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Can We Lament? Will We Recognize its Cause?

Devotional Thought of the Day:

1  Our glittering gold has grown dull; the stones of the Temple lie scattered in the streets. 2  Zion’s young people were as precious to us as gold, but now they are treated like common clay pots. 3  Even a mother wolf will nurse her cubs, but my people are like ostriches, cruel to their young. 4  They let their babies die of hunger and thirst; children are begging for food that no one will give them. 5  People who once ate the finest foods die starving in the streets; those raised in luxury are pawing through garbage for food. 6  My people have been punished even more than the inhabitants of Sodom, which met a sudden downfall at the hands of God.
Lamentations 4:1-6 (TEV)

Our inner life should not be less important to us than outward performance, than sports, or technical ability. The “growth of the interior person” is deserving of our whole commitment: the world needs those who have become interiorly mature and rich.

There are a lot of people “remembering” today. A lot of people saying “never forget”.

But what have they remembered? The heroes, of whom we have so little information and background? Are they remembering the pain, the shock, the hurt, and dare I say the hatred towards those that look like, or sound like those who hijacked planes?

Or are they fondly looking back at 9/12 and the “revival” of patriotism that swept America?

As I came across these two readings this morning, I wondered the unthinkable. How many of those people in the twin towers walked with God that day? How many of them didn’t?

As I read Jeremiah’s lament, I wonder if we’ve lost the ability to lament of the present, and only remember the past? Do we see the trauma today, as we look out on the homeless, those who are abused, those who are traumatized by their health, their finances, the relationships that are shadows, dark shadows of what they should be, that they are in? Do we see those who might let their babies die. Do we see those who are suffering the punishment due for their sin… or sadly… ours?

We need to lament of the present! We need to be able to see the brokenness that surrounds us, and be there, bringing the comfort that only God can give them, but gives to them through His people.

Many of those situations don’t have easy fixes. But lament, in the presence of God, reminds us that He is with us, that has a plan, His presence brings a peace that is beyond understanding, which is why a Christian makes a difference when they bear Jesus into that room, into that situation. Into that moment of despair.

But to do that, we have to be connected to God ourselves. We have to have the awareness of His presence that comes from wrestling with our own lament, and being comforted by Him. It comes from spending time communing with God, and finding the rich strength that comes to us as we take and eat, and take and drink the Body and Blood of the Lord. As we cry out with our heart, and know His response. As we find rest at the end of our tears, knowing He is our fortress and sanctuary, that He is our “safe place”

God is with us, and will be.

Not just as we remember on 9/11, but as we struggle every day amid trauma and strife, amid anxiety and pain, for He has sent us into these places, to reflect His light in darkness.

Lord, help us see that in our lives which we need to lament. Help us be there for those who do not know they can, help us hold the hands, dry the tears, weeop and laugh. Lord, help us to realize your presence, and do those things, not for their own sake, or even ours, but to walk with you. In Jesus name, AMEN!

Joseph Ratzinger, Co-Workers of the Truth: Meditations for Every Day of the Year, ed. Irene Grassl, trans. Mary Frances McCarthy and Lothar Krauth (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1992), 292.

The Place Where God Put His Name Became our Home: A sermon at the closing of a church

The Place Where God Put His Name
      Became our Home

† I.H.S.†

May the grace of God our Father and our Lord Jesus Christ sustain you, as It has during His work here at St Paul’s for decades.  AMEN

Our Home

I would like to read one verse from our gospel reading from a different translation.

14  So the Word became human and made his home among us. He was full of unfailing love and faithfulness. And we have seen his glory, the glory of the Father’s one and only Son. John 1:14 (NLT2)

The New Living Translation uses the word home instead of “dwelt”, and I think the difference is important.  The word in Greek refers to setting up a residence in a community, it talks of establishing more than a house, it speaks of a home. It was used in the Greek Old Testament for the tabernacle, the place where God dwelt in the midst of His people.

More importantly, I believe it is why we are here today, and it is why this day is so hard.

You see, we call places like St. Paul’s Lutheran church our “church home” for a reason.  This is the place were people have come home to God for decades, for generations. It was here we learned to feel at home in the presence of God, it is here where we came to be baptized, to celebrate Christmas and Easter and Pentecost, it is from this place we buried those who left this church home for their heavenly home.

For here God made us feel at home with Him.

You may not have realized why this place became your church home, we may have never reflected upon it.  But it was a church home, and therefore leaving it is a moment of sadness, a moment of sorrow, a moment where we question what happened, what went wrong, why did this happen.

And today, as we move on from this home, we need to realize why this place was our home, where God made His home among His people.

The Place where God Has Put His name

In our Old Testament reading, we see Solomon addressing God at the dedication of the temple in Jerusalem. In that prayer, even as they dedicate this building, Solomon’s prayer includes the concept that God can’t live on earth.  Yet the temple was the place where he put His name, and people could pray, and know they could be at home with God,

Hear the words again,

 May you hear the humble and earnest requests from me and your people Israel when we pray toward this place. Yes, hear us from heaven where you live, and when you hear, forgive. 

This place where God put His name served the same purpose.  This is the place where God has made you at home in His presence.  He cleansed you, he brought healing to your souls, He forgave your sin and fed you the Body and Blood of Jesus Christ.

and then, for others, this place was where they found him, even as aliens found God at the temple…again from the Old Testament reading,

41  “In the future, foreigners who do not belong to your people Israel will hear of you. They will come from distant lands because of your name, 42  for they will hear of your great name and your strong hand and your powerful arm. And when they pray toward this Temple, 43  then hear from heaven where you live, and grant what they ask of you. In this way, all the people of the earth will come to know and fear you, just as your own people Israel do.1 Kings 8:41-43 (NLT2)

Over the years, the numbers of people baptized in this place is numerous, the number of people who discovered God because their prayers were answered has been significant.  That is why we are here today, to celebrate how God’s mercy has been poured out in this place.

To realize that it is a special place, that it has been a church home, a place where God has put His name.

It is in that name we find out the hope Paul worked diligently, with all he had to preach and teach.  The riches of the mystery of Christ in you! And in the end, Paul’s statement to another church will ring true about this church home, numerous people will be presented mature in Christ Jesus, because of the ministry that has happened here.

The Work Done Here, Has Honored His Name

The apostle Paul once said that the people he wrote to were the evidence of God’s work through Paul.  In the same way, those who came to faith here, and those people whose faith was sustained here throughout the years are proof that this place has been home to God and man, communing together. It is the place where He put His name,

In a couple of hours, after we commune together, after we share in the stories of God’s work in this place, the doors will close, the lights will be turn off, and we will move on.  It may take a while to get used to the new place where God draws you to Himself, these temporary homes on our pilgrimage to our eternal home with Him.

There will be some dissonance, just as when the red hymnal was changed out for the blue, and then the burgundy.  Or when the King James gave way to the RSV, then the NIV, then the ESV or NLT.  Yet the main thing does not change.  The main thing is this: God will continue to draw you to a place where His people can realize the gifts of grace, the forgiveness of sins that testifies that we are safe and at home in Christ.  And that others will pray there and find themselves at home as well.

And until we are all before the throne in heaven, we find ourselves drawn to where God has put His name, that we can come and pray and be forgiven, where unbelievers can pray and have God answer. In such places, we will know God’s peace, a peace beyond all understanding, For Christ will guard you there, keeping your hearts and minds safe in these earthly homes.
AMEN!

A Lesson We Need to Learn. Church is not “Respectable”

closed eyed man holding his face using both of his hands

Photo by Ric Rodrigues on Pexels.com

The devotional thought of the day:

12 Jesus heard them and answered, “People who are well do not need a doctor, but only those who are sick. 13† Go and find out what is meant by the scripture that says: ‘It is kindness that I want, not animal sacrifices.’ I have not come to call respectable people, but outcasts.”  Matt 9:12-13 Good News Translation (TEV)

Neither illumination nor contemplation but rather spiritual attack (tentatio) concluded Luther’s engagement with scripture. For him, when the Holy Spirit breaks our reason and reveals to us the true intention of God’s word, we are not drawn into some sort of heavenly realm or closer contact to the divine by our effort. Instead, all hell breaks loose. The flesh, the world, the devil and any other anti-spiritual power attempt to wrest from the believer the comfort of God’s unconditional grace and mercy. No wonder the psalmist cried out for deliverance from his enemies in Psalm 119!

One of the most serious temptations that lead us to break our contact with the Lord is the feeling of defeat. Facing a combative faith by definition, the enemy under the disguise of an angel of light will sow the seeds of pessimism. No one can take up any fight if, from the outset, one does not fully trust in winning. Those who begin without trust have already lost half the battle.

People are meant to live in an ongoing conversation with God, speaking and being spoken to by him. God’s visits to Adam and Eve in the garden, Enoch’s walks with God, and the face-to-face conversations between Moses and Jehovah are all commonly regarded as highly exceptional moments in the religious history of humankind.
Aside from their obviously unique historical role, however, these moments are not meant to be exceptional at all. Rather they are examples of the normal human life God intended for us: God’s indwelling his people through personal presence and fellowship.

When 3 of my devotional readings go in a certain direction, it is not unusual.  When four do, when I see how they resonate,  the lesson just is about to burst forth, not from the readings, but through experience. So it is today;

I guess I will start with Luther’s thoughts, about this idea that the way we learn about God, is found in its last step in a fight, in the tension and battle that comes as all hell breaks loose, and Satan tries to wrest from us the comfort of the Holy Spirit, the comfort that is found in His cHesed, that incredible combination of love and mercy and peace that comprise what we call grace.

The fight is echoed in the words of Pope Francis, as we deal with an unnatural pessimism, a moment of despair and depression that is not like normal depression but is contrary to it.  As Satan tries to convince us that God wouldn’t care about us, that God sees us as riff-raff, as not worth His time or interest.  We know this is not true, yet, it is so hard to shut out the voice of the ones who are masquerading as messengers of God.

It is hard because we struggle to see ourselves as God does, as the beautiful, pure, bride, set apart as the bride of Christ, as one who deserves the respect and admiration of God.  Instead, we see ourselves as those who are broken, not worthy of a glance, nothing close to deserving respect.

Yet we often treat the church as if it is the place we have to demonstrate how respectable we are.  We might pretend, dressing us, smiling and saying we are okay when people ask, smiling and greeting each other as if every day was a party.  When what we really feel like is staying home, hiding under the blankets and ignoring the world.

I think this is enhanced by how we see what some call the heroes of faith, the incredible men and women we see described in the Bible. Except we forget that Moses was running from Egypt, a prince hiding out with sheep in the wilderness.  That Abraham was an exile looking for his home and future as well, that David wasn’t the hero, but the man broken by his sin, and then by the sins of his children.

As shattered as we are, yet…

Willard reminds us that they are examples of a normal human life and that God was present, and lived with them.   That God walked with them in their brokenness, even as He walks with us.   They are not exceptional, their walking with God, finding hope there, is our example, for we can as well.

After all, Jesus didn’t come to snob around with the perfect and respectful.  He came to draw outcasts, broken folk, exiles and those who struggle to get out of bed every morning.  Because He loves us…..

And Satan will unleash all of hell to stop us from experiencing this, and in that tension, we find God’s comfort, that He is our refuge, our sanctuary, and our hope.

We are His people, He is our God… and He is calling us to His side, so He can comfort and heal us, the children He loves.

Let us pray,  Heavenly Father, in the midst of trials, in the midst of brokenness, and when it seems all hell is breaking loose.  Help us to see Your glory, revealed in Your love and your comfort.  AMEN!

Wengert, T. J. (2007). Preface. In P. D. W. Krey, B. McGinn, & P. D. S. Krey (Eds.), P. D. S. Krey & P. D. W. Krey (Trans.), Luther’s Spirituality (p. xiv). New York; Mahwah, NJ: Paulist Press.
Pope Francis. (2013). A Year with Pope Francis: Daily Reflections from His Writings. (A. Rossa, Ed.) (p. 352). New York; Mahwah, NJ; Toronto, ON: Paulist Press; Novalis.

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

Ministering to others will always include suffering, but here is the secret to surviving it.

54e14-jesus2bpraying

God, who am I?

Devotional Thought of the Day:
15  Be happy with those who are happy, weep with those who weep. 16  Have the same concern for everyone. Do not be proud, but accept humble duties. Do not think of yourselves as wise. Romans 12:15-16 (TEV)

1  Keep on loving one another as Christians.2  Remember to welcome strangers in your homes. There were some who did that and welcomed angels without knowing it. 3  Remember those who are in prison, as though you were in prison with them. Remember those who are suffering, as though you were suffering as they are. Hebrews 13:1-3 (TEV)

25  And so there is no division in the body, but all its different parts have the same concern for one another. 26  If one part of the body suffers, all the other parts suffer with it; if one part is praised, all the other parts share its happiness. 1 Corinthians 12:25-26 (TEV)

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

Life is pain, Highness.  Anyone who tells you differently is selling something.  William Goldman from the Princess Bride

Though life isn’t always pain, (it just seems like it some years!), There is enough of it to go around.

Since ministry is about meeting people where they are at and revealing to them the love and mercy and work of Christ in their lives, it must also be true that “ministry is pain, and anyone who is telling you different, is selling you something!”

As we look at the quotes from the Apostle Paul, there is a simple acknowledgment of this fact.  We share in the suffering, we share in the tears and the pain of those who are enduring hard times.

There is no avoiding that truth.  If your church, your Bible Study and the people in them aren’t experiencing anxiety, pain, concern, it is probable that they are, you just don’t see it.  It is possible that everything is awesome but more likely, people are afraid to open up to share what they are struggling with in life.

So, given that we will encounter people who suffer, who we will share the tears and the pain with, the question then becomes, how do we survive this, especially when there are many people struggling, many tears to share, many people to care for in our circles?  How do we share in the pain, without it having a long-term effect on us mentally, physically and spiritually?

On a tangent, modern psychology is now recognizing such stress on the life of caregivers (counselors, pastors, teachers) and first responders, as they develop information on “Second Hand Shock Syndrome” a form of PTSD that constant exposure to others’ stresses can cause.   Take it from me, I have learned to be aware of its effects, as they impact others around me when I am dealing with too much.

My answer may seem too simple, not scientific enough, and not always possible.

It is the answer that Pope Francis notes in the quote above.  It is the personal encounter with Christ that can alleviate the oppressive discouragement,  It is only encountering Jesus, regularly and intimately that enables us to continue to be tender and caring with those who are weeping, with those who are broken.

We find our hope and theirs, as Christ is healing our brokenness, as He is wiping away our tears, as the Holy Spirit comforts us with a peace that goes beyond all logic.  But that only comes in those moments where we realize His presence, where we just are still and know He is God, that He is our God.

Such as at the altar, when we receive His Body and Blood.  Such as in our daily time where we pray, and read, and simply adore the Lord who has given us life. SUch as the time when we hold each others hand, and silently pray as we weep, and then experience His peace.

Are we still going to weep?  Yes.

Are we still going to feel helpless and broken?  Yes, absolutely.

Are we going to endure, sure of the ministry that is God’s, that He shares with us, that will bring comfort and peace to those we serve?  Yes, absolutely.

God is with you, know that dwell on that, and the tears can flow, and the weeping can occur, and you will be amazed at what he does thru… and in you.

Godspeed, and God’s peace….

Heavenly Father, help us in our brokenness to rely on the Spirit’s comfort, and help us to see that comfort shared with those who are weeping… in Jesus name, we pray, AMEN!

 
Pope Francis. (2013). A Year with Pope Francis: Daily Reflections from His Writings. (A. Rossa, Ed.) (p. 244). New York; Mahwah, NJ; Toronto, ON: Paulist

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.

I Want to Run Away… (From God!)

concordia lutheran button only logo (1)devotional thought for these traumatic times

7  LORD, you have deceived me, and I was deceived. You are stronger than I am, and you have overpowered me. Everyone makes fun of me; they laugh at me all day long. 8  Whenever I speak, I have to cry out and shout, “Violence! Destruction!” LORD, I am ridiculed and scorned all the time because I proclaim your message. 9  But when I say, “I will forget the LORD and no longer speak in his name,” then your message is like a fire burning deep within me. I try my best to hold it in, but can no longer keep it back. Jeremiah 20:7-9 (TEV)

22  Cast your cares on the LORD and he will sustain you; he will never let the righteous fall. Psalm 55:22 (NIV)

214      Trust fully in God and have a greater desire each day never to run away from him.

There are days I want to run away from God.  I have to be honest, there are days I just don’t get it, days that life hurts so much I wish I had the speed and the endurance to run from Him.  When what happens in life doesn’t make sense, and there is really no one to blame….

but Him.

I think Jeremiah had days like that, and probably King David (who wrote Psalm 139 in a deal of pain as well) did.  Not everyone is as strong as St. Paul seemed to be.

Today is one of those days, and I expect I will feel the same way Monday evening… and for many to come.  I know quite a few people are reacting the same way, which is why I dare write this, just as Jeremiah dared to write that God deceived him, tricked him, and it hurt because life just isn’t supposed to be like this.

Grief sucks, there is no doubt about it.

A man well acquainted with it, St. Josemaria, tells me not to run (convenient that was in my devotions this morning… )  He tells me not to desire to run,  Jeremiah even says that if I do, God’s word, His message, the gospel, will burn a hole in me, or at least that’s what Jeremiah thought. I suppose we could even bring Jonah and Job into this, for they would say the same thing.

God will sustain us, He will help us cope with the burdens, the pain, the hurt…

And we need Him too.

The Lord is with us!

Lord, Have mercy on us!

These aren’t empty words, they are worth more to me than all the other words I type….

You need to hear them, my friends so need to hear them… I need to hear them…

So I will stay, and let them burn themselves into my heart, and soul, rather than my stomach…repeated often…

and praying for the strength to trust Him for them.  Which He will provide as well.

God’s peace!

concordia lutheran button only logo (1)

Escriva, Josemaria. The Forge (Kindle Locations 932-934). Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition.

With These Words… A Sermon on 1 Thesalonians 4

church at communion 2With These Words…

1 Thes. 4:13-16

 I. H. S.

 May the word of God, which reveals to you the grace of God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ, so comfort you that you can remember His plan for you, to spend eternity in His glory!

 What good did their words do?

In the aftermath of last Sunday’s shooting in a church in Texas, a very odd discussion broke out on social media.

The discussion concerned this question, “was about whether God was listening to the prayers of the people in the church that was shot up.”

It started by a reaction to all the politicians and others who said things like, “our hearts and prayers are with the people of Texas.”  To which many people asked, well what good did their prayer do them in the first place.

And then the war of words ensued…

Rather than face the actual issue, death, tragic, traumatic death, Christians and non-Christians alike were attacking and counter-attacking each other about whether the words of the people’s prayers that day protected them from a madman’s rampage.

We need words to make a difference in times like these, but it is not the words of those praying that will make the difference, it is the words of the of the Lord they pray to, the words of the promise He has made us, and the words, like in the epistle today, that reveal His promise to us.

Isn’t grieving…grieving?

When the apostle Paul talks of grief, he notes the following,
13 And now, dear brothers and sisters, we want you to know what will happen to the believers who have died so you will not grieve like people who have no hope.

I’ve heard over the years sincere people telling others not to grieve, usually, with something like, don’t grieve, you will see them again!  I even once heard some explaining patiently that grieving is evidence of a severe lack of faith.

That is so much rubbish! That is not what Paul is saying here, he is simply saying the grief is different for those who know God.  For them, it is a different kind of grief than the grief of those who don’t have hope.

Literally, it is those without something to hold on to, something to that sustains us and keeps us afloat. Those without God don’t have promises to hold onto, they don’t have the promises we are given in our baptism, the promises we remember if and when we make the sign of the cross.

Here is how that promise is described in scripture,

4  But—“When God our Savior revealed his kindness and love, 5  he saved us, not because of the righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy. He washed away our sins, giving us a new birth and new life through the Holy Spirit. 6  He generously poured out the Spirit upon us through Jesus Christ our Savior. 7  Because of his grace, he declared us righteous and gave us confidence that we will inherit eternal life.” Titus 3:4-7 (NLT)

Look at the promises here,

God washed away our sin,

We are born again and given a new life through the Holy Spirit

That Spirit is poured out on us in our baptism,

We are declared righteous and holy,

and we are, as we confessed in our creed, given confidence, we believe in the resurrection of the body and life everlasting!

Our grief is real, it may be felt more powerfully, it may last longer, and yet, we have something to hold onto, the hope we have in God.

This isn’t a theological epistle,

Which is the point of this letter from Paul, and the description of Jesus second advent, His second coming. This letter of Thessalonians isn’t about an end times calendar of events. it is not a theological calendar.

It’s to remind us that before we see Jesus return if we are around at the time, those who died, those who are his will have risen from the dead.  They will see Him, We won’t meet Him before they have joined Him. That is why in the liturgy we see the Sanctus with angels and archangels and all the host of heaven.  It’s not just about doctrine, is about knowing God’s plan, and being encouraged by it.

Encouraged you say?  But we are grieving!

But God’s encouragement is not just a friendly pat on the back, like a coach sending you back into play after an injury.  Nor is that the kind of encouragement that scripture talks about His people giving each other.

Godly, Biblical encouragement is the kind of thing where we weep and laugh together, where we share each other’s pain, just as Christ shares our pain.  The word is the verb form of the word to describe the Holy Spirit, the Paraclete, the One who comes alongside. lifts us up and carries you.

That’s what the word paraclete means – to call alongside to comfort, to encourage, to lift up and help carry.

And that is what God does. every day for us.

Through His word, through the sacraments, through each other, He makes Himself known, and the presence of the Holy Spirit comforts us.

As does the hope, no, the knowledge that eternity is ours, with God,  Dwelling in and sharing in His glory, with all those who trust in Him.

It is for this reason Jesus came, to ensure our sin would never stop us from that eternity, to provide the Holy Spirit to minister to us, and carry us, to ensure us of all the promises of God, so that even now, we can live life in expectation of eternity, and thereby dwell in peace.

God’s peace, which passes all understanding – the peace in which Jesus keeps us, our hearts and minds!  AMEN!

The Life of a Saint is Never Perfect, Which is Why They Are Holy

St francis at the crossDevotional Thought for our days:
7  But we hold this treasure in pots of earthenware, so that the immensity of the power is God’s and not our own. 8  We are subjected to every kind of hardship, but never distressed; we see no way out but we never despair; 9  we are pursued but never cut off; knocked down, but still have some life in us; 10  always we carry with us in our body the death of Jesus so that the life of Jesus, too, may be visible in our body. 11  Indeed, while we are still alive, we are continually being handed over to death, for the sake of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus, too, may be visible in our mortal flesh. 12  In us, then, death is at work; in you, life. 13  But as we have the same spirit of faith as is described in scripture—I believed and therefore I spoke—we, too, believe and therefore we, too, speak, 14  realising that he who raised up the Lord Jesus will raise us up with Jesus in our turn, and bring us to himself—and you as well. 15  You see, everything is for your benefit, so that as grace spreads, so, to the glory of God, thanksgiving may also overflow among more and more people. 2 Corinthians 4:7-15 (NJB)

929         Don’t forget that we will be more convincing the more convinced we are.

As you look at paintings of saints, some are portrayed in very peaceful serene moments, a soft glow seems to be about them, even without the golden halos  There are others that show them in the depth of darkness, fully engulfed in pain, fully engulfed in a battle against Satan and sin and despair.  

I find great comfort in the latter type of paintings, for I know far more people engulfed in a similar battle, who benefit from knowing they aren’t the first to do battle with temptation, sin, doubt, resentment, guilt, and all the lies of Satan.  For when we look at Francis or St John of the Cross or Luther or Walther or Mother Theresa battling that which oppressed them, we realize there must be hope, for we know how the story of these holy men and women ring true in the moment.

Paul is correct, in these lives lived in the valley of the shadow of death, we don’t just see the brokenness, we see the Holy Spirit comforting and sustaining them, as the victory of Christ’s death on the cross becomes more and more real.

For united to that death, we find life. 

United to His suffering, we find peace.  

Yesterday I had the responsibility of sharing God’s love with a family, a neighborhood of people who were devasted by the death of a young man.  A man so devastated by the pains of life that it overwhelmed him and he thought peace could only be found in the arms of death.

The confidence to speak in that situation comes not from theology books, or the education I have received, but from the darkness, I’ve seen Christ deliver so many people through over the years, from the darkness I have needed to be rescued from as well.  St Josemaria is so insightful in his words, I can convince people of God’s love, because i have been convinced as well.

One of the 80+-year-old ladies is responsible for our church mission statement.  She said one morning in Sunday school that Concordia is the place where people find healing in Christ, while helping others heal.

It is an absolutely beautiful, brilliant and true statement about our church.  It may not be fancy or measurable, it does not meet the standards of the guru’s who teach church leadership.  It doesn’t hold out a goal for some future time where we will have a perfect, thriving, idyllic large church.

Chruch isn’t some kind of utopia on earth.  It is a place for the broken, for the different, for those struggling with life, with shame and guilt, with resentment and hatred.  It is where we find healing and hope amid our brokenness, amid the tears and the pain to deep for tears.

This is what the saints knew… this is why the paintings can show them in despair, and in glory, for both are true, in Christ.

And we are called saints just as those whose faith in God we admire!  For we, like those who walked before us, are those called out, drawn to Jesus, those made holy the Holy Spirit, whose healing is being accomplished, for it is God the Father’s will.

He has heard our cry for mercy, and has answered it.  May we always be convinced of this, even as we convince others of it.

AMEN!

Escriva, Josemaria. Furrow (Kindle Locations 3775-3776). Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition.

Imitate Jesus….at the cost of our idolatry

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The Good Shepherd, carrying His own.

Devotional Thought of the Day:
8  He was humble and walked the path of obedience all the way to death— his death on the cross.    Philippians 2:8 (TEV)

625    Your obedience is not worthy of the name unless you are ready to abandon your most flourishing work whenever someone with authority so commands.

5  Through Christ, God has given us the privilege and authority as apostles to tell Gentiles everywhere what God has done for them, so that they will believe and obey him, bringing glory to his name. 6  And you are included among those Gentiles who have been called to belong to Jesus Christ. Romans 1:5-6 (NLT)

If you want to grow as a Christian, one of the things you need to do is confront your idols.  To see them, confess them, and let God circumcise your heart and soul, removing those idols that would destroy you.

Two words can help in this examination.

Obedience

Submission

Even as you read those words, like me, something in your stomach reacted, or perhaps you became a little jittery, as defenses began to rise up.  I don’t want to submit to my boss, we see teens struggle to obey their parents, and you want to really have fun, bring up the idea of wives submitting to their husbands in a Bible Study!

Most Christians would nod appreciatively when we talk about imitating Christ. That we should have the heart for the lost, for those who are broken and destitute, We may think of them, and pray for them, and pretend we are like Christ.  We may give money to missions, and think we’ve done our part, that we’ve made our sacrifice.

But will we, as St Josemaria notes, abandon what is going well, what is flourishing, what seems to be blessed, to obey Jesus?

That’s another question entirely, and strikes to what obedience really is.

Will we embrace hardship, to love?  Will we give up that which we’ve invested our lives in because we’ve heard the voice of God, because we know this is what God has planned, because it is in accord with the heart of God, that has been revealed to us in scripture?

Would you leave your business, like Peter, Andrew, James and John did, with an unheard of catch of fish?  Or leave success as Matthew did, literally walking away with tables full of money?

That is obedience.  Jesus calls.

But please, understand me, this is not a blog to create guilt, but to help us learn to trust in God, to depend on Him, for that is the source of obedience.

Obedience is not blind, it is not mindless, to set aside our desires, it requires us to be in prayer, to examine our consciences and allow God to purify them.

It requires us to hear God.

Which is probably why the word in Greek for obey is – hyper-hear.

To listen and let it stick, to internalize what is heard.

TO hear the voice of God, and be so overwhelmed, we respond in love, in adoration.For we realize that nothing, no idol, no desire, no amount of success is worth the joy of being in His presence.

This is our life.  This life of walking with God, of hearing His voice, of knowing Him, and knowing His love for us.

AMEN!

Escriva, Josemaria. The Way (Kindle Locations 1477-1478). Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition.

A Man (or Woman) Has To Know Their Limitations…. (where Theology and Philosophy differ)

clydes-cross-2Devotional Thought fo the Day:

6 Jesus answered them, “How right Isaiah was when he prophesied about you! You are hypocrites, just as he wrote: ‘These people, says God, honour me with their words,
but their heart is really far away from me. 7 It is no use for them to worship me,
because they teach human rules as though they were God’s laws!’ 8 “You put aside God’s command and obey human teachings.”
9 And Jesus continued, “You have a clever way of rejecting God’s law in order to uphold your own teaching.  Mark 7:6-9 TEV

This, then, is God’s kingship—a love that is impregnable and an inventiveness that finds man by ways that are always new. For us, consequently, God’s kingship means that we must have an unshakeable confidence. For this is still true and is applicable to every single life: no one has reason to fear or to capitulate. God can always be found!

In philosophy we seek the things which are certain and distinguish them from the things which are uncertain. And the causes of certainty are universal experience, the principles, and demonstrations. But in the teaching of the church the cause of certainty is the revelation of God. And we must consider what meaning has been given by God to a subject.

There is a huge challenge for any pastor or teacher of scripture.  It doesn’t matter whether you are working with people seeking God, or those who have been in church leadership 40 years or more.  It doesn’t matter whether teaching you are teaching 3-year-olds, or graduate students.

You don’t have the authority to speak and teach where scripture is silent as if it was a true as where scripture does speak.  Nor do you have the authority to change what scripture says, just because you think it is no longer relevant.

There are a number of reasons, one being that we are too often too lazy to study all the scripture, and are reacting to one verse that we don’t particularly care for, or are reacting to someone’s interpretation, rather than working through it.

The primary reason is simpler; we aren’t to make ourselves God. We aren’t all-knowing, or all-powerful, and we are prone to interpret things through our own brokenness. We want to be certain of things, and there is much in life that we cannot be certain of because of our limitations.

We aren’t God.

And God, in His wisdom, has chose to reveal to us that which we really need.  Through both nature (general revelation) and through scripture (specific revelation).  Just like the scientist cannot deny the effect of gravity, neither can the philosopher deny the effect and the only cure for sin. Both may try to use it, circumvent it, delay its effects, but at the end of the day, and at the end of life, they cannot.

Or as my friend the cardiologist says, every time I make a break-thru and do something completely wondrous, I get a catch a common cold and remember I am not God. Each time I think I am a mature believer, I am reminded that maturity is not found in independence from God, but humble dependence.

This is hard because there are things we like and enjoy, and may even base our lives on, that are sinful.  There may be fears and pains we deal with, that affect our lives.   And we want to manipulate scripture and what we call our faith to deal with it.

Is it no wonder that David sings and prays this advice from God, “be still, and know that I am God!”?  Or Paul reminds himself continually that when he is weak, then he can see the power of God at work?

That is the blessing that Pope Benedict (Cardinal Ratzinger) points out in the quote in green.  Knowing our weakness, our limitations means that we can also know the comfort in Jesus being King.  For when we humbly walk with Him, we realize that the love He envelops us with is impregnable, that shows His wisdom in the way He becomes incarnate, not just in the womb of Mary, and in the manger, but in our lives.

Knowing God as He finds us, helps us “find” Him.  To find Him here, even as we struggle with not understanding His reasons, or His rules that protect us, or the blessing He pours out on those we struggle with in life.   It helps us run to Him, with less and less hesitation, asking to be cleansed of sin, that we may rejoice in His love, and the limitations He gives us, that we may realize He is, and loves, and draws us into His glorious joy.

So next time you think about placing your wisdom about God’s word, think again, and humbly walk with Him.  And then say a prayer that I may as well!

 

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.

Chemnitz, Martin, and Jacob A. O. Preus. Loci Theologici. electronic ed. St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1999. Print.

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