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Missional Thought: We have to control our reactions.

The Good Shepherd, carrying His own.

Devotional Thought of the Day:

“There were two men who owed money to a moneylender,” Jesus began. “One owed him five hundred silver coins, and the other owed him fifty. 42 Neither of them could pay him back, so he canceled the debts of both. Which one, then, will love him more?”
43 “I suppose,” answered Simon, “that it would be the one who was forgiven more.”
Luke 7:41-43 GNT

630         Forget about yourself… May your ambition be to live for your brothers alone, for souls, for the Church; in one word, for God.

I looked at the comments to a video last night and was immediately depressed. Not because of the bad news the Cardinal was sharing, an announcement that seven schools were closing. Rather what depressed me was the self-righteous commentators who condemned the Cardinal.

Lots of them, expressing their….hatred of the cardinal, blaming him for a multitude of sins that caused the schools to close.

I think back a week, and the hostility geared to New York’s governor, and the week before that, to a teenager in Washington, D.C. I can think of other situations I’ve been in, where the same attitude occurs.

None of these were calls to repentance, none of them were direct communication with the person (as per Matthew 18). None of them showed any concern for the person they publicly tried, found guilty, and condemned. (Do we eve believe any more than condemning them is condemning them to hell for eternity?) What people were doing was playing God, for only He can condemn people, and that is the thing furthest from His desire.

In the gospel reading, a young Pharisee is trying to make sense out of Jesus, He did well, inviting Jesus to share a meal. But then, faced with an unwanted guest, he questions why Jesus would allow her to make contact with Him.

Jesus calmy asks the question, who will be more grateful.

Next time you go to condemn someone, next time someone’s actions or words cause you to respond with great emotion, consider that question.

How grateful are you, that Jesus washes you clean of YOUR sin.

Having gained that perspective, you have also set aside the perspective that you are the judge that sits at God’s right hand. You humbly set aside that reaction and set your sites on the person’s best interest. You learn to desire that they find the same peace that you have, rather than desiring to see them in hell. You begin to desire that they come ot know the joy of being forgiven, the awe at finding mercy.

That change in your reaction and sets aside emotions that would drive your reaction. It turns hatred into love, it transforms your sin into holiness, and even if the target of your rage doesn’t see it, others will…

and they will join you, captivated by the way you reflect the love of God.

So if you are talking about having a pure faith, or being missional, or taking your apostolate seriously, my suggestion is this, remember how you have been given forgiveness… and rejoice, for God is giving you the opportunity to share that daily.




Escriva, Josemaria. Furrow (Kindle Locations 2659-2660). Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition.

The Secret to a Blessed, Peace-filled New Year!

God, who am I?

Devotional Thoughts to start the year:

12  How can I know all the sins lurking in my heart? Cleanse me from these hidden faults. 13  Keep your servant from deliberate sins! Don’t let them control me. Then I will be free of guilt and innocent of great sin. 14  May the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be pleasing to you, O LORD, my rock and my redeemer. Psalm 19:12-14 (NLT2)

If God’s conversational walk with us makes us think we are people of great importance, his guidance will certainly be withdrawn. For we cannot be trusted with it. In the kingdom of God, those who exalt themselves will be abased, and pride comes before a fall. If God speaks to us, he does so to help us become a part of what he is doing in the world to care for and guide others

We lack the simplicity that would enable us to stammer “Abba”. In fact, there is, in us, a resistance to saying “Father” that springs from our longing to come of age. The Father no longer seems to us, as he did to Saint Paul, the guarantor of our freedom, but rather the opposite. What we want is a partner; “father” is too suggestive of “authority”. We are like the younger son who claims his inheritance and no longer wants a father, but only a future that he creates for himself

The Year of our Lord, 2018 is finally over. It was, in so many ways, a tiring, draining, traumatic year.

You might call it the “year of faith” because so many things occured that all that is left, is to depend on God. A lot of people lost people close to them, a mother, a brother, a good friend, a husband. Others had to deal with their sin, no longer able to hide it. People struggled in their marriages, in their workplaces, with their health.

And God was there, crying with us, laughing with us, reminding us that we aren’t equal partners with God, but His people, those His covenant promises bless, because we need it.

Even as the psalmist points out, someo of our sin is unkown to us, yet it affects us greatly. We can’t see it, because sometimes we are too self-centered, and our very focus on ourselves becomes our sin. Sometimes we don’t see it, because we’ve convinced ourselves it isn’t really sin, just a weakness, or perhaps the way God made us.

There is also the sin we know about, that we deliberately commit. As God’s children we can ask HIm to free us from them, To break the bondage of those sins over us, as was done when they were nailed to the cross.

This is how we need to start the year, even as we ended it, depending on God, trusting Him to do what is good and right and necessary to help us live in His peace.

And so, the prayer of the pastor/priest before we beging to preach needs to be our prayer this morning, as our lives begin to preach in this new year.

May the words of my mouth, and the meditation of my heart be pleasing to You, YHWH, my ROCK and my REDEEMER! AMEN!

Willard, D., & Johnson, J. (2015). Hearing god through the year: a 365-day devotional. Westmont, IL: IVP Books.

Ratzinger, J. (1992). Co-Workers of the Truth: Meditations for Every Day of the Year. (I. Grassl, Ed., M. F. McCarthy & L. Krauth, Trans.) (p. 9). San Francisco: Ignatius Press.


What did He teach them?

Devotional Thought of the Day:

34† When Jesus got out of the boat, he saw this large crowd, and his heart was filled with pity for them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd. So he began to teach them many things. Mark 6:34 GNT

404         The good shepherd does not need to fill the sheep with fear. Such behaviour befits bad rulers, and no one is very much surprised if they end up hated and alone.

Over the years I have worked with a few churches looking for a new pastor, and I still do. I’ve also worked with pastors and those studying for the ministry, enough that these two passages resonate with me. They help explain this wonderful world of pastor and people.

They also describe the needed component, that changes a preacher/lecturer in “their pastor”. It is seen as Jesus gets out of the boat, as He looks at the crowd, and His heart aches for them. I believe it aches because these people are so hungry for help, they are so in need, so desperate for hope, so directionless.

They need a shepherd, and they find one in Jesus, and they find the promise seen in the twelve, that God will provide that Spiritiual guide, even as God is developing them, in their midst.

But the reason they need shepherds is because they don’t have them! Those entrusted with the task were experts in the law, in making sure Israel didn’t do the things that they thought would lead to God’s wrath. They wanted to protect their people by instilling in them a sense of judgment, a sense of fear.

The shepherd doesn’t instell a sense of fear in his people, rather, he fears for them, for what will happen if they don’t experience the love of God, if they don’t have the knowledge of God’s love and mercy, if they don’t understand the relationship God wants with them is based on His love for them, not their fear of Him.

Jesus sits the people down, He teaches them, He feeds them, He makes God’s love for them real and tangible. He meets the needs of their souls.

For pastors, this is your calling, it is why you were given the responsibility of word and sacrament ministry. It is why you are entrusted with the means of grace. It is why you are given a heart that resounds with Christ’s love for His people, as you are given a portion to care for.

For people, let your pastors in, allow them to minister to your soul. Allow them to see your hunger, your needs, your brokenness, and trust them to bring healing there, Christ’s healing. Make their job worth the sacrifices and suffering your brokenness demands of them.

You are in this together, the compassionate shepherds, and the people that need them. For you dwell together, in the mercy of Jesus. AMEN!


Escriva, Josemaria. Furrow (Kindle Locations 1821-1823). Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition.

Faith in Action is Active in Christ (The Faith in Action Finale) A sermon on Jude 20-25

The Church Service!

Faith in Action: is Active…. In Christ.
Jude 20-25

In Jesus Name

May the grace, the incredible mercy and peace that your gift from God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ, so bring about your healing, that you find ways to help heal and build up others. AMEN!

Faith in Action…

Since September 9th, we’ve been talking about what Faith in Action looks like.  We’ve talked about because our Faith must be in action, people can see that faith, that for faith to be in action it has to be drawn close to Jesus, and that it has to be in dialogue.  We then talked about how faith in action has to set apart our perception of reality and soak in God’s reality, that it is patient, making sure of every step.  Faith in action learns to be content.  We ended up talking about the idea that Faith in Action can occur because it is a blessing from God and enables us to adore Him and others, and Bob talked last week about how this is possible because we can boldly enter God’s presence.

Which leads us to this week, the final week of the church year, the week we celebrate God’s victory over sin, and consider how we live, knowing He is returning for us.

For as our reading from Hebrews this morning reminds us, we “await the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ, who will bring you eternal life” and who is able to keep you from falling away and will bring you with great joy into his glorious presence without a single fault!”

Faith in Action is Active in Christ because He makes us alive, and gives a future and a hope with Him. A hope that we can… (not that we need to) reinforce in everyone, building each other up, especially those that are broken, wavering and need to be “snatched from the flames of judgment.”

For that is how “faith in action” is active.  It is active as we build each other up, and minister to each other, healing them even as we are being healed in Christ Jesus.

The Evidence of Faith in Action

You have often heard me use the word cHesed, that incredible Old Testament word, that is equally defined as either love, or mercy, or as the loving-kindness of God.

The evidence of Faith in Action, it’s activity, is summed up in that word.

Look at the things we are called to do,

To build up each other in our most holy faith.  In less “churchy” words, to help each other be completely at home trusting and depending on God.  A trust that is tied, not just to God’s presence and active help In this life, but to our eternal life.

To help each other be “at home” in their faith, to build up this household of faith requires that cHesed, that incredible blend of love and mercy.  To know when to comfort, to understand each other’s need to see God’s grace revealed in our lives. To know that God welcomes us into His home, and we become an integral part of it.

Even when we struggle, or as Jude says, wavering.  Again, our faith in action is active when we see someone who is struggling to make sense of this world, their place in it, and why God would care about someone like them. That is when we all work together, encouraging them, comforting them, helping them to know that God loves them, that He is working in their life.

We each need this kind of support at times and need it desperately at that.  Because our lives can become so dark, so hopeless, that what we know is wrong seems to be like our only lifeline, our only option for comfort.  That’s how sometimes we get sucked into alcohol, or drugs, how others rely on comfort food or get absorbed into a television game, or video games.

And to help each other through these times of wavering requires us to love them more than we love ourselves.  It might take our sacrificing our time, our preferences, even our sleep as we spend the night interceding in prayer.

This is our faith in action, it is how it is active in Christ, even to the point of our saving someone by snatching them from the flames of judgment.  That seems colorful in its phrasing, but it is dead on accurate.  Our Faith in Action can and does save people from hell, not because of us, but because they see God working through us.

The need for caution

In the midst of this, in the midst of focusing us on Christ’s return, Jude talks about showing mercy this way.

Show mercy to still others, but do so with great caution, hating the sins that contaminate their lives.

I love how Jude describes sin here…. As something that contaminates our lives.  As something that just infuses its way into our lives, so deeply that we sometimes mistake sin as the identity of the one who sinned. It is too easy to take one of two choices.  The first being that because they are inseparable from the sin, it is okay with God.  The second is that because they have sinned so grievously, that there is nothing that can be done to call them back.

Jude tells us here, that sin is something different, a contaminant that oozes its way in, that spoils a person, but that our carefully showing God’s mercy to them will eradicate the contamination.  To use Bob’s word last week, we need to see that sin annulled, to see the mercy poured out so that the sin is forgotten by God because Justice was served.

We do this, by depending on what happened at the cross. Paul describes it this way

24  Those who belong to Christ Jesus have nailed the passions and desires of their sinful nature to his cross and crucified them there.
Galatians 5:24(NLT2)

We need to show mercy to those in this process, understanding how hard it is to be rid of the stain of sin.  Mercy meaning, we are there for them, pointing them to the promise of God’s grace. We help them realize God is calling them, not to heal themselves, but to trust in God’s work removing the stain of sin. Helping them realize it was annulled, that in God’s eyes, He has cleansed them of it so completely that it didn’t exist.

He has called them into a life of repentance, even as He has called us. All of us.

Which is again why this promise is where we end this series<

Now all glory to God, who is able to keep you from falling away and will bring you with great joy into his glorious presence without a single fault. 25 All glory to him who alone is God, our Savior through Jesus Christ our Lord.

AMEN!

 

An Overwhelming, Overlooked Verse in Genesis

photoDevotional Thought for the Day:

Seth had a son whom he named Enosh. It was then that people began using the LORD’s holy name in worship.  Genesis 4:26 TEV

To speak about “heaven”, therefore, does not mean to lapse into rapturous fantasy but rather to learn to know more deeply that hidden presence that lets us truly live and that we continually allow to be masked and withdrawn from us by whatever is in the foreground of our awareness. Heaven, consequently, is above all christological. It is not an extra-historical place “into which” we go. The very existence of “heaven” depends on the fact that Jesus Christ, as God, is man and has given human existence a place in the existence of God himself

“The Church originates, and has her continuing existence, in the Lord’s communicating himself to men, entering into communion with them, and thus bringing them into communion with one another. The Church is the Lord’s communion with us, which at the same time brings about the true communication of men with one another.”

It is an odd comment, sitting there at the end of chapter 4 of the first book of the Bible.

They began to worship him using the Lord’s Holy name….

They are talking about the name YHWH, or as it can be translated, “I AM”

It is a name that is amazing, even in its simplicity.  And for Seth and Enosh, it is a profound thing, once that doesn’t have a further explanation because.. well, how do you explain it?  It is too overwhelming.

God, who was betrayed by Seth’s parents, so much they were kicked out of Eden.  Betrayed by one brother as he killed his other brother in a rage of jealousy, this God still cares for and provides for people. 

“here is my name, YHWH, use it to call out to me.  

God wants us to identify Him, not just as GOd, not just as the Divine, not just as Master or Lord (which is why I hate the tendency to translate YHWH as LORD) but to reach out and call Him by name.  He wants us to call out with an intimate form of address, He wants that relationship with us.

We have to understand this, that Christ’s mission was not just to cleanse us from sin, but the purpose was to draw us into communion with God the Father, the Son and the Hoy Spirit.  That Jesus’s work was to draw human existence into the existence of YHWH, into existence in God.

As Paul taught the Athenians, 

27  “His purpose was for the nations to seek after God and perhaps feel their way toward him and find him—though he is not far from any one of us. 28  For in him we live and move and exist. As some of your own poets have said, ‘We are his offspring.’ Acts 17:27-28 (NLT2)

This is what it all boils down to, a God who would come to us, with the express desire of having a relationship with us.  YHWH, whose wisdom we should realize is so incredible, and in relationship with Him, we realize that His best interests are guided by that wisdom. That’s why we hear and walk with Him. (Obey is simply  to hear in both Greek and Hebrew)

They began to worship Him, using His holy, precious, intimate name….

I pray you and I do the same today, and all this week.

Question to discuss:

What is hard about talking to God by His name?

 

 

 

 

Ratzinger, J. (1992). Co-Workers of the Truth: Meditations for Every Day of the Year. (I. Grassl, Ed., M. F. McCarthy & L. Krauth, Trans.) (p. 351). San Francisco: Ignatius Press.

Ratzinger, J. (2003). God is Near Us: The Eucharist, the Heart of Life. (S. O. Horn & V. Pfnür, Eds., H. Taylor, Trans.) (p. 7). San Francisco: Ignatius Press.

I Have A Dream…or is it my prayer?

ST MARY OF PEACEDevotional Thought of the Day:

God’s love was revealed among us in this way: y God sent z His •One and Only Son into the world so that we might live through Him. 10 Love consists in this: not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation e for our sins. 11 Dear friends, if God loved us in this way, we also must love one another. 1 John 4:9-11 HCSB

197         Don’t tell me that you care for your interior life, if you are not carrying out an intense and ceaseless apostolate. The Lord— whom you assure me you are close to— wishes all men to be saved.

A few decades ago, a preacher stood up and had a dream, a very valid dream where racism didn’t exist, where quotas and systems didn’t have a place, because diversity was natural, and celebrated.  A great dream.

My dream is somewhat different, somewhat more specific. Yet with the same thought, a reconciliation so pure that we don’t remember the damage. It has been a growing desire, this dream of mine, you might even call it a prayer. (though my mind would consider winning the lottery more likely….I would rather this dream come true over winning the lottery.)

it takes place in a small quiet sanctuary, without the reporters, without the news commentators, and without FB and Twitter going crazy. Only three people would know the meeting ever took place.  A pastor/priest, Judge Kavanaugh, and Dr. Ford.  And of course, the only One who could make this happen.

God.

As they gather together, the love of God would cause the positioning to drop away, the perceptions and the individual realities would be swept away, and the sin, whatever sin there is, would be covered.  Not covered up, but covered by the blood of Christ.

Healing would happen, as they are absolved by the Authority who can wash away sin. And with the sin, the anger, the hurt, the resentment begins to find healing

Because God loves them both, He ministers through the pastor/priests words to them both.  And the love of God transforms them both. So much so that they both realize all the sin in the room is so washed away, it doesn’t even come to mind anymore.

All there is is love. The love of God poured out on them, reflected from them to each other.

The world doesn’t have to know about it, just the two, and the priest/pastor sworn to secrecy.

Yet, the love that can unify those broken has its effect, and the world, ignorant of the scene, begins to change, as the most powerful thing in the world takes a hold of people, and reconciles them, even as it will draw others to reconcile.

This is my dream, and more it is my prayer. That the ministry of reconciliation become the dominant ministry once again, as we realize that love is not a human emotion, but the power of God at work in us.

Lord, this day, help us to see the power of your love at work in us, as we find ourselves being reconciled to those we were once divided from…  AMEN!

The question of the day.
If you knew reconciliation and healing was possible for the most broken relationship you have, what would stop you from seeking it?

 

Escriva, Josemaria. Furrow (Kindle Locations 1031-1033). Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition.

Walk this way…

photo(35)

The Good Shepherd, carrying His own.

Devotional Thought of the Day:
21 For you were called to this, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you should follow o in His steps. 22 He did not commit sin, and no deceit was found in His mouth;  23 when He was reviled, He did not revile in return; when He was suffering, He did not threaten but entrusted Himself to the One who judges justly.  24 He Himself bore our sins in His body on the tree, so that, having died to sins, we might live for righteousness; you have been healed by His wounds. 25 For you were like sheep going astray, but you have now returned to the Shepherd and Guardian of your souls.  1 Peter 2:21-25  HCSB

189         The way Jesus called the first twelve could not have been simpler: “Come and follow me.” Since you are always looking for excuses not to keep on with your task, there is one consideration that fits you like a glove: the human knowledge of those first apostles was very poor, and yet what an impact they made on those who listened to them! Never forget this: it is He who continues to do the work through each one of us.

I remember a couple of decades ago when everyone started wearing “WWJD” merchandise.  Not many knew that the question was part of a fairly popular novel of the previous century.  In His Steps is a fascinating book, the story of a pastor and a church that tried to dedicate itself to asking what Jesus would do, if He made the decisions that they were faced with, every day in life.

It’s a good book, one in which the struggles of living a Christian life are seen in how we use our time, our talents, our influence, even the pains in our lives.

I might not agree with every decision, but the exercise is not a bad one.

The passage the story wraps around is the one above, from 1 Peter, urging us to walk in His steps, urging us to be as holy as Jesus was holy, as focused on doing what is right as Jesus is.

Or at least that is how following in His steps is portrayed.

The passage goes on to describe how Jesus lived, how He calls us to follow Him in that lifestyle.  An example that is pertinent today, He did not revile in return when He was reviled.  That is a pretty hard standard to live up against, as we so blatantly see in our world today.

If this is just giving us a list of standards we are to meet, if we expect our lives to simply be clones of Jesus, we will fail.  Just as the apostles, who were invited to follow Jesus also fell, often.

Following in HIs steps is more than just putting one foot in front of the other, It requires our focus be on Him, and How He lives.  It is about hearing His voice, about heeding the encouragement He gives to us. It is about letting the Spirit form us into His image. This isn’t tracking steps outlined in the sand 2000 years ago, or even last week.  It is about letting Him lead us, here and now.

Look to Jesus, the author and one who brings about maturity as you depend on Him.  Look to Jesus, and let the Spirit transform you as you reflect His glory.  He moves, move with Him, for He is the guardian and shepherd/guide of your souls.

The Lord is with you!

 

Escriva, Josemaria. Furrow (Kindle Locations 1004-1008). Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition.

Is he evil incarnate or an angel or?

clydes-cross-2Devotional Thought of the Day

 24  Here is another story Jesus told: “The Kingdom of Heaven is like a farmer who planted good seed in his field. 25  But that night as the workers slept, his enemy came and planted weeds among the wheat, then slipped away. 26  When the crop began to grow and produce grain, the weeds also grew. 27  “The farmer’s workers went to him and said, ‘Sir, the field where you planted that good seed is full of weeds! Where did they come from?’ 28  “‘An enemy has done this!’ the farmer exclaimed. “‘Should we pull out the weeds?’ they asked. 29  “‘No,’ he replied, ‘you’ll uproot the wheat if you do. 30  Let both grow together until the harvest. Then I will tell the harvesters to sort out the weeds, tie them into bundles, and burn them, and to put the wheat in the barn.’” Matthew 13:24-30 (NLT2)

16  So we have stopped evaluating others from a human point of view. At one time we thought of Christ merely from a human point of view. How differently we know him now! 17  This means that anyone who belongs to Christ has become a new person. The old life is gone; a new life has begun! 2 Corinthians 5:16-17 (NLT2)

We believe, teach, and confess that there is a distinction between man’s nature and original sin, not only in the beginning when God created man pure and holy and without sin, but also as we now have our nature after the Fall. Even after the fall our nature is and remains a creature of God. The distinction between our nature and original sin is as great as the difference between God’s work and the devil’s work.
3 2. We also believe, teach, and confess that we must preserve this distinction most diligently, because the view that admits no distinction between our corrupted human nature and original sin militates against and cannot co-exist with the chief articles of our Christian faith, namely, creation, redemption, sanctification, and the resurrection of our flesh.
4 God not only created the body and soul of Adam and Eve before the Fall, but also our bodies and souls after the Fall, even though they are corrupted, and God still acknowledges them as his handiwork, as it is written, “Thy hands fashioned and made me, all that I am round about” (Job 10:8).

It seems like we either want to anoint people as angels or condemn them as demons.  We want to be able to accurately pick out which are sons of Satan, and which are children of God.

We want to separate the wheat from the weeds, we want to declare that not only are the reformed theologians correct when they say people are predestined to heaven, and therefore others are predestined to hell but that we somehow know which is which. Somehow we think in our baptism we were all given the spiritual gift of discernment, that enables us to see into people’s hearts and souls, and determine who is saved, and who is not.

Then we can declare this person is a good person, and that person is the purest evil.  People we don’t even know, but that we judge from thousands of miles away.  People we’ve never talked to, that we’ve only seen in the news, or mentioned on Twitter.

What we aren’t allowing for, in these judgments, is the work of God, and we deny the grace which is extended to all, including us.  We deem what God desires to be impossible, and then for others, which sins we willing overlook, as automatic.  By automatic, I mean we judge the heart based on works we see and assume the person is righteous.

In either case, what we’ve done is stopped seeing the need for praying for them.  If we think they are saved, we think that prayer redundant.  If we think they are condemned, there is no need to ray, as their fate is already determined.   If they are close, not only do we stop praying for them, we may stop telling them about God. We might give up on the power of God to transform them, just as we need Him to transform us.  Eventually, this leads to complacency affects our own walk with God.

This thinking about people, the Lutheran Confessions brought out in my reading this morning, is counter to our theology.  FOr we should see in even the most notorious of sinners the handiwork of God’s creation.  It may be marred by sin, it may be broken, but it is not, in this lifetime, marred so much so it is beyond recognition. They are still God’s creation, they are still His children.  AMEN!

We are not our sin, and our weakness to temptation does not define us.  Or the person next door, or the person being lambasted or praised on FB or Twitter or SnapChat or the nightly news. That sin and sin nature is removed by Christ so completely that it proves it was never meant to be us, or how we are defined.

We are new, we are complete.  What God does in us, can be done in others. What we pray to happen in their lives, we testify can and is happening in ours.   This is our hope for everyone, near or far, friend or enemy, family member, and ourselves.

That all would come to experience the love of God.

So next time you are tempted to say someone is pure evil or pure good, remember the impact that makes on you….

God’s peace.

Tappert, T. G. (Ed.). (1959). The Book of Concord the confessions of the Evangelical Lutheran Church. (p. 466). Philadelphia: Mühlenberg Press.

Independence or Isolation? We need ot be careful which we choose.

Devotional Thought of the Day:

1 I lift my eyes to You,  the One enthroned in heaven. 2 Like a servant’s eyes on his master’s hand, like a servant girl’s eyes on her mistress’s hand, so our eyes are on the LORD our God until He shows us favor.    Ps. 123:1-2 HCSB

Many men and women are experiencing more and more today serious lowliness and neglect as a result of their excessive zeal for autonomy which they inherited from modernity. But mostly they have lost the support of something that transcends them.

For the last day or two, pictures from last summer remind me of my favorite place on earth.  It is a quiet place, and even in the midst of the summer Deer Cove on Lake Ossipee was quiet, tranquil, a great place to walk, enjoy God’s creation and peace.

I miss it, this idyllic, beautiful peaceful place. 

When life is stressful and overwhelming, when I am dealing with people in great trauma, I long to find the autonomy, the independence of such a place. 

Yet I hear Pope Francis’s words this morning and I know my desire to be introverted, independent, emotionally off-the-grid is a trap.  What I would be choosing is isolation, not freedom.  What I think is an escape is a sentence, a form of suffering I could not bear.

We choose, far too often the very thing prison wardens do to those who will not live by the rules.  We dwell in that place that makes memory stealing diseases like Alzheimer’s and dementia so frightening. 

Complete Isolation. 

Complete Autonomy

Complete Loneliness. 

While a good deal of our stress comes from others, so should the support that comes from the people of God.  So does the reminder from others that I need to hear, that the Lord is with me. (and also with them!)  We were made to live in community. 

But that community starts in the presence of God,  Where love and mercy are the greatest of gifts, the purest grace.  (this is a necessity, otherwise, our sin and brokenness can make the community a nightmare.)  As a community, as the Body of Christ, we look to God to provide that which we need, and the confidence of that provision grows.  

Even as we learn to be merciful to each other, it grows. For that is the power of the Lord demonstrated in our midst.  

Our desire for freedom, for independence, for autonomy is really a desire for freedom from sin and the brokenness, guilt, shame, and division it causes.  As the sin is forgiven, as the mercy is realized, as our hearts re-discover peace and joy, the desire for independence disappears. 

For we realize God is with Us, we realize His provision unites us, brings us together as a family. Brings us together in His peace. 

Which is what we need, more than anything. 

Heavenly Father, as we try to run away from all that oppresses us, help us look to you, open our eyes to Your mercy and love, Help us to rejoice in Your presence, together with all your saints. Help us to be confident in Your work in our lives.  AMEN!

 

 

Pope Francis. (2013). A Year with Pope Francis: Daily Reflections from His Writings. (A. Rossa, Ed.) (p. 227). New York; Mahwah, NJ; Toronto, ON: Paulist Press; Novalis.

What Really Matters; A sermon on life based from 2 Corinthians 12

church at communion 2What Really Matters
2 Cor. 12:1-10

 † In Jesus Name

May the grace of God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ help you realize what matters in this life., which allows you to depend on His faithfulness.  AMEN!

The Fable of the Animals

As Vicar Timothy and I talked about this passage this week, he told me an ancient Chinese fable.

Once upon a time, there was a gathering of the animals.  And as they gathered along the seashore, they wanted to know about each other, what strengths they could bring to the community.  There was a gracious grand eagle, who told of his ability to soar high over the land and see how glorious the kingdom was.  There was a huge elephant, who talked about his power and strength that was greater than all of them so he could take on all the heavy jobs. A Blue whale, resting comfortably offshore, talked of being the largest animal in the ocean, and an ability to explore deeper than any other animal.  One after another they went, telling of what they could do best.

Finally, there was Mr. Frog, who looked around and considered all the incredible things others could do.  He didn’t do all that much, just sat on his lily pad and watched and observed and occasionally… caught a passing fly for dinner.  You know, sort of like this! He thought his life was boring, and if that’s all he said he was, the other animals would mock him, or laugh, or perhaps ignore him.  And so he came up with an odd talent of his and said he could transform himself into a much larger being.  So he swallowed more an more air, extending out his belly and making it larger.  He looked around and realized he didn’t impress anyone, so he refused to swallow his pride, swallowed more air and puffed himself up even more, and again, puffing himself up even more, and finally, he puffed himself up so much, his gut exploded, and body parts went all over the room.

Too Great – or the Ultimate martyr

We do this all the time, no matter the culture.  We want others to think we are great, or what we do is great. We want to be admired, we want to be someone, even if only in our grandparents, or grandkids eyes.  So we exaggerate a little. We feed our ego.

Or if we can’t be the greatest, we make ourselves out to be martyrs, those who sacrifice everything for others. I suffer more than you do, see how great I am at giving things up so you can have what you want?  That too feeds our ego, if we serve more and harder, and are willing to sacrifice everything.

It’s to people like us, the frogs of the world that Paul writes to when he writes to Corinthians. Average people, but people that struggle with their identity, with their reputation.

Paul, you know, the apostle who spread the gospel throughout the Mediterranean Basin, the guy, who like John, had a revelation of Jesus that we’ve never read about, save in these few words. Paul, who wrote to the Philippians that all his earthly credentials were as valuable as the remains of the human digestive system.  Here is saying that even visions from heaven are not worth it, because maybe they take attention from what really matters.

And then he says something really strange, the problems he has, the thorns in the flesh, the stresses, the brokenness, these things are a blessing.  A blessing simply because when we are in the midst of the trauma when we are in the midst of the thorns. There, we hear God say these simple words,

My grace is all you need, Those were words that enabled Paul to boast, not about his strengths, not about his suffering, but his inabilities, his weakness, his brokenness. Because when he was at his worst, the power of God was able to be seen in Him.

My grace is all you need…..

If we could only understand that.

The incomplete fable
Going back to Timothy’s fable, it ends with the frog, blown out of shape, his body exploding from trying to live up to the hype, trying to live up to the pressure from blowing his value all out of proportion.

I asked him what he thought most people would think God would say if he walked up on the scene.  He thought most people in the world, even Christians, would expect God to lecture the frog, or even judge and condemn him for doing all that damage to himself.  For breaking the commandments, for making himself the idol that needed to be worshipped, for bearing false witness about himself.  Mr. Frog, people would think – you have done yourself in.

That is not the God that tells us, “My grace is all you need”  He gently picks up each part of us, and puts us back together, healing us.  That is what grace is, not just forgiveness as in, “you aren’t going to get punished for this” but the grace that brings healing to whatever we’ve done, that restores us and makes us hole.

What our sin destroyed, God calls back into being.  What sin has killed, God resurrects.

If he does that with our sin, He also does it with those things that challenge us in each day.  The insults, hardships, persecutions, and troubles that exist as we try and serve those who need it, as we care for those who can’t seem to care for themselves, as we love those who consider themselves unlovable.

Beyond our Sin

If this is true regarding Christ saving us, it extends into all our life and all our ministry to others.  We don’t need to be the one people praise, we don’t need to be the one everyone notices.

What matters is that people know we know that God’s grace is sufficient for us, that it will get us through the trials and pains that serving God too often results in, even if those challenges are as brutal as Paul mentions.  For that is Paul’s context, in this letter. He doesn’t care where he ranks among the apostles, even though he could claim it.

He would rather have God’s people know that in every part of life, the thing that matters is God is there.  If that is seen in his weakness, praise God. For then they know in their weakness, in their days where anxiety sets in, in those days when nothing gets done, or it seems two steps forward result in 10 steps back…

In those days, He is there, and our ministry, our caring for others, he does in ways far beyond anything we can imagine. For what really matters is that you know God’s love, and His mercy, and His faithfulness.  Understand that… and you will be at peace.

AMEN!

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