Why Christianity Isn’t a Solo Act


Devotional Thought of the Day:

21  It happens so regularly that it’s predictable. The moment I decide to do good, sin is there to trip me up. 22  I truly delight in God’s commands, 23  but it’s pretty obvious that not all of me joins in that delight. Parts of me covertly rebel, and just when I least expect it, they take charge. 24  I’ve tried everything and nothing helps. I’m at the end of my rope. Is there no one who can do anything for me? Isn’t that the real question? 25  The answer, thank God, is that Jesus Christ can and does. He acted to set things right in this life of contradictions where I want to serve God with all my heart and mind, but am pulled by the influence of sin to do something totally different.
Romans 7:21-25 (MSG)

19  My dear friends, if you know people who have wandered off from God’s truth, don’t write them off. Go after them. Get them back 20  and you will have rescued precious lives from destruction and prevented an epidemic of wandering away from God.
James 5:19-20 (MSG)

1  Brothers, if someone is caught in a sin, you who are spiritual should restore him gently. But watch yourself, or you also may be tempted. 2  Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ. Galatians 6:1-2 (NIV)

59    It’s good for you to know this doctrine, which is always sound: your own spirit is a bad advisor, a poor pilot to steer your soul through the squalls and storms and across the reefs of the interior life. That’s why it is the will of God that the command of the ship be entrusted to a master who, with his light and knowledge, can guide us to a safe port.

It is one of the most grievous things a pastor can observe.  

When a person is driven away from the church in the midst of their need, or in the midst of the pain caused by the need – they try to drive the church away. 

I’ve been there myself, not recently, but not so long ago that I can brush off the pain easily. Being at the end of the rope isn’t good, it is worse when the rope is set afire by fear, by pain.  

Guilt and shame can do this, so can anxiety, so can the unrighteousness of the world. We fear judgment, and condemnation. We fear people pitying us, or looking down in scorn at our brokenness. We may even fear healing, and push away attempts, rather than take a risk that God and those He sends us can be trusted to not do more damage.

Paul knew this – he recognizes he wretchedness, and his need to hear the answer that is found in Jesus. 

Paul also knew the danger of being the person who is helping and warns those who do to watch their own lives carefully, less they find their own brokenness.  We get deceived by our own estimations, we exaggerate our spiritual health until its too late, or are so overwhelmed by the pain we can’t see anything blessed.

We need others to point us to our hope in Jesus,ro remind us of the Holy Spirit’s work, right now, right here, in our lives.  We need to enter His rest, but often we can’t – unless guided, or even dragged to that place.

But what if they let us down?  What if they are drowning too?  What if we drag them down? Been there, had my mind pound those ponderings through my head. 

Logically, I can answer that with another 100 plus Bible passages and another thousand cute, overused stories and cliches.  But the best answer is to simply be there and keep pointing the person to Jesus.  For He is the reason we have hope.  The only reason.

That reason, and only that one, leads to hope, and the hope to peace. Peace found in Christ, in His promises, in HIs love, in His bringing us into the glory of the Father. 

But we can’t get there alone…… we will betray ourselves. But we have our brothers and sisters.  For the church is a place where broken people find healing in Christ Jesus, while helping other heal.  

Escriva, Josemaria. The Way (Kindle Locations 305-307). Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition.

 

Sticks and Stones may… but the Words will crush us?


Devotional Thought for the Day:

22 But now, compelled by the Spirit, I am going to Jerusalem. What will happen to me there I do not know, 23 except that in one city after another the holy Spirit has been warning me that imprisonment and hardships await me. 24 Yet I consider life of no importance to me, if only I may finish my course and the ministry that I received from the Lord Jesus, to bear witness to the gospel of God’s grace.  Acts. 20:22-40 NABRE

45    Why feel hurt by the unjust things people say of you? You would be even worse, if God ever left you. Keep on doing good, and shrug your shoulders.  (1)

Some years ago, I sat in a room full of other believers having dinner after a long, brutal day of meetings.  I was invited by a good friend, but neither of us was ready for what we would experience.

I would get up and leave, going back to my hotel room, dismayed and depressed. I can still hear the words echoing in my brain that were said.  The group didn’t recognize that there were some they were criticizing in the room of a couple of hundred people.  Or perhaps, they were so ecstatic, they didn’t bother with the thought, or even care.

The critique was vehement, the lies and comments betrayed a hatred and bitterness.  And while not part of the other party, I was probably closer to those criticized than I was to those who accused. The critiques would still probably be applied to me, the attempts to demonize other believers stung and hurt. The fact that believers, those considered leaders in churches would be so cruel… was devastating.(2)

The words, and the faces of those who said that which seemed evil to me still stick with me to this day, and it was the first thing I thought of as I saw the words of Saint Josemaria. 

People can be cruel, and it may be that it will be more than just words that they hurl at us.  Paul would experience that over and over, and scripture is clear in describing the fear and frustration, the despair and the pain. 

As I think back on pain of that night, I can rationalize that these people weren’t evil,  In many ways, they sincerely believed the other side threatened their way of life, their faith.  While they didn’t understand the others, their own pain and frustration released itself in the midst of victory.  My instinct is that now that the years have passed, they wouldn’t recognize their own words.

But even realizing that, if doesn’t change the level of pain.

So how do you move past it?  How can we simply shrug our shoulders and keep on doing what is good?

(Logically – do we have any choice?)

How could we choose to shrug our shoulders when it hurts?  Even more troublesome, if we are called to imitate Paul as he imitated Jesus, how do we willingly enter times where we face such opposition, such belittling, hearing such negativity tossed at us, and survive?

The answer is simple to hear, hard to execute.  We think of God’s presence, the fact that He doesn’t  abandon us.  We cling to Him, and being enveloped by His peace; we let the other things fade into dimness, compared to His glory.  As Paul says, to be a martyr, a witness to the incredible glory of God.

The glory that is ours, that He envelops us in, even as He envelops Himself.  This is grace, this is the place were brokenness heals, this is where we find the grace that enables us to endure all, simply to know, to witness and to bear witness to the love and mercy of God, revealed by the Holy Spirt, revealed in Christ.

It is there we need to head, where we need to live, there we find our haven, our rest.  Safe in Him, the Lord God Almighty who has promised that nothing can ever separate us from God. This is the answer to the cry, “Lord have mercy”, and it floods our lives.

And on our way shrug, or accept the challenges that await us.

(1)  Escriva, Josemaria. The Way (Kindle Locations 260-262). Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition.

(2)  I am not so naive as to believe that the other side would not have been as cruel

 

What Will It Take you To Prove


What will it take to prove…

Luke 16:19-31

In Jesus Name

 May the Grace of God our Father and our Lord Jesus Christ sustain you, as His unsurpassable peace guards your hearts, and your mind, until He returns.

From Lazarus’s Perspective

We know his name – but we’ve never heard his thoughts, save one.  Even as he stands at Abraham’s side, we hear him thought of as a servant – someone to dispatch with a message, not like an apostle, but like and errand boy.

While he is alive, suffering, unable to care for himself, the only thing we head from him is his desire to be fed by what falls from the rich’s man’s table.  How he longed for a piece of bread, a morsel of lamb, even and onion.

Something, anything!

And he was so weak; he couldn’t even brash away the dogs who would lick and nibble at his open wounds.

Some scraps, please? Please?

A man who knew only hunger and pain.

And then one day, a procession of angels came, sent by God, to bring him to Abraham’s side, to wait for the day when there will be a new heaven and a new earth when God will dwell with His people, and we will see Him!

He was welcomed home, as we will be.

For like Lazarus, God knows our name!

The journey home
But what is this screaming in the distance?

As Lazarus is standing by Abraham’s side, he hears something you can’t usually hear in heaven, in fact, this may be the only time.  Some un-named (and that is important) man is trying to get Abraham’s attention from across the gulf, from the place for those not welcome in God’s presence.

It’s a voice that sounds familiar, and maybe Lazarus even recognized it as the voice, that echoed through the gates, the laughed and enjoyed the fine banquets and parties.
But now the voice was one of anguish, one begging for help, begging for reliefs from the heat, crying for pity,

Because of his past, maybe we would think Lazarus was thinking Mr. No-Name was getting what he deserved.  Or more likely, because of the very reasons he was escorted by angels, his heart was moved, and as Abraham was asked to send a messenger, maybe Lazarus was in tears, wanting to help.

Even so, the man’s torment would continue, his heart still not turned. And as he pleads for his brothers, Abraham’s words are haunting,

“‘If they won’t listen to Moses and the prophets, they won’t be persuaded even if someone rises from the dead.’ ”

What will it take to convince us?

These words that Lazarus hears are scary when you think about them, and who is saying them.  What kind of proof would convince someone about the consequences of their sin?  If the words of scripture will not, if even the fact that Jesus not only raised people from death but rose from the dead himself – if that doesn’t cause people to think a little more, what will?

How do we reach people, and bring them to Jesus, If they aren’t persuaded by Jesus rising from the dead?

Or perhaps a better question – does the resurrection of Jesus make a difference in our lives?

Does it give us hope?

Does it help give us peace?

Does that hope, that peace transforms our lives in such a way we aren’t tied to stuff, but that we realize people have names, that we are to love them in the way that God does?

What difference does the resurrection of Jesus have for the way we look at life, and death?

What difference would it make if we realize that God, and all heaven, knew us by name because Jesus lived and died and rose again?

What will it take for us to realize God knows us and calls us by name?

Col. 1:28 –

The apostle Paul explains it this way.

27  For God wanted them to know that the riches and glory of Christ are for you Gentiles, too. And this is the secret: Christ lives in you. This gives you assurance of sharing his glory.

This is the message that changes us, knowing that God loves us, and indeed loves every human being changes everything.  It means everything.  It means that each one of us is God’s beloved.

Knowing that means that loving others is no longer a duty, no longer a sacrifice, but it is glorious and wonderful to see them come alive in Christ, to see their lives transform, for they begin to share in God’s glory as well.

They have a name; they mean something to us.  This is why Paul would go on to say,

28  So we tell others about Christ, warning everyone and teaching everyone with all the wisdom God has given us. We want to present them to God, perfect in their relationship to Christ. 29  That’s why I work and struggle so hard, depending on Christ’s mighty power that works within me.
Colossians 1:26-29 (NLT)

People need to hear of God’s love, while they are still alive. They need to see that love in a way that they can hear; that isn’t someone trying to persuade them, but rather share with them this glory, this love.  They

But that happens best when we know His love when we realize He knows our name!  It is then, as we hear Him calling us by name that we realize in awe that He has given us His peace, peace that goes beyond understanding, peace that we dwell in because Christ calls us His treasure, and keeps our hearts and minds there.

This is our life… where God calls us by name – so live it!  AMEN!

Ministry Priorities: Do We Have Them Right?


Devotional Thought of the Day:

4  whereas we shall devote ourselves to prayer and to the ministry of the word.”
Acts 6:4 (NAB)

22  So turn from youthful desires and pursue righteousness, faith, love, and peace, along with those who call on the Lord with purity of heart. 23  Avoid foolish and ignorant debates, for you know that they breed quarrels. 24  A slave of the Lord should not quarrel, but should be gentle with everyone, able to teach, tolerant, 25  correcting opponents with kindness. It may be that God will grant them repentance that leads to knowledge of the truth, 26   and that they may return to their senses out of the devil’s snare, where they are entrapped by him, for his will. 2 Timothy 2:22-26 (NAB)

11  This saying is trustworthy: If we have died with him we shall also live with him; 12  if we persevere we shall also reign with him. But if we deny him he will deny us. 13  If we are unfaithful he remains faithful, for he cannot deny himself. 14   Remind people of these things and charge them before God to stop disputing about words. This serves no useful purpose since it harms those who listen. 15  Be eager to present yourself as acceptable to God, a workman who causes no disgrace, imparting the word of truth without deviation. 16  Avoid profane, idle talk, for such people will become more and more godless, 2 Timothy 2:11-16 (NAB)

I’ve been going through Acts for about 7 months with one of the Bible Studies I teach.  And so as devotional reading got to Acts, I sort of went into glide mode.  Got this, know these words well. Then, as I got to Acts 6 – the passage that gives birth to the ecclesiastical office of deacon, the first quote above hit me between the eyes.

I need to rethink some of my ministry, and especially my priorities. 

We shall devote ourselves to prayer, and to the ministry of word…..

But do we?  

There is no doubt I need to pray more, times of dedicated prayer and in times of just enjoying life as God and I walk together, times as well where the family of God breaks out in prayer.

But what about the ministry of the word?  It is important I think to understand that this is not talking about careful exegesis, or studying the logic and reason to use it to argue and divide.  The ministry of the word is not using it to divide the believer and unbeliever, to prove the who is orthodox and who is heretical.  The ministry of the word is the ministry of reconciliation.

That is why Paul urges tolerance and gentleness in our teaching, that through these words, people can be called to dance with God, to live with Him. 

This is our work, and it is why prayer must be so much a part of our ministry.  For only from growing in our dependence on God, can we understand and commit to His will, to see all come to deliverance.

I need to clarify what I mean by this is our work, our vocation. I am not talking that it is our job as if we work 10-12 hours and then we go off duty.

This is our life work, this ministry of the word, this ministry of reconciliation.  And what we do in our free time is just as much part and parcel of that work as our time in the office, at the pulpit, or beside the hospital bed. So if we blog, or podcast, it must be the goal of that work.  If we are out having a beer, this ministry is still our work, if we are meeting with other ministers, this call to reconciled, to be reconciled to God still is our life.

So let us lay aside the sin, and all other things that hinder this, and let us look to our Lord Jesus, who reconciled us to Himself at the cross – and may we live with Him, praying and ministering at His side.

AMEN

Words of Divine Wisdom from ???? him???


Devotional Thought of the Day:

Fellow Israelites, be careful what you are about to do to these men. 36 *Some time ago, Theudas appeared, claiming to be someone important, and about four hundred men joined him, but he was killed, and all those who were loyal to him were disbanded and came to nothing. 37 After him came Judas the Galilean at the time of the census. He also drew people after him, but he too perished and all who were loyal to him were scattered. 38 So now I tell you, have nothing to do with these men, and let them go. For if this endeavor or this activity is of human origin, it will destroy itself. 39 But if it comes from God, you will not be able to destroy them; you may even find yourselves fighting against God.” They were persuaded by him.   Acts 5:35-39  NABRE

His name was Gamaliel, one of the greatest of Jewish Rabbi’s, not just of his time, but in history.

Not exactly a friend to those who followed Jesus; though, in this situation, he certainly had words of wisdom that were beneficial to them.He’s not the only one throughout history who was not a believer, yet God used to deliver and guide his people. Jethro’s father was one, and Cyrus the Persian for another. I’m not sure that Balaam’s ass was a believer, but God even spoke through it.

So how do we deal with such things?

We know that there are two forms of revelation, that is two ways in which we know about God.  The first is through scripture, specific revelation.  This is where we get to know God deeply.  He tells us who He is, how much he loves us, how Christ came and proved that love. The second way is what is called general revelation, and is what we can discern of the Creator through nature, through observation, through the various sciences.

Even the observations and thoughts of man that create idols and establish man-made religions have some truth in them, some portion that is written based on how God has ordered things. For such false religions were created based, not in a vacuum, but withing God’s creation, within His world, by humans who are made in His image, and have a portion of the truth.

Remember – they aren’t His enemies, though they may fight against God, and struggle with His direct, specific revelation.

That doesn’t mean they have the complete truth. Or that we should just accept what they can observe as being equal to what we interpret from scripture.  But we can consider their wisdom, measure it against scripture ( not just our interpretation of scripture). and rejoice where it is found consistent.

Is this easy or fast?  No. Sometimes testing their belief means that we spend a few hours in scripture, and in prayer. But Gamaliel’s advice is similar – let’s see if God is at work in this.  And hold fast to the truth we know!

Does it change how we relate to those who believe other than we do?  Yes – we see them as people who are looking for God, and doing what they can to deal with their own brokenness.

This change in attitude leads us to a position that means we aren’t opposition, but rather working alongside them. There may be a line in the sand – but that isn’t to divide us, it is to remind us of what has been specifically given to us, through Christ’s life, death, burial,and resurrection.  There is the line – that love of God revealed in Christ. That specific, merciful, glorious revelation of His love.s

In the midst of all of this, praying and asking God to bless us, we find a very special ministry, that of seeing all reconciled to Jesus.

And that my friends, is worth it.  .

New American Bible. Revised Edition. Washington, DC: The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, 2011. Print.

Life’s Not Fair, Could That Be Ok?


Life’s not Fair
Could that Be OK?

Luke 16:1-9

 † I.H.S †

May God’s gifts of love and mercy so fill your life,  that you are assured you will live tomorrow and forever in His incredible, unsurpassable, unexplainable peace!

 Life’s Not Fair!

That gospel reading this morning was strange, wasn’t it!

So strange most pastors don’t ever want to preach on it, but in a world that doesn’t always make sense, heck this world rarely makes sense.  So this passage seems appropriate.

I mean I don’t understand why this guy is talked about positively in Scripture.

He doesn’t do his job.

When he does, he does it unethically, not doing what he’s given authority to accomplish, but what works in his favor.

Then, as he’s given notice to clean out his desk, what does he do?  He uses the authority he’s been given to create a bunch of favors people will owe him – favors he will cash in on so that he isn’t bankrupt!

And here is what is strange, according to scripture, his boss, the owner of the company admires him!  Other translations say he praises him – and the words are synonymous.

This just doesn’t make sense.  It isn’t fair, so how in the world could the Bible teach that the dishonest rascal was admired?

I mean it’s not far, how could it be okay?
Admiration and Praise?

I think we need to hear again why the rich man admired the rascal.  After being told to get his things in order, and that he was being terminated, the rascal said,

Ah, I know how to ensure that I’ll have plenty of friends who will give me a home when I am fired.’

Jesus would go on to say

And it is true that the children of this world are more shrewd in dealing with the world around them than are the children of the light. Here’s the lesson: Use your worldly resources to benefit others and make friends. Then, when your earthly possessions are gone, they will welcome you to an eternal home.

While neither praising the ethics or actions of the dishonest man, Jesus notes that he is thinking more than about the present moment.  That his concern is for the time when he is not able to care for himself, for a time after he is judged, and found to fail, to fail because of actions he took.

Most of us don’t plan for five years from now, never mind 25 years from now or eternity.  We don’t use our knowledge, what we’ve been entrusted with, what we’ve been given the future, never mind what is waiting for us eternally.  We don’t often think about this given our lives, and we need to consider it about our lives, and those of these children we have been blessed with!

If we did, how would we live?  What would change in our lives, in how we treat people?  What priorities would change in your life, if you were thinking of judgment and eternal life? What would we want for our children?

How do we live life, thinking of eternity?

It starts there – with using your possessions to benefit others, To invest your time and strength in making friends and caring for them.

Not unethically, but realizing people are more than possessions. That relationships matter more than accomplishments, more than personal wealth, more than a secure retirement.  T love and care for them, as you would want them to love and care for you!

And there is one relationship that demonstrates this, there is one where the relationships were so important, the future so important that one man died, to completely forgive the debts own to his Father.

Get that settled!

Jesus wasn’t just given notice, nor was he told that he was not doing His job well.  Still, He knew He was about to be terminated with prejudiced. And as He had planned, along with the Father, He used his legitimate authority to make himself friends.

He wasn’t unethical, He wasn’t using His authority to benefit himself, He simply loved others, and by His death turned those that didn’t love Him, who abandoned Him, who cried out for Him to be crucified.

He was thinking of eternity, of life after all is terminated.

Not His life,

Yours.

And so He died on the cross, to make true these words,

15  I shall no longer call you servants because a servant does not know the master’s business; I call you friends, because I have made known to you everything I have learnt from my Father.
John 15:15 (NJB)

This is why we are here – as a church, as a school, all the ministries that are Concordia. TO make the love of God know, to encourage you to search out the height, the depth, the breadth and the width of God’s love for you.

We find that out in our baptism, and in the Lord’s Supper, as we take and eat His body and drink His blood.  As we hear, children sing of His love.

His love, for us.

As we know it, peace comes over us; that guards our hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.  AMEN!

 

 

Brutal Honesty; Atheism and Christianity


Devotional Thought for the Day:
14  “You are the light of the world—like a city on a hilltop that cannot be hidden. 15  No one lights a lamp and then puts it under a basket. Instead, a lamp is placed on a stand, where it gives light to everyone in the house. 16  In the same way, let your good deeds shine out for all to see, so that everyone will praise your heavenly Father.  Matthew 5:14-16 (NLT)

For, taken as a whole, atheism is not a spontaneous development but stems from a variety of causes, including a critical reaction against religious beliefs, and in some places against the Christian religion in particular. Hence believers can have more than a little to do with the birth of atheism. To the extent that they neglect their own training in the faith, or teach erroneous doctrine, or are deficient in their religious, moral or social life, they must be said to conceal rather than reveal the authentic face of God and religion.  (1)

God must become a reality for us, too, must be more real to us—no! not just more real—than the things we can grasp, so that to please God can become for us a criterion that is also a final liberation from the question of success.  (2)

As I read the words in blue this morning, I thought fo the articles and books I have read about post-modernism and the utter contempt in which some Christians hold those who claim to be atheist or agnostic.   I thought about the memes and quips and quotes which mock and condescendingly treat those whose struggle with God is not so different from our own.

Fifty-one years ago, or perhaps a little more, the leaders of the Roman Catholic Church made a brutally honest statement about atheism.

They took responsibility for it, or perhaps, they noted that the Church has a hand, a responsibility for its origin.  For how could a religion (and atheism and agnosticism are informal religions develop counter to some other religion, if that religion wasn’t there?

The Catholic Church was brutal in its honesty, as we in other branches of the one, holy, catholic and apostolic church should be.  We haven’t lived dependent upon God, and therefore our actions, our sin, our hypocrisy has so hurt and broken people that they rebel against God.  They strike out at Him, actively or simply by dismissing Him as a myth, and if we are honest, we know that we bear some responsibility for that.

Maybe it was the pastor who treated a young sinner without giving  him any hope of mercy, or people who turned their back on the young pregnant mom.  Maybe it was the elders or deacons who overlooked their friend’s abusive nature; and they didn’t rush to help his oppressed family.  ( Joe after all, was a good guy, don’t you know?)  Or maybe it was the Sunday school teacher, or confirmation instructor, who turned a deaf ear to questions that really mattered, that plagued the person they were instructing.

To be honest, as I think about such stories, I wonder why more people aren’t atheists, and more people are sure they can’t know whether God exists.

Even as I write this, I want you to be sure – if you were the person whose actions drove someone away from God, there is no time like the present to ask God to forgive you, assured of the forgiveness guaranteed at the cross.  Maybe consider, if you can still contact the person, that you ask their forgiveness as well. You would be surprised what and attempt at reconciliation does for healing wounds of the past, theirs and yours.

But for the future, how does the church stop creating atheists?  How do we stop de-churching those, as we have done in the past?

The obvious answer is seen in those verses above in red, to let the love of God shine through us.  Our light not being our skills, or incredible personality or personal stardom, but the simple love that reaches out and serves.  Whether it is greeting someone and asking how they are really doing, and humbly walking beside them in their pain, or praying for them, or helping them in any other of a myriad of ways.

In short, loving them as you love yourself, caring for them as you would desire others, as you would need others to care for you.   That is easy to say, and how do we do it?

At Vatican II there was a young scholar who would become Pope Benedict.  His words in blue pretty much sum up how we become a light, and how we see that it is never snuffed out.

Know God is with you, realize how real He is!  With Paul, oh I desire that you would explore the height and depth, the breadth and width of God’s love for you, revealed in Jesus. His teachings, His miracles, His death, His resurrection, everything from HIs work in Creating this word to dying for it, till the day of Judgement is to communicate this love, this incredible, real, life-transforming, cleansing love.

And when we are realizing that love when our hearts and minds are finding rest as we look to Christ, we shine with His glory, the glory they will praise Him for, as they to are drawn into it.

This isn’t rocket science, it is simply worship in spirit and truth.

So go look to Christ, ask Him to be merciful and be in awe as He answers that more profoundly than you would even have thought possible.

He loves you. And through you, he would call His children home.

(So stop treating them as outsiders, and welcome them!)

(1)  Catholic Church. “Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World: Gaudium Et Spes.” Vatican II Documents. Vatican City: Libreria Editrice Vaticana, 2011. Print.

(2)  Ratzinger, Joseph. Co-Workers of the Truth: Meditations for Every Day of the Year. Ed. Irene Grassl. Trans. Mary Frances McCarthy and Lothar Krauth. San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1992. Print.

Why Isn’t Our Faith “Greater”


Devotional Thought of the Day:

If I am telling the truth, why do you not believe me?b 47 Whoever belongs to God hears the words of God; for this reason you do not listen, because you do not belong to God.” John 8:46-47 NAB-RE

Faith is a vital, deliberate trust in God’s grace, so certain that it would die a thousand times for it. And such confidence and knowledge of divine grace makes us joyous, mettlesome, and merry toward God and all creatures. This the Holy Spirit works by faith, and therefore without any coercion a man is willing and desirous to do good to everyone, to serve everyone, to suffer everything for the love of God and to his glory, who has been so gracious to him. It is therefore as impossible to separate works from faith as it is to separate heat and light from fire.”  (1)

. But devotion to the Cross had a very different origin. Christians used to turn toward the east when they prayed as a sign of their hope that Christ, the true sun, would rise upon history—as a sign, then, of their belief in the future coming of the Lord. In the beginning, the Cross was closely linked to this eastward orientation of prayer. It was represented as the standard carried before the King on his arrival—with the appearance of the Cross the head of the procession had reached the throng of praying people. For the early Christians, the Cross was primarily a sign of hope—not so much a turning back to the past as a turning forward to the coming of the Lord.  (2)

As a pastor, I am used to people struggling with “Faith.”

Most often, this is because they define faith as a known, for example, “the Christian Fatih” or the subdivisions such as  “the Catholic Faith” or the “Orthodox Faith”.or the myriad and diversity of “Protestant Faith.”  This definition reduces faith to a list of doctrines, a list of teachings, and reduces the Bible to a textbook to be learned, studied and interpreted. This definition confuses us then when we talk about “sharing” our faith, leading us to believe such is a matter of indoctrination, of our doctrinal positions overwhelming yours in some cosmic spiritual battle.

Faith doesn’t know doctrine, it is, as the Lutheran Confessions say, It is a vital, deliberate trust (or dependence) in God’s grace.   It is listening to God and rejoicing not just in the rules, but realizing that God encodes in the law these incredible promises, incredible blessings.  Such is what He commanded, what He commissioned and guaranteed with the cross and by the sending of the Holy Spirit to dwell within us.

That’s why the issue of works being aa result of faith is not surprising, and not all that complicated.  The vital trust results in it!  If you trust God,  if you hear Him declare you are His, that nothing can separate you from  His love, then you simply live.

That is why Pope Benedict (then Cardinal Ratzinger) wrote about the cross the way he did – it not only talked of the blessing of the cross in the past, but the sign of Christ’s return. ( the old Celtic crosses always included the sunrise behind the cross for the reason as well!)  For faith is not just hope about the sins being covered by Calvary’s cross, it is the hope or eternal life, of eternal joy, of the day when every tear is wiped away.

The cross is a symbol of the hope of the future, of what God has promised to open up for us, the very thing we trust Him to achiece>  Eternity, lived in the full glory of God, this is our hope, this is the end goal for the scriptures, the end of the means of grace poured out for us in baptism, the Lord’s supper and the mercy of being cleansed of every sin.

Eternity is when our faith is fulfilled, when our dependence on God is proven, when hope is seen to be reality.

This we can share – at whatever cost it takes – this we can rejoice in, this we can know, even when we can’t explain every bit of theology.

This is our faith, our vital dependence on God.

This is what happens when we hear Him testify,

“I love you so much; Christ died on the cross so we could be re-united..”

AMEN!

Tappert, Theodore G., ed. The Book of Concord the Confessions of the Evangelical Lutheran Church. Philadelphia: Mühlenberg Press, 1959. Print.  FOrmula of Concord SD IV

Ratzinger, Joseph. Co-Workers of the Truth: Meditations for Every Day of the Year. Ed. Irene Grassl. Trans. Mary Frances McCarthy and Lothar Krauth. San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1992. Print.

When Reality Tops Reason, which will you choose?


Devotional Thought for the Day:
48  I am the bread of life. 49  Your ancestors ate the manna in the desert, but they died; 50  this is the bread that comes down from heaven so that one may eat it and not die. 51  I am the living bread that came down from heaven; whoever eats this bread will live forever; and the bread that I will give is my flesh for the life of the world.” 52  The Jews quarreled among themselves, saying, “How can this man give us (his) flesh to eat?” 53  Jesus said to them, “Amen, amen, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you do not have life within you. 54  Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him on the last day. 55  For my flesh is true food, and my blood is true drink. 56  Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me and I in him. 57  Just as the living Father sent me and I have life because of the Father, so also the one who feeds on me will have life because of me. John 6:48-57 (NAB)

40    Faith, joy, optimism. But not the folly of closing your eyes to reality.

As people are listening to Jesus, there is something wrong.

They get so distracted by what they can’t quite understand, that they give up something glorious.  They went to him, because He was the Messiah, they expected Him to save them, to teach them, to heal them of their brokenness.

I struggle with the fact that because they couldn’t understand the teaching, because they couldn’t connect the dots, they walked away.

Don’t get it; it’s hard, and so they walked away, and left life on the table.

We don’t do well with mystery; we don’t hear Jesus’ offer about eternal life – about real life, about the resurrection.  Because we go back to trying to discern whether he’s rolling real presence, or transubstantiation, or consubstantiation, or some other option which would satisfy our mind, and we starve our heart.

Some want to require others to understand this at a level far beyond how scripture teaches, and they drive them away with the same frustration we are not willing to admit that we share. So they force them to close their eyes to the reality as well. Far too much evangelism and apologetic material are geared this way, attempting to force people to believe our reasonable explanations of mysteries, rather than simply letting them be in awe.

In both situations, our inability to come up with a reason explanation results in such dissatisfaction that we close our eyes, that we refuse to believe what we see, that we refuse to hear what we hear. And we ignore the reality that is our life in Christ.

Consider Peter’s words a moment later, when Jesus asks if he is going to leave as well.  “Nope, you have the words of life!”  For Peter, man’s reason couldn’t trump God’s reality  They were used to not getting it right away, they were used to getting the parables explained, and trying to figure out how He could speak words, and calm storms.  How He spoke words, and blind eyes could see, and with limbs could function.  These apostles, these they didn’t leave, they heard words of life that caused the dead to rise.

They couldn’t explain it either!  They struggled with what it all meant.  Even as Jesus is about to ascend, the wounds still fresh in His hands, his ankles, his side, they doubt, scripture tells us. They couldn’t come up with reasonable explanations  for what they saw, they didn’t understand everything He taught, even when they had it explained.

But they knew Jesus; they saw his handiwork, and they clung to the one who did things they couldn’t understand.

Because He was real. Because He was present, they saw His work; they heard His promises, and they depended on Him when they couldn’t understand.

Reality is beyond our ability to reason; the logic is beyond our ability to discern. THe apostles went with reality, their faith in the one they know.

Our reality, our life is in Jesus….even though we don’t understand it all.  He is the one who died and rose, the one who spoke and created, the one who said, “eat my body and drink my blood – and live.

Live my friends, knowing the Lord is merciful. Even though that may not seem all that reasonable either.

AMEN!

Escriva, Josemaria. The Way (Kindle Locations 251-252). Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition.

It’s time to come home: A sermon on Luke 15


It’s Time to Come Home

Luke 15:1-10

In Jesus Name

 May the grace, the incredible love, mercy, and peace of God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ, give you confidence and desire to let Him joyfully carry you home!


You are the One:

When you compare the epistle and the gospel lessons this morning, there is a conclusion you can draw that is pretty simple.

Paul didn’t see himself as one of the 99.

He saw himself as the one, the one who wasn’t just lost, but in the process of being destroyed.

He saw himself as the one who was as notorious a sinner as any, yet he realized the incredible patience of God, who searched for him, and found him.

The challenge isn’t thinking we are the ones who get to celebrate Paul’s return, but the fact that we, like Paul, needed to be rescued.  For we like Paul, find ourselves broken, lost and in need of a savior.

And when we trust Jesus, and He joyfully carries us home… then there is a party like none we’ve ever seen.

To get there – there are a few challenges

It’s not “them.”

The first challenge is realizing who we are.  There are two groups mentioned in the gospel.  The first group who work and sincerely dedicate their entire lives to following God’s law – to living as He commanded.  The second group is our group – the group that is notorious sinners.

Now I need to let you know what a notorious sinner is.  It’s not as bad as it sounds…

It’s actually kind of worse.

One of the ways the word is defined in Greek is one who falls off the path, one who can’t stay on it.  We understand that the path is narrow, but I don’t think we realize it is a bridge like this one, with ditches that are about 1000 feet deep to each side.

Sort of like this path in China that they call the glass path.

Here’s another view.

Sin is simply deviating from the path.  It doesn’t matter whether it is using God’s name in the wrong way, murder, adultery or gossip.  It is sin, and you and I fall into it, far too often.

Even as the Pharisees stand there, judging the tax collectors and notorious sinners, they are sinning, denying the very grace of God, the grace they were entrusted with, the grace that should have inspired them to help others come to hear Jesus.

Jesus realizes this, and there is a gentle jab at the Pharisees when he says the shepherd leaves the 99 in the wilderness – for he identifies that all are in the wilderness,

The wilderness – the place of nothingness, the place without any blessing from God.

The ones who determined they are holy enough, that they are truly dedicated to God, find themselves outside… while the sheep who lay dying, is brought home…

And brought home Scripture says – joyfully.

Guess it pays off to admit we need His mercy, that we need God to find us. Doesn’t that sound strange?  That those who depend on their strength are left behind, while those needy are brought to safety and celebration?

There is joy in your transformation

This is the second challenge.  We need to recognize the joy that Jesus has bringing us home and the fact that the work brings more joy to God than the 99 who are righteous. Of course, we know that none are righteous, but even so, the picture of Jesus is one with a grin on his face!

Dad, I’ve brought another one home!

Now imagine him saying it on the cross – it’s finished – Tom’s home, Al’s home, you’ve been brought home.

Remember, the letter to the Hebrews tells us that it was this very joy of getting us into the kingdom of God, bringing us to where we should be, that Jesus endured the cross.

What an amazing thing!

To think that what brings God the greatest joy – and all of heaven with Him is when we trust Him enough to cleanse us, heal us, and bring us into the presence of the Father.

That is what brings God joy, for us to become His children, for us to become His people, for us to realize, and trust the fact that He is our God, our heavenly father.

I don’t know if we understand that all too well.  That when we realize God’s grace, when we have an aha moment when His grace transforms our lives and that is seen, the joy it brings Him and all heaven is greater than our awe, and our joy!

The Feast.

It is so great – that Jesus’s parable mentions a great feast – a great party full of joy, inviting everyone to rejoice with Him.  The same for the lady who finds the reward for her work, that was for a moment – thought lost. They both throw a feast – as they recover something quite precious to them.

I often wondered- for the man who owned the sheep – what did they feast on?  What was the main course?

I mean, it would be a little odd to throw a feast like that and serve lamb chops!

I bring the sermon to a close with this; the man gave his life to bring us home, to carry us with him in His death and resurrection,

and so for this feast- celebrating our homecoming, celebrating our repentant, transformed life, is a feast where the host serves the very best – where He gives His all to us.

His broken body, the blood poured out so that we could be brought home… and this feast is on of great joy, as it celebrates this,

Alleluia! He is Risen indeed
He is Risen!  Indeed!  Alleluia

And therefore,

We are risen alleluia indeed!
And He has brought us home….

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