Devotional Thought for the Day:
14 “You are the light of the world—like a city on a hilltop that cannot be hidden. 15 No one lights a lamp and then puts it under a basket. Instead, a lamp is placed on a stand, where it gives light to everyone in the house. 16 In the same way, let your good deeds shine out for all to see, so that everyone will praise your heavenly Father. Matthew 5:14-16 (NLT)
For, taken as a whole, atheism is not a spontaneous development but stems from a variety of causes, including a critical reaction against religious beliefs, and in some places against the Christian religion in particular. Hence believers can have more than a little to do with the birth of atheism. To the extent that they neglect their own training in the faith, or teach erroneous doctrine, or are deficient in their religious, moral or social life, they must be said to conceal rather than reveal the authentic face of God and religion. (1)
God must become a reality for us, too, must be more real to us—no! not just more real—than the things we can grasp, so that to please God can become for us a criterion that is also a final liberation from the question of success. (2)
As I read the words in blue this morning, I thought fo the articles and books I have read about post-modernism and the utter contempt in which some Christians hold those who claim to be atheist or agnostic. I thought about the memes and quips and quotes which mock and condescendingly treat those whose struggle with God is not so different from our own.
Fifty-one years ago, or perhaps a little more, the leaders of the Roman Catholic Church made a brutally honest statement about atheism.
They took responsibility for it, or perhaps, they noted that the Church has a hand, a responsibility for its origin. For how could a religion (and atheism and agnosticism are informal religions develop counter to some other religion, if that religion wasn’t there?
The Catholic Church was brutal in its honesty, as we in other branches of the one, holy, catholic and apostolic church should be. We haven’t lived dependent upon God, and therefore our actions, our sin, our hypocrisy has so hurt and broken people that they rebel against God. They strike out at Him, actively or simply by dismissing Him as a myth, and if we are honest, we know that we bear some responsibility for that.
Maybe it was the pastor who treated a young sinner without giving him any hope of mercy, or people who turned their back on the young pregnant mom. Maybe it was the elders or deacons who overlooked their friend’s abusive nature; and they didn’t rush to help his oppressed family. ( Joe after all, was a good guy, don’t you know?) Or maybe it was the Sunday school teacher, or confirmation instructor, who turned a deaf ear to questions that really mattered, that plagued the person they were instructing.
To be honest, as I think about such stories, I wonder why more people aren’t atheists, and more people are sure they can’t know whether God exists.
Even as I write this, I want you to be sure – if you were the person whose actions drove someone away from God, there is no time like the present to ask God to forgive you, assured of the forgiveness guaranteed at the cross. Maybe consider, if you can still contact the person, that you ask their forgiveness as well. You would be surprised what and attempt at reconciliation does for healing wounds of the past, theirs and yours.
But for the future, how does the church stop creating atheists? How do we stop de-churching those, as we have done in the past?
The obvious answer is seen in those verses above in red, to let the love of God shine through us. Our light not being our skills, or incredible personality or personal stardom, but the simple love that reaches out and serves. Whether it is greeting someone and asking how they are really doing, and humbly walking beside them in their pain, or praying for them, or helping them in any other of a myriad of ways.
In short, loving them as you love yourself, caring for them as you would desire others, as you would need others to care for you. That is easy to say, and how do we do it?
At Vatican II there was a young scholar who would become Pope Benedict. His words in blue pretty much sum up how we become a light, and how we see that it is never snuffed out.
Know God is with you, realize how real He is! With Paul, oh I desire that you would explore the height and depth, the breadth and width of God’s love for you, revealed in Jesus. His teachings, His miracles, His death, His resurrection, everything from HIs work in Creating this word to dying for it, till the day of Judgement is to communicate this love, this incredible, real, life-transforming, cleansing love.
And when we are realizing that love when our hearts and minds are finding rest as we look to Christ, we shine with His glory, the glory they will praise Him for, as they to are drawn into it.
This isn’t rocket science, it is simply worship in spirit and truth.
So go look to Christ, ask Him to be merciful and be in awe as He answers that more profoundly than you would even have thought possible.
He loves you. And through you, he would call His children home.
(So stop treating them as outsiders, and welcome them!)
(1) Catholic Church. “Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World: Gaudium Et Spes.” Vatican II Documents. Vatican City: Libreria Editrice Vaticana, 2011. Print.
(2) Ratzinger, Joseph. Co-Workers of the Truth: Meditations for Every Day of the Year. Ed. Irene Grassl. Trans. Mary Frances McCarthy and Lothar Krauth. San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1992. Print.
Devotional Thought of the Day:
11 No! I can’t be quiet! I am angry and bitter. I have to speak. 12 Why do you keep me under guard? Do you think I am a sea monster? 13 I lie down and try to rest; I look for relief from my pain. 14 But you—you terrify me with dreams; you send me visions and nightmares 15 until I would rather be strangled than live in this miserable body. 16 I give up; I am tired of living. Leave me alone. My life makes no sense. 17 Why are people so important to you? Why pay attention to what they do? 18 You inspect them every morning and test them every minute. 19 Won’t you look away long enough for me to swallow my spit? 20 Are you harmed by my sin, you jailer? Why use me for your target practice? Am I so great a burden to you? 21 Can’t you ever forgive my sin? Can’t you pardon the wrong I do? Soon I will be in my grave, and I’ll be gone when you look for me. Job 7:11-21 (TEV)
For I bore about a shattered and bleeding soul, impatient of being borne by me, yet where to repose it, I found not. Not in calm groves, not in games and music, nor in fragrant spots, nor in curious banquetings, nor in the pleasures of the bed and the couch; nor (finally) in books or poesy, found it repose. All things looked ghastly, yea, the very light; whatsoever was not what he was, was revolting and hateful, except groaning and tears. For in those alone found I a little refreshment. But when my soul was withdrawn from them a huge load of misery weighed me down. To Thee, O Lord, it ought to have been raised, for Thee to lighten; I knew it; but neither could nor would; the more, since, when I thought of Thee, Thou wert not to me any solid or substantial thing. For Thou wert not Thyself, but a mere phantom, and my error was my God. (1)
Yesterday’s sermon was on the slaughtering of the innocents, and the despair of Israel as the children were led away into captivity. An odd way to begin the year, I thought. I included statistics that were overwhelming, the number of martyrs, both those who died without denying Jesus, and the number of lives cut short before their
It’s enough to make you stagger, to bluntly reveal our brokenness, to tear our hearts apart by simply being honest. Even those who helplessly look on are devastated and struggle to find God, and even more, we often push away the comfort He would give us.
Often times, we are too polite, to bound by a sense of hospitality, to address these things. We want to shove the pain into some dark corner or our soul We are afraid to be honest with God, to openly cry about the pain, to admit the anger, to let ourselves be purged of our bitterness.
Augustine tried to find such solace, he couldn’t escape the pain. Neither could Job. But it is as they confess this, as they struggle with the god they cannot see, that they cannot fathom, that hope begins.
I understand them, perhaps all too well. When I am at such points, overwhelmed, I want to run and hide. To find solace in a place like Lake Ossipee, NH. To dive into the fictional works I love, of earlier times in history, or the worlds of Tolkien or Feist. I long to be someplace other. To replace prayer with the study of theology, to replace the sacred times, the sacramental life with busyness serving others. Ministry can be a great place to hide in the illusion of self-preservation known as denial.
David knows this grief, as did Solomon. the emptiness, the lack of the peace we pursue. You can’t read the Psalms without noting it, or Ecclesiastes without finding the bitter pain of a life that seemed only to be defined by vanity.
It is in facing that vanity, that lack of peace, that emptiness that we can realize our need for God. That we can understand what faith is, that we can understand how intimate the relationship is, where God teaches us to desire and pray to see His Kingdom come and will be done.
Stop running, cry out with your soul until you can be still. For then you will know that He is God, know He is here, and that He is your refuge. For being still is not possible until we deal with the pain that would have us fight or flee. It is then, broken, wounded, weeping, that we come to the cross, and indying to ourselves, we find Him.
There, at the cross, worn out and weary beyond measure, you will be still; ou will find what Agustine and Job, David and Solomon all found, and what transformed them. A God who comes to us… and brings healing and peace.
Augustine, S., Bishop of Hippo. (1996). The Confessions of St. Augustine. (E. B. Pusey, Trans.). Oak Harbor, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc.
Devotional Thought of the Day:
7 LORD, you have deceived me, and I was deceived! You are stronger than I am, and you have overpowered me. Everyone makes fun of me; they laugh at me all day long. Jeremiah 20:7 (TEV)
It’s been one of those years when things that aren’t supposed to happen do happen. When I’ve had to help more people pick up the broken pieces of their life, and plead with God to put them back together.
When I’ve seen other friends, turn their back on God, and choose their way to go, encouraged by those around them. When those entrusted with responsibility become Machiavellian in the work, and then justify it. I am not just talking about the secular world, I see it in the church as well.
It is almost enough for me to change from being cynical to being a pessimist. It is enough for me to despair, and even go through something akin to depression.
But it is there, almost consumed by darkness, that I remember the brutal honesty of Jeremiah. His ability to speak honestly with God, even to admit he was ticked at God and felt betrayed by Him, even deceived by Him.
To many people I hear today, acting as if life is perfect as if there is no brokenness as if everyone can achieve everything they want to, simply by only speaking positively. If life was such, why would they need to be encouraged to adjust their attitude, to only speak positively as if the challenges of life were not there?
Jeremiah is speaking positively when he rails against God when the prophet admits he is tired when he admits that he doesn’t like the suffering, the pain, the life he has to live. He doesn’t hide this stuff, bury it deeply, ignore it and cover it with nice notes of encouragement.
He wrestles with God, like a true son of Jacob; the man renamed Israel
I was blessed to work with a pastor named Robert Schuller a few times. Let me rephrase, I didn’t work alongside him, but in a series of courses, he taught me a few things about preaching, along with his trusted associates. He’s known for a positive message, perhaps along with Norman Vincent Peale to be one of the father’s of positive thinking, at least in the Christian realm. One of the bits of confusion is the allegation that he was a name-it, claim-it type guy. Not so much. The stories he would tell of people’s encounters with God’s grace always included the challenge God would get them through, the scars that God would use to bless them and others, the pains that resulted in gains.
An attitude that didn’t dismiss the brokenness, but freely admitted it, but also entrusted one’s self to God. Something that can only be done when we are as honest as Jeremiah was, as we admit out frailty, our pain, our honest feelings, and let our Heavenly Father comfort us. It is when we are honest, we see how overwhelming His mercy is, how compassionate His love is, as it reaches out and begins to heal us.
I have to admit, I don’t like what God somehow allows. I tell Him that, sometimes as bluntly as Jeremiah.
but then, eventually, my tantrum subsiding, I realize what Jeremiah does, just a couple of verses later…
9 But when I say, “I will forget the LORD and no longer speak in his name,” then your message is like a fire burning deep within me. I try my best to hold it in, but can no longer keep it back. Jeremiah 20:9 (TEV)
His message of mercy, His message of love, is that deep.
I can’t shut it even… even when I feel bruised and broken, or when I am tired of trying to help those who are.
for I know His presence, I know His mercy, and I trust in the compassion of our Father, who sent Jesus to die, to make life just and right…. and a blessing.
Cry our, Lord, have mercy! You will see that He does… in more ways than we can count.
Comfort your People
† IHS †
May you know the comfort of the grace poured out upon you by God our Father, and the Lord Jesus Christ!
Can We Be Honest?
Advent is a time for honesty. Brutal honesty.
Because without it, we can’t hear the Voice that cries out of Isaiah the words we heard tonight.
Comfort, comfort MY people….
The honesty requires us to realize, that if we are the people of God, we are the people that the Voice is talking about. We are the ones who need comfort, who need peace.
But will we recognize it?
Do we realize we need Jesus to reveal Himself, just as the shepherds in the field did? Just as the wise men from what is now Iraq did? As much as the people Isaiah prophesied to, the people of God who were about were in slavery and bondage, far away from their home, yet living in view of a promise that would care for them.
They needed the comfort, the tender care, the chance to return to full health.
Advent is about realizing we need it as badly as they need it. Mankind lives in the same desperation, we have the same need for God’s rescue from darkness…
We need to hear this cry, this prayer that God would bring comfort to all of His people. Those who know they are His people, those who don’t know it… yet.
We aren’t lost…we aren’t broken
Even as we hear the prayer for comfort, we hear the why that comfort is needed.
Clear the way through the wilderness for the Lord!
Make a straight highway through the wasteland for our God!
4 Fill in the valleys, and level the mountains and hills!
Straighten the curves, and smooth out the rough places!
These cries of desperation will be repeated as Jesus begins His ministry, as Jesus begins this work. We need to hear that – as He begins His work.
You see most of us spiritually are in the same place where the average man is, when he keeps refusing to stop for directions, when he denies he needs a GPS, when everyone else knows he is lost, and has no clue where or when to turn next. We deny the need for help, we’ve never gotten lost before. It’s funny when you get lost in Oaklahoma, it’s not so funny when you get lost in combat zones of the inner city.
We aren’t just lost though. Sin isn’t satisfied with that, we are broken, battered, stuck in the wilderness on the side of the road, with no direction, no path, no spiritual yellow brick road.
We look at the world and see they are lost, that they cannot even tell the difference between darkness and light. Is torture right? Is violence? Is sex of any kind outside of marriage? Is gossip and slander and disrespecting authority? Too often we find ourselves justifying that we know is wrong. We should know it simply because we have to justify our thoughts, or actions or words.
We need those roads straightened out, we need to see where we are heading clearly, we need to have a straight direction. This is the focus in advent, to know that those cries will be heard, that God will act. That we can hear His voice.
We’ve got to hear His Voice… We Got to Know His word.
Even as we hear that the path needs to be prepared, we have to hear the voice again that cries out for it.
2 “Speak tenderly to Jerusalem.
Tell her that her sad days are gone,
and her sins are pardoned.
This is the cry we hear, what will bring comfort to the people whom God the Father call His children.
The comfort is found in the mercy of God, shown in the work of Jesus. For it is His work to straighten those roads, to fill in the valleys, to make straight the path for God.
That is the incredible view of Advent, seeing the work to make God’s way smooth, the way that will bring us comfort, for the way is the one which we travel with Jesus, as He brings us to the Father.
A way of mercy, a way of peace, a way of joy.
That road, smoothed out, is Jesus work, it is the glory of God revealed to us. The glory that we dwell in, with Him. The glory we see together, His children, with nothing in the way.
For He has spoken.
One more thing… who is praying to whomThe Father cried out to the Son, that Jesus would comfort us.
It is why He needed to come…. It is why He would lay in a manger, and die on the cross. It is why we are united to Him in baptism, why He gives us His body and blood.
Hear it again, we aren’t the only people who pray and plead that all of God’s people would find comfort.
The Father cries, “Comfort, comfort my people!” The Son brings us comfort… and peace. So it was at the incarnation, so it will be at His return. AMEN!
Devotional Thought of the Day:
7 LORD, you have deceived me, and I was deceived. You are stronger than I am, and you have overpowered me. Everyone makes fun of me; they laugh at me all day long. 8 Whenever I speak, I have to cry out and shout, “Violence! Destruction!” LORD, I am ridiculed and scorned all the time because I proclaim your message. 9 But when I say, “I will forget the LORD and no longer speak in his name,” then your message is like a fire burning deep within me. I try my best to hold it in, but can no longer keep it back. Jeremiah 20:7-9 (TEV)
333 Think about this carefully: being transparent lies more in not hiding things rather than in wanting things to be seen. It is a matter of allowing the objects lying at the bottom of a glass to be perceived, and not trying to make the air visible. (1)
it has been one of those weeks. The kind I have had far too often recently, but this one is up there.
Six years ago, even though I read the verses above from Jeremiah many times before, I actually preached on it. I was at the time deciding to accept a call to the church I presently serve. Leaving behind friends and a church that was described by my predecessor as the nicest church he had ever encountered in 50 years of ministry. So why would I leave? And what did it mean that I would preach on this dark passage from Jeremiah?
Weeks like this one. Where I started the week praying for friend that was likewise moving from one parish to another, at the choice of his supervisors. Trying to grieve the change, while ministering to those he was coming to serve. Difficult. Very difficult. Another old friend this week revealed that he was also moving from one church to another – re-assigned by his supervisors. A challenging move for him as well, and then another friend last night, was told it was time to move in his ministry.
I am praying for one of the men I had a part in training for ministry, he has brain cancer and is fading fast. Another friend I found out this morning, who I also trained as a deacon, had a heart attack. Last night, out of the blue, I found myself discussing the death of one of the best friends in my life, who ministered at my side for far too long. There as well was another of my best friends, who lost his dad a month after I lost mine, and a few months later, his mom went to be with God as well.
Tomorrow, as our children wish us Happy Father’s Day, for the first time we can’t go to lunch with our dads, or talk to them on the phone. Some 15 of our friends lost dad’s or a granddad after ours passed.
This is not counting the trauma of those around us, which dwarfs our own. Dear friends with health problems. Families torn apart and going through death, others through divorce, family facing issues with those they love who are in bondage to drugs or alcohol. People dealing with financial crisis, people dealing with disabilities, including those of the mental health variety. Missionaries who are trying to deal with poverty that makes our headspin, or with violence and threats and potential martyrdom. Other people making decisions that will wreck their lives, decisions they know are wrong, but justify with justifications that…
It is enough to make you want to scream “stop”, or yell out in anger and frustration.
And if we admit it, if we are honest and transparent, the One we want to yell at …. is God.
Couldn’t He do something? “In only you had been here Lord,”the sisters of Lazarus has said. Whose fault is all of this suffering, all this pain? Why can’t life be simple and pleasant and without all this…. painful crap… (I wrote something else there.(shit).. but edited it)
It took preaching on Jeremiah’s hitting the breaking point, to be able to realize that it was ok to yell at God. That you can say that God tricked you, deceived you, to cry out like a 5 year old, “That’s not fair” or “This sucks…. That transparency with God, about our feelings, our frustrations our pain is a good thing, and I will dare say, it is necessary.
Because being that transparent with God is a matter of faith, it is necessary if we are to trust Him to bring us through the situation, if we are going to allow Him to walk us through the fire, through the storm, even through the valley of the shadow of death. It is necessary to grieve, because then acknowledging the pain, we can let Him, ask Him, count on Him, to bring healing, to bring peace, to flood our lives with His love, and comfort.
You can’t do that if you are hiding it, if you are bottling it up, letting it turn to resentment. Pouring it out on those who become you victims, because you won’t let the frustration and anger be turned on the One who has shoulders to bear it, shoulders that bore the stripes of whips, the very stripes that Isaiah prophesied would heal us, cleanse us… save us.
Have to admit, I don’t like writing this blog. Have to admit – I would love to just spend tomorrow walking along Lake Ossipee, with my son, and yeah – with my dad.
It needs to be written, for my own sake, but perhaps for yours as well. To give us the confidence to say,
Lord have mercy…. which can only be said… when we know we need it… even desperately need it.
(1) Escriva, Josemaria (2011-01-31). Furrow (Kindle Locations 1555-1557). Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition.
Devotional Thought of the Day:
I should honour Christ with the utmost boldness by the way I live, whether that means I am to face death or to go on living. For living to me means simply “Christ”, and if I die I should merely gain more of him. I realise, of course, that the work which I have started may make it necessary for me to go on living in this world, I should find it very hard to make a choice. I am torn in two directions – on the one hand I long to leave this world and live with Christ, and that is obviously the best thing for me. Yet, on the other hand, it is probably more necessary for you that I should stay here on earth. That is why I feel pretty well convinced that I shall not leave this world yet, but shall be able to stand by you, to help you forward in Christian living and to find increasing joy in your faith. So you can look forward to making much of me as your minister in Christ when I come to see you again! Philippians 1:18 (Phillips NT)
879 Death comes and cannot be avoided. What empty vanity it is, then, to centre our existence on this life. See how much many men and women suffer. Some suffer because life is coming to an end and it pains them to leave it; others because it is going on, and they are sick of it… In neither case is there room for the mistaken view that makes our passage through this world an end in itself. One must leave that way of thinking behind and anchor oneself to another, an eternal one. A total change is required, to empty oneself of self-centred motives, which pass away, and to be renewed in Christ, who is eternal. (1)
When I realized what I needed to write this morning, I wanted to not write it. I sat at my desk trying to find a reason not to write it…
But write it… I must?
This season is so incredibly hard, as I look around me and see the damage that death can do. The family agathered around a bedside, waiting for what they know is coming. A friend dealing with the family struggles that have appeared as they grieve the loss of a family member. Trying to think of ways to bring the Holy Spirit to them, and to all who are grieving, even while grieving myself. Other friends whose grief is not found in loss, but found in their present existence. The darkness so well described by the words of St. Josemaria Escriva, the people who are struggling with life coming to an end, and those who struggle with living life, and want Jesus to return, because life is too full of pain. I know that feeling – even somewhat joke about it, “Lord can you come back NOW!?”
Perhaps it is not always as much of a joke, as a cry of pain, or tiredness, of trying to see where God is working, and not even realizing that He is working at our side, in us, through us. Yes, I want Christ to return, but do I want Him here just so the suffering ends. I want His return so we can enjoy His presence… well – at least that is what I want… to want.
Apparently Paul knew these words as well – the passage quoted above echoes those feelings well. They speak comforting words, words that mean we can reveal the challenge of life these days, in the manner He did, and come to the realization that Paul did. To realize that this life isn’t just about “us”, our wants, our “comfort,” That peace comes from living in Christ, not avoiding the challenge, not avoiding the pain, but allowing Him to strengthen us and lift our weary heats. I like St. Josemaria’s words here as well, “A total change is required, to empty oneself of self-centred motives, which pass away, and to be renewed in Christ, who is eternal.” To realize that this change has already begun, as the Holy Spirit calls our lives to be united with Christ’s death on the cross, that we can be share in His life, that we share in His ministry. That when we go to someone’s aid, and do not have the words, His presence with us, will be there for them. That our prayers and study will prove fruitful in those moments. That we can bring joy and peace to those who need. Often it is at our weakest, that we see God’s presence the clearest, or that others see His presence with us. To know that our burdens are exchanged at the altar forHis Body and Blood, an echange of “burdens”, on that drags us for one that brings us aware of His peace, the peace in which we do live!.
It is in those moments, when Christ’s presence is so… evident, as His work in our lives we can perceive, that we find the strength in Him to keep going. to keep serving, to keep being present… even as He lifts us up.
which will fire our desire for His return, not because of what we are enduring – but simply because He is… our God.
“Lord have mercy” we cry… listen and hear His answer… “I am with you!”
(1)Escriva, Josemaria (2011-01-31). Furrow (Kindle Locations 3592-3597). Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition.
- A Real God Addressing Real Brokenness through and in us = Real Church (justifiedandsinner.com)
- The Purpose of Theology (justifiedandsinner.com)
- The Holy Spirit gives gifts… but not to individuals… (justifiedandsinner.com)
Whenever you see that the glory of God and the good of the Church demand that you should speak out, don’t remain silent. Think about it. Who would lack courage before God and in the face of eternity? There is nothing to be lost and instead so much to be gained. Why do you hold back then? (1)
One of the blessings and curses of what they call “social media” is the lowering of inhibitions when it comes to stating exactly what is on our minds. We would never whine or complain or criticize people in person the way we do on Facebook or Twitter or in our texts. Although I am starting to wonder if we are getting braver in person, because we vent and tell what we really feel in cyber-reality.
The blessing is that slowly and surely, our facades our crumbling, we are letting each other in on our humanity, on what causes our doubts, our fears, our anxieties, our pains. We are being transparent, and often what we would bottle up, we instead vent. We may not always do it well – but we do it. The way we do it, can often be a concern, and even the curse. Because social media doesn’t include body language, and it isn’t truly dialogue – communication that flows two ways, unhindered, what is said doesn’t always come through the way it was meant – and we don’t get the feedback of body language, the shock in the eyes, the fallen glance, the frown, the raised eyebrow, the collapse of the body.
As I read St. Josemaria’s words this morning, it came to mind that what we don’t see often is our words (not just the shares of the soundbytes and pictures) that are the messages we are compelled to share. The word of encouragement the word calling someone to re-focus, the things that need to be said, that bring repentance and healing and reconciliation. That lift up the downtrodden, that allow us to share in the joys and the sorrows, that encourage our dependence on God, and the peace that can only come, when we remember He is present.
Such words are necessary, even as each has its own difficulty. Such words call for confidence, not in ourselves, but in God. Such words call for the kind of focus that enabled Jesus to endure the cross, for the joy set before Him. Such words bring incredible blessing..
Such words are given to you… so speak out!
Escriva, Josemaria (2011-01-31). The Forge (Kindle Locations 1757-1760). Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition.