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The Value of Quietness…and how it leads to a joyful dance!

Devotional Thought of the Day:

9  This is the account of Noah and his family. Noah was a righteous man, the only blameless person living on earth at the time, and he walked in close fellowship with God.
Genesis 6:9 (NLT2)

All of us, in this era when public life is being more and more Americanized, are in the grip of a peculiar restlessness, which suspects any quietness of being a waste of time, any stillness of being a sign of missing out on something. Every ounce of timeis being measured and weighed, and thus we become oblivious to the true mysteryof time, the true mystery of growing and becoming: stillness. It is the same inthe area of religion, where all our hopes and expectations rest on what we do;where we, through all kinds of exercises and activities, painstakingly avoidfacing the true mystery of inner growth toward God[1]

You can suffer from a desperate hunger to be loved. You can search long years in lonely places, far outside yourself. Yet the whole time, this love is but a few inches away from you.
It is at the edge of your soul, but you have been blind to its presence.
We must remain attentive in order to be able to receive.

John O’Donohue

Our primary goal, then, is not just to hear the voice of God but to be mature people in a loving relationship with God. This will result in our living a certain kind of life—one ofloving fellowship with God and those who love him. Only with this in mind willwe hear God rightly.[2]

As a child, my favorite times were when I was alone. Alone to read, along to wander the woods behind our home, alone especially in a church, an hour or two before mass.

Something happened as I was growing up, somehow, I turned into an extrovert, which is kind of awkward, because socially, I am pretty awkward. I can’t find contentment, or satisfaction, or peace easily when I am alone anymore.  Which is pretty good considering my vocation as a pastor, but not okay really, because spiritually, there is a huge need to be alone.

Well, not really alone, for in Christ, we never area.

The quote from O’Donohue above (from the Northumbrian community daily devotions at https://www.northumbriacommunity.org/offices/morning-prayer/) struck me first this morning.  How often our desperate hunger to be loved forces us into awkward and even harmful situations,  How often are we blind to the purest and greatest love, that is right at the edge of our soul?  And yet to recognize it, we have to set aside our restlessness, we have to realize that being still, being quiet, being able to rest is not a waste of time.

For as Pope Benedict notes, there is a mystery that occurs as we are still, we grow and become, we find our reality, we relate to God.

Willard reinforces this as well, as he notes we aren’t just made to listen toGod, to hear His voice, to praise Him in unison with angels and archangels and all the company of heaven.  We are madeto grow up into this loving relationship with God, to be in this amazing lifewhere we dance with God, where we share His joys, where He helps us with peacein the midst of sorrow.

Which means we have to find the quiet times, not to be disciplined, but to restin His presence, to remember He is our God, that He cares for us. To walk inclose fellowship with God as Noah did, and yet find the strength to know Him,to be at peace in His glory, in His presence.

So set the time aside, learn to love the moments of peace that finally set in…learn to leave all the distractions behind.

Meditate on the fact that He love you, until that meditation becomes aconversation, and then a dance.

Lord, may all those who read this, findthe time, and the patience, to realize they dwell in Your presence, and you intheirs… AMEN!


[1] 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. 386–387). San Francisco: Ignatius Press.

[2] Willard, D., & Johnson, J. (2015). Hearing god through the year: a 365-day devotional. Westmont, IL: IVP Books.

You need to be a saint…

20170124_103703Devotional Thought of the Day:
14  Be obedient to God, and do not allow your lives to be shaped by those desires you had when you were still ignorant. 15  Instead, be holy in all that you do, just as God who called you is holy. 16  The scripture says, “Be holy because I am holy.1 Peter 1:14-16 (TEV)

250    I listened in silence as you said to me, “Yes, I want to be a saint”—although generally I have little respect for such a broad and vague assertion.

In Juan Carlos Ortiz’s classic book “Disciple”, he tells a story of a man who wanted to be God’s, who was in shock as God revealed to him what that meant, as God stripped him of everything, step by step.

His car, his home, his belonging, even his clothes, and well himself.

If he was to be God’s, fully sold out to him, then that is what is what God would give him.  Eventually, the man’s vision had God entrust all back to him, to help him realize that all the man had been blessed with, he was accountable to God to use for the ministry God has entrusted to us.

Just as Jesus used all He was, to care for us.

I think that is what St. Josemaria is getting at, in the quote in blue above.

Being a saint, being holy isn’t a vague description,  It can’t be determined by a broad overview of our life. Taking our 50 or 70 or 90 years as a quick glimpse, and recalling just the good things we have did.

Being a saint is seen in the small things, in the thoughts and words that betray what we do.  In the moments when no one is watching, and in the moments when our hearts and souls are stretched tightly, ready to snap.

It is at that moment that sainthood is revealed, as we turn to God and cry out for mercy, as we cry out for help.  It is then when we realize that faith isn’t just about the doctrines we believe, but the trust and dependence that God will see us through the time of trial. A cry that happens without thought, an automatic response to the oppression.  A response of trusting God, no matter what happens.

But that doesn’t happen if we talk about being holy, about becoming a saint without seeing God touching every part of life, without knowing His love, and realizing it is beyond all that we could ever expect.  It comes from realizing that love, about receiving in regularly in word and sacrament, in letting the Holy  Spirit transform us, as we see Jesus, as we explore the dimension of His love.

We become holy, even as we confess our sins ( yeah – even that one!) and believe they are forgiven because Jesus for joy bore the cross for us. For confession happens when we trust God to love us, to be merciful and faithful to us.

Be holy my friends, cry out to the Lord for mercy… and as you receive it, as you relish and rejoice in being made clean, as you rejoice in being His, you will find, He has declared you to be, and made you into a saint.

AMEN!

Escriva, Josemaria. The Way (Kindle Locations 668-670). Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition.

The Battle for Spiritual Growth….is Not What it Seems…

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Concordia Lutheran Church – Cerritos, Ca , at dawn on Easter Sunday

Devotional Thought of the Day:
12  I don’t mean to say that I have already achieved these things or that I have already reached perfection. But I press on to possess that perfection for which Christ Jesus first possessed me. 13  No, dear brothers and sisters, I have not achieved it, but I focus on this one thing: Forgetting the past and looking forward to what lies ahead, 14  I press on to reach the end of the race and receive the heavenly prize for which God, through Christ Jesus, is calling us.      Philippians 3:12-14 (NLT)

24  Oh, what a miserable person I am! Who will free me from this life that is dominated by sin and death? 25  Thank God! The answer is in Jesus Christ our Lord. So you see how it is: In my mind I really want to obey God’s law, but because of my sinful nature I am a slave to sin.    Romans 7:24-25 (NLT)

223      Along the way to personal sanctity we can at times get the impression that we are going backwards instead of forwards, that we are getting worse instead of better. As long as there is interior struggle this pessimistic thought is only an illusion, a deception to be rejected as false. Persevere and don’t worry. If you fight with tenacity you are making progress and are growing in sanctity.

For decades I think we’ve bought into an idea of spiritual growth that is both childish, and damaging. It begins with telling stories of the great people that precede us in the faith as if they were perfect, as if they had no faults, as if they weren’t broken.

King David was perfect, and not an adulterer and murderer.  St Paul was a theologian par excellence, without a doubt or any struggle with sin. ( I can even find commentaries that say the above quote from Romans was St. Paul talking about prior to his conversion! )  We will whitewash Luther’s bi-polar nature, or Mother Theresa’s dealing with both depression.  We do this all the time, even with the modern folks we believe will be the next generation’s heroes of the faith.

That idea seems to be revealed for what it is, immature at best and perhaps deliberately misleading.

Paul struggled with sin, he realized that he had to battle for what was his in Christ, not to achieve it, but to receive it, to believe in, to depend on it. Even when our heart is trying to get us to focus on our sin, on our failures, on our spiritual growth not being as great as it should be.

St. Josemaria describes in a way that resonates with me, that there are times where we are going backwards, rather than forwards, that things are getting worse rather than better.  I resemble this at times, more often that I want to admit.

Which makes it challenging, because my mind will then move to why be a pastor, if I can’t grow deeper in faith myself?

Evaluating our spiritual growth is good, if we understand what spiritual growth is, what it really looks like, how it is measured.

The struggle with our sinfulness is part of it, we should never become complacent with our sin.  It shouldn’t haunt us, for Christ has won the victory over it, but we shouldn’t become complacent either. Our sin still needs to irritate us, disgust us, make us uncomfortable.

Not so we hide from God, but that we depend upon Him to purge that sin from us, that He would transform us.  Growth that has as its goal that we would treasure His love and mercy more than we treasure the sin.

This is growth, this battle, this fight, a growth which seems unending, but it will end. He has promised and He is faithful.  As He hangs on to us, we learn to hang on to Him.

May we be transparent enough with the generations that follow us, that they clearly see our trusting in God, even when it doesn’t make sense, even when we think we don’t deserve His mercy and love.

For then they will know this growth as well.. and not be as dismayed when Satan assails them.

AMEN.

Escriva, Josemaria. The Forge (Kindle Locations 959-964). Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition.

Are You Comfortable In Your Faith? Some Thoughts as We Approach Lent.

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Concordia Lutheran Church – Cerritos, Ca , at dawn on Easter Sunday

Devotional Thought for a day just before the beginning of Lent
25  But Jesus called them together and said, “You know that the rulers in this world lord it over their people, and officials flaunt their authority over those under them. 26  But among you it will be different. Whoever wants to be a leader among you must be your servant, 27  and whoever wants to be first among you must become your slave. 28  For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve others and to give his life as a ransom for many.”   Matthew 20:25-28 (NLT)

938    Try to live in such a way that you can voluntarily deprive yourself of the comfort and ease you wouldn’t approve of in the life of another man of God. Remember, you are the grain of wheat of which the Gospel speaks. If you don’t bury yourself and die, there will be no harvest.

As I read these words, my thoughts wander from thinking of the mansions of the mega church preachers, to considering many of the luxuries I have.  From (self)-righteous indignation to guilt and shame.

Added to the latter is a number of people asking me, as they do every lent, about whether it is necessary to give up, or fast from something for the days of lent.Some people want to give up bad habits, or things they’ve been told are good for you.  Alcohol, Chocolate, Coffee, Facebook, Talking about politics.  Others sacrifice a meal, and even use the money saved to give to others in need.

And then, as Lent brings about Easter, the fasting ends, the habits return, the sacrifices stop and comfort returns.

What if the change that we seek in our Lenten time were to become a lifelong change?  What if the sacrifices became our way fo life?  What if we chose to give up something that impeded our relationship with God, and the sacrificed caused us to depend on Him more?

Which brings up a question – do we plan and try to give up the things that we know distract us from God?  Is this even a desire in our lives?  Or do we simply go, day to day, stuck in those habits, feeding those desires, and allowing ourselves to burn out spiritually?

Empowered by the Holy Spirit, can we grow in our devotion to God?  Can we listen to the Holy Spirit’s voice, and allow the Holy Spirit to guide us in our spiritual growth?  Can we go to those who care for us spiritually and ask for direction and prayer as well, confident of God working through the gifts He gave us for this very purpose?

This may not be as easy as pledging to give up steak on Friday, but it will benefit us… of this I am sure.


Escriva, Josemaria. The Way (Kindle Locations 2177-2180). Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition.

The Context and Measure of Holiness

Devotional Thought of the Day:
38 *“You have heard that it was said,x ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’ 39 yBut I say to you, offer no resistance to one who is evil. When someone strikes you on [your] right cheek, turn the other one to him as well. 40 If anyone wants to go to law with you over your tunic, hand him your cloak as well. 41 Should anyone press you into service for one mile,* go with him for two miles.z 42 Give to the one who asks of you, and do not turn your back on one who wants to borrow.a
Love of Enemies.* 43 b“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’c 44 But I say to you, love your enemies, and pray for those who persecute you, 45 that you may be children of your heavenly Father, for he makes his sun rise on the bad and the good, and causes rain to fall on the just and the unjust. 46 For if you love those who love you, what recompense will you have? Do not the tax collectors* do the same? 47 And if you greet your brothers only, what is unusual about that? Do not the pagans do the same?* 48 So be perfect,* just as your heavenly Father is perfect. NABRE – Matt 5:38-48

24. Yet man must respond to God Who calls, and that in such a way, that without taking counsel with flesh and blood (Gal. 1:16), he devotes himself wholly to the work of the Gospel. This response, however can only be given when the Holy Spirit gives His inspiration and His power. For he who is sent enters upon the life and mission of Him Who “emptied Himself, taking the nature of a slave” (Phil. 2:7). Therefore, he must be ready to stay at his vocation for an entire lifetime, and to renounce himself and all those whom he thus far considered as his own, and instead to “make himself all things to all men” (1 Cor. 9:22)

This Christ calls all sinners to himself and promises them refreshment. He earnestly desires that all men should come to him and let themselves be helped  (2)

I have heard many people define holiness over the years.  Some confuse it with purity, a lack of sinlessness and being completely remote from the world.  But those who promote this view do not know how to deal with Jesus eating with whores and tax collectors, filthy sinners and fisherman.

Others would discuss holiness in view of martyrdom, the peaceful testimony of Christ in the presence of persecution and death. But most of us will only be inconvenienced because of our faith; if that is the real reason for people taking a dislike to us.

Others will look upon great acts, the work of those who are steadfast in the faith, who have this or that gift, who spend hours locked away in prayer, or tending to the poor and needy.  As if holiness is some kind of heroic virtue, instead of a life we are called to live.

The last group treats holiness with little concern at all, saying in reaction to those above, that holiness is a virtual impossibility, that no one can attain holiness, that it is impossible by our own strength or power, and that God doesn’t really care, as long as we depend on Him to forgive our lack of holiness.

This last view is the most dangerous.  It steals from us our hope in this life, and it convinces us that how we live, what salvation is about, isn’t living dependent upon God. It denies, faith, hope, and love. And it justifies our self-centeredness, our Machiavellian-inspired theology and practice, and our apathy towards evangelism and service.

In one of the greatest calls to holiness – in the Gospel reading above, Jesus tells us we need to be perfect, (other translations use “holy” here ) even as God is perfect and holy.

It is not an impossibility.  If so, Jesus wouldn’t have commanded it, nor would the Father hold us to that standard.

The context provides the measurement of such holiness as well, the love   The love of our enemies, and the love of those who you aren’t connected to, recognizing the fact that in Christ Jesus you are connected.

Those who would do evil to you, those who would demand more than is their “right” of you, those who you would say are your enemies.

Holiness is loving them.

Holiness is caring for them.

Vatican II notes this with the call to work in the vocation of the gospel – without thought or cost – even if it means a lifetime of service. It means living this way at the cost of renouncing yourself, or the people who are “yours”, serving instead “all men”, yes, including those aren’t “ours”

That they aren’t our religion, our countrymen, out ethnicity, our race, our culture, our family, or our friends; even so, we are to love them as if they are!  We are to love them because they are.

This is having the attitude of Jesus, the attitude Philippians 2 tells us to have – as described in the great hymn that we love in verses 5-10.  The preceding verses tell us we are to have this mind, this attitude, this same servant’s heart, and love those who are different from us.

NO option.  This is what the people of God are to do.

By now – you are tempted to stop reading this – to write me off as naive, or pelagian, or some kind of fanatic.  A blogger who obviously is so heavenly minded he can’t be of benefit.

We think we aren’t capable of that kind of holiness.  We cannot possibly love like that, can we?  Can we actually care more about our enemies and adversaries as much as those like us?  Can God expect us to love our enemies and lay down our lives for them?   WOuld any many?

Well, any man not nailed to a cross and who rose again three days later?

If we say we cannot,  we miss the work of God.  For He calls us, inspires us, and empowers us.  This si the refreshment and help that the Lutheran Confessions describe as well, ad walking with God that is daily and practical, and incredibly effective.  I

Holiness isn’t walking alone, it is walking with God, moving with Him.  Loving as He loves, serving as He serves, bringing healing and trust as He brings it to us.  Such is our calling, and such is our life

AMEN.

(1)  Catholic Church. (2011). Decree on the Mission Activity of the Church: Ad Gentes. In Vatican II Documents. Vatican City: Libreria Editrice Vaticana.

(2)  Tappert, T. G. (Ed.). (1959). The Book of Concord the confessions of the Evangelical Lutheran Church. (p. 495). Philadelphia: Mühlenberg Press.

The Real Controversy​ in the Book of Jonah

Devotional Thought of the Day:

9 But God said to Jonah, “Do you have a right to be angry over the gourd plant?” Jonah answered, “I have a right to be angry—angry enough to die.” 10 Then the LORD said, “You are concerned* over the gourd plant which cost you no effort and which you did not grow; it came up in one night and in one night it perished. 11 And should I not be concerned over the great city of Nineveh, in which there are more than a hundred and twenty thousand persons who cannot know their right hand from their left, not to mention all the animals?” NABRE Jonah 4:9-11

Missionary activity is nothing else and nothing less than an epiphany, or a manifesting of God’s decree, and its fulfillment in the world and in world history, in the course of which God, by means of mission, manifestly works out the history of salvation. By the preaching of the word and by the celebration of the sacraments, the center and summit of which is the most holy Eucharist, He brings about the presence of Christ, the author of salvation.  (1)

“I have learnt with sadness of the killing this morning at the Church of Saint-Etienne du Rouvray. The three victims: the priest, Father Jacques Hamel, 84, and the authors of the assassination. Three other people were injured, one very seriously. I cry out to God with all men of good will. I would invite non-believers to join in the cry! “ (2)

A lot of people focus on the fish (some call it a whale) in the story of the prophet Jonah.  To be honest, the controversy there is silly, a game played to avoid what is truly controversial. The sin that is challenged there, and not met with repentance, the sin of Jonah.

Imagine today if an evangelical leader was called to go to Iraq or Syria, to preach repentance to the cadres of ISIL, or to AAfghanistanand preach to ISIL’s history enemy, Al Quaeda. Would they look for the nearest beach, rather than taking a ship to the location of their new ministry?  Would they and their friends get mad if they saw their enemies repent, throwing a tantrum as Jonah did?

There is the controversy, there is the place where ministry could occur, and those who know the grace of God are tempted to turn their back on not only the people God would have heard their gospel, but on the mission of God, and really on the heart of God.

God calling you on not loving your enemies?  God calling you on loving a “thing” ( in his case a plant, of for us, our way of living ) more than you love the people.  That’s controversial.  There is a conversation that will hurt, that may drive us from the room, or perhaps to our knees in repentance.

Look at the quote of the ArchBishop of the priest who became a martyr.  He prays for the two assassins – and calls them victims!  That is controversial!  Even more controversial than Pope Francis reminding the cChurch that Christians can be very violent as well.

We are all sinners, we are all victims of unrighteousness as well.  The unrighteousness of sins committed against us, the unrighteousness that springs from our being led into sin by those who should be carrying us to the cross. From those who should help us see our epiphany, who should help us see Jesus revealed as the one who cleanse all people of all sin, and all unrighteousness. Who desires that so much, that he is even patient with us as He waits for us to get our act together, to live as Christ lived, to love our enemies even as Christ loved us.

Jonah was pissed at God, for he couldn’t see why God would let a plant die.  Yet Jonah was willing to write off a city, and was ticked at their repentance.  God called him on that…

And perhaps now, or perhaps as we head forward to communion this weekend, we need to examine ourselves, confess our sins, our time of acting like Jonah.  To get past the little miracle to the big issue of Jonah.

God loves our enemies as much as He loves us.

It’s time to rejoice over that fact… and realize those who like us, were enemies of God, are our brothers and sisters.  Whether they are Muslim, or Sikh, Jewish by faith, or simply genetically, atheist or agnostic, Lutheran or Catholic.   God is calling them, and calling us to deliver that message.

Lord have mercy on us ALL!

AMEN

(1)  Catholic Church. (2011). Decree on the Mission Activity of the Church: Ad Gentes. In Vatican II Documents. Vatican City: Libreria Editrice Vaticana.
(2)  Archbishop LeBrun http://saltandlighttv.org/blog/general/press-release-of-the-archbishop-of-rouen-following-hostage-situation-at-church-of-saint-etienne-du-rouvray

A Growing Faith & Ministry and Those who Would Prevent It

Devotional/Discussion Thought of the Day:
5  And you are living stones that God is building into his spiritual temple. What’s more, you are his holy priests. Through the mediation of Jesus Christ, you offer spiritual sacrifices that please God.    1 Peter 2:5 (NLT)

1  So then, my friends, because of God’s great mercy to us I appeal to you: Offer yourselves as a living sacrifice to God, dedicated to his service and pleasing to him. This is the true worship that you should offer. 2  Do not conform yourselves to the standards of this world, but let God transform you inwardly by a complete change of your mind. Then you will be able to know the will of God—what is good and is pleasing to him and is perfect.    Romans 12:1-2 (TEV)

On some occasions I have witnessed what could be called a general mobilization against those committed to dedicating their whole lives to the service of God and souls. Some people think that our Lord ought to ask their permission before choosing others for his service. Apparently they believe man is not free to say an unequivocal yes or no to this proposal of Love. To people who think that way, the supernatural life of each soul is something secondary. They do believe it has to be reckoned with, but only after petty comforts and human selfishness have been accommodated. If this were the case, what would be left of Christianity? Are the loving but demanding words of Jesus only to be heard? Or are they rather to be heard and put into practice? Did he not say, “Be perfect as your heavenly Father is perfect”?8

One of the things that those who observe the church and its ministry is that the millennial generation is more caused based.  That is, they do not want a passive church where they sit and learn academic proofs for the existence of God and the formula for justification. They want an active faith, a trust in God that drives them to serve with purpose.

Some say this is new, but I remember my generation wanting the same thing.  We responded to calls to be servant leaders, not just the bureaucrats and office holders we’ve too often become. What is worse, my generation, and the one before that seem determined to quench the spirit of those who would serve, saying that they cannot serve.

In doing so, not only are they preventing men and women from serving the vocation God has given them, they deny them a chance to grow in faith.  The church should be recognizing the gifts and calling that God has given them.  The church should be laying hands on and praying for the Spirit to bless those who would serve!  Those who stop people from serving as part of the church are restraining them from doing the things that would lift up their pastors. There is no scriptural or confessional reason for this!  ( Luther, Melancthon, and Walther all talk about such assistance as being good and right!)

I think St. Josemaria Escriva is correct, the resistance to letting people serve as God has called them has nothing to do with caring for them spiritually, and everything to do with petty comforts and selfishness.  Harsh words, but to dismiss the supernatural life of souls as something secondary is completely contrary to the scriptures.

For these is a great tie between making sacrifices, and depending on God.  Service and Faith are inseparable.  Just like there is a right call to the office of the pastor, there is a right call to the priesthood, to the ministry of serving, to what in Greek is called the diakonos, that is – the office of deacon.

As a pastor, there are few things more uplifting as seeing the people of God hear the message I proclaim, the gospel I teach and desire to do something with it. It is not a threat to my job, or a threat to my existence.  It isn’t a financial threat to see this!  There is no threat in educating people to serve.  It becomes the joy of seeing the care of souls entrusted to me bearing fruit. What a joy it is, when people say that this person ministered to them, what joy is it to watch a man stand by me and assist in baptizing those he shared the hope he has because of Christ.

What a joy it is to see them hunger and thirst to know God’s love, to help them explore it, to help them be rid of those things that quench their relationship with God. To see them realize that they can please God, that they who were justified by Christ are now sanctified and set apart to live walking with their Lord, guided by the Holy Spirit.

We have a unique opportunity, to see the church’s faith become relevant to their lives, to see them dedicate their lives to serving God and the people in the communities they live in, and the communities around the world. How we do that will determine the church for generations to come, whether it will be weak and die out where we live, or whether it will serve God.

It’s our choice, just as it was Israel’s as it entered the land.

Let’s pray.. and hear God speak clearly.

Escriva, Josemaria. Christ is Passing By (Kindle Locations 1116-1122). Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition.

Is Spiritual Growth Necessary? The Benefit of Prayer, Meditation and Frequent Reception of the Sacraments

Featured imageDevotional Thought of the Day
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. Hebrews 12:1-2 (TEV)

9  For this reason we have always prayed for you, ever since we heard about you. We ask God to fill you with the knowledge of his will, with all the wisdom and understanding that his Spirit gives. 10  Then you will be able to live as the Lord wants and will always do what pleases him. Your lives will produce all kinds of good deeds, and you will grow in your knowledge of God. 11  May you be made strong with all the strength which comes from his glorious power, so that you may be able to endure everything with patience. And with joy give thanks to the Father, who has made you fit to have your share of what God has reserved for his people in the kingdom of light. Colossians 1:9-11 (TEV)

90         Optimism? Yes, always! Even when things seem to turn out badly: perhaps that is the time to break into a song, with a Gloria, because you have sought refuge in Him, and nothing but good can come to you from Him.

24 For the Old Adam, like an unmanageable and recalcitrant donkey, is still a part of them and must be coerced into the obedience of Christ, not only with the instruction, admonition, urging, and threatening of the law, but frequently also with the club of punishments and miseries, until the flesh of sin is put off entirely and man is completely renewed in the resurrection.

I started to write this blog yesterday, and then life seemed to get in the way.  Life can be like that.

My devotional reading this morning again hammered it home, as Paul’s prayer for those who followed Christ in a city named Colossae makes clear.  A life following Christ will be different than the life that doesn’t. It is challenging to hear those words of Paul, who desires we be able to live as God desires and that our actions please Him.

The challenge is seen in the quote in green, that our old nature, which we believe was killed off in baptism, continues to rise, challenge us and dominate our lives. And the Lutheran Confessions (you know – from the “saved by grace, through faith, no works folks – talk about the law still impacting and disciplining the believer.  Of the sin-nature is put off entirely and the   Paul mentions needing to discipline the body as well, and Hebrews talks of shedding the sin and everything that so easily ensnares us.

But what are those things that help us grow?  What are the things in our lives that encourage the growth that transforms us more and more into those who resemble Jesus?

We see it in all the passages, perhaps most clearly in St. Josemaria’s words in blue.  To, in the middle of the darkness of this world, break into praising and glorifying God, in Whose presence you dwell!   We need to take refuge in Him, to seek the peace that comes from being brought back to the Father, cleansed and healed and transformed, conformed to the image of Jesus. (Think that Phil. 2:5-10 is in context with the first verses, the ones that talk about being of one mind, one heart.

It is that transformation that is spiritual growth, and so things that help us grow to know we are in God’s presence, God’s loving, transforming presence, are what cause us to grow in and like Christ.  In Hebrews. This is described as fixing ou eyes on Jesus, who creates faith in us, and sustains it to completion.  In Colossians, we talk about the knowledge of God.  Not knowing about God as we know about Adam and Eve, or BioChemistry.  But knowing Him, the knowledge of His presence, His mercy, His love.

So how do we grow in this?  How does Spiritual Growth happen?

So obviously prayer fits in there, not just a casual Lord’s prayer, but a deep conversation, including listening.
Which brings us to meditating on God’s word, whether we scan a book, or meditate on one verse.  Both have their time and place.  And sharing scripture with each other, studying not in a vacuum, meditating on it with others, that we can encourage each other, teach, and pick up those who have stumbled off the past, or lost sight of Jesus.  Even those who shepherd the people of God need not just to study scripture, but also pray through it, listen and meditate on it.

The sacraments also stimulate this growth, for they not only make us aware of God’s presence but remind us of what happens in His presence. That’s why Luther often talked of remembering our baptism, not just as a passing thought, but considering what God did there.   How we were joined to Jesus Christ, to His death and resurrection.  How our sins were nailed to the cross, and we were cleansed of them.  How the promises of eternal life was guaranteed, and the Holy Spirit began o reside in us.

Communion, the Eucharist does the same thing, as we take and eat, take and drink the Body and Blood of Christ. As He invites us to His feast and again reminds us of how He gives himself for us.  How welcome we are at the feast celebrating His work, His work not just saving us, but re-creating us, of His makin us the Father’s children.

I could go on and on, talking about the blessings of Confession, and hearing our sins are forgiven, of worship and praise, singing and celebrating, I could speak of the blessing of seeing a friend brought to God and made aware of HIs love, or of doing the same for an enemy.

This is the spiritual life, and it is found and grows in His presence…. learning to trust God, and entrust everything to Him.

There is His peace… and may you grow more and more aware of it, in your life, and may it spread from you into your community.

Escriva, Josemaria (2011-01-31). Furrow (Kindle Locations 594-596). Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition.

Tappert, T. G. (Ed.). (1959). The Book of Concord the confessions of the Evangelical Lutheran Church. (p. 568). Philadelphia: Mühlenberg Press.

Prayer, Holiness Mission and the Unplugged Cellphone

Featured imageDevotional Thought of the Day:
8  O my people, trust in him at all times. Pour out your heart to him, for God is our refuge.  Psalm 62:8 (NLT) 

107    Sanctity without prayer? I don’t believe in such sanctity. 

109    If you’re not a man of prayer, I don’t believe in the sincerity of your intentions when you say that you work for Christ.  (1)

I woke up this morning and reached for my cellphone to see what time it was. I unplugged it and tapped the screen three times to turn on the screen.

Immediate I got a warning, less than 5% power remaining, and it shut itself off. No power and it didn’t work. No phone, no internet, not even the simple information about what time it is.  Apparently, while I ensured I plugged the one end of the cord into my phone, the other end wasn’t plugged into the wall.

No problem, I’ll just switch to my tablet.  It had power, and I found out it was 8 o’clock here, or 5 am at home.  Okay. I got what I want.

But then during my devotion time, I came across a number of passages about prayer, and the necessity of it.  Then a blog post that talked about all of the different conferences and things that help pastors become more missional, more serious about the apostolate.

I started to wonder, how many of these conferences have a focus, not just a section or a speaker, I mean an entire conference,  If it were, would pastors and church leaders come?

Do we see the correlation between time spent in conversation with God, bi-directional conversation, and effective ministry?  The Apology of the Augsburg Confession (one of the basic documents explaining the Lutheran understanding of our relationship with God)  encourages prayer, even naming it as a sacrament because then men may pray more.

Because we need it.  It is not just our source of power; it is our source of life. It is the source of our mission as well. Without an active conversation with God, our life becomes stale, our wisdom is reduced to dry knowledge, and there is no relationship we can share with others. Like a cellphone with a dry battery, a believer without prayer is dead.

But an active prayer life helps us understand the will of God, His desire to love all of us, to show us mercy so we could realize that love. It brings healing to our brokenness. Healing so great it drives us to others, with the compassion to share the healing with them.

One last thing.  Don’t read this and start praying so that you will be a more effective evangelist, to be a better witness of God’s mercy.  The more time you spend with Him, the more the zeal for inviting others to the conversation will occur, not forced, but naturally.

Just walk with God, pouring out everything to Him, and hear him pour out His heart to you.

Have a blessed day…. with Him!

(1)    Escriva, Josemaria (2010-11-02). The Way (Kindle Locations 399-402). Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition.

Top Down Christianity? I Don’t Think So…

Devotional Thought of the Day:photo(35)
Now if your experience of Christ’s encouragement and love means anything to you, if you have known something of the fellowship of his Spirit, and all that it means in kindness and deep sympathy, do make my best hope for you come true! Live together in harmony, live together in love, as though you had only one mind and one spirit between you. Never act from motives of rivalry or personal vanity, but in humility think more of each other than you do of yourselves. None of you should think only of his own affairs, but should learn to see things from other people’s point of view.  Let Christ himself be your example as to what your attitude should be. For he, who had always been God by nature, did not cling to his prerogatives as God’s equal, but stripped himself of all privilege by consenting to be a slave by nature and being born as mortal man. And, having become man, he humbled himself by living a life of utter obedience, even to the extent of dying, and the death he died was the death of a common criminal. Phillipians 2:1- 6ish ( Phillips New Testament)

“In solitude we can come to the realization that we are not driven together, but brought together.  In solitude we come to know our fellow human beings not just as partners who can satisfy our deepent needs, but as brothers and sisters with whom we are called to give visibility to God’s all-embracing love.  In solitude we discover that community is not in common ideology, but a response to a common call.  In solitude we indeed realize that community is not made, but given.  (1)

I have slowly been working through a document assigned to me, about my role within the church at large.  I have struggled with it, because it finds “hope” for the church, not within the body of Christ itself, but within the leadership of the church. I don’t think so, matter of fact, I know from 15 years of pastoral ministry, and almost that long in management, it doesn’t work that way. It instead.  Deacons, Pastors, Priests, Bishops, are not that which around the church grows, even if we are often a focal point during a worship service.

The identity of the Church, whether in a congregational form, or in the sense of the Church being all believers throughout the world and time (what some theologians call the invisible church) is not based in its leadership.  It is based in Christ, and in His love and mercy. It is found when people are brought together in the love of Christ, and begin experiencing that love from others. It requires patience, as we grow in love, and the side effect of that is growing in knowledge.  Let me make this clear – it is not growing people primarily theologically that is the mission of the church, it is growing people int heir trust of God, in their desire to receive His love, which results in them loving their neighbor.  Theology may help in this endeavor, but it will not, cannot replace that which the church should be.

Let me give two examples.  You can have the proper view of the Lord’s Supper, You can define it as well as Chemnitz, be able to receite Acquinas and Abelard and every theological nuance about it.  But if that is what is going through your mind as you kneel at the altar rail, you have missed something.  The words Luther found so necessary to know, given/shed for you. I’ve seen guys who were gang members, and little children be able to know that, to cry with tears of “for me?  Really”, to tears of purest joy as they partake.  That is the church.

Another example. A little less than a month ago, my wife gave me the news that she was pregnant.  At our age, we were concerned and ask people to pray, and many did.  On Tuesday, we were told that Kay had miscarried, something we suspected…yet prayed wasn’t true.  It’s hard to even type these words.  But the church, the church as the entity of the body of believers are coming through.  Many expressions of their sorrow with us, but even more, the words that sound so  powerfully into my heart.  “praying for you”.

Praying for you.

Only two people tried to come up with some kind of theory that they thought would relieve our pain, or make it less. Those explanations didn’t make it less.  But over 100 people acknowledged the loss, the lack of words, gathered us up and brought our pain before God, knowing no other words would offer us help. That’s not top-down church. That’s not the owrk of just one congregation, for there were Lutherans, Catholics, a Methodist.  Young and old, Clergy and laity,. Ministering to my wife and I, in a way that made sense.  That’s just the church, the people of God, having the mindset of Christ.  They know His love, and know that in times like this, that is what will sustain us. That’s the church.  That is the church who will love those around them, even as Christ does.  That’s the church that will reach out to those that are broken, and minister to them, doing whatever it takes, for the broken come first.

The church, gathered, brought together to be in Christ, is something wonderful to behold.  But it is not something that can be driven, It is something that is generated and kindled by God’s love. Can a leader set the example?  Yes, but he cannot demand those who follow to toe the line, or force Christ-likedness.

Lord Have mercy on us!

(1) Hendri Nouwen, from Clowning in Rome (as cited in Celtic Daily Prayer, Aiden Readings 2/27)

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