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Who am I? A simple answer that leaves you saying OMG!

Devotional Thought for our days…..

19 If our hope in Christ is for this life only, we should be pitied more than anyone else in the world.  1 Corinthians 15:19  NCV

18  We all show the Lord’s glory, and we are being changed to be like him. This change in us brings ever greater glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit.  2 Corinthians 3:18b  NCV

Paradoxically, a widespread decline in traditional religious practice in the West runs parallel with an ever-increasing hunger for spirituality. The question at the forefront of most of the great spiritual classics used to be “What or who is God?” Nowadays the characteristic question of the contemporary spiritual seeker is more likely to be “Who am I?” Great Christian teachers of the past such as Julian of Norwich understood quite clearly that these two questions are inextricably linked.
And I saw very certain that we must necessarily be in longing and in penance until the time we are led so deeply into God that we verily and truly know our own soul.  (a quote from Phillip Sheldrake’s Spirituality and Theology in Webber’s text The Divine Embrace:  Recovering the Passionate Spiritual Life) (1)

850         In your heart and soul, in your intelligence and in your will, implant a spirit of trust and abandonment to the loving Will of your heavenly Father… From this will arise the interior peace you desire.  (2)

Who Am I?  

I’ve been trying to answer that question for as long as I can remember.  I see som many others trying to answer it as well.

Who is God?

Most people don’t bother to ask this, and those who do pursue it with an academic passion that is absolute, and yet nearly impossible to communicate to others simply.  (this is why we develop creeds and confessions, statements of belief and doctrinal texts, and then wonder why they don’t sell as well as novels and religious fluff)

Some might even try to describe this in general terms as Webber’s citation seems to above.  The older folk are more concerned with proving beyond a shadow of a doubt who God is (or isn’t) and the younger (gen X and Millennials ) struggling with who we are.  

And without both questions being asked, neither is ever truly answered.  

And in asking both at the same time, as Julian of Norwich and Augustine and Luther did, as Webber is trying to ask, we find the answer.  In that answer is the hope and peace that we so need.

We can only define God in terms of His relationship to us, as our Creator, Redeemer, the One who makes us Holy, the One who loves us and is our Father, Brother, Friend, Counselor, Encourager, Comforter.

We only find out who we really are when we are defined by God, as He ministers to us. We may not like to hear it, but we have no identity outside of our identity to Him, our identity in Him. 

it is in that definition of “who am I” that I find out I am loved, cared for, guided,  That GOd is transforming us into the very image of Jesus, to be like Him, yet to be ourselves.  And yet this definition, this transformation is far more than we know, for it is an eternal transformation.  

Paul isn’t joking when He says without the resurrection we are a hopeless group of people.  For a life trusting in God is not just about this life, and the change takes our entire life to begin to see.  It may mean we live in hardship, it will mean that we deny ourselves, abandoning ourselves into the hands of the Lord whose love for us is seen in the scars on His hands.  

Spend some time there, at the cross.  Spend some more time there, at the altar, examining yourself and knowing how desperately you need Him, and the fact, HE IS HERE!  And we will be with Him Forever!  Everything we are in life flows from Him, and it is glorious and real, and now, and yet even more to come!

The answer to Who is God?

He is your God

Who are you?  

You are His!

So live life, based on these words:  He is our God, we are His People!  AMEN!

(1)  Webber, Robert E. The Divine Embrace: Recovering the Passionate Spiritual Life. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2006. Print. Ancient-Future Series.

(2)  Escriva, Josemaria. Furrow (Kindle Locations 3487-3489). Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition.

 

 

When a Command isn’t just Law…

20170124_103703Devotional Thought of the Day:

73 You created me, and you keep me safe; give me understanding, so that I may learn your laws. 74 Those who honour you will be glad when they see me, because I trust in your promise. 75 I know that your judgements are righteous, LORD, and that you punished me because you are faithful. 76 Let your constant love comfort me, as you have promised me, your servant.  GNT Psalm 119:73-76

God “commanded” the world into existence (Ps 33:9; Isa 45:12). All creatures and elements therefore obey his command (cf. I Kgs 17:4; Job 37:12; Ps 78:23). God also directs the course of history by decreeing crucial events; indeed no determinative event happens without God’s ordaining it (Lam 3:37). Indeed he decrees that his people be victorious (Ps 44:4 [H 5]).
What God commands to be done, he provides the means to accomplish, e.g. he instructed Moses concerning the building of the cultic furniture and buildings; then he inspired Bezalel and Oholiab with the Spirit of wisdom to be able to accomplish the work (Ex 31:2–6; 35:30–36:1). Regarding the making of these objects the text first details the instructions and then describes Israel’s careful fulfillment of God’s commandment (Ex 25–30; 36–39; Lev 8; cf. Ex 39:5, 7, 32, 42f.).

Over the last year and a half, one of my Bible Studies has been slowly working through Psalm 119.  Over and over it talks about the joy that is found in the law of God, in His commands, in His directives, in His ordinances!

The challenge is that we Lutherans tend see this only as Law – the commands that we cannot hope to keep, and therefore find ourselves. condemned.  My old denomination as well had this problem, as it divided the covenants of God into Law and Promises.

We hear Law, we head commandment, we hear precept and our mind automatically goes into “theology mode”.  This is God’s command, we have to fear when we hear it because we cannot hope to meet its demands, it will only point out our sin.

But that is not how the Psalmist continually refers to God’s law in Psalm 119, and in most of the Psalms.  It is a delight, a joy, something that grabs our attention and holds it, breathes life into us!  It inspires and empowers us.

It is not just what we refer to as the terms of the covenant, or the law which we properly distinguish from gospel. It is the entire Covenant, the law and gospel complete and in perfect tension.  The entirety of theology, the word of God complete.  Our need for salvation, His saving us at the cross of Christ.

As the apostle Paul put it so beautifully,

3  Let us give thanks to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! For in our union with Christ he has blessed us by giving us every spiritual blessing in the heavenly world. 4  Even before the world was made, God had already chosen us to be his through our union with Christ, so that we would be holy and without fault before him. Because of his love 5  God had already decided that through Jesus Christ he would make us his children—this was his pleasure and purpose.” Ephesians 1:3-5 (TEV)

This is what God tells us He established by His very commands from the beginning.  It is His reason, His word, it is Christ’s pleasure and purpose, as well as the Father’s and the Holy Spirits.

The quote in blue, for the word law in the psalm quote, coems from a Hebrew Lexicon.  It states it well, what He commanded, He establishes the means to accomplish, indeed the entire Trinity is invested in making it come to pass.

For us, so that we could be His people, His children, so that we would know Him as our God, our benevolent, loving, caring, comforting Father.  So He has commanded this to be, and so it is!

Let that bring you great peace, great joy!  What God has established, ordained, commanded, made His law is now.  You are His.  AMEN!

Hartley, John E. “1887 צָוָה.” Ed. R. Laird Harris, Gleason L. Archer Jr., and Bruce K. Waltke. Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament 1999 : 757. Print.

 

Words of Divine Wisdom from ???? him???

Devotional Thought of the Day:

Fellow Israelites, be careful what you are about to do to these men. 36 *Some time ago, Theudas appeared, claiming to be someone important, and about four hundred men joined him, but he was killed, and all those who were loyal to him were disbanded and came to nothing. 37 After him came Judas the Galilean at the time of the census. He also drew people after him, but he too perished and all who were loyal to him were scattered. 38 So now I tell you, have nothing to do with these men, and let them go. For if this endeavor or this activity is of human origin, it will destroy itself. 39 But if it comes from God, you will not be able to destroy them; you may even find yourselves fighting against God.” They were persuaded by him.   Acts 5:35-39  NABRE

His name was Gamaliel, one of the greatest of Jewish Rabbi’s, not just of his time, but in history.

Not exactly a friend to those who followed Jesus; though, in this situation, he certainly had words of wisdom that were beneficial to them.He’s not the only one throughout history who was not a believer, yet God used to deliver and guide his people. Jethro’s father was one, and Cyrus the Persian for another. I’m not sure that Balaam’s ass was a believer, but God even spoke through it.

So how do we deal with such things?

We know that there are two forms of revelation, that is two ways in which we know about God.  The first is through scripture, specific revelation.  This is where we get to know God deeply.  He tells us who He is, how much he loves us, how Christ came and proved that love. The second way is what is called general revelation, and is what we can discern of the Creator through nature, through observation, through the various sciences.

Even the observations and thoughts of man that create idols and establish man-made religions have some truth in them, some portion that is written based on how God has ordered things. For such false religions were created based, not in a vacuum, but withing God’s creation, within His world, by humans who are made in His image, and have a portion of the truth.

Remember – they aren’t His enemies, though they may fight against God, and struggle with His direct, specific revelation.

That doesn’t mean they have the complete truth. Or that we should just accept what they can observe as being equal to what we interpret from scripture.  But we can consider their wisdom, measure it against scripture ( not just our interpretation of scripture). and rejoice where it is found consistent.

Is this easy or fast?  No. Sometimes testing their belief means that we spend a few hours in scripture, and in prayer. But Gamaliel’s advice is similar – let’s see if God is at work in this.  And hold fast to the truth we know!

Does it change how we relate to those who believe other than we do?  Yes – we see them as people who are looking for God, and doing what they can to deal with their own brokenness.

This change in attitude leads us to a position that means we aren’t opposition, but rather working alongside them. There may be a line in the sand – but that isn’t to divide us, it is to remind us of what has been specifically given to us, through Christ’s life, death, burial,and resurrection.  There is the line – that love of God revealed in Christ. That specific, merciful, glorious revelation of His love.s

In the midst of all of this, praying and asking God to bless us, we find a very special ministry, that of seeing all reconciled to Jesus.

And that my friends, is worth it.  .

New American Bible. Revised Edition. Washington, DC: The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, 2011. Print.

What “Faith Alone” Does Not Mean!


Devotional Thought of the Day:
20  But that is not the way you learned Christ!— 21  assuming that you have heard about him and were taught in him, as the truth is in Jesus, 22  to put off your old self, which belongs to your former manner of life and is corrupt through deceitful desires, 23  and to be renewed in the spirit of your minds, 24  and to put on the new self, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness. 25  Therefore, having put away falsehood, let each one of you speak the truth with his neighbor, for we are members one of another. Ephesians 4:20-25 (ESV)

17 On the other hand, it is correct to say that in conversion, through the attraction of the Holy Spirit, God changes stubborn and unwilling people into willing people, and that after conversion, in the daily exercise of repentance, the reborn will of man is not idle but cooperates in all the works which the Holy Spirit performs through us.
18 9. Likewise Luther’s statement that man’s will in conversion behaves “altogether passively”5 (that is, that it does nothing at all) must be understood as referring to the action of divine grace in kindling new movements within the will, that is, when the Spirit of God through the Word that has been heard or through the use of the holy sacraments takes hold of man’s will and works the new birth and conversion. But after the Holy Spirit has performed and accomplished this and the will of man has been changed and renewed solely by God’s power and activity, man’s new will becomes an instrument and means of God the Holy Spirit, so that man not only lays hold on grace but also cooperates with the Holy Spirit in the works that follow.

426      Today once again I prayed full of confidence. This was my petition: “Lord, may neither our past wretchedness which has been forgiven us, nor the possibility of future wretchedness cause us any disquiet. May we abandon ourselves into your merciful hands. May we bring before you our desires for sanctity and apostolate, which are hidden like embers under the ashes of an apparent coldness…” ”Lord, I know you are listening to us.” You should say this to him too.

There is, within the church today, a sense of defeatism.  The church seems to be dying in America; it no longer serves the community as a place of peace, a sanctuary from the world.  It is no longer the place of people set apart to a life walking with Christ.

This is happening, even as American seminaries are be asked to influence the training of pastors in places where the growth of the church is exponential, and that scares me, for what if what we teach them is what has caused our churches, liberal and confessional, traditional and contemporary to diminish in size, and in effect?

I can’t speak to the denominations and movements I know not of, but I can speak, and will speak to those I know well.

In our situation, there is a strange misunderstanding, a problem with one of our prize confessions, the cry of “Faith Alone”, and how it has morphed into something it never was.

It was about conversion; some people think it is about the entirety of our life.  They take another summary of theology – we are simultaneously sinners and justified – and it and what has developed is a theology that there is no need for spiritual growth, there is no need for being transformed into the image of Christ, for growing in faith and holiness.

We see them come to faith, find their seat in church – and leave them there. We remind them their sins are forgiven; we tell them to trust God for their salvation, but we fail to encourage them to live life with Christ.

But as you see in blue above, the early Luther’s never meant that sanctification was optional, that serving alongside Christ was just for a chosen few, that the rest could be passive in how they live life, that a signed check was good enough.

We are meant to be instruments, means of grace as we share the gospel given to us via God’s word, and the sacraments that are tangible means of that grace. Every Christian, growing in faith, seeing themselves set apart to be used by God, interceding and ministering to those who are around them, loving them as CHirst loves us.

Are we going to be perfect?  Nah>

Are we still going to be occasionally wretched?  It’s possible, even probable and in my case. definite. But that shouldn’t stop us from being drawn to the cross, abandoning ourselves into the hands that were crucified, into the life that we died with at the cross, and are raised to, quickened by the power of the Holy Spirit – which raised Christ from the dead.

It is time to return to encourage holiness, to encourage people to live as God intends, as one, holy, called together and sent into a broken world people.

Faith Alone- yes it saves – and brings us into a journey with God -where it sees us made into a holy people…people that can bring God’s healing to a lost and broken world.

Lord, I know you are listening to us, breathe on us, and cause the embers of our desire for your mission and our holiness rage into a holy inferno.  AMEN!

Tappert, T. G. (Ed.). (1959). The Book of Concord the confessions of the Evangelical Lutheran Church. (p. 472). Philadelphia: Mühlenberg Press. Formula of Concord: Pt 1 Epitome II Free Will

Escriva, Josemaria. The Forge (Kindle Locations 1637-1641). Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition.

Will God, Really? or Does the Church need to be there?

 

Will God, Really?

1 Kings 8

† In Jesus Name †

May the grace and peace of God our Father and our Lord Jesus Christ strengthen your dependence upon Hi m and help you pray, knowing God is here.. for you dwell in His presence.

Is it good enough for…

Twenty-seven years ago, I was looking in display cases in a store in San Dimas, Ca.  I had already spent a lot of time in other stores, trying to find the perfect ring to go on Kay’s hand, when we got married on July 1st.

Although I didn’t have a lot of money, that wasn’t the issue as much as finding a ring that would make her smile, that she would proudly wear and that she would show off, saying, look!

I found it, got out my life savings… (which was last week’s paycheck) and purchased the ring.  I remember thinking, until the time I saw her smile, will she find it good enough?  Will it be good enough!

I have to think my anxiety was nothing compared to what Solomon was going through as he dedicated the temple. Can you imagine the pressure, for the dream was not just his dream, but King David’s dreams, and the fulfillment of a promise that went all the way back to Egypt and Moses, and even before that 4 centuries to the time when God made a covenant promise to Abraham, having him look up into the sky, to see the number of his descendants.

All of the Israel was there, to dedicate a sanctuary, the temple, to be the place where God would dwell with man.

And as he looks out on the people of God, his nervousness causes him to ask a question.

But will God really live on earth? Why, even the highest heavens cannot contain you. How much less this Temple I have built!

We could, no, we should ask the same question here today, for this place, as we stand in this place, where God has put His name.

How can Concordia contain the presence of God, who cannot even be contained?

The answer is found in why the Temple was dedicated as the house of God, and to see this place dedicated to the same purpose!

Why Solomon had Faith God Would hear.

It is amazing to me sometimes, when people take a question like Solomon’s and only read the question, assuming that God would not answer, or that because Solomon asked, it meant the issue would be in doubt.  I’ve heard people say that churches and sanctuaries dedicated to being the place where God meets people are no different than a forest, or a beach.  Because God is everywhere, and therefore, any place is as good as another.

But Solomon doesn’t ask this in a rhetorical manner.  He asks it because he knows the answer, the very character of God is to dwell with His people.  He walked with Adam and Eve in the Garden, and was close enough to know Cain and talk to him.  Enoch walked with Him, as did Noah, and of course Melchizedek, the prince of peace who would help Abraham know the prophecy about Jesus, the incredible Prince of Peace. He walked with Isaac and wrestled with Jacob.  He met Moses, and dwell on Mount Sinai, and led His people as they struggled to be faithful in the wilderness.

And as Solomon mentions, God kept the promises made to David, Solomon’s father. That God always keeps the promises He binds himself to in covenant.

God always shows love to those He calls to be His own; that is why we are devoted to Him.  It is because He doesn’t fail us.

And he doesn’t’ fail us because He dwells with us, not just because He is everywhere.  He makes His home with us, in our midst, to care for us, love us, reconcile us to Himself

That we struggle to believe that is the nastiest side effect of sin, the belief that God won’t care about the people He created to be His own.

Which is why we put up buildings like this one, it is why Solomon built the temple; it is why Jesus cleared out the money changers and those who made a profit selling sacrifices in the temple.

Because these places where God has said, “My name is there”, where He urges us to call upon His name, is to be a place of peace, a refuge, a sanctuary.

Which is why we can pray here, which is why we feel at peace here at the rail, as God strengthens us, for He hears our cry, as He hears our Kyrie…our plea for His love and mercy.

Will God Really Hear my Prayer?

It took me a while to understand this passage, this prayer of Solomon.  Because the very first thing he asks for is that God would hear all of the prayers prayed in the Temple – actually within the temple courtyards, and area 8 times the size of our Concordia property!  A million people could easily fill the courts, and can you imagine how they would sound singing the Nunc Dimittis?  How they praises would ring as they realized that God was welcoming them, drawing them into His presence!

What is so amazing, what needs to be realized is that when the people of God pray, the promise isn’t to give us the American Dream of Life, liberty, wealth, fame and the pursuit of happiness, the promise is to give us…

Mercy

Forgiveness,

Pardon,

To give us the loving comfort of realizing God doesn’t walk away from us, that He will cleanse us up, that he won’t bar us from heaven, but He will make us as clean and share His glory with us!

If we are devoted to Him, this only ensures a deeper devotion. A more single-hearted adoration of the God who comes and dwells among us. There is no great answered prayer than this,

You are my children, and I will love you and care for you, by the stripes Christ wore on His back, you are healed!

Will God Really Hear Theirs?

That is there in the prayer of the heathen that Solomon would have God really hear as well.  We get distracted by the “grant whatever they ask”, in fact, I sometimes wonder if I can be a unbeliever for a day, get 400 or 500 prayers answered, and then believe again. ( We’ll talk about that in Bible Study!)

But they are to pray so that they can be in awe of God’s presence as well, so that can know and fear God, even as His people do.  That is what Solomon prays for those who aren’t the people of God, who aren’t in the covenant, that are drawn to God by the work of the Holy Spirit.

That they would know Him, and come into this relationship, this wonderful relationship where God answers Solomon question with smoke so thick that they priests can’t do anything.

Smoke that testifies to His presence, just as the bread and wine, body and blood testify to the presence of Christ in this place.

Solomon asks, “will God really dwell on earth?”

God answers, “Be at peace, I am with you…”  AMEN!

How do We Love Thee – Pentecost Sermon (manuscript)

How DO We Love Thee?

John 14:23-31

† In Jesus Name †

May the Grace of God our Father and our Lord Jesus Christ assure you that you live in peace, and may that reality cause you to grow in your love and adoration!


Some of you will recognize the title as being part of a poem, a few more might recognize it as the work of Elizabeth Barrett Browning, a selection from Works of the Portuguese, #43.  Some of us probably remember it from Warner Bros. Cartoons, as both Bugs Bunny and Elmer Fudd probably said it in twenty or more episodes.

How do I love Thee, let me count the ways, and the poet goes onto to describe love very eloquently, but not practically.   Not with terms that mean anything, but sound glorious and romantic.

As I read today’s gospel, to prepare for this sermon, the words echoed in my mind.  If we had to consider how we love God, would we stammer, would we use elegant words that are flowery and vague, or would we be able to say, like this passage, we did what you asked, and we trust you to return as you said you would?

A problematic question, if we ask it honestly.  How do we love the God who came and dwelt among us, and will come again so that we can dwell with Him?

If our lives are to testify to our love for God, what happens if our lives testify to somewhat less than a life lived in love?

The last question, what does, our measuring our living God by our actions, what does this have to do with Pentecost?

An Impossible Standard?

Hear the words of Jesus again.

All who love me will do what I say.

He went on to clarify this,

24 Anyone who doesn’t love me will not obey me. And remember, my words are not my own. What I am telling you is from the Father, who sent me.

Obedience to God isn’t optional, not according to these passages.  Jesus even makes sure we understand the Trinity is united in this, this isn’t just something Jesus came up with n the spot.

And it wasn’t just for Peter and James and John.  Or for heroes of our faith like Augustine, Francis, and Luther.  This is our standard, how we are to live, how we are to measure our love for God, by keeping, by treasuring what He has said to us, how He has taught us to live.

In other words, this is a way we can count the ways we love God.

Okay, take a minute and think about it, and this week that just passed.  Take a moment, and think through it, through the actions and things you said.  Were you obeying God?

Be careful, your mind might drift off, and it will be very tempting to bypass your thoughts, words and deeds, and judge others.  But this is between you and God.

Did your actions testify to your love?  Were your actions obedient to what Christ has taught you?

How about a little more time?

It is unnerving isn’t it?

The Confusion

it seems contrary to what Jesus goes on to say,

27 “I am leaving you with a gift—peace of mind and heart. And the peace I give is a gift the world cannot give. So don’t be troubled or afraid.

So how do we know this peace, when we examine our souls and find out our thoughts, our words and deeds don’t illustrate the love that we want to have for God?

Or as Paul, the apostle says, when examining his soul,

21  I have discovered this principle of life—that when I want to do what is right, I inevitably do what is wrong. 22  I love God’s law with all my heart. 23  But there is another power within me that is at war with my mind. This power makes me a slave to the sin that is still within me. 24  Oh, what a miserable person I am! Who will free me from this life that is dominated by sin and death?
Romans 7:21-24 (NLT)
For me, this isn’t just theology about like, it is even about tomorrow, I need to get this straight now, before another storm of life hits, and I can’t think it through.

How do we reconcile our lives, where sin seems so dominant, and when it robs of the peace we are supposed to have in Christ?  How am I going to show Christ the love He deserves, when I struggle to keep what He’s given us?

The HOPE of Pentecost!

The answer is found in the reality of Pentecost.

You see, most of the time we talk about Pentecost it is about the lounges of fire or the gift of the Spirit that resulted in people of 15 languages hearing the gospel from 12 men preaching it, each in their language.  Or by the incredible repentant hearts of 3000 plus people who were believed and were baptized.

What we miss is the power of the Holy Spirit, the causes and empowers it all, who fulfills the prophecies, who cuts open the hearts and causes people to depend on God.

As Jesus promised,

25 I am telling you these things now while I am still with you. 26 But when the Father sends the Advocate as my representative—that is, the Holy Spirit—he will teach you everything and will remind you of everything I have told you.


This is how we remember to demonstrate the love we have for God, by bringing to the fore front of our minds the things that Jesus not only commanded, but taught us, the very promises that we call the New Covenant.

Including the fact that God has made His home with us, or rather, that in us dwells His Holy Spirit, and someday, He will come and dwell with us, face to face again.

It is the presence of the Holy Spirt, in the comfort and peace that God gives us as we know that Christ taught us well, that He came to die for us, to offer to all to remove that sin, which ensnares us, to heal us and free us and enable us to love.

To hear those words, that in Christ there is no condemnation, and that we are in Christ Jesus.

This is the job of the Advocate, the Comforter, the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us already, in our baptism,

Do You want to know whether you love God?  Do You want to measure it?  Then look to the Lord who makes us His own, who died to set us free, and hear Him…

Thanks to the Holy Spirit, the Lord and giver of life…

AMEN!

 

The Greatest Challenge To “American” Christianity

Devotional Thought of the Day:
28  And we know that God causes everything to work together for the good of those who love God and are called according to his purpose for them. 29  For God knew his people in advance, and he chose them to become like his Son, so that his Son would be the firstborn among many brothers and sisters.   Romans 8:28-29 (NLT)

2  When all kinds of trials and temptations crowd into your lives my brothers, don’t resent them as intruders, but welcome them as friends! Realise that they come to test your faith and to produce in you the quality of endurance. But let the process go on until that endurance is fully developed, and you will find you have become men of mature character with the right sort of independence. And if, in the process, any of you does not know how to meet any particular problem he has only to ask God – who gives generously to all men without making them feel foolish or guilty – and he may be quite sure that the necessary wisdom will be given him. But he must ask in sincere faith without secret doubts as to whether he really wants God’s help or not. The man who trusts God, but with inward reservations, is like a wave of the sea, carried forward by the wind one moment and driven back the next. That sort of man cannot hope to receive anything from God, and the life of a man of divided loyalty will reveal instability at every turn. James 1:2 (Phillips NT)

42      Desire nothing for yourself, either good or bad. For yourself, want only what God wants. Whatever it may be, if it comes from his hand, from God, however bad it may appear in the eyes of men, with God’s help it will appear good, yes very good!, to you. And with an ever increasing conviction you will say: Et in tribulatione mea dilatasti me… et calix tuus inebrians, quam praeclarus est!—I have rejoiced in tribulation…, how marvellous is your chalice. It inebriates my whole being!  (1)

So often we quote Romans 8:28 to people who are going through hard times, who are suffering, who are grieving.  It often becomes a modern Christian cliche, a pious version of “don’t worry, God’s got this!” 

But I wonder if we realize the important of verse 29, and what that means.  That the reason God has our back, is because we are to be like his Son, Jesus.  We are to be Christlike.  a

That’s pretty cool when we think of the promises of reigning in heaven.  Not so cool when you think of the suffering and death he endured, even though it was for the joy set before him.  Being Christ-like means to love our enemies, to serve those who need our love, to embrace suffering to do it, as is necessary.

But how are we with embracing suffering, with trusting God through times where we put our own desires, our wants, even our own needs (and those of our families and friends) aside, to care for those God puts in our lives.

Think about this, we struggle and argue to take in people whose lives have been ravaged by war.  We would rather kill a baby who was conceived in rape than come alongside the victims (not the plural) and provide them with what they need spiritually and physically. We do everything we can to hide signs of aging, suffering, and death.  (This I think is one of the strengths of the millennials, btw – they are less likely to hide their grief, sorrow, and pain)

Even in the church, this is true, as we have experts telling us why the church is dwindling in number, for reasons that cannot be our fault, our sin, and to our shame.   We don’t teach our people to sacrifice; we don’t help them to learn to pray to embrace the cross.  We don’t help them learn to trust God in a way that will convince them of His presence in the midst of the suffering they endure, that they even embrace. 

That’s right; I said embrace!

Embrace sacrifice and suffering?  Be willing to embrace sacrifice and suffering?  

Isn’t enough that life throws enough suffering, sorrow and grief into our lives?  Isn’t that enough?

Maybe, but probably not.

Just so you are clear, this isn’t about earning your salvation, it merits nothing in that regard.  You don’t get a better view of the throne, or get next to sit next to King David in the choir, and your mansion isn’t going to be any bigger.

It is this, your joy will come, both then and now, from being in the presence of God, and knowing peace that pervades and comforts and satisfies like nothing else can.

For you will be imitating your brother, Jesus, walking with the Holy Spirit, and knowing you are a child of God.

And that my friend, we will learn is more than enough.

May God bless you, as you walk with Christ.

Escriva, Josemaria (2011-01-31). The Forge (Kindle Locations 382-387). Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition.

This politician is so evil and corrupt, that they ticked God off..

Devotional Thought of the Day:

He did much evil in the LORD’s sight and provoked him to anger. 7 An idol he had made he placed in the house of God, of which God had said to David and to his son Solomon: In this house and in Jerusalem, which I have chosen out of all the tribes of Israel, I shall set my name forever. 8 I will no longer make Israel step out of the land I assigned to your ancestors, provided that they are careful to observe all I commanded them, the entire law, the statutes, and the ordinances given by Moses.
9 Manasseh misled Judah and the inhabitants of Jerusalem into doing even greater evil than the nations the LORD had destroyed at the coming of the Israelites. 10 The LORD spoke to Manasseh and his people, but they paid no attention.
Manasseh’s Conversion. 11 bTherefore the LORD brought against them the army commanders of the Assyrian king; they captured Manasseh with hooks, shackled him with chains, and transported him to Babylon.* 12 In his distress, he began to appease the LORD, his God. He humbled himself abjectly before the God of his ancestors, 13 and prayed to him.* The LORD let himself be won over: he heard his prayer and restored him to his kingdom in Jerusalem. Then Manasseh knew that the LORD is indeed God.    2 Chronicles 33:6-13  NABRE

We are unjust before God; we have turned away from him in pursuit of our own glorification and so we have become subject to death. But God waives the merited punishment and puts something new in its place: healing; our conversion to a renewed Yes to the truth about ourselves. So that this transformation may take place, he goes before us and takes upon himself the pain of our transformation. The Cross of Christ is the real elucidation of these words: not “an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth”, but “transform evil by the power of love.…” In the Cross of Christ, and only there, these words open themselves to us and become revelation. In the company of the Cross, they become a new possibility even for our own lives.

21 Here we are talking about personal faith, which accepts the promise as a present reality and believes that the forgiveness of sins is actually being offered, not about a faith which believes in a general way that God exists.
22 Such use of the sacrament comforts devout and troubled minds.

For the last week, I have seen sincere brothers and sisters in Christ aid in the demonizing of politicians that they don’t know, never mind knowing their hearts, never mind knowing the plans God has in store for us all.

Watching the anxiety grow, and the angst, I even see it beginning to fracture families and friendships, as one can’t understand how the other can support “them”. While I pray for those running, I pray even more for those who are following and placing their hopes in the plans and personalities of those running for office.

This was on my heart this morning, as I went into my devotional reading, and came across Manasseh. Not only did he encourage the worship of idols, and demonic “gods”, he even placed in God’s temple a giant Asherah pole – a pagan idol that was simply a huge phallic symbol.   He put the idol in the place where God put His name, which people would know that their prayers would be answered and that He would forgive their sins, and bring them to the transformation of repentance.

A slap in God’s face, and worse.  This man was evil upon evil. I think even the staunchest opponent of any politician in office today, or running for office, would find their nemesis preferable to Manasseh.  Some may argue differently, but the reality is there, God’s testimony is clear – the nation’s evil was greater than nations God condemned and destroyed.  God tried to speak to them, and they ignored Him.

This corrupt evil leader would not only repent; he would also lead his entire nation in repentance, in a time of purging all the idolatry from their nation.

He would lead a revival of repentance because God didn’t give up, even as God was completely ticked off, furious beyond recognition.  His people, led by a descendant of the David, the man after God’s own heart,  did more evil than those God had Israel clear out of the land.  God was patient with them, and called them to repentance, and transformed them from evil, into His children once again.

As Pope Benedict wrote when he was a cardinal, God sent Jesus before us to bear the price of that repentance, to bear the punishment that should have been ours.  He transformed evil by the power of love, not only giving us an example to follow but making it possible to love that completely.  It becomes the hope, the possibility for our lives.

Melancthon writes in the Lutheran confessions that this brings us comfort when our minds are torn between being devout, yet troubled by our sin.  For our trust in God, boosted by the sacraments, the acts where God pours out His mercy, love and grace, upon us.

It is those promises, and seeing those promises fulfilled in the life of Manasseh that bring peace in a time when the world and just the United States seems beyond hope  God can work in and through such people.  God can call them to repentance, and has.

God doesn’t give up, He strives for our very souls and the souls of those in leadership. Trust in Him, find in your baptism, and in communion the real forgiveness of sins, and pray that God would lead our leaders to the same.

So pray for them, pray for us, that all would know the mercy and peace of God.

Peace that is promised, peace that is delivered.

AMEN!

 

(1)  Ratzinger, J. (1992). Co-Workers of the Truth: Meditations for Every Day of the Year. (I. Grassl, Ed., M. F. McCarthy & L. Krauth, Trans.) (pp. 78–79). San Francisco: Ignatius Press

(2)  Tappert, T. G. (Ed.). (1959). The Book of Concord the confessions of the Evangelical Lutheran Church. (p. 214). Philadelphia: Mühlenberg Press..

 

 

 

Is God More Than Love?

Devotional Thought of the Day:
28  ‘Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul; fear him rather who can destroy both body and soul in hell.  Matthew 10:28 (NJB)

For what is increasingly taking place before our eyes can be summarized in the words: the fear of men, that is, the absence of the fear of God, is the beginning of all foolishness. Today, since the image of God has been subjugated to the laws of advertising, the fear of God has all but disappeared from the catalogue of virtues. If he is to have advertising appeal, God must be so graphically depicted in exactly the opposite way that no one can possibly find any reason to fear him. That would be the last quality that would appear in our representations of him. In this way, that reversal of values that was the real sickness of pre-Christian religious history spreads more and more throughout our society and even in the midst of the Church. For even in ancient times there was a widespread belief that one did not have to fear the good God, the real God, because from him, since he was good, only good was to be expected. There was no need to worry about the good God; the evil powers were the ones to fear. Only they were dangerous; consequently one must do all in one’s power to win their favor. In this maxim we can see that the service of idols is an apostasy from the service of God. But we are surrounded by this idolatry. The good God does us no harm; we need offer him no more than a kind of primitive trust.

I was told earlier this week that preaching the gospel wasn’t as important as living it.  That what was needed was to abandon all that divided us from others, in order to find the peace and love which would change our community.   That we couldn’t let doctrines like the Trinity or like Justification, or even the nature of Jesus divide us from worshipping together.  Because what really matters is being good, and being loving.    (I’ve also had to deal with the other extreme, but that is another blog perhaps!)

I think Cardinal Ratzinger’s quote above puts it quite well.  We seem to have caught the idea that God is love (and He is!), but failed to understand what it means to love.  Or maybe perhaps, we have let those we fear ( or are in awe of ) re-define the meaning of love. So love becomes a form of acceptance, an acceptance/love that doesn’t seek out the best for the beloved, but assumes where they are is the best.

Perhaps this why God is not feared, and therefore, His words aren’t heard or obeyed. We don’t want to hear the part of God transforming us, refining us.   We only want a God who will bless us, who will do us no harm, who will not wisely rebuke or expect us to change, or conform to the image of Christ.

But it that was true, why did Jesus need to come?  Why did He have to die on a cross?  Why is it, that even John the Apostle, who is described as the beloved, is terrified when he enters the presence of God?  Why did Jesus say that our fear shouldn’t be of the world, and the opinions of man, but of God, to whom we are ultimately responsible?

Yes, there are people who make mountains out of what is neither commanded or forbidden in scripture.  There is also the core gospel, that which is described in the creeds, about our creation, and the conception, birth, life, death resurrection of Christ, and that it is the Holy Spirit that calls us to a life in relationship with Him. A relationship where we learn that God is amazing and holy and just… and yes loving.  Loving enough that He calls us to repentance and transformation.  Loving enough to wisely grant us that repentance, and cause and complete the transformation.

Being in fear of God, being in awe of His justice, His power, His wisdom and His love does something to us.  It causes to humbly, and yet confidently enter His presence.  To accept the relationship on the only terms offered. His terms.

But those terms are glorious….

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. 47). San Francisco: Ignatius Press.

The Glory of God and the Alien

Devotional/Discussion Thought of the Day:

17 lYou shall not deprive the resident alien or the orphan of justice, nor take the clothing of a widow as pledge. 18 For, remember, you were slaves in Egypt, and the LORD, your God, redeemed you from there; that is why I command you to do this. Dt 24:17–18 NABRE

43 yThe resident aliens among you will rise above you higher and higher, while you sink lower and lower. 44 They will lend to you, not you to them. They will become the head, you the tail. Dt 28:43–44 NABRE

This song sets a standard; it helps us understand what Christmas is all about. It contains the key word, which, in our time especially, commands people’s interest more than just about anything else: peace. The biblical term shalom, which is usually so translated, implies much more than the absence of armed conflict; it means the right order of human affairs, well-being—a world where trust and friendship prevail, where neither fear nor want, nor treachery nor dishonesty is found. The song of the angels first lays down a precondition, without which there can be no lasting peace: God’s glory. This is the message of peace at Bethlehem: peace among men results from God’s glory  (1)

In my daily devotions, I am presently reading four very different things.  Scripture, on a yearly reading plan, two doctrinal works, and this devotional quoted in green, taken from the writings of Pope Benedict, but done while he was a cardinal.

Often I look to see the connection between the works, often between the two theological works. Today I knew there was a connection between what is quoted above from scripture and Pope Benedict, but it takes some thought to see it.  It takes prayer, and meditation on the blessings of God in our sacraments to see it come to reality.

And it is necessary today.  Very necessary among the people of God that is the Church.

You see, we want the shalom, the peace of God which Benedict XVI writes so powerfully about.  We are tired of living in broken and anxiety laden lives.  We want peace, but like so many other things, we are only considering peace for ourselves.   Real peace, though, the kind of peace that is found in dwelling in the glory of God, is communal. It is more than the absence of conflict, more than compromise so we can get along.

Peace, serenity, harmony is what we are talking about, and as I said, it is impossible through human manipulation or negotiation.  It can only happen when we are aware of the work of God, reconciling us to Himself.  When He is present. When His glory overwhelms us enough that He can heal us.

So what does this have to do with the alien in our midst?  (not to mention the widow and the orphan)

Simple, they are part of the peace.  Our loving, benevolent actions toward them, which are commanded by scripture, are well thought out.  They are neither blind charity, nor ignoring the needs of those who desperately have them.  Those who need a new life, a new place to live, who need to be delivered from the bondage they lived in, just as we were, or, at least, our ancestors were.

There is the connection, the one we don’t want to make.  These people that are scorned mocked, who often invest all they have in coming into our presence are looking for the peace, the shalom that can only come from being in the presence of God. The very peaceful, glorious presence we desire for ourselves.  The very peace-filled, glorious presence we are called into, together.

Lord have mercy on us….  AMEN!

 

 

(1)  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. 409). San Francisco: Ignatius Press.

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