Devotional Thought of the day:
20 He who gives his testimony to all this says, “Yes indeed! I am coming soon!” So be it. Come, Lord Jesus! 21 May the grace of the Lord Jesus be with everyone. Revelation 22:20-21 (TEV)
8 And now there is waiting for me the victory prize of being put right with God, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will give me on that Day—and not only to me, but to all those who wait with love for him to appear. 2 Timothy 4:8 (TEV)
The believer has in essence already received God’s favorable verdict. Now, as at the future judgment, he or she stands clothed only in the righteousness of Christ and for his sake is assured of life. Thus, the fear of condemnation disappeared for Luther, and, instead of holding out the return of Christ as an object of terror, he could exhort his parishioners to pray for the speedy arrival of the lieben jungsten Tag, the dear last day, when the riches of divine grace, invisible to the eye and accessible only to faith in this world, would be revealed in the kingdom of God.
I grew up in the midst of a hysteria about the end times. Even as the revival and renewal of the 60’s and 70’s guided people back into the church, part of that renewal was based on fear, and false teaching about the tribulation, the horrors of God’s wrath powered an evangelistic fever, and a desire to make sure our family, neighbors, and friends were safe.
End times, much like in the time of Luther, were pushed as something to drive people to God in fear of his wrath.
And salvation became a salvation from the extreme power of sin, and Satan, and the power of death.
Men like Tim LaHaye, Chuck Smith, Hal Lindsey, and Jack Chick became experts in this presentation of end times, and of using what Freud called Thanatos to motivate people’s going to church, and buying books and tracts.
We all grew to fear the second coming, and what preceded it, we studied the news with as much emphasis as studying scripture, and eventually, many burnt out on this fear-of-the-end-driven religion, and many more turned off, as we tried to scare and shame them into our form of Christianity. (and we were often proud of our “evangelistic efforts” being rejected, as proof we were doing the right thing!)
And as the day delayed, the church lost its grasp on people, the fear diminished, as did the fervor to save them from something, for we forgot to teach them what they were saved into…
Luther had this going in his days as well, though instead of buying books and tracts, they bought indulgences.
As I was reading this morning, the passage above from a book on Luther’s Spirituality again helped me to see a different approach regarding the end. One I’ve come to appreciate on its own but didn’t make the connection of it to Luther.
I want the end to come! I pray that Christ will return
Sometimes for the wrong reasons, for the end to all the trauma, I see, especially in the church. Sometimes so there is finally an end to the trauma and pain caused by our sin, that spiritual illness that we are powerless against.
But the real reason to desire the end, to desire the judgment is that we know what Luther knew. Because of Jesus, we are already judged as righteous, as holy as able to walk into the presence of God, glorifying Him for doing the impossible. For He has declared and made us as holy, as special as Jesus.
And that makes heaven a homecoming, that makes heaven an entry into something beyond our imagination, beyond our ken. To see God in all of His glory, and to know we belong in His presence. To hear our welcome, to hear with delight (and still the attitude of “who? me? really? when Lord?”) the Lord welcoming us into His presence. To have answered the prayer that my mornings begin, “One thing I have asked of the Lord, and this is what I seek.: That I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life,; to behold the beauty of the Lord, and to seek HIm in HIs temple”
May we all learn to desire this, to pray for it, to realize how real that day is, and rejoice in the thought it is nearer than before. Maranatha! Come Lord Jesus!
strohl, J. E. (2007). General Introduction. In P. D. W. Krey, B. McGinn, & P. D. S. Krey (Eds.), P. D. S. Krey & P. D. W. Krey (Trans.), Luther’s Spirituality (p. xxii). New York; Mahwah, NJ: Paulist Press.
Taken from https://www.northumbriacommunity.org/offices/morning-prayer/ (psalm 27:4
Devotional Thought of the Day:
When John the Baptist heard in prison about the things that Christ was doing, he sent some of his disciples to him. 3 “Tell us,” they asked Jesus, “are you the one John said was going to come, or should we expect someone else?” Matt 11:2-3 TEV
The LORD is a refuge for the oppressed, a place of safety in times of trouble. 10 Those who know you, LORD, will trust you; you do not abandon anyone who comes to you. Ps. 9:9-10 TEV
When darkness veils His lovely face
I rest on His unchanging grace
In ev’ry high and stormy gale
My anchor holds within the veil
from the hymn THE SOLID ROCK by Mote and Bradbury (in public domain)
Mission springs from the certainty of faith that coexists with the thousand
questions of a pilgrim. Faith is not a matter of ideology, existential security, but of an irreplaceable encounter with a living person, Jesus of Nazareth.
Modern renditions of The Solid rock often change the verse above ever so slightly, changing “veils” to “hide”, and robbing the poet of the tie in the second occurrence of the veil.
I picture the sailing boat, anchored but with a thick fog, unable to see where its anchor rope even enters the water, unable to see what the anchor has grasped, but sure of its security, the people on the boat find rest, I also picture the rope, tied to the high priest, who moves from the Holy Place into the Holy of Holies, all hope of Israel tied to him, and the offering which will cover our sin.
And in my reading in the gospel today, we see the prophet John, weary and brutalized, sending word to his cousin, for his own strength no longer sustains him. He sends his men to ask for the words which will sustain him, the words which will assure him of the promise.
And so we can take refuge in the promises of God. We see hope revealed in His providing hold on us that will protect us in the storm, calming us amid the brokenness, even amidst the mess our sins have caused in our lives.
The Lord is with you… He is your God….He changes not, and so you know the love and mercy you experienced once is still there, even when you can’t see it.
Pope Francis, a man who has known a storm or two, takes this a step further. He notes that the pilgrim, the one who God has sent on a mission, can know a thousand questions, can be overwhelmed by them, and even struggle with doubt. Been there, done that, have the scars to prove it. ANd those questions are a form of doubt, I don’t know the answers, os how can I cling to what is so…spiritual?
His answer is because faith is not just a list of doctrines or even our identity based on our beliefs. It is more than that, it is a relationship, formed from encountering the living, resurrected, crucified Jesus. It is that relationship that withstands the questions, the foggy times in life, the times we can’t see the God who holds, protects and preserved us. But we can know He is there… and as we focus on His love, which word and sacraments refresh our experience of daily, we are free….
Free to reach out to those likewise broken, likewise struggling with sin, likewise wrestling with a thousand questions of doubt, and share with them, whether ancient believer, newly baptized, or those yet to encounter Him, that He is with you all. Doubt drives us from our own self-sufficiency to realize we need something…not someone more.
And He is here… for all.
Being missional is not about being happy and positive about everything. The missional Christian isn’t one who exudes confidence in himself or depends on her charisma. The missional person is one whom simply knows that God is holding them, while they cling to Him, for in Him there is hope, in Him there is healing, and as we encounter Him, we experience life as the ones He loves.
So the next time you struggle, the next time the fog hides His face, hold on to His promises, hold on to those encounters, as you realize He holds onto you, the one He loves. And grab hold of the next person floating buy in the fog, for that is your mission.
Pope Francis. (2013). A Year with Pope Francis: Daily Reflections from His Writings. (A. Rossa, Ed.) (p. 366). New York; Mahwah, NJ; Toronto, ON: Paulist Press; Novalis.
The devotional thought of the day:
12 Jesus heard them and answered, “People who are well do not need a doctor, but only those who are sick. 13† Go and find out what is meant by the scripture that says: ‘It is kindness that I want, not animal sacrifices.’ I have not come to call respectable people, but outcasts.” Matt 9:12-13 Good News Translation (TEV)
Neither illumination nor contemplation but rather spiritual attack (tentatio) concluded Luther’s engagement with scripture. For him, when the Holy Spirit breaks our reason and reveals to us the true intention of God’s word, we are not drawn into some sort of heavenly realm or closer contact to the divine by our effort. Instead, all hell breaks loose. The flesh, the world, the devil and any other anti-spiritual power attempt to wrest from the believer the comfort of God’s unconditional grace and mercy. No wonder the psalmist cried out for deliverance from his enemies in Psalm 119!
One of the most serious temptations that lead us to break our contact with the Lord is the feeling of defeat. Facing a combative faith by definition, the enemy under the disguise of an angel of light will sow the seeds of pessimism. No one can take up any fight if, from the outset, one does not fully trust in winning. Those who begin without trust have already lost half the battle.
People are meant to live in an ongoing conversation with God, speaking and being spoken to by him. God’s visits to Adam and Eve in the garden, Enoch’s walks with God, and the face-to-face conversations between Moses and Jehovah are all commonly regarded as highly exceptional moments in the religious history of humankind.
Aside from their obviously unique historical role, however, these moments are not meant to be exceptional at all. Rather they are examples of the normal human life God intended for us: God’s indwelling his people through personal presence and fellowship.
When 3 of my devotional readings go in a certain direction, it is not unusual. When four do, when I see how they resonate, the lesson just is about to burst forth, not from the readings, but through experience. So it is today;
I guess I will start with Luther’s thoughts, about this idea that the way we learn about God, is found in its last step in a fight, in the tension and battle that comes as all hell breaks loose, and Satan tries to wrest from us the comfort of the Holy Spirit, the comfort that is found in His cHesed, that incredible combination of love and mercy and peace that comprise what we call grace.
The fight is echoed in the words of Pope Francis, as we deal with an unnatural pessimism, a moment of despair and depression that is not like normal depression but is contrary to it. As Satan tries to convince us that God wouldn’t care about us, that God sees us as riff-raff, as not worth His time or interest. We know this is not true, yet, it is so hard to shut out the voice of the ones who are masquerading as messengers of God.
It is hard because we struggle to see ourselves as God does, as the beautiful, pure, bride, set apart as the bride of Christ, as one who deserves the respect and admiration of God. Instead, we see ourselves as those who are broken, not worthy of a glance, nothing close to deserving respect.
Yet we often treat the church as if it is the place we have to demonstrate how respectable we are. We might pretend, dressing us, smiling and saying we are okay when people ask, smiling and greeting each other as if every day was a party. When what we really feel like is staying home, hiding under the blankets and ignoring the world.
I think this is enhanced by how we see what some call the heroes of faith, the incredible men and women we see described in the Bible. Except we forget that Moses was running from Egypt, a prince hiding out with sheep in the wilderness. That Abraham was an exile looking for his home and future as well, that David wasn’t the hero, but the man broken by his sin, and then by the sins of his children.
As shattered as we are, yet…
Willard reminds us that they are examples of a normal human life and that God was present, and lived with them. That God walked with them in their brokenness, even as He walks with us. They are not exceptional, their walking with God, finding hope there, is our example, for we can as well.
After all, Jesus didn’t come to snob around with the perfect and respectful. He came to draw outcasts, broken folk, exiles and those who struggle to get out of bed every morning. Because He loves us…..
And Satan will unleash all of hell to stop us from experiencing this, and in that tension, we find God’s comfort, that He is our refuge, our sanctuary, and our hope.
We are His people, He is our God… and He is calling us to His side, so He can comfort and heal us, the children He loves.
Let us pray, Heavenly Father, in the midst of trials, in the midst of brokenness, and when it seems all hell is breaking loose. Help us to see Your glory, revealed in Your love and your comfort. AMEN!
Wengert, T. J. (2007). Preface. In P. D. W. Krey, B. McGinn, & P. D. S. Krey (Eds.), P. D. S. Krey & P. D. W. Krey (Trans.), Luther’s Spirituality (p. xiv). New York; Mahwah, NJ: Paulist Press.
Pope Francis. (2013). A Year with Pope Francis: Daily Reflections from His Writings. (A. Rossa, Ed.) (p. 352). New York; Mahwah, NJ; Toronto, ON: Paulist Press; Novalis.
Willard, D., & Johnson, J. (2015). Hearing god through the year: a 365-day devotional. Westmont, IL: IVP Books.
Devotional Thought of the Day:
2 For while I was with you, I made up my mind to forget everything except Jesus Christ and especially his death on the cross. 1 Corinthians 2:2 (TEV)
273 Dear Jesus: if I have to be an apostle, you will need to make me very humble. Everything the sun touches is bathed in light. Lord, fill me with your clarity, make me share in your divinity so that I may identify my will with your adorable Will and become the instrument you wish me to be. Give me the madness of the humiliation you underwent, which led you to be born poor, to work in obscurity, to the shame of dying sewn with nails to a piece of wood, to your self-effacement in the Blessed Sacrament. May I know myself: may I know myself and know you. I will then never lose sight of my nothingness.
A long time ago, the first church that entrusted me with the responsibility of being their pastor, their guide, had a motto. Simply, what they wanted to be, as a church, was the place that taught Christ-centered living.
A fairly narrow mission statement, yet one I think we still need to see happen in the church.
It came to mind this morning as I was bombarded with political adds and texts. As I also was bothered greatly by some emails that spoke of politics inside my denomination.
After trying to clear my email and my mind of all this crap, I tried to settle down into my normal devotion time. And only as I opened my last book, did I see something that reminded me of what I have tried to teach for decades… to be humble like Mary, and sit at Jesus’ feet, and know the peace that comes from this “madness of humiliation” that St. Josemaria speaks of so well.
For it is there, being centered in and on Jesus, being able to identify with His will, (not mine, not democratic or Republican, not the United List’s or Congregations Matter) that I find the healing I need to begin the day. It is when I come to see the glory of His self-giving in the sacrament, where He invites us to share in Him, in the love that permeates and defines the communion of the Trinity, as He draws us in, and cleanses us, and we start to adjust to living in His glory, and His peace.
When I say I need ot be narrow-minded, I am not talking about set in a political view, or in some narrow theological paradigm. My mind needs to be centered on Jesus, as does my very life, heart, soul’ mind, and strength learning ot love even as I experience the love of God too incredible to understand.
Only then, knowing His love, can I toss away the idols and sins that so easily draw my attention away from the Lord, who creates, restores, and makes me (and all His people, the church) holy and healing of their brokenness.
So set aside everything else for a little while, and think about the love of God, which is visible in your life. AMEN!
Escriva, Josemaria. Furrow (Kindle Locations 1341-1347). Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition.
Devotional Thought of the Day:
37 Pilate said, “So you are a king?” Jesus responded, “You say I am a king. Actually, I was born and came into the world to testify to the truth. All who love the truth recognize that what I say is true.” 38 “What is truth?” Pilate asked. Then he went out again to the people and told them, “He is not guilty of any crime.
John 18:37-38 (NLT2)
Out of love for the truth and the desire to bring it to light, the following propositions will be discussed at Wittenberg, under the presidency of the Reverend Father Martin Luther, Master of Arts and of Sacred Theology, and Lecturer in Ordinary on the same at that place. Wherefore he requests that those who are unable to be present and debate orally with us, may do so by letter. In the Name our Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.
I wish I could have seen the body language and tone of voice of Pilate when he asked, “What is Truth?”
Was it from exasperation? Did his non-verbals betray a sad sense of fatalism or sarcasm? Did he really want to know the truth, but feel that his search was so in vain?
He was face to face with God’s revelation of the truth, and couldn’t see it. He heard it, but he didn’t realize it.
Approximately 1500 years later, Luther was struggling with the truth as well. He found the truth, and the mercy it promised so much like chasing after the wind. What he had been taught obscured it, to the extent that he knew deep despair and depression.
The hammering of the 95 theses to the church door in Wittenberg wasn’t a call to arms, it wasn’t the equivalent of the first shot of the American Revolution, it wasn’t a cry for the downfall of the Roman Catholic Church.
It was a plea to examine what was believed, and compare it to scripture, in the hope of finding out the truth of God’s love.
My denomination celebrates this day, and I am not sure I do. I don’t regret the work of Luther, Melancthon, Chemnitz and their brothers, but I do regret the necessity. And I, even more, regret that we’ve lost the focus, that the events surrounding Luther’s search for and finding grace are lost in the triumphalism, in the “we’ve shown them.”
You see, in my mind, the reformation should still be about redirecting us to the mercy of Christ, and to the fact we need it. It should be about the hope we who are broken find in the healer. It must be about Jesus.
That is why the first thesis read.
Our Lord and Master Jesus Christ, when He said Poenitentiam agite, willed that the whole life of believers should be repentance.
To remember the beginning of the reformation means we remember the call to a life of repentance.
And that means we have to admit where we are wrong and be willing to be questioned regarding our presuppositions, about our theology and practice. We have to accept the invitations to discuss where we have obscured Jesus, and be willing to repent.
That is reformation, that is putting Christ first, and seeing Him at work, redeeming and reforming His people.
Luther, M. (1996). Disputation of Doctor Martin Luther on the power and efficacy of indulgences: October 31, 1517 (electronic ed.). Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software.
Devotional Thought of the day:
19 That Sunday evening the disciples were meeting behind locked doors because they were afraid of the Jewish leaders. Suddenly, Jesus was standing there among them! “Peace be with you,” he said.
John 20:19 (NLT2)
7 Before you know it, a sense of God’s wholeness, everything coming together for good, will come and settle you down. It’s wonderful what happens when Christ displaces worry at the center of your life.
Philippians 4:7 (MSG)
Whatever be the facts about this method of deterrence, men should be convinced that the arms race in which an already considerable number of countries are engaged is not a safe way to preserve a steady peace, nor is the so-called balance resulting from this race a sure and authentic peace. Rather than being eliminated thereby, the causes of war are in danger of being gradually aggravated. While extravagant sums are being spent for the furnishing of ever new weapons, an adequate remedy cannot be provided for the multiple miseries afflicting the whole modern world. Disagreements between nations are not really and radically healed; on the contrary, they spread the infection to other parts of the earth. New approaches based on reformed attitudes must be taken to remove this trap and to emancipate the world from its crushing anxiety through the restoration of genuine peace.
This post isn’t about global politics, nor is it about gun control, or any other political issue.
It’s about you and me.
It’s about how we deal with each other, and those around us.
It is about finding peace and rest in a world that doesn’t know peace, and to be honest, doesn’t know conflict. In a world where the absence of major conflict is “assured” by the doctrines like “mutually assured destruction”, we still find smaller conflicts, fueled by the same people that won’t fight each other, because our weapons stores say we are at peace. And as the above, 50-year-old section points out, the disagreements are really and radically healed and the crushing anxiety still exists.
This same picture takes place in our own lives, as we become more an more insular, trying ot achieve peace. We avoid confrontations, we flee from disagreements, lest they become fights, we see people not getting married because splitting up is somehow less damaging than getting a legal divorce. We even see this in the church, as churches shrink without any consideration, or as denominations fight over property in court, rather than working with each other, confessing our own sins and unfaithfulness. (and both sides are always sinners in such)
The problem is that we are looking for the illusion of peace, more than peace itself. We don’t see mercy, that incredible act and attitude of love, as essential to real peace.
We don’t see a need for Jesus, and the peace He gives, as He loved us enough to die for us, to remove that sin which ensnares and divides us. He can really and radically heal the divisions among mankind. The peace He brings removes the crushing anxiety that we dwell oppressed by.
It settles us down, knowing that God would love us so much, that He would be so merciful, that He not only died for us, but that He rose, and came back to us, and will come back for us.
It is only understanding this, that we are loved, that we are cleansed of sin and injustice (same word as unrighteousness)
Jesus is our peace, He is our rest, He is the cure for our brokenness. Simply because His love creates the healing in us, that frees us, and enables us and creates the desire in us to love others more than we care for our own selves.
So we pray, Lord, open us to Your love, help us to see the changes your mercy creates in us, and help us not to avoid or flee those you send s too, no matter how uncomfortable, Lord help us to love them as You do. AMEN!
Catholic Church. (2011). Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World: Gaudium Et Spes. In Vatican II Documents. Vatican City: Libreria Editrice Vaticana.
Devotional Thought of the Day:
11 Don’t criticize one another, brothers. He who criticizes a brother or judges his brother criticizes the law and judges the law. But if you judge the law, you are not a doer of the law but a judge. 12 There is one lawgiver and judge who is able to save and to destroy. But who are you to judge your neighbor? James 4:11-12 HCSB
28. Respect and love ought to be extended also to those who think or act differently than we do in social, political and even religious matters. In fact, the more deeply we come to understand their ways of thinking through such courtesy and love, the more easily will we be able to enter into dialogue with them.
This love and good will, to be sure, must in no way render us indifferent to truth and goodness. Indeed love itself impels the disciples of Christ to speak the saving truth to all men. But it is necessary to distinguish between error, which always merits repudiation, and the person in error, who never loses the dignity of being a person even when he is flawed by false or inadequate religious notions.10 God alone is the judge and searcher of hearts, for that reason He forbids us to make judgments about the internal guilt of anyone.11
There is a great difference between judging sin and having knowledge of sin. Knowledge of sin does not entail the right to judge it. I may see and hear that my neighbor sins, but to make him the talk of the town is not my business. If I interfere and pass sentence on him, I fall into a greater sin than his. When you become aware of a sin, simply make your ears a tomb and bury it until you are appointed a judge and authorized to administer punishment by virtue of your office.
267 Those are called backbiters who are not content just to know but rush ahead and judge. Learning a bit of gossip about someone else, they spread it into every corner, relishing and delighting in it like pigs that roll in the mud and root around in it with their snouts.
268 This is nothing else than usurping the judgment and office of God, pronouncing the severest kind of verdict and sentence, for the harshest verdict a judge can pronounce is to declare somebody a thief, a murderer, a traitor, etc. Whoever therefore ventures to accuse his neighbor of such guilt assumes as much authority as the emperor and all magistrates. For though you do not wield the sword, you use your venomous tongue to the disgrace and harm of your neighbor.
It is amazing how much judgment we see today in the world. And equally disturbing how much we see in the church. So many people claiming to be experts regarding situations they have no intimate knowledge, of, but simply reacting to the news and rumors put out there. As so we somehow think we can judge (and prosecute or defend ) those whose situations are in the public eye.
A lot of our judgment is based on our own experiences, and on the experiences of someone who did something to us or to someone we love. And therefore, all in a similar situation we judge based on our experience, not on the facts that we don’t have access to.
Or we judge the case because of the affiliations or demographic data of the person who accuses or is accused. They agree with us, so they are the ones under attack. The other side is only loyal to their peers, therefore, since their peers are wrong, they must be lying.
A great example of this is the present situation with the supreme court nominee. I have some friends who have been sexually harassed and a couple who I have counseled because they were trying to cope with rape. I also have been involved in situations where one accused of such was the target, and they were out to hurt him. In the process of one such situation, the accuser was presented with evidence that proved her story a lie, and she confessed to it.
Been there, cried with both, was anxious with both, and the present situation has brought me to pray for those who stories are never far from my mind. And as I hear the details, as I see people share the rumors across social media, both groups of stories come to mind. The victims who no come forth, and the victims who had their lives damaged by false claims. No, let me rephrase, these situations today doesn’t just bring their stories to mind, it tears at the heart, as I remember the pain I tried to help them deal with.
Oddly enough, three of my readings this morning dealt with judgment and the notion of our judgment and condemnation of those people whom we don’t have the responsibility to judge, or all the information to judge the stories of those involved.
And then I see all those who would play God, who would decide this situation based on their own past realities, or worse, based on political issues. And my heart tears for them as well.
And then we have scripture, and the writings of Vatican II and the Large Catechism. All three warn us, they even command us not to judge. They ask us to leave it in God’s hands, something that takes a lot of faith, to trust God with what we would rather handle. It takes humility, such humility that is only found when we are in the presence of God, witnessing His glory and wisdom, which show him to both just and merciful. It takes trusting in God to set aside our own presuppositions and to be healed by our own pain.
But this is God who I am urging us all to trust in, a God who would reconcile us all through the blood of Jesus.
Trust Him, depend upon Him, leave the lynch mobs behind…
And rejoice in the presence in your life. AMEN!
Catholic Church. (2011). Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World: Gaudium Et Spes. In Vatican II Documents. Vatican City: Libreria Editrice Vaticana.
Tappert, T. G. (Ed.). (1959). The Book of Concord the confessions of the Evangelical Lutheran Church. (p. 401). Philadelphia: Mühlenberg Press.
Devotional Thought of the Day:
For you have not come to what could be touched, to a blazing fire, to darkness, gloom, and storm, 19 to the blast of a trumpet, and the sound of words. (Those who heard it begged that not another word be spoken to them, 20 for they could not bear what was commanded: And if even an animal touches the mountain, it must be stoned! 21 The appearance was so terrifying that Moses said, I am terrified and trembling.) 22 Instead, you have come to Mount Zion, to the city of the living God (the heavenly Jerusalem), to myriads of angels in festive gathering, 23 to the assembly of the firstborn whose names have been written in heaven, to God who is the Judge of all, to the spirits of righteous people made perfect, 24 to Jesus (mediator of a new covenant), and to the sprinkled blood, which says better things than the blood of Abel. Heb. 12:18-24
I have a dear friend, who owns an antique shop*, which specializes in China and glassware and all the fancy stuff. When I drop in to visit her lovely shop, I tend to get a bit… anxious.
You see, at 6’2, 300+ pounds and with the grace that could only be compared to a drunk giraffe on ice skates, I am paranoid that I will trip and fall and set off her entire shoop like one of those domino exhibits.
Why am I telling you this? I think we occasionally get the idea that God is fragile, that His holiness somehow makes Him brittle. Or perhaps it is His patience with us that is brittle.
Either way, we become stand-offish, trying to find the one safe place that is safe to stand, out of the way, out of the danger, unable to cause a major spiritual catastrophe. We aren’t to stand and gaze on HIs beauty from afar, afraid to touch, afraid to approach, afraid to get personal with God. Worried that we will screw up something, or do something that will His anger, that we will deserve His wrath and punishment for breaking things, including our own lives.
That isn’t the God we have been drawn to, as the author of Hebrews tells us.
Holiness isn’t some kind of proper, reserved, dainty, perfect mannered attitude suitable for tea parties. (though Jesus does care for those who go to such events!**) It is an incredibly emotional overwhelming experience of relief or peace of love. It is like the time when our Soldiers first returned after the post-9-11 invasion of Iraq, as people lined the road out to the Marine Corps base for nearly 20 miles, celebrating the return of their loved ones.
Except holiness is not seen in celebrating the return of heroes coming home, but prodigals, sinners. Or holiness celebrates our being made holy, our being cleansed and set apart for this incredible relationship we have with God. We are reunited with the God who offered Thomas the chance to put his hand in His lance-pierced side, to know Jesus was with Him. We walk with the God who is willing to transform our heart and mind and share with s His in the process.
This is our God, a God who makes contact with us, who just doesn’t sit on a shelf, or look down on us from heaven. He is a God who shows us How much He loves us… by coming and dwelling among us, carefully restoring that which we’ve broken…because…
He loves us!
Relax, and soak in that love, and as you see people afraid of God, share with them the God who knows you! AMEN!
*If you are in Orange, Ca, you can visit my friend’s show at A&P collectibles in the Orange Circle 🙂
** the ladies of our church have an incredible ladies advent tea each year… and I am sure Jesus is present at it… 🙂
Devotional Thought of the Day:
18 And all of this is a gift from God, who brought us back to himself through Christ. And God has given us this task of reconciling people to him. 19 For God was in Christ, reconciling the world to himself, no longer counting people’s sins against them. And he gave us this wonderful message of reconciliation. 20 So we are Christ’s ambassadors; God is making his appeal through us. We speak for Christ when we plead, “Come back to God!” 21 For God made Christ, who never sinned, to be the offering for our sin, so that we could be made right with God through Christ.
2 Corinthians 5:18-21 (NLT2)
24 We believe and confess that these two doctrines must be urged constantly and diligently in the church of God until the end of the world, but with the due distinction, so that in the ministry of the New Testament the proclamation of the law and its threats will terrify the hearts of the unrepentant and bring them to a knowledge of their sin and to repentance, but not in such a way that they become despondent and despair therein. Rather, since “the law was our custodian until Christ came, that we might be justified by faith” (Gal. 3:24), and hence points and leads not away from but toward the Christ who is the end of the law (Rom. 10:4), 25 the proclamation of the Gospel of our Lord Christ will once more comfort and strengthen them with the assurance that if they believe the Gospel God forgives them all their sins through Christ, accepts them for his sake as God’s children, and out of pure grace, without any merit of their own, justifies and saves them.
The method of preaching, no matter which tradition, can be simplified as telling people why they need Jesus, and how Jesus meets that need, and our lives change as we walk with Him.
In the Lutheran tradition, the method of communicating that is called preaching “Law and Gospel. It has been a focus and method of our preaching since Martin Luther was still an Augustinian monk. And the first president of the Lutheran Church gave a series of lectures which were turned into a book titled, “The Proper Distinction between Law and Gospel”. While this post will use the word “preaching” a lot, this rule is true for any conversation, whether from a pulpit or altar or over a pumpkin-laden coffee or a nice ale. Preaching is not just a formal sermon or homily, it is any time we take a moment to help people realize their need for God and His response to their need.
Preaching law and gospel is a method, and it is far more than just preaching the law, checking off a box, then preaching the gospel and checking off the second box. Unfortunately, we can often get in that mindset, settling for that simplistic understanding of the method.
Even worse, we often preach against sin with a bias. Some sins may be more repugnant to a pastor, or to an individual, and they may try to eradicate that particular sin with more force. We might even come across as trying to purify the church from sinners who have committed that particular sin, driving those who are guilty of it into despair, into hopelessness, further into the guilt and shame which already haunts them. ANd some would applaud this, saying we really crucified that sin, that we nailed it to the cross. They might see the role of the preacher, or the evangelist as the drill instructor, yelling at his recruits, trying to help them save their lives.
But that denies the purpose of preaching and in fact is contrary to the concept of preaching law and gospel. Reading the quote from the Formula of Concord above, preaching the law so that people fall become despondent and despair, is not appropriate. For doing so drives them away from where they could find hope, and the goal of preaching the law is such that realizing their brokenness, we can bring them to Jesus, we can help them see the cross and its blessed meaning in their lives.
What a challenge, to help them see their brokenness, to help them see their need for Jesus, rather than just making them feel guilty and ashamed! Helping them to seek a source for the transformation, a source that is provided by the Spirit, as He draws them to Jesus, and then in Christ to the Father.
In Paul’s letter to the Corinthians, he describes the purpose of preaching, the purpose of evangelism, which is far more than the method of preaching law and gospel. The purpose is to reconcile people to God. To help them realize that Jesus was the offering for the sin they are haunted by, that causes them to feel so ashamed, so full of guilt.
Proper preaching acknowledges its mission, to reconcile people to Father, by drawing them back to Jesus. The method can be the preaching of Law and Gospel, holding them in tension, but that tension is for the purpose of becoming the people of God, the people who know His mercy and feel compelled to explore the dimensions of His love for them.
And again, preaching is not just the formal presentation of a sermon, it is as we comfort those who are anxious, as we cry with those who weep, as we listen ot those burdened, helping them see God take care of their burdens.
This is our mission, it is our apostolate, why we are sent where we walk in this world, as we walk with the God who pours out His love and mercy on us, and through us. So remember this purpose as you are with family and friends, and even those who antagonize you. Remember these words as you sit in your study, crafting your messages, listing to the Holy Spirit. And rejoice, for you know GOD is with you!
Tappert, T. G. (Ed.). (1959). The Book of Concord the confessions of the Evangelical Lutheran Church. (pp. 562–563). Philadelphia: Mühlenberg Press. (Formula of Concordia: Solid Declaration: V. Law and Gospel
Devotional Thought of the Day:
9 However, as the scripture says, “What no one ever saw or heard, what no one ever thought could happen, is the very thing God prepared for those who love him.” 1 Corinthians 2:9 (TEV)
A good communicator is sensitive to beauty, perceives it and does not confuse what is beautiful with what is fashionable or only “nice” or simply “neat.”
Because it is human, sometimes beauty is tragic, amazing, touching; it sometimes pushes us to think what we do not want or unmasks our errors.
One of the challenges we face, whether we are with friends and family at a meal, or if we are before the church preaching the gospel, is communicating the beauty that is our relationship with God.
We can’t describe heaven, and I think that is intentional, for heaven is not about the location as much as it is the presence. The presence of the people of God in the presence of God. No sorrow, no tears, no pain, rather we will know the purest of joy, the most incredible peace. These are things that cant be described in words, we just will never find ones that significantly portray this beauty.
Not that we understand beauty all that much.
A pretty girl in a bathing suit may be considered beautiful by most, year, does that compare to a picture of a wounded soldier, being greeted and welcomed home by his family? Or a picture of Mother Theresa embracing a poor victim of leprosy in the streets of India? What about a rainbow, coming out on the edge of a storm,
I think the most vivid thing we can communicate, the most beautiful thing we can describe is the scene of redemption, the prodigal being embraced by a father, whose tears of joy wash the young sinner. The face of Peter, as Jesus reminds him, despite the betrayal, to feed the sheep. The face of Moses, a stubborn pessimistic, man hiding from his destiny, in awe at the bush on fire that doesn’t burn. The sinner at the communion rail, who finally understands the words, “for you…” and doesn’t want to leave the only place they have found peace. The old man, who with severe memory problems, looks for meaning in the church, decides to study for the diaconate and preaches an incredible sermon of our need for God, and the fact God was with us. (the amazing tears that flowed from his wife’s face, as she was convinced that he actually could do this… I cry just thinking of them. ) The little six-year-old, who begs and pleads for the body and blood of Christ, and lights up at her first communion
These things are beautiful, and though not perfectly described, give us a hint of the beauty that awaits us, as the redemption, as what is broken in our lives is healed. THere is beauty, a beauty that is found in the incredible transformation as we go from being alone to being in a relationship with God. As we realize that is our existence, our meaning in life.
God with us… nothing more beautiful in this life, or the next…
Pope Francis. (2013). A Year with Pope Francis: Daily Reflections from His Writings. (A. Rossa, Ed.) (p. 302). New York; Mahwah, NJ; Toronto, ON: Paulist Press; Novalis.