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This is the Way… what that truly means!

Devotional Thought of the Day:

When Joseph’s brothers saw that their father was dead, they said to one another, “If Joseph is holding a grudge against us, he will certainly repay us for all the suffering we caused him.”
16 So they sent this message to Joseph, “Before he died your father gave a command: 17 ‘Say this to Joseph: Please forgive your brothers’ transgression and their sin—the suffering they caused you.’ Therefore, please forgive the transgression of the servants of the God of your father.” Joseph wept when their message came to him.
Genesis 50:15-17 CSB

The Holy Spirit, when He effects His gracious invasion of the believing heart, must win that heart to glad and voluntary obedience to the whole will of God. The cure must be wrought from within; no outward conformity will do.

I still marvel at the hardeness of the hearts of Joseph’s brothers. Years after they joined their brother in Egypt, they are still dealing with guilt and shame. He provided for them richly, and yet they still live in fear, as if the sins he already forgave them for, still divide them from him. They fear his wrath, not understanding the mercy he has shown them.

I wonder if we are any different, wondering if somehow Jesus will pour out God’s wrath on us for the sins we have committed, We hear pastors and priests announce that we are forgiven, we take communion, knowing the blood of Christ was given to provide for the forgiveness of sin. Yet we still live in the anxious moments here we fear His wrath, and try to deny or hide our sin.

But we cannot hide them, and to be honest, we cannot deny them. They stil haunt us.

The key is found in the words the brothers used… “please forgive the transgression of the serviants of the God of your father.” There is a distance there, they don’t understand the God of their dad, who so very often forgave their dad! Joseph knew God, as well as he knew His father. That is what makes the difference, that knowing of our Lord. To understand HIs desire to be part of our lives, to work in and through us, bringing healing, and the hope of eternity.

We need to understand Him, and not just doctrinally. We have to realize His presence in our lives, and rejoice in it. We can run to Him, and not just when life fails, or is hard. We need to play and weep, to struggle and rest, to love because we are loved. This happens as the Holy Spirit invades our hearts, cuts away the brokenness and death that sin has caused, and is the breath of life that restores us. That enables us to trust Him with the greatest pains, the gravest sins, the greatest challenges in our lives.

This is the Way… for He is our Way!

A. W. Tozer and Marilynne E. Foster, Tozer on the Holy Spirit: A 366-Day Devotional (Camp Hill, PA: WingSpread, 2007).

Faith requires our Intellect be taken Captive

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Devotional Thought of the Day:

I know what you are doing. Everyone may think you are alive, but you are dead. 2 Wake up! You have only a little strength left, and it is almost gone. So try to become stronger. I have found that you are not completely obeying God. †3 Remember the teaching that you were given and that you heard. Hold firmly to it and turn from your sins. If you don’t wake up, I will come when you least expect it, just as a thief does. Rev. 3:1-3 CEV

Oh, what union is this! It is a depth which reason cannot fathom, that we thus feed upon Jesus. “He that eateth my flesh, and drinketh my blood, dwelleth in me, and I in him.” It is also an invitation to enjoy fellowship with the saints. Christians may differ on a variety of points, but they have all one spiritual appetite; and if we cannot all feel alike, we can all feed alike on the bread of life sent down from heaven.

2735 In the first place, we ought to be astonished by this fact: when we praise God or give him thanks for his benefits in general, we are not particularly concerned whether or not our prayer is acceptable to him. On the other hand, we demand to see the results of our petitions. What is the image of God that motivates our prayer: an instrument to be used? or the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ? (2779)

Since the Holy Scriptures call Christ a mystery over which all heretics break their heads, we admonish all Christians not to pry presumptuously into this mystery with their reason, but with the holy apostles simply to believe, close the eyes of reason, take their intellect captive to obey Christ, comfort themselves therewith, and rejoice constantly that our flesh and blood have in Christ been made to sit so high at the right hand of the majesty and almighty power of God!

When I was in doing my undergraduate work in preaching, the British pastor Spurgeon was held up to be a paragon of reason. A great man who explained the scriptures in a way that amazed people. We were urged to imitate him.

Yet I don’t remember the passion in his quote above (in purple) nor his appeal for the Lord’s Supper and to realize it is unexplainable, unfathomable, by our greatest minds. Read it again, see the incredible appetite that he notes all believers should develop, an appetite that displays our unity in Christ!

Likewise, the quote from the Formula of Concord, admonishing those who would pry presumptuously into this mystery with their reason, tells of something wonderful, and amazing. It encourages us to let Chirst take our intellect captive… to turn it over to God, and rejoice!

The Catholic Catechism’s rough question, about how we perceive the God we pray to nails our intellect once more. Give up trying to reason God into what you want, stop trying to find the way to manipulate Him, and realize this is the Father who sent Jesus to suffer on a Cross for you…

This is how the situation the church is facing in Sardis is avoided. People who were considered mature in their faith, but lived an empty life. That forgot the wonder of the teaching that Christ had made them His own, a gift for the Father. A teaching that left them in awe, that made them realize the moments in prayer, and in sharing the feast together in the presence of God were beyond any treasure they would ever know. That nothing could explain it.

Some may thing this means following Christ is not for the intellectual, the people who are brilliant, who are able to capture the knowledge that is beyond so many of us. That simply isn’t true, for these blessings are beyond their ability to explain as well…and the smartest people know their limitations as the ancient philosopher Socrates did, as well as the Solomon. (That time wandering with God will make the earthly knowledge more practical in its application to the benefit of man!)

The more I age, the more I seen the wisdom of this passage from Paul, “

1  Friends, when I came and told you the mystery that God had shared with us, I didn’t use big words or try to sound wise. 2  In fact, while I was with you, I made up my mind to speak only about Jesus Christ, who had been nailed to a cross. 1 Corinthians 2:1-2 (CEV)

This matters… and makes all else relevant, for if we don’t know Jesus, we simply chase after the wind…

He loves you! He died for you, so that you would rise with Him! And the Spirit dwells with you, until Jesus returns.

Rejoice.. and desire to experience His love more and more….e

C. H. Spurgeon, Morning and Evening: Daily Readings (London: Passmore & Alabaster, 1896).

Catholic Church, Catechism of the Catholic Church, 2nd Ed. (Vatican City: Libreria Editrice Vaticana, 1997), 656.

The Formula of Concord: Solid Declaration: The Person of Christ. from Theodore G. Tappert, ed., The Book of Concord the Confessions of the Evangelical Lutheran Church. (Philadelphia: Mühlenberg Press, 1959), 609–610.

A Reasoned Inquiry into Faith and Theology?

May I desire to be like this saint, more than being known as a scholar

Devotional Thought of the Day:

23  Look deep into my heart, God, and find out everything I am thinking. 24  Don’t let me follow evil ways, but lead me in the way that time has proven true. Psalm 139:23-24 (CEV)

One day he startled Mr. Rittles with the question: “Why cannot moral questions be posed with the same precision as a mathematical equation, so that given X and Y, Z is the only possible answer?” The tutor scratched his peruke, at a loss to answer. He had never heard the question posed before; and it had been asked by a mere boy. Finally, he ventured a reply, hoping that it did not precipitate another query. “Because many such questions do not require precise answers. Theology and the Scriptures do not invite reasoned inquiry. And moral philosophy only seems to.” “No, they don’t,” remarked Hugh. “But I believe they should.”

2697 Prayer is the life of the new heart. It ought to animate us at every moment. But we tend to forget him who is our life and our all. This is why the Fathers of the spiritual life in the Deuteronomic and prophetic traditions insist that prayer is a remembrance of God often awakened by the memory of the heart: “We must remember God more often than we draw breath.

The best way to see how contemplative intimacy and love are the same reality is to look at the radiant image of the Father, Jesus himself (Heb 1:3). He habitually spent hours “long before dawn” deeply absorbed in the Father, and even on occasion it was the whole night in this profound communion (Mk 1:35; Lk 5:16; 6:12). He obviously was totally in love with his Father, for the Father was always present to him (Jn 16:32). Indeed his deepest love was coterminous with his deepest prayer

I usually do not quote from historical novels in my blog, though I love the genre, especially the era from 1750-1815 or so. It is one of the ways I relax, to enter the age of sail, and ignore the techno social babble from which I need to escape.

I read the words penned by Cline, and a part of me resonated with the students question, and the desire to be able to approach theology and faith like mathematics or a science class with a laboratory aspect. That is why one undertakes learning Greek, and picking up Hebrew, why we spend semester after semester in Systematic Theology, trying to derive the unity between Faith and Reason as if it is some kind of Venn Diagram.

“I believe they should (invite reasoned inquiry)!” That was the young students response. Since i am no longer a young man, I can tell them they don’t, and while disappointed, I also find myself glad they cannot be subjected to reason inquiry.

For our Faith, our Dependence on God cannot be subject to a reasoned inquiry any more than a husband’s love for his wife can be something he understands. It is there, mysterious yet comforting, it is overwhelming and awe-inspiring, yet so critically part of us. The husband is to close, to involved, to intimate for him to stand back and appraise its value.

The is why the CCC tells us we need to remember God more often than we breathe, and for the same reason. Failure to breathe results in our death. Failure to remember God’s presence, and love, to taste and see His goodness and His mercy results in living a life numb to existence!

Spurgeon, that incredibly rational and logical preacher described it this way, “

There are times when solitude is better than society, and silence is wiser than speech. We should be better Christians if we were more alone, waiting upon God, and gathering through meditation on his Word spiritual strength for labour in his service. We ought to muse upon the things of God, because we thus get the real nutriment out of them!

Intimacy with God is so different than a reasoned inquiry into dogma, than using superlatives, trying to describe how it is better, is meaningless.

Search out God, even better, let Him search within you. Trust Him enough to let Him in to clean the dark crap you’ve tried to buy. Run to Him to heal the emptiness that is there because of sin. Find yourself drawn into the intimate relationship of the Father and the Son… and let that become who you are, as the Spirit transforms you.

This isn’t theology… it is something far more… that will make that theology mean something far more than data… that will make you understand and be joyous when those rational inquiries can’t be answered…

For then you will know you are in love with God.

Cline, Edward. Sparrowhawk: Book Two, Hugh Kenrick: A Novel of the American Revolution (p. 97). Kindle Edition.

Catholic Church, Catechism of the Catholic Church, 2nd Ed. (Vatican City: Libreria Editrice Vaticana, 1997), 648.

Thomas Dubay, Deep Conversion/Deep Prayer (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 2006), 72–73.

C. H. Spurgeon, Morning and Evening: Daily Readings (London: Passmore & Alabaster, 1896).

The Paradox of the Pinnacle of Holiness

Devotional Thought for the Day
5  Test yourselves to make sure you are solid in the faith. Don’t drift along taking everything for granted. Give yourselves regular checkups. You need firsthand evidence, not mere hearsay, that Jesus Christ is in you. Test it out. If you fail the test, do something about it.
2 Corinthians 13:5 (MSG)

This passage reminds us that during the offering the Eucharistic liturgy all of us are to taste, to experience fully—not something less—of this paschal mystery. Indeed, this renewal of the Lord’s covenant in Mass draws the faithful into a compelling love “and sets them afire”. This burning love reminds us of Psalm 34:8 where we read of tasting and drinking deeply of the goodness of the Lord. When a person reaches this depth he is close to the pinnacle of holiness.

True and worthy communicants, on the other hand, are those timid, perturbed Christians, weak in faith, who are heartily terrified because of their many and great sins, who consider themselves unworthy of this noble treasure and the benefits of Christ because of their great impurity, and who perceive their weakness in faith, deplore it, and heartily wish that they might serve God with a stronger and more cheerful faith and a purer obedience.
70 This most venerable sacrament was instituted and ordained primarily for communicants like this, as Christ says, “Come unto me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest” (Matt. 11:28). Likewise, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick.

The “pinnacle of Holiness!’ I love the images that come to mind from such an idea. A tangible sense of the sacred, of standing on holy ground, of being so aware of the presence of God that you collapse on your knees and cry out of the purest joy.

How I wish everyone could simply ascend to that pinnacle. To know that you are that blessed. To be able to resonate with Mary as she is told she will be the mother of God incarnate, to know that undeniable experience that we are God’s, that He has brought us into His presence.

Such is what Dubray is describing, the at the moment experience of communing with God, of encountering Jesus in the sacrament. But he also indicates it is a moment of renewal, or restoring the promises of the covenant. The quote from the Lutheran Confessions, (Specifically the Formula of Concord) gives us the context, and why that renewal is necessary.

The Lord’s supper isn’t the kind of feast that is given to the victorious. It is the feast given to the broken, to the homeless, to those who are hungry for something that they cannot satisfy. That is when it makes the difference, that is when this meal brings the most joy. It takes self examination to realize we are at that point, where without God breaking into our world, we are doomed.

And there He is, renewing us. Healing us, comforting us, empowering us.

There, in an under the bread and the wine..

Jesus…for us…

A foretaste of the feast….

and yes, a holy moment beyond compare, until we stand before the throne.

Lord, as we approach Your Altar, to share in Your feast, help us to understand that we so need it, help to experience our unity in You, that was delivered in our baptism, and is renewed as we share in Your Body and Blood. AMEN!

Thomas Dubay, Deep Conversion/Deep Prayer (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 2006), 44.

Theodore G. Tappert, ed., The Book of Concord the Confessions of the Evangelical Lutheran Church. (Philadelphia: Mühlenberg Press, 1959), 582.

Thoughts after Twelve Years in One Place

Devotional Thoughts for this Day

My friends, even though we have a lot of trouble and suffering, your faith makes us feel better about you. 8 Your strong faith in the Lord is like a breath of new life. 9 How can we possibly thank God enough for all the happiness you have brought us? 1 Thes. 3:7-9 CEV

Like homing pigeons flying home, like iron filings drawn irresistably to a magnet, like solar flares falling back to their parent sun from which they had sprung, lovers of God become one with the fire of their Beloved. The twentieth-century British poet Stephen Spender wrote their epitaph: “Born of the sun, they travelled a brief while toward the sun and left the vivid air singed with their honor.”
That is what a Christian is. Not to be one is life’s only real tragedy.


Twelve years ago today, two friends, I knelt down and my District President installed me as the pastor of Concordia Lutheran Church in Cerritos. A few weeks before that, the church had laid to rest a beloved retired pastor and his wife. Within three months, I would bless the graves of another couple. And over the years, there have been a lot of deaths, people that had become not only parishioners, but good friends. There has also been trauma that scars one deep, and ministering to those broken by such, has been commonplace. Enough so that prayers start ascending every time the phone rings, or a text message beeps.

It would be lying to saying this has been an easy time. It would also be lying to say this time has not been a huge blessing. My devotional reading this morning explains why:

It is all about the faith of the people I see, a faith that is lived out in the midst of trauma, in the midst of sacrifice. A faith that keeps coming back to God, must as Kreeft’s pigeons and iron filings being attracted to their “home.” There is a joy in this, even amidst the shared tears. There is a confidence, born out of the Body and Blood of Jesus in which we share, that even the tears are somehow beneficial.

The ability of people to depend on God in this time is what lifts me up. Just as it did Paul, to see people being sustained by God, to the point where they are ministering to others during their own trauma, is the best feeling a pastor can observe. It is what sustains us, as we see the effect of them being drawn back to God.
This is how, after 12 years, I can look to the future.
Knowing the response of those to whom I remind, “the Lord is with you!”
And knowing they are right when they answer back, trusting in God, “and also with you!”

Lord, as we go through these days, help us to continue to help each other, trusting You to show us their needs, and empowering us to meet them. Help us set our own brokenness aside, help us to leace it there… knowing You are healing us in this time. We pray this, in the Name of the Father, and the Son and the Holy Spirit! Amen!

Peter Kreeft, The God Who Loves You (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 2004), 93.

When Life Seems Like the Titanic, or worse.

pexels-photo-2056194

Devotional Thought for the day

I belong to God, and I worship him. Last night he sent an angel 24 to tell me, “Paul, don’t be afraid! You will stand trial before the Emperor. And because of you, God will save the lives of everyone on the ship.” 25 Cheer up! I am sure that God will do exactly what he promised. 26 But we will first be shipwrecked on some island.  Acts 27:23-26 CEV

Christians have been making Peter’s mistake ever since, trusting in Caesar and chariots and horses and treaties and nukes and antinukes rather than in the love of God, the love on the Cross. This love is infinitely more powerful than and totally in control of all the forces that crucify it, all the chariots and horsemen, even the horsemen of the apocalypse.

Noah was so shut in that no evil could reach him. Floods did but lift him heavenward, and winds did but waft him on his way. Outside of the ark all was ruin, but inside all was rest and peace. Without Christ we perish, but in Christ Jesus there is perfect safety.

We go on to say: “Let your will be done in heaven and on earth.” We say this not so that God might do what he wishes, but that we should be able to do what God wishes

I do not know how I would react, if I was one of the sailors or passengers on the ship with Paul. Yeah, we’ll be safe – all of us – but the ship will be wrecked. I imagine that even Noah was a bit anxious as the floods lifted him higher than some planes normally fly.

It is no wonder that we want to trust our weapons, our country, and our ability to fight back. For how do we find peace in times of oppression, in times where we are persecuted and attacked.

Many communities are facing this – those who find that nothing has changed in the death of George Floyd, or David Dorn. Those whose streets are filled with plywood rather than windows, those who cannot even find a home, because they are refugees. Some places where seniors dwell together still live in great fear of COVID 19. We all live in fear, and turn to something, anything for protection. Just about everyone I have met is stressed, worried, and focused on surviving today.

I wish we could all have the faith of Paul, who not only was ready for the shipwreck but to testify in front of Nero.

Please understand, we advocate for justice – even when we have to ask forgiveness for the injustice we actually committed.

At the same time, we need even more to trust in the Lord, for whether our boat is lifted by the floodwaters, or crushed against the rocks, He is with us.

We need to be aware that the power that raised Jesus from the dead is at work in us, (Eph. 1:19-20) and that power is the love of God.  That is why Kreeft makes the comment. This love is infinitely more powerful than and totally in control of all the forces that crucify it,” 

Even if crucified, even if killed, our life is there, hidden in Christ (Col. 3:1-4) and the power of death has already been defeated. That knowledge, that trust in God should empower us to work for justice, even as we do so peacefully, aware that He is stronger than the world.

So as Paul said, “Cheer up!  Just a shipwreck ahead of you, and then a trial, but God will deliver exactly what is promised!”

Your salvation and mine. ANd the presence of God in this midst of the storm…. the God who loves you.

Lord, help us to depend on you as Paul did. Even thru the shipwrecks, and the trials, through the persecutions and oppression, and even our own death. Lord may Your will be cone in our lives… and help our seeing that cheer us up.

AMEN!

Photo by GEORGE DESIPRIS on Pexels.com

 

Peter Kreeft, The God Who Loves You (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 2004), 212–213.

C. H. Spurgeon, Morning and Evening: Daily Readings (London: Passmore & Alabaster, 1896).

Tertullian, Cyprian, and Origen, On the Lord’s Prayer, ed. John Behr, trans. Alistair Stewart-Sykes, Popular Patristics Series, Number 29 (Crestwood, NY: St Vladimir’s Seminary Press, 2004), 75.

Microchips, the Mark of the Beast, and the Blood of the Lamb

Good News BibleDevotional Thought of the Day:

10  Then I heard a loud voice shouting across the heavens, “It has come at last— salvation and power and the Kingdom of our God, and the authority of his Christ. For the accuser of our brothers and sisters has been thrown down to earth— the one who accuses them before our God day and night. 11  And they have defeated him by the blood of the Lamb and by their testimony. And they did not love their lives so much that they were afraid to die. Revelation 12:10-11 (NLT2)

1  Then I saw the Lamb standing on Mount Zion, and with him were 144,000 who had his name and his Father’s name written on their foreheads. Revelation 14:1 (NLT2)

16  He required everyone—small and great, rich and poor, free and slave—to be given a mark on the right hand or on the forehead. 17  And no one could buy or sell anything without that mark, which was either the name of the beast or the number representing his name. 18  Wisdom is needed here. Let the one with understanding solve the meaning of the number of the beast, for it is the number of a man. His number is 666.   Revelation 13:16-18 (NLT2)

I knew it would happen eventually, that some well-meaning people who are anxious would tie the present pandemic into an end-times scenario. I’ve seen it happen before, after the Northridge Earthquake, and as we approached Y2K.

For the first few weeks, no one was really talking about it, now all of a sudden they are.  And the latest fears are that implanted microchips, and Bill Gates and vaccines will somehow enable Satan to drag you into hell. Unless you repent and buy into the teaching of a well-meaning pastor who bought into the theory from someone’s blog.

In order to reduce anxiety, let’s look at a few scriptures.

I will note for the record that I had had microchips in me since 1992 when I received my first Implantable Cardioverter Defibrillator. I also ran one of the early smart-card programs, as we rolled it out at Pepperdine University in the ’90s. Then, along with several Bible Scholars there, I looked into the claims that I was about to usher in the time of the Mark of the Beast.

I remember a lot of those conversations, and the talks we gave, and letters we answered.

Here is a short version of the points:

  • Notice the “mark” is going to be put on your forehead or hand. Even if it were a physical mark, It wouldn’t be ingested, part of a vaccine.
  • The definitions of the word in greek point at something carved, such as a seal, which is then stamped or impressed ( or branded) on someone.
  • Just a few verses later, in Revelation 14:1, a mark is put on the forehead of the 144,00, a number representing all the people of God throughout history, the people who would praise God with all their voices.  If that mark is not considered a physical mark, why are we concerned its imitation would be?
  • That mark/sign on the people of God is also found in the Old Testament, in Expdis 13:0, 16 In that case, the mark was a reminder of God’s work, that was also on the forehead and hand.
  • So the mark and seal of the beast is simply a counterfeit of the mark given to those who believe and trust in the work of Jesus.

The kicker point is this, that in chapter 12 of Revelation before anything about the mark of the beast, it describes the victory already won by all the people of God. That is the first quote at the top.

There it says we defeated Satan by three things

  • The blood of Jesus Christ, which takes care of every sin. No sin, no condemnation for those in Christ
  • The word of their testimony – what is that?  Simple, our testimony is that Christ has died and risen, and we have been united to Him in both.  (like the mark, this is a reference to baptism – see Romans 6, 2 Corinthians 1:22, Colossians 2 and Ephesians 1:14)
  • They didn’t count their lives as so important, because they trusted in Jesus’ victory over death.

If those who worried and wrote about this mark of the beast took the time to realize that their victory over Satan was already won by Jesus and that nothing he could do would steal it from us (Romans 8:38), then they could spend more time rejoicing in that! They could spend more time loving their neighbor, and sharing the hope that we have in Christ Jesus, hope that is incorruptible,  hope that eternal, hope that is based on God’s faithfulness.

Relax, look to the cross, see the love of God, and trust in Him!

He has won the victory, your victory!

A Different Perspective on Death

Tomb Empty With Shroud And Crucifixion At Sunrise - ResurrectionDevotional Thought of the Day:
20  For I fully expect and hope that I will never be ashamed, but that I will continue to be bold for Christ, as I have been in the past. And I trust that my life will bring honor to Christ, whether I live or die. 21  For to me, living means living for Christ, and dying is even better. 22  But if I live, I can do more fruitful work for Christ. So I really don’t know which is better. 23  I’m torn between two desires: I long to go and be with Christ, which would be far better for me. 24  But for your sakes, it is better that I continue to live. 25  Knowing this, I am convinced that I will remain alive so I can continue to help all of you grow and experience the joy of your faith. Philippians 1:20-25 (NLT2)

Thus Psalm 23 [:4] says, “Though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, because you are with me.” If this gain through death has only a small affect on us, it is proof that our faith in Christ is still feeble and does not prize highly enough the reward and gain of a blessed death, nor does it yet believe that death is a blessing. Obviously, we are hindered because the old man and the wisdom of the flesh are still too much alive in us. We should, therefore, try to attain to the knowledge and the love of this blessing of death. It is a great thing that death, which to others is the greatest of evils, is made the greatest gain for us. If it was not this that Christ obtained for us, what then did he do that was worth such a cost, yes, actually the cost of his life? It is indeed a divine work that he wrought, and it is not surprising that he made the evil of death into the greatest blessing.
For the believer death is thus already dead and behind its cloak and mask it holds no terrors. Like a slain serpent, death still has its former terrifying appearance, but now this is only a mask, for it is now a dead and harmless evil

There is an old saying that I resonate with, I fear not death, I just dear dying.”

There is some truth to that for me, partially because of health issues over the years, and the knowledge that my heart was a ticking time bomb. (I say was – because in 1998 I had two heart valves replaced.)

Even so, today, in the midst of a pandemic, we live with fear and anxiety caused by the fact that death threatens us, and threatens those we love.  It threatens in a way that we’ve not seen often in the generations alive today.

This is why my devotional reading this morning seems so important to understand.

We have to understand that death will ultimately be a blessing – for it brings us closer to seeing God face to face, and for the believer to an incredible welcome home. .  TO see God face to face, to hear His welcome, to hear the celebration thrown for us, to know we are finally where we belong.

To realize with Luther what Paul means when he writes that death has lost its sting, that the grace is no victory for death, no loss, but an incredible gain for us. (see 1 Cor. 15)  To understand what Jesus means when he says those who believe will never die.

It is hard to process these days, to take what is a theological truth, an absolute promise of God, and let it affect our heart, our soul.

Even once we realize it there, it is hard to keep that understanding, to not go back, and to fear death again. Every time we have to mourn and grieve, every time our heart is scarred by loss, we revert back to the days before we understood the promises of God, the promises found when we are united to Jesus.

I know this, even as I know what Paul talks about when he talks about ensuring death, for itis better, for him. To realize that death is better n the long run is sobering. To realize that could even lead one to desire death because it means being complete with Jesus,. To realize we do not have to meditate and pray to realize we are in His presence. Instead to look up, and see His face…

To set death completely aside, along with the suffering and brokenness caused by sin, and the fear of death.  What a blessing.

Yet it is counting on that blessing that gives us the strength and desire to stay, and minister to those who are in bondage, trying to free them, so that they too can join us in Christ. To see God’s incredible work, as He brings someone to faith, and then strengthens that faith, as burdens slide away, as relationships are healed, as we gain a glance of eternity at the altar together.

To get to that point – to come to the conclusion that it is better to live, we have to realize how incredible eternity is, we have to face the battle of fears, the anxieties, assured of the promises of God are true, that we will be with Him forever. Then we can willingly address the issue, and see the blessing of staying here.. until He calls us home.

Knowing this, we begin to really live…

Walk with Him, through the valley, and learn not to fear it, or any evil.

And become a guide, someone who can help others, helping them to deal with the fears, the anxieties and indeed, the time of death.

Lord, help us walk closer and closer with You, strengthen our faith, be with us, now and at the time when we finally come home. But help us to be there for those who are anxious and fear death, and help us to show them how it will be a blessing. AMEN!


Martin Luther, Luther’s Works, Vol. 42: Devotional Writings I, ed. Jaroslav Jan Pelikan, Hilton C. Oswald, and Helmut T. Lehmann, vol. 42 (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1999), 149–150.

The Kind of Faith We Need in These Days

Devotional Thought of the Day:

David sneaked over and cut off a small piecen of Saul’s robe, but Saul didn’t notice a thing. 5 Afterwards, David was sorry that he had even done that, †7 and he told his men, “Stop talking foolishly. We’re not going to attack Saul. He’s my king, and I pray that the LORD will keep me from doing anything to harm his chosen king.”  1 Sam. 24:4-7 CEV

One may do more mighty works, and may bring more glory to his Father, but he whose name is the least in the kingdom of heaven is as much the child of God as he who stands among the King’s mighty men. Let this cheer and comfort us, when we draw near to God and say, “Our Father.”
Yet, while we are comforted by knowing this, let us not rest contented with weak faith, but ask, like the Apostles, to have it increased. However feeble our faith may be, if it be real faith in Christ, we shall reach heaven at last, but we shall not honour our Master much on our pilgrimage, neither shall we abound in joy and peace.

Of all the things King David did in his life that demonstrate trust in God, there are two that stick out as incredible.

Twice he had the opportunity to kill the man who was hunting him down, who was stalking him.  He could have killed him right there, and the nation would have never batted an eye.

He didn’t though, and he demonstrated the kind of faith we need in this time, a faith that can obey God, even when disobeying would make life easier, or less worrisome. Faith that isn’t content with self-preservation, but trusts God when we are oppressed, when we are struggling, and when we are being tempted

Spurgeon is right of course, that those who are weak in faith, yet still have it, will find themselves in heaven, but the earth will be more like hell. Anxieties and self-preservation will lead to temptations which will lead to the brokenness of sin.

Yet trusting God, hearing His voice as He cleanses us of all sin and shows us how to truly love others, is what faith is all about.  It sets aside our fears, knowing that God is bigger than what our minds imagine.

He is with us… and His love inspires and empowers our ability to love more than seek after our own needs and preservation.

even in the presence of those who think they are our enemies…

God is with you and loves you….

AMEN!

 

 
C. H. Spurgeon, Morning and Evening: Daily Readings (London: Passmore & Alabaster, 1896).

The One Line in Lennon’s Imagine, that I know is wrong (and it isn’t what you think!)

Good News BibleDevotional Thought of the Day:

The Israelites tried some of the food, but they did not ask the LORD if he wanted them to make a treaty. 15 So Joshua made a peace treaty with the messengers and promised that Israel would not kill their people. Israel’s leaders swore that Israel would keep this promise.  Joshua 9:14-15, CEV

Concern for achieving unity “involves the whole Church, faithful and clergy alike.”But we must realize “that this holy objective—the reconciliation of all Christians in the unity of the one and only Church of Christ—transcends human powers and gifts.” That is why we place all our hope “in the prayer of Christ for the Church, in the love of the Father for us, and in the power of the Holy Spirit.”

Man looks with suspicion upon God, so that he soon desires a different God. In brief, the devil is determined to blast God’s love from a man’s mind and to arouse thoughts of God’s wrath.

There was nothing that Jesus sought more than faith, except love. Faith is the necessary beginning of the Christian life, but love is its consummation

Listening to my favorite “radio” channel the other day, they played one of the songs I hate and love.  Musically, John Lennon’s Imagine is right up there, and I understand the sentiment, the yearning, the great desire for there to be peace, and unity in this world.

Musically, I love the piece, it is my favorite style of music, the ballad. But what Lennon demands people to give up, doesn’t guarantee there to be real peace or real unity. For he is asking them to give up things that clearly define us, our culture, our beliefs.

Most of all there is one line that bothers me, far more than most.

I’ll get to it, in a moment. (It’s not the one you think!)

In my readings this morning, the  Israelites fell into the same trap for peace.  Tired of conflict, they entered into a covenant, a sacred treaty with people that was based on lies. They sought something good, but they didn’t look to God. and they fell prey to their own desires. This would become a curse to them, and to the Gibeonites for centuries.

This is what Luther was talking about, as they didn’t even bother to consult God, but made up their own mind.  Satan blasted God’s love from their minds, giving them a goal, a god to pursue, and they did earn for a time, God’s wrath. ( I’ve always wondered what would have happened if they went to God and pleaded with Him to save these people? We can not ever know, but we have examples of such prayer!)

What did satan steal form them?  What did he blast at?  The religious structures? The doctrines of the Faith? The traditions, the laws, and promises?

No, Luther says, it is the love of God that Satan would have out of sight and out of mind.

Kreeft tells us that Jesus sought love more than faith. What are the two greatest commands?

And what do we have faith in, if not the absolute love that God has for us? He loves you, and He loves me. Absolutely! Purely! Passionately! With such love that He doesn’t ignore our sin, but He deals with it, and had planned to – from before the foundation of the world!

That is what sustains us, and that is what can create true unity, not just unity that hides conflict, but true unity and true peace.  That is where the Catholic Catechism has it correct, our hope for unity is found, not in the boardroom, not in the halls of academia, but at the altar, where we find ourselves enveloped by His love.

Which brings me back to Lennon, and the line that bugs me, that I truly can’t accept. It is not the one about no religion. It is this one,

Nothing to live or die for…

Love does have something to die for, One who loves will die for the one who is loved.

Without that kind of love, the kind that sacrifices self, unity, and peace is but a dream…

One last word, that love is not something you have to dream about, for God loves us that much, that Jesus would die for you… because He loves you. And in doing so, all that would impede peace…are shed, and are left behind, as we discover this new life in Jesus.  

Catholic Church, Catechism of the Catholic Church, 2nd Ed. (Vatican City: Libreria Editrice Vaticana, 1997), 218.

Martin Luther, Luther’s Works, Vol. 42: Devotional Writings I, ed. Jaroslav Jan Pelikan, Hilton C. Oswald, and Helmut T. Lehmann, vol. 42 (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1999), 103.

Peter Kreeft, The God Who Loves You (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 2004), 77.

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