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The Cure for “Boring” Spirituality/Christianity

Thoughts that give me confidence because Jesus is drawing us closer to Him!

I came naked from my mother’s womb,
and I will be naked when I leave.
The LORD gave me what I had,
and the LORD has taken it away.
Praise the name of the LORD!”
Job 1:21

Since all standard hymns have been edited to delete inferior stanzas and since any stanza of the average hymn can be sung in less than one minute … and since many of our best hymns have already been shortened as much as good taste will allow, we are forced to conclude that the habit of omitting the third stanza reveals religious boredom, pure and simple, and it would do our souls good if we would admit it.

As we begin to trust God more, we enjoy a certain freedom from our vices and may often experience great satisfaction in our spiritual endeavors. When God decides we are ready, he invites us to a new level of self-knowledge. God withdraws the initial consolations of conversion, and we are plunged in darkness, spiritual dryness, and confusion. We think that God has abandoned us.… Then comes a period of peace, enjoyment of a new inner freedom, the wonder of new insights. That takes time. Rarely is there a sudden movement to a new level of awareness that is permanent. What happens when we get to the bottom of the pile of our emotional debris? We are in divine union. There is no other obstacle.

The second and third readings are cause and effect.

When our worship becomes dry, when our spiritual lives exist in a state of boredom, we need God to take action.

But I will warn you, it isn’t pretty. It may not be as dramatic as Job encounters, but it will feel like it at times. (It does for me today) The classic devotional text The Dark Night of the Soul, also documents this, and how God allows Satan to strike us, for our good.

Like Job, the journey isn’t easy, like Job the challenges overwhelm us, and we find ourselves at the point of despair, and we will accuse God of abandoning us. That accusation may come with surprising force, because it comes from the darkest regions of our heart and soul.

God hears the accusation as a prayer. A cry for help that will be answered in a way that Keaton recognizes is full of peace. We abandon ourselves into the hands of a loving, merciful God, and are willing to see what He will do, for there is nothing else. Everything, including our hearts and minds are emptied out, and He is there… and that is what we need.

For we realize it is a blessed thing for God to take away what divides us from Him.  That is part of His healing ministry.

Oddly enough, this healing work, stripping us of all that isn’t of God–that is the content of many of those “third verses” that Tozer laments the loss of. Consider this one

My sin, oh the bliss of this glorious thought (a thought)
My sin, not in part, but the whole (every bit, every bit, all of it)
Is nailed to the cross, and I bear it no more (yes)
Praise the Lord, praise the Lord, O my soul
(from It is Well with My Soul!)

God is with us…Blessed Be His Name!

A. W. Tozer, Tozer for the Christian Leader (Chicago: Moody Publishers, 2015).

Thomas Keating, The Daily Reader for Contemplative Living: Excerpts from the Works of Father Thomas Keating, O.C.S.O., Sacred Scripture, and Other Spiritual Writings, ed. S. Stephanie Iachetta (New York; London; New Delhi; Sydney: Bloomsbury, 2009), 179.

 

The Church Desperately Needs Fools and Madmen – if we are to survive.

Thoughts to help us run to Jesus…

Caiaphas, who was high priest at that time,* said, “You don’t know what you’re talking about! 50 You don’t realize that it’s better for you that one man should die for the people than for the whole nation to be destroyed.” John 11:49-50 NLT

They say, “God has abandoned him. Let’s go and get him, for no one will help him now.” 12  O God, don’t stay away. My God, please hurry to help me. Psalm 71:11-12 (NLT2)

Scripture’s commandment to turn the other cheek does not contain a primarily ethical meaning—to overcome oneself, or to give the other an example of one’s self-mastery or enlightenment—but the meaning of love, which “demands that one suffer humiliation with the humiliated Christ rather than receive honor, to be seen as a fool and madman for Christ’s sake, who himself was seen primarily as such, rather than to be esteemed as wise and clever in this world” (Ignatius of Loyola)

Now note that deliverance from evil is the very last thing that we do and ought to pray for. Under this heading we count strife, famine, war, pestilence, plagues, even hell and purgatory, in short, everything that is painful to body and soul. Though we ask for release from all of this, it should be done in a proper manner and at the very last.
Why? There are some, perhaps many, who honor and implore God and his saints solely for the sake of deliverance from evil. They have no other interest and do not ever think of the first petitions which stress God’s honor, his name, and his will. Instead, they seek their own will and completely reverse the order of this prayer. They begin at the end and never get to the first petitions. They are set on being rid of their evil, whether this redounds to God’s honor or not, whether it conforms to his will or not.

The Canaanite woman had the kind of faith which penetrates the clouds. She would not take any kind of refusal as a real refusal, as a real “no.” She kept on praying with faith. The more she was tried, the more she placed her trust in Jesus, until she finally achieved her goal and got all she wanted. This is the disposition God waits for in the crisis of faith: trust in his mercy no matter what kind of treatment he gives you. Only great faith can penetrate those apparent rebuffs, comprehend the love which inspires them, and totally surrender to it.

Barely a day goes by without ads or advice about how to save the church. Here is how to make your preaching more relevant, how to do outreach online, and how to grow this ministry, that ministry. If only you had a program like Alpha or Rooted or follow Purpose Driven Church theory or…

For someone who doesn’t even know what a box is, never mind think out of it, my answer for what the church needs to do is described well in the devotional readings I encountered this morning.

The answer to survival is that we again need the church to be considered fools and madmen/women.

The phrase comes from the reading of Balthasar – and refers to people who are willing to be humiliated for no other reason than we do so with Jesus. The world would say we are nuts; we are fools. We embrace the suffering we encounter, whatever God allows, to seek Him and find Him and be with Him.

That is what Luther was getting at as well, as he explored the phrase, “deliver us from evil.” It is not the first plea in the Lord’s prayer but the last. It is not the most important thing – in fact, the most important thing is that we use God’s name to address Him. We need to set it apart for those deeply intimate conversations. We ask to ask for a lot, but only last do we ask for delivery from evil. If we believe all else is answered and delivered, where is the power of evil? It has already been broken and shattered.

Take a moment and think about it – what has Satan left if we are sure God’s Kingdom has come, and God’s will has been done?

This is what servant-leadership truly is in the church, being willing to embrace the suffering and remind people of God’s presence in the most broken parts of their lives. It requires tenacity, not to endure, but to pursue God like the Samaritan woman Keating praises! Jesus praised her, for she trusted that Jesus loved her and her daughter. We need to seek that experience of His love and His mercy, counting on Him to reveal Himself there.

That is why we endure… to depend on Christ – to dwell in Him… and as we do, we serve amid brokenness. We embrace it, knowing that God rules, and therefore it works. and if the world things we are fools and madman… that’s okay.

Balthasar, Hans Urs von. 2004. Love Alone Is Credible. Translated by D. C. Schindler. San Francisco: Ignatius Press.

Luther, Martin. 1999. Luther’s Works, Vol. 42: Devotional Writings I. Edited by Jaroslav Jan Pelikan, Hilton C. Oswald, and Helmut T. Lehmann. Vol. 42. Philadelphia: Fortress Press.

Keating, Thomas. 2009. The Daily Reader for Contemplative Living: Excerpts from the Works of Father Thomas Keating, O.C.S.O., Sacred Scripture, and Other Spiritual Writings. Edited by S. Stephanie Iachetta. New York; London; New Delhi; Sydney: Bloomsbury.

How Do I get… like That? A sermon on Psalm 71:15-24

How do I Get Like That??
Psalm 71:15-24

I.H.S.

May the Grace of God our Father and our Lord Jesus Christ so transform us, that our lives are lived in praise of God!

  • Intro – I so wanna be this excited about my faith!

When I read the Psalm preparing for this week, I immediately wished I could always be this excited about my relationship with God.

The second was to blast the translators for missing out on their punctuation. I mean, this is how they wrote it…. (read flatly)
 
15  I will tell everyone about your righteousness. All day long I will proclaim your saving power, though I am not skilled with words.”

Compare that to this (pumped up!)

15  I will tell everyone about your righteousness! Though I am not skilled with words, all day long, I will proclaim your saving power!

How I wish I could, every waking moment of the day, find the energy to be like that. Even more, I want my sermons to reveal the amazing love that God has for you, that that was your attitude and behavior.

  • Young and Old

One of the lines I really want to look at in this passage is verses 17-18. Hear those again,

17  O God, you have taught me from my earliest childhood, and I constantly tell others about the wonderful things you do. 18  Now that I am old and gray, do not abandon me, O God. Let me proclaim your power to this new generation, your mighty miracles to all who come after me.

Again, I love the energy of the Psalmist and the idea that God has been teaching us from our youngest moments. For it is often in our youth, or our earliest days walking with God, that telling others about the “wonderful things God is doing” occurs. That is an amazing time in our faith, as our dependence on God just soars.

  • Present things – aren’t the future –

But there is the second half of it there – which is all too real. As we go through life, there are times when we might wonder if God has abandoned us. Times where our understanding of God wavers and where we don’t see His power and mighty miracles so easily. 

Where did God go? 

Why don’t we see Him at work in this?

And while we respond “and also with you,” we aren’t so sure He is with us. The Psalmist was there – and prayed accordingly.

That is why He could also rejoice – for he knew, 20  You have allowed me to suffer much hardship, but you will restore me to life again and lift me up from the depths of the earth!21  You will restore me to even greater honor and comfort me once again!

That is the kind of trust, the kind of faith that we should have! Not the type that denies the downtimes exists but embraces them – knowing the promises of God for the future and for our eternity.

That is trusting God. That is finding joy knowing His promises overwhelm the present challenges that we face. God will restore us, even as He restored Job. And He will comfort us, His presence there, always.

That is what I desire each of you have, even more than I want it for myself. The confidence that allows you to look past these days of COVID, these days of uncertainty, knowing the love of God will sustain you.

  • Look to His wonders – to His faithfulness – to His righteousness

For it is by knowing His promises that we can join in worship with the Psalmist,

22  Then I will praise you with music on the harp, because you are faithful to your promises! O my God. I will sing praises to you with a lyre, O Holy One of Israel! 23  I will shout for joy and sing your praises, for you have ransomed me! 24  I will tell you about your righteous deeds all day long!

In the adult Bible Study, we will also talk about this as we end chapter 8. Promises that God will use everything to bless us, and nothing can separate us from God. But that is the same focus David has here…

That God will be dependable, that what He has promised – He will do!

And that realization should get us excited…  We can sing and shout for God has made us His own!

He has done what is right, and He has made us His own children. As we are invited and drawn into His presence, we know that that is the purpose of this sermon, this service.

To help you know this. God loves you, has saved you, and you are welcome in His presence, both now and for eternity.

And knowing this, may you realize that you dwell in peace, even though you can’t explain how wonderful it is. And until we are before His throne, that peace of heart and mind is guaranteed to us in Jesus. Amen!

Blessed Be the Name of the Lord! (even when it is near impossible!)

Photo by Wouter de Jong on Pexels.com

31 But the other men who had explored the land with him disagreed. “We can’t go up against them! They are stronger than we are! Numbers 13:11 NLT

27  On the way, Jesus told them, “All of you will desert me. For the Scriptures say, ‘God will strike the Shepherd, and the sheep will be scattered.’ 28  But after I am raised from the dead, I will go ahead of you to Galilee and meet you there.Mark 14:27-28 (NLT2)

Thus the saintly Job said after he had lost his children and all his property, “The Lord gave it, and the Lord has taken it away; blessed be the name of the Lord” [Job 1:21]. Job, indeed, was a just man from whom no one could take anything because he had nothing that he called his own. God declares in Job 41 [:11], “Whatever is under the heaven is mine; I created it.” Why, then, do you boast about your possessions and wail about an injustice done you? If anyone touches your honor, your reputation, your possessions, or anything else that you have, he is encroaching not upon what is yours, but what is Christ’s! (Martin Luther)

Twice men believed they had lost it all, that they were capable of nothing.

The first time, they were going against giants. They forgot about the promises of God and HIs very presence at the tabernacle. They were not ready to take on the challenge, and they would choose to enter 40 years of trials rather
than recognize that God was there…

The second time is similar and even prophesied. The apostles would see Jesus taken – and even before the cross they ran away, they denied him; they could not stand beside Jesus, as they believed they should. They wanted to be there,
to stand with Him, even against the threat of death. They, too, failed, overwhelmed by their lack of strength and the conviction to hold to the One they trusted in…

So why do we think we shall be any better?

Actually, I think we can do better, but not by the strength of our conviction. Instead, we need to acknowledge not only our weakness but God’s wisdom.

Notice that I did not write God’s strength?

In our weakness, as Luther notes, everything is actually God’s. What He gives, what He takes away, He does out of His love and care for us. He makes a decision – in our favor! That we don’t understand that is challenging, very challenging.
Too many times in my life, I have second-guessed God, complained to Him (and to some others), and struggled with what has happened. Have a situation or two (or five!) like that going on right now! There is nothing I can do to change the situation except turn to God.

I wish I could say that is my first reaction, but like Israel and Peter, my faith in God, my trust in His wisdom waivers. Eventually, I will, as Israel would enter the Holy Land, as Peter would respond to Jesus’s love. At this point in my life, I know how things will end… that I will remember God is God, and He loves me. That doesn’t make the present battle more palatable – I just now have to depend on God’s love to endure… for I don’t walk alone. It may feel like I
do, but that feeling is one I have learned by experience is false. He is here… I’ve seen it too often in the past. 

He is here… He is far greater than what oppresses and opposes me. Romans 8:28 and 8:38 are still promised….

If you are struggling in the darkness, I pray for you –that you don’t beat yourself up for not being faithful enough to shatter the darkness by yourself. Look to Jesus, remember the cross – where you were united to Him…where He claimed you as the Father’s child. Breathe deeply of His peace, let His love wash over you. And know there is a morning coming… where you will be able to see God’s love clearly – and how He cared for you through the night.

He is with you… and also with me.

So whatever happens, let us learn to say with Job, “Blessed be the name of the Lord!”

Luther, Martin. 1999. Luther’s Works, Vol. 42: Devotional Writings I. Edited by Jaroslav Jan Pelikan, Hilton C. Oswald, and Helmut T. Lehmann. Vol. 42. Philadelphia: Fortress Press.

The Peace that We Need…

Where we find true peace

Thoughts to encourage our clinging to Jesus…

Then Moses called for Mishael and Elzaphan, Aaron’s cousins, the sons of Aaron’s uncle Uzziel. He said to them, “Come forward and carry away the bodies of your relatives from in front of the sanctuary to a place outside the camp.” 5 So they came forward and picked them up by their garments and carried them out of the camp, just as Moses had commanded.
6 Then Moses said to Aaron and his sons Eleazar and Ithamar, “Do not show grief by leaving your hair uncombed* or by tearing your clothes. If you do, you will die, and the LORD’s anger will strike the whole community of Israel. However, the rest of the Israelites, your relatives, may mourn because of the LORD’s fiery destruction of Nadab and Abihu
.
Leviticus 10:4-6 NLT

He is gnawing at his own heart,” said Luther. “I, too, often suffer from severe trials and sorrows. At such times I seek the fellowship of men, for the humblest maid has often comforted me. A man doesn’t have control of himself when he is downcast and alone, even if he is well equipped with a knowledge of the Scriptures. It is not for nothing that Christ gathers his church around the Word and the sacraments=- and is unwilling to let these be hidden in a corner. (1)

Of course, if you’re not careful you can burn yourself out in pastoral work. Sadly, thousands of pastors end up spiraling into emotional and spiritual collapse every year.
But when you take care to receive Christ’s own love and strength by means of his Spirit through his word, you have something to give to others without yourself being depleted and emptied.
(2)

Any appeal to the public in the name of Christ that rises no higher than an invitation to tranquillity must be recognized as mere humanism with a few words of Jesus thrown in to make it appear Christian.…
Christ calls men to carry a cross; we call them to have fun in His name. He calls them to forsake the world; we assure them that if they but accept Jesus the world is their oyster. (3)

I have to admit, I don’t like the words Moses spoke to Aaron and his boys. Why aren’t they allowed to grieve alongside their family? Paul talks of us weeping with those who weep (and laughing with them as they laugh as wll.) So this stupid act of their cousins should bring a time of grieving and being there for the family.

Shouldn’t it?

In this case, by no means in every case, they could not be there. We have to be careful of making this scenario a case study and establishing ground rules for pastoral care. I have heard that pastors must keep their distance and be above and remote from the scenario to pastor people. Based on the Romans 12 description of weeping and laughing, I have heard the opposite.

The question is, how do we become wise enough to know the difference? And how do we deal with our own pain? How do we find our peace when we encounter such trauma as pastors or people? Where do we find the wisdom to enter into the family’s pain, or not?

Senkbeil and Luther both note the high cost of enduring such trials. Trials that lead to the “gnawing at your own heart,” not being able to “have control of himself,” and “emotional and spiritual collapse” that most pastors deal with regularly. They will both find the same solution, which I will get to in a moment after I deal with Tozer – his words help clarify the discernment needed.  

The idea that our message is only an invitation to peace and tranquility is the danger of trying to multi-task as a mourner and spiritual care provider. I am not saying God cannot work in these situations, but it taxes us too significantly and will lead to a message that doesn’t tie our peace to the cross. Establish enough of these trials, one after another, and the pain will break anyone. And when we fail, our words become something less, a placebo, no longer connected to the peace that is genuinely needed in a time like these.

Tozer calls the believer to carry the cross first…to forsake the world because focused on Christ whom we meet at the cross, we can be relieved of burdens and find the peace we need. This is why Senkbeil talks of letting the Spirit work through Word and Sacrament to receive Christ’s love and strength within us.  It is why Luther talks of the fellowship
and the humblest maid comforting him, even as Jesus gathers His church around the Word and Sacraments. It is only connected to God’s grace that our words can do more than be a placebo. Only then is there something to give something beyond all understanding… the peace of Jesus!

Aaron and his boys were responsible for the Old Covenant sacrifices, those activities that pointed to God’s promise of peace. They weren’t forbidden to weep because God was uncaring. Rather, I think they needed to have the strength
of the promise that would enable the community to find grace and peace at the moment. They needed to remind people that God was still with them and that God was sustaining them, and even as God was ministering to them through the community, Their comfort and peace came from God, and they needed to lead people there. For us that means embracing the cross, accepting its suffering, realizing that there we meet Jesus. That is where we find life and hope, and rest. THat is why baptism, absolution and the Lord’s Supper take us there.. to Jesus… at the cross. 

When I was a hospice chaplain, I watched nurses put aside their grief to care for the patients who passed away. We would weep together later – apart from those we had gone to care for, the patient and their family. Like Aaron and his
boys, we were the hands and voice of God for those hurting and grieving. I think that is what Moses was working from with these words. He directed them to not show grief at that moment because if they lost their way in despair, not
only would they drown, so would the community. As they focused on God… and His mercy…then they would be comforted and be able to offer the same.

This isn’t easy; this idea of keeping our eyes on Jesus in the middle of the pain. To be bluntly honest, I needed to be reminded of it presently… but it is there, at the altar with others.. that God’s peace is found, where the burdens
are lifted.

After the years of 2020 and 2021… that is where we need to be found… and when we are… we can minister to so many who need to know the peace of Jesus.

 

 

(1) Martin Luther, Luther’s Works, Vol. 54: Table Talk, ed. Jaroslav Jan Pelikan, Hilton C. Oswald, and Helmut T. Lehmann, vol. 54 (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1999), 268.

(2) Harold L. Senkbeil, The Care of Souls: Cultivating a Pastor’s Heart (Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press, 2019), 7.

(3) A. W. Tozer, Tozer for the Christian Leader (Chicago: Moody Publishers, 2015).

Thoughts for those dragging….

Thoughts to encourage you to adore Jesus… and entrust yourself to His care.

32 And what more can I say? Time is too short for me to tell about Gideon, Barak, Samson, Jephthah, David, Samuel, and the prophets, 33 who by faith conquered kingdoms, administered justice, obtained promises, shut the mouths of lions, 34 quenched the raging of fire, escaped the edge of the sword, gained strength in weakness, became mighty in battle, and put foreign armies to flight. 35 Women received their dead, raised to life again. Other people were tortured, not accepting release, so that they might gain a better resurrection. 36 Others experienced mockings and scourgings, as well as bonds and imprisonment. 37 They were stoned, they were sawed in two, they died by the sword, they wandered about in sheepskins, in goatskins, destitute, afflicted, and mistreated. 38 The world was not worthy of them. They wandered in deserts and on mountains, hiding in caves and holes in the ground.
39 All these were approved through their faith, but they did not receive what was promised, 40 since God had provided something better for us, so that they would not be made perfect without us.
Hebrews 11:32-40 CSB

I want to live so fully in the Spirit that all my thoughts may be as sweet incense ascending to Thee and every act of my life may be an act of worship. Therefore I pray in the words of Thy great servant of old, “I beseech Thee so for to cleanse the intent of mine heart with the unspeakable gift of Thy grace, that I may perfectly love Thee and worthily praise thee.” (1)

In this life every one must carry his cross; but St. Teresa says, that the cross is heavy for him that drags it, not for him that embraces it. Thus our Lord knows well how to strike and how to heal: He woundeth, and cureth, says Job.3 The Holy Spirit, by his sweet unction, renders even ignominies and torments sweet and pleasant: Yea, Lord; for so hath it seemed good in Thy sight. Thus ought we to say in all adversities that happen to us: So be it done, Lord, because so hath it pleased Thee.

As I read the 11th chapter of Hebrews, I feel inadequate, week, and by no means deserving of being in the same book, never mind being in the same chapter of these giants of the faith.

Especially right now, I am dragging… and I struggle, wondering if there is another way, a less exhausting way, to do what needs to get done. It is getting done, but it seems like it is taking so much more…

And then in my devotions I came across de Ligouri’s words, and I think I found an error. The reason I am dragging is that I am dragging my cross rather than embracing it. Instead of looking for where God is working, I am focused on what I’ve been gifted to endure. I should know better!

Those in Hebrews 11 endured far more than I ever will! They embraced their crosses, they didn’t try to gain a release from them, they embraced them – knowing the end is Christ, and knowing He would sustain them through the storms. That is how “ignominies and torments” are rendered sweet and pleasant. (that does sound wonderful!) The problems aren’t removed… they are just changed into moments of communion with Christ…

That is where Tozer’s prayer completed my reading this morning. The idea of living in the Spirit sound incredible, even unbelievable. It is truly, our reality. Praying that we realize this is a great idea! For God will cleanse our heart, and empower us to love Him… that is why the cross is there in the first place. For Him to embrace us, as we learn to embrace Him… and rise with Him into a new life.

(1) A. W. Tozer and Marilynne E. Foster, Tozer on the Holy Spirit: A 366-Day Devotional (Camp Hill, PA: WingSpread, 2007). (1)

(2) Alphonsus de Liguori, The Holy Eucharist, ed. Eugene Grimm, The Complete Works of Saint Alphonsus de Liguori (New York; London; Dublin; Cincinnati; St. Louis: Benziger Brothers; R. Washbourne; M. H. Gill & Son, 1887), 486.

Effect without a Cause?

Thoughts to encourage our love for Jesus!

“You are blessed when they insult you and persecute you and falsely say every kind of evil against you because of me. Matthew 5:11 (CSBBible)

St. Teresa wrote this admirable maxim: “Whoever aspires to perfection must beware of ever saying: They had no reason to treat me so. If you will not bear any cross but one which is founded on reason, then perfection is not for you.”

If I work out at a gym, I expect the next day I will be sore. That’s just cause and effect. It is reasonable and logical.

If I treat someone badly, I ought to be treated badly in return. I am the cause and the effect is just and right. (Even though I do not like it – one bit!)

But it is when I am treated unjustly, when I want to say, “I don’t deserve this,” or “they have no reason” as St. Teresa noted, that I encounter trouble. When I am trying to help, and I get mauled by the person needing the help. That is when I tire, and I grow weary and I want to just hang it up.

It is illogical, in this world where sin and brokenness abounds, to think that everything will be justifiable, that everyone will simply love us, because we are trying to show them Christ’s love.

It is also illogical when we know that Jesus says “love your enemies, pray for those who persecute you” (Matt. 5:44, and Paul teaches us to “bless those who persecute you, bless them and do not curse them” (Roman 12:14) to expect that we won’t have enemies and persecutors. We should expect opposition, and that the opposition is not reasonable, logical, and often painful.

Yet, it is wrong, it is sin, if we do not love, pray and bless them.

I don’t like that.

But that doesn’t give me the right to become as disobedient and unreasonable as my heart cries out to be.

And it doesn’t mean passively taking their abuse, for loving, praying and blessing them is as more active than hating, scheming against them, and cursing them. It requires to think about what is truly best for them, and to lovingly do those things, seeing them through.

It is not easy…to take up such a cross, such a burden. It requires realizing the love of Christ for us, even the love that drive Hi to the cross when our sin tortured Him (and the Father) and learning to find the rest and peace that comes from Christ dwelling in us. To understand that He is the answer to every injustice. This isn’t about living in the brokenness – it is about living in the love of God,

ANd for those that do not know such peace, may we pray they leave their dissonant, broken lives and are drawn into Christ as well.

Alphonsus de Liguori, The Holy Eucharist, ed. Eugene Grimm, The Complete Works of Saint Alphonsus de Liguori (New York; London; Dublin; Cincinnati; St. Louis: Benziger Brothers; R. Washbourne; M. H. Gill & Son, 1887), 427.

The Paradox of Pain

“I will not leave you as orphans; I am coming to you. 19 In a little while the world will no longer see me,x but you will see me.y Because I live, you will livez too. 20 On that day you will know that I am in my Father,aa you are in me, and I am in you. John 14:18-20 CSB

It was a time of drought, and lifting up his eyes to heaven he [Martin Luther] said, “Lord God, thou hast said through the lips of thy servant David, ‘The Lord is near to all who call upon him in truth. He fulfils the desire of all who fear him, etc., and saves them’ [Ps. 145:18, 19]. How is it, then, that thou art unwilling to give us rain? If thou dost not give us rain, at least give us something better, like tranquillity, life, and peace.

Two of Spurgeon’s greatest sermons were “God in The Silence” and “God in The Storm.” The heart that knows God can find God anywhere. I surely join with Spurgeon in the truth that a person filled with the Spirit of God, a person who has met God in a living encounter can know the joy of worshiping Him, whether in the silences of life or in the storms of life. There really is no argument. We know what God wants us to be. He wants us to be worshipers!

This love of poverty should be especially practised by religious who have made the vow of poverty. “Many religious,” says the same St. Bernard, “wish to be poor; but on the condition of wanting for nothing.”2 “Thus,” says St. Francis de Sales, “they wish for the honor of poverty, but not the inconveniences of poverty.”

The last quote stings… it hurts…

I know the truth of it, that I am willing to embrace any suffering God would allow- if I don’t have know I am suffering.

I can endure all things – if I don’t have to really endure it – just sort of let the time pass me by.

That’s the kind of thing we all want, it is why we love to state that God won’t give us anything we can’t handle.

Even as I read that, and am crushed by it’s truth, I resonate with Luther’s take – that if God won’t give us the water, he will give us something better. Not something which hides or denies the pain, but in the midst of it, finds the presence of God and is comforted by the Holy Spirit. That encounter is so…. beyond words… that you begin to love the suffering, and you even find joy int it, (even as you despise it) because there you find the prsence of God.

As Spurgeon notes, there you find yourself worshipping the Lord in whose presence you are!

It may take me a while ot see the suffering I am observing in that way, and yet, by the enxt time I share in the Lord’s Supper, – there it is. Christ is in me, even as the Father was in Him! What an incredible truth this is, when the words sink ito our soul and we realize their truth.

In the midst of this poverty, whether financial, mental or spiritual, here is Jesus, with me… with me!

truly, the truth of that sinking down into my sould can cause me to love that whcih made me aware of His presnce, and His promises.

This is my reality in these days…not so much from my suffering, but that which I witness around me….and weeping (and sometimes laughing ) with them, we find His presence together.

This is a blessing impossible to understand, hard to endure, absolutely one I will not by-pass. Even when there are days I wish I could. So,

Lord Jesus, as we face trials, and spiritual poverty, may your Spirit gather us and make us aware of Your presence. Comfort us, sustain us, and Lord, as You promised, keep us safe in You! Amen.

Martin Luther, Luther’s Works, Vol. 54: Table Talk, ed. Jaroslav Jan Pelikan, Hilton C. Oswald, and Helmut T. Lehmann, vol. 54 (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1999), 192.

A. W. Tozer and Marilynne E. Foster, Tozer on the Holy Spirit: A 366-Day Devotional (Camp Hill, PA: WingSpread, 2007).

Alphonsus de Liguori, The Holy Eucharist, ed. Eugene Grimm, The Complete Works of Saint Alphonsus de Liguori (New York; London; Dublin; Cincinnati; St. Louis: Benziger Brothers; R. Washbourne; M. H. Gill & Son, 1887), 424.

Even this? Even now?

Something to help you learn to adore Jesus….

20  And give thanks for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ. Ephesians 5:20 (NLT2)

The Venerable John of Avila wrote as follows to a priest who so complained to him: “My friend, busy not yourself with what you would do if you were well, but be content to remain ill as long as God thinks fit. If you seek the will of God, what matters it to you whether you be well or ill?”

de Ligouri’s comments hit me hard this morning.

I should be grateful that I can do what I can do… I have friends that both temporarily and permanently are more restricted by issues of health, both physical and mental health.

But de Ligouri goes beyond just being grateful for what we can do, suggesting that we should be grateful for the suffering that stops us, that stops us from living – as least living as we want to live.

I can try to justify my limitations, but rejoicing in them? Rejoicing in the pain, the weariness, the grief, the tears? Rejoice?

That is beyond my ability…..

There has been too much, there is too much..

Until I find myself at the altar, or at the table, or in the bed, and share a prayer with another believer. Or even better, share Christ’s body and blood with another. Until the peace that follows such a moment, where the presence of God is so clearly revealed.

God is surely with those in bed, and has promised to make those moments good for those who love Him, who have been called according to His purpose. I’ve seen it so many times, that I know it will happen.

It is simple – in those moments, one needs to be encoruaged by God’s faithful, comforting presence. For those there, it is what they have to trust in as well, and encourage the stricken with,

God is here, revel in HIs presence, find your hope, eternal hope in that presence.

There is a point you get too, in the midst of the trial, where God’s presence becomes so real, so true, so comforting… that everything else grows strangely dim, as the hymn tells us, in light of His glory and grace.

If you need someone to sit with you, until that time – that is what pastors and chaplains are for…. and if yours won’t… give me a call.. or message me. You aren’t alone, but sometimes a familiar face helps that reality become revealed.

Alphonsus de Liguori, The Holy Eucharist, ed. Eugene Grimm, The Complete Works of Saint Alphonsus de Liguori (New York; London; Dublin; Cincinnati; St. Louis: Benziger Brothers; R. Washbourne; M. H. Gill & Son, 1887), 417.

When Trusting God is Challenging…

Devotional thought for this day:

31 For the Lord will not reject us forever. 32  Even if he causes suffering, he will show compassion according to the abundance of his faithful love. 33  For he does not enjoy bringing affliction or suffering on mankind. Lamentations 3:31-33 (CSBBible)

O most lovely and most loving Heart of Jesus, miserable is the heart which does not love Thee! O God, for the love of men Thou didst die on the cross, helpless and forsaken, and how then can men live so forgetful of Thee?

This is not the only time where the Scriptures declare God can cause suffering.

Jeremiah is clear, God doesn;t like afflicting or causing us to suffering, Yet trusting Him when it happens is certainly a challenge. Especially when the lesson is not for those who are suffering, but for those who are simply witnessing the suffering.

It is one thing if we deserve the suffering, or the person suffering does. We deserve enough of it, we need to be disciplined, in a way that only God can. That is, God disciplines us with great love, and with the specific aim of causing growth and restoration, to draw us back into the realization that He is present in our lives.

But what about when the lesson is for someone else, when our suffering serves as an example for those who are not suffering? The story of Job, the suffering of Paul, the embracing suffering of Eric Liddell and so many martyrs, people whose lives were cut short or damaged. How do we justify their suffering?

Or how are we able to trust in God, when it is our turn to suffer?

The only way I know, it to look to the heart of Jesus. We must allow the Holy Spirit to drive our intimacy with God so deep that we are sure of His love and care! We need to know this even as Jesus knew that the feeling of the Father’s abandonment would lead to the greatest of praise! (Isaiah 53 and Psalm 22) Intinacy with God causes us not to trust Him in the moment of suffering, but to rejoice in it!

This is why I love the altar, the place where peace is so clear, as the Lord’s Supper is being given, a momnet in time where we realize that Christ suffered for us, and that sharing in His sufferings is sharing with Him.

This doesn’t make the suffering easier…the pains still are there, the exhaustion, the mental anguish, and yet in its midst, there is peace.

For He is there… and seeing Him with us, we find ourselves in peace…..

And I will take that peace, that peace beyond all understanding, over things going “perfectly”.

Alphonsus de Liguori, The Holy Eucharist, ed. Eugene Grimm, The Complete Works of Saint Alphonsus de Liguori (New York; London; Dublin; Cincinnati; St. Louis: Benziger Brothers; R. Washbourne; M. H. Gill & Son, 1887), 301.

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