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I Will Trust in My God! A sermon for the second week of Epiphany!

church at communion 2Epiphany!
I will Trust My God!

Isaiah 49:1-17

 In Jesus’ Name!

As the light of Christ’s glory shines in your hearts, may you know how great His mercy, how complete His peace, and how deep His love for you is!

Is it him, or me?

When we look at a prophecy in the Old Testament, there are some things we have to consider. 

How was it in originally fulfilled.

Is it primarily about Jesus during the time from His incarnation to his

But there is a third application of the prophecy – whether it is just a lesson for us, revealing Jesus, or whether it is directly applicable to us.  For example, in the 23rd Psalm, or in Psalm 51 or 139, the words are as applicable to you and me as they are to David.

But what about today’s selection?  Is it like those Psalms that are more about Jesus, or the ones that tell us more about ourselves?

Are we the ones who were named by God before our birth, while in our mother’s womb known by God?  Or is it Jesus?

Are we the ones hidden in the shadow of His hand, who serve God the Father and will bring Him glory, or is it only Jesus who is so aimed, whose words will cause people to know God’s decision that declares them righteous?

Who is this passage about?  Jesus, our Lord, the one who brings the light of His glory into our darkness, or are these words of Isaiah about you and me?

Al – don’t say it!

Could He know the despair?

If I were to make the case that it is about us, what would seem to make that point is found in verse 4.

4  I replied, “But my work seems so useless! I have spent my strength for nothing and to no purpose.

That sounds like something you or I would say, far more than it sounds like something the only begotten Son of God would say.

Think about those words for a moment.  Do these words of despair sound like they would come from the mouth of the Lord Jesus?  From the same lips that blessed bread and fish and fed thousands upon thousands?  From the same lips that calmed storms, and called the little girl and the widow’s son and Lazarus back to life?  Could Jesus, who forgave the adulteress, and healed the blind and paralyzed, could he have uttered such words of hopelessness?

Doesn’t this lead us to think these words, therefore, must be just about you and me?

Or is this what the writer of Hebrews means when he says,

15  We don’t have a priest who is out of touch with our reality. He’s been through weakness and testing, experienced it all—all but the sin. 16  So let’s walk right up to him and get what he is so ready to give. Take the mercy, accept the help.
Hebrews 4:15-16 (MSG)

If so, then this passage could still be about Him.  If it is, then we have a God who doesn’t just look down on us, but can be there for us, knowing the challenges.  He just doesn’t sympathize with us, this God who lights up our darkness with His light, it is His empathy that drives Him to do so!

If this passage is about Jesus, then it brings a whole different understanding to our faith.  It isn’t n vain, and it isn’t a leap.  Our hope is an expectation, just like Jesus’ faith is expressed back in verse 4,

“But my work seems so useless! I have spent my strength for nothing and to no purpose. Yet I leave it all in the LORD’s hand; I will trust God for my reward.

Somehow, Jesus was able to trust the Father, He was able to leave it all in the Father’s hands.  Dealing with Peter and James and John and the wishy-washy disciples, dealing with Herod and the religious leaders who wanted to kill him.  Dealing with the rich young ruler who walked away.

Did Jesus know those days when it seems like nothing works, that nothing makes a difference, and simply trusted in the Father’s will?

yes.

It is both, because we find life, in Christ!

So is this passage only about Jesus?  Or can we utter those words as well?  Can we leave it all in the hands of God, trusting in God to see us through?

Is He the only one who God formed to be his servant?  Is he the only One who God uses to bring back those who’ve wandered off, to bring salvation to all who are far off, even to the ends of the earth?  Who will see the powers and authorities of this world bowing before?

While it is about Jesus, it is about us as well, for we find our lives, the lives the Holy Spirit calls into existence, cleansing us from sin, in Christ Jesus.  It is true of us because it is true of Him.  For in the book of Acts Paul tells some gentiles in Athens that their poets had it correct when they said, “In Him we live and move and have our being”.

That is what it means to be in the season of Epiphany, to share in the glory of Christ Jesus.  This is what it means for Him to be here, shattering our darkness.  As we realize His presence anew every time we commune at the altar, every we time we hear His voice speak to us, as the Holy Spirit uses the gospel to create life within us!

We see this the last verse, where Isaiah says to those in Christ, it is the LORD, the faithful One, the Holy One of Israel who has chosen you…

This is not about the one who is spoken too, it is not about their faith, but the faithfulness of the LORD who speaks.  It is about His faithfulness in saving us, in lighting our way, in ensuring we endure, ensuring we hear His call of us, by name.  The name for the church throughout scripture is this very term – the chosen or called ones.  Called by name, kept in the hand of God, given a message to deliver to the nations.

This is our life, spent in Christ, our journey in the light of His glory, the glory that came when He came to dwell with man, and in our baptism as the Spirit comes to give us this wondrous life.

This is our focus during Epiphany, this is why we sing, as we recognize His glory has appeared here, where the Lord is with you!  AMEN!

Imitate Jesus….at the cost of our idolatry

photo(35)

The Good Shepherd, carrying His own.

Devotional Thought of the Day:
8  He was humble and walked the path of obedience all the way to death— his death on the cross.    Philippians 2:8 (TEV)

625    Your obedience is not worthy of the name unless you are ready to abandon your most flourishing work whenever someone with authority so commands.

5  Through Christ, God has given us the privilege and authority as apostles to tell Gentiles everywhere what God has done for them, so that they will believe and obey him, bringing glory to his name. 6  And you are included among those Gentiles who have been called to belong to Jesus Christ. Romans 1:5-6 (NLT)

If you want to grow as a Christian, one of the things you need to do is confront your idols.  To see them, confess them, and let God circumcise your heart and soul, removing those idols that would destroy you.

Two words can help in this examination.

Obedience

Submission

Even as you read those words, like me, something in your stomach reacted, or perhaps you became a little jittery, as defenses began to rise up.  I don’t want to submit to my boss, we see teens struggle to obey their parents, and you want to really have fun, bring up the idea of wives submitting to their husbands in a Bible Study!

Most Christians would nod appreciatively when we talk about imitating Christ. That we should have the heart for the lost, for those who are broken and destitute, We may think of them, and pray for them, and pretend we are like Christ.  We may give money to missions, and think we’ve done our part, that we’ve made our sacrifice.

But will we, as St Josemaria notes, abandon what is going well, what is flourishing, what seems to be blessed, to obey Jesus?

That’s another question entirely, and strikes to what obedience really is.

Will we embrace hardship, to love?  Will we give up that which we’ve invested our lives in because we’ve heard the voice of God, because we know this is what God has planned, because it is in accord with the heart of God, that has been revealed to us in scripture?

Would you leave your business, like Peter, Andrew, James and John did, with an unheard of catch of fish?  Or leave success as Matthew did, literally walking away with tables full of money?

That is obedience.  Jesus calls.

But please, understand me, this is not a blog to create guilt, but to help us learn to trust in God, to depend on Him, for that is the source of obedience.

Obedience is not blind, it is not mindless, to set aside our desires, it requires us to be in prayer, to examine our consciences and allow God to purify them.

It requires us to hear God.

Which is probably why the word in Greek for obey is – hyper-hear.

To listen and let it stick, to internalize what is heard.

TO hear the voice of God, and be so overwhelmed, we respond in love, in adoration.For we realize that nothing, no idol, no desire, no amount of success is worth the joy of being in His presence.

This is our life.  This life of walking with God, of hearing His voice, of knowing Him, and knowing His love for us.

AMEN!

Escriva, Josemaria. The Way (Kindle Locations 1477-1478). Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition.

Ethics, Ambition, Apathy and Success

Devotional Thought of the Day:
16  Then he told them a parable. “There was a rich man whose land produced a bountiful harvest. 17  He asked himself, ‘What shall I do, for I do not have space to store my harvest?’ 18  And he said, ‘This is what I shall do: I shall tear down my barns and build larger ones. There I shall store all my grain and other goods 19  and I shall say to myself, “Now as for you, you have so many good things stored up for many years, rest, eat, drink, be merry!” 20  But God said to him, ‘You fool, this night your life will be demanded of you; and the things you have prepared, to whom will they belong?’ 21   Thus will it be for the one who stores up treasure for himself but is not rich in what matters to God.”
Luke 12:16-21 (NAB)

441         Take note of this. I told a certain noble, learned and dauntless man, on a memorable occasion, that by defending a holy cause, which “good people” were attacking, a high post in his field was at stake: he was going to lose it. With a voice full of human and supernatural seriousness, despising the honours of this earth, he answered: “It is my soul that is at stake.”

A long time ago, before I became a pastor, I remember being driven to do a good job.  Not because I always enjoyed it, but because if I did well, if my numbers looked good, I would be promoted. I took my joy in the bonuses and added responsibility.

I eventually burnt out on that, for I found out it was all vanity, a never ending circle of having to do better, for you prior best was now considered the standard, and so yuo were driven to do more, to take one more, to feel more pressure.  The temptation to take advantage of the letter of the law was large, again for both ego and the salary need had to be fed.

Then came a point where I didn’t want more responsibility, my ambition waned.  I just wanted something I could invest myself in, and do well. But not so well that others would want to add more responsibility to my burdens.  I didn’t want to coast, or slacken the work, but neither was I ready to take on more responsibility.  In a way, I lost all sense of ambition, struggling with what appeared to be the cost.  For I thought ambition would always lead to the end of the man in the parable, who fulfilled his desire, and didn’t get to enjoy it.

In those days, I would read that passage, or the St. Josemaria’s narrative, and use both to deny my sense of ambition, to pacify and counter it.  Simply put, you can maintain status quo, and have that negatively impact your soul, and the soul of others. We have to realize that what we do, and our attitudes and drives can be costly.  It doesn’t matter the goal, or whether we are driven to success or apathetic.  We have more than that binary option, don’t we?

I am struggling with the idea that ambition and ethics, ambition and Christ-likeness may not be as contrary as I think. Nor is it the goal of the ambition that we must question.  It is who benefits from seeing our goals acheived.  Is it our ego, or our soul, or the souls of others?

Maybe the question isn’t between being apathetic (masqueraded as contentment) or driven.  Maybe the question is how we define the “success” that we are driven to achieve?j

Can our ambition, our drive be harnessed to serve people?  To care for souls, to be as effective as we can, because we know the love poured into us.  To embrace the hardships that ambition requires, not to be praised as martyrs, but because we walk with Christ, and His desires become ours.  Can our souls and the souls of others benefit from our “success?”

St Paul wrote,  “We are human, but we don’t wage war as humans do. 4  We use God’s mighty weapons, not worldly weapons, to knock down the strongholds of human reasoning and to destroy false arguments. 5  We destroy every proud obstacle that keeps people from knowing God. We capture their rebellious thoughts and teach them to obey Christ.”  (Corinthians 10:3-5 (NLT) )

This is the start to “holy ambition”, this focus on Jesus, on making Jesus known to others, to serving them sacrificially so that we give them the opportunity to find rest and healing in Jesus.  To take our thoughts and make them obey, to have them hear and be consistent with the nature of Jesus.

That takes effort, and work, patience and ambition.

The end result is worth it all.

We know Him.  Souls are saved…

It’s monday – time to get to work!

.

 

Escriva, Josemaria (2011-01-31). Furrow (Kindle Locations 1960-1963). Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition.

The Better Way to Be a Success

Devotional Thought of the day:DSCF0066

30  Do we all have the gift of healing? Do we all have the ability to speak in unknown languages? Do we all have the ability to interpret unknown languages? Of course not! 31  So you should earnestly desire the most helpful gifts. But now let me show you a way of life that is best of all. 1  If I could speak all the languages of earth and of angels, but didn’t love others, I would only be a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. 2  If I had the gift of prophecy, and if I understood all of God’s secret plans and possessed all knowledge, and if I had such faith that I could move mountains, but didn’t love others, I would be nothing. 3  If I gave everything I have to the poor and even sacrificed my body, I could boast about it; but if I didn’t love others, I would have gained nothing. 4  Love is patient and kind. Love is not jealous or boastful or proud 5  or rude. It does not demand its own way. It is not irritable, and it keeps no record of being wronged. 6  It does not rejoice about injustice but rejoices whenever the truth wins out. 7  Love never gives up, never loses faith, is always hopeful, and endures through every circumstance. 1 Corinthians 12:30 – 13:7(NLT)

100      Charity succeeds always. Without charity nothing can be done. Love, then, is the secret of your life… Do love! Suffer gladly. Toughen up your soul. Invigorate your will. Make sure that you surrender yourself to God’s will, and efficacy will follow.

We live in a environment that is consumed with the ideas of success.  From being successful in business, to being successful parents, to crafting that special meme that gets a bazillion likes, to even being on a successful weight loss program, we lust after success.  As pastors, there are people that measure our success by how much we agree with their favorite theologian or theological system.  There are others who will measure us by whether our church grows at a certain rate.

This morning I even saw a recognition of success that was scary.  It was given to an abortion clinic by Planed Parenthood that exceeded their prior year to date tally.  I am not sure I would call that success.  For that matter most of what we call a success, I am not sure is all that successful in the long run. Wealth, prosperity, a killer hot body?  Which of those will have importance after we’ve gone?

Even more, we are driven not to fail at what we do.  We will move mountains to avoid it, to not have to confess that our plans didn’t work out the way we thought they would.  People will strive to succeed to avoid failure, and they will strive to cover up their failures, neglecting to make them valuable by learning from them.

This even happens in the church, and its been a problem for a long time.  Look at the letter to the church in Corinth, they are consumed by it!  .  I’ve done things that failed miserably.  In other things, some consider me successful. I am not sure there either.

When I feel successful, is when I hear people singing (\with conviction and heart praising God as they recognize His love for them.  (that’s true even when they sing off-key… sometimes more so!)  When they approach the altar to receive the Body and Blood of Christ Jesus. When a family and friends gather around as someone is baptised, receiving all the promises of God..

Success as a human being is ultimately measured by love.  Can you love, even love your enemies?

The reason that is the measure?  It’s not because it proves you are saintly, a person of great will and wisdom. It’s not because you are more special, or gifted, or even obedient.

It’s because such loves demonstrates the work of Christ in your life, that you walk with God, that you have been given the power and the desire to do God’s work.

Success is found in knowing His love…. the love that the Holy Spirit reveals to you in the word of God, and through the sacraments.

You want to be successful?  it is simple, though as Escriva says, it is tough and requires great strength to trusts in Christ Jesus….and as the apostle Paul says, it is the better way…..

The way of Love, the way of Christ.

 

Escriva, Josemaria (2011-01-31). The Forge (Kindle Locations 563-566). Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition.

Ever Feel Like a Failure?

Devotional Thought of the Day:Will new camera 12 2008 167

28  We know that in all things God works for good with those who love him, those whom he has called according to his purpose. 29  Those whom God had already chosen he also set apart to become like his Son, so that the Son would be the first among many believers. 30  And so those whom God set apart, he called; and those he called, he put right with himself, and he shared his glory with them. Romans 8:28-30 (TEV)

68  It is all too easy to say: “I’m useless; nothing turns out right for me—for us.” Apart from not being true, that pessimism masks a great deal of laziness. There are things you do well, and things you do badly. Fill yourself with joy and with hope on account of the former; and face up to the latter—without losing heart—to put things right; and they will work out.(1)

It creeps up on us slowly, like a tiger stalking its prey.  We are doing okay, perhaps struggling a bit, and then, as things seem to fall apart, it strikes.

It’s our fault, the reason we aren’t successful, or happy, or even simply content. Sometimes even when we are achieving our goals, because we aren’t achieving them fast enough, or the results aren’t as awesome as the next guy.

We beat ourselves up, perhaps we listen to voices of our pas, the voices that were trying to spur us on, but tore us down.

We think we are failures, no good, useless, that nothing good will ever come from us.  So we extend ourselves, we go after some other proof that we aren’t worthless.  A better car, another degree, a nice house, We try to find success in our children, or perhaps in our ancestors. We find distractions, support groups, we listen to “positive thinking” speakers, and we surround ourselves with people who we think will lift us up…. and they don’t, for they are the same as us,

That is where faith, where confidence in God comes to play.

He’s promised all will work out for good – all things!  All things!  Even what we perceive to be our failures. Maybe especially in those times, as we get to our wits end, as we are bottoming out.

It is then that we have to remember He is with us, it is the only answer to the despair e feel. But as we find the joy that is found in knowing God, in understanding what His presence means, in realizing His promises are for us; we find the joy, the peace, the mercy to realize there is something more going on in life.  That God is here, crafting everything into something that is a blessing beyond our wildest hope.

Filled with that joy, we leap into life, we take the opportunities that come, not to bring ourselves glory, but to see God glorified.  To know that our lives are in His hands, and there is no better place to be.

(1)  Escriva, Josemaria (2011-01-31). Furrow (Kindle Locations 506-509). Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition.

One Last Thought About Ministry and “Spinning our Wheels”

Devotional Thoughts of the Day:

13  “You have said terrible things about me,” says the LORD. “But you ask, ‘What have we said about you?’ 14  You have said, ‘It’s useless to serve God. What’s the use of doing what he says or of trying to show the LORD Almighty that we are sorry for what we have done? 15  As we see it, proud people are the ones who are happy. Evil people not only prosper, but they test God’s patience with their evil deeds and get away with it.’ ” 16  Then the people who feared the LORD spoke to one another, and the LORD listened and heard what they said. In his presence, there was written down in a book a record of those who feared the LORD and respected him. 17  “They will be my people,” says the LORD Almighty. “On the day when I act, they will be my very own. I will be merciful to them as parents are merciful to the children who serve them.  Malachi 3:13-17 (TEV) 

 “The apostle has no aim other than letting God work, making himself available.”  (1)

“It is by God’s grace that our feet don’t lose contact with the path we are set out to follow.  We say, “here I am, Lord” when He calls.  He calls continually to the willing, and the unwilling.  It is not so much our ability He has need of, but our availability.  (2)

I started a number of blogs this week, questioning the validity of our feelings, when they question the results of our ministries and our very lives.  When we wonder if the effort is worth it, when we wonder if we are just spinning our wheels. As I looked at the “hit count”, and the responses to these posts, the results were staggering – a lot of people read these posts.  I am not sure whether I should be sad at this being so common, or relieved that I am not alone.

But as I’ve written each day, there is a faith issue involved, as well as one of discernment.  It is really easy, as in the Malachi passage to look at this world and see people getting “blessed” for doing good, and those who struggle, not being blessed, at least from our view.  Do we see those people who know God is with them and therefore make incredible sacrifices to serve being pointed out as great examples of faith, or those whose political machinations earning them praise?

Do we trust that God is here, listening, acting, being part of our lives as He has promised over and over and over to His people?

Oh how easy it is to question God, or the more “mature” version (since we know we can’t do that) our questioning our own results, the benefit of “our” ministry.

When we trust in God, yes, we rejoice in the the hard times. But we also rejoice in the times of rest, the times where we need to realize God is at work, and that the present trying times are not an indication of His faithfulness to us, nor of His love.  We simply make ourselves available, keeping our eyes focused on Him, or remembeing His work in us in our baptism – and rejoicing.  Of remembering His invitation to come and dine with Him, to do this knowing His work, His love, His presence.  Of seeing His unmatched love for us.

As we do – our focus comes off of us, we stop evaluating things by our standards, our expectations, and realize that He is at work in us.

And that.. simply is glorious.

To reveal the work that happens, that God makes profitable within His will and His desire.

To realize the ways He wants to walk with us may seem different – but then again – He is with us…….

Cry out in those times, Lord Have Mercy, and wait and listen, and know He already has…

(1)   Escriva, Josemaria (2011-01-31). The Forge (Kindle Locations 2454-2455). Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition.

(2)  The Northumbrian Community, Celtic Daily Prayer, Harper One  p. 313

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