Thoughts which draw me closer to the cross, and to Jesus.
My people are like sheep whose shepherds have let them get lost in the mountains. They have wandered like sheep from one mountain to another, and they have forgotten where their home is. 7They are attacked by all who find them. Their enemies say, ‘They sinned against the LORD, and so what we have done is not wrong. Their ancestors trusted in the LORD, and they themselves should have remained faithful to him.’ Jeremiah 60:6-7 GNT
14But as for you, continue in the truths that you were taught and firmly believe. You know who your teachers were, 15and you remember that ever since you were a child, you have known the Holy Scriptures, which are able to give you the wisdom that leads to salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. 2 Tim 3:14-15 GNT
Segments of Christianity have made every possible concession in efforts to win young people to Christ; but instead of converting them to Christ they have “converted” Christianity to them. Too often they have come down to the modern level—playing, teasing, coaxing and entertaining. In essence, they have been saying to them, “We will do everything as you want it,” instead of giving them Christ’s insistent word, “Take up your cross!”
The Jews were stubborn and depended on God’s promises. They vainly thought they owned the temple, and that God dwelt there; besides, they thought they had mighty men, money and treasures enough to defy all their enemies. They trusted in their own glory and built their own confidence on a false delusion, which finally deceived and destroyed them.
Jeremiah, Luther and Tozer, from different periosds in the story of God and His people talk aof the same problem. One which I hear people in the church complain about, a lot, today. A world without direction, devoted to compromise and self-determination. Therefore, both on the liberal and legalistic sides of the journey, they sin.
That sin is easily is described in the words of Luther, people think “they own the temple.” THey think they are in charge and whether it is a progressive agenda or Chirstian Naitonalism, they seek to remake God and the relationship He’s created with us according to their thoughts. Tozer calls this converting Christianity to them, as their wander aimlessly, either encouraged by those originally taksed with shepherding them, or just ignoring the Shepherd’s existence. The church is even mocked today for not following God, and deserving the redicule they earned, by creating visions that are not faithful to God.
This would be a very negative post, except that it points out our need to be freed from the false delisuion, to be converted (transformed) into the image of Christ, to hear and to treasure what the Shepherd and His shepherds teach about the cross, the grave. and the resurrection… and the life found there.
This is what Paul is telling Timothy to focus upon the truths which he learned from those who taught him from the scriptures. The message that teaches us how Christ saves us, and that is the message we can and must depend upon. THis is the message that matters, This is the truth that will guide our lives, and bring us home, rather than leaving us wandering around.
This is our hope – so look there.
A. W. Tozer and Gerald B. Smith, Mornings with Tozer: Daily Devotional Readings (Chicago: Moody Publishers, 2008).
Martin Luther and John Sander, Devotional Readings from Luther’s Works for Every Day of the Year (Rock Island, IL: Augustana Book Concern, 1915), 317–318.
He helps us in all our troubles, so that we are able to help others who have all kinds of troubles, using the same help that we ourselves have received from God 2 Cor. 1:4 GNT
I think we can say that most Christians have no clear end toward which they are striving.
The first and highest work of love a Christian ought to do when he has become a believer is to bring others also to believe in the way he himself came to believe. Here you notice Christ begins and institutes the office of the ministry of the external Word in every Christian; for he himself came with this office and the external Word.
Psalm 119:59 tells of a time of self-examination, a time where the Psalmist looked at his life and probably sight, stood up and began the journey again. It is a hard course of action to take, but one that we each need to do, and perhaps, need to do as congregations as well.
But 30-30 years after Tozer originally noted that we strive without a true direction, we still don’t find it. We get caught up on crusade after crusade. THe latest is to fignt human trafficking, prior to that there were battles on both sides of the CRT issue, and the LGTBQ issue, and this political issue and that one. It’s nothing new, I remember the church being directed to strive against rock & roll, promiscuity, divorce and greed growing up.
And in all of this, we’ve lost what it means to be the church, to have Jesus revealed to us, to believe, trust and depend on the work of God, the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit in our lives.
and then to share that work with those who need it. Which is everyone we encounter. That’s the basis of what Paul is telling the church in Corinth. We need to strive to maintain the hope given to us in the life, death, resurrection and eventual return of Jesus–and then we need to share that with all who are broken.
I need to do this, but so do you. Luther’s clear about this being the work of both those called to shepherd the church. and those who are the church.
This needs to be our focus, our life, this hope of being a relationship with our creator, who loves us.
To strive after anything else, to think spiritual warfare is about anything else, is vanity
A. W. Tozer and Gerald B. Smith, Mornings with Tozer: Daily Devotional Readings (Chicago: Moody Publishers, 2008).
Martin Luther and John Sander, Devotional Readings from Luther’s Works for Every Day of the Year (Rock Island, IL: Augustana Book Concern, 1915), 255.
I envy those who are dead and gone; they are better off than those who are still alive. Ecclesiastes 4:2 GNT
19 If our hope in Christ is good for this life only and no more, then we deserve more pity than anyone else in all the world. 1 Corinthians 15:19 GNT
753 When you pray, but see nothing, and feel flustered and dry, then the way is this: don’t think of yourself. Instead, turn your eyes to the Passion of Jesus Christ, our Redeemer. Be convinced that he is asking each one of us, as he asked those three more intimate Apostles of his in the Garden of Olives, to “Watch and pray”.
To this you have been invited, now is the time to come, now the supper is ready. Your Lord Jesus Christ is already born, has died and risen again, therefore do not remain away any longer, accept your promised treasure with joy, come to the table, eat and be happy.
I think we need to go through days as Solomon did, at least the kind of days that cause writing so full of darkness and despair.
I hate those days, as I can easily echo Solomon’s jealousy of those who have gotten to pass through this life and are now awaiting Judgment Day in the presence of God. MY mind comes back to the promise of what is waiting for us there – that the glory of God is more than we’ve ever seen, heard, or can imagine. (1 Cor. 2:9) So I long for that day, even as I grieve fro the broken world that surrounds me, and ingrained in me.
St. Josemaria must have had those days as well, for he could not describe the flustered, dry feeling that can occur when praying. WHen words are beyond you, because you don’t know how to pray, and you even wonder whether God is listening! (Or even worse, if he is playing a Jeremiah 20:7/Job idea on us!)
But we have to go through those “dark nights of the soul”, as one writer called them.
St. Josemaria’s advice is clear – look to Jesus, and see His dark night – that He chose to embrace for us. He knows the emptiness, the vanity of it all, for He experienced it – and was able to focus on the joy of rescuing and redeeming you and me! This is what Solomon would eventually remember – this relationship with God, but he had to process the vanity, the hopelessness of life without God, even as we have to remember that emptiness.
TH\hat is why the Apostle Paul reminds us of eternity and that our hope goes far beyond this life, far beyond this life’s dark times. If that was all there was, so go eat and drink into oblivion. And piuty those who use religion as a outlet for despair. Jesus died and rose so we don’t have to live without hope, but we can have hope ever while we are despairing of life.
This is why Luther, who knew some dark nights and a lot of futility, became so excited when considering the Lord’s Supper, and the feast that it anticipated. To be invited as a guest of honro, to share in Christ Jesus, to know His presence, love, mercy as we take and eat His body, as we drink His blood–knowing it is the price of our relationship being renewed. This is a moment of incredible, overwhelming joy.
Even in the midst of this life… and its brokenness, we enter into that time where all is set aside, but Jesus.
God is inviting you.. so come to church tomorrow, and know the joy of knowing God is with you now… but has something awaiting you that the Apostle Paul describes this way, “9 “What God has planned for people who love him is more than eyes have seen or ears have heard. It has never even entered our minds!”” 1 Corinthians 2:9 (CEV)
Come, celebrate with us, or if too far away, find a church that will provide for you the feast of Jesus…
Escrivá, Josemaría. The Forge . Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition.
Martin Luther and John Sander, Devotional Readings from Luther’s Works for Every Day of the Year (Rock Island, IL: Augustana Book Concern, 1915), 252.
As Jesus was walking along, he saw a man who had been born blind. 2His disciples asked him, “Teacher, whose sin caused him to be born blind? Was it his own or his parents’ sin?”
3 Jesus answered, “His blindness has nothing to do with his sins or his parents’ sins. He is blind so that God’s power might be seen at work in him.
They answered, “You were born and brought up in sin—and you are trying to teach us?” And they expelled him from the synagogue. John 9:1-3, 34 GNT
We begin to wonder whether we really have taken the words seriously, whether we are really sincere, or perhaps whether we really have accepted Jesus as our “personal Savior,” whatever that is supposed to mean. I may hear the words “Your sins are forgiven,” but then wonder whether it could be really me that is meant, or whether it is even relevant to my needs. We become a prey to adverbial theology. Do we really, sincerely, truly, personally, believe? Do we live abundantly, joyously, affirmatively? Do we think positively, praise gratefully, respond generously? What do I do if I just do not see all those marvelous things happening that the preacher is always on about?
While we walk in the faith of his righteousness, God has patience with the poor, frail righteousness of this earthly life. He honors our human holiness by supporting and protecting it during the time we live on earth; just as we honor our corrupt, filthy bodies, adorning them with beautiful, costly garments and golden ornaments.
The baptismal character conforms us to the priesthood of Christ by an indelible spiritual sign which makes us able to unite ourselves with the worship by which the Incarnate Word, as Mediator between God and man, drew a fallen creation back into union with His Father. The sacramental character is, therefore, an orientation of our souls towards our Source and our Last End, in worship.
The questions in blue above are not rare in my experience.
I’ve heard people ask them in jail, in hospital beds on hospice, in counseling appointments, and conversations over breakfast and lunch. People who know about Jesus and want to go to heaven, but somehow struggle with their role in it. People wonder if their own lack of faith is why their entire life feels like they’re caught in quicksand.
I’ve seen the same kind of evaluation occur as pastors meet with their elders or their board of directors. They look at attendance numbers; they look at finances, and they see the struggle that the future might bring.
If we slow down, if we take the time to see where we are at, we will have dark moments where we doubt–either personally or as part of the family of God. Which we need to do, we cannot continue to live in denial of dumpster fires in our lives and churches. We need to realize we are broken, and often, more broken that can be dealt with on our own.
That isn’t a bad thing.
You see, our brokenness, like the blind man’s, is not always our fault, or caused by the environment around us. Even if it were, it still has the same fix, the same hope of being restored, to the same end – that God is glorified.
So don’t listen to those who tell you that it’s all because you are a sinner, or you are too broken, or anything else.
God has patience with us when we are broken and weak–that is what Luther reminds us of from my devotions this morning. We are dressed with Christ’s life, His righteousness, just like I put on my compression socks to deal to make up for my varicose veins. He works wih our brokenness, our frailty, our weakness. David confesses that God treats him that way, as does Jeremiah and Paul. Many others in scripture show this rule to be in our lives.
That is why our hope filled reality doesn’t depend on whether someone says we aren’t good enough, or we are spiritually dead. God is carrying us, God is breathing life into our bodies, God is recreating us in our baptism, as He brings us into the resurrection of Christ Jesus.
It is His work, it is His love for us that guarantees it can be done… no matter how bleak the examination is. Examining our lives is to provide hope – to show us where God has taken us from… not to show the depth of our decline.
Look to Him – He started you on this journey, accompanies you on it, and guarantees it will end as you enter the Father’s rest.
Gerhard O. Forde, “Proclaiming,” in Theology Is for Proclamation (Minneapolis, MN: Fortress Press, 1990), 159.
Martin Luther and John Sander, Devotional Readings from Luther’s Works for Every Day of the Year (Rock Island, IL: Augustana Book Concern, 1915), 125.
Thomas Merton, The New Man (London; New York: Burns & Oates, 1976), 144.
Devotional Thought of the Day:
23 And we believers also groan, even though we have the Holy Spirit within us as a foretaste of future glory, for we long for our bodies to be released from sin and suffering. We, too, wait with eager hope for the day when God will give us our full rights as his adopted children, including the new bodies he has promised us.
Romans 8:23 (NLT2)
The question keeps coming up in John’s Gospel: Where does this man Jesus come from? Does He come from God or only from man? The question is the most basic one that can be asked about us and our love. Are we and our love born again from above, from God? Or are we and it only the product of human nature? The answer to this question makes an infinite difference, the difference between Heaven and Hell in the next life.
This work, which begins in the new birth, is carried on in two ways—mortification, whereby the lusts of the flesh are subdued and kept under; and vivification, by which the life which God has put within us is made to be a well of water springing up unto everlasting life.
Thirty years ago, I was defibrillated 5 times. Just like you see on every medical show when they should “clear” and electricity is passed through the body, with the intent of rebooting the electrical and chemical nature of our body, so our heart will restart and run normally.
Spiritually, we need something like that. What Spurgeon called vivification, the idea of bringing us back to life, being born again, where God brings us to life. Kreeft indicated this was the one question that matters, the one most basic to our life, and the one that makes the greatest difference, period
The problem is when we want to be brought back to lift without dealing with what caused us to whither and die. If all the paramedics and ER doctors did was to shock me back to life, and never try to address the cause, it would have mattered not. The same is true spiritually, and while one day we will be free from all sin and suffering, God is freeing us from its effects, even now. This is the mortification that Spurgeon said was part of the same work – the process of eliminating the rot caused by sin, and sin itself.
Mortification isn’t easy, neither is vivification. Both require drastic changes, and discipline and some pain. And yet, the life that is provided, free from the rot, free from the pain, is beyond words.
God is with us, He’s the great physician, the one that does both pieces of work… that makes it not just a possibility – but a promise.
So let Him get to work on you…
Let Him draw you to the cross – where both things happen, as the sinful you dies, and you are raised with Christ Jesus. Amen!
Peter Kreeft, The God Who Loves You (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 2004), 26.
C. H. Spurgeon, Morning and Evening: Daily Readings (London: Passmore & Alabaster, 1896).
Thoughts which drive me to Jesus–Christ crucified for us.
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! 2 Corinthians 5:20 (TEV)
You should get into the habit of admitting your sins to each other, and praying for each other, so that if sickness comes to you, you may be healed. James 5 (Phillips NT)
“The genuine sacraments, therefore, are Baptism, the Lord’s Supper, and absolution (which is the sacrament of penitence), for these rites have the commandment of God and the promise of grace”
The Christian story of Christ’s merciful love for sinners teaches us to trust in God. This allows us to have the courage to acknowledge and confess our sins. Confession takes courage. When we go to the priest in the Sacrament of Confession, we are exhibiting courage, a courage based on the merciful love of God. Too often men fail to face their sins and faults out of fear—fear of who they are and what they have done. But this need not be, as Jesus Christ has come to free us from the bondage of our shame and sin and remake us through His grace and the life of virtue.
It happens maybe once or twice a year. One of our preschoolers will come up to me with a big smile on their face and point (or rub) my stomach and ask, “Pastor, why are you so fat?” The parents, usually shocked by their kids sincere curiosity, tell their children, “Don’t say that–Pastor is not fat!”
I look at them in a moment of sheer shock. Not because of what their children observed, but by their denial of the obvious truth. I carry well over 100 pounds of weight I don’t need to carry. I know it, it can’t be hidden, it is what it is–and I and my doctors really want me to shed it.
Spiritually, we do the same thing, far too often. We either are carrying to many burdens, are weighed down by guilt and shame, or we are telling people (and ourselves) that the weight we carry means nothing, it’s not really there–it is not crushing our relationships with people, and destroying our lives.
And the solution God has given us is so simple. The church and its shepherds (whether pastor or priest) are agents of reconciliation. Luther adored–I can find no other word to express his feeling towards it–the results of being absolved of sin.
Over and over in scripture, the promise of forgiveness is made, and then delivered at the cross, in baptism, in the Lord’s Supper, and as we confess our sins, and hear a dear brother, speaking for God, tell us we are free. As a pastor, I have to tell you the weight I’ve seen lifted off of people is.. beyond words. And I’ve felt that weight lifted off myself.
Some may say they simply confess to Jesus, and He takes care of it. That is fine and good, and that kind of confession and absolution, or that in a church service works for many people. But there are sins we commit, that haunt us, that stop us from interacting with a person, or group of people. That stop us from praying, or spending time with God. Those are the sins we need to hear are forgiven–audibly, looking in the eye someone who says, “God put me here to tell you this one thing. Your sin is forgiven! In the name of the Father, and the Son and the Holy Spirit! Go in peace!”
And so you shall!
I urge you , Let God change you, from being His enemy, to being His friend. AMEN!
“Augsburg Confession: Article 11 Confession” Robert Kolb, Timothy J. Wengert, and Charles P. Arand, The Book of Concord: The Confessions of the Evangelical Lutheran Church (Minneapolis, MN: Fortress Press, 2000), 44.
“The Apology of the Augsburg Confession” Robert Kolb, Timothy J. Wengert, and Charles P. Arand, The Book of Concord: The Confessions of the Evangelical Lutheran Church (Minneapolis, MN: Fortress Press, 2000),
 Tim Gray and Curtis Martin, Boys to Men: The Transforming Power of Virtue (Steubenville, OH: Emmaus Road Publishing, 2001), 54–55.
16 Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego replied, “O Nebuchadnezzar, we do not need to defend ourselves before you. 17 If we are thrown into the blazing furnace, the God whom we serve is able to save us. He will rescue us from your power, Your Majesty. 18 But even if he doesn’t, we want to make it clear to you, Your Majesty, that we will never serve your gods or worship the gold statue you have set up.” Daniel 3:16-18 (NLT2)
We can afford to follow Him to failure. Faith dares to fail. The resurrection and the judgment will demonstrate before all worlds who won and who lost. We can wait.
732 O Jesus! I rest in you.
733 Trust always in your God. He does not lose battles.
I am struggling this morning. It is not failure persay, but to many things are failing.
Some of them are petty, minor computer problems, forgetting to do this or that, struggling through my devotional readings.
Other failings are significant. The health of a couple close friends, the state of few congregations and their pastors, other issues that I am not a liberty to discuss. It is tough not to dwell on these things, to feed into a loop of depression and despair. There are days, like this one, where I struggle to get moving, to get the tasks I need to get done. Especially my devotions, as I am not sure whether to be disappointed at God, mad at Him, or just ignore Him. (see Jeremiah 20:7, 9 which could be my life verse!)
I did anyway and came across Tozer’s words in blue. And I wondered, if we can afford to fail, can we be afford to be in situations that are failing? If we can take something on which most likely will fail and endure it, can we be in a situation where bodies and spirits are failing?
I believe so, and for the same reason. The Judgement awaits! God’s power, which Josemaria tells us to depend upon, will never lose the battle, never mind lost the war. That allows us to rest in Him… that allows us to endure failures and failings, for in Him, those things are promised to work for good, and nothing can ever separate us from Him!
This is the faith of the three men about to head into the furnace–they trusted God, whether they were going to be rescued or charbroiled. They knew the love of God and His promises, and they knew His presence. In that they found the peace that enabled them to know the hope of eternity. And so failure or success was little different in their eyes. They could wait, as Tozer noted, if their deliverance wasn’t in this minute, for it was sure.
As is ours…
So if you have to take a risk, that some might know God’s love, take it, and fear not failure.
And if things are failing, know He is there.. and you can depend on Him…
A. W. Tozer, Tozer for the Christian Leader (Chicago: Moody Publishers, 2015).
Escrivá, Josemaría. The Way (p. 129). Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition.
For we are not fighting against flesh-and-blood enemies, but against evil rulers and authorities of the unseen world, against mighty powers in this dark world, and against evil spirits in the heavenly places. Ephesians 6:12 (NLT2)
6 “I will also bless the foreigners who commit themselves to the LORD, who serve him and love his name, who worship him and do not desecrate the Sabbath day of rest, and who hold fast to my covenant. 7 I will bring them to my holy mountain of Jerusalem and will fill them with joy in my house of prayer. I will accept their burnt offerings and sacrifices, because my Temple will be called a house of prayer for all nations. Isaiah 56:6-7 (NLT2)
In times of extraordinary crisis ordinary measures will not suffice. The world lives in such a time of crisis. Christians alone are in a position to rescue the perishing. We dare not settle down to try to live as if things were “normal.” Nothing is normal while sin and lust and death roam the world, pouncing upon one and another till the whole population has been destroyed.
Paul says, “While we live, we are always being given up to death for Jesus’ sake, so that the life of Jesus may be manifested in our mortal flesh” (2 Cor. 4:11). Thus, according to his view, the passion and resurrection of Christ are going on all the time. They are always present and not limited to an historical moment. It was rather an historical moment which introduced the eternal values of the cross and resurrection into the whole of time. We participate in Christ’s divine life through baptism and the other sacraments. As a consequence, we must learn how to express the risen life of Jesus rather than our false selves in our conduct and relationships.
We also believe, teach, and confess that no church should condemn another because the one has fewer or more external ceremonies not commanded by God than the other has, when otherwise there is unity with the other in teaching and all the articles of faith and in the proper use of the holy sacraments,
I’ve heard people talking about the “new normal” in relation to both COVID and the price of gas. Just get used to things being broken, and hardships, for life is different now. Get used to the new morality, or at least how it is being re-defined.
And the church hears these things and marshals its people to go to war at the ballot box, and on Social Media. I’ve even heard that such times will find us allied with folk we shouldn’t be allied with, for politics and apparently faith makes strange bedfellows.
And once again the Church has entered the wrong war, and is using the wrong weapons.
Because of that, it is losing the war for control over public opinion, and far, far more importantly, we aren’t even in the battle for people’s souls. We are letting them be destroyed, and dare I say, the church is even helping by destroying people’s faith.
Tozer is correct, and we must realize that we always exist in crisis. Add to that the idea of Keating, that our way of battle is not promoting ourselves, but dying to self, that Jesus may be seen, instead of us. That those who are baptized become the evidence of Christ’s death and resurrection. That must be our strategy, that must be our missional value.
How about this for a mission statement for a church?
Making manifest Jesus’ love, by dying to self!
This is how we see our real enemies, sin, self-centeredness, and Satan defeated.
Our weapons are simply, the early Lutherans identified them as all that is necessary for church unity.
Teaching people what they need to know about Jesus, and sharing Him through Baptism, Absolution and the Lord’s Supper.
Each of these sacraments helps us see how we died to self and have risen in Christ. Each shows us the love and mercy of God. They do so for they are commissioned by Jesus to deliver that promise.
You want the world to change? You want everyone to do what is right? You want to win the war we are in?
Know Jesus, experience His love poured out on you… share that victory with others, seeing them freed from what Christ has freed you- not from – but to… to share in the glorious love of God.
For that … should be what we consider normal.
A. W. Tozer, Tozer for the Christian Leader (Chicago: Moody Publishers, 2015).
Thomas Keating, The Daily Reader for Contemplative Living: Excerpts from the Works of Father Thomas Keating, O.C.S.O., Sacred Scripture, and Other Spiritual Writings, ed. S. Stephanie Iachetta (New York; London; New Delhi; Sydney: Bloomsbury, 2009), 223.
Robert Kolb, Timothy J. Wengert, and Charles P. Arand, The Book of Concord: The Confessions of the Evangelical Lutheran Church (Minneapolis, MN: Fortress Press, 2000), 516.
“I will abandon my people until they have suffered enough for their sins and come looking for me. Perhaps in their suffering they will try to find me.” Hosea 5:15 (TEV)
This is the human condition—to be without the true source of happiness, which is the experience of the presence of God, and to have lost the key to happiness, which is the contemplative dimension of life.… What we experience is our desperate search for happiness where it cannot possibly be found.
In the sacraments your God, Christ himself, deals, speaks, and works with you through the priest. His are not the works and words of man. In the sacraments God himself grants you all the blessings we just mentioned in connection with Christ. God wants the sacraments to be a sign and testimony that Christ’s life has taken your death, his obedience your sin, his love your hell, upon themselves and overcome them. Moreover, through the same sacraments you are included and made one with all the saints.
Hosea’s message is brutal, or at least it seems that way.
How could a good God consign people to suffering, to the pain that is endured because of their sins. Not just the individual sins, but the sins of the community and the sins of the world. (There is another post there, that sins, and their consequences are not individual issues – but every sin is allowed, and affects the community) Back to the thought, how could a loving, compassionate God be this petty?
What God is allowing is not the suffering. Scripture tells us over and over He would prevent that suffering. He would protect us from suffering, and He will heal us from the wounds that we and society embrace.
The problem is our search for happiness, and our hunger for pleasure that we mistake for happiness. Keating is correct, we become so desperate in our search for happiness, because we look for it in places that it cannot be found! Instead, those illusions of happiness only drive us harder to find it, even as we look for it in the places that have already left us dry, wounded, broken.
Money can’t buy us the happiness we thought it could. The perfect house/home, once found and purchased, becomes empty. The perfect job doesn’t fulfill the way we thought it would. Relationships require far more work to be completely fulfilling and sex only leaves us wanting more of the moments of pleasure, or leaves us disappointed as those moments aren’t achieved. Every form of pleasure, though echoing pleasure for a moment, ends and leaves us wanting more. When they don’t provide what we want, we turn to things to distract us from the lack of happiness. Or to anesthetize the emptiness.
In 57 years of life, I have found happiness in the sacramental life. Not just at the communion rail, or in a shut-ins home sharing in prayer and the Lord’s supper. More there than anywhere else, of course, but the promise of such moments sustains me in the most brutal of weeks…. I know the moment of seeing God, of receiving all the blessings of which Luther spoke, is coming. Like heaven itself, these moments, whether forgiving or being forgiven, communing, or seeing new life begin in baptism, show the deep intimate relationship the people of God have been given.
These are the moments of revival of life, and of joy, and of peace. The hope they reveal of a day without pain and heartache brings its own happiness, and empowers us to live, until we are welcomed home by the Father.
And so God allows us to look in places where happiness isn’t, guiding us back to where it is promised. In His presence, in knowing He is here, with us.
And so letting us wander, letting us search, is allowed by God in order that we are drawn home. The power that Christ from the dead is at work, drawing us home, and cleansing us, so that we may be presented without sin, unbroken, completely healed. This is what the sacraments promise, and what they see accomplished, for God has promised this!
Lord Jesus, draw us home from our wanderings, help us hunger for what does fulfill our deepest needs, needs fulfilled by the Holy Spirit. Amen!
Thomas Keating, The Daily Reader for Contemplative Living: Excerpts from the Works of Father Thomas Keating, O.C.S.O., Sacred Scripture, and Other Spiritual Writings, ed. S. Stephanie Iachetta (New York; London; New Delhi; Sydney: Bloomsbury, 2009), 154
Martin Luther, Luther’s Works, Vol. 42: Devotional Writings I, ed. Jaroslav Jan Pelikan, Hilton C. Oswald, and Helmut T. Lehmann, vol. 42 (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1999), 108..
“Rain Gear, CHECK!”
1 Peter 1:3-9, Isaiah 43:1-3, Isaiah 48:16a
† In Jesus Name †
In the midst of these storms of life, may the grace, the mercy and the peace of God our Father, and our Lord Jesus Christ clothe us, as the Holy Spirit sustains and comforts us, His people! AMEN!
Could this be you?
There you are, hiking at 8,000 feet in the towering pines of the San Gorgonio wilderness. Suddenly, a black cloud rolls over the ridge and within minutes a major mountain storm is upon you.
The last thing you want is to get drenched, so you take off your pack and reach for your rain gear… but you forgot where you pack it! By the time you find your rain pants, the rain has started to soak through your clothing. While searching for your rain jacket you begin to panic, did you pack it at all? Finally you locate your jacket, but you are starting to chill. Shivering you put away all your wet gear you pulled out during your frantic search, then discover the pack cover, but too late, your pack is now thoroughly soaked…
So starts Clyde’s trail chat about a critical aspect of hiking – the Rain Gear – Check! As he told me about it, and we talked about this very sermon, this very day, it became apparent that it was to be the theme for the sermon. Not just preparing you for storms on mountain trails, but preparing you for the storms of life, the very kind of storms we who love him, and know him, have witnessed him endure in this last year, and actually saw him thrive in, in the last weeks and months.
As we talked about this message, Clyde told me of the Rain Gear Checks that caused him to write the article. His infamous “inspections” where he would call for the CHECK, then inspect and share how each person would have survived. Those well prepared would be described in terms of being safe and functional. Others would have lost food but would have been dry, and others would have suffered hypothermia and become a burden to the group of hikers, and perhaps, given the remote nature of some hikes, not survived the vicious mountain storm. Does this lecture sound familiar to any of you?
Clyde the Pastor
I can imagine a fervor in Clyde, to see those he trained to hike, be protected and healthy and well, and to know the accomplishment of a successful hike, even through the storms. I can see that fervor translated into a pretty…. Straightforward and maybe brutal assessment – because he knew the dangers of being caught unprepared in the storm – and to make the scouts uncomfortable before they left, or in practice, was better than being unprepared and suffer on the trail.
It’s that attitude which made him a good friend, and a man I looked forward to serving beside as his “mentor” in ministry, even as he taught me much about life, and faith. And it is the attitude that is behind this sermon. Clyde was very concerned about those who would be here, and where you are at in life. A pastor’s role in serving his community is the same duty as the trail boss on a hike, its ensuring the safety of the group – until it reaches its destination. And Clyde, whether or not he was ordained, as a vicar at Concordia, as an elder and deacon in this place, or guiding a bunch of scouts in the wilderness, is a pastor at heart. He wants you each prepared to survive the storms of life, and to do it in a way, that leaves you able to see the power and majecty, not of the storm, but the one who protects you in it.
Are you ready for the storms? Are you going to survive this storm? It’s time for a spiritual Rain Gear Check…
The Storms of Life
As sure as mountain storms come up both unexpectedly and with a ferocity that overcomes all that is in its path, so too, do the storms of life.
Some storms we create, through our inability to love God and realize that His plan for our life, and our inability to live at peace and love each other. Such storms are based in sin, which can simply be defined as not loving and trusting God, and not loving our neighbors. Sin can cause some of the most vicious of life’s storms, which literally can affect generations, and often – those but innocent victims, caught in the crossfire of others. You can’t prepare against such storms, and often our reactions cause the storms to grow in their strength.
Other storms are not attributable to a specific sin, but are the result of living in a broken world; Illness, economic struggles, natural catastrophes. Such storms happen to those who are right with God, and to those who turn their back on God. These storms loom large and dominate our thoughts and lives.
Like the unprepared person backpacking, such storms cause us to scramble, and trying to find a way to deal with them. We look through our hearts and minds, looking for something that will protect us. If we only scramble harder, if we only create some new way to deal with such storms, if we can only find a way to cope. All the while, the storms are beating down us, wearing us thin, and destroying more and more of our life.
The Answer to the Storm
Clyde knew about storms in the mountains and about storms in life. He knew that surviving was found in knowing that the preparations had been made, and that there was protection and a refuge available. That preparation was the key to the peace we saw in him, in the midst of the pain and the suffering, in the midst of the medications, and the chemo and nausea.
He relied what we see in Peter’s epistle,
In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade—kept in heaven for you, who through faith are shielded by God’s power until the coming of the salvation that is ready to be revealed in the last time.
It is our faith, our trust, not in our preparation and our pack, but in God himself, that sees us protected from the storms of life. Christ’s resurrection from the dead, guarantees that Clyde has been raised from the dead as well. Peter’s comment about our new birth into a living hope is echoed throughout scripture, and in one passage in Galatians, is described in this way,
“26 for all of you are the children of God, through faith, in Christ Jesus, 27 since every one of you that has been baptised has been clothed in Christ. “ Galatians 3:26-27 (NJB)
HE is our rain gear, and it is in our baptism that we are dressed with all that it takes to protect us in these storms of life. Perhaps one of the greatest myths about our faith, is that miracles are the effect of strong faith. Yes, miracles happen, but the nature of faith is the assurance that whether it storms or not, we are ready, we will survive, shielded and comforted by God.
Perhaps it is difficult to grasp, but that uniting with Christ’s resurrection is possible because we have united with His death in our baptism as well. Suffering and even death takes on a different focus then. It becomes proof, not just of our faith, but in the faithfulness of the God in whom we trust. Peter said it this way
In this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials. These have come so that your faith—of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire—may be proved genuine and may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed.
We begin to realize that incredible truth, that in Christ death’s sting is never permanent, it is never complete. Our friend Clyde, who would ask us to check our faith this day; was sure of the peace that would fully encompass him in Christ.
Ultimately, it comes down to the fact that in Christ, Clyde lives, even more than he lived in our presence. Freed of the cancer that entrapped his body and laid it waste, he is also freed of the sin and spiritual storms of life that had the same effect. He is part of what we refer to in our worship service, where we hear, “with angels and archangels and all the host of heaven…
And as we sing that tomorrow at Concordia, as it is sung here at St. Paul’s, know Clyde is singing it with us, as all the saints of God gather and proclaim God’s power and holiness.
Summary of the Matter…
Here then is the Faith-gear – CHECK. Our faith is not a matter of our own personal strength, but in realizing the power, the peace, the refuge we have in Christ, whose words were written these favorite words of Christ.
The Lord says, “I will not forget you ever, for see, I have engraved you on the palms of my hands…”
For those hands were pierced, so that all that would separate Clyde from God would be found without any power, and that Clyde could rest in peace, witnessing the glory of the one who made the mountains upon which Clyde so loved to hike.
Those hands were pierced for you as well. So that “38 nothing can ever separate us from God’s love. Neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither our fears for today nor our worries about tomorrow—not even the powers of hell can separate us from God’s love. 39 No power in the sky above or in the earth below—indeed, nothing in all creation will ever be able to separate us from the love of God that is revealed in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 8:38-39 (NLT)
Clyde, one more time, today, calls us to consider where we are at. To know that the preparations have been made for the storms of life, and to survive for eternity. Having made the journey, he wanted to guide us, and in that, not pointing to our own efforts, but to the cross, and to the baptismal font, where God has clothed us with Christ, and assured us of sharing in His glory, for He has marked us as His…
Trust in Christ then in the midst of this storm, encouraged by our dear friend, rest in the unsurpassable, indescribable peace of God which guards our hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. AMEN?