Devotional Thought of The Day
5 You must have the same attitude that Christ Jesus had. 6 Though he was God, he did not think of equality with God as something to cling to. 7 Instead, he gave up his divine privileges; he took the humble position of a slave and was born as a human being. When he appeared in human form, 8 he humbled himself in obedience to God and died a criminal’s death on a cross.
12 Dear friends, you always followed my instructions when I was with you. And now that I am away, it is even more important. Work hard to show the results of your salvation, obeying God with deep reverence and fear. 13 For God is working in you, giving you the desire and the power to do what pleases him. Philippians 2:5-8, 12-13 (NLT2)
Our Lord asks for generous hearts that are truly detached. We will achieve this if we resolutely cut the thick bonds or the subtle threads that tie us to ourselves. I won’t hide from you the fact that this entails a constant struggle, overriding our own intelligence and will, a renunciation which, frankly, is more difficult than the giving up of the most prized material possessions.
I know many theologians, good ones who are also great teachers, imparting
information in ways that their students gain knowledge. Their knowledge is
beneficial, and I rely on them when considering the problematic intersections
of life and religion.
But there is more to Christianity than doctrine. There is the relationship with
God that is established. Surely good Theology describes that, and its
understanding of scripture ensures we do not go off and recreate God in our own
image or imagination.
Spiritual Formation is different. It is getting involved in the
relationship. It means God is working in us, giving us the desire and the power
to live life in a way that resonates with Him and thereby brings Him joy. Being
devoted to God means what St Josemaria describes, detached hearts where our
intellect and will are overridden.
St Paul was describing this when he was quoting the early Christian hymn known as the Carmen Christi. This is what Jesus did,
what we are called to do! The Theologian looks at this, and words describe the incredibly sacrifice of self that we see in Jesus. The pastor, guiding the disciples formation, sees verse 5 and says -here – how will this happen. They see this attitude develop because of God’s
work, not human will, and so they focus the believer on Jesus, on His love and mercy, on His presence.
This isn’t a either or, we are not getting rid of Theology or Theologians, But
there needs to be as much effort, no there needs to be more effort in forming
disciples. We need to help people be able to have the mind of Christ, to be
able to see God’s work in their lives. To see God manifested in their
relationships. This is what shepherding, about what being a pastor or a
minister is truly about. It is why elders and Sunday teachers, exist as well,
as we work together to present every person perfect in Christ Jesus.
Father in Heaven, help us keep the desire of studying Theology in its proper place, balancing it out with drawing people deeper and deeper in their relationship with you. Lord, help us to help them imitate Christ, as you give them the desire and the power to serve and love as He did. Help us as well to see that our efforts keep this balance, so that we can continue to see the Spirit at work, making disciples and seeing them grow. We pray this in Jesus most precious name.
Escrivá, Josemaría. Friends of God . Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition.
Devotional Thought of the Day:
20 “Look! I stand at the door and knock. If you hear my voice and open the door, I will come in, and we will share a meal together as friends. Revelation 3:20 (NLT2)
117 Thus you see how God wants us to pray to him for everything that affects our bodily welfare and directs us to seek and expect help from no one but him.
118 But this petition he has put last, for if we are to be protected and delivered from all evil, his name must first be hallowed in us, his kingdom come among us, and his will be done. Then he will preserve us from sin and shame and from everything else that harms or injures us.
Our God is so eager to forgive that at the slightest sign of repentance he is ready with his mercy. He does not forget the covenant he made with our ancestors.
716 “I don’t know how to conquer myself!” you write me despondently. And I answer: But have you really tried to use the means?
As I read the passage from Luther’s Large Catechism (in blue above) this morning, I found words that explained a key to what we need to do as those who disciple others, or who act as spiritual directors.
Luther nails it so well, as he explores the Lord’s prayer. It is something we get so confused as we disciple people, as we serve as their spiritual directors and/or pastors. In reality, we put the cart before the horse, asking people to believe in God’s mercy, in God providing for us, and in God’s forgiveness before God’s presence is established as a reality in their lives. We want to help them know they are free from their past, and to be strong enough to overcome temptation.
St. Josemaria’s thoughts are similar, as he wonders about the person who can’t overcome the compulsion to sin and fail when confronted by temptation. His question about the means of grace come to a similar conclusion as Luther’s. If you haven’t been brought into the presence of God through hearing His word, and partaking in His sacraments, how can you ever be assured of His mercy and protection? How can you know that He is guiding you and that all things work for good in your life, as you grow in loving Him?
Which brings me to the title of the blog post today, why is Jesus standing at the door and knocking? Is it simply to call us to account for our sins, clean us up, forgive us our sins, strengthen us against temptation and then leave us to fight the good fight on our own?
Of course not!
He comes to spend time with us, in fellowship, sharing in life. TO feast with us, and for us to know we are there for Him. It is all about the relationship, not just the things that He does that makes the relationship possible. That’s why Luther says we need to see His name made Holy, to see His kingdom established, to see His will be accomplished among us. All these things are based on God being present in our lives, walking with us, living with us. This happens before we can know His provision, His protection, and really the power of what it means to be forgiven and free.
You can’t know those things apart from the relationship described in Covenant, where God promises us that we are His and that He is ours. That relationship is why He stands at the door and knocks. He wants to be with us, it is sharing our lives as we share His.
For those who pastor, for those who disciple or direct the spiritual growth of people, (and if you are being served by such) this has to be the priority. To explore the breadth and width the height and depth of God’s love as we experience it. This is the end of the means, this is the purpose we exist for, and as we learn ot live in it, we find it easy to ask God and live in the assurance that He will answer our prayers for daily bread, for the ability to forgive as we are forgiven, to overcome temptation and not fall into evil.
Never forget this, the Lord is with you!
Tappert, T. G. (Ed.). (1959). The Book of Concord the confessions of the Evangelical Lutheran Church. (p. 436). Philadelphia: Mühlenberg Press.
Pope Francis. (2013). A Year with Pope Francis: Daily Reflections from His Writings. (A. Rossa, Ed.) (p. 223). New York; Mahwah, NJ; Toronto, ON: Paulist Press; Novalis.
Escriva, Josemaria. The Way (Kindle Locations 1679-1680). Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition.
Devotional Thought for our seemingly shattered days:
. 23 Instead, let the Spirit renew your thoughts and attitudes. 24 Put on your new nature, created to be like God—truly righteous and holy. Ephesians 4:23-24 (NLT)
237 Never lose heart, for Our Lord is always ready to give you the necessary grace for the new conversion you need, for that ascent in the supernatural field.
We approach that time of year, that is either full of excitement (and perhaps greed and envy) or is full of despair and grief.
Either way, these holidays can break our hearts, as what should be a time of grace, where love and peace are so clearly shown, are instead a place where we lose heart.
It is so easy to do, to allow what is going on to crush our hearts. As some of it should….for grief is a very valid, very painful emotion.
Even as we grieve, either for the loss of a good friend, or the state of the world, we need to have a goal that gives us hope, a goal that would be the light of the tunnel, that would leave us in the experience of peace.
The apostle Paul describes it as the renewal, as the Holy Spirit transforms our thoughts and attitudes, to find the righteousness and holiness that comes only through God’s work, as He draws us into His presence.
St Josemaria describes it as a conversion of the heart. As someone with a genetic heart challenge, this concept has slightly different meaning. Whether it is a seemingly simple problem like A-fib, or something more deadly like V-Tac, conversion is a process where the heart rhythm is shocked from its irregularity, from its broken pattern, into a normal and healthy pattern.
In the medical field, this is often done with a defibrillator, as the body is given a powerful electrical shock which overrides the heart rhythm, which will cause it to start again, normal and strong.
The word of God and the Sacraments do this spiritually, as our encounter with God overwhelms our broken rhythm of life. They overwhelm the rhythm, they stop us in the midst of our out of balance life and remind us of God’s presence, His love, His mercy, That He is here, and if our life is in rhythm with Him, we become more and more aware of His presence.
Living life in rhythm with God won’t stop the tears, living life in rhythm with God won’t immediately fix all wrong in our lives and in the world, But it will awaken us to see the work God is doing, that we are set apart to Him, that we are forgiven, that He is healing our brokenness. Living out of rhythm with God blinds us to this grace. blinds us as well to His comforting presence, which so many of us need right now. But as
So I pray for you, whatever it is that has you out of rhythm, whether it is you own sin, or the weight of the sin of the world, whatever the brokenness, whatever the grief, that God would”convert: you, giving you the gift of transforming the rhythm of your life, and simultaneously, draw you into the glorious peace that occurs when we know we are in His presence. (and please pray the same for me)
Escriva, Josemaria. The Forge (Kindle Locations 1006-1008). Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition.
TDevotional/Discussion Thought of the Week
17 so that no one could buy or sell except one who had the stamped image of the beast’s name or the number that stood for its name. 18 Wisdom is needed here; one who understands can calculate the number of the beast, for it is a number that stands for a person. His number is six hundred and sixty-six. (14) 1 Then I looked and there was the Lamb standing on Mount Zion,* and with him a hundred and forty-four thousand who had his name and his Father’s name written on their foreheads. NAB-RE REV. 13:17-14:1
75 I know, O LORD, that your regulations are fair; you disciplined me because I needed it. 76 Now let your unfailing love comfort me, just as you promised me, your servant. 77 Surround me with your tender mercies so I may live, for your instructions are my delight. NLT Psalm 119:75-78
431 Don’t fear God’s justice. It is no less admirable and no less lovable than his mercy. Both are proofs of his love. (1)
Looking at the three quotes above, it will at first seem like the first is not like the other two.
It is that passage that has people afraid of everything from Social Security Numbers, to Bar Codes, to Smart Chips and credit card smart chips. Some preachers use that passage to cause a form a paranoia about the government, as if it can do what Romans 8 says cannot be done. There in Romans it says that nothing can separate us from the love of God.
Not even the mark of the beast! For as we see when we dispense with man-made chapter headings, we see two marks, not one. The mark of the beast – and the mark of the Lamb and our Heavenly Father.
But this fear of the mark gets to the heart of Christian discipleship, to what they call spiritual formation. That is how the passage from Revelation and the quote from Psalms and a blip from Escriva tie together.
For when we understand that God’s discipline, that spiritual formation at the hands of God is about His love, that the differing marks make sense.
David’s words are simple and precise, “we need it.”
First, so that we correct our ways, that we get rid of the idols in our life, that we are freed from those things that would enslave us, as we trust in them, as we turn to them, rather than depending on God. Forming us means that God is putting in place the barriers that protect us from falling. It is not punitive as much as protective.
We don’t always see God’s discipline as protective, but that is indeed what it is, because it originates in the same place as His mercy – the incredible longsuffering, sacrificial love He has for us; it comes from the desire He has to see us transformed rather than perish. Formation isn’t always comfortable, for we can’t simply go where we want – and trying to may mean running into a wall. And that can hurt!
David experienced, and therefore knew that God’s discipline, (some translations use affliction ) is followed by comfort, by an outpouring of mercy, by healing and restoration. It is this pattern, this characteristic; that reveals His love, his devoted benevolent care for us.
We are His people; We bear His name, given to us, marking us in our baptism.
The more we explore that love, its height, its depth, its breadth and width (and we can’t, in this life know it completely) the more convinced we are that God loves us. The more we entrust ourselves to it, even to reveling in it. Recipients of this love, this Godly intimate affection we can, with complete abandon praise and glorify Him, with our voices, and with our lives.
Even as He lovingly corrects us, even as we struggle with our brokenness, even as we question how God will make this work out for good.
Such is a disciplined life; such is one who’s been marked, not with some counterfeit mark, but with the name of Christ, and of the Father.
666? Not afraid of that, for I know the love of God, a love that is willing to suffer, and Will even form me though I may perceive it as suffering.
Lord, have mercy! (even when it means disciplining us!)
(1) Escriva, Josemaria. The Way (Kindle Locations 1059-1060). Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition.
Devotional Discussion Thought of the Day:
16 So I say, let the Holy Spirit guide your lives. Then you won’t be doing what your sinful nature craves. 17 The sinful nature wants to do evil, which is just the opposite of what the Spirit wants. And the Spirit gives us desires that are the opposite of what the sinful nature desires. These two forces are constantly fighting each other, so you are not free to carry out your good intentions. Galatians 5:16-17 (NLT)
346 Loyalty demands a real hunger for formation, because you are moved by a sincere love and you do not wish to run the risk of spreading or defending, through ignorance, principles or attitudes which are very far from being in accordance with the Truth. (1)
In a few hours, I will be officiating at the wedding of a cute couple, both incredibly passionate about each other. It will be fun, as was most of the pre-marital counseling I subjected them to undergo.
Some may think such a day is the best day of their lives. My prayer is that this is just the beginning of a relationship that will know much joy, much peace, even as they will undoubtedly have trying days. They might have a fight or two, they will definitely misunderstand each other, and the very passion that can result in incredible tenderness, incredible hunger for the other (in every way including sexually!) , can also turn on a dime and be focused on betrayal, or a perception that they are betrayed. For passion, and words, are meant for us to use positively,
It is not unlike our relationship with God. We should be passionate in our relationship with God, but I have often seen such passion turned against God when God doesn’t deliver what we think should be delivered. In btoh our relationship with our spouses, and our relationship with God, our sense of self-preservation and selfishness can misinterpret the One (or the one) we love.
This is when we need to realize that a major component of love is loyalty. Both the Hebrew cHesed and the Greek agape see loyalty, dedication to the “other” as the true nature of love. To desire and use everything that the one has to achieve what is best in the relationship.
Escriva is right, and it is applicable in our intimate relationship with God and our intimate relationship with our spouse. Formation is key, because it is there when we encounter love at its most incredible level. It is revealed to us, this love that sustains us, that empowers us, that purifies us. It is as we get to know the other (whether God or our spouse) that the relationship takes on such value that we would never want to risk damaging it. When such damage does occur, we need to grow to where we run to see it healed.
That is what formation does, it trains us, it helps us grow, it brings healing with it, for growth can’t occur if we are damaged beyond our ability to even seek healing. Formation is encountering mercy at its sweetest, at the moment it is unexpected.
For then it is revealed to be love.
Such love draws us to God, such love will bring a couple through anything that could occur.
I pray we all find those who will encourage and guide our formation with God, and for those who are married, I pray that your being formed with God provides the strength to really set aside your own needs, to meet the other’s needs.
Lord, in your great love, have mercy upon us.
(1) Escriva, Josemaria, The Furrow
May you realize that you live in God’s Kingdom, and desire greatly to see its beauty!
I am on the road this morning, with a friend as he begins his journey towards being ordained into the ministry. During the journey by planes, (although it seemed we walked nearly that far!) I came across this in my reading.
“It is quite common to find, even among apparently responsible and devout Catholics, the error of thinking that they’re only obliged to carry out their familial and religious duties. They seldom want to hear any mention of civic duties. The problem is not selfishness; it’s simply a lack of formation.” de Prada, Andres Vazquez (2011-04-18). The Founder of Opus Dei: Volume III, The Divine Ways on Earth (The Life of Josemaria Escriva) (Kindle Locations 9415-9417). Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition.
It started my mind wandering on this idea of formation. Surely there is a great benefit to the normal route of ordination, and in the “alternate” routes which are simply adaptations of the norm. There are a few differences as well between my friends over on the other side of the Tiber, and those of us who are Lutherans.
But Spiritual Formation is, in my opinion, critical, and in these days, critically overlooked. It’s been that way for a while. Hear the writer of Hebrews comment:
5:11 There is much we have to say about this matter, but it is hard to explain to you, because you are so slow to understand. 12 There has been enough time for you to be teachers—yet you still need someone to teach you the first lessons of God’s message. Instead of eating solid food, you still have to drink milk. 13 Anyone who has to drink milk is still a child, without any experience in the matter of right and wrong. 14 Solid food, on the other hand, is for adults, who through practice are able to distinguish between good and evil.
Hebrews 5:11-14 (TEV)
We see it there as well – as the author notes the inability of these people to get their butts of their spiritual couches and serve (by teaching) others. Instead the would rather take it easy, and simply re-digest the same simplistic lessons. They should be able to share the incredible blessings they have received, the basics of their faith. Yet… they can’t
I love the comment by Escriva’s position on this – it isn’t because they are weak, selfish, and self-centered! It is because they haven’t been formed. They haven’t been discipled. The very things that they need to learn, need to be shared, modeled. The depth of God’s love isn’t just “He saved me from my sins”, it is an incredible thing, long planned out – every step taken toward the cross, and away from the empty grave.
And the deeper you go, not into academia, but into living in that grace, rejoicing in it, seeing it revealed to you in the words of scripture, being comforted in prayer, even in things like making sacrifices, little ones for sure, in order that others may see God. As we live in Christ, as we are clothed in His righteousness, that overcomes what might appear to be selfish and infantile faith.
And we begin to share with others this glorious thing we’ve found. A last thought, describing maturity in Christ:
1Then I heard a loud voice in heaven saying, “Now God’s salvation has come! Now God has shown his power as King! Now his Messiah has shown his authority! For the one who stood before our God and accused believers day and night has been thrown out of heaven. 11 They won the victory over him by the blood of the Lamb and by the truth which they proclaimed; and they were willing to give up their lives and die.
Revelation 12:10-11 (TEV)
That, my friends, is a description of us, the mature believers who trusted in the God who comes to them – not a bunch of selfish, infantile believers.
May Mark and Eddie and the rest of the seminarians that start this week be so formed… may our churches have the same attitude, may I as well.
Godspeed this day….