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The Priceless Blessing We Cannot Afford to Neglect…

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The Good Shepherd, carrying His own.

Devotional thought of the Day:

23  After sending them home, he went up into the hills by himself to pray. Night fell while he was there alone. Matthew 14:23 (NLT)

26  And the Holy Spirit helps us in our weakness. For example, we don’t know what God wants us to pray for. But the Holy Spirit prays for us with groanings that cannot be expressed in words. 27  And the Father who knows all hearts knows what the Spirit is saying, for the Spirit pleads for us believers in harmony with God’s own will. Romans 8:26-27 (NLT)

16 Ultimately, if we should list as sacraments all the things that have God’s command and a promise added to them, then why not prayer, which can most truly be called a sacrament? It has both the command of God and many promises. If it were placed among the sacraments and thus given, so to speak, a more exalted position, this would move men to pray.  (1) 

The intercessor is a worshipper who has understood the deepest feelings of God and clings to them, despite contrary appearances.

In prayer, our flesh, identified with the Word made flesh and moved by the Spirit, longs for the Father. This is the mystery that unfolds in prayer and that promises us a unique communion with the Father, in the Spirit, and through the Son.
He takes our flesh and we receive his Spirit.

I am sitting in my office, as I do most Saturdays.  My primary task is finalizing my sermon, the two Bible studies I teach tomorrow.  As I do, there is another task I do… on that can be heartbreaking at times.

It is receiving the prayers that people drop into mention, that text or message me or email me about.  They want to make sure they are included in the bulletin for our people to pray about, or if more confidential, that I will include them in my private prayers. 

This morning has been no different, in fact, one could say “business” has been a bit brisker than normal.  A military person going to Korea, another beloved friend diagnosed with cancer, a friend dealing with diabetes and other health concerns, people with family problems, people looking for a new home, people with family struggles.  There are a lot of people we pray for, an act often called intercession, or petitioning God on their behalf.  Or more simply – we ask God to bless them and care for them in their situation.  That includes praying for healing, for strengthening their trust and dependence on Him, which will give them hope.  Mostly that they would see God acting in their lives. 

This is prayer, this is, in a very real way, communing with God.  Or as the Lutheran confessions (in green) call it, a sacramental time.  Pope Franci echoes this sentiment when he calls it the mystery that is unfolded and revealed, a time of intimate communion, a time where we understand the deepest feelings of God and cling to them.

As I prepare for tomorrow’s sermon, this hits home strong.  Jesus sends the disciples across the lake, he sends the crowds away, and he heads in to the hills to be alone, to pray.  Specifically, the word for prayer is the word for petition.  He has to talk wiht the Father about the people he encountered, He has to bring them into the relaitonship He has with the Father because they matter to both of them!

Add to this the action of the Holy Spirit, seen in the passage from Romans. This incredible thought that the Holy Spirit intercedes for us as well, praying when we are too overwhelmed when we cannot find the words when we can’t find the words or thoughts to pray.  It is then that the Spirit is definitely interceding with and for us, with words that are inaudible, because the Spirit’s groans,, the Spirit’s pleading is beyond expression. 

That is how much the Spirit cares, how much the Spirit is in touch with our needs, with the needs of those we love, and those they love.

Prayer isn’t some empty time of waiting for an appeal to be heard and decided.  It isn’t a time to do out of a sense of obligation, either to God or to those who ask.

It is the time we have been given to walk with God, to see His heart, to realize His love for them is even deeper than ours.  THat He cares more for those we intercede for than He does for flowers and birds, and if he cares for them and makes them beautiful bow much more for us is He active, then we can relax, we can be at peace.

Such is this priceless gift of prayer, our time with God. And like the other sacramental times, we need to slow it down hear his voice. To let Him comfort our tears, to let Him still our anxious hearts, to help us realize He is with us….even when we don’t know what to pray.

He is with us…

If that is all prayer did,, was make us aware of that, it would be worth it.

Yet to realize that Jesus and the Holy Spirit are advocating for us, pleading for us, praying with us….. how that helps us… how incredible, how much more does it help us understand the heart of our incredible God who loves us!

Be at peace, the Lord is with you!

Tappert, Theodore G., ed. The Book of Concord the Confessions of the Evangelical Lutheran Church. Philadelphia: Mühlenberg Press, 1959. Print.

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

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

When You Don’t Know How to Pray: A Sermon on Romans 8

church at communion 2When You Don’t Know How to Pray

Romans 8:18-27

In Jesus Name

May you find great peace in knowing the grace and compassion that God has for you seen in the work of the Holy Spirit who intercedes for you when we are weak!

St Patrick’s dream
When I utter those words, “the Lord is with you!” what do you see?  How do you picture that? For a picture is worth all the words you can use.

While going through a period of turmoil and conflict, the great missionary pastor we call St Patrick wrote these words,

“And on another night, I know not, God knows, whether in me or near me, spoke in most eloquent language, which I heard and could not understand, except that at the end of the speech he address me this, “Who for thee laid down his life?” and so I awoke full of joy and again I saw on praying on me, and I was as it were within my body and I heard him over me, that is, over the inner man, and there he prayed fervently with groanings, and during this time I was full of astonishment and was wondering and considering who it could be that was praying in me but at the end of the prayer He declared it was The Spirit and so I awoke and remembered that the Apostle says, “The Spirit also helps us in our infirmities, for we know we should pray for as we ought, but the Spirit itself maketh intercession with groanings which cannot be uttered” that is m expressed in words, and “the Lord our advocate makes intercession for us”  (the confessions of St Patrick)

What an incredible vision!  What an incredible picture, lying there, and seeing the Holy Spirit at our side, leaning over us begging the Father to work in our lives where we truly need it!

I wish that every single one of us could have such a vision as St Patrick, could know the peace and joy that comes from seeing the Holy Spirit so involved in our lives, in caring for our heart and soul. This is what I want us to see when we hear those incredible words, “the Lord is with you!

The Holy Spirit, actually and quite actively working in our lives, comforting us, healing our souls, bringing us to the Father to be blessed, and then becoming a blessing, which impacts our families, our friends, and everyone we encounter!

It’s a challenging vision, especially when we are struggling…struggling with our lives, and if so, often struggling to trust God as well.

The need for help

We aren’t alone in that struggle.  While Paul reminds us that the struggle isn’t even in the same ballpark as to the glory of God we are invited to share in, he also reminds us that we aren’t alone.

Hear how he says it, “All creation is waiting eagerly for that future day when God will reveal who his children really are, Against its will, all creation was subjected to God’s curse, but with eager hope the creation looks forward to the day when it will join God’s children in glorious freedom from death and decay!”

Even so, he goes on to say, “we know that all creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time, and we believers also groan”

I kinda want to give an “Amen” to that last part, the part about we also groan.

It has been a week of groaning and struggling, and I needed to know the Spirit was with us

I needed to know the Spirit’s prayer would be answered, bringing us into harmony with God’s will.

We need that kind of help, that kind of intercession in life.  For along with all that God has created we struggle to the point of groaning in this life.

The struggle could be with our health or finances, with a relationship at work or in our family, the struggle could be dealing with someone in our family, or at our work, or even here at church. The struggle could because of the cumulative effect of the sin of the world, or because of someone who sinned against us, and the struggle always involves our own sin.  Remember, this passage follows Paul;s words about not doing what he should, and doing what he shouldn’t, and therefore he is a wretch!  He needed the Spirit to remind Him that Jesus died for Him, that God would restore Him.

But we groan, even as we wait for the day when death and decay lose all their power over us, when our bodies no longer struggle with sin when we no longer suffer.

The question then becomes how do we wait patiently and confidently until that day when the hope we see becomes fully ours?

We see it, it is more than hope, even so, we wait for it.

Paul talks of this in verse 24 when he says,

“We were given this hope when we were saved! If we already have something (see it as real) we don’t have to hope for it.  But if we look forward (same word as have before ) to something we don’t yet have, we must wait patiently and confidently.”

We have been saved – that is guaranteed, though we don’t see it completely. The way I think of it is like ordering something. We pay for something, and it is ours from the moment the money changed hands.  But while it is ours, it has to arrive for us to fully enjoy it.

It works that way with us, as Jesus death paid for our sins, as God “redeemed us” buying us from the debt of sin. Yet we are still “in transit” to the Father, being drawn there by Jesus, guided there by the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit is the delivery person, and we are safe in His hands until we are delivered to the seen in revelation, where with people of every language, of every culture, of every period in history we surround the throne and sing His praises.  For it is there in that room that we see God’s will revealed completely.

The people He loves gathered around Him, his people, us.  We look forward to that incredible day!

Until then….

 

Which brings us back to the vision of St Patrick.

This is how scripture describes one of the ways the Holy Spirit works in us, pleading with the Father, straining and pleading in a way that brings us into harmony with the will of God. In groans so deep, so meaningful that they are inaudible – there are just not the words.
Yet God understands and hears, and acts.

For we are His children, the ones He has invited into His glory, the ones He reveals His love to, the ones Christ died to release from sin and suffering, the one’s the Holy Spirit will sustain until we are all before the throne

AMEN!

Anyone and Everyone. A Pentecost Sermon on John 7:37-39

Anyone and Everyone

John 7:37-39

I.H.S.

 May the presence of the Holy Spirit in your life not only bring you the comfort but also may it bring the love that will flow out others and change their lives!

Quiz:

Since it is the end of the school year, I thought it would be appropriate to give you all a little quiz about Pentecost this morning.  The first is yes/no, the second is multiple choice.

Question #1  Is Pentecost only a New Testament “holy day.”

Nope, it was an Old Testament Feast, celebrating the harvest.  At this point you can see what the rest of the harvest might look like, we see it commanded in Leviticus 23:15.

Question #2  How many people did the Holy Spirit fall upon at Pentecost.

A)  120       B)  12    C) I am not sure

How many think A? B?  Anyone want to admit to C?

Well C was the right answer, and anyone who didn’t get both questions right has to stay after service for some much-needed catechesis.  Don’t know what catechesis is?  Well, it’s a lot like going to a doughnut shop with some friends and having a good discussion.  All those who got the answers right can also come.

Back to the Holy Spirit, and Pentecost, which is the reason we are here today.  If it wasn’t for the Holy Spirit, I am not sure we would be here together, and Pentecost is where the church came alive, as the Spirit falls on the people of God, creates in us faith, and transforms us into the Father’s children.  

It is a feast day where we see that anyone who believes is welcome and that everyone who believes will be given the Holy Spirit, who will flow out of their lives into a world that is incredibly thirsty and need to know they are loved.

Anyone who believes

I want you to hear the invitation that Jesus gives in the Gospel, that anyone who is thirsty can come to Him.

It doesn’t matter your age, or your whether you are male or female.  It doesn’t matter if you are 5 or 95, it doesn’t matter if you are from Indonesia, from Austria, from Guyana or even Boston.

On the first Pentecost they came from all over, religious people, people that came because of culture, we even know that some who weren’t Jewish, but simply curious about the God Jews worshiped came. Many didn’t know what they were thirsting for, like the crowd we heard about in Athens two weeks ago, but they knew they didn’t have the answers they needed in life.

They were thirsty,

Jesus goes on to talk about any that who believe in Him can not only come but that they can have that thirst quenched.

Believe in Him, not believe about him, or believe He was this or that.  Believe in Him, trust Him, depend on Him, take God at His word to be involved in your life.

That is what believing in Him is about.  As one pastor put it, the kind of belief, faith, and dependence that causes us to participate and contemplate on this incredible love.  He described it this way,

Christian contemplation ponders, reflects, gazes, and delights in the wonders and the mysteries of God active in this world “reconciling the world to himself”

Even as we know and begin to trust that Jesus loves us this much, it takes us aback, it is too incredible, to amazing, and trusting in Him causes us delight and joy, as we explore as Paul urges us to

18  you’ll be able to take in with all Christians the extravagant dimensions of Christ’s love. Reach out and experience the breadth! Test its length! Plumb the depths! Rise to the heights! 19 Live full lives, full in the fullness of God
That is what happens as God makes us His children, it is a miracle of our baptism, of our Pentecost.  It is the beginning of trusting God when He says, “I love you, let me provide and care for you,”

And when we come to know this love, it changes everything, for the Spirit has brought us to life.

Everyone will have the Spirit

Let’s go back to that second question for a moment, how many people did the Holy Spirit descend upon?  We know it was more than 3132 because it wasn’t just the men, but their family, their wives and children that were baptized that day.  And upon each of them, just as upon us, the promises of the Holy Spirit was made as sure as the water was wet.

It is what Jesus says about the Holy Spirit being poured out on us that is amazing, that from our hearts will flow the Holy Spirit. That from our hearts the love of God will pour out with the Spirit, reaching and touching those around us.

‘In the last days,’ God says, ‘I will pour out my Spirit upon all people.

Your sons and daughters will prophesy. Your young men will see visions, and your old men will dream dreams. 18 In those days I will pour out my Spirit even on my servants—men and women alike— and they will prophesy.

All this talk of prophesying, it just means speaking for God, sharing His love, sharing the message that the Spirit uses to bring others to life and faith.

A message that we all have, empowered by the Spirit we all have been given, and share with those who like us, need to know they can trust in God, that they can depend on Him, that He is with them, and with us.

This promise of the Holy Spirit being given to anyone who believes, to everyone who believes is why Jesus was born, and died, and rose. It is why Jesus when He was drawn to heaven, did what He promised and had the Spirit given to us.  The Comforter, the Paraclete, the Holy Spirit has come, and is yours, just as Jesus said.

He is here, as sure as God’s promise….

The Spirit is here, to transform our hearts, and flow from them to bring healing to this broken world.

And here in our hearts, the Comforter provides His incredible peace, and we can relax, protected by Jesus, our hearts and minds kept safe by Him.  AMEN!

God, Why Did You Allow This?

ST MARY OF PEACEDevotional Thought of the Day:
26  In the same way the Spirit also comes to help us, weak as we are. For we do not know how we ought to pray; the Spirit himself pleads with God for us in groans that words cannot express. 27  And God, who sees into our hearts, knows what the thought of the Spirit is; because the Spirit pleads with God on behalf of his people and in accordance with his will. 28  We know that in all things God works for good with those who love him, those whom he has called according to his purpose. 29  Those whom God had already chosen he also set apart to become like his Son, so that the Son would be the first among many believers. 30  And so those whom God set apart, he called; and those he called, he put right with himself, and he shared his glory with them. Romans 8:26-30 (TEV)

149         I must warn you against a ploy of satan—yes, without a capital, because he deserves no more—who tries to make use of the most ordinary circumstances, to turn us away, slightly or greatly, from the way that leads us to God. If you are struggling, and even more if you are really struggling, you should not be surprised at feeling tired or at having sometimes to “go against the grain”, without any spiritual or human consolation. See what someone wrote to me some time ago, and which I kept for those who naively consider that grace does away with nature: “Father, for a few days now I have been feeling tremendously lazy and lacking in enthusiasm for fulfilling the plan of life. I have to force myself to do everything, and I have very little taste for it. Pray for me so that this crisis may soon pass, for it makes me suffer a lot to think it could make me turn from my way.” I answered only: did you not know that Love demands sacrifice? Read the words of the Master slowly: “Whoever does not take up his Cross quotidie—every day—is not worthy of Me.” And further on: “I will not leave you orphans…” Our Lord allows that dryness of yours, which you find so hard, so that you may love Him more, so that you may trust only in Him, so that you may coredeem with the Cross, so that you may meet Him.

Though I am going to direct these thoughts along the way of St> Josemaria’s discussion of dryness, they could be applied to almost any time of struggle. 

Too often I could be the person that St Josemaria was speaking to in the discussion above.  Too many times I have been struggling, and don’t have the “enthusiasm for fulfilling the plan of life”, that is working to do His will, to see this world reconciled to Him.  I recognize the need to force myself to do the things I love.  Part of the struggle is that I feel like I am trying to bail the water out of the Titanic, hundreds of feet under the ocean. Part of it is that for every trauma where people know God’s peace, three more arrive.  The work seems unending and overwhelming, and my emotional and spiritual batteries drain too fast…

Then I come across Romans 8, and wonder how in the world these times of struggle fit into the promise of God.  How can times where my faith wanders, where I feel so weary and dried out, burnt out, and where God seems silent, how can these times actually work for good?

Or is it that I am not one of those to whom this promise was made? (Yes, I’ve thought that even as I try to make sure others know they are…. and I bet I am not the only one!)

That’s why I included more than verse 28 in the quote from Romans.  We know that verse so well, but we fail to see the context is in the midst of a time of weakness, a time of brokenness, a time where even the Holy Spirit groans out in intercession, for the brokenness we endure is great.

But that prayer of the Spirit, that prayer the Holy Spirit interprets and pleads on our behalf with the Father is heard.  The Spirit ensures the connection to God’s heart is there, a connection we need to realize is there.

The context also discusses God putting us to right with Him, indeed, as Josemaria tells us, sometimes these moments are necessary so that we realize the connection is viable, that God is caring. That He is here.

I would never say God causes these struggles, these moments when we don’t know what to even say in our prayers, but I do know how He uses them.  It is just as Josemaria says, that there I can find the depth of His love, the unlimited faithfulness that sustains me.  As well, it from those depths that I find my desire to help people find God as well, that they can find the peace, that they can know He is there.  ( I only pray they don’t have to follow as far in my steps before they realize it.)   That is how amazing this is, that is how I’ve come to know to trust Him, and even though I don’t like the periods of dryness and despair, I have come to appreciate them, and even (grudgingly at first) embrace them.

For I know He is with me, and with us, and that is not just enough, it is incredibly glorious!  AMEN!

 

 

Escriva, Josemaria. Furrow (Kindle Locations 822-833). Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition.

A Forgotten Prayer? A forgotten desire?

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERADevotional Thought of the Day:
10  Create a pure heart in me, O God, and put a new and loyal spirit in me. 11  Do not banish me from your presence; do not take your holy spirit away from me. 12  Give me again the joy that comes from your salvation, and make me willing to obey you.
Psalm 51:10-12 (TEV)

326      Invoke the Holy Spirit in your examination of conscience so that you may get to know God better, and yourself also. In this way, you will be converted each day.

71 The old man therefore follows unchecked the inclinations of his nature if he is not restrained and suppressed by the power of Baptism. On the other hand, when we become Christians, the old man daily decreases until he is finally destroyed. This is what it means to plunge into Baptism and daily come forth again.

The words sound familiar, they have been part of the liturgy for centuries,  They were sung over and over in the 80’s and 90’s, as they were one of the beloved praise songs.

Yet I wonder if we’ve forgotten the words, forgotten the consuming desire to be holy. We’ve forgotten the fear and the wonder which comes from finding ourselves on Holy Ground.  

We need an outpouring of the Holy Spirit, not just so we can see miracles and manifestations that are supernatural, but because we need the Holy Spirit to make us Holy, to cut away the shame, the grief, the hatred, the anger to remove from our hearts the sin that so easily oppresses us and robs us of life.

This isn’t something that happens in the theological classroom, it happens in the midst of brokenness, as we realize that without the Holy Spirit’s intervention we are hopeless.  It is the cry of a heart weary from injustice, from the weakness of our heart in regards to temptation.  

It is both a cry of despair and a cry of that keenest faith.  Despair because we realize what we’ve let fade away, and faith, because we know, to see our hope and joy restored.

The church needs this, each one of us who calls themselves a Christian, a follower of Christ needs this,  More than just a quick prayer at the beginning of our services, or after a sermon that tugs on our heart strings.  Escriva and Luther tie this into the work of the Holy Spirit, the promise of our Baptism (also see Titus 3:2-8), a work that goes on every day of our lives.

That is critical to know and understand – this work of transformation isn’t a simple snap of a finger, although the promises are ours.  This is why Paul tells us to strive, to work out our salvation, why Peter warns us to be on guard because the Devil is wandering about trying to find someone to devour.

Even as I write this blog, names and faces come to mind, people who need to see the Spirit working in their life, bringing them to the point where they are cleansed, where they are healed of their brokenness, where they are comforted because the Holy Spirit is at work, overcoming their sin.

SO let us pray, asking God to renew our hearts, asking Him to cleanse us, asking Him to remind us of His presence.

And let us rejoice in our salvation!


Escriva, Josemaria. The Forge (Kindle Locations 1296-1297). Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition.

Tappert, Theodore G., ed. The Book of Concord the Confessions of the Evangelical Lutheran Church. Philadelphia: Mühlenberg Press, 1959. Print.  LARGE CATECHISM 

We had One Job….

clydes-cross-2Devotional Thought of the Day:
49 One of them, named Caiaphas, who was High Priest that year, said, “What fools you are! 50 Don’t you realize that it is better for you to let one man die for the people, instead of having the whole nation destroyed?” 51Actually, he did not say this of his own accord; rather, as he was High Priest that year, he was prophesying that Jesus was going to die for the Jewish people, 52and not only for them, but also to bring together into one body all the scattered people of God.  John 11:49-52

9 Without boasting, it is manifest that the Mass is observed among us with greater devotion and more earnestness than among our opponents.
7 Moreover, the people are instructed often and with great diligence concerning the holy sacrament, why it was instituted, and how it is to be used (namely, as a comfort for terrified consciences) in order that the people may be drawn to the Communion and Mass. The people are also given instruction about other false teachings concerning the sacrament.
2 Meanwhile no conspicuous changes have been made in the public ceremonies of the Mass, except that in certain places German hymns are sung in addition to the Latin responses for the instruction and exercise of the people.
3 After all, the chief purpose of all ceremonies is to teach the people what they need to know about Christ. (1)

Today Jesus might, at first glance, appear to be boring and not so exciting, but in him are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and charity, all the richness of love, faith and hope.

In the words of Caiaphas, I find some hope this morning.

He didn’t realize what he was doing, and yet, he pointed tho the cross of Christ, and our need for the death of Christ Jesus. He pointed to Jesus, who would die for all of us, to bring us together in one body, all of us scattered across the world, all of us scattered across time, all of us scattered across 42,000 denominations.

Sometimes we who preach and teach, are more like Caiaphas that we want to admit.  We intended something else, and the Holy Spirit made it work just like it did with Caiaphas. We speak of Christ, we teach people what they need to know about Christ.   They are drawn to the sacraments, they find in them the comfort and peace the world and their sin doesn’t offer.

We had one job, and our desire to astound people with knowledge, or convince them of our political position, our pragmatic superiority of mission,  or even to give them a “lutheran (insert your own denominational/non-denominational tag) identity” twists the message, and imparts something extra.  Something different that what should come out of our mouth did.

And we rejoice in God working, not at all realizing that we had one job, and only one, and we screwed it up.

We didn’t give them Jesus, that wasn’t our intent.

He came to them anyway!  While we were patting ourselves on the back, praising each other for the job we did, and celebrating as if our sermon or blog, our podcast or summit was all our work.

Like Caiaphas, the Holy Spirit worked through us, and we didn’t see it, and let’s be honest, we might not have heard it.

This is one lesson that is taught over and over as I teach people about ministry.  It is found in the section from the Augsburg Confession above.  I bastardize it a little, changing the word on occasion to ministry, or pastoral care, or even life. And I change the word teach to the word give, so it ends up as,

The chief purpose of all ministry, all life, is to give/teach people what they need to know about Jesus.

There is our job, whether we are a pastor, a priest, someone who facilitates the response of people to God’s love (what we call worship leaders) or someone having coffee with a friend. They need to know Jesus, heck we need to know Him, and giving/teaching others about Him answers that need.

This is orthodoxy at its best – worshipping and giving glory to God for what He’s really done.  What Pope Francis says, finding in him the treasures of charity and wisdom, the incredible love, faith, and hope.

That’s what we need…. that’s what we need to know about Jesus. More than anything.

We don’t have to be like Caiaphas, we can remind each other, encourage each other, pray for each other, and correct each other when we needed.  All to accomplish our one job….

To give all people what they need to know about Jesus.

That He answers our prayer, “Lord, have mercy on us sinners”, by coming to us, cleansing us, and the Lord is with us!  AMEN!

 

 

 

Tappert, Theodore G., ed. The Book of Concord the Confessions of the Evangelical Lutheran Church. Philadelphia: Mühlenberg Press, 1959. Print.
Pope Francis. A Year with Pope Francis: Daily Reflections from His Writings. Ed. Alberto Rossa. New York; Mahwah, NJ; Toronto, ON: Paulist Press; Novalis, 2013. Print.

Am I Appreciated? Are You? Does it Matter if We Aren’t?

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERADevotional Thought of the Day:

1  “Make certain you do not perform your religious duties in public so that people will see what you do. If you do these things publicly, you will not have any reward from your Father in heaven. 2  “So when you give something to a needy person, do not make a big show of it, as the hypocrites do in the houses of worship and on the streets. They do it so that people will praise them. I assure you, they have already been paid in full. 3  But when you help a needy person, do it in such a way that even your closest friend will not know about it. 4  Then it will be a private matter. And your Father, who sees what you do in private, will reward you.   Matthew 6:1-4 (TEV)

693    It hurt you not to have been thanked for that favor. Answer me these two questions: Are you so grateful toward Christ Jesus? Did you really do that favor in the hope of being thanked for it on earth?

There is a part of us that cries out to be appreciated.

To hear someone say “thank you” seems only right, and when the thank you isn’t given, we are disappointed, even hurt.  We may wonder about their manners, question how they were raised, even harbor a bit of resentment that our hard work and sacrifice was taken for granted, even ignored.

Examining our own expectation of that “thank you” never enters our mind, does it? Do we question our desire to hear that thank you?  Or wonder if that announcement of appreciation was our motivation?   Or why its lack would cause us to be bitter and resentful?

Or as the eminent theologian Jack Sparrow was noted to say, “The problem isn’t the problem.  Your attitude about the problem is the problem.”

I think St Josemaria has an interesting point here.  Are we as appreciative for what God has done for us, as we expect others to be for what we do for them?   I am not asking this to create a guilt trip, precisely the opposite.

You see, our acts we want noticed and appreciated are actually how we show our appreciation for the work God has done for us.  This life we live, is the fulfillment of Ephesians 2:10.  What we want to be appreciated is the very life God planned out for us, as we’ve been recreated in Christ Jesus….a life lived in appreciation of His love.

I think as we realize this, then the appreciation of man becomes something that is nice, but not a need.  The “thank you’s” are nice, but their lack becomes less noticed, as our actions become more something we are in awe of, as we realize they are done because of the Holy Spirit….. something that is holy and not our norm.

God is working in us!  God is using us to bless others!  What an amazing thing!

He has given us a place in life, and it is making a difference in others lives!  And so our attitude changes a bit, and we begin to understand what Jesus said in Luke,

10  It is the same with you; when you have done all you have been told to do, say, ‘We are ordinary servants; we have only done our duty.’ “
Luke 17:10 (TEV)

What happens then, is we desire that He be praised, that He be appreciated, that He be loved… and when that happens… we are content… and thankful for the opportunity.

Praise be to our Lord!…. and thanks for reading this!

 

Escriva, Josemaria. The Way (Kindle Locations 1616-1617). Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition.

 

Breathe on Me, Breath of God

Breathe on Me, Breath of God
2 Timothy 3:14-4:5

I.H.S.†

May the grace of God our Father and our Lord Jesus Christ, breathed out into you as the scriptures are read, remind you that you dwell in His peace!

 A Cute and False Statement about the Bible

Maybe 20 years ago I started seeing bumper stickers and tee-shirts with one of those cute Christian slogans on it.  The slogan is pretty popular, and somewhat cute, but it is wrong, and spiritually, it is not just false, it is deadly.

Basic
Instructions

Before
Leaving
Earth.

It is wrong because it reduces the exhaled words of God into a rule book, a guide by which we could live the perfect life.

Yet many of us, including me, have used the inaccurate acronym a time or two, not thinking that it could lead people to frustration, and turn them into either hypocrites, or worse, causing them to give up on the church.

First – if you look at it as a rule book, a guidebook, it is anything but “basic”.

I mean the Old Covenants has over 613 commandments, – that doesn’t sound, “basic”.

And the summary found in the New Covenant – Love God with every part of you – heart, soul, mind and body, and to love your neighbor, not the one you like, but the other one, as you love yourself.

Does that sound like easy, simple instructions?

And do you think you can achieve that level of maturity prior to leaving earth?

So I think we need to understand what it means that God gave us His word, and what He makes it useful for.

What Paul sees as an urgent need

In the second paragraph, Paul urges Timothy and all who read this letter to announce, to proclaim, to teach others the word of God. To bear witness to it, because of the hope it gives to those who will hear it.

He is insistent on it, he urges us to do so because the need to hear it is urgent.  We don’t urge people to do something that is common and simple.  We urge them to do something that is critical, that is needed.

And he urges us to be ready, whether it is convenient or not, even when it requires us to patiently correct people, to even rebuke them, and to encourage them with our teaching.

Not easy tasks, but ones we are urged to do, because this is why we have scripture, and it will make a difference in their life, and ours,

A difference that God wants to bring about urgently.

Because He loves us, and He wants us with Him, to know His love, to share in His glory.

By “us” I mean us all!

All, no matter what language we speak, no matter where we were born, our what languages we speak, or what political candidate we support or criticize.

God would have them hear of His love, and Paul reminds us of this and urges us to do it, for these are people Jesus died to save.

What scripture does – Gives specific wisdom

This is the message of scripture, the message that Timothy learned, the lesson that made him wise, and that wisdom was for a purpose –

to be saved.

Saved from, but more importantly saved into a relationship where we can believe in, trust, and depend on Jesus Christ.

This is what scripture teaches that we are to remain faithful to, the very things that were passed on to us, and o which we pass on to the next generations, even if it means we suffer in order to do it.

This isn’t basic, and it isn’t just some instructions – as if you have to assemble it.

It is revelation, an unveiling of reality, that affects our lives here and now, and from this point forward into all of eternity.  The Holy Spirit uses these God-breathed words to breath life into us, to give us faith.

This salvation is worth it, this being brought into the presence of God is that amazing.

Not just to be cleansed of all sin and shame
Not just to be freed from all guilt and resentment
To know we are loved
To know we will spend all eternity with our beloved Lord and Savior.
And that is guaranteed by the presence of the Holy Spirit, our comforter.

This is what scripture teaches us, this is what we rejoice in, this is the life which God reveals to us, as He breathed out the scriptures, and they breathed life into us.

This is where we remain faithful, depending on these promises.  This is where we stand, whether it is convenient or inconvenient, whether we prosper or suffer.
For in Him, we have found a peace that is beyond all understanding, and we are  guarded, our hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.

AMEN!

The Context and Measure of Holiness

Devotional Thought of the Day:
38 *“You have heard that it was said,x ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’ 39 yBut I say to you, offer no resistance to one who is evil. When someone strikes you on [your] right cheek, turn the other one to him as well. 40 If anyone wants to go to law with you over your tunic, hand him your cloak as well. 41 Should anyone press you into service for one mile,* go with him for two miles.z 42 Give to the one who asks of you, and do not turn your back on one who wants to borrow.a
Love of Enemies.* 43 b“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’c 44 But I say to you, love your enemies, and pray for those who persecute you, 45 that you may be children of your heavenly Father, for he makes his sun rise on the bad and the good, and causes rain to fall on the just and the unjust. 46 For if you love those who love you, what recompense will you have? Do not the tax collectors* do the same? 47 And if you greet your brothers only, what is unusual about that? Do not the pagans do the same?* 48 So be perfect,* just as your heavenly Father is perfect. NABRE – Matt 5:38-48

24. Yet man must respond to God Who calls, and that in such a way, that without taking counsel with flesh and blood (Gal. 1:16), he devotes himself wholly to the work of the Gospel. This response, however can only be given when the Holy Spirit gives His inspiration and His power. For he who is sent enters upon the life and mission of Him Who “emptied Himself, taking the nature of a slave” (Phil. 2:7). Therefore, he must be ready to stay at his vocation for an entire lifetime, and to renounce himself and all those whom he thus far considered as his own, and instead to “make himself all things to all men” (1 Cor. 9:22)

This Christ calls all sinners to himself and promises them refreshment. He earnestly desires that all men should come to him and let themselves be helped  (2)

I have heard many people define holiness over the years.  Some confuse it with purity, a lack of sinlessness and being completely remote from the world.  But those who promote this view do not know how to deal with Jesus eating with whores and tax collectors, filthy sinners and fisherman.

Others would discuss holiness in view of martyrdom, the peaceful testimony of Christ in the presence of persecution and death. But most of us will only be inconvenienced because of our faith; if that is the real reason for people taking a dislike to us.

Others will look upon great acts, the work of those who are steadfast in the faith, who have this or that gift, who spend hours locked away in prayer, or tending to the poor and needy.  As if holiness is some kind of heroic virtue, instead of a life we are called to live.

The last group treats holiness with little concern at all, saying in reaction to those above, that holiness is a virtual impossibility, that no one can attain holiness, that it is impossible by our own strength or power, and that God doesn’t really care, as long as we depend on Him to forgive our lack of holiness.

This last view is the most dangerous.  It steals from us our hope in this life, and it convinces us that how we live, what salvation is about, isn’t living dependent upon God. It denies, faith, hope, and love. And it justifies our self-centeredness, our Machiavellian-inspired theology and practice, and our apathy towards evangelism and service.

In one of the greatest calls to holiness – in the Gospel reading above, Jesus tells us we need to be perfect, (other translations use “holy” here ) even as God is perfect and holy.

It is not an impossibility.  If so, Jesus wouldn’t have commanded it, nor would the Father hold us to that standard.

The context provides the measurement of such holiness as well, the love   The love of our enemies, and the love of those who you aren’t connected to, recognizing the fact that in Christ Jesus you are connected.

Those who would do evil to you, those who would demand more than is their “right” of you, those who you would say are your enemies.

Holiness is loving them.

Holiness is caring for them.

Vatican II notes this with the call to work in the vocation of the gospel – without thought or cost – even if it means a lifetime of service. It means living this way at the cost of renouncing yourself, or the people who are “yours”, serving instead “all men”, yes, including those aren’t “ours”

That they aren’t our religion, our countrymen, out ethnicity, our race, our culture, our family, or our friends; even so, we are to love them as if they are!  We are to love them because they are.

This is having the attitude of Jesus, the attitude Philippians 2 tells us to have – as described in the great hymn that we love in verses 5-10.  The preceding verses tell us we are to have this mind, this attitude, this same servant’s heart, and love those who are different from us.

NO option.  This is what the people of God are to do.

By now – you are tempted to stop reading this – to write me off as naive, or pelagian, or some kind of fanatic.  A blogger who obviously is so heavenly minded he can’t be of benefit.

We think we aren’t capable of that kind of holiness.  We cannot possibly love like that, can we?  Can we actually care more about our enemies and adversaries as much as those like us?  Can God expect us to love our enemies and lay down our lives for them?   WOuld any many?

Well, any man not nailed to a cross and who rose again three days later?

If we say we cannot,  we miss the work of God.  For He calls us, inspires us, and empowers us.  This si the refreshment and help that the Lutheran Confessions describe as well, ad walking with God that is daily and practical, and incredibly effective.  I

Holiness isn’t walking alone, it is walking with God, moving with Him.  Loving as He loves, serving as He serves, bringing healing and trust as He brings it to us.  Such is our calling, and such is our life

AMEN.

(1)  Catholic Church. (2011). Decree on the Mission Activity of the Church: Ad Gentes. In Vatican II Documents. Vatican City: Libreria Editrice Vaticana.

(2)  Tappert, T. G. (Ed.). (1959). The Book of Concord the confessions of the Evangelical Lutheran Church. (p. 495). Philadelphia: Mühlenberg Press.

The Christian and the Problem of Sin…and Hope

Discussion thought of the Day:

15  I do not understand what I do; for I don’t do what I would like to do, but instead I do what I hate. 16  Since what I do is what I don’t want to do, this shows that I agree that the Law is right. 17  So I am not really the one who does this thing; rather it is the sin that lives in me. 18  I know that good does not live in me—that is, in my human nature. For even though the desire to do good is in me, I am not able to do it. 19  I don’t do the good I want to do; instead, I do the evil that I do not want to do. 20  If I do what I don’t want to do, this means that I am no longer the one who does it; instead, it is the sin that lives in me.
Romans 7:15-20 (TEV)

11  In union with Christ you were circumcised, not with the circumcision that is made by human beings, but with the circumcision made by Christ, which consists of being freed from the power of this sinful self. 12  For when you were baptized, you were buried with Christ, and in baptism you were also raised with Christ through your faith in the active power of God, who raised him from death. 13  You were at one time spiritually dead because of your sins and because you were Gentiles without the Law. But God has now brought you to life with Christ. God forgave us all our sins;
Colossians 2:11-13 (TEV)

7  But if we live in the light—just as he is in the light—then we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus, his Son, purifies us from every sin. 8  If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and there is no truth in us. 9  But if we confess our sins to God, he will keep his promise and do what is right: he will forgive us our sins and purify us from all our wrongdoing. 10  If we say that we have not sinned, we make a liar out of God, and his word is not in us.
1 John 1:7-10 (TEV)

The problem of sin is one that has stalked mankind since the beginning.  

We may try to hide it, sure that people won’t see through our careful concealment, our spiritual camouflage.  We may deny it, or let it rip our souls to shreds. It is there, lurking, stalking us.

As pastors, we see its effect in our people, as they struggle with every aspect of life, from work to marriage to raising their children. I’ve watched it nearly destroy a church, and I know it has destroyed churches and even denominations. We’ve watched it destroy our brothers in ministry, and yes, we know its dark powers all too well.

Yes, sin is a problem in the church, and being a real church means we try to deal with it. We can’t really hide it, denying it and the bondage it puts people in is.. well asinine in that we are committing people to hell on earth, and hell eternal.  We cannot camouflage it and hope it blends into the background. For in all of those options we see the warning of John, indicating that we make God a liar. 

So how does a Christian, whom we teach has been cleansed of sin in baptism (see Ezekiel 36:25ff, Titus 3:2-8, 1 Peter 3, Romans 6 and Colossians 2) struggle with the fact that they still sin? How do we find comfort knowing t  How do we find comfort in the wrongdoing that has been done to us as well, that we will fall prey to Satan and commit a sin, or two, or twenty?  For sin and unrighteousness paralyzes us, it inhibits our faith, especially when Satan tries to convince us the pain is real.

Note:  When talking about sin and wrongdoing, it is important to note that the sin is our wrongdoing, and the wrongdoing John mentions is the wrongdoing, the sin done to us.  When we are declared righteous, when we are purified – both are dealt with.  Yet there is a struggle.  For we don’t always see this done and we live with the pain of sin.

In talking this over with a  friend, and thinking through the passages above, and of note the underlined sections, I came up with an analogy. 

I had a friend who lost a leg, and he often talked of (he never complained) of phantom feelings in his missing limb.  Sometimes it felt like it was asleep, or it itched, or it even caused him great pain as it felt like it was cramping.   The feelings were not “imagined”, they were documentable and real. Sensory nerves were firing, motor nerves were wanting to direct movement.  The brain registered it all.

The symptoms were real, the effects on the body were real, the source?  It wasn’t real. It was cut off completely, removed, and thoroughly as something is removed in a circumcision.  This paradox defies explanation. 

Spiritually, the paradox is much the same.  It may seem like sin controls us, the actions, the results appear much the same as they did before our “circumcision.”(  I love Ezekiel 36 on this – as the Spirit removes our stone dead heart and replaces it with one living, and home to the Spirit)  That sinful nature died on the cross – that is God’s promise.  Surely our sin was forgiven, and the sin of the world was stripped away from us, as if God somehow combined a brillo pad with ivory soap… and could scrub us, without damaging us.

So why does it still feel like we can’t stop sinning?  Why is there despair that is so deep, and so powerful that it could be labeled a black hole?

It’s that paradox again – the phantom power of sin, the illusions that the demonic can try to cast.  Yes we still sin, yes we still don’t do what we should and do what we shouldn’t.  Yes, there are days we feel like a wretch, and our ability to condemn ourselves will run high. Where we wonder if there is hope, if we will ever be righteous and holy and good.

It is then we have to realize the power of spiritual circumcision – that the sin we are battling is the cause of the sin. (this is NOT and should never be an excuse) The way to defeat it is to go and confess, and hear God has forgiven us, to hear that He has healed us. That He has purified us. That He has cut away this sin, and though we feel its effects, its pain, it itching… it isn’t us.

We live in Him. 

Dealing with the phantom pain then becomes realizing how real it is, and isn’t, and running to the one who confirms it isn’t, and letting His promise mean more than our struggle. To trust Him, to depend upon Him, to let Him support us, even as we walk through life, missing that which would have destroyed us, but for His action, His love.

This is our life… in Chirst.

Knowing He has had mercy, even as we cry out fo it!

God’s peace to you, forgiven child!

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