Blog Archives

Stop Defending Yourself!!!

man holding snowball

Photo by Victoria Borodinova on Pexels.com

Devotional Thought of the Day:

But if we confess our sins to God, he can always be trusted to forgive us and take our sins away.  1 John 1:9 CEV

We need not worry about success because our love is guaranteed success, even if it does not move our neighbor to respond. For if we are one with Christ as members of His body, then our love is part of Christ’s love. It is not just an imitation from afar but a participation from within. And Christ’s love is guaranteed success, even though it was crucified in us and often continues to be crucified by the world. It is guaranteed success not because of its intentions or goals, but because of where it comes from: the Son’s perfect obedience to the Father.

671    “Jesus remains silent.”—Iesus autem tacebat. Why do you speak, to console yourself or to explain yourself? Say nothing. Seek joy in contempt: you’ll always receive less than you deserve. Can you, by any chance, ask: Quid enim mali feci?—“What evil have I done?”

Defending ourselves has become a national past-time it seems.

Some of us do so by going on the offensive and pointing out the flaws in others. Unless we are brave, we do this by social media. That way we add another layer of defensive offense to our armored position.

Others of us just back to the old ways, and attempt to rationalize and justify whatever it is we have done wrong. To explain why it was better to do it “our” way.  We might even blame it on God, projecting some command, twisting it, to make us look better.  After all, we were just obeying orders!

Maybe we fear that taking the silent approach simply confirms our guilt and the shame that goes along with it.  But surely, we aren’t that concerned with what “they” think?

Escriva notes that we will earn less contempt than we deserve, and I believe that is true. Kreeft points us to the fact that if we are crucified for being wrong, let it be crucified for loving others. Hard concepts to act upon, and yet, that is what we do.

This is completely logical!  If we are accused of anything else but loving God and those around us, we deserve the scorn.  If we are accused of doing that which is truly loving, then we are in the same situation as Jesus, and are assured that HIs sacrifice was used by the Father, so would ours be. He wins when that happens, and because we dwell in Him, so we win as well!

Either way, defending ourselves is worth so little…

So what if we are guilty, what if they are right? What if we are the ones who have done wrong?

1 John says it is simple to take care of that…

Let God absolve you, go to your pastor or priest, and let them tell you what you need to hear, what devours the guilt and shame, leaving behind joy and freedom.  And the ability to know the same love that nourishes our very soul, which enables us to love sacrificially.  Even if the sacrifice is our very lives.

So either we are loving as we should, proving God is with us, or we are corrected by our error and absolved to love as we should.

Either way, defending ourselves would simply get in the way…

Rejoce, the Lord is with you, and He will take care of the situation!

Peter Kreeft, The God Who Loves You (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 2004), 26.

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

Raising Cain! A sermon on Genesis 4

Raising Cain
Gen 4:1-16

† In Jesus Name †

May the grace of God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ be heard in every part of you and transform your heart, your soul, your mind and your strength.

Raising Cain – What if….

As you look at this title and think back on the words from Genesis we heard read a few moments ago, I wonder what you are thinking.

I mean if I gave your “permission” to think about raising Cain, would you think I was encouraging you to do something evil?  To cause great trouble, to be rebellious, to behave ( as one person said) like loud protestors at some protest rally?

Or is there another option to raising Cain?

And what you do you think about Cain?  Is he another like Judas that is beyond redemption, that is condemned because of the evil he committed?  Do we write him off like Pharaoh, or like King Saul or Ahaz and that rotten women Jezebel?

Aren’t we glad that we certainly aren’t a sinner like that Cain…?

Or like that tax collector,

Are we more like that Pharisee than we want to admit, thanking God that we aren’t sinners like everyone else, picking our sins we are proud we didn’t commit and proud of the things we do that “prove we are righteous?”
Could it be that instead of encouraging riotous living, the idea of Raising Cain is about trying to see how God called Cain to repentance and offered him hope, and life?

When we can see God working in Cain’s life, it will give us hope, as we struggle in our brokenness, in the midst of this broken world?

Look at the chances!

One of the things I see in this passage is that God doesn’t easily give up on Cain.  Nor will he give up easily on us, and we need to know that.

But consider a few of these things.

As Cain is upset about the offerings, God comes to him and says,

“Why are you so angry?” the Lord asked Cain. “Why do you look so dejected? You will be accepted if you do what is right. But if you refuse to do what is right, then watch out! Sin is crouching at the door, eager to control you. But you must subdue it and be its master.”

And like Cain, God comes to us, as we are struggling and says similar things.  He tells us we are His, which we are accepted.  But Jesus also warned Peter about potential sin, and then Peter would describe Satan this way…

6  So humble yourselves under the mighty power of God, and at the right time he will lift you up in honor. 7  Give all your worries and cares to God, for he cares about you. 8  Stay alert! Watch out for your great enemy, the devil. He prowls around like a roaring lion, looking for someone to devour. 9  Stand firm against him, and be strong in your faith.. 1 Peter 5:6-9 (NLT)
Does that sound familiar?

God knows his heart, knows that Cain is being eaten up by the sin, by the jealousy, by the nature he inherited from his folks and made his own.

And as God prophesied – sin caught him, his anger and jealousy and attempted to devour him,

He killed his brother. He did something only God has the right to do, to take a life.

What happened next, he could never have foreseen.

Instead of God taking his life, he comes back to Cain, and calls him to repentance,

Afterward, the Lord asked Cain, “Where is your brother? Where is Abel?”

“I don’t know,” Cain responded. “Am I my brother’s guardian?”

10 But the Lord said, “What have you done? Listen! Your brother’s blood cries out to me from the ground!

As I read this, I had to ask, why does God ask where Abel is?  God is omniscient, isn’t He?  God asked the same question of Adam and Eve, where are you?  What have you done?

And of Peter on the beach, as Peter couldn’t get over denying Jesus three times, and three times Jesus asked, Simon Peter, “do you love me?”

We have to realize this; God didn’t give up on Cain.  He didn’t just take his life, as He should have. If God were only merciful and not just, he would have just taken Cain’s life.

But God cares for him, and for you and I when we fall into sin when we are trapped and in bondage.

Even when we realize we deserve to be punished for our sin and utter those words Cain did…

13 Cain replied to the Lord, “My punishment is too great for me to bear! 14 You have banished me from the land and from your presence; you have made me a homeless wanderer. Anyone who finds me will kill me!”

If we didn’t have a pharisaical bias towards Cain, would we hear this any differently? Would we notice that Cain added in something God didn’t say?

14 You have banished me from the land and from your presence;

God didn’t – he is still with Cain.  God is talking to Him.  God is with him, there, and Cain is in the very presence of God.

Whether we hear those words of Cain as complaining, or fear, or pleading for mercy, they are said to a God who is there, who is listening, who is both just and merciful…

Just as He heard us a few moments ago, when we confessed our sin, when we pleaded for God to show us grace…

Even as He did to Cain.

Look at the grace – and what it pictures

We don’t see it if we just skim the passage, but it is there,

15 The Lord replied, “No, for I will give a sevenfold punishment to anyone who kills you.” Then the Lord put a mark on Cain to warn anyone who might try to kill him.

 I think we usually see that mark as one of punishment – a stay away from this evil person.

But it is there to protect Cain, to let people know that he was under God’s protection, that (gulp) God was with him. That no one had the right to condemn him, no one had the right to punish him.  Just like the woman caught in adultery.

Just like the mark of our baptism,

3  Once we, too, were foolish and disobedient. We were misled and became slaves to many lusts and pleasures. Our lives were full of evil and envy, and we hated each other. 4  But—“When God our Savior revealed his kindness and love, 5  he saved us, not because of the righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy. He washed away our sins, giving us a new birth and new life through the Holy Spirit. 6  He generously poured out the Spirit upon us through Jesus Christ our Savior.
Titus 3:3-6 (NLT)

You and I, we were no different than Cain, we were rebellious and sinned, despite God’s warning it devoured us.  God came to us again, and called on us it, showed us what we deserved, and then reminded us we are marked….. in our baptism, and no one has the ability to condemn us.  Nor will we ever be banished from His presence.

You are forgiven, just like the tax collector, and Peter, Paul, David, and me.

So go, and live in God’s peace, for Christ will guard your heart and mind in that incredible peace. AMEN!

 

Luke 13 The Special Attention that Leads to Repentance

The Special Attention that Leads to Repentance

Luke 13:1-9

† I.H.S †

 May the grace and peace of God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ make the call you hear to repentance one that you must answer.  AMEN!

A Week of Why’s

As I look back over this week, it seems rather convenient that I would preach on the gospel.  For in nine different very traumatic situations, no, ten situations, it would be easy to sit back and ask with the gospel, “is this why they suffer?”

Why is a family mourning they son/boyfriend was shot dead?

Why is a sheriff’s station wondering why one had to shoot someone, and why a community that normally is so supportive, could so quickly turn against them?

Why is a family being torn apart,

Why is someone facing a brutal betrayal of a friend?

Why did a 50-year-old mother die, just after burying her child last November?

Why did these things happen?  Who is to blame?  Was it their evil, or what God wrong to allow what happened?  Ten situations, hundreds of questions asked, so few answers to offer in response.

In a way, Jesus response to these traumas seems cold, even harsh.

Do you think those Galileans were worse sinners than all the other people from Galilee?” Jesus asked. “Is that why they suffered? Not at all! And you will perish, too, unless you repent of your sins and turn to God. And what about the eighteen people who died when the tower in Siloam fell on them? Were they the worst sinners in Jerusalem? No, and I tell you again that unless you repent, you will perish, too.”

What first seems heartless Is anything but.  For the questions we ask we may never be answered sufficiently, though we might have a thousand theories, not of which will help us grieve, never mind heal.  They just spin and spin our mind around.

Jesus asks us to move past the questions we cannot know the answers to, to contemplate, to meditate on something that has a real consequence, something that we don’t want to talk about, but we need to face.

Will we hear a call to repentance, or will perish?

I Won’t’ Perish, Will I?

I think we all need to ask regularly ourselves if Jesus came back today, would we perish?

We have to be careful with that question because it can lead to both self-righteousness and severe guilt.   Both those options are deadly.

Self-righteousness that would lead us to false confidence in our holiness leads to perishing because we will grow to assume we can be holy on our own, and don’t need God.

Severe guilt leads us to believe we are beyond hope, that there is not ability to recover from where we at, stuck in sin.

Even so, we still have to ask regularly the question.  Would I perish?  Do I love my sin and resentment more than I love God?  Have I set up false idols to worship, things that I put more trust in than God?  Do I even bother with God in my life except for on Sundays and Wednesday nights for an hour or ninety minutes?  Is God welcome in every part of my life?

St Paul in his letter to the church in Corinth talks about this, as part of preparing for communion,

31  But if we would examine ourselves, we would not be judged by God in this way. 32  Yet when we are judged by the Lord, we are being disciplined so that we will not be condemned along with the world. 1 Corinthians 11:31-32 (NLT)

 

Most of us would prefer not to do this, to not have to face the unpleasantness in our own lives.  It seems much easier to bury it, to ignore it, or more than likely to justify it by pointing to others sins.

It is not the reason others undergo trauma, nor would I ever suggest that God puts us through trauma just to convert us and lead us to change. But Jesus is telling us to take stock of our lives, as these things happen.  To really consider where we need Him to change us. To really see the sin that we engage in as the horrible thing that destroys our relationship with God.

Unless we repent… we will perish.

A hard line to hear – even during Lent when we expect it!
The Patience of the Gardener

So how do we repent?   How can we be sure we have?  Where do we find the strength to do so…

We need to understand this parable of the Owner and the Gardner.  We need to realize that the Gardner is God in this passage – that the heart which is patient and wants to give special attention and plenty of fertilizer, to cultivate and cause us to bear fruit.

I love to watch Al or the Chinese congregation members tend the plants on campus.  There is a tenderness there, and you could see their mind church as they decide where to dig next, or which rose branch to prune.  If they do such a wonderful job, you know God will be doing the something special as He calls us to repentance.

That’s what he does at the altar, as He assures us of grace, as he lovingly nurtures us, as He provides a safe place for us to confess our sins, and hear His promise of forgiveness.  It is what he does as we read of the grace and mercy of God, as we see it as we picture Him on the cross, His blood pouring out. This is where he continues to give us special attention, where he nurtures and cultivates our faith in Him.

This is how we come to live a life of repentance, assured of His work nurturing us, pruning us, cultivating us.  It is an ongoing process of our faith in Christ. It starts here in Baptism, as God grants us faith and repentance, and keeps on going here at the altar, here as we worship, as we pray, as we study God’s word together as His people.

Because of His work, giving us special attention and yes, plenty of fertilizer, we are assured that we will not perish, that He has called and brought us to repentance, and is transforming us daily.

This is why we live in peace, peace that God promises is beyond understanding, peace He guards us in, our hearts and minds….  AMEN!

The Lord’s response to “Lord please defeat my enemies!”

Devotional Thought of the Day:photo

15  Then I said, “LORD, you understand. Remember me and help me. Let me have revenge on those who persecute me. Do not be so patient with them that they succeed in killing me. Remember that it is for your sake that I am insulted. 16  You spoke to me, and I listened to every word. I belong to you, LORD God Almighty, and so your words filled my heart with joy and happiness. 17  I did not spend my time with other people, laughing and having a good time. In obedience to your orders I stayed by myself and was filled with anger. 18  Why do I keep on suffering? Why are my wounds incurable? Why won’t they heal? Do you intend to disappoint me like a stream that goes dry in the summer?” 19  To this the LORD replied, “If you return, I will take you back, and you will be my servant again. If instead of talking nonsense you proclaim a worthwhile message, you will be my prophet again. The people will come back to you, and you will not need to go to them. Jeremiah 15:15-19 (TEV)

419         An apostle must not remain at the level of the mediocre. God calls him to be fully human in his actions, and at the same time to reflect the freshness of eternal things. That is why the apostle has to be a soul who has undergone a long, patient and heroic process of formation.  (1)

A few days ago, I wrote a blog that we as Christians don’t really have enemies, we have adversaries.  That our goal was not to defeat them, or crush them, but instead to love them, to pray for them, to come alongside them, that they may know the love of God.  That is what following in the footsteps of Jesus is, that is what being a child of God looks like.  Growing in our trust of God to the extent that we begin to love as Christ does.

I got a bit of feedback, some quite defensive saying we can’t avoid enemies – they will come after us.  My point seemed to be lost, or maybe poorly communicated?  It is not that they don’t oppress us, or challenge us, or even hate us.  That’s on them.  But when we decide that they are enemies, when we make that judgment, it places us in a battle, either offensive or defensive, and negates our ability to minister to them.  Our reaction to enemies is different than our reaction to an adversary.

this morning in my devotional time, I read the passage from Jeremiah above. Jeremiah is one who had significant opposition, primarily for speaking out for what God wanted from His people, what He expected as part of the relationship, how He expected them to love each other, and Him.  Not a easy message then, nor is it one today.  He got a lot of opposition, and here we see him asking God to take care of it. The opposition is real, death threats have been made, serious ones.  This isn’t just whining because he didn’t get his way.

But his attention in the midst of the opposition has shifted.  It has become personal, this opposition to God’s word. Jeremiah has lost his focus, as we all do at times. He focuses in on his on righteousness, his own goodness.

And God rebukes him, takes him back to the beginning.

God doesn’t promise vengeance on them, instead He tells Jeremiah to return, to repent, to re-focus on the relationship between God and Jeremiah.

That’s a message many of us, including me, perhaps today especially me, need to hear.  For we get tired and weary, as we see people choose evil, make decisions that ignore God, and walk on paths that are self-destructive. The temptation is to compare their journey to ours.  “Wouldn’t they be better off like us, why can’t they see this?”

While what we should be doing is speaking to them about Jesus’ love, about His mercy, about their need for it in their lives.   They need to hear His message, His gospel, His word, and that may take some time.  It may take some time for us to get it right, to learn to speak His word, not focus on our situation, to bear His cross, to pray for those who persecute us.  Rather than just condemn them and desire wrath, or to give up hope for them, we need to learn that if God is patient with us, not willing that any should perish but all come to repentance… than that is our path, our desire.  This focus on the eternal takes time – even for prophets and apostles… we just need to remember to turn to Him…..

So we need to pray for them, ask God to save them, Speak the truth in love regarding their sin and ours, and that God offers hope… He will return them… He will welcome them home.

Lord, have mercy on us ALL…. AMEN

(1)   Escriva, Josemaria (2011-01-31). Furrow (Kindle Locations 1878-1880). Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition.

 

 

When Is Enough… Enough!?

Devotional/Discussion Thought of the Day: The Pantheon, a place once dedicated to worship of idols and the sacrifice of innocents, but reborn to host the worship of God, to celebrate Christ's sacrifice  May our lives tell a similar story as we realize what God does to us in baptism!

38  “Here’s another old saying that deserves a second look: ‘Eye for eye, tooth for tooth.’ 39  Is that going to get us anywhere? Here’s what I propose: ‘Don’t hit back at all.’ If someone strikes you, stand there and take it. 40  If someone drags you into court and sues for the shirt off your back, giftwrap your best coat and make a present of it. 41  And if someone takes unfair advantage of you, use the occasion to practice the servant life. 42  No more tit-for-tat stuff. Live generously. 43  “You’re familiar with the old written law, ‘Love your friend,’ and its unwritten companion, ‘Hate your enemy.’ 44  I’m challenging that. I’m telling you to love your enemies. Let them bring out the best in you, not the worst. When someone gives you a hard time, respond with the energies of prayer,  Matthew 5:38-44 (MSG)

I look up to the mountains— does my help come from there? 2  My help comes from the LORD, who made heaven and earth! 3  He will not let you stumble; the one who watches over you will not slumber. 4  Indeed, he who watches over Israel never slumbers or sleeps. 5  The LORD himself watches over you! The LORD stands beside you as your protective shade. 6  The sun will not harm you by day, nor the moon at night. 7  The LORD keeps you from all harm and watches over your life. 8  The LORD keeps watch over you as you come and go, both now and forever.   Psalm 121:1-8 (NLT)

“Here am I Lord,  I’ve come to do Your will, Here am I Lord, In Your presence, I am still” (1) 

5 “Meditate on this slowly: I am asked for very little compared to how much I am being given.”  (2)

It is, I know personally, a struggle to deal with some people.

I witnessed it in the past few days, as several people I know were offended (not at the same time), and found myself extremely frustrated by the way I was treated. It literally took me a couple of hours, and some distraction to deal with my own frustration.  No, let me be honest, it wasn’t just frustration, there was some anger that was beginning to settle in and take residence in my heart.

The first reading, especially the italicized part, came to mind in the shower this morning.  Except in the older translations sense, this is the passage about “turning the other cheek”.  But I think Peterson does a good job in getting the heart of the matter.  I’ve heard a lot of people “explain” this passage, trying to get out of what we are called to do, trying to justify their own anger, or resentment.  We try to justify our thirst for revenge by saying we want to stop them from doing this to others. Or that Jesus couldn’t have had what this person did…

Skip past the second passage for a moment, it was part of my devotions this morning, as were the two short extra-biblical readings.  Look at them.

From the Celtic Prayer Book, we find the idea that serving God sometimes means standing still.  Psalm 46 comes to mind, but that to is written amidst a storm, against threats.  Written by one who was no stranger to war, and yet must trust God to deliver the stillness, to deliver the victory!  What a challenge when you know how to treat those who oppress and attack us.  Can I be still in those times?  Confident in God’s presence and His strength and His desire to work in my life?

Even as I read that, the next part of my devotions include this little passage by St. Josemaria.  And I think that I have done far worse to Jesus, and perhaps to others, than was said to me.   I think of the others I know, that I observed getting offended, Yeah – we, the offended, the oppressed are not innocent of similar offenses, we don’t have the right to cast the first stone, for the One who would crush us, died for us instead. That puts things into better perspective, as I realize how blessed we are, how the times we’ve offended people were paid for, as Christ proved the depth of God’s love for us by coming and living among us, by dying, by rising, by ascending and He still is there, at the right hand of God the Father, interceding for us.

His ministry to us, through us, isn’t over, until the last sinner/saint has come home.

That is where the second reading, my psalm of the day comes into this discussion.  Do I trust God at these words? Do I know my help is coming from on high?  Do I realize that He doesn’t sleep, Do I realize that what happens to me will work out for good somehow, for this is His promise.  The promise of the crucified Lord.  The promise of God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit?

In the words of a man who needed to know God’s deliverance….

Yes, I believe, Lord help me believe.

A form of a heart depth’s cry for the Lord’s compassion…. and the hope, the expectation that we will know it.  AMEN

 

(1)  Meditations for day 17, Celtic Daily Prayer 

(2)Escriva, Josemaria (2011-01-31). Furrow (Kindle Locations 261-262). Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition.

Merry Christmas, Peace and our “RIghts”

christmas tree

christmas tree (Photo credit: fsse8info)

Devitional Thought of the day:

“As much as possible, and to the utmost of your ability, be at peace with everyone.”. Romans 12:18 (NJB)

 3b  Put yourself aside, and help others get ahead. 4  Don’t be obsessed with getting your own advantage. Forget yourselves long enough to lend a helping handPhilippians 2:3-4 (MSG)

15  But have reverence for Christ in your hearts, and honor him as Lord. Be ready at all times to answer anyone who asks you to explain the hope you have in you, 16  but do it with gentleness and respect.  1 Peter 3:15-16a (TEV) 

I hope this post offends as many people as possible:  Merry Christmas” – (facebook meme from National Liberty Foundation)

My son has had a number of homework projects recently where he had to determine which thing doesn’t belong with the others. You know, where you have 3 circles and a triangle, or 3 clowns and a cowboy.  Look at one of the above statements, does one not belong?  Is there one not in harmony with the others?

In recent years, there has been much disagreement about Christmas.  Some want to ban the phrase “Merry Christmas”, or get rid of historic public displays, some secular and yes some religious, that focus on Christmas. Others want to protect “their rights” of free speech and their traditions and memories of Christmas. Sometimes these discussions (and the facebook posts that follow) can get a bit vehement, and nasty, like the post above.

Seeing it in the context of scripture, we hear the dissonance, we hear that the author’s “rights” trump the nature of the very Holy Day they say they want to protect. It is sadly ironi.

But is their an obligation for Christians to surrender their rights, not to the government, but out of love for others?  Is there an obligation to no react in this way, demanding that we get our way, rather than taking the time to explain the reason for our hope is seen in the fact that God came to dwell with us?  To assure us of His love and desire for us to dwell in His presence, even at the cost of the cross? Even at the cost of Christ bearing all our sin? Can we explain these things with gentleness and respect, as we dwell in the peace of Christ we want them to share? Can we forget ourselves and invest our time in those who would oppose Christianity because they haven’t heard why it is good news? Can we love them more than our rights?  Can we like the deacon Stephen in the Book of Acts, actually love and bless those who would oppress us? ( I dare not say persecute – because in this country we’ve lost all sense of the concept of Martyrdom)

Or has our “rights” become an idol we need to protect?

Or can we, in love, lay aside our “rights”, in the hope of showing people the love and will of  a God who would come to us?

Some tought thoughts, as we look at Christmas during advent.  Not as tough as when we realize that people live without the hope we know, and God sends us to them… to bring His love.

Lord have mercy on us, and help us to have a heart like Christ… who put serving those who were lost above His own rights.

%d bloggers like this: