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The Church must live in the midst of controversy

In the midst of perscution and darkness, the church is still the place of mercy

Devotional thought of the Day

When they heard this, they all left, one by one, the older ones first. Jesus was left alone, with the woman still standing there. 10 He straightened up and said to her, “Where are they? Is there no one left to condemn you?”
11 “No one, sir,” she answered.
“Well, then,” Jesus said, “I do not condemn you either. Go, but do not sin again.”
John 8:9-11 GNT

The Church will be persecuted in the measure of her fidelity to the gospel.
The testimony to this fidelity bothers and enrages the world, making it kill and destroy, as it happened in the case of Stephen, the first among the disciples to shed his life for Christ.

Pope Francis’s words sound ominous, and they should.

But not because of the promise of persecution. That is something promised in scripture. We will be persecuted (see Mark 10:30, 2 Thes 1:4, 2 Titus 3:11-12, John 15:20) What is ominous to me is the idea that if we are not persecuted, than perhaps our fidelity, our faithfulness needs to be examined.

In other words, does the inverse of Pope Francis’s words hold true. Is the lack of persecution a testimony that we are not enraging the world, that something is missing in our lives given to Christ Jesus?

The story of the woman caught in adultery is a great example of the rage the Church, when She is the Church, can create in those who observe here.

Jesus causes controversy in forgiving the lady everyone knew was guilty. He did this by pointing out their sin, confronting them on the very evil that lurked within their hearts. Unable to face the confrontation, their wander off, leaving her with the God who loves her, who would restore her.

Rather than rejoice that someone is shown God’s mercy, rather than celebrate the love of God revealed to someone who thought they were too broken, the world walks away. (and yes, the church is often more like the world)

Such mercy could be shown to the terrorist (the apostle Simon the Zealot and the government lacky, Matthew the tax collector), it can be shown to the prostitute, the murderer, even to the one who kills the pastors and leaders of the church (St. Paul)

You don’t like Trump? Christ died for him. You don’t like those who are “pro-choice”? God is calling them into a relationship where He will forgive their sins. You don’t like the person who is Muslim, Jewish, White Supremacist, the gang-banger, the alien, the rapid right wing republican?

So what? Love them or realize this:

As you judge and condemn them, for the sins you think you’ve caught them in, remember this story of the woman caught in adultery. And wonder, who are you in the story. The ones crying our for murder, the lady, or are you to be like the Lord, who pronounces forgiveness.

Imitate Jesus… even if it means dying to reveal to them that God loves them, that He desires to show them mercy, to forgive their sins.

And if your friends, neighbors and fellow church members want to kill you, or just cut you off from them for being merciful, remember these words,

10 “You’re blessed when your commitment to God provokes persecution. The persecution drives you even deeper into God’s kingdom!Matthew 5:10 (MSG)

So go in peace, serve the Lord, bring mercy to those the world says don’t deserve it…because God says He desires them to come to repentance, even as He drew you to this blessed place! AMEN!

Pope Francis. (2013). A Year with Pope Francis: Daily Reflections from His Writings. (A. Rossa, Ed.) (p. 112). New York; Mahwah, NJ; Toronto, ON: Paulist Press; Novalis.

Sticks and Stones may… but the Words will crush us?

Devotional Thought for the Day:

22 But now, compelled by the Spirit, I am going to Jerusalem. What will happen to me there I do not know, 23 except that in one city after another the holy Spirit has been warning me that imprisonment and hardships await me. 24 Yet I consider life of no importance to me, if only I may finish my course and the ministry that I received from the Lord Jesus, to bear witness to the gospel of God’s grace.  Acts. 20:22-40 NABRE

45    Why feel hurt by the unjust things people say of you? You would be even worse, if God ever left you. Keep on doing good, and shrug your shoulders.  (1)

Some years ago, I sat in a room full of other believers having dinner after a long, brutal day of meetings.  I was invited by a good friend, but neither of us was ready for what we would experience.

I would get up and leave, going back to my hotel room, dismayed and depressed. I can still hear the words echoing in my brain that were said.  The group didn’t recognize that there were some they were criticizing in the room of a couple of hundred people.  Or perhaps, they were so ecstatic, they didn’t bother with the thought, or even care.

The critique was vehement, the lies and comments betrayed a hatred and bitterness.  And while not part of the other party, I was probably closer to those criticized than I was to those who accused. The critiques would still probably be applied to me, the attempts to demonize other believers stung and hurt. The fact that believers, those considered leaders in churches would be so cruel… was devastating.(2)

The words, and the faces of those who said that which seemed evil to me still stick with me to this day, and it was the first thing I thought of as I saw the words of Saint Josemaria. 

People can be cruel, and it may be that it will be more than just words that they hurl at us.  Paul would experience that over and over, and scripture is clear in describing the fear and frustration, the despair and the pain. 

As I think back on pain of that night, I can rationalize that these people weren’t evil,  In many ways, they sincerely believed the other side threatened their way of life, their faith.  While they didn’t understand the others, their own pain and frustration released itself in the midst of victory.  My instinct is that now that the years have passed, they wouldn’t recognize their own words.

But even realizing that, if doesn’t change the level of pain.

So how do you move past it?  How can we simply shrug our shoulders and keep on doing what is good?

(Logically – do we have any choice?)

How could we choose to shrug our shoulders when it hurts?  Even more troublesome, if we are called to imitate Paul as he imitated Jesus, how do we willingly enter times where we face such opposition, such belittling, hearing such negativity tossed at us, and survive?

The answer is simple to hear, hard to execute.  We think of God’s presence, the fact that He doesn’t  abandon us.  We cling to Him, and being enveloped by His peace; we let the other things fade into dimness, compared to His glory.  As Paul says, to be a martyr, a witness to the incredible glory of God.

The glory that is ours, that He envelops us in, even as He envelops Himself.  This is grace, this is the place were brokenness heals, this is where we find the grace that enables us to endure all, simply to know, to witness and to bear witness to the love and mercy of God, revealed by the Holy Spirt, revealed in Christ.

It is there we need to head, where we need to live, there we find our haven, our rest.  Safe in Him, the Lord God Almighty who has promised that nothing can ever separate us from God. This is the answer to the cry, “Lord have mercy”, and it floods our lives.

And on our way shrug, or accept the challenges that await us.

(1)  Escriva, Josemaria. The Way (Kindle Locations 260-262). Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition.

(2)  I am not so naive as to believe that the other side would not have been as cruel

 

Why “They” Are Wrong About Sin….

devotional thought of the day

8  And when he comes, he will prove to the people of the world that they are wrong about sin and about what is right and about God’s judgment. 9  They are wrong about sin, because they do not believe in me; John 16:8-9 (TEV)

Prayer does not fall into a void; neither is it just a kind of psychotherapy that helps us to assemble our spiritual forces and bring them once more into balance; nor is it merely a kind of pious fiction to exercise our souls and calm them. Prayer is directed to reality. It is both heard and heeded. God, then, is someone who has the power, the ability, the will, and the patience to listen to us men. He is so great that he can be present even for those who are small.

If I bring you to this point, I have also brought you to confession. Those who really want to be good Christians, free from their sins, and happy in their conscience, already have the true hunger and thirst. They snatch at the bread just like a hunted hart, burning with heat and thirst,
33 as Ps. 42:2 says, “As a hart longs for flowing streams, so longs my soul for thee, O God.” That is, as a hart trembles with eagerness for a fresh spring, so I yearn and tremble for God’s Word, absolution, the sacrament, etc.
34 In this way, you see, confession would be rightly taught, and such a desire and love for it would be aroused that people would come running after us to get it, more than we would like.

I am curious about who you thought “they” would be, when you read the title of this blog.

Maybe you were hoping I would lay into those rejoicing over the jailing of the court clerk in Kentucky.  Maybe you were hoping I would chastise those who complained about her being arrested, sure that she is the bravest person under persecution in the world today.

What if both groups of people are those that are wrong about sin?  What if, when they are describing sin, when they are pointing out sin in others are proving Jesus correct.  They don’t understand sin because they don’t get that it isn’t about breaking this rule or that rule.

It is because they don’t trust in God, they don’t know Him.  They don’t understand about sin because they don’t have the relationship where they depend upon Him.

Take away hat intimate relationship with God away from someone’s understanding, and sin can only be defined as breaking all the rules.  But that can’t be what defines sin, because to do so would result in condemnation, and there would be no hope.

For hope, for relief and comfort comes within a relationship. Forgiveness, mercy, love are all words that exist withing the nature of a relationship.

And sin is ultimately, denying that relationship is the ultimate sin.

You see that clearly in the quote from Pope Benedict XVI where he talks about prayer, about what it is and what it isn’t.  It is that greatness of God that He can relate to us, not in a condescending manner, but He comes to us.  He listens to us, not as a king listens without empathy or interest to his serfs, (or a CEO to one of his p/t employees) but as a friend, as a Father, as one who loves us.  He listens, He cares, He knows us.

Which brings us to the quote from Martin Luther, about confession and absolution. Sometimes we treat a sin, or a tendency to sin as if it is the worst thing that can happen.  In the Kentucky case, she is either the greatest sinner since Hitler, or those that deny her the office she was elected to.are the equivalent of those who crucified Jesus.  In either case, I will not say there is no sin, my instinct is that both groups of observers need to be called to repentance, and to reconciliation.   As do the actual people involved in the case

In fact, if there is a need to be reconciled to another person, you can be pretty sure that there is a need to be drawn closer to God.  Not for Him to punish, but for Him to heal.  For God to be so manifested in their life that His call on their life is understood, not just a law to obey, but as the loving guidance of a parent,  We need to realize His law is not punitive, bt based in wisdom.  Wisdom beyond us.

That is why reconciliation, why confession and absolution are so critical. We desperately need to hear that our sin is not going to wreck our relationship with God, that He will still hear and answer our prayers, that He will comfort us as anxiety threatens, That is what absolution does.  It reconciles us to Him; it assures us of His presence. It helps us to trust, to wait in His presence.

That’s why Luther says if we understand what Absolution gifts us with, we won’t hesitate to confess our sins.  We wouldn’t hide in denial of them, we wouldn’t play the game of “their” sins are worse than ours. We would rejoice in the word of God, rejoice in our forgiveness, and we would plead with others to be reconciled, rather than condemn others without the intent of showing them the love of God.

May we spend our days rejoicing in God’s answers to our plea – “Lord have mercy on us sinners!”.  Amen.

Ratzinger, J. (1992). Co-Workers of the Truth: Meditations for Every Day of the Year. (M. F. McCarthy & L. Krauth, Trans., I. Grassl, Ed.) (p. 286). San Francisco: Ignatius Press.

Tappert, T. G. (Ed.). (1959). The Book of Concord the confessions of the Evangelical Lutheran Church. (pp. 460–461). Philadelphia: Mühlenberg Press.

Another Thought About What Jesus Would/Did Do…. as Did His Followers

Devotional Thought of the Day!photo

40  They called the apostles in, had them whipped, and ordered them never again to speak in the name of Jesus; and then they set them free. 41  As the apostles left the Council, they were happy, because God had considered them worthy to suffer disgrace for the sake of Jesus. 42  And every day in the Temple and in people’s homes they continued to teach and preach the Good News about Jesus the Messiah. Acts 5:40-42 (TEV)

7  “He was treated harshly, but endured it humbly; he never said a word. Like a lamb about to be slaughtered, like a sheep about to be sheared, he never said a word. 8  He was arrested and sentenced and led off to die, and no one cared about his fate. He was put to death for the sins of our people. Isaiah 53:7-8 (TEV)

2  Let us keep our eyes fixed on Jesus, on whom our faith depends from beginning to end. He did not give up because of the cross! On the contrary, because of the joy that was waiting for him, he thought nothing of the disgrace of dying on the cross, and he is now seated at the right side of God’s throne. Hebrews 12:2 (TEV)

11  “Happy are you when people insult you and persecute you and tell all kinds of evil lies against you because you are my followers. 12  Be happy and glad, for a great reward is kept for you in heaven. This is how the prophets who lived before you were persecuted. Matthew 5:11-12 (TEV) 

123         Do you see? With Him you have been able. Why are you surprised? Be convinced: there is nothing to be surprised about. If you trust in God—really trust!—things work out easily. And, what is more, you always go further than you imagined you could.

Right before Easter, a bunch of FB Memes appeared, asking the “What Would Jesus Do” question, and reminding people of Jesus’ clearing the Temple.  As if to justify Christianity on the offensive, a militant form of beat them into submission, a warrior version of Protestantism that confronts and boldly takes on the world and those who oppose the faith. Maybe we don’t want to go to physical war with them, but we want to win the battles of words, the debates.

Sunday, as the first reading ended in church with the quote above from Acts 5, I thought about the fact that the apostles were doing what Jesus did.  They didn’t fight back, they didn’t revile their persecutors, they rejoiced!

Even as Jesus embraced the cross for the joy that was waiting, the apostles rejoiced that because they bore the name of Christ, they were whipped and beaten and brought before authorities – because there, they could share about the love of God, proven at the cross. They knew, because they heard the words on the sermon on the mount, the blessing that such persecution was, not because they loved pain, but because of the gospel.

It is not as if our suffering merits someone else’s salvation, or even ours.  But if we are truly persecuted for our faith, it shows our connection to the one whom we bear witness to.

How many of us are willing to endure persecution, or allow others to do that in this day and age?

How many of us are willing to serve others by sharing about Christ, if that means persecution, pain, suffering, even death?  And yet, even as we go through it, rejoice?

Will we embrace suffering and persecution, knowing that it too testifies of our trust in God?  Or will we fight, complain, slander and disrespect?

Will we do what Jesus’ did?  Will we do what the disciples did, with the attitude they had – one of joy?

In order to do so, our trust has to be in God, we have to know He reigns, that we are His people, and that everything – even that which is meant for evil (like the cross) will work for good.  That is asking us to trust Him in a way most of us are uncomfortable in trying.  We would rather fight, we would rather plan strategic countermeasures, But simple rest in Him, trust Him while others role over us?  Heck even our own people may think us wimps and join in the persecution, mocking us.

That takes a level of trust only possible if we abide in the presence of God, or more precisely, if the Holy Spirit dwells in us.  Because of our baptism, we know that promise is true… He dwells in us, He is transforming us,

Transforming us into the image of Christ, St Paul teachings in 2 Corinthians 3, into the image of the Lord who loved enough to endure punishment, to bring those who persecuted Him into the family of God.

May we learn to love our enemies, and pray for those who persecute us, and realize that even under persecution we bear witness to the Love of God.

Lord have mercy on us!

 

 
Escriva, Josemaria (2011-01-31). Furrow (Kindle Locations 706-709). Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition.

 

The Church and Persecution

Devotional Thought of the Day:
The Pantheon, a place once dedicated to worship of idols but reborn to host the worship of God.  May our lives tell a similar story as we realize what God does to us in baptism!
 10  Blessed are those who are persecuted in the cause of uprightness: the kingdom of Heaven is theirs. 11  ‘Blessed are you when people abuse you and persecute you and speak all kinds of calumny against you falsely on my account. 12  Rejoice and be glad, for your reward will be great in heaven; this is how they persecuted the prophets before you.   Matthew 5:10-12 (NJB)

1026  Violent persecution had broken out. And that priest prayed: Jesus, may every sacrilegious fire increase in me the fire of Love and Reparation.

There are times I think, that the church in America has re-written the scripture passage above in their hearts.  It goes something like this:

Blessed are those who avoid persecution or complain about it, for religious freedom will be theirs.  Blessed are you when people abuse you and persecute you and speak bad about you, because you say you are a Christian, but refuse to love them, and sacrifice for those you consider evil and corrupt. Rejoice and be glad, for this is how the pharisees operated back in the day.

You may think that harsh, but while there are churches being burnt down with their parishoners inside, we claim the church in America is being persecuted.  Why? Because our society doesn’t resemble us, and our nice fantasy that America is primarily a Chrisitan country is being dashed to pieces. And our reaction to our image being shattered?  “It’s persecution?  Those people are evil! The church needs to stand up and fight for what is right!  We’ve got to restore this country to greatness”

And in taking that attitude, we’ve lost something, we’ve lost the vision of the Savior who came to care for those broken, lost in darkness, We’ve lost the knowledge that spiritual warfare is about freeing those bound in sin and darkness, it is about delivering them into the presence of a God who completely loves them.  It’s about giving all to minister to them, even dieing if necessary.  It’s about not loving our own lives, so much that we wouldn’t die for the sake of the Lord we trust in, the Lord who called us into relationship with Him.

I love Josemaria’s words here, a man who struggled through civil war, where Chrsitians, laypeople and clergy were killed by both sides. Let the fires of persecution, the sacrileges committed as people are killed because of their faith – let those fires increase our fire, our zeal to love, our zeal to see reconciliation, our zeal to see the gospel free people from all that oppresses them, and open to them the power of God. For the more we see the brokenness of the world, the more we cry out for God to work, the more we depend on Him, the more we are spurred on to show the only hope that only God provides.

That’s why the church in places like the Sudan, in the Ukraine, in the Middle East, in so many dark places in the world grows rapidly, for it is the only place of hope.  That is why scripture talks about turning the other cheek, and going beyond what is required by the law, but embracing suffering for the sake of those who are caught up in sin, for those dominated by evil.  Because as they see us, they realize there is something different.  We see it as Paul and his companions sing praises in Jail, or as saints throughout the ages bless their persecutors like Stephen did.

Don’t whine about perceived persecution.  Stand firm in your witness to Christ – and love and work to reconcile them to God.  For this is how Revelation describes us,

 10  Then I heard a voice shout from heaven, ‘Salvation and power and empire for ever have been won by our God, and all authority for his Christ, now that the accuser, who accused our brothers day and night before our God, has been brought down. 11  They have triumphed over him by the blood of the Lamb and by the word to which they bore witness, because even in the face of death they did not cling to life. Revelation 12:10-11 (NJB)

Don’t fight the fire of persecution with counter attacks, but instead with the fire of God’s love.

Lord have mercy!  God give us the strength to love our enemies, and to zealously pray for those who persecute us!

Escriva, Josemaria (2011-01-31). The Forge (Kindle Locations 3630-3631). Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition.

WE WERE ROBBED! yeah…so?

English: David's Joy Over Forgiveness; as in P...

English: David’s Joy Over Forgiveness; as in Psalm 32; illustration from a Bible card published by the Providence Lithograph Company (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Devotional Thought of the Day:

 8  Summing up: Be agreeable, be sympathetic, be loving, be compassionate, be humble. 9  That goes for all of you, no exceptions. No retaliation. No sharp-tongued sarcasm. Instead, bless—that’s your job, to bless. You’ll be a blessing and also get a blessing. 10  Whoever wants to embrace life and see the day fill up with good, Here’s what you do: Say nothing evil or hurtful; 11  Snub evil and cultivate good; run after peace for all you’re worth. 12  God looks on all this with approval, listening and responding well to what he’s asked; But he turns his back on those who do evil things.1 Peter 3:8-12 (MSG)

12  Forgive us the wrongs we have done, as we forgive the wrongs that others have done to us.  Matthew 6:12 (TEV) 

454         Thank the Lord for the enormous gift he has granted you by making you understand that “only one thing is necessary.” And, along with that thanksgiving, may no day go past without your offering a prayer of petition for those who don’t know him yet or have not understood him.

Yesterday was a day full of injustice.

One of the “biggest” injustices of course (said partially toungue in cheek) was the Patriots being robbed of a victory, as a penalty was called because a player was mugged and couldn’t catch the touchdown pass.  He was robbed and assaulted… and we lost.

Another was set the Christian tweet world a fire, as someone labelled Bible in a costo with the department code for fiction when they priced them.  You would have thought by the reaction, that Christians were being fed to the lions and soacked in pitch and set aflame to light Nero’s garden again.

There are so many things that people are upset about these days, even ot the point of tempers boiling and relationships and reputations being completely devastated.

We expect others to be perfect – 60sigma perfect (a business term is 6 sigma – errors less that  0.000000 percent of the time – we expect 60 zeros, not 6)) and we get really, really frustrated we then expect us to be perfect 60% of the time.

Dare you bring in forgiveness to such conversations, forgiving their wrongs, or forgiving our own failues, well, let’s just say I expect stress bringing up forgiveness. The storm caused may settle, or may not settle for a while, as people find forgiveness a difficult task.  Indeed, we often don’t want to , we don’t thinki it is needed.

If forgiveness is made law, if we say, “you have to forgive your brother, you have to forgive that clerk, your must forgive those refereess.. you can’t help that they are blind!” then forgiveness won’t happen.  It just won’t.  You will find a myriad of excuses, a thoughand arguements about why forgiveness, God style forgiveness is neither possible, nor prudent.

But forgiveness that comes out of our times of communion with God, times where we see Him take the sin that burdens us and cleanse us of its filth and infesction.  Times like prayer, times like when we meditate on our baptism, when we receive the Lord’s Body and Blood, times when we read of His love and mercy, and the peace He gives us to live in, the peace in which He keeps our hearts and minds secure. It is from that place, sitting at the feet of Jesus, that mercy flows, that forgiveness is not a decision, it just happens, Where the person’s salvation, where their ability to live in the presence of God becomes more important than their error. Forgiveness flows from realizing you have been rought into the glory of God, and seeing them trying to live without it.

Yeah – so a refereee made the 2nd worst call in Patriots history..The referees don’t need to be ridiculed – they need Christ.

Yeah – so a sticker said the Bible was fiction?   The people involved don’t need condemnation – they need Christ.

Ultimately, it is a matter of trusting Christ, that all things will work for good for those who love Him.  If it is a matter of faith, then the place where our trust is strongest in Him, is when we realize we are in His presence, living at His feet. As to dealing with things that were unjust and unfair and being robbed,,, He let us rob Him of his dignity, of his righteousness, and of His lifee.  So that we could share in His glory…. and His reason He allowed the injustice, was to be able to forgive!

Let us go into His presence.. and become people of mercy!

Escriva, Josemaria (2011-01-31). Furrow (Kindle Locations 2007-2009). Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition.

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