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Are You Talkin t’ me? Are YOU Talkin t’ME?

clydes-cross-2Devotional Thought for our days…

“I assure you: Unless a grain of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains by itself. But if it dies, it produces a large crop. 25 The one who loves his life will lose it, and the one who hates m his life n in this world will keep it for eternal life. 26 If anyone serves Me, he must follow Me. Where I am, there My servant o also will be. If anyone serves Me, the Father will honor him.  John 12:24-26

When we journey without the cross, when we build without the cross, when we profess Christ without the cross, we are not disciples of the Lord, we are worldly; we may be bishops, priests, cardinals, popes, but not disciples of the Lord.

We, who are so often unable to put up with one another; we, who are not fit to appear before God, are received by Jesus. He wears, so to speak, the garment of our wretchedness and, by taking us with him, makes us fit to stand in the presence of God; we have gained access to God. We are washed by letting ourselves be drawn into his love. This love means that God receives us unconditionally even when we are not capable and are not worthy of it, because he, Jesus Christ, transforms us and becomes our Brother.

In the middle of Jesus prophecy about His imminent crucifixion and resurrection, there is something we have to see, something we have to hear again.

6 If anyone serves Me, he must follow Me.

We have to bear the cross, we have to go with Him there, or more precisely we need to allow Him to draw us into Himself, to give up our lives so that we can live in Him, with Him, through Him. (yes the Eucharistic reference is intended)

For without the cross, His cross, we cannot truly be His disciples, we can’t be united to Him, for that is where our unity with God begins, it is where life is restored in the midst of death. 

And so Jesus calls us to die, even as He was sent to die.  We are drawn to the cross, not because of the pain, not because of the sacrifices required (those idols aren’t worth anything anyway) but because of the love we know there,  this incredible, unbelievable love that is poured out on us, the broken and sin-crushed.  Yet that love heals us, transforms us, judges us as those who are brothers and sisters of  Jesus, the Son of God.  

Without that death and resurrection, we are nothing.  And having died to sin, and been raised in Christ, we begin to realize life differently.

The crosses we have to bear, the sacrifices we make to serve others, the forgiveness that pours out from our hearts is not something that is more painful than the joy we find in the presence of Jesus Christ.  

In fact, as we get used to living in Christ, we may not even realize we are making sacrifices, bearing crosses, being patient with those who require the greatest patience. We just know what we do is what we are supposed to do…

It is just what we do, 

What He’s called us to do, for He has revealed His love, He has revealed His promise 

The cross..and the resurrection, He and us, united there, and forever.  AMEN! 

 

 

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.

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.

Do You Understand This? A Sermon on Matthew 13’s parables of the Treasure and the Pearl.

church at communion 2Do You Understand This?
Matthew 13:44-62

I.H.S.

My prayer for you as you read this sermon:  As you think about the grace and mercy of God our Father and Jesus Christ our Lord, may you understand that God has found what He treasures, in you!

Do you understand this?

Toward the end of our gospel reading today there is a question that we need to hear, that we need to take seriously.

Do you understand all these things?

Do you understand this?  What Jesus is talking about are these groups of parables. Called parables of the Kingdom because Jesus says each is an example of the Kingdom of Heaven.  Do we get what it means for someone to search for treasure, and for a merchant to search the world for the perfect pearl/

Do we understand what it would cost to buy the field, what would be given up in exchange for the pearl?

The price is pretty high….

And if we don’t understand the price to be paid, we need to…

Just as we need to understand these words of the Apostle Paul.

17  Then Christ will make his home in your hearts as you trust in him. Your roots will grow down into God’s love and keep you strong. 18  And may you have the power to understand, as all God’s people should, how wide, how long, how high, and how deep his love is. 19  May you experience the love of Christ, though it is too great to understand fully. Then you will be made complete with all the fullness of life and power that comes from God. Ephesians 3:17-19 (NLT)

That observation of St. Paul’s has everything to do with the treasure and the pearl… and understanding them!

We need to understand the incredible love of God for us… and then we can unlock the meaning of parables with great ease!

Chasing after the treasure?

One of our challenges in understanding this passage is that we are so used to searching out chasing after things.  We’ve forgotten how to be content with what God has blessed us with.

People search for and struggle to find the perfect career, and the perfect path in that career.  So they change careers now, four or more times in their lives. Wait, I’ve only had three… HHmmmm

People chase after the perfect home, or the perfect community, the perfect family with our children and grandchildren having everything that will make their lives perfect as they grow up.

And of course, some of us chased after our spouses – until they sprung their trap…err they let us catch them.  😉

It is no wonder then that most hear this parable about the treasure and the pearl and think, well – we must find the kingdom of God, we have to find the treasure in the field.  Preachers like Billy Graham and Greg Laurie encourage us to give up everything to decide to make Jesus our Lord and Savior.  In effect, to see this passage this way means we save ourselves, we redeem ourselves.

But it is the way we’ve heard it, so we design church services and our evangelism programs to help people seeking to find the treasure, assuming they will recognize it when they see it, and that they will want to give up everything for something they barely understand.

Except that it doesn’t work that way.

When we are in bondage to sin, when we are buried and tarnished by the weight of this broken world, we don’t have the energy or power to save ourselves. We don’t have the ability to find the true treasure and even if we did, what could you give up that is valuable enough to give to purchase heaven?

What could we trade of equal value that would redeem us from sin and the brokenness it causes?

We aren’t the treasure hunters, we aren’t the merchants trying to find the perfect, priceless pearl.

So if we aren’t?  Who is?

Being found

The simple answer is God.  He is the one who came to seek and save the lost.  Jesus is the one who gave up everything and took on the role of the servant.  In each of the parables in this chapter, God is at work, harvesting us, causing the church to grow.

Paul described it in our second reading this way,

30 And having chosen them, he called them to come to him. And having called them, he gave them right standing with himself. And having given them right standing, he gave them his glory.

We need to struggle with, and come to accept that we are His treasure, we are His Pearl of incredible value.  Here are some other ways this is described,

17  “They will be my people,” says the LORD of Heaven’s Armies. “On the day when I act in judgment, they will be my own special treasure. Malachi 3:17 (NLT)

5  Now if you will obey me and keep my covenant, you will be my own special treasure from among all the peoples on earth; for all the earth belongs to me. 6  And you will be my kingdom of priests, my holy nation.’ Exodus 19:5-6 (NLT)

18  He chose to give birth to us by giving us his true word. And we, out of all creation, became his prized possession. James 1:18 (NLT)

And of course,

10  For we are God’s masterpiece. He has created us anew in Christ Jesus, so we can do the good things he planned for us long ago. Ephesians 2:10 (NLT)

This is what Paul means by exploring the incredible dimensions of God’s love for us, to explore how broad and wide, how high and deep.

It is the love we have to learn to ocunt on, depend on, have faigh in, even when we don’t seem to shine like a pearl, or we seem to tarnished and pitted to be His treasure.

God is the one who found us, He is the one who gave up everything for us. This is who we are, the people that God treasures, and loves to the extent that Jesus died for us. We We heard Moses explained it to Israel, words that are true for us,

 ! Rather, it was simply that the Lord loves you, and he was keeping the oath he had sworn to your ancestors. That is why the Lord rescued you with such a strong hand from your slavery and from the oppressive hand of Pharaoh, king of Egypt. Understand, therefore, that the Lord your God is indeed God.

So my dear friends. know you are treasured, and that God treasures everyone that you know, they just need to hear it from God, through you and me.

AMEN!

Christmas Eve: Relationships: Isaiah 9

Relationships

Isaiah 9:6-7

†  I.H.S.

May you realize the long awaited promise of God’s active presence in our lives, came true for all on a night like this… as Jesus the Messiah was born.

Four Letters.

Four simple letters, written by a prophet 700 years before the event he saw.  The promise of God nearly two millennia before that.

Four letters, divided into two words, that matter more than we can imagine.

“to us.”

This child that we celebrate, this man who is God whom we glorify, was born to us.

To us…..

And everything changes, as the relationship that God wants to have with us, is revealed.  That which they couldn’t understand in Isaiah’s day, and couldn’t understand on the night when Mary gave birth, made clear.  God came to us.  To have a relationship with us, to relate to us in a number of ways Isaiah tells US.

Like Kay is my wife, the church’s office manager, the mother of my son, so too does God relate TO US in a number of incredible ways….. and as we celebrate Jesus coming to us, as we ponder what this all means, it is worth looking at who Isaiah says this Jesus, this God is saves relates… to us

Wonderful Counselor, the one who comforts and directs, who consoles and guides, whose wisdom we depend upon.  This is the God, who came to us. It is the first way Isaiah tells us that He will relate… to us.

He does this because we need direction, we need comfort, we need God here, to be our shepherd. Because we too often lose our way morally, We need Him when life results in despair and mourning. So a child was born to us.

That baby, who was laid in a feeding trough, this child born of parents who would soon leave their country because of persecution and move. He is one we truly need, A God, the God, not made of wood or fashioned from stone.  A God, who is mighty, and uses that might, that ability, that power, for us. For that is how He would relate to us.  Not just minimally from a distance but interacting with us here.

Too often we make false gods, ones who would promise to do what we want, what we think we want.  We don’t want these gods to love us; rather we only want them to give us what we think we need.  This God, though, who came as a child to us…is not like that.  He is a mighty God, who loves and knows what we truly need.  He relates to us as the God, who is always able to be Whom we need,

The next way is is my favorite of the ways in which God relates to us humans, to his people. As our eternal dad, as the loving Father, we run to when we are hurt when we’ve broken our neighbor’s window, or their hearts when we’ve done the things that leave us needing His strong embrace.

And this Father is eternal, and he will be our Father eternally.  Think about that.  God just isn’t a god of this day or that, a fad.  He will be your God always.

There is a lot in this idea that this child relates to us as our Father, our everlasting Father.  Theologians make a big deal of it.  But when you need Him, His embrace is there…for you.

The last way God relates to us, through this child given to us, is so needed today.  With all of the stress, all of the fears, with all the brokenness we have to witness, such is the nature of the God who comes to us.  He is the Prince of Peace!

We so often picture the serenity of the manger scene, which I am not quite sure would be that peaceful.  A woman gave birth, a husband tired and weary, the shepherds, still in awe of the million angels announcing the glory of Christ being born… into that scene comes the prince of peace… and we always picture that scene as serene, peaceful, because we know His character.

The child who would be, no who is, the prince of peace….our Prince of peace.

This child in the manger calms our fears, our anxieties, our lives…our world.  Because of him, we have this peace… peace beyond understanding.  For that is why He came… to us.

And the prince of peace….to us is given

The prince of peace who has come… to us.

AMEN!

Matt 7 – THe Love of a Mother, the Love of THE Father

The love of a mother,

& the Love of The Father

Mark 7:24–30

  † I.H.S

As you go through life, may you be assured of the love God has for you, love that will go to extreme measure to free you from all that oppresses

What this isn’t about/What it is

As I preach about the gospel lesson this morning, I need to make something clear.

Yes, I know there are demons, and I am sure this lady’s story is exact and true.  It isn’t some parable. Her daughter had a demon.

Okay, now onto what the story is really about, the love of a parent for their child.

The love of a mother,

and the love of the Father.

Understanding the depth of that love will reveal the cross, and the reason that Jesus took a side trip from his home into a spiritual no man’s land.

It will also make the difference in your life, for you are His beloved child.

You see, the demons in this passage – they aren’t relevant, they are a side note. Although in a way it would be easier to preach about fighting them.

It is the love that matters, the love that we so desperately need to know.

The Love of a Mother

I don’t even think Jesus had unpacked at the home he was staying at when she showed up.  A desperate mom, looking for something to help her very young daughter.

I don’t have to have you imagine the pain, the desperation that leads her into Jesus presence the moment people realization it is a Jewish Rabbi – maybe even Messiah that has come into their presence.

But I will remind you that she is so desperate that she breaks every cultural norm, every piece of etiquette, and risks his very anger.  For to be in the presence of a woman in such situation would render Jesus unfit to teach as a rabbi.  As a man of God, being that close to someone outside the people of God would also render him unclean and able to serve, and to do a miracle for her?

Unthinkable.

She throws all decorum aside – she wants her daughter to be healed, to be delivered to, to be right.  When I first read that she fell at Jesus’ feet, I thought the word there would be the root word for worship – to bow and lay prostrate before someone, a position of worship, adoration, honor.

It’s not, is the word we get Pepto in Pepto-Bismol from, she collapses in front on him, a withering wreck.  And her only hope? A hyped up prophet from a country that hasn’t produced anything of value in 400 years….

She tosses everything aside, all pride, all loyalty to her people, everything if only there were hope.

She is so desperate she pleads, she begs, with everything she has.  Heck, she even argues for table scraps from this prophet from that oddball place with the oddball religion.

Such is the love for her daughter.

Even a daughter who, obviously, wasn’t easy to care for, wasn’t easy to love.

A daughter who was more trouble than any can imagine, a daughter who would be un-lovable, even one most people would be afraid of, except for a parent.   No one else would care, no one else would endure, but somehow she did.

As she collapses before Jesus, as she needed to depend on someone becomes more and more apparent, her responses grow stronger as if she intuitively knows that Jesus can help.

How could she know the love of God the Father, a God she was unfamiliar with, a love that would be revealed in Jesus coming near?

The Desperate Love of the Father
We have the benefit of hearing these stories, of knowing, even if we sometimes forget, a little bit about the depth of God’s love.   Usually, I ask Chris to say the word in Hebrew, (cHesed) but I think I want to keep our guest musician dry this morning.

cHesed – the love that would go to any length for the one who is loved.  That would go to any length to restore that which is broken,

it would drive a woman to the feet of a crazy prophet…

The same love that would drive a Father to send His only Son to her.

I want you to hear something in this passage again.  I want you to see it, think about it.

He didn’t want anyone to know which house he was staying in, but he couldn’t keep it a secret
He couldn’t keep it a secret.  He wasn’t able to another translation says,  The Greek uses the word from where we get dynamic, dynamo, dynamite.  He was without any power in this instance.  The One through whom the universe was spoken into being, the one whose words sent demons scurrying, who calmed seas, whose words brought the dead to life, who spoke forgiveness and taught with authority.

He couldn’t keep where he went on vacation secret from anyone.

It’s as if someone was letting people know – here’s the prophet, here is your hope!

Because immediately, she found him.  And right after that, Jesus leaves the area and goes back to Galilee.  It is as if this wasn’t really a vacation, a chance to get away, but simply a trip to her, a divine appointment.

Think about this what stopped him, what took away his power to remain incognito?  What could make Jesus the Messiah incapable, powerless, vulnerable?

Jesus couldn’t keep his presence secret because God sent Him to be there, for this lady, for this daughter who would collapse at Jesus’ feet.

Because God loved her even as He loves us.  He didn’t send him just to deliver the child from the demon.  Jesus obediently went where the Father sent them, to deliver them from everything that oppresses them.

Even as He delivers us.

Even as Jesus was sent to us.  Even as He was sent to die on the cross for us.
Even though we weren’t clean and holy.  Even though Jesus would have to dwell in our sinfulness, even as He would take on every sin we committed. Even if we acted like we were demon possessed.  Even if our battle with sin is beyond belief.

Isaiah prophesied that the Father would lay every sin we’ve committed on Jesus.  His suffering and death would cleanse us, make us righteous, heal us.

That is what we have to understand – God doesn’t will that any would perish, God won’t let anything separate us from His love,

God gave us this ministry as well, this ministry of reconciling everything to Him, even as we plead with people to be reconciled to God.

As we enter this new school year, as we swing into fall, we are going to see this over and over, that God wants us to be in communion with Him.  That He loves us, that He will deliver us from evil. And that He sends us out, with His Spirit, to bring other broken people home to Him. To free others that are oppressed, by sharing with them His love.

It’s not about getting the scraps from the table.  It isn’t about our being “not good enough”

It is about even if we are there, completely collapsed, knowing God will restore us and care for us, and comfort us. That He will heal those we bring to Him.

The Father’s love is that deep.  And that love is revealed to us in the cross of Christ, in the presence of the Holy Spirit, in the promises of our baptism, and the feast that is but a small sample of the feast to come.

May you dwell in God’s peace, the peace beyond anyone’s understanding, assured that you will be kept in that peace by Jesus.  For He has come to us, to deliver us from all evil.  AMEN.

Our Need for Prayer

Devotional Thought of the Day:

Featured image3  So what makes us think we can escape if we ignore this great salvation that was first announced by the Lord Jesus himself and then delivered to us by those who heard him speak? Hebrews 2:3 (NLT)

6  Don’t worry about anything; instead, pray about everything. Tell God what you need, and thank him for all he has done. 7  Then you will experience God’s peace, which exceeds anything we can understand. His peace will guard your hearts and minds as you live in Christ Jesus. Philippians 4:6-7 (NLT)

The more you suffer, the more you are tempted  the more you need to pray; prayer now alone can strengthen you with help and consolation.  Let not pain and fierce temptation paralyze you prayer.  The devil does all he can to prevent you from praying at these times.  But rather than give into weak human nature which absorbs the soul in its paid so that it sees nothing else for the time, turn your eyes to our Lord and speak to Him standing so near.  He is with you, looking on you lovingly, listening for your words.  He tells you to speak, that He is there to hear you, that He loves you and you have not a word to say to Him, no look to give Him.  What ingratitude!  Look at Him speak to Him without ceasing, The deeper your agony, the deeper you must bury yourself in the Heart of your Beloved, and cling to His side with ceaseless prayer!  (1)

I have to admit, while I don’t spend the time i would like, perhaps as much time I really need in prayer, the words in blue resonate with me.

I know them true, and it is why I can desire to spend more time, more hours, more days in prayer.

You may ask why I put the first reading there, about ignoring salvation. Simply put, because salvation isn’t just about the event, where God cleanses us from sin, washing us clean as He promises in our baptism, replacing our heart of stone with a heart of flesh and giving us His Spirit, (see Ezekiel 36:25).  Salvation is rescuing us from and delivering us to something that is incredible.

As we are saved we become something.  We become part of the people of God, daughters and sons of God, adopted and marked as His children, we enter into a entirely different relationship with God, one where He promises to never forsake us, never abandon us, never to stop working in our lives.  We find life, a life lived in fellowship, in community, in communion with God.

And that is what we should never neglect, that is what we need to grow in, the awareness that the Lord is with you.  (and yes, thank you – also with me).  We need to learn to depend up this, not as a fact, but as reality.  He is with us, ready to listen, ready to comfort, ready to heal, ready to reach out into this broken world.

Prayer then becomes the way of life, the very meaning of our salvation.  Walking with God. Please re-read the second scripture passage and the italicized blue above, there is our hope.  our peace, our comfort, our very ability to live.

In the past couple of weeks, many people I know have encountered death of their loved ones. I’ve talked to others, who have lost jobs, or are afraid of losing a relationship.   Just knowing this is exhausting, tiring, painful, the feeling of emptiness and loneliness I observe is… crushing.  For those directly involved, the devotional writer gets it right.  The sorrow and grief consumes us.  Nothing else can matter in that moment.

Until God breaks through, until He reminds us that He is here.  There is a strong correlation between how quickly we hear His voice in those moments, and the time we spend walking with Him at other times.  Even if we feel that there aren’t the other times.  Yet if we neglect this, if we take Him for granted, it may take a longer time to find Him, when only His comfort is the answer.  Don’t neglect Him, don’t

Then we can find rest and peace, dwelling in His love.

So pray my friends, realize God walks with you, and share with Him everything… and spend some time in stillness, and in quiet, and know He is God.  AMEN!

(1) from Celtic Daily Prayer:  Finian Reading for April 10th.

You Won’t Ask? I will provide anyway!

You Won’t Ask? I will provide anyway!

Featured image

Isaiah 7:10-14

As you experience the grace of God our Father and our Lord Jesus Christ, may you know the peace of the Babe, held in His mother’s Arms.

Can We Know Peace?     Snoopy and the Red Baron & the real Story

As we look at the world, at Afghanistan, Syria, the Ukraine, as we hear of more shootings, and protests here in America, as we hear of disasters and people living in poverty, looking at a romanticized view of the manger causes… dissonance.

How can this be the same world?

My mind wandered back to a more peaceful time, or at least, It was in my mind.  In a small New Hampshire town, the news of the Vietnam War was far more distant than the wards of today… and life seemed at peace.

I remember listening to Christmas music, on our record player, the albums that would get pulled out, year after year.  One of my favorites was a group called Royal Guardsman, and their Christmas song was about Snoopy.

Yes, Charlie Brown’s dog, and a fight he had with Baron Manfred Richtofen in World War I, on Christmas Eve.  A battle about to end with snoopy getting shot down, when the bells of Christmas began to ring in the village below,

The chorus was

“Christmas bells those Christmas bells

Ring throughout the land
Asking peace of all the world
And good will to man”

And for a moment, there was peace.

Such actually happened in World War I, not between two pilots, but two armies.  For an evening, they laid down their rifles, they silenced their artillery, and as one man started singing silent night, men from his army joined their voices to his, then the other army did as well.

For an evening, as bells chimed from churches, announcing the birth of Jesus, there was peace.

Can that happen today?

Will we know if it does?

Can we know peace in War?

That question God wanted to ask…. Yeah

In the days of King Ahaz, in the time described in our Old Testament reading from Isaiah, there was a war.

We know the passage so well, because of the prophecy of Mary, and the name, Immanuel, which means Immanent or Immediate God.  It is from where we get our blessing, “The Lord is with you!.”

Jerusalem was going to get run over, brutally run over….surrounded by armies,

In order to provide for God’s people, a prophet is sent to break this new to them.

God asks the king, “let me prove I will be with you through these times, ask me for something to confirm it….Let me give you and answer for the questions you will ask.

Ask, and you shall receive…. Jesus will ask us, centuries later….

Ahaz refused to answer, for whatever reason.

I won’t put you to the test…. I won’t demand you prove your presence, your love, I won’t depend on you God, no matter what threatens me.  That’s Ahaz voice, defensive, dismissive….

Will we doubt the One who was promised, the babe born to a virgin, the One who would remind us that God is with us? That God has promised to deliver His people, and bring them, bring us safely home?
Will we hear it, more than this night!

Many of our wars aren’t military battles, nor even do they include weapons.  They are wars with our neighbors, or our families,, skirmishes and fights with friends.  Civil wars within our hearts, within our souls.

We need to hear that God wants us to ask of Him, we need to seek Him out, we need to realize that He will prove that He is as here this night

We need to know He is Immanuel, our God, with US.

That is what this night, these songs, these readings are all about.  It’s why we gather.  It ‘s why we are here……

and we are why He is here….

We are why this baby doesn’t just belong here… in the manger, but here, on the altar.

The sacrifice that we would know peace.

During a war, nearly 100 years ago, the bells pealed out, and the war was forgotten,… and men sang the praises of God, who came and dwelt among us…

To bring us the peace of heaven…..

So seek, and knock and ask….

And realize the answer was first seen, as a young lady laid her newborn babe in a manger, and God the Father offered Him as the sacrifice to prove Himself to be our God, and to make us His people.

Are We Worthy to Be In Their Company?

 

Devotional Thought of the Day:OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

33  By faith these people overthrew kingdoms, ruled with justice, and received what God had promised them. They shut the mouths of lions, 34  quenched the flames of fire, and escaped death by the edge of the sword. Their weakness was turned to strength. They became strong in battle and put whole armies to flight. 35  Women received their loved ones back again from death. But others were tortured, refusing to turn from God in order to be set free. They placed their hope in a better life after the resurrection. 36  Some were jeered at, and their backs were cut open with whips. Others were chained in prisons. 37  Some died by stoning, some were sawed in half, and others were killed with the sword. Some went about wearing skins of sheep and goats, destitute and oppressed and mistreated. 38  They were too good for this world, wandering over deserts and mountains, hiding in caves and holes in the ground. 39  All these people earned a good reputation because of their faith, yet none of them received all that God had promised. 40  For God had something better in mind for us, so that they would not reach perfection without us.
1  Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a huge crowd of witnesses to the life of faith, let us strip off every weight that slows us down, especially the sin that so easily trips us up. And let us run with endurance the race God has set before us. 2  We do this by keeping our eyes on Jesus, the champion who initiates and perfects our faith. Because of the joy awaiting him, he endured the cross, disregarding its shame. Now he is seated in the place of honor beside God’s throne. 3  Think of all the hostility he endured from sinful people; then you won’t become weary and give up. 4  After all, you have not yet given your lives in your struggle against sin. Hebrews 11:22-12:4 (NLT)

258      What a beautiful prayer for you to say frequently, that one of our good friend praying for a priest whom hatred for religion imprisoned: “My God, comfort him, since it is for you he suffers persecution. How many suffer, because they serve you!” What a source of joy the Communion of Saints is!  (1)

I read the 11th chapter of Hebrews today, from Abraham through the prophets, from judges to kings and apostles, and I wonder how they achieved the trust they had, the level of faith that sustained them in times of dire need.  I consider the saints since, the brilliant ones like Chrysotom, Augustine, and Melancthon, Walther and Benedict  XVI.  I think of those who’ve changed the world like Luther or Craenmer or St. Josemaria Escriva or Billy Graham,   I think of those who withstood tyranny and proclaimed Christ, who would die rather than worship a false God. I think of those like Francis and Mother Theresa and the many unknown who serve those whose health is poor, who live in darkness.  Whose names are unmentioned, but their work changes lives.  I think of King David and Bede,  Beethoven and Mozart; Charles Wesley,  Fanny Crosby, John Michael Talbot, Michael Card, and hear the wondrous praise they have composed.

And I wonder, do I belong in their company?

My head tells me I do, because of the theology I know and preach… that Christ came to have mercy on sinners like me.  This is what my soul counts on, more than anything.

Yet in my heart I wonder, will I simply be in the last row in heaven?  In the folding chair, brought in at the last moment for those of us standing around, not quite sure I belong there?

After all, I haven’t the wisdom, or the skill, and I especially don’t have the patience of those who endured before me.  I haven’t done anything noteworthy, never gotten a million hit, heck a thousand hit blog post, or wrote a song picked up by some great singer. Never served communion to more than 150, or baptized 5 people in a day.

Sometimes I wonder if I will be the last one picked, like in a sandlot baseball game.  God shrugs – yeah – I will take him, I guess I need a millionth string holder for the place kicker.

In my mind I would love to be listed there, one of those who did something that was an amazing demonstration of my trust of God, even more a demonstration of how much God is worthy of all trust.  How much God will sustain His people, through the worst of storms, through martyrdoms, even as they forgive the sins of those who oppress them.

But I am not, just a simple guy, trying to shepherd simple people.  People who still struggle with sin, people who still on occasional doubt.  People who learn about God and haev to re-learn about His love. People who still struggle with wanting to do things their own way, seek their own pleasure.

First 40 is amazing to spend some time thinking about;

40  For God had something better in mind for us, so that they would not reach perfection without us.

Without us.  Without you and I.

God has something in mind… that we will join them.

These heroes of the church, are waiting, by God’s command, for us…..

And because of this great crowd, bearing witness of Christ, who’ve demonstrated to us the faithfulness of God, surround us, we know we can do as they did.  Set everything else aside, just drop it there, and look to Jesus.  He is why we have faith, and why our faith will be sustained.  He will finish what He began in us. . That is why we will be part of the cloud, it is why they are part of the cloud…..

they are sinners just as we are, and they are saints like us because He is.  

We do that, we find we are part of the team, those who know that are life is hid in Christ.  And that we are part of that great cloud of Witnesses…

AMEN….




Escriva, Josemaria (2011-01-31). The Forge (Kindle Locations 1081-1084). Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition.

 

Reformation Day Is NOT Independence Day

Devotional Thought of the Day:OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

14  I have given them your word. And the world hates them because they do not belong to the world, just as I do not belong to the world. 15  I’m not asking you to take them out of the world, but to keep them safe from the evil one. 16  They do not belong to this world any more than I do. 17  Make them holy by your truth; teach them your word, which is truth. 18  Just as you sent me into the world, I am sending them into the world. 19  And I give myself as a holy sacrifice for them so they can be made holy by your truth. 20  “I am praying not only for these disciples but also for all who will ever believe in me through their message. 21  I pray that they will all be one, just as you and I are one—as you are in me, Father, and I am in you. And may they be in us so that the world will believe you sent me. John 17:14-21 (NLT)

Out of love for the truth and the desire to bring it to light, the following propositions will be discussed at Wittenberg, under the presidency of the Reverend Father Martin Luther, Master of Arts and of Sacred Theology, and Lecturer in Ordinary on the same at that place. Wherefore he requests that those who are unable to be present and debate orally with us, may do so by letter.  (1)

236      A firm resolution: to abandon myself in Jesus Christ with all my wretchedness. Whatever he may want, at any moment, Fiat—let it be done!  (2)  

Four Hundred, ninety-seven years ago, a professor at a University posted the above as the introduction to discuss Ninety-Five thesis about Indulgences.

As far as I have read, his intent wasn’t to start a reformation, yet it is the anniversary of the publishing of this event that history notes as the start of the Protestant Reformation.

To quote one of the characters in a WEB Griffin novel, “i regret that it is was necessary”.

Indeed, I dread the celebration of the events that would follow, as the works of Luther went viral. As that viral nature exploded, as the conversation that he was intent on having didn’t occur. As the church began to splinter apart.

Please understand me, I fully acknowledge that the discussion was necessary, the truths that Luther re-discovered, especially that we cannot merit salvation on our own, that God comes to us in our wretchedness,  Yet this was not Luther’s truth alone, and it needed to be understood, both head and heart.

What causes the regret is the division in the Body of Christ.  The idea that one group can be kicked out, while another group can walk away.  An idea that know has morphed into the idea that I can belong to a church, or denomination, and simply ignore that which it teaches that I don’t agree with completely.

Teachings on the sacraments?  Who cares!  Teaching about what is sin, and what isn’t?  Don’t need to bother with that!  Teaching about the gifts of the Spirit and the role of the church?  Why bother, it doesn’t really affect me today, does it?  Teaching about how to care for sinners, based on the love of Christ seen in His treating us who are sinners?  Not necessary, just condemn them as an abomination.   This is what the church has resulted in, because we choose to divide, rather than to reconcile.

Some treat the Protestant Reformation as if it was a spiritual “Independence Day”.  As if it were a celebration a small portion of the church is now completely independent of the body of Christ.  But the Body of Christ cannot be divided, the Invisible church is always that of one Lord, whom we trust in, One faith in Him, one Baptism where we are united with Christ.  Given the ministry of reconciliation, not of further division, and definitely not of celebrating the division.

Celebrate what Luther discovered in regards to the gospel of Christ – AMEN!  An awesome thing to celebrate.  But not the division that occured then, in fact, maybe it is time to have those discussions, to pursue the truth that is found in Christ Jesus, to work to see the Church reconciled in Him, to abandon our wretchedness and find the glory of being united in Him.

Lord have mercy on us sinners….
(1)  Martin Luther’s Ninety-Five Theses.

(2)  Escriva, Josemaria (2011-01-31). The Forge (Kindle Locations 1004-1005). Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition.

In Defense of Worship:

Discussion and Devotional Thought of the Day:Concordia Lutheran Church - Cerritos, Ca , at dawn on Easter Sunday

18  And do not get drunk on wine, in which lies debauchery, but be filled with the Spirit, 19  addressing one another (in) psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and playing to the Lord in your hearts, 20  giving thanks always and for everything in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ to God the Father. Ephesians 5:18-20 (NAB)

16  Christ’s message in all its richness must live in your hearts. Teach and instruct one another with all wisdom. Sing psalms, hymns, and sacred songs; sing to God with thanksgiving in your hearts. 17  Everything you do or say, then, should be done in the name of the Lord Jesus, as you give thanks through him to God the Father. Colossians 3:16-17 (TEV)

3 After all, the chief purpose of all ceremonies is to teach the people what they need to know about Christ.  (1)

16 Ultimately, if we should list as sacraments all the things that have God’s command and a promise added to them, then why not prayer, which can most truly be called a sacrament? It has both the command of God and many promises. If it were placed among the sacraments and thus given, so to speak, a more exalted position, this would move men to pray.  (1)


Recently, there has been an attack on worship, articles that have challenged it having a prominent role.  Some have demeaned it, and denigrated the role of those entrusted to lead and facilitate our praise of God.

Some of the criticisms need to be heard, there are times worship leaders of all styles act like entertainers, deserving to be heard. But I believe most of the criticisms are based in a irrational fear of the emotions we have, which need to be admitted before God.  More on that after some basic thoughts

There is a real need for worship, an the role of a worship leader/cantor/praise team/choir and the church (while worshipping and praising God)  is at its very core, as much of a means of grace and as sacramental as a sermon, as the readings.  Here is why I say that;

There are two “kinds” of lyrics, though in some songs you might have both.

1.  Horizontal Lyrics teach
Here the role of the music is to teach, encourage, catechize and reveal the glory and grace of God our Father and our Lord Jesus Christ. The very same goal as a sermon, as the people hearing and singing the words realize their absolute need for Jesus Christ, and they share with each other their sorrows, and their joy when Christ is revealed to them.
This is the word of God, being proclaimed in words accompanied by music, but it is the word of God. Look at how it fits into the passage in Colossians, it is part of the teaching and instruction, the mutual building up of the people of God. Melancthon does exclude worship in his words in the Augsburg Confession – the role of the worship service is to gie to people, to teach them, what they know of Christ.

2.  Vertical Lyrics Pray…
Worship that is vertical, that is directed to God is either prayer or praise,  “Lord, come do what you promised”, “Lord you have rescued me!”, “Lord, have mercy on me, a sinner.”.  This is second commandment work, the proper use of the Name of God, which He has given to us to talk to Him, to sing to Him.  Again, the Lutheran Confession talk of such prayer as a sacrament, as being sacramental, even if only because of that we pray more!   We need to seek God more, we need to be found like Isaiah, and the 70 elders, we desperately need to experience the fact that we live in the presence of God; Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

That is a scary thought, for to be in the presence of God means that all of our fears, all of our anxieties, all of our emotions, are laid bare.  They are known.  We can’t hide our hearts or our souls from God.  We can’t hide our jealousies, our lusts, our anger, our desire to be in control.  Music, singing these biblical lyrics, have a way of doing that, of sneaking in through our (arts/emotion) right brain, while distracting us by occupying our left brain (knowledge, logic) and ministering to our complete brokenness.

We don’t like that, it scares us.  And any kind of worship can do this, from 4 or 5 guys singing the doxology on a retreat, to a choir putting voice to O Sacred Head, or A Mighty Fortress, to a praise team simply singing Amazing Grace- My Chains are Gone, or a classical guitarist plucking out the Lord’s Prayer.   The music opens our souls, letting out that which poisons them, as the Love of God inherent in the words of scripture rush in and cleanse us.

The music moves us…. and sometimes that is scary, but it is a incredible blessing as well.

This is why as we prepare for worship, it needs to be done in prayer, meditating on the word.  This is why the instrumentalists and singers need to practice so well, that they can lose themselves in the worship, even as they lead others in it.  Any style can be done poorly, to loud, to erratic, to performance driven.  When leading the prayers and praises of God’s people is done poorly, it robs them of their voice, it robs them as well of that which can facilitate their prayers, focus their praises, distract them from being in the presence of God…..

But worship leading, done right?  It is as beneficial as a well crafted and delivered sermon.  For it is the gospel proclaimed, and because it is prayer, it is sacramental.

And to quote our confessions, if we realize it is such, maybe we will engage in it all the more!

(And remember to pray for those who serve you, the people of God, in this ministry, just as you pray for your pastors)

Kyrie Eleison (Lord Have Mercy!)
Alleluia (Praise God!)

Amen

(1)  Tappert, T. G. (Ed.). (1959). The Book of Concord the confessions of the Evangelical Lutheran Church. (p. 56). Philadelphia: Mühlenberg Press.  AC XXIV

(1)  Tappert, T. G. (Ed.). (1959). The Book of Concord the confessions of the Evangelical Lutheran Church. (p. 213). Philadelphia: Mühlenberg Press. AAC XIII

How Should A Christian Behave? A Look at the Third Use of God’s Law

Devotional/Discussion THought of the Day:The church, is always in the midst of a storm... but safe in Him
23  ‘Everything is permissible’; maybe so, but not everything does good. True, everything is permissible, but not everything builds people up. 1 Corinthians 10:23 (NJB)

11  Some of you used to be of that kind: but you have been washed clean, you have been sanctified, and you have been justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and through the Spirit of our God. 12  ‘For me everything is permissible’; maybe, but not everything does good. True, for me everything is permissible, but I am determined not to be dominated by anything. 1 Corinthians 6:11-12 (NJB)

117      “What do I have to do to maintain my love for God and make it increase?” you asked me, fired with enthusiasm. Leave the “old man” behind, my son, and cheerfully give up things which are good in themselves but hinder your detachment from your ego… You have to repeat constantly and with deeds, “Here I am, Lord, ready to do whatever you want.”  (1)

For those unfamiliar with the terms in this devotion, please feel free to ask me to define them, if I don’t do so enough to explain them.  This topic is a valuable one… and I would hope I explain it okay. 

In regards to God’s law, there are basically three ways it is active in this world.

The First Use of God’s Law is what we call “civil use”, that is, the law of God which is seen in natural revelation, and is seen in its basic form in all cultures, and in all religions and a-religions.  Example, pre-meditated murder is wrong in almost every culture.  Some cultures make exceptions like abortion, euthanasia or the killing of enemies can be seen, but the basic idea, “Thou Shall Not Murder” is universally recognized.

The Second Use of God’s Law is found in both general (natural) revelation and specific revelation.  It shows us that breaking these laws results in brokenness that is beyond our scope to heal.  We need a deliverer, a savior, a healer, a Way out of the debt we have got into, a way to make reparation.  God’s revelation of Himself, what we call the Bible, provides that way to freedom.

It is the Third Use of God’s law that confuses people.  How does God’s law work in regards to those who have been washed cleaned, made holy, counted as right in the eyes of God?  does it have any force, any effect?  It was fulfilled in Christ Jesus, and St. Paul tells us it cannot be used to condemn us.  So how does God’s law apply to the people of God?  How should a Christian think of it?  Or maybe more simply, how does someone who is God’s child behave?

Some would have us pay it no heed, since it’s power over us was broken at the cross.  Some would have us enslaved to it again, mandating that we fulfill every single letter, if we are to be completely “faithful”.  The latter would allow people to sin at will, the others create a system filled with guilt and shame.  Both lead to hypocrisy and condescending pharisaical attitudes.  Often these two options go against each other, theological treatises point out the other’s errors.

It isn’t rocket science folks.

Scripture is pretty clear about it.  Look at the two Bible passages in red above.  They set a pretty simple standard, even as they recognize the freedom we have, having been cleansed by Jesus.

Look at what will benefit your life?  Look at what builds up, what does good.

Which means we have to have some standard of determining what is good, what is beneficial, what builds people up.

Look to Christ, there is your answer.  Look to the love He shows you, the course He reveals in the scriptures that reveal Him.  Look deeply into how He fulfilled the law, by loving YOU. By sacrificing all He was, so that you could be God’s child.  Look at the kind of life you would live, if you followed Him, if you sought Him in every relationship, in every moment.  he’s defined that in His law of love, in the example of His life which fulfilled it.

That is how to have a good life.  Simply do what is best… and ask God to help you see that as you walk with Him.

His law?  It helps draw a picture of it, but it isn’t the life.  The law indicates what a life lived in a relationship to God would look like…..it maps the journey we walk with the Spirit dwelling with us.

So walk with Him… and enjoy the journey!

Escriva, Josemaria (2011-01-31). The Forge (Kindle Locations 614-617). Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition.

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