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A Different Perspective on Death

Tomb Empty With Shroud And Crucifixion At Sunrise - ResurrectionDevotional Thought of the Day:
20  For I fully expect and hope that I will never be ashamed, but that I will continue to be bold for Christ, as I have been in the past. And I trust that my life will bring honor to Christ, whether I live or die. 21  For to me, living means living for Christ, and dying is even better. 22  But if I live, I can do more fruitful work for Christ. So I really don’t know which is better. 23  I’m torn between two desires: I long to go and be with Christ, which would be far better for me. 24  But for your sakes, it is better that I continue to live. 25  Knowing this, I am convinced that I will remain alive so I can continue to help all of you grow and experience the joy of your faith. Philippians 1:20-25 (NLT2)

Thus Psalm 23 [:4] says, “Though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, because you are with me.” If this gain through death has only a small affect on us, it is proof that our faith in Christ is still feeble and does not prize highly enough the reward and gain of a blessed death, nor does it yet believe that death is a blessing. Obviously, we are hindered because the old man and the wisdom of the flesh are still too much alive in us. We should, therefore, try to attain to the knowledge and the love of this blessing of death. It is a great thing that death, which to others is the greatest of evils, is made the greatest gain for us. If it was not this that Christ obtained for us, what then did he do that was worth such a cost, yes, actually the cost of his life? It is indeed a divine work that he wrought, and it is not surprising that he made the evil of death into the greatest blessing.
For the believer death is thus already dead and behind its cloak and mask it holds no terrors. Like a slain serpent, death still has its former terrifying appearance, but now this is only a mask, for it is now a dead and harmless evil

There is an old saying that I resonate with, I fear not death, I just dear dying.”

There is some truth to that for me, partially because of health issues over the years, and the knowledge that my heart was a ticking time bomb. (I say was – because in 1998 I had two heart valves replaced.)

Even so, today, in the midst of a pandemic, we live with fear and anxiety caused by the fact that death threatens us, and threatens those we love.  It threatens in a way that we’ve not seen often in the generations alive today.

This is why my devotional reading this morning seems so important to understand.

We have to understand that death will ultimately be a blessing – for it brings us closer to seeing God face to face, and for the believer to an incredible welcome home. .  TO see God face to face, to hear His welcome, to hear the celebration thrown for us, to know we are finally where we belong.

To realize with Luther what Paul means when he writes that death has lost its sting, that the grace is no victory for death, no loss, but an incredible gain for us. (see 1 Cor. 15)  To understand what Jesus means when he says those who believe will never die.

It is hard to process these days, to take what is a theological truth, an absolute promise of God, and let it affect our heart, our soul.

Even once we realize it there, it is hard to keep that understanding, to not go back, and to fear death again. Every time we have to mourn and grieve, every time our heart is scarred by loss, we revert back to the days before we understood the promises of God, the promises found when we are united to Jesus.

I know this, even as I know what Paul talks about when he talks about ensuring death, for itis better, for him. To realize that death is better n the long run is sobering. To realize that could even lead one to desire death because it means being complete with Jesus,. To realize we do not have to meditate and pray to realize we are in His presence. Instead to look up, and see His face…

To set death completely aside, along with the suffering and brokenness caused by sin, and the fear of death.  What a blessing.

Yet it is counting on that blessing that gives us the strength and desire to stay, and minister to those who are in bondage, trying to free them, so that they too can join us in Christ. To see God’s incredible work, as He brings someone to faith, and then strengthens that faith, as burdens slide away, as relationships are healed, as we gain a glance of eternity at the altar together.

To get to that point – to come to the conclusion that it is better to live, we have to realize how incredible eternity is, we have to face the battle of fears, the anxieties, assured of the promises of God are true, that we will be with Him forever. Then we can willingly address the issue, and see the blessing of staying here.. until He calls us home.

Knowing this, we begin to really live…

Walk with Him, through the valley, and learn not to fear it, or any evil.

And become a guide, someone who can help others, helping them to deal with the fears, the anxieties and indeed, the time of death.

Lord, help us walk closer and closer with You, strengthen our faith, be with us, now and at the time when we finally come home. But help us to be there for those who are anxious and fear death, and help us to show them how it will be a blessing. AMEN!


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), 149–150.

I Will Live! (and the Rest of the Story…)

Devotional Thought of the Day:

17  I will not die; instead, I will live and proclaim what the LORD has done. 18  He has punished me severely, but he has not let me die.
Psalm 118:17-18 (TEV)

It is in the wounds of Jesus where we are truly secure; there we encounter the boundless love of His heart.

To better evangelize the adorer must first be evangelized. He must let the merciful love of Christ heal him, liberate him, enlighten him, raise him. To the question ‘What does Jesus do in the Blessed Sacrament? ‘the Cure of Ars replied, ‘He waits for us’. There, Jesus veils His majesty so that we might dare to go speak with Him, as one friend to another. He tempers the ardour of His Heart for us to experience its sweet tenderness. On the Cross, Jesus turns hate into love and death into life. Similarly, in the Eucharist, Jesus performs the same wonder in us: He changes evil into good, darkness into light, fear into confidence. Pauline-Marie Jaricot, an untiring Apostle of charity, living in Lyon in the nineteenth century, sums up this personal transformation that takes place in the heart of adorers who allow the Spirit to change their hearts of stone into hearts of flesh:

I have heard verse 17 proclaimed with great power many times. It is a wonderful verse, and it should be proclaimed.

I think it is even more powerfully proclaimed when it is proclaimed from a point of recovery, a time when one is healing, but is so weak it is barely heard. It is the most powerful when said in the context of verse 18, as the realization dawns that I can get through this.

And I can speak of what the Lord has done! Not I can, but I will, I have to, for I didn’t think I would make it.

Several times in my life I have been there physically. After a cardiac arrest that killed me 5 times. Another time when I had two heart valves replaced, and again once when undergoing a procedure I didn’t think I would survive. ( Not a major one comparatively) But I know the feeling of waking up from anesthesia, and realizing, I am alive. It is shocking, for it is unexpected.

Spiritually, this happens when God has to circumcise our hearts, cutting away the sin which clings to our heart. This is easily seen as the punishment the Psalmist describes, as God has to subdue us, as He has to cleanse us of the sins we too often cling to, that we too often run to. As we refuse to see the damage that sin does, and how it leaves us broken, shattered, unable to relate to others, or find any comfort or peace.

But as the Holy Spirit has to “wound” us, we find another set of wounds, the wounds of Jesus. It is in those wounds that we find our how much we are loved, it is there we find security and peace, even as God removes the sin, and our healing begins anew.

That is why communion is so incredible, so needed in this broken world of ours. Go read the words in green again.

No, i meant it, I didn’t want to retype it all!

Go re-read it!

We need to find Jesus waiting for us, ready to begin again our healing. Ready to see us transformed, the power that raised Him from the dead at work in us.

Therefore we live, and will not die, and can tell what God has done….

Pope Francis, A Year with Pope Francis: Daily Reflections from His Writings, ed. Alberto Rossa (New York; Mahwah, NJ; Toronto, ON: Paulist Press; Novalis, 2013), 266.

Florian Racine, “Spiritual Fruits of Adoration in Parishes,” in From Eucharistic Adoration to Evangelization, ed. Alcuin Reid (London; New York: Burns & Oates, 2012), 202.

Hungry for more than Discipleless Christianity

Devotional Thought of the Day:

Nave of Salisbury Cathedral, with Sibirica Min...

Nave of Salisbury Cathedral, with Sibirica Minor II in foreground – geograph.org.uk – 188287 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

23  Let us hold on firmly to the hope we profess, because we can trust God to keep his promise. 24  Let us be concerned for one another, to help one another to show love and to do good. 25  Let us not give up the habit of meeting together, as some are doing. Instead, let us encourage one another all the more, since you see that the Day of the Lord is coming nearer. 26  For there is no longer any sacrifice that will take away sins if we purposely go on sinning after the truth has been made known to us. 27  Instead, all that is left is to wait in fear for the coming Judgment and the fierce fire which will destroy those who oppose God! 28  Anyone who disobeys the Law of Moses is put to death without any mercy when judged guilty from the evidence of two or more witnesses. 29  What, then, of those who despise the Son of God? who treat as a cheap thing the blood of God’s covenant which purified them from sin? who insult the Spirit of grace? Just think how much worse is the punishment they will deserve!  Hebrews 10:23-29 (TEV) 

 

 

  57  As they went on their way, a man said to Jesus, “I will follow you wherever you go.” 58  Jesus said to him, “Foxes have holes, and birds have nests, but the Son of Man has no place to lie down and rest.” 59  He said to another man, “Follow me.” But that man said, “Sir, first let me go back and bury my father.” 60  Jesus answered, “Let the dead bury their own dead. You go and proclaim the Kingdom of God.” 61  Someone else said, “I will follow you, sir; but first let me go and say good-bye to my family.” 62  Jesus said to him, “Anyone who starts to plow and then keeps looking back is of no use for the Kingdom of God.”     Luke 9:57-62 (TEV)

 

 

28  “Come to me, all of you who are tired from carrying heavy loads, and I will give you rest. 29  Take my yoke and put it on you, and learn from me, because I am gentle and humble in spirit; and you will find rest. 30  For the yoke I will give you is easy, and the load I will put on you is light.”     Matthew 11:28-30 (TEV) 

Yesterday in Bible Study we came across the first passage above.  It is a bit scary, given the predisposition of people to sin, and even to argue that sins isn’t sin, or more commonly that my sins aren’t as foul, disgusting and pathetic as the sins of those people “out there”!   Indeed we love to look outside ourselves, outside our churches, outside our country even, and point out their sins, their idolatry, their evil.

Or better yet, let’s ignore the issue of sin altogether in the church, and focus instead on issues like music, or what is a proper liturgy, or what is the nature and relationship of sanctification to justification.  Let’s focus on church growth, or maintaining pure doctrine; even if that means the church must diminish because of how we work to purify it.  There are more than enough things to worry about, there are more than enough cute sayings we can make meme’s out of, or tweet till we turn blue.   We want to be Christians, whether Lutheran or Catholic or Methodist or Baptist or Non-Denom, without being disciples – and that is why our churches are so weak.

Instead we can be His friends, we can let Him mentor us, correct us, challenge our idols, especially the idol of our reason, our logic, our ideas of what is right and wrong, what is righteous, or what is sin.  We can go – okay Lord, I don’t get this, but I trust YOU!

Will we let the refiner’s fire work in our lives, will we let his abrasive fuller’s soap burn our filthy rags and transform them into glorious white robes?

Will we let Him heal us of our sin?

Will we be reconciled, redeemed, revived, renewed, recreated?

Or do we want a nice academic, thoughtful (but controlled) form of Christianity that asks nothing of us, that allows us to create a facade of righteous, with all the right actions, all the right words, all the proper things… but without a true and honest relationship with the one who hung on a tree to make that relationship possible?

I’ve said it before – following Jesus is more like Ballroom dancing that mountain climbing – will we move with Him, will we allow Him to guide us, to teach us., to bless us with His word, His sacrament, His Death and Resurrection?  This isn’t about some form of false piety, it’s about walking with God, and letting Him be our loving, merciful, faithful Shepherd and the Firstborn and Friend.

A last thought – the blessing from the Book of Hebrews:

 

 

 20  Now may the God of peace— who brought up from the dead our Lord Jesus, the great Shepherd of the sheep, and ratified an eternal covenant with his blood— 21  may he equip you with all you need for doing his will. May he produce in you, through the power of Jesus Christ, every good thing that is pleasing to him. All glory to him forever and ever! Amen!    Hebrews 13:20-21 (NLT)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Anne Hathaway, Les Mis, and….Liturgy

Devotional Thought of the Day:

Disclaimer – I am not a fan of musicals, or even stage theatre.  I did like Phantom and Wicked because of the plots – but.. I would much rather see a great concert (Kansas, Styx) or the LOTR if I am sitting in theatre seats.

Having said that, my wife and I saw the movie Les Mis the other night.  ( Did I say I hate musicals?)  Those acting in the movie intrigued me, and I went, preparing to make a sacrifice to see the movie.

From the first, I was stunned by Anne Hathaway.  Not the cutest role ever for her, not by a long shot.  But perhaps the most breathtaking performance of her life. As she goes from purest despair and lament over her situation, as hopeless as any can be… her voice sings a song that is normally one that is supposedly, “inspiriational”.  You hear it on shows like American’s Got Talent, when someone wants to impress the judges with their voice – range, power all of it.  Anne’s performance rises up against all of them, and confronts them all- for the song is one of lament, of pain, of anguish – and she sings it that way.

One of the reasons I don’t like stage musicals – is that they are, for many, simple performances.  They are directed and choreographed in such a way… that the power of voices overcomes and drowns out the power of the story, the pathos of the charachter, as they throw themselves into singing the song – for the song’s sake.  The play simply becomes the vehicle for solo performance after solo performance, with some group pieces tossed into the mix.  Not so with this one – the music and singing served the play – and I have to admit – not even begrudgingly, that it was incredible.  Because everything served the story – because the actors and actresses – Anne especially, seemed driven to live the role.

Sometimes I think we treat church like that – the liturgy serves to set up this hymn or that choir or praise team piece.  We sit and yes, we sing, but for some reason, we forget the story line – we don’t throw ourselves – whether pastor, musicians, or congregation into the story that is being revealed.   When we say AMEN! after we have been told we have been cleansed of the guilt and shame of our multitude of sins – we react – that’s nice… oh yeah Amen!.  When we sing the Kyrie, our heart doesn’t plead for the Lord’s mercy and presence…and love as we hear our needs – our desperate need for God’s presence… realized.

One of my dreams – one of my goals, has been for a long time – to help people not just be involved in the liturgy – but to live it – just as Anne does the role.  To sing with the passion appropriate – as we sing the Gloria to do so with the awe of those who have realized – He has had mercy! He is here!  The Church, His Bride, He has come for!   As we sing the Sanctus, the great Holy Holy Holy – we hear the angels and archangels and all the host of heaven joining in with us…. as we pass the peace – to share the joy of realizing that God has not only reconciled us to Him, but to each other…that ALL is forgiven.

And when we sing the Agnus Dei – as the Lamb of God – who takes away the sins of the world… as He shares His body, His blood, with us, the awe… the majesty, the raw love – there for us… and the joy of Simeon’s Song – as we walk away from the feast – knowing that God is with us, that we have seen, we have tasted salvation…. oh the joy that should be evident from our voices.

I am not saying we should act, but you get the feeling that Anne somehow wasn’t acting – she was the role – she was in the story.   Not really sure how she did that – for Les Mis is a work of fiction – though it touches us all at a deep emotional level.  SO much more should the real story of the Liturgy – of the need for God, of His coming and teaching and healing and feeding and loving and cleansing and….bringing us into His presence… that story should sweep us all off our feet… and into the story in which we live.

For liturgy is not just a way to “do church”.  It is our story, intertwined with that of Christ, that runs the gamut of every emotion… that leaves us… in His peace….

I pray this helps you….become the church…not just be there……

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