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How revival and renewal begins…

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERADevotional Thought of the Day:

A large number of the people—many from Ephraim, Manasseh, Issachar, and Zebulun—were ritually unclean, yet they had eaten the Passover contrary to what was written.  But Hezekiah had interceded for them, saying, “May the good LORD provide atonement on behalf of 19 whoever sets his whole heart on seeking God, Yahweh, the God of his ancestors, even though not according to the purification rules of the sanctuary.” 20 So the LORD heard Hezekiah and healed the people. 21 The Israelites who were present in Jerusalem observed the Festival of Unleavened Bread seven days with great joy,  and the Levites and the priests praised the LORD day after day with loud instruments. 22 Then Hezekiah encouraged all the Levites who performed skillfully before the LORD. They ate at the appointed festival for seven days, sacrificing •fellowship offerings and giving thanks to Yahweh, the God of their ancestors.
23 The whole congregation decided to observe seven more days, so they observed seven days with joy,  2 Chronicles 30:18-23  HCSB

462    The power of charity! If you live that blessed brotherly spirit, your mutual weakness will also be a support to keep you upright in the fulfillment of duty—just as in a house of cards, one card supports the other.

I have read this Bible passage before. and yet it struck me this time as a critical part of the love that is shared between God and His people.   What amazing lesson about God and His people!

Despite the sin of the people, and despite them following the proper methods and rites for being cleansed of those sins, the prayer of Hezekiah was heard, and those who were supposed to be shut out were welcome to the feast. (even the foreigners and aliens among them if you keep reading down to verse 25)

The people prayed for weren’t pure, they weren’t holy, they shouldn’t have been included according to a strict reading of the Law of Moses. Hezekiah should have just told them – forget about it, take a year, study more, ensure you know the right way to appear before God, then we will welcome you back.

He didn’t.  He prayed, acknowledging the sin, and asking that God would provide the atonement, the satisfaction, the healing that would allow these people to enter into the celebration of God and His people, and the life that is ours as we dwell in God’s presence.  

And as James would right centuries later, 

16  Confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The earnest prayer of a righteous person has great power and produces wonderful results. James 5:16 (NLT2)

God heard the prayer, healed His people, and the party began. A party that was supposed to last a week, and lasted two.  A party that resulted in people giving away their riches, of the congregation having more money than the people could give, and of those who were previously unclean going home, and removing from their lives of all of their idols.  (see Chapter 31)

Not by command, they just knew this was how they could live, assured they were God’s people. This is the power of charity, the power of love.  You see it in the prayer of Hezekiah (would all church leaders have this heart!) who prays on behalf of these people.  You see this charity in God, whose love Hezekiah knew so well that the Spirit could lead him to pray on behalf of those who were sinners and unclean. You see this love in the people, bound together in celebrating the love of God, and in their charity/love in their destroying their idols 

This needs to happen in the church today, for this is how the church is revived, how it is renewed, how it returns to its First love!

Let us pray  †
heavenly Father, cause the hearts of your leaders to be so filled with your love, that they think of those who are cut off, who the world says aren’t clean enough.  Lord, help us, for their sake, pray that they would know that Jesus has fully atoned for them, that they are welcome to this feast of those who love You, who would walk with you, depending on your love. Move our hearts Lord, and may all those around us come to dwell in Your peace, in Your Presence.  AMEN!

 

NOTE:  If you have been made ot feel like an outsider by the people of God, please forgive us,

 

 

Escriva, Josemaria. The Way (Kindle Locations 1128-1130). Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition.

 

 

The Paradox of Christian Generosity: Do Jesus and Paul disagree?

Devotional Thought of the Day:
1  “Make certain you do not perform your religious duties in public so that people will see what you do. If you do these things publicly, you will not have any reward from your Father in heaven. 2  “So when you give something to a needy person, do not make a big show of it, as the hypocrites do in the houses of worship and on the streets. They do it so that people will praise them. I assure you, they have already been paid in full. 3  But when you help a needy person, do it in such a way that even your closest friend will not know about it. 4  Then it will be a private matter. And your Father, who sees what you do in private, will reward you. Matthew 6:1-4 (TEV)

10  And God, who supplies seed for the sower and bread to eat, will also supply you with all the seed you need and will make it grow and produce a rich harvest from your generosity. 11  He will always make you rich enough to be generous at all times, so that many will thank God for your gifts which they receive from us. 12  For this service you perform not only meets the needs of God’s people, but also produces an outpouring of gratitude to God. 13  And because of the proof which this service of yours brings, many will give glory to God for your loyalty to the gospel of Christ, which you profess, and for your generosity in sharing with them and everyone else. 14  And so with deep affection they will pray for you because of the extraordinary grace God has shown you. 15  Let us thank God for his priceless gift! 2 Corinthians 9:10-15 (TEV)

723      You are an ordinary citizen. It is precisely because of that secularity of yours, which is the same as, and neither more nor less than, that of your colleagues, that you have to be sufficiently brave—which may sometimes mean being very brave—to make your faith felt. They should see your good works and the motive that drives you to do them.

Maybe it is me, but as I read the two passages from scripture above, I am confused.  It would seem, at face value, that Jesus and Paul disagree.  That Jesus is stating that we must do all our good works in private, and Paul wants us to do them visibly so that many people will give thanks to God.  It would seem that St. Josemaria agrees with Paul.  

So is there a difference between Paul and Jesus?  

Should we do things completely anonymously, or so that people can see what we do?

Have to admit, this is one that always stumped me.  I knew there had to be an answer, that scripture is not contradictory. but how do you think this through?

I think St. Josemaria hits on the answer, that what we are doing is making our faith felt.  

Our actions can’t be based on the motivation of other people praising us, or others focusing attention on us. If our actions are done to focus attention on us, then, yes, it is far better that they are done in the dark.  Like the priests who would pray and make a big show of donating to those in need, such acts are passing in their effect, and have no lasting impact.

Paul speaks of another kind of giving, a giving that requires bravery, of courage.  Of going past ourselves, and meeting a need that isn’t just financial.  To give in a way to help a person know that someone cares, and the reason they care is that of the love of God that unites us, His creation, His children.  Paul wants the people in Jerusalem to know that their gentile brothers and sisters in the world still care,  To put names and faces to the much-needed relief.

The result of which is God glorified. That is the impact of being part of, being invited into a community, a community where God’s love binds us. Where those who observe us see love that is not forced or fake, but really a reflection of the love God has for us.  A love that would quietly embrace pain or sacrifice to help someone else.

God is with you – as you meditate on that, as you live in that truth, you will do things to help others, without regard to others watching.  And in doing so, both Jesus and Paul’s directions will be heeded.

 

Escriva, Josemaria. The Forge (Kindle Locations 2631-2634). Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition.

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The Better Way to Be a Success

Devotional Thought of the day:DSCF0066

30  Do we all have the gift of healing? Do we all have the ability to speak in unknown languages? Do we all have the ability to interpret unknown languages? Of course not! 31  So you should earnestly desire the most helpful gifts. But now let me show you a way of life that is best of all. 1  If I could speak all the languages of earth and of angels, but didn’t love others, I would only be a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. 2  If I had the gift of prophecy, and if I understood all of God’s secret plans and possessed all knowledge, and if I had such faith that I could move mountains, but didn’t love others, I would be nothing. 3  If I gave everything I have to the poor and even sacrificed my body, I could boast about it; but if I didn’t love others, I would have gained nothing. 4  Love is patient and kind. Love is not jealous or boastful or proud 5  or rude. It does not demand its own way. It is not irritable, and it keeps no record of being wronged. 6  It does not rejoice about injustice but rejoices whenever the truth wins out. 7  Love never gives up, never loses faith, is always hopeful, and endures through every circumstance. 1 Corinthians 12:30 – 13:7(NLT)

100      Charity succeeds always. Without charity nothing can be done. Love, then, is the secret of your life… Do love! Suffer gladly. Toughen up your soul. Invigorate your will. Make sure that you surrender yourself to God’s will, and efficacy will follow.

We live in a environment that is consumed with the ideas of success.  From being successful in business, to being successful parents, to crafting that special meme that gets a bazillion likes, to even being on a successful weight loss program, we lust after success.  As pastors, there are people that measure our success by how much we agree with their favorite theologian or theological system.  There are others who will measure us by whether our church grows at a certain rate.

This morning I even saw a recognition of success that was scary.  It was given to an abortion clinic by Planed Parenthood that exceeded their prior year to date tally.  I am not sure I would call that success.  For that matter most of what we call a success, I am not sure is all that successful in the long run. Wealth, prosperity, a killer hot body?  Which of those will have importance after we’ve gone?

Even more, we are driven not to fail at what we do.  We will move mountains to avoid it, to not have to confess that our plans didn’t work out the way we thought they would.  People will strive to succeed to avoid failure, and they will strive to cover up their failures, neglecting to make them valuable by learning from them.

This even happens in the church, and its been a problem for a long time.  Look at the letter to the church in Corinth, they are consumed by it!  .  I’ve done things that failed miserably.  In other things, some consider me successful. I am not sure there either.

When I feel successful, is when I hear people singing (\with conviction and heart praising God as they recognize His love for them.  (that’s true even when they sing off-key… sometimes more so!)  When they approach the altar to receive the Body and Blood of Christ Jesus. When a family and friends gather around as someone is baptised, receiving all the promises of God..

Success as a human being is ultimately measured by love.  Can you love, even love your enemies?

The reason that is the measure?  It’s not because it proves you are saintly, a person of great will and wisdom. It’s not because you are more special, or gifted, or even obedient.

It’s because such loves demonstrates the work of Christ in your life, that you walk with God, that you have been given the power and the desire to do God’s work.

Success is found in knowing His love…. the love that the Holy Spirit reveals to you in the word of God, and through the sacraments.

You want to be successful?  it is simple, though as Escriva says, it is tough and requires great strength to trusts in Christ Jesus….and as the apostle Paul says, it is the better way…..

The way of Love, the way of Christ.

 

Escriva, Josemaria (2011-01-31). The Forge (Kindle Locations 563-566). Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition.

Does How You Give Matter to God?

Devotional THought of the Day:

 1  The LORD says, “Shout as loud as you can! Tell my people Israel about their sins! 2  They worship me every day, claiming that they are eager to know my ways and obey my laws. They say they want me to give them just laws and that they take pleasure in worshiping me.” 3  The people ask, “Why should we fast if the LORD never notices? Why should we go without food if he pays no attention?” The LORD says to them, “The truth is that at the same time you fast, you pursue your own interests and oppress your workers. 4  Your fasting makes you violent, and you quarrel and fight. Do you think this kind of fasting will make me listen to your prayers? 5  When you fast, you make yourselves suffer; you bow your heads low like a blade of grass and spread out sackcloth and ashes to lie on. Is that what you call fasting? Do you think I will be pleased with that? 6  “The kind of fasting I want is this: Remove the chains of oppression and the yoke of injustice, and let the oppressed go free. 7  Share your food with the hungry and open your homes to the homeless poor. Give clothes to those who have nothing to wear, and do not refuse to help your own relatives. Isaiah 58:1-7 (TEV)

 1  Our friends, we want you to know what God’s grace has accomplished in the churches in Macedonia. 2  They have been severely tested by the troubles they went through; but their joy was so great that they were extremely generous in their giving, even though they are very poor. 3  I can assure you that they gave as much as they could, and even more than they could. Of their own free will 4  they begged us and pleaded for the privilege of having a part in helping God’s people in Judea.   2 Corinthians 8:1-4 (TEV)

Two passages, two groups of people, both of whom “gave” to God.

Yet one is judged, harshly, the other is applauded.

It doesn’t matter if the gift is money, or time, whether it is setting aside your pride, or your needs.  What matters a lot is our attitude, as seen in both of these passages.  In the Old Testament reading, those who were giving seem to be giving in view of what they would get back.  They would go without food, if God would give them what they wanted in return.  THey kept fasting thinking if they could just do it enough, they would earn God’s favor. When they were disappointed – they took it out on those around them, and they saw their sacrifices as “suffering”.   Rather than use what they would offer to God to help others, they abused and neglected them.

The Macedonians however, begged and peladed for the opportunity to help – they gave more than they had, And with great joy!

They worked to free the oppressed, they sacrificed that others could be free.

This isn’t a Old Testament versus New Testament issue, both the Corinthians and Phillippians had to be encouraged to be those who invested in others.  Even today we struggle to give of ourselves, we have to guard against our own cynicism, our own judgmental nature and pride.  ANd our own expectations.  If we give, if we sacrifice, are we doing it because we are simply living like Christ, or are we expecting something?  An answered prayer, a better home,  anice position, or maybe even a better seat in heaven?

The only way I know of, to give freely, is to not look at the giving, but focusing on the one who gives to us.

To realize the extent of His love, of His sacriifice, not using His behavior as a law to be fulfilled, but being completely aware of how He looks at us, and letting His show us how He has sent us to be there for others, in His stead.

That’s were the Macedonians were at, that is where the people Isaiah prophesied to needed to be at….

To realize the attitude of Jesus, and to allow the Spirit to mold us into His likeness….ever while we adore the Lord who has come into our lives.

Lord have mercy on Us…. we cry… knowing that mercy is promised and given…

No Excuses! Really! They aren’t needed..if..

 12 Since God chose you to be the holy people he loves, you must clothe yourselves with tenderhearted mercy, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience. 13 Make allowance for each other’s faults, and forgive anyone who offends you. Remember, the Lord forgave you, so you must forgive others. 14 Above all, clothe yourselves with love, which binds us all together in perfect harmony. Colossians 3:12-14 (NLT)

We must fear and love God, so that we will not deceive by lying, betraying, slandering or ruining our neighbor’s reputation, but will defend him, say good things about him, and see the best side of everything he does. (1)

When I speak to you of good example, I mean to tell you, too, that you have to understand and excuse, that you have to fill the world with peace and love.(2)

It is a phase we all go through, a defensive mechanism that we revert to in moments where we’ve been “caught” in the act.  In a five year old, it can be a little cute and hilarious.  In a 30 year old, or even a 50 or 70 year old – not so much.  I am talking about making up and giving excuses.  The ways in which we try to bend the perception of others, in regards to our actions (and their perceptions are often accurate) to get them to put the best construction, the best reasoning on our actions.   We may say things without thinking, we may do something that was wrong, whether we know it or not at the time.

And a five year old can make up some of the silliest excuses you’ve ever heard!  Again – kinda cute, a interesting phase.

But what if the best…way of dealing with excuses was not to be found in the one making them, but in the one to whom they are made?

If I read Paul’s words above, and they were practiced, especially the ones underlined, we see a relationship in which a person wouldn’t have to give you excuses – there would be no need!  If we trusted each other, to forgive, to make allowance for our mistakes, why would we bother?  If we could comprehend the love, the charity (see the last two blogs for charity/love) would we be so quick to find excuses?  If we put the best construction, saw the best in what each other did – as Luther taught, would we need to create incredible stories – and get defensive?  If we sought to understand and excuse, to fill the world with love and peace… would others need to blame others?

As I think about the community of faith, and the sanctuary it should be, about how we should be able to strengthen each other, build up each other, help each other overcome temptation, this is one of the greatest ways.  To mutually work to create an environment where mercy and love are demonstrated, are encouraged, where peace reigns, because we learn not to be defensive, because we  do not have to be!  What a wondrous environment we could create!  We would be the church God intended, a church were people ran for absolution, for forgiveness and would find assurance of it.  Accountability wouldn’t be a law driven concept, but one that we rejoiced in, knowing those asking us questions were actually interested in helping us thrive.

It starts simply – not with trying to find excuses for our actions, but excusing and forgiving the actions of others….knowing that is exactly what Christ did!

Even simple – this won’t be easy…. so let us cry for God’s mercy!

And know and be assured – and assure each other… He has listened and is merciful!

 

(1) Luther’s Small Catechism: Developed and Explained.

(2)Escriva, Josemaria (2011-01-31). The Forge (Kindle Locations 2103-2104). Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition.

Charity (love) and being discipled/trained to love as Christ?

Devotional/Discussion Thought of the Day:

“Loving souls for God’s sake will make us love everyone: understanding, excusing, forgiving… We should have a love that can cover the multitude of failings contrived by human wretchedness. We have to have a wonderful charity, veritatem facientes in caritate, defending the truth, without hurting anyone.” (1)

As I hear people talk about the lack of need in their spiritual life for “church”, I grieve for them, and for the church.  It is a loss for both, for we were not meant to have an “individual” relationship with God – and more than the Trinity has relationship apart from the entire Trinity.  We are meant to abide in Christ as a family, a body, a group called out together.  The people of God, since Adam and Eve were meant to be in community, as they walked through the Sinai, as the encamped around the tabernacle, as they rejoiced at the Temple – offering sacrifices and celebrating the putting off of their sin – together.

Yesterday I wrote about restoring the word “charity” as it helps us focus the nature of the love (which is a synonym of charity when its the highest form of love) and today’s comment from my devotions likewise uses the word.  (Surprise!)  As I noted then – charity is not about giving our cast-offs – our no-longer used, or giving from our abundance – it is just the opposite – its giving from our need – to care for those we are called to love. (not just those we decide to love – there is a big difference)   The relationship between the people of God is supposed to amaze others – and extend out from the church… to bring the world into it.

The church then – as a body is the tool which God uses to demonstrate how to love in such a complete, even sacrificial way.  For indeed, He demonstrates such charity/love towards us, as He graciously cleanses us, heals our souls (and yes sometimes our bodies) as He marks us as His children, as He gives us new life, (see Titus 3).

He does call us to then love others, even as He loves us… that’s charity – and the church is a great training ground.  For some of us are harder to love, some are indeed great challenges.  And there are a multitude of failings, which need to be corrected with discipline, even as we do it in love.   This isn’t easy – and yet – as we learn to do it in safety, with the other brothers and sisters in Christ, we find ourselves showing such love/charity to those in our workplaces, our neighborhoods, our very lives.  Let me put it bluntly – the church isn’t a place where every one is easy to love – because we are a bunch of hypocrites and sinners. But then – it is the ability to love even these, that God demonstrated in Christ, and desires us to show as well.  God had St. John explain it this way…..

16 And we ourselves know and believe the love which God has for us. God is love, and those who live in love live in union with God and God lives in union with them. 17 Love is made perfect in us in order that we may have courage on the Judgment Day; and we will have it because our life in this world is the same as Christ’s. 18 There is no fear in love; perfect love drives out all fear. So then, love has not been made perfect in anyone who is afraid, because fear has to do with punishment. 19 We love because God first loved us. 20 If we say we love God, but hate others, we are liars. For we cannot love God, whom we have not seen, if we do not love others, whom we have seen. 21 The command that Christ has given us is this: whoever loves God must love others also.  1 John 4:16-21 (TEV) 

The people at your church such as you struggle to love them?  Rejoice – you have some wondrous opportunities to depend on God, and to see Him work through you ahead!

ANd remember – you can always cry out….

Lord Have Mercy!

Be assured that He does!

 

(1)Escriva, Josemaria (2011-01-31). The Forge (Kindle Locations 2099-2102). Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition.

Charity… another word that lost its meaning….

Devotioal thought of the day….

I have a few friends who talk about the superiority of the translation of the King James Version…As an pastor – I disagree for a number of reasons, one of which is that the words used in the last revision, are no longer used, or are used in a way completely foreign to our use today.  We cannot understand them without a dictionary nearby – and worse – we don’t always know that the word has changed.  Such results often in poor theology.

Occasionally though, I wish we could reclaim a word here and there – because the English word is loaded used instead has far too many meanings as well – such as the word “love”  (in Greek there are four words that translate into the word – ranging from eros ( sexual), to agape – the word for love, which is the word used when we describe God with the phrase – God is love. ( the funny thing is the KJV uses love most of the time for agape. )

In 1 Cor 13, the famous love chapter, the KJV uses a different word for love – here is the passage – and the word I wish we could restore a meaning to…

1 Corinthians 13:1-13 (KJV) 1 Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, and have not charity, I am become as sounding brass, or a tinkling cymbal. 2 And though I have the gift of prophecy, and understand all mysteries, and all knowledge; and though I have all faith, so that I could remove mountains, and have not charity, I am nothing. 3 And though I bestow all my goods to feed the poor, and though I give my body to be burned, and have not charity, it profiteth me nothing. 4 Charity suffereth long, and is kind; charity envieth not; charity vaunteth not itself, is not puffed up, 5 Doth not behave itself unseemly, seeketh not her own, is not easily provoked, thinketh no evil; 6 Rejoiceth not in iniquity, but rejoiceth in the truth; 7 Beareth all things, believeth all things, hopeth all things, endureth all things. 8 Charity never faileth: but whether there be prophecies, they shall fail; whether there be tongues, they shall cease; whether there be knowledge, it shall vanish away. 9 For we know in part, and we prophesy in part. 10 But when that which is perfect is come, then that which is in part shall be done away. 11 When I was a child, I spake as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child: but when I became a man, I put away childish things. 12 For now we see through a glass, darkly; but then face to face: now I know in part; but then shall I know even as also I am known. 13 And now abideth faith, hope, charity, these three; but the greatest of these is charity.  

This word, charity, too is often misunderstood – indeed we have changed it drastically over the years – and we think of “a” charity – the recipient of donations, which does something worthwhile with them to help those less fortunate.  We think about it almost condescendingly – that they are the place where we deposit our excess, our leftovers, our hand-me-downs. It is the place that ministers to the “least of these…” (yet do we remember the kingdom parable of the sheep and the goats, and remember who is the least of these?”

Charity is far more than that – and yes – it is loving someone beyond what they deserve – but a love that has a specific character – one of action, or of devotion, one that seeks not to give the remnants, not just what is needed desperately, but what is…the best – that which would complete the person, no matter the cost.  In order to do this – it requires a Christlike, godly character, one willing to sacrifice what is best for the other.  It is far from condecension, far from simply pity, it is the depth of a relationship – that is what agape/charity is.

It is what we are called to – as we use who God has crafted us to be (see chapter 12) to serve/minister (same word in Greek) those around us.  I love how St Josemarie Escriva describes it:

557      Saint Paul has given us a wonderful recipe for charity: alter alterius onera portate et sic adimplebitis legem Christi – bear one another’s burdens, and so you will fulfil the law of Christ. Is this what happens in your life? 558      Jesus Our Lord loved men so much that he became incarnate, took to himself our nature, and lived in daily contact with the poor and the rich, with the just and with sinners, with young and old, with Gentiles and Jews. He spoke constantly to everyone: to those who showed good will towards him, and to those who were only looking for a way to twist his words and condemn him. You should try to act as Our Lord did.  (1)

The second comment is included to help define the Lord’s charity/love towards us, and the way we should imitate him – and have charity towards those that twist our love and condemn us as well.

So in these last days of the year – as charities are calling asking you to give…may it become a reminder to truly depend on Jesus, truly look to Him, truly reflect His glory and  become truly one who shows charity – by going beyond, by loving without measure, by being like Christ

(1)  Escriva, Josemaria (2011-01-31). The Forge (Kindle Locations 2091-2099). Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition.

 

 

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