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

54e14-jesus2bpraying

God, who am I?

Discussion thought of the Day:

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

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

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

I am struggling with the paradox that was America yesterday.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Where is the Church?

Devotional Thought of the Day:

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

9  Love must be completely sincere. Hate what is evil, hold on to what is good. 10  Love one another warmly as Christians, and be eager to show respect for one another. 11  Work hard and do not be lazy. Serve the Lord with a heart full of devotion. 12  Let your hope keep you joyful, be patient in your troubles, and pray at all times. 13  Share your belongings with your needy fellow Christians, and open your homes to strangers. 14  Ask God to bless those who persecute you—yes, ask him to bless, not to curse. 15  Be happy with those who are happy, weep with those who weep. 16  Have the same concern for everyone. Do not be proud, but accept humble duties. Do not think of yourselves as wise. 17  If someone has done you wrong, do not repay him with a wrong. Try to do what everyone considers to be good. 18  Do everything possible on your part to live in peace with everybody. Romans 12:9-18 (TEV)

Christian experience begins in the everyday world of communal experience. Today, the interior space in which Church is experienced is, for many, a foreign world. Nevertheless, this world continues to be a possibility, and it will be the task of religious education to open doors on the experiential space Church and to encourage people to take an interest in this kind of experience. When people share the same faith, when they pray, celebrate, rejoice, suffer, and live together, Church becomes “community” and thus a real living space that enables humanity to experience faith as a life-bringing force in daily life and in the crises of existence.

As a young believer, I watched the church betray and hurt people I loved.  I’ve seen it again recently, to more than one person.

It puts the words from Pope Benedict above in a different context, as he speaks of those for whom the experience of being the church is a foreign world.  We aren’t talking about those who are completely blinded to the gospel, we are talking about those who have had to seek refuge from the Church.

Why would the place described as the place where we “experience faith as a life bringing force in daily life and the crises of existence” be the place where such faith is snuffed?

Have we forgotten that the church is a body, that we are to have the same concern for everyone, weeping and laughing with them, That we are to try and live in peace with everyone? This is why we talk of church as a community, a communion, a fellowship.  Everyone is important, no one is to be silenced because they are drowned out by the crowd.

But how do we create this environment in the church?  How do train leaders to develop such a spirit, especially in a culture which promotes narcissism?  How do we do this in a culture which says we have to take care of things at home?

Pope benedict talks of the mission of religious education being to help people experience this – but how can they, if the church is more often seen as a cold and heartless place?

My answer may seem to simply, but it is the only one I’ve seen work.  That answer is to work on developing hearts full of devotion. This kind of church is not something naively discussed, but it occurs as God’s presence is revealed, and people adore Him, because of what His presence brings about, the lives of joy that His presence creates, strengthens, and sustain.

We find what people what we need, in the communion of saints, the communion that is fashioned by Jesus, and gathers and laughs and cries, as He laughs and cries with us… all as one.

This is where the church is, where it is experienced, where it goes and finds refuge from the world, and then brings others to experience that refuge.  AMEN

Ratzinger, Joseph. Co-Workers of the Truth: Meditations for Every Day of the Year. Ed. Irene Grassl. Trans. Mary Frances McCarthy and Lothar Krauth. San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1992. Print.

Michal had a case of the Mondays… don’t be like Michal.

Devotional Thought of the Day:20 *W

20 *When David went home to bless his own house, Michal, the daughter of Saul, came out to meet him and said, “How well the king of Israel has honored himself today, exposing himself to the view of the slave girls of his followers, as a commoner might expose himself!” 21 But David replied to Michal: “I was dancing before the LORD. As the LORD lives, who chose me over your father and all his house when he appointed me ruler over the LORD’s people, Israel, not only will I make merry before the LORD, 22 but I will demean myself even more. I will be lowly in your eyes, but in the eyes of the slave girls you spoke of I will be somebody.” 23 Saul’s daughter Michal was childless to the day she died.    2 Sam 6:20–23 NABRE

426         Once you were pessimistic, hesitant and apathetic. Now you are completely transformed: you feel courageous, optimistic and self-confident, because you have made up your mind, at last, to rely on God alone.  (1)

There is an inner war within me, one which swings between wanting a time of quiet reverence, and times where like David, we are just so in awe of God’s presence that we forget ourselves, and just enjoy the moment.

There is a part of me that understand’s Michal’s view, a call for some reference, a call for propriety, a call for being sedate and controlled in the presence of God.  That we should be like Isaiah, so afraid of being a sinner in the presence of God, that I freeze.  As if all the world should be like the calm reflections of Lent.

There is a time and placed for that kind of lowliness, that form of meekness.  But it can’t be forced or manipulated any more than the kind of joy that David exhibited.   That is part of my thoughts this morning, which we can’t manipulate the quiet, reverent spirit anymore than we can manipulate a spirit that is celebratory.  And while those who try to help lift the spirits of those who are depressed are accused of manipulation, we don’t accuse those like Michal, David’s wife, of the same thing.

There is an inherent danger to the Michal’s of the world.  For to manipulate people into that mood does breed the kind of spirit that Josemaria speaks of; a spirit that is pessimistic, hesitant and apathetic.  A Spirit that doubts God, and searches for reasons to dismiss His presence, to be freed from His love.  The reaction from the Michal’s, those who rejoice in the bitterness of a Monday, is very dangerous.

For it divorces the person from the strength that comes from being in the presence of the Lord. It gives a permanent case of the Mondays, a spiritual barrenness that can lead to a life of complete barrenness.

The Michal attitude even steals the peace that it seems to protect so diligently.  For peace is so refreshing, so wonderful, that you enjoy it.   You throw a parade, or a party, you dance and sing.  You act like the prodigal’s dad, so overjoyed that his boy is home, that nothing could stop the celebration.

Are there times of sorrow?  Of course! Are there times of great pain, or great loss?  Yes, though it is limited. Are there times where we should approach God in so much awe we can’t speak.  Yes, there are times for that as well.  Even then, there is a joy that breaks the silence, a confidence that speaks of a life lived in Jesus.  Not the bitterness and resentment that refuses to tolerate other people’s joy.

What makes the difference, is to depend on God for that which He promised.  We depend on Him to make all things work out for good, all things to be a blessing. To know that even when life doesn’t seem fair, God is still faithful, and He will bless you.  When we know this life is God’s work, the joy breaks out.

Relax, know that you are safe, that you have found a refuge in the hands of God.

And remember the joy of knowing God’s invited you to be a part of His feast!

AMEN!

(1)  Escriva, Josemaria (2011-01-31). Furrow (Kindle Locations 1905-1907). Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition.

 

 

Why Love Isn’t What Is Needed to Combat Hatred

Devotional THought of the Day:Featured image

19  But Joseph replied, “Don’t be afraid of me. Am I God, that I can punish you? 20  You intended to harm me, but God intended it all for good. He brought me to this position so I could save the lives of many people. 21  No, don’t be afraid. I will continue to take care of you and your children.” So he reassured them by speaking kindly to them. Genesis 50:19-21 (NLT)

2  This I declare about the LORD: He alone is my refuge, my place of safety; he is my God, and I trust him. 3  For he will rescue you from every trap and protect you from deadly disease. Psalm 91:2-3 (NLT)

For the past week, I have been getting more and more weary.  As I see people respond to the unrest in places like Ferguson, or the despair in places like Detroit, as I see the hatred that the President’s actions took regarding immigration, I find myself getting more and more depressed.

If you go – well, of course, look what THEY are doing, please keep reading. For I see the anger and hatred in the reactions of both sides of the issues.  It’s just not electronic social media, you can’t even eat lunch in public place without hearing the hatred, the condescension, the call for others to change, but rarely, very rarely, the call to reconciliation, to coming together, to true fellowship.  We even create ways to mock the injustice we perceive, not seeing the mocking as less than just…

Some have hated the hating.  Demanding that others love, asking why can’t “THEY”  just get along.  Or quoting platitudes about love and hate as if people were easily capable of the former, and able to just stop the latter.  As if we could stop sinning with the snap of a finger, as if we could love without self-sacrifice, as if life was as simple as platitudes and the memes which present them.

I entitled this blog “Why Love isn’t what is needed to combat hatred”, because I keep seeing such memes, such advice.  It’s as if this is a war between good and evil, a war between love and hate.  It’s not. good doesn’t conquer evil, and love cannot hate hatred enough to go to war against it.  What turns love into something that can hatred is fear, fear created because of a lack of what we do need.

Faith.

For without faith in God, faith in Christ’s work on the cross, trust in the Holy Spirit’s presence in our lives, what we call love, is not love.  It is not the cHesed type of love which sacrifices and bears every burden, so as to bless and reconcile the relationship.  Without faith/trust in God we can’t cope with the pain of others, we can’t stop the fear of being hurt again, we can’t cope with the anxiety that living in a sin-plagued world brings.

When you have a moment, look at home many times the psalms call God a refuge?  It takes faith/trust to see this. Or how God is described as our hiding place, (and include Colossians 3:2) in that.  Look at what God can do to evil, when we trust in Him as our focus, rather than fighting back.  Joseph did this, Paul learned to do this from Stephen.  David did this when Saul was after him.

In order to love, we have to have the faith, the confidence that God will make all things work for good, even though waiting for that good will be…challenging. For we must trust God through the pain, through what we perceive as evil, knowing that He is Lord, that He is our refuge, that we are protected, our hearts and minds, by Jesus.  For as we dwell in Him, the Father surrounds us with peace, the peace that comes from finding refuge.

Lord, help us to trust you more than being repulsed by hatred… and help us love and sacrifice, that all would come to know You1


Escriva, Josemaria (2011-01-31). The Forge (Kindle Locations 1565-1570). Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition.

Backseat Conversations on the Way to Heaven: #7 Be Quiet Back there!

Backseat Conversations on the Way to Heaven:Concordia Lutheran Church
Be Quiet Back There!
Psalm 46

 May we be so in awe of the glorious works of God in our lives, that we are found still, and quiet, enjoying the beauty of His Peace!


Backseat grumblings

it was inevitable, on those family drives as children that a fight would ensue between my brother and sister, and sometimes, I would get involved.

Remember, back in the day before seatbelts and child seats?  When there could be a real free-for all wrestling match as dad drove down the highway at seventy miles an hour?

As expected as the war of the backseat was, even more was another thing we heard just a few moments later.

Be still back there!  Be quiet back there!

I could almost hear those words as I drove those same roads last week.

I think when we hear God urging us to be still, urging us to be quiet, it isn’t because he needs to concentrate to get us where we are going.   It isn’t that he will somehow loose control of the journey when a pillow comes flying over the back seat.  Or the sound of a siren on a video game makes him glance guiltily at the speedometer.

Even so, we as individuals, we as the church of God, need to spend some real time in quiet, some real time being still, some extensive time knowing that God is God, and that He is our refuge, our fortress.

For different reasons when we were children, we need to hear Jesus say, my friends, be quiet, be still back there.

In fact, they are the same reasons Martin Luther, and so many before and since him, need to hear those words as well….

What couldn’t we see?  V. 8

In our world today, much like in Luther’s time, there were more than enough fights going on, just like in the backseat of our ’72 dodge dart.

Some of the fights are caused by external things, fights in the world that worry us, whether against enemies like ISIS, or that are more insidious, like Ebola.  Some are fights within the church at large, just as Luther experienced in His day.  Fights over doctrine, fights over traditions, fights over theology.  And some are fights like St Paul noted, fights between our sinful nature and our new nature in Christ.  Those internal fights between sin, and the desire to serve God. They are like David describes in the psalm, times where our lives are shaken like earthquakes, where everything seems to crumble, where we feel like we are being drowned in life.  Where the world is in chaos, and the very strength of our country seems to crumble…

All these fights in the backseat on our journey towards heaven garner our attention, whether we are involved in the fight, or not.  They cause us anxiety and fear, even if we aren’t involved, for like the kid in the middle between two siblings, we can’t help being involved.

And once involved, life overwhelms us.

It was at such a time, inspired by this very psalm, Luther found rest. Despite the hoards of Turks threatening to take over Europe, despite some religious leaders calling for his death, despite health issues, despite his own sin and psychological challenges… Luther found peace.

And so can we… if only we can manage to be still, to be quiet, to be in awe of the glorious works of the LORD.
Being Still… not about behavior…

As we were driving down roads in New Hampshire and Massachusetts, I saw things that I don’t remember seeing. Rivers and streams, small waterfalls, signs notifying us that moose and elk now wandered the woods. Even as William and I stood at the shore of Lake Ossipee, my senses were flooded with what I saw, what I heard.  The wind rustling through thousands of trees, raindrops causing ripples on the stillest of waters.

What God creates in nature is so incredibly amazing!  We need to see them, but even more we need to see God’s glorious works in our lives

Even before the psalm encourages stillness, it encourages us to look at the glorious works of God.  Not the mountains and lakes, the forests and oceans, but what He does to bring peace to our world. To bring peace to our lives.

Promise after promise we’ve heard, we know that nothing can separate us from Him, that all things work for good, that even what is planned for evil, He defeats and causes it to be for our best interest.

When we trust Him, we know that we have a safe place, a fortress that cannot being overwhelmed, a sanctuary that will not be broken into, a refuge where the battles of the world can’t compare to the glory we know, to the peace that surrounds us.

We can’t know that peace when we are fighting, whether the fight is external, or internal.  Whether we are being attacked by thousands of enemies, or we are like Peter, realizing we betrayed the Lord.

We need to hear Jesus’ words, “Peace be with you!”

Even more grace – He is Here, among us!

That peace comes with something more incredible.  We hear the words though out the service, but today we hear them a little differently…
11  The LORD of Heaven’s Armies is here among us;
the God of Israel is our fortress
.
Psalm 46:11 (NLT)

To hear this, to really hear this, results in the very same thing that we normally hear, that because He is hear among us, because God is our sanctuary, our refuge our fortress, we can have the rest from the wars that rage in the world, we can know the stillness and quietness that we need…

We can realize that He is our God…. The Lord God almighty is our God, and therefore we can rest in Him, and know the peace that passes all understanding, guarding our hearts and minds in Christ Jesus!

AMEN!

Am I My Brother’s Keeper?

Am I My Brother’s Keeper?Concordia Lutheran Church

Ezekiel 33:7-9

 In Jesus Name

 

May the peace of God our Father, and our Lord Jesus Christ be your sanctuary, your refuge, and may you always welcome the journey there!

Cain’s question should haunt us….

There is something special about having friends and family around us.  We see that today, as some have come long distances to help their friends celebrate forty years of marriage.

But there is a challenge for family and friends as well, for no one can disappoint us, no one can hurt us, no one can challenge our ability to love, as much as they do.  It seems like it has always been so, well not always.  Once Adam and Eve screwed up in the garden though, there has always been tension in families, and among friends.

We see it especially in the relationship of their first two sons, Cain and Abel. The challenge of loving each other was brutally sacrificed to bring some sense of relief to the pain and jealousy that found a place in Cain’s heart.

The reason that I bring him up this morning, is a question he once asked of the Lord.

Am I my brother’s keeper?

The son of man hears the answer to Cain’s question, and the answer is found in our Old Testament reading today.

“Now, son of man, I am making you a watchman for the people of Israel. Therefore, listen to what I say and warn them for me.

Yes, we are to work to keep your brothers safe… for if something happens to them and they are unaware, the passage from Ezekiel tells we are held responsible.

That is a heavy burden, yet is our mission in this life.

The Apostle John wrote about this as well:

20  If we say we love God, but hate others, we are liars. For we cannot love God whom we have not seen if we do not love others, whom we have seen. 21  The command that Christ has given us is this: whoever loves God must love others also. 1 John 4:20-21 (TEV)

We have to be watchmen for each other…we have to warn each other, as best as we can, for this is the will of God.

We have to care for the wicked folk too!

As we look at Ezekiel’s watchman, it helps to make the connection between the words watchman and keeper. It’s the same word in Hebrew, to guard them.  TO be on guard is to work for the safety and peace of those entrusted to your care.   A peace and safety corrupted and destroyed by sin.

But note in the Old Testament reading, those entrusted to the watchman’s care are called the people of Israel.  They are named, appropriately, after the one whose name means to struggle with God.  Not after Abraham, the father of Nations, or Isaac, laughter, but Jacob/Israel, the one who wrestles, who fights God.

It goes on to say that these we care for are wicked, and are certain to die unless they change their ways.

Great description of the people we have to keep safe!  Oh wait – he’s describing the people of God.  Uhm, that means the description could very well be of us.

Wicked here means those who are guilty, those who have violated either God’s law or His will.   Scary thought, if that is the definition of evil.  Do we realize we embrace evil when we sin?  Paul said it this way,

29  Their lives became full of every kind of wickedness, sin, greed, hate, envy, murder, quarreling, deception, malicious behavior, and gossip. 30  They are backstabbers, haters of God, insolent, proud, and boastful. They invent new ways of sinning, and they disobey their parents. 31  They refuse to understand, break their promises, are heartless, and have no mercy. Romans 1:29-31 (NLT)

All those people are evil, right?  Do you hear that it includes those who gossip and quarrel? That it includes those who are proud and boastful? What about those who do not show kindness or mercy?

It is them we are called to warn that certain judgment is coming.

Some of you may contend that the watchman are just the Old Testament prophets, and maybe the apostles and evangelists of the New Testament.  We might bristle a bit when we realize it includes the pastor, and that it could include deacons and vicars and elders.

But what if I said that each of one you is called to care, to help your brothers and sisters stand firm in the love of Christ Jesus?

That keeping them, guarding them in Christ by warning them is what we do, because we are called to love them?  Think about it for a moment, is it loving to allow someone to do harmful actions?  Maybe we can’t prevent them, Ezekiel seems clear about that, but we can call them to repentance.  We can call them back to Christ.  We can love them that much because He loved us!

Let this mind be in you…. Which is in Christ!

So what do we do with our past? What can we do when we screw up and fail?  What do we do with our sin?

What do we do with those times when we failed to be our brother’s keeper, to serve Him as a watchman?  When we’ve allowed them to be in bondage to sin without warning them, or when we failed to call them to repentance?  When we’ve failed as watchman, guards, and keeping them safe?   What about when we’ve rejoiced that they got what they deserved, ignoring our responsibility to call them to trust God?

Well, we don’t “do” something.  We listen.

When we confessed it we need to listen and hear of the faithfulness of Jesus to forgive us, and to cleanse us of that sin.   Maybe we need to hear His absolving us again. Maybe we need to hear the words of our baptism, that we are united with His death and sin has died to us.  We need to hear that His blood was shed, His body broken, that we would live forgiven.  We need to hear (and therefore proclaim) His death, until He comes again.

You see, ultimately, this prophecy is about Jesus as well. He is our watchman, our guardian; He is our brother who is our keeper.  He is the one who warns us, and makes possible the very repentance, the change of heart and mind that repentance is.

That is why Acts talks of repentance being granted to the Gentiles, even as it was to the apostles and disciples who were Jewish.

He’s called you out of wickedness, into a life filled with hope, with goodness, with joy as we see Him at work.  As we see Him take people that are gossips and haters and do not show mercy, who struggle with God, and re-create them into children of God.

This is why the cross happened; this is why He died, taking on the burden of the death and condemnation that awaited us.

That is how a brother acts towards his brothers and sisters.  He sacrifices Himself, so that they may live. That is what it took to get our attention, to reveal not just the existence of God, but His love for us.

For our brother, our Lord, Jesus our savior is our watchman – He is the One who is our Keeper, as He keeps us firm our heart and mind in the peace of God our Father. AMEN!

A Prayer for my Church, for our People

Devotional Thought of the Day:OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

9  In this manner, therefore, pray: Our Father in heaven, Hallowed be Your name. 10  Your kingdom come. Your will be done On earth as it is in heaven. Matthew 6:9-10 (NKJV)

St. Aiden’s Prayer for the Holy Island of Lindisfarne (and my prayer for Concordia!)

Lord, this bare island, make  it a place of peace!  Here be the peace f those who do Your will. Here be the peace of brothers serving man.  Here be the peace of holy people* obeying. Here be the peace of praise by dark and day. Be this Island, Your Holy Island! I, Lord, your servant Aidan make this prayer. May it be Your care, AMEN!  (1)

it hit me this morning, as I read the prayer above, that we should be praying like this more often than we do.

Please hear me, I am not saying we don’t pray enough for our people.  Anyone who has been to my church knows of our prayers, and many people who have never been here.

But how often do we pray our churches, our homes, will be a place of peace, a place where people grow in their devotion to God, a place where there is praise, day and night?  Do we desire and beg God that our sanctuaries, our homes would be places that are set aside to be with Him, to be places where people are served, where people learn to obey God ( I prefer the Greek – to guard/treasure His way of life)

Is this not what we are praying for in part, as we pray the Lord’s prayer?  That God’s rule over us would be established, that He would be our Master, that His will would be done. I love how Luther explains this:

Truly, God’s good and gracious will is accomplished without our prayer. But we pray in this request that is be accomplished among us as well. (2)

But do we actively pray this for our people?  For the places where they are set apart?  Do we fervently seek God’s will for them, and ask His guidance?   Or do we reduce our prayers to simple survival?  For healing, that we would get through the next crisis. Do we want to see their praises so inspired, that they cannot stop praising God?  And in those praises, find ways to serve those around them?

I think we do pray for their holiness, but I am not sure we are as conscious of it as we could be.  It is there, but it could be brought out more.  

It is time for that….

Lord, may our people here be holy and set apart.  May our church, their homes, their workplaces, be such places of peace, set apart to see your will accomplished.  May our desire to see this happen grow, and may we dedicate our lives and our fervent prayers to seeing them grow in the grace, mercy and love that is known in you.  AMEN!


(1)  Taken and slightly adapted from Celtic Daily Prayer: Prayers of the Northumbrian Community

(2)  Luther’s Small Catechism: Developed and Explained.

The World is My… monastery?

Devotional thought of the day:

Do everything without complaining or arguing, so that you may be innocent and pure as God’s perfect children, who live in a world of corrupt and sinful people. You must shine among them like stars lighting up the sky, as you offer them the message of life. If you do so, I shall have reason to be proud of you on the Day of Christ, because it will show that all my effort and work have not been wasted. Philippians 2:14-16 (TEV) 

738 I will never share the opinion—though I respect it—of those who separate prayer from active life, as if they were incompatible. We children of God have to be contemplatives: people who, in the midst of the din of the throng, know how to find silence of soul in a lasting conversation with Our Lord, people who know how to look at him as they look at a Father, as they look at a Friend, whom they love madly.  (1)

One of my favorite writers in David Morrell, who weaves tales of intrigue which happen to include a lot of soul searching.  Often his heroes flirt with monasticism and the need for sanctuary and refuge.In one of my favorite stories, he starts in a monastery, located in one of my favorite places in the world – the mountainous forests of New England.  The monks live separately from each other, in three room cells – a work room, a bedroom, and a small prayer room in between.  Part of me craves that kind of life, only to come out of my cell for worship and communal prayer.

My work room would be musical and a library, my time spent writing, and dare I dream, composing music on guitar. Solitude, peace, quiet, .  If you know me well, you are porbably thinking that I would never stand it, the extrovert I am would be driven nuts in a place like that.  No electronics, no interaction with others?  Are you really kidding Dustin?

No, I would fill the time with music and plunging the depths of writers that it takes that kind of solitude to comprehend.  Pascal, Chesterton, Luther, Augustine, the Shepherd of Hermas, Douglas Adams.  ( I could keep going…)  To just play my guitar without thought of time, but focusing on playing to God.

I would love it – even as I realize it would take a week or two to get used to it.  Our need for refuge, for sanctuary seems to be growing exponentially, even as we face information overload, even as our lives become complicated by gadget, even controlled by them.  Even as communciation and agendas and pressures overwhelm and confuse us.

Unfortunately, that is not my reality.  It is not my call. I live in the “real” world.  And I thrive in helping people – especially helping them know God’s love.

So the question becomes… can I make the world my monastery?  Can i live life in such a way that it is my monastic workroom?  Where I invest myself, as I would in music, or in reading/comprehending, but with people?  Can I see these things as sacred and holy as spending time on my knees.  I am not like Luther, who saw little value in monstacism, I see a great benefit to the monastic lifestyle – but can we live our lives with such intent, with the peace that is found in such sanctuaries in the real world? Can we live, shining like stars, reflecting the glory and love of God in the midst of the darkness, the chaos, the stress?

That is one of the reason I would love to sit down with Josemaria, for 40 and 50 years ago, he seemed to be able to accomplish this.  Surely he had his struggles, he freely admitted them in his writings.  But somehow, from many different accounts, he was able to see the world as one complete work of God – that it was in the midst of the anxiety and stress where we shine brightest, where we can find the stillness of the soul, and the presence of God.

The world is my monastery?  Yeah – it is, when I am in coversation with God while in the middle of it all.

It is my sanctuary – when I realize I live in Him in it.

God’s peace is with us….an amazing, undescribable peace…. 

(1)  Escriva, Josemaria (2011-01-31). The Forge (Kindle Locations 2671-2675). Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition.

We Need A Mighty Fotress!

An early printing of Luther's hymn A Mighty Fo...

An early printing of Luther’s hymn A Mighty Fortress Is Our God (Ein feste Burg ist unser Gott) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

We Need a Mighty Fortress!

Romans 3:19-28

 

† In Jesus Name †

 May we find ourselves secure and safe in the Fortress of Christ, and as we find ourselves there may our worship takes on a new dimension as we rejoice in His presence and provision!

How powerful is this passage?

In order that we don’t take this day, and this incredible passage from the Book of Romans for granted, I would share with you a story.

There was once a pastor, raised in a great Christian home, sent to one of the finest universities, in the world. Thirty-five years old, quickly becoming a leader in the church.  Yet, one night, everything would change.  Change so much, that he would talk about it using the word, “conversion”.  Here are his words…

“In the evening I went very unwillingly to a society in Aldersgate Street, where one was reading Luther’s preface to the Epistle to the Romans. About a quarter before nine, while he was describing the change which God works in the heart through faith in Christ, I felt my heart strangely warmed. I felt I did trust in Christ, Christ alone for my salvation: and an assurance was given me, that he had taken away my sins, even mine, and saved me from the law of sin and death.”   http://www.biblicalstudies.org.uk/pdf/bets/vol07/7-3_cox.pdf

The passage that was being read from Luther’s commentary was about this passage – especially verse 28, the very verses that so changed Luther, who was also a minister of the gospel when he heard them, that Luther was willing to die rather than forget them.  SO what is so powerful, that men like Martin Luther and John Wesley would use terms like “conversion” and “salvation” when they finally realized what they meant?

Why are these words,  So we are made right with God through faith and not by obeying the law.,” so powerful, so life changing?

I pray, oh I pray, that as we look at these verses, our lives would change as much as Luther’s, as Wesley’s, as King David’s, who wrote the following words when he got this truth,

 I love you, LORD; you are my strength. 2  The LORD is my rock, my fortress, and my savior; my God is my rock, in whom I find protection. He is my shield, the power that saves me, and my place of safety. Psalm 18:1-2 (NLT) 

Why do we need a fortress?

When we sing “A Mighty Fortress”, do you ever think about what you are singing?  It is what can be called a Creedal Hymn – a hymn testifying, confessing the very core of our belief, our creed.

Reducing all the verses down, it is a simple statement.  We believe we need God, that we desperately need His interaction in our lives.  That we need Him to deliver us, and to be our sanctuary, our fortress, that we need Him to be rock solid for us…

It is as much a confession of our need for Jesus’s work as when we confess our sins at the beginning of our service.

We need Him.

We need a fortress. A rock, a place where we can catch our breath, where we can find comfort, where we can know peace.

Not just because of our sin, but because of the unrighteousness we have to deal with each and every day.  Because of the stress the injustice, the unrighteousness of the world deals us daily.  We have to have that place where we can pour out all our anxiety, all our pain, all the crap that affects our lives.

Not just because of our sin, and the unrighteousness and injustice of life, but because of the threat and reality of death.  For that is where the Law seems to get its strength, for death would make the law a victor.  For in death there is no excuses, and based on the law alone, there is no way we can be right with God.  We can’t, we don’t make the standard.  Our thoughts, words, and deeds, well if we look at them honestly, would we want everyone to know them?  Could we stand a record of all that we’ve thought and said (including under our breath) and done be given out this morning?

Yet God knows them all,

And He volunteered to be our fortress, our place of rest.

How do we gain entrance?

As it seems all of our enemies, sin, anxiety, injustice, and the threat of death’s closing the book on us surround us, we have to find a safe place, a secure place, a place where we can recover and heal from our own brokenness. Where we can experience the revelation of what Wesley and Luther and King David and so many have known.  But how do we get to that place?

We don’t.

We find ourselves there.  The lights come on, and we are in God’s presence.  Verse 21,

But now God has shown us a way to be made right with him without keeping the requirements of the law, as was promised in the writings of Moses and the prophets long ago.

That phase, “shown us a way” is literally translated, “He enlightened us”.  This is what Luther wrote in the explanation of the creed, where it says, “But the Holy Spirit called me by the Gospel, enlightened me with His gifts, made me holy and kept me in the true faith, just as He calls, gathers together, enlightens and makes holy the whole Church on earth and keeps it with Jesus in the one, true faith.” Luther’s Small Catechism: Developed and Explained.

God shines the light on what Jesus has done, with kindness we do not deserve, as He died on the cross.  Hear these words again,

“24 Yet God, with undeserved kindness, declares that we are righteous. He did this through Christ Jesus when he freed us from the penalty for our sins. 25 For God presented Jesus as the sacrifice for sin. People are made right with God when they believe that Jesus sacrificed his life, shedding his blood.”

And now hear them, as Luther and Wesley did….

24 Yet God, with undeserved kindness, declares that I am righteous. He did this through Christ Jesus when he freed me from the penalty for my sins. 25 For God presented Jesus as the sacrifice for my sin. I am made right with God when I trust that Jesus sacrificed his life, shedding his blood for me.

This is what it is all about. This is what caused such a dramatic change in Wesley, and in Luther.  It’s why we find ourselves, as if we’ve awakened, in the presence of God Almighty and we realize it will be all right. For we have been made right with God, He has declared us right! He has said to each on of us, that we are His child, and that nothing can separate us from Him.

When we needed a place that was safe; He brought us in, cleansed us, healed us, provided for us and does so each moment of our lives!

That is what this day is about – each one of us realizing that we have unlimited access to God – not just when we are at full strength spiritually, but when we are at the breaking point, when we are broken, when our spirits are crushed my sin and unrighteousness and anxiety and even death….

He is here…for you…

As He has been for so many, including John Wesley, and Martin Luther, and Augustine, and the whole company of heaven… and so you can cry with me the words of the psalm,

I love you, LORD; you are my strength. 2  The LORD is my rock, my fortress, and my savior; my God is my rock, in whom I find protection. He is my shield, the power that saves me, and my place of safety. Psalm 18:1-2 (NLT)

Our place of peace…

AMEN?

Needing a Sanctuary… because we know He is there…

This was the church of my parochial school... a beautiful sanctuary in Lawrence, Massachusetts..

This was the church of my parochial school… a beautiful sanctuary in Lawrence, Massachusetts..

 Devotional thought of the day….
In God is my safety and my glory, the rock of my strength. In God is my sanctuary! 8  trust in him, you people, at all times. Pour out your hearts to him, God is our sanctuary,. Psalm 62:7-8 

 18  “But will God really live on earth among people? Why, even the highest heavens cannot contain you. How much less this Temple I have built! 19  Nevertheless, listen to my prayer and my plea, O LORD my God. Hear the cry and the prayer that your servant is making to you. 20  May you watch over this Temple day and night, this place where you have said you would put your name. May you always hear the prayers I make toward this place. 2 Chronicles 6:18-20 (NLT)

Think about this carefully: being transparent lies more in not hiding things rather than in wanting things to be seen. It is a matter of allowing the objects lying at the bottom of a glass to be perceived, and not trying to make the air visible.” (1)

I have never so wanted to go into to a church building as I did last Sunday, to just go in an pray, to feel at home, to find myself calmed as I sat in the back and took the time to have God revealed to me.   Until perhaps today…as I received a text from a very close friend, whose dad past away today, 34 days after mine.  

I want to run back to the church where I grew up serving, where I grew up finding a peace and comfort not known in any other place.  Too many people affected by death recently, even as I have come here to relive memories, and the past.  

I feel a but disjointed, for the place I would run to here….. the place is not here anymore… and I need that sanctuary to be able to weep, to be able to pour my heart out – just like I can back in Concordia’s sanctuary, or Shepherd of the Valley’s… or St Francis here in Lawrence – just a few miles from where I sit at the lake.  It’s not that other churches wouldn’t work, or that I can’t do it here, sitting at the lake, looking out at something more beautiful than anything a artist’s brust or a camera can capture..  But… there is something special about the places we call our home parish, our home church.  I hear it in the voices of the people who cry when a church closes, or consolidates, or for whatever reason.  It is probably why I’ve spent most of my ministry working in smaller churches – churches that might close if they aren’t given hope.

There is something about the sanctuaries that we call home. The place we know God’s put His name – because we’ve experieced it over and over.

I’ve heard from other ministers that writing such stuff isn’t “manly” – that it will turn guys off, that it will drive them away.  Don’t admit your weakness – and really don’t expect us too either!  Not that I want to do so in front of you, or in front of them, heck in front of anyone.  Guys don’t like that stuff. it’s not manly enough, it’s not for those who admire strength.  I think it is just the opposite – for it takes some strength to trust God enough to pour out your heart… if takes strength to risk that transparency, to be His Kid.  I think that is what St Josemaria’s talking about – about letting our pains and our sins be seen to God – not trying to hide them anymore. To say,  yeah, it’s time to pour out my heart – to let my God be my God, to let Him be my Comforter,  to know He is here…lakeside…for He dwells with us.  


The Lord is with us.. the Lord is with my three friends, who are dealing with the death of loved ones this week…

With me… as I place them in His hands… for mine are not up to the task today ( even if I was back in Cali – which tomorrow I will be.)  …catching my own tears…as I mourn my own Dad’s death, as I mourn the loss of places I knew in my youth… as I see my old church, my old sanctuary, where i served as an altar boy and played organ and pulled pranks…where I found God’s peace so many times… (tomorrow I will be back in Cali – and back to my norm – I know this as well – for I know God’s strength)

With you…. for He is your sanctuary…. so trust in Him… pour out your heart to Him….so give Him all your burdens..let Him be your God, let Him be your sanctuary!

And then you will find revealed again, His wondrous peace that passes all understanding, the peace in which we dwell, the peace in which Christ keeps us!

Please keep my three friends in your prayers tonight – an their families… thanks!
(and if you have a spare moment… pray that God would find away to reopen the church of my youth!)

(1)   Escriva, Josemaria (2011-01-31). Furrow (Kindle Locations 1555-1557). Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition.

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