Come Back to Me
and Be Happy
† In Jesus Name †
May the grace of God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ be so real in your life that you now true joy and happiness!
What am I thinking?
As I looked over the reading for tonight, the one word I would choose to describe my emotions was “mad”.
The only problem is I couldn’t figure out was whether I was mad as in angry at God, or mad as in insane. I honestly don’t know.
This isn’t right, to have this place of peace so empty, so devoid of smiles and laughter, of even the tears that come as we find it easy to lay our burdens down.
It has been a hard day, our preschool “chapel” time was just Susan, three teachers and myself. Looking forward to tonight, with just a few of us here, was difficult.
I so want to share the Lord’s supper with every person possible!
And as I looked at the sermon schedule, planned months ago, based on readings set in place decades ago…. I realized I was supposed to preach on happiness.
Come on God, what are you thinking?
And the madness elevated to another level.
But look at the verse again,
Christ has also introduced us to God’s undeserved kindness on which we take our stand. So we are happy, as we look forward to sharing in the glory of God. Romans 5:2 (CEV)
So are happiness comes from more than this life, it comes from looking forward to sharing in the glory of God forever….
We know we will be happy then… but what about now?
The process of suffering?
Paul continued this passage… now please remember this was planned months ago… don’t blame me – I am just the messenger…
3 But that’s not all! We gladly suffer, because we know that suffering helps us to endure. 4 And endurance builds character,
How in the world do we gladly suffer through a pandemic, through watching people whose anxiety levels are maxed out, who are challenged beyond our ability? I know that a lot of you aren’t worried by the virus, as much as you hurt for those who you love whose lives are more impacted.
Some of you will understand what I mean when I say that watching people suffer, watching them struggle is harder often than struggling ourselves.
And yet, the saints I know who are my age and older, have seen God work through wars, and earthquakes, through sickness, and economically challenging times, and they know God will be with us in these times. God will be there with our laughter, and with our tears.
And His presence will give us hope, a hope that will never disappoint us.
For that Hope is found in the presence of God, a presence we can faintly see now, but will see in all its glory one day.
This is why He calls us back to Him, to give us this hope as we realize how …. beyond words His promises are.
In times like these, we need to be able to focus, to realize how much God loves us. That is how we find the strength to get through. That is why Paul goes from hope – the right to explaining why we have hope.
All of this happens because God has given us the Holy Spirit, who fills our hearts with his love. 6 Christ died for us at a time when we were helpless and sinful. 7 No one is really willing to die for an honest person, though someone might be willing to die for a truly good person. 8 But God showed how much he loved us by having Christ die for us, even though we were sinful.
Romans 5:5-8 (CEV)
We need to hear that right now, that even before we knew God’s love, back when we were even more rebellious and sinful, GOD LOVED US.
And if he loved us then, He certainly has not given up on that love, or the mercy that sustains us, and calls us back to Him, even in the deepest depth of sin….
He still calls us to come back to Him,
He still will forgive us when we ask
He will still throw a feast for us, as we come home.
He loves us, the children who finally realize our need for Him…
That is how we find happiness in the midst of trauma, tragedy, and yes pandemic.
That is how we gladly embrace our suffering, knowing He is here…
This is our God… who loves us…
And happy are all He calls to His feast.
Devotional Thought of the Day:
1 See how very much our Father loves us, for he calls us his children, and that is what we are! But the people who belong to this world don’t recognize that we are God’s children because they don’t know him. 2 Dear friends, we are already God’s children, but he has not yet shown us what we will be like when Christ appears. But we do know that we will be like him, for we will see him as he really is.
1 John 3:1-2 (NLT2)
8 “My thoughts are nothing like your thoughts,” says the LORD. “And my ways are far beyond anything you could imagine. 9 For just as the heavens are higher than the earth, so my ways are higher than your ways and my thoughts higher than your thoughts.
Isaiah 55:8-9 (NLT2)
Now we see but a poor reflection as in a mirror;
then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part;
then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known. 1 Corinthians 13:12
God often speaks to us in obscure ways to allow us the room and time we need to respond. He lets us know he is speaking to us but also that we need to stretch out in growth in order to receive the message. Perhaps we think, “God, why don’t you just say it? Tell me in detail how to live.” But we are usually full of mistaken ideas about what that would actually mean. If it actually happened, it would probably kill us or unbalance us. So God in his mercy continues to approach us obliquely. Our minds and values have to be restructured, but God speaks anyway because he appreciates our interests. As we mature, this is less so, until that time when we can safely know him as he knows us
I’ve known many people who ask, “what in the world is God thinking?”
Some are doing so because they don’t understand the trauma and testing the are going through.
Some are trying to figure out what it is God is calling them to do, what “God’s will is for their life” This is something we do need to consider, yet to often we do not hear God, and we wonder why He seems… silent.
Some just can’t comprehend that God would love someone like them, or that God could love “those people.”
As the prophet Isaiah says, God thinks differently than we do. He works differently than we do, even to the extent He may work through us in ways that we would not expect, that we would never do if it was left up to our own choice.
We don’t get it, we struggle with our knowledge of God, and His thoughts and ways. The above scriptures indicate that part of that struggle is that we struggle with our knowledge of our own lives. We don’t know ourselves well enough to see what God is always doing in our lives. Remember Socrates’ one key goal? “know thyself?” We do not.
And because we know neither God’s own thoughts, (or His thoughts about us) nor who we truly are, we have a dissonance, a confusion that exists in our lives. This dissonance, this difference between what is real and what we perceive is more than challenging. Sometimes, it causes us great stress.
Dallas’ Willard’s words in purple above give an explanation that makes a good deal of sense. (We have to add in the stipulation that God would not communicate with us in a way that is contrary to His being revealed in word and Sacrament.) But the idea that God would communicate to us obliquely, in such indirect ways, is a measure of His love and care for us.
An example, He might have a specific mission or apostolate for us, a call and commission to reach out to a certain group, or help certain people. Let’s say you a 16th-century monk/priest/professor named Martin, how would you react when God told you not only would you become a priest, but an outlaw, revolutionary and cause the fracturing of the church? If Martin had the foresight of what God intended – he might have stayed a simple lawyer.
So God takes His time, He is patient and wise in how He reveals His will, He surrounds us with others when we are going to struggle with it. He loving and with great care shepherds us through life.
There are times where the Holy Spirit does make it clear, times that become easier ot recognize the more we are spending time with Jesus, meditating on His promises, hearing and exploring the dimensions of His love ( especially as it is delivered in His sacraments)
The more we understand of His mercy, the more we experience His love (which is also to great to understand) the more we grow comfortable with what He asks of us. The more we become comfortable with His desire that no one should perish, but all come to repentance, the transformation that the Holy Spirit effects in our lives.
That is why the Lord’s invitation to us to come and dialogue with Him, to come and reason with Him has the context of cleansing us from sin. It all starts there, as God justifies us, as God declares us free of sin, having laid that sin on Jesus.
But cleansed from sin, able to move into the presence of God with confidence, and swell there, that changes everything. We become less concerned with the “why’s?” and “what’s next?” We are more attuned to focusing on Christ, adoring Him, hearing Him through word and sacrament, and experiencing His love that wherever we are led happens. We become free of the anxiety caused by the unknown because we believe in Him, and trust His care for us.
Dear Father in heaven, knowing your love and care for us, we ask that the Holy Spirit help us focus on knowing You, on experiencing the Your love for us revealed in Christ Jesus, through word and Sacraments, helping us to be at peace with what we may not, or cannot understand. Rather Lord, help us to rest, knowing we are secure because we are yours. We pray this in Jesus name. AMEN!
We Willard, D., & Johnson, J. (2015). Hearing god through the year: a 365-day devotional. Westmont, IL: IVP Books.
Devotional Thought of the Day:
11 No! I can’t be quiet! I am angry and bitter. I have to speak. 12 Why do you keep me under guard? Do you think I am a sea monster? 13 I lie down and try to rest; I look for relief from my pain. 14 But you—you terrify me with dreams; you send me visions and nightmares 15 until I would rather be strangled than live in this miserable body. 16 I give up; I am tired of living. Leave me alone. My life makes no sense. 17 Why are people so important to you? Why pay attention to what they do? 18 You inspect them every morning and test them every minute. 19 Won’t you look away long enough for me to swallow my spit? 20 Are you harmed by my sin, you jailer? Why use me for your target practice? Am I so great a burden to you? 21 Can’t you ever forgive my sin? Can’t you pardon the wrong I do? Soon I will be in my grave, and I’ll be gone when you look for me. Job 7:11-21 (TEV)
For I bore about a shattered and bleeding soul, impatient of being borne by me, yet where to repose it, I found not. Not in calm groves, not in games and music, nor in fragrant spots, nor in curious banquetings, nor in the pleasures of the bed and the couch; nor (finally) in books or poesy, found it repose. All things looked ghastly, yea, the very light; whatsoever was not what he was, was revolting and hateful, except groaning and tears. For in those alone found I a little refreshment. But when my soul was withdrawn from them a huge load of misery weighed me down. To Thee, O Lord, it ought to have been raised, for Thee to lighten; I knew it; but neither could nor would; the more, since, when I thought of Thee, Thou wert not to me any solid or substantial thing. For Thou wert not Thyself, but a mere phantom, and my error was my God. (1)
Yesterday’s sermon was on the slaughtering of the innocents, and the despair of Israel as the children were led away into captivity. An odd way to begin the year, I thought. I included statistics that were overwhelming, the number of martyrs, both those who died without denying Jesus, and the number of lives cut short before their
It’s enough to make you stagger, to bluntly reveal our brokenness, to tear our hearts apart by simply being honest. Even those who helplessly look on are devastated and struggle to find God, and even more, we often push away the comfort He would give us.
Often times, we are too polite, to bound by a sense of hospitality, to address these things. We want to shove the pain into some dark corner or our soul We are afraid to be honest with God, to openly cry about the pain, to admit the anger, to let ourselves be purged of our bitterness.
Augustine tried to find such solace, he couldn’t escape the pain. Neither could Job. But it is as they confess this, as they struggle with the god they cannot see, that they cannot fathom, that hope begins.
I understand them, perhaps all too well. When I am at such points, overwhelmed, I want to run and hide. To find solace in a place like Lake Ossipee, NH. To dive into the fictional works I love, of earlier times in history, or the worlds of Tolkien or Feist. I long to be someplace other. To replace prayer with the study of theology, to replace the sacred times, the sacramental life with busyness serving others. Ministry can be a great place to hide in the illusion of self-preservation known as denial.
David knows this grief, as did Solomon. the emptiness, the lack of the peace we pursue. You can’t read the Psalms without noting it, or Ecclesiastes without finding the bitter pain of a life that seemed only to be defined by vanity.
It is in facing that vanity, that lack of peace, that emptiness that we can realize our need for God. That we can understand what faith is, that we can understand how intimate the relationship is, where God teaches us to desire and pray to see His Kingdom come and will be done.
Stop running, cry out with your soul until you can be still. For then you will know that He is God, know He is here, and that He is your refuge. For being still is not possible until we deal with the pain that would have us fight or flee. It is then, broken, wounded, weeping, that we come to the cross, and indying to ourselves, we find Him.
There, at the cross, worn out and weary beyond measure, you will be still; ou will find what Agustine and Job, David and Solomon all found, and what transformed them. A God who comes to us… and brings healing and peace.
Augustine, S., Bishop of Hippo. (1996). The Confessions of St. Augustine. (E. B. Pusey, Trans.). Oak Harbor, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc.
Devotional Thought of the Day:
7 LORD, you have deceived me, and I was deceived! You are stronger than I am, and you have overpowered me. Everyone makes fun of me; they laugh at me all day long. Jeremiah 20:7 (TEV)
It’s been one of those years when things that aren’t supposed to happen do happen. When I’ve had to help more people pick up the broken pieces of their life, and plead with God to put them back together.
When I’ve seen other friends, turn their back on God, and choose their way to go, encouraged by those around them. When those entrusted with responsibility become Machiavellian in the work, and then justify it. I am not just talking about the secular world, I see it in the church as well.
It is almost enough for me to change from being cynical to being a pessimist. It is enough for me to despair, and even go through something akin to depression.
But it is there, almost consumed by darkness, that I remember the brutal honesty of Jeremiah. His ability to speak honestly with God, even to admit he was ticked at God and felt betrayed by Him, even deceived by Him.
To many people I hear today, acting as if life is perfect as if there is no brokenness as if everyone can achieve everything they want to, simply by only speaking positively. If life was such, why would they need to be encouraged to adjust their attitude, to only speak positively as if the challenges of life were not there?
Jeremiah is speaking positively when he rails against God when the prophet admits he is tired when he admits that he doesn’t like the suffering, the pain, the life he has to live. He doesn’t hide this stuff, bury it deeply, ignore it and cover it with nice notes of encouragement.
He wrestles with God, like a true son of Jacob; the man renamed Israel
I was blessed to work with a pastor named Robert Schuller a few times. Let me rephrase, I didn’t work alongside him, but in a series of courses, he taught me a few things about preaching, along with his trusted associates. He’s known for a positive message, perhaps along with Norman Vincent Peale to be one of the father’s of positive thinking, at least in the Christian realm. One of the bits of confusion is the allegation that he was a name-it, claim-it type guy. Not so much. The stories he would tell of people’s encounters with God’s grace always included the challenge God would get them through, the scars that God would use to bless them and others, the pains that resulted in gains.
An attitude that didn’t dismiss the brokenness, but freely admitted it, but also entrusted one’s self to God. Something that can only be done when we are as honest as Jeremiah was, as we admit out frailty, our pain, our honest feelings, and let our Heavenly Father comfort us. It is when we are honest, we see how overwhelming His mercy is, how compassionate His love is, as it reaches out and begins to heal us.
I have to admit, I don’t like what God somehow allows. I tell Him that, sometimes as bluntly as Jeremiah.
but then, eventually, my tantrum subsiding, I realize what Jeremiah does, just a couple of verses later…
9 But when I say, “I will forget the LORD and no longer speak in his name,” then your message is like a fire burning deep within me. I try my best to hold it in, but can no longer keep it back. Jeremiah 20:9 (TEV)
His message of mercy, His message of love, is that deep.
I can’t shut it even… even when I feel bruised and broken, or when I am tired of trying to help those who are.
for I know His presence, I know His mercy, and I trust in the compassion of our Father, who sent Jesus to die, to make life just and right…. and a blessing.
Cry our, Lord, have mercy! You will see that He does… in more ways than we can count.
Devotional Thought of the Day:
22 They came to Bethsaida, where some people brought a blind man to Jesus and begged him to touch him. 23 Jesus took the blind man by the hand and led him out of the village. After spitting on the man’s eyes, Jesus placed his hands on him and asked him, “Can you see anything?” 24 The man looked up and said, “Yes, I can see people, but they look like trees walking around.” 25 Jesus again placed his hands on the man’s eyes. This time the man looked intently, his eyesight returned, and he saw everything clearly. Mark 8:22-25 (TEV)
212 Let us marvel at the lovable paradox of our Christian condition: it is our own wretchedness which leads us to seek refuge in God, to become “like unto God”. With him we can do all things. (1)
15 years ago this month, I was a young pastor, at my first church a little over a year. I was starting to crumble when a query about a church conference turned into an opportunity that changed my ministry career. I was offered the chance to replace a pastor that had dropped out of an exclusive preaching program at what was called the Fuqua School of Christian Communication. The Basic course was supposed to have 25 students, and one backed out. It was held at the Crystal Cathedral, in conjunction with other seminaries who made it part of their DMin program.
It required me to be videotaped during a short sermon, 15 minutes or so.
Most of the other pastors were from churches of 350-1500. Some were on television, some pastored famous churches. I was pastoring a church in the desert, one many have given up on. We would work 5 to 1 with some of the most famous preachers and christian communicators in the USA. My mentor was Juan Carlos Ortiz. If you’ve never heard him, in English or Spanish, you should. He is one of the most dynamic, deep preachers you will ever hear. He had the first megachurch in his home country of Argentina, came to the USA and started a church for people speaking Spanish at the Crystal Cathedral.
As I watched him shred the first four pastors in my group, I became more and more fearful. I was very stiff, monotoned and tried to stuff 45 minutes into 15. I could anticipate every comment he would make, and already feeling overwhelmed by my “peers”, I was wondering if his advice would be similar to what I had heard before. That I wasn’t cut our (some said I didn’t have the gift ) to be a preacher.
That’s not what Juan Carlos did. After shredding (very politely constructively and with the skill and elan of a world class fencer ) the more renowned and skilled preachers, he focused only on a 75-second portion of my message.
There, I told the story of the picture above, although thirty-five plus years in the past. Instead of my son and I, I was the son, my dad beside me, on the same road along the shore of Lake Ossipee in Salem New Hampshire. Then and still, this is the relationship we are to have with God, walking hand in hand down the road together. Sharing the problems of life, our doubts, our joys, our anxieties. We would ask questions about this life that puzzle us, Asking for help in making life right. (confession) And sometimes, it is simply walking in silence.
It is this communion that is what the life of a Christian is to be. It is how Jesus ministered to the blind man as well, taking him by the hand, and walking with Him. It is as St Josemarie talked of, where our problems, our anxieties, our fears, our sins are the very thing that drives us to God in the first place. There. everything becomes right.
What Juan Carlos told me was to tell this story, the same way. To get people to know the God who walks with them, as a father walking with his son. If I did that, everything else would fall into place.
Today I took that walk with my son…. today, I thought back on that lesson… today, perhaps you need to get back on that road you used to walk with your Father in heaven.
It’s time – let’s all go for that walk….
Escriva, Josemaria (2011-01-31). The Forge (Kindle Locations 926-927). Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition.
Devotional Thought of the Day:
20 Who in the world do you think you are to second-guess God? Do you for one moment suppose any of us knows enough to call God into question? Clay doesn’t talk back to the fingers that mold it, saying, “Why did you shape me like this?” 21 Isn’t it obvious that a potter has a perfect right to shape one lump of clay into a vase for holding flowers and another into a pot for cooking beans? 22 If God needs one style of pottery especially designed to show his angry displeasure 23 and another style carefully crafted to show his glorious goodness, isn’t that all right? Romans 9:20-23 (MSG)
13 Like clay in the hands of a potter, to be molded according to his pleasure, So are men in the hands of their Creator, to be assigned by him their function. Sirach 33:13 (NAB) (1)
In 1964, after a stay in Pamplona during which he preached to many people, he said how ashamed he felt at the demonstrations of affection he received. “They carried me around like a statue in a procession!” He added, “Later on I heard that there had been many conversions, lapsed Catholics going to confession … and I remembered the clay our Lord used to open the eyes of the blind man in the Gospel.” (2)
Yesterday, in a class I was teaching on Evangelism, there was a great discussion on the issue of our partnership with the Holy Spirit in ministry. The question led to thikning on my part, and during breakfast this morning I came across the above quote about Jesus using the clay (mud) to open the eyes of a blind man, and St Josemaria’s likening himself to that clay.
It is a theme in scripture, this molding and designing our use, as you see in Romans. It appears in Jeremiah as well, and in other places. It gives us a model of ministry, one which answers many of my questions about why I go through what I go thorugh in ministry. Not the answer I want, by any means! But one that leaves me… at peace.
I don’t like the answer at first, because it means I can’t set the boundaries, I can’t determine my own path, or what I think is the right way and strategy to serve God. It’s not something I can turn to a mentor, or the new term “life-coach” to find out. They are on differnt journeys, they have a different calling. Prayer is good, and I often seek others to pray for me and those I encounter. Prayers for guidance, prayers that God’s desire be revealed, prayers for strength to endure what God’s desire for me is, not leaning on my own strength, but securely found in His care. Following His advice/guidelines/commands, because He is God and I am not god, I am just one of His children.
That’s tough, because I like to think of myself as a semi-rational, somewhat intelligent person. I love exploring God’s word, delving deep into the languages to see His love for my peopel revealed. But because I know a verb tense, because I have access to some of the greatest linguistic tools known, that doesn’t make me an authority over scripture. It doesn’t give me the right to say Thus didn’t say the Lord, or thus did say the Lord. I can point to what He says.
The same goes for what I am called to do in ministry, where God wants me. I can dream of other places, of places where the trauma is less, or the work is more “visibly” effective. A place where I am more personally able to relax and be at peace, or where I am not tempted to be someone else. But here is where I have been placed, this ministry (at least for the moment) is where God has placed me to serve. Do I have to understand why? Do I have to find great accolades from my peers or my people? Or can I just be satisfied with knowing God has molded me for this moment, this day, this serving, and that this moment will mold me for tomorrow and next year? That can happen only if my trust is in God, that I reognize not only His wisdom, but His love for me.
If I had a dream church, nestled in the mountains of New Hampshire, overlooking Lake Osippee, in a town of 1000, with 2500 people in church, with all my friends from the church I’ve pastored and been part of, (all of them healthy and financially stable, with solid marriages and awesome kids) there is no guarantee I would feel at peace more there than where i am today.
For peace doesn’t come to clay when it sets the rules, where it determines its use. Peace comes from knowing Who it is who created and formed and places us where we are. Peace is foudn walking with God, knowing His love. Whether we are in the inner city… or suburbia, or a jungle or desert. For we are His beloeved work, His beloved masterpieces.
Peace is found in Him, and that peace… oh that peace!
(1) For my friends from protestant backgrouns, the book identified as Sirach (or Ecclesiasticus) is one of the books in the historic canon.of scripture, and it shows up in Bibles prior to the 19th century, including the King James Version. To simplify things if you are unfamiliar with it and the issues about the Canon, consider it like you would a writings of an Augustine, or a Luther, or other orthodox preacher.
(2) Urbano, Pilar (2011-05-10). The Man of Villa Tevere (Kindle Locations 5180-5184). Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition.