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Devoted to what?

The easiest place to pray that I’ve ever visited. Our Lady of Peace, Rome

Devotional Thought of the Day:

Ac 2:42All the believers devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching, and to fellowship, and to sharing in meals (including the Lord’s Supper), and to prayer.
Ac 6:4Then we apostles can spend our time in prayer and teaching the word.”
Ro 12:12Rejoice in our confident hope. Be patient in trouble, and keep on praying.
Eph 6:18Pray in the Spirit at all times and on every occasion. Stay alert and be persistent in your prayers for all believers everywhere.
Col 4:2Devote yourselves to prayer with an alert mind and a thankful heart.

91    You wrote to me: “To pray is to talk with God. But about what?” About what? About him, and yourself: joys, sorrows, successes and failures, great ambitions, daily worries—even your weaknesses! And acts of thanksgiving and petitions—and love and reparation. In short, to get to know him and to get to know yourself— “to get acquainted!”

16 Ultimately, if we should list as sacraments all the things that have God’s command and a promise added to them, then why not prayer, which can most truly be called a sacrament? It has both the command of God and many promises. If it were placed among the sacraments and thus given, so to speak, a more exalted position, this would move men to pray.

Some people are devoted to working out others are devoted to making sure their family is okay. Some are devoted to their work, and others to the volunteering they do. Some are devoted to their political parties, or this cause or that. Or maybe we are more

But how many of us are devoted to prayer, and as part of that prayer, to listening to God through meditation on the word of God and the cross of Christ?

And if we see ourselves as devoted to prayer, what do we mean by prayer? In my case it often means intercession. Our church’s prayer list is between two and three times the size of our congregation, and those people all need to be prayed for, daily! That obviously is a part of prayer, but it isn’t everything that is”prayer”

Prayer Is what St Josemaria describes it as, a conversation that gets deep into who we are, and who God is. It is an intimate discussion of life, even to the point of discussing our weaknesses, and as much as it may hurt, our sin. It is getting to explore the dimensions of God’s love and mercy, it is getting to know Him, and letting Him reveal who we are. (since He knows us better than we know ourselves!) Prayer is that time where our hearts can find peace, where we can realize we are loved, because everything else fo a moment fades, for we realize we are in His presence.

That’s why the early Lutherans agreed in the Apology of the Augsburg Confession that prayer could be considered a sacrament. It is an individual and corporate encounter with God that penetrates our heart and soul. It is both talking, and being silent before God, it is the communication that happens at the altar, and when we are trying to learn from the scriptures, it is the Holy Spirit in us, who even interprets the prayers we can’t find the words for, for the pain is too deep.

Prayer is not an option for us, any more than electricity is a option tor my electronic devices, or blood is an option for the living. Not as a duty, or burden, but as part of our essence.

For the Lord is with you, there to talk to, to listen to, to get to know.

Lord, help us to walk in Your presence, and be more aware of that presence. Help us to talk, and to listen, and to find out how much You love and care for us. † Amen!





Escriva, Josemaria. The Way (Kindle Locations 365-368). Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition.

Tappert, T. G. (Ed.). (1959). The Book of Concord the confessions of the Evangelical Lutheran Church. (p. 213). Philadelphia: Mühlenberg Press.

Have you said, “I am not an evangelist?” Me too, and we are wrong!

Image may contain: text that says 'Evangelization is not just the proclamation of Christ but also a process ofincorporation into the Church. From this comes the sacramental link between Evangelization and the Eucharist. FROM EUCHARISTIC ADORATION TO EVANGELISM'

Devotional Thought of the Week

I will be with you as I was with Moses. I will always be with you; I will never abandon you. 6† Be determined and confident, for you will be the leader of these people as they occupy this land which I promised their ancestors. 7 Just be determined, be confident; and make sure that you obey the whole Law that my servant Moses gave you. Do not neglect any part of it and you will succeed wherever you go. 8 Be sure that the book of the Law is always read in your worship. Study it day and night, and make sure that you obey everything written in it. Then you will be prosperous and successful. 9 Remember that I have commanded you to be determined and confident! Do not be afraid or discouraged, for I, the LORD your God, am with you wherever you go.” Joshua 1:5-9 GNT

When they bring you to be tried in the synagogues or before governors or rulers, do not be worried about how you will defend yourself or what you will say. 12 For the Holy Spirit will teach you at that time what you should say.” Luke 12:11-12 GNT

Evangelization is not just the proclamation of Christ but also a process of incorporation into the Church. From this comes the sacramental link between Evangelization and the Eucharist. The community constitutes itself, in its sacramentality, through the Eucharist and Eucharistic Adoration. As Blessed John Paul II teaches:
Incorporation into Christ, which is brought about by Baptism, is constantly renewed and consolidated by sharing in the Eucharistic Sacrifice, especially by that full sharing which takes place in sacramental communion. We can say not only that each of us receives Christ, but also that Christ receives each of us. He enters into friendship with us: ‘You are my friends’ (Jn 15:14). Indeed, it is because of Him that we have life: ‘He who eats me will live because of me’ (Jn 6:57). Eucharistic communion brings about in a sublime way the mutual ‘abiding’ of Christ and each of His followers: ‘Abide in me, and I in you’ (Jn 15:4). (Ecclesia de Eucharistia, 22)

I came across a VHS tape last night, a video that was taken of a sermon I gave at a very prestigious preaching course. (a miracle of how I was there is another story. I didn’t have the academic qualifications or any other for that matter)

Since finding it, I have been thinking about how I have changed in how I preach and teach in the nearly 20 years (this November) since I started that program. There is no doubt I am more capable, from no longer preaching in a monotone, to being able to understand the passage and my people.

That week in Garden Grove was challenging, and the words of my assigned mentor still ring in my ears. Rev. Juan Carlos Ortiz pointed out the illustration I used and said it was the sermon, and to preach as a storyteller. For it was there my sermon cut open his heart, and he forgot he was critiquing the sermon. The story helped him to understand God’s presence, and he urged me, “preach like this!” That made a huge change in how I preach, and even today I struggle to find the one illustration that ties the text to the heart of those who will hear or read it.

The other big change occurred when I became Lutheran and went from understanding the sacraments as my obedience, to what they really are, the means of Grace, the conduits of God’s mercy and love. It is from there, that like Moses and Joshua, the determination and confidence. It is there, receiving the grace of God, becoming part of the community, that I don’t worry about what I am going to say. It is there that I stop trying to convince people that they should listen to me, and simply share the news of God’s love.

Or as the quote in purple put into words far better than mine. Evangelization is not just telling someone God loves them or walking them through 4 spiritual laws, evangelism is assimilating them into the kingdom of God, helping them become part of the community of Christ as God pours out on us His mercy, and transforms us.

No wonder we adore Him! No wonder we are amazed as He gives us His body, broken for us, and asks us to drink of His blood, shed for the forgiveness of all our sin. This is where the evangelist brings people, it is where they become part of the body of Christ, it is where we find peace.. and hope… and healing.

So don’t be anxious, be determined, be confident, and share with people why you have hope. God is with you!


Rey, D. (2012). Adoration and the New Evangelization. In A. Reid (Ed.), From Eucharistic Adoration to Evangelization (p. 15). London; New York: Burns & Oates.

How to Survive Burnout in Ministry. (Whether “Professional” or “Volunteer”)

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

Devotional Thought of the Day:
Be an example to all believers in what you say, in the way you live, in your love, your faith, and your purity. 13  Until I get there, focus on reading the Scriptures to the church, encouraging the believers, and teaching them. 14  Do not neglect the spiritual gift you received through the prophecy spoken over you when the elders of the church laid their hands on you. 15  Give your complete attention to these matters. Throw yourself into your tasks so that everyone will see your progress. 16  Keep a close watch on how you live and on your teaching. Stay true to what is right for the sake of your own salvation and the salvation of those who hear you. 1 Timothy 4:12b-16 (NLT)

207         An indispensable requirement in the apostolate is faith, which is often shown by constancy in speaking about God, even though the fruits are slow to appear. If we persevere and carry on in the firm conviction that the Lord wills it, signs of a Christian revolution will appear around you, everywhere. Some will follow the call, others will take their interior life seriously, and others—the weakest—will at least be forewarned.

It doesn’t matter whether I am a 52-year-old pastor, or a 19-year-old teaching Sunday School to a class of 25 2nd=8th graders.  There is a point when you approach burnout.

Been there, done that, and it seems taken out on a lease on an apartment at that address at times.  I’ve seen others there as well, and some crash and burn, and others persevere, not by the strength of character, or a stubborn will.  For those things cannot last through burnout.  There is something more, something internal, yet foreign.  Something, dare I say it, supernatural, that sustains them.

It’s not just a matter of personal faith, but rather, the reason that we can have faith, that we can trust, that we can depend on the Lord.

Paul tells his young apprentice to keep focused on reading scriptures, using the word of God to encourage and teach them.  As odd as this seems, it is a prescription for dealing with burnout.  For there is something empowering when we see people receive that strength. Paul urges this young man to throw himself even more into the ministry, which seems counter-intuitive.  Yet, if we focus on the work of God, we encounter Him, we find the Holy Spirit who strengthens and preserves us.

We see God is faithful, and because of His promises, we see people’s lives changed, as they are delivered from darkness into light, as we see their burdens lifted, and as we do, not only are we amazed, we find the perspective that enables us to endure.

St Josemaria speaks of the same thing as he talks of a faith that speaks with constancy about God.  Sure, it isn’t as dramatic a change as some would prefer to see, but the change is far deeper, as people will come alongside in service.  Others will grow deep in their appreciation of God’s love.  Witnessing these things assures us that our burnout is not in vain and that we can endure, for the cost is worth it.

Assured of that, the burnout loses its grip on us.  We still may be tired and weary, we may wonder if the trials will ever end, but that is not comparable to knowing this….

The Lord is with You!

AMEN!

 

Escriva, Josemaria. Furrow (Kindle Locations 1073-1077). Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition.

An Odd Responsibility: A Lenten Sermon on Ephesians 5

church at communion 2An Odd Responsibility

Ephesians 5:8-14

I.H.S.

May you enjoy the grace, mercy and peace of God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ, and in that joy, may He shine through you to a broken world!

 An Odd Responsibility

Of all the things scripture tells us to do, the one we heard in the first reading today may be the oddest.

I mean we are encouraged to love God, to love our neighbor, to love even our enemy.  We are told to honor our parents, be faithful to our wives and husbands, to care for our children. We are told to no gossip, and be content rather than being jealous of what others are blessed with by God.

None of these are easy, but then we hear this one today, and they seem.. better defined?

Here it is again,

“Carefully determine what pleases the Lord”

Across all of the Bible translations in English that I have, two of them use acceptable, and one uses “what God wants of you”.  The rest use the word please, or pleasing.  Knowing the Greek word behind it doesn’t help that much – it means good pleasure – or causing or creating peace.

So we are responsible for… making God’s life good?

That seems a bit odd.

And more than a little difficult!  How are we supposed to figure this out?  Even more concurring,, how can we accomplish it?

I mean if God can’t find peace or be pleased, how are we to see that happen?

The Darkness that consumes and burdens

I mean, at least for me, I feel that life is often just a longer edition of that feeling when you are asleep and someone comes in and turns on the 250 watt light in your bedroom in order to wake you up.

You know, the disorientation, the inability to really see clearly, the pain of looking at everything in harsh, painful more powerful than the sun – light?

Spiritually the world seems that dark at times, as people stumble around, not sure of what is right, but absolutely convinced of what is not good.  Sometimes we even justify staying in the dark, because if we saw what was truly going on, the shock and horror would be even more overwhelming.

If the darkness hides the world’s evil deeds and intentions, it can also do the same thing for us, hiding the thoughts, words, and deeds that we are personally ashamed of, the failures that haunt us, that cause us shame.  Yet the spiritual darkness gives us the illusion that no one sees those things, no one else knows them, even God.

The darkness may seem comforting, it may seem safe, but spiritual darkness and ignorance has severe problems, Guilt, shame, loneliness, despair, and the pervasive darkness which causes us to live without hope, without any healing of our soul, or the relationships that break.

The work of the light

 So into this darkness that oppresses more than it relieves, that hides from the world but not our conscience, comes the glory of Christ.

it takes us a while to get used to it.  At first, we might think that the light is the spotlight used to interrogate us, like the third-degree interrogations in old war and spy movies.  For it does reveal the dark shameful things, the thoughts and words and deeds of the past that haunt us.

We need to understand that rather than being an interrogation tool, this is the light by which God examines us, to cut away that which isn’t of us, the sin and unrighteousness, the shame and the grief, the pain and resentment, and the light which strengthens and allows our souls to heal.

It takes a while to get used to, to learn to welcome, but as Paul promises,

“This light within you produces only what is good, and right, and true.”


This light, this glory of God so shows things for what they are that we let God remove them from our lives.

Which is why we can live without them, though it may take a while to realize that, as we wander around, trying to get used to walking in the light, as those people who are the people of light.

This is what grace is, this is why we are here, to help each other realize we aren’t alone in this world, that we can live lives where forgiveness is more powerful than brokenness, where reconciliation is always possible, and is desired by God. That not only can we desire to grow in holiness, we can see God at work in us, transforming us into His holy people.

And this is what we discover pleases Him, it is what He desires, it is what He spent eternity planning, and why Jesus came and died on the cross to shatter our darkness, to remove our sin.  It is what we truly need to understand – that what pleases God is our being His people, trusting in Him, depending on Him to care and provide for us, having faith in the promises He has made us, including forgiving our sins, and make us His holy people, and welcoming us as we dwell in His glory.

And freed from the darkness, freed from its oppression and evil, freed from the guilt and shame it causes, we live in the light, for we have had revealed to us the truth of the old hymn Paul quoted,

We have awoken, We have risen from the dead! For Christ has come and dwelt with us, and we have seen His glory.  AMEN!

a thought about truly suffering for God

Devotional thought of the day:

Featured image16  “And when you fast, do not put on a sad face as the hypocrites do. They neglect their appearance so that everyone will see that they are fasting. I assure you, they have already been paid in full. 17  When you go without food, wash your face and comb your hair, 18  so that others cannot know that you are fasting—only your Father, who is unseen, will know. And your Father, who sees what you do in private, will reward you. Matthew 6:16-18 (TEV)

3  The people ask, “Why should we fast if the LORD never notices? Why should we go without food if he pays no attention?” The LORD says to them, “The truth is that at the same time you fast, you pursue your own interests and oppress your workers. 4  Your fasting makes you violent, and you quarrel and fight. Do you think this kind of fasting will make me listen to your prayers? 5  When you fast, you make yourselves suffer; you bow your heads low like a blade of grass and spread out sackcloth and ashes to lie on. Is that what you call fasting? Do you think I will be pleased with that? Isaiah 58:3-5 (TEV)

765      Renew in your own soul the resolution that friend of ours made long ago: “Lord, what I want is suffering, not exhibitionism.”  (1)

There is a trend that is growing more and more.  The idea that those who are “persecuted” should be publicly defended,  Sometimes that call for action is taken by the very people under persecution.  Other times people attach themselves to the cause, urging others to join them.  It is almost like people want other Christians to suffer, a sort of Christian version of Munchausen by Proxy, or even a Svengali syndrome.  And sometimes, we can even bring it on ourselves, a masochistic attempt to gain fame or at least attention.

An example, the person who gets fired for using their position of authority to “spread the gospel”.  Or the Christian who boasts of losing family and friends because of the Biblical position against adultery, or abortion, or homosexulaity.

Even the temptation of pointing our how richer, how much fun, how much sex we could have, how much better life would be, if we didn’t sacrifice our desires out of obedience or submission to Christ.

Jesus addresses that pretty clear in the New Testament.  If you are voluntarily suffering, and it is because of your faith, then don’t let it show.  If you are embracing that pain (ar some annoying stuff) then don’t make a public spectacle of it. we could project that out to those who want to make a Christian cause out of everything, because then they can be the hero.

All of this public suffering borders on exhibitionism, We (or the person/cause) we’ve hooked up with gains us acclaim, or pity, it projects a value or praise onto our life. We pursue, as Isaiah writes, our own interests, our own satisfaction?  Our own recognition by others who declare us, “holy”.

Yet what if we endured it, sought true martyrdom even death, without a sense of need of people even knowing?  What if our cause that never appeared in daylight was sacrificing time and money to help others out of poverty.  What if our desire was not to hear man’s applause, but to hear God welcome us home?  Our suffering should be God pleasing, whether a real form of martyrdom, or the self-sacrificial acts we embrace, loving others?

Can we empty ourselves, in this way?  Even as Christ did?

I think we can do better at it, simply by looking to Christ, adoring Him, cherishing His work. Let me rephrase that – as we do those things, we are being transformed by the Holy Spirit!  Then those crosses and burdens we bear?  They don’t seem worth complaining about, or receiving praise for, simply because knowing Christ in those moments far supersedes any praise or attention gained in other places.

Escriva, Josemaria (2011-01-31). The Forge (Kindle Locations 2755-2756). Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition.

The Two Cries of a Church That is Alive… (even though others think it is dying)

Devotional & Discussion Thought of the Day:Dawn at Concordia
When the LORD brought us back to Jerusalem, it was like a dream! 2  How we laughed, how we sang for joy! Then the other nations said about us, “The LORD did great things for them.” 3  Indeed he did great things for us; how happy we were! Psalm 126:1-3 (TEV)

Share the happiness of those who are happy, the sorrow of those who are sad. Romans 12:15 (Phillips NT)

 “if this is not a place where tears are understood, where can I go to cry?”  (1)

” I’m going where He goes, out into the world of lonely people:”

“Concordia is the the place where broken people find healing in Christ, while helping others heal!”

There has been a blog going around recently, about the last gasps dying churches.  It is quite popular, not with those who are in the dying churches, but those that observe them, and are waiting for them to die.   I’ve been in those churches, and I’ve seen them come back to life, miraculously in some people’s minds. There is a different view from inside than out, there is a different need perceived, there are different words said, different gasps and prayers. They aren’t as self-centered and waiting for the last one to die, so that they can turn the lights out, as is often alleged.

So what does this have to do with the quotes above?  Well, that is where I find the life in these churches.  The two essential cries of the church, the cries of joy, and the cries of sorrow.

If a church can rejoice in the news of a baptism, if a church can cry as a member or friend dies, then it is not dead, or dying.  Depressed perhaps, anxious or frightened, sincere and yet wrong in their, these places where tears of joy and sorrow run, they are alive.  They may need great care, they may need patient shepherding, but they are not dead…..

Here is where it starts, they need to know that they (actually we) aren’t the only ones who hear those cries.  That God Himself laughs, that God himself cries with them.  That there is a great picture of God in Isaiah rejoicing, where the word is actually dance!  And they need to see Jesus tears, as He weeps at Lazarus’ tomb, and as He weeps over Jerusalem.  They need to see God as one who brings comfort and peace, who celebrates who loves His people.

Whoever they are.

I’ve found that these churches that people assume are dying can minister to people who feel lost and overlooked in the mega-churches, in the churches where lament is a concept, but not an experience.  They can be the family of the single mom, they can accept those who struggle with sanity, they can care for the widow and orphan – not just provide them something.  They are great places for families that struggle – because as a congregation, they can rejoice, and they can weep with those who need more than a hour and 4 minutes of a church service. Bring in a missionary, they will minister to him or her extensively.

One of the churches I served once sponsored a pretty famous Christian/Blugrass musician to play at the town fair.  It was a risk – an incredible 5% of our annual budget (which wasn’t much! went to bring him in for a Saturday night concert, and the following morning to play at our church.  That Sunday, as he played to our 45 or so people – and 5-6 guests, the band asked if they were welcome at the potluck afterward.  Of course – come on down – feast.  It was something they never got to do – big venues mobbed them, and they had to hide. With us, they could be ministered to  they could be welcomed as family.  Though it didn’t have the impact we wanted on the community – this little church – that others told me not to come to -because it was dying… served others.

In my experience, these churches are alive, they need gentle shepherding, and they need to know that it is good to cry, good to laugh, good to cling to each other and slowly, as they look to Jesus, as the Holy Spirit ministers among them, they won’t be gasping, they will be crying…to God, with God, in God’s presence.

They will see people come home, as the Psalmist describes….and they will know the Lord is doing great things there…

 
(1)  Ken Medema; quoted in Celtic Daily Prayer:  Aidan Readings for 7/17

(2)  Ann Kiemel  same source

 

 

An Individual Relationship with God? Inconceivable…

Devotional Thought of the Day:

7  I will give them hearts that recognize me as the LORD. They will be my people, and I will be their God, for they will return to me wholeheartedly. Jeremiah 24:7 (NLT) 

19  We have, then, my friends, complete freedom to go into the Most Holy Place by means of the death of Jesus. 20  He opened for us a new way, a living way, through the curtain—that is, through his own body. 21  We have a great priest in charge of the house of God. 22  So let us come near to God with a sincere heart and a sure faith, with hearts that have been purified from a guilty conscience and with bodies washed with clean water. 23  Let us hold on firmly to the hope we profess, because we can trust God to keep his promise. 24  Let us be concerned for one another, to help one another to show love and to do good. 25  Let us not give up the habit of meeting together, as some are doing. Instead, let us encourage one another all the more, since you see that the Day of the Lord is coming nearer. Hebrews 10:19-25 (TEV)

 

409         “I was a guerrilla fighter,” he wrote, “and I moved around the hills, shooting whenever I wanted. But I thought I had better become a soldier, because I realised that wars are won more easily by organised armies and well-disciplined armies. A poor guerrilla fighter on his own cannot take whole cities, or conquer the world. I hung up my old musket—it was so out of date!—and now I am better armed. At the same time, I know that I can no longer lie down in the hills, under the shade of a tree, and dream about winning the war all on my own.” Blessed be the discipline and blessed be the unity of our Holy Mother the Church!  (1)

I was asked this week, how do I respond to people who think that they can worship God all by themselves.  It’s not the first time, people have asked that question of me.  Apparently someone asked Pope Francis that earlier this week as well, as one of his tweets responded to such a question. He admitted that it was difficult, because people are sinners, and we can frustrate anger and even cause each other great anxiety.  But it was, nevertheless necessary.

We know God because others who are part of the body of Christ have shared His love with us.  No one comes to know Jesus, unless He is revealed to us by another.  It could be parents, uncles or aunts, a friend, even someone we were interested in dating.  But someone revealed to us the depth of God’s love for us.

The writer of Hebrews knows this all too well, as he begins to some up his letter, he address those who want to have some kind of individual relationship with God –  where it is just God and them, at the beach, in the forest, on their motorcycle, playing their music, where ever. The argument is that the relationship could be purer, less restricted, less affected by hypocrisy, or their own inability to be patient and deal with others.   But that presumes that the kind of relationship God has designed for each of us is one on one with Him.  That we don’t need the encouragement of others, that those times where we stress, where we worry, where we hurt, are going to take away from our relationship with God, rather than intensify it, as we realize our need for God, to need to know His presence, His comfort, His peace.  It

I love the quote from St. Josemaria, because it nails me to the cross.  For years growing up, desiring to be a pastor, I thought about my winning the world for God, the great things I could do.  I was the idyllic “guerrilla”, solider of the cross. There was a lot of encouragement for this, a naivete about the need for true fellowship – as working as one body in Christ. Of realizing what affects one believer affects us all, without regard to denomination or theology, or personal journey.  It’s not about what I’ve chosen to believe, or you think in right.

Paul explains it well in his letter to the church in Ephesus,

3  Make every effort to keep yourselves united in the Spirit, binding yourselves together with peace. 4  For there is one body and one Spirit, just as you have been called to one glorious hope for the future. 5  There is one Lord, one faith, one baptism, 6  and one God and Father, who is over all and in all and living through all. Ephesians 4:3-6 (NLT)

Our unity is not found in our diversity, but in Christ, in His revelation, in His Love.  In what binds us together in His un-explainable peace.

That’s why we need to no abandon each other, finding reasons to walk alone.

It can’t be done.  For God has designed us to be His people – together, and He comes to us to be our (together) God.

The strength we find in this, the peace, the encouragement, even in times of stress, of anxiety, of dealing with brokenness, of dealing with sin…

It’s why church and Bible study are important.  Not to prove our holiness, but to encourage each other to remember we are holy, separated together for a relationship with Jesus Christ.

That’s the Church, simply put, His people….

Come and join us, as we walk with Christ, together.

 

(1)   Escriva, Josemaria (2011-01-31). Furrow (Kindle Locations 1835-1841). Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition.

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