Come Back to Me
† I.H.S. †
May the grace of God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ assure you that the Holy Spirit has been breathed into Your Life and that you Live.
Valley of the Empty Sanctuary
Will these seats be filled?
As I look out over this nearly empty sanctuary, I think I understand how Ezekiel felt looking out over the valley filled with dry bones.
I will be honest, it is hard to do this, looking out over empty seats where there should be life. Where a sermon should bring smiles, and deeper thoughts when a call for repentance might bring some tears when the announcement of forgiveness brings from those seats a full, powerful and joy-filled amen!
And I almost hear the Lord asking me, as He once asked Ezekiel, a question. “Can these seats be filled” When will Concordia’s sanctuary be filled again with life?
And all I can answer is the same answer, O Sovereign Lord, you alone know the answer to that!
He does… but I wish I could do what Ezekiel did next… and speak and see a miracle take place.
Are we dry bones?
Is our Hope gone?
Are We finished?
As I talk to many of our people, and others who are reaching out, the words of the dry bones resonate with what I am hearing. There in verse 11, are the words of complaint.
Then he said to me, “Son of man, these bones represent the people of Israel. They are saying, ‘We have become old, dry bones—all hope is gone. Our nation is finished.’ Ezekiel 37:11 (NLT2)
Though many people have a good attitude about this, many talk of the weariness, even the times of tears that cannot be stopped…
We grow weary, and hope isn’t gone, but it does seem a long way off in the distance. We miss each other, the handshakes, the hugs, the elbows we usually pass off to each other. Obviously, the “the Lord is with you and also with you’s” and the hands that reach out an receive the body and blood of Christ.
We are weary, we feel isolated, we feel like the people who Ezekiel wrote too – who were scattered and distant, and not “at home”, even as we are stuck in our homes. They weren’t literally the bones in the valley, but they certainly felt that way.
Which I think we understand, at least in the present moment
Again we don’t know our hope is gone, but it feels like it. We don’t know the effect on our people, but it doesn’t seem good.
So we cry out to God, together… and ask that the Holy Spirit breaths new life into us…
And God has promised that Spirit, the one Jesus calls the Comforter, will do just that.
Come Holy Spirit – Come comforter –
He will bring us back!
He will return us Home, He will gather us
There is our hope, as the Holy Spirit has already, because of the blood of Christ, defeated death. That’s symbolized by the cartilage, muscles, and skin coming back on the skeletons.
But then there is a pause, and life is breathed back in – the Spirit of God, which breathed life into us… once again comes and breathes life into us, and the process of bringing us into the presence of God.
Making us know God is at home with us, wherever we are.
Helping us know that He will restore us to each other…
He is bringing He people back to life – His great army as Ezekiel describes.
And it won’t take as long as it took for Ezekiel’s vision to come to pass.
For God has already guaranteed this promise of the Holy Spirit’s presence with us, first at the cross and resurrection, and then in our Baptism. The Spirit has come to us, we are its temple – and God will never ever leave or forsake us.
This is our greatest asset in times like this, the work of the Holy Spirit, the Lord and giver of life as we say in the creed, the description of why we have hope, the description of what makes life, life.
This is our hope in this, the word of the Holy Spirit.
There is an old prayer I would like to end with…
“Come, Holy Spirit, fill the hearts of your faithful and kindle in them, the fire of your love!”
Come, fill the place, and every place where people are watching.. AMEN!
Devotional Thought of my day:
The LORD was like an eagle teaching its young to fly, always ready to swoop down and catch them on its back. Deut. 32:11 CEV
The Christian far oftener disgraces his profession in prosperity than in adversity. It is a dangerous thing to be prosperous. The crucible of adversity is a less severe trial to the Christian than the refining pot of prosperity. Oh, what leanness of soul and neglect of spiritual things have been brought on through the very mercies and bounties of God
This treatise is another example of Luther’s remarkable ability to withdraw from the heat of controversy into the pastoral atmosphere of serene devotion. The entire writing echoes his experience as a pastor and confessor constantly in contact with men and women who were terrified by the maze of popular customs and practices observed by the church in connection with death.
In reading the forward to Luther’s sermon on dying, I was struck by how often it was reprinted. His theology was still in the early stages of reforming, His battles with leaders of the Roman Catholic Church were just beginning. And as noted, he set this aside to help a friend, one terrified by all the stuff that surrounded death. His friend and many others would listen, for they were in what Spurgeon calls the crucible of adversity.
That crucible doesn’t have to be related to physical death. The death of a dream, the death of a relationship, the termination from a job, or the fear of any of these things!
Spurgeon’s quote comes from a section about the challenges of dealing with abundance, the challenge s of dealing with prosperity, and yet he notes the blessings of adversity, of being oppressed, of being under pressure. I resonate with that, for I know the most challenging, the most severe temptations which I face, the places where sin appears to have it greatest grip on me, are the places where life is easier, where I am not running to God.
It is better for me to write from the point of my own despair, for there I find this passage from Deuteronomy to be true. God will catch me, I know he will, even as I struggle with the fears and anxiety caused by the fall.
Most of the time I don’t realize this, I am not looking for it, I am too overwhelmed by the impending crash. I forget how faithful His promise is because my eyes are on me and my situation.
But in the midst of falling, He is always there…
And eventually, I hear the Spirit’s call and know the comfort of God’s presence, a presence that is there anyway. As I grow old, I realize that I eventually will, and that too calms the frayed nerves, lifts me out of my depression, and helps me see those around me, who need ot be lifted up by those same wings.
Thank you Lord Jesus, for being there in times of despair, the times when the brokenness is too great. Sustain us then, when we can’t seem to realize Your presence. Sustain as well, when things are good, and we forget our need to depend on You,. AMEN!
C. H. Spurgeon, Morning and Evening: Daily Readings (London: Passmore & Alabaster, 1896).
Martin Luther, Luther’s Works, Vol. 42: Devotional Writings I, ed. Jaroslav Jan Pelikan, Hilton C. Oswald, and Helmut T. Lehmann, vol. 42 (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1999), 98
Useless! It’s All Useless! ??
† I.H.S. †
May the grace of God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ assure you that your life and your ministry is not worthless!
The Feeling of Uselessness
There are times in life when you will put all your effort into your work, or into the work you do here at church.
But when you sit back at the end of a day or a week, you look and wonder why you worked so hard. You wonder why you tried so hard,
And yet, you seem to have accomplished so little.
There are still bills to be paid, dishes to be done, there is still a pile of tasks at work, and the church doesn’t seem to grow the way you would like.
It is not a good feeling, and it can tempt you to despair.
to wonder why things aren’t getting better
to wonder if they ever will.
My friends, we aren’t the first to ever wonder that!
In fact, that is part of our reading from the book of Isaiah. Part of our reading this morning was this,
He said to me, “You are my servant, Israel, and you will bring me glory.” 4 I replied, “But my work seems so useless! I have spent my strength for nothing and to no purpose. Is. 49:3-4
I’ve had days like that, where I know that my actions and thoughts should be bringing God glory, that they should have some tangible results, and yet…
So how do we deal with this feeling?
Why does it exist?
First, we have to identify where it comes from.
The first is simple and often overlooked.
Satan would try to cause us to believe there is nothing to our relationship with God.
He would love to paralyze us, blinding us to the work God is actually doing in our lives,
and through our lives.
You heard that! God does the work through us!
The second cause is our own sin,
When we want to play God and determine the impact and effect of what we do.
You see, we aren’t the ones who determine the results of the actions that God calls us to do, and the Holy Spirit guides us and empowers us to do.
When we demand to know the results, we usually have demanded to determine the actions as well.
What we’ve forgotten is what Paul taught the Corinthians,
5 After all, who is Apollos? Who is Paul? We are only God’s servants through whom you believed the Good News. Each of us did the work the Lord gave us. 6 I planted the seed in your hearts, and Apollos watered it, but it was God who made it grow. 7 It’s not important who does the planting, or who does the watering. What’s important is that God makes the seed grow. 1 Corinthians 3:5-7 (NLT2)
That is what is comes down to sometimes, we want to determine the growth. We want to be in charge, rather than letting God be in charge.
We try to get the results we want, and ignore living and ministering to others in the way He has directed us to live.
Loving Him with all our heart, soul and mind.
Loving our neighbor as we love ourselves. (depending on God’s love to make this happen)
When we demand the results, per our standards, per our expectations, we need to go back and double-check our actions, our plans, and see whether they are in line with His commands.
And if not, repent, and seek the forgiveness that God graciously plans for us.
The Real Answer
The person Isaiah writes about found the same answer, and the way to measure the results.
“Yet I leave it all in the LORD’s hand; I will trust God for my reward.” Isaiah 49:4b (NLT2)
That’s a challenge, to simply place all that we do in the Lord’s hands, to let Him determine how He will use what He directs and empowers us to do.
He is God remember? He is with us! His Holy Spirit dwells in us, gives us the gifts that we have to use in loving Him and loving each other!
Our reward ultimately is when He tells us, “well done, MY good and faithful servant!” Matthew 25:21NLT2
That reward is what is guaranteed when we leave it in His hands!
Remember He makes what is righteous, righteous, and in cleansing us from all sin and unrighteousness, even that is judged righteous!
Without having to worry about how we will be judged, we can simply look at what we want to do, measure it by how it loves God and our neighbor, and if it does, go with it.
That’s why I tell people in the English service, whatever idea you have for this church to minister to others, let’s pray about, make sure it loves God and our neighbor, and ask God to bless it, and do it!
Leaving the results in the hands of our loving, heavenly Father.
Remember, He cares for you… and for the people around you.
He sent Jesus to correct all the times we try to be in charge, when we try to manipulate the results, and when we despair when we don’t get what we want.
That’s why the cross, and that is the final proof of this passage.
You see, the passage isn’t just about us. At the cross, one could easily wonder if the work of Jesus was useless! He had spent his life investing in the people of Israel, and in 12 guys, all of whom betrayed Him.
Sounds useless to me!
What value was it? He didn’t cause great revival during His life, he couldn’t even get 12 guys to get it right.
Yet, His reward is that every knee will bow, and every tongue confess He is Lord.
No, His reward is greater than that. His reward is our homecoming, our relationship with the Father, that He invested His life, and death to re-create
If Jesus didn’t love the Father and love us, the cross makes no sense. But because of that love, it makes sense, and it is rewarded!
Loving the Father who loves us, loving our neighbor, even if they would crucify us… or just make our life inconvenient, and less about…. Us. That is how we live in Christ, that is what makes our life incredible.
We can do that because of His forgiveness, because He heals our souls, because the Spirit, given to us in baptism, empowers that and makes it happen. Look to Him, fall madly in love with God, pray, and let us serve Him together!
Devotional Thought of the Day:
41 The Son of Man will send out his angels, and they will gather from his kingdom everyone who does wrong or causes others to sin. 42 Then he will throw them into a flaming furnace, where people will cry and grit their teeth in pain. 43 But everyone who has done right will shine like the sun in their Father’s kingdom. If you have ears, pay attention! Mt 13:41-43 CEV
Properly speaking, true repentance is nothing else than to have contrition and sorrow, or terror, on account of sin, and yet at the same time to believe the Gospel and absolution (namely, that sin has been forgiven and grace has been obtained through Christ), and this faith will comfort the heart and again set it at rest.1
6 Amendment of life and the forsaking of sin would then follow, for these must be the fruits of repentance, as John says, “Bear fruit that befits repentance” (Matt. 3:8).
We must give ourselves wholly to this matter, for the main benefit of Christ’s passion is that man sees into his own true self and that he be terrified and crushed by this. Unless we seek that knowledge, we do not derive much benefit from Christ’s passion……..
No meditation or any other doctrine is granted to you that you might be boldly inspired by your own will to accomplish this. You must first seek God’s grace and ask that it be accomplished by his grace and not by your own power. That is why the people we referred to above fail to view Christ’s passion aright. They do not seek God’s help for this, but look to their own ability to devise their own means of accomplishing this. They deal with the matter in a completely human but also unfruitful way.
Star Wars would not be beloved the way it is, unless Luke and his family had to deal with their dark side. The Lord of the Rings would not be the same unless you experience the dark journey of two Hobbits, Smeagol and Frodo. We even see it in the old classics like The Count of Monte Cristo and Les Miserables, as the hero’s are survive their own darkness,
Every good epic tale had those dark times. Time s that some survive, some do not, and yet all bear the scars of throughout their lives. This is called a meta-narrative, a truth seen in God’s general revelation, that becomes clear in His specific revelation in scripture.
What these stories touch on is our own spiritual walk, what they illustrate is our own spiritual journey.
And just like Luke is afraid to face the darkness, like Frodo has to get used to his darkness calling him to wear the ring, of Val Jean dealing with his own brokenness, we have to face our own.
We have to face our sin. We have to own it, and the pain of the brokenness. As Luther writes about mediating on the cross, he goes ballistic on this point, ( I am hoping he is equally powerful about grace – but I have gotten there yet!)
Our sin does need to have an impact on us, crushing us, terrifying us at first, but as the Augsburg Confession discusses we have to believe in the gospel, that we’ve been forgiven, healed.
The weeds of Matthew 13 don’t want to admit they need that care. They go about doing wrong and encouraging others to do wrong. They refuse to see their brokenness, and therefore see no need for the cross, and the God to die upon it, bearing the weight of their sin.
They are Smeagol/Gollum, Vader and they Emperor, Javert, and those who betray the young sailor. They find their place in the darkness, and are afraid to deal with the evil they see within themselves.
But the main characters do not find their redemption in their heroics, they are almost surprised they survive, as they consider how close they came to embracing hell. There is a sense of joyous relief, even awe, as they look to their surviving the journey into darkness.
This is truly what happens to the sinner, drawn to the cross, where Jesus is lifted up. To get there, we need to see the brokenness sin has cause in our lives. We need to consider what would have happened if Jesus wasn’t sacrificed, and realize how incredible the love of God is that saves us from what we earned.
It isn’t all hell, fire and brimstone, for we know, we are fully confident in our deliverance. Yet… that confidence comes from realizing the painful emptiness that is the the effect being imprisoned by sin, and being rescued, the bonds shattered as the nails pierced Jesus’ wrists and ankles.
We have survived, in Christ overcoming our sin, we have endured. He has seen our darkness, more clearly that we ever have… and loved us more than despising the darkness.
May our lives reflect that love.. that would not let us go…
Theodore G. Tappert, ed., The Book of Concord the Confessions of the Evangelical Lutheran Church. (Philadelphia: Mühlenberg Press, 1959), 34–35.
Martin Luther, Luther’s Works, Vol. 42: Devotional Writings I, ed. Jaroslav Jan Pelikan, Hilton C. Oswald, and Helmut T. Lehmann, vol. 42 (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1999), 10-11
Devotional Thought of the Day:
15 For this reason, ever since I heard of your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love for all of God’s people, 16 I have not stopped giving thanks to God for you. I remember you in my prayers 17 and ask the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the glorious Father, to give you the Spirit, who will make you wise and reveal God to you, so that you will know him. 18 I ask that your minds may be opened to see his light, so that you will know what is the hope to which he has called you, how rich are the wonderful blessings he promises his people, 19 and how very great is his power at work in us who believe. This power working in us is the same as the mighty strength 20 which he used when he raised Christ from death and seated him at his right side in the heavenly world. Ephesians 1:15-20 (TEV)
283 A little diversion! You’ve got to have a change! So you open your eyes wide to let in images of things, or you squint because you’re nearsighted! Close them altogether! Have interior life, and you’ll see the wonders of a better world, a new world with undreamed-of color and perspective … and you’ll draw close to God. You’ll feel your weaknesses; and you’ll become more God-like…with a godliness that will make you more of a brother to your fellow men by bringing you closer to your Father.
There is a vision problem in this country, and in the church.
The way people see the world, their communities, their churches and their own lives, well, lets put it honestly, sucks.
This includes me, perhaps mostly me.
That view point can lead to anger, to frustration, to putting hope in people, who are frankly, no better than the people who have let us down in the past. They are sinners, they are broken, they will at some time or another, let you down.
We look for change, but we look for it in the wrong place.
We might even look at the need to change in ourselves, and try to force it, trying to make ourselves into an image that is not necessarily what or whom we are supposed to be.
And so, maybe in desperation, we hear the voice of saints who knew enough self doubt. One whose words are simply his own reflections on the matter, and one whose words are divinely inspired.
We have to be careful to hear exactly what St Josemaria is saying, and not hear what we think we hear. When He talks of an interior life, He is talking about our walk with God. He is not talking about a brutal self examination where we focus on our own brokenness, our own sin, our own perception of who we are, god or bad.
He’s talking about seeing you as God knows you, (see Colossians 3:1) the real you. Theone loved enough that Christ died for them, and had planned to from before the foundation of the earth. He’s talking about the very thing St Paul writes to the church in Ephesus about – to know the glorious hope, the amazing promises that comes as God is revealed to you, and you realize who you are in relation to God.
It is then, knowing we are beloved, that the world changes in our sight. From being hopelessly broken to seeing the redemption and reconciliation going on, such that we become so confident of it, we patiently wait for the return of Jesus. We begin to see the beauty God created, both in nature and in others, and we see the potential of what it will be like, when it is renewed.
When we see the power of God, that raised Christ Jesus from the dead, at work in us, then everything changes, and our prayer, “Lord, have mercy!” goes from a begging plea of desperation to a cry of confidence…assured of His presence, His promises, His love.
And it can all start, by closing our eyes, picturing Jesus on the cross, and with a growing confidence praying, “our Father, who art in heaven…”
Escriva, Josemaria. The Way (Kindle Locations 749-753). Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition.
Devotional Thought for the day:
14 Do everything without complaining or arguing, 15† so that you may be innocent and pure as God’s perfect children, who live in a world of corrupt and sinful people. You must shine among them like stars lighting up the sky, 16 as you offer them the message of life. If you do so, I shall have reason to be proud of you on the Day of Christ, because it will show that all my effort and work have not been wasted. Phil. 2:14-16 GNT
While the entire psalter and the holy scriptures altogether are also dear to me, as they are my sole comfort and life, nevertheless, I have struck up a very special relationship with this psalm, so that it must be mine and be called mine. It has worked quite diligently for me, deserving to become mine, and has helped me in some great emergencies, out of which no emperor, king, sage, clever person, or saint would have been able to help me.
You may have been told that it is good to read the Bible through every year and that you can ensure this will happen by reading so many verses per day from the Old and New Testaments. If you do this you may enjoy the reputation of one who reads the Bible through each year, and you may congratulate yourself on it. But will you become more like Christ and more filled with the life of God?
My daily devotions changed a few years ago, when I discovered a book called Celtic Daily Prayer (and now volume 2) and another book called The Way. Before that I saw devotions as a task, and as what a good pastor did, and tried to model to his people. I did the read through the Bible in a year, I even wrote the predecessor to this blog. Looking back, I am not sure I could have answered the question posed by the last line of the quote from Dallas Willard.
It wasn’t the books that changed my devotional life, they just showed up and in the right time and place. It wasn’t on a quest for holiness, that this process grew, nor do I see myself holier or more mature.
I may have grown in holiness, I may be more “devout” (I believe that is very much up to debate), I pray that I am more like Christ.
What I am is more aware of how much I need to depend on God. I resonate with Luther, about this passage and that ministering to me more than others. ( 1 Cor. 2:9, Ezekiel 26:25, Exodus 50:20, Phil. 1:6, Hebrews 12:1-3 Romans 12:1-3 ) for a few that have that effect) greeting me like old friends when I get to them. Jeremiah 20:7 as well, oh gosh has that saved me in despair more than once.
Yet it has been reading through scriptures and my other aids that have led me to those passages. The words of Escriva, Luther, Willard and Popes Francis and Benedict have help me see what I am missing, and far too often, what I encounter gives me the strength I need when something big is looming. (and it seems like something always is looming)
I am not doing this because I am a saint, or devout, or because I want to impress people. I am doing this because I need to, I need to remember that God is benevolent, and merciful, and loves me, and then that He loves those I struggle with, and desires that we all come to repentance.
It is why I encourage you to spend time in the word, like a miner digging for diamonds, trying to find those verse that will reveal God’s love to you so completely that you don’t recognize the change. But you cling to them.. oh.. do you cling to them, as you are comforted and healed by the Holy Spirit who uses them to heal your heart, soul and mind. AMEN!
Willard, D., & Johnson, J. (2015). Hearing god through the year: a 365-day devotional. Westmont, IL: InterVarsity Press.
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.) (p. 203). New York; Mahwah, NJ: Paulist Press.
Devotional Thought of the Day:
1 I cry aloud to God; I cry aloud, and he hears me. 2 In times of trouble I pray to the Lord; all night long I lift my hands in prayer, but I cannot find comfort. 3 When I think of God, I sigh; when I meditate, I feel discouraged. 4 He keeps me awake all night; I am so worried that I cannot speak. 5 I think of days gone by and remember years of long ago. 6 I spend the night in deep thought; I meditate, and this is what I ask myself: 7 “Will the Lord always reject us? Will he never again be pleased with us? 8 Has he stopped loving us? Does his promise no longer stand? 9 Has God forgotten to be merciful? Has anger taken the place of his compassion?” 10 Then I said, “What hurts me most is this— that God is no longer powerful.” 11 I will remember your great deeds, LORD; I will recall the wonders you did in the past. 12 I will think about all that you have done; I will meditate on all your mighty acts. 13 Everything you do, O God, is holy. No god is as great as you.
Psalm 77:1-13 (TEV)
856 If you fix your sight on God and thus know how to keep calm in the face of worries; if you can forget petty things, grudges and envies, you will save a lot of energy, which you need if you are to work effectively in the service of men.
I love (and hate) the honesty of the Scripture, especially Psalms like this one, and most of Jeremiah.
To describe the feeling of knowing God is there, and that He hears you and then to go on and describe the despair and discouragement. When we look at the trials we go through and wonder whether God has rejected us, whether He has stopped loving us, whether anger takes the place of His compassion.
Most of us go through these phases spiritually ( see Dark Night of the Soul for a great example) when our faith is not so much dependence on God and trusting in Him as it is simply a set of doctrines. We even doubt the power of God or at least the application of His power in our life.
The challenge isn’t seeing His power at work, it is seeing Him For if we are trying to see Him at work in our lives, the challenges in our lives will dominate us. The challenges will overwhelm us and create a dissonance between what we think we need, and what we do need. It is from this place, this moment of brokenness, that we again remember He is our savior
But if we can keep our eyes on Him, as He draws us into His kingdom, then because we are looking to Him, we see the work He is doing, the work He has promised us in scripture to do. The kind of miracles that happen simply because we dwell in His presence, and He provides for us.
As we look to Him, we see this, and it is truly amazing.
That is why those moments at the altar, as I am receiving the Lord’s Supper are so incredible. Or as I serve it to His people and I see what is happening to them as they recognize the presence of Christ’s body and blood. (1 Cor 11:29) The same goes for the times of prayer, and the times when someone experiences the love of God in the scripture as something that is theirs. When they realize the resurrection isn’t just “history” but it completely impacts their day, lived in the presence of God.
And then, dwelling in His unexplainable peace, you will find it easier to love and serve those God is entrusting to you. It is this life that is holy, it is this life that is the result of His resurrection, and our being re-born in Him.
Lord Jesus, bless us with eyes that can see You, ears that can hear Your words of love, and hearts that desire you above all else, then walk with us Lord and show us whom we get to minister to…together. AMEN!
Escriva, Josemaria. Furrow (Kindle Locations 3508-3510). Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition.
Devotional Thought of the Day:
1 O God, listen to my cry! Hear my prayer! 2 From the ends of the earth, I cry to you for help when my heart is overwhelmed. Lead me to the towering rock of safety, 3 for you are my safe refuge, a fortress where my enemies cannot reach me. 4 Let me live forever in your sanctuary, safe beneath the shelter of your wings!
Psalm 61:1-4 (NLT2)
How, then, can I learn what it means to be human? What must I do? In his question the teacher of the law mentions a prerequisite that we seldom consider nowadays: if my life in this world is to be successful, I must view it as a stepping-stone to eternal life.
There are days in my life that are dark.
Just like most of you.
We hide from those days, we try to ignore them, and if we can’t, we try to anesthetize ourselves from the pain and emptiness they bring.
Days when I seem lost, when life doesn’t make sense, or when it gets in the way of what I want to do. Especially when what I want to do is serve God? To be with His people? It doesn’t make sense, it doesn’t seem right. It doesn’t seem that I am doing what I have been put here to do, and that dissonant feeling is horrid.
For me, those days have been a major part of life. Recovery from surgeries that left me isolated for months, asthma as a kid (one year I was in school only 40 days more than I was not!) and even the odd flu bug that knocks me out of church, like it did yesterday. Never mind all the fun things with my son and wife that I miss out on, because of health concerns.
Life can suck at times.
Into those thoughts, invading them comes these readings from this morning. First the psalmist, whose words I skim over at first, tacitly and religiously agreeing with them, Yep, I want that, that’s where I should be, there in the presence of God. What is next to read, oh yeah, proverbs?
A couple of readings later, I come to Pope Benedict’s one-year devotion. It’s become a favorite of mine. And his words make me go back to the Psalm and read it again.
My life doesn’t revolve around this mortal life. It revolves around my life with God. An eternity with Him, dwelling in His presence, not just in the stadium, like watching a rock star from the nosebleed seats. But interacting with Him, sharing the joy that comes from knowing the depth of His love.
This life isn’t the end, not even close, it is the dance lessons for our eternal dance with God.
That is exactly what I need to remember in these dark days. What I so missed my people telling me yesterday, as I missed church. What they fire back with me with conviction, as I tell them the Lord is with them
His presence here and now is a start.
And it’s only a start!
Lord Jesus, help us realize that your ministry to us was not just to make us right and holy, but to have a relationship with us, one that will last forever. Lord, help us to dwell with you, in peace! 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.) (p. 87). San Francisco: Ignatius Press.
Devotional Thought of the Day:
You have six days in which to do your work, but remember that the seventh day, the Sabbath, is a day of rest. On that day do not work, but gather for worship. The Sabbath belongs to the LORD, no matter where you live. Leviticus 23:3 GNT
“Ever since he was a child,” he replied. 22 “Many times the evil spirit has tried to kill him by throwing him in the fire and into
23 “Yes,” said Jesus, “if you yourself can! Everything is possible for the person who has faith.”
24 The father at once cried out, “I do have faith, but not enough. Help me have more!”
25 Jesus noticed that the crowd was closing in on them, so he gave a command to the evil spirit. “Deaf and dumb spirit,” he said, “I order you to come out of the boy and never go into him again!”
26 The spirit screamed, threw the boy into a bad fit, and came out. The boy looked like a corpse, and everyone said, “He is dead!” 27 But Jesus took the boy by the hand and helped him rise, and he stood up. Mark 9:21-27 GNT
445 If you abandon prayer you may at first live on spiritual reserves… and after that, by cheating.
So, as the holidays come to a close, as Advent’s focus and the joy of celebrating Jesus coming into the world begines to wane, a number of people have asked me what my plans were.
Actually, they phrase it like this, “go get some rest pastor!”
Then they ask, where I will go, to get the rest! What plans do I have, what will my family and I do.
As if rest is a synonym for travel and vacation. As if spending all day getting tired doing “fun” things provides what our souls need. Please note, I am not saying we shouldn’t take vacations, but rest is something very different.
Rest is what the boy and his dad gained, as Jesus freed them from the grip of demons. It is the time when we step aside from life, ot remember God is with us, to celebrate His presence, to remember His mercy, to let Him free us from the demons that afflict us, and the trauma that so assaults our hearts and souls.
That is what rest is, a time for our lives to relax, and leave everything in the hands of God Almighty, (and not giving him instructions and timelines!).
It enables us to truly pray, which enables us to truly live, and to know that God is here, with us, right now. That allows us to set aside the masks that hide our brokenness, the hypocrisy that everything is perfect in our lives, and the idea that we are saints, by our own power.
Taking this rest in Christ allows us to be human, forgiven, healing from the brokenness and even the demonic activity around us, as we depend on God, who has promised to care for us.
That’s the rest we need, and that is why I believe the place of greatest rest is at the altar rail, as we feast on the Body and Blood of Jesus, as He strips us of our sin, and heals us..It is there I am most aware of His peace, of the presence of God where He pours out all His love on us.
So I had my rest, and maybe we’ll sneak in some vacation time as well…. after I get past my traditional new years cold.
May you allow God to grant you the rest that your souls need!
Escriva, Josemaria. Furrow (Kindle Locations 1975-1977). Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition.
Be Full of Joy
† In JesusName †
May the grace of God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ leave fill you with more joy that you can imagine! AMEN!
There are in life some very irritating tunes.
You know, the ones that get stuck in your head and remain there for hours?
A few years ago it was songs from the children’s movie frozen, specifically “I want to be a snowman” and “Let it go!” And anyone who has ever been to Disneyland knows how long this next song sits in your mind. Here, I will give you the first word of it… and see if you can get it…
“It’s” (a small world after all…
There are a few of those in the church as well, though thankfully the ’70s are over and we rarely sing them.
Song’s like, “I’ve got that joy, joy, joy…(down in my heart) and even worse, “rejoice in the Lord always..” (Missy please note– these songs are never to be sung here unless I am on vacation in New England and Bob is preaching…)The latter praise song, “Rejoice in the Lord Always” is just the same words over and over, and over and… you get the picture. But what made it worse was that it was called a round… so, group, a would start it, then group b, then group c, so basically you were getting overwhelmed with this idea of having to
and sometimes we are not in the mood!
Dang it, sometimes you just don’t want to rejoice, you know, because sometimes life… is challenging. (What did you think I was going to say sometimes life sucks?)
And to be assaulted over and over with people saying “rejoice always” (which is how some old translations state this passage… shortens already short, frayed fuses.
One of the reasons I like this translation is passages like this, that makes it less about us, and talks of being filled with joy.
Things that joy needs to replace.
But if we are going to be truly filled with joy, we have to get rid of the just that is in the place where joy is supposed to be. Heck most of us have our lives so filled with these things, that we have not room for a chuckle or two, never mind full-blown, life overwhelming joy.
The things we are anxious about, the things that our minds dwell upon that cause us great stress. Getting rid of that junk will give us a lot of room in our lives for joy.
Then, of course, are the things we need, or that we think we need in our lives. Those
Then there are the things we pray for because we are so desperate that we turn to God. I am not sure we always do give it to Him, but we at least say we have, yet we still let the situation burn a hole in us
I could go on and talk about the guilt and shame that we live with, the things that cause us to fear death or consider the return of our Lord Jesus Christ in a way that isn’t full of joy and expectation.
For we should look at God’s returning, with the same kind of eyes that kids have, as they see presents with their names on them begin to be placed under the tree. For Christ’s return and what happens next are described with these favorite words from all of scripture.
9 What no eye has seen and no ear has heard, what the mind of man cannot visualise; all that God has prepared for those who love him; 1 Corinthians 2:9 (NJB)
And this thought should help us see the joy that God would fill us with if our lives can be emptied of anxiety, and our needs, and desperation and guilt and shame.
How did I come up with the list?
Our conversation with God revolves around these important things
So where did I come up with that list, the things that fill us instead of the joy God would so lovingly fill us with? Where did I get anxiety, needs, despair, guilt, and shame?
From the passage of course. Though I changed the words slightly.
Worry for anxious – the idea is to have a dueling mind, or two separate minds, at war with each other. Some translations actually use “be anxious over nothing”.
Pray comes from the word for desire – it is to lay before God all the things that cause us despair, and then we are not just to tell God, but we are to makeGod intimately aware of our needs, so that we can trust Him to take care of them, so we can empty ourselves of these burdens, and allowing Him to gill us with joy.
He does this when we come to the realization that Jesus return is what we truly need. We set aside our guilt and shame, or more accurately, we realize He has set it aside, thinking of the joy God has planned for in our homecoming, in our finally seeing Him face to face.
We don’t empty ourselves of these things, we need to trust God to do this, understanding that it is His desire to do
For as we heard Wednesday night, the prophet Zephaniah revealed the God delights in our homecoming, even more than we do. You see the joy we are filled with is His joy, the joy God has when He sees His people knowing they are loved, and able to fully experience it.
His joy is contagious, and His joy is found, and always has been found when He and His people are together when He’s been able to provide for them something beyond anyone’s capability to understand. or explain…
That which Paul prayed for His people and I pray for you, that emptied of all that can be replaced by joy, I pray you will experience God’s peace, which exceeds anything we can understand. And know this, His peace will guard your hearts and minds, as you live in Christ Jesus. AMEN!