Devotional Thought of the Day:
12 I don’t mean to say that I have already achieved these things or that I have already reached perfection. But I press on to possess that perfection for which Christ Jesus first possessed me. 13 No, dear brothers and sisters, I have not achieved it, but I focus on this one thing: Forgetting the past and looking forward to what lies ahead, 14 I press on to reach the end of the race and receive the heavenly prize for which God, through Christ Jesus, is calling us. Philippians 3:12-14 (NLT)
24 Oh, what a miserable person I am! Who will free me from this life that is dominated by sin and death? 25 Thank God! The answer is in Jesus Christ our Lord. So you see how it is: In my mind I really want to obey God’s law, but because of my sinful nature I am a slave to sin. Romans 7:24-25 (NLT)
223 Along the way to personal sanctity we can at times get the impression that we are going backwards instead of forwards, that we are getting worse instead of better. As long as there is interior struggle this pessimistic thought is only an illusion, a deception to be rejected as false. Persevere and don’t worry. If you fight with tenacity you are making progress and are growing in sanctity.
For decades I think we’ve bought into an idea of spiritual growth that is both childish, and damaging. It begins with telling stories of the great people that precede us in the faith as if they were perfect, as if they had no faults, as if they weren’t broken.
King David was perfect, and not an adulterer and murderer. St Paul was a theologian par excellence, without a doubt or any struggle with sin. ( I can even find commentaries that say the above quote from Romans was St. Paul talking about prior to his conversion! ) We will whitewash Luther’s bi-polar nature, or Mother Theresa’s dealing with both depression. We do this all the time, even with the modern folks we believe will be the next generation’s heroes of the faith.
That idea seems to be revealed for what it is, immature at best and perhaps deliberately misleading.
Paul struggled with sin, he realized that he had to battle for what was his in Christ, not to achieve it, but to receive it, to believe in, to depend on it. Even when our heart is trying to get us to focus on our sin, on our failures, on our spiritual growth not being as great as it should be.
St. Josemaria describes in a way that resonates with me, that there are times where we are going backwards, rather than forwards, that things are getting worse rather than better. I resemble this at times, more often that I want to admit.
Which makes it challenging, because my mind will then move to why be a pastor, if I can’t grow deeper in faith myself?
Evaluating our spiritual growth is good, if we understand what spiritual growth is, what it really looks like, how it is measured.
The struggle with our sinfulness is part of it, we should never become complacent with our sin. It shouldn’t haunt us, for Christ has won the victory over it, but we shouldn’t become complacent either. Our sin still needs to irritate us, disgust us, make us uncomfortable.
Not so we hide from God, but that we depend upon Him to purge that sin from us, that He would transform us. Growth that has as its goal that we would treasure His love and mercy more than we treasure the sin.
This is growth, this battle, this fight, a growth which seems unending, but it will end. He has promised and He is faithful. As He hangs on to us, we learn to hang on to Him.
May we be transparent enough with the generations that follow us, that they clearly see our trusting in God, even when it doesn’t make sense, even when we think we don’t deserve His mercy and love.
For then they will know this growth as well.. and not be as dismayed when Satan assails them.
Escriva, Josemaria. The Forge (Kindle Locations 959-964). Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition.
Devotional Thought of the Day:
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 me. Philippians 4:11-13 (TEV)
117 “What do I have to do to maintain my love for God and make it increase?” you asked me, fired with enthusiasm. Leave the “old man” behind, my son, and cheerfully give up things which are good in themselves but hinder your detachment from your ego… You have to repeat constantly and with deeds, “Here I am, Lord, ready to do whatever you want.” (1)
e need to stopIt is rare these days for pe]eople to ask how to grow stronger in their faith. I am not sure whether that is good or bad. Some might not care to grow, some might be afraid to grow. While others are growing, their faith being stretched like taffy, or a balloon expanding so fast that you wonder if it will burst.
There is a secret to this growth, a need for freedom from things that tether us down, box us in, that define the boundaries that we think define us, but in reality simply constrain us, and eventually choke out our faith.
Let me give you an example. As a young man wanting to be a pastor, I set a boundary on where I would serve. I asked God to send me anywhere, except for the desert. I narrowed the scope of my vision, and I would come to realize that the people in that desert needed the comfort and peace, the contentment that only comes from when you realize you live in the presence of God. (Yes, my first three churches I served were in the desert – and I needed to be there more than the people needed me)
I still occasionally do that, narrowing down where I will serve, or to whom I would “allow” God to send me. God, you couldn’t have me in that kind of position, or ministering in that kind of church. God you couldn’t use someone like me like that, etc.
And so do you.
We need to stop setting boundaries, we need to stop tying ourselves down, tethering ourselves to things that stop us from growing in our faith. St Josemaria considers that might even include good things that hinder our detachment. Things our ego depends upon to identify us as individuals, and therefore stop us from trusting that God knows what He is doing.
For growth, maturity in the faith is not confidence in ourselves, it is confidence in God, a deepening sense of contentment. Whether it means we have to go without, or we have to learn to deal with having more than we need. ( I know some of us find that harder to deal with! ) Spiritual growth is the abandonment of self, assured that God will develop what in us, and dependent on His promises.
Whatever He wants, where ever He wants, however long He wants; depending on the presence of Jesus, the comfort and encouragement of the Holy Spirit
This is faith, a faith that grow and be stretched, a faith without boundaries, a faith that grows significantly, because God causes the increase.
(1) Escriva, Josemaria. The Forge (Kindle Locations 614-617). Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition.
7 He told a parable to those who had been invited, noticing how they were choosing the places of honor at the table. 8 “When you are invited by someone to a wedding banquet, do not recline at table in the place of honor. A more distinguished guest than you may have been invited by him, 9 and the host who invited both of you may approach you and say, ‘Give your place to this man,’ and then you would proceed with embarrassment to take the lowest place. 10 Rather, when you are invited, go and take the lowest place so that when the host comes to you he may say, ‘My friend, move up to a higher position.’ Then you will enjoy the esteem of your companions at the table. 11 For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but the one who humbles himself will be exalted.“Luke 14:7-11 (NAB)
949 To aspire to positions of responsibility in any apostolic undertaking is a useless thing in this life and a danger for the next. If it’s what God wants, you’ll be called. And then you ought to accept. But don’t forget that wherever you are, you can and you must sanctify yourself, for that is why you are there. (1)
One of my favorite apologetic works, The Hitchhilker’s Guide to the Galaxy, talks about the leadership in a rather unique way. Simply put, the one who is best to lead is the one who desires it the least, and even abhors it, but takes it on because of necessity.
It’s one thing to want to be the leader in elementary school or even the class president in high school, or the captain of a team. It is far different to lead a company, or for that matter, to lead a congregation or a church body. It is a task that no one should want, for the pains, and experiences can shatter a man’s faith. And they often do.
But there is something else that can grow in such a crucible, a level of faith and dependence upon God that goes beyond the security we seek. An assurance of the presence of God’s comfort, of God’s love, and of His presence. An accepting of the task, a determination to go the distance. Not confident of our own abilities or strengths, but simply confident of the fact that we aren’t leading, He is. THat is what holiness, sanctification is truly about. Not about pious appearance,,, but about walking with Christ.
It is then we are ready to undertake such a role….
Thanks to all who lead…. in Christ. ANd may those who lead btw own strength, find the courage and strength to let the Paraclete lift them, turn them and guide and support them as they follow God.
(1) Escriva, Josemaria (2010-11-02). The Way (Kindle Locations 2201-2204). Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition.
Devotion Thought of the Day…
26 From one human being he created all races of people and made them live throughout the whole earth. He himself fixed beforehand the exact times and the limits of the places where they would live. 27 He did this so that they would look for him, and perhaps find him as they felt around for him. Yet God is actually not far from any one of us; 28 as someone has said, ‘In him we live and move and exist.’ It is as some of your poets have said, ‘We too are his children.’ Acts 17:26-28 (TEV)
There are a couple of young guys I get to interact with once in a while. ( I get to interact with others, but this morning I am thinking and praying for these two. ) Like I was at their age, I want to change the world, or at least a small section of it. Yet, like them, I wandered through careers, trying to find that place where I could not just excel at what I did, but find some kind of contentment at it.
I got to talk to one yesterday, the other, well I will hopefully see him soon.
But I feel both have a call to ministry. They are avoiding it, and well I was there too, once upon a time. Matter of fact, I can be pretty good at avoiding God still. Pretty simple for a pastor – the more we minister to others, the more we don’t allow God to minister to us.
But this blog entry isn’t about them or about me, it’s about all of us, and what we try to avoid. It is not about serving either – well one of the fringe benefits of realizing what this blog is about – well you will begin to desire to be more and more like Jesus, especially as He ministered to those who were, well, a little obstinate, a little desperate, pretty defensive, and well were sinners. Because that’ what we were…when He found us.
This blog is too help us mature, but Christian maturity, as my young friends will realize, is less about becoming independent and self-sufficient. It is, rather, about becoming dependent on God’s presence, on realizing He is with you – that your very life is found, in His presence, that He guides your movements, that because in Him we exist, He is never far from us.
I know most of us guys will grimace at the use of the word “intimacy”, but I have yet to find a word to describe this relationship that God has called us into. But to try and accept this – even it is too much to comprehend – God is with us. We dwell, we live, everything we do is in His presence. It is when we realize this, when we revel in it, when we dance with joy and abandon because we know His love… (like Snoopy) that everything changes. That we realize His promises, that we realize His providing for us and His protection. That we take chances, that we sacrifice, that we endure – knowing, expecting, trusting that He has us in the palm of His hand.
It becomes the center of our existence, and everything else is measured – not by how many dollars we earn, or what we have, but simply – knowing God….
And it is there – in His presence, that we realize our true life, our true calling.
May S and K find that calling – that seems a bit obvious to us, and may we as well realize that where God has placed us, He has done so for a reason – it’s where He has chosen to dwell with us.
What was written, is written… in our hearts
† In Jesus Name †
May the cross convince you of the depth of God’s love for you!
Have you ever wondered why the chief priests were so frustrated, so needing to get Pontius Pilate to change what was on a piece of wood and nailed to the cross?
Remember – the relationship with between the priests and Pilate is already strained. This is the same Pilate that when angered before mixed the blood of Gentiles he had put to death with the blood offering of the temple. He had backed down to the crowd, and let them have what they wanted – to crucify this man that Pilate had judged innocent. And he did so at the risk of irritating his wife, who warned him to have nothing to do with Jesus. With Pilate already on edge, with a temper that was infamous, the chief priests approached Pilate and told him to change the words.
His answer was a quick dismissal – but spoke to his authority, and to a truth that Pilate testified to…
What I have written, I have written.
End of scene.
Whether he meant it to mock the priests, whether he meant it to mock Jesus, no matter what Pilate’s reason, he actually bore witness to the truth.
Jesus is the King of the Jews, He is the long awaited Messiah, the promised glorious one of Israel – the one whom in even the gentiles find hope.
But why were the priests so… insistent? Brave? Demanding?
Could it have to do with what Pilate recognized, and the reason he was inspired to use this particular word to describe Jesus?
The Meaning of Basileus
The King, the one who preached that the Kingdom of God is with you – who sent others to preach the Kingdom of God is near, Do we get what it means for Jesus to be King of the Jews?
Here is the most important point – it has less to do with authority or responsibility – and far more to do with…. Responsibility.
The kind of responsibility a parent has, when their child breaks a neighbor’s window, or when their child is threatened, or hurt. Someone who is King has responsibility for His subjects. The one who makes things right, at whatever personal cost.
Such is the idea of kingship, such is the concept of leadership in scripture. It is about providing for the people of the kingdom, about being responsible for their welfare, because it has been entrusted to you.
For the priests – this is not just counter to their own ministry style, where lording it over people was evident, but contrary to the kind of relationship they wanted with God. The last thing they wanted was God’s personal involvement in their stuff, cleaning up after their act.
It’s sort of like a teenagers reaction to his father and mother deciding to clean the teenager’s room. “it’s clean enough, it doesn’t need to be cleaned – and the embarrassment that comes when the pizza from a month ago is found under the bed. Or some really worrisome thing is found on their computer. We get too easily embarrassed when we realize our need for dependence on God to clean up our lives, to be the only One who can be responsible for our sin.
Because it can’t be us…. We just can’t do it. We, just like the priests who demanded Pilate remove the sign proclaiming Jesus to be the King, desperately need Him to be our King! We desperately need Him to provide, to care for us, to take responsibility for our sins, for our errors, for that which divides us from God.
And He did….
to the extent that even Pilate recognized it. Pilate who declared Jesus to be innocent. Who washed his hands of the case, who yet still delivered Christ to the place where He would take up the responsibility for us, for our actions, for our sin.
Rejoice my friends, find not sorrow in this moment, but the deepest joy. Because in Christ, we find our lives… cleansed, provided for, loved. And at peace, for
17 Anyone who is joined to Christ is a new being; the old is gone, the new has come. 18 All this is done by God, who through Christ changed us from enemies into his friends and gave us the task of making others his friends also. 19 Our message is that God was making all human beings his friends through Christ. God did not keep an account of their sins, and he has given us the message which tells how he makes them his friends. 20 Here we are, then, speaking for Christ, as though God himself were making his appeal through us. We plead on Christ’s behalf: let God change you from enemies into his friends! 21 Christ was without sin, but for our sake God made him share our sin in order that in union with him we might share the righteousness of God. 2 Corinthians 5:17-21 (TEV)
Matthew 5:43-47 (MSG) 43 “You’re familiar with the old written law, ‘Love your friend,’ and its unwritten companion, ‘Hate your enemy.’ 44 I’m challenging that. I’m telling you to love your enemies. Let them bring out the best in you, not the worst. When someone gives you a hard time, respond with the energies of prayer, 45 for then you are working out of your true selves, your God-created selves. This is what God does. He gives his best—the sun to warm and the rain to nourish—to everyone, regardless: the good and bad, the nice and nasty. 46 If all you do is love the lovable, do you expect a bonus? Anybody can do that. 47 If you simply say hello to those who greet you, do you expect a medal? Any run-of-the-mill sinner does that.
“Think of the good that has been done you throughout your lifetime by those who have injured or attempted to injure you. Others call such people their enemies. You should imitate the saints, at least in this. You are nothing so special that you should have enemies; so call them “benefactors”. Pray to God for them: as a result, you will come to like them” (1)
As I feel a need to write this blog, I am also a bit wary of it. Simply put, many of my blogs – almost all of them, are written based in personal reflection and need.
As I sit in my office this morning, haven’t had to deal with any of those people mentioned in the title. So maybe this blog is for you, and not me?
Even so, if James is right about trials and trauma being beneficial to us, then it logically can be stated that those who are the cause of some of those trials and traumas are likewise blessings and not curses. That we can view the lesson they teach us, as a gift from God, and rather than get more and more frustrated, we can give thanks and praise for their being in our lives.
Well – were are you going to find the strength to rise above your own sinful nature and love them – as Jesus asks you to? How are you going to find the focus to pray for them, not that God would change their habits, or their ability to just tick you off, but instead that God would richly bless them, and reveal His love to them?
There is the lesson…
They aren’t your cross, they simply drive you to it. They are a reminder that you aren’t God, that you can’t walk alone in this world, that you cannot conjure up this transformation in your own soul, in your own heart – on you own.
You need Jesus love, you need the power of the Holy Spirit, you have to know that you dwell in the presence of God – and assured of His presence, His mercy shown to you – then you can love them, then you can pray for their best, then you will realize the blessing that they are…. and give thanks for them.
Pray for me, even as I know within the next month, I will need to come back and remember these words..
Escriva, Josemaria (2011-01-31). The Forge (Kindle Locations 2859-2863). Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition.