Come Back to Me
and Be Happy
† In Jesus Name †
May the grace of God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ be so real in your life that you now true joy and happiness!
What am I thinking?
As I looked over the reading for tonight, the one word I would choose to describe my emotions was “mad”.
The only problem is I couldn’t figure out was whether I was mad as in angry at God, or mad as in insane. I honestly don’t know.
This isn’t right, to have this place of peace so empty, so devoid of smiles and laughter, of even the tears that come as we find it easy to lay our burdens down.
It has been a hard day, our preschool “chapel” time was just Susan, three teachers and myself. Looking forward to tonight, with just a few of us here, was difficult.
I so want to share the Lord’s supper with every person possible!
And as I looked at the sermon schedule, planned months ago, based on readings set in place decades ago…. I realized I was supposed to preach on happiness.
Come on God, what are you thinking?
And the madness elevated to another level.
But look at the verse again,
Christ has also introduced us to God’s undeserved kindness on which we take our stand. So we are happy, as we look forward to sharing in the glory of God. Romans 5:2 (CEV)
So are happiness comes from more than this life, it comes from looking forward to sharing in the glory of God forever….
We know we will be happy then… but what about now?
The process of suffering?
Paul continued this passage… now please remember this was planned months ago… don’t blame me – I am just the messenger…
3 But that’s not all! We gladly suffer, because we know that suffering helps us to endure. 4 And endurance builds character,
How in the world do we gladly suffer through a pandemic, through watching people whose anxiety levels are maxed out, who are challenged beyond our ability? I know that a lot of you aren’t worried by the virus, as much as you hurt for those who you love whose lives are more impacted.
Some of you will understand what I mean when I say that watching people suffer, watching them struggle is harder often than struggling ourselves.
And yet, the saints I know who are my age and older, have seen God work through wars, and earthquakes, through sickness, and economically challenging times, and they know God will be with us in these times. God will be there with our laughter, and with our tears.
And His presence will give us hope, a hope that will never disappoint us.
For that Hope is found in the presence of God, a presence we can faintly see now, but will see in all its glory one day.
This is why He calls us back to Him, to give us this hope as we realize how …. beyond words His promises are.
In times like these, we need to be able to focus, to realize how much God loves us. That is how we find the strength to get through. That is why Paul goes from hope – the right to explaining why we have hope.
All of this happens because God has given us the Holy Spirit, who fills our hearts with his love. 6 Christ died for us at a time when we were helpless and sinful. 7 No one is really willing to die for an honest person, though someone might be willing to die for a truly good person. 8 But God showed how much he loved us by having Christ die for us, even though we were sinful.
Romans 5:5-8 (CEV)
We need to hear that right now, that even before we knew God’s love, back when we were even more rebellious and sinful, GOD LOVED US.
And if he loved us then, He certainly has not given up on that love, or the mercy that sustains us, and calls us back to Him, even in the deepest depth of sin….
He still calls us to come back to Him,
He still will forgive us when we ask
He will still throw a feast for us, as we come home.
He loves us, the children who finally realize our need for Him…
That is how we find happiness in the midst of trauma, tragedy, and yes pandemic.
That is how we gladly embrace our suffering, knowing He is here…
This is our God… who loves us…
And happy are all He calls to His feast.
Encounter God amid Isolation
(and be happy!)
† In Jesus Name †
May the grace of God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ simply leave you praising Him…
What is God Looking for
What do you preach on, when the world seems, unlike anything you have ever experienced? What do you wen everything doesn’t make sense, and you seem to be holding on by the edge of your fingers?
How do you cope, when the new term for the day is “social distance.” And we are being told and telling people not to shake hands, or even exchange elbows.
How do we cope?
Of all the people in scripture, the Samaritan woman at the well knew the frustration of isolation, She went to well at lunchtime, in the middle of the heat of the day, because there was no one there. Five times she had been abandoned by her husbands, and the latest jerk didn’t respect her enough to marry her, he just used her… and therefore the women in town treated her like trash if they even thought of her at all.
She was isolated, lonely, probably more than a little bitter.
And then it happened, she encountered God.
We need to hear her story today, and realize we encounter Jesus the same way,
The problem – do we really know Him
As the encounter goes on, as they move from an odd discussion about water to an odder discussion about her past, Jesus then says something that seems a bit… abrupt.
You Samaritans know very little about the one You worship…
The original language is blunter – you don’t know the one you worship.
That is harsh, especially if you want to keep a conversation going!
This God you claim to worship – you don’t know who He is, or anything about him.
I am surprised she didn’t run off at that moment!
Or at least say, “What do you mean, I don’t know who God is? Who do you think you are?”
But it is true, that there are times in our lives when we wouldn’t recognize God if He was standing right in front of us, or if He dropped right into our hands.
That is one of our challenges in life, that when we all to often isolate ourselves from God. That all to often we self-quarantine and miss out on the love we so desperately need. It is not coronavirus that does this, but our own sin, as if we think w could infect God, or maybe he has some kind of scanner that will toss us out of His presence.
How the problem is being taken care of.
How we need to encounter Jesus the way this lady did!
Right in the middle of her self-isolation, right in the middle of her questioning what was going on in life, right in the middle of her brokenness.
God showed up.
It wasn’t even the normal route from Jerusalem to Galilee, not even a secondary route. Peter must have been navigating for them to come to this place.
That day, that moment, she encountered God, and of all the people in the middle east, this Palestinian woman with a life that didn’t make sense encounters God, and hears Jesus confess something he was vague about until the resurrection.
Then Jesus told her, I AM the Messiah!
This lady would run to her village, and without realizing it, shatter all her isolation, her self-imposed quarantine would disappear, as she shared with all the others the Messiah. Jesus would stay with them a while, but the change he made in her life, in that encounter was amazing.
It is the encounter He would have with each one of us this morning.
In the middle of our brokenness, in the middle of our questioning, in the middle our frustration, our questions, our fears.
He is here.
I am the Messiah is an incredible statement, for it means God anointed Him to come here for her, and for you. To be more than your savior, more than someone who lifts you up and gives you hope.
To be the Messiah, your Messiah means to reveal to you that you are loved by God.
It all begins there, with the love of God, that brings God to weird places, like beside a well, or to a church in Cerritos in the middle of a pandemic in Lent.
To people who need to know that their past will be forgiven, that their deepest thirst will be satisfied, that God will reveal Himself to them…
This is our miracle today, whether here in person, or “out there” watching the service. You are not alone, you are not quarantined from God, you are not isolated any longer from Him, so let us worship the Lord.
The Lord God is with you! AMEN!
What Brings the Greatest Pleasure?
† In Jesus Name †
May the grace of God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ bring you as much pleasure as you receive it and share it with others as it brings God!
The Pleasure of a Job Well Done
This week I had to drop off nine cases of books at Concordia University. Mark Siegert, one of the professors in the Cross-cultural Ministry Center and I used dollies to bring them from the car to the building, a distance of about 100 feet up a gradual hill.
As we finished, we both laughed. For we both managed bookstores before we got into ministry, he ran Concordia’s and I ran Pepperdine’s. Back in the day, we would unload with our crew, shipments of 200 plus cases. And barely be tired. That day, we were both exhausted after three simple trips! On the way back, I thought of those days, I remember the feeling after a long day shuttling cases of books, and watching the sun go down over the ocean, drinking a coke with my employees.
There is something special about doing a good job, and the sense of pleasure from accomplishing it with people you call your friends.
If that is so, how much more pleasure would God have, from accomplishing His greatest work, and celebrating it with those he loves?
The Job He Has Done
In Paul’s epistle to the church in Ephesus, we heard this morning about the work of God and the pleasure it gives Him. In fact, Paul was so impressed, he told us about this work of God in 12 ways, which I want to go over again.
1. He blessed us with every spiritual blessing as we are united to Jesus
2. He chose us to be in Christ to be holy and without fault, any fault, as He looks at us!
That I think is a bit of work! At least in my case!
3. He adopted us into His own family! He did this, again, by uniting us to Jesus, to His death and resurrection! This wasn’t just down to make us happy, to give us joy, but this is what said gave God the greatest pleasure! Making us His kids in every sense of the Word.
4. He poured out His glorious grace on us, for we belong to Jesus
5. He is so rich in Kindness He purchased our freedom with the blood of His Son
We need to pause here, and stop and think that Jesus’s blood paid for that sin you committed on Wednesday, yes, that one sin you thought you could hide, that no one would know about. He paid for that sin, with the blood poured out, there on the cross.
We need to understand this, not just the thousands of sins that we commit over a lifetime, but that sin that haunts us, that we fear if it became known, it would ruin us. That sin, as well as all the others, paid for so that we could be adopted.
6. He will bring everything together as one, at the right time!
What a day that will be, no more division, nor more struggle!
7. Because we are united to Jesus, we have an inheritance waiting for us, we have a place!
8. Because He chose us, everything in life will work out according to His plan!
now there are days I don’t understand how everything works out into His plan, and I have to be honest with that. There are those times I don’t see it, yet, what gets me through those times is refocusing on His plan, on His desire that all would be with Him! When I refocus on that, the suffering is still there, but somehow its grip on me diminishes in strength. For the more we look to Him, the surer we are of His love, and therefore His promises
9. Even though others were saved first, God made sure that because we have heard His word, He has saved us as well!
Number 10 in this recounting of God’s work is amazing, and I wish we had hours to go into it.
10. He identified us as HIS! He picked us out of the lineup and said, you are mine, and He did this by giving us the Holy Spirit, the Comforter, just as He promised long ago!
11. The Holy Spirit, given to us in baptism is the guarantee of the promises He gave us.
This wonderful comforter counted here as the guarantee of our salvation is just eh beginning of it. Again, another sermon series could be on each of these points that Paul is sharing with the church in Ephesus!
and the final one, something that expands on an earlier point.
12. He purchased us to be His people.
We are His people, and this is the work, the thing God has labored at, and suffered to see happen.
We are His, identified as His, adopted as His, united in Christ’s death where He paid for all our sins and freed us from them so we could have this wondrous relationship with Him!.
And someday, the sun will set for a final time, and all of us will arrive home.
This is what brings Him pleasure, not the
And find God rejoicing, with the largest of smiles, pleased at the work He has done, making us all His own.
Christianity is not just about getting us to heaven or avoiding hell, it isn’t just about doing good and not doing evil. It is about being in a relationship with God our Father, and our Lord Jesus Christ whose blood was shed so that relationship would become possible.
Not just for you and me, but for every broken person that Christ died for, for every person He would save, for every person that God would adopt, for we know the pleasure it brings Him.
May he work through each one of us, helping us to see many more come to hear His of His work in their life! AMEN!
Devotional Thought of the Day:
1 Yahweh is my shepherd, I lack nothing. 2 In grassy meadows he lets me lie. By tranquil streams he leads me 3 to restore my spirit. He guides me in paths of saving justice as befits his name. 4 Even were I to walk in a ravine as dark as death I should fear no danger, for you are at my side. Your staff and your crook are there to soothe me. 5 You prepare a table for me under the eyes of my enemies; you anoint my head with oil; my cup brims over. 6 Kindness and faithful love pursue me every day of my life. I make my home in the house of Yahweh for all time to come. Psalm 23:1-6 (NJB)
520 Christian cheerfulness is not something physiological. Its foundation is supernatural, and it goes deeper than illness or difficulties. Cheerfulness does not mean the jingling of bells, or the gaiety of a dance at the local hall. True cheerfulness is something deeper, something within something that keeps us peaceful and brimming over with joy, though at times our face may be stern.
I sit here this morning, having survived ( I think ) another battle with influenza, only to have my soul troubled by what I read, as stories of the Church divided fill my browser. It is depressing more than the flu, which managed to keep me from celebrating the hope I have in Christ Jesus with my friends and family. For to watch people try to destroy what Christ came to save… is devastating. Especially when such rot comes from within, from people who should know we have the ministry of reconciliation.
Yet in my devotions this morning, St. Josemaria reminds me to be cheerful.
Not the cheerfulness that celebrates freedom from illness or difficulty, the kind of cheerfulness that is found at parties and dances.
Something far deeper, something that today I need as I look out on a broken world, on a broken church.
The cheerfulness, the peace that is found in times where brokenness should have dominated. The cheerfulness I have seen wash over a group of people, allowing them to cry and laugh as we remember someone who has passed. Pr when other tragedies occur, leaving us breathless, and for a moment hopeless…..
Then someone starts to read or recite Psalm 23…….
I used the old NJB edition, for that is how I learned it. Yahweh is my Shepherd.
God gave me not only the right to use His name but the assurance with it that He is guiding, that He is providing and caring for me. I hear the song I grew up singing, based on it, Yahweh is my shepherd now, I shall not want, I shall not want…
And on days like this – when the body and soul are wary when the spirit is weak, and hope for the church is dimmed by the Church itself, there are only the promises of God that sustain…. that bring peace, and eventually the ability to smile.
As St Josemaria notes, there is something within something within us at these moments, where we find peace, and hope, and God’s comforting presence, and His promise of eternity.
From here it is possible to write and speak with hope, to point out the presence of God, and to urge everyone to find comfort and peace and yes cheerfulness there.
Escriva, Josemaria. The Forge (Kindle Locations 1971-1976). Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition.
Devotional Thought of the Day….
27 God’s plan is to make known his secret to his people, this rich and glorious secret which he has for all peoples. And the secret is that Christ is in you, which means that you will share in the glory of God. 28 So we preach Christ to everyone. With all possible wisdom we warn and teach them in order to bring each one into God’s presence as a mature individual in union with Christ. Colossians 1:27-28 (TEV)
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)
573 When you are with someone, you have to see a soul: a soul who has to be helped, who has to be understood, with whom you have to live in harmony, and who has to be saved.
I’ve seen a number of blogs that would have you believe that a good Christian, is one who never feels depression or grief during Christmas season. Who because they know Christ, because the Holy Spirit dwells within them, there is no longer any darkness that attempts to consume them, no more doubts, no more pains…..no more tears. As if this world is utopia…
Just happiness, and smiles,
It is as if they believe that Christianity is some kind of spiritual anti-depressant, that allows us to balance out, and that the balance is somewhere on the upside of life. Please hear me – there is a great need for psychiatric medicine, and the balance it can provide to life, it is just that Christianity doesn’t work like that….
This week I am living proof of that.
Between planning 6 services this week, writing sermons that were… emotionally challenging, doing a memorial service, and then having two very good friends in the hospital with potentially life threatening issues (both are dong better now) I am emotionally a wreck. I am not “happy” but very challenged emotionally and spiritually. I am still grieving over some significant losses in my life, and the losses and struggles my friends are enduring. Let’s add into it some physical back pain.
There is a lot of grief, a lot of weariness, a lot of “why God?!!!? (matter of fact, one of my sermons had that name as well!)
Reading someone’s words that say that all good Christians are full of cheer and joy and don’t struggle? Part of me wants to laugh at the silliness/ignorance of such a statement, part of me wants to take the writer through a few hospital wards or skilled nursing facilities I know of, to a mortuary or two, or the homes of people whose family members are in harms way in the military. There are many people of great faith who are suffering, bravely suffering, but are wearing down.
So where does Christianity, where does being a Christian help in such times, if not to provide a lift of emotions, or at least the illusion of such a lift?
It is better than that…. it allows for honesty, and therefore allows for hope.
As you read through the scriptures, there are people with real problems, real trauma, real issues. Some things are external, some are internal like the ravage that sin can do to a soul.
God doesn’t cut them off… he doesn’t tell them to get their act straight. He doesn’t give them some placebo of hope.
He comes and makes His home among us. He dwells with us, in us. He helps us to embrace Him so that we can embrace the hard times with Him. No longer alone, those traumas are one’s we don’t have to hide. We know that we are with Him, and that there is a future.. because He dwells with us, we dwell with Him.
That doesn’t change the situation, but the scars… are that. They hurt badly, they sting, but even so… there is healing on the way….
He is with us,,,,
He is comforting us….
He is providing us peace… even in the midst of the depressing times, in the midst of grief and anxiety and pain….for we dwell in Him.
That is what
This is God, with us…
If you aren’t the one struggling, look around, there are people that are, souls weary and tired, laden with anxiety and fear, and grief….. you can’t change their situation, but you can be there with them… and remind them Christ is present with both of you. That is Christianity as Paul describes it:
12 Let your hope keep you joyful, be patient in your troubles, and pray at all times. 13 Share your belongings with your needy fellow Christians, and open your homes to strangers. 14 Ask God to bless those who persecute you—yes, ask him to bless, not to curse. 15 Be happy with those who are happy, weep with those who weep. 16 Have the same concern for everyone. Romans 12:12-16a (TEV)
Know He walks with you… and therefore would meet all you encounter… and share His love with them as well.
Escriva, Josemaria (2011-01-31). The Forge (Kindle Locations 2134-2136). Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition.
Devotion/Discussion Thought of the Day:
2 Now I appeal to Euodia and Syntyche. Please, because you belong to the Lord, settle your disagreement. 3 And I ask you, my true partner, to help these two women, for they worked hard with me in telling others the Good News. They worked along with Clement and the rest of my co-workers, whose names are written in the Book of Life. 4 Always be full of joy in the Lord. I say it again—rejoice! Philippians 4:2-4 (NLT)
228 “Have a good time,” they said as usual. And the comment of a soul very close to God was, “What a limited wish!” (1)
As Paul begins the 4th chapter of Philippians, he deals with conflict in the church, and assuming it is dealt with encourages joy – deep joy. The reason is that reconciliation is always joyous – always worth the sacrifice, even though it is never quite a “good time”. It is so far more than than just a good time, this joy that comes from doing that which is uncomfortable.
Yet many of us would prefer the good time, than invest the time in what would bring a far great joy.
We see a small example of this truth of investment when in the following. Doing what is not a “good time” is like going to the doctor’s office – or to the gym – the investment of time and money always results in something more beneficial that sitting in a movie theater, or sitting in front of the television. But we would rather not subject ourselves to the examination, to the questions, we would rather not hear the bad news – or spend the exertion in getting ourselves in shape. Blood, sweat and tears ( in both places) are lost, as well as time that could have been spent, “having a good time” But having a good time often means dangerous things to our health, as we don’t take care of what needs to be taken care of. Happiness and pleasure, short term things often result in more time suffering, more time in poor condition, more time in brokenness. It is, as Josemaria points out – a very limited wish – a very limited blessing. One which fades – quickly and devastatingly.
It is even more true spiritually though, this way in which we spend our time.
Being those who desire to see that which is broken healed means what we do isn’t often a “good time” . It can often be painful, uncomfortable, awkward. It means sacrificing both pleasure and happiness, looking to the joy- that in which the healing and reconciliation results. But sacrificing it, even as Christ did (see Hebrews 12:2) for the joy set before us. Helping people see they would rather have the joy than the very limited “good time”…. that is our call as well!
(1)Escriva, Josemaria (2010-11-02). The Way (Kindle Locations 629-630). Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition.
Devotional/discussion thought of the Day:
It’s been too many days away…. even though the men I am with on this retreat are fun loving guys, and there is a great sense of camaraderie among them, it is not the same as being home with my wife and son, and my congregation. I have confidence in the vicar preaching there this morning, ( as I do in the other vicar and deacon extending the ministry this morning) but there is something about being there.
I can’t wait to get home. I can’t wait to get back to my people. (and out of the range of the country western stuff I was subjected to all week)
As i long for that, I think about the Lord’s Supper, the Communion feast of God and His people, the Eucharist.
It is, more than anything, the place I know I am home. It is where we belong, very consciously aware of the presence of God, the awe found in His presence, which rips our sin, our idols, our anxieties away.
I have to admit a bit of jealousy of my Catholic brothers in ministry, who don’t wait a week in between celebrating this feast, this homecoming, this little glimpse of the joy of heaven, this peace which crushes all else.
It’s time for going home… it’s time for the family to dine, the host to bless us, even as He thanks the Father for the cross that made this feast possible.
I love how St. Josemarie Escriva put it, “As he was giving out Holy Communion that priest felt like shouting out: this is Happiness I am giving to you!” (1)
This is the Lamb of God, who takes away the sins of the world, happy are those who are called to His Supper,
Lord, we are not worthy to receive, but only say the words……and we are healed….
For we are home, with God.
(1)Escriva, Josemaria (2011-01-31). The Forge (Kindle Locations 1105-1106). Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition.