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With These Words… A Sermon on 1 Thesalonians 4

church at communion 2With These Words…

1 Thes. 4:13-16

 I. H. S.

 May the word of God, which reveals to you the grace of God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ, so comfort you that you can remember His plan for you, to spend eternity in His glory!

 What good did their words do?

In the aftermath of last Sunday’s shooting in a church in Texas, a very odd discussion broke out on social media.

The discussion concerned this question, “was about whether God was listening to the prayers of the people in the church that was shot up.”

It started by a reaction to all the politicians and others who said things like, “our hearts and prayers are with the people of Texas.”  To which many people asked, well what good did their prayer do them in the first place.

And then the war of words ensued…

Rather than face the actual issue, death, tragic, traumatic death, Christians and non-Christians alike were attacking and counter-attacking each other about whether the words of the people’s prayers that day protected them from a madman’s rampage.

We need words to make a difference in times like these, but it is not the words of those praying that will make the difference, it is the words of the of the Lord they pray to, the words of the promise He has made us, and the words, like in the epistle today, that reveal His promise to us.

Isn’t grieving…grieving?

When the apostle Paul talks of grief, he notes the following,
13 And now, dear brothers and sisters, we want you to know what will happen to the believers who have died so you will not grieve like people who have no hope.

I’ve heard over the years sincere people telling others not to grieve, usually, with something like, don’t grieve, you will see them again!  I even once heard some explaining patiently that grieving is evidence of a severe lack of faith.

That is so much rubbish! That is not what Paul is saying here, he is simply saying the grief is different for those who know God.  For them, it is a different kind of grief than the grief of those who don’t have hope.

Literally, it is those without something to hold on to, something to that sustains us and keeps us afloat. Those without God don’t have promises to hold onto, they don’t have the promises we are given in our baptism, the promises we remember if and when we make the sign of the cross.

Here is how that promise is described in scripture,

4  But—“When God our Savior revealed his kindness and love, 5  he saved us, not because of the righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy. He washed away our sins, giving us a new birth and new life through the Holy Spirit. 6  He generously poured out the Spirit upon us through Jesus Christ our Savior. 7  Because of his grace, he declared us righteous and gave us confidence that we will inherit eternal life.” Titus 3:4-7 (NLT)

Look at the promises here,

God washed away our sin,

We are born again and given a new life through the Holy Spirit

That Spirit is poured out on us in our baptism,

We are declared righteous and holy,

and we are, as we confessed in our creed, given confidence, we believe in the resurrection of the body and life everlasting!

Our grief is real, it may be felt more powerfully, it may last longer, and yet, we have something to hold onto, the hope we have in God.

This isn’t a theological epistle,

Which is the point of this letter from Paul, and the description of Jesus second advent, His second coming. This letter of Thessalonians isn’t about an end times calendar of events. it is not a theological calendar.

It’s to remind us that before we see Jesus return if we are around at the time, those who died, those who are his will have risen from the dead.  They will see Him, We won’t meet Him before they have joined Him. That is why in the liturgy we see the Sanctus with angels and archangels and all the host of heaven.  It’s not just about doctrine, is about knowing God’s plan, and being encouraged by it.

Encouraged you say?  But we are grieving!

But God’s encouragement is not just a friendly pat on the back, like a coach sending you back into play after an injury.  Nor is that the kind of encouragement that scripture talks about His people giving each other.

Godly, Biblical encouragement is the kind of thing where we weep and laugh together, where we share each other’s pain, just as Christ shares our pain.  The word is the verb form of the word to describe the Holy Spirit, the Paraclete, the One who comes alongside. lifts us up and carries you.

That’s what the word paraclete means – to call alongside to comfort, to encourage, to lift up and help carry.

And that is what God does. every day for us.

Through His word, through the sacraments, through each other, He makes Himself known, and the presence of the Holy Spirit comforts us.

As does the hope, no, the knowledge that eternity is ours, with God,  Dwelling in and sharing in His glory, with all those who trust in Him.

It is for this reason Jesus came, to ensure our sin would never stop us from that eternity, to provide the Holy Spirit to minister to us, and carry us, to ensure us of all the promises of God, so that even now, we can live life in expectation of eternity, and thereby dwell in peace.

God’s peace, which passes all understanding – the peace in which Jesus keeps us, our hearts and minds!  AMEN!

The Reality of Our Struggle With Evil People

54e14-jesus2bpraying

God, who am I?

Devotional Thought of the Day:
5  This is the message we heard from Jesus and now declare to you: God is light, and there is no darkness in him at all. 6  So we are lying if we say we have fellowship with God but go on living in spiritual darkness; we are not practicing the truth. 7  But if we are living in the light, as God is in the light, then we have fellowship with each other, and the blood of Jesus, his Son, cleanses us from all sin. 8  If we claim we have no sin, we are only fooling ourselves and not living in the truth. 9  But if we confess our sins to him, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all wickedness. 10  If we claim we have not sinned, we are calling God a liar and showing that his word has no place in our hearts. 1 John 1:5-10 (NLT)

65         Once again you had gone back to your old follies!… And afterwards, when you returned, you didn’t feel very cheerful, because you lacked humility. It seems as if you obstinately refuse to learn from the second part of the parable of the prodigal son, and you still feel attached to the wretched happiness of the pig-swill. With your pride wounded by your weakness, you have not made up your mind to ask for pardon, and you have not realized that, if you humble yourself, the joyful welcome of your Father God awaits you, with a feast to mark your return and your new beginning.

The divine embrace: The appropriate image for biblical and ancient spirituality.

I once again find myself struggling with those I would term sinful, even, in my more cynical moments, evil.  Some are in bondage to sin and struggle to realize it, even though all around them can see it.  Others seem to revel in their evil, and they will go to great length to defend the sin that so dominates and controls them.

There are days I want to oppose them, to fight the evil.  There are other days I simply want to walk away, leave them to their own consequences, to by my absence curse them to remain locked into their evil.  It is tempting to want to remove myself from their crap, whether that crap is found in what we call a secular arena, or in one that is supposed to be sacred.

To even think that way reminds me that I am no different, for my sin can dominate me as easily, and as St Josemaria points out, my lack of humility conveniently assumes their sin is far worse than mine.   My crap, or the pig slop that St Josemaria identifies, is no better than theirs, my desire to fight or flee is really more about my pride that it is about the distaste for their sin.

It is hard, not at this point to want to condemn myself as much as I would condemn them.  Don’t I know better?  Don’t I hear John’s words regularly about the reality that exists when I deny my own sin?  Those questions run over and crush my heart and soul, for how will I be ever delivered from this life and its struggle with sin? Well, those are my thoughts deep in my heart until I encounter something in someone else that is sinful or evil.  Then I forget all about self-condemnation to condemn the easy target.

The only way out of this is to encounter what Webber calls the “Divine Embrace”, the Prodigal’s Father who runs out to embrace his son, casting aside all dignity, all hurt from his son’s betrayal, to embrace Him.

We are that prodigal, God is that Father who embraces us!  We are that sinner who can’t deny our sin but confesses it, and finds not only that sin forgiven, but our lives cleansed of all unrighteousness.

A cleansing that enables us to do more than finding others sins revolting, but to actually hurt for them, to beg God to deliver them, to help them.  We may even find ourselves led and empowered by the Holy Spirit to reach out and minister to them, to be the agents through whom God reconciles them to Himself, and to His people. Then we will be blessed to witness that which St James about,

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)

May we all rejoice at being brought back, together.

AMEN!

 

Escriva, Josemaria. Furrow (Kindle Locations 490-495). Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition.

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

Unnecessary Suffering….how do we cope?

54e14-jesus2bpraying

God, who am I?

Devotional Thought fo the Day:
14  Let us, then, hold firmly to the faith we profess. For we have a great High Priest who has gone into the very presence of God—Jesus, the Son of God. 15  Our High Priest is not one who cannot feel sympathy for our weaknesses. On the contrary, we have a High Priest who was tempted in every way that we are, but did not sin. 16  Let us have confidence, then, and approach God’s throne, where there is grace. There we will receive mercy and find grace to help us just when we need it. Hebrews 4:14-16 (TEV)

Do not limit your patience to such or such kind of injuries and afflictions, but extend it to all such as it shall please God to send you. Some are unwilling to suffer any tribulations, but such as are honourable; for example, to be wounded in battle, to be a prisoner of war, to be persecuted for religion, or to be impoverished by some lawsuit determined in their favour. Now, these people do not love the tribulation, but the honour which accompanies it; whereas, he that is truly patient, suffers tribulations indifferently, whether accompanied by ignominy or honour.

As I write this, in the background is Anne Hathaway’s version of “I dreamed a dream” from the movie version of Les Mis.  I can’t help but think of the character, and the background found in the novel.  ALothough in the beginning a victim of her own sin, others make her misery and despair far more oppressive.

Some, like Val Jean, do so without thought. Others, like the Innkeeper and his wife, or the supervisor in the shop, do so with evil and malice. 

Either way, the suffering is real, the oppression stifling, the pain incapacitating.

As I read St. Francis De Sales words this morning, it, this idea of unnecessary suffering started dominating my thoughts. How do we deal with the suffering we don’t deserve, the pains that are caused by others, or whose biological cause cannot be blamed on anyone.

Things like my genetic heart issues, my dear friend’s ongoing battle with cancer, the unknown victims of terrorism and their families, those who suffer from PTSD, or some other mental illness and those who suffer with them.

This is different than the cyber-crusader who looks and desires and rejoices in his being “persecuted for rightness ( not righteousness) sake.”  Those people love the honor they receive from being a victim, and they deserve the persecution and the problems.

But what about the innocent who suffer?  Or those who suffering is so compounded by others neglect or deliberate harm?

As one, I’ve learned the hard way, through many sleepless nights, and times of tears that I cannot justify the suffering, I cannot find the “why” that I so desperately want to know.  I can strike out in anger, I can slip into the deepest of depression, I can, and have at times, hoped the suffering would simply end. 

Those thoughts don’t diminish the suffering, if anything, it gives the suffering more power over me, increasing the anxiety.  Nor am I strong enough, on my own, to avoid those feelings.  

I need to be patient, with these things I cannot explain, with the pain I can’t bear on my own. I need to have the patience De Sales calls for, I need the assurance of God’s empathy and benevolence of a God who invites me into HIS presence. I need to have the confidence to look to HIM, to understand how His innocent suffering had a purpose, and that somehow God will use mine for good.

It is not an easy task, coming to this conclusion, gaining this confidence. It is one I often fail to achieve, as this day or that is spent letting the darkness enclose me. Devotion is the answer, not devotions (remember – my strength had already failed), but devotion.  Considering Christ’s devotion to me, and as I do, growing to adore Him.

There is the answer.  Considering the depth of Christ’s devotion, there I find the hope that enable the patience I need, the strength to endure, the ability to take my mind off of my problems.  Being encouraged by others, who endure, and hear my words and find the same strength to endure.  That helps me realize the depth of Christ’s empathy.  As odd as it sounds, I can embrace the suffering, knowing His suffering that He embraced.  For He embraced it for a simple reason.  He loved you andI

Will I need the encouragement of others, pointing me back to the cross?  Yes!  Will I still struggle at times?  After 45 years of dealing with this, the answers is, yes. But I know I will come out of the depths, sustained by Jesus, who volunteered to suffer so that I would know His empathy, HIs love, and ultimately, His peace. 

This is my goal for today, to walk confidently into His presence, to accept His invitation to walk with Him. 

And to pray you will boldly, confidently walk with our God as well.  

Godspeed!

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Francis de Sales, Saint. An Introduction to the Devout Life. Dublin: M. H. Gill and Son, 1885. Print.

When Christians Grieve…. An Honest Conversation:

Devotional Thought of the Day:

8  Three times I prayed to the Lord about this and asked him to take it away. 9  But his answer was: “My grace is all you need, for my power is greatest when you are weak.” I am most happy, then, to be proud of my weaknesses, in order to feel the protection of Christ’s power over me. 10  I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and difficulties for Christ’s sake. For when I am weak, then I am strong.
2 Corinthians 12:8-10 (TEV)

I knew what I was keeping down in my heart. And being very much displeased that these human things had such power over me, which in the due order and appointment of our natural condition must needs come to pass, with a new grief I grieved for my grief, and was thus worn by a double sorrow.

When I came across these words of Augustine this morning, they resonated deeply within me.  He is right, I am so weakened by grief, that even this weakness causes me to grieve.

I’ve laid to many to rest recently; I am watching friends bury those they love, their dads, their husbands, their siblings, and even their children.  Funerals with hundreds in attendance, a graveside with 7.

I grieve because I grieve, that my faith seems so weak in the face of death.  As I attempt to move past this grief, I find myself unable to do so.  Even as I see those I am ministering to, those who I try to point to the hope that is in Christ, hope I firmly hold onto because I know His love,the tears still flow, the heartache still pounds.

Why can’t I move from the trauma to the healing?  Why can’t I move from the sorrow to the joy?   Why can’t I move from the frustration that comes in realizing that life is all too short, to the confidence I should have, because I am a believer?  After all, I am a pastor, I should have enough faith, I should realize the truth, I should be able to shut out this sorrow, this grief?

Or should I?

I think Paul the apostle would say no, that it is in the midst of the trauma we find the Spirit’s comfort, where we find the healing that God has promised there will be a day when death loses its sting.  It is in the midst of the frustration that I stop trying to be strong, well aware that I cannot be. It is in the middle of the sorrow that I do find the peace, and yes the joy that comes from realizing that Jesus is here, sharing that grief, sharing that sorrow.

That death was defeated, not by avoiding it, rather it is dying that He destroyed death, and we now find life in Him.

I will admit this, in this last month and a half, when I have over and over been swamped with grief, and then have been grieved that I am not strong enough to get past it, in this time the most incredible worship I have experienced in my life has occurred.  Simply because God has met us, and comforts.  He is truly our refuge, our sanctuary, our hope and our life.

God has answered, His mercy is known… and we can rest….

Can I be thankful for the grief?  Not for the reason, I grieve, but for that which has accompanied the grief, His strength supporting me in my weakness?

Yes, I can be thankful for that.  AMEN!

Augustine, S., Bishop of Hippo. (1996). The Confessions of St. Augustine. (E. B. Pusey, Trans.). Oak Harbor, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc.

The Greatest Challenge To “American” Christianity

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

That’s right; I said embrace!

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

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

Maybe, but probably not.

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

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

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

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

May God bless you, as you walk with Christ.

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

A Most Excellent Quote about Death, and Easter

Devotional Thought for the Saturday between the cross and the resurrection.

23  In accordance with his own plan God had already decided that Jesus would be handed over to you; and you killed him by letting sinful men crucify him. 24  But God raised him from death, setting him free from its power, because it was impossible that death should hold him prisoner. Acts 2:23-24 (TEV)

14  And God will raise us from the dead by his power, just as he raised our Lord from the dead.   1 Corinthians 6:14 (NLT)

Thus Christ the Lord became our פּוֹדֶה  (redemption) and גֹּאֵל (redeemer). For He not only redeemed us but also freed us rightfully for Himself, so that the devil and hell were compelled in strict justice to let Him go, because they had killed the innocent Son of God. Therefore the Law burned its fingers, and death dirtied its pants. The devil, death, and sin overreached themselves. There they all became guilty and debtors to God, to this Son Jesus Christ, who now has the right over against His enemies. For why did you crucify the Son of God, O Law? Why did you kill Him who was innocent, O devil, death, and hell? (1) 

I suppose some might find the italicized words above offensive, this idea that death filled its pants, that it couldn’t control its bowels or bladder.

But I find death offensive, brutally so. To be honest, after the last couple of weeks, and even over the last couple of years, I am pretty ticked off at death, at the damage and grief it causes, at the pain, as it separates what God has brought together as couples, as families, as communities. So when I read this quote by Martin Luther, I knew I had to use it, and soon.

I almost wish I knew German, to see if the translators “prettied up” this quote.  SOmeohow I think Luther, who was no stranger to death or the anxiety it can cause, said something like this, “when seeing Christ’s resurrection, death crapped…” (not that I would actually use that phrase in public, though it is tempting!!!)

This horrible enemy that is death, whose presence can so hurt, will, in the end, be terminated. Then, St Paul tells us, there will be no more its horrible sting, it will have no impact.  Like Satan and sin, it will be an object of ridicule, absolutely powerless.

What a joyous moment, the moment after death thinks it had gathered to itself God, as it wrapped its cold slimy hands around Jesus, as it thought it had at last one, that this God who kept raising people from its power, now was subject to itself.

And the Lamb of God, the sacrifice which redeemed us from sin, this incredible Redeemer begins to breathe, and life pours back into the body of the one who is the Resurrection, who is the Life, our Life. Death who thought to parade its victory around in Hades finds itself bound, and those who it held prisoner rejoicing as Jesus claims His own, the people He redeems because He was the sacrifice.

This scene is repeated, over and over, every time a saint enters into his Father’s glory, as sin and Satan and death are found powerless, (they can’t even control their bowels!)

For scripture tells us, the same power that raised Christ from the dead is at work in us.  The Holy Spirit – the gift to all who believe, the gift God has given that brings us the gifts repentance, faith and hope, is ours.

We have been raised with Christ!  Live in that peace my friends!

Praise be to God our Father, for by the cross of Christ joy has truly entered the world!  AMEN

Luther, M. (1999). Luther’s Works, vol. 8: Lectures on Genesis: Chapters 45-50. (J. J. Pelikan, H. C. Oswald, & H. T. Lehmann, Eds.) (Vol. 8, p. 162). Saint Louis: Concordia Publishing House.

The Theological Hymn the Entire Church Needs Today.

Devotional Thought of the Day:

22
 All around us we observe a pregnant creation. The difficult times of pain throughout the world are simply birth pangs. But it’s not only around us; it’s within us. The Spirit of God is arousing us within. We’re also feeling the birth pangs. 23  These sterile and barren bodies of ours are yearning for full deliverance. 24  That is why waiting does not diminish us, any more than waiting diminishes a pregnant mother. We are enlarged in the waiting. We, of course, don’t see what is enlarging us. 25  But the longer we wait, the larger we become, and the more joyful our expectancy. 26  Meanwhile, the moment we get tired in the waiting, God’s Spirit is right alongside helping us along. If we don’t know how or what to pray, it doesn’t matter. He does our praying in and for us, making prayer out of our wordless sighs, our aching groans. 27  He knows us far better than we know ourselves, knows our pregnant condition, and keeps us present before God. 28  That’s why we can be so sure that every detail in our lives of love for God is worked into something good.
Romans 8:22-28 (MSG)

But I pressed towards Thee, and was thrust from Thee, that I might taste of death: for thou resistest the proud. But what prouder, than for me with a strange madness to maintain myself to be that by nature which Thou art? For whereas I was subject to change (so much being manifest to me, my very desire to become wise, being the wish, of worse to become better), yet chose I rather to imagine Thee subject to change, and myself not to be that which Thou art.  (1)

139 Nothing less than Christ’s power is needed for our conflict with the devil. We know that for Christ’s sake we have a gracious God and his promise. And therefore, we pray that the Holy Spirit may govern and defend us, so that we may not be deceived and err, nor be driven to do anything against God’s will.  (2)

The congregation gathered around, absolutely devasted by the events they had endured.  They humbly gathered, downcast, not know what to do or say.  Heartbroken, unaware of how they will continue on, a simple, profound, wondrous hymn breaks out among them…

A hymn maligned, denigrated, and used as an example of poor hymnody, poor theology, poor worship by countless experts.  I will contend that if we learn this hymn if we sing it as it was meant to be sung, there are few that express the theological depth it does.

It doesn’t matter to those singing it, for it is a lament that expresses the only hope they have… the gentle words pleading for that which is promised.  A prayer expressed in words so significant that they must resonate in the church today.

“Kumbaya my Lord, Kumbaya, Kumbaya my Lord, Kumbaya, Kumbaya my Lord, Kumbaya, O Lord, Kumbaya;”

O Lord, be with us…” 

These words express the same sentiment that Augustine reveals he needed.  The attitude that is found in brokenness, the attitude of facing death, and dying to self.  St. Paul’s  words echo this, comparing this life’s brokenness to labor pains, as we await the recreation, the rebirth of all things.  It speaks of those moments when our hearts are too broken to know what to pray, and the Holy Spirit must be our intercessor, the translator of the groans too deep for words.

This song speaks of the eschatological hope we have in Christ, which St Peter begs us to be ready to do.

This song is an expression of the Theology of the Cross, the simple hope found in our brokenness and the healing promised and delivered in word and sacrament.

This song speaks of the incarnation, as we count on Christ’s presence in our lives

This song speaks of vocation, as it asks God to be there in every situation we encounter.

This song talks of the Omnipresence of God, who incarnates Himself into our lives, who draws us into Himself.

It speaks of the ministry of the Holy Spirit, our comforter-paraclete, who teaches us of God’s love.

Amazingly, this song speaks of the sacraments, as we know He has come to us as we are united to Him in the waters of baptism, as we hear His words, you are forgiven, as we are fed with His body and Blood.

It does all this in a humble way, not with glorious melodies, not with perfect 4 part harmony, not with a worship that seeks to impress both  God and those who are spectators. Rather, it is sung by voices barely able to create an audible noise.  It resonates with the depth of the hearts aid open.  It can capture the heart of all, growing in fervor, moving us from darkness to the glory found in His presence.

It is sung with hearts who realize their only hope, the only way to find peace, to receive mercy, is to encounter Almighty God in all His glory and plead for mercy, to cry the Kyrie Eleison, to plead, O Lord, be with us…

This must become again the cry of a church, in a broken world, for it points us to what is necessary, what we need to desire more than all, the presence of God.  Here, now, in our lives. 

May we be able to cry such words in faith, together, knowing that He who has promised is faithful….

Amen!

(1)   Augustine, S., Bishop of Hippo. (1996). The Confessions of St. Augustine. (E. B. Pusey, Trans.). Oak Harbor, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc.

(2)  Tappert, T. G. (Ed.). (1959). The Book of Concord the confessions of the Evangelical Lutheran Church. (p. 126). Philadelphia: Mühlenberg Press.

The Incredible Awe and Joy found in the Cross of Christ

Devotional Thought of the Day:

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5  Why am I discouraged? Why is my heart so sad? I will put my hope in God! I will praise him again— my Savior and 6  my God! Now I am deeply discouraged, but I will remember you— even from distant Mount Hermon, the source of the Jordan, from the land of Mount Mizar. 7  I hear the tumult of the raging seas as your waves and surging tides sweep over me. 8  But each day the LORD pours his unfailing love upon me, and through each night I sing his songs, praying to God who gives me life. Psalm 42:5-8 (NLT)

2  “Speak tenderly to Jerusalem. Tell her that her sad days are gone and her sins are pardoned. Yes, the LORD has punished her twice over for all her sins.” Isaiah 40:2 (NLT)

15  Be happy with those who are happy, and weep with those who weep. Romans 12:15 (NLT)

I sit here in my office, as prayer requests continue to role in.  There are so many people out there who are hurting, grieving, struggling.  There are families, torn apart, not just by the loss of a loved one, but by the turmoil that was anticipated, the turmoil there just below the boiling point,

I am sad, discouraged, grieving with those who grieve. Yesterday was hard, as we prepared for our serving, celebrating Christ’s last supper, the night when thoughts of death oppressed Him, our Lord. Oppressed Him as He looked upon the disciples, who hadn’t learned the lessons of serving yet. They argued about who would be first in the Kingdom. (after Jesus of course!)  Oppressed as He considered Judas, who would betray Him with a kiss, and Peter, who would betray him not once, but three times. Considering the agony of the garden, where his closest friends couldn’t pray with Him one hour, even as many refuse to do so today.   Considering that pain adds to the pain I am enduring, as tears come too often, as I consider the trauma of friends, the pains, the battles, the grief.

it seems ironic that this day, the day when He would die, when we celebrate His death, I would find joy and relief.

I came across the verses above, these incredible words of promise.  That God’s love would pour over us like the constant swell of the ocean’s waves. That the days of dealing with our sin, and the brokenness that it thrusts upon us are over. Christ has been victorious, over my sin, over the bondage of guilt and shame that Satan used to oppress us.

It will be nearly 48 hours before this sinks in, and I like that.   I need to spend some time in the awe of Christ dying for me.  You should as well.

He died for us.  Those nails that physically held Him to the cross didn’t bind Him there as strongly as the love that drove Him there… and again the words of Hebrews comes blaring back into my ears….

For the JOY set before Him!

The Joy we know, that we need to know, even as we feel discouraged, tired, betrayed; as we know grief, and pain,

and LOVE.

May you find rest and joy in this moment of contemplating His death, the death He embraced for you. AMEN!

The Perspective of Death… and Eternity

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13  “I wish you would hide me in the grave and forget me there until your anger has passed. But mark your calendar to think of me again! 14  Can the dead live again? If so, this would give me hope through all my years of struggle, and I would eagerly await the release of death. 15  You would call and I would answer, and you would yearn for me, your handiwork. 16  For then you would guard my steps, instead of watching for my sins. 17  My sins would be sealed in a pouch, and you would cover my guilt. Job 14:13-17 (NLT)

Let me now remind you, dear brothers and sisters, of the Good News I preached to you before. You welcomed it then, and you still stand firm in it. It is this Good News that saves you if you continue to believe the message I told you—unless, of course, you believed something that was never true in the first place.I passed on to you what was most important and what had also been passed on to me. Christ died for our sins, just as the Scriptures said. He was buried, and he was raised from the dead on the third day, just as the Scriptures said .1 Corinthians 15:1–11

I woke up this morning, exhausted in body and spirit and especially soul.

In the last 6 days, six families i know have had to face grief and death.  Four deaths in a forty-eight hour span. Not to mention 4 or 5 other things that are pretty high on the trauma scale.

I don’t feel like Job, exactly, for I am not the one who is directly suffering.  Just praying and trying to comfort those who are.  I do understand his weariness, and the above quote, wishing there was a way to put life on hold until the day when this broken world that seems so futile ends. Wouldn’t it be great if we could be frozen, and didn’t have to endure this complicated and broken life?

Yeah, I resonate with Job’s thoughts.  More often than I would like you to know.  Even this week, as I face so much, I really resonate with them, so much I wanted to shout amen when I read them.   For if only that would happen, and the next thing to hear from God would be, “welcome home!”

But what Job hopes for, Paul reminds us that we have.  We have a God, a Father who doesn’t want to look at sin and injustice.  He wants to see things made right, and if broken, healed.  In the middle of wanting to know if Job found an out, in the midst of death, there is another death to consider.

The death of Christ.  The only death I know of, where the answer to “why” is answered.

“For you”, the Father whispers.  We hear it again, as we proclaim and celebrate His death in the Lord’s Supper.  Take and eat, the Body of Christ, given FOR YOU!.  Take and drink, the Blood of Christ, shed for you, f or the forgiveness of sins.

The answer is staggering..

For me?  Broken, sinful, confused, anxious, depressed, mourning – that me?   Trusting in this, is the key to our faith, that God would do this, for us.

Job’s dream, come true,

You would call and I would answer, and you would yearn for me, your handiwork.”

The words of Paul in Ephesians 2:10, says Job was right, his vision of what would be glorious is found to be true.  His hopes exceeded.

That is the perspective death brings, it causes us to ask the questions we dare not,  and here the answers that we can only dream of in our brokenness.

An answer we can hear, and know, passed down to us.  For He died, was buried, and rose again.  United with Him, this is seen in our baptism, and as we feast at His table, as we look forward and cry out with hope, with great expectation for Him to return.  AMEN

February 26: My Anniversary of Facing Death….. twice…

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11  In union with Christ you were circumcised, not with the circumcision that is made by human beings, but with the circumcision made by Christ, which consists of being freed from the power of this sinful self. 12  For when you were baptized, you were buried with Christ, and in baptism you were also raised with Christ through your faith in the active power of God, who raised him from death. 13  You were at one time spiritually dead because of your sins and because you were Gentiles without the Law. But God has now brought you to life with Christ. God forgave us all our sins; Colossians 2:11-13 (TEV)

1035      Do not fear death. Death is your friend! Try to get used to the fact of death: peer into your grave often, looking at and smelling, and touching your own rotting corpse there, a week, no more, after your death. Remember this especially when you are troubled by the impulses of the flesh.  (1) 

Twice on this day, February 26th, I have faced death and found life.

The second time was in 1998, as I lay on a gurney in West Hills, California.  I was about to have surgery to replace two heart valves, damaged by a genetic connective tissue disorder. The surgery was supposed to last 4 hours, and was very risky.  The surgeon explained it was as challenging as sewing two wet pieces of toilet paper together. He would later ask me how many people were praying, not that he believed in it, but that the surgery was so easy.

That ended an anxiety I had struggled with since childhood, the threat of death because of the genetic issues.  Yes, there are still heart issues, yes, I am still on medicine and undergo tests.  But the threat of aortic dissection is minimal. For six years prior to the surgery, I had been concerned – with the heart issues had already tried to kill me once, causing a cardiac arrest.

Life changed a little that time I faced death. There was a new freedom, a new life.  Yes, it had restrictions and changes, but it was also free of  my fears about death that was…. I can’t even explain how overwhelming it could be.

It had even more the other time, thirty-three years before that.  I was only a few weeks old and at a church.  I faced a different form of death, one with the promise far greater, in fact; that was the reason I had to face death, in order to gain the promise.

On February 26, in the year of our Lord 1965, I was baptized. As the passage above discusses, in baptism we die. ( Romans 6:1-8, Titus 3, my favorite, Ezekiel 36:25-27 and 37:1-12 speak of this as well) It is there, in our baptism, that we die with Christ.  It is there as well, that we are quickened, that we come alive in faith.  That we enter a relationship that is amazing, with God.

The picture of baptism and being united with Christ’s death and resurrection, is not just symbolism. It is not just an act of our obedience.  It is God at work.  It is a promise God has made, to all those who believe in Him.  It is how He brings us through Christ’s death and resurrection that enables us to be freed from our sin, and the debt it causes.  It is a wonderful, miraculous promise of eternity, a promise God is willing to sign, to guarantee, to stake His name to, that we would know His love.

His promise, given to us in a Covenant, a Testament, an unbreakable contract.  His work, cleansing us,

This time, facing death has eternal implications.  It enables us to look death in the face, and not be afraid.  To realize the glory of God, which He desires to share with us, will be our eternity. For something awaits us, which scripture describes this way.

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)

Escriva, Josemaria (2011-01-31). The Forge (Kindle Locations 3664-3668). Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition.

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