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Is Spirituality a Priority?

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A Picture of our Journey… with Christ

Devotional Thought of the Day:
8  Bodily fitness has a certain value, but spiritual fitness is essential both for this present life and for the life to come. There is no doubt about this at all, and Christians should remember it. It is because we realise the paramount importance of the spiritual that we labour and struggle. We place our whole confidence in the living God, the saviour of all men, and particularly of those who believe in him. These convictions should be the basis of your instruction and teaching. 1 Timothy 4:8 (Phillips NT)

 

282    Paradox: Sanctity is more attainable than learning, but it is easier to be a scholar than to be a saint.

I have been having the same conversation recently with a couple of friends. Both were asking about how Christians growth.

And as I talked with them a question started to grow in my mind.  Do we even know what spiritual growth looks like?

If we cannot define it, how can we make it a priority in our own lives, and how can we lead others and help them grow and mature in their faith?    As I look at my mail, and the various Bible Studies, Sermon Series, and other materials offered for sale to help me guide and shepherd my congregation, it is rare than the material is geared to help them grow, at least grow in more than knowledge.

For the record, I would use two words to describe spiritual maturity, dependence, and expectation. ( Or if you want to use “churchy” words, faith and hope. )

Dependence is simply trusting in God.  It starts with trusting Him to save us from our sins and thereby giving us eternal life.  But our dependence upon Him only begins there. We need to depend on Him in every moment of the day.  We need to depend on Him when everything is… screwed up. We need to depend on Him when change occurs, or when He calls us to take on some mission, or reach out to people.

There isn’t a part of our lives where we don’t need to depend on God.  To trust Him that all things work out for good for those who Love Him, who are called according to His purpose.  This is especially true as we try and deal with our failures, our brokenness, our sin.

Expectation is what the other measure would be.  What do we expect God to do in our lives, and what do we expect afterward  Do we expect Him in our lives, do we expect Him to keep His promises, do we look forward to the day when He comes again? Do we base our lives on these expectations?

Those are the areas we need to grow in, to mature in, if we are to be spiritually mature.

It seems counter-intuitive, for most see maturity linked with freedom or independence. But with spirituality, true maturity comes from realizing that God is God, and we are His people.  That means we expect Him to care for us, even as He cared for Jesus.  That means we realize He is wiser and has promised to care for us, and depending on that care.

That is why being holy is so challenging, even though it is so easily attainable.

Questions
What area of life is the hardest to trust God with?

What expectations should you have of God, that you don’t think of often?

Escriva, Josemaria. The Way (Kindle Locations 747-749). Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition.

You Need to Get Loosed!

jesus-cross-summit-cross-37737Devotional Thought of the Day:

41 So they removed the stone. Then Jesus raised His eyes and said, “Father, I thank d You that You heard Me. e 42 I know that You always hear Me, but because of the crowd standing here I said this, so they may believe You sent f Me.” 43 After He said this, He shouted with a loud voice, “Lazarus, come out!” 44 The dead man came out bound hand and foot with linen strips and with his face wrapped in a cloth. Jesus said to them, “Loose him and let him go.”  John 11:41-44 HCSB

422    Jesus is your Friend—the friend—with a human heart, like yours, with most loving eyes that wept for Lazarus. And as much as he loved Lazarus, he loves you …

No, my blog hasn’t developed a Brooklyn accent, and no, I am not being rude.

I am not telling you to get lost, but indeed to be loosed, freed, from that which clings to you like the death wrappings clung to Lazarus.

Things like bitterness, resentment, envy, the need to gossip, the struggles with lust; you need to be free of these things.

We can add anxieties to this, for often these lead to temptation, and to doubt.

We can add sin as well, and all of the effects sin has on us, from the guilt and shame and fear of God’s wrath to the brokenness of injustice when we are the victim of sin.

We need to be freed from these things, to have them stripped from us, taken away, even as the burial wraps were unraveled, and he was free.

It starts with the Easter cry, “Come out” and our hearts souls, and minds follow Jesus out of the tomb, We have to hear His voice, and let it draw us past this other stuff that held as prisoners inside the tomb of our stone hearts (see Ezekiel 26:25ff)

As we hear His voice, the Holy Spirit breaks the power of death over us, and gives us life, the life He is Lord of, (this very thing we confess in the creeds! )  If the Spirit didn’t generate life in us, we couldn’t answer the call,  He has, and this is something incredible.

A life lived in the presence of the Lord and Savior, who calls us His friends.

A life lived loosed of all the sin that so easily ensnares us.

A life lived loosed of all that is not of God’s love.

What are we waiting for?

Lord have mercy on us, and help us to live in your resurrection, for it is ours as well! AMEN!

What are the things you need to be freed from?

 

Escriva, Josemaria. The Way (Kindle Locations 1047-1049). Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition.

Is Prayer What You Think it is?

Kids phoneDevotional Thought of the Day:
42  They spent their time in learning from the apostles, taking part in the fellowship, and sharing in the fellowship meals and the prayers. Acts 2:42 (TEV)

89    “Mary has chosen the better part,” we read in the holy Gospel. There she is, drinking in the words of the Master. Apparently idle, she is praying and loving. Afterward, she accompanies Jesus in his preaching through towns and villages. Without prayer, how difficult it is to accompany him!

 Truly, God gives daily bread to evil people, even without our prayer. But we pray in this request that He will help us realize this and receive our daily bread with thanksgiving.

We don’t need to pray as much as to see our situations change, as we need to pray to see ourselves changed. (Note the past tense here )

I don’t think we understand the nature of prayer all that well.

We can analyze it, we can teach people the elements, we lead retreats on it, and if we are daring, we might actually ask people how their prayer life is. ( I am not sure that is the right question btw)  That doesn’t mean we understand it, it just means that we know about it.  We can even say it’s having a chat with God, but even then, we fall short.

But what prayer is?  It is living life in Christ, in dialogue with the Father, dependent on the Holy Spirit.  We come up with words like fellowship, communion/community, or my preference we live in the most intimate of relationships with him.

That’s why Luther will consistently teach that prayer isn’t about making God do something but realizing He is actively doing that which is for our best, whether it is protecting us from evil, or helping us forgive, or seeing His will be done.

This dynamic of prayer is what St. Josemaria is talking about when he says that without prayer, we cannot follow Jesus, that we don’t recognize that He is guiding our paths, and helping us journey, in peace.

THat’s why the early church made prayer, daily prayer, together, such a critical part of their life.  Not out of duty, but it is the natural life when you are in a relationship, an intimate relationship with God. It is simply what we do, like Mary abandoning the housework to just be still and adore the God who came to her, who comes to us.

This time of prayer, this time of hearing from God, and learning to simply entrust everything to Him, not because we have to, but because that is what you do when you are sure you are loved.  It is far more than a quick check-in chat, a 5 or 30 or 60-minute briefing on our day.  It is lifelong dance, a

This is God at work, this is the God whose love we need to experience, to explore, to have revealed to us.  This is the God who we need to be with, listen to, depend upon, And all that happens when we pray…

please, consider sharing a moment or two when you were praying and knew the presence of God was there, comforting you, guiding you, even correcting you…

 

Escriva, Josemaria. The Way (Kindle Locations 361-363). Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition.

Luther’s Small Catechism: Developed and Explained.

The Reason Life is Worth it…

dscf1215-copy-copyDevotional Thought of the Day:
21  “Believe me,” returned Jesus, “the time is coming when worshipping the Father will not be a matter of ‘on this hill-side’ or ‘in Jerusalem’. Nowadays you are worshipping with your eyes shut. We Jews are worshipping with our eyes open, for the salvation of mankind is to come from our race. Yet the time is coming, yes, and has already come, when true worshippers will worship in spirit and in reality. Indeed, the Father looks for men who will worship him like that. God is spirit, and those who worship him can only worship in spirit and in reality.”
25  “Of course I know that Messiah is coming,” returned the woman, “you know, the one who is called Christ. When he comes he will make everything plain to us.” 26  “I am Christ speaking to you now,” said Jesus. John 4:21-26 (Phillips NT)

Thus we teach that in using the sacraments there must be a faith which believes these promises and accepts that which is promised and offered in the sacrament.
20 The reason for this is clear and well-founded. A promise is useless unless faith accepts it. The sacraments are signs of the promises. When they are used, therefore, there must be faith, so that anyone who uses the Lord’s Supper uses it this way. Because this is a sacrament of the New Testament, as Christ clearly says (1 Cor. 11:25), the communicant should be certain that the free forgiveness of sins, promised in the New Testament, is being offered to him. He should accept this by faith, comfort his troubled conscience, and believe that the testimonies are not false but as certain as though God, by a new miracle, promised his will to forgive. For that matter, what good would such miracles or promises do an unbeliever?
21 Here we are talking about personal faith, which accepts the promise as a present reality and believes that the forgiveness of sins is actually being offered, not about a faith which believes in a general way that God exists.
22 Such use of the sacrament comforts devout and troubled minds.

Man is always looking for the right way of honoring God, for a form of prayer and common worship that pleases God and is appropriate to his nature. In this connection, we must remember that originally the word “orthodoxy” did not mean, as we generally think today, right doctrine. In Greek, the word doxa means, on the one hand, opinion or splendor. But then in Christian usage it means something on the order of “true splendor”, that is, the glory of God. Orthodoxy means, therefore, the right way to glorify God, the right form of adoration. In this sense, orthodoxy is inward “orthopraxy”. If we go back to the word’s origins, the modern opposition disappears. It is not a question of theories about God but of the right way to encounter him. This, then, was seen as Christian faith’s great gift: we know what right worship is. We know how we should truly glorify God—by praying and living in communion with the Paschal journey of Jesus Christ, by accomplishing with him his Eucharistia, in which Incarnation leads to Resurrection—along the way of the Cross.

I came across some big and heavy quotes in my reading this morning. But they center around that encounter with God we call worship.

In my opinion, this word is what makes life worth living, and I hope, in writing this, I can convince you of that as well.  But to do so, we have to come to a definition of worship, a way of understanding it that can be commonly accepted.

Worship is what the lady at the well experienced, it is an encounter with God.  For one cannot encounter Him without experiencing the love and mercy that is what is His glory, and our hearts respond in worship, in adoration.   As the early Lutherans agreed it accepts the promise of God in the sacrament as a present reality,   It is what Pope Benedict simplifies orthodoxy too (much to my amazement, as I have been teaching this for years!)  it is the right way to encounter Him.  

It is no surprise then that both a pope and the early Lutherans testified that this worship, this right praise is linked to the sacraments, especially the sacrament of the Eucharist, the Lord’s Supper.  For during that time of worship, every bit of our body is involved in recognizing that we are in God’s presence.  From our voices testifying that this is the lamb of God who takes away our sins, to our knees bent in supplication and adoration, to our hands and mouths receiving His precious Body and Blood, we encounter Him.

We encounter Him as He promised He would come to us, as He asked us to know Him, to recognize His presence with us.  This isn’t just some boring rite, some meaningless practice that can be overlooked. The Lord’s supper and the other times we encounter God in word and Sacrament ministry are precious because they bring comfort and the remainder of the peace that is ours because of Jesus.

And in the midst of this broken world, as we dwell in the midst of trauma, we need that reassurance, we need that reminder of what is real, that we are the children of God, 

Knowing that makes life worth living, it makes it precious, 

We are His, come celebrate that with us, and with the God who draws us together!

 

 

 

 

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

Ratzinger, Joseph. The Spirit of the Liturgy. Trans. John Saward. San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 2000. Print.

Walking with Jesus through Trials to The Triumph EnJOYing the Walk!

Our Lenten JourneyWalking with Jesus through Trials to The Triumph

EnJOYing the Walk!

Romans 5:1-11

In Jesus Name

As you walk with God our Father and our Lord Jesus Christ, may the gift of their love and mercy sustain us, and bring us great joy!

Where is the joy?

Verse 11 in our epistle reading often leaves me wondering.  Specifically, the part that says, “so NOW we can rejoice in our wonderful new relationship with God.”    

Did you guys get this memo?  That because of your wonderful new relationship with God we should be rejoicing, that we should be overwhelmed with joy?  I think somedays I need to be strongly reminded of that, and somehow, I don’t think I am the only one.

As we walk through this season of Lent, as we walk through these trials to The Triumph, we need to experience this joy, not just because it will prevent us from burning out, but rather because the joy is the basis for where we live..

We, who dwell in the presence and glory of God, are to live joy-filled lives.  It is the fruit of the Spirit Paull will tell the church in Galatia, and the Thessalonian church will hear “rejoice always!’

What an odd paradox for Lent, to preach on the fact that we should rejoice, that we should live our lives full of joy, even as we grieve over our sin.  To talk about the joy we should be experiencing is far greater than the joy experienced by winning a gold medal in the Olympics, yet which at times seems as unlikely as me winning said gold medal.

Then again, if we were all full of joy, why would I need to preach about it, or why would St. Paul need to write about it?

A Paradox indeed, this idea of joy!

Endurance leads to confident hope…. For we know

Then again, this passage is full of challenging things to understand, like the fact that when we encounter problems and trials, we can rejoice as well!

As if the problems and trials are the sources of that joy.

They aren’t, and it doesn’t say they are the source of the joy. They just say joy should be expected, that the result of problems and trials results eventually in our confident hope of salvation being strengthened, being made sure, as we realize the breadth and width, their height and depth of God’s love.

We need to get that, for I think most of us look at these problems trials and at points wonder where God is, or why He would allow such a thing to exist?  We stagger in the doubt and anxiety that such problems and trials, these oppressive times, and at times fall into sin, looking for relief from how they dominate the landscape.

Luther noted this challenge in dealing with problems and trials when he discussed the first commandment and what a God was,

What does it mean to have a god? or, what is God? Answer: A god means that from which we are to expect all good and to which we are to take refuge in all distress, so that to have a God is nothing else than to trust and believe Him from the [whole] heart;    The Large Catechism of Martin Luther.

It is all too easy to take refuge in something, especially in those things that are powerfully addictive, from drugs and alcohol to work, sex, politics, technology, social media and even security.  It moves from temptation to sin when those things become our primary refuge, the place we go to first always.  Where do we run when life is challenged, when life is difficult?  That is our god, and far too often, that is not Jesus.  These refuges will draw us in, more and more until we realize them for the trap they are.  By that time, we are helpless.

Then we need to be saved more from our refuge far more than we need to be saved from the problems and trials that assault us.

But when we were helpless!

We aren’t without hope though, and that is part of the process.  For enduring these challenges can only be accomplished as we are drawn to Christ.  When we realize that when we didn’t deserve the privilege of having peace with God, when we realize that when we were utterly helpless Christ came and died for us.

That is where the spiraling into the refuges of idolatry ends, when Jesus comes and rescues us, an unbelievable action, considering he is rescuing us from betraying him!

This is where the joy is found, in that while we were still in rebellion, while we didn’t give a rip about God, and sought out sin rather than depending and listening to Him, He still loved us, He still died for us. He still cleaned up the mess we’ve out of our lives.

That is amazing! That is something to be astounded by!  That is something to be thankful for!

He loves us.  God really loves us!

And even more, because Christ’s blood cleanses and paid for all our sins, we have the promise of sharing in the glory of God!

That is what we rejoice in, this incredible, mind-blowing idea that because of Jesus, because of His love, we have this relationship with God, where He calls us His friends.

A relationship that is revealed when we can’t make it through these problems and trials when we realize that relationship is called a friendship. A relationship that is full of peace, and in that peace, we can rejoice in what Jesus has done, and what God has prepared for us, a place for eternity, dwelling and sharing in His glory.

This is worth rejoicing in, even in Lent, Yes?  AMEN

When Good Ideas Turn Bad in the Church….(they can be redeemed BTW)

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Concordia 

Devotional Thought for our day:

15  When they arrived back in Jerusalem, Jesus entered the Temple and began to drive out the people buying and selling animals for sacrifices. He knocked over the tables of the money changers and the chairs of those selling doves, 16  and he stopped everyone from using the Temple as a marketplace. 17  He said to them, “The Scriptures declare, ‘My Temple will be called a house of prayer for all nations,’ but you have turned it into a den of thieves.” Mark 11:15-17 (NLT)

612      Wherever you may happen to be, remember that the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve. Be sure that anyone who wants to follow him cannot attempt to act in any other way.

I suppose, like many good ideas, the selling of animals for sacrifice and the money-changers in the temple area started for the right reasons. Pilgrims came from all over the world, and they didn’t have the temple coin, and bringing livestock and pigeons would have made the journey e

ven more difficult. 

Perhaps the inhabitants of Jerusalem entered into these services in order to be hospitable to help out those who had come from longs ways away.  But over time it became a commercial venture, a way to make money, and the ministry to others faded in into the background, as profit and costs took over the ministry.

We see this in the church today, as ministries that once developed to serve people now are affected by significant costs.  From the tuition of Christian preschools, schools, and universities, to music and books, industries have been formed, including those which support the other industries that directly “serve” our members.  Oftentimes, membership becomes confused with the idea of clientele, where the ministry exists to serve them, rather than to equip them to serve others.

And in the meantime, prayer and worship, the adoration of God and giving as freely as we are given disappear, because prayer doesn’t have to line that can be analyzed in black and red terms.  These things are the results of people having access to God, and giving them that access is what ministry has to be about.  It is why we are called to serve. 

We have to find the balance between stewardship and true ministry.  We have to run things well, so that prayer and worship aren’t interrupted, that those needed encouragement and discipleship are provided it.  Part of that discipleship is helping people learn to serve others, to care for others, to put others needs before their own. 

This too is challenging, because many will hear it as a requirement of being a Christian.  As the law which they must fulfill or face God’s wrath.  It isn’t, for to do something as impossible as being a servant who leads requires only one thing.  It requires us to know the Lord is with you!  Knowing His presence, knowing His grace and mercy, dwelling in His love, this doesn’t just enable us to serve, it causes us to, as the Spirit transforms us into Christlikeness.

This is our call, this is who we are, leading people into the presence of Christ, and enabling them to know He will hear their prayers

May we serve well, diligently keeping what should be first, first.  Lord, Have Mercy!

Escriva, Josemaria. The Forge (Kindle Locations 2268-2270). Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition.

An Unexpected Call To Cheerfulness (but a needed one)

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The church, is always in the midst of a storm… but safe in Him

Devotional Thought of the Day:
1  Yahweh is my shepherd, I lack nothing. 2  In grassy meadows he lets me lie. By tranquil streams he leads me 3  to restore my spirit. He guides me in paths of saving justice as befits his name. 4  Even were I to walk in a ravine as dark as death I should fear no danger, for you are at my side. Your staff and your crook are there to soothe me. 5  You prepare a table for me under the eyes of my enemies; you anoint my head with oil; my cup brims over. 6  Kindness and faithful love pursue me every day of my life. I make my home in the house of Yahweh for all time to come. Psalm 23:1-6 (NJB)

520      Christian cheerfulness is not something physiological. Its foundation is supernatural, and it goes deeper than illness or difficulties. Cheerfulness does not mean the jingling of bells, or the gaiety of a dance at the local hall. True cheerfulness is something deeper, something within something that keeps us peaceful and brimming over with joy, though at times our face may be stern.

I sit here this morning, having survived ( I think ) another battle with influenza, only to have my soul troubled by what I read, as stories of the Church divided fill my browser.  It is depressing more than the flu, which managed to keep me from celebrating the hope I have in Christ Jesus with my friends and family.  For to watch people try to destroy what Christ came to save… is devastating.  Especially when such rot comes from within, from people who should know we have the ministry of reconciliation.

Yet in my devotions this morning,  St. Josemaria reminds me to be cheerful.

Not the cheerfulness that celebrates freedom from illness or difficulty, the kind of cheerfulness that is found at parties and dances.

Something far deeper, something that today I need as I look out on a broken world, on a broken church.

The cheerfulness, the peace that is found in times where brokenness should have dominated.  The cheerfulness I have seen wash over a group of people, allowing them to cry and laugh as we remember someone who has passed.  Pr when other tragedies occur, leaving us breathless, and for a moment hopeless…..

Then someone starts to read or recite Psalm 23…….

I used the old NJB edition, for that is how I learned it.  Yahweh is my Shepherd.

God gave me not only the right to use His name but the assurance with it that He is guiding, that He is providing and caring for me.   I hear the song I grew up singing, based on it, Yahweh is my shepherd now, I shall not want, I shall not want…

And on days like this – when the body and soul are wary when the spirit is weak, and hope for the church is dimmed by the Church itself, there are only the promises of God that sustain…. that bring peace, and eventually the ability to smile.

As St Josemaria notes, there is something within something within us at these moments, where we find peace, and hope, and God’s comforting presence, and His promise of eternity.

From here it is possible to write and speak with hope, to point out the presence of God, and to urge everyone to find comfort and peace and yes cheerfulness there.

AMEN!

 

Escriva, Josemaria. The Forge (Kindle Locations 1971-1976). Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition.

Too Familiar with God? I don’t think it is really possible!

Devotional Thought for our days:

46  As Jesus was speaking to the crowd, his mother and brothers stood outside, asking to speak to him. 47  Someone told Jesus, “Your mother and your brothers are outside, and they want to speak to you.” 48  Jesus asked, “Who is my mother? Who are my brothers?” 49  Then he pointed to his disciples and said, “Look, these are my mother and brothers. 50  Anyone who does the will of my Father in heaven is my brother and sister and mother!” Matthew 12:46-50 (NLT)

15  So you have not received a spirit that makes you fearful slaves. Instead, you received God’s Spirit when he adopted you as his own children. Now we call him, “Abba, Father.” 16  For his Spirit joins with our spirit to affirm that we are God’s children. 17  And since we are his children, we are his heirs. In fact, together with Christ we are heirs of God’s glory. But if we are to share his glory, we must also share his suffering. Romans 8:15-17 (NLT)

495      Have you seen the affection and the confidence with which Christ’s friends treat him? In a completely natural way the sisters of Lazarus reproach Jesus for being away: “We told you! If only you’d been here!…” Speak to him with calm confidence: “Teach me to treat you with the loving friendliness of Martha, Mary, and Lazarus and as the first Twelve treated you, even though at first they followed you perhaps for not very supernatural reasons.”

One of the critiques of contemporary music back in the 70’s and 80’s ( and still repeated now quoting 40-year-old lyrics as if they are contemporary) is that it treats God without proper reverence, it treats Him as if He is a common friend or a brother. 

But that is exactly what the church had rediscovered in scripture.  The idea that we are indeed co-heirs with Jesus, that we are His brothers and sisters.  That God isn’t distant, just sitting in heaven waiting to judge us, but that He is here, caring for us, protecting us, sanctifying us.

He’s seen us at our worst, and still loves us, and still wants to be in communion with us. 

That is why St. Josemaria, that very reverent and devout priest talks about treating God the way Mary and Martha did.   He understands that reverent doesn’t mean distant, that being in awe draws us closer to God, it doesn’t stop from standing on holy ground, it just teaches us to do so, trusting and depending on Him. 

Think about the blessings that are shared with you in the sacraments.  Do these draw you closer to God, do they fill you with confidence to approach Him, depending on His work to make you holy and righteous?  Doesn’t the author of Hebrews tell us that because of Christ we can approach the throne of God with confidence?  Does the promise that we will dwell in the very glory of God urge you to approach Him?

In your baptism, you were united with Jesus in His death and in His resurrection.  Dying with Him, rising with Him, there is nothing more intimate than that!  Go back, read this paragraph again, you have shared a more intimate moment with God than you have in any other relationship you have. 

Some will say we cannot and point where those who approach God in the wrong way were dealt with severely.  That familiarity breeds contempt, and that these narratives prove it! No, they don’t. Indeed they were treated severely, but that is because they did what they did contrary to what God had taught them, what God had established. They are like those people who spell God a G_d, or who are afraid to use YHWH and replace it with Lord.  They are so afraid to use God’s name in vain that they don’t use it!  Which is also in vain, disobeying God’s command to call upon His beautiful, precious, powerful Name!

We need to know God, not just know about Him.  We need to treat Him much like Mary and Marta, like Lazarus, even like Peter.  Don’t worry, God will correct us when we need to be corrected.  But let yourself be drawn to Him, and reach out to Him.

Lord Jesus, help us to be drawn to you, and give us the confidence in your promise, in your love, in the work you did at the cross, drawing and uniting us to you. Help us to be one with You, even as you and the Father are one.  Remind us that you sent the Holy Spirit to guide us as we approach you.  AMEN!

Escriva, Josemaria. The Forge (Kindle Locations 1891-1896). Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition.

Do We Still Need Christmas?

nativityDevotional thought for our seemingly broken days:

3 Then Judas, His betrayer, seeing that He had been condemned, was full of remorse and returned the 30 pieces of silver to the chief priests and elders. v 4 “I have sinned by betraying innocent blood,” he said.
“What’s that to us?” they said. “See to it yourself!”
5 So he threw the silver into the sanctuary w and departed. Then he went and hanged himself.  Matthew 27:3-5  HCSB

20. But what should you do if you are not aware of this need and have no hunger and thirst for the Sacrament?
To such a person no better advice can be given than this: first, he should touch his body to see if he still has flesh and blood. Then he should believe what the Scriptures say of it in Galatians 5 and Romans 7.
Second, he should look around to see whether he is still in the world, and remember that there will be no lack of sin and trouble, as the Scriptures say in John 15–16 and in 1 John 2 and 5.
Third, he will certainly have the devil also around him, who with his lying and murdering day and night will let him have no peace, within or without, as the Scriptures picture him in John 8 and 16; 1 Peter 5; Ephesians 6; and 2 Timothy 2.

In so saying, we finally discover the answer to the question with which we started. After the tearing of the Temple curtain and the opening up of the heart of God in the pierced heart of the Crucified, do we still need sacred space, sacred time, mediating symbols? Yes, we do need them, precisely so that, through the “image”, through the sign, we learn to see the openness of heaven. We need them to give us the capacity to know the mystery of God in the pierced heart of the Crucified.

In many ways, life would be easier without the celebration of Christmas.

For one thing, my cynical nature could use the rest.  It gets tiring, seeing people spend millions on decorations (which Costco was selling in September this year!) and gifts and clothes for all the parties, while people they should know are living on the streets.  In talking to other pastors, people who used to come to church on Christmas and Easter hardly do anymore, because they are too busy with celebrating Christmas!

It’s hard, all the extra work all the extra services ( 4 in 25 hours this year and add another on the prior Wednesday night ) 

And we know it all right?  We all know Jesus was born in a stable, and the angels sang to him, and the wise men didn’t visit him in the manger that night, but later at the house where they were staying. ( Hmm you didn’t know that? )

So why not give everybody so more time to rest, some more time to spend with families? 

I find the answer in the odd (given the season) reading in my devotions this morning.  When Judas, torn up with guilt and shame, tried to find hope, tried to find mercy and was denied. The very elders ( read pastors) who were supposed to point him back to God instead they threw his sin back in his face.  The very men who were supposed to give him a message of grace didn’t care. 

He needed Christmas.  he needed to know God would come to Him, forgive his sin, reveal His love for Judas, reveal that this was the very reason for the cross.  

Joseph Ratzinger, (later Pope Benedict XVI) had it right, we, like Judas, need to be given the capacity to know the mystery of God, reveal in the heart of Jesus, the one who embraced the manger and the crucifixion, for us.   Or as Luther pointed out, we need to realize that this life is full of sin and trouble and Satan is at work to steal our peace.  Just as that is done as we approach the altar, as God shares Christ’s body and blood for us, so we need Christmas. 

We need to celebrate, even if it is sappy or too utopian in its portrayal, the fact that Jesus shattered the darkness by coming into our world, not just 2000 odd years ago, but today, now, here.  That He is with us, that He loves us, that He is merciful toward us, cleansing us of all sin.  Our world needs to know this, we need to celebrate it, we need to find out that God has found us.

Rejoice, for unto us a Child is born, and He shall be called Wonderful!  Counselor! Almighty God!  Everlasting Father!  The One who Reigns with Peace…

the peace we are invited into, for that is why He came.

So celebrate Christmas, and see what is revealed to you this day.  AMEN!

Ratzinger, Joseph. The Spirit of the Liturgy. Trans. John Saward. San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 2000. Print.

Luther, Martin. Luther’s Small Catechism with Explanation. Saint Louis, MO: Concordia Publishing House, 1991. Print.

Christmas is how close? GULP! Some thoughts on struggle that Christmas can be.

Altar with communionDevotional Thought for our seemingly broken days:

19  And so, dear brothers and sisters, we can boldly enter heaven’s Most Holy Place because of the blood of Jesus. 20  By his death, Jesus opened a new and life-giving way through the curtain into the Most Holy Place. 21  And since we have a great High Priest who rules over God’s house, 22  let us go right into the presence of God with sincere hearts fully trusting him. For our guilty consciences have been sprinkled with Christ’s blood to make us clean, and our bodies have been washed with pure water. 23  Let us hold tightly without wavering to the hope we affirm, for God can be trusted to keep his promise. 24  Let us think of ways to motivate one another to acts of love and good works. 25  And let us not neglect our meeting together, as some people do, but encourage one another, especially now that the day of his return is drawing near. Hebrews 10:19-25 (NLT)

But, as St. Gregory the Great puts it, it is still only the time of dawn, when darkness and light are intermingled. The sun is rising, but it has still not reached its zenith. Thus the time of the New Testament is a peculiar kind of “in-between”, a mixture of “already and not yet”. The empirical conditions of life in this world are still in force, but they have been burst open, and must be more and more burst open, in preparation for the final fulfillment already inaugurated in Christ.

Two weeks from today is Christmas, a day some are able to celebrate with great joy with those whom they love, who they care for, as meals are shared, as presents are exchanged, as laughter and smiles are contagious.

Yet recognizing that Christmas is only two weeks away causes my anxiety levels to rise.  There are services to plan, sermons to write, music to practice, and most of all, people to pray for and try and find ways to comfort and to try to reveal God’s presence to, so that they can know some peace.

Some are stressed out by finances, or work situations.  Some are broken by their own sin, or addictions, or broken by the sin and addictions of those they love, that have caused deep division.  Some are grieving, and that number has grown this year.  Some are simply wandering, directionless, unable to find anything stable enough to give them hope, even as they drive by churches advertising Christmas concerts, and advent services, even as they set up Christmas trees and manger scenes in their own homes.

I like how Pope Benedict phrased where we are in life, in this time of the dawn, when darkness and light are intermingled.  There are shadows that seem to overwhelm us, to convince us we still are in the darkness. The struggles of life are still there, undeniably, yet there is a hint of the perfect, complete life we know is coming in Christ Jesus.

We are in the time of the “now, and not yet!”  The time where God’s kingdom is here, yet we struggle to see it.  The time when we are in God’s presence, though we cannot see Him,  It is a time where we have to depend on God, but still have so many doubts, where we have to have hope, but struggle to define that, and therefore to express it.

Which is all the more reason to gather together as believers regularly,  To celebrate the fact that we are in His presence, that Christ has cleansed us, that we have been baptized by His blood, and therefore have clean consciences! This all in order that we know, that when He returns, He is not just returning to us, but returning for us.

We gather to encourage each other with these facts, for too often we forget them in the shadows of the world.  Too often we get overwhelmed by sin, ours and that of the world.

There is the hope, that is the real message behind all the decorations, all the mangers scenes – and the lights symbolizing Jesus coming, He whose light shatters our darkness, He who is our light, the Light of the World.  He who is our comforter, He who is our peace.

And for the next two weeks, and until His return, the One who hears us when we cry, “Lord Have Mercy,” and find int he manger and the cross, He has!

So let’s get together in these times, often, so that we can cry and laugh together, and encourage each other, even as we look forward to the day of Chrsit coming.  AMEN!

Ratzinger, Joseph. The Spirit of the Liturgy. Trans. John Saward. San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 2000. Print.

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