Devotional Thought of the Day:
1 I lift my eyes to You, the One enthroned in heaven. 2 Like a servant’s eyes on his master’s hand, like a servant girl’s eyes on her mistress’s hand, so our eyes are on the LORD our God until He shows us favor. Ps. 123:1-2 HCSB
Many men and women are experiencing more and more today serious lowliness and neglect as a result of their excessive zeal for autonomy which they inherited from modernity. But mostly they have lost the support of something that transcends them.
For the last day or two, pictures from last summer remind me of my favorite place on earth. It is a quiet place, and even in the midst of the summer Deer Cove on Lake Ossipee was quiet, tranquil, a great place to walk, enjoy God’s creation and peace.
I miss it, this idyllic, beautiful peaceful place.
When life is stressful and overwhelming, when I am dealing with people in great trauma, I long to find the autonomy, the independence of such a place.
Yet I hear Pope Francis’s words this morning and I know my desire to be introverted, independent, emotionally off-the-grid is a trap. What I would be choosing is isolation, not freedom. What I think is an escape is a sentence, a form of suffering I could not bear.
We choose, far too often the very thing prison wardens do to those who will not live by the rules. We dwell in that place that makes memory stealing diseases like Alzheimer’s and dementia so frightening.
While a good deal of our stress comes from others, so should the support that comes from the people of God. So does the reminder from others that I need to hear, that the Lord is with me. (and also with them!) We were made to live in community.
But that community starts in the presence of God, Where love and mercy are the greatest of gifts, the purest grace. (this is a necessity, otherwise, our sin and brokenness can make the community a nightmare.) As a community, as the Body of Christ, we look to God to provide that which we need, and the confidence of that provision grows.
Even as we learn to be merciful to each other, it grows. For that is the power of the Lord demonstrated in our midst.
Our desire for freedom, for independence, for autonomy is really a desire for freedom from sin and the brokenness, guilt, shame, and division it causes. As the sin is forgiven, as the mercy is realized, as our hearts re-discover peace and joy, the desire for independence disappears.
For we realize God is with Us, we realize His provision unites us, brings us together as a family. Brings us together in His peace.
Which is what we need, more than anything.
Heavenly Father, as we try to run away from all that oppresses us, help us look to you, open our eyes to Your mercy and love, Help us to rejoice in Your presence, together with all your saints. Help us to be confident in Your work in our lives. AMEN!
Pope Francis. (2013). A Year with Pope Francis: Daily Reflections from His Writings. (A. Rossa, Ed.) (p. 227). New York; Mahwah, NJ; Toronto, ON: Paulist Press; Novalis.
Devotional Thought of the Day:
7 I will give them hearts that recognize me as the LORD. They will be my people, and I will be their God, for they will return to me wholeheartedly. Jeremiah 24:7 (NLT)
19 We have, then, my friends, complete freedom to go into the Most Holy Place by means of the death of Jesus. 20 He opened for us a new way, a living way, through the curtain—that is, through his own body. 21 We have a great priest in charge of the house of God. 22 So let us come near to God with a sincere heart and a sure faith, with hearts that have been purified from a guilty conscience and with bodies washed with clean water. 23 Let us hold on firmly to the hope we profess, because we can trust God to keep his promise. 24 Let us be concerned for one another, to help one another to show love and to do good. 25 Let us not give up the habit of meeting together, as some are doing. Instead, let us encourage one another all the more, since you see that the Day of the Lord is coming nearer. Hebrews 10:19-25 (TEV)
409 “I was a guerrilla fighter,” he wrote, “and I moved around the hills, shooting whenever I wanted. But I thought I had better become a soldier, because I realised that wars are won more easily by organised armies and well-disciplined armies. A poor guerrilla fighter on his own cannot take whole cities, or conquer the world. I hung up my old musket—it was so out of date!—and now I am better armed. At the same time, I know that I can no longer lie down in the hills, under the shade of a tree, and dream about winning the war all on my own.” Blessed be the discipline and blessed be the unity of our Holy Mother the Church! (1)
I was asked this week, how do I respond to people who think that they can worship God all by themselves. It’s not the first time, people have asked that question of me. Apparently someone asked Pope Francis that earlier this week as well, as one of his tweets responded to such a question. He admitted that it was difficult, because people are sinners, and we can frustrate anger and even cause each other great anxiety. But it was, nevertheless necessary.
We know God because others who are part of the body of Christ have shared His love with us. No one comes to know Jesus, unless He is revealed to us by another. It could be parents, uncles or aunts, a friend, even someone we were interested in dating. But someone revealed to us the depth of God’s love for us.
The writer of Hebrews knows this all too well, as he begins to some up his letter, he address those who want to have some kind of individual relationship with God – where it is just God and them, at the beach, in the forest, on their motorcycle, playing their music, where ever. The argument is that the relationship could be purer, less restricted, less affected by hypocrisy, or their own inability to be patient and deal with others. But that presumes that the kind of relationship God has designed for each of us is one on one with Him. That we don’t need the encouragement of others, that those times where we stress, where we worry, where we hurt, are going to take away from our relationship with God, rather than intensify it, as we realize our need for God, to need to know His presence, His comfort, His peace. It
I love the quote from St. Josemaria, because it nails me to the cross. For years growing up, desiring to be a pastor, I thought about my winning the world for God, the great things I could do. I was the idyllic “guerrilla”, solider of the cross. There was a lot of encouragement for this, a naivete about the need for true fellowship – as working as one body in Christ. Of realizing what affects one believer affects us all, without regard to denomination or theology, or personal journey. It’s not about what I’ve chosen to believe, or you think in right.
Paul explains it well in his letter to the church in Ephesus,
3 Make every effort to keep yourselves united in the Spirit, binding yourselves together with peace. 4 For there is one body and one Spirit, just as you have been called to one glorious hope for the future. 5 There is one Lord, one faith, one baptism, 6 and one God and Father, who is over all and in all and living through all. Ephesians 4:3-6 (NLT)
Our unity is not found in our diversity, but in Christ, in His revelation, in His Love. In what binds us together in His un-explainable peace.
That’s why we need to no abandon each other, finding reasons to walk alone.
It can’t be done. For God has designed us to be His people – together, and He comes to us to be our (together) God.
The strength we find in this, the peace, the encouragement, even in times of stress, of anxiety, of dealing with brokenness, of dealing with sin…
It’s why church and Bible study are important. Not to prove our holiness, but to encourage each other to remember we are holy, separated together for a relationship with Jesus Christ.
That’s the Church, simply put, His people….
Come and join us, as we walk with Christ, together.
(1) Escriva, Josemaria (2011-01-31). Furrow (Kindle Locations 1835-1841). Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition.
† In Jesus Name †
May the grace of God of Father and our Lord Jesus Christ bring you comfort and strength, as we journey through this life… in the presence of the Holy Spirit!
An Uncomfortable Reading?
Every week I face a choice, which of the three readings should I use as the basis of the sermon. As I pick which to preach on, one of the things I look for is the biggest “gulp factor.” That is, which of the passages will be the hardest to preach on, because that is where the best message may be. The passage that causes you to “gulp” as you read it, that makes you uncomfortable as you read it… can have the lesson you need, but will struggle to hear.
It is… odd…funny…perhaps, but as I studied the passage – what became the gulp factor wasn’t that God was portrayed as being a compassionate mother… or the frequent descriptions of female anatomy and nursing. Those are awkward at best… but the gulp factor is…more challenging.
What is more challenging is this description of God being so compassionate, so comforting, so caring, for His people….
So much so, that instead of using a father as an illustration, God chooses to use one of the most intuitively intimate descriptions that we know of in life.
The question that faces us today is, are we able to be the infant in that picture? Can we be that completely dependent on God, not just for the sustenance that will give us life, but for the comfort, that will overpower our anxieties, our inabilities.
So – let’s all take a big gulp – and see how deep the love and compassion of God is for us.
Are We Willing to Be Comforted?
If I am to take this passage seriously, I have to come to grips with this picture of God. He is the God who provides for us that which is necessary for life, but also, even as He does, He brings comfort to His children, to His people. With such care, such tenderness that the picture of a mom nursing her baby… is what describes His love best!
It seems to me that we shouldn’t ever outgrow this “phase”, as infants eventually grow into toddlers, then children, the teens and into adulthood. But maturing as a believer isn’t about becoming more independent of God, even though we might like to define it that way!
That’s counter-intuitive, and even more counter-cultural. Our world tells us we should become stronger, more self-sufficient, more driven, that we should grow and that means we should need less. Our culture dreads the loss of independence. Most of us dread the days we will have to depend on someone else completely. Yet, Israel – even after the height of growth, would come to need God more – yes for sustenance, but even more for comfort.
Perhaps this is why we struggle with this so much – if you asked us if we are willing to be comforted by God, most of us would have the same answer we would to having to depend on anyone else.
“Not today – I think I’ve got it handled”
“Let me try and fix it one more time… then I’ll pray about it and ask God for help.”
I think that is why God pictures us here as infants, not as toddlers or preschoolers!
There is something in us, that finds trusting in God difficult, because we want to make it a decision, a choice, rather than the intuitive relationship, like that that exists between a mother and a newborn.
We’d rather do it on our own, to not be known as those needy for God’s presence and provision. If we were asked, most of us were to stubborn to take what God brings to us, we would rather starve and die than eat of His heavenly nourishment. That’ why Jesus says we must have faith like and infant.
It’s my prayer that the church everywhere, and especially here, embrace God’s provision and comfort, as easily as a newborn babe. That we would be so overjoyed in God’s presence – that we just relax in His arms, and as ecstatic as an infant on his mom’s lap.
Rejoice, Be Glad, Rejoice
You see, that’s what this is all about – a relationship that we have with God, that goes beyond our ability to explain – one that we pour the energy of our voices into in song, in our praises as we realize His presence.
I want you to notice, that it’s not the infant that Isaiah describes rejoicing – even though the joy and peace is evident. The contentment of a nursing infant is incredible – even for dads who took the late night feeding. The mother’s joy is also incredible, as life flows from one to the other, and so it is for God, as He nourishes us. Isaiah asks others to witness the joy, to share in the joy as well – to be glad (remember – that’s to dance!) for the people of God who have been comforted, who drink deeply of God’s provision, who know little to put to words, but turn easily to Him, and His love.
Verse 14 talks of witnessing this – and our hearts rejoicing – and our lives grow like the grasses that shoot up in the desert after a rain. Much as we rejoice when God claims another here at the baptismal font, much as we rejoice when we come to the altar – and are fed by Christ… as we are fed through His word and through prayer.
I mentioned a little bit ago, that for the infant – it isn’t a matter of thinking and deliberation when it turns to his momma, or when it cries for her attention. It is instead an intuitive action, as it is for the mom to go to her child. That my friend is how we need to react with God, we turn to Him because we know He will answer our need – even if we can’t put words to it. I love how Luther put it as he explains the First Commandment in the Large Catechism:
“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 always wondered why a newborn knows the difference between the females that hold him or her. How does it know the difference between mom, and auntie, and grammy or cousin? For that matter, why does the baby scream when some guy picks him up?
The infant just knows, the same way we know God is God. He provides what we need, there is a desire to bring us peace and comfort, to provide what is needed. There is a joy that is beyond description as He feeds us, as He strengthens us, as He comforts us.
Which is why growing in Christ is not about growing in freedom from God, but recognizing our need for His interaction in our life. We grow to depend on His nourishment, and His comfort, for it is through that we grow to adore Him more and more.
For in bringing us comfort, it pours out on us as His peace, the peace that passes all understanding, and in which we are kept safe, our hearts and minds – by Christ…