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The Strongest People in Times of Crisis

jesus-cross-summit-cross-37737Devotional Thought of the Day:
4  Love is patient and kind. Love is not jealous or boastful or proud 5  or rude. It does not demand its own way. It is not irritable, and it keeps no record of being wronged. 6  It does not rejoice about injustice but rejoices whenever the truth wins out. 7  Love never gives up, never loses faith, is always hopeful, and endures through every circumstance.  1 Corinthians 13:4-7 (NLT2)

What made saints, saints? What makes the cynical, skeptical world turn its head at a Mother Teresa? What made the hard-nosed Roman Empire convert to the religion of a crucified Jewish carpenter? The world did not say: “See how they explain one another!” but “See how they love one another!” The most effective argument for Christianity is Christians who are saints, lovers. The saints are the Spirit’s salesmen. You cannot argue with a saint. He would just kiss you, as Jesus did to Judas and as He did to the Grand Inquisitor in Dostoyevski’s parable in The Brothers Karamazov. How do you fight love? You don’t. You lose. That is, you win.

Unity does not come about by polemics nor by academic argument but by the radiance of Easter joy; this is what leads to the core of the Christian profession, namely: Jesus is risen. This leads, too, to the core of our humanity, which yearns for this joy with its every fiber. So it is this Easter joy which is fundamental to all ecumenical and missionary activity; this is where Christians should vie with each other; this is what they should show forth to the world.

I encountered the reading from Kreeft first this morning and knew it would be part of these thoughts. It hits the basic thought I have about ministry and evangelism – it is not about appealing to logic and reason – it is about loving people.

Kreeft mentions Jesus allowing Judas to embrace him, and one can think of the deacon Stephen, loving the people who were torturing and stoning him.  The stories of such saints are easy to find, even if they are hard to understand how people can love so completely!

Loving like this is hard, it requires sacrifice, It requires humility, it requires all the things that 1 Corinthians 13 discusses.

But then I came across Pope Benedict’s (aka Joseph Ratzinger) words, and the idea of how we can love others appears – we love them because we are united in Jesus. The death and resurrection of Christ, the purest love ever seen in history, unites us in a way that nothing else can. At the cross, we all have died to sin and been raised, without that sins eternal stain. All that was there to not love about another person has been done away with, all that remains of it is a shadow.

In the resurrection, we not only see the power of love, we are enveloped by it, transformed by it, we are united to it, united to the God who is love.

And therefore, unity is possible.

Therefore, there is hope.

You want to know how to remain strong in this time, know God loves you, then ask Him to help you love others.

It makes all the difference.

Lord, help us revel in Your love, help us soak it in, to the extent that loving others is a natural inclination.  † Amen!

Joseph Ratzinger, The Feast of Faith: Approaches to a Theology of the Liturgy, trans. Graham Harrison (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1986), 131.

Peter Kreeft, The God Who Loves You (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 2004), 133.

Understanding the Wrath of a Loving God.

Tomb Empty With Shroud And Crucifixion At Sunrise - Resurrection

Devotional Thought of the Day:
10  But it was the LORD’s good plan to crush him and cause him grief. Yet when his life is made an offering for sin, he will have many descendants. He will enjoy a long life, and the LORD’s good plan will prosper in his hands. 11  When he sees all that is accomplished by his anguish, he will be satisfied. And because of his experience, my righteous servant will make it possible for many to be counted righteous, for he will bear all their sins.    Isaiah 53:10-11 (NLT2)

But the Old Testament speaks of God’s wrath as well as God’s love. So does the New. What is the wrath of God then? Is it real or not?
It is real, but it is not part of God Himself. God is not half love and half wrath, or 99 percent love and 1 percent wrath. God is love. Wrath is how His love appears to us when we sin or rebel or run away from Him. The very light that is meant to help us appears to us as our enemy when we seek the darkness. The mother’s embrace can appear as the worst imaginable torture to the angry child who wants only to fight. Thus some of the saints say the very fires of Hell are made of the love of God but experienced as wrath by the spiritually insane.

Over the years, I’ve encountered two primary attitudes toward the idea of God’s wrath.

Neither is accurate.

The first is to ignore or deny that God can and will pour out His wrath on those who choose to dwell in sin. This usually goes along with the fact that we disagree with what sin is, as we defend those we love engaged in it, or we rejoice in that form of sin ourselves. Because of this, we simply can fathom how God could be so mad at the sin as to condemn us for it.

The second used to be more prevalent in the church, and that is to see wrath as purely an action that is driven by God’s righteous anger. Those lousy people (and sometimes including us) deserve to get punished, and God gets painted as a sadist who enjoys watching them suffer.  In reality, the sadist (or masochist if we think we deserve the wrath) is us.  We see a lot of this in those people who have wanted to portray this virus (and the ones before it like AIDS) as a form of God’s almighty anger, and a foretaste of the wrath to come at the judgment.

Both are wrong, and in my opinion, so change the image of God that they are heretical.

Ezekiel tells us several times that God does not take joy in the death of the wicked. he also divinely shares that repentance by those who are evil will see them forgiven, not punished, restored, not condemned.  Let me say it again, God doesn’t take joy in the wicked. Never has, never will.

Similarly,  the Apostle Peter tells us that God is patient with us because He doesn’t want any of us to perish. The apocryphal picture of Peter at the gate of heaven allowing some and barring others is misleading – Peter and the church being given the keys is about freeing people from bondage – allowing them to enter the kingdom of God (Matthew 16) even as the church rocks the gates of hell to free people from its embrace.

Are there good people that will reject God that Ezekiel mentions? Yes

Are there people who will choose the bondage of sin, despite the availability of grace and forgiveness, surely.

And this is where God’s wrath comes in, not from a sense of anger, but the sense of love. While we may see it as punitive, the goal for God is restorative.  It is not contrary to His nature of love, but love requires it.  Kreeft makes this point clear above in the words shared purple – a point that C.S. Lewis wrote an entire book (the Great Divorce) to demonstrate. Simply put, those who end up suffering in Hell would choose their idol and their sin, they would embrace its cost, rather than enjoy the presence of God.

Only once has it pleased God to pour out His wrath, and that was on Jesus.

It was God’s good plan this translation says, others say it gave God pleasure, it pleased Him, to pour out that wrath on Jesus.

On Jesus…

No one else.

And the satisfaction of restoring people to God is all worth it.  The satisfaction for restoring you to God was why Jesus endured the cross – that is the glory was Hebrews 12 describes.

All other times God disciplines and pours out His wrath is the hardest act of love, the ay to embracing an angry child, for, in that embrace, Jesus takes into Himself our sin, and pays the price.

With that understanding of God’s wrath, we no longer have to deny it, we no longer have to project it on others. We now longer have to judge and condemn, we can simply urge people to let God love them and to rejoice as He does, and they change, relaxing and knowing His peace.

Peter Kreeft, The God Who Loves You (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 2004), 128.

Is God Causing Pandemic To Make You Suffer for Your Sins? Here is the answer

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

Photo by Wouter de Jong on Pexels.com

Devotional Thought of the Day:

 As Jesus was walking along, he saw a man who had been blind from birth.2 “Rabbi,” his disciples asked him, “why was this man born blind? Was it because of his own sins or his parents’ sins?”3“It was not because of his sins or his parents’ sins,”Jesus answered.“This happened so the power of God could be seen in him.4We must quickly carry out the tasks assigned us by the one who sent us.The night is coming, and then no one can work.5But while I am here in the world, I am the light of the world.”   John 9:1-5 (NLT2)

But some may say, “It is my complaint that my sufferings cannot be compared with the sufferings of the saints. I am a sinner and do not deserve to be compared with them. They suffered for their innocence, but I suffer for my sins. Little wonder that they bore everything so blithely!” That is a very stupid statement. If you suffer because of your sins, then you ought to rejoice that you are being purged of your sins. Then, too, were not the saints also sinners?

During my life, I have noticed that after disasters and major challenges, some groups come out and blame the trauma on the fact that someone has sinned. They blindly say this epidemic or that earthquake, or whatever tragedy is because of this groups’ sin.

Glad I haven’t seen that so far… I really don’t want to get that angry.

But it is a question that has been asked before.  While I wouldn’t call it stupid the way Luther did, it does show a lack of knowledge about God., about His love for you and the incredible depth of His mercy.  These things aren’t new, the love and mercy is gloriously rampant throughout the Old Testament and the New Testament.

God doesn’t punish this group of sinners less than that group.  For all have sinned – we see that in the world, and of course scripture acknowledges it.  Even the “heroes” and holy prophets did. They had their time of weakness, scripture has no problem showing us that!

But even in the midst of our suffering, we can see God at work, using the moment to bring us back, to cleanse us of our sin, to reveal to us again that we are saints, that we are the people He is healing who have been broken by sin, even shattered by it. Yet God can and does put us back together.

The power of God seen in us… healing our brokenness, while using us to help heal others.

What a glorious thing!

Lord, help us just look to you!  Help us to depend on Your love and mercy. Help us to rejoice in Your glorious work that is revealed in our lives, even during this time of pandemic.  We pray this in the Namr of the Father, and of the Son † and of the Holy Spirit!  Amen!

Martin Luther, Luther’s Works, Vol. 42: Devotional Writings I, ed. Jaroslav Jan Pelikan, Hilton C. Oswald, and Helmut T. Lehmann, vol. 42 (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1999), 140.

Encounter God – Sermon #1 Encounter God in the Midst of Sin

Encounter God… in the Midst of Sin?
Genesis 3:1-21

† In Jesus Name †

May the grace of God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ enable you to know He ill always provide for you.

 Where are you?

In the series we are starting today, we are going to look at a number of people who encountered God in scripture. Each one is different, each has a story to tell, a story that many of us will relate to, stories we can learn from, which will cause us to grow in our faith, that will help us to depend on God longer.

Just as these people did, many of them the hard way.

Just like us!

So we start with Adam and Eve.

Where it all started! Or perhaps one may say ended.

The encounter we are looking at is probably the scariest encounter with God that could exist.

And it is one of the best that you can have, prior to judgment day.

The Encounter

I’m not going to rehash Adam and Even’s sin, most of us know the story, and they acted like most people.  You tell them not to doo something, and they do it.

Well, most people except Tom and Chuck.  They always do what they are told to do…
That is assuming they hear it.
So let’s start with the question God asks,

WHERE ARE YOU!!!

Adam, Eve?  Where are you?

Are you over here???  No.  What about here???  No… Hmmm, I wonder where they are!

Some people I know think that God is outraged, furious, storming all over the place.

I think this worked out more like a very concerned parent, but one that wants to care for His children.

He knows exactly where they are.  He knows what they’ve done, and that they are scared, that they feel guilty, they are buried in shame, and they even know what it means to be ashamed.

And He cries out with the care and compassion that is appropriate for God who is love,

Adam, Eve, where are you!?!?!

God’s Action

Every sermon I have written or heard on this passage focuses on what Adam and Even have done, and sometimes takes a theological side trip talking about who is to blame. But I think we need to look closer to God’s action.

First, He goes after them

Then, He gets to the basic issue, patiently brushing aside the blame game.

You ate… yes?

uh..uh.. yeah, but…

And what did you do,…

Uhh.. yeah I did, but I was deceived…

Despite their “explanations”, despite their trying to minimize what they did, despite all of their fears and anxieties, They knew the punishment now, and the idea of death was no longer a stranger. I would like to say I don’t know what they are going through, but been there, hiding from God.

Waiting for Him to tell me I was completely lost… completely beyond His forgiveness, beyond His love.

And as God shares the complications they invited into their own lives, the curses they chose, Includes something else.

What Luther called the first gospel ever preached, and it was preached at the Devil, “And I will cause hostility between you and the woman and between your offspring and her offspring. He will strike your head, and you will strike his heel”

By the way, that is why you see a snake in many of the old pictures of the crucifixion, for that is where Jesus crushes that snake, Satan.

And then, there is the second prophecy,

21  And the LORD God made clothing from animal skins for Adam and his wife.

The LORD God kills something, to cover the sins, that should have resulted in His killing Adam and Eve. He provides what is needed, and though there are consequences, the result is that they are still His children, they are still the ones He loves, that He will always care form that He always has…

So where are you?

So now I have a question, well, I don’t,

God does.

Here Him asking you “Where are you?”

Where are you?

What have YOU done?

Don’t worry about excuses, don’t worry about the name game,

Just respond, and hear this,

14  Instead, clothe yourself with the presence of the Lord Jesus Christ. Romans 13:14 (NLT2)

Does that sound familiar?  God clothed Adam and Eve with animal skins. Animals had to die in order for the guilt and shame to be taken away.

He’s done the same thing with Jesus.  He died for one purpose, to ensure that the Father doesn’t have to cry out, “where are you?

And can instead cry out, “I love you!”

No longer do we have to hide, for we are beginning to know His love and compassion will find us, and the promise of forgiveness applied, even more surely than the promise was made and forgiveness applied to Adam and Eve.

This is what it means when we say in a couple of weeks, “Alleluia!  Christ is Risen!”

O wait, we aren’t supposed to say that… yet.

Too bad!

We need to hear it.

For sometimes still think we need to hide, sometimes we still think that guilt and shame are the norms.

No more my friends, for we have, in the midst of our sin, encountered a God who wouldn’t let us hide anymore!

He’s been calling, and the best thing you can do is listen, and hear Him say, I love you!

Then, as He carefully deals with your sin, you will realize this is one of the best encounters you will ever have in this life…

and His peace, a peace beyond comparison, a peace beyond all logic, will replace the guilt and shame… and you will realize you always have dwelt in His presence.  AMEN!

When the Struggle is Real….

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

Photo by Wouter de Jong on Pexels.com

Devotional Thought of the Day:

24  The LORD doesn’t hate or despise the helpless in all of their troubles. When I cried out, he listened and did not turn away. 25  When your people meet, you will fill my heart with your praises, LORD, and everyone will see me keep my promises to you. 26  The poor will eat and be full, and all who worship you will be thankful and live in hope. Psalm 22:24-26 (CEV)

Joshua, please come and rescue us! The Amorite kings from the hill country have joined together and are attacking us. We are your servants, so don’t let us down. Please hurry!” Joshua 10:6 CEV

Grace and mercy are there where Christ on the cross takes your sin from you, bears it for you, and destroys it. To believe this firmly, to keep it before your eyes and not to doubt it, means to view the picture of Christ and to engrave it in yourself. Likewise, all the saints who suffer and die in Christ also bear your sins and suffer and labor for you, as we find it written, “Bear one another’s burdens and thus fulfil the command of Christ” [Gal. 6:2]. Christ himself exclaims in Matthew 11 [:28], “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy-laden, and I will help you.” In this way you may view your sins in safety without tormenting your conscience. Here sins are never sins, for here they are overcome and swallowed up in Christ.

I sat in the E.R. hallway, trying to come up with something to calm my anxious soul.  The lady, screaming profanities at the top of her voice didn’t help, but I was able to pray for her, and the staff that tried to calm her down. The flood of traffic, and the delay at seeing how I was bothered and comforted me at the same time.  After all, if they were really worried about me, wouldn’t they have me in a bed, and be constantly looking in on me?

So I sat in the hall… trying to block out the noises, trying to find some sort of peace.

My prayer was not so different from the people sending word to Joshua ( whose name is shared with our Savior Jesus) Lord have mercy!  Come help… make everything all right.

It took a while, six hours later to say I had severe gas bloating….

Six hours that seemed like a year.

As I have struggled with a few serious health issues over there, I will admit, I have wondered if God hates me. I have wondered if this sin or that is not forgiven, and that is why I have to suffer. I wonder if the suffering I help people endure in the churches I pastor is my fault, It is not a challenge to spiral, to let depression or anxiety fill the space where I forgot God was…

He is still there of course, as Psalm 22 reminds us.  He has not forsaken us in our sufferings, He is there. Reminding each other of that..of God who is present, who is merciful, who is loving,,. well, that is how we carry each other’s burdens.

As to sin being the cause of our personal suffering, and the suffering all around us, consider the words Luther was able to pen…

Here sins are never sins… for here they are overcome and swallowed up in Christ!

Be at peace, Christ has not only overcome the world, He has overcome your world.

 

Martin Luther, Luther’s Works, Vol. 42: Devotional Writings I, ed. Jaroslav Jan Pelikan, Hilton C. Oswald, and Helmut T. Lehmann, vol. 42 (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1999), 105.

God’s Awkward Love…. for us

woman wearing black shirt

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Devotional Thoughts for the Day

Please, LORD, remember, you have always been patient and kind. 7 Forget each wrong I did when I was young. Show how truly kind you are and remember me. 8 You are honest and merciful, and you teach sinners how to follow your path. Psalm 25:6-8  CEV

To try to understand what sin is, one must first recognize the profound relation of man to God, for only in this relationship is the evil of sin unmasked in its true identity as humanity’s rejection of God and opposition to him, even as it continues to weigh heavy on human life and history.

In the second place, righteousness consists of this, that having known and judged ourselves, we do not despair before God’s judgment seat, before which we plead guilty in this petition, but that we seek refuge in God’s mercy and firmly trust that he will deliver us from our disobedience to his will

Yes, beloved believer, you and I have had times of refreshing from the presence of the Lord, and then our faith has mounted to the topmost heights of assurance. We have had confidence to lean our heads upon the bosom of our Lord, and we have no more questioned our Master’s affection to us than John did when in that blessed posture; nay, nor so much: for the dark question, “Lord, is it I that shall betray thee?” has been put far from us. He has kissed us with the kisses of his mouth, and killed our doubts by the closeness of his embrace. His love has been sweeter than wine to our souls.

I struggled with including the last sentence of the quote from Spurgeon.  It is awkward-sounding, extremely awkward-sounding to my ears, and I wondered how people would take it. But after delaying writing this devotion for an hour or so, I decided it needs to stay, but the journey towards it has to be taken, so be patient, and I will explain why.

First, let’s go up to the quote from the Roman Catholic Catechism and the definition of sin.  Sin isn’t about breaking the rules, not really.  As the Catechism points out, it can only be defined in view of the relationship between man and God.  It is a betrayal of the worse kind, a complete discounting of the relationship God desires with us. It calls to mind the pain of Judas’s kiss, that greeting when we calmly indicate God isn’t wanted in our lives, unless He plays by our rules, and takes on the form of the obedient servant.  (which we sometimes think is what He wants – but again – that isn’t what He set up!) Rome is right, we all to often embrace the weight of sin, and the misery it causes, and has caused throughout history.

Luther’s words provide a nice response to that. The first step, judge yourself and plead guilty of sins.  Second Step, do so with the vision of being cleansed clear in your mind, seeking refuge in God’s mercy.  Step three, depend on God that He will, no He has delivered us from this body, dead in sin.

But this is by no means a clinical process, a procedure that can be followed step by step, simply reciting some prayers we don’t hear the words of, as we’ve said them too many times. We need to think about the damage we’ve done, the pain we’ve caused, the grief, not to punish ourselves more, but to appreciate what God does, when He forgives those sins.  I like how the CEV translates Psalm 25, full of that confidence, yet with the childlike wonder that asks the impossible, knowing God our Father will make it happen.

WHich is where Spurgeon’s awkward passage comes in, where we are so distraught by our sin, that Jesus has to hold us and assure us that He is putting that sin far away from us, and the thoughts about it too.   Embracing us, not with sensuality, but with the intimate tenderness that puts an end to our distress.  Embracing us in a way that counter’s Judas’s kiss.

Yes it is awkwardly written, for us who live in a different time, and culture. Then again, it is awkward going up to someone you betrayed, and asking them if they can make it right, if they can forgive, and forget, and heal the brokenness that we caused.  Awkward, completely awkward.  Horribly awkward.

Confession has to be awkward, but even more awkward is the forgiveness that follows..And the assurance of God’s love, which we broken people need!.

And we need to hear His voice telling us we are forgiven, we are loved, and He will be with us… until He brings us home.

That’s awkward, and we need it… and He provides it.

To God be the glory, for great things He has done!

Catholic Church, Catechism of the Catholic Church, 2nd Ed. (Vatican City: Libreria Editrice Vaticana, 1997), 97.

Martin Luther, Luther’s Works, Vol. 42: Devotional Writings I, ed. Jaroslav Jan Pelikan, Hilton C. Oswald, and Helmut T. Lehmann, vol. 42 (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1999), 43.

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

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

Concordia Christmas Eve 2015

The Relationships of Christmas Past
Genesis 44:30-44

† In Jesus Name †

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

Haunted

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

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

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

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

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

Our Relationships of Christmas Past

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

Others are missing for a different reason.

Our sin.

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

Or can I?

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

I could easily share in the words of Judah,

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

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

It is hard to hear God answer no…

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

But our Brother can..

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

But that isn’t why God says “no”

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

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

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

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

______________________________________________________________

The Relationships of Christmas Present
Genesis 45:-18a

† I.H.S. †

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

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

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

So now we come to the Relationships of Christmas Present…

In this moment!

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

Not our sin this time… “theirs!”

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

Joseph’s attitude:

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

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

If only… we could love more than we hurt…

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

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

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

The Key To Healing Relationships of Christmas Present

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

__________________________________________________________________

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

In Jesus Name

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

The Journey Past and Present

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

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

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

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

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

What the King has in mind

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I Must GO – His Son is really alive!

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

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

It reminds me of Joseph’s words,

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

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

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

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

Therefore, We ARE RISEN INDEED,

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

 

 

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

Good News Bible
Devotional Thought fo the Day

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

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

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

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

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

It is painful to face my own mortality again.

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

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

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

He chose not to.

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

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

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

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

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

Rejoice my friends, rejoice.


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

Great Expectations for the Church in America

The church, is always in the midst of a storm… but safe in Him

Devotional Thought of the Day:

9 As Jesus was leaving, he saw a tax collectorq named Matthew sitting at the place for paying taxes. Jesus said to him, “Come with me.” Matthew got up and went with him.
†10 Later, Jesus and his disciples were having dinner at Matthew’s house.r Many tax collectors and other sinners were also there. 11 Some Pharisees asked Jesus’ disciples, “Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and other sinners?”
12 Jesus heard them and answered, “Healthy people don’t need a doctor, but sick people do. †13 Go and learn what the Scriptures mean when they say, ‘Instead of offering sacrifices to me, I want you to be merciful to others.’ I didn’t come to invite good people to be my followers. I came to invite sinners.”
Matt. 9:9-13 CEV

Faith never prospers so well as when all things are against her: tempests are her trainers, and lightnings are her illuminators. When a calm reigns on the sea, spread the sails as you will, the ship moves not to its harbour; for on a slumbering ocean the keel sleeps too.

In the readings for the course I am in, I am finding great hope for the church, even the church in the United States and Europe. The times are similar to the times when great revivals broke out in our past, when people began to worship God, abandoning all else.

The statisticians and consultants will tell you different, but their projections of based on recent trends, and on philosophies that place the future of the church in the hands of the pastors, and those who train and equip them. If it is up to us, this indeed may be the post Christian and post church era. THinking about it more, no not maybe – it is.

But what is our downfall, can be turned into the very thing that will bring revival to our land. For when we fail, maybe some will call us back to what brings revival.

Faith.

This is the time when our faith, that wonderful gift of depending on God for everything in life becomes reality. When in the despair of the storm, we reach out to the Lord who is with us, and He leaves us in awe, as the storm obeys His commands.

It is when we realize that Matthew, that we can join Jesus on His mission to heal the hearts and minds and souls of people, (and when we realize that includes our hearts and minds and souls) that movement in the church happens. When we grieve over our sins, and are comforted by the power of the Holy Spirit, who draws us into God’s presence.

This is what Matthew’s gospel is talking about, when it says that Christ came to invite sinners to be His followers. As the Holy Spirit draws them to Jesus, the church will stop its slumbering, it will stop its decline.

Not because of great preaching, but simply revealing Christ. Not because of powerful praise bands or stunning choirs, but because we simply begin to experience the grace of God, poured out on us, and knowing the relief, the joy, the power of God’s work, we invite other sinners to join Him, depending on Him, and letting all else, including sin, drop to the side.

We are at a point in the church’s life in America where we will realize that our perfect liturgies, our dynamic programs, our logic and theology, our programs won’t grow the church, nor stop it from dying.. The only thing that can is the Holy Spirit, healing sinners by drawing them to Christ Jesus. And those sinners depending on Him. ANd that includes you and I.

Heavenly Father, stir us sinners by the power of the Holy Spirit, to respond to Your invitation follow Jesus, to walk with Him. Help us to welcome the Spirit’s healing our hearts, souls and minds, and not just ours, but those in our community. We pray this in Jesus name! AMEN!

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



Our Biggest Struggle with Sin? We Don’t Understand it!

God, who am I?

Devotional THought of the Day:

15 You are doomed! In your fury you humiliated and disgraced your neighbors; you made them stagger as though they were drunk. 16 You in turn will be covered with shame instead of honor. You yourself will drink and stagger. The LORD will make you drink your own cup of punishment, and your honor will be turned to disgrace. 17 You have cut down the forests of Lebanon; now you will be cut down. You killed its animals; now animals will terrify you. This will happen because of the murders you have committed and because of your violence against the people of the world and its cities.e
18 What’s the use of an idol? It is only something that a human being has made, and it tells you nothing but lies. What good does it do for its maker to trust it—a god that can’t even talk! 19 You are doomed! You say to a piece of wood, “Wake up!” or to a block of stone, “Get up!” Can an idol reveal anything to you? It may be covered with silver and gold, but there is no life in it
. Habakkuk 2:15-19 GNT

Indeed, when we refuse to make the effort to understand God’s dealings with humanity or to study the Bible and whatever may help us understand it, we rebel against the express will of God. For God commands us to love him with all our mind as well as with all our heart, soul and strength (Mark 12:30; compare Proverbs 1–8). We can therefore say on scriptural grounds that it is the will of God that we study his ways of communicating with us. Rejecting this thoughtful, careful study is not faith, and it does not spring from faith. It is the rejection of the God-appointed means to God-appointed goals.

Most people don’t like to talk about sin.

Let’s be honest, unless a pastor is a sadist, he doesn’t like to talk about it either. He has to, for the sake of the people he is talking to, and for the sake of those they interact with, who have the same problem with sin.

We don’t understand it.

In some cases, we don’t want to understand it. We’d just rather enjoy it, or enjoy not struggling with it, and deal with the consequences later. Take it from me, as a pastor I am not just an advocate against sin, unfortunately I am a skilled practitioner, you might even say an expert in the field. ( the Apostle Paul was as well. ( 1 Timothy 1:16)

When I read Dr. Willard’s words about refusing to make the effort to understand God’s dealing with humanity, the passage I read earlier from scripture came immediately to mind. We don’t understand why God doesn’t like sin, we just know He doesn’t, and that there are punitive action against it. So we run and hide from Him, or we deny He says this is sin, or that is.

But we don’t understand sin, we don’t realize the chaos and pain it generates, we can’t see reality the way God does. And rather than looking at the scriptures, to see the effect of sin there, we hide it, or deny it.

Habakkuk deals with it, especially the sin of idolatry, The punishment for sin is something we choose when we dwell on the sin in our thoughts, both the punishment in the now, and the eternal consequences we will have to deal with on Judgement Day.

But if we understand what sin does, the havoc it causes, both now and generations to come, we begin to see God’s problem with sin is not just our disobedience, but why He asks us to trust Him in that matter. Why he says, this isn’t good for you. In the case of worshipping idols, whether they be hand crafted or our retirement fund, or a person we think has it all together, the idol will fail! It can’t do anything for us, and it will leave us more empty than when we started.

He tells us not to sin, so that all will be good in our life, so we can avoid the brokenness, the emptiness that comes when guilt and shame are given control.

Instead, He would draw us back to Himself, heal us of our brokenness, rescue us from the consequences of our sin. Care for us, as He always has planned. THis is God, our God, who is here… and listens.

Maybe we should begin to, and as we read and stury scripture, come to realize how God wants to deal with us, and the sin that so easily ensnares us.

Trust Him…and know His peace!

Dallas Willard and Jan Johnson, Hearing God through the Year: A 365-Day Devotional (Westmont, IL: IVP Books, 2015).

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