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Christian, Are You This Courageous? Do you have this strength?

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERADevotional Thoughts for our days:

10 “Stop fighting,” he says, “and know that I am God, supreme among the nations, supreme over the world.” 11 The LORD Almighty is with us;  the God of Jacob is our refuge.  Psalm 46:10-11  TEV

A mighty Fortress is our God, A Bulwark never failing; Our Helper He amid the flood Of mortal ills prevailing: For still our ancient foe Doth seek to work us woe; His craft and power are great. And, armed with cruel hate, On earth is not his equal.

Did we in our own strength confide, Our striving would be losing; Were not the right Man on our side, The Man of God’s own choosing: Dost ask who that may be? Christ Jesus, it is He; Lord Sabaoth His Name, From age to age the same, And He must win the battle.

This is important: the courage to trust in Jesus’ mercy, in his patience, to seek refuge always in the wounds of his love.

As we approach the 500th anniversary of the reformation, I have spent a lot of time reading and thinking through the history, and how it affects the Church today.  Not just my congregation, or my denomination, but the entire family of God’s children.  And what it means to reform.

For example, in my news feed, this morning was a great story of Pope Francis and liturgical reform. If I dare say, it is very Lutheran.  At the same time, there are those who are trying, with intent or ignorance, to divide the church further.  Not in the hope of reform, but in the desire to keep what they know pure.  And in the process, lose what Luther found the greatest comfort in, the love and mercy of God. 

Ninety percent of the time I hear Luther’s classic hymn quoted in green above, it is done with the power and energy of a military anthem.  Full crescendo Organs, loud brass, even clashing cymbals, as if it is a call to battle, something to unite the forces of good behind as we go to war.

Given that it is derived in part from Psalm 46, I am not sure that interpretation is valid.  It is not a mighty anthem, but a recognition that we are not that strong, that we need a refuge, that we cannot have confidence if we are dealing with Satan or the World.  I see Luther, inspired by the Psalm, writing this to a soft broken melody of one who knows despair, who is confused and hurt, and who is beginning to realize his hope is found in the one who was nailed to the cross, the Lord Jesus who is portrayed on the crucifix he sol tightly grasps. I see this as the resolution of a man who has searched for hope, finding it with his last gasp… the music of reeds and deep strings.. as the words are whispered out…. from broken, contrite spirits that are finding refuge… and rest.

We have to have the confidence to hide in CChrist we must depend on Jesus’ mercy and his patience and to seek and find refuge in Christ, who we are united to in our baptism.  

So stop fighting the world, stop striving against the powers of evil, (or those you just think are evil.) Have the courage, the confidence to trust in God.  He is dependable, He is the one who has the victory, and in Him…

we are safe.  we can rest.

TO do so takes a lot of courage, a lot of strength, to stay firmly planted in Jesus, despite every temptation to fight or flee.  It, in fact, takes far more to endure, to wait on Him.  Yet the Spirit helps us in our weakness. For the Spirit works through the church to remind us of this fact.

the Lord Almighty is with you, and God is your refuge.  AMEN!

Martin Luther – A Mighty Fortress is our God

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. Print

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When God Doesn’t Answer….then what? The Dark Days of Being a Pastor/Elder/Parent

Devotional Thought of the Day:

16  You spoke to me, and I listened to every word. I belong to you, LORD God Almighty, and so your words filled my heart with joy and happiness. 17  I did not spend my time with other people, laughing and having a good time. In obedience to your orders I stayed by myself and was filled with anger. 18  Why do I keep on suffering? Why are my wounds incurable? Why won’t they heal? Do you intend to disappoint me like a stream that goes dry in the summer?” 19  To this the LORD replied, “If you return, I will take you back, and you will be my servant again. If instead of talking nonsense you proclaim a worthwhile message, you will be my prophet again. The people will come back to you, and you will not need to go to them. Jeremiah 15:16-19 (TEV)

7  LORD, you have deceived me, and I was deceived. You are stronger than I am, and you have overpowered me. Everyone makes fun of me; they laugh at me all day long. 8  Whenever I speak, I have to cry out and shout, “Violence! Destruction!” LORD, I am ridiculed and scorned all the time because I proclaim your message. 9  But when I say, “I will forget the LORD and no longer speak in his name,” then your message is like a fire burning deep within me. I try my best to hold it in, but can no longer keep it back. Jeremiah 20:7-9 (TEV)

224      Interior dryness is not lukewarmness. When a person is lukewarm the waters of grace slide over him without being soaked in. In contrast, there are dry lands which seem arid but which, with a few drops of rain at the right time, yield abundant flowers and delicious fruit. That is why I ask: When are we going to be convinced? How important it is to be docile to the divine calls which come at each moment of the day, because it is precisely there that God is awaiting us!  (1)

There are days where events and situations occur in such a way, I have to wonder if God is on vacation.  

It might be that the burdens i deal with just tire me our, that as prayer requests seem to add up, as more and more people I know have to deal with severe trauma and grief.

It could be the burdens that come as I try to balance being a pastor and a father, as days go longer than I thought, or I don’t get the break I need somewhere in the middle.  Or that somehow my own physical  and personal issues challenge me as well.

It could be that working with some people is such a challenge, even as Jeremiah notes, as they continue to rebel against God, thinking their own way is better. Today they don’t kill those who would warn them, they just laugh it off, or simply ignore it and do what they want to do, not thinking about the consequences, and that God does have a reason for the guidance He gives us.  You can tell them, and sometimes they will listen, and sometimes they will come back, with tears in their eyes…. we pray that God would reveal Himself to them in a way they can’t deny… to quote the gospels,  ‘If they won’t listen to Moses and the prophets (and the gospels and epistles), they won’t listen even if someone rises from the dead.’” Luke 16:31 (NLT)

Whether the people we deal with are victims or the guilty, or even both simultaneously, why does it take so long for them to be restored?  Why do we have to see them struggle?  Why can’t everything be fixed, why can’t prayer work like a magic wand….?  Why doesn’t God just fix their problems – both the problems of the good and the bad?  After all, isn’t that what ministry is about?

Why do Jeremiah’s whines resonate deeply within the souls of so many pastors, priests, lay leaders in every form of ministry, including those who are parents?

is there a cure for how we feel when we wonder why God hasn’t provided the answer to our prayers?

One of the steps is to deal with the issue of self-righteousness.

That’s God’s answer in the first quote from Jeremiah.  He doesn’t tell Jeremiah to force the people to return.  God tells Jeremiah to return!

Jeremiah, you come back, you get back to doing what I’ve called you to do.  You serve, you stop whining, stop making it sound like you are the martyr, the suffering servant.  Proclaim Christ (though it was in the nature of prophecy for Jeremiah – we can point more clearly to the cross)   Time to end the self-pitying, the grass is greener ( or in my case, the leaves ae more colorful) over there.

When we stop making ourselves out to be the crucified one, the martyr of God’s cause,

But how?

I love Josemaria’s answer, for it changes the game.  When there is no answer to prayers, we usually either blame God (as Jeremiah does) or we think there is something wrong with our prayer – either our heart, or our form, that God’s not listening because something we have done is prohibiting the God of the universe from either hearing our prayer, or taking action upon it.

There is a difference between being in rebellion from God, and being in a dry spell, of not praying because we don’t trust or know God is there, and wondering why the prayers aren’t answered yet.  Sometimes, that dryness is needed, because we have to learn that God is there….even when we can’t see Him. We have to learn to be stiil, to wait on the Lord, to know that He is God.

It from such dryness that a revival can spring, that incredible growth may com.  Some places are like gardens, slow and steady, others are like the desert – where a light rain on Tuesday is followed by plants literally bursting forth.  It is that message, the very gospel that causes such, that snapped Jeremiah out of his silence, it is that gospel message that causes the life that seems to be buried to explode out of our parched souls. It is that word of God that brings to us the perspective of God’s love, of His desire, of His work that quickens people, that quickens us.

The gospel message of God’s love, that draws us to Him, that reveals how deep and high, how broad, how wide, that love is… for us.

For them.

A love that answers those prayers, in ways we can’t quite understand, yet ways fulfilling His promise to never leave or forsake us.  The promises that nothing can separate us from Him, even the valley of the shadow of death.  The gospel that says even though we think His words we proclaim may return void, they won’t.   He has promised.

And knowing Him, remembering His promises, we return from our whining to get back to our calling, to proclaiming that love we need to know ourselves to others.

And then, they come… they find that love, they find the healing for the brokenness they chose…. and our prayers… well they are answered.

For He is our God, our refuge, and we are His people, the children He cares for by providing them peace.

AMEN

(1)  Escriva, Josemaria (2011-01-31). The Forge (Kindle Locations 964-968). Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition.

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