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How the Church is Not a Sanctuary…

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

Devotional Thought of the Day:

Listen when anyone in Israel truly feels sorry and sincerely prays with arms lifted toward your temple. 39 You know what is in everyone’s heart. So from your home in heaven answer their prayers, according to the way they live and what is in their hearts. 40 Then your people will worship and obey you for as long as they live in the land you gave their ancestors.
41-42 Foreigners will hear about you and your mighty power, and some of them will come to live among your people Israel. If any of them pray toward this temple, 43 listen from your home in heaven and answer their prayers. Then everyone on earth will worship you, just like your people Israel, and they will know that I have built this temple to honor you.  1 Kings 8:38-43 CEV

884    You are full of weaknesses. Every day you see them more clearly. But don’t let them frighten you. He well knows you can’t yield more fruit. Your involuntary falls—those of a child—show your Father God that he must take more care,….   Each day, as our Lord picks you up from the ground, take advantage of it, embrace him with all your strength and lay your wearied head on his open breast so that you’ll be carried away by the beating of his most loving heart.

One of the names often used for the church building is a sanctuary, a safe place. Usually, that is interpreted to mean that we have found a place to hide from the world. Indeed, there was once a time in Europe when those in authority could not remove someone from a church, even if they were wanted for a crime.

But if we think that is is a sanctuary from the world, as in others arent welcome into it, as if it is the place of protection from those who are sinful, who are broken, who are oppressed and even possessed by evil, think again.

It is not.

Solomon made that clear, at the dedication of the temple – all are welcome in the presence of God, all are invited to pray in those places where God puts His name, where He makes it clear that this is where He will meet with all of us.

Age doesn’t matter, color doesn’t matter, ethnicity doesn’t, even the sins you have committed ( and don’t ever doubt they are sins!) do not matter.

For church is the place to come and discover that God loves you enough to erase those sins, to wipe them out wIth the blood of Jesus, shed on the cross, cleansing you of that sin. And that isn’t just for the little white lies, or the gossip that is listed along with sexual sins and murder.

It is about all sins, your deepest, darkest sins that your thought you buried and concealed, along with the sin of your neighbor which you said is so bad that it makes you want to throw-up.

You see, that sanctuary is first a place to come and be restored from your own brokenness, it is the place to come to be healed when you are broken. Look at the prayers in the scripture. It is our own sins that we need to know are forgiven, it is our own brokenness that we need to know will be healed. That is the prayer that we need to know will be heard.

These places aren’t a sanctuary from others, They are where we find healing in communion with each other, as Christ heals us all.

That is something the church needs to remember, especially when the time of brokenness is upon us, as it is now.  We need to help others see that God will pick them up, even as He has picked us up!  We need to help them be comforted by Him and carried by Him.

Even as we are!

Heavenly Father, help us to know your presence in our lives. Lord lift us up, and help us to bring others into Your Holy Place, that wherever You are, they will know Your mercy, and Your Love, and Lord, help us rejoice in the sanctuary You provide for all of us, in Christ Jesus.  AMEN!

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

We All Need to Find our Safe Place…

A Safe Place… A Sanctuary

Devotional Thought of the Day:

1  Israel, the LORD who created you says, “Do not be afraid—I will save you. I have called you by name—you are mine. 2  When you pass through deep waters, I will be with you; your troubles will not overwhelm you. When you pass through fire, you will not be burned; the hard trials that come will not hurt you. 3  For I am the LORD your God, the holy God of Israel, who saves you. Isaiah 43:1-3 (TEV)

14 As for me, however, I will boast only about the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ; for by means of his cross the world is dead to me, and I am dead to the world. Galatians 6:14 GNT

Because rock music (and country and others – DP) seeks redemption through liberation from personality and its responsibilities, it incorporates very precisely the anarchistic ideas of freedom that today are more undisguisedly dominant in the West than in the East. For that very reason it is fundamentally opposed to the Christian concept of redemption and freedom, is its real antithesis

A “God” is that upon which one relies for all good things and in whom one takes refuge in all times of trouble. Thus, to have a God is nothing less than to trust and believe in that one from the whole heart. As I have often said, it is the trust and faith of the heart alone that makes both a God and an idol.

We went with a priest to bless a dying woman who was in great distress and fear. He did a wonderful thing. He took her face in his bands and said: ‘Giuseppina, one day Jesus said ‘Do you love Me?’ You said ‘yes!’ Then He said, ‘Giuseppina, I want you to help Me, you said ‘yes!’ Then He said: ‘come up here on the cross with Me’. You said ‘yes!’ Now Giuseppina, you are on the cross with Jesus and you are helping Him to save souls’. A tremendous peace came over her. Sometimes we also have to believe in the meaning of their sufferings.

As I look at hodge-podge of quotes above, the comment about Rock music strikes a bit hard. I understand it is a generalization, and there is abundant examples of what Pope Benedict speaks of, when talking about the search for freedom, and losing yourself. It is a sublime imitation with a twist, it not only seeks freedom from self, it creates a godless option, which itself becomes the god, the place to pursue, the place to run. It is a freedom that is not free, for there is no redemption.

But that is what we do when we create idols.

We create a place to run to when we are hurt, when we are broken, when we no longer care, because of the pain we encounter. Even as Pope Benedict notes the role of one of our idols. Luther describes what makes one, the need to have someone/something to run to for comfort, for hope when all is broken. A place to hide and heal, entrusting that what remains of us can be revived.

I am in one of those times now, a time where I simply need to be patient and trust God. Yet my heart would draw me to look other places. I need ot learn again that the place to run to is the cross. To understand like the dying woman that our suffering, our challenges should draw us there, where the challenges and suffering can have meaning, where they work to bring others to salvation. When we realize this, that God uses everything for good, then we are amazed and find that peace we so desperately need.

Its not easy.

But look at the scriptures verses in red. They reinforce, both from the Old Testament and the New, that this is part of our relationship with God. He wants to be our refuge, our safe place, our God. He is there when we are overwhelmed, He is there when things are broken, there to comfort us, there to protect us, there to not just put our lives back together, but to make them new.

This is what it means for Him to be our God, and for us to be His children, the children He loves. It is how and why we trust in Him.

He is here, I can break down and be safe… I can take the time to heal.

So can you..

We’ve found our safe place. It is in Jesus.



Ratzinger, J. (1992). Co-Workers of the Truth: Meditations for Every Day of the Year. (I. Grassl, Ed., M. F. McCarthy & L. Krauth, Trans.) (pp. 249–250). San Francisco: Ignatius Press.

Luther, M. (2007). Luther’s Spirituality. (P. D. W. Krey, B. McGinn, & P. D. S. Krey, Eds., P. D. S. Krey & P. D. W. Krey, Trans.) (p. 193). New York; Mahwah, NJ: Paulist Press.

Joseph MC. (2012). From Adoration to Serving the Poor. In A. Reid (Ed.), From Eucharistic Adoration to Evangelization (p. 188). London; New York: Burns & Oates.

God’s “safe place”…the place He fits in…

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

Devotional Thought of the Day:

16 Don’t you yourselves know that you are God’s sanctuary and that the Spirit of God lives in you?  1 Co 3:16   HCSB

1 How lovely is Your dwelling place, LORD of Hosts. 2 I long and yearn for the courts of the LORD; my heart and flesh cry out for the living God. Psalm 64:1-2 HCSB

37 How does this sanctifying take place? Answer: Just as the Son obtains dominion by purchasing us through his birth, death, and resurrection, etc., so the Holy Spirit effects our sanctification through the following: the communion of saints or Christian church, the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body, and the life everlasting. In other words, he first leads us into his holy community, placing us upon the bosom of the church, where he preaches to us and brings us to Christ.

King Solomon once asked if there was ever a place God could fit in.

As I read the readings quoted this moring I thought of Solomon’s words at the dedication of the temple, and as I read that we were God’s sanctuary, I didn’t think about it in view of a huge cathedral’s sanctuary, but the place for someone seeking a home, seeking a place where you “fit in”, where You were loved.  To quote the old song from the show “Cheers”, the place where “everybody knows Your name”.

A sanctuary is a place where you are at peace, where you can rest, and be yourself.  Where it is safe.  Where you are worry free and free to discover who you are, and live as you were meant ot live. Some people mock those described as “millenials” for wanting such a place, for struggling to understand this world and the chaos we have seen it become.

Yet even as the Psalmist desires to be in the dwelling place of God, (something I resonate with a lot, as I struggle with my own sin and the sin of the world)  I find it comforting to know God seeks this place as well.  That God would look for His safe place, the place where He would be who He knows Himself to be, to create and find every part of His sanctuary.  God is far more desirous of that place than we are, and the extreme measures He will go to create that place, to found the place where He fits in, to dwell in the place where everyone knows (and praises) His name.

People reading this may think that I am picturing God as a wimpy needy person, just as they picture the millennials who they berate and mock.  The need for a safe place and a call for it by the younger adults of this day is not about them being wimps, it is about their keen sense of the dissonance that sin causes, the brokenness that our hearts and souls cannot tolerate.

And neither should ours.

We, especially those in the church, should be crying out to God, to make His presence know, to help us to understand that He dwells in our midst, that we are the sanctuary we so eagerly seek out.  We can, by the power of the Holy Spirit, see those out searching for a place, drawn to Him, pointed there by our words, by our lives.  For this church is the place we find ourselves in the heart of Christ, and it is there, as the Spirit dwells in us,.

This is the sanctuary God desires more than anything, for Jesus, died to establish it.  This is the community that is called holy, that is set apart to know and love one another, where everyone knows your name, and everyone knows His. This is His masterpiece, this church made not of wood and stone, but of hearts and souls, the place figured in the words of John 1, where it says he came and made His home among us. This is what all creation culminated in, this sanctuary, this safe place God has made to dwell in with us.

Realize my friends, you dwell in Him, and you are His sanctuary.  For this is His desire, to have this sanctuary for Himself.

Lord,, help ys to realize that in the Sabbath you rest, and envisioned us finding rest and peace with You.  In making us Your Holy People, you created a place where You fit in, where You would rest in peace with those you call by name, who call You by Name and call upon that Name. Help us to do so often so that every burden is lifted, and every praise is sung.   AMEN!

 

 

Tappert, T. G. (Ed.). (1959). The Book of Concord the confessions of the Evangelical Lutheran Church. (p. 415). Philadelphia: Mühlenberg Press.

 

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

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God, who am I?

Discussion thought of the Day:

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

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

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

I am struggling with the paradox that was America yesterday.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.

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