the devotional thought of the day:
For this is what the LORD says: “When 70 years for Babylon are complete, I will attend to you and will confirm My promise concerning you to restore you to this place. 11 For I know the plans I have for you” —this is the LORD’s declaration—“plans for your welfare, not for disaster, to give you a future and a hope. 12 You will call to Me and come and pray to Me, and I will listen to you. 13 You will seek Me and find Me when you search for Me with all your heart. 14 I will be found by you”—this is the LORD’s declaration—“and I will restore your fortunes and gather you from all the nations and places where I banished you”—this is the LORD’s declaration. “I will restore you to the place I deported you from.” Jeremiah 29:10-14 HCSB
4 But when the kindness of God our Savior and His love for mankind appeared, 5 He saved us not by works of righteousness that we had done, but according to His mercy, through the washing of regeneration and renewal by the Holy Spirit. 6 He poured out this Spirit on us abundantly through Jesus Christ our Savior. Titus 3:4-6 HCSB
In the first quote above, the one from Jeremiah, there is an amazing and well-known quote. “For I know the plans I have for you” —this is the LORD’s declaration—“plans for your welfare, not for disaster, to give you a future and a hope!
But is even more amazing, give the context of it.
I’ve heard a lot of people quote this passage when they get into hard times, or when they don’t know what is coming next. But that isn’t the context. Which is why it is even more amazing.
God’s not giving a future and a hope to those who are His spiritual superstars, not the heroes of the faith either. The context is those whose sins are so shameful, so repugnant, so evil that God had to lead them into captivity.
The people in context were banished, they were broken, they were dominated by seeking after their own welfare, and indeed, their own pleasure. They were in the midst of being disciplined, discipline as hard as any faced in scripture. They lost their home, their country, and all the things they counted on to tie them to God. The temple – gone. The sacrifices – gone. The land promised to Abraham, Issac and Jacob.. gone.
Because of their sin.
And yet they were given a promise, a future, and a hope. The assurance that when they ceased being the prodigal, God would still be there. The promise of reconciliation and restoration, when the time is complete.
Like them, there are sometimes that we become dominated by sin, when we are as broken when we deserve to be punished and disciplined, and worse, we deserve the wrath of God. We deserve the same kind of treatment that He poured out on Sodom and Gomorrah, the plagues He poured out on Pharoah and Egypt, the justice He poured out on the people of Noah’s time.
Yet for us, even as for the exiles, there is a future and a hope. There is a God who promises He can be found, and when He finds us. He pours our something incredible on us.
His Spirit, the Holy Spirit who washes us clean with the word and the water. Who revives and regenerates our broken lives, who renews our strength, so that we don’t faith.
This is the promise you received as God baptized you, as He claimed you as His. When He declares that we are healed, cleansed, His people.
This is the promise of a future and a hope that we’ve been given.
Rejoice in it! Remember it! Celebrate it! Hang on to it, when things are challenging, when you life is broken, when you find yourself yielding to temptation and sin, and despair…
He has promised you to cleanse you, guaranteed by the cross. AMEN!
Devotional Thoughts of the day:
30 Jesus performed many other signs in the presence of His disciples that are not written in this book. 31 But these are written so that you may believe Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and by believing you may have life in His name. John 20:30-31 HCSB
317 What zeal men put into their earthly affairs! Dreaming of honors, striving for riches, bent on sensuality! Men and women, rich and poor, old and middle-aged and young and even children: all of them alike. When you and I put the same zeal into the affairs of our souls, then we’ll have a living and working faith. And there will be no obstacle that we cannot overcome in our apostolic works.
It’s Monday morning, and another work week stands before us.
What are you going to do with it? Where are you going to spend the assets you have? What can you do, that will give the greatest return on investment?
I dare say St. John had a similar question in mind when he penned the words about Christ that we have come to know as his gospel. And in the quote above we see his priority, that you may believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and by believing you may have life in His name.
That was John’s bottom line (and the Holy Spirit’s bottom line as well) That we would know Jesus, trust and depend upon Him, and thereby receive the life He desires us to have. A life lived with Him, a life lived in His presence.
This is Jesus greatest investment, as He invests in us…
And while it is the time I invest in this, what I really invest is my brokenness. The struggle I have with sin, (especially when I don’t struggle with it) the guilt and shame, the hurts and pains, the resentment, the fear, and anxiety.
Those are my investments, the things I have to learn to zealously invest them into my relationship with Jesus, the return on investment is rest from them, a rest in the glory of God, a rest that comes from knowing I am loved.
He heals us, in ways beyond our hearts’ imagination, because the brokenness He will heal goes deeper into our soul than we are willing to explore. But that is what St. Josemaria is talking about when he tells us to have zeal for the affairs of our soul, for our internal lives. Letting God sink deeper into our lives that butter sinks into a hot waffle. It is scary and wonderful, What we need to invest… is the stuff that kills off our life. It is the stuff we need to be removed from our lives, and Jesus will…. with great joy and care… cut it away. ( See Colossians 2:11)
That is when our faith is living and working, when we allow God to deal with our brokenness, all of it, as He forgives our sins and cleanses us of all unrighteousness, and we can live….
And be sent out, for we are broken people who are finding hope and healing in Jesus, and helping others heal….
Lord have mercy on us, and help us invest our brokenness in your mercy and love… and heal us, dear Lord!
Escriva, Josemaria. The Way (Kindle Locations 820-824). Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition.
Devotional thought for our days:’
9 Then he said, “You skillfully sidestep God’s law in order to hold on to your own tradition. 10 For instance, Moses gave you this law from God: ‘Honor your father and mother,’ and ‘Anyone who speaks disrespectfully of father or mother must be put to death.’ 11 But you say it is all right for people to say to their parents, ‘Sorry, I can’t help you. For I have vowed to give to God what I would have given to you.’ 12 In this way, you let them disregard their needy parents. 13 And so you cancel the word of God in order to hand down your own tradition. And this is only one example among many others.” 14 Then Jesus called to the crowd to come and hear. “All of you listen,” he said, “and try to understand. 15 It’s not what goes into your body that defiles you; you are defiled by what comes from your heart.” Mark 7:9-15 (NLT)
9 We use our tongues to praise our Lord and Father, but then we curse people, whom God made like himself. 10 Praises and curses come from the same mouth! My brothers and sisters, this should not happen. James 3:9-10 NCV
79 I will not stop repeating until it is deeply engraved in your soul: Piety, piety, piety! For if you lack charity it will be for want of interior life, not for any defect of character.
As I have talked to people since the Las Vegas shooting, as I have read articles, posts and tweets about it, one question is asked over and over. It is the same question that was asked after the Sandy Hook or Florida shootings, or the bombing in Oklahoma City, or even 9/11.
What defect is there in those who commit such horrors, what kind of evil lurks within them? What dysfunctional part of their nature causes such evil?
And two questions follow those:
“Can we stop this from happening again?”
And the question we are afraid to ask,
“Am I capable of such evil?”
Most of us would believe we aren’t capable of that level of evil, of creating such trauma, such horror. If you asked the Pharisees of Jesus day, they certainly didn’t believe they were capable of such evil; they were too holy. Sure, a little sin here, a little lie there, some unforgiveness and pride, even a smattering of gossip. But real evil?
Nah, not us. We’re the good guys, remember?
If that isn’t our attitude, the contrary position we take, seeing every moment in our lives as proof that we make Hannibal Lector and Hitler look like simpletons when it comes to evil. We believe our character to be broken, our dysfunctionality beyond salvation, our defects to irreparable.
We see the passage from Mark, and we know that there is something within us to cause such horror, we hear James and wonder how we can gossip or lie or brutally treat someone one moment, and sing A Mighty Fortress or say the Lord’s Prayer or the Apostles Creed the next.
Well, sin is pictured several times (including James 5) as an illness, a sickness, a disease that has weakened us. Yes, we are responsible for our thoughts, our words, our actions, but at another level, we are incapable of living life free from the bondage in which sin grips us. It is more than just a defect or dysfunction, this sin that so easily ensnares us.
I think St Josemaria points out the answer, as he mentions our interior life. Our struggle with sin as Christians is because we don’t understand what it means to dwell in the presence of God. It is that interior life, that time that we spend living in Christ, resting in His presence, being transformed by the Holy Spirit that provides the love we need to love others, and to love and adore God.
This isn’t some exercise in finding God, it doesn’t take a pilgrimage around the world, though there are places where realizing He is there is easier, like in a church as they celebrate the Eucharist, or in a gathering of people singing His praises. He is with you on that sleepless night as well, or in the heat of the moment, when you want to respond in anger, or in pain.
The interior life is simply living and recognizing the presence of God, and hearing His voice.
So call out to Him, give Him your burdens, pray that He will help you, confident of His promises too….especially when it is dealing with temptation, or with the ghosts of the past.
The Lord is with you! AMEN!
Escriva, Josemaria. The Forge (Kindle Locations 495-498). Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition.
Devotional Thought for our Days
Your old sinful self has died, and your new life is kept with Christ in God. 4 Christ is your n life, and when he comes again, you will share in his glory. 5 So put all evil things out of your life: sexual sinning, doing evil, letting evil thoughts control you, wanting things that are evil, and greed. This is really serving a false god. 6 These things make God angry. n 7 In your past, evil life you also did these things.
8 But now also put these things out of your life: anger, bad temper, doing or saying things to hurt others, and using evil words when you talk. 9 Do not lie to each other. You have left your old sinful life and the things you did before. 10 You have begun to live the new life, in which you are being made new and are becoming like the One who made you. This new life brings you the true knowledge of God. Colossians 3:3-10 NCV
3 My Father—talk to him like that, confidently—who art in heaven, look upon me with compassionate Love, and make me respond to thy love. Melt and enkindle my heart of bronze, burn and purify my unmortified flesh, fill my mind with supernatural light, make my tongue proclaim the Love and Glory of Christ.
“Hallowed be thy name.”
What does this mean?
Answer: To be sure, God’s name is holy in itself, but we pray in this petition that it may also be holy for us.
5 How is this done?
Answer: When the Word of God is taught clearly and purely and we, as children of God, lead holy lives in accordance with it. Help us to do this, dear Father in heaven! But whoever teaches and lives otherwise than as the Word of God teaches, profanes the name of God among us. From this preserve us, heavenly Father!
Paul’s words are difficult in verse 5, these words we hear as commands, as Law.
Put all evil things out of your life…
This sounds easy – that is until Paul defines it, then defines it more.
How are you doing with that? I pray you are doing better at it than I am.
It is a battle. A battle not between Good and Evil with Evil being those opposed to us, it is a battle inside each of us, to turn away from the evil we, to embrace good. But even this battle is a paradox, for we cannot do this by our own strength or will-power.
When we believe we are the masters of our spiritual development, when we believe we can put all these things out of our life by ourselves, we’ve fallen back into the trap of the evil one. Yet that is what we hear often when we read this passage, it is what our pride focuses upon.
What does it miss… the embrace of Christ as He died, that embrace that continues through His death to the resurrection. The beginning of life in Christ, and the being MADE NEW AND ARE BECOMING LIKE THE ONE WHO MADE YOU.
This is what St. Josemaria is talking about, as he points out a part of the Lord’s Prayer. It is God who makes us new, it is God who changes us, it is God who separated us from evil and our sin, and is our hope for staying disconnected from it. (that is not to say He is responsible if we return to it!) Therefore it is our prayer, our begging God to do what we cannot, even as we realize that He has not only promised this, it is His desire.
It is our need.
And it is how we let go of the evil that has bound us, as we adore our Lord for what He has done and is doing. We don’t actually create the separation, we don’t broaden it even, we just leave it behind as the light of the glory of God. His love revealed and realized draws us away from the life we had before.
We can pray for this, that God would do His work. Not that He wouldn’t do it if we don’t pray, but that as we pray we would realize God is at work, already doing this to us. This is what Luther was getting at in the small catechism. We pray this to know what God promised to do, and so we can realize it is being done.
It is being done, let us continue to pray we see Him doing it!
 From the Small Catechism: edition from Tappert, Theodore G., ed. The Book of Concord the Confessions of the Evangelical Lutheran Church. Philadelphia: Mühlenberg Press, 1959. Print.
Escriva, Josemaria. The Forge (Kindle Locations 242-246). Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition.
A Devotional Thought for the day:
Foolish people don’t care if they sin, but good people want to be forgiven. Proverbs 14:9
486 That big young man wrote to me saying: “My ideal is so great that only the sea could contain it.” I answered: “And what about the Tabernacle, which is so ‘small’; and the ‘common’ workshop of Nazareth?” It is in the greatness of ordinary things that He awaits us!
When a pastor is ordained, or perhaps is installed in a new church, we often make grandiose plans, and have visions of the church growing, and becoming stronger, We (and our people – that’s why they called us) envision our churches overflowing with people, with ministries that meet the need of every demographic in our community, and even impact the world through the missions we support.
What is often overlooked is the simple things, the things that are needed, the common work of a pastor or priest. The sacramental things that make the greatest difference in a person’s life. Not a great difference, the greatest difference, even though we may also need to teach them about it along the way.
THis great work? This simple thing that will radically change their lives? For a Lutheran pastor, it is these words,
“Let it be done for you as you believe! In the stead and by the command of my Lord Jesus, I forgive you all your sins! In the Name of the Father and the Son, and the Holy Spirit. AMEN!”
For a Catholic, Orthodox or Anglican priest the words are different. The Baptist or Evangelical pastor may simply say, “you’re forgiven”, without backing it up with the formal language. These words of forgiveness are heard in church service during a baptism, or as we celebrate the Lord’s supper in confessionals, in the pastor’s office or out having coffee. They are said at the bedside of someone who is dying, and while counseling the prisoner in a jail.
It is the simple work of ministry, something we need to hear, something we know we need to hear. Ordinary perhaps, but as those words are heard, as they are understood in our heart, soul, and mind, shame and guilt are swept away as the sin is removed. We are reminded of God’s love for us, and the relationship Christ’ death on the cross secured and guaranteed for us. We might even find the strength and hope needed ot ask forgiveness from that relative we hurt or the friend we accidentally betrayed.
Most pastors and priests will never preach to thousands at once. Most of us won’t baptize a hundred in a day. We would love to see that of course, but the best thing we can do is found in what we can do for you…. to tell you of a God who loves you so much that He would forgive you of all your sin, and has. Who would do so in such a way that you would learn to run for forgiveness, that you would desire it, that you would rejoice when you hear it.
This is ministry, real ministry, a ministry which heals and restores and leaves you full of joy and peace.
So come talk to us, hear the words you need to hear, “you are forgiven of all your sins, (and yes – that one as well!)
See you soon!
Escriva, Josemaria. Furrow (Kindle Locations 2126-2129). Scepter Publishers.
Devotional Thought fo the Day:
16 Confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The earnest prayer of a righteous person has great power and produces wonderful results. James 5:16 (NLT)
323 Anyone who hides a temptation from his director shares a secret with the devil. He has become a friend of the enemy.
3 With regard to the time, it is certain that most people in our churches use the sacraments, absolution and the Lord’s Supper, many times a year. Our clergy instruct the people about the worth and fruits of the sacraments in such a way as to invite them to use the sacraments often. On this subject our theologians have written many things which our opponents, if they are but honest, will undoubtedly approve and praise.
There is no hope, no chance to correct the wrongs, no chance to fix that was broken, the person thought. So they had one of two easy solutions, Ignore the problem, or run and hide from it. either way, the damage increases, and the help needed to overcome the problem is ignored.
If this was a medical issue, (and yes people ignore and hide from them) most of us would come alongside the person and urge, even beg them to seek help. If it was an addiction, we might risk their anger and do the same. But how many of us are going to take such an action on something that is far more critical, the spiritual health of our friends and family? How many of us would even think to suggest absolution, the ministry, and sacrament of reconciliation, if someone was sharing their battle with guilt and shame?
St. Josemaria’s words are harsh, that when we hide our sins, when we don’t confess them, when we don’t ask for help in dealing with them, we effectively align with Satan, and we accept the bondage of guilt and shame which will paralyze and haunt us.
That’s pretty serious, and after 20 years of ministry, and seeing the problems that unresolved guilt and shame brought upon people, upon their family and friends, I concur. All we do when we ignore sin, or when we isolate ourselves from others because of it is fall, to trust in Satan’s deception.
Confession and absolution, the hearing that God does forgive us because of Jesus’ work on the cross, that free us from that bondage, it starts the healing of brokenness that would otherwise crush us. It is liberating, it brings about both incredible joy and incredible peace.
It’s time to stop ignoring our sin, or hiding from others as the sin and guilt tear our souls apart.
God loves you and wants you to know, He desires to cleanse you of it all, to restore your soul, to mend the broken hearts. He wants us to encourage each other to know this, to hear it from those entrusted to speak on His behalf.
Come, know the peace of God, and rejoice in the freedom Christ’s blood bought you!
Escriva, Josemaria. Furrow (Kindle Locations 1526-1527). Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition.
Tappert, Theodore G., ed. The Book of Concord the Confessions of the Evangelical Lutheran Church. Philadelphia: Mühlenberg Press, 1959. Print.
Devotional Thought fo the Day:
14 Since the children, as he calls them, are people of flesh and blood, Jesus himself became like them and shared their human nature. He did this so that through his death he might destroy the Devil, who has the power over death, 15and in this way set free those who were slaves all their lives because of their fear of death. 16For it is clear that it is not the angels that he helps. Instead, he helps the descendants of Abraham. 17This means that he had to become like his brothers and sisters in every way, in order to be their faithful and merciful High Priest in his service to God, so that the people’s sins would be forgiven. 18And now he can help those who are tempted, because he himself was tempted and suffered. Heb 2:14-18 TEV
261 God is with you. The Blessed Trinity dwells in your soul in grace. That is why, in spite of your wretchedness, you can and should keep up a continuous conversation with the Lord.
Growing up Catholic, the thing you learned to fear was that once a week meeting with your priest. For us at St. Francis Elementary School, the parish priest would come to the school, and though he never made eye contact with you, his presence intimidated you.
You were afraid to mention your sins, and logically, I do not know why.
He wasn’t a mean.
He wasn’t known for asking outrageous acts of Penance, (the usual was 5 Our Fathers, 10 Hail Mary’s and 2 acts of contrition – you could say that much on your way back to class)
But there was something intimidating about confessing to another person, even to a man God put in place to remind you that you were forgiven because of Christ’s death on the cross!
Now some forty years later, and being a Lutheran pastor who absolves people of sins, I realize there is no difference. People are still intimidated, still anxious, people still struggle with guilt and shame.
Even though we know the solution is found in our merciful high Priest Jesus, we shy away from Him, we put up our defenses, we deny we have done wrong. We try to hide our wretchedness, the wretchedness that eats us alive, that causes our souls to wither, our hearts to break.
We need to learn to trust, to depend on this God who came to us, to be like us, to free us from that sin, that shame, that oppression. We need to let Him help us, to speak through those He’s called and ordained to do this very work.
We need to hear, “you are forgiven”
There is the paradox, the One we fear the most, the One we want to hide from the most, is the Lord who can do something to cut away our sin,,,to cleanse and purify us.
This is what we need, this is what we’ve been promised, this is what we should run to in hope, this time where God dwells in our heart with all His grace and love.
So don’t hesitate. There are pastors and priests waiting, desiring to do their job, to tell you that which is the best news you will here today, or any day….
Escriva, Josemaria. The Forge (Kindle Locations 1092-1094). Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition.
Devotional Thought of the Day:
13 Every test that you have experienced is the kind that normally comes to people. But God keeps his promise, and he will not allow you to be tested beyond your power to remain firm; at the time you are put to the test, he will give you the strength to endure it, and so provide you with a way out. 1 Corinthians 10:13 (TEV)
As soon as you perceive that you are tempted, follow the example of children; when they see a wolf or a bear, they at once run to the arms of their father or mother, or at least they call out to them for help. It is the remedy which our Lord taught, when He said; “Pray, lest you enter into temptation” (Matt. 26:41). If you find, notwithstanding this, that the temptation still continues, or even increases, run in spirit to embrace the holy cross, as if you saw Jesus Christ crucified before you. Protest that you will never consent to the temptation, crave his help against it, and continue still to refuse your consent, as long as the temptation continues.
But in making these protestations and in refusing to consent, look not upon the temptation, but only on our Lord; for if you look upon the temptation, especially whilst it is strong, it may shake your courage. Divert your thoughts to some good and pious reflections, for good thoughts, when they occupy your heart, will chase away every evil temptation and suggestion. (1)
And this understanding is necessary for the church, so that it may know that God is daily at work in His world and embracing with His fatherly care especially those to whom He has given His Word, and He is defending them, watching over them, nourishing and freeing them from all dangers and troubles, and is unwilling to do anything which would take away anything good from those who seek the Lord, Ps. 34:10
Often times I hear the Bible passage above quoted in regards to the problems of life, that God doesn’t give us challenges that we can’t handle. As if God wants us to take on the challenges using our own wisdom, our own strength of character, our own power.
But that is not what the passage is about, if we look at the verses that come before and after the passage. It is a transition sentence, moving us from the sin of those in the Sinai with Moses, who grumbled and overlooked the care of God, and a powerful section about the communion we have with God, as we take and eat His Body, as we Drink His Blood that was shed.
It is the escape God provides, the way past temptation and sin that comes as we trust, as we depend on God to provide for us. That is our way out, carried in the palm of His hands, carried through death and the cross, through the resurrection and life in the glory of God.
Depending on the truth we hear Martin Chemnitz states so well, that God is at work, and won’t take away anything good from those who look to Him. It is what St Francis de Sales states as well, that our hope is found as we run to and embrace the cross, looking not at the temptation, but focusing on Jesus, on HIs presence, on HIs love, on HIs mercy.
This is our great escape – through Christ, from darkness to light, from guilt and shame into the very glory of God, from brokenness to being healed and life abundant in Christ. TO have the mindset of Christ, to focus in on the love of God our Father, to explore that love, as the Apostle Paul tells the church to, this is our safe place, our sanctuary, our refuge.
That is why the Kyrie Eleison (Lord Have Mercy! ) is such a powerful prayer, for it directs our hope to Christ, where it finds the proof that sustains it.
We must go back, and see where Paul finds that escape, in the communion of people and God. In the sharing of the Eucharistic (the Blessing) Cup, in the Body of Christ which we share. In that sacramental meal, we find ourselves so in the presence of God. This sacrament, this time of being with God, is so precious, so needed!
This is Christianity, our religious dependence and trust in God, the path of walking with Christ, being the place where the Spirit dwells, where the people of God are lifted up.
So look to Jesus my friends, and find the escape we all need. AMEN!
(1) Francis de Sales, Saint. An Introduction to the Devout Life. Dublin: M. H. Gill and Son, 1885. Print.
Chemnitz, Martin, and Jacob A. O. Preus. Loci Theologici. electronic ed. St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1999. Print.
Discussion thought of the Day:
15 I do not understand what I do; for I don’t do what I would like to do, but instead I do what I hate. 16 Since what I do is what I don’t want to do, this shows that I agree that the Law is right. 17 So I am not really the one who does this thing; rather it is the sin that lives in me. 18 I know that good does not live in me—that is, in my human nature. For even though the desire to do good is in me, I am not able to do it. 19 I don’t do the good I want to do; instead, I do the evil that I do not want to do. 20 If I do what I don’t want to do, this means that I am no longer the one who does it; instead, it is the sin that lives in me.
Romans 7:15-20 (TEV)
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)
7 But if we live in the light—just as he is in the light—then we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus, his Son, purifies us from every sin. 8 If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and there is no truth in us. 9 But if we confess our sins to God, he will keep his promise and do what is right: he will forgive us our sins and purify us from all our wrongdoing. 10 If we say that we have not sinned, we make a liar out of God, and his word is not in us.
1 John 1:7-10 (TEV)
The problem of sin is one that has stalked mankind since the beginning.
We may try to hide it, sure that people won’t see through our careful concealment, our spiritual camouflage. We may deny it, or let it rip our souls to shreds. It is there, lurking, stalking us.
As pastors, we see its effect in our people, as they struggle with every aspect of life, from work to marriage to raising their children. I’ve watched it nearly destroy a church, and I know it has destroyed churches and even denominations. We’ve watched it destroy our brothers in ministry, and yes, we know its dark powers all too well.
Yes, sin is a problem in the church, and being a real church means we try to deal with it. We can’t really hide it, denying it and the bondage it puts people in is.. well asinine in that we are committing people to hell on earth, and hell eternal. We cannot camouflage it and hope it blends into the background. For in all of those options we see the warning of John, indicating that we make God a liar.
So how does a Christian, whom we teach has been cleansed of sin in baptism (see Ezekiel 36:25ff, Titus 3:2-8, 1 Peter 3, Romans 6 and Colossians 2) struggle with the fact that they still sin? How do we find comfort knowing t How do we find comfort in the wrongdoing that has been done to us as well, that we will fall prey to Satan and commit a sin, or two, or twenty? For sin and unrighteousness paralyzes us, it inhibits our faith, especially when Satan tries to convince us the pain is real.
Note: When talking about sin and wrongdoing, it is important to note that the sin is our wrongdoing, and the wrongdoing John mentions is the wrongdoing, the sin done to us. When we are declared righteous, when we are purified – both are dealt with. Yet there is a struggle. For we don’t always see this done and we live with the pain of sin.
In talking this over with a friend, and thinking through the passages above, and of note the underlined sections, I came up with an analogy.
I had a friend who lost a leg, and he often talked of (he never complained) of phantom feelings in his missing limb. Sometimes it felt like it was asleep, or it itched, or it even caused him great pain as it felt like it was cramping. The feelings were not “imagined”, they were documentable and real. Sensory nerves were firing, motor nerves were wanting to direct movement. The brain registered it all.
The symptoms were real, the effects on the body were real, the source? It wasn’t real. It was cut off completely, removed, and thoroughly as something is removed in a circumcision. This paradox defies explanation.
Spiritually, the paradox is much the same. It may seem like sin controls us, the actions, the results appear much the same as they did before our “circumcision.”( I love Ezekiel 36 on this – as the Spirit removes our stone dead heart and replaces it with one living, and home to the Spirit) That sinful nature died on the cross – that is God’s promise. Surely our sin was forgiven, and the sin of the world was stripped away from us, as if God somehow combined a brillo pad with ivory soap… and could scrub us, without damaging us.
So why does it still feel like we can’t stop sinning? Why is there despair that is so deep, and so powerful that it could be labeled a black hole?
It’s that paradox again – the phantom power of sin, the illusions that the demonic can try to cast. Yes we still sin, yes we still don’t do what we should and do what we shouldn’t. Yes, there are days we feel like a wretch, and our ability to condemn ourselves will run high. Where we wonder if there is hope, if we will ever be righteous and holy and good.
It is then we have to realize the power of spiritual circumcision – that the sin we are battling is the cause of the sin. (this is NOT and should never be an excuse) The way to defeat it is to go and confess, and hear God has forgiven us, to hear that He has healed us. That He has purified us. That He has cut away this sin, and though we feel its effects, its pain, it itching… it isn’t us.
We live in Him.
Dealing with the phantom pain then becomes realizing how real it is, and isn’t, and running to the one who confirms it isn’t, and letting His promise mean more than our struggle. To trust Him, to depend upon Him, to let Him support us, even as we walk through life, missing that which would have destroyed us, but for His action, His love.
This is our life… in Chirst.
Knowing He has had mercy, even as we cry out fo it!
God’s peace to you, forgiven child!
the devotional thought of the day:
12 I am surrounded by many troubles— too many to count! My sins have caught up with me, and I can no longer see; they are more than the hairs of my head, and I have lost my courage. 13 Save me, LORD! Help me now!
Psalm 40:12-13 (TEV)
993 In our meditation, the Passion of Christ comes out of its cold historical frame and stops being a pious consideration, presenting itself before our eyes, as terrible, brutal, savage, bloody… yet full of Love. And we feel that sin cannot be regarded as just a trivial error: to sin is to crucify the Son of God, to tear his hands and feet with hammer blows, and to make his heart break.
29 We eliminate from contrition those useless and endless discussions as to when we are sorry because we love God and when because we fear punishment. We say that contrition is the genuine terror of a conscience that feels God’s wrath against sin and is sorry that it has sinned. This contrition takes place when the Word of God denounces sin. For the sum of the proclamation of the Gospel is to denounce sin, to offer the forgiveness of sins and righteousness for Christ’s sake, to grant the Holy Spirit and eternal life, and to lead us as regenerated men to do good. (2)
There is in Christianity two “normal” responses to sin.
The first is to diminish it, to justify it or simply ignore it. We see this all the time in society, especially with sins of desire, that is lust, greed, unrighteous anger. Oh, it’s normal we say. Or, we’re just all sinners, you can’t judge those who sin differently than you. Or, God made me this way, and I can’t help being unfaithful. There is even a theological argument, that if we preach against our sin, we have to be mindful that we are capable of nothing else.
That’s all bullshit. Dangerous because it denies the need for repentance, for transformation by indicating it is not necessary. It even denies the need for guilt or shame and covers it up as it celebrates the evil we have done.
The second is to deny repentance because it is impossible. Because their sin is so wicked, that we can only crush sinners, so their sin doesn’t affect us, or our children or our community. We stand there, with stones in our hands, trying to ignore Jesus’ calling out to us, asking us to be repentant of our sin, as well as comforting those we are trying to crush.
Though it seems to be the opposite side of the crap, this response is just as full of cow dung as the other.
Sin damages, it crushes, it breaks and shatters life. That is the reason God calls us out of a life of sin, out of a life of brokenness. And to deny that is to condemn ourselves to a life that is empty, alone, and dead. We may try to dull the pain with more sin, more “pleasure”, more logic, more condescending judgment of others, but the sin remains, something more dangerous than cancer or heart disease or diabetes. For those things destroy the body, but sin destroys the soul.
To deny the need or the possibility of repentance is perhaps the worst sin of all. For then we have placed ourselves in the position of God. We have become our own idol, and our brokenness is complete.
I love St Josemaria’s bluntness, echoing David’s. We have to realize that sin requires a sacrifice, and that Christ died because of it. Yes, that little white lie, or that juicy piece of gossip about that politician that we eagerly forward, that thought about someone else’s spouse or that jealousy. You and I sent Jesus to the cross because we chose to sin.
That thought should terrify us as much as any….
A child psychologist once told me that the most effective punishment was not just punishing my son when he was bad, but punishing things and people he loves. Putting his favorite stuffed animal on time out (or his computer) or both. I didn’t believe him at first, but he was right. Think about the Hymn “O sacred head now wounded,” that sin would have no power over us, except that it makes us realize the pain Christ endures for our sin.
And while it terrifies us to know what Christ endured because of our lack of love, because of our lack of self-control, in the very same act we find a love that heals, forgives, ends the brokenness and the anxiety of being found alone and without God.
That is why the quote in blue from the Lutheran confessions completes our thoughts. For preaching the gospel is simple – we need Christ because we are sinners, He is there because He loves us and desires to help. And the gospel isn’t complete without the Holy Spirit at work, transforming us (A synonym for repentance) and guiding us to do good works. These things, the call to repentance, the transformation that is repentance and the life of the repentant are indivisible. It is God at work in us, with us, through us.
And it is what we need.
Which is why we have to, it is an absolute must, to talk about sin and the grace which overwhelms and heals the effect of that sin.
Cry out, Lord have mercy! And know He does…
(1) Escriva, Josemaria (2011-01-31). Furrow (Kindle Locations 4014-4017). Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition.
(2) Tappert, T. G. (Ed.). (1959). The Book of Concord the confessions of the Evangelical Lutheran Church. (pp. 185–186). Philadelphia: Mühlenberg Press.