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An odd place to find hope… and help

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Devotional Thought for our Day

My friends, be careful that none of you have a heart so evil and unbelieving that you will turn away from the living God. 13 Instead, in order that none of you be deceived by sin and become stubborn, you must help one another every day, as long as the word “Today” in the scripture applies to us. 14 For we are all partners with Christ if we hold firmly to the end the confidence we had at the beginning. Hebrews 3:12-14 GNT

Never will we be able to show a student the horizon of greatness if we use our leadership as a stepping-stone for our personal ambitions or for our petty interests. If we let our kids see in us this counter-witness, we make them afraid to dream and grow.

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.” If we are able by our love to give meaning to another person, to just one other person, our life will have been infinitely worthwhile. And it will always be so: that men live by their encounter with the love that gives meaning to their lives—it is true of every relationship; no reform, no revolution, can make this gift superfluous. It is likewise true that in all relationships it would be redemptive if, in a world marred by hostility and alienation, one individual would leave the collective and be a brother. These redemptive encounters, which are recorded in no history book, form the true inner history of the Church, which today, more than ever before, we forget in our concern about the history of institutions.

I am not the handyman my dad was. Simply put, I might be able to hammer a nail in, or, on a good day put together something from IKEA. But I can’t use a jigsaw, or tables saw with any skill, and repairing thgs? Well, lucky for me I have a church with guys who have that talent.

I learned early on to rely on others, including my dad or my Father-in-law. It wasn’t the easiest of lessons, but common sense soon overcame a very humbled sense of pride, and I can now allow those with the gift to get involved before I attempt to screw things up beyond repair.

It is a lesson we need to learn spiritually as well.

We need to be involved with others, and as Hebrews says, it can stop us from making a mess out of our lives. THe more we are engaged with others, helping them, crying with them, laughing with them, the less impact sin and evil have in our life. True fellowship has that effect on us, as we are gathered together by God in His name. (remember Jesus said “wherever 2 or 3…)

This is what Pope Francis was talking about in regards to leadership. We need to reflect on how leadership can corrupt us, as we consider more how our decisions impact us, rather than how they impact those around us, and those who will follow us. Our encounters with God change us, and our encounters with those for whom Christ shed his blood are part of those encounters.

Imagine if we saw every encounter as a redemptive encounter? If we knew God would bring healing to our brokenness, if He would pour out mercy on us both? How we would look forward to such times!. How we would greet each other with more eagerness! How being in groups would be less anxiety producing! How great these times would be, and how willing we would be to help, to accept assistance, to laugh and cry together.

to share our brokenness, our struggles with sin and temptation…

and how our lives, our homes, our churches would experience this new life. A life God gives us as He draws us into Himself.

Here is our hope and healing, here is our help.

Lord, help us to look at every encounter, every meeting we have as an encounter with You. Lord help us then see these same encounters as times of redemption and healing, as You bring us together. In Jesus name we pray! AMEN!



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), 292.

Joseph Ratzinger, 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), 290.

Joy out of sorrow… the only way to truly experience it!

Devotional Thought of the Day

10 Jesus said, “I am telling you the truth: the man who does not enter the sheep pen by the gate, but climbs in some other way, is a thief and a robber. 2 The man who goes in through the gate is the shepherd of the sheep. 3 The gatekeeper opens the gate for him; the sheep hear his voice as he calls his own sheep by name, and he leads them out. 4 When he has brought them out, he goes ahead of them, and the sheep follow him, because they know his voice. 5 They will not follow someone else; instead, they will run away from such a person, because they do not know his voice.” GNT John 10:1-5

This word is expressed with great fervor and overwhelming joy, in which her soul and life lift themselves from within in the Spirit. Therefore, she does not say, “I magnify God,” but “My soul magnifies the Lord.” As if she wished to say, “My life and my whole understanding soar in the love, praise, and sheer joy of God, such that I am no longer in control of myself; I am exalted, more than I exalt myself to praise the Lord.” Thus it happens to all in whom godly sweetness and God’s spirit has poured, that they experience more than they can describe. It is not a human work to praise God with joy. It is a joyful suffering and God’s work alone and cannot be taught with words but only by personal experience. As David says in Psalm 34:8, “Taste and see that the Lord is good; happy are those who take refuge in him.” David puts tasting before seeing because this sweetness cannot be comprehended unless one has experienced it for oneself. No one attains this experience without trusting God with one’s whole heart in the depths and in the distresses of life. Therefore, David adds, “Happy are those who trust the Lord.” They will experience God’s work and will obtain God’s sensible sweetness and, through it all, understanding and knowledge.

Some may resolve not to speak for the Lord, but like Jeremiah, they find they must: “If I say, ‘I will not mention him, or speak any more in his name,’ then within me there is something like a burning fire shut up in my bones; I am weary with holding it in, and I cannot” (Jeremiah 20:9 NRSV).
J. B. Phillips said somewhere that, while he was doing his well-known translation of the New Testament, he often felt like an electrician working on the wiring of a house with the power on.

The first thing that struck me today in my devotions was this line from the middle quote, “ No one attains this experience (joy) without trusting God with one’s whole heart in the depths and in the distresses of life.”

That sounds counter-intuitive at first. And at second glance as well!

But Luther notes why in the sentences beforehand. That we have to discover the refuge God is for us, that coming to realize that He is good. To understand that though, there has to be something to compare to experiencing God.

God doesn’t have to prepare those times of being deep in sorrow, or being caught in distress. The brokenness of the world will provide it, and the brokenness we choose compounds it.

From the brokenness, we find something extraordinary. We find Jesus there, and He is there with only one intention. To deliver us, to rescue us, to bring us home to the Father. ( He is so different from the older brother in the story of the prodigal son!) Jesus knows the Father’s heart, a heart that is restless until His wandering children come home to be rescued.

That is why Luther holds Mary up, as he explains the words of the Magnificat (it is a letter to a prince explaining the Magnificat – Mary’s song of praise in Luke 2) That this comes. True Worship, praise, adoration is not possible without God, and without the experience of God rescuing us from the midst of brokenness.

We have to learn to hear our Shepherd’s voice, to trust it more and more, to rely on what He has promised to us, mercy, forgiveness, love and His presence in the most intimate ways we can imagine. His body and blood given to us, His Holy Spirit dwelling with us, His presence with us in the midst of darkness, even the dark valleys where death’s threat can seemingly suffocate. He is there, calming us, consoling us, helping us dwell in the peace that goes beyond understanding

That’s why Jeremiah, broken, threatened with death, scared, scarred and broken cannot keep silent about the goodness of God! Matter of fact, trying to do so exhausts Him! The power that is experienced when we encounter God. It is undeniable, it is incredible, it is the feeling that comes from knowing you are loved so much by God, that He will go to extremes to bring you into His peace.

And there, in the midst of peace, there is joy. Abundant, unexplainable, mind-blowing joy…found in His presence…

For into the darkness shines His marvelous light, a light that shined for them, for us. AMEN!



Luther, M. (2007). Luther’s Spirituality. (P. D. W. Krey, B. McGinn, & P. D. S. Krey, Eds., P. D. S. Krey & P. D. W. Krey, Trans.) (pp. 97–98). New York; Mahwah, NJ: Paulist Press.

Willard, D., & Johnson, J. (2015). Hearing god through the year: a 365-day devotional. Westmont, IL: IVP Books.

Are You Ready for God to Invade Your life?

Good News BibleDevotional Thought of the Day:

Joseph’s brothers were jealous of him, but his father kept thinking about the whole matter.   Gen 37:11 TEV

True evangelization presupposes a desire in the Church to come out of itself and go to the peripheries, not only geographically but also to areas where the mystery of sin, pain, injustice, ignorance, and indifference to religion has its permanent dwelling.
We have no right to keep caressing our soul, to stay locked up in our own little, tiny bubble.

we see persons who regard personal communion and communication with God as life-changing episodes and as daily bread. Untold thousands of humble Christians who will never preach a sermon or have their name appear in print can testify to the same kinds of encounters with God as are manifested by the great ones in the Way.
Reflect: How do you respond to God invading human personality as a daily occurrence? How might you want God to invade your personality in greater ways?

As I was reading Genesis this morning, the sentence above struck me.  It reminded me of the times Luke records Mary pondering these things in her heart, and of the Psalms urging us to meditate on God’s word, to consider what He has done for His people.

So Israel considered all that God was showing Joseph, and he tried to think it through, tried to understand these encounters with God, for he recognized that was what his beloved was enduring.

The quote from Dallas Willard in green notes the same kind of encounter. Some radical, something life-changing, something where God invades not just our lives but invades our personality.  Where communion runs deeper than our minds can express, where our hearts and souls are overwhelmed by His mercy and love.  It is what we so desperately need, this invasion of God.

When God invades, there is nothing that He doesn’t affect, there is nothing left untouched. Oh how we need to learn to desire this more, how we need to grow comfortable with His presence!

This is what truly empowers evangelism, It brings us to the place where we are drawn to the brokenness, where sin and all its accompanying problems overwhelm people, we need to be there, as God invades the brokenness.

For while we need to meditate on His love, on His presence, this meditation gives us the ability to be there when the darkness seems to dominate, to be there when the presence of God is needed.

I think, even for those of us who ponder his love, who sit in awe and wonder at the things God is doing, if there isn’t a temptation to stay there, and not join God’s invasion.  The gates of Hell cannot withstand His invasion, His actions to rescue people from their brokennes, from their sin.

So spend time, thinking about how He has sustained His people in the past… and then… be ready, to dwell with Him now means we go places to invade the brokenness with Him.

Lord, help us to be so comforted by You, so confident in your cleansing, so aware of Your presence that You reveal to us, that we become those who reveal Your glorious healing light to those trapped in darkness… AMEN!

Pope Francis. (2013). A Year with Pope Francis: Daily Reflections from His Writings. (A. Rossa, Ed.) (p. 366). New York; Mahwah, NJ; Toronto, ON: Paulist Press; Novalis.

Willard, D., & Johnson, J. (2015). Hearing god through the year: a 365-day devotional. Westmont, IL: IVP Books.

 

Prayers answer in Christ’s Wounds: Make Me Yours! ( The first sermon in a Lenten series at Concordia)

Prayers answered in Christ’s Wounds
Make Me Yours

Isaiah 53:7-11

† I.H.S. †

The Mark you bear….the passion it represents

A moment ago, you had some palm tree ash put on your forehead.   Ash, the dirt that comes from burning something that was once alive, but now is dead and is burnt because the option is to let it take up room while it rots and smells up the place.

Fire leaves behind what’s left, what can’t decay, what can’t be broken down anymore.

As we go through Lent, we are going to look at some of the deepest prayers of our souls, the prayers that we should be aware were answered completely, even if that answer remains partly hidden.  We can learn that it is answered, we can begin to see that revelation, and know that in time, we will see it completely answered.

Those prayers are seen, in part, in the hymn, O Sacred Head Now Wounded, and each week we will add a verse, as we see the prayer that is answered in Jesus wounds….

The prayer tonight?  It is found in the last line of the first verse, “I joy to call Thee mine.”  
An appropriate prayer, considering it is Valentine’s day… a prayer to God, “be mine”, a prayer to God as well, “make me yours!”

An answer that we see in the mark, the brand you are wearing tonight.  A mark that symbolizes not only our grief and brokenness but a mark that shows us that God has made us His.

The Mark of Brokenness, of grief and shame of the cross

Ashes, all that is left after all that can rot and stink has been taken away…  Little better than carbon-based dust…something that can be blown away, even by a gentle breeze.

Ashes have been used as a sigh of grief for a long time, and though we also see them as a sign of repentance, they are first a sign of grief, a recognition that without Christ, our lives, so dominated by sin, are but the ashes and dust we come from, and the ashes and dust we will return to someday.

We often see them as a sign of repentance, but repentance comes as a gift from God and develops out of a sorrow for our sin, a realization of our brokenness.  To realize the effect and impact of our individual sin, of the havoc that sin wracks in our lives.

And so we wear the ash, in sorrow and grief and shame.

The grief and shame that wears down the head of Jesus, wounded for us, to answer our prayers, Be mine, make me yours!

The Mark of Bliss 

As we journey through this life with Jesus, as we journey with Him from the cross, we begin to see that the ashes leave the same mark as our baptism.

The sign of the cross, the place where Jesus was bruised and battered, the place Isaiah described so clearly in our reading tonight,

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

 It is tempting to see in this God the Father crushing Jesus, the accomplishment of anguish.  The idea that all this required anguish, the anguish of the weight of our sin which He bears.  All that is necessary for a time.  But it is not where it ends. What we need to see, what will rescue us from the appropriate grief is this,

The Good plan,
The having many descendants,
The accomplishment ( in Greek this would be the same as “it is finished!”
the fact that many, including us, will be counted righteous.

In lent we need a both and, a time to grieve our sin, and a time to dance over the fact we are forgiven, hence the ashes in the sign of the cross…

Make Me thine

And in that cross, we hear those words, that we are found righteous, that it has been accomplished, that we have become His, for He has given us life.

He has made us His own.

We can rejoice, for we know the joy of calling Him ours, and we can say with the bluntest honest the words of the psalm, “I joy to call the mine!”

Why Go to Church? Is it Really Necessary?

Altar with communion

Devotional thought for your day:
23  Let us hold on firmly to the hope we profess, because we can trust God to keep his promise. 24  Let us be concerned for one another, to help one another to show love and to do good. 25  Let us not give up the habit of meeting together, as some are doing. Instead, let us encourage one another all the more, since you see that the Day of the Lord is coming nearer. Hebrews 10:23-25 (TEV)

16  I ask God from the wealth of his glory to give you power through his Spirit to be strong in your inner selves, 17  and I pray that Christ will make his home in your hearts through faith. I pray that you may have your roots and foundation in love, 18  so that you, together with all God’s people, may have the power to understand how broad and long, how high and deep, is Christ’s love. 19  Yes, may you come to know his love—although it can never be fully known—and so be completely filled with the very nature of God. Ephesians 3:16-19 (TEV)

667         Haven’t you noticed how people in love dress to please one another by their appearance? Well, that is how you should tidy up and deck out your soul.

I have seen and heard a couple of people challenge the idea of going to church recently.  Sometimes it is direct, saying that people who go to church are needy (we are!)  and hypocrites ( correct again).  Or perhaps the challenge is that you can worship God anywhere (but will you?) or that truly being a Christian is demonstrated in how you care for people. ( it is, but exactly how good are you at loving the unlovable?)

Some may say that I am biased because of my occupation/vocation, that because I often invest 60 hours a week in “church” I have a stake in whether people come or not.  If it was only a stake, if it was only to make my investment of time, talent, and tears pay off, I wouldn’t do it.  The amount of time, whether as a pastor or a lay person is great. But it demands more than that – it demands the investment of your soul.

So why go to church?

Well, the obvious one is in the first quote, simply because God’s word tells us we need to, we need to encourage each other as we gather together, not setting it aside, it is too important, too critical to keep each person encouraged, to support each person in their life, to help guide each other, and sometimes carry each other, into the presence of God.  It is in church that we learn why we find hope in knowing God, and more importantly, exactly what that hope, that incredible hope is.

That is the purpose for the music, which expresses our pain ( this type of worship is called lament)  and the healing God brings, which celebrates His love and His presence.  That is the purpose of the sermon and Bible studies, to reveal the hope that knowing, intimately knowing God’s love. It is even the purpose of the various things we do in church, and everything we take in with our eyes.

It’s all about God… and us.

Which is what Paul expresses in the second quote, where he talks of knowing, of experiencing ( because we can’t fully know/understand) the dimensions of God’s love for us, revealed in Christ Jesus.  The soaring heights as we realized we are loved, the depth of God’s compassion, as He is with us at the rock bottom parts of His life. In the midst of this, Paul inserts the word together.  That all God’s people need to experience this love, together.  That too is what church is, not just what it is about.

It is the moment we hear we are all forgiven of our sin. All of it. Completely.

It is int he moment when we realize God’s peace is with us, and we share that peace with those around us. celebrating the love of God which glues us together, and together with Him.

It is in that moment when we are given proof of that love, as we are given His body and blood, to remind us of His death for us, and His opening the door which reveals God’s love to us, together.  Even that person I was so ticked off at, is there, being loved by God, as I am.  To realize we’ve both been freed of the sin and guilt, the shame and resentment, the burdens that crush and divide us.

It is then when loving them becomes a joy, not a duty obeyed because we have to .

It is then when church becomes more than an organization, or a costly bit of entertainment mixed with some positive “feel good” messages, or a club where we celebrate our being holier than those people out playing golf or watching their kids play soccer, or working.

Church isn’t some obligation, it is what St. Josemaria talks about, a time to get our soul ready to interact with God, by hearing again and again how He has prepared us to be with Him and then spending the time with Him.  the early part of a service, as we are forgiven, as we hear of His love, of his promises, that is like a bride being made ready for her wedding.  And the Lord’s Supper is then the wedding and all joy of life brought together, as we realize how much we are loved.

This is what church is, this is what we need, a place to find hope, healing, reconciliation, and joy as we dwell together in Christ, while helping others find those same things, as God revelas His love to them.

Amen!

Escriva, Josemaria. Furrow (Kindle Locations 2792-2794). Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition.

The Old Rugged Cross? It Will Cost You Everything You Are

Devotional/Discussion THought of the Day:

38  Those who do not take up their cross and follow in my steps are not fit to be my disciples. 39  Those who try to gain their own life will lose it; but those who lose their life for my sake will gain it. Matthew 10:38-39 (TEV) 

1020      This is the sure way: through humiliation to the Cross; then, from the Cross, with Christ, to the immortal Glory of the Father.  (1)

One of the challenges of singing the old “standard” hymns, is tht they can stir our emotions, without our “hearing” the words. The melodies, familiar and having great meaning from the past, stir our soul, cutting through our defenses.  But do we simply mouth the words?  Do they affect both heart and mind?  This mornign, as I looked at my devotions, a hymn beloeved by many came to mind.

“the Old Rugged Cross”

I tried to think of the words, a hymn I’ve played a thousand times, sung even more, in every kind of church.  Yet, the words escape me, save the last line – “and exchange it someday for a crown”

I just looked up the lyrics, and they seem to romaticized.  A wondrous attraction, this cross of Christ, and our joining Him there?  Yes it is where Christ embraced our evil, but it is also where He embraces it, because He embraces us there.  Which means the humiliation of realizing our desperate need to be embraced, in order to be cleansed. This taking up the cross, it’s not just the praiseworthy work we do, the sacrifices we make for others, as Christ seves them, through us. It does get these, as we share in the glory of God, as only His children can.

But to go to that cross, to be pulled there perhaps, kicking and screaming, is not easy. It is to realize our own darkness, our own shame – and to let it be nailed there to the cross.  To die with it there, no more games, no more self-righteousness, no more my way is best, well at least better than theirs. The cross costs us so much it woudl seem, for what is stripped away there is everything not in in the image of God. Salvation is indeed free – but it is radical in what it takes from us.That humiliation is hard, to open up to God, to confess our sins, to realize He will forgive and cleanse. He is faithful, He is merciful, He is loving.  Having died to self, we find it is where reconciliation happens, because we realzie we are broken, needy, sinful, and the glory of God unites us with His death, and yes with the humiliation that comes from realizing it is our own way to know life. Our desires become like HIs, to help others, trapped as we were, to know this life… this incredible life which is different than just existing. 

It is walking with God!

Many of us need to see our old ways crucified daily, as we remember our baptism (see Romans 6) and the work God does in us, calling us, cleansing us, healing us.  We know it happened – for me 48 years ago on Wednesday. But I need to remember it happened, today.  I need to embrace the fact that I needed to die with Christ, and then brought into the presence of God the Father, and welcomed home.

Harsh this cross may seem, hard to endure it is, save one thing.  We take it up, with Him.

 

(1)  Escriva, Josemaria (2011-01-31). The Forge (Kindle Locations 3607-3608). Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition.

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