True Gospel Authotity

From Richard Rohr’s daily meditation for Friday, June 16, 2017.  (His full meditation can be found here.)

True Gospel authority, the authority to heal and renew, is not finally found in a hierarchical office, a theological argument, a perfect law, or a rational explanation. The Crucified revealed to the world that the real power that changes people and the world is an inner authority that comes from those who have lost, let go, and are re-found on a new level. Twelve-Step programs have come to the same conclusion in our time.
Both Francis and Clare had this kind of inner authority that is still part of their essential message for the world. They let go of all fear of suffering, all need for power, prestige, and possessions, and the need for their small self to be important. They came to know something essential—who they really were in God and thus who they really were. Their house was then built on “bedrock,” as Jesus says (Matthew 7:24).

In the Face of the Bad, Practice the Better

S (Scripture): 2 Corinthians 12:Therefore, to keep me from being too elated, a thorn was given me in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to torment me, to keep me from being too elated.  8 Three times I appealed to the Lord about this, that it would leave me, 9 but he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is made perfect in weakness.” So, I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may dwell in me. 10 Therefore I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities for the sake of Christ; for whenever I am weak, then I am strong.

O (Observation):  Paul was said to have had a physical ailment that kept him from ever being fully healthy, physically.   I’d have to do more research on this, but regardless of the ailment, Paul makes a theological point.

Paul understands his physical ailment, or weakness, to be reminded that he is not whole…not without Christ.  Paul understands that even though he is weak, that simply makes room for Christ to show up and make him whole.  

What does it look like for Christ to make Paul whole?  Jesus’ grace, filling in where Paul is weak. 

A (Application):  When Christians throw around knowledge or Scripture to publicly condemn Christians or non-Christians, I get more than a little irked.   Maybe I get irked because I have a hard time with rebuttals.  I need time to think something through, and to consider all the angles before I respond.  When I respond too hastily, I find that I get too emotional in my responses, or too narrow-minded.   

We can all serve as Jesus did, sharing the Gospel, bringing healing and forgiveness, even bringing new life where there is none.   But when others criticize you for it, don’t feel like you need a rebuttal.   If you are doing something in Christ’s name that is giving life to something or someone else, fear not.  Embrace the apparent weakness, that Jesus’ grace might be sufficient to satisfy you.    

As we take the example of Jesus, we might simply turn from the negative attitudes around us, and do something GOOD in response.  Richard Rohr shares the core values of the Center for Action and Contemplation on their website.  One core principle is this:

“the best criticism of the bad is the practice of the better”

As Christians and non-Christians alike try to knock you down when you serve or speak in the name of Jesus…let them…for in your weakness, Jesus’ grace will fill you.  Practice the better. Let this be Jesus’ way of filling you with grace.  

P (Prayer): Lord, keep us filled with your grace, that we might practice the better in the face of the bad.  Amen.  

Theology of Work

(Photo credit: here)

S (Scripture): Ecclesiastes 5:13 There is a grievous ill that I have seen under the sun: riches were kept by their owners to their hurt, 14 and those riches were lost in a bad venture; though they are parents of children, they have nothing in their hands. 15 As they came from their mother’s womb, so they shall go again, naked as they came; they shall take nothing for their toil, which they may carry away with their hands. 16 This also is a grievous ill: just as they came, so shall they go; and what gain do they have from toiling for the wind? 17 Besides, all their days they eat in darkness, in much vexation and sickness and resentment.

18 This is what I have seen to be good: it is fitting to eat and drink and find enjoyment in all the toil with which one toils under the sun the few days of the life God gives us; for this is our lot. 19 Likewise all to whom God gives wealth and possessions and whom he enables to enjoy them, and to accept their lot and find enjoyment in their toil—this is the gift of God. 20 For they will scarcely brood over the days of their lives, because God keeps them occupied with the joy of their hearts.

O (Observation):  Solomon has seen what wealth can do to a person.  Wealth can turn a person inward, caring only for himself or herself.   To what end?   To a cold and lonely end.    When a rich person dies, that person cannot take their earthly goods with them.   Toiling is not bad…but if one toils to gain more things…one does so in vain.  

But Solomon gives us another view of toil: joy in contentment.   Brooding over the work gains nothing.   Instead, find the work God has called each to do, and in that, find joy!

A (Application): I continue to be amazed at our capitalistic society in the US and the growing discontent we have in our lives.   The gadgets and gizmos and vacations we all desire can drive us away from contentment and towards a poor view of our work:  work = money for stuff.   

The joy of work gives us purpose and a way to contribute to society.   The wonderful part of capitalism is the opportunity to explore any of your callings and to seek to be paid for it.   However, the downfall of capitalism is that those who cannot work, or those who cannot see work as something to be enjoyed decide that they don’t fit in, and thus, end up on the streets or living off of handouts.  

I pray that everyone find the inherent dignity in all of humanity.   I pray that everyone find the calling God has instilled in them.  I pray that we are all compassionate enough help those whose work does not allow them enough pay to live on their own.   

I pray that we all enjoy our work for the sake of bringing God glory!

P (Prayer):  Lord, help us to be thankful and grateful for our callings in this world!  Amen.

Who Sould Boast?

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S (Scripture): 2 Corinthians 10:15 [Paul writes:] We do not boast beyond limits, that is, in the labors of others; but our hope is that, as your faith increases, our sphere of action among you may be greatly enlarged, 16 so that we may proclaim the good news in lands beyond you, without boasting of work already done in someone else’s sphere of action. 17 “Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord.” 18 For it is not those who commend themselves that are approved, but those whom the Lord commends.

O (Observation):  Paul is looking (as always) to move the sphere of influence further and further outward for the sake of mission.  He is not afraid to boast, up to a point, because he is not really boasting in himself…but boasting in the Lord.   

Does Paul want to be known?  Yes.  But only insofar has this helps him to share the Gospel abroad.   

A (Application):  A follower of Christ wants to share the influence of the Gospel.  If reputation helps this, then boast in that reputation!  And when you do boast…boast not in yourself, but boast in the Lord!  After all, the Lord chooses how and when to lift you up.  

For what purpose?  For the purpose of sharing the love and mercy of God in further spheres of influence.  

P (Prayer):  Lord, lift us up not for our glory, but for yours!  Amen.  

Giving – a Spiritual Gift

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S (Scripture): 2 Corinthinas 8:1 We want you to know, brothers and sisters, about the grace of God that has been granted to the churches of Macedonia; 2 for during a severe ordeal of affliction, their abundant joy and their extreme poverty have overflowed in a wealth of generosity on their part. 3 For, as I can testify, they voluntarily gave according to their means, and even beyond their means, 4 begging us earnestly for the privilege of sharing in this ministry to the saints— 5 and this, not merely as we expected; they gave themselves first to the Lord and, by the will of God, to us, 6 so that we might urge Titus that, as he had already made a beginning, so he should also complete this generous undertaking among you. 7 Now as you excel in everything—in faith, in speech, in knowledge, in utmost eagerness, and in our love for you—so we want you to excel also in this generous undertaking.

8 I do not say this as a command, but I am testing the genuineness of your love against the earnestness of others. 9 For you know the generous act of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor, so that by his poverty you might become rich.

O (Observation):   Paul urges good stewardship amongst ALL followers of Jesus.   He encourages all to take on the example of Christ:  to deny one’s self and riches for the sake of the other.   

The church in Macedonia has shown great generosity, EVEN IN THE MIDST OF THEIR “extreme poverty.”    The challenge wasn’t accepted until their bank accounts were filled, with some to spare.  No!  In the midst of their poverty, God saw fit to have the Macedonian church give DESPITE its general poverty.  And an abundance flowed forth…and all “voluntarily gave according to their means, and even beyond their means.”  This was God’s going, indeed.  

A (Application):  This kind of story strikes us as Americans.   We are a nation built on good, old-fashioned hard work.   And every penny saved is a penny earned.  Where we pull ourselves up by our own boot straps. 

Until – as individuals or families – we can’t…because of illness or old age or because we are alone and have no one by our side.  

I’m no advocate for laziness, I’m just an advocate for generosity.  Maybe you’ve been privileged enough to not need help…and if that is you, then that isolates you from about 99% of the world.  Good for you.  As for the 99%…we need help and assistance from time to time.   

I have received a LOT of help in my life – financially, and in other ways – and my wife and I are more and more incorporating into our budget ways to be generous to others.   We are not necessarily “paying back” those who have helped us.  Instead, we are paying forward to help others in need.  

Our generosity comes not from our own doing, though we have worked hard in our lives to contribute to society, but rather, our generosity comes as a gift of the Spirit.  

When our world tells us to look out for our own, we don’t stop there.  We look for our neighbor, as well.  

When our world says to hold back, we give.  

And with this generosity comes a deep satisfaction that is repaid not always in dollars, but in peace that surpasses understanding.  

P (Prayer): Lord, give us glad and generous hearts!  Amen.  I 

We Are Clay Jars – imperfect, yet living examples

S (Scripture): 2 Corinthians 4:7 But we have this treasure in clay jars, so that it may be made clear that this extraordinary power belongs to God and does not come from us. 8 We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; 9 persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; 10 always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be made visible in our bodies. 11 For while we live, we are always being given up to death for Jesus’ sake, so that the life of Jesus may be made visible in our mortal flesh. 12 So death is at work in us, but life in you.

O (Observation):  By “we” Paul may mean the group to which Paul belongs, that is, he and those disciples carrying the Gospel to Corinth and helping to settle new locations in which the Gospel can be read and heard and lived out.  I suggest this, because in v. 12, he suggests that this work causes a death in Paul and his disciples, FOR THE SAKE OF “you” (those in the church in Corinth).  

Paul makes clear that the carriers of the Gospel message are not the central factor.  Paul declares that he and his disciples are but clay jars – imperfect containers for that which is life-giving.  The nature of the Gospel is not tarnished, even though the carriers are.   

A (Application):  As one who supports making disciples who make disciples, I have to keep one very important thing in mind:  calling people to follow me is not about following me, but following the One, Jesus Christ himself.  

Have you ever made a copy of a copy of a copy, etc?   What happens to the content being copied?  Yes!  It diminishes in quality.  The letters and images become more and more fuzzy.  If you make copies from the original, you get a clearer picture.  

The same would happen if we called others to follow us for the sake of following US, and not following Jesus.  So the tricky part (really, the part of us that must die) is that when we share the Gospel and call people to follow, we point to the Gospel and to Jesus and NOT just to us.  

The hard part is that calling people to follow is a combination of the message and the messenger.   We who carry the Gospel (clay jars) are thus called to be living examples (not perfect examples).   We need to give folks something to imitate before they can innovate their own way of carrying the Gospel.   

The dying part of this imitation piece is that we have to let go of our way of being a clay jar when our followers (really Jesus’ followers) start to create their own way of being a clay jar.  

Remember: we are not in the clay jar-making business…we are about the work of carrying a life-giving Message.  

P (Prayer):  Lord, help us to lead, and then to get out of the way.  Amen. 

The Wounded Healer (or, The Gift of Affliction)

S (Scripture): 2 Corinthians 1:3 Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and the God of all consolation, 4 who consoles us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to console those who are in any affliction with the consolation with which we ourselves are consoled by God. 5 For just as the sufferings of Christ are abundant for us, so also our consolation is abundant through Christ. 6 If we are being afflicted, it is for your consolation and salvation; if we are being consoled, it is for your consolation, which you experience when you patiently endure the same sufferings that we are also suffering. 7 Our hope for you is unshaken; for we know that as you share in our sufferings, so also you share in our consolation.

8 We do not want you to be unaware, brothers and sisters, of the affliction we experienced in Asia; for we were so utterly, unbearably crushed that we despaired of life itself. 9 Indeed, we felt that we had received the sentence of death so that we would rely not on ourselves but on God who raises the dead. 10 He who rescued us from so deadly a peril will continue to rescue us; on him we have set our hope that he will rescue us again, 11 as you also join in helping us by your prayers, so that many will give thanks on our behalf for the blessing granted us through the prayers of many.

O (Observation): What Paul has received in terms of consolation from The Lord, he feels he has received in order to console others.   He knows what defeat and failure look and feel like.   He’s been down in the duldrums before…and only God carried him through (sometimes directly, sometimes through his peers).   

Most importantly for Paul, he sees each failure and each need for consolation as a training of sorts.  He will receive consolation, so that when he sees others who need consolation, he will recognize their need and give consolation freely and with heart.  His example of a need for consolation while doing ministry in Asia is a great example of his need for such consolation.  

His kairos (a calling to do mission work in Asia) had a cross (afflictions).   

A (Application):  Wounded Healer is a book written by Henri Nouwen.   In this book, he describes the connection between a healer and the wounded person to which the healer tends.  

The connecting point between wounded and healer is the wounds each person brings into the relationship.   The healer is one who has also been wounded, but has had time to heal.   The wounded has a fresh wound.  The wounds need not be similar in type or nature, but the simple fact that one is wounded is enough of a connecting point.  

One can help another heal only when the healer has been wounded and healed.  (Yes, being healed is a lifelong process.   But one must have been through some life experience of being wounded and healed to be helpful to another who has fresh wounds.)  Over time, the healer will realize that the breadth of life experience (or lack thereof) is not a restraining factor.   The healer must meditate on the times and places in which they have been wounded and to meditate on who or what brought healing.   

As one is healed, just as with Paul, you can tap into that gift of the affliction…indeed, it is now a gift, because you have been graced through the wound, and you can now share your journey with the wounded, not necessarily to heal them, but to walk alongside them, and let God heal them.   

I wish for no one to be afflicted, and yet, this side of the Kingdom…we will receive wounds.  So, the work of healing is the gift we receive.  And we receive this because we will all have been afflicted at some point, as Paul points out.  And while we don’t celebrate the affliction, we see the usefulness of being brought through the affliction, so that we can pass on the gift of consolation with others who are afflicted…rather than judging them for their affliction.  

This whole devotion points to the fact that pastoral care is and can be done by any believer in Christ.   We have all been healed and are being healed every day.   While a pastor receives training for pastoral care…the care can be given by anyone.  

Is a member in the hospital?  Go and visit with them for about 10-15 minutes.  Let them know you’re thinking about them.  Or at least send a card or an email.   Console them.  

Is a member going through a family transition?   Let them know that you are there to listen or take them out to lunch or for some coffee.  Console them.  

Is your child or spouse going through a difficult time?   Don’t offer to solve their problems.  Sit with them.   Console them.   

Afflictions are not caused by God, but God can and does redeem afflictions that we might know what it means to be consoled.  Jesus bore our afflictions and received new life from God.   Jesus, our healer and consoled knows what it means to be wounded…and to be healed.  

See what new life God might bring through you as you console someone around you who is wounded.  
P (Prayer): Lord, heal us from our wounds, that we might be a vessel of new life for the wounded around us.  Amen.