Devotional Thought of the Day:
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)
97 Renew each day the effective desire to empty yourself, to deny yourself, to forget yourself, to walk in novitiate census, with a new life, exchanging this misery of ours for all the hidden and eternal grandeur of God. (1)
Since teaching through Colossians a couple of years ago, these words in red above seem to resonate with me more and more. I have written about them before, and will probably do so again.
I think they are critical for us to understand, this idea of our “real life”, a life which seems hidden, a life which is easily overlooked and forgotten, a life that is found at the throne of God.
THat’s where we belong, it is our eternal life. The life that began when God circumcised our hearts, cutting away the sin and unrighteousness as He baptized us. That was the conversation in the previous chapter in St. Paul’s letter to these saints.
But in chapter 3 he gets to the impact of that cleansing, the difference it makes in our lives today, and every day that will come. He talks of our eternal life as our real life, our reality. He urges us to set our hearts on this dance with God the Father, Son and Spirit. The dance we’ve been invited too, and see glimpses of, even if our mind cannot clearly picture it.
If our mind cannot, our hearts and soul can be set on this. For our hearts are better at knowing we are loved, knowing we are forgiven, and being able to accept the mysteries that our minds can’t fathom.
But as our hearts settle there, we dwell in the peace of God, we lose ourselves, yet find our life in Jesus. For everything changes, from our priorities, to our relationships, from what we “need” to how we view those around us.
So today, think about the glory of heaven and come to realize with your heart that not only do you have a place there… you are already in His presence…
and rejoice in that peace!
(1) Escriva, Josemaria. The Forge (Kindle Locations 556-558). Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition.
Devotional Thought of the Day:
9 That is what the Scriptures mean when they say, “No eye has seen, no ear has heard, and no mind has imagined what God has prepared for those who love him.”
1 Corinthians 2:9 (NLT)
34 “Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the Kingdom prepared for you from the creation of the world. Matthew 25:34 (NLT)
68 Simon Peter replied, “Lord, to whom would we go? You have the words that give eternal life. 69 We believe, and we know you are the Holy One of God.”
John 6:68-69 (NLT)
906 Et regni eius non erit finis—“His kingdom will have no end.” Doesn’t it fill you with joy to work for a kingdom like that?
A little over a year ago, I was at a funeral where one of my early mentors preached. He made a point very clear that we no longer preach about eternity. He asked me if I, no longer in that denomination, ever mentioned eternity in my sermons, and I indicated I did, and while I do, the conversation took a back burner for a while.
I do mention it in sermons, for it is the 2nd great promise of our baptism,, the first being the presence of the Holy Spirit. It is why the removal of our sin is so critical, for those who are counted as sinners, those who are bound by them, have an eternity that is not what I would call life. (hell does exist, but how it is clearly described is an existence that is not what we think of as life.)
But I think we put off eternity, we have defined it as a reality we cannot know until we die. It is “after-life” in many people’s thoughts. Not life right now, eternity and heaven are not visible we think. I believe this is, in part due to passages that describe the final judgment, and what theologians call the “not yet”.of the “now and not yet.”
We need to understand that there is a “now” to eternity. That even as we struggle to see it, the love we know now is no different than the love we shall know then. We will just be more aware of it, we will see it more clearly.
How different would our lives be if we could begin to realize the truth of Paul’s words to the church in Colossae,
12 For you were buried with Christ when you were baptized. And with him you were raised to new life because you trusted the mighty power of God, who raised Christ from the dead. Colossians 2:12 (NLT)
1 Since you have been raised to new life with Christ, set your sights on the realities of heaven, where Christ sits in the place of honor at God’s right hand. 2 Think about the things of heaven, not the things of earth. 3 For you died to this life, and your real life is hidden with Christ in God. Colossians 3:1-3 (NLT)
Eternity has begun. It is hard to see at times, and yes, Satan and the world would love to obstruct our vision of Jesus, to diminish our ability to sense His presence and be comforted and consoled by it. As we realize that, our duty becomes reminding each other, teaching and preaching about our eternal life. Meditating on it, partaking in the sacraments, and celebrating those who enter this life by being united to Jesus in the sacrament baptism.
This is who we are…those living in Christ eternally… this is our hope, our trust, and dependence on God and His promises, including the love that will see us to the day when we see Him face to face.
Until then, as St. Paul says, sets your sight on the realities of heaven… for that is where you real life is, hidden in Christ. AMEN!
Escriva, Josemaria. The Way (Kindle Locations 2107-2109). Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition.
Devotional Thought of the Day:
41 The Son of Man will send his angels, and they will remove from his Kingdom everything that causes sin and all who do evil. 42 And the angels will throw them into the fiery furnace, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. 43 Then the righteous will shine like the sun in their Father’s Kingdom. Anyone with ears to hear should listen and understand! Matthew 13:41-43 (NLT)
1. O hell, I detest thee now and for evermore; I detest thy torments and pains; I detest thy miserable and accursed eternity; and, above all, I detest those eternal blasphemies and maledictions which thou dost vomit forth eternally against my God. And, turning my heart and soul to thee, O beautiful Paradise, everlasting glory and endless felicity, I choose my habitation, forever and irrevocably, within thy fair and sacred mansions, within thy holy and most lovely tabernacles. I bless thy mercy, O my God, and accept the offer which it pleaseth Thee to make me of it. O Jesus, my Saviour, I accept thy everlasting love, and I acknowledge that it is Thou who hast acquired for me a right to a place in this blessed Jerusalem, not so much for any other thing as to love and bless Thee for ever.
One of the devotional books I am using this year is De Sales, Introduction to the Devout Life. Over the last year, my sermon research has regularly included quotes from this 19th century priest, so I thought I would add it to my list, along with a deep theological text by Martin Chemnitz.
Early on, it has used the hell a significant number of times as part of the devotions; something I was surprised to see. Partially because I am not a “hell, fire and brimstone” type preacher/evangelist, trying to keep God’s Law and the Gospel in tension. Or to use a covenantal approach, making sure people understand both the curses and promises that exist in our covenant, our “contract” with God.
But as I think about our devotion to God, the reason we are drawn to Him, the reason we adore Him, it makes sense that we take both heaven and hell seriously.
Knowing what He has delivered us from creates some of the devotion, it gives us a reason to adore Him. Over 25 years ago, I had a cardiac arrest. I can still remember who it was who did CPR till the doctors got there. I remember who was in my ICU room (even though I was sedated) Those moments of coming back to life are indeed precious to me. Those people I will always feel a special way towards.
SO much more so when we meditate on the hell we deserve because we choose disobedience, rebellion and sin rather that walking with God. As believers to look back and know what we deserve, yet His love changes all that! As we consider what we deserve yet are rescued from, our devotion, our adoration,, our hunger to worship Jesus grows.
As we adore Him, let us look to our future as well, and to what God does in our lives at this moment. For the heaven that we can know only in part is glimpsed in this life, ever so briefly.
Otherwise, heaven is too great a concept for our minds, our hearts, and souls to contemplate. But in the eyes of a sinner, freed as they realize the mercy and love of God, the comfort that settles on one who mourns, the relief as a beloved prodigal walks back into the life of a church they left behind.
These are glimpses of heaven….just as when we see someone claimed by God in their baptism, or we eat and drink the body and blood of Jesus.
As we consider the reality of both heaven and hell; as we realize the enormous difference between them, our hearts will cry out, glorifying the Lord who delivered us from Hell and into Heaven.
This we need, we so need….. and it changes everything….
As our cry of Hosanna (Lord Save Us!) and Kyrie Eleison are proven answered!
Francis de Sales, Saint. An Introduction to the Devout Life. Dublin: M. H. Gill and Son, 1885. Print.
Devotional Thought of the Day:
30 And why should we ourselves risk our lives hour by hour? 31 For I swear, dear brothers and sisters, that I face death daily. This is as certain as my pride in what Christ Jesus our Lord has done in you. 32 And what value was there in fighting wild beasts—those people of Ephesus—if there will be no resurrection from the dead? And if there is no resurrection, “Let’s feast and drink, for tomorrow we die!” 33 Don’t be fooled by those who say such things, for “bad company corrupts good character.” 34 Think carefully about what is right, and stop sinning. For to your shame I say that some of you don’t know God at all. 1 Corinthians 15:30-34 (NLT)
Heaven, then, is none other than the certainty that God is great enough to have room even for us insignificant mortals. Nothing that we treasure or value will be destroyed. As we ponder all this, let us ask the Lord on this day to open our eyes ever more fully to it; to make us not only people of faith but also people of hope, who do not look to the past but rather build for today and tomorrow a world that is open to God. Let us ask him to make us who believe happy individuals who, amid the stress of daily living, catch a glimpse of the beauty of the world to come and who live, believe, and hope in this certainty. (1)
These days, from just after Thanksgiving to Christmas Eve are called the season of Advent, the time where we wait for the second coming of Jesus, and eternity to be revealed.
It is a time of hope, of expectation.
Time we need, for many of us are experiencing a time of life that seems hard, and one without any form of hope.
Advent is not the answer to the hopelessness in and of itself. It simply seeks to remind us of the hope. It is a time where we go through, recognizing our need for hope, our need for something more, that this life is not all there is.
When we know there is something, we learn to wait for it, fully expectant in the promises of God. That hope gives us the ability to depend on God for the strength to endure.
For heaven is waiting, the place we can’t describe, yet what we know is enough. For we will be with the one who loves us! As Pope Benedict points out, this gives us a sense of happiness, a sense of joy, even amid the stress of daily living.
Which is why the Lord’s Supper is the ultimate moment in Advent. It is that piercing the curtain between our mortality and our immortality. The Body and Blood of Jesus, a feast that God our Father serves us, is the moment we find ourselves in His presence so clearly, so completely. From that moment, as with our baptism, the hope of heaven is more than a dream, it is real, the presence of God quite tangible.
Which is the point of Advent, amid the stress of life, as it seems we are in the midst of darkness, affected by disease, division, depression and even death; it is then these extra moments, assuring us of God’s promises, and His faithfulness, are so needed.
This is life, as we don’t just walk with God, we let Him carry us… and safe in His arms, expecting a new day, we find peace.
(1) Ratzinger, Joseph. Co-Workers of the Truth: Meditations for Every Day of the Year. Ed. Irene Grassl. Trans. Mary Frances McCarthy and Lothar Krauth. San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1992. Print.
If I Only Had a Fork!
† I.H.S. †
May the grace of God our Father, and our Lord Jesus Christ be so evident in your life, that you rejoice at the thought of a meal, knowing it is a foretaste of the most wonderful of feast, that you’ve been invited to…
A portable feast…
Last Sunday, on the way back from dropping off our trailer in Hemet, we stopped in Riverside for dinner. I was kind of tired, and ate less than half my dinner, but it was so good, I had them pack up the rest to bring it home. It didn’t make it.
There was a man in the parking lot, and as we left, he asked if we had any money for food. He didn’t look homeless necessarily, and as my first thoughts doubted his sincerity, I decided to test him, and asked him if what he really wanted was food.
A simple nod, and I was hooked, I handed over the cashew nut chicken….
He didn’t even look me in the eyes as he said thanks, and quickly took off across the mall parking lot.
As we drove through the parking lot, I didn’t see him until we got to the street at the light. There he was, sitting on the curb devouring the food with his hands, oblivious to how sticky and messy it was…..
If I had only known how hungry, if I had only known how desperate,
Then the light turned green, and as I pulled out onto the road and then onto the freeway, I struggled with my thoughts, I could have got him a drink, or a gift card for more food – or at least a fork.
As people entered the rabbi’s house, their neighbor was in severe discomfort. I assume no one tried to help him, not one asked Jesus if he would heal this man. Instead they rushed to find a place to recline, close to the host, and able to easily hear the conversations between him and this guest, this wandering miracle worker.
Why didn’t they ask the miracle worker to care for their friend? Why was their first priority to make sure they got the best seat, the freshest coffee, the perfect donut?
Are you and I any better?
Do we rush by people, seeking to talk to someone else? Are we more concerned with getting to “our place”
Jesus also talked about who we invite over, or those we go out with, do we only invite those who can invite us back? Its the same thing – not that we should be hospitable, but that we have agendas going, agendas that serve ourselves, but also cause us to look past those struggling around us….
It’s a question about why we are here really, are we hear to love God and those He brings in our lives, or do we live to serve ourselves?
I encountered that question in my devotions yesterday, as the author wrote,
“They confuse renewal (God’s work in our lives, healing us) with comfort.”
And often we do this – and get upset with God when things aren’t as comfortable as we would want.
Sometimes it is better to be uncomfortable, if in doing so, we understand the incredible love of God that we see revealed in the life of Jesus. As He embraced discomfort to care for people, for us.
As we consider the lesson – the idea of stopping to care for the broken, the being humble and taking a seat in the servant’s area, and in inviting those who can’t pay you back, we see Jesus being not only one speaking this, but living it.
He doesn’t just stop to heal the man with edema, as He came to the cross, he came to die to heal you and me. His blood, poured out on the cross brings healing to our brokenness.
He didn’t run to the top spot, to lose the world, but he became a servant, and God the father would call him to sit at His side, He embraced the servant’s role, the life lived in the poor section, to minister to you and I, to care for us, to make sure we knew we are invited to the feast in heaven, even at the cost of his death, and that death on the cross.
He is our host, He says we belong here – with Him. He shares His life with us, even as the Father makes us co-heirs with Christ.
When Jesus offers us a feast – when he says, “
Come, blessed of my Father, inherit the Kingdom prepared for you, from the creation of the world!”
That’s what He is talking about here, and making sure, than in our desire to be there, we leave no one behind.
What a Blessing!
In the original division of the readings the gospel reading stopped at verse 14.
One of the nice things about doing our own bulletins, is I get to fix it, when I think they made it too long, or in this case , too short.
Let’s read verse 15 together,
“15 Hearing this, a man sitting at the table with Jesus exclaimed, “What a blessing it will be to attend a banquet in the Kingdom of God!”
There is a man hungry enough for God’s kingdom that he wouldn’t care if he had a fork or not! It’s time to dig in…
Because of Jesus – that is you and I are attending that banquet, and in a moment, we get a little taste of it.
We’re invited, we been saved and healed and we’ve got great seats, and even a fork!
This sermon can be heard at https://youtu.be/8DWDeB6_GYY
He Will Do What is Promised (Faith)
† Jesus, Son, Savior †
May the grace of God, that incredible mercy, and peace that resides in you because of the Holy Spirit, sustain you until His imminent return!
The Time Is Close
You wondered with every passing car, whether the guests arrived. A car door closed and you rushed to the door, disappointed that it was the neighbor’s guests that arrived.
Perhaps you were even jealous.
You had worked so hard, to make your house a welcoming place, a place where everyone felt at home. Where people were able to set aside life, and enjoy each other. It is one thing for sure, to have a clean, beautifully decorated home, with great comfort food.
It takes a bit more preparation for the façade to be matched by a sense of peace, and the blessing of being a place where everyone knows they are loved. That is God’s desire for heaven as well, and He will make it happen!
That is the preparation of Advent, the adventure that we travel until we find ourselves at home with God.
Our Advent journey is preparation for His coming, preparing for our being drawn into His presence.
For it takes a bit of work to understand that He’s waited expectantly for the day of Christ’s second coming, that He is awaiting us, His family to come home!
The Wearied Wait..
I want to go back for a moment, to that time when you are glancing out the window. When you are expecting your company, friends or family you dearly love, who you have missed,
It is in that last hour, before their arrival, time seems to slow down. That every noise, whether it be a car door, a phone ringing causes your level of anticipation to race. You wonder if the food will be enough, or be good enough. You wonder if they will be comfortable as you rearrange the pillows on the couch for the thirtieth time.
That last hour seems to take a week.
Have you ever thought about God waiting for the fulfillment of time in that manner?
He knows the timing, so He doesn’t worry like we do, but can you see Him waiting expectantly for your arrival?
You need to be able to, for we aren’t the only ones who plan for the future and then wait with expectation.
Think about it, Jesus is described as the Bridegroom, the Father as the one who throws the wedding feast for His Son.
The Father, who awaits his prodigal son, the one finding the coin or the lost sheep throw feast when they find that which was lost.
Hear Jeremiah’s words again,
14 “The day will come, says the Lord, when I will do for Israel and Judah all the good things I have promised them.
It is one of our challenges that we struggle to see God’s anticipation, a challenge caused by the guilt and shame we struggle with daily.
It is why we are uncomfortable with the silence during confession and absolution if it goes more than 15 seconds…. Yet how many of us need to take more than that time, to realize how much God frees us from?
The expectation of God blessing us in the way He promises is the nature of our Advent journey. Looking forward to His completing that which He all the good He has promised us, His refining us, gathering us, leading us home.
Back to the first promise, the one that when it came true at the cross, made the rest possible.
The Promises Coming True
Hear Jeremiah’s words once again,
I will do for Israel and Judah all the good things I have promised them.
15 “In those days and at that time I will raise up a righteous descendant from King David’s line. He will do what is just and right throughout the land. 16 In that day Judah will be saved,
Judah and Israel, the divided kingdom of God’s people, back together. Those who stayed dedicated to God and the prodigal brothers who have finally come back home.
It represents the people of God, in its entirety, those who have known God all their lives, and those who come back at the end of time.
In that day, because of One who was completely righteous, completely without sin, and His sense of what it just and good, and to use the old word from the liturgy, salutary, because of the Righteous one’s benevolent love, because of the sinless One’s actions done in love, the people of God will be saved.
Have been saved.
For the last sentence of Jeremiah’s promise, of this prophecy says it all.
The Lord is our Righteousness.
He became everything we would need, that we would be able to come home to God. On the cross, He took care of every sin, and then in the resurrection, He brought us back to life.
He became our Righteousness. He recreated us, made us His own people.
Why the promise?
One last thought….
Look at the passage again, Look for the phrase that keeps occurring.
The day will come…
In those days…
In that day…..
That day has come, you have been saved… and are on the way home, sure to get there, because we will be refined, gathered, and led there, for we live in Christ Jesus.
Home to a feast beyond imagination.
Not because of the cleanliness of heaven.
Not because of the magnitude of the feast.
But because of the love, that which God promised us.
Until that day, the same power that raised Christ Jesus from the dead, which is at work in you, that same power will keep you in the peace of God our Father. AMEN!.
Companions of the Cross
The Final Lesson:
Priestly Companions of the King
† IHS †
May you know the grace and peace that is yours, the gift of the One who is, Who always was, and who is still to come!
The Vision/the Mission
While both the Old Testament and Epistle reading today are about the end of time, about looking toward the end of time, the gospel takes us back to thirty weeks ago, to the remembrance of what happens the morning of Jesus’ crucifixion, It covers one of the events we remember during Holy Week.
The gospel covers the trial of Jesus, the moments before he is sentenced by mankind to die. The moment that God our Father planned for, that Jesus was committed to before the foundations of the world were laid.
The trial, the cross, the critical moment in all of time, as eternity hung in the balance.
Your eternity, my eternity.
We need to look back, in order to see why Daniel and the Revelation of John can talk so positively of the of the end. Hearing that Christ has been the King, even at the cross, we understand our future, and can walk confidently in the present.
For we walk with a king, and we are His companions. The very King of King and Lord of Lords who makes us a Kingdom of priests, ready to serve God our Father. Ready to serve alongside Jesus.
Let me rephrase that, He makes us into the priests of His Kingdom.
That was His vision, His mission, and it is what He has accomplished on the cross, even as Pilate was condemning Jesus, enabling Him to shed His blood for us.
The Ordeal of Hope
When we are involved in planning something, there is a hope that everything will work out well. It doesn’t matter if the planning and preparation are for a game, or for an event like the women’s advent tea.
Hope can sometimes be an ordeal as our minds consider all the things that could destroy our hope. For instance, for a football team, we could focus on a critical injury or just an accumulation of them. For an event like the Advent Tea, it could be that the speaker cancels out at the last moment. It could even be the week between finishing a course, and getting the grades! Our minds can spin wildly out of control, conceiving of all the things that could go wrong. It is no different for our lives, and for our eternity. When we think of hope, it can be an ordeal as we wonder what will happen to mess up that which we hoped for so eagerly.
Which is why I think the readings work together so well today. They lay out a pattern that assures us that our hope is not in vain, that there is nothing that can change what we hope for, what our trust in God leads us to expect. If we didn’t have that assurance, the first verses in Daniel would be terrifying; hear them again.
I watched as thrones were put in place and the Ancient One sat down to judge.His clothing was as white as snow, his hair like purest wool. He sat on a fiery throne with wheels of blazing fire, 10 and a river of fire was pouring out, flowing from his presence. Millions of angels ministered to him; many millions stood to attend him. Then the court began its session, and the books were opened.
If we feel anxiety watching a football game, or waiting for the guests to arrive, of the report card to show, what kind of anxiety would we experience, knowing we had to stand before all of the missions of angels, and all of humanity, as God opened the story of our life and began to look at the details, examining our actions, our thoughts, our words?
We could try to dismiss the guilt and shame, but it still would haunt us. We could try to rationalize it, we could argue that it isn’t fair for God to give us desires that cannot be eased without sin.
Before the throne, before a God that not only knows our thoughts but the hearts where those thoughts originate, such attempts at self-preservation do not matter. If we are to have hope that Jesus is our salvation, that we will live in His Kingdom that has no end, we have to be serious about the fact we needed to be saved.
We sin. Thoughts, words, deeds.
As we will say in Advent, it is our fault, we need to grieve over that fault, we need to seriously grieve over that sin.
If we are to know the grace and peace of God, we have to realize how radically different it is to know God’s grace and peace, compared to the brokeness of our lives.
Realizing the love of God
For then, understanding the depth of our despair, we find ourselves blown away by this word grace, by the peace that is ours when we should be weighed down by guilt and despair. We begin to understand how incredible these words written by the Apostle John are,
All glory to him who loves us and has freed us from our sins by shedding his blood for us. 6 He has made us a Kingdom of priests for God his Father. All glory and power to him forever and ever! Amen.
It’s not just that Jesus has freed us from sin, and Satan, that He’s robbed death of the anxiety it can cause, that guilt and shame are wiped away. It is that He’s made us like Him, He’s made us priests who serve the Father, He’s made us holy enough to be the very attendants of God the Father.
All of us, from the smallest to the largest, youngest to the oldest, we have been made companions of the King of Kings and Lord of Lords!
No wonder all of creation will bow before Him! No wonder we will shout about the glory of God He has revealed to us.
He loves us!
He freed us from our sin, by shedding HIS BLOOD for us.
He has made us priest, …..
ALL GLORY TO HIM FOREVER AND EVER! AMEN!!!
Devotional Thought of the Day:
54 The Jewish leaders were infuriated by Stephen’s accusation, and they shook their fists at him in rage. 55 But Stephen, full of the Holy Spirit, gazed steadily into heaven and saw the glory of God, and he saw Jesus standing in the place of honor at God’s right hand. 56 And he told them, “Look, I see the heavens opened and the Son of Man standing in the place of honor at God’s right hand!” 57 Then they put their hands over their ears and began shouting. They rushed at him 58 and dragged him out of the city and began to stone him. His accusers took off their coats and laid them at the feet of a young man named Saul. 59 As they stoned him, Stephen prayed, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.” 60 He fell to his knees, shouting, “Lord, don’t charge them with this sin!” And with that, he died. Acts 7:54-60 (NLT)
11 And they have defeated him by the blood of the Lamb and by their testimony. And they did not love their lives so much that they were afraid to die. Revelation 12:11 (NLT)
1 Since you have been raised to new life with Christ, set your sights on the realities of heaven, where Christ sits in the place of honor at God’s right hand. 2 Think about the things of heaven, not the things of earth. 3 For you died to this life, and your real life is hidden with Christ in God. 4 And when Christ, who is your life, is revealed to the whole world, you will share in all his glory. Colossians 3:1-4 (NLT)
This post is based on one of the Bible Study discussions among my people at church. We’ve been going through the book of Acts of the Apostles, and came to the martyrdom of Stephen.
It brought out a discussion of the fears we have because of the terrorism in Lebanon, the Sudan and Paris, the incredibly painful trauma people experience. A trauma that is spreading through anxiety and fear, which is being maniuplated by those who would have us stop out from reaching in love, because of that fear.
As we discussed these things, someone mentioned the incredible level of faith that someone who willing embraced martyrdom must have. The faith that would testify of God’s love, that would know the fruit of the Spirit in Galatians, even as the boulders were thrown down upon him, or as the blade slice through the air.
Such heroism seems beyond us, such an ability to set aside one’s automatic nature to preserve one’s self. Yet the angel in the passage from the Revelation states that the people there have defeated the accuser by the blood of the Lamb, the witness (in greek – the word we get martyr from!) and by the fact that they didn’t love life so uch they were afrasid to die.
That describes you, if your faith is in Christ. It describes me as well, and every other person who puts their hope in Christ Jesus. The more we comprehend, not just now, but understand at the gut level, the love of Christ, the guaranty of His promise that we will share in His glory eternally, the more we don’t need to cling to life, the more we don’t need to defend ourselves against persecution. The more we can embrance suffering like Jesus did. The more we trust, the more we look to the promise, the more we understand God’s love, the more we can accept martyrdom.
I want you to compare what Stephen goes through in the first reading to what Paul urges believers to do.
Stephen looked into heaven, and saw the glory of God.
Paul tells us to set our sights on the reality of heaven.
Stephen sees Jesus at the right hand of the Father, in the place of honor.
We are to see the same thing – the same Jesus, the same right hand, the same place of honor.
Stephen is killed. Physically.
We are to realize that we have died to this life. Yes spiritually, (as had Stephen) but also in our need to cling to it, for we realize we aren’t just here, we are hidden in Christ in God, waiting to be revealed with Jesus in our fullness.
That’s where the strength comes from to allow a witness to Christ result in our martyrdom, whether that martyrdom is physical, or whether it is setting aside our dream life, our desires, our need to preserve our identity, in order to bear witness to the love of Christ. This is exactly what Paul is talking about in Philippians 2:1-10. urging us on to unity in Christ. It is what Paul talks of when he urges ust o imitate him as He imitates Christ.
Ultimately, Martyrdom is never about the death, it is never about the sacrifice, it is about knowing the love of Jesus, about trusting in His promises, that is the martyrdom, the very witness we bear. Is this heroic then? It would be, except that the strength doesn’t come from us, it coems from the Holy Spirit. It is the very thing we are urged as believers to do. To bear witness with our very lives, to give the reason we have hope. To set aside our fears, to set aside our need for self preservation, to set aside all, to love God, and to love man.
It is who we are, because of what Jesus does for us in baptism…..what He does to us.
This is what it means to know the Lord is with you, that He answered your plea for emrcy.
It is abiding, secure in Christ’s peace. It is, His gift, His grace.
Backseat Conversations on the Way to Heaven
May you be blessed, as your realize the depth of God’s work in your life, evidence of His great love and affection for you!
Our Way to Heaven is like…
In my congregation, we have been working on a sermon series, a long parable of sorts.
The idea is that like our life long journey in Christ, which ends before the throne of God, is like a long family car journey. We aren’t the drivers, rather, we are the 3 oe 4 siblings in the back seat. That as the Holy Spirit guides us toward eternity, we sometimes act like little kids in the backseat.
The sermons have been based off of scripture, but using the idea of the conversations heard in the back seat to describe how we live together. We journey together toward the day when we are in that vast crowd, people from every nation and family and culture. But getting to that day can be a challenge. Just like surviving a long drive in the back seat of my parents 1971 Dodge was a challenge.
We’ve had titles like, “get along back there” and “that’s not fair!” and of course the ever popular phrase, “are we there yet?!?” Interestingly, they have all tied into the scripture passages on our three year cycle of readings.
Today, as we look at this incredible message from the Book of Revelation, chapter 7, the question is simple….
And the more we can realize that God is in charge of our journey, the more we see it as a blessing. That results in a life of holiness and peace.
So let’s look at this more clearly.
A vast crowd, too great a number to compute, from everywhere, every time, every language, all before the throne of God, all in His clear view. Called by Him, gathered together by Him.
What a glorious day that will be. All the people of God. Together.
How did they get there? That is one of the questions asked the elder to the apostle John, in verse 13.
The answer is not a list of directions, generated by a gps device, or from google maps. But it is how they got there…
“These are the ones who died in the great tribulation. They have washed their robes in the blood of the Lamb and made them white. 15 “That is why they stand in front of God’s throne and serve him day and night in his Temple. And he who sits on the throne will give them shelter. 16 They will never again be hungry or thirsty; they will never be scorched by the heat of the sun. 17 For the Lamb on the throne will be their Shepherd. He will lead them to springs of life-giving water. And God will wipe every tear from their eyes.” (Verse 14b-17)
This gathering of all believers made their way there, because God led them, because God cared for them. It is why we will find our lives in eternity as those who minister and serve God. They are transformed, and what they have been clothed with is dazzling white.
This is what is promised in the Old Testament, in Isaiah 1:18
“Come now, let’s settle this,” says the LORD. “Though your sins are like scarlet, I will make them as white as snow. Though they are red like crimson, I will make them as white as wool. Isa 1:18,
and in the story of the high priest representing Israel, in Zecariah,
1 Then the angel showed me Jeshua the high priest standing before the angel of the LORD. The Accuser, Satan, was there at the angel’s right hand, making accusations against Jeshua. 2 And the LORD said to Satan, “I, the LORD, reject your accusations, Satan. Yes, the LORD, who has chosen Jerusalem, rebukes you. This man is like a burning stick that has been snatched from the fire.” 3 Jeshua’s clothing was filthy as he stood there before the angel. 4 So the angel said to the others standing there, “Take off his filthy clothes.” And turning to Jeshua he said, “See, I have taken away your sins, and now I am giving you these fine new clothes.” Zechariah 3:1-4 (NLT)
We get there, to the point where we are clothed in Christ Jesus because of God’s work, This is how the Apostle Paul says it,
26 For you are all children of God through faith in Christ Jesus. 27 And all who have been united with Christ in baptism have put on the character of Christ, like putting on new clothes. 28 There is no longer Jew or Gentile, slave or free, male and female. For you are all one in Christ Jesus. Galatians 3:26-28 (NLT)
The one people, made up of all peoples. We are one in Christ.
So I have a question
Why do we try to be spiritual backseat gps devices? Or as we used to say, backseat drivers.
Let me explain. When William was little, he loved to imitate the GPS, and on occasion, try to beat it to the punch. Trying to sound like a computer generated voice, he would give me directions.
at the next light, turn right. Go four miles, turn left. You have arrived at your destination. That last one was usually said when we got near a McDonalds!
He really didn’t know how to get where we were going. For that matter, he often didn’t know where we were going. But he wanted to give me the directions.
Sometimes we act that way with God. Rather than trusting our Lord who came from heaven to bring us there, we tell Him the directions we want to take.
Lord, do this for me.
Lord, I think this is how it should work out.
Lord, if you don’t follow my ideas, we will get lost!
Yet like a four year old giving directions, we don’t know the way to heaven, apart from Him.
And sometimes, we might even think we are there, when it is our hungers that really speak. You see this in the world today, it often throws aside how God has designed us to live, and people want to follow their passions. In this world people even go so far as telling God what is good, and contradicting Him when He says what is desired is sin.
Humanity, even those in the church, often want to take over and navigate this journey of life. They want to do this, rather than letting God guide us, letting God take care of us, letting God teach and protect us along the way.
It’s in those times, like children realizing their moms and dads probably know their way around better; that we have to remember who is taking us through life, and bringing us home.
It is then we need to come to our senses, to repent, to know we are forgiven, and listen to God’s ways.
Look at Who our Chauffer/Guide is….
In every passage of scripture where heaven is described, I love the awe that is described. We will be shouting in heaven
“Salvation comes from our God who sits on the throne and from the Lamb!”
and not only us, all of heaven, the angels, the elders, the four living beings are in awe as well, as they sing,
“Amen! Blessing and glory and wisdom and thanksgiving and honor and power and strength belong to our God forever and ever!
This is who will bring us to heaven, this is the God who has promised to bring us to a feast that is like no feast we have ever seen.
This is the God who will guide our steps, all of our steps, even as He guided each one of us to this place, even as He will guide both Passion and Concordia’s ministries in the days and years to come.
For He is God.
So let us bow before Him, recognize Him as Lord, and with confidence in His completion of what He has began in us, walk with Him, letting Him lead our way.
For there, walking with Christ, cleansed by His blood, knowing His love, we are assured of getting where He is taking us. To see the Father, high and lifted up on the throne, surrounded by angels and elders, living creatures, and us, the people of God, from every nation and tribe and language….
Until then, we are assured by His presence, that we can dwell in His unexplainable peace. For Christ guards our hearts and minds in that peace. AMEN?
Devotional Thought of the Day:
10 I want to know Christ and experience the mighty power that raised him from the dead. I want to suffer with him, sharing in his death, 11 so that one way or another I will experience the resurrection from the dead! 12 I don’t mean to say that I have already achieved these things or that I have already reached perfection. But I press on to possess that perfection for which Christ Jesus first possessed me. 13 No, dear brothers and sisters, I have not achieved it, but I focus on this one thing: Forgetting the past and looking forward to what lies ahead, 14 I press on to reach the end of the race and receive the heavenly prize for which God, through Christ Jesus, is calling us. Philippians 3:10-14 (NLT)
1033 Make those reflections of your friend your own. He wrote: “I was considering how good God was to me and, full of interior joy, I was ready to shout out loud, there in the street, for everyone to know about my filial gratitude: ‘Father! Father!’ And though not in fact shouting out loud, I kept calling him so—‘Father!’—in a low voice, many times, quite certain that it pleased him. I seek nothing else. I only want to please him and give him Glory. Everything for him. If I desire my salvation and my sanctification it is because I know that he desires it. If in my Christian life I hunger for souls, it is because I know that he has this great hunger. I say this in all truth: I will never set my sights on the prize. I don’t desire a reward: everything for Love!” (1)
As I was completing my devotions this morning, I came across the quote above my St. Josemaria Esciva, one of my favorite writers. My reaction to it, as I was reading it, was “WOW” – this is powerful stuff. And then I got to the last two sentences and was jarred a bit. Okay, more than a bit.
It seems to clash with the Bible passage above, one of my favorites since I could actually run long distances, back in high school and college.
I don’t set my eyes on the prize, or I do? Scripture should win this, the imitation of St/ Paul, an apostle and the author of scripture. RIght?
But what if the prize that Josemaria is speaking of is different than the one St. Paul is speaking of?
I’ve done enough funerals in my life to know that people have all sorts of interesting images of heaven. Most of which have nothing to do with what scripture teaches. A place of no more sorrow and tears for sure, but the idea of our sitting on the porch of our heavely mansions, sipping tea, or getting our wings fitted so we can play in the clouds, those ideas and many others don’t come from scripture. The peaceful, idealized version of heaven is not the prize we seek.
For Paul, and I believe Josemaria, and I pray for me, that the prize is simply knowing Jesus, to realize He is calling us into a relationship with God our Father. To enter into and bear witness to the glory and majesty of God which is seen so clearly in the depth of His love for us. To build up a level of faith, a level of trust in God that Josemaria describes so well. Where our desires become subject to His desires, because we realize the purity of His love. Where heaven is only a word that describes our cming into His presence. To have our trust in Him become such that His will becomes ours, where His righteousness is ours, where His mission, what Jesus was sent for, to seek and save the lost – is ours.
The prize that both seek is not heaven, it is the Lord of heaven.
It is not a reward for our work, but the reward already won, on a brutal cross.
Where communion with God is more than an event, it simply is life.
Lord have mercy on us, and show us your glory!
(1) Escriva, Josemaria (2011-01-31). The Forge (Kindle Locations 3650-3656). Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition.