Devotional Thought of the Day:
7 Where can I go from Your Spirit? Or where can I flee from Your presence? 8 If I ascend into heaven, You are there; If I make my bed in hell, behold, You are there. Psalm 139:7-8 (NKJV)
Now when people have learned and become aware
Once upon a time, I was a non-denominational pastor. As such, I looked at Lent and Ash Wednesday with a negative eye. I thought it was all a bunch of hype, some innovative way to subject people, and steal from them the meager joys they have earned.
I had grown up Roman Catholic, and I had some good mentors in the faith. Fr. Alex and Sister Ursula made sure we understood why we did things, not just hearing that we had to do so. But even with that, I thought to take 40 days out to weep and grieve over our sins and my sins was a bit overkill. And to wear an ash cross on my forehead for a day? (Well at least that would stop an aunt or two from kissing my forehead!)
Yet, the older I get, the more experienced I get with my own guilt and shame, the more I need to spend that time, examining myself. Not to beat me down, or just to endure discomfort as if that can bribe God to keep me out of hell.
I need these forty days. I need to process the way I am when I set God aside.
Again, not to dwell in grief or shame indefinitely, but to remember what the psalmist said, You are there!
I can’t get away from the God who loves me, who loves me even “THERE.”
I need to know that even there I can go to Him, confess that I’ve sinned, that I’ve depended on other “gods”, that
I need to know that even in the midst of sin, God is there to bring healing and hope into my darkness. And let’s be honest, just because I am a Christian and a pastor doesn’t mean I still don’t struggle with the darkness of sin in my life.
Lent, and especially Ash Wednesday, is an awesome time. We can stop playing the hypocrite, we can stop pretending our sin is justifiable, we can grieve what we’ve
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.) (p. 74). New York; Mahwah, NJ: Paulist Press.
Devotional Thought of the Day:
26 This means that every time you eat this bread and drink from this cup you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes. 27 It follows that if one of you eats the Lord’s bread or drinks from his cup in a way that dishonors him, you are guilty of sin against the Lord’s body and blood. 28 So then, you should each examine yourself first, and then eat the bread and drink from the cup. 29 For if you do not recognize the meaning of the Lord’s body when you eat the bread and drink from the cup, you bring judgment on yourself as you eat and drink. 30 That is why many of you are sick and weak, and several have died. 31 If we would examine ourselves first, we would not come under God’s judgment. 32 But we are judged and punished by the Lord, so that we shall not be condemned together with the world.
1 Corinthians 11:26-32 (TEV)
651 You sometimes allow the bad side of your character to come out, and it has shown itself, on more than one occasion, in an absurd harshness. At other times, you do not bother to prepare your heart and your head so that they may be a worthy dwelling for the Most Holy Trinity… And you invariably end up by remaining rather distant from Jesus, whom you know so little. If you go on like this, you will never have interior life.
For the Fathers of the Church, the Eucharist is considered as the medicine of eternity. It is a remedy. Jesus continues to touch the sick with His Eucharistic Body. St Thomas Aquinas understands the Eucharist as the bread of the soul: as bread sustains the body, the Eucharist sustains the soul. As bread repairs the body, the Eucharist repairs the soul. As bread increases the life of the body, the Eucharist increases the life of the soul. As bread gives joy to the body, the Eucharist gives joy to the life of the soul, sometimes even to the life of the body, as it is given to us to see.
In refusing to go and draw from the Eucharist the source of healing, many of our contemporaries are tempted to seek out pseudo-healings in false spiritualities.
“He was insistent that the church, and the teachings of the church, not be the subject of evangelization but that Jesus
We stand there, kneel there, wait there…
So many come who are so burdened, so broken. Even though they confessed their sins not long ago, you can see the weight of their sin, and even the sins of their community, their world, weighing down on them.
And Jesus comes to them again, giving them the nourishment and grace that they need. They are not there to prove their holiness, their piety, they are there because they need to experience the love of God.
If, as Girzone notes, the church’s evangelization is in the message revealing Jesus, if our role as God’s people is to reveal His glorious love and mercy to the world, then the altar is a time where this happens.
It is why the fathers of the church, from Clement to Augustine to Francis and even Martin Luther put such a value on the sacraments. The means of grace where God reveals and pours out His love on us. Where we find ourselves in the presence of God. This moment, when the veil between heaven and earth is transparent, where the soul and heart realize what the mind assents to when it responds to “the peace of the Lord is with you!” and thunders back “AMEN!”
So how do we prepare for this? How do we not take such a great salvation for granted? How do we recognize that Jesus giving us His precious body, His blood which covers our sin?
It is not by perfecting our lives, for we cannot do that.
It is not by pretending to be holy, or deserving.
It is by realizing we need this medicine, that our souls need to be revived, that our hearts need to know God’s promise is not in vain, that He has forgiven us, that this sacrifice of Christ ~2000 years ago was done, to make you and me the children of God.
We prepare for this great gift, this means of grace, by realizing our need and expecting God to deliver what He said He would give us. We prepare for it by realizing our hunger and our need and rejoicing in the gifts of God, given to the people of God.
So come, and join us, and celebrate the Lord’s Supper, and give thanks and praise to the Lord who serves us, in love. AMEN!
Escriva, Josemaria. Furrow (Kindle Locations 2732-2736). Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition.
Rey, D. (2012). Adoration and the New Evangelization. In A. Reid (Ed.), From Eucharistic Adoration to Evangelization (p. 8). London; New York: Burns & Oates.
Girzone, Joseph. (2011) The Homeless Bishop, Orbis Books , Maryknoll, NY
Devotional Thought fo the Day:
9 Two are better off than one, because together they can work more effectively. 10 If one of them falls down, the other can help him up. But if someone is alone and falls, it’s just too bad, because there is no one to help him. 11 If it is cold, two can sleep together and stay warm, but how can you keep warm by yourself? 12 Two people can resist an attack that would defeat one person alone. A rope made of three cords is hard to break. Ecclesiastes 4:9-12 (TEV)
11 May our God and Father himself and our Lord Jesus prepare the way for us to come to you! 12 May the Lord make your love for one another and for all people grow more and more and become as great as our love for you. 13 In this way he will strengthen you, and you will be perfect and holy in the presence of our God and Father when our Lord Jesus comes with all who belong to him. 1 Thessalonians 3:11-13 (TEV)
26 “The Helper will come—the Spirit, who reveals the truth about God and who comes from the Father. I will send him to you from the Father, and he will speak about me. John 15:26 (TEV)
21 So it is with all idolatry. Idolatry does not consist merely of erecting an image and praying to it. It is primarily in the heart, which pursues other things and seeks help and consolation from creatures, saints, or devils. It neither cares for God nor expects good things from him sufficiently to trust that he wants to help, nor does it believe that whatever good it receives comes from God.
Luther’s words about the first commandment are always convicting to me at first. For it is too simple to set up an idol. We can make them out of anything, ranging from money and worldly success to our dreams, to our honor.
Whatever we place our hope in, whatever we pursue as if attaining it will give us peace, that becomes our idol.
Even if it was something that was given to us by God for good. An example of this is the Bronze Serpent, a foreshadow of Christ, that brought healing to a situation, that people later worshipped. The same for Gideon’s ephod, and later relics and holy objects. These should have pointed us to God, but sometimes we forget the reality of God and focus on something that should remind us of Him. We can even do this with our church life, where we only want certain hymns or songs, or we want a certain kind of sermon or lesson. Because that is what gives us comfort.
Solomon’s words out of Ecclesiastes should help here, especially when taken along with Jesus’s promise of the Holy Spirit. Two are better than one, and when the One we are tied to is the Holy Spirit, the Comforter, it is His immeasurable strength that holds us as one. The same with the promise in Thessalonians, the work God does in our lives to strengthen us.
This gets to the heart of faith, why it is more than simply knowing the facts. Faith isn’t depending on the facts, it depends on the God who draws us into Himself. Who cleanses us from all our idols (see Ezekiel 36:25).
Even in this sin of idolatry, it is too hard for us to overcome ourselves. Again, even as we struggle with this, God is at work, healing us, cleansing us, comforting us. He is incredible that way and has shown His continual patience, patience that wisely tempers His jealousy. Yes, God is jealous when you turn away from Him to idols of your own making!
We need to learn to trust and depend upon Him, We need to realize that He cares, that He wants to help, that even the things we don’t like that He provides, (like broccoli or the situations that cause growth!)
He is good, He loves you, more than you know, and the only way to grow is to experience that love.
So I pray you do this week… and that we all can learn to rejoice as idols are removed….
The Lord is with you! Rejoice!
What things do you struggle to trust God with? What things might offer more comfort than God at first glance?
as always, comments and discussions gladly accepted
The Large Catechism of Martin Luther: FIrst Part, The First CommandmentTappert, T. G. (Ed.). (1959). The Book of Concord the confessions of the Evangelical Lutheran Church. (p. 367). Philadelphia: Mühlenberg Press.
Devotional 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.
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.
Discussion Thought fo the Day:
2 But friends, that’s exactly who we are: children of God. And that’s only the beginning. Who knows how we’ll end up! What we know is that when Christ is openly revealed, we’ll see him—and in seeing him, become like him. 3 All of us who look forward to his Coming stay ready, with the glistening purity of Jesus’ life as a model for our own.
1 John 3:2-3 (MSG)
2 Beloved, we are God’s children now, and what we will be has not yet appeared; but we know that when he appears we shall be like him because we shall see him as he is. 3 And everyone who thus hopes in him purifies himself as he is pure. 1 John 3:2-3 (ESV)
413 Each person in his own situation should lead a pure life, courageously lived. We have to learn to say No for the sake of that great Love, Love with a capital letter.
We hear the word used in church, or maybe we read it in scripture, We bypass it quickly, either not thinking about it or dismissing it as a foreign concept.
Pressed on the issue, we will probably define purity in a way that appeases our nature. We will dismiss it as impossible, we will justify our impurity by indicating such purity doesn’t save us, that the law of Moses which defined purity isn’t binding on us any longer. We will hide our desire for impurity behind theology, behind reason, behind whatever we think will cover it up. And we will accuse those who encourage/demand purity it of being pietistic and hypocritical. ( This is not to say that some who encourage and demand purity are pietistic and hypocritical, but we apply the mocking labels far too liberally!)
So let’s talk about it. is there a sense of purity that is neither hypocritical, but that we should strive to be? Is it possible to be concerned with our own state without submitting to a legalistic system of demands?
Of course! It is possible!
The problem is that our idea of purity is too narrow, it is focused on behaviors, what we do or do not do, and maybe what we say or don’t say, rather than on who we are.
Purity in Greek is related to the idea of holiness, of being set apart to a relationship with God. It is about who we are in God’s sight, in His eyes. It means living a life that is devoted to Him, that we strive to please the Lord who loves us, who is compassionate toward us, that is merciful.
Which means we strive to live life as He would desire. That when we fail and think, say or do things that are not pure, we immediately we turn to Him and let Him cleanse us once again. For God purifies us, He refines us. Purity is about being grieved by our sin enough that we desire that he care for us, about hearing His voice comforting us with the words of forgiveness, and encouraging us not to sin anymore.
Is this easy? No, it is much harder to seek forgiveness than it is to enjoy for a moment the sin. But it is needed.
This is what life really is, living in His presence, not anxious or afraid, but full of joy. It is about dwelling in peace, assured that our purity isn’t fake – because He is the one who is our model, and who makes us pure and holy.
Let’s not waste His work, let’s not run or hide from it,, but rejoice as His glistening purity becomes ours, as we dwell in Him.
Escriva, Josemaria. The Forge (Kindle Locations 1597-1598). Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition.
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.
Devotional Thought of the Day:
Spiritual life is—and I repeat this again and again, on purpose—a constant beginning and beginning again. Beginning again? Yes! Every time you make an act of contrition—and we should make many every day—you begin again, because you offer a new love to God. (1)
What? You thought a blog with this title was going to be about politics? Nope – something far more important.
I thought about “translating” St Josemarie’s statement into “lutheran”, but the basic concept is solid, and I will mention the change in a moment.
It is to easy to look at life as if one action, one slip up, one sin can break us. It doesn’t matter if that sin is ours, or if that sin is one committed against us. If we trust’s Christ’s promise, it is not even the 1001 first sin that becomes the “straw that breaks the camels back. For there is no such thing. In 1 John 1, God promises, “ On the other hand, if we admit our sins—make a clean breast of them—he won’t let us down; he’ll be true to himself. He’ll forgive our sins and purge us of all wrongdoing. “1 John 1:9 (MSG) That promise is good, and true.
And here is where I differ slightly with St. Josemarie. Here is the one I remember from growing up:
O my God, I am heartily sorry for having offended you, and I detest all my sins, because of Your just punishments, but most of all because they offend You, my God, who are all-good and deserving of all my love. I firmly resolve, with the help of Your grace, to sin no more and to avoid the near occasion of sin.
The change in the modern Act of Contrition, with the insertion of “do penance” is the only real issue I have. For absolution is promised with confession, and is already promised and delivered in baptism. So I’ll stick with the old AoC. Or more simply – and perhaps with a sense of great need… cry Lord Have Mercy! ANd know with absolute assurance… He has!
We are free – we have a new beginning.
Let us celebrate the mercy of the Lord!
(1)Escriva, Josemaria (2011-01-31). The Forge (Kindle Locations 1503-1506). Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition.
Devotional/Discussion Thought of the day:
I write a lot about broken people – and even about broken churches. One of the reasons is there seems to be an endless supply of them. And every time I think I am completely healed, or those I minister to are, life comes along and seems to break us again. It really doesn’t, but boy does the agony, and the pain, feel like we are broken again.
St. Paul reminds us what it is like to be broken, even as he reminds us of our being made whole….
3 There was a time when we too were ignorant, disobedient and misled and enslaved by different passions and dissipations; we lived then in wickedness and malice, hating each other and hateful ourselves. 4 But when the kindness and love of God our Saviour for humanity were revealed, 5 it was not because of any upright actions we had done ourselves; it was for no reason except his own faithful love that he saved us, by means of the cleansing water of rebirth and renewal in the Holy Spirit 6 which he has so generously poured over us through Jesus Christ our Saviour; 7 so that, justified by his grace, we should become heirs in hope of eternal life. 8 This is doctrine that you can rely on. I want you to be quite uncompromising in teaching all this, so that those who now believe in God may keep their minds constantly occupied in doing good works. All this is good, and useful for everybody.
Titus 3:3-8 (NJB)
Obviously the way we were, – very broken- you can’t but read that and realize that Paul is describing people traumatized and torn by sin. As much their own sin ( which we don’t like to face at all ) and the sins of those around us, and even the sins of those who went before us. To be blunt – life being broken sucks!
Yet, God doesn’t – He won’t leave us there. I absolutely love the description of baptism in this and those two words:
Rebirth – being born again of water and of spirit – taking what is dead, and giving it new life.
Renewal/Restoraton – to make brand new! (and it seems like He has to do this daily – sometimes hourly)
It changes everything – our brokenness – no longer is there – though it may appear that way, though it may cause us to struggle,. That is why Paul urges us to keep teaching this – without any compromise – because our hearts need to trust in God’s doing this, more than in the circumstances in which we find ourselves! We are healed – by His stripes ( see Isaiah 53) God hasn’t abandoned us, He has rescued us and we can and do praise Him as the One in Psalm 22 does, as we realize we are not abandoned – we are His!
Living in view of that is different than living broken as well…. for our thoughts become less and less about ourselves – and more about others who are broken. We begin to do good works because He is working in us. This is a promise long awaiting prior to Christ – God’s great plan – which so many testitfied to – but one of my favorite promises of it is found in Ezekiel:
36:25 I shall pour clean water over you and you will be cleansed; I shall cleanse you of all your filth and of all your foul idols. 26 I shall give you a new heart, and put a new spirit in you; I shall remove the heart of stone from your bodies and give you a heart of flesh instead. 27 I shall put my spirit in you, and make you keep my laws, and respect and practise my judgements.
Ezekiel 36:25-27 (NJB)
God has done amazing things to those He has cleansed – as He fulfills a promise to take our weary broken, anxiety laden hearts, and transforms them into His own image….
As we cry, “Lord, Have Mercy” may we trust that He has done what He said He would do! AMEN!