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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

photo(35)

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.

The Scientific Method, Agnosticism, and Finding Hope in Misery

Devotional/Discussion Thought of the Day:

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and God of all encouragement,* 4 who encourages us in our every affliction, so that we may be able to encourage those who are in any affliction with the encouragement with which we ourselves are encouraged by God.c 5 For as Christ’s sufferings overflow to us, so through Christ* does our encouragement also overflow. 6 If we are afflicted, it is for your encouragement and salvation; if we are encouraged, it is for your encouragement, which enables you to endure the same sufferings that we suffer. 7 Our hope for you is firm, for we know that as you share in the sufferings, you also share in the encouragement. 2 Cor. 1:3-7  NABRE

20 For however many are the promises of God, their Yes is in him; therefore, the Amen from us also goes through him to God for glory.l 21 *But the one who gives us security with you in Christ and who anointed us is God;m 22 he has also put his seal upon us and given the Spirit in our hearts as a first installment.1 Cor 1:20-21 NABRE

Indeed today’s progress in science and technology can foster a certain exclusive emphasis on observable data, and an agnosticism about everything else. For the methods of investigation which these sciences use can be wrongly considered as the supreme rule of seeking the whole truth. By virtue of their methods these sciences cannot penetrate to the intimate notion of things. Indeed the danger is present that man, confiding too much in the discoveries of today, may think that he is sufficient unto himself and no longer seek the higher things.  (1) 

When the holy apostle St. Paul wanted to console his Corinthians he began by saying, “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may also comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God” [II Cor. 1:3–4]. With these words he teaches us through his own example that the afflicted are to be comforted and that this comfort comes from God and not from men. St. Paul emphasizes this to avoid that false and pernicious comfort sought after and handed out by the world, the flesh, and also the devil. That [kind of comfort] slows down and stops all the benefits and the fruits that come to us from suffering and cross.

One of the cardiologists I had was a world class doctor.  Indeed, among his other patients were a former president and a king.  Though not a Christian, and perhaps only nominally religious, he used to tell me that God would keep him humble. God did this every time he accomplished something extraordinary by simply giving him a head cold. With such, he could not perform surgery, he wasn’t supposed to see patients in poor health and was rendered miserable physically, and because of his inability, miserable because he was useless.

I think the quote in blue helps us understand the problem.  The ability to observe suffering, to encounter that which makes one miserable is undisputed,  The ability of hat observation to do something about, something even as simple as providing comfort and relief is not always possible.

We can do so many things medically and scientifically, but not everything.  We count on our doctors, our pharmacies, science and sometimes the liquor store to provide the answers to every ailment, to every problem, to every struggle. They can’t, and what is worse if our hope has been placed solely in their provision, we’ve lost faith and trust in something higher.

We’ve become agnostic, and in doing so, we’ve lost the comfort and peace the Holy Spirit brings in those moments of horrid, miserable brokenness.

Luther points us back to scripture, to the fact that such comfort does come from God, that secure in HIs presence, we find the comfort when life seems to crush us.  I could have put 12 more quotes from 2 Corinthians, or tossed in Job and Ecclesiastes and Hosea, for that truth is throughout scripture.

Where man’s brilliance fails, God is there, providing comfort and peace. There is compassion, the mercy, the comfort, all that comes through the power of the Holy Spirit, who raised Christ from the dead and works within us.  (it is tempting to wax theologicial here) But the Holy Spirit, whose presence was a gift to us in our baptism, who gives us life, real life, and heals our broken hearts and souls, there is our hope, there is the guarantee that eternity will not be life as we know it.

As one who has had a share of physical pain and suffering, illness and disease, I share this as well, in Christ Jesus, you will find hope. Reminded of my physical brokenness with the very ticks of my heart (two artificial heart valves) and struggling with back pain, and worst of all, these stupid, miserable, nose reddening, sinus pounding allergies, I know this.

The Lord is with you (and with me – as my beloved congregation reminds me very often!)

Hearing that, I find the answer to my quest for mercy; I find the comfort and peace that the Spirit reveals that gives me hope, and I find the strength to share that hope with you.

Scientific method, Agnosticism, and Atheism will not answer the cry for mercy.

But when we cry, “Lord have Mercy!” God answers, for He is our beloved Father.

AMEN!

(1) catholic Church. “Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World: Gaudium Et Spes.” Vatican II Documents. Vatican City: Libreria Editrice Vaticana, 2011. Print.

Luther, Martin. Luther’s Works, Vol. 43: Devotional Writings II. Ed. Jaroslav Jan Pelikan, Hilton C. Oswald, and Helmut T. Lehmann. Vol. 43. Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1999. Print.

 

Peter’s (and our’s) unrealized betrayal… how could we neglect this blessing?

Devotional Thought of the Day:

 Then Jesus said to him, “Amen, I say to you, this very night before the cock crows twice you will deny me three times.” 31 But he vehemently replied, “Even though I should have to die with you, I will not deny you.” And they all spoke similarly.
The Agony in the Garden. 32 *Then they came to a place named Gethsemane,i and he said to his disciples, “Sit here while I pray.”j 33 He took with him Peter, James, and John, and began to be troubled and distressed. 34 Then he said to them, “My soul is sorrowful even to death. Remain here and keep watch.” 35 He advanced a little and fell to the ground and prayed that if it were possible the hour might pass by him; 36 he said, “Abba, Father,* all things are possible to you. Take this cup away from me, but not what I will but what you will.” 37 When he returned he found them asleep. He said to Peter, “Simon, are you asleep? Could you not keep watch for one hour? 38 *Watch and pray that you may not undergo the test.k The spirit is willing but the flesh is weak.” 39 Withdrawing again, he prayed, saying the same thing. 40 Then he returned once more and found them asleep, for they could not keep their eyes open and did not know what to answer him. 41 He returned a third time and said to them, “Are you still sleeping and taking your rest? It is enough. The hour has come. Behold, the Son of Man is to be handed over to sinners. 42 Get up, let us go. See, my betrayer is at hand.”   Mark 14:30-42  NABRE 

They have confused renewal with comfort. To give a small but concrete example: a religious reported to me that the downfall of his monastery began very concretely with the declaration that it was “no longer practicable” for the religious to rise during the night to recite the nocturnal office. But that was not the end of the matter. The religious replaced this uncontested but significant “sacrifice” by staying up late at night to watch television.  (1)

As I read Pope Benedict’s words this morning, they stung.

Have I done so? Have I justified my own comfort, my own desires, in such a way that I claim it is really about renewal and revitalizing my dependence upon God, and how that is practiced in life?

I had already realized something that I hadn’t seen before. Peter had already denied Jesus three times, prior to being questioned.  He denied him in the garden, as his need for comfort outweighed his desire to have fellowship with God.

I’ve been there recently (Thursday and Friday), with a schedule so overwhelmed I haven’t taken the time I usually spend with God, praying, reading, meditating and journaling/blogging  (my blog is just my journal, the coalescing of my thoughts, reading and a lesson).  I said Thursday I would catch up with it later, but by the end fo the day, I passed it on to Friday and Friday to this morning.

Oddly enough, a friend had shared with me on Wednesday how devastating a similar experience had been. I would say I caught it before it was too late, but it was too late, when I sought my own physical comfort before quenching a physical thirst. Denying the time I desperately need with God.  I missed out, and while God still used me, and I still saw His glory in the lives of those around me, I also experienced some spiritual emptiness, and my experience with God’s glory became more like an outsider looking in, than as a participant, one invited to share in it.

It is all too easy to fall asleep in the garden, to adjust our time to provide enough “rest and relaxation.” (or to become like Martha and avoid that time because of our “work”)   To view our time in prayer and meditation on God’s love as a duty, and not the incredible holy blessing it is. For to take that time – to set it apart to pour out our hearts, and to listen to Christ’s heart poured out for us, that is a blessing, a foretaste of heaven, a time to realize His presence; to experience the peace that is beyond understanding.

To let Him guard and heal our hearts and minds.

Lord, Have mercy on us, and don’t let us fall asleep on you, or seek our comfort more than your face.  Spirit, help us, lift us to see the blessings, to experience the glorious presence of God in our lives, and see Your work in Your Church.  AMEN!

(1)  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.

When Christians Grieve…. An Honest Conversation:

Devotional Thought of the Day:

8  Three times I prayed to the Lord about this and asked him to take it away. 9  But his answer was: “My grace is all you need, for my power is greatest when you are weak.” I am most happy, then, to be proud of my weaknesses, in order to feel the protection of Christ’s power over me. 10  I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and difficulties for Christ’s sake. For when I am weak, then I am strong.
2 Corinthians 12:8-10 (TEV)

I knew what I was keeping down in my heart. And being very much displeased that these human things had such power over me, which in the due order and appointment of our natural condition must needs come to pass, with a new grief I grieved for my grief, and was thus worn by a double sorrow.

When I came across these words of Augustine this morning, they resonated deeply within me.  He is right, I am so weakened by grief, that even this weakness causes me to grieve.

I’ve laid to many to rest recently; I am watching friends bury those they love, their dads, their husbands, their siblings, and even their children.  Funerals with hundreds in attendance, a graveside with 7.

I grieve because I grieve, that my faith seems so weak in the face of death.  As I attempt to move past this grief, I find myself unable to do so.  Even as I see those I am ministering to, those who I try to point to the hope that is in Christ, hope I firmly hold onto because I know His love,the tears still flow, the heartache still pounds.

Why can’t I move from the trauma to the healing?  Why can’t I move from the sorrow to the joy?   Why can’t I move from the frustration that comes in realizing that life is all too short, to the confidence I should have, because I am a believer?  After all, I am a pastor, I should have enough faith, I should realize the truth, I should be able to shut out this sorrow, this grief?

Or should I?

I think Paul the apostle would say no, that it is in the midst of the trauma we find the Spirit’s comfort, where we find the healing that God has promised there will be a day when death loses its sting.  It is in the midst of the frustration that I stop trying to be strong, well aware that I cannot be. It is in the middle of the sorrow that I do find the peace, and yes the joy that comes from realizing that Jesus is here, sharing that grief, sharing that sorrow.

That death was defeated, not by avoiding it, rather it is dying that He destroyed death, and we now find life in Him.

I will admit this, in this last month and a half, when I have over and over been swamped with grief, and then have been grieved that I am not strong enough to get past it, in this time the most incredible worship I have experienced in my life has occurred.  Simply because God has met us, and comforts.  He is truly our refuge, our sanctuary, our hope and our life.

God has answered, His mercy is known… and we can rest….

Can I be thankful for the grief?  Not for the reason, I grieve, but for that which has accompanied the grief, His strength supporting me in my weakness?

Yes, I can be thankful for that.  AMEN!

Augustine, S., Bishop of Hippo. (1996). The Confessions of St. Augustine. (E. B. Pusey, Trans.). Oak Harbor, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc.

Which is Your Hope: To Be Comfortable, or Comforted?

Devotional Thought of the Day:
3  “Happy are those who know they are spiritually poor; the Kingdom of heaven belongs to them! 4  “Happy are those who mourn; God will comfort them! 5  “Happy are those who are humble; they will receive what God has promised!    Matthew 5:3-5 (TEV)

 Instead of divine consolation, they want changes that will redeem suffering by removing it: not redemption through suffering, but redemption from suffering is their watchword; not expectation of divine assistance, but the humanization of man by man is their goal.

In his book on the Rapture, Tim LeHaye justifies his belief in the rapture based on the emotional appeal that Christ would never allow His people, the Bride of Chrsit to suffer.  (p.65-69) He pictures the church not surviing such suffering, such pain, such horrors.  He pictures Chrsit wanting to eliminate suffering for all believers, now, not just in eternal life. He fears the Tribulation, and even suggests that the church would not be able to sruvive it, should she be left behind.

I don’t want to focus on errors in his eschatology, but rather in the presupposition that God wouldn’t allow the church to suffer.   This is a much larger issue in American Christianity, for it is not just those that hold to the teaching of a premillenial rapture that would come to the conclusiont hat God wants the church comfortable.  i don’t know fo a theological system that doesn’t fall prey to this at some point, including those who like me express theology in a Lutheran or catholic-sacramental context.  ( In our modern version, this often means saving people from martyrdom or political oppression.  Or in our denial to seek help, whether it be from a father confessor, or a counselor, or a doctor. )

We all have our desire to be comfortable manifest itself in ugly ways. It might be in our attempts to isolate ourselves from the ugliness of sin, or to hide anything that would cause us to feel sharem, or grief.

I think it is a matter of maturity and faith when we can set aside this desire for being comfortable with the desire to be comforted.  And when faced with suffering or sacrifice Benedict XVI was right, we want to be redeemed from suffering, to be saved without experience the guilt and shame that tells us we need to be delivered.  If we want to be saveed – it is from the guilta and shame, not from what causes it.

But to desire to be comforted, even in the midst of the pain, is something radically different. It means relying on Jesus, on His wisdom, on His promises that what we are going through doesn’t seperate us from Him.

That’s different.

The article I quoted form Benedict above had another quote qorth including:

Before this image, the monks prayed with the sick, who found consolation in the knowledge that, in Christ, God suffered with them. This painting made them realize that precisely by reason of their sickness they were identified with the crucified Christ, who, by his suffering, had become one with all the suffering of history; they felt the presence of the Crucified One in their cross and knew that, in their distress, they were drawn into union with Christ and hence into the abyss of his eternal mercy

There is something about that which cries our with great comfort.  We do not walk alone, that we are not abandoned by God to make it through this vail of tears on our own.   The Lord is With In our brokenness, in our need for answers, in our need for hope, we find Him, we realize that He is holding us in His hands, bearing our sorrow, our grief, our sin.

So how do we grow in this, how do we lay aside our rights, our comfortability, our pleausre?  How do we take up our cross?

By trusting and depending upon Jesus.  By finding our refuge in the comfort of His love,  by dwelling in His presence, for there we know His peace, there we know comfort, and we experience a joy that sustains us.

Seek His presence, seek His kingdom, there is comfort there… and the more you know it, the easier it becomes to seek.

 

Ratzinger, J. (1992). Co-Workers of the Truth: Meditations for Every Day of the Year. (I. Grassl, Ed., M. F. McCarthy & L. Krauth, Trans.) (pp. 122–123). San Francisco: Ignatius Press.

Isaiah 29 Filled with Joy! (audio and slides)

?? Is the Church Asking the Right Quesion as It Tries to Share its Hope??

Featured imageDiscussion/Devotional Thought  of the Day

10  God has made us what we are, and in our union with Christ Jesus he has created us for a life of good deeds, which he has already prepared for us to do. Ephesians 2:10 (TEV)

15  But have reverence for Christ in your hearts, and honor him as Lord. Be ready at all times to answer anyone who asks you to explain the hope you have in you, 1 Peter 3:15 (TEV)

“If you were to die tonight, would you go to heaven?”  “why?  (1)

“The only preparation which multitudes seem to make for heaven is for its judgment bar,” (2)

Nearly 30 years ago, my pastor and I were trained in what was known as Evangelism Explosion. The goal of the ministry was to prepare people with a scripted message that they could share the Christian faith. Tens of thousands of pastors and people were trained in the method.  The scripts basic concept (as with most evangelism methods ) was to give peopel the assurance of eternal life in heaven, rather than eternal damnation/annihilation/punishment and the wrath of God.

In fact, last week someone asked those very questions to me via social media.

And this blog has been simmering ever since.  The key was the quote from my devotions this morning, which brought it home.  is our evangelistic work as believers primarily focused on making sure people get into heaven? Or is it about giving them the life, the peace, and the knowledge of God’s presence in this life, that is our hope for eternity?

If it is evangelism to prevent them from being sent to hell, there is strong motivation that would cause us to share God’s love with those we care for, with those we love. But that mission accomplished, is there the tight communion that you should see, is there the shared life, is there a willingness to stay together through thick and thin.  To be blunt, does create a life that struggles with sin, and strives to love others as Christ did?

If our questions and manuscripts lead people only to get past the St Peter and those who guard the gates of heaven, what are we really doing?  is conversion something that happens in a twinkling of an eye?  You were going to hell, woops now you are going to heaven?

Or is our hope, our expectation based on a promise that we have a hint, a glimpse of in this life, and that glimpse changes everything?  A promise that is repeated time and time in the scriptures.You will be my people, and I will be your God.”

isn’t that where our hope lies? In the fact that who weren’t once a people, are now a people?  Isn’t our hope seen in the promise that God will transform us and cause us to walk in ways that are incredible and blessed. (even though they might include suffering)

The evangelism explosion questions have their place, much of the material I still use to this day. Even so, the direction of our evangelism must be more than selling eternal fire insurance.  What our hope is based on is one promise, that is as true now as it will be then.  That gives us hope for this world, when it seems like it is falling apart, and yes  for eternity.

The hope that is found when we know that the Lord is with us, and will never abandon us.

May the questions you ask lead people to realize this.

(1)  paraphrase of the two questions from Evangelism Explosion used in many evangelism training seminars

(2)  Celtic Daily Prayer, Harper 1 Publcishing – the devotion for this day

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