The Impossibly, Possible Prayer…
Thoughts for this Day, to draw us closer to Jesus… and cause us to adore Him!
Please do me a favor, and read each of the following quotes carefully, and the one in blue twice… prior to reading my words
19 A scribe approached him and said, “Teacher, I will follow you wherever you go.” 20 Jesus told him, “Foxes have dens, and birds of the sky have nests, but the Son of Man has no place to lay his head.” 21 “Lord,” another of his disciples said, “first let me go bury my father.” 22 But Jesus told him, “Follow me, and let the dead bury their own dead.” Matthew 8:19–22 (CSB)
28 “Come to me, all of you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. 29 Take up my yoke and learn from me, because I am lowly and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. 30 For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.” Matthew 11:28–30 (CSB)
Now I am no longer my own, I am Thine; O God of my heart, dispose of me as Thou pleasest. In order to please Thee, I accept of all the tribulations Thou mayest choose to send me—sickness, sorrow, troubles, ignominies, poverty, persecution, desolation—I accept all to please Thee: in like manner I accept of the death Thou hast decreed for me, with all the anguish and crosses which may accompany it: it is enough if Thou grantest me the grace to love Thee exceedingly.
To be filled with the Spirit of God is to have come through feelings, disturbance, anxiety, disappointment and emptiness. When you reach that place of despair, when you have gone to the last person and you have written the last editor, when you have followed the last evangelist around and hunted up the last fellow to counsel with you—when no man can help you anymore and you are in a state of inward despair—that is when you will recognize that you are near the place where God can finally do what He wants to do for you. When there comes that despair with self, that emptying out of you and that inner loneliness, you are getting close.
It is part of my belief that God wants to get us to a place where we would still be happy if we had only Him! We don’t need God and something else. God does give us Himself and lets us have other things, too, but there is that inner loneliness until we reach the place where it is only God that we desire.
“There is only one article and one rule of theology, and this is true faith or trust in Christ. Whoever doesn’t hold this article and this rule is no theologian. All other articles flow into and out of this one; without it the others are meaningless. The devil has tried from the very beginning to deride this article and to put his own wisdom in its place. However, this article has a good savor for all who are afflicted, downcast, troubled, and tempted, and these are the ones who understand the gospel.”
I asked you to read the words in blue twice, but I want to start with those in purple…
I passionately love and hate those words de Ligouri wrote.
I want to be able to pray them, I desperately want to say, “these are my words! Hear them Lord!” I’ve been through enough in life to know the truth in them – this is where I should be, so desirous of God’s love, so adoring Him that I do not recognize the hardships that exist, and so eager to be with Him that I can cast temptation, and the sins of this day aside.
Yet I hate them because I cannot do that easily. The weights, the pains, the heartaches, the temptations, and yes – the sins all overwhelm me and convict me that such a prayer would simply be hypocritical, that it would be a lie. So that prayer angers me because I feel I cannot pray it. I understand the scribes shock and reluctance to leave it all behind to follow Jesus.
Luther’s words add to the dissonance, the relationship with Jesus, where I believe and trust and depend on Him is so critical, that nothing else matters. Again, I know this, but I struggle to live in this truth, and the brokenness it
causes I can’t explain without tears, without heartache.
If you are a Christian, and have been for any time, this tension should sound familiar. (See Romans 7 to now we aren’t alone!)
But the brokenness is a blessing, for it drives us to the point where we understand the gospel! We are those Luther identifies as being able to savor our dependence on Christ. We are the afflicted, downcast, troubled and tempted.
And therefore, there is nothing, nothing but Jesus left.
This is where Tozer’s words in blue, the one’s I asked you to read twice, come into play. With nothing else left, in the midst of our lonely brokenness, we find the Spirit of God filling our lives, comforting us. There are times when God uses someone to remind us of God’s presence, but in that despair, God helps us realize that our only need… is Him.
And that is where the prayer becomes possible. When we realize that God is everything for us, and that deep, intimate relationship becomes everything, and anything we endure is nothing.
For there, is Jesus.
The Friend who takes all our burdens, all our brokenness, all our cares, all the things we think separate us from Him… and He takes that load, and blesses our souls with peace and rest.
Heavenly Father, help us to learn to pray that Your Kingdom come, and Your Will be done…and mean it. Help us to see Your love, revealed in Christ’s love for us, and help us set all else aside…and rejoice as we adore You! Amen!
Alphonsus de Liguori, The Holy Eucharist, ed. Eugene Grimm, The Complete Works of Saint Alphonsus de Liguori (New York; London; Dublin; Cincinnati; St. Louis: Benziger Brothers; R. Washbourne; M. H. Gill & Son, 1887), 357.
A. W. Tozer, The Counselor: Straight Talk about the Holy Spirit from a 20th Century Prophet (Camp Hill, PA: WingSpread, 1993), 77–78.
Martin Luther, Luther’s Works, Vol. 54: Table Talk, ed. Jaroslav Jan Pelikan, Hilton C. Oswald, and Helmut T. Lehmann, vol. 54 (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1999), 157.
At the End of our Story, We Find He Protected us.
Devotional Thought of the Day:
16 All those who truly respected the LORD and honored his name started discussing these things, and when God saw what was happening, he had their names written as a reminder in his book. 17 Then the LORD All-Powerful said: You people are precious to me, and when I come to bring justice, I will protect you, just as parents protect an obedient child. 18 Then everyone will once again see the difference between those who obey me by doing right and those who reject me by doing wrong. Malachi 3:16-18 (CEV)
No man can be renewed without as real and true a manifestation of the Holy Spirit’s energy as he felt at first, because the work is as great, and flesh and blood are as much in the way now as ever they were. Let thy personal weakness, O Christian, be an argument to make thee pray earnestly to thy God for help.
Deliver us, Lord, we beseech you, from every evil and grant us peace in our day, so that aided by your mercy we might be ever free from sin and protected from all anxiety, as we await the blessed hope and the coming of our Savior, Jesus Christ.
Do you want to accompany Jesus closely, very closely? . . . Open the Holy Gospel and read the Passion of our Lord. But don’t just read it: live it. There is a big difference. To read is to recall something that happened in the past; to live is to find oneself present at an event that is happening here and now, to be someone taking part in those scenes. Then, allow your heart to open wide; let it place itself next to our Lord. And when you notice it trying to slip away—when you see that you are a coward, like the others—ask forgiveness for your cowardice and mine.
There are calendar year ends, fiscal year ends, liturgical year ends, and for me, the end of a year of devotional readings. That is why the reading from Malachi heads this list, the promise of God writing our names in the book, and offering His care, His protection to us. While we do not always realize this, this is our story, this God who loves and protects and comforts us!
The other readings touch on the same theme, the work of God in our lives, protecting us from the work of Satan, from the struggle with dying, even from our own broken nature.
Spurgeon makes it clear, we need the Holy Spirit working to bring us to His gift of repentance, As he notes, our flesh and blood just loves to ge tin the way! And so we struggle with God breathing life into our exhausted souls..
We Lutherans, as well as the Protestants need to pray the prayer above from the Catholic mass, remembering that what we are praying was granted to us as we were united to Christ,, united to Him in His death, and HIs resurrection. ANd as we realize this, we find that we are protected, not just from evil, but from the anxiety that obscures the hope from knowing Jesus will return for us. As I read this prayer this morning, the words poured out, they are what God is doing in our lives! By praying it, we realize twhat God is doing in our lives
And finally, in Mr. Fazio’s recounting of the life of St. Josemaria, in this encouragement not just to read the gospel, but live it, we live in the time of deliverance, where Jesus saves us. you and me.
And yes, Satan will try to cause it to slowly slip away… and then our answer must be to cry out to God, to depend on His presence, and the blessings He pours out on us, when we are delivered….
We need to pray for each other in those moments, that we do not slink away like a coward, but instead our encouragement stimulates us to run toward Him… knowing and counting on His love.
C. H. Spurgeon, Morning and Evening: Daily Readings (London: Passmore & Alabaster, 1896).
Catholic Church, Catechism of the Catholic Church, 2nd Ed. (Vatican City: Libreria Editrice Vaticana, 1997), 687.
Fazio, Mariano . Last of the Romantics: St. Josemaria in the Twenty-First Century (p. 35). Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition.
The Could Not See This… Will We Refuse to?
John 9:40–41 (CEV) — When the Pharisees heard Jesus say this, they asked, “Are we blind?” 41 Jesus answered, “If you were blind, you would not be guilty. But now that you claim to see, you will keep on being guilty.”
And what decides it is your love. “In the twilight of our lives, we will be judged on how we have loved”, says John of the Cross, one of the great Christian mystics and lovers. From the beginning to the end, love is the guiding thread that leads us through all the labyrinths of time and life and history.
At the end, when we look into the eyes of our divine Lover, we shall see ourselves in totality, we shall see ourselves as He saw us and designed us from the beginning. At the end we shall touch the beginning. We shall hear Him sing to us something like the popular songwriter Dan Fogelberg’s lovely song “Longer”:
Longer than there’ve been fishes in the ocean,
Higher than any tree ever grew,
Longer than there’ve been stars up in the heavens,
I’ve been in love with you.
Jesus says something very much like this: “Then the King will say to those at his right hand, ‘Come, O blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world’ ” (Mt 25:34).
Some avoid seeing it by locking onto tradition. Others by keeping busy working in the mission field. Others dive deep into academic approaches to theology. Some dive deep into doing things, into being a workaholic, as if over-using the talents of God is pleasing to Him.
I think all of these pursuits allow us to avoid actually interacting with God, much as Israel did at Sinai when they pleased that God speak through Moses. This is the modern version of Phariseeism – avoiding God.
I am not sure why we are afraid to explore the width and length, the height and depth of the love of God, but we are! We don’t want to know that God passionately loves us, that He desires an intimate relationship with us. We scoff at such, saying it sounds to sexual or even to effeminate. And we are less likely to talk and meditate on this love that 9 guys are to sit down and watch a Hallmark movie together!
So we remain blind to the immense love of God. We know all about Him, we can defend His existence, but like the Pharisees standing in the presence of the Lord God Almighty, we remain blind.
We are unable to sit and meditate on the love of God – because we are afraid of that love.
Read that line again…
Kreeft’s words get to the heart of the matter. They are glorious to read, yet as glorious as they are, they are challenging.
To look into Jesus’ eyes, and see how He sees us?
To see the depth of love that He has for us when we struggle to know who we really are?.
It is time to stop all that…
It is time to be still, and let your eyes be opened and see that He is God – and that he loves YOU! Amen!
Peter Kreeft, The God Who Loves You (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 2004), 135.
I Don’t Think That Word Means What You Think It Means!
Devotional Thoughts for the Day:
16 God is wonderful and glorious. I pray that his Spirit will make you become strong followers 17 and that Christ will live in your hearts because of your faith. Stand firm and be deeply rooted in his love. 18 I pray that you and all of God’s people will understand what is called wide or long or high or deep. 19 I want you to know all about Christ’s love, although it is too wonderful to be measured. Then your lives will be filled with all that God is. Ephesians 3:16-19 (CEV)
How sweet amidst all the uncertainties of life, to know that “the foundation of the Lord standeth sure,” and to have God’s own promise, “My covenant will I not break, nor alter the thing that is gone out of my lips.” Like dying David, I will sing of this, even though my house be not so with God as my heart desireth.
“God loves you”—isn’t that the most well-worn of clichés? It’s just standard filler for the laziest, most obvious and repetitive homilies. Smile. Yawn. Everybody knows that by now, at least everybody who has ever been in a church or read a Bible.
No. Exactly the opposite. It is not familiar. It is shattering. It changes everything. And most Christians do not realize it.
If hearing God is love doesn’t cause you to step back in shock, and in awe, then perhaps you don’t know who He is, or you don’t understand what love means.
That claim of Peter Kreeft is pretty shocking, and the more I think about it, the more certain I am that he is right.
I wish I knew why we don’t understand that God is love, and that He loves you and me.
The more I think about it, that would be my one desire in life, to be able to make people understand this word “love’ and how it binds God’s heart and soul to ours, how it should become our reason for existence.
For it is how we live, and why we live… …
Think about it.
Not I mean it – for a few minutes.
It should shatter us, it should make us weep, it should make us question why, knowing the depth our sin, and how much we, as Spurgeon wrote, don’t have our house with God as much as we desire.
Yet He still loves us.
We need to explore that, savor that, let it rock us to the very foundations of our lives.
It should shock us, this desire of God to care for us, to be devoted to us, to know us so well, to love us.
Take time each day to think that through, each morning, and evening, and every moment in between that you have a moment.
God is love…and that Love is directed to you. AMEN!
C. H. Spurgeon, Morning and Evening: Daily Readings (London: Passmore & Alabaster, 1896).
Peter Kreeft, The God Who Loves You (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 2004), 11.
Living in Two Worlds, Two Kingdoms
Devotional Thought of the Day:
2 The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light. They lived in a land of shadows, but now light is shining on them. 3 You have given them great joy, Lord; you have made them happy. They rejoice in what you have done, as people rejoice when they harvest grain or when they divide captured wealth. 4 For you have broken the yoke that burdened them and the rod that beat their shoulders. . Isaiah 9:2-4 (TEV)
3† You have been raised to life with Christ, so set your hearts on the things that are in heaven, where Christ sits on his throne at the right side of God. 2 Keep your minds fixed on things there, not on things here on earth. 3 For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. Col. 3:1-3 GNT
Temptation has its own “style” in the Church: it grows, spreads and justifies itself. It grows inside the person, rising in tone. It grows in the community, spreading the disease. It always has a word at hand to justify its stance.
When [Luther] was asked whether it was enough for a person to confess sin and believe in absolution and not use the sacrament [of the altar], he replied, “No! It is stated in the words of institution, ‘Do this in remembrance of me’ [1 Cor 11:25]. Everything that is required of a Christian must be in the sacrament: acknowledgement of sin (which we call contrition), faith, giving of thanks, confession. These things must not be separated from one another.”
Dear Jesus, help me to spread your fragrance everywhere I go. Flood my soul with your spirit and life. Penetrate and possess my whole being, so utterly, that my life may only be a radiance of yours. Shine through me, and be so in me, that every soul I come in contact with may feel your presence in my soul. Let them look up and see no longer me. But only Jesus! Stay with me, and then I shall begin to shine as you shine; so to shine as to be a light to others; the light, O Jesus will be all from you, none of it will be mine;
It will be you, shining on others through me. Let me thus praise you in the way you love best by shining on those around me. Let me preach you without preaching, not by words but by my example, by the catching force,the sympathetic influence of what I do, the evident fullness of the love my heart bears to you. Amen. (the radiating prayer of St Theresa of Calcutta )
One of the problems with theology is semantics, for there are not enough terms to enable everything to be put in nice orderly thoughts. For that matter there are too many thoughts to keep them straight, even for the brightest and largest minds.
If I talk to a Lutheran about two Kingdoms, they often think of a divide between the secular and the sacred, and though God operates and reigns in each Kingdom, the theory is that there are different rules, different concerns, and for some, a different sense of ethics and morality.
Others would think of two kingdoms as the Kingdom of Darkness where sin reigns (or perhaps Satan) and God’s Kingdom, where righteousness and holiness are predominant.
A slight difference, for in Lutheran thought, God still reigns in the secular, in other systems, it represents a warzone, good against evil, Satan against God. Lutherans miss this often, and often the awareness of how different a life lived in sin is different, or should be different, than one lived in grace.
As a pastor, I see people struggling with this all the time, this idea of living a life affected by grace, a life of holiness, a life separated to God. The life Paul describes to the church in Colossae, where he urges them to set their minds and fix their hearts on things that are above, for the reality they truly dwell in is found there, in the presence of God. It is that transition that Isaiah prophetically described, as people were awakened from the darkness, and would learn to live in the light, with the work of the Child who would be given.
Even so, we have to live in this world between the two kingdoms, this world of shadows. This place where we can be dragged back into the darkness by temptation. A temptation that can affect those in the church, just as powerfully, just as dramatically, as it does the world which it dominates over. This is the great challenge, to live in this Kingdom, but not be of it. To minister to those broken by it, and yet not let it dominate us.
Luther sees the answer in the sacrament of the Eucharist, (which is why we should commune often!) because of all it includes. To spend that time with our heart set and minds fixed upon Christ Jesus. To feel the relief of being forgiven, to celebrate the blessing of being freed from darkness,
It is from that point that an amazing thing happens, the prayer of St Theresa becomes visibly answered. Not by our own will, not even by our effort, but simply from having God work in our lives, not being as aware of it as His presence. Not understanding it, but simply reveling in this world of glory that we dwell in, with Him.
That glory of God radiates from Him through us, even as it did through Moses. As we spend time, focused heart and mind on God, experiencing the love, our life changes… and ministry happens without our knowing. In this place the secular and the sacred overlap.
It is a glorious thing…it is holiness, a life set apart to God. It is who we, who have seen God’s glory invade our darkness, were reborn to live in.
So let’s do it, living in both Kingdoms, reflecting the light that others might fight the freedom of being loved by God. AMEN!
Pope Francis. (2013). A Year with Pope Francis: Daily Reflections from His Writings. (A. Rossa, Ed.) (p. 238). New York; Mahwah, NJ; Toronto, ON: Paulist Press; Novalis.
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. 183). New York; Mahwah, NJ: Paulist Press.
[Joseph MC. (2012). From Adoration to Serving the Poor. In A. Reid (Ed.), From Eucharistic Adoration to Evangelization (pp. 177–178). London; New York: Burns & Oates.
Is Jesus your Lord? Is that all? That’s a problem!
Devotional Thought of the Day:
In that day— this is the LORD’s declaration— you will call Me, “My husband,” and no longer call Me, “My Baal. (my master)” Hosea 2:16 HCSB
Faith needs intellect if it is to be understood and practiced. But it needs, above all, an intellect that will not only be productive but will also be able to understand what is proper to it. It needs an intellect that hears.
There is a big difference in the relationship between a husband and wife, and a master and his servant. Even in the days of Jesus, or in the days of Hosea, there was a huge difference.
And yet, for many today, the idea of a relationship with God is one where we are the slaves and God is the Master. While Jesus is indeed Lord of Lords and King of Kings, for the people of God there is a relationship that is more important,
Far more important.
Far more meaningful, far more amazing, far more, dare I say it?
Far more intimate. (not in a sexual way, but a spiritual/emotional manner)
Hosea talks of God as our spouse, noting the incredible change from our identifying His as Lord, to identifying Him as our spouse, our beloved. That is the nature of faith, of a relationship in which we learn to depend completely on God, on His presence, His mercy, His incredible deep love for us all. We need to learn that God desires to spend time with us, desires that we know the width and breadth, the height and depth of His love! That He wants us to experience it, even if we can’t explain it. (Modern forensic apologists and theologians take note!) This is the God who calls us His own, who makes us His own, no matter the cost, and shows the greatest love, in dying that we might live.
That’s not the love of a master, a lord, a Ba’al.
That’s the love of a husband, who adores His precious bride. (see Eph. 5!)
We know from scripture that even demons can see Jesus as Lord. (Mark 5. Matt 8, James 2:19) and that many will identify Him as Lord, whom he doesn’t know.
But He knows the ones He loves, and who love Him. He knows those who hear His voice and walks with Him. (this is why Pope Benedict/Cardinal Ratzinger talks about the need of the theologian to hear God to properly understand Theology.) We need to hear him, to hear of his love, to hear of His care, to know He is with us.
So rejoice in the love of God! Talk with Him, listen to Him, and rejoice in His presence!
And if you don’t know how to do that, let’s talk and listen and see what His word, His self-revelation to us says. 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. 329). San Francisco: Ignatius Press.
When the waters aren’t still…
Devotional Thought of the Day:
1 The LORD is my shepherd; I shall not want. 2 He makes me to lie down in green pastures; He leads me beside the still waters. 3 He restores my soul; He leads me in the paths of righteousness For His name’s sake. Psalm 23:1-3 (NKJV)
12 Let obstacles only make you bigger. The grace of our Lord will not be lacking: Inter medium montium pertransibunt aquae!—“Through the very midst of the mountains the waters shall pass.” You will pass through mountains! What does it matter that you have to curtail your activity for the moment, if later, like a spring which has been compressed, you’ll advance much farther than you ever dreamed?
There are times I read Psalm 23 and I wonder where the still, restful waters are, the places where peace, where it seems that the green peaceful pastures are not easily found. For it seems my soul isn’t “restored”, instead, I find my life to be one that is weary, harried, and in great need.
So what happened?
Are those words only for King David and/or really devout believers?
Are they for most Christians, and not for me?
Are they just words on a piece of paper, and not the word of God?
There is a question that I haven’t asked, but I need to ask.
Is it possible that He is here, that He is leading me where He would, guiding me, protecting me, delivering me from the evil I fear?
I’ve been through times where I don’t know God is there too many times in life. Where the stress is too distracting, where the concerns seem too overwhelming, to serious, and I cannot see the Spirit at work, I don’t feel the comfort that is promised. I just see the shadows, I just know the evil that is lurking there.
I want to break through the stress, I want to learn to fight it, to be strong in my faith and face the storm head on…
And then, in such a time, I need to realize the point that St Josemaria makes, the grace of our Lord will not be lacking.
I don’t have ot wield the rod and staff, instead, I can realize that my Shepherd does. That God’s grace will provide, and that provision includes the comfort. For there are the meadows and streams, but the valleys exist as well.
He is there.. He is here.
He is here.
That’s what I need to gain by working through the 23rd Psalm. Though my mind wants to struggle with what I can’t see, I need to grow in my ability to know what is promised is the reality. And as I do, my faith, put under pressure, is finally released, the energy released being spent in praise and adoration of the Lord, my shepherd, my protector, my God.
Lord, have mercy on us, and help us to see that which is revealed to us in Your word. AMEN!
Escriva, Josemaria. The Way (Kindle Locations 191-195). Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition.
What Are We Giving to People? Some Thoughts about the Purpose of Preaching and Leading Worship
Discussion Thought of the Day:
14 My response is to get down on my knees before the Father, 15 this magnificent Father who parcels out all heaven and earth. 16 I ask him to strengthen you by his Spirit—not a brute strength but a glorious inner strength— 17 that Christ will live in you as you open the door and invite him in. And I ask him that with both feet planted firmly on love, 18 you’ll be able to take in with all Christians the extravagant dimensions of Christ’s love. Reach out and experience the breadth! Test its length! Plumb the depths! Rise to the heights! 19 Live full lives, full in the fullness of God. Ephesians 3:14-19 (MSG)
I have already referred to contemplation as one of the two realities of the spiritual life, the other being participation. I have identified Christian contemplation with Mary who “pondered … in her heart” (Luke 2:19). Christian contemplation ponders, reflects, gazes, and delights in the wonders and the mysteries of God active in this world “reconciling the world to himself” (2 Cor. 5:19). In Christian contemplation God is the subject who acts in history; contemplation enters God’s vision of the world and is stunned, filled with wonder, amazed, full of inner delight and joy. This contemplation is, in sum, an experience of God’s presence. The realization of his presence in the world, creation, incarnation, death, and resurrection and the ultimate presence of God in the fulfillment of history in the new heavens and the new earth is the subject of our contemplation.
But the theme of the suffering God can thrive only when it is anchored in love for God and in a prayerful recourse to his love. According to the encyclical Haurietis aquas, the passions of Jesus, which are depicted as united and uniting in the Heart, are a justification and a reason for the fact that even in the relationship between God and man the heart—that is, the capacity for feeling, the emotional aspect of love—must be included. Incarnational spirituality must be a spirituality of the passions, a heart-to-heart spirituality. Precisely in that way is it an Easter spirituality, for the mystery of Easter is, by its very nature, a mystery of suffering, a mystery of the heart.
3 After all, the chief purpose of all ceremonies is to teach the people what they need to know about Christ.
The last quote above, the short one, is my favorite from the Lutheran Confessions. It forms the basis for most of my ministry, and how I teach others to serve the people of God and their communities.
Yet over the sixteen years since I realized the truth of this, my understanding of it has shifted, it has changed.
All because I have asked, what do people really need to know about Jesus. What does it mean to give them what they need to know about Jesus? What do they need to know? How will the way I minister give to them what they need to know?
Let me explain, using the examples of Preaching and Liturgy.
When I was trained in Homiletics, the emphasis was on what is called expository preaching. That is, you take the passage apart, using Greek/Hebrew, studying the individual words, the grammar, the style of literature, and what it meant to those who heard it first. Pretty in-depth stuff, pretty powerful as the ancient languages were full of marvelous word pictures.
So I preached exegetically, revealing to people the wonder of this treasure we had in scripture. Like many of my peers, we could take apart the passage with great skill and find application, without ever bringing Jesus into the picture.
With hymnody, many have taken words like those from the Augsburg Confession and concluded that our hymns must primarily teach. They love the old hymns that are rich in doctrine, that are more like a lecture put to music, that communicate on a horizontal plane, as we share in the wonderful teachings of the faith.
In both cases we talk about Jesus from the position of an observer, somewhat distant, somewhat disconnected. We think about God’s work and urge people to accept it based on our logic and reason, and the wonder of the system that we have been able to describe. And we teach them all about the system, and the church service becomes the primary place of such teaching.
It is all good stuff and beneficial. However, it is not what they need to know about Jesus Christ.
It can accentuate that, but it is not the main thing our church services, our sermons, our worship is to communicate, to teach, to reveal.
I think the other three readings that head this discussion talk about it in depth. First, from Dr. Robert Webber, the words in blue about contemplation, a lost art among us. He gets to the heart of the matter when talking about pondering “the wonders and mysteries of God active in this world “reconciling the world to Himself.” It fills us with wonder, amazement and inner delight and joy because we are experiencing the presence of God. To contemplate this means we realize we are part of the story, we are the ones reconciled, we are the ones who God loves,
This is what Pope Benedict XVI was writing about (back when he was Joseph Ratzineger) as to our including the capacity for feeling, the emotional aspect of love, it must be a “heart to heart spirituality” This is what we so need to know. That we are not alone, that God is here, present, sharing in our lives.
This is what Paul urges for the people in Ephesus as well. Not just to know the theology, but to experience the extravagant dimensions of God’s love. The vivid picture Petersen’s “The Message” uses gives us an idea of the power of this, to realize the depth of God’s love, His great passion for us, the passion that causes God not only to be patient, but to endure the suffering it takes. With one goal in mind, that we would be His people, that He would be our God.
Our preaching must reveal this love, it must help us explore its dimensions, even as our sacramental ministry must help our people participate in it. Our prayers, our liturgy, our hymnody and praise music must help us contemplate it, experience it, respond to it.
We need to give them what they need to know about Jesus Christ, true God, true man. That in realizing His love for us, we begin to see the Father’s love for us, and God draws us to Himself.
This is what we need to teach, this is the gospel, and without it, our meetings our empty and vain.
Lord have mercy on us, and help us to draw people into communion with you, revealing the love you have for them, even as we celebrate that love together! AMEN!
How Do You Love God?
Discussion and Devotional Thought of the Day
15 After breakfast Jesus asked Simon Peter, “Simon son of John, do you love me more than these?” “Yes, Lord,” Peter replied, “you know I love you.” “Then feed my lambs,” Jesus told him.
John 21:15 (NLT)
499 We men don’t know how to show Jesus the gentle refinements of love that some poor, rough fellows—Christians all the same—show daily to some pitiful little creature (their wife, their child, their friend) who is as poor as they are. This truth should serve as a salutary shock to make us react. (1)
If we know this scene well, we know what preceded it was Simon diving out of a boat to go see Jesus. He’s seen him several times since the cross, in groups and at least one on one. Even so, in excitement, in a desire to be close to his Friend, his master, he dives out of the boat and swims to shore. Once again he leaves everything behind to be with Jesus.
The question will be repeated, without the tag phrase “more than these”. But that is what we need to think about this morning.
Do we love Jesus more than those in our life that we care for deeply?
Escriva mentions we know how to show that love to others around us, sinners just like us. We know how to show that love to our wives, our children, our parents, other family members, and friends.
But do you love Jesus more than them? And if you claim to love Him more, are you able to demonstrate it?
(just as a side note – you aren’t doing so to save yourself, or to prove you are saved..)
Or do we need to be shocked by this truth, that we can show our love for people, but struggle to show how deep our love is for Jesus.
Peter didn’t think he could. He struggled with this question, He struggled to move on from it. Jesus kept asking him, and he kept answering, Each time Peter uses a different word for love than Jesus. One that still is love, but not as intimate, not a love that abandons all. Peter is careful, perhaps because of his failure, his denial of Jesus.
Just like we deny Him, just like we struggle to show Him, love, just like we fail, and find ourselves broken by sin. We love God, but we know we should love Him more, deeper, with more commitment, fully abandoning ourselves into His care.
We need to hear Jesus’ reply, each time to Peter – as Jesus accepts Peter, as Jesus loves Peter, as Jesus shares His ministry, His reason for being here.
Care for my sheep. DO what matters to me most!
You see, Jesus could see Peter’s heart, we can as well. Peter three times in his life left the boats behind.
The first time, when Jesus told him he would make him a fisher of men
The second time,, to walk on water to Jesus, when all others were afraid. Peter asked to come, was told to, and did…
This time, when he realized it was Jesus on the shore…
He knew in his soul how to love Jesus. You do as well.
Run to Him as you need, allow Him to guide your walk through life, and care for the sheep He shares with you…..
You love Him because He loves you… and gives you life. AMEN!
(1) Escriva, Josemaria. The Forge (Kindle Locations 1907-1910). Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition.
Where are you? Where is your focus?
Devotional Thought of the Day:
7 And God’s peace, which is far beyond human understanding, will keep your hearts and minds safe in union with Christ Jesus. 8 In conclusion, my friends, fill your minds with those things that are good and that deserve praise: things that are true, noble, right, pure, lovely, and honorable. 9 Put into practice what you learned and received from me, both from my words and from my actions. And the God who gives us peace will be with you.
Philippians 4:7-9 (TEV)
How does your heart stand with regard to God Himself? Does it delight in the remembrance of God? Does this remembrance leave an agreeable sweetness behind it? “Ah!” said David, “I remembered God and was delighted.” Do you find a certain propensity in your heart to love God and a particular satisfaction in relishing that love? Does your heart feel joy in reflecting on the immensity, goodness, or sweetness of God? If the remembrance of God comes to you amidst the occupations and vanities of the world, does it make room for itself? Does it seize upon your heart? Does it seem to you that your heart turns in that direction, and, is it were, runs to meet God? Certainly, there are such souls to be found.
We all have our breaking point. It may not be caused by the same stresses, the same anxieties, the same temptations, but each of us has a point where we lose focus.
Without regular self-examination, it is all too common for such a breaking point to catch us off guard. Without a regular time of giving to God our sin and the unrighteousness we deal with, we are setting ourselves up as easy targets.
One of the things to consider is what is our heart resonating with? Is it the kind of things Paul urges us to think of in Phil 4:8 above? Are we rejoicing when we consider our time with God?
Or is our heart being torn apart by cynicism, by gossip and complaining? Does our time feed such bitter things captivate us? Are we devoting that time to that which is depraved or immoral? ( we might not even realize it is so…)
The good stuff in Philippians, and in the quote from St Francis De Sales isn’t self-generated. It isn’t something we can just make up our mind and focus upon. It comes from being sure we dwell in God’s peace. It is about relaxing in the presence of God, sure that He is our fortress, our strength, our life. It is our focus because that is what is, when we are aware of His presence. It is a more “natural” way of existence. That is why Paul surrounds this second about our minds being filled with good things with the thought of God giving and preserving our peace.
The key then is the presence of the Holy Spirit, the comforter, the Lord of Life who calms our hearts and sets them at peace. The Spirit who cleanses us from the brokenness of the world, and heals our souls.
As we open ourselves up to the Spirit, as we search for Him and find He is here, we desire Him more, we desire His presence more, and we see the difference it makes as being a difference the world needs, that our neighbors and family and friends need. For we need it, and are amazed the need is so completely met by the Holy Spirit.
This is the Christian faith, the dependence on God’s presence that makes everything beautiful, everything precious, everything good.
May we desire His precence more and more. AMEN!
Francis de Sales, Saint. An Introduction to the Devout Life. Dublin: M. H. Gill and Son, 1885. Print.