For He has answered!
“Display Your Glory!”
† I.H.S. †
May the grace and peace of God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ prepare you for the second coming, knowing God will answer His people!
- Advent Cries
Psalm 80 this morning starts with a powerful prayer, a loud cry out to God for Him to “Display Your Radiant Glory!”
It is a very appropriate cry, a very appropriate thing to beg for, as we look at the 2nd coming—just as it was very appropriate as the people of God waited for the Messiah to come and be born of a virgin.
It doesn’t stand alone, throughout the Old Testament the people of God learned the hard way that they needed God, consider these other cries,
Ps 60:1 — You have rejected us, O God, and broken our defenses. You have been angry with us; now restore us to your favor.
Ps 80:19 — Turn us again to yourself, O LORD God of Heaven’s Armies.
Make your face shine down upon us. Only then will we be saved.
Ps 85:4 — Now restore us again, O God of our salvation. Put aside your anger against us once more.
La 5:21 — Restore us, O LORD, and bring us back to you again! Give us back the joys we once had!
Part of Advent are these cries, for like the people of God awaiting what would be the birth of Jesus, we look around us and see a great need, one so great that we need to see the full power of God’s love unleashed on the world..
- Anger and Bread and Drink of Tears
There are times where the insight of how bad things are, well, let’s just say the world is in denial about how bad it is. Israel was as well, blaming others for the consequences of their sin.
God had a way to deal with those who denied their sin!
Here is how the psalm describes it,
4 O LORD God of Heaven’s Armies, how long will you be angry with our prayers? 5 You have fed us with sorrow and made us drink tears by the bucketful.
Psalm 80:4-5 (NLT2)
The Hebrew here is bread of tears, and to drink the equivalent of a gallon and a half of the tears that comes when you are sobbing uncontrollably.
If only there was an option to suffering God’s wrath in a way that produced tears in that quantity! But Israel needed to get to where they not only could cry out—but they would cry out.
Does this mean that God causes our struggles, those times of tears?
No, but the consequences of the sins that causes those sins, God doesn’t prevent…that we might learn to turn to Him for help.
But He never forgets His love for us.
- Ephraim, Benjamin, Manasseh – gen 48:16
I want to go back to the cry again, but this time, let’s hear the entire cry,
O Shepherd of Israel, you who lead Joseph’s descendants like a flock. O God, enthroned above the cherubim, display your radiant glory 2 to Ephraim, Benjamin, and Manasseh. Show us your mighty power. Come to rescue us! 3 Turn us again to yourself, O God. Make your face shine down upon us. Only then will we be saved.
It is interesting to me that hear, instead of using Jacob and or Israel to describe the people of God, the Psalmist focuses on Joseph and his brother Benjamin, and then Joseph’s two sons, Ephraim and Manasseh. These are the offspring of Rachel, the children of the wife that was dearest, so dear that Joseph’s sons were given equal shares with the brothers of Joseph.
The picture, by using their name is the love and devotion that God has for His favorite people – and it is to them God compares all of His people as they cry out. Why?
Because they would have the confidence that dad would answer, or to use the word for this first Sunday of Advent – the hope of the cry being answered.
A hope that isn’t maybe, a hope that based on a Father’s love!
- Between the Wings – another feast
I commented a moment ago that there should be a better feast provided by God. There is actually a reference to the sacrifice of Christ, the body broken and the blood shed for our sake.
When it talks about God enthroned above the enthroned above the cherubim, it is a reference to the Ark of the Covenant in the tabernacle/temple. It is the same place Moses wrote of….
Ex 25:22 — I will meet with you there and talk to you from above the atonement cover between the gold cherubim that hover over the Ark of the Covenant. From there I will give you my commands for the people of Israel.
On either side of the Ark were the carved cherubim – whose wings covered the mercy seat – where the blood for atoning for sin was poured out once a year….to cover the sin…
God’s spirit would hover there, ministering to the people of God…. Which is why cross is there, and why the body and blood is here… to remind us why we have hope, that every cry – for us to see God’s glory, His glorious love
Thoughts that leave me at Jesus’s feet, and at the Cross
10 So now I am sending you to the king of Egypt. Go! Bring my people, the Israelites, out of Egypt!”
11 But Moses said to God, “I am not a great man! How can I go to the king and lead the Israelites out of Egypt?”
13 Moses said to God, “When I go to the Israelites, I will say to them, ‘The God of your ancestors sent me to you.’ What if the people say, ‘What is his name?’ What should I tell them?”
4 Then Moses answered, “What if the people of Israel do not believe me or listen to me? What if they say, ‘The LORD did not appear to you’?”
10 But Moses said to the LORD, “Please, Lord, I have never been a skilled speaker. Even now, after talking to you, I cannot speak well. I speak slowly and can’t find the best words? Exodus 3:10–11, 13, 4:1, 10 NCV
The songs of Advent, which we hear ever so often during these weeks, could perhaps become for us beacons of light that show us the way and make us lift up our eyes to acknowledge promises so much greater than those based on money, power, and pleasure. To be awake for God and for our neighbor—this is the meaning of the Advent call to stay awake. Such staying awake finds the light and makes the world a brighter place.
Awake, my soul! from sadness rise,
Come, see what in the manger lies:
Who is this smiling infant Child?—
’Tis little Jesus, sweet and mild.
Twice welcome, oh! Thou heavenly guest,
To save a world with sin distressed;
Com’st Thou in lowly guise for me?
What homage shall I give to Thee!
Verily it brings shame and disgrace upon the Church of Christ, when Christians,—Christ’s servants and followers,—neglect their duties so flagrantly and have no more a spirit of praise and thanksgiving in them; and, it is high time that every one who deserves correction shall permit himself to be sincerely corrected through God’s Word and Spirit.
Tomorrow starts the church season we call Advent. At some point, people will start asking why we aren’t singing Christmas Carols and why we keep singing O Come O come Emmanuel–as if Christ hasn’t yet been born! There is always an explanation, something akin to comparing Advent to their presents under the tree, and how they don’t unwrap them until Christmas Day. There is joy in anticipating what are in those packages, there is hope that it will finally be something special.
But as I look at Christmas this year, I realize I am not ready for it, any more than Moses was ready to lead a ragtag group of Jewish people to the Holy Land.
The people I see enslaved to sin are too numerous, the challenges to much for this aging, health-challenged pastor. I look at the church, as torn apart by sin and strife as the world, and wish with Loehe that the time of correction would occur. ( I hate to say it must include me.. and yet that is needed a well!)
I am not saying we have to be perfect to celebrate Christmas – just the opposite – we have to realize that the baby Mary gave birth and laid ni the manger is the only hope for our brokenness. He is the Creator/Guest who came to save us. THe darkness of this world,with empty promises of money, power and pleasure–we have to have tired of them, and grown to despair the cruse they bring.
We have to cry out for hope… and cry out with the expectation it will be delivered in the presence of the one laid in the manger, and then on the tree to be nailed to it and lifted up….there to draw men into His death, that with HIm, they would rise as something new.
Advent is a time for this meditation – this time thinking of how much, how desperately we need for Jesus to come to us, where we are at, today.
I need this time, I need to experience the hope that brings light to despair.
For then, Christmas comes in a different way….in all of its power, in all of its brilliant glory…
for those trapped in darkness will see a great light… and then they will sing!
Joseph Ratzinger, 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), 379–380.
Martin Luther and John Hunt, The Spiritual Songs of Martin Luther: From the German, trans. Thomas Clark (London: Hamilton, Adams, and Co., 1853), 31.
William Lœhe, Seed-Grains of Prayer: A Manual for Evangelical Christians, trans. H. A. Weller (Chicago: Wartburg Publishing House, 1914), 42.
“If a man has a hundred sheep but one of the sheep gets lost, he will leave the other ninety-nine on the hill and go to look for the lost sheep. 13 I tell you the truth, if he finds it he is happier about that one sheep than about the ninety-nine that were never lost. 14 In the same way, your Father in heaven does not want any of these little children to be lost. Matthew 18:12-14 NCV
The salvation of the individual is complete and entire only when the salvation of the universe and of all the elect has been accomplished, because the redeemed are not just near one another in heaven. On the contrary, by being with one another as the one Christ, they are heaven
One can teach spiritual theory all day, and teach it accurately. But our Lord seems to place more value on imitation than book knowledge….
Forth from the mansions of the sky
He leaves His Father’s throne;
He comes to earth for man to die—
For sinners to atone.
The promised seed a Virgin bears—
The Son of God our nature wears;
He who saw countless ages run,
Now comes to earth a Virgin’s Son.
In the hymn from Luther, it is interesting that he starts by identifying Jesus’ intent to die for “man,” then transistions quickly to the plural–noting His death atones for “sinners,” and that Jesús will wear “our:” nature. An English teacher may comment on htis interesting shift, and the theologian may ponder it, but the simple disciple may understand it.
Man is all of us, and without all of us, we aren’t the same as we are. The widow and widower recognizes this, as does the empty nest parent, or the child who fins themselves a thousand miles away from those he knows loves him. Pastors know it as well, when a church member’s voice isn’t heard confessing the creed with everyone else, or singing a favored hymn, The missing voices in our lives create a dissonance, one we can’t understand at first…. but soon we realize it and grieve.
This is why the shepherd goes after the missing sheep – the flock isn’t write without them there. and why all heaven rejoices when just one of 3 billion people is recreated as God transforms them in baptism, as Jesus and His love is revealed – and they experience His love and peace, and come to depend on Him! This is the Father’s moment to feast, to party – even to dance! For the body of Christ, the family of God is a little more complete.
Cardinal Ratzinger/Pope Benedict XVI comments on this phenomena, with a mind-blowing explanation – that my salvation isn’t complete until yours is, until everyone’s is. (That includes those we struggle to tolerate – nevermind like and love!) That is heaven, when the entire people of God are one with Him, in His presence–and those who’ve gone before us through death simply await the perfection that is coming, as God unites us all in Christ Jesus.
To save one then, is simply another step to that perfection–the fulfillment of the plan found in Christ Jesus
Fr. John Hanson’s testifies to about this in a unique way, as he reduces knowing what to its proper place. It is one thing to teach the theology and scriptures about baptism, it is a far greater thing to see the miracle of Baptism occur. It is one thing to talk about the five stages of grief, a far greater thing to hold the hand of one grieving, reminding them that the Holy Spirit is there, comforting both of you as you laugh and cry together.
We are the Family of God – and we are complete the more we are together in the presence of God. That is why communion is so amazing, so great a time of awe, as in that moment, we experience that love and unity and peace. Even if we can’t put words to it.
We are the one Christ came for, to heal, to unite us to Him, to make us one…. completed on the day He returns.
And how I look forward to that day…. Amen!
Joseph Ratzinger, 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), 375.
Fr. John Hanson, Coached by Josemaria Escriva: Lessons in Discipleship, Scepter 2023 p.5
Martin Luther and John Hunt, The Spiritual Songs of Martin Luther: From the German, trans. Thomas Clark (London: Hamilton, Adams, and Co., 1853), 29.
† I.H.S. †
May the grace and mercy of God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ convince you that God is always concerned about you, tending to your needs!
Intro: Listen to the Crowned one…
The picture of the coronation of Jesus is mind-blowing, as it is pieced together from Isaiah, Jeremiah, Philippians 2, and the Book of the Revelation of Jesus, among others! It is something to look forward to, even though the greatest imagination of the greatest song and hymn writers cannot describe the scene, nor can the greatest artists capture all its glory.
Yet it is His voice we hear recorded by the prophet Ezekiel. He is the Sovereign Lord, or the LORD I AM… the King of Kings and Lord of Lords, the Alpha and Omega, the Author and Perfector of our Faith, our Master, our Savior, and so much more….
He is the one who commits Himself to those who have truly messed up their lives!
Thirteen times in this passage He promise that care, stating, “I myself will,””I will,” or “I, the the LORD (YHWH), will”
It will be beneficial for you to keep this bulletin – and look at the promises on a regular basis! That way you will know what God promises to those you care about who… well, have messed up their lives.
- A Flock in Trouble
How Do I know that there are people that have messed up their lives?
Look at how these sheep are described:
- They’re lost – and need to have someone search to find them! The word for find includes the idea of discerning how healthy they are, and what needs to be done to bring them to full health
- They are scattered – all the relationships they have, have been damaged – so much so they are alone…
- They are hungry – both physically and spiritually. They need peace and rest.
- They need care, they need someone to tend to their needs
- They need to come home. They need to know they will be welcome at home.
Sounds pretty broken to me!
These are the kind of people that Jesus based the story of the prodigal son on. While we know he’s talking about all of Israel, back in the days where they were taken captive and dragged away from their homes. It wasn’t just an individual – it was all of them – all dispersed—all over the world.
This happened because they sinned, and they loved their sin. Everything you can imagine- worshipping gods they sacrificed their children to, shattering every other commandment from murder to coveting and scheming to try and take other people’s stuff. The sins were horrid and disgusting—much like today.
- But HE came!
Remember the promise God made to them.
11 “For this is what the Sovereign Lord says: I myself will search and find my sheep. 12 I will be like a shepherd looking for his scattered flock. I will find my sheep and rescue them from all the places where they were scattered on that dark and cloudy day. 13 I will bring them back home!
God’s going after them – this is the entire reason Jesus came – to use His words – to seek and save the lost. To come for those who needed spiritual care and healing. For healthy people don’t need a doctor—the sick do.
HE came to find and restore broken, battered, lost sinner.
All of the old Israel that so broken by sin, they would purse the brokenness far from home. All those who dwelled in the place God had given them, and turned their back on it, for stuff they chased they thought would give them riches, or fame, or simply more pleasure.
Or those today that are so lost in sin… so devastated by it – that they know despair, that they keep trying to find the next thing…
I love the way Luther wrote about this passage,
“As the prophet Ezekiel says in his thirty-fourth chapter (Ezek. 34:16), He seeks the lost, brings back the strayed, binds up the crippled, strengthens the sick. And the young lambs that have just been born, says Isaiah (40:11), He will gather in His arms and carry them so that they may not grow tired, and will gently lead those that are with young. All of this, Christ, our dear Shepherd, effects through the office of preaching and the holy Sacraments”
Kind of simple really – the same lost people are saved today as God searches them out – through us, shares His promises and then pours out grace through Baptism, through the forgiveness of sins.
- The Promises weren’t just theirs
I would be in error, if I didn’t point out that you once needed Jesus. Not my idea, I am stealing it from the Apostle Paul,
3 Once we, too, were foolish and disobedient. We were misled and became slaves to many lusts and pleasures. Our lives were full of evil and envy, and we hated each other. 4 But—“When God our Savior revealed his kindness and love, 5 he saved us, not because of the righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy. He washed away our sins, giving us a new birth and new life through the Holy Spirit. Titus 3:3-5 (NLT2)
You and I were the ones that to have God commit to save us, as Christ would come, and die to remove the stain of sin, to heal the brokenness. That is how we know that everyone, from every people group are who Christ is coming to seek, find, rescue and bring home.
For He does that for us, daily… and reminds weekly, as we come to the altar, and He welcomes to His feast… and cares and heals us here.
Where He promised, He just didn’t say “I will”… He ended it with, “I HAVE SPOKEN”, guaranteeing we can all know His love… all of us, even those who don,t, yet.
 Martin Luther, Luther’s Works, Vol. 12: Selected Psalms I, ed. Jaroslav Jan Pelikan, Hilton C. Oswald, and Helmut T. Lehmann, vol. 12 (Saint Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1999), 155.
Thoughts that draw me closer to Jesus, and His cross.
28 Then the man said, “Your name will no longer be Jacob. Your name will now be Israel, because you have wrestled with God and with people, and you have won.”29 Then Jacob asked him, “Please tell me your name.” But the man said, “Why do you ask my name?” Then he blessed Jacob there.
30 So Jacob named that place Peniel, saying, “I have seen God face to face, but my life was saved.”…
3 Jacob himself went out in front of them and bowed down flat on the ground seven times as he was walking toward his brother.
4 But Esau ran to meet Jacob and put his arms around him and hugged him. Then Esau kissed him, and they both cried. 5 When Esau looked up and saw the women and children, he asked, “Who are these people with you?” Genesis 32:28-30, 33:3-5, NCV
For the minds of these people have become stubborn. They do not hear with their ears, and they have closed their eyes. Otherwise they might really understand what they see with their eyes and hear with their ears. They might really understand in their minds and come back to me and be healed.’ Matt 13:15, quoting Is. 6:9-10 NCV (emphasis mine)
The culture of individualism, consumerism, and quick fixes continues to creep into the work of the counselor whenever performance and quick results are the primary motivations. Often we get so extremely busy and preoccupied by our compulsion to quickly remedy “problems” that in reality require an unhurried transformation not only of the head but of the heart, that we grasp for the next best treatment available or hold onto tried and tested modes of intervention. Yet at the end of our therapeutic work we somehow get the sense that something is amiss and unfinished, that somehow all these theories and techniques have fallen short of responding to the soul ache that comes from a deeper, more primal place.
It is taught among us that the sacraments were instituted not only to be signs by which people might be identified outwardly as Christians, but that they are signs and testimonies of God’s will toward us for the purpose of awakening and strengthening our faith.
2 For this reason they require faith, and they are rightly used when they are received in faith and for the purpose of strengthening faith.
I do a bit of counseling now and then, sometimes in groups, and sometimes with individuals. Almost always, it is because of conflicts and strife, even if that is because of an internal conflict.
Having that occur more often as the holidays come near – I saw something in this morning’s devotion that I’ve overlooked before. Jacob/Israel’s dramatic change in dealing with his older brother Esau. Jacob left his homeland, fearing for his life, as he scammed his borther out of everything – his birthright, his blessing as older (and therefore chief of the tribe) son. His fear was obvious, as he sought to buy forgiveness, sending gifts on a head.
But his encounter with Jesus changed all that…he was drawn back to God, even fighting him–as stubborn as ever–refusing to submit. But that fight and blessing changed him, even as he “triumphed,” and was saved. For it was only by engaging God that this could happen, it was only then that reconciliation, true reconciliation was possible for Jacob/Israel.
That is what Jesus points to, in quoting Isaiah’s ordination warning. Only by engaging God can sin be dealt with, and the person healed. Just as the Lutheran Confessions talk of the sacraments being the place where we are healed as our trust/dependence on God is strengthened and made our foundation of life.
That is the primal place where Nolasco notes the soul’s ache originates. The healing necessary to pursue healing with others can only be seen when God’s peace is known, when He is depended upon for a deeper healing. It is there the transformation takes place – even if the transformation takes 20 years. (some of us wrestle with God longer than others!) That of course means that pastoral counselors and shepherds, and regular counselors as well as we need to be patient, and let God draw us to himself. It means trusting in the promisess given to us through His word, and through the sacraments He instituted and blesses us through.
It is not a quick fix, even though the road starts with a dramatic change of heart. That change was being caused by God for a lot longer period of time than we can see, for it was planned for from before the cross, from even before time.
But God will make it happen – He will complete the work He began in us, showing us miracles of reconciliation, miracles of healing, even as we wrestle with Him through it.
So hang on, and let the Spirit cut open your heart (see Ezekiel 36:25 and Acts 2:36-37) and bring healing…and then, rejoice for you well in a peace beyond comprehension… even though you may not always see/feel/know it.
Rolf Nolasco Jr., The Contemplative Counselor: A Way of Being (Minneapolis, MN: Fortress Press, 2011), 7.
Augsburg Confession – XIII The USE of the Sacraments; (emphasis mine) Theodore G. Tappert, ed., The Book of Concord the Confessions of the Evangelical Lutheran Church. (Philadelphia: Mühlenberg Press, 1959), 35.
† In the Name of Jesus †
May the grace of God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ convince you that you will celebrate with God!
- We miss 2/3rds of the Story
Have you ever been in a conversation with someone, and they are droning on about everything, maybe even complaining, and then you realized you missed something incredibly important?
Or maybe you are laying in bed that night, and you are drifting off, reliving the day and you realize the most important thing was skipped over, as if it was not important, but it’s the most important thing you’ve heard in months.
I think we usually do that with the gospel reading this morning. We listen and we focus in on the third guy in the room – the one who didn’t do anything—the one who is the bad example, the one whose actions resulted in the worst consequences imaginable.
The one who went to hell…having lived in it here.
And we skipped over the two men whose lives were lived in such a way that they were invited to celebrate with God.
- Why do we always go that way?
Which brings up a good question – why do we always focus n the negative? Even if it is in the minority, as it is in this parable about the kingdom of God, we focus on the one who fails? We analyze what he did, we point out his fear, we saw his judgment and we either rant and rave about his foolishness and lack of faith, or we wonder if he is us.
If we make the same mistake he made, if we have the same ignorant fear, no, I am not going there.
- So do we see the 5-2’s God creates in us?
The easiest way to ensure that isn’t us, is to look, not at what the 2 and 5 did, but their relationship to the master.
Look at verse 19,
“19 “After a long time their master returned from his trip and called them to give an account of how they had used his money. 20 The servant to whom he had entrusted the five bags of silver came forward with five more and said, ‘Master, you gave me five bags of silver to invest, and I have earned five more.’”
Where that other guy went, worrying and be afraid, the 5 and 2 do not. Life is as it is, as if the master had never left. He entrusted them with significant sum, and he used it as he knew his master would want him to…
It wasn’t a big deal in his mind—it wasn’t a point of bragging, or pride, or anything No reward was promised, yet one is given. It was business as usual. Life with in the Master’s
Let me rephrase that—no other reward or honor is expected, because they just did what the master expected them to do…what He entrusted them to do. It wasn’t a big deal to them, it was the life they led—which was why God entrusted them with what He did….
Except He didn’t leave them alone—He empowered them to do what they do, and was there with them.
We see that kind of thing around here, as people do what God leads them to do.
That can be something we think is big—like a health fair, or a women’s tea that brings in 2-3 times our attendance. Or being the speaker at such, even though you don’t like being up front. Or it can something like Pat caring for cats, or someone deciding to paint the front doors,
It is things that do not make sense, like a deacon going and ministering to people whose brokenness looked much different than his own – as Deacon Bob did, ministering to others on a retreat last week. Or an old codger, who found it cool that he could talk to two teenage twins on a vacation. It’s another person arranging for people to celebrate Birthday’s and making sure others aren’t alone on thanksgiving.
It is ministry where we are at, whether in the doctor’s office, on a school campus. It’s doing what God wanted us to do , with what He’s entrusted us with in life.
- The Kicker
And that is the issue – it is what God entrusts and empowers us to do. That’s why it doesn’t seem special, its just what we are meant to do…. And we do..
Not because we fear His wrath—this kind of stuff comes out of a love for God because He first loved us.
We can’t always express it in perfect verbiage – but this love causes us to do these things – inside and outside of our comfort zone—simply because the one who died and rose for us leads us into these things.
For we died and rose with Him, proving that He isn’t a God to be terrified of, a God who isn’t harsh, whom we don’t have to worry about disappointing.
He is a God who wants to embrace us, cleanse and restore us, a God who we trust in, and know…
That’s what we celebrate by the way, not that we did good, not that were faithful, we celebrate the relationship that made this all possible….
Which is why we don’t dwell in terror, but in a peace that passes all understanding, as we celebrate with our Master, Jesus, and His Dad, and the Holy Spirit – and all the people of God.
I pray that as you see the glorious trees found in this season, they would each draw your thoughts to the Tree of Life
The Guarded Tree
Imagine the fiercest warrior, armed with the most fearsome of weapons, guarding the most beautiful of Christ-Trees you have ever seen a glimpse of–for a glimpse is all you can see as this warrior not only blocks access, he eclipses your vision of the glorious Tree that proclaims the life and glory God would have shared with us.
Hear how Moses describes that Tree,
“22 Then the LORD God said, “Look, the human beings have become like us, knowing both good and evil. What if they reach out, take fruit from the tree of life, and eat it? Then they will live forever!” 23 So the LORD God banished them from the Garden of Eden, and he sent Adam out to cultivate the ground from which he had been made. 24 After sending them out, the LORD God stationed mighty cherubim to the east of the Garden of Eden. And he placed a flaming sword that flashed back and forth to guard the way to the tree of life. Genesis 3:22-24 (NLT2)
It is this tree that the Christmas Tree is modeled after, one that would reflect the glory of God, one that we have the promise of seeing, if we realize its role in our life,
The Imitation Trees
There was, of course, another tree in that Garden. My husband believes it wasn’t an apple tree, but rather an avocado tree (because he believes the avocado to be the evilest or vilest of fruits). But no matter what it was, that tree offered the opportunity to truly see, for while its fruit was enticing and while it seemed to promise so much, it delivered only tears and sorrow, guilt and shame.
That’s like a lot of things in our life – they seem perfect, but their reality doesn’t always live up to the standard we expected. These trees are not even ugly-cute, like Charlie Brown’s tree, but they are more like a tree that loses all its needles two days after Thanksgiving, with everything bare, the limbs sagging, and leaving us with a mess in its wake.
But that’s the other tree – the tree of knowing good and evil–the one that taught us to experience evil…because we already knew what good was…
The Tree of Life in this life…
That brings us to the ugliest Christ tree, the Tree of Life that was not in the Garden of Eden, but a desolate hill–a barebones tree, to which Jesus was nailed.
It may be hard to see a cross when you look at a Christmas Tree, just as it is hard to see the baby in Mary’s arms hanging upon that cross…
But there is no tree more glorious –no tree with anything more precious hanging from it, no other tree that proclaims we shall live, even though Jesus had to die.
So, here is our hope – here is our life, and every piece of tinsel, every shiny ornament, and even the star on top just like it hovered over Him at Bethlehem, should remind us of our Lord, and His love for us.
For from that Cross – from that Christmas Tree, from that Glorious Tree of life comes this truth:
Alleluia, He is risen, (He is risen indeed, Alleluia)
And therefore, (we are risen indeed, Alleluia)
The Tree of life, unguarded
The Tree of Life is unguarded for all who know Jesus. We don’t have to fear a mighty angel blocking our way. Furthermore, according to the last chapter of Revelation, all the Trees in God’s presence in heaven bring healing to us, a much-needed balm, refreshment, and nourishment.
Those trees will certainly all be glorious – and yet there is one Tree that will be remembered above all…Even at Christmas.
Thoughts which drag me to Jesus, and to His cross!
20 God was with the boy as he grew up. Ishmael lived in the desert and became an archer. Genesis 21:20 NCV
We see glimpses of this yearning among people we journey with in counseling. In their hurried, noisy, often painful, often fragmented lives, they seek a refuge from the onslaught of competing demands, a momentary pause so that they can catch their breath, a safe space to rest their wearied souls, a freedom they have never known, and a silence and solitude where they might get to know themselves and God.
It has taken me most of my life to learn to treasure the pain and loneliness it has caused. To be honest, I still don’t treasure it well in the moment-
There are days it is more significant than others, days when I long to do what I was able to to do 40 years ago, or even 10 years ago. Bodies ache and bodies fail, and the demands we place on them do not diminish as fast as their capability. And the dissonance leaves us in a place where we understand Hagar and Ishmael, no longer part of the party. They look from a distance at the party fro God’s chosen, blessed son, and death not only seems close, but desirable. Hagar had reached the end of her rope, and gave up.
Been there, done that…. prayed for the second coming, not so much as to see God, but to escape this bloody, messed up painful world.
Nolasco is right about those he counsels, and I have pastored, there is an incredible need to find the place where we can get to know God. And sometimes, it is the very brokenness and isolation we know that allows for this. Let me rephrase – that point of emptiness leads us to the despair to cry out a pray – Lord have mercy! –
There, in our desert, abondoned, in pain, we find out that the God who was with Ishmael is with us.
His plans for us may be different but the same blessing that God promised to Isac’s descendants will be poured out on ours. In fact, that two is promised because all nations would be blessed. All of theirs, Ishmael’s, Issac’s, Esau’s, Israel’s, all blessed by the coming of Jesus, all able to be united to Him through the death into a resurrected life, all who believe and are baptized given the Holy Spirit, again, the promised that God is with us, just as Jesus walked with the apostles.
Eeven the exiles and immigrants welcomed into the family of God.
Therefore I am, and if you feel the pain, and isolation life can deal us – you as well.
God walks with us… He is with us.
And I need rest to realize it… so… I leanr the hard way! And rejoice
Rolf Nolasco Jr., The Contemplative Counselor: A Way of Being (Minneapolis, MN: Fortress Press, 2011), 2.
21 “Not all those who say ‘You are our Lord’ will enter the kingdom of heaven. The only people who will enter the kingdom of heaven are those who do what my Father in heaven wants. 22 On the last day many people will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, we spoke for you, and through you we forced out demons and did many miracles.’ 23 Then I will tell them clearly, ‘Get away from me, you who do evil. I never knew you.’ Matt 7:21-23 NCV
I pray Thee, O God, pour out upon me Thy Holy Spirit,—the Spirit of prayer,—that I may ever love and desire to pray; being daily free to approach Thee, with all confidence, in the name of my Lord Jesus Christ; to bow the knee before Thee in every time of need, as a child well beloved.
And so we go about our lives almost mechanically with little or no awareness of the seed of contemplation buried deep within. This is as true of many, if not most, Christian counselors as it is of their clients.
We live by default, doing what we have been programmed to do. We have been conditioned to believe that busyness and multi-tasking are a mark of effectiveness, that human efforts and plans speed up positive change, and that vitality is acquired by activity. The cultural focus on doing as opposed to being that society privileges tends to strengthen this conditioning.
For the past two months I have been thinking about the church, mine, those in my district, those in my denomination and those across the USA.
For a dozen years or more, people have been saying we are in the Post-Christian Age, though I think they mean the post church and post congregational age. Experts are telling us to redefine minsitry away from preaching the Gospel, and administrating the sacraments, and to do something, anything – to bring people into community. Old programs are being reinvented, redefined and placed out there as the hope for what they didn’t deliver in the first place. Others lament and want to go back to the systems and practices of the 1950’s or earlier, as if the church was perfect back then. We panic when this then doesn’t work, and hop into the next hope–often written by someone in the midst of their own efforts to overcome the slump their church is in….until the next book comes out, the next magazine or blog that promotes this or that…
I think we need to stop…seriously stop what we are doing.
I think if we don’t, the church is going to find itself as the fulfillment of Jesus’ prophecty above – a church that spoke for Him, delivered people out of bondage, and even did miracles, but never knew Him, and were not known by Him.
I believe Nolasco describes this place we are at as well as any… we do things – even mechanically, but we aren’t away of what God has planted in His church. We don’t spend time contemplating it in prayer. We ,measure our effectiveness, and now be-moan it…without considering what we know – that the Holy Spirit is in charge of the harvest. Our books on leadership, even in the church, push this – and we buy into it. We miss the chapters on prayer and devotion written by those who planted and replanted churches before us, to get to what “we have to do!” But because we lack a seriously intimate relationship with Jesus, we don’t have the foundaiton of worship and prayer that all renewal and revival is based.
Let me take it a step further, the church no longer cares about preaching about the sin its own people need to be delivered from, because it doesn’t treasure the intimate relaitonship with Jesus found at the cross.
Lohe’s prayer, translated in 1914 can be prayed (maybe translated first!) today. That all the church, from its pastors to the newest visitor need to spend time in prayer and contemplation of the presence of God! We need to receive and treasure the comfort and mercy we have, the peace that comes upon us, the moments we know that He is here…for us.
It is only, by stopping, being silent, finding our place in His refuge and knowing what it means for Him to be our Lord and God, that we will ever realize the ministry we’ve been given… it is only because of experience the burdens of sin and all its corrolary effects that our freedom in Chirst ever becomes something of glory. It isonly then we can approach Him confidently, as children approaching the One they know loves them…
and then, aware of what He does nin our lives, we begin to see the needs of the world, for that sae revelation, for that same intimate relationship.
For that same joy…
William Lœhe, Seed-Grains of Prayer: A Manual for Evangelical Christians, trans. H. A. Weller (Chicago: Wartburg Publishing House, 1914), 7–8.
Rolf Nolasco Jr., The Contemplative Counselor: A Way of Being (Minneapolis, MN: Fortress Press, 2011), 1–2.
Thoughts which drag me to Jesus, and to the cross…
13 The slave girl gave a name to the LORD who spoke to her: “You are ‘God who sees me,’ ” because she said to herself, “Have I really seen God who sees me?” Genesis 16:13 NCV
But this supportive community abandons him just when he has most need of it—where his work ends and he is on his own. In reality, the isolation of death and suffering reveals only what has already been true of his whole life. Where dying has no meaning, life itself becomes insecure. Where suffering finds no answer, the individual finds himself alone just when his questioning actually begins.
It is a sacrifice of thanksgiving and a service most pleasing to God if you acknowledge and proclaim His acts of kindness and call Him רֳאִי, He who sees me, as if you were saying: “I thought I had been completely forsaken by God. But now I see that He had regard for me and did not cast me aside when I was in trouble.”
This is a most beautiful name for God. Would that we all could bestow it on Him, that is, conclude with certainty that He has regard for us and cares for us, especially when He seems to have forgotten us, when we think we have been forsaken by Him. For he who can say in affliction: “God sees me” has true faith and can do and bear everything, yes, he overcomes all things and is triumphant.
Though Pope Benedict’s words were about death, I think that any major transistion we go through in life leaves us as alone as he describes about the one who is dying. I witness this in divorce situations, especially in the lives of children. I have seen it in the business world, as someone is terminated or promoted and they are as abandoned and left alone. Those dealing with illness and dying, or memory failure encounter this as well.
It is frustrating, and it adds significantly to the pain encountered. Indeed, I would rather have the pain than the isolation that occurs. Let me be honest, I am the source of at least some of that isolation, fearing it, but also fearing the lack of ability to engage with people.
I’ve known the same feelings I hear, that those I turned to for community- they don’t seem to be there. They too are going through there own transition and grief, and if anything – we need each other more in those moments.
There are times, where befoe we can engage with others, we must encounter the presence that means the most – we must encounter God. We need the experience of finding ourselves in the wilderness, and coming to the conclusion that God still sees us, He still cares, He hasn’t abandoned us. HE will not… HE CANNOT…
And knowing that allows for one to depend on HIs strength, rather than our weakness. It allows us to see HIs victory, which not only is a victory to win us, but a victory He shares with us! Assured of that, one can reach out through the transition, finding the hope we have encountered is the hope others need as well–the hope that was an si to be found in community.
We all go through many transitions – we all find ourselves in Hagar’s spot…sometimes frequently. And there, if we slow down, we find that our refuge, our sanctuary has a lot of room for those we have shared that refuge with before.. and others that come to realize they need it, and are part of our home.
A home where God just doesn’t see me, where He sees us.
Joseph Ratzinger, 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), 354.
Martin Luther, Luther’s Works, Vol. 3: Lectures on Genesis: Chapters 15-20, ed. Jaroslav Jan Pelikan, Hilton C. Oswald, and Helmut T. Lehmann, vol. 3 (Saint Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1999), 70.