Devotional Thought for Our Day:
5 Isaiah then told the king, “The LORD Almighty says that 6a time is coming when everything in your palace, everything that your ancestors have stored up to this day, will be carried off to Babylonia. Nothing will be left. 7Some of your own direct descendants will be taken away and made eunuchs to serve in the palace of the king of Babylonia.”
8 King Hezekiah understood this to mean that there would be peace and security during his lifetime, so he replied, “The message you have given me from the LORD is good.” Isiah 38:5-8 TEV
802 When someone has a very small heart, it seems as if he keeps his desires in a narrow, neglected drawer.
The king in the passage indicated he thought the message of God’s wrath was good, and that bugs me. Is he so self-centered that he doesn’t realize he is welcoming, even approving of God’s wrath to be poured out on others because of his own sin? Doesn’t he realize he is rejoicing in his people’s, his descendants suffering?
What kind of king is that?
What kind of father?
Which brings a hard question to ask, what kind of things will our children, our grandchildren, and those who follow us in Christ have to face because of our lives today?
I am not talking “our” in a corporate sense of America, or even of the entire Church, or my denomination or congregation. I am talking about you and me.
In my case, my cynicism, my own reactions toward those I don’t relate well too, that I don’t trust, that I struggle with, and consider my adversaries, my enemies. Those, if I am in a more condescending mood, that I consider a royal pain in the ass. How will I treat those who add fuel to my already raging sense of cynicism or those who provoke my fine sense of irony?
I have struggled a lot with this as I’ve seen people react to a reaction of other people. That it turn created a reaction, which more people are reacting to with more extremism, more hatred, more calls for violence and acting in anger.
I want to react, I want to call people out on their hypocrisy, I’ve written twenty or thirty replies, then caught myself before posting them. (and a couple of times, I didn’t)
My reaction has to be one of love, it has to be less about me, and more about helping people reconcile, but oh this is difficult, it is brutal, it cuts me to the heart…. and yet, that is exactly what I need. It is this process that St Paul wrote about when he wrote,
“11 In union with Christ you were circumcised, not with the circumcision that is made by human beings, but with the circumcision made by Christ, which consists of being freed from the power of this sinful self. 12 For when you were baptized, you were buried with Christ, and in baptism you were also raised with Christ through your faith in the active power of God, who raised him from death. 13 You were at one time spiritually dead because of your sins and because you were Gentiles without the Law. But God has now brought you to life with Christ. God forgave us all our sins; 14 he canceled the unfavorable record of our debts with its binding rules and did away with it completely by nailing it to the cross. Colossians 2:11-15 (TEV)
The only way I can love those who seem unlovable to me is to live in the reality of my baptism. To know that when I was (and still can be)unlovable, God did anyways. And because He loves me (and you) He is working on me (and you), as I must trust He is working on everyone! Even those who don’t know Him, yet He is calling them to this change of life. To this circumcision of the heart (see Ezekiel 36:25 and following) which cleanses us, changes us, transforms us. (this is what repentance is, and it is far more than saying, “i am sorry”_
It is in His work, that I must trust. Not must in the sense of my obligation to Him, but rather must because if I don’t, I will soon realize I am what I annoys me, I am what I rail against, I am what i hate.
My hope? In the one who loved me enough to die for me. Who loves me enough to transform me, even as I struggle against it. My hope is in Jesus… who is still my advocate, who is still my shepherd, who is my Lord.
May we all let Him change us, as He calls us to his side. AMEN!
Escriva, Josemaria. Furrow (Kindle Locations 3314-3315). Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition.
Discussion/Devotional Thought of the Day:
9 Love from the center of who you are; don’t fake it. Run for dear life from evil; hold on for dear life to good. 10 Be good friends who love deeply; practice playing second fiddle. 11 Don’t burn out; keep yourselves fueled and aflame. Be alert servants of the Master, 12 cheerfully expectant. Don’t quit in hard times; pray all the harder. 13 Help needy Christians; be inventive in hospitality. 14 Bless your enemies; no cursing under your breath. 15 Laugh with your happy friends when they’re happy; share tears when they’re down. 16 Get along with each other; don’t be stuck-up. Make friends with nobodies; don’t be the great somebody. 17 Don’t hit back; discover beauty in everyone.
Romans 12:9-17 (MSG)
Christ raised up the image of Adam. You are not just clay; you extend beyond all cosmic dimensions to the very Heart of God. It is not the one who is scourged who is degraded, but the one who scourges; not the one spat upon, but the one who spits; not the one put to scorn, but he who puts to scorn; it is not pride that raises man up, but humility; not self-glorification that makes him great, but that union with God of which he is capable.
Union with God, what a concept laid out for us in this quote in blue. Union with God.
I hear in the background two voices, one saying we can’t be buddy buddy with God, the other where Jesus tells us that we are not his servants, but his friends. One that cries out for reverent submission, one which sees God the Father running faster than anyone else to welcome us home.
I struggle with this because I have seen the extreme where Jesus being our friend mutates to the idea that He is a good ole boy who understands our sinful nature and simply turns a blind eye to it. I have seen the other extreme as well, where we are so terrified of being caught in sin that our reaction is to try to run and hide from Him, rather than run to Him.
The balance isn’t even on the radar of the extremes, for the balance is found as God draws us in and in His cultivation of our relationship with Him.
Even as we do this, we need, we must realize when we talk of God loving us this way, we are talking about a larger group than you and I. We are talking about all the people that Christ died for, really we are talking about all people.
You aren’t just a bunch of dirt, and neither am I. Our value is that our lives don’t just matter to God – they are previous, we are precious – priceless in His evaluation. So are those we discount, those we struggle with, those we fear. Their lives are just as precious, they are people that God has in His heart.
This is why Paul calls us to love people, to recognize God’s Spirit in them, and to see God’s desire that all would be His family. Just as we are. To realize our enemies have the same God who cares for them, the God who doesn’t dismiss or write them off, or consider them lower that dirt. He discovers the beauty in each of us, or rather, He created us with that beauty, and reveals it more and more as we know HIs love.
This no “them” for a Christian, no dividing line, even that label enemy cannot divide people from us, for it didn’t divide us from Jesus. He draws us into himself anyway, loving us, cherishing us, healing our souls, and helping us to see others whose souls He would heal as well.
Lord have mercy on us all… AMEN!
Ratzinger, Joseph. Co-Workers of the Truth: Meditations for Every Day of the Year. Ed. Irene Grassl. Trans. Mary Frances McCarthy and Lothar Krauth. San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1992. Print.
Devotional Thought of the Day
1 John 4:11-12 (NLT) Dear friends, since God loved us that much, we surely ought to love each other. No one has ever seen God. But if we love each other, God lives in us, and his love is brought to full expression in us.
But after the Holy Spirit has performed and accomplished this and the will of man has been changed and renewed solely by God’s power and activity, man’s new will becomes an instrument and means of God the Holy Spirit, so that man not only lays hold on grace but also cooperates with the Holy Spirit in the works that follow.
But the real heart of Christianity is, and will always be, love of neighbor. For, in very fact, each individual is infinitely loved by God and is of infinite value. Christ says to each of us the words so feelingly formulated by Pascal: “In my mortal agony, I thought of you. I shed these drops of blood for you.
We all have people that seem to cause pain in our lives. Often we label the pains in the neck, or compare them unfavorably to hemorrhoids. Some of us have people that cause a more negative response, people who threaten us, who we label adversaries, or perhaps even enemies.
We may not even know them, they may be politicians of the opposing view, or someone who has their 15 minutes of fame for something that causes anger to well up in us. We may even label them names – either in discussion on FB or over lunch. Maybe we even can keep those names in our minds, But we still think of them as jerks, the personification of evil or simply call them assholes. You might, having read the last word of the prior sentence be shocked I use it, or you might be saying, “But pastor, they really are!”
Or you may feel guilt, worrying about why you can’t get over the feelings of frustration, anger, pain, hurt, and resentment.
Read the passage again that is in red above. Can we do this? Can we love each other, knowing that “other” has the same definition the lawyer received when he heard the parable of the Good Samaritan.
This ability to love them is the work that the Lutheran Confessions (in green) speak of, where the Holy Spirit makes our lives and instrument, and a means of the Holy Spirit’s work. It is the heart of Christianity that then Cardinal Ratzinger spoke of, to realize that for each one of us, every human being on earth, Jesus died, willing let his blood be spilled for you, and for them.
In an old hymnal (TLH), as part of the prayer of God’s people we found a very proper and timely prayer. It said something like this. “Father, turn the hearts of our enemies and adversaries to you.”
This is where our heart begins to change, as we see their need, (and ours) to be reconciled to God. For that is the answer to everything. Without the blood of Christ, spilled to heal us all from the damage of sin, there is no hope to come together in peace. In Christ, the peace is not just compromise, but it becomes community, it becomes love deeper than any other.
It is in Christ, seeing Christ’s love for them, which we begin to be able to love them as well. That love may end up pleading with them, not to deal favorably with us, but that which is more important – their reconciliation with God. That becomes our goal; it becomes what we pray for, what we begin to do, to live for, even as God does…
And as we see the glory of God, as we worship Him, the glory of the Holy Spirit works through us… and they know they are loved.
As do we.
”Tappert, T. G. (Ed.). (1959). The Book of Concord the confessions of the Evangelical Lutheran Church. (p. 472). Philadelphia: Mühlenberg Press.
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. 290). San Francisco: Ignatius Press.
Devotional/Discussion thought of the day
24 Here is another story Jesus told: “The Kingdom of Heaven is like a farmer who planted good seed in his field. 25 But that night as the workers slept, his enemy came and planted weeds among the wheat, then slipped away. 26 When the crop began to grow and produce grain, the weeds also grew.
27 “The farmer’s workers went to him and said, ‘Sir, the field where you planted that good seed is full of weeds! Where did they come from?’
28 “ ‘An enemy has done this!’ the farmer exclaimed.
“ ‘Should we pull out the weeds?’ they asked.
29 “ ‘No,’ he replied, ‘you’ll uproot the wheat if you do. 30 Let both grow together until the harvest. Then I will tell the harvesters to sort out the weeds, tie them into bundles, and burn them, and to put the wheat in the barn.’ ”(Mt 13:24–30) NLT
792 Duc in altum.—“Put out into the deep.” Cast aside the pessimism that makes a coward of you. Et laxate retia vestra in capturam—“And lower your nets for a catch.” Don’t you see that, as Peter said, In nomine tuo, laxabo rete—“At your word I will lower the net,” you can say, “Jesus, in your name I will seek souls!” (1)
I’ve often read the parable above as being about the end of times. It is an eschatological treasure after all, and challenges those with complicated end times theories.
But this parable has a heavy focus on ministry as well, about how we are to deal with evil and that which doesn’t seem to be correct or dare I say kosher. To hear this lesson is challenging, because it goes against conventional wisdom, It goes against leadership rules and all those ideas about dealing with alligators in the church. These people may be your enemies, your adversaries, even your pains in the neck. But they have been given to you.
To hear Jesus’ words here takes a level of courage, even a level of courage that could be taken for complacency. It actually takes more work, more pastoral concern, more leadership, more devotion and obedience.
Leave them in the field you care for, letting God determine whether they are weeds or wheat at the end of time..
Continue to share with them both their absolute need for Christ, and His mercy that overwhelms that need.
If they walk away, so be it, but don’t push them out of vineyard. That isn’t your call. It isn’t within your pay grade to uproot them and burn them in the furnace, or at the stake. Even in times of church discipline, keep them in sight! Minister to them, plead with them to be reconciled to God. (1 Cor 5 – note it doesn’t say reconcile themselves to God – He still does the work)
This is going to take courage, and obedience. it is going to require hearing the Master’s voice, and trusting that He knows what He is doing, what He has commissioned. It may take sacrifice, and yes, more than a little pain It will take creativity and ingenuity as you minister to them, But since when is ministry about the ease of our jobs?
Even as you call them to repentance, even as you shepherd them in view of the others growing in the fields that will be harvested, you need to love them. This is exactly what Peter is talking about, as he mentions the Lord’s long-suffering nature, not willing that any should perish….
So hear His voice… listen to His words… care for those that you think may be weeds..Seek the salvation of the souls He brings into your sight… and love them. ..
God might surprise you both!
(1) Escriva, Josemaria (2010-11-02). The Way (Kindle Locations 1828-1831). Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition.
Devotional Thought of the Day:
11 I alone know the plans I have for you, plans to bring you prosperity and not disaster, plans to bring about the future you hope for. 12 Then you will call to me. You will come and pray to me, and I will answer you. Jeremiah 29:11-12 (TEV)
545 Live a special Communion of the Saints, and at the moment of interior struggle, as well as during the long hours of your work, each of you will feel the joy and the strength of not being alone. (1)
The above quote from scripture (the red quote) is often used to lift people’s spirits, It appears on cards and meme’s with beautiful sunrises and glorious backgrounds. People share it with those they know need a spiritual boost, a holy “pick me up,” assurance. jeremiah, the prophet of troubling messages assured us of a light at the end of the tunnel. He promises, as God’s spokesman, that there is hope, and it is found in the presence of God. The presence that we are believers dwell in, for we are His people!
He will hear our prayer, He has a plan, He has an answer, and all of that is true.
You might ask where the fine print is, and there is something in the context of this verse that you need to hear. Read this carefully,
7 Work for the good of the cities where I have made you go as prisoners. Pray to me on their behalf, because if they are prosperous, you will be prosperous too. Jeremiah 29:7 (TEV)
Read the verse again? Do you realize that God is tieing the future of the Babylonians to the future of the Jewish people? That God’s people are to pray for their enemies, their persecutors, that the future and hope of both Jews and Gentiles is linked? That the people of God should work hard to benefit those who oppress them,
We are called to love our enemies, to pray for those who persecute. That is what we do, as we trust in Jesus’ promise to us in the sermon on the Mount. And it is nothing really new. That kind of love Israel was supposed to show people back in the Old Testament. It is very radical, it is not logical by man’s standards! Yet in 1 Cor. 5 we are told that we don’t judge men by those standards, but by the value Jesus has placed on them. They will become part fo the Communion of Saints, the very people that will lift you up.
God has radical plans for you, plans that are beyond awesome. Those plans include all He brings into His family, all He wants to bring into His family. That includes those people, the ones you struggle to love. The ones who take every bit of trust you have in God to deal with, and then some.
Pray for them, do everything you can to help them… trusting not in their response, but in God’s role in your life. You will be amazed at His plans, at the reconciliation and restoration he accomplishes!
(1) Escriva, Josemaria (2010-11-02). The Way (Kindle Locations 1317-1319). Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition.
How Do You Plead? 1 Corinthians 5:11-21
† In Jesus Name †
May you realize the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that mercifully and lovingly reconciles you and brings you back to our Father!\
Two men stood in front of the judge and the jury, waiting to hear how their pleas were heard, and how their pleas for just would be answered. Whether they believed their pleas or not, their long struggle for the justice was about to be answered.
It was different this time, as I handed the bailiff the verdict, as justice was delivered.
In the back of my mind, I heard the words of Barry, one of my fellow jurors, CLICK
I would rather have justice, than the outcome of the law….
How I wish we could have had the time, and the opportunity to share with them the true nature of justice, that they could have heard that plea.
For that day, in the court room, the plea for reconciliation, the plea for true justice, was the furthest things from what occurred, the furthest thing from anyone’s heart.
And as everyone walked away from that courtroom in Norwalk, the verdict we had given was fair in our minds, but scripturally, it was far from just.
You see the wrong plea was entered… the plea should have been the pleading we’ve been given by Christ, as Paul wrote:
We speak for Christ when we plead, CLICK “Come back to God!”
Our Need For that Judgement
All over the news and the internet, people crying out for justice, crying out against what they perceive as injustice. If you talk to a judge or a lawyer, they can tell you the wait for justice can be three to five years. If you talk to those who are pleading for justice, their ideas differ. And a jury can struggle to determine what is truly just, for in a civil trial how can you put a price tag on it? How can you place a number of years in a criminal trial, that will bring to balance the injustice?
Even so, people cry out for justice, for things to be made right. We so want what we think justice is. But here is how God defines justice, (verse 19) CLICK
For God was in Christ, reconciling the world to himself, no longer counting people’s sins against them!
21 For God made Christ, who never sinned, to be the offering for our sin, so that we could be made right with God through Christ.
True justice, true righteousness is seen in the work that God our Father commissioned, the cost of reconciliation, of making people right with the Father.
True justice then, would have resulted in a friendship between the two men suing each other, and their ability to do so, knowing that Christ paid the price for both of their sins!
They could have known that, they could have known a kind of justice that would have healed the broken relationship that they had. For as their sins were counted against each other, as they were erased, what could separate them?
That’s justice, and it is so completely unexpected. CLICK
This is how Jesus saves us, this is how God planned for this, as we hear from Isaiah, whose words were written centuries before the cross.
5 But because of our sins he was wounded, beaten because of the evil we did. We are healed by the punishment he suffered, made whole by the blows he received. Isaiah 53:5 (TEV)
10 The LORD says, “It was my will that he should suffer; his death was a sacrifice to bring forgiveness. And so he will see his descendants; he will live a long life, and through him my purpose will succeed. Isaiah 53:10 (TEV)
In the very suffering and death of Jesus, we find all of us reconciled to the Father. That is justice. Being reconciled to God is the kind of Justice He seeks.
From my devotions yesterday, this quote explains it well, CLICK
But when a person has once met Christ, when a person has once seen Jesus and really learned to know him, then everything is changed. Then everything else is comprehensible and life is renewed. And you [priests] have really only one task: to present Jesus to all people in such a way that they see him and learn to love him.[i]
When God reconciles us, we are that new creation, as Paul says, the old life is gone, the new life, our new life in Christ has begun!
Everything has changed, the gift of God that is so incredible!
Our plea is different now…
As we look at what has changed, our plea for justice stands out. It is no longer a plea to some vague idea of justice that favors us over others, it is a plea for God’s justice, that they would know His love, that they would welcome His mercy.
It has changed as well from a plea to God for that justice, to a plea to those who cry out for justice, to hear God’s version of it, to be called back to God.
This is what the ministry is all about, this is what the Christ’s love compels us to do.
To share with each other, that in Christ, we have been reconciled to God. Christ’s work is so perfect, that there is no relationship that is beyond His ability to heal, as He brings us into Himself, as He makes of us, one family, one people. His people.
Reconciled to the Father, which is how we see each other. As His children, as those He died for, as those who no longer live for themselves, but live in Christ, who died and was raised for us. That’s why we plead, not to God, but with people to come back to God.
A plea that is an interesting word picture. We become their paraclete’s, the one’s that come alongside them, lift them up and lovingly carry them back to Jesus. If the word sounds familiar, it should. It is one of the names for the Holy Spirit. That is why our pleading is effective, for it is done in Christ, and by the Holy Spirit’s power!
What an amazing thing this message of reconciliation we have been given, this plea that God entrusts to us, to call out to others, to beg them to see the work of God, done for them, and to trust that God has reconciled them as well.
Two last thoughts about God’s Justice CLICK
When we love our neighbor, pleading with them to see Jesus, to recognize His work reconciling them to the Father!
And there is no greater testimony to God’s love and mercy at work in us, that the Holy Spirit has taken up residence in us, than to plead with our enemies to be reconciled to Jesus Christ.
For it takes a level of peace to do this, a peace that goes beyond logic, that goes beyond understanding, a peace that unites all in Christ, where He guards their hearts and minds. AMEN!
[i] 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. 191). San Francisco: Ignatius Press.
Devotional Thought of the Day:
43 “You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your friends, hate your enemies.’ 44 But now I tell you: love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, 45 so that you may become the children of your Father in heaven. Matthew 5:43-45a (TEV)
174 Don’t say, “That person bothers me.” Think: “That person sanctifies me.”
It may be a political figure, stoked by the internet gossip that reports and interprets what he is doing.
It may be that guy who cut you off on the freeway.
It may even be that church leader, either in your congregation or perhaps in your denomination.
It could be someone much closer, a family member, a best friend, even your spouse.
It might be me.
Everyone has someone who can irritate them to the point where the frustration dominates their life. We may be ticked off, or hurt. It may be for a few minutes or a few hours, or if the adversary is irritating, a week or a month or a lifetime.
We would love to “fix” them, we would love to see them change, or if not, to just leave them alone. We might even think our life would be better without them. I’ll tell you a secret,
We need them!
We need their irritation, even their persecution. We need them to teach us how to love them, how to care for them, how to listen.
For St Josemaria is correct, they are part of our sanctification!
Part of their role in our lives is to make us holier, to cause us to be closer and closer to God. For it is only as we see them as He sees them, that we will find the strength, the courage, to power to love them, to minister to them. To reveal to them the healing power of the love that we find, when we see Jesus.
That is why we are urged to pray to Him, that God would intercede in their lives. This is why we love them, for they (should) drive us closer to Jesus. As we abide in Christ, we find the peace from which we can minister to them. He gives us the assurance that allows us to sacrifice for them, no matter whether it is our time, our money or even our lives.
I am preaching on 1 John 3 this weekend, where the Apostle hears the Holy Spirit telling us that we should love as Christ did, that we should minister to those in need, who lack what we have. The context is physically, but it works emotionally, mentally and spiritually as well. But we only find that ability, as we live in Christ. As we embrace the discomfort, for their sakes, for God’s glory. If we trust God, we encounter Christ as we encounter those who irritate us. Amazing this Lord of ours!
It is a challenge, but it is what we are called to… so it is time do our job.
May God reveal His work in you, as you minister to them…. and may His peace, which is beyond our imagination, guard our hearts and minds, as we follow in His steps.
Escriva, Josemaria (2010-11-02). The Way (Kindle Location 534). Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition.
Matthew 5:43-47 (MSG) 43 “You’re familiar with the old written law, ‘Love your friend,’ and its unwritten companion, ‘Hate your enemy.’ 44 I’m challenging that. I’m telling you to love your enemies. Let them bring out the best in you, not the worst. When someone gives you a hard time, respond with the energies of prayer, 45 for then you are working out of your true selves, your God-created selves. This is what God does. He gives his best—the sun to warm and the rain to nourish—to everyone, regardless: the good and bad, the nice and nasty. 46 If all you do is love the lovable, do you expect a bonus? Anybody can do that. 47 If you simply say hello to those who greet you, do you expect a medal? Any run-of-the-mill sinner does that.
“Think of the good that has been done you throughout your lifetime by those who have injured or attempted to injure you. Others call such people their enemies. You should imitate the saints, at least in this. You are nothing so special that you should have enemies; so call them “benefactors”. Pray to God for them: as a result, you will come to like them” (1)
As I feel a need to write this blog, I am also a bit wary of it. Simply put, many of my blogs – almost all of them, are written based in personal reflection and need.
As I sit in my office this morning, haven’t had to deal with any of those people mentioned in the title. So maybe this blog is for you, and not me?
Even so, if James is right about trials and trauma being beneficial to us, then it logically can be stated that those who are the cause of some of those trials and traumas are likewise blessings and not curses. That we can view the lesson they teach us, as a gift from God, and rather than get more and more frustrated, we can give thanks and praise for their being in our lives.
Well – were are you going to find the strength to rise above your own sinful nature and love them – as Jesus asks you to? How are you going to find the focus to pray for them, not that God would change their habits, or their ability to just tick you off, but instead that God would richly bless them, and reveal His love to them?
There is the lesson…
They aren’t your cross, they simply drive you to it. They are a reminder that you aren’t God, that you can’t walk alone in this world, that you cannot conjure up this transformation in your own soul, in your own heart – on you own.
You need Jesus love, you need the power of the Holy Spirit, you have to know that you dwell in the presence of God – and assured of His presence, His mercy shown to you – then you can love them, then you can pray for their best, then you will realize the blessing that they are…. and give thanks for them.
Pray for me, even as I know within the next month, I will need to come back and remember these words..
Escriva, Josemaria (2011-01-31). The Forge (Kindle Locations 2859-2863). Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition.
“The Gates of Hell Cannot Withstand Us”
† In Jesus Name †
As we are engaged in spiritual battle, may we find the strength, and His might, which enables us to focus, not on the Evil, but on His Love and Mercy! AMEN!
St. Peter’s Confession!
In one of his better moments, right after putting one foot in his mouth and perhaps seconds before placing the other one there, St Peter proclaims to Jesus (and to the others) “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.” Matthew 16:16 (NLT)
Jesus response there in Matthew’s gospel affirms Peter’s words.
16:17 Jesus replied, “You are blessed, Simon son of John, because my Father in heaven has revealed this to you. You did not learn this from any human being. 18 Now I say to you that you are Peter which means ‘rock’, and upon this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell will not stand against it. Matthew 16:17-19 (adapted from NLT/ESV)
We shared this same hope we in the words of the Nicene Creed, They remind us that we are in a spiritual war, that we were once hostages that were rescued by Jesus, that there are still many that need to be rescued, and the gates of hell are powerless against the cry of faith in God.
It is a spiritual war, and spiritual warfare, though simple in words never seems to be so easy.
Most people, facing spiritual warfare and our epistle today take one of two actions. One they see themselves as a spiritual super-hero, Captain America or Superman – ready to take on the world if need be! Or having common sense, they run faster than the Enterprise going into warp
Often, we come often back from such spiritual warfare bruised and battered, as I have to admit, I did this week. The challenge is to realize that taking such a beating…isn’t always a bad thing. For it drives us to Jesus…
A Confession of Failure
As Vicar Mark and I went to St. Louis this week, we had some incredible moments. Some of the lessons were great, as we heard that the seminary process is as much about forming Mark as a pastor, not just a theologian. They left him a bit in awe, and somewhat in fear of the next four year’s work they demand. They did the same for us “mentors”. They told us of the burden we will bear – opening our lives us to share and model and help mold th making supplication for all the saints, 19 and also for me, that words may be given to me in opening my mouth boldly to proclaim the mystery of the gospel, 20 for which I am an ambassador in chains, that I may declare it boldly, as I ought to speak.
em as men of God, as leaders of their church.
I failed the very first test as Mark’s mentor, as we struggled through the week, and as frustration eventually got the best of me. I didn’t model very well being strong in the Lord, and in the power of His might, and in remembering that flesh and blood are not our enemies – but forces of much more conniving and forceful and yes diabolical nature.
It started with a rental car which our 5’7 inch 150 pound friend found quite snug with the seat all the way back! (So you can imagine Mark and I trying to wear it!) Then there was the perfect weather – well the numbers matched perfectly – 95 degrees and 95 percent humidity. Add in every class we moved from was on the 2nd or third floor with the stairwells without any airflow. Toss in a number of irritating moments, like losing paperwork and forms multiple times. And cap it off with a mind-number eleven hour journey home including a challenge with TSA, weather delays, missed connections, and airport staff who seemed to delight in causing us problems! One of us, on a conveyer belt bringing us from one terminal to another mentioned the passage in James… “count it all joy when you endure..” except we couldn’t even find that quote funny. We were done, we were beat, and we lost sight of God’s incredible blessings of the week, or the people He brought us into contact with…including the divorced doctor going to see his son, and the foreign student who Mark and I had the opportunity to share God’s love with, on the first leg of our journey.
I have to confess that I struggled not to see the ticket agent as my enemy. Knowing I was preaching on this very passage, I gave up the opportunity to be a blessing to her, and to be an example on dealing with frustrations for Mark.
I had lost the war… or so I believed, as I shared with Vicar Mark that we needed to remember the incredible blessings, even as Satan and His demons, NOT DELTA, was trying to distract us from the grace we know so well! The goal isn’t to beat us up, but to do whatever is necessary to pull us away from Jesus, and then into the bondage of sin!
So where is our armor?
I am convinced that a great deal of spiritual warfare begins and ends with simply distracting us from Jesus. Whether it is causing us frustration or anxiety, getting us to be burdened by guilt or shame, causing us to repress our feelings, or giving into sin, the goal is the same – the people of God will struggle if we are weakened by forgetting the presence of God in which we dwell! That’s why one of the first tactics is to indicate that we don’t need to be gathered together around God’s mercy and love, poured out on us through His word and Sacrament.
Look at the weapons we are to take up – they lead us – each and every one of the weapons, to Jesus – and His work in our lives.
We start the belt of Truth! Back then a belt girds and strengthens us for the run, think of the kind of belt a weight lifter or stockroom worker uses.. John 14:6 tells us Jesus is the Truth – and so our first weapon, strengthening our endurance is given to us, as we dwell in Christ!
The Breastplate of Righteousness – as we read Romans 3-5, and we find that which protects our heart is Jesus. The second tool of the battle is the righteousness, for in Him and through Him we are found righteous, and free from the sin which so easily subverts us!
The shoes, the incredible shoes that were put on, ready to go out and share the gospel of peace! Again, the focus is on being in Christ, for in Him, there is the peace that passes all understanding!
The helmet that keeps our mind safe and secure, just as the breastplate kept our heart safe- our salvation – which is found again, as we live in Jesus Christ, it is His work in our lives! Does it sound familiar that our heart is guarded and our head is guarded as we journey in peace? This is a common theme for Paul, the blessing of our being united in Christ Jesus!
Lastly the sword, the Word of God, the words which cut open our sin-plagued heart and exorcises the sin – not just a weapon to attack and stab with, but a tool to use for healing as well! What an incredible thing Jesus does in our lives!
It is amazing, that as Paul focuses us on these weapons, the tools of our faith, the emphasis isn’t really on the war, but on realizing that we dwell in Christ! That is why he naturally moves from realizing what God has done, to communicating with God in prayer and supplication!
You see, that’s where we find our strength – not in our own maturity, but rather in communion with the Creator of all! That means, trusting in Him, we do lay every burden down, we bring Him into every situation! We trust Him not only with our life, but with the people we pray for! We trust Him with the lives of those for whom we “intercede” as we bring before the God that loves us. We know that as He takes them from our hands into His heart, the care will be there… that all things will work for good for them, for those who are loved and called into the very relationship we have with God!
A war against principalities and the cosmic powers of the present darkness means we realize that so many are still held in bondage – bondage to that which causes fear and guilt and share and anxiety!
Our war isn’t with them, it is to free them, as it was Paul’s vocation and prayer as well.
Think about these last verses,
“making supplication for all the saints, 19 and also for me, that words may be given to me in opening my mouth boldly to proclaim the mystery of the gospel!
As we consider where we are in Christ, we realize they mystery is revealed completely! What we’ve been saved to, the peace, of heart and mind! The peace of knowing real truth that God has cleansed us and freed us of that which poisons our lives! We realize our battle is to free those who were bound as we have been, whose life is missing that peace.
The funny thing, I said above that I was shocked at what a poor example I was, but perhaps the example that was needed is not that I reacted badly to the stress of the day and the burdens of the week – but instead that having sinned, I found the strength that cleanses our sins, and guards our hearts and minds in Christ Jesus….
For that is our combat lesson. AMEN?