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Where are you? Where is your focus?


20170124_103703Devotional Thought of the Day:
7  And God’s peace, which is far beyond human understanding, will keep your hearts and minds safe in union with Christ Jesus. 8  In conclusion, my friends, fill your minds with those things that are good and that deserve praise: things that are true, noble, right, pure, lovely, and honorable. 9  Put into practice what you learned and received from me, both from my words and from my actions. And the God who gives us peace will be with you.
Philippians 4:7-9 (TEV)

How does your heart stand with regard to God Himself? Does it delight in the remembrance of God? Does this remembrance leave an agreeable sweetness behind it? “Ah!” said David, “I remembered God and was delighted.” Do you find a certain propensity in your heart to love God and a particular satisfaction in relishing that love? Does your heart feel joy in reflecting on the immensity, goodness, or sweetness of God? If the remembrance of God comes to you amidst the occupations and vanities of the world, does it make room for itself? Does it seize upon your heart? Does it seem to you that your heart turns in that direction, and, is it were, runs to meet God? Certainly, there are such souls to be found.

We all have our breaking point.  It may not be caused by the same stresses, the same anxieties, the same temptations, but each of us has a point where we lose focus.

Without regular self-examination, it is all too common for such a breaking point to catch us off guard.  Without a regular time of giving to God our sin and the unrighteousness we deal with, we are setting ourselves up as easy targets.

One of the things to consider is what is our heart resonating with?  Is it the kind of things Paul urges us to think of in Phil 4:8 above?  Are we rejoicing when we consider our time with God?

Or is our heart being torn apart by cynicism, by gossip and complaining?  Does our time feed such bitter things captivate us?  Are we devoting that time to that which is depraved or immoral?  ( we might not even realize it is so…)

The good stuff in Philippians, and in the quote from St Francis De Sales isn’t self-generated.  It isn’t something we can just make up our mind and focus upon. It comes from being sure we dwell in God’s peace.  It is about relaxing in the presence of God, sure that He is our fortress, our strength, our life. It is our focus because that is what is, when we are aware of His presence. It is a more “natural” way of existence.  That is why Paul surrounds this second about our minds being filled with good things with the thought of God giving and preserving our peace.

The key then is the presence of the Holy Spirit, the comforter, the Lord of Life who calms our hearts and sets them at peace.  The Spirit who cleanses us from the brokenness of the world, and heals our souls.

As we open ourselves up to the Spirit, as we search for Him and find He is here, we desire Him more, we desire His presence more, and we see the difference it makes as being a difference the world needs, that our neighbors and family and friends need. For we need it, and are amazed the need is so completely met by the Holy Spirit.

This is the Christian faith, the dependence on God’s presence that makes everything beautiful, everything precious, everything good.

May we desire His precence more and more.  AMEN!

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

The Key to Prayer…


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Concordia Lutheran Church – Cerritos, Ca , at dawn on Easter Sunday

Devotional Thought fo the Day:

19 This, then, is how we will know that we belong to the truth; this is how we will be confident in God’s presence. 20If our conscience condemns us, we know that God is greater than our conscience and that he knows everything. 21And so, my dear friends, if our conscience does not condemn us, we have courage in God’s presence. 22We receive from him whatever we ask, because we obey his commands and do what pleases him. 23What he commands is that we believe in his Son Jesus Christ and love one another, just as Christ commanded us. 24Those who obey God’s commands live in union with God and God lives in union with them. And because of the Spirit that God has given us we know that God lives in union with us.  1 John 3:19-24

386      You lack faith… and you lack love. Were it not so you would go immediately and much more often to Jesus, asking for this thing and that. Don’t delay any further; call out to him and you will hear Christ speaking to you: “What do you want me to do for you?” Just as when he stopped for that poor blind man by the roadside who continued to insist, without giving up. 

To write on prayer is challenging.

In the first place, it is too personal, especially when considering St Josemaria’s words about pleading for this thing or that.  Personal becomes I have, and sometimes been disappointed.  It is also too personal, because some of the things I would ask, are well personal.  Lord, help me with this temptation, Lord, help me with this that causes anxiety and fear to rise up within me.  Not a lot of personal examples would I want to give,

The second reason is that there are two extremes when it comes to prayer.  The first is those who express what is often mocked as “name it – claim it” theology.  These are those who say you should pray like Jabez, and God will bless you with all forms of materialism, perfect families, perfect jobs, perfect health and absolute heaven on earth.  The other extreme confronts this so callously that you would almost think they believe God doesn’t listen to any prayer, that God doesn’t care for His people here.

But there are passages, the blind man that St Josemaria points out, the unjust judge, the father who doesn’t give his son a stone or a viper, but gives him what is asked.  The passages where Jesus invites us to cast all our cares on Him, all our burdens, where He tells us to ask and it will be given.  God wants us to pray, including asking Him to care for us, but I think there is something more that we need to understand.  If we don’t, then God is reduced to being a Genie in a bottle.  ( I think sometimes we think we have to save up for those really big things, so we don’t give him the everyday stuff)

Here is the key, faith and love, the very things that unite us to God, the very things that bind us to Him.  That is where prayer comes from, this close connection, this committed relationship.  It is knowing we are loved and loving back, it is in knowing that God is faithful, trustworthy, completely dependable because He desires what it good for us. Prayer is realizing that in Him we live and breathe and have our very being, so this communication is only natural.

This allows the prayer to come out of the depths, the places in our hearts, soul, and mind where we fear to go. Prayer comes from the place that so needs His peace, to know He is our sanctuary, our deliverance. This is the astonishing depth of prayer, and it shows our trust in the love of God who has come to us and given us life.

It is there that “Lord, have mercy” is simple and yet comprehensive prayer to the one who has brought us into union with Himself, for we are His children.

AMEN!

Escriva, Josemaria. The Forge (Kindle Locations 1511-1515). Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition.

The Paradoxical Mystery of Confession


St Francis Catholic Church

Devotional Thought fo the Day:

14 Since the children, as he calls them, are people of flesh and blood, Jesus himself became like them and shared their human nature. He did this so that through his death he might destroy the Devil, who has the power over death, 15and in this way set free those who were slaves all their lives because of their fear of death. 16For it is clear that it is not the angels that he helps. Instead, he helps the descendants of Abraham. 17This means that he had to become like his brothers and sisters in every way, in order to be their faithful and merciful High Priest in his service to God, so that the people’s sins would be forgiven. 18And now he can help those who are tempted, because he himself was tempted and suffered.  Heb 2:14-18 TEV

261      God is with you. The Blessed Trinity dwells in your soul in grace. That is why, in spite of your wretchedness, you can and should keep up a continuous conversation with the Lord.

Growing up Catholic, the thing you learned to fear was that once a week meeting with your priest.  For us at St. Francis Elementary School, the parish priest would come to the school, and though he never made eye contact with you, his presence intimidated you.

You were afraid to mention your sins, and logically, I do not know why.

He wasn’t a mean.
He wasn’t known for asking outrageous acts of Penance, (the usual was 5 Our Fathers, 10 Hail Mary’s and 2 acts of contrition – you could say that much on your way back to class)

But there was something intimidating about confessing to another person, even to a man God put in place to remind you that you were forgiven because of Christ’s death on the cross!

Now some forty years later, and being a Lutheran pastor who absolves people of sins, I realize there is no difference.  People are still intimidated, still anxious, people still struggle with guilt and shame.

Even though we know the solution is found in our merciful high Priest Jesus, we shy away from Him, we put up our defenses, we deny we have done wrong. We try to hide our wretchedness, the wretchedness that eats us alive, that causes our souls to wither, our hearts to break.

We need to learn to trust, to depend on this God who came to us, to be like us, to free us from that sin, that shame, that oppression.  We need to let Him help us, to speak through those He’s called and ordained to do this very work.

We need to hear, “you are forgiven”

There is the paradox, the One we fear the most, the One we want to hide from the most, is the Lord who can do something to cut away our sin,,,to cleanse and purify us.

This is what we need, this is what we’ve been promised, this is what we should run to in hope, this time where God dwells in our heart with all His grace and love.

So don’t hesitate.  There are pastors and priests waiting, desiring to do their job, to tell you that which is the best news you will here today, or any day….

 

Escriva, Josemaria. The Forge (Kindle Locations 1092-1094). Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition.

How should we, the little folk, respond to evil?


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God, who am I?

Discussion thought of the Day:

7  “The LORD did not love you and choose you because you outnumbered other peoples; you were the smallest nation on earth. 8  But the LORD loved you and wanted to keep the promise that he made to your ancestors. That is why he saved you by his great might and set you free from slavery to the king of Egypt. 9  Remember that the LORD your God is the only God and that he is faithful. He will keep his covenant and show his constant love to a thousand generations of those who love him and obey his commands,
Deuteronomy 7:7-9 (TEV)

10  Finally, build up your strength in union with the Lord and by means of his mighty power. 11  Put on all the armor that God gives you, so that you will be able to stand up against the Devil’s evil tricks. 12  For we are not fighting against human beings but against the wicked spiritual forces in the heavenly world, the rulers, authorities, and cosmic powers of this dark age. Ephesians 6:10-12 (TEV)

830    Don’t be a fool! It’s true that at most you play the part of a small bolt in that great undertaking of Christ’s. But do you know what happens when a bolt is not tight enough or when it works itself out of place? Bigger parts also work loose or gears are damaged or broken. The whole work is slowed up. Perhaps the whole machine will be rendered useless. What a big thing it is to be a little bolt!

I am struggling with the paradox that was America yesterday.

We saw an action taken that will defend the life of an innocent, defenseless human being, found in the womb. Not long after we saw other defenseless innocent humans denied assistance, denied protection. Irony isn’t the right word, and paradox doesn’t express my grief, and indeed my fear.

Both pro-life issues are close to my heart. I’ve known refugees and immigrants as long as I’ve can remember.  From my adopted grandfather, to Bing, a family friend who escaped his country, to classmates in junior high and high school.  Even the city (and my church ) I live in now is one of the most diverse in California, full of immigrants, and yes refugees who are thriving here.  Make no mistake, this closing of our doors to those in need is as evil as the act of taking a child from the womb to die.  I’ve counseled too many who have had abortions, and dwelt is silent guilt and shame when they later had another child, and they realized the blessing they were convinced was simply an “inconvenience”. There are other reasons this burdens my heart as well, too deep for me to quickly comment upon.

But what can I, the pastor of a small church, without any political or influence, do in the face of such evil actions as the denial of life?  I feel powerless, that my grief and sorrow and even anger is meaningless.

St Josemaria reminds me that even the smallest washer and bolt is critical to a machine.  if it isn’t tight enough, if it has worked itself out of place, then the entire machine and process could be at risk.

I understand the illustration, I even like it,  but am not sure of its application here.  Can my 100 or so people actually make a difference?

I then look to the first quote from scripture, that Israel too was not a large and powerful country. Even at its biggest, under David and Solomon, it couldn’t compete against Egypt or Assyria, against Greece or Rome.  Yet its power, its very existence wasn’t to be the powerful kingdom dynasty.  The reason God sustained them, the reasoned God remained faithful to them, was in order to reveal HIs love in the incarnation.  In the life, death and resurrection of Jesus] we find God.

Which is what St Paul is telling us as well.  Our ENEMY isn’t Donald Trump, just as it wasn’t Barack Obama, the Bushes, or the Clintons. Our weapons aren’t our marches for justice, our clever memes, our reasoned (if only half researched) articles that we share or chant.

It is not those things that brought us to Christ ourselves, It wasn’t our strength or our reason.  So what makes us think our strength and reason will make a bit of difference to those we oppose? (Assuming somehow they heard it?)  No, our place is as that bolt, holding fast, just as St Paul tells us,

Holding fast to Christ, to the hope the Israelites were to see bless the world. Our hope is our being united with Christ.  He is our weapon, He is our hope for victory.  He who defends the defenseless, whether they are too weak, or too guilty.

This is why Paul and Peter both urge us to prayer, to ask God to bless those who are enemies, our adversaries, to see God transform them as He is revealed, just as He did to us.  Even as we pray, our pain sacrificed becomes the love which will impact others, and bring about new life.

This is no little task, this gripping Christ as tightly as any bolt to any screw.  This praying and depending on Him, and learning to love those we could easily hate, just as Christ loves us.

Don’t ever underestimate the power of God that is at work in you, or HIs desire to bring us all to transformation.   That is where our hope is, and continues to be.

And pray and don’t be surprised if you become the next Ananias….

We pray through the tears, “Lord, have mercy”, and hear His comforting answer.

Lord, we pray this morning for our President, and all those that work with them.  That they would know your mercy, and as they begin to realize they are loved, that they would show your mercy and love to all who are defenseless, all who are looking for sanctuary and hope. 

Escriva, Josemaria. The Way (Kindle Locations 1905-1909). Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition.

Blinded by Theology: The Case of Perfect Knowledge without the right purpose


OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERADevotional Thought fo the Day:

27 “I have already told you,” he answered, “and you would not listen. Why do you want to hear it again? Maybe you, too, would like to be his disciples?”
28 They cursed him and said, “You are that fellow’s disciple; but we are Moses’ disciples. 29We know that God spoke to Moses; as for that fellow, however, we do not even know where he comes from!”
30 The man answered, “What a strange thing that is! You do not know where he comes from, but he cured me of my blindness! 31We know that God does not listen to sinners; he does listen to people who respect him and do what he wants them to do. 32Since the beginning of the world nobody has ever heard of anyone giving sight to a person born blind. 33Unless this man came from God, he would not be able to do a thing.”   John 9:27-39 TEV

7  Yet every advantage that I had gained I considered lost for Christ’s sake. Yes, and I look upon everything as loss compared with the overwhelming gain of knowing Jesus Christ my Lord. For his sake I did in actual fact suffer the loss of everything, but I considered it useless rubbish compared with being able to win Christ. For now my place is in him, and I am not dependent upon any of the self-achieved righteousness of the Law. God has given me that genuine righteousness which comes from faith in Christ. How changed are my ambitions! Now I long to know Christ and the power shown by his resurrection: now I long to share his sufferings, even to die as he died, so that I may perhaps attain as he did, the resurrection from the dead.
Philippians 3:7 (Phillips NT)

These are great mysteries and far above all human comprehension. But we know that these holy mysteries have been revealed to the church, in order that we might pray to God properly and consider reasons for this marvelous kindness, that God, by an eternal association, joined a human nature to Himself. Therefore He truly cares for us and loves us and sent this Son that He might be the Redeemer and soften His wrath against sin, as needs to be said repeatedly later.  ( from the section by Melancthon) 

As I grow older, I am coming to realize that the biggest handicap for a pastor may be his intellect and reason, and how it is educated rather than formed.  How area minds are taught to seek the deep mysteries, not to be in awe of God, but to be able to teach purely, to be able to note and correct each other.

While there is a need for such correction and for proper teaching, those resources of intellect and reason, the time invested in education are wasted in the purpose is wrong.

We see this in Melancthon’s words, highlighted in blue above.  Talking about the mysteries of the Trinity, and of Christology, he concludes that the reason for the revelation of the existence of these mysteries, and the depth of our knowledge of them is to one end.

These things are revealed that we could pray, that we could communicate with Lord of love who binds us to Himself eternally as He cleanses us and restores us.  Our pursuit must not be the mysteries that are beyond our comprehension, but the love of God which is clearly seen, and which transformed all that it draws and connects to Him.

This is why the blind man could easily see that Jesus was special, that the miracle he did drew him to be Christ’s disciple as well.  And the Pharisees and leaders of the synagogue, the men the mysteries of scripture were entrusted too, could not get past their own doubts. They remained blinded by their theology and didn’t see that they were in the presence of God.

These weren’t men that pursued knowledge for malicious purposes.   They didn’t study the scriptures daily with the intent of enslaving others to a religious system to take advantage of them.  Even Paul, before encountering Jesus, talked of being righteous according to the Law.  But that righteousness he would set aside, that justification of his own actions, so meticulously laid out, was worthless.

He needed to know God.  He needed God to walk with Him, to comfort and shepherd Him.  He needed the Holy Spirit’s presence to lift him up, to draw him to the reconciliation and transformation, not only being justified completely, but being sanctified.  TO know, as he wrote in Hebrews, that he could boldly walk into the Father’s holy, almighty presence.

That is the purpose of theology, the place it starts and ends.  Prayer, that moment we go to God, in desperate need, humbly asking Him to be here, and hearing a response of a God who our mind can’t fathom.  Yet in whose presence our hearts rejoice, and in front of whom our souls dance, free of sin, and sure that we are home with Him.

So next time you pick up that tome, or search that dataset, know what you are looking for, what you are searching for, that your people need to be taught.  The height, the depth, the width and breadth of God’s love for you, and for them.

That will be made clear in His glorious presence, and make this known as well;  THE LORD IS WITH YOU!

 

 

Chemnitz, Martin, and Jacob A. O. Preus. Loci Theologici. electronic ed. St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1999. Print.

Intimate Prayer, the Theologians Fertilizer


OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERADevotional Thought of the Day:

6 Then Jesus told them this parable: “There was once a man who had a fig tree growing in his vineyard. He went looking for figs on it but found none. 7So he said to his gardener, ‘Look, for three years I have been coming here looking for figs on this fig tree, and I haven’t found any. Cut it down! Why should it go on using up the soil?’ 8But the gardener answered, ‘Leave it alone, sir, just one more year; I will dig round it and put in some manure. 9Then if the tree bears figs next year, so much the better; if not, then you can have it cut down.’ ”  Luke 13:6-9

 

To God the Holy Spirit:

KYRIE, bountiful Spirit, united with the Father and the Son in a subsistence of one substance, proceeding from both the Father and the Son, have mercy.
KYRIE, who, when Christ was baptized in the waves of the Jordan, appeared in Your glory in the form of a dove, have mercy.
KYRIE, kindle our hearts with divine fire so that we are made worthy to praise You forever, have mercy.  (2)

And what about us? Are we so far away from the stable because we are much too refined and too smart for that? Do we not get all entangled in scholarly exegesis, in the proof or disproof of historical authenticity to the extent that we have become blind and deaf to the Child himself? Do we not really all too intensely dwell in “Jerusalem”, in a palace, withdrawn within ourselves, in our self-sufficiency, our fear of being challenged, too much so to be able to hear the voice of the angels, to set out to worship? Thus, in this holy night, the faces of ox and ass are turned toward us questioningly: My people does not understand, do you recognize the voice of your Lord? When we put the familiar figures in our crèche, we would do well to pray that God would bestow on our heart the kind of simplicity that recognizes the Lord in this Child—just like Francis in Greccio. Then this might happen also to us: everyone returned home, full of rejoicing.

Martin Chemnitz, perhaps the greatest of the Lutheran theologians.   Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger (Later Pope Benedict XVI, in my opinion, the greatest of the theologians in the last century.

Martin’s prayer and Joseph’s words about the birth of Jesus give us a picture of their souls.  Brilliant though they may be, they see the need for God to work on our hearts, to create the simplicity, to kindle in them a divine fire.

These words help us realize that the study of theology must take a back seat to those intimate times where we realize the presence of God. Where we hear HIs voice, where we see His hand at work, where we experience His glory.

Good theology is a result (not the result) of a prayer life that is created, nurtured and guided by the Lord and Giver of Life. It cannot simply be the work of active minds but needs to be preceded and immersed in the presence of God.  It then becomes more than an academic pursuit, it becomes life, a life pregnant and incarnate with the presence of God.

It is the same for those theological masterpieces we call sermons and Bible studies.  They need to come our of our devotional life, out of the riches of our interaction with God.  If Chemnitz and Pope Benedict need this in their lives, how could we think we don’t need this work of the Holy Spirit?

Otherwise, we may look like a fig tree, have the leaves and trunk of a fig tree, but we won’t bear any fruit.

May we pray with simple hearts, formed and enkindled by Holy Spirit, as we do what God has called and planned for us to do!  AMEN!

Chemnitz, Martin, and Jacob A. O. Preus. Loci Theologici. electronic ed. St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1999. 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.

The Need to Seek God. Why prayer is more than tweeting Him!


photoDevotional Thought of the Day:

16 But he would go away to lonely places, where he prayed.  TEV  Luke 5:16

But there are other reasons why God has bestowed this external knowledge of Himself upon the minds of all men.
In the first place, He has done so for the sake of the external discipline which God wants all men to observe, even the unregenerate.
Paul explains the second reason in Acts 17:27 with the words “to seek the Lord.” This expression has been placed in the causal construction, “because of or on account of our deficiency.” Thus there is absolutely no doubt that this knowledge has been revealed so that we will seek God.

Nay, you must even accustom yourself to know how to pass from prayer to those occupations which your state of life lawfully requires, though ever so distant from the affections you have received in prayer: for example, let the lawyer learn to pass from prayer to pleading, the merchant to his mercial transactions, and the married woman to the care of her family, with so much ease and tranquillity that their spirits may not be disturbed; for, since all of them are in positions according to the will of God, they must learn to pass from the one to the other in the spirit of humility and devotion.

Chemnitz, in the reading in blue, notes our need to seek the Lord.  In the passage it comes from, he is talking about what we see from natural revelation, but that too only wets the hunger for contact with God, and more than contact, for intimacy. In the intimate moments, we find peace and rest.  When we enter that peace and rest, then something miraculous happens, we find healing, for we are being transformed into His likeness.

We need God, we can’t make it on our own, we have broken too much, and been broken too many times. The requirements of scripture primarily show us this, not just a path to enlightenment.  We need him as much when we have been made His children, as when were alone in the darkness.

We are made for fellowship with the Father, we see that in Jesu’ own life, as He seeks the peace that comes as He finds rest in the Father’s love.

Why are we more in need of seeking God, of finding HIs presence?  Don’t we mature?  Don’t we become strong believers who can handle things on our own?

No

Simply put, no.

If anything, we become more aware of our brokenness, More aware of the healing needed in our lives, and in those around us.  So we need Him more, we need HIs comfort, His peace, His presence.  We need to be assured we are healing. The affections that he talks of maintaining.

Which is where prayer is so desperately needed.

I am not talking about praying unceasingly, as some portray it.  Prayer is not a text message here and there or sending a tweet to God and occasionally seeing if.  That isn’t the unceasing prayer.

Rather it is like De Sales advocates, this times of prayer where we find ourselves so enamored of God’s love that it becomes part of our parenting, part of our being an employee, part of being a boss, whatever it is.  We move from our time of peace, our time of healing through our life.

That is unceasing prayer, a life of being there, in the presence of God, which stems from our sacramental time (3) where we deliberately take time to seek God and realized that He is our life, our breath, our breathing, as Paul states in Acts 17:28.

So go, spend some time crying out to the Lord!  Find your rest and peace in His presence.  Take your time there, consider the Lord’s supper, your baptism, the promises made then.  Explore the dimensions of His love, allowing Him to relieve you of all your anxieties, your worries, your burdens, and yes your sin and shame.  Then, knowing the glory of God’s love, re-enter life, assured of His presence as you walk by His side….

The Lord is with you!

 

(1)   Chemnitz, Martin, and Jacob A. O. Preus. Loci Theologici. electronic ed. St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1999. Print.
(2)  Francis de Sales, Saint. An Introduction to the Devout Life. Dublin: M. H. Gill and Son, 1885. Print.
(3)  Apology of the Augsburg Confession, Article XIII talks of prayer as a sacrament, and if we knew it as one, maybe we would be more quickly run to it!

Loving God With All Your Soul – The Blessing of the Incarnation.


MarkJ AdventLoving God with All Your Soul– the Blessing of Incarnation

Isaiah 61:1-10

 † I.H.S. †

 May Jesus’s incarnation in your life be so real, so tangible that your love for Him grows with every breath you take!

 My eyes are dry…the broken soul

It seems that many people this year would describe themselves with one word.

Tired.

There may be some factors that cause us to be so weary, so many it seems like all we do is go from trial to trauma, from prayer request to prayer request.  And as we talked about hearts being broken and needing Christ’s healing presence last week, the song talks about another part of us that is just worn down.

Our souls.

The part of us, that inner part that provides our courage, our character, our desire and the holiness that we need to walk through life in love with God, and to love our neighbor.

As we look at loving God as He asks, with all our heart, our soul, our mind and our strength, this one is hard.

When our soul is weary, when it is worn and broken, we hear the encouragement to love God, and we think about trying, and our soul cries out,

I’ve got nuthin.   Nuthin.

It’s that dryness that causes us to wonder why we pray, or if God is listening, or if He cares at all.  It is that dryness that causes us a spiritual exhaustion that robs us of hope, and leaves us thinking we still abide in the darkness.

He incarnation changes us… it dresses us.

Which is why we need to think about the incarnation, not just the incarnation when Mary is carrying Jesus in the womb, although contemplating that helps us contemplate His incarnation into our lives.

He came then, and angels sang.  They sing as well as Jesus draws us into Himself on the cross, taking all of our sins into Himself, and cleansing us of it. He takes that dryness as well, as we understand the cross, as we understand he is not distant.  He is here.

Isaiah’s second reading now makes sense –

I rejoice Heartily in the LORD, in my God is the joy of my soul!

We are in Him, we abide in Him, and as we realize this, everything begins to change as well.

This is the joy we find in Advent, the restoration of our soul when we realize that Holy Spirit is there, despite our dryness, that He is here to comfort us, to restore us, to translate our prayers as Paul tells the church.

26  In the same way the Spirit also comes to help us, weak as we are. For we do not know how we ought to pray; the Spirit himself pleads with God for us in groans that words cannot express. 27  And God, who sees into our hearts, knows what the thought of the Spirit is; because the Spirit pleads with God on behalf of his people and in accordance with his will. 28  We know that in all things God works for good with those who love him, those whom he has called according to his purpose. Romans 8:26-30 (TEV)

See that?

So, even in those periods where we aren’t sure if God is listening, He is listening.  Hearing and responding to the deepest cries of our heart. Even when we don’t know what to say. Even when we are too dry to say anything.

He is with us, He is here, ministering to us, assuring us of His presence.  Using speed bumps to help us slow down, and know He is God, and He cares. As we realize this – so much happens, our souls come alive, as we realize His power saving us, as we are dressed in His righteousness, as He treats us as His beloved bride.  Our reaction, from the deepest part of our soul, is to love Him back… with all we are.

This is why our services include the Lord’s Supper, even before our eating dinner.

Because as we commune we stop and we find ourselves giving Him everything, our burdens, our anxieties, our fears, our sins, our dryness.  In his presence they actually fall off us, God removes them…as we stop and receive His blessed Body and Blood, given to us, His beloved, which strengthens our faith, helps us to depend on Him all the more, and dwell in peace.  AMEN!

 

Is Your Church a Refuge Where You Can Really Pray????


OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERADevotional Thought of the Day:

17 He then taught the people: “It is written in the Scriptures that God said, ‘My Temple will be called a house of prayer for the people of all nations.’ But you have turned it into a hideout for thieves!”   Mark 11:16-17 TEV 

 I will bring them to my holy mountain of Jerusalem and will fill them with joy in my house of prayer. I will accept their burnt offerings and sacrifices, because my Temple will be called a house of prayer for all nations. 8  For the Sovereign LORD, who brings back the outcasts of Israel, says: I will bring others, too, besides my people Israel.”
Isaiah 56:7-8 (NLT)

Thus confession of sin is a sovereign remedy against sin itself. Contrition and confession are so precious, and have so sweet an odour, that they deface the ugliness and destroy the infection of sin. Simon the Pharisee pronounced St. Mary Magdalen a sinner; but our Saviour denied it, and speaks of nothing but of the sweet perfumes she poured on Him, and of the greatness of her charity. If we be truly humble, Philothea, our sins will infinitely displease us, because God is offended by them; but the confession of our sins will be sweet and pleasant to us, because God is honored thereby. It is a kind of consolation to us to inform the physician correctly of the disease that torments us.

As I grew up, I preferred walking into St Francis rather than St Joes, and definitely St Basil’s over Mary Queen of Peace or the Formation Center in Andover.

Not because of the priests, or because the masses were better, or because of the music was more to my liking.  It wasn’t that at all.  I loved the stillness, the quietness, the ability to sit and kneel before the cross, to think about the Eucharist (the Lord’s Supper) that we would receive, to just find peace, there in the presence of God.

The other churches were much more friendly, much more interested in you. Those churches were full and had lots of activities.  But as I went into the church, I didn’t have the time, or so I thought, to settle in, to hear the silence, to be in awe of God.

Even today, as I pastor a church without a sizeable narthex, I enter the church just before service, bow at the altar, move over to the musicians, and try to catch my breath, and long for 10-15 minutes of silence. ( as much as I love our worship music, I love our quiet communion in our midweek Advent services…)

As I read the scriptures this morning and considered what it meant to be a house of prayer, I thought for a moment and wondered if they truly are….

Our churches need to be places of prayer, whether silent or sobbing, full of joy and excitement as we come to our Father and share with Him our lives.  There are many forms and ways of prayer, each has their own time and place. But when scripture is talking about the church, or the Temple being a house, a home of prayer, it has something specific in mind.

Something our churches today need to be that we must be, if we are going to make a difference in our people’s lives.  Whether the church is a place where 20 people gather in a storefront, or a cathedral where thousands pray.

We need to realize what that means to have a house of prayer to go to, what Isaiah is hinting at (as Mark cites him,) as he talks of sacrifices and offerings being acceptable again.

What Solomon mentioned, as God dedicates the temple by being present, and listening as Solomon prayer,

19  Nevertheless, listen to my prayer and my plea, O LORD my God. Hear the cry and the prayer that your servant is making to you. 20  May you watch over this Temple day and night, this place where you have said you would put your name. May you always hear the prayers I make toward this place. 21  May you hear the humble and earnest requests from me and your people Israel when we pray toward this place. Yes, hear us from heaven where you live, and when you hear, forgive. 2 Chronicles 6:19-21 (NLT)

If our churches are to be a place of prayer, then they need to be a place where we give God every burden we have, especially the burdens of guilt and shame, the weight that is added to the sin that we commit.

This is the prayer the temple and the church are set apart to facilitate, to make the prodigal (whether they realize they are one or not) welcome home, to dress them up again,, to help them realize they are part of the family.  The ministry of reconciliation; as the incredible love of God is revealed to those who are broken.  As they hear, “you, child of God, are forgiven and restored.”

By the way, this isn’t a Sunday morning thing, this should be anytime you need it, the chance to go and sit in the quiet with God, to talk to a pastor, to hear of God’s love, to leave those burdens at the altar, to walk away with your hunger for righteousness sated, to know you are loved.

That’s what it means to have a church that is a house or prayer….

May our churches be houses of prayer… may our shepherds help us pray, be relieved and overjoyed as we find out He hears us and forgives.

 

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

Spiritual Formation, Gossip and Presidential Campaigns


OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERADevotional Thought fo the Day:
16  “You must not testify falsely against your neighbor.
Exodus 20:16 (NLT)

263 The third aspect of this commandment concerns us all. It forbids all sins of the tongue by which we may injure or offend our neighbor. False witness is clearly a work of the tongue. Whatever is done with the tongue against a neighbor, then, is forbidden by God. This applies to false preachers with their corrupt teaching and blasphemy, to false judges and witnesses with their corrupt behavior in court and their lying and malicious talk outside of court.
264 It applies particularly to the detestable, shameful vice of back-biting or slander by which the devil rides us. Of this much could be said. It is a common vice of human nature that everyone would rather hear evil than good about his neighbor. Evil though we are, we cannot tolerate having evil spoken of us; we want the golden compliments of the whole world. Yet we cannot bear to hear the best spoken of others.
265 To avoid this vice, therefore, we should note that nobody has the right to judge and reprove his neighbor publicly, even when he has seen a sin committed, unless he has been authorized to judge and reprove

444    Never speak badly of your brother, not even when you have plenty of reasons for doing so. Go first to the tabernacle, and then go to the priest, your father, and also tell him what is bothering you. And to no one else.

As I have been considering God’s discipline recently, and the way in which God forms us, I realize we are in a season where our faith is either tried significantly.  It is a time where we can depend on God, or we can rebel, being disobedient children ruled by fear and anxiety.

For the temptation is great during this presidential campaign to gossip, to speak ill of people, from the candidates themselves to those who back them.

Please hear me, there are issues that we need to discuss, issues that themselves lead to sin, advocate and approve of it.

There is more to the debate, both in this world and in the cyber portion of it.  There are rumors, which we are ready to believe and exaggerate as we spread them throughout our spheres of influence. There is character assassination done, and we rejoice as we have the chance to “speak the truth.”

If we took St. Josemaria’s advice, how better off would we be?  If we took those anxieties and laid them at the altar from which we receive the Body and Blood of Christ?  If we still struggled, going to our pastor, our priest, those who assist them in guiding us, and let them reassure us of God’s promises, his presence, and His benevolent, loving merciful reign over all of His creation including our hearts and mind.

What we happen if we didn’t try to destroy the people running for office, but instead prayer for their salvation, and that they would know, without any doubt, the love of God or them?

What I am saying takes a lot of faith, it requires us to depend on God in a way similar to the children of Israel were supposed to trust during the Exodus a the Exile.

This is spiritual formation, this is spiritual growth, this is living the life of a disciple.

It is my prayer that this election season that we all may grow in the awareness of God’s grace and love, so that this faith would be revealed to all.

AMEN!

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

Escriva, Josemaria. The Way (Kindle Locations 1090-1092). Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition.

 

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