Devotional Thought of the Day:
Then Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, because they do not know what they are doing.” Luke 23:34 HCSB
They were stoning Stephen as he called out: “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit!” m 60 Then he knelt down and cried out with a loud voice, n “Lord, do not charge them with this sin!” And saying this, he fell •asleep. Acts 7:59-60 HCSB
45 Why feel hurt by the unjust things people say of you? You would be even worse, if God ever left you. Keep on doing good, and shrug your shoulders.
If the story of St. Josemaria was not known to me, I would consider his words above to be a mere platitude, words of someone who have never been betrayed, never hurt by a good friend, never the subject of gossip and ridicule.
Having read his biographies, I realize that they are written from the place of experience, of having to depend on God’s strength to lift the shoulders, to shrug off the pain, To see the need, the deep spiritual neediness of those who hurt us, rather to draw ourselves in, to protect our own shattered hearts.
It is the same kind of strength that St Stephen showed in Acts, as stones broke the bones as they tried to crush his spirit as well as his body. The same kind of love, inconceivable, overwhelming love that Jesus showed while being crucified.
But how do you and I find the faith, for it is faith, not our own will, and determination that will sustain us in these times of trial, the times where our heart and souls are stretched, where the pain wreaks havoc inside us.
I mean, does God our Father expect us to be saints? Do we all have to go through the traumas and persecution that others experienced? Will you and I have to suffer worse betrayals?
I don’t know, but the lack of persecution isn’t an excuse for a weak faith. Each of us should see a dependence on God, a trust in God nurtured to the point where our confidence in God, our adoration of Him who is present in our lives that any trial is considered far less than the blessing of being His.
Notice that dependence in Stephen as he cries out in faith, “Lord, receive me!” See in in the words of St Josemaria as he points out the hopefully obvious, it is far worse to lose the presence of God in our lives. ( I sometimes think that the obvious has to be etched onto my eyes, lest I forget it!)
In order to do with anything that requires faith, I need to know God is here, that He is present, that He is caring for me, that He will comfort me and be there when I need Him. All this is promised to us in our baptism, as we are united with His death and resurrection (see Romans 6, Colossian 2–3)
It doesn’t matter what is challenging my faith, that is stretching my heart and soul, whether it is something internal, some fear or frustration, or some kind of persecution or harassment, what sustains us, what enables us to endure, is to know Jesus, to hold on to Him, knowing He is holding on to us.
This is how we forgive those who set themselves against us, this is how we ask God to forgive them, how we keep doing good, knowing this…
The Lord is with you!
(P.S. If you have been able to shrug off pain and forgive, and can talk about it, please leave some encouraing words about this… so others can see that God does help us with this! THANKS!)
Escriva, Josemaria. The Way (Kindle Locations 260-262). Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition.
Devotional Thoguht of the Day…..
1 With Christ as my witness, I speak with utter truthfulness. My conscience and the Holy Spirit confirm it. 2 My heart is filled with bitter sorrow and unending grief 3 for my people, my Jewish brothers and sisters. I would be willing to be forever cursed—cut off from Christ!—if that would save them.
Romans 9:1-3 (NLT)
Jake: Me and God, We got an understanding
Elwood: We’re on a Mission from God.
(from the movie, “The Blues Brothers)
466 The enemies of God and his Church, manipulated by the devil’s unremitting hatred, are relentless in their activities and organization. With “exemplary” constancy they prepare their cadres, run schools, appoint leaders and deploy agitators. In an undercover way—but very effectively—they spread their ideas and sow, in homes and places of work, a seed which is destructive of any religious ideology. What is there that we Christians should not be ready to do, always with the truth, to serve our God? (1)
They claimed to be on a mission from God, a mission to save the home, the orphanage they grew up in so that others would have a place.
They did what they had to do, or perhaps what they thought they had to do. With little option, they got the band back together, did a little touring, and raised the money that it took, even though they broke a few laws along the way. They raised the money even though it meant they would suffer, that they would serve time.
I am not advocating breaking the law, but I see the same desire, the same passion in Paul’s words to the church in Rome. He grieved over the fact that they didn’t know Jesus, that they didn’t have the peace of God. They were cut off from life and hope, from dwelling in the presence of God, because either actively or passively they rejected Jesus. They denied Him.
This grief was so intense that he indicated he would even take their curse, which he would be willing to be eternally cut off from God; if that is what it took for them to be reconciled. Jake and Elwood understand and would approve – they were willing to do time in the Illinois State Pen, and based on the movie – several times their efforts brought them close to death.
Josemaria asks us a similar question – what is the that we should not be ready to do, always with the truth, to serve our God?
Is going to jail a possibility? Yes
Is jumping a drawbridge? Of course!
Is playing the blues, dancing like a fool, wearing a thin blue tie and a cool hat? If that is what it takes.
Is dying? Yes
Though we can’t give up our salvation, that desire can and should be there, if we see a friend, or an enemy, who needs to know God’s love!
Is enduring poverty? What about enduring being the victim of crime? What about being humiliated? Yes and Yes and yes.
After all – we got an understanding with God. He loves us.
And therefore we are on a mission from God.
Escriva, Josemaria. The Forge (Kindle Locations 1780-1785). Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition.
Devotional Thought of the Day:
54 The Jewish leaders were infuriated by Stephen’s accusation, and they shook their fists at him in rage. 55 But Stephen, full of the Holy Spirit, gazed steadily into heaven and saw the glory of God, and he saw Jesus standing in the place of honor at God’s right hand. 56 And he told them, “Look, I see the heavens opened and the Son of Man standing in the place of honor at God’s right hand!” 57 Then they put their hands over their ears and began shouting. They rushed at him 58 and dragged him out of the city and began to stone him. His accusers took off their coats and laid them at the feet of a young man named Saul. 59 As they stoned him, Stephen prayed, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.” 60 He fell to his knees, shouting, “Lord, don’t charge them with this sin!” And with that, he died. Acts 7:54-60 (NLT)
11 And they have defeated him by the blood of the Lamb and by their testimony. And they did not love their lives so much that they were afraid to die. Revelation 12:11 (NLT)
1 Since you have been raised to new life with Christ, set your sights on the realities of heaven, where Christ sits in the place of honor at God’s right hand. 2 Think about the things of heaven, not the things of earth. 3 For you died to this life, and your real life is hidden with Christ in God. 4 And when Christ, who is your life, is revealed to the whole world, you will share in all his glory. Colossians 3:1-4 (NLT)
This post is based on one of the Bible Study discussions among my people at church. We’ve been going through the book of Acts of the Apostles, and came to the martyrdom of Stephen.
It brought out a discussion of the fears we have because of the terrorism in Lebanon, the Sudan and Paris, the incredibly painful trauma people experience. A trauma that is spreading through anxiety and fear, which is being maniuplated by those who would have us stop out from reaching in love, because of that fear.
As we discussed these things, someone mentioned the incredible level of faith that someone who willing embraced martyrdom must have. The faith that would testify of God’s love, that would know the fruit of the Spirit in Galatians, even as the boulders were thrown down upon him, or as the blade slice through the air.
Such heroism seems beyond us, such an ability to set aside one’s automatic nature to preserve one’s self. Yet the angel in the passage from the Revelation states that the people there have defeated the accuser by the blood of the Lamb, the witness (in greek – the word we get martyr from!) and by the fact that they didn’t love life so uch they were afrasid to die.
That describes you, if your faith is in Christ. It describes me as well, and every other person who puts their hope in Christ Jesus. The more we comprehend, not just now, but understand at the gut level, the love of Christ, the guaranty of His promise that we will share in His glory eternally, the more we don’t need to cling to life, the more we don’t need to defend ourselves against persecution. The more we can embrance suffering like Jesus did. The more we trust, the more we look to the promise, the more we understand God’s love, the more we can accept martyrdom.
I want you to compare what Stephen goes through in the first reading to what Paul urges believers to do.
Stephen looked into heaven, and saw the glory of God.
Paul tells us to set our sights on the reality of heaven.
Stephen sees Jesus at the right hand of the Father, in the place of honor.
We are to see the same thing – the same Jesus, the same right hand, the same place of honor.
Stephen is killed. Physically.
We are to realize that we have died to this life. Yes spiritually, (as had Stephen) but also in our need to cling to it, for we realize we aren’t just here, we are hidden in Christ in God, waiting to be revealed with Jesus in our fullness.
That’s where the strength comes from to allow a witness to Christ result in our martyrdom, whether that martyrdom is physical, or whether it is setting aside our dream life, our desires, our need to preserve our identity, in order to bear witness to the love of Christ. This is exactly what Paul is talking about in Philippians 2:1-10. urging us on to unity in Christ. It is what Paul talks of when he urges ust o imitate him as He imitates Christ.
Ultimately, Martyrdom is never about the death, it is never about the sacrifice, it is about knowing the love of Jesus, about trusting in His promises, that is the martyrdom, the very witness we bear. Is this heroic then? It would be, except that the strength doesn’t come from us, it coems from the Holy Spirit. It is the very thing we are urged as believers to do. To bear witness with our very lives, to give the reason we have hope. To set aside our fears, to set aside our need for self preservation, to set aside all, to love God, and to love man.
It is who we are, because of what Jesus does for us in baptism…..what He does to us.
This is what it means to know the Lord is with you, that He answered your plea for emrcy.
It is abiding, secure in Christ’s peace. It is, His gift, His grace.
The Benefit of Endurance
May you recognize the presence of God so clearly, and His attitude toward you, which you simply endure with patience all that is on your journey towards home.
How do you?
Her words, words of one who endured the greatest of hardships, echo through our souls. Hear them, as reported in an interview with her son.
“Asked by host Maher Fayez what he would say if he were asked to forgive ISIS, he related what his mother said she would do if she saw one of the men who killed her son. “My mother, an uneducated woman in her sixties, said she would ask [him] to enter her house and ask God to open his eyes because he was the reason her son entered the kingdom of heaven.” (1)
There is a lady who knows how to endure, because of her faith in Christ.
Her desire is not revenge, it is not to cause pain, it is to see the mercy of God be revealed as clearly as it was at the cross. A mother of a martyr, inviting her son’s murderer’s to come into her house? An invitation of hospitality that guaranteed them of her love, and that no harm would come to them.
How could she endure the pain, the suffering and relive it with ISIS militants in her home?
She knew the benefit that endurance brings. She could revel in it, knowing the goodness of God. She would have no problems with the words from our epistle today. She would understand well verse 12,
12 God blesses those who patiently endure testing and temptation. Afterward they will receive the crown of life that God has promised to those who love him!
There is no way to compare the lives we endure to hers. But the testing we endure has the similar out, the similar temptation.
To cry out to God, with pain and doubt, “God, why did You allow this to happen? Why would You allow evil to flourish on this day?”
Hear the words of James again,
13 And remember, when you are being tempted, do not say, “God is tempting me.” God is never tempted to do wrong, and he never tempts anyone else.
These trials, these temptations to abandon God are not His work. These sins committed against us, as well as the sins we commit, are not His fault, nor His work.
They develop from our own desire, our inability to look past what benefits us and our own. It is easy to see in the violence of groups like ISIS, or the groups in our country who promote death as a solution to inconveniences like pregnancy or old age.
It is that same narcissism, that same self-centeredness that is at the heart of all sin. Whether it be envy, gossip, disobedience and disrespect to parents and authorities or the sexual sins, that seem to head often up such lists.
Sin is sin, whether in thought, word or deed, originates in the desire to serve ourselves, to put ourselves in God’s place. In order to get that which we think we would like, we would have to be in charge. Such is the nature of revenge, which Paul says in Romans 13 belongs to God alone. Desire to make our lives something, to value them, lies at the heart of all sin.
Sin, which takes hold of our life, and snuffs it out. Sin that suffocates us, destroying relationships, eventually crushing us and leaving us in hell.
So where does a lady find the strength to endure, to entrust not only her son to God, but to embrace his killers, with the hope they would see God’s love revealed to them?
Really? His Prized Possession?
it is trusting words like these, “16 So don’t be misled, my dear brothers and sisters. 17 Whatever is good and perfect is a gift coming down to us from God our Father, who created all the lights in the heavens. He never changes or casts a shifting shadow.
There is our key, understanding that what God does give us is good. Trusting Him to know what is perfect for us, not just for the moment, not just to satisfy a desire, but to give us far more than we could ever desire.
That uneducated Coptic lady, she was able to endure because she knew the good and perfect gift of God, something so incredible, she wanted it even for those who killed her son.
She trusted God, and the answer is how?
She knew His heart, His love, His mercy, from the gift He had given her, of His Son. The Son who would die that we could be born again in baptism. The Son, who was the Word of God made flesh and living with us. A God who comes to people, imperfect, sinful people and transforms them into saints.
Who would become His prized possession.
Think of that – out of all of creation, what God prizes most is His relationship with His people, you and I and those who died, and maybe, those who killed them, who were touched by the faith of martyrs, and those who respond with God’s love.
What an incredible miracle, what a blessing.
This message, like the series that follows, is all about the benefits of endurance. The benefit of endurance is not just our heavenly crowns that God has promised. The benefit of endurance is found in the only way we can find the way to endure.
In being found in Christ, in knowing His forgiving mercy, in knowing His love, in living in the peace of Christ that is yours…..
The benefit of endurance is found in our relationship with Him being revealed. For in Him we live and breath and endure…
- “Brother of slain Coptic Christians thanks ISIS for including …” ttp://christiantoday.com/article/brother.of.slain.coptic.christians.thanks.isis.for.including.their.words.of.faith.in.murder.video/48412.htm_br
Devotional thought of the day:
16 “And when you fast, do not put on a sad face as the hypocrites do. They neglect their appearance so that everyone will see that they are fasting. I assure you, they have already been paid in full. 17 When you go without food, wash your face and comb your hair, 18 so that others cannot know that you are fasting—only your Father, who is unseen, will know. And your Father, who sees what you do in private, will reward you. Matthew 6:16-18 (TEV)
3 The people ask, “Why should we fast if the LORD never notices? Why should we go without food if he pays no attention?” The LORD says to them, “The truth is that at the same time you fast, you pursue your own interests and oppress your workers. 4 Your fasting makes you violent, and you quarrel and fight. Do you think this kind of fasting will make me listen to your prayers? 5 When you fast, you make yourselves suffer; you bow your heads low like a blade of grass and spread out sackcloth and ashes to lie on. Is that what you call fasting? Do you think I will be pleased with that? Isaiah 58:3-5 (TEV)
765 Renew in your own soul the resolution that friend of ours made long ago: “Lord, what I want is suffering, not exhibitionism.” (1)
There is a trend that is growing more and more. The idea that those who are “persecuted” should be publicly defended, Sometimes that call for action is taken by the very people under persecution. Other times people attach themselves to the cause, urging others to join them. It is almost like people want other Christians to suffer, a sort of Christian version of Munchausen by Proxy, or even a Svengali syndrome. And sometimes, we can even bring it on ourselves, a masochistic attempt to gain fame or at least attention.
An example, the person who gets fired for using their position of authority to “spread the gospel”. Or the Christian who boasts of losing family and friends because of the Biblical position against adultery, or abortion, or homosexulaity.
Even the temptation of pointing our how richer, how much fun, how much sex we could have, how much better life would be, if we didn’t sacrifice our desires out of obedience or submission to Christ.
Jesus addresses that pretty clear in the New Testament. If you are voluntarily suffering, and it is because of your faith, then don’t let it show. If you are embracing that pain (ar some annoying stuff) then don’t make a public spectacle of it. we could project that out to those who want to make a Christian cause out of everything, because then they can be the hero.
All of this public suffering borders on exhibitionism, We (or the person/cause) we’ve hooked up with gains us acclaim, or pity, it projects a value or praise onto our life. We pursue, as Isaiah writes, our own interests, our own satisfaction? Our own recognition by others who declare us, “holy”.
Yet what if we endured it, sought true martyrdom even death, without a sense of need of people even knowing? What if our cause that never appeared in daylight was sacrificing time and money to help others out of poverty. What if our desire was not to hear man’s applause, but to hear God welcome us home? Our suffering should be God pleasing, whether a real form of martyrdom, or the self-sacrificial acts we embrace, loving others?
Can we empty ourselves, in this way? Even as Christ did?
I think we can do better at it, simply by looking to Christ, adoring Him, cherishing His work. Let me rephrase that – as we do those things, we are being transformed by the Holy Spirit! Then those crosses and burdens we bear? They don’t seem worth complaining about, or receiving praise for, simply because knowing Christ in those moments far supersedes any praise or attention gained in other places.
Escriva, Josemaria (2011-01-31). The Forge (Kindle Locations 2755-2756). Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition.
Devotional Thought of the Day:
8 It was then that some Babylonians took the opportunity to denounce the Jews. 9 They said to King Nebuchadnezzar, “May Your Majesty live forever! 10 Your Majesty has issued an order that as soon as the music starts, everyone is to bow down and worship the gold statue, 11 and that anyone who does not bow down and worship it is to be thrown into a blazing furnace. 12 There are some Jews whom you put in charge of the province of Babylon—Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego—who are disobeying Your Majesty’s orders. They do not worship your god or bow down to the statue you set up.” 13 At that, the king flew into a rage and ordered the three men to be brought before him. 14 He said to them, “Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, is it true that you refuse to worship my god and to bow down to the gold statue I have set up? 15 Now then, as soon as you hear the sound of the trumpets, oboes, lyres, zithers, harps, and all the other instruments, bow down and worship the statue. If you do not, you will immediately be thrown into a blazing furnace. Do you think there is any god who can save you?” 16 Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego answered, “Your Majesty, we will not try to defend ourselves. 17 If the God whom we serve is able to save us from the blazing furnace and from your power, then he will. 18 But even if he doesn’t, Your Majesty may be sure that we will not worship your god, and we will not bow down to the gold statue that you have set up.” Daniel 3:8-18 (TEV)
872 To help you keep your peace during those times of hard and unjust contradictions I used to say to you: “If they break our skulls, we shall not take it too seriously. We shall just have to put up with having them broken.” (1)
In my devotional this morning, the Old Testament reading was exactly what you see above.
My first reaction was, why stop it here?
Why not give us the rest of the story. (spoiler alert?) Why not just let us read on, to the glory, to the miracle of the 4th man? To the repentance of the community in its sins, not just to God, but to me!
I want the rest of the story! And I want it….. now!
I looked ahead – I don’t get the rest of the story tomorrow! What is up with that?
What is up with that is the words of faith that the three men said. They were sure of their trust in God enough to embrace the fact that the story might not end with a miracle, and somehow, they are okay with that. Somehow, knowing that God is at work is enough, being sure He will keep His promises is enough.
Many martyrs die without receiving what we would want, their release back into the world. Their freedom from those who would oppress, torture, and eventually kill them.
And they were able to endure, knowing something that their captors did not.
That God, by his very cHesed nature,the depth and height, the breadth and width of His love, is worthy of the trust that the three men showed. Even if He didn’t rescue them, even if they didn’t get the miracle they expected. They knew His love.
May we, as we think through the work of God accomplished in our Baptism, as we meditate on the Body and Blood of Christ, as we hear with absolute delight that our sins are forgiven, that all is made right, know God enough to trust Him, even if we don’t get the miracle we want……
For we have the one we need. The Cross. (see Romans 6:3-8)
He is our God.
(1) Escriva, Josemaria (2011-01-31). Furrow (Kindle Locations 3565-3567). Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition.
Discussion and Devotional THought of the Day:
10 Then I heard a loud voice in heaven saying, “Now God’s salvation has come! Now God has shown his power as King! Now his Messiah has shown his authority! For the one who stood before our God and accused believers day and night has been thrown out of heaven. 11 They won the victory over him by the blood of the Lamb and by the truth which they proclaimed; and they were willing to give up their lives and die. Revelation 12:10-11 (TEV)
21 But Ittai said to the king, “I vow by the LORD and by your own life that I will go wherever my lord the king goes, no matter what happens—whether it means life or death.” 2 Samuel 15:21 (NLT)
I’ve seen all over the Facebook and Twitter the Arabic letter Nain. Most are putting it up; they claim, in solidarity with the Christians in Mosul and Iraq who are facing persecution and reportedly are being martyred. The story goes that it is the letter that is being painted on the homes of Christians, to mark and identify them. It’s a handy little symbol and stands for “Nazarene.” People are free to harass, persecute and even kill those who live in those homes.
I haven’t seen necklaces and wristbands with the symbol on it yet, but I am pretty sure some entrepreneur will develop them soon.
It’s popular; it’s in vogue, it makes us somehow feel like we are doing something against the evil in their lands.
Most of us aren’t. We may change the photo on our FB. We might even donate an extra 10 or 20 bucks in the offering plate and designate it for relief. We might have heard them added to our prayers at church on Sunday, and said amen under our breath. (that assumes we were there, and heard the prayers)
But are we really willing to go to Iraq and stand beside them, and/or take their punishment? ( Sometime read the story of the martyrdom of Maximilian Kolbe – a catholic saint who did that very thing!) How far are we willing to take this fight?
And what fight is it? Is it a fight against injustice, the fight for making sure that no one ever suffers persecution. It’s a fight that no one ever has to faith death because of their faith?
Or is the fight something against something more insidious, something more evil, evil incarnate, the power of Satan. The power of the one who would accuse us of the sins we have committed and demand that we pay for each and everyone.
Revelation is clear on how that evil is defeated.
1. By remembering that Christ’s death, the shedding of His Blood cleanses, purifies and sanctifies us. That God declares us righteous and just because of that blood being shed.
2. By the words of our martyrdom, the words of our witness. It is interesting to note that martyrdom and witness are the same word in Greek. That we are so in awe of #1 that we have to share it with others, That God’s love and desire to save us transforms us into wanting others saved, even at great cost. For some that means they will dedicate their lives to serving wherever God wants, even if it means forgoing things the rest of us take for granted. Families, homes. jobs, personal pleasure. For others, it may mean their life.
For all of us, it means sacrificing the idol of self and pleasure. If we aren’t willing to do even that, can we say we stand in solidarity with those who
3. #1 and #2 lead to this – that we can’t love our life so much that we aren’t willing to sacrifice, or even portions of it (say a day off or a vacation, or even time with family) that others might know.
Paul talks of standing in solidarity, standing in communion, when he encourages the church to “imitate me, as I imitate Christ.” He does it again as he asks us to present our bodies as living sacrifices. Jesus’ words about those that would save their life must offer it up. In each, solidarity is not seen apart from martyrdom, In each we take up our cross, we willingly pay the price that others would know that God can be trusted, even through death
It goes deeper – for we are united with Christ’s martyrdom, with His witness, with His cross. There is where we find our salvation, our deliverance, in the fact that He didn’t cling to life, but gave up Himself, for us. You see that Nazarene died for us, even as some die for Him, even as we who live are living sacrifices to Him. Without His cross – without our unity to Him in it, our symbolism is void and worthless.
May we embrace whatever shame, whatever cost, whatever sacrifice is necessary, for the joy that was set before Him and before us.
Lord have mercy on us!
What’s So Special About the Gospel?
August 3rd, 2014
Romans 9: 1-5
Greetings to you in the name of our risen Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, our author and perfecter of our faith! Alleluia, amen!
What is so special about the Gospel?
What is so important about the Gospel that Paul says in verse 2 from our Epistle on Romans today that he would be willing to give up everything he has including his salvation and be willing to be forever cursed, that is cut off from Christ, if that would save them?
What is so important and who are the “them” that Paul is talking about?
His people; or who he calls his Jewish brothers and sisters. Jews, Hebrews, Israelites!
His people, the people of Israel chosen by God to be the Father’s adopted children.
But aren’t these Jews the same people who have flogged Paul with forty lashes minus one? Didn’t they beat him with rods? Didn’t they stone him and treat him like garbage?
With friends like that who needs enemies?
Well it was probably for good reason I’m sure. I’m sure Paul deserved what he got!
So what did he do that was so heinous?
Was he a drug dealer or a terrorist? Maybe he was a gang banger or a thug or thief or a burglar. One thing for sure is that he had gone from a prosecutor of Christians in the name of the Jews to an enemy of the Jews.
No, this all happened to Paul at the hands of the Jews because of his mouth.
He had gone from prosecuting to proclaiming.
Paul had these things happen because of the Gospel that he was proclaiming.
What is so important and so incredibly powerful to Paul that he would give up his own salvation so that his enemies who hated him and persecuted him would know and be saved?
What is so important to you?
Is it the Gospel of Christ? The Gospel which witnesses to Christ descending in the Incarnation and being born the savior of the world in a feeding trough? Is the Gospel of Jesus Christ that through Him sacrificing His own life atones for our sin on that old rugged cross?
Is it the witness of that blessed Easter Sunday of the true and living resurrection of our God?
Is it the power of the Gospel that frees us through Christ from our sin and calls us to baptism and where we die with Christ only to live in the resurrection eternally with Him?
Is it the Gospel of Christ given, witnessed and heard for all people even your enemies or people that you just don’t care for?
Like Paul are you willing to give up everything including your own salvation so that another might come to Christ and hear the call?
Or is only for you?
The Gospel is great as long as it meets in my wheelhouse or comfort zone. I believe in Jesus but I don’t want a messy Gospel or ministry!
Maybe your sincere intention is that you really want all people to believe and know Christ; but in a convenient, leave me alone sort of way. Let’s put up signs and keep it chained up and locked up and keep those in our lives we deem undesirable out of the way. Jesus would say and do this but I am no Jesus, yet we are called to be little Christs are we not?
All these ideas may That may seem logical and valid until you read what Paul wrote in verse 2 about his Jewish brothers and sisters when he wrote, “My heart is filled with bitter sorrow and unending grief.”
How do you render that? Paul ached for these people, his people to know the freedom of the Gospel and the relationship repaired that all God’s children share in that adoption into Him.
He was torn apart that even his very enemies who scorned and despised him and more importantly Jesus, didn’t know Christ and His free gift of reconciliation.
How did they not get it? These were the people of Israel, remember Israel? His name was Jacob but it was changed because he struggled with God. They were God’s people, descendents of Jacob or Israel. God had chosen them like He has chosen us to be His people. Israel, His adopted children and He has revealed His glory to them and us in the risen Christ.
He had and has given them and us the privilege of worshipping Him and living and living in and receiving His wonderful promises.
These enemies of Paul had it right there in front of them and they rejected it and even despised it. Isn’t that our M.O. every time we sin? Isn’t it right there in front of us? Yet we reject God all the time but still His heart desires us and His heart is filled with bitter grief and sorrow whenever someone rejects Him.
These enemies had it right there in front of them as Jesus walked among them but yet they rejected the cornerstone. As I hear Paul cry and suffer for these people I am reminded of Jesus doing the same. Jesus wanted nothing more than to gather these people and die and suffer for them and live for them so that they would live but no…yet even on the cross he forgave them.
But weren’t they his enemies? Weren’t they enemies of God who rejected Christ.
Wait a minute, weren’t we enemies of God? Do we really deserve to be saved and adopted into Him? If God does this saving work through His Son and willingly gives Him up to die for His enemies, what does that say to you and I and our enemies or those we struggle and have difficult times with?
In the eyes of the world, Paul should just cut his losses and run, shake off his sandals and go.
But the power of the Gospel wouldn’t and won’t do that. The promises that God gives to Paul and to us through the Holy Spirit will not give up on us or anybody else even to people who are trying to do us harm whether it is by thought, word and deed and even people we want to harm in thought, word and deed.
The Gospel of Jesus Christ transcends our human feebleness and frailty and our sinfulness and like last week’s parable seeks to catch us like a net.
What is so important about the Gospel that it crosses lines and dividers and smashes down walls, breaking chains and unlocking doors and ripping signs down? How does it make enemies become brothers in Christ? Not by anything or the work of you and i! It is the message of Christ Himself, the very Son of God who takes our sin and God’s wrath and heaps it all upon His shoulders so that you and I through the Holy Spirit may share in His joy and His peace as brothers in sisters of the cross.
It is the Gospel of Christ that wades through all the garbage and all the junk that Satan tries to use to pull us from God in our lives outside of church and even in the church. Boil it all down and what does it come out to? It has to be about Christ.
If it is about Christ then it is about life not death, life in Him for eternity, even eternal life with people that we may not enjoy or get along with so much. You have been called by God to be His. Through the Gospel we have been given a relationship with the Father of confidence in hope as we trust in faith, a faith given freely through Christ to all those who proclaim Him.
Paul knew why the Gospel was and is so important and what they were missing. It was so crucial that he would even give up his salvation so they would know it in every fiber of their being.
So that it would affect and circumcise their very hearts and they would be washed and made new creations. So that they could live in the perfect promises of the Trinity.
He was so sure of the Gospel that he would stake his salvation so that others would have the same thing on it.
Would God take his salvation from him? No. God will never take our salvation away. He will never deny us the forgiveness of sins and our faith.
Your salvation has been freely given through Christ and for God to take it away would make His promises deceitful and untrue and not faithful to His people.
The point is Paul through being convicted and called by the Holy Spirit knew how important the Gospel of Christ was and is. He knew that it is a life restorer and saver and he knew tht this free gift of mercy, love and grace was given through Christ on the cross.
Do we? Do we really understand not from our heads, but from our hearts and would that change us and would it change how we see the world, our lives and our church?
Would we be filled with bitter grief and sorrow over those who don’t know the life saving Gospel of Christ and complete joy when ones proclaims and confesses Christ?
It might get messy and yucky. It might even get uncomfortable. It may cause us to suffer and It may even cost us our lives.
But that’s ok because we live through Christ in the power and the glory of the Gospel and through that we are the body of Christ called in baptism and united in Him who suffered and gave His life. It was messy and it was uncomfortable and it was God’s love for you and I.
What is so important and special that the Gospel would unite enemies together?
Jesus Christ given and shed for you and for all.
Discussion and Devotional THought of the Day:
13 When Joshua was near the town of Jericho, he looked up and saw a man standing in front of him with sword in hand. Joshua went up to him and demanded, “Are you friend or foe?” 14 “Neither one,” he replied. “I am the commander of the LORD’s army.” At this, Joshua fell with his face to the ground in reverence. “I am at your command,” Joshua said. “What do you want your servant to do?” 15 The commander of the LORD’s army replied, “Take off your sandals, for the place where you are standing is holy.” And Joshua did as he was told. Joshua 5:13-15 (NLT)
759 You complain that he shows you no understanding. I am certain he does as much as he can to try to understand you. But what about you? When will you make a bit of an effort to understand him? (1)
It is getting near that time of year when men pray more consistently on Sundays. They thank God more often, they pray too him more deeply, the acknowledge His presence and ask His blessings (and quote all the passages about cursing and defeating their enemies…)
Well, those men who are football fans, and those who are fanatics.
I wonder if God ever tires of those prayers, if he ever gets tired of the rivalries that He is included in by prayer? As if God really had a favorite football team, as if he really has a favorite team or a favorite player, or even a favorite sport?
I think of Joshua’s words above – he wanted to be sure this soldier was on his side…… and that was even before he knew the Soldier was Christ Jesus.
Whose side are you on?
Which football team is favored by God? Neither.
With that out of the way – let’s get on to what is important. I am here.. you are here, therefore this is Holy Ground.
The purpose of God isn’t to have this team or that team win, or even this nation or that nation be the dominant power. People will get mad at me, but it is not whether the Ukraine or Russia prevails, whether ISIS is in power in Iraq, or some other group. Or who is guiltier in the war between Hamas and Israel.
Even if those who oppose God are “victorious”, or seem to be, that doesn’t mean God is not working in their lives. That is why God raised up Nineveh, why Jeremiah 29:7 talks about praying for oppressors, why Jesus commands us to love our enemies and pray for those who persecute us.
Do we understand people enough to see their need for God in their lives? Do we see that we, as His people, as to be beacons, to bring light into their darkness?
Those steps are needed, but first we desperately need to know that we are in the presence of God. That it is not our agenda, or even our nation’s agenda that is important. There is only one agenda, there is only one will that matters. God’s.
It is His – that none should perish – but that all wold come to repentance, as St Peter instructs. Raider fans, Bills fans, Broncos Fans, even Patriots fans. Russians, Ukrainians, Iraqi’s of every ethnicity and culture, Palestinians, those in Hamas, even the Israeli’s.
That they would come to know they live in God’s presence, that the Holy Spirit would replace their hearts of stone with hearts of flesh, that they would have the breath of God, the Holy Spirit, give them life.
That is why Joshua would meet the pre-incarnate Christ, it is why Israel was loved, and protected, SO that we could heed the words of King David in the second Psalm,
Kiss the Son, lest He be angry, And you perish in the way, When His wrath is kindled but a little. Blessed are all those who put their trust in Him. Psalm 2:11-12 (NKJV)
Lord have mercy on us!
Escriva, Josemaria (2011-01-31). Furrow (Kindle Locations 3155-3157). Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition.
Discussion and Devotional Thought of the Day:
6 When reports come in of wars and rumored wars, keep your head and don’t panic. This is routine history; this is no sign of the end. 7 Nation will fight nation and ruler fight ruler, over and over. Famines and earthquakes will occur in various places. Matthew 24:6-7 (MSG)
54 As the members of the Council listened to Stephen, they became furious and ground their teeth at him in anger. 55 But Stephen, full of the Holy Spirit, looked up to heaven and saw God’s glory and Jesus standing at the right side of God. 56 “Look!” he said. “I see heaven opened and the Son of Man standing at the right side of God!” 57 With a loud cry the Council members covered their ears with their hands. Then they all rushed at him at once, 58 threw him out of the city, and stoned him. The witnesses left their cloaks in the care of a young man named Saul. 59 They kept on stoning Stephen as he called out to the Lord, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit!” 60 He knelt down and cried out in a loud voice, “Lord! Do not remember this sin against them!” He said this and died. Acts 7:54-60 (TEV)
Yesterday was a hard day for so many around the world, and many closer to me.
There were the stories that made the news, the Malaysian plane shot down, the conflict in Israel, the conflicts in Sudan and Nigeria.
There are the other stories as well, that will not make the news, My friend whose memory is failing him. The family of a lady I visited in the hospital, whose heart is beating…yet whose body is shutting down, leaving her family without the one they count on for strength. There are parents whose children are facing procedures to could reveal the possibility of a lifetime of pain,
And yes, there are the martyrs like St. Stephen, and St Paul. Men whose faith is testified to, even by their enemies. Men of peace, who would give people the hope found in trusting Christ.
Which brings about a question, how do we survive the evil we encounter in the world? How do we cope with news that shatters hearts, that could shatter our faith? That could make us cuss and scream and yell at God. How can we imitate the faith of those who the Letter to the Hebrews describes,
33 By faith these people overthrew kingdoms, ruled with justice, and received what God had promised them. They shut the mouths of lions, 34 quenched the flames of fire, and escaped death by the edge of the sword. Their weakness was turned to strength. They became strong in battle and put whole armies to flight. 35 Women received their loved ones back again from death. But others were tortured, refusing to turn from God in order to be set free. They placed their hope in a better life after the resurrection. 36 Some were jeered at, and their backs were cut open with whips. Others were chained in prisons. 37 Some died by stoning, some were sawed in half, and others were killed with the sword. Some went about wearing skins of sheep and goats, destitute and oppressed and mistreated. 38 They were too good for this world, wandering over deserts and mountains, hiding in caves and holes in the ground. Hebrews 11:33-38 (NLT)
As a pastor, as someone who has served as a chaplain in jails, hospitals and with a hospice and homecare medical group, I’ve seen people do survive in such hard times, and not only endure, but be a blessing to those around them. Do they have some secret? No, save that they know Christ They know Him so well, they realize His promises.
They walk with Him,
We can even see them go through the stages of grief
Abraham bargained with God, even as he realized the evil of Sodom and Gommorah
Jeremiah was angry with God, even accused God of deceiving him, because of the ministry to His people.
Jonah deal with depression over God’s work to save people he didn’t like or trust
Job’s friends were awesome at encouraging denial of the truth,
just because we trust in God doesn’t mean we avoid evil – that we avoid the horrible days… but it means we move with Him through them. Guarded by Him, comforted by them, knowing His promises will be fulfilled.
For as they moved through the valleys of the shadows of darkness (evil) they learned not to fear, for God was there… and He will be with us.
That is how we deal with God and the problem of evil.. with the problem that things are wrong, messed up, screwed up, painful.
We look to Jesus, the author and One who perfects our trust in God.