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Did You See What He Did There? a lenten sermon on Exodus 17


church at communion 2Did You See What He Did There?
Exodus 17:1-7

I.H.S

 May the Grace and Peace of God our Father and our Lord Jesus Christ teach you that He will always provide for you, even when you can’t see that He is, and has planned to do so!

 Did you see what Israel did?

Have you ever met people like the ones Moses tried to lead in the Old Testament reading this morning?  A little of what went before.

In chapter 13, after more miracles than we can remember, Pharaoh lets the people of God go.

In chapter 14, a sea splits apart long enough to let 2.4 million people cross through it, and then swallows a half-million-man army chasing them with the intent to kill them all

In Chapter 16, the Lord provides them with the makings of quail tacos, as every morning he provides with the Manna and quail that would sustain them for 40 years.

After all that, after all God did, they doubt He knows what He’s doing?

Just because they don’t have enough water, and are so thirsty they can’t thing straight,  Just because they are struggling with the thirst,  they forgot the most important thing we need to know in life, they go crazy and become demanding and complain and whine to Moses, their pastor. Led by a pillar of fire and a cloud, they forget all that…tormented by thirst, unaware that the answer is so close….

Did you see what they did there?  Do you know people so overwhelmed by their place in life that they forget what makes life, life?

Did you see what they did there?  Yeah – that isn’t important.

Did you see what Moses did?

What about Moses?  Did you see what he did there?

He’s just as much of a whiner! Even as God leads them, Moses vents to God!  Why me Lord?  Why do they want me to suffer? Why are they going to kill me?  He too is overwhelmed by fear and anxiety!

He didn’t see that they were tormented by their thirst, he wants them to just stop their whining and be quiet. He takes their reaction to their stress personally, their cries to God as if they are personal attacks.

God go get them….. they don’t like us. Who cares what they are going through! Did you ever know anyone like that?

Did you see what he did there?

That isn’t important either,  There is only one Person whose actions we need to see in this story

Did you see what God did there?

God’s actions are really what everyone is concerned about, or is

Do we see what God is doing?

First He’s the One guiding them, He’s the one who brings these wandering people to the place where they are at, the place where He’s going to make eternal promises to them, and bring them into Abraham’s covenant in ways they will not understand until the resurrection of Jesus.

Then, God doesn’t bat an eye at the complaints.  He deals with Moses first – directing him to get back to caring for the people God gathered around him.  Walk out in front, gather them around.  Get your staff, the thing you’ve always had at hand when I worked through you, gather around the elders and all the people to see what happens.

Oh yeah – I will be there, standing before the cliff face..

And then for those miserable, tormented, thirsty, complaining people, God does something wonderful.  He provides what they need, as He planned.

He hadn’t forgotten them, He hadn’t forgotten to provide for them, He didn’t want them to die, but live, in peace, in relationship with Him.  So he tells Moses to take the staff and hit the rock face and water comes out, enough for them, and all their animals.

To give you and idea of how much water, quick calculations gave me the number of at a minimum. 500 backyard pools worth comes spilling out of rock face…or if we walled in the church property and made it one big pool, the water would be 7 feet deep. (and that’s not counting evaporation!)

Did you see what He did there?

People that whined and complained, led by a shepherd who didn’t care for the problems they were in, who forgot He was there. People just like you and I, people that were overwhelmed, who couldn’t function, who despite the miracles, who despite the things testifying to God’s presence, doubted.  People who scripture says tested the Lord by saying, “Is the Lord here with us or not?

For those people, God again provided what they needed.

Even though they struggled to realize it, He was there, He heard their cries, and had already provided for them.

Did you see what He did there?

So what?

The reason I want you to see what God did there, is often we forget.

It’s time to see what God is doing, no longer concentrating on our failures, or on the weakness of our leaders.

We need to see what He’s doing here, which isn’t much different.  Indeed, His faithfulness, His loving care, His giving life, is always there.  He is faithful.

I could focus on Christ being the rock that the Holy Spirit shepherds us to, or that He is the living water that cleanses us and gives us life.  That He does so, because He is faithful to His promise, to His plan, even if we struggle.  I would focus that he does work through weak and tired leaders, even when we think no one is listening.

But I would like us to focus the most on this, the answer to Israel’s question.  He is with us!  The Lord is with you!

Yeah – He is here! He promised to never leave us, to never stop providing for us.

That He is here is we need to know, with more than our mind; to experience deep in our souls the comfort and peace that God gives us, and letting that comfort and peace work its way from our hearts into our minds, overcoming the doubts, the fears, the pain, the hunger and thirst for life, that seems unquenched.

That is what the cross and the grave, the resurrection, Ascension and Pentecost are about.  He went through it all to show us His presence, giving us evidence that backs up His promise of love, His promise to care.

Lent does, for this is the time when we realize our thirst is not for water, not for manna, but for Him.  And He hears our cries… and reminds us, “I am standing right before you..”

He is our LORD – the one who stands before us, calling us home, welcoming us home, welcoming us to His feast…. Where we remember His presence and rejoice and rest.

AMEN!

Forging the faithful… and standing the heat…. Words of Encouragement for those who serve God’s treasured people


OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERADevotional Thought of the day:

28  So, naturally, we proclaim Christ! We warn everyone we meet, and we teach everyone we can, all that we know about him, so that, if possible, we may bring every man up to his full maturity in Christ. This is what I am working at all the time, with all the strength that God gives me. Colossians 1:28 (Phillips NT)

12  He did this to prepare all God’s people for the work of Christian service, in order to build up the body of Christ. 13  And so we shall all come together to that oneness in our faith and in our knowledge of the Son of God; we shall become mature people, reaching to the very height of Christ’s full stature.
Ephesians 4:12-13 (TEV)

There was a mother who, like all mothers, was passionately fond of her little child, whom she called her prince, her king, her treasure, her very sun. I thought of you. And I understood —for what father does not carry deep inside some maternal feelings?— that it was no exaggeration for that good mother to say: you are more than a treasure, you are worth more than the sun itself: you are worth all Christ’s Blood! How can I fail to take up your soul —pure gold— and place it in the forge, and fashion it with fire and hammer, until that gold nugget is turned into a splendid jewel to be offered to my God, to your God?

I was talking to another person in ministry this week, and we were talking about how to encourage young people to make the sacrifices of entering the ministry.  Within the context was also the discussion of the sacrifices we make to serve others. One of the sacrifices you might realize as you read the words in blue above.

If we are to be the instruments that which the Holy Spirit uses to “forge” people, to shape and mold them as we teach them and administer the sacraments, that weans we have to deal with the heat as well. Using more Lutheran terminology, you can’t preach Law and Gospel without hearing it yourself.  For that is how St Josemaria’s forge works, as we are purified and fashioned for the life God has planned for us – to be there for them.

Yet if we spend time at the forge, we have to be there in the heat, we have to hold on, and care for those God gives us to care for, to be there with the fire and the hammer, to work despite the heat, despite how it zaps our strength, despite their sweat and tears (and even the stubborn refusal to bend to God’s will)

Over 20 years of preaching in jails and churches, spending time at bedside and with those who are ill and dying, this is what ministry has taught me.  It is those moments where the heat is the hottest that I remember – not for the pain, but for incredible beauty that appears as the Holy Spirit transforms them, as the Spirit revitalizes them and reveals in them the image of God in which they were created, which was marred and broken by sin.

And being in the heat – you get to witness this, you get to see it. You get to look to God and say – I see what you did there, Oh my, how holy!  How they shine because of Your care, your mercy and love!  How they reflect your glory!  As we see this, the heat is forgotten, the Lord and His beloved children are all our mind can focus upon. It is an incredible blessing to see, more than any discomfort, far worth the sweat and the tears…

Miraculously something else happens, those of us who serve as tools, who endure the heat for others, realize the same heat that transformed them, is why we are able to bear the heat, because we too have been transformed and tempered as well.  While sometimes we think we are not made for this work, God turns our lives into masterpieces as well.

Praise God for the heat of His forge, and the work He gives us…. for it is an incredible thing to have a small part in, as He uses us.  AMEN!

Escriva, Josemaria. The Forge (Kindle Locations 226-231). Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition.

The Necessity of Ministry…and those who minister.


church at communion 2Devotional Thought of the Day:
18  If people can’t see what God is doing, they stumble all over themselves; But when they attend to what he reveals, they are most blessed.    Proverbs 29:18 (MSG)

36  As he saw the crowds, his heart was filled with pity for them, because they were worried and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. 37  So he said to his disciples, “The harvest is large, but there are few workers to gather it in. 38  Pray to the owner of the harvest that he will send out workers to gather in his harvest.” Matthew 9:36-38 (TEV)

914    How pitiful are those crowds—high and low and middle-class—without an ideal! They give the impression that they do not know they have souls: they are a flock, a drove, a herd. Jesus, only with the help of your merciful love will we turn the flock into a legion, the drove into an army, and from the herd of swine draw, purified, those who no longer wish to be unclean.

The coach of my favorite football team has two very simple and yet profound slogans.

The first is “do your job.”  which helps keep focused each member of the team, from players to coaches, trainers, the owner, and even entry level office staff and custodians.

The second talks about the nature of the focus.  “No days off.”  That speaks of the team as something more than a job, working on that team is what theologians call a vocation. It is who you are, it is part of what defines them.  These two catch-phrases have come with a fair share of success.  Actually, according to some, far more than just a fair share.

These are lessons those in the church and who lead it need to understand.  Our ministry is more than just a job.  It is a vocation, it is what we’ve been sent to do, our apostolate, our mission. Because of the nature of what we do, it demands our focus, and it should define who we are.

It is critical, far more critical than winning trophies and wearing five rings.

We see this in words from the Old Testament, a passage often translated  “where there is no vision, people perish” or sometimes “where there is no prophetic vision.”  But the translator of the Message has its sense – for the vision is not of what we are called to do, but what God is doing.  It is the vision of the promises God the Father has given to us, delivered in the death and resurrection of Jesus, the Lord who delivers us from evil. This isn’t just a vision for the church to grow, or build a new building, or raise money for this and/or that.  It is the vision of God, gathering His people from every tribe and language, to live with Him.  The vision of God being their God, and they being His holy people.   

It is the vision that pastors, teachers, evangelists, prophets and apostles are to give them, what our worship is to cause them to be aware of. Which is where we come in, and where Jesus’ words about shepherds are so relevant.

People need those who are ministers in their lives, so that they might be drawn to God, and be given the vision of what God is doing in their lives.  This is our job, primary and completely.  It is the care these souls need, it is the mission that our sermons are tasked with, our Bible Studies, and why we baptize and commune people.

For without that, they are lost… they may not even realize what a soul is, never mind that theirs needs to be cared for, to have life spoken into it.  It is only with God’s help that this is changed, only His Spirit can breathe life into them who are dead, trapped and imprisoned by sin.

This is what we do, and as we study, as we visit and teach, as we lead and inspire, may it be focused, every day, on Christ, and drawing people to Him. 

Escriva, Josemaria. The Way (Kindle Locations 2126-2129). Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition.

Has It Fallen off the Church’s Radar?


clydes-cross-2Devotional Thought of the Day:
9  For this reason we have always prayed for you, ever since we heard about you. We ask God to fill you with the knowledge of his will, with all the wisdom and understanding that his Spirit gives. 10  Then you will be able to live as the Lord wants and will always do what pleases him. Your lives will produce all kinds of good deeds, and you will grow in your knowledge of God. 11  May you be made strong with all the strength which comes from his glorious power, so that you may be able to endure everything with patience. And with joy give thanks to the Father, who has made you fit to have your share of what God has reserved for his people in the kingdom of light. 13  He rescued us from the power of darkness and brought us safe into the kingdom of his dear Son, 14  by whom we are set free, that is, our sins are forgiven.
Colossians 1:9-14 (TEV)

780    Deo Omnis Gloria—“All glory to God.” It is an emphatic confession of our nothingness. He, Jesus, is everything. We, without him, are worth nothing: Nothing. Our vainglory would be just that: vain glory; it would be sacrilegious theft; the “I” should not appear anywhere.

A question arose as I came across these readings this morning.

Do we please God?  

The question began to transform a little, first int this,

DO we care about pleasing God?

and then it hit home,

Have I taught my people about what pleases God?  Have we, as pastors and leaders int he church equipped our people, not just the the knowledge, but the ability and the desire to please God?

Do we, as Paul did for the church in Colossae and others, pray for this for them?

Or has God’s pleasure, what pleases Him, fallen off of the church’s radar?

Have our words praised and glorified God, but our actions and thoughts forgotten what pleases Him, what He desires?

From my Lutheran perspective, we fight so hard against the teaching of works meriting salvation that we shy away from teaching that we should please God after our baptism.  We are afraid our people can’t understand the difference, that they will deliberately misunderstand.  It sounds like a good justification at first, but it is a poor excuse.

We know what pleases God, all you have to do is read the last 6 chapters of Isaiah and see it over and over.  Or hear the parable of the prodigal son or the Good Samaritan.  We know about God finding the treasure in the field, and giving His Son to purchase it, and the joy in heaven over one sinner transformed.  There we find His will, that none should perish, that all should come home.

Yet we don’t do this work alone, it is His will, His desire, and we receive the strength from His glorious power.

That is why He gets all the glory, as we live as He wants, as He revealed.  We live reconciled to Him, and we grow in desire to do what pleases Him, lifting high His cross, seeing people drawn to His mercy, into His grace!  And as we do, we come to know Him better, to rely on  Him more.

Lord, help us, those you have tasked with shepherding your people, to reveal your love and mercy to them.  Help us to pray for them, that they too would understand your will, and as they grow to respond to Your love, to do that which brings You great pleasure.  AMEN!

 

 

Escriva, Josemaria. The Way (Kindle Locations 1802-1804). Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition.

The Paradox of being a Christian Leader…


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Dawn at Concordia

Devotional Thought of the Day:
3  All praise to God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. God is our merciful Father and the source of all comfort. 4  He comforts us in all our troubles so that we can comfort others. When they are troubled, we will be able to give them the same comfort God has given us. 5  For the more we suffer for Christ, the more God will shower us with his comfort through Christ. 6  Even when we are weighed down with troubles, it is for your comfort and salvation! For when we are comforted, we will certainly comfort you. Then you can patiently endure the same things we suffer. 2 Corinthians 1:3-6 (NLT)

Therefore, anyone who seeks an office in the Church must know that he thereby declares himself ready for a greater share of the Cross. For, properly speaking, the real pastoral activity of Jesus Christ, through which he fashioned the Church and will never cease to fashion her, is his Cross, from which there flow for our blood and water, the holy sacraments, the grace of life. To want to do away with suffering means to deny love, to disavow Christ. It is impossible to struggle with the dragon and not be wounded. That is why what the Lord says in the Beatitudes is valid for all times: “Blessed are you when men revile you; blessed are the meek; blessed are the peacemakers” (Mt 5:11, 5, 9). It is true, too, that where the Lord is, where the Master is, there must his servant be also. But the Master’s place was, ultimately, the Cross, and a shepherd who seeks nothing but approval, who would be content to do only what is required of him, would certainly not be taking his place where the Master has taken his.

I was once told that if I could be content in any other field, to avoid becoming a pastor.  At the time, I didn’t understand.  Today I do. 

The blessing requires a high price to be paid.

I look at my friends in ministry, those I admire the most sacrifice so much to serve.  Some are pastors and priests, others missionaries serving far from what most would consider their home.  Some are teachers and youth workers, others are the leaders most don’t consider professionals.  The elders, musicians, those who teach the Bible to young and old. 

The costs are high, and while I am not talking about financial costs or the time demanded by the needs of those we serve, they cannot be dismissed either. The deeper costs include betrayals, it includes weeping with those who are weeping, crushed in grief.  It means disciplining people that may not like be corrected.  It means being willing to accept the loneliness of the prophet, being dismissed as we bring messages of hope, of being sent to stubborn and stiff-necked people as the prophets encountered.

It’s not about reports and strategies, it’s about laying aside our plans when someone is hurting, and helping them bear that pain.  It’s not about giving a vision, unless that vision includes the cross, leading to the resurrection.  It’s about the joy of the sacraments, and the pain when we see people in need for the comfort and strength they give, but who dismiss them.  It’s about not giving up on the prodigal, it’s about showing mercy to the prostitute and tax collector, the drug addict and the scoundrel. 

This is ministry, this is service, this is finding that as we minister to those who are drawn (and sometimes dragged ) to the cross, we find our healing occurs as well.  For we are at the cross, where Jesus raises us from death, heals us from brokenness, comforts us in our grief, and gives us hope, even as we despair.

That is the paradox of Christian ministry, the sacrifice, the life surrendered at the cross is the great blessing of being such a servant leader. 

Which is why Paul, the one we imitate as he imitated Christ praises God int he midst of sacrifice and suffering….

as will every leader in every parish, in every congregation, and throughout the Church in history, and throught out the world. 

AMEN

 

Ratzinger, Joseph. Co-Workers of the Truth: Meditations for Every Day of the Year. Ed. Irene Grassl. Trans. Mary Frances McCarthy and Lothar Krauth. San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1992. Print.

 

Am I Appreciated? Are You? Does it Matter if We Aren’t?


OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERADevotional Thought of the Day:

1  “Make certain you do not perform your religious duties in public so that people will see what you do. If you do these things publicly, you will not have any reward from your Father in heaven. 2  “So when you give something to a needy person, do not make a big show of it, as the hypocrites do in the houses of worship and on the streets. They do it so that people will praise them. I assure you, they have already been paid in full. 3  But when you help a needy person, do it in such a way that even your closest friend will not know about it. 4  Then it will be a private matter. And your Father, who sees what you do in private, will reward you.   Matthew 6:1-4 (TEV)

693    It hurt you not to have been thanked for that favor. Answer me these two questions: Are you so grateful toward Christ Jesus? Did you really do that favor in the hope of being thanked for it on earth?

There is a part of us that cries out to be appreciated.

To hear someone say “thank you” seems only right, and when the thank you isn’t given, we are disappointed, even hurt.  We may wonder about their manners, question how they were raised, even harbor a bit of resentment that our hard work and sacrifice was taken for granted, even ignored.

Examining our own expectation of that “thank you” never enters our mind, does it? Do we question our desire to hear that thank you?  Or wonder if that announcement of appreciation was our motivation?   Or why its lack would cause us to be bitter and resentful?

Or as the eminent theologian Jack Sparrow was noted to say, “The problem isn’t the problem.  Your attitude about the problem is the problem.”

I think St Josemaria has an interesting point here.  Are we as appreciative for what God has done for us, as we expect others to be for what we do for them?   I am not asking this to create a guilt trip, precisely the opposite.

You see, our acts we want noticed and appreciated are actually how we show our appreciation for the work God has done for us.  This life we live, is the fulfillment of Ephesians 2:10.  What we want to be appreciated is the very life God planned out for us, as we’ve been recreated in Christ Jesus….a life lived in appreciation of His love.

I think as we realize this, then the appreciation of man becomes something that is nice, but not a need.  The “thank you’s” are nice, but their lack becomes less noticed, as our actions become more something we are in awe of, as we realize they are done because of the Holy Spirit….. something that is holy and not our norm.

God is working in us!  God is using us to bless others!  What an amazing thing!

He has given us a place in life, and it is making a difference in others lives!  And so our attitude changes a bit, and we begin to understand what Jesus said in Luke,

10  It is the same with you; when you have done all you have been told to do, say, ‘We are ordinary servants; we have only done our duty.’ “
Luke 17:10 (TEV)

What happens then, is we desire that He be praised, that He be appreciated, that He be loved… and when that happens… we are content… and thankful for the opportunity.

Praise be to our Lord!…. and thanks for reading this!

 

Escriva, Josemaria. The Way (Kindle Locations 1616-1617). Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition.

 

A Sermon Parable: Pastors and Deacons are simply Speedbumps!


concordia-lutheran-button-only-logo-1-copy3.jpgOf the men I have taught and trained to be deacons, few have worked harder than Chuck, and few thought he could handle the work.  Yet he is a natural, enthusiastic evangelist, one who is always sharing the love of Christ in very down home simple ways people remember.  As part of his training, he delivered this sermon.  ( All deacon sermons preached at Concordia are written with my oversight, assistance, and approval.)  He aced this one, as people responded to its simple message, praising God for the grace, the love and mercy we’ve received.  – pr. dtp

Chuck’s Parable:
Pastor, Bob and I are Speedbumps, 
that you Need!

In Jesus Name

 (Take a deep breath, and silently pray, “Jesus, may the words of my heart and the thoughts of my mind be acceptable to you, and may the words reveal to these people your love”  )

My prayer for you this day is that the grace of God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ draws you to them, as the Holy Spirit fills you with love and mercy.  AMEN!

Introduction – Meet your speedbumps!

Part of what I learned this week has to do with verse 20 in the Old Testament.  It says there,

20 “If righteous people turn away from their righteous behavior and ignore the obstacles I put in their way, they will die. And if you do not warn them, they will die in their sins.

As pastor and I talked about these “obstacles”, I thought they were like big speedbumps.  Things God puts in your way to cause you to slow down so that you stay alive.  In this case, staying alive spiritually.

The pastor asked me what those obstacles, those speedbumps were.

And after a few moments, it came to me.

Pastor, and Deacon Bob and I are the speedbumps!

I kinda like that.

That’s my story, my parable today.  Pastor, Bob and I are speedbumps, speedbumps you need!

We have to be pretty big speedbumps as well, for we need to slow you down enough for you to be still, and know God is God.  Which means you need us to be speed bumps.

That has two parts,

Part 1

and Part 2.

So let me tell you about part 1.

part 1 – slow down, so you don’t die in your sins

The first reason I am a speed bump is to help you is to warn you about sin, and the consequences of it.  That isn’t easy, or pleasant, so God helps us keep focused on it,  He tells us,

17 “Son of man, I have appointed you as a watchman for Israel. Whenever you receive a message from me, warn people immediately. 18 If I warn the wicked, saying, ‘You are under the penalty of death,’ but you fail to deliver the warning, they will die in their sins. And I will hold you responsible for their deaths.

That sounds pretty serious.  If I don’t remind you that the wages of sin are death, then I would be responsible for you spiritual death – not just physical death, but spiritual, eternal death.

I don’t really think I need that threat – I want you all to be in heaven because I love you. But that is what it says, maybe in case I get annoyed at you someday.  (SMILE)

And if you get annoyed at me, well, I might have annoyed you about something less important before.  This is important.

You need to know God takes sin seriously.  We weren’t meant to live life following other Gods, or not using His name right.  We aren’t supposed to murder each other or be unfaithful to our wives, or gossip about each other.

We are to love each other. And if we don’t, that is sin.

Reason #2

The second reason that Pastor, Bob and I are speedbumps in your life is to get you to slow down enough to become repentant.  Repentant is not just being sorry, it means to be transformed, to be made new in our heart and mind.

That isn’t easy.

Imagine my garage is like your soul, and everything in it is your sin and unbelief.

You need to slow down, to put less and less into it, or you will not be able to walk in it.  And the first reason, speedbumps slow you down.  In the second reason, the speedbump gives time for the garage to be transformed.  That’s a nice way of saying that God has to clean out all the stuff in our spiritual garages.  He must clean out the garage so well that it is as clean as Carol’s kitchen.

That’s what we call a miracle.

Come to think of it, anyone needs a corner cabinet?  Talk to me later if you do.

Oh yeah – we need to become repentant.  That’s God’s work, that happens as we hear the gospel proclaimed, whether it is heard at church, or over lunch, or even in my doctor’s office.

That cleaning out is repentance, it is the change our-our heart, soul, and mind that happens because Jesus died on the cross to make it happen.  He took that penalty of death that each of us deserved….

He died so that we might live eternally.

He died because the Father poured out all of his wrath, all of his anger, all of the punishment we deserve on Jesus.

So we can be cleansed, so we become not just sorry for our sins, but so we become repentant.

conclusion.

I am up here, to be your speedbump, to get you to slow down enough so that you know God’s love, to help you to slow down enough when you walk up here and kneel down, so that you are still, and as you eat the body and drink the blood of Christ you know He is God.

And I pray that Pastor, Bob and I are good speedbumps and that God will work through our preaching, our teaching and our giving you the body of Christ.  Because God is working in your lives, you will know His peace, the peace of God that passes all understanding.

AMEN!

Christ-centric life….a good reminder!


 

photo

 

Devotional Thought fo the Day:
1  When I came to you, my friends, to preach God’s secret truth, I did not use big words and great learning. 2  For while I was with you, I made up my mind to forget everything except Jesus Christ and especially his death on the cross. 3  So when I came to you, I was weak and trembled all over with fear, 4  and my teaching and message were not delivered with skillful words of human wisdom, but with convincing proof of the power of God’s Spirit. 5  Your faith, then, does not rest on human wisdom but on God’s power.
1 Corinthians 2:1-5 (TEV)

3. Return to God: And Thou, O my God, my Saviour, Thou shalt be from henceforth the sole object of my thoughts: I will no more apply my mind to such as are displeasing to Thee. My memory shall entertain itself all the days of my life with the greatness of thy clemency, so mercifully exercised on me: Thou shalt be the delight of my heart and the sweetness of my whole being.  (1)

Twenty years ago, I preached at a small church in the middle of the desert.  Two years later, I would become their pastor.  And on their letter head was the mission/purpose statement.  “Teaching Christ-Centered Living”.

I’ve since come to the conclusion that those phrases, maybe long overlooked, are the key to the church’s misison in that community.  That is why they are planted, these phrase, this is a vision God has given those who sacrificed and set down the cornerstone.  At my present church, it is the oft repeated phrase, “The Lord is with You!” (and the response to me – “and also with you!” ) You want to revitalize a chruch – you want to see it come to life and share God’s love – discover the reason it was put there in the first place!

So back to Christ-centered living.

We aren’t talking about being religious by rote, or being scholars in Greek and Hebrew Exegesis.    We can memorize all the red letters in our Bibles, and still fail to live life centered, focused on Jesus.

SO what does it mean to be centered on Christ in our lives?  What does it mean to forget everything bu Christ and His cross?

It means to realize that clemency that deSales speaks of, it means to deligh in the presence of God in our lives, to rejoice in the incarnate, tangible God who speaks and listens.  It is to depend on this, and so know a peace that comes from God being our fortress, our sanctuary, our peace.

It means the hope that comes from realizing His comfort, and sharing in His glory, for His glory is the cHesed, the agape, the love, the charity, the compassion of God that draws us to Himself.

To live in awe of that love is Christ-centric living.

And it is our role, as God’s people to use our time, gathered together as the Church, or with a friend over lunch – to teach them what they need to know about Jesus.

My friend, the Lord is with you!

See His love, see His work in your life….. and cry out, “Lord, Have MERCY” or “Hosanna (Save us) ” or “kumbayyah (Be here Lord)” or simply, “thank you!”

(1)  Francis de Sales, Saint. An Introduction to the Devout Life. Dublin: M. H. Gill and Son, 1885. Print.

 

Where Do We Invest Ourselves?



Devotional Thought of the Day:

4  But when the kindness and generous love of God our savior appeared, 5  not because of any righteous deeds we had done but because of his mercy, he saved us through the bath of rebirth and renewal by the holy Spirit, 6  whom he richly poured out on us through Jesus Christ our savior, 7  so that we might be justified by his grace and become heirs in hope of eternal life. 8   This saying is trustworthy. I want you to insist on these points, that those who have believed in God be careful to devote themselves to good works; these are excellent and beneficial to others.    Titus 3:4-8 (NAB)

317    What zeal men put into their earthly affairs! Dreaming of honors, striving for riches, bent on sensuality! Men and women, rich and poor, old and middle-aged and young and even children: all of them alike. When you and I put the same zeal into the affairs of our souls, then we’ll have a living and working faith. And there will be no obstacle that we cannot overcome in our apostolic works.

As we get closer to November, I am receiving more and more programs geared to what people call “stewardship,” each with a promise to increase the giving of my congregation.  Some might even market themselves as being “different.”  That is, they aren’t just about money, but also about encouraging people to use their time and talents to benefit the church.

Some even talk about coming out and doing the program for you or sending audio and video.  One recently indicated that since it was the focus of the worship services, you didn’t have to ask people to come to any other meetings. I usually don’t use “canned” studies or sermons, so these go pretty much unopened, unperused.  The other reason is that I don’t agree with the goal, of increasing giving.as a primary focus of worship.

As I read the quote from St. Josemaria, I thought about this a little more, that we invest our zeal in so many things.  It might be “our” football team. It might be a hobby, such as hiking or fishing or sewing and quilting. We relish the time we spend doing those things, and the people that do them with them are among those who we count as our closest friends. We might even zealously invest ourselves in those friends, apart from the things that bring us together – even church.

But what if we were as zealous about our relationship with God?   What if we had that kind of attitude about spending time with Him? What if we pursued the means of grace – the scriptures, the sacraments, including prayer, because we treasured the precious peace, that reminder of His ever present love?

What if we understood these things Paul told Titus to be insistent about teaching the people of God entrusted to Him?

Paul indicated that this would result in Titus’s people (and therefore our people) devoting themselves to good works as well, works that are excellent and beneficial for others!

I think this is exactly what St. Josemaria was talking about as well – be zealous about the affairs of our souls, about trusting and depending on God in our lives, and then everything else ends up taking care of itself.  And nothing will hinder apostolic/missional efforts, the needs of the ministry will be met, and more will follow.

This is, living by faith, by dependence on God.  It takes a while to get used to, and a determination to preachChristt crucified, whether on the pulpits or in the streets. As it seems like crisis hit, there will be a temptation to go back to hyper-focusing on giving, but there will come a time where you realize God is at work, that He will provide, as the idols we fashion fall to the side – and our focus becomes the kind and generous love of God.

Deliver to them the message of Christ, give them the hope of sharing in His glory, and the rest… will care for itself. AMEN!

Escriva, Josemaria. The Way (Kindle Locations 820-823). Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition.

The Maintenance Man: A Modern Parable



Devotional Thought of the Day:

Very rarely will I post another person’s work on my blog, but this parable reflects a real life event in their life.  And perhaps, as good parables do….. our lives as well. As you read it, consider who you might be, and as needed, approach God’s throne of grace…and maybe bring a friend, a pastor, a professor, a maintenance man, and find the stone who the builders rejected.  To the one who wrote this, thank you my friend, for helping us see.

The Maintenance Man

Well, the stones were all square. That’s what they had in common. And they all

(or at least some of them) got walked on. And yes, they were different sizes, to form a

pattern, but each one had its place, fitting neatly into the matrix of the walkway. Anne

liked how they all fit together, and so she felt a little guilty when she accidentally kicked

one loose. Locomotion required some serious willpower these days, and she hauled

her hesitant feet behind her into the building. Muttering, a maintenance man shook his

head in annoyance at all the cementing he’d have to do to replace that chipped stone.

Unaware of his displeasure, the young lady continued toward the building. She

wasn’t convinced this whole thing was a good idea, but in the face of her obvious

incompetence, she would obey the wishes of friends and administrators. They had

noticed the permanently blank look on her face, her listlessness, and her habit of

assuming failure, and they had particularly urged her to do this. Her response had been

one of apathy and resignation. “I suppose I’ll go, but I don’t know what good it’ll do.”

Mentally she had added, “or why they bother now.”

She knew right where the Pastor’s office was, and she followed the familiar path

there. As Anne walked in, the church secretary forced the corners of her mouth up just

a little bit. With as much work as the Pastor had given her, it was the best she could do.

Anne smiled back to encourage the older woman.

“The Pastor is with someone right now. Do you have an appointment?” His

calendar lay open on her desk.

“No.”

The secretary hated this part of her job. So many people were turned away. “He

is very busy today. Would you like to make an appointment for another day? I think we

could probably fit you in sometime next week, even though things are pretty hectic

around here.”

“No, thank you. I think I’ll just wait, if you don’t mind.”

“He probably won’t have time for you.”

“I shouldn’t be long.”

“OK. Whatever you’d like to do.” The secretary turned back to her typing. Better

not to think about it.

Presently, the study door opened and the pastor emerged from his office with the

new organist. They were chuckling to themselves, and joking about the old, worn organ

the church had.

“Thanks, Pastor. We’ll have a go at these. If the choir can learn them well, I

think they can lead the congregation on Sunday.”

“I’d appreciate that. Oh, and also, the elders think the services are too long, so

let’s try to pick up the tempo a bit on Sunday.”

“We’re already moving at a good clip, but if there’s no other way …”

“Thanks! Have a good day!”

“You too. Bye.”

Anne shook her head to clear the cobwebs.

“Excuse me, Pastor?”

“I’m really pressed for time right now. What do you need?”

Anne followed him into the study. The pastor gave a mental groan as she closed

the study door behind her. Anne noticed. Some things never change.

“What can I do for you?” His office seemed smaller. Perhaps it was the mounds

of paper that had accumulated on his desk and on the floor next to his desk.

“Well, I’ve been having some trouble concentrating – my grades are getting lower

and lower – my advisor told me to come and see you before I flunk out.”

“Why? Did the Professor seem to think there was something I could help you

with?” His brain silently translated, “Couldn’t it have waited till after Easter?”

Anne didn’t really believe he could help her at all, unless he happened to be

carrying something sharp. She was always in somebody’s way. But she answered him

politely. “He thought you might be able to get a handle on why my act isn’t together. I

wasn’t so sure, but I promised him I’d come see you.”

“Anne, we’ve talked about this before, and I’m afraid I just don’t have anything

else to say. Until you do something about your attitudes, things are never going to

change. It’s that simple. You come to church in jeans, you never smile, and all you

seem to care about is home – whether your mom called, your dad’s new girlfriend, or

how much he’s been drinking. You’d think you were the only person jin the world who’s

lived through their parents’ divorce. Take some advice, OK? Go back to the dorm,

have some dinner, and crack the books. Let your brothers and sisters worry about your

parents. The best thing you can do for your grades is buckle down and study.”

Anne didn’t have any brothers or sisters, but somehow she didn’t think that would

matter to him. “Well, I won’t take up any more of your time. Please tell the professor I

came to see you.”

“OK. I’ve really got to go now. See you Sunday!” Pastor hurried out of the

office. He had to get to the flower shop before it closed to pick up those extra palms. If

they ran out tomorrow, the elders would be upset with him. Yes, he had things to do.

Anne showed herself out. Walking slowly, she was deep in debate with herself.

Right, toward the river, or left, toward town? She decided on left, and forced her body in

that direction.

The maintenance man saw her, and hurried to finish the hedges he had begun

when she arrived. Exhausted, he decided to leave the walkway til Monday and head

home. He had a blister on his hand, but at least the hedges would look nice for Palm

Sunday. He kicked the errant walkway stone back into its hole, stomped it down good,

and packed up his things. Anyway, the sky was clouding up.

Somewhere in the back of Anne’s mind it registered. Through the cloudiness,

thunder. Although it tried, the realization didn’t manage to worm its way forward until

her cheek felt the first trickles of the downpour. Weary from the struggle to make her

feet obey, she sought shelter in a nearby drug store.

Greeting cards, prescription drugs, vitamins, magazines – the signs intruded on

her foggy consciousness. Stopping in front of the non-prescription drugs, she tried to

look like she was shopping. The clerk eyed her suspiciously.

Then, as if a breeze blew through her mind, the fog cleared, and she understood.

Smiling, she selected the generic sleeping aids.

The clerk wanted her out of his store. “That’ll be three dollars and forty-six

cents.” She was barely to the counter. Handing him three-fifty, she left without her

change.

Leaning up against a nearby post, Anne was suddenly calm. At least she

wouldn’t be in anybody’s way anymore. Finally spotting a water fountain, she

swallowed the contents of the bottle she had just purchased, sat down on a nearby

bench, and dozed off with the rain dripping off her fingers.

The Professor seemed angry when the pastor spotted him walking into church

the next morning.

“I know she isn’t here yet, but Anne asked me to tell you that she came into see

me yesterday.”

“Yes.” His voice lowered, and took an edge to it. “Well, she won’t be coming any

more. They found her on a bench about two blocks from here.” The Professor paused

to let his words take effect. “Her parents are flying in tomorrow from Ohio. Apparently

she decided to get rid of her insomnia for good.”

The verdict had been handed down.

“She never mentioned any insomnia.”

“You never asked.”

The gavel hit the bench.

The pastor looked disgusted. The Professor left. He didn’t think he’d be back.

Slowly walking out the front door, he stopped half0way down the crumbling path. There

was mud all over, and, dep in thought, he traced something in it with his toe. Then he

shook the wet earth off his feet.

The sentence had been pronounced.

After all, it really is difficult to get good help these days. He called to the

maintenance man, just arriving for church.

“You shouldn’t have left that loose stone, you know. Now all the soil’s washed

out from underneath and the whole thing will need replacing.”

The maintenance man scowled and didn’t answer. He walked in, muttering

greetings to the Pastor as he passed, who scowled and muttered back. Now the pastor

had yet another sermon to prepare this week, and he didn’t have time to deal with

maintenance men.

Closing thought,  from the words of another battered and chipped stone, named Paul. ” 19  You Gentiles are no longer strangers and foreigners. You are citizens with everyone else who belongs to the family of God. 20  You are like a building with the apostles and prophets as the foundation and with Christ as the most important stone. 21  Christ is the one who holds the building together and makes it grow into a holy temple for the Lord. 22  And you are part of that building Christ has built as a place for God’s own Spirit to live.”Ephesians 2:19-22 (CEV) 

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