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Really God? You Have to Remind Me of this today?

dscf1215-copy-copyDevotional Thought of the Day:

It’s better to go to a funeral than to attend a feast; funerals remind us that we all must die.  Ecc. 7:2 CEV

Blessed is he who keeps the moment of death ever before his eyes and prepares for it every day.

I guess God likes a sense of irony.

Tomorrow I go under the knife.

Just cataract surgery, but still, it is surgery.

Read through the Bible in a year, and the reading I come to the day before surgery deals with death!  So did the book report I had to deal ith last night, chapter after chapter of dying to self that as awesome, but also passages that told us to desire death

Not what I want to think about, at least that is my first reaction.

But why not?

We need to think about death for a number of reasons, that are practical, and spiritual.

1.  So we learn to value the life we have.
To often we take life for granted, we don’t think about making the most of it, we just let it slide by. Especially in these days of isolation. We can see God at work in every day of our lives, working in relationships good and bad

2.  So we leave things somewhat in order, as a blessing to others.
It can be things as simple as your favorite songs for your funeral.  Or where money is stashed and other issues of that note.  (Of course, now I have to think of all this stuff) Wills, testaments, advanced directives, all that messy stuff.  But it is even messier if you don’t do it.

3.  Not taking even for granted, or the gifts that assure us of our eternity.
Living life fearing deaeth is no fun… I spent nearly half my life living in fear of dying. THat’s what happens when you have Marfans and you think about it. Working as a hospice chaplain, and seeing many people pass away has led to the point where I am not as afraid of dying.
But what I am talking about is being excited about seeing God face to face. NOt just the benefits of less back pain, and less trauma, and no more dang surgeries. But see God, who loves us so much, and being welcomed into His presence, and sharing in the glory and love of God, Father, son and Holy Spirit. That is more than exciting, that should leave us in awe,

Kempis’s thought is that we should think about heaven, so that we behave better in this life. Not quite fear driven, but somewhere between fear and reward driven behavior modification. That might work, but works better is to live life, thinking about the glory and love of God. Of letting the thought of that love, that care fill your life. That will change you far deeper than mere intellect. It will change your soul, and you will desire to see others find that place of rest, that place of pace.

So making me think of death… it’s not that bad.  Actually, it is a huge blessing.

Now, thinking of them slicing my eye open, to replace the lens… ugh!

Thomas à Kempis, The Imitation of Christ (Oak Harbor, WA: Logos Research Systems, 1996), 46.

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.

What the Game of Thrones Can Teach Us About Death…..

Featured imageDevotional Thought of the Day:
54  So when this takes place, and the mortal has been changed into the immortal, then the scripture will come true: “Death is destroyed; victory is complete!” 55  “Where, Death, is your victory? Where, Death, is your power to hurt? 56  Death gets its power to hurt from sin, and sin gets its power from the Law. 57  But thanks be to God who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ! 1 Corinthians 15:54-57 (TEV)

383 The scholastics do not teach the righteousness of faith. They interpret faith as merely a knowledge of history or of dogmas, not as the power that grasps the promise of grace and righteousness, quickening the heart amid the terrors of sin and death.

(disclaimer, I haven’t watched GoT yet…. but please keep reading)

Last night my Twitter and FB feeds went crazy, I mean really crazy. Like 1000 posts in five minutes crazy. 

Everyone was talking about someone dying, reacting the way I remember us reacting when the Challenger exploded, or perhaps when the way people did when Kennedy was shot.

Turns out it was a character on a television show called Game of Thrones. ( I vaguely remember a similar incident when someone shot JR, but then again, I didn’t watch that show either!)

One of my much younger friends tried to explain it to me.  She was kind of shocked that I hadn’t watched GoT yet and tried to convince me I MUST watch it. We “chatted” across FB for a while, and I went to sleep thinking I might be able to watch and episode or two… maybe in August?  

But I thought about it, apparently this show, like a few others this last year, have made a point about people dying who are someone special to the show.  Someone died in Gray’s Anatomy (McDreamy McSteamy, McBlasphemy?) , And I think there is some other show where they regularly kill off a character. I suppose if BlackList (the only show I regularly watch, and I am a season behind)

All this shock of death, even the death of a fictional character is, in my mind a good thing.  We can learn from it, that death is fleeting, and that life needs to be taken in a proper perspective.  That the relationships, we count on can be horribly marred by death, Whether that death is a friend in their 90’s or infant still in the womb. Whether it is the death of a dear friend whom we will miss for years or of someone across the world.

Dying sucks.

It can cause fear as well, I can testify to that.  Because of a genetic heart condition, I’ve faced it for a long time though since 1998 the threat has lessened because of surgery.  Even so, death has an incredible power over us who live. It threatens us, it hurts us, it damages our psyche as we try to cope with our lives being shorter and more tragic than we want to admit, that we want to face.

Yeah – a character can be killed off.  Even more importantly, a friend can die, or you can.  An accident, a cardiac arrest, food poisoning, cancer, war, civil unrest.  No one is immune.  No one.  (as GoT so aptly proves!)

In the quote above in blue, a man named Phillip Melancthon talked about belief, about faith, in a way that can give us some comfort.  Faith is what gives us peace in the midst of death and dying,  It isn’t just knowing some facts and figures, it isn’t just about thinking about God, or trying to behave well.  It is clinging to God in a way that brings hope, even in the midst of tears, and anger, and trying to make sense out of this life, and the terminal nature of it.

Faith clings to the God, who promises that death is not as brutal, that there is something more to life than ending in death.

It clings to the promises God has made, that He has revealed, that He sends the Holy Spirit to confirm to us and to comfort us and to be our guarantee of eternity. When we have faith, we count on God more and more, and He sustains us, comforts us, holds us close.  And nothing, not even death, can separate us from His love.

So if GoT caused you to grieve, to be angry, to hold onto speculation that the character really isn’t dead, to go even into a small depression, maybe that’s a good thing.  Take the time to think through your reaction, to realize the power of death, and the only way to break its very real hold on you, is to hold on to Jesus.

He’s promised to protect your heart and your mind… and surround you with the incomprehensible peace of God our Father.

You’ll be okay.  He died to make sure of it!

God’s peace!

Tappert, T. G. (Ed.). (1959). The Book of Concord the confessions of the Evangelical Lutheran Church. (p. 165). Philadelphia: Mühlenberg Press.

Why Are You Still Getting Paid for Sin?

Why Are You Still Being Paid…OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
For the Wages of Sin?

In Jesus Name

May you know in the depths of your being, that incredible gift of God our Father, and our Lord Jesus Christ, the freedom from sin, satan and the fear of death, and the gift of eternal life!

That’s it?

Have you ever had one of those weeks where you worked so hard you were physically and emotionally exhausted?  Where you were so tired you couldn’t get up to walk to the refrigerator to get something to drink?

When you finally got home, kissed your spouse, hugged your kids, patted the dog (at least you know you did those things, not sure which thing to whom! ) sat down and fell asleep?

And then, you wake up, realize your paycheck is still in your pocket, you open it up and wonder…. “that’s it?”

That’s all I get for breaking my back, for losing my hair over this job?

I ought to go look for another one.  There has got to be something better out there… something less exhausting, something with more of a reward, something that gives me some sense of satisfaction, some sense of life.

Now let’s say that you are offered the position of a lifetime, you are to replace the president of Microsoft, or Apple computers, or become the new head of the I.R.S.  Your salary won’t be 6 figures, it will be 8……. A 30 hour work week, and that includes your own staff that does your nails, combs your hair, flies you to Hawaii in your own personal jet….gets you front row tickets to the Spurs, Patriots and Red Sox games…

After taking a week to think it through, you aren’t sure, and so you ask for a month, and for some reason you still aren’t sure…..

Wait – why wouldn’t you take that job?

Well, my bet is that is what you are doing spiritually these days… because I know I am doing it too!  Matter of fact, that problem goes all the way back to St. Paul, and the church in Rome!

We have to stop collecting the wages of death, and allow God to give us life!

Why are still collecting death?

As we look at this passage of Romans, we see this point in each paragraph.

In verse 12 and 13, Paul begs us,

12  Let not sin therefore reign in your mortal body, to make you obey its passions. 13  Do not present your members to sin as instruments for unrighteousness, but present yourselves to God as those who have been brought from death to life, and your members to God as instruments for righteousness.
Romans 6:12-13 (ESV)

In verse 16 he Says,

16  Do you not know that if you present yourselves to anyone as obedient slaves, you are slaves of the one whom you obey, either of sin, which leads to death, or of obedience, which leads to righteousness? Romans 6:16 (ESV)

And in verse 21, Paul reminds US,

21  But what fruit were you getting at that time from the things of which you are now ashamed? For the end of those things is death.
Romans 6:21 (ESV)

What don’t we understand about this?

Yet we freely give in to envy, to lust, to hatred, to gossip about each other, to selfishness.  We forget the needs fo those around us, and focus on our wants.  We even disregard what God says, choosing to think what we want, thinking what we know is right, doing what brings us momentary pleasure?

We should be receiving Holiness, Righteousness, the Ability to do the things that take us this way…

Paul has spent an entire chapter telling us to live so hindered, so in bondage to sin is unnecessary.  In the next two chapters, he will describe this war even more,  For he fights it as well.  Paul knows what it is, to do the things we know are sin, and do not want to do.  He knows the heartache of wanting to do what is right, but failing to do it, over and over.

He started by saying we died to the power of sin, and satan, and the fear of death in our Baptism, when we were united to Christ’s death and resurrection,  He will say in chapter 8, again referring to our being united to Christ, that there is no condemnation for those of us in Christ.

Here he says,

“present yourselves to God as those who have been brought from death to life, and your members to God as instruments for righteousness.” Romans 6:13 (ESV)

and

17  But thanks be to God, that you who were once slaves of sin have become obedient from the heart to the standard of teaching to which you were committed, 18  and, having been set free from sin, have become slaves of righteousness. Romans 6:17-18 (ESV)

and

the free gift of God is eternal life….

You see, this justified, sanctified life that we have, isn’t by our power, it isnt’ lived by our strength.  It is found in dwelling in Christ, in realizing His work, in keeping our eyes on Him, and realizing He lives in us.  It is found in being quiet, and listening to the Holy Spirit.

It is realizing what happened to you in your baptism, what is given you at this altar, it is the reason we have joy and hope, the answer we have when others wonder why we can have hope, in the midst of this exhausting world.

It is the same power at work in us, when we look around us, and see the needs of others for Christ, and do everything we can, even more than we can, sacrificing to help them see Christ revealed in their lives.  That same power, as we are focused on Christ that enables us to serve the hurting, the broken, whether they don’t know Jesus yet, or whether they’ve known Him for 30 years, or 80.

For we all struggle, for we all do battle with sin, and all need to be re-focused on God’s work in our lives, as He counts us righteous, as He works through us, to see His greatest desire come pass, that all come to repentance, to realize that He is their delivered, their Lord.

As we realize that those who serve Christ, aren’t just counted as slaves, but as His friends, (John 15:15)  As we become adopted children of God the Father, co-heirs with Christ.

This is why we don’t continue to dwell as if we’ve earned death as our paycheck, as if we are still slaves, employed by the firm of Sin, Shame & Guilt LLP

Know my friends, that this is God’s plan for you, that you would see Christ. That would know Christ, that you would love Christ…..

And then look back, and see that God has used you, to bring to others, that incredible peace you know, the peace of God our Father, in which you dwell in Christ, your hearts and minds secure in Him.  AMEN?

 

The Perspective Death Brings….

Woodcut by Hans Brosamer of the Baptism of Chr...

Woodcut by Hans Brosamer of the Baptism of Christ in the 1550 Frankfurt edition of the Small Catechism of Martin Luther (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Devotional/Discussion Thought of the Day

51  But let me reveal to you a wonderful secret. We will not all die, but we will all be transformed! 52  It will happen in a moment, in the blink of an eye, when the last trumpet is blown. For when the trumpet sounds, those who have died will be raised to live forever. And we who are living will also be transformed. 53  For our dying bodies must be transformed into bodies that will never die; our mortal bodies must be transformed into immortal bodies. 54  Then, when our dying bodies have been transformed into bodies that will never die, this Scripture will be fulfilled: “Death is swallowed up in victory. 55  O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?” 56  For sin is the sting that results in death, and the law gives sin its power. 57  But thank God! He gives us victory over sin and death through our Lord Jesus Christ. 1 Corinthians 15:51-57 (NLT) 

For if Christ by the touch of his most innocent flesh has hallowed all waters, yes, even all creation, through baptism, how much more has he by the same touch of his most innocent flesh and blood sanctified every form of death, all suffering and loss, every curse and shame for the baptism of the Spirit, or the baptism of blood!22 Of this baptism of suffering he says in Luke 12 [:50], “I have a baptism to be baptized with, and how I am constrained until it is accomplished!” Here you see how he is constrained, how he pants and thirsts to sanctify sufferings and death and to make them things to be loved, for he saw how we stand in fear of sufferings, how we tremble and shrink from death. Therefore, as a godly pastor and faithful physician, he hastens to set limits to this our evil, and is impatient to die and by his touch to commend suffering and evil to us. [i]

I was doing my sermon study this morning, when up popper this deep quote from Luther.
Deep because it seem odd to commend suffering and death (the evil) to those God calls His own.  Indeed, it seems awkward, and perhaps a little evil in its own right.   How can death be a good thing?  How can an end to life as we know it be a blessed moment?  How can we deal with such times, as several of my friends who have passed in the last few years have, with anticipation and joy?

It is challenging, it requires faith, trusting in God’s promises for things that even those of us who have died cannot conceive of.  (Twenty years ago this week I flatlined and had to be shocked by defibrillators 5 times)

I love Luther’s take on this, as He looks at Jesus’ desire to embrace death, for what it means for you and me.  That Jesus was oppressed, constrained, anxious and focused to die, to embrace the suffering and death of the cross,.  Hebrews 12 tells us it was for the joy set before Him that He endured the cross, despising the shame.  It was for the joy set before Him!  What joy?  Not just the joy of freeing us from sin that had us caught in its deathly trap, robbing us of life and joy, but the joy of sharing in His resurrection, joy of sharing in the Life that He came to bring us.  To invite us to a dance, a wedding reception where we are the honored one, the very partner, the bride of Christ.

It is in our baptism that this is made so sure, even as we are bonded, united with Christ.

This is what makes a difference, this is what I’ve seen make a difference in what some would count as too many lives.

Yet they knew – they comprehended this incredible depth of God’s love – which turns the death of a believer, and even what they endure on the way… into the greatest of joys.

That’s perspective that we all need to gain, as we live our lives, as we complain about our trials, as we wonder if it is worth it all.

Look to the cross… look at how it doesn’t just take away the sting and fear of death, but it shatters that which would make death the end…. because of the Love of God, with whom those who trust Him will dwell…..

Be at peace… have no fear, no anxiety… God is with us…


22 Luther alludes here to the three kinds of baptism: by water, i.e., sacramentally administered; by fire, i.e., by the Spirit, apart from sacramental administration; and by blood, i.e., the shedding of blood in martyrdom. Cf. PE 1, 138, n. 1.

[i] Luther, M. (1999). Luther’s works, vol. 42: Devotional Writings I. (J. J. Pelikan, H. C. Oswald, & H. T. Lehmann, Eds.) (Vol. 42, p. 142). Philadelphia: Fortress Press.

Your Mission for Today, for you’ve been chosen to accept it….

Devotional/Discussion thought of the day.

“Looking on the immense panorama of souls who are awaiting us, and being struck by the wonderful and awesome responsibility before us, you may at times have asked yourself, as I have: “Can I contribute anything, when the task is so vast? I, who am so puny?” It is then we have to open the Gospel and contemplate how Jesus cures the man born blind. He uses mud made from the dust of the earth and saliva. Yet this is the salve which brings light to those blind eyes! That is what you and I are. Fully aware of our weaknesses and our worthlessness, but with the grace of God and our good will, we can be salve to give light and provide strength for others as well as for ourselves.” (1)

I sit and my desk and wonder.  What if the church was as diligent, as determined, to spread the gospel of Christ as it is to see a candidate elected who they assume shares their moral beliefs?  Why don’t we?  Why do we look at a world where as many as 6 billion people do not understand God’s love, who can’t comprehend God’s mindest towards them?  How can we put one mission – that of a political and economic cause, above the mission where everyone becomes a child of God, where true peace is found, as mercy and peace rule?

If Romney wins, the bulk of the world lives in the darkness of sin andin fear of death, and are oppressed by Satan.  If Obama wins, the bulk of the world lives in the darkness of sin, in fear of death, and are oppressed by Satan.

Is the reason we don’t take our call as the people of God, as the servant-priesthood of all believers more seriously?  Do we see the incredible  task before us, and think it is too big?

It is time for the church to step up, not to get involved in politics of the earth, or even politics of the church, and reflect Christ’s light to the world.  But the church isn’t our buildings.  It is you and I, people who have begun to see Christ’s work in our lives, healing our brokenness, cleansing us from all sin and all injustice.  This is our life  – to bear witness to light, following in the footsteps of fisherman and tax collectors and rebels.  It’s not in travelling the world for most of us, but simply in bringing hope to the hopeless, sharing peace with those who are riddled with anxiety, showing mercy to those who cannot conceive of anything but cold justice and retribution and revenge.

Today my friend, you are called to be God’s child – to be like Christ to a world that is lost and broken.  It starts in your workplace, and your home.

Look to Him, reflect His love… you will be amazed at how local your task is.. and how immediate.

(1) Escriva, Josemaria (2011-01-31). The Forge (Kindle Locations 1454-1460). Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition.

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