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Try to Not Let “Them” Steal Our Joy!


Altar with communionDevotional Thought of the Day:
1  As for us, we have this large crowd of witnesses around us. So then, let us rid ourselves of everything that gets in the way, and of the sin which holds on to us so tightly, and let us run with determination the race that lies before us. 2  Let us keep our eyes fixed on Jesus, on whom our faith depends from beginning to end. He did not give up because of the cross! On the contrary, because of the joy that was waiting for him, he thought nothing of the disgrace of dying on the cross, and he is now seated at the right side of God’s throne. 3  Think of what he went through; how he put up with so much hatred from sinners! So do not let yourselves become discouraged and give up. Hebrews 12:1-3 (TEV)

83         Faced by all those men without faith, without hope; by minds desperately near the borders of anguish, seeking for a meaning in their life, you found your purpose: Him! This discovery will permanently inject a new happiness into your existence, it will transform you, and present you with an immense daily hoard of beautiful things of which you were unaware, and which show you the joyful expanse of that broad path that leads you to God.

There are times where the actions of people affect us.  Times where evil or unjust actions cause us to struggle, to even despair and sink into depression.  Some of us are more susceptible to this than others, as we do not understand how in the world they justify their actions.

This kind of trauma can paralyze us, make us ask unanswerable questions, we can even begin to doubt God, for how can he allow this level of brokenness, this sin to dominate and evil to flourish.  As we ask these questions, out hearts and souls receive hit after hit, even as we try to determine if this is the time to fight, or flee.

I hate to say it is “natural” to enter such struggles but after 50 years, I find that I don’t have the strength to avoid such, nor the power to overcome the tendency to be so affected.  Simply put, you can’t care for people, you can’t try to love them without opening yourself up to such burdens, to such struggles.

So how do you cope?

St. Josemaria and St. Paul agree.  The answer is to look to Jesus, to find our purpose is Him.  They agree that our relationship with Jesus is so precious that we can look to Him and discover the greatest joy. This is the same joy that Jesus saw as he walked to, and was nailed to the cross.

Looking to Him, finding our life our breath and very being located in Him, allows us to see that our trust in Him is true. He will sustain us from the beginning to the end, it will reveal to us the incredible vastness of the love of God, and we will experience it more as we see ourselves as part of His story.

That’s what I need to know, that is why we need to go to the cross when we are feeling this way.  Our hearts and souls and minds need to understand what happened when God baptized us when God drew us to Jesus and united us to His death and resurrection,  When God declared us righteous, cleansing us of sin, and declared we are His children.  We need to allow His presence to dominate our awareness, to let, for then His peace settles over us.  Assured He is our fortress, we can then begin to respond in love, and in prayer for those who actions or words drew us deep into despair.

This is what we need, to focus in on Jesus, and be forewarned, it isn’t easy.  Satan will buffet us all the way.  This is where the communion of saints is so precious, for their testimonies in scripture and in the millennia since demonstrates God’s faithfulness.  This is where the sacraments and the word of God come into play, ministering to our hearts, souls, and minds, bringing the peace and comfort of the Holy Spirit.

Here is our hope and joy are restored, renewed, here in this sanctuary we call the presence of God, for know this my friends, “the Lord is with you!”

AMEN!

 

Escriva, Josemaria. Furrow (Kindle Locations 571-576). Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition.

Are We Too Solemn, too Reverent in our Worship?


IMAG0406

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.

Whatever happened to purity?


Discussion Thought fo the Day:

2  But friends, that’s exactly who we are: children of God. And that’s only the beginning. Who knows how we’ll end up! What we know is that when Christ is openly revealed, we’ll see him—and in seeing him, become like him. 3  All of us who look forward to his Coming stay ready, with the glistening purity of Jesus’ life as a model for our own.
1 John 3:2-3 (MSG)

2  Beloved, we are God’s children now, and what we will be has not yet appeared; but we know that when he appears we shall be like him because we shall see him as he is. 3  And everyone who thus hopes in him purifies himself as he is pure. 1 John 3:2-3 (ESV)

413      Each person in his own situation should lead a pure life, courageously lived. We have to learn to say No for the sake of that great Love, Love with a capital letter.

We hear the word used in church, or maybe we read it in scripture, We bypass it quickly, either not thinking about it or dismissing it as a foreign concept.

Pressed on the issue, we will probably define purity in a way that appeases our nature. We will dismiss it as impossible, we will justify our impurity by indicating such purity doesn’t save us, that the law of Moses which defined purity isn’t binding on us any longer.  We will hide our desire for impurity behind theology, behind reason, behind whatever we think will cover it up.  And we will accuse those who encourage/demand purity it of being pietistic and hypocritical.  ( This is not to say that some who encourage and demand purity are pietistic and hypocritical, but we apply the mocking labels far too liberally!)

So let’s talk about it. is there a sense of purity that is neither hypocritical, but that we should strive to be?  Is it possible to be concerned with our own state without submitting to a legalistic system of demands?

Of course! It is possible!

The problem is that our idea of purity is too narrow, it is focused on behaviors, what we do or do not do, and maybe what we say or don’t say, rather than on who we are.

Purity in Greek is related to the idea of holiness, of being set apart to a relationship with God. It is about who we are in God’s sight, in His eyes.  It means living a life that is devoted to Him, that we strive to please the Lord who loves us, who is compassionate toward us, that is merciful.

Which means we strive to live life as He would desire.  That when we fail and think, say or do things that are not pure, we immediately we turn to Him and let Him cleanse us once again. For God purifies us, He refines us.  Purity is about being grieved by our sin enough that we desire that he care for us, about hearing His voice comforting us with the words of forgiveness, and encouraging us not to sin anymore.

Is this easy?  No, it is much harder to seek forgiveness than it is to enjoy for a moment the sin.  But it is needed.

This is what life really is, living in His presence, not anxious or afraid, but full of joy.  It is about dwelling in peace, assured that our purity isn’t fake – because He is the one who is our model, and who makes us pure and holy.

Let’s not waste His work, let’s not run or hide from it,, but rejoice as His glistening purity becomes ours, as we dwell in Him.

AMEN1

Escriva, Josemaria. The Forge (Kindle Locations 1597-1598). Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition.

The Key to Making Mondays Enjoyable!


Sunrise at Concordia

Devotional Thought of the Day:
3  He has by his own action given us everything that is necessary for living the truly good life, in allowing us to know the one who has called us to him, through his own glorious goodness. It is through him that God’s greatest and most precious promises have become available to us men, making it possible for you to escape the inevitable disintegration that lust produces in the world and to share in God’s essential nature. 5  For this very reason you must do your utmost from your side, and see that your faith carries with it real goodness of life. Your goodness must be accompanied by knowledge, your knowledge by self-control, your self-control by the ability to endure. Your endurance too must always be accompanied by devotion to God; that in turn must have in it the quality of brotherliness, and your brotherliness must lead on to Christian love.
2 Peter 1:3-5 (Phillips NT)

Since then, O my soul! thou art capable of knowing and loving God, why wilt thou amuse thyself with anything less than God? Since thou mayest put in thy claim to eternity, why shouldst thou amuse thyself with transitory moments? It was one of the most grievous reflections of the prodigal son, that he might have fared deliciously at his father’s table, whilst he was feeding amongst filthy swine. Since thou art, O my soul, capable of possessing God, woe be to thee if thou contentest thyself with anything less than God.

This morning, as I arrived at church, two little girls who go to our preschool were greeting each other with great joy.  Laughter and giggles were loud, as they danced around their moms who were obviously more aware that it was Monday, and that we shouldn’t be excited or enthusiastic about a new day.

My ten year old observed that it was because they were anxious to see each other, to share the week together, that explained the joy we observed. As I read St Francis de Sales words (in blue above) I thought it echoed my son’s words of wisdom.  Why should we have the Monday drama?

Isn’t there something good about this day?  Isn’t it one of the days the Lord has made?

de Sales talks about the woes that accompany those who are capable of possessing God (realizing they are in His presence, that they have His attention and His heart)  and find contentment ( or at least settle for) something less than God.   That we accept the doldrums, the burdens of our lives as being the reality.

We are capable of knowing and loving God!  This is what the cross means, this incredible encounter with God who lives and reigns.  We are invited to walk with Him through life, to behold the masterpiece He would make of it!

That’s why Peter talks so…. so gloriously about a life with Christ.  A life where we know the Father, where we endure and find the ability to endure because of our devotion to Him, a devotion that is a response to His giving us everything that is needed to live what Peter calls ( in the midst of a dungeon that could make the worst Monday appealing)) the “good life.”

It’s not what we endure that makes it good, but that we live in the presence of God while experiencing it that makes the difference.   Like the two little girls, greeting each other with great joy, we can greet our Lord, and see His smile, and rejoice in His presence!

So stop amusing yourself with anything but God… and find in Him the joy that overwhelms even a Monday you return from vacation!

Alleluia!  He is Risen!  He is risen indeed! And therefore – We are Risen indeed!

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

He has Risen! He has Risen Indeed! And…


church at communion 2He has Risen! He Has Risen Indeed!

And… therefore….

Colossians 2:10-12

† In Jesus Name †

As we celebrate Easter, as we celebrate Jesus’ resurrection, may you realize your part in it, for the grace of God has brought you to life in and with Him.  AMEN!

The earlier sermon… Our union with Christ… 

You have already heard a sermon this morning.  Rather you’ve seen it happen, you witnessed what my poor words will attempt to describe.

Paul says it this way, in our epistle reading.

You are complete through your union with Jesus.

Complete, whole, perfect, lacking nothing.

What became true for Damon, Madelynn and Rosemarie, and is true for everyone who trusts in the mighty power of God is because of this incredible union, being united with Christ’s death and resurrection.

That is the incredible miracle of God that occurs in our baptism, as we are united with Jesus, and then we die and are resurrected with Him.

Our need for circumcision

The apostle Paul, in this epistle, this letter to a young new church, explains the work that God does in baptism using the illustration of circumcision. He writes,

11  When you came to Christ, you were “circumcised,” but not by a physical procedure. Christ performed a spiritual circumcision—the cutting away of your sinful nature.

He talks about our sin nature here, that ability we have to get ourselves into trouble, that ability we have which feeds our desires, no matter the cost to us.

It’s not just about the sin, it’s not just about the failures, there is something deeper there, that causes us to implode, to choose self-destructive things, to even argue these things are good for us. That self-destructive behavior, that’s our struggle with our sin nature. It is strong and powerful, overruling our heart and mind at times.

And we were unable to do anything about it…no one without God in their lives can, we struggle and struggle and just fall short.

We need help, supernatural help. 

Our circumcision…

That is where Jesus brings the idea of circumcision into this picture of baptism uniting us with His death.  The word in Greek for circumcision means to cut around – to carefully, with surgical precision, cut and remove something.  That is what Paul is talking about when he says

Christ performed a spiritual circumcision—the cutting away of your sinful nature. 12  For you were buried with Christ when you were baptized. And with him you were raised to new life

In the case of baptism – it pictures our dying, and when we come back to life, there is something missing.  That sin nature that so oppressed us, so controlled us, so kept us in bondage.

it’s been cut away, nailed to the cross of Christ,

Paul’s letter to the Romans explains it again

5  Since we have been united with him in his death, we will also be raised to life as he was. 6  We know that our old sinful selves were crucified with Christ so that sin might lose its power in our lives. We are no longer slaves to sin.
Romans 6:5-6 (NLT)

And to the church in Galatia he wrote,

19  For when I tried to keep the law, it condemned me. So I died to the law—I stopped trying to meet all its requirements—so that I might live for God. 20  My old self has been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me. So I live in this earthly body by trusting in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. Galatians 2:19-20 (NLT)

I could go on and on with the ways scripture describes out being separated and cleansed of our sin. But that is only part of the process to the greater blessing, the forgiveness, the separation of you and your sinful nature is but a description of what it leads us into, our new life in Christ.

Our Hope of Glory …

Earlier this week, a friend asked me what my favorite scripture was.  My answer without hesitation was this,

9  “No eye has seen, no ear has heard, and no mind has imagined what God has prepared for those who love him.” 1 Corinthians 2:9 (NLT)

This is what Easter is about, this incredible plan God has for us, the very reason for the cross and why the church obeys the command to make disciples by baptizing and teaching them to treasure everything God establishes.  It is through this work God does through us, that we are made whole and complete, and are given the Holy Spirit to help us live in a such a different life.

To live in a relationship with the God who not only created us, but deeply loves us.  To get to know Him, through our talking to Him in prayer and meditating on His word, searching it out as we explore how deep, how high, how wide, how broad this love is that He has for us.

Whose plan for us is to dwell eternally with Him, sharing in His glory, dwelling in the purest love.

This is what this is all about, this being complete as we are united with Jesus. About being recreated as the children of God, about knowing His peace, it is about knowing Him!

And may you always know that peace of God which is beyond anything we can understand, the peace that is ours in Christ Jesus AMEN!

 

Our Suffering, our Doubts, and Jesus’s Struggle at the Cross. A Good friday Devotion


clydes-cross-2Devotional Thought for Good Friday:
1  My God, my God, why have you abandoned me? Why are you so far away when I groan for help? 2  Every day I call to you, my God, but you do not answer. Every night you hear my voice, but I find no relief.    Psalm 22:1-2 (NLT)

22  Here’s the story I’ll tell my friends when they come to worship, and punctuate it with Hallelujahs: 23  Shout Hallelujah, you God-worshipers; give glory, you sons of Jacob; adore him, you daughters of Israel. 24  He has never let you down, never looked the other way when you were being kicked around. He has never wandered off to do his own thing; he has been right there, listening. 25  Here in this great gathering for worship, I have discovered this praise-life. And I’ll do what I promised right here in front of the God-worshipers.   Psalm 22:22-25 (MSG)

He is pleased to withhold from us the milk and honey of his consolation, that, by weaning us in this manner, we may learn to feed on the more dry and solid bread of vigorous devotion, exercised under the trial of distaste and spiritual dryness. 3. That as violent temptations frequently arise amidst these desolating drynesses, we must resolutely fight against them, since they do not proceed from God; but nevertheless, we must patiently suffer them, since God has ordained them for our exercise.

The Bible tells us that Jesus was tested in every way we are, that he faced the same issues, the same temptations, the same situations which can cause us to doubt, or to want to run.

We see that today, in the passage that Jesus quotes from the cross.

He too had moments where the Father seemed to far away, where the illusion of being abandoned was strong.  Where the feeling that God has left us on our own to struggle dominated every other feeling we have.

I’ve often wondered why God allows us to go through these times.  Surely they don’t come from God, yet St Francis de Sales indicates they are ordained by God for our exercise.  God allows them to come upon us, as He did Job and Jesus, for a purpose.

IN Jesus case, the abandonment was seen for what it was, a pouring out of wrath that far exceeded the wrath of the Pharisees, Sanhedrin, and the Roman guards.  A wrath that one taken upon Jesus would kill him, yet like the grain in the sand, it would give life to us, and to all those who believe and are baptized.

In our case, the suffering intended to defeat us, intended to drive us away from God can and does (eventually) ordain for us to be drawn toward Him.   De Sales calls this being drawn a vigorous devotion, I beg to differ a little.  Like the psalmist I look at my own pain, my own suffering to early, to often, being drawn down into the darkness, being overwhelmed by the pain.  But there He rescues me, He reminds me of HIs love, He shows me that He was always with me.

This is the point David is making in the Psalm, which starts out so dark, which so describes the pain of being crucified or struggling today.  The point where we can see as the light shatters the darkness, as our faith, no even more sure of God’s presences testifies to naturally, without even thinking.  read it again,

22  Here’s the story I’ll tell my friends when they come to worship, and punctuate it with Hallelujahs: 23  Shout Hallelujah, you God-worshipers; give glory, you sons of Jacob; adore him, you daughters of Israel. 24  He has never let you down, never looked the other way when you were being kicked around. He has never wandered off to do his own thing; he has been right there, listening. 25  Here in this great gathering for worship, I have discovered this praise-life. And I’ll do what I promised right here in front of the God-worshipers.   Psalm 22:22-25 (MSG)

When we are struggling, when Satan and his minions are oppressing us, when all seems dark, this is what is true.  He is with you, He loves you, and you will soon be praising Him as the Holy Spirit convinces you of this reality.   Like the cross, the victory, the depth of God’s love is revealed in these trying moments, in the midst of the pain, and the darkness.  We then see the truth;

You weren’t abandoned, He was there… and you will tell others about this!

AMEN!

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

There is Another Way: A Lenten Sermon on Romans 4


church at communion 2There is another Way

Romans 4:1-8, 13-17

 In Jesus Name

As we realize the sin we commit, may we also realize the grace of God our Father, and our Lord Jesus Christ, which cleanses us from the sin, even as we come to depend on His presence in our lives!

Parenthetical Statement

 In the midst of the passage from Romans this morning, our translation puts a few of the words inside of parenthesis.  They are no less part of scripture, and I would call your attention to them this morning…

They are these words, “The only way to avoid breaking the law, is to have no law to break!”

That seems simple.  No law, no breaking the law.

Even though they are scripture, they present a problem for us.  They are a literary device, not what we would call “pure gospel”.  A literary device, sort of like sarcasm or irony.

You see, as a literary device, the idea of getting rid of God’s law is predetermined to fail.

For one thing, it’s impossible.

For another… well you will see.

We can’t avoid it – because of Adam

Paul’s literary device fails, simply because we can’t avoid sin. Last week we saw why, sin entered the world through Adam, and it was passed on, as vicious as any virus or genetic anomaly to every person who was a product of human conception.

All we have to do is look at what our lives produce, and we know that the Apostle Paul was right when he said that, “the law always brings punishment on those who try to obey it.” 
That seems like a bit of a challenge, doesn’t it?  You try to obey God’s law, and you can’t!

Some will say the law is impossible, that we should just ignore God’s law, and do whatever we want. Others give up, and others pretend that they have never sinned, or that their sin isn’t as evil as the sins of those they complain about.

Sin, we’ve all done it, we’ve all earned the wrath of God that are the wages for that sin. Ignorance of the law doesn’t matter, and we can’t simply make God’s law disappear, or claim that it isn’t for us…

You can’t avoid the law, it exists, which is why we need what Abraham discovered….. the discovery that David says brings great joy.

Rejoice, we were cleared of breaking it.

 Hear David’s words again,

“Oh, what joy for those whose disobedience is forgiven, whose sins are put out of sight. Yes, what joy for those whose record the Lord as cleared of sin.”

This promise is for all people, without care for their age, their ethnicity, where they lived or even the sin they committed.  This wondrous act of God, clearing us of sin, putting the sin out of sight is amazing!

Trusting God, depending on Him to keep a promise that goes back to the garden of Eden is what we are talking about, it is how we have a “right relationship” with God.

Since the beginning this is God’s plan, since God covered Adam and Eve’s sin with the skins of animals, since God saw Abraham’s trust, first in the promise of Isaac’s birth, and then as he went to sacrifice Isaac, knowing God’s promise was deeper than he could understand.  Hebrew’s tells us that he counted that through Isaac God would provide him more descendants than the sand on the shore, or stars in the sky.

That trust, that dependence on God saw Abraham counted as a friend, just as David, whose sins far outweighed his predecessor King Saul, God describes as a man after his own heart.  Paul gets this as well,

20 Here we are, then, speaking for Christ, as though God himself were making his appeal through us. We plead on Christ’s behalf: let God change you from enemies into his friends! 21Christ was without sin, but for our sake God made him share our sin in order that in union with him we might share the righteousness of God.   1 Cor. 5:20-21
This right relationship we share – another way of describing God’s work in creating it is what Paul told the church in Corinth – His way of changing us from enemies into His friends.

His friends.

Let that sink in.

Like Abraham, being counted as righteous means you are counted as a friend of God.
His friend.

That’s what a right relationship with God is, which explains why David uses this word joy to describe our sin being put away.

During Lent, this is what we focus upon, this work of God we need, this love of God that proclaims we are cleansed, healed, forgiven, loved, by the Creator of the universe, who created us to be His friend.

And though sin tried to break that relationship, our God had already prepared for that, even before creation, for His intent has always been the same as it was in the garden,

to walk with us… He as our God, we as His people, his children, His friends.

And the cross, it is our way to avoid the damage of sin.  And it works. So be at peace and trust in God who loves you more than anything.

AMEN!

The Necessity of Ministry…and those who minister.


church at communion 2Devotional Thought of the Day:
18  If people can’t see what God is doing, they stumble all over themselves; But when they attend to what he reveals, they are most blessed.    Proverbs 29:18 (MSG)

36  As he saw the crowds, his heart was filled with pity for them, because they were worried and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. 37  So he said to his disciples, “The harvest is large, but there are few workers to gather it in. 38  Pray to the owner of the harvest that he will send out workers to gather in his harvest.” Matthew 9:36-38 (TEV)

914    How pitiful are those crowds—high and low and middle-class—without an ideal! They give the impression that they do not know they have souls: they are a flock, a drove, a herd. Jesus, only with the help of your merciful love will we turn the flock into a legion, the drove into an army, and from the herd of swine draw, purified, those who no longer wish to be unclean.

The coach of my favorite football team has two very simple and yet profound slogans.

The first is “do your job.”  which helps keep focused each member of the team, from players to coaches, trainers, the owner, and even entry level office staff and custodians.

The second talks about the nature of the focus.  “No days off.”  That speaks of the team as something more than a job, working on that team is what theologians call a vocation. It is who you are, it is part of what defines them.  These two catch-phrases have come with a fair share of success.  Actually, according to some, far more than just a fair share.

These are lessons those in the church and who lead it need to understand.  Our ministry is more than just a job.  It is a vocation, it is what we’ve been sent to do, our apostolate, our mission. Because of the nature of what we do, it demands our focus, and it should define who we are.

It is critical, far more critical than winning trophies and wearing five rings.

We see this in words from the Old Testament, a passage often translated  “where there is no vision, people perish” or sometimes “where there is no prophetic vision.”  But the translator of the Message has its sense – for the vision is not of what we are called to do, but what God is doing.  It is the vision of the promises God the Father has given to us, delivered in the death and resurrection of Jesus, the Lord who delivers us from evil. This isn’t just a vision for the church to grow, or build a new building, or raise money for this and/or that.  It is the vision of God, gathering His people from every tribe and language, to live with Him.  The vision of God being their God, and they being His holy people.   

It is the vision that pastors, teachers, evangelists, prophets and apostles are to give them, what our worship is to cause them to be aware of. Which is where we come in, and where Jesus’ words about shepherds are so relevant.

People need those who are ministers in their lives, so that they might be drawn to God, and be given the vision of what God is doing in their lives.  This is our job, primary and completely.  It is the care these souls need, it is the mission that our sermons are tasked with, our Bible Studies, and why we baptize and commune people.

For without that, they are lost… they may not even realize what a soul is, never mind that theirs needs to be cared for, to have life spoken into it.  It is only with God’s help that this is changed, only His Spirit can breathe life into them who are dead, trapped and imprisoned by sin.

This is what we do, and as we study, as we visit and teach, as we lead and inspire, may it be focused, every day, on Christ, and drawing people to Him. 

Escriva, Josemaria. The Way (Kindle Locations 2126-2129). Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition.

A Pastoral Confession: The Paradox of Holiness


DSCF1421Devotional/Discussion Thought of the Day:

13  So brace up your minds, and, as men who know what they are doing, rest the full weight of your hopes on the grace that will be yours when Jesus Christ reveals himself. Live as obedient children before God. Don’t let your character be moulded by the desires of your ignorant days, but be holy in every department of your lives, for the one who has called you is himself holy. The scripture says: ‘Be holy, for I am holy’.
1 Peter 1:13 (Phillips NT)

887    That discouragement produced by your repeated lack of generosity, by your relapses, by your falls—perhaps only apparent—often makes you feel as if you had broken something of exceptional value: your sanctification. Don’t be worried: bring to your supernatural life the wise way simple children have of resolving such a conflict. They have broken—nearly always through frailty—an object that is dear to their father. They’re sorry, perhaps they shed tears, but they go to seek consolation from the owner of what has been damaged through their awkwardness; and their father forgets the value—great though it may be—of the broken object and, filled with tenderness, he not only pardons, but consoles and encourages the little one. Learn.

Like most pastors, I struggle with this thing called holiness.

On the one hand, Scripture clearly lays it out as a requirement for our lives, and as a measuring stick for me personally, and for my vocation, my life as pastor.  If my goal is a pastor is to present you perfect and holy to God (see Col. 1:28)) then it is the standard to judge my work, my vocation, my life.

I’ve looked at how pastors treat holiness, looking for examples and encouragement, but I find too little.  I see most pastors and priest taking one of two attitudes about it, and neither seems to help.  I will go so far as saying both are contrary to scripture.

The first attitude is one of regimentation, of physical and mental obedience that doesn’t affect the heart.  This quickly develops into legalism, that is less concerned about you than about your life being lived visibly according to the set standards.  Everything becomes measured, notated and analyzed like a geometry test.  It is not discipleship as much as a form of cloning.  And it burns people out, for no one can live up to the standard, including those who see themselves as being responsible for measuring people against it.

The second attitude is just as dangerous, even though it seems the exact opposite.  TO deny the need for holiness, to say it is a unachievable goal, and that Jesus broke us free from answering completely to the law. ( For Lutherans, this would be those who deny that the Holy Spirit doesn’t have a third use of the law)   As the legalists do this is not about the person, it is about the behavior.  They might say since holiness is impossible, just rely on grace to forgive you.  Not directly, but that is the result of their theory.

So I either push them too hard or don’t care what they do.

So where am I to shepherd them too?  How are they to be holy even as the Father is holy if they aren’t taught what holiness is, and how it develops in a person?

Even harder is my own application of holiness if I am not holy, how in the world can I expect to lead them into holiness, into a deeper, more committed, more fulfilling relationship where the peace and comfort that comes from knowing God loves them is their primary desire?

I think it comes from understanding what holiness is, what it looks like.

St. Josemaria gives a picture of it, with his description of a child breaking a treasured item. This is going to God, the owner, the author, and perfector of our holiness, and asking for comfort, for consolation – this is holiness.  At the very purest level, this seeing God’s help in restoring what is marred, what is broken, what is shattered, this is the kind of holiness we need to see.

The holiness of a child, seeking comfort, seeking peace, because we know what we have done, this destruction of what God treasured, is an act of faith, and an act of trust.

God will look past it; He promised He could because it was taken care of by Jesus on the cross. Knowing this, we can run to Him; we can tell those running to Him the words of comfort, “Your sins are forgiven!”

This is the faith that runs to God, knowing He is with us.  Knowing and depending on a love that will allow nothing to separate us from Him. Providing for the people of God this encouragement, this blessing, this life.

Not just dismissing their sin, as if it didn’t cost the blood of Christ, nor scourging them and beating them up for their not living like the Lord who shed His blood for them.

It is in His death, which we are united to in baptism, that we find the grace St Peter talks of, the grace that gives us our hope, the hope that sustains us, and actually sanctifies us, for when we walk in His presence, when we run to Him for forgiveness and comfort, there He is working, making us Holy.

May we all run to our Father, and cry out for His help!

AMEN!


Escriva, Josemaria. The Way (Kindle Locations 2049-2055). Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition.

Brother to Brother…..one glorious hope!


church at communion 2Discussion Thought of the Day:
3  Make every effort to keep yourselves united in the Spirit, binding yourselves together with peace. 4  For there is one body and one Spirit, just as you have been called to one glorious hope for the future. 5  There is one Lord, one faith, one baptism, 6  and one God and Father, who is over all and in all and living through all.    Ephesians 4:3-6 (NLT)

Where man is no longer believed to be under God’s protection, to have God’s breath in him, then people begin to assess him from a utilitarian point of view. Then there appears the barbarity that tramples on human dignity.  (1)

Twenty-one years ago, an album containing the music of two masters was put together, one singing the lead of the other’s composition, both playing the instruments and blending their voices together.  They went on tour together, and while I would love to see many people in concert, to see Michael Card and John Michael Talbot together, would be one of my dreams.  

The album was called Brother to Brother, and it was playing in the background when I came across the words of Pope Ratzinger in my devotional reading this morning.  The lead song, One Faith,  comes from another favorite album, JMT’s The Regathering, which finds its inspiration in the words above from Ephesians 4.  It pictures the regathering of all the saints, into the perfect communion that is Christ Jesus.  As I look out on a broken world and the one holy, catholic (small c means all of us) apostolic and sadly fractured church, that day seems so precious, so wonderful and so far away.

It is the prayer and desire of Jesus fulfilled, that we truly be one, even as the Father and He are one.

And we see the glimpse of it in Pope Benedict’s (Cardinal Ratzinger when he wrote them) above in blue.  When we realize that every man is under God’s protection, every man has God’s breath in them, we can no longer view them as anything utilitarian.  We cannot hang generalizations, we cannot define them by affiliation or hang demographic labels on them.  Even the labels adversary and enemy fade away, along with fears and anxieties, as we see Christ in them, and therefore find someone who is loved, even as we are loved.  Someone Jesus is calling to, even as he calls to us.

Pope Benedict went on to say, We must always look upon other men as persons with whom we shall one day share God’s joy. We must see them as persons with whom we are called to be members of the body of Christ, with whom we shall one day sit at the table of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, at the table of Jesus Christ, as persons called to be our brothers or sisters, and to be, with us, the brothers and sisters of Jesus Christ, children of God.”

This isn’t easy.  It means we must trust and depend on God more than our fears, our anxieties, our resentments.  it requires seeing the individual as more than important than those things.  The only way to do that is to see the heart of God, the Lord who gave His body to be broken, and His blood to be shed for all on the cross, and then unify all He calls in a meal where He shares His body and blood again.

Including those that don’t understand yet, for we are called to love them, and invite them to this feast…..We won’t conquer our fears, we won’t willingly become martyrs if necessary if we don’t see them loved by God, even as He loves us.

Lord have mercy on us sinners, and help us to see that You died for each and every individual.  AMEN!

(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.

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