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What are you eating? Not Physically, but Spiritually?

10649504_10152396630845878_3341349315020260479_nDevotional Thought of the Day:
19 “Don’t collect for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal. 20 But collect for yourselves treasures in heaven, m where neither moth nor rust destroys, and where thieves don’t break in and steal. 21 For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.  Matt 6:19-21  HCSB

165      You must always remember that the spiritual faculties are fed by what they receive from the senses. Guard them well!

“You shall have no other gods.”
1 That is, you shall regard me alone as your God. What does this mean, and how is it to be understood? What is to have a god? What is God?
2 Answer: A god is that to which we look for all good and in which we find refuge in every time of need. To have a god is nothing else than to trust and believe him with our whole heart. As I have often said, the trust and faith of the heart alone make both God and an idol.

I really don’t like meditating on this passage in scripture, because if I do, then waht follows next is an inventory of what I truly treasure.

Add to it the words of Luther and St. Josemaria, and I begin to realize what I treasure, what I value, have slowly become my idols, and just as gently, they wean me away from my faith, my trust and dependence on God.

For there is no idol we create and feed that knows satisfaction.  They desire more and more of our attention, more and more of our devotion, more and more time and money to satisfy them.

These idols may not be things we carve out of wood and stone, they can range from our health to our technology, to our careers, to even our family and their success. it might make more sense to ask what we value, what our priorities are, for it is the same question.  What do we invest, not our money, but our time, and our thoughts in, because they are our top priority?

This is hard for me, there are a number of things I invest too much time, too much thought in, that can dominate my day, and often determine whether it is a good day, or it sucks.

So where is my hope, how do I break away from these idols, and see my support systems taken away?

Simply put, to treasure heaven, to treasure the intimacy with God that is ours because of the work of Christ Jesus. To put our focus on what truly matters, His love. His mercy.  To take him up on his invitation to walk with Him, to dwell in His glory.  To feast at His table, knowing that such is reserved for His people, His children, on those he’s called there.

These things we are drawn into, prayer, meditation on His message, the incredible blessing gives to us in our baptism, strengthened as we are told again, “your sins are forgiven” and nourished at the altar; they are not our work. We are drawn into this glory of God, we are declared to be His beloved, and transformed into that which receives that love, and can love in return.

We need to be drawn into that love, constantly.  We need to know we are welcome there, not only that, that God desires us there.

That is the only answer to our idolatry.  To hear His voice, to treasure His love…which means we need it revealed.

Heavenly Father, please help us to listen to the Holy Spirit in our lives.  Reveal His presence through little children, through elderly saints, through our pastors and priests, so that we can drop our sin, our idolatry and cling to our hope in you.  We pray this in Jesus name. AMEN!

Escriva, Josemaria. The Forge (Kindle Locations 774-776). Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition.

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

 

Is Correct Doctrine and Practice Enough? Are We Just Going Through the Motions?

Altar with communionDevotional Thought for our Day:

2 I know what you do, how you work hard and never give up. I know you do not put up with the false teachings of evil people. You have tested those who say they are apostles but really are not, and you found they are liars. 3 You have patience and have suffered troubles for my name and have not given up.
4 “But I have this against you: You have left the love you had in the beginning. 5 So remember where you were before you fell. Change your hearts and do what you did at first. If you do not change, I will come to you and will take away your lampstand from its place. Rev. 2:2-6  NCV

Here we must also mention those hypocrites who put their trust in their own righteousness before God, as the Pharisees in Luke 18:10 ff. Upon such people falls the guilt of many sins, because they do not recognize their own weakness, they do not recognize that in the eyes of God they are worthy of punishment because they have a false confidence and do not call upon God through Christ the Mediator. Indeed, they put their own works forward in the place of the Mediator’s. I have described their attributes above under the fifth degree.

A third point should be added here: when absolution has been given, one should accept the new melody of life and let oneself really be re-tuned to the new rhythm of God. The first indication of this new melody in our lives is prayer, for the new life is above all also a turning to God. 

It seems like a new idol is gaining strength in the church.  That pastors, ministers, and others who serve are being trained to serve this idol.  That people are being led to put their faith in this idol, that if it is served, that if sacrifices are made to appease it, then everything will be okay.  

It really isn’t a new idol, it simply put on new clothes and addresses a certain fear we have, that somehow, God is displeased with us, that this is the reason that churches in 1st world countries are shrinking and closing. 

The church in Ephesus also had to deal with this, look at what the Apostle John wrote it above. 

They didn’t tolerate false teaching, they tested everyone and discovered who was teaching falsely.

They had patience and suffered troubles (even ones they didn’t create for themselves!)  

They had doctrine and practice of that doctrine down pat, so much so that Jesus even praised them for it!  Yet they were as empty as the Pharisees railed against.  When we enter a point where our focus is primarily correct doctrine and practice, we leave behind the Lord we love, (ironically the one correct doctrine should lead us to adore, which is what is the definition of true orthodoxy!)

Please hear me, teaching correctly about God’s grace is important, critical even.  Worshipping Him in a way consistent with what the scriptures reveal is also very important.  Do things our own way, in what makes sense to us in that moment is dangerous.  But making doctrine and practice THE focus of our ministry, or how we judge other’s ministry is still idolatry. 

St John encourages us to return to our first love, the love we had for the Lord who delivered us, who brought us into fellowship by the power of the Holy Spirit.  To change our hearts ( not our minds (doctrine and practice dwell there too!) and return to what we did at first, being in awe, trying to learn how to love God.  It is from such a life of prayer that doctrine and practice really come alive anyway.  The words mean more, they aren’t just rote, the actions we take we find are nourished and strengthed by the Lord we dedicate them to Him!

I love how Pope Benedict XVI phrased this, in regards to absolution.  THe idea of God re-tuning us, transforming us to live in this new melody of life, these new movements, My guitar cannot tune itself, neither can I tune myself.  Yet as God does this, as I get out of the way, I find myself desiring to spend more time with Him.  I find the music that is life sweeter and more comforting, more serene.

FOr it is God turning us to Himself, revealing His presence, His embracing us, even as the prodigal was embraced by the Father who loved him.

For He loves us…and therefore, we can love Him, our first love…

Lord Jesus, help us to know the presence of the Holy Spirit, Tune our hearts and souls so resonate deeply with your voice, that we may love you more, and so that this new melody would be heard by many. AMEN!

Chemnitz, Martin, and Jacob A. O. Preus. Loci Theologici. electronic ed. St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1999. Print.  quote from Melancthon

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.

 

It’s Time to Make Jesus Known!

     church at communion 2It’s Time to Make Him Known!

Acts 17:16-31

I.H.S.†

 May you see Christ so clearly revealed through His word and sacraments, that the grace of God our Father, and our Lord shine brightly through you, to those who need to know His name!

Deeply Troubled, Are We?

Imagine walking around Athens as Paul did, waiting for his friends to show up.  This capital city, formerly the capital of the world, this place that might cause wonder, disturbed him greatly.

Scripture says he was deeply troubled, deeply and profoundly bothered by what he saw, what he experienced.  Wherever he looked there was idolatry, people trying to find hope, and looking to man-made things to provide hope.

Broken, weary, unfulfilled desires become even more broken as their false gods revealed themselves to be nothing but a bunch of rocks.  These people that were searching for answers, those who led them who loved to hear of new thoughts about God, they all needed a God to depend upon, a God to turn to, a God that would be there, a God who would help.

It wasn’t the first time, 600 years before, Diogenes records that Epimenides, a philosopher from Crete was sent for because no one had an answer to their problems, a plague, a drought, a famine all at once went through the land.  Epimenides looked at all the temples, all these false gods and idols and suggested that the answer was that their prayers and sacrifices didn’t work because they didn’t know the real God they could pray to….

And so they made an altar to an unknown God, and prayed, and dedicated an altar with the words agnosto theo – and dedicated the altar to the unknown and real God, asking Him to save them, asking Him to hear their prayers.  For a few centuries they remembered this God and His mercy, then, like many others, they forgot this nameless, faceless, benevolent God.
As Paul arrives, the altar was probably near ruins, the story all but was forgotten, and the people were back to looking anywhere for an answer.

But it was time to make this God known… even as it is today.

Can People Pray to A God they Don’t know?  Will He answer them?

This passage plays havoc with what are called closed theological systems, or those systems that people close off themselves. It has caused a lot of debate, especially among conservative Lutherans.  Because it isn’t beautiful and tidy, and God doesn’t fit in our box.

For example, there is the question of people praying to a God whom they don’t know.

We know we can’t find God if all we are using is our own reason and strength, that is solid, basic theology.  But does that stop them from looking for Him?  Does that stop them from praying to Him, begging Him for help.. and to reveal that He is present here.

Well, rather than just say yes, let me share a few passages, starting with today’s reading,

27 “His purpose was for the nations to seek after God and perhaps feel their way toward him and find him—though he is not far from any one of us. 28 For in him we live and move and exist.

11  Yet God has made everything beautiful for its own time. He has planted eternity in the human heart, but even so, people cannot see the whole scope of God’s work from beginning to end. Ecclesiastes 3:11 (NLT)

and then this from Solomon’s dedication of the temple

41  “In the future, foreigners who do not belong to your people Israel will hear of you. They will come from distant lands because of your name, 42  for they will hear of your great name and your strong hand and your powerful arm. And when they pray toward this Temple, 43  then hear from heaven where you live, and grant what they ask of you. In this way, all the people of the earth will come to know and fear you, just as your own people Israel do. They, too, will know that this Temple I have built honors your name. 1 Kings 8:41-43 (NLT)

And one more, from the Large Catechism, one of the primary documents describing our faith,

All who are outside the Christian church, whether heathen, Turks, Jews, or false Christians and hypocrites, even though they believe in and worship only the one, true God, nevertheless do not know what his attitude is toward them. They cannot be confident of his love and blessing. Therefore they remain in eternal wrath and damnation, for they do not have the Lord Christ, and, besides, they are not illuminated and blessed by the gifts of the Holy Spirit.[1]

Unless of course, someone reveals God to them, as God desires!

So is it wrong for people to pray, even if they aren’t sure who God is?  Will He hear their cries and respond?

Of course, for He desires to draw them close, to save and deliver them into His Father’s presence. Scripture tells us this is God’s will, His desire, to draw everyone to Himself, to cleanse them from sin, to restore them as His children.  He will never force us, but He will always hear us and care and love us.

Paul was sent to Athens by the Lord to do what he did, to reveal to them that He was their Creator, but also that He was their redeemer. He died and rose from the dead so that He could judge the world, and judge us just, righteous, holy, the people who could cry out to Him.

If you kept on reading, Paul would speak to them more about the resurrection from the dead that he mentions in verse 31.  There Paul mentioned that God the Father raised Jesus from the dead,   Some would stop listening to then, others wanted to hear more about it later, including some very learned people.
They heard about the God who would come and die, to deliver them from sin, and the power of death.  They would hear about the God who rise from the dead, and ascend into heaven, the God who would draw us to Jesus lifted on the cross, where we would die with Him, our sin nailed to that cross.  And then, as He rose from the dead, so do we, forgiven, cleansed, separated from sin, now children of the Father.

For the unknown God has made Himself known, and calls us to be transformed and trust in Him.

And so we do, the broken finding healing in Jesus, while we reveal Him to others as Paul did.

This is our life in Christ, for in Him we live and move and exist. For we are His children.  AMEN!

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

Do We Choose and Pursue the Unprofitable?

clydes-cross-2Devotional Thought fo the Day:

38 And he said to them, “Keep watch, and pray that you will not fall into temptation. The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak.”  TEV Mark 14:38

23  “We are allowed to do anything,” so they say. That is true, but not everything is good. “We are allowed to do anything”—but not everything is helpful. 24  None of you should be looking out for your own interests, but for the interests of others.
1 Corinthians 10:23-24 (TEV)

Games, balls, feasts, dress, theatres, are not evil things in their nature, but indifferent, and may be used both well and ill; yet, notwithstanding, these things are dangerous, and to have an affection for them is yet more dangerous. I say then, Philothea, that although it may be lawful to play, to dance, to advice yourself, to be present at moral dramas, and at banquets; yet to be over fond of such things is contrary to devotion, and very offensive and dangerous. It is no sin to do such things, but it is a sin to pursue them to extremes. It is a pity to sow in the garden of our heart such vain and foolish affections, which take up the room of virtuous impressions, and hinder the sap of our souls from nourishing good inclinations.

When my devotional readings harmoniously scream the same message and grab my attention, I tend to want to hide, accosted by a law which seeks to conform us to the image of Christ.

It’s too random to be random, one might say. 

As I did my reading this morning, this happened.  De Sales’s comments struck a chord, thought I would replace the events with other things. Hobbies, Television, “computer” games, golf, even social media, all these things can be neutral, and even positive.  Moments to relax, times to share with friends (Pokemon hunting with 4 or 5 is kinda fun, and other conversations happen ) theses are all beneficial.  We could add to that even our religious traditions, music, cultural identity, etc.  We in the USA talk about the “pursuit of happiness”, which, divorced of the joy of God’s presence, becomes a demanding idol to pursue.

Any of these can dominate our lives (and some are programmed to!) as they become things we grow in affection for, as we grow fond of, and those feeling turn to desire, desire which enslaves us. Which is when what is permissible become unprofitable, when our desire for these things override our desire to love God, and love our neighbor.

Which sounds all too easy. 

For we are like St. Peter, so desiring to follow Christ in the spirit, yet so weak.  Affections for things distract us, anxieties cause us to turn away. We deny Christ, we allow our time with Him, and our time working in his kingdom to be minimized.  Am I one of His?  Hmmm, I will be after I do this.  I’ll get back to you after I….

I am not talking about asceticism here, that too has its ability to become an affection, it too can become a form of pietism, and looking after out own self-interest.  (think about the idea that those who fast should not show their hunger – but how do you do that without your own pride taking control?)

I am talking about realizing the presence of God, in our lives.  I am talking about depending on Him, asking the Spirit to mold us as He would. To see others needs before our own, because God puts us in the place we are, not for our benefit, but that they would be reconciled to Him, that they would be cared for, that they would realize they are loved.

The only way to see these things put in their proper place, is to find Christ’s love so incredible, that it draws our attention. To become so enamored, so wanting to know His love, that all else fades, and is dropped asidee.

This isn’t easy…. for it means shedding those things we are overly attracted to…. to allow God to break their hold on us.

Lord have mercy on us!  Help us to have no greater desire that to know your presence, and then to minister at Your side to those you bring into our life.  AMEN! 

 

Francis de Sales, Saint. An Introduction to the Devout Life. Dublin: M. H. Gill and Son, 1885. Print.

 

 

The Emperor’s New Clothes, and our Need for a(nother) sacrificial victim.

Devotional Thought for the Day:

10  But the goat on which the lot fell to be the scapegoat shall be presented alive before the LORD, to make atonement upon it, and to let it go as the scapegoat into the wilderness. Leviticus 16:10 (NKJV)

20  But the chief priests and the elders persuaded the crowds to ask for Barabbas and to put Jesus to death. 21  But the governor said to them, “Which of the two do you want me to release for you?” And they said, “Barabbas.” 22  Pilate *said to them, “Then what shall I do with Jesus who is called Christ?” They all *said, “Crucify Him!” 23  And he said, “Why, what evil has He done?” But they kept shouting all the more, saying, “Crucify Him!” Matthew 27:19-23 (NASB)

It may be that I am just becoming more aware of it in my own life, but I am becoming more and more concerned about the need for a Messiah figure.

Not the messiah who would save us, but the man or woman’s who sacrifice would convince us that all is okay in our world.  The sacrificial victim, the one in the old testament which is described as the scapegoat – the one who is sent away, and then everything is made righteous.

Colin Kaepernick is the most recent one people would crucify.  During the Olympics, there were several that gained infamy, and we would crucify them willingly. There are those who would blame and want to make scapegoats our of the BLM movement, others who simply want to blame the police.  Some want to blame those who would find refuge in our country; others want to blame those who would build fences and protect the dream – by denying it to others.  I could go on, as we look at how people treat presidents and presidential candidates, other politicians, and even going back to Henry VIII’s famous line about lawyers. We’ll blame teachers, parents, society, something  – we have a desire to make something our sacrifice.  

We want a scapegoat, we want someone to take away our problems, we want someone to blame as if that will cause everything to be alright, to be okay.  Leaders and the media will do as the priests and elders did, calling on us to crucify those they point to, and so desperate for hope, we will echo their chants, share the news articles, share the meme’s without checking the truth, or considering the results. 

 What is often happening is what we see in the old fable called “the Emperor’s New Clothes.”  We do not realize we have made something in our life a sacred cow, an idol, something to be protected and defended because we base our hope on it.  We count on it for comfort; we expect that if our hope is true, we will know peace.  And these goals let us down, and we come face to face with the problems, and we end up defensive and in despair.

And we want to find something else, someone else to blame.

if someone attacked our idols, if they reveal our idolatry,m our nakedness and shame, they become the perfect target. We will gladly become hypocrites, liars, and even those who cry “crucify him” to return to our former blindness, our former state of being illusioned. Our former sense of self-righteousness.   The man who points out our brokenness, our sin, and what is shameful becomes the target.  Real problems for sure, but the person we nail for it, they aren’t to blame.  But their suffering blinds us to our own. Because their being crucified, their reputations suffering alleviates our need to deal with our real problems.

We want to turn him into another messiah, and hopefully, this time, the scapegoat won’t return, the crucified sacrificial victim won’t rise again.

We’re pretty sure he can’t – after all, he’s not the Christ.

We need to stop hiding behind our illusions, they don’t change the reality.  We need to deal with the brokenness in our lives, in our families, our society, and yes in our churches. We need to stop trying to find a scapegoat, another person to crucify and instead celebrate the one that we needed to be crucified was.  For the victim we needed to find, we don’t have to draft a new one.  There was One, Jesus the one who was chosen and annointed by God to die for us.

He also rose from the dead.

Because of that crucifixion and resurrection we will heal from our brokenness, we are giving His righteousness to wear, His spirit to dwell within us. We are made whole, and we know His peace, a peace that we we can’t understand, peace in the middle of brokennes.

He died, and no one else has to be crucified.

He rose and all of us who know Him, who trust in Him will rise.

Even those we wanted to crucify…

Is God More Than Love?

Devotional Thought of the Day:
28  ‘Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul; fear him rather who can destroy both body and soul in hell.  Matthew 10:28 (NJB)

For what is increasingly taking place before our eyes can be summarized in the words: the fear of men, that is, the absence of the fear of God, is the beginning of all foolishness. Today, since the image of God has been subjugated to the laws of advertising, the fear of God has all but disappeared from the catalogue of virtues. If he is to have advertising appeal, God must be so graphically depicted in exactly the opposite way that no one can possibly find any reason to fear him. That would be the last quality that would appear in our representations of him. In this way, that reversal of values that was the real sickness of pre-Christian religious history spreads more and more throughout our society and even in the midst of the Church. For even in ancient times there was a widespread belief that one did not have to fear the good God, the real God, because from him, since he was good, only good was to be expected. There was no need to worry about the good God; the evil powers were the ones to fear. Only they were dangerous; consequently one must do all in one’s power to win their favor. In this maxim we can see that the service of idols is an apostasy from the service of God. But we are surrounded by this idolatry. The good God does us no harm; we need offer him no more than a kind of primitive trust.

I was told earlier this week that preaching the gospel wasn’t as important as living it.  That what was needed was to abandon all that divided us from others, in order to find the peace and love which would change our community.   That we couldn’t let doctrines like the Trinity or like Justification, or even the nature of Jesus divide us from worshipping together.  Because what really matters is being good, and being loving.    (I’ve also had to deal with the other extreme, but that is another blog perhaps!)

I think Cardinal Ratzinger’s quote above puts it quite well.  We seem to have caught the idea that God is love (and He is!), but failed to understand what it means to love.  Or maybe perhaps, we have let those we fear ( or are in awe of ) re-define the meaning of love. So love becomes a form of acceptance, an acceptance/love that doesn’t seek out the best for the beloved, but assumes where they are is the best.

Perhaps this why God is not feared, and therefore, His words aren’t heard or obeyed. We don’t want to hear the part of God transforming us, refining us.   We only want a God who will bless us, who will do us no harm, who will not wisely rebuke or expect us to change, or conform to the image of Christ.

But it that was true, why did Jesus need to come?  Why did He have to die on a cross?  Why is it, that even John the Apostle, who is described as the beloved, is terrified when he enters the presence of God?  Why did Jesus say that our fear shouldn’t be of the world, and the opinions of man, but of God, to whom we are ultimately responsible?

Yes, there are people who make mountains out of what is neither commanded or forbidden in scripture.  There is also the core gospel, that which is described in the creeds, about our creation, and the conception, birth, life, death resurrection of Christ, and that it is the Holy Spirit that calls us to a life in relationship with Him. A relationship where we learn that God is amazing and holy and just… and yes loving.  Loving enough that He calls us to repentance and transformation.  Loving enough to wisely grant us that repentance, and cause and complete the transformation.

Being in fear of God, being in awe of His justice, His power, His wisdom and His love does something to us.  It causes to humbly, and yet confidently enter His presence.  To accept the relationship on the only terms offered. His terms.

But those terms are glorious….

Ratzinger, J. (1992). Co-Workers of the Truth: Meditations for Every Day of the Year. (I. Grassl, Ed., M. F. McCarthy & L. Krauth, Trans.) (p. 47). San Francisco: Ignatius Press.

What is “Freedom?” Specifically, what is “religious freedom?”

Devotional Thought of the Day:
36  If the Son sets you free, then you will be really free.
John 8:36 (TEV)

423         Under the pressure and impact of a materialistic, pleasure-loving, faithless world, how can we demand and justify the freedom of not thinking as they do, and of not acting as they do? A son of God has no need to ask for that freedom, because Christ won it for us once and for all. But he does need to defend it and practise it whatever the circumstance he finds himself in. Only thus will they understand that our freedom is not bound up in our surroundings.  (1)

This morning on the way to work, I heard a man complaining about the necessity to pay that his children could pray in school. He prattled on about how unfair it was that this wasn’t truly a free country, that it cost to have his kids raised by those who would teach them to pray. ( By the way, I know “Prattled” isn’t used much, but it fits the sounds he was making)

I think in this country we have made freedom an idol. Certainly we consider free speech a right, as well as the vague term “freedom of religion” or as some would have it, “freedom from religion.” We get upset when those “rights: are taken away, or limited.  We get even more upset when others use those “rights” in a way that threatens, disagrees or demeans us.  I’ve even heard the verse in red above used in discussions about the freedom of religion as if the Americanism – that Jesus gave us freedom, and anyone who would take it away should be damned.  (Or at least, mocked and embarrassed behind their back on Facebook)  The idol of freedom or even the freedom of religion does nothing long range for mankind.  It is an illusion, and it is not Christian freedom.

Our freedom is part of the peace that God gives us.  It is, as St. Josemaria says, freedom of not thinking as they do, or acting as they do.  It is not a freedom the world can give.   It is not a freedom guaranteed by the Bill of Rights or the Magna Carta.  It is the freedom Peter and Paul knew, as they were prisoners in Rome.  It is the freedom and peace that Stephen knew, as men laid their coats down at Saul’s feet, and picked up stones to crush him.  It is freedom martyrs longed to share with their tormenters.

It is a freedom that, like the peace we are given, is divine.

Hear the rest of Jesus statement, the context of the discussion on Freedom:

34  Jesus said to them, “I am telling you the truth: everyone who sins is a slave of sin. 35  A slave does not belong to a family permanently, but a son belongs there forever. 36  If the Son sets you free, then you will be really free. 37  I know you are Abraham’s descendants. Yet you are trying to kill me, because you will not accept my teaching. 38  I talk about what my Father has shown me, but you do what your father has told you.”
John 8:34-38 (TEV)

Here is our freedom.  The freedom from guilt and shame that breaks us down as we realize the consequences of our sin.  The freedom to see the relationships shattered by sin.  The freedom from resentment, the anger and hurt we store in our memories, as if we can protect ourselves from further injury, further hurt.

It is a freedom that is part of our faith, part of the trust and dependence we have in God.  Dependence on His fulfilling promises like that in Romans 8 that everything will work out for our good, that nothing can separate us from Him.  Promises like Genesis 50, that what others plan for evil, God will use those things for good.  The promise that is revealed as we look to Jesus, the author of our faith, and the one who makes it perfect.

This is freedom, true freedom.

Let us treasure the Lord, who frees us, more than the illusion of freedoms that would leave us oppressed and bound to sin and unrighteousness.

 

Escriva, Josemaria (2011-01-31). Furrow (Kindle Locations 1893-1897). Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition.

The Only Right That Matters

The Only Right that Really Matters

John 1:1-14

†  I.H.S.

 I pray for you my friends that you would grow to realize even deeper this truth.  Because Jesus was born, lived, died and rose from the dead, you are the children of God!

It seems we are always talking about our rights.  In the Constitution, it talks about inalienable rights, and its first ten amendments were the Bill of rights.  People talk about human rights; there have been numerous civil rights movements.  We talk about water rights, mineral rights, the right to assemble, the right to education, the right to medical care, the right to arm bears, o wait, bear arms.  Theologians and philosophers talk about the right to basic human dignity. Heck, I even remember one old rock song from 30 years ago that encouraged us to fight for the right…to party!  (yeah 30 years ago!)

But what if all but one right were taken away.

What if every right people claimed and demanded were stripped of them, but they could choose one….

I would hope we take the one that we heard a moment ago in the gospel.

It is the only right that really matters.

And to receive it, to trust that we have that right, means that all other rights are diminished, that all other rights are revealed to be something less.  They become like idols of wood or stone; that lose their luster and their importance.

Rights, or Self-idolatry?

While I am one who often speaks about making sure others are treated well, I think that we often make what we demand the right to, into an idol, a God that serves us.  We can’t think of life without that “right”, and we will fight to protect that right.

I’ve even heard of some people who indicate they will fight for that right, even to the point of death.
I am not talking about trying to serve others, and ensure they have what most would consider basic things in their life. I am talking about when those things or things not so basic or necessary become idols, where we think life must have them, or it isn’t really living.

It is then we have taken something good and turned it into something bad.  It is like the Israelites, taking Gideon’s armor and worshipping it, rather than the God who directed Gideon.  Or the staff with the snake, that God had Moses fashion, to heal people of the snake bites they received when they were unfaithful.  We do it to, when we take the things that remind us of Jesus, from buildings to people, from crosses to music, and say that’s what matters.

Or even when we take a day like Christmas, and make it more about the presents and food than about the Lord, who came to us.

The Lord, who laid aside his rights as God, to come and live among us, to serve, even to the point of death, and that death on a cross.

The Right

So what right do we cling to? What right is the one that makes the difference in our lives?

This one…

12 But to all who believed him and accepted him, he gave the right to become children of God. 13 They are reborn—not with a physical birth resulting from human passion or plan, but a birth that comes from God.

You have been given the right to be a child of God.  His son, His daughter. The child whom He loves.

So has everyone else on the planet.  Everyone in history,

This is why we are here.

It is not just for the brunch; it is not because of the music, or my eloquence. It’s not because of tradition, or because someone forced you to wake up and be here.  (although they might have!)

It is because God drew you here, to remind you of the right He gave you.

That He purchased for you by sending Jesus here, to be born and laid in a feeding trough, to wander around as an itinerant prophet without a home, to be mocked and brutally beaten and hung on a tree to bear every curse your sin earned.

So you would have the right to be a child of God.

To share in His love, His mercy, His glory, His peace……

AMEN.

Augustine on Sin and Counterfeit Glory.

Devotional thought of the day:

Well, no wonder! Even Satan can disguise himself to look like an angel of light! 15  So it is no great thing if his servants disguise themselves to look like servants of righteousness. In the end they will get exactly what their actions deserve. 2 Corinthians 11:14-15 (TEV)

Thus all pervertedly imitate Thee, who remove far from Thee, and lift themselves up against Thee. But even by thus imitating Thee, they imply Thee to be the Creator of all nature; whence there is no place whither altogether to retire from Thee. What then did I love in that theft? and wherein did I even corruptly and pervertedly imitate my Lord? Did I wish even by stealth to do contrary to Thy law, because by power I could not, so that being a prisoner, I might mimic a maimed liberty by doing with impunity things unpermitted me, a darkened likeness of Thy Omnipotency? Behold, Thy servant, fleeing from his Lord, and obtaining a shadow.

I am not sure why I added Augustine’s Confessions to my devotional reading for this year.  It may be because of the major role his work played in Luther’s life, or in my desire to understand the divisions between the Roman Catholic Church and my own Lutheran church. But a month in, I am glad.  There is deep simplicity in the words, as we observe his reflection on his life, including a life attracted to sin that ensnares us.  It’s brutal, honest, uncomfortable, revealing and liberating.

In today’s reading, he brings up something incredible, the idea that all of the sins we choose are a simple counterfeit, and imitation of that which is of God.  And in analyzing what we pursue, the very perversion reveals both our idol (the self) and the true life we would have, in Christ.

It is brutal because it reveals to us our idolatry, our desire to do that which Adam and Eve fell prey to, the desire to be God, to judge things as righteous or not.   It is uncomfortable because it reveals how poor an imitation these things are.  Here are some of examples which precede the quote,

“Luxury affects to be called plenty and abundance; but Thou art the fulness and never-failing plenteousness of incorruptible pleasures. Prodigality presents a shadow of liberality: but Thou art the most overflowing Giver of all good. Covetousness would possess many things; and Thou possessest all things. Envy disputes for excellency: what more excellent than Thou?”

Is it no wonder the emptiness that haunts us, the depression that we seek to ignore,to laugh off, to overwhelm and even self-medicate ourselves against?

Is it no wonder that the upcoming generation attempts to throw off the modernistic search for a scientific, tangible reality, yet can’t create one either? At least not where they are Lord of Lord and King of Kings?

Truly King David is correct in his similar diagnosis,

1  Why this uproar among the nations, this impotent muttering of the peoples? 2  Kings of the earth take up position, princes plot together against Yahweh and his anointed, 3  ‘Now let us break their fetters! Now let us throw off their bonds!’ Psalm 2:1-3 (NJB)

So what hope is there?  What can we offer to those burnt out on their idolatry, on their struggle to find a suitable, comfortable imitation of God?
We hold out the hope, not of an imitation of God, but of being in a relationship where we are transformed and imitate Him.  His love, His mercy, His grace.  King David speaks of this as well in that same Psalm,

11  Worship GOD in adoring embrace, Celebrate in trembling awe. 12  Kiss Messiah! Your very lives are in danger, you know; His anger is about to explode, But if you make a run for God—you won’t regret it! Psalm 2:11-12 (MSG)

Walk with Him, ask for His mercy, ask Him to reveal His love.  He Shall, for He is no shadow, He is our Reality.


Augustine, S., Bishop of Hippo. (1996). The Confessions of St. Augustine. (E. B. Pusey, Trans.). Oak Harbor, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc.  (Chapter VII)

What Can You Bring on the Journey – A sermon on Mark 10:17–22 (with Audio)

Traveling Companions of the Cross
Lesson IV – What Can You Bring on the Journey

Mark 10:17–22

Iesou, Huios, Soter

May the God our Father, the God of peace make you hoy in everyway, and may your whole spirit and soul and body be kept blameless until our Lord Jesus Christ comes again!

What can I bring?

It is expected.

You may be bringing the side dish, or the desert.

Or if you are going to Dr. Chris’s you may bring a box of wine.

But we are trained to bring something with us when we go to someone else’s house.

If we are going on a long trip, we may offer to pay for the gas, or grab the snacks and drinks for the trip.

We might call it having good manners, or being raised and trained well.

Certainly the man in the parable was like us, he wanted to journey with Jesus, to be guaranteed that eternal life with God.

But he didn’t expect, and he couldn’t handle Jesus telling him he couldn’t do his fair share.

He couldn’t accept that when he asked Jesus what he could bring on the journey, Jesus’ answer was,

Nothing! Matter of fact, “go, sell everything you have, give the proceeds to the poor, and without bringing anything, “come follow me.”

We, like the man in the gospel struggle when Jesus invites us to come follow Him, and adds, leave everything behind… and I mean everything!

The problem of what we cling to… our idols

For the man, a man by all accounts righteous, what he wanted to bring along the way was his possessions.  That was what he clung to, actually it was what clung to him.  He wouldn’t let go, and walk with Jesus.

I hope we will….

You see, some will make this passage about the money, that we should use our money well for the kingdom.  That it proves that we are responsible to use our money and all we possess to praise God.  It could be our golf clubs, our sewing machines, our guitars or homes.  Sell it all, give it to God. NO!

Actually God didn’t want it.  Use it to help those without, set it aside. Come with me!

There is a bigger issue here. The way things control us, the way count on things to identify who we are.  It might be something we possess,  or it might be a talent, or our intellect. Jesus isn’t just asking the man to leave stuff behind.

Think about what Jesus asks people to leave behind in scripture.

Their jobs, and Matthew and Zaccheus left their tax tables

Their families, and Andrew, Peter, James and John left their families as they left their boats

Their nations, as Abraham, Moses, Jonah, and Paul would leave those behind

Their “rights”? a disciple follows His master… abandoning all for the honor.

And amazingly, their guilt and shame, as both David and Peter took on leadership roles they didn’t think they were qualified for,

Often how we define ourselves shows us what our idols, our false gods are. What we cling to, what we think defines us.  What we cling to, what defines us in the darkness of a night…..

Hear how Luther put it

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; as I have often said that the confidence and faith of the heart alone make both God and an idol.
The Large Catechism of Martin Luther.

Where does your confidence lie, when all else is falling around you?

It might even be negative – that you deserve to suffer, because your are no good.

Or it might be the idea that you are a victim.  That life is the way it is because you’ve been crushed by others, or attacked, or mocked.

**Whatever it is, what we define ourselves as, hints at what our gods and idols are.

They are the things that get in the way of walking with Jesus, what get in the way of our following him.

And like the man, if we are to be Christ’s, then we have to let go of that other stuff….

and walk with Christ, letting Him provide everything we are to be, to need. Letting Him show us what gets in the way of our relationship with Him, and letting him destroy those false idols, those false gods.

Come Follow Me!

That’s what we see as Jesus responds to the man,

21 Looking at the man, Jesus felt genuine love for him. “There is still one thing you haven’t done,” he told him. “Go and sell all your possessions and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.”

Catch that first line –

Looking at the man, Jesus felt genuine love for him.

Jesus didn’t see the man as too proud, too conceited.  He saw a man that he loved, that Jesus came to die for, to make the man’s idyllic dream of heaven and eternity true.

In His love for the man, he saw what would stop him.  The things he possessed that meant more to him, at the moment.

Jesus loved him… Jesus wanted this man to join Him.  Just like Jesus wants us to join Him, to accompany Him to the Father’s side.

And Jesus would die, to show this man, and each of us, how much God treasures us. To give him a glimpse of the treasure a life lived with God is.  To show him the treasure that Jesus would bring him to know.

The treasure promised in the cross, given to all who would be joined to Christ’s death, burial and resurrection, that incredible mystery we proclaim in the Memorial Acclimation, that we proclaim every time we eat and drink the Body and Blood of Jesus Christ.

We don’t have to bring anything, as what we have, what we put our trust in what we depend upon doesn’t define us.

The fact that God loves us does.  The fact that He loves us enough to do what it took, the cross and the grave, to make us His children.

That love defines us.

The love that says come with me.  Accompany me through life unto eternity.

I love the quote that shows how we are defined, found in Paul’s words to the crowd in Athens,

as someone has said, ‘In him we live and move and exist.’ It is as some of your poets have said, ‘We too are his children
.’ Acts 17:28 (TEV)

And so we understand what the man couldn’t, what the writer of Hebrews wrote so clearly,

So then, let us rid ourselves of everything that gets in the way, and of the sin which holds on to us so tightly, and let us run with determination the race that lies before us.  Let us keep our eyes fixed on Jesus, on whom our faith depends from beginning to end. He did not give up because of the cross! On the contrary, because of the joy that was waiting for him, he thought nothing of the disgrace of dying on the cross, and he is now seated at the right side of God’s throne. Hebrews 12:1-2 (TEV)

That’s the point of selling the stuff, getting rid of the stuff that gets in the way, whether it is good or bad.

So because of His genuine love for us, come, let us follow Jesus, our Lord, our Savior, the One who loves us more than life.  I tell you this, we won’t even remember what we’ve left behind!

AMEN!

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