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The Struggle of Being Holy….and How it Accomplished!

clydes-cross-2Devotional Thought of the Day
15  So you have not received a spirit that makes you fearful slaves. Instead, you received God’s Spirit when he adopted you as his own children. Now we call him, “Abba, Father.” 16  For his Spirit joins with our spirit to affirm that we are God’s children. 17  And since we are his children, we are his heirs. In fact, together with Christ we are heirs of God’s glory. But if we are to share his glory, we must also share his suffering. Romans 8:15-17 (NLT2)

6. We also believe, teach, and confess that, although the genuinely believing and truly regenerated persons retain much weakness and many shortcomings down to their graves, they still have no reason to doubt either the righteousness which is reckoned to them through faith or the salvation of their souls, but they must regard it as certain that for Christ’s sake, on the basis of the promises and the Word of the holy Gospel, they have a gracious God.

Men expect redemption from themselves, and they seem quite prepared to provide it. Thus there is linked to the primacy of the future the primacy of practice, the primacy of human activity above all other activities. Theology, too, shows itself more and more open to this concept—orthopraxis replaces orthodoxy. “Eschatopraxis” seems more important than eschatology. If in earlier days it was left to popular enlightenment to tell the lower class that artificial fertilizer was more effective than prayer, now, after a suitable interval, we can read similar commentaries in the kind of “religious” literature that strives to reflect the contemporary Zeitgeist; we can even find voiced there the argument that under certain circumstances prayer itself will have to be “refunctioned”: it can hardly be considered any longer an appeal for divine assistance; on the contrary, it must be regarded as a period of quiet composure in preparation for the practice of human self-help.

Benedict XVI’s words about orthopraxy replacing orthodoxy (right practice replacing right praise) seem eerily prophetic.  Written in 1971, these words I believe talk of the church today.  For the focus on doing things correctly, doing things in a way that seems holy to man dominate both traditional and contemporary Christianity, It can be seen in both conservative and liberal voices.

As he notes, even prayer becomes the preparation for doing things correctly, 

As I look at this, I think I see a tie into the quote from the Lutheran Confessions in green.  I think that we struggle with the fact that while we believe, the weakness and shortcoming we have (which is simply a fancy way of saying we still sin).  We don’t know how to deal with our own frailty, our own brokenness.  We are impatient with the healing we are experiencing in Christ, and so we seek to fast track our own sanctification.

If only we can do everything right, if only our performance reveals how much faith we have, then maybe others will see us as holy, and then, based on our testimony, we can believe we are holy.   So we look for the masters, the life coaches, the pastors who will show us the way to worship, how to live, how to raise our kids, and be a bastion or moral and religious perfection.

And instead of being an imitator of Christ, we try to become a clone of those who we follow.  Driven by the fear of being revealed to be something less than faithful, we take on the mannerisms, while leaving a soul behind that is empty, broken, and struggling with the sin that so easily ensnares us.

Prior to the passage from Romans above, we see Paul going from the joys of rising with Christ in baptism, to the absolute low of discovering he still can’t get things right.  Orthopraxis is impossible,  He can’t do what is right, he can’t help but do what is wrong.  In this moment of shame and self-pity, he finds in Romans 8:1 that there is no condemnation for those in Christ Jesus. That despite his struggle with sin, God sees Paul as righteous, holy, a son of God.

This discovery changes things, it changes our fear of our sin being discovered into a cry for help,  Daddy! Daddy! HELP!  We realize that our hope is not found in our attempts to be holy, but in hearing His voice tell us we are His children.  In hearing His promise to complete everything in the day of Jesus. We find our transformation not by our work in ministry, not in our perfection of word and sacrament, but from being there, broken, and finding healing.

Nothing I can do will bring you the level of holiness you will be satisfied with, in this age. For satisfaction means you want to judge if you have made it, or rely on the judgment of others. That desire for satisfaction will drain you, ripping out from you the core of your heart and soul.

But allowing God to minister to us, allowing His grace, His mercy and love to pour into us, living life being drawn to Him, sometimes in tears, this is our hope.  Not starting with prayer, but a life lived in Him, allowing Him to recreate us.

This is our hope of wholeness, of holiness.  Letting God be God, as we realize we are His.

 

Tappert, T. G. (Ed.). (1959). The Book of Concord the confessions of the Evangelical Lutheran Church. (p. 474). Philadelphia: Mühlenberg Press.

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. 242–243). San Francisco: Ignatius Press.

Do We Have To Talk about the “S” Word?

pexels-photo-279991.jpegDevotional THought of the Day:
16  All Scripture is inspired by God and is useful for teaching the truth, rebuking error, correcting faults, and giving instruction for right living, 17  so that the person who serves God may be fully qualified and equipped to do every kind of good deed. 2 Timothy 3:16-17 (TEV)

18 Lay the greatest weight on those commandments or other parts which seem to require special attention among the people where you are. For example, the Seventh Commandment, which treats of stealing, must be emphasized when instructing laborers and shopkeepers, and even farmers and servants, for many of these are guilty of dishonesty and thievery.8 So, too, the Fourth Commandment must be stressed when instructing children and the common people in order that they may be encouraged to be orderly, faithful, obedient, and peaceful. Always adduce ma.ny examples from the Scriptures to show how God punished and blessed.

531    “Treat him well for me, treat him well,” said a certain elderly bishop with tears in his eyes to the priests he had just ordained. Lord, I wish I had the voice and the authority to cry out in the same way to the ears and the hearts of many, many Christians!

The “S” word, sorry to tell you, isn’t “sex”

It’s the other “s” word that is difficult to talk about and for the same reason.  It is just as awkward, embarrassing, and produces as much anxiety as talking about sex with your 11-13-year-old child.

And the consequences of not having conversations about sin are worse than letting the world teach your kids about sex.  For lacking understanding about either sex or sin can lead to incredible pain, sorrow, and even death.

Not just physical death, the death of the spirit, death one’s soul.

So it is one we need to have.  Not just pastor and parishioner, but parents and kids, those who teach and govern with those whose lives they are entrusted with, those whom God has put in their lives to love and care for beyond the point of sacrificing convenience, to the point of complete sacrifice.

We have to get by the discomfort and have these talked with each other. talking about the sins which entrap us, the sins which drive us into despair, the sins that isolate us.

but we have to do it with the skill and wisdom that only comes because of the love we have, because of the love we know God has for them.  To talk about sin with the deliberate intent of freeing each other from its burdens of guilt and shame, from its curse and the death it causes.

We can’t talk about just to prohibit it, as if we could, by proper persuasion, convince them to never sin again. That will last an hour or two, and then they will hide the sin that entraps them, denying it, or justifying it in some form of logic we twisted them to use.  I say “we” because talking about sin improperly leads people to fear talking about it with us.  They have to realize that our goal is not to condemn the sinner, but free them.

This has to be made clear in our teaching, not just to proactively work with them to rely on God to overcome temptation, but also to help them run to the comfort and peace that comes with repentance, with absolution, that comes via the Holy Spirit washing and renewing our hearts.

This is our ministry, as pastors, as leaders, as parents, as those entrusted with the lives of others.  Yet in order to dohese things, we have to be confident that God is working in our life as well, cleansing and strengthening us, causing us to run to the Father, through Jesus.

This is who we are… and Lord help us talk about sin… in the way you did!  AMEN!

Tappert, T. G. (Ed.). (1959). The Book of Concord the confessions of the Evangelical Lutheran Church. (p. 340). Philadelphia: Mühlenberg Press.

Escriva, Josemaria. The Way (Kindle Locations 1285-1287). Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition.

Is Spirituality a Priority?

pcis 095

A Picture of our Journey… with Christ

Devotional Thought of the Day:
8  Bodily fitness has a certain value, but spiritual fitness is essential both for this present life and for the life to come. There is no doubt about this at all, and Christians should remember it. It is because we realise the paramount importance of the spiritual that we labour and struggle. We place our whole confidence in the living God, the saviour of all men, and particularly of those who believe in him. These convictions should be the basis of your instruction and teaching. 1 Timothy 4:8 (Phillips NT)

 

282    Paradox: Sanctity is more attainable than learning, but it is easier to be a scholar than to be a saint.

I have been having the same conversation recently with a couple of friends. Both were asking about how Christians growth.

And as I talked with them a question started to grow in my mind.  Do we even know what spiritual growth looks like?

If we cannot define it, how can we make it a priority in our own lives, and how can we lead others and help them grow and mature in their faith?    As I look at my mail, and the various Bible Studies, Sermon Series, and other materials offered for sale to help me guide and shepherd my congregation, it is rare than the material is geared to help them grow, at least grow in more than knowledge.

For the record, I would use two words to describe spiritual maturity, dependence, and expectation. ( Or if you want to use “churchy” words, faith and hope. )

Dependence is simply trusting in God.  It starts with trusting Him to save us from our sins and thereby giving us eternal life.  But our dependence upon Him only begins there. We need to depend on Him in every moment of the day.  We need to depend on Him when everything is… screwed up. We need to depend on Him when change occurs, or when He calls us to take on some mission, or reach out to people.

There isn’t a part of our lives where we don’t need to depend on God.  To trust Him that all things work out for good for those who Love Him, who are called according to His purpose.  This is especially true as we try and deal with our failures, our brokenness, our sin.

Expectation is what the other measure would be.  What do we expect God to do in our lives, and what do we expect afterward  Do we expect Him in our lives, do we expect Him to keep His promises, do we look forward to the day when He comes again? Do we base our lives on these expectations?

Those are the areas we need to grow in, to mature in, if we are to be spiritually mature.

It seems counter-intuitive, for most see maturity linked with freedom or independence. But with spirituality, true maturity comes from realizing that God is God, and we are His people.  That means we expect Him to care for us, even as He cared for Jesus.  That means we realize He is wiser and has promised to care for us, and depending on that care.

That is why being holy is so challenging, even though it is so easily attainable.

Questions
What area of life is the hardest to trust God with?

What expectations should you have of God, that you don’t think of often?

Escriva, Josemaria. The Way (Kindle Locations 747-749). Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition.

Do We Still Hear Jesus As We Walk With Him?

Devotional Thought of the Day:
But now in these last days God has spoken to us through his Son. God has chosen his Son to own all things, and through him he made the world. 3 The Son reflects the glory of God and shows exactly what God is like. He holds everything together with his powerful word. When the Son made people clean from their sins, he sat down at the right side of God, the Great One in heaven.  Heb 1:2-3 NCV

I conversed recently with a pastor who was agonizing over the conflict between his head and heart. Even though this person is a well-trained seminary graduate with an appetite to know and teach the Scripture and has a comprehensive view of the Bible, his heart feels empty and dry. “I’ve even attended to the disciplines of spirituality,” he said, “but they don’t do anything for me. I can’t seem to feel what my head knows.”
Eventually this pastor put his finger on the real problem. “I’ve done everything I can to make myself spiritual,” he said, “but nothing seems to work.”…. (a couple of great paragraphs then this critical one:)

I think this pastor and others like him have a hard time connecting head and heart and, as a result, experience the contradiction between what they know and what they feel for two reasons. First, they situate spirituality in something other than God’s embrace. Second, they look for spiritual nourishment outside of the church and its worship.

Martin Luther, in ch. 2 of his commentary on Galatians, says of this argument, “I believe that if believing Jews had observed the Law and circumcision on the condition which the apostles permitted, Judaism would still stand and that the whole world would have accepted the ceremonies of the Jews. But because they argued that the Law and circumcision were necessary for salvation and established their worship on this basis, God could not endure this and therefore He overturned the temple, the Law, the worship, and Jerusalem.”

To walk in hope is to walk next to Jesus in the darkest moments of the cross when things have no explanation and we do not know what is going to happen next.

With the exception of Pope Francis’s account, I could have quoted the entire readings I had today in the other selections. ( Maybe I am sill to put my words beside theirs – but I need to process these things in my own words, which is the real reason I write these words)

I know all too well the danger Luther speaks of, where we take our practices, the rituals and observances we practice and use them to justify our solution.  Hey, I go to church, therefore I am a Christian!  I study the Bible, I spend time in prayer, I even teach others.  That should get me the deluxe mansion in heaven right?  Or at least make sure I get in the door?

THat leads to the burnout that Webber talks about ( I highly recommend his book The DIvine Embrace – probably 50 times he put into words that which I struggle with experiencing, never mind describing!) in these two excerpts from a conversation with a fellow pastor.  I have been there as well – looking for ways to be more spiritual – pushing myself with devotions, punishing myself with the reading of Leviticus, trying to spend hours, (okay half hours) on my knees in prayer.  I know Paul’s misery in Romans 7, and what is worse – when I did do the things I longed to do, they didn’t sustain me, they didn’t make me stronger in my resistance to sin, they didn’t create in my a super preacher that everyone longed to come hear.

When we try to become spiritual on our own, we will fail, because spirituality isn’t the goal, it is a result, really a by-product of our walking with Jesus. Being spiritual is not about our behavior, it is about hearing His voice, of accompanying Him to the darkness of the cross, because there, our darkness is nailed to it, as we are united with His death, and with His resurrection. That is the point that Pope Francis makes, that Webber shares when he encourages his pastor-friend this,

I counseled this minister whose heart felt empty and dry to cease striving to be spiritual and see spirituality as a gift to contemplate. “Delight,” I told him, “in the mystery of God revealed in Christ, who, by the Spirit, is united to our humanity and opens the way to our union with God. Delight in the incarnation of God in Jesus, in his sacrifice for our sins, his victory over the powers of evil, and the good news that everything that needs to be done to unite us with God and establish our spiritual relationship with God is done through grace by faith in our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Affirm that Jesus, in union with God, dwells in you and you in him, and see the world through God’s divine embrace. Then live in your freedom to participate in God in the life of the world!”

This is why Luther could say that if the Jews didn’t count on following the law for the salvation, Jesus and the apostles wouldn’t have taken it away from them. They mistook things that would help them see Jesus, things that could help them walk with Him, for that which proved they were okay with God.

And we do that today, all the time. That’s why some who observe us find our religion empty but still want to know Jesus. The Jesus we know, but try to impress.  We simply need to walk with Him, to delight in His role in our lives, to realize the work He is doing,

For He hears your cry of, “Lord, have mercy on me, a sinner”

And I can tell for sure, His response is heard well in these words, “The Lord IS WITH YOU!”  Amen.

 

 

 

Webber, Robert E. The Divine Embrace: Recovering the Passionate Spiritual Life. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2006. Print. Ancient-Future Series.

Chemnitz, Martin, and Jacob A. O. Preus. Loci Theologici. electronic ed. St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1999. Print.

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

 

Do Not Pursue Virtue and Perfection. There is a better route…

nativityDEvotional Thought for our Days:
7 So that I would not become too proud of the wonderful things that were shown to me, a painful physical problem n was given to me. This problem was a messenger from Satan, sent to beat me and keep me from being too proud. 8 I begged the Lord three times to take this problem away from me. 9 But he said to me, “My grace is enough for you. When you are weak, my power is made perfect in you.” So I am very happy to brag about my weaknesses. Then Christ’s power can live in me. 10 For this reason I am happy when I have weaknesses, insults, hard times, sufferings, and all kinds of troubles for Christ. Because when I am weak, then I am truly strong.  2 Cor. 12:7-10

In a letter to Leonie, Therese writes,

I find perfection very easy to practise, because I have realised that all we have to do is take Jesus by the heart. Consider a child who has just upset his mother by losing his temper or disobeying her. If he goes and hides in a corner with a sullen look on his face and cries because he is afraid of being punished, his mother will certainly not pardon his fault. But if he comes to her and holds out his arms to her and smiles at her and says, “Give me a hug, I’ll never do it again,” how can his mother resist taking him fondly and pressing him to her heart, forgetting his childish wickedness? Yet she knows perfectly well that her dear child will do it again as soon as the occasion arises, but that makes no difference; if he takes her by the heart again, he will never be punished.

Tugwell informs us that “Therese had herself been tormented by scruples for more than a year” but later on came to a different conclusion about herself: Even if she committed every possible sin, she would still have exactly the same confidence in God. She no longer needed the assurance of her own virtue.

11 Likewise, faith does not ask if good works are to be done, but before one can ask, faith has already done them and is constantly active. Whoever does not perform such good works is a faithless man, blindly tapping around in search of faith and good works without knowing what either faith or good works are, and in the meantime he chatters and jabbers a great deal about faith and good works.

When I came across the words of St Therese, (quoted by a Baptist) I was a little in shock.  

The words resonate with me, I could have perhaps said them myself, for the value running to God when we see, and when we are tempted is beyond explanation.  To know the comfort of God, the mercy, and peace that flows over us as we are in God’s arms, 

Knowing that love of God is so powerful, so overwhelming that we dropped the carefully constructed facade of virtue that we create.  His love makes us so confident we can drop the attitude of piety that we careful craft, and admit that we are simply poor, broken sinners. Sinners who have no confidence in our own strength, but instead learn to completely depend on Jesus. We can depend on God like the child running to his mother, rather than being punished in the corner.

This is when holiness, when sainthood is seen by others.  When it is not contrived, when it is not planned, when it is no longer an act, but the natural life lived in the presence of Christ. It’s the life of faith that the reformers saw, one that doesn’t argue about faith and works, one doesn’t even contemplate how to do good works, but simply does them, constantly active. It doesn’t wait for the exegetical, historical and systematic explanation of loving God and therefore loving those around them, but faith does that, while searching the scriptures for God, find the promises delivered to them in and through Jesus. 

That is true holiness, one that isn’t holier than thou but realizes that hope for its brokenness is found in the God we adore, and in finding in His heart, our life.

Dwell in peace… knowing the blessed life that is found in Christ!  Amen!

Webber, Robert E. The Divine Embrace: Recovering the Passionate Spiritual Life. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2006. Print. Ancient-Futpietyeries.  

Tappert, Theodore G., ed. The Book of Concord the Confessions of the Evangelical Lutheran Church. Philadelphia: Mühlenberg Press, 1959. Print.

Time Management and the Church

St Francis Catholic Church

This was the church of my parochial school… a place where relationships were formed… with our students and with God

A devotional thought for the Day:

42 They spent their time learning the apostles’ teaching, sharing, breaking bread, n and praying together.  Acts 2:42 NCV

Chapter 7 Baptism into union with Jesus is the sign of our new spiritual identity with the Triune God and with each other in the church. In baptism Christians embrace the new life that is the gift of God’s grace through Jesus Christ by the Spirit.
Chapter 8 The spiritual life is a living into our baptism—dying to all that is sin and death, rising through the new birth into the new life modeled by Jesus, the one who images humanity completely united to God’s original purposes for creation. The spiritual life contemplates the mystery of God revealed in Jesus Christ and participates in the purposes of God for humanity.
Chapter 9 The spiritual life is disciplined by the rule of steadfastness, fidelity, and obedience; it attends to prayer, study, and work; it meets God in daily life, in material things, and in people.
Chapter 10 The spiritual life is nourished by the church, which is the continued presence of the incarnate Jesus in and to the world. The spiritual life is nurtured by worship that sings, prays, preaches, and enacts the divine embrace in its daily prayer, weekly celebration, and yearly attention to God’s saving embrace in the services of the Christian Year. (1) 

Only from a personal encounter with the Lord can we carry out the diakonia (service) of tenderness without letting us get discouraged or be overwhelmed by the presence of pain and suffering.

A friend put up a meme the other day, that testified to the power of a good hug, one of those so powerful that you can feel the other person’s heart beat, and the ability it has to calm you down and assure you that everything will be all right. I experienced those kinds of hugs on vacation, as some of my friends from junior high got together 38 years after we had last seen each other. It was remarkable and refreshing.  (thanks, Ana, Dina, Christos, Danny, Glenn, and Brian!)

It is the kind of life the church had in its infancy, one we call koinonia or living in communion with each other.  We become a community that is incredibly close, and there for each other.  It is hard to explain, the level of such a relationship, where even years melt away as…. I can think of no other word… the intimacy of the communion is restored. ( Not physical intimacy as in sexual intimacy, but a connection of souls)

Webber would note that such an embrace is possible because of God, of His drawing us into His story, of Him invading ours, not just to purge us of our sin, but to embrace us, to heal us, to bring us into the depth of His peace. The outline of his chapters above shows how this happens in baptism and the spiritual life that is created as we learn to walk with God. This is what Pope Francis was talking about when he mentions our service and ministry of tenderness that begins with a personal (intimate) encounter with God.   If not a part of our lives we will (and still do when we forget to return there) burnt out, we will be overwhelmed.  But with God’s embrace, and with those around us who likewise are locked in His embrace, we are safe… and can find the rest we need, even as we hurt.

Webber went on from the start of the Divine Embrace to note that this spiritual life, this divine embrace is nourished in the gathering of people known as the church.  It is there we find the presence of the incarnate Christ in the world (this is why some call the church our mother and say salvation is not found apart from her! )  As we pray and worship, as we continue in the apostles teaching of the Word of God (Jesus) as revealed in the word of God (scripture)  as we take and eat the body of Christ, and take and drink His blood, poured out to remove all of our sin and restore our relationship with God, this divine embrace, this intimate relationship with God is restored, and it envelops all of us.  

This early description of the church in Acts talks of this – look at what they did! It doesn’t say they held endless meetings or held strategy meetings for growth.  It says that they did the things which reminded us and strengthened our awareness of God’s embrace.  

Maybe it is the time we got back to being the church, rather than doing church.  Our people need it, we need it. and oddly enough God treasures it far more than we can realize.  For He sent Jesus to minister to us, even to the point of offering His life as a sacrifice, that we could be held in God’s hands…

Time management in the church?  Where is our time of understanding God’s word, praying together, sharing our lives and meals together, and sharing in the Eucharist?  It may seem too simple, but the joy we will find being those God called together will be far more contagious than anything we can plan.  

The Lord is with you! It is time to manage our time so that we spend most of it Celebrating that Divine Embrace!

 

 

 

Webber, Robert E. The Divine Embrace: Recovering the Passionate Spiritual Life. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2006. Print. Ancient-Future Series.

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

I love it when a plan comes together! (a plan… not mine)

Altar with communionDevotional Thought of the Day:

O LORD, I will always sing of your constant love; I will proclaim your faithfulness forever. 2 I know that your love will last for all time, that your faithfulness is as permanent as the sky.  Psalm 89:1-2  GNT

 

345         What a great discovery! Something you barely half-understood turned out to be very clear when you had to explain it to others. You had to speak very gently with someone, who was disheartened because he felt useless and did not want to be a burden to anyone… You understood then, better than ever, why I always talk to you about being little donkeys turning the water-wheel: carrying on faithfully, with large blinkers which prevent us personally seeing or tasting the results—the flowers, the fruit, the freshness of the garden—confident about the effectiveness of our fidelity.

The contemplation of God, of his person, creation, incarnation, and re-creation of the world, is a different kind of knowledge. It is a contemplation on the mysteries, namely, the mystery of God creating, the mystery of God incarnate, the mystery of the cross and empty tomb, the mystery of God’s presence in the church, and the mystery of Christ’s return to claim his lordship over creation. The contemplation of these mysteries moves us to live into these mysteries, participating in God’s life for the world.

This week has not gone as I planned, I had a number of things to accomplish to get ready for vacation, also plans to celebrate my 28th anniversary tomorrow.

Let’s just say those things I planned to get done were often interrupted, as hours were spent in crisis moments, and in a meeting, a very necessary meeting, that took out most of a day.  And then, of course, the implementation of a new phone system.  Yeah, my plan?  Long days and nights, and some of the things are off the checklist… but I am leaving for “home” in a little more than 48 hours…

Yet with the esteemed Colonel on the old A-team, I can look back and say, somehow, “I love it when a plan comes together!”  Even if I haven’t seen it come to its fulfillment.

More and more I realize that Escriva’s idea that those who serve as the church are like blinded donkeys, walking around, supplying the work that God uses to bless others is true.  We love it when a plan comes together, but we are equally sure that it cannot be our plan. At least if we want it to come together!  There must be a greater planner who is able to not just plan well, but execute and carry us to where the plan “comes together”

One in whom we can trust, one who we can depend on, not just for the plan, but for the result. And then we can go back to our trodding through life, content to let the Spirit lead, flexible enough to simply follow that Spirit when the need occurs, even when we think we are a round peg being placed into a square hole.

That is where Webber’s words this morning make so much sense to me.  That as we contemplate the very mysteries of God, as we try, not to understand as much as observe in awe, and accept we cannot have all the answers, but we can have Him, the need for all the answers, the need to see all of our agendas come to pass fades.  Simply put, knowing Him, living in His glorious peace is….. more than sufficient.

We learn to sing with the psalmist about God’s love, about His faithfulness.  Which feeds on itself.  For the more aware of this, the more we explore the breadth, width, depth, and height of God’s love for us, revealed in Christ, revealed at the cross, and at the table, the more we desire to simply know that….

And we are assured of the living water that our lives help distribute to fields will see them ready to harvest, as the world comes to know the love of Jesus.

AMEN!

 

Escriva, Josemaria. Furrow (Kindle Locations 1604-1609). Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition.

Webber, Robert E. The Divine Embrace: Recovering the Passionate Spiritual Life. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2006. Print. Ancient-Future Series.

The Question is Not Relationship or Religion. A Plea for Communion with Christ.

Altar with communionDevotional Thought of the Day
21  For God in his wisdom made it impossible for people to know him by means of their own wisdom. Instead, by means of the so-called “foolish” message we preach, God decided to save those who believe. 22  Jews want miracles for proof, and Greeks look for wisdom. 23  As for us, we proclaim the crucified Christ, a message that is offensive to the Jews and nonsense to the Gentiles; 24  but for those whom God has called, both Jews and Gentiles, this message is Christ, who is the power of God and the wisdom of God. 25  For what seems to be God’s foolishness is wiser than human wisdom, and what seems to be God’s weakness is stronger than human strength. 1 Corinthians 1:21-25 (TEV)
The same line of thought can be detected in Newman’s own comment on man’s basic relationship to truth. Men are all too inclined—the great philosopher of religion opines—to wait placidly for proofs of the reality of revelation, to seek them out as if they were in the position of judge, not suppliant. “They have decided to put the Almighty to the proof—with controlled passion, a total freedom from bias, and a clear head.” But the individual who thus makes himself lord of the truth deceives himself, for truth shuns the arrogant and reveals itself only to those who approach it in an attitude of reverence, of respectful humility.[i]

The relationship of spirituality to God’s story has a long history in Christian thought. This relationship has been affirmed, challenged, distorted, lost, and regained in various epochs of history. Today spirituality is separated from God’s story. In his crucial work, Spirituality and Theology, Philip Sheldrake points out that “contemporary spiritual writing is open to the accusation that it amounts to little more than uncritical devotion quite detached from the major themes of Christian faith.”2 In order to understand this separation, I will comment briefly in this chapter on (1) how God’s story was affirmed in the ancient Christian church and (2) how the story was lost through Platonic dualism and in late medieval mysticism. In chapter 3 I will address how ancient spirituality was regained with some moderation by the Reformers and how Christian spirituality was lost again in the modern shifts toward intellectual and experiential spiritualities together. We will look at these points in Western history where the stone skims the water and through this history gain a perspective on the crisis of spirituality in the twentieth and twenty-first centuries (treated in chapters 4 and 5).[ii]

Gandhi has been credited with saying that he loved Christ and His teachings, and if he found a real Christian he would become one. The modern version is those he say they love Christ but hate the religion his followers created. They want a relationship with God, but like too many theologians, they want it on their own terms.  As if man is equal to God as if man gets to judge God, and force God to modify the covenant he created for our benefit.

The religious respond to this, not with understanding, but often with contempt.   Or with the condescension of thinking that we have to logically work to correct their sinful narcissism.

Both Robert Webber and Pope Benedict this morning warn us about this, noting that far too often we have done the same as those we question.  Our theology and philosophy is used to put God into a box, to prove His existence, and to prove our perception of His plan.  The Pope warns of this with the quote, “They have decided to put the Almighty to the proof—with controlled passion, a total freedom from bias, and a clear head.”   As if man could do this!  Webber mentions the same concept as he promises to track the history of the divorce of spirituality (the divine embrace) from God’s story.

We’ve been so eager to know about God, we chased after that without knowing Him.

And those who are critical of us, they pick up on this ironic tragedy.

What they see is either a scholastic approach to religion devoid of the relationship or an experience of God devoid of living with Him as our Lord, our Master.  In both cases we set aside scripture, or have it subtly twisted in our minds, and we get to judge whether it is binding or not, whether it is “clear and logical” or not.

So what is the solution?  How do we ensure our humility, and stop playing as if we have to “prove” God’s logic, while at the same time submitting to its wisdom?

I would suggest it is communion, what Webber calls “spirituality” or the “divine embrace”.  It is what Pope Benedict calls approaching God with an attitude of reverence, of respectful humility.  It is Moses at the burning bush, hearing God and taking his shoes off, or Peter getting out of the boat.  It is David, realizing he was the man in the parable, and grieving over his own sin, it is the man formerly possession by demons, sent home to tell what God did for Him, or the blind man testifying to the religious leaders.

In that moment, when we realize we are in God’s presence and realizing that He is cleansing us, healing us, declaring we are His holy and just people.  When both experience and knowledge are subject to God, and when our pride is overwhelmed by His love. When we stop trying to be observers and judges, and settle for being with our Father, and hearing Him.

This is the moment we need, the awareness of being in His presence, and of His work in our life.  It is found as water is poured over us, as we are given His Body and Blood, and know His peace, for it is found in His promise, that He is with us, and will never abandon us.

We are welcome in His presence, we are welcome to hear Him testify of His love for us, and count on His faithfulness.  AMEN!
[i] Ratzinger, Joseph. Co-Workers of the Truth: Meditations for Every Day of the Year. Ed. Irene Grassl. Trans. Mary Frances McCarthy and Lothar Krauth. San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1992. Print.

2 Sheldrake, Spirituality and Theology, vii. Sheldrake is one of a few contemporary authors who understand spirituality as an ancient applied theology. I fully recommend this book and Philip Sheldrake, Spirituality and History: Questions of Interpretation and Method, rev. ed. (1991; repr., Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books, 1998).

[ii] Webber, Robert E. The Divine Embrace: Recovering the Passionate Spiritual Life. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2006. Print. Ancient-Future Series.

Surviving Cloudy, Dark, Hopeless Mondays

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

Devotional Thought of the Day

24  He personally carried our sins in his body on the cross so that we can be dead to sin and live for what is right. By his wounds you are healed. 25  Once you were like sheep who wandered away. But now you have turned to your Shepherd, the Guardian of your souls.     1 Peter 2:24-25 (NLT)

241      If the outlook in your interior life, in your soul, is darkened, allow yourself to be led along by the hand, as a blind man would do. In time the Lord will reward this humble surrendering of your own judgment by giving you clarity of mind. (1)

I took a class a year ago on the text of St John of the Cross’s spiritual classic called Dark Night of the Soul. It was a hard read, not because of the language, but because it opened parts of my life where I need to let the Holy Spirit bring comfort and peace, cleansing them and helping us find God.  Yes, even there we can find Him.

As the Apostle Peter says, He is the Guardian of our souls.

In these days where everything seems broken, we need to understand that role that Jesus has in our lives.  It doesn’t matter whether the brokenness that clouds our Mondays is global, national, in our community or our church, or simply in the depth of our heart and soul, He is there.

Despite our sin, despite the injustice that oppresses us.  He is there.

It doesn’t matter if it is 2:30 AM, and we can’t sleep, or Monday morning when caffeine doesn’t seem to help us overcome our…. Mondayness.

He is there, guarding us, protecting us, providing for us, caring for us and bringing us the healing our souls so desperately cry out for, whether we allow them to do so audibly, or bury it and let it cry through our bodies.

He is there. He is caring for you, for me.

St Josemaria explains this using the idea of our being blinded – and there are times where surely I am spiritually.  The spiritual equivalent to the wasteland of a Monday, where nothing makes sense, nothing motivates, nothing is hoped for or planned for in our lives.  Where we might be in that wasteland, and so deprived of hope that we don’t care it is Monday. The key then is to allow Him to shepherd us, to guide our steps.

This is faith, the trust, the dependence on God.  It requires knowing those promises He has made us, that nothing can separate us from Him, that He will complete the work He began in us, that He will never leave us, never forsake us.

Here He is, guarding our hearts, our minds, our souls.  He is guiding us, and as we feel the warmth of His glorious mercy and love, we find peace….and hope.

Even on a dark, cloudy, Monday….

Lord, have mercy upon us, and reveal Your care and work as our guardian!

(1) Escriva, Josemaria. The Forge (Kindle Locations 1021-1023). Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition.

The Nature of Suffering and Ministry: Some thoughts on those criticizing Mother Theresa

Devotional THoguht for the Day:

41  He walked away, about a stone’s throw, and knelt down and prayed, 42  “Father, if you are willing, please take this cup of suffering away from me. Yet I want your will to be done, not mine.” 43  Then an angel from heaven appeared and strengthened him. 44  He prayed more fervently, and he was in such agony of spirit that his sweat fell to the ground like great drops of blood. 45  At last he stood up again and returned to the disciples, only to find them asleep, exhausted from grief. Luke 22:41-45 (NLT)

The joys and the hopes, the griefs and the anxieties of the men of this age, especially those who are poor or in any way afflicted, these are the joys and hopes, the griefs and anxieties of the followers of Christ. Indeed, nothing genuinely human fails to raise an echo in their hearts. For theirs is a community composed of men. United in Christ, they are led by the Holy Spirit in their journey to the Kingdom of their Father and they have welcomed the news of salvation which is meant for every man. That is why this community realizes that it is truly linked with mankind and its history by the deepest of bonds.  (1)

17 Alms could be listed here, (among the sacraments) as well as afflictions, which in themselves are signs to which God has added promises.  (2)

I read a critique about St. Theresa of Calcutta (still Mother Theresa to me) yesterday which said her being made a saint should be controversial because of two things.  The first is that she glorified suffering instead of relieving it, and that she had a strong missional spirit, to the extent she was accused of using her ministry to make proselytes.

I think the author has no idea of suffering, or to be more precise, he makes a generalization about suffering that is too short-sighted.  On top of that, he confuses proselytism with ministry. 

There is suffering that must be relieved – some of it simple, such as feeding and educating the poor.  Or the sacrifices that are made to relieve suffering in the midst of natural disaster and other traumatic experiences. W e need to be there – to alleviate what we can – and to ensure that as we do, they know they are loved.

The is suffering that cannot be relieved (especially in the short run) without a miraculsou healing, which can and does happen.  Yet it is not on-demand, and only God knows why in this case and not that. Such are the poor with leprosy Theresa and her co-workers ministered to, or those on hospice I helped our nurses minister to  as their staff chaplain.  The answer here is not to simply do away with those who suffer, but to be there with them, to make sure they are not abandoned, to offer comfort and peace to them and those around them.  The answer cannot be euthanasia, that is not an answer, it is dismissing the value of the person, who is a valuable part of our community.  SO there is suffering that must be endured – but never alone! 

Then there is suffering which should be endured, for the sake of the gospel, in order to share the love of God with people.  The kind of suffering that Theresa chose, the physical and psychological and even spiritual despair that accompanies ministering to those who are suffering.  This is the suffering that is “sacramental” as the Lutheran confessions explain sacraments.  It is the suffering the church gladly takes on, for in this ministry, we encounter Jesus. It is the suffering the apostles would feel – that would even exhaust them to where they fell asleep because of the turmoil, because of the ministry, because of the grief.

This is where the writer accused Mother Theresa of proselytizing the people she and her co-workers minister too.  As if they did this to grow numbers in a club, or as if they got a bonus from God for making converts. I’ve been in similar circumstances, and often, being there when all others have left, when others can’t stand the pain, the suffering, even the stench of disease, is when we encounter the Holy Spirit at work, and a heart made ready to know a love that makes a difference. 

It’s not caring for people so that they will convert, but as God reveals himself, it happens. They find His love, they find HIs mercy, they find a strength that turns their suffering into something holy, for both them and the one offering care.

That is when suffering, well there isn’t a word I can think of except beautiful or glorious, or maybe transcendent.  When hope prevails over pain, and joy is mixed with the sorrow, when God is present, and when the line between patient and caregiver is blurred, because we realize in that moment God is caring for both of us, and we are simply His kids.  He ministers to each, through the other.

That is something that is hard to notice from an office, from a keyboard or even watching video that recorded the ministry.  You have to become part of it, have a stake in it, and serve those, and be served. It happens, as God dwells among His people.

As He hears and answers their cries for mercy, sometimes in ways not expected, but He answers, and hearts and minds are brought to know a peace that is beyond understanding.

 

(1)  Catholic Church. “Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World: Gaudium Et Spes.” Vatican II Documents. Vatican City: Libreria Editrice Vaticana, 2011. Print.

(2)  Tappert, Theodore G., ed. The Book of Concord the Confessions of the Evangelical Lutheran Church. Philadelphia: Mühlenberg Press, 1959. Print.  (from Article XIII of the Apology of the Augsburg Confession…

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