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An Advent Sermon Series: The Relationships of Christmas Past, Present, and Future (Genesis 44-45)

Concordia Christmas Eve 2015

The Relationships of Christmas Past
Genesis 44:30-44

† In Jesus Name †

May the grace of God our Father and our Lord Jesus convince you of the healing that is indeed happening in your life, and in the lives of those you knew in Christmases past…

Haunted

I can imagine, as Judah stands before the brother he does not recognize, the heartache that he feels.  His heart and soul flashbacks to the look in his father’s eyes when they told him of Joseph’s death. Of watching his dad weep for months,

How it must have ate him up, even though he knew his brother probably wasn’t dead, but simply a slave somewhere.

Still, he had to look down, and see his father, wracked with tears, and live with his father’s overprotective nature toward Joseph’s younger brother, the only joy this broken man had…

Judah then considers having to break the news to his father, that his other son would be lost to him as well. His heart breaks, as guilt and shame have so weakened him, he realizes he can’t go back, he can’t watch his father die, because of the sin he has committed.

Surely he is haunted far more than Bob Marley or the most of the ghost of Christmas past ever could.

Our Relationships of Christmas Past

For many of us, the holidays are a challenge. We miss many dear friends and family.  Some are memories form our youth, like those we looked up to have past away, some of them decades ago.

Others are missing for a different reason.

Our sin.

Maybe we didn’t sell them into slavery, but the effect is much the same.  We never, ever, want to bump into each other, for the sin that divides us is too grievous.  Like Judah, thinking of the pain he caused his father, (not even thinking of Joseph) we can’t live with it. I can’t imagine bearing up with that kind of pain for decades…

Or can I?

I think back to the relationships of Christmases past, and know the absence of lives that brought joy, people I had fun with, that won’t be there this year without a miracle.  If I think about it, I understand all to well the pain that Judah felt, as he considered going back to his father,

I could easily share in the words of Judah,

33 Sir, I am your slave. Please let me stay here in place of Benjamin and let him return home with his brothers. 34 How can I face my father if Benjamin isn’t with me? I couldn’t bear to see my father in such sorrow.

As we regret the past, as we wish we, as we pray like Judah did, as we grieve over the damage of our sin, we hear God respond, “no…”

It is hard to hear God answer no…

So hard we don’t always hear, “my son, that is not necessary….”

But our Brother can..

It is actually impossible to take care of what we’ve broken and shattered. We can’t take the place of the joy, we can’t somehow sacrifice the life we have to restore that which is broken.

But that isn’t why God says “no”

He says no because He had already taken care of the sin that caused Judah’s grief, and anxiety.  The brother he thinks dead, he is standing before. What his and his brother’s sin threw away, the love of their Father is now going to be restored.

This is the moment that is the perfect example of Advent.  We stand before the King who is about to be revealed, trying to do with our guilt and shame, trying to figure out how to face the eternal consequences for our actions. How can we face God our father, when the relationships of our past mean our brother, our sister, isn’t going to be with us?  It is as this moment we understand the power of Advent and the greater moment of Christmas…

We really need to hear what God has already said, we need to hear it with all our heart and all our mind, and all our soul.

“Let it be done for you as you believe. By Jesus’ command I tell you, Your sins are forgiven, and what was done for evil, God will use for good. This is promised in the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.  AMEN!”

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The Relationships of Christmas Present
Genesis 45:-18a

† I.H.S. †

May the grace of God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ be so revealed in your life, that broken relationships you deal with today are healed.
A Quick Review of the past

Last week, we looked at relationships of Christmas past, and we walked in the footsteps of Judah and his brothers. We saw the desire, and the inability to make up for the sins we’ve committed against others.

We had to see the only hope to deal with the guilt, the shame, the separation was to put it into God’s hands.

So now we come to the Relationships of Christmas Present…

In this moment!

Instead of walking in Judah’s footsteps, we have to exchange them for Joseph’s and deal with the pain of relationships in the present, those relationships that will not be celebrated at Christmas, because sin has again divided us.

Not our sin this time… “theirs!”

You know who I am talking about, every one of us has someone who, if they walked in the room right now, we would not want to interact with them. We may not be angry at them, we may not be burying our resentment, or at least we tell ourselves this.  But the pain is there. The heartache, and the discomfort when they walk in the room.

Joseph’s attitude:

If only we could see them, as Joseph saw his brothers, if only we could weep at the division between us, if only we could ask them to “please come closer,” and urge them as he did, “don’t be upset, and don’t be angry with yourselves for hurting me this way,”

If only our grief caused by their sin was able to be dealt with in that way!

If only… we could love more than we hurt…

if only… the relationship meant more to us… than our pain.

My God, there are days where I wish I had the strength of Joseph’s faith…

But I do not…and if I read scripture right, neither do any of you.

The Key To Healing Relationships of Christmas Present

There is only one way to be able to generate that much strength, that much desire to see things “made right” in the relationship with us, that someone shattered. It is walking in Joseph’s steps and seeing what God has done, not in their life, but in ours.

That is where Joseph looks and sees God at work in His life. He sees God at work, as He promised to be, making everything work for good for those who love Him, those He’s called to be His own people.

It isn’t so much that we make the decision to love them, that we will ourselves to give up the pain and the hurt, that we willingly just give Jesus the resentment and pain.

It fades away, in the light of His glory, it fades away as we see the manger, and realize He is with us, it fades away.. as we see the cross, and realize He lived and died and rose again… because He loves us.

and there, in that moment, we find ourselves, empowered and driven by the Holy Spirit, going to those who’ve sinned against us, with tears in our eyes, saying,

It is I, your brother, don’t be afraid, don’t be upset with yourselves, God is at work here…

And then be amazed, for the peace of God which passes all understanding envelops you all, and guards your heart and soul and mind.  AMEN!

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The relationships of Christmas Future
Genesis 45:16-21-25-28

In Jesus Name

May the grace mercy and peace of God enable you to see the result of God reconciling us all into Himself.

The Journey Past and Present

This advent we’ve already looked at the Relationships of Christmas Past, those times where we have not been there, the times where our sin has dramatically impacted relationships, much as Judah and His brothers betrayed and sinned against Joseph.

And we saw how Christ did what Judah could not do, taking on the punishment we deserved.  Knowing that gave us hope for the relationships we broke in the past.

Then we looked at the Relationships of Christmas Present, and saw the relationships shattered by the sins of others.

We saw Joseph find the grace that comes when we realize God is at work in our lives, and that all things work out for God, even the things that people planned ot hurt us.

Now we get into the look for relationships in our future.., including those of the past and present.  It is the hope to which each of the previous weeks pointed to, it is the hope of advent, it is the hope that parable of scrooge pointed to as well – relationships healed by the power of God

What the King has in mind

When the news gets to the Pharaoh and his leaders that Joseph’s brothers had come, the reaction is amazing. Here is how it reads, “When it was told in the palace that Joseph’s brothers had come, the king and his officials were happy”  But “happy” is then seen in the reaction – “go get them, I will give them the nest of everything. They can eat and enjoy it all!”

That sounds more like the meaning behind the Hebrew there… which ranges from “it was very good, to delightful. Pharaoh was excited = you see his reaction – give them the best Joseph – the best of whatever I got!

That’s a picture of heaven, not the getting the best stuff, but the excitement of the Pharaoh is the excitement that God has, in seeing us “come home!” It is the regathering, the people that matter to God, His people whom Jesus died for, finally ending up where they belong!

It’s that joy we need to see tonight, the joy of God as He sees us as we are in Christ – reconciled together.

That is why Pharaoh includes this instruction as well, “They can leave their possessions behind,”  

The more we understand God’s delight, His joy for His people to dwell in His presence, the more this makes sense.  We don’t have to bring all the baggage we carry in this life!

Pharaoh provided everything they needed, just get in the chariots and come!

This is what God does for us, providing everything we need to dwell with Him, not just during the hard times of this life, but for eternity.

But the excitement – go get the people – bring them!

This amazing Pharaoh is as much a picture of God our Father as the Pharaoh 425 years later will not be!

I Must GO – His Son is really alive!

Up to this point in the story, Jacob has been distressed and depressed. And when the moving chariots get there, I love his reaction,

“My son Joseph must really be alive, and I will get to see him before I die.”

It reminds me of Joseph’s words,

26  And after my body has decayed, yet in my body I will see God! 27  I will see him for myself. Yes, I will see him with my own eyes. I am overwhelmed at the thought! Job 19:26-27 (NLT2)

What makes the difference here is the interaction, Jacob will see his son, Job will see God, we will encounter Jesus,.

A son, once thought dead is found alive, and not only is he alive, but he is reigning and sits at the right hand of the King, Jacob’s life changed dramatically.

Just as Jesus has risen, and not is He alive, He reigns at the right hand of the Father, our lives have changed, reconciled, restored. He is truly risen!

Therefore, We ARE RISEN INDEED,

And when we see Him every relationship will be healed, will be made whole, as all dwell with the Lord, who has forgiven our sins, and united us all in the death and resurrection of Jesus.  AMEN!

 

 

The context of the bad news, makes the good news so much sweeter…

Good News Bible
Devotional Thought fo the Day

18  Where is another God like you, who pardons the guilt of the remnant, overlooking the sins of his special people? You will not stay angry with your people forever, because you delight in showing unfailing love. 19  Once again you will have compassion on us. You will trample our sins under your feet and throw them into the depths of the ocean!20  You will show us your faithfulness and unfailing love as you promised to our ancestors Abraham and Jacob long ago. Micah 7:18-20 (NLT2)

The text (Joel 2:13) commands us to rend our hearts, but they are naturally hard as marble: how, then, can this be done? We must take them to Calvary: a dying Saviour’s voice rent the rocks once, and it is as powerful now. O blessed Spirit, let us hear the death-cries of Jesus, and our hearts shall be rent even as men rend their vestures in the day of lamentation.

I hate watching hospital shows, whether it is E.R. in the old days, or Gray’s Anatomy or any of the clones today. I actually thought I found one I liked, the ads said the guy did medicine the right way, and I have to admit, it was interesting the first couple of shows. I thought it might be a nicer version of “House.”

But as with all of them, they eventually get to the episode featuring the patient with Marphans, and it gets too personal.

Back in the ’90s, I had a cardiac arrest and had to have CPR performed n me for 15 minutes, then resuscitated 5 times with a defibrillator.  And though I have no memory of when they said clear and shocked me, my body still feels it when I hear those words on a television show.

It is painful to face my own mortality again.

And yet, that same pain renders me thankful for the lady who performed CPR, and for the paramedics and doctors who shocked me back to life.

As I’ve talked to others like me, there is often a different outlook on life. Because we’ve experienced death because we know how fragile life is, life is different.

Spurgeon understands this spiritually, in order for us to grieve over sin, we need to take it ot the cross, to look on the body that was beaten, pierced, and hung on a cross. We need to understand of all those executed in history, Jesus could have stopped the entire charade and made it right. We need to hear the words of Jesus on the cross and realize His entire life was aimed at this very moment.

He chose not to.

He chose to die that you and I could know the wonder that amazes Hosea. The amazement that God overlooks our sins, the compassion that causes Him to be faithful to promises made centuries ago, but to keep those promises for you and me.

I wonder if we can ever appreciate that sacrifice unless we see it in face of our grievous sins. Can we truly appreciate that love, unless we come face to face with our jealousy, our gossip, our desire for the things of others, or our lust, or desire for revenge?  Or simply our desire to play God, and create idols of our own choosing?

You see that in Acts 2, when the people who thought they were good, who thought they were God’s people (and were) realized that they had killed the Messiah. You see it in Paul’s encounter on the road, in the myriad of stories where people encounter Jesus or the apostles, and realize how far they have fallen, and then are picked up, dusted off, and the prodigal is no longer the prodigal, they are a son of God.

You need to realize what you were, not grieve over it, but to rejoice in what God is doing to us, and to look forward to the day when that work is complete.

Rejoice, your sins, which were as dark as night, causing you to decay like a corpse, those sins are forgiven because of the death of Christ.  And because He is risen, so have you.

Rejoice my friends, rejoice.


C. H. Spurgeon, Morning and Evening: Daily Readings (London: Passmore & Alabaster, 1896).

All things possible for those who believe…. believe what exactly?

St francis at the cross

Devotional Thought for the Day:

24 The servant who had been given one thousand coins then came in and said, “Sir, I know that you are hard to get along with. You harvest what you don’t plant and gather crops where you haven’t scattered seed. 25 I was frightened and went out and hid your money in the ground. Here is every single coin!”
26 The master of the servant told him, “You are lazy and good-for-nothing! You know that I harvest what I don’t plant and gather crops where I haven’t scattered seed. 27 You could have at least put my money in the bank, so that I could have earned interest on it.”
28 Then the master said, “Now your money will be taken away and given to the servant with ten thousand coins! †29 Everyone who has something will be given more, and they will have more than enough. But everything will be taken from those who don’t have anything. 30 You are a worthless servant, and you will be thrown out into the dark where people will cry and grit their teeth in pain.  Mt 25:24-30 CEV

Omnia possibilia sunt credenti—“All things are possible for him who believes.” The words are Christ’s. How is it that you don’t say to him with the Apostles: Adauge nobis fidem!—“Increase my faith!”

St Josemaria quotes Jesus, all things are possible, and before we consider the rest of the context our mind is spinning with the possibilities. A home, good friends, a job that is fulfilling, a cure for cancer.  Okay, perhaps a moment thinking about winning the lottery or moving to Tahiti (or in my case Ossipee, N.H.)  I would want to believe that most of us would use our superpowers for good, and for the good of others,  those whom we care about.

But if we take these words of Jesus, and apply them in his parable of the three servants, I wonder how we stand. Are we using what God has entrusted with, specifically in regards to all things being possible, for the greatest possible miracles?  Are we depending on His promise to do what people say can’t be done?

And what is that, exactly?  What would have the greatest return, given what God has invested in us?

Most of us don’t have God giving us 10,000 or even 1000 gold pieces to create more revenue by investing wisely. But what God gives us to invest is Himself, His love, His mercy, His comfort, the revelation that we dwell in His presence.

How will we use these things, how will we invest them, knowing that all things are possible?

Will we simply sit back, content in our own redemption? We we live a life that is safe, that doesn’t risk what we have? Or will we take a risk, will we try and reach out to those who need to know the mercy and love we have been given?  Do we play it safe with the mysteries of God, or do we invest it, knowing that God will amaze us as He redeems and reconciles and heals people?

Wouldn’t the greatest return on investment be the relationship that seemed the least likely to be reconciled?  Isn’t that the message of the cross – the worst of wretches (you and I ) given a new life… and the promise of being with Jesus… forever!

As I write this, I can feel some people getting a bit defensive, or wondering whether this is an attempt to motivate you to share your faith, to reach out to your adversaries, using guilt or fear.

Oddly enough, it was that fear and guilt that paralyzed the worthless servant.

The other servants, well they knew a different master, the Master who entrusted to them His treasure so that they could invest it. It is the heart of the very gospel to realize the love of God which would love us, and empower us to share that love with those who are broken. They trusted the Master, more than they trusted themselves, and if He believed in them, He would care for them, and make it work

So who will you invest God’s treasure in today, knowing the return is not up to but rather guaranteed by scripture…..

Lord, increase our faith… in You!  And help us invest Your treasure in others!  AMEN!

 

Escriva, Josemaria. The Way . Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition.

The Relationships of Christmas Past

Advent Midweek ThemeThe Relationships of
Christmas Past
Genesis 44:30-44

† In Jesus Name †

May the grace of God, our Father, and our Lord Jesus convince you of the healing that is indeed happening in your life and in the lives of those you knew in Christmases past…

Haunted

I can’t imagine, as Judah stands before the brother he does not recognize, the heartache that he feels.  His heart and soul flashbacks to the look in his father’s eyes when they told him of Joseph’s death. Of watching his dad weep for months,

How it must have eaten him up, even though he knew his brother probably wasn’t dead, but simply a slave somewhere.

Still, he had to look down and see his father, wracked with tears, and live with his father’s overprotective nature toward Joseph’s younger brother, the only joy this broken man had…

Judah then considers having to break the news to his father, that his other son would be lost to him as well. His heart breaks, as guilt and shame have so weakened him, he realizes he can’t go back, he can’t watch his father die, because of the sin he has committed.

Surely he is haunted far more than Bob Marley or the most of the ghost of Christmas past ever could.

Our Relationships of Christmas Past

For many of us, the holidays are a challenge. We miss many dear friends and family.  Some are memories form our youth, like those we looked up to have past away, some of them decades ago.

Others are missing for a different reason.

Our sin.

Maybe we didn’t sell them into slavery, but the effect is much the same.  We never, ever, want to bump into each other, for the sin that divides us is too grievous.  Like Judah, thinking of the pain he caused his father (not even thinking of Joseph), we can’t live with it. I can’t imagine bearing up with that kind of pain for decades….

Or can I?

I think back to the relationships of Christmases past, and know the absence of lives that brought joy, people I had fun with, that won’t be there this year without a miracle.  If I think about it, I understand all to well the pain that Judah felt, as he considered going back to his father,

I could easily share in the words of Judah,

33 Sir, I am your slave. Please let me stay here in place of Benjamin and let him return home with his brothers. 34 How can I face my father if Benjamin isn’t with me? I couldn’t bear to see my father in such sorrow.

As we regret the past, as we wish we, as we pray like Judah prayed, as we grieve over the damage of our sin, we hear God respond, “no…”

It is hard to hear God answer no…

So hard we don’t always hear, “my son, that is not necessary….”

But our Brother can…

It is actually impossible to take care of what we’ve broken and shattered. We can’t take the place of the joy, we can’t somehow sacrifice the life we have to restore that which is broken.

But that isn’t why God says, “no.”

He says no because He had already taken care of the sin that caused Judah’s grief and anxiety.  The brother he thinks dead, he is standing before. What his and his brother’s sin threw away, the love of their Father is now going to be restored.

This is the moment that is the perfect example of Advent.  We stand before the King, who is about to be revealed, trying to do with our guilt and shame, trying to figure out how to face the eternal consequences for our actions. How can we face God our father, when the relationships of our past mean our brother, our sister, isn’t going to be with us?  It is at this moment we understand the power of Advent and the greater moment of Christmas…

We really need to hear what God has already said, we need to listen to it with all our heart and all our mind, and all our soul.

“Let it be done for you as you believe. By Jesus’ command, I tell you, Your sins are forgiven, and what was done for evil, God will use for good. This is promised in the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.  AMEN!”

Weary and Broken by watching people post about politics… is there hope?

Photo by MIXU on Pexels.com

1  Why do the nations gather together? Why do their people devise useless plots? 2  Kings take their stands. Rulers make plans together against the LORD and against his Messiah by saying, 3  “Let’s break apart their chains and shake off their ropes.” 4  The one enthroned in heaven laughs. The Lord makes fun of them.
10  Now, you kings, act wisely. Be warned, you rulers of the earth! 11  Serve the LORD with fear, and rejoice with trembling. 12  Kiss the Son, or he will become angry and you will die on your way because his anger will burst into flames. Blessed is everyone who takes refuge in him.
Psalm 2:1-4, 10-12 (GW)

The delight which the mariner feels, when, after having been tossed about for many a day, he steps again upon the solid shore, is the satisfaction of a Christian when, amidst all the changes of this troublous life, he rests the foot of his faith upon this truth—“I am the Lord, I change not.”

I am getting tired of politics in the church. It literally is sucking the life out of me.

I see a pastor, sharing memes that deride those who are younger than him, those who have little hope because of what they see going on in the world. I wonder if he considers the effects of the youth in his church, and the effect of such memes on them?

I see a parachurch organization, applauding those who blatantly disrespect our country’s president, disregarding scripture and our role as God’s people to be agents of reconciliation. When asked about it, I am mocked for believing what God desires, and what the Holy Spirit calls us to do is impossible.

It doesn’t matter, right or left, traditional or progressive, the hatred I am seeing manifest toward those who don’t agree on this issue, it sucks the life out of me. It brings me to despair, and wonder if the church has completely lost its way. Whether it has forgotten the God who could redeem and reconcile Paul, the God who could change and adulterous and murderous heart of a King, the God who could look out on those who were killing them, and ask the Father to forgive them..

Do we believe God still reigns? Or do we, like the people described in Psalm 2 simply want to toss God aside, and ignore the fact we are all part of His creation.

My mind tells me that the church no longer trusts God, and that is why such things happen

my heart lies broken.

My soul tries to wait, hoping beyond hope that God will keep His promise.

Weary just after breakfast, I come into my office, I see Spurgeon’s words first, and long to be the spiritual version of the sailor he describes, who tired form the storm, finds rest and relief as his feet land on solid ground.

I find that ground in the storm, in a God who can laugh at the wayward children who need to be reminded of His presence. Who need to be corrected, who need to be reminded that God is still God, that Jesus is still our Savior, and our Lord. That even now, in our brokenness in our frustration, in our anger at others and our lack of faith in God.

God is still desiring our embrace,

God is still wanting us to take refuge, to find our safe place within His love.

God is still here, willing to clean up the damage our lack of faith in Him, to heal the brokenness caused by of all the political crap we experience.

God hasn’t changed, He’s the same God who brought Matthew the Tax Collector and Simon the Zealot together.. and sent them with others to bring His people into the world. They were far more polar opposite than any extreme we see in American politics today… and in Jesus, the found unity and the ability to serve people together.

May we have the faith, the dependence on God to see such happen in our days as well.

C. H. Spurgeon, Morning and Evening: Daily Readings (London: Passmore & Alabaster, 1896).

The Kingdom of God is like The Ultimate Breakfast Club

A picture of the church?

A Pastor Parker Parable/Devotional Thought of the Day

6† The LORD said to me,
“I have a greater task for you, my servant.
Not only will you restore to greatness
the people of Israel who have survived,
but I will also make you a light to the nations—
so that all the world may be saved
.” Isaiah 49:6 GNT

12 At that time you were apart from Christ. You were foreigners and did not belong to God’s chosen people. You had no part in the covenants, which were based on God’s promises to his people, and you lived in this world without hope and without God. 13 But now, in union with Christ Jesus you, who used to be far away, have been brought near by the blood of Christ.By his death on the cross Christ destroyed their enmity; by means of the cross he united both races into one body and brought them back to God. 17† So Christ came and preached the Good News of peace to all—to you Gentiles, who were far away from God, and to the Jews, who were near to him. 18 It is through Christ that all of us, Jews and Gentiles, are able to come in the one Spirit into the presence of the Father.
19 So then, you Gentiles are not foreigners or strangers any longer; you are now citizens together with God’s people and members of the family of God. 20 You, too, are built upon the foundation laid by the apostles and prophets,f the cornerstone being Christ Jesus himself. 21 He is the one who holds the whole building together and makes it grow into a sacred temple dedicated to the Lord. 22 In union with him you too are being built together with all the others into a place where God lives through his Spirit
Eph. 2:11-13,16-22 GNT

In the Year of our Lord 1985, a classic movie came out. It told the story of 5 high school kids, the janitor and their vice-principal. What was supposed to be a day of punishment ended up to one of the moments that would become life-changing, and something they, or those who watched the movie, would never forget.

The Breakfast Club, the Brain, the Jock, the Preppy/Glamour girl, the Bad Boy, and the nonconformist. Each in their own world, and yet each of them a goyim, an outsider. SOmeone viewed with as much disdain as we might view the refugee or illegal immigrant today.

Throughout the movie they would struggle with each other, they would argue, cry, laugh, and bond together. Despite the stereotypes, despite the angst, despite the suspicion, they would come to know each other, and what the Vice Principal meant for evil, God would use for good. You even have a great picture of the transformation God works in people, through people, as Ally Sheedy’s character is transformed. Not that the others weren’t transformed, given hope, and started on the journey of healing. But her transformation was more visible.

It could be a parable of the New and Old Testament Quotes above, a prophecy of the work and its fulfillment, as Christ links us to His suffering and death and we rise from that death, as one. No longer alien, no longer the outcast, all welcome in the presence of the Father.

This is something we need to continually learn in our lives. It is something we continually have to be aware of as we encounter people that seem different that us. THat in Christ, we are meant to be one people, and we can trust God more than give into the fears and stereotypes. We can welcome those looking for help, those in trouble, even those who sins were as blatant and evil as they can get. God can redeem them, God can transform them. That is why Christ came and died…to set us free, to transform us, not into rule following robots/clones, but into the people of God, as diverse as the parts of a body.

Lord, help us look past stereotypes, not just we have of others, but those we have of our own lives. Help us to know Your presence, and Your love for all whom You are calling to be Yours – even though they might not know it. AMEN!


This is the power of Christ at work in His people, even those who are on detention for their sins

Is God hidden in plain sight?

Devotional Thought of the Day:

On the Sabbath he began to teach in the synagogue. Many people were there; and when they heard him, they were all amazed. “Where did he get all this?” they asked. “What wisdom is this that has been given him? How does he perform miracles? 3 Isn’t he the carpenter, the son of Mary, and the brother of James, Joseph, Judas, and Simon? Aren’t his sisters living here?” And so they rejected him. Mark 6:2-3 Good News Translation

6  I felt secure and said to myself, “I will never be defeated.” 7  You were good to me, LORD; you protected me like a mountain fortress. But then you hid yourself from me, and I was afraid. 8  I called to you, LORD; I begged for your help: 9  “What will you gain from my death? What profit from my going to the grave? Are dead people able to praise you? Can they proclaim your unfailing goodness? 10  Hear me, LORD, and be merciful! Help me, LORD!” 11  You have changed my sadness into a joyful dance; you have taken away my sorrow and surrounded me with joy. 12  So I will not be silent; I will sing praise to you. LORD, you are my God; I will give you thanks forever.
Psalm 30:6-12 (TEV)

In the movie Gandhi, the young Indian lawyer and a white clergyman are walking together on a boardwalk in South Africa, contrary to its laws at the time. Some brutish-looking young white men threaten to harm them, but the ringleader’s mother calls from a window and commands him to go about his business.
When the clergyman exclaims over their good luck, Gandhi comments, “I thought you were a man of God.” The clergyman replies, “I am, but I don’t believe he plans his day around me!”
A cute point, but beneath it lie beliefs that make it difficult to take seriously the possibility of divine guidance. One of those beliefs is that we are not important to God. But we were important enough for God to give his Son’s life for us and to choose to inhabit us as living temples. Obviously, then, we are important enough for God to guide us and speak to us whenever it’s appropriate. 

There he was, in the village, doing things that boggled the mind of those who knew Him. Teaching in ways that were simple, yet profound. The reports of the miracles that He had done were overwhelming, there was too much evidence to deny that this man who grew up in their midst was a divinely empowered prophet, and perhaps more.

But they rejected Him, their unbelief robbing Him of the opportunity to do something, anything in their presence. The one who drove out demons, the Lord who healed so many, who raised people from the dead, was tuned out, turned away, unable to help the people He loved.

It is the same thing in David’s psalm, as David describes being safe in God’s presence, too terrified because he couldn’t find God, no matter how hard he looked. And the pastor walking with Gandhi, who failed to see God’s intervention, which even the lawyer/philosopher was able to discern.

This is far more common in the church that we think. We know so much about God, that we reject Him from being our God. We are familiar with Jesus, but we fail to be united to Him, we fail to interact with Him in a way that is, for lack of better word, intimate, We fail to have the communion with Him, we fail to depend on Him, and we think He is hidden from us.

He is not hidden, or if He is, He is hidden in plain sight.

So how do we end this rollercoaster ride that David describes? How do we grow in our discernment of God’s presence, of His love and mercy being poured out on us, as He promises it will be? How do we constantly stay aware of God, seeing Him as He reveals Himself to us?

warning: this answer may piss you off 

You cannot. You are as human as David, or the pastor Gandhi encountered.

This is not something we can accomplish by the force of our will, just as we cannot live a life that is not impacted by our sin. Trying to do so will only result in feelings of guilt and shame, and even more lack of awareness.

I am not saying that we cannot grow in awareness, and more importantly, grow in our ability to trust in God when we can’t see Him. We can learn to search Him out, knowing where we can find Him, rather than just dwelling in the moment we lost track of Him.

This we can do, especially if we have friends around us, able to encourage us when we struggle. For that is part of what it means to be brothers and sisters in Christ Jesus.

But even more, we have to learn from the story of the prodigal, we have to trust that God wants us home, we have to know we will be welcomed home. God wants us to realize His presence in our lives, not just as an observer, but as an active participant, empowering us, encouraging us, correcting us, and yes, comforting us.

He’s promised to do all that and more, and in our weakness, we realize how great that promise and that strength is.

So relax, look around, and realize He is your God.

Willard, D., & Johnson, J. (2015). Hearing god through the year: a 365-day devotional. Westmont, IL: IVP Books.

In Ministry, whom do we please? A different perspective!

Devotional Thought off the day:

28  “Didn’t we tell you never again to teach in this man’s name?” he demanded. “Instead, you have filled all Jerusalem with your teaching about him, and you want to make us responsible for his death!” 29  But Peter and the apostles replied, “We must obey God rather than any human authority. 30  The God of our ancestors raised Jesus from the dead after you killed him by hanging him on a cross. 31  Then God put him in the place of honor at his right hand as Prince and Savior. He did this so the people of Israel would repent of their sins and be forgiven.
Acts 5:28-31 (NLT2)

383         In governing, after considering the common good, one must realise that both in spiritual and in civil affairs it will be very rare for a law to displease nobody. There is a popular saying: The rain never pleases everybody! Yet you can be sure, that is not a defect of the law, but an unjustified rebelliousness of pride and selfishness by a few.

I have often heard those in ministry talk about the pressure to please others. It is one of the things that contribute to clergy and lay ministry burnout.

Sometimes, we get so tired of being there for others, of trying to meet their expectations, that we decide to only please and look after our own needs. with a similar attitude, I have heard pastors and others justify their own attitudes that precede and accompany such burnout.  I am going to please no-one – just be faithful to the scriptures, using a passage like the one above from Acts.  In reality, the attitude is not one of a shepherd, but one of a scribe, using the law to condemn, rather than an agent of reconciliation

Let me be blunt, most of the times I have heard, or even said such a thing, the idea of pleasing God was not on the mind of the one spewing it forth.  They might have been in burnout, they may have been overwhelmed, or tired of feeling attacked. But we weren’t trying to please God…

We were trying to find some respite, perhaps a little peace, and in a perverse way, the pleasure of telling someone off.  We want karma (…err… God’s wrath) to bite them in the … well you get the picture

If we were trying to please God, we would hear the rest of the passage and realize what pleases God. 

People being transformed, people having their minds renewed, for this is what repentance is. His goal and greatest desire is to see people forgiven and to be drawn into a relationship with Him.  A relationship based in love, not fear. That is God’s end-game, it is His desire, it is what pleases Him.

One more thought, if we are patient and strong enough in our faith to strive for their reconciliation, if we depend on God for the words, the wisdom, the heart to see their redemption through, then we will have provided them with what will please them more than anything else we could ever do.  

So work to please everyone, working not for the false pleasure of the world, but the real pleasure that is the result of God and His people, rejoicing together!  AMEN!

Escriva, Josemaria. Furrow (Kindle Locations 1747-1750). Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition.

The Church Needs to Stop Betraying Sinners… now!

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The Good Shepherd, carrying His own.

Devotional Thought of the Day:

What do you think a man does who has one hundred sheep and one of them gets lost? He will leave the other ninety-nine grazing on the hillside and go and look for the lost sheep. 13 When he finds it, I tell you, he feels far happier over this one sheep than over the ninety-nine that did not get lost. 14 In just the same way yourq Father in heaven does not want any of these little ones to be lost.  Matthew 18:12-14

312         You should not want to make the world into a cloister, because this would be a disorder. But don’t convert the Church into some earthly faction either, because that would be tantamount to treason.

One of the great challenges facing the church today is sin, not its existence, but how we are to deal with it, and the damage it causes.

St Josemaria points out the two different dangers in our response to sin.

The first is when the church tries to isolate itself from the world, for instance, when we create all our own options so our people don’t have to mix with the world.  Our own schools, our own fraternal clubs, our own coffee shops, and even stores and social media.  When we try to create a community that isolates our people from the world, creating a victual cloister.   You see this as well in the attitude that the church is here to minister to its own, and those like them.

The second seems like the opposite, when the church, trying to “reach” people and bring them into the church, allow sin to convert them. We then bring into question what God really meant by sin, and was it only in that context, or since God will forgive all sin, why do we bother with telling people to stop, and just focus on healing the symptoms, trying to teach them to live a symptom free life, without getting at the cause itself, sin.

These two approaches aren’t really that different.  They both shy away from dealing with sin.  They try to avoid the appearance of sin, not by avoiding it or finding ways to absolve it, but rather just bury it, or hide from it, or try to justify it, because if it isn’t sin, we don’t have to confront it.

And in both cases, we betray the sinner, by denying them the grace they need, by blocking them from the healing and the restoration they need.

Dealing with sin and the brokenness it causes is brutal. Whether it is our own sin, the sin we have committed; or the sin people commit against us, or the sin we witness and are entrusted to help bring reconciliation to God to those who commit the sin.

And we have too often, afraid of being contaminated, or being labeled as accessories, as Jesus was mocked and berated for hanging out with sinners, the tax collectors and prostitutes of his day.

It is time for the church to start going out after the sinners, to bring them to the place where they can find healing, and hope, and be restored.  It won’t be easy, we will have ot deal with both anger, and even being sickened by the sin and the damage it has caused.

The church must commit to helping people heal from this brokenness.  We can’t leave people out in the darkness anymore.  We have to do this cautiously as Jude warns, and aware of our own inability to deal with sin, depending on the mercy of Jesus.  That is the key to dealing with sin, to be so aware of Jesus presence, of His intimate role in our lives, in the place He dwells in our heart, soul, and mind.

This is our vocation, the true role of the church in this world, to go after the one, the broken.   Let us pray,

Heavenly Father, strengthen our relationship with You, through Jesus, as the Holy Spirit draws us close to you.  Give us the courage to honestly address sin, our own, and the sin of the world, turning to You to be healed, to be absolved, to be made complete.  We ask this in Jesus name, depending on Your love, revealed to us at the cross.  AMEN!

 

Escriva, Josemaria. Furrow (Kindle Locations 1484-1486). Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition.

Can I forgive and not forget? How can I ever forget?

man wearing jacket standing on wooden docks leading to body of water

Photo by Wouter de Jong on Pexels.com

Devotional Thought of the Day:

51 He said, “God has made me forget all my sufferings and all my father’s family”; so he named his first son Manasseh. 52 He also said, “God has given me children in the land of my trouble”; so he named his second son Ephraim. Gen 41:51-52  TEV

I cannot count the times that I have heard, “I will forgive them, but I will never forget.” And I know the difficulty, as we deal with the pain of being betrayed, the pain of being the victim of sin.

But how do we turn our backs on the pain?  How do we risk being so brutally betrayed again? And how can we stand with the victims, and yet be obedient to God’s call to work for the reconciliation of all to Jesus?  How can we have hope as well, when we struggle to obey, “forgive us our sins, and we forgive the sins of others.”

I don’t know about you, but this isn’t just a matter of teaching others. It is a matter of my own ability to forgive. And I deal with the guilt of it, how can I encourage people to turn to God for forgiveness, when I can’t forgive them?

How I long for the blessed peace that Joseph must have felt as he encountered his brothers.  The same brothers that so made his life miserable growing up, that eventually threatened to kill him, but instead simply sold him into slavery.  The brothers he could exact revenge upon, without hesitation.

And he chose to love instead, able to because of God’s making Joseph forget because God giving him a new family in the place where the only a life of struggle had been known.

Amazing grace, how sweet the sound, that saved a wretch like me.

It is God’s work that heals us, that removes the burden of resentment, that restores us from the brokenness that shatters us beyond repair. It is the loving mercy of God (cHesed) that enabled this to happen in the life of Joseph.

This is what we need, what we need to hope for and expect from God.  It is the miracle we need to depend upon Him for, as the Holy Spirit comforts us, not only in regards to our being betrayed but in the moments we realize we betrayed someone else.

This is what grace is…

Heavenly Father, bless us as you blessed Joseph, as you made him forget, and enabled him to love and provide for those who betrayed him, knowing it was all Your work and ability to make it so. AMEN!

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