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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
Devotional Thought of the Day
13 “You are like salt for the whole human race. But if salt loses its saltiness, there is no way to make it salty again. It has become worthless, so it is thrown out and people trample on it. 14 “You are like light for the whole world. A city built on a hill cannot be hid. 15 No one lights a lamp and puts it under a bowl; instead it is put on the lampstand, where it gives light for everyone in the house. 16 In the same way your light must shine before people, be so that they will see the good things you do and praise your Father in heaven. Matthew 5:13-16 (TEV)
Almost all those who have hitherto treated of devotion have had the instruction of persons wholly retired from the world in view, or have taught a kind of devotion leading to this absolute retirement: whereas my intention is to instruct such as live in towns, in households, or in courts, and who, by their condition, are obliged to lead, as to the exterior, an ordinary life, and who frequently, under the pretext of a pretended impossibility, will not even think of undertaking a devout life, believing, that as no animal dares to taste the seed of the herb called Palma Christi, so no man ought to aspire to the palm of Christian piety so long as he lives in the turmoil of worldly affairs. (1)
As I read the quote in blue, the thought resonated with me. I had found some interesting quotes from this book in the past, so I added ti to my devotional reading for the year.
Some many devotional writings are written to either people who spend hours a day in meditation and reflection, or they are 200 words or less that are to be read while driving one’s morning coffee, or while sitting at traffic lights as we hurry from place to place. The latter pacify our spiritual hunger,satisfying it, or perhaps numbing it.
Yes we say, I’ve done my devotions, as if to check them off a list, and not be concerned about God in the midst of a broken life. We’ve been taught that the prayers of those who shut themselves away are not as noble as those that live them out, but how many of us do? Even a generation after Luther, de Sales wrote that many think leading a holy and devout life to be impossible within the turmoil of worldly affairs.
So Francis de Sales wrote a book, very much along the lines of how I desire. There has to be a way to turn devotion from a duty into a life. To realize that devotion is a combination of adoration (being in awe of God’s love ) and mercy- showing that love to all we encounter. it is a way of life, a way of walking with God where we allow Him to transform us into His image.
It is the place where God is incarnate, so incarnate, so real that our hearts, souls, minds and strength resonate with love for Him, because we are sure we are loved. It is a place where joy overwhelms suffering or pain. It is a life set apart to God, for God has set Himself apart to us.
He is our God, we are His people, and we are more aware of this than not.
Being devoted to God, Holiness, Sanctification, living the baptized life, this is possible. Even in the middle of 2016, and as we approach 2017.
St Paul describes it this way
18 All of us, then, reflect the glory of the Lord with uncovered faces; and that same glory, coming from the Lord, who is the Spirit, transforms us into his likeness in an ever greater degree of glory. 2 Corinthians 3:18 (TEV)
Lord have mercy upon us sinners, and help us to see the Spirit’s work in our lives. AMEN!
(1) Francis de Sales, Saint. An Introduction to the Devout Life. Dublin: M. H. Gill and Son, 1885. Print.
Devotional Thought of the Day:
If I am telling the truth, why do you not believe me?b 47 Whoever belongs to God hears the words of God; for this reason you do not listen, because you do not belong to God.” John 8:46-47 NAB-RE
Faith is a vital, deliberate trust in God’s grace, so certain that it would die a thousand times for it. And such confidence and knowledge of divine grace makes us joyous, mettlesome, and merry toward God and all creatures. This the Holy Spirit works by faith, and therefore without any coercion a man is willing and desirous to do good to everyone, to serve everyone, to suffer everything for the love of God and to his glory, who has been so gracious to him. It is therefore as impossible to separate works from faith as it is to separate heat and light from fire.” (1)
. But devotion to the Cross had a very different origin. Christians used to turn toward the east when they prayed as a sign of their hope that Christ, the true sun, would rise upon history—as a sign, then, of their belief in the future coming of the Lord. In the beginning, the Cross was closely linked to this eastward orientation of prayer. It was represented as the standard carried before the King on his arrival—with the appearance of the Cross the head of the procession had reached the throng of praying people. For the early Christians, the Cross was primarily a sign of hope—not so much a turning back to the past as a turning forward to the coming of the Lord. (2)
As a pastor, I am used to people struggling with “Faith.”
Most often, this is because they define faith as a known, for example, “the Christian Fatih” or the subdivisions such as “the Catholic Faith” or the “Orthodox Faith”.or the myriad and diversity of “Protestant Faith.” This definition reduces faith to a list of doctrines, a list of teachings, and reduces the Bible to a textbook to be learned, studied and interpreted. This definition confuses us then when we talk about “sharing” our faith, leading us to believe such is a matter of indoctrination, of our doctrinal positions overwhelming yours in some cosmic spiritual battle.
Faith doesn’t know doctrine, it is, as the Lutheran Confessions say, It is a vital, deliberate trust (or dependence) in God’s grace. It is listening to God and rejoicing not just in the rules, but realizing that God encodes in the law these incredible promises, incredible blessings. Such is what He commanded, what He commissioned and guaranteed with the cross and by the sending of the Holy Spirit to dwell within us.
That’s why the issue of works being aa result of faith is not surprising, and not all that complicated. The vital trust results in it! If you trust God, if you hear Him declare you are His, that nothing can separate you from His love, then you simply live.
That is why Pope Benedict (then Cardinal Ratzinger) wrote about the cross the way he did – it not only talked of the blessing of the cross in the past, but the sign of Christ’s return. ( the old Celtic crosses always included the sunrise behind the cross for the reason as well!) For faith is not just hope about the sins being covered by Calvary’s cross, it is the hope or eternal life, of eternal joy, of the day when every tear is wiped away.
The cross is a symbol of the hope of the future, of what God has promised to open up for us, the very thing we trust Him to achiece> Eternity, lived in the full glory of God, this is our hope, this is the end goal for the scriptures, the end of the means of grace poured out for us in baptism, the Lord’s supper and the mercy of being cleansed of every sin.
Eternity is when our faith is fulfilled, when our dependence on God is proven, when hope is seen to be reality.
This we can share – at whatever cost it takes – this we can rejoice in, this we can know, even when we can’t explain every bit of theology.
This is our faith, our vital dependence on God.
This is what happens when we hear Him testify,
“I love you so much; Christ died on the cross so we could be re-united..”
Tappert, Theodore G., ed. The Book of Concord the Confessions of the Evangelical Lutheran Church. Philadelphia: Mühlenberg Press, 1959. Print. FOrmula of Concord SD IV
Ratzinger, Joseph. Co-Workers of the Truth: Meditations for Every Day of the Year. Ed. Irene Grassl. Trans. Mary Frances McCarthy and Lothar Krauth. San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1992. Print.
Devotional Thought of the Day
27 For God wanted them to know that the riches and glory of Christ are for you Gentiles, too. And this is the secret: Christ lives in you. This gives you assurance of sharing his glory. 28 So we tell others about Christ, warning everyone and teaching everyone with all the wisdom God has given us. We want to present them to God, perfect in their relationship to Christ. 29 That’s why I work and struggle so hard, depending on Christ’s mighty power that works within me. Colossians 1:27-29 (NLT)
“The key is not to offer commentary but to help the people in the pews understand what is happening in the text so that they can understand what is happening now and respond in faith,” (1)
Just as steel must be warmed before it can be molded or bent, the human heart must be warmed by the love of God in order to overcome fear and be molded by the truth of Gospel, the archbishop said. Without encountering the love of Christ, “the faith simply looks like rules and regulations.” Ultimately, priests and deacons foster an encounter with God when they preach Christ crucified, he said. (2)
When I was a Bible College Student, the method of preaching that everyone was being trained in was called expository or exegetical preaching. You went through a book of the scriptures, chapter by chapter, sometimes verse by verse, explaining the background, the language, the details so that people would have a deep knowledge of the passage. This was the method of greatly admired preachers like Chuck Swindoll, John MacArthur, Haddon Robinson, and within my brother at the time, pastors like Ben Merold and Max Lucado. Denominations like Calvary Chapel still make the claim that this is the only way to preach.
It was such a popular method that 3 of my four undergraduate courses in preaching were based in it, as were most of the 40 units I had in Bible. I have a good friend who has his MDiv and another graduate degree in it. I was trained in that way, and I still teach some Bible studies that way.
But I don’t preach that way anymore. Haven’t in a while.
And as I am teaching a course in preaching (called Homiletics) at the present moment, I’ve been thinking about it. How do you describe the style of preaching? I was reading the article the blue quotes come from, and I realized the word I was looking for to describe the style of preaching.
Now, before you get the idea that I am talking about end times scary stuff, that is not what apocalyptic means, nor for that matter what the apocalypse is about.
Apocalyptic preaching is revelatory! It reveals! It is about teaching what was hidden, what was concealed. Apocalyptic preaching is about that which was hidden behind the curtain (not the Wizard of Oz’s curtain, but the one in the Tabernacle/Temple.) It is what Paul is talking about to the church in Colossae – our hope is found in the secret being revealed. The secret of Christ being in us, being united to us, and us to His cross and resurrection. That united to Him, we will share in His glory, we will live eternally in the presence and love of God the Father.
Revealing that secret to people who are broken by this world, by its sin, just as the people ere in the days of Jesus, and all the days since Adam and Eve were broken. That God desires to bring healing to them, not just understanding. That God wants to reconcile them, not just demand from them. The sermon is to reveal Him to them, the relationship He desires to have with them, it should strengthen that relationship, help they trust Him, depend on them.
That isn’t always done if you are worried about defining the minutiae. What needs to be done, – show them their need for God, and show them, God, not just wanting to meet that need, but desiring to, no matter what it costs. Or what it costed. This is what gets us through the tough days, this is what gives us hope as we try to cope without our brokenness and the worlds. It is what gives us hope, even as we deal with death.
One last quote from the article.
“Sobering recent statistics reveal many Catholics (I would say Christians of many stripes) don’t even think it’s possible to have a friendship with God, so they certainly don’t know, with every fiber of their being, that they are loved, infinitely and passionately, by the One who has made it all,” he said (3)
Helping then know that, this is the nature of apocalyptic preaching. It is giving them the reason we have hope. To know that are cry, “Lord have mercy” is heard.
May everyone who preaches this weekend do that, and may people see revealed the love they need… and have. God’s.