Devotional Thought of the Day:
7 And God’s peace, which is far beyond human understanding, will keep your hearts and minds safe in union with Christ Jesus. 8 In conclusion, my friends, fill your minds with those things that are good and that deserve praise: things that are true, noble, right, pure, lovely, and honorable. 9 Put into practice what you learned and received from me, both from my words and from my actions. And the God who gives us peace will be with you.
Philippians 4:7-9 (TEV)
How does your heart stand with regard to God Himself? Does it delight in the remembrance of God? Does this remembrance leave an agreeable sweetness behind it? “Ah!” said David, “I remembered God and was delighted.” Do you find a certain propensity in your heart to love God and a particular satisfaction in relishing that love? Does your heart feel joy in reflecting on the immensity, goodness, or sweetness of God? If the remembrance of God comes to you amidst the occupations and vanities of the world, does it make room for itself? Does it seize upon your heart? Does it seem to you that your heart turns in that direction, and, is it were, runs to meet God? Certainly, there are such souls to be found.
We all have our breaking point. It may not be caused by the same stresses, the same anxieties, the same temptations, but each of us has a point where we lose focus.
Without regular self-examination, it is all too common for such a breaking point to catch us off guard. Without a regular time of giving to God our sin and the unrighteousness we deal with, we are setting ourselves up as easy targets.
One of the things to consider is what is our heart resonating with? Is it the kind of things Paul urges us to think of in Phil 4:8 above? Are we rejoicing when we consider our time with God?
Or is our heart being torn apart by cynicism, by gossip and complaining? Does our time feed such bitter things captivate us? Are we devoting that time to that which is depraved or immoral? ( we might not even realize it is so…)
The good stuff in Philippians, and in the quote from St Francis De Sales isn’t self-generated. It isn’t something we can just make up our mind and focus upon. It comes from being sure we dwell in God’s peace. It is about relaxing in the presence of God, sure that He is our fortress, our strength, our life. It is our focus because that is what is, when we are aware of His presence. It is a more “natural” way of existence. That is why Paul surrounds this second about our minds being filled with good things with the thought of God giving and preserving our peace.
The key then is the presence of the Holy Spirit, the comforter, the Lord of Life who calms our hearts and sets them at peace. The Spirit who cleanses us from the brokenness of the world, and heals our souls.
As we open ourselves up to the Spirit, as we search for Him and find He is here, we desire Him more, we desire His presence more, and we see the difference it makes as being a difference the world needs, that our neighbors and family and friends need. For we need it, and are amazed the need is so completely met by the Holy Spirit.
This is the Christian faith, the dependence on God’s presence that makes everything beautiful, everything precious, everything good.
May we desire His precence more and more. AMEN!
Francis de Sales, Saint. An Introduction to the Devout Life. Dublin: M. H. Gill and Son, 1885. Print.
Called and Loved and Holy:
The reason for the Reason of the Season
† IHS †
During the Christmas celebrations this year, may we know the
grace, the mercy and peace of God that is the reason for the reason of the Season!
Confusion about IHS!
It is amazing how easily this world can get confused about the message of Christmas, and never see the real reason for the season, or the real reason for the real Reason of the season. In this year, I think there is more of that going on than ever, not just in the world at large, but in the church. Part of that is we often get confused ourselves, and instead of asking questions, and doing our research, we simply go with what makes sense. Let me use a story from my youth to explain.
When I was growing up, there was a place in the church where the chalices were kept, and the cup that held the bread over which the words of institution was already said. On its brass locked doors, there were three letters, very ornate in their carving.
I H S
Sometimes on the bread, those letters were seen as well. The Chrismons that we used to hang on the tree here had them as well! As a curious kid, I always wondered what they meant, and one day I thought or heard someone say that they stood for “In His Service.” I would later hear they meant things ranging from Jesus, Savior of Men, to Jesus, Son and Savior. All of which make some sense.
Doing some more research, it seems the oldest use of them, was just the monogram of Jesus, the first three letters of His Name.
All sorts of different stories, most of them seeming to make sense, yet each obscuring a little of the simplicity of referring to who is with us, whose body and blood is given and shed for us.
Sometimes I think we need help focusing, especially now at Christmas, and that is what this reading from Romans does for us today.
An Ambassadors Limitations
In each of the letters Paul wrote to churches in various cities throughout the Mediterranean, he starts them with a reference to who he is, usually using the title apostle, with clarification that his role is by God’s choice and calling, not his own. He writes to the church in an area – not necessarily to a single congregation, but to all whom are called and gathered as God’s people there.
An apostle is like an ambassador, a person who is entrusted to speak for the one who selects and sends them. They are trusted with opening up relations and enhancing the relationships, but within the guidelines he has been given, with the powers with which he’s been entrusted.
The Greek word for sent emphasizes it – it is the word we get horizon from, and is defined as the boundaries Paul is given as an apostle. Despite his position, despite His call, he can’t change his mission and say he is only sent to these people, nor can he change what God has defined. Simply put, he can’t say, I don’t like baptism, so instead do this to enter a relationship with God. Nor can he change the rules and say, I don’t think gossip is as bad as sex outside of marriage, so let’s hear all the stuff about your neighbors, and what is that friend of yours doing now?
He was given a message, a very specific message with a very specific goal in mind.
Our challenge is to keep that message central in our lives, to depend on it, for it makes all the difference in the world. To be focused on Him, and what He has done, not on all the other things that can confuse the message, like I was confused about all the different possible meanings of IHS.
To declare the good news that God has sent His only begotten son into the world, into the family where God had always said he would be for the sake of rising from the dead to prove that Jesus cares for each one of us… and has taken responsibility for each one of us. Paul was to bring this message to a certain people group. A large group, this is sure, for it is everyone who isn’t Jewish. So that they can trust in God, and really hear Him, as He loves them, and calls them to be the people that are set apart to be God’s people.
That’s the limit of Paul’s work, the limit of the work of the church.
But that word – the one we get horizon from – the setting of the boundaries and limitations, is not just used for Paul’s ministry, or the ministry he has passed down to us through generations of generations of believers.
It’s used in regards to Jesus as well.
When it says in verse 4, that He was shown to be the son of God, when it talks about the dimension of His being shown as death could not stop Him. There is the evidence of His love, His call on our lives, His desire to make us Holy.
Even death could not stop him on the mission that God the Father sent Jesus on!
The Reason for the Reason of the Season
That is the reason for this Reason for this season to come. To make it abundantly clear that we do not walk alone, that this manger and this cross has a reason for us, not just eternally, but in the eternity that started when this good news became our good news! When the Holy Spirit replaced our heart of sin hardened stone with His heart, when He brought us to a life that is lived with Christ.
When we understand its not about our serving Christ, this time, but it is when Christ comes among us. Whne we are revealed to be the ones God loves and adores, when we care chosen and called to be His saints the people made Holy, set aside to be His.
That’s the message we’ve been given the responsibility of revealing to the world.
Like Paul, it is what our focus is to be on…
For it is what makes the difference. Look there – we are the ones in the last verses –
6 And you are included among those Gentiles who have been called to belong to Jesus Christ. 7 I am writing to all of you in Rome who are loved by God and are called to be his own holy people.
His Love, His calling to us, His being our God, and making us His people…
That is what makes Christmas so radically different. Realizing it isn’t about the presents, or the people who would stop us from decorating our lawns, or the most recent action of a company that is perceived to be against God. That’s the difference between whether it is an acronym “In His Service”, or simply a monogram saying “Jesus” One focuses on us, the other, simply points us to the reality of Jesus Christ being our Lord, our source of life.
It makes an eternal difference, rather than just putting a burden on us, that we can’t possibly live up to.
His work, saving us, redeeming us, fixing our brokenness, restoring us to life with Him, that is the reason that Jesus is the reason for this season, and no other. Everything else, simply isn’t eternal, and doesn’t give us the grace and peace we’ve been given, the grace and peace that we can invite others into sharing.
But this news – that He is our Lord – that He has promised to be with us and care for us… that is what this is all about.
He is IHS our Lord!
16 Always be joyful. 17 Never stop praying. 18 Be thankful in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you who belong to Christ Jesus. 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18 (NLT)
18 All of us, then, reflect the glory of the Lord with uncovered faces; and that same glory, coming from the Lord, who is the Spirit, transforms us into his likeness in an ever greater degree of glory. 2 Corinthians 3:18 (TEV)
Nearly fifteen years ago, I lay on a table in a hospital, as an angiogram was being done by my cardiologist. Above the table were a number of television monitors, all black and white, and the showed the progress of the camera as it was inserted into my thigh, and was run my leg into my heart. A bit disconcerting — and yet fascinating.
What was even mroe fascinating was the focus of Dr. Silver. His focus as he guided the devise was not on me, but on the cameras, his attention completed devoted and dedicated to task at hand, but yet, not on the work of his hands. It was on the monitors- as they showed him where he was going – and what he needed to see. It was a bit disconcerting – there he was – moving his hands, working on me.., but almost unaware that I was there.
As I contemplate the end of a very difficult year of ministry, (difficult because of a high level of trauma for the people in my congregation and those around me) and as I am praying this morning, and coming across these verses, I think our “success” as a congregation, and our focus has been much like my cardiologist Stephen’s. For indeed, this small church has grown very strong in its faith.. and people have persevered through things.. that are beyond challenging. For while we are working on things below, while we are struggling with the situations down here, the work requires our focus somewhere else – our focus is to be on Jesus Christ, on the love of God the Father, listening as they reveal the height and width, the depth and breadth of their love for us shown through Christ.
As we interact, as we dance in that love, as God leads us through life, the essential work we do requires that focus, even though our… mind tells us to look at what we are doing, to look at where our hands are moving. There is our challenge, to be in communication with God – to have our focal point on Him.
It is like the words of a priest…written in a book called, “The Forge”
“To think of Christ’s Death means to be invited to face up to our everyday tasks with complete sincerity, and to take the faith that we profess seriously. It has to be an opportunity to go deeper into the depths of God’s Love, so as to be able to show that Love to men with our words and deeds.” (1)
So look deep – deeply focus on the love of God – revealed to you – for you in Christ Jesus. Keep your eyes on Him as you endure each day… for it is then, that you do you best work, even though it seems you are not…focused on what you are doing.
May your next year be filled with His love, His mercy and many blessings. AMEN †
(1) Escriva, Josemaria (2011-01-31). The Forge (Kindle Locations 2141-2144). Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition.