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Dealing With the 2 Steps Forward, Three Steps Back Life.


OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERADevotional Thought of the Day:

6  I am confident of this, that the one who began a good work in you will continue to complete it until the day of Christ Jesus. Philippians 1:6 (NAB)

78         You don’t feel like doing anything and there is nothing you look forward to. It is like a dark cloud. Showers of sadness fell, and you experienced a strong sensation of being hemmed in. And, to crown it all, a despondency set in, which grew out of a more or less objective fact: you have been struggling for so many years…, and you are still so far behind, so far. All this is necessary, and God has things in hand. To attain gaudium cum pace—true peace and joy—we have to add to the conviction of our divine filiation, which fills us with optimism, the acknowledgement of our own personal weakness.

There are days like yesterday when I feel like my faith, which took two steps forward the day before, takes three or four steps back.

Sometimes this is caused by my own sin, sometimes by the sins I have to help people find redemption from, sometimes from sin I see or hear about, but am not in the position to help people with, (and sometimes I do not want to) and sometimes it is something that just challenges my faith, like my 46 year battle with my health.  Some days are a perfect storm of all of the above, and I struggle to see God,

Sometimes, I do not want to.

My bet is that I am not alone

I think we all have those dark nights of the soul, those moments where we aren’t certain about God helping us, caring about us.  We are so overwhelmed, so broken that we doubt his existence, if we bother to think about Him at all.

These are difficult days, it takes an enormous effort to think of God, to not run to something else to console or comfort or distract from the despair.

St. Josemaria talks of adding to the conviction of divine filiation, to put it in our terms, our dependence on God’s love for us, and loving Him in return.  I am not going to say this is easy, for it requires us to look away from what is troubling us, and hear His voice, hear his promises, to know they are true. It’s not about our personal strength growing, but our dependence and awareness of His strength, His faithfulness. To see them as a measure of His love, His care, His work.  The way we add to our conviction of His love is to hear it, and experience it through His word, through prayer, through the Sacraments.  For all point to that day Paul tells the church in Ephesus is coming, the day when all is finished, all is complete.

A work that will be completed, a work that will be finished, a work that draws us into Him, into His eternity.  This is our hope, this is our faith, in a God that comes to us, that we might come to Him.  AMEN

Escriva, Josemaria. Furrow (Kindle Locations 547-552). Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition.

The Reality of Our Struggle With Evil People


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God, who am I?

Devotional Thought of the Day:
5  This is the message we heard from Jesus and now declare to you: God is light, and there is no darkness in him at all. 6  So we are lying if we say we have fellowship with God but go on living in spiritual darkness; we are not practicing the truth. 7  But if we are living in the light, as God is in the light, then we have fellowship with each other, and the blood of Jesus, his Son, cleanses us from all sin. 8  If we claim we have no sin, we are only fooling ourselves and not living in the truth. 9  But if we confess our sins to him, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all wickedness. 10  If we claim we have not sinned, we are calling God a liar and showing that his word has no place in our hearts. 1 John 1:5-10 (NLT)

65         Once again you had gone back to your old follies!… And afterwards, when you returned, you didn’t feel very cheerful, because you lacked humility. It seems as if you obstinately refuse to learn from the second part of the parable of the prodigal son, and you still feel attached to the wretched happiness of the pig-swill. With your pride wounded by your weakness, you have not made up your mind to ask for pardon, and you have not realized that, if you humble yourself, the joyful welcome of your Father God awaits you, with a feast to mark your return and your new beginning.

The divine embrace: The appropriate image for biblical and ancient spirituality.

I once again find myself struggling with those I would term sinful, even, in my more cynical moments, evil.  Some are in bondage to sin and struggle to realize it, even though all around them can see it.  Others seem to revel in their evil, and they will go to great length to defend the sin that so dominates and controls them.

There are days I want to oppose them, to fight the evil.  There are other days I simply want to walk away, leave them to their own consequences, to by my absence curse them to remain locked into their evil.  It is tempting to want to remove myself from their crap, whether that crap is found in what we call a secular arena, or in one that is supposed to be sacred.

To even think that way reminds me that I am no different, for my sin can dominate me as easily, and as St Josemaria points out, my lack of humility conveniently assumes their sin is far worse than mine.   My crap, or the pig slop that St Josemaria identifies, is no better than theirs, my desire to fight or flee is really more about my pride that it is about the distaste for their sin.

It is hard, not at this point to want to condemn myself as much as I would condemn them.  Don’t I know better?  Don’t I hear John’s words regularly about the reality that exists when I deny my own sin?  Those questions run over and crush my heart and soul, for how will I be ever delivered from this life and its struggle with sin? Well, those are my thoughts deep in my heart until I encounter something in someone else that is sinful or evil.  Then I forget all about self-condemnation to condemn the easy target.

The only way out of this is to encounter what Webber calls the “Divine Embrace”, the Prodigal’s Father who runs out to embrace his son, casting aside all dignity, all hurt from his son’s betrayal, to embrace Him.

We are that prodigal, God is that Father who embraces us!  We are that sinner who can’t deny our sin but confesses it, and finds not only that sin forgiven, but our lives cleansed of all unrighteousness.

A cleansing that enables us to do more than finding others sins revolting, but to actually hurt for them, to beg God to deliver them, to help them.  We may even find ourselves led and empowered by the Holy Spirit to reach out and minister to them, to be the agents through whom God reconciles them to Himself, and to His people. Then we will be blessed to witness that which St James about,

19  My friends, if any of you wander away from the truth and another one brings you back again, 20  remember this: whoever turns a sinner back from the wrong way will save that sinner’s soul from death and bring about the forgiveness of many sins. James 5:19-20 (TEV)

May we all rejoice at being brought back, together.

AMEN!

 

Escriva, Josemaria. Furrow (Kindle Locations 490-495). Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition.

Webber, Robert E. The Divine Embrace: Recovering the Passionate Spiritual Life. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2006. Print. Ancient-Future Series.

Try to Not Let “Them” Steal Our Joy!


Altar with communionDevotional Thought of the Day:
1  As for us, we have this large crowd of witnesses around us. So then, let us rid ourselves of everything that gets in the way, and of the sin which holds on to us so tightly, and let us run with determination the race that lies before us. 2  Let us keep our eyes fixed on Jesus, on whom our faith depends from beginning to end. He did not give up because of the cross! On the contrary, because of the joy that was waiting for him, he thought nothing of the disgrace of dying on the cross, and he is now seated at the right side of God’s throne. 3  Think of what he went through; how he put up with so much hatred from sinners! So do not let yourselves become discouraged and give up. Hebrews 12:1-3 (TEV)

83         Faced by all those men without faith, without hope; by minds desperately near the borders of anguish, seeking for a meaning in their life, you found your purpose: Him! This discovery will permanently inject a new happiness into your existence, it will transform you, and present you with an immense daily hoard of beautiful things of which you were unaware, and which show you the joyful expanse of that broad path that leads you to God.

There are times where the actions of people affect us.  Times where evil or unjust actions cause us to struggle, to even despair and sink into depression.  Some of us are more susceptible to this than others, as we do not understand how in the world they justify their actions.

This kind of trauma can paralyze us, make us ask unanswerable questions, we can even begin to doubt God, for how can he allow this level of brokenness, this sin to dominate and evil to flourish.  As we ask these questions, out hearts and souls receive hit after hit, even as we try to determine if this is the time to fight, or flee.

I hate to say it is “natural” to enter such struggles but after 50 years, I find that I don’t have the strength to avoid such, nor the power to overcome the tendency to be so affected.  Simply put, you can’t care for people, you can’t try to love them without opening yourself up to such burdens, to such struggles.

So how do you cope?

St. Josemaria and St. Paul agree.  The answer is to look to Jesus, to find our purpose is Him.  They agree that our relationship with Jesus is so precious that we can look to Him and discover the greatest joy. This is the same joy that Jesus saw as he walked to, and was nailed to the cross.

Looking to Him, finding our life our breath and very being located in Him, allows us to see that our trust in Him is true. He will sustain us from the beginning to the end, it will reveal to us the incredible vastness of the love of God, and we will experience it more as we see ourselves as part of His story.

That’s what I need to know, that is why we need to go to the cross when we are feeling this way.  Our hearts and souls and minds need to understand what happened when God baptized us when God drew us to Jesus and united us to His death and resurrection,  When God declared us righteous, cleansing us of sin, and declared we are His children.  We need to allow His presence to dominate our awareness, to let, for then His peace settles over us.  Assured He is our fortress, we can then begin to respond in love, and in prayer for those who actions or words drew us deep into despair.

This is what we need, to focus in on Jesus, and be forewarned, it isn’t easy.  Satan will buffet us all the way.  This is where the communion of saints is so precious, for their testimonies in scripture and in the millennia since demonstrates God’s faithfulness.  This is where the sacraments and the word of God come into play, ministering to our hearts, souls, and minds, bringing the peace and comfort of the Holy Spirit.

Here is our hope and joy are restored, renewed, here in this sanctuary we call the presence of God, for know this my friends, “the Lord is with you!”

AMEN!

 

Escriva, Josemaria. Furrow (Kindle Locations 571-576). Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition.

The Battle for Spiritual Growth….is Not What it Seems…


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Concordia Lutheran Church – Cerritos, Ca , at dawn on Easter Sunday

Devotional Thought of the Day:
12  I don’t mean to say that I have already achieved these things or that I have already reached perfection. But I press on to possess that perfection for which Christ Jesus first possessed me. 13  No, dear brothers and sisters, I have not achieved it, but I focus on this one thing: Forgetting the past and looking forward to what lies ahead, 14  I press on to reach the end of the race and receive the heavenly prize for which God, through Christ Jesus, is calling us.      Philippians 3:12-14 (NLT)

24  Oh, what a miserable person I am! Who will free me from this life that is dominated by sin and death? 25  Thank God! The answer is in Jesus Christ our Lord. So you see how it is: In my mind I really want to obey God’s law, but because of my sinful nature I am a slave to sin.    Romans 7:24-25 (NLT)

223      Along the way to personal sanctity we can at times get the impression that we are going backwards instead of forwards, that we are getting worse instead of better. As long as there is interior struggle this pessimistic thought is only an illusion, a deception to be rejected as false. Persevere and don’t worry. If you fight with tenacity you are making progress and are growing in sanctity.

For decades I think we’ve bought into an idea of spiritual growth that is both childish, and damaging. It begins with telling stories of the great people that precede us in the faith as if they were perfect, as if they had no faults, as if they weren’t broken.

King David was perfect, and not an adulterer and murderer.  St Paul was a theologian par excellence, without a doubt or any struggle with sin. ( I can even find commentaries that say the above quote from Romans was St. Paul talking about prior to his conversion! )  We will whitewash Luther’s bi-polar nature, or Mother Theresa’s dealing with both depression.  We do this all the time, even with the modern folks we believe will be the next generation’s heroes of the faith.

That idea seems to be revealed for what it is, immature at best and perhaps deliberately misleading.

Paul struggled with sin, he realized that he had to battle for what was his in Christ, not to achieve it, but to receive it, to believe in, to depend on it. Even when our heart is trying to get us to focus on our sin, on our failures, on our spiritual growth not being as great as it should be.

St. Josemaria describes in a way that resonates with me, that there are times where we are going backwards, rather than forwards, that things are getting worse rather than better.  I resemble this at times, more often that I want to admit.

Which makes it challenging, because my mind will then move to why be a pastor, if I can’t grow deeper in faith myself?

Evaluating our spiritual growth is good, if we understand what spiritual growth is, what it really looks like, how it is measured.

The struggle with our sinfulness is part of it, we should never become complacent with our sin.  It shouldn’t haunt us, for Christ has won the victory over it, but we shouldn’t become complacent either. Our sin still needs to irritate us, disgust us, make us uncomfortable.

Not so we hide from God, but that we depend upon Him to purge that sin from us, that He would transform us.  Growth that has as its goal that we would treasure His love and mercy more than we treasure the sin.

This is growth, this battle, this fight, a growth which seems unending, but it will end. He has promised and He is faithful.  As He hangs on to us, we learn to hang on to Him.

May we be transparent enough with the generations that follow us, that they clearly see our trusting in God, even when it doesn’t make sense, even when we think we don’t deserve His mercy and love.

For then they will know this growth as well.. and not be as dismayed when Satan assails them.

AMEN.

Escriva, Josemaria. The Forge (Kindle Locations 959-964). Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition.

Who would weep when those who do evil die…?


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Devotional Thought of the Day:

33 The king was overcome with grief. He went up to the room over the gateway and wept. As he went, he cried, “O my son! My son Absalom! Absalom, my son! If only I had died in your place, my son! Absalom, my son!”  2 Samuel 18:33

19 When David noticed them whispering to each other, he realized that the child had died. So he asked them, “Is the child dead?”
“Yes, he is,” they answered.
20 David got up from the floor, had a bath, combed his hair, and changed his clothes. Then he went and worshiped in the house of the LORD. When he returned to the palace, he asked for food and ate it as soon as it was served. 21“We don’t understand this,” his officials said to him. “While the child was alive, you wept for him and would not eat; but as soon as he died, you got up and ate!”
22 “Yes,” David answered, “I did fast and weep while he was still alive. I thought that the LORD might be merciful to me and not let the child die. 23But now that he is dead, why should I fast? Could I bring the child back to life? I will some day go to where he is, but he can never come back to me.”

55      Is it possible, you asked me, that Christ should have spent so many years—twenty centuries—acting on earth, and the world should be now what it is? Is it possible, you went on, that there should still be people who do not know Our Lord? And I answered you with conviction: It is our fault. For we have been called to be co-redeemers, and at times, perhaps often!, we do not follow the Will of God.  (1)

A man suffers the death of two of his beloved sons.

The evil one, the one who died in open rebellion trying to kill and replace his father, is grieved over.  Grief consumes the father, unbelievable, paralyzing grief.

The innocent one, the one who dies because of his father’s sin, seemingly isn’t grieved over.  The death is accepted, life moves on, even to the extent that God is worshiped, not questioned.

This doesn’t make sense!  Why wouldn’t David have the opposite attitude?  Why wouldn’t guilt and shame and grief eat him alive as his “good” son dies?  Why wouldn’t there be a sense of relief, even a little joy as the son who tried to kill him, who raped his concubines died?  Why does he move on from the first, and become a paralyzed, bawling wretch over the death of the second?

Revealed in David, at this point, is the heart of God.  The God who reveals through Ezekiel that he doesn’t take pleasure in the death of the wicked, the God who reveals through Peter that He is patient, because He wants everyone to be transformed, through Paul that our ministry is one of reconciliation.  And shows Paul has the same heart when Paul says,

1  I am speaking the truth; I belong to Christ and I do not lie. My conscience, ruled by the Holy Spirit, also assures me that I am not lying 2  when I say how great is my sorrow, how endless the pain in my heart 3  for my people, my own flesh and blood! For their sake I could wish that I myself were under God’s curse and separated from Christ.
Romans 9:1-3 (TEV)

This is David’s heart as well.  This is what is meant when he talks of preferring to die rather than Absolom. For if Absolom doesn’t die, there is still hope for reconciliation with God, there is still hope that God will work through all the blocks, and Absolom would find the gift of repentance. The same for Paul, who values his relationship with God more than anything, yet would surrender it, if it meant his people, Israel, would become the people of God again.

(note as well the assurance of David in regards to the “good” son.  I will go where he is…)

I think this is the missing key in St Josemaria’s discussion, the reason we don’t follow the will of God, the reason that the world isn’t saved, that really, no major attempt is being made to do so.

Is is that we count our enemies as something less than those God desires, something not worth Christ’s death on the cross? Or do we value that death enough, realizing that our enemies are not the only enemies of Christ that He died for, for we were once, as well?

I don’t’ think we fix this by having conferences on evangelism, and training seminars on arguing people into submission to our doctrine.  That hasn’t worked all too well over the last 40 years.  Being obsessed with methodology – church growth, liturgical rubrics, etc doesn’t bring about this heart.

What does is prayer, worship, adoration, contemplated on the mysteries of God’s mercy and love. What changes us it knowing in our heart and soul that we are loved, that God is here, that we are standing on Holy ground.

For people to not know this peace?  To not know this love?  For us to not desire it for all we come into contact with?  This needs ot become inconceivable.

Lord, have mercy on us!  Give us your heart, your will to see people dwell with you.  Help us to learn to cry when enemies and adversaries face death, or when they suffer.  May our hearts move to help them, may we serve as servants to reconcile them.  For we pray this in Jesus’ name.  AMEN!

(1)  Escriva, Josemaria. The Forge (Kindle Locations 423-426). Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition.

I can see! A sermon to start Epiphany (based on Isaiah 60)


church at communion 2I Can See!  The Darkness is Gone!
Isaiah 60:1-6

In Jesus Name

May God’s glory, His mercy and Love revealed in Jesus, may that glory shine so brightly in your life, that even the darkest shadows are forgotten!

 Sunrise @ Concordia

One of the blessings I never expected when I came to Concordia was the incredible sunrises I would see on Sunday mornings.  Sometimes it is the sun breaking through the crowds, other times the entire sky looks like it is on fire.

There are times Dane will come out of the MPR and find me with my camera or my phone, trying to capture the incredibly beautiful blessing that so few see.

Though I hate getting up that early, there is a blessing that is so incredible, when a pitch black dark night is shattered by the sunrise

And that is what we celebrate during the weeks of Epiphany.

This feast which celebrates Christ entering the world and the glorious love of God being visible, being seen, drawing people to Him…

From the wise men whose arrival starts Epiphany, to the apostles who will witness the transfiguration, which we will celebrate 8 weeks from now, we are talking about the glory of God, shining in our lives, because Jesus is here!

and so Isaiah’s words are so meaningful and relavent to us,

“Arise, Jerusalem! Let your light shine for all to see. For the glory of the Lord rises to shine on you!

Darkness as black as night covers all the nations of the earth, but the glory of the Lord rises and appears over you!

Or maybe we should read it this way!

“Arise, Concordia! Let your light shine for all to see. For the glory of the Lord rises to shine on you!

Darkness as black as night covers all the nations of the earth, but the glory of the Lord rises and appears over you!

Time for the homecoming

Growing up, we would love electricity because of snowstorms.  Tree branches would get heavy with snow and ice, crashing down on power lines which would have to be replaced.  During the darkness you couldn’t do anything, but when the sun rose, life would return to normal.

It would be back to splitting wood for the woodstove and fireplace.  It would be cooking food to feed those who were out shoveling the snow, it would be having friends stop by, driving their trucks or skimobiles.

So too, when we realize that God has shined on us, that Jesus has come, and we have beheld His glory, that it is time to get ready.

For God tells us what is going to happen next,

All nations will come to your light; mighty kings will come to see your radiance!

“Look and see, for everyone is coming home! Your sons are coming from distant lands; your little daughters will be carried home!

They are all coming – as they see God’s light – God’s glory shining here in this place.  As we realize what God has done, and is doing here, as we realize the glorious love He has for us, everything changes, and it is noticeable!

Others see it, and they will be drawn to His glory, like a moth to a flame, or like certain guy’s attention can be gotten by announcing a football score, or a child to a stuffed animal.

God’s glory will gather attention, and it will draw people to the place where it is seen, where it is made manifest, where it brings light and warmth and peace and love.

I love how Isaiah describes the homecoming, as sons and daughters are returned home.  What he is talking about is those of us like the prodigal son, who went our own way, and did what we thought was right.  Who either rebelled against God our father or simply ignored Him.

But as God’s glory is revealed, as the grace and mercy of God are revealed and remembered, the prodigals come home.  His love draws us back, hoping that we will be welcomed, unaware that God’s love for them has not dimmed.

The picture of the daughters being carried home is the same, as the Holy Spirit brings them home, those who strayed and wandered, those who were lost and without hope.

For those of us who have come home, to find God’s people waiting for us with open arms, it is something we never forget, this love of God shown through His people.  For we see them as Isaiah describes,

Your eyes will shine, and your heart will thrill with joy,

When someone “comes home”, when their darkness is shattered by God’s glory, by the light of the world which is Jesus, that should be our reaction!  Our brother or sister has been brought home, and we begin to rejoice like the angels in heaven, indeed all of heaven does.

It’s time to worship the Lord

As we see that happen, we begin to rejoice, we begin to praise God. For the darkness is no more, even the shadows of darkness fade in the light that has revealed to us Christ, this glorious light that guides us to him.

Sometimes the words in Greek and Hebrew have a meaning that is deeper than we remember – and so it is with the word for praising God – it is to cry Alleluia or Hallelujah!

Hallel means to recognize the incredible thing that someone has done, the deeds that deserve to be shouted from the rooftops.

and Yah – well that is short for YHWH – God’s name.

To praise Him, for shattering our darkness with His light, with His glory….

The glory of the incredible thing that happens as Jesus dies to bear our sins, as he takes on himself our unrighteousness,  and is risen from the dead to give us life, to restore us from our brokenness.  His glorious work as the Holy Spirit cleanses us from sin, gives us life and lives within us,

This is Epiphany! When we realize the glory of God is His love for us, seen in the work He does in us, a work that shines through us to the world.

So,

“Arise, Concordia! Let your light shine for all to see. For the glory of the Lord rises to shine on you!

Darkness as black as night covers all the nations of the earth, but the glory of the Lord rises and appears over you!

AMEN!

A Second Look at How the Church Should Deal With Sinners and Even Evil.


Featured imageDevotional/Discussion thought of the day

24 Here is another story Jesus told: “The Kingdom of Heaven is like a farmer who planted good seed in his field. 25 But that night as the workers slept, his enemy came and planted weeds among the wheat, then slipped away. 26 When the crop began to grow and produce grain, the weeds also grew.
27 “The farmer’s workers went to him and said, ‘Sir, the field where you planted that good seed is full of weeds! Where did they come from?
28 “ ‘An enemy has done this!’ the farmer exclaimed.
“ ‘Should we pull out the weeds?’ they asked.
29 “ ‘No,’ he replied, ‘you’ll uproot the wheat if you do. 30 Let both grow together until the harvest. Then I will tell the harvesters to sort out the weeds, tie them into bundles, and burn them, and to put the wheat in the barn. ”(Mt 13:24–30) NLT

792    Duc in altum.—“Put out into the deep.” Cast aside the pessimism that makes a coward of you. Et laxate retia vestra in capturam—“And lower your nets for a catch.” Don’t you see that, as Peter said, In nomine tuo, laxabo rete—“At your word I will lower the net,” you can say, “Jesus, in your name I will seek souls!”  (1)

I’ve often read the parable above as being about the end of times.  It is an eschatological treasure after all, and challenges those with complicated end times theories.

But this parable has a heavy focus on ministry as well, about how we are to deal with evil and that which doesn’t seem to be correct or dare I say kosher.  To hear this lesson is challenging, because it goes against conventional wisdom, It goes against leadership rules and all those ideas about dealing with alligators in the church.  These people may be your enemies, your adversaries, even your pains in the neck.  But they have been given to you.

To hear Jesus’ words here takes a level of courage, even a level of courage that could be taken for complacency. It actually takes more work, more pastoral concern, more leadership, more devotion and obedience.

Leave them in the field you care for, letting God determine whether they are weeds or wheat at the end of time..

Continue to share with them both their absolute need for Christ, and His mercy that overwhelms that need.

If they walk away, so be it, but don’t push them out of vineyard.  That isn’t your call.  It isn’t within your pay grade to uproot them and burn them in the furnace, or at the stake. Even in times of church discipline, keep them in sight!  Minister to them, plead with them to be reconciled to God. (1 Cor 5 – note it doesn’t say reconcile themselves to God  – He still does the work)

This is going to take courage, and obedience.  it is going to require hearing the Master’s voice, and trusting that He knows what He is doing, what He has commissioned.  It may take sacrifice, and yes, more than a little pain  It will take creativity and ingenuity as you minister to them,  But since when is ministry about the ease of our jobs?

Even as you call them to repentance, even as you shepherd them in view of the others growing in the fields that will be harvested, you need to love them. This is exactly what Peter is talking about, as he mentions the Lord’s long-suffering nature, not willing that any should perish….

So hear His voice… listen to His words… care for those that you think may be weeds..Seek the salvation of the souls He brings into your sight… and love them. ..

God might surprise you both!

(1)   Escriva, Josemaria (2010-11-02). The Way (Kindle Locations 1828-1831). Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition.

The Method That Works When Dealing With Evil…


Featured imageDevotional Thought of the Day:

No doubt about it! God is good— good to good people, good to the good-hearted. 2  But I nearly missed it, missed seeing his goodness. 3  I was looking the other way, looking up to the people 4  At the top, envying the wicked who have it made, 5  Who have nothing to worry about, not a care in the whole wide world. 6  Pretentious with arrogance, they wear the latest fashions in violence, 7  Pampered and overfed, decked out in silk bows of silliness. 8  They jeer, using words to kill; they bully their way with words. 9  They’re full of hot air, loudmouths disturbing the peace. 10  People actually listen to them—can you believe it? Like thirsty puppies, they lap up their words.

11  What’s going on here? Is God out to lunch? Nobody’s tending the store. 12  The wicked get by with everything; they have it made, piling up riches 13  I’ve been stupid to play by the rules; what has it gotten me? 14  A long run of bad luck, that’s what— a slap in the face every time I walk out the door. 

5  If I’d have given in and talked like this, I would have betrayed your dear children. 16  Still, when I tried to figure it out, all I got was a splitting headache... 17  Until I entered the sanctuary of God. Then I saw the whole picture: 18  The slippery road you’ve put them on, with a final crash in a ditch of delusions. 19  In the blink of an eye, disaster! A blind curve in the dark, and—nightmare! 20  We wake up and rub our eyes… . Nothing. There’s nothing to them. And there never was. 21  When I was beleaguered and bitter, totally consumed by envy, 22  I was totally ignorant, a dumb ox in your very presence. 23  I’m still in your presence, but you’ve taken my hand. 24  You wisely and tenderly lead me, and then you bless me. 25  You’re all I want in heaven! You’re all I want on earth! 26  When my skin sags and my bones get brittle, GOD is rock-firm and faithful. 27  Look! Those who left you are falling apart! Deserters, they’ll never be heard from again. 28  But I’m in the very presence of God— oh, how refreshing it is! I’ve made Lord GOD my home. God, I’m telling the world what you do! Psalm 73:1-28 (MSG)

212    That Christ you see is not Jesus. At best it is only the pitiful image that your blurred eyes are able to form … Purify yourself. Make your sight cleaner with humility and penance. Then the pure light of love will not fail you. And you will have perfect vision. The image you see will really be his: Jesus himself. (1)

Evil.

We encounter it daily.

You see it as the acts of ISIS are discussed, we hear that some think that police are evil, or politicians, or maybe someone close to you.  Someone who has betrayed you, or disappointed you. We wonder why there can’t be anything done against evil, whether it is some physical action that stops their work, or a physical judgment in which we can all rejoice.

Psalm 73 looks at this issue, why those who are evil can appear to be successful, we might even dare use the word blessed.  But the psalmist can’t even bring himself to ask publicly that question. To do so would betray the people he is set aside to lead in worship and praise of God. But this existence of evil, is too much, and that they succeed, and are not punished, there is no logic to this.  There is only questioning, and even that we feel seems to be wrong.  For to question, does that mean we don’t trust God?

The answer is not found in words, they fail.

It is found in the sanctuary, the Holy Place, the temple of God. It is found as we realize the presence of God in our lives, in the comfort His presence brings.

That is why I am so completely overwhelmed when we commune, as we receive the Body and Blood of Christ. There is something that is not only humbling, as the Psalmist mentions, but healing as well,  Comforting, Assuring, building our confidence in a way that goes beyond words. God, giving Himself, to rid us not only of the evil in the world, but the evil in our lives.

His promise, His action, His death on the cross – giving His life, for us.  Letting His blood be poured out, so the nations could be reconciled.

As St. Josemaria says, it is then, our vision cleared by seeing Christ, humble and at peace, we can turn evil over to God.  We know His protection, His peace.

We can even find rest, knowing that He is Lord, and Savior, and the One who loves us.

So if you have to deal with evil, at whatever level.  Look to Christ – let Him cleanse you.

He will.

(1)  Escriva, Josemaria (2010-11-02). The Way (Kindle Locations 604-607). Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition.

God, and the Problem of Evil


Discussion and Devotional Thought of the Day:God, who am I?

6  When reports come in of wars and rumored wars, keep your head and don’t panic. This is routine history; this is no sign of the end. 7  Nation will fight nation and ruler fight ruler, over and over. Famines and earthquakes will occur in various places. Matthew 24:6-7 (MSG)
54  As the members of the Council listened to Stephen, they became furious and ground their teeth at him in anger. 55  But Stephen, full of the Holy Spirit, looked up to heaven and saw God’s glory and Jesus standing at the right side of God. 56  “Look!” he said. “I see heaven opened and the Son of Man standing at the right side of God!” 57  With a loud cry the Council members covered their ears with their hands. Then they all rushed at him at once, 58  threw him out of the city, and stoned him. The witnesses left their cloaks in the care of a young man named Saul. 59  They kept on stoning Stephen as he called out to the Lord, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit!” 60  He knelt down and cried out in a loud voice, “Lord! Do not remember this sin against them!” He said this and died. Acts 7:54-60 (TEV)

Yesterday was a hard day for so many around the world, and many closer to me.

There were the stories that made the news, the Malaysian plane shot down, the conflict in Israel, the conflicts in Sudan and Nigeria.

There are the other stories as well, that will not make the news, My friend whose memory is failing him. The family of a lady I visited in the hospital, whose heart is beating…yet whose body is shutting down, leaving her family without the one they count on for strength.  There are parents whose children are facing procedures to could reveal the possibility of a lifetime of pain,

And yes, there are the martyrs like St. Stephen, and St Paul. Men whose faith is testified to, even by their enemies.  Men of peace, who would give people the hope found in trusting Christ.

Which brings about a question, how do we survive the evil we encounter in the world?  How do we cope with news that shatters hearts, that could shatter our faith? That could make us cuss and scream and yell at God.  How can we imitate the faith of those who the Letter to the Hebrews describes,

33  By faith these people overthrew kingdoms, ruled with justice, and received what God had promised them. They shut the mouths of lions, 34  quenched the flames of fire, and escaped death by the edge of the sword. Their weakness was turned to strength. They became strong in battle and put whole armies to flight. 35  Women received their loved ones back again from death. But others were tortured, refusing to turn from God in order to be set free. They placed their hope in a better life after the resurrection. 36  Some were jeered at, and their backs were cut open with whips. Others were chained in prisons. 37  Some died by stoning, some were sawed in half, and others were killed with the sword. Some went about wearing skins of sheep and goats, destitute and oppressed and mistreated. 38  They were too good for this world, wandering over deserts and mountains, hiding in caves and holes in the ground. Hebrews 11:33-38 (NLT)

As a pastor, as someone who has served as a chaplain in jails, hospitals and with a hospice and homecare medical group, I’ve seen people do survive in such hard times, and not only endure, but be a blessing to those around them.  Do they have some secret?  No, save that they know Christ  They know Him so well, they realize His promises.

They walk with Him,

We can even see them go through the stages of grief

Abraham bargained with God, even as he realized the evil of Sodom and Gommorah

Jeremiah was angry with God, even accused God of deceiving him, because of the ministry to His people.

Jonah deal with depression over God’s work to save people he didn’t like or trust

Job’s friends were awesome at encouraging denial of the truth,

just because we trust in God doesn’t mean we avoid evil – that we avoid the horrible days… but it means we move with Him through them.  Guarded by Him, comforted by them, knowing His promises will be fulfilled.

For as they moved through the valleys of the shadows of darkness (evil) they learned not to fear, for God was there… and He will be with us.

That is how we deal with God and the problem of evil.. with the problem that things are wrong, messed up, screwed up, painful.

We look to Jesus, the author and One who perfects our trust in God.

 

 

 
 

 

 

God Has Shown Us, but do we see?


Devotional?Discussion Thought of the Day:God, who am I?
6  What shall I bring to the LORD, the God of heaven, when I come to worship him? Shall I bring the best calves to burn as offerings to him? 7  Will the LORD be pleased if I bring him thousands of sheep or endless streams of olive oil? Shall I offer him my first-born child to pay for my sins? 8  No, the LORD has told us what is good. What he requires of us is this: to do what is just, to show constant love, and to live in humble fellowship with our God.     Micah 6:6-8 (TEV)

259         Prayer is the humility of the man who acknowledges his profound wretchedness and the greatness of God. He addresses and adores God as one who expects everything from Him and nothing from himself. Faith is the humility of the mind which renounces its own judgement and surrenders to the verdict and authority of the Church. Obedience is the humility of the will which subjects itself to the will of another, for God’s sake.  (1)

Between trying to adapt to new meds which dropped a bomb on me physically, a number of my parishioners in the hospital, two classes, on I teach and the sheriff’s academy, I come to my office this morning, more than a bit exhausted.  I suppose part of it is that I am just tired, but sometimes, in this situation, you see things clearly.

I see people bashing our president, and our former president, then bashing each other for bashing.
I see people bashing their ex’s, or maybe their about to be ex’s, not aware that what they are really doing is drowning themselves in bitterness.
I dared tp read the news at breakfast, and see the wards going on in the world.
I look at FB and see that people are still fighting the same worship wars, bashing each other for perceptions that aren’t accurate.
I see constantly within and without the church, people struggling, and I am tempted to bash back, or quit,
I see friends chastising those who want traditional relationships, and others condemning (rather that working with in love) those who live, struggling with sin.

I see a lot of sin… enough to overwhelm the world, never mind a simple middle-aged pastor.

In my devotions this morning, I came across the quote above by St. Josemaria Escriva.  I like his works because they don’t sugarcoat life, but even as they acknowledge the struggle, the acknowledge something bigger. It made me think of the Micah passage, and the simplicity of life to which it calls us.

Can we expect everything from God, knowing that our (individual and corporate) ability is no match to this world?  Can we humble our minds and consider that those before us aren’t passed the expiration date, or that those younger than us might have a insights far beyond us?  Can we subject ourselves, not just to each other, but to each other for God’s sake?  (maybe we should read Eph 5:21 again?)

Can we live this humbly?  Can we love this purely and constantly?  Some would say no, it is impossible for sinners to do so.

As pastors, priests, deacons, and all the other ministers of God, can we encourage people to do this, while struggling to do it ourselves?  Do we just turn our backs and find some nice monastery to hide in, and let the world go to hell?

We have to try to help, it is our calling, our mission, our apostolate.  It is a burden to bear and a cross to carry.  And yes, it means there will be days where we are dejected, tired, broken, ready to give up on the world.

The key is the very last line of the prophet’s words, “to live in humble fellowship with our God.”  The key is also seen in the opening words of a catholic priest who knew war, famine, poverty, and yet still knew the presence of God,  Prayer is the humility of the man who acknowledges his profound wretchedness and the greatness of God. He addresses and adores God as one who expects everything from Him and nothing from himself.”  Humility is simply remember He is God, we aren’t, and what that means each and everyday we are alive…..

He is here, we walk with Him, He has promised to be our Master, the Lord who provides all we need, the Lord who doesn’t abandon His people but works in them.  It is He who is our hope, the mountains we look to for escape, and to hide offer nothing…. for He has given us everything.  He has given us Himself.  It is in Him we have hope, even while in the mud and muck of this world.  Even while we minister in brokenness, with those who are broken.

May we know this as we cry out, Lord Have Mercy!

(1)  Escriva, Josemaria (2011-01-31). Furrow (Kindle Locations 1262-1267). Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition.

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