• Reflecting on Rome!!!

    What did you do in Rome? Where did you go? What did you see?

    “I was in Rome to visit with Pope Francis.”

    “Really!” “Why?”

    The simple answer is “he is a friend of a friend.” My friend Tony Palmer was a friend of Pope Francis and friends always want their friends to know each other. Before Bishop Tony’s death, he had arranged for several of his friends to meet with Pope Francis. Bishop Tony and Pope Francis shared a dream together. They dreamed that the prayer that Jesus prayed in John 17, would become a reality in our lives.

    “Our world needs unity; this is an age in which we all need unity. Not just unity for the sake of the social economy, but a unity that answers the very prayer of Jesus.” (Pope Francis)

    “…that they all may be one, as You, Father, are in Me, and I in You; that they also may be one in Us, that the world may believe that You sent Me.” (John 17:21 NKJV).

    So I have been with Pope Francis because I am a friend of a friend who believes that Jesus prayed for and desires for us to live in unity with Him and with each other, so that unbelievers might come to know Him.

    Jesus told us, “A new commandment I give to you, that you also may love one another. By this all will  know that you are my Disciples, if you have love for one another.” (John 13:34-35)

    Unity is the manifestation of our love for each other. “For the love of Christ compels us…” (2 Corn. 5:14) to walk in unity and friendship with one another. Jesus said, “…I have called you friends” (John 15:15). “Greater love has no one than this, than to lay down one’s life for his friends” (John 15:13). If He gave His life so we could be friends it is time, past time that we reach out to one another and be friends.

    So why did I come to visit with Pope Francis? (who by the way wanted to be addressed as Father Francis) Because he is my friend! And friends visit with each other. They share their weakness’s and their strength’s. They share their dreams, their hopes and their hearts with each other. Friends pray for each other.

    Father Francis says, “Whenever we Christians are enclosed in our groups, our movements, our parishes, in our little world we remain closed, and the same thing happens to us that happens to anything closed. When a room is closed it begins  to get dank. If a person is closed up in that room he or she becomes ill. Whenever Christians are enclosed in their groups, parishes and movements, they take ill.”

    It is time for Christians to be healed. Healed of the wounded and broken relationship between brothers and sisters. This healing requires our cooperation.

    My friend Tony used to say, “division is diabolical, diversity is divine.” The Church is diverse but she is also called to the “unity of the Spirit in the bond of Peace” (Eph. 4:3)

    Father Francis is “a friend of a friend” who has become my friend. He encouraged us to share the Life of Jesus with everyone! He says, “Life grows by being given away, and it weakens in isolation and comfort. Indeed, those who enjoy life most are those who leave security on the shore and become excited by the mission of communicating life to others. When the Church summons Christians to take up the task of evangelization, she is simply pointing to the source of authentic personal fulfillment.”

    We are all called “to do the work of an evangelist” (2 Tim. 4:5). In order for Evangelism to have it’s greatest success it needs for the church to live in unity. “… then the world will know you are my disciples” (John 13:350, and “…. that the world may believe that You sent Me” (John 17:21).

    It was my privilege to have met Father Francis…. to share the dream of unity, to pray for unity, and to look for ways of living in unity.

    Jesus prayed that prayer and I believe that it will be answered as we contemplate and cooperate with the Holy Spirit.

    Thank you Tony! Your life, your dream, your ministry has not been forgotten and it will never end.

    The Miracle of Unity …. has not only begun, but it is growing!

  • The Miracle of Unity Has Begun!

    I woke up this morning with the realization that I was preparing to leave for Rome tomorrow. Not merely to visit or sight see, but to be a part of a delegation from the Communion of which I belong that will be visiting with Pope Francis. Our purpose is to discuss how our two Communions might work for the reality of “visible unity.” For those of you who have been following these developments you know that this is the prayer of our Lord.

    John 17:20-23 ¶ “I do not pray for these alone, but also for those who will believe in Me through their word :21 that they all may be one, as You, Father, are in Me, and I in You; that they also may be one in Us, that the world may believe that You sent Me. :22 And the glory which You gave Me I have given them, that they may be one just as We are one :23 I in them, and You in Me; that they may be made perfect in one, and that the world may know that You have sent Me, and have loved them as You have loved Me.

    Visible unity is crucial to the Church’s witness so that people will be able to see and believe in Jesus. “…the world will know you are my disciples because you have love for one another.” Visible unity is in harmony with the nature as well as the purpose of the Church. We are all called to reaffirm our commitment to the goal of visible unity. The Church can be a forceful and effective sign of unity in a world marked by militant division and massive discrimination only when its unity is concretely recognizable.

    Simply stated in a “divided world” the Church must be seen united, so that the world may know the Christ. This was and remains the great prayer of Christ as he faced the cross. We can no longer be satisfied with invisible fellowship or mere coexistence.

    The unity of the Church is a given in Christ. I am very aware that we cannot produce it through our own efforts. However, it is our task to contribute  to the atmosphere where this visible unity could become a reality.

    The visible nature of the Church cannot be identified with merely its structural dimensions. However, the Holy Spirit never works in thin air, but through visible means. Unity must and will take place in a given space through a visible people.

    Unity does not mean conformity. Blaise Pascual said, “diversity without unity leads to confusion, while unity without diversity is tyranny.” Our goal is not for a conformity or acceptance of accommodating pluralism, but the goal must be real unity, based on the foundations of our faith.

    Unfortunately the western church has been overrun by a radically privatized Christian spiritually. People have abandoned historical, classical, creedal systems, choosing instead to invent their own religion. Spiritualities of these kinds have become major players in todays consumer culture, having a great impact on the church of the modern west.

    This alteration of “the faith” that was “handed down” (Jude) in many ways has totally altered the genuine Christian faith. One could even argue that these marketed spiritualities have more in common with the kind of gnostic spirituality that was opposed by the early church. This has left a real deficit for real authentic spirituality.

    The call and the desire to live a life in the Holy Spirit are at the very center of Christian spirituality. Paul reminded us of the call to the “unity of the Spirit.” I will state again the Holy Spirit does not work in “thin air.” The Holy Spirit works through word and sacrament in a particular space. This space is not limited to “the Church” in the terms that some would think (building or institution); the Spirit is the Spirit of creation and re-creation.

    We are called into the “communion of the Spirit” (2 Corn. 13:14), this keeps the parts, the members of the Body of Christ together (1 Corn. 12) and joining all in a living fellowship (Eph. 4). If we reduce the work of the Holy Spirit to the level of individual experience or merely structural institutions we radically devaluate the Spirit’s role in the Church.

    Unity requires that the Church must be “renewed” in the works of the Holy Spirit not only on an individual level or institution level, but organically and visibly.

    I was confronted this morning by a Christian who made it very clear that they thought our efforts of unity are misguide and down right wrong. I was stunned by the reality that many Christians are so isolated within their own individualism or institutionalism that they view the goal of unity with fear. Fear…., that is what stands in the way of the fulfillment of the dying Messiah’s prayer.

    As I walked away I heard the Spirit speak, “Perfect love cast out fear….the world will know you are my disciples because you have love for one another.” “Unity of the Spirit” is the only unity that will lead to the manifestation of the Body of Christ in a visible and tangible way. A way that will open the eyes of all who see her.

    I sincerely believe the prayer of Jesus in John 17. I truly believe that we must be co-labors with the Holy Spirit to realize the unity of the Church.

    So again, I am honored and humbled to be a small part of that effort. I am more encouraged than ever that the Church must collaborate with the Holy Spirit to see the Love of God shed abroad in our hearts and that love will be revealed in the goal of visible unity.

  • Going to see Pope Francis

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     “Whenever we Christians are enclosed in our groups, our movements, our parishes, in our little world we remain closed, and the same thing happens to us that happens to anything closed. When a room is closed it begins to get dank. If a person is closed up in that room he or she becomes ill. Whenever Christians are enclosed in their groups, parishes and movements they take ill.” (Pope Francis)

    In just a few days it is going to be my privilege to be a part of a group of leaders who are meeting with Pope Francis. Both of our respective Communions are opening doors that have been stuck or in some cases nailed shut for centuries. It seems as if the Holy Spirit is moving behind closed doors. Maybe we are on the verge of another “surprise.”

    The need within every group and/or movement is to realize that what ails us is our lack of unity. The gifts that we need are found in other movements. The strength of the church is in the unity of its universal membership.

    For centuries Christians have isolated themselves around doctrine, history, long forgotten debates, preferences, prejudice, or culture. By organizing around their “sameness” they have resisted the prayer of Jesus for “unity” (John 17). This has actually hindered the very mission of the Church and has resulted in our own illness.

    To those of you who think that I am overlooking the importance of the debate or doctrine I simply want to point out one reality. The Joint Declaration on Justification was signed by Lutheran World Federation and the Roman Catholic Church in 1999.

    Let me quote one statement: “Together we confess: By grace alone, in faith in Christ’s saving work and not because of any merit on our part, we are accepted by God and receive the Holy Spirit, who renews our hearts while equipping and calling us to good works.”

    According to Lutheran Pastor Herbert Anderson and professor of pastoral theology at Catholic Theological Union, Chicago; “It does not resolve every issue between these two expressions of the Church, but it is a small but significant movement toward unity and a powerful witness to the Spirit’s presence.”

    This joint declaration reminds all of us of the “new life that we have received, not through any merit of ours but through the free gift of Jesus Christ, this is cause for constant thanksgiving and celebration — something that we can and should do together far more often than in the past.”

    I realize that there are many more questions to be asked, but they are secondary to what we hold in common. We can no longer look upon our different expressions of faith as being different armies fighting one another. The basis of the ‘protest’ is over.

    This declaration was the first sign that we must now be deeply aware of the need to move further along the path to unity. Though we have not reached the end of the road, there has been good progress made and doors are opening to further achievements.

    As I said earlier, maybe the Holy Spirit is about to surprise us again. Jesus prayed for the unity of the Church (John 17) and we all must admit that it is the work of the Holy Spirit to manifest the prayers of Jesus.

    According Augustine, “The Father and Son have wanted us to be united among ourselves and with them by means of the same bond that unites them, namely, the love that is the Holy Spirit”

    Love, Love that is poured out in our hearts by the Holy Spirit is the basis of our unity. Love compels every believer in Christ to open doors and to move into the sacred spaces of our brother and sisters.

    Unity is the work and results of the work of the Spirit of Christ, the Spirit of His Love. Only those who walk in this Spirit will ever understand the “surprise” that is in the air of the Church at this moment.

    Paul wrote to each of us; “…endeavoring to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called in one hope of your calling; one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God, and Father of all, who is above all, and through all and in you all.” (Ephesians 4″3-6).

    Cardinal Raniero Cantalamessa makes this observation; “Persecutions, so frequent today in certain parts of the world, do not make distinctions: they do not burn churches or kill people because they are Catholic or Protestant but because they are Christians. In the eyes of the persecutors we are already “one.””

    I am amazed that many are not aware of what the Holy Spirit has been doing among Christians in our day. Our enemies see it! Jesus prayed for it! The Holy Spirit is working for it!

    We cannot remain behind closed doors! We must open our doors and we must walk through doors that are opening. I am honored to be invited to something this special. I am honored to be a part of the Spirit’s leading.

    I ask that you pray. Pray for the Church universal; the Body of Christ! Pray for unity! Pray for the mission of the Church! Pray that the world would know Jesus because they would see that we have love for one another.

  • Fully Alive!

    July 2, 2014… I was leaving Davenport, Iowa, after having spent a few day with my Son and his wife. It had rained the night before, one of those huge storms that come across the prairies, dumping huge amounts of water and leaving everything soaked. 

    I got up and left Steve and Jo’s house early. I was riding my motorcycle, in full expectation of a long ride filled with wind and sun. I knew it would be a long ride but that was fine with me. My mind would have the freedom to wonder. I needed to be home by seven there was a picnic that I was suppose to attend. It would be a nine or ten hour ride or that was my thought. 

    It had rained the night before… several days in fact so the are was so fresh. 

    Rivers were flooded… 

    The ditches were filled with running water….

    I was driving down through Iowa…. 

    Down the back roads because I despise interstates…

    An orange sign with big black letters stood in the middle of that asphalt track…. “High Water” it read. Well just how high was my thought, so I steered around the sign and road on. Left then right slightly down and sure enough … dark rushing watered covered my trail home. Turn around rethink the route (who needs a gps). Pull out the map look for another back road adventure that moved me in the right direction. 

    The black asphalt race up at me as I continued to wind around Iowa meandering my way home. More orange signs… this is not a good sign! Water …. everywhere and it seemed angry about being forced out of its banks. I sat on the bike reaching for the map and once again scoured over the gray lines hoping to find yet another route. Slowing I begin to realize I would most like not make the picnic. There would be disappointment. I had stayed and extra day in Iowa against the requests from home. 

    I was a bit dazed… from all the detours, but the air was fresh, and the smell of green grass freshly cut… was nearly intoxicating. 

    Frustration was in my soul… my mind wandering about who would I offend by not being here… and yet this simple journey home had turned into an adventure a story. I felt like a little boy … ! 

    I downshifted and rolled to a stop in front of a detour sign. I could see the little town, but the bridge was covered with water. So right it is and I followed the signs winding through the little Iowa town … I don’t even know the name of the town. Just somewhere, no where in Iowa. 

    I pull in at a gas station in nowhere Iowa….

    I fill up the bike…

    Get a cup of old coffee…

    I stand and talk to the old guys discussing how it had been years since the river had been out of its banks….

    I finally walk over to this old bench and sit down,

    Open up the map and start recalibrating my journey… again! 

    Now it is a reality … I’m not going to make it home for the evening picnic….

    This puppy comes running over sniffing, licking, nipping at my fingers…. 

    I’m suddenly aware…I am alone…the old guys had climbed into their respective pickups and drove off to have another look around

    The map, the puppy, the coffee…

    The lot was vacant ….

    The road was empty…

    Remember no interstate… I’m on back road’s 

    I look out over the drive and across the road and I suddenly aware of how the meadow, green lush, freshly drenched, spreads out like a newly laid carpet over the dropping landscape in front of me… it was spotted with yellow wild flowers and it fills my vision… runs out toward the base of the hills which rise up to the beautiful sun filled blue sky… it’s like a painting, a movie picture, a post card… exquisite, glorious, soothing…. 

    Then I hear it…. every insect, bird, the breeze…

    The whole scene was ALIVE AND AWESOME!!!

    I have never seen anything so glorious… 

    Iowa… I forgot…

    I looked up to the huge chunks of floating clouds…

    Only last night they had been filled with rain, dark and threatening, but now white as cotton… just sitting there. Smiling at the deposit they had made on the fields below. 

    My mind has been a blank slab of black asphalt for hours… filled with a hurriedness, distracted by the goal of getting home… but now! 

    I set my coffee beside me on the bench….

    I smell the wind…

    I pat the puppy…

    I watch the clouds…. 

    The air is cool…

    The puppy’s skin is warm….

    I am alive… more alive than all the world. 

    This is it I think… this is it! 

    Right now, 

    this present moment, 

    this empty gas station… 

    this Iowa country side…

    this coffee

    this puppy

    And the second that I think that… I lost it! 

    Puppy is still playing

    Coffee still warm

    I realize that what separates me from the Creator, from life… is my own self-consciousness

    That door….

    That great door… of life had opened for a moment and I knew 

    I was ALIVE….

    I want to live FULLY ALIVE….

    (maybe I will have to ride back through Iowa)

  • A life-giving spirit!

    “Your hands have made me and fashioned me…” Psalms 119:73

    Human beings are “hand made”, crafted into being by the very hands of God. Once He finished He leaned in close and breathed His “life” into us and we became a “living being.” Fashion by and filled with the great artist Himself. God literally puts Himself into His greatest art. Man, the ultimate work of this amazing artist God, was “filled with the very life of the artist.”

    Man was intended to be the most alive thing that He had ever created. Man was created to walk with God and among all of creation as the manifestation of His Life. God created man to be united to; man was created to live never separated from God.  Evil destroys art! Evil separated the art from the Artist and the art died!

    Hand made things must be used in specific ways in order to realized the value of their creation. To be reconciled to the artist. To be refilled with His life is the very longing of this thing called “man.” To be held and appreciated! To be filled to the fullest with the life that brings the art itself into it’s own intended glory is the very longing of the art.

    “The first man Adam became a living being. The last Adam became a life-giving spirit.” (1 Corinthians 15:45).

    After the resurrected Son of God ascended to the throne, the Creator Father poured out His Spirit upon all who would receive. Once again His art would be filled with His life. The greatest art of God was made “alive again.” After death and resurrection not only is man a living being, but he is a “life-giving spirit.”

    Nothing can stop God from completing His creation. God created man to be the conveyers of His life. You and I, everyone who follows the Christ, everyone who has been fashioned in the image of God, are commissioned to give life to all we meet.

    We are called to be the most alive thing that our friends, family and neighbors have ever see. Go give life to others. You no longer are looking to be consumers but rather dispensers of The Life of Another.