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want a meaningful vacation? try this…

Featured imagedevotional thought of the day

25  I will sprinkle clean water on you and make you clean from all your idols and everything else that has defiled you. 26  I will give you a new heart and a new mind. I will take away your stubborn heart of stone and give you an obedient heart. 27  I will put my spirit in you and will see to it that you follow my laws and keep all the commands I have given you. 28  Then you will live in the land I gave your ancestors. You will be my people, and I will be your God. 29  I will save you from everything that defiles you.  Ezekiel 36:25-29a (TEV)

Insofar as we can trace its history at all, pilgrimage is one of the primordial impulses of humanity. Man sets out again and again to find escape from the customary daily humdrum, to gain distance from it, to become free. This impulse is still active today in the more recent profane brother of pilgrimage, namely, tourism. Its continued existence accounts for the hordes of wanderers who incessantly make their way through our continent, feeling that they are not completely at home there. But pilgrimage must be more than tourism. I mean: it must realize more truly, more fundamentally, and more entirely what the tourist only hopes to experience.

I have to admit, I was tempted to put the entire devotion from Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger into today’s blog, and leave it alone.  It is one of the most brilliant pieces I have ever read.  When we go on vacation, what we are, in the bottom of our hearts looking for, is a retreat, a pilgrimage, and encounter with something that will restore and give us rest.

Instead we often try to move so fast, see so much, experience it all.

A few years ago, my wife and I were given a gift – a vacation to Italy.  We tried to see it all in the ten or eleven days we were there.  Having read this, I thought back to the trip, and what made it special.  I asked her, and it was the moment I thought, as it was for me.

It was in a church; Santa Maria de la Pace, that was located in a place called Villa Tevere. The church was built in what we might call the basement of a very ordinary building.  It wasn’t ancient, it wasn’t even old by American standards, never mind Roman.  It wasn’t a large cathedral or a majestic major basilica.  It was a place where we were able to pray, given as much time as we wanted by the man who showed us around.  It was a place that invited such prayer, even begged for it.

It was the place where a vacation turned into a pilgrimage.

We could then identify two other places, much more humble, yet even more incredible and precious than the huge places that surrounded them.  The chapel/sanctuary where St. Francis was buried, under to other incredibly beautiful sanctuaries in Assisi.  And the pantheon, a place once dedicated to destroying life to appease gods and re-dedicated as a church, a place where people came spiritually alive as they heard the Word and received the Eucharist.  We came back from this trip not exhausted, but fulfilled, rested and aware of the grace of God because of those moments kneeling in prayer.

I don’t think either would have meant as much without the church inside Villa Tevere. Thirty minutes, simply quiet and on our knees.  Cardinal Ratzinger (later Pope Benedict ) later wrote in the devotion why this is so critical;  Those moments were amazing, a taste of heaven in a way words cannot explain.

The purpose of pilgrimage is ultimately, not an object of interest, but a breaking through to the living God. We attempt to reach this goal by seeking out the scenes of salvation history. Its interior and exterior ways do not follow the direction of our whims. We enter, as it were, into the geography of God’s history, where he has set up his directional signs. We journey toward a goal that has been designated beforehand, not toward one that we invent for ourselves. By entering into his history and turning toward the signs the Church gives us out of the fullness of her faith, we go toward one another. By becoming pilgrims, we are better able to attain what tourism seeks: otherness, distance, freedom, and a deeper encounter.

It is a chance to get a sight of what Ezekiel describes, a foretaste of what we will have for eternity, a time where we realize the reality of walking with God, we see the fellowship, the communion that is life changing, that leads us deeper in faith.

If you can’t go to Italy, I can recommend two other pilgrimages.  The first is to travel in time, to go back to your baptism, to meditate on what was given there, promised there.  The promise God made to you, an eternal promise of life, an eternal promise of His presence. The second is also sacramental, the time at the altar, on our knees, as we receive the Body and Blood of Jesus.  As we realize we are one with Him, as we gain what we really desire, the sense of otherness, distance from the world, freedom from sin and Satan and so much else.  It is that moment where we arrive at a deeper encounter, a transforming and transcending moment where all we are aware of is God presence and the presence of His family.  So in a very precious and real way, every Sunday becomes a pilgrimage, a real vacation, a real time of restoration and rest.

Come and rest, come and leave your burdens behind, come and know that God is indeed with you.  AMEN.

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. 335). San Francisco: Ignatius Press. devotion for 10/22

A Nice Place to Stay But It Isn’t Home!

Featured imageA Nice Place to Stay
But It Isn’t Home!

2 Corinthians 4:13-5:1

 IHS

 As you wander through this journey of life, may you know the grace of God our Father, that reminds you that this isn’t your final home!

A Parker Parable:  The Christian Life is Like a Vacation!

Often in scripture, a story is used to illustrate a point of great spiritual significance.  The old name for these, especially when Jesus used them, was a parable.  Today’s Epistle reading, the one William did, will be explained with such a parable….

The Christian Life is like a vacation.

That is, it might be a nice place to stay for a while, but it isn’t home.

The Good Bad and Ugly

Anyone here ever have the a vacation that could have been made into a movie, because it was such a comedy of errors?  How about the vacation that was the ultimate in disasters? Even the most perfect vacation, there is a point where you’ve exhausted yourself, and realize it is time to go home.

You know how you feel, when you get back home, drag the suitcases from the trunk, a drag them into the bedroom, and collapse on the bed, and fall into a deep and peaceful sleep?

in a real sense, life is like that vacation, and heaven is even more like home than the bed you fall into… even more restful, even more peace-filled, but glorious!

The Man Made Life

The Apostle Paul, who wrote the letter to the church, uses this illustration in the last verse of our reading, when he says,

For we know that when this earthly tent we live in is taken down (that is, when we die and leave this earthly body), we will have a house in heaven, an eternal body made for us by God himself and not by human hands.

Anyone here remember going tent camping for the first time, or in my case, using a tent-trailer for the first time… or wait…even the last time?  When you struggled to put it all together, when you accidently camp in the dry stream bed?  When you realized you didn’t plan for going to the bathroom, or you forget the can opener or the matches to light you coleman stove?

We make a lot of errors in our lives.  Some are out of ignorance, some are because we are too proud and stubborn, and have the strange idea that we know more than God about how life should be lived.

The result?  Watching the tent washed away by the sudden rush of water that filled the creek, or finding out that poison oak is not a good substitute for toilet paper, or spending all your energy trying to rub two sticks together for 45 minutes to start that fire.

You want to give up, you want to quit, you want to drive home now, and call the vacation quits.  Sometimes life is like that, we get so overwhelmed at how broken it can get. The troubles may not be as big as we make them, matter of fact we may learn a lot from them, if we breath and take our time.

Other troubles are that big, and the brokenness they cause may seem like we can’t go on, that we can’t get past them.

So I spoke. 

Let’s go back up to the beginning of the reading again.  Paul explains why he preaches, why he talks about Jesus. 

13 But we continue to preach because we have the same kind of faith the psalmist had when he said, “I believed in God, so I spoke.”


When we hear this, what we don’t hear is the context of Paul’s life, and we really don’t hear what the Psalmist was thinking, because the verse is only partially included. Let me share with you’re the rest of it,

Ps 116:10 — I believed in you, so I said, “I am deeply troubled, LORD.”

Sounds like David’s been on some of my vacations!

You see, the faith that the Psalmist and St. Paul shared was a trust in God that led us to call out to God when life falls apart.  When our own sin, or just the unrighteousness of a broken world consumes us.

Because we believe, we go to Him, we speak to Him, we call out to Him.

You see, one of the sins that so easily ensnares us, is when we think we can live without God, either because we think He doesn’t care, or that He has written us off because we’ve done something so bad He can’t heal and restore us.

If you are familiar with the 10 commandments, one of them is,

7  “You must not misuse the name of the LORD your God. The LORD will not let you go unpunished if you misuse his name. Exodus 20:7 (NLT)

I want you to think about something for a moment.

We usually think of misuse being when you use God’s name to cuss, or swear, or teach false doctrine.  But it is also a misuse of God’s name when you don’t use it when you should.  When you could call out to Him for help and comfort when you are troubled, when you need to be rescued, when you find life to broken or to frustrating.

That’s the point of being in a relationship, with God and with the people of God.  To know the presence that brings comfort and peace. To know the love that will sustain you, and will celebrate with great joy with you.

The Glorious Relationship

This is what enables St. Paul to write:

16 That is why we never give up!  Though our bodies are dying, our spirits are being renewed every day. 17 For our present troubles are small and won’t last very long. Yet they produce for us a glory that vastly outweighs them and will last forever!

Paul knows that the troubles that we face, and he often faced the worst of them, don’t have to lead us away from God to find peace, but rather, they lead us to Him.  That is the trust that Paul and the writers of the Psalms have in God, to know that the God who will renew their spirits, who will lift them and us up, when we are down.  That will help us, as Paul continues,

we don’t look at the troubles we can see now; rather, we fix our gaze on things that cannot be seen. For the things we see now will soon be gone, but the things we cannot see will last forever!

The things we can’t see?  This is what the passage before the reading told us:

18  So all of us who have had that veil removed can see and reflect the glory of the Lord. And the Lord—who is the Spirit—makes us more and more like him as we are changed into his glorious image.
2 Corinthians 3:18 (NLT)

We fix our eyes on the promises we have in Christ.  We fix our eyes on Christ

And knowing His plans for us, for all of eternity, knowing His love and mercy which can heal our brokenness, can cleanse us of the effect of every sin, that brings us into the Father’s glory… we call out to Him in confidence, and find in His answer, a peace that goes beyond all understanding, and guards our hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.

AMEN.

Our Need for Vacation, (or the Sabbath) is Really Our Need for Christ

DSCF1083

a nice peaceful sunset off of the Huntington Beach Pier..

Discussion and Devotional Thought of the Day:

1   LORD, I have given up my pride and turned away from my arrogance. I am not concerned with great matters or with subjects too difficult for me. 2  Instead, I am content and at peace. As a child lies quietly in its mother’s arms, so my heart is quiet within me. 3  Israel, trust in the LORD now and forever! Psalm 131:1-3 (TEV)

11  In union with Christ you were circumcised, not with the circumcision that is made by human beings, but with the circumcision made by Christ, which consists of being freed from the power of this sinful self. 12  For when you were baptized, you were buried with Christ, and in baptism you were also raised with Christ through your faith in the active power of God, who raised him from death. 13  You were at one time spiritually dead because of your sins and because you were Gentiles without the Law. But God has now brought you to life with Christ. God forgave us all our sins; 14  he canceled the unfavorable record of our debts with its binding rules and did away with it completely by nailing it to the cross. 15  And on that cross Christ freed himself from the power of the spiritual rulers and authorities; he made a public spectacle of them by leading them as captives in his victory procession. 16  So let no one make rules about what you eat or drink or about holy days or the New Moon Festival or the Sabbath. 17  All such things are only a shadow of things in the future; the reality is Christ. Colossians 2:11-17 (TEV)

657 Here is a point for your daily examination. Have I allowed an hour to pass, without talking with my Father God? Have I talked to him with the love of a son? You can!  (1)

Today starts my vacation, so it was a coincidence?  Ironic?  God having fun? that my devotional readings switched from focusing on sacrificing to focusing on resting in Christ Jesus this morning.

As I started to read the Psalm this morning, and the other passages and the devotional reading, (with my son at my side – which was great!) I started thinking – how much people look forward to vacation, how much we look forward to a break from the grind of daily work. Even though many of us physically do not rest, do not take a break, but fill as much of our time as we can!

Matter of fact, we spend extra time preparing our work places and lives for vacation, we know we will have more work when we get back, we tire ourselves out during it and… well.. we don’t always get what we need – rest, a chance to breath, a chance to recover and be revitalized. It works against the Human Resources justification of Vacation – that employees will be more energetic and productive with that time away for rest and recreation, That it will reduce burnout, that it will have a positive impact on our work.

As I was thinking through this, I realized what vacations are supposed to be about is why God created sabbath times – not just weeks, but yearly and even sabbaticals where things rested for a year. When all pressure is off, where time is spent simply, without concern, knowing that God is caring for us, protecting us, Where we can find contentment, and peace.  Where we can be still, knowing that it will take a couple of days to do so… to unwind, to breathe, to even gasp.

We need to do this more, setting aside even in a minute or two an hour, an hour a day, a day a month?  And yes – our week or two a year…..

We need our time with our Father, for that is precious and restores our soul… It can give us the strength to face the rest of the hour, the pains of a day, the punishing grind of a year.

My son got it, when we talked of my role as a pastor, and why I need to start the morning with a devotional time.  He said if I didn’t spend time with God, even though the time I spend with people is very good – I can’t really pastor!  (He indicated he was guessing – he knew it was right – but he didn’t know why!)

How can we live as believers, if we don’t spend time, talking to Him with the love and adoration a son has for his dad?

This is why it doesn’t make sense to restrict people to a specific day for such rest, for dwelling in such love. If someone needs that rest on Tuesday night, or on Thursday morning.  We need it.  The Sabbath is about man receiving the peace and rest God would give them.  It isn’t about obedience, but about restoration. That is why some prefer daily mass, and some churches with staff and time enough – have multiple service times across the week.

Well time to wrap this up – need to finish getting ready for some time of rest……

Godspeed!

(1)  Escriva, Josemaria (2011-01-31). Furrow (Kindle Locations 2756-2758). Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition.

Monday Morning and Priority Setting

Devotional/Discussion Thought of the day:

It’s a day I dread, the Monday after a vacation.  I look at my desk and there are a ton of things to do. There are services to plan, sermon preparation to be done (and prepped to share with my deacons)  There is the business of being the pastor of a church.  It is almost tiring just looking at the work that needs to get done this week.

More importantly, there are people I need to go see, and visit.

When I was in management at a university, Monday morning was a critical time – if I spent the first 30 minutes actually planning the week – life was so much better!  Of course there would be interruptions, emergencies, things that would throw me for a loop – but the plan would be there to come back to, to restore sanity, to guide my week – and if I did 75% of the plan during the week – I could count it a good week and head off  on Friday content.  Attempts to do this in ministry, well, I’ve realized it is not just impossible – but completely wrong.  I know contend that it was wrong even then…..

Consider this well known Bible passage:

 6:33 But seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you. Matthew 6:33 (KJV) 

another translation put it this way…

6:33 Set your hearts on his kingdom first, and on God’s saving justice, and all these other things will be given you as well. Matthew 6:33 (NJB)

As a pastor and translator, there are a number of reasons I like the second version better- but this post isn’t about Greek – it is about priority setting and Monday mornings and setting out for a great week.  To see that happen, the only priority that must be set, is this one – to see ourselves living this day, this week, under God’s authority and care, to realize that He has called us to righteousness, He has saved us and made us His, and we live within the realm of His authority, and as important, His responsibility.  This is perhaps the first and most difficult lesson of discipleship.  I am not in charge, God is, and it is His time to use, to plan out, to show me how He will craft this week in such a way that it is a gift to me, and more importantly (here is where it gets challenging) to where my week will be a blessing to others.

This is important whether you are a pastor, or a manager, or a clerk, or a student.  To realize that we sit at our master’s feet, that He is in charge of setting a schedule and making it work within His will, that it is the Holy Spirit’s work to see this week holy and sanctified.

Luther talked about it by noting that we begin and end our day as being baptized – that’s the righteousness/saving justice of God.  It is also explained in the catechism in regards to the First Commandment.  He is your God, no other.  Knowing that helps set the priorities, and helps us stay focused when life seems less than righteous around us.  Another writer said it this way, “Add a supernatural motive to your ordinary professional work, and you will have sanctified it” (Escriva – The Way)

So i urge you – because I have to urge myself this morning, take the time, a few moments – even 5 minutes… and breathe, and seek to realize that incredible blessing that comes from living in His presence, where He is in charge, where things that matter are all tied to His making them right, and holy.  Seek first His love and authority and responsibility, seek His making your life the way it should be…. and everything else… will fall into place.

Godspeed!

 

 

Vacation – rest and revitalization…honestly?

Devotional thought of the day:

It started yesterday – about noonish – we started the packing of our “new” trailer, and it took five-ish hours, with my son giving tours to our neighbors.  Then a little over 2 and a half hours to drive the 90 miles to the campground, another 2 hours to set up.

While our popup trailer is comparatively comfortable – it will take a few days to get used to it – every morning a three inch mattress will remind it us its not a tempurpedic, but chaDevotional thought of the day: It started yesterday – about noonish – we started the packing of our “new” trailer, and it took five-ish hours, with my son giving tours to our neighbors. Then a little over 2 and a half hours to drive the 90 miles to the campground, another 2 hours to set up. While our popup trailer is comparatively comfortable – it will take a few days to get used to it – every morning a three inch mattress will remind it us its not a tempurpedic, but chasing a five year old will bring that mattress to call to us very welcoming at the end of each day! A

And this is supposed to be rest and rejuvination?  Hmmmm…

As we let people know we were actually going on vacation, many said to leave everything behind, just go and have fun… (as if life at Concordia isn’t fun, or at least thrilling in that rollercoaster, stomach twisting kind of adventure way!)

At first I acknowledged their wisdom, but realized that part of me wouldn’t leave Cerritos.  I thought it would be my mind, that it would keep trying to work through everything.  I was wrong, something is still there, but it isn’t my mind, it’s my heart.

In four years at Concordia (this week is the anniversary – so about time for a vacation?)  I have watched people’s faith really blossom. When I got there, they had a unique tradition – every Bible Study starts and ends with the teacher stating, “The Lord is with you!”…  This tradition I have come to love, and it really has become that which shapes our ministry here.  ANd as I look and pray through our families, it only is made clearer that we truly need that knowledge, that blessing, the assurance than comes with His presence.

And they have gotten it – it is evident as they respond to that blessing, with words I love to here – for they are heart felt  – they want me to know God is with me, just as much as they are learning to count on it.

St Paul once wrote a prayer for a church that he loved, and missed, and said,

3:14 My response is to get down on my knees before the Father, 15 this magnificent Father who parcels out all heaven and earth. 16 I ask him to strengthen you by his Spirit—not a brute strength but a glorious inner strength— 17 that Christ will live in you as you open the door and invite him in. And I ask him that with both feet planted firmly on love, 18 you’ll be able to take in with all Christians the extravagant dimensions of Christ’s love. Reach out and experience the breadth! Test its length! Plumb the depths! Rise to the heights! 19 Live full lives, full in the fullness of God. 20 God can do anything, you know—far more than you could ever imagine or guess or request in your wildest dreams! He does it not by pushing us around but by working within us, his Spirit deeply and gently within us. 
Ephesians 3:14-20 (MSG) 

If I could describe the people of my church, it is often that they are like kids at Christmas, just opening their eyes to the magnificence of God’s love for them…. they are starting to see this – and oh is it a joy to see it, as they witness another person to whom God’s promises are poured out in baptism, or as they see their burdens and anxieties lifted off them as we hear God’s forgiveness delivered, and as we pray…and as we feast together – in our potlucks for sure, but in the more precious meal of Christ’s Body and Blood..

As they live out our mission and motto – that Concordia is the place where people heal in Christ, while helping others heal…

In this, they are being revealed to be the very craftsmanship of God (see Eph 2:10) , or in Latin, the Opus Dei, in Greek – the Poiema – the poem

It is not my mind I left behind, as much as my heart – and the joy of seeing people know God’s love for them.. of realizing that God has called them into a relationship where He is there Father, and them finding rest there…. of them knowing the words, “the Lord is with you” and reminding me in response, that He is also with me….

That’s where I truly and revitalized, and I look forward to being back!

Sanctuaries, Symbolism and Highlander

Back in the 80’s and 90’s, one of my favorite movies was Highlander.  ( Any movie with Sean Connery in a supporting role is awesome! )

One of the things  I loved about it, besides the incredible swordsmanship, was the use church grounds, and especially Sanctuaries.  If you are in a sanctuary, you are safe – end of story – no fighting ever allowed.  They were places of peace, places where even evil had to bow and follow the rules.  A place of respite, a place to calm one’s nerves and remember what life – even eternal life, was about.

I think our world is in desperate need of such sanctuaries – to know they exist, to know that they are in their midst – to know that they are welcome in them.  The roof won’t collapse if they come in, lightning won’t strike, but instead they will find rest, restoration, healing, peace as they, for a moment can re-focus that they are loved by God, that the price of freeing them from anxiety, freeing them from fear, from death and sin, and freeing them from the oppression of Satan has been long since taken away.

It’s not that God isn’t with us  24/7/366, but that we need to remember His presence, we need to heal, and yes, we need a safe place to witness God restore relationships long thought destroyed…

By the way – Christian sanctuaries aren’t a place restricted to  holy people – but don’t be surprised if when you come – you leave knowing that you are Holy, declared so by God himself.  To use a olde english term – found in our confession of our trust in God  (aka a creed)  and in the movie Highlander – we’ve been quickened.  Which simply means – that God, through His word, through His word and actions – we’ve been brought to life.  In a way we could never expect – and still struggle to comprehend.

So visit a sanctuary this weekend, spend some time reveling in God’s peace, and realize – that you never are missing that peace… even on Friday….

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