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When the Struggle is Real….

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

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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).

God’s Shown Us That “WE are right!” (really?)

Photo by Ric Rodrigues on Pexels.com

Devotional Thought of the Day:

7 When you are full, you will refuse honey, but when you are hungry, even bitter food tastes sweet. Pr. 27:7 GNT

10 The LORD says, “My people shout, ‘The LORD has shown that we are in the right. Let’s go and tell the people in Jerusalem what the LORD our God has done.’ ” Jer 51:10 GNT

Last night I was half watching a football game when I heard cheering like someone had won the Superbowl. I looked up from the email I was reading, and saw the replay of a field goal kick that was good.

Really? That much cheering for a 3 point kick?

Then they showed how many kicks last year missed, or bounced off the field goal posts. One kick even hit the post and then the cross bar! The Bears fans were excited because of their past. They are like the people in the proverb – that even something bitter (they didn’t score a touchdown) can seem like an incredible victory.

I think that applies to the Christian faith, and how we read the Bible. A great example is how we select quotes without considering the context. The Jeremiah passage above is a great example.

I’ve heard people quote the first half of the verse – “WE ARE RIGHT! God says so!” We use that to back up some things where we are right, and somethings (like political views) that are at best questionable. And we triumphantly parade around like we’ve conquered the world.

Yet we overlook the second part of the passage, and indeed the context. There is say that we’ve got to tell every what God has done! Our being right has nothing to do with our actions, our works, our intelligence and logic. It has everything to do with God’s love for us, and the work He is doing.

You see that in the chapter before this. as God explains what will happen. Here is that verse from Isaiah 50,

20 When that time comes, no sin will be found in Israel and no wickedness in Judah, because I will forgive those people whose lives I have spared. I, the LORD, have spoken.” Jer. 50:20 GNT

Our we right? Are we free of sin? YES

Is it because we are perfect and don’t sin? NO

It is because God has spared us, that God has forgiven us and cleansed. He has spoken in the life, death, burial and resurrection of Jesus, and in that declared we are sinless, that we are right.

This being “right” isn’t something to be proud of, it is something to be in awe of, because we know what it took to get us to be right!

And yes, we should go and tell everyone what God has done. Including a humble and loving approach to those who we think we have victory over. Look at Luther talks about praying for them.

The third petition: “Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” Say, “Ah, dear Lord God and Father, you know how the world is. Where it cannot completely reduce your name to nothing and entirely destroy your kingdom, they go around day and night with evil thoughts and devious plots. They devise many snares and strange assaults, take counsel and conspire, comfort and strengthen themselves, rant and rave, and proceed full of evil intentions against your name, word, kingdom, and children as they murder them. Therefore, dear Lord God and Father, deter and convert them. Convert those who will yet come to recognize your good will, that they with us and we with them may obey your will and, further, that they may patiently and gladly suffer all evil, the cross, and adversity, and thereby recognize, explore, and consciously experience your good, gracious, and perfect will.

We need to grow, and desire that this victory is not just “ours.” We need to share the victory, this being right with everyone, so God can convert them by revealing to them His love and mercy, that we might be one.

Lord Jesus, help us to appreciate what You have accomplished for us, Your working in making us right, and making sure no sin is found in us sinners. Lord help us to realize that this is what it means when we declare we are “right” and help us to see others in need of this as well. AMEN!

Martin Luther, Luther’s Spirituality, ed. Philip D. W. Krey, Bernard McGinn, and Peter D. S. Krey, trans. Peter D. S. Krey and Philip D. W. Krey, The Classics of Western Spirituality (New York; Mahwah, NJ: Paulist Press, 2007), 219.

Real People + Real Life Problems + Real God = Real Christianity

Devotional Thought of the Day:

27  Gideon made a sacred ephod from the gold and put it in Ophrah, his hometown. But soon all the Israelites prostituted themselves by worshiping it, and it became a trap for Gideon and his family.
Judges 8:27 (NLT2)

2  He was twenty-five years old when he became king, and he reigned in Jerusalem twenty-nine years. His mother was Abijah, the daughter of Zechariah. 3  He did what was pleasing in the LORD’s sight, just as his ancestor David had done. 4  He removed the pagan shrines, smashed the sacred pillars, and cut down the Asherah poles. He broke up the bronze serpent that Moses had made, because the people of Israel had been offering sacrifices to it. The bronze serpent was called Nehushtan. 2 Kings 18:2-4 (NLT2)

It says, “I called upon the Lord” (118:5). You must learn to call. (You have heard that well.) Do not sit by yourself or lie on your bed hanging and wagging your head and devouring yourself with your thoughts by worrying. So do not strive and struggle to free yourself, and do not dwell on how badly it is going for you, how miserable you are, and how much you are suffering as a person. But get up, you lazy scoundrel, get down on your knees, lift your hands and your eyes to heaven, recite a psalm or the Lord’s Prayer, and place your trouble with tears before God. Complain and call upon God, as this verse teaches, as well as Psalm 142:2: “I pour out my trouble before God, I tell God my trouble.” Similarly, Psalm 141:2: “Let my prayer be counted as incense before you, and the lifting up of my hands as an evening sacrifice.” Here you learn that praying, taking your troubles to God, and lifting your hands are the most pleasing offerings to God. God longs for you, wants you to bring your troubles, and does not want you to multiply your troubles by letting them weigh on you having you carry them around, torture yourself, and be the martyr. God wants you to be too weak to carry these troubles and overcome them by yourself so that you learn to
find your strength in God. Thus you will glorify God’s strength in you. In this way people become real Christians
.

Last week I heard an interesting lecture, where the speaker proposed that the modern church has begun to worship… well worship. One of his point was the way we “market” our churches, as we will spend great energy extolling our traditional worship with excellent choirs, ancient hymns, or our amazing contemporary worship, blah blah, blah.

We may not even get around to telling them our main mission, revealing to them the love of God, drawing them into a relationship with Him where they will find hope and healing as they realize how present He is in their lives.

I am going to have to watch that video over, because I think he is right. Our worship wars of the 70’s-90’s have resulted in this, we treasure our worship style more than the One we worship. We have done what the people of God did with Gideon’s breastplate, and with the Bronze Serpent. We have made our work the focus, and we pin our hope for the church on organs or keyboards, on choirs or praise teams, and we’ve left God out of the picture.

In comparison, look at this passage from Luther, and the way he describes prayer. Look at the way he shows us to dialogue with God, raw, blunt, harsh, pouring out everything on our hearts. In a word, a dialogue that is as intimate as anything we’ve experienced.

God won’t blast us for sharing our doubts our anxieties, our troubles. Luther notes this is pleasing to God, this is what He desires. As odd as it sounds to us, it is the picture we see in scripture, that God would pick us up, that He will allow us ot be weak enough that we realize that we aren’t alone, that there is a relationship we need, with Him. Christianity isn’t about being strong, it is about being vulnerable, and allowing God to do what a God should do, care for His creation.

That knowledge of God’s care should cause us to remove the idols from our midst. It should reveal the emptiness of our idols, and cause us to hunger for a real God, who will help us with our real problems, This is what it means to be a real Christian, to be one of God’s people, to realize the relationship we have with God our provider. To realize His love, His tender mercy and how He provides for us.

Lord, help us to see you, and become more and more confident in Your presence. Help us pour out our hearts to You, knowing Your desire to dwell in our midst. AMEN!

Martin Luther, Luther’s Spirituality, ed. Philip D. W. Krey, Bernard McGinn, and Peter D. S. Krey, trans. Peter D. S. Krey and Philip D. W. Krey, The Classics of Western Spirituality (New York; Mahwah, NJ: Paulist Press, 2007), 210–211.

I Will Live! (and the Rest of the Story…)

Devotional Thought of the Day:

17  I will not die; instead, I will live and proclaim what the LORD has done. 18  He has punished me severely, but he has not let me die.
Psalm 118:17-18 (TEV)

It is in the wounds of Jesus where we are truly secure; there we encounter the boundless love of His heart.

To better evangelize the adorer must first be evangelized. He must let the merciful love of Christ heal him, liberate him, enlighten him, raise him. To the question ‘What does Jesus do in the Blessed Sacrament? ‘the Cure of Ars replied, ‘He waits for us’. There, Jesus veils His majesty so that we might dare to go speak with Him, as one friend to another. He tempers the ardour of His Heart for us to experience its sweet tenderness. On the Cross, Jesus turns hate into love and death into life. Similarly, in the Eucharist, Jesus performs the same wonder in us: He changes evil into good, darkness into light, fear into confidence. Pauline-Marie Jaricot, an untiring Apostle of charity, living in Lyon in the nineteenth century, sums up this personal transformation that takes place in the heart of adorers who allow the Spirit to change their hearts of stone into hearts of flesh:

I have heard verse 17 proclaimed with great power many times. It is a wonderful verse, and it should be proclaimed.

I think it is even more powerfully proclaimed when it is proclaimed from a point of recovery, a time when one is healing, but is so weak it is barely heard. It is the most powerful when said in the context of verse 18, as the realization dawns that I can get through this.

And I can speak of what the Lord has done! Not I can, but I will, I have to, for I didn’t think I would make it.

Several times in my life I have been there physically. After a cardiac arrest that killed me 5 times. Another time when I had two heart valves replaced, and again once when undergoing a procedure I didn’t think I would survive. ( Not a major one comparatively) But I know the feeling of waking up from anesthesia, and realizing, I am alive. It is shocking, for it is unexpected.

Spiritually, this happens when God has to circumcise our hearts, cutting away the sin which clings to our heart. This is easily seen as the punishment the Psalmist describes, as God has to subdue us, as He has to cleanse us of the sins we too often cling to, that we too often run to. As we refuse to see the damage that sin does, and how it leaves us broken, shattered, unable to relate to others, or find any comfort or peace.

But as the Holy Spirit has to “wound” us, we find another set of wounds, the wounds of Jesus. It is in those wounds that we find our how much we are loved, it is there we find security and peace, even as God removes the sin, and our healing begins anew.

That is why communion is so incredible, so needed in this broken world of ours. Go read the words in green again.

No, i meant it, I didn’t want to retype it all!

Go re-read it!

We need to find Jesus waiting for us, ready to begin again our healing. Ready to see us transformed, the power that raised Him from the dead at work in us.

Therefore we live, and will not die, and can tell what God has done….

Pope Francis, A Year with Pope Francis: Daily Reflections from His Writings, ed. Alberto Rossa (New York; Mahwah, NJ; Toronto, ON: Paulist Press; Novalis, 2013), 266.

Florian Racine, “Spiritual Fruits of Adoration in Parishes,” in From Eucharistic Adoration to Evangelization, ed. Alcuin Reid (London; New York: Burns & Oates, 2012), 202.

Get Dressed to… Be Served? A sermon on Luke 12:21-40

Be Dressed to…
Be Served
Luke 12:21-40

Jesus, Son, Savior

May the grace of God our Father, and the Lord Jesus Christ strengthen your faith, so that no only are you ready for Christ’s return, but that you wait with great joy and expectation!  AMEN!

Remembering the Long Nights

Reading the gospel, I was taken back nearly forty years, to my second job in 1980, washing dishes and doing all the grunt work, working 10 pm to 6 am – the graveyard shift.

Those nights were long, and hard at times, but there were some moments, especially as the morning sun light shattered the darkness, that are unforgettable. The peace, the beauty, the relief, I don’t know if I can find the words to explain it.

I think the time we are in, as we await the return of Jesus, is a lot like those dark nights.

As surely as the dawn came to end those nights, so to will our “dark nights” end, as we experience the return of the Son.

The Dark Nights of the Soul
    
Jesus talks a lot about the Kingdom of God, and about the time when it will be seen in all of its glory.  A lot of these conversations, as today’s has Jesus urging us to seek God’s Kingdom and to be ready for the moment our Lord returns.

It’s something we need to take seriously, just as I had to have all the dishes done, and the plates stacked, the maple syrup heated and the vat of coffee ready for the people who would come in the morning, expecting to be served.

But those nights were long and dark.  There was a lot of work to be done. There were times of fear, like when we got robbed, or a man had a grand mal seizure.  There were other times where it was so tempting to fall asleep, because the early morning was so boring and slowwww, and one could get so tired, one might even fall asleep while sitting on the toilet.  Not that I know anyone who would have possibly done that.

But our life, waiting for Jesus to return, is much like that.  We might be distracted by the business, and all the tasks, we might have moments where trauma seems dominant, and anxiety paralyzes us.  Other times, we get so, so tired, and rather than looking to Jesus, we just fall spiritually asleep, unable to pay attention to the promises of God, and His warnings about His return.

I am not talking about actual sleep, but spiritual sleep, the kind of lethargic and eventually unconscious feeling that comes over us, as we stop looking to God, and start falling into temptation, and unaware of God’s grace, we are put into bondage or oppressed by the sin which Hebrews says can so easily trap us.

For nothing will cause us to be unprepared for Jesus return like sin does.  It grabs our attention, it coddles and pleasure us for a moment, and having broken us, leaves us.  We might not consider it all that much, a little lie here, a thought there, and well, that action can’t be as bad a sin as others would make it out to be.  I mean, it didn’t hurt anyone, and other people seem to think it is okay.

And heck, pastor never mentions “that” sin.

Sin is sin, and if you aren’t sure, the simple test is whether it takes your mind off of God, and how would you feel if He came back the moment you said that word, or thought that thought, or were engaged in that deed?  If you don’t like His presence in that moment, you can bet it is a sin… and it will eventually put your soul into a comatose state.

And then what happens if God comes back?

Getting Dressed for..to be served

  It is with that thought Jesus tells us to be dressed and ready to serve, because we don’t know when Jesus is come back.  But when He does, we will be ready to open the door, and greet Him.

But that is where what Jesus says gets interesting.  Seek first Jesus Kingdom, put it above everything else, for Jesus is coming back.  We get that, and if we dare, we might even think about the fact that those who are not ready will be set aside, where they will be judged based on their actions.

But hear again what awaits those who are dressed, and ready to serve.

37 The servants who are ready and waiting for his return will be rewarded. I tell you the truth, he himself will seat them, put on an apron, and serve them as they sit and eat!

This is what is so amazing about our Lord, and the work He gives us, leads not to being slaves, or even servants. But valued guests and friends in the kingdom of God.  He took up our serving apron, and fixes us a feast, rewarding us who are his. 

Even though there were moments in the night where we struggled to get our work done, moments where sin had lulled us to asleep, or the stresses and anxieties of life overburdened us.

In His joy, for at Christ’s return the Father and His greatest desire is fulfilled, for we have been transformed, our hearts and minds by the Holy Spirit.  That is what repentance truly is and being repentant, being transformed we are alert, and care about His coming in the first place.  Not from fear, but looking forward to it with great expectation! 

Until then, in the midst of the night, the Holy Spirit helps us realize the peace of God, which passes all understanding… as Jesus protects our hearts and minds.  AMEN!

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