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A Life in Retreat? Yes and No….

dscf1215-copy-copyDevotional thoughts for our days
4  Delight yourselves in God, yes, find your joy in him at all times. Have a reputation for gentleness, and never forget the nearness of your Lord.
6  Don’t worry over anything whatever; tell God every detail of your needs in earnest and thankful prayer, and the peace of God which transcends human understanding, will keep constant guard over your hearts and minds as they rest in Christ Jesus.
8  Here is a last piece of advice. If you believe in goodness and if you value the approval of God, fix your minds on the things which are holy and right and pure and beautiful and good. Model your conduct on what you have learned from me, on what I have told you and shown you, and you will find the God of peace will be with you. Philippians 4:4-8 (Phillips NT)

39      I see myself like a poor little bird, accustomed only to making short flights from tree to tree, or, at most, up to a third floor balcony… One day in its life it succeeded in reaching the roof of a modest building, that you could hardly call a skyscraper. But suddenly our little bird is snatched up by an eagle, who mistakes the bird for one of its own brood. In its powerful talons the bird is borne higher and higher, above the mountains of the earth and the snow capped peaks, above the white, blue and rose pink clouds, and higher and higher until it can look right into the sun. And then the eagle lets go of the little bird and says: Off you go. Fly! Lord, may I never flutter again close to the ground. May I always be enlightened by the rays of the divine sun—Christ—in the Eucharist. May my flight never be interrupted until I find repose in your Heart.

Far too often do I resemble St Josemaria’s little bird, content and yet bored with the simple life we struggle through.  Not only do I lack the power and skill to soar above the heights, I fear to do so, for flying that high means I could crash.  And if crashing close to the ground is hard, how much more devastating would it be to crash when I am spending time in the heavens?

The idea of soaring with eagles sounds nice, it sounds incredible, but I’ve been on too many retreats and had to come back to “reality” from the mountaintop experience.  Even worse, I’ve seen what it can do where people only see that mountaintop experience as the only blessed thing in their lives.  Where they live, remembering the high of the last retreat, and looking forward to the next one.

If only we didn’t have to come down!  

If only I wasn’t so afraid of those heights.

Paul urges us to delight in God, to give to him every detail of every problem, depending upon Him to receive them as He promised when He asked us to cast all our burdens upon Him.  He begs us to keep our eyes on the things that are good, that are Godly,

Does that require us to stay soaring in the heavens, only to be worthless here on earth?  Do we like the monks of old or the Amish, separate ourselves from the world?  How can we be in the world but not of it, as Jesus asks?

Is this command of Paul, to delight in God, to rejoice in all things possible?  Or is it just an unfulfilled dream?  And if it is unfulfilled, does this mean the negative impact I think it does, a life lived in disobedience and therefore condemnation?

I can’t worry about that question, nor its answer.  it is beyond my role, beyond my experience. For if I worry about that, the more I will not spend my time delighting in Him, and the less likely it will be for me to run to Him for the forgiveness I so need, for the comfort and consoling that will restore to me the joy of my salvation, and the awe of being found in His presence, and loved.

For that is where the delight comes from, in realizing how incredible God’s love is, a love that desires to make itself manifest in every moment of our lives.   love that would shape our lives with thoughts about what is righteous and just, what is lovely and pure, what is of God.

May our desire to dwell in His presence be satisfied, and may be not be satisfied with anything else.  AMEN!

 

Escriva, Josemaria. The Forge (Kindle Locations 366-374). Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition.

Our Hope: The Transformation found in Stability

DSCN0014Devotional Thought for our days:

God began doing a good work in you, and I am sure he will continue it until it is finished when Jesus Christ comes again.  NCV Phil. 1:6

We often use the word stable to refer to a person who is constant and consistent. We say, “You can count on her.” Or, in Christian terms, we may think of the writer of Hebrews, who admonishes new Christians to endure to the end (Heb. 4:11).
The monastic concept of stability translated into our spiritual life means “stay in your baptism” and “continue to live out of the death and resurrection of Jesus by continually dying to sin and rising to the new life of the Spirit staying in God’s divine embrace.” Obviously such a vow should not be taken lightly.

2   God is my Father! If you meditate on it, you will never let go of this consoling consideration. Jesus is my intimate Friend (another rediscovery) who loves me with all the divine madness of his Heart. The Holy Spirit is my Consoler, who guides my every step along the road. Consider this often: you are God’s… and God is yours.

Stability.

It is an odd word for me.  You see, I have spent most of my adult life changing things.  Changing jobs, locations, residences ( again next week!) I am not sure I have known stability, or for that matter, provided it for my family.

I have to admit, I love change, and love being involved causing change.  Hopefully, the change is on the order of transformation, and not just the chaotic kind of change that causes stress.  Well, let me be honest, I can find that kind of change exhilarating and even entertaining. 

I love change, I am almost an addict of it.  Routine is boring, and I don’t find much alive in getting into a rut.

So this morning, I am writing on… stability? As a positive thing? Really?

There is an area I desperately need stability in, and if that is stable, if that is anchored, all other change simply becomes… negligible.  There is a stability that must invade my life, must always be depended upon.

Webber talks about it as staying in your baptism, what the monasteries and convents were actually trying to provide.  Their strength was not found in their own personal stability, or in the stability that living in a disciplined community caused.   Their stability was provided by the constant reference to the presence of the Lord.  

That is where the stability comes from, the work and promises God did in our baptism, and continues to do until the work is finished with Christ’s return. It’s this knowledge of Christ’s work, the Holy Spirit’s work, that happens in our presence, which reveals we are in the presence of the God the Father.  He is ours, St. Josemaria pleads with us to remember!  We are His!  And that creates a stability that goes beyond our problems, our challenges, our brokenness, our sin. 

It is the divine embrace, God taking us into His arms, our being fused to Christ and His cross.  Nothing is more intimate, more transforming and yet more stable than this.

Know this, hear it over and over;

The Lord is with you!  

Webber, Robert E. The Divine Embrace: Recovering the Passionate Spiritual Life. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2006. Print. Ancient-Future Series.

Escriva, Josemaria. The Forge (Kindle Locations 237-242). Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition.

 

Can You Leave Your Friend there… in danger?

Devotional Thought for our days…

20 “If a truly good person starts doing evil and I put him in a dangerous situation, he will die if you do not warn him. He will die because of his sins—I will not remember the good he did—and I will hold you responsible for his death.  Ezekiel 3:20  GNT

13  The greatest love you can have for your friends is to give your life for them. John 15:13 (GNT)

993         In our meditation, the Passion of Christ comes out of its cold historical frame and stops being a pious consideration, presenting itself before our eyes, as terrible, brutal, savage, bloody… yet full of Love. And we feel that sin cannot be regarded as just a trivial error: to sin is to crucify the Son of God, to tear his hands and feet with hammer blows, and to make his heart break.

I read an article the other day, that made the argument that a pastor cannot be friends with his congregation.  That he has to stay aloof, separated so that he can call them to repentance when needed, and that they will hear him when he does.

One of my questions in the conversation that followed was, “shouldn’t your friend also care enough, love you enough to call you to repentance”  I had several questions about the concept, but this question is one I think we need to address today.

Should a friend help a person see the error of their way?

Or should we simply ignore the path they were on, letting them move on to perdition?

This job isn’t just a pastors.  It belongs to anyone that cares about anyone else. A parent, a teacher, a co-worker, a son or daughter, a friend.

There are a couple of challenges to this.  

The first is taking sin seriously enough.  St Josemaria helps here, helping us realize that sin can only be reconciled at the cost of life, the life of Jesus.   His brutal death, the shedding of His blood.  We get that about murder, or grand theft, or adultery.  I am not sure we realize that about that little white lie, or lust, or envy or gossip, And what about not treasuring the restful time we call the Sabbath when we gather with other believers and weep and laugh and rejoice together? Do we see this as sin?  

The second is more akin to comfort.  We are afraid to broach the subject, we are afraid our desire to care for our friend will be misunderstood as condemning them (We are trying to stop that!)  We are afraid of that awkward moment when they have to look in the mirror when they have to see their sin and error.

But their salvation, is that not worth the discomfort we might experience in calling them back? 

These are hard questions, and yet, evangelism is not a matter of “Law”, but one of Gospel, one of Love.  One of Joy.  We want people to experience this because we know the difference being forgiven makes.   We know the difference being clean creates in our lives, and knowing the hope of eternal life.

Our friends need this to know about this love of God that can take a sinner and make them a friend, that revive a broken soul, that can restore to its strength.  We can’t-do this because we have to, because it is a duty because it is what good Christians do.  We do this because we love them, and we love the God who is merciful.  For then, our thoughts aren’t about preserving our life or being comfortable.  It is about knowing them.

SO that we all can have the same heart and mind – that of Jesus.

AMEN!

 

Escriva, Josemaria. Furrow (Kindle Locations 4014-4017). Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition.

Apologetics is Never, Ever, Defending the Faith!

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The Good Shepherd, carrying His own.

Devotional Thought for our Days:

18 All this is from God. Through Christ, God made peace between us and himself, and God gave us the work of telling everyone about the peace we can have with him. 19 God was in Christ, making peace between the world and himself. In Christ, God did not hold the world guilty of its sins. And he gave us this message of peace. 20 So we have been sent to speak for Christ. It is as if God is calling to you through us. We speak for Christ when we beg you to be at peace with God. 21 Christ had no sin, but God made him become sin so that in Christ we could become right with God. 2 Corinthians 5:18-21 NCV

15 But respect Christ as the holy Lord in your hearts. Always be ready to answer everyone who asks you to explain about the hope you have, 16 but answer in a gentle way and with respect.  1 Peter 3:15b-16

870         Matters can rarely be resolved by aggressive polemics which humiliate people. And things are certainly never cleared up when among those arguing the case there is a fanatic.

In my high school freshman or sophomore yearbook, there is a note from an acquaintance with I used to argue with a lot.  We were both interested in history and debate.  She was a disciple of Engels and Marx, me, not so much.  Her note was full of admiration, a salute to our ability to debate and still respect each other.  (despite frustrating the hell out of each other – because we couldn’t understand the position of the other! )

As I read the words from St. Josemaria this morning, my heart brought back the memory of those words.  And of many presentations, I have seen about “apologetics”.  Usually, these include th idea that we are on a “crusade”, that we have to defeat our enemy, crushing their logic, unveiling their inconsistencies, doing battle and claiming the victory in Jesus name.

There was no call for respecting them as those Jesus died for, whom God created.  No sense of love, or peace that would envelop the conversation, and rarely, any hope that was explained and explored.  I encountered this as well when teaching world religions once, where several of my seminary level students wanted to know how to crush people who depended on false Gods.  They chose the path of the fanatic and the aggressive polemics that leaves people broken and crushed. 

Compare that to the verses above, the idea of being ready to explain the reason (this is where we get the word apologetic from btw) for the hope we have!  Peter goes on to say, but do so with gentleness and respect.  Look at how many times Paul mentions peace that God makes with us.  Look at the idea that God is calling to those whom He would reconcile to Himself, to those He would give His peace to, through us. Reading that, does it seem that the tactic best suited to doing so is walking with them, exploring this hope we have, this incredible idea that God wants to live with us in peace.  Helping them see that Jesus would walk with them, in all the ways described in the beautiful words of Psalm 23.

Some might say this doesn’t allow us to properly deal with their sin, but I don’t agree.  Sin is brokenness, and whether we will admit that everything we do is sin ( and Christians play this game too!) we do recognize the brokenness it causes in our lives. Sin is not just our deliberate rebellion in this action or that, but those sins are the symptoms of the brokenness of sin, something every religion deals with, mostly through threats and punishment, of being cut off and sent away.

Christianity meets that brokenness offering hope, offering peace with God, because of the cross and the empty grave.  A completely novel way not just to scare people away from future sin, but to bring comfort to the shame, the guilt, and despair that we all live with because of our pasts.  

This is the apologia, the hope, the peace, knowing the love of God who comes to us.It’s not something we have to defend or hit people over the head with.  It is something offered with great love, with mercy consistent to God. 

It is what we depend upon, what we hope for… it is Jesus….with us. 

 

Escriva, Josemaria. Furrow (Kindle Locations 3559-3560). Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition.

Live in Harmony/Concordia: A sermon on Romans 12:9-21

church at communion 2Live in Harmony/Concordia
Romans 12:9-21

 Jesus, Son, Savior

May you realize the grace of God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ enables and empowers you to live in harmony with each other, as God intended!

Live in Concord

When I originally put a title to this sermon, it was missing one of the words you see up on the screen right now.

Anyone want to guess?

The original title read this way, Live in Concordia.

But I was afraid that some people might start moving their bedroom furniture into the Multi-Purpose Room this week, and Hank and Loreen would sell the furniture at next week’s yard sale!

Seriously, Concordia was the Latin name of the goddess the ancient Greeks called Harmonia – the two words are interchangeable, one simply finds it roots in Latin, the other in Greek.   So to live in harmony, as Paul tells us, is to live in Concordia.

We are to blend together, with one heart and mind.  Not to be copies or clones of each other, but rather to have our lives be together working together as one, as beautiful as any symphony.

For that is who God is transforming us to be, a people who love other, who really love them, with genuine affection.

Even if it isn’t easy, even if we struggle to do so, for in that struggle we learn to depend on the God who changes us!

The challenges

Love each other, challenging at times.

Love the stranger – that’s what the word hospitality means – literally to love the alien like a brother.

Ask God to bless those who try to crush you.

This isn’t exactly easy stuff!

It’s going to be very difficult at times, it is going to take effort that we don’t want to put into it, that we are not sure is worth it.

It is very different from who society has tried to make us become.

This is love without bounds, being ready to help them at all times, without any hypocrisy, as we serve God by loving others.

It’s a lot of work, we can’t be slackers about it, it takes dedication, and hearing God and obeying Him, even when we don’t want to love them.

Let’s be honest, though they may be different for each of us, there are people that it is hard to love.  Maybe it’s a neighbor, or a family member, or a person on the road that cut you off, or maybe even a pastor or deacon.

If this was simple and natural, Paul wouldn’t be writing it, covering every loophole he does.

We have to love each other, we have to love others, even those who aren’t like us… we have to love our enemies enough that we plead with God to bless them.  As Jeremiah says, we have to influence them on God’s behalf, rather than let them influence us by their persecution, by their hatred.

We have to love our enemy!

To do otherwise, to not do so is sin….

The righteous anger of God….

Paul gives us a way to deal with our tension, our frustration with those who are our enemies, those who persecute us, and try to crush us.

He says not to take revenge, to not personally seek our own brand of justice.

Let God handle it, let God’s righteous anger work itself out.    For God will do what is ultimately righteous, what sees sin paid for fully, which wreaks havoc on the guilty.

God promises this!

Even if the one who pays the price is Jesus.

Actually, that is His glorious preference, that all sinners would be united to Jesus at the cross.  All sinners.  All those others, all those strangers all those aliens and even you and I.

So rest assured, what we plead for if we hear God, is fully within His will.

And that changes everything, as God saves you and me, uniting us to Jesus, demonstrating His grace and mercy to us in that cross where His blood was spilled where hopefully they will be united as well, for Jesus paid the price for all our sin.

Which is why I find the greatest place for reconciling people to be here, at this altar, at this place where God’s love is poured out on us

Our confident Hope.

I want to back track from God’s wrath being poured out on Jesus for a moment, to verse 12,

Let’s read it together,

12 Rejoice in our confident hope. Be patient in trouble, and keep on praying.
Rejoice in our confident hope, the hope we find at the cross, the hope we find in the resurrection, reaffirmed every time we unite with Christ’ in communion, even as we did in baptism.

Be patient and longsuffering.  Don’t think a life lived loving others will be easy, but suffer through it, depending on God not only for the strength and power but to help you stand firm.

Which is why you keep on praying, pleading with God for them, and to help you remember His love for you.  Prayer is more than just asking God, it’s talking to Him, realizing His love, letting Him take the weight off your shoulders.  It is keeping your eyes on Him, knowing that enemies can’t crush you.
You see, that’s the key, to keep your eyes on God, to keep in His presence, to find yourself loved and safe in His peace.  AMEN!

Your Primary Calling in Life… have you neglected it?

20170124_103703Devotional Thought for our days

2 To the church of God in Corinth, to you who have been made holy in Christ Jesus. You were called to be God’s holy people with all people everywhere who pray in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ—their Lord and ours: 3 Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.  1 Corinthians 1:2-3  NCV

 

This illustration is applicable in every detail to participation in God. The ancient fathers write that baptism is likened to a marriage. Marriage includes a renunciation, a turning away from the single life, a ritual of union, a united vision, a transformation of life as two lives are made one. Marriage implies living together. It is not an experience that, when ritualized between two people, makes no difference in their lives. When two people, united in marriage, return to their old lives, the marriage will at worst die and at best lack any kind of growing relationship according to the I-Thou dynamic.

We talk often about our faith, about the doctrines of our faith, about defending our faith, about the keeping the faith of our fathers pure and undefiled.  We define our Christian faith, and then those who aren’t quite up to speed with our doctrine or practices.

But how often do we talk of our faithfulness, or encourage each other to be faithful to God?

It is time.

We have to talk of our calling, our vocation, not primarily in regards to how we worship corporately, or how often we share our faith in this broken world, or how much we give to missionaries or to care for those who have less.

Those acts of faith are good, but they are meaningless if we are not faithful to God, if we don’t realize our primary calling is to be His people, His children, the bride of Jesus Christ. 

Our first calling is not to be pastors, evangelists, elders, worship leaders, defenders of the faith.  Our primary vocation is not to be parents, employees, however, we define our lives. 

Our primary vocation is our deep, abiding, intimate relationship with God. To dwell with Him, as He loves us in ways that only can be described as glorious, praise-worthy, mind-blowing.  (Even when we struggle!_  

Paul describes that calling as being part of God’s holy people who pray in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, and in Hebrews 4:16 he describes us being able to confidently approach God’s throne, for there we will receive His mercy and grace, for we belong there.

It is as Dr. Webber talks of, where a married couple lives together, lives as one.  That is our relationship with God ( see Eph. 5:21 and following)  This relationship we have with God is the most precious thing we have in this life, and without it, nothing we have is worth anything, in fact, if we cling to them, they are liabilities, serious liabilities.

You and I need our time with God, our time where we are reminded of His glory, his value, and the power He exerts in our lives, the very same power that raised Christ from the dead. (Eph.120 )  Just as a couple needs quiet intimate time together (I am not just talking about sex) so we need that time with God, deep, powerful, intimate time where God floods us with His peace, and causes us to rest, free from the crap of this world.  

Our time with Him restores us, even reconciles us back to Him when we need to know His mercy and forgiveness.  

This is the power behind sacramental times, like communion, where we break from our lives and kneel before Him, not just humbly, but expectantly, to receive the blessing of Christ’s body and blood.  Or in the sacramental time where we hear that we can go, our sin is forgiven, or in the sacramental time of prayer, when we live in the promise of our baptism. 

We need this rest, this time of Sabbath peace, this moment where we know we know we are loved… and we learn to love back.

Lord Jesus, help us to cry out to you, in need, or in joy.  Help us to treasure our time where we confidently enter Your presence and share in Your glorious love and peace.  Lord, reconcile us and restore, and help us to seek You first, and always.  AMEN!

 

Webber, Robert E. The Divine Embrace: Recovering the Passionate Spiritual Life. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2006. Print. Ancient-Future Series.

No Other Words Can Express this…

Altar with communionDevotional Thought for our days….
Like a young man taking a virgin as his bride, He who formed you will marry you.
As a groom is delighted with his bride, So your God will delight in you.  Isaiah 62:4 TEV

8 But you are our Father, LORD. We are like clay, and you are like the potter. You created us, 9so do not be too angry with us or hold our sins against us for ever. We are your people; be merciful to us.  Isaiah 64:8-9  TEV

You will be like a child that is nursed by its mother, carried in her arms, and treated with love. 13I will comfort you in Jerusalem, as a mother comforts her child.  Isaiah 66:12-13

 

For God, we are not numbers! We are important; indeed, the most important of all his creatures, the closest to his heart whether we are saints or sinners.

Yet sisters continued to leave and new ones failed to come. Perhaps, without being fully aware of the reasons, women religious felt a deep unrest at living in a Church in which Christianity is reduced to an ideology of doing, a Church in which there is no longer any place for mystical experience, for that zenith of religious life that has been—and not by chance—the most precious treasure of the Church through centuries of uninterrupted constancy and fullness in the lives of religious, usually women rather than men; in the lives of those extraordinary women whom the Church has honored with the title “saint”, and sometimes even “doctor”, not hesitating to offer them as models for all Christians.

As I study the scriptures with a group of guys, all who are servants of the church, there is a debate that is somewhat constant.  It is over the use of a phrase that I use to help us study and communicate the good news of God’s love and care.

The phrase is simple, two words that I feel capture the essence of what we need to make sure people understand about God and them.  The words are 

Intimate Relationship

They would plead that we can’t use those two words together, they will scare off men, they will be heard and people will think about sex or sensual or even perverse relationships.   For years I have asked them to come up with another phrase, another way to express what Hebrew and Greek words like Agape and cHesed and Eleos do. 

They cannot.  And they admit that this is at the heart of the gospel, this relationship with God that is so deep, so powerful, so captivating. So intimate.

The Old Testament prophets saw this and expressed it simply and clearly.  Isaiah even is inspired to compare it to the delight of a groom as he takes his bride to himself.   He will also compare it to a woman nourishing her newborn.  or an artist crafting His creation ( relative to Eph. 2:10) and the relationship the artist has with his work.

It is scary, as anyone who has been a bride or groom knows, the anxiety of letting a person get that close to you, not just physically, but spiritually, psychologically.  Letting every barrier down, turning every defensive mechanism off, simply loving and being loved.  Whether it is the groom, the newborn’s mom, or the artist, each opens themselves up to the “Other”, or as some philosophers have said, the “Thou” is important to the I and they reach a point where you can’t define one without the other!

That is what “intimate relationship” describes,

What Isaiah also notes is that God is the one who initiates this, who keeps it going, who is responsible.  The groom in those days, the mom feeding the infant, the artist creating the “Work”.  Each has the responsibility in the relationship for making it happen, for making the connection.

As Pope Francis notes, we aren’t just numbers, we are just parts of the Body of Christ, Each one of us has that relationship with God!  As Benedict grieves, it is this zenith, this mystical experience, this constant fullness of the presence of God has gone missing from the church, and why it is weaker without the women (and some men) who could experience such joy, such delight, such wonder as living in the presence of God brings.

Luther would call this living the baptized life, living in the truth that in our baptism, we are united with Christ, and become one with Him. We live in Christ, for there is love, and joy and peace, far deeper than we could have ever imagined.

Far more intimate that we could normally be comfortable with…

Yet a place of peace.  deep abiding peace that is beyond the peace of the world,  A peace so unexplainable, save with these words….

The Lord be with you!

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

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.

Let Them Make Peace With Me! But what does that mean?

20170124_103703Devotional Thought for This Day:

5 “But if the enemies of my people want my protection, let them make peace with me. Yes, let them make peace with me.”  Isaiah 27:5  TEV

748         Let us make a firm resolution about our friendships. In my thoughts, words and deeds towards my neighbour, whoever he may be, may I not behave as I have done up to now. That is to say, may I never cease to practise charity, or allow indifference to enter my soul.

It is very possible to misread Isaiah in the passage above, to think that the burden of reconciliation God is placing on those who are the enemies of His people.  That are the ones to “make peace”, therefore it is their effort, their work.  We hear it as a demand from him, as the thundering voice of God’s law, with the undertones of wrath below it.

We choose to hear it as God’s law – as the prophetic voice that will allow us to thrash them unless they prove their intent to make peace.  Which means, of course, that we can then have the same attitude, because the enemies of God’s people are our enemies, because we are God’s people, right?

This gives us full license to be holier than thou – or at least holier than those racists, or those politicians, or those other people, you know, the ones that don’t go to our church but go to “that” church, or no church at all.

I even heard that to preach “love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you is law, therefore we don’t have to obey it, just confess it when we fail too! ( We need a refresher in Augsburg Confession Article VI)

St. Josemaria’s words caught my attention this morning. He described a desire to change his attitude toward his neighbor,  whoever he maybe!  He then describes a life that is charitable, that loves, that has compassion, and never allows indifference to enter his soul.

What if that neighbor was an addict to drugs, or dealt them?  what if that neighbor was into porn, or and it was wrecking his life and family? What if that neighbor was a militant atheist or someone who morality and ethics we question.  What if they murdered someone, deliberately or by neglect? What if that neighbor was one of those in Charlottesville that was rioting?  (It doesn’t matter which side, or whether they were those who just wanted to “amp” up the tension)

Each of those people may be identified as our neighbor, and we need to rid ourselves of our apathy, we need to find the ability to be compassionate toward him or her.  We need to invite them to make peace with God, and then perhaps, over time, with us.

Which brings us back to Isaiah, and the question about God’s intent about these enemies.  Does He mean they have to make peace with Him, atoning for their own sin, proving their intent?  Or is it an invitation to be at peace with God, to be drawn to Jesus, and the cross which cleanses us from all sin?

From St. Paul,

8  But God showed his great love for us by sending Christ to die for us while we were still sinners. 9  And since we have been made right in God’s sight by the blood of Christ, he will certainly save us from God’s condemnation. 10  For since our friendship with God was restored by the death of his Son while we were still his enemies, we will certainly be saved through the life of his Son. 11  So now we can rejoice in our wonderful new relationship with God because our Lord Jesus Christ has made us friends of God. Romans 5:8-11 (NLT)

Let them make peace, a peace for which the price has already been paid.

It is an invitation, one that will result in them (and us) being cleansed of all sin and unrighteousness.

It is there, in this invitation, that we ALL can find hope. …

Lord Jesus, help us to shed our apathy, our indifference toward our neighbor, and with great compassion and love lead them to where God reconciles them with Himself.  And remind us constantly of the wonder of the peace you give us, as by grace you save us.  AMEN!

Escriva, Josemaria. Furrow (Kindle Locations 3115-3117). Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition.

 

 

American Bible Society. The Holy Bible: The Good News Translation. 2nd ed. New York: American Bible Society, 1992. Print.

The Priceless Blessing We Cannot Afford to Neglect…

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The Good Shepherd, carrying His own.

Devotional thought of the Day:

23  After sending them home, he went up into the hills by himself to pray. Night fell while he was there alone. Matthew 14:23 (NLT)

26  And the Holy Spirit helps us in our weakness. For example, we don’t know what God wants us to pray for. But the Holy Spirit prays for us with groanings that cannot be expressed in words. 27  And the Father who knows all hearts knows what the Spirit is saying, for the Spirit pleads for us believers in harmony with God’s own will. Romans 8:26-27 (NLT)

16 Ultimately, if we should list as sacraments all the things that have God’s command and a promise added to them, then why not prayer, which can most truly be called a sacrament? It has both the command of God and many promises. If it were placed among the sacraments and thus given, so to speak, a more exalted position, this would move men to pray.  (1) 

The intercessor is a worshipper who has understood the deepest feelings of God and clings to them, despite contrary appearances.

In prayer, our flesh, identified with the Word made flesh and moved by the Spirit, longs for the Father. This is the mystery that unfolds in prayer and that promises us a unique communion with the Father, in the Spirit, and through the Son.
He takes our flesh and we receive his Spirit.

I am sitting in my office, as I do most Saturdays.  My primary task is finalizing my sermon, the two Bible studies I teach tomorrow.  As I do, there is another task I do… on that can be heartbreaking at times.

It is receiving the prayers that people drop into mention, that text or message me or email me about.  They want to make sure they are included in the bulletin for our people to pray about, or if more confidential, that I will include them in my private prayers. 

This morning has been no different, in fact, one could say “business” has been a bit brisker than normal.  A military person going to Korea, another beloved friend diagnosed with cancer, a friend dealing with diabetes and other health concerns, people with family problems, people looking for a new home, people with family struggles.  There are a lot of people we pray for, an act often called intercession, or petitioning God on their behalf.  Or more simply – we ask God to bless them and care for them in their situation.  That includes praying for healing, for strengthening their trust and dependence on Him, which will give them hope.  Mostly that they would see God acting in their lives. 

This is prayer, this is, in a very real way, communing with God.  Or as the Lutheran confessions (in green) call it, a sacramental time.  Pope Franci echoes this sentiment when he calls it the mystery that is unfolded and revealed, a time of intimate communion, a time where we understand the deepest feelings of God and cling to them.

As I prepare for tomorrow’s sermon, this hits home strong.  Jesus sends the disciples across the lake, he sends the crowds away, and he heads in to the hills to be alone, to pray.  Specifically, the word for prayer is the word for petition.  He has to talk wiht the Father about the people he encountered, He has to bring them into the relaitonship He has with the Father because they matter to both of them!

Add to this the action of the Holy Spirit, seen in the passage from Romans. This incredible thought that the Holy Spirit intercedes for us as well, praying when we are too overwhelmed when we cannot find the words when we can’t find the words or thoughts to pray.  It is then that the Spirit is definitely interceding with and for us, with words that are inaudible, because the Spirit’s groans,, the Spirit’s pleading is beyond expression. 

That is how much the Spirit cares, how much the Spirit is in touch with our needs, with the needs of those we love, and those they love.

Prayer isn’t some empty time of waiting for an appeal to be heard and decided.  It isn’t a time to do out of a sense of obligation, either to God or to those who ask.

It is the time we have been given to walk with God, to see His heart, to realize His love for them is even deeper than ours.  THat He cares more for those we intercede for than He does for flowers and birds, and if he cares for them and makes them beautiful bow much more for us is He active, then we can relax, we can be at peace.

Such is this priceless gift of prayer, our time with God. And like the other sacramental times, we need to slow it down hear his voice. To let Him comfort our tears, to let Him still our anxious hearts, to help us realize He is with us….even when we don’t know what to pray.

He is with us…

If that is all prayer did,, was make us aware of that, it would be worth it.

Yet to realize that Jesus and the Holy Spirit are advocating for us, pleading for us, praying with us….. how that helps us… how incredible, how much more does it help us understand the heart of our incredible God who loves us!

Be at peace, the Lord is with you!

Tappert, Theodore G., ed. The Book of Concord the Confessions of the Evangelical Lutheran Church. Philadelphia: Mühlenberg Press, 1959. Print.

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

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

The Truly Important Ministry….is Unseen but by a few.

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Dawn at Concordia

Devotional thought for your day:

“Watch out! Don’t do your good deeds publicly, to be admired by others, for you will lose the reward from your Father in heaven. 2  When you give to someone in need, don’t do as the hypocrites do—blowing trumpets in the synagogues and streets to call attention to their acts of charity! I tell you the truth, they have received all the reward they will ever get. 3  But when you give to someone in need, don’t let your left hand know what your right hand is doing. 4  Give your gifts in private, and your Father, who sees everything, will reward you. Matthew 6:1-4 (NLT)

718         If only they could see the good things I do!… But don’t you realise that you are carrying them around like trinkets in a basket for people to see how fine they are? Furthermore, you must not forget the second part of Jesus’ command: “that they may glorify your Father who is in heaven.”

Nearly a year ago, I did the memorial service for an incredible lady.

The bulletin of that service still resides on the little refrigerator in my office, a reminder of our very simple, very special relationship.

Every Tuesday at 9 am, I would travel about 500 yards from my office, enter the house she had a bedroom in, and talk a moment, then pray for her.  No more than 15 minutes, more likely ten or so. On occasion, I would bring her the leftover flowers from church on Sunday,

And every time I left, even when she was too tired to talk, I felt lifted up.  She ministered to me far more than I ministered to her.

I knew she had a couple of incredible jobs in her life.  The executive assistant to a seminary president, the producer of a mega church pastor’s television ministry.  She didn’t talk about those things.  Rather it was the joy of hearing from this friend or that pastor.  It was about reading the sermons of those she knew.  It was always about someone else,

Given the honor of officiating at her service, I realized that day how much of an honor it was.  Men who served the church for decades and trained thousands of preachers were there.  They told me of the things my friend did, and how she ministered to them for decades.  How she helped and raised money for seminarians and worked for equity among the staff. How she interacted with world famous preachers ( I still love the story of her moving a bicycle rack to protect a parking spot for Billy Graham – and how he helped her move it back where it belonged when he got there! )

Yet I knew none of this as I visited her, as I prayed for her, as we looked at Roses and carnations and lilies and marveled at the hand of God that created the beauty we observed.   I simply knew a lady whose bright eyes ministered to me as I prayed for her, a  lady who lived so simply, so beautifully that I looked forward to visiting her each week.

I think she got the passages above and the incredible things she did in life weren’t paraded around, for her reward was to hear Jesus welcome her home.  Looking back on a life full of incredible service to God wasn’t her style, it wasn’t what she counted as important. Rather it was finding God’s peace, as a neighborhood pastor stopped by, and she could fill his life with God’s peace, even as she rejoiced in a small time of prayer.

I miss my friend – but thank God for what she taught me about ministry and walking with God, watching Him at work.

Escriva, Josemaria. Furrow (Kindle Locations 2995-2999). Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition.

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