Thoughts that drive me to Jesus Christ, and His cross:
The king’s demand is impossible. No one except the gods can tell you your dream, and they do not live here among people.” Daniel 2:11 NLT
605 “Father, how can you stand such filth?” you asked me after a contrite confession. I said nothing, thinking that if your humility makes you feel like that—like filth, a heap of filth!—then we may yet turn all your weakness into something really great.
The man who has struggled to purify himself and has had nothing but repeated failures will experience real relief when he stops tinkering with his soul and looks away to the perfect One. While he looks at Christ, the very things he has so long been trying to do will be getting done within him. It will be God working in him to will and to do.…
When the wisemen around the King heard his demand, they heard only a death sentence, for they knew all their intellect and wisdom was not up to the king’s demand. And unknowingly scripture records a prophetic statement – that only a God that would live among men could possibly save them.
There was no other way. The task was too great.
Daniel will step in, and walking with God will have the impossible made possible, the unknowable revealed, and will become the savior of the wisemen. All of them, even those who served other gods and demons.
His words to the king reinforced this: it isn’t about our strength or power.
And it is not because I am wiser than anyone else that I know the secret of your dream, but because God wants you to understand what was in your heart. Daniel 2:30 NLT
That’s why St Josemaria finds hope for the man confessing the filthiest of sins. For he has realized the need for assistance that only God can provide. Not only can He help and heal us, He will. He promised that help, that comfort.
Similarly, Tozer finds that the man so convinced that he cannot purify himself has finally reached the point where holiness is assured – because his only option is to look to Jesus!
Therefore, while receiving the sacraments is important, it is critical to meditate on what God is doing, as He sprinkled water on us, as He feeds us His body and Blood, as we realize what it means for Him to say, “My Child, you are forgiven all your sin, all injustice has been cleaned from our lives. We need to think that through, not just 2 minutes before church. These sacraments were not established, so God could look down on us as well behaving muppets. He established them so that we could be ministered to, so that we would have something tangible to remember, to think through, to have our souls captivated by. As He captures out hearts and minds, we reflect His glory into the dark world in which we live. That is what holiness is, to be so caught up in the relationship that we unconsciously take on the image of Jesus.
Our God is here. He is with us… and He makes us holy, as we find peace in His presence.
Escriva, Josemaria. The Way . Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition.
A. W. Tozer, Tozer for the Christian Leader (Chicago: Moody Publishers, 2015).
Thoughts to cause us to adore our Lord and God.
15 The Lord has removed your punishment; he has turned back your enemy. The King of Israel, the Lord, is among you; you need no longer fear harm. 16 On that day it will be said to Jerusalem: “Do not fear; Zion, do not let your hands grow weak. 17 The Lord your God is among you, a warrior who saves. He will rejoice over you with gladness. He will be quiet in his love. He will delight in you with singing.” Zephaniah 3:15-17 (CSBBible)
We Christians must stop apologizing for our moral position and start making our voices heard, exposing sin for the enemy of the human race which it surely is, and setting forth righteousness and true holiness as the only worthy pursuits for moral beings.
We must overcome all, renounce all, in order to gain all. St. Teresa said: “Because we do not come to the conclusion of giving all our affection to God, so neither does he give all his love to us.”3 Oh, God, how little is all that is given to Jesus Christ, who has given his blood and his life for us!
Be this as it may, our life consists of the forgiveness of sins. Otherwise it’s no good.
Tozer begs the people of God to expose sin for what it is – the enemy of the human race. deLigouri tells us we have to renouce all, basically referring to what we desire, so that we gain all.
I think they understand the result, but they still are trusting in human willpower to choose what is right. That is where they make their mistake. For you and I aren’t capable of living a perfect, sinless life. If we were, why would we need Jesus? Why would we need the cross?
Yet we must come to the place they both desire. But we have to realize that perfection comes from without,
Well, sort of.
THat kind of holiness occurs only through the presence oof Jesus in our lives.
That is why Luther notes that our life is centered in the forgiveness of sins. That we have to live there, in the place where Jesus’ death pays the price, and endures the consequences. Aware of that, the power of sin to haunt us, disolves. We are forgiven, we are the people whom the prophet Zephaniah speaks,
Jesus has done this, it is why He died, so that you and I could be free form sin, how it haunts us, and how it would steal our present, our future, our eternity.
Sin isn’t about morality, it is about true freedom. When we reduce sin to a moral competition, we have lost. God doesn’t want us to be moral so He can declare us good! Rather, morality is what happens to us, when we are looking to Jesus. It is a passive transformaiton on our part, not an active choice. It is the work of the Holy Spirit, not the work of our heart and mind.
THerefore we cannot claim superior morals, as if it is our victory. It is Jesus’ victory, at the cross….
We just get to live in it..
Jesus gave His life, so that the Holy Spirit could work in ours, setting us apart, declaring us righteous and His people. Rejoice in that, and live in its truth.
Sin is our enemy… God’s taken care of sin, and Satan, and the threat of death… AMEN!
A. W. Tozer and Marilynne E. Foster, Tozer on the Holy Spirit: A 366-Day Devotional (Camp Hill, PA: WingSpread, 2007).
Alphonsus de Liguori, The Holy Eucharist, ed. Eugene Grimm, The Complete Works of Saint Alphonsus de Liguori (New York; London; Dublin; Cincinnati; St. Louis: Benziger Brothers; R. Washbourne; M. H. Gill & Son, 1887), 341.
Martin Luther, Luther’s Works, Vol. 54: Table Talk, ed. Jaroslav Jan Pelikan, Hilton C. Oswald, and Helmut T. Lehmann, vol. 54 (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1999), 150.
Devotional Thought for your Day:
16 I pray that from his glorious, unlimited resources he will empower you with inner strength through his Spirit. 17 Then Christ will make his home in your hearts as you trust in him. Your roots will grow down into God’s love and keep you strong.
Ephesians 3:16-17 (NLT2)
For a saint is simply a great lover of God, and nothing elicits love more than love. “Everybody loves a lover.” Nothing makes us saints faster than being hit over the head with God’s love.
37 When you love somebody very much, you want to know everything about him. Meditate on this: Do you feel a hunger to know Christ? Because…that is the measure of your love for him.
Thus the Creed is nothing else than a response and confession of Christians based on the First Commandment.
In the old comics, a lightbulb would click on in a bubble over the head of a character who got a brilliant idea. It is a way to describe the aha moment, what they once described as being enlightened.
As a former martial artist, there is another time you see bright lights, and that is when you take a punch or a kick to the head. You become a bit light-headed, you might even see stars!
I think we need the same kind of thing spiritually, we need to be hit upside the head by the love of God. The love that makes us realize how stupid our sin is, how incredible the love of God is. He did this with Paul the apostle, spiritually hit him over the head with love, so much so it took Paul a few days and a miracle to see again.
We need to see God’s glory, and we need to realize that His glory is nothing more and nothing less than His love.
His love for you… and for me.
We have to see him, looking down from the cross, and in love saying, Father forgive them… (that means you and me) We need to see that love poured out on us as we were baptized, as His Body and Blood are given to eat and drink, as the Holy Spirit clothes us with righteousness. It is that love that makes us holy, set apart for one thing – to be loved and love. That is what makes us saints.
This is not just the quickest way, it is the only way…
Lord Jesus, confront us in our brokenness, and ensure that we know You love us! AMEN!
Peter Kreeft, The God Who Loves You (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 2004), 13.
Escriva, Josemaria. The Forge . Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition.
Theodore G. Tappert, ed., The Book of Concord the Confessions of the Evangelical Lutheran Church. (Philadelphia: Mühlenberg Press, 1959), 412.
Devotional Thought of the Day
23 I will show how holy my great name is—the name on which you brought shame among the nations. And when I reveal my holiness through you before their very eyes, says the Sovereign LORD, then the nations will know that I am the LORD. 24 For I will gather you up from all the nations and bring you home again to your land. 25 “Then I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you will be clean. Your filth will be washed away, and you will no longer worship idols. 26 And I will give you a new heart, and I will put a new spirit in you. I will take out your stony, stubborn heart and give you a tender, responsive heart. 27 And I will put my Spirit in you so that you will follow my decrees and be careful to obey my regulations.
Ezekiel 36:23-27 (NLT2)
23 For I pass on to you what I received from the Lord himself. On the night when he was betrayed, the Lord Jesus took some bread 24 and gave thanks to God for it. Then he broke it in pieces and said, “This is my body, which is given for you. Do this to remember me.” 25 In the same way, he took the cup of wine after supper, saying, “This cup is the new covenant between God and his people—an agreement confirmed with my blood. Do this to remember me as often as you drink it.” 26 For every time you eat this bread and drink this cup, you are announcing the Lord’s death until he comes again. 1 Corinthians 11:23-26 (NLT2)
16 Confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. . James 5:16 (NLT2)
Sacraments are “powers that comes forth” from the Body of Christ,33 which is ever-living and life-giving. They are actions of the Holy Spirit at work in his Body, the Church.
18 A sacrament is a ceremony or act in which God offers us the content of the promise joined to the ceremony; thus Baptism is not an act which we offer to God but one in which God baptizes us through a minister functioning in his place. Here God offers and presents the forgiveness of sins according to the promise (Mark 16:16), “He who believes and is baptized will be saved.” By way of contrast, a sacrifice is a ceremony or act which we render to God to honor him.
I saw a friend share part of the Ezekiel reading the other day, and my mind flashed back to a baptism 5 years ago this week,
A pastor I know and admire posted about baptizing someone yesterday in their front yard with family looking on from an appropriate distance.
I’ve talked to pastor and priest friends, who all agonize over not being able to provide the Eucharist/Lord’s Supper to those whose faith is so challenged in these days.
Sacraments are not some magical incantation, the words accompany the promise, and the means God promised real to those whom HE blesses in that moment.
That water, because God promised, because He is pour/sprinkling/immersing people with it, give what He promised – the cleansing of our sin, the change of heart (and mind) that we need, the presence of the Holy Spirit in our lives.
That bread that we place in their hands, it is the Body of Christ – given and shed so those people can realize GOd’s love, His mercy, His presence in their lives.
The words of forgiveness, which ring out, not because the pastor likes you, but because God wants you to hear them – YOU ARE FORGIVEN!
This isn’t about us doing the work, about our obedience, about our religious acts. It is about God coming into our lives, about God doing His work.
Those who are ordained to make sure these gifts are delivered are crushed, because we hear the need across phone lines, through texts and messages, and in the posts on social media. We can and are responding to some of those cries in person, but it is another thing to celebrate it all in person.
We look forward to the days when services and masses are the gatherings they should be. But this time helps a little I think. For we begin to understand a little more clearly what it means to cry out for Christ to return, for the great gathering that will happen, when He welcomes us home.
I think we take heaven for granted at times, as we might the Lord’s Supper or our baptism, or that moment when you hear your shepherd tell you that you are forgiven because Jesus said so. One has seemed so far away – a lifetime. The others, the sacraments have always been there, they always should be. Their removal, and the threat of death, combine to help us think of the biggest reunion.
We learn to yearn for the future, because of the absence of the present. We learn to look to eternal life, as we are reminded that this life is easily threatened. We long to have Jesus return to us in the sacrament, even as we are learning to yearn for His second coming!
Let me say it again, for it is worth saying! I long for the day when the people I pastor can re-gather, and celebrate Christ’s feast together. But even more, I am understanding why I should long for the feast to come when all of God’s people are welcomed home…and the celebration begins.
May God’s peace, poured out on you in Christ, nourished through word and sacraments, sustain you until the re-gatherings. This will happen, for He has promised, and He is faithful! AMEN!
Catholic Church, Catechism of the Catholic Church, 2nd Ed. (Vatican City: Libreria Editrice Vaticana, 1997), 289.
Theodore G. Tappert, ed., The Book of Concord the Confessions of the Evangelical Lutheran Church. (Philadelphia: Mühlenberg Press, 1959), 252.
Devotional Thoughts of the Day:
After the LORD helps you wipe out these nations and conquer their land, don’t think he did it because you are such good people. You aren’t good—you are stubborn! Deut 9:4-6 CEV
Liturgy does not come about through regulation. One of the weaknesses of the postconciliar liturgical reform can doubtless be traced to the armchair strategy of academics, drawing up things on paper which, in fact, would presuppose years of organic growth.
It ought to grow and become firmer amid good works as well as temptations and dangers, so that we become ever stronger in the conviction that God cares for us, forgives us, and hears us for Christ’s sake. No one learns this without many severe struggles. How often our aroused conscience tempts us to despair when it shows our old or new sins or the uncleanness of our nature! This handwriting is not erased without a great conflict in which experience testifies how difficlt a thing faith is.
Sigmund Freud is a good example. In Civilization and Its Discontents, he argues against altruistic love as the meaning of life and the key to happiness by saying simply, “But not all men are worthy of love.” No, indeed they are not. Agape is quite defenseless against this objection. The love we are talking about goes beyond reason, and a rationalist like Freud just does not see it. We who take agape for granted because of our Christian education should realize its precariousness. There is simply no effective rational answer to the challenge: “But give me a reason why I should love someone who does not deserve it.” Love is the highest thing. There can be no higher reason to justify it.
Fourth, some say, “I would indeed have confidence that my prayer would be answered if I were worthy and possessed merit.” I reply: If you refuse to pray until you know or feel yourself worthy and fit you need never pray any more. For as was said before, our prayer must not be based upon or depend upon our worthiness or that of our prayer, but on the unwavering truth of the divine promise
The People of the “poor”—those who, humble and meek, rely solely on their God’s mysterious plans, who await the justice, not of men but of the Messiah—are in the end the great achievement of the Holy Spirit’s hidden mission during the time of the promises that prepare for Christ’s coming.
It has never happened before. From every book I read a section of in my devotional reading, something struck me important enough to put down, to consider, and to process my thoughts all together. (Spurgeon will be a later blog…but His is impressive too)
Tempting to just leave the quotes here for you to read.
They are that significant, at least to me.
But I do this to process through these works of scripture, and of other believers who struggle with faith. So I need to struggle, to let these words wrestle with my soul.
The reading from the Old Testament sets it all up and confirms what I (and probably one or two of you already know.
We aren’t good enough.
We sin, We screw up, we get hurt and contain the resentment inside us.
And if we expect God to be on our side because we are good American Christians who have better morals and values than the rest of the world, we are the most deceived people to ever live.
Kreeft and Luther tell us in following quotes that knowing this is okay. We don’t have to justify God’s loving us. God isn’t unreasonable or illogical, but His ways are beyond ours, His ways are the purest, deepest, highest love. God listens to us, our needs, our groans, our pleas, not based on how worthy we are – in fact, that is the beauty of His logic.
That is where the Catholic Catechism and Lutheran Confessions come to play, noting our struggle, noting the need for humility, noting the Holy Spirit’s miracle in bringing us to depend on God, even when our minds are convinced we cannot. If I could add another 2000 words, I would explore that more. We have got to understand that the struggle to have faith in God, when we know our brokenness, is part of the journey of faith, the journey to depend on God who is there, working in our lives. That faith isn’t some random intellectual decision that fires off, it is a miracle. It happens because of an encounter with God that goes beyond our ability to explain.
That is why Liturgy cannot be drawn up or manipulated by those in ivory offices, those disconnected from the altar where Christ’s Body and Blood come to feed the people of God. Pope Benedict is right on in that quote. Or, as Pascal noted, “GOD of Abraham, GOD of Isaac, GOD of Jacob! not of the philosophers and of the learned. Certitude. Certitude. Feeling. Joy. Peace.” The worship service needs to see people encounter God, be in awe of Him, afraid, and yet comforted by His love and mercy.
That can’t be observed, that can’t be experienced in some far off place in St. Louis or Rome. It happens here, where the struggle is, where we need to know He loves us, even as we are not worthy of that love. That is the message our church services, our Liturgy needs to develop by resonating it deep into the souls of the people of God.
In your soul and mine. (gulp)
Yes, this is about us… and that should stagger you… for it does stagger me.
You may never consider yourself lovable by God. You may never think you are good or worthy or holy enough for Him to listen to your prayers, to laugh and cry with you…
That doesn’t matter… HE DOES.
Joseph Ratzinger, The Feast of Faith: Approaches to a Theology of the Liturgy, trans. Graham Harrison (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1986), 81.
Theodore G. Tappert, ed., The Book of Concord the Confessions of the Evangelical Lutheran Church. (Philadelphia: Mühlenberg Press, 1959), 160–161.
Peter Kreeft, The God Who Loves You (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 2004), 60–61.
Martin Luther, Luther’s Works, Vol. 42: Devotional Writings I, ed. Jaroslav Jan Pelikan, Hilton C. Oswald, and Helmut T. Lehmann, vol. 42 (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1999), 88–89.
Catholic Church, Catechism of the Catholic Church, 2nd Ed. (Vatican City: Libreria Editrice Vaticana, 1997), 189.
Devotional Thoughts for the Day
Then Jesus told them, “Give the Emperor what belongs to him and give God what belongs to God.” CEV Matthew 22:21
See, now you understand the meaning of the term “to hallow” and “holy.” It is nothing else than withdrawing something from misuse and dedicating it to its proper godly use, just as a church is dedicated and appointed solely to the service of God. In like manner we must be hallowed in our whole life, leaving nothing but the name of God to dwell in us, in other words, nothing but kindness, truth, justice, etc. Hence the name of God is hallowed or profaned not only with our lips but also with our soul and all the members of our body.
Second, God’s name is defiled by robbing and thieving. Although wise men will at once understand what I mean, it will be too subtle for the simpleminded, since we are here referring to the arrogant ones who regard themselves as righteous and holy and do not feel that they are profaning the name of God as those in the aforementioned group do. While they dub themselves righteous and holy and truthful, they freely and fearlessly pilfer and purloin God’s name
551 Flee from routine as from the devil himself. The great means to avoid falling into that abyss, the grave of true piety, is the constant presence of God.
As I read the words Luther wrote nearly 500 years ago, I knew I had to write on the first paragraph, and what holiness/perfection truly is. I’ve mentioned this before, but it cannot be spoken about enough. We hear, “44 I am the LORD your God, and you must dedicate yourselves to me and be holy, just as I am holy. (Leviticus 11:44 (CEV)) and we get to work, trying our damndest to become what we think holy means, or when we fail, working equally hard to maintain the illusion of holiness.
It is the latter action that leads us to be convicted of robbery, trying to steal what is not ours. We profane God’s name, Luther writes, when we pretend to be something we are not when we put up the charade that we are perfect, that we are righteous, that we are holy. For not only do we not understand holiness, but we also take the responsibility that is God’s alone when we declare we are. What a scam the devil has laid upon us, to get us to think that we determine whether or not we are righteous, and others are not! Falling for it, we try to determine what is good and what is evil, unaware of our own spiritual blindness.
Holiness is as simple as what Luther notes, taking something misused and redirecting it towards its purpose. Whether it is God’s name, no longer used to swear, condemn or falsely justify ourselves and others, or whether it is our lives, created in His image in order to spend time with Him. This is the truth that St. Josemaria talks of, in regards to being pious and holy, the key is simple. Being constantly in the presence of God. Finding out that we are int he presence of a loving, merciful, gentle God who will gently (and firmly) heal our brokenness.
Stop trying to be righteous, stop putting on an act that presents you as holy and perfect. Instead, spend time talking to God, letting Him do the work that only He can do. Look to Him, focus on His love, spending as much time aware of His presence as you can.
Holiness will be taken care of, He promises.
Martin Luther, Luther’s Works, Vol. 42: Devotional Writings I, ed. Jaroslav Jan Pelikan, Hilton C. Oswald, and Helmut T. Lehmann, vol. 42 (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1999), 29.
Escriva, Josemaria. The Way . Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition.
Devotional Thought for the day:
14 Do everything without complaining or arguing, 15† so that you may be innocent and pure as God’s perfect children, who live in a world of corrupt and sinful people. You must shine among them like stars lighting up the sky, 16 as you offer them the message of life. If you do so, I shall have reason to be proud of you on the Day of Christ, because it will show that all my effort and work have not been wasted. Phil. 2:14-16 GNT
While the entire psalter and the holy scriptures altogether are also dear to me, as they are my sole comfort and life, nevertheless, I have struck up a very special relationship with this psalm, so that it must be mine and be called mine. It has worked quite diligently for me, deserving to become mine, and has helped me in some great emergencies, out of which no emperor, king, sage, clever person, or saint would have been able to help me.
You may have been told that it is good to read the Bible through every year and that you can ensure this will happen by reading so many verses per day from the Old and New Testaments. If you do this you may enjoy the reputation of one who reads the Bible through each year, and you may congratulate yourself on it. But will you become more like Christ and more filled with the life of God?
My daily devotions changed a few years ago, when I discovered a book called Celtic Daily Prayer (and now volume 2) and another book called The Way. Before that I saw devotions as a task, and as what a good pastor did, and tried to model to his people. I did the read through the Bible in a year, I even wrote the predecessor to this blog. Looking back, I am not sure I could have answered the question posed by the last line of the quote from Dallas Willard.
It wasn’t the books that changed my devotional life, they just showed up and in the right time and place. It wasn’t on a quest for holiness, that this process grew, nor do I see myself holier or more mature.
I may have grown in holiness, I may be more “devout” (I believe that is very much up to debate), I pray that I am more like Christ.
What I am is more aware of how much I need to depend on God. I resonate with Luther, about this passage and that ministering to me more than others. ( 1 Cor. 2:9, Ezekiel 26:25, Exodus 50:20, Phil. 1:6, Hebrews 12:1-3 Romans 12:1-3 ) for a few that have that effect) greeting me like old friends when I get to them. Jeremiah 20:7 as well, oh gosh has that saved me in despair more than once.
Yet it has been reading through scriptures and my other aids that have led me to those passages. The words of Escriva, Luther, Willard and Popes Francis and Benedict have help me see what I am missing, and far too often, what I encounter gives me the strength I need when something big is looming. (and it seems like something always is looming)
I am not doing this because I am a saint, or devout, or because I want to impress people. I am doing this because I need to, I need to remember that God is benevolent, and merciful, and loves me, and then that He loves those I struggle with, and desires that we all come to repentance.
It is why I encourage you to spend time in the word, like a miner digging for diamonds, trying to find those verse that will reveal God’s love to you so completely that you don’t recognize the change. But you cling to them.. oh.. do you cling to them, as you are comforted and healed by the Holy Spirit who uses them to heal your heart, soul and mind. AMEN!
Willard, D., & Johnson, J. (2015). Hearing god through the year: a 365-day devotional. Westmont, IL: InterVarsity Press.
Luther, M. (2007). Luther’s Spirituality. (P. D. W. Krey, B. McGinn, & P. D. S. Krey, Eds., P. D. S. Krey & P. D. W. Krey, Trans.) (p. 203). New York; Mahwah, NJ: Paulist Press.
Devotional Thought of the Day:
2 The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light. They lived in a land of shadows, but now light is shining on them. 3 You have given them great joy, Lord; you have made them happy. They rejoice in what you have done, as people rejoice when they harvest grain or when they divide captured wealth. 4 For you have broken the yoke that burdened them and the rod that beat their shoulders. . Isaiah 9:2-4 (TEV)
3† 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. Col. 3:1-3 GNT
Temptation has its own “style” in the Church: it grows, spreads and justifies itself. It grows inside the person, rising in tone. It grows in the community, spreading the disease. It always has a word at hand to justify its stance.
When [Luther] was asked whether it was enough for a person to confess sin and believe in absolution and not use the sacrament [of the altar], he replied, “No! It is stated in the words of institution, ‘Do this in remembrance of me’ [1 Cor 11:25]. Everything that is required of a Christian must be in the sacrament: acknowledgement of sin (which we call contrition), faith, giving of thanks, confession. These things must not be separated from one another.”
Dear Jesus, help me to spread your fragrance everywhere I go. Flood my soul with your spirit and life. Penetrate and possess my whole being, so utterly, that my life may only be a radiance of yours. Shine through me, and be so in me, that every soul I come in contact with may feel your presence in my soul. Let them look up and see no longer me. But only Jesus! Stay with me, and then I shall begin to shine as you shine; so to shine as to be a light to others; the light, O Jesus will be all from you, none of it will be mine;
It will be you, shining on others through me. Let me thus praise you in the way you love best by shining on those around me. Let me preach you without preaching, not by words but by my example, by the catching force,the sympathetic influence of what I do, the evident fullness of the love my heart bears to you. Amen. (the radiating prayer of St Theresa of Calcutta )
One of the problems with theology is semantics, for there are not enough terms to enable everything to be put in nice orderly thoughts. For that matter there are too many thoughts to keep them straight, even for the brightest and largest minds.
If I talk to a Lutheran about two Kingdoms, they often think of a divide between the secular and the sacred, and though God operates and reigns in each Kingdom, the theory is that there are different rules, different concerns, and for some, a different sense of ethics and morality.
Others would think of two kingdoms as the Kingdom of Darkness where sin reigns (or perhaps Satan) and God’s Kingdom, where righteousness and holiness are predominant.
A slight difference, for in Lutheran thought, God still reigns in the secular, in other systems, it represents a warzone, good against evil, Satan against God. Lutherans miss this often, and often the awareness of how different a life lived in sin is different, or should be different, than one lived in grace.
As a pastor, I see people struggling with this all the time, this idea of living a life affected by grace, a life of holiness, a life separated to God. The life Paul describes to the church in Colossae, where he urges them to set their minds and fix their hearts on things that are above, for the reality they truly dwell in is found there, in the presence of God. It is that transition that Isaiah prophetically described, as people were awakened from the darkness, and would learn to live in the light, with the work of the Child who would be given.
Even so, we have to live in this world between the two kingdoms, this world of shadows. This place where we can be dragged back into the darkness by temptation. A temptation that can affect those in the church, just as powerfully, just as dramatically, as it does the world which it dominates over. This is the great challenge, to live in this Kingdom, but not be of it. To minister to those broken by it, and yet not let it dominate us.
Luther sees the answer in the sacrament of the Eucharist, (which is why we should commune often!) because of all it includes. To spend that time with our heart set and minds fixed upon Christ Jesus. To feel the relief of being forgiven, to celebrate the blessing of being freed from darkness,
It is from that point that an amazing thing happens, the prayer of St Theresa becomes visibly answered. Not by our own will, not even by our effort, but simply from having God work in our lives, not being as aware of it as His presence. Not understanding it, but simply reveling in this world of glory that we dwell in, with Him.
That glory of God radiates from Him through us, even as it did through Moses. As we spend time, focused heart and mind on God, experiencing the love, our life changes… and ministry happens without our knowing. In this place the secular and the sacred overlap.
It is a glorious thing…it is holiness, a life set apart to God. It is who we, who have seen God’s glory invade our darkness, were reborn to live in.
So let’s do it, living in both Kingdoms, reflecting the light that others might fight the freedom of being loved by God. AMEN!
Pope Francis. (2013). A Year with Pope Francis: Daily Reflections from His Writings. (A. Rossa, Ed.) (p. 238). New York; Mahwah, NJ; Toronto, ON: Paulist Press; Novalis.
Luther, M. (2007). Luther’s Spirituality. (P. D. W. Krey, B. McGinn, & P. D. S. Krey, Eds., P. D. S. Krey & P. D. W. Krey, Trans.) (p. 183). New York; Mahwah, NJ: Paulist Press.
Devotional Thought of the Day:
13 So then, have your minds ready for action. Keep alert and set your hope completely on the blessing which will be given you when Jesus Christ is revealed. 14 Be obedient to God, and do not allow your lives to be shaped by those desires you had when you were still ignorant. 15 Instead, be holy in all that you do, just as God who called you is holy. 16 The scripture says, “Be holy because I am holy.” 1 Peter 1:13-16 (TEV)
7 “Set yourselves apart for a holy life. Live a holy life, because I am GOD, your God. 8 Do what I tell you; live the way I tell you. I am the GOD who makes you holy. Leviticus 20:7-8 (MSG)
The author of The Way shows that this invitation or calling does not in itself involve an invitation to leave one’s place, to choose another way of life; in fact, for the great majority of Christians it is an invitation to face the ordinary circumstances of one’s existence and find there a divine way which must be made holy. That is why Monsignor Escrivá rejects the temptation to “get out of place” (832), because this amounts to avoiding the will of God. Each Christian must find a holiness in keeping with his own mission and his own state in life; and so the ordinary Christian, who lives in the middle of the world, should sanctify himself and others by means of the world itself, sanctifying his professional work and his whole life.
If I asked 100 church going people, I wonder how they would answer the following question.
“Is your life sacred and holy”
I imagine some might answer with a theological statement, or some might answer from the perspective of pride and answer, “of course”. But I think most of us would look down, theink about the last few days and with a bit of regret and check the box that says, “no.”
I’ve written before that we don’t have a good handle on holiness, Most of us think it has to do with being good, with not just limiting sin, but to be some kind of spiritual superhero. (Have you watched superhero movies, those folk are far from perfect!) Someone who leaves wealth and riches to go serve in a third world country, or someone who prays for hours and “glows” like Moses did as he left the presence of God.
We hear the Apostle Peter’s words to be holy, because God is holy and we shake our heads, as we realize how impossible that command is.
We might even wonder if it would be more possible somewhere else, given a fresh start, given a new surrounding, one more conducive to holiness. (anyone want to start a new monastery?)
I love the words form the introduction to St. Josemaria’s classic devotional book, “The Way”. We find a “Divine Way” not on a mountain top, or in a cathedral, but right where God has placed us. Right in front of the people who have seen you sin, who have seen you be hypocritical, who know you at your worst.
That is where holiness is found. That is where we realize how sacred our life is, as it intersects with God. THat is where we find ourselves serving those who are broken, trying to help them know God, as we know God. Guiding them as they explore how wide, how broad, how deep and wide God’s lve is for them, as they experience that which they can’t understand, but they can know.
There in the midst of the brokennes, we find holiness. Not from our great effort, but just because we have to cling to God. We realize His power at work in us. We find that living a sacred, holy life is something that we are committed to, but that God makes happen, it is His craftsmanship, (Also see 2 Thes. 2:13) It is the transformation of our hearts and minds that God creates and sustains. Our biggest challenge? Not fighting against it, and allowing our old self-serving nature in to grab a foothold.
You are Holy, your life is sacred, from the moment God called you and the Spirit went to work, this has been the goal. It is the reason Jesus was incarnate and born of Mary, the reason for His life and teaching, His death on the Cross, His Resurrection and Ascension. All of that works toward this one goal , of setting you apart for a relationship with God, Father, Son and Spirit.
This is it, something we have to trust and depend on God for, as we walk with Him. Life has a way of making us depend upon Him, and that dependence (what chruch fathers called Tentatio) is part of He makes us Holy, how our life becomes sacred. That dependence is called faith, the gift He gives us to depend on Him.
Another way to look at it, if the presence of God in a bush that is aflame makes the ground around it holy and sacred, what does the presence of the Holy Spirit do in our lives. What simply makes the difference is our awareness of God’s presence and work in our lives.
RIght here, right now, whereever we are stuck and struggling.
He is with you.. and therefore,
Your life is sacred and holy.
Escriva, Josemaria. The Way (Kindle Locations 97-102). Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition.
Devotional Thought of the Day:
1 I cry aloud to God; I cry aloud, and he hears me. 2 In times of trouble I pray to the Lord; all night long I lift my hands in prayer, but I cannot find comfort. 3 When I think of God, I sigh; when I meditate, I feel discouraged. 4 He keeps me awake all night; I am so worried that I cannot speak. 5 I think of days gone by and remember years of long ago. 6 I spend the night in deep thought; I meditate, and this is what I ask myself: 7 “Will the Lord always reject us? Will he never again be pleased with us? 8 Has he stopped loving us? Does his promise no longer stand? 9 Has God forgotten to be merciful? Has anger taken the place of his compassion?” 10 Then I said, “What hurts me most is this— that God is no longer powerful.” 11 I will remember your great deeds, LORD; I will recall the wonders you did in the past. 12 I will think about all that you have done; I will meditate on all your mighty acts. 13 Everything you do, O God, is holy. No god is as great as you.
Psalm 77:1-13 (TEV)
856 If you fix your sight on God and thus know how to keep calm in the face of worries; if you can forget petty things, grudges and envies, you will save a lot of energy, which you need if you are to work effectively in the service of men.
I love (and hate) the honesty of the Scripture, especially Psalms like this one, and most of Jeremiah.
To describe the feeling of knowing God is there, and that He hears you and then to go on and describe the despair and discouragement. When we look at the trials we go through and wonder whether God has rejected us, whether He has stopped loving us, whether anger takes the place of His compassion.
Most of us go through these phases spiritually ( see Dark Night of the Soul for a great example) when our faith is not so much dependence on God and trusting in Him as it is simply a set of doctrines. We even doubt the power of God or at least the application of His power in our life.
The challenge isn’t seeing His power at work, it is seeing Him For if we are trying to see Him at work in our lives, the challenges in our lives will dominate us. The challenges will overwhelm us and create a dissonance between what we think we need, and what we do need. It is from this place, this moment of brokenness, that we again remember He is our savior
But if we can keep our eyes on Him, as He draws us into His kingdom, then because we are looking to Him, we see the work He is doing, the work He has promised us in scripture to do. The kind of miracles that happen simply because we dwell in His presence, and He provides for us.
As we look to Him, we see this, and it is truly amazing.
That is why those moments at the altar, as I am receiving the Lord’s Supper are so incredible. Or as I serve it to His people and I see what is happening to them as they recognize the presence of Christ’s body and blood. (1 Cor 11:29) The same goes for the times of prayer, and the times when someone experiences the love of God in the scripture as something that is theirs. When they realize the resurrection isn’t just “history” but it completely impacts their day, lived in the presence of God.
And then, dwelling in His unexplainable peace, you will find it easier to love and serve those God is entrusting to you. It is this life that is holy, it is this life that is the result of His resurrection, and our being re-born in Him.
Lord Jesus, bless us with eyes that can see You, ears that can hear Your words of love, and hearts that desire you above all else, then walk with us Lord and show us whom we get to minister to…together. AMEN!
Escriva, Josemaria. Furrow (Kindle Locations 3508-3510). Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition.