Devotional Thought for our days…
24 Surely you know that many runners take part in a race, but only one of them wins the prize. Run, then, in such a way as to win the prize. 25 Every athlete in training submits to strict discipline, in order to be crowned with a wreath that will not last; but we do it for one that will last forever. 26 That is why I run straight for the finish line; that is why I am like a boxer who does not waste his punches. 27 I harden my body with blows and bring it under complete control, to keep myself from being disqualified after having called others to the contest. 1 Corinthians 9:24-27 (TEV)
13 For if ye live after the flesh, ye shall die: but if ye through the Spirit do mortify the deeds of the body, ye shall live. 14 For as many as are led by the Spirit of God, they are the sons of God. 15 For ye have not received the spirit of bondage again to fear; but ye have received the Spirit of adoption, whereby we cry, Abba, Father. Romans 8:13-15 (KJV)
1 It is also taught among us that such faith should produce good fruits and good works and that we must do all such good works as God has commanded,6 but we should do them for God’s sake and not place our trust in them as if thereby to merit favor before God.
60 Each day be conscious of your duty to be a saint. A saint! And that doesn’t mean doing strange things. It means a daily struggle in the interior life and in heroically fulfilling your duty right through to the end.
Let’s be honest, when I hear the term spiritual discipline, or mortification, most of us think of medieval monks with knotted ropes, whipping themselves over their shoulders. Or maybe not doing that physically, but spiritually and emotionally, as Martin Luther was portrayed, struggling with the sin that would so easily ensnare him.A struggle which nearly drove him crazy. Or perhaps it did, at least causing a breakdown.
Paul mentions the struggle as well, complaining about it in Romans 7, as he shares that he can’t do what is holy and right, and unsuccessfully battles temptation. And in the passages in red above, Paul talks of mortifying the flesh – of beating the body physically in order to bring it to subjection. (Never mind Jesus talking about plucking out eyes and cutting off hands when the cause you to sin!_
The struggle is real.
The Augsburg Confession is as clear as any other document, the good works that are planned by God are to be the result of the trust, the faith, the dependence we have in God’s work in our lives. Again, Fr. Josemaria chimes in similarly – we just fulfill our duty, for we are saints,
But is it that happens, that short-circuits our desire? How do we overcome it? Is it by physical and spiritual disciplines that punish our body and soul, even to the point of scarring it? Or are these words of scripture simply an illustration – hinting at the different battle? A different sort of discipline?
There is a part of me that wants to dismiss the entire conversation, and I would, except for one thing. I tire of my sin, I am tired of the unrighteousness in which I dwell. I am tired of the Romans 7 battle and feeling like the wretch, unable to change, unable to transform, and afraid of the condemnation such deserves.
So where do I find the rope, and what knots do I tie in it? Or do I find 8-12 hours to cry at the altar, as those using the mourner’s bench did in the Great Awakenings of prior centuries? Or do I give up – and freely sin, thanking God for the abundance of grace that will result in my abundance of sin?
I think the answer is that spiritual disciplines are done, not to achieve a new level, but to remind us of what has been obtained for us. Like a martial arts instructor who still does the basic steps with his students, so that he remembers even the basics, so we invest time in spiritual things to remind us of what we should know – the glory and incredible love of God. These disciplines are not punitive or even restorative, but affirmative, to help us know the love of God, the presence of GOd, the mercy of God.
That is the purpose of striving to be regularly praying, regularly reading the scriptures, regularly doing both of those with other believers, and communing together, guided by those people the Body of Christ has called to serve them, is simple. Life is pain (as the Dread Pirate Roberts was fond of saying) and these practices remind us that it is worth it, that God will make sure it works out for good, and that He will be with us, every step, every moment of the way.
In other words, God doesn’t need to have us so disciplined, though He does like our company, we need it! We need to know He is with us, and will never leave us. FOr we can easily chase after distractions, and think we have strayed to far…
And still, He is here…
Escriva, Josemaria. The Forge (Kindle Locations 439-441). Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition.
Tappert, Theodore G., ed. The Book of Concord the Confessions of the Evangelical Lutheran Church. Philadelphia: Mühlenberg Press, 1959. Print.
Devotional Thought of the Day:
But now in these last days God has spoken to us through his Son. God has chosen his Son to own all things, and through him he made the world. 3 The Son reflects the glory of God and shows exactly what God is like. He holds everything together with his powerful word. When the Son made people clean from their sins, he sat down at the right side of God, the Great One in heaven. Heb 1:2-3 NCV
I conversed recently with a pastor who was agonizing over the conflict between his head and heart. Even though this person is a well-trained seminary graduate with an appetite to know and teach the Scripture and has a comprehensive view of the Bible, his heart feels empty and dry. “I’ve even attended to the disciplines of spirituality,” he said, “but they don’t do anything for me. I can’t seem to feel what my head knows.”
Eventually this pastor put his finger on the real problem. “I’ve done everything I can to make myself spiritual,” he said, “but nothing seems to work.”…. (a couple of great paragraphs then this critical one:)
I think this pastor and others like him have a hard time connecting head and heart and, as a result, experience the contradiction between what they know and what they feel for two reasons. First, they situate spirituality in something other than God’s embrace. Second, they look for spiritual nourishment outside of the church and its worship.
Martin Luther, in ch. 2 of his commentary on Galatians, says of this argument, “I believe that if believing Jews had observed the Law and circumcision on the condition which the apostles permitted, Judaism would still stand and that the whole world would have accepted the ceremonies of the Jews. But because they argued that the Law and circumcision were necessary for salvation and established their worship on this basis, God could not endure this and therefore He overturned the temple, the Law, the worship, and Jerusalem.”
To walk in hope is to walk next to Jesus in the darkest moments of the cross when things have no explanation and we do not know what is going to happen next.
With the exception of Pope Francis’s account, I could have quoted the entire readings I had today in the other selections. ( Maybe I am sill to put my words beside theirs – but I need to process these things in my own words, which is the real reason I write these words)
I know all too well the danger Luther speaks of, where we take our practices, the rituals and observances we practice and use them to justify our solution. Hey, I go to church, therefore I am a Christian! I study the Bible, I spend time in prayer, I even teach others. That should get me the deluxe mansion in heaven right? Or at least make sure I get in the door?
THat leads to the burnout that Webber talks about ( I highly recommend his book The DIvine Embrace – probably 50 times he put into words that which I struggle with experiencing, never mind describing!) in these two excerpts from a conversation with a fellow pastor. I have been there as well – looking for ways to be more spiritual – pushing myself with devotions, punishing myself with the reading of Leviticus, trying to spend hours, (okay half hours) on my knees in prayer. I know Paul’s misery in Romans 7, and what is worse – when I did do the things I longed to do, they didn’t sustain me, they didn’t make me stronger in my resistance to sin, they didn’t create in my a super preacher that everyone longed to come hear.
When we try to become spiritual on our own, we will fail, because spirituality isn’t the goal, it is a result, really a by-product of our walking with Jesus. Being spiritual is not about our behavior, it is about hearing His voice, of accompanying Him to the darkness of the cross, because there, our darkness is nailed to it, as we are united with His death, and with His resurrection. That is the point that Pope Francis makes, that Webber shares when he encourages his pastor-friend this,
I counseled this minister whose heart felt empty and dry to cease striving to be spiritual and see spirituality as a gift to contemplate. “Delight,” I told him, “in the mystery of God revealed in Christ, who, by the Spirit, is united to our humanity and opens the way to our union with God. Delight in the incarnation of God in Jesus, in his sacrifice for our sins, his victory over the powers of evil, and the good news that everything that needs to be done to unite us with God and establish our spiritual relationship with God is done through grace by faith in our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Affirm that Jesus, in union with God, dwells in you and you in him, and see the world through God’s divine embrace. Then live in your freedom to participate in God in the life of the world!”
This is why Luther could say that if the Jews didn’t count on following the law for the salvation, Jesus and the apostles wouldn’t have taken it away from them. They mistook things that would help them see Jesus, things that could help them walk with Him, for that which proved they were okay with God.
And we do that today, all the time. That’s why some who observe us find our religion empty but still want to know Jesus. The Jesus we know, but try to impress. We simply need to walk with Him, to delight in His role in our lives, to realize the work He is doing,
For He hears your cry of, “Lord, have mercy on me, a sinner”
And I can tell for sure, His response is heard well in these words, “The Lord IS WITH YOU!” Amen.
Webber, Robert E. The Divine Embrace: Recovering the Passionate Spiritual Life. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2006. Print. Ancient-Future Series.
Chemnitz, Martin, and Jacob A. O. Preus. Loci Theologici. electronic ed. St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1999. Print.
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. Print.
† Jesus, Son & Savior †
May the Grace of God our Father, and our Lord Jesus Christ, the grace seen in action as He brings us from darkness to life, may you know so clearly that grace, that you dwell in His peace!
Made Peace – Crafted Serenity:
In the last verse read from Colossians this morning, we hear something that Jesus has done. It is accomplished, done, competed, and yet we don’t’ always see it.
It is a great description of what reconciliation really is, what the cross accomplishes,
Hear the words again,
He made peace with everything on heaven and earth by means of Christ’s blood on the cross.
He made peace…made peace.
It actually can read more powerfully than that…
He crafted serenity…
I hear those words, and for a moment I am taken back to Lake Ossipee – to a place where you can barely see the homes on the other side of the lake, when the colors of the fall include just about every color imaginable, and the lake’s waters are so still there are no ripples… just calm serenity, with a brief breeze or a snowflake fluttering down….
A bit different than life lived on the 91, 5 or 605 freeway.
We need to note that God isn’t saying He will craft serenity later, that this peace will be made at some future point. It’s not happening in some undefined period labeled “soon”.
It is a tense that originate in the past – and keeps going – that crafting serenity, that making peace hasn’t stopped for a moment..
But that raises the question….
Why doesn’t our spiritual life seem more like that serene day standing at the edge of a beautiful calm lake, and why does it too often seem like I am standing in the middle of that freeway at 5 p.m.?
Who is this? Who are We not?
That peace is the creation of God, created as Christ’s blood was shed on the cross. The Christ we worship and praise, the Christ who is the visible image of our invisible Father. He’s been there forever, in Him everything – including us is created.
He created it all – everything in heaven and on earth! Everything we see and can’t see, and He is supreme over all creation holds it all together.
And that is where we struggle, and often why we don’t know peace.
That He is Creator, we don’t have a problem with, it is that we want to be supreme, we want to be in charge, we want to make it all work out. That is the root of all sin, the idea that we think for a moment, or we are tempted to think that we know what is best for us.
And so we go off on our own, we walk away and do what we want, what we desire. Even today we struggle with this idea that Jesus is not only our Savior but our benevolent, loving Lord.
Rather than learning what He desires, rather than seeking Jesus first. we choose what we want, what excites us, what we think might quench our cravings, or what we think might lead us to comfort or peace, or rest.
That’s why Paul goes back over – it through Jesus God created this all. From the beginning, He was in charge, not us. For if we look to our own efforts to find the rest we desire, all we will do is find the consequences of our sin, of our rebellion, our throwing off God’s desires.
We have to set our desires aside and hear Paul’s confession – Christ is the head of it all, everything that was created was created for him, and for Him,
Which means all things, everything was meant to be defined by it’s relationship to Christ.
For He is God, in everything. Over life and death, over the new resurrected life that we have been given, as Christ drew us back to Himself. For that is what reconciliation is, retuning that which was changed beck to its original – apokatalsso- to bring back, to restore, to make right. To take us out of the darkness we entered and bring us into the light of His glory!
And that is what Christ did and is doing – making everything in heaven and earth the way it should be….you see that, even as He hands on the cross and reconciles the thief to Himself.
The work that was planned before creation, that was revealed at the cross!
That’s why we are in awe
That is why we are here, to see this work of God revealed. As He calls us to Himself, as He reconciles us to Him, recreating us in His image, recreating in us His righteousness, guiding us.
It is why we listen to people read the bible, why we confess what we believe, reminding ourselves of His return, it is why we listen to a sermon, that forces us to consider our struggles, and know He is the answer to them.
It is why we know we can pour out our burdens here in prayer, and then come here to be given the Body and blood to eat and drink, to know that He has crafted for us a serenity, that He has fashioned this place where everything is set aside and we see what heaven will be like, where He gives us this peace, a peace that passes all understanding and guards our hearts and minds in Jesus. AMEN!
Is Spiritual Growth Necessary? The Benefit of Prayer, Meditation and Frequent Reception of the Sacraments
Devotional Thought of the Day
1 As for us, we have this large crowd of witnesses around us. So then, let us rid ourselves of everything that gets in the way, and of the sin which holds on to us so tightly, and let us run with determination the race that lies before us. 2 Let us keep our eyes fixed on Jesus, on whom our faith depends from beginning to end. He did not give up because of the cross! On the contrary, because of the joy that was waiting for him, he thought nothing of the disgrace of dying on the cross, and he is now seated at the right side of God’s throne. Hebrews 12:1-2 (TEV)
9 For this reason we have always prayed for you, ever since we heard about you. We ask God to fill you with the knowledge of his will, with all the wisdom and understanding that his Spirit gives. 10 Then you will be able to live as the Lord wants and will always do what pleases him. Your lives will produce all kinds of good deeds, and you will grow in your knowledge of God. 11 May you be made strong with all the strength which comes from his glorious power, so that you may be able to endure everything with patience. And with joy give thanks to the Father, who has made you fit to have your share of what God has reserved for his people in the kingdom of light. Colossians 1:9-11 (TEV)
90 Optimism? Yes, always! Even when things seem to turn out badly: perhaps that is the time to break into a song, with a Gloria, because you have sought refuge in Him, and nothing but good can come to you from Him.
24 For the Old Adam, like an unmanageable and recalcitrant donkey, is still a part of them and must be coerced into the obedience of Christ, not only with the instruction, admonition, urging, and threatening of the law, but frequently also with the club of punishments and miseries, until the flesh of sin is put off entirely and man is completely renewed in the resurrection.
I started to write this blog yesterday, and then life seemed to get in the way. Life can be like that.
My devotional reading this morning again hammered it home, as Paul’s prayer for those who followed Christ in a city named Colossae makes clear. A life following Christ will be different than the life that doesn’t. It is challenging to hear those words of Paul, who desires we be able to live as God desires and that our actions please Him.
The challenge is seen in the quote in green, that our old nature, which we believe was killed off in baptism, continues to rise, challenge us and dominate our lives. And the Lutheran Confessions (you know – from the “saved by grace, through faith, no works folks – talk about the law still impacting and disciplining the believer. Of the sin-nature is put off entirely and the Paul mentions needing to discipline the body as well, and Hebrews talks of shedding the sin and everything that so easily ensnares us.
But what are those things that help us grow? What are the things in our lives that encourage the growth that transforms us more and more into those who resemble Jesus?
We see it in all the passages, perhaps most clearly in St. Josemaria’s words in blue. To, in the middle of the darkness of this world, break into praising and glorifying God, in Whose presence you dwell! We need to take refuge in Him, to seek the peace that comes from being brought back to the Father, cleansed and healed and transformed, conformed to the image of Jesus. (Think that Phil. 2:5-10 is in context with the first verses, the ones that talk about being of one mind, one heart.
It is that transformation that is spiritual growth, and so things that help us grow to know we are in God’s presence, God’s loving, transforming presence, are what cause us to grow in and like Christ. In Hebrews. This is described as fixing ou eyes on Jesus, who creates faith in us, and sustains it to completion. In Colossians, we talk about the knowledge of God. Not knowing about God as we know about Adam and Eve, or BioChemistry. But knowing Him, the knowledge of His presence, His mercy, His love.
So how do we grow in this? How does Spiritual Growth happen?
So obviously prayer fits in there, not just a casual Lord’s prayer, but a deep conversation, including listening.
Which brings us to meditating on God’s word, whether we scan a book, or meditate on one verse. Both have their time and place. And sharing scripture with each other, studying not in a vacuum, meditating on it with others, that we can encourage each other, teach, and pick up those who have stumbled off the past, or lost sight of Jesus. Even those who shepherd the people of God need not just to study scripture, but also pray through it, listen and meditate on it.
The sacraments also stimulate this growth, for they not only make us aware of God’s presence but remind us of what happens in His presence. That’s why Luther often talked of remembering our baptism, not just as a passing thought, but considering what God did there. How we were joined to Jesus Christ, to His death and resurrection. How our sins were nailed to the cross, and we were cleansed of them. How the promises of eternal life was guaranteed, and the Holy Spirit began o reside in us.
Communion, the Eucharist does the same thing, as we take and eat, take and drink the Body and Blood of Christ. As He invites us to His feast and again reminds us of how He gives himself for us. How welcome we are at the feast celebrating His work, His work not just saving us, but re-creating us, of His makin us the Father’s children.
I could go on and on, talking about the blessings of Confession, and hearing our sins are forgiven, of worship and praise, singing and celebrating, I could speak of the blessing of seeing a friend brought to God and made aware of HIs love, or of doing the same for an enemy.
This is the spiritual life, and it is found and grows in His presence…. learning to trust God, and entrust everything to Him.
There is His peace… and may you grow more and more aware of it, in your life, and may it spread from you into your community.
Escriva, Josemaria (2011-01-31). Furrow (Kindle Locations 594-596). Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition.
Tappert, T. G. (Ed.). (1959). The Book of Concord the confessions of the Evangelical Lutheran Church. (p. 568). Philadelphia: Mühlenberg Press.
Devotional thought of the day:
4 “Israel, remember this! The LORD—and the LORD alone—is our God. 5 Love the LORD your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your strength. Deuteronomy 6:4-5 (TEV)
1 So then, my friends, because of God’s great mercy to us I appeal to you: Offer yourselves as a living sacrifice to God, dedicated to his service and pleasing to him. This is the true worship that you should offer. 2 Do not conform yourselves to the standards of this world, but let God transform you inwardly by a complete change of your mind. Then you will be able to know the will of God—what is good and is pleasing to him and is perfect. Romans 12:1-2 (TEV)
485 At times, someone has told me: “Father, I feel tired and cold; when I pray or fulfil some other norm of piety, I seem to be acting out a farce…” To that friend, and to you, if you are in the same boat, I answer: A farce?—What an excellent thing, my child! Act out that farce! The Lord is your audience—the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. The Blessed Trinity is contemplating us in those moments when we are “acting out a farce”. Acting like that in front of God, out of love, in order to please him, when our whole life goes against the grain: how splendid, to be God’s juggler! How marvellous it is to play one’s part for Love, with sacrifice, without any personal satisfaction, just in order to please Our Lord! That indeed is to live for Love. (1)
It is Monday, the day after a long work day. Church was phenomenal, but then a meeting at another church drained me, and knowing that this week is booked absolutely full, I started on my research for this week’s sermons. One of my best friends I woke up early to pray with, as he faces surgery, and I am concerned for several others facing trials. I also have some pounding going on above me, and other issues of frustration.
It’s monday, and my devotional time is dragging. Let me be honest, I am to tired emotionally, I am to anxiety laden, I am overwhelmed and I don’t really feel like writing this blog, or spending time in prayer, or doing my devotional reading. (which happened to be on confession and absolution…. gee thanks God!) I don’t really feel like being holy today. I don’t want to just go through the motions either, and pray, and read and worship. If I don’t feel like being holy, setting apart my time and my life to God, I really don’t want to just fake it.
Maybe I should skip it my devotional time. After all, it’s only one day. I’ll be in a better mood on Wednesday, or maybe Friday. My blog hasn’t been read much anyways (writing this is part of my discipline ), and I’ve got a ton of work to do. Three extra services, picking up some of the work my friend would do, people recovering that I need to visit. I could so easily justify skipping this once….
Then of course, as I drag through my devotions, I found the above quote from St Josemaria. Tell you something – sometimes I really dislike how much a Catholic Saint who died nearly 40 years ago knows me. I feel like a farce, a fraud a hypocrite, even as I highlight things in my reading, and the meditative thoughts the word of God kicks into motion. I warm to some of it – but Leviticus? Really? And the part about worship was awesome, but the paragraph upon paragraph that drudged on through the book of concord…. sigh
Escriva notes that there is an option between doing this enthusiastically, and doing it as a hypocrite. It is doing it, admitting the struggle, but knowing the love and mercy of God the Father that will become more and more apparent. Being a living sacrifice is an act of love, even when I am not sure why I keep going. To strive to keep interested, to strive to see how Christ is revealed, to wait and the blessing He has for us.
To adore Him enough to trust Him that this time together will be cleansing, refreshing, empowering, but most of all peace-filled, glorious rest in His presence. To drink deeply of His love.
it is in the dead times, even perhaps more than the rebellious times, that I need to offer myself to God and keep moving with Him. That I need to realize His presence, His promises, His comfort. The kind of things that are apparent in His word, that the saints who’ve gone before us lived and died to pass down to.
It is such time when saints are made…. and sustained.
So cry out Lord, I trust you, help me to trust you!
And know His answer… come, follow me.
Escriva, Josemaria (2011-01-31). The Forge (Kindle Locations 1858-1866). Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition.
Devotional thought of the day::
In God alone there is rest for my soul, from him comes my safety; 2 he alone is my rock, my safety, my stronghold so that I stand unshaken.Psalm 62:1-2 (NJB)
448 You haven’t been praying? Why, because you haven’t had time? But you do have time. Furthermore, what sort of works will you be able to do if you have not meditated on them in the presence of the Lord, so as to put them in order? Without that conversation with God, how can you finish your daily work with perfection? Look, it is as if you claimed you had no time to study because you were too busy giving lessons… Without study you cannot teach well. Prayer has to come before everything. If you do not understand this and put it into practice, don’t tell me that you have no time: it’s simply that you do not want to pray!
In our society today, many of us have become expert at neglecting ourselves. About not fulfilling who we are.
We surround ourselves with things, that help us believe that we are living the good life. A home, a nice car, for me – if not the latest tech-toy then at least some powerfully fun ones. We lose ourselves in television series ( Personally I like “Blacklist” and “reality shows” (anyone hear been recently abadoned on a desert island or locked in a home with 15 strangers, or asked to stand and perform on a stage in front of thousands – Reality?) We have our careers, our degrees, even those sacrifices we make for others, and willingly let people acknowledge them. We don’t mind others knowing that we are martyrs, sacrificing our fulfillment in order to help others gain their dreams.
Even then the accolades will soon sound hollow, for our treasure has been revealled to be empty, and we realize how much we neglect ourselves.
With all the things we do, with our physical and psychological coaches, with self help books and seminars to become the best in our field, with lives everyone else might consider succesful, we find ourselves neglected, wweary, worn…
Simple, because we do not take time, never mind enough time, to sit and talk to God. To sit and rest in His presence, allowing Him to talk to us, to meditate on His love, to hand over to him every burden we have. Do we talk over our work, our home life, our free time, our decisions with God, or does He not have any input into them?
How often do we pray? Is it both “scheduled” (helping us to realize He is importnat enough to have a time in our schedules) and random/extemporaneous? Is our realtionship with Him a part of our life, or is it our life?
Most of us know the right responses to the questions above, but are our answers reflective of our life?
I get the feeling I am not going to like this chapter of St. Josemaria’s “the Furrow”. I am not going to lie looking myself in the face and realizing how much I neglect myself, by not spending time with God.
I am also sure I need, maybe even desperately need to encounter Christ more each day than I presently do.
Would you pray I would? Would you pray you will as well?
Let’s stop neglecting ourselves by neglecting God… but I pray we encounter Him more and more fully, and may we know the depth of His love. AMEN.
Escriva, Josemaria (2011-01-31). Furrow (Kindle Locations 1986-1991). Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition.
- Thoughts from Celebrating God’s Faithfulness to my Dad… (justifiedandsinner.com)
- Will you let them see you…. (justifiedandsinner.com)
- Suck it up… and go talk to Jesus (justifiedandsinner.com)