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Transformed Minds: The Effect of the Resurrection, part 2: One heart and mind

church at communion 2Transformed Minds….
The Effect of the Resurrection
Pt. 2  One Heart and Mind
Acts 4:32-35

 In Jesus Name

May the grace of God our Father and the Lord Jesus transform your heart and mind so that you united to Jesus, and to all who are His!

God’s Mega Blessings

In the reading from the Acts of the Apostles this morning, we heard a description of Concordia, and I want you to hear it again.

God’s great blessing was upon them all.

This is us.

Blessed, overflowing with the grace of God, overwhelmed by the presence of God, and if we take a moment to take a breath and think about it, or better, to look around us, we shall see it.

For we see the work being done in each other.  We may be completely oblivious as to what is going on in our own lives, but we see what is going on around us, and the peace that is found here.

I can look around the room, and see the same thing Luke described in the early church, a place where people are united in one hear, one mind, the very transformation that comes from knowing that….

Alleluia, He is Risen!  (He is Risen indeed!  Alleluia!

and therefore, (we are risen Indeed!  ALLELUIA!)

This is a natural transformation, actually supernatural…

As we look at the description of how the church interacted in this passage, it seems either naïve, r some socialistic plot, at first.

Karl Marx who used a description gathered from these verses to describe his perfect society, describing it this way, from each according to his ability, to each according to his needs

And wherever that has been attempted by law or by forcing people to believe it, it has failed.  Not because the idea is wrong, but because the transformation has been forced, rather than allowed to happen naturally,  It is put upon the people that this is the way they will live, rather than allowing love to cause it naturally, to be driven by the spiritual desire to love those around us.

We do that to often, even in the church, when we try and change people’s behavior without seeing their hearts and souls transformed by God, resurrected and brought to life by the Holy Spirit, as the Spirit draws them into Jesus, into His death and resurrection.

This is a long habit, dating back to the Pharisees, and probably before.  When they didn’t want the tax collector or the prostitute in Church.  When they paid more attention to the outside appearance of the individual, and the broken and different were sent away.

We want people to live generously, we want them to give sacrificially, we want them to give up the sins that so damage their lives.  What we want for them is good, if we don’t guilt them into it, or promise them some special blessing from God, if they only act the way we think God wants them to think and act,

It happens more naturally than that, or it might be better to say, more supernaturally than that…. For God moves us, His love transforms us.

The testimony causes it…

That is what the rest of the verse had mentioned,

The apostles testified powerfully to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and God’s great blessing was upon them all.

The blessing that was upon them was delivered through the testimony that Jesus was no longer dead, that Praise God, He is risen….

And as the apostles proclaimed this, the people realized all the promises of God were poured out on them, for they were forgiven, cleansed, made the holy people of God our Father. They had become brothers and sisters of Jesus, counted no longer as servants, but as friends.

The gospel is not just the testimony of Jesus’ death, burial and resurrection, but it is the testimony of what this means.

We are His, we are free, we have been given the Holy Spirit, God present with us, who comforts us, empowers us, and transforms us.

To use our motto, that is why we, the people of Concordia, are the broken people, who are finding healing in Christ, help others to heal.

It is why Cyndee and Carol and Linda find such joy in gathering women together for special events, knowing that they will bring joy into their lives.  Or why Jim and Manny had a few guys over for the first men’s time yesterday.  It is why Hank and his team from both congregations raised the money, and why Hank was down here each day, checking on the work.  It is why we help people who’ve lost homes or send Bernie back to Sudan, or why you sent me to China a few years ago.  It is why we have Al constantly talking about benevolence, and he doesn’t just talk about it.  It’s why we have Nancy keeping her prayer book and encouraging others to pray. It’s why Missy sets her anxiety aside to guide our worship, and why these people smile over here, as they hear your voices sing louder than theirs… I could go on and on, but this is the evidence of God working  Just as they did in the early church, each person helping the rest… not thinking about themselves.

We want others to know the love we know, or as Peter describes in His epistle, to be people with a future and a hope.

The love that we find here at the altar, its why a 2-3-year old will cling to it, not understanding, but knowing this is a special place. For many of us older folk as well… for here, reminded of how deep God’s love for us is, the resurrection becomes more than history, it becomes our life!

It’s the love given to us in our baptism, and that becomes more real each and every day.  For Ezekiel promised that God would change us,

The gospel is that God loves us, and cleanses and transforms us, something seen as we grow in love for one another, in a naturally supernatural way…..

25  “Then I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you will be clean. Your filth will be washed away, and you will no longer worship idols. 26  And I will give you a new heart, and I will put a new spirit in you. I will take out your stony, stubborn heart and give you a tender, responsive heart. 27  And I will put my Spirit in you so that you will follow my decrees and be careful to obey my regulations. Ezekiel 36:25-27 (NLT)

A love that brings us together, one heart, one soul, for ours is His heart, His soul….a love that causes us to dwell in His peace… united to Him… AMEN!

Let us pray!

as an added bonus…. the notes from Bible Study  (let me know if I should continue to post these!

What is Concordia
A Look at the Body of Christ


Why should we study what the church is?

If we are shaped by the Holy Spirit, then can’t all this come about naturally (Jer 31:34)?

 

Is the church in the day’s of the Acts of the Apostles better or worse from the church today?

The Lutheran Confessions describe the Church this way:
1 It is also taught among us that one holy Christian church will be and remain forever. This is the assembly of all believers among who the Gospel is preached in its purity and the holy sacraments are administered according to the Gospel.

2 For it is sufficient for the true unity of the Christian church that the Gospel be preached in conformity with a pure understanding of it and that the sacraments be administered in accordance with the divine Word.[1]

 

Does this resonate with what we heard today in the sermon?  What caused the transformation in the believers?

Is Concordia the Church, or just part of the Church?

 

What does it mean that all the believers ( those having faith) are of one heart (kardia) and mind (psyche)

is this passage talking just about sharing money, or is that just an example?

What do people “need” in this church?

 

 

Back to being a witness to the resurrection.  What does that mean?  How can we be that today?

How do the sacraments fit into that? (1 Cor 11:26 &  Titus 3:4-8)

So are the sacraments still being a witness to the resurrection?

How much of one kardia and psyche do we realize during the sacraments?

[1] 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.

Our Attitude Toward “Those” Sinners… Hatred, Disgust, or…

Tau CrossDevotional Thought of the Day:

10  For those whom Yahweh has ransomed will return, they will come to Zion shouting for joy, their heads crowned with joy unending; rejoicing and gladness will escort them and sorrow and sighing will take flight. Isaiah 35:10 (NJB)

210         At times, seeing those souls asleep, one feels an enormous desire to shout at them, to make them take notice, to wake them up from that terrible torpor they have fallen into. It is so sad to see them walk like a blind man hitting out with his stick, without finding the way! I can well understand how the tears of Jesus over Jerusalem sprang from his perfect charity.

If the Church stays “indoors,” she certainly will age. The Church is called to come out of herself and to go to the “existential peripheries,” where the mystery of sin, pain, injustice, religious indifference and of all human miseries are found.

Right now, I am in the midst of the Psalms, and over and over I see the writers of them describe scornfully those who do not follow God.  There is often no call for mercy, no call for mercy, just a call for harsh, blind, and effective justice.

To use Lutheran-speak, there is a great call for the Law to be applied, yet little for the gospel.

As I look through FB post after FB post, I see the same attitude is prevalent among many in the church today.  Whether their antagonist is a political figure or someone in Hollywood, whether it is all of Islam or those who understanding of morality is contrary to that found in scripture, there is a sense that we have to persecute them, that we have to not only separate ourselves from them but make sure everyone knows they are condemned to hell.

We want to apply the law to them, even as we desire the comfort of God’s grace to be shown to us, even in our struggle with sin.  We overlook all of Jesus’ teaching which calls us to love them, to seek out their reconciliation, to seek them out and share the gospel with them.

While I wish we would recognize that there might be a better way that to shout at them and shake them awake from their soul-sleep; I think we need to grow in the grief that St. Josemaria describes.  We need to know the sorrow and sadness that comes from watching people we know, people we should love struggling without God, without knowing His love, without knowing His mercy.

Look at that person you would condemn, is it that impossible that God would bring them home, with the joy that Isaiah describes? It is possible that God would desire to remove the blinders from their eyes, heal their souls, cleanse their hearts?

Or maybe, it is those in the church that need to be awakened. Maybe we are the ones stumbling in the darkness, who need to once again hear of His grace. That we need to experience the depth of His love and mercy and having done so, now want to share that time, that way of the baptized life with the world.

Lord, help us to grow int he awareness of your mercy, your love, your presence in our lives that Your compassion for the lost becomes our compassion, and that we would see them transformed, even as the Holy Spirit transforms us.  AMEN!

 

 

 

 

Escriva, Josemaria. Furrow (Kindle Locations 1086-1089). Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition.

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.

Will the Church Really Hear Their Cries?

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Devotional/Discussion Thought of the Day:

11 “I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete. 12 My commandment is this: love one another, just as I love you. 13The greatest love a person can have for his friends is to give his life for them. 14And you are my friends if you do what I command you. 15I do not call you servants any longer, because servants do not know what their master is doing. Instead, I call you friends, because I have told you everything I have heard from my Father. 16You did not choose me; I chose you and appointed you to go and bear much fruit, the kind of fruit that endures. And so the Father will give you whatever you ask of him in my name. 17This, then, is what I command you: love one another.  John 15:11-17 NLT

811    Do you remember? Night was falling as you and I began our prayer. From close by came the murmur of water. And, through the stillness of the Castilian city, we also seemed to hear voices of people from many lands, crying to us in anguish that they do not yet know Christ. Unashamedly you kissed your crucifix and you asked him to make you an apostle of apostles.  (1)

“You shall not kill.”10 What does this mean? Answer: We should fear and love God, and so we should not endanger our neighbor’s life, nor cause him any harm, but help and befriend him in every necessity of life.

It was just before noon, as I sat on a fountain, waiting for my ride.

The man in the picture showed up, folded out his sign, put in his ear buds and began to be a light in the darkness, a missionary sent to bring heathen musicians to.. hmm – that’s a good question.

I think he symbolized the church in so many ways…. standing there, his sign doing the proclaiming, but his heart and soul focused on what he was hearing. It wasn’t the people passing him by.

Maybe it was a podcast of the latest apologetic guru, telling him how to cause people to submit to his logic and reason.

Maybe it was someone telling him how to be an entrepreneurial apostle. 

Maybe it was someone teaching him how to defend his Bible translation or his style of worship, or trying to provide comfort in his failing outreach, because after all, he’s supposed to be in the world, but not of it.  He didn’t make eye contact with anyone, he didn’t try to pray with anyone.  I want to jump on his case, to make him see what he’s missing, buy am I any better?

This man isn’t a wacko, or a fanatic, he simply is the church today. 

We are so caught up in our own agendas, our own words, that we fail to hear the cries of those who have lost hope, of those who have been broken.  We might even get into a dialog about how they were broke, was it their sin, their parent’s sin, the sin of the world?  We might read books and listen to the greatest speakers, read the greatest blogs,  find the best consultants, and grieve over the fact that they don’t hear us.

But do we hear them?

Do we hear their cries?  Do we go beyond their polite statements to find their pain?  Do we let them know we won’t abandon them in their brokenness, because we are broken as well? Do we stand there, oblivious to the individuals, overwhelmed by the thousands, yet unable to see them?  Do we take our ear buds out of our damn ears long enough to hear them?  

To help them understand God hears them?

Do we try to help them know God wants to hold them in His hands, cherish them, bring about their restoration and healing so that all will understand He finds great delight in their presence, that all heaven parties with great joy when they “come home”

Luther wrote that we should do everything we can to help and befriend our neighbor.  Most hear him speaking physically in the commandment about not killing.  But is it not applicable to our neighbor’s spiritual life as well?  St Josemaria talks about us hearing the cries and praying to God to send us, will we do that, and if sent will we hear them?  Or simply lament their not hearing us?  ( Or worse, will we rejoice that it proves we are on the narrow path and they are not?)

These are hard thoughts to hear, and they may be convicting you, they certainly are convincing me.  But I know this as well.  As I left that day, a man walked up to me and started talking about his journey. ( he thought I was a Catholic Priest) He talked of how God was helping him stay sober after 27 years. He talked of how great it was that I was there, to remind him of God’s grace.  His name was Dave, and hearing him say my presence there was important as it reminded him of God’s love?   That made my day.  I wanted to go back, and see who else I could encounter, or maybe realize that I had, and was too blind to see it. But for once I was able to stop, and hear, and see what God was doing, by sending me to that part of the sidewalk, just for that man to encounter.

God is good, open your eyes and ears, see Him and know His love for you, and all whom you encounter.  ALL whom you encounter.  And rejoice, the Lord who is delighted in your presence, He is with you! Amen!

(1)  Escriva, Josemaria. The Way (Kindle Locations 1867-1870). Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition.

 

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

Will God, Really? or Does the Church need to be there?

 

Will God, Really?

1 Kings 8

† In Jesus Name †

May the grace and peace of God our Father and our Lord Jesus Christ strengthen your dependence upon Hi m and help you pray, knowing God is here.. for you dwell in His presence.

Is it good enough for…

Twenty-seven years ago, I was looking in display cases in a store in San Dimas, Ca.  I had already spent a lot of time in other stores, trying to find the perfect ring to go on Kay’s hand, when we got married on July 1st.

Although I didn’t have a lot of money, that wasn’t the issue as much as finding a ring that would make her smile, that she would proudly wear and that she would show off, saying, look!

I found it, got out my life savings… (which was last week’s paycheck) and purchased the ring.  I remember thinking, until the time I saw her smile, will she find it good enough?  Will it be good enough!

I have to think my anxiety was nothing compared to what Solomon was going through as he dedicated the temple. Can you imagine the pressure, for the dream was not just his dream, but King David’s dreams, and the fulfillment of a promise that went all the way back to Egypt and Moses, and even before that 4 centuries to the time when God made a covenant promise to Abraham, having him look up into the sky, to see the number of his descendants.

All of the Israel was there, to dedicate a sanctuary, the temple, to be the place where God would dwell with man.

And as he looks out on the people of God, his nervousness causes him to ask a question.

But will God really live on earth? Why, even the highest heavens cannot contain you. How much less this Temple I have built!

We could, no, we should ask the same question here today, for this place, as we stand in this place, where God has put His name.

How can Concordia contain the presence of God, who cannot even be contained?

The answer is found in why the Temple was dedicated as the house of God, and to see this place dedicated to the same purpose!

Why Solomon had Faith God Would hear.

It is amazing to me sometimes, when people take a question like Solomon’s and only read the question, assuming that God would not answer, or that because Solomon asked, it meant the issue would be in doubt.  I’ve heard people say that churches and sanctuaries dedicated to being the place where God meets people are no different than a forest, or a beach.  Because God is everywhere, and therefore, any place is as good as another.

But Solomon doesn’t ask this in a rhetorical manner.  He asks it because he knows the answer, the very character of God is to dwell with His people.  He walked with Adam and Eve in the Garden, and was close enough to know Cain and talk to him.  Enoch walked with Him, as did Noah, and of course Melchizedek, the prince of peace who would help Abraham know the prophecy about Jesus, the incredible Prince of Peace. He walked with Isaac and wrestled with Jacob.  He met Moses, and dwell on Mount Sinai, and led His people as they struggled to be faithful in the wilderness.

And as Solomon mentions, God kept the promises made to David, Solomon’s father. That God always keeps the promises He binds himself to in covenant.

God always shows love to those He calls to be His own; that is why we are devoted to Him.  It is because He doesn’t fail us.

And he doesn’t’ fail us because He dwells with us, not just because He is everywhere.  He makes His home with us, in our midst, to care for us, love us, reconcile us to Himself

That we struggle to believe that is the nastiest side effect of sin, the belief that God won’t care about the people He created to be His own.

Which is why we put up buildings like this one, it is why Solomon built the temple; it is why Jesus cleared out the money changers and those who made a profit selling sacrifices in the temple.

Because these places where God has said, “My name is there”, where He urges us to call upon His name, is to be a place of peace, a refuge, a sanctuary.

Which is why we can pray here, which is why we feel at peace here at the rail, as God strengthens us, for He hears our cry, as He hears our Kyrie…our plea for His love and mercy.

Will God Really Hear my Prayer?

It took me a while to understand this passage, this prayer of Solomon.  Because the very first thing he asks for is that God would hear all of the prayers prayed in the Temple – actually within the temple courtyards, and area 8 times the size of our Concordia property!  A million people could easily fill the courts, and can you imagine how they would sound singing the Nunc Dimittis?  How they praises would ring as they realized that God was welcoming them, drawing them into His presence!

What is so amazing, what needs to be realized is that when the people of God pray, the promise isn’t to give us the American Dream of Life, liberty, wealth, fame and the pursuit of happiness, the promise is to give us…

Mercy

Forgiveness,

Pardon,

To give us the loving comfort of realizing God doesn’t walk away from us, that He will cleanse us up, that he won’t bar us from heaven, but He will make us as clean and share His glory with us!

If we are devoted to Him, this only ensures a deeper devotion. A more single-hearted adoration of the God who comes and dwells among us. There is no great answered prayer than this,

You are my children, and I will love you and care for you, by the stripes Christ wore on His back, you are healed!

Will God Really Hear Theirs?

That is there in the prayer of the heathen that Solomon would have God really hear as well.  We get distracted by the “grant whatever they ask”, in fact, I sometimes wonder if I can be a unbeliever for a day, get 400 or 500 prayers answered, and then believe again. ( We’ll talk about that in Bible Study!)

But they are to pray so that they can be in awe of God’s presence as well, so that can know and fear God, even as His people do.  That is what Solomon prays for those who aren’t the people of God, who aren’t in the covenant, that are drawn to God by the work of the Holy Spirit.

That they would know Him, and come into this relationship, this wonderful relationship where God answers Solomon question with smoke so thick that they priests can’t do anything.

Smoke that testifies to His presence, just as the bread and wine, body and blood testify to the presence of Christ in this place.

Solomon asks, “will God really dwell on earth?”

God answers, “Be at peace, I am with you…”  AMEN!

He Set You apart!

He Set You Apart!

Jeremiah 1:4-10

 In Jesus Name

 May you realize the grace of God our Father and our Lord Jesus Christ, who set you apart from before you were formed, who will have you share with others His love, and our need for it!

To the Nations

A few weeks ago, 6 of us had the blessing of picking up 24 youth who were all born in Eritrea.  Just curious, how many of you know where Eritrea is?

Last week, Pastor Bernie shared for a few moments about what happened in the Sudan, where he put stoles that our ladies made, on the shoulders of 16 newly ordained pastors, just as he had three years prior.

Yesterday, some of us went to a Himalayan restaurant in Artesia, and celebrated with a young lady and her family, as she prepares for a wedding next week.

Next week on our campus, our brothers and sisters in the second service will be celebrating Chinese New Year.

As I look out over our congregation or our preschool chapels, I see people from all over the world, from 5 continents.  And from even some very, very different places, like Lawrence, Massachusetts.

It is an amazing thing to think of, as we hear again, God’s word to Jeremiah

“I knew you before I formed you in your mother’s womb. Before you were born I set you apart and appointed you as my prophet to the nations.”

God’s words to Jeremiah, and to us.  Yes, to us.
The message

Jesus has done the same thing to us that He did to Jeremiah.  He set us apart with a purpose, to share a message with people from all of the world.  A message that we all need to hear, even as it has to tear some down, and lift others up.

What we call law and gospel in “Church language”.  That’s the message Jeremiah was given; it is the message Jesus died to reveal, it is what Peter and Paul and others claimed from the Middle East throughout all of Europe to Central Africa to India in one generation.
It is the same message that everyone needs to hear, no matter if they are 3 or 93, no matter their ethnicity or their culture.

It is a message that crushes those of us who think we are the only righteous folk around, revealing to us that we are sinners, and there is nothing we can do to repair what we’ve broken.  For that is what sin does.  It shatters relationships; it shatters family, it shatters us as individuals.

God’s law isn’t just about behaving properly; it is a way God designed for us to live in peace, to know we are loved.  And when we step outside the plans God has for us, it crushes us, as the things He warns us against come true.

One pastor put it this way, use the Law to afflict those comfortable in their sin, and those afflicted by their sin, comfort them with the good news.

The news every prophet, every pastor, every evangelist and every believer counts on and is chosen by God to embrace and share with others.

The news of the gospel.  That God loves us that He will heal our brokenness. That He will make our lives like new.  That our sin will be forgiven, that our the relationships will be reconciled.

This is the gospel that all need to hear, it is the reason we have hope.

God has made all of the creation, and all of us in it, with a purpose.  The purpose of living with him, as His children, as the people He loves.  He loves us so much that Christ died to make this possible.  TO heal our relationship with Him and with others, not just until the next time we destroy it, but for all of eternity.

That is why when we are saved when He cleanses us, there is no need to do so again.

But us?

Like most ministers, Jeremiah had a  problem with God trusting Jeremiah with the message.  We can find a million reasons why we shouldn’t have to share God’s message with our neighbors and family, never mind to the world.

But God has chosen us. He knows us as long as He knew Jeremiah, from since before we were born, from before we were conceived.

The message isn’t complicated, and as we realize it, the inclination to share it is automatic.  God is with you.  He loves you; He wants to comfort you and reconcile and heal that which is broken.

Don’t hold back, let Him do so…and rejoice!

AMEN!

My Love-Hate Relationship With “the” Church

Featured imageDevotional Thought of the Day:
1  Because I love Zion, I will not keep still. Because my heart yearns for Jerusalem, I cannot remain silent. I will not stop praying for her until her righteousness shines like the dawn, and her salvation blazes like a burning torch. Isaiah 62:1 (NLT) 

489    A keen and living faith. A faith like Peter’s. When you have it—our Lord has said so—you will move mountains, humanly insuperable obstacles that rise up against your apostolic undertakings.  (1)

(Disclaimer:  This is not about my present congregation/parish, or any individual congregation or parish.  It is about the church at large)

There are times it is tempting to walk away, citing the quaint but blasphemous statement, “I love your Christ, but I hate your religion”.  There are times where the politics, the focus and dependence on theology and/or pragmatic theory, rather than on the Holy Spirit’s guidance drives me crazy.  There are days where people’s desire to divide the church rather than work for the unity Jesus prayed for leaves me feeling empty and depressed. There are times where leaders fight to gain control and power or to make the church in their image rather than Christ’s could give me just cause me to leave.

I hate “the” Church.

But I also love her. This Church. She is the bride of Christ; she is the body of Christ.  She is the joy in the dad’s face as he helps baptize his newborn baby.  Jesus’s love is reflected in the tear-filled eyes of the lady as she receives His body broken for her… His blood shed to cover all her sins.  I love the church s I see people, once adversaries, laughing together and sharing life because the Holy Spirit has become their Lord and Giver of life and reconciled the relationships that were thought to be shattered.  That when we strive to not only live according to God’s revealed plan, but quickly run to confess our trespasses, that He heals us, He heals His church.

It is because of all of this, the good, the bad and the ugly, that the words in red mean so much to me above.   I do yearn to see the church realize the presence of God that God’s kingdom is here, and now.  That He is heard to bring peace, that the means of grace, the sacraments and word of God (which we even argue about) are used by the Holy Spirit to transform us all into the image of Christ, to remind us of the promise we shall share in His glory.  It is that hope, that Jesus won’t abandon His church, that sustains us, even when things seem broken.

It takes the keen and living faith, quickened and sustained by Holy Spirit, to not only see what the church should be, what religion is, but to see that in the people of God. Our relationship with God, the leading of the Holy Spirit, not only empowers our mission, our apostolate, but gives us the desire to see it happen, to see the church grow in its faith, in its awareness of God’s presence, to depend on His love and mercy.

That same desire…can be momentarily frustrated when we look at our beloved Church.  Because we forgot what makes the church the Body of Christ, He does.

Let us look to Him! Let us watch the Holy Spirit transform us into His image, into people who naturally obey His law. the law He put into our hearts, and He drew us into His on the cross.

Lord Have Mercy!  Help us love the Church you love, and see her as you do!

(1)  Escriva, Josemaria (2010-11-02). The Way (Kindle Locations 1196-1197). Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition.

Are We Worthy to Be In Their Company?

 

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33  By faith these people overthrew kingdoms, ruled with justice, and received what God had promised them. They shut the mouths of lions, 34  quenched the flames of fire, and escaped death by the edge of the sword. Their weakness was turned to strength. They became strong in battle and put whole armies to flight. 35  Women received their loved ones back again from death. But others were tortured, refusing to turn from God in order to be set free. They placed their hope in a better life after the resurrection. 36  Some were jeered at, and their backs were cut open with whips. Others were chained in prisons. 37  Some died by stoning, some were sawed in half, and others were killed with the sword. Some went about wearing skins of sheep and goats, destitute and oppressed and mistreated. 38  They were too good for this world, wandering over deserts and mountains, hiding in caves and holes in the ground. 39  All these people earned a good reputation because of their faith, yet none of them received all that God had promised. 40  For God had something better in mind for us, so that they would not reach perfection without us.
1  Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a huge crowd of witnesses to the life of faith, let us strip off every weight that slows us down, especially the sin that so easily trips us up. And let us run with endurance the race God has set before us. 2  We do this by keeping our eyes on Jesus, the champion who initiates and perfects our faith. Because of the joy awaiting him, he endured the cross, disregarding its shame. Now he is seated in the place of honor beside God’s throne. 3  Think of all the hostility he endured from sinful people; then you won’t become weary and give up. 4  After all, you have not yet given your lives in your struggle against sin. Hebrews 11:22-12:4 (NLT)

258      What a beautiful prayer for you to say frequently, that one of our good friend praying for a priest whom hatred for religion imprisoned: “My God, comfort him, since it is for you he suffers persecution. How many suffer, because they serve you!” What a source of joy the Communion of Saints is!  (1)

I read the 11th chapter of Hebrews today, from Abraham through the prophets, from judges to kings and apostles, and I wonder how they achieved the trust they had, the level of faith that sustained them in times of dire need.  I consider the saints since, the brilliant ones like Chrysotom, Augustine, and Melancthon, Walther and Benedict  XVI.  I think of those who’ve changed the world like Luther or Craenmer or St. Josemaria Escriva or Billy Graham,   I think of those who withstood tyranny and proclaimed Christ, who would die rather than worship a false God. I think of those like Francis and Mother Theresa and the many unknown who serve those whose health is poor, who live in darkness.  Whose names are unmentioned, but their work changes lives.  I think of King David and Bede,  Beethoven and Mozart; Charles Wesley,  Fanny Crosby, John Michael Talbot, Michael Card, and hear the wondrous praise they have composed.

And I wonder, do I belong in their company?

My head tells me I do, because of the theology I know and preach… that Christ came to have mercy on sinners like me.  This is what my soul counts on, more than anything.

Yet in my heart I wonder, will I simply be in the last row in heaven?  In the folding chair, brought in at the last moment for those of us standing around, not quite sure I belong there?

After all, I haven’t the wisdom, or the skill, and I especially don’t have the patience of those who endured before me.  I haven’t done anything noteworthy, never gotten a million hit, heck a thousand hit blog post, or wrote a song picked up by some great singer. Never served communion to more than 150, or baptized 5 people in a day.

Sometimes I wonder if I will be the last one picked, like in a sandlot baseball game.  God shrugs – yeah – I will take him, I guess I need a millionth string holder for the place kicker.

In my mind I would love to be listed there, one of those who did something that was an amazing demonstration of my trust of God, even more a demonstration of how much God is worthy of all trust.  How much God will sustain His people, through the worst of storms, through martyrdoms, even as they forgive the sins of those who oppress them.

But I am not, just a simple guy, trying to shepherd simple people.  People who still struggle with sin, people who still on occasional doubt.  People who learn about God and haev to re-learn about His love. People who still struggle with wanting to do things their own way, seek their own pleasure.

First 40 is amazing to spend some time thinking about;

40  For God had something better in mind for us, so that they would not reach perfection without us.

Without us.  Without you and I.

God has something in mind… that we will join them.

These heroes of the church, are waiting, by God’s command, for us…..

And because of this great crowd, bearing witness of Christ, who’ve demonstrated to us the faithfulness of God, surround us, we know we can do as they did.  Set everything else aside, just drop it there, and look to Jesus.  He is why we have faith, and why our faith will be sustained.  He will finish what He began in us. . That is why we will be part of the cloud, it is why they are part of the cloud…..

they are sinners just as we are, and they are saints like us because He is.  

We do that, we find we are part of the team, those who know that are life is hid in Christ.  And that we are part of that great cloud of Witnesses…

AMEN….




Escriva, Josemaria (2011-01-31). The Forge (Kindle Locations 1081-1084). Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition.

 

Mimes, DIvision, Diversity, the Hope of Unity and the Gospel…..

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14  For Christ himself has brought peace to us. He united Jews and Gentiles into one people when, in his own body on the cross, he broke down the wall of hostility that separated us. 15  He did this by ending the system of law with its commandments and regulations. He made peace between Jews and Gentiles by creating in himself one new people from the two groups. 16  Together as one body, Christ reconciled both groups to God by means of his death on the cross, and our hostility toward each other was put to death. 17  He brought this Good News of peace to you Gentiles who were far away from him, and peace to the Jews who were near. 18  Now all of us can come to the Father through the same Holy Spirit because of what Christ has done for us. Ephesians 2:14-18 (NLT)

“Obviously, he said, it is not always easy to walk the path of faith with other people. “Sometimes it’s tiring. It can happen that a brother or sister creates problems for us or scandalizes us, but the Lord entrusted his message of salvation to human beings, to us, to witnesses,” he said.
“It is through our brothers and sisters with their gifts and their limits,” the pope said, “that he comes to us and makes himself known. This is what belonging to the church means.” (1)

Back in college, I had a class in dramatic literature.  (hey it was a better option than Shakespeare – or so I thought)  One of the things we had to do was tell a story in mime, which meant we had to learn to mime.   You know the pull the invisible rope, imitate some poor victim walking by the class, and of course the infamous idea of being locked in the invisible box.

I was thinking about that this morning, as I read the passage from Ephesians this morning in my devotional reading.  It was probably Paul’s image of a wall, but somehow I pictured being back in the class, and my struggle to be a mime…..you see, I had trouble finding the invisible wall. Is it 2 feet away, 28 inches?  Sometimes closer, sometimes farther, I just couldn’t find the perception to discern the wall.

It has been said, from everyone from Tony Campolo thirty years ago, to the latest church growth theorists that the church is the most segregated group in the USA, and Sunday mornign 9-12 is the most segregated time in the week.   Not just because of ethnicity, but because of age, music preference, language barriers, culture, and too often – what my denom brotherhood called “non-essentials” and what my Lutheran brethren call “adiaphora.  Where we fail to surrender our freedoms, not because someone opposes them, but because we want to protect what we prefer.

But for those of us in Christ, those walls are as much an illusion as the walls that box the mime in; that which restricts us is but our own perceptions, and not reality.

For those walls are based in the sins of idolatry, or hatred, of believing the worst about those that we think are unlike us.  For those walls exist because we have been taught to be afraid of, for those that we have to extend pastor our comfort zone..  We’ve been told we don’t have to change our music, our vocabulary, just as the jews were told they didn’t have to change their diet, or which day they worshipped. But we can change those things, in view of Christ ministering to those, we can change them in love,  We can be patient with each other, sacrificing, not the Jesus who brings us together, but those things we really can’t divide us, as we dwell in Christ.  Walls that needed to be broken down and nailed to the cross in the first place.

Can’t we realize, if we have found our life in Christ, then we can abandon that which we thought defined our life?  Can’t we treat those walls, like the mime does, at the end of his show, and simply ignore them?  Can’t we simply look to Christ, and in our weakness, be transformed to where we realize we are One?  That we are called to live in love, even when that love means we sacrifice for others?  As Pope Francis points out – the church isn’t optional, and he isn’t talking about just belonging to a congregation, but the Church – all of it. Where God calls us together with our

Our hope is in Him, in a place where walls do not exist.  Where sinners are gathered, granted repentance and love and mercy… and find themselves to be one in Christ.

May we realize this reality sooner than later, as we realize the Lord is with us all.

(1)   Pope Francis, public Address, 6/25 http://www.catholicnews.com/data/stories/cns/1402635.htm

 

 

A Very Different Sports/Church Parallel…

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4  God’s various gifts are handed out everywhere; but they all originate in God’s Spirit. 5  God’s various ministries are carried out everywhere; but they all originate in God’s Spirit. 6  God’s various expressions of power are in action everywhere; but God himself is behind it all. 7  Each person is given something to do that shows who God is: Everyone gets in on it, everyone benefits. All kinds of things are handed out by the Spirit, and to all kinds of people! 1 Corinthians 12:4-7 (MSG)

There is a saying coined by Pat Riley (and brought to my attention by ESPN’s Louis Riddick) that is called “the innocent climb.” Riley described it this way in his book The Winner Within: The innocent climb is the surge that occurs within a team as they are accomplishing more because of the synergy that occurs within a team. Innocence means understanding that the team comes first and being carried along by that; being naive means being ignorant. Innocence doesn’t mean being naive. Teamwork and all of its benefits happen when everyone puts the team first. Innocence comes when the leader believes in something and puts him or herself out to accomplish that.  (1)

First off, I can’t believe I am quoting Riles, even more that I borrowed the quote out of a article about the SeaHawks.  (It followed an article about Tom Brady…:-)

But the author nails something about the church, and how it should function in Christ, that is well described.

Our “Leader” believed in something, and put Himself out there to accomplish what He believed in, He put himself out there literally to the point of death.   We have lots of church words for it, Salvation, Deliverance, Redemption (which includes justification and sanctification) Reconciliation,.  It is why Jesus was born of Mary, why he lived, suffered, died, rose and ascended to Heaven and it is why He will return.  This “something” is why the Father in Heaven sent Jesus, it is why Jesus asked, and the Father sent us the Holy Spirit, and why we trust in that promise enough to know those who trust in Him live in His presence now, and will eternally.

It is that accomplishment, the very relationship that God establishes with us, with you and I and all the saints today, those before us, those after us, that creates the synergy that we call the church.  It is an innocent climb, innocent and yet not naive or ignorant.  We know it is His presence that does it, in a very real way, it has nothing to do with us, and yet everything to do with us in Christ, united in His death and resurrection, united by the Spirit.

This can’t be programmed, it can’t be manipulated.  It can’t be forced or manipulated, though some may try, and some may seem to succeed.

It just is who we is.   That’s the “synergy” as the article puts it.

It’s why I contend (as others have) that sermons need to lead people not to the foot of the cross – but through His death, into the resurrection, into His glory, into the point we know He is present in our lives.   Where we serve together, each different, but the difference not mattering, as Paul tells the Corinthians,   Where our gifts flow, out, even those in others we aren’t always sure of, that we aren’t always comfortable with, even though we know they are in scripture.

It is why we gather to worship, to receive His blessing, to celebrate them together, for that is the nature of His accomplishment, His goal.

When a Bible Study, a youth group, a church, a group of churches or even a denomination are focused on Christ, in Christ…. the synergy is incredible.  The focus of God results in praises – no matter the style of worship, no matter the era of the music, things happen without thought,   Walls come down, barriers are cross, people are loved, and more are saved…

Not because we force it, just because it is natural…. in Christ, led by the Spirit.  What most consider supernatural, it just is.

Because He has had mercy…. and that creates synergy in ways that even pro sports teams cannot imagine….

It’s all about Jesus – and our innocent journey with Him…

(1) http://bleacherreport.com/articles/2083325-mike-freemans-10-point-stance-give-tom-brady-his-due

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