Monthly Archives: February 2014

The Church and Persecution


Devotional Thought of the Day:
The Pantheon, a place once dedicated to worship of idols but reborn to host the worship of God.  May our lives tell a similar story as we realize what God does to us in baptism!
 10  Blessed are those who are persecuted in the cause of uprightness: the kingdom of Heaven is theirs. 11  ‘Blessed are you when people abuse you and persecute you and speak all kinds of calumny against you falsely on my account. 12  Rejoice and be glad, for your reward will be great in heaven; this is how they persecuted the prophets before you.   Matthew 5:10-12 (NJB)

1026  Violent persecution had broken out. And that priest prayed: Jesus, may every sacrilegious fire increase in me the fire of Love and Reparation.

There are times I think, that the church in America has re-written the scripture passage above in their hearts.  It goes something like this:

Blessed are those who avoid persecution or complain about it, for religious freedom will be theirs.  Blessed are you when people abuse you and persecute you and speak bad about you, because you say you are a Christian, but refuse to love them, and sacrifice for those you consider evil and corrupt. Rejoice and be glad, for this is how the pharisees operated back in the day.

You may think that harsh, but while there are churches being burnt down with their parishoners inside, we claim the church in America is being persecuted.  Why? Because our society doesn’t resemble us, and our nice fantasy that America is primarily a Chrisitan country is being dashed to pieces. And our reaction to our image being shattered?  “It’s persecution?  Those people are evil! The church needs to stand up and fight for what is right!  We’ve got to restore this country to greatness”

And in taking that attitude, we’ve lost something, we’ve lost the vision of the Savior who came to care for those broken, lost in darkness, We’ve lost the knowledge that spiritual warfare is about freeing those bound in sin and darkness, it is about delivering them into the presence of a God who completely loves them.  It’s about giving all to minister to them, even dieing if necessary.  It’s about not loving our own lives, so much that we wouldn’t die for the sake of the Lord we trust in, the Lord who called us into relationship with Him.

I love Josemaria’s words here, a man who struggled through civil war, where Chrsitians, laypeople and clergy were killed by both sides. Let the fires of persecution, the sacrileges committed as people are killed because of their faith – let those fires increase our fire, our zeal to love, our zeal to see reconciliation, our zeal to see the gospel free people from all that oppresses them, and open to them the power of God. For the more we see the brokenness of the world, the more we cry out for God to work, the more we depend on Him, the more we are spurred on to show the only hope that only God provides.

That’s why the church in places like the Sudan, in the Ukraine, in the Middle East, in so many dark places in the world grows rapidly, for it is the only place of hope.  That is why scripture talks about turning the other cheek, and going beyond what is required by the law, but embracing suffering for the sake of those who are caught up in sin, for those dominated by evil.  Because as they see us, they realize there is something different.  We see it as Paul and his companions sing praises in Jail, or as saints throughout the ages bless their persecutors like Stephen did.

Don’t whine about perceived persecution.  Stand firm in your witness to Christ – and love and work to reconcile them to God.  For this is how Revelation describes us,

 10  Then I heard a voice shout from heaven, ‘Salvation and power and empire for ever have been won by our God, and all authority for his Christ, now that the accuser, who accused our brothers day and night before our God, has been brought down. 11  They have triumphed over him by the blood of the Lamb and by the word to which they bore witness, because even in the face of death they did not cling to life. Revelation 12:10-11 (NJB)

Don’t fight the fire of persecution with counter attacks, but instead with the fire of God’s love.

Lord have mercy!  God give us the strength to love our enemies, and to zealously pray for those who persecute us!

Escriva, Josemaria (2011-01-31). The Forge (Kindle Locations 3630-3631). Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition.

Top Down Christianity? I Don’t Think So…


Devotional Thought of the Day:photo(35)
Now if your experience of Christ’s encouragement and love means anything to you, if you have known something of the fellowship of his Spirit, and all that it means in kindness and deep sympathy, do make my best hope for you come true! Live together in harmony, live together in love, as though you had only one mind and one spirit between you. Never act from motives of rivalry or personal vanity, but in humility think more of each other than you do of yourselves. None of you should think only of his own affairs, but should learn to see things from other people’s point of view.  Let Christ himself be your example as to what your attitude should be. For he, who had always been God by nature, did not cling to his prerogatives as God’s equal, but stripped himself of all privilege by consenting to be a slave by nature and being born as mortal man. And, having become man, he humbled himself by living a life of utter obedience, even to the extent of dying, and the death he died was the death of a common criminal. Phillipians 2:1- 6ish ( Phillips New Testament)

“In solitude we can come to the realization that we are not driven together, but brought together.  In solitude we come to know our fellow human beings not just as partners who can satisfy our deepent needs, but as brothers and sisters with whom we are called to give visibility to God’s all-embracing love.  In solitude we discover that community is not in common ideology, but a response to a common call.  In solitude we indeed realize that community is not made, but given.  (1)

I have slowly been working through a document assigned to me, about my role within the church at large.  I have struggled with it, because it finds “hope” for the church, not within the body of Christ itself, but within the leadership of the church. I don’t think so, matter of fact, I know from 15 years of pastoral ministry, and almost that long in management, it doesn’t work that way. It instead.  Deacons, Pastors, Priests, Bishops, are not that which around the church grows, even if we are often a focal point during a worship service.

The identity of the Church, whether in a congregational form, or in the sense of the Church being all believers throughout the world and time (what some theologians call the invisible church) is not based in its leadership.  It is based in Christ, and in His love and mercy. It is found when people are brought together in the love of Christ, and begin experiencing that love from others. It requires patience, as we grow in love, and the side effect of that is growing in knowledge.  Let me make this clear – it is not growing people primarily theologically that is the mission of the church, it is growing people int heir trust of God, in their desire to receive His love, which results in them loving their neighbor.  Theology may help in this endeavor, but it will not, cannot replace that which the church should be.

Let me give two examples.  You can have the proper view of the Lord’s Supper, You can define it as well as Chemnitz, be able to receite Acquinas and Abelard and every theological nuance about it.  But if that is what is going through your mind as you kneel at the altar rail, you have missed something.  The words Luther found so necessary to know, given/shed for you. I’ve seen guys who were gang members, and little children be able to know that, to cry with tears of “for me?  Really”, to tears of purest joy as they partake.  That is the church.

Another example. A little less than a month ago, my wife gave me the news that she was pregnant.  At our age, we were concerned and ask people to pray, and many did.  On Tuesday, we were told that Kay had miscarried, something we suspected…yet prayed wasn’t true.  It’s hard to even type these words.  But the church, the church as the entity of the body of believers are coming through.  Many expressions of their sorrow with us, but even more, the words that sound so  powerfully into my heart.  “praying for you”.

Praying for you.

Only two people tried to come up with some kind of theory that they thought would relieve our pain, or make it less. Those explanations didn’t make it less.  But over 100 people acknowledged the loss, the lack of words, gathered us up and brought our pain before God, knowing no other words would offer us help. That’s not top-down church. That’s not the owrk of just one congregation, for there were Lutherans, Catholics, a Methodist.  Young and old, Clergy and laity,. Ministering to my wife and I, in a way that made sense.  That’s just the church, the people of God, having the mindset of Christ.  They know His love, and know that in times like this, that is what will sustain us. That’s the church.  That is the church who will love those around them, even as Christ does.  That’s the church that will reach out to those that are broken, and minister to them, doing whatever it takes, for the broken come first.

The church, gathered, brought together to be in Christ, is something wonderful to behold.  But it is not something that can be driven, It is something that is generated and kindled by God’s love. Can a leader set the example?  Yes, but he cannot demand those who follow to toe the line, or force Christ-likedness.

Lord Have mercy on us!

(1) Hendri Nouwen, from Clowning in Rome (as cited in Celtic Daily Prayer, Aiden Readings 2/27)

Do We Desire Christ’s Presence in our Lives? Does it Show?


Devotional Comment of the Day:Dawn at Concordia

1  One night as I lay in bed, I yearned for my lover. I yearned for him, but he did not come. 2  So I said to myself, “I will get up and roam the city, searching in all its streets and squares. I will search for the one I love.” So I searched everywhere but did not find him. 3  The watchmen stopped me as they made their rounds, and I asked, “Have you seen the one I love?” 4  Then scarcely had I left them when I found my love! I caught and held him tightly.  Song of Songs 3:1-4 (NLT) 

“1030      My God, when will I love you for yourself? Although when we think about it, Lord, to desire an everlasting reward is to desire you, for you give yourself as our reward.

1031      Taste and see that the Lord is good, the Psalmist says. Spiritual conquest, which is Love, has to be—in big things and small—a desire for the Infinite, for eternity”.(1)

If you gather ten average men together, they will talk about the desires they have for their baseball or football teams.  They will do so with great energy, with a competitive fever, and with an incredible level of enthusiasm.  You will have great trouble changing the subject.  A similar group of men will wax eloquent about their cars, and the experience driving them, or the cars they dream of driving. ( My preference – just one of two cars from 1970-71 – the Triumph Spitfire or Datsun 240z)

But change the subject and ask them to talk about the passion and admiration they have for their wives, how thye adore them and value them, and they clam up.  ABout the only thing they will discuss with less emotion is their faith.

And that is a problem.

A serious problem.

There are even books out there advising pastors to not talk about God and our relationship with Him, for it will drive men away. Tenderness, compassion, caring, deep love, these are words that we are told we cannot continue to use, for men will turn off their minds, and stop listening to the sermon, or the lesson. Talk about the logic of Christianity, the proofs of it, heavy theology fine.  Create systems and programs and methods for growing the church?  Fine.  Desire for Christ’s presence?  Nope.  Christ’s passion and compassion for people? Never!  Spend an hour weeping and praying over the brokenness of our communities, begging God to show us how to intervene?  You have to be kidding.

It is it any wonder that we’ve ripped the heart out of the church, that we our passion for the lost, the hurting, the broken has all but dried up?  That our church’s have developed into houses of reason, that the “approved music” by denominations is complex and majestic and too dang hard for the average person to sing and praise their God with?  We’ve taught people that they can’t trust their emotions, forgetting that in Christ, those emotions have been cleansed, that in baptism the heart of stone has been replaced by a heart of flesh.  Desire for God is dismissed, too pietistic, too emotional, and those things don’t belong in church, we are told.

Is it any wonder our churches are dying?

The above quote in red is from the Song of Solomon, and ancient commentators thought of it as an appropriate description of the emotinal bond between Christ and His Beloved, the people that are gathered as the church.  The desire there described would blow past any limitations in order to see, to be with, to know (not just “biblically”) the Beloved. And the beloved responds in a similar manner.  Desire, longing, and emptiness when the presence of the loved one isn’t there.  Other theologians have said it can’t be, and I wonder if it is less because of the physically intimate talk, or because of the transparent desire for the presence of God.

St Josemaria didn’t hesitate in describing such love, neither writers like C.S. Lewis (read Till We Have Faces) and Gene Edwards or George McDonald, philosophers like Pascal, pastors like Luther and Wesley. Songs like Amazing Grace and It is Well and A Mighty Fortress in their completeness describe this desire, this longing, this adoration of God, and of His desire to make His presence clear in our lives, as He does throughout all of scripture!

“I will be your God, and you will be My people!  (Leviticus 6:12 and many more places!)

God desires a relationship with us, He desires to pour out His love upon us, that is what salvation is all about. A God passionate for His people. A God who would do more than move heaven and earth for His people, a God who would prove out His love by sacrificing His Son.

Yeah – that’s intimidating, but also so incredible, so overwhelming,

And it is a treasure that we can share, for as we come to know His desire for us, we realize it is a desire for the world, and for our family, neighbors and friends.

HIs desire for us, even before we cry, “Lord have mercy”, is an answer to that cry…

May we respond to His desire for us, with a growing desire to spend our lives in His presence, and exhausting ourselves in that which pleases Him.

AMEN

 
(1)Escriva, Josemaria (2011-01-31). The Forge (Kindle Locations 3643-3647). Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition.

 

Holiness, What does it look like?


Holiness, What Does it Look Like?

Leviticus 19:1-2, 9-18

 IHS

May the grace of God our Father and our Lord Jesus Christ build your confidence in their work in your life!


May Your Children Grow up

Rumor has it, that someone in this sanctuary may have uttered the following blessing once or twice.

“I hope you children grow up to be just….. (like you!)”

Now, I know some may have said it with less intent than a blessing.  But there is One here, who would has indeed said it as a blessing, as a prayer.  That they desired the children of the One they were talking to, as they grew up to resemble Him in every way.

Indeed, that is the very reason Jesus came, to make sure that the children of His Father, would grow up to resemble God.

That is why we hear the words today in two readings, “You must be Holy, because, I, the Lord your God am holy.”

You must be holy, you must resemble your Father in heaven.  There is no maybe, it is not just a challenge, a goal for us, it is truth.  It is reality,

You must be Holy, for you Dad in heaven is, and His children, grow up to be just like Him.

And that, my brothers and sisters, is a very good thing!

So say it with me, “I must be holy, for my Father in heaven, the LORD, my God, is Holy!”

Now say it like you mean it!

“I must be holy, for my Father in heaven, the LORD, my God, is Holy!”
So what does that look like, in real life in Cerritos in 2014?  What does Holiness look like, lived out our lives?

I am the Lord

As we look at the Old Testament reading, there is going to be a temptation to define holiness by the “do’s and “do not’s” listed there.  It is a great list, which we will look at in Bible Study, but there is more to holiness than just those behaviors.  Holiness is more than just the attitudes we hear described there.

Don’t get me wrong, those behaviors need to describe us, but the key to our holiness, to our being just like our Father, isn’t found there.

It’s found in His name.

That’s why it is repeated five times throughout the passage.

I am the LORD.

Slight tangent for a moment.  It’s one of my frustrations with English translations, that instead of putting God’s name in scriptures, we cover it up with LORD, in all capitals. I understand it, but the result is we often overlook it, and what it means for God to give us His name. 6000 times in scripture, the Name of God is there, for us to hear, and know He is, and He is with us!

So five times, in this list of behaviors, God reminds people He is the LORD, He is YHWH, He is the I AM.  It is the same way He starts every list of commandments, every time He describes how the people of God should live life! A life set apart in a relationship with Him, for God is, and He is with you!

Here, like in the 10 Commandments, God describes how we are not to use His name, We aren’t to use it falsely, or bring shame on it.  Which means, Luther points out, that we are to use it, to praise and glorify Him, to bring honor to His name, to use it in the way that pleases Him, calling out to Him as a child calls out to its Father.

Each time that name is used in scripture, it should call to mind that God has taught us to depend on Him, to call out to Him, for yes, He is our father.
That is where Holiness begins, dwelling in His presence!  No wonder the psalms encourage us, telling us of the joy it was to be going up to the house of the Lord!

Or why Paul writes,

18  All of us, then, reflect the glory of the Lord with uncovered faces; and that same glory, coming from the Lord, who is the Spirit, transforms us into his likeness in an ever greater degree of glory.
2 Corinthians 3:16-18 (TEV)

If we are transformed into His likeness, that likeness includes the holiness of God, that we must be!.  For you must be holy, even as YHWH God is Holy!

So what does holiness look like?

Jesus.

Incarnate, Crucified, Risen.

with whom in baptism we are united.

We are holy, we must be holy, for in Christ, we are made to be so.

So you must be Holy      

So these words that surround God telling us He is our God, that He is at work in our lives, that we have a relationship with Him and therefore are holy; what about those words?  Do we ignore them?

Or, are we not holy, if they do not describe us?

It is a heavy list, if we see it as requirements, if we hear it as God’s law.

If indeed, it is law.  But there is a problem there, we can’t make these changes on our own.  Even if we just look at the bottom line, the command to love all our neighbors as ourselves – I know I struggle just to know mine, but to love them?

To look out for all that would gladly settle for the leavings? To provide extra for them, the poor and the foreigner?

What about the challenge of not causing the blind and deaf to struggle?  We may think we do not do it, but what if it is that they are deaf and dumb in regards to knowing the love of God?  Do the actions we take towards them, or the actions we don’t take, become a stumbling block in their responding to God’s call to them, to come and find the healing they need?

The option is to do what our church vision is, as we find ourselves healing in Christ, to help others heal. CLICK

You must be holy isn’t just a command, it is a statement of Christ’s effectiveness, in coming and saving us!

That is why holiness happens, not by a force of our will, but by being transformed into the likeness of Jesus, of realizing these qualities define Him, and therefore, as we are transformed into His likeness, they begin to define us even more.

For He is the LORD, our God, our Father, and the work of Christ is to present us perfect complete in Him.  That is the work of the Holy Spirit as well, transforming us, sanctifying us, making us holy… to Him.

The secret to Holiness?

Look to God, look to Christ’s love, shown at the cross, united to youn in your baptism, the love we share in, the Christ we share in as we take and eat His body, as we drink His blood, as we proclaim His death for us, for all of us, until He comes again.

Call on Him, remember His call to you, remember His work, and then you will begin to love others as He does… and His sense of justice, His sense of mercy will become yours.

For apples don’t fall far from the tree…

and children grow up to be just like their dads…. And you will grow up to be like your heavenly Father, because of Jesus

Holiness?  What does it look like?

You as you dwell in Christ,, for you must be holy, for your Father in Heaven, YHWH your God, is Holy

Knowing His holiness, that peace which can’t be described in words, yet in which you dwell, your heart and mind guarded by Jesus Christ.  AMEN?

Do We Hate Sin? Or Just Passively Accept it’s Existence?


photo(35)

Broken by sin, one lost is returned by the Shepherd

Devtional/Discussion THought of the Day:
29  Levi gave a large dinner at his home for Jesus. Everybody was there, tax men and other disreputable characters as guests at the dinner. 30  The Pharisees and their religion scholars came to his disciples greatly offended. “What is he doing eating and drinking with crooks and ‘sinners’?” 31  Jesus heard about it and spoke up, “Who needs a doctor: the healthy or the sick? 32  I’m here inviting outsiders, not insiders—an invitation to a changed life, changed inside and out. Luke 5:29-32 (MSG) 

1024      Help me repeat in the ear of this person and of that other one… and of everyone: a sinner who has faith, even if he were to obtain all the blessings of this earth, will necessarily be unhappy and wretched. It is true that the motive that leads us (and should lead everyone) to hate sin, even venial sin, ought to be a supernatural one: that God abhors sin from the depths of his infiniteness, with a supreme, eternal and necessary hatred, as an evil opposed to the infinite good. But the first reason I mentioned to you can lead us to this other one.  (1)

Yesterday in our Adult Bible Study the comment came up again, about Jesus’ words. “judge not, lest you be judged”. We were dealing with the Leviticus 19, and the call to confront those we struggle with, lest we carry the burden of their sin.  It seems, that we are challenged, greatly challenged, by what appears to be contradictory commands in scripture.  We are not to judge (actually condemn might be more accruate) but we have to make the judgment that a relationship damaged by sin, needs to be fixed.   We have to risk being judged for being judgmental. (for surely those accused of jduging will be judged!)

Some will say in response, “You have to hate the sin, and love the sinner!”   If this is just a way of accepting the inevitable fact that all of us still sin, and that we have to love people who are dominated by such sin, then it is not accurate. Hating the sin means hating the hold it has over people, the oppression it causes, as people get sucked into its grip. We have to realzie that sin is powerful, it does control and oppress people, and it can do devastating damage to a person, and to those around them.  No wonder Paul said,

 17  But I need something more! For if I know the law but still can’t keep it, and if the power of sin within me keeps sabotaging my best intentions, I obviously need help! 18  I realize that I don’t have what it takes. I can will it, but I can’t do it. 19  I decide to do good, but I don’t really do it; I decide not to do bad, but then I do it anyway. 20  My decisions, such as they are, don’t result in actions. Something has gone wrong deep within me and gets the better of me every time. 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? Romans 7:17-24 (MSG)

Do we hate that feeling that nothing we can do helps, when we are oppressed by sin?  Do we cry out as Paul does here, openly, to the Church in Rome?  Or, have we just given up, and left people in bondage to it, accepting that it just is that way?

Remember why Jesus said He came above.  It’s not for us who think we are whole, who claim we’ve broken the power of sin, and we are holy.

It is for those broken by sin, devastated by it, those who are crying out for help.  Those who need a healing that only Jesus Christ can bring about, as He unites us to Himself, as He takes on our sin.  That’s what the Pharisees didn’t see, that Christ didn’t come to celebrate the good life, but to crush sin and its power. Hating sin as God does means that we want to see people come to that transformation, that incredible thing called repentance, to the freedom from its power. Paul finished off his cry above with this,

 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  (MSG) 1  With the arrival of Jesus, the Messiah, that fateful dilemma is resolved. Those who enter into Christ’s being-here-for-us no longer have to live under a continuous, low-lying black cloud. 2  A new power is in operation. The Spirit of life in Christ, like a strong wind, has magnificently cleared the air, freeing you from a fated lifetime of brutal tyranny at the hands of sin and death. 3  God went for the jugular when he sent his own Son. He didn’t deal with the problem as something remote and unimportant. In his Son, Jesus, he personally took on the human condition, entered the disordered mess of struggling humanity in order to set it right once and for all.  Romans 7:25-8:3(MSG)

In Christ, we are set right, once and for all. But that means we need to realzie that people need to be set right, they need to be freed from this oppressive thing we know as sin…..

But that means we need to confront, in love.  A tough challenge, a lot of risk. But that is why He came – and that is why we are here….for if Christ didn’t come to care for the well, but the sick, shouldn’t we be following His example?

Lord have mercy on us, help us to hate the sin, and seek healing for sinners from its ravages!

 

(1)  Escriva, Josemaria (2011-01-31). The Forge (Kindle Locations 3623-3628). Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition.

The Old Rugged Cross? It Will Cost You Everything You Are


Devotional/Discussion THought of the Day:

38  Those who do not take up their cross and follow in my steps are not fit to be my disciples. 39  Those who try to gain their own life will lose it; but those who lose their life for my sake will gain it. Matthew 10:38-39 (TEV) 

1020      This is the sure way: through humiliation to the Cross; then, from the Cross, with Christ, to the immortal Glory of the Father.  (1)

One of the challenges of singing the old “standard” hymns, is tht they can stir our emotions, without our “hearing” the words. The melodies, familiar and having great meaning from the past, stir our soul, cutting through our defenses.  But do we simply mouth the words?  Do they affect both heart and mind?  This mornign, as I looked at my devotions, a hymn beloeved by many came to mind.

“the Old Rugged Cross”

I tried to think of the words, a hymn I’ve played a thousand times, sung even more, in every kind of church.  Yet, the words escape me, save the last line – “and exchange it someday for a crown”

I just looked up the lyrics, and they seem to romaticized.  A wondrous attraction, this cross of Christ, and our joining Him there?  Yes it is where Christ embraced our evil, but it is also where He embraces it, because He embraces us there.  Which means the humiliation of realizing our desperate need to be embraced, in order to be cleansed. This taking up the cross, it’s not just the praiseworthy work we do, the sacrifices we make for others, as Christ seves them, through us. It does get these, as we share in the glory of God, as only His children can.

But to go to that cross, to be pulled there perhaps, kicking and screaming, is not easy. It is to realize our own darkness, our own shame – and to let it be nailed there to the cross.  To die with it there, no more games, no more self-righteousness, no more my way is best, well at least better than theirs. The cross costs us so much it woudl seem, for what is stripped away there is everything not in in the image of God. Salvation is indeed free – but it is radical in what it takes from us.That humiliation is hard, to open up to God, to confess our sins, to realize He will forgive and cleanse. He is faithful, He is merciful, He is loving.  Having died to self, we find it is where reconciliation happens, because we realzie we are broken, needy, sinful, and the glory of God unites us with His death, and yes with the humiliation that comes from realizing it is our own way to know life. Our desires become like HIs, to help others, trapped as we were, to know this life… this incredible life which is different than just existing. 

It is walking with God!

Many of us need to see our old ways crucified daily, as we remember our baptism (see Romans 6) and the work God does in us, calling us, cleansing us, healing us.  We know it happened – for me 48 years ago on Wednesday. But I need to remember it happened, today.  I need to embrace the fact that I needed to die with Christ, and then brought into the presence of God the Father, and welcomed home.

Harsh this cross may seem, hard to endure it is, save one thing.  We take it up, with Him.

 

(1)  Escriva, Josemaria (2011-01-31). The Forge (Kindle Locations 3607-3608). Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition.

What Kind of Peace Are You Looking for?


Devotional Thought of the Day:

 15  But have reverence for Christ in your hearts, and honor him as Lord. Be ready at all times to answer anyone who asks you to explain the hope you have in you, 16  but do it with gentleness and respect. Keep your conscience clear, so that when you are insulted, those who speak evil of your good conduct as followers of Christ will become ashamed of what they say1 Peter 3:15-16 (TEV)

“No, what I meant was to wish you a good evening,” Arthur would say, or rather, used to say. He soon learned to avoid these conversations. “I mean that I hope you have a good evening,” he would add. More puzzlement. “Wish?” the Bartledanian would say at last, in polite bafflement. “Er, yes,” Arthur would then have said. “I’m just expressing the hope that …” “Hope?” “Yes.” “What is hope?” Good question, thought Arthur to himself, and retreated back to his room to think about things. On the one hand he could only recognize and respect what he learned about the Bartledanian view of the Universe, which was that the Universe was what the Universe was, take it or leave it. On the other hand he could not help but feel that not to desire anything, not ever to wish or to hope, was just not natural.  (1)

One of the reason I love Douglas Adam’s five book trilogy (besides the obvious – it is a five book trilogy) is that it makes us question our thoughts and desires, and the framework in which we live and love.  A great example is the passage above in blue, which I was reading this morning at breakfast.

There are times where I wonder why things cant be simple – can’t be easy and smooth sailing through life without a concern,  My idea of peace – just walking down shore road at Lake Ossipee with my wife and son, pushing a stroller with the new baby.  Rather than me sitting here, writing a blog, thousands of miles away from them, while the baby is at risk. Can’t anything ever be easy, simple – without a desperate desire for things to be better?  Is that my expectation of heaven?  A placebo of existence?

As I sit here – learning things from God, with the help of Douglas Adams and others that I am reading… I wonder.

The people Arthur Dent encountered had it made – life was a breeze – they had no desire, no hope,, everything was peaceful and idyllic on their little planer.  Dent was someone who had saved the universe, sort of – been through all sorts of hell and trial.  So this planet he idealized and searched for, this life of peace and contentment?  Living in a situation without hope, without desire, without,Dent would discover, life. His judgement, one philsophers and poets could state, boiled down to this.

It sucked.

The more I consider God’s peace, the more I realize it is a peace known throughout every aspect of life, the good, the bad, the painful.  It is, as Jesus tells us, a peace the world cannot give – even if we were to have a lifetime vacation in the Bahamas (or preferably Osippee, NH)  The reason we treasure it isn’t because of the lacks, but in view of them, even as we walk with Jesus.  This isn’t some twisted praise of pain, suffering or lack.  It is instead of the realization that those situations can help build a hunger.

The question is hunger for what? Change? The kind of peace that seems desiable but sucks?  Or the presence of God?

One of the other books I’ve been reading (was dared to read actually) I found these words in,

“But the most serious problem with the spirit of sadness is that it bears within itself the sin against hope. Bernanos says it well in his Diary of a Country Priest: “The sin against hope … is the most mortal of all, and yet it is the one most welcomed and honored. Much time is needed for us to recognize it, so sweet is the sadness that announces and precedes it! It is the most precious of the devil’s elixirs, his ambrosia.” IN RESPONSE TO THIS, Paul VI states: “Joy which is properly spiritual, the joy which is a fruit of the Holy Spirit (cf. Rom 14: 17; Gal 5: 22-23), consists in the human spirit’s finding repose and a deep satisfaction in the possession of the Triune God, known by faith and loved with the charity that comes from God. “Such a joy henceforth characterizes all the Christian virtues.”

A complext thought there, but one that resonates with me.  It is when we lose hope, when we lose the expectation of God’s presence, that trust (faith) is deteriorated, when we stop looking to God, when we stop expecting Him to take our burdens, when we stop finding ourselves as His posession, and that we poessess their presence.

Exclude hope, and the need for it and Life changes – the desire for peace becomes a search for nirvana, a search for nothingness.  Yet our hope – our expectation, our desire to be in the presence of God is what sustains us. It is what gives us life in Him, it is what builds our faith.  Serenity, deep peace we can avail ourselves at in any time, any situation,   Deep peace that comes – not from absence but presence.  A peace that is ours, because we are in Christ.

It is when we cry “Lord have mercy…” and wait…knowing the answered will be revealed, even as it has been revealed in Christ.

(1)  Adams, Douglas (2010-09-29). The Ultimate Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy (p. 709). Random House Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.

(2) Pope Francis; Jorge M Bergoglio (2013-11-18). Open Mind, Faithful Heart (p. 16). The Crossroad Publishing Company. Kindle Edition.

Living a Holy Life. Possible for us?


] Devotional/Discussion Thought of the Day:

 7  But to keep me from being puffed up with pride because of the many wonderful things I saw, I was given a painful physical ailment, which acts as Satan’s messenger to beat me and keep me from being proud. 8  Three times I prayed to the Lord about this and asked him to take it away. 9  But his answer was: “My grace is all you need, for my power is greatest when you are weak.” I am most happy, then, to be proud of my weaknesses, in order to feel the protection of Christ’s power over me. 10  I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and difficulties for Christ’s sake. For when I am weak, then I am strong. 2 Corinthians 12:7-10 (TEV)

The Christian life is not hard to live, it is utterly impossible to live! Only one can live it, so let Him, in you!  (2/18F entry – Celtic Daily Prayer)

1003      Saint Teresa assures us that “anyone who doesn’t pray doesn’t need any devil to tempt him; while whoever prays, even if only for a quarter of an hour each day, will necessarily be saved.” This is because our conversation with Our Lord—who is so loving, even in times of difficulty or dryness of soul—enables us to see things in their proper perspective and discover the true proportions of life. Be a soul of prayer. (1)

This trip to the Phillipines is turning out to be somewhat of a enforced retreat, a time of being broken before God.  Some of that brokenness is physical, much more is emotional, as I receive word from home, worry about my wife and children (William and the unborn baby).  As i look out my hotel window and see both great riches and great poverty, as I hear of a couple that receives more challenging… no, I can’t just use that word, bad news today about the spread of the wife’s cancer.

Yes, Lord, I am tired, I am beaten, and in my eyes, it is not well with my soul.

The afflictions I face aren’t like Paul’s for the most part.  I haven’t been beaten or stoned, The likelihood is that I won’t have my head chopped off, or be crucified upside down.

But as I sit here in this hotel room – far from all my friends but one – and his very gracious family… I can’t do anything. I can’t massage my wife’s back, I can’t bring peace and laughter to my friends, I can’t teach and preach and share in the Lord’s sacrament with my church family.  (Oh I missed that on Sunday!)

So what do I come across in my devotions this morning – well – you see it above…. and it is more mindblowing.

I can’t live the life I want to live I read, with the disclaimer that it can only be lived in Christ.  Great Theological truth there, I’ve said similar from pulipits and in counseling to people, We have to live in Christ

One saint quotes another saint talking about prayer…. and as usual my head argues with me – I don’t want to be forced to pray, I don’t want to have to depend on this, I want to do something. And then I remember that such calls to prayer are not calls of the Law – do this or else… they are invitations to share in God’s grace.

That’s how, in Christ – we are Christians!  Holiness is simply the way to describe our lives as being lived in relationship to Christ that is so imtimate, so much a part of our nature – both conscious and unconcious, that it is who we are, and we realize it.  We know it – and when we reach these times of brokenness, these times of despair, we simply realize that our place is in God, that we share in His glory. That His power is at work through us in ways we cannot comprehend (but dang it – there are times I wish we could)  Living a life of holiness isn’t about my being perfect, about my sinning less – it is about those 10-20 minutes or somedays an hour… where I remember I am in His presence.

Living a life of Holiness is possible – being a Christian is possible – only in Christ.

That somehow – these times of prayer – sitting in a hotel room – are more critical, more powerful than anything else I can do.

I need to know this – I wish I could see this but even more – I realize I need to see just Him….

Lord Have Mercy on us is a prayer that can only be said… in His presence…

(1)   Escriva, Josemaria (2011-01-31). The Forge (Kindle Locations 3536-3540). Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition.

 

How Important is That “Hour”


Devotional/Discussion Thought of the Day:

 40  Then he returned to the disciples and found them asleep. He said to Peter, “Couldn’t you watch with me even one hour? 41  Keep watch and pray, so that you will not give in to temptation. For the spirit is willing, but the body is weak!”  Matthew 26:40-41 (NLT)

28  “Come to me, all of you who are tired from carrying heavy loads, and I will give you rest. 29  Take my yoke and put it on you, and learn from me, because I am gentle and humble in spirit; and you will find rest. 30  For the yoke I will give you is easy, and the load I will put on you is light.”   Matthew 11:28-30 (TEV) 

“why is there so little anxiety to get time to pray?  Ist is the want of these solitary hours that not only injures our growrh in grace, but makes us such unprofitable members of the church of Christ – and that renders our lives…useless.  ( Celtic Prayer Book – Devotion for 12/17)

In the hectic-ness of my trip to the Philipinnes, it has been far to easy to skip my “devotional time”.  The time where I deliberately try and slow down, or let God slow me down.  A time to relax – and listen – mostly listen to God’s love for me.  It can be, it is revealed through the scriptures, through the devotional reading I do – through givning him my anxieties, my burdens – and as I am realizing on this trip – my pains.

You see – if this time is to be devotional – then the result of it should be a time where I grow in my devotion to God – a devotion that is lived out in my daily work, my pastoring, my being a husband, a father, and to many a friend.  The time isn’t to prove my devotion to God – a discipline that proves to Him my love, but a time where His presence, in which I realize I am – all the time – strengthens me, cleanses, me, comforts and consoles me.

I used to hear Jesus’ words to the apostles in Gethsemane as a plea for them to prove their love to Him.  Even used that in sermons – “come on you lazy people – can’t you just pray and read scripture for an hour?  Really?  Not even a tithe of your time!  Sheesh!”  And oh I was wrong.

Look at ALL the words – Jesus is wanting them to pray for their sake, so they will not fall for temptation, for Jesus realizes our hearts desire His presence, our hearts desire not to sin, BUT, our flesh can often fail us – flesh meaning we live in a broken world, and we often fall – not because of anything else bu that we’ve taken our eyes off of God… again. Walking with Jesus in prayer – letting Him build our desire, our devotion to Him as He reveals Himself to us, through His word, through prayer, through the sacraments, is what strengthens us each and every day.

Maybe its not an hour – but 20 minutes here and there – taking time to pray, to listen, to adore the God who has come to us.

That’s what we so desperately need….this sacred time, this point of being set apart – just He and His people –  not to prove our devotion…but to reveal His.

Lord Have Mercy!

 

The Emperor’s New Clothes, or the Lord’s?


The Emperor’s New Clothes,

Or the Lord’s?

Colossians 3:12

 † In Jesus Name †

As you walk through this life, knowing Jesus walks beside you, may you be transformed evermore into His likeness

Our reading today that I will focus on was the first reading – it is there reprinted on the screen in the Bible translation that I used at home.

12  Since God chose you to be the holy people he loves, you must clothe yourselves with tenderhearted mercy, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience

 One of my favorite writers about ministry in the church is often confused as a children’s writer.  His name was Hans Christian Anderson, and if you haven’t heard of him, you might have heard of His stories.  In fact, I am writing a book using one of his stories as the skeleton right now – about how to help broken churches that aren’t what they were once.  It’s called “Stone Soup Ministry”

But back to today – Hans tells a story about a emperor – who is bored with his usual fancy clothes, and tells all the tailors and fashion designers to come up with something new or they will be sent to his dungeons.  To make the fable a bit shorter – one proposes something so spectacular – so amazing – that will make the King look so good – that only super smart people will be able to see it.

The King, a very proud man, falls for the trick and is afraid to announce that He can’t see them himself.  Soon he is going about completely naked, convinced that he is wearing top not clothing!  Others, wanting to prove they are just that smart – just that sophisticated – do the very same thing!

Soon all the “right people” are walking about naked, as they buy the clothes from this con artist as well. They had to fit in, had to keep up appearances… until

Along came the town pastor – a simple brilliant man who cared more for his people than he did the personal harm that can come from pointing out people’s nakedness… and as people heard and believed they were again clothed with the real clothes…
To Do With Us?

You might be thinking – what is the crazy American pastor talking about – how does this have to do with the church?  And as I’ve preached in a lot of places – from Shenzhen China to the Los Angeles Jail system to my nice safe church in Cerritos, I would say it has to do with us far more than we think!

Many of us, most of us, don’t dress physically in the emperor’s new clothes, but we do spiritually.  We take in the latest fad in Christianity, we learn all the right phrases, we learn how to act like strong believers in the army of God.

Except that we are hiding from God, and sometimes from our pastors and church leaders, who can sometime hide from each other. You might be saying,

But pastor, you really don’t know us yet, we are very spiritually mature, we know our scripture, we have everything under control here! We listen to our pastor’s every word – and run to him when we need help.

Rather than argue, I’ll ask what Paul mentioned… have you put on:

Tender-hearted mercy,
Kindness,
Gentleness

Patience?

Do you exhibit these things, as we say in the states – 24/7/365?

I tend to be blunt – so I ask, are we, and I include us pastors in this as well – wearing the Emperor’s Spiritual Clothes?

Don’t worry – you don’t have to ask if everyone else knows, or if I told Pastor about which sins I know you committed this week, it is not time to run out the door, or throw stones at me.

You see – we each get into these modes occasionally.  We go through times were we are struggling with sin, and are afraid to ask for help – even from pastor’s God has given to us for this very thing!  ( later see John 20, James 5 and 1 John 1 about this )

We all sinned – most of us on the way to church this morning – some of us since we’ve been here.  Disagree with me?  Fine – run through just the ten commandments and ask yourself if you did what it said not to do – or didn’t what God patterned you to do.  Not just in action, but in thought and word!

The Gospel Begins!

So what do we do?  How do we live a real Christ-like life?

Or How do we Put on the Lord’s Clothes rather than the emperor’s new clothes?

The answer is found in Christ – and in living in Him – consider these passagesGalatians 3:27 (NLT) 27  And all who have been united with Christ in baptism have put on the character of Christ, like putting on new clothes.

Were you baptized in Christ – united with Him?  Learn the promises of God’s work done there!  They are amazing!  His promises!

Lk 24:49 — And behold, I am sending the promise of my Father upon you. But stay in the city until you are clothed with power from on high.”

Clothed with power from on high refers to the church on the day of Pentecost as God pours out His Spirit upon the 120. But that promise was extended as well to every believer that day, as the gift of the Holy Spirit was received!

There is more!  Scripture over and over uses this theme of being clothed!

Ephesians 4:23-24 (NLT) 23  Instead, let the Spirit renew your thoughts and attitudes. 24  Put on your new nature, created to be like God—truly righteous and holy.

Colossians 3:10 (NLT) 10  Put on your new nature, and be renewed as you learn to know your Creator and become like him.

Romans 13:14    Instead, clothe yourself with the presence of the Lord Jesus Christ.

I LOVE that last one passage, about clothing yourself in the presence of Christ. That is what will be the key to our life, the key to our being clothed, and not naked and ashamed!

Being a Christian isn’t about putting on false acts, pretending to be holy and pious.  Even those words, we don’t really understand – for being holy means to be separated for a special purpose, in this case a special relationship.

I want to go back to the original verse – the one that told us we needed to be dressed in a certain way…  Hear it again…

12  Since God chose you to be the holy people he loves, you must clothe yourselves with tenderhearted mercy, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience..

Look at the part underlined there – Since God chose YOU to be the Holy People! He called you into this wondrous relationship, this incredible blessed think we call, “abiding in Christ”! This life walking with the Spirit dwelling within us!

That is wear we find our real spiritual clothes! They don’t by our own strength or maturity, they are not found in the latest Christian fad, they are not in putting up acts!

We are made His, chosen by Him, not because of our pretty imaginary spirituality, but chosen in the midst of, as Adam and Eve were, naked and ashamed.

So you’ve been naked and ashamed – have you?  Ready to admit it?  Then let’s do this God’s way – one more verse…then we shall pray….

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