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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.

Christianity and Lessons from the Blacklist!


Devotioal Thought of the Day:

 15  I do not understand what I do; for I don’t do what I would like to do, but instead I do what I hate. 16  Since what I do is what I don’t want to do, this shows that I agree that the Law is right. 17  So I am not really the one who does this thing; rather it is the sin that lives in me. 18  I know that good does not live in me—that is, in my human nature. For even though the desire to do good is in me, I am not able to do it. 19  I don’t do the good I want to do; instead, I do the evil that I do not want to do. 20  If I do what I don’t want to do, this means that I am no longer the one who does it; instead, it is the sin that lives in me. 21  So I find that this law is at work: when I want to do what is good, what is evil is the only choice I have. 22  My inner being delights in the law of God. 23  But I see a different law at work in my body—a law that fights against the law which my mind approves of. It makes me a prisoner to the law of sin which is at work in my body. 24  What an unhappy man I am! Who will rescue me from this body that is taking me to death? 25  Thanks be to God, who does this through our Lord Jesus Christ! This, then, is my condition: on my own I can serve God’s law only with my mind, while my human nature serves the law of sin.   Romans 7:15-25 (TEV)

Liz: You’re a monster.
Red: Yes.
Liz: How can you live with that?
Red: By saving your life. (1)

With my schedule, I don’t get to watch television much, except when I am home sick, or occaisonally something dvr’d.

One of my favorites used to be Boston Legal – wihich surprised me, because I didn’t like any of the primary actors in it.  But I was amazed with the brilliance of how they worked together, and how the writers strived to find ways to take the broken charachters and send them hunting, often blindly for some sort of reconciliation, some sort of justice they found, despite themselves.  Have to admit, I became impressed with James Spader’s characterization.  Enough so, that when the Blacklist came about – I wanted to see it – just to see if he could be a truly evil charachter.

Have to admit – it is the only television show I really watch these days, usually a couple of days later, and always fascinated with the depth of depravity and yet, a quest for some kind of vindication.

There is a blunt acknowledgement of evil, a confession that is there, unaware that there is grace.  There is in each primary character – a questioning of the soul.  You see it in Liz, as she struggles with the evil of each case, and the questions about her husband.  You see it in Red, as he tries to help Liz, but also as he has his moments of solitude, (of course he goes and decides to do what he knows is wrong thereafter) you see it in the director, and in the partner.

There is an acknowledgement of our sinful selves, and attempts made to justify themseives by doing something good or noble or perfectly just.  Except they realize, as we do, that the harder we try, the more likely we fail.

That’s perhaps what I like about the show – it strips us, not from the idea that we are not sinners, but from the idea we can justify ourselves. That we can explain away our own shortcomings, our own falures, our own tendency to sin.  But it needs to go beyond that.

Luther wrote,

For although the whole world with all diligence has endeavored to ascertain what God is, what He has in mind and does, yet has she never been able to attain to [the knowledge and understanding of] any of these things. But here we have everything in richest measure; for here in all three articles He has Himself revealed and opened the deepest abyss of his paternal heart and of His pure unutterable love. For He has created us for this very object, that He might redeem and sanctify us; and in addition to giving and imparting to us everything in heaven and upon earth, He has given to us even His Son and the Holy Ghost, by whom to bring us to Himself.  (2)

Red sees his own redemption in saving the life of another.  I don’t think he means just her physical life either, but the emotional and spiritual life that can be lost in their line of work.  (remember what he did before he went rogue)  Perhaps by ridding the world with more efficiently of the truly evil, he can help her save her life. He wants to be her savior, her Christ, Even so, he cannot.

Luther sees it differently, noting that God is the one who can do, and has done, what Red so longs to do.  He did come – and take on evil, personally as Christ carriest all our sin to the cross.  That’s what Paul is talking about as well – who can rescue us from the despair of living in the presence of Evil?  Only Christ.

Maybe we don’t see ourselves as the people on the balcklist – people beyond hope.  Maybe were the Liz, losing her naivete about the world, about mankind with every episode.  Maybe we’re Red, hoping beyond hpoe that we can save the next generation from turning into us.

What we need in each case – is to cry out to Jesus, the One who can save us, and has already provided all the means for our salvaiton, and more importantly, to leave anxiety over walking in evil behind, as we walk with Him.

We cry, “Lord, Have Mercy”  and know, and trust.. He has.

(1)   http://www.tvfanatic.com/quotes/shows/the-blacklist/page-4.html#sthash.HSTHtX83.dpuf

(2)  The Large Catechism of Martin Luther.

God isn’t Fair! He isn’t doing what’s right


“The Lord isn’t Doing what is Right?”

Ezekiel 33:7-20

Jesus, Son and Savior

May we realize the joy that it brings God our Father and our Lord Jesus Christ to see the grace, the mercy, and love they have for mankind received and cherished!

 

A change in journalism, reflecting our sin!

I have suspected it for a while, but I think this week pretty much proved it – the art of news reporting is gone.  We are a long way from the days when a news cast signed off with “and that’s the way it was”, or a reporter pleaded like a Joe Friday, “just the facts ma’am.”

Every news article I read this week seemed more like an opinion-editorial piece, with the writer’s speculation about how the latest financial disaster could be averted, or why the pope really resigned, or what they should do to replace him, to bring the Catholic Church into the twenty-first century.  Of course, some of the ideas for both are nations budget and the choice of the new pope were… hmmm…how is the best way I can describe this… creative?

As if every journalist, every reporter, every blogger was an expert on to balance a budget, or deal with disasters, or was an expert theologian.

 

Of course, the newsman simply are doing what they see us doing.  We try to prove that despite our disagreement with the way things have been done in the past, there has to be some hope for the future…

If only those in charge do it.. the way we know is right!

We love to do the backseat driving, the second guessing, to question those who actually have the responsibility and the pressure of making the decisions. Not that we are more intelligent, or have the information at hand, that they do.  It is almost a national past-time.  It doesn’t even matter if it’s “our guy” that we are questioning.

Sometimes… it doesn’t even matter if it’s God….

That’s what we see in today’s Old Testament lesson, as God says,

17 “Your people are saying, ‘The Lord isn’t doing what’s right,’ but it is they who are not doing what’s right. 18 For again I say, when righteous people turn away from their righteous behavior and turn to evil, they will die. 19 But if wicked people turn from their wickedness and do what is just and right, they will live.

 

Imagine that, telling God that He isn’t doing what is right…. Because He is willing to save the people that are considered wicked, and condemning those who consider themselves righteous…..

Where do people get the… nerve… to declare that God doesn’t know what He’s doing, or that He is doing wrong…in showing His mercy?

 

Why do we question the depth of God’s mercy

I don’t think that it is just the people of those days who make such judgments.  In the Luther movie, there is a scene where Luther has to minister to a family where the son has committed suicide.   He challenges the view that everyone who does such is inherently evil, or doesn’t believe in God. He buried the body of the young man in a graveyard, and assured the parents that one could be in heaven, who died oppressed by satan, or for a time doubted….He trusted in God’s mercy in those situations, but can we?

How many of us question whether this person’s claim, or that one’s, that they are believers?  How willing are we to declare that this person in history or that one is in hell?  Do we really believe that people are beyond the reach of God.  That it is not right if God lets someone like Pol Pot’s chief prison warden, or someone like Jeffrey Dahmer, could get into heaven. What about someone like Christopher Darner?  Surely not him?

What if we said that someone who everyone thought was good, would not go to heaven, because their faith wasn’t in Jesus, or because they didn’t abide in Christ?

Would we have the same attitude as those who went before us?  Would we ask, “Jesus – what were you thinking when you made Peter the leader of the Apostles

 

Were you doing what is right?  What is just Lord?    Because to be honest, I do not see it!

 

What I need to realize, is that I don’t have to… we aren’t God, we aren’t the judge.  We don’t need to question His actions, His mercy

We need to rejoice in it!

The reason why hearing this is good news

 

You see, though many of us might consider someone we know as a just or righteous, or maybe even as a holy people, that they are just a “good” person, there is no such thing out of Christ.  We struggle – and that word for wicked sounds horrible, but it just means those who are guilty, not just found guilty in a court somewhere – but who actually did that which was wrong.

Simply put, it’s not just the mass murderers, or those who did the unbelievable evil, but those that simply broke one of the ten ways in which God ordained for us to live.

When we hear Ezekiel’s words, when we begin to comprehend his warning, or when someone like Ezekiel reaches out to us, we still need to listen!  We don’t need to hide behind some façade of righteousness!
We don’t need to hide anymore, we can confess our sins grasping onto these words,

As surely as I live, says the Sovereign Lord, I take no pleasure in the death of wicked people. I only want them to turn from their wicked ways so they can live. Turn! Turn from your wickedness, O people of Israel! Why should you die?


God isn’t out to “get” people that do wrong, that wander away on their own!  He wants to rescue them, and that is why He gave us His word, and why we treasure it!  It assures us of His desire to fix what we broken, to restore that which we’ve wrecked!  That is why the sinner, the “wicked” can have hope!

That is why Ezekiel promises that as verse 16 promises, “none of their past sins will be brought up again!”

Imagine that – none of our sins, ever brought up again!  They are gone!  So gone that the issue isn’t whether we were wicked or good, but whether we are walking in the presence of God, for there is life!

That’s why St Peter joyfully tells us that God is patient with us, He is willing to suffer for a long time, so that we have the opportunity to see our sins separated from us, to rejoice in knowing His love!  It is why Paul tells us it was for the joy set before Him that Jesus endured the suffering and shame of the crucifixion.
Jesus talks of this too, that the Father doesn’t take any pleasure in the death of the wicked – but instead phrases it this way,

7 In the same way, there is more joy in heaven over one lost sinner who repents and returns to God than over ninety-nine others who are righteous and haven’t strayed away!
Luke 15:7 (NLT)
That is why we talk of celebrating the Eucharist, the Lord Supper.  It is why this is a feast at His table, the same kind of feast thrown for prodigal sons, and those dragged off the street to come to the wedding Feast of the King’s son in another parable.

 

God doesn’t rejoice in the death of the wicked, but in their return, in their being saved.

And while some may think that isn’t a good or right thing to do, this prodigal, formerly spiritually homeless one rejoices greatly.

That desire of God is so strong, that is why the watchmen – those God has placed to warn the sinner and welcome the repentant – are told the serious nature of their work.  It is not because God is mean – but because the message is so…. Important to know – that there is a way out.

And so God instructs us all,

I have appointed you to stand watch for the (my) people of Israel. So listen to what I say, then warn them for me. 8 When I tell wicked people they will die because of their sins, you must warn them to turn from their sinful ways. But if you refuse to warn them, you are responsible for their death. 9 If you do warn them, and they keep sinning, they will die because of their sins, and you will be innocent.

 

My instinct is to hear that as law – as a command – that if I don’t tell you – and you don’t tell those who aren’t here yet – then we are guilty again!  Another law at work?

No, again – the context means everything!  For it is the very cry of those feeling the weight of their sin, who realize that they cannot pay the price of their sin to whom God speaks!  He promises them that it is not their death that pleases Him, but their return, the transformation that we call repentance, the kind seen when behaviors change, and when reconciliation and redemption and walking with God is what we know… and therefore what we do.

When we dwell in peace… the peace of God that passes all understanding, as we are guarded in Christ Jesus!  AMEN?

A Sacrifice for Lent…a broken heart?


Devotional THought of the Day:

Psalm 51:7-17 (NLT) 7 Purify me from my sins, and I will be clean; wash me, and I will be whiter than snow. 8 Oh, give me back my joy again; you have broken me— now let me rejoice. 9 Don’t keep looking at my sins. Remove the stain of my guilt. 10 Create in me a clean heart, O God. Renew a loyal spirit within me. 11 Do not banish me from your presence, and don’t take your Holy Spirit from me. 12 Restore to me the joy of your salvation, and make me willing to obey you. 13 Then I will teach your ways to rebels, and they will return to you. 14 Forgive me for shedding blood, O God who saves; then I will joyfully sing of your forgiveness. 15 Unseal my lips, O Lord, that my mouth may praise you. 16 You do not desire a sacrifice, or I would offer one. You do not want a burnt offering. 17 The sacrifice you desire is a broken spirit. You will not reject a broken and repentant heart, O God.

In the midst of our BIble Study this morning, we went on a side tangent about Lent, and what people sacrifice for Lent.  For a short period of time, we give up something – with the sincere intention to use the time, the money, whatever is gained in service to God.  One of my ladies, aske a great question, “why do we give Him back what is already His?” and I mentioned the irony of immediately taking back whatever we gave up, the moment sunrise service ends.  

If our “sacrifice” is in view of something more beneficial, then why no continue it after lent?
Why not take up something far more long reaching, something that will cause a change that lasts longer than 40 days?

Noting my odd nature, my mind went to the passage above – yeah on Valentines Day I am suggesting we give God… our broken hearts.

Our broken hearts?

Yeah, the brokenness that comes when we hear stories of 9 year old pregnant girls, or stories where perceived injustice results in more injustice…

The brokenness that is seen when we witness lives devastated death, or by illness, or by age.

The brokenness that comes, when finances grow tight, and desperation sets in, whether this it is corporate or individual.  

The brokenness that comes when the churches work with the lost is interfered with by infighting, or hypocrisy..

The brokenness that comes, when our own sin is so clear, when its damage seems beyond healing, when we find ourselves “doing what is right in our own eyes”.

 it seems odd – that the best gift we could give God, to demonstrate our love… is our brokenness… to lay it open before Him all of it.. to say, here, God, you want me – you have me – all of my brokenness, all of my hurts, all my resentment, all my pain and all my sin. 

Yet it is…an incredible gift, one that brings the first commandment into play.   For when we bring God our brokenness, when we let Him heal and restore, reconcile and rescue us… when we do these things, we are letting God be.. well God, our Father, our Lord and Master (which is as much/more about responsibility than it is authority)

When we let God be God, when we find contentment in being His people, the ones for whom He cares, when we let Him clean and bandage and heal our woulds… when we let Him love us….that is the best….”sacrifice” we can make….an offering which pleases Him….

So my friends who are in Christ, give Him, without restriction, your broken hearts, and all your brokenness… and see what He does.

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