Do not be conquered by evil, but conquer evil with good. Romans 12:21 CSB
Let us come now to the means which we have to employ in order to vanquish temptations. Spiritual masters prescribe a variety of means; but the most necessary, and the safest (of which only I will here speak), is to have immediate recourse to God with all humility and confidence, saying: Incline unto my aid, O God; O Lord, make haste to help me.3 This short prayer will enable us to overcome the assaults of all the devils of hell; for God is infinitely more powerful than all of them. (1)
It is quite natural, and even spiritual, to feel sorrow and heaviness when we see the professed followers of Christ walking in the ways of the world. And our first impulse may easily be to go straight to them and upbraid them indignantly.
But such methods are seldom successful. The heat in our spirit may not be from the Holy Spirit, and if it is not then it can very well do more harm than good.…
In this as in everything else Christ is our perfect example. A prayerful, face-down meditation on the life of Christ will show us how to oppose with kindness and reprove with charity. And the power of the Holy Spirit within us will enable us to follow His blessed example.
It seems that there are two ways to deal with error, especially in the church.
The first is to ignore it, well, at least ignore it while the person is in view Sometimes this can result in the frustrations being shared with those around us, initially as, “how can we help them.” But often, that turns into a form of gossip. Both refusing to deal with it, and the gossip caused by still being frustrated, is sin.
The second way is to treat them like the enemy, to attack them with the sincere intent of eradicating the false belief. The problem here is that the person’s soul or their family’s souls suffer significant collateral damage. While our desire are sincere, our methodology, to be blunt, is sinful.
Tozer is more polite when he simply says the methods are seldom successful. But he is right; such efforts can cause far more harm than good. And we fall into this temptation, especially as we engage in social media, and we are trying to
fix those with whom we don’t have a relationship.
Before we get to correct someone, we must deal with our “need” to correct others! I think De Ligouri has the way to work through the temptation, as he advises us to call out in prayer to God. After all, if we are to be those who work for reconciliation, we need to be in contact with both parties to be reconciled. We need to remember His desire to bring them into a transformation of their mind. Which means we have to remember ours does as well.
It is then, and only then, that we can conquer evil with good. That we can proceed, guided by the Holy Spirit, to work within our relationships, and approach those in error with love, a love that they will recognize.
God’s peace to all, as we care enough to take our time and remember the presence of God, as we care for those He loves.
(1) 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), 450.
(2) A. W. Tozer and Marilynne E. Foster, Tozer on the Holy Spirit: A 366-Day Devotional (Camp Hill, PA: WingSpread, 2007).
Devotional Thought of the Day:
2 The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light. They lived in a land of shadows, but now light is shining on them. 3 You have given them great joy, Lord; you have made them happy. They rejoice in what you have done, as people rejoice when they harvest grain or when they divide captured wealth. 4 For you have broken the yoke that burdened them and the rod that beat their shoulders. . Isaiah 9:2-4 (TEV)
3† You have been raised to life with Christ, so set your hearts on the things that are in heaven, where Christ sits on his throne at the right side of God. 2 Keep your minds fixed on things there, not on things here on earth. 3 For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. Col. 3:1-3 GNT
Temptation has its own “style” in the Church: it grows, spreads and justifies itself. It grows inside the person, rising in tone. It grows in the community, spreading the disease. It always has a word at hand to justify its stance.
When [Luther] was asked whether it was enough for a person to confess sin and believe in absolution and not use the sacrament [of the altar], he replied, “No! It is stated in the words of institution, ‘Do this in remembrance of me’ [1 Cor 11:25]. Everything that is required of a Christian must be in the sacrament: acknowledgement of sin (which we call contrition), faith, giving of thanks, confession. These things must not be separated from one another.”
Dear Jesus, help me to spread your fragrance everywhere I go. Flood my soul with your spirit and life. Penetrate and possess my whole being, so utterly, that my life may only be a radiance of yours. Shine through me, and be so in me, that every soul I come in contact with may feel your presence in my soul. Let them look up and see no longer me. But only Jesus! Stay with me, and then I shall begin to shine as you shine; so to shine as to be a light to others; the light, O Jesus will be all from you, none of it will be mine;
It will be you, shining on others through me. Let me thus praise you in the way you love best by shining on those around me. Let me preach you without preaching, not by words but by my example, by the catching force,the sympathetic influence of what I do, the evident fullness of the love my heart bears to you. Amen. (the radiating prayer of St Theresa of Calcutta )
One of the problems with theology is semantics, for there are not enough terms to enable everything to be put in nice orderly thoughts. For that matter there are too many thoughts to keep them straight, even for the brightest and largest minds.
If I talk to a Lutheran about two Kingdoms, they often think of a divide between the secular and the sacred, and though God operates and reigns in each Kingdom, the theory is that there are different rules, different concerns, and for some, a different sense of ethics and morality.
Others would think of two kingdoms as the Kingdom of Darkness where sin reigns (or perhaps Satan) and God’s Kingdom, where righteousness and holiness are predominant.
A slight difference, for in Lutheran thought, God still reigns in the secular, in other systems, it represents a warzone, good against evil, Satan against God. Lutherans miss this often, and often the awareness of how different a life lived in sin is different, or should be different, than one lived in grace.
As a pastor, I see people struggling with this all the time, this idea of living a life affected by grace, a life of holiness, a life separated to God. The life Paul describes to the church in Colossae, where he urges them to set their minds and fix their hearts on things that are above, for the reality they truly dwell in is found there, in the presence of God. It is that transition that Isaiah prophetically described, as people were awakened from the darkness, and would learn to live in the light, with the work of the Child who would be given.
Even so, we have to live in this world between the two kingdoms, this world of shadows. This place where we can be dragged back into the darkness by temptation. A temptation that can affect those in the church, just as powerfully, just as dramatically, as it does the world which it dominates over. This is the great challenge, to live in this Kingdom, but not be of it. To minister to those broken by it, and yet not let it dominate us.
Luther sees the answer in the sacrament of the Eucharist, (which is why we should commune often!) because of all it includes. To spend that time with our heart set and minds fixed upon Christ Jesus. To feel the relief of being forgiven, to celebrate the blessing of being freed from darkness,
It is from that point that an amazing thing happens, the prayer of St Theresa becomes visibly answered. Not by our own will, not even by our effort, but simply from having God work in our lives, not being as aware of it as His presence. Not understanding it, but simply reveling in this world of glory that we dwell in, with Him.
That glory of God radiates from Him through us, even as it did through Moses. As we spend time, focused heart and mind on God, experiencing the love, our life changes… and ministry happens without our knowing. In this place the secular and the sacred overlap.
It is a glorious thing…it is holiness, a life set apart to God. It is who we, who have seen God’s glory invade our darkness, were reborn to live in.
So let’s do it, living in both Kingdoms, reflecting the light that others might fight the freedom of being loved by God. AMEN!
Pope Francis. (2013). A Year with Pope Francis: Daily Reflections from His Writings. (A. Rossa, Ed.) (p. 238). New York; Mahwah, NJ; Toronto, ON: Paulist Press; Novalis.
Luther, M. (2007). Luther’s Spirituality. (P. D. W. Krey, B. McGinn, & P. D. S. Krey, Eds., P. D. S. Krey & P. D. W. Krey, Trans.) (p. 183). New York; Mahwah, NJ: Paulist Press.
Devotional Thought of the Day:
13 Every test that you have experienced is the kind that normally comes to people. But God keeps his promise, and he will not allow you to be tested beyond your power to remain firm; at the time you are put to the test, he will give you the strength to endure it, and so provide you with a way out. 1 Corinthians 10:13 (TEV)
As soon as you perceive that you are tempted, follow the example of children; when they see a wolf or a bear, they at once run to the arms of their father or mother, or at least they call out to them for help. It is the remedy which our Lord taught, when He said; “Pray, lest you enter into temptation” (Matt. 26:41). If you find, notwithstanding this, that the temptation still continues, or even increases, run in spirit to embrace the holy cross, as if you saw Jesus Christ crucified before you. Protest that you will never consent to the temptation, crave his help against it, and continue still to refuse your consent, as long as the temptation continues.
But in making these protestations and in refusing to consent, look not upon the temptation, but only on our Lord; for if you look upon the temptation, especially whilst it is strong, it may shake your courage. Divert your thoughts to some good and pious reflections, for good thoughts, when they occupy your heart, will chase away every evil temptation and suggestion. (1)
And this understanding is necessary for the church, so that it may know that God is daily at work in His world and embracing with His fatherly care especially those to whom He has given His Word, and He is defending them, watching over them, nourishing and freeing them from all dangers and troubles, and is unwilling to do anything which would take away anything good from those who seek the Lord, Ps. 34:10
Often times I hear the Bible passage above quoted in regards to the problems of life, that God doesn’t give us challenges that we can’t handle. As if God wants us to take on the challenges using our own wisdom, our own strength of character, our own power.
But that is not what the passage is about, if we look at the verses that come before and after the passage. It is a transition sentence, moving us from the sin of those in the Sinai with Moses, who grumbled and overlooked the care of God, and a powerful section about the communion we have with God, as we take and eat His Body, as we Drink His Blood that was shed.
It is the escape God provides, the way past temptation and sin that comes as we trust, as we depend on God to provide for us. That is our way out, carried in the palm of His hands, carried through death and the cross, through the resurrection and life in the glory of God.
Depending on the truth we hear Martin Chemnitz states so well, that God is at work, and won’t take away anything good from those who look to Him. It is what St Francis de Sales states as well, that our hope is found as we run to and embrace the cross, looking not at the temptation, but focusing on Jesus, on HIs presence, on HIs love, on HIs mercy.
This is our great escape – through Christ, from darkness to light, from guilt and shame into the very glory of God, from brokenness to being healed and life abundant in Christ. TO have the mindset of Christ, to focus in on the love of God our Father, to explore that love, as the Apostle Paul tells the church to, this is our safe place, our sanctuary, our refuge.
That is why the Kyrie Eleison (Lord Have Mercy! ) is such a powerful prayer, for it directs our hope to Christ, where it finds the proof that sustains it.
We must go back, and see where Paul finds that escape, in the communion of people and God. In the sharing of the Eucharistic (the Blessing) Cup, in the Body of Christ which we share. In that sacramental meal, we find ourselves so in the presence of God. This sacrament, this time of being with God, is so precious, so needed!
This is Christianity, our religious dependence and trust in God, the path of walking with Christ, being the place where the Spirit dwells, where the people of God are lifted up.
So look to Jesus my friends, and find the escape we all need. AMEN!
(1) Francis de Sales, Saint. An Introduction to the Devout Life. Dublin: M. H. Gill and Son, 1885. Print.
Chemnitz, Martin, and Jacob A. O. Preus. Loci Theologici. electronic ed. St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1999. Print.
He Will Do All the Good Things He Promised!
He Will Lead
† Jesus, Son, Savior †
May God’s mercy sustain you throughout your life, as you realize that He is the Prince of Peace! Your Prince of Peace!
Looking for Leadership
It doesn’t take a prophet to predict that the next year will be full of conflict, full of verbal abuse, full of people trying to manipulate most of the people of the United States, and often using fear and greed to do so.
As a relatively cynical man, I dread election years. I fear them because I fear that the result will be division, conflict, fear, and in my case apathy, occasionally mixed with sarcasm.
You all know that sarcasm is a major temptation of mine, right?
Apathy is even a worse temptation.
But I do fear the relationships that will be damaged, as people’s fear will dominate the reason they vote, fears that find some basis in self-centeredness. What this means is that we won’t have discussions with each other. We will attack each other’s candidates, and more than an argument will occur. A great division will occur because our fears cause us to invest in our candidates as much with our hearts as our minds, we will see someone supporting an opponent as a threat. They in turn, will get defensive. We will not comprehend how someone in their right mind could support candidate Q, because we see them as a threat. We will forget that we are family, neighbors, a community.
The reaction may take years to heal.
That is why I dread such years, and why I become so apathetic.
For it is hard to see good come from such times.
Why Do We Want to Trust in Princes
I wonder why we struggle to understand the wisdom of God when it comes to leadership, whether that is in national leadership, or local leadership. Hear God’s wisdom again,
3 Put not your trust in princes, in a son of man, in whom there is no salvation. Psalm 146:3 (ESV)
We might even quote that about the opposition, see- they’ve put their trust in those people, how could they! While we do the same – hoping that our candidate will save us. Without thinking, we begin to believe, to have hope, in the work of men.
How about these two
8 It is better to take refuge in the LORD than to trust in people. 9 It is better to take refuge in the LORD than to trust in princes. Psalm 118:8-9 (NLT)
22 Don’t put your trust in mere humans. They are as frail as breath. What good are they? Isaiah 2:22 (NLT)
and this cry for mercy,
11 Oh, please help us against our enemies, for all human help is useless. Psalm 60:11 (NLT)
Finally, there is this one… which is terrifying,
5 This is what the LORD says: “Cursed are those who put their trust in mere humans, who rely on human strength and turn their hearts away from the LORD. Jeremiah 17:5 (NLT)
That might be the nicer of the translations, others use the word condemned.
Like I said, this isn’t just about politics. It can be that this job will save us, or that if we can only make it to retirement, then everything will be okay. Or meeting the right star, or seeing out children or grandchildren succeed, as the world measures success. We create many idols, convinced that life will be alright, if only they…
It is clear, there is no one we should put our trust in, no one we must depend on, except for God. No one else we should count on or hope in, even those who claim to be good Christians.
Otherwise, we have created an idol.
And those idols will be out in force.
And they can lead us into lives that are cursed.
The Good He Has promised
Advent reminds us of the failure of idols in the past, and that we need some One more solid to place our hope, our expectations in.
We need a God, not an idol. We need a leader who restores us, who heals us, who makes us whole. Hear Micah’s prophecy again,
4 And he will stand to lead his flock with the LORD’s strength, in the majesty of the name of the LORD his God. Then his people will live there undisturbed, for he will be highly honored around the world. 5 And he will be the source of peace
If we want a leader, we have but to look at the cross. We see there a leader whose life isn’t centered in himself, or an agenda that promotes his party’s preferences. We see a leader who wants the best for us, a leader who brings us into a place of peace, a leader who is willing to die to comfort us and heal us in our brokenness. We see a leader that gathers his people, who helps them grow by refining them, we need a leader who will keep the Good He has promised.
This is Jesus, our Lord. Immanuel, the proof that God is with us.
And yes He leads us. The world will say they cannot see Him, but neither have I seen a president, premier, or king personally. They are somewhere out there, whereas God is here, His Spirit within every believer in this place. So I see him when I look into Chris’s eyes, or Esther’s, or Manny’s, or Cyndee’s.
Even more I see God when we see the body and blood of Christ, which He gives us, shed for the forgiveness of our sin. When I see His people kneel at the altar, ready for Christ to come to them. We hear Him as we hear our sins being forgiven, for it is by His authority and it is His desire to show mercy and bring us to the Father. We hear it when He claims His people, when He claims us as His own.
This is a leader who will bring us into peace, both then, and now. For that is His called, to guard our hearts and minds in the peace of God our father, a peace we dwell in, right now, because of Jesus, the Lord who leads us and helps us see all the good God has promised, He has delivered.
Devotional Thought of the Day:
11 And they have defeated him by the blood of the Lamb and by their testimony. And they did not love their lives so much that they were afraid to die. Revelation 12:11 (NLT)
And don’t let us yield to temptation, but rescue us from the evil one. Matthew 6:13 (NLT)
1008 In the hour of temptation, practise the virtue of Hope, saying: For my rest and enjoyment I have the whole of eternity ahead of me. Here and now, full of Faith, I will earn my rest through work and win my joy through suffering. What will Love be like in Heaven? Better still, you should practise your Love by saying: What I want is to please my God, my Love, by doing his Will in all things, as though there were neither reward nor punishment—simply to please him. (1)
We all have temptations.
Some involve things we desire. Chocolate, desserts, alcohol, drugs, pornography, sex in any form other than marriage, gossip, slander (especially those people we don’t like). We can even be tempted to whine and throw a pity party, confident that no one has ever been challenged with what we face.
There are also temptations to avoid things: confrontation, suffering, discomfort, having to sacrifice things that are important to us, even martyrdom. We may not like reality as we perceive it, and the temptation is to believe that perception and hide from that which we cannot control or enjoy.
We pray to God that He would strengthen us against such things, but we fail for so many of them. You aren’t alone in this dear reader, I fail as well, so does every priest and pastor you encounter. Every saint was tempted, and of all History, only Jesus was tested in all points and never succumbed.
Does that mean we stop striving for it and give it up? Do we just enjoy that which damages our bodies and souls? Do we just find our cave, and hide from anyone who might do us harm, including ourselves?
For if we can’t overcome temptation, if we can’t live the perfect, holy life, then why try?
Does God really expect us to live miserably, failing over and again?
The answer is seen in the quotes above, in the description of our lives, found in the Book of Revelation. Yes, the description of our lives, pictured as those who have overcome, (the word nike in Greek – we just did it!) How?
By the blood of Christ – the promise of our being rescued from this life and the damage caused to it by sin. We count on that; we have confidence that God is doing exactly that in this wearying life.
We trust in what God reveals! We know it so well that we are willing to testify to it, testify to it, even like the martyrs who died, rather than give up the hope that God instills in us…
The last comment is perhaps the hardest; we don’t cling to this life so much, that we face anxiety and fear in view of death. This isn’t easy, to not know this life, the only life we know. It is hard to focus on the future. We have obligations and pressures. We have to keep in balance so many different things.
I love Escriva’s two-step approach to this. The first, to have the ultimate sense of delayed gratification. To know what God awaits us, and press on like Paul – to reach that which God has already made it possible to enjoy. That challenges our perceptions, which our sacrifices are complete, that our commitment goes over and above what should be expected.
The second phase is where Christian maturity is revealed, where we have started to understand the depth of God’s love, the blessings He pours out on us, by loving us like that.
To endure life, to work through temptation and trial, to sacrifice things in this life, because doing so frees us to do something that brings God joy! When we got to the point where we don’t do things for the rewards of heaven, but simply because of love for God.
This attitude only occurs when we realize first His love.
Realizing His love puts this life with its trials, temptations and sacrifices into perspective.
I pray that as we deal with the trials and temptations of life, that first and foremost, we look to God and know His love and promises.
For then we know the Blood of Christ, we see it at work in our lives, we treat life in view of eternity, and because of God, we overcome.
(1) Escriva, Josemaria (2011-01-31). The Forge (Kindle Locations 3553-3557). Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition.
Devotional?Discussion Thought of the Day:
13 And don’t let us yield to temptation, but rescue us from the evil one. Matthew 6:13 (NLT)
” 138 Infelix ego homo!, quis me liberabit de corpore mortis huius?—“Unhappy man that I am, who will deliver me from this body of death?” Thus cried Saint Paul. Courage! He too had to fight.
139 At the time of temptation think of the love that awaits you in Heaven: foster the virtue of hope—it’s not a lack of generosity.(1)
As a pastor, I have to deal with sin quite a bit. First of all there is my own, then there is that of my people I pastor – whether members of the congregation I pastor, or those who I interact with regularly. It is a bit ironic that those who aren’t “officially” mine – are more willing ot read this and deal with sin, but that’ s another story.
I love Paul’s self-disclosure in Romans 7, His dealing with his own battles with sin – and the despair that comes from unsuccessfully. It gives me some assurance that we can, bluntly and faithfully, address the presence of sin in our lives.
We don’t need to hide from the grief sin causes, we don’t need to grieve without addresses it.
The answer of it is far simpler – far easier, and laid out in scripture.
Go to God when you are tempted, go to God with your sin. Fight it – but not with weapons of our own making – fight sin and temptation by taking it to God. Think about His love, recognize His presence – plead with Him to help you… and when you fail – turn to our Lord and know His answer to your plea for mercy is always “yes”.
Trust (that is have faith/believe) that God will see you through the temptation, through the failure, that His very love will bring you to hear that He has forgiven you. That His love will always, always, overcome evil.
And Rejoice – for the Lord is with You.
(1)Escriva, Josemaria (2010-11-02). The Way (Kindle Locations 457-458). Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition.
- Is Teaching People That They Must Go to Church Right? (justifiedandsinner.com)
- Can we take sin seriously, that we may rejoice in being forgiven of it? (justifiedandsinner.com)
- Are you sure you want the Holy Spirit to come? (justifiedandsinner.com)
- I Have Decided, to Follow Jesus! (Controversy? Not so much…) (justifiedandsinner.com)
- Do they know of your trust in God from your FB postings? (justifiedandsinner.com)
Devotional Thought of the Day:
23 Let us hold on firmly to the hope we profess, because we can trust God to keep his promise. 24 Let us be concerned for one another, to help one another to show love and to do good. 25 Let us not give up the habit of meeting together, as some are doing. Instead, let us encourage one another all the more, since you see that the Day of the Lord is coming nearer. 26 For there is no longer any sacrifice that will take away sins if we purposely go on sinning after the truth has been made known to us. 27 Instead, all that is left is to wait in fear for the coming Judgment and the fierce fire which will destroy those who oppose God! 28 Anyone who disobeys the Law of Moses is put to death without any mercy when judged guilty from the evidence of two or more witnesses. 29 What, then, of those who despise the Son of God? who treat as a cheap thing the blood of God’s covenant which purified them from sin? who insult the Spirit of grace? Just think how much worse is the punishment they will deserve! Hebrews 10:23-29 (TEV)
57 As they went on their way, a man said to Jesus, “I will follow you wherever you go.” 58 Jesus said to him, “Foxes have holes, and birds have nests, but the Son of Man has no place to lie down and rest.” 59 He said to another man, “Follow me.” But that man said, “Sir, first let me go back and bury my father.” 60 Jesus answered, “Let the dead bury their own dead. You go and proclaim the Kingdom of God.” 61 Someone else said, “I will follow you, sir; but first let me go and say good-bye to my family.” 62 Jesus said to him, “Anyone who starts to plow and then keeps looking back is of no use for the Kingdom of God.” Luke 9:57-62 (TEV)
28 “Come to me, all of you who are tired from carrying heavy loads, and I will give you rest. 29 Take my yoke and put it on you, and learn from me, because I am gentle and humble in spirit; and you will find rest. 30 For the yoke I will give you is easy, and the load I will put on you is light.” Matthew 11:28-30 (TEV)
Yesterday in Bible Study we came across the first passage above. It is a bit scary, given the predisposition of people to sin, and even to argue that sins isn’t sin, or more commonly that my sins aren’t as foul, disgusting and pathetic as the sins of those people “out there”! Indeed we love to look outside ourselves, outside our churches, outside our country even, and point out their sins, their idolatry, their evil.
Or better yet, let’s ignore the issue of sin altogether in the church, and focus instead on issues like music, or what is a proper liturgy, or what is the nature and relationship of sanctification to justification. Let’s focus on church growth, or maintaining pure doctrine; even if that means the church must diminish because of how we work to purify it. There are more than enough things to worry about, there are more than enough cute sayings we can make meme’s out of, or tweet till we turn blue. We want to be Christians, whether Lutheran or Catholic or Methodist or Baptist or Non-Denom, without being disciples – and that is why our churches are so weak.
Instead we can be His friends, we can let Him mentor us, correct us, challenge our idols, especially the idol of our reason, our logic, our ideas of what is right and wrong, what is righteous, or what is sin. We can go – okay Lord, I don’t get this, but I trust YOU!
Will we let the refiner’s fire work in our lives, will we let his abrasive fuller’s soap burn our filthy rags and transform them into glorious white robes?
Will we let Him heal us of our sin?
Will we be reconciled, redeemed, revived, renewed, recreated?
Or do we want a nice academic, thoughtful (but controlled) form of Christianity that asks nothing of us, that allows us to create a facade of righteous, with all the right actions, all the right words, all the proper things… but without a true and honest relationship with the one who hung on a tree to make that relationship possible?
I’ve said it before – following Jesus is more like Ballroom dancing that mountain climbing – will we move with Him, will we allow Him to guide us, to teach us., to bless us with His word, His sacrament, His Death and Resurrection? This isn’t about some form of false piety, it’s about walking with God, and letting Him be our loving, merciful, faithful Shepherd and the Firstborn and Friend.
A last thought – the blessing from the Book of Hebrews:
20 Now may the God of peace— who brought up from the dead our Lord Jesus, the great Shepherd of the sheep, and ratified an eternal covenant with his blood— 21 may he equip you with all you need for doing his will. May he produce in you, through the power of Jesus Christ, every good thing that is pleasing to him. All glory to him forever and ever! Amen! Hebrews 13:20-21 (NLT)
His Grace is ALL we need!
2 Cor. 12:1-10
† In Jesus Name †
May you be convinced of this very thought: His Grace is ALL you need!
Theology according to Dug the Dog
In 2009, a movie was released that was a theological masterpiece, a perfect modern parable, as it pictured our lives in the present day, and how they overlook the very blessings we have been given by God.
One character in the animated movie “UP” we see in Paul’s letter to the church in Corinth, as Paul urges them to focus on the ministry of Christ, and their part in it, reconciling the world to God.
His name is Dug, and he is a dog, with a fancy little voicebox that turns his barks and growls into words. He is energetic, he is driven to do whatever he can to help his new master, and the little scout that would help the master reach his goal… he has the desire to help and do good, and the skills needed, and the absolute determination and focus
Until a squirrel shows up…
Something exciting and fun and perhaps even a bit tasty… it’s sorta like saying “bacon” around certain guys,…
And in many ways, as believers, as those studying God’s word, the people in Corinth were just like Dug the Dog. They desired to know all there was to know about God’s love, about His mercy, they desired to grasp the depth and breadth and height and width of God’s love…
Their attention is whisked away – as their minds follow a variety of squirrels that would distract them from the glory which Paul described so vividly; from the ministry we get to all be a part of, seeing people stripped of sin and returned to God. They got distracted by inspirational speakers (even if they know they are wrong), or by discussions about visions and revelations experiences that are astounding, so many things!
We can be like that as well, can’t we?
We aren’t alone…so was Paul…he had a ego that was easily inflated and he talks of the way God helped him deal with it – to keep that which should be the priority for the Christian – at the forefront. God’s method? A gift that doesn’t seem a gift at first, but is. That doesn’t seem like mercy, yet it is, for it keeps Paul focused, and dependent on God.
But before Paul gets there – he has to deal with the squirrels… and so will we!
Law – I want to know it ALL!!!
If you read this passage carefully, you realize that Paul doesn’t want to spend much time validating his ministry based on the experiences and visions and revelation, what he calls boasting. He’s done it, seen it, experienced it, been there, knows he can’t even come close to describing it, and realizes that even if it does – it will do those he is writing to absolutely no good!
Yet many of the professional theologians I have in my library wax eloquent on that which Paul deems as worthless, that will no benefit those to whom he writes. Heck just the discussions on what Paul means by being taken “to the third heaven” go on and on and on…. Despite Paul’s words that they mean…nothing to us! Pages of speculation about what Paul saw, or what this meant or that, on whether there are 3 heavens or seven! One theologian got it right, when he said
A mass of Jewish ideas about the seventh heaven is introduced by some interpreters, and they place Paul beyond the third heaven, viz. in the fourth. We consider all this Jewish material worthless for our interpretation. Are these Jews, who were never in heaven, able to shed any light on Paul’s experience? NO!
Study is good, and so is discussion, don’t get me wrong – but if scripture, God’s holy word says something doesn’t have a lot of meaning and value for us, why do we keep trying to develop a theory about it? Why can’t we just accept that it is beyond us, and get to what really makes a difference?
We can get so caught up in such discussions of visions and revelations, that we lose sight of who was revealed, can we lose sight of Jesus? We lose sight of the apostolic mission He came to accomplish, the mission which He has entrusted us with, and sent the Holy Spirit to work with us, to work in us, to accomplish?
Squirrel! Visions! Revelation! Bacon! Third Heaven! inside/outside of body, paradise,
Knowing all that other stuff, or our best guesses, do they really help us to know that which can make a difference in how we live our lives? Will it help us know God’s peace? Will knowing all these details help us today, as we struggle with life? No. Will knowing grace be sufficient, is it all we really need?
I think our seeking to know all about heaven, and eternity, are away to distract us from our present situation, our present fears, our present anxieties, our guilt and shame? They are great squirrels, fascinating topics, but the speculation doesn’t bring us comfort or peace….
Gospel – Struggles? Really?
Paul deals with – tells them simply – been there, saw that, can’t explain it – otherwise I might think I know it all…he says, but listen God helped me get past those squirrels and those questions I could answer, but can’t. He gave me an incredible gift – something that helped get me straight….
He taught me about the gift of afflciations.
Yeah – the gift of suffering meant more to Paul because it helped his spiritual life far more than all the visions, all the incredible revelations, all the wonderful things this man of God experienced. It made a difference.
Affliction? Suffering? Really? A Thorn in the Flesh? A pain in the….. neck? A Blessing? Really?
Well, Paul didn’t say he got that it was a gift, right away. He tells us that he begged God to take it away – not once, but three times! Not asked- the word is begged, pleaded, got down on his knees type begging. Wonder about God, for if He was so loving and merciful, wouldn’t He simply take it away….
The early Lutherans knew this, in our confessions, they wrote about how many sacraments there were, and how they were used – and wrote:
17 Alms (Giving to the poor ) could be listed here (among the sacraments), as well as afflictions, which in themselves are signs to which God has added promises. But let us pass over all this. No intelligent person will quibble about the number of sacraments or the terminology, so long as those things are kept which have God’s command and promises. (AAC, Art. XII)
But why? Why in the world does Paul and our forefathers call things that afflict us a blessing – why do they use the very same word – grace – in regards to the things (and people) that can be a thorn in the flesh….
It’s not the suffering… it’s the dependence on God that it causes..
And he is there… the Comforter, The Healer, the Daddy..
It’s not about the afflictions – its about what they cause… for they cause us, hopefully sooner than later – to run to the one who can bring us comfort, and relief and healing. That is why they are blessings, because they cause us to depend on God more, to trust in Him more, to wait quietly and patiently in His presence…
They cause us to see Him at work. To realize that we can, and we must depend on Him, if we really desire to live in His peace. To have the grace that we need…
His grace that works miraculously, simply. It calls us away from sin, from distractions, from squirrels. Grace that can make things that we don’t comprehend beautiful, in His time. We see Him at work in our lives, in the lives of this church, and the Taiwanese ministry and Passion, as we interact with each other, as we see a little girl baptized, as we pray and minister to those around us, as we learn together that God is here…pouring out the grace, the gifts we need.
The grace gift of His love
The grace-gift that is His mercy..
The grace gift of His presence and to know He desires to commune with us.
As He brings healing to our past, and gives us hope for the future.
As His grace-gift is the peace we have now… o the blessed peace that is found in Him, in Living each and every day knowing He is here, knowing His promises., knowing Him.
If that afflication means getting past the BACON, and the squirrels in life, so be it… they are not as good, right and beneficial as knowing our Father in Heave, or realizing our life in Christ, as rejoicing in the Spirit…
Even as we share in a feast that is beyond compare… the feast of His welcoming us into His affliction, that we would know His death, that we share in His resurrection to life, a life lived in Him…now.