Monthly Archives: November 2015
Devotional thought of the day:
12 Forgive us the wrongs we have done, as we forgive the wrongs that others have done to us. Matthew 6:12 (TEV)
16 No longer, then, do we judge anyone by human standards. Even if at one time we judged Christ according to human standards, we no longer do so. 17 Anyone who is joined to Christ is a new being; the old is gone, the new has come. 18 All this is done by God, who through Christ changed us from enemies into his friends and gave us the task of making others his friends also. 19 Our message is that God was making all human beings his friends through Christ. God did not keep an account of their sins, and he has given us the message which tells how he makes them his friends. 2 Corinthians 5:16-19 (TEV)
236 Those who flee like cowards from suffering have something to meditate on when they see the enthusiasm with which other souls embrace pain. There are many men and women who know how to suffer in a Christian way. Let us follow their example. (1)
This post may cause you some grief, some anger. You may want to dismiss it; I know I struggle even writing it. But it is something I am dealing with, and I believe most of us need to work through to see God’s peace revealed.
There are many treasured phrases out there, but they all say the same thing, “forgive – but don’t forget.” I saw several today, basically saying that forgiveness doesn’t mean you have to let them hurt you again. Or that the real reason we are to forgive is to free us from the resentment, not to free them from the consequences of their words and actions.
They are saying this, forgiving someone shouldn’t cause you to suffer more. Even if that suffering is only becoming humble.
So here is the question, can you forgive someone without desiring reconciliation?
Can you really ask God not to hold their sins against, and vow to not hold their sins against them, and desire that the relationship remains in the broken, separated state it is?
I am not talking about their heart, they may refuse the reconciliation, but ours cannot harden to the possibility of it. We have to grow in our desire of it. We have to pray for it, work for it, struggle with the sacrifice and humility of it. And when it doesn’t happen, we have to weep.
It is that simple.
We have to bear that cross. We have to love that deeply.
Reconciliation may be a long process; it may seem beyond our ability, beyond the ability to even desire. It’s not going to be a smooth path, but it is one we are called to embrace. It is our deepest vocation as children of God.
We may not like that; we may not want to hear it. We may rebel against it, find excuses, rationalize the need away. We may say that God wouldn’t ask us to embrace that level of suffering.
We would be wrong.
God desires that none perish, but that all would be changed, their hearts and their minds. Our hearts and our minds.
This is how we live in the baptized life, the reconciled life, the redeemed life.
Even on the days we have to cry out, “Lord, I believe, help me when I can’t believe”; on the days we cry out, “Lord have mercy on me, a sinner.”
He has..so rejoice and love.
(1) Escriva, Josemaria (2011-01-31). Furrow (Kindle Locations 1183-1186). Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition.
This sermon can be heard at https://youtu.be/8DWDeB6_GYY
He Will Do What is Promised (Faith)
† Jesus, Son, Savior †
May the grace of God, that incredible mercy, and peace that resides in you because of the Holy Spirit, sustain you until His imminent return!
The Time Is Close
You wondered with every passing car, whether the guests arrived. A car door closed and you rushed to the door, disappointed that it was the neighbor’s guests that arrived.
Perhaps you were even jealous.
You had worked so hard, to make your house a welcoming place, a place where everyone felt at home. Where people were able to set aside life, and enjoy each other. It is one thing for sure, to have a clean, beautifully decorated home, with great comfort food.
It takes a bit more preparation for the façade to be matched by a sense of peace, and the blessing of being a place where everyone knows they are loved. That is God’s desire for heaven as well, and He will make it happen!
That is the preparation of Advent, the adventure that we travel until we find ourselves at home with God.
Our Advent journey is preparation for His coming, preparing for our being drawn into His presence.
For it takes a bit of work to understand that He’s waited expectantly for the day of Christ’s second coming, that He is awaiting us, His family to come home!
The Wearied Wait..
I want to go back for a moment, to that time when you are glancing out the window. When you are expecting your company, friends or family you dearly love, who you have missed,
It is in that last hour, before their arrival, time seems to slow down. That every noise, whether it be a car door, a phone ringing causes your level of anticipation to race. You wonder if the food will be enough, or be good enough. You wonder if they will be comfortable as you rearrange the pillows on the couch for the thirtieth time.
That last hour seems to take a week.
Have you ever thought about God waiting for the fulfillment of time in that manner?
He knows the timing, so He doesn’t worry like we do, but can you see Him waiting expectantly for your arrival?
You need to be able to, for we aren’t the only ones who plan for the future and then wait with expectation.
Think about it, Jesus is described as the Bridegroom, the Father as the one who throws the wedding feast for His Son.
The Father, who awaits his prodigal son, the one finding the coin or the lost sheep throw feast when they find that which was lost.
Hear Jeremiah’s words again,
14 “The day will come, says the Lord, when I will do for Israel and Judah all the good things I have promised them.
It is one of our challenges that we struggle to see God’s anticipation, a challenge caused by the guilt and shame we struggle with daily.
It is why we are uncomfortable with the silence during confession and absolution if it goes more than 15 seconds…. Yet how many of us need to take more than that time, to realize how much God frees us from?
The expectation of God blessing us in the way He promises is the nature of our Advent journey. Looking forward to His completing that which He all the good He has promised us, His refining us, gathering us, leading us home.
Back to the first promise, the one that when it came true at the cross, made the rest possible.
The Promises Coming True
Hear Jeremiah’s words once again,
I will do for Israel and Judah all the good things I have promised them.
15 “In those days and at that time I will raise up a righteous descendant from King David’s line. He will do what is just and right throughout the land. 16 In that day Judah will be saved,
Judah and Israel, the divided kingdom of God’s people, back together. Those who stayed dedicated to God and the prodigal brothers who have finally come back home.
It represents the people of God, in its entirety, those who have known God all their lives, and those who come back at the end of time.
In that day, because of One who was completely righteous, completely without sin, and His sense of what it just and good, and to use the old word from the liturgy, salutary, because of the Righteous one’s benevolent love, because of the sinless One’s actions done in love, the people of God will be saved.
Have been saved.
For the last sentence of Jeremiah’s promise, of this prophecy says it all.
The Lord is our Righteousness.
He became everything we would need, that we would be able to come home to God. On the cross, He took care of every sin, and then in the resurrection, He brought us back to life.
He became our Righteousness. He recreated us, made us His own people.
Why the promise?
One last thought….
Look at the passage again, Look for the phrase that keeps occurring.
The day will come…
In those days…
In that day…..
That day has come, you have been saved… and are on the way home, sure to get there, because we will be refined, gathered, and led there, for we live in Christ Jesus.
Home to a feast beyond imagination.
Not because of the cleanliness of heaven.
Not because of the magnitude of the feast.
But because of the love, that which God promised us.
Until that day, the same power that raised Christ Jesus from the dead, which is at work in you, that same power will keep you in the peace of God our Father. AMEN!.
Devotional Thought to Prepare us for Advent….
15 I do not call you servants any longer, because servants do not know what their master is doing. Instead, I call you friends, because I have told you everything I heard from my Father. 16 You did not choose me; I chose you and appointed you to go and bear much fruit, the kind of fruit that endures. And so the Father will give you whatever you ask of him in my name. 17 This, then, is what I command you: love one another. John 15:15-17 (TEV)
233 You spoke about the scenes in the life of Jesus which moved you most: when he met men suffering greatly… when he brought peace and health to those whose bodies and souls were racked with pain… You were inspired—you went on—seeing him cure leprosy, restore sight to the blind, heal the paralytic at the pool: the poor beggar forgotten by everybody. You are able to contemplate Him as He was, so profoundly human, so close at hand! Well… Jesus continues being the same as then. (2)
There is an attitude that negatively views contemporary worship (or that of 30-100 years ago) that treats Jesus to0 close, too intimate, too friendly. They would rather perceive God from the perspective of great distance, and perhaps great fear.
Which would make sense if we were approach Christ’s advent, His coming, with the anticipation of judgment without the cross’s benefit. To turn advent into a time of anticipating hell, fire, and brimstone, wrath and tribulation is wrong.
Don’t get me wrong, we need Jesus to come back, perhaps even desperately so. Life is too screwed up, we all need to be delivered from sin completely, we need to come home to God. But that turns advent from anxiety about Jesus coming, to realizing we and anxiety is more caused because of the wait we endure until He returns.
If we have friends we haven’t seen in ages coming to dinner during the holiday; we look forward to it. We anticipate it, we work hard, trying to get everything as perfect as possible. It is the same for Jesus second coming, we desire to grow in faith, we desire to see people come to know Him, to come to trust in Him, because He is our friend, because He loves us so completely.
Those contemporary worship songs which treat Jesus as a friend, they aren’t as far off base. They bring home that which we need to know, the attitude that Luther noted, makes the difference between one who knows God, and one who only knows of Him,
“For all outside of Christianity, whether heathen, Turks, Jews, or false Christians and hypocrites, although they believe in, and worship, only one true God, yet know not what His mind towards them is, and cannot expect any love or blessing from Him; therefore they abide in eternal wrath and damnation. For they have not the Lord Christ, and, besides, are not illumined and favored by any gifts of the Holy Ghost.” (2)
If we don’t understand God’s desire for an intimate, deep friendship with the people He calls and makes His own, we truly only know a God whose presence evokes fear and brings to the front of our heart the condemnation of guilt and shame. We have to realize the intent of Christ’s incarnation, to head resolutely to the cross, to show us the depth of His love, to bring us healing and forgiveness.
Yes, we should be in awe of God’s presence, we are overwhelmed by His glory, but a glory that pours out grace, that delights in showering us with His Mercy, embracing us in the love, even as the Holy Spirit sanctifies us. The awe of realizing God, in all His glory, desires to be our friend.
Which makes the wait of Advent tense, as if we hear every passing car as if it is our long awaited Friend…
For He is coming!
May your patience and desire to see God sustain you, even as you anxiously await His return. AMEN!
(1) Escriva, Josemaria (2011-01-31). Furrow (Kindle Locations 1170-1174). Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition.
(2) The Large Catechism of Martin Luther. The Apostles Creed: Explanation of the Third Article.
Devotional Thought of the Day:
12 Moses said to the LORD, “See, you are telling me: Lead this people. But you have not let me know whom you will send with me. Yet you have said: You are my intimate friend; You have found favor with me. 13 Now, if I have found favor with you, please let me know your ways so that, in knowing you, I may continue to find favor with you. See, this nation is indeed your own people. 14 The LORD answered: I myself will go along, to give you rest. 15 Moses replied, “If you are not going yourself, do not make us go up from here. 16 For how can it be known that I and your people have found favor with you, except by your going with us? Then we, your people and I, will be singled out from every other people on the surface of the earth.” 17 The LORD said to Moses: This request, too, which you have made, I will carry out, because you have found favor with me and you are my intimate friend.
18 Then Moses said, “Please let me see your glory!” 19 The LORD answered: I will make all my goodness pass before you, and I will proclaim my name, “LORD,” before you; I who show favor to whom I will, I who grant mercy to whom I will.f 20 But you cannot see my face,g for no one can see me and live. 21 Here, continued the LORD, is a place near me where you shall station yourself on the rock. 22 When my glory passes I will set you in the cleft of the rock and will cover you with my hand until I have passed by. 23 Then I will remove my hand, so that you may see my back; but my face may not be seen. Ex 33:11–23 NABRE
The New Testament does not say that men conciliate God, as we really ought to expect, since after all it is they who have failed, not God. It says on the contrary that “God was in Christ reconciling the world to himself” (2 Cor 5:19). This is truly something new, something unheard of—the starting-point of Christian existence and the center of New Testament theology of the Cross: God does not wait until the guilty come to be reconciled; he goes to meet them and reconciles them. Here we can see the true direction of the Incarnation, of the Cross. Accordingly, in the New Testament the Cross appears primarily as a movement from above to below. It does not stand there as the work of expiation which mankind offers to the wrathful God but as the expression of that foolish love of God’s which gives itself away to the point of humiliation in order thus to save man; it is his approach to us, not the other way around.
Moses is not the only one to have the struggle he describes in this passage from Exodus. We all do, we all face situations where we don’t want to go another step further, because we simply do not have the strength.
It may be that we can’t deal with the people we are called to serve, as Moses often struggled. Or maybe we see how impossible the task is, and we know it cannot be done with God’s presence. Maybe we perceive the situation as being unfair, (whether it is or not is actually not relevant -get used to this idea: life isn’t fair!)
It might be more personal, the struggle that you have that you don’t want to face. It may be that you have to be freed from a sin that has its hooks in you, like Israel faced so many times in the desert. It could be some dark area that God wants you to be freed from, but it is so hard to break free.
Moses keeps telling God – I can’t go there without you! If you are my God, please help, if I have an intimate relationship with you, don’t leave me alone. He’s pleading for what every other religion tells us is impossible.
For God to come to us, as we are crushed, oppressed, weary and broken. As we know the law that condemns us or the people we care about all to well.
As Pope Benedict XVI points out, this is where things are different with Jesus, with the God of Abraham, Issac and Jacob. He comes to us, He always has! He came to Adam and Eve in the garden, He came to Abraham (even when he was trying to pass off his wife as his sister!) He came to Hagar at the well. He came to David in his sin, and encouraged Moses and even Hosea to deal mercifully with the unfaithful, and gave them the strength of heart and soul to deal with those trapped in sin.
He even gives us glimpses of Him, as He ministers to us. Yes, the obvious glimpses of His faithfulness in the past, to those who are broken like us, in need of healing, like us. In need of knowing we are in His presence.
But glimpses as well in the sacraments, especially Holy Communion, the feast were we see the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world, who takes away our sin.
Who comes to us, and we hear Him as He promises, “your sins are forgiven.”
He comes to us… He brings us through the transformation that is repentance and makes His presence known, and that His presence is, as this translation puts it, that of an intimate friend.
This is what Advent is all about, as we meditate on His coming to us, in all our need!
May we realize our need, the same need as Moses, and may our eyes be opened to His presence.
Ratzinger, J. (1992). Co-Workers of the Truth: Meditations for Every Day of the Year. (M. F. McCarthy & L. Krauth, Trans., I. Grassl, Ed.) (p. 372). San Francisco: Ignatius Press.
Devotional Thought of the Day:
4 God’s various gifts are handed out everywhere; but they all originate in God’s Spirit. 5 God’s various ministries are carried out everywhere; but they all originate in God’s Spirit. 6 God’s various expressions of power are in action everywhere; but God himself is behind it all. 7 Each person is given something to do that shows who God is: Everyone gets in on it, everyone benefits. All kinds of things are handed out by the Spirit, and to all kinds of people! 1 Corinthians 12:4-7 (MSG)
231 I like the motto: “Let each wayfarer follow his way”, the road God has marked out for him, to be followed faithfully, lovingly, even though it is hard. (1)
It is one of the hardest lessons to learn as a pastor. It is one that is not often taught in Christian Universities or Seminaries, except maybe a short aspect of a pastoral care class.
It is simple and profound, it wears you our and leaves you in awe. Here is one of the greatest secrets to ministry:
You can’t minister to every person the same way, you can’t shepherd 100 people from 105 different places along the same exact path. They need to be drawn/dragged from where they are at to the foot of the cross, to the very mercy of God, poured out as His blood paid for all our sins.
Yet we are trained to use the same materials, the same processes in our discipleship of those in our churches. Those processes are based in some core thought that is essential ( for example, afflict those comfortable in their sin, comfort those afflicted by their sin. ) but how that is applied to the people in our churches should fit a particular process. it is a big job, but discipleship is both corporate and individual.
Is it any wonder that most churches stop discipleship once people have passed a new members class? Or if there is is a program, some drop out because it assumes a different starting path, and they are too frustrated to wait and see if it comes by where they are.
I know a great example of this, a lady who is a member of one of the churches I have pastored. She insists that she is a novice when it comes to faith, yet lives a life a devotion to God. A life I think is far more “along the path” that she realizes.
So how do you do this? Do you make everyone take the same path? Study the same scriptures? Do you not care if people get lost or bored? Or do you work with people individually?
It’s the same issue that Paul was talking to the Corinthians about. As they would serve in different ways, in different manners expressing the faith and growth in their trust of God. Not everyone will do the same things, have the same vocations, have the same exact path to spiritual maturity.
So how do we minister this way, effectively discipling people, shepherding them from the basics of trusting God, to actually walking with them?
Not sure yet, but it will be a lot of what I think through during advent.
Discussion very welcome on this one!
Escriva, Josemaria (2011-01-31). Furrow (Kindle Locations 1161-1163). Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition.
Companions of the Cross
The Final Lesson:
Priestly Companions of the King
† IHS †
May you know the grace and peace that is yours, the gift of the One who is, Who always was, and who is still to come!
The Vision/the Mission
While both the Old Testament and Epistle reading today are about the end of time, about looking toward the end of time, the gospel takes us back to thirty weeks ago, to the remembrance of what happens the morning of Jesus’ crucifixion, It covers one of the events we remember during Holy Week.
The gospel covers the trial of Jesus, the moments before he is sentenced by mankind to die. The moment that God our Father planned for, that Jesus was committed to before the foundations of the world were laid.
The trial, the cross, the critical moment in all of time, as eternity hung in the balance.
Your eternity, my eternity.
We need to look back, in order to see why Daniel and the Revelation of John can talk so positively of the of the end. Hearing that Christ has been the King, even at the cross, we understand our future, and can walk confidently in the present.
For we walk with a king, and we are His companions. The very King of King and Lord of Lords who makes us a Kingdom of priests, ready to serve God our Father. Ready to serve alongside Jesus.
Let me rephrase that, He makes us into the priests of His Kingdom.
That was His vision, His mission, and it is what He has accomplished on the cross, even as Pilate was condemning Jesus, enabling Him to shed His blood for us.
The Ordeal of Hope
When we are involved in planning something, there is a hope that everything will work out well. It doesn’t matter if the planning and preparation are for a game, or for an event like the women’s advent tea.
Hope can sometimes be an ordeal as our minds consider all the things that could destroy our hope. For instance, for a football team, we could focus on a critical injury or just an accumulation of them. For an event like the Advent Tea, it could be that the speaker cancels out at the last moment. It could even be the week between finishing a course, and getting the grades! Our minds can spin wildly out of control, conceiving of all the things that could go wrong. It is no different for our lives, and for our eternity. When we think of hope, it can be an ordeal as we wonder what will happen to mess up that which we hoped for so eagerly.
Which is why I think the readings work together so well today. They lay out a pattern that assures us that our hope is not in vain, that there is nothing that can change what we hope for, what our trust in God leads us to expect. If we didn’t have that assurance, the first verses in Daniel would be terrifying; hear them again.
I watched as thrones were put in place and the Ancient One sat down to judge.His clothing was as white as snow, his hair like purest wool. He sat on a fiery throne with wheels of blazing fire, 10 and a river of fire was pouring out, flowing from his presence. Millions of angels ministered to him; many millions stood to attend him. Then the court began its session, and the books were opened.
If we feel anxiety watching a football game, or waiting for the guests to arrive, of the report card to show, what kind of anxiety would we experience, knowing we had to stand before all of the missions of angels, and all of humanity, as God opened the story of our life and began to look at the details, examining our actions, our thoughts, our words?
We could try to dismiss the guilt and shame, but it still would haunt us. We could try to rationalize it, we could argue that it isn’t fair for God to give us desires that cannot be eased without sin.
Before the throne, before a God that not only knows our thoughts but the hearts where those thoughts originate, such attempts at self-preservation do not matter. If we are to have hope that Jesus is our salvation, that we will live in His Kingdom that has no end, we have to be serious about the fact we needed to be saved.
We sin. Thoughts, words, deeds.
As we will say in Advent, it is our fault, we need to grieve over that fault, we need to seriously grieve over that sin.
If we are to know the grace and peace of God, we have to realize how radically different it is to know God’s grace and peace, compared to the brokeness of our lives.
Realizing the love of God
For then, understanding the depth of our despair, we find ourselves blown away by this word grace, by the peace that is ours when we should be weighed down by guilt and despair. We begin to understand how incredible these words written by the Apostle John are,
All glory to him who loves us and has freed us from our sins by shedding his blood for us. 6 He has made us a Kingdom of priests for God his Father. All glory and power to him forever and ever! Amen.
It’s not just that Jesus has freed us from sin, and Satan, that He’s robbed death of the anxiety it can cause, that guilt and shame are wiped away. It is that He’s made us like Him, He’s made us priests who serve the Father, He’s made us holy enough to be the very attendants of God the Father.
All of us, from the smallest to the largest, youngest to the oldest, we have been made companions of the King of Kings and Lord of Lords!
No wonder all of creation will bow before Him! No wonder we will shout about the glory of God He has revealed to us.
He loves us!
He freed us from our sin, by shedding HIS BLOOD for us.
He has made us priest, …..
ALL GLORY TO HIM FOREVER AND EVER! AMEN!!!
Devotional Thought of the Day:
1 The LORD spoke to Moses and said: 2 Consecrate to me every firstborn; whatever opens the womb among the Israelites,a whether of human being or beast, belongs to me. Ex 13:1–2 NAB-RE
209 You made me smile, because I know what you meant when you said: I am enthusiastic about the possibility of going to new lands and opening a breach there, perhaps very far away… I would like to find out if there are men on the moon…Ask the Lord to increase that apostolic zeal of yours. (1)
On facebook this morning, I saw a man saying that he definitely would speak for Christ if he was put in the place of a potential martyr, where the decision was to either say he believed in another god or Jesus. And then he challenged everyone else to claim they would as well.
It made me think of the passage in red that I came across a few days ago, about the command of God to dedicate to His service every firstborn. We can think of those who did in scripture. Hannah comes to mind, as does Elizabeth. Abraham had the question put to him, and his faith in God was proven true. And less we forget Mary’s first son, who she watched God the Father dedicate to the purpose of saving all of mankind.
Dedicating a child to God’s work isn’t something new, but it is something forgotten. During the middle ages, and even until recent history, the second male was encouraged to enter the ministry. Not the first, because that would be the heir of the family name, but the second. (Who gets the better inheritance IMHO)
These days, we aren’t so ready to do so. Not with the first or the second. We aren’t ready or willing to give them up to a life of service, or for that matter, a life of martyrdom, as they sacrifice and even are sacrificed to accomplish the work of God.
Fewer men are entering the ministry, fewer women dedicating their lives to working in the church and church schools as well. Fewer willing to go on the mission field, whether far abroad or here in the inner cities.
We claim to be people who trust God in everything, will we trust Him with our children? Will we trust Him with those who are precious to us?
Even if their vocation is to be a pastor or priest, missionary or even if they are called to martyrdom?
Do we trust Him with life?
Again, go back to Mary’s son, her first born. The only-begotten Son of our Heavenly Father. Who was the pastor, priest, missionary, and yeah – martyr as He died on the cross. As He saved us from our sin. As He came to us.
The firstborn of the firstborn.
May our trust in God grow, as we consider what God the Father committed and consecrated His firstborn to do, and may we seriously encourage more and more people to consider a vocation that sees them ministering to others.
(1) Escriva, Josemaria (2011-01-31). Furrow (Kindle Locations 1082-1085). Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition.
Devotional Thought of the Day:
54 The Jewish leaders were infuriated by Stephen’s accusation, and they shook their fists at him in rage. 55 But Stephen, full of the Holy Spirit, gazed steadily into heaven and saw the glory of God, and he saw Jesus standing in the place of honor at God’s right hand. 56 And he told them, “Look, I see the heavens opened and the Son of Man standing in the place of honor at God’s right hand!” 57 Then they put their hands over their ears and began shouting. They rushed at him 58 and dragged him out of the city and began to stone him. His accusers took off their coats and laid them at the feet of a young man named Saul. 59 As they stoned him, Stephen prayed, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.” 60 He fell to his knees, shouting, “Lord, don’t charge them with this sin!” And with that, he died. Acts 7:54-60 (NLT)
11 And they have defeated him by the blood of the Lamb and by their testimony. And they did not love their lives so much that they were afraid to die. Revelation 12:11 (NLT)
1 Since you have been raised to new life with Christ, set your sights on the realities of heaven, where Christ sits in the place of honor at God’s right hand. 2 Think about the things of heaven, not the things of earth. 3 For you died to this life, and your real life is hidden with Christ in God. 4 And when Christ, who is your life, is revealed to the whole world, you will share in all his glory. Colossians 3:1-4 (NLT)
This post is based on one of the Bible Study discussions among my people at church. We’ve been going through the book of Acts of the Apostles, and came to the martyrdom of Stephen.
It brought out a discussion of the fears we have because of the terrorism in Lebanon, the Sudan and Paris, the incredibly painful trauma people experience. A trauma that is spreading through anxiety and fear, which is being maniuplated by those who would have us stop out from reaching in love, because of that fear.
As we discussed these things, someone mentioned the incredible level of faith that someone who willing embraced martyrdom must have. The faith that would testify of God’s love, that would know the fruit of the Spirit in Galatians, even as the boulders were thrown down upon him, or as the blade slice through the air.
Such heroism seems beyond us, such an ability to set aside one’s automatic nature to preserve one’s self. Yet the angel in the passage from the Revelation states that the people there have defeated the accuser by the blood of the Lamb, the witness (in greek – the word we get martyr from!) and by the fact that they didn’t love life so uch they were afrasid to die.
That describes you, if your faith is in Christ. It describes me as well, and every other person who puts their hope in Christ Jesus. The more we comprehend, not just now, but understand at the gut level, the love of Christ, the guaranty of His promise that we will share in His glory eternally, the more we don’t need to cling to life, the more we don’t need to defend ourselves against persecution. The more we can embrance suffering like Jesus did. The more we trust, the more we look to the promise, the more we understand God’s love, the more we can accept martyrdom.
I want you to compare what Stephen goes through in the first reading to what Paul urges believers to do.
Stephen looked into heaven, and saw the glory of God.
Paul tells us to set our sights on the reality of heaven.
Stephen sees Jesus at the right hand of the Father, in the place of honor.
We are to see the same thing – the same Jesus, the same right hand, the same place of honor.
Stephen is killed. Physically.
We are to realize that we have died to this life. Yes spiritually, (as had Stephen) but also in our need to cling to it, for we realize we aren’t just here, we are hidden in Christ in God, waiting to be revealed with Jesus in our fullness.
That’s where the strength comes from to allow a witness to Christ result in our martyrdom, whether that martyrdom is physical, or whether it is setting aside our dream life, our desires, our need to preserve our identity, in order to bear witness to the love of Christ. This is exactly what Paul is talking about in Philippians 2:1-10. urging us on to unity in Christ. It is what Paul talks of when he urges ust o imitate him as He imitates Christ.
Ultimately, Martyrdom is never about the death, it is never about the sacrifice, it is about knowing the love of Jesus, about trusting in His promises, that is the martyrdom, the very witness we bear. Is this heroic then? It would be, except that the strength doesn’t come from us, it coems from the Holy Spirit. It is the very thing we are urged as believers to do. To bear witness with our very lives, to give the reason we have hope. To set aside our fears, to set aside our need for self preservation, to set aside all, to love God, and to love man.
It is who we are, because of what Jesus does for us in baptism…..what He does to us.
This is what it means to know the Lord is with you, that He answered your plea for emrcy.
It is abiding, secure in Christ’s peace. It is, His gift, His grace.
Devotional Thought of the Day:
1 After this, Moses and Aaron went to Pharaoh and said to him, ‘This is what Yahweh, God of Israel, says, “Let my people go, so that they can hold a feast in my honour in the desert.” ‘ Exodus 5:1 (NJB)
1 It is taught among us that the sacraments were instituted not only to be signs by which people might be identified outwardly as Christians, but that they are signs and testimonies of God’s will toward us for the purpose of awakening and strengthening our faith.
2 For this reason they require faith, and they are rightly used when they are received in faith and for the purpose of strengthening faith. (1)
Hear, Lord, my prayer; let not my soul faint under Thy discipline, nor let me faint in confessing unto Thee all Thy mercies, whereby Thou hast drawn me out of all my most evil ways, that Thou mightest become a delight to me above all the allurements which I once pursued; that I may most entirely love Thee, and clasp Thy hand with all my affections, and Thou mayest yet rescue me from every temptation, even unto the end (2)
Although the sacred liturgy is above all things the worship of the divine Majesty, it likewise contains much instruction for the faithful34. For in the liturgy, God speaks to His people and Christ is still proclaiming His gospel. And the people reply to God both by song and prayer. (3)
All of the above readings are selections of my devotional reading, and they all have one thing in common. The people of God were responding to His love, to His call, to be in His presence.
For as people come into His presence, as they are made aware of His love, as they begin to understand it, something wonderful happens. Augustine describes this transition so clearly and begs God to help preserve it. It is a state of being where we are completely freed from anxiety, from guilt and shame, and we find rest in God’s presence.
The Augsburg Confession describes how the sacraments help bring about this awareness, as do the writings of Vatican II. That the liturgy brings this awareness out, as God’s love is revealed through the word, delivered in the sacraments. It is in these events that our faith is surely strengthened, our love of God and each other grows.
So now to the Bible passage – the Pharoah, who will hear these words from God over and over.
“Let my people go!” Put slightly differently, “Let my people come and feast with me.” It’s not a request from God to Pharoah. It’s not a suggestion. Pharoah will pay for his obstinance, for his attempt to block the will of God.
I sometimes wonder if the church is acting more like the Pharoah than it is acting like Moses.
We hold people back from coming into God’s presence. We won’t let them go, and feast with God. Consider…
* We don’t let them go when we put man-made systems and rules in place, which then deny them the desire God is putting in their hearts.
* We don’t let them go when we think they aren’t interested, or won’t bother, and we leave them in the suffering slavery of sin. ( Israel wanted nothing to do with Moses a couple of times in the process, remember?)
* We don’t let them go when we think they aren’t the right kind of people. (Check out Ex. 12:38 it wasn’t only the Israeli’s that were counted among the people of God in the Exodus!)
* What kept running through my mind during the devotion is that we don’t let them go, when we let our fears and anxieties stop us from letting them come among us, the people of God. Those who are fleeing violence, or drugs or war. When we tell them, hundreds of thousands of you in need aren’t worth the risk
In this last case, I am saddened by the number of church folk, people who claim to follow Jesus. As He is being lifted up by missionaries “on the ground” working with those refugees and they are coming to know God’s love, we are sending them a different message with our posts that they aren’t welcome, by the political leaders comments that we share, men who say just shut the borders down completely, and offer no option to helping those in need. We are showing those in dire need that we are more afraid of man than we can trust and obey in God.
We won’t let them come, because of fear. We won’t let them come to a place where they will hear of Jesus and find out about his love. We won’t let them come and feast with them.
Are we any different than Pharoah?
Read the blue, green and purple words again, and remember what Jesus said about if He is lifted up, he will draw all men to himself.
Reach out to all around you, and help them come to know Jesus.
One last thought, from last Sunday’s reading from the Old Testament
And those who lead many to righteousness will shine like the stars forever. Daniel 12:3b (NLT)
It is time to shine, people of God, and find out there are far more os us, than we ever thought, as God draws people to Himself. AMEN
(1) Tappert, T. G. (Ed.). (1959). The Book of Concord the confessions of the Evangelical Lutheran Church. (pp. 35–36). Philadelphia: Mühlenberg Press.
(2) Augustine, S., Bishop of Hippo. (1996). The Confessions of St. Augustine. (E. B. Pusey, Trans.). Oak Harbor, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc.
(3) Catholic Church. (2011). Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy: Sacrosanctum Concilium. In Vatican II Documents. Vatican City: Libreria Editrice Vaticana.
note – the audio with slides is at the bottom of the manuscript
Companions of the Cross: Companions of Glory
† IHS †
May you know and depend upon the grace, the incredible loving-kindness, and peace that is yours because the God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ did what it took to make it yours!
Times of Anguish
Even though Micha-el stands guard?
If one wasn’t knowledgeable about scripture, one might wonder if these are the days in which the prophet Daniel spoke of when there will be a time of anguish greater than any time since nations first came into being.
The numbers climb, as people in Lebanon, the Sudan, and as we have heard all over the news, France, have been killed this week. The numbers climb as well, as lives are taken here in the US, as violence sweeps over our cities. And less we forget, our state has now mandated that centers that hope to give women an option to abortion now have to advertise those places that will provide them, without offering any option. That was driven home to me this week, as I talked to a Crisis Pregnancy Center director, whose office is surround by 9 of the largest abortion clinics in California.
There are days which are scary, and it was brought home Friday evening as a bomb was found in an Anaheim hardware store.
Certainly these are days of anguish, throughout the world.
Yet the prophets words talk of a messenger, actually “the messenger” standing guard over the people of God.
Where is He? Where is this messenger who is supposed to be standing guard over us?
And what is to come next?
Like the Book of the Revelation, should Daniel’s words today bring us anxiety and fear, or comfort and peace?
I suppose that is determined by the judgment, and what we face for our eternity.
Everlasting Life or Everlasting Disgrace?
But which do we deserve?
There are two options that Daniel tells us,
The first is the for those who will rise up, and enjoy everlasting life because their name is written in the book of life, and they will have been rescued, delivered, and saved. The word for life is incredible, it is not only life but everlasting nourishment, everlasting abundance,
The second is those who will have to experience shame and everlasting disgrace, a word that is far stronger, everlasting abhorrence and scorn. It is reminiscent of the anguish described in the gospels, as Jesus talks of Gahanna, of hades, of the destination prepared for Satan and that which is demonic, which wasn’t intended for mankind, yet in stubbornness and rebellion and self-centeredness is their choice.
It is the place we all deserve, yet in because God loves some are rescued and delivered from that path, that destination.
For that is what the one called Michael does, as this prime messenger comes from God.
So who is this Michael, who is this who stands guard over the nation.
Michael – One Who is Like God.
Well, one of the challenges is whether in Hebrew “michael” is a name or a title. What Michael means in Hebrew is “One who is like God”, or “One who is as God.”
Consider these words from Colossians,
15 Christ is the visible image of the invisible God. He existed before anything was created and is supreme over all creation, Colossians 1:15 (NLT)
Add to that the term archangel simply means, “the first of all messengers.” In this case, the primary messenger; the primary message of God.
Who then cares for, and guards the people of God, who is the prime messenger of God, who is like God in every way?
If it is, then consider this, the anguish that is greater than any since before the beginning of the nations was His, and He embraced the entire wrath of God to provide and guard our hearts and minds.
It is this anguish that provides our rescue, our deliverance from the power of sin, Satan and death into the presence of God our Father.
It is He whose death and resurrection, as the wrath of God for all of our sins is poured out on Him, that is the cause of our rescue, our deliverance.
And finally, it is united to Him that we see the promise of Daniel fulfilled. The promise that those who are wise and depend on God’s providing Christ for us shine as bright as the sky.
Here the apostle Paul again
27 For God wanted them to know that the riches and glory of Christ are for you Gentiles, too. And this is the secret: Christ lives in you. This gives you the assurance of sharing his glory. Colossians 1:27 (NLT)
Since you have been raised to new life with Christ, set your sights on the realities of heaven, where Christ sits in the place of honor at God’s right hand. 2 Think about the things of heaven, not the things of earth. 3 For you died to this life, and your real life is hidden with Christ in God. 4 And when Christ, who is your life, is revealed to the whole world, you will share in all his glory. Colossians 3:1-4 (NLT)
This is too good not to share!
This is so incredible, this Lord, who is the image of God the Father, As we approach the end of the year, the readings all focus on the end the ages and the incredible blessing that is knowing Jesus.
It is so good, how can we not share this hope with all who need to know it!
That is why the Holy Spirit inspires Daniel not just to tell us we will share with the Christ’s glory, but repeats the promise with a slight modification.
and those who lead many to righteousness will shine like the stars forever.
For it is natural, as we learn the depth of God’s love, to pour out our praises, praising God with all we are, praising Him to those around us, desiring that they would come to know the love that resonates throughout our lives.
hear it again.
Jesus, the one who is like God, stands guard over us, taking all the wrath we deserve; He has rescued us, and we will rise to everlasting life, shining as bright as the sky, and as we lead people to Him, we will shine like the stars…forever.
For until that day, Jesus stands guard over us, His companions, protecting our hearts and minds as we dwell in God’s peace until we are revealed fully in His glory! AMEN!