Blog Archives

Walking with Jesus through Trials to The Triumph EnJOYing the Walk!

Our Lenten JourneyWalking with Jesus through Trials to The Triumph

EnJOYing the Walk!

Romans 5:1-11

In Jesus Name

As you walk with God our Father and our Lord Jesus Christ, may the gift of their love and mercy sustain us, and bring us great joy!

Where is the joy?

Verse 11 in our epistle reading often leaves me wondering.  Specifically, the part that says, “so NOW we can rejoice in our wonderful new relationship with God.”    

Did you guys get this memo?  That because of your wonderful new relationship with God we should be rejoicing, that we should be overwhelmed with joy?  I think somedays I need to be strongly reminded of that, and somehow, I don’t think I am the only one.

As we walk through this season of Lent, as we walk through these trials to The Triumph, we need to experience this joy, not just because it will prevent us from burning out, but rather because the joy is the basis for where we live..

We, who dwell in the presence and glory of God, are to live joy-filled lives.  It is the fruit of the Spirit Paull will tell the church in Galatia, and the Thessalonian church will hear “rejoice always!’

What an odd paradox for Lent, to preach on the fact that we should rejoice, that we should live our lives full of joy, even as we grieve over our sin.  To talk about the joy we should be experiencing is far greater than the joy experienced by winning a gold medal in the Olympics, yet which at times seems as unlikely as me winning said gold medal.

Then again, if we were all full of joy, why would I need to preach about it, or why would St. Paul need to write about it?

A Paradox indeed, this idea of joy!

Endurance leads to confident hope…. For we know

Then again, this passage is full of challenging things to understand, like the fact that when we encounter problems and trials, we can rejoice as well!

As if the problems and trials are the sources of that joy.

They aren’t, and it doesn’t say they are the source of the joy. They just say joy should be expected, that the result of problems and trials results eventually in our confident hope of salvation being strengthened, being made sure, as we realize the breadth and width, their height and depth of God’s love.

We need to get that, for I think most of us look at these problems trials and at points wonder where God is, or why He would allow such a thing to exist?  We stagger in the doubt and anxiety that such problems and trials, these oppressive times, and at times fall into sin, looking for relief from how they dominate the landscape.

Luther noted this challenge in dealing with problems and trials when he discussed the first commandment and what a God was,

What does it mean to have a god? or, what is God? Answer: A god means that from which we are to expect all good and to which we are to take refuge in all distress, so that to have a God is nothing else than to trust and believe Him from the [whole] heart;    The Large Catechism of Martin Luther.

It is all too easy to take refuge in something, especially in those things that are powerfully addictive, from drugs and alcohol to work, sex, politics, technology, social media and even security.  It moves from temptation to sin when those things become our primary refuge, the place we go to first always.  Where do we run when life is challenged, when life is difficult?  That is our god, and far too often, that is not Jesus.  These refuges will draw us in, more and more until we realize them for the trap they are.  By that time, we are helpless.

Then we need to be saved more from our refuge far more than we need to be saved from the problems and trials that assault us.

But when we were helpless!

We aren’t without hope though, and that is part of the process.  For enduring these challenges can only be accomplished as we are drawn to Christ.  When we realize that when we didn’t deserve the privilege of having peace with God, when we realize that when we were utterly helpless Christ came and died for us.

That is where the spiraling into the refuges of idolatry ends, when Jesus comes and rescues us, an unbelievable action, considering he is rescuing us from betraying him!

This is where the joy is found, in that while we were still in rebellion, while we didn’t give a rip about God, and sought out sin rather than depending and listening to Him, He still loved us, He still died for us. He still cleaned up the mess we’ve out of our lives.

That is amazing! That is something to be astounded by!  That is something to be thankful for!

He loves us.  God really loves us!

And even more, because Christ’s blood cleanses and paid for all our sins, we have the promise of sharing in the glory of God!

That is what we rejoice in, this incredible, mind-blowing idea that because of Jesus, because of His love, we have this relationship with God, where He calls us His friends.

A relationship that is revealed when we can’t make it through these problems and trials when we realize that relationship is called a friendship. A relationship that is full of peace, and in that peace, we can rejoice in what Jesus has done, and what God has prepared for us, a place for eternity, dwelling and sharing in His glory.

This is worth rejoicing in, even in Lent, Yes?  AMEN

Do Not Pursue Virtue and Perfection. There is a better route…

nativityDEvotional Thought for our Days:
7 So that I would not become too proud of the wonderful things that were shown to me, a painful physical problem n was given to me. This problem was a messenger from Satan, sent to beat me and keep me from being too proud. 8 I begged the Lord three times to take this problem away from me. 9 But he said to me, “My grace is enough for you. When you are weak, my power is made perfect in you.” So I am very happy to brag about my weaknesses. Then Christ’s power can live in me. 10 For this reason I am happy when I have weaknesses, insults, hard times, sufferings, and all kinds of troubles for Christ. Because when I am weak, then I am truly strong.  2 Cor. 12:7-10

In a letter to Leonie, Therese writes,

I find perfection very easy to practise, because I have realised that all we have to do is take Jesus by the heart. Consider a child who has just upset his mother by losing his temper or disobeying her. If he goes and hides in a corner with a sullen look on his face and cries because he is afraid of being punished, his mother will certainly not pardon his fault. But if he comes to her and holds out his arms to her and smiles at her and says, “Give me a hug, I’ll never do it again,” how can his mother resist taking him fondly and pressing him to her heart, forgetting his childish wickedness? Yet she knows perfectly well that her dear child will do it again as soon as the occasion arises, but that makes no difference; if he takes her by the heart again, he will never be punished.

Tugwell informs us that “Therese had herself been tormented by scruples for more than a year” but later on came to a different conclusion about herself: Even if she committed every possible sin, she would still have exactly the same confidence in God. She no longer needed the assurance of her own virtue.

11 Likewise, faith does not ask if good works are to be done, but before one can ask, faith has already done them and is constantly active. Whoever does not perform such good works is a faithless man, blindly tapping around in search of faith and good works without knowing what either faith or good works are, and in the meantime he chatters and jabbers a great deal about faith and good works.

When I came across the words of St Therese, (quoted by a Baptist) I was a little in shock.  

The words resonate with me, I could have perhaps said them myself, for the value running to God when we see, and when we are tempted is beyond explanation.  To know the comfort of God, the mercy, and peace that flows over us as we are in God’s arms, 

Knowing that love of God is so powerful, so overwhelming that we dropped the carefully constructed facade of virtue that we create.  His love makes us so confident we can drop the attitude of piety that we careful craft, and admit that we are simply poor, broken sinners. Sinners who have no confidence in our own strength, but instead learn to completely depend on Jesus. We can depend on God like the child running to his mother, rather than being punished in the corner.

This is when holiness, when sainthood is seen by others.  When it is not contrived, when it is not planned, when it is no longer an act, but the natural life lived in the presence of Christ. It’s the life of faith that the reformers saw, one that doesn’t argue about faith and works, one doesn’t even contemplate how to do good works, but simply does them, constantly active. It doesn’t wait for the exegetical, historical and systematic explanation of loving God and therefore loving those around them, but faith does that, while searching the scriptures for God, find the promises delivered to them in and through Jesus. 

That is true holiness, one that isn’t holier than thou but realizes that hope for its brokenness is found in the God we adore, and in finding in His heart, our life.

Dwell in peace… knowing the blessed life that is found in Christ!  Amen!

Webber, Robert E. The Divine Embrace: Recovering the Passionate Spiritual Life. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2006. Print. Ancient-Futpietyeries.  

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

Martyrs Aren’t Heroes but the norm

Devotional Thought of the Day:

54  The Jewish leaders were infuriated by Stephen’s accusation, and they shook their fists at him in rage. 55  But Stephen, full of the Holy Spirit, gazed steadily into heaven and saw the glory of God, and he saw Jesus standing in the place of honor at God’s right hand. 56  And he told them, “Look, I see the heavens opened and the Son of Man standing in the place of honor at God’s right hand!” 57  Then they put their hands over their ears and began shouting. They rushed at him 58  and dragged him out of the city and began to stone him. His accusers took off their coats and laid them at the feet of a young man named Saul. 59  As they stoned him, Stephen prayed, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.” 60  He fell to his knees, shouting, “Lord, don’t charge them with this sin!” And with that, he died. Acts 7:54-60 (NLT) 

11  And they have defeated him by the blood of the Lamb and by their testimony. And they did not love their lives so much that they were afraid to die. Revelation 12:11 (NLT)

1  Since you have been raised to new life with Christ, set your sights on the realities of heaven, where Christ sits in the place of honor at God’s right hand. 2  Think about the things of heaven, not the things of earth. 3  For you died to this life, and your real life is hidden with Christ in God. 4  And when Christ, who is your life, is revealed to the whole world, you will share in all his glory. Colossians 3:1-4 (NLT)

This post is based on one of the Bible Study discussions among my people at church.  We’ve been going through the book of Acts of the Apostles, and came to the martyrdom of Stephen.

It brought out a discussion of the fears we have because of the terrorism in Lebanon, the Sudan and Paris, the incredibly painful trauma people experience.  A trauma that is spreading through anxiety and fear, which is being maniuplated by those who would have us stop out from reaching in love, because of that fear.

As we discussed these things, someone mentioned the incredible level of faith that someone who willing embraced martyrdom must have.  The faith that would testify of God’s love, that would know the fruit of the Spirit in Galatians, even as the boulders were thrown down upon him, or as the blade slice through the air.

Such heroism seems beyond us, such an ability to set aside one’s automatic nature to preserve one’s self.  Yet the angel in the passage from the Revelation states that the people there have defeated the accuser by the blood of the Lamb, the witness (in greek – the word we get martyr from!) and by the fact that they didn’t love life so uch they were afrasid to die.

That describes you, if your faith is in Christ.  It describes me as well, and every other person who puts their hope in Christ Jesus. The more we comprehend, not just now, but understand at the gut level, the love of Christ, the guaranty of His promise that we will share in His glory eternally, the more we don’t need to cling to life, the more we don’t need to defend ourselves against persecution. The more we can embrance suffering like Jesus did.  The more we trust, the more we look to the promise, the more we understand God’s love, the more we can accept martyrdom.

I want you to compare what Stephen goes through in the first reading to what Paul urges believers to do.

Stephen looked into heaven, and saw the glory of God.

Paul tells us to set our sights on the reality of heaven.

Stephen sees Jesus at the right hand of the Father, in the place of honor.

We are to see the same thing – the same Jesus, the same right hand, the same place of honor.

Stephen is killed. Physically.

We are to realize that we have died to this life.  Yes spiritually, (as had Stephen) but also in our need to cling to it, for we realize we aren’t just here, we are hidden in Christ in God, waiting to be revealed with Jesus in our fullness.

That’s where the strength comes from to allow a witness to Christ result in our martyrdom, whether that martyrdom is physical, or whether it is setting aside our dream life, our desires, our need to preserve our identity, in order to bear witness to the love of Christ.  This is exactly what Paul is talking about in Philippians 2:1-10. urging us on to unity in Christ.  It is what Paul talks of when he urges ust o imitate him as He imitates Christ.

Ultimately, Martyrdom is never about the death, it is never about the sacrifice, it is about knowing the love of Jesus, about trusting in His promises, that is the martyrdom, the very witness we bear. Is this heroic then?  It would be, except that the strength doesn’t come from us, it coems from the Holy Spirit.  It is the very thing we are urged as believers to do.  To bear witness with our very lives, to give the reason we have hope.  To set aside our fears, to set aside our need for self preservation, to set aside all, to love God, and to love man.

It is who we are, because of what Jesus does for us in baptism…..what He does to us.

This is what it means to know the Lord is with you, that He answered your plea for emrcy.

It is abiding, secure in Christ’s peace.  It is, His gift, His grace.

Overwhelmed? Broken?

Quote to ponder this day:

When you have fallen or when you find yourself overwhelmed by the weight of your wretchedness, repeat with a firm hope: Lord, see how ill I am; Lord, you who died on the Cross for love of me, come and heal me. Be full of confidence, I insist. Keep on calling out to his most loving Heart. As he cured the lepers we read about in the Gospel, He will cure you. (1)

As i read this quote this morning, I recoiled a bit at the phrasing, especially “the weight of your wretchedness”.   Wretched?  Isn’t that a bit strong?   I mean, my life certainly faces a lot of “challenges”, but “wretched”?

If I am honest, those “challenges” do weigh heavily on me, as can the guilt and shame that comes with dealing effectively with those challenges.  I want to face them on my own, have the wisdom to deal with them, and I often instead cower in fear, or at least become paralyzed by it.   I don’t think my wretchedness is just about my sin, though it obviously would include it. But we live in a broken world, and we live among broken people, and the situation at times does seem “wretched”, and that there is no way out.  If I dwell on it long enough, I can become depressed and bitter towards God, – why haven’t You helped me!

It is then that a friend, or a passage like this shows up, and my world which was turned upside down… become at peace.

I may have to cry out to Him until I am exhausted and fall mercifully to sleep.  It’s not because He isn’t answering, He does and I am often so overwhelmed, so wretched I don’t hear Him clearly.  For what He will say is often not what I want to hear, but it is always there,, and is effective.

James talks about the prayer of a righteous man is very very effective – so is it that I am not righteous enough?  Interestingly, that question’s answer is found in itself – the reason someone is counted righteous is because they trust God. because they know His presence, and rejoice in Christ.  It is when we draw close, that we find those answers, that peace, that assurance in the middle of being overwhelmed, of being wretched.   The situation doesn’t change as much as we think – what changes is that we are not as concerned as we are in awe…

So are you overwhelmed, has the situation nearly crushed you?  Or at least, do you think it has?   Keep crying out to God – until your heart is ready to listen, to be set at peace.  I love the bullet point before the one quoted above, for it states why this is effective.

“Let us marvel at the lovable paradox of our Christian condition: it is our own wretchedness which leads us to seek refuge in God, to become “like unto God”. With him we can do all things.” (1)

Jesus said it this way:

6:31 What I’m trying to do here is to get you to relax, to not be so preoccupied with getting, so you can respond to God’s giving. 32 People who don’t know God and the way he works fuss over these things, but you know both God and how he works. 33 Steep your life in God-reality, God-initiative, God-provisions. Don’t worry about missing out. You’ll find all your everyday human concerns will be met. 34 “Give your entire attention to what God is doing right now, and don’t get worked up about what may or may not happen tomorrow. God will help you deal with whatever hard things come up when the time comes.
Matthew 6:31-34 (MSG) 

Lord, have mercy upon us, and as we are seeking that mercy, draw us through it to be aware of You Presence.

 

 

(1)  Escriva, Josemaria (2011-01-31). The Forge (Kindle Locations 927-931). Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition.

%d bloggers like this: