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Dare I? Dare I go there? I must

Devotional Thought of the Day:

Concordia Lutheran Church – Cerritos, Ca , at dawn on Easter Sunday

18  Zion, deep in your heart you cried out to the Lord. Now let your tears overflow your walls day and night. Don’t ever lose hope or let your tears stop. 19  Get up and pray for help all through the night. Pour out your feelings to the Lord, as you would pour water out of a jug. Beg him to save your people, who are starving to death at every street crossing. Lamentations 2:18-19 (CEV)

14  When I think of the greatness of this great plan I fall on my knees before God the Father (from whom all fatherhood, earthly or heavenly, derives its name), and I pray that out of the glorious richness of his resources he will enable you to know the strength of the spirit’s inner re-inforcement – that Christ may actually live in your hearts by your faith. And I pray that you, firmly fixed in love yourselves, may be able to grasp (with all Christians) how wide and deep and long and high is the love of Christ – and to know for yourselves that love so far beyond our comprehension. May you be filled though all your being with God himself! Ephesians 3:14 (Phillips NT)

Give me a candle of the Spirit, O God, as I go down into the deeps of my being. Show me the hidden things, the creatures of my dreams, the storehouse of forgotten memories and hurts. Take me down to the spring of my life, and tell me my nature and my name. Give me freedom to grow, so that I may become that self, the seed of which You planted in me at my making. Out of the depths I cry to You… 

That is why the Song of Songs has been the favorite book of the Bible for so many saints: it lifts the curtain a little and lets us in on the divine secret behind the scenes, the point of the play we are in. All the other stuff in the play—all the war and suffering and death and law and punishment and spy stuff, all the stuff that seems so different from a love story—is part of the love story. It is in the love story as darkness is in a picture or a novel or a musical composition. The contrasting strokes set off the main theme, the villain sets off the hero, the dissonant chords set off the higher harmony of the whole.

20 Likewise the term “vivification,” that is, being made alive, has sometimes been used in the same sense.3 For when the Holy Spirit has brought a person to faith and has justified him, a regeneration has indeed taken place because he has transformed a child of wrath into a child of God and thus has translated him from death into life, as it is written, “When we were dead through our trespasses, he made us alive together with Christ” (Eph. 2:5). “He who through faith is righteous shall live (Rom. 1:17).

As I look at the above quotes, and the prayer which shall end this, all quotes from my devotional reading this morning, I almost feel like God is double-daring me to trust in Him, to depend on Him and take a deep plunge into the darkness of life. Maybe He is even, to quote a former pastor of mine, double-dog daring me to do so.

Appleton (in purple) would say it is only there that I can truly cry out for mercy. Kreeft would indicate that I need to read that part of the story, as if there in our depths, we find that dimension of God’s love, a love deeper than our deepest darkness. And there, in the place of spiritual and emotional death, we find that God breathes life into us, that Revival has to happen at THAT point.

This is the place of Jeremiah’s cry as well, the place of tears overflowing, the place where we aren’t to lose hope, but we aren’t to let our tears stop either. It is the place where we are to pour out in our prayers, all though the night, our emotions.

Of course, we children of the Enlightenment, we descendants of rationalism back away from such a challenge. Tears change little we’ve learned, in fact they only reveal our brokenness, our weakness, our need.

Which is exactly what we need, it is part of how God revives us, it is how He renews His church. For these scars, revealed in the darkness by His glorious light, transform those scars, much as the wounds in the ankles and wrists, upon the back and in the scalp of Christ reveal His glory to us.

Perhaps that is what will come out of this time of COVID, and therefore we should be thankful. For they show a unique way to the Christ, and as His blood heals us, to the Father. Which brings up just about the only thing from my devotions, that I haven’t quoted, from Spurgeon, “If we cannot get sinners where Jesus is by ordinary methods we must use extraordinary ones. It seems, according to Luke 5:19, that a tiling had to be removed, which would make dust and cause a measure of danger to those below, but where the case is very urgent we must not mind running some risks and shocking some proprieties. Jesus was there to heal, and therefore fall what might, faith ventured all so that her poor paralysed charge might have his sins forgiven. O that we had more daring faith among us!

This is the lesson for this day, the thoughts that God in His mercy, is merciful here, in the midst of pain, in the midst of the depth of darkness, in the place where if we can pray, it is only because we find someone else’s words, such as the Lord’s Prayer or those from the wounded healer below.

He is here, the tears that pour out, let them. Realize the darkness is but to show us the love of God in a way that doesn’t make sense, for nothing in the darkness truly does. But there, God will breathe life into you and I, and the sufferings are a small part of the glory we will know, as He comes to us.

So if you are in the place, pray with me these words composed by someone else who has been there.

Lord Jesus, my Saviour, Your hands and feet are marked with the wounds of Your crucifixion. In Your risen body, Your wounds have not been taken away, but are part of Your glory. May they remind me that my own wounds are not roadblocks on the way to the Father, but are there to show me my own unique way to follow You, the suffering Christ. Assure me that my wounds, too, will be glorified in my own resurrected life. Amen.

And know, the Lord is with you!


George Appleton ( Celtic Daily Prayer – Daily devotion for 9/7 – https://www.northumbriacommunity.org/offices/morning-prayer/ )

Peter Kreeft, The God Who Loves You (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 2004), 112.

Theodore G. Tappert, ed., The Book of Concord the Confessions of the Evangelical Lutheran Church. (Philadelphia: Mühlenberg Press, 1959), 542.

C. H. Spurgeon, Morning and Evening: Daily Readings (London: Passmore & Alabaster, 1896).

Henri Nouwen, https://www.northumbriacommunity.org/saints/september-21st-henri-nouwen-1932-1996/)

Surviving Cloudy, Dark, Hopeless Mondays

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Concordia Lutheran Church – Cerritos, Ca , at dawn on Easter Sunday

Devotional Thought of the Day

24  He personally carried our sins in his body on the cross so that we can be dead to sin and live for what is right. By his wounds you are healed. 25  Once you were like sheep who wandered away. But now you have turned to your Shepherd, the Guardian of your souls.     1 Peter 2:24-25 (NLT)

241      If the outlook in your interior life, in your soul, is darkened, allow yourself to be led along by the hand, as a blind man would do. In time the Lord will reward this humble surrendering of your own judgment by giving you clarity of mind. (1)

I took a class a year ago on the text of St John of the Cross’s spiritual classic called Dark Night of the Soul. It was a hard read, not because of the language, but because it opened parts of my life where I need to let the Holy Spirit bring comfort and peace, cleansing them and helping us find God.  Yes, even there we can find Him.

As the Apostle Peter says, He is the Guardian of our souls.

In these days where everything seems broken, we need to understand that role that Jesus has in our lives.  It doesn’t matter whether the brokenness that clouds our Mondays is global, national, in our community or our church, or simply in the depth of our heart and soul, He is there.

Despite our sin, despite the injustice that oppresses us.  He is there.

It doesn’t matter if it is 2:30 AM, and we can’t sleep, or Monday morning when caffeine doesn’t seem to help us overcome our…. Mondayness.

He is there, guarding us, protecting us, providing for us, caring for us and bringing us the healing our souls so desperately cry out for, whether we allow them to do so audibly, or bury it and let it cry through our bodies.

He is there. He is caring for you, for me.

St Josemaria explains this using the idea of our being blinded – and there are times where surely I am spiritually.  The spiritual equivalent to the wasteland of a Monday, where nothing makes sense, nothing motivates, nothing is hoped for or planned for in our lives.  Where we might be in that wasteland, and so deprived of hope that we don’t care it is Monday. The key then is to allow Him to shepherd us, to guide our steps.

This is faith, the trust, the dependence on God.  It requires knowing those promises He has made us, that nothing can separate us from Him, that He will complete the work He began in us, that He will never leave us, never forsake us.

Here He is, guarding our hearts, our minds, our souls.  He is guiding us, and as we feel the warmth of His glorious mercy and love, we find peace….and hope.

Even on a dark, cloudy, Monday….

Lord, have mercy upon us, and reveal Your care and work as our guardian!

(1) Escriva, Josemaria. The Forge (Kindle Locations 1021-1023). Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition.

It’s time to come home… coming to our senses about sin and the family of God

dscf1215-copy-copyDevotional Thought of the Day:
17  Coming to his senses he thought, ‘How many of my father’s hired workers have more than enough food to eat, but here am I, dying from hunger. 18  I shall get up and go to my father and I shall say to him, “Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. 19  I no longer deserve to be called your son; treat me as you would treat one of your hired workers.” ‘ 20  So he got up and went back to his father. While he was still a long way off, his father caught sight of him, and was filled with compassion. He ran to his son, embraced him and kissed him.
Luke 15:17-20 (NAB)

985    You strayed from the way and did not return because you were ashamed. It would be more logical if you were ashamed not to return.

Why, Then, is the Law to Be Taught, and What is Its Legitimate Use?
I. That people might learn from the Law seriously to acknowledge both their manifold sins and the judgment of God against sins, namely that they are subject to divine wrath and the curse or eternal condemnation, unless they are set free through Christ, so that they thus turn themselves away from sins, fear the wrath of God, and seek the true physician who alone can heal our weaknesses. Ro 3:20; 4:15; 2 Co 3:6–9; Eze 18:30–31; Mt 9:12.
II. That the Law, written by the finger of God, might be for the reborn a sure norm and rule, showing which works God has prepared, in which He wants the reborn to walk and serve Him. Dt 12:32; Eze 20:19; Ro 13:8; Cl 2:20–23.

He came to his senses. We need to do the same. 

Growing up 40-45 years ago, there was a rule in our home, be back int he house before dark.  We lived on 3 hilly wooded acres in New Hampshire, and darkness fell fast, there was nothing like lingering twilight in the, once the sun went down, darkness descended, and it was a black darkness.  

More than once, I would leave too late to get home before darkness caught me.  Once i remember sitting in the small ancient cemetery (newest grave was 1810 or so) a half mile down the road, fearing what my arrival home would bring.  As a side note, I don’t recommend sitting in a dark cemetery with huge creaky oak trees blotting out the moonlight.

Car lights could be seen, and I feared each one would contain my parents, out searching for their young rebellious, disobedient son. After about an hour passed by, as the night was getting colder, desperation would force me to leave my refuge, and walk my huffy bicycle home. 

As I walked by my neighbors, looking in their windows, I wondered if they knew of my misadventure if my folks had checked with the Stobers and the Zahns.  Eventually, I tried to figure if I could sneak in, through the basement sliding glass door, or maybe through the studio or kitchen door.  But I made it home, and at first hugged, then scolded, then hugged again, I was finally safe, and the anxiety could fade away.

This is how we treat God, whether we’ve run far off, or whether we are hiding deep inside our own hearts as we sit in church on Sunday morning.  St Josemaria tells us our shame should have driven us home, desperately seeking refuge, rather than ensnared us and kept us anxious, cold, hungry and left…. outside, tormented, and scared what would happen when we finally arrived home. 

As a pastor, there is a need for me to teach people that the best place for them to be, when struggling with sin, is in the midst of God’s family.  There, mercy and peace is waiting.  Forgiveness and love will be manifest.  Chemnitz was correct, where the Law serves properly when it moves believers from remaining in sin to remember they are set free from sin by Jesus, and enables them to respond to that mercy and love.  That it shows them they can seek the healing of their hearts and souls, for this is why Jesus reaches out to them.

People need to know that church is a safe haven fro sinners, a place where they aren’t going to be condemned for being snared by sin, but where they will find peace, as others similarly wounded assist them, and help them depend on Jesus.  

This is the church, this is the Father’s home, where we find His compassion.

So come home, enter the warmth and light, and know love and peace…. it’s time.

And if you see me or anyone else hiding behind a tombstone, bring us home too.

For we all get caught in the darkness from time to time.

 

Escriva, Josemaria. The Way (Kindle Location 2290). Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition 
Chemnitz, Martin, and Luther Poellot. Ministry, Word, and Sacraments: An Enchiridion. electronic ed. St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1999. Print.

The Challenge of Seeming Failure

Devotional Thought/Discussion point of the day”

 10 In my life in union with the Lord it is a great joy to me that after so long a time you once more had the chance of showing that you care for me. I don’t mean that you had stopped caring for me—you just had no chance to show it. 11 And I am not saying this because I feel neglected, for I have learned to be satisfied with what I have. 12 I know what it is to be in need and what it is to have more than enough. I have learned this secret, so that anywhere, at any time, I am content, whether I am full or hungry, whether I have too much or too little. 13 I have the strength to face all conditions by the power that Christ gives mePhilippians 4:10-13 (TEV)

One of the conversations during my trip on the mission field, was about the harsh reality of ministry, how the dreams of how it would be can come crashing down, when we face the daily grind on the field.  When the results we long for, do not come to fruition right away, or even after a year or two.  For young people in ministry, this can be a hard lesson.  It doesn’t always get easier either, and far too often I have known the feeling – could I be more productive for God’s kingdom in another place?  Could I do things differently?  It’s easy to get caught up in visible results – and loose hope.  This is most certainly true when it seems we have to teach the same lesson, repeatedly, year after year, month after month, heck – sometimes in the same Bible Study or counseling appointment.

Despite what Paul is saying – it is hard to be content with life at times – and that means it is also hard to be content with life in the ministry at times.  This is true for pastors, and it is true for those one the foreign mission field, and I suspect it is for all of us.

After all, don’t they know the treasure we have?  Why don’t people respond like on the day of Pentecost?  Isn’t that the way it is supposed to happen, with hordes of pagans coming forward to be baptized, to be cleanse of their sins, to win the battle over the anxiety and fear caused by sin, satan and death’s bondage over them?

As I “re-enter civilization” (though I found China far more civilized than the USA) I wonder about my own ministry.  Why can a church in China respond in months and be 500 plus people, while mine hovers in the 50’s?  Is it that my people don’t treasure and trust in God’s love enough?  (and if they don’t – does that mean I am a failure as a pastor?)  Is there something wrong with what we are doing?  Could there be a place where I am more productive, is there a pastor that would be more productive here?  All those questions run through our heads, and I witnessed that in China, among those serving God there as well.   It is easy to get disillusioned, disheartened, it is easy to let our minds run wild with questions….

Those questions occasionally need to be asked.  But not in the darkness of night, not in the times when we are alone, when Satan can even more draw our attention from God’s presence.  We do need to consider what we are doing, how we do it.  But that shouldn’t be such that we feel condemned – but focused, energized, our vision clarified, our hope in God renewed….and ourselves content with the place and situation where God has put us.

That is the purpose of self-evaluation, it why we do it in the light of day, in the presence of God, with strong advisers who are willing to invest themselves in helping us.  We especially focus, not on our work, but on the mercy of God – on the very thing we treasure, for the reason we started to serve others, either as a lifetime, fulltime vocation, or just as part of our regular day.  We have to look to Him at these times… for there the shadows and doubts are dismissed by His glory, and we see things as they are.

Once again, I find some.. help focusing at the end of my devotions…in the words of someone familiar with both the successes and seeming failures of ministry.

“You must be careful: don’t let your professional success or failure—which will certainly come—make you forget, even for a moment, what the true aim of your work is: the glory of God!”  (1)

Now, let’s get back to working at our Father’s side.  Depending on His power, His mercy, His love…..

Godspeed

 

Escriva, Josemaria (2011-01-31). The Forge (Kindle Locations 2576-2577). Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition.

 

 

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