Devotional Thought of the Day:
10 Create a pure heart in me, O God, and put a new and loyal spirit in me. 11 Do not banish me from your presence; do not take your holy spirit away from me. 12 Give me again the joy that comes from your salvation, and make me willing to obey you.
Psalm 51:10-12 (TEV)
326 Invoke the Holy Spirit in your examination of conscience so that you may get to know God better, and yourself also. In this way, you will be converted each day.
71 The old man therefore follows unchecked the inclinations of his nature if he is not restrained and suppressed by the power of Baptism. On the other hand, when we become Christians, the old man daily decreases until he is finally destroyed. This is what it means to plunge into Baptism and daily come forth again.
The words sound familiar, they have been part of the liturgy for centuries, They were sung over and over in the 80’s and 90’s, as they were one of the beloved praise songs.
Yet I wonder if we’ve forgotten the words, forgotten the consuming desire to be holy. We’ve forgotten the fear and the wonder which comes from finding ourselves on Holy Ground.
We need an outpouring of the Holy Spirit, not just so we can see miracles and manifestations that are supernatural, but because we need the Holy Spirit to make us Holy, to cut away the shame, the grief, the hatred, the anger to remove from our hearts the sin that so easily oppresses us and robs us of life.
This isn’t something that happens in the theological classroom, it happens in the midst of brokenness, as we realize that without the Holy Spirit’s intervention we are hopeless. It is the cry of a heart weary from injustice, from the weakness of our heart in regards to temptation.
It is both a cry of despair and a cry of that keenest faith. Despair because we realize what we’ve let fade away, and faith, because we know, to see our hope and joy restored.
The church needs this, each one of us who calls themselves a Christian, a follower of Christ needs this, More than just a quick prayer at the beginning of our services, or after a sermon that tugs on our heart strings. Escriva and Luther tie this into the work of the Holy Spirit, the promise of our Baptism (also see Titus 3:2-8), a work that goes on every day of our lives.
That is critical to know and understand – this work of transformation isn’t a simple snap of a finger, although the promises are ours. This is why Paul tells us to strive, to work out our salvation, why Peter warns us to be on guard because the Devil is wandering about trying to find someone to devour.
Even as I write this blog, names and faces come to mind, people who need to see the Spirit working in their life, bringing them to the point where they are cleansed, where they are healed of their brokenness, where they are comforted because the Holy Spirit is at work, overcoming their sin.
SO let us pray, asking God to renew our hearts, asking Him to cleanse us, asking Him to remind us of His presence.
And let us rejoice in our salvation!
Escriva, Josemaria. The Forge (Kindle Locations 1296-1297). Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition.
Tappert, Theodore G., ed. The Book of Concord the Confessions of the Evangelical Lutheran Church. Philadelphia: Mühlenberg Press, 1959. Print. LARGE CATECHISM
499 Years Later
How is YOUR Re-formation Going?
† Jesus, Son, Savior †
May the mercy of God our Father, poured out on us as we were untied to Jesus in Baptism, be as real, as reforming our lives and God’s church.
Does History Guarantee our Reformation?
There was once a group of people who thought themselves good, who counted their spiritual heritage back across the generations, for they knew God had worked across those generations, and had often preserved His people. They did what they were told would make them holy, they regularly met and celebrated the promises of God. They ignored their sin, often while condemning the sins of others.
It sounds like the descendants of Abraham, doesn’t it?
Could it be said of Lutherans, even Lutheran Church Missouri Synod Lutherans, Even the people that gather here at Concordia Lutheran Church, even those here right now?
I think Jesus’ answer to us would be the same to those Jews who needed to be freed from sin, as He calls us all to be disciples, to remain in the truth He instills in us, to celebrate the truth that indeed sets us free!
To put it in another way, to be able to answer the question,
“499 years later, how is your re-formation going?”
Or do we know that the Holy Spirit is at work, reforming us!
Are we still enslaved to sin?
Jesus told them and told us, that if we are sin, we are enslaved to it, in bondage to it, that it set a trap and caught us in it, a trap we cannot easily escape. That’s why you can’t escape it at times, or the guilt and shame it can cause.
Ever lay awake at night, wondering why you said or did something, or have it come back to haunt you? Ever feel the suffocation of shame, as you think, if they only knew how bad I was, they would never forgive?
One article I read said that Luther had an over-active sense of guilt, a by-product of depression, and a burdened soul that created the Reformation to find comfort for his broken soul.
Would we all have souls so hungry to be found righteous, and haunted by our own unrighteousness! Would we all seek out the comfort God offers to those who are broken, and would we all point others, in need of us, to the comfort the cross offers!
For we need relief of being ensnared by sin, we need to hear that we’ve been freed from it, we need to know, in the midst of broken lives and a broken world, that there is peace!
That’s why Jesus points out that in their slavery, they may seem to be part of Abraham’s family, but they are slaves, people without rights, who aren’t part of the family. They lived in the illusion of it, while still in bondage. But if they would follow Jesus, if they would walk with Him, learn of Him, and find their place in Him, they would be free. They would be transformed.
We need to be transformed, which was the hope both the Reformation and the Restoration movements offered.
We need to see our reformation and restoration both personal, and permanent. To declared us free from the power of sin, freed to become the children of God!
We are part of that family
That was the freedom, the comfort, the relief Luther, and so many before and after found. In being a disciple, not just someone who learns by sitting in a classroom, but one who walks with Jesus in every aspect of life. Where we let God form us, even disciplining us as the Holy Spirit works to reform and transform us.
This is what happens at the Cross when we are united to Christ’s death and His resurrection, that is where our personal reformation begins, ever as Paul wrote to Titus.
3 Once we, too, were foolish and disobedient. We were misled and became slaves to many lusts and pleasures. Our lives were full of evil and envy, and we hated each other. 4 But—
That is us, back when before this happened>0
“When God our Savior revealed his kindness and love, 5 he saved us, not because of the righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy. He washed away our sins, giving us a new birth and new life through the Holy Spirit. 6 He generously poured out the Spirit upon us through Jesus Christ our Savior. 7 Because of his grace, he declared us righteous and gave us confidence that we will inherit eternal life.” 8 This is a trustworthy saying, and I want you to insist on these teachings so that all who trust in God will devote themselves to doing good. These teachings are good and beneficial for everyone. Titus 3:3-8 (NLT)
This is the teaching a disciple of Jesus remains in, the fact that He saved us, baptizing us in water and the Spirit, cleansing us from all sin.
That is where our confidence in being part of God’s family comes from! Not from anywhere else! That is where our reformation happened, even as it is revealed throughout the rest of our lives, and completed on the day of Christ.
And knowing that leaves us in a place of peace, A peace that is found as we remain in Christ Jesus. In that peace, we find the stillness needed to know He is God, and we have not only been freed, but we’ve become part of the family. AMEN!
Devotional Thought of the Day:
11 Just as [under] shorts fit tightly around the waist, so I intended all the people of Israel and Judah to hold tightly to me. I did this so that they would be my people and would bring praise and honor to my name; but they would not obey me.” Jeremiah 13:11 (TEV)
To pray, as the Second Commandment teaches, is to call upon God in every need. This God requires of us; he has not left it to our choice. It is our duty and obligation to pray if we want to be Christians, just as it is our duty and obligation to obey our fathers and mothers and the civil authorities. By invocation and prayer the name of God is glorified and used to good purpose. This you should note above all so that you may silence and repel any thoughts that would prevent or deter us from praying. (1)
For those familiar with Luther, and the Lutheran understanding of Law and Gospel, the words in blue may sound strange and confusing. This sounds like a harsh use of the law, something that would lead to condemnation, something that is so demanding that all it can lead to is guilt and shame.
For many do not pray as they should! It is overlooked, dismissed as activities that are based in pietism. And if these words were not in Luther’s Large catechism they would be dismissed. Instead, I think they are simply ignored.
There is a part of us, the part that doubts God is listening, that doubt God cares, that finds prayer, whether prayers laying burdens down or hearing from God as we listening in prayer, as we meditate on His word, as burdensome and boring. We see them as something that saints might do, but by no means required beyond the prayers that are read at church.
Luther realized the necessity (so did Melanchthon – see his comments in Article XIII of the Apology of the Augsburg Confession! ) of prayer. But that necessity isn’t borne just of pleasing God. God didn’t commission us to use His name just so He would be glorified. The glory comes when we respond to His hearing, to His answering the prayer. Praise issues from our lips when we realize the comfort and peace the world cannot give, the comfort and peace that is possible only as we realize the merciful serenity that can be experienced in the presence of almighty God.
It is the answer to the cry of our heart that brings us to worship. This is why prayer is a requirement – because we need this means of grace, we desperately need what it delivers.
It is serendipitous (always wanted to use that word) that on the day I encounter Luther’s words, I encounter the words of the prophet Jeremiah. For indeed God wants us to know how close to us He is, how close to Him we are! This is the life of prayer – to cling to God like we are his underwear, as bizarre as that metaphor sounds! (and oh the comments that could be made…)
We need to be that close, we have to, in order to survive mentally, spiritually, even physically. For our life begins to spiral out of control as we separate ourselves from our Lord who is our life. We replace knowing God with knowing about Him, then we replace that knowledge with our own speculation and desires, as we make an idol in our image.
Cling to God, stalk Him, be persistent, wrestle with Him.
For He is our God, our Father.
And a great place to begin is with this little prayer of St Josemaria…..
383 Dear Jesus, I do want to correspond to your Love, but I am so feeble. With your grace, I will know how to! (2)
(1) Tappert, T. G. (Ed.). (1959). The Book of Concord the confessions of the Evangelical Lutheran Church. (p. 421). Philadelphia: Mühlenberg Press.
(2) Escriva, Josemaria. The Forge (Kindle Locations 1501-1503). Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition.
Devotional/Discussion Thought fo the Day:
7 I am writing to all of you in Rome who are loved by God and are called to be his own holy people. May God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ give you grace and peace.
Romans 1:7 (NLT)
7 I am writing to all of you in Rome who are loved by God and are called to be his own holy people. May God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ give you grace and peace.
Romans 1:7 (NLT)
1 This letter is from Paul, chosen by the will of God to be an apostle of Christ Jesus, and from our brother Timothy. I am writing to God’s church in Corinth and to all of his holy people throughout Greece.
2 Corinthians 1:1 (NLT)
1 This letter is from Peter, an apostle of Jesus Christ. I am writing to God’s chosen people who are living as foreigners in the provinces of Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia. 2 God the Father knew you and chose you long ago, and his Spirit has made you holy. As a result, you have obeyed him and have been cleansed by the blood of Jesus Christ. May God give you more and more grace and peace.
1 Peter 1:1-2 (NLT)
356 The first Apostles, when Our Lord called them, were by the side of an old boat busy mending the torn nets. Our Lord told them to follow him and statim—immediately—relictis omnibus—they left everything—everything! And followed him… And it does happen sometimes that we, who wish to imitate them, don’t quite leave everything, and there remains some attachment in our heart, something wrong in our life which we’re not willing to break with and offer up to God. Won’t you examine your heart in depth? Nothing should remain there except what is his. If not, we aren’t really loving him, neither you nor I. (1)
In Lutheran Theology, the Article of Justification has a primary place. Indeed, some call it the chief article of the faith. But that doesn’t mean that it is the only article of the faith
It is a genesis point, a point of beginning, and God’s declaration of our righteousness is something that continues in our life. It is hearing this declaration that enabled the disciples to walk away from family and work, and follow Jesus. His call to them, even as He calls us. But even in Luther’s explanation of the Creed we see that it is a beginning point, that God works something more in us.
But the Holy Spirit has called me through the Gospel, enlightened me with his gifts, and sanctified and preserved me in true faith, just as he calls, gathers, enlightens, and sanctifies the whole Christian church on earth and preserves it in union with Jesus Christ in the one true faith. (2)
It is work, the enlightenment, the sanctification and preservation that brings Paul and Peter to describe the people of God as holy, as saints (the same thing in Greek) Were they perfect from our perspective? No, but God was sanctifying them, and creating in them a perfection that no one can deny.
While we don’t make ourselves holy, there is the nature of self-examination that helps us realizing that the Holy Spirit is at work. As the Spirit confronts us, illuminates those things which our heart could easily turn into our idols. It might not be something that people would normally think of as an idol, but what do we trust in, what can we not live without. Where does our hope balance upon, and if that is threatened, we react strongly, even vehemently, to protect it. Do we believe something may make a difference, that only it can make a difference? Then we have made a god and idol and given it a place in our heart that need be reserved for God.
And it is as we examine our conscience, as we look for that which is not set apart from God, that we can cry out like the blind man, “Lord have mercy!”, “Lord, Son of David, Heal me!”
Faith is the confidence it takes to ask God to remove it, to remove that which mars the holiness He has declared to be true. Faith means we depend on the Holy Spirit to create in us the repentant spirit that is part and parcel of our being declared righteous, being declared justified. Faith realizes that we’ve been united, that we are in communion with Jesus. That his incredible union, our baptismal gift from God, is strengthened as we spend sacred time, participating in the sacrament of the Eucharist, hearing we are absolved of our sin, reading and hearing scriptures and meditating on all these things.
This is our life saints… to cry out for mercy, and to trust God as He purifies our lives, a work that is brought to completion in the day of Christ.
Justification is primary, yes, as in the beginning. It is not all the work of God in our lives, just that which begins and makes the rest possible including the amazing fact that we can love God, and He would know that love. For this purpose we have been created… to love our God, and to know His love for us, His people.
(1) Escriva, Josemaria. The Forge (Kindle Locations 1406-1412). Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition.
(2) Tappert, T. G. (Ed.). (1959). The Book of Concord the confessions of the Evangelical Lutheran Church. (p. 345). Philadelphia: Mühlenberg Press.
Devotional Thought of the Day:
1 In the beginning the Word already existed; the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2 From the very beginning the Word was with God. 3 Through him God made all things; not one thing in all creation was made without him. 4 The Word was the source of life, and this life brought light to people. 5 The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has never put it out. 6 God sent his messenger, a man named John, 7 who came to tell people about the light, so that all should hear the message and believe. 8 He himself was not the light; he came to tell about the light. 9 This was the real light—the light that comes into the world and shines on all people. 10 The Word was in the world, and though God made the world through him, yet the world did not recognize him. 11 He came to his own country, but his own people did not receive him. 12 Some, however, did receive him and believed in him; so he gave them the right to become God’s children. 13 They did not become God’s children by natural means, that is, by being born as the children of a human father; God himself was their Father. 14 The Word became a human being and, full of grace and truth, lived among us. We saw his glory, the glory which he received as the Father’s only Son.
John 1:1-14 (TEV)
“Our desire to advance in theological knowledge, in sound, firm Christian doctrine is sparked , above all, by the will to know and love God. It likewise stems from the concern of a faithful soul to attain the deepest meaning fo the world, seen as coming from the hands of God. “( St Josemaria Escriva, Christ is passing By)
I believe that I cannot come to my Lord Jesus Christ by my own intelligence or power. But the Holy Spirit call me by the Gospel, enlightened me with His gifts, made me holy and kept me in the true faith, just as He calls, gathers together, enlightens and makes holy the whole Church on earth and keeps it with Jesus in the one, true faith. In this Church, He generously forgives each day every sin committed by me and by every believer. (Martin Luther, Luther’s Small Catechism)
Theology has the hardest job of any science.
Yeah, you read that right, I called theology a science. It is a logos; it seeks to exist in the world of logic and reason, of in-depth study and observation. It is full of hypotheticals, and that which is proven, though we argue about which things fall into which categories.It has to balance general revelation with documents which claim to be specific revelation from a divine, omniscient source. It is up to us to discern which books are divine, which are simply good, and which are absolutely false. Just for clarification sake, “us” is inclusive of people of every time, and of nearly every culture, from every continent, with no special wisdom given to those of any particular heritage.
The problem is that Theology has failed miserably, because theologians on every part of every spectrum have forgotten the basic reason for the existence of theology. Some still get it, but they are marginalized, more about them later! Unlike other sciences, theology has long ceased to benefit humanity; it seeks simply for a truth divorced from meaning.
The reason for this is that theologians distance themselves from the objective, expressed by St. Josemaria Escriva as to know and love God. This should be the Theologian’s greatest joy, to do what Paul prayed for, for all the people of God.
14 For this reason I fall on my knees before the Father, 15 from whom every family in heaven and on earth receives its true name. 16 I ask God from the wealth of his glory to give you power through his Spirit to be strong in your inner selves, 17 and I pray that Christ will make his home in your hearts through faith. I pray that you may have your roots and foundation in love, 18 so that you, together with all God’s people, may have the power to understand how broad and long, how high and deep, is Christ’s love. 19 Yes, may you come to know his love—although it can never be fully known—and so be completely filled with the very nature of God.
Ephesians 3:14-19 (TEV)
This is where a theologian lives, it is where a theologian would thrive, and it is as the theologians share the wonder and joy of knowing this love, that a theologian learns to know and love God, and where the theologian begins to understand the deepest meaning for this world. It is where John 1:1-14 goes from being nice philosophy to something that is mind-blowing and life-altering.
It is where theology becomes the science which benefits people, those who hear and listen and end up becoming the children of God.
That is what theology is for, that is why we preach, that is why the church sacrifices all it has to make known the love of God.
May theologians from every culture, every language remember why they are called to this task. Our existence is predicated on knowing and loving God, and as we return to that, knowing His love for us, may we see the Breath of Life empower and guide our efforts.
Devotional Thought of the Day:
4 “I have been the LORD your God ever since I brought you out of Egypt. You must acknowledge no God but me, for there is no other savior. 5 I took care of you in the wilderness, in that dry and thirsty land. 6 But when you had eaten and were satisfied, you became proud and forgot me. Hosea 13:4-6 (NLT)
Being wise with someone else’s head … is, to be sure, inferior to being wise oneself, but it is infinitely superior to the sterile pride of one who does not achieve the independence of being wise himself, yet at the same time despises the dependence of one who believes on the word of another.” The same line of thought can be detected in Newman’s own comment on man’s basic relationship to truth. Men are all too inclined—the great philosopher of religion opines—to wait placidly for proofs of the reality of revelation, to seek them out as if they were in the position of judge, not suppliant. “They have decided to put the Almighty to the proof—with controlled passion, a total freedom from bias, and a clear head.” But the individual who thus makes himself lord of the truth deceives himself, for truth shuns the arrogant and reveals itself only to those who approach it in an attitude of reverence, of respectful humility. (1)
When we read something brilliant, and quickly begin to use ti to judge and condemn others, I pray we begin to first use the same standard to judge ourselves.
As I read Pope Benedict’s words this morning, (those are the ones in green) I immediately thought of those who dismiss scripture. Some of those are outside the church, who look at stories of miracles and cannot believe them. Others are those inside the church who examine scripture with a scientific mindset, looking to judge whether this passage is valid, or that passage is not really accurate historically. `Both place themselves as the final judge and jury over the word of God.
But that is a temptation for every person, conservative or liberal, confessional or missional. We see it when we apply the text to others, and not to ourselves. We see it when we treat the scriptures from a perspective that is academic, as if it is the greatest theological treatise. When we want to create a system out of the scriptures and use it to put God in a box.
I see this in myself all too often, as I approach the incredible wealth of the scriptures, mining it, being in awe of the words, and forgetting their purpose, that they are the means, not the end. For it is easy to focus on the study and not the prayer and times of intimacy with God that reflecting on them should create. We can, in the name of God, studying His word, become proud, and forget Him, even as we study His revelation to us.
It is when we forget that He is revealed, His love, His mercy, His desire for us to be His people that we end up being proud, that we see ourselves as the authority, not the supplicant.
Luther catches us when we get to this point and reminds us of what it means for God to be God. He tells us we can creep and cling to God, that we can approach Him in the sure knowledge of the hope He has given us, that He will respond, that He will love and cleanse, that He will heal us.
That’s the ends, for us to realize that He is our God, that we are His people. In Him we find rest, and that is what the scriptures are there to teach us, to reveal to us, to assure us of. That is what the covenants describe, it is what Law and Gospel drive us to, it is the reason for the cross. There is no other end of the discussion that is valid. For here is our hope:
We are His people. HE is our God. And as scripture tells us,
“But these are written so that you may continue to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that by believing in him you will have life by the power of his name. “ John 20:31 (NLT)
(1) Ratzinger, J. (1992). Co-Workers of the Truth: Meditations for Every Day of the Year. (I. Grassl, Ed., M. F. McCarthy & L. Krauth, Trans.) (pp. 166–167). San Francisco: Ignatius Press.
(2) Martin Luther, The Large Catechism of Martin Luther, (St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1921), WORDsearch CROSS e-book, Under: “Part First: The Ten Commandments”.
Devotional/Discussion Thought of the Day:
13 No temptation has come your way that is too hard for flesh and blood to bear. But God can be trusted not to allow you to suffer any temptation beyond your powers of endurance. He will see to it that every temptation has a way out, so that it will never be impossible for you to bear it. 1 Corinthians 10:13 (Phillips NT)
“And lead us not into temptation.”
18 What does this mean?
Answer: God tempts no one to sin, but we pray in this petition that God may so guard and preserve us that the devil, the world, and our flesh may not deceive us or mislead us into unbelief, despair, and other great and shameful sins, but that, although we may be so tempted, we may finally prevail and gain the victory.
201 In a Christian’s life everything has to be for God—even personal weaknesses, once they have been put right! The Lord understands and forgives them.
As my devotions seem to be focused on prayer this morning, I once again find myself analyzing my prayer life, measuring it against that of scripture, and those like Luther and Escriva, men whose dependence on God I wish I could emulate.
Not because they were giants in knowledge, but rather because their ability to express their needs simply, to be honest about their thoughts and feelings. And because there are days where despair is my greatest temptation, as it seems they understand.
So when I came across, this portion of the Luther’s Small Catechism, I thought, besides in praying the Lord’s prayer, when was the last time I prayed that God would lead me not into temptation but give me the strength to endure it?
Not only when was the last time I prayed this petition for myself, but for my leaders?
Perhaps it is simply apathy. Said that, God promised it, time to move on, nothing to see here? Perhaps it is worse, the things I am tempted to do, to say, to think, I am too comfortable with, even as I realize they betray my weaknesses?
Do we consciously or subconscious omit this from our daily prayer because we want to avoid confronting that which tempts us, that which ensnares us, those sins that are all too common in our lives? Do we too easily give place to lust, or despair, to doubt God’s promise? Do we become to comfortable with being broken? Is it too easy justification for not living life in Christ? Is that why this is only prayed in our repetition of Christ’s prayer?
Are we afraid, that if we truly pray, truly desire that God would not lead us into temptation, that He will answer that prayer?
I like the point St. Josemaria makes, that we need to realize these weaknesses, yes even these temptations can be used by God, even as He is putting them to right. As we confess them, as we plead for Him to not lead us into them, we give Him the authority over them. Even as we realize we can’t overcome them, as we depend on Him, we find out that He has give us the victory! We will prevail not by avoiding the temptation, but by allowing Him to lead us through the temptation, showing us the way out, as we are crucified with Christ.
For at the cross is where sin and temptation lose their power, as Paul instructs the Galatians,
24 And those who belong to Christ Jesus have put to death their human nature with all its passions and desires. 25 The Spirit has given us life; he must also control our lives.
Galatians 5:24-25 (TEV)
As we pray lead us not into temptation, what we are praying is the we realize that the Holy Spirit is not just the Giver of Life, but the Lord of it as well. That the Spirit calls us to know what Christ has taught us, that we are family, treasured enough by God that the cross becomes the revelation of that love.
The peace that God desires we know shatters the power of temptation and the sins that temptation would have us treasure, even as we learn to pray. This too is included in our prayer, Lord Have Mercy!
Tappert, T. G. (Ed.). (1959). The Book of Concord the confessions of the Evangelical Lutheran Church. (pp. 347–348). Philadelphia: Mühlenberg Press.
Escriva, Josemaria. The Forge (Kindle Locations 896-898). Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition.
Discussion Thought of the Day:
23 All this I do for the gospel’s sake, in order to share in its blessings. 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 9:23-27 (TEV)
22 I love God’s law with all my heart. 23 But there is another power within me that is at war with my mind. This power makes me a slave to the sin that is still within me. 24 Oh, what a miserable person I am! Who will free me from this life that is dominated by sin and death? 25 Thank God! The answer is in Jesus Christ our Lord. So you see how it is: In my mind I really want to obey God’s law, but because of my sinful nature I am a slave to sin.
Romans 7:22-25 (NLT)
209 In your personal prayer, whenever you experience the weakness of the flesh you should repeat: Lord, give the Cross to this poor body of mine, which gets tired and rebellious! (1)
I believe that by my own reason or strength I cannot believe in Jesus Christ, my Lord, or come to him. But the Holy Spirit has called me through the Gospel, enlightened me with his gifts, and sanctified and preserved me in true faith, just as he calls, gathers, enlightens, and sanctifies the whole Christian church on earth and preserves it in union with Jesus Christ in the one true faith. In this Christian church he daily and abundantly forgives all my sins, and the sins of all believers, and on the last day he will raise me and all the dead and will grant eternal life to me and to all who believe in Christ. This is most certainly true. (2)
As I look at my social media feeds, it seems there many Christians are calling others to join in the battle against evil. Some are targeting the recent bathrooms issues; others are targeting abortion, or homosexuality. Others are waging other battles against divorce, or perceived injustices. Some want to take on the entire community of Islam, or at least the terrorists who are creating martyrs of our brothers and sisters.
There are cries in the church, as some want Equal rights for everyone in the church, or at least equal access to roles. Others want to purify the faith, returning to eras when they think everyone was pure and without sin. They base this on a form of worship, or the use of a translation, or some other thing, overlooking the sin and division of those days.
There are many, many pleas, people begging us to join the battle, and each battle promises some form of heaven on earth, should we be faithful and win. They promise utopia, if only our side can win, and the other be crushed in defeat.
But the war which is more critical, a true war for our souls. One which we so easily overlook, one which is simple in theory to win, yet so difficult to execute and realize the victory.
The war for my soul. The war for your soul.
This is a battle for holiness, one which has faded into the background, because these other battles are easier to gather people around, they are less insidious, and we can be the heroes that are lauded and praised. We can even find theological precepts, or create them, warning people about this horror called pietism, without extolling piety. We will call people to focus on God declaring people to be righteous while ignoring the sanctification that makes the declaration true.
The personal war in our own souls, the souls which the apostle Paul describes at war, that St Josemaria describes as tired and rebellious, the soul Luther describes as requiring the Holy Spirit to cleanse and make holy. For we don’t have the ability to do it, save in our surrendering to the Spirit’s work.
What generations of the church called mortification comes from letting the Spirit purge us of sin, of bringing healing to that which is broken, to cleanse those parts of our lives that are rotting spiritually.
Or do we imagine Paul was speaking hypothetically when he talks of being disqualified?
Mortification is not about whipping your body physically; it is by no means that easy. It is not about fasting to purify yourself, but it can help you to focus and prioritize. In advocating the mortification that the Spirit controls, I am not talking about some kind of self-abuse. Then again, we have to do something about the abuse that does crush us, our tendency to sin, even though we are Christ’s. The sin that leads us to dare confess our wretchedness, and be guided to healing and strength by the Spirit.
Mortification is allowing the Spirit to guide you to take up your cross and walk with Christ. The quote from Romans 7 is preceded by that very discussion in chapter 6. We are nailed to the cross with Christ, and it is back to that cross we must go to deal with sin and temptation. If we are to find the strength to withstand the temptation this time, and the grace for those times in the past and the future when we will fail and fall.
Mortification is confessing our sins, and receiving absolution, it is found in remembering the promises that were made sure in our baptism, that we are called to know, as we feast on the Body and Blood of Christ. As we kneel in prayer, as we adore the God, who calls us His. These spiritual blessings, these things we call disciplines, are the place where we are reminded that spiritual warfare is the victory that comes in walking with Christ.
It prepares us for the other battles, giving us the reminder about what those battles are. They aren’t the decisive battle between good and evil, but a rescue mission for the souls of the people we engage with, knowing that God desires that they too are declared righteous, and made holy by the power that raised Christ Jesus from the dead. Because we need to remember that, for it is our hope when we begin to stray.
(1) Escriva, Josemaria. The Forge (Kindle Locations 914-916). Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition.
(2) Tappert, T. G. (Ed.). (1959). The Book of Concord the confessions of the Evangelical Lutheran Church. (p. 345). Philadelphia: Mühlenberg Press
Devotional Thought of the Day:
26 This means that every time you eat this bread and drink from this cup you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes. 27 It follows that if one of you eats the Lord’s bread or drinks from his cup in a way that dishonors him, you are guilty of sin against the Lord’s body and blood. 28 So then, you should each examine yourself first, and then eat the bread and drink from the cup. 29 For if you do not recognize the meaning of the Lord’s body when you eat the bread and drink from the cup, you bring judgment on yourself as you eat and drink. 30 That is why many of you are sick and weak, and several have died. 31 If we would examine ourselves first, we would not come under God’s judgment. 32 But we are judged and punished by the Lord, so that we shall not be condemned together with the world. 1 Corinthians 11:26-32 (TEV)
109 There is an enemy of the interior life which is both little and silly. Unfortunately, it can be very effective. It is the neglect of effort in one’s examination of conscience. (1)
For this reason private confession should be retained in the church, for in it consciences afflicted and crushed by the terrors of sin lay themselves bare and receive consolation which they could not acquire in public preaching. We want to open up confession as a port and refuge for those whose consciences the devil holds enmeshed in his snares and whom he completely bewitches and torments in such a way that they cannot free or extricate themselves and feel and see nothing else but that they must perish. For there is no other greater misery in this life than the pains and perplexities of a heart that is destitute of guidance and solace.
To such, then, an approach to confession should be opened up so that they may seek and find consolation among the ministers of the church. (2)
Growing up in the 1970’s there was a lot of talk of renewal, and movements which facilitated various renewals. There was a call for liturgical renewal, retreats that offered times of personal renewal, parish and congregational renewal, and the movement which was known as the Charismatic Renewal.
Each form of renewal brought promise, sometimes delivered, sometimes frustrated.
Then in the 90’s we replaced renewal with revival, and then revitalizatiom.
Now it seems that renewal, either personal, congregational, across a denomination, or across the entire church has been tossed aside. We’d rather close churches, and start something completely new. We’d rather give up on people whose faith has become dormant, and focus on new conversion. Or worse, offer hope to those churches and people, not through the renewal of their spirit, but through returning to the forms that left them dried, weary and with a withered faith.
How will these new lives survive when their new churches hit 20-25 years old (the age when some skeptics say churches begin to die) What will happen to the faith of these people who are guided toward the dry, repetitive faith that caused their churches to dwindle?
Or is there an option?
Could it be found in these words from Paul about the examination of our hearts and souls? Could it be in letting confession and the examination it offers fall into disuse we have hindered renewal/revival in the church, and if the church is not renewed, neither is the world?
What joy have we prevented people from knowing, what joy and peace could we offer them, simply by helping them realize their need for forgiveness while assuring them it is offered? What joy and peace have we neglected giving our people, what guilt and shame do they bear, not knowing they bear it without need?
We talk of wanting churches to grow, in number, faith and practice, yet we do not offer them the basic respite the psalmists craved, and rejoiced and rested as they received it.
What if we offered them a real chance to examine themselves, to consider their lives, to cry out for deliverance, to cry out in hope? What if our words assured them of God’s mercy, of the forgiveness He years to give, of the love He would assure them they have?
Our people need to examine themselves, knowing that they are doing so to find their freedom in Christ. To know that doing so will bring them life, as God sets aside all that would inhibit their life, and transform and make them Holy. For that is what absolution, that is our cleansing.
That is renewal, that is revival, that is life being restored to those who are weary and worn, broken and devastated.
May we, and our people cry out for the Lord’s mercy, knowing He who provides it is faithful.
(1) Escriva, Josemaria (2011-01-31). The Forge (Kindle Locations 589-591). Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition.
(2) Luther, M. (1999). Luther’s works, vol. 6: Lectures on Genesis: Chapters 31-37. (J. J. Pelikan, H. C. Oswald, & H. T. Lehmann, Eds.) (Vol. 6, pp. 297–298). Saint Louis: Concordia Publishing House.
Devotional Thought of the day:
10 “Be still, and know that I am God! I will be honored by every nation. I will be honored throughout the world.” 11 The LORD of Heaven’s Armies is here among us; the God of Israel is our fortress. Psalm 46:10-11 (NLT)
14 For this reason I fall on my knees before the Father, 15 from whom every family in heaven and on earth receives its true name. 16 I ask God from the wealth of his glory to give you power through his Spirit to be strong in your inner selves, 17 and I pray that Christ will make his home in your hearts through faith. I pray that you may have your roots and foundation in love, 18 so that you, together with all God’s people, may have the power to understand how broad and long, how high and deep, is Christ’s love. 19 Yes, may you come to know his love—although it can never be fully known—and so be completely filled with the very nature of God. Ephesians 3:14-19 (TEV)
54 You enjoy an interior happiness and peace that you would not exchange for anything in the world. God is here. There is no better way than telling him our woes for them to cease being such. (1)
With might of ours can naught be done, Soon were our loss effected;
But for us fights the Valiant One, Whom God Himself elected.
Ask ye, Who is this?
Jesus Christ it is! Of Sabaoth Lord! (2)
And there’s none other God; He holds the field forever! (3)
In a recent blog, I used the phrase, “basking in God’s love”, which apparently upset someone. Enough that I was accused, behind my back, of advocating mysticism. Now while I will freely admit to being on the mystical side of Christianity, that is not the same as mysticism.
Rather, it is the approach of being in reverent awe, and meditating on, with heart, mind, and soul, the very love of God. The devotion, the loyalty and faithfulness of God to a wretch like me, and a wretch like you. it is coming upon the absolute love of God (see the Hebrew word cHesed, and the Greek words agape and elios) for His children, and as it is revealed, being stunned and pondering its depths, while enjoying the peace that love brings to us.
It is that sacramental moment, that point of communion with God, where we find out what David advocated, being still, not fighting, knowing that God is God, our refuge, our place of peace, In Him we find that moment where all is abandoned as Josemaria, and our woes, and see them, along with our sin, sliding away (see Hebrews 12:2).
It is that incarnational moment, when we truly understand with everything we are that Jesus the Christ is here, that the Lord Sabaoth is with you. It is a moment of utter submission, of allowing God to be responsible, to be our benevolent Master, the Lord of Life, to reign over us.
And it is in that truth we need to bask, we need to be still, we need to enjoy those moments. To realize how precious are these foretastes of the feast to come, as we encounter them at the baptismal font, as we hear our sins absolved, as we commune with the Body and Blood of Christ.
That moment where the presence of God is not just a academic theological expression but palpable, a moment where we realize our faith is found in Him. Not in a leap of our own logic, not in a decision in a case made to prove to us He was a historic figure. It is a moment that is a mystery, something we can explain the dymamics of, save to save He dwells in us, that this love is the basis and foundation, something that is far more than our words and blogs can explain. It is sacramental; it is incarnational, a mystery of our faith.
Yes, these moments we need to bask in, not for the sake of the moment, but for the communion of God and man that occurs. As the church, we need to provide them for those who we care for, those we shepherd, for there they will find Christ, and being amazed by His glory, the Holy Spirit will transform them into His image.It has the assurance that our cry for HIs mercy is heard, and answered, when the world looks on stunned at the peace we know.
Call this being a mystic? That’s fine; God isn’t small enough for us not to be mystified, taken aback, and to become hungry to explore the dimensions of His love for us, revealed in Christ Jesus.
But it is a far cry from mysticism.
So bask in this love of God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, know His presence, and peace, and as you rest in Him, may you realize you are being transformed by the Spirit’s renewing of your mind. This is my prayer for you. and for me.
(1) Escriva, Josemaria (2011-01-31). The Forge (Kindle Locations 420-422). Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition.
(2) Sabbaoth Lord – often translated as the Lord God Almighty, it is a reference to Christ being the Lord (commander) of all of Heaven’s armies and strength.
(3) A Mighty Fortress is our God, quote from TLH at http://www.lutheran-hymnal.com/lyrics/tlh262.htm