The Relationships of Christmas Past
The Relationships of
† In Jesus Name †
May the grace of God, our Father, and our Lord Jesus convince you of the healing that is indeed happening in your life and in the lives of those you knew in Christmases past…
I can’t imagine, as Judah stands before the brother he does not recognize, the heartache that he feels. His heart and soul flashbacks to the look in his father’s eyes when they told him of Joseph’s death. Of watching his dad weep for months,
How it must have eaten him up, even though he knew his brother probably wasn’t dead, but simply a slave somewhere.
Still, he had to look down and see his father, wracked with tears, and live with his father’s overprotective nature toward Joseph’s younger brother, the only joy this broken man had…
Judah then considers having to break the news to his father, that his other son would be lost to him as well. His heart breaks, as guilt and shame have so weakened him, he realizes he can’t go back, he can’t watch his father die, because of the sin he has committed.
Surely he is haunted far more than Bob Marley or the most of the ghost of Christmas past ever could.
Our Relationships of Christmas Past
For many of us, the holidays are a challenge. We miss many dear friends and family. Some are memories form our youth, like those we looked up to have past away, some of them decades ago.
Others are missing for a different reason.
Maybe we didn’t sell them into slavery, but the effect is much the same. We never, ever, want to bump into each other, for the sin that divides us is too grievous. Like Judah, thinking of the pain he caused his father (not even thinking of Joseph), we can’t live with it. I can’t imagine bearing up with that kind of pain for decades….
Or can I?
I think back to the relationships of Christmases past, and know the absence of lives that brought joy, people I had fun with, that won’t be there this year without a miracle. If I think about it, I understand all to well the pain that Judah felt, as he considered going back to his father,
I could easily share in the words of Judah,
33 Sir, I am your slave. Please let me stay here in place of Benjamin and let him return home with his brothers. 34 How can I face my father if Benjamin isn’t with me? I couldn’t bear to see my father in such sorrow.
As we regret the past, as we wish we, as we pray like Judah prayed, as we grieve over the damage of our sin, we hear God respond, “no…”
It is hard to hear God answer no…
So hard we don’t always hear, “my son, that is not necessary….”
But our Brother can…
It is actually impossible to take care of what we’ve broken and shattered. We can’t take the place of the joy, we can’t somehow sacrifice the life we have to restore that which is broken.
But that isn’t why God says, “no.”
He says no because He had already taken care of the sin that caused Judah’s grief and anxiety. The brother he thinks dead, he is standing before. What his and his brother’s sin threw away, the love of their Father is now going to be restored.
This is the moment that is the perfect example of Advent. We stand before the King, who is about to be revealed, trying to do with our guilt and shame, trying to figure out how to face the eternal consequences for our actions. How can we face God our father, when the relationships of our past mean our brother, our sister, isn’t going to be with us? It is at this moment we understand the power of Advent and the greater moment of Christmas…
We really need to hear what God has already said, we need to listen to it with all our heart and all our mind, and all our soul.
“Let it be done for you as you believe. By Jesus’ command, I tell you, Your sins are forgiven, and what was done for evil, God will use for good. This is promised in the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. AMEN!”
When A Christian’s Experience is More Important than Knowledge
Devotional Thought of the Day:
5 I trust your love, and I feel like celebrating because you rescued me. 6 You have been good to me, LORD, and I will sing about you.
Psalm 13:5-6 (CEV)
O children of God, seek after a vital experience of the Lord’s lovingkindness, and when you have it, speak positively of it; sing gratefully; shout triumphantly.
548 If you feel the Communion of the Saints—if you live it—you’ll gladly be a man of penance. And you will realize that penance is gaudium etsi laboriosum—“joy in spite of hardship,” and you will feel yourself “allied” to all the penitent souls that have been, that are, and that ever will be.
I grew up among a generation that was told not to focus on experiences, not to trust our feelings. to only focus on a logical, rational presentation of Christianity.
I’ve also seen the other extreme in my youth, where people chased after religious experiences, who wanted to feel the positive vibes that come when experiencing the supernatural, I think those excesses of the late 60’s and 70’s led to the pendulum swing of the 80’s and into the new millenium.
Both sides treat the other side with suspicion, both sides blame the other for the death or at least the hospice status of the church. ANd both try to convince me and others that their focus is the best and only hope, relying not on God for the growth of the church, but on man’s wisdom, and man’s ability to create the right… environment… that will bring about revival.
While I think both are wrong, and grow weary of both, I do think think that a sign of revival is an experience, Not one of great passion, not one of great signs and wonders.
Instead a humbling experience, one that touches the depth of our brokenness, and leaves us tired, exhausted, and in awe of what we’ve encountered… the grace of God.
That is what Spurgeon is talking about with the term loving kindness. cHesed in Hebrew, it is that experience of the merciful love of God that comes to us in our brokenness, in the depth our our sin, when we are with hope, and dries our tears and whispers to us that we are forgiven, that we are being healed, and restored.
That is what Escriva is talking about with the joy in the midst of hardship, the experience that causes us, in the future when we sin again, to pray for repentance and restoration with confidence,
It is the quiet celebration of the Psalmist, who though he believed there was no hope, found that hope in the middle of despair.
We aren’t talking about seeing a miracle that leaves everyone applauding like a Superbowl victory, (Well heaven parties like that) but one that leaves us like the feeling, having worked all night, to see the break of dawn…knowing that peace and rest is near… yet struggling to believe it.
We have to experience this healing, we can’t just “know” it happened once. We need to struggle with it, to ask, ‘could God have really loved me this much, and then be assured, by scripture and by the sacraments, yes, He does.
THis experience is contagious, it sweeps communities and nations, it changes individuals and countries, it changes the church, which welcomes sinners home with confidence, expecting to see the miracle again that reminds us of our miracle…. as we share in something that leaves us… awe doesn’t seem strong enough a word.
This experience can’t be manipulated, it is not subject to our feelings or our knowledge. It is the work of the Holy Spirit, drawing us, even dragging us to the foot of the cross, helping us see we belong there, nailed to the cross, sharing in Christ’s death, and wondering why we are even allowed near Him. And then coming to the realization that because we died with Him, we rise from the dead with Him.
That’s not head knowledge, that is life…and that life has to be lived….
Heavenly Father, help us to see the Holy Spirit’s work in our lives, drawing us to the cross, uniting us to His death and resurrection. Help us to see this, not as observers, but from actually experiencing the reality of the SPirit’s work. In Jesus name we pray, AMEN!
C. H. Spurgeon, Morning and Evening: Daily Readings (London: Passmore & Alabaster, 1896).
Escriva, Josemaria. The Way (Kindle Locations 1322-1325). Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition.
Our Biggest Struggle with Sin? We Don’t Understand it!
Devotional THought of the Day:
15 You are doomed! In your fury you humiliated and disgraced your neighbors; you made them stagger as though they were drunk. 16 You in turn will be covered with shame instead of honor. You yourself will drink and stagger. The LORD will make you drink your own cup of punishment, and your honor will be turned to disgrace. 17 You have cut down the forests of Lebanon; now you will be cut down. You killed its animals; now animals will terrify you. This will happen because of the murders you have committed and because of your violence against the people of the world and its cities.e
18 What’s the use of an idol? It is only something that a human being has made, and it tells you nothing but lies. What good does it do for its maker to trust it—a god that can’t even talk! 19 You are doomed! You say to a piece of wood, “Wake up!” or to a block of stone, “Get up!” Can an idol reveal anything to you? It may be covered with silver and gold, but there is no life in it. Habakkuk 2:15-19 GNT
Indeed, when we refuse to make the effort to understand God’s dealings with humanity or to study the Bible and whatever may help us understand it, we rebel against the express will of God. For God commands us to love him with all our mind as well as with all our heart, soul and strength (Mark 12:30; compare Proverbs 1–8). We can therefore say on scriptural grounds that it is the will of God that we study his ways of communicating with us. Rejecting this thoughtful, careful study is not faith, and it does not spring from faith. It is the rejection of the God-appointed means to God-appointed goals.
Most people don’t like to talk about sin.
Let’s be honest, unless a pastor is a sadist, he doesn’t like to talk about it either. He has to, for the sake of the people he is talking to, and for the sake of those they interact with, who have the same problem with sin.
We don’t understand it.
In some cases, we don’t want to understand it. We’d just rather enjoy it, or enjoy not struggling with it, and deal with the consequences later. Take it from me, as a pastor I am not just an advocate against sin, unfortunately I am a skilled practitioner, you might even say an expert in the field. ( the Apostle Paul was as well. ( 1 Timothy 1:16)
When I read Dr. Willard’s words about refusing to make the effort to understand God’s dealing with humanity, the passage I read earlier from scripture came immediately to mind. We don’t understand why God doesn’t like sin, we just know He doesn’t, and that there are punitive action against it. So we run and hide from Him, or we deny He says this is sin, or that is.
But we don’t understand sin, we don’t realize the chaos and pain it generates, we can’t see reality the way God does. And rather than looking at the scriptures, to see the effect of sin there, we hide it, or deny it.
Habakkuk deals with it, especially the sin of idolatry, The punishment for sin is something we choose when we dwell on the sin in our thoughts, both the punishment in the now, and the eternal consequences we will have to deal with on Judgement Day.
But if we understand what sin does, the havoc it causes, both now and generations to come, we begin to see God’s problem with sin is not just our disobedience, but why He asks us to trust Him in that matter. Why he says, this isn’t good for you. In the case of worshipping idols, whether they be hand crafted or our retirement fund, or a person we think has it all together, the idol will fail! It can’t do anything for us, and it will leave us more empty than when we started.
He tells us not to sin, so that all will be good in our life, so we can avoid the brokenness, the emptiness that comes when guilt and shame are given control.
Instead, He would draw us back to Himself, heal us of our brokenness, rescue us from the consequences of our sin. Care for us, as He always has planned. THis is God, our God, who is here… and listens.
Maybe we should begin to, and as we read and stury scripture, come to realize how God wants to deal with us, and the sin that so easily ensnares us.
Trust Him…and know His peace!
Dallas Willard and Jan Johnson, Hearing God through the Year: A 365-Day Devotional (Westmont, IL: IVP Books, 2015).
Working on the Core, Spiritually
Devotional Thought of the Day
8 “How can I give you up, Israel? How can I abandon you? Could I ever destroy you as I did Admah, or treat you as I did Zeboiim? My heart will not let me do it! My love for you is too strong. 9 I will not punish you in my anger; I will not destroy Israel again. For I am God and not a mere human being. I, the Holy One, am with you. I will not come to you in anger. Hosea 11:8-9 (TEV)
386 Don’t forget, my son, that for you there is but one evil on earth: sin. You must fear it and avoid it with the grace of God.
I recently started taking my son ot the gym. His first day, the trainer started working with him and talked about working on his core – and if he takes care of that (unlike Dad has) everything else he does would benefit him far more.
The thought was in the back of my mind as I wrote a paper last week on the Biblical theological foundations of worship. There had to be a core thought that threaded through scripture. FOr while the form may change a little from Adam’s sons times, through Abraham and Moses, through the Kingdom and into the New Testament, the core doesn’t change.
It cannot change.
That core is our struggle with sin, and more importantly, the ability to know God’s heart, and instead of fearing wrath, responding in confession, and the desire to be forgiven and healed.
A theologian would talk of this as the primacy of the Doctrine of Justification. I think, pastorally, we should talk of it as our core. Not core doctrine – but core as the place where our strength health comes from, the place that if it is swell exercised and strengthened, the rest of our spiritual nature will follow. If it is breaking down, if it is ignored, then the rest of our spiritual formation will crumble, and we will struggle, and even let our faith be minimalized and maybe disappear.
If however, we remember God’s heart, His determination and His unwillingness to give up on His people, that trust grows. If we understand the strength and power of His love, the love that raised Jesus from the dead, then we begin to trust Him, and trust Him with our brokenness.
There are exercises in the gym to strengthen our physical core. Crunches, working on certain machines, doing certain stretches. Spiritually there are exercises as well, all of them based on interacting with the love and mercy of God. Bible Study can be, as can prayer. But those things can often be focused on something other and our relationship with God, and our relationship with others. The sacraments are great core practices, as they cause us to encounter this heart of God.
Specifically, I want to address Confession and Absolution. For there we encounter God’s command to those serving you, and the power in hearing the words, “Your sins are forgiven”
You need to hear that. I do as well. We need to desire to hear that as well, so that when we do sin, we run to God, knowing how He won’t give up on us, and how He is there to heal and forgive, even to strength against temptation.
This is our core, this relationship where broken sinners can trust God enough to let Him deal with their brokenness.
So come, confess your sins. Hear you are forgiven, and strengthen your ability to depend on the God who loves you…
Escriva, Josemaria. The Way (Kindle Locations 976-977). Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition.
We’ve Met the Self-Righteous, Condescending Legalists and they are….
Devotional Thought of the Day:
We know that God spoke to Moses, but as for this
fellow, we don’t even know where he comes from.”
The man answered, “Now that is remarkable!
You don’t know where he comes from,
yet he opened my eyes.”John 9:29-30
The respectable side of religion can generate dangerous responses to hearing God…..
And I prayed earnestly to the Lord God, pleading with him, fasting, wearing sackcloth, and sitting in ashes. 4 I prayed to the LORD my God and confessed the sins of my people.
I said, “Lord God, you are great, and we honor you. You are faithful to your covenant and show constant love to those who love you and do what you command.
5 “We have sinned, we have been evil, we have done wrong. We have rejected what you commanded us to do and have turned away from what you showed us was right. 6 We have not listened to your servants the prophets, who spoke in your name to our kings, our rulers, our ancestors, and our whole nation. Daniel 9:3-6 GNT
As I got to my devotional reading this morning, and read the section of Dallas Willard’s devotional book I thought, “AHA! a perfect passage to deal with in my devotional writings this morning. I know the kind of legalistic, self righteous condescending jackasses that would have treated the one Jesus healed this way!
And then I got to my second reading, and Daniel’s confession on behalf of God’s people, and it got me to look in the mirror, and realize that at times, the self-righteous, condescending, legalistic jerk is most clearly pictured there.
I am the one that needs to listen to God, as do those I shepherd. We need to seek to trust in God enough that He will lead us through the transformation that is repentance. It is not easy, it will take the kind of faith that David had, when he wrote,
23 Search me, O God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. 24 Point out anything in me that offends you, and lead me along the path of everlasting life. Psalm 139:23-24 (NLT2)
That is a prayer that requires trust in God, more than just mere belief. This is the way we experience the love of God in way that is astonishing, when we allow Him to see as we are, broken, sinful, hiding behind masks that point out the worst in others.
This is the trust, the dependance on the work of Christ at the cross that defines the Christian faith. To allow God in to allow Him to heal us, to allow Him to eradicate the sin and darkness that haunts us, that we try to hide deep within. And freed from the brokenness, the need to be condescending, the need to be self-righteous, the need to be legalistic disappears. WHat we want to do is share in the healing we have received.
Trust Him, let Him see you… let Him heal you as he did the blind man, as He has so many others… and pray I will allow Him to do the same for me.
Dallas Willard and Jan Johnson, Hearing God through the Year: A 365-Day Devotional (Westmont, IL: IVP Books, 2015).
Let us Ever Walk With Jesus! Walking with Jesus means Our faith grows! A sermon on Luke 17:1-10
Let us Ever Walk With Jesus!
Walking with Jesus means
Our faith grows!
May the grace, the mercy and love God the Father and the Lord Jesus Chris show you, enable your dependence on them to grow strong as the Holy Spirit sustains you!
The oddest question (and perhaps craziest? 😊 )
The question the disciples ask in the Gospel reading today must be one of two things. It must be ignorant, or if not, it is completely, without doubt, insane.
Let me explain the first. If by “increase our faith” they are asking Jesus to increase their knowledge of the faith as in the doctrines and understanding of religious ordinances, then they are ignorant.
Faith is not our doctrine, faith is not a belief statement, or even all the teachings found in, or taken from scripture. Though we use the word as a noun in these days to describe what people believe doctrinally, it wasn’t so then. So if they were asking God to increase their knowledge of doctrine, of theology, then their question was simply ignorant.
But faith means to trust and depend on something or someone. Let’s say I decided during the week that there was too much dust on the lights up there. So, I decided to clean them myself. I would need to have faith in the ladder’s ability to hold me up, I would depend on it, and that the warning that it can only support 225 pounds was somehow… wrong.
So for the disciples to ask Jesus to increase their faith, what they are really asking is, “Lord, give us the opportunities to depend on You and nothing else” Or to put it another way, “Lord, get rid of all the things that we can’t depend on in our life, so that we only depend on you!”
Any ideas of what you are asking God to take away there?
Any one ready to pray that?
The challenges of Faith – Sin in its various forms
If we look at why the disciples ask the question, you see there in the gospel the conversation that occurs before the question, and you see it deals with sin. Specifically, it talks about the sin we encourage in others, or passively encourage by not confronting it, by not rebuking it.
Talk about something that requires the greatest level of faith.
I mean, how easy would it be for Bob to pull me aside and talk to me about my sin? To confront it, to challenge it, to remind me that he can run with me to God, and it can be forgiven?
Or is it a lot easier for our deacon to simply say, “Well pastor is mostly a good guy, except for being a Pats fan, and he lets me have fun preaching and teaching, so I will just ignore the sins he committed, or the heresy he teaches, after all, he’s a good guy…”
How much faith would he need to depend on God to bring up the sin, and encourage me to seek God’s forgiveness?
And yet to not do so, to allow people to linger in sin, to give into temptation, to remained trap there, is sin for us.
So whether the sin is gossip or unrighteous anger, whether it is using God’s name in vain, or being jealous to the point where it dominates, we need to trust God enough to be the one God uses to start the redemption process, and the wisdom to listen to God as to what is necessary at this point in time.
You see, “rebuking” isn’t going up to people and wagging your finger in their face. It is working for the repentance and redemption that can only come by the power of the Holy Spirit. It is placing a value on the sin – realizing something has to be done for the person, because of the damage sin will do!
Rebuking them is going to them in love, and caring for them enough to address the issue
The answer – recognizing the Master
So back to the
question – how do we increase our faith?
Jesus answer is, uhm… really? If you had any…then…. everything is possible.
Not quite the answer I would expect from Him, really.
And then He goes into this parable about the servant and the master. The Master gives instructions and the servant simply does it. It’s about that nasty word “obedience”. To do what we are supposed to do, because our master is here.
Or as we say it around here, “The Lord is with you!”
This isn’t doing what we are told to do, as Jesus leaves us on our own, it is our responding to His wisdom, to the fact He has responsibility over us, to ensure we get to be with the Father in heaven. It is listening to Him here, and now, hearing His concern for those who get caught in sin, or who are convinced what they are doing is right, because people of God haven’t confronted them.
It’s about faith and trusting and depending on the God who is here. About talking to Him and hearing His voice. About realizing His love for us is so complete that He won’t lead us astray.
Depending on God is
easier, when you know He is here, when you know He is in charge, when you
realize that our Lord is the one who loves us.
When we realize He will make all things work for our good, even the
tough stuff, then we are able to craft what He has called us to do…
Faith is found, not in your will, not in your strength, but in the fact of God’s presence in your life. You can trust Him, He is here, with you… you can depend on Him, He loves you and is working for your best.
Faith isn’t something that is increased, it is simply something realized… I can trust God, because He loves me! AMEN!
Faith conquers our sin…
Devotional Thought for the Day:
23 But I see a different law at work in my body—a law that fights against the law which my mind approves of. It makes me a prisoner to the law of sin which is at work in my body. 24 What an unhappy man I am! Who will rescue me from this body that is taking me to death? 25 Thanks be to God, who does this through our Lord Jesus Christ! Romans 7:23-25 GNT
We, on the other hand, teach and comfort an afflicted sinner this way, and we console the afflicted sinner: “Friend, it is impossible for you to become so righteous in this life that your body is as clear and spotless as the sun. You still have spots and wrinkles (Eph 5:27); nevertheless, you are holy.” You, however, say, “How can I be holy, when I have sin and I perceive it?” “It is good that you perceive and recognize sin. Give thanks to God, and do not despair. It is one step toward health when a sick person recognizes and admits the disease.” “But how will I be liberated from sin?” “Run to Christ, the Doctor, who heals the contrite of heart and saves sinners. Believe in him. If you believe, you are righteous, because you give glory to God that God is omnipotent, merciful, truthful, etc. You justify and praise God. In sum, you attribute divinity and all things to God. The sin that still remains in you is not imputed to you but pardoned for the sake of Christ, in whom you believe and who is perfectly righteous in a formal sense. His righteousness is yours; your sin is his.”
Faith is likewise a Yes to God in Jesus Christ, who looks upon me, makes me open, and enables me ultimately to entrust myself to him. Faith penetrates to what is most personal and most interior in me and, in doing so, responds to the Person of Jesus Christ, who calls me by name.
Sin is a serious issue.
The brokenness it causes is even far more serious. It shatters individuals, friendships, marriages, churches, communities.
It rages like a forest fire, and it often seems we are helpless ot do anything about it. We struggle to confront it in our own lives, and we are afraid to deal with it in others.
Rather than do so, we compromise, and settle for the brokenness, even embracing it, for the cost seems to high. Except the cost of NOT dealing with it is higher.
Paul demonstrates that in his plea to be rescued from death, a cry of hope that brings him to the only hope. We have to let Christ deal with it. We have to let the Holy Spirit cut us open, and the mercy of God penetrate to the most personal, intimate, secluded places where the brokenness has taken root.
As the Holy Spirit uproots the brokenness, He plants faith, the ability to entrust ourselves to Jesus, and to grow in our dependence on His work, trusting Him to pardon us, to declare that we are righteous and belong in the presence of God the Father.
Even though the struggle goes on, even if the struggle is magnified by our realizing how deep our sin and rebellion is buried, that very realization is proof of God’s work, unearthing it so He can heal us.
Healing is painful, coming face to face with the pain we thought we had buried, that we had gotten past, burying it deeply within. Yet that pain needs to be truly dealt with, by the only one who can. God.
And He has at the cross, and as you were baptised, and every day of your life, as the Holy Spirit cleanses us deeply, comforting us, healing us, making us the Holy people of God, the children He has call to dwell in His presence. AMEN!
Luther, M. (2007). Luther’s Spirituality. (P. D. W. Krey, B. McGinn, & P. D. S. Krey, Eds., P. D. S. Krey & P. D. W. Krey, Trans.) (p. 168). New York; Mahwah, NJ: Paulist Press.
Ratzinger, J. (1992). Co-Workers of the Truth: Meditations for Every Day of the Year. (I. Grassl, Ed., M. F. McCarthy & L. Krauth, Trans.) (p. 214). San Francisco: Ignatius Press.
The Blessing We All To Often Overlook… The Forgiveness of our Sin
Devotional Thoughts for the Day:
Watch over this Temple day and night. You have promised that this is where you will be worshiped, so hear me when I face this Temple and pray. 21 Hear my prayers and the prayers of your people Israel when they face this place and pray. In your home in heaven hear us and forgive us. 2 Chronicles 6:20-21 GNT
because they have sinned against you and then when they turn to you and come to this Temple, humbly praying to you for forgiveness, 25 listen to them in heaven. Forgive the sins of your people 2 Chron 6:24-25 GNT
O LORD, listen to them in heaven and forgive the sins of your servants, the people of Israel, and teach them to do what is right. 2 Chron. 6:27 GNT
…listen to their prayers. If any of your people Israel, out of heartfelt sorrow, stretch out their hands in prayer toward this Temple, 30 hear their prayer. Listen to them in your home in heaven and forgive them. You alone know the thoughts of the human heart. Deal with each of us as we deserve, 31 so that your people may honor you and obey you, 2 Chron 6:29-31a
If there in that land they repent and pray to you, confessing how sinful and wicked they have been, hear their prayers, O LORD. 38 If in that land they truly and sincerely repent and pray to you as they face toward this land which you gave to our ancestors, this city which you have chosen, and this Temple which I have built for you, 39 then listen to their prayers. In your home in heaven hear them and be merciful to them and forgive all the sins of your people. 37b-39 GNT
8 If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and there is no truth in us. 9 But if we confess our sins to God, he will keep his promise and do what is right: he will forgive us our sins and purify us from all our wrongdoing. 1 John 1:8-9 GNT
So then, confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, so that you will be healed. The prayer of a good person has a powerful effect James 5:16 GNT
Thus Luther never thought of abolishing private confession. He knew and used its benefits in his own spiritual struggles, and he could not conceive of a Christian who could get along without it. He never designed an order of public confession, but in the Small Catechism he offered two forms of private confession.
Nevertheless I will allow no man to take private confession away from me, and I would not give it up for all the treasures in the world, since I know what comfort and strength it has given me. No one knows what it can do for him except one who has struggled often and long with the devil. Yea, the devil would have slain me long ago, if the confession had not sustained me. For there are many doubtful matters which a man cannot resolve or find the answer to by himself, and so he takes his brother aside and tells him his trouble. What harm is there if he humbles himself a little before his neighbor, puts himself to shame, looks for a word of comfort from him, accepts it, and believes it, as if he were hearing it from God himself, as we read in Matt. 18 [:19], “If two of you agree about anything they ask, it will be done for them.”
A lot of reading accompany this morning’s thoughts. Most of them from one chapter of 2 Chronicles 6. I broke the reading into segments for a reason, to highlight a concept over and over, to help us understand what a priority it holds in scripture, at the very dedication of the Temple, and the place it should hold in our lives.
I have yet to see a Christian church, whether Protestant, Catholic, Orthodox or Lutheran that doesn’t talk about confession at some point in the life of its people. But far too often, once mentioned, it disappears, and with it, the incredible gift of forgiveness, of being forgiven.
At the dedicaiton of the temple, time after time this pattern is seen, we pray, God hears, and forgives.
Not just once at conversion, not just as a rote practice and prayer as part of a worship service. But to confess in a way where we don’t just hear we are forgiven, we depend on it and base our lives on it..
But what if we struggle to believe? What if we hear these words and just can’t get our minds to accept that God forgave this sin that haunts me, that I cannot escape the feelings of guilt and shame about? That no matter how many times I pray in a church service, or on my own, or at the altar, I wonder if I am forgiven of it?
That is where what is called “private confession” or in other churches , “the ministry of reconciliation” comes into play. Confessing those sins to another believer, a pastor or priest who has been tasked by GOd and the church with comforting you, with providing to you the words of forgiveness, on the behalf of God himself. This is what James 5 speaks of, and promises (you can also check out JOhn 20 and Matthew 16 for other places where the church is given authority to forgive sins on God’s behalf)
Over the years as people have spoken of their sin, the most remarkable catharis takes place, as they see God break the hold that sin has on them. As they hear and experience that God has forgivenes them of the darkest sins, as God heals them and makes them whole, as He reminds them that they are His holy people. James doesn’t used “healed” for lack of a better word, it is truly what happens.
It is an incredible blessing, it is a most amazing thing to observe, this transformation that occurs.
Please my friends, don’t let the darkness of sin consume you, rather confess your sins, and find the Prodigal’s Father embracing you, and restoring your life with Him.
Luther, M. (1999). Luther’s works, vol. 53: Liturgy and Hymns. (J. J. Pelikan, H. C. Oswald, & H. T. Lehmann, Eds.) (Vol. 53, p. 117). Philadelphia: Fortress Press.
Luther, M. (1999). Luther’s works, vol. 51: Sermons I. (J. J. Pelikan, H. C. Oswald, & H. T. Lehmann, Eds.) (Vol. 51, p. 98). Philadelphia: Fortress Press.
What Deep Faith Looks Like:
Devotional Thought of the Day:
9 He made no difference between us and them; he forgave their sins because they believed. 10 So then, why do you now want to put God to the test by laying a load on the backs of the believers which neither our ancestors nor we ourselves were able to carry? 11 No! We believe and are saved by the grace of the Lord Jesus, just as they are.” Acts 15:9-11 GNT
Great faith, like great strength in general, is revealed by how easily it works. Most of what we call a struggle of faith is really the struggle to act as if we had faith when in fact we do not.
Imagine a jacket lying on the ground. If someone picks up the garment holding it from the end of one of its sleeves, or from one of its pockets, the result would be a considerable mess. You have to take the jacket from the shoulders to hang it properly.
Something similar happens with worship: to adore is to take life by the shoulders and not by the sleeve. Anyone who puts God at the top of the values of their existence, notes that ‘everything else’ happens to occupy the place it should. By worshiping God one learns to relativize all things which, although important, should not be at the centre, that do not relate to it.
I recently was told I was “a man of great faith.” I am not sure what the person meant by that, but to be honest, in my understanding of it, I am not.
That is not saying I don’t aspire ot be a man of great faith, o how I wish I was. But I am like the father, who told Jesus, “I believe! Help me in my lack of belief.”
This morning, I came to the three readings I copied and pasted above, and it reinfoces the need to discuss what great faith is, or even having faith.
The middle one resonates as true – faith – a deep dependence of God, is so much of who we are that to operate depending on God is easy, it is natural. If I am questioning my faith, and asking if I have enough, then what I really need to be doing is asking God to strengthen my faith, to undergird it, to help me depend on the Holy Spirit more than I depend on my own reason, my own will, my own power.
Deep faith means we act in prayer, knowing that God has answered Paul’s prayer in 2 Thes 1:11 – giving us the desire and completing the the He causes us to do, by faith. It happens, and we even sometimes act without realizing it, as we minister to those people who are the least of these.
That kind of deep faith is taking the God at His word, at what He’s promised to do, and depending on it. That is what the final quote discusses, hanging up the jacket the right way. When we worship God because of what He’s revealed at the cross, at the altar, in the word, everything else takes its place relative to it. Life comes together, like a plan in the old ATeam series – though it often doesn’t come together in the manner we think it should. But as our faith deepens, as we come to depend on God more and more, the more that becomes a cause for joy.
You see this in the quote from Acts, the apostles and early church, struggling with what the Gentiles beocming part of the church meant, kept God’s work at their focus. They joy was not in the agreement they “brokered” but in the very knowledge that God had worked in others, bringing them to the greatest challenge of faith.
Depending that God has saved us, that He has forgiven us sll of our sins. There is faith at it hardest challenge, the most illogical thing, even the most foolish thing that we believe in as His people. (see Proverbs 17:18) Yet, that is where faith begins.
To know that God loves us enough to do something foolish – to be responsible for all of our debt, all of our sin. To depend on Him to restore us from the brokeness that sin creates in our lives.
This is where faith struggles the most, right at the beginning, To truly live life knowing and depending on our sin being forgiven, depending on the renewal and reconciliation that happens as God does this miracle, is life changing. To know that my sins, my thoughts, words and deeds of which I am ashamed (or should be ashamed) are taken care of by God.
It is at that moment, as we realize this, that our faith soars, that our praises rise, that we are in awe of God. It is there we find the Holy Spirit revealing to us through word and sacrament this wonderful, glorious, marvelous love of God.
And it is then that we can dive deeply into this relationship, not fully understanding why God would do this..
This is the deepest moment of dependence of God, and the moment when HIs love for us overwhelms us.
Lord God, even as we have to depend on You in the daily struggles of our lives, help us depend on the acts in which You draw us into Jesus Christ, cleanse us of sin, and restore and heal us. Help us know that love which does all this – and then walks us through each day. We pray this in Jesus Name! AMEN!
Willard, D., & Johnson, J. (2015). Hearing god through the year: a 365-day devotional. Westmont, IL: IVP Books.
Aguirre, J. I. M. D. (2012). Eucharistic Adoration and Sacred Scripture. In A. Reid (Ed.), From Eucharistic Adoration to Evangelization (p. 109). London; New York: Burns & Oates.