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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!

Witnessing Something Changes You: Sermon for the 2nd week of Easter

Witnessing Something Changes You

Acts 5:12-32

 † I.H.S. †

 May the grace, mercy and peace of God our Father and our Lord Jesus Christ change you, as you witness and bear witness to His Love.  Amen!

Change?

 As people, we remember critical times in our lives.  For some can remember where they were on December 7, 1941, or for some others, November 22, 1963.  For my generation, it was where we were when the Challenger, blew up, and all of us are marked by the date 9-11.  Others have dates that are more personal, our birthdays and anniversaries, for my parents, April Fool’s Day, 1965 was pretty important as well.  It was the day where they picked up an infant from and adopted him.

We remember those days, because what we witness those days changed us. IN some cases, like the birth and wedding for the better.  Other days, like 9-11 change us forever, bringing us anxiety and re-calling exactly where we were, a memory we share with others who witnessed the same event, even if they were halfway around the world.

I imagine Thomas had one of those experiences, on a day, like this, just a week after the resurrection. The day that changed everything in his life, that took him from mourning into great joy, and awe, and a feeling of being overwhelmed.
We see that in the life of all the apostles in the first few chapters of Acts, as they go from men cowering in fear, to men who are willing to be jailed and beaten, to suffer and even die, because of what they witnessed,

Because when you witness something, good or bad, stunning or traumatic, it changes you….

And God promises to change us, because of what the apostles witnessed, and bore witness too.  When that is revealed to us, it will change us, in the same way.
Change? I don’t need change

With all the anxiety regarding change, I think most of us don’t see the need for change.  More precisely, we don’t want to see the need for change.  We are willing to settle for life this way; we grow content in it.

Change might shake it up!  We might lose the things we count on; we might be asked to make a sacrifice, or have some habit and sin removed from our lives.   We might have to give up that resentment, or that pain that we hang on to, that gives us an identity.  Change means giving up the sin that traps us, especially the sins that have such a hold on us that we try to justify, the sins that appease our insecurity, that help us avoid our anxiety, that put the blame on others.  That gives us the illusion of safety, of security, and instead of choosing God’s comfort, we simply choose to be comfortable.

There is a big difference there, between being comfortable and being comforted.  Being comfortable with life, often means we are comfortable in our sin.

After this week, I will take being comforted anytime, for the presence of God that brings us that comfort, that peace, a true refuge in time of troubles, that is what Thomas experienced, that is what Peter and the other apostles experienced.

A comfort that lets you get up and start moving again, sure that you are walking with God, who is in charge, who does love you.

I don’t see a change?

If we don’t see a need for change, that is a problem.  It is likewise a problem when we see the change that God is making in your life.  Sometimes it seems slow, ponderously slow.  We wonder if God has made changes in our life if He is living up to His promises.

There are days it seems like nothing changes, we still live in the midst of trauma, many still live with their lives confused and challenged by finances or our relationships. We still might have days where we wonder where God is, and why things aren’t perfect.

Why don’t we have the faith of Peter and John, and the rest of the apostles?  Why aren’t we like the giants of the faith?  I mean how many of us would have the faith to continue to live our life of faith, when under great pressure?

Would you go back to the temple – to teach those who wanted to know more about God?
As a church, I’ve to see you do that, maybe not under the pressure of jail, but facing great discomfort, and caring for each other, and with those who came to mourn.  We’ve gone back to the same pain, so many of us have felt, because others were there, needing the peace that we knew.

We’ve changed, we don’t hesitate, we run to that battle, even as the apostles ran to the temple.  Because people need us, because people who go through this life without knowing God’s life, don’t even know what it means to be able to trust God, to depend upon His faithfulness.  Everything gets set aside, to help other’s know Christ’s peace.

As I watched people caring for each other on Tuesday, I saw this.  But so did a lot of our guests,

It is no less remarkable than the apostles escaping the jail and finding themselves in the courtyard of the Temple – sharing the blessing of Jesus to those who would hear, and be amazed.

So is the Holy Spirit!

So how does this happen, this transformation, this change that happens in believers? The very last verses tell us and gives us the hope of such a change continue to happen in our lives.

I say continue, because the change is occurring, or perhaps, we are becoming more comfortable with God in our midst that it is easier to see.  Verse 30.

The God of our ancestors raised Jesus from the dead after you killed him by hanging him on a cross. 31 Then God put him in the place of honor at his right hand as Prince and Savior. He did this so the people of Israel would repent of their sins and be forgiven. 32 We are witnesses of these things, and so is the Holy Spirit, who is given by God to those who obey him.”

God, the Father allows Jesus to die, He raises Jesus from the dead, and Jesus ascends to the Father, and to a place of honor and glory for one reason, so that we, the people who wrestle with God, (for that is what Israel means) will become repentant, that we would be changed, and made holy as He forgives us.

This work of God is something we talked about last week, on Thursday when Chris shared, and on Good Friday as Bernie and I shared, and on Easter Sunday.  It sustained us on Tuesday, and others on Thursday, Friday and yesterday as some of us gathered with Mark and Susan.

This death and resurrection of Jesus, to pay for our sins, to call us back to God we know is true, we have witnessed its effect.  But so has the Holy Spirit witnessed it, for it is this truth that the Holy Spirit joins us to Christ’s death and resurrection in our baptism, and we walk given it, each and every day.

As we become more aware of it, as we look to Jesus, as we are aware that, Alleluia! He is Risen!…. and therefore….

And what that means, what the Holy Spirit is confirming in us, is that The Lord is with you!

And that changes everything, even as it did when Thomas cried out, My Lord and My God!… AMEN!

Were you Talking to Me? Yes! You Were! A sermon about God’s relationship with us!

Were You Talking To Me?
Yes, You Were Talking to Me

Isaiah 62:1-5

IHS

 May the grace of God our Father and our Lord Jesus Christ continue to astound you, as you realize that means God really loves YOU, He really loves You!

A More than a Bit Uncomfortable

One of the odd pleasures in my life happens on Monday Evening, as I hear the guys that I study worth gripe and complain about a term we use, to describe what we have as believers.  It is almost funny to watch their discomfort as we talk about relationships.

They struggle with the idea that God calls us into an intimate relationship with Him.  They will complain that guys don’t like to talk about relationships in general and that using the word “intimate” will shut almost every man down.

They will admit that there is no better phrase to describe what God calls us into. But they will still struggle with the phrase, and I don’t think it is just because of the words involved.

I think there is something deeper that bothers us, something that unnerves us.

Yes, it unnerves me as well! Please don’t tell the Monday night guys this, as much as I love talking about the intimate relationship God desires to have with his people, when it comes to talking about the God desiring that kind of relationship with me, my reaction is like Al Pacino’s.

Are you talking to me?  Are you talking to… ME?

Yes, the Old Testament is talking to us, about God and us, and a relationship deeper than anything we’ve ever known!

Why had the discomfort?

Hear some of the phrases from our Old Testament reading this morning,

Because I love (insert your name), I will not keep still. Because my heart yearns for (insert your name again), I cannot remain silent.

How about this one,

2  The nations will see (insert your name) righteousness. World leaders will be blinded by (insert your name) glory!

It keeps going

(insert your name), new name will be “The City of God’s Delight” and “The Bride of God,” for the LORD delights in you and will claim (Insert your name) as his bride.

And finally

Then God will rejoice over (insert your name one last time) as a bridegroom rejoices over his bride.

Yes, God is talking to us, these incredible words are
How comfortable are you with this?

Have to admit, it is a bit awkward for me to hear these words. I mean I love God, I love to hear about His love for me and all of His people, but it is a challenge to work through God not only loving us but desiring us, yearning for us, delighting in us. And it only gets worse when we take our us, and put in our individual names.  It is awkward, but once we get past that awkwardness, it is amazing!

I think the key is that second phrase up there, the one about the nations seeing our righteousness, about the world leaders being blinding by our glory.

It would make sense if we were that righteous, that holy, that glorious.  But I have to admit I am not.  A person who is righteous, who is holy, yes, they would certainly deserve the love of God. They would be the kind of person God would like, that he would delight in, that makes sense.

But you and I?

How righteous are we?  How much would God delight in what I did on Wednesday, or what you over there were thinking on Thursday, or on what you said to that irritating person last Monday?  What about the musicians, would God delight in everything you thought, said or did on Friday?
Really?

I think far more than the word relationship or the word intimate is our knowledge that God yearns, loves, and delights in us who do not deserve that kind of attention.  Someone else surely might, but not us.

We sin.  In our thoughts, in our words, and in what we do, and did not do.

That is why we are uncomfortable with this. We don’t deserve this kind of attention.

What if God, after all of this, realized that who He loved would struggle with faithfulness.  For that is what sin is, it is our not being faithful to God.  When we sin, it is as if we were cheating on God.  No, not as if we were cheating on God, we do cheat on God when we sin.

Unfaithful in a deep, intimate relationship with the God who loves us.

Yeah, that makes us uncomfortable.

This is Your God…


But hear God again,

1  Because I love Zion, I will not keep still. Because my heart yearns for Jerusalem, I cannot remain silent. I will not stop praying for her until her righteousness shines like the dawn, and her salvation blazes like a burning torch.

It may seem odd for God to pray for us, you should insert the word “interceding”. He promises He isn’t going to stay passive, He says that twice!  He isn’t going to stop interceding in our lives until we are as righteous until the fact of our salvation is so glorious that no one can deny it.

That’s the love of God for you.  That is the work on the cross, and the work of the Holy Spirit every day.

God determines that He guarantees that no one can ever call us forsaken, for He will not forsake us. We will have hope, for God ensures no one can call us desolate. Instead, God tells us He will delight in us, That we are the Bride of Christ, that He has made a covenant, a promise to us that we will always be His as He marks us with His name.

Here God is giving us a new name again, this time from the Book of Revelation.

Rev 3:12 — All who are victorious will become pillars in the Temple of my God, and they will never have to leave it. And I will write on them the name of my God, and they will be citizens in the city of my God—the new Jerusalem that comes down from heaven from my God. And I will also write on them my new name.

And God won’t stop working in our lives until we are victorious.

This is our God, this is the God who yearns for us, who loves us, who delights in us, Who shows that love in the work He does, making us His own.  In the work, He accomplishes in us, and through us.

That is the relationship He creates in our Baptism, that He restores through our hearing of His love and hearing that we are forgiven, that we celebrate with a foretaste of the wedding feast, that we call communion and the Lord’s Supper.

For this is our God, who works in us deeper than we even are aware of, this is the God, who yearns for His people, so much that Christ would die to make our new name a reality.

So let us celebrate!  He knows our name when making these promises, Yes, He is really talking to you when He talks of His love and delight. (and me!)

AMEN!

 

The Restoration of Christmas… and the People of God

Devotional Thought of the Day:

17  The LORD, your God, is in your midst, a mighty savior; He will rejoice over you with gladness, and renew you Featured imagein his love, He will sing joyfully because of you, 18  as one sings at festivals. I will remove disaster from among you, so that none may recount your disgrace. 19  Yes, at that time I will deal with all who oppress you; I will save the lame, and assemble the outcasts; I will give them praise and renown in all the earth, when I bring about their restoration. 20  At that time I will bring you home, and at that time I will gather you; For I will give you renown and praise, among all the peoples of the earth, When I bring about your restoration before your very eyes, says the LORD. Zephaniah 3:17-20 (NAB)

Would it be a bad thing for the church to move the celebration of Christ’s birth to the spring. The tradition of Christmas and Christ’s birth could be seperate. Just a thought.” ( my friend Mark B. )

“When I hear the phrase Merry Christmas I think of decorated trees, presents and good food. Christ’s birth is the last thing that comes to mind.” ( also from Mark B )

A few days ago, one of my friends responded to one of my wild ideas about a sermon concept, as you see above. My basic idea, well – you can read the sermon, I posted it a little while ago.  ( Or listen to it on Itunes at Concordia Radio)

Mark has a very valid point. We’ve allowed Christmas and its traditions to be redefined.  To the point where celebrating Christmas is a completely separate idea from celebrating God’s invasion into our lives, as the baby laid in a manger, who would die on the cross.

I’ve seen this in the lament of some, as churches cancel midnight services/masses, once “the” service that all went to on Christmas Eve.  You see it in the multitude of Meme’s talking about keeping Christ in Christmas, and how to do so.  You see it in the willingness of people to beleive “modern” scholarship which will claim Jesus’ birth happened at some other point in the year, but the one day it couldn’t have happened was 12/25.

I think many would go along with Mark’s thought, out of frustration, out of a sense of hopelessness.  Let’s just start all over again!  Let’s just celebrate Christ-birth at some other point that on Christ-mas Day.

I asked Mark if I could share this, and what his vocation is.  He saw the connection, and agreed.

So here it goes.

Mark is in the furniture restoration business, so I am going to suggest we use some of his techniques in restoring Christmas, and then re-use the same concepts in restoring our congregations, our parishes, His Church.

1.  Vision
The first thing to know is that you don’t restore something based on your vision.  You didn’t create it, and as you begin to carefully work at it, the vision that has been muddled, covered over, damaged will be restored!

2.  Value
In restoring something, you have to be aware that it survived because it had value.  Maybe it is pragmatic, maybe it is artistic, maybe it is both.  If it was simply sentimental, it wouldn’t have survived and taken all the abuse, neglect and paint that it has.  (Example – having everyone over to feast…. there is something about gathering together to celebrate Christ’s birth hidden under all of it!)  Sure, it’s often about gluttony and to see which part of the family has bragging rights now… but once… it was to celebrate God’s faithfulness!

3.  Flexibility
Because the value and vision are often so muddled, so hidden, so broken, we may not perceive it accurately.  That’s okay, be willing to adapt to what is revealed.  After all, no Christian at baptism knows everything… we grow and mature.  So will the revelations as you see more and more what you do points to Jesus.
You also have to realize that what you thought was the valuable part, may be that which obscurs the most, and the part you originally were doing to toss aside.. is a critical component.

4.  Love

in order to have the patience, the ability to make this happen, you have to learn to love what you are restoring.  It’s the only way you will take the years and maybe a decade it take to see the job towards completion.  There will be interruptions, distractions, days of frustration, that’s okay.There might even be people who question, you wisdom, your integrity, your sanity – they do this to me all the time!

The goal is worth it – a beautiful restoration that is a double piece of work of art…..that of the Creator, and that where the Creator’s vision was once again visible to mankind… and the hopelessness became hope.

I said in the beginning that this works with churches and parishes as well with the simple idea of making Christmas about Christ’s coming to us.  The Mission and concepts are the same, and the goal is the same.  To preach Christ crucified, whom is our hope of Glory. It’s what we do here at my church, when Christmas Day was first 10-12 people, now is 50, (Our Christmas Eve services have also grown)  where once it was a bother, now people are excited to come.  It can happen

It is what God promised, look above at the scripture, dive deeply into those promises… and rejoice… for God is restoring you… that started that very first Christmas morning.

He is with us.  Immanuel.

Focus on that…. and all comes into place.

For no one does restoration work like God our Father!

(and if you need restoration work done on furniture – go talk to Mark at http://www.bausmanandfather.com/ or

https://www.facebook.com/pages/Bausman-and-Father-Furniture-Refinishing-of-Huntington-Beach-Ca/321617409278?pnref=lhc

Monday and The Priorities of Work

Devotional Thought for a Monday:

 23  And we believers also groan, even though we have the Holy Spirit within us as a foretaste of future glory, for we long for our bodies to be released from sin and suffering. We, too, wait with eager hope for the day when God will give us our full rights as his adopted children, including the new bodies he has promised us. 24  We were given this hope when we were saved. (If we already have something, we don’t need to hope for it. 25  But if we look forward to something we don’t yet have, we must wait patiently and confidently.) 26  And the Holy Spirit helps us in our weakness. For example, we don’t know what God wants us to pray for. But the Holy Spirit prays for us with groanings that cannot be expressed in words. 27  And the Father who knows all hearts knows what the Spirit is saying, for the Spirit pleads for us believers in harmony with God’s own will.  Romans 8:23-27 (NLT)

449         Prayer, more prayer! It may seem odd to say that now when you are taking examinations and working harder… But you need prayer, and not only the habitual prayer as an exercise of devotion; you also need to pray during odd moments, to pray between times, instead of allowing your mind to wander on silly things. It does not matter if, in spite of your effort, you do not manage to concentrate and be recollected. That meditation may be of greater value than the one you made, with all ease, in the oratory. (and oratory is like a chapel or small church that is for a specific group)

450         Here is an effective custom for achieving presence of God: your first audience every day should be with Jesus Christ. (1)

It’s a Monday, and I got to the office nearly 2 hours ago.  There was a situation or two (I hate to use the term emergency) that had to be dealt with, there is a call I need to make this afternoon, a friend starting checmotherapy.

I am tempted to put aside my devotional time, and my prayer time, and get craking on my studying the passage for next Sunday’s sermon. I have to have all the research done by 6:30 tonight, to share with the group of guys who study it together, to prepare to pray for another week in the pulpit. My heart sceams not to overlook this time of devotiona and prayer, for then my research will be dry, done as a matter of duty, not as a matter of loving God’s revelation to us, the revealtion of His love.  I need to spend this time thinking of He and I, of laying burdens down, of spending a few moments, completely aware of God’s presence.

Yet my mind urdes me onto the tasks of the day.

I think that if this is my struggle, it must be your struggle as well. Heck I work with the word of God and forget I work in His Presence.  How much more so for those of you who sit behind desks looking at paperwork or terminals, or those of you serving others in industry. Or those of you in class, or in a doctor’s office.  How can you “afford” to take the time to spend a large amount of time on this?  Do you neglect what you are paid for?  I realize we must take time for Jesus, to revel and rest in His presence, but how when the times are so minimal?

We rely on God… we pray what we can – we lay our heart before Him and we trust in His faithfulness, in His love, in the promise of the Holy Spirit fulfilling what we are unable to come up for the words to describe.  Romans tells of this, and we count on His promise, His presence, and in doing so, we might find ourselves more refreshed than when we spend great lengths of time in His presence serving Him in prayer and study.  (Please do not use that as an excuse for not spending appointed times in prayer! )  But there is something special, when throughout our day, as we work at being our best,, for us to hold a running conversation with Him, to lay before Him our burdens, and our work, and to realize we do it, strengthened by God.

So make your prioirities, set your days in order… but remember the first priority that each priority is part of, to realize God’s presence with you, through every part of every day.

AMEN

Text of "Our Father" prayer with Tri...

Text of “Our Father” prayer with Trinity in central column (God the Father, dove of the Holy Spirit, Jesus) and Biblical and symbolic scenes in left and right columns. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

(1)  Escriva, Josemaria (2011-01-31). Furrow (Kindle Locations 1998-1999). Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition.

For the joy awaiting… take up and endure your cross.

Jesus Off the Cross

Jesus Off the Cross (Photo credit: Thomas Hawk)

Devotion of the Day

24  Then Jesus said to his disciples, “If any of you want to come with me, you must forget yourself, carry your cross, and follow me.    Matthew 16:24 (TEV) 

 2  Let us keep our eyes fixed on Jesus, on whom our faith depends from beginning to end. He did not give up because of the cross! On the contrary, because of the joy that was waiting for him, he thought nothing of the disgrace of dying on the cross, and he is now seated at the right side of God’s throne.   Hebrews 12:2 (TEV)

The Cross marked his life. He took as his daily motto, “Nulla dies sine cruce: no day without the cross.” A touchstone whose truth had been proved by experience. But he brightened it up by adding two words in front: in laetitia, in joy, which denoted a disposition, a grace, for his way of living. His personal aspiration was thus “In joy, no day without the cross.” If ever a day passed without some note of adversity, Monsignor Escrivá would go to the tabernacle and ask, “What’s up between us, Lord? Don’t you love me anymore?” Not that he liked pain. But he was convinced that the cross was the royal seal of the works of God. “To me, a day without the cross is like a day without God,” he used to say;8 he did not want there to be a single day without it as a stamp of authenticity. (1)

The last two days were some of the hardest days I have encountered in my ministry.  7 top level tragedies and traumas, a 400 mile drive, a long day at work.  A facebook thread that made me wonder why some go into ministry….for the wrath and venom poured out was unlike any I have seen.

It was a day where I was drained by noon, as much emotionally as physically, but physically suffering from “drive-lag”.

Yet, as I look upon it this morning, I understand that there is no way those days can happen, unless God is with me.   To deal with broken hearts, very borken lives, some dealing with it, some running from it, some doing both at the same time.  (that is called running in circles )

At the end of the day, no, really before that, I was wiped out, finished, broken myself.   Too tired to think straight, to tired to enjoy life.

But when I went to sleep – I slept – knowing that God was present, not just in my life, but in the lives of everyone I know enduring trauma.  Somehow, despite my anxieties, and fears and all the crap that is going on in this world… God stripped me of it, took the burdens into His hands.  Otherwise? I would have been up half the night.

I suppose on of the reasons I love St Josemaria Escriva’s works, is because of such honesty.  Because he is an example of trusting in God, in knowing God’s presence, that taking up such a cross is doen without thinking, its done without complaint, its done – knowing that we are simply here to bear the burdens that others can know Christ’s peace, and love, and mercy.  But we can’t bear those burdens long – they will chew us up and spit us out, exhausted, overwhelmed, maybe even bitter and disgusted with life.

But we follow Him, to the cross, to His death, to that point where every sin was paid for, every point of brokenness removed… and then we find ourselves alive!

For we bear our cross to His cross.  For His cross takes it all…. and brings healing and joy – and rest – but we have to see ourselves there.. at the foot of the cross, seeing His brokeness, seeing His blood spilled on the ground, seeing His eyes… looking down upon his, with a joy that knows by that very pain He is enduring… that He is freeing us from our burdens, our pains, our crosses.  We can’t deal with our burdens, our brokeness, we can’t have faith and trust in Him, unless we recognize those things we bear… and realize they are to be nailed to Him, to His cross.

“In joy, no day without the cross“…. because our crosses require us to be with Him, to let Him ultimately bear them.  For joy is there, awaiting us, for He is there awaiting us.

Lord, have mercy!

Yesterday was a rough day,  One of those days you realize is a cross to bear. 

 

 

(1)   Urbano, Pilar (2011-05-10). The Man of Villa Tevere (Kindle Locations 1552-1559). Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition.

 

Back to School… Flashcard Knowledge and Faith..

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

189         The way Jesus called the first twelve could not have been simpler: “Come and follow me.” Since you are always looking for excuses not to keep on with your task, there is one consideration that fits you like a glove: the human knowledge of those first apostles was very poor, and yet what an impact they made on those who listened to them! Never forget this: it is He who continues to do the work through each one of us.

It’s that time of year when children return to school.  Some can’t wait, some want to squeeze every moment of freedom that they can into these last days of summer.

The first few weeks, it is about gearing up, about getting back to the task of learning.  Teachers will review basics, because some of the kids will know the material, some will recall it with some help, and some, well you think they never heard that 2 + 2 = 4 (or 5) before.

We are like that in church.  We know we know who Jesus is, we know what the cross is about.  We might even remember some of the more philosophical stuff, like the communication of magesterial attributes, or the balance of objective and subjective justification, and why it’s important to know all those “church words”.

But it is good, its even necessary to go back and sit in awe at the basics.  For unlike math, or vocabulary, the basics of our faith are still lessons we need to learn, that we dare not leave to flash-card time repetitive memory.  We can’t just simply flash back quickly the knowledge, as if we are a human version of google.  Unlike many academic subjects, the depth of our faith, the critical application points are given at the very beginning.  A little more explanation.  In math you learn the basic functions, addition, subtraction, multiplication, division.  The you learn algebra and geometry (a great class to learn how to shoot pool) trig and calculus.  At each level you can do more, applying the lessons learned before hand to do more and more.  Each level builds the next level.  And as you advance, you can do bigger and better things, for yourself, and indeed for humanity.

Christian learning is different.  The core of our faith – what truly makes the difference, is learned first! Everything else we learn supports that, and strengthens that.  If we learn deeply the Old Testament Theology regarding the sacraments of Baptism, Confession and Absolution and the Lord’s Supper – that is great and it will bring us great joy.  But the basics – His body broken for you, His blood shed for you…. that is the priceless part.  That is what makes the difference.

Which brings us to today’s passage. is work, from our being delivered, to the very thing that God, not us 

Normally, we talk about the first 2 verses – the one’s that talk about salvation.  We neglect the last – which is the basis for how we live in our relationship to Christ. St. Josemaria has it so accurate – the great words that the apostles did were done by the blue collar guys, the enlisted men types.  Which is why the educated theologians of the day had so much trouble with Jesus.  He didn’t pick the Ph.D.’s and the D.Min’s, he picked the guys that might be able to grasp new member classes and maybe a deacon class or two.  The core of our knowledge is the what makes the greatest difference.  It is that God is doing the work, that it is His strength, His wisdom, His power, and indeed His glory that He shares with us.

The greatest thing I can do as a pastor is not write the next Systematic Theology Trilogy, a replacement for the works of Pieper, or Chemnitz or Augustine or Aquinas.  The greatest thing I can do..(or technically that God does through me) is to pour water over the head of someone… and say the words “I baptize you in the Name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.   Or say, “Take and Eat, this is the Body of Christ!” as I place a piece of bread in the hand, or on the tongue of a person…or share with them about the most blessed day in history and the execution of a simple carpenter who would by dying destroy death.  The same for you, the greatest thing you can do in this life… is share that Jesus loves me… this I know……(you can finish the song..)

Go for all the knowledge you can… but never ever forget that what matters… is the stuff that you learned at the beginning… and that 6 billion people need to know it as well!

Baptism of Christ. Jesus is baptized in the Jo...

Baptism of Christ. Jesus is baptized in the Jordan River by John. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Escriva, Josemaria (2011-01-31). Furrow (Kindle Locations 1004-1008). Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition.
We dare not look at a passage like Eph 2:10 above without taking the time to see what it says to us, what it assures us of, and how it reveals God working in our lives.  It’s all H

Churches that are full of sinners… can be a great blessing to you!

Devotional thought of the day….

 15  This is a trustworthy saying, and everyone should accept it: “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners”—and I am the worst of them all. 16  But God had mercy on me so that Christ Jesus could use me as a prime example of his great patience with even the worst sinners. Then others will realize that they, too, can believe in him and receive eternal life. 1 Timothy 1:15-16 (NLT)

What compassion you feel for them!… You would like to cry out to them that they are wasting their time… Why are they so blind, and why can’t they perceive what you—a miserable creature—have seen? Why don’t they go for the best? Pray and humble (original mortify)  yourself. Then you have the duty to wake them up, one by one, explaining to them—also one by one—that they, like you, can find a divine way, without leaving the place they occupy in society. 

Yes, I know, churches are full of hypocrites and sinners – spectacular and plain.  Some of the most obvious are those that are at the microphone – the pastors/priests, the worship directors, the singers, and those guys that make announcements.

Some people have used this as an excuse to not go to church – they don’t want to affiliate with a low life sinner like me.  And that is with only partial knowledge.  Only God knows exactly how sinful I can get… even I can’t calculate that.

It may sound odd — but the fact that you can recognize me, a pastor, as a sinner is a good thing.  Because if you combine that with the fact that God has promised that my sin won’t count against me, that what i’ve done, ans said and thought isn’t beyond forgiveness, that means  that your forgiveness is as assured.  Look at it this way, the greatest leader of God’s people in the Old Testament was David.  An adulterer, a murder, a politiician who used his office to be able to do all these sins- and as God worked in David’s life, David became a man know as a man after God’s own heart.   This was God’s work in him.   (side note – that we are such doesn’t justify our continuing to sin)

If God can work with that kind of material, God can work with you – and this is God’s desire.  It is what God wants.  If God can initaite  a relationship and wanted to reveal Himself to a murderous pharisee like Paul – He can do the same with you – and desires to do exactly that.

The same thing – if the guy in the pulpit, if the people surrounding you as you sit in the pew are sinners, and we all are, then this is the place where you belong.  For if God can call us saints, if He calls us, despite our scars His children.  Then you know He will accept you to, that He will adopt you as well.  That He will, through word and sacrament, bring healing to your brokenness, and peace to your soul.

A church full of sinners and hypocrites – that’s my kind of place.  Come and join us…please?

English: The Last Supper of Jesus Christ

English: The Last Supper of Jesus Christ (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

 

Escriva, Josemaria (2011-01-31). Furrow (Kindle Locations 974-978). Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition.

The Challenge of Seeming Failure

Devotional Thought/Discussion point of the day”

 10 In my life in union with the Lord it is a great joy to me that after so long a time you once more had the chance of showing that you care for me. I don’t mean that you had stopped caring for me—you just had no chance to show it. 11 And I am not saying this because I feel neglected, for I have learned to be satisfied with what I have. 12 I know what it is to be in need and what it is to have more than enough. I have learned this secret, so that anywhere, at any time, I am content, whether I am full or hungry, whether I have too much or too little. 13 I have the strength to face all conditions by the power that Christ gives mePhilippians 4:10-13 (TEV)

One of the conversations during my trip on the mission field, was about the harsh reality of ministry, how the dreams of how it would be can come crashing down, when we face the daily grind on the field.  When the results we long for, do not come to fruition right away, or even after a year or two.  For young people in ministry, this can be a hard lesson.  It doesn’t always get easier either, and far too often I have known the feeling – could I be more productive for God’s kingdom in another place?  Could I do things differently?  It’s easy to get caught up in visible results – and loose hope.  This is most certainly true when it seems we have to teach the same lesson, repeatedly, year after year, month after month, heck – sometimes in the same Bible Study or counseling appointment.

Despite what Paul is saying – it is hard to be content with life at times – and that means it is also hard to be content with life in the ministry at times.  This is true for pastors, and it is true for those one the foreign mission field, and I suspect it is for all of us.

After all, don’t they know the treasure we have?  Why don’t people respond like on the day of Pentecost?  Isn’t that the way it is supposed to happen, with hordes of pagans coming forward to be baptized, to be cleanse of their sins, to win the battle over the anxiety and fear caused by sin, satan and death’s bondage over them?

As I “re-enter civilization” (though I found China far more civilized than the USA) I wonder about my own ministry.  Why can a church in China respond in months and be 500 plus people, while mine hovers in the 50’s?  Is it that my people don’t treasure and trust in God’s love enough?  (and if they don’t – does that mean I am a failure as a pastor?)  Is there something wrong with what we are doing?  Could there be a place where I am more productive, is there a pastor that would be more productive here?  All those questions run through our heads, and I witnessed that in China, among those serving God there as well.   It is easy to get disillusioned, disheartened, it is easy to let our minds run wild with questions….

Those questions occasionally need to be asked.  But not in the darkness of night, not in the times when we are alone, when Satan can even more draw our attention from God’s presence.  We do need to consider what we are doing, how we do it.  But that shouldn’t be such that we feel condemned – but focused, energized, our vision clarified, our hope in God renewed….and ourselves content with the place and situation where God has put us.

That is the purpose of self-evaluation, it why we do it in the light of day, in the presence of God, with strong advisers who are willing to invest themselves in helping us.  We especially focus, not on our work, but on the mercy of God – on the very thing we treasure, for the reason we started to serve others, either as a lifetime, fulltime vocation, or just as part of our regular day.  We have to look to Him at these times… for there the shadows and doubts are dismissed by His glory, and we see things as they are.

Once again, I find some.. help focusing at the end of my devotions…in the words of someone familiar with both the successes and seeming failures of ministry.

“You must be careful: don’t let your professional success or failure—which will certainly come—make you forget, even for a moment, what the true aim of your work is: the glory of God!”  (1)

Now, let’s get back to working at our Father’s side.  Depending on His power, His mercy, His love…..

Godspeed

 

Escriva, Josemaria (2011-01-31). The Forge (Kindle Locations 2576-2577). Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition.

 

 

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