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Ministry formation at its best… in our own Gethsemane

God, who am I?

Devotional Thought for our Days

6  What should I bring before the Lord when I come to bow before God on high? Should I come before him with burnt offerings, with year-old calves? 7  Would the Lord be pleased with thousands of rams or with ten thousand streams of oil? Should I give my firstborn for my transgression, the offspring of my body for my own sin? 8  Mankind, he has told each of you what is good and what it is the Lord requires of you: to act justly, to love faithfulness, and to walk humbly with your God. Micah 6:6-8 (CSBBible)

“I didn’t learn my theology all at once. I had to ponder over it ever more deeply, and my spiritual trials were of help to me in this, for one does not learn anything without practice.”

I am not an anti-academic, I wouldn’t have a master’s degree and be on the final lap of a doctorate if I were.

But having those degrees did not prepare me to a pastor. They gve me tools that assist me in some parts of my ministry. Even preaching dosen’t come primarily from the studyof Greek and Hebrew, or the communication skills honed of twenty-three years of pastorl ministry, and another 6 as a chaplain.

The biggset lessons have come serving the drunk at 3 am before they head home to a wife they no longer loved, (or so they thought) They came at 2 am standing beside a nurse who cared for the hospice patient as they breathed their last. As I prayed for them, and prayed with the family, the nurse would wash the body once more, while waiting for the mortuary.

Ministey occurs there, in the brokenness of strangers, and in the times where I myself struggled. I am not alone, of course, nor have my battles been as severe as Job’s, Jeremiah’s, Peter’s or Paul’s battles.

Ministry is shaped when we have to depend on God’s promsied righteousness, when we realize we can depend on Him, for that is what it means to adore faithfulness, for He embodies what we are unable to accomplish. To simply walk with Him, letting Him shape our work, just as He shapes our eternal destiny. It is learned as we have to find the stillness to meditation in the middle of the tenseness and brokenness and anxiety of God.

Those battles we endure, they drive us to our Lord, teaching us how faithful He is to us. They drive us to the communion rail, and again we encounter Him. Not in a mechanical way, in a forced compliance. But in despair, looking for some hope, some comfort.

Academia provides the tools, But they cannot provide the suffering (though some students think they do!) that drives us to the Lord, the Lord in whom love us, the Lord who shows us mercy.

The Lord whom we praise, as those praises are generated from our hearts and souls, from the depths of our beings.

For He is there, the Lord is with you!

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), 50.

The Paradox of the Gospel. You are Valjean and you are the Bishop

Les Miserables Valjean's soliloquy lyrics (2012) - YouTube

Devotional Thoughts of the Day:

9  That was the true light which shines upon every man as he comes into the world. He came into the world – the world he had created – and the world failed to recognise him. He came into his own creation, and his own people would not accept him. Yet wherever men did accept him he gave them the power to become sons of God. These were the men who truly believed in him, and their birth depended not on the course of nature nor on any impulse or plan of man, but on God. John 1:9 (Phillips NT)

He told me that I have a soul
How does he know?
What spirit comes to move my life?
Is there another way to go?
(Jean Valjean’s Soliloquy- Les Mis)

Go out into the streets to look, find, knock on doors,instruct and evangelize!
In a history marked by vulnerability our Lord Jesus Christ breaks in with an unstoppable strength and courage. That’s the Good News,the core of our preaching: the outright proclamation of this irruption of Jesus Christ incarnate, dead and risen, in our history.

The humblest Christian is called to live a miracle, a life that is a moral and spiritual life with such intensity and such purity that no human being can do it—only Jesus Christ can do it.

Yet this is no evangelicalistic theology, which is grounded in the same triumphalistic anthropology of the “I” (“I have decided to follow Jesus—no turning back, no turning back”). Instead—I believe that I cannot believe—the reversed Trinity of Luther’s catechism holds in tension the human inability in theology, faith, and life with the Holy Spirit’s work through Word and Sacrament. Thus, the third article is the actual turning point of the entire catechism, because everything that follows (prayer, sacraments, living in community) is precisely what happens to unbelievers when, the Holy Spirit acts on them, turning our “Woe is me!” into “Kyrie, eleison” (Lord, have mercy!). The theology of the reversed Trinity is literally “theo-logy” (God word), where God speaks to us and by speaking declares the old new, the sinner a saint, the unbeliever a believer—God’s service to us, not ours to God.

This mornigns devotional readings were accompanied by Les Mis, and the words of Jean Valjean kept echoing in my ears, as he considers the humble bishop who paid for his salvaiton…and yet Jean’s attitude was not to face who he was, but to create a new life, ignoring who he was. (In the book, this is a constant theme, for him and Javert.)

Their journey is the vulnerability that Pope Francis notes, a vulnerability we need, a lack of resistance to the incarnation, for Jesus must become incarnate in each of our lives.

It is the only way to change our cry of despair, as Wengert notes, from dismay and despair to the expecation of God hearing and acting on our cry for mercy. That is the only way we can live in the life of Christ that Tozer explains, a life that is obviously not ours, for it is not within our ability.

How does the bishop know Jean ValJean has a soul? Because the bishop has one, and has seen Christ invade it. It is why the silver is worth far less than Jean’s soul. It is why the investment is worth it, though it will take decades, with only a glimpse of the return here and there. Not until his death…is it revealed. ( I believe Colossians 3:1-4 explains this quite well)

You have a soul, and I have one as well. It is where the Holy Spirit dwells, bringing us peace, even as we struggle within this life.It is were our faith, our dependence on God is formed. It is where joy resonates from, when anxiety and trauma threaten to overwhem us. It is where peace exists, far beyond our comprehension, it is where we know His love more intimately than we can express.

Yet, we can share it with others… for that to is a miracle. You are ValJean and you are the Bishop.



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), 366.

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

Timothy J. Wengert, Martin Luther’s Catechisms: Forming the Faith (Minneapolis, MN: Fortress Press, 2009), 46.

What it really means to be “Spiritual”

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:

My friends, you are spiritual. So if someone is trapped in sin, you should gently lead that person back to the right path. But watch out, and don’t be tempted yourself. 2 You obey the law of Christ when you offer each other a helping hand. 3 If you think you are better than others, when you really aren’t, you are wrong.  Galatians 6:1-3

Finally, there is a mind-boggling mystery about agape which we must look into. Somehow when we love we really give ourselves away. We do not just give of our time or our work or our possessions. No, we give ourselves. How can this be? How can I put myself in my own hands and hand it over to you?

430    Jesus, may I be the last in everything … and the first in love.

There are people who claim to be spiritual, not religious.  I get it, organized religion is a challenging thing to be part of, and I am a pastor. (Not to mention having a role in the bureaucracy!)

I often wonder what it means to be spiritual because when I ask, the answers are more nebulous, very loosely defined. Some might even say to be like Jesus, loving everyone.

The passage above in red, from the Apostle Paul’s letter to the people of Galatia, puts some meat to the skeleton of “being spiritual.” Spirituality doesn’t turn a blind eye to sin, it gently restores the sinner. It walks with them, working to bring about their healing, revealing to them that God will forgive them.

This is spirituality, this is the point of holiness, and why it makes a dramatic impact in not just your life, but in lives. This is the greatest gift you can give someone, a gift you can give to family, neighbors, co-workers, and even your enemies.

This, of course, is easier said and done, which is where the other two readings from this morning come into play. In order to see this spirituality grow in our lives, we have to put the other person’s good before our own. We have to think of their eternal welfare as being more important than our comfort.

If this is what it means to be spiritual, then I am all for it, but we need to pray more, and spend more time in scripture, and receive the sacrament as often as possible. We need to know the comfort of the Holy Spirit, we need to find the strength of God in our lives, to set aside all of our own self-centeredness. But it is there, in the confidence of knowing God’s presence, that this all occurs, that this all happens.

This is spirituality, to love them as Paul loved the Jewish people who would give up his life and soul to save.

It is time for this kind of spirituality to infect the world again… starting with you and me…

Lord have mercy on us all! AMEN!

 

Peter Kreeft, The God Who Loves You (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 2004), 67.

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

Does God Still Love Me?

Devotional Thought of the Day:

25 He doesn’t need help from anyone. He gives life, breath, and everything else to all people. 26 From one person God made all nations who live on earth, and he decided when and where every nation would be. Acts 17:25-26 CEV

We must accept that there will be defeats in this interior fight, and we may be threatened with the danger of discouragement. That is why the Founder of Opus Dei contantly instilled in souls that cry of Possumus!—”We can!”—of the sons of Zebedee.6 It is not a cry that arise from the presumption but from a humble trust in God’s Omnipotence.

How can I know God loves me? I believe it, or I want to believe it. But how can I know it for sure? How can I get assurance of the most important thing in the world?
The question is an excellent one. It demands something more than the mere mental acceptance of the three-word proposition “God loves me.” It demands three greater forms of intimacy or closeness.
First, I want to know that God loves me, not just everyone. Me, with all my very specific and very real sins and uglinesses and unlovablenesses. Does God really love me just as I am? Am I really completely forgiven? All my sufferings and failures seem to me to be a just punishment that proves that God does not and should not love me completely because I do not deserve it. I need to know instead that my very sufferings and failures are the caress of his personal, individual love-plan for me, not the inevitable result of His impersonal justice.

The title of my blog post this morning is not a rhetorical question.

It is a question I struggle with, and have struggled with often in my life. Apparently I am not the only one, as the notes in the introduction to the Forge indicate.

We are going to have days when we struggle, when we face discouragement because our spiritual life, our “interior life” seems poor, lifeless, oppressed. We bay seem beaten and rundown. In the midst of physical, mental and spiritual exhaustion, I don’t have to wonder what I’ve done wrong. Satan is there to remind me of my sins, and of my failures. He will throw it all at me, for that is what Devil means in the original language.

And my cry out to Jesus, do you still love me, do you still care is actually a cry of the soul engaged in spiritual warfare. It is not just a cry of despair, for this cry will be answered. It is the cry, as Peter Kreeft notes, that betrays an intimacy with God that requires trust.

Trust that He will answer. Trust to even dare ask, trust to realize He is listening and will answer.

He always does.

Look at the cross, there is your answer. Let the Holy Spirit comfort you, and be the assurance, the guarantee that Paul described.

21  It is God himself who makes us, together with you, sure of our life in union with Christ; it is God himself who has set us apart, 22  who has placed his mark of ownership upon us, and who has given us the Holy Spirit in our hearts as the guarantee of all that he has in store for us. 2 Corinthians 1:21-22 (TEV)

God guarantees that He loves us, for we are His, and we need to hear this often, especially in this midst of despair, or depression, or whatever struggle we are facing.

Remind each of this, often!

The Lord is with you!

Escriva, Josemaria. The Forge . Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition.
Peter Kreeft, The God Who Loves You (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 2004), 194.

Who has a right to commune?

church at communion 2

Devotional Thought of the Day:

“You’re blessed when you’ve worked up a good appetite for God. He’s food and drink in the best meal you’ll ever eat.  Matthew 5:6  The Message

Twelfth, you see, that is what happens when one tries to make people pious and lead them to the right by means of commandments and laws. It only makes them worse. Thanks to such tactics, they do unwillingly and drearily whatever they do. This becomes a hindrance to God’s grace and sacrament. God neither wants to nor will he grant this grace to those who were forced, pressed, and driven to the sacrament by commandment and law, but only to hearts that long and pine and thirst for it, to hearts that come voluntarily……
(a little further Luther writes) Therefore, these words of his must be understood to refer to the labor and the burden of the conscience, which is nothing else than a bad conscience oppressed by sins committed, by daily transgressions, and by a leaning toward sin. The Lord does not drive all such people from him, as do those who teach that we must come to the sacrament with purity and worthiness. Nor does he issue a command or compel anyone to go to the sacrament, but rather he kindly invites and encourages all who are sinners and find themselves burdened and who yearn for help. The sublime sacrament must be regarded by us not as a poison, but as a medicine for the soul.10 Christ himself declares in Matthew 9 [:12], “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick.” The only question is whether you thoroughly recognize and feel your labor and your burden and that you yourself fervently desire to be relieved of these. Then you are indeed worthy of the sacrament.

1359 The Eucharist, the sacrament of our salvation accomplished by Christ on the cross, is also a sacrifice of praise in thanksgiving for the work of creation. In the Eucharistic sacrifice the whole of creation loved by God is presented to the Father through the death and the Resurrection of Christ. Through Christ the Church can offer the sacrifice of praise in thanksgiving for all that God has made good, beautiful, and just in creation and in humanity

In some denominations, including mine, there is a concern about who should commune, and who should not.  Arguments abound in regards to what it means to have a close communion policy, Argmenets and division have blossomed over this idea, of who we can allow to commune.

There is something important in this, there is a Biblical basis for denying someone the Lord’s Supper, and it is found in several places – notable 1 Corinthians 11, where it talks of the consequences of approaching the Lord’s Supper without examining yourself first.

But that examination isn’t about whether we are good enough, or getting at least a B- on doctrine test, or having our membership in the right facility. (Remember – we confess that there is only one, holy catholic and apostolic church!) Yet we always seem to make it about such self-centered things.

One of my weight loss groups talks about the idea of eating when you are at the appropriate hunger level.  Not to eat just because of stress, or pattern, (aka tradition) or because it seems like time too.  Eat too soon, gain weight. Eat too late, and find that you overeat – and gain weight.

I think it is the same with God – we need to learn to hunger for Him and feed on Him regularly.  For some, that does mean daily reception, for others weekly. But it is based on need – not on qualification.  It is for those whose souls are tormented by sin and brokenness, who realize their need for Jesus because there is no other hope.

That is why I do not understand why there are people that say there is no emergency need for the Lord’s Supper. As long as there are sinners who need to know God’s grace, who are oppressed and haunted by their pasts, there is a need for this blessing for which Jesus gave thanks, even as He offered it. Luther makes this case clear.  It is worth repeating the words, “he kindly invites and encourages all who are sinners and find themselves burdened and who yearn for help.”  Yearn does not indicate they would like to have it, it means they desire it, they hunger for God, they hunger for the work He does, as He draws us into the death and resurrection of Christ Jesus.

This is where we find hope, there is where we meet God in a very unique and powerful way, and it is where we know we are welcome.

Look at the Catholic Catechism – and see the beauty we need in this! The incredible unity that is found in the Lord’s Supper, as united in Christ, we find ourselves in the presence of God the Father! (see Colossian 3:1-3)

Caught in sin? Struggling with the burden of guilt and shame?  Need to know God’s love and forgiveness?

Come… and find peace at the altar of grace.

Martin Luther, Luther’s Works, Vol. 42: Devotional Writings I, ed. Jaroslav Jan Pelikan, Hilton C. Oswald, and Helmut T. Lehmann, vol. 42 (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1999), 176–177.

Catholic Church, Catechism of the Catholic Church, 2nd Ed. (Vatican City: Libreria Editrice Vaticana, 1997), 342–343.

When A Christian’s Experience is More Important than Knowledge

Devotional Thought of the Day:

5  I trust your love, and I feel like celebrating because you rescued me. 6  You have been good to me, LORD, and I will sing about you.
Psalm 13:5-6 (CEV)

O children of God, seek after a vital experience of the Lord’s lovingkindness, and when you have it, speak positively of it; sing gratefully; shout triumphantly.

548    If you feel the Communion of the Saints—if you live it—you’ll gladly be a man of penance. And you will realize that penance is gaudium etsi laboriosum—“joy in spite of hardship,” and you will feel yourself “allied” to all the penitent souls that have been, that are, and that ever will be.

I grew up among a generation that was told not to focus on experiences, not to trust our feelings. to only focus on a logical, rational presentation of Christianity.

I’ve also seen the other extreme in my youth, where people chased after religious experiences, who wanted to feel the positive vibes that come when experiencing the supernatural, I think those excesses of the late 60’s and 70’s led to the pendulum swing of the 80’s and into the new millenium.

Both sides treat the other side with suspicion, both sides blame the other for the death or at least the hospice status of the church. ANd both try to convince me and others that their focus is the best and only hope, relying not on God for the growth of the church, but on man’s wisdom, and man’s ability to create the right… environment… that will bring about revival.

While I think both are wrong, and grow weary of both, I do think think that a sign of revival is an experience, Not one of great passion, not one of great signs and wonders.

Instead a humbling experience, one that touches the depth of our brokenness, and leaves us tired, exhausted, and in awe of what we’ve encountered… the grace of God.

That is what Spurgeon is talking about with the term loving kindness. cHesed in Hebrew, it is that experience of the merciful love of God that comes to us in our brokenness, in the depth our our sin, when we are with hope, and dries our tears and whispers to us that we are forgiven, that we are being healed, and restored.

That is what Escriva is talking about with the joy in the midst of hardship, the experience that causes us, in the future when we sin again, to pray for repentance and restoration with confidence,

It is the quiet celebration of the Psalmist, who though he believed there was no hope, found that hope in the middle of despair.

We aren’t talking about seeing a miracle that leaves everyone applauding like a Superbowl victory, (Well heaven parties like that) but one that leaves us like the feeling, having worked all night, to see the break of dawn…knowing that peace and rest is near… yet struggling to believe it.

We have to experience this healing, we can’t just “know” it happened once. We need to struggle with it, to ask, ‘could God have really loved me this much, and then be assured, by scripture and by the sacraments, yes, He does.

THis experience is contagious, it sweeps communities and nations, it changes individuals and countries, it changes the church, which welcomes sinners home with confidence, expecting to see the miracle again that reminds us of our miracle…. as we share in something that leaves us… awe doesn’t seem strong enough a word.

This experience can’t be manipulated, it is not subject to our feelings or our knowledge. It is the work of the Holy Spirit, drawing us, even dragging us to the foot of the cross, helping us see we belong there, nailed to the cross, sharing in Christ’s death, and wondering why we are even allowed near Him. And then coming to the realization that because we died with Him, we rise from the dead with Him.

That’s not head knowledge, that is life…and that life has to be lived….

Heavenly Father, help us to see the Holy Spirit’s work in our lives, drawing us to the cross, uniting us to His death and resurrection. Help us to see this, not as observers, but from actually experiencing the reality of the SPirit’s work. In Jesus name we pray, AMEN!



C. H. Spurgeon, Morning and Evening: Daily Readings (London: Passmore & Alabaster, 1896).

Escriva, Josemaria. The Way (Kindle Locations 1322-1325). Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition.

More Blessed to Give Than Receive

Concordia’s Service on Sunday May 12, 2019
https://youtu.be/R6SQ4TMMvQs

More Blessed to Give than Receive!
Acts 20:17-35

In Jesus Name

May the grace of God our Father and our Lord Jesus Christ so transform your life, that you just don’t know it is better to give than receive, but that you give yourself completely…

Mother’s Day

If there is a day that I don’t have to look far for a sermon illustration, today’s sermon passage from Acts 20 is it. Here is the primary verse for the passage…

“It is more blessed to give than to receive”

and then think

Mother’s Day. 

Hmmm… could there be a connection there? You know, those ladies who have given so much, and whom most of us have benefited from,

Most of us struggle to really understand this passage but if there is a group of people who do, it would be moms!  Been watching a lot of pics on FB this week, of friends whose kids are graduating college.  The largest and perhaps the quietest, proud smiles are on the faces of the moms.  Heck, half the time, they are the ones taking the picture! The same for my cousins, putting up pictures of their sons and daughters at recitals or ball games!  I think they find more joy at the moment than their children do, and the sacrifices, well are forgotten.

Mom’s give a lot, and some of them, when their children succeed, or simply have learned that lesson that was so hard to teach them, find their reward, and know the sacrifice was worth it.

So they have a small grasp on what it means when Paul mentions Jesus’ teaching on “it is more blessed to give than receive.” 

And yet, there is more to it, as we shall see.

The struggle and the answer

The challenge of understanding these simple words is that most of us don’t recognize when someone is sacrificing something in order to help us.  We didn’t see our mom’s at the end of a long day, cleaning the house, or doing the laundry. 

We don’t understand why they would work so hard, or our fathers would work so hard, until we faced the same thing, until we wanted something for our children, for those we care for… then sacrifice became the norm, often without even thinking.

Yet prior to that, we assumed that was our mom’s role.  That is what parents do, they are supposed to wrap their lives around us kids.  They are, along with our grandparents, supposed to spoil us rotten.

And when they disciplined us, we never understood the phrase, “this is going to hurt me more than it hurts you….”

But it did….

Well, I think it did!

But we have to encounter the need to sacrifice out of love, we have to have it happen naturally before we understand it… or at least experience it. It has to get by that part of us that wants to get, get! Get!!

That part of us that is sure what we want is best, that we know what is right, and that throws a tantrum.  What?  You don’t think adults throw tantrums? 

We are quite good at it!

Look at Facebook, Twitter, Instagram or listen to conversations at Starbucks or a bar if you don’t believe me!

Remember, we are called to love.  Love our moms, our spouses, our families, our friends, neighbors and enemies…

That means we can grow in this blessing of giving more than we receive.

Let me give you an example.

Susan, last year when Ethan one of your preschool students ask you to be his sponsor when he got baptized.

Did you think about how much you and your teachers invested in Ethan?  Of the time you taught him about Jesus, or held his hand on the way to chapel? Or were you just in awe of being asked?

That is what it means, that it is better, it is more of a blessing to give than receive!

Context! Context! Context! 

And that brings us back to the context of our passage. 

You see, Paul isn’t talking about being a mom to the leaders of the church in Ephesus. He’s talking about shepherding them, about their need to shepherd the people God entrusts to them…. About our sharing Christ’s love, no matter the cost, with the people God brings us into contact with.

He says this,

24 But my life is worth nothing to me unless I use it for finishing the work assigned me by the Lord Jesus—the work of telling others the Good News about the wonderful grace of God.

Ultimately, that is our job, to help all of “our” kids know that God isn’t going to “get them” when they screw up, but that He wants to fix what they’ve broken.  A relationship, a level of trust, their own internal life. 

Because that is what the cross was about, the ultimate lesson in the idea that it is more blessed to give than receive.

For we received the forgives of sin, and the promise of everlasting life, the ability to know that God will be there for us, with us.

And Jesus gave His life so that God the Father would gain a family of saints.  Including all that depend on Him.

For that is what faith is, realizing how much God has promised, and depending on Him to provide it.  The forgiveness of all sin, the promise of eternal life, and the promise of His walking with us now.. even as we learn to give the gift of salvation to others.

This is what Paul wanted to give everyone the knowledge of, and as he did, as Susan did, as I have done, we realize what it means that it is more blessed to give than receive. 

As we do we realize, as we see it over and over become real to others, that it is in giving that we realize how precious the peace of God is that He draws us into, a peace that goes beyond all understanding, even as, like a mother hen, He protects our hearts and minds in that peace. AMEN!

Is God Serious about this? He can’t mean this, can He?

Devotional Thought of the Day:

26† “Those who come to me cannot be my disciples unless they love me more than they love father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, and themselves as well. Luke 14:26 GNT

676         Have you noticed how many of your companions know how to be very kind and considerate when dealing with the people they love, whether it is their girlfriend, their wife, their children or their family? Tell them—and ask it of yourself too— that the Lord does not deserve less. They must treat him that way! Advise them, besides, to continue practising that kindness and consideration, but do it with Him and for Him,and they will achieve, even here on earth, a happiness they had never dreamed of.

Is God really serious with this?

That I have to love Him, be more devoted to Him that to my wife, my son, my mother, my friends?

Other translations phrase it more bluntly, indicating that we have to “hate” those relations. The root word can extend from the hate that is actively working against the person to simple indifference, where the blessing we could be is neglected, to refrain from being in the person’s life.

I have to admit this, I don’t like these words of Jesus.

I struggle with them.

I can try to rationalize a million reasons why Jesus didn’t mean what he said. From talking about our responsibilities under the fourth commandment ( Honor thy father and mother) to talk ing about the witness we need to have with our lives, as we care for those God has put in our lives. And I know people that have done as the Pharisees and discounted their parents out of religious obligation. Jesus talks about them as well, calling that practice wicked.

Yet these words will not disappear from scripture.

And as much as we are shocked by them, we need to hear them. We desperately need to hear them. We need to admit how we too often turn these relationships into idolatry When we live through them or define ourselves first as a husband, dad, son, brother, cousin, friend. When the devotion we should have towards God is sacrificed on the altar of these relationships. When we tolerate sinful behaviors or brokenness because we are afraid of hurting the relationship. When we are more worried about losing this person’s favor than we are about losing the love of God.

And there is the problem, this idolatry of relationships, this giving of the place that God designed in your life, so that you can know His love, that you can know His care, that you can realize His presence.

Yeah, He means it. not out of some self-centered jealousy and need for self-affirmation, but because of what He can provide for us, that no one else can.

As we learn to live in that love, as that relationship defines us, we even find out our care for others becomes more like God’s, truly loving and not just caring for what we get out of it.

A hard lesson to hear, a harder one to live out. Yet so necessary…

Lord, help us to receive Your love for us, and help us to respond to it, living in it, letting it define who we are, and how we live… AMEN!

Escriva, Josemaria. Furrow (Kindle Locations 2824-2829). Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition.

Do we care enough to ask?

woman wearing black shirt

Photo by MIXU on Pexels.com

Devotional thought fo the Day:
19  My friends, if any of you wander away from the truth and another one brings you back again, 20  remember this: whoever turns a sinner back from the wrong way will save that sinner’s soul from death and bring about the forgiveness of many sins.    James 5:19-20 (TEV)

Anyway, I would gladly know how things are with your soul. Have you finally become sick and tired of your own righteousness and taken a deep breath of the righteousness of Christ and learned to trust in it.

What a question for Martin Luther to ask his friend George!

Can you imagine me, or any pastor, or any friend asking that question of you?  What would be your response?  How would you respond?

Maybe I should ask you!

Or perhaps it is isn’t as questionable as “maybe”.  We need to ask this question of each other.  We need to care enough about people to ask them this, to genuinely care for their souls, for their spiritual needs.

And while I am not exclusively talking about pastors, elders and other church leaders, it starts with us.  We are the ones tasked with shepherding souls, with reconciling the broken.  This job belongs to the entire church, the caring for souls, whether they are members of our church, or atheists, whether they are our family and friends or our nemesis.

The words of James’ epistle strike this home. if someone wanders away, we bring them back, we cover a multitude of sins, and we save them from death. 

As hard as it sounds, we have an obligation to our brothers and sisters, to lovingly help them bring their sins to Christ, to let Him remove and annul them.  Not just to look the other way, not to just say, “well, really, except for this or that, Joe was a good guy, good enough to get to heaven.”  That is easy, but really, it isn’t loving, it doesn’t call him back to God, it lets him wander through this life. It leaves him bound to self-righteousness, or to the guilt and shame he dwells in. 

The church, you and I, have the ability to be there, to assist the prodigal on the way home, to help them know what we should know so well, the words of God declaring we are forgiven.  We need to help them do as Martin Luther encouraged his fried George to do, to take a  “deep breath of the righteousness of Christ and learned to trust in it.”

Lord, help us not to hide our sin, help us encourage others to be drawn closer to You, to receive your promise of absolution, and to live lives free and forgiven.  Help us to be one people, united together in Your presence, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  AMEN!

Luther, M. (2007). Luther’s Spirituality. (P. D. W. Krey, B. McGinn, & P. D. S. Krey, Eds., P. D. S. Krey & P. D. W. Krey, Trans.) (p. 3). New York; Mahwah, NJ: Paulist Press.

A Lesson We Need to Learn. Church is not “Respectable”

closed eyed man holding his face using both of his hands

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The devotional thought of the day:

12 Jesus heard them and answered, “People who are well do not need a doctor, but only those who are sick. 13† Go and find out what is meant by the scripture that says: ‘It is kindness that I want, not animal sacrifices.’ I have not come to call respectable people, but outcasts.”  Matt 9:12-13 Good News Translation (TEV)

Neither illumination nor contemplation but rather spiritual attack (tentatio) concluded Luther’s engagement with scripture. For him, when the Holy Spirit breaks our reason and reveals to us the true intention of God’s word, we are not drawn into some sort of heavenly realm or closer contact to the divine by our effort. Instead, all hell breaks loose. The flesh, the world, the devil and any other anti-spiritual power attempt to wrest from the believer the comfort of God’s unconditional grace and mercy. No wonder the psalmist cried out for deliverance from his enemies in Psalm 119!

One of the most serious temptations that lead us to break our contact with the Lord is the feeling of defeat. Facing a combative faith by definition, the enemy under the disguise of an angel of light will sow the seeds of pessimism. No one can take up any fight if, from the outset, one does not fully trust in winning. Those who begin without trust have already lost half the battle.

People are meant to live in an ongoing conversation with God, speaking and being spoken to by him. God’s visits to Adam and Eve in the garden, Enoch’s walks with God, and the face-to-face conversations between Moses and Jehovah are all commonly regarded as highly exceptional moments in the religious history of humankind.
Aside from their obviously unique historical role, however, these moments are not meant to be exceptional at all. Rather they are examples of the normal human life God intended for us: God’s indwelling his people through personal presence and fellowship.

When 3 of my devotional readings go in a certain direction, it is not unusual.  When four do, when I see how they resonate,  the lesson just is about to burst forth, not from the readings, but through experience. So it is today;

I guess I will start with Luther’s thoughts, about this idea that the way we learn about God, is found in its last step in a fight, in the tension and battle that comes as all hell breaks loose, and Satan tries to wrest from us the comfort of the Holy Spirit, the comfort that is found in His cHesed, that incredible combination of love and mercy and peace that comprise what we call grace.

The fight is echoed in the words of Pope Francis, as we deal with an unnatural pessimism, a moment of despair and depression that is not like normal depression but is contrary to it.  As Satan tries to convince us that God wouldn’t care about us, that God sees us as riff-raff, as not worth His time or interest.  We know this is not true, yet, it is so hard to shut out the voice of the ones who are masquerading as messengers of God.

It is hard because we struggle to see ourselves as God does, as the beautiful, pure, bride, set apart as the bride of Christ, as one who deserves the respect and admiration of God.  Instead, we see ourselves as those who are broken, not worthy of a glance, nothing close to deserving respect.

Yet we often treat the church as if it is the place we have to demonstrate how respectable we are.  We might pretend, dressing us, smiling and saying we are okay when people ask, smiling and greeting each other as if every day was a party.  When what we really feel like is staying home, hiding under the blankets and ignoring the world.

I think this is enhanced by how we see what some call the heroes of faith, the incredible men and women we see described in the Bible. Except we forget that Moses was running from Egypt, a prince hiding out with sheep in the wilderness.  That Abraham was an exile looking for his home and future as well, that David wasn’t the hero, but the man broken by his sin, and then by the sins of his children.

As shattered as we are, yet…

Willard reminds us that they are examples of a normal human life and that God was present, and lived with them.   That God walked with them in their brokenness, even as He walks with us.   They are not exceptional, their walking with God, finding hope there, is our example, for we can as well.

After all, Jesus didn’t come to snob around with the perfect and respectful.  He came to draw outcasts, broken folk, exiles and those who struggle to get out of bed every morning.  Because He loves us…..

And Satan will unleash all of hell to stop us from experiencing this, and in that tension, we find God’s comfort, that He is our refuge, our sanctuary, and our hope.

We are His people, He is our God… and He is calling us to His side, so He can comfort and heal us, the children He loves.

Let us pray,  Heavenly Father, in the midst of trials, in the midst of brokenness, and when it seems all hell is breaking loose.  Help us to see Your glory, revealed in Your love and your comfort.  AMEN!

Wengert, T. J. (2007). Preface. In P. D. W. Krey, B. McGinn, & P. D. S. Krey (Eds.), P. D. S. Krey & P. D. W. Krey (Trans.), Luther’s Spirituality (p. xiv). New York; Mahwah, NJ: Paulist Press.
Pope Francis. (2013). A Year with Pope Francis: Daily Reflections from His Writings. (A. Rossa, Ed.) (p. 352). New York; Mahwah, NJ; Toronto, ON: Paulist Press; Novalis.

Willard, D., & Johnson, J. (2015). Hearing god through the year: a 365-day devotional. Westmont, IL: IVP Books.

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