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Why is Spiritual Growth such a Long Ordeal?

Thoughts that drag me close to Jesus

Three different times, I begged the Lord to take it away. 9 Each time he said, “My grace is all you need. My power works best in weakness.” So now I am glad to boast about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ can work through me. 10 That’s why I take pleasure in my weaknesses, and in the insults, hardships, persecutions, and troubles that I suffer for Christ. For when I am weak, then I am strong. 2 Co 12:8–10.  NLT

When the doctor’s (Luther) wife exclaimed, “How can people be so wicked and defile themselves with such sin!” the doctor said, “Ah, dear Katy, people don’t pray,” and then he added, “I think if God had commanded women to take on every man who happened along and in like manner commanded men to take every woman who came by—in short, if things were the opposite of what they are—people would earnestly have sighed for the institution of marriage.

Our lofty idealism would argue that all Christians should be perfect, but a blunt realism forces us to admit that perfection is rare even among the saints. The part of wisdom is to accept our Christian brothers and sisters for what they are rather than for what they should be.…

The Gift of Understanding reveals what is hidden in the major truths of Christian doctrine. The Gift of Understanding perfects, deepens, and illumines faith as to the meaning of revealed truth, adding new depths to the mystery to which we consent. For instance, it could be some aspect of the Holy Trinity or the greatness of God. It could be the presence of Jesus Christ in the Eucharist. It could be the infinite mercy of God in the Sacrament of Reconciliation. In other words, it is not merely the affirmation of something we believe and assent to. A characteristic of the Gift of Understanding is that it provides a kind of living experience of the mystery.

Luther’s wife and Tozer would have gotten along well! Both of them could voice their frustration with people who don’t mature in Christ, who still struggle, and sometimes embrace the sin that defiles them. Tozer had to remind himself and the church that Christians aren’t perfect, not even the holiest of us.

This doesn’t mean that we use some trite phrase to excuse the sin and unrighteousness that we should have set aside! “Christians aren’t perfect, just forgiven,” is one of them, which seems to allow for Christians to have the freedom to go and sin some more!

Nor do I think we should use what Luther jokes about, a kind of reverse psychology/spirituality that encourages people to feast on their sins till they make them sick to their souls. That didn’t work when my dad tried to teach me the evils of drinking, it won’t work with sin either. Luther’s point is that it wasn’t the sin, it was that whatever is labelled good – whatever is encouraged, our sinful nature will rebel against it!

For me, the frustration of this is one of my weakest points. I am not the most patient person, and I hate seeing myself or others endure the consequences of our own sin and sin nature. TO watch this over and over, to watch people make bad choices for themselves over and over, leaves me dry, worn out, burnet out.

Oddly enough, that is when God works the best.

That is when those blessed sacramental, incarnational moments occur.

It is when people begin to live in the mysteries, especially the sacramental ones, where they experience the love and acceptance of God so profoundly that they (and their pastor/friend) are in awe, and lose the ability to talk.

Those are the moments when we realize how sufficient, how effective, how precious the grace of God is.

I only wish I could say with Paul that I always treasure my weakness, that when I experience them I know something astonishing is about to take place. I wish I could say that, and it is a lesson that is being taught to me, over and over and over…

And Jesus never fails to amaze me, as those moments that impact others come out of moments of my most profound ineptness, weakness, and sense of failure. In those moments, when God’s grace is so manifest – the spiritual growth is amazing as its lack was disturbing.

He is here! He is God! He is guiding and caring for us!

and in that, I can rejoice, and find rest, and praise Him.

I pray the same for you! And then I will rejoice in what God is doing in our lives. That is our moments of weakness, and in our moments of frustration with other’s weakness, we can remember God is at work… and He is creating masterpieces of our lives.

 

Martin Luther, Luther’s Works, Vol. 54: Table Talk, ed. Jaroslav Jan Pelikan, Hilton C. Oswald, and Helmut T. Lehmann, vol. 54 (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1999), 415.

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), 209.

Revival Realized Sermon 3: The Power of Focus: Now

Revival Realized
The Power of Focus: NOW!
Psalm 27:4-9

I.H.S.

May the grace of God our Father and our Lord Jesus Christ so mesmerize us, that His presence in our lives consumes and transforms all our thoughts!

Desire – but how do we?

There is no doubt in my mind, that the people of Concordia know what it means to joyfully adore God. I’ve seen you do it.

I’ve even seen it in the hardest of times, when God’s joy overwhelms everything else we encounter in life.

And that is one of the marks of revival, this joy that lifts us up, that incredible joy that comes as we realize that God is here, that God is at work.

He is at work here! 

In each of our lives, whether we are here in the courtyard, or watching it live right now, or watching it a year from now on YouTube, God is at work in our lives.

One of the challenges we face in realizing this revival is focus, and Psalm 27 is going to help us stay focused on the fact…

The Lord is with you! 

At He is at work!

That is why the Psalmist wrote,

The one thing I ask of the Lord— the thing I seek most— is to live in the house of the Lord all the days of my life, delighting in the Lord’s perfections and meditating in his Temple.

This is the attitude we have, when we realize God is at work, a  work we name revival – bringing life into the church. When we see that, we want more, we can’t help it, we want to see God at work in our lives, and the lives of those around us.

So how do we stay focused upon this work of God? Where do we look for it?

Well let’s keep looking at the psalmist, who knew this revival.

For he will conceal me there when troubles come; He will hide me in his sanctuary. He will place me out of reach on a high rock. Then I will hold my head high above my enemies who surround me. At his sanctuary I will offer sacrifices with shouts of joy, singing and praising the Lord with music.

David’s joy comes in the midst of troubles,

He tells us he realizes that not only is he in God’s presence during these times, but the reason why he does. He realizes that God is protecting him, that God has him, right in the midst of his holiness, for that is what it means to be in the sanctuary. 

The Apostle Paul taught this to the church when he wrote,

Focus on His Call

1  You have been raised to life with Christ, so set your hearts on the things that are in heaven, where Christ sits on his throne at the right side of God. 2  Keep your minds fixed on things there, not on things here on earth. 3  For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. 4  Your real life is Christ and when he appears, then you too will appear with him and share his glory!
Colossians 3:1-4 (TEV)

Paul and David agree – even as we live in this world, our real reality is found in the presence of God, that is where we belong, and Jesus will make sure we get there. Remember that, rejoice in it, whether in the midst of COVID, fires, heatwaves, earthquakes, even as we mourn, or get anxious because of the world.

You can shout for joy, and sing and praise God with music….

For He has promised that everything will work out for you, and nothing can separate us from God!

Focus on His Promise

How do we do that?  The psalmist helps us there as well!

Even in the midst of the Old Testament, here is the realization, we can hear God say, Come and Talk with Me!

Come and talk of your struggles, come and talk of the heartache, and pain. Come and talk of your dreams, asking God to bless them, to fine tune, them, even correct them, and our thoughts, come and talk to Him, here, even when we struggle with sin, or feel so ashamed that we can’t imagine Him calling to us.

The Lord God, creator of all, says, Tom, come and talk with me.  Bob, come and talk with me. Debbie and Cyndee, come… come and talk with me.

And our heart learns …. to respond… Lord, I am coming!

And revival has been realized!

This is so mind-blowing

To realize God wants us to come to Him, to talk to Him, as a child should talk to a Father,

That time with God is so powerful, so incredible, so reviving and resuscitating that we can’t imagine life without it. This is what our last words from the psalmist testifies to…as He pleads with God!

Do not turn your back on me. Do not reject your servant in anger. You have always been my helper. Don’t leave me now; don’t abandon me, O God of my salvation!

I don’t think this is really a fear, as much as it is a realization, hearing Him, hearing the invitation to come and talk with Him, knowing He will listen, knowing He will act brings such life to our lives, we have to ask, is this going to end….

And hear God’s answer.

And be sure of this: I am with you always, even to the end of the age!”

Matthew 28:20 (NLT2)

Assured of this, there is revival… and we realize it…

Let’s pray,

Holy Spirit, come open up our hearts, show us how you are reviving our lives, our church and the community in which we live. Re-kindle in our lives the joy of Your salvation!  And may the revival You are helping us realize, change the world!

What Brings the Greatest Pleasure? A Concordia sermon on Ephesians 1:3-14

church at communion 2

What Brings the Greatest Pleasure?
Ephesians 1:3-14


† In Jesus Name †

May the grace of God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ bring you as much pleasure as you receive it and share it with others as it brings God!

 The Pleasure of a Job Well Done

This week I had to drop off nine cases of books at Concordia University. Mark Siegert, one of the professors in the Cross-cultural Ministry Center and I used dollies to bring them from the car to the building, a distance of about 100 feet up a gradual hill.

As we finished, we both laughed.  For we both managed bookstores before we got into ministry, he ran Concordia’s and I ran Pepperdine’s.  Back in the day, we would unload with our crew, shipments of 200 plus cases. And barely be tired.  That day, we were both exhausted after three simple trips! On the way back, I thought of those days, I remember the feeling after a long day shuttling cases of books, and watching the sun go down over the ocean, drinking a coke with my employees.

There is something special about doing a good job, and the sense of pleasure from accomplishing it with people you call your friends.

If that is so, how much more pleasure would God have, from accomplishing His greatest work, and celebrating it with those he loves?

The Job He Has Done

In Paul’s epistle to the church in Ephesus, we heard this morning about the work of God and the pleasure it gives Him.   In fact, Paul was so impressed, he told us about this work of God in 12 ways, which I want to go over again.

1.  He blessed us with every spiritual blessing as we are united to Jesus

2. He chose us to be in Christ to be holy and without fault, any fault, as He looks at us!

That I think is a bit of work!  At least in my case!

3.  He adopted us into His own family! He did this, again, by uniting us to Jesus, to His death and resurrection!  This wasn’t just down to make us happy, to give us joy, but this is what said gave God the greatest pleasure!  Making us His kids in every sense of the Word.

4.  He poured out His glorious grace on us, for we belong to Jesus

5. He is so rich in Kindness He purchased our freedom with the blood of His Son

We need to pause here, and stop and think that Jesus’s blood paid for that sin you committed on Wednesday, yes, that one sin you thought you could hide, that no one would know about.  He paid for that sin, with the blood poured out, there on the cross.

We need to understand this, not just the thousands of sins that we commit over a lifetime, but that sin that haunts us, that we fear if it became known, it would ruin us. That sin, as well as all the others, paid for so that we could be adopted.

6.  He will bring everything together as one, at the right time!

What a day that will be, no more division, nor more struggle!

7.  Because we are united to Jesus, we have an inheritance waiting for us, we have a place!

8. Because He chose us, everything in life will work out according to His plan!

now there are days I don’t understand how everything works out into His plan, and I have to be honest with that.  There are those times I don’t see it, yet, what gets me through those times is refocusing on His plan, on His desire that all would be with Him!  When I refocus on that, the suffering is still there, but somehow its grip on me diminishes in strength. For the more we look to Him, the surer we are of His love, and therefore His promises

9.  Even though others were saved first, God made sure that because we have heard His word, He has saved us as well!

Number 10 in this recounting of God’s work is amazing, and I wish we had hours to go into it.

10.  He identified us as HIS! He picked us out of the lineup and said, you are mine, and He did this by giving us the Holy Spirit, the Comforter, just as He promised long ago!

11. The Holy Spirit, given to us in baptism is the guarantee of the promises He gave us.

This wonderful comforter counted here as the guarantee of our salvation is just eh beginning of it.  Again, another sermon series could be on each of these points that Paul is sharing with the church in Ephesus!

and the final one, something that expands on an earlier point.

12.  He purchased us to be His people.

We are His people, and this is the work, the thing God has labored at, and suffered to see happen.

We are His, identified as His, adopted as His, united in Christ’s death where He paid for all our sins and freed us from them so we could have this wondrous relationship with Him!.

And someday, the sun will set for a final time, and all of us will arrive home.

This is what brings Him pleasure, not the

And find God rejoicing, with the largest of smiles, pleased at the work He has done, making us all His own.

Christianity is not just about getting us to heaven or avoiding hell, it isn’t just about doing good and not doing evil.  It is about being in a relationship with God our Father, and our Lord Jesus Christ whose blood was shed so that relationship would become possible.

Not just for you and me, but for every broken person that Christ died for, for every person He would save, for every person that God would adopt, for we know the pleasure it brings Him.

May he work through each one of us, helping us to see many more come to hear His of His work in their life!  AMEN!

 

The Bottom Line

Jesus foot washingDevotional Thought of the Day:
1  When I came to you, my friends, to preach God’s secret truth, I did not use big words and great learning. 2  For while I was with you, I made up my mind to forget everything except Jesus Christ and especially his death on the cross. 1 Corinthians 2:1-2 (TEV)

729    Each day, O my God, I am less sure of myself and more sure of you!

Back in my youth, there was a phrase used that described the attitude of many students in college.  It went like this, “If you cannot blind them with your brilliance, baffle them with your bullshit!”

With intent or not, that may have gotten many of us a grade or two better than we deserve.  Like most sophomore (from the greek where we get the words wise and fool/moron) we thought we knew everything about everything, and we tried to impress others with those beliefs and impose those beliefs on them.

I don’t think those attitudes have changed all that much, even as I encountered them as an instructor in both computer information systems and in world religions in the last two decades.

As I read St. Josemaria’s words this morning, and I considered all the fake news out there, I remembered the attitude and the bravado and crap that we typed onto papers and presented in class.

And I regret that past, for instead of shuffling data to look good and trying to impress professors and classmates, I could have been learning more about the love of God. The love revealed in the incarnation, in the life and teaching of Jesus the Messiah, in His suffering and death which frees you and I from sin, from the resurrection, which brings us to live in Him.  I could have been looking for to the resurrection from the dead, and the life of the world to come.

For that is the bottom line in life.  Nothing else truly matters.

We keep it simple, Christ came to save sinners. sinners like me.  To save us from ourselves. To save us to himself.  AMEN

Lord, help us each day to become less sure of ourselves, and surer of Your love and presence in our lives.  AMEN!

 

Escriva, Josemaria. The Way (Kindle Locations 1711-1712). Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition.

The Hardest Lesson: One We Can’t Learn on Our Own

Jesus foot washingDevotional Thought fo the Day:

9  Two are better off than one, because together they can work more effectively. 10  If one of them falls down, the other can help him up. But if someone is alone and falls, it’s just too bad, because there is no one to help him. 11  If it is cold, two can sleep together and stay warm, but how can you keep warm by yourself? 12  Two people can resist an attack that would defeat one person alone. A rope made of three cords is hard to break. Ecclesiastes 4:9-12 (TEV)

11  May our God and Father himself and our Lord Jesus prepare the way for us to come to you! 12  May the Lord make your love for one another and for all people grow more and more and become as great as our love for you. 13  In this way he will strengthen you, and you will be perfect and holy in the presence of our God and Father when our Lord Jesus comes with all who belong to him. 1 Thessalonians 3:11-13 (TEV)

26  “The Helper will come—the Spirit, who reveals the truth about God and who comes from the Father. I will send him to you from the Father, and he will speak about me. John 15:26 (TEV)

21 So it is with all idolatry. Idolatry does not consist merely of erecting an image and praying to it. It is primarily in the heart, which pursues other things and seeks help and consolation from creatures, saints, or devils. It neither cares for God nor expects good things from him sufficiently to trust that he wants to help, nor does it believe that whatever good it receives comes from God.

Luther’s words about the first commandment are always convicting to me at first. For it is too simple to set up an idol.  We can make them out of anything, ranging from money and worldly success to our dreams, to our honor.

Whatever we place our hope in, whatever we pursue as if attaining it will give us peace, that becomes our idol. 

Even if it was something that was given to us by God for good. An example of this is the Bronze Serpent, a foreshadow of Christ, that brought healing to a situation, that people later worshipped.  The same for Gideon’s ephod, and later relics and holy objects.  These should have pointed us to God, but sometimes we forget the reality of God and focus on something that should remind us of Him.  We can even do this with our church life, where we only want certain hymns or songs, or we want a certain kind of sermon or lesson. Because that is what gives us comfort.  

Solomon’s words out of Ecclesiastes should help here, especially when taken along with Jesus’s promise of the Holy Spirit.  Two are better than one, and when the One we are tied to is the Holy Spirit, the Comforter, it is His immeasurable strength that holds us as one.   The same with the promise in Thessalonians, the work God does in our lives to strengthen us. 

This gets to the heart of faith, why it is more than simply knowing the facts. Faith isn’t depending on the facts, it depends on the God who draws us into Himself. Who cleanses us from all our idols (see Ezekiel 36:25). 

Even in this sin of idolatry, it is too hard for us to overcome ourselves. Again, even as we struggle with this, God is at work, healing us, cleansing us, comforting us.  He is incredible that way and has shown His continual patience, patience that wisely tempers His jealousy.  Yes, God is jealous when you turn away from Him to idols of your own making!

We need to learn to trust and depend upon Him, We need to realize that He cares, that He wants to help, that even the things we don’t like that He provides, (like broccoli or the situations that cause growth!)

He is good, He loves you, more than you know, and the only way to grow is to experience that love.

So I pray you do this week… and that we all can learn to rejoice as idols are removed….

The Lord is with you! Rejoice!

What things do you struggle to trust God with?  What things might offer more comfort than God at first glance?

as always, comments and discussions gladly accepted 

 

The Large Catechism of Martin Luther:   FIrst Part, The First CommandmentTappert, T. G. (Ed.). (1959). The Book of Concord the confessions of the Evangelical Lutheran Church. (p. 367). Philadelphia: Mühlenberg Press.

Is Spirituality a Priority?

pcis 095

A Picture of our Journey… with Christ

Devotional Thought of the Day:
8  Bodily fitness has a certain value, but spiritual fitness is essential both for this present life and for the life to come. There is no doubt about this at all, and Christians should remember it. It is because we realise the paramount importance of the spiritual that we labour and struggle. We place our whole confidence in the living God, the saviour of all men, and particularly of those who believe in him. These convictions should be the basis of your instruction and teaching. 1 Timothy 4:8 (Phillips NT)

 

282    Paradox: Sanctity is more attainable than learning, but it is easier to be a scholar than to be a saint.

I have been having the same conversation recently with a couple of friends. Both were asking about how Christians growth.

And as I talked with them a question started to grow in my mind.  Do we even know what spiritual growth looks like?

If we cannot define it, how can we make it a priority in our own lives, and how can we lead others and help them grow and mature in their faith?    As I look at my mail, and the various Bible Studies, Sermon Series, and other materials offered for sale to help me guide and shepherd my congregation, it is rare than the material is geared to help them grow, at least grow in more than knowledge.

For the record, I would use two words to describe spiritual maturity, dependence, and expectation. ( Or if you want to use “churchy” words, faith and hope. )

Dependence is simply trusting in God.  It starts with trusting Him to save us from our sins and thereby giving us eternal life.  But our dependence upon Him only begins there. We need to depend on Him in every moment of the day.  We need to depend on Him when everything is… screwed up. We need to depend on Him when change occurs, or when He calls us to take on some mission, or reach out to people.

There isn’t a part of our lives where we don’t need to depend on God.  To trust Him that all things work out for good for those who Love Him, who are called according to His purpose.  This is especially true as we try and deal with our failures, our brokenness, our sin.

Expectation is what the other measure would be.  What do we expect God to do in our lives, and what do we expect afterward  Do we expect Him in our lives, do we expect Him to keep His promises, do we look forward to the day when He comes again? Do we base our lives on these expectations?

Those are the areas we need to grow in, to mature in, if we are to be spiritually mature.

It seems counter-intuitive, for most see maturity linked with freedom or independence. But with spirituality, true maturity comes from realizing that God is God, and we are His people.  That means we expect Him to care for us, even as He cared for Jesus.  That means we realize He is wiser and has promised to care for us, and depending on that care.

That is why being holy is so challenging, even though it is so easily attainable.

Questions
What area of life is the hardest to trust God with?

What expectations should you have of God, that you don’t think of often?

Escriva, Josemaria. The Way (Kindle Locations 747-749). Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition.

Wait for it…..can you?

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

The Pantheon, a place once dedicated to worship of idols but reborn to host the worship of God. May our lives tell a similar story as we realize what God does to us in baptism!

Devotional Thought of the Day:
2  The LORD gave me this answer: “Write down clearly on tablets what I reveal to you, so that it can be read at a glance. 3  Put it in writing, because it is not yet time for it to come true. But the time is coming quickly, and what I show you will come true. It may seem slow in coming, but wait for it; it will certainly take place, and it will not be delayed. 4  And this is the message: ‘Those who are evil will not survive, but those who are righteous will live because they are faithful to God.’Habakkuk 2:2-4 (TEV)

Impatience carries within itself a punishment: sterility.
The impatient, by wanting it all at once, is left with nothing. Their projects are like the seed that fell on rocky soil: they lack depth; they are mere words without consistency.

I remember the movie theatre in my hometown would change movings on Saturday, in time for the matinee.  Then it began that they would open on a new movie on Friday night, and now often, there is a midnight screening that you can go to, usually packed, so that you can be among the first to see the new movie.

We aren’t a very patient society at all, when we are willing to give up our health in order to say, “I was there” for a movie picture.  (Heck – now they will bring the popcorn barrel and half a gallon of caffeine to your seat so you won’t fall asleep in the powered recliner.

Is it any wonder that we are not patient in the church?  That we are so wanting the church to be what we envision the church to be that when there aren’t instant results we give up?  When this program or that staff member doesn’t accomplish the goals we set (did we even ask God what His vision for our congregation is?), we simply get rid of the program, find another place, a better fit for the staff member, rather than finding the patience we need.

But that impatience leads to fruitlessness, it leads to a weak church that doesn’t take time to see God at work, the kind of work that is sound, that is based in spiritual growth, that depends on learning to live in the presence of God.  That learns that true growth happens as we are left in awe of His love, as we adore Him, as we realize the change He is making in us, and the difference that change is from where we were.

Patience and its corollary, steadfast-faithfulness, doesn’t mean futility or stagnation.   It doesn’t mean doing nothing, but rather dwelling in Christ.  Not just going through the motions for religious reasons, but treasuring what we’ve been given for the way it reveals Jesus with us, and helps us experience the serenity that the Spirit brings us.  It means rejoicing as we realize what we’ve been given, what has been handed down to us.

This isn’t always easy, especially for one like me that thrives on change. (the only stable thing in my life is the presence of change, I get nervous without it)  Patience is not on my virtues, but neither is it for many of us.   Which is a good thing, as it drives us back to Christ, it reminds us that only in Him do we have hope, the promise that all will work out for good for those who love God.

God is with you, be at peace, and wait for it!

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. Print.

O Come! O Come, Emmanuel! ( are you ready for this?)

Altar with communionDevotional Thought for our seemingly broken days:
14  So the Word became human and made his home among us. He was full of unfailing love and faithfulness. And we have seen his glory, the glory of the Father’s one and only Son. 15  John testified about him when he shouted to the crowds, “This is the one I was talking about when I said, ‘Someone is coming after me who is far greater than I am, for he existed long before me.’” 16  From his abundance we have all received one gracious blessing after another. 17  For the law was given through Moses, but God’s unfailing love and faithfulness came through Jesus Christ. 18  No one has ever seen God. But the one and only Son is himself God and is near to the Father’s heart. He has revealed God to us. John 1:14-18 (NLT)

When we feel the presence of God in our daily lives, we can only say “God is here”and the first thing to do is to fall on our knees.

In the closing prayer of the [former Christmas Vigil] Mass, the faithful ask God for the grace, through the celebration of his Son’s birth, to “draw new breath”. Why and in what sense they wish to “draw new breath” is not explained, and so we are at liberty to understand this expression in the human and simple meaning of the words. This feast ought to let us draw “a breath of fresh air”. Admittedly, given the way we have burdened this feast with busyness nowadays, it much sooner renders us breathless and suffocates us in the end with deadlines

I wonder how clearly we hear the words we sing?   

Are we ready to be thrust into the presence of God, to be in awe, and even tremble as we gaze upon as beauty, are we ready to be overwhelmed by the sight of His glory, and humbled by the purity of His love? 

Are we ready to be so overtaken in that moment that our knees weaken and our bodies collapse?  

How can we prepare for that moment?  Can we be better prepared than Herod, the shepherds, and the angels were the first time Jesus came?  Only two elderly people were well prepared for that, ready to behold the glory of Christ incarnate.  Two old people who spent their days in prayer, and yet, they were still in awe of God with us. 

There are ways to build our expectation, and to get a glimpse of what we are about to encounter.  We find that “preview” in the Eucharist, the Feast of Christ, where we commune with His Body and His Blood.  That moment we realize how much He is present in our lives, preparing us, cleansing us, setting us apart for this incredible eternity He planned for us. 

Church should remind us of this, giving us that “new breath,” that fresh air that we need!  It does when the love of God, in all its height and depth, width and breadth is revealed to us in Jesus. 

O Come to us, Emmanuel!  And until you come in all your glory, fulfill your promise to come to us through your word, to draw us into yourself in the sacraments, and sustain and prepare us as you never leave us alone!  AMEN!

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. Print.

Ratzinger, Joseph. Co-Workers of the Truth: Meditations for Every Day of the Year. Ed. Irene Grassl. Trans. Mary Frances McCarthy and Lothar Krauth. San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1992. Print.

Who Me? Thoughts on the Image of Christ…

St francis at the crossDevotional Thought of the Day:
16 They sent their disciples to Him, with the Herodians. z “Teacher,” they said, “we know that You are truthful and teach truthfully the way of God. You defer to no one, for You don’t show partiality. 17 Tell us, therefore, what You think. Is it lawful to pay taxes to Caesar c or not?”
18 But perceiving their malice, Jesus said, “Why are you testing Me, hypocrites? 19 Show Me the coin used for the tax.” So they brought Him a •denarius. 20 “Whose image and inscription is this?” He asked them.
21 “Caesar’s,” they said to Him.
Then He said to them, “Therefore give back to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.” 22 When they heard this, they were amazed. So they left Him and went away.  Matthew 22:15-22  HCSB

298      My Lord Jesus has a Heart more tender than the hearts of all good men put together. If a good man (of average goodness) knew that a certain person loved him, without seeking personal satisfaction or reward of any kind (he loves for love’s sake); and if he also knew that all this person wanted from him was that he should not object to being loved, even from afar… then it would not be long before he responded to such a disinterested love. If the Loved One is so powerful that he can do all things, I am sure that, as well as surrendering in the end to the faithful love of a creature (in spite of the wretchedness of that poor soul) he will give this lover the supernatural beauty, knowledge and power he needs so that the eyes of Jesus are not sullied when he gazes upon the poor heart that is adoring him. Love, my child; love and hope.

I vaguely remember the first time realizing the inference in the gospel reading in red above. That while money bears the image of Emperor’s and Presidents, we bear in ourselves the image of God. Intellectually, it was pretty cool insight for a kid, and I remember being pleased with the simple idea.

We are made in the image of God!

What a wondrous thought, that every person we meet was created by God  Even though we have too often obscured His image as we’ve fallen to temptation,  the image remains. Bruised and battered, torn, dented, covered in the slime and muck that is the result of sin. And one of the joys of being a Christian is when we see someone realize this, as God cleanses and recreates them, restoring the image.  What a joy it is, to see God begin to transform them!  (see 2 Cor. 3)

Yet there are times, even as I observe that the observation seems to be from a distance. I get the idea of being made in the image of God, yet as I look in the mirror, I see something far different.  I see the darkness and brokenness still, I see the damage of my sin.  To borrow from St Josemaria’s words this morning, I see far too clearly the wretchedness of my poor soul. 

This is where God’s love is so glorious, so wonderful, so nearly beyond belief.  St Josemaria describes it so well, as he is sure of God giving us the supernatural beauty, knowledge, and power we need so that Jesus is not sullied, not shocked by looking upon our brokenness.

Realizing this, we find another reason to adore Him, for we find another facet, another depth of His love for us!  He will let us love Him!  He doesn’t just accept the love we show Him, He will treasure the love we are able to show Him!

He is our God, and He makes us His people, and rejoices in our love!  Even as He transforms it, and creates in us the ability to love.

Enjoy His love, my friends!

 

Escriva, Josemaria. The Forge (Kindle Locations 1211-1219). Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition.

 

Lent: It’s Not about YOUR Sin! A sermon for the first Sunday in Lent

church at communion 2Lent: It’s Not About YOUR Sin
Romans 5:12-19

Jesus, Son, Savior

As you encounter the brokenness of this world that goes back to the days of Adam and Eve, my you know how great the difference is in your life, because of Jesus Christ our Lord!

A Misconception

A friend of mine commented this week that “we aren’t supposed to “like” Lent.  Because that would defeat the whole purpose.”

It was an interesting thought, and I wondered about what her dislike Lent so much.

Perhaps it is because we have the focus on the wrong part of Lent.  Because while Lent has us look at sin and our need for the Holy Spirit to grant us repentance, Lent isn’t about sin.

The purpose of these 40 days is to evaluate out lives, to see the places where the Holy Spirit needs to work, and to invite that work, to desire it, to allow God to clean out the unholy, unrighteous stuff that stops us from truly living life.

The goal of Lent isn’t to beat ourselves up for what we’ve said or thought or did.

The goal of Lent is to realize that crud is there and to desire it gone from our lives.

But how does that happen?  How do we see the reality that sin doesn’t have us locked down and headed straight to hell?

Your sin is nothing new…

Please understand that I am not saying sin doesn’t exist, or that we shouldn’t be repentant. Not at all, sin is serious business, but it is not our primary business.

Hebrews 12 tells,  “Let us strip off every weight that slows us down, especially the sin that so easily trips us up… and let us run with endurance the race that God has set before us.”  (Heb 12:1)

That is the invitation of Lent, to recognize sin for what it is, and to cast it aside.  Yeah, it is bad, yes it damages our relationship with others and really damages our relationship with God.

As Paul says, this sin kills, it brings death as serious as any plague known to mankind.  And we are its latest victim, in what appears to be an unbroken line, all the way back to Adam.  That seems to be the point Paul makes over and over in the passage from Romans 5 that was read this morning.  Time after time Paul tells us that Adam’s sin, his stepping over the line brought death, it brought condemnation.

For each of us, without salvation, would stand condemned, passing on sin as if it was a genetic syndrome.

Christ’s Act, and your right relationship

But I’ve said that Lent and this section of Paul’s letter to the church in Rome aren’t about sin.

They are about bring delivered from sin, and to look at our lives, and learning to desire to live in the like Christ, in His glorious holiness rather than in the darkness of Adam’s sin.  To live, in what Christ righteous act on the cross brought us, what Paul calls a right relationship with God and new life for everyone. 

This relationship, this life is the focus of Lent.  Forty days to think about what we retain from Adam and to ask God to cleanse our lives.  To depend on Him more, to live with Him in a more devout way.  Not some kind of false holiness that would exalt us, but simply depending on Him, trusting Him, adoring the God who would take our debt and lay it on Christ, who would bring about righteousness in us.

To want to see this happen, to desire this above all, that is what these days we call Lent are about.

The Continuation of the thought..

At the beginning of the next chapter, Paul will ask the Romans the question which boils down to – who are you going to be like, Adam under condemnation, or Jesus who brings life.  I like the way the Phillip’s translation phrases it,

1  Now what is our response to be? Shall we sin to our heart’s content and see how far we can exploit the grace of God? What a ghastly thought! We, who have died to sin – how could we live in sin a moment longer? Have you forgotten that all of us who were baptized into Jesus Christ were, by that very action, sharing in his death? Romans 6:1 (Phillips NT)

This is what we are aiming for in Lent, the desire expressed here, to live in sin’s power not a moment longer, to receive the grace that makes us live in triumph over sin and death as Paul mentioned in today’s reading.

To run to the altar, seeking the comfort that comes from knowing there is no condemnation in Christ Jesus.  To remember what was done in our baptism, to remember His death, burial and resurrection, not as historical facts, but as part of our life, for we died and rose with Him. This is what we celebrate, as we partake of His body and blood and know, the Holy Spirit is changing us, even as we can’t take our eyes off of Jesus.

This mystery of the faith is what we celebrate during Lent, building up to Good Friday when we hear Jesus’ words, it is finished.  It is accomplished.  We are clean, we are holy, we are righteous, for we dwell in Him!

Lent helps us realize that, and realizing that we do toss aside that sin, and look to Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith.  To realize in Him we live and move and have our very being.

For in Christ, we exist in the unexplainable, unsurpassable peace of God.  We are safe there, our hearts and minds kept there by Jesus.  AMEN!

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