Devotional Thought of the Day:
take no thought, saying, What shall we eat? or, What shall we drink? or, Wherewithal shall we be clothed? 32 (For after all these things do the Gentiles seek:) for your heavenly Father knoweth that ye have need of all these things. 33 But seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you. Matthew 6:31-33 (KJV)
1 As a deer longs for a stream of cool water, so I long for you, O God. 2 I thirst for you, the living God. When can I go and worship in your presence? Psalm 42:1-2 (TEV)
316 You tell me: “Yes, I want to!” Good. But do you “want to” as a miser wants his gold, as a mother wants her child, as a worldling wants honors, or as a poor sensualist wants his pleasure? No? Then you don’t “want to”!
I look at St Josemaria’s words this morning, and they hit me with a lot of conviction
As I look at a very busy week, as I anticipate the struggles and the hard work, I wonder how I am going to make it through it all, and do everything well. The temptation is to expedite things, and the really big temptation is to cut short my time with God.
After all, I will be studying scripture, I will be praying with others, do I really need my own time with God.
Abso-freaking-lutely. (pardon the Bostonese)
And I know I need it, and I want it. But the question is how much I want it. Do I want it like the deer wants water, like a mom protecting her child, like those that crave attention or pleasure want it?
I need to, I need to seek first God’s kingdom, I need to seek first those times in His presence, where I am so aware of Him that I naturally respond in worship and adoration.
I know in the midst of this, this is where I have to be, this is where I find healing and life and comfort and peace. It is where I know I am loved, and so loved that I am cleansed, and my sin cut away from me with even more precision than a heart surgeon, or a rabbi/mohel doing a circumcision.
For what draws me to God is not my own strength, if so, as much as I desire it, I might desire other things more. What draws me to God is the Holy Spirit, lovingly, caringly, bringing me back, back to the word that reveals God’s love, back to the sacraments which demonstrate it in my life, back into prayer where I release all my burdens to the Lord who loves me.
Yeah, it’s Monday, and I have a huge week of appointments, tasks, work, ministry, to see accomplished…
But I need to seek Him first, otherwise, the rest is in vain, and the week will be a giant pain in the ass. But with Him, at His side, the week, the very same actions, thoughts, words… will be glorious.
and so we cry out… Lord have mercy on us, and on our week!
Escriva, Josemaria. The Way (Kindle Locations 818-820). Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition.
Devotional Thought of the Day
17 God also bound himself with an oath, so that those who received the promise could be perfectly sure that he would never change his mind. 18 So God has given both his promise and his oath. These two things are unchangeable because it is impossible for God to lie. Therefore, we who have fled to him for refuge can have great confidence as we hold to the hope that lies before us. 19 This hope is a strong and trustworthy anchor for our souls. It leads us through the curtain into God’s inner sanctuary. 20 Jesus has already gone in there for us. He has become our eternal High Priest in the order of Melchizedek. (Hebrews 6:17-20
122 You find yourself in a position which seems rather strange: on the one hand, you feel fainthearted, as you look inwards; on the other, sure, encouraged, as you look upwards. Don’t worry: it is a sign that you are beginning to know yourself better and— more importantly!—that you are beginning to know Him better. (1)
As things get more expensive, the ability of most churches to have sufficient staff that is compensated for their work has decreased dramatically. Where there might have been a couple of pastors, a youth worker and secretarial staff of 2 30 years ago, is now down to a full-time pastor, and maybe a part support person or two. Sometimes the pastor is blessed with a large amount of volunteer staff, but to train them and still be responsible for their ministry, adds to the burden.
It is no surprise that pastors, ministers, priests and the others who “minister” at the church burn out. Or simply get too weary to do things effectively. For a pastor putting in a sixty hour a week (or more) or a volunteer putting in 15-20 hours after their full-time job, weariness becomes a way of life, a pattern that seems unbreakable.
St. Josemaria’s words hit home to those in those periods of life. We look inwards and wonder how we will keep going. How can we do our job, not just passably, but well. After all, our ministry does have an importance like no other. It is not just a life or death situation, it is now and eternally a life or death/hell issue. So when we fall asleep on the job, what do we do?
We look up, we run to God for refuge, We find in Him our anchor for our souls. And anchor that pulls us into the Holiest of Holy places, into the presence of God Himself.
And this holy place, this sanctuary, this place where God dwells becomes our life. Because the Holy Spirit is given to us, we become that holiest place, Our feet are standing on Holy Ground because we are there. We find know His presence, exult in it. Which is why the letter of Hebrews talks about encouraging each other, helping each other, coming alongside and reminding us that God comes alongside us.
It is there, in the second someone says, “and also with you” as you share with them the Lord’s presence in their lives, that we find the strength. And the weariness fades long enough to drive home, and rest in His peace.
This is ministry… empowered by God… dwelling in His presence.. bringing Him to others who need to know that.
(1) Escriva, Josemaria (2011-01-31). Furrow (Kindle Locations 702-705). Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition.
Devotional Thought of the Day:
9 But his answer was: “My grace is all you need, for my power is greatest when you are weak.” I am most happy, then, to be proud of my weaknesses, in order to feel the protection of Christ’s power over me. 10 I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and difficulties for Christ’s sake. For when I am weak, then I am strong. 2 Corinthians 12:9-10 (TEV)
26 In the same way the Spirit also comes to help us, weak as we are. For we do not know how we ought to pray; the Spirit himself pleads with God for us in groans that words cannot express. 27 And God, who sees into our hearts, knows what the thought of the Spirit is; because the Spirit pleads with God on behalf of his people and in accordance with his will. Romans 8:26-27 (TEV)
1 Imitate me, then, just as I imitate Christ. 1 Corinthians 11:1 (TEV)
141 As, sooner or later, you are surely bound to stumble upon the evidence of your own personal wretchedness, I wish to forewarn you about some of the temptations which the devil will suggest to you and which you should reject straight away. These include the thought that God has forgotten about you, that your call to the apostolate is in vain, and that the weight of sorrow and of the sins of the world are greater than your strength as an apostle… None of this is true! (1)
From the earliest days I remember hearing men and women preach and teach about Jesus, in ever denomination I have been associated with, there has been an encouragement to become people of great faith. Some held up Bible figures, Samson and David, Moses and Elijah, Peter (not the one who would break betraying Jesus, but the one who was the only one ot walk on water, and preached at Pentecost), Paul the greatest missionary that ever lived. Some held up saints that had gone to make their mark on the world, whether Patrick or Francis, Martin Luther, John Wesley, Mother Theresa or Billy Graham. Some hold up the modern heroes now, the Rick Warren’s, the Pope Benedict’s.
I have no problem with us walking in the steps of those who walked before, just as they imitated Christ.
But it is where we imitate them, and where we are encouraged to imitate them, that I find challenging.
You see, every saint is such because of the trust they have in God. The deep conviction and confidence in God, in knowing His presence. That trust, that faith is often born in moments of despair, in moments of failure. Joseph in the prison, Gideon hiding out in the whinepress ( pun intended), Elijah in the cave, Peter in tears as the rooster crows and later on the beach, where three times he answers Jesus…not hearing the words that follow. it’s Billy Graham, having failed as a pastor, or Luther, trembling at the mass, and appearing as a raving lunatic as he took on Satan. It’s Paul as he bears the thorn in his flesh, and as he agonizes over his countrymen.
It is as St Josemaria says, as we look out on the brokenness of the world, of the brokenness of the church. of our own brokenness and sin.
When we feel handicapped, paralyzed, when our hope in view of the challenges… seems diminished.
We need rest – not just physical, but spiritual. We need to sit in the presence, in the glory in the peace of God and allow Him to heal our brokenness, As we see Him do that, as we realize what He did to us in our baptism, and we are nourished by His precious Body and Blood, as we hear those precious words, “my child your sins are forgiven,”, we find our trust in God growing, our faith becoming substantial, We know we can turn to God and depend on Him, that not only will He not condemn us, but He will not allow us to be separated from Him. We learn of his compassion for us, and His call to us, to ensure us He will be our God.
We can’t always hear those words, when we are struggling with the cacophony of life around us, when we are facing temptation, and the guilt and shame of sin. When we are anxious about those we love, and the life-situations that assault and try them. It is in those times, that we need to be strong, but a strength based on confidence that God is indeed with us. With strength that flows from our trust that God will ensure all turns out for good for those who love him. You see, our strength isn’t ours, it is His. Much like a astronaut working on the space station depends on it for Oxygen and is tethered to it, so to our ability to endure is tied to Christ.
That is the thing we need to emulate of those people of great faith we are encouraged to imitate. The results of the work we do? Everyone is different, and for every saint we know of, there are millions whose work was different, who challenges to trust in God were as great, who endured, not because of their strength, but because they trusted in God more than they clinged to life.
They prayed, “Lord have mercy!” confident that because He had, He would! AMEN
(1) Escriva, Josemaria (2011-01-31). Furrow (Kindle Locations 788-793). Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition.
Discussion/Devotional thoughts of the Day…
20 Who in the world do you think you are to second-guess God? Do you for one moment suppose any of us knows enough to call God into question? Clay doesn’t talk back to the fingers that mold it, saying, “Why did you shape me like this?” 21 Isn’t it obvious that a potter has a perfect right to shape one lump of clay into a vase for holding flowers and another into a pot for cooking beans? 22 If God needs one style of pottery especially designed to show his angry displeasure 23 and another style carefully crafted to show his glorious goodness, isn’t that all right? 24 Either or both happens to Jews, but it also happens to the other people. 25 Hosea put it well: I’ll call nobodies and make them somebodies; I’ll call the unloved and make them beloved. 26 In the place where they yelled out, “You’re nobody!” they’re calling you “God’s living children.” 27 Isaiah maintained this same emphasis: If each grain of sand on the seashore were numbered and the sum labeled “chosen of God,” They’d be numbers still, not names; salvation comes by (God’s) personal selection. 28 God doesn’t count us; he calls us by name. Arithmetic is not his focus. Romans 9:20-28 (MSG)
They appear in some of my favorite books an movies, Bilbo Baggins, (not to mention his nephew Frodo), Thomas Covenant, Nicholas Seafort, the apprentices Pug and Thomas and Jimmy the Hand. Arthur Dent…..the quarterback in Longest Yard, the general in “the Last Castle”.
It is, I suppose, a special genre…. that of the Anti-hero. The ones who succeed despite themselves, matter of fact it is their weakness, and their mistakes, that endear them to us… and because of which, they find success.
But they are also my favorite people in scripture, REAL PEOPLE – like Gideon, Samuel, David, Jeremiah, Hosea and of course, the last person anyone would have thought would have been a hero (except maybe in his own mind) – the apostle Peter. They too are the people that were not considered the brilliant, the connected, the famous, the wealthy and powerful. Yet God used them, incredibly, as He formed them, empowered and equipped them to do what others could not do.
And everyone is surprised… as if God can’t work through the means He chooses.
Which brings me to you and I.
We are God’s artwork, His masterpiece (see Ephesians 2:10) We may not be much (or some of us, like Peter and I – often – too much!) but God uses us, and uses us to do extraordinary things. It may be what we accomplish, it may be what we endure. It may simply be the example of trying to cling to God’s hand with our last remaining bit of strength – then realizing we are safely nestled in the palm of His other hand. It could be that we are the forefront of a major revival – one where the church is reformed because we were the remnant not to surrender to dreams of past glory, or the machinations to create a future one.
We don’t know – we cannot… we can only trust in God… we can only walk with Him, dance with Him, be cleansed and strengthened by Him…loved by Him.
That is the time – when He receives glory, for the like the cornerstone which the builders rejected – we are found to be an essential block (in my case blockhead) in His building the New Sanctuary… the Body of Christ, those who have been brought to trust in Him, and cleansed by Him.
We are His people – we are His clay…
and He is at work in and through our lives. AMEN
16 Always be joyful. 17 Never stop praying. 18 Be thankful in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you who belong to Christ Jesus. 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18 (NLT)
18 All of us, then, reflect the glory of the Lord with uncovered faces; and that same glory, coming from the Lord, who is the Spirit, transforms us into his likeness in an ever greater degree of glory. 2 Corinthians 3:18 (TEV)
Nearly fifteen years ago, I lay on a table in a hospital, as an angiogram was being done by my cardiologist. Above the table were a number of television monitors, all black and white, and the showed the progress of the camera as it was inserted into my thigh, and was run my leg into my heart. A bit disconcerting — and yet fascinating.
What was even mroe fascinating was the focus of Dr. Silver. His focus as he guided the devise was not on me, but on the cameras, his attention completed devoted and dedicated to task at hand, but yet, not on the work of his hands. It was on the monitors- as they showed him where he was going – and what he needed to see. It was a bit disconcerting – there he was – moving his hands, working on me.., but almost unaware that I was there.
As I contemplate the end of a very difficult year of ministry, (difficult because of a high level of trauma for the people in my congregation and those around me) and as I am praying this morning, and coming across these verses, I think our “success” as a congregation, and our focus has been much like my cardiologist Stephen’s. For indeed, this small church has grown very strong in its faith.. and people have persevered through things.. that are beyond challenging. For while we are working on things below, while we are struggling with the situations down here, the work requires our focus somewhere else – our focus is to be on Jesus Christ, on the love of God the Father, listening as they reveal the height and width, the depth and breadth of their love for us shown through Christ.
As we interact, as we dance in that love, as God leads us through life, the essential work we do requires that focus, even though our… mind tells us to look at what we are doing, to look at where our hands are moving. There is our challenge, to be in communication with God – to have our focal point on Him.
It is like the words of a priest…written in a book called, “The Forge”
“To think of Christ’s Death means to be invited to face up to our everyday tasks with complete sincerity, and to take the faith that we profess seriously. It has to be an opportunity to go deeper into the depths of God’s Love, so as to be able to show that Love to men with our words and deeds.” (1)
So look deep – deeply focus on the love of God – revealed to you – for you in Christ Jesus. Keep your eyes on Him as you endure each day… for it is then, that you do you best work, even though it seems you are not…focused on what you are doing.
May your next year be filled with His love, His mercy and many blessings. AMEN †
(1) Escriva, Josemaria (2011-01-31). The Forge (Kindle Locations 2141-2144). Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition.
6:11 But you, Timothy, are a man of God; so run from all these evil things. Pursue righteousness and a godly life, along with faith, love, perseverance, and gentleness. 12 Fight the good fight for the true faith. Hold tightly to the eternal life to which God has called you, which you have confessed so well before many witnesses. 1 Timothy 6:11-12 (NLT)
There are days where being a believer is a fight, where it is just a struggle. There is a “fight” against the world, and its pressures, and seduction and mocking criticism. There can be a “fight” within the church, as we interact closely with others who are dealing with the paradox of being forgiven sinners. ( if they would only stop sinning, and also – don’t they understand they are supposed to forgive me?) But the biggest struggle for me is not the external fights, it is the internal one. The kind Paul describes himself going through in Romans 7 -the fight within me to pursue righteousness, to see mercy dominate, to keep in mind the struggle of this life pale in comparison to God’s presence now, and what He longs for, when we are all home in heaven.
After those days of internal fighting, I wonder about my faith. Do I deserve to be called a “christian”, never mind deserving to serve as a pastor? I comprehend all to well Paul’s word’s about not doing what I know I should, and doing that which I know I shouldn’t. I want to beat myself into submission, I want to find a way to get rid of the sin, as Hebrews 12 urges us – setting it aside for that which I enjoy more………and just when I do, something comes up – and my cynical and sarcastic side takes over… again.
So how do we mature, how do we overcome in this struggle?
We strive, but not in our own strength – we begin to depend on the One who is our source of righteousness – who created the faith we have, and will perfect it. We don’t give up, thinking there is not option to failure. But we are reminded by that failure of our need to depend on Jesus. As one pastor/priest wrote:
“You are not getting worse. It is just that now you have more light to see yourself as you really are. You must avoid even the slightest hint of discouragement.
Along the way to personal sanctity we can at times get the impression that we are going backwards instead of forwards, that we are getting worse instead of better. As long as there is interior struggle this pessimistic thought is only an illusion, a deception to be rejected as false. Persevere and don’t worry. If you fight with tenacity you are making progress and are growing in sanctity.” (1)
If our “fight” is to grasp more onto Christ, it makes sense that we will see that which would pull us away more clearly, that we would feel the drag on us more acutely, that we would learn the hard way, that trying to make progress is effective as we depend on Jesus, His love, His mercy, His guidance, His presence, more and more and more. That Godly life can only be learned from within the Kingdom of God, the place where we have belonged since our first day, when God cleansed us in baptism. When He took hold of us.
Hold on, don’t be distracted or drained by the currents of life, for know that He has a hold of you as well, as nothing can separate you from His love.
(1)Escriva, Josemaria (2011-01-31). The Forge (Kindle Locations 957-964). Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition.
Discussion/Devotional thought of the day:
There are days when it seems the trials and traumas never end. For a pastor, perhaps we see this more often than others, but I don’t think so. There are so many things out there to cause anxiety, from health issues to financial struggles, to friends and family in trauma, to marriages and relationships that struggle and need supernatural help to survive and heal.
As I related yesterday, I’ve had a few myself – from dieing to surgeries, and to being there for people in the midst of so many issues. I have found that in the midst of adversity, in the midst of trauma, there is both a sense of peace, and strength that is there that isn’t mine, but it is available to me. It is one of the reasons I am writing a book about churches in trauma – to remind them of what is already there… for them..
In this mornings devotion, I came across two notes that reveal it a little, once you think them through:
475 You realize you are weak. And so, indeed, you are. In spite of all that—rather, because of it—God has sought you. He always uses inadequate instruments so that the work may be seen to be his. From you he asks only docility.
476 When you really give yourself to God, no difficulty will be able to shake your optimism. (Escriva, Josemaria (2010-11-02). The Way (Kindle Locations 1165-1168). Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition.)
I’ve been accused of being too optimistic once or twice, and while I would adjust St Josemaria’s statement a little – I agree with it. My adjustment would be to say “When you abandon yourself to God” rather than give. Give makes it sound like you can, like a child “take back” that which you have given. (and so often we do!) But to come to the realization that there is no other option, no other hope, then you do let God be God, the Master who promises to and designs your life as a piece of artwork. (see Eph. 2:10 – the word for workmanship there is the word we get poetry from!)
I am not talking about conversion here – at least not in the evangelical sense. For there, conversion has little to do with us, God simply reveals Himself and His love, through those who come to us with His word. Wesley may have called this a “second infilling of grace”, Robert Schuller calls this positive thinking (knowing that we are God’s brings about incredible strength in times of need – that’s the hallmark of most of his writing) , the prophet/leader Joshua would ask it this way “choose you this day whom you serve”. The apostle Paul talks about being confident that “all things work for good for those that love God.” Luther would talk about such as a First Commandment issue – don’t have other God’s – but call upon Him in prayer and praise. When you abandon yourself into God’s hands, and are confident that is the thing to do- you simply know and trust in Him.
What is mistaken for optimism – is simply a matter of confidence in God. Trusting Him, having faith in Him, knowing Him.
That is where the other point of St. Josemaria comes into play. When we realize we are weak – when we realize we have no real option but to abandon ourselves to God, then we begin to realize that God has plans, He has designs on our life, and those designs bring us to places we would have never imagined, to work with people we would never anticipate, and see them respond to the work of God in our lives. Not because we can do great things – but in the midst of the storms, in the midst of what should promote incredible anxiety, in the middle of it all… we know God is with us.
Having mercy, pouring out His love and comfort, assuring us of our place with Him……there is our strength, and knowing that, we can be incredibly bold – in being His people.
So know He is God, and you are His chosen people. And let Him do His thing… being God – He’s significantly better at being God than you are!