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What are you investing yourself in this week?

20170124_103703Devotional Thoughts of the day:

30 Jesus performed many other signs in the presence of His disciples that are not written in this book. 31 But these are written so that you may believe Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and by believing you may have life in His name. John 20:30-31 HCSB

317    What zeal men put into their earthly affairs! Dreaming of honors, striving for riches, bent on sensuality! Men and women, rich and poor, old and middle-aged and young and even children: all of them alike. When you and I put the same zeal into the affairs of our souls, then we’ll have a living and working faith. And there will be no obstacle that we cannot overcome in our apostolic works.

It’s Monday morning, and another work week stands before us.

What are you going to do with it?  Where are you going to spend the assets you have?  What can you do, that will give the greatest return on investment?

I dare say St. John had a similar question in mind when he penned the words about Christ that we have come to know as his gospel.  And in the quote above we see his priority, that you may believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and by believing you may have life in His name.

That was John’s bottom line (and the Holy Spirit’s bottom line as well)  That we would know Jesus, trust and depend upon Him, and thereby receive the life He desires us to have.  A life lived with Him, a life lived in His presence.

This is Jesus greatest investment, as He invests in us…

And while it is the time I invest in this, what I really invest is my brokenness. The struggle I have with sin, (especially when I don’t struggle with it) the guilt and shame, the hurts and pains, the resentment, the fear, and anxiety.

Those are my investments, the things I have to learn to zealously invest them into my relationship with Jesus, the return on investment is rest from them, a rest in the glory of God, a rest that comes from knowing I am loved.

He heals us, in ways beyond our hearts’ imagination, because the brokenness He will heal goes deeper into our soul than we are willing to explore.  But that is what St. Josemaria is talking about when he tells us to have zeal for the affairs of our soul, for our internal lives. Letting God sink deeper into our lives that butter sinks into a hot waffle.  It is scary and wonderful,  What we need to invest… is the stuff that kills off our life.  It is the stuff we need to be removed from our lives, and Jesus will…. with great joy and care… cut it away.  ( See Colossians 2:11)

That is when our faith is living and working, when we allow God to deal with our brokenness, all of it, as He forgives our sins and cleanses us of all unrighteousness, and we can live….

And be sent out, for we are broken people who are finding hope and healing in Jesus, and helping others heal….

Lord have mercy on us, and help us invest our brokenness in your mercy and love… and heal us, dear Lord!

Escriva, Josemaria. The Way (Kindle Locations 820-824). Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition.

Walking With Jesus from Trials to the Triump: Part VI Finding Hope on the Walk

church at communion 2

Our Lenten Journey:
Walking with Jesus through trials to the triumph

Finding Hope on the Walk
Zechariah 9:9-12

† I.H.S.†

May the grace of God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ give you the hope you need, as we endure this journey, depending on His faithfulness!

 The Steps of the journey

Imagine being on the side of the road, leading up to Jerusalem.  Jesus, the one some are claiming to be the Messiah starts the long climb up to Jerusalem on a small donkey.  As it meanders up the pathway, the crowd is growing in size and in energy,

Expectations are building, even though the man is a mystery,

He does miracles, incredible miracles.  He teaches like no one else, and those who’ve met him, are more aware of God’s love, of God’s presence in His life.

He’s coming!  Everything is going to change!

It is no different today, as we journey through life, as we walk, guided by the Holy Spirit, and await Jesus coming into our lives.

The Prophet Zechariah told them what to be looking for when Jesus came, He told them what to expect, from how Jesus would arrive, to what He would do.

Understanding this prophecy, this promise gives us real hope,

First – He is coming

As we hear the words rejoice, as we hear that Jesus, our Lord is coming to us, he comes to us in a way that is a paradox.

He’s righteous and victorious, even before the cross there is no demon, no power that can withstand Him. Think about that for a moment, the prophet is using words that are present tense, righteous, victorious, and this is known before he goes into Jerusalem.

Before He goes to the cross, he is already described as victorious.

But then he doesn’t enter as the conquering hero, and that is where we see the paradox.
Maybe that is why he goes to the Jerusalem without the armies, without the majestic horse and the flashing sword. He comes not to conquer, but to provide for His people.

And so he comes, riding on a small donkey, simple and humbly, to be with His people.  Just as He promised to back again, and we await Him….

Second  – He’s here… working

The second thing we see God doing in this passage is very interesting.  Hear it again

I will remove the battle chariots from Israel and the warhorses from Jerusalem. I will destroy all the weapons used in battle, and your king will bring peace to the nations.

I want you to notice something very important, He’s not removing the ability of our enemies to do battle, but rather, he is removing our ability to do battle.

The coming of the Messiah doesn’t equip us to do warfare, it enables us to live knowing that our God is victorious. He is bringing peace into our lives, even as He prepared to the cross, so much more now should we be living in peace?

Yet you and struggle and fight, sometimes we try and fight the evil in the world, sometimes we fight the evil in each other, and sometimes, we fight the evil within ourselves.  We know we should not sin, that we shouldn’t be so easy to give into temptation, and yet we do. Yet we don’t always turn this over to God, we might even swear we will do everything in our power to be good, rather than depend on Him, and on the work on the cross.

God has to remove our ability to fight, for as long as we do, we will not know His peace. For as long as we fight, we won’t depend on Jesus, we won’t depend on His work at the cross.

We have to let Jesus take over, it isn’t easy at times.  Who am I kidding, it isn’t easy at all.

Yet Jesus took care of our need to prove ourselves right.  Because of the cross, because of Jesus death paying for our sin, for our unrighteousness, we are now counted righteous.  He strips from us not only the way to do battle but the desire to, for we begin to realize that God is taking care of us, that Jesus has made things right.   That is His role, as He is our king,

Third Step, He frees us.

He describes that here, in verse 11:

11  Because of the covenant I made with you, sealed with blood, I will free your prisoners from death in a waterless dungeon. 12  Come back to the place of safety, all you prisoners who still have hope!

Even as the prophet is speaking and writing for God, the plan is set, it is by the blood of Christ that all who were imprisoned by sin are freed from it. Even as Christ rides up the mountain to Jerusalem, the plan which was set in place from before the creation of the world is as good as done.

This was the promise to Abraham, this is the promise made to Moses,

He frees us from all that imprisons us, all that causes us to fight, to struggle.  Our anxieties, our fears, our sin, our brokenness. He brings us to a place of safety, a place of security, a sanctuary where we dwell with Him. A place where we learn to trust Him more and more, as we begin to experience and see His love for us.

For we are safe with our King leading us, with our King, Jesus, providing for us.

This is what we hope for, understanding it better than the people in the prophets day, or even the disciples in Jesus day.  But we still need to understand it better, this love of God, revealed to us in the cross of Christ.  This is the hope we have, given to us as Christ died on the cross, yet sometimes hard to see,,,

That is why as I close, I pray for you as Paul prayed for the church in Ephesus,

16  I pray that from his glorious, unlimited resources he will empower you with inner strength through his Spirit. 17  Then Christ will make his home in your hearts as you trust in him. Your roots will grow down into God’s love and keep you strong. 18  And may you have the power to understand, as all God’s people should, how wide, how long, how high, and how deep his love is. 19  May you experience the love of Christ, though it is too great to understand fully. Then you will be made complete with all the fullness of life and power that comes from God. Ephesians 3:16-19 (NLT)

AMEN!!

 

The Reason Life is Worth it…

dscf1215-copy-copyDevotional Thought of the Day:
21  “Believe me,” returned Jesus, “the time is coming when worshipping the Father will not be a matter of ‘on this hill-side’ or ‘in Jerusalem’. Nowadays you are worshipping with your eyes shut. We Jews are worshipping with our eyes open, for the salvation of mankind is to come from our race. Yet the time is coming, yes, and has already come, when true worshippers will worship in spirit and in reality. Indeed, the Father looks for men who will worship him like that. God is spirit, and those who worship him can only worship in spirit and in reality.”
25  “Of course I know that Messiah is coming,” returned the woman, “you know, the one who is called Christ. When he comes he will make everything plain to us.” 26  “I am Christ speaking to you now,” said Jesus. John 4:21-26 (Phillips NT)

Thus we teach that in using the sacraments there must be a faith which believes these promises and accepts that which is promised and offered in the sacrament.
20 The reason for this is clear and well-founded. A promise is useless unless faith accepts it. The sacraments are signs of the promises. When they are used, therefore, there must be faith, so that anyone who uses the Lord’s Supper uses it this way. Because this is a sacrament of the New Testament, as Christ clearly says (1 Cor. 11:25), the communicant should be certain that the free forgiveness of sins, promised in the New Testament, is being offered to him. He should accept this by faith, comfort his troubled conscience, and believe that the testimonies are not false but as certain as though God, by a new miracle, promised his will to forgive. For that matter, what good would such miracles or promises do an unbeliever?
21 Here we are talking about personal faith, which accepts the promise as a present reality and believes that the forgiveness of sins is actually being offered, not about a faith which believes in a general way that God exists.
22 Such use of the sacrament comforts devout and troubled minds.

Man is always looking for the right way of honoring God, for a form of prayer and common worship that pleases God and is appropriate to his nature. In this connection, we must remember that originally the word “orthodoxy” did not mean, as we generally think today, right doctrine. In Greek, the word doxa means, on the one hand, opinion or splendor. But then in Christian usage it means something on the order of “true splendor”, that is, the glory of God. Orthodoxy means, therefore, the right way to glorify God, the right form of adoration. In this sense, orthodoxy is inward “orthopraxy”. If we go back to the word’s origins, the modern opposition disappears. It is not a question of theories about God but of the right way to encounter him. This, then, was seen as Christian faith’s great gift: we know what right worship is. We know how we should truly glorify God—by praying and living in communion with the Paschal journey of Jesus Christ, by accomplishing with him his Eucharistia, in which Incarnation leads to Resurrection—along the way of the Cross.

I came across some big and heavy quotes in my reading this morning. But they center around that encounter with God we call worship.

In my opinion, this word is what makes life worth living, and I hope, in writing this, I can convince you of that as well.  But to do so, we have to come to a definition of worship, a way of understanding it that can be commonly accepted.

Worship is what the lady at the well experienced, it is an encounter with God.  For one cannot encounter Him without experiencing the love and mercy that is what is His glory, and our hearts respond in worship, in adoration.   As the early Lutherans agreed it accepts the promise of God in the sacrament as a present reality,   It is what Pope Benedict simplifies orthodoxy too (much to my amazement, as I have been teaching this for years!)  it is the right way to encounter Him.  

It is no surprise then that both a pope and the early Lutherans testified that this worship, this right praise is linked to the sacraments, especially the sacrament of the Eucharist, the Lord’s Supper.  For during that time of worship, every bit of our body is involved in recognizing that we are in God’s presence.  From our voices testifying that this is the lamb of God who takes away our sins, to our knees bent in supplication and adoration, to our hands and mouths receiving His precious Body and Blood, we encounter Him.

We encounter Him as He promised He would come to us, as He asked us to know Him, to recognize His presence with us.  This isn’t just some boring rite, some meaningless practice that can be overlooked. The Lord’s supper and the other times we encounter God in word and Sacrament ministry are precious because they bring comfort and the remainder of the peace that is ours because of Jesus.

And in the midst of this broken world, as we dwell in the midst of trauma, we need that reassurance, we need that reminder of what is real, that we are the children of God, 

Knowing that makes life worth living, it makes it precious, 

We are His, come celebrate that with us, and with the God who draws us together!

 

 

 

 

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

Ratzinger, Joseph. The Spirit of the Liturgy. Trans. John Saward. San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 2000. Print.

A paradox: I needed to be Broken to Find Hope and Peace.

cropped-will-new-camera-12-2008-167.jpgDevotional Thought of the Day:

18 A ruler asked Him, “Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” 19 “Why do you call Me good?” Jesus asked him. “No one is good but One—God. 20 You know the commandments:

Do not commit adultery; do not murder; do not steal; do not bear false witness;
honor your father and mother.” 

21 “I have kept all these from my youth,” he said. 22 When Jesus heard this, He told him, “You still lack one thing: Sell all that you have and distribute it to the poor, n and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow Me.”   Luke 18:18-22

Creation exists for the sake of worship: Operi Dei nihil praeponatur, Saint Benedict says in his Rule: “Nothing is to take precedence over the service of God.” This is not an expression of exalted piety, but a pure and practical application to our own lives of the story of creation and its message. The genuine center, the force that moves and orders from within the rhythm of the stars and of our lives, is worship

888      You tell me that you want to practise holy poverty, you want to be detached from the things you use. Ask yourself this question: do I have the same affections and the same feelings as Jesus Christ has, with regard to riches and poverty? I told you: as well as resting in the arms of your Father God, with all the confident abandonment of one who is his child, you should fix your eyes particularly on this virtue to love it as Jesus does. Then, instead of seeing it as a cross to bear, you will see it as a sign of God’s special love for you.

The devotional part of my blog originated as a journal, the writings that summarized my devotional readings for the day, that helped me process what I encountered in the Bible readings and other readings I do.

Originally those readings started out as a discipline, and the writing was something I did because I realized that otherwise, I would go through the motions,  Reading, and maybe even slowly changing, but not with any real desire.  I read because that is what a “good” Christian should do, what a pastor “should” do because then I am an example for my people.

It has become more than that, partially because of Lutheran theology, partially because of St Josemaria Escriva, but mostly because of needing to cope with my own brokenness, and the darkness that would overwhelm me otherwise. I don’t like talking about it, I don’t like even dwelling on it, but it is there… lurking with every click of my heart.

In my devotional reading, in the writing I do that comes from that, there springs hope, I find not only the light at the end of the tunnel but the light, the glory of God, the love of Christ is not at the end of the tunnel, it is there, with me, guiding me, comforting me, protecting me.

The rich young man, (some say it was Saul, years before Damascus Road) couldn’t see his own brokenness.  He couldn’t see the need to be with Jesus, and more importantly, to know Jesus was there, with him.  The man had the same invitation the apostles did, “come, be with me,” and he turned it down.

Likewise, the poverty, the detachment that St, Josemaria describes is a form of the brokenness I have encountered, as things I loved dearly ( sports, martial arts) were stripped away from me, as who I was drastically and painfully redefined. So painfully, that I can easily acknowledge the only comfort that helps is finding rest in Christ, especially in His word, and in the peace, I find in the sacraments, especially Confession and Absolution, and of course the Eucharist, the Holy Supper where Christ gives us Himself.  ANd in the midst of the brokenness, the pain of body heart and soul, I find something more precious, the love of God.  That doesn’t mean I like the pain, but it doesn’t mean I can be thankful for it, and even praise God for it.  For in the pain, I find His comfort.

Which leads me to a third reading, the one from Benedict XVI, where he talks about Creation is worship.  So it is, I find.  Not because I am a particularly pious person, or because I want to be considered holy.  Take my word for it, I am not, not even close!  Worship isn’t just about upbeat praise or ceremonial splendor, it is about finding yourself in God’s arms, held, comforted, healed. It is about being able and free to weep until there are no more tears.  It is there that we find the reason we worship God.

He loves us.

And as we realize this, as it is revealed, nothing else seems to matter, all the brokenness falls away… and worship and adoration is what we do, in response to that love.

Why do I spend the time I do, reading scripture and works of others God has ministered to?

I have to… it is the only way I can survive.  And yet, the beauty revealed, as I see how much God loves us, reveals that such reading and prayer and meditation is not sacrificial, but something that is life.  with Him.  It is exploring the length and width, the height and depth of the love of God, the love I cannot understand, but I can experience.  I pray you can as well.

Know this, He loves you…

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.

Escriva, Josemaria. The Forge (Kindle Locations 3131-3137). Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition.

The Struggle….of Brokenness

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

The Pantheon, a place once dedicated to worship of idols but reborn to host the worship of God. May our lives tell a similar story as we realize what God does to us in baptism!

Devotional Thought of the Day:
12  I’m not saying that I have this all together, that I have it made. But I am well on my way, reaching out for Christ, who has so wondrously reached out for me. 13  Friends, don’t get me wrong: By no means do I count myself an expert in all of this, but I’ve got my eye on the goal, where God is beckoning us onward—to Jesus. 14  I’m off and running, and I’m not turning back. Philippians 3:12-14 (MSG)

735      The interior struggle doesn’t take us away from our temporal business—it makes us finish it off better!

Brokenness.

It is real, I encounter it each day in my own life, and I try to shepherd others through it daily as well.

Brokenness.

It sucks.  And we aren’t the first generation to deal with it.  It goes all the way back to two people who weren’t broken but became broken.

The breaks may be physical, or social, psychological.  They may seem to others to be tiny fractures, for others life is simply shattered.  Some of our breaks we hide… not easily, and some we try to hide from, distracting ourselves, trying to find ways to numb the pain.

Some of our brokenness may be dealt with, for that is what doctor’s, counselors, and mediators are there to do.  Other types of brokenness have to be endured, and that to sucks.  To deal with something broken for 40 or 50 or 70 years.  Never knowing how bad the brokenness and pain will be the next day.  We never know when we will be completely overcome by it.

As a pastor, I know this all too well, in too many areas I’ve tried to endure it.  Physical, emotional, social, and outcast. Been there, done that. Have the scars and the memories that still hurt.

I wish I could heal it all, I know sometimes it happens, as God’s mercy overwhelms us and the person’s shattered life is made whole.  I don’t understand why this one, and not that.  I only know the healing we all have access to, the brokenness that for everyone there is healing, that there is being made whole, as we are made holy.

Spiritual healing. The healing that comes from realizing God’s love.  The healing that comes from the cleansing and restoration that forgiveness is.  Our heart and soul freed of the burdens of guilt and shame.  The healing that comes from encountering the love of Christ, pure, faithful, incredible, without measure.

A love so graphically pictured in the cross, and in our baptism.  A love that invites us to share in Christ’s brokenness in communion, that our brokenness we would realize He shares in as well.  And in our promised resurrection united with Him, the brokenness fades into the past. Freed of it, spiritually now, but when Christ returns… completely as we dwell with him in Heaven forever.

This is our God, who loves us, who cares… who heals.

Find your rest in Him, and your endurance is guaranteed. This is what Paul tells us about, the struggle to hold onto Christ, realizing He is holding on to us. A struggle that as we are healed spiritually has an incredible impact on our lives, on our work, on the art that comes out of our lives.  Remind others of this as well, for that is what it means to be the church.   A place where people find healing in Christ while helping others heal.  AMEN!

Escriva, Josemaria. The Forge (Kindle Locations 2662-2664). Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition.

Do We Still Need Christmas?

nativityDevotional thought for our seemingly broken days:

3 Then Judas, His betrayer, seeing that He had been condemned, was full of remorse and returned the 30 pieces of silver to the chief priests and elders. v 4 “I have sinned by betraying innocent blood,” he said.
“What’s that to us?” they said. “See to it yourself!”
5 So he threw the silver into the sanctuary w and departed. Then he went and hanged himself.  Matthew 27:3-5  HCSB

20. But what should you do if you are not aware of this need and have no hunger and thirst for the Sacrament?
To such a person no better advice can be given than this: first, he should touch his body to see if he still has flesh and blood. Then he should believe what the Scriptures say of it in Galatians 5 and Romans 7.
Second, he should look around to see whether he is still in the world, and remember that there will be no lack of sin and trouble, as the Scriptures say in John 15–16 and in 1 John 2 and 5.
Third, he will certainly have the devil also around him, who with his lying and murdering day and night will let him have no peace, within or without, as the Scriptures picture him in John 8 and 16; 1 Peter 5; Ephesians 6; and 2 Timothy 2.

In so saying, we finally discover the answer to the question with which we started. After the tearing of the Temple curtain and the opening up of the heart of God in the pierced heart of the Crucified, do we still need sacred space, sacred time, mediating symbols? Yes, we do need them, precisely so that, through the “image”, through the sign, we learn to see the openness of heaven. We need them to give us the capacity to know the mystery of God in the pierced heart of the Crucified.

In many ways, life would be easier without the celebration of Christmas.

For one thing, my cynical nature could use the rest.  It gets tiring, seeing people spend millions on decorations (which Costco was selling in September this year!) and gifts and clothes for all the parties, while people they should know are living on the streets.  In talking to other pastors, people who used to come to church on Christmas and Easter hardly do anymore, because they are too busy with celebrating Christmas!

It’s hard, all the extra work all the extra services ( 4 in 25 hours this year and add another on the prior Wednesday night ) 

And we know it all right?  We all know Jesus was born in a stable, and the angels sang to him, and the wise men didn’t visit him in the manger that night, but later at the house where they were staying. ( Hmm you didn’t know that? )

So why not give everybody so more time to rest, some more time to spend with families? 

I find the answer in the odd (given the season) reading in my devotions this morning.  When Judas, torn up with guilt and shame, tried to find hope, tried to find mercy and was denied. The very elders ( read pastors) who were supposed to point him back to God instead they threw his sin back in his face.  The very men who were supposed to give him a message of grace didn’t care. 

He needed Christmas.  he needed to know God would come to Him, forgive his sin, reveal His love for Judas, reveal that this was the very reason for the cross.  

Joseph Ratzinger, (later Pope Benedict XVI) had it right, we, like Judas, need to be given the capacity to know the mystery of God, reveal in the heart of Jesus, the one who embraced the manger and the crucifixion, for us.   Or as Luther pointed out, we need to realize that this life is full of sin and trouble and Satan is at work to steal our peace.  Just as that is done as we approach the altar, as God shares Christ’s body and blood for us, so we need Christmas. 

We need to celebrate, even if it is sappy or too utopian in its portrayal, the fact that Jesus shattered the darkness by coming into our world, not just 2000 odd years ago, but today, now, here.  That He is with us, that He loves us, that He is merciful toward us, cleansing us of all sin.  Our world needs to know this, we need to celebrate it, we need to find out that God has found us.

Rejoice, for unto us a Child is born, and He shall be called Wonderful!  Counselor! Almighty God!  Everlasting Father!  The One who Reigns with Peace…

the peace we are invited into, for that is why He came.

So celebrate Christmas, and see what is revealed to you this day.  AMEN!

Ratzinger, Joseph. The Spirit of the Liturgy. Trans. John Saward. San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 2000. Print.

Luther, Martin. Luther’s Small Catechism with Explanation. Saint Louis, MO: Concordia Publishing House, 1991. Print.

Sola Fide: The Reformation Cry…of a Broken Soul! A Sermon on John 8

church at communion 2Sola Fide!
The Reformation Cry of a Broken Soul!

John 8:31-36

In Jesus

 As God’s grace for us is revealed, through the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus Christ, may we find it easier to depend on Him completely, for we are His people and He is with us!  AMEN!

Not a Battle cry!

As we’ve approached the 500th anniversary of Luther inviting people to discuss problems in the church, I have become more and more upset by what I’ve seen.  I’ve seen some extremism creep in, as some have label Leather not a reformer, but a revolutionary.  I’ve seen that said negatively by some, and some say the same thing with great pride as if we were celebrating something akin to the 4th of July.

As if Sola Fide (Faith alone) was a battle cry, a chant to get behind as we took on an evil enemy, and triumphed by the power of our will.   For some Protestants, the 500th anniversary has become a chance for our touchdown dance.  For some Catholics, we are still the impertinent upstarts who want to destroy the church for whom Christ has died.

But Sola Fide wasn’t a battle cry at first.

It was the cry of a priest named Fr. Martin, who had tried every way possible to be good enough for God, and yet remained broken and in great despair, tormented by the sin which had its talons buried deep into him, and wouldn’t let Him escape,

Until he listened to the words God spoke through the scriptures, the words of the mass, the worship service he led every day since his ordination, and found hope….

as he learned to depend, not on his on work, but on the work of Christ alone.

That is what Sola Fide, the great reformation cry of a broken soul means.

to depend on Christ, no other, to save us from our brokenness, the brokenness caused by sin.

That is why Sola Fide is a cry, a cry of a broken heart that has found hope, and will not let go of it.

The Brokenness of Those Who Trust in Rubbish

A couple of weeks ago, we heard that Paul tossed aside the rubbish he once depended on, what he thought proved he was a good man, what proved he was righteous, godly, holy.

We see that attitude in the people Jesus was talking to today.  They claimed they didn’t’ need to be free from the sin, and the rubbish that they counted on to show them good enough for God.

We were never slaves!

They didn’t remember their own history that well, for scripture tells us these children of Abraham were enslaved by Egypt, (see Exodus), by Midian various Philistine groups (see Judges and the Books of Samuel), by Assyria and Babylon (see the Books of Kings, Chronicles, and the prophets) and eventually by Greece ( see Maccabees) and then, even in Jesus day, hey were the subjects, the slaves of Rome and Caesar.

But nah, they weren’t slaves.

Can you imagine someone who said they don’t struggle with sin at all?  Or worse, that they never sin anymore?

That’s what we are claiming when we say we are good people, or when we say that person or this person is so good, surely they will get to heaven.  When we say that – we are exactly like the people Jesus encountered, the people who thought they were okay with God, that their sin was insignificant.

The True Burden

In the Luther movie we watched last week, Luther’s mentor Staupitz confronted Luther, saying that of all the monks, his confessions were the least interesting!  They were boring because none of the sins were interesting.

Yet Luther felt all too well the distance those sins led him from God.  He despaired of the brokenness.  A book I am reading on his life gave a little more detail. One of those times of private confession lasted over 5 hours, as Luther tried to account for every sin he committed in the last week.  He walked away from that confession convinced that he wasn’t sorry enough, that he missed sins that wouldn’t be forgiven.

I get that.  Part of me doesn’t want to look upon my own sin.  I want to excuse it, find justifications for it, dismiss it as not as serious as it is.  But when I am thinking seriously about my sin, for example when I am up here, and we have those brief moments of confessing, there are times I wonder why God has me up here, heck why He even let me in this place.

Like Luther, it would be easy to sink into despair, to believe that God wouldn’t accept someone a sinner like us.

How I wish we could take sin that seriously, for only one reason.

If we did, how much more would we be overwhelmed by the knowledge that He comes to us, picks us up, forgives of our sin and cleanses us of our unrighteousness.

Then we would know how much God loves us, as He embraces us, prodigals still smelling like the “rubbish” and pig slop we lived in, as He calls for us to be dressed in the best robes. As he tells everyone, my child is home.

hear again Jesus.

“You are truly my disciples if you remain faithful to my teachings. 32 And you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”

I’m going to rephrase that a little, for clarity

“You are truly my disciples if you depend on my teachings. 32 And you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”

The Freedom!

Jesus, the Son of God came for one purpose, to free you and I, and every other person from the power of sin.  Jesus dying on cross shattered the hold it has on us. His resurrection comforts us, as the promise is clearly seen.

You are free of that sin, you are cleansed of that unrighteousness,

Depend on that as you approach the altar, confidently as the Book of Hebrews tells us to do, knowing we are in the presence of God who loves us.

Depend on Jesus, trust in Jesus, believe in Jesus, for He alone is our Savior, our Lord, who brings us home to the Father.

And as you cry out, aware of your need, don’t be surprised that knowing He is God brings you peace that passes all understanding, and guards our hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.

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.

When You Don’t Know How to Pray: A Sermon on Romans 8

church at communion 2When You Don’t Know How to Pray

Romans 8:18-27

In Jesus Name

May you find great peace in knowing the grace and compassion that God has for you seen in the work of the Holy Spirit who intercedes for you when we are weak!

St Patrick’s dream
When I utter those words, “the Lord is with you!” what do you see?  How do you picture that? For a picture is worth all the words you can use.

While going through a period of turmoil and conflict, the great missionary pastor we call St Patrick wrote these words,

“And on another night, I know not, God knows, whether in me or near me, spoke in most eloquent language, which I heard and could not understand, except that at the end of the speech he address me this, “Who for thee laid down his life?” and so I awoke full of joy and again I saw on praying on me, and I was as it were within my body and I heard him over me, that is, over the inner man, and there he prayed fervently with groanings, and during this time I was full of astonishment and was wondering and considering who it could be that was praying in me but at the end of the prayer He declared it was The Spirit and so I awoke and remembered that the Apostle says, “The Spirit also helps us in our infirmities, for we know we should pray for as we ought, but the Spirit itself maketh intercession with groanings which cannot be uttered” that is m expressed in words, and “the Lord our advocate makes intercession for us”  (the confessions of St Patrick)

What an incredible vision!  What an incredible picture, lying there, and seeing the Holy Spirit at our side, leaning over us begging the Father to work in our lives where we truly need it!

I wish that every single one of us could have such a vision as St Patrick, could know the peace and joy that comes from seeing the Holy Spirit so involved in our lives, in caring for our heart and soul. This is what I want us to see when we hear those incredible words, “the Lord is with you!

The Holy Spirit, actually and quite actively working in our lives, comforting us, healing our souls, bringing us to the Father to be blessed, and then becoming a blessing, which impacts our families, our friends, and everyone we encounter!

It’s a challenging vision, especially when we are struggling…struggling with our lives, and if so, often struggling to trust God as well.

The need for help

We aren’t alone in that struggle.  While Paul reminds us that the struggle isn’t even in the same ballpark as to the glory of God we are invited to share in, he also reminds us that we aren’t alone.

Hear how he says it, “All creation is waiting eagerly for that future day when God will reveal who his children really are, Against its will, all creation was subjected to God’s curse, but with eager hope the creation looks forward to the day when it will join God’s children in glorious freedom from death and decay!”

Even so, he goes on to say, “we know that all creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time, and we believers also groan”

I kinda want to give an “Amen” to that last part, the part about we also groan.

It has been a week of groaning and struggling, and I needed to know the Spirit was with us

I needed to know the Spirit’s prayer would be answered, bringing us into harmony with God’s will.

We need that kind of help, that kind of intercession in life.  For along with all that God has created we struggle to the point of groaning in this life.

The struggle could be with our health or finances, with a relationship at work or in our family, the struggle could be dealing with someone in our family, or at our work, or even here at church. The struggle could because of the cumulative effect of the sin of the world, or because of someone who sinned against us, and the struggle always involves our own sin.  Remember, this passage follows Paul;s words about not doing what he should, and doing what he shouldn’t, and therefore he is a wretch!  He needed the Spirit to remind Him that Jesus died for Him, that God would restore Him.

But we groan, even as we wait for the day when death and decay lose all their power over us, when our bodies no longer struggle with sin when we no longer suffer.

The question then becomes how do we wait patiently and confidently until that day when the hope we see becomes fully ours?

We see it, it is more than hope, even so, we wait for it.

Paul talks of this in verse 24 when he says,

“We were given this hope when we were saved! If we already have something (see it as real) we don’t have to hope for it.  But if we look forward (same word as have before ) to something we don’t yet have, we must wait patiently and confidently.”

We have been saved – that is guaranteed, though we don’t see it completely. The way I think of it is like ordering something. We pay for something, and it is ours from the moment the money changed hands.  But while it is ours, it has to arrive for us to fully enjoy it.

It works that way with us, as Jesus death paid for our sins, as God “redeemed us” buying us from the debt of sin. Yet we are still “in transit” to the Father, being drawn there by Jesus, guided there by the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit is the delivery person, and we are safe in His hands until we are delivered to the seen in revelation, where with people of every language, of every culture, of every period in history we surround the throne and sing His praises.  For it is there in that room that we see God’s will revealed completely.

The people He loves gathered around Him, his people, us.  We look forward to that incredible day!

Until then….

 

Which brings us back to the vision of St Patrick.

This is how scripture describes one of the ways the Holy Spirit works in us, pleading with the Father, straining and pleading in a way that brings us into harmony with the will of God. In groans so deep, so meaningful that they are inaudible – there are just not the words.
Yet God understands and hears, and acts.

For we are His children, the ones He has invited into His glory, the ones He reveals His love to, the ones Christ died to release from sin and suffering, the one’s the Holy Spirit will sustain until we are all before the throne

AMEN!

Why I Don’t Want Sinners to Change their Behavior.

20170124_103703Devotional Thought of the Day:

17 When Jesus left the people and went into the house, his followers asked him about this story. 18 Jesus said, “Do you still not understand? Surely you know that nothing that enters someone from the outside can make that person unclean. 19 It does not go into the mind, but into the stomach. Then it goes out of the body.” (When Jesus said this, he meant that no longer was any food unclean for people to eat.)
20 And Jesus said, “The things that come out of people are the things that make them unclean. 21 All these evil things begin inside people, in the mind: evil thoughts, sexual sins, stealing, murder, adultery, 22 greed, evil actions, lying, doing sinful things, jealousy, speaking evil of others, pride, and foolish living. 23 All these evil things come from inside and make people unclean.”  Mark 7:17-23 NCV

He that examines and prepares himself in this way, he truly uses this Sacrament worthily, not unto judgment,44 but unto salvation. And though all these things are still weak, infirm, and sluggish, yet one should not for that reason abstain from the holy Supper. Rather on the contrary, this very reason will rouse and impel us the more to partake of it more frequently, especially since we know that the Son of God gradually kindles, increases, and strengthens repentance and faith in us more and more through this means. For this medicine has been prepared and provided for the sick who acknowledge their infirmity and seek counsel and help.

Since I entered Bible College 35 years ago, I have seen many programs that are guaranteed to change the behavior of people,  Some are determined to change the practices of giving to the church, some are geared to change the behavior of sinners.  Some are not that blunt, they seek to make the exercise of faith more visible, as people give, pray, attend, volunteer/serve more, worship more “properly”, seeking the joy and peace that was promised to them, if they do.

Most fail.

They fail because o the basic method of formation, applying a force of some kind to the person, hoping to move them into the behavior that is desired.  They use the four main forms of educational discipline; the promise of reward, the consequence of punishment, the withholding of reward, the freedom from punishment.  Or to put it more religiously, the blessings and curses God warned us about.

These methodologies would work if all we needed was to modify behavior.

Jesus tells us clearly, that isn’t enough.  Sin and Faith/Dependence on God is not a matter of changing the externals, it requires a change of our heart (see Exodus 36:35) and the mind (see Acts 2:38 and Romans 12:2) It is not something we can change in ourselves, it goes beyond our ability.  Just as a man cannot perform open heart surgery on himself, so we can’t perform such a spiritual/psychological operation Change the behavior but not the heart and you end up with another sin putting them in bondage.  It’s like the addict who simply changes drug addiction for work addiction or an addiction to sexual perversion.  The matter is deeper.

So how do we deal with it?  Martin Chemnitz puts forth that it would be trusting God, depending on God to deliver what He promises through His word and sacrament. Chemnitz calls the weak, the infirm, the sluggish to the altar, he urges them to head there more frequently, for Christ comes to those who are sick, not to those who are well.  it is the place for those who acknowledge their need, a need caused by our sin, our brokenness.  It is there we find the medicine that comforts those haunted by grief and shame, who long for something different.

This isn’t the religion of the good and proper, those dressed perfectly for the church, those best and brightest.  It is the religion, the way of life, that delivers hope to the hopeless, healing to the broken, life to those dead, and dying.  It is the blessing for the poor in Spirit.

This is the relationship that we humbly, and with great amazement are drawn into, cleanses and brings us to life in baptism!  That is where that heart that poured forth sin is cut out, replaced with the heart of Christ, which begins to transform us, even as we take and eat, and take and drink the blood of Jesus.

The change to our hearts and minds happens, and then behavior changes, prompted by the Holy Spirit, guided by those who help us explore the Father’s love.

All the while stunned by the fact we are surrounded by His peace…   Amen!

 

 

Chemnitz, Martin, and Luther Poellot. Ministry, Word, and Sacraments: An Enchiridion. electronic ed. St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1999. Print.

 

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