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Worried about Churches Shrinking and Closing? Consider this threat.

Devotional Thought of the Day:

This is the message from the one who is the Amen—the faithful and true witness, the beginning* of God’s new creation: 15 “I know all the things you do, that you are neither hot nor cold. I wish that you were one or the other! 16 But since you are like lukewarm water, neither hot nor cold, I will spit you out of my mouth! 17 You say, ‘I am rich. I have everything I want. I don’t need a thing!’ And you don’t realize that you are wretched and miserable and poor and blind and naked. Rev. 3:14-17 NLT

437    If one of my fellow men had died to save me from death … God died. And I remain indifferent.

In the last week I have received over 25 emails, texts, or posts referring me to articles that provide hope for the church. Well not, really. They don’t provide hope, they provide an answer to their doomsday prediction – that the church in the next ten or twenty years will be even more in decline than it is today.

They may state we are in a post-Christian, or post Church age. They may say the “nones” are a sign of our ineffective ministry, they may claim society is getting more secular, and even hostile to the church. There are more and more reasons that people come up with for churches in decline. They then give advice to counter the threat, many even coming to the theory that we need to “save what we can”.

But those answers are, for the most part, systematic, programmatic, and structural. They make the vision of the church a response to the perceived threat. They make what drives the church an almost militant response to the outside world, and a militant response that seeks to regroup, even while it retreats.

And in the process forgets God, and remains indifferent to His role in His church, in His Kingdom. We have become like Laodicea, trying to work in our strength, and our riches, when most churches have so little in the bank. When we churches have less in attendance that they are supposed to have on their various boards and committees. We look at the threats so much, we don’t realize how needy we truly are.

If we realize our need, it is the panic button, it is the hiring of consultants, it is the blaming of the lack of support and guidance of our denomination or our brotherhood. We might even think it is the congregation’s leadership, or its pastor that is at fault.

When what we need to do, is realize that we will, in this life, always be in need. We will always struggle, whether our church is 35 or 700, or 22,000. Not because we are failures, not because we are sinners, but because we need and have someone who cares for us, who provides for us, who is with us.

The One we neglect to depend on, even as we sing His praises. The Lord who gives us life, who makes right what is wrong in our lives. We need ot look to HIm, to remember He is present, to remember His love for us. We have to remember and celebrate His death on the cross, to do all the above.

There is our primary answer to the church being in decline – to look to Jesus. The church in Laodicea was told this, in this way,

“Look! I stand at the door and knock. If you hear my voice and open the door, I will come in, and we will share a meal together as friends Rev. 3:20 NLT

These words weren’t written to unbelievers, they were written to the church, to the one Jesus says he wants to spit out, just a few verses before! These words echo Paul’s who says we are to plead with people, “Come Back to Christ!”

He has always been our hope, and the hope for the world! He has the answer to our brokenness, and the trauma in our society. He is the answer for our churches, and whom we aren’t to neglect, in our sermons, in our worship, and in our meetings and planning and vision casting. We need ot remember Him especially in our response to the dwindling numbers in our churches. What will fill them again is not our wisdom or strength, not our structure, or our regrouping what we have. What will fill them in the power of God, the power of God that raised Christ from the dead, and is at work in you, as you walk with Him, as you hear and respond to the Holy Spirit’s direction. As we lead His people to remember Him, as we share in communion, as we walk out with Him into His mission field that is in our lives.

You want to see the church thrive? Realize what God is doing right now, in your life, as He is present. Look around you, see the people that need that very same blessing, and pray for them. As the s Spirit leads, even tell them you are doing so, or ask them if you can pray for them right there, confident that God is there, hearing you both.

If we, the people who are the church, would realize we live in God’s presence, the church will not be empty for long.

The Lord is with you! AMEN!






Escriva, Josemaria. The Way (Kindle Locations 1074-1075). Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition.

Is This the Faith We Teach?

Teaching the faith.. isn’t like this!

Devotional Thought of the Day:

1  The desert will rejoice, and flowers will bloom in the wastelands. 2  The desert will sing and shout for joy; it will be as beautiful as the Lebanon Mountains and as fertile as the fields of Carmel and Sharon. Everyone will see the LORD’S splendor, see his greatness and power. 3  Give strength to hands that are tired and to knees that tremble with weakness. 4  Tell everyone who is discouraged, “Be strong and don’t be afraid! God is coming to your rescue…”
Isaiah 35:1-4b (TEV)

At least once a week, therefore, each and every head of household is responsible for asking and questioning closely the children and household workers, one at a time, as to what they know or are learning and, where they lack in knowledge, seriously to hold them to it.15 For I still remember the time—indeed, even now it is all too common—that one daily found crude, ignorant, older, and age-worn people who knew absolutely nothing of these things. Yet, not knowing them even now, they go to baptism and the sacrament and use everything the Christians have, even though those who go to baptism should by right know more and have a more complete understanding of all Christian teachings than children and pupils chasing their ABC’s. To be sure, for the common crowd, we have not gone farther than the three articles,16 which has been the custom from ancient times in Christendom, but seldom rightly taught and practiced.

Once when I arrived at a new mission, fresh from experience of painful and humiliating failure, feeling heavy and useless; on the first day my Superior introduced me to a man we were caring for. He immediately took my hand and led me to another, who was dying. He said; ‘Norman, we have a new Sister and she understands us’. In that moment, I became aware of how my own personal sufferings bonded me to them in their suffering. I saw the cross as precious, a sign of greater love. Miracles happen in the times of our greatest sufferings. This is true even if we do not suffer well.

As a pastor, I love what Luther encourages (the purple quote) that the head of the household invest time in building up the faith of those in his care. Not only those who are his children, but those he works with, who are his “employees”. He does so, not by lecturing, but by questioning them, helping determine the places where they need to grow.

It is a different form of “teaching” a form that must be different, for what is being taught is different. It is not doctrine that is being taught, but faith. It is not data, but that we can trust and depend on Jesus, and on the Holy Spirit who is active in our lives. It is something that is experienced not just memorized, it is something that is shared with those we love, not just drilled into them.

It is what Isaiah refers to, the lessons of faith that enable us to see the Lord’s glory, which is actively giving strength to the tired hands, and the trembling weak knees, It is the life lived within the truth that discouragement is not conquered by determination and inner-strength, but rather in the fact that God has come to rescue us.

That is what the young nun realized, as she went to minister to those who were suffering. That is what the moms and dads, the employers, the teachers are called to “teach” by asking the questions that reveal the lack of knowledge of God’s presence and His work in our lives, for that is what is revealed in word and sacraments. It is that work, that love that causes us to trust, to depend on, to have faith in God.

Is this what we teach? Is it what we work and guide people in developing? Is it what those we count as mentors and pastors, teachers and “fathers” in the faith give to us? Will we/they walk alongside those (including us) understanding the broken, for we have seen God work in our brokenness?

Will at the end of the day, and at the end of life, they know they can depend on God, for they know His presence?

If they do, then we have taught them well…

Lord Jesus, help us to teach those who are part of our “homes”, the people who are family by blood, and those who are just family. Help us stimulate their trust in You, asking them the questions that help them find themselves in Your presence, and rejoice in Your caring work in their lives. AMEN!

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.) (pp. 189–190). New York; Mahwah, NJ: Paulist Press.

Joseph MC. (2012). From Adoration to Serving the Poor. In A. Reid (Ed.), From Eucharistic Adoration to Evangelization (p. 185). London; New York: Burns & Oates.

How Do You Lead? How Are You Teaching People to Lead?

Leadership is like waiting tables

Devotional Thought of the Day:

22 After that, the Israelites said to Gideon, “Be our ruler—you and your descendants after you. You have saved us from the Midianites.”
23 Gideon answered, “I will not be your ruler, nor will my son. The LORD will be your ruler.”
Judges 8:22-23

With those we lead in any way (sometimes we lead by simply asking the right questions), we are to be “the servant of all” (Mark 9:35), “eager to serve; not lording it over those entrusted to you” (1 Peter 5:2-3). Redemptive mutual submission (Ephesians 5:21) is achieved in this way.
So much current religious work is not lined up with these scriptural injunctions. This is bound to be if those who lead try to control the flock through their own abilities to organize and drive, yet clothed in a spiritual terminology. They do not rely on Christ’s power. As their faith is, so shall their leadership be. It will be “my group,” “my ministry” and “my children”—and those who follow will never experience how completely God is Lord of each person.

Leadership is a tricky thing.

Especialy for those who serve Christ by serving the people of God as leaders.

Once upon a time, I was in management. Went to the seminars, did all the team building excercises. Especially loved the idea of the inverted triangle, that a leader is not at the top, but rather at the bottom of the structure. Learned about different styles and tempraments of leadership and had some excellent leaders who had authority over me, but saw it as responsibility for my work.

Dallas Willard’s comments are striking in this, that a leader that leads based in their own ability to organize and drive those that follow is not truly doing their job. They are neglecting the very reason for their being in leadership.

Willard describes what is missing as “those who follow will never experience how completely God is the Lord of each person.”

This is not about questioning the sincerity of those in leadership. Many of us sincerly want to do the best we can, and train and learn to be leaders of the people of God. We try to adapt what we know, but sometimes it falls short, simply because we forget that we aren’t leadiing to success, or to a short term goal. As a result, we often find ourselves manipulating people rather than guiding them. We get them to “do” rather than experience.

We need to remember that LORD is the way the Jewish people respectfully used a title instead of God’s name. The name, YHWH, simply means I AM. (rememer Moses and the burning bush?) That is what our people need to experience, that is what we are tasked with revealing to them, shepherding them in experiencing the love of God who is present.

My job as a pastor, the job of the elders and board members is to help people experience God’s mercy, His care, His presence in their lives. That is the role of every Christian leader.

And that is why so much of secular leadership strategy is challenging. Because if relies on us, because it doesn’t tale the attitude of Gideon, who points to them to the Lord (even though he was the most effective of the Judges)

“No, not me… look to God…” the same kind of leadership that John the Baptist, that the Apostle Paul and so many others have modeled for us.

So this day, I have a challenge for you who lead.

Your challenge is this, find someone to guide, and the place you need to guide them to is a place of stillness, a place of peace, a place where they know God is present, (and that you are not God!)

Go in His peace, and I pray you experience your LORD’s presence, and so in awe of that, help others know that He is with them!


Willard, D., & Johnson, J. (2015). Hearing god through the year: a 365-day devotional. Westmont, IL: IVP Books.

I Need to Become More Narrow-Minded…So Do You!

closed eyed man holding his face using both of his hands

Photo by Ric Rodrigues on Pexels.com

Devotional Thought of the Day:

2  For while I was with you, I made up my mind to forget everything except Jesus Christ and especially his death on the cross.   1 Corinthians 2:2 (TEV)

273         Dear Jesus: if I have to be an apostle, you will need to make me very humble. Everything the sun touches is bathed in light. Lord, fill me with your clarity, make me share in your divinity so that I may identify my will with your adorable Will and become the instrument you wish me to be. Give me the madness of the humiliation you underwent, which led you to be born poor, to work in obscurity, to the shame of dying sewn with nails to a piece of wood, to your self-effacement in the Blessed Sacrament. May I know myself: may I know myself and know you. I will then never lose sight of my nothingness.

A long time ago, the first church that entrusted me with the responsibility of being their pastor, their guide, had a motto.  Simply, what they wanted to be, as a church, was the place that taught Christ-centered living.

A fairly narrow mission statement, yet one I think we still need to see happen in the church.

It came to mind this morning as I was bombarded with political adds and texts. As I also was bothered greatly by some emails that spoke of politics inside my denomination.

After trying to clear my email and my mind of all this crap, I tried to settle down into my normal devotion time. And only as I opened my last book, did I see something that reminded me of what I have tried to teach for decades… to be humble like Mary, and sit at Jesus’ feet, and know the peace that comes from this “madness of humiliation” that St. Josemaria speaks of so well.

For it is there, being centered in and on Jesus, being able to identify with His will, (not mine, not democratic or Republican, not the United List’s or Congregations Matter) that I find the healing I need to begin the day.  It is when I come to see the glory of His self-giving in the sacrament, where He invites us to share in Him, in the love that permeates and defines the communion of the Trinity, as He draws us in, and cleanses us, and we start to adjust to living in His glory, and His peace.

When I say I need ot be narrow-minded, I am not talking about set in a political view, or in some narrow theological paradigm.  My mind needs to be centered on Jesus, as does my very life, heart, soul’ mind, and strength learning ot love even as I experience the love of God too incredible to understand.

Only then, knowing His love, can I toss away the idols and sins that so easily draw my attention away from the Lord, who creates, restores, and makes me (and all His people, the church) holy and healing of their brokenness.

So set aside everything else for a little while, and think about the love of God, which is visible in your life.  AMEN!

 

Escriva, Josemaria. Furrow (Kindle Locations 1341-1347). Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition.

Can God use us? The miracle for those with broken lives.

Will new camera 12 2008 167Devotional Thought of the Day:
15  This is a true saying, to be completely accepted and believed: Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners. I am the worst of them, 16  but God was merciful to me in order that Christ Jesus might show his full patience in dealing with me, the worst of sinners, as an example for all those who would later believe in him and receive eternal life. 1 Timothy 1:15-16 (TEV)

182         What compassion you feel for them!… You would like to cry out to them that they are wasting their time… Why are they so blind, and why can’t they perceive what you—a miserable creature—have seen? Why don’t they go for the best? Pray and mortify yourself. Then you have the duty to wake them up, one by one, explaining to them—also one by one—that they, like you, can find a divine way, without leaving the place they occupy in society.

There should be, within each of us, the self-awareness that is seen in St. Paul’s words above.  The realization that each of us is the worst of those who sin.

We struggle with the guilt and shame that comes from reflecting on our day, and realizing the people we may have hurt, either intentionally, or whom we neglected.  The time where we should have helped, and like the priest and Levite on the road, passed by those who are broken and wounded. The times where we wanted what we want, and worked to make it happen, not counting into the equation, their need, their pain, and the fact that God put us there to minister to them.

But if I am, if we are the worst of sinners, barely saved, are we too broken for God to use?  St. Josemaria describes it as being a miserable creature, who knows grace, who sees the world passing that offer of love by, unable to see it.

Could God use us, the admittedly broken?  Those who sin haunt us, even as we struggle to trust that because of Jesus, we are righteous in the Father’s eyes?  Could God use you and me?  I mean, it is incredible that He saves us, yet how can we make a dent in the evil and injustice that has people so entangled that they can’t see God?  Can God use us to change all that?

Indeed, He can, and does!  He has always planned to share with us His incredible work of renewing all of creation. Ephesians 2:10 tells us of this, even verse 8 and 9 assured us of His delivering us from sin. Romans 12:1-8 describes it as well, as we consider the mercy He shows us and then urges us to lay our lives before Him, doing what He has gifted us to do.

It is a miracle, as great of one as God’s delivering us from sin.  And it happens to all who depend on Him, all who trust to go where He places them.  All who are willing to be humble, and to communicate with God, hearing His voice.

Here is your God, let Him work through you!

And then be amazed, as they find God in their daily lives.

Escriva, Josemaria. Furrow (Kindle Locations 974-978). Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition.

Why do Christians endure burnout?

54e14-jesus2bpraying

God, who am I?

Devotional Thought of the Day:
Lk 21:36Keep alert at all times. And pray that you might be strong enough to escape these coming horrors and stand before the Son of Man.”

Ro 12:12Rejoice in our confident hope. Be patient in trouble, and keep on praying.

Eph 6:18Pray in the Spirit at all times and on every occasion. Stay alert and be persistent in your prayers for all believers everywhere.

Col 4:2Devote yourselves to prayer with an alert mind and a thankful heart.

1Th 5:17Never stop praying.

Lk 11:5-9Then, teaching them more about prayer, he used this story: “Suppose you went to a friend’s house at midnight, wanting to borrow three loaves of bread. You say to him, 6 ‘A friend of mine has just arrived for a visit, and I have nothing for him to eat.’ 7 And suppose he calls out from his bedroom, ‘Don’t bother me. The door is locked for the night, and my family and I are all in bed. I can’t help you.’ 8 But I tell you this—though he won’t do it for friendship’s sake, if you keep knocking long enough, he will get up and give you whatever you need because of your shameless persistence. 9 “And so I tell you, keep on asking, and you will receive what you ask for. Keep on seeking, and you will find. Keep on knocking, and the door will be opened to you.

“To be with him”—this “with him” is needed not just for a certain initial period so that it can be drawn upon later. It must always be at the heart of the priestly ministry. But it has to be used, it has to be learned so that eventually it will have acquired a certain ease and we can take for granted that it will not fail us in times of trial. It is important that we do not cultivate prayer only when we find joy in it. Just as nothing important can be attained in this life without discipline and method, so, too, our inner life has need of both of these

The quote from Pope Ratzinger above comes out of a quote that starts with a serious question. Back when he was a bishop, he was trying to determine why those who enter the ministry with zealous, that many had high expectations of, why would these potential superstars in ministry collapse, burn out, losing the zeal, only to replace it with emptiness.

It is a good question for us, not just for those in “ministry”, but for all who are in the priesthood of all believers.

And I think the answer is the same.

it is the lack of prayer, the lack of fellowship time with God.

We have to get away from the idea that prayer is something we have to do, or that prayer time should be a time of great joy and being uplifted.  We have to realize that the times where prayer is a lament, the attempt to vent and leave God with all our burdens.  To pray with the tears running full, even to the point where our prayer ends in exhaustion and a release into sleep.

That is why Jesus and the apostles kept encouraging people to pray, to speak, to listen, to communicate with God. You see it over and over, through the psalms, throughout the New Testament, there are invitations to walk in the presence of God.  There are the invitations to give Him all of our burdens, to find peace in His presence, and to know we are safe there.

And if the lack of pray results in burnout and loneliness, then prayer, these times of fellowship with God, allow us to see how He sustains us. To know He is there, to know He is listening, to know we can enter into those hard times of prayer with ease, confident of His love. This is what we need, this is what keeps us going, even in the darkness.

This is our guard against burnout, against losing our zeal, against the feelings of emptiness and loneliness in the storm.

Prayer helps you to know this… God is with you!

So keep praying my friends!

Ratzinger, J. (1992). Co-Workers of the Truth: Meditations for Every Day of the Year. (I. Grassl, Ed., M. F. McCarthy & L. Krauth, Trans.) (p. 291). San Francisco: Ignatius Press.

The Five Words You Need to Hear, that You Must Hear at Church!

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAA devotional thought for your day:
20  Teach these new disciples to obey all the commands I have given you. And be sure of this: I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” Matthew 28:20 (NLT)

23  “Look! The virgin will conceive a child! She will give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel, which means ‘God is with us.’” Matthew 1:23 (NLT)

659         If you had presence of God you would remedy many things that have apparently “no remedy”.

You need to hear these words.

They are critical for you to hear, not just with your ears, but with your heart, your mind, and into the depth of your soul.  They make the difference in your life….

“The Lord is with You”

If you’ve ever attended a Lutheran liturgical serve, or a Catholic Mass, or even some Anglican or Orthodox services you will hear these words repeated several times throughout the service.

Do you ever wonder why?  Are we just saying this as a form of greeting, or in order to mark a transition in the service?

Or is this what church is supposed to be doing, helping you realize you dwell completely in the presence of God!  That the Holy Spirit has brought you to that place, in that moment to realize you aren’t alone,  That God wants you there, and will do anything to make it possible for you to be there in His presence.

It might be that it is a time to be still and know God is your God.Maybe it is time to celebrate the freedom of Jubilee, when God erases every debt you incurred by your sin and unrighteousness, maybe it is time to offer a cup of water to someone who is physically or spiritually thirsty and dehydrated.  Maybe it is to receive that cup of water.

As St Josemaria notes, it is this presence of God that remedies that without remedy, that heals relationships to shattered to be healed.  It is the fulfillment of the greatest of prophecies, the very name attached to Jesus, Immanuel – God with us.  It is the promise of the last words He tells the apostles as he ascends to heaven.

It makes the difference in our lives, and incomparable difference, for the peace that comes realizing and depending upon it is beyond anything we can express.

A peace that is there and starts to impact you, as you realize their truth.

The Lord is with You!

(and yes  – and also with m)

Lord, have mercy upon us, reveal to us the presence of your Spirit, cleanse us of sin, and help us dwell in your peace! AMEN!

Escriva, Josemaria. Furrow (Kindle Locations 2767-2768). Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition.

God? Don’t You Care? A sermon from Mark 4

God, Don’t You Care?
Mark 4:35-41

May this sermon help you search out the richness of God the Father’s love you, show in Jesus, confirmed by the presence of the Holy Spirit!

What Should They Do Next Time?

This morning we are going to try and walk a mile in the apostles sandals.

Or maybe it would be better to say we are going to take a turn at the oars of their boat.

I want you to think through the storm again, to feel the panic of the apostles, to be up to you waste in cold water, to feel the 80-knot wind. The time in our gospel is now a distant memory, a couple of months back, and yet you find yourself in the middle of another storm.

You heard Jesus’s words, echoing through your brain, as you again battle the elements,

“Why are you afraid?”

“Do you still have no faith?”

And as another wave crashes over the bow of the boat… what are you going to do?

What would a person who has faith in God do differently?

Or, What should they do the next time?

Don’t answer yet…

Or let’s make this personal.  What is your trust in God going to cause you to “do” the next time you encounter such a storm?

At the Right time….

Before we decide on how we and the apostles should act during the next storm, I want to switch from the gospel to Paul’s letter to the church in 2 Corinthians 6.  There, Paul continues the theme of our pleading with people to “come back to God.”  Indeed, he says there,

As God’s partners, we beg you not to accept this marvelous gift of God’s kindness and then ignore it.

I suggest that this is the same concept as we find Jesus talking in the gospels about. He challenges the apostles, questioning their faith, and here, Paul says, why are you ignoring the gift from God?  The letter to the Hebrews asks the same question in another way,

3  So what makes us think we can escape if we ignore this great salvation that was first announced by the Lord Jesus himself and then delivered to us by those who heard him speak? 4  And God confirmed the message by giving signs and wonders and various miracles and gifts of the Holy Spirit whenever he chose. Hebrews 2:3-4 (NLT)
Here are these guys in the boat, and the one person who can do something, whom they have seen do all sorts of miracles, is left asleep.

Here are these guys in the boat, and the one person who can do something, whom they have seen do all sorts of miracles, is left asleep.

Whoops!!

(The same thing happens to Job, the one thing his friends never did – was actually ask God why everything was going on!)

They had forgot the mission of Christ! Why he came!  To establish the Kingdom of God, to create for God the Father a people that would be His.  All the miracles were done, not to maximize Jesus reputation, but to convince people that the Father was there, in their midst, ready to bless and save them!

And, they left Him asleep!

They didn’t trust him enough to even bother waking Jesus up, they forgot about His love, His presence, His desire to reconcile them to the Father.  They saw the waves, and got scared.  Someone probably even said, “don’t worry, God won’t give you anything you can’t handle.”  Of course they were wrong.

God didn’t say that He promised something different,

“At just the right time, I heard you. On the day of salvation, I helped you.”

But they didn’t think of that, and their cry to Jesus was even worse,

Lord, don’t you care about us?  Are you going to let us be destroyed?

Imagine saying that?  Actually, I don’t have to, I’ve said it.  Eventually, usually through another believer, but sometime as we study God’s word, or in a prayer or vision, we hear Him…

This question is a hard one to face, because we struggle to see God, not just physically, but actively in our lives.  We wonder if he is asleep, or on vacation, because sometimes we don’t hear His voice.  We don’t feel His comfort.

We need to stop, and breath… and be still and know He is God.  TO be still enough to hear His voice. That is hard to do, but that is why we are a church.  So if I am struggling, Al or Chuck or Wanda is there to help, if you are struggling, we all are there for you.  To remind you to listen, to help bring you to calm waters, So that you can hear God’s voice.

“Trust me,” God tells us, “I love you, I am here, I will help….  I CARE!”

Which leads us back to the question…

What do you do the next time…

The next time the storm is attacking, and that may be right now, How should you handle it?  Given Jesus’ loving correction to those whom He loved, what should we do?

Should we

1)  Try to command the storm to stop on our own, using our great faith?

2.) Let fear overrule our trust in God, our knowledge of His love, and become so confused that we forget the presence of God?

3.  Or Should we remember that Jesus is here, that He loves us, and then put everything we are into His hands?

The lesson of faith is not to try and calm the storms, but to trust the One who is Lord over everything.  Faith doesn’t try to manage things on our own, faith runs to the one whom is our shelter in the storm, our refuge in battle, our deliverer, our salvation,

Our goal is to remember He cares, to remember He’s promised to never leave us or forsake us,

He cares, He really cares, and in our baptism, He gives us His Spirit, the Comforter.  He is the God who lifts up – that is the very meaning of His name, the paraclete.

That is our ministry together, as we remind each other that He is here, as we call others to experience that grace.  That’s Paul’s discussion as well. It is the very presence of Christ that keeps him moving, despite opposition, despite bodyaches, despite those who would physically assault him, as he preached the gospel.
He can go on through these storms, because of God’s presence, …..

So once again, in the storms of life, don’t bother trying to have enough faith to endure them by yourself, and don’t forget in whose presence you dwell, but continually encourage each other to know this….

The Lord is with you, and He cares for you….

Knowing that, dwell in the indescribable peace of God, for there you are safe, your hearts and minds guarded by Christ Jesus.

AMEN.

For Yours is the Kingdom, the Power and The Glory: The Prayer of Easter!

For Thine IS the Kingdom,

The Power, and the Glory!

1 Corinthians 15:1-11

In Jesus Name

We need to be Reminded – 

Yesterday, as I was at a loss for words for this message, I received an email from Linda and Tom.

It opened up with these words,

“You just can’t let me forget that God is ever present in our lives.”

Then he added,   

“Don’t stop !”

As I read them, the words that we heard from another letter this morning burned even deeper in my heart

Let me now remind you, dear brothers and sisters, of the Good News I preached to you before.

All of us need to be reminded of the good news, that God is ever-present in our lives.

Solomon once wrote

For everything there is a season, a time for every activity under heaven. 2  A time to be born and a time to die. A time to plant and a time to harvest. 3  A time to kill and a time to heal. A time to tear down and a time to build up. 4  A time to cry and a time to laugh. A time to grieve and a time to dance. Ecclesiastes 3:1-4 (NLT)

The passage goes on for another 4 verses, 8 more comparisons of what we might say is a contrast between good and bad, joy and sorrow if we don’t hear how the thought ends,

11  Yet God has made everything beautiful for its own time. He has planted eternity in the human heart, but even so, people cannot see the whole scope of God’s work from beginning to end. Ecclesiastes 3:11 (NLT)

In Solomon’s time, this is true, we couldn’t father the scope of God’s work. Now, in the Gospel message, in the good news, we see the scope of God’s work as we realize the message revealed in the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus. We have heard this message, a message that God is ever-present in your lives.

(wait…)

I said the Lord is with YOU.

Oh! Now you remember.  As Tom wrote – don’t stop telling me this! We need to hear that God is ever-present with us. He died for our sin, was buried and rose again!

Alleluia! He is Risen!

(He is Risen indeed!)

And that means?
(we are risen indeed!  Alleluia!)

in other words
The Lord is With You!
(and also with You!)

AMEN!

The Message of Hope

Hear Paul again,

I passed on to you what was most important and what had also been passed on to me. Christ died for our sins, just as the Scriptures said. He was buried, and he was raised from the dead on the third day, just as the Scriptures said.

Most important is actually a little weak, it is not only of prime importance, this is foundational. It is the basis for everything else in our lives.

That Christ died – not just that He died, but for you He died but that He was buried and raised from the dead, which is what we celebrate today.
Later Paul will say that if Jesus didn’t die and rise from the dead, we of all people are to be pitied more than anything else in the world.

Jesus death for our sins, Paul tells us, was told about for centuries prior to His being born. Over and over the Old Testament tells us He would die, that God would provide an offering for our sins, and proof of the depth of His love and commitment to us.

The same for His burial and resurrection, and the praises that would result, as God made sure that we knew this wasn’t haphazard, but that this previous weekend was planned before He ever created light.

Jesus would die for our sins, be buried and rise again.

We need to hear this and hear it again and again.  Without the series of events for Holy Week, we cannot hear what we need to,

That the Lord is with you!

The Witnesses

Paul wants to make sure the Corinthians know this well, so well, that they can base their lives on the Jesus’ death for our sins, on His Burial and Resurrection.

Maybe they won’t believe me, he thinks.  No problem.  I’ll refer them to other, for there are so many others who can bear witness.  Peter’s in town, they call him Cephas, he can share how important this message is.  Paul is going to go through all the eye witnesses to the physical resurrection of Jesus so that people will know.

It’s not a dream, it is not something Paul cooked up, it is something that happened, really happened. Five Hundred people witnesses it all at once, not just one hear and one there, 500 at once, and most still lived, in case people wanted to get an opinion other than Paul’s!

And Paul wants us to be assured of it, in order that our lives are based on it.

Paul’s words at the end – it doesn’t matter who tells you, the message is the same, and people like James are more than willing to die, even as they share it.  We don’t know if Paul was there when James was martyred, but we know he was when Stephen forgave him, and all those who killed him, simply because he trusted in Jesus, the one who died for Stephen’s sins, and Paul’s and yours and mine.  As he trusted in the Jesus, who was buried and rose again from the dead.

Whatever we are now!
We often talk of Christ’s death – for our sins, but there is more to the story of Easter than that.  Paul gets to that in verse 10, and what he says of himself, is true for every one of us, read the words with me,

10 But whatever I am now, it is all because God poured out his special favor on me.

For that grace, that very same grace is yours.   It is not special to Paul but is the very blessing that God gives to everyone He calls, every person He pours His Spirit on, making them part of His church.

You see, just like if Jesus didn’t rise from the dead our lives are meaningless, so are they not the same if we don’t realize the change He is making to us because Jesus died for our sins, was buried, and Jesus is Risen!

and, therefore?

We are risen to a new life, a life lived with God, a life that we need to know God is ever-present in.  Something we can’t stop reminding each other of, even in the times where we aren’t sure that God will make these things beautiful.  Sure of that, and that being the foundation of our life, we can understand why the Paul told Hebrew Christians,

23  Let us hold tightly without wavering to the hope we affirm, for God can be trusted to keep his promise. 24  Let us think of ways to motivate one another to acts of love and good works. 25  And let us not neglect our meeting together, as some people do, but encourage one another, especially now that the day of his return is drawing near. Hebrews 10:23-25 (NLT)
That is part of the new life of Paul, to continually remind people of the gospel, that Jesus died for our sins, that He was buried, and that Praise God with everything in us, for He has risen!

And that means….

Why we end our prayer with praise

48 days ago, on Ash Wednesday, we began a look at the Lord’s prayer.  We finished the requests on Friday, as we realized that at the cross Jesus delivered us from evil and answered every request.

Which leaves only this to finish that journey today, as we celebrate our life with God.

Let us pray,

Our Father, Yours is the Kingdom, and the Power, and the Glory, forever and ever. AMEN!

God, please leave me alone!!! (and thank you Holy Spirit!)

Devotional Thought of the Day:

4  When he finished teaching, he said to Simon, “Push out into deep water and let your nets out for a catch.” 5  Simon said, “Master, we’ve been fishing hard all night and haven’t caught even a minnow. But if you say so, I’ll let out the nets.” 6  It was no sooner said than done—a huge haul of fish, straining the nets past capacity. 7  They waved to their partners in the other boat to come help them. They filled both boats, nearly swamping them with the catch. 8  Simon Peter, when he saw it, fell to his knees before Jesus. “Master, leave. I’m a sinner and can’t handle this holiness. Leave me to myself.” Luke 5:4-8 (MSG)

574      You insist on trying to walk on your own, doing your own will, guided solely by your own judgement… And you can see for yourself that the fruit of this is fruitlessness. My child, if you don’t give up your own judgement, if you are proud, if you devote yourself to “your” apostolate, you will work all night—your whole life will be one long night—and at the end of it all the dawn will find you with your nets empty.  (1)

This morning I made it through my devotional time, without a thought that struck me hard.  I would think I was just going through the motions, but that is a poor excuse.  The reason I enjoy the time I spend in the scriptures, reading through the Book of Concord and Vatican II documents (my goal for this church year) and the writings of St Josemaria Escriva is because one of them reveals to me the presence and promises of God.

i do it so I don’t get into the practice of doing by just going through the motions.

I am in mourning this morning, and that has an effect on me, I am sure.  A very good friend from one of my previous congregations passed away, and it is hitting me all to hard. I haven’t seen him in a while, maybe two years…. and I miss him a lot.  This is on top of a very emotional week.  Two other friends in ICU, and pouring out in sermons on Christmas Eve, Christmas Day and Sunday the miracle of Christ’s presence, and the desire of God to make us His holy children.

I feel a lot like Peter, as Jesus performs the miracle and fills his boat with abundance. Lord, I am tired, weary, not holy enough to be in your presence. Just leave me alone….. please…..

As I was finishing up with devotions, the very first point in The Forge, is the one quoted in brown above. I knew I had to write on it, and the event that inspired it, the scripture passage.

What I didn’t realize, even as I started writing, having copied and pasted both quotes, was how Peter’s request would affect me.  It is how I feel.

Lost
Full of remorse,
Tired
Hurting.bereaved

And yet, all around me, I see miracles, stuff God is doing, there is no other explanation for what is going on….

“Leave me alone, I can’t handle this holiness Lord!” This is Peter’s cry… but it is echoing over and over in my soul.

Even as I am writing this, another passage comes to mind….

26  Meanwhile, the moment we get tired in the waiting, God’s Spirit is right alongside helping us along. If we don’t know how or what to pray, it doesn’t matter. He does our praying in and for us, making prayer out of our wordless sighs, our aching groans. 27  He knows us far better than we know ourselves, knows our pregnant condition, and keeps us present before God. 28  That’s why we can be so sure that every detail in our lives of love for God is worked into something good. Romans 8:26-28 (MSG)

I will hang on this this today, despite my wanting to find a cave like Elijah, or the spot David can’t find in Psalm 139, a place where God isn’t.  I need to know God doesn’t forsake or abandon us, He is there, a Father who keeps His promise, a Brother who gives His life for us, who bears our sorrows, and iniquities… (taking away our excuse to run because we aren’t holy) and the Holy Spirit, who brings comfort and peace, and takes our cries…and prays for what we really need……

The assurance of God’s presence, and love.

Lord Have Mercy….. and He does!  

(1)  Escriva, Josemaria (2011-01-31). The Forge (Kindle Locations 2137-2140). Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition.

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