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The Paradox of Hell and the Love of God

Because He is Risen, We have Risen as well!

Devotional Thought of the Day:

41  The Son of Man will send out his angels, and they will gather from his kingdom everyone who does wrong or causes others to sin. 42  Then he will throw them into a flaming furnace, where people will cry and grit their teeth in pain. 43  But everyone who has done right will shine like the sun in their Father’s kingdom. If you have ears, pay attention! Matthew 13:41-43 (CEV)

1  Michael, the chief of the angels, is the protector of your people, and he will come at a time of terrible suffering, the worst in all of history. And your people who have their names written in The Book will be protected. 2  Many of those who lie dead in the ground will rise from death. Some of them will be given eternal life, and others will receive nothing but eternal shame and disgrace. 3  Everyone who has been wise will shine as bright as the sky above, and everyone who has led others to please God will shine like the stars. Daniel 12:1-3 (CEV)

Heroic love for God and neighbor is, of course, closely allied to profound intimacy with the indwelling Trinity. To a large extent they are the same thing. We love Father, Son and Holy Spirit to the extent that we are in an intimate prayer communion with them which is lived out in our actions. And we have a vibrant love for our neighbors (spouse, children, friends, co-workers, parishioners) to the extent that we love God. The first and second commandments cannot be separated—as both Scripture and life experiences make clear.

Third, I strongly suspect that what goes to Hell is not the kind of thing we would recognize as a human being at all if we saw it. It is more like ashes. A damned soul is one who has made an ash of himself. Hell is fire. Fire burns and destroys. Just as what goes to Heaven is more human than it ever was on earth, what goes to Hell is less human than it ever was on earth. It has lost its soul, its center, its self, its I, its humanity, its personality. It has become “legion” (Mk 5:9). Compared with a person, it is what a thousand slivers of broken glass are to a mirror. It deserves not hope or prayers or pity, for there is nothing there any more to pity or to love, only dust to sweep into the dustbin. If time still held us in its grip in Heaven, we would remember what this thing once was—a person—and regret that it had not fulfilled its potential. But in Heaven all is actual and present for Heaven is our participation in God’s life, and in God all is actual and present. There is no regret or fear over what might have been or still might be.

I believe that Hell exists.

I have no other reason than scripture, though every man-made religion indicates some eternal consequence, so natural revelation indicates that God has put such a warning into the heart of mankind. There are passages that talk about it in the Old Testament, and Jesus doesn’t mince words about it in the New Testament.

There will be people that endure eternal shame, eternal disgrace, and pain like has never been known. And there will people who share in the glory of God and shine like the stars.

The question of how one reconciles that with a God who is love presents for some a challenge. Why would He create people who would spend eternity in eternal torment in a place He also created?

Kreeft’s answer is simple, we choose one or the other, We make ash of ourselves, emptying out of ourselves to be destroyed. We choose a life that is empty, not just morally, but of His presence. And that is revealed to be lifeless.

The option is to be involved in a intimate life of prayer, knowing God’s presence, knowing He is listening and cares, hearing Him speak to us. That eternal life begins here. This is why Old Testament Saints and New Testament martyrs wouldn’t choose idolatry if that meant they could avoid death.

God meant to much. That intimate relationship they had come to know was worth more than anything anyone could do with them. A life of prayer, of conversation and meditation makes all the difference. For that relationship is what matters. It is the difference between life and death, heaven and hell, abundance… or ash…

In the end, that is all we have…this amazing, wonderful, abundant and intimate life with God.

Living it in, is hat makes us holy.

Lord, have mercy on us, sinners who need Your presence revealed to us.



Peter Kreeft, The God Who Loves You (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 2004), 155–156.

Thomas Dubay, Deep Conversion/Deep Prayer (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 2006), 72.

Resonance! A sermon on Matthew 10

Concordia Lutheran Church
June 28, 2020

Resonance!
Matthew 10:34-42

† In Jesus Name †

May the grace of God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ cause you to resonate with the Lord and with His people!

Dechomai God

The more I looked at this passage, the more I think this message is critical.

Not only do you need to hear it, but you also need to hear it in a way you can take it with you, share it with others, and help them see that they are resonating with God.

Of course, that means you need to know what resonance is.

Let me explain it this way If I play a string on this guitar, let’s say the A string. Assuming this other guitar is tuned to the same frequency, the A string on that guitar will start vibrating. The closer they are in tuning, the more the resonance occurs, the more the 2nd guitar begins to play, with no one touching it.

There is another word for resonance – one we are familiar with here. I

It is Concordia. (the name of our Church)

We are and have always been, as a church, about resonating with God. He plays a note, and our hearts and minds begin to resonate with God.  Another way to describe this resonance is the Greek word that shows up in the gospel – the word is dechomai – and is translated “receives” in today’s translation. But it means more than that, it means to welcome into agreement, to welcome into a relationship, the kind of intimate relationship where you finish sentences for each other. That is how welcome the person becomes in your life, that is how you receive them.

This is what it means to be Concordia, to resonate, to resonate with God.

That is who we are to be, it is what we need to get back to doing,

We need to resonate with God, we need to let Him tune our hearts so that we can sing His grace. That means we can’t cling to our old tuning… but to let the Holy Spirit tune us, and then we will sing His praise.

What stops this?

So there are a couple of things that stop our ability to resonate with Jesus.

The simplest thing is our taking our tuning peg and twisting it. It is no longer true to what the note really is, and often it isn’t even true to the instrument itself. It is off, and real music cannot be made until it is back in tune.

Maybe we desire to resonate with someone other than God, and we want to put them first. That is what it talks about when it says loving someone more than you love God. Who do you want to resonate with more? Whose approval do you want more, whose love do you need more? What is most important to you. Our lives go out of tune when we make others more significant than God in our lives.

Or maybe you do not want to take up the challenges God has in store for you. You decide not to love the people He has put in your life, whether it is because of any of the reasons we find to disassociate with people or people groups.  There are several things God calls us to do that simply don’t make sense to us until we are in tune with God. That is the challenge, we need God to help us see this, but until we do, we turn away from the cross, the challenge God has for us, thinking it ends our life when it actually begins it.

That is the third-way resonance ends, when we cling to life more than we would cling to God. And if we cling to it, we lose it, for life isn’t the way it isn’t supposed to be, and while we may say it can become like hell here on earth, we don’t even realize what that word means. If I grab this string and hold on to it, it will never resonate, it will never make the sweet sounds it was created to make.

All these things – loving someone or something more than God, refusing to walk with Him through life, as He meant for you to live, and when we cling to life, smothering it, are what it means to sin. It means to so mess up our lives that we cannot resonate with God at all. That is the definition of sin, messing up how God would tune our lives.

The Tuner

Inbuilt into this guitar is a tuner, and we have one, given to us in baptism, the Holy Spirit. Because Jesus freed us from our sin, the Spirit comes along and helps us resonate with God, tuning us so that we can make the music in life we were called to make. We begin that tuning in baptism when the Holy Spirit beings to transform us into the image of Jesus.

The Spirit creates in us the music we were meant to make, not just of our life in this life, but eternally. This is what the death and resurrection are all about, this is what we need to remember from today – the work God does in tuning us!  Tuning us so that when we hear His voice, our hearts and minds and our entire life resonate with Him. Now and eternally!

As He tunes us we look forward to the resonance more and more, we look forward to the moments when we realize life is so much more than what we would have without that resonance, we realize the resonance is our lives.

Dechomai Community

There is one last thing to the resonance.

As we resonate with God, we begin to see people differently. For we see their ability to resonate with God, and we can see God trying to draw them.

That is why Jesus moves from received Him to receive the Father, to receive those who would bring God’s word to you to receiving other people who have been forgiven. For if we are resonating with God, then those who resonate with Him will resonate with us, and our music and hearts will become more and more united.  And that is why we will hand to someone a cup of cold water – in His name – so they will resonate with Him.

That is obviously easier when we are together… that is what ties us together; that is why Paul will say when one of us laughs, we all laugh, when one cries, we all cry…

It is a matter of having received each other in our hearts, where our Lord dwells, it is a matter of resonance together with the King of Kings and Lord of Lords, and with each other.

It is being Concordia…

And may the peace of God, which passes all understanding, guard our hearts and minds as this happens! AMEN!

Maybe the Church Should Try This….Maybe We Should

Devotional Thought of the Day:

3  Then the devil said to him, “If you are the Son of God, change this stone into a loaf of bread.” 4  But Jesus told him, “No! The Scriptures say, ‘People do not live by bread alone.’” Luke 4:3-4 (NLT2)

In India following a big earthquake some years ago, relief teams came from all over the world. They asked that a few of our sisters be in each relief camp to organize the work. To their surprise the sisters insisted on beginning each day with prayer and Holy Mass and that there be times to withdraw for meals and prayers. Some did not agree but those who remained saw the wisdom of it. Because there was reliance on God, the teams could continue. Another proof that our strength comes from Him Who said it clearly: ‘Without Me you can do nothing’.
I speak in the name of our sisters everywhere and from my own personal experience: without the strength provided by the Eucharist, it would not be possible to live our vocation.

And now that they no longer have to chatter the troublesome [breviary’s] seven hours, it would be much better if morning, noon, and night they would replace it by reading a page or two of the catechism, prayer book,4 New Testament, or something else from the Bible and pray the Lord’s Prayer for themselves and their parishioners! In this way they would again show some gratitude and respect for the gospel, which has relieved them of so many burdens and difficulties, and they might feel a little shame that, like pigs and dogs, they do not get more out of the gospel than this lazy, harmful, scandalous, fleshly freedom. Sad to admit, the rabble has too low a regard for the gospel, and, even when we have tried as hard as we can, we do not make much of a difference. What can we expect if we want to be as idle and lazy as we were under the papacy?

The battle in my denomination is no different than the battle in so many others today. Ultimately, it doesn’t boil down to worship style, or missional strategy. It isn’t about being traditional, or seeker-sensitive (though there are new terms to describe such, they are still the same battles). It isn’t even about long divisions that are more about personalities and generations of disciples who held grudges. It is even, as I have long thought, about power and control.

Well – not about us controlling versus them controlling.

Simply put, it is about letting God be God, and sitting at His feet, as Mary did. It is about living a life in a deep and intimate relationship with God, realizing that He is as incarnate in our lives as in Mary’s, and that the sacramental life is one which makes all the difference in the world. For a life, spent in communion with God, in prayer and meditation is what makes the difference in us, in our personal lives, in the lives of our parish/congregations. and in the life of our Church.

The temptation is no different than when Jesus was tempted. “Go do this, use your power to provide for yourself, do what is right in your own eyes, in your estimation, according to your studies and theories based on studying what others have done” and assuming that what we see as success, actually is successful. And yet the “missional” types, and the “confessional” types do this, and even do it somewhat triumphantly.

And yet, the passage Jesus is quoting is so contrary to that kind of idea.

2  Remember how the LORD your God led you through the wilderness for these forty years, humbling you and testing you to prove your character, and to find out whether or not you would obey his commands. 3  Yes, he humbled you by letting you go hungry and then feeding you with manna, a food previously unknown to you and your ancestors. He did it to teach you that people do not live by bread alone; rather, we live by every word that comes from the mouth of the LORD. Deuteronomy 8:2-3 (NLT2)

That is the life described in the quote from the Roman Catholic nun in the first article. One of the leaders from the order of Mother Theresa, whose work among the poor is legendary. They needed the mass, they needed the sacramental time with God in order to find the peace that would enable them to serve others. This is the life that Luther had hoped would develop as he preached the gospel. Yet, whether from laziness or temptation the freedom to actually pray in a non-mechanical way didn’t develop, and sermons that were more quotes of scholars that actually matching the word of God to the needs of people, revealing the grace and love of God that they needed to hear.

We must, as the people of God, spend time with Him. We have to spend time in silence, enough that the world drifts away, and we can hear the word of God. We need to struggle to understand what we receive in communion, to realize that this IS the Body and Blood of our Lord, given for us, given to us. Learning to desire this time, which is uncomfortable at first (see Isaiah 6 or Ex. 3:2 ) but grows on us, and becomes the most precious time we have.

And in that time, as we gaze on Christ, we do not realize the transformation that happens. We don’t notice our ability to show mercy grow, and to care for those around us. Yet it idoes…

This isn’t about a methodology about saving the church. It is about learning to let God provide as He has promised. It is about walking with Him, trusting and depending on Him. Hearing His voice.

My dear readers, I beg you, invest the time, push through the distractions, they will fade, and spend time, individually and in groups, learning to adore the Lord in whose presence you dwell. Listen to Him, through the word, through considering your baptism, the our communion together, through the words your pastors and priests share, declaring your are forgiven! And hearing Him guide you in your day….

The Lord is with you (all)!

Lord Jesus, help us to seek Your presence, even as Your Spirit dwells with us. For no other reason that to spend time with You, and to realize what You are doing in our lives. Help us to pray, and to meditate on Your word, and on Your love. AMEN!

Joseph MC. (2012). From Adoration to Serving the Poor. In A. Reid (Ed.), From Eucharistic Adoration to Evangelization (p. 179). London; New York: Burns & Oates.

Luther, M. (2007). Luther’s Spirituality. (P. D. W. Krey, B. McGinn, & P. D. S. Krey, Eds., P. D. S. Krey & P. D. W. Krey, Trans.) (pp. 185–186). New York; Mahwah, NJ: Paulist Press.

Imitation of Jesus: Are You Ready?

Devotional Thought of the Day:

23  When he was insulted, he did not answer back with an insult; when he suffered, he did not threaten, but placed his hopes in God, the righteous Judge. 1 Peter 2:23 (TEV)

1  Imitate me, then, just as I imitate Christ. 1 Corinthians 11:1 (TEV)

The reception of communion too requires faith in the grandiosity of what is about to happen—the Lord comes to me or rather coming to me, He embraces me and wishes to transform me into His very being. It is not just a mechanical act of reception of a piece of bread—something done in an instant. It is this invitation to be in communion with the Lord: invitation to love.

I remembering hearing a sermon about “imitating Jesus” when I was in Bible College. The thoughts that ran through my mind were about imitating Jesus as He taught, as He trained the disciples, as He did miracles, even as He “officiated” at the first communion service.

I didn’t think about the suffering, or even the insults he endured from those who should have been his closest followers. The pains caused by his family who didn’t understand. The loneliness when even his closest disciples didn’t understand His ministry. The times that were so challenging that He needed to go away and pray to the Father… alone.

Are we ready to imitate Paul as he endured, as He imitated Jesus who endured through all of this?

Can we forgive the insultm? Can we show mercy to the one who threatens us? Can we love the ones who cause us to suffer, either deliberately, or accidentally?

That too is part of the call to imitate Jesus.

Can we do it?

I believe it is possible, but only as God has a relationship that is, only one word works here, a relationship that is intimate.

A relationship where He is able to transform us, a relationship where He is able to cleanse us thoroughly. A relationship where He is able to descend to a darkest place, where fears and anxieties form and control more of our life than we can explain.

A relationship that is that intimate.

A relationship that is nurtured at the altar, when Jesus comes to us, where we come face to face with the Lord who died for us, even though we didn’t deserve it.

It is there, in the midst of His grace being poured out on us, that we realize what God is doing, and how complete the change is that He is crafting in our lives. We become more and more like Him, and we may not even realize it. His desire that people would come to know His love, that the Spirit would grant them repentance becomes far more important than our revenge.

Such a transformation is the result of, and only possible because we encounter Jesus. For then, we see the final judgment of God, and His work in all of us, making reconciliation possible. Our being reconciled, as well as those who offend us.

This is our hope, this is His work.

In us.

Ranjith, M. (2012). Addressing Objections to Adoration. In A. Reid (Ed.), From Eucharistic Adoration to Evangelization (p. 162). London; New York: Burns & Oates.

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.

Are We Afraid to Pray?

photoDevotional Thoughts for our seemingly broken days:
28  Then Jesus said, “Come to me, all of you who are weary and carry heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. 29  Take my yoke upon you. Let me teach you, because I am humble and gentle at heart, and you will find rest for your souls. 30  For my yoke is easy to bear, and the burden I give you is light. Matthew 11:28-30 (NLT)

291 Jesus is asking you to pray … You see this very clearly. Nonetheless, how poor your response has been! Everything is a great effort for you: you are like a baby who is too lazy to learn to walk. But in your case, it isn’t just laziness. It is fear, too, and a lack of generosity!

The Second Petition
“Thy kingdom come.”
7 What does this mean?
Answer: To be sure, the kingdom of God comes of itself, without our prayer, but we pray in this petition that it may also come to us.
8 How is this done?
Answer: When the heavenly Father gives us his Holy Spirit so that by his grace we may believe his holy Word and live a godly life, both here in time and hereafter forever.

In my daily devotions this week, there seems to be a common thread, the idea that we are afraid of intimacy with God, the idea that we are afraid of God.

Looking at the church today, we see this is truly an issue.  We speak far more about God than we speak to Him.  We train our pastors and ministers to teach theology, to pursue accurate doctrine (even on this feast of St Nicholas, to punch out those who don’t teach accurately)  but do we help them to desire those moments, where we simply are in awe of God’s presence?

A friend of mine used to talk about how he hated the Sundays when the church had communion (some Lutheran churches have communion every other week, some even less,) because that meant church went 20 minutes longer, and he would miss 20 minutes of football.  In later years this changed, and as a pastor, the churches he cared for moved to celebrate the Lord’s Supper every week.  He had realized how precious this time was, in fellowship with God.   It meant something special to, this time of breaking away from life, and concentrating not on the truth of God’s presence, but on God himself, there with us.

Prayer is no different, and we need to realize that so that we don’t treat it with indifference.  It is the Kingdom of God coming to us, the Holy Spirit transforming us, comforting and calming us, helping us to trust in what is revealed about God’s love in scripture.

We shouldn’t fear it either, this coming of God to interact with us.  Some fear the change that God will ask of them, either to give up this sin or that habit or to make some sacrifice (like becoming a missionary to some jungle or the inner city)  s if somehow the more we hang out with God the more likely He will ask us to do something that only a saint could do.

I am not going to promise you won’t e “volunteered” for something, but that can happen if you aren’t praying.  I can’t say that God won’t put on your heart a desire to break the habits of sin either, for surely He will.  What I can promise is what He doesn’t, that in spending more time with God, our burdens are lifted, our anxieties fade away, and our souls find rest, even as God more clearly uses us to reconcile the world to Him.

In a world where peace seems so fragile, prayer, walking with God shows us that the real peace is internal, a gift of confidently living in Jesus.

Don’t be afraid, don’t be apathetic, rather, run to Him, leaving all your brokenness, find rest for your souls.  And while you talking to Him, pray that I learn these lessons as well!

Thanks!

 

Escriva, Josemaria. The Forge (Kindle Locations 1186-1189). Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition.

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

Who am I? A simple answer that leaves you saying OMG!

Devotional Thought for our days…..

19 If our hope in Christ is for this life only, we should be pitied more than anyone else in the world.  1 Corinthians 15:19  NCV

18  We all show the Lord’s glory, and we are being changed to be like him. This change in us brings ever greater glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit.  2 Corinthians 3:18b  NCV

Paradoxically, a widespread decline in traditional religious practice in the West runs parallel with an ever-increasing hunger for spirituality. The question at the forefront of most of the great spiritual classics used to be “What or who is God?” Nowadays the characteristic question of the contemporary spiritual seeker is more likely to be “Who am I?” Great Christian teachers of the past such as Julian of Norwich understood quite clearly that these two questions are inextricably linked.
And I saw very certain that we must necessarily be in longing and in penance until the time we are led so deeply into God that we verily and truly know our own soul.  (a quote from Phillip Sheldrake’s Spirituality and Theology in Webber’s text The Divine Embrace:  Recovering the Passionate Spiritual Life) (1)

850         In your heart and soul, in your intelligence and in your will, implant a spirit of trust and abandonment to the loving Will of your heavenly Father… From this will arise the interior peace you desire.  (2)

Who Am I?  

I’ve been trying to answer that question for as long as I can remember.  I see som many others trying to answer it as well.

Who is God?

Most people don’t bother to ask this, and those who do pursue it with an academic passion that is absolute, and yet nearly impossible to communicate to others simply.  (this is why we develop creeds and confessions, statements of belief and doctrinal texts, and then wonder why they don’t sell as well as novels and religious fluff)

Some might even try to describe this in general terms as Webber’s citation seems to above.  The older folk are more concerned with proving beyond a shadow of a doubt who God is (or isn’t) and the younger (gen X and Millennials ) struggling with who we are.  

And without both questions being asked, neither is ever truly answered.  

And in asking both at the same time, as Julian of Norwich and Augustine and Luther did, as Webber is trying to ask, we find the answer.  In that answer is the hope and peace that we so need.

We can only define God in terms of His relationship to us, as our Creator, Redeemer, the One who makes us Holy, the One who loves us and is our Father, Brother, Friend, Counselor, Encourager, Comforter.

We only find out who we really are when we are defined by God, as He ministers to us. We may not like to hear it, but we have no identity outside of our identity to Him, our identity in Him. 

it is in that definition of “who am I” that I find out I am loved, cared for, guided,  That GOd is transforming us into the very image of Jesus, to be like Him, yet to be ourselves.  And yet this definition, this transformation is far more than we know, for it is an eternal transformation.  

Paul isn’t joking when He says without the resurrection we are a hopeless group of people.  For a life trusting in God is not just about this life, and the change takes our entire life to begin to see.  It may mean we live in hardship, it will mean that we deny ourselves, abandoning ourselves into the hands of the Lord whose love for us is seen in the scars on His hands.  

Spend some time there, at the cross.  Spend some more time there, at the altar, examining yourself and knowing how desperately you need Him, and the fact, HE IS HERE!  And we will be with Him Forever!  Everything we are in life flows from Him, and it is glorious and real, and now, and yet even more to come!

The answer to Who is God?

He is your God

Who are you?  

You are His!

So live life, based on these words:  He is our God, we are His People!  AMEN!

(1)  Webber, Robert E. The Divine Embrace: Recovering the Passionate Spiritual Life. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2006. Print. Ancient-Future Series.

(2)  Escriva, Josemaria. Furrow (Kindle Locations 3487-3489). Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition.

 

 

Where We Can Screwup the Doctrine of Justification

Altar with communionDevotional Thought of the Day:

41 Jesus said, “Two people owed money to the same banker. One owed five hundred coins n and the other owed fifty. 42 They had no money to pay what they owed, but the banker told both of them they did not have to pay him. Which person will love the banker more?”
43 Simon, the Pharisee, answered, “I think it would be the one who owed him the most money.”
Jesus said to Simon, “You are right.” 44 Then Jesus turned toward the woman and said to Simon, “Do you see this woman? When I came into your house, you gave me no water for my feet, but she washed my feet with her tears and dried them with her hair. 45 You gave me no kiss of greeting, but she has been kissing my feet since I came in. 46 You did not put oil on my head, but she poured perfume on my feet. 47 I tell you that her many sins are forgiven, so she showed great love. But the person who is forgiven only a little will love only a little.”
48 Then Jesus said to her, “Your sins are forgiven.”
49 The people sitting at the table began to say among themselves, “Who is this who even forgives sins?”
50 Jesus said to the woman, “Because you believed, you are saved from your sins. Go in peace.”  Luke 7:41-50  NCV

42 As a deer longs for a stream of cool water, so I long for you, O God. 2 I thirst for you, the living God; when can I go and worship in your presence?  Psalm 42:1-2  GNT

Let me illustrate this shift toward a spirituality disconnected from God’s story by comparing historic spirituality to this new intellectual embrace of forensic justification.
Historic spirituality looks like this: God became one of us in the incarnation. When the Word became incarnate in Jesus by the Spirit, God lifted all humanity into himself and, by his death and resurrection, reconciled all to himself (Rom. 5:12–21). Spirituality is therefore a gift of God’s grace. God has taken the initiative to unite with us so that we may be united with him. Baptism is the spiritual rite of conscious and intentional union with Jesus (Rom. 6:1–14) and reception of the Holy Spirit (Acts 2:38). The spiritual life is the freedom to live in the baptismal pattern of his death and resurrection, dying to sin and rising to the new life in the Spirit. In this ancient model of spirituality, Jesus is our spirituality because we are in union with God through our union with Jesus by the Spirit. His entire life from conception to resurrection is on behalf of humanity. He reverses our belonging to Adam (Rom. 5:12–21). He overcame sin for us (Col. 2:13–15). He destroyed the power of death (1 Cor. 15:35–58). He begins the new order of creation (2 Cor. 5:17). He does all this in the power of the Spirit. Christ now dwells in us by the Spirit and we in him.
Spirituality rooted in justification without the connection to the incarnation and Christology looks like this: We are justified by Christ who has done everything necessary to reconcile us to God. Christ is our righteousness. God looks at us through the righteousness of Christ and imputes or declares us righteous in Christ. (This is called the forensic or judicial view of establishing our relation to God.) Now that God has made us spiritual through Jesus Christ, we are called to respond to God in thanksgiving by living the sanctified life. The new emphasis in spirituality within Protestantism, in general, is this justification/ sanctification model.

Sixteen years ago, I left the non-denominational brotherhood of churches I was trained and ordained by and became a Lutheran pastor. The Brotherhood had a broad diversity of theology, not just among church members, but in its Bible College and seminaries.  There was nothing that tied the group’s theology together, which made for some interesting conversations over the years!  but this isn’t about them, it is about Lutheran theology, and how it ((and most conservative theology today) screws up Justification.

One of the tenets of Lutheran Theology is that the Doctrine of Justification is the central doctrine of theology.  The first couple of times I heard that I hesitated, and still do on occasion.  Then a wise professor explained it to me this way.  Picture a bike wheel, you have the hub, the spokes, and the actual tire.  The hub is Justification, but it isn’t the only, nor the most important of doctrines, and if you remove any of them, the wheel will fail, sometimes faster, sometimes slower.

That makes sense, but I think today, as Webber points out, we have got the hub but forgotten the tire. We’ve forgotten the reason we are justified int he first place, to be in a relationship with God, to walk with Him, to know His love, to stop the fighting, internally and externally, and simply take refuge in God our Fortress, in God our peace.

This is the error of Simon the Simon, a leader in the Jewish religion.  He had his hub set, the spokes tightened, the rim in place, but he forgot the tire.  He didn’t recognize that God was there, not just to pronounce forgiveness, which is amazing.  He was there to eat and drink with Simon, to share bread, to laugh, to cry, to be with him.

This is our God, whose come to us.  God who wants to share our lives, even as we share in His, and dwell in His glory and peace.   Christ’s death on the cross, enables God to declare us clean, righteous, holy, and that enables us to walk with Him (Or maybe to ride?)  We need to keep this in mind, we need the entire wheel, hub, spokes, rim, and tire.  Missing a part, or getting it out of line, is serious, but the goal is and always will be, to sit down, and eat and drink, to fellowship with Him.

May you enjoy that feast this weekend and always!  AMEN!

Webber, Robert E. The Divine Embrace: Recovering the Passionate Spiritual Life. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2006. Print. Ancient-Future Series.

 

Are We Too Solemn, too Reverent in our Worship?

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

Devotional Thought of the Day

15All the people of Judah were happy because they had made this covenant with all their heart. They took delight in worshipping the LORD, and he accepted them and gave them peace on every side.  2 Chronicles 15:15

In the beginning of Paul’s Letter to the Ephesians, we detect the enthusiasm of the new converts, for whom being Christians was an unexpected gift, a blessing, great riches bestowed on them by God. It is good for us to realize this—for us who, as Christians, live for the most part with wrinkled brows and such an anxious awareness of the problems it entails that we feel almost guilty when we are happy about being Christians—that might be a form of triumphalism! Fundamentally, the joy of this epistle derives from the fact that the Apostle has dared to look directly at the heart of Christianity, at the triune God and his eternal love.…  (1)

There is a part of me that misses the old days when I would enter church and its silence would lend itself to the awe I felt being in the presence of God.  Reverence wasn’t just an attitude one took on to appear pious, it was something you were assimilated into, it consumed you. It was a very solemn reverence, one that facilitated dropping all your defenses, dropping you guard, and collapsing in the arms of God, in His sanctuary.

Those were precious times, and I still need them on occasion.

But then I need days like yesterday when as our mass ( our worship service ended) some people spontaneously began to clap.  Not sure who, not sure why, but it was appropriate to applaud God at that moment.  TO thank Him fo the work He does in us, work wrought with the very same power that raised Jesus from the dead.  For in His resurrection, in that moment of glory, we find ourselves taken up into Him.

His death we share in, even as He takes from us our sin, our shame, and our pain.

When I was younger, my dear devoted teachers would be angry? hurt? shocked? by the idea of people applauding and rejoicing in the presence of God.  But what else can you do, when you, as Pope benedict XVI describes, “dare to look directly into the heart of Christianity, at the triune God and His eternal love”

That love is so overwhelming, so precious, so deep, we must respond, we have no option.  Even when overwhelmed (see Jeremiah 20 – he tried to keep silent! )  This is what Christianity is about – to know we are loved beyond measure, to know we are loved by God, Father, Son, and Spirit.  He has accepted us as His own, given us peace beyond explanation, and therefore we delight in worshipping Him.

We are His… and even on Monday, that is incredible news.

(1)  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.

Our Intimate Relationship with God: His Desire, His choice, His Work!

Devotional Thought of the Day:

12 Moses said to the LORD, “See, you are telling me: Lead this people. But you have not let me know whom you will send with me. Yet you have said: You are my intimate friend; You have found favor with me. 13 Now, if I have found favor with you, please let me know your ways so that, in knowing you, I may continue to find favor with you. See, this nation is indeed your own people. 14 The LORD answered: I myself will go along, to give you rest. 15 Moses replied, “If you are not going yourself, do not make us go up from here. 16 For how can it be known that I and your people have found favor with you, except by your going with us? Then we, your people and I, will be singled out from every other people on the surface of the earth.” 17 The LORD said to Moses: This request, too, which you have made, I will carry out, because you have found favor with me and you are my intimate friend.
18 Then Moses said, “Please let me see your glory!” 19 The LORD answered: I will make all my goodness pass before you, and I will proclaim my name, “LORD,” before you; I who show favor to whom I will, I who grant mercy to whom I will.f 20 But you cannot see my face,g for no one can see me and live. 21 Here, continued the LORD, is a place near me where you shall station yourself on the rock. 22 When my glory passes I will set you in the cleft of the rock and will cover you with my hand until I have passed by. 23 Then I will remove my hand, so that you may see my back; but my face may not be seen.  Ex 33:11–23 NABRE

The New Testament does not say that men conciliate God, as we really ought to expect, since after all it is they who have failed, not God. It says on the contrary that “God was in Christ reconciling the world to himself” (2 Cor 5:19). This is truly something new, something unheard of—the starting-point of Christian existence and the center of New Testament theology of the Cross: God does not wait until the guilty come to be reconciled; he goes to meet them and reconciles them. Here we can see the true direction of the Incarnation, of the Cross. Accordingly, in the New Testament the Cross appears primarily as a movement from above to below. It does not stand there as the work of expiation which mankind offers to the wrathful God but as the expression of that foolish love of God’s which gives itself away to the point of humiliation in order thus to save man; it is his approach to us, not the other way around.

Moses is not the only one to have the struggle he describes in this passage from Exodus.  We all do, we all face situations where we don’t want to go another step further, because we simply do not have the strength.

It may be that we can’t deal with the people we are called to serve, as Moses often struggled.  Or maybe we see how impossible the task is, and we know it cannot be done with God’s presence.  Maybe we perceive the situation as being unfair, (whether it is or not is actually not relevant -get used to this idea:  life isn’t fair!)

It might be more personal, the struggle that you have that you don’t want to face. It may be that you have to be freed from a sin that has its hooks in you, like Israel faced so many times in the desert.  It could be some dark area that God wants you to be freed from, but it is so hard to break free.

Moses keeps telling God – I can’t go there without you!  If you are my God, please help, if I have an intimate relationship with you, don’t leave me alone.  He’s pleading for what every other religion tells us is impossible.

For God to come to us, as we are crushed, oppressed, weary and broken.  As we know the law that condemns us or the people we care about all to well.

As Pope Benedict XVI points out, this is where things are different with Jesus, with the God of Abraham, Issac and Jacob.  He comes to us, He always has!  He came to Adam and Eve in the garden, He came to Abraham (even when he was trying to pass off his wife as his sister!)  He came to Hagar at the well.  He came to David in his sin, and encouraged Moses and even Hosea to deal mercifully with the unfaithful, and gave them the strength of heart and soul to deal with those trapped in sin.

He even gives us glimpses of Him, as He ministers to us.  Yes, the obvious glimpses of His faithfulness in the past, to those who are broken like us, in need of healing, like us.  In need of knowing we are in His presence.

But glimpses as well in the sacraments, especially Holy Communion, the feast were we see the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world, who takes away our sin.

Who comes to us, and we hear Him as He promises, “your sins are forgiven.”

He comes to us… He brings us through the transformation that is repentance and makes His presence known, and that His presence is, as this translation puts it, that of an intimate friend.

This is what Advent is all about, as we meditate on His coming to us, in all our need!

May we realize our need, the same need as Moses, and may our eyes be opened to His presence.

AMEN.

Ratzinger, J. (1992). Co-Workers of the Truth: Meditations for Every Day of the Year. (M. F. McCarthy & L. Krauth, Trans., I. Grassl, Ed.) (p. 372). San Francisco: Ignatius Press.

 

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