Category Archives: Immanuel
The Accidental Benefit of Darkness and Evil ( the blog I didn’t want to write)
Thoughts that push me towards Christ, and the Cross.
4 He helps us in all our troubles, so that we are able to help others who have all kinds of troubles, using the same help that we ourselves have received from God. 5 Just as we have a share in Christ’s many sufferings, so also through Christ we share in God’s great help. 6 If we suffer, it is for your help and salvation; if we are helped, then you too are helped and given the strength to endure with patience the same sufferings that we also endure. 2 Corinthians 1:4-6 (TEV)
Even darkness, even evil, even death, even sin: all of them, seen by the light of the sacramental fire, become capable of helping the work of God. They can contribute accidentally, but existentially, to the life, growth and liberty of our souls.
Christ upbraids the disciples with their unbelief and hardness of heart. He does not reject them, nor deal too severely with them, but reproves them. It is not an insignificant matter that the Lord rebuked his disciples; for unbelief is the greatest sin that can be named. Christ tells them the cause of their unbelief when he says that their hearts are hardened, still he deals mildly and gently with them. This is told us for our comfort, lest we despair, when, lacking in faith, we doubt, stumble and fall.
It will take a lot to write this post.
I don’t enjoy encountering the dark moments of life. Neither do I like dealing with evil.
Whether the moment is personal, and is my own journey through darkness, depression and even despair, or whether it is walking beside someone, I really struggle. And as these journeys overlap and pile up, I get weighted down.
As do most pastors, teachers, counselors, and others who continually walk with people through the darkness.
I believe it is the primary reason that there is such burnout in the ministry today. We’ve spent 40-50 years pretending that everything is perfect in the church, looking for process after program, going through consultants and coaches (how many of them burnt out in ministry?) and fail to deal with the darkness, evil and the grief that shadow our lives.
And so we are crushed…. our faith, that ability to depend on God, melts like a ice cream cone in the desert in August. It’s at that point, that sin and temptation become so powerful, as we look for someway to escape, someway to cope with the pressure building up inside us. And when those sins and temptations fail to, the darkness grows more pervasive, more stifling.
Except for the promise of Jesus.
In Him, we have the promise that His great help – we have the promise of His presence, and His love and mercy. We have been given the Holy Spirit – who has the title of the comforter, and there is so much comfort there that we instinctively comfort others.
That comfort is seen in Luther’s explanation of Jesus correcting his disciples. Luther makes it clear that Jesus doesn’t reject them outright, nor is the severity enough to crush them. But as he qon’t quench a candle’s wick that is barely flowing, Jesus, with great love and wisdom, ministers to us in our times of weakness. It is shared in the scriptures not to make them appear weak, but to help us in our time of despair, doubt, and stumbling.
This I count onmore than ever in life. I Know I have to walk through the shadows; i know the effect they might have on me, but I also know He is there… and he will get me through this… as promised. I may not be able to change my attitude, or even find the light in my darkness, but I know it will be there…I know He will be there.
Merton’s words are absolutely accurate–these times are ones that accidentally cause incredible growth in our souls. For they show us how complete the works of Jesus is in our lives. W learn this through the sacraments, and the promises scripture gives in them. How Christ’s death – which we are united to in them, means we live in Him, and He in us. It may be an accident from Satan’s perspective, but it is well within the promise of God revealed in Romans 8 – all things work for God… and nothing can separate us from the love of God.
Now to learn to be patient through such trials!
Thomas Merton, The New Man (London; New York: Burns & Oates, 1976), 173.
Martin Luther and John Sander, Devotional Readings from Luther’s Works for Every Day of the Year (Rock Island, IL: Augustana Book Concern, 1915), 153.
Some Changes… yet the same message!
Then God commanded, “Let lights appear in the sky to separate day from night and to show the time when days, years, and religious festivals Gen 1:14.GNT
Now all this happened in order to make what the Lord had said through the prophet come true, 23*“A virgin will become pregnant and have a son, and he will be called Immanuel” (which means, “God is with us”). Matt 1:22-23
How foolish it is therefore for the inexperienced to assume pastoral authority when the care of souls is the art of arts.1 For who does not realize that the afflictions of the mind are more hidden than the internal wounds of the body
This true bride-love God presents to us in Christ, in that he allowed him to become man for us and be united with our human nature that we might thus perceive and appreciate his good will toward us. As the bride loves her betrothed, so also does Christ love us; and we on our part will love him, if we believe and are the true bride. Although he gave us the wisdom of all the prophets, the glory of all the saints and angels, and even heaven, yet would we not esteem them unless he gave us himself. The bride can be satisfied with nothing; the only one thing she wants is the bridegroom himself. “My beloved is mine and I am his.”
A seller of purple, Lydia traveled to the market of her day, and undoubtedly she had found freedom and satisfaction in that era when women were not counted at all.
But Lydia heard the Apostle Paul tell of the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, and the Lord opened her heart. In Christ she found an eternal answer, which career and position had never been able to give.
Religions do not, in fact, simply supply answers to questions. Or at least they do not confine themselves to this until they become degenerate. Salvation is more than the answer to a question.
Every November 1, I change up my devotional reading list. It is like saying goodbye to old friends, and trying to get used to new friends.
Except this year.
This year, the new selections are like meeting an old friend who has had massive changes in their appearance, yet re the same person inside. At least that is my impression after the first day. The readings, from a early Roman Catholic Pope, a different selection from Luther, Tozer and Merton all bring home what I’ve dedicated my ministry to, as well as my academic career.
We need Jesus…. and we need to guide people into the presence of Christ, despite what they think they know of Him. This sounds simple, but only after 25 years of ministry and three degrees do I feel like I’ve only begun to understand how to bring people into the presence of Christ in such a way they find healing and peace. Pope Gregory is right, this is an art form, not an academic exercise. But there is nothing–absolutely nothing–more important. Getting people to open up and share their woundedness is rarely possible in an hour. Sometimes it takes a decade. But when it happens, and they learn to walk with Jesus a step or two… oh how wonderful it is!
This is what Luther is trying to help us understand, as he urges us to understand God’s love, and His good will (care) for us, in the intimately deep way that a husband should care for his wife, knowing her needs, caring for her when life is challenging. Knowing that Christ cares for us this deeply, this completely, allows us to toss aside that which burdens us, just to spend time with Him–being His. We need this time, more than anything, for from it comes the ability to care for others, even as we’ve been cared for by Jesus.
Again–the idea of SoulCare is right there, in front of everything.
That is what Lydie found, as Tozer commented. Ahead of her culture by two millennia, this woman ran a very incredible, high profit business. And found something all the success in the world could not provide. A soul at peace! A soul that was content in waiting for what God has planned for those who love Him because she heard Paul’s voice, and the Holy Spirit showed her the love and care of Christ…for her.
Which brings us to Thomas Merton, the wild card in my reading this year. And yet he nails it, this idea that our religion isn’t just an answer to a question. Christianity is more than dealing with the questions of sin, guilt, shame, death, even more than questions about heaven and hell. It is about the relationship with Jesus, who is God-with-us—even now! Right where you are reading this. He is Immanuel, God with us! Knowing this changes everything about life. As Luther noted – everything else falls aside, and we concentrate on the One who loves us.
Which brings us to the last quote, the odd translation of the Good News Translation in Genesis 1 – where God established the night and the day to determine the timing of religious festivals. The Hebrew there means “appointed times”, which makes me think there is a point here, since the order seems a little odd. Days, years and holidays (holy days) seems more logical than days, years and seasons. These appointed times/religious festivals where special times of rest, where God gathered His people to allow them a chance to rest, and to heal. A time to be cared for, cleansed, assured that God loves, even adores His people. This is what heals the soul, this incredible blessing of knowing God’s attitude toward us!
The Lord is with you! And there is a reason for Him to be here. To show you that you are loved.
This is what this religion is about – not just the answer to a question, but a relationship deeper and more precious than anything we can experience… and we are only just beginning it.
May we know this – more and more thoughout this next year!
St Gregory the Great, The Book of Pastoral Rule, ed. John Behr, trans. George E. Demacopoulos, vol. 34, Popular Patristics Series (Crestwood, NY: St Vladimir’s Seminary Press, 2007), 29.
Martin Luther and John Sander, Devotional Readings from Luther’s Works for Every Day of the Year (Rock Island, IL: Augustana Book Concern, 1915), 384–385.
A. W. Tozer and Gerald B. Smith, Mornings with Tozer: Daily Devotional Readings (Chicago: Moody Publishers, 2008).
Thomas Merton, The New Man (London; New York: Burns & Oates, 1976), 1–2.