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Faith in Action IV – Come Close

church at communion 2Faith in Action:  Comes Close
James 3:13-4:10

IHS

 May the grace of God our Father and our Lord Jesus Christ draw you closer to them, and overwhelm you with love and peace, as you help draws others in!

Divided Loyalties

Have you ever been caught between two friends who are fighting?  Both whom want you attention, who want you to be on their side?

What if one has been a longer friend, who you have had a lot of fun with over decades, and the other, while a close friend, is somewhat newer?

But what if this newer friend is the one who is right?

That is the picture we see in the apostle James’s letter this morning.  Even as he urges us to draw close to God, he recognizes the draw of the world on us,

Come close to God, and God will come close to you. Wash your hands, you sinners; purify your hearts, for your loyalty is divided between God and the world

This divided loyalty is something that creates trauma, that causes us more problems, yet the hold of the world on us is so strong, even though we know how broken it is.

It so challenges the relationship we have with God, it so prevents our drawing close to God!

The Struggle with Zeal….

James talks about the world’s ways using primarily two thoughts in this passage.  Bitter Jealousy and ambition.

Bitter Jealousy is described as sour, or poisoned zeal, a desire to chase after something for the pleasure it brings. The second problem is related to it, the ambition that drives us to get what we want because we want it.  It is a word that is used to describe mercenaries, those who do what they do only for the rewards that they will receive.

Not for love, not out of honor.  Just for what they get out of it.

No wonder James calls such things worldly, unspiritual and even demonic.

He even notes this self-centeredness can influence our prayers when we pray for what will give us pleasure, what we want and desire.  As our desire grows, we find ourselves justifying what we do to get what we desire, eventually we don’t even consider the cost.

For what we desire demands our loyalty, and we find ourselves involved in a war….

And remember, James isn’t writing this to heathen unbelievers, he is writing it to believers, those struggling to live life in a broken world, torn between God and that world.

He is talking to us.

And we struggle with being caught between the world and God all the time if we admit it.  It isn’t just about pleasure, it can be about seeking comfort, or security, or happiness, when those things are more important to us that God, or other humans.

We see this all the time in the lives of others, especially those who think different than us, as we oppose them, not interested in justice as much as being right.

So how do we break free of the grasp the world has on us?  How do we break free of the sin that so easily ensnares us?

The Healing Humility found before God

I think most would suggest that James is teaching that the hope is found in the humility that he mentions a few times in this passage. Particularly these two places
13 If you are wise and understand God’s ways, prove it by living an honorable life, doing good works with the humility that comes

13 If you are wise and understand God’s ways, prove it by living an honorable life, doing good works with the humility that comes from wisdom

And

So humble yourselves before God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. Come close to God, and God will come close to you.

Yet in both these statements, humility comes not from our work outside of God’s presence, in the first it comes from understanding God’s ways, and in the second place, it comes as you are before God, as you are drawn close to Him.

This is where our hope is found, this is where the power of sin, driven by our desire for what we want is broken.

For it is when we experience the love of God, that real humility comes into play, as we stand in His glorious, wonderful presence. When we realize He loves us, that is when all else falls away, and we simply and humbly find that with Him, we can dwell in His merciful, loving peace.

For what else is there, standing in front of God, but realizing His love and peace?

Prodigals Lifted up!

It is from there, simply in awe of His love, that God’s will makes sense.  His desire that we would love each other, and even those who drive us crazy.  It is there we can see the needs of those around us and find ourselves responding to them way before we respond to our own wants and desires.

It’s that kind of thing I saw in the eyes of one man this week, whom the church provided a stack of gift cards for, who was amazed that we would care for him, and his family.

That is what happens when our loyalties are less divided when we give up being prodigals and come to the altar, when we come home. As God sees us before Him, in awe of His love, humbled to be in His glory… and He lifts us up as He gathers His children to His side.

As we wait for that day, I pray you come closer and closer to God, as you realize that you dwell in His peace, the peace that is beyond explanation, as He guards our hearts and minds!  AMEN!

Can God use us? The miracle for those with broken lives.

Will new camera 12 2008 167Devotional Thought of the Day:
15  This is a true saying, to be completely accepted and believed: Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners. I am the worst of them, 16  but God was merciful to me in order that Christ Jesus might show his full patience in dealing with me, the worst of sinners, as an example for all those who would later believe in him and receive eternal life. 1 Timothy 1:15-16 (TEV)

182         What compassion you feel for them!… You would like to cry out to them that they are wasting their time… Why are they so blind, and why can’t they perceive what you—a miserable creature—have seen? Why don’t they go for the best? Pray and mortify yourself. Then you have the duty to wake them up, one by one, explaining to them—also one by one—that they, like you, can find a divine way, without leaving the place they occupy in society.

There should be, within each of us, the self-awareness that is seen in St. Paul’s words above.  The realization that each of us is the worst of those who sin.

We struggle with the guilt and shame that comes from reflecting on our day, and realizing the people we may have hurt, either intentionally, or whom we neglected.  The time where we should have helped, and like the priest and Levite on the road, passed by those who are broken and wounded. The times where we wanted what we want, and worked to make it happen, not counting into the equation, their need, their pain, and the fact that God put us there to minister to them.

But if I am, if we are the worst of sinners, barely saved, are we too broken for God to use?  St. Josemaria describes it as being a miserable creature, who knows grace, who sees the world passing that offer of love by, unable to see it.

Could God use us, the admittedly broken?  Those who sin haunt us, even as we struggle to trust that because of Jesus, we are righteous in the Father’s eyes?  Could God use you and me?  I mean, it is incredible that He saves us, yet how can we make a dent in the evil and injustice that has people so entangled that they can’t see God?  Can God use us to change all that?

Indeed, He can, and does!  He has always planned to share with us His incredible work of renewing all of creation. Ephesians 2:10 tells us of this, even verse 8 and 9 assured us of His delivering us from sin. Romans 12:1-8 describes it as well, as we consider the mercy He shows us and then urges us to lay our lives before Him, doing what He has gifted us to do.

It is a miracle, as great of one as God’s delivering us from sin.  And it happens to all who depend on Him, all who trust to go where He places them.  All who are willing to be humble, and to communicate with God, hearing His voice.

Here is your God, let Him work through you!

And then be amazed, as they find God in their daily lives.

Escriva, Josemaria. Furrow (Kindle Locations 974-978). Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition.

Faith in Action: A sermon on James 2

church at communion 2Faith in Action
James 2:1-10, 14-18


In Jesus Name

May the Grace, that mercy and love that God our Father, and the Lord Jesus Christ cause you to respond, depending on them in everything you do!

Faith isn’t invisible

In the Letter to the Hebrews, the author makes a radical claim,

1  The fundamental fact of existence is that this trust in God, this faith, is the firm foundation under everything that makes life worth living. It’s our handle on what we can’t see. 2  The act of faith is what distinguished our ancestors, set them above the crowd. Hebrews 11:1-2 (MSG)

The fundamental fact of existence is found in our relationship with God.

We trust in Him, know and depending on His faithfulness that we just praised will never be broken, that it will never fail. So we trust in Him, in His promises, in His presence in .with us.

That faith makes life worth living, As one pastor I read in my devotions yesterday.

And that faith, my dear friends, is seen in how we live.  It is visible, even in the midst our struggles, in the midst of challenges, in the midst of our pains, our faith, our trust in Him, and in His presence becomes clearly visible,

it is how we exist, it is what we do…in everyday life,

Our faith takes action, it underwrites what we do, and how we do it.

So it becomes so much part of who we are and what we do, that people realize it.

so let us look at how Faith in Action means something.

Believe in Something, even if it means sacrificing everything

Nike started an ad campaign this week.  Some think it is controversial because of the people in it, especially the narrator.  Yet the slogan, I think is one we need to re-teach In the church,

This is their new slogan,

Believe in something, even if it means sacrificing everything,

I would phrase it slightly differently, but I really love the idea.

Have faith in Someone, for nothing else is worth it.  And act on that faith.

The example James uses in our epistle today is helping the poor or treating them as nicely as you would treat the famous or the wealthy person. Even if it means sacrificing, giving up what you need to help them.
That’s contrary to the nature this world has, to put number one first, to take care of yourself, That is where sin blocks our ability to trust in God, for if we trust in God, we can help anyone, we can sacrifice what is needed to help

In the ad, the narrator noted the problem isn’t that our dreams are desires are crazy, He said our problem is that our dreams aren’t crazy enough.

I’ve got some dreams for you, tell me if they are crazy:

How crazy is it that a broken church could realize that its strength is found in its brokenness, for there it encounters Jesus.

How crazy is it that a group of people praying that God’s kingdom would come in this world then would find itself making the stoles for pastors in a far off place, and building a bakery there, which underwrites all the cost of training pastors. knowing that God is faithful.

How crazy is it that a small church would help people in Sudan, and Turkey, and Papua New Guinea, and in Long Beach and Pico Rivera, and who knows where else next?

How crazy is it that a group of older people, who meet together, make sacrifices so kids can learn about God, then get to see a five-year-old that is so excited to get baptized in front of them he dunks his head in the baptismal font?

How crazy is it that an older smaller church that has become home to young gifted people who are encouraged (and feel safe enough) to share their gifts and grow in use of them?  A church that would be called “my church” by someone who mentors them, and our of all the churches he serves, finds himself home there

How crazy is it that a church, which has seen God at work, grows two and three times its size, not because they are focused on growth, but because they care for other people whom they encounter, who are poor in spirit, and desperately need to know the love of God.

O wait, you are thinking that the last one is crazy?  Well, if I described the other crazy dreams ten years ago, you would have thought them more than just crazy.

But these things aren’t crazy… they are simply what happens when we see Faith in Action.

Have faith in Him who sacrificed everything, our glorious Lord

When we trust and depend on God whose faithfulness is so great!.

These things and far more happen, things that are crazy, things that add to the praises we sing and speak of the God who is with us.

For ultimately, it is His faithfulness that matters, His belief in a dream that He was willing to sacrifice everything, His place in heaven, His comfort in this life, even His life that makes the difference,

Jesus died on the cross because He believed He could save us from our sin, and bring us home to the Father.  That our lives were worth His life, no matter how messed up, no matter how broken, no matter how much guilt and shame we bear.

It is Jesus we have faith in, not just His promises, not just His word, not just in the sacraments, but in the One whose love for us is we need to explore, its incredible width and breadth, height and depth!

A love that changes us, as we begin to trust in Him because of that love. As that trust, that faith leads us to walk with Him, not matter where He leads, no matter what we endure, a faith that acts, which makes itself visible, as it draws people to His side.

For there, in Christ, we find God’s peace… a peace that, like His love is beyond all understanding, as He is our rock, our cornerstone, our safety… AMEN!

The unusual strength we need…

Devotional Thought of the Day:
38  And he said to them, “Keep watch, and pray that you will not fall into temptation. The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak.” Mark 14:38 (TEV)

56    Spiritual childhood demands submission of the mind, which is harder than submission of the will. In order to subject our mind we need not only God’s grace, but a continual exercise of our will as well, denying the intellect over and over again, just as it says “no” to the flesh. And so we have the paradox that whoever wants to follow this “little way” in order to become a child, needs to add strength and manliness to his will.

We live a life that is challenging, that is complicated, and when we are doing right in one person’s eyes, we are doing wrong in another’s view.  If we forgo the former, we are criticized, if we play by the latter’s rules, we are judged and perhaps even condemned.

Very few are wise enough to navigate these harsh waters that we find ourselves in, yet our minds tell us we must.  And so we screw up, sometimes critically, unable to balance all the things in the adult world.

We aren’t the first with this problem, see the writings of the Apostle Peter and the Apostle Paul.

I’ve always thought the answer would be found in wisdom, the application of the intelligence God has given us. Now into my 50’s, I wonder if that is achievable,  As St. Mark records of Jesus, we desire to do what is right (just and fair, ) Our spirit resonates with what is right, we are so willing to do it, but we fail.

I find some help here in the words of St Josemaria this morning, that it is not our mind that provides us with the answer, Our mind, our wisdom, and intellect, has to be humbled and broken.  It must submit to Christ, be entrusted to His guidance.  And it is in this discipline that the fruit comes forth, as our faith becomes the childlike dependence on God that will always sustain us.

This isn’t easy, it requires strength and a focus that needs to be crafted, It requires that our souls learn patience, so as to temper the mind.  It requires our hearts be comforted, that the anxiety which often compromises our intellect be stilled.

This is not possible by our own strength and merit.

We need the Spirit, we need the loving, strong guidance of the Spirit who cleanses us of sin, revives and renews us.  The Holy Spirit causes us to look with awe at Jesus, our savior, and Lord.  And as we do, we become more childlike in our faith.  more willing to accept God’s directions, more willing to depend upon Him.

This is our hope, this work the Spirit is doing in us, this hard work that is truly a blessing, for it testifies that God is at work in our lives and that He cares for us.

Heavenly Father, please help us become childlike in our dependence on You!  Continue to pour our your Spirit upon us, disciplining us, that our heart, soul, and mind would be Yours, and reflect the glory of Your love ot our lost and broken world.  AMEN!

 

 

 

 

Escriva, Josemaria. The Way (Kindle Locations 1975-1979). Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition.

Is he evil incarnate or an angel or?

clydes-cross-2Devotional 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.’” Matthew 13:24-30 (NLT2)

16  So we have stopped evaluating others from a human point of view. At one time we thought of Christ merely from a human point of view. How differently we know him now! 17  This means that anyone who belongs to Christ has become a new person. The old life is gone; a new life has begun! 2 Corinthians 5:16-17 (NLT2)

We believe, teach, and confess that there is a distinction between man’s nature and original sin, not only in the beginning when God created man pure and holy and without sin, but also as we now have our nature after the Fall. Even after the fall our nature is and remains a creature of God. The distinction between our nature and original sin is as great as the difference between God’s work and the devil’s work.
3 2. We also believe, teach, and confess that we must preserve this distinction most diligently, because the view that admits no distinction between our corrupted human nature and original sin militates against and cannot co-exist with the chief articles of our Christian faith, namely, creation, redemption, sanctification, and the resurrection of our flesh.
4 God not only created the body and soul of Adam and Eve before the Fall, but also our bodies and souls after the Fall, even though they are corrupted, and God still acknowledges them as his handiwork, as it is written, “Thy hands fashioned and made me, all that I am round about” (Job 10:8).

It seems like we either want to anoint people as angels or condemn them as demons.  We want to be able to accurately pick out which are sons of Satan, and which are children of God.

We want to separate the wheat from the weeds, we want to declare that not only are the reformed theologians correct when they say people are predestined to heaven, and therefore others are predestined to hell but that we somehow know which is which. Somehow we think in our baptism we were all given the spiritual gift of discernment, that enables us to see into people’s hearts and souls, and determine who is saved, and who is not.

Then we can declare this person is a good person, and that person is the purest evil.  People we don’t even know, but that we judge from thousands of miles away.  People we’ve never talked to, that we’ve only seen in the news, or mentioned on Twitter.

What we aren’t allowing for, in these judgments, is the work of God, and we deny the grace which is extended to all, including us.  We deem what God desires to be impossible, and then for others, which sins we willing overlook, as automatic.  By automatic, I mean we judge the heart based on works we see and assume the person is righteous.

In either case, what we’ve done is stopped seeing the need for praying for them.  If we think they are saved, we think that prayer redundant.  If we think they are condemned, there is no need to ray, as their fate is already determined.   If they are close, not only do we stop praying for them, we may stop telling them about God. We might give up on the power of God to transform them, just as we need Him to transform us.  Eventually, this leads to complacency affects our own walk with God.

This thinking about people, the Lutheran Confessions brought out in my reading this morning, is counter to our theology.  FOr we should see in even the most notorious of sinners the handiwork of God’s creation.  It may be marred by sin, it may be broken, but it is not, in this lifetime, marred so much so it is beyond recognition. They are still God’s creation, they are still His children.  AMEN!

We are not our sin, and our weakness to temptation does not define us.  Or the person next door, or the person being lambasted or praised on FB or Twitter or SnapChat or the nightly news. That sin and sin nature is removed by Christ so completely that it proves it was never meant to be us, or how we are defined.

We are new, we are complete.  What God does in us, can be done in others. What we pray to happen in their lives, we testify can and is happening in ours.   This is our hope for everyone, near or far, friend or enemy, family member, and ourselves.

That all would come to experience the love of God.

So next time you are tempted to say someone is pure evil or pure good, remember the impact that makes on you….

God’s peace.

Tappert, T. G. (Ed.). (1959). The Book of Concord the confessions of the Evangelical Lutheran Church. (p. 466). Philadelphia: Mühlenberg Press.

Dare I pray this? Dare I not?

54e14-jesus2bpraying

God, who am I?

Devotional Thought of the Day:

23  God, examine me and know my heart, test me and know my concerns. 24  Make sure that I am not on my way to ruin, and guide me on the road of eternity. Psalm 139:23-24 (NJB)

Pursue love and desire spiritual gifts, and above all that you may prophesy. 2 For the person who speaks in another •language is not speaking to men but to God, since no one understands him; however, he speaks •mysteries in the Spirit. l 3 But the person who prophesies speaks to people for edification, encouragement, and consolation. 4 The person who speaks in another language builds himself up, but he who prophesies builds up the church.  1 Cor 14:1-4 HCSB

771    God exalts those who carry out his will in the very same things in which he humbled them.

There is a joke about being cautious as you pray for things like patience and faith, because surely God will hear those prayers, and give you the opportunity to see your growth.  Of course, the only way to see growth in those things is when you have to demonstrate them.

Even though the idea of having to be patient is scary, the idea of praying the psalmist pray this morning is even scarier.  To give God permission, to beg God to investigate every nook and cranny of our heart, our soul, our very being, and to make sure I am not doing anything offensive, anything evil, anything that would lead me to ruin.

God knows our right and our wrong, our acts of rebellion, our sin, but to invite Him in to purge them from us?  That is a hard prayer, that is one that scares me, for somehow I think that what I hide from him, what I deny to myself, somehow doesn’t count, it doesn’t affect me and others, it just was a passing moment, something I barely remember.

And yet, it is only after I pray that, only after letting Jesus carefully circumcise my heart, that I can begin to understand how great His love his and be in awe of His mercy. It is only then that I can begin to realize what it means to be the one He loves, and adore God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. It is only then that life begins.

A focus on such love, pursuing such love is essential for those of us who preach, who prophesy, who teach.  Whether it is to a parish of thousands, or to two or three in a elementary sunday school class.  I believe there is a distinct impact on preaching and teaching that comes from knowing we are loved.  Not just knowing it as a fact, but living in the midst of that love, knowing that love so well that we easily trust Him, even with the darkest parts of our lives.

It is as we are rescued from that darkness we can speak of it in a way that edifies the church, that lifts them up, that convinces them of the love of God.  THat allow them to realize that God loves them as well, that they can trust Him to transform them.

That when God humbles us, it is so that, cleansed of all that has damaged us, we can be lifted up, healed, and in awe, knowing He loves us.

Such is our calling, such is our relationship with HIm… and though this prayer still scares me, can we pray it together?

Heavenly Father, we count on our love, we acknowledge the need of the Spirit to come through our lives, cleansing us from our sin, our brokenness, our pursuit of things we know distress you. Lord, help us to pursue the love you told us you have, and counting on that love, search our hearts our souls and minds, Find the things that displease You and take them away, so that you may guide us on this way of everlasting life.

AMEN!

 

 

 

 

Escriva, Josemaria. The Way (Kindle Locations 1785-1786). Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition.

How Ministry Works – A Concordia Sermon based on Mark 4

church at communion 2How Ministry Works
Mark 4:26-34

I.H.S.

 May the grace, mercy, and peace of God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ sustain you as you mature in trusting God and serve those around you!

 Cornfields of Dandelions?

As we look at the kingdom parables in our gospel reading this morning, I imagine you think the Farmer creates a farm like the ones we may be had driven by, where the seeds are planted in nice neat rows.

But the scripture says he throws the seeds, just slings them across the field, so a better illustration would be those beautiful flowers that spread their spores across the fields of my youth.

You know, those lovely things we call dandelions!

The spores fly where ever there wind blows, and overnight your beautiful yard is covered In bright yellow flowers, though some might call them weeds.

That is how the Kingdom of God is, as the seed of the gospel is blown about, and creates life from seemed barren, lifeless, and even dead.  Yet that seemingly dead and lifeless seed, like the spores on a dandelion, produces incredible abundant life.

Without any manipulation of the farmer.

Which is why Jesus shared this parable with the disciples, and with us.

We’ve lost control!!!!

The first commandment is, I believe the simplest, and yet the hardest to put into play.

“You shall have no other gods to rival me. 4  ‘You shall not make yourself a carved image or any likeness of anything in heaven above or on earth beneath or in the waters under the earth. 5  ‘You shall not bow down to them or serve them.; Exodus 20:3-5a (NJB)

That bow down part needs to be explained a little.  In the culture of the time, it was more than a mark of respect, it was a mark of submission, of recognizing that the other person was responsible for you and had the right to direct your life any way they wished, including ending it.  It was the kind of complete submission that occurs to one who has lost a war, or who really trusts the person they bow to, knowing the character of the person that they entrusted themselves to, as they bowed.

TO have a God means to trust them with your life, to run to them in times of trouble and need, and to trust their compassion, to trust them to make things right.

There is a problem with that, and it is not a new one.  It is the reason Jesus told this parable.

We like to be in control, we like to know the outcome of our days, and whether the times we endured are worth it.  We want to be able to have the right to question God and tell Him how we want the universe ran, or at least our tiny corner of it.

So too in the church, the challenge is to be focused on the gospel, on sharing God’s love as far as we can fling it and trusting the Holy Spirit to provide the result that our Triune God desires.

Except it always doesn’t work quite the way we like, and the Kingdom of God, which we would like to see nicely organized and ordered, in our opinion, seems messy and slow in its growth, and we can’t stand not seeing what is happening.  We can’t wait for the blade to explode out of the seed, and the heads of wheat to form, and the plant to mature.

So we might get impatient, and rather than trust God, we trust ourselves.  We strive to control and determine how and when growth happens. And in making ourselves God, we fall deep into sin.  Believe me, it is easy to do, to become distracted from sharing the reason we have hope in what seems to be a dark and trying life.

It is pretty easy to move from frustration to sin, from impatience with God’s process to trying to take over and play God ourselves.

And yet the seed lies there, about to burst into life, all under the control of God, and not ours.

So how do we learn to trust Him, to look to Him to provide the growth, while still planting the seeds?

Time to find rest in the trees!

The other parable gives us the idea of how to do so, as we realize the seed of the gospel is simply Christ, who was planted in the ground.

This seemingly simple man, in the most remote part of the Roman Empire, dies, killed by his “own” people, those that claimed to follow God. And even as He is planted in the ground, the apostles had no idea of what we think of as Christianity today.  They could see nothing but pain.  Yet in His being planted, life is formed and created in us.  A Billion people have found life in Christ, and in the second service, as a lady is baptized, another finds rest, like the birds that find a home in a mustard tree, safe deeply within from the predators.

It is when we know we are there when we can breathe deeply, and rest, and realize how God cares and provides for us that we learn to trust Him when we learn that He is the Lord of the church when we realize that He is God.

For we find our refuge and our hope in the Death and Resurrection of Jesus, and in the promised God gives us, as we are united to Jesus in our baptism.  He cleanses us of all our brokenness and all the times where we’ve tried to play God.

This is what God does, hiding us so completely in His grace that we simply trust Him, that we simply relax and know His love, so incredible that we simply get back to work, throwing out the seed of the gospel, the very love of Jesus.

The gospel that draws people into a relationship deep within Christ, a place where we are revived and renewed, as we dwell in His love!  AMEN!

The Hardest Lesson: One We Can’t Learn on Our Own

Jesus foot washingDevotional Thought fo the Day:

9  Two are better off than one, because together they can work more effectively. 10  If one of them falls down, the other can help him up. But if someone is alone and falls, it’s just too bad, because there is no one to help him. 11  If it is cold, two can sleep together and stay warm, but how can you keep warm by yourself? 12  Two people can resist an attack that would defeat one person alone. A rope made of three cords is hard to break. Ecclesiastes 4:9-12 (TEV)

11  May our God and Father himself and our Lord Jesus prepare the way for us to come to you! 12  May the Lord make your love for one another and for all people grow more and more and become as great as our love for you. 13  In this way he will strengthen you, and you will be perfect and holy in the presence of our God and Father when our Lord Jesus comes with all who belong to him. 1 Thessalonians 3:11-13 (TEV)

26  “The Helper will come—the Spirit, who reveals the truth about God and who comes from the Father. I will send him to you from the Father, and he will speak about me. John 15:26 (TEV)

21 So it is with all idolatry. Idolatry does not consist merely of erecting an image and praying to it. It is primarily in the heart, which pursues other things and seeks help and consolation from creatures, saints, or devils. It neither cares for God nor expects good things from him sufficiently to trust that he wants to help, nor does it believe that whatever good it receives comes from God.

Luther’s words about the first commandment are always convicting to me at first. For it is too simple to set up an idol.  We can make them out of anything, ranging from money and worldly success to our dreams, to our honor.

Whatever we place our hope in, whatever we pursue as if attaining it will give us peace, that becomes our idol. 

Even if it was something that was given to us by God for good. An example of this is the Bronze Serpent, a foreshadow of Christ, that brought healing to a situation, that people later worshipped.  The same for Gideon’s ephod, and later relics and holy objects.  These should have pointed us to God, but sometimes we forget the reality of God and focus on something that should remind us of Him.  We can even do this with our church life, where we only want certain hymns or songs, or we want a certain kind of sermon or lesson. Because that is what gives us comfort.  

Solomon’s words out of Ecclesiastes should help here, especially when taken along with Jesus’s promise of the Holy Spirit.  Two are better than one, and when the One we are tied to is the Holy Spirit, the Comforter, it is His immeasurable strength that holds us as one.   The same with the promise in Thessalonians, the work God does in our lives to strengthen us. 

This gets to the heart of faith, why it is more than simply knowing the facts. Faith isn’t depending on the facts, it depends on the God who draws us into Himself. Who cleanses us from all our idols (see Ezekiel 36:25). 

Even in this sin of idolatry, it is too hard for us to overcome ourselves. Again, even as we struggle with this, God is at work, healing us, cleansing us, comforting us.  He is incredible that way and has shown His continual patience, patience that wisely tempers His jealousy.  Yes, God is jealous when you turn away from Him to idols of your own making!

We need to learn to trust and depend upon Him, We need to realize that He cares, that He wants to help, that even the things we don’t like that He provides, (like broccoli or the situations that cause growth!)

He is good, He loves you, more than you know, and the only way to grow is to experience that love.

So I pray you do this week… and that we all can learn to rejoice as idols are removed….

The Lord is with you! Rejoice!

What things do you struggle to trust God with?  What things might offer more comfort than God at first glance?

as always, comments and discussions gladly accepted 

 

The Large Catechism of Martin Luther:   FIrst Part, The First CommandmentTappert, T. G. (Ed.). (1959). The Book of Concord the confessions of the Evangelical Lutheran Church. (p. 367). Philadelphia: Mühlenberg Press.

How Important is Our Belief In Jesus?

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERADevotional Thought of the Day

25 But I know my living Redeemer, and He will stand on the dust at last. 26 Even after my skin has been destroyed, yet I will see God in my flesh. 27 I will see Him myself; my eyes will look at Him, and not as a stranger. My heart longs within me.  Job 19:25-27 HCSB

22 “And now I am on my way to Jerusalem, bound in my spirit, j not knowing what I will encounter there, 23 except that in town after town the Holy Spirit testifies to me that chains and afflictions are waiting for me. 24 But I count my life of no value to myself, so that I may finish my course and the ministry I received from the Lord Jesus, to testify to the gospel of God’s grace.  Acts 20:22-24 HCSB

15 These are the most necessary parts of Christian instruction. We should learn to repeat them word for word.
16 Our children should be taught the habit of reciting them daily when they rise in the morning, when they go to their meals, and they go to bed at night; until they repeat them they should not be given anything to eat or drink.
17 Every father has the same duty to his household; he should dismiss man-servants and maid-servants if they do not know these things and are unwilling to learn them.
18 Under no circumstances should a person be tolerated if he is so rude and unruly that he refuses to learn these three parts in which everything contained in Scripture is comprehended in short, plain, and simple terms,
19 for the dear fathers or apostles, whoever they were,7 have thus summed up the doctrine, life, wisdom, and learning which constitute the Christian’s conversation, conduct and concern.

579    Faith. It’s a pity to see how frequently many Christians have it on their lips and yet how sparingly they put it into their actions. You would think it a virtue to be preached only, and not one to be practiced.

If you read the words from Luther in blue above, they might seem a bit extreme.  Over the top.  Harsh.  One might even accuse him of child neglect or abuse for insisting that children don’t eat until they can repeat them. (please notice it says repeat them)  And employees be terminated for not knowing them?  Isn’t that a bit much?

Then look at St. Josemaria’s words, decrying the life-less faith of those who can say they believe, but that belief doesn’t impact their lives.  They can preach it, they can state the arguments, but there is something missing.  One might even ask if they truly have faith if they depend on the Jesus they confess to with their words.

We need to have the kind of dependence on God that we see in Job, or in Paul.  One was encountering great trauma (and then it was greatly compounded by his wife and wise counselors) and the other, went where everyone told him not to go because the Spirit revealed to them the pain and trauma he would endure.

Job said no matter how bad it gets, he knew God would be faithful and would raise him from the dead just so he could be with God.  Paul corrected them, noting that the chains and afflictions were easily worth it, knowing that people’s salvation was at stake, knowing that without knowing God, there would be no comfort, no solace, no serenity found in the midst of life.

So how does our faith, our ability to depend on the God whom we can’t see, grow?  Is it possible to have the faith of Job, Paul, Luther, or Escriva?  Or are they just heroes of the faith that we cannot hope to be like?

For myself, my faith, my dependence on God grows or deepens, the more I encounter God’s love.  Whether that encounter is at the Altar, sharing in the Eucharist, the Lord’s Supper with others who are struggling, whether it is in studying the word and teaching it.  Whether it is in times of prayer.

Perhaps the greatest times of growth occur when I hit rock bottom.  When I have no other option, no other hope, and I cry out to God.  I may cry out for a day, or even a week, but in the end, I find out He was always there.  In the end, I realize where He was working in my life, especially in the words of those who pointed me to God’s mercy and peace. It is then what I was taught in the basic tenets of our faith, the Ten Commandments, the Creed, the Lord’s prayer, and the promises attached to the sacraments also cause me to be still, to catch my breath, to know that He is God.  Our God.

This is why those that went before us are so insistent that we learn these basic things. It is critical, for people were right in the 80’s.  Life can be a bitch, and in the end, we die.  But for those who know God, even then, in our flesh we will see God, our Redeemer.  And until then, depending on Him, we can live in a peace that doesn’t make sense, kept there by Jesus himself.

Depend on it.  He who promised this is faithful.  AMEN!

Lord, have mercy upon us, and grant us the ability to depend on you!

 

Tappert, T. G. (Ed.). (1959). The Book of Concord the confessions of the Evangelical Lutheran Church. (p. 363). Philadelphia: Mühlenberg Press.

 

Escriva, Josemaria. The Way (Kindle Locations 1383-1386). Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition.

The Focus We Need under Fire

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The church, is always in the midst of a storm… but safe in Him

Devotional Thought of the Day:

17 Then the high priest took action. He and all his colleagues, those who belonged to the party of the Sadducees, were filled with jealousy. 18 So they arrested the apostles and put them in the city jail. 19 But an angel of the Lord opened the doors of the jail during the night, brought them out, and said,  20 “Go and stand in the •temple complex, and tell the people all about this life.” 21 In obedience to this, they entered the temple complex at daybreak and began to teach.  Acts 5:17-21) HCSB

14 Zion says, “The LORD has abandoned me;  The Lord has forgotten me!” 15 “Can a woman forget her nursing child or lack compassion for the child of her womb? Even if these forget, yet I will not forget you. 16 Look, I have inscribed you on the palms of My hands; your walls are continually before Me.
   Is. 49:14-16 HCSB

378    Don’t be a pessimist. Don’t you realize that everything that happens or can happen is for the best? Optimism will be a necessary consequence of your faith.

It is not easy to be critiqued, even when the criticism is constructive.  When it is influenced by rivalry, by hatred, when its intent is to tear you down and hurt you, it is, even more, a test.

St. Josemaria would tell us to be optimistic and make a passing reference to Romans 8:28, that all things will work for good for those who love God.  If you didn’t know his history, you would think him more than a little naive.  Be optimistic while people are trying to destroy us?  While they are work to tear us down?

We might even feel like the Zion in the second scripture reading above.  We might think that God has abandoned us, that He simply forgot we were here, suffering oppressed, attacked.   We might think that we need to raise the defenses, that we need to be prepared to defend our Lord, our church, ourselves.  For if God has forgotten about us, who will defend us? Or at least that is what we think.

But Isaiah’s words remind us gently, that God can’t forget us, that He could not.  His involvement in our lives is as close, as personal, as intimate as a mother nursing her child.  Thinking about us is as inescapable as a tattoo on one’s hand, or the scars made by a spike through that hand.

This is how the apostles could keep their minds off the threats issued by the Sadducees and Priests.  Their direction was to tell people about this life, this way of living in the presence of God. 

So they went and taught people. 

About Jesus, about His love and mercy, seen at the cross, seen as He accompanies them through life. They stayed focus on what gave them hope, what brought them peace, what would make a matter in this life and for eternity.  They knew nothing could separate them from God.

And such a focus knows that God is still in charge, that God will see is us through.

God is with you!

So go, ignore the threats, ignore the criticism, and simply teach people what they need to know about Jesus.  

Escriva, Josemaria. The Way (Kindle Locations 958-960). Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition.

 

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