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How Do We View the Scriptures: Between a Rock and a Hard Place

Devotional Thought of the Day:

21 Christ rules there above all heavenly rulers, authorities, powers, and lords; he has a title superior to all titles of authority in this world and in the next. 22† God put all things under Christ’s feet and gave him to the church as supreme Lord over all things. 23 The church is Christ’s body, the completion of him who himself completes all things everywhere. Eph. 1:21-23 GNT

I do not mean that the Bible should be worshiped. Its uniquely sacred character is something that does not need to be exaggerated or even insisted on, because it is self-authenticating. It confirms itself to any earnest and open-minded user. For just as openness to and hunger for God leads naturally to reading the Bible, so the eager use of the Bible leads naturally and tangibly to the mind of God and the person of Christ.

To worship is to be filled with the love we have for the one with whom we enter into communion. None of us worship anyone we don’t love or who doesn’t love us. We are loved by God! We are dear to Him! “God is love”!
This certainty is what leads us to worship God with all our heart, because “He first loved us”
(1 Jn 4:10).

I started studying scripture academically in 1983. Up till then, I had read it and been taught it devotionally, been taught its principles. But studying it in the Greek and Hebrew, specifically looking at the culture and how people would have understood it then, well, that is different.

The challenge is that every pastor, no matter how formally or informally trained, approaches the scripture with a predisposed attitude toward it. That attitude makes a difference in how they will present it to their people, how they preach, teach, counsel, and how their people see their own ministry.

As with anything, there are extremes in this, and a bulk of ministers fall into the middle ground, and then there are a few oddballs, not on the spectrum.

On one side, we have the people who think that the Bible has many flaws, and that it is the job of the pastor )or at least the professors) to help people discern what is true, what is added to scripture, and what should not be heeded at all. They would place the wisdom of man as more reliable than the Bible. On the very extreme, they dismiss all the miracles, and much of the “moral” teaching as only being relevant “then.”

On the other side, we have pastors and professors who confuse the “word of God” (the scriptures) with the “Word of God” (Jesus) Often they will claim to teach and preach “verse by verse” and “book by book”, plunging the mysteries and finding hidden meanings that become rules and doctrines. ( An example of this would be those who adore the KJV to the extent that every other translation is a ruse of Satan)

So how do we approach scripture? Is it something so holy and precious that we honor it and bow down to it, or is it something we can treat like a good philosophy or self help book? Do we take every word of every translation (or just ours) as if sacred, or do we dismiss this part and that, based on our knowledge and research?

I think there is a different route to take (yes, I am the oddball mentioned above).

I believe the word of God is the inspired word of God, the message it conveys is critical for us to understand. It is more than a matter of life and death.

It leads us to praise God, to adore Him, it is there to reveal to our broken hearts, minds and souls the mercy and love of our Creator, and therefore it is beyond all other books.

But it reveals God, it isn’t God. It is a tool, a device, that has to be used with care, keeping in tension doctrines to complex for our minds to fully understand. While this revelation is an incredible gift, the relationship it reveals, describes and encourages is the treasure.

And while it is without error, we are are not. Therefore we have to be careful with our interpretation, with how we understand it, with how we teach it. We have to check what we teach against all of scripture, understanding the covenants, the history, and the tension that exists as scripture reveals our brokenness and the hope of healing that is found in Jesus.

That is why our constant focus has to be on what scripture is promised to deliver to us, to reveal Christ, whose love caused Him to endure the cross for us, to rescue and deliver us from the bondage of sin…and restore us to our heavenly Father.

Heavenly Father, please reveal to us Your love as the Holy Spirit cuts open our hearts with Your holy, inspired word, allowing the work of Christ on the Cross, and at Your side interceding for us to make us holy. May we realize what a blessing the scriptures are, as the words reveal to us Your care. Help us to neither dismiss the scriptures, nor prize them more that the message they bring. In Jesus name. AMEN!

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

Pope Francis. (2013). A Year with Pope Francis: Daily Reflections from His Writings. (A. Rossa, Ed.) (p. 254). New York; Mahwah, NJ; Toronto, ON: Paulist Press; Novalis.

The Theological K.I.S.S. Principal for Preachers/Pastors/Priests

A Devotional Thought of the Day:

5  God blesses those who are humble, for they will inherit the whole earth.
Matthew 5:5 (NLT)

8  No, the LORD has told us what is good. What he requires of us is this: to do what is just, to show constant love, and to live in humble fellowship with our God.
Micah 6:8 (TEV)

The simple faith of simple souls merits the respect, the reverence of the preacher, who has no right simply to pit his intellectual superiority against a faith which has remained simple and which, by its simple and intuitive comprehension of the Faith as a whole, can, in some cases, understand the essence of that Faith more profoundly than is possible for a reflective faith that is fragmented by division into systems and theories . (1)

Whether I agree with him completely or not, Pope Benedict XVI has to be counted as one of the most brilliant theologian-pastors in the last 100 years.   He wrote documents and letters that are stunning in how profound they are, and yet they are intimately pastoral, a look into the life of an introvert who pastored a billion people.

Seeing writings like that in blue above, perhaps it would be better phrased to call him a pastor-theologian, a man who kept his priorities straight, and recognizes it is the faith in Christ, our trust, and dependence on God, that matters more than our meager intellectual pontifications. That is why those of us who would count ourselves as theologians, as professionals in the world of religion, need to respect and honor the simple and deep faith of the simple soul.

It is that Jesus points us to in the Beatitudes, that Micah calls us to, to realize that God’s silliness is far greater than our wisdom, and to live our lives in recollection of this.

For, in the end, it is not the stimulating blogs, our journal articles we write, or the great tomes on doctrine, or our understanding of the great theologians and philosophers in the past that matters.

Rather, as the former pope, who before was responsible for all the doctrine of the Roman Catholic Church wrote, the understanding of the essence of our faith.

The joy we take in hearing and responding to phrases like this:

“He is Risen!”

and

“The Lord is with you!”

and finally, knowing that God will hear and answer our cry,

“Lord have mercy!”

So keep it simple my brothers, reveal to them the height and breadth, the depth and width, of God’s love for them, seen in Christ Jesus!  AMEN!

(1)  Ratzinger, J. (1992). Co-Workers of the Truth: Meditations for Every Day of the Year. (I. Grassl, Ed., M. F. McCarthy & L. Krauth, Trans.) (pp. 94–95). San Francisco: Ignatius Press.

 

Why We (pastors and priests) Do What We Do… and Your Role as well

Featured imageDevotional Thought of the Day:
27  God’s plan is to make known his secret to his people, this rich and glorious secret which he has for all peoples. And the secret is that Christ is in you, which means that you will share in the glory of God. 28  So we preach Christ to everyone. With all possible wisdom we warn and teach them in order to bring each one into God’s presence as a mature individual in union with Christ. 29  To get this done I toil and struggle, using the mighty strength which Christ supplies and which is at work in me. Colossians 1:27-29 (TEV)

Ultimately that is what the priesthood is all about: to have seen Jesus oneself, to have received with love him whom we have seen, to live in that seeing, and then to show him to others. (1)

3 After all, the chief purpose of all ceremonies is to teach the people what they need to know about Christ.  (2)

One of the greatest challenges for a pastor or a priest in this day is to minister to those who think they are already “saved.”.This includes ourselves and our peers.  The challenge is complicated by the fact that we often forget what our calling is, losing it in the various functions of our ministry.

We are expected to be jacks of all trades, able to do plumbing, accounting, music, leading a non-profit, knowledge about employment law, property law, tax law, teach, and keeping the balance between being a solid administrator and a competent theologian.  It is this latter role, that of a theologian, which can consume us even more than the rest.  In letting it consume us, it can lead us away from the ministry, the ministering to which we have been called, and set apart.

It’s odd for a Lutheran pastor to quote a pope or a Catholic, I probably do it more than most.  The above quote in blue is from a pope, but not as some might expect Francis.  It is from Benedict, whose writings are as pastoral as Francis’s words. He sees his role, and that of priests (and I would hope pastors ) as simply and clearly as St. Paul did to the church in Colossae.  It is also, according to Lutheran confessions, the reason we are gathered together with the people of God.  This is seen in the quote in green, our purpose, our reason for existence as the church, is to give people what they need to know about Jesus.

It is that simple, everything we do as pastors, priests, ministers of all kinds in all places, boils down to that.  Introduce people to the love of Christ.  Help them as Paul says, explore (and be in awe of) the immense dimensions of God’s love for you, for me, for us, that is revealed in Jesus.  From the planning of our salvation before the world began, to its creation, to His incarnation, life, teaching, miracle working, suffering, crucifixion, death, burial, resurrection, ascension and even His on-going advocacy for us at the Father’s side; He does this that we would know Him!

Our people need to know this, their friends and neighbors need to hear it.  Even our enemies and adversaries (and people who are simply a pain in the… neck) need to know Jesus.

Pope Benedict, a pastor at heart, in the same message, wrote why:

But when a person has once met Christ, when a person has once seen Jesus and really learned to know him, then everything is changed. Then everything else is comprehensible and life is renewed. And you priests have really only one task: to present Jesus to all people in such a way that they see him and learn to love him. Then everything that faith teaches will be self-evident. (1)

There it , it is why we do what we do… why we struggle to do it, trying to keep our eyes on Christ, working hard to see people know His love.

By the way, you are welcome to help as well, and as you get to know His love, you will find a innate desire to do so, for that is how much His love will mean to you.

(1)  Ratzinger, J. (1992). Co-Workers of the Truth: Meditations for Every Day of the Year. (M. F. McCarthy & L. Krauth, Trans., I. Grassl, Ed.) (p. 191). San Francisco: Ignatius Press.  (devotions for June 13th)

(2)  Augsburg Confession, Art XXIV

Something More Important Than Political Issues

Devotional Thought of the Day:
Featured image
14  To Greeks and non-Greeks alike, to the wise and the ignorant, I am under obligation; 15  that is why I am eager to preach the gospel also to you in Rome. 16  For I am not ashamed of the gospel. It is the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes: for Jew first, and then Greek. 17  For in it is revealed the righteousness of God from faith to faith; as it is written, “The one who is righteous by faith will live.” Romans 1:14-17 (NAB)

3  I passed on to you what I received, which is of the greatest importance: that Christ died for our sins, as written in the Scriptures; 4  that he was buried and that he was raised to life three days later, as written in the Scriptures; 1 Corinthians 15:3-4 (TEV) 

You are powerful over Your creatures.   You can do all things in me.  Give me a right mind, give me the wisdom that you promise to all who ask for it.  Covert my heart and let me glorify you to the utmost till my last breath and through all eternity.  I ask this in the name of our Savior Jesus Christ.  Amen! Amen! Amen!  (1)

There is a civil war going on right now.  It is not one where blood has been spilt;  it is pretty much a social media war.  It is a cyber artillery match as people engage in battle with quick witticisms, with cartoons, with meme’s, with stories.  It is brother and brother, sister against sister, and families are being ripped apart.  Both sides accuse the other of ignorance, and of wanting to deny their rights. Both sides have been barbaric, as they take sides on a political and legislative action.

Several have tried to get my point of view on it, and a few others have presumed to know where I fall on the issue.

Apparently they haven’t seen my FB “about me” section, where I declare my political views as apathetic.  Matter of fact, I would say I am actively and decidedly apathetic.    See Psalm 2 for why, but simply put, it isn’t that important.

Here is why I am apathetic.  There is something more important at stake, for all involved.  Paul talks of it above. Salvation.  That Jesus Christ died for sinners, was buried and rose again.  We can also add ascended into heaven and intercedes on our behalf at the right hand of the Father.

He died for sinners.

Now before you go pointing your finger over the barricades, and tell me to look at Indiana, or those trying attacking Indiana, realise this.

All people are sinners.

Every person on both sides of the issue is a sinner.  Matter of fact, many demonstrate it pretty clearly, as they condemn, judge, mock, and issue hate-filled statements against each other. Both sides of the issue are behaving badly, no, not badly, sinfully.

Repentance is needed. Reconciliation, not just to each other, but primarily to God is needed.  For only reconciled to Him can we find what we need to be reconciled to each other.  For we need a grace that is strong enough to be merciful, while at the same time identifying and calling for healing where sin has wreaked havoc. Not sin as in a singular incident, or a particular sin.  Sin is where we have decided we are God, where we choose what we want, where we give up loving Him and loving each other to get it.  It is part of our brokenness, the unnatural natural thing to do as humans.

But we can’t… on our own, fix what is broken.

Jesus can, and indeed, did.  That is the message of the gospel.  He died so that all of OUR sins can and will be forgiven.  So that healing can happen.  So that people won’t see each other as the enemy, as the opposition, but instead love each other and urge each other to draw close to God.

So both sides will now probably attack me, saying, you don’t know how evil they are, they have to change before any of this can happen.

My friends, that change can’t happen in them, and it can’t happen to you, until God transforms you, until He takes that heart of stone out of each of us and replaces it with a heart of flesh, and the Holy Spirit resides in us.

So let God lead you to repentance, don’t shy away… don’t wait for the other side to go first. Don’t wait for your anxieties to be settled.  Instead come find hope, come find mercy, come find His love.

and learn to dwell in His peace.

Both sides may hate me for this.

(1)   From Celtic Daily Prayer, devotion for 4/1 Finian Readings.

Can You Hear Him Now?

Devotional and Discussion Thought of the Day:photo

17  But it is in that way faith comes, from hearing, and that means hearing the word of Christ. Romans 10:17 (NJB)

24  Some of them were convinced by his words, but others would not believe. 25  So they left, disagreeing among themselves, after Paul had said this one thing: “How well the Holy Spirit spoke through the prophet Isaiah to your ancestors! 26  For he said, ‘Go and say to this people: You will listen and listen, but not understand; you will look and look, but not see, 27  because this people’s minds are dull, and they have stopped up their ears and closed their eyes. Otherwise, their eyes would see, their ears would hear, their minds would understand, and they would turn to me, says God, and I would heal them.’ “ 28  And Paul concluded: “You are to know, then, that God’s message of salvation has been sent to the Gentiles. They will listen!” Acts 28:24-28 (TEV)

123      Meus es tu—you are mine, the Lord has declared to you. To think that God, who is all beauty and all wisdom, all splendour and all goodness, should say to you that you are his…! and then, after all this, you can’t bring yourself to respond to him!

His name is Paul, but most people in the USA who would quickly recognize his voice, have no idea of who he is, or what he does outside of five words.

But say those five words, and they will picture him, his glasses, his short hair cut, the blue jumpsuit and the arm which is glued to a cell phone, which is glued to his ear.

He is always asking, “Can you hear me now?”  Over and over and over again.

But he isn’t the only one.

The quote from Acts above is replicated in the gospels, it is retold in Paul’s writings, and some would say it originates in the Isaiah.  But the first people to hear it, dwelt in a garden, and daily, physically, walked with God.   Can you hear me know Adam?  Eve, are you listening?

They weren’t.  The people of God in the time of Moses didn’t hear Him that well, in fact, they asked not to hear Him, for to hear God is a scary, intimidating thing.  We are afraid of what we will hear. We are afraid of what he says, and like children or teenagers, we become good at hearing what God tells us, is beloved children.  We busy ourselves with things, some of which we believe will earn His favor, but which simply exist to keep us from listening from being still and knowing that He is God.

We hear Luther’s “A Mighty Fortress” and want to make it the anthem of a church at war with evil in the world, rather than the cry of one who is broken, abused, neglected and oppressed, who finds rest and sanctuary in Christ.  ( Remember, Luther writes that based on Psalm 46, not Revelation)

Will we listen when Jesus calls us to His side, to unite with Him in death, to come to Him because we are weary and burdened, so we can find rest and healing?  Will we listen to the Holy Spirit, not described as a Warrior General, as a spiritual Chuck Norris/Bruce Lee/Yoda, but as the Comforter and Consoler. Will we listen to a God who attributes are love and mercy? (cHesed, Ellios, agape)

Will we listen and hear, and let the word of Christ dwell in us,

Or will we claim there was a bad connection, that the email was lost, that we didn’t get the Lord’s message, or understand His desire?

Will we here Him say,

1   “Do not be afraid—I will save you. I have called you by name—you are mine. Isaiah 43:1 (TEV)

Hear Him, dear people of God… and live!


(1)   Escriva, Josemaria (2011-01-31). The Forge (Kindle Locations 635-638). Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition.

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