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The Secret to the Revitalization of the Church, or a church

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The church, is always in the midst of a storm… but safe in Him

Devotional Thought of the Day:

7 Be silent in the presence of the Lord GOD, for the Day of the LORD is near. Indeed, the LORD has prepared a sacrifice; He has consecrated His guests.   Zeph 1:7

Unfortunately, although Christianity is not a department store that must anxiously gear its advertising to the tastes and desires of its clientele because it has merchandise to sell off that it neither wants nor needs, it is all too often compelled to act as though it were. But if this were its nature, we could confidently predict its imminent bankruptcy. Actually, however, the Christian Faith is rather (to use an admittedly one-sided and weak image) the divine medicine that should never adapt itself to the wishes of its clientele and to what pleases them, for that would be to destroy them utterly. Its role must be to require them to turn away from their imaginary need, which is in reality their sickness, and to entrust themselves to the guidance of faith.

I just spent a few days with guys who are called to be pastors. In many ways, they feel like they’ve been drawn ot the ministry, they seen the people’s needs and the call of the people for them for shepherds. I was on a team that had as its goal the task of assuring that these men were ready to take on this burden, and/or what steps would prepare them for it.

They, with one or two exceptions, are called to serve smaller churches, in most cases groups of 20 or 30 people that gather around God’s word, that receive the promises of God delivered through them, as they speak God’s word, and as they feed them the Body and Blood of Jesus.  These churches would possibly close without these men or someone like them.  But these men need to revitalize these churches, they need to see life breathed into them.  Their churches, like mine and every other church I know of, need to have the vitality and life of the bride of Christ.

And of course, in my readings this morning, I come across two passages that deal with revitalizing our lives.

The second one is more obvious than the first.  While there is a necessity to understand a church’s context and ensure the church is speaking to the people instead of at the people, all too often that takes the nature of a marketing plan.  It requires compromise in the nature of the mission.  Marketing cannot compromise the mission, and methodologies cannot change the message, the messenger, or change what the means of change.  That is it cannot change the grace, God’s love and mercy delivered to sinners to heal them and give them life, shared in the peace with God.  If you do that, you have changed the mission.

Pope Benedict is, in this Lutheran Pastor’s opinion, absolutely correct. We have the medicine, delivered through word and sacrament, that treats what really has broken people.  God’s love binds them to Him, having cleaned them of sin, and of its shame and guilt.  It also heals us of the anger and resentment that has broken us, as we’ve been the victims of sin.

We can’t change that. To do so would be to fail to deliver what people need the most, Jesus.  Nor can we hide it, causing people to need to discover it, and then decode our language and actions we tried to protect and hide it within.

All this brings us to the first, and far more important quote.  It brings us to the point of this devotion.  And while it is what you and I need to do, right now, and often each day, It is what these pastors (de jure and soon de facto) need to do to revitalize their church.

Realize you are, right now, in the presence of God.

God who is drawing all things together through the blood of Jesus.  For that is what the Day of the Lord is, for Christ has become our sacrifice, prepared to deliver us from the power and oppression of sin.

ANd to consecrate us, His guests, to make us holy as we have been drawn into His presence. To be set apart for this relationship with our Heavenly Father, our Almighty God. To be re-vitalized, freed of all that weighs us down. Healed of all the damage a life of sin can cause, restored to be who we were created to be.

This is who we are, in congregations and parishes that make up the Church, His Church, His beautiful bride.

And be in awe… incredibly aware of the glory and power and love of God, which makes this all possible.   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.) (pp. 340–341). San Francisco: Ignatius Press.

It’s time to be “The Church”

Devotional Thought of the Day:
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25  The way God designed our bodies is a model for understanding our lives together as a church: every part dependent on every other part, the parts we mention and the parts we don’t, 26  the parts we see and the parts we don’t. If one part hurts, every other part is involved in the hurt, and in the healing. If one part flourishes, every other part enters into the exuberance. 27  You are Christ’s body—that’s who you are! You must never forget this. Only as you accept your part of that body does your “part” mean anything. 1 Corinthians 12:25-27 (MSG)

575      To think of Christ’s Death means to be invited to face up to our everyday tasks with complete sincerity, and to take the faith that we profess seriously. It has to be an opportunity to go deeper into the depths of God’s Love, so as to be able to show that Love to men with our words and deeds. (1)

I am getting tired of conversations about the church.  There are theologians who will talk of church militant and church triumphant.and the visible and invisible Church.  There are consultants who will talk about healthy churches, revitalizing churches, legacy churches (the new euphemism for a church dead or dying, usually blamed on being 25 years or older)  There are goals to be seeker oriented, confessional, conservative, liberal, missional, contemporary, and a thousand more labels.

It’s time to stop all of the strategic talk, all the planning and plotting and vision casting and calls for others to repent.

I love the description of the church in Paul’s 12th chapters of Romans and 1 Corinthians. It’s not an organization, or a entity.  It is a family, a body, an organism, not an organization.  When one part of the church hurts, whether through real persecution/martyrdom, whether through grief and bereavement, no matter the cause, the entre church hurts, whether this is a cell ground of 6 or 8, a small church like mine of 60, or a mega church of 2000, or the Church as the entire body of Jesus Christ.  The same thing is true with moments of joy.  If all of heaven parties, if God dances when a prodigal returns home, when a baby is baptized, when a cynic or critic is gifted with faith and repentance/transformation, the whole church should as well.

For this is who we are – one body, Christ’s body.

It shouldn’t take a team of experts consultants to realize this, or to provide 8 steps to seeing it happen. What it does take is bearing our cross with Christ, of seeing everything as killed off and that cross and re-created, reformed, brought together, bonded to His resurrection as we were to His death quickened, made alive IN Christ.

In the past week, I’ve  been there when friends are hospitalized, when a former member of my church was buried, when another friend struggled with sin, when they needed encouragement to enter that struggle. I’ve watched quite a few struggle in relationships, and I’ve seen people struggling with change, both good change, bad chance and just the fear of potential change.  This is church stuff my friends, it is the time where we need to all be together, weeping working, encouraging, partying,

I love St Josemaria’s quote today… Each of the moments, each of these struggles, and the celebrations as well – each is a time to encounter Christ, each is a time to see the marvelous love of God at work, to share that love, to receive that love.

When the people of God, called together do such things – whether 2 or 3 or 10,000 do this, they are His people, His church… they aren’t just talking and setting visions, they are finding the healing they need in Christ Jesus.. and helping others to heal….this is Eph. 2:10, and Article 6 of the Augsburg Confession.

This is the Church…. let’s be it.

Escriva, Josemaria (2011-01-31). The Forge (Kindle Locations 2141-2144). Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition.

The Two Cries of a Church That is Alive… (even though others think it is dying)

Devotional & Discussion Thought of the Day:Dawn at Concordia
When the LORD brought us back to Jerusalem, it was like a dream! 2  How we laughed, how we sang for joy! Then the other nations said about us, “The LORD did great things for them.” 3  Indeed he did great things for us; how happy we were! Psalm 126:1-3 (TEV)

Share the happiness of those who are happy, the sorrow of those who are sad. Romans 12:15 (Phillips NT)

 “if this is not a place where tears are understood, where can I go to cry?”  (1)

” I’m going where He goes, out into the world of lonely people:”

“Concordia is the the place where broken people find healing in Christ, while helping others heal!”

There has been a blog going around recently, about the last gasps dying churches.  It is quite popular, not with those who are in the dying churches, but those that observe them, and are waiting for them to die.   I’ve been in those churches, and I’ve seen them come back to life, miraculously in some people’s minds. There is a different view from inside than out, there is a different need perceived, there are different words said, different gasps and prayers. They aren’t as self-centered and waiting for the last one to die, so that they can turn the lights out, as is often alleged.

So what does this have to do with the quotes above?  Well, that is where I find the life in these churches.  The two essential cries of the church, the cries of joy, and the cries of sorrow.

If a church can rejoice in the news of a baptism, if a church can cry as a member or friend dies, then it is not dead, or dying.  Depressed perhaps, anxious or frightened, sincere and yet wrong in their, these places where tears of joy and sorrow run, they are alive.  They may need great care, they may need patient shepherding, but they are not dead…..

Here is where it starts, they need to know that they (actually we) aren’t the only ones who hear those cries.  That God Himself laughs, that God himself cries with them.  That there is a great picture of God in Isaiah rejoicing, where the word is actually dance!  And they need to see Jesus tears, as He weeps at Lazarus’ tomb, and as He weeps over Jerusalem.  They need to see God as one who brings comfort and peace, who celebrates who loves His people.

Whoever they are.

I’ve found that these churches that people assume are dying can minister to people who feel lost and overlooked in the mega-churches, in the churches where lament is a concept, but not an experience.  They can be the family of the single mom, they can accept those who struggle with sanity, they can care for the widow and orphan – not just provide them something.  They are great places for families that struggle – because as a congregation, they can rejoice, and they can weep with those who need more than a hour and 4 minutes of a church service. Bring in a missionary, they will minister to him or her extensively.

One of the churches I served once sponsored a pretty famous Christian/Blugrass musician to play at the town fair.  It was a risk – an incredible 5% of our annual budget (which wasn’t much! went to bring him in for a Saturday night concert, and the following morning to play at our church.  That Sunday, as he played to our 45 or so people – and 5-6 guests, the band asked if they were welcome at the potluck afterward.  Of course – come on down – feast.  It was something they never got to do – big venues mobbed them, and they had to hide. With us, they could be ministered to  they could be welcomed as family.  Though it didn’t have the impact we wanted on the community – this little church – that others told me not to come to -because it was dying… served others.

In my experience, these churches are alive, they need gentle shepherding, and they need to know that it is good to cry, good to laugh, good to cling to each other and slowly, as they look to Jesus, as the Holy Spirit ministers among them, they won’t be gasping, they will be crying…to God, with God, in God’s presence.

They will see people come home, as the Psalmist describes….and they will know the Lord is doing great things there…

 
(1)  Ken Medema; quoted in Celtic Daily Prayer:  Aidan Readings for 7/17

(2)  Ann Kiemel  same source

 

 

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