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Where Hope is Found…and a Hard Memory

Tau CrossDevotional Thought of the day:
1  And I, when I came to you, brothers, did not come proclaiming to you the testimony of God with lofty speech or wisdom. 2  For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified. 3  And I was with you in weakness and in fear and much trembling, 4  and my speech and my message were not in plausible words of wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power, 5  so that your faith might not rest in the wisdom of men but in the power of God.    1 Corinthians 2:1-5 (ESV)

777      Yesterday I saw a picture which I liked immensely, a picture of Jesus lying dead. An angel was kissing his left hand with an inexpressible devotion. Another, at the Saviour’s feet, was holding a nail torn out of the Cross. In the foreground with his back to us there was a tubby little angel weeping as he gazed at Christ. I prayed to God that they would let me have the picture. It is beautiful. It breathes devotion. I was saddened to hear that they had shown it to a prospective buyer who had refused to take it, saying, “It’s a corpse!” To me, You will always be Life.  (1)

Alas and did my Savior bleed, and did my Sovereign die?  Would He devote that sacred head for sinners such as I?  At the cross at the cross, where I first saw the light, and the burden of my heart rolled away! It was there by faith I received my sight and now I am happy all the day.

It’s been nearly twenty years since “the discussion.”  One of my church members was quite irate.  And to be honest, I struggled to understand her complaint, and why i couldn’t get through to her why the cross, more specifically, a picture of the Jesus on the cross was not blasphemous, but rather a source of great hope, a source of great peace and comfort.

St. Josemaria’s words that I came across in my devotion this morning reminded me of that day.  The picture was simple, a picture of a Tau Cross ( the Greek Letter T being Tau) with Jesus body on it.  The passage I was preaching on was the one above in red (and the chapter before which says “we preach Christ crucified“) and all the songs were ones like the one in green above.  The Wondrous Cross, The Old Rugged Cross, At the Cross, there was a theme working, I wanted them to work through the idea that Christ died for all on that cross, and that He died for you… and for me.

Simple?

Apparently not. For the dear lady thought I was being blasphemous, picturing Jesus as if he was still there, for we know He has risen  I have in twenty years of ministry only twice seen someone more angry at me, and this just moments before church was to start, moments before we were to worship God, indeed for sending Jesus to die for us, and for the Holy Spirit uniting us to that cross. 

The next twenty-four hours were hard, I questioned myself, both my theology and my ability to communicate it.  In either case, the answer was perhaps found in my returning to work at a university, to giving up on ministry.  An old retired pastor changed that thought process, he was wondrous in his support in those days to follow.   

I still preach about Christ crucified, and if I ever stop, then I should leave the ministry.  For as St. Josemaria describes it, where others see a corpse, I see life.  It is beautiful, it speaks of Christ’s devotion to save us, a love so encompassing that He could embrace that cross for the joy set before Him. A love for sinners such as I.

In preaching about the cross, it has to include us, for owe were united to that death of Jesus there, as He hung there, as He paid for our sin, as He died to justify us,, cleanse us, and plant a seed of life in us.  It is there that the Holy Spirit brings us in our baptism, so that having died with Him, we rise with Him.

Not as an analogy, but being raised to a glorious,, holy life, being reborn, recreated as the children of God. Being brought to repentance, transformation, being able to have faith in God and His promise.  This is where our burdens are rolled away, our shame, our grief, our resentment, and pain.  It is taken there, nailed there. 

This is all there at the cross……this is given us as He died there.  This is His cross, and it is ours, again the apostle Paul describes the power, of the cross, in our lives.

5  For since we have become one with him in dying as he did, in the same way we shall be one with him by being raised to life as he was. 6  And we know that our old being has been put to death with Christ on his cross, in order that the power of the sinful self might be destroyed, so that we should no longer be the slaves of sin.
Romans 6:5-6 (TEV)

.So think on the cross, picture Jesus there, know the power of His love, HIs devotion for you, and then love and devote yourself to Him, for that relationship is what He desired, and what He saved you for in the first place.

AMEN!

 

(1)  Escriva, Josemaria. The Forge (Kindle Locations 2787-2792). Scepter Publishers.
Kindle Edition.

(2)  Issac Whats, At The Cross – words in Public Domain

He has Risen! He has Risen Indeed! And…

church at communion 2He has Risen! He Has Risen Indeed!

And… therefore….

Colossians 2:10-12

† In Jesus Name †

As we celebrate Easter, as we celebrate Jesus’ resurrection, may you realize your part in it, for the grace of God has brought you to life in and with Him.  AMEN!

The earlier sermon… Our union with Christ… 

You have already heard a sermon this morning.  Rather you’ve seen it happen, you witnessed what my poor words will attempt to describe.

Paul says it this way, in our epistle reading.

You are complete through your union with Jesus.

Complete, whole, perfect, lacking nothing.

What became true for Damon, Madelynn and Rosemarie, and is true for everyone who trusts in the mighty power of God is because of this incredible union, being united with Christ’s death and resurrection.

That is the incredible miracle of God that occurs in our baptism, as we are united with Jesus, and then we die and are resurrected with Him.

Our need for circumcision

The apostle Paul, in this epistle, this letter to a young new church, explains the work that God does in baptism using the illustration of circumcision. He writes,

11  When you came to Christ, you were “circumcised,” but not by a physical procedure. Christ performed a spiritual circumcision—the cutting away of your sinful nature.

He talks about our sin nature here, that ability we have to get ourselves into trouble, that ability we have which feeds our desires, no matter the cost to us.

It’s not just about the sin, it’s not just about the failures, there is something deeper there, that causes us to implode, to choose self-destructive things, to even argue these things are good for us. That self-destructive behavior, that’s our struggle with our sin nature. It is strong and powerful, overruling our heart and mind at times.

And we were unable to do anything about it…no one without God in their lives can, we struggle and struggle and just fall short.

We need help, supernatural help. 

Our circumcision…

That is where Jesus brings the idea of circumcision into this picture of baptism uniting us with His death.  The word in Greek for circumcision means to cut around – to carefully, with surgical precision, cut and remove something.  That is what Paul is talking about when he says

Christ performed a spiritual circumcision—the cutting away of your sinful nature. 12  For you were buried with Christ when you were baptized. And with him you were raised to new life

In the case of baptism – it pictures our dying, and when we come back to life, there is something missing.  That sin nature that so oppressed us, so controlled us, so kept us in bondage.

it’s been cut away, nailed to the cross of Christ,

Paul’s letter to the Romans explains it again

5  Since we have been united with him in his death, we will also be raised to life as he was. 6  We know that our old sinful selves were crucified with Christ so that sin might lose its power in our lives. We are no longer slaves to sin.
Romans 6:5-6 (NLT)

And to the church in Galatia he wrote,

19  For when I tried to keep the law, it condemned me. So I died to the law—I stopped trying to meet all its requirements—so that I might live for God. 20  My old self has been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me. So I live in this earthly body by trusting in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. Galatians 2:19-20 (NLT)

I could go on and on with the ways scripture describes out being separated and cleansed of our sin. But that is only part of the process to the greater blessing, the forgiveness, the separation of you and your sinful nature is but a description of what it leads us into, our new life in Christ.

Our Hope of Glory …

Earlier this week, a friend asked me what my favorite scripture was.  My answer without hesitation was this,

9  “No eye has seen, no ear has heard, and no mind has imagined what God has prepared for those who love him.” 1 Corinthians 2:9 (NLT)

This is what Easter is about, this incredible plan God has for us, the very reason for the cross and why the church obeys the command to make disciples by baptizing and teaching them to treasure everything God establishes.  It is through this work God does through us, that we are made whole and complete, and are given the Holy Spirit to help us live in a such a different life.

To live in a relationship with the God who not only created us, but deeply loves us.  To get to know Him, through our talking to Him in prayer and meditating on His word, searching it out as we explore how deep, how high, how wide, how broad this love is that He has for us.

Whose plan for us is to dwell eternally with Him, sharing in His glory, dwelling in the purest love.

This is what this is all about, this being complete as we are united with Jesus. About being recreated as the children of God, about knowing His peace, it is about knowing Him!

And may you always know that peace of God which is beyond anything we can understand, the peace that is ours in Christ Jesus AMEN!

 

Our Confident Hope of Real Life IN HIM! A Sermon on Col 1:1-11

The Simple Christian Life – Love, HOPE, Faith

Our Confident Hope of Real Life IN HIM!

 In Jesus Name

May your eyes be opened more and more to the reality of your life in Christ, as you know the transformation found in God’s peace.

What is Real?

Paul, in the words to the Colossian Christians, gives them something to think about, something to spiritually chew on.

He tells them that they don’t know what reality is, that what they think is real, the things of earth, those things are not real. What is real is found in what we can’t see, the life we have in Christ.

You’ve heard about people who are so heavenly minded that they are no earthly good?  Paul says we’ve got that wrong – we are good, when our eyes are on Christ, when we realize that our reality could be phrased as this…..

Alleluia!  He is Risen! (He is Risen indeed!  Alleluia!)

And therefore?  ( We Are Risen Indeed!)

And since you have been raised to your new life in Christ, then it’s time to redefine what is truly reality – to understand that our life is in Christ, that it is not subject to the things of earth.

That sounds easier than it is, to live a life that is holy and as righteous as God would have us be, as God sees us.
But the struggle to be holy, can be frustrating, and if we go about it wrong, we will fail, giving up as we don’t see the growth we think God expects.

But when we understand what it means to dwell on the things of heaven, this transformation makes sense.

What needs to be stripped away

The first thing is to understand that since we have been baptized, the sin which can so easily ensnare us is has been defeated – we have been cleansed of it, the sin we commit and the unrighteousness that affects us.

That is why Paul says “since you’ve been raised to new life”  Since – it has already happened.  But we need to understand it, with our head, but even more with our heart and soul.  Which means we aren’t looking at those sins we’ve committed, we aren’t dwelling on the unrighteousness that affects us.

I can’t see any of us arguing for the list of unrighteousness Paul notes, Let’s look at it again.  Do any of you want to be affected by these things, or the consequences of them?

Sexual immorality,

impurity, or basically being unclean
Evil and what it causes us to crave

Greed?  (Which Paul properly identifies as idolatry – to serve that which we can’t take our eyes or hearts off of)

uncontrolled emotions

malicious behavior – having the intent by word or deed to try and destroy someone.

Slander – that is denigrating speech – whether it is true or not, saying things which will hurt the character of another person,

Filthy language

The list isn’t exhaustive, it simply helps us understand what this world does to us, what sin causes us to do.  How it breaks us, even when what starts out with good intent turns, and a desire for justice turns into a desire for revenge.  Looking at something special turns into coveting, envy and a desire to get something for less.  Frustration turns into gossip – and then slander, because we can’t figure out how to trust God and care for those who are difficult

It is as if these things are struggling for control of our life What a struggle that seems at times!  Paul, talking of that struggle to the church in Rome declared himself a wretch.
Where is our hope?  Where is this hope – our confident hope for this new life?

Remember the Since at the beginning of the readings?

Where it said, “Wince you have been raised to new life in Christ?  The answer begins there.

and in verse 10, putting on the new nature – or as one translation describes it – getting dressed like Christ.

Put on New Nature = Live in Christ

Look at verse 10,

 10 Put on your new nature, and be renewed as you learn to know your Creator and become like him.

The renewal that happens in your life and in mine happens to us, as we come to know God our creator.  Knowing God who creates and restores us, making us become like Him.  As Paul urged the church,


I pray that out of the glorious richness of his resources he will enable you to know the strength of the spirit’s inner re-inforcement – that Christ may actually live in your hearts by your faith. And I pray that you, firmly fixed in love yourselves, may be able to grasp (with all Christians) how wide and deep and long and high is the love of Christ – and to know for yourselves that love so far beyond our comprehension. May you be filled though all your being with God himself!
Ephesians 3:14 (Phillips NT)

How wide, how deep and long and high is the love of Christ – and to know that love ourselves, love so far beyond comprehension, and may you be filled through all your being, with God himself

That is the same concept as setting your mind on things above –

Spend the time necessary thinking of the love shown you here – at the font when Christ died for you, and you were joined to that death.

To the place where you will kneel and again – be a participant, not just an observer and receive the Body broken for you, the blood spilled to cleanse you of your sin.  Know the power of sin was shattered there, as you begin to comprehend His love, it changes you… you become like Him, as He transforms you.  This is what is real, this is where our focus of life needs to be.

Being holy isn’t done by sheer will, but recognition of need, and the wonder and awe that comes from seeing that need met.

God loves you…loves you enough to unite you to His son.

The son who, alleluia is risen!

and therefore

AMEN

Monday: A perfect day for church! (I need it!)

Devotional Thought of the Day:

 20 How great is your goodness, Lord, stored up for those who fear you. You display it for those who trust you, in the sight of the children of Adam. 21 You hide them in the shelter of your presence, safe from scheming enemies. You conceal them in your tent, away from the strife of tongues. 22 Blessed be the Lord, marvelously he showed to me his mercy in a fortified cPsalm 31:20–25 (NABRE)ity. 23 Though I had said in my alarm, “I am cut off from your eyes.” Yet you heard my voice, my cry for mercy, when I pleaded with you for help. 24 Love the Lord, all you who are faithful to him. The Lord protects the loyal, but repays the arrogant in full. 25 Be strong and take heart, all who hope in the Lord.      Psalm 31:20–25 (NABRE)

42  All the believers devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching, and to fellowship, and to sharing in meals (including the Lord’s Supper), and to prayer. 43  A deep sense of awe came over them all, and the apostles performed many miraculous signs and wonders. 44  And all the believers met together in one place and shared everything they had. 45  They sold their property and possessions and shared the money with those in need. 46  They worshiped together at the Temple each day, met in homes for the Lord’s Supper, and shared their meals with great joy and generosity— 47  all the while praising God and enjoying the goodwill of all the people. And each day the Lord added to their fellowship those who were being saved.    Acts 2:42-47 (NLT)

After the happy encounter on Easter morning, Mary Magdalen wants nothing more than to return to the former familiar status quo, to leave the Cross behind her as though it were just a bad dream. She wants to have “her teacher” as she had had him formerly. But that conflicts with what has transpired. No one can have Jesus as “his teacher” while disregarding the Cross.  (1)

As a young man, even as one who wanted to and was studying to be a pastor, I never understood why the church met in Acts daily in the temple.  Part of it seemed practical, how could you write a sermon every day, and do an adequate job.

Perhaps part of that is that I focus on the teaching aspect of their getting together, not the sacramental, the communal nature of it.  As one who was trained in expository and exegetical preaching, I tended to believe that the sermon was the critical part of any gathering of the people of God.  That it was and is the major tool in the box of the preacher, in order to make disciples of all nations.

Looking at Benedict’s words this morning, another piece of the puzzle fell into place.  If we think Jesus’ primary role is that of the teacher, the disciple whose lessons show us how to live, we have tragically missed what being a believer is about. 

It is for walking with God, about living life in HIs presence, in the presence of God who loves us. The love which drove Jesus to the cross, that love which had the Father throw all of His wrath on Him, the wrath we deserved, onto Jesus.  Check out Isaiah 53:10 and Hebrews 12:2-3 to see this more clearly, as it was for joy Christ went to the cross, and it pleased the Father to crush Him there.

So we could be the children of God. the holy children of God!

So great is His love for us!

So back to why I want there to be a church service on Monday, what Catholics and old fashioned Lutherans call a “mass.” It is because of the Psalm above.  As God becomes our refuge, our hiding place, the refuge, and fortress that David sought, that Luther’s most famous hymn celebrated and rejoices to find. 

It is there, that Jesus becomes more than a teacher, as we celebrate His incarnation in our midst, as we celebrate His sacrifice, as we take and eat, and take and drink the very body and blood of Christ.  It is there, with our knees bent, we find our refuge, we find our peace, at the altar where we encountered the crucified and risen Lord.   Where we find our healing, where we find our peace.

Where we no HIs promise, that He won’t forsake us, that we don’t walk alone.

Maybe I am a wimp, or too weak in my faith, but why should someone like me not value and treasure such times?  I have to deal too often with death, and with brokenness in life, in my life, in those I minister to, and that refuge, that time of rest and renewal is too meaningful.

The cross, the grave, the resurrection, and the knowledge we aren’t alone…..

What a blessing…

Maybe the early church knew what they were doing!

KNow God is with you my friends… know He is your refuge!

Even on Monday.  AMEN!

Ratzinger, J. (1992). Co-Workers of the Truth: Meditations for Every Day of the Year. (I. Grassl, Ed., M. F. McCarthy & L. Krauth, Trans.) (p. 129). San Francisco: Ignatius Press.

 

The Deepest Theological Statement is only 4 words!

Devotional Thought of the Day:

Alleluia!(1)  He Is Risen! (2)

14  And if Christ has not been raised, then all our preaching is useless, and your faith is useless. 15  And we apostles would all be lying about God—for we have said that God raised Christ from the grave. But that can’t be true if there is no resurrection of the dead. 16  And if there is no resurrection of the dead, then Christ has not been raised. 17  And if Christ has not been raised, then your faith is useless, and you are still guilty of your sins. 18  In that case, all who have died believing in Christ are lost! 19  And if our hope in Christ is only for this life, we are more to be pitied than anyone in the world.
1 Corinthians 15:14-19 (NLT)

What would it mean if Easter, the Resurrection of Jesus, had not taken place? Would it mean just one more corpse, insignificant among the statistics of world history, or would there be more to it? Well, if there were no Resurrection, the story of Jesus would have ended with Good Friday. His body would have decayed, and he would have become a has-been. But that would mean that God does not take initiatives in history, that he is either unable or unwilling to touch this world of ours, our human living and dying. And that in turn would mean that love is futile, nugatory, an empty and vain promise. It would mean that there is no judgment and no justice. It would mean that the moment is all that counts and that right belongs to the cunning, the crafty and those without consciences.
There would be no judgment. Many people, and by no means only wicked people, would welcome that because they confuse judgment with petty calculation and give more room to fear than to a trusting love.  (3)

62      Our Lord did not confine himself to telling us that he loved us. He showed it to us with deeds, with his whole life. What about you?

Some people think theologians live in ivory towers, deeply disconnected with the world. I will admit some of us do, and more often than not we get accused of it. Surely we go off on tangents, and make little details bigger than they ought to be.  In doing so, we find ourselves blinded by these little things, to the greatest of theological truths.

One of the reasons I love being a pastor in the Lutheran Church is our habit that Easter isn’t just celebrated for 1 Sunday, but for 40 days, and then every Sunday after that for the entire year.  The reason it is important to me is that I have to be reminded, and remind you of one simple truth, one we say over and over for these weeks.

Alleluia!  He is risen!  

(if you know the response, go ahead and say it… you know you want to.. and it is good for us that you do so!)

There are no words deeper than these theologically!  (There are some equally powerful, but hearing these you understand them, and vice-versa)  To overlook them turns our religion from a glorious, incredible mystery, into simply the most pathetic thing on earth!  To overlook them is well described in Pope Benedict XVI’s  words in blue above.  For if Jesus doesn’t rise, God didn’t act in the incarnation. He didn’t act in the life of Jesus lived in our midst, tempted at every point as we are.  And God didn’t act in Christ’s death…. which assuredly He did.

And I love Benedict’s words, which we don’t both with the church because we confuse God’s judgment!  We think of His judgment as some sort of cosmic balance sheet.  Were we good enough; did our sins reach the point of no return, is our brokenness beyond God’s patience, and therefore, He might be unwilling to deal with it.  What happens then is we take this fear to the extreme, dismiss the God whom we fear, and create gods of things that help us ignore that which we fear.

We run from God, instead of understanding that because of the resurrection we can run to Him!  We can trust in God to use the power that raised Christ from the dead to raise us! (see Romans 6 for an excellent description of this!) We can trust this love of God, which gets involved in our lives, to the most hidden details, and starts bringing about the healing, patiently overwhelming us with His love.

He doesn’t just say He loves us, He shows it, by making the resurrection known, by revealing the depth of His plan, the purpose of His covenants, to those He no longer counts as minions, but as his beloved friends. (John 15:15)

This is all wrapped up in those words; He is risen!  We can meditate on that for hours, for days, and we should.  For from these words of life we find our life, our hope, our very being.

This is what our religion is based on; this is what is the foundation to why a Christian trusts in God.  As Benedict XVI, perhaps the greatest theologian in the 20th century wrote:

All this makes clear what Easter does mean: God has acted. History does not go on aimlessly. Justice, love, truth—these are realities, genuine reality. God loves us; he comes to meet us.  (3)

Alleluia, He is Risen!

the Lord is with you!

AMEN!

 

——-

(1)  Alleluia simply means “Praise God! (YWHW)
(2)  This is our Easter cry, taken from Matthew 28:6  ” 6  He isn’t here! He is risen from the dead, just as he said would happen. Come, see where his body was lying. ”  Matthew 28:6 (NLT)
(3)  Ratzinger, J. (1992). Co-Workers of the Truth: Meditations for Every Day of the Year. (I. Grassl, Ed., M. F. McCarthy & L. Krauth, Trans.) (p. 126). San Francisco: Ignatius Press.
(4)  Escriva, Josemaria (2011-01-31). The Forge (Kindle Locations 444-446). Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition.

A Most Excellent Quote about Death, and Easter

Devotional Thought for the Saturday between the cross and the resurrection.

23  In accordance with his own plan God had already decided that Jesus would be handed over to you; and you killed him by letting sinful men crucify him. 24  But God raised him from death, setting him free from its power, because it was impossible that death should hold him prisoner. Acts 2:23-24 (TEV)

14  And God will raise us from the dead by his power, just as he raised our Lord from the dead.   1 Corinthians 6:14 (NLT)

Thus Christ the Lord became our פּוֹדֶה  (redemption) and גֹּאֵל (redeemer). For He not only redeemed us but also freed us rightfully for Himself, so that the devil and hell were compelled in strict justice to let Him go, because they had killed the innocent Son of God. Therefore the Law burned its fingers, and death dirtied its pants. The devil, death, and sin overreached themselves. There they all became guilty and debtors to God, to this Son Jesus Christ, who now has the right over against His enemies. For why did you crucify the Son of God, O Law? Why did you kill Him who was innocent, O devil, death, and hell? (1) 

I suppose some might find the italicized words above offensive, this idea that death filled its pants, that it couldn’t control its bowels or bladder.

But I find death offensive, brutally so. To be honest, after the last couple of weeks, and even over the last couple of years, I am pretty ticked off at death, at the damage and grief it causes, at the pain, as it separates what God has brought together as couples, as families, as communities. So when I read this quote by Martin Luther, I knew I had to use it, and soon.

I almost wish I knew German, to see if the translators “prettied up” this quote.  SOmeohow I think Luther, who was no stranger to death or the anxiety it can cause, said something like this, “when seeing Christ’s resurrection, death crapped…” (not that I would actually use that phrase in public, though it is tempting!!!)

This horrible enemy that is death, whose presence can so hurt, will, in the end, be terminated. Then, St Paul tells us, there will be no more its horrible sting, it will have no impact.  Like Satan and sin, it will be an object of ridicule, absolutely powerless.

What a joyous moment, the moment after death thinks it had gathered to itself God, as it wrapped its cold slimy hands around Jesus, as it thought it had at last one, that this God who kept raising people from its power, now was subject to itself.

And the Lamb of God, the sacrifice which redeemed us from sin, this incredible Redeemer begins to breathe, and life pours back into the body of the one who is the Resurrection, who is the Life, our Life. Death who thought to parade its victory around in Hades finds itself bound, and those who it held prisoner rejoicing as Jesus claims His own, the people He redeems because He was the sacrifice.

This scene is repeated, over and over, every time a saint enters into his Father’s glory, as sin and Satan and death are found powerless, (they can’t even control their bowels!)

For scripture tells us, the same power that raised Christ from the dead is at work in us.  The Holy Spirit – the gift to all who believe, the gift God has given that brings us the gifts repentance, faith and hope, is ours.

We have been raised with Christ!  Live in that peace my friends!

Praise be to God our Father, for by the cross of Christ joy has truly entered the world!  AMEN

Luther, M. (1999). Luther’s Works, vol. 8: Lectures on Genesis: Chapters 45-50. (J. J. Pelikan, H. C. Oswald, & H. T. Lehmann, Eds.) (Vol. 8, p. 162). Saint Louis: Concordia Publishing House.

For Yours is the Kingdom, the Power and The Glory: The Prayer of Easter!

For Thine IS the Kingdom,

The Power, and the Glory!

1 Corinthians 15:1-11

In Jesus Name

We need to be Reminded – 

Yesterday, as I was at a loss for words for this message, I received an email from Linda and Tom.

It opened up with these words,

“You just can’t let me forget that God is ever present in our lives.”

Then he added,   

“Don’t stop !”

As I read them, the words that we heard from another letter this morning burned even deeper in my heart

Let me now remind you, dear brothers and sisters, of the Good News I preached to you before.

All of us need to be reminded of the good news, that God is ever-present in our lives.

Solomon once wrote

For everything there is a season, a time for every activity under heaven. 2  A time to be born and a time to die. A time to plant and a time to harvest. 3  A time to kill and a time to heal. A time to tear down and a time to build up. 4  A time to cry and a time to laugh. A time to grieve and a time to dance. Ecclesiastes 3:1-4 (NLT)

The passage goes on for another 4 verses, 8 more comparisons of what we might say is a contrast between good and bad, joy and sorrow if we don’t hear how the thought ends,

11  Yet God has made everything beautiful for its own time. He has planted eternity in the human heart, but even so, people cannot see the whole scope of God’s work from beginning to end. Ecclesiastes 3:11 (NLT)

In Solomon’s time, this is true, we couldn’t father the scope of God’s work. Now, in the Gospel message, in the good news, we see the scope of God’s work as we realize the message revealed in the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus. We have heard this message, a message that God is ever-present in your lives.

(wait…)

I said the Lord is with YOU.

Oh! Now you remember.  As Tom wrote – don’t stop telling me this! We need to hear that God is ever-present with us. He died for our sin, was buried and rose again!

Alleluia! He is Risen!

(He is Risen indeed!)

And that means?
(we are risen indeed!  Alleluia!)

in other words
The Lord is With You!
(and also with You!)

AMEN!

The Message of Hope

Hear Paul again,

I passed on to you what was most important and what had also been passed on to me. Christ died for our sins, just as the Scriptures said. He was buried, and he was raised from the dead on the third day, just as the Scriptures said.

Most important is actually a little weak, it is not only of prime importance, this is foundational. It is the basis for everything else in our lives.

That Christ died – not just that He died, but for you He died but that He was buried and raised from the dead, which is what we celebrate today.
Later Paul will say that if Jesus didn’t die and rise from the dead, we of all people are to be pitied more than anything else in the world.

Jesus death for our sins, Paul tells us, was told about for centuries prior to His being born. Over and over the Old Testament tells us He would die, that God would provide an offering for our sins, and proof of the depth of His love and commitment to us.

The same for His burial and resurrection, and the praises that would result, as God made sure that we knew this wasn’t haphazard, but that this previous weekend was planned before He ever created light.

Jesus would die for our sins, be buried and rise again.

We need to hear this and hear it again and again.  Without the series of events for Holy Week, we cannot hear what we need to,

That the Lord is with you!

The Witnesses

Paul wants to make sure the Corinthians know this well, so well, that they can base their lives on the Jesus’ death for our sins, on His Burial and Resurrection.

Maybe they won’t believe me, he thinks.  No problem.  I’ll refer them to other, for there are so many others who can bear witness.  Peter’s in town, they call him Cephas, he can share how important this message is.  Paul is going to go through all the eye witnesses to the physical resurrection of Jesus so that people will know.

It’s not a dream, it is not something Paul cooked up, it is something that happened, really happened. Five Hundred people witnesses it all at once, not just one hear and one there, 500 at once, and most still lived, in case people wanted to get an opinion other than Paul’s!

And Paul wants us to be assured of it, in order that our lives are based on it.

Paul’s words at the end – it doesn’t matter who tells you, the message is the same, and people like James are more than willing to die, even as they share it.  We don’t know if Paul was there when James was martyred, but we know he was when Stephen forgave him, and all those who killed him, simply because he trusted in Jesus, the one who died for Stephen’s sins, and Paul’s and yours and mine.  As he trusted in the Jesus, who was buried and rose again from the dead.

Whatever we are now!
We often talk of Christ’s death – for our sins, but there is more to the story of Easter than that.  Paul gets to that in verse 10, and what he says of himself, is true for every one of us, read the words with me,

10 But whatever I am now, it is all because God poured out his special favor on me.

For that grace, that very same grace is yours.   It is not special to Paul but is the very blessing that God gives to everyone He calls, every person He pours His Spirit on, making them part of His church.

You see, just like if Jesus didn’t rise from the dead our lives are meaningless, so are they not the same if we don’t realize the change He is making to us because Jesus died for our sins, was buried, and Jesus is Risen!

and, therefore?

We are risen to a new life, a life lived with God, a life that we need to know God is ever-present in.  Something we can’t stop reminding each other of, even in the times where we aren’t sure that God will make these things beautiful.  Sure of that, and that being the foundation of our life, we can understand why the Paul told Hebrew Christians,

23  Let us hold tightly without wavering to the hope we affirm, for God can be trusted to keep his promise. 24  Let us think of ways to motivate one another to acts of love and good works. 25  And let us not neglect our meeting together, as some people do, but encourage one another, especially now that the day of his return is drawing near. Hebrews 10:23-25 (NLT)
That is part of the new life of Paul, to continually remind people of the gospel, that Jesus died for our sins, that He was buried, and that Praise God with everything in us, for He has risen!

And that means….

Why we end our prayer with praise

48 days ago, on Ash Wednesday, we began a look at the Lord’s prayer.  We finished the requests on Friday, as we realized that at the cross Jesus delivered us from evil and answered every request.

Which leaves only this to finish that journey today, as we celebrate our life with God.

Let us pray,

Our Father, Yours is the Kingdom, and the Power, and the Glory, forever and ever. AMEN!

Is Easter Wasted? Was His Death and Resurrection Meaningless?

Devotional Thought of the Day:
Featured image8  If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and there is no truth in us. 9  But if we confess our sins to God, he will keep his promise and do what is right: he will forgive us our sins and purify us from all our wrongdoing. 10  If we say that we have not sinned, we make a liar out of God, and his word is not in us. 1 John 1:8-10 (TEV)

3  I passed on to you what I received, which is of the greatest importance: that Christ died for our sins, as written in the Scriptures; 4  that he was buried and that he was raised to life three days later, as written in the Scriptures; 1 Corinthians 15:3-4 (TEV)

142    Domine!—“Lord!” Si vis, potes me mundare.—“If you will, you can make me clean.” What a beautiful prayer for you to say often, with the faith of the poor leper, when there happens to you what God and you and I know may happen. You won’t have to wait long to hear the Master’s reply: Volo, mundare!—“I will! Be made clean!”  (1)

Yesterday, after seeing all the “He is Risen” memes and comments in my e-mail and on FB and Twitter, I tweeted a question:

“I keep reading; He is risen! But few share the reason that is good news. Because Jesus rose, we will share in not only His death but rise 2.”

You see, if the death, burial and resurrection has no specific meaning to you; for you it is wasted.  For you it simply becomes a historical matter, something to discuss and create papers and blogs and podcasts debating.  But all of that effort is a waste of time, if there is nothing that is gained (or lost ) at that moment when Jesus dies, and rises from the dead.

“He is risen!  Alleluia!”  We cry this, yet there must be more to that praise.

Look again at the reason Christ dies, he dies for our sin! 

Those amazing words come flying out at us. He dies to take on our sin, to be beaten for our iniquities Isaiah tells us.

Don’t bother denying it, God already had John take care of that issue.  If you didn’t sin, you are calling God a liar.  Even worse, by saying it, you’ve sin against God again!  Everyone has sinned, Pope Francis, Billy Graham, Mother Theresa, Martin Luther, St. Peter, St Paul, Abraham, Issac, Israel, you and I.

Yesterday I had a great conversation after church, about the tension between logic and faith.  One of the things discussed was the reliability of faith in God.  The problem is that neither logic nor faith are things able to be proven; they are things to be used.  I gave the following illustration, getting to people to discuss why the glass is either half full or half empty.  While they were discussing this, I took the glass and drained its contents.  “You see,” I said, “you can talk all you want about the glass, but its purpose is to provide a way to drink the liquid we desire.”  (Well it was only water, and I desired something different, but you get the picture)

So it is with faith (and logic)  They are things we exercise, the foundational blocks by which we view and live in the world.  They need to grow in focus; They need to be challenged and refined.  But if faith isn’t used, if logic isn’t applied, it becomes useless, a distraction.

The same thing with the death for our sins, burial, and resurrection of Jesus.  It is a nice hobby to have to create philosophical, apologetic and theological treatises about, but that is not why Christ died,

He died so that your sin and mine, would be erased!  That like the man with leprosy, we would be sure of God’s desire to cleanse us, and the fact He has.  To do so took the blood of Christ Jesus, but it did the job perfectly. With Christ’s resurrection, that sin we would deny, no longer needs to be denied, hidden, repressed. We don’t have to call God a liar, or be separated from Him.  He is here…with us, comforting us of our brokenness.

That is something to praise Him for, to shout of His glory and mercy to all the world.

or as we say at my parish,

Pastor;  Alleluia!  He is Risen!

People:  He is Risen indeed1

Pastor:  What does this mean?t?

People:  We too are Risen!  Alleluia!

AMEN

(1)  Escriva, Josemaria (2010-11-02). The Way (Kindle Locations 463-466). Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition.

February 26: My Anniversary of Facing Death….. twice…

Featured imageDevotional Thought of the Day:
11  In union with Christ you were circumcised, not with the circumcision that is made by human beings, but with the circumcision made by Christ, which consists of being freed from the power of this sinful self. 12  For when you were baptized, you were buried with Christ, and in baptism you were also raised with Christ through your faith in the active power of God, who raised him from death. 13  You were at one time spiritually dead because of your sins and because you were Gentiles without the Law. But God has now brought you to life with Christ. God forgave us all our sins; Colossians 2:11-13 (TEV)

1035      Do not fear death. Death is your friend! Try to get used to the fact of death: peer into your grave often, looking at and smelling, and touching your own rotting corpse there, a week, no more, after your death. Remember this especially when you are troubled by the impulses of the flesh.  (1) 

Twice on this day, February 26th, I have faced death and found life.

The second time was in 1998, as I lay on a gurney in West Hills, California.  I was about to have surgery to replace two heart valves, damaged by a genetic connective tissue disorder. The surgery was supposed to last 4 hours, and was very risky.  The surgeon explained it was as challenging as sewing two wet pieces of toilet paper together. He would later ask me how many people were praying, not that he believed in it, but that the surgery was so easy.

That ended an anxiety I had struggled with since childhood, the threat of death because of the genetic issues.  Yes, there are still heart issues, yes, I am still on medicine and undergo tests.  But the threat of aortic dissection is minimal. For six years prior to the surgery, I had been concerned – with the heart issues had already tried to kill me once, causing a cardiac arrest.

Life changed a little that time I faced death. There was a new freedom, a new life.  Yes, it had restrictions and changes, but it was also free of  my fears about death that was…. I can’t even explain how overwhelming it could be.

It had even more the other time, thirty-three years before that.  I was only a few weeks old and at a church.  I faced a different form of death, one with the promise far greater, in fact; that was the reason I had to face death, in order to gain the promise.

On February 26, in the year of our Lord 1965, I was baptized. As the passage above discusses, in baptism we die. ( Romans 6:1-8, Titus 3, my favorite, Ezekiel 36:25-27 and 37:1-12 speak of this as well) It is there, in our baptism, that we die with Christ.  It is there as well, that we are quickened, that we come alive in faith.  That we enter a relationship that is amazing, with God.

The picture of baptism and being united with Christ’s death and resurrection, is not just symbolism. It is not just an act of our obedience.  It is God at work.  It is a promise God has made, to all those who believe in Him.  It is how He brings us through Christ’s death and resurrection that enables us to be freed from our sin, and the debt it causes.  It is a wonderful, miraculous promise of eternity, a promise God is willing to sign, to guarantee, to stake His name to, that we would know His love.

His promise, given to us in a Covenant, a Testament, an unbreakable contract.  His work, cleansing us,

This time, facing death has eternal implications.  It enables us to look death in the face, and not be afraid.  To realize the glory of God, which He desires to share with us, will be our eternity. For something awaits us, which scripture describes this way.

1  You have been raised to life with Christ, so set your hearts on the things that are in heaven, where Christ sits on his throne at the right side of God. 2  Keep your minds fixed on things there, not on things here on earth. 3  For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. 4  Your real life is Christ and when he appears, then you too will appear with him and share his glory! Colossians 3:1-4 (TEV)

Escriva, Josemaria (2011-01-31). The Forge (Kindle Locations 3664-3668). Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition.

Because We Were Raised From the Dead with Jesus, We Dwell in Peace

Alleluia! He is Risen! And ThereforeWill new camera 12 2008 167

We Have Risen and Live Joyfully in His Peace!

John 20:19-31

In Jesus Name

May the God’s desire to make us His own, proven to us through the Incarnation, Death, and Resurrection of Christ, be revealed more and more and therefore may we live in His peace!

The 371 picture….

One day driving up the mountain to Anza, I took what has become the best photo I have ever taken.  It is there on your prayer insert/sermon notes.  There has been nothing done to the picture, there was a fierce and I mean fierce mountain storm that was coming over Thomas Mountain and Mount San Jacinto.

Yet this tree stood as a beacon, the sun breaking through the clouds so gloriously lighting up the tree as if the tree itself was glowing. It stood, unaffected by the storm, unaffected by the clouds.

Completely at peace….

I have so longed to be like that tree – able to withstand the threat of any storm in life. To be able to dwell in God’s glory, to be able to reflect it like that tree, even in the face of such overwhelming storms.  Yet that is not to be….

As I looked at the picture yesterday, it reminded me of the upper room, the storms that threatened the disciples, that raised their anxiety levels to their maximum.  Enough that doors were shut, people weren’t allowed in, as they mourned, as they grieved, as they struggled.

In the midst of their storm… Jesus was revealed in their presence.  Jesus the crucified one, Jesus the Passover sacrifice, Jesus who had been born of Mary, who had taught, who had healed.

Jesus, who was no longer dead, whose glorious resurrection was revealed by His presence! The relationship they had was not over, it had become even more glorious, as they realized, Praise God, He is Risen!  (He is risen Indeed, Alleluia1)

And therefore…. (we have risen Indeed! )

Like the tree in the picture calls our attention, so too He calls our attention, our presence for in His presence we know His peace.

How often must we hear these words?

Jesus appears in the presence, like the tree appears along the side of the road, and the words resound, “Peace be with you!”  Even as their hearts were so flooded with joy that the anxiety was drowned, the words would resound again – “Peace be with you!”

We need to understand that blessing, and its equivalents, “fear not”, and “the Lord is with you!”  We need to hear them, to understand them.  We need to taste them, digest them, to bring them into the very core of who we are.

The problem is that these words can become the church equivalent of “How are you doing?” with the quick response of “And also with you” or “with your spirit”.  We too often reduce a powerful blessing to a greeting and polite response.

Why is that a problem?

We need peace.  Satan would rob us of it constantly. He does it through encouraging our sin, and the shame and guilt it will cause.  He does it through the sins others commit against us, as we allow the resentment to build, as we try to justify our sinful responses.  Satan would use grief and despair as well, even as he did with Thomas.

It can be so easy to take Thomas’ position, to cry out Lord, unless I see you, unless I know you are there, I won’t give up my doubt, or my anxiety, or my pain.  I won’t let you deal with it.

And then, when someone tells us, as we shall moments from now, “God’s peace is with you,” we quickly answer back – even mumble back a suitable response.

My friends, we can’t do that anymore.  We need to hear those words, we need to know as we approach this altar that God will take those anxieties, those pains, the guilt, shame and resentment away from us.

An example of Christ’s ministry

That is exactly how Jesus dealt with Thomas….

“Peace be with you!” He exclaims to the room again, not just for Thomas, but for all of the brothers.

Thomas, you needed these hands?  I am here, in the flesh.  My side? I will offer it to you, the side from which my blood poured. Now, can you live in peace?

I think we read this passage sometimes, without seeing Jesus’ love for Thomas, We want to hear Jesus’s words without compassion, simply going, okay Thomas, here you go.  Now get back to work.

But Jesus knows him, knows his brokenness, knows how much Thomas wants to believe.  He made Thomas, he walked with him for years.

This is the same God who inspired Solomon at the dedication of the temple, to pray,

32  And don’t forget the foreigner who is not a member of your people Israel but has come from a far country because of your reputation—people are going to be attracted here by your great reputation, your wonderworking power—and who come to pray to this Temple. 33 Listen from your home in heaven and honor the prayers of the foreigner, So that people all over the world will know who you are and what you’re like, And live in reverent obedience before you, just as your own people Israel do, So they’ll know that you personally make this Temple that I’ve built what it is.  2 Chronicles 6:32-33 (MSG)

That’s the God who answered Thomas, the Lord who would listen to prayers of people who aren’t even His… as far as they know.  Who would gather them, and encourage them to pray to Him.

Thomas, being ministered to by a Jesus who was real, found the peace he needed to believe.  To declare that Jesus was his master, the One who was in charge of His life! And His benevolent, merciful loving God….

In other words, He knew peace.

What can you do, knowing that peace?

But Jesus didn’t leave the apostles just in that place of peace.  He wanted them to take that peace out of the upper room, even as he wants us to take it outside the walls of this church, and off this property.  Even as the Father in heaven sent Jesus to bring us that peace, we now have to take that peace to the world.

Impossible?  Not if we realize that God is with us. That the Holy Spirit, breathed out on the 10 in the upper room was given to us at our baptism.

How?  In the mercy displayed as we forgive sins, even as we know our sin are forgiven. That peace is found there.  Nothing new about this – for while God answered prayers of those foreigners, Solomon also noted the prayers of the people of God.

18  Can it be that God will actually move into our neighborhood? Why, the cosmos itself isn’t large enough to give you breathing room, let alone this Temple I’ve built. 19  Even so, I’m bold to ask: Pay attention to these my prayers, both intercessory and personal, O GOD, my God. Listen to my prayers, energetic and devout, that I’m setting before you right now. 20  Keep your eyes open to this Temple day and night, this place you promised to dignify with your Name. And listen to the prayers that I pray in this place. 21  And listen to your people Israel when they pray at this place. Listen from your home in heaven and when you hear, forgive. 2 Chronicles 6:18-21 (MSG)

Sound familiar?

That is what Jesus authorized the apostles to preach – the forgiveness of sins, the freedom given in our baptism.  Whatever you forgive here… is forgiven….

These are the words heard in a few moments, the blood of the New Testament, shed for the forgiveness of sin.  And as you take and eat, and take and drink, what is the blessing the end of communion?  Until we are before His throne in glory, know you dwell in His peace…..

Be at peace, all sin, every sin committed against you is forgiven. Go and share that peace, the peace we know because sin was dealt with at the cross, and while it cannot rise, we know this.

Alleluia!  He is Risen!  (He is risen indeed! Alleluia!)

and therefore?

(We are risen indeed! Alleluia!)

AMEN

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