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Our Suffering, our Doubts, and Jesus’s Struggle at the Cross. A Good friday Devotion


clydes-cross-2Devotional Thought for Good Friday:
1  My God, my God, why have you abandoned me? Why are you so far away when I groan for help? 2  Every day I call to you, my God, but you do not answer. Every night you hear my voice, but I find no relief.    Psalm 22:1-2 (NLT)

22  Here’s the story I’ll tell my friends when they come to worship, and punctuate it with Hallelujahs: 23  Shout Hallelujah, you God-worshipers; give glory, you sons of Jacob; adore him, you daughters of Israel. 24  He has never let you down, never looked the other way when you were being kicked around. He has never wandered off to do his own thing; he has been right there, listening. 25  Here in this great gathering for worship, I have discovered this praise-life. And I’ll do what I promised right here in front of the God-worshipers.   Psalm 22:22-25 (MSG)

He is pleased to withhold from us the milk and honey of his consolation, that, by weaning us in this manner, we may learn to feed on the more dry and solid bread of vigorous devotion, exercised under the trial of distaste and spiritual dryness. 3. That as violent temptations frequently arise amidst these desolating drynesses, we must resolutely fight against them, since they do not proceed from God; but nevertheless, we must patiently suffer them, since God has ordained them for our exercise.

The Bible tells us that Jesus was tested in every way we are, that he faced the same issues, the same temptations, the same situations which can cause us to doubt, or to want to run.

We see that today, in the passage that Jesus quotes from the cross.

He too had moments where the Father seemed to far away, where the illusion of being abandoned was strong.  Where the feeling that God has left us on our own to struggle dominated every other feeling we have.

I’ve often wondered why God allows us to go through these times.  Surely they don’t come from God, yet St Francis de Sales indicates they are ordained by God for our exercise.  God allows them to come upon us, as He did Job and Jesus, for a purpose.

IN Jesus case, the abandonment was seen for what it was, a pouring out of wrath that far exceeded the wrath of the Pharisees, Sanhedrin, and the Roman guards.  A wrath that one taken upon Jesus would kill him, yet like the grain in the sand, it would give life to us, and to all those who believe and are baptized.

In our case, the suffering intended to defeat us, intended to drive us away from God can and does (eventually) ordain for us to be drawn toward Him.   De Sales calls this being drawn a vigorous devotion, I beg to differ a little.  Like the psalmist I look at my own pain, my own suffering to early, to often, being drawn down into the darkness, being overwhelmed by the pain.  But there He rescues me, He reminds me of HIs love, He shows me that He was always with me.

This is the point David is making in the Psalm, which starts out so dark, which so describes the pain of being crucified or struggling today.  The point where we can see as the light shatters the darkness, as our faith, no even more sure of God’s presences testifies to naturally, without even thinking.  read it again,

22  Here’s the story I’ll tell my friends when they come to worship, and punctuate it with Hallelujahs: 23  Shout Hallelujah, you God-worshipers; give glory, you sons of Jacob; adore him, you daughters of Israel. 24  He has never let you down, never looked the other way when you were being kicked around. He has never wandered off to do his own thing; he has been right there, listening. 25  Here in this great gathering for worship, I have discovered this praise-life. And I’ll do what I promised right here in front of the God-worshipers.   Psalm 22:22-25 (MSG)

When we are struggling, when Satan and his minions are oppressing us, when all seems dark, this is what is true.  He is with you, He loves you, and you will soon be praising Him as the Holy Spirit convinces you of this reality.   Like the cross, the victory, the depth of God’s love is revealed in these trying moments, in the midst of the pain, and the darkness.  We then see the truth;

You weren’t abandoned, He was there… and you will tell others about this!

AMEN!

Francis de Sales, Saint. An Introduction to the Devout Life. Dublin: M. H. Gill and Son, 1885. Print.

Unnecessary Suffering….how do we cope?


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God, who am I?

Devotional Thought fo the Day:
14  Let us, then, hold firmly to the faith we profess. For we have a great High Priest who has gone into the very presence of God—Jesus, the Son of God. 15  Our High Priest is not one who cannot feel sympathy for our weaknesses. On the contrary, we have a High Priest who was tempted in every way that we are, but did not sin. 16  Let us have confidence, then, and approach God’s throne, where there is grace. There we will receive mercy and find grace to help us just when we need it. Hebrews 4:14-16 (TEV)

Do not limit your patience to such or such kind of injuries and afflictions, but extend it to all such as it shall please God to send you. Some are unwilling to suffer any tribulations, but such as are honourable; for example, to be wounded in battle, to be a prisoner of war, to be persecuted for religion, or to be impoverished by some lawsuit determined in their favour. Now, these people do not love the tribulation, but the honour which accompanies it; whereas, he that is truly patient, suffers tribulations indifferently, whether accompanied by ignominy or honour.

As I write this, in the background is Anne Hathaway’s version of “I dreamed a dream” from the movie version of Les Mis.  I can’t help but think of the character, and the background found in the novel.  ALothough in the beginning a victim of her own sin, others make her misery and despair far more oppressive.

Some, like Val Jean, do so without thought. Others, like the Innkeeper and his wife, or the supervisor in the shop, do so with evil and malice. 

Either way, the suffering is real, the oppression stifling, the pain incapacitating.

As I read St. Francis De Sales words this morning, it, this idea of unnecessary suffering started dominating my thoughts. How do we deal with the suffering we don’t deserve, the pains that are caused by others, or whose biological cause cannot be blamed on anyone.

Things like my genetic heart issues, my dear friend’s ongoing battle with cancer, the unknown victims of terrorism and their families, those who suffer from PTSD, or some other mental illness and those who suffer with them.

This is different than the cyber-crusader who looks and desires and rejoices in his being “persecuted for rightness ( not righteousness) sake.”  Those people love the honor they receive from being a victim, and they deserve the persecution and the problems.

But what about the innocent who suffer?  Or those who suffering is so compounded by others neglect or deliberate harm?

As one, I’ve learned the hard way, through many sleepless nights, and times of tears that I cannot justify the suffering, I cannot find the “why” that I so desperately want to know.  I can strike out in anger, I can slip into the deepest of depression, I can, and have at times, hoped the suffering would simply end. 

Those thoughts don’t diminish the suffering, if anything, it gives the suffering more power over me, increasing the anxiety.  Nor am I strong enough, on my own, to avoid those feelings.  

I need to be patient, with these things I cannot explain, with the pain I can’t bear on my own. I need to have the patience De Sales calls for, I need the assurance of God’s empathy and benevolence of a God who invites me into HIS presence. I need to have the confidence to look to HIM, to understand how His innocent suffering had a purpose, and that somehow God will use mine for good.

It is not an easy task, coming to this conclusion, gaining this confidence. It is one I often fail to achieve, as this day or that is spent letting the darkness enclose me. Devotion is the answer, not devotions (remember – my strength had already failed), but devotion.  Considering Christ’s devotion to me, and as I do, growing to adore Him.

There is the answer.  Considering the depth of Christ’s devotion, there I find the hope that enable the patience I need, the strength to endure, the ability to take my mind off of my problems.  Being encouraged by others, who endure, and hear my words and find the same strength to endure.  That helps me realize the depth of Christ’s empathy.  As odd as it sounds, I can embrace the suffering, knowing His suffering that He embraced.  For He embraced it for a simple reason.  He loved you andI

Will I need the encouragement of others, pointing me back to the cross?  Yes!  Will I still struggle at times?  After 45 years of dealing with this, the answers is, yes. But I know I will come out of the depths, sustained by Jesus, who volunteered to suffer so that I would know His empathy, HIs love, and ultimately, His peace. 

This is my goal for today, to walk confidently into His presence, to accept His invitation to walk with Him. 

And to pray you will boldly, confidently walk with our God as well.  

Godspeed!

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Francis de Sales, Saint. An Introduction to the Devout Life. Dublin: M. H. Gill and Son, 1885. Print.

The Paradox of being a Christian Leader…


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Dawn at Concordia

Devotional Thought of the Day:
3  All praise to God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. God is our merciful Father and the source of all comfort. 4  He comforts us in all our troubles so that we can comfort others. When they are troubled, we will be able to give them the same comfort God has given us. 5  For the more we suffer for Christ, the more God will shower us with his comfort through Christ. 6  Even when we are weighed down with troubles, it is for your comfort and salvation! For when we are comforted, we will certainly comfort you. Then you can patiently endure the same things we suffer. 2 Corinthians 1:3-6 (NLT)

Therefore, anyone who seeks an office in the Church must know that he thereby declares himself ready for a greater share of the Cross. For, properly speaking, the real pastoral activity of Jesus Christ, through which he fashioned the Church and will never cease to fashion her, is his Cross, from which there flow for our blood and water, the holy sacraments, the grace of life. To want to do away with suffering means to deny love, to disavow Christ. It is impossible to struggle with the dragon and not be wounded. That is why what the Lord says in the Beatitudes is valid for all times: “Blessed are you when men revile you; blessed are the meek; blessed are the peacemakers” (Mt 5:11, 5, 9). It is true, too, that where the Lord is, where the Master is, there must his servant be also. But the Master’s place was, ultimately, the Cross, and a shepherd who seeks nothing but approval, who would be content to do only what is required of him, would certainly not be taking his place where the Master has taken his.

I was once told that if I could be content in any other field, to avoid becoming a pastor.  At the time, I didn’t understand.  Today I do. 

The blessing requires a high price to be paid.

I look at my friends in ministry, those I admire the most sacrifice so much to serve.  Some are pastors and priests, others missionaries serving far from what most would consider their home.  Some are teachers and youth workers, others are the leaders most don’t consider professionals.  The elders, musicians, those who teach the Bible to young and old. 

The costs are high, and while I am not talking about financial costs or the time demanded by the needs of those we serve, they cannot be dismissed either. The deeper costs include betrayals, it includes weeping with those who are weeping, crushed in grief.  It means disciplining people that may not like be corrected.  It means being willing to accept the loneliness of the prophet, being dismissed as we bring messages of hope, of being sent to stubborn and stiff-necked people as the prophets encountered.

It’s not about reports and strategies, it’s about laying aside our plans when someone is hurting, and helping them bear that pain.  It’s not about giving a vision, unless that vision includes the cross, leading to the resurrection.  It’s about the joy of the sacraments, and the pain when we see people in need for the comfort and strength they give, but who dismiss them.  It’s about not giving up on the prodigal, it’s about showing mercy to the prostitute and tax collector, the drug addict and the scoundrel. 

This is ministry, this is service, this is finding that as we minister to those who are drawn (and sometimes dragged ) to the cross, we find our healing occurs as well.  For we are at the cross, where Jesus raises us from death, heals us from brokenness, comforts us in our grief, and gives us hope, even as we despair.

That is the paradox of Christian ministry, the sacrifice, the life surrendered at the cross is the great blessing of being such a servant leader. 

Which is why Paul, the one we imitate as he imitated Christ praises God int he midst of sacrifice and suffering….

as will every leader in every parish, in every congregation, and throughout the Church in history, and throught out the world. 

AMEN

 

Ratzinger, Joseph. Co-Workers of the Truth: Meditations for Every Day of the Year. Ed. Irene Grassl. Trans. Mary Frances McCarthy and Lothar Krauth. San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1992. Print.

 

Discipleship, Spiritual Formation and the Mark of the Beast


 

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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.

Nothing.

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.

The Scientific Method, Agnosticism, and Finding Hope in Misery


Devotional/Discussion Thought of the Day:

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and God of all encouragement,* 4 who encourages us in our every affliction, so that we may be able to encourage those who are in any affliction with the encouragement with which we ourselves are encouraged by God.c 5 For as Christ’s sufferings overflow to us, so through Christ* does our encouragement also overflow. 6 If we are afflicted, it is for your encouragement and salvation; if we are encouraged, it is for your encouragement, which enables you to endure the same sufferings that we suffer. 7 Our hope for you is firm, for we know that as you share in the sufferings, you also share in the encouragement. 2 Cor. 1:3-7  NABRE

20 For however many are the promises of God, their Yes is in him; therefore, the Amen from us also goes through him to God for glory.l 21 *But the one who gives us security with you in Christ and who anointed us is God;m 22 he has also put his seal upon us and given the Spirit in our hearts as a first installment.1 Cor 1:20-21 NABRE

Indeed today’s progress in science and technology can foster a certain exclusive emphasis on observable data, and an agnosticism about everything else. For the methods of investigation which these sciences use can be wrongly considered as the supreme rule of seeking the whole truth. By virtue of their methods these sciences cannot penetrate to the intimate notion of things. Indeed the danger is present that man, confiding too much in the discoveries of today, may think that he is sufficient unto himself and no longer seek the higher things.  (1) 

When the holy apostle St. Paul wanted to console his Corinthians he began by saying, “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may also comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God” [II Cor. 1:3–4]. With these words he teaches us through his own example that the afflicted are to be comforted and that this comfort comes from God and not from men. St. Paul emphasizes this to avoid that false and pernicious comfort sought after and handed out by the world, the flesh, and also the devil. That [kind of comfort] slows down and stops all the benefits and the fruits that come to us from suffering and cross.

One of the cardiologists I had was a world class doctor.  Indeed, among his other patients were a former president and a king.  Though not a Christian, and perhaps only nominally religious, he used to tell me that God would keep him humble. God did this every time he accomplished something extraordinary by simply giving him a head cold. With such, he could not perform surgery, he wasn’t supposed to see patients in poor health and was rendered miserable physically, and because of his inability, miserable because he was useless.

I think the quote in blue helps us understand the problem.  The ability to observe suffering, to encounter that which makes one miserable is undisputed,  The ability of hat observation to do something about, something even as simple as providing comfort and relief is not always possible.

We can do so many things medically and scientifically, but not everything.  We count on our doctors, our pharmacies, science and sometimes the liquor store to provide the answers to every ailment, to every problem, to every struggle. They can’t, and what is worse if our hope has been placed solely in their provision, we’ve lost faith and trust in something higher.

We’ve become agnostic, and in doing so, we’ve lost the comfort and peace the Holy Spirit brings in those moments of horrid, miserable brokenness.

Luther points us back to scripture, to the fact that such comfort does come from God, that secure in HIs presence, we find the comfort when life seems to crush us.  I could have put 12 more quotes from 2 Corinthians, or tossed in Job and Ecclesiastes and Hosea, for that truth is throughout scripture.

Where man’s brilliance fails, God is there, providing comfort and peace. There is compassion, the mercy, the comfort, all that comes through the power of the Holy Spirit, who raised Christ from the dead and works within us.  (it is tempting to wax theologicial here) But the Holy Spirit, whose presence was a gift to us in our baptism, who gives us life, real life, and heals our broken hearts and souls, there is our hope, there is the guarantee that eternity will not be life as we know it.

As one who has had a share of physical pain and suffering, illness and disease, I share this as well, in Christ Jesus, you will find hope. Reminded of my physical brokenness with the very ticks of my heart (two artificial heart valves) and struggling with back pain, and worst of all, these stupid, miserable, nose reddening, sinus pounding allergies, I know this.

The Lord is with you (and with me – as my beloved congregation reminds me very often!)

Hearing that, I find the answer to my quest for mercy; I find the comfort and peace that the Spirit reveals that gives me hope, and I find the strength to share that hope with you.

Scientific method, Agnosticism, and Atheism will not answer the cry for mercy.

But when we cry, “Lord have Mercy!” God answers, for He is our beloved Father.

AMEN!

(1) catholic Church. “Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World: Gaudium Et Spes.” Vatican II Documents. Vatican City: Libreria Editrice Vaticana, 2011. Print.

Luther, Martin. Luther’s Works, Vol. 43: Devotional Writings II. Ed. Jaroslav Jan Pelikan, Hilton C. Oswald, and Helmut T. Lehmann. Vol. 43. Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1999. Print.

 

The Brutal, Honest, Real Faith: A Sermon on Hab 1-2


The Brutal, Honest, Real, Faith
Habakkuk 1:1-4, 2:1-4

† In Jesus Name †

May the grace of God our Father and our Risen Lord Jesus so reveal His love for you that you know with all your heart and mind that He will sustain you and that you will share in His glory!

 

When Words aren’t enough:

On Friday, I stood next to a man, as he spoke at his son’s funeral.  He talked about how time after time, his son was simply in the wrong place, at the wrong time. The final time, it resulted in his death, as he was shot along with a married couple.

The grief was as overwhelming as anything I have seen.  The despair in the sanctuary of a church was beyond anything I have experienced for a long time because they could not imagine a God who would answer their cry for help.

And as I looked at my outline for today’s sermon, as I looked through these words of a prophet with a name you can’t say ten times fast, I understood Habakkuk’s pain, and the despair of his cry,

2  How long, O LORD, must I call for help? But you do not listen! “Violence is everywhere!” I cry, but you do not come to save. 3  Must I forever see these evil deeds? Why must I watch all this misery? Wherever I look, I see destruction and violence. I am surrounded by people who love to argue and fight. 4  The law has become paralyzed, and there is no justice in the courts. The wicked far outnumber the righteous, so that justice has become perverted.

The prophet’s words, his cries, his pleading with the Father, these words are brutal, they are honest, they are so real and even apply to today’s world.

And they only way to hear God’s answer is found in a Brutal, Honest, Real, Faith.

The faith God gives us, that He plants in us, that He nourishes is us.

The complaint

I love reading the Old Testament prophets, not because they are so uplifting – they are not.  But because they aren’t standing around pretending the world is okay, they call their listeners out on sin, but they also grieve.

They know how God has called us to live in peace, to know His live and to have faith in God.  They also see the world dealing with the consequences of ignoring God, and it breaks their heart.  They weep, they cry for what is, and what should have been.
How long, O Lord, must I call for help?

We look around us these days, and it seems like it hasn’t changed much. We still need a lot of help, the world is still violent, and it seems daily we hear about violence, not just overseas, but in our communities.  The deeds that are evil, they still exist, whether those deeds are sorcery and idolatry, or murder/abortion, or sexual immorality, or unethical business, or gossip and envy.  The world is still dealing with destruction, with misery, with injustice, and the wicked still outnumber the righteous.

Some of that, which we cry out for God to rescues us from, is our doing, our unrighteousness, our guilt, and shame.

Yes, some of the sin and unrighteousness in our world is because of our sin.

The Hope

       No pleasure in people turning away –

          Just depend on Him

The key in reading the Old Testament, in fact, all of the scripture, is to no to a take a passage without considering the rest of the chapter, the rest of the book. There are times you have to keep going, such as this passage.

In the midst of his grief, Habakkuk says he will look – he will wait on God for the answer that must come. He will, despite his despair, continue to look to God for an answer.

And the Lord answers, and not only will he answer the prophet, the answer is to be etched into stone. So that all will hear and see these answers.
That is what verse 2 says,

And here is the answer,

3  If the vision is delayed, wait patiently, for it will surely come and not delay. 4 I will take no pleasure in anyone who turns away, but the righteous person will live by my faith.*
if you don’t God working, He’s got it all in His timing, and that timing is perfect,  As Habakkuk and all the Old Testament prophets waited for Christ Jesus to come, so we wait, trusting in His work at the cross to deliver us into the presence of the Father.

Peter certainly knew this, for he would paraphrase this passage

 

9  The Lord is not being slow in carrying out his promises, as some people think he is; rather is he being patient with you, wanting nobody to be lost and everybody to be brought to repentance. 2 Peter 3:9 (NJB)
Peter will note this about Paul as well,

15  And remember, the Lord’s patience gives people time to be saved. This is what our beloved brother Paul also wrote to you with the wisdom God gave him— 16  speaking of these things in all of his letters.
2 Peter 3:15-16 (NLT)

It is a hard answer to hear that God will be patient, that things are going to be fixed right now, in our time, because God is at work, through us, reaching out to other people. That is what the cross is all about – that no one should ever die without knowing that God would forgive them, that He would draw them to Himself, that He loves them.  God delays the recreation of the world, just to save one more, jut to rescue one more sheep, to find one more who was lost, to give one more broken person the hope of His healing them.

That’s a brutally honest, real answer.  It’s one I don’t like at first, as I see and know of so much pain, so much suffering, as I witness sin and the bondage it keeps people in, and the hope it robs of those created by God to walk in joy.

When you see that person given faith in God, who comes to know they can depend on Him, who finds themselves cleansed not only of their own sin but the righteousness of the world, the wait is worth it!  As we see those we love, whom we pray for, whom we often struggle with and against – there is the Holy Spirit, drawing them to Jesus, where they find healing and peace. This is why there is a delay, so those we love- and those we are called to love, can be reconciled to Jesus.

For we do so in Christ Jesus, and that means we do so know peace that is beyond all understanding, as Christ is the foundation of our hope.

The Nature of Suffering and Ministry: Some thoughts on those criticizing Mother Theresa


Devotional THoguht for the Day:

41  He walked away, about a stone’s throw, and knelt down and prayed, 42  “Father, if you are willing, please take this cup of suffering away from me. Yet I want your will to be done, not mine.” 43  Then an angel from heaven appeared and strengthened him. 44  He prayed more fervently, and he was in such agony of spirit that his sweat fell to the ground like great drops of blood. 45  At last he stood up again and returned to the disciples, only to find them asleep, exhausted from grief. Luke 22:41-45 (NLT)

The joys and the hopes, the griefs and the anxieties of the men of this age, especially those who are poor or in any way afflicted, these are the joys and hopes, the griefs and anxieties of the followers of Christ. Indeed, nothing genuinely human fails to raise an echo in their hearts. For theirs is a community composed of men. United in Christ, they are led by the Holy Spirit in their journey to the Kingdom of their Father and they have welcomed the news of salvation which is meant for every man. That is why this community realizes that it is truly linked with mankind and its history by the deepest of bonds.  (1)

17 Alms could be listed here, (among the sacraments) as well as afflictions, which in themselves are signs to which God has added promises.  (2)

I read a critique about St. Theresa of Calcutta (still Mother Theresa to me) yesterday which said her being made a saint should be controversial because of two things.  The first is that she glorified suffering instead of relieving it, and that she had a strong missional spirit, to the extent she was accused of using her ministry to make proselytes.

I think the author has no idea of suffering, or to be more precise, he makes a generalization about suffering that is too short-sighted.  On top of that, he confuses proselytism with ministry. 

There is suffering that must be relieved – some of it simple, such as feeding and educating the poor.  Or the sacrifices that are made to relieve suffering in the midst of natural disaster and other traumatic experiences. W e need to be there – to alleviate what we can – and to ensure that as we do, they know they are loved.

The is suffering that cannot be relieved (especially in the short run) without a miraculsou healing, which can and does happen.  Yet it is not on-demand, and only God knows why in this case and not that. Such are the poor with leprosy Theresa and her co-workers ministered to, or those on hospice I helped our nurses minister to  as their staff chaplain.  The answer here is not to simply do away with those who suffer, but to be there with them, to make sure they are not abandoned, to offer comfort and peace to them and those around them.  The answer cannot be euthanasia, that is not an answer, it is dismissing the value of the person, who is a valuable part of our community.  SO there is suffering that must be endured – but never alone! 

Then there is suffering which should be endured, for the sake of the gospel, in order to share the love of God with people.  The kind of suffering that Theresa chose, the physical and psychological and even spiritual despair that accompanies ministering to those who are suffering.  This is the suffering that is “sacramental” as the Lutheran confessions explain sacraments.  It is the suffering the church gladly takes on, for in this ministry, we encounter Jesus. It is the suffering the apostles would feel – that would even exhaust them to where they fell asleep because of the turmoil, because of the ministry, because of the grief.

This is where the writer accused Mother Theresa of proselytizing the people she and her co-workers minister too.  As if they did this to grow numbers in a club, or as if they got a bonus from God for making converts. I’ve been in similar circumstances, and often, being there when all others have left, when others can’t stand the pain, the suffering, even the stench of disease, is when we encounter the Holy Spirit at work, and a heart made ready to know a love that makes a difference. 

It’s not caring for people so that they will convert, but as God reveals himself, it happens. They find His love, they find HIs mercy, they find a strength that turns their suffering into something holy, for both them and the one offering care.

That is when suffering, well there isn’t a word I can think of except beautiful or glorious, or maybe transcendent.  When hope prevails over pain, and joy is mixed with the sorrow, when God is present, and when the line between patient and caregiver is blurred, because we realize in that moment God is caring for both of us, and we are simply His kids.  He ministers to each, through the other.

That is something that is hard to notice from an office, from a keyboard or even watching video that recorded the ministry.  You have to become part of it, have a stake in it, and serve those, and be served. It happens, as God dwells among His people.

As He hears and answers their cries for mercy, sometimes in ways not expected, but He answers, and hearts and minds are brought to know a peace that is beyond understanding.

 

(1)  Catholic Church. “Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World: Gaudium Et Spes.” Vatican II Documents. Vatican City: Libreria Editrice Vaticana, 2011. Print.

(2)  Tappert, Theodore G., ed. The Book of Concord the Confessions of the Evangelical Lutheran Church. Philadelphia: Mühlenberg Press, 1959. Print.  (from Article XIII of the Apology of the Augsburg Confession…

Which is Your Hope: To Be Comfortable, or Comforted?


Devotional Thought of the Day:
3  “Happy are those who know they are spiritually poor; the Kingdom of heaven belongs to them! 4  “Happy are those who mourn; God will comfort them! 5  “Happy are those who are humble; they will receive what God has promised!    Matthew 5:3-5 (TEV)

 Instead of divine consolation, they want changes that will redeem suffering by removing it: not redemption through suffering, but redemption from suffering is their watchword; not expectation of divine assistance, but the humanization of man by man is their goal.

In his book on the Rapture, Tim LeHaye justifies his belief in the rapture based on the emotional appeal that Christ would never allow His people, the Bride of Chrsit to suffer.  (p.65-69) He pictures the church not surviing such suffering, such pain, such horrors.  He pictures Chrsit wanting to eliminate suffering for all believers, now, not just in eternal life. He fears the Tribulation, and even suggests that the church would not be able to sruvive it, should she be left behind.

I don’t want to focus on errors in his eschatology, but rather in the presupposition that God wouldn’t allow the church to suffer.   This is a much larger issue in American Christianity, for it is not just those that hold to the teaching of a premillenial rapture that would come to the conclusiont hat God wants the church comfortable.  i don’t know fo a theological system that doesn’t fall prey to this at some point, including those who like me express theology in a Lutheran or catholic-sacramental context.  ( In our modern version, this often means saving people from martyrdom or political oppression.  Or in our denial to seek help, whether it be from a father confessor, or a counselor, or a doctor. )

We all have our desire to be comfortable manifest itself in ugly ways. It might be in our attempts to isolate ourselves from the ugliness of sin, or to hide anything that would cause us to feel sharem, or grief.

I think it is a matter of maturity and faith when we can set aside this desire for being comfortable with the desire to be comforted.  And when faced with suffering or sacrifice Benedict XVI was right, we want to be redeemed from suffering, to be saved without experience the guilt and shame that tells us we need to be delivered.  If we want to be saveed – it is from the guilta and shame, not from what causes it.

But to desire to be comforted, even in the midst of the pain, is something radically different. It means relying on Jesus, on His wisdom, on His promises that what we are going through doesn’t seperate us from Him.

That’s different.

The article I quoted form Benedict above had another quote qorth including:

Before this image, the monks prayed with the sick, who found consolation in the knowledge that, in Christ, God suffered with them. This painting made them realize that precisely by reason of their sickness they were identified with the crucified Christ, who, by his suffering, had become one with all the suffering of history; they felt the presence of the Crucified One in their cross and knew that, in their distress, they were drawn into union with Christ and hence into the abyss of his eternal mercy

There is something about that which cries our with great comfort.  We do not walk alone, that we are not abandoned by God to make it through this vail of tears on our own.   The Lord is With In our brokenness, in our need for answers, in our need for hope, we find Him, we realize that He is holding us in His hands, bearing our sorrow, our grief, our sin.

So how do we grow in this, how do we lay aside our rights, our comfortability, our pleausre?  How do we take up our cross?

By trusting and depending upon Jesus.  By finding our refuge in the comfort of His love,  by dwelling in His presence, for there we know His peace, there we know comfort, and we experience a joy that sustains us.

Seek His presence, seek His kingdom, there is comfort there… and the more you know it, the easier it becomes to seek.

 

Ratzinger, J. (1992). Co-Workers of the Truth: Meditations for Every Day of the Year. (I. Grassl, Ed., M. F. McCarthy & L. Krauth, Trans.) (pp. 122–123). San Francisco: Ignatius Press.

The Greatest Challenge To “American” Christianity


Devotional Thought of the Day:
28  And we know that God causes everything to work together for the good of those who love God and are called according to his purpose for them. 29  For God knew his people in advance, and he chose them to become like his Son, so that his Son would be the firstborn among many brothers and sisters.   Romans 8:28-29 (NLT)

2  When all kinds of trials and temptations crowd into your lives my brothers, don’t resent them as intruders, but welcome them as friends! Realise that they come to test your faith and to produce in you the quality of endurance. But let the process go on until that endurance is fully developed, and you will find you have become men of mature character with the right sort of independence. And if, in the process, any of you does not know how to meet any particular problem he has only to ask God – who gives generously to all men without making them feel foolish or guilty – and he may be quite sure that the necessary wisdom will be given him. But he must ask in sincere faith without secret doubts as to whether he really wants God’s help or not. The man who trusts God, but with inward reservations, is like a wave of the sea, carried forward by the wind one moment and driven back the next. That sort of man cannot hope to receive anything from God, and the life of a man of divided loyalty will reveal instability at every turn. James 1:2 (Phillips NT)

42      Desire nothing for yourself, either good or bad. For yourself, want only what God wants. Whatever it may be, if it comes from his hand, from God, however bad it may appear in the eyes of men, with God’s help it will appear good, yes very good!, to you. And with an ever increasing conviction you will say: Et in tribulatione mea dilatasti me… et calix tuus inebrians, quam praeclarus est!—I have rejoiced in tribulation…, how marvellous is your chalice. It inebriates my whole being!  (1)

So often we quote Romans 8:28 to people who are going through hard times, who are suffering, who are grieving.  It often becomes a modern Christian cliche, a pious version of “don’t worry, God’s got this!” 

But I wonder if we realize the important of verse 29, and what that means.  That the reason God has our back, is because we are to be like his Son, Jesus.  We are to be Christlike.  a

That’s pretty cool when we think of the promises of reigning in heaven.  Not so cool when you think of the suffering and death he endured, even though it was for the joy set before him.  Being Christ-like means to love our enemies, to serve those who need our love, to embrace suffering to do it, as is necessary.

But how are we with embracing suffering, with trusting God through times where we put our own desires, our wants, even our own needs (and those of our families and friends) aside, to care for those God puts in our lives.

Think about this, we struggle and argue to take in people whose lives have been ravaged by war.  We would rather kill a baby who was conceived in rape than come alongside the victims (not the plural) and provide them with what they need spiritually and physically. We do everything we can to hide signs of aging, suffering, and death.  (This I think is one of the strengths of the millennials, btw – they are less likely to hide their grief, sorrow, and pain)

Even in the church, this is true, as we have experts telling us why the church is dwindling in number, for reasons that cannot be our fault, our sin, and to our shame.   We don’t teach our people to sacrifice; we don’t help them to learn to pray to embrace the cross.  We don’t help them learn to trust God in a way that will convince them of His presence in the midst of the suffering they endure, that they even embrace. 

That’s right; I said embrace!

Embrace sacrifice and suffering?  Be willing to embrace sacrifice and suffering?  

Isn’t enough that life throws enough suffering, sorrow and grief into our lives?  Isn’t that enough?

Maybe, but probably not.

Just so you are clear, this isn’t about earning your salvation, it merits nothing in that regard.  You don’t get a better view of the throne, or get next to sit next to King David in the choir, and your mansion isn’t going to be any bigger.

It is this, your joy will come, both then and now, from being in the presence of God, and knowing peace that pervades and comforts and satisfies like nothing else can.

For you will be imitating your brother, Jesus, walking with the Holy Spirit, and knowing you are a child of God.

And that my friend, we will learn is more than enough.

May God bless you, as you walk with Christ.

Escriva, Josemaria (2011-01-31). The Forge (Kindle Locations 382-387). Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition.

The Joy of… Suffering?


Devotional Thought of the Day:

8  “But as for you, Israel my servant, Jacob my chosen one, descended from Abraham my friend, 9  I have called you back from the ends of the earth, saying, ‘You are my servant.’ For I have chosen you and will not throw you away. 10  Don’t be afraid, for I am with you. Don’t be discouraged, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you. I will hold you up with my victorious right hand. Isaiah 41:8-10 (NLT)

254         An incurable illness restricted his movements. And yet he cheerfully assured me: “The illness suits me well and I love it more all the time. If I were given the choice, I would be born again this way a hundred times!”(1)

 Moreover, the people are instructed often and with great diligence concerning the holy sacrament, why it was instituted, and how it is to be used (namely, as a comfort for terrified consciences) in order that the people may be drawn to the Communion and Mass  (2)

I have the honor to visit a 97 year old lady for about 10 minutes a week.  She lives with some other eldery people around the corner.   It isn’t much of a visit by the world’s standards, but it is one I treasure.

She has lived a fascinating life, one that would have me asking her to tell the stories from, for she has worked in places that I find extremely fascinating. But with the strength she has, just a few minutes of hearing about God working with our preschoolers, and a prayer of blessing, and it is time to leave.

Yet her contentment is amazing, her joy as she sees me is so evident.  She doesn’t mind her weakness.  She seems to treasure our brief moments together.  This incredible lady, me, and the God who loves us so!  A few moments that make such an incredible difference.. in my life.

It is hard to look at her weariness, for the smile and the assurance of her love for God overwhems it.  She is more at peace than so many I know.  So much more full of joy.  Despite the suffering, despite the hours spent alone.

There are all different types of suffering.  Suffering can be caused by evil oppression, by poverty, by health, by age, by loneliness?

But what we find in the suffering makes all the difference in the world.  In this time of Advent, can we find Christ there?  Can we find the joy of having no other hope but that which is found in Christ Jesus?  The hope of sharing in His glory?

When we do, when in the midst of the pain we hear His voice; when we realize the comfort Jesus brings to us in the Lord’s Supper; in those moments of prayer when we can only listen, and allow the Holy Spirit to minister to us, that is when the quiet joy comes flooding through our souls.  That is when the brokenness finds healing.

That is when we know we are loved.

Such a joyous thought…

I pray that you and I would know God’s love that deeply, with that assurance, at any age, in any situation.  Because of that love, may joy be generated at our very core.

AMEN!

.

(1) Escriva, Josemaria (2011-01-31). Furrow (Kindle Locations 1244-1246). Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition.

(2)  Tappert, T. G. (Ed.). (1959). The Book of Concord the confessions of the Evangelical Lutheran Church. (p. 56). Philadelphia: Mühlenberg Press.

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