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If you don’t see it at first…. that’s okay?

closed eyed man holding his face using both of his hands

Devotional Thought of the Day:

9 For this reason also, since the day we heard this, we haven’t stopped praying for you. We are asking o that you may be filled with the knowledge of His will in all wisdom and spiritual understanding, 10 so that you may walk worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to Him, bearing fruit in every good work and growing in the knowledge of God. 11 May you be strengthened with all power, according to His glorious might, for all endurance and patience, with joy 12 giving thanks to the Father, who has enabled you to share in the saints’ inheritance in the light.  Colossians 1:9-12 HCSB

890    You are distracted in prayer. Try to avoid distractions, but don’t worry if in spite of everything you’re still distracted. Don’t you see how in ordinary life even the most considerate children play with everything around them, and often pay no attention to what their father says? This does not imply a lack of love, or respect: it’s the weakness and littleness proper to a child. Look then: you are a child before God.

As I go through my devotional reading each day, I often highlight what I am reading. As I try to bring everything together, sometimes they click, and I see the instant connection, and sometimes they seem as alike as… I can’t think of anything diverse enough!

Today’s two quotes above fall into that latter group.  They both resonated with me.  The first from the perspective of this is a great goal for anyone who ministers to anyone.  From pastors and priests to Sunday School teachers, to those who work behind the scenes, to the little old ladies who can hardly do anything in the world’s eyes, but are great assets – because they pray! Oh, how we need them to model their persistent prayer so that we can follow their example!

We need to pray, as St Paul did, for the people we pray for, even as we pray that their bodies be healed, that their problems at home and work are resolved, we need to pray that they are filled with the knowledge of God’s desire, that they would have the wisdom and spiritual understanding that leads to the strength to work in this world in a way that pleases God.

And I guess that is where the second reading comes into the picture.  For even if someone is praying for me, that I would become all this, that I would realize what St Josemaria said.

I am still a child. I will still get distracted in my prayer time,  I can try to avoid the distractions (as you can as well) and we should!  But there are times where we are still His kids, we still are weak, though in Him strong.   The distractions don’t mean we are not his, no longer blessed, no longer His holy people.

We are His children.

Sometimes I get ticked at myself when something distracts me for a moment in prayer, or in church.  When I remember I have to write to someone or call someone when I realize I forgot to do this or that.  I’ve learned to turn off the phone (most of the time I don’t remember) or try to ignore the messages that come.  But I don’t always… and it annoys me and I deal with guilt about it.  Shouldn’t I have the ability to endure like the saints of old?  Shouldn’t I have the disposition to do what is right?  Shouldn’t I, by force of will, be able to free myself from all, so that I may concentrate on God?

Yes, and no. (even now I was distracted! Sigh! )

St Josemaria’s words help me realize that the patience that Paul prays for can include patience with myself.  They help remember I am a still a kid, and God will cause the growth.  Do what I can to eliminate the distractions, but also realize that the name or face that comes to mind, may have been put there by the Spirit.  And that God will be patient as well, as I grow in my appreciation for His presence and love.

Of course, if we were all mature, would there be a need to pray for each other as Paul prayed for the church?  No…

So call yourself back, remember you are in His presence…and rejoice in His love!

 

P.S>  if you don’t have people praying for you – let me know… and I will make sure you are!  (

Escriva, Josemaria. The Way (Kindle Locations 2059-2063). Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition.

 

 

The Second Day of Christmas….or Have We Already Moved Past the Awe?

Devotional Thought of the Day:
30  I have seen your salvation, 31  which you have prepared for all people. Luke 2:30-31 (NLT)

And what about us? Are we so far away from the stable because we are much too refined and too smart for that? Do we not get all entangled in scholarly exegesis, in the proof or disproof of historical authenticity to the extent that we have become blind and deaf to the Child himself? Do we not really all too intensely dwell in “Jerusalem”, in a palace, withdrawn within ourselves, in our self-sufficiency, our fear of being challenged, too much so to be able to hear the voice of the angels, to set out to worship?  (1)

Twenty-four hours ago, I was standing before people, putting into their hands the Body and Blood of Jesus, as we celebrated the Incarnation, one of the most amazing of miracles the world has ever born witness too.  For those who don’t know the term, this is the physical birth of Jesus, the Savior.

Like the shepherds, we were in awe, this is God, this is the one who made it possible for all of humanity to become children of God.  The God who counts us not as servants, but as friends.

I woke up this morning, had breakfast, watched a little bit of a movie with my son, talked to him about his presents, cleaned the car in anticipation for our vacation starting tomorrow afternoon, and came to work to write a sermon on the passage listed above.  Calculating how to get my laptop’s keyboard fixed, how to manage 100 other things.

Then I come to my office, pull out my devotional reading, and hear Pope Benedict’s question.

What about us?  Are we already so far from celebrating Christmas that it doesn’t matter?  Have we already forgotten the joy and relief as we help in our hands the very body of Jesus, in and under the bread and wine?  Have we already lost the awe of the moment?

Unfortunately, I had to be shocked into remembering; this is Christmas! 

I had to be shocked into calming down, focusing and thinking about the fact that God so loved us, that He came to us.   That He continually dwells among us.  We need to see His glory; we need to know His presence.  Instead of dwelling on that, and knowing His peace, that I had, as the former pope noted, drawn into myself.

You and I need these words of a simple old man named Simeon burned into us….

30  I have seen your salvation, 31  which you have prepared for all people. Luke 2:30-31 (NLT)

Take time over the next few days, to repeat those words, to get to realize what they mean.  Let over the next week those words burn into your soul….

And rejoice, for to you a Savior has been born, and you dwell in His presence, like the shepherds, and Joseph, and Mary.

AMEN!

(1)   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. 406). San Francisco: Ignatius Press.

His Grace is ALL We Need!

His Grace is ALL we need!
2 Cor. 12:1-10

 

In Jesus Name

 

May you be convinced of this very thought:  His Grace is ALL you need!

 

Theology according to Dug the Dog

In 2009, a movie was released that was a theological masterpiece, a perfect modern parable, as it pictured our lives in the present day, and how they overlook the very blessings we have been given by God.

One character in the animated movie “UP” we see in Paul’s letter to the church in Corinth, as Paul urges them to focus on the ministry of Christ, and their part in it, reconciling the world to God.

His name is Dug, and he is a dog, with a fancy little voicebox that turns his barks and growls into words.  He is energetic, he is driven to do whatever he can to help his new master, and the little scout that would help the master reach his goal… he has the desire to help and do good, and the skills needed, and the absolute determination and focus
Until a squirrel shows up…

Something exciting and fun and perhaps even a bit tasty… it’s sorta like saying “bacon” around certain guys,…

And in many ways, as believers, as those studying God’s word, the people in Corinth were just like Dug the Dog.  They desired to know all there was to know about God’s love, about His mercy, they desired to grasp the depth and breadth and height and width of God’s love…

Squirrel!

Their attention is whisked away – as their minds follow a variety of squirrels that would distract them from the glory which Paul described so vividly; from the ministry we get to all be a part of, seeing people stripped of sin and returned to God. They got distracted by inspirational speakers (even if they know they are wrong), or by discussions about visions and revelations experiences that are astounding, so many things!

We can be like that as well, can’t we?

We aren’t alone…so was Paul…he had a ego that was easily inflated and he talks of the way God helped him deal with it – to keep that which should be the priority for the Christian – at the forefront.  God’s method?  A gift that doesn’t seem a gift at first, but is.  That doesn’t seem like mercy, yet it is, for it keeps Paul focused, and dependent on God.

But before Paul gets there – he has to deal with the squirrels… and so will we!
Law – I want to know it ALL!!!

If you read this passage carefully, you realize that Paul doesn’t want to spend much time validating his ministry based on the experiences and visions and revelation, what he calls boasting.  He’s done it, seen it, experienced it, been there, knows he can’t even come close to describing it, and realizes that even if it does – it will do those he is writing to absolutely no good!

Yet many of the professional theologians I have in my library wax eloquent on that which Paul deems as worthless, that will no benefit those to whom he writes.  Heck just the discussions on what Paul means by being taken “to the third heaven” go on and on and on…. Despite Paul’s words that they mean…nothing to us!  Pages of speculation about what Paul saw, or what this meant or that, on whether there are 3 heavens or seven! One theologian got it right, when he said

 

A mass of Jewish ideas about the seventh heaven is introduced by some interpreters, and they place Paul beyond the third heaven, viz. in the fourth. We consider all this Jewish material worthless for our interpretation. Are these Jews, who were never in heaven, able to shed any light on Paul’s experience? NO!
Study is good, and so is discussion, don’t get me wrong – but if scripture, God’s holy word says something doesn’t have a lot of meaning and value for us, why do we keep trying to develop a theory about it?  Why can’t we just accept that it is beyond us, and get to what really makes a difference?

We can get so caught up in such discussions of visions and revelations, that we lose sight of who was revealed, can we lose sight of Jesus?  We lose sight of the apostolic mission He came to accomplish, the mission which He has entrusted us with, and sent the Holy Spirit to work with us, to work in us, to accomplish?

Squirrel!  Visions! Revelation!  Bacon!  Third Heaven! inside/outside of body, paradise,
No..

Jesus.

Yes

Knowing all that other stuff, or our best guesses, do they really help us to know that which can make a difference in how we live our lives?  Will it help us know God’s peace?  Will knowing all these details help us today, as we struggle with life?  No.  Will knowing grace be sufficient, is it all we really need?

I think our seeking to know all about heaven, and eternity, are away to distract us from our present situation, our present fears, our present anxieties, our guilt and shame?  They are great squirrels, fascinating topics, but the speculation doesn’t bring us comfort or peace….
Gospel – Struggles?  Really?

Paul deals with – tells them simply – been there, saw that, can’t explain it – otherwise I might think I know it all…he says, but listen God helped me get past those squirrels and those questions I could answer, but can’t.  He gave me an incredible gift – something that helped get me straight….

He taught me about the gift of afflciations.

Yeah – the gift of suffering meant more to Paul because it helped his spiritual life far more than all the visions, all the incredible revelations, all the wonderful things this man of God experienced.  It made a difference.

Affliction? Suffering?  Really?  A Thorn in the Flesh?  A pain in the…..  neck?  A Blessing? Really?

Well, Paul didn’t say he got that it was a gift, right away.   He tells us that he begged God to take it away – not once, but three times!  Not asked- the word is begged, pleaded, got down on his knees type begging.  Wonder about God, for if He was so loving and merciful, wouldn’t He simply take it away….
The early Lutherans knew this, in our confessions, they wrote about how many sacraments there were, and how they were used – and wrote:

17 Alms (Giving to the poor ) could be listed here (among the sacraments), as well as afflictions, which in themselves are signs to which God has added promises. But let us pass over all this. No intelligent person will quibble about the number of sacraments or the terminology, so long as those things are kept which have God’s command and promises.  (AAC, Art. XII)


But why?  Why in the world does Paul and our forefathers call things that afflict us a blessing – why do they use the very same word – grace – in regards to the things (and people) that can be a thorn in the flesh….

It’s not the suffering… it’s the dependence on God that it causes..

           And he is there… the Comforter, The Healer, the Daddy..

 

It’s not about the afflictions – its about what they cause… for they cause us, hopefully sooner than later – to run to the one who can bring us comfort, and relief and healing.  That is why they are blessings, because they cause us to depend on God more, to trust in Him more, to wait quietly and patiently in His presence…
They cause us to see Him at work. To realize that we can, and we must depend on Him, if we really desire to live in His peace.  To have the grace that we need…

His grace that works miraculously, simply. It calls us away from sin, from distractions, from squirrels.  Grace that can make things that we don’t comprehend beautiful, in His time.  We see Him at work in our lives, in the lives of this church, and the Taiwanese ministry and Passion, as we interact with each other, as we see a little girl baptized, as we pray and minister to those around us, as we learn together that God is here…pouring out the grace, the gifts we need.

The grace gift of His love
The grace-gift that is His mercy..

The grace gift of His presence and to know He desires to commune with us.

As He brings healing to our past, and gives us hope for the future.

As His grace-gift is the peace  we have now… o the blessed peace that is found in Him, in Living each and every day knowing He is here, knowing His promises., knowing Him.

If that afflication means getting past the BACON, and the squirrels in life, so be it… they are not as good, right and beneficial as knowing our Father in Heave, or realizing our life in Christ, as rejoicing in the Spirit…

Even as we share in a feast that is beyond compare… the feast of His welcoming us into His affliction, that we would know His death, that we share in His resurrection to life, a life lived in Him…now.

AMEN?

Our Aim is to Please Him!

We Make it Our Aim to Please Him

2 Corinthians 5:1-17

 

In Jesus Name

May you revel in the grace, mercy and peace – that in which your Father in heaven has provided for you through Jesus.  And as you revel in it – may you know you bring Him the greatest pleasure!

 

The juxtaposition of life… and death

         

we hear Paul’s words about life, in view of life, and death– to know that this earthly tent that will be stripped away, in view of something not crafted with human hands, but prepared for us by God Himself.  To realize that we have confidence as we live this life, trusting in Him, and not focusing on that which we can see, that which surrounds us, that which would distract us from realizing God’s presence now…
Here..
with us.

 

I used to think of eternity as that which began, as Paul would say, when this earthly tent is stripped from us and we finally experience the our eternal home, the life God has prepared for us  – that is when eternity begins.

Yet, looking at our lives from God’s perspective, we already dwell in that kingdom, He has already claimed us, and though we cannot see it, we already live in His presence, for the Holy Spirit has been given to us, until that day when our sight finally matches that promise of God, in which we trust.  If we have His perspective, then how we live our lives, what we do, and how we survive the times when we are overwhelmed with life.. and death.

But having an eternal outlook – so well described in Paul’s words,

5:6 Therefore we are always confident and know that as long as we are at home in the body we are away from the Lord. 7 We live by faith, not by sight. 8 We are confident, I say, and would prefer to be away from the body and at home with the Lord. 9 So we make it our goal to please him, whether we are at home in the body or away from it.
2 Corinthians 5:6-9 (NIV)

The challenge is keeping that focus… or perhaps… the key is realizing that the focus isn’t a focus – but in grasping that He is our Father.

The Challenges to an Eternal Outlook

         

Given the world we live in, living life with a heavenly focus, setting priorities based on what matters eternally is going to be challenging.  There are so many distractions from birth to death, from things external to ourselves and even our own thoughts, our own battles with our earthly nature which focuses in our wants, our desires, our own sense of what brings us pleasure and/or peace.

As I get older – it is less being distracted by pleasure and fun; rather, I find myself distracted by aches and pains, and longing for freedom from them.   Paul’s words are so… accurate…

5:1 Now we know that if the earthly tent we live in is destroyed, we have a building from God, an eternal house in heaven, not built by human hands. 2 Meanwhile we groan, longing to be clothed with our heavenly dwelling, 3 because when we are clothed, we will not be found naked. 4 For while we are in this tent, we groan and are burdened, because we do not wish to be unclothed but to be clothed with our heavenly dwelling, so that what is mortal may be swallowed up by life.
2 Corinthians 5:1-4 (NIV)

While the groans are now more physical, in our youth the groans were those of frustration.  Either we didn’t get what we wanted, and groaned as we compared reality to our dreams; or we groaned because we achieved those dreams, and found them empty, But the groans were there as well, and I am sure that those a little older than me find some days as full of groans as well.  Those groans of course, are but a reaction to those things that draw us away from the promises given to us, the relationship that we struggle to walk in – as we have to ask why things happen to us.

The struggle to live life with an eternal outlook, and make decisions and act based on that with eternal significance is our relationships with sinners. Not just the sinners out there- but the sinners here. The sinners around you.  Paul notes the change that occurs, when we see things spiritually, eternally, in the last paragraph.

5:16 So from now on we regard no one from a worldly point of view. Though we once regarded Christ in this way, we do so no longer. 17 Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come! 18 All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation:
2 Corinthians 5:16-18 (NIV)

It is easy to look at someone, and based on either generalizations, or indeed, on past actions, and consider them from a worldly point of view – that is, they are jerks or idiots or other names you have created to avoid cursing.  Yet, an eternal perspective looks at those people, and realizes that when Jesus says from the cross, “Father, forgive them, they know not what they do, He was talking about them.

Oh and he was talking about you as well.

But these people are the kind that can distract us, as we look at them with human, earthly eyes, and they challenge our ability to look at things, knowing as we do, that God has cleansed them or would cleanse them in baptism, even as He cleanses himself!  Gosh we want them to receive what they are due!  That tells us that we also get distracted from this view, when we catch ourselves being distracted, and take our frustrations, either on ourselves, or… on them.

So where is our hope?

Overcoming that challenge…by pleasing God

 

There is a secret to life, and to death, to all of eternity.  A secret which helps us maintain our proper outlook on life, a viewpoint from which our decisions get things right eternally.

It is really simple, at least in Paul’s words,

5:8 We are confident, I say, and would prefer to be away from the body and at home with the Lord. 9 So we make it our goal to please him, whether we are at home in the body or away from it. 2 Corinthians 5:8-9 (NIV)

It is a well known phrase – that Christianity is less a religion, that it is a relationship. (Of course Lutherans ask the question- why can’t it be both?)  If we look at the commandments of scripture as duties, we reduce it only to solely a religion.  We have to understand that pleasing God comes from being with Him, being His children as we walk besides Him during life.

On father’s day perhaps – we get this the most – those of us without Father’s – realize how much we miss them – it doesn’t matter if it is a week or a decade. Those of us who have children realize how much we miss them – whether they are five, or fifty.  This is the day when were wonder if we’ve went wrong, and/or look for evidence of how good we have been as a father.

If a earthly father rejoices in time with His children, then how much more our heavenly father would?  Isn’t that what heaven will be about, being home with the Lord?  Feasting with Him, spending time with Him – this isn’t about commandments for commandments sake – its about being with our Father, about pleasing Him, about sharing our lives, and sharing His work.  Yes, He knows about your sin, and about the doubts, and hurts that need to be healed.  He gives you His Spirit to help you heal, to help you realize the promise, to remind you that you are His child – here or there.  He brings you comfort…when all there is, is tears.

He is there.

 

Pleasing Him, seeing what He desires fulfilled – except our heavenly Father doesn’t want a cold beer while watching a baseball game… He wants to see all His children come home, to realize that even while we apart from Him, we are still His… and because we are, because the Spirit assures us of His promise….

We can live either place…. Walking with Him… pleasing Him… sharing our life, lived in His peace…

AMEN.

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