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The Power Hidden in Pronouns and the Beginning of Advent

closed eyed man holding his face using both of his hands

Photo by Ric Rodrigues on Pexels.com

Devotional Thought of the Day:

2  May God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ give you grace and peace. 3  Every time I think of you, I give thanks to my God.
Philippians 1:2-3 (NLT2) (italics mine)

God is always waiting for us; he never grows tired. Jesus shows us this merciful patience of God so that we can regain confidence and hope …always.

The Christians adopted this term to proclaim their special relationship to Jesus Christ. For them, he is the King who entered this wretched province, our world, and gifted it with the feast of his visit. He it is whose presence in the liturgical assembly they profess. With this expression, they intended to say, in general, “God is here.” He has not abandoned this world. He has not left us behind alone. Even though we cannot see and touch him like so many things—he is present, nevertheless, and visits us in many ways

As I started to prepare for next weeks sermon last night, the two pronouns in the reading caught my attention, and wouldn’t let it go.

I’ve read that passage hundreds of times, if not a thousand times, preached on it a lot, and those pronouns never hit me like they did last night. Technically they are genitive pronouns, called that because they have a relationship with a noun, as opposed to having a relationship with a verb.  They act more like adjectives than subjects or objects in a sentence.  In English, we might call them possessive pronouns.

Here is what that means to those of us who aren’t language geeks.

Those pronouns exist to tie the object in the sentence to the person/people the pronoun represents.  In the first case, “us”, in the second case, “Paul”.

And that makes all the difference in the world.  This God of whom Paul speaks is OUR GOD, OUR FATHER  this God he prays to is HIS GOD (or we can say when we pray MY GOD).  There is a relationship there, a connection that defines this God of whom we speak.  There is a personal close relationship that is so close we are defined by it, as is He.

This is a perfect thought to contemplate during Advent, especially as we begin this journey, contemplating what these pronouns mean.  That God, the creator and sustainer of the universe is our Father.  That we can go to Him in prayer, knowing that He not only will listen but that He desires too, offering comfort and peace in the times in our life that are the hardest.

This is the meaning of course, of Advent, the looking back and looking forward to Christ coming into our lives to reveal God’s love for us.  Looking forward as well, to the incredible time when we prodigals return home, for Christ has come for us.

Because of Jesus entering into our drama, we aren’t alone, we are in a relationship with God who never grows tired, who will not abandon us, whom we can and should talk to, who nourishes our famished souls.

In the past week, I have seen too much trauma, I have seen people experience too much brokenness. too much grief.  Perhaps more than any time in my ministry. It is in a time like this that the reality of Advent is such a treasured part of my life. I have to know God is here, I have to hear His voice comfort me, (through the scriptures and through those whom He has sent to encourage )

This is what Advent means, that until Christ’s return, we can dwell in His peace, something unexplainable, something unimaginable, yet something that is so real.

Lord, help us to realize your presence, as You surround us in your peace!  AMEN!

 
Pope Francis. (2013). A Year with Pope Francis: Daily Reflections from His Writings. (A. Rossa, Ed.) (p. 366). New York; Mahwah, NJ; Toronto, ON: Paulist Press; Novalis.

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. 381). San Francisco: Ignatius Press.

Christian Maturity is not Self-Sufficient

10649504_10152396630845878_3341349315020260479_nDevotional Thought of the Day:

20 “I have obeyed all these commandments,” the young man replied. “What else do I need to do?” 21 Jesus said to him, “If you want to be perfect, go and sell all you have and give the money to the poor, and you will have riches in heaven; then come and follow me.” 22 When the young man heard this, he went away sad, because he was very rich.  Matt 19:20-22  TEV

5  That is why I have sent my prophets to you with my message of judgment and destruction. What I want from you is plain and clear: 6  I want your constant love, not your animal sacrifices. I would rather have my people know me than burn offerings to me. Hosea 6:5-6 (TEV)

One encounters Christ throughout the creation, says Luther, but the troubled conscience experiences him as its judge and flees in terror. In the supper, however, the believer meets the Lord unequivocally as the savior who lays his life down for me (“This is the body of Christ given for you; the blood of Christ shed for you”). There is no escaping Christ’s single-minded intention. He proclaims his love to each and every participant and asks only that they take him at his word.

he (Augstine) had a sort of vision, in which he heard a voice saying to him: “I am the bread of the strong, eat me! But you will not transform me and make me part of you; rather, I will transform you and make you part of me.”3 In the normal process of eating, the human is the stronger being. He takes things in, and they are assimilated into him, so that they become part of his own substance. They are transformed within him and go to build up his bodily life. But in the mutual relation with Christ it is the other way around; he is the heart, the truly existent being. When we truly communicate, this means that we are taken out of ourselves, that we are assimilated into him, that we become one with him and, through him, with the fellowship of our brethren.

We measure Christian maturity wrong, and we have for a long time.

We measure it by the level of theological knowledge they have, or by the amount of scripture memorized.  How dynamic they are when it comes to sharing or defending the faith. How much they “have it together” doesn’t really count all that much either, for anyone can put on an act.

The young man in the first reading above would have been counted as mature in the faith.  he did all the right things, he said them all, he knew it all as well.  The Israelites in Hosea’s time had the sacrificial system down, they had all the right movements, they processed sacrifices with the precision of a military unit, yet they too were not mature in their faith.

They didn’t understand, any more than we do today.

Being mature in the faith is not about being self-sufficient, but it is about being dependent on God, about walking with Jesus, about loving Him, about knowing Him!  Being a Christian is about letting God invade your life, about learning to hold no part back, for the Lord would save all of us.

Read again the words about Luther, and the writings of then Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger above.  Look at how they describe meeting Christ in the Eucharist, the transforming nature of God.  It is encountering the absolute love of God, as He pours out mercy and peace and healing upon us.

This isn’t just about the substitutionary atonement or the discussion of consubstantiation versus transubstantiation. It’s not just about the words of institution or the form of the mass in which this gift is celebrated.  Those things are part, but they mean nothing without the encounter…the encounter with Christ.

It is about this encounter, about meeting God, right then and there. About knowing the purest, most invasive, most intimate love, about taking in the Body and Blood of Christ. It is about being drawn into His glory, for His glory is simply the light of His love.

Christian maturity is about desiring to know this love, about realizing how much we need His presence, about rejoicing as we depend on Him, as we entrust to Him our very souls.

It is what Jesus asked the young man. …drop everything… let it help others… come walk with me.

The mature Christian has learned to do so, even asking God for the help.

Lord, help us grow in faith, depending on You, allowing You in every part of our lives and rejoicing in the His love for us.  AMEN!

 

Strohl, J. E. (2007). General Introduction. In P. D. W. Krey, B. McGinn, & P. D. S. Krey (Eds.), P. D. S. Krey & P. D. W. Krey (Trans.), Luther’s Spirituality (p. xxviii). New York; Mahwah, NJ: Paulist Press.

Ratzinger, J. (2003). God is Near Us: The Eucharist, the Heart of Life. (S. O. Horn & V. Pfnür, Eds., H. Taylor, Trans.) (p. 78). San Francisco: Ignatius Press.

Two Encounters With Jesus: A sermon on Mark 6:45-56

church at communion 2Two Encounters With Jesus
Mark 6:45-56

Jesus, Son, Saviour

May the grace of God our Father and our Lord Jesus Christ cause you to recognize Him, and bring to Him those who need to be made whole.

The Challenge to Evangelism?


In twenty years of ministry, one of the hardest things to see develop in a church is the attitude that we exist and serve to bring others to Christ.  Some call this being missional, some call it recognizing our apostolate.

You see, each of us is sent by God, to live where we are, and to reflect the love of God to those who are broken and so desperately need His touch upon their lives.

The challenge is not in learning what to say, most of us have been taught how to explain our faith. I mean how many of us can say the Lord’s Prayer and the apostles’ creed without looking at the bulletin?

We know the teachings, the basic doctrine.

So what do we need?  What will change us into being a church that reveals to people the Jesus who will make them whole?

The key to Concordia, or any other church, becoming an evangelistic church, is simple. We need to know how to act when we encounter Jesus.

For when our souls learn to recognize Jesus, when our hearts know we dwell in His presence, the intuitive thing to do will be to drag people to Jesus, to the places where we know they will encounter them.

In today’s gospel, there are three encounters with Jesus. Two will show us how we can react to seeing Him.  And the third, well, we will get to it later.

Seeing Him, amazed and confused!
The first way people reacted to Jesus is seen in the boat.  The apostles, tired and weary, still overwhelmed by their first mission trip, and the feeding of thousands, see Jesus.
They see him, the word there is from where we get “identify.”  Picture someone routinely checking driver’s licenses, and then realizing the person in front of them is someone famous. This is how they reacted, and their hearts, confused by all of life, were described as too petrified to take it all in. We all get that way sometimes, as life throws a few curves at us.  As we get overwhelmed, as we are struggling with what is going on, or with the storms in our lives.
The apostles were there, “hey” its Jesus.   Oh no!  It’s beyond natural!  It’s something supernatural!  It’s not something normal.

Uhm, yeah Peter and James and John.  It’s Jesus!  What did you expect from Him, if not the supernatural?

We don’t recognize Jesus all that well at times, or the Holy Spirit’s prompting.  We struggle to see Him during the hard times, and we don’t completely get what God is up too when we see the miraculous happen.

Our hearts are petrified, they are too hard to take it all in. But can we change?

Knowing Him – and dragging people in bed to Him

The second group was the group that encountered Jesus when He got out of the boat.  These people just didn’t identify Jesus, the Greek indicates they knew Him, they deeply knew Him, who He was, and what it meant for Him to be there.

Whereas the Apostles went crazy with fear, these people went crazy bringing every person they could find that was broken.  They ran around, grabbing people on mattresses and carrying them, they even just knew that if they could encounter Jesus, even just touching the edge of their robes, it would change everything….

And it did.

They encountered Him in the everyday mess of life. Though they had no clue about the cross, or the grave, the resurrection, they were sure He was a messenger from God, and they knew he would do the supernatural.  So they brought the broken, the needy, almost without thinking about it!

Imagine lying there on your bed, some guys storm in, and the next thing you know, you are being dragged to meet Jesus, no explanation given. As you encounter Jesus, something more occurs than just being healed.  You are made holy, you are saved. You are made right, perfect.

That’s what happens when you reveal the love of God to someone, that is what happens when Jesus is revealed In your life, what occurs when you encounter Him.

So How?  Close Encounter of the Third Kind

So how do we go from the first reaction to reacting like the evangelists in the second group of people?  How do we go from going crazy because of trauma and stress, to being crazy trying to get people to come to Jesus?  What hope is there for those of us who are overwhelmed, whose hearts are too hard to take it all in?

Because even the holiest and most devout of us can get overwhelmed by life.

I did this week, as the prayer list seemed to explode with people in need.

It isn’t within me to remember 24/7 that God is here, actively working in our lives, actively working through our lives. I get too distracted, I get too overwhelmed by the storm, I get too frustrated by the work that God sent me to do.

So how do we keep centered on Jesus? How do we stay aware of His presence in life?

One pastor wrote it this way,

Only from a personal encounter with the Lord can we carry out the diakonia (service) of tenderness without letting us get discouraged or be overwhelmed by the presence of pain and suffering.  (Pope Francis)

Remember where the disciples were heading with Jesus when they came back from their first mission trip? When they took off and found people chasing them on the shore, and then Jesus fed them?

They were heading off to a place to be with Jesus, to find time to pray, to find time for that personal encounter with God.  To know Him enough to recognize Him.

Jesus did this, He went away for a time to talk to the Father, that was why He had to chase the boat, and if it is a blessing for Him, it is necessary for us.

Not just to please God, though it does.  I need it, and you need it too.  We need to be able to recognize God’s presence in our lives, to expect it, and the healing and peace that He brings. For that presence ties out theology to life, it makes what we say more than words.

To know Him, to encounter Him in prayer, and in the sacraments, they help us to now He is there. And so this week, God blessed me by helping me encounter Him more, as people took time out, and we shared in the Lord’s Supper together.  Then when the storms hit, we know to look for Him, to expect His presence.

For from there, recognizing God at work is easier, knowing He is here, and He will make us whole is easier.  For with Him revealed, we are still, and we know He is indeed God. And that He keeps us, our hearts and minds safe in Jesus. AMEN!

Is it worth it? A reflection on 20 plus years of ministry….

Jesus foot washingDevotional Thought of the Day:

10 After Job had prayed for his friends, the LORD restored his prosperity and doubled his previous possessions.11 All his brothers, sisters, and former acquaintances came to his house and dined with him in his house. They sympathized with him and comforted him concerning all the adversity the LORD had brought on him. Each one gave him a qesitah and a gold earring. 
12 So the LORD blessed the last part of Job’s life more than the first.  Job 42:10-12  HCSB

670    Jesus says: “Everyone who has left house or brothers or sisters or father or mother or wife or children or lands, for my name’s sake, shall receive a hundredfold and shall possess life everlasting.” Try to find anyone on earth who repays with such generosity!

Twenty years ago this August I made the decision to leave my position at Pepperdine University, and become a full-time pastor at the small desert church I was pastoring on weekends. Ten years ago, we made the decision to leave our very comfortable life in the mountains where I pastored, to come back to the hustle and bustle of Los Angeles.

In both situations, the decisions had a significant financial impact, and more, for pastoring means you are there as people die, as others struggle with their sins (a number of times I have had members or former members who were arrested ) as people struggle with their brokenness.  Though most pastors don’t know it, part of the burn out is from something psychologists call “Second-Hand Shock Syndrome”  a subset of PTSD that occurs for those like pastors, nurses, fireman and counselors who encounter regularly the brokenness. of the world.

As I have thought about the last 20 years (and some before that as a jail chaplain) and looked at others who struggle in ministry, the words from Job and St. Josemaria echo in my ear.  I wonder, seriously wonder at times, when the payoff described will happen.

I am not asking you to feel sorry for those in ministry, especially me.  There are incredible blessings out there, every time I see someone baptized, or someone cry with joy as they realize that “God loves you” and “the Lord is with you” aren’t just trite sayings.  They are the truth and a life-changing truth. We get to see these incredible miracles, and they are a blessing that goes beyond description.

Yet there are days as well when most of us wonder when the work will ever get easier if the stresses will ever end.

So is having newer homes, and more kids, and more riches the reward that is waiting?

If that is all that is waiting for me, the answer is simple.

No, absolutely not.

While God is generous and loving and merciful, I think the blessings, whether now or in heaven that counts is what happens before chapter 42.  It is in the discussion God and Job have, in the fact that here is a man who converses with God, whom God challenges, yet doesn’t throw away. Whom God will declare is righteous, and though suffering becomes a blessing to his friendly tormentors.

It is this relationship, where God knows me better than I know myself, where He doesn’t abandon me (though sometimes I wonder why He hasn’t!) that is the ultimate level of generosity, that is the ultimate payoff. Intimacy with God who loves us is what this is all about, and that is more precious than any earthly reward.

And it isn’t just for pastors and priests.

He calls us all to be His sons and daughters. He desires to clean us from all that mars us, to heal our brokenness, to never leave us alone, to guide us through every portion of life, even when we don’t notice.

And to bring us into eternity, where we will see Him face to face.

25 But I know my living Redeemer, and He will stand on the dust at last. 26 Even after my skin has been destroyed, yet I will see God in my flesh. 27 I will see Him myself;  my eyes will look at Him, and not as a stranger. My heart longs within me. Job 19:25-27 HCSB

There it is, the “payoff” that makes this all worth it.  To look at a God and know Him, not as a stranger.  This is what makes it worth it for the lady that teaches 3-year-olds in Sunday School, or the Elder who takes communion ot the shut-in (and rushes to get there, so the lady can then go play Bingo at the senior center!) or the worship leader, tired from a hard week, who still smiles and ignores her own pain and anxiety and leads the people of God in praising Him, or the returned prodigal, who rejoices that wherever he goes people want to talk about God.

Or the pastor, who is simply tired… yet keeps on going, sustained by the God who is not stranger….but loves us all.  And who is reminded of that presence by those who lovingly tell him, “and also with you!”

For the Lord is with you as well… and I pray that you will see Him revealed, in all His glory, as you are embraced by Him.

 

Escriva, Josemaria. The Way (Kindle Locations 1559-1561). Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition.

The More Incredible Victory and its Unintended Blessing

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERADevotional Thoughts for our Day:
so David inquired of God, “Should I go to war against the Philistines? Will You hand them over to me?”
The LORD replied, “Go, and I will hand them over to you.”
11 So the Israelites went up to Baal-perazim, and David defeated the Philistines there. Then David said, “Like a bursting flood, God has used me to burst out against my enemies.” Therefore, they named that place the Lord Bursts Out. 12 The Philistines abandoned their idols there, and David ordered that they be burned in the fire.   1 Chronicles 14:10-12  HCSB

The Lord has shaken you; he has done it without anesthesia, like he did to Abraham, asking him to give up his son, his dreams, his projects.He tested him without explanation, introducing him to the school of detachment to be truly a free man and completely available to the projects of God who was planning to make him a collaborator in the great history of salvation

 

If you must be heard, let it be like the babbling brook,
laughing over the rocks.
If you must be seen, let it be like sunlight
giving warmth and comfort to all.
If you must be acknowledged, let it be as the eyes
behold the skies in all their glory.
If you must lead, let it be like the wind and all its unshackled direction.
If you must learn, let it be like breathing, the natural flow of in and out, and done without thinking.

I love the naive thoughts in the last of the quotes from my devotional reading this morning.  I say naive because I know that the only way to accomplish such communication and leadership  You have to be naive, you have to be blessed with a simpleness, that simply does things naturally.

Like Abraham sacrificing Issac, you have to be freed from the things that keep us from living in the freedom we need to be naive, to simply rely on God, detached from all that would possibly separate us from God.

To separate us from our idols, including the idolatry of our dreams, our plans our visions.

Which is something hard to give up, these visions and plans we carefully set up, after careful study, deliberation, and even prayer.  (Most churches go through this regularly, trying to craft vision stations, mission statements, delineating core values in a precise and pragmatic way)  But what if we have to sacrifice this on the altar, what if we have to realize that while we think we know God’s plan, we may not?

Will we do so as willingly as Abraham did?

Or will we need someone like David for us?

It may seem overlooked in the tremendous victory David had over the Philistines, but there is a more incredible victory that blesses the Philistines more than it blesses the Israelites.

It’s there in verse 12, that because of God working through David, God delivered the Philistines from their idols.  In fact, the victory was so complete, they walked away from their idols. They were freed from them, and the emptiness they offered. The Philistines were freed from the brokenness, and though they had other issues to deal with, they weren’t bound to worshipping the dreams, the desires that these idols represented.

While I would wish my relationship with God was so strong, that my faith was so strong I could do what Abraham did, I am not that strong, I am not that devoted, I am not that willing to sacrifice my idols.  So I need to pray that God sends a David to bless me, to win the victory for me that only one I count as my adversary could win.

In reality, isn’t this what Jesus did?  While we were His enemies, He died for us, freeing us from our idols, freeing us from our self-centered idolatry.   And as we are freed, then the Holy Spirit works in us the kind of selflessness that some would count as naivete, the selflessness that is so blessed.  He won the victory against our sin and idolatry but won the victory for us.  Just as David did.

Lord Jesus, free us from our idolatry, as David freed the Philistines from their idols.  (and if necessary, use our adversaries to bless us in this way!)  Help us to be like your Son, our Lord Jesus, who was able to love selflessly, and naturally love, show mercy and care for those around Him.  AMEN!

QUESTION OF THE DAY:
Are you willing to be delivered from that which you depend on more than you depend on God?  Do you even know what your idols are?

 

Pope Francis. A Year with Pope Francis: Daily Reflections from His Writings. Ed. Alberto Rossa. New York; Mahwah, NJ; Toronto, ON: Paulist Press; Novalis, 2013. Print.
https://www.northumbriacommunity.org/meditations/meditation-day-20/

Walking with Jesus through the trials to the triumph! Part 7 The Mind for the Walk (on Easter)

church at communion 2 Our Lenten Journey:  Walking with Jesus through trials to the triumph
Part 7:  The Mind for the Walk
Luke 24:13-35

In Jesus Name

May the grace, mercy, and peace of God our Father and our Lord Jesus Christ cause your hearts to burn, as His love for you is revealed!

 Do we walk unaware?

This morning we finish a journey we started some 46 days ago, on Valentines Day.

We’ve walked with Jesus through trials, we talked about the different things we’ve encountered, and today we cover the last bit.  It is a hard journey, as we walk in the steps of men who are in a steep decline; both physically as they walk down the steep decline to their home in Emmaus, and spiritually, as they struggle with despair, as they lost their hope, and descend into depression, and despair, oblivious to God’s work.

But it is only from their that they can finish the journey,

It’s a journey each of us makes, that each of us endures, unaware of the fact we don’t make it alone…..

Even though we think we do…

The Struggle of our minds

As I look at the story of the two men, what amazes me is how oblivious they were.

First, they made the typical mistake that men make, they heard but didn’t listen to the women in their lives.  They heard that they came back with an amazing report, that Jesus was gone.  Did they listen?

Yes.

Did they really hear what was being said?

Nah.

Luke tells us as they were struggling with everything, as they tried to toss around answers to all the question ripping them apart they stopped and sadness and gloom were written across their face.

That gloom wouldn’t leave, even while Jesus took them through all of scripture, as Jesus explained to them every scripture that testified about Him.

We have days like that, when all the knowledge we have about Jesus, when all the information passed onto us doesn’t compute when we remain oblivious of God’s presence, and all the while there He is, teaching us, guiding us, walking with us.

Yet we remain oblivious, too worried about how we interpret what’s going on around us.  Just like these two guys who followed Jesus were oblivious.

At least their minds were.  Their hearts were a different story…. The hearts were on fire!

The Heart and Soul Knew Better.

Here’s a question to consider.  If they were still struggling if they still didn’t understand, then why did they beg him to stay the night?

It wasn’t until a little later that their eyes would be open, so why was it so important to stay with this person they had just met?  What made them want to do this?

Again, we go back to their hearts afire, the work of the Holy Spirit bringing them comfort and peace through the word of God that was being explained to them.  They couldn’t let Him go, they needed Him there in their lives, they needed the Holy Spirit working through the word!

They couldn’t let God go, even though they didn’t know it was Him

And some days, we need to do that, and knowing this story, we see that God is still with us, that He still is guiding us, just as He promised.  Even when we are struggling in a downward slide.   The Lord who is Risen, is with you indeed!

As He broke the bread!

As they hit bottom, as they get to their home, something happens that changes their mind about where they belong.  Enough so that they climb back up the mountain without thinking.

I mean, what kind of attitude do you have to have to run 8 miles, uphill, in less than an hour. I don’t know about you, but I can’t run that fast, anymore.!

He broke bread with them, He blessed it, he consecrated, just as He had in the upper room, and He gave it to them… and they recognized him the scripture tells us.

But recognized doesn’t tell us the entire picture.  The word there is epiginosko – they knew Him.  They deeply and completely knew Him.  This is the word for the level of intimacy a couple has for each other, not just the physical stuff we think of as intimacy, but the level intimacy when people can finish each other’s sentences, where they can communicate with just looks, without words, where they know what each other is thinking.

This is what happens when God opens their minds, their hearts as He gave thanks to God and broke the bread.  What they knew in their hearts becomes revealed in their mind, and the road they traveled in despair becomes somehow different, less challenging as they know He is with them, as they know they can trust Him, depend on Him

That’s why the sacrament of the Lord’s Supper means so much to so many of us, as we realize that God has not left us alone, that He who is risen, is risen indeed, Praise God!

And because He is… we are risen indeed, ALLELUIA!

And because we are risen, because He has opened our minds, we intimately and completely know Him, and we are loved.  AMEN!

The Man Who Won’t Search for God. Is There Hope for Him? (I’m asking for a friend)

DSCF1083Devotional Thought of the Day:

50 “Go,” Jesus told him, “your son will live.” The man believed what i Jesus said to him and departed.
51 While he was still going down, his •slaves met him saying that his boy was alive. 52 He asked them at what time he got better. “Yesterday at seven in the morning j the fever left him,” they answered. 53 The father k realized this was the very hour at which Jesus had told him, “Your son will live.” Then he himself believed, along with his whole household.  John 4:50-53 HCSB

5 One man was there who had been sick for 38 years. 6 When Jesus saw him lying there and knew he had already been there a long time, He said to him, “Do you want to get well?”
7 “Sir,”  the sick man answered, “I don’t have a man to put me into the pool when the water is stirred up, but while I’m coming, someone goes down ahead of me.”
8 “Get up,” Jesus told him, “pick up your mat and walk!” 9 Instantly the man got well, picked up his mat, and started to walk.
Now that day was the Sabbath, 10 so the Jews said to the man who had been healed, “This is the Sabbath! It’s illegal for you to pick up your mat.”
11 He replied, “The man who made me well told me, ‘Pick up your mat and walk.’ ”
12 “Who is this man who told you, ‘Pick up your mat and walk’?” they asked. 13 But the man who was cured did not know who it was, because Jesus had slipped away into the crowd that was there. ”  John 5:5-6 HCSB

For when a person no longer rises above himself in his search for God, he becomes changed—narrower, smaller. Essential organs become atrophied in him. His soul becomes coarser and less discriminating. Eventually he can no longer love the other or even himself.

My devotional blog usually comes from trying to see the place where my readings converge, To take three or four of them and see what one thought will impact my day, and sometimes my week.

As I look at the two stories from the gospel, something struck me as odd.  

In verse 12 of the second story, we see that the lame man didn’t know who it was that healed him. In the last verse of the first story, we see the statement, “Then he himself believed”  Which means he believed in the man believed in what Jesus said, but he didn’t believe in Jesus. 

Wait, these two guys had miracles done for them, and they weren’t followers of Jesus?  They didn’t believe in Him as Messiah, as their Savior?

This observation may amaze you, but it is just as likely that it will tick you off.  Come on, be honest, why is it fair that this rich leader gets this son healed?  ANd why does the wretch who didn’t stay around to find out who healed him get the healing?

There are so many good believers, both then and now, who, dare I say it, deserve to be healed?  Okay, they are sinners too, but they need to be healed.   This doesn’t seem all that fair to me.  If God’s going to bless folk, shouldn’t there be a logic, a sense of justice about the healings?

Now let’s move onto the Pope’s description of a man who no longer searches for God. Who has become smaller, narrower, more self-centered?  ( GK Chesterton has a lot to say about this kind of man)   Here is a man who soul becomes coarse and dark, brittle and stiff.  The man whose life is so irritable and fractured.  WHo is consumed by anxiety and stress?

Is there hope for such a man?

I’m asking for a friend.

No, I am not.  To be honest, I am asking for myself.

For life has become so overwhelming for those around me, I am so looking for the answers for their problems, that like the man looking for his son to be healed, I forget to believe in the Lord whose words I believed about healing someone I loved.  And often I am like the lame guy lying by the pool, hoping for a miracle, but unable to help myself.  Unable to think outside my box. (heck I didn’t even know I had one!)

The situation Pope Benedict describes I know all too well, and when I am there, when I forget or resist being drawn into God’s presence, time sucks, Life is stressful and anxiety.

Yes, even pastors go through this and go through it far too often.

Which is why I find such an amazing God who is revealed this morning, providing healing that is needed, that is prayed for, even when we don’t recognize Him at first.  He provides what is needed, even when we aren’t sure.  He is patient enough that we have the time to process it, to have the “aha” moment of realizing we were (and still are) in the presence of a loving caring God, who is at work in our lives. 

Knowing this is the God who loves us, knowing this is the God who watches out for us, who cares about us, not just from duty. but because He loves us, is amazing.  It is wonderful, it helps me know during those days when I struggle to rise above myself, when I know I am changing, God will come, and have mercy, and reveal Himself to me.

And to you.

God is with us!  And He is patent, reminding us of His love…  AMEN!

Do you always recognize God’s presence in your life?  If you don’t, how do you feel?  What do you do?  DO you ever want to just give up?

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.

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.

Christian, do you ever feel like your life is a waste?

ST MARY OF PEACEDevotional Thought of the day:

16 Then He told him: “A man was giving a large banquet and invited many. 17 At the time of the banquet, he sent his •slave to tell those who were invited, ‘Come, because everything is now ready.’
18 “But without exception v they all began to make excuses. The first one said to him, ‘I have bought a field, and I must go out and see it. I ask you to excuse me.’
19 “Another said, ‘I have bought five yoke of oxen, and I’m going to try them out. I ask you to excuse me.’
20 “And another said, ‘I just got married, w x and therefore I’m unable to come.’
21 “So the slave came back and reported these things to his master. Then in anger, the master of the house told his slave, ‘Go out quickly into the streets and alleys of the city, and bring in here the poor, maimed, blind, and lame!’ 
22 “ ‘Master,’ the slave said, ‘what you ordered has been done, and there’s still room.’
23 “Then the master told the slave, ‘Go out into the highways and lanes and make them come in, so that my house may be filled. 24 For I tell you, not one of those men who were invited will enjoy my banquet!’ ”   Luke 14:16-24 HCSB

The supreme and eternal Priest, Christ Jesus, since he wills to continue his witness and service also through the laity, vivifies them in this Spirit and increasingly urges them on to every good and perfect work.
For besides intimately linking them to His life and His mission, He also gives them a sharing in His priestly function of offering spiritual worship for the glory of God and the salvation of men. For this reason the laity, dedicated to Christ and anointed by the Holy Spirit, are marvelously called and wonderfully prepared so that ever more abundant fruits of the Spirit may be produced in them.

Vivification.  That incredible blessing as the Holy Spirit pierces our heart with the law, and then creates life in a person, creating in them the ability to believe in God, and the ability to depend upon Him.  We talked about Justification a lot, and Sanctification some, but Vivification?  Not so much!

To put it in less technical language, Jesus brings us to life, all of us, through the work of the Holy Spirit.  The older versions of the creeds talk of being quickened, and that is what we are talking about.  We were dead in sin, and in baptism intimately linked with Jesus death, and then so united, we rise to new life again. This is how the Holy Spirit makes us born again!

Too often though, we don’t encourage each other to live this new life.  We talk about being united with Jesus in life, but we too often forget we are united in His mission as well. To use the parable from Luke, we forget the importance of the party and choose instead to waste this new life away. 

We come up with so many good excuses though!  I can worship God on my own, I don’t have time for long prayers, or studying His word.  We don’t have to do these things -because we don’t earn our salvation!  We keep making the excuses, we keep telling ourselves we will get back to church later, that we will open that dust-covered Bible, that we will spend more time in prayer, and we will try to love our neighbor, and our enemy.

And with each excuse, we choose to not walk with Jesus, we choose to ignore His wonderful invitation, and we fail to see the Spirit work through us.

This isn’t “do this or you won’t be saved”, it is “this is what salvation is”, walking with God, knowing His love, ministering to others, empowered by the Holy Spirit.  It is having a life worth meaning, a life we can look back on and truly say, God was with us!”

Lord, have mercy on us, forgive us of making excuses, and help us live in everlasting life, with you!  AMEN!

Catholic Church. “Dogmatic Constitution on the Church: Lumen Gentium.” Vatican II Documents. Vatican City: Libreria Editrice Vaticana, 2011. Print.

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.

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