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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.

Will You Catch Me, Lord?

20170124_103703Devotional Thought of my day:

The LORD was like an eagle teaching its young to fly, always ready to swoop down and catch them on its back.  Deut. 32:11 CEV

The Christian far oftener disgraces his profession in prosperity than in adversity. It is a dangerous thing to be prosperous. The crucible of adversity is a less severe trial to the Christian than the refining pot of prosperity. Oh, what leanness of soul and neglect of spiritual things have been brought on through the very mercies and bounties of God

This treatise is another example of Luther’s remarkable ability to withdraw from the heat of controversy into the pastoral atmosphere of serene devotion. The entire writing echoes his experience as a pastor and confessor constantly in contact with men and women who were terrified by the maze of popular customs and practices observed by the church in connection with death.

In reading the forward to Luther’s sermon on dying, I was struck by how often it was reprinted. His theology was still in the early stages of reforming, His battles with leaders of the Roman Catholic Church were just beginning. And as noted, he set this aside to help a friend, one terrified by all the stuff that surrounded death. His friend and many others would listen, for they were in what Spurgeon calls the crucible of adversity.

That crucible doesn’t have to be related to physical death. The death of a dream, the death of a relationship, the termination from a job, or the fear of any of these things!

Spurgeon’s quote comes from a section about the challenges of dealing with abundance, the challenge s of dealing with prosperity, and yet he notes the blessings of adversity, of being oppressed, of being under pressure. I resonate with that, for I know the most challenging, the most severe temptations which I face, the places where sin appears to have it greatest grip on me, are the places where life is easier, where I am not running to God.

It is better for me to write from the point of my own despair, for there I find this passage from Deuteronomy to be true.  God will catch me, I know he will, even as I struggle with the fears and anxiety caused by the fall.

Most of the time I don’t realize this, I am not looking for it, I am too overwhelmed by the impending crash.  I forget how faithful His promise is because my eyes are on me and my situation.

But in the midst of falling, He is always there…

And eventually, I hear the Spirit’s call and know the comfort of God’s presence, a presence that is there anyway. As I grow old, I realize that I eventually will, and that too calms the frayed nerves, lifts me out of my depression, and helps me see those around me, who need ot be lifted up by those same wings.

Thank you Lord Jesus, for being there in times of despair, the times when the brokenness is too great. Sustain us then, when we can’t seem to realize Your presence.  Sustain as well, when things are good, and we forget our need to depend on You,. AMEN!

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

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), 98

Praise… and Prayer: Which comes first?

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERADevotional Thought of the Day:

22 People of Israel, every year you must set aside ten percent of your grain harvest. 23 Also set aside ten percent of your wine and olive oil, and the first-born of every cow, sheep, and goat. Take these to the place where the LORD chooses to be worshiped, and eat them there. This will teach you to always respect the LORD your God.
24 But suppose you can’t carry that ten percent of your harvest to the place where the LORD chooses to be worshiped. If you live too far away, or if the LORD gives you a big harvest, 25 then sell this part and take the money there instead. 26 When you and your family arrive, spend the money on food for a big celebration. Buy cattle, sheep, goats, wine, beer, and if there are any other kinds of food that you want, buy those too. 27 And since people of the Levi tribe won’t own any land for growing crops, remember to ask the Levites to celebrate with you.
28 Every third year, instead of using the ten percent of your harvest for a big celebration, bring it into town and put it in a community storehouse. 29 The Levites have no land of their own, so you must give them food from the storehouse. You must also give food to the poor who live in your town, including orphans, widows, and foreigners. If they have enough to eat, then the LORD your God will be pleased and make you successful in everything you do.  Deut. 14:22-29

Fifth, your trust must not set a goal for God, not set a time and place, not specify the way or the means of his fulfilment, but it must entrust all of that to his will, wisdom, and omnipotence. Just wait cheerfully and undauntedly for the fulfilment without wanting to know how and where, how soon, how late, or by what means. His divine wisdom will find an immeasurably better way and method, time and place, than we can imagine.

714    Yours is a desire without desire, as long as you don’t put firmly aside the occasion of falling. Don’t fool yourself telling me you’re weak. You’re a coward, which is not the same thing.

Prayer is hard.

Very hard.

Every week, with 50-80 people, I pray for about 150… Some are just people we need to pray for – those in government, those serving people and responding to protect and heal.  Others are grieving, or are ill, others are facing a struggle that cannot be discussed.

And we pray… I attempt to lead us in putting all these people, and their concerns, in the hands of God.

There is a balance between telling God what to do and having the faith that God not only will act but is acting at this moment. Part of me wants to say with Jesus, “not my will, but Yours.” and part of me wants to be the old lady that hassled the judge.

And to this I hear the words, “you aren’t weak, you are a coward..” and I wonder if it is true, at least when it comes ot prayer. Am I afraid to really let God have everything in my life? Am I willing to let Him answer my prayers in His time, in His wisdom, in His way? Luther advocates this, but how hard is it to do?  And how the heck did he learn to wait “cheerfully and undauntedly” without even the slightest bit of knowledge or control?

That’s why I asked which comes first, true prayer or true worship?

I think it has to be worship!

And we can’t worship until we know why we worship!  That is how the Old Testament passage relates. One of the major tithes the people had to gather, 10 percent of their harvest, and all the firstborn of their flock was to throw a party!  What kind of party? A party to “respect” the Lord- to realize His presence, to realize how He provides and cares for you. To celebrate the fact you aren’t alone.

With that knowledge, prayer seems… easier, it seems more natural, it seems to be how we are to relate to God, for it is in response ot how He cares for us.

I only have thoughts about whether prayer is effective when I am not thinking about God, when I am not in awe of His presence, of His love, of His care. When I am focused on that, such as during a worship service, prayer flows, it works, it is…

So, if you are struggling, if you aren’t sure God is with you, get with some other sisters and brothers in Christ. Be reminded of God’s love and mercy, and His presence… and praise Him for that, together.  Then pray about what stresses you, what causes you anguish, anxiety, stress, pain…

And leave it in the hands of the Lord who loves you.

 

 

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), 89.

Escriva, Josemaria. The Way . Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition.

The Problem of “Free Will” is we don’t want it freed….

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Devotional Thought of the Day:

Jesus heard them and answered, “Healthy people don’t need a doctor, but sick people do. I didn’t come to invite good people to be my followers. I came to invite sinners.”  Mark 2:17

You may say, “Well, did God not endow us with a free will?”19 I reply: To be sure, he gave you a free will. But why do you want to make it your own will? Why not let it remain free? If you do with it whatever you will, it is not a free will, but your own will. God did not give you or anyone else a will of your own. Your own will comes from the devil and from Adam, who transformed the free will received from God into his own. A free will does not want its own way but looks only to God’s will for direction. By so doing it then also remains free, untrammeled and unshackled.

The transmission of the Christian faith consists primarily in proclaiming Jesus Christ in order to lead others to faith in him. From the beginning, the first disciples burned with the desire to proclaim Christ: “We cannot but speak of what we have seen and heard.”11 And they invite people of every era to enter into the joy of their communion with Christ:

I had perceived—via God’s grace, not my own wit, surely—that since God is love, we must therefore love God and love whatever God loves; that if we turn to the divine Conductor and follow the wise and loving baton that is His will, His Word, then the music of our life will be a symphony.

Over the years, I have heard people argue over the concept of free will.  Some would say we have it, others would simply say we don’t, that God is not only responsible for all of our actions, but He chooses what we will do, in every moment.  I’ve heard it blamed for our sinful choices, and for the temptations that we tried to avoid, but gave into and sinned.  Somehow people think because God gave us the ability to decide to wreck out lives, He is responsible for their breaking.

Until reading Luther this morning, I never conceived of the idea that free will could mean that it is not “our will”; not “my will” or “your will”, but the ability to simply have a will that is free, and therefore can be influenced by God,  A will that Kreeft describes himself realizing that God is love, and therefore we should resonate with His love, and love what He loves.  The power of free will then, is not aligning it to our own desires, but letting it be guided, let it resonate with the will of God.

After all, isn’t that the invitation Jesus came to deliver?  That those of us who are sinners, will be freed from sin, able to walk with Him?

That is why we train people in the faith; why we make disciples, not converts; why we catechize, answering the real questions of faith, rather than indoctrinate.

It’s not to force one’s will to be Christ’s, it is to help people see that their will, their Spirit, once clean of all sin of all injustice, resonates with Jesus.  For we were made in God’s image, and the Spirit causes us to realize this, as we realize the love of God.

This resonance is why salvation, realizing God has removed dampen and distort our lives, is so joyous. A guitar or violin string doesn’t have to be forced to sound, a similar string resonating brings its movement and sound.  Just as the word of God resonates with a truly “free will” creating joy where it resounds.

Heavenly Father, please, once again, send the Holy Spirit to remove all that would distort and dampen the will the Holy Spirit has restored.  In Jesus’ name!  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), 48

Catholic Church, Catechism of the Catholic Church, 2nd Ed. (Vatican City: Libreria Editrice Vaticana, 1997), 107..

Peter Kreeft, The God Who Loves You (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 2004), 16.

Do You Really Have Faith in God? Do I?

54e14-jesus2bpraying

God, who am I?

Devotional Thought of the Day:
25  Whenever you stand up to pray, you must forgive what others have done to you. Then your Father in heaven will forgive your sins.  Mark 11:25 (CEV) 

12  God loves you and has chosen you as his own special people. So be gentle, kind, humble, meek, and patient. 13  Put up with each other, and forgive anyone who does you wrong, just as Christ has forgiven you. 14  Love is more important than anything else. It is what ties everything completely together. Colossians 3:12-14 (CEV)

Man, tempted by the devil, let his trust in his Creator die in his heart and, abusing his freedom, disobeyed God’s command. This is what man’s first sin consisted of. All subsequent sin would be disobedience toward God and lack of trust in his goodness.

In the second place, this petition mortifies us through other people who antagonize us, assail us, disquiet us, and oppose our will in every way, who mock not only our worldly actions but also our good spiritual works, such as our prayers, our fasting, our acts of kindness, who, in brief, are never at peace with us. O what a priceless blessing this is! We should really pay such assailants all our goods, for they are the ones who fulfil this petition in us. They are the ones through whom God breaks our will so that his will may be done. This is why Christ says in Matthew 5 [:25], “Make friends quickly with your accuser.” That is, we must surrender our will and accept our adversary’s will as good, for in that way our will is broken. In the breaking of our will God’s will is done; for he wants to see our will hindered and broken.

The Letter of St. James notes that we should demonstrate our faith in our works.  That is not always easy!  Especially when it comes to demonstrating our trust in God when it comes to the adversaries, enemies, and jackasses we have to deal with in everyday life.

The Catholics have it right when they say sin originates in letting our trust in God die in our hearts. It is then, as we turn our back on the Holy Spirit that we take power into our own hands, and do what God says not to do.

Like seek revenge, or curse those who oppose us, or simply forget they were created by God, and treat them without the love and respect the children of God should receive.

We have to trust, when people oppose us, that God is doing what He has promised to do, that all things, even the opposition, will work for good.  As Luther notes, God may be using them to break our will, so that His will may be done. Whether they realize this or not, we should be thankful to God.

That is why we can forgive them, realizing that their actions are actually blessings.  That they show God’s love for us, although in ways that are pretty frustrating, and yes, humbling.  We must realize that God is behind it. We must realize that His love is manifested in what these people are doing, saying, thinking.  God’s will is being done, not theirs, and definitely not ours.

This is why St. Paul’s advice to “Put up with each other” and “forgive anyone who does you wrong” is preceded by words reminding us of the FACT that God loves us, and chose us to be His own   That must come first, the relationship, the love that matters more than anything else. The love of Christ, that poured our in water and blood, the love that unites us all, cleansing us of ALL sin.  Binding us together.  Demonstrating how faithful God is to us, and how He, in His love, empowers our ability to look to Him, depend on Him, have faith in Him, even while persecuted…

Lord, we have faith in You, help us to have faith!
Lord, Have mercy on me, a sinner! 

Catholic Church, Catechism of the Catholic Church, 2nd Ed. (Vatican City: Libreria Editrice Vaticana, 1997), 100.

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), 44–45.

Some Strange Things to Talk About

The-breakfast-club

 

Devotional Thought of the Day

3  He heals the brokenhearted and bandages their wounds. 4  He counts the stars and calls them all by name. 5  How great is our Lord! His power is absolute! His understanding is beyond comprehension!  Psalm 147:3-5 (NLT2)

20  “You are saying some rather strange things, and we want to know what it’s all about.”Acts 17:20 (NLT2)

278 If we do not believe that God’s love is almighty, how can we believe that the Father could create us, the Son redeem us, and the Holy Spirit sanctify us?

It was a different time, for religious people were not just tolerated, they were treasured.  Not only the adherents and practitioners of this religion or that, but every god has his temple, every person had a choice between a thousand houses of worship.

Discussions of religion and philosophy were the entertainment of the day, religious freedom would bever be greater. And religion mattered in the life of people. It was a source of pride to know the various religions, how they worked, what they offered.

And yet, there was little satisfaction, for when they heard of a different religion being taught, a strange religion, they were intrigued. So they invited this former rabbi, who introduced them to a God who existed, whom they even dedicated a temple to, but could not communicate with if they also thought such was a possibility.

So how would they hear of a God who was active in the life of His people?  Who had been praised for that very thing, who heard the lament of those who lives were broken, even those who broke their own lives.  Some would turn away, that isn’t how God’s were supposed to work.  Some needed to hear more of this strange thing, a God who…loved? Some found Him, our watched Him revealed ni their midst.

And they found this God, greater than any tale of Zeus or Apollo, this God understood them, He understood them in ways beyond their comprehension. This was so strange in the midst of the Parthenon, it is just as odd today here in Los Angeles, or Boston, or Shenzhen or Rome or Manilla, or in places like Ossipee and Salem New Hampshire, or Lawrence, Massachusetts, He is there as well in Yucca Valley, and Anza and Cerritos, Ca.

There God almighty, creator of heaven and earth, redeemer of the nations, and the Lord who understands us enough to declare that we are not broken, but are His people.  He dwells with us, this God whom we can know, even know in a way far deeper, far more intimate than anything we could ever experience.

Yesh, this is strange. And wonderful. Unexpected and glorious, Beyond explanation, and yet needing to be shared.

So look for the people who need to know this strange thing, the existence of God who understands and loves you…

And rejoice in His loving, caring presence… for He is God, and you….you are His.

 

Catholic Church, Catechism of the Catholic Church, 2nd Ed. (Vatican City: Libreria Editrice Vaticana, 1997), 73.

Does God Still Surprise Us?

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Devotional Thought of the day

22 His answer surprised them so much that they walked away..…33 The crowds were surprised to hear what Jesus was teaching.  Matt 22:22, 33 CEV

 This development reflected the new liturgical awareness which had been growing in these years. At that time, young people were interested not so much in the inherited dogmatic problems of eucharistic doctrine as in the liturgical celebration as a living form [Gestalt]. They found that this form, or structure, was a theological and spiritual entity with an integrity of its own. What previously had been the rubricist’s sphere of operations, mere ceremonial, having no apparent connection with dogma, now seemed to be an integral part of the action. It was its actual manifestation, apart from which the reality itself would remain invisible. Some years later Joseph Pascher put it like this: as far as the structure is concerned, up to now people had only paid attention to the rubrics, to what was printed in red; now it was time to give equal attention to the red and the black print. “There is far more in the form and structure of the texts and the whole celebration than in the rubrics.”

Throughout scripture, I find God surprising people.

Sometimes it is with what they are taught, as in my readings from Matthew this morning. Sometimes it is with the call, the role He gives them in life, as they minister and try to lead the people who need to find themselves, by discovering their relationship with God.

So why does He keep surprising us? Or perhaps the question is “how” He keeps doing so.

The latter question is seen in the words from Cardinal Ratzinger (later Pope Benedict XVI)  We get so caught up in “how” we worship God, how we serve Him, that we don’t hear the words we read, that we sing, that we preach or hear in the sermon.  We get so caught up in the forms and directions for doing them right, (the rubrics – which were printed in red by the printers of worship hymnals, missals, and the agendas – the books that guide pastors/priests) Pascher talks about giving equal weight to form and matter, even realizing there is what is said.

We do that today as well, getting more focused on how we worship and how we live than in the glory of God that surrounds us, for we are His people. That is why some police morality and thoughts more than seek God’s face.  Why some think revival comes from people being corrected in thought, word and deed, rather than realizing that their errors in thought word and deed are forgiven, and the damage done by sin God will heal.  (That is what forgiveness really is, by the way, not just the removal of the punishment, but the healing of the damage done!)

That is why it is surprising when miracles happen, or when prodigals we gave up on come home. It is why we hide our sin and brokenness, rather than talking about it freely, we struggle to believe God will forgive what we cannot believe can be forgiven. It is why we have developed a culture that still is based on shame and guilt, rather than in the hope of restoration and the love that brings it about.

These things are taught in our liturgies, whether complex or simple. It should be heard in our sermons and our prayers celebrated and rejoice over in our songs sung in church and throughout the week.

And when we are surprised by what Jesus reveals to us in His word, then again give thanks, for the Holy Spirit is keeping us focused on Jesus… and the form will naturally follow.  As the ancients taught, as we worship, so we believe … and so we practice.

Lord Jesus, we ask that you keep surprising us, that you keep revealing to us the promises, and even more your presence and love which makes us sure of them.  Lord, help us never grow stale or dull in our dependence on You but keep us marveling at how You sustain and heal us.  AMEN!

Joseph Ratzinger, The Feast of Faith: Approaches to a Theology of the Liturgy, trans. Graham Harrison (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1986), 33–34.

Why so much talk about faith ( and so little of it?)

Devotional Thought of the Day:

Jesus turned. He saw the woman and said, “Don’t worry! You are now well because of your faith.” At that moment she was healed. Mt. 9:22 CEV

29 Jesus touched their eyes and said, “Because of your faith, you will be healed.” Mt. 9:29 CEV

5  Jesus could not work any miracles there, except to heal a few sick people by placing his hands on them. 6  He was surprised that the people did not have any faith. Jesus taught in all the neighboring villages. Mark 6:5-6 (CEV)

Some people meditate on Christ’s passion by venting their anger on the Jews.1 This singing and ranting about wretched Judas2 satisfies them, for they are in the habit of complaining about other people, of condemning and reproaching their adversaries. That might well be a meditation on the wickedness of Judas and the Jews, but not on the sufferings of Christ.

We are taught, by past experience, that the more simply we depend upon the grace of God in Christ, and wait upon the Holy Spirit, the more we shall bring forth fruit unto God. Oh! to trust Jesus for fruit as well as for life.

Their faith made them well.

And their lack of faith stopped Jesus from working in their midst.

We hear so much about faith, and yet we have such a vague understanding of it. We say we practice our faith, we have statements of faith, we know we are saved by faith (through grace – but what does that mean?) There are faith healers, and people who promise that you will have an ever increasing faith. SOme will say faith is a noun, something we base our lives upon, some will say it is a verb, and our life sucks because we don’t have enough of it.

WIth all these ways the word is used, it is no surprised we are confused!

Luther starts his meditation on Christ’s passion by talking about the ways people screw up meditating on Christ’s passion by meditating on everything else but the passion of Christ. I included one example above, but he will include several. In the same way, we screw up faith, talking all around it, but never engaging in it, never engaging in Christ, never depending upon Him as Spurgeon urged us to do, with our lives, with the mission and vocation God has laid on us all.

Faith is simply a description of the relationship we have with God, where we depend on Him, recognizing He is God and we are His beloved people. It is a relationship where we are confident of His presence, and confident of His work in us, and being patient to let it happen.

It is not easy to do, in fact it is impossible to do!.

It is simply a way we live, knowing His presence, taking time to remember that, and being grateful for what He did to create this relationship, to reveal Himself and His love. You can’t do states of existence, any more than you can force a relationship. But existing in it defines you in relation to the “Other”, the You to your I. Everything we are, defined by that relationship where He provides all we need.

That’s faith…..

So be still, know He is God, then move, guided by Him through life. 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), 7.

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

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