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The Real Spiritual War We Must Fight…

Life is painDevotional Thought for our days…
24  Surely you know that many runners take part in a race, but only one of them wins the prize. Run, then, in such a way as to win the prize. 25  Every athlete in training submits to strict discipline, in order to be crowned with a wreath that will not last; but we do it for one that will last forever. 26  That is why I run straight for the finish line; that is why I am like a boxer who does not waste his punches. 27  I harden my body with blows and bring it under complete control, to keep myself from being disqualified after having called others to the contest. 1 Corinthians 9:24-27 (TEV)

13  For if ye live after the flesh, ye shall die: but if ye through the Spirit do mortify the deeds of the body, ye shall live. 14  For as many as are led by the Spirit of God, they are the sons of God. 15  For ye have not received the spirit of bondage again to fear; but ye have received the Spirit of adoption, whereby we cry, Abba, Father. Romans 8:13-15 (KJV)

1 It is also taught among us that such faith should produce good fruits and good works and that we must do all such good works as God has commanded,6 but we should do them for God’s sake and not place our trust in them as if thereby to merit favor before God.

60      Each day be conscious of your duty to be a saint. A saint! And that doesn’t mean doing strange things. It means a daily struggle in the interior life and in heroically fulfilling your duty right through to the end.

Let’s be honest, when I hear the term spiritual discipline, or mortification, most of us think of medieval monks with knotted ropes, whipping themselves over their shoulders.  Or maybe not doing that physically, but spiritually and emotionally, as Martin Luther was portrayed, struggling with the sin that would so easily ensnare him.A struggle which nearly drove him crazy.  Or perhaps it did, at least causing a breakdown.

Paul mentions the struggle as well, complaining about it in Romans 7, as he shares that he can’t do what is holy and right, and unsuccessfully battles temptation.  And in the passages in red above, Paul talks of mortifying the flesh – of beating the body physically in order to bring it to subjection.  (Never mind Jesus talking about plucking out eyes and cutting off hands when the cause you to sin!_

The struggle is real.

The Augsburg Confession is as clear as any other document, the good works that are planned by God are to be the result of the trust, the faith, the dependence we have in God’s work in our lives.  Again, Fr. Josemaria chimes in similarly – we just fulfill our duty, for we are saints,

But is it that happens, that short-circuits our desire? How do we overcome it?  Is it by physical and spiritual disciplines that punish our body and soul, even to the point of scarring it?  Or are these words of scripture simply an illustration – hinting at the different battle?  A different sort of discipline?

There is a part of me that wants to dismiss the entire conversation, and I would, except for one thing.  I tire of my sin, I am tired of the unrighteousness in which I dwell. I am tired of the Romans 7 battle and feeling like the wretch, unable to change, unable to transform, and afraid of the condemnation such deserves.

So where do I find the rope, and what knots do I tie in it?  Or do I find 8-12 hours to cry at the altar, as those using the mourner’s bench did in the Great Awakenings of prior centuries?  Or do I give up – and freely sin, thanking God for the abundance of grace that will result in my abundance of sin?

I think the answer is that spiritual disciplines are done, not to achieve a new level, but to remind us of what has been obtained for us.  Like a martial arts instructor who still does the basic steps with his students, so that he remembers even the basics, so we invest time in spiritual things to remind us of what we should know – the glory and incredible love of God.  These disciplines are not punitive or even restorative, but affirmative, to help us know the love of God, the presence of GOd, the mercy of God.

That is the purpose of striving to be regularly praying, regularly reading the scriptures, regularly doing both of those with other believers, and communing together, guided by those people the Body of Christ has called to serve them, is simple.  Life is pain (as the Dread Pirate Roberts was fond of saying) and these practices remind us that it is worth it, that God will make sure it works out for good, and that He will be with us, every step, every moment of the way.

In other words, God doesn’t need to have us so disciplined, though He does like our company, we need it!  We need to know He is with us, and will never leave us.  FOr we can easily chase after distractions, and think we have strayed to far… 

And still, He is here…

 


Escriva, Josemaria. The Forge (Kindle Locations 439-441). Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition.

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

Augustine’s confession and the reality of Monday

Devotional Thought of the Day:

11  No! I can’t be quiet! I am angry and bitter. I have to speak. 12  Why do you keep me under guard? Do you think I am a sea monster? 13  I lie down and try to rest; I look for relief from my pain. 14  But you—you terrify me with dreams; you send me visions and nightmares 15  until I would rather be strangled than live in this miserable body. 16  I give up; I am tired of living. Leave me alone. My life makes no sense. 17  Why are people so important to you? Why pay attention to what they do? 18  You inspect them every morning and test them every minute. 19  Won’t you look away long enough for me to swallow my spit? 20  Are you harmed by my sin, you jailer? Why use me for your target practice? Am I so great a burden to you? 21  Can’t you ever forgive my sin? Can’t you pardon the wrong I do? Soon I will be in my grave, and I’ll be gone when you look for me. Job 7:11-21 (TEV)

For I bore about a shattered and bleeding soul, impatient of being borne by me, yet where to repose it, I found not. Not in calm groves, not in games and music, nor in fragrant spots, nor in curious banquetings, nor in the pleasures of the bed and the couch; nor (finally) in books or poesy, found it repose. All things looked ghastly, yea, the very light; whatsoever was not what he was, was revolting and hateful, except groaning and tears. For in those alone found I a little refreshment. But when my soul was withdrawn from them a huge load of misery weighed me down. To Thee, O Lord, it ought to have been raised, for Thee to lighten; I knew it; but neither could nor would; the more, since, when I thought of Thee, Thou wert not to me any solid or substantial thing. For Thou wert not Thyself, but a mere phantom, and my error was my God.  (1)

Yesterday’s sermon was on the slaughtering of the innocents, and the despair of Israel as the children were led away into captivity.  An odd way to begin the year, I thought.  I included statistics that were overwhelming, the number of martyrs, both those who died without denying Jesus, and the number of lives cut short before their 

It’s enough to make you stagger, to bluntly reveal our brokenness, to tear our hearts apart by simply being honest.  Even those who helplessly look on are devastated and struggle to find God, and even more, we often push away the comfort He would give us.  

Often times, we are too polite, to bound by a sense of hospitality, to address these things.  We want to shove the pain into some dark corner or our soul  We are afraid to be honest with God, to openly cry about the pain, to admit the anger, to let ourselves be purged of our bitterness.

Augustine tried to find such solace, he couldn’t escape the pain. Neither could Job.  But it is as they confess this, as they struggle with the god they cannot see, that they cannot fathom, that hope begins.

I understand them, perhaps all too well.  When I am at such points, overwhelmed, I want to run and hide.  To find solace in a place like Lake Ossipee, NH.  To dive into the fictional works I love, of earlier times in history, or the worlds of Tolkien or Feist. I long to be someplace other.  To replace prayer with the study of theology, to replace the sacred times, the sacramental life with busyness serving others.  Ministry can be a great place to hide in the illusion of self-preservation known as denial. 

David knows this grief, as did Solomon.  the emptiness, the lack of the peace we pursue. You can’t read the Psalms without noting it, or Ecclesiastes without finding the bitter pain of a life that seemed only to be defined by vanity.

It is in facing that vanity, that lack of peace, that emptiness that we can realize our need for God.   That we can understand what faith is, that we can understand how intimate the relationship is, where God teaches us to desire and pray to see His Kingdom come and will be done. 

Stop running, cry out with your soul until you can be still. For then you will know that He is God, know He is here, and that He is your refuge.  For being still is not possible until we deal with the pain that would have us fight or flee. It is then, broken, wounded, weeping, that we come to the cross, and indying to ourselves, we find Him.

There, at the cross, worn out and weary beyond measure, you will be still; ou will find what Agustine and Job, David and Solomon all found, and what transformed them.  A God who comes to us… and brings healing and peace.

AMEN.

 

Augustine, S., Bishop of Hippo. (1996). The Confessions of St. Augustine. (E. B. Pusey, Trans.). Oak Harbor, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc.

The Perspective of Death… and Eternity

Featured imageDevotional Thought of the Day:
13  “I wish you would hide me in the grave and forget me there until your anger has passed. But mark your calendar to think of me again! 14  Can the dead live again? If so, this would give me hope through all my years of struggle, and I would eagerly await the release of death. 15  You would call and I would answer, and you would yearn for me, your handiwork. 16  For then you would guard my steps, instead of watching for my sins. 17  My sins would be sealed in a pouch, and you would cover my guilt. Job 14:13-17 (NLT)

Let me now remind you, dear brothers and sisters, of the Good News I preached to you before. You welcomed it then, and you still stand firm in it. It is this Good News that saves you if you continue to believe the message I told you—unless, of course, you believed something that was never true in the first place.I passed on to you what was most important and what had also been passed on to me. Christ died for our sins, just as the Scriptures said. He was buried, and he was raised from the dead on the third day, just as the Scriptures said .1 Corinthians 15:1–11

I woke up this morning, exhausted in body and spirit and especially soul.

In the last 6 days, six families i know have had to face grief and death.  Four deaths in a forty-eight hour span. Not to mention 4 or 5 other things that are pretty high on the trauma scale.

I don’t feel like Job, exactly, for I am not the one who is directly suffering.  Just praying and trying to comfort those who are.  I do understand his weariness, and the above quote, wishing there was a way to put life on hold until the day when this broken world that seems so futile ends. Wouldn’t it be great if we could be frozen, and didn’t have to endure this complicated and broken life?

Yeah, I resonate with Job’s thoughts.  More often than I would like you to know.  Even this week, as I face so much, I really resonate with them, so much I wanted to shout amen when I read them.   For if only that would happen, and the next thing to hear from God would be, “welcome home!”

But what Job hopes for, Paul reminds us that we have.  We have a God, a Father who doesn’t want to look at sin and injustice.  He wants to see things made right, and if broken, healed.  In the middle of wanting to know if Job found an out, in the midst of death, there is another death to consider.

The death of Christ.  The only death I know of, where the answer to “why” is answered.

“For you”, the Father whispers.  We hear it again, as we proclaim and celebrate His death in the Lord’s Supper.  Take and eat, the Body of Christ, given FOR YOU!.  Take and drink, the Blood of Christ, shed for you, f or the forgiveness of sins.

The answer is staggering..

For me?  Broken, sinful, confused, anxious, depressed, mourning – that me?   Trusting in this, is the key to our faith, that God would do this, for us.

Job’s dream, come true,

You would call and I would answer, and you would yearn for me, your handiwork.”

The words of Paul in Ephesians 2:10, says Job was right, his vision of what would be glorious is found to be true.  His hopes exceeded.

That is the perspective death brings, it causes us to ask the questions we dare not,  and here the answers that we can only dream of in our brokenness.

An answer we can hear, and know, passed down to us.  For He died, was buried, and rose again.  United with Him, this is seen in our baptism, and as we feast at His table, as we look forward and cry out with hope, with great expectation for Him to return.  AMEN

The Princess’s Bride’s Most Accurate Quote…..

Devotional THought of the Day:Featured image

2  He has sent me to proclaim That the time has come When the LORD will save his people And defeat their enemies. He has sent me to comfort all who mourn, Isaiah 61:2 (TEV)

13  I will comfort you in Jerusalem, as a mother comforts her child. 14  When you see this happen, you will be glad; it will make you strong and healthy. Then you will know that I, the LORD, help those who obey me, and I show my anger against my enemies.” Isaiah 66:13-14 (TEV)

Life is pain, Highness. Anyone who says differently is selling something.”  (1)

It lies on my phone in wait for certain messages, just sitting there, a ring tone tied to email’s, text messages and fb messages.

I put it there originally tied to a name or ten, whose messages usually herald some kind of suffering.  Now, faced with the truth, it heralds all messages.  (btw – if you think you name was the one it was attached to, that probably means either that it wasn’t or was…)

As I approach fifty, I am more and more convinced that “the man in Black”/aka Wesley/aka the dread pirate Roberts was correct,  Life is pain.  Or as Buddha is credited as saying, “Life is suffering”.

Some of it is physical, like my body is wracking me with pain presently, because I worked out this morning, or because of the health issues I have faced all my life. Some of it is spiritual/emotional, like the grieving that I went through 2 weeks ago, as I walked along the shoreline where my dad and I walked so many times.  Or the anxiety that comes from being a father and pastor, as I worry about those who I have been given the responsibility for shepherding towards God.

Some of the pain is second hand, which doesn’t mean it is any less, thought it is different.  The pain and suffering that occurs naturally when we encounter people in our familes (biological, communal, church) that are suffering.  Paul wrote about this to the church in Rome,   “Share the happiness of those who are happy, the sorrow of those who are sad.  Live in harmony with each other.  Romans 12:15-16 (Phillips NT)   That harmony means we do suffer together, though the notes we sound are different, they resonate together.

Life is pain…..

And The Man in Black is correct, many will try and sell you something to fix it.  Some things will be dreams, or distractions that addict.  Some will sell the promise of ignoring the pain, which is ultimately more painful.

LIfe is Pain….yet, as Princess Buttercup desired, it should not be mocked.

Even if we think it isn’t that painful, or it is exaggerated, or they are just whiny, pathetic people who don’t know what real suffering is, because they haven’t been in the pit of despair. There is a reason life hurts, and while we may say this is what pains us, it may be something much deeper.

The answer to life’s pain isn’t found in the latest self help book, or in the latest drug, or this or that relationship.  It won’t be found on the other side of the continent (as I often wonder ) or in that perfect job.

It is found in an instrument of pain and suffering.  It is found at the cross.  For there, we find healing, we find the promise of God’s love fulfilled.  We find God bringing comfort to us, That is why the first quote above was read by Christ in the synagogie, and the reason He could confirm it’s fulfillment.  He is our comfort, He is the assurance of our peace.

In Him, suffering becomes something different.  I have a hard ime explaining that, but I’ve seen it to many times, in hospice patients, in church members lives, in my own.  I can’t call it nobility, but there is a quality of endurance and courage as we find sustenance and peace that is more than that.  It isn’t inner strength, for while we barely endure, we are all to aware it isn’t by our strength.

I know no other way to describe it than to say, it is grace.  It is a gift of God to us, to those around us, to know He is there, sustaining, reconciling, bringing healing beyond belief to our souls, and the hope of eternity in our lives.

This isn’t for sale, and we would discount it in this life because it isn’t so easily found.  Yet this peace we know of, and in Christ experience, knowing its value, because life is pain.

Lord have mercy upon us, Christ have mercy upon us, Lord have mercy upon us.

(1)  from the movie, “The Princess Bride”

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