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I Will Not! I Can NOT! a message based on Isaiah 62:1-5

I WILL NOT! I CAN NOT!
Isaiah 62:1-5

† In Jesus Name †

May the grace of God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ remind you constantly of God’s desire to be part of your life.. and His committing to be part of it.

  • What does God Look like?

It is one of those questions that pastors cannot honestly answer, but we get asked on occasion….

What does God the Father look like?

Here are a couple of paintings of Him, most from the renaissance.

Look at them carefully; they all show an old man with a beard and a receding hairline that is grey and white.

But there is one thing I notice above all – that these pictures don’t show God with a smile; they don’t show him with His eyes lit up with joy, with the determination to see His people come from home

Especially this last one, I am not sure what He had for dinner or whether He was watching me this week. He looks either a bit sick to his stomach or severely disappointed and sad…

Today’s sermon is based on the Old Testament passage, where Isaiah’s words paint a far different picture…

Hear again how the passage begins,

Because I love Zion, I will not keep still. Because my heart yearns for Jerusalem, I cannot remain silent. I will not stop praying for her until her righteousness shines like the dawn, and her salvation blazes like a burning torch!

That doesn’t sound like it comes from the mouth of the One pictured in the painting. Neither does the last verse of the reading,

Then God will rejoice over you as a bridegroom rejoices over his bride!

That is the picture I want you to take with you today… that is the picture I want you to share with others. The image of God who loves you so much that it is indescribable…. Except to know He rejoices when you are in His presence.

  • Never again… (which means there was a time)

As Isaiah goes on, these words just stuck in my mind,

3  The LORD will hold you in his hand for all to see— a splendid crown in the hand of God. 4  Never again will you be called “The Forsaken City” or “The Desolate Land!

We have to read this, knowing the past, but realizing the truth of the present. We have been saved, God has got us in His grasp, but there is a “before,” a state we were in, where God says, “never again!”

As we go into it, it reminds me of Paul’s words to Titus,

3  Once we, too, were foolish and disobedient. We were misled and became slaves to many lusts and pleasures. Our lives were full of evil and envy, and we hated each other. 4  But—Titus 3:3-4 (NLT2)

We know this “but” is coming, but part of understanding who God is, is realizing in the midst of our sin – in the midst of our sin that will leave us feeling abandoned and desolate, there is God, saying,

Because I love you, I will not keep still, because My heart yearns for you – I cannot be silent.

I will not! I cannot!

In the middle of it all, God is there; He’s always promised to be there! Right in the middle of our worst battles with sin, He was there, relentless working to get to the point He descried with these words…

I will not stop interceding for her until her righteousness shines like the dawn, and her salvation blazes like a burning torch. 2  The nations will see your righteousness.  

That is where God the Father’s heart is…what His desire is,

That is why He sent Jesus, while we were sinning, to rescue us, and still does. That is our hope for those caught in our sin… that is our hope when we struggle with temptation…. That is our hope until we hear God’s voice… calling us…

  • Delighted & Committed

And look what He calls us…

Your new name will be “The City of God’s Delight” and “The Bride of God,” for the LORD delights in you and will claim you as his bride.

I would translate these names for you, these names God calls us. I think most of the translations are more than a bit weak in this…

The first – the “City of God’s delight,” Hephzibah – is simply the “one I find joy with….”

That is you, the one who God enjoys being in the presence of…. Imagine that…

God’s greatest joy is found when we realize we dwell in His presence.

The second… Ba’aulu – is just as profound.

It means, “You are the one I am committed to..forever.”

Bride doesn’t quite say that… this idea of God committing Himself to you, forever.

I gave you the part of Paul’s words to Titus… let me give you what comes after the “but.”

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.”

Eternal life with Him, the LORD God who finds His greatest joy when His children are with Him, who has committed Himself to us… to make us holy and perfect, for that is who His children, His beloved are…

That’s why Paul’s words end with this…

 8  This is a trustworthy saying, and I want you to insist on these teachings so that all who trust in God will devote themselves to doing good. These teachings are good and beneficial for everyone. Titus 3:4-8 (NLT2)

So let’s help the whole world know this… God finds great joy in being with us and commits Himself to us, And He will not, He cannot stop until He makes this true for all His children. So let’s help the whole world know… AMEN!

The Paradox of Knowing What to Do, and Doing it.

Thoughts encouraging us to be devoted to God.

The teacher of religious law replied, “Well said, Teacher. You have spoken the truth by saying that there is only one God and no other. 33 And I know it is important to love him with all my heart and all my understanding and all my strength, and to love my neighbor as myself. This is more important than to offer all of the burnt offerings and sacrifices required in the law.”
34 Realizing how much the man understood, Jesus said to him, “You are not far from the Kingdom of God.” And after that, no one dared to ask him any more questions.
Mark 12:32-34 NLT

43 Jesus called his disciples to him and said, “I tell you the truth, this poor widow has given more than all the others who are making contributions. 44 For they gave a tiny part of their surplus, but she, poor as she is, has given everything she had to live on.” Mark 12:43-44 NLT

God, I have tasted Thy goodness, and it has both satisfied me and made me thirsty for more. I am painfully conscious of my need of further grace. I am ashamed of my lack of desire. O God, the Triune God, I want to want Thee; I long to be filled with longing; I thirst to be made more thirsty still. Show me Thy glory, I pray Thee, that so I may know Thee indeed.

Furthermore, we have frequently shown what we mean by faith. We are not talking about an idle knowledge, such as is also to be found in the devils, but about a faith that resists the terrors of conscience and which uplifts and consoles terrified hearts.

There is nothing more affirming, in fact, than the experience of God’s presence. That revelation says as nothing else can, “You are a good person. I created you and I love you.” Divine love brings us into being in the fullest sense of the word. It heals the negative feelings we have about ourselves.

I think the teacher of religious law knew he was right, but he didn’t understand why he was right.

The old lady knew why she did what she did but didn’t know she was right. She just did it.

My quest as a pastor is to help you, my friend, know both sides of the coin. To help you discover what to do in life and why to do it. I want you to love God with everything you are and to do so realizing His presence and love for you.

The quote from the Book of Concord shows why we should depend on God. In those times where problems and anxieties overwhelm us, our dependence on God reminds us He is our Comforter. In those times, we find peace in His presence as we take a breath, and in that still moment, remember the cross and His love.

The old woman knew that – and she responded with everything she had. She knew God loved her; she knew something special about being in God’s presence – so she gave. The idea of affirmation was not on her mind, but it was what was happening…

More often than not, I dwell in Tozer’s spot – I know I should be there; I know I should desire His presence and be more aware of it than I am. I struggle like the teacher of the law- knowing what should be but forgetting why I need to love God with everything. I need, like Tozer, like the teacher of the law – to hunger and thirst for God’s righteousness, to desire God’s presence more than a bride can not wait to see her husband-to-be on her wedding day.

It may sound self-serving, but there is nothing in our lives that compares to being in God’s presence – it is where we find peace, it is where we find love, and therefore meaning to our lives.

A meaning that goes beyond this life into the next, which is God’s desire in the first place…

To have us with Him – because He wants us there…

This is why we love Him… this is why we can give up everything… even our 2 cents.

Tozer, A. W. 2015. Tozer for the Christian Leader. Chicago: Moody Publishers.

Kolb, Robert, Timothy J. Wengert, and Charles P. Arand. 2000. The Book of Concord: The Confessions of the Evangelical Lutheran Church. Minneapolis, MN: Fortress Press.

Keating, Thomas. 2009. The Daily Reader for Contemplative Living: Excerpts from the Works of Father Thomas Keating, O.C.S.O., Sacred Scripture, and Other Spiritual Writings. Edited by S. Stephanie Iachetta. New York; London; New Delhi; Sydney: Bloomsbury.

I can’t do this! (God says, “Here, I will hold your beer”)

Rainbow at ConcordiaDevotional Thought of the Day:
12  My dear friends, you always obeyed when I was with you. Now that I am away, you should obey even more. So work with fear and trembling to discover what it really means to be saved. 13  God is working in you to make you willing and able to obey him. 14  Do everything without grumbling or arguing. 15  Then you will be the pure and innocent children of God. You live among people who are crooked and evil, but you must not do anything that they can say is wrong. Try to shine as lights among the people of this world, 16  as you hold firmly to the message that gives life. Philippians 2:12-16 (CEV)

That false humility is laziness. Such a “humbleness” leads you to give up rights that really are duties.

I could come up with 1000 parables about this, the Marine Recruit who doesn’t think he can climb the wall, the student who doesn’t think they can handle algebra, the new employee who is convinced they can’t do the job on their own, the pastor who…

O wait, I can’t make this too personal.

I can’t direct it towards me, after all, I am nobody.

( I say this, despite reading Exodus for the last couple of weeks… )

St. Josemaria’s words cut me deeply, as I think of all the things I claim I can’t do. After all, I have a load of ready-made excuses.  Genetic ones, you know, the kind I don’t want pity for, but heck, I will take a lesser burden if you want to help a poor guy out.  And then there is this lack and that lack. And then there is the fact that I am a sinner. I obviously cannot do this.  A man has got to know his limitations, at least what the theologian Clint Eastwood said. And I know mine, and I am not capable. I know this.

In fact, I don’t know that.

But is my focus on my inability a sign of laziness?  If not, what if I am just afraid of what God might require?

Either is a possibility if I am honest.

For what I forget when I do my self-evaluation is the work God is doing in my life, and in yours. God has saved us, and we need to realize that means we are changing.  That we can listen to God and hear His vision, what He wants us to do, whom to forgive, whom to love, who to reach out to, in sharing that love.

He gives us even, the desire and the ability to do what pleases Him, what He has created us to do, what He has called us to do, what the Holy Spirit has equipped us to do.

Maybe it is time to stop procrastinating, stop finding excuses, and simply let God lead us, as He builds His Church.

Lord God, Heavenly Father, remind us that You are the potter, that even as Jesus obeyed and went to the cross we can bear our crosses with the joy You have set before us, knowing that You will be with us all the way! Thank you Lord for not giving up, but calling us and working in us, giving us the desire and ability to be Your faithful children.  AMEN!

Escriva, Josemaria. The Way . Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition.

The Art of “Fixing” the World!

Why does Jesus continue to come to us?

Devotional Thought of the Day:

6 Here on Mount Zion the LORD Almighty will prepare a banquet for all the nations of the world—a banquet of the richest food and the finest wine. 7 Here he will suddenly remove the cloud of sorrow that has been hanging over all the nations. 8† The Sovereign LORD will destroy death forever! He will wipe away the tears from everyone’s eyes and take away the disgrace his people have suffered throughout the world. The LORD himself has spoken.
9 When it happens, everyone will say, “He is our God! We have put our trust in him, and he has rescued us. He is the LORD! We have put our trust in him, and now we are happy and joyful because he has saved us.”
Isaiah 25:6-9 GNT

Though we cannot fix anything, the presence of Jesus lightens the burden of the Poor and gives them strength. We need the help of the Holy Spirit to approach the Poor with the gentleness, mercy and delicacy of Jesus Himself. We need humility to listen, lest we go to them with ‘solutions’, having no idea what pains and wounds are in each heart. Our every word or gesture can bring light and joy into a heart, or they can increase the darkness and pain. That’s why we need Jesus!
We do fail, and I never stop placing all my failures into His Sacred Heart and plunging them into His precious wounds where He alone can redeem and make all things new.

At least once a week, therefore, each and every head of household is responsible for asking and questioning closely the children and household workers, one at a time, as to what they know or are learning and, where they lack in knowledge, seriously to hold them to it.15 For I still remember the time—indeed, even now it is all too common—that one daily found crude, ignorant, older, and age-worn people who knew absolutely nothing of these things.

There is a part of every person that longs to be a superhero, a crusader to fix that which is wrong, and make it right. Sometimes that aspecto of our personality is dimmer and even blotted out by failure. Other times, the crusade we choose is too large, and we learn we can’t fix the world.

Other times, we try to lead the horse to water, and make it drink, but it will not do so, and that frustrates us. We do everything right, we assume, but it doesn’t work. Sometimes that is because the horse is stubborn, other times it is because the horse isn’t thirsty, but rather it is hungry, or it needs rest. An example, often as a hospice chaplain, I watched doctors try to find cures for people that were terminally ill. They never gave up trying to cure them. However, if they were able to help the person cope with the pain, often the person would die in great peace, and sometimes, their bodies would do what the doctor couldn’t. With all the good intent and sincerity, their hope

It is as the nun wrote above, we need the humility to go and listen, to go with an attitude of gentleness and mercy, and with great delicacy. For there are often far to often, wounds and pains which we cannot see, that need to be addressed before we can address the problems we see.

So how do we overcome this crusading mentality? How do we find the patience and the humility to allow the brokeness, that poison that destroys souls to be drawn out?

I think is starts with remembering the end game. To recall the promises Isaiah wrote down, inspired by God. We need to remember that not only does he dry away the tears and provides, but He is the one who delivers us. Depending on that leads us, eventually, to realize that Has this day, and the person we hope to help, in His glorious loving hands.

Often our best option is simply to do as Luther advised, to share with those we are responsible for (great question there) the love of God revealed in the basic creeds, to reveal His presence, to reveal His care, His mercy and His delicate patience in bringing s to wholeness, and to health. In the process we help them discover it, not forcing it, but asking the questions that will lead them deeper into a relationship.

As this happens, we find out how to address their poverty, whatever that poverty truly is, as we see God already doing this. We simply learn to walk with them, addressing where we can, but primarily serving to remind them of the presence of God.

If you want to change the world, this is how it is done, by being there as God changes their world, and yours.

Lord Jesus, give us the patience to see that the issue we want to help with isn’t always the issue that they are ready to see You bring healing to in their lives. Help us to realize as well, that all “fixes” are actually your responsibility, and our role is to remind them of Your presence, Your love, and that You are at work in their lives. AMEN

Joseph MC. (2012). From Adoration to Serving the Poor. In A. Reid (Ed.), From Eucharistic Adoration to Evangelization (p. 183). London; New York: Burns & Oates.

Luther, M. (2007). Luther’s Spirituality. (P. D. W. Krey, B. McGinn, & P. D. S. Krey, Eds., P. D. S. Krey & P. D. W. Krey, Trans.) (pp. 189–190). New York; Mahwah, NJ: Paulist Press.

What are you looking for today? What are you chasing?

20170124_103703Devotional Thought of the Day:

take no thought, saying, What shall we eat? or, What shall we drink? or, Wherewithal shall we be clothed? 32  (For after all these things do the Gentiles seek:) for your heavenly Father knoweth that ye have need of all these things. 33  But seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you. Matthew 6:31-33 (KJV)

1   As a deer longs for a stream of cool water, so I long for you, O God. 2  I thirst for you, the living God. When can I go and worship in your presence? Psalm 42:1-2 (TEV)

316    You tell me: “Yes, I want to!” Good. But do you “want to” as a miser wants his gold, as a mother wants her child, as a worldling wants honors, or as a poor sensualist wants his pleasure? No? Then you don’t “want to”!

I look at St Josemaria’s words this morning, and they hit me with a lot of conviction

As I look at a very busy week, as I anticipate the struggles and the hard work, I wonder how I am going to make it through it all, and do everything well.  The temptation is to expedite things, and the really big temptation is to cut short my time with God.

After all, I will be studying scripture, I will be praying with others, do I really need my own time with God.

Abso-freaking-lutely.   (pardon the Bostonese)

And I know I need it, and I want it.  But the question is how much I want it.  Do I want it like the deer wants water, like a mom protecting her child, like those that crave attention or pleasure want it?

I need to, I need to seek first God’s kingdom, I need to seek first those times in His presence, where I am so aware of Him that I naturally respond in worship and adoration.

I know in the midst of this, this is where I have to be, this is where I find healing and life and comfort and peace.   It is where I know I am loved, and so loved that I am cleansed, and my sin cut away from me with even more precision than a heart surgeon, or a rabbi/mohel doing a circumcision.

For what draws me to God is not my own strength, if so, as much as I desire it, I might desire other things more.  What draws me to God is the Holy Spirit, lovingly, caringly, bringing me back,  back to the word that reveals God’s love, back to the sacraments which demonstrate it in my life, back into prayer where I release all my burdens to the Lord who loves me.

Yeah, it’s Monday, and I have a huge week of appointments, tasks, work, ministry, to see accomplished…

But I need to seek Him first, otherwise, the rest is in vain, and the week will be a giant pain in the ass.  But with Him, at His side, the week, the very same actions, thoughts, words… will be glorious.

and so we cry out… Lord have mercy on us, and on our week!

Escriva, Josemaria. The Way (Kindle Locations 818-820). Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition.

It’s Time to Get Up, and Know you are Free from Sin!

Devotional THoguht of the Day:

1  Jesus got into the boat and went back across the lake to his own town, 2  where some people brought to him a paralyzed man, lying on a bed. When Jesus saw how much faith they had, he said to the paralyzed man, “Courage, my son! Your sins are forgiven.” 3  Then some teachers of the Law said to themselves, “This man is speaking blasphemy!” 4  Jesus perceived what they were thinking, and so he said, “Why are you thinking such evil things? 5  Is it easier to say, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, ‘Get up and walk’? 6  I will prove to you, then, that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins.” So he said to the paralyzed man, “Get up, pick up your bed, and go home!” 7  The man got up and went home. 8  When the people saw it, they were afraid, and praised God for giving such authority to people.
Matthew 9:1-8 (TEV)

15 Note, then, as I have often said, that confession consists of two parts. The first is my work and act, when I lament my sin and desire comfort and restoration for my soul. The second is a work which God does, when he absolves me of my sins through a word placed in the mouth of a man. This is the surpassingly grand and noble thing that makes confession so wonderful and comforting.

In Luther’s Large Catechism, we see the words in blue above, as Luther exhorts (begs) his people not give up the blessing of confessing their sin. Only a man who himself experienced the overwhelming crushing weight of his own sin, and the relief he knew writes in such a manner.

Luther’s relief is found all over his works, and he gets a bit testy (okay even violent) toward those who would deny people as broken as he was/is the hope he found and the healing he experienced.

His explanation nails it, our confession and absolution is far more about the absolution that we receive, that we so desperately need, than it is about the crap we drop in the presence of God.  We may fear seeing it revealed, we may fear the surgery that removes it, what St. Paul calls the circumcision of the heart. We may even consider it impossible, a task beyond our ability.

Yet, the emphasis is not on the confession, but the cleansing.  The work is not ours, it is the work of freeing us from the darkness that consumes us. That can even physically inhibit and paralyze us, as the man experienced in the gospel reading. But Christ’s death, and the authority given to Him by the father shatters those bindings, those things that trap us.

The blood of Christ, which binds us to Him, already did this, as He hung on the cross and declared we are free from sin, and even while we get up – perhaps for the first time, His Spirit quickens us, strengthens us, restores that which had decayed and been destroyed by sin.

We need to stop buying into the lie that confession is difficult, a duty that is one that burdens us and breaks us.  It is a moment of incredible promise, a moment of being found in the presence of God, in peace that may be completely unfamiliar – but yet is home.

A little further down the section, Luther emphasised this again,

22 We urge you, however, to confess and express your needs, not for the purpose of performing a work but to hear what God wishes to say to you. The Word or absolution, I say, is what you should concentrate on, magnifying and cherishing it as a great and wonderful treasure to be accepted with all praise and gratitude.

This prayer, this desire for mercy needs to be seen as a treasure, not because of the words we say, but because of the words said to us in love.  That changes our plea from one of desperation, to one of expectation, as the glory of God surrounds us, and we dind His love is still deeper, higher, broader and wider than we could have ever thought.

This is our God. We are His….gloriously his. 

Tappert, T. G. (Ed.). (1959). The Book of Concord the confessions of the Evangelical Lutheran Church. (pp. 458–459). Philadelphia: Mühlenberg Press.

Jealousy, Desire, and the Holiness of God.

Devotional Thought of the Day:

3  “You must not have any other god but me. 4  “You must not make for yourself an idol of any kind or an image of anything in the heavens or on the earth or in the sea. 5  You must not bow down to them or worship them, for I, the LORD your God, am a jealous God who will not tolerate your affection for any other gods.    Exodus 20:3-5 (NLT)

9  The Lord is not being slow in carrying out his promises, as some people think he is; rather is he being patient with you, wanting nobody to be lost and everybody to be brought to repentance. 2 Peter 3:9 (NJB)

This desire of Jesus has permeated his whole life up to this very hour when the desire of the bridegroom at last approaches the hour of its fulfillment, the hour in which the words and the waiting will be succeeded by the full reality of love. And in the background of this human waiting of Jesus that looks forward to this very hour in which he will make the supreme sacrifice and can become ultimately ours, there is present, too, the eternal desire of God, which also awaits this hour, because God longs to give himself. But what response does this longing on the part of God encounter? How much indifference! How much inner emptiness and disregard! And what about ourselves? Do we really approach this center of the universe with eagerness? Or do we not sometimes flatter ourselves that we are doing God and the Church a favor by spending an hour there with him.  (1)

These two words, jealousy and passion, make most men uncomfortable.  There is something about them that make us think the person who is jealous, who is passionate about something lacks control, lacks wisdom, lacks logic.

So to hear these words used about God?

It seems unreasonable. It almost seems blasphemous to describe God as a jealous God, one who in His rage would destroy those who would get between those whom he desires.  When you read the first passage above from Exodus, it seems strongly worded, but then look at others, Deut. 4:24, Deut 6:15, Nahum 1:2, and you get a picture of God that seems too intense, to desperate, to out of control.

Does God really desire a relationship with someone else so much that he would become angry and full of wrath when that relationship doesn’t come to be? Would God have a “melt down” to that extreme?

It doesn’t seem like the God we hear about today, the one that is represented in logical presentations, and case studies which detail the perfection of God.  In churches that focus on holiness, the concept of being holy as God is holy is more about precision behaviors meeting a standard, a standard usually set by someone other than God.

But holiness is about being separated out, being chosen, being drawn into a relationship where God desires, even jealously desires the one He loves. This holiness is seen in a relationship where God longs for the company of the beloved.  It is seen in the picture of the beloved in the Song of Solomon, or the prodigal’s father running to see his son returned.  It’s the God who was waiting for the cross, and the grave, for the joy set before Him.

This is Holiness.  God setting Himself up to dance and rejoice with the one He loves, as Isaiah pictures it so beautifully

That is why it seems so lame to trust in something other than God, to entrust ourselves and depend upon something we did or made.  The more we understand God’s desire, His jealousy, His passion for us, the more we desire to spend time with others sharing in that love, adoring the one who loves us.

My prayer for you today is the same that Paul prayed for the church when he said,

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.  Ephesians 3:14 (Phillips NT)

May you indeed know that love so far beyond our comprehension.  AMEN!

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. 115–116). San Francisco: Ignatius Press.

 

Imitate God – Live a Life filled with love

Imitate God
Live a Life Filled With Love!

Ephesians 4:17–5:2

In Jesus Name

This is my prayer for you, that because of the mercy of God our Father and our Lord Jesus Christ, you would desire to live a life filled with His love, and imitate Christ Jesus in everything you do.


The Difference Between Playing God.. and Imitating Him

It was once said that the sincerest form of compliment was for someone to imitate you.

Well, it is a compliment as long as they imitate something you like about yourself.

For example, a lady asking another lady for a recipe.

That’s a compliment.

Another pastor asking if he can use a sermon, or learn Chris’s liturgy music, those are compliments.

Someone choosing to become a teacher, or a doctor or even a pastor, because of the impact that a teacher, doctor or pastor had on their life.

Those are compliments as well!

Is someone trying to duplicate my golf swing?

That’s not a compliment; that is insanity!

In today’s epistle reading, there are two different models to imitate, to mimic.  One is insanity; the other seems impossible, but it is actually rather simple.

One is imitating the Gentiles.

The other is imitating God.

One possible, the other insanity….

Imitating the World is Simply Playing God  The Sin of Self Idolatry

Let’s deal with imitating the Gentiles.  Or as Paul says, living like the Gentiles, following the patterns and lifestyles of the world.

It doesn’t require a Ph.D. in Psychology to see how crazy the world is.

Paul describes it well by saying that those living without a relationship with God are hopelessly confused, that their minds are lost in a darkness that consumes them.  Paul goes on to describe them as close minded to God and having no sense of shame.  They are people that live for whatever seems pleasurable, chasing after whatever is popular, no matter how degrading, how filthy, how degrading, how evil.

As long as it meets what they consider their needs….

Need for pleasure, for fun, for comfort, for approval. Or simply if it helps them get what they want.  It is narcissism, self-centeredness Or put more simply, it is telling God his guidance is worthless, and replacing his rules with your own.  Don’t worry about those ten commandments, or loving our neighbor, the world says.  Scripture isn’t relevant or real! Do what seems right in your own eyes, and if peopled question you, tell them to not judge you.

That was the gGentilesattitude, it is definitely the world’s attitude today.

But there is a problem here… one we need to think through.

Lest we only judge those out in the world, I need you to recognize what Paul is telling this church, perhaps the most mature of all the churches he ministered to.

Look at this carefully

17 With the Lord’s authority I say this: Live no longer as the Gentiles do,

Now, let’s think about this.  You don’t have to tell people to not do something, unless they are doing it!

And if you are an apostle, you don’t have to add, “with the Lord’s authority”, unless you know they are really going to struggle with you on the matter.

The people in the church in Ephesus struggled with living like the world.

If we are honest, we struggle with it as well.  It’s not that we really want to, but some habits are hard to break.  Temptations can be hard to overcome.

Paul lists a bunch of sin, buts the key is in verse 22.  Sin is the result of lives corrupted by two things, the first is lust, desiring things that aren’t yours.  The second thing that corrupts our lives is what is translated as deception, but is more like seduction.  The things that distract us, attract our attention and cause us to hunger for them.

The sin dominated one is a insane life, for we don’t have the wisdom to choose wisely.  It is crazy to say we know better than God. That we know what is good for us.

But there is an option to imitating the world.

Imitating God  The life of the Transformed

We need to make sure we understand the difference between playing God, and imitating God.

The gentiles and the world, and yes often we play God.  That is sin.

But Paul calls us to imitate God, to follow the example of Jesus.  That requires something important.  You see a hint of it on the cover of the bulletin.  It is a transformation as incredible as that which occurs when a hungry caterpillar becomes a majestic butterfly.

A transformation that begins when you were baptized.

A transformation that happens as Paul describes, in verse 23,

let the Spirit renew your thoughts and attitudes. 24 Put on your new nature, created to be like God—truly righteous and holy.

and

Remember, he has identified you as his own, guaranteeing that you will be saved on the day of redemption.

Unlike the butterfly, our transformation is started, empowered and completed by Christ.  It occurs as we spend time realizing His presence in our lives, the promise of our Baptism.   It happens as we contemplate how much He loves us, and the freedom that gives us.

For the old controlling forces that corrupted our lives have been broken and we are free to see God’s reconciliation spread, even as Paul describes

31 Get rid of all bitterness, rage, anger, harsh words, and slander, as well as all types of evil behavior. 32 Instead, be kind to each other, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, just as God through Christ has forgiven you.

This is not a command as we think of it, and imperative you must.  It is more like discovering something incredible, a blessing of proportions!

Bitterness, rage, anger, harsh words, gossip, all evil behavior can be stripped off of us, and as we are united to Jesus, we find ourselves being dressed with God’s love, with His mercy, even as we begin to resemble Christ…even as we are being healed.

Because we are imitating God.

Like a child, wanting to be like his dad…

This is what happens when you trust in God, when you depend on Him.

We are changed, we are transformed… and instead of being locked into a life shaped and modeled by the world, we find something incredible, a journey through life, that as we mature, as we are drawn deeper and deeper into a relationship with Jesus… causes us to resemble Him more… and these words become our life

Imitate God, therefore, in everything you do, because you are his dear children. Live a life filled with love,

AMEN!

Imitate God – Live a Life Filled with Love (Sermon for 8/9 – Audio-Video)

The Transformation of Easter; The Change to Our Attitude

Featured imageThe Transformation of Easter

The Change to Our Attitude

1 John 3:16-24

  IHS

As you look towards standing before God, may you know the grace and mercy of our Father, and the Lord Jesus, which will give you bold confidence and the greatest of joy!

An Amazing Sight

Our epistle today describes an amazing moment in your life.

You are there, in the fullness of God’s glory.  There among the cherubim, the seraphim, the 24 elders that surround God on His throne.  The joy is immense, the sound of the people singing God’s praises so incredible, so far beyond anything you have ever pictured or thought.

It is what we’ve waited a lifetime for, and as you catch God’s eye, you see a twinkle, and a smile, and you are absolutely confident that this is where you belong.

It is an amazing feeling, to know that you belong there, in the very presence, in the glory of God.  A feeling that you feel as at home there, as in your own living room.  A feeling that you are completely peaceful here in the presence of the Lord.

What an amazing moment, an amazing eternity, to be standing before God in all of His glory, and to be, using the words of John, boldly confident, without a hesitation because of guilt, or shame. Hearing the praises of all the host of heaven, as they praise God for His holiness, for His sacredness, for His setting Himself, apart for us.

Amazing!

I can’t even imagine the feeling, the view, the joy…

The closest I can come… well…we will get to that a little later.

Uhm – am I compassionate enough!

I want to look at verse 16 and 17 for a few moments.

16 We know what real love is because Jesus gave up his life for us. So we also ought to give up our lives for our brothers and sisters. 17 If someone has enough money to live well and sees a brother or sister in need but shows no compassion—how can God’s love be in that person?

I have to admit this one challenges me, even as the passage from Acts about everyone having everything in common did a few weeks ago.

I want to justify; I want to be the one who determines what it means to “be in need.”

I want to determine what it means to have “enough money”.  You know, I think Bill Gates has enough, and maybe those pro athletes.  The rest of us?  Not so much.

As we hear those words, I can’t help but think of the pleas that come from organizations that want to feed the children in the inner city, or in poor countries around the world.  Or the guy who was at the 91 and Bellflower Blvd exit, with his hand out for money.

Can I ignore them, and still know the love of God?  Is it in me?

Can we really look at our lives, in view of John’s call to “give up out lives for our brothers and sisters” and have confidence to stand before God?

Do we have the compassion – literally are our stomachs upset when we see someone in need?  Or do we just look away, or look down on those who have need?

How can we find the confidence we need to stand before God when John’s epistle is questioning us this bluntly?

Will we be in those that Jesus judges to be sheep, who visited the imprisoned, who fed the hungry, given drink to the thirsty, clothed the naked, and in doing so, cared for Him?  Or will we be the goats, the stubborn one’s who held on to their stuff, and not cared?

How will we stand before God?

How many of us can say we are that compassionate towards those who are in need?

As a pastor, I think my answer will surprise you.

Where we find this compassion; the change He’s wrought in us.

A moment ago, I mentioned the companion passage to our epistle reading, which talked about the sheep and the goats.

Most of you might recall that the goats didn’t realize when they missed the opportunity to care for Jesus.  They asked him, “when didn’t we visit, feed, clothe, and care for you Jesus?”  And He said, “when you didn’t do it to the least of those in need, you didn’t do it to me.”

What most overlook is that the sheep didn’t know when they did visit, feed, sustain, clothe and care for Jesus.  They were as surprised as those who didn’t, but their care was evident to Jesus.

As I look out into this congregation, I see more and more, the people who are caring for those who are in need.  The people who have helped pre-school parents with scholarships, the people who respond to Al’s pleas for benevolence, both big and small.  One person has helped care for those kids as well, by paying for new carpets and flooring.  We hold each other up in prayer, and we respond to needs as they come. I hear of people visiting, and sharing, hugging each other.

That is why passing the peace comes where it does in the service, because when we realize the love of Christ seen here – at the altar, we see the need of it in each other’s lives and respond by sharing it with others.  Any other place in the liturgy, and it is pretty much a greeting.  But as we see the Body and Blood here for us… it changes us; it causes a level of compassion that is otherwise overlooked.  That compassion and love is amazing and brings comfort and peace.

Truly you can see in this place the love of Christ, if you know where and when to look.

You see, that is the transformation that occurs when we know that He is risen (response  He is Risen Indeed! Alleluia) ) and therefore ( we are risen indeed!)  God changes us, we learn to care for each other, for our brothers and sisters in Christ. It is a transformation He is doing, to all who believe are baptized.  Some may seem slower than others, but if we can’t even judge ourselves, our judgment of others fails as well.  Each of us has time, talents and treasures that differ, but the compassion of Christ is there in all of us.  It comes out more and more as we experience the love of Christ.

Like when we take and eat and take His body, and take and drink His blood, given and shed for us.

It is here, at the altar, experiencing His love and mercy, His presence and glory, that we are transformed, that we are changed, that we find God compassionate toward us, freeing us from sin and the fear of death, freeing us from the power of satan, freeing us to love Christ.  Freeing us from the guilt and shame, which would distract us from Jesus.

This is the work of Christ in you, the work that began in your baptism, that comes to His completion, that day when you stand before Him with bold confidence, assured, not of your own compassion, but of His.

it is that work, driven by His compassion, that will cause you to be bold and confident in His presence, and which brings you His peace, that peace the world cannot give, in which you are compassionately guarded, your heart and mind, for you dwell in Christ Jesus.  AMEN.

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