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Inventory of Blessings: Presence – A sermon based on Psalm 41

Inventory of Blessings
Presence!
Psalm 41

Jesus, Son, Savior

May the grace of God our Father, and our Lord Jesus Christ keep you aware of the Spirit’s comforting, cleansing, empowering and guiding presence in your life!

Inventory Management Systems

Thirty-five years ago, I was the night shift manager at McDonalds. There was a lesson I learned there. A lesson I think we need to learn regarding our relationship with God.

And that lesson is the backbone of this sermon series, which I’ve titled “Inventory of Blessings”

We have to keep track of our assets. We have to know what we have to work with each day. At McDonalds, it was burger patties, bread, French fries and all the stuff that went with them. If you didn’t take inventory, you could have too much on hand, and it could go bad and cost the company money. If you don’t know you need to restock, and you run out of French fries—you lose not only sales—you lose your customer base.

While we can never have too many or too few blessings from God, we need to take inventory of them often, so we know what we have to depend on as we go through life. This is far more important than having enough burgers or filet-o-fish in the freezer!

We see King David doing such an inventory in Psalm 41 this morning. And it wasn’t as easy—but that is a good lesson for us to live as well.

  • Look how great God Is!

He starts out well in verse 1, taking inventory of God’s work!

The Lord gives joy to those who help the poor
The Lord rescues those in trouble
The Lord protects them and keeps them alive.
The Lord gives removes all obstacles. (gives them prosperity)
The Lord rescues them from enemies
The Lord Nurses them when they are sick and restores them to health!

Wow—look at all the things David saw God doing for others! What an amazing thing it is, to see God at work in the lives of people around you! To see the God whose given His name (which we replace with Lord) as how His people are to know Him, at work in the lives of people, is a truly amazing thing.

What an amazing thing to know God in this way!

The more he considers, the closer he gets to praying a prayer that God desires to answer.

4  “O LORD,” I prayed, “have mercy on me. Heal me, for I have sinned against you.”

David reaches out and confesses his sin…he’s taken a huge step, trusting God to heal him of the damage sin causes. David entrusts his very life, and all its brokenness to God…

And at that moment… all hell breaks loose.

  • Wait—my confession wasn’t supposed to be used against me!

David goes right from pleading for forgiveness to overwhelming paranoia.

But my enemies say nothing but evil about me. “How soon will he die and be forgotten?” they ask. 6  They visit me as if they were my friends, but all the while they gather gossip, and when they leave, they spread it everywhere. 7  All who hate me whisper about me, imagining the worst. 8  “He has some fatal disease,” they say. “He will never get out of that bed!” 9  Even my best friend, the one I trusted completely, the one who shared my food, has turned against me.

One problem that happens when we are entrusting our lives, including sin, to God, is demonic interference.

Satan and his demon horde would do anything to stop us from realizing how present and compassionate God our Father is! There are many games that can be played! One of the greatest is to get us to look at how the world condemns us for the sin that we just confessed!

David thinks, “How people would gossip about me!” They would meet out in the parking lot, or at the coffee shop and mock me. I can hear the exaggerations now!

It is not beyond reason to picture shame and guilt as demons, fighting to keep their claws hooked in our heart and soul, trying to convince us that the world hates us, not because of who we are, but because of what we thought, what we said, what we did.

Everything we saw God doing disappears in this fight!

Sometimes, that paranoia is right on!

That little line about those who are closest, those who eat with you, betraying you, is something most of us know, and deal with, as the deep wounds caused by loved ones turning against us…

Even Jesus felt those wounds, as all 12 of the apostles abandoned him at the cross. Two of the closest, Peter and Judas, abandoned him as clearly as King Saul and David’s son, Absalom, betrayed David.

And in the middle of dealing with all this, we sin again, having taken our eyes off of God. forgotten that we had cried out, and we miss His answer…

  • It doesn’t matter He is here!

This is when we need to take inventory of God’s blessings the most.

That is when we need someone to say something we respond to with, “and also with you!”

We need to take inventory and remember our great asset is the presence of God Almighty in our lives. The God who brings us peace and comfort, whose presence gladdens our heart, who cares and protects us so well that we can sleep the night in true peace…

He is here!!

Remember all the things David saw do for others? He again asks God for mercy, and then they all come true for David.

Here how the psalm declares these praises:

10  LORD, have mercy on me. Make me well again, so I can pay them back! 11  I know you are pleased with me, for you have not let my enemies triumph over me. 12  You have preserved my life because I am innocent; you have brought me into your presence forever. 13  Praise the LORD, the God of Israel, who lives from everlasting to everlasting. Amen and amen!

David gets back to business. He cries out for God’s mercy and healing!

Look at verse 12 one more time: “12  You have preserved my life because I am innocent; you have brought me into your presence forever.”

David said this, and we can and should say it as well,

God, You have preserved my life because I am innocent; you have brought me into your presence forever.

That is the work of Jesus at the cross… because of His death, where our sin was nailed to the cross, we have entered, not will enter, have entered the presence of God—where we will dwell forever!
1  Since you have been raised to new life with Christ, set your sights on the realities of heaven, where Christ sits in the place of honor at God’s right hand. 2  Think about the things of heaven, not the things of earth. 3  For you died to this life, and your real life is hidden with Christ in God. 4  And when Christ, who is your life, is revealed to the whole world, you will share in all his glory. Colossians 3:1-4 (NLT2)

That is the day we are looking for, this day when our life in Christ is revealed to the whole world. When we see God, in whose presence we dwell….

Until then—take inventory often, realizing that you already dwell in His presence. He has cleansed you of sin, comforted and healed you! For this He has promised you…and promised you can help others realize these blessings… and praise God with them.

For you dwell in His presence and know His peace! AMEN!

 

The Cure for “Boring” Spirituality/Christianity

Thoughts that give me confidence because Jesus is drawing us closer to Him!

I came naked from my mother’s womb,
and I will be naked when I leave.
The LORD gave me what I had,
and the LORD has taken it away.
Praise the name of the LORD!”
Job 1:21

Since all standard hymns have been edited to delete inferior stanzas and since any stanza of the average hymn can be sung in less than one minute … and since many of our best hymns have already been shortened as much as good taste will allow, we are forced to conclude that the habit of omitting the third stanza reveals religious boredom, pure and simple, and it would do our souls good if we would admit it.

As we begin to trust God more, we enjoy a certain freedom from our vices and may often experience great satisfaction in our spiritual endeavors. When God decides we are ready, he invites us to a new level of self-knowledge. God withdraws the initial consolations of conversion, and we are plunged in darkness, spiritual dryness, and confusion. We think that God has abandoned us.… Then comes a period of peace, enjoyment of a new inner freedom, the wonder of new insights. That takes time. Rarely is there a sudden movement to a new level of awareness that is permanent. What happens when we get to the bottom of the pile of our emotional debris? We are in divine union. There is no other obstacle.

The second and third readings are cause and effect.

When our worship becomes dry, when our spiritual lives exist in a state of boredom, we need God to take action.

But I will warn you, it isn’t pretty. It may not be as dramatic as Job encounters, but it will feel like it at times. (It does for me today) The classic devotional text The Dark Night of the Soul, also documents this, and how God allows Satan to strike us, for our good.

Like Job, the journey isn’t easy, like Job the challenges overwhelm us, and we find ourselves at the point of despair, and we will accuse God of abandoning us. That accusation may come with surprising force, because it comes from the darkest regions of our heart and soul.

God hears the accusation as a prayer. A cry for help that will be answered in a way that Keaton recognizes is full of peace. We abandon ourselves into the hands of a loving, merciful God, and are willing to see what He will do, for there is nothing else. Everything, including our hearts and minds are emptied out, and He is there… and that is what we need.

For we realize it is a blessed thing for God to take away what divides us from Him.  That is part of His healing ministry.

Oddly enough, this healing work, stripping us of all that isn’t of God–that is the content of many of those “third verses” that Tozer laments the loss of. Consider this one

My sin, oh the bliss of this glorious thought (a thought)
My sin, not in part, but the whole (every bit, every bit, all of it)
Is nailed to the cross, and I bear it no more (yes)
Praise the Lord, praise the Lord, O my soul
(from It is Well with My Soul!)

God is with us…Blessed Be His Name!

A. W. Tozer, Tozer for the Christian Leader (Chicago: Moody Publishers, 2015).

Thomas Keating, The Daily Reader for Contemplative Living: Excerpts from the Works of Father Thomas Keating, O.C.S.O., Sacred Scripture, and Other Spiritual Writings, ed. S. Stephanie Iachetta (New York; London; New Delhi; Sydney: Bloomsbury, 2009), 179.

 

God, Where are You… when I NEED YOU?

Thoughts encouraging our being drawn closer to Christ

“Sir,” Gideon replied, “if the LORD is with us, why has all this happened to us? And where are all the miracles our ancestors told us about? Didn’t they say, ‘The LORD brought us up out of Egypt’? But now the LORD has abandoned us and handed us over to the Midianites.”
22 When Gideon realized that it was the angel of the LORD, he cried out, “Oh, Sovereign LORD, I’m doomed! I have seen the angel of the LORD face to face!” 23 “It is all right,” the LORD replied. “Do not be afraid. You will not die.” 24 And Gideon built an altar to the LORD there and named it Yahweh-Shalom (which means “the LORD is peace”). The altar remains in Ophrah in the land of the clan of Abiezer to this day.
Judges 6:13, 22-24 NLT

One word from the lips of the man who has actually heard the lute play will have more effect than a score of sermons by the man who has only heard that it was played. Acquaintance is always better than hearsay.

There’s a classic distinction that can serve us well in sorting out how to go about our work. In the church’s parlance over the centuries we have spoken of those things that are bene esse (beneficial) and those things that are esse (essential). Most people have an innate grasp of this concept, but too often it’s set aside in practice.

Gideon knew of God’s love, but only saw it as God’s love demonstrated to His people in the past. Sure,, God was with them during the Exodus, and of course, during the conquest of the Promised Land.

But now, that Gideon and those he loved were struggling under immense burdens… where was God?

Even as he asks, God is interacting with him…. and soon, Gideon will see and realize it!

God is at work, and far too often, we aren’t aware of it.

Senkbeil gives one reason why we spend time taking care of the church’s business, more than just being the church. The esse – the essence of who we are (esse from the root of the word “to be”) gets covered and overwhelmed by dealing with the details. We see that every generation as cell groups, kinship groups, and now “house churches” are created with an attempt to free the church of the bureaucratic, structural, and legal nonsense that gets thrown at us. Only to find out that as those groups grow – they need that garbage as well! The garbage is important – but not critically important – like realizing God’s presence is. 

And a generation later, the church’s new leaders try to free themselves from the stuff again!

For Tozer’s observation becomes true – we have forgotten what the lute sounds like because we’ve been focused on crafting the thing… (If you don’t believe me, look at those who advocate and coach house churches – they had great experiences being part of small groups – they re-invent what had meening to them and want to see that become the new model)

What if, instead, we took the time, as the apostles did – to ensure that there were men who devoted themselves to prayer and teaching, and others took up the structural stuff. Our leaders were men who worked in the Kingdom of the Right (the sacred) and had ministers who took care of the Kingdom of the left ( the secular/business stuff). What if our lives were similarly arranged – with time set and dominated by Senkbeil’s esse – and left lesser time for the bene esse, but didn’t just dismiss it?

The “who we are” would flow naturally into and flavor “what we are.” Our walk with God would be seen and experienced more as we walk through life.

We would know God is with us… while He guides us to be free from what oppresses us…..

Until the day where bene esse fades, and in the presence of God we know we are His… and we know where He was, when we needed Him. 

Lord, help us prioritize our time around knowing Your presence before putting other priorities of life and ministry first!

Tozer, A. W. 2015. Tozer for the Christian Leader. Chicago: Moody Publishers.

Senkbeil, Harold L. 2019. The Care of Souls: Cultivating a Pastor’s Heart. Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press.

Thoughts encouraging us to adore Jesus…

31 He presented another parable to them: “The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed that a man took and sowed in his field. 32 It’s the smallest of all the seeds, but when grown, it’s taller than the garden plants and becomes a tree, so that the birds of the sky come and nest in its branches.” Matthew 13:31–32 (CSB)

Sin can be forgiven but not corruption, simply because at the root of every corrupt attitude there is a fatigue for transcendence.
In front of God who does not get tired of forgiving, the corrupt person gets tired of asking for forgiveness.

Read these counsels slowly. Pause to meditate on these thoughts They are things that I whisper in your ear—
confiding them—as a friend, as a brother, as a father. And they are being heard by God. I won’t tell you anything new.
I will only stir your memory, so that some thought will arise and strike you; and so you will better your life and set out along ways of prayer and of love. And in the end you will be a more worthy soul.

We need, as a church, to spend more time meditating on the word of God.

Especially on His promises, thinking about the incredible changes those promises make in our lives. They are like that mustard seeed, and at first it seems small, anot not much. For example, the forgivesness of a little white lie, or some gossip or envy, or a moment where lust and desire take tht eplace of more noble thoughts. Realizing, being in awe of the grace poured out from the cross, we need to think on that – to realize how much God does love us!

The more we think on God’s promises, the more we see them happen, and we tire less on the journey. The more we spend time with God, the more we realize what He is doing, the more our faith grows and the reign of God grows, til is provides a safe place for many others.

This is who we are… His people- and what a wondrous thing that is!

Pope Francis, A Year with Pope Francis: Daily Reflections from His Writings, ed. Alberto Rossa (New York; Mahwah, NJ; Toronto, ON: Paulist Press; Novalis, 2013), 234.

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

An Odd and Meaningful Thing to Kiss?

A special place where God and people meet…

Devotional Thought of the Day:
 But there will be a Sabbath of complete resta for the land in the seventh year, a Sabbath to the LORD: you are not to sow your field or prune your vineyard. 5 You are not to reap what grows by itself from your crop, or harvest the grapes of your untended vines. It is to be a year of complete rest for the land. 6 Whatever the land produces during the Sabbath year can be food for you—for yourself, your male or female slave, and the hired worker or alien who resides with you. 7 All of its growth may serve as food for your livestock and the wild animals in your land. Leviticus 25:4-7 CSB

Then our Lord rose from the dead and we have what we call the period of the preparation.… They had stopped their activity at the specific command of the Lord. He said, “Tarry! You are about to receive that which has been promised.…” Sometimes you are going farther when you are not going anywhere; you are moving faster when you are not moving at all. HTB024–025 O, my heart, be still before Him!

And here the Church has introduced the custom that the faithful should give one another the kiss of peace, to remind them that their hearts should be united in charity. Before giving the kiss of peace, the priest kisses the altar, to show that he cannot give the peace unless he has first received it from Jesus Christ, who is represented by the altar.

In these days of COVID, we no longer shake hands or hug each other during the passing of the peace. ( I am not one for giving others a kiss – but other acts suffice!) It was a very meaningful time in my church. One which I struggle with in every service…

Given all that, I was struck by the instructions given to my brothers who are Catholic priests, to first kiss the altar. The reason makes sense; we can only pass on the peace we are given, we cannot create that peace within our own lives, never mind between us and those we’ve squabbled with during the week.

So the priest pauses, and kisses the altar… on behalf of all of us. I like the imagery, and the slight pause, the realization that God is here… and from Him come all the blessings that create a life of peace!

It resonates with Tozer’s words, about a period of preparation, a moment to remember the role of God. Even as we look upon the Body and Blood of Jesus, we realize the peace that comes, as we realize our need for it, we are doing what Tozer says, progressing in our faith; while letting our heart before Him find stillness and find peace.

When we take a moment, or a day, or a year to realize that when we rest before God (the idea of a sabbatical – not to write a book or do a different job) we find ourselves resting in Christ, and we find ourselves at peace.

The side effect of that peace is being able to share it with others, It is not the primary result, but it is there. The same is true for being able to minister to people. All of these activities, all of these things we are gifted and called to do are side effects of our time with Jesus. We need to realize that, and we need to spend that time, paused, adoring the Lord.

Even it is just taking a moment, and kissing the altar.

Heavenly Father, help us to always realize Your presence, to acknowledge it, to embrace You. Help us to take the time to know we dwell in Your presence, in Your peace. And then, secure in Christ, and indwelt by the Holy Spirit, show us how to live. AMEN!


A. W. Tozer and Marilynne E. Foster, Tozer on the Holy Spirit: A 366-Day Devotional (Camp Hill, PA: WingSpread, 2007).

Alphonsus de Liguori, The Holy Eucharist, ed. Eugene Grimm, The Complete Works of Saint Alphonsus de Liguori (New York; London; Dublin; Cincinnati; St. Louis: Benziger Brothers; R. Washbourne; M. H. Gill & Son, 1887), 54.

Revival: Revealed! The Power of His Promise

Revival: Revealed
The Power of His Promise
Isaiah 25:6-9


May the grace and mercy of God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ help you to trust in what has been promised to you, what has been guaranteed!

The Missing Feast

There is a promise in today’s Old Testament reading that means more to me that it did 7 months ago.

The Lord of Heaven’s Armies will spread a wonderful feast for all the people of the world.”

We’ve missed too many feasts.

Maunday Thursday, Easter Sunday Brunch, the Women’s Brunch, the combined service potluck. Family fun night meals.

And how many haven’t had the most important meal in our present lives, a meal they were used to every week of their life.

No, I don’t mean the doughnuts between church and Bible Study.

There is something about being gathered at the communion rail together, to receive His body and blood together, to know we are being healed and forgiven, together.

All these feasts we’ve missed in the last 7 months!  How many more are we going to miss in the months to come. 

It can be discouraging

demoralizing

heartbreaking.

It sucks the life right out of us… and we need to revived.

And that revival is realized when we hear this incredible promise of God.

The Lord of Heaven’s Armies will spread a wonderful feast for all the people of the world.”

What Has to Be Removed!

In order for us to have everyone back in church, back at the altar rail together, to feast together, there are a number of things that have to happen. First, COVID as a threat has to be minimized. We have to have everything in place, and the government has to recognize it.

Simple, right?

It is not as simple as what has to happen for the feast that God has planned and promised.

Let’s look what He h promised to do.

Isaiah, inspired by God, writes,
7  There he will remove the cloud of gloom, the shadow of death that hangs over the earth. 8  He will swallow up death forever! The Sovereign LORD will wipe away all tears. He will remove forever all insults and mockery against his land and people. The LORD has spoken!

There is a cool description there, as God obliterates death and the threat of it. No doubt of it, death is crushed.

As it the grief it causes.

How does God do that? OF what has He spoken..

The Apostle Paul tells us,

56  Sin is what gives death its sting, and the Law is the power behind sin. 57  But thank God for letting our Lord Jesus Christ give us the victory! 1 Corinthians 15:56-57 (CEV)

Without the power given to death because you and I have sinned, death can no longer separate us from God.

Your sin has been made of no effect, Christ died for it.

That is why not only has sin been made irrelevant, so has all the crud it goes with it. The tears, the mockery, the insults, all of the challenges that sin brings into our lives.

That is the picture in the gospel, as God the King sends His servants out into the streets – go get everyone you see God tells us. And God will fill this place with everyone good and bad alike!

Because He will take care of their sin, and it will no longer disqualify them from being there!

This isn’t just a hope, it is what is promised, and the more we realize that, the more we see it revealed, the more we are revived from all the stuff that sucks the life out of us!

On to the feast

But because of that promise, made before we were born, made before creation, we look to the cross, and realize it is true.

The feast will happen, and we aren’t just invited as guests, we are the church, the Bride of Christ!  The one the Apostle Paul wrote about when he penned,

26  He made the church holy by the power of his word, and he made it pure by washing it with water. 27  Christ did this, so that he would have a glorious and holy church, without faults or spots or wrinkles or any other flaws.    Ephesians 5:26-27 (CEV)

I would quote Paul again,

“What God has planned for people who love him is more than eyes have seen or ears have heard. It has never even entered our minds!”  1 Cor.2:9

I want you to think of how it is going to feel when we can finally gather inside again. When all those who have had to stay away are home, how it will feel to see Wanda back in her seat, and Debbie and Tom back in their seat, When Tony and Myrna are able to walk in again, when everyone is back where they belong….

And if you think that is incredible, think of the days when we gather before God’s throne, and Pastor Meier and his wife are there, as well as the Lingos, and Al Anderson, and Warren, Hugh, Armando, and Ted jr. and Bonnie and Clyde… wait… that didn’t sound quite right.

Imagine that day… a day promised to you, a day of celebration and feasting a day when ever sin has been lifted off of us, and there is no more despair! 

This is what we are holding on for, this day when every promise becomes tue, just as they became true on the day Jesus rose from the dead…

My friends, Alleluia, Jesus is Risen!
(He is Risen indeed! Alleluia!)
and therefore we are risen indeed!  ALELLUIA.

This means we are in revival, a revival we realize because of the power of the promise of God! AMEN!

The King, the Missionary and the Priest walk into…

Devotional Thought for Today:
1  First of all, I ask you to pray for everyone. Ask God to help and bless them all, and tell God how thankful you are for each of them. 2  Pray for kings and others in power, so that we may live quiet and peaceful lives as we worship and honor God. 3  This kind of prayer is good, and it pleases God our Savior. 4  God wants everyone to be saved and to know the whole truth, which is, 5  There is only one God, and Christ Jesus is the only one who can bring us to God. Jesus was truly human, and he gave himself to rescue all of us. 6  God showed us this at the right time.
1 Timothy 2:1-6 (CEV)

“I think more of the place where I was baptized than of Rheims Cathedral where I was crowned.  It is a greater thing to be a child of God than to be the ruler of a Kingdom.  This last I shall lose at death but the other will be my passport to an everlasting glory.” (St. Louis IX, King of France)

746      From there, where you are working, let your heart escape to the Lord, right close to the Tabernacle, to tell him, without doing anything odd, “My Jesus, I love You”. Don’t be afraid to call him so—my Jesus—and to say it to him often.

In the same spirit of humility he directed in his will that the following inscription and noting more should be vut on his gravestone:-
WILLIAM CAREY, BOTRN AUGUST 17th, 1761.: DIED-
A wretched, poor, and helpless worm…on Thy kind arms I fall.”

The king and the missionary knew the same thing.

They understood what truly mattered in life. Both had amazing successes, and failures beyond imagination. They were known and loved by some of those they served, and hated by others. Neither was perfect, yet both knew what mattered in their life, to the extent that I would hold their words up to you, and ask you to come to similar conclusions.

The same conclusion that St. Josemaria urges us, even as we work diligently, to let our hearts escape into God’s presence, and declare boldly, “my Jesus…”

You see that is what the great missionary to India meant, as he fell into the arms of Christ. Nothing else in his life was worth recognizing, save that. The King, choosing more important the moment where the Father unites him to Jesus, in the death and resurrection of Christ, (see Romans 6, Colossians 2) says the same thing.

Everything that is critical in life boils down to to that point, where Jesus makes us His people.

This is what we need to pray, that as God is revealed to people, that they know His love, and His mercy, so shown to us at the cross.

It is the presence of God that we need in our lives. That is where everything changes. To realize that is what Jesus gave up to gain for us, to be welcome there in the presence of the Father, to be drawn into the glorious love in which the Trinity dances, this is everything.

That is the point of the religion we call Christianity. Not to just explore where we have come from as humanity. Not just to reign in behavior, teaching people how to be good to each other.

Our purpose is that everyone, from people in France and India, clergy and politicians and those they lead, know the miracle of being welcome into the presence of God!

This is why we pray for people, surely asking for God to help them in their times of being challenged, but that they might now Him as well.

So my friends pray for all… and pray they come to know the living Lord Jesus, and then together with Louis, and Josemaria, and William, find the peace that passes all understanding, as we experience the Love that goes beyond explanation.. and know I pray you know this too!.

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

Spurgeon, Charles. Morning and Evening – Morning, August 29, Logos Edition

Making Sense of It All

man wearing jacket standing on wooden docks leading to body of water

Photo by Wouter de Jong on Pexels.com

Devotional Thought of the day:

9 In fact, we felt sure that we were going to die. But this made us stop trusting in ourselves and start trusting God, who raises the dead to life. 2 Corinthians 1:9 (CEV)

Each Commandment makes sense only when you see it in the light of love. Take the first, for example: “You shall have no other gods before me.” Why? Because God is an egotist? No, because God is a lover. What lover wants half the heart of his beloved? Also God is a realist. He knows that false gods simply cannot make us happy, however many times we are deceived into believing and acting as if they could. Love, of course, seeks the beloved’s happiness. It is God’s love of us, not self-love, that is behind His jealousy.

I have had a number of people ask me how I, as a pastor, cope with all that is going on in these days. I have pause for a moment because what I know is going on in people’s lives, I can’t always share. Matter of fact, that is too often the story.

I have my challenges, but they are nothing compared to those that people are experiencing. In the midst of that experience, I am trying to help them experience something else. What I want is for them to experience the love of God, which I know I can’t explain clearly enough.  There are no words for it, but that love sustains us through the most broken parts of our lives.

So perhaps it is good for people to ask me how I am coping. By being honest with the fact that I could not cope without God holding me up, perhaps they can know His comfort as well. Perhaps they can see, in the midst of my struggles, that God doesn’t give up on us, that He will comfort us,

This works into Kreeft’s observation about God’s jealousy, about the idea that He isn’t jealous for His sake, but for ours. God wants what is best for us, and being smarter than us (what an understatement) He longs for what is best for us. As Kreeft indicates, it is love, and a desire for our joy, that drives the jealousy of God

That is why Jesus hung on a cross for us.  It is why he spent years teaching and mentoring people like John and James, “the sons of Thunder”. It is why Jesus is not only merciful to sinners but is patient with us as well. And it is why He sens and equips apostles and pastors and missionaries and teachers to train us to serve others. As they train us like Paul did, training us by example.

Even when that example was tiring, frustrating, painful, and heart-rending. Because you, child of the King, need to know He is there for you in those times. If God was with Paul, and with me, certainly He will be there for you, for He loves you.

Peter Kreeft, The God Who Loves You (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 2004), 45.

 

 

Don’t Assume God Can’t Use “Them”

jesus-cross-summit-cross-37737
Devotional Thought of the Day:

49 One of the council members was Caiaphas, who was also high priest that year. He spoke up and said, “You people don’t have any sense at all! 50 Don’t you know it is better for one person to die for the people than for the whole nation to be destroyed?” 51 Caiaphas did not say this on his own. As high priest that year, he was prophesying that Jesus would die for the nation. 52 Yet Jesus would not die just for the Jewish nation. He would die to bring together all of God’s scattered people. 53 From that day on, the council started making plans to put Jesus to death.  John 11:49-53  CEV

Beyond Caiaphas, I can think of Cyrus, who sent Ezra to re-build the temple and Artaxerxes who would send Nehemiah. There Balaam – who followed another God, yet couldn’t speak against God or Israel.

But Caiaphas’ prophesy has to be right there at the top of the proofs that God can speak through those who do not always follow Him. That God can use them to reveal His plan, His nature, and even His love.

I am really not fond of politicians and bureaucrats – especially those within the church.  Caiaphas was definitely one of those. I struggle with them, especially when they make rules they think have the power of laws, and do not apply them fairly.

That doesn’t mean God can not still use them, with or without their agreement.

It does mean that we have to be patient and weigh what they say, rather than simply dismiss it because of who they are, and their role in the church, the community, or the nation.

That seems counter-intuitive in these days when lines are not little lines in the sand but are lines drawn on political battlefields. When division is brutal, and we are looking at those brutalized by the “enemy.”  We won’t call them that behind their back though!

Seriously, we have to trust in God’s work, in His promises, including Romans 8:28.

That is what this really comes down to – not our trust in these people, not our frustrations with them, but our ability to trust in God. That is what it comes down to, to realize that God will work and speak can speak through them.

The only question is whether we will listen for God speaking through them, trusting that since God can even use us to speak for Him.

Listen, pray, and know the Lord is with you!

So Longed for…the Sacraments and the Return of Jesus!

church at communion 2Devotional Thought of the Day

23  I will show how holy my great name is—the name on which you brought shame among the nations. And when I reveal my holiness through you before their very eyes, says the Sovereign LORD, then the nations will know that I am the LORD. 24  For I will gather you up from all the nations and bring you home again to your land. 25  “Then I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you will be clean. Your filth will be washed away, and you will no longer worship idols. 26  And I will give you a new heart, and I will put a new spirit in you. I will take out your stony, stubborn heart and give you a tender, responsive heart. 27  And I will put my Spirit in you so that you will follow my decrees and be careful to obey my regulations.
Ezekiel 36:23-27 (NLT2)

23  For I pass on to you what I received from the Lord himself. On the night when he was betrayed, the Lord Jesus took some bread 24  and gave thanks to God for it. Then he broke it in pieces and said, “This is my body, which is given for you. Do this to remember me.” 25  In the same way, he took the cup of wine after supper, saying, “This cup is the new covenant between God and his people—an agreement confirmed with my blood. Do this to remember me as often as you drink it.” 26  For every time you eat this bread and drink this cup, you are announcing the Lord’s death until he comes again. 1 Corinthians 11:23-26 (NLT2)

16  Confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. . James 5:16 (NLT2)

Sacraments are “powers that comes forth” from the Body of Christ,33 which is ever-living and life-giving. They are actions of the Holy Spirit at work in his Body, the Church.

18 A sacrament is a ceremony or act in which God offers us the content of the promise joined to the ceremony; thus Baptism is not an act which we offer to God but one in which God baptizes us through a minister functioning in his place. Here God offers and presents the forgiveness of sins according to the promise (Mark 16:16), “He who believes and is baptized will be saved.” By way of contrast, a sacrifice is a ceremony or act which we render to God to honor him.

I saw a friend share part of the Ezekiel reading the other day, and my mind flashed back to a baptism 5 years ago this week,

A pastor I know and admire posted about baptizing someone yesterday in their front yard with family looking on from an appropriate distance.

I’ve talked to pastor and priest friends, who all agonize over not being able to provide the Eucharist/Lord’s Supper to those whose faith is so challenged in these days.

Sacraments are not some magical incantation, the words accompany the promise, and the means God promised real to those whom HE blesses in that moment.

That water, because God promised, because He is pour/sprinkling/immersing people with it, give what He promised – the cleansing of our sin, the change of heart  (and mind) that we need, the presence of the Holy Spirit in our lives.

That bread that we place in their hands, it is the Body of Christ – given and shed so those people can realize GOd’s love, His mercy, His presence in their lives.

The words of forgiveness, which ring out, not because the pastor likes you, but because God wants you to hear them – YOU ARE FORGIVEN!

This isn’t about us doing the work, about our obedience, about our religious acts.  It is about God coming into our lives,  about God doing His work.

Those who are ordained to make sure these gifts are delivered are crushed, because we hear the need across phone lines, through texts and messages, and in the posts on social media. We can and are responding to some of those cries in person, but it is another thing to celebrate it all in person.

We look forward to the days when services and masses are the gatherings they should be.  But this time helps a little I think. For we begin to understand a little more clearly what it means to cry out for Christ to return, for the great gathering that will happen, when He welcomes us home.

I think we take heaven for granted at times, as we might the Lord’s Supper or our baptism, or that moment when you hear your shepherd tell you that you are forgiven because Jesus said so.  One has seemed so far away – a lifetime.  The others, the sacraments have always been there, they always should be.  Their removal, and the threat of death, combine to help us think of the biggest reunion.

We learn to yearn for the future, because of the absence of the present.  We learn to look to eternal life, as we are reminded that this life is easily threatened.  We long to have Jesus return to us in the sacrament, even as we are learning to yearn for His second coming!

Let me say it again, for it is worth saying!  I long for the day when the people I pastor can re-gather, and celebrate Christ’s feast together.  But even more, I am understanding why I should long for the feast to come when all of God’s people are welcomed home…and the celebration begins.

May God’s peace, poured out on you in Christ, nourished through word and sacraments, sustain you until the re-gatherings.  This will happen, for He has promised, and He is faithful!  AMEN!

Catholic Church, Catechism of the Catholic Church, 2nd Ed. (Vatican City: Libreria Editrice Vaticana, 1997), 289.

Theodore G. Tappert, ed., The Book of Concord the Confessions of the Evangelical Lutheran Church. (Philadelphia: Mühlenberg Press, 1959), 252.

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