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Imitate Jesus….at the cost of our idolatry

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The Good Shepherd, carrying His own.

Devotional Thought of the Day:
8  He was humble and walked the path of obedience all the way to death— his death on the cross.    Philippians 2:8 (TEV)

625    Your obedience is not worthy of the name unless you are ready to abandon your most flourishing work whenever someone with authority so commands.

5  Through Christ, God has given us the privilege and authority as apostles to tell Gentiles everywhere what God has done for them, so that they will believe and obey him, bringing glory to his name. 6  And you are included among those Gentiles who have been called to belong to Jesus Christ. Romans 1:5-6 (NLT)

If you want to grow as a Christian, one of the things you need to do is confront your idols.  To see them, confess them, and let God circumcise your heart and soul, removing those idols that would destroy you.

Two words can help in this examination.

Obedience

Submission

Even as you read those words, like me, something in your stomach reacted, or perhaps you became a little jittery, as defenses began to rise up.  I don’t want to submit to my boss, we see teens struggle to obey their parents, and you want to really have fun, bring up the idea of wives submitting to their husbands in a Bible Study!

Most Christians would nod appreciatively when we talk about imitating Christ. That we should have the heart for the lost, for those who are broken and destitute, We may think of them, and pray for them, and pretend we are like Christ.  We may give money to missions, and think we’ve done our part, that we’ve made our sacrifice.

But will we, as St Josemaria notes, abandon what is going well, what is flourishing, what seems to be blessed, to obey Jesus?

That’s another question entirely, and strikes to what obedience really is.

Will we embrace hardship, to love?  Will we give up that which we’ve invested our lives in because we’ve heard the voice of God, because we know this is what God has planned, because it is in accord with the heart of God, that has been revealed to us in scripture?

Would you leave your business, like Peter, Andrew, James and John did, with an unheard of catch of fish?  Or leave success as Matthew did, literally walking away with tables full of money?

That is obedience.  Jesus calls.

But please, understand me, this is not a blog to create guilt, but to help us learn to trust in God, to depend on Him, for that is the source of obedience.

Obedience is not blind, it is not mindless, to set aside our desires, it requires us to be in prayer, to examine our consciences and allow God to purify them.

It requires us to hear God.

Which is probably why the word in Greek for obey is – hyper-hear.

To listen and let it stick, to internalize what is heard.

TO hear the voice of God, and be so overwhelmed, we respond in love, in adoration.For we realize that nothing, no idol, no desire, no amount of success is worth the joy of being in His presence.

This is our life.  This life of walking with God, of hearing His voice, of knowing Him, and knowing His love for us.

AMEN!

Escriva, Josemaria. The Way (Kindle Locations 1477-1478). Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition.

Sunday of the Passion: Here is your repentant attitude!


Here is YOUR Repentant Attitude

Phil. 2:5_11

In Jesus Name

May the Grace and Mercy of God, which was revealed when Christ came in human form sustain you as you, as you help others know this incredible comforting peace!  AMEN!

How does this happen?

Paul writes to the church in Rome

15  Be happy with those who are happy, and weep with those who weep. 16  Live in harmony with each other.  Romans 12:15-16 (NLT)

It is something we do here, one of the amazing things seen as we gather at the communion rail, and moments before, as we greet each other with the promise of God’s peace.

Living in Harmony, I suppose I could ask Chris to demonstrate harmonics on his guitar, to show you how a string vibrates when a string nears it vibrates at a precise pitch, without the first string doing anything.  It just happens.

Be happy when others are happy, and yes, far too often it seems like we are weeping as those around us weep, that our hearts are crushed as theirs is crushed.

This is the attitude of someone who is repentant, someone God is transforming.  It is the attitude that Paul calls us to, in His epistle.  Read again the first verse,

You must have the same attitude that Christ Jesus had…

That sounds so hard, yet we see it so clearly, as we look to the way we respond to each other, in times where the peace of Christ must be known, where only God is able to comfort each other, and he does it through our words, our hugs, and the holding of each other, as we pray to God.

The struggle in our souls

The struggle is that we don’t always share in each other’s lives in that way.  We confessed that a few moments ago, as we prayed for God’s mercy, as we recognize that we sinned against God and too often, against each other.

Or does anyone around here want to confess something different, that they do love God with everything they are, and that they love their neighbors, even their enemies, as much as they love themselves?  Remember that passage I used, about being happy and sad with those we love, that we are in harmony with?  Well here is it in context…

9  Don’t just pretend to love others. Really love them. Hate what is wrong. Hold tightly to what is good. 10  Love each other with genuine affection, and take delight in honoring each other. 11  Never be lazy, but work hard and serve the Lord enthusiastically. 12  Rejoice in our confident hope. Be patient in trouble, and keep on praying. 13  When God’s people are in need, be ready to help them. Always be eager to practice hospitality. 14  Bless those who persecute you. Don’t curse them; pray that God will bless them. 15  Be happy with those who are happy, and weep with those who weep. 16  Live in harmony with each other. Romans 12:9-16 (NLT)

Big difference isn’t it?  To know we can rejoice and weep with those we grieve alongside this week; but we are to weep and laugh with those we struggle with, that we may not like, or that we’ve been angry with for 7 years…

How in the world can we obey this?  How in the world does God expect us to love this deeply?

And if we can’t, are we condemned?

John’s epistle tells us that those who cannot love their neighbor, who they can see, how can they love the God who they cannot?

Harsh words, meant to make us think, and make us walk to the cross this week with Jesus…

The purpose of God’s word teaching us that is not to condemn us, not to make us feel guilty and ashamed, but to help us realize where our hope is found; to help us realize where our power is found to endure…

To realize the very work of the Holy Spirit in our lives…
We have to realize we aren’t alone.

You see, that is the message of this passage of Philippians, one of the earliest praise songs, that was common even as Paul wrote his letters, as two of the four gospel were not even written yet.

Christ humbled Himself, gave Himself, loved us in a way one songwriter declared it to be reckless, as he bought grace for us, by allowing himself to be treated violently.

This is why every knee shall bow, why every tongue will praise and glorify Him.

This is what it means for Him to be Lord, not a Lord who desires to control us, to force us, to use every power He has to manipulate us into behaving the way He wants…

He simply uses His love…  and the more we find sanctuary in that love, the more we find rest, the more we can realize the comfort that brings peace beyond all ability to comprehend….

This is how it happens.

You see, growing in the knowledge of Jesus love, of His presence, of all that he is doing in our lives is how we learn to love each other.  It is not some complicated thing, but it is profound.  For as we are drawn into fellowship with God,  as we kneel at this rail and realize that Christ gave His body and blood for us, we can’t help but love the person next to us, and even perhaps, love the guy handing to us the precious body of Christ, and holding out the cup of His blood, a blessing meant for us,

As we praise Him for that, as we know His love, we are transformed.  This is what repentance really is, this transformation God works in us, as our minds are conformed to His. That is what it means to be repentant, to be granted repentance by the Holy Spirit.  The very fact we hurt this deeply for Sandie and for the Jennings shows us that God can make this change in us, that He has done this….for we love them even as Jesus loves them.  And as we dwell in Christ, this shared love spreads out to all…

That this mind of Christ becomes ours…. That we experience a love so profound that those who simply know it, are able to love sacrificially, are able to share the sorrows, and the laughter, of those they come to love.

This is why we rejoice and praise Him, this is why the journey to the cross means so much,  as we are comforted by Him, as we know His peace.

AMEN

“I Thought I Should…” The Battle of Our Reason Versus Obedience

Devotional Thought of the Day:

11 Samuel asked him, “What have you done?” Saul explained: “When I saw that the army was deserting me and you did not come on the appointed day, and that the Philistines were assembling at Michmash, 12 I said to myself, ‘Now the Philistines will come down against me at Gilgal, and I have not yet sought the LORD’s blessing.’ So I thought I should sacrifice the burnt offering.” 13 Samuel replied to Saul: “You have acted foolishly! Had you kept the command the LORD your God gave you, the LORD would now establish your kingship in Israel forever; 14 but now your kingship shall not endure. The LORD has sought out a man after his own heart* to appoint as ruler over his people because you did not observe what the LORD commanded you.”1 Sam 13:11–14 NAB-RE

 Afterward, however, David regretted that he had cut off an end of Saul’s robe.b 7 He said to his men, “The LORD forbid that I should do such a thing to my master, the LORD’s anointed, to lay a hand on him, for he is the LORD’s anointed.”c 8 With these words David restrained his men and would not permit them to attack Saul. Saul then left the cave and went on his way. 9 David also stepped out of the cave, calling to Saul, “My lord the king!” When Saul looked back, David bowed, his face to the ground in homage, 10 and asked Saul: “Why do you listen to those who say, ‘David is trying to harm you’? 11 You see for yourself today that the LORD just now delivered you into my hand in the cave. I was told to kill you, but I took pity on you instead. I decided, ‘I will not raise a hand against my master, for he is the LORD’s anointed.’ 12 Look here, my father. See the end of your robe which I hold. I cut off an end of your robe and did not kill you. Now see and be convinced that I plan no harm and no rebellion. I have done you no wrong, though you are hunting me down to take my life. 1 Sam24:6–12 NAB-RE

Thus she came to understand Chesterton when he described men and women who, signed with Christ’s Cross, cheerfully walk through darkness. Finding this hidden life means releasing the sources of this world’s energy, linking the world to the power that can save it, giving it the resources for which it seeks in vain within itself. It means digging for and uncovering the wellspring of joy which can save and transform things and people and which has the power to undo and make good past suffering. (1)

The line from King Saul typifies the battle that so many “first-world” Christians have to face today.  “I thought I should…”  Saul was trying to be ready to fight the enemies of God, things weren’t going well.  He knew things would change with the sacrifice that was to be offered by the prophet-priest, but he wasn’t there.  Saul was King,  didn’t that give him the right to take any role in his kingdom?

And so, in thinking, in following and obeying his own mind, rather than the command of God, he lost everything he was trying to protect.

We do that, we enslave ourselves to our logic, to our reasoning.  We listen to what we think, rather than what God reveals.  We will dismiss what God reveals in scripture, we will dismiss what He commands us to do, and we will find a way to see disobedience and dishonoring God as logical.

We will set our logic, our reasoning in the place of God, make it an idol, and worship it by obeying what it teaches.

Well, maybe it won’t be our reasoning, as in yours and mine.  No problem, we can all find brilliant theologians and philosophers whose brilliance is proven by the fact they agree with us.   We can find a way to avoid hardship, to avoid self-sacrifice or suffering.  We can justify our own pleasure, and we can do it with the resonance of righteousness.

Well at least self-righteousness.

Even as we contend that scripture isn’t as reliable as it should be.  Or that it is outdated or outmoded.

Compare Saul’s obedience to his reasoning to David’s obedience ot God.  There is a price on David’s obedience, the price of discomfort, the price of being hunted, the price of even being an outcast and an exile.  He had the power to change that, one quick action would have given him the kingdom.  But he chose to disobey the wisdom and reasoning that would call him to disobey God.

He embraced the darkness, the hardship, the pain. And he worshiped and obeyed God.  God brought him through it, and through other challenges.  Sometimes David would see it right away, sometimes he too would forget and need to be called to repentance.  The key is to find the humility to remember that God is God. To live in the grace of a life forgiven, a life where we hear the Spirit, and the Spirit draws us into obedience, into a life of awe, not matter how dark.

Like the lady in Pope Benedict’s story, David cheerfully embraced the darkness, knowing that God had promised and God had commanded. It was a willingness to obey even though life may have looked freer, and more joyful, had he simply killed off those trying to kill him. He loved instead, and at great personal cost, and cost to those who were loyal to him.

I am not sure what your wisdom and reasoning calls you to dismiss  from God’s word.  Maybe it is sexual issues, maybe it is a call to servanthood, to give up your “rights”, in order that someone else may benefit.  Maybe it is simply accepting that His word is His word.

I know this, it is a temptation for all of us, a chance to say, “I thought”, and in that thought, contradict what God has commissioned.  A temptation that can only be overcome by looking to Jesus, and letting His love cleanse us from it.

Together then, let us cry out to God to have mercy on us.

 

(1)  Ratzinger, J. (1992). Co-Workers of the Truth: Meditations for Every Day of the Year. (I. Grassl, Ed., M. F. McCarthy & L. Krauth, Trans.) (p. 26). San Francisco: Ignatius Press.

Christmas Sunday Sermon: “I Have Seen!” (Growing past weariness)

I Have Seen!

Luke 2:22-40

†  Jesus, Son, Savior

 I pray for you this, on this third day of Christmas.  That you would know the awe, the joy, the wonder on the 8th day of Christmas, that Simeon and Anna knew… and that you would never forget this joy of seeing God’s salvation for all people!

How tired, how weary, and this strange man

It was a cold day when they woke up, and Joseph packed up all they had.  We think he had a donkey, but who can be sure?  We do know that they were among the poorest of the poor, so it is possible they had to carry all they had.

Even so, the mother of the Messiah, seven days after giving birth picked him up, and with her husband set out on a six to seven-mile hike.  A hike that would climb 2000 feet in elevation, as they went through olive groves and past military outposts.

Al, how many of us could walk from here to your house? That would be a little farther, but not as strenuous of a climb!  Seven days after giving birth.  They were still weary from the long trek from Nazareth to Bethlehem.  Deacon Bob asked a question in our preparation that I couldn’t answer.  Would it be easier for Mary to hike that distance, or ride a donkey, considering she just gave birth. I have no idea…..neither sounds like an easy trip!

They had no choice to take either journey.  The first was mandated by the laws of men.  The journey on this day mandated by the laws of God.

The good thing was that they were in Bethlehem, and not Jericho.

As they finally climb the temple mount, weary and tired from the three to four-hour journey, a very old man wanders over to them, with a huge smile, mumbling praise God! Praise God! He looks down at Jesus and gently takes Him from Mary, crying out to someone(?), I see! I see!

I wonder what they thought when he broke into song????
How would you feel, if you someone handed to you Jesus, the Messiah?

What would it be like to hold Jesus, the one who would die for your sin? Not sure of that perhaps, but knowing the hope for all humanity was there… in your hands?

That is what Simeon experienced…

How tired and weary are we?

Do we manage the things God desires?

What if Mary and Joseph didn’t?

The apostle Paul once wrote,

9  So let’s not get tired of doing what is good. At just the right time we will reap a harvest of blessing if we don’t give up. 10  Therefore, whenever we have the opportunity, we should do good to everyone—especially to those in the family of faith.
Galatians 6:9-10 (NLT)

Somehow, Mary and Joseph found the strength to make it to Jerusalem, to have Jesus circumcised, to offer the sacrifices that it took, for Him to be considered righteous.  I mean, what would have happened if they had said – well the roads will be too rough, Mary needs another week in bed, we can go to the temple any time?  Or the temple opens too early, or tool late, or we don’t like the long lines.  I could even imagine Joseph saying, Mary, if you don’t stop trying to give me directions we are just going to head home!  If they didn’t complete the journey, if the offerings and circumcision hadn’t happened, then he would not be righteous, and he couldn’t have died for us.

My friends weariness is not a valid reason for you or I to sin.  To fail to do the good that God commissioned fro us to do.  To say a mean word because we are tired and irritable is as much a sin as the lies and gossip we know are forbidden.  Failing to help someone because they drain what energy we have left is just like stealing from them, or even murdering them. Sin is sin, whether we feel like we are Abraham’s age, or William’s.

That’s why Paul encourages us not to grow weary, not to stop doing what God has prepared for us.

it’s hard you say.  I agree.

But so was a virgin and her husband, who had given birth a week before – making the trek to the temple.

I have seen!

As they come to the temple, they meet two people have known weariness.  They have spent their lives in prayer, and in ministering to others.  We hear of their devotion, their faithfulness, their righteousness,  Both are guided by the Holy Spirit, even as we are.  And despite their age, they serve God with willingness and great desire. And both are older, much older.

Simeon, the one guided by the Holy Spirit that day, who was told that this baby, this newborn, was the one who would make us born again.

He had seen it, what he had been waiting for all of His life, why he spent that life eagerly awaiting for the Messiah to appear.  So assured by the Holy Spirit that all he had to see was the baby, to hold him.

The nunc dimitis. Our completion, there in his hands.

This baby would reveal God to every nation, it was the reason God had chosen this small nation of Israel and protected and guided it.  This child who would be a great joy to many, the One, who would reveal all our deepest thoughts, and cleanse us anyway.

As God had promised, our salvation revealed!

Our salvation, there in Simeon’s hands.

The other person, whose weariness would fade was a 84-year-old woman who had spent 64 years waiting for that day.  For sixty-four years and more, she would fast and pray, that God would save His people.  As Simeon noted, not just Israel, but all of His people.  And so He did!  She told everyone there, everyone who was waiting for the Messiah.

He’s here!  Simeon is holding Him!

How much the weariness would disappear from their old bones.  How much the joy of knowing God had kept His promise.

As we gather at the rail this morning, as we are given the Body and Blood of Christ, Take a moment…and think about what you have been given.  For we too see our salvation, we see God revealed to us, we are brought into His glory.

Find the peace that chases away the weariness, the love which embraces you, the joy of Christ’s gathering us to Himself…and sharing Himself with us.

And rejoice, for He is with you!

A Necessary Ingredient for Faith in Troubled Times…

Devotional Thought of the Day
8  No, O people, the LORD has told you what is good, and this is what he requires of you: to do what is right, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God. Micah 6:8 (NLT)

16  Then the eleven disciples left for Galilee, going to the mountain where Jesus had told them to go. 17  When they saw him, they worshiped him—but some of them doubted! 18  Jesus came and told his disciples, I have been given all authority in heaven and on earth. 19  Therefore, go and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. 20  Teach these new disciples to obey all the commands I have given you. And be sure of this: I am with you always, even to the end of the age. Matthew 28:16-20 (NLT)

581    How humbly and simply the evangelists relate incidents that show up the weak and wavering faith of the Apostles! This is to keep you and me from giving up the hope of some day achieving the strong and unshakeable faith that those same Apostle s had later.  (1) 

The simplicity and pastoral care with which the Fr. Josemaria Escriva wrote his simple sentences astounds me.  I may not agree with everything he writes, but there is so much which resonates with me.  Simply put, he often puts the words to what I know and struggle to explain.

This is true today, as I struggle with how the church (myself included) struggles to reflect the love of Christ into a broken and dark world.  We get so caught up in our own pain, the sense of betrayal we have felt, our own anxiety and paranoia that we fail to trust God, to have faith in His promises.

The task to have a world, a country, a community that glorifies God seems overwhelming, and even impossible. The world wants what it wants, its version of justice, its version of freedom, its version of love and hope, and we seem surprised that it is at odds with what we know from scripture.

And rather lament over the brokenness of the world, we lament over the loss of power and the loss of our dreams. As we do, or faith wavers, we doubt, we give way to our feelings.

To this loss, the words in blue above speak strongly.  We aren’t alone when we struggle; the apostles struggled just as much as we do.  They walked for 40 days with the Lord Jesus, after he rose from the dead, after being beaten, crucified and a spear strike into his heart and lungs.  And in Matthew’s gospel, it tells us, their faith wavered, they doubted, they knew anxiety and fear.  (What else did they need – they had Jesus, risen from the dead!)

That they did, that God continued to work through them, that they would go on to grow in their trust of God is amazing.  10 of 11 of the men there would die, brutally, because they took the task Jesus commissioned them for very seriously.  They made disciples, they baptized people and taught them to treasure what God had given them in Christ Jesus.

But first they doubted, first their faith wavered, and Jesus even rebuked them a time or two… for not trusting Him, for not turning to God.

That is where humility comes in, of knowing we are children of God, people who are his, and are welcome to depend on Him.  Even when we don’t understand the world any more than it understands us. It is at that point where we need to be humble, to be meek, to find our confidence, not in our strength, not in our ability to argue, not in our witty meme’s or comebacks.  We need to be humble, to walk with God, to seek out the justice of the cross.  To know the love of God, shown in Jesus bearing the wounds that would bring healing to all the broken people, all the broken relationships in the world.  Including us.

As we find that healing in Christ Jesus, we can help others heal.

That requires trusting God… and being humble enough to admit our need, our dependence on Him.

Lord Have mercy on us!

1.  Escriva, Josemaria (2010-11-02). The Way (Kindle Locations 1387-1389). Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition.

Final Preparations For Christ’s Second Coming

 Final Preparations For His Coming

Mark 11:1-10Featured image

IHS

 As You Realize the Depth of the Grace and Peace of God our Father, and Jesus our Lord, May Your Cry for Him to Save Us Become More Confident and Filled With Wonder and Expectation!

 They’ll Be Here Any Second!

You look at your watch, or maybe the clock on the microwave, and as your heart begins to beat faster, you wonder where the last forty-five minutes went!

The company will be here any moment, and you so aren’t ready.

The appetizers are perfect, but you haven’t changed from your bathrobe and pajamas, for that matter, you realized you haven’t showered yet!

The rest of the house, you know, the parts that you asked for help in getting cleaned up, well they are worse than when you asked for help1

The extra chairs are still in the garage, the laundry basket is empty, all over floor.

And as you leave the kitchen to get looking half presentable, you notice you forgot to turn on the oven, and the turkey is still thawing in the sink!

IS this the ultimate nightmare, or worse… reality?

Many people get stressed when company is coming over…. They want things to be perfect for their guests. Perhaps some of us aren’t that noble.  We know life isn’t perfect, but we like it when others think that our lives are!

If we are so concerned about company coming over and finding lives, what concern do we have about Jesus coming back, and finding us ready?

As we spend these weeks prior to Christmas thinking about Jesus’ incarnation and His second coming, we are going to look Advent prayers and preparations. Wednesday Nights we’ll study the prayers in the Bible for Jesus to return, and on Sunday’s we’ll look at how to be prepared, how to be ready.

So let’s begin looking at the final preparations for Advent, or is it Easter!

Easter or Advent?

It may seem a little odd to begin Advent with a reading from Palm Sunday and the Triumphal Entry.  The beginning of the week leading to Good Friday and Easter. There is a reason.  When the shepherds looked down on Jesus in the manger, they had no clue what it would take to be the Savior. A year or so later, as the wise men presented Jesus gifts, they didn’t know either.  

The disciples have walked with Him for years.  They’ve heard him teach about the Father’s love because of firsthand experience. They’ve seen Jesus heal lepers, give sight to the blind, feed thousands with a few sardines and small roles of bread. They’ve seen Him raise people from the dead.

The Messiah is about to establish His reign over everything, and it is for this reason that He came.  To answer the prayer the people cried out Praise the Lord, as they cried out Hosanna!  (which means save us!)  Everything’s ready for that which had been a mystery from the beginning is about to occur….

It’s almost ready… just a few final preparations.

Are We Willing to Go Get the Donkey…

There is always one task that everyone hates, that has to be done when company’s coming over.  Maybe it’s taking out the trash, maybe it’s cleaning the toilet bowl.

I can’t imagine taking the walk to town to pick up a young unbroken donkey, and dragging it back to Bethany was the greatest of jobs.  But someone had to do it, and these two disciples had to go deal with the donkey.

Some of us may be sent on similar missions still to deal with stubborn donkeys and bring them to Jesus. Some of us are as stubborn and that unbroken donkey.

But are we willing to listen to God’s direction that clearly?  Are we willing to go and take on a task that isn’t glamorous, and may be more than a bit difficult?  These two disciples played a role in fulfilling prophecy, but I am not sure they knew that.  I can imagine one of them wondering if they could find this donkey, the other wondering if no one asked them, would they be charged with Grand Theft Donkey?

Our lives are often like their task that day. We aren’t sure why God wants us to work with donkeys, or why He doesn’t just wipe out those we think are enemies.  Why this action is good, but why doing that is a sin, and doing that is labelled an abomination.   We don’t have the answers, and our answer is the same as those disciples, simply telling people what we are told, by God.

But will we accept that His answer is good enough?

What advent is about is to prepare to welcome the King, to welcome the Messiah who comes in the name of the Lord God Almighty!  Are we ready for that day? Have we done that which He asks, in preparation for that day when He comes, and everyone praises Him?

We are called into this relationship, into this family of God. Are  we waiting for His return!  Will we be found ready?  Or will we be still trying to figure out why we have to work with donkeys?

A Word of Hope!

The anxiety of company arriving at any moment can be matched, when we consider our own work, as we strive to become ready for the second coming of Christ.  Paul addresses that in his letter to the church in Corinth,
I always thank my God for you and for the gracious gifts he has given you, now that you belong to Christ Jesus. Through him, God has enriched your church in every way—with all of your eloquent words and all of your knowledge. This confirms that what I told you about Christ is true. Now you have every spiritual gift you need as you eagerly wait for the return of our Lord Jesus Christ. He will keep you strong to the end so that you will be free from all blame on the day when our Lord Jesus Christ returns. God will do this, for he is faithful to do what he says, and he has invited you into partnership with his Son, Jesus Christ our Lord!

That is the key to Advent, the key to being prepared for Christ’s return.  He isn’t coming to check out that all the trash cans so clean you could eat out of them, or that the toilet is that clean, or even that the feast is perfectly prepared.  He’s coming to see if we are ready to enter the Father’s presence, following behind him like the crowds did on Palm Sunday.

How we are prepared?  We know what God has done, and is doing. We know about the cross, about Jesus dying that we could be free from all blame. That what scripture promises about Christ is true here, in this place.  It is true for all that believe and are baptized!  We are prepared when we have trust in God’s work in this place.  When we know and use the gifts God has given to us, given to us because we belong to Jesus Christ.  When we know that Jesus will keep us strong, and free from all blame.  Because He is faithful we trust in Him, and we look forward to what is promised.

I love verse 8 – we have to hear it again,

He will keep you strong to the end so that you will be free from all blame on the day when our Lord Jesus Christ returns. God will do this, for he is faithful to do what he says, and he has invited you into partnership with his Son, Jesus Christ our Lord!

There is our hope, and there is the hope of the world, that in Christ, people are free from all blame and will be when He returns. For God has promises this welcomed you into a community led by Jesus!  This is how we prepare for Advent.  We realize our need for Him, our desperate need, and trust that He will meet it!

May our trust in God be seen, as we work with Him, even as His return draws closer!

Amen!

God’s Commissioned Masterpiece: A Life of Obedience, and Grace.

Devotional Thought of The Day:Featured image

16  “Now come close to me and hear what I say. From the beginning I have spoken openly and have always made my words come true. (Now the Sovereign LORD has given me his power and sent me.) 17  The holy God of Israel, the LORD who saves you, says: I am the LORD your God, the one who wants to teach you for your own good and direct you in the way you should go. 18  “If only you had listened to my commands! Then blessings would have flowed for you like a stream that never goes dry. Victory would have come to you like the waves that roll on the shore. 19  Your descendants would be as numerous as grains of sand, and I would have made sure they were never destroyed.” 20  Go out from Babylon, go free! Shout the news gladly; make it known everywhere: The LORD has saved his servant Israel! Isaiah 48:16-20 (TEV)

Consequently this teaching concerning faith is not to be accused of forbidding good works but is rather to be praised for teaching that good works are to be done and for offering help as to how they may be done. For without faith and without Christ human nature and human strength are much too weak to do good works,call upon God, have patience in suffering, love one’s neighbor, diligently engage in callings which are commanded, render obedience, avoid evil lusts, etc. Such great and genuine works cannot be done without the help of Christ, (1) 

333      The best way of showing our gratitude to God is to be passionately in love with the fact that we are his children.  (1)
As I read the passage from Isaiah this morning, I was amazed to see the tension between obedience and grace.

God teaches very clearly that what we miss when we disobey Him are the blessings of a life lived in peace, a life lived full of blessings, a life lived content, and flourishing in ways beyond our imagination.

Instead, we treat His law with disdain.  Before we come to know His grace, we dismiss it as archaic.  We think it has no relevance to our lives.  We believe we know better, and we toss it aside the way in favor of what we think i right.  (and it seems that everyone of us has our pet sins to declare good, even as we have our pet sins to condemn)

But those that don’t follow Jesus aren’t the only ones to dismiss the life, the masterpiece God has in mind for us.  We see that in the blue quote above.  For some have been accused of forbidding good works, and some have denied that what God has commissioned should have any influence on the life of those who have been called into a relationship with God.  There are different ways this is done, a denial of the third use of the law is a technical way of describing it.  Others will talk about being free from the bondage of sin, the power of satan and the fear of death and God’s wrath as a freedom to do that which they want – for God in the New Testament is only a God of law, and not of judgment.  There are some who see the issue that we cannot earn or merit God’s coming to us meaning that we should just give up being good, or somehow we will automatically believe and do what is right.  (Those who say this ignore that Romans 7 discourse is part of the larger 6-8 discussion about the struggle with sin)

The Psalmist doesn’t leave us thinking of what could have been, if we obeyed.  He does hold that out, he does make it clear that the way of life God commissions is not for His benefit – but ours.  It is having realized this, that we can then hear the glorious news, God has been merciful, He has saved us.  He’s adopting us, cleansing us, claiming us.  He has delivered us, saved us, reconciled us, redeemed us, rescued us, loved us.

Obedience, what the lutheran confessions call “New Obedience” then comes from seeing what God commissions/commands as a son taking instruction from his Father, learning the family business and the tasks we work as we walk with Him.  Think of a dad teaching his son to play catch, or how to change a bicycle tire, or a mom teaching her daughter to cook (yes I know I am using old fashioned traditional types).  The instruction is beneficial, practical and present.  Not a Lord’s laws layed down, but a Father’s guidance, which can be heard and put into practice, for when it is heard, the heart receives it as well as the mind.

That’s what grace does. It teaches us that God is our Father, our caring, loving Father who desires the best for us, and is wise enough to know it.  Are we gong to screw up, disobey, struggle and even rebel?  Yes, but like the prodigal, we will remember Him, and His love.

Obedience, the fruit of grace and mercy, and dependent upon it.

Lord, thank you that you have mercy on us!.

(1)  Tappert, T. G. (Ed.). (1959). The Book of Concord the confessions of the Evangelical Lutheran Church. (p. 46). Philadelphia: Mühlenberg Press.

(2)  Escriva, Josemaria (2011-01-31). The Forge (Kindle Locations 1320-1321). Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition.

Backseat Conversations on the Way to Heaven.

Backseat Conversations on the Way to Heaven

Who’s Driving?
Rev. 7:9-17\

May you be blessed, as your realize the depth of God’s work in your life, evidence of His great love and affection for you!

Our Way to Heaven is like…

In my congregation, we have been working on a sermon series, a long parable of sorts.

The idea is that like our life long journey in Christ, which ends before the throne of God, is like a long family car journey.  We aren’t the drivers, rather, we are the 3 oe 4 siblings in the back seat.  That as the Holy Spirit guides us toward eternity, we sometimes act like little kids in the backseat.

The sermons have been based off of scripture, but using the idea of the conversations heard in the back seat to describe how we live together.  We journey together toward the day when we are in that vast crowd, people from every nation and family and culture.  But getting to that day can be a challenge.   Just like surviving a long drive in the back seat of my parents 1971 Dodge was a challenge.

We’ve had titles like, “get along back there” and “that’s not fair!” and of course the ever popular phrase, “are we there yet?!?”  Interestingly, they have all tied into the scripture passages on our three year cycle of readings.

Today, as we look at this incredible message from the Book of Revelation, chapter 7, the question is simple….

Who’s driving?

And the more we can realize that God is in charge of our journey, the more we see it as a blessing.  That results in a life of holiness and peace.

So let’s look at this more clearly.

Destination Heaven!

A vast crowd, too great a number to compute, from everywhere,  every time, every language, all before the throne of God, all in His clear view.  Called by Him, gathered together by Him.

What a glorious day that will be.  All the people of God.  Together.

How did they get there?  That is one of the questions asked the elder to the apostle John, in verse 13.

The answer is not a list of directions, generated by a gps device, or from google maps.  But it is how they got there…

“These are the ones who died in the great tribulation. They have washed their robes in the blood of the Lamb and made them white. 15  “That is why they stand in front of God’s throne and serve him day and night in his Temple. And he who sits on the throne will give them shelter. 16  They will never again be hungry or thirsty; they will never be scorched by the heat of the sun. 17  For the Lamb on the throne will be their Shepherd. He will lead them to springs of life-giving water. And God will wipe every tear from their eyes.”  (Verse 14b-17)

This gathering of all believers made their way there, because God led them, because God cared for them.  It is why we will find our lives in eternity as those who minister and serve God.  They are transformed, and what they have been clothed with is dazzling white.

This is what is promised in the Old Testament, in Isaiah 1:18

 “Come now, let’s settle this,” says the LORD. “Though your sins are like scarlet, I will make them as white as snow. Though they are red like crimson, I will make them as white as wool. Isa 1:18,

and in the story of the high priest representing Israel, in Zecariah,

1  Then the angel showed me Jeshua the high priest standing before the angel of the LORD. The Accuser, Satan, was there at the angel’s right hand, making accusations against Jeshua. 2  And the LORD said to Satan, “I, the LORD, reject your accusations, Satan. Yes, the LORD, who has chosen Jerusalem, rebukes you. This man is like a burning stick that has been snatched from the fire.” 3  Jeshua’s clothing was filthy as he stood there before the angel. 4  So the angel said to the others standing there, “Take off his filthy clothes.” And turning to Jeshua he said, “See, I have taken away your sins, and now I am giving you these fine new clothes.” Zechariah 3:1-4 (NLT)

We get there, to the point where we are clothed in Christ Jesus because of God’s work,  This is how the Apostle Paul says it,

26  For you are all children of God through faith in Christ Jesus. 27  And all who have been united with Christ in baptism have put on the character of Christ, like putting on new clothes. 28  There is no longer Jew or Gentile, slave or free, male and female. For you are all one in Christ Jesus. Galatians 3:26-28 (NLT)

The one people, made up of all peoples.  We are one in Christ.

So I have a question

Backseat Driving

Why do we try to be spiritual backseat gps devices?  Or as we used to say, backseat drivers.

Let me explain.  When William was little, he loved to imitate the GPS, and on occasion, try to beat it to the punch.  Trying to sound like a computer generated voice, he would give me directions.

at the next light, turn right.  Go four miles, turn left. You have arrived at your destination.  That last one was usually said when we got near a McDonalds!

He really didn’t know how to get where we were going.  For that matter, he often didn’t know where we were going.  But he wanted to give me the directions.

Sometimes we act that way with God.  Rather than trusting our Lord who came from heaven to bring us there, we tell Him the directions we want to take.

Lord, do this for me.
Lord, I think this is how it should work out.
Lord, if you don’t follow my ideas, we will get lost!
Yet like a four year old giving directions, we don’t know the way to heaven, apart from Him.

And sometimes, we might even think we are there, when it is our hungers that really speak.  You see this in the world today, it often throws aside how God has designed us to live, and people want to follow their passions.  In this world people even go so far as telling God what is good, and contradicting Him when He says what is desired is sin.

Humanity, even those in the church, often want to take over and navigate this journey of life.  They want to do this, rather than letting God guide us, letting God take care of us, letting God teach and protect us along the way.

It’s in those times, like children realizing their moms and dads probably know their way around better; that we have to remember who is taking us through life, and bringing us home.

It is then we need to come to our senses, to repent, to know we are forgiven, and listen to God’s ways.

Look at Who our Chauffer/Guide is….

In every passage of scripture where heaven is described, I love the awe that is described.  We will be shouting in heaven

“Salvation comes from our God who sits on the throne and from the Lamb!”

and not only us, all of heaven, the angels, the elders, the four living beings are in awe as well, as they sing,

 “Amen! Blessing and glory and wisdom and thanksgiving and honor and power and strength belong to our God forever and ever!

This is who will bring us to heaven, this is the God who has promised to bring us to a feast that is like no feast we have ever seen.

This is the God who will guide our steps, all of our steps, even as He guided each one of us to this place, even as He will guide both Passion and Concordia’s ministries in the days and years to come.

For He is God.

So let us bow before Him, recognize Him as Lord, and with confidence in His completion of what He has began in us, walk with Him, letting Him lead our way.

For there, walking with Christ, cleansed by His blood, knowing His love, we are assured of getting where He is taking us.  To see the Father, high and lifted up on the throne, surrounded by angels and elders, living creatures, and us, the people of God, from every nation and tribe and language….

Until then, we are assured by His presence, that we can dwell in His unexplainable peace. For Christ guards our hearts and minds in that peace.  AMEN?

Obeying God: Is it Necessary? Is it Required by His Law, or a Blessing of His Gospel?

Discussion/Devotional THought of the Day:OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

10  We are God’s work of art, created in Christ Jesus for the good works which God has already designated to make up our way of life. Ephesians 2:10 (NJB)

9  So we have not stopped praying for you since we first heard about you. We ask God to give you complete knowledge of his will and to give you spiritual wisdom and understanding. 10  Then the way you live will always honor and please the Lord, and your lives will produce every kind of good fruit. All the while, you will grow as you learn to know God better and better. 11  We also pray that you will be strengthened with all his glorious power so you will have all the endurance and patience you need. May you be filled with joy, Colossians 1:9-11 (NLT)

1  Well then, should we keep on sinning so that God can show us more and more of his wonderful grace? 2  Of course not! Since we have died to sin, how can we continue to live in it? Romans 6:1-2 (NLT)

18      Please echo these words for me: it is no “sacrifice” for parents when God asks them for their children. Neither, for those he calls, is it a sacrifice to follow him. It is, on the contrary, an immense honour, a reason for a great and holy pride, a mark of predilection, a very special affection that God has shown at a particular time, but which has been in his mind from all eternity.  (1)

There is a misunderstanding among many Christians about things like obedience and sacrifice and striving to overcome temptation and sin.  Some will demand other people the strictest levels of obedience, Others will say that even calling for people to obey is wrong, because we are not saved by our works, and they take that to mean they are not required of those who are saved. That they cannot be required, They would argue that to encourage people to live out their lives, trusting in God’s promises is somehow wrong.

Neither quite gets it,

Obedience doesn’t come about from a requirement, it comes about from love.  You don’t willingly sacrifice your life, you don’t set it apart our of obligation, but instead you do it because of knowing God’s love.  Obedience is an act of adoration, Sacrificing yourself, as a minister or missionary, or just the time you invest in teaching some junior highers isn’t an obligation, but rather a life lived in response to love.  It is the way the Holy Spirit transforms us, causing us to focus on Christ’s love for us, even as He changes and empowers us. The call to obedience is that which should naturally be drawn to, even as they are drawn to confess their sins when they fail. For they know and trust in God’s love, a love that will heal and cleanse, a love that will strengthen and assure.  A love which shares with us His desire, that as His children we may work alongside Him.

That is why there is such good fruit that cones from it, that is why serving God, obeying God, following God’s way, working to see His will complete is such a blessing.  For we often do not think of such things as sacrifices, such work is not a burden.

It is simply walking with our God, who considers us His beloved!

(1)   Escriva, Josemaria (2011-01-31). The Forge (Kindle Locations 300-303). Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition.

Are you sure you want the Holy Spirit to come?

Icon of the Pentecost

Icon of the Pentecost (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

7  But in fact, it is best for you that I go away, because if I don’t, the Advocate won’t come. If I do go away, then I will send him to you. 8  And when he comes, he will convict the world of its sin, and of God’s righteousness, and of the coming judgment. 9  The world’s sin is that it refuses to believe in me. 10  Righteousness is available because I go to the Father, and you will see me no more. 11  Judgment will come because the ruler of this world has already been judged.  John 16:6-11 (NLT) 

In some Christian ministry, we assess how mature a believer is based on how much he knows. But the New Testament assesses the maturity of a believer based on how much he obeys (e.g. John 14:15; James 1:22-25) Think about every sermon, Bible study and Bible passage you have heard or read (knowledge). Estimate what percentage of that you consistently obey. It can be a bit embarrassing. You may say, “I consistently obey about 30% of all I know.” In a knowledge-based assessment of maturity, can we be comfortable with disobeying 70% of all we know. Is that really biblical maturity? If one has been a believer a long time he may have lots of knowledge, but may also have a low obedience factor. Despite his knowledge-based “maturity,” his disobedience factor is high! (1)
I know a lot of people who talk about the blessing of the Holy Spirit’s coming on Pentecost, and others who long for a restoration of spirituality in the church in America.

I am not sure they are as ready as they think they are!

Look at the promise above from John 16.  Are you ready to have the Holy Spirit convict you of your sin?  Are you ready to be purged of your sin?   Are you ready to face how often you are disobedient you are to God?  How often you betray Him and His plan for your life?

Do you welcome God working in your life?  Many of us say we do, yet when push comes to shove, we struggle to confess our sins, choosing instead to hide it, justify it, say our sin isn’t as bad as those other people,  ignore it, or even… run from God.  I think we do far too often…

We rejoice in our salvation – but are we ready to let go of that which Christ saves us from?

We talk of His righteousness – the righteousness that comes from heaven, do you see it as something so much more valuable than any of the sins that we cling to?

May we be found, may we find ourselves, hidden in Christ Jesus, His righteousness ours, His cleansing us of sin, so that He can bring us home to the Father…

And may we strive for not just obeying His word, but treasuring it, for it is our life… in Him

(1) Smith, Steve; Kai, with Ying (2011-09-21). T4T: A Discipleship Re-Revolution (Kindle Locations 1186-1192). WIGTake Resources, LLC. Kindle Edition.

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