Loving God With All Your Soul – The Blessing of the Incarnation.


MarkJ AdventLoving God with All Your Soul– the Blessing of Incarnation

Isaiah 61:1-10

 † I.H.S. †

 May Jesus’s incarnation in your life be so real, so tangible that your love for Him grows with every breath you take!

 My eyes are dry…the broken soul

It seems that many people this year would describe themselves with one word.

Tired.

There may be some factors that cause us to be so weary, so many it seems like all we do is go from trial to trauma, from prayer request to prayer request.  And as we talked about hearts being broken and needing Christ’s healing presence last week, the song talks about another part of us that is just worn down.

Our souls.

The part of us, that inner part that provides our courage, our character, our desire and the holiness that we need to walk through life in love with God, and to love our neighbor.

As we look at loving God as He asks, with all our heart, our soul, our mind and our strength, this one is hard.

When our soul is weary, when it is worn and broken, we hear the encouragement to love God, and we think about trying, and our soul cries out,

I’ve got nuthin.   Nuthin.

It’s that dryness that causes us to wonder why we pray, or if God is listening, or if He cares at all.  It is that dryness that causes us a spiritual exhaustion that robs us of hope, and leaves us thinking we still abide in the darkness.

He incarnation changes us… it dresses us.

Which is why we need to think about the incarnation, not just the incarnation when Mary is carrying Jesus in the womb, although contemplating that helps us contemplate His incarnation into our lives.

He came then, and angels sang.  They sing as well as Jesus draws us into Himself on the cross, taking all of our sins into Himself, and cleansing us of it. He takes that dryness as well, as we understand the cross, as we understand he is not distant.  He is here.

Isaiah’s second reading now makes sense –

I rejoice Heartily in the LORD, in my God is the joy of my soul!

We are in Him, we abide in Him, and as we realize this, everything begins to change as well.

This is the joy we find in Advent, the restoration of our soul when we realize that Holy Spirit is there, despite our dryness, that He is here to comfort us, to restore us, to translate our prayers as Paul tells the church.

26  In the same way the Spirit also comes to help us, weak as we are. For we do not know how we ought to pray; the Spirit himself pleads with God for us in groans that words cannot express. 27  And God, who sees into our hearts, knows what the thought of the Spirit is; because the Spirit pleads with God on behalf of his people and in accordance with his will. 28  We know that in all things God works for good with those who love him, those whom he has called according to his purpose. Romans 8:26-30 (TEV)

See that?

So, even in those periods where we aren’t sure if God is listening, He is listening.  Hearing and responding to the deepest cries of our heart. Even when we don’t know what to say. Even when we are too dry to say anything.

He is with us, He is here, ministering to us, assuring us of His presence.  Using speed bumps to help us slow down, and know He is God, and He cares. As we realize this – so much happens, our souls come alive, as we realize His power saving us, as we are dressed in His righteousness, as He treats us as His beloved bride.  Our reaction, from the deepest part of our soul, is to love Him back… with all we are.

This is why our services include the Lord’s Supper, even before our eating dinner.

Because as we commune we stop and we find ourselves giving Him everything, our burdens, our anxieties, our fears, our sins, our dryness.  In his presence they actually fall off us, God removes them…as we stop and receive His blessed Body and Blood, given to us, His beloved, which strengthens our faith, helps us to depend on Him all the more, and dwell in peace.  AMEN!

 

Do We Choose and Pursue the Unprofitable?


clydes-cross-2Devotional Thought fo the Day:

38 And he said to them, “Keep watch, and pray that you will not fall into temptation. The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak.”  TEV Mark 14:38

23  “We are allowed to do anything,” so they say. That is true, but not everything is good. “We are allowed to do anything”—but not everything is helpful. 24  None of you should be looking out for your own interests, but for the interests of others.
1 Corinthians 10:23-24 (TEV)

Games, balls, feasts, dress, theatres, are not evil things in their nature, but indifferent, and may be used both well and ill; yet, notwithstanding, these things are dangerous, and to have an affection for them is yet more dangerous. I say then, Philothea, that although it may be lawful to play, to dance, to advice yourself, to be present at moral dramas, and at banquets; yet to be over fond of such things is contrary to devotion, and very offensive and dangerous. It is no sin to do such things, but it is a sin to pursue them to extremes. It is a pity to sow in the garden of our heart such vain and foolish affections, which take up the room of virtuous impressions, and hinder the sap of our souls from nourishing good inclinations.

When my devotional readings harmoniously scream the same message and grab my attention, I tend to want to hide, accosted by a law which seeks to conform us to the image of Christ.

It’s too random to be random, one might say. 

As I did my reading this morning, this happened.  De Sales’s comments struck a chord, thought I would replace the events with other things. Hobbies, Television, “computer” games, golf, even social media, all these things can be neutral, and even positive.  Moments to relax, times to share with friends (Pokemon hunting with 4 or 5 is kinda fun, and other conversations happen ) theses are all beneficial.  We could add to that even our religious traditions, music, cultural identity, etc.  We in the USA talk about the “pursuit of happiness”, which, divorced of the joy of God’s presence, becomes a demanding idol to pursue.

Any of these can dominate our lives (and some are programmed to!) as they become things we grow in affection for, as we grow fond of, and those feeling turn to desire, desire which enslaves us. Which is when what is permissible become unprofitable, when our desire for these things override our desire to love God, and love our neighbor.

Which sounds all too easy. 

For we are like St. Peter, so desiring to follow Christ in the spirit, yet so weak.  Affections for things distract us, anxieties cause us to turn away. We deny Christ, we allow our time with Him, and our time working in his kingdom to be minimized.  Am I one of His?  Hmmm, I will be after I do this.  I’ll get back to you after I….

I am not talking about asceticism here, that too has its ability to become an affection, it too can become a form of pietism, and looking after out own self-interest.  (think about the idea that those who fast should not show their hunger – but how do you do that without your own pride taking control?)

I am talking about realizing the presence of God, in our lives.  I am talking about depending on Him, asking the Spirit to mold us as He would. To see others needs before our own, because God puts us in the place we are, not for our benefit, but that they would be reconciled to Him, that they would be cared for, that they would realize they are loved.

The only way to see these things put in their proper place, is to find Christ’s love so incredible, that it draws our attention. To become so enamored, so wanting to know His love, that all else fades, and is dropped asidee.

This isn’t easy…. for it means shedding those things we are overly attracted to…. to allow God to break their hold on us.

Lord have mercy on us!  Help us to have no greater desire that to know your presence, and then to minister at Your side to those you bring into our life.  AMEN! 

 

Francis de Sales, Saint. An Introduction to the Devout Life. Dublin: M. H. Gill and Son, 1885. Print.

 

 

The Value of Life….of His Life… of our lives…


Devotional Thought of the Day:

28  “If a bull gores someone to death, it is to be stoned, and its flesh shall not be eaten; but its owner is not to be punished. 29  But if the bull had been in the habit of attacking people and its owner had been warned, but did not keep it penned up—then if it gores someone to death, it is to be stoned, and its owner is to be put to death also. 30  However, if the owner is allowed to pay a fine to save his life, he must pay the full amount required. 31  If the bull kills a boy or a girl, the same rule applies. 32  If the bull kills a male or female slave, its owner shall pay the owner of the slave thirty pieces of silver, and the bull shall be stoned to death. Exodus 21:28-32 (TEV)

14  Then one of the twelve disciples—the one named Judas Iscariot—went to the chief priests 15  and asked, “What will you give me if I betray Jesus to you?” They counted out thirty silver coins and gave them to him.
Matthew 26:14-15 (TEV)

It is a shocking thought, the value that the priests set on Jesus, was the value of a slave back in the days of Moses.

They thought Jesus’ life was worth that of a slave. The lowest of the servants. About $225 in modern money, not for a day’s hire, but the value of his entire life.

Given my understanding of math, this means they placed the value of my life at significantly less than 30 pieces of silver.  Here is how it looks mathematically.

30 pieces of silver = value of Christ’s life, sold to the priests = the cost of buying back every soul that was enslaved to sin, Satan and death.

My freedom from hell, my deliverance from the guilt and shame, the chains that sin uses to strangle the life from me, that was purchased at the price of life, a price that authorities thought was only worth 30 pieces of silver.

But that is not how much value God places on our souls, on our lives.

To God, our lives, our redemption was worth more than all of His creation, it was worth the life of Jesus, His only begotten Son.  The Son with whom He created everything, planned everything, the Son He loved, the Son who loved Him enough to share the value they placed on our lives.

How can it be?  How am I worth that much to God?  How are those people I love, and even those I hate.  How can we be worth so much, that He would place such a value on us?

I can’t know, from my mortal position; from my frame of reference where I struggle to set aside sin and temptation, guilt and shame, from my position of brokenness.

I can only know, when I look to the cross, as see the joy that was set before Jesus, what caused Him to choose the cross was the love of God, Father, Son and Spirit, for me.  I need to drop the other stuff, set it aside, and focus, meditate, devote myself to contemplating on this amazing love.

The love that changes me… and all others who encounter it.

The love that values me…..and values you.

 
Follow up:  you might think about this for a while, and while you do, he’s a video that puts the words thought together well.

 

A Sermon Parable: Pastors and Deacons are simply Speedbumps!


concordia-lutheran-button-only-logo-1-copy3.jpgOf the men I have taught and trained to be deacons, few have worked harder than Chuck, and few thought he could handle the work.  Yet he is a natural, enthusiastic evangelist, one who is always sharing the love of Christ in very down home simple ways people remember.  As part of his training, he delivered this sermon.  ( All deacon sermons preached at Concordia are written with my oversight, assistance, and approval.)  He aced this one, as people responded to its simple message, praising God for the grace, the love and mercy we’ve received.  – pr. dtp

Chuck’s Parable:
Pastor, Bob and I are Speedbumps, 
that you Need!

In Jesus Name

 (Take a deep breath, and silently pray, “Jesus, may the words of my heart and the thoughts of my mind be acceptable to you, and may the words reveal to these people your love”  )

My prayer for you this day is that the grace of God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ draws you to them, as the Holy Spirit fills you with love and mercy.  AMEN!

Introduction – Meet your speedbumps!

Part of what I learned this week has to do with verse 20 in the Old Testament.  It says there,

20 “If righteous people turn away from their righteous behavior and ignore the obstacles I put in their way, they will die. And if you do not warn them, they will die in their sins.

As pastor and I talked about these “obstacles”, I thought they were like big speedbumps.  Things God puts in your way to cause you to slow down so that you stay alive.  In this case, staying alive spiritually.

The pastor asked me what those obstacles, those speedbumps were.

And after a few moments, it came to me.

Pastor, and Deacon Bob and I are the speedbumps!

I kinda like that.

That’s my story, my parable today.  Pastor, Bob and I are speedbumps, speedbumps you need!

We have to be pretty big speedbumps as well, for we need to slow you down enough for you to be still, and know God is God.  Which means you need us to be speed bumps.

That has two parts,

Part 1

and Part 2.

So let me tell you about part 1.

part 1 – slow down, so you don’t die in your sins

The first reason I am a speed bump is to help you is to warn you about sin, and the consequences of it.  That isn’t easy, or pleasant, so God helps us keep focused on it,  He tells us,

17 “Son of man, I have appointed you as a watchman for Israel. Whenever you receive a message from me, warn people immediately. 18 If I warn the wicked, saying, ‘You are under the penalty of death,’ but you fail to deliver the warning, they will die in their sins. And I will hold you responsible for their deaths.

That sounds pretty serious.  If I don’t remind you that the wages of sin are death, then I would be responsible for you spiritual death – not just physical death, but spiritual, eternal death.

I don’t really think I need that threat – I want you all to be in heaven because I love you. But that is what it says, maybe in case I get annoyed at you someday.  (SMILE)

And if you get annoyed at me, well, I might have annoyed you about something less important before.  This is important.

You need to know God takes sin seriously.  We weren’t meant to live life following other Gods, or not using His name right.  We aren’t supposed to murder each other or be unfaithful to our wives, or gossip about each other.

We are to love each other. And if we don’t, that is sin.

Reason #2

The second reason that Pastor, Bob and I are speedbumps in your life is to get you to slow down enough to become repentant.  Repentant is not just being sorry, it means to be transformed, to be made new in our heart and mind.

That isn’t easy.

Imagine my garage is like your soul, and everything in it is your sin and unbelief.

You need to slow down, to put less and less into it, or you will not be able to walk in it.  And the first reason, speedbumps slow you down.  In the second reason, the speedbump gives time for the garage to be transformed.  That’s a nice way of saying that God has to clean out all the stuff in our spiritual garages.  He must clean out the garage so well that it is as clean as Carol’s kitchen.

That’s what we call a miracle.

Come to think of it, anyone needs a corner cabinet?  Talk to me later if you do.

Oh yeah – we need to become repentant.  That’s God’s work, that happens as we hear the gospel proclaimed, whether it is heard at church, or over lunch, or even in my doctor’s office.

That cleaning out is repentance, it is the change our-our heart, soul, and mind that happens because Jesus died on the cross to make it happen.  He took that penalty of death that each of us deserved….

He died so that we might live eternally.

He died because the Father poured out all of his wrath, all of his anger, all of the punishment we deserve on Jesus.

So we can be cleansed, so we become not just sorry for our sins, but so we become repentant.

conclusion.

I am up here, to be your speedbump, to get you to slow down enough so that you know God’s love, to help you to slow down enough when you walk up here and kneel down, so that you are still, and as you eat the body and drink the blood of Christ you know He is God.

And I pray that Pastor, Bob and I are good speedbumps and that God will work through our preaching, our teaching and our giving you the body of Christ.  Because God is working in your lives, you will know His peace, the peace of God that passes all understanding.

AMEN!

Is Your Church a Refuge Where You Can Really Pray????


OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERADevotional Thought of the Day:

17 He then taught the people: “It is written in the Scriptures that God said, ‘My Temple will be called a house of prayer for the people of all nations.’ But you have turned it into a hideout for thieves!”   Mark 11:16-17 TEV 

 I will bring them to my holy mountain of Jerusalem and will fill them with joy in my house of prayer. I will accept their burnt offerings and sacrifices, because my Temple will be called a house of prayer for all nations. 8  For the Sovereign LORD, who brings back the outcasts of Israel, says: I will bring others, too, besides my people Israel.”
Isaiah 56:7-8 (NLT)

Thus confession of sin is a sovereign remedy against sin itself. Contrition and confession are so precious, and have so sweet an odour, that they deface the ugliness and destroy the infection of sin. Simon the Pharisee pronounced St. Mary Magdalen a sinner; but our Saviour denied it, and speaks of nothing but of the sweet perfumes she poured on Him, and of the greatness of her charity. If we be truly humble, Philothea, our sins will infinitely displease us, because God is offended by them; but the confession of our sins will be sweet and pleasant to us, because God is honored thereby. It is a kind of consolation to us to inform the physician correctly of the disease that torments us.

As I grew up, I preferred walking into St Francis rather than St Joes, and definitely St Basil’s over Mary Queen of Peace or the Formation Center in Andover.

Not because of the priests, or because the masses were better, or because of the music was more to my liking.  It wasn’t that at all.  I loved the stillness, the quietness, the ability to sit and kneel before the cross, to think about the Eucharist (the Lord’s Supper) that we would receive, to just find peace, there in the presence of God.

The other churches were much more friendly, much more interested in you. Those churches were full and had lots of activities.  But as I went into the church, I didn’t have the time, or so I thought, to settle in, to hear the silence, to be in awe of God.

Even today, as I pastor a church without a sizeable narthex, I enter the church just before service, bow at the altar, move over to the musicians, and try to catch my breath, and long for 10-15 minutes of silence. ( as much as I love our worship music, I love our quiet communion in our midweek Advent services…)

As I read the scriptures this morning and considered what it meant to be a house of prayer, I thought for a moment and wondered if they truly are….

Our churches need to be places of prayer, whether silent or sobbing, full of joy and excitement as we come to our Father and share with Him our lives.  There are many forms and ways of prayer, each has their own time and place. But when scripture is talking about the church, or the Temple being a house, a home of prayer, it has something specific in mind.

Something our churches today need to be that we must be, if we are going to make a difference in our people’s lives.  Whether the church is a place where 20 people gather in a storefront, or a cathedral where thousands pray.

We need to realize what that means to have a house of prayer to go to, what Isaiah is hinting at (as Mark cites him,) as he talks of sacrifices and offerings being acceptable again.

What Solomon mentioned, as God dedicates the temple by being present, and listening as Solomon prayer,

19  Nevertheless, listen to my prayer and my plea, O LORD my God. Hear the cry and the prayer that your servant is making to you. 20  May you watch over this Temple day and night, this place where you have said you would put your name. May you always hear the prayers I make toward this place. 21  May you hear the humble and earnest requests from me and your people Israel when we pray toward this place. Yes, hear us from heaven where you live, and when you hear, forgive. 2 Chronicles 6:19-21 (NLT)

If our churches are to be a place of prayer, then they need to be a place where we give God every burden we have, especially the burdens of guilt and shame, the weight that is added to the sin that we commit.

This is the prayer the temple and the church are set apart to facilitate, to make the prodigal (whether they realize they are one or not) welcome home, to dress them up again,, to help them realize they are part of the family.  The ministry of reconciliation; as the incredible love of God is revealed to those who are broken.  As they hear, “you, child of God, are forgiven and restored.”

By the way, this isn’t a Sunday morning thing, this should be anytime you need it, the chance to go and sit in the quiet with God, to talk to a pastor, to hear of God’s love, to leave those burdens at the altar, to walk away with your hunger for righteousness sated, to know you are loved.

That’s what it means to have a church that is a house or prayer….

May our churches be houses of prayer… may our shepherds help us pray, be relieved and overjoyed as we find out He hears us and forgives.

 

Francis de Sales, Saint. An Introduction to the Devout Life. Dublin: M. H. Gill and Son, 1885. Print.

The Devout Life: Taking Hell and Heaven Seriously


clydes-cross-2Devotional Thought of the Day:
41  The Son of Man will send his angels, and they will remove from his Kingdom everything that causes sin and all who do evil. 42  And the angels will throw them into the fiery furnace, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. 43  Then the righteous will shine like the sun in their Father’s Kingdom. Anyone with ears to hear should listen and understand! 
 Matthew 13:41-43 (NLT)

1. O hell, I detest thee now and for evermore; I detest thy torments and pains; I detest thy miserable and accursed eternity; and, above all, I detest those eternal blasphemies and maledictions which thou dost vomit forth eternally against my God. And, turning my heart and soul to thee, O beautiful Paradise, everlasting glory and endless felicity, I choose my habitation, forever and irrevocably, within thy fair and sacred mansions, within thy holy and most lovely tabernacles. I bless thy mercy, O my God, and accept the offer which it pleaseth Thee to make me of it. O Jesus, my Saviour, I accept thy everlasting love, and I acknowledge that it is Thou who hast acquired for me a right to a place in this blessed Jerusalem, not so much for any other thing as to love and bless Thee for ever.

One of the devotional books I am using this year is De Sales, Introduction to the Devout Life.  Over the last year, my sermon research has regularly included quotes from this 19th century priest, so I thought I would add it to my list, along with a deep theological text by Martin Chemnitz.

Early on, it has used the hell a significant number of times as part of the devotions; something I was surprised to see.  Partially because I am not a “hell, fire and brimstone” type preacher/evangelist, trying to keep God’s Law and the Gospel in tension.  Or to use a covenantal approach, making sure people understand both the curses and promises that exist in our covenant, our “contract” with God.

But as I think about our devotion to God, the reason we are drawn to Him, the reason we adore Him, it makes sense that we take both heaven and hell seriously.

Knowing what He has delivered us from creates some of the devotion, it gives us a reason to adore Him.  Over 25 years ago, I had a cardiac arrest.  I can still remember who it was who did CPR till the doctors got there.  I remember who was in my ICU room  (even though I was sedated) Those moments of coming back to life are indeed precious to me. Those people I will always feel a special way towards.

SO much more so when we meditate on the hell we deserve because we choose disobedience, rebellion and sin rather that walking with God.  As believers to look back and know what we deserve, yet His love changes all that!  As we consider what we deserve yet are rescued from, our devotion, our adoration,, our hunger to worship Jesus grows.

As we adore Him, let us look to our future as well, and to what God does in our lives at this moment. For the heaven that we can know only in part is glimpsed in this life, ever so briefly.

Otherwise, heaven is too great a concept for our minds, our hearts, and souls to contemplate.  But in the eyes of a sinner, freed as they realize the mercy and love of God, the comfort that settles on one who mourns, the relief as a beloved prodigal walks back into the life of a church they left behind.

These are glimpses of heaven….just as when we see someone claimed by God in their baptism, or we eat and drink the body and blood of Jesus.

As we consider the reality of both heaven and hell; as we realize the enormous difference between them, our hearts will cry out, glorifying the Lord who delivered us from Hell and into Heaven.

This we need, we so need….. and it changes everything….

As our cry of Hosanna (Lord Save Us!) and Kyrie Eleison are proven answered!


Francis de Sales, Saint. An Introduction to the Devout Life. Dublin: M. H. Gill and Son, 1885. Print.

A Man (or Woman) Has To Know Their Limitations…. (where Theology and Philosophy differ)


clydes-cross-2Devotional Thought fo the Day:

6 Jesus answered them, “How right Isaiah was when he prophesied about you! You are hypocrites, just as he wrote: ‘These people, says God, honour me with their words,
but their heart is really far away from me. 7 It is no use for them to worship me,
because they teach human rules as though they were God’s laws!’ 8 “You put aside God’s command and obey human teachings.”
9 And Jesus continued, “You have a clever way of rejecting God’s law in order to uphold your own teaching.  Mark 7:6-9 TEV

This, then, is God’s kingship—a love that is impregnable and an inventiveness that finds man by ways that are always new. For us, consequently, God’s kingship means that we must have an unshakeable confidence. For this is still true and is applicable to every single life: no one has reason to fear or to capitulate. God can always be found!

In philosophy we seek the things which are certain and distinguish them from the things which are uncertain. And the causes of certainty are universal experience, the principles, and demonstrations. But in the teaching of the church the cause of certainty is the revelation of God. And we must consider what meaning has been given by God to a subject.

There is a huge challenge for any pastor or teacher of scripture.  It doesn’t matter whether you are working with people seeking God, or those who have been in church leadership 40 years or more.  It doesn’t matter whether teaching you are teaching 3-year-olds, or graduate students.

You don’t have the authority to speak and teach where scripture is silent as if it was a true as where scripture does speak.  Nor do you have the authority to change what scripture says, just because you think it is no longer relevant.

There are a number of reasons, one being that we are too often too lazy to study all the scripture, and are reacting to one verse that we don’t particularly care for, or are reacting to someone’s interpretation, rather than working through it.

The primary reason is simpler; we aren’t to make ourselves God. We aren’t all-knowing, or all-powerful, and we are prone to interpret things through our own brokenness. We want to be certain of things, and there is much in life that we cannot be certain of because of our limitations.

We aren’t God.

And God, in His wisdom, has chose to reveal to us that which we really need.  Through both nature (general revelation) and through scripture (specific revelation).  Just like the scientist cannot deny the effect of gravity, neither can the philosopher deny the effect and the only cure for sin. Both may try to use it, circumvent it, delay its effects, but at the end of the day, and at the end of life, they cannot.

Or as my friend the cardiologist says, every time I make a break-thru and do something completely wondrous, I get a catch a common cold and remember I am not God. Each time I think I am a mature believer, I am reminded that maturity is not found in independence from God, but humble dependence.

This is hard because there are things we like and enjoy, and may even base our lives on, that are sinful.  There may be fears and pains we deal with, that affect our lives.   And we want to manipulate scripture and what we call our faith to deal with it.

Is it no wonder that David sings and prays this advice from God, “be still, and know that I am God!”?  Or Paul reminds himself continually that when he is weak, then he can see the power of God at work?

That is the blessing that Pope Benedict (Cardinal Ratzinger) points out in the quote in green.  Knowing our weakness, our limitations means that we can also know the comfort in Jesus being King.  For when we humbly walk with Him, we realize that the love He envelops us with is impregnable, that shows His wisdom in the way He becomes incarnate, not just in the womb of Mary, and in the manger, but in our lives.

Knowing God as He finds us, helps us “find” Him.  To find Him here, even as we struggle with not understanding His reasons, or His rules that protect us, or the blessing He pours out on those we struggle with in life.   It helps us run to Him, with less and less hesitation, asking to be cleansed of sin, that we may rejoice in His love, and the limitations He gives us, that we may realize He is, and loves, and draws us into His glorious joy.

So next time you think about placing your wisdom about God’s word, think again, and humbly walk with Him.  And then say a prayer that I may as well!

 

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.

Chemnitz, Martin, and Jacob A. O. Preus. Loci Theologici. electronic ed. St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1999. Print.

Where One Finds Hope….


MarkJ AdventDevotional Thought of the Day:

30  And why should we ourselves risk our lives hour by hour? 31  For I swear, dear brothers and sisters, that I face death daily. This is as certain as my pride in what Christ Jesus our Lord has done in you. 32  And what value was there in fighting wild beasts—those people of Ephesus—if there will be no resurrection from the dead? And if there is no resurrection, “Let’s feast and drink, for tomorrow we die!” 33  Don’t be fooled by those who say such things, for “bad company corrupts good character.” 34  Think carefully about what is right, and stop sinning. For to your shame I say that some of you don’t know God at all. 1 Corinthians 15:30-34 (NLT)

Heaven, then, is none other than the certainty that God is great enough to have room even for us insignificant mortals. Nothing that we treasure or value will be destroyed. As we ponder all this, let us ask the Lord on this day to open our eyes ever more fully to it; to make us not only people of faith but also people of hope, who do not look to the past but rather build for today and tomorrow a world that is open to God. Let us ask him to make us who believe happy individuals who, amid the stress of daily living, catch a glimpse of the beauty of the world to come and who live, believe, and hope in this certainty. (1)

These days, from just after Thanksgiving to Christmas Eve are called the season of Advent, the time where we wait for the second coming of Jesus, and eternity to be revealed.

It is a time of hope, of expectation.

Time we need, for many of us are experiencing a time of life that seems hard, and one without any form of hope.

Advent is not the answer to the hopelessness in and of itself. It simply seeks to remind us of the hope. It is a time where we go through, recognizing our need for hope, our need for something more, that this life is not all there is.

When we know there is something, we learn to wait for it, fully expectant in the promises of God. That hope gives us the ability to depend on God for the strength to endure.

For heaven is waiting, the place we can’t describe, yet what we know is enough.  For we will be with the one who loves us!  As Pope Benedict points out, this gives us a sense of happiness, a sense of joy, even amid the stress of daily living.

Which is why the Lord’s Supper is the ultimate moment in Advent.  It is that piercing the curtain between our mortality and our immortality.  The Body and Blood of Jesus, a feast that God our Father serves us, is the moment we find ourselves in His presence so clearly, so completely.  From that moment, as with our baptism, the hope of heaven is more than a dream, it is real, the presence of God quite tangible.

Which is the point of Advent, amid the stress of life, as it seems we are in the midst of darkness, affected by disease, division, depression and even death; it is then these extra moments, assuring us of God’s promises, and His faithfulness, are so needed.

This is life, as we don’t just walk with God, we let Him carry us… and safe in His arms, expecting a new day, we find peace.

(1)  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.

This Church is For Misfits and Outcasts


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Devotional Thought of the Day:

15 Later on Jesus was having a meal in Levi’s house. A large number of tax collectors and other outcasts were following Jesus, and many of them joined him and his disciples at the table. 16Some teachers of the Law, who were Pharisees, saw that Jesus was eating with these outcasts and tax collectors, so they asked his disciples, “Why does he eat with such people?”  17 Jesus heard them and answered, “People who are well do not need a doctor, but only those who are sick. I have not come to call respectable people, but outcasts.”   Mark 2:15-17

580    Humbly ask God to increase your faith. Then, with new lights, you’ll see clearly the difference between the world’s paths and your way as an apostle.  (1)

They were the those who were sent away, either to an island for toys that didn’t meet the standard, or out of the camp of Israel because they had sinned, or perhaps, their sin was just more obvious than the rest.

They didn’t fit in, and to be honest,  I count myself as one of their number, and sometimes, I even wonder if I am a mis-fit in their circles.  I have days like that, even a year or two where I feel that way.

Which is why it is hard at times to realize I do fit in at my church.

If I, their pastor, can feel this way, how many others do as well?

How many of us who gather on a Sunday morning know intuitively or because someone told us, that we aren’t like the others.  Maybe it is a psychological challenge, or one of intellect.  Maybe it is what appears to be a physical deformity or disease.  Maybe it is the weakness of character, or some other distinguishing factor that the world would use to separate us from the norm.

But the church is Jesus’s territory, not the worlds!  It is not so different from the Island of Misfit toys, the place where the outcasts would be gathered, and form a tightly-knit community.  One gathered around Jesus, because He shows us we do fit, we are fine and safe.

The incarnation was not for the people in perfect places, with perfect clothes, with sinless perfect lives.  The incarnation was among the misfits, the outcasts, those who others sent away, as if they were broken, or undesirable.  Such make up the One, Holy, catholic (universal/complete) and Apostolic Church, and indeed, of those who were judged mis-fit, some become some of our greatest heroes of the faith, those we call saints (even though all who walk with Jesus are!)

For the world’s paths can’t be tread by them, and as they learn to depend on God, as their faith increases, as they talk and pray with God, He sends them out to bring the healing they are experiencing to the world. They reach out to the other outcasts, and even to those who have pretended they are not!

This is church, real church, with real people who have real problems, and are sustained by a real God.

(1)  Escriva, Josemaria. The Way (Kindle Locations 1386-1387). Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition.

Ready, Are We? A Sermon on life as We Await Jesus’ Return


MarkJ AdventReady, Are We?

Matthew 24:36-44

I.H.S.

 As you encounter the grace, the mercy, and love of God our Father and Lord Jesus Christ, may your desire to experience His presence grow, as will your desire for Jesus to come again!

2 A.M. Somewhere….

Most of us picture Jesus returning based on a passage in First Thessalonians,

16  For the Lord himself will come down from heaven with a commanding shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trumpet call of God. First, the Christians who have died will rise from their graves. 17  Then, together with them, we who are still alive and remain on the earth will be caught up in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. Then we will be with the Lord forever.

1 Thessalonians 4:16-17 (NLT)

We see him, His long hair and robes flowing in the wind, his hand stretched out and a look of pure serenity on His face, with just a few high clouds in the sky, and the sun shining brightly, but no obscuring his glory.

But did you ever think – that somewhere when he returns – it will be 2 a.m in the morning?  That somewhere people will be sound asleep; and in another home, a mom will be feeding her baby, as some will be taking their delivery trucks out, as bars and clubs close.

And somewhere, in the midst of their lives, at some time of the day or night, some people will be engaged in sin. Someone will be cursing using God’s name, and another forgetting to pray for an enemy.  Someone will be killing with physical weapons, and others simply using their words to do damage as significant.   Some will be committing adultery, and others gossiping., and some, just struggling to depend on God who they can’t see.

And out of the clouds, whether 2 p.m., 2 a.m. Jesus will return.

Our gospel tells us we must be ready always, for Jesus will not only return, but he will also return when you least expect it.

So as I share God’s love this morning, I want you to think about a couple of questions.

First – Do you care?

The first is challenging, well, they both are.  But here is the first question:

Do you, or do you think the church cares about whether Jesus is coming back?

Is it on your radar at all?  Do you wake up in the morning, and wonder if this will be the day?   Do we ever consider it given our decisions to do this or that?

Do we even think about Jesus coming back?

Think about that for a moment.

second – why?

if you do think about Jesus returning, the second question comes into play.

Why do you want Him to return?

Is it to escape the pressure and depression that this world and the evil in it causes?  I have to admit; there are days I don’t want to hear any news, to see any headlines.

Is it to stop having to struggle with life and the complications we have in our lives?  Complications like aging and sick bodies, challenged relationships.  ( Great line from Skorpion  – Thanksgiving is about having meals with people we don’t get along with the rest of the year!)

Is it to stop having to deal with our sin, our guilt, shame, brokenness?

When we pray for Jesus to return – is it to be rescued from something, or to be delivered into the presence of God?

That’s what the issues were in Noah’s day, they forgot about the presence of God in their lives, and they lived life without thinking about God.

And to be honest, many of us get trapped in the same kind of life.

Unaware of God, and only turning to Him to be rescued.

Walking with Jesus is much, so much more meaningful than that. Eternity will be so much more than simply being free of the crap of this world!  Eternity with God is dwelling with Him, in the purest peace, the most mindblowing joy, in fellowship divine.

It is to live, as we are being drawn into the glory of God…..

And it will happen… sooner than we have prepared for…

Ready, Are we?

 

SO then, the questions change a little….

How do we get ready for Jesus to return?

We turn to the words of Paul in the epistle…

12 The night is almost gone; the day of salvation will soon be here. So remove your dark deeds like dirty clothes,

This speaks of two things – first our baptism, and the incredible work of God that started there, as God cleanses us from all our sin, just as He promises. But it also speaks of repentance – the continuing action of our being transformed – what we see when we confess our sins and expect God to keep His promise there as we and then the question of how we stay read

14 Instead, clothe yourself with the presence of the Lord Jesus Christ.

And this speaks of baptism too – as God the Father clothes us in Christ’s righteousness, in His holiness.  As we see the work of God drawing us closer, and it is so incredible, so peaceful and so joyous that we begin to desire it more and more.

And we see that not only in baptism, but here as we kneel, as we receive Christ, as we have a glimpse at our relationship with God, and the height and depth, the breadth and width of His love for us, this endless joyous love.

Advent?  TO desire Jesus presence, to have nothing hindering it, not guilt, no shame, no brokenness, this is what advent is about – and why we desire Him to return…

And may that desire grow – as you know His love, as you dwell in His peace.

AMEN!

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