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I can’t do this! (God says, “Here, I will hold your beer”)

Rainbow at ConcordiaDevotional Thought of the Day:
12  My dear friends, you always obeyed when I was with you. Now that I am away, you should obey even more. So work with fear and trembling to discover what it really means to be saved. 13  God is working in you to make you willing and able to obey him. 14  Do everything without grumbling or arguing. 15  Then you will be the pure and innocent children of God. You live among people who are crooked and evil, but you must not do anything that they can say is wrong. Try to shine as lights among the people of this world, 16  as you hold firmly to the message that gives life. Philippians 2:12-16 (CEV)

That false humility is laziness. Such a “humbleness” leads you to give up rights that really are duties.

I could come up with 1000 parables about this, the Marine Recruit who doesn’t think he can climb the wall, the student who doesn’t think they can handle algebra, the new employee who is convinced they can’t do the job on their own, the pastor who…

O wait, I can’t make this too personal.

I can’t direct it towards me, after all, I am nobody.

( I say this, despite reading Exodus for the last couple of weeks… )

St. Josemaria’s words cut me deeply, as I think of all the things I claim I can’t do. After all, I have a load of ready-made excuses.  Genetic ones, you know, the kind I don’t want pity for, but heck, I will take a lesser burden if you want to help a poor guy out.  And then there is this lack and that lack. And then there is the fact that I am a sinner. I obviously cannot do this.  A man has got to know his limitations, at least what the theologian Clint Eastwood said. And I know mine, and I am not capable. I know this.

In fact, I don’t know that.

But is my focus on my inability a sign of laziness?  If not, what if I am just afraid of what God might require?

Either is a possibility if I am honest.

For what I forget when I do my self-evaluation is the work God is doing in my life, and in yours. God has saved us, and we need to realize that means we are changing.  That we can listen to God and hear His vision, what He wants us to do, whom to forgive, whom to love, who to reach out to, in sharing that love.

He gives us even, the desire and the ability to do what pleases Him, what He has created us to do, what He has called us to do, what the Holy Spirit has equipped us to do.

Maybe it is time to stop procrastinating, stop finding excuses, and simply let God lead us, as He builds His Church.

Lord God, Heavenly Father, remind us that You are the potter, that even as Jesus obeyed and went to the cross we can bear our crosses with the joy You have set before us, knowing that You will be with us all the way! Thank you Lord for not giving up, but calling us and working in us, giving us the desire and ability to be Your faithful children.  AMEN!

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

Worship Isn’t A Song or and Event: it is our very life!

Worship Isn’t A Song or and Event

It is our very life!

Concordia Lutheran Church
May the grace of God our Father and our Lord Jesus Christ leave you in complete, life changing awe of their love and care for you!

 Not now…. Then!

I would hope by this time of the service; your mind is clear of the distractions of life.  That you are getting ready to engage in what God created you to do, to be.  That you have been encouraged by hearing all your sins are forgiven, that the music has inspired you to look to Christ, that the readings have compelled you to draw closer to Him,

It is nearly time…

In about 30 minutes, after the sermon, after communion, after the Benediction and then we begin to worship!

Yes, you heard me right, we begin to worship!

As Paul tells the church in Rome, it will be time to “give your bodies to God because of all He has done for you.  Let all that you are become a holy and living sacrifice. This is the kind of worship that God finds acceptable.”

That is what Paul says, “This is truly the way to worship Him!”

This is what worship is!  It isn’t just sitting in here, singing your hearts out.  It isn’t just kneeling here, as you receive Christ’s precious Body and Blood.  Indeed, those events are part of it; this service should encourage your worship – but it isn’t what worship IS.

Worship isn’t a song, or an event, it is your very life!

So how does this happen?

How it all starts, being in awe, 

I asked a question this week online, and I got an incredible answer.  The question was, “Do we desire God’s presence?  Do we desire Eternity?”

Here is what they wrote”

In answer to your question do we really desire to be in God’s house. Maybe one of the reasons is because we keep trying to make it Our house that elevates Our presence rather than Gods.”

Brilliant theological insight!  We make it about us, rather than God

This insight is exactly what keeps us from a life of worship. We somehow think this is our life, not His, That it is our church, not His. That what matters is what our will desires, not His, that this is our time. Our place, our job, our family, our life. We ignore God’s presence in it, His part, His desires, His plan.

That is why Paul starts out with a discussion about the incredible-ness of God.  He wants us to see God’s glorious nature!  To realize that we cannot understand how thoroughly He works.

Remember, God promised back in chapter 8 that all things work for good for those who love God?  Yeah, we don’t see that all the time, even with 20-20 hindsight. We can’t give Him advice, though we try.

A Life of worship starts in being in Awe of God.

In realizing we can’t know His ways, but we can trust Him.

That we aren’t His guide, He doesn’t need our support; we need His!!

That we can never give Him so much, that He is indebted to us, but that He gives us freely, out of the heart of love.

A life of worship recognizes that He is God, we are His children.  And this realization comes as He reveals Himself through His word.  This life of worship starts as we become find ourselves in awe of God.  As we realize what it means that He has given us the Body and Blood of Christ.

Being transformed

When we find ourselves in awe of God’s work in our lives, the very work He promised, we find ourselves being changed.  Which brings us to step two.

“let God transform you into a new person by changing the way you think. Then you will learn to know God’s will for you, which is good and pleasing and perfect.”

This is part of the worship, allowing God to convict us our sins, in order that He can cleanse us of them.  Easy to face? No, but knowing in advance that God has promised to heal us and He is doing so, makes our confession different.  It is an act of trust, it is worship!

This transformation isn’t just about being freed from sin.  Hear how Ezekiel describes God’s promise:

26I shall give you a new heart, and put a new spirit in you; I shall remove the heart of stone from your bodies and give you a heart of flesh instead. 27  I shall put my spirit in you, and make you keep my laws, and respect and practise my judgements. Ezekiel 36:25-27 (NJB)

This is what God is doing in us, to us, and by the Holy Spirit.  He is transforming us, as Paul says renewing our minds, changing our hearts, counting us not only righteous, but making us holy!

Making us able to trust Him, to live out our faith in worship!

Being Trusting

So as we are in awe of God, as we are being transformed, and as the Spirit takes up residence in us, the change that is made in our lives turns them into a life of worship! We begin to see our actions are being done in praise of God.

That is what Paul is talking about, as he talks about us having a proper perspective about ourselves.  Not how tall, or handsome, or intelligent, or how many things you have suffered through.  No, the way we evaluate ourselves is much simpler and much more real.  Do you trust God?  Are you willing to let Him use you, where God would put you?

How we measure ourselves is based in this simple thought.

If God calls us to use the gift He has given us, will we listen and obey, trusting that He will make it work for good?  No matter whether we get it right, or whether we see the outcome, that it will be a blessing to us, and to all who love Him?

Will you use the gift God has given you, at this time, where you live, work, and hangout?  Will you proclaim God’s love, trusting in Him?
Will you serve others, meeting needs, whether physical, spiritual, emotional, and trusting in Him?
Will you teach those who need to be taught, trusting in Him??
Will you come alongside and lift up those who are down, trusting in Him?
Will you give generously, even sacrificially, knowing that God will care for you?

Each has a different gift, and some different gifts for different periods of their lives, but will you use them, not trusting in things of this world but trusting in God?

Not holding those gifts back, not resisting the transformation that God is doing to us, in us.  That happens as the Holy Spirit works in our lives, causing us to live in and reflect the glory of Christ.

That’s worship!  Whether we are asking God to use our life, singing, or when we put out our finances to support His work, or when we offer a cup of cold orange juice and some pancakes to a hungry person.

Worship is our very life, every moment, for worship is living in awe of His presence, here and now, whenever that here and now is.  Worship is letting God run our lives, wherever He sends us.

Worship is also a life in awe, and therefore in a miraculous peace, for we live with God…. His believed children, and guard in Christ.  AMEN.

Why Works are Necessary to Faith…?!?

Devotional Thought of the Day:OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

22  But don’t just listen to God’s word. You must do what it says. Otherwise, you are only fooling yourselves. 23  For if you listen to the word and don’t obey, it is like glancing at your face in a mirror. 24  You see yourself, walk away, and forget what you look like. 25  But if you look carefully into the perfect law that sets you free, and if you do what it says and don’t forget what you heard, then God will bless you for doing it. James 1:22-25 (NLT)

 1  Well then, should we keep on sinning so that God can show us more and more of his wonderful grace? 2  Of course not! Since we have died to sin, how can we continue to live in it? Romans 6:1-2 (NLT)

8  God saved you by his grace when you believed. And you can’t take credit for this; it is a gift from God. 9  Salvation is not a reward for the good things we have done, so none of us can boast about it. 10  For we are God’s masterpiece. He has created us anew in Christ Jesus, so we can do the good things he planned for us long ago. Ephesians 2:8-10 (NLT)

 

 Another of the elders said:  When the eyes of an ox or mule are covered then he goes round and round, turning the mill wheel But if is eyes are uncovered he will not around the circle of the mill wheel.  So too, the devil if he manages to covered the eyes of a man can humiliate im in every sin.  But if that man’s eyes are not closed, he can easily escape the devil.  (From Celtic Prayer Book,, 6/18, Aiden Readings)

355 Sooner or later, those who do not wish to understand that the faith demands service to the Church and to souls, invert the terms, and end up by having the Church and souls serving their own personal ends.  (Escriva, Josemaria (2011-01-31). Furrow (Kindle Locations 1642-1644). Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition.)

For centuries, the church has argued about what role we play in our lives as God’s people.  TO be honest, I find the arguments tiresome, and most of them end up with their own distortion of the truth.  Some would pit Paul against James, some, but looking at the above passages, there doesn’t seem to be that much of a difference.  Some get it wrong by saying there is no work at all involved in faith, and they misquote passages like those that say all work is like filthy rags, or that all have fallen short of the glory of God.  In doing so, they forget the role of the Holy Spirit in the life of every believer.  They forget the transforming work of God in our lives.  On the other side of the pendulum swing, there are those that say we must work to earn  our salvation – that unless we work alongside of God we aren’t saved.

Within the sphere of Lutheran Theology – some would deny that there is a “third use” of the law – that there is a line that we should adhere to, as those who trust in Jesus Christ.  They would say this is a violation of our understanding of the proper tension between law and gospel, forgetting that we don’t preach the uses, it is the work of the Holy Spirit that not only applies the uses, but as He transforms us, equips us with the charis to be used in service to others.

In this I really like the words from my devotional this morning, and our being portrayed as a bunch of stubborn oxen or jackasses. (which we pretty much are)  We just plod along, focused on what is before our eyes. If we are focused on Christ, we work, we do what we are led to do, we walk in faith and do that which God calls and chooses us to do.  We are led – and we do the things that we do… focused on Christ. (see 2 Cor. 3:16ff, Titus 3 etc)   Our service is about what we need, it isn’t about our glory, it isn’t about what others do, it is just what God calls us to do.  Heck, we might not even know it.

The other option is to remove the focus on Christ, to be overwhelmed by all the options for sin, to have the eyes blinded to Christ, but open to everything else. Then man believes everything is about his, about His pleasure, about His life.  Church becomes what is pleasure for him, rather than what is best.  That’s why we see pressure being put on the church to turn a blind eye to certain sins, like sex outside of marriage, or gossip, or any other self-centeredness and self idolatry.

But if our eyes are fixed on Jesus, the sin which ensnares us loses its grip – and we find ourselves being transformed by the Spirit.  This results in works which please God – a necessary by-product of faith.  Works don’t save us, they don’t produce faith or faithfulness, they are simply evidence of our trust in God.

So when the world is tempting you, when you are overwhelmed, remember your focus on Christ, encourage others to keep their eyes on Christ as well.

AMEN…

 

 

 

A Very Different Sports/Church Parallel…

Devotional Thought of a long weekOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

4  God’s various gifts are handed out everywhere; but they all originate in God’s Spirit. 5  God’s various ministries are carried out everywhere; but they all originate in God’s Spirit. 6  God’s various expressions of power are in action everywhere; but God himself is behind it all. 7  Each person is given something to do that shows who God is: Everyone gets in on it, everyone benefits. All kinds of things are handed out by the Spirit, and to all kinds of people! 1 Corinthians 12:4-7 (MSG)

There is a saying coined by Pat Riley (and brought to my attention by ESPN’s Louis Riddick) that is called “the innocent climb.” Riley described it this way in his book The Winner Within: The innocent climb is the surge that occurs within a team as they are accomplishing more because of the synergy that occurs within a team. Innocence means understanding that the team comes first and being carried along by that; being naive means being ignorant. Innocence doesn’t mean being naive. Teamwork and all of its benefits happen when everyone puts the team first. Innocence comes when the leader believes in something and puts him or herself out to accomplish that.  (1)

First off, I can’t believe I am quoting Riles, even more that I borrowed the quote out of a article about the SeaHawks.  (It followed an article about Tom Brady…:-)

But the author nails something about the church, and how it should function in Christ, that is well described.

Our “Leader” believed in something, and put Himself out there to accomplish what He believed in, He put himself out there literally to the point of death.   We have lots of church words for it, Salvation, Deliverance, Redemption (which includes justification and sanctification) Reconciliation,.  It is why Jesus was born of Mary, why he lived, suffered, died, rose and ascended to Heaven and it is why He will return.  This “something” is why the Father in Heaven sent Jesus, it is why Jesus asked, and the Father sent us the Holy Spirit, and why we trust in that promise enough to know those who trust in Him live in His presence now, and will eternally.

It is that accomplishment, the very relationship that God establishes with us, with you and I and all the saints today, those before us, those after us, that creates the synergy that we call the church.  It is an innocent climb, innocent and yet not naive or ignorant.  We know it is His presence that does it, in a very real way, it has nothing to do with us, and yet everything to do with us in Christ, united in His death and resurrection, united by the Spirit.

This can’t be programmed, it can’t be manipulated.  It can’t be forced or manipulated, though some may try, and some may seem to succeed.

It just is who we is.   That’s the “synergy” as the article puts it.

It’s why I contend (as others have) that sermons need to lead people not to the foot of the cross – but through His death, into the resurrection, into His glory, into the point we know He is present in our lives.   Where we serve together, each different, but the difference not mattering, as Paul tells the Corinthians,   Where our gifts flow, out, even those in others we aren’t always sure of, that we aren’t always comfortable with, even though we know they are in scripture.

It is why we gather to worship, to receive His blessing, to celebrate them together, for that is the nature of His accomplishment, His goal.

When a Bible Study, a youth group, a church, a group of churches or even a denomination are focused on Christ, in Christ…. the synergy is incredible.  The focus of God results in praises – no matter the style of worship, no matter the era of the music, things happen without thought,   Walls come down, barriers are cross, people are loved, and more are saved…

Not because we force it, just because it is natural…. in Christ, led by the Spirit.  What most consider supernatural, it just is.

Because He has had mercy…. and that creates synergy in ways that even pro sports teams cannot imagine….

It’s all about Jesus – and our innocent journey with Him…

(1) http://bleacherreport.com/articles/2083325-mike-freemans-10-point-stance-give-tom-brady-his-due

Our Identity – United together in Christ

Gung Ho! Serving All Together

1 Cor 12:12-31

In Jesus Name

May you know, intimately and deepy, the gifts of God, the mercy and love and peace that works within you as you love those whose lives you have a share in!

 

The USMC – and Gung Ho!

My father served in our military, in the exclusive branch known as the United States Marine Corps.  He was a corpsman, which is basically a doctor’s assistant in the field of battle – but trained to do what he could to save men’s lives until they could be taken to the doctors, many miles behind the field of battle.

Growing up – and hearing the stories, not of battle – but of the spirit and teamwork of the USMC often, I heard two phrases that are the mottos, the slogans of the USMC.  Neither is English, but they are phrases they have taken from the places they have served.  They express things that take many words in English – and even then are vague.  The first is in Latin, Semper Fi – it means always faithful, always dedicated, always willing to sacrifice, that others may be safe, and protected.  The other my dad had no knowledge of the origin of.  But it turns out to be from China, from the Marines who served hear before World War II.  I would imagine it is very badly mispronounced – but it at the heart of this attitude of the Corps.

In Americanese – it is said this way – Gung Ho…

I don’t know if the USMC got the word right, or even the concept. But the concept they attached to this word is critical to them.  From the way my father described it – it means to strive together – to work with everything everyone has, to achieve their goal. Each person using their skills where they are at – but also helping each other to do their best as well. It is the idea at the heart of the USMC –  and it is the reason they are the most successful of the four parts of our military. It is not about who is strong, or who is weak – it is about the unit, the entire team.

It is a phrase I think – with our “meaning” ascribed to it, that would be most appropriate for a Christian community.

Our Independent Spirit

Not God’s plan!  It is impossible/sin

That is a challenge in America today- where everyone is encouraged to do what is best – not for the community but for themselves.   Independence is perceived as a virtue – and to lose that dependence and depend on others is seen as a weakness.

It is perhaps our greatest weakness, as those with more abilities are encouraged not to help – but to push on, ignoring those around them with different abilities. God’s call to love your neighbors – the people you interact with regularly, as you love yourself is pretty much ignored – in order that you might be successful – or achieve wealth or popularity or material things.

Perhaps that challenge is here in this society as well?  The idea that one should focus on climbing the ladder of success – no matter who you have to step on to achieve that next step?

That is not the way God describes His people, His community functioning.  As Paul says, that is like the foot hating that he isn’t a hand, or the ear not happy and leaving the body unless it can do the work of the ear!  Surely God has chosen were each of us fit – yet no one is more important than the rest.  Some of the most important – are the parts – like the heart and brain, that are never seen- but provide the very life for the rest of the body!

Indeed – such self-centeredness – what sociologists term narcissism, is the basic description of sin.  To chose to love myself more than others, to choose to see myself as valuable, more valuable than the others… that is sin.

An example – I have the most visible role in my church – or perhaps I should say the most audible.  I am the one up front all the time – it is my job to speak.  But there are others, like Wanda and Kay, that keep everything moving in our church – especially Wanda!  She is like the heart which beats – sending God’s love in every direction.  Then there are the brains, Al and Jim and Bob, Manny and Tom and my other leaders – who help decide how best to meet the needs of all.  However, each has their role – but what would happen if one decided to take all of the roles?

Such is sin, pure and simple.
And it is one – it should function as one, it should live as one.

We are the Body of Christ – joined to Him means joined together!  Gung Ho – each with His different talents/abilities/charisms – charisms being the term for the special gifts  – that define each part of the body.

To be united to him means that every barrier is broken down, that we understand every person is part – and not that parts aren’t important, but that they are at their most important, as they interact within the community.

When Christ reconciles us to God our Father, it is not just an individual thing, He reconciles humanity to Himself, all born of water and spirit. In reconciling us to Himself – we find ourselves reconciled to each other. We truly become one body – united in Christ. United in His love, which Paul will discuss in the next chapter- united in His, perfection.
That is the power of the cross – the place Paul described this way:

12 For when you were baptized, you were buried with Christ, and in baptism you were also raised with Christ through your faith in the active power of God, who raised him from death. 13 You were at one time spiritually dead because of your sins and because you were Gentiles without the Law. But God has now brought you to life with Christ. God forgave us all our sins; 14 he canceled the unfavorable record of our debts with its binding rules and did away with it completely by nailing it to the cross. Colossians 2:12-14 (TEV)

 

Think this through – if God nailed sin – all of the debts owed because of it it, to the cross.  If there Christ wiped the slate clean, and cancelled our debts…. Then what is left to divide us from each other?

That person that irritated you, even if it was intentional (as you are certain it was) – that sin is gone – the damage it did healed.  That thing you did, that has been haunting you for years, that too is forgiven.  All of those debts, all of those problems, all of that junk – was nailed to the cross with Christ….

 

Done away with….
You are free…you are a new creation, a part of the body of Jesus Christ.

As are those around you who have been freed, brought into His new life, cleansed, and loved….

We are free….together!

That is how the body of Christ, His people, can be one – with nothing dividing us. Each part moving on its own, yet in sympathy – like a great symphony – each person playing their part. No one focusing on which part is best – because all parts are necessary.  We are the body, We are His body.

We can learn to love, to even love sacrificially, because we are part of the whole, and for one to love another… that is the blessing of our life in Christ.

It is no wonder that God calls us His masterpiece, His worksmanship, as He makes us all into one body, one life.

Living together, living in His mercy and love – knowing that we are forgiven and cleansed of all unrighteousness… that is the “secret” the mystery of all ages, which we get to reveal to others….

For knowing we are one with Christ, part of each other, His holy people, His body, realizing that means we live in a peace that goes beyond all understanding, as Christ protects and guards His body… in peace.

AMEN?

So Bring Him….wait…

Devotional thought of the day….

“What Child is This?” has been my favorite Christman song since I can remember.  I remember sitting in our living room – a mere 6 or 7, and Brother Michael teaching me to play it on the guitar, then accompanying him at the prayer meeting that was held in our home.

Like many Christmas Hymns, it pleads with us, to come to Him, to bring to Him, to worship Him… and so we should.

Yet Christmas isn’t about our coming to Him, it is about His coming to us.

It isn’t even about what we bring to Him, it is about redemption, and grace, and peace – the gifts He brings to us.

Yes we respond, yes I would love our church filled with people gifting back – giving Jesus what He has given them – their lives.

But it is first, and always… about what He brings……

And maybe, as the world recognizes that… and they need to…more and more voices will be lifted in praise… and singing Gloria in Excelsis Deo…..

For indeed we need to sing His praises…and enter into His glory…

Assets or Alligatiors?

Devotional thought of the Day:

St. Paul wrote:

 God’s various expressions of power are in action everywhere; but God himself is behind it all. 7 Each person is given something to do that shows who God is: Everyone gets in on it, everyone benefits. All kinds of things are handed out by the Spirit, and to all kinds of people! 8 The variety is wonderful: wise counsel clear understanding   1 Corinthians 12:6-8 (MSG)

He then goes on to describe a small list of the gifts the Holy Spirit uses in us, to be a blessing to our congregations, our communities and each other – and indeed the gifts are wonderful, and practical, even the ones that… hmmm… take a while to appreciate.

There are books out there, that advise church leaders on how to deal with “well-intentioned alligators”.  The people that eat up our time, and often – our patience.   They can cause a church to struggle as well – not just the leadership – and the age old question is, how do we handle them?

Some advise getting rid of them, for the sake of the others, for the peace of the church.

Some advise doing exorcisms, (just joking.. well.. sorta) Some would protect their pastors from them, much as a executive secretary deals  with those who would bother a CEO.   There are a myriad of options, including tolerating the behavior, or at least no confronting them   There may be another option, consider these words…

“Never say of anyboy under you he is no good, for it s you are are no good as you cannot find a place where he will be of use…”   (Escriva, The Furrow)

Here is a challenge for all who are pastors, or who assist pastors with pastoral leadership (elders, deacons, deaconesses, etc).  Those alligators have a purpose (even if it is to be thorns in the flesh!) and it is a challenge to find the right place.  Rarely, as frustrations set in, that might mean bringing them to some other shepherd for pastoral care – that they can serve and be served.  But there is a place for everyone in God’s church, and yes, it is the responsibility of leadership – not the individual, to help guide them into that ministry.

In other words – alligators are assets. They can be blessings, they can be an integral part of the one, holy, catholic and apostolic church (note no caps there).  They are, like us, people who God has worked on, and is working on, just as He is us.  See them from that perspective first…

and know you walk with God, even as you strive with Him, and with men.

Lord Have mercy, and may that mercy include empowering us to show mercy as well!

His Grace is ALL We Need!

His Grace is ALL we need!
2 Cor. 12:1-10

 

In Jesus Name

 

May you be convinced of this very thought:  His Grace is ALL you need!

 

Theology according to Dug the Dog

In 2009, a movie was released that was a theological masterpiece, a perfect modern parable, as it pictured our lives in the present day, and how they overlook the very blessings we have been given by God.

One character in the animated movie “UP” we see in Paul’s letter to the church in Corinth, as Paul urges them to focus on the ministry of Christ, and their part in it, reconciling the world to God.

His name is Dug, and he is a dog, with a fancy little voicebox that turns his barks and growls into words.  He is energetic, he is driven to do whatever he can to help his new master, and the little scout that would help the master reach his goal… he has the desire to help and do good, and the skills needed, and the absolute determination and focus
Until a squirrel shows up…

Something exciting and fun and perhaps even a bit tasty… it’s sorta like saying “bacon” around certain guys,…

And in many ways, as believers, as those studying God’s word, the people in Corinth were just like Dug the Dog.  They desired to know all there was to know about God’s love, about His mercy, they desired to grasp the depth and breadth and height and width of God’s love…

Squirrel!

Their attention is whisked away – as their minds follow a variety of squirrels that would distract them from the glory which Paul described so vividly; from the ministry we get to all be a part of, seeing people stripped of sin and returned to God. They got distracted by inspirational speakers (even if they know they are wrong), or by discussions about visions and revelations experiences that are astounding, so many things!

We can be like that as well, can’t we?

We aren’t alone…so was Paul…he had a ego that was easily inflated and he talks of the way God helped him deal with it – to keep that which should be the priority for the Christian – at the forefront.  God’s method?  A gift that doesn’t seem a gift at first, but is.  That doesn’t seem like mercy, yet it is, for it keeps Paul focused, and dependent on God.

But before Paul gets there – he has to deal with the squirrels… and so will we!
Law – I want to know it ALL!!!

If you read this passage carefully, you realize that Paul doesn’t want to spend much time validating his ministry based on the experiences and visions and revelation, what he calls boasting.  He’s done it, seen it, experienced it, been there, knows he can’t even come close to describing it, and realizes that even if it does – it will do those he is writing to absolutely no good!

Yet many of the professional theologians I have in my library wax eloquent on that which Paul deems as worthless, that will no benefit those to whom he writes.  Heck just the discussions on what Paul means by being taken “to the third heaven” go on and on and on…. Despite Paul’s words that they mean…nothing to us!  Pages of speculation about what Paul saw, or what this meant or that, on whether there are 3 heavens or seven! One theologian got it right, when he said

 

A mass of Jewish ideas about the seventh heaven is introduced by some interpreters, and they place Paul beyond the third heaven, viz. in the fourth. We consider all this Jewish material worthless for our interpretation. Are these Jews, who were never in heaven, able to shed any light on Paul’s experience? NO!
Study is good, and so is discussion, don’t get me wrong – but if scripture, God’s holy word says something doesn’t have a lot of meaning and value for us, why do we keep trying to develop a theory about it?  Why can’t we just accept that it is beyond us, and get to what really makes a difference?

We can get so caught up in such discussions of visions and revelations, that we lose sight of who was revealed, can we lose sight of Jesus?  We lose sight of the apostolic mission He came to accomplish, the mission which He has entrusted us with, and sent the Holy Spirit to work with us, to work in us, to accomplish?

Squirrel!  Visions! Revelation!  Bacon!  Third Heaven! inside/outside of body, paradise,
No..

Jesus.

Yes

Knowing all that other stuff, or our best guesses, do they really help us to know that which can make a difference in how we live our lives?  Will it help us know God’s peace?  Will knowing all these details help us today, as we struggle with life?  No.  Will knowing grace be sufficient, is it all we really need?

I think our seeking to know all about heaven, and eternity, are away to distract us from our present situation, our present fears, our present anxieties, our guilt and shame?  They are great squirrels, fascinating topics, but the speculation doesn’t bring us comfort or peace….
Gospel – Struggles?  Really?

Paul deals with – tells them simply – been there, saw that, can’t explain it – otherwise I might think I know it all…he says, but listen God helped me get past those squirrels and those questions I could answer, but can’t.  He gave me an incredible gift – something that helped get me straight….

He taught me about the gift of afflciations.

Yeah – the gift of suffering meant more to Paul because it helped his spiritual life far more than all the visions, all the incredible revelations, all the wonderful things this man of God experienced.  It made a difference.

Affliction? Suffering?  Really?  A Thorn in the Flesh?  A pain in the…..  neck?  A Blessing? Really?

Well, Paul didn’t say he got that it was a gift, right away.   He tells us that he begged God to take it away – not once, but three times!  Not asked- the word is begged, pleaded, got down on his knees type begging.  Wonder about God, for if He was so loving and merciful, wouldn’t He simply take it away….
The early Lutherans knew this, in our confessions, they wrote about how many sacraments there were, and how they were used – and wrote:

17 Alms (Giving to the poor ) could be listed here (among the sacraments), as well as afflictions, which in themselves are signs to which God has added promises. But let us pass over all this. No intelligent person will quibble about the number of sacraments or the terminology, so long as those things are kept which have God’s command and promises.  (AAC, Art. XII)


But why?  Why in the world does Paul and our forefathers call things that afflict us a blessing – why do they use the very same word – grace – in regards to the things (and people) that can be a thorn in the flesh….

It’s not the suffering… it’s the dependence on God that it causes..

           And he is there… the Comforter, The Healer, the Daddy..

 

It’s not about the afflictions – its about what they cause… for they cause us, hopefully sooner than later – to run to the one who can bring us comfort, and relief and healing.  That is why they are blessings, because they cause us to depend on God more, to trust in Him more, to wait quietly and patiently in His presence…
They cause us to see Him at work. To realize that we can, and we must depend on Him, if we really desire to live in His peace.  To have the grace that we need…

His grace that works miraculously, simply. It calls us away from sin, from distractions, from squirrels.  Grace that can make things that we don’t comprehend beautiful, in His time.  We see Him at work in our lives, in the lives of this church, and the Taiwanese ministry and Passion, as we interact with each other, as we see a little girl baptized, as we pray and minister to those around us, as we learn together that God is here…pouring out the grace, the gifts we need.

The grace gift of His love
The grace-gift that is His mercy..

The grace gift of His presence and to know He desires to commune with us.

As He brings healing to our past, and gives us hope for the future.

As His grace-gift is the peace  we have now… o the blessed peace that is found in Him, in Living each and every day knowing He is here, knowing His promises., knowing Him.

If that afflication means getting past the BACON, and the squirrels in life, so be it… they are not as good, right and beneficial as knowing our Father in Heave, or realizing our life in Christ, as rejoicing in the Spirit…

Even as we share in a feast that is beyond compare… the feast of His welcoming us into His affliction, that we would know His death, that we share in His resurrection to life, a life lived in Him…now.

AMEN?

Dedicated…Because they know He was!

The Dedicated Themselves,

Will We?

2 Corinthians 8:1–9, 13–15

 

In Jesus Name

 

May God grant you the grace, the overwhelming grace that so transforms your life, that you will be like the Macedonian Christians, whose confidence in God caused them to minister others beyond their means…

Stories upon Stories…

Reading Paul’s words this week to the church in Corinth, names and stories of those like the Macedonians came to my mind.

Our good friends Michael and Jill Hook, who this day celebrate their 23rd anniversary as well, who spent years in the inner cities of Ecuador, at huge personal cost, in order to ensure people had the gospel.  I can’t even remember all the health issues, including several miscarriages, car-jackings and robberies, their goal – to help people know the blessed peace that comes as God is revealed, and our confidence in His love grows deep and strong.

I think of deacons like Mark, and Vicars like my friend Teo – who serve churches that no one else takes the time for, and whose joy can never be found in a paycheck – for their sacrifices often financially exceed their paychecks, never mind their talents and time that they give so liberally.

I have some friends who are spending time bringing hope to families in Santa Ana – their church works with the rescue missions and brings nutritious meals – ready to eat – with food trucks – to those barely able to feed the rent.  Others who give of their money and time to help the children of our preschool, and the people of this church in ways that would astound you, if you only knew the details…

Paul’s words describe them well,

 

“Somehow, in most difficult circumstances, their joy and the fact of being down to their last penny themselves, produced a magnificent concern for other people. I can guarantee that they were willing to give to the limit of their means, yes and beyond their means, without the slightest urging from me or anyone else. In fact they simply begged us to accept their gifts and so let them share the honours of supporting their brothers in Christ.
Paul desired that all who followed Christ would find themselves so completely dedicated to the Lord, and thereby find themselves sharing, being part of the koinonia, the community of Christ Jesus… for it testifies not just of their graciousness – but such dedication speaks of their confidence in God’s presence and love..

 

And therefore I share that desire for all you…

 

Why do people give?
There are a number of reasons why people give, whether it is putting money in a collection plate, or responding to a call for mercy, responding to a disaster, or to family or friends in need.

Some of us respond really well, even though we are motivated highly by guilt.  There are those who won’t hesitate to get us to spend our time, our money, our treasure by loading on the guilt.  It is not as much about what we are giving to – some who use guilt quite efficiently, or respond because of guilt – the actual recipients really need it.

Others give to impress, whether it is to impress their friends, or society, or maybe, because of some deep dark secret – they give to impress God.  Think of the glitzy glamorous fundraisers, and again, it’s a question of the heart – not the recipient.  Though some donate to honor others, some buy plaques on buildings and rooms to testify of their own goodness.  Universities, Hospitals, even churches often depend on people’s vanity to gain needed funds.  Again, the money us used well, yet why did they give?

Some don’t give – because of cynicism, or doubt, or simply because they can’t see a need outside of their own.

Then there are others, like the Macedonians , those that give and give, till their relatives think they are nuts. They give because they wanted to share in meeting the needs of others. These are people Paul describes as being completely dedicated to God, and they then find themselves dedicated to helping those who God would have them serve – no matter the cost, for they know something important…

There is a difference here, one that is the key…

 

These give… because they realize Chirst’s generosity and reflect it

         

I have often found, that those who give of time, talents and treasures to those in need – to support God’s work, are the ones who realize the least how much they are giving of their time and talents.  You talk to them, and their answer is huh?  I didn’t do nuthin pastor…

You see, dear friends, there is something else on their mind – the love and work of God.  They don’t look to what they are giving up, they are realizing what Christ has given up – to be with them.  That is what is so precious, that is why Paul was so joyous about the Macedonians.

To realize their trust in God was that deep – that so much of the focus of their life, that they subconsciously begin to imitate Him, as they imitate His sacrifice, as his magnificent concern for others!  They know so well that He gave up the riches of heaven, to come and live with us… that the poverty He would take on, would mean… the incredible beyond belief of sharing life with Him. They look at the pain of a crucifix, and know joy, for they realize how great the Father’s love for us is.

Now, and presently, as we saw last week, in the midst of our own poverty or riches, in the midst of our own joy, what matters is that we know He is with us, that we trust in His promise that all works for good, that there is nothing we can risk, that He cannot provide a rescue.

That is why Paul wants them to pick up what they started… to finish the project, because it would require them to look beyond themselves, and place themselves in the hands of God, to know He will provide.

Been there, dealing with that myself, as I keep getting asked to consider a short term mission trip here or there for a week or two.  For the third time – from three different groups in three different parts of the world now,  My instinct is to say – it can’t be me… the challenges are too great, the costs too high.  Then I look at the prayer list and see Pastor Bernie’s name, or Te’s, or Chris knowing the sacrifices he makes for his students, and for us, or Mark at Bellflower, and excuses fade away for me, as they must have for the church in Corinth, as they heard about the Macedonian’s magnificent concern, and desire to share in helping others… helping them live, helping them know Jesus.

There is no sacrifice we can make, that doesn’t lead us to depend on Christ, and that is a blessed thing.

 

It’s the relationship, knowing God our Father, knowing that He is all. For us,

It comes back to the relationship do we realize what we have been given ( go to the baptismal )– what we are given (pull the veil off the covered elements) Do we grasp the breadth and the depth and the height and width of God’s grace, His love, His peace?

I’ve said it a number of times – it’s not about the gift, or even the recipient, its that we trust God so much, when our confidence in His work is so well supported by His word, that sacrifice isn’t the issue… it’s looking forward to sharing the work with Him, with each other.

It’s about knowing the peace of God, which surrounds us, which protects us in Christ, which the world… so needs,,, and we realize how great God’s concern is that they are invited into it.. and we do that which only those who know how great God’s love is can do….
Share it.

AMEN?

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