Monthly Archives: March 2020

Lord, teach us to pray…but how do we handle the silent times?

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERADevotional Thought of the Day:

1  Once Jesus was in a certain place praying. As he finished, one of his disciples came to him and said, “Lord, teach us to pray, just as John taught his disciples.”
Luke 11:1 (NLT2)

For the person who loves Jesus, prayer—even prayer without consolation—is the sweetness that always puts an end to all sorrow: he goes to pray with the eagerness of a child going to the sugar bowl after taking a bitter dose of medicine.

The words from Luke’s gospel above lead to the Lord’s Prayer.

As I read them, I feel great gratitude to the unknown disciple, for he asked something we all needed him to ask.

Lord, how do we talk with the Father?  How do we pray?  What do we pray for?  How does this all work?

Teach us…

And so He does.

Luther’s small catechism does a great job explaining how each of the petitions helps our trust in God, what we pray for and what it means to know God is answering that request in our lives, in our world, in our time.

These times become such a blessing, as we realize the promises of God, that as we open up to him, the relief and peace is amazing…

And even, as St Josemaria notes, times where God seems silent when we aren’t immediately comforted, become times where peace pervades, for we know He is at work.  The more we pray, the more our eyes are opened up to God at work in our lives, the more we trust Him when we don’t hear or see the answer immediately.

But that takes time, time to see that confidence build, time getting used to seeing God in the unexpected, in the broken, in the moments where reconciliation is needed.  Getting used to seeing Him working in ways unexpected, and in ways that leave you in awe.

As we get used to that, then we run to Him more frequently, we do so with greater expectation, like the child St. Josemaria describes.

It is hard to explain, this desire to run to God our Father, to just pour out our pain and anxiety, ot talk of the future, to hand over our sins and failures, things that He promises to deal with so that we can live in peace with Him.

That doesn’t mean prayer is a perfect art, or that we still don’t struggle.  We do.. and yet that is a blessing as well… for then we learn again – He is there.

So pray, let it all out..and enter His peace.

AMEN

 

 

Escriva, Josemaria. The Way . Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition.

Understanding the Wrath of a Loving God.

Tomb Empty With Shroud And Crucifixion At Sunrise - Resurrection

Devotional Thought of the Day:
10  But it was the LORD’s good plan to crush him and cause him grief. Yet when his life is made an offering for sin, he will have many descendants. He will enjoy a long life, and the LORD’s good plan will prosper in his hands. 11  When he sees all that is accomplished by his anguish, he will be satisfied. And because of his experience, my righteous servant will make it possible for many to be counted righteous, for he will bear all their sins.    Isaiah 53:10-11 (NLT2)

But the Old Testament speaks of God’s wrath as well as God’s love. So does the New. What is the wrath of God then? Is it real or not?
It is real, but it is not part of God Himself. God is not half love and half wrath, or 99 percent love and 1 percent wrath. God is love. Wrath is how His love appears to us when we sin or rebel or run away from Him. The very light that is meant to help us appears to us as our enemy when we seek the darkness. The mother’s embrace can appear as the worst imaginable torture to the angry child who wants only to fight. Thus some of the saints say the very fires of Hell are made of the love of God but experienced as wrath by the spiritually insane.

Over the years, I’ve encountered two primary attitudes toward the idea of God’s wrath.

Neither is accurate.

The first is to ignore or deny that God can and will pour out His wrath on those who choose to dwell in sin. This usually goes along with the fact that we disagree with what sin is, as we defend those we love engaged in it, or we rejoice in that form of sin ourselves. Because of this, we simply can fathom how God could be so mad at the sin as to condemn us for it.

The second used to be more prevalent in the church, and that is to see wrath as purely an action that is driven by God’s righteous anger. Those lousy people (and sometimes including us) deserve to get punished, and God gets painted as a sadist who enjoys watching them suffer.  In reality, the sadist (or masochist if we think we deserve the wrath) is us.  We see a lot of this in those people who have wanted to portray this virus (and the ones before it like AIDS) as a form of God’s almighty anger, and a foretaste of the wrath to come at the judgment.

Both are wrong, and in my opinion, so change the image of God that they are heretical.

Ezekiel tells us several times that God does not take joy in the death of the wicked. he also divinely shares that repentance by those who are evil will see them forgiven, not punished, restored, not condemned.  Let me say it again, God doesn’t take joy in the wicked. Never has, never will.

Similarly,  the Apostle Peter tells us that God is patient with us because He doesn’t want any of us to perish. The apocryphal picture of Peter at the gate of heaven allowing some and barring others is misleading – Peter and the church being given the keys is about freeing people from bondage – allowing them to enter the kingdom of God (Matthew 16) even as the church rocks the gates of hell to free people from its embrace.

Are there good people that will reject God that Ezekiel mentions? Yes

Are there people who will choose the bondage of sin, despite the availability of grace and forgiveness, surely.

And this is where God’s wrath comes in, not from a sense of anger, but the sense of love. While we may see it as punitive, the goal for God is restorative.  It is not contrary to His nature of love, but love requires it.  Kreeft makes this point clear above in the words shared purple – a point that C.S. Lewis wrote an entire book (the Great Divorce) to demonstrate. Simply put, those who end up suffering in Hell would choose their idol and their sin, they would embrace its cost, rather than enjoy the presence of God.

Only once has it pleased God to pour out His wrath, and that was on Jesus.

It was God’s good plan this translation says, others say it gave God pleasure, it pleased Him, to pour out that wrath on Jesus.

On Jesus…

No one else.

And the satisfaction of restoring people to God is all worth it.  The satisfaction for restoring you to God was why Jesus endured the cross – that is the glory was Hebrews 12 describes.

All other times God disciplines and pours out His wrath is the hardest act of love, the ay to embracing an angry child, for, in that embrace, Jesus takes into Himself our sin, and pays the price.

With that understanding of God’s wrath, we no longer have to deny it, we no longer have to project it on others. We now longer have to judge and condemn, we can simply urge people to let God love them and to rejoice as He does, and they change, relaxing and knowing His peace.

Peter Kreeft, The God Who Loves You (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 2004), 128.

Come Back to Me, and Never Be Abandoned – a Lenten Sermon on Isaiah 42

3/25 Lenten Midweek Service

Come Back to Me
And Never Be Forsaken
Isaiah 42:14-21

Jesus, Son, Savior

May the grace and peace of God assure you that you will never be forsaken, that He will always be with you!

Why not End at verse 16? –

As I looked at the reading and started to plan out the sermon, I was tempted to shorten the reading from Isaiah by last few verses.

After al, the primary focus of my message is verse 16, and the promised actions of God, as He rescues and guides us, and promises to never, ever forsake us.

So why not drop verse 17-21?  Why not just focus on the positive part, and leave these verses behind?

But those who trust in idols, who say, ‘You are our gods,’ will be turned away in shame. 18  “Listen, you who are deaf! Look and see, you blind! 19  Who is as blind as my own people, my servant? Who is as deaf as my messenger? Who is as blind as my chosen people, the servant of the LORD? 20  You see and recognize what is right but refuse to act on it. You hear with your ears, but you don’t really listen.”

 That is some pretty serious stuff, these warnings against trusting and depending on something besides God. We have to hear those warnings, we have to realize our need for God to act, for God to get to us, for God to rescue us, to get to the goal, that we will find that we have come back to God.

Remember the Call

Remember, that is the call…as we’ve looked at for a couple of weeks now, this idea that it is time to “come back to God” to be reconciled to Him.

We know this is God’s desire, that He is not willing that any should perish, but that all come back, that all are transformed.

We see this attitude, this desire in verse 14-15, where God cries out, where God, in his desire to be with us, flattens mountains and gets rid of rivers and pools in His desire to get to us.

Quick side note – this isn’t God crushing the idols as some might suggest. I’ve read enough of the bullshit out there saying that the corona pandemic is God crushing idols we’ve set up.  Idols like athletes, movie stars, finances and other things we chose to trust in, instead of turning to God.

But in verse 17, those idols still exist, and some people still choose to trust in them. They aren’t the big idols as much as the things we turn to when stressed, the things we “can’t do without”. Idols that we even unconsciously cling too – the things that pull us from God. We have to release them – otherwise, we will simply replace them.

Back to the desire of God, this is His greatest desire – to see us return home like the prodigal did, as the Holy Spirit grants us repentance and transforms us!  We have to realize that this is His ultimate goal, so great is His love for us.

Which makes it even more… challenging, if we reject His presence, if we continue to choose to place our trust in other things. He’s not going to force us to walk with Him. But nothing will be able, nothing is able to separate us from His love,

Nothing has been since the cross.

For that is when God flattened everything, to make it possible for us to have come back to Him.  He made it possible by coming to us, and drawing us to Him, as He was raised up on the cross, and united us to Him there – so that in being united to His death,w e would also be united to His resurrection.

Look at this power of this promise…

In verse 18-21, Isaiah’s words challenged those who still were blind and trusted in idols, because they didn’t have too. People who were blind were those that Jesus led on the new path, those He guided on an unfamiliar way.

The way of grace, the way of complete forgiveness, the way where the darkness of sin is shattered by the light of His glory, the light He brings us into. Where we had stumbled and tripped by temptation fell into sin, that too is now smoothed over, as our sin is cleansed.

And never ever will He abandon us, or forsake us!

We need to realize that – that God who came to us, that we could have been found to come back to Him – even as we were blind, He promised to not forsake us!  How much more so now that He’s invested the Body and Blood of His son into our lives!

This is the message of lent – the love of God which draws us back to Him, through the cross of Christ. That we can leave the emptiness and isolation, the blindness behind, for God will be with us, and guide us.

Or more precisely, as He is revealing Himself, cleansing us, healing us, we realize that God is drawing us home,

and throwing us a feast…

How We Will Survive This Fear-filled Time!

Jesus Laughing

Devotional Thought of the Day:

When the disciples had rowed for three or four miles, they saw Jesus walking on the water. He kept coming closer to the boat, and they were terrified. 20 But he said, “I am Jesus! Don’t be afraid!” 21 The disciples wanted to take him into the boat, but suddenly the boat reached the shore where they were headed. John 6:19-21 CEV

855    Spiritual childhood is not spiritual foolishness or softness; it is a sane and forceful way which, due to its difficult easiness, the soul must begin and then continue, led by the hand of God.

As I read this passage from John’s gospel this morning, I saw something I had never seen in the event. At first, I thought it might have been something that was a translation specific idea.  But I checked all the ones in my digital library, and they all chimed in, in fact, the word was even stronger in the others>

Instead of “suddenly”, the word was “immediately”

They got to where they were going so fast they didn’t even realize it was happening.

One moment they were terrified.

Scared out of their wits,

Panicked, unable to make sense of what was going on, overwhelmed by what their senses told them.

The next moment,  they pulled their boat up on the beach, got out, and life returned to normal.

In the presence of Jesus, everything became different.  God was with them, their fears were minimized. They were being led by the hand of God, and their faith was profoundly simple. He is there, that was enough.

This isn’t foolishness or weakness, as St Josemaria describes. It seems to easy to do, this idea of becoming childlike in our faith. So easy we often reject it, and the comfort it brings. Our logic tells us to find the solution, to search diligently out the truth from the thousands of self-proclaimed experts, to take action, even if we don’t know what to do.

In the back of our minds we hear the psalm, “Be still and know…” and we think to remind ourselves to make time for that, later.

We need to hear his voice, now.  We need to allow Him to comfort us, now.

Then, realizing He is guiding us, we can begin to walk with Him through the crisis – and soon arrive on the other side of it.  That is where our soul needs to begin, where our hearts have found rest, where our minds have put everything on pause

Soon we will be through this crisis, and it will seem like it happens as suddenly as it started. Led by Jesus, the author, and perfector of our lives  Look to Him, Let His love cast out the fear…

He is with You!  AMEN!

Escriva, Josemaria. The Way . Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition.

Did God Cause the Corona Plague To Get Us To Repent? My answer from scripture.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

A friend of mine wrote:
Dustin, I have seen the following posting recently. It bothers me and I’m not sure why. I would love your input.
“In three short months, just like He did with the plagues of Egypt, God has taken away everything we worship. God said, “you want to worship athletes, I will shut down the stadiums. You want to worship musicians, I will shut down Civic Centers. You want to worship actors, I will shut down theaters. You want to worship money, I will shut down the economy and collapse the stock market. You don’t want to go to church and worship me, I will make it where you can’t go to church.” If my people who are called by my name will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and will heal their land.”Maybe we don’t need a vaccine, maybe we need to take this time of isolation from the distractions of the world and have a personal revival where we focus on the ONLY thing the world that really matters. JESUS”

My answer –

Personally, I think there are a number of critical errors – and overall it borders on blasphemy.

First, the people in Egypt weren’t in a relationship with God when they were afflicted by the plagues. The descendants of Abraham were not so afflicted. So that point is way out of whack.

Second – God has promised to not curse the entire world at once again in Genesis 8:21-22. “21 And when the LORD smelled the pleasing aroma, the LORD said in his heart, “I will never again curse the ground because of man, for the intention of man’s heart is evil from his youth. Neither will I ever again strike down every living creature as I have done. 22 While the earth remains, seedtime and harvest, cold and heat, summer and winter, day and night, shall not cease.”
Genesis 8:21-22 (ESV)” SO a global pandemic like its is not God cursing us, as the quote describes

Third, this paints God as one who isn’t himself long-suffering and patient with us, not willing that any should perish.but that all should come to repentance. 2 Peter 3:9. The kind of thing the quote you reference assumes is that God isn’t patient. It looks to repentance as a demand, not a blessing offered.

Fourth, Luke 13:1-5 describes a concept – Jesus never says these tragedies are caused to punish sin (which Idolatry is) but that we can realize that life is short because of them, and welcome the repentance the Holy Spirit grants/ gifts us.

5. Next look at this, “25 Gently instruct those who oppose the truth. Perhaps God will change those people’s hearts, and they will learn the truth. 26 Then they will come to their senses and escape from the devil’s trap. For they have been held captive by him to do whatever he wants. 2 Timothy 2:25-26 (NLT2)
Again we see gentleness at work as God changes the heart ( this is what repentance truly is – God’s work changing us. See Ezekiel 36:25ff – the promise of baptism

6. Again, more on repentance
31 Him God has exalted to His right hand to be Prince and Savior, to give repentance to Israel and forgiveness of sins.
Acts 5:31 (NKJV)
and
31 Him God has exalted to His right hand to be Prince and Savior, to give repentance to Israel and forgiveness of sins.
Acts 5:31 (NKJV)
notice how God gifts/grants repentance? It is not something God browbeats people to do?

Will trauma be instrumental in bringing people to repent? It can, but it is not the primary way God has ever worked.

7. One last thing – the end of the quote where it talks about a personal revival is completely in error God always works in and through His people as a community. The church, the people of God is the bride of Christ, not billions of brides of Christ. We are 1 Body (see Romans 12, 1 Cor. 12, and Ephesians 4) united with Christ together.
Remember – there are 2 commands – Love God and Love Neighbor (the one Sunday I preached at NOCC – it was on this – as you reminded me years and years later!) This would seem to indicate that we don’t have to do that anymore, – that it is us and God in isolation.

Not that I feel strongly about this quote… 🙂

Ultimately, while I understand the zeal of the person, I really disagree with the approach because it doesn’t portray God as either just or loving. It is this kind of theology drives people away from God, more than draws them to Him. Yes – we need to repent – but repentance is something the Holy Spirit generates in us, alongside of the faith needed to do so.

At any rate – these are my opinions, based on scripture, and more than a share of dealing with trauma and those traumatized.  Please dialogue below.

So Longed for…the Sacraments and the Return of Jesus!

church at communion 2Devotional Thought of the Day

23  I will show how holy my great name is—the name on which you brought shame among the nations. And when I reveal my holiness through you before their very eyes, says the Sovereign LORD, then the nations will know that I am the LORD. 24  For I will gather you up from all the nations and bring you home again to your land. 25  “Then I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you will be clean. Your filth will be washed away, and you will no longer worship idols. 26  And I will give you a new heart, and I will put a new spirit in you. I will take out your stony, stubborn heart and give you a tender, responsive heart. 27  And I will put my Spirit in you so that you will follow my decrees and be careful to obey my regulations.
Ezekiel 36:23-27 (NLT2)

23  For I pass on to you what I received from the Lord himself. On the night when he was betrayed, the Lord Jesus took some bread 24  and gave thanks to God for it. Then he broke it in pieces and said, “This is my body, which is given for you. Do this to remember me.” 25  In the same way, he took the cup of wine after supper, saying, “This cup is the new covenant between God and his people—an agreement confirmed with my blood. Do this to remember me as often as you drink it.” 26  For every time you eat this bread and drink this cup, you are announcing the Lord’s death until he comes again. 1 Corinthians 11:23-26 (NLT2)

16  Confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. . James 5:16 (NLT2)

Sacraments are “powers that comes forth” from the Body of Christ,33 which is ever-living and life-giving. They are actions of the Holy Spirit at work in his Body, the Church.

18 A sacrament is a ceremony or act in which God offers us the content of the promise joined to the ceremony; thus Baptism is not an act which we offer to God but one in which God baptizes us through a minister functioning in his place. Here God offers and presents the forgiveness of sins according to the promise (Mark 16:16), “He who believes and is baptized will be saved.” By way of contrast, a sacrifice is a ceremony or act which we render to God to honor him.

I saw a friend share part of the Ezekiel reading the other day, and my mind flashed back to a baptism 5 years ago this week,

A pastor I know and admire posted about baptizing someone yesterday in their front yard with family looking on from an appropriate distance.

I’ve talked to pastor and priest friends, who all agonize over not being able to provide the Eucharist/Lord’s Supper to those whose faith is so challenged in these days.

Sacraments are not some magical incantation, the words accompany the promise, and the means God promised real to those whom HE blesses in that moment.

That water, because God promised, because He is pour/sprinkling/immersing people with it, give what He promised – the cleansing of our sin, the change of heart  (and mind) that we need, the presence of the Holy Spirit in our lives.

That bread that we place in their hands, it is the Body of Christ – given and shed so those people can realize GOd’s love, His mercy, His presence in their lives.

The words of forgiveness, which ring out, not because the pastor likes you, but because God wants you to hear them – YOU ARE FORGIVEN!

This isn’t about us doing the work, about our obedience, about our religious acts.  It is about God coming into our lives,  about God doing His work.

Those who are ordained to make sure these gifts are delivered are crushed, because we hear the need across phone lines, through texts and messages, and in the posts on social media. We can and are responding to some of those cries in person, but it is another thing to celebrate it all in person.

We look forward to the days when services and masses are the gatherings they should be.  But this time helps a little I think. For we begin to understand a little more clearly what it means to cry out for Christ to return, for the great gathering that will happen, when He welcomes us home.

I think we take heaven for granted at times, as we might the Lord’s Supper or our baptism, or that moment when you hear your shepherd tell you that you are forgiven because Jesus said so.  One has seemed so far away – a lifetime.  The others, the sacraments have always been there, they always should be.  Their removal, and the threat of death, combine to help us think of the biggest reunion.

We learn to yearn for the future, because of the absence of the present.  We learn to look to eternal life, as we are reminded that this life is easily threatened.  We long to have Jesus return to us in the sacrament, even as we are learning to yearn for His second coming!

Let me say it again, for it is worth saying!  I long for the day when the people I pastor can re-gather, and celebrate Christ’s feast together.  But even more, I am understanding why I should long for the feast to come when all of God’s people are welcomed home…and the celebration begins.

May God’s peace, poured out on you in Christ, nourished through word and sacraments, sustain you until the re-gatherings.  This will happen, for He has promised, and He is faithful!  AMEN!

Catholic Church, Catechism of the Catholic Church, 2nd Ed. (Vatican City: Libreria Editrice Vaticana, 1997), 289.

Theodore G. Tappert, ed., The Book of Concord the Confessions of the Evangelical Lutheran Church. (Philadelphia: Mühlenberg Press, 1959), 252.

Measuring a Church’s (and Its Pastor’s) Effectiveness

20170124_103703Devotional Thought of the Day:

41 Many more Samaritans put their faith in Jesus because of what they heard him say. 42 They told the woman, “We no longer have faith in Jesus just because of what you told us. We have heard him ourselves, and we are certain that he is the Savior of the world!” John 4:41–42 (CEV) — 

1. Liturgy is for all. It must be “catholic”, i.e., communicable to all the faithful without distinction of place, origin and education. Thus it must be “simple”. But that is not the same as being cheap. There is a banal simplism, and there is the simplicity which is the expression of maturity. It is this second, true simplicity which applies in the Church

I often hear church leaders talking about how effective a church is, and I hear some trying to measure churches to determine whether this church is viable, whether it is still worth the “investment” of talent and treasure made in it over the years.

A lot of these studies are based on numerical analysis – has the church grown, have their offerings been stable, what kind of turnover has occurred among staff and other leadership. Consultants will come in and do surveys for larger churches and denominations.  They, in turn, pass this information on to smaller churches, which but into the theories and lose morale, and eventually close. (That larger churches often benefit statistically from this is another story)

After all, numbers are important, and statistics tell a story that might be hard to refute without knowing the true story of the faithful. In fact, we often do not hear the stories, because the statistics seem so conclusive.

No one would have believed that a church community would have been viable in a remote Samaritan Village. Never mind that the person that got the ball rolling would have been a woman with a past. No one except Jesus.

But look at the statement they make to her!  They had moved from believing in God because she had told them, to believe in God because they had experienced Him. What an amazing statement this is!  One that every pastor should desire to hear! To know our people are experiencing the incredible, immeasurable love of Christ  – not just hearing about it second hand!

I am not saying they go past needing the guidance of spiritual shepherds and prophets, that is part of our role, but they resonate with the teachings of Christ – they realize that God is speaking to them, especially during sacramental times, or when God is silent. Or they recognize that it is the Holy Spirit convicting them of sin, and comforting them as the Spirit cleanses and heals them.

This level of maturity makes a huge difference in a church. And it will see the church do things that go beyond logic, as they serve those around them. People will care, (and struggle when care is difficult) they will give beyond what is reasonable, they will be there when no one else would.

So how does a pastor do this?  I think Pope Benedict wrote about it well. To present the gospel in a simple yet mature way. To not cheapen the masses, worship services, and Bible Studies that we give. Rather  – we need to make them communicate the incredible love that God has for His people – so that they know it – so that they experience it, so that worship is full of the joy that comes, even in the midst of trauma and lament.

The more they know, the more they experience, the more mature they get, the more they can echo what the lady was told  – “we are certain that He is the Savior of the World.

Therefore… out savior.

If our people know this, then we’ve done our job… and the work of the Holy Spirit through us has been effective.

Let us rejoice when we see God working hits way through our churches.  And may e find a way to support it, whether it is 25 people working together in Southgate or 150 in Cerritos, or 5000 in some other place.

AMEN!

Joseph Ratzinger, The Feast of Faith: Approaches to a Theology of the Liturgy, trans. Graham Harrison (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1986), 122.

Encounter God… and See! A Sermon on John 9 during the pandemic

Encounter God… and See
John 9

† In Jesus Name †

May the grace of God our Father, and the Lord Jesus Christ help you to see Him, and see Him at work in your life!

DO you believe

Towards the end of the encounter of the Blind man and Jesus, Jesus asks a question to the man that was formerly blind.

“Do you believe in the Son of Man?”

What Jesus is asking him is whether he believes in the Messiah and whether He believes He has come.  It is one of the titles a Jewish person would have known referred to the Messiah,

Do you believe in the Messiah?  Jesus asks.

The man encountering Jesus replies, “Who is he, sir?  I want to believe in Him!”

The encounter then takes a new direction – as Jesus reveals to the one born blind he is the Messiah.

Before we deal with that, I want to ask another question, an interesting one.

Did he only believe because he saw Him?

Did the Blind man only believe in Jesus because he saw Him?

Or another way to phrase the same question, if the man had encountered Jesus, but Jesus did not give him the ability to see, would he have believed in Jesus?

It is an important question and one we need to face….

Will we only believe and trust in God, if He does what we desire most?

Will we only turn to Him if He keeps us safe from the flu or the coronavirus?  Will we only trust in Him if He heals our broken land, and ends the isolation that is so affecting all of us?

Will we only believe if God does things our way?

And if He doesn’t answer our prayers the way we want, will we reject Him?  Will we refuse to believe in Him? Trust in Him?

Depend on Him?

There is our question for the day… and a hard one.

The Dark Question

It’s one, if we are honest, we are afraid to ask.  Even if we aren’t sure of the answer.

Matter of fact, that is why we need to ask this!

Because we need to come face to face with the question.

Is our faith in God, is our being a Christian based on God doing what we desire?

Is it based on God caring for us the way we want?

If I am honest, the answer would be yes, at times. My faith wavers, it struggles, and I have to be able to admit that. I get frustrated when things don’t go my way, and I hurt in times like this.

And this passage gives me the comfort to admit this… and then reach out to God… and say where are you?

Why I can

The first is this – Jesus was working in the man’s life way before he asked the question. He was giving the blind man the ability to see and doing things that though the guy didn’t know who Jesus was, he knew something was happening that could only be accountable to God.

Back in verse 17 the man stated, “I think He must be a prophet!”  And then in verse 33 he said, “If this man were not from God, he couldn’t have done it!”

He saw God at work – even before he truly understood Jesus was the Messiah before Jesus was the Savior. He recognized something out of the ordinary was happening, something that couldn’t be normal, or just a coincidence.

While for us that may not be healing, God is still going to be at work in our lives way before we recognize that the Holy Spirit is carefully opening us up, and calling us into that place where we begin to heal, where we see God at work

Where we can then hear the question asking us whether we believe and as we go… uhhh… or ask this question or that one, we see Jesus revealed to us. And as He is revealed the Holy Spirit grants us both faith and repentance.

The Holy Spirit does that as well, working in us, revealing to us Jesus’s work through the gospel and then sacramentally, as God cleanses us from Sin and sets us up in a relationship with the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit!

Then, the Spirit has worked in us, we are no longer blind to the work of God, we can say with the man in today’s gospel, “Yes, Lord, I believe!”

How can we behold Jesus today?

You see that is the key, not saying I believe because of this argument, or that apologetic.  We believe because God is at work, and we, even as limited as our vision is, begin to see Him at work. We encounter Him doing something in our lives.

I am not saying our salvation is based on our experience or our emotion. I am saying that as God is at work, it becomes hard to deny it.

So how do we “see” Jesus at work today?

I mean he’s not down at the hospital, or the Braille institute, opening the eyes of the blind. My eyesight isn’t that bad, so where is He? Where can see that He has worked?

I see Him in the eyes of those who commune, I heard Him in the words of those who respond to me, “and also with you!” and “he is risen indeed! And therefore, we are risen indeed!” In the voices of those singing His praises.

But I see Him the most as His word and sacraments breathe life and power into the lives of the people around me. As I see people reconcile with those they have offended and forgive those who have offended them.  I see it in the eyes of those I tell that God has forgiven them of all their sin, and as people ask the hard questions, the ones that cause us to have no other option but to trust in God, and in the midst of that trauma, find peace and serenity that goes beyond anything we can logically explain.

The Spirit is at work within you – because He has promised to be, and God always keeps those promises.  This is our encounter today – wherever we are.

So be still… and know and see, He is God!  AMEN!

Come Back to Me.. and be Happy! A sermon on Romans 5

Come Back to Me
and Be Happy
Roman 5:1-8

† In Jesus Name †

May the grace of God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ be so real in your life that you now true joy and happiness!


What am I thinking?

As I looked over the reading for tonight, the one word I would choose to describe my emotions was “mad”.

The only problem is I couldn’t figure out was whether I was mad as in angry at God, or mad as in insane. I honestly don’t know.

This isn’t right, to have this place of peace so empty, so devoid of smiles and laughter, of even the tears that come as we find it easy to lay our burdens down.

It has been a hard day, our preschool “chapel” time was just Susan, three teachers and myself. Looking forward to tonight, with just a few of us here, was difficult.

I so want to share the Lord’s supper with every person possible!

And as I looked at the sermon schedule, planned months ago, based on readings set in place decades ago…. I realized I was supposed to preach on happiness.

Come on God, what are you thinking?

And the madness elevated to another level.

But look at the verse again,

 Christ has also introduced us to God’s undeserved kindness on which we take our stand. So we are happy, as we look forward to sharing in the glory of God.   Romans 5:2 (CEV)

So are happiness comes from more than this life, it comes from looking forward to sharing in the glory of God forever….

We know we will be happy then… but what about now?

The process of suffering?

Paul continued this passage… now please remember this was planned months ago… don’t blame me  – I am just the messenger…

3  But that’s not all! We gladly suffer, because we know that suffering helps us to endure. 4  And endurance builds character,

How in the world do we gladly suffer through a pandemic, through watching people whose anxiety levels are maxed out, who are challenged beyond our ability?  I know that a lot of you aren’t worried by the virus, as much as you hurt for those who you love whose lives are more impacted.

Some of you will understand what I mean when I say that watching people suffer, watching them struggle is harder often than struggling ourselves.

And yet, the saints I know who are my age and older, have seen God work through wars, and earthquakes, through sickness, and economically challenging times, and they know God will be with us in these times.  God will be there with our laughter, and with our tears.

And His presence will give us hope, a hope that will never disappoint us.

For that Hope is found in the presence of God, a presence we can faintly see now, but will see in all its glory one day.

This is why He calls us back to Him, to give us this hope as we realize how …. beyond words His promises are.

In times like these, we need to be able to focus, to realize how much God loves us. That is how we find the strength to get through.  That is why Paul goes from hope – the right to explaining why we have hope.

 All of this happens because God has given us the Holy Spirit, who fills our hearts with his love. 6  Christ died for us at a time when we were helpless and sinful. 7  No one is really willing to die for an honest person, though someone might be willing to die for a truly good person. 8  But God showed how much he loved us by having Christ die for us, even though we were sinful.
Romans 5:5-8 (CEV)

We need to hear that right now, that even before we knew God’s love, back when we were even more rebellious and sinful, GOD LOVED US.

And if he loved us then, He certainly has not given up on that love, or the mercy that sustains us, and calls us back to Him, even in the deepest depth of sin….

He still calls us to come back to Him,

He still will forgive us when we ask

He will still throw a feast for us, as we come home.

He loves us, the children who finally realize our need for Him…

That is how we find happiness in the midst of trauma, tragedy, and yes pandemic.

That is how we gladly embrace our suffering, knowing He is here…

This is our God… who loves us…

And happy are all He calls to His feast.

AMEN!

Encountering God in the Midst of Isolation

Encounter God amid Isolation
(and be happy!)
John 4:5-26

† In Jesus Name †

May the grace of God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ simply leave you praising Him…

What is God Looking for

What do you preach on, when the world seems, unlike anything you have ever experienced? What do you wen everything doesn’t make sense, and you seem to be holding on by the edge of your fingers?

How do you cope, when the new term for the day is “social distance.” And we are being told and telling people not to shake hands, or even exchange elbows.

How do we cope?

Of all the people in scripture, the Samaritan woman at the well knew the frustration of isolation, She went to well at lunchtime, in the middle of the heat of the day, because there was no one there.  Five times she had been abandoned by her husbands, and the latest jerk didn’t respect her enough to marry her, he just used her… and therefore the women in town treated her like trash if they even thought of her at all.

She was isolated, lonely, probably more than a little bitter.

And then it happened, she encountered God.

We need to hear her story today, and realize we encounter Jesus the same way,

The problem – do we really know Him

As the encounter goes on, as they move from an odd discussion about water to an odder discussion about her past, Jesus then says something that seems a bit… abrupt.

You Samaritans know very little about the one You worship

The original language is blunter – you don’t know the one you worship.

That is harsh, especially if you want to keep a conversation going!

This God you claim to worship – you don’t know who He is, or anything about him.

I am surprised she didn’t run off at that moment!

Or at least say, “What do you mean, I don’t know who God is? Who do you think you are?”

But it is true, that there are times in our lives when we wouldn’t recognize God if He was standing right in front of us, or if He dropped right into our hands.

That is one of our challenges in life, that when we all to often isolate ourselves from God. That all to often we self-quarantine and miss out on the love we so desperately need. It is not coronavirus that does this, but our own sin, as if we think w could infect God, or maybe he has some kind of scanner that will toss us out of His presence.

How the problem is being taken care of.

How we need to encounter Jesus the way this lady did!

Right in the middle of her self-isolation, right in the middle of her questioning what was going on in life, right in the middle of her brokenness.

God showed up.

It wasn’t even the normal route from Jerusalem to Galilee, not even a secondary route.  Peter must have been navigating for them to come to this place.

That day, that moment, she encountered God, and of all the people in the middle east, this Palestinian woman with a life that didn’t make sense encounters God, and hears Jesus confess something he was vague about until the resurrection.

Then Jesus told her, I AM the Messiah!

This lady would run to her village, and without realizing it, shatter all her isolation, her self-imposed quarantine would disappear, as she shared with all the others the Messiah. Jesus would stay with them a while, but the change he made in her life, in that encounter was amazing.

It is the encounter He would have with each one of us this morning.

In the middle of our brokenness, in the middle of our questioning, in the middle our frustration, our questions, our fears.

He is here.

I am the Messiah is an incredible statement, for it means God anointed Him to come here for her, and for you.  To be more than your savior, more than someone who lifts you up and gives you hope.

To be the Messiah, your Messiah means to reveal to you that you are loved by God.

It all begins there, with the love of God, that brings God to weird places, like beside a well, or to a church in Cerritos in the middle of a pandemic in Lent.

To people who need to know that their past will be forgiven, that their deepest thirst will be satisfied, that God will reveal Himself to them…

This is our miracle today, whether here in person, or “out there” watching the service. You are not alone, you are not quarantined from God, you are not isolated any longer from Him, so let us worship the Lord.

The Lord God is with you!    AMEN!

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