Devotional Thought for our days…
24 Surely you know that many runners take part in a race, but only one of them wins the prize. Run, then, in such a way as to win the prize. 25 Every athlete in training submits to strict discipline, in order to be crowned with a wreath that will not last; but we do it for one that will last forever. 26 That is why I run straight for the finish line; that is why I am like a boxer who does not waste his punches. 27 I harden my body with blows and bring it under complete control, to keep myself from being disqualified after having called others to the contest. 1 Corinthians 9:24-27 (TEV)
13 For if ye live after the flesh, ye shall die: but if ye through the Spirit do mortify the deeds of the body, ye shall live. 14 For as many as are led by the Spirit of God, they are the sons of God. 15 For ye have not received the spirit of bondage again to fear; but ye have received the Spirit of adoption, whereby we cry, Abba, Father. Romans 8:13-15 (KJV)
1 It is also taught among us that such faith should produce good fruits and good works and that we must do all such good works as God has commanded,6 but we should do them for God’s sake and not place our trust in them as if thereby to merit favor before God.
60 Each day be conscious of your duty to be a saint. A saint! And that doesn’t mean doing strange things. It means a daily struggle in the interior life and in heroically fulfilling your duty right through to the end.
Let’s be honest, when I hear the term spiritual discipline, or mortification, most of us think of medieval monks with knotted ropes, whipping themselves over their shoulders. Or maybe not doing that physically, but spiritually and emotionally, as Martin Luther was portrayed, struggling with the sin that would so easily ensnare him.A struggle which nearly drove him crazy. Or perhaps it did, at least causing a breakdown.
Paul mentions the struggle as well, complaining about it in Romans 7, as he shares that he can’t do what is holy and right, and unsuccessfully battles temptation. And in the passages in red above, Paul talks of mortifying the flesh – of beating the body physically in order to bring it to subjection. (Never mind Jesus talking about plucking out eyes and cutting off hands when the cause you to sin!_
The struggle is real.
The Augsburg Confession is as clear as any other document, the good works that are planned by God are to be the result of the trust, the faith, the dependence we have in God’s work in our lives. Again, Fr. Josemaria chimes in similarly – we just fulfill our duty, for we are saints,
But is it that happens, that short-circuits our desire? How do we overcome it? Is it by physical and spiritual disciplines that punish our body and soul, even to the point of scarring it? Or are these words of scripture simply an illustration – hinting at the different battle? A different sort of discipline?
There is a part of me that wants to dismiss the entire conversation, and I would, except for one thing. I tire of my sin, I am tired of the unrighteousness in which I dwell. I am tired of the Romans 7 battle and feeling like the wretch, unable to change, unable to transform, and afraid of the condemnation such deserves.
So where do I find the rope, and what knots do I tie in it? Or do I find 8-12 hours to cry at the altar, as those using the mourner’s bench did in the Great Awakenings of prior centuries? Or do I give up – and freely sin, thanking God for the abundance of grace that will result in my abundance of sin?
I think the answer is that spiritual disciplines are done, not to achieve a new level, but to remind us of what has been obtained for us. Like a martial arts instructor who still does the basic steps with his students, so that he remembers even the basics, so we invest time in spiritual things to remind us of what we should know – the glory and incredible love of God. These disciplines are not punitive or even restorative, but affirmative, to help us know the love of God, the presence of GOd, the mercy of God.
That is the purpose of striving to be regularly praying, regularly reading the scriptures, regularly doing both of those with other believers, and communing together, guided by those people the Body of Christ has called to serve them, is simple. Life is pain (as the Dread Pirate Roberts was fond of saying) and these practices remind us that it is worth it, that God will make sure it works out for good, and that He will be with us, every step, every moment of the way.
In other words, God doesn’t need to have us so disciplined, though He does like our company, we need it! We need to know He is with us, and will never leave us. FOr we can easily chase after distractions, and think we have strayed to far…
And still, He is here…
Escriva, Josemaria. The Forge (Kindle Locations 439-441). Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition.
Tappert, Theodore G., ed. The Book of Concord the Confessions of the Evangelical Lutheran Church. Philadelphia: Mühlenberg Press, 1959. Print.
Devotional Thought of the Day:
18 Write down for the coming generation what the LORD has done, so that people not yet born will praise him. Psalm 102:18 (TEV)
1 That is why we must hold on all the more firmly to the truths we have heard, so that we will not be carried away. 2 The message given to our ancestors by the angels was shown to be true, and those who did not follow it or obey it received the punishment they deserved. 3 How, then, shall we escape if we pay no attention to such a great salvation? The Lord himself first announced this salvation, and those who heard him proved to us that it is true. Hebrews 2:1-3 (TEV)
16 I ask God from the wealth of his glory to give you power through his Spirit to be strong in your inner selves, 17 and I pray that Christ will make his home in your hearts through faith. I pray that you may have your roots and foundation in love, 18 so that you, together with all God’s people, may have the power to understand how broad and long, how high and deep, is Christ’s love. 19 Yes, may you come to know his love—although it can never be fully known—and so be completely filled with the very nature of God. Ephesians 3:16-19 (TEV)
136 Therefore we also hold that the keeping of the law should begin in us and increase more and more. But we mean to include both elements, namely, the inward spiritual impulses and the outward good works. Our opponents slanderously claim that we do not require good works, whereas we not only require them but show how they can be done.
450 You need interior life and doctrinal formation. Be demanding on yourself! As a Christian man or woman, you have to be the salt of the earth and the light of the world, for you are obliged to give good example with holy shamelessness. The charity of Christ should compel you. Feeling and knowing yourself to be another Christ from the moment you told him that you would follow him, you must not separate yourself from your equals—your relatives, friends and colleagues—any more than you would separate salt from the food it is seasoning. Your interior life and your formation include the piety and the principles a child of God must have, to give flavour to everything by his active presence there. Ask the Lord that you may always be that good seasoning in the lives of others. (1)
The Psalm that starts off this devotion has been ingraining itself into my brain for the last few days.
We’ve been given this great treasure, the gospel that we have been entrusted with, this promise of salvation, this revelation of the love of God.
Not heeding the warning in Hebrew, we neglect it. Sometimes we avoid it, we don’t spend time reading it, we think that the church service on Sunday is enough, even though that 10-45 minutes sermon barely scratches the surface. It is one of our greatest treasures, as it reveals that which should mean the absolute most in our lives, the love God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, has for us.
Maybe we neglect it because we are to busy with theology, too busy doing ministry, to busy being evangelists (or at least pretending we are on-line) We as pastors study it, but sometimes all it is, is studying it. We don’t become part of it, and therefore our people do not as well.
The keeping/treasuring of the law that Melancthon speaks of, results in spiritual growth. Growth in both the desire deep in our hearts and it becomes visible in our actions. St Josemaria describes the same things as interior life and doctrinal formation. Of knowing we are with Christ, that in our baptism, that relationship that unity is there. It may sound odd to be “another Christ”, but that is what we are, called into a relationship and sent into the world, appointed and yes anointed bearers of the Holy Spirit.
But missions, or our apostolates cannot happen without the relationship with God, without the time treasuring the height, depth, width and breadth of His love for us. Without growing deeply, not by academic study or memorization for its own sake., but by learning by exploration of His love, walking with Him, losing ourselves in the relationship so that our ministry is our lives.
This isn’t a Lutheran thing, or a Catholic thing. I could add quotes from Wesley, from Spurgeon, from Lewis, from pentecostals and charismatics and baptists. I included them because of recent conversations.
We need to grow, and the way we do it, is not by exercising the body or mind, but the heart. By learning of God’s promises and faithfulness, of experiencing His love. That very love causes a hunger, a desire, and an appreciation for the very means of grace.
this is what it means to be a disciple – and it is what we need to be doing as His body.
(1) Tappert, T. G. (Ed.). (1959). The Book of Concord the confessions of the Evangelical Lutheran Church. (p. 126). Philadelphia: Mühlenberg Press.
(2) Escriva, Josemaria (2011-01-31). The Forge (Kindle Locations 1722-1730). Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition.
Devotional Thought of the Day:
It’s amazing how much a five year old reflects the behavior of a society, and even more amazing, the people who make up God’s church in America. ( I don’t know about other countries – yet…)
I happen to have a brilliant five year old. He reads well, he can do 2 and 3 digit addition, but he has a major issue with patience, and sometimes a complete lack of awareness of that which is going on around him. A chip off the old block in many ways (okay – he get’s the brilliance from his mom) Most repeated lesson these days, get what you need to done, without the whining. I tell you – there are times I wish he was a teenager – and had matured past the whining part. (please don’t disillusion me!)
I see in myself, and in churches and among church leaders, the same impatience. We want everything fixed right away, we want to see our people go from just baptized to having the faith of Moses and David and John right away. (we have to remember that John was once a “son of thunder” and I don’t think his transformation was immediate either.)
We whine about the fact that others don’t mature, and that we can’t “go on” or we decide to “go on” without them. If this is in the church – we devalue each other, saying that our personal growth and maturity is more important than the growth of the entire community in their faith. Tough call, very tough call here, but we see the evidence of it in the incredibly high “church shopping” movement. People don’t see their needs being met – even in the mega-churches – and they mvoe to the next one, to the next place that is hopping – and then try to drag their friends there as well.
We see it in the movement today – in those that look at the 25 year studies of churches and note that the “common” thing is for decline ( while we over look the stat in the same study that says this is easily addressed by re-committing to the vision of the church, or adapting it) and that “true” growth occurs fastest in “church plants”. IMHO – that attitude will prove to result in more danger as good – about 20 years from now – as those people see that they created a self-fulfilling prophecy. But it is also there in the movement that has little patience with those who are so excited to discover the grace of God, that they want the world to know! More whining, more complaining, more impatience.
Please hear me – I as much as anyone – want to see people grow in their trust in God, and mature in how that is expressed. And I struggle with the plodding that sometimes is evident, as people don’t see a need to grow – and our content where they are at – stagnant it seems.
But spiritual maturity is a process of endurance, not sprints – it needs to last generations, not just years and perhaps a decade. It has to show the characteristic that we see in God,
3:9 The Lord is not being slow in carrying out his promises, as some people think he is; rather is he being patient with you, wanting nobody to be lost and everybody to be brought to repentance.
2 Peter 3:9 (NJB)
I used to think the patience in this passage, was talking about those that hadn’t rbeen brought to repentance yet – but Peter is addressing the people that are believers already. Could it be that God’s patience is with His kids? The ones who whine and complain about others, the ones who are to be about planting seeds, the workers in the harvest, the church that has been gifted and given the vocation of being the light in the darkness? I think that we have to be careful and to discern the difference between tolerating stagnation, and knowing when to be patient with the slow and steady growth that must occur in the church – the patience that knows that endurance in the ministry means being able to guide people from where they are at, to a greater and greater dependence on God.
It means realizing and ministering to people in their brokenness – and making sure they grasp the wonder of God’s presence in their life, and the need of that presence in the lives of those around them. It means slowing some down to savor God’s presence and rest – while still bringing hope and healing to those around them. It means sticking to the place where God has gathered you – and encouraging each other continually to look to Christ, to reflect His glory.
It’s not easy, its not always popular, but the discipline is that which reflects God’s love to you…. as you work with people, enduring, patient – longsuffering, and as they work with you.
Know this – where you are at – there God’s presence is… learn that it is enough – and that is the maturity that really matters.