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No Other Words Can Express this…

Altar with communionDevotional Thought for our days….
Like a young man taking a virgin as his bride, He who formed you will marry you.
As a groom is delighted with his bride, So your God will delight in you.  Isaiah 62:4 TEV

8 But you are our Father, LORD. We are like clay, and you are like the potter. You created us, 9so do not be too angry with us or hold our sins against us for ever. We are your people; be merciful to us.  Isaiah 64:8-9  TEV

You will be like a child that is nursed by its mother, carried in her arms, and treated with love. 13I will comfort you in Jerusalem, as a mother comforts her child.  Isaiah 66:12-13

 

For God, we are not numbers! We are important; indeed, the most important of all his creatures, the closest to his heart whether we are saints or sinners.

Yet sisters continued to leave and new ones failed to come. Perhaps, without being fully aware of the reasons, women religious felt a deep unrest at living in a Church in which Christianity is reduced to an ideology of doing, a Church in which there is no longer any place for mystical experience, for that zenith of religious life that has been—and not by chance—the most precious treasure of the Church through centuries of uninterrupted constancy and fullness in the lives of religious, usually women rather than men; in the lives of those extraordinary women whom the Church has honored with the title “saint”, and sometimes even “doctor”, not hesitating to offer them as models for all Christians.

As I study the scriptures with a group of guys, all who are servants of the church, there is a debate that is somewhat constant.  It is over the use of a phrase that I use to help us study and communicate the good news of God’s love and care.

The phrase is simple, two words that I feel capture the essence of what we need to make sure people understand about God and them.  The words are 

Intimate Relationship

They would plead that we can’t use those two words together, they will scare off men, they will be heard and people will think about sex or sensual or even perverse relationships.   For years I have asked them to come up with another phrase, another way to express what Hebrew and Greek words like Agape and cHesed and Eleos do. 

They cannot.  And they admit that this is at the heart of the gospel, this relationship with God that is so deep, so powerful, so captivating. So intimate.

The Old Testament prophets saw this and expressed it simply and clearly.  Isaiah even is inspired to compare it to the delight of a groom as he takes his bride to himself.   He will also compare it to a woman nourishing her newborn.  or an artist crafting His creation ( relative to Eph. 2:10) and the relationship the artist has with his work.

It is scary, as anyone who has been a bride or groom knows, the anxiety of letting a person get that close to you, not just physically, but spiritually, psychologically.  Letting every barrier down, turning every defensive mechanism off, simply loving and being loved.  Whether it is the groom, the newborn’s mom, or the artist, each opens themselves up to the “Other”, or as some philosophers have said, the “Thou” is important to the I and they reach a point where you can’t define one without the other!

That is what “intimate relationship” describes,

What Isaiah also notes is that God is the one who initiates this, who keeps it going, who is responsible.  The groom in those days, the mom feeding the infant, the artist creating the “Work”.  Each has the responsibility in the relationship for making it happen, for making the connection.

As Pope Francis notes, we aren’t just numbers, we are just parts of the Body of Christ, Each one of us has that relationship with God!  As Benedict grieves, it is this zenith, this mystical experience, this constant fullness of the presence of God has gone missing from the church, and why it is weaker without the women (and some men) who could experience such joy, such delight, such wonder as living in the presence of God brings.

Luther would call this living the baptized life, living in the truth that in our baptism, we are united with Christ, and become one with Him. We live in Christ, for there is love, and joy and peace, far deeper than we could have ever imagined.

Far more intimate that we could normally be comfortable with…

Yet a place of peace.  deep abiding peace that is beyond the peace of the world,  A peace so unexplainable, save with these words….

The Lord be with you!

Pope Francis. A Year with Pope Francis: Daily Reflections from His Writings. Ed. Alberto Rossa. New York; Mahwah, NJ; Toronto, ON: Paulist Press; Novalis, 2013. Print.

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.

What We Pass On…. Is it Truly Good?

54e14-jesus2bpraying

God, who am I?

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.

 

Time Management and the Church

St Francis Catholic Church

This was the church of my parochial school… a place where relationships were formed… with our students and with God

A devotional thought for the Day:

42 They spent their time learning the apostles’ teaching, sharing, breaking bread, n and praying together.  Acts 2:42 NCV

Chapter 7 Baptism into union with Jesus is the sign of our new spiritual identity with the Triune God and with each other in the church. In baptism Christians embrace the new life that is the gift of God’s grace through Jesus Christ by the Spirit.
Chapter 8 The spiritual life is a living into our baptism—dying to all that is sin and death, rising through the new birth into the new life modeled by Jesus, the one who images humanity completely united to God’s original purposes for creation. The spiritual life contemplates the mystery of God revealed in Jesus Christ and participates in the purposes of God for humanity.
Chapter 9 The spiritual life is disciplined by the rule of steadfastness, fidelity, and obedience; it attends to prayer, study, and work; it meets God in daily life, in material things, and in people.
Chapter 10 The spiritual life is nourished by the church, which is the continued presence of the incarnate Jesus in and to the world. The spiritual life is nurtured by worship that sings, prays, preaches, and enacts the divine embrace in its daily prayer, weekly celebration, and yearly attention to God’s saving embrace in the services of the Christian Year. (1) 

Only from a personal encounter with the Lord can we carry out the diakonia (service) of tenderness without letting us get discouraged or be overwhelmed by the presence of pain and suffering.

A friend put up a meme the other day, that testified to the power of a good hug, one of those so powerful that you can feel the other person’s heart beat, and the ability it has to calm you down and assure you that everything will be all right. I experienced those kinds of hugs on vacation, as some of my friends from junior high got together 38 years after we had last seen each other. It was remarkable and refreshing.  (thanks, Ana, Dina, Christos, Danny, Glenn, and Brian!)

It is the kind of life the church had in its infancy, one we call koinonia or living in communion with each other.  We become a community that is incredibly close, and there for each other.  It is hard to explain, the level of such a relationship, where even years melt away as…. I can think of no other word… the intimacy of the communion is restored. ( Not physical intimacy as in sexual intimacy, but a connection of souls)

Webber would note that such an embrace is possible because of God, of His drawing us into His story, of Him invading ours, not just to purge us of our sin, but to embrace us, to heal us, to bring us into the depth of His peace. The outline of his chapters above shows how this happens in baptism and the spiritual life that is created as we learn to walk with God. This is what Pope Francis was talking about when he mentions our service and ministry of tenderness that begins with a personal (intimate) encounter with God.   If not a part of our lives we will (and still do when we forget to return there) burnt out, we will be overwhelmed.  But with God’s embrace, and with those around us who likewise are locked in His embrace, we are safe… and can find the rest we need, even as we hurt.

Webber went on from the start of the Divine Embrace to note that this spiritual life, this divine embrace is nourished in the gathering of people known as the church.  It is there we find the presence of the incarnate Christ in the world (this is why some call the church our mother and say salvation is not found apart from her! )  As we pray and worship, as we continue in the apostles teaching of the Word of God (Jesus) as revealed in the word of God (scripture)  as we take and eat the body of Christ, and take and drink His blood, poured out to remove all of our sin and restore our relationship with God, this divine embrace, this intimate relationship with God is restored, and it envelops all of us.  

This early description of the church in Acts talks of this – look at what they did! It doesn’t say they held endless meetings or held strategy meetings for growth.  It says that they did the things which reminded us and strengthened our awareness of God’s embrace.  

Maybe it is the time we got back to being the church, rather than doing church.  Our people need it, we need it. and oddly enough God treasures it far more than we can realize.  For He sent Jesus to minister to us, even to the point of offering His life as a sacrifice, that we could be held in God’s hands…

Time management in the church?  Where is our time of understanding God’s word, praying together, sharing our lives and meals together, and sharing in the Eucharist?  It may seem too simple, but the joy we will find being those God called together will be far more contagious than anything we can plan.  

The Lord is with you! It is time to manage our time so that we spend most of it Celebrating that Divine Embrace!

 

 

 

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

Pope Francis. A Year with Pope Francis: Daily Reflections from His Writings. Ed. Alberto Rossa. New York; Mahwah, NJ; Toronto, ON: Paulist Press; Novalis, 2013. Print.

He has Risen! He has Risen Indeed! And…

church at communion 2He has Risen! He Has Risen Indeed!

And… therefore….

Colossians 2:10-12

† In Jesus Name †

As we celebrate Easter, as we celebrate Jesus’ resurrection, may you realize your part in it, for the grace of God has brought you to life in and with Him.  AMEN!

The earlier sermon… Our union with Christ… 

You have already heard a sermon this morning.  Rather you’ve seen it happen, you witnessed what my poor words will attempt to describe.

Paul says it this way, in our epistle reading.

You are complete through your union with Jesus.

Complete, whole, perfect, lacking nothing.

What became true for Damon, Madelynn and Rosemarie, and is true for everyone who trusts in the mighty power of God is because of this incredible union, being united with Christ’s death and resurrection.

That is the incredible miracle of God that occurs in our baptism, as we are united with Jesus, and then we die and are resurrected with Him.

Our need for circumcision

The apostle Paul, in this epistle, this letter to a young new church, explains the work that God does in baptism using the illustration of circumcision. He writes,

11  When you came to Christ, you were “circumcised,” but not by a physical procedure. Christ performed a spiritual circumcision—the cutting away of your sinful nature.

He talks about our sin nature here, that ability we have to get ourselves into trouble, that ability we have which feeds our desires, no matter the cost to us.

It’s not just about the sin, it’s not just about the failures, there is something deeper there, that causes us to implode, to choose self-destructive things, to even argue these things are good for us. That self-destructive behavior, that’s our struggle with our sin nature. It is strong and powerful, overruling our heart and mind at times.

And we were unable to do anything about it…no one without God in their lives can, we struggle and struggle and just fall short.

We need help, supernatural help. 

Our circumcision…

That is where Jesus brings the idea of circumcision into this picture of baptism uniting us with His death.  The word in Greek for circumcision means to cut around – to carefully, with surgical precision, cut and remove something.  That is what Paul is talking about when he says

Christ performed a spiritual circumcision—the cutting away of your sinful nature. 12  For you were buried with Christ when you were baptized. And with him you were raised to new life

In the case of baptism – it pictures our dying, and when we come back to life, there is something missing.  That sin nature that so oppressed us, so controlled us, so kept us in bondage.

it’s been cut away, nailed to the cross of Christ,

Paul’s letter to the Romans explains it again

5  Since we have been united with him in his death, we will also be raised to life as he was. 6  We know that our old sinful selves were crucified with Christ so that sin might lose its power in our lives. We are no longer slaves to sin.
Romans 6:5-6 (NLT)

And to the church in Galatia he wrote,

19  For when I tried to keep the law, it condemned me. So I died to the law—I stopped trying to meet all its requirements—so that I might live for God. 20  My old self has been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me. So I live in this earthly body by trusting in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. Galatians 2:19-20 (NLT)

I could go on and on with the ways scripture describes out being separated and cleansed of our sin. But that is only part of the process to the greater blessing, the forgiveness, the separation of you and your sinful nature is but a description of what it leads us into, our new life in Christ.

Our Hope of Glory …

Earlier this week, a friend asked me what my favorite scripture was.  My answer without hesitation was this,

9  “No eye has seen, no ear has heard, and no mind has imagined what God has prepared for those who love him.” 1 Corinthians 2:9 (NLT)

This is what Easter is about, this incredible plan God has for us, the very reason for the cross and why the church obeys the command to make disciples by baptizing and teaching them to treasure everything God establishes.  It is through this work God does through us, that we are made whole and complete, and are given the Holy Spirit to help us live in a such a different life.

To live in a relationship with the God who not only created us, but deeply loves us.  To get to know Him, through our talking to Him in prayer and meditating on His word, searching it out as we explore how deep, how high, how wide, how broad this love is that He has for us.

Whose plan for us is to dwell eternally with Him, sharing in His glory, dwelling in the purest love.

This is what this is all about, this being complete as we are united with Jesus. About being recreated as the children of God, about knowing His peace, it is about knowing Him!

And may you always know that peace of God which is beyond anything we can understand, the peace that is ours in Christ Jesus AMEN!

 

Devoted to God’s House….

photoDevotional Thought of the Day:

17His disciples remembered that the scripture says, “My devotion to your house, O God, burns in me like a fire.”
18 The Jewish authorities replied with a question, “What miracle can you perform to show us that you have the right to do this?”
19 Jesus answered, “Tear down this Temple, and in three days I will build it again.”
20 “Are you going to build it again in three days?” they asked him. “It has taken forty-six years to build this Temple!”
21 But the temple Jesus was speaking about was his body. 22So when he was raised from death, his disciples remembered that he had said this, and they believed the scripture and what Jesus had said. John 2:17-22  TEV

19 Don’t you know that your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit, who lives in you and who was given to you by God? You do not belong to yourselves but to God; 20 he bought you for a price. So use your bodies for God’s glory.   1 Corinthians 6:19-20 (TEV)

Most people would see the words in verse 17 as belonging to the context of what had gone before, where Jesus clears out the temple, so that people could pray in peace.

Given what is quoted above, perhaps it is also a transitional verse, a transitional moment, that point where people go from a devotion to the presence of God in the temple, to the presence of God in their midst, as Jesus is there with them!

The temple of God, the moment God no longer hides behind the curtain, hovering over the ark of the covenant, unsatisfied by the sacrifices that were poured out to appease Him.  Now God is there, Jesus is with them, listening to them, responding to them, even as they are gathering to pray….

He is there.

For God’s house, the place where he abides has a purpose.  Whether it is the temple, the body of Christ on the cross, the bread and wine, or the heart and soul of a believer, the place is a gathering place, a place where God’s people are gathered to being the presence of the God who makes them His people.

There are churches today that still distract people from God’s promise, even as the sellers and bankers did in the temple. The examples are numerous, and we are great about looking out at other churches, and noting how they water down the gospel, or make the show more important than the message.

Such things scandalize us, as they turn the house of God into a den of thieves.  We may not going in and raise a riot, but we do so with our words, and with our gossip.

Will we get as scandalized as we do the same thing with the temple of the Holy Spirit, the places where the Spirit abides, in us?  In these temples.  Do we deny the Spirit the time to hear us, or hear those around us in need?  Or do we treat our bodies the same way as the Jewish leaders treated the temple, filling it with business, and noise and distractions?

Can we let Jesus have the same zeal for our lives that He showed for the temple?

God has promised us to do so, to love us that much that He will still dwell with us, cleansing us, making us holy, even as He has made us His.

Lord Jesus, have mercy on us and cleanse our hearts, minds, and souls.  AMEN!

Overwhelmed by Joy! A sermon on Isaiah 61-62

church at communion 2

Overwhelmed by Joy!

Isaiah 61:10-62:3

 Jesus Son & Savior

As we begin this year, may the grace of God our Father and our Lord Jesus Christ overwhelm you, leaving you noticeably at rest and full of joy!

Standing in the wings

Isaiah, the prophet gives an incredible description of the new beginning we have in Christ in today’s Old Testament.  It takes most of back a decade or two or five.

Back to when us guys were standing in churches, or chapels, and waiting for the doors to open. Back when you ladies were on the other side of those doors, in that moment of anticipation, in that moment of joy.

That’s what Isaiah starts the passage with, as he attempts to describe the joy he feels, as he catches a vision of the restoration of the people of God.  Hear it again,

10  I am overwhelmed with joy in the LORD my God! For he has dressed me with the clothing of salvation and draped me in a robe of righteousness. I am like a bridegroom in his wedding suit or a bride with her jewels.

All dressed up – and waiting, but what clothes!  Salvation and Righteousness!

And Isaiah saw this coming – and the joy was overwhelming!

As we start this new year, this is what we need to realize, that our lives have changed, and changing as much as a young couples lives change, as the bride and groom see each other on their wedding day….

We’ll get back to that in a moment…
The prayer – for the new beginning
We need to understand that Isaiah is one of the prophets whose writings are filled with lament.  With the words that people will hear, because they continually choose sin over God.  They are self-centered, and ignore those in need, which Isaiah mourns over, even as he warns them what they are heading for, if they continue.

In between the woes, and the promises of judgment, there brief views of hope.  He will talk about a virgin who would conceive, and the baby who would be the wonderful counselor, eternal Father, the prince of peace.  He would mention the one who pleased God by taking on himself all the wrath of God, thus giving life to those crushed by their own sin.

But overall, the book is challenging to read, Lots of what we might call hell fire and brimstone.  But then, sin is a serious issue, and it took a serious cross to cure and heal the damage done to sinners.

But you see God’s heart reflected in Isaiah’s prayer

Because I love Zion, I will not keep still. Because my heart yearns for Jerusalem, I cannot remain silent. I will not stop praying for her until her righteousness shines like the dawn, and her salvation blazes like a burning torch.
Even as the prophet has his moments, okay, more than moments, years of struggling to get them to listen to God, he has a desire for them to come into the relationship they were meant to be in.

God’s desire infused the heart of Isaiah, and even as he weeps over their disobedience, he longs for the change that God has promised.

He has to pray, and will pray until they are right with God, so right they shine like the sun rising, and the proof of God’s delivering them lights up the darkness like bonfire.

This is what the prophet longs for, and what causes incredible joy, as he looks to the future, and gets a hint of what Jesus, the one born of a virgin, the suffering servant whose wounds would provide our healing, when Isaiah realizes the work of Christ!

Even as it was His hope, it is ours as well, and we are so much closer to realizing it fulfilled.

We like Isaiah are dressed, and waiting for the doors to open, to see the promise come into its fullness.

The clothes and the name.

When I mentioned the joy of Isaiah being such that he compared it to a groom standing here, or a bride back at the door, all dressed up in their clothing of salvation and the robe of righteousness, I didn’t explain the depth of those words.

The clothing is that of the greatest finery – the same words are used for the special robes of a priest on the highest of holy days.  As is the robe – we aren’t talking about a bath robe or choir robe, we are talking about the covering of a king… and the types of garments aren’t even the best thing!

The clothing of salvation – that is in Hebrew the being clothed with Yeshua – being clothed with Jesus!  The very thing Paul will talk about, as we are united to Jesus – as we put Him on,

Which explains how our robes are righteousness – the purity and innocence of one who does not know sin at all.

This is what Isaiah saw as our future, this moment of pure joy, pure bliss, as the people of God are made so righteous that the world is amazed, because we will share in the glory of God, as He holds out for all to see.

This moment as God makes you His, this special moment that Isaiah prayed and prayed and prayed for, that the people of Israel and all the nations would come to know…

The moment we were united to Christ, it is already here, it happened at the cross.

In the beginning of the sermon, I mentioned waiting here as a groom would, or there, as a bride would, that is what Isaiah saw – but for us, we’ve come to that point where the pastor announces our name for the first time, for we have be claimed by Christ at this font, and again at this altar.

We are his, and though we can’t quite believe it has happened, it has, and the rest of life is the walk down the aisle, dwelling with Him in holiness, until we go out into eternity.

The thought of this occurring caused Isaiah great joy, so much so He was overwhelmed,

How much more can this overwhelm us, who don’t see it far off, but know it true now.

How much more can it affect our very lives, this incredible gift of God.

May we sing His praises, now and forever!  AMEN

1

Ready, Are We? A Sermon on life as We Await Jesus’ Return

MarkJ AdventReady, Are We?

Matthew 24:36-44

I.H.S.

 As you encounter the grace, the mercy, and love of God our Father and Lord Jesus Christ, may your desire to experience His presence grow, as will your desire for Jesus to come again!

2 A.M. Somewhere….

Most of us picture Jesus returning based on a passage in First Thessalonians,

16  For the Lord himself will come down from heaven with a commanding shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trumpet call of God. First, the Christians who have died will rise from their graves. 17  Then, together with them, we who are still alive and remain on the earth will be caught up in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. Then we will be with the Lord forever.

1 Thessalonians 4:16-17 (NLT)

We see him, His long hair and robes flowing in the wind, his hand stretched out and a look of pure serenity on His face, with just a few high clouds in the sky, and the sun shining brightly, but no obscuring his glory.

But did you ever think – that somewhere when he returns – it will be 2 a.m in the morning?  That somewhere people will be sound asleep; and in another home, a mom will be feeding her baby, as some will be taking their delivery trucks out, as bars and clubs close.

And somewhere, in the midst of their lives, at some time of the day or night, some people will be engaged in sin. Someone will be cursing using God’s name, and another forgetting to pray for an enemy.  Someone will be killing with physical weapons, and others simply using their words to do damage as significant.   Some will be committing adultery, and others gossiping., and some, just struggling to depend on God who they can’t see.

And out of the clouds, whether 2 p.m., 2 a.m. Jesus will return.

Our gospel tells us we must be ready always, for Jesus will not only return, but he will also return when you least expect it.

So as I share God’s love this morning, I want you to think about a couple of questions.

First – Do you care?

The first is challenging, well, they both are.  But here is the first question:

Do you, or do you think the church cares about whether Jesus is coming back?

Is it on your radar at all?  Do you wake up in the morning, and wonder if this will be the day?   Do we ever consider it given our decisions to do this or that?

Do we even think about Jesus coming back?

Think about that for a moment.

second – why?

if you do think about Jesus returning, the second question comes into play.

Why do you want Him to return?

Is it to escape the pressure and depression that this world and the evil in it causes?  I have to admit; there are days I don’t want to hear any news, to see any headlines.

Is it to stop having to struggle with life and the complications we have in our lives?  Complications like aging and sick bodies, challenged relationships.  ( Great line from Skorpion  – Thanksgiving is about having meals with people we don’t get along with the rest of the year!)

Is it to stop having to deal with our sin, our guilt, shame, brokenness?

When we pray for Jesus to return – is it to be rescued from something, or to be delivered into the presence of God?

That’s what the issues were in Noah’s day, they forgot about the presence of God in their lives, and they lived life without thinking about God.

And to be honest, many of us get trapped in the same kind of life.

Unaware of God, and only turning to Him to be rescued.

Walking with Jesus is much, so much more meaningful than that. Eternity will be so much more than simply being free of the crap of this world!  Eternity with God is dwelling with Him, in the purest peace, the most mindblowing joy, in fellowship divine.

It is to live, as we are being drawn into the glory of God…..

And it will happen… sooner than we have prepared for…

Ready, Are we?

 

SO then, the questions change a little….

How do we get ready for Jesus to return?

We turn to the words of Paul in the epistle…

12 The night is almost gone; the day of salvation will soon be here. So remove your dark deeds like dirty clothes,

This speaks of two things – first our baptism, and the incredible work of God that started there, as God cleanses us from all our sin, just as He promises. But it also speaks of repentance – the continuing action of our being transformed – what we see when we confess our sins and expect God to keep His promise there as we and then the question of how we stay read

14 Instead, clothe yourself with the presence of the Lord Jesus Christ.

And this speaks of baptism too – as God the Father clothes us in Christ’s righteousness, in His holiness.  As we see the work of God drawing us closer, and it is so incredible, so peaceful and so joyous that we begin to desire it more and more.

And we see that not only in baptism, but here as we kneel, as we receive Christ, as we have a glimpse at our relationship with God, and the height and depth, the breadth and width of His love for us, this endless joyous love.

Advent?  TO desire Jesus presence, to have nothing hindering it, not guilt, no shame, no brokenness, this is what advent is about – and why we desire Him to return…

And may that desire grow – as you know His love, as you dwell in His peace.

AMEN!

It’s Time to Stop Hiding Behind Our Sinful Nature

Discussion Thought of the Day:
22  I love God’s law with all my heart. 23  But there is another power within me that is at war with my mind. This power makes me a slave to the sin that is still within me. 24  Oh, what a miserable person I am! Who will free me from this life that is dominated by sin and death? 25  Thank God! The answer is in Jesus Christ our Lord. So you see how it is: In my mind I really want to obey God’s law, but because of my sinful nature I am a slave to sin.1  So now there is no condemnation for those who belong to Christ Jesus. 2  And because you belong to him, the power of the life-giving Spirit has freed you from the power of sin that leads to death. 3  The law of Moses was unable to save us because of the weakness of our sinful nature. So God did what the law could not do. He sent his own Son in a body like the bodies we sinners have. And in that body God declared an end to sin’s control over us by giving his Son as a sacrifice for our sins. 4  He did this so that the just requirement of the law would be fully satisfied for us, who no longer follow our sinful nature but instead follow the Spirit.  Romans 7:22-25, 8:1-4 (NLT)

4    Don’t say, “That’s the way I am—it’s my character.” It’s your lack of character. Esto vir!—Be a man!

125 Since faith brings the Holy Spirit and produces a new life in our hearts, it must also produce spiritual impulses in our hearts. What these impulses are, the prophet shows when he says (Jer. 31:33), “I will put my law upon their hearts.” After we have been justified and regenerated by faith, therefore, we begin to fear and love God, to pray and expect help from him, to thank and praise him, and to submit to him in our afflictions. Then we also begin to love our neighbor because our hearts have spiritual and holy impulses.

“Pastor, I can’t help it, I am just a poor, poor sinner.”

That response is a conditioned response, it is what pastors and priests have taught people to say. It is the response to sin of a generation where the sacraments have been diminished.  Where absolution is not really heard and understood in the heart and the mind.

But what it does pick up on, is the law that convicts it, the passages that say, “no one is good”, “all have sinned”, and a focus that never is taken off of the doctrine of justification.  People have heard all about, they know what it is, well as far as we can’t save ourselves, we are dead in sin and God delivers us. But they don’t hear the so what – how this absolution, how this declaration that we are righteous changes our lives.

With on the “what”, people (and I include pastors and priests as people – we are really) will make the what the end of the story.  We still sin, God still forgives.  We aren’t perfect, we’re just forgiven, and people will turn that into permission to keep on sinning.

We believe that works can’t save us, we know that nothing we do merits salvation, and we stop (and encourage people to stop ) there.  That’s enough, trust in God and you will be saved people believe.

When we allow this, o what a great disserve we do!  It would be like telling a convict the charges against them are overturned, but not unlocking their cell door, not removing the handcuffs, nor giving them clothes that identified them as something other.  We have to share the complete gospel, all of the mercy, reveal to them the wonder of His love.

They’ve been not only declared righteous, but the Holy Spirit dwells in them, making them holy. sanctifying them, empowering them to live the baptized, repentant (transformed ) life.  Our people don’t need to live in secret, hiding behind their sin or their propensity to sin. They can be encouraged to live in the freedom that Christ has given them.

That is what the third quote, from the Lutheran Confessions, is telling us. That the Spirit creating life in our hearts, is creating the impulses to do that which isn’t sin, impulses to love God, impulses to love our neighbor, impulses to trust Him more and more, and because we trust Him we are driven to reach our and serve those around us, meeting needs from physical to emotional to spiritual.

This is how Paul, distraught over his sin, finally comes to the realization (and needed to remember it daily) that justified, we can set aside that sin, and follow the Spirit.  Does that mean we won’t sin on occasion?  No, but it changes what drives us, what impulses we want to follow -and as time goes by, as we explore the depth of God’s love revealed in Christ, those impulses bring us great joy.

This is what St. Josemaria talks about when he challenges us to be men, not those who hide behind the weakness of character, who justify sin by saying that is who they are.

It is a challenge to live life as God intended, walking with Him, focused on Him, but even when we fail, He has, He is the answer.  The Christian life is knowing this and living in light of it.

Heavenly Father, have mercy on us, your children!

AMEN!

 

 

 

Escriva, Josemaria. The Way (Kindle Locations 177-178). Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition.

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

What Sex Can Teach us About our Relationship with God.

Devotional Thought for the Day:

5 And the apostles said to the Lord, “Increase our faith.” 6 The Lord replied, “If you have faith the size of a mustard seed, you would say to [this] mulberry tree, ‘Be uprooted and planted in the sea,’ and it would obey you. Luke 17:5-6NAB-RE

Men experience the preciousness of things, and experience it fully, only in the company of those who share their enjoyment; in this way, they become aware of the festive quality of an existence that is so often hostile and ill-humored in their regard but is present at a meal, as it were, with open hands, with a gesture of lavish generosity, of unrestrained joy. This liberality of existence, which is rich and bestows itself freely, is an intrinsic part of a meal. The same is true of a wedding. In it, the elevation of the biological process of sexual attraction to a fundamental spiritual act of Eros, of the human being’s loving transcendence of self, is crystallized, epitomized, and confirmed. Here, too, we experience the liberal graciousness of existence, which grants us the festive wonder of a love we cannot force but that comes to us of its own accord, takes us by surprise and overwhelms us, transforms our life, gives us a new inner center, and even, in moments of ecstatic bliss, confers on us a foretaste of a life that is brighter and fuller than our everyday life.  (1)

I’ve been known to use the phrase “intimate relationship with God” more than once, and more than in one setting.  Reactions are often very strong and very polarized to it.  Some feel it is too common, to base, even too perverted,  or it could be taken that way.  Some understand it, even though they might struggle with the implications of a God that desires that we should be His people.

The words in blue above come from a man whose took an oath to remain celibate for the rest of his life.  His words describe it well thought – the transcendence, the even spiritual act of eros – of giving and being given, or experiencing a level of transcendence, and even “confers on us a foretaste of a life that is bright and fuller than our everyday life”.

The physical act is not contrary to God’s purposes – he established it as something two should share. two that committed before God and man to each other, as a way of testifying to the love.  It is as much spiritual as it is physical, and in that sense gives us a look at what our spiritual relationship with God is like, and what it will be like in heaven.

Please hear this – we aren’t saying eternity is sexual – that our relationship with God is simply physical – but rather – that the spiritual aspect gives us an insight into what it means to truly commit to another – to love them, to seek our their best interest.  Love means losing yourself, the awareness of yourself, as you care for the other person – and as you do that – there is something overwhelming, something that transforms us, something that is more than life, alone, abandoned, broken.  It is intimate in it reveals the innermost parts of us, the part that is being recreated in Christ Jesus – the most intimate, deep, definition who we are – defined in relationship to God – the I AM.

You see this a little earlier – as a father reacts to his beloved son’s return,

While he was still a long way off, his father caught sight of him, and was filled with compassion. He ran to his son, embraced him and kissed him.  – Luke 15:20

The father doesn’t care about his dignity, he doesn’t care about his prestige or reputation.  He doesn’t care about people (including his other son) thinking he is fool who will be taken advantage of.   All that is set aside – this is a son, whom he loves, and the answer to many a night without sleep.  THIS IS HIS SON!!!

It is that transcendent moment, the moment the I become I-Thou, the moment we realize how deeply God loves us, and how it transforms us, as we learn to love in return, as He teaches us.  As we are united to Him in baptism, reunited as He forgives our sins and cleanses us of all unrighteousness, as we celebrate this relationship – this holy relationship as He gives us His body and blood.

Bringing us back to the original quote of scripture.  They ask fo more faith, and what they are really asking for is to trust God more, that God would draw us closer to Him, make Himself more real, defeat our defenses – and show us His complete love for us.

That is, of course, the answer to another prayer as well…

Lord, have mercy on me, a sinner.

And it is answered, and we see it when we are in union with Christ Jesus. 

(1)  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.

Respect and the Mission of God

Devotional/Discussion Thought of the day:

13  No one can hurt you if you are determined to do only what is right; 14  and blessed are you if you have to suffer for being upright. Have no dread of them; have no fear15  Simply proclaim the Lord Christ holy in your hearts, and always have your answer ready for people who ask you the reason for the hope that you have. 16  But give it with courtesy and respect and with a clear conscience, so that those who slander your good behaviour in Christ may be ashamed of their accusations. 17  And if it is the will of God that you should suffer, it is better to suffer for doing right than for doing wrong. 1 Peter 3:13-17 (NJB)

The next question is obvious: Is the dispute with other religions not basically just as much an instance of Christian self-righteousness as the dispute among the denominations was an instance of denominational self-righteousness? In consequence, it is no longer Christianity that is at issue, but religion as such, which makes its presence felt among mankind under a variety of forms in which it is not basically a question of changing content, but of the inner nature of religion itself, which can be expressed in many contents, even entirely without the word of God. Catechesis is thus reduced to mere information on the one side, to instruction regarding religious attitudes (but with no prescribed content) on the other side, and faith silently quits the field.  (1)

“65 As we explained before, we could never come to recognize the Father’s favor and grace were it not for the Lord Christ, who is a mirror of the Father’s heart. Apart from him we see nothing but an angry and terrible Judge. But neither could we know anything of Christ, had it not been revealed by the Holy Spirit.

66 These articles of the Creed, therefore, divide and distinguish us Christians from all other people on earth. All who are outside the Christian church, whether heathen, Turks, Jews, or false Christians and hypocrites, even though they believe in and worship only the one, true God, nevertheless do not know what his attitude is toward them. They cannot be confident of his love and blessing. Therefore they remain in eternal wrath and damnation, for they do not have the Lord Christ, and, besides, they are not illuminated and blessed by the gifts of the Holy Spirit.[i]”  (2)

Pope Benedict XVI’s quote this morning struck a nerve in me.  It causes me to look within, to try and understand exactly what my motivation is, as I minister.  Is it a matter of personal pride in my intellect?  Is it, as Benedict asks, a matter of self-righteousness, or worse, a sense of gnostic condescension?  That I have the secret knowledge to a good life, even an eternal life, and those of other religions do not, is that my motivation? Or worst of all, have I set my faith to the side?

That question is hard, very hard.  It is one that I am afraid to ask.

It is the same conversation that Peter is having with the early church, as he talks to them.  Give the reason you have hope, do it with respect.  Do it with the love that cares more about them knowing Jesus than you do about winning the argument.

That is what Luther is getting at, in talking about the work of the Holy Spirit.  As the Spirit reveals that we live in the presence of God, as He gives us the ability, the comfort, the assurance that God wants to reconcile us all to Himself.  Some have only seen God in nature.  Others

Christianity isn’t a privilege.  Christianity isn’t a combat sport.  Christianity means sacrifice, just as Christ suffered for us.  Peter talks about this as following in the footsteps of Jesus, Paul encourages the church to imitate him, as he imitates Jesus.   They call us to sacrifice and serve, that people would be able to presented perfect to Jesus.

This is far more than finding ourselves more righteous.  This is eternity, this is living free of the guilt and shame caused by our sin, by the relationships in our lives that were broken.  A relationship with the God who created as to be His “beloved”.

TO engage in that kind of work takes sacrifice, it means putting aside our own pride, our own desires, our very lives.  And that requires to take up the faith that we’ve laid aside.  It requires that we realize salvation transforms more than our future.  It transforms our lives, from our baptism through the day God completes us.

This isn’t pietism, it is the reaction of gratitude to a God who revealed Himself to us, who made known His attitude toward us, who invited us to be part of His work, part of His ministry.  It is the Holy Spirit.  This is what communing with God does for us. As we kneel at an altar, as we see revealed to us the love of God for the world, as we are given hope, we explain that reason to others.

This is the life of a believer, this is the life of the children of God.

Lord, Have mercy on us, and help us to realize you live in our very lives.

(1)    Ratzinger, J. (1992). Co-Workers of the Truth: Meditations for Every Day of the Year. (I. Grassl, Ed., M. F. McCarthy & L. Krauth, Trans.) (p. 32). San Francisco: Ignatius Press.

(2)  [i] Tappert, T. G. (Ed.). (1959). The Book of Concord the confessions of the Evangelical Lutheran Church. (p. 419). Philadelphia: Mühlenberg Press.

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