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What does it mean when God says, “you are Mine’

Devotional Thought of the Day:

1  Israel, the LORD who created you says, “Do not be afraid—I will save you. I have called you by name—you are mine. 2  When you pass through deep waters, I will be with you; your troubles will not overwhelm you. When you pass through fire, you will not be burned; the hard trials that come will not hurt you. Isaiah 43:1-2 (TEV)

The apostle does not belong to himself/herself, but is buried with Christ (Col 2:12). Any other way is to be ashamed of Christ and, therefore, to face the eschatological consequences: “If anyone is ashamed of me and of my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, also the Son of Man will be ashamed of him when he comes in the glory of his Father with his holy angels” (Mk 8:38).

A couple of decades ago, I took a class from UC Berkely’s online program in Shakespearean Literature. One of the essays we had to pen was a reaction to the play, “The Taming of the Shrew” and the query we had to respond to was, “Is there a relationship today where respect and obedience are demanded?”

My paper indicated this was so, that there was a relationship where respect and obedience was required and that a negative consequence was automatic if that obedience wasn’t fulfilled. That relationship was the relationship between a teacher and a student. From there I could extrapolate forward to both governments and contracts, and backward to the parent/child relationship as well.

To be honest, we spend most of our lives struggling for freedom. As students, we are encouraged to “be ourselves” and discover “ourselves”. TO cast off the restraints our parents laid upon us.

As we get older, as our bodies and minds fail, as our finances are challenged, we again find ourselves desiring freedom from that which restrains us, from that which hampers life.

Between our youth and old age, we find that we are not really free. Our employers control our work, the government controls many aspects of our lives, and family obligations remind us that freedom is… not a reality.

Given that, as the great philosopher, Bob Dylan wrote, “you gotta serve somebody”, we might look for the most benevolent master we can find. For rare is it a master who desires the best for those that are “His”.

One such Master, one such Lord is found in scripture. He is described in the words of Isaiah above, and His love pours out on all He claims responsibility for, as He claims them as His. A Master who would give His life for those He calls His own, for those He calls His finest work (Eph. 2:10)

Knowing He is our Master, our Lord, is different than thinking He is just our boss, He is only interested in us for how our work benefits Him. Knowing Him, and His attitude toward us, we understand why it is a blessing for Him to be our Master.

Which is why it doesn’t make sense to dismiss Him work, to dismiss our belonging to Him. We need to rejoice in that He is responsible for us, cares for us, and yes, guides us. Being ashamed of Him makes little sense, adn turning our back on Him becomes unimaginable.

Not to mention, it leaves you in hell, a slave to your appetites, and never, ever, fulfilled.

In the end, consider these words,

Don’t you know that your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit, who lives in you and who was given to you by God? You do not belong to yourselves but to God; 20  he bought you for a price. So use your bodies for God’s glory. 1 Corinthians 6:19b-20 (TEV)


Pope Francis. (2013). A Year with Pope Francis: Daily Reflections from His Writings. (A. Rossa, Ed.) (p. 57). New York; Mahwah, NJ; Toronto, ON: Paulist Press; Novalis.

Dealing with the Prophecies of Condemnation: Finding Hope rather than despair

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Dawn at Concordia

Devotional Thought of the Day:

20 The rest of the people, who were not killed by these plagues, did not repent of the works of their hands to stop worshiping demons and idols of gold, silver, bronze, stone, and wood, which are not able to see, hear, or walk. 21 And they did not repent of their murders, their sorceries, their sexual immorality, or their thefts   Rev. 9:20-21 HCSB

10 I sent plagues like those of Egypt; I killed your young men with the sword, along with your captured horses. I caused the stench of your camp to fill your nostrils, yet you did not return to Me. This is the LORD’s declaration. Amos 4:10) HCSB

212         Hominem non habeo— I have no one to help me. This—unfortunately!— could be said by many who are spiritually sick and paralytic, who could be useful— and should be useful. Lord: may I never remain indifferent to souls.

7 The source and cause of evil is not God’s foreknowledge (since God neither creates nor works evil, nor does he help it along and promote it), but rather the wicked and perverse will of the devil and of men, as it is written, “Israel, thou hast plunged thyself into misfortune, but in me alone is thy salvation” (Hos. 13:9). Likewise, “Thou art not a God who delights in wickedness” (Ps. 5:4).
8 God’s eternal election, however, not only foresees and foreknows the salvation of the elect, but by God’s gracious will and pleasure in Christ Jesus it is also a cause which creates, effects, helps, and furthers our salvation and whatever pertains to

Every year at this time I end up reading the minor prophets and the BOok of Revelation. It is not a pleasant time in my devotions, as I am forced to face passages like those above. 

Passages that deal with the stubbornness of man, and our ability to ignore God’s call to repentance, and to the healing repentance offers.  It is all too easy to see myself among the sinners, the idolators, to see friends, people I dearly love, condemned by such words.  

Our rebellion is clear, our inability to give up the sins that we fall into, time after time., to powerful. Reformed and Arminian Theologians will argue about predestination, in an attempt to hide from the sorrow that one observes in our lives. Even the Lutheran Theologians who come up with the answer that is described, their words about predestination and foreknowledge don’t help the one who is struggling, questioning their salvation in light of their sin.

For scripture declares that some will never repent of their idolatry and sin. 

And there are days when we wonder with the apostles, “Is it I, Lord?”

AM I the one who won’t beat sin and temptation?  Do I know people like these the prophets and Revelation describe?  And if I do, given that they won’t respond to the gospel ( or I won’t) what good is the ministry, what good is evangelism?

Why engage in a task that has no promise of being fulfilled, given the weight of our sin?

And what can I do, if, like Elijah, I see no hope for the brokenness of this day, and how those broken will have to stand before You, Lord?

I thank God for the words of St Josemaria this morning, the very first quote I came to among his writings, and the heartfelt prayer he wrote,

Lord: may I never remain indifferent to souls.

There are times when dealing with these quotes from the prophets and Revelation, I could give up, I could write it all off, and leave their salvation and mine in the hands of God.  It belongs there, right? 

But He calls each of us to take the news of His love and mercy, of the forgiveness of our sins, of our restoration and healing that He will provide into this world.  It is not all of us that Revelation describes, and the prophets always return to God saving Israel, to His saving a remnant, to the light of the world reaching out to every nation, every tribe, every language.

The answer to the prophetic trauma is to remember the end of the story, not just the cross and God’s wrath, but the Resurrection and God’s joy.  To know that God will save sinners like me, that I can trust and depend on Him for that, and to help me grow more aware of His holiness, His setting Himself apart for us – to be His children, His people, His beloved. 

If people will change, and many many will be changed, transformed by the Holy Spirit. We need to know His mercy and the promise.  We have ot let the Spirit internalize it, even as the Spirit transforms our minds, and replaces our hearts. For this scripture reveals as well, as His promise becomes reality.

AMEN!

Escriva, Josemaria. Furrow (Kindle Locations 1095-1098). Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition.

Tappert, T. G. (Ed.). (1959). The Book of Concord the confessions of the Evangelical Lutheran Church. (p. 617). Philadelphia: Mühlenberg Pres

The Devout Life: Taking Hell and Heaven Seriously

clydes-cross-2Devotional 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.

What Will It Take you To Prove

What will it take to prove…

Luke 16:19-31

In Jesus Name

 May the Grace of God our Father and our Lord Jesus Christ sustain you, as His unsurpassable peace guards your hearts, and your mind, until He returns.

From Lazarus’s Perspective

We know his name – but we’ve never heard his thoughts, save one.  Even as he stands at Abraham’s side, we hear him thought of as a servant – someone to dispatch with a message, not like an apostle, but like and errand boy.

While he is alive, suffering, unable to care for himself, the only thing we head from him is his desire to be fed by what falls from the rich’s man’s table.  How he longed for a piece of bread, a morsel of lamb, even and onion.

Something, anything!

And he was so weak; he couldn’t even brash away the dogs who would lick and nibble at his open wounds.

Some scraps, please? Please?

A man who knew only hunger and pain.

And then one day, a procession of angels came, sent by God, to bring him to Abraham’s side, to wait for the day when there will be a new heaven and a new earth when God will dwell with His people, and we will see Him!

He was welcomed home, as we will be.

For like Lazarus, God knows our name!

The journey home
But what is this screaming in the distance?

As Lazarus is standing by Abraham’s side, he hears something you can’t usually hear in heaven, in fact, this may be the only time.  Some un-named (and that is important) man is trying to get Abraham’s attention from across the gulf, from the place for those not welcome in God’s presence.

It’s a voice that sounds familiar, and maybe Lazarus even recognized it as the voice, that echoed through the gates, the laughed and enjoyed the fine banquets and parties.
But now the voice was one of anguish, one begging for help, begging for reliefs from the heat, crying for pity,

Because of his past, maybe we would think Lazarus was thinking Mr. No-Name was getting what he deserved.  Or more likely, because of the very reasons he was escorted by angels, his heart was moved, and as Abraham was asked to send a messenger, maybe Lazarus was in tears, wanting to help.

Even so, the man’s torment would continue, his heart still not turned. And as he pleads for his brothers, Abraham’s words are haunting,

“‘If they won’t listen to Moses and the prophets, they won’t be persuaded even if someone rises from the dead.’ ”

What will it take to convince us?

These words that Lazarus hears are scary when you think about them, and who is saying them.  What kind of proof would convince someone about the consequences of their sin?  If the words of scripture will not, if even the fact that Jesus not only raised people from death but rose from the dead himself – if that doesn’t cause people to think a little more, what will?

How do we reach people, and bring them to Jesus, If they aren’t persuaded by Jesus rising from the dead?

Or perhaps a better question – does the resurrection of Jesus make a difference in our lives?

Does it give us hope?

Does it help give us peace?

Does that hope, that peace transforms our lives in such a way we aren’t tied to stuff, but that we realize people have names, that we are to love them in the way that God does?

What difference does the resurrection of Jesus have for the way we look at life, and death?

What difference would it make if we realize that God, and all heaven, knew us by name because Jesus lived and died and rose again?

What will it take for us to realize God knows us and calls us by name?

Col. 1:28 –

The apostle Paul explains it this way.

27  For God wanted them to know that the riches and glory of Christ are for you Gentiles, too. And this is the secret: Christ lives in you. This gives you assurance of sharing his glory.

This is the message that changes us, knowing that God loves us, and indeed loves every human being changes everything.  It means everything.  It means that each one of us is God’s beloved.

Knowing that means that loving others is no longer a duty, no longer a sacrifice, but it is glorious and wonderful to see them come alive in Christ, to see their lives transform, for they begin to share in God’s glory as well.

They have a name; they mean something to us.  This is why Paul would go on to say,

28  So we tell others about Christ, warning everyone and teaching everyone with all the wisdom God has given us. We want to present them to God, perfect in their relationship to Christ. 29  That’s why I work and struggle so hard, depending on Christ’s mighty power that works within me.
Colossians 1:26-29 (NLT)

People need to hear of God’s love, while they are still alive. They need to see that love in a way that they can hear; that isn’t someone trying to persuade them, but rather share with them this glory, this love.  They

But that happens best when we know His love when we realize He knows our name!  It is then, as we hear Him calling us by name that we realize in awe that He has given us His peace, peace that goes beyond understanding, peace that we dwell in because Christ calls us His treasure, and keeps our hearts and minds there.

This is our life… where God calls us by name – so live it!  AMEN!

A Most Excellent Quote about Death, and Easter

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Did Jesus Rest on this Sabbath?

Devotional Thought of the Day:The Pantheon, a place once dedicated to worship of idols but reborn to host the worship of God.  May our lives tell a similar story as we realize what God does to us in baptism!

18  For Christ also suffered for sins once, the righteous for the sake of the unrighteous, that he might lead you to God. Put to death in the flesh, he was brought to life in the spirit. 19  In it he also went to preach to the spirits in prison, 20  who had once been disobedient while God patiently waited in the days of Noah during the building of the ark, in which a few persons, eight in all, were saved through water. 21   This prefigured baptism, which saves you now. It is not a removal of dirt from the body but an appeal to God for a clear conscience, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ, 22  who has gone into heaven and is at the right hand of God, with angels, authorities, and powers subject to him. 1 Peter 3:18-22 (NAB)

“Suffered under Pontius Pilate; was crucified, dead and buried: He descended into hell: The third day he rose again from the dead:”  (1)

A conversation yesterday, between Good Friday Services, brought up the issue of what Jesus was doing, in the time between His death on the cross, and the Resurrection.

The people I was in dialogue with said he simply rested in the grave. They were using this to “prove” that everyone should worship on the Sabbath, during the time between Sunset on Friday, and Sunset on Saturday.

It brought up memories of my childhood, sitting in the pews at St. Francis in Lawrence, or St. Joes in Salem, and wondering about the line in the Apostle’s Creed above.

Why did Jesus have to descend to Hell?  Wasn’t the suffering and death on the cross enough?

It bothered me greatly, and those I asked about it, had no answer. Which bothered me a little more.  Would the Father let Jesus go to Hell, to suffer there for our sins? Why did He have to go?

I am not sure when I came across the verses in Peter’s epistle above, but they seem to settle the issue.  Jesus didn’t go to Hell to suffer, but to preach, to proclaim the love of God, that He would die for the sin of the world.  All sin. That those who trust in Him as their God, would know His salvation.  it is not quite a victory parade, though it is to declare victory.  And the gates of Hell cannot prevent it, Jesus is the Christ, the Anointed One of God.   He was sent, apostle’d to deliver to the Father, those who have, would, will become the children of God

The words about baptism are not remiss therefore, for it is in Baptism that we are united with the death of Christ, and with His Resurrection.  Glorious events, worthy of praise, (yes the cross is glorious) for they show the depth of God’s love for us.  Love that wouldn’t even let those imprisoned by sin not know of His love, of His grace.  It is what takes those dead in sin, and makes them alive in Christ Jesus.

Which brings us back to the Sabbath, and the purpose of it.

It’s not about not working, for surely God is continually at work, sustaining the universe.  And those of us, who preach, who lead worship, who do a myriad of things on Sunday (or Saturday – Romans tells us we have this Freedom) certainly are at work in the House of God.    The Sabbath is about priority, teaching us to rest – not just from labor, but to rest in the presence of God.  To be in awe of His love, to be aware of the depth of His love, that will even descend into hell to deliver the children of God to their home… with Him.  That is why Paul says the sabbath is simply a foreshadowing of Christ, for it is in Him we truly find rest.

Even on a Saturday, while we prepare to celebrate the resurrection… Even here, the Lord of the Sabbath reigns, and because He does, we know we dwell in the Father’s peace, an indescribable peace, a peace that guards our hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.
AMEN.

 

(1)  The Apostles Creed

God isn’t Fair! He isn’t doing what’s right

“The Lord isn’t Doing what is Right?”

Ezekiel 33:7-20

Jesus, Son and Savior

May we realize the joy that it brings God our Father and our Lord Jesus Christ to see the grace, the mercy, and love they have for mankind received and cherished!

 

A change in journalism, reflecting our sin!

I have suspected it for a while, but I think this week pretty much proved it – the art of news reporting is gone.  We are a long way from the days when a news cast signed off with “and that’s the way it was”, or a reporter pleaded like a Joe Friday, “just the facts ma’am.”

Every news article I read this week seemed more like an opinion-editorial piece, with the writer’s speculation about how the latest financial disaster could be averted, or why the pope really resigned, or what they should do to replace him, to bring the Catholic Church into the twenty-first century.  Of course, some of the ideas for both are nations budget and the choice of the new pope were… hmmm…how is the best way I can describe this… creative?

As if every journalist, every reporter, every blogger was an expert on to balance a budget, or deal with disasters, or was an expert theologian.

 

Of course, the newsman simply are doing what they see us doing.  We try to prove that despite our disagreement with the way things have been done in the past, there has to be some hope for the future…

If only those in charge do it.. the way we know is right!

We love to do the backseat driving, the second guessing, to question those who actually have the responsibility and the pressure of making the decisions. Not that we are more intelligent, or have the information at hand, that they do.  It is almost a national past-time.  It doesn’t even matter if it’s “our guy” that we are questioning.

Sometimes… it doesn’t even matter if it’s God….

That’s what we see in today’s Old Testament lesson, as God says,

17 “Your people are saying, ‘The Lord isn’t doing what’s right,’ but it is they who are not doing what’s right. 18 For again I say, when righteous people turn away from their righteous behavior and turn to evil, they will die. 19 But if wicked people turn from their wickedness and do what is just and right, they will live.

 

Imagine that, telling God that He isn’t doing what is right…. Because He is willing to save the people that are considered wicked, and condemning those who consider themselves righteous…..

Where do people get the… nerve… to declare that God doesn’t know what He’s doing, or that He is doing wrong…in showing His mercy?

 

Why do we question the depth of God’s mercy

I don’t think that it is just the people of those days who make such judgments.  In the Luther movie, there is a scene where Luther has to minister to a family where the son has committed suicide.   He challenges the view that everyone who does such is inherently evil, or doesn’t believe in God. He buried the body of the young man in a graveyard, and assured the parents that one could be in heaven, who died oppressed by satan, or for a time doubted….He trusted in God’s mercy in those situations, but can we?

How many of us question whether this person’s claim, or that one’s, that they are believers?  How willing are we to declare that this person in history or that one is in hell?  Do we really believe that people are beyond the reach of God.  That it is not right if God lets someone like Pol Pot’s chief prison warden, or someone like Jeffrey Dahmer, could get into heaven. What about someone like Christopher Darner?  Surely not him?

What if we said that someone who everyone thought was good, would not go to heaven, because their faith wasn’t in Jesus, or because they didn’t abide in Christ?

Would we have the same attitude as those who went before us?  Would we ask, “Jesus – what were you thinking when you made Peter the leader of the Apostles

 

Were you doing what is right?  What is just Lord?    Because to be honest, I do not see it!

 

What I need to realize, is that I don’t have to… we aren’t God, we aren’t the judge.  We don’t need to question His actions, His mercy

We need to rejoice in it!

The reason why hearing this is good news

 

You see, though many of us might consider someone we know as a just or righteous, or maybe even as a holy people, that they are just a “good” person, there is no such thing out of Christ.  We struggle – and that word for wicked sounds horrible, but it just means those who are guilty, not just found guilty in a court somewhere – but who actually did that which was wrong.

Simply put, it’s not just the mass murderers, or those who did the unbelievable evil, but those that simply broke one of the ten ways in which God ordained for us to live.

When we hear Ezekiel’s words, when we begin to comprehend his warning, or when someone like Ezekiel reaches out to us, we still need to listen!  We don’t need to hide behind some façade of righteousness!
We don’t need to hide anymore, we can confess our sins grasping onto these words,

As surely as I live, says the Sovereign Lord, I take no pleasure in the death of wicked people. I only want them to turn from their wicked ways so they can live. Turn! Turn from your wickedness, O people of Israel! Why should you die?


God isn’t out to “get” people that do wrong, that wander away on their own!  He wants to rescue them, and that is why He gave us His word, and why we treasure it!  It assures us of His desire to fix what we broken, to restore that which we’ve wrecked!  That is why the sinner, the “wicked” can have hope!

That is why Ezekiel promises that as verse 16 promises, “none of their past sins will be brought up again!”

Imagine that – none of our sins, ever brought up again!  They are gone!  So gone that the issue isn’t whether we were wicked or good, but whether we are walking in the presence of God, for there is life!

That’s why St Peter joyfully tells us that God is patient with us, He is willing to suffer for a long time, so that we have the opportunity to see our sins separated from us, to rejoice in knowing His love!  It is why Paul tells us it was for the joy set before Him that Jesus endured the suffering and shame of the crucifixion.
Jesus talks of this too, that the Father doesn’t take any pleasure in the death of the wicked – but instead phrases it this way,

7 In the same way, there is more joy in heaven over one lost sinner who repents and returns to God than over ninety-nine others who are righteous and haven’t strayed away!
Luke 15:7 (NLT)
That is why we talk of celebrating the Eucharist, the Lord Supper.  It is why this is a feast at His table, the same kind of feast thrown for prodigal sons, and those dragged off the street to come to the wedding Feast of the King’s son in another parable.

 

God doesn’t rejoice in the death of the wicked, but in their return, in their being saved.

And while some may think that isn’t a good or right thing to do, this prodigal, formerly spiritually homeless one rejoices greatly.

That desire of God is so strong, that is why the watchmen – those God has placed to warn the sinner and welcome the repentant – are told the serious nature of their work.  It is not because God is mean – but because the message is so…. Important to know – that there is a way out.

And so God instructs us all,

I have appointed you to stand watch for the (my) people of Israel. So listen to what I say, then warn them for me. 8 When I tell wicked people they will die because of their sins, you must warn them to turn from their sinful ways. But if you refuse to warn them, you are responsible for their death. 9 If you do warn them, and they keep sinning, they will die because of their sins, and you will be innocent.

 

My instinct is to hear that as law – as a command – that if I don’t tell you – and you don’t tell those who aren’t here yet – then we are guilty again!  Another law at work?

No, again – the context means everything!  For it is the very cry of those feeling the weight of their sin, who realize that they cannot pay the price of their sin to whom God speaks!  He promises them that it is not their death that pleases Him, but their return, the transformation that we call repentance, the kind seen when behaviors change, and when reconciliation and redemption and walking with God is what we know… and therefore what we do.

When we dwell in peace… the peace of God that passes all understanding, as we are guarded in Christ Jesus!  AMEN?

The Heart of God…

Devotional THought of the Day:
“The ministers of the grace of God have, by the Holy Spirit, spoken of repentance; and the Lord of all things has himself declared with an oath regarding it, “As I live, saith the Lord, I desire not the death of the sinner, but rather his repentance;”4 adding, moreover, this gracious declaration, “Repent, O house of Israel, of your iniquity.5 Say to the children of My people, Though your sins reach from earth to heaven, and though they be redder6 than scarlet, and blacker than sackcloth, yet if ye turn to Me with your whole heart, and say, Father! I will listen to you, as to a holy7 people.” And in another place He speaks thus: “Wash you, and become clean; put away the wickedness of your souls from before mine eyes; cease from your evil ways, and learn to do well; seek out judgment, deliver the oppressed, judge the fatherless, and see that justice is done to the widow; and come, and let us reason together. He declares, Though your sins be like crimson, I will make them white as snow; though they be like scarlet, I will whiten them like wool. And if ye be willing and obey Me, ye shall eat the good of the land; but if ye refuse, and will not hearken unto Me, the sword shall devour you, for the mouth of the Lord hath spoken these things.”8 Desiring, therefore, that all His beloved should be partakers of repentance, He has, by His almighty will, established [these declarations][i]

As I was doing research for my sermon for this week, I came across the above quote from Clement of Rome – who provides us with some of the first writings of the church, after the apostles passed on.  He’s an interesting guy to me, as are many of the early leaders of the church.  
Here he talks of repentance, but like many of us, he misses the heart of the matter, literally the heard of God.  
In these precious passages, yet there is a call, even a cry for repentance, but a cry that isn’t just a prophetic warning to avoid wrath.  Look at each in their context, look at the words that God uses, this is a passionate Father’s cry to come home, to return to the family, to receive the love that was meant to be yours! 
If you are a believer, if you hope, your confidence is in God, then it is a cry that you have heard, that cry needs to be heard around you, you need to repeat it to them – not just a warning that people are headed to hell (which should cause our stomachs to be wrenched and our eyes to tear)  but that God so desires them NOT to go..

Instead – to know  the love of God, the fellowship of the Spirit, and the peace that comes to us who have been united to and in, Jesus Christ.

Lord have mercy!

 
 
 
 


4 Ezek. 33:11.

5 Ezek. 18:30.

6 Comp. Isa. 1:18.

7 These words are not found in Scripture, though they are quoted again by Clem. Alex. (Pædag., i. 10) as from Ezekiel.

8 Isa. 1:16–20.

[i] Clement of Rome. (1885). The First Epistle of Clement to the Corinthians. In A. Roberts, J. Donaldson & A. C. Coxe (Eds.), The Ante-Nicene Fathers, Volume I: The Apostolic Fathers with Justin Martyr and Irenaeus (A. Roberts, J. Donaldson & A. C. Coxe, Ed.) (7). Buffalo, NY: Christian Literature Company.

While we are waiting for His return….

While We are Waiting…

Jude 20-25

 

In Jesus Name

 

The Blessing of the Book of Jude:

To you who are called, to you who are dear to God the Father and kept safe for Jesus Christ, 2 mercy, peace and love be yours in abundance.

The Holy Stairs.,,

 

Luther had stood at the base of the steps we stood before, just about 500 years prior to Kay and I standing at them.  Even as Jesus has reportedly climbed those same stairs, as he approached Pilate, and the cross were He would embrace death, that you and I would know life.

At the top of the stairs, now with a church built around them, was a incredibly compassionate picture of Jesus, looking down the stairs, at those who would pray to Him as they climbed those stairs on their knees, humbly praying, as they have for hundreds of years.

One thing that struck me then, as it had all week, the incredible devotion showed to God, some in love, some in fear, that we saw in the pilgrims and in the many beautiful places dedicated to God.  Such testimonies to an incredible devotion to God that so touched the hearts of tourists; as well as those who were somewhere between tourist and pilgrim.

I am sure that God listens to prayers without our needing to make pilgrimages, or spending hours upon hours on our knees praying.  But there is something to be said for the devotion, for the focus, for the treasuring of God’s love, that would draw someone to such actions, or to build incredible basilicas that rival any other buildings in the world.  To sculpt or paint, or compose music, that would point to God’s glory.  It amazes me the work that man can accomplish, that testifies to God’s glory.  What amazes me more, is the work that God can accomplish through us, as He builds His people into His church.

As we celebrate the end of the church year… as we look to His return, and the celebration that will come, when God gathers all of us home… Jude encourages us to accomplish some things while we are waiting…

 

It is better to say… to let the Holy Spirit bring things to pass in our lives…

 

Building up in holy faith

I know that Michael last week talked about the things which last, that it is not the temples and basilicas and even the churches of today that will last eternally – but the people that God calls into being as His people.   For Jesus talked of that, as the disciples talked of the stones that built Herod’s temple – stones taken from the mountains that Jesus spoke into being.

Jude talks of building that up – the community of believers, the brothers and sisters united in Christ, as children of God – that which Jesus indicated would last, for He would guard and keep that church.

 

You, dear friends, must build each other up in your most holy faith, pray in the power of the Holy Spirit, 21

 

It is, I think, more of a challenge to build up each other in the most holy faith, than it is to paint the Sistine Chapel.  But that is the masterpiece we have been called to build up.  To point each other to Jesus, to help each other trust in Christ.  That includes, at times, the challenge of showing people their need for Jesus, for each one of us, from the greatest to the smallest, from the proudest to the meekest, from those who seem to have it all together, to those who can’t even remember which part needs repair the soonest.  We all need Jesus, we all need His healing, we all need His love…

It is given to us, to build up each other, not in building up egos, but in helping each other realizing our desperate need for Jesus, to encourage each other to turn to Him, to even walk beside each other, pointing each other to God, and His healing.  And to that, in prayer, listening to God, hearing the Holy Spirit.   I like what one pastor wrote about this..

..you realised that until now you had known that the Holy Spirit was dwelling in your soul, to sanctify it… But you hadn’t really grasped this truth about his presence. You needed that advice. Now you feel his Love within you, and you want to talk to him, to be his friend, to confide in him… You want to facilitate his work of polishing, uprooting, and enkindling…

I wouldn’t know how to set about it! you thought. Listen to him, I insist. He will give you strength. He will do everything, if you so want… And you do want! (Escriva, The Forge)

 

It is no mistake, in this tiny, last of the epistles, that the writer would encourage us to hear the Holy Spirit’s voice, to pray in His power, to realize His presence, even as we are awaiting the full revelation of Christ’s mercy upon His return.  For our task is not one merely of human creation, but one which requires all the strength and creativity of God.
Showing Mercy

         

Jude mentions two very similar ways of building each other up, ways in which we simple are to do this.

The first is to show mercy to those who are wavering, those who are struggling, those whose faith is fragile, even as they struggle.  Such weakness is never a cause for contempt, it is never our place to say – well if they can’t hack it – if they don’t have the strength on their own – then that is their own problem.  We are called, instead of judging or condemning them, to come alongside them, and encourage them.  Jude says this is not option – we must those mercy to those whose faith is wavering.

 

For indeed, in our own lives, we know that kind of mercy, or we need to know i!  We see it when we struggle, or doubt, or wonder.  Whatever you want to call it…we each go through it – no one in this sanctuary is strong enough on their own, no pastor that has ever stood before you, no elder, or Sunday school teacher, no board member, nor any child who comes into this place.  Each has been there, with their faith wavering, whether they wanted to admit it or not.  All of us need that love, that compassion, that care, the kind that Christ shows through His people. The kind Jude compels us to show.  There is no other option, and it is quite probable we need to repent for not obeying this.

 

Likewise in verse 25, we are commanded to 23 Rescue others by snatching them from the flames of judgment. Show mercy to still others, but do so with great caution, hating the sins that contaminate their lives.


You see, that is what we are doing when we share our faith, whether in a doctor’s office in Artesia, or in a café in Rome outside of Vatican city.  We aren’t just trying to convince people that our way is somehow better than theirs, that our God is better than the god of Islam, or Judaism, or Buddhism.  This isn’t like anything else than “snatching people from the flames of judgement”.

Is there anything more important that we do in our lives?  Is there any reward more incredible than seeing someone you’ve loved when no one else bothered to, baptized and cleansed and given a new life?  You could build a thousand Concordias! You could  paint a Sistine chapels day after day – every moment of your life creating artistic masterpeices, and none of it comes close to this work of showing mercy.  The most incredible thing you could ever do in life, is to lead someone to a baptismal font, or guide them to an altar where they are cleansed of their sin, or as they are struggling come to them –pointing them to Jesus as you carry them to His side in prayer and love.

Whether they are simply struggling in their faith, or… being swallowed by Hell…

This is our work, this is what the saints of God are called to do, even as we are called to walk with the Holy Spirit in prayer
Know God is powerful

         

The bottom line of Jude is found in the last few verses:

. 24 Now all glory to God, who is able to keep you from falling away and will bring you with great joy into his glorious presence without a single fault. 25 All glory to him who alone is God, our Savior through Jesus Christ our Lord. All glory, majesty, power, and authority are his before all time, and in the present, and beyond all time!

 

Note in the middle of the praises, there is a description of God’s action – that He is the One who keeps you from falling away – from being safe in God’s love as He mentioned.  It is His work to bring you into the Father’s glorious presence, more glorious than any painter or sculptor can imagine and create.

He brings us there without a single fault, not one, not even one little tiny fault.  He has promised us that, and died to make it so. That’s why he climbed the steps before Pilate and made good His promise to become our Savior. The steps that some climb, to pray for a friend, or a family member or themselves, he climbed for us all.  That is what we are to encourage each other to trust in, the Lord who climbed those steps, who endured that cross, looking forward to the joy of revealing how much He loves you. That is why we are to come alongside and support those whose faith wavers, and to rescue others from the fire.
And someday… instead of celebrating the end of the church year, we will celebrate the homecoming of all homecomings,

Until then, my friends, know this – even as you will see His glory face to face, you dwell in it now.  Even as you will sing praises to Him in all His glory, you dwell in that glory now…and even there, as His peace will reign in your life, it does so now.

For our Lord Jesus Christ has made it so, creating us as His people, cleansing us from sin, and keeping us from falling out of that peace.  AMEN?

 

What will you do now… having encountered the Lord?

 

What will you do now…

having encountered the Lord?

Isaiah 6:1-8

In Jesus Name

 

The grace of God, the abundant love, the incredible mercy, the peace that comes from being in the presence of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit is yours!

928,000 hits for hell, 597 million for heaven

If you look up two words on the internet, one word will return some 597 million references – web pages that deal with the subject in part or are on that topic – just for that one word.  The other word is even more astounding, some 920 million web pages reference it. A combined total of 1.5 billion webpages referencing these two words.

The first word is heaven…
The second…hell.
It amazes me that there is more attention paid to that second word, half again as many webpages referencing something that by definition cannot be compared to heaven, except to say that everything heaven is not, Hell is.

I wonder if humanity is more comfortable with the second word than heaven, and therefore uses it more, because it doesn’t take any imagination to picture what it is like.  We witness hints of it everywhere, as we see suffering lived out, as we witness the broken lives, as we hear the lyrics of music, country, rock, hip-hop – it doesn’t matter the style,

But heaven?  How do you imagine it, much less describe it? Even St. Paul, who indicates that he was taken up to heaven in a vision, when he writes to the church in Corinth struggles, and describes it this way..

What no eye has seen and no ear has heard, what the mind of man cannot visualise; all that God has prepared for those who love him; (NJB)

Perhaps, because we cannot visualize it, our mind cannot comprehend being in the presence of God, in all of His glory… we struggle to tell people, to describe to them this relationship that we have with God, and what we expect of eternity, walking with Him.

Our knowledge of what heaven is like comes from the brief glimpses of it in scripture, the brief times where God reveals a little of our what heaven looks and sounds like.  I think we deal enough with the other place way to much – so today – let’s spend our time in heaven, and see what happens when we encounter God in all his glory.

It’s a bit… overwhelming

As Isaiah describes where God resides, the incredible, majestic, throne room of God, there is one word that I think describes his emotions better than any other.

Overwhelmed!

Isaiah cannot even describe the Lord God Almighty who we have praised in song – about the closest he comes is describing the hem of his robe – he quickly describes the angelic beings surrounding the throne, singing the praises of God, praises that ring so loud they shake heaven and earth! Which leads him to focus to God, for the focus point of their body, their voices, everything they are focused on Yahweh – the sight is so awe-inspiring that the translators have always replaced God’s name – YHWH, with His title, for it seems so wrong to address One who is the purest form of holiness by His name.

Isaiah, overwhelmed by it all, all of a sudden remembers that he is part of this picture, In this midst of all this purity, in the middle of the hosts of heaven adoring God in all His intimate majesty!  There stands Isaiah, whose “woe” is a phrase that escapes his mouth, before he can control it – one which leads him to identify himself as a man of “unclean lips.”  Unclean being a reference to a flow of mud or sewer waste that has infiltrated your home, something that no matter how hard you try to clean it, infests and infects every part.  Because that is what sin is – no matter how hard you try to clean it – to fix it – you cannot!

Any of you out there dread public speaking and standing before 1000, 10,000 people?  Or have you ever had one of those nightmares where you find yourself at center court of a basketball game, or in the middle of a mall on the day after thanksgiving clad only in an old torn pair of underwear?  Yeah… that’s pretty much how Isaiah feels, as he realizes the only sin in heaven at that point… is him.

No wonder, as he gasps,  that Isaiah confesses that he is a man of filthy lips – not because of anything that he ate – but because of what has come from him!  Such a statement calls to mind Jesus words regarding that it is not what goes into a man that pollutes him, but what comes out reveals how rotten we can be inside.

Like with most of us, having one’s sin revealed is never easy, it is as overwhelming as being found in the presence of God….yet it is then… as Isaiah is standing there, that something incredible happens…

It’s incredibly healing

         

For being found in God’s presence in not just incredibly overwhelming, it is incredibly healing.

Even as the Heavenly choir is singing the Sanctus’ holy, holy, holy, even as Isaiah realizes how exposed he and his sin is, an angel who knows God’s heart, who grasp His desire takes action.  From the altar something is taken, it touches the lips of the man of unclean lips, and those lips are purified, as is the heart and life of the man.  Those lips are cleansed and can praise the God who created them, and cleansed them.  That heart no longer fears being found in the presence of a holy and righteous God, but stands in awe… and basks and rejoices in the love of the Lord God who reveals Himself to us, in order to bring us back to Him, to restore the relationship!

The sewerage, the uncleanness that once polluted us, is diverted, it cannot reach Isaiah, it cannot reach us.

Our is atoned for – an incredibly deep word picture there – as it is removed and the wounds it caused are covered as they are healed!  You see, the roots of the word attone is tar or pitch – the kind used on trees when you remove a diseased or broken limb – and cover that which remains, so the weak bare would cannot be infested!

That is what God’s love, revealed to us in the shedding of Jesus’ blood does to us – is cleanses, and heals and covers and protects.  It’s that simple – takes that ugly spots out of life and makes us whole…just as the fiery coal in Isaiah’s vision did, so does Christ do, as He enters our lives.

But what is best about what God does in our lives – is that He makes us comfortable in His life – in His presence.  The “woe” disappears and the question of Isaiah falls aside, no longer even needing to be considered!

That is what our faith, our religion, what walking and trusting and believing in Christ is all about my friends.  We need to grasp that because what God has promised us in His word was clearly revealed in Christ – that we now know His love – and that name of His – is ours to use, to call upon, to praise – to ask Him to deal with all that burdens us –that we may know He is God – our loving father!

Wait…there are people

          Note – they too will be overwhelmed…

         

As we realize this incredible promise is not just Isaiah’s but ours – we hear the same words as Isaiah does – the Lord’s voice crying out – who can I send?  Who is going to let the people of La Palma, and Cerritos, and Artesia, and Norwalk and Torrance, those who work with the students at Cal State and USC, and in hospitals and at the senior center and even in St Louis – who will God send?  Who else needs to go to the people of unclean lips and unclean lives and tell them that there is cleansing, there is healing, there is life?

As you respond – for you know what God has done for you – and you realize their need for it – realize that their reactions will be as yours were – overwhelmed by the presence of God, in fear that their sins, their struggles in life stand out. Going out with the message isn’t easy, and people’s reaction will be one of struggle – yet, because of Christ, the lamb that was slain, the message that comes from the heart of God’s altar – the message that cleanses – it will cleanse and heal, and cause them to do as we do…

To find ourselves in the presence of God, cleansed, healed – and able to in the midst of a broken world know a peace and rest that is unexplainable – yet calls us to look to an eternity of peace, as we adore the God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, who has made us His own…..

AMEN!


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