yes, I know, churches are full of hypocrites and sinners – spectacular and plain.  Some of the most obvious are those that are at the microphone – the pastors/priests, the worship directors, the singers, and those guys that make announcements.

Some people have used this as an excuse to not go to church – they don’t want to affiliate with a low life sinner like me.  And that is with only partial knowledge.  Only God knows exactly how sinful I can get… even I can’t calculate that.

It may sound odd — but the fact that you can recognize me, a pastor, as a sinner is a good thing.  Because if you combine that with the fact that God has promised that my sin won’t count against me, that what i’ve done, ans said and thought isn’t beyond forgiveness, that means  that your forgiveness is as assured.  Look at it this way, the greatest leader of God’s people in the Old Testament was David.  An adulterer, a murder, a politiician who used his office to be able to do all these sins- and as God worked in David’s life, David became a man know as a man after God’s own heart.   This was God’s work in him.   (side note – that we are such doesn’t justify our continuing to sin)

If God can work with that kind of material, God can work with you – and this is God’s desire.  It is what God wants.  If God can initaite  a relationship and wanted to reveal Himself to a murderous pharisee like Paul – He can do the same with you – and desires to do exactly that.

The same thing – if the guy in the pulpit, if the people surrounding you as you sit in the pew are sinners, and we all are, then this is the place where you belong.  For if God can call us saints, if He calls us, despite our scars His children.  Then you know He will accept you to, that He will adopt you as well.  That He will, through word and sacrament, bring healing to your brokenness, and peace to your soul.

A church full of sinners and hypocrites – that’s my kind of place.  Come and join us…please?

English: The Last Supper of Jesus Christ

English: The Last Supper of Jesus Christ (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

 

Escriva, Josemaria (2011-01-31). Furrow (Kindle Locations 974-978). Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition.

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