Blog Archives

The Key to Prayer…

561266_10150669017895878_539105877_9573351_938050676_n

Concordia Lutheran Church – Cerritos, Ca , at dawn on Easter Sunday

Devotional Thought fo the Day:

19 This, then, is how we will know that we belong to the truth; this is how we will be confident in God’s presence. 20If our conscience condemns us, we know that God is greater than our conscience and that he knows everything. 21And so, my dear friends, if our conscience does not condemn us, we have courage in God’s presence. 22We receive from him whatever we ask, because we obey his commands and do what pleases him. 23What he commands is that we believe in his Son Jesus Christ and love one another, just as Christ commanded us. 24Those who obey God’s commands live in union with God and God lives in union with them. And because of the Spirit that God has given us we know that God lives in union with us.  1 John 3:19-24

386      You lack faith… and you lack love. Were it not so you would go immediately and much more often to Jesus, asking for this thing and that. Don’t delay any further; call out to him and you will hear Christ speaking to you: “What do you want me to do for you?” Just as when he stopped for that poor blind man by the roadside who continued to insist, without giving up. 

To write on prayer is challenging.

In the first place, it is too personal, especially when considering St Josemaria’s words about pleading for this thing or that.  Personal becomes I have, and sometimes been disappointed.  It is also too personal, because some of the things I would ask, are well personal.  Lord, help me with this temptation, Lord, help me with this that causes anxiety and fear to rise up within me.  Not a lot of personal examples would I want to give,

The second reason is that there are two extremes when it comes to prayer.  The first is those who express what is often mocked as “name it – claim it” theology.  These are those who say you should pray like Jabez, and God will bless you with all forms of materialism, perfect families, perfect jobs, perfect health and absolute heaven on earth.  The other extreme confronts this so callously that you would almost think they believe God doesn’t listen to any prayer, that God doesn’t care for His people here.

But there are passages, the blind man that St Josemaria points out, the unjust judge, the father who doesn’t give his son a stone or a viper, but gives him what is asked.  The passages where Jesus invites us to cast all our cares on Him, all our burdens, where He tells us to ask and it will be given.  God wants us to pray, including asking Him to care for us, but I think there is something more that we need to understand.  If we don’t, then God is reduced to being a Genie in a bottle.  ( I think sometimes we think we have to save up for those really big things, so we don’t give him the everyday stuff)

Here is the key, faith and love, the very things that unite us to God, the very things that bind us to Him.  That is where prayer comes from, this close connection, this committed relationship.  It is knowing we are loved and loving back, it is in knowing that God is faithful, trustworthy, completely dependable because He desires what it good for us. Prayer is realizing that in Him we live and breathe and have our very being, so this communication is only natural.

This allows the prayer to come out of the depths, the places in our hearts, soul, and mind where we fear to go. Prayer comes from the place that so needs His peace, to know He is our sanctuary, our deliverance. This is the astonishing depth of prayer, and it shows our trust in the love of God who has come to us and given us life.

It is there that “Lord, have mercy” is simple and yet comprehensive prayer to the one who has brought us into union with Himself, for we are His children.

AMEN!

Escriva, Josemaria. The Forge (Kindle Locations 1511-1515). Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition.

Why I Can’t Grow Up… I fall too much!

Will new camera 12 2008 167Devotional Thought of the Day:
13  Then some little children were brought to Him (Jesus), so that he could put his hands on them and pray for them. The disciples frowned on the parents’ action but Jesus said, “You must let little children come to me, and you must never stop them. The kingdom of Heaven belongs to little children like these!” Then he laid his hands on them and went on his way.    Matthew 19:13 (Phillips NT)

870    Don’t try to be older. A child, always a child, even when you are dying of old age. When a child stumbles and falls, nobody is surprised, and his father promptly picks him up. When the person who stumbles and falls is older, the immediate reaction is one of laughter. Sometimes, after this first impulse, the laughter gives way to pity. But older people have to get up by themselves. Your sad experience is that each day is full of stumbles and falls. What would become of you if you were not continually more of a child? Don’t try to be older. Be a child, and when you stumble, may your Father God pick you up by the hand.

Of all the spiritual writers I have read, and there have been a lot, from every little corner of Christianity, St Josemaria Escriva has had the most profound impact, because of the practical way he sees our faith, our dependence on God.   I would recommend his book “The Way,” to anyone seeking a faith that is more than Sunday morning, or 5 minutes reading a devotion the size of a postcard.  It is no different today, my 52nd birthday, as his words hit home, and hit home hard.

There is a part of me that wants to know more, be wiser, have words of wisdom and maturity that are profound.  To be able to preach words that inspire those who are down, which call people to repentance in a way that they run like mad into the waiting arms of God, trusting in His mercy.  I want to help people explore the height and depth, the width and breadth of God’s love for them.

This has been my dream since I was an awkwardly tall 8-year-old with untied sneakers, telling a family friend, Fr. Alex, that I wanted to be a priest, I wanted to tell people about Jesus and give them His body in communion.

At 52, I am still awkward, my sneakers are still often untied, and though my falls aren’t physical, they are still there.  I understand Paul’s words in Romans 7 all too; clearly, I am not the mature, wise, holy person I know I should be.  In fact, like most pastors and priests, there are days I wonder why I am here.  Can’t God do better?  Can’t He make me the kind of shepherd these people need?  Can’t Jesus find someone who does better with temptation, and able to deal wisely with the evil that is so oppressive?

St. Josemaria snaps me out of this spiritual downward spiral with his words this morning  (odd they show up on my birthday, isn’t it?)  The best thing I can do is not astound people with wisdom, it is to let them see God pick me up.  To let them see the joy in my eyes when He does.  To be the child that runs and desires to be in His presence, even if the foolish disciples try to bar my way, I am going to see Him, I am going to hear His blessing.

Hopefully, along the way, I will drag some of my friends with me, and maybe even an enemy or 2….000?

If I pretend to be something other than a child, as I’ve tried, I will still fall. But I will try, as an adult, to excuse the fall, to justify it, to make it out to be less painful.  I will force myself to try and get up on my own, only to fall again, and perhaps even harder, or take others with me. But as a child, as one who is confident of God’s presence, who knows His love and mercy, then I know He will pick me up, that He will run to my side, that He will care for me.

Not that I want to fall, I want to make Him proud.  But as a child, when I do, I can cry out for help, and He will come.

And if I can teach my people that, and they confidently cry out (knowing His love and mercy)  when they fall as well… I’ve done my job as a brother in Christ, and as their pastor. For they have learned about His love… and have experienced it.

A simple cry, “Lord Have mercy on me, a sinner….Papa, help!” 

Escriva, Josemaria. The Way (Kindle Locations 2005-2010). Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition.

The Devout Life: Taking Hell and Heaven Seriously

clydes-cross-2Devotional Thought of the Day:
41  The Son of Man will send his angels, and they will remove from his Kingdom everything that causes sin and all who do evil. 42  And the angels will throw them into the fiery furnace, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. 43  Then the righteous will shine like the sun in their Father’s Kingdom. Anyone with ears to hear should listen and understand! 
 Matthew 13:41-43 (NLT)

1. O hell, I detest thee now and for evermore; I detest thy torments and pains; I detest thy miserable and accursed eternity; and, above all, I detest those eternal blasphemies and maledictions which thou dost vomit forth eternally against my God. And, turning my heart and soul to thee, O beautiful Paradise, everlasting glory and endless felicity, I choose my habitation, forever and irrevocably, within thy fair and sacred mansions, within thy holy and most lovely tabernacles. I bless thy mercy, O my God, and accept the offer which it pleaseth Thee to make me of it. O Jesus, my Saviour, I accept thy everlasting love, and I acknowledge that it is Thou who hast acquired for me a right to a place in this blessed Jerusalem, not so much for any other thing as to love and bless Thee for ever.

One of the devotional books I am using this year is De Sales, Introduction to the Devout Life.  Over the last year, my sermon research has regularly included quotes from this 19th century priest, so I thought I would add it to my list, along with a deep theological text by Martin Chemnitz.

Early on, it has used the hell a significant number of times as part of the devotions; something I was surprised to see.  Partially because I am not a “hell, fire and brimstone” type preacher/evangelist, trying to keep God’s Law and the Gospel in tension.  Or to use a covenantal approach, making sure people understand both the curses and promises that exist in our covenant, our “contract” with God.

But as I think about our devotion to God, the reason we are drawn to Him, the reason we adore Him, it makes sense that we take both heaven and hell seriously.

Knowing what He has delivered us from creates some of the devotion, it gives us a reason to adore Him.  Over 25 years ago, I had a cardiac arrest.  I can still remember who it was who did CPR till the doctors got there.  I remember who was in my ICU room  (even though I was sedated) Those moments of coming back to life are indeed precious to me. Those people I will always feel a special way towards.

SO much more so when we meditate on the hell we deserve because we choose disobedience, rebellion and sin rather that walking with God.  As believers to look back and know what we deserve, yet His love changes all that!  As we consider what we deserve yet are rescued from, our devotion, our adoration,, our hunger to worship Jesus grows.

As we adore Him, let us look to our future as well, and to what God does in our lives at this moment. For the heaven that we can know only in part is glimpsed in this life, ever so briefly.

Otherwise, heaven is too great a concept for our minds, our hearts, and souls to contemplate.  But in the eyes of a sinner, freed as they realize the mercy and love of God, the comfort that settles on one who mourns, the relief as a beloved prodigal walks back into the life of a church they left behind.

These are glimpses of heaven….just as when we see someone claimed by God in their baptism, or we eat and drink the body and blood of Jesus.

As we consider the reality of both heaven and hell; as we realize the enormous difference between them, our hearts will cry out, glorifying the Lord who delivered us from Hell and into Heaven.

This we need, we so need….. and it changes everything….

As our cry of Hosanna (Lord Save Us!) and Kyrie Eleison are proven answered!


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

Jesus Christ our Lord: A Look at what He Commits to!

Devotional Thought of the Day…

 9  This, then, is how you should pray: ‘Our Father in heaven: May your holy name be honored; 10  may your Kingdom come; may your will be done on earth as it is in heaven. 11  Give us today the food we need. 12  Forgive us the wrongs we have done, as we forgive the wrongs that others have done to us. 13  Do not bring us to hard testing, but keep us safe from the Evil One.For yours is the Kingdom and the Power and the Glory, now and forever! AMEN Matthew 6:9-13 (TEV)

31  “So do not start worrying: ‘Where will my food come from? or my drink? or my clothes?’ 32  (These are the things the pagans are always concerned about.) Your Father in heaven knows that you need all these things. 33  Instead, be concerned above everything else with the Kingdom of God and with what he requires of you, and he will provide you with all these other things. Matthew 6:31-33 (TEV) 

857 The Kingdom of Jesus Christ: that is our task! So, my child, be generous: don’t be anxious to know any of the many reasons he has to want to reign in you. If you look at him, it will be enough for you to consider how much he loves you… You will feel a hunger to correspond to his love, crying aloud that you really love him here and now; and you will understand that if you don’t leave him, he won’t leave you.

Back in the 1990’s there was a controversy over what it meant for Jesus to be our Lord.  Interestingly, it focused not on God, but on our obligation to God, or more precisely the code of behavior laid down in scripture. On one side, there was a focus on complete obedience to Christ as the only way to be sure we were in God’s will.  On the other side, there were pastors and theologians who took a position that since faith alone saves, our behavior had little to do with our salvation – but rather affected our peace and comfort in this life.

The battle seems to be raging anew – with different descriptions, – the latter group being called anti-nomians, the former pietists  Old labels for sure, but being applied anew.  I chose a different translation for the second passage – we usually hear it as “seek first the Kingdom” – but this to comes on the heals of realizing God’s promise to provide, so that we can focus on living in a relationship with Him. As we focus on what God requires os us, especially we hear His invitation for us to walk humbly with Him

The challenge is realizing that these views are arguing about Christ’s Lordship by looking at th wrong subject.  They start by looking at responsibility in the relationship – but they set their priority in the wrong place.  It all starts with the master’s responsibility, not ours.  IF we are to understand the Lordship of Christ, if we are to understand what it means that He is our master, we must begin there…We must begin by seeing His commitment to us.

As He teaches us to pray, look at what is promised to us, look at the things God is taking responsibility for in our lives. Look at the burdens He would have us place in His hands

I love the point St Josemaria makes – we can think all day of why God would choose to call us, to walk with us.  We can try to comprehend all of His logic, to analyze it, to create the theological systems   But what if instead, we looked to God, we knew His love, we expored, as Paul urged the height and depth, the breadth and width of that love.  What would happen if we looked at His commitment, HIs faithfulness, HIs desire – and our thoughts and our heart were focused there?  The resulting response by us as we consider His love as we bask in it, as we realize he loves us, will cause be far more of a change than we could ever negotiate on our own.Looking to His love, knowing it, will see that love work and create a level of trust and bind us to Him.

That’s the point – Christ being our Lord and Master is a promise to us, a promise that He will care for us, be there for us, that He loves us.

And in the end, it becomes even closer, as we hear him say, “I know longer call you servants…but friends”

Be at peace – for you live in Christ Jesus.

Escriva, Josemaria (2011-01-31). The Forge (Kindle Locations 3035-3039). Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition.

Economic Reform: Will You Go Away Sad as Well?

Devotional Thought of the Day:

16  Once a man came to Jesus. “Teacher,” he asked, “what good thing must I do to receive eternal life?” 17  “Why do you ask me concerning what is good?” answered Jesus. “There is only One who is good. Keep the commandments if you want to enter life.” 18  “What commandments?” he asked. Jesus answered, “Do not commit murder; do not commit adultery; do not steal; do not accuse anyone falsely; 19  respect your father and your mother; and love your neighbor as you love yourself.” 20  “I have obeyed all these commandments,” the young man replied. “What else do I need to do?” 21  Jesus said to him, “If you want to be perfect, go and sell all you have and give the money to the poor, and you will have riches in heaven; then come and follow me.” 22  When the young man heard this, he went away sad, because he was very rich. Matthew 19:16-22 (TEV)

636 You are constantly talking about the need to change and reform things. Good… Reform yourself! For you need it badly, and already you will have begun the great reform. In the meantime, I shall not be putting too much faith in your proclamations of reform. (1)

It seems that Rush Limbaugh has taken it upon himself to criticze the pope for not being Christian, for not being faithful to scripture. Well the claim is that the Pope is a Marxist because of the way he interprets scripture.  I haven’t read more than one article on it, so I am not sure where Limbaugh’s points are.  I don’t see the Pope being much of a Marxist, just one who would have Christians love the world as Christ did, taking on the form of a servant…

As I read the article, as I see all the posts about people wanting to reform our government, I have to wonder when we will slow down and consider the advice of St Josemaria, and reform our own budgets, our own spending habits.  Will we hear the last “commandment” the man heard Jesus ask about?  The one that where we considering loving our neighbor as we love ourselves?  Will we desire the “perfection” of giving up all we have to the poor, and following Christ.  Would consider giving more than just our hand-me-downs and loose coins to the Salvation Army?

If we take the scriptures in their fulness,what God wants to see develop from within this people is the same kind of love that Christ has shown, the same eagerness to sacrifice for others as Christ did.  You can’t but see this in the way the Old Testament prophets confronted Israel over their treatment of the single moms (widows) and orphans.  You see it in the commands of how one treats the foreignors, the responsibility of families – even multiple times removed, to care for those in their family.  You see it again in the gospels (the Good Samaritan, the Sheep and the Goats) , and in Romans and 1 Corinthians 12, and the entire epistle of 1 John.  This love for neighbor, this willingness to be with them in their brokenness, this love for them isn’t one that is mandated, but comes from a heart that beats in symphony to Christ’s heart.

As I write this, I myself am changing in my attitude.  Maybe the reason for coming across the article wasn’t for me to defend Christianity against Limbaugh’s American Civil Religion.  But to get me to think about my riches and how they are going to be used.  Of what I can give away to the poor, of how our finacnes are used. How can I grow in likeness to the Lord who gave all for me?

Heavy thoughts during these early days of Advent…..but ones that I invite you to share in a well.

The Parable of the Good Samaritan by Jan Wijna...

The Parable of the Good Samaritan by Jan Wijnants (1670) shows the Good Samaritan tending the injured man. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Thank God that He walks with us through them, and I pray we trust in Him enough to stay and follow and enjoy His presence, rather than walk away sad….

(1)  Escriva, Josemaria (2011-01-31). Furrow (Kindle Locations 2679-2682). Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition.

Do we have to have Mondays???

Devotional and Discussion thought of the Day:

 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)

You’re afraid of becoming distant and cold with everyone—you want so much to be detached! Get rid of that fear. If you belong to Christ—completely to Christ—he will give you fire, light and warmth for all men.  (1)

Maybe it’s because yesterday was such and emotional roller coaster…incredible highs, and some devastating lows…. but I am starting today very… drained.

There is a part of me that wishes for detachment, that I could simply find a monk’s cave and withdraw from the world.  Just study God’s word, write, play guitar and occasionally Candy Crush Saga (yeah sure… occasionally… uhm…yup_

A mundane life apart from the trauma, apart from the despair, apart from the days when you don’t have the answers… but can “only” point to God’s compassionate nature…

It sounds nice…

but naively empty.

This ministry we share, as pastors/priests and people, doesn’t avoid suffering ( maybe that why we like Candy Crush Saga?) but embraces it, because we do have hope.  Because we have that which sustains us, even on the darkest Mondays… during our times of weakness and exhaustion.  When we remember that we are involved in ministry because of God’s call, when we look to Him for sustenance than our own personal strength. We need to rely on His compassion, His love, His presence.

That is the key – and one I need to remember today…

He is our strength, He is our peace…

And when we cry out Kyrie Eleison!  Lord Have Mercy!  …. we begin to realize this!

Kyrie Eleison Abbey

Kyrie Eleison Abbey (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Escriva, Josemaria (2010-11-02). The Way (Kindle Locations 492-493). Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition.

An Incredible Prayer, Disguised as a Camp Song

Devotion of the Day

My first reaction was to wonder when he learned the song that was being sung with the enthusiasm that can only be generated within the heart of a five year old.

KUMMM BY  YAAAAAA my Lord… KKKKKKKKKumn by YAAAAAAA

My immediate reaction was to think ill thoughts of whoever taught him that camp song!  And I thought of all who mocked the song, at first agreeing with them in my mind.  Especially as I heard my five year old – feeling much better after two days of being sick, sing it with all of his might. (and if you know him…. well – you can picture this.)

I eventually thought back to my youth, to when the song was actually popular and not mocked, and I remembered the translation of the song.  Someone’s singing/crying/working/praying LORD BE WITH US. ( or literally Come by hear!)

As I thought of these words, it became apparent to me, this simple song, once written by a simple people who knew desperation, who knew anxiety, who knew pain, is truly a very deep hymn – one of great comfort and deep spiritual truth.  For no matter the vocation, no matter the action, it is always appropriate to cling to the One who is here – to cry out to Him, asking Him to reveal Himself – for He is always here… always ready to respond always ready to care and bring mercy and peace.

Kumbaya is simply another way of praying the Kyrie – another way of reaching out and realizing we were not alone..for He is with us.

May we cry out both, in sincerity and in recognition of our need, and may we know we have been heard….

Monday’s Devotion.. finally done! Compassion is not an option!

Devotional/Discussion Thought from Monday:

“If you love the Lord, you will necessarily feel the blessed burden of souls, and the need to bring them to God.” (1)

I started writing this blog on Monday, and erased it a number of times.  The burden that St. Josemarie speaks of is one every pastor knows, and every pastor struggles with often.  I dare say that elders, deacons, deaconesses and every person in the church should as well.  If such a burden is foreign, and if you catch me at a just the right moment, you will hear me agree to the statement. Even as I do, the implications of that will crush me.

The challenge of course is we hear this as “law” – and it seems to condemn us.  After all, we have been pretty well inoculated against compassion by the American Idol of “Individuality”, and it’s sub-deity “personal religion”.  That is a whole different blog – but to make it simple – we don’t believe in the community of faith any longer, we give it lip service, but do we really get it?    Being convicted by such a statement is a great tool – it is often used to raise money for overseas missions, or  for poverty or natural disaster relief. “Don’t you care about the poor, starving, homeless…” and we grab our checkbook or ATM card and pay for indulgences, American Style!

But what if St. Josemarie’s comment is actually gospel?  That is, what if the impact of knowing God’s love so radically changes us, that we are compelled to help – not just those in need in other places, but those across our fence, those down the block, those people who serve us in stores, or restaurants, or??  What if our eyes of faith saw the burdens people carry, burdens that they don’t have to bear, for Jesus already has born our burdens.  What if he is describing the effct of the cross on us, that we cannot see others living without it?

I titled this, compassion is not an option – for the one Who is compassionate toward us, God, Father Son and Holy Spirit – so loves us, that He has put His Spirit with in us.  So listen, and see, and know, the peace you have in Christ is meant for them as well.

Lord, as we cry “Lord have mercy!”  help us to realize we cry for Your mercy to be shown through us to others as well!

 

(1)  Escriva, Josemaria (2011-01-31). The Forge (Kindle Locations 446-447). Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition.

%d bloggers like this: