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God, Why Did You Allow This?


ST MARY OF PEACEDevotional Thought of the Day:
26  In the same way the Spirit also comes to help us, weak as we are. For we do not know how we ought to pray; the Spirit himself pleads with God for us in groans that words cannot express. 27  And God, who sees into our hearts, knows what the thought of the Spirit is; because the Spirit pleads with God on behalf of his people and in accordance with his will. 28  We know that in all things God works for good with those who love him, those whom he has called according to his purpose. 29  Those whom God had already chosen he also set apart to become like his Son, so that the Son would be the first among many believers. 30  And so those whom God set apart, he called; and those he called, he put right with himself, and he shared his glory with them. Romans 8:26-30 (TEV)

149         I must warn you against a ploy of satan—yes, without a capital, because he deserves no more—who tries to make use of the most ordinary circumstances, to turn us away, slightly or greatly, from the way that leads us to God. If you are struggling, and even more if you are really struggling, you should not be surprised at feeling tired or at having sometimes to “go against the grain”, without any spiritual or human consolation. See what someone wrote to me some time ago, and which I kept for those who naively consider that grace does away with nature: “Father, for a few days now I have been feeling tremendously lazy and lacking in enthusiasm for fulfilling the plan of life. I have to force myself to do everything, and I have very little taste for it. Pray for me so that this crisis may soon pass, for it makes me suffer a lot to think it could make me turn from my way.” I answered only: did you not know that Love demands sacrifice? Read the words of the Master slowly: “Whoever does not take up his Cross quotidie—every day—is not worthy of Me.” And further on: “I will not leave you orphans…” Our Lord allows that dryness of yours, which you find so hard, so that you may love Him more, so that you may trust only in Him, so that you may coredeem with the Cross, so that you may meet Him.

Though I am going to direct these thoughts along the way of St> Josemaria’s discussion of dryness, they could be applied to almost any time of struggle. 

Too often I could be the person that St Josemaria was speaking to in the discussion above.  Too many times I have been struggling, and don’t have the “enthusiasm for fulfilling the plan of life”, that is working to do His will, to see this world reconciled to Him.  I recognize the need to force myself to do the things I love.  Part of the struggle is that I feel like I am trying to bail the water out of the Titanic, hundreds of feet under the ocean. Part of it is that for every trauma where people know God’s peace, three more arrive.  The work seems unending and overwhelming, and my emotional and spiritual batteries drain too fast…

Then I come across Romans 8, and wonder how in the world these times of struggle fit into the promise of God.  How can times where my faith wanders, where I feel so weary and dried out, burnt out, and where God seems silent, how can these times actually work for good?

Or is it that I am not one of those to whom this promise was made? (Yes, I’ve thought that even as I try to make sure others know they are…. and I bet I am not the only one!)

That’s why I included more than verse 28 in the quote from Romans.  We know that verse so well, but we fail to see the context is in the midst of a time of weakness, a time of brokenness, a time where even the Holy Spirit groans out in intercession, for the brokenness we endure is great.

But that prayer of the Spirit, that prayer the Holy Spirit interprets and pleads on our behalf with the Father is heard.  The Spirit ensures the connection to God’s heart is there, a connection we need to realize is there.

The context also discusses God putting us to right with Him, indeed, as Josemaria tells us, sometimes these moments are necessary so that we realize the connection is viable, that God is caring. That He is here.

I would never say God causes these struggles, these moments when we don’t know what to even say in our prayers, but I do know how He uses them.  It is just as Josemaria says, that there I can find the depth of His love, the unlimited faithfulness that sustains me.  As well, it from those depths that I find my desire to help people find God as well, that they can find the peace, that they can know He is there.  ( I only pray they don’t have to follow as far in my steps before they realize it.)   That is how amazing this is, that is how I’ve come to know to trust Him, and even though I don’t like the periods of dryness and despair, I have come to appreciate them, and even (grudgingly at first) embrace them.

For I know He is with me, and with us, and that is not just enough, it is incredibly glorious!  AMEN!

 

 

Escriva, Josemaria. Furrow (Kindle Locations 822-833). Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition.

Try to Not Let “Them” Steal Our Joy!


Altar with communionDevotional Thought of the Day:
1  As for us, we have this large crowd of witnesses around us. So then, let us rid ourselves of everything that gets in the way, and of the sin which holds on to us so tightly, and let us run with determination the race that lies before us. 2  Let us keep our eyes fixed on Jesus, on whom our faith depends from beginning to end. He did not give up because of the cross! On the contrary, because of the joy that was waiting for him, he thought nothing of the disgrace of dying on the cross, and he is now seated at the right side of God’s throne. 3  Think of what he went through; how he put up with so much hatred from sinners! So do not let yourselves become discouraged and give up. Hebrews 12:1-3 (TEV)

83         Faced by all those men without faith, without hope; by minds desperately near the borders of anguish, seeking for a meaning in their life, you found your purpose: Him! This discovery will permanently inject a new happiness into your existence, it will transform you, and present you with an immense daily hoard of beautiful things of which you were unaware, and which show you the joyful expanse of that broad path that leads you to God.

There are times where the actions of people affect us.  Times where evil or unjust actions cause us to struggle, to even despair and sink into depression.  Some of us are more susceptible to this than others, as we do not understand how in the world they justify their actions.

This kind of trauma can paralyze us, make us ask unanswerable questions, we can even begin to doubt God, for how can he allow this level of brokenness, this sin to dominate and evil to flourish.  As we ask these questions, out hearts and souls receive hit after hit, even as we try to determine if this is the time to fight, or flee.

I hate to say it is “natural” to enter such struggles but after 50 years, I find that I don’t have the strength to avoid such, nor the power to overcome the tendency to be so affected.  Simply put, you can’t care for people, you can’t try to love them without opening yourself up to such burdens, to such struggles.

So how do you cope?

St. Josemaria and St. Paul agree.  The answer is to look to Jesus, to find our purpose is Him.  They agree that our relationship with Jesus is so precious that we can look to Him and discover the greatest joy. This is the same joy that Jesus saw as he walked to, and was nailed to the cross.

Looking to Him, finding our life our breath and very being located in Him, allows us to see that our trust in Him is true. He will sustain us from the beginning to the end, it will reveal to us the incredible vastness of the love of God, and we will experience it more as we see ourselves as part of His story.

That’s what I need to know, that is why we need to go to the cross when we are feeling this way.  Our hearts and souls and minds need to understand what happened when God baptized us when God drew us to Jesus and united us to His death and resurrection,  When God declared us righteous, cleansing us of sin, and declared we are His children.  We need to allow His presence to dominate our awareness, to let, for then His peace settles over us.  Assured He is our fortress, we can then begin to respond in love, and in prayer for those who actions or words drew us deep into despair.

This is what we need, to focus in on Jesus, and be forewarned, it isn’t easy.  Satan will buffet us all the way.  This is where the communion of saints is so precious, for their testimonies in scripture and in the millennia since demonstrates God’s faithfulness.  This is where the sacraments and the word of God come into play, ministering to our hearts, souls, and minds, bringing the peace and comfort of the Holy Spirit.

Here is our hope and joy are restored, renewed, here in this sanctuary we call the presence of God, for know this my friends, “the Lord is with you!”

AMEN!

 

Escriva, Josemaria. Furrow (Kindle Locations 571-576). Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition.

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


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

Isaiah 49:1-17

 In Jesus’ Name!

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

Is it him, or me?

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

How was it in originally fulfilled.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Al – don’t say it!

Could He know the despair?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

yes.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

You Need Hope! (whether you think you do or not….)


Devotional Thought of the day:
15 When Jesus heard about the plot against him, he went away from that place; and large crowds followed him. He healed all those who were ill 16and gave them orders not to tell others about him. 17He did this so as to make what God had said through the prophet Isaiah come true:
18 “Here is my servant, whom I have chosen, the one I love, and with whom I am pleased. I will send my Spirit upon him, and he will announce my judgment to the nations. 19 He will not argue or shout, or make loud speeches in the streets. 20 He will not break off a bent reed, or put out a flickering lamp. He will persist until he causes justice to triumph,
21 and in him all peoples will put their hope.”  Mark 12:15-24

491    Nonne hic est fabri filius? Nonne hic est faber, filius Mariae?—“Is not this the carpenter’s son? Is not this the carpenter, the son of Mary?” This, said of Jesus, may very well be said of you, with a bit of amazement and a bit of mockery, when you really decide to carry out the will of God, to be an instrument: “But isn’t this the one…?” Say nothing, and let your works confirm your mission.(1)

I stood there, having voted for everything but a candidate for President.  My mind was not made up  even then even after praying a lot. Serious concerns over both candidates, and indeed about the political spectrum in which we exist delayed that vote.  I have dear friends, many of them who follow Christ, who made passionate pleas for me to vote for their candidate, and those friends were advocating four different choices.

My thoughts were about them, and as the night closed, and this morning dawned, I saw some urging us to work together, others railing in triumph, and others drowned in despair.  What words could I write this morning that would minister to these beloved friends?  There is comfort needed, encouragement needed, and in some cases, a gentle rebuke, on that would re-focus them on Jesus, and restore a true hope.

Daily I do what I call devotional reading.  Reading not to prove my devotion, but to see God’s devoted care for us revealed. It is there I found these readings this morning, and the promise of God’s precise care for us.

Even as we are at our weakest, our most broken, shattered point, Jesus does not crush us. Even though we are burnt out, God knows where that little spark can be found, enough that with care the fire will roar again.  Even when we are at our weaknest – not because of despair, but because our success leads us to be vulnerable, and we don’t see a need for the hope we have in Jesus.

Yet justice, His justice, not ours, will prevail.

His.

No loud speeches needed, no arguments, no cheering or wailing.   Instead caring, comfort, a correction of course for those, re-orienting all to the presence of Christ.

It is so hard in these days when we let anxiety rain, or celebrate beyond what is beneficial.  When we go on the defensive, trying to justify our position, to show those who mock us they are wrong. When overwhelmed by sorrow or joy we don’t pay attention to those around us and end up breaking yet another relationship.

It’s time to stop – get back to what we do, to be silent and not take things personally, and to simply point people to the comfort and grace that is found in Christ, because He died, He rose, and He leads us into and keep us in His peace.

Rest there, no matter who you backed, and greet those who like you, find a respite from the days past. Let Jesus minister to you – bringing you life and hope!  AMEN!

(1)  Escriva, Josemaria. The Way (Kindle Locations 1199-1203). Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition.

 

Monday’s Question: Why Are You Working so Hard?


Devotional Thought of the Day:

2  Smoke, nothing but smoke. [That’s what the Quester says.] There’s nothing to anything—it’s all smoke. 3  What’s there to show for a lifetime of work, a lifetime of working your fingers to the bone? 4  One generation goes its way, the next one arrives, but nothing changes—it’s business as usual for old planet earth. Ecclesiastes 1:2-4 (MSG)

Then suddenly, filled with a holy love, and a sober shame, in anger with himself cast his eyes upon his friend, saying, “Tell me, I pray thee, what would we attain by all these labours of ours? what aim we at? what serve we for? Can our hopes in court rise higher than to be the Emperor’s favourites? and in this, what is there not brittle, and full of perils? and by how many perils arrive we at a greater peril? and when arrive we thither? But a friend of God, if I wish it, I become now at once.”  (1)

As I sit in my office this morning, looking at perhaps a busier week than last, I am overwhelmed with thought’s like Solomon’s this morning.

Older translations use the word vanity; all is vain.  Others use futile, or emptiness.Most of us on Monday can easily sympathize, why are we here?  Is it just to earn a small paycheck, to buy food, pay for a roof over our heads, and find our “escape” whether it be television, or a vacation, or something less positive, like drugs, alcohol, gambling or other addictions.

On Mondays, we tend to be more aware of this futility.  Even those of us who work in “noble” jobs, which strive to help.  The work is unending, the pain we observe just seems to move from one family to another.

Augustine’s recounting of a friend shows a similar revelation, as they realize their futility.  Even if they rise to the highest of heights, there they find the probability that such a place is fleeting. That the favor of those they would count on could shift like the wind, and they could be on the way out, terminated by the boss.  In their day, termination was more than going on the unemployment line.  It was an actual termination, with prejudice.

So why do we do what we do?  What is the end reward, besides simple survival?  Occasional moments of pleasure which cost us more in the end?

Augustine’s friend found an answer, simpler than he ever expected, and something I need to remember as I struggle on Mondays.

Being a friend of God.

TO know that we are loved, that we are the children of a promise.

15  I do not call you servants any longer, because servants do not know what their master is doing. Instead, I call you friends, because I have told you everything I heard from my Father. 16  You did not choose me; I chose you and appointed you to go and bear much fruit, the kind of fruit that endures. And so the Father will give you whatever you ask of him in my name. 17  This, then, is what I command you: love one another.  John 15:15-17 (TEV)

To walk with God, to talk with Jesus, not as some great Lord, but as with a friend.  To hear His encouraging voice, to know that He walks with us, His people.  That He draws us together to be His family. What a blessing to be reminded by a hundred voices yesterday that God is with me, to hear them bless me, reminding me of the peace that is mine. To see God’s love revealed, through those who know the love of God!

I am, today, looking at a hard week, as I will deal with family after family struggling with death. It would seem vain, meaningless, even painful, where I not living in the shadow of Easter, the place where God proves His love for me, and for all those He yearns to call his friends.   Because of that, I know why I work so hard, why I endure.

It is to give others the hope that all is not futile, that all is not vain, that it all will not just go up in smoke.   It isn’t just a pastor’s job to do this, but the life of those who Jesus called friends, who someday He will welcome home.

As St. Peter said,

“simply concentrate on being completely devoted to Christ in your hearts. Be ready at any time to give a quiet and reverent answer to any man who wants a reason for the hope that you have within you1 Peter 3 (Phillips NT)

And may you realize you dwell in God’s peace – a peace that goes beyond all logic, yet a peace where your hearts and minds are kept safe, guarded by Christ.  AMEN

(1)  Augustine, S., Bishop of Hippo. (1996). The Confessions of St. Augustine

. (E. B. Pusey, Trans.). Oak Harbor, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc.

Luke 13 The Special Attention that Leads to Repentance


The Special Attention that Leads to Repentance

Luke 13:1-9

† I.H.S †

 May the grace and peace of God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ make the call you hear to repentance one that you must answer.  AMEN!

A Week of Why’s

As I look back over this week, it seems rather convenient that I would preach on the gospel.  For in nine different very traumatic situations, no, ten situations, it would be easy to sit back and ask with the gospel, “is this why they suffer?”

Why is a family mourning they son/boyfriend was shot dead?

Why is a sheriff’s station wondering why one had to shoot someone, and why a community that normally is so supportive, could so quickly turn against them?

Why is a family being torn apart,

Why is someone facing a brutal betrayal of a friend?

Why did a 50-year-old mother die, just after burying her child last November?

Why did these things happen?  Who is to blame?  Was it their evil, or what God wrong to allow what happened?  Ten situations, hundreds of questions asked, so few answers to offer in response.

In a way, Jesus response to these traumas seems cold, even harsh.

Do you think those Galileans were worse sinners than all the other people from Galilee?” Jesus asked. “Is that why they suffered? Not at all! And you will perish, too, unless you repent of your sins and turn to God. And what about the eighteen people who died when the tower in Siloam fell on them? Were they the worst sinners in Jerusalem? No, and I tell you again that unless you repent, you will perish, too.”

What first seems heartless Is anything but.  For the questions we ask we may never be answered sufficiently, though we might have a thousand theories, not of which will help us grieve, never mind heal.  They just spin and spin our mind around.

Jesus asks us to move past the questions we cannot know the answers to, to contemplate, to meditate on something that has a real consequence, something that we don’t want to talk about, but we need to face.

Will we hear a call to repentance, or will perish?

I Won’t’ Perish, Will I?

I think we all need to ask regularly ourselves if Jesus came back today, would we perish?

We have to be careful with that question because it can lead to both self-righteousness and severe guilt.   Both those options are deadly.

Self-righteousness that would lead us to false confidence in our holiness leads to perishing because we will grow to assume we can be holy on our own, and don’t need God.

Severe guilt leads us to believe we are beyond hope, that there is not ability to recover from where we at, stuck in sin.

Even so, we still have to ask regularly the question.  Would I perish?  Do I love my sin and resentment more than I love God?  Have I set up false idols to worship, things that I put more trust in than God?  Do I even bother with God in my life except for on Sundays and Wednesday nights for an hour or ninety minutes?  Is God welcome in every part of my life?

St Paul in his letter to the church in Corinth talks about this, as part of preparing for communion,

31  But if we would examine ourselves, we would not be judged by God in this way. 32  Yet when we are judged by the Lord, we are being disciplined so that we will not be condemned along with the world. 1 Corinthians 11:31-32 (NLT)

 

Most of us would prefer not to do this, to not have to face the unpleasantness in our own lives.  It seems much easier to bury it, to ignore it, or more than likely to justify it by pointing to others sins.

It is not the reason others undergo trauma, nor would I ever suggest that God puts us through trauma just to convert us and lead us to change. But Jesus is telling us to take stock of our lives, as these things happen.  To really consider where we need Him to change us. To really see the sin that we engage in as the horrible thing that destroys our relationship with God.

Unless we repent… we will perish.

A hard line to hear – even during Lent when we expect it!
The Patience of the Gardener

So how do we repent?   How can we be sure we have?  Where do we find the strength to do so…

We need to understand this parable of the Owner and the Gardner.  We need to realize that the Gardner is God in this passage – that the heart which is patient and wants to give special attention and plenty of fertilizer, to cultivate and cause us to bear fruit.

I love to watch Al or the Chinese congregation members tend the plants on campus.  There is a tenderness there, and you could see their mind church as they decide where to dig next, or which rose branch to prune.  If they do such a wonderful job, you know God will be doing the something special as He calls us to repentance.

That’s what he does at the altar, as He assures us of grace, as he lovingly nurtures us, as He provides a safe place for us to confess our sins, and hear His promise of forgiveness.  It is what he does as we read of the grace and mercy of God, as we see it as we picture Him on the cross, His blood pouring out. This is where he continues to give us special attention, where he nurtures and cultivates our faith in Him.

This is how we come to live a life of repentance, assured of His work nurturing us, pruning us, cultivating us.  It is an ongoing process of our faith in Christ. It starts here in Baptism, as God grants us faith and repentance, and keeps on going here at the altar, here as we worship, as we pray, as we study God’s word together as His people.

Because of His work, giving us special attention and yes, plenty of fertilizer, we are assured that we will not perish, that He has called and brought us to repentance, and is transforming us daily.

This is why we live in peace, peace that God promises is beyond understanding, peace He guards us in, our hearts and minds….  AMEN!

The Only Safe Place in Life.


Devotional Thought of the Day:The church, is always in the midst of a storm... but safe in Him

16  Jerusalem, I can never forget you! I have written your name on the palms of my hands. Isaiah 49:16 (TEV) 

5      Lord, we are glad to find ourselves in your wounded palm. Grasp us tight, squeeze us hard, make us lose all our earthly wretchedness, purify us, set us on fire, make us feel drenched in your Blood. And then, cast us far, far away, hungry for the harvest, to sow the seed more fruitfully each day, for Love of you. (1)

I live in a land of earthquakes.  I have friends that live in Tornado alleys, others who live in the normal paths of hurricanes, Where I grew up, snow storms could strand you for a week. Where my first church was located, you could dehydrate so fast that you could die before you knew it.  There are places where there are wars, cities where drugs and gang violence is rampant.

I have come to this conclusion, if you are searching for a safe place to live, there is no such geographical location on the earth.  As long as we are alive, there will be some threat living over us.

Some of us even have those threats inside us, for me, it was a genetic issue that affected my heart.  For others, it may a tendency to addiction.

There can even be problems and threats inside places that should be safe, churches, schools, hospitals.

Is there a safe place?

Where do we go for safety, for refuge, for sanctuary?

Is there a place where we can know peace?

There is a place, rather, there is a person, and the relationship we have with Him, that is our sanctuary, that is our place of refuge, He is our peace.

Even in the worse cases. Consider in the book of Daniel, the three men in the furnace:

16  Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego answered, “Your Majesty, we will not try to defend ourselves. 17  If the God whom we serve is able to save us from the blazing furnace and from your power, then he will. 18  But even if he doesn’t, Your Majesty may be sure that we will not worship your god, and we will not bow down to the gold statue that you have set up.” 19  Then Nebuchadnezzar lost his temper, and his face turned red with anger at Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego. So he ordered the furnace to be heated seven times hotter than usual. 20  And he commanded the strongest men in his army to tie the three men up and throw them into the blazing furnace. 21  So they tied them up, fully dressed—shirts, robes, caps, and all—and threw them into the blazing furnace. 22  Now because the king had given strict orders for the furnace to be made extremely hot, the flames burned up the guards who took the men to the furnace. 23  Then Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, still tied up, fell into the heart of the blazing fire. 24  Suddenly Nebuchadnezzar leaped to his feet in amazement. He asked his officials, “Didn’t we tie up three men and throw them into the blazing furnace?” They answered, “Yes, we did, Your Majesty.” 25  “Then why do I see four men walking around in the fire?” he asked. “They are not tied up, and they show no sign of being hurt—and the fourth one looks like an angel.” Daniel 3:16-25 (TEV)
Jesus was there, and in the midst of the the moment, they knew His peace.  They found their refuge.

Daniel Himself knew such opposition,

20  When he got there, he called out anxiously, “Daniel, servant of the living God! Was the God you serve so loyally able to save you from the lions?” 21  Daniel answered, “May Your Majesty live forever! 22  God sent his angel to shut the mouths of the lions so that they would not hurt me. He did this because he knew that I was innocent and because I have not wronged you, Your Majesty.” 23  The king was overjoyed and gave orders for Daniel to be pulled up out of the pit. So they pulled him up and saw that he had not been hurt at all, for he trusted God. Daniel 6:19-23 (TEV)

A final example, this time Stephen in the New Testament, who was killed, and tortured, and yet…. knew peace, and was in a very special refuge.

54  As the members of the Council listened to Stephen, they became furious and ground their teeth at him in anger. 55  But Stephen, full of the Holy Spirit, looked up to heaven and saw God’s glory and Jesus standing at the right side of God. 56  “Look!” he said. “I see heaven opened and the Son of Man standing at the right side of God!” 57  With a loud cry the Council members covered their ears with their hands. Then they all rushed at him at once, 58  threw him out of the city, and stoned him. The witnesses left their cloaks in the care of a young man named Saul. 59  They kept on stoning Stephen as he called out to the Lord, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit!” 60  He knelt down and cried out in a loud voice, “Lord! Do not remember this sin against them!” He said this and died. Acts 7:54-60 (TEV)

Even there, in this midst of death itself, in the moments when all hell is trying to break loose, in what many would never be able to comprehend the existence of peace, there it is.

For the Lord was with the three men! He was with Daniel, He was with Stephen!

And the Lord is with you.

No matter the trauma, no matter the disaster, no matter the threat.  No matter what, we are covered by His blood, sent by Him into these places, to be a beacon of hope, a reminder of God’s love and mercy and peace.  For you need to know and count on this.

The Lord is with you!

and that is why Paul writes to us

6  Don’t worry about anything, but in all your prayers ask God for what you need, always asking him with a thankful heart. 7  And God’s peace, which is far beyond human understanding, will keep your hearts and minds safe in union with Christ Jesus!  Philippians 4:6-7 (TEV)

Amen!

Escriva, Josemaria (2011-01-31). The Forge (Kindle Locations 249-252). Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition.

In the Midst of Trauma…You cling to Christ!


Devotional & Discussion THought fo the Day:Dawn at Concordia
7  Now you have every spiritual gift you need as you eagerly wait for the return of our Lord Jesus Christ. 8  He will keep you strong to the end so that you will be free from all blame on the day when our Lord Jesus Christ returns. 9  God will do this, for he is faithful to do what he says, and he has invited you into partnership with his Son, Jesus Christ our Lord. 1 Corinthians 1:7-9 (NLT)

855         Everything may collapse and fail. Events may turn out contrary to what was expected and great adversity may come. But nothing is to be gained by being perturbed. Furthermore, remember the confident prayer of the prophet: “The Lord is our judge, the Lord gives us our laws, the Lord is our king; it is he who will save us.” Say it devoutly every day, so that your behaviour may agree with the designs of Providence, which governs us for our own good.  (1)

Twelve years ago, this Sunday, I walked into Good Shepherd Lutheran Church in Yucca Valley, and began another transition in my life.  I had been the pastor of a great -non-denomination church in the same town, and served as a hospice chaplain there as well.  It is in the latter experiences that I came to appreciate what I had dismissed for years.  The role of liturgy, especially in regards to repetition done with meaning and emphasis.  All repetition is not vain, itcan easily become so, but it can also become that which drives the message deeply into our heart, past the mind’s memory which can fail, and often does.

I learned this as I would visit people with dementia, or alzheimers, or who were on pain meds to deal with their broken, dying bodies.  They wouldn’t remember my name, or often those around them, but when it came time to pray, something miraculous happened.  Voces that only mumbled would strengthen, their tongues loosen when we read the 23rd psalm.  They would have a sense of calm strength as we recited the Apostles Creed, and oh would their bodies and voices resonate the Lord’s Prayer, or when we would sing “Amazing Grace”, or “It is well!”  Oh and the peace with which they would savor the Lord’s Body and Blood!

In those moments, they found their connection to God, they remembered, deep in their heart and soul, His love.  It for a second or two – or for an magnificent moment, broke through the haze……and they found themselves in the presence of God.

This is exactly what each of us needs, every moment, every day.  To find ours in communion with God, to be Christ’s partner’s. To know His presence to the depth of our souls, to see it shatter the darkness.  This is the glory of Christ, shared with us!

I love what St. Josemaria advises us to memorize.  Oddly, it is a very Lutheran passage.

It notes that God is our judge, that His laws are the ones which govern us, by which we will be judge.  (this is the “Lsw” of “Law and Gospel”)

It then notes that He is our Lord, our King, the One who takes responsibility for us, and will rescue us from the penalty of that law.  (the “Gospel” part”)

We need to know this – we need to have it ingrained on our hearts, our minds, our soul.

We need the fear of being judged, and the calmness that knowing He has saved us brings. We need to cling to Christ in those times where our bodies, our minds, and yes our souls fail us.  To cling to him like someone who thought they were drowning clings to the life guard.  Or perhaps more approariately put – we relax when He clings to us..

May you this day, as you cry out for his mercy, realize that He will keep you strong… that He is faithful to His promises, that He has bound you to Jesus, and therefore you cling to Him.  In that place – there is a peace that cuts through any darkness.

AMEN.

Escriva, Josemaria (2011-01-31). Furrow (Kindle Locations 3503-3507). Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition.

Being Blunt and Honest With God….. A Necessity..even when I am ticked off


Devotional Thought of the Day:God, who am I?

7  LORD, you have deceived me, and I was deceived. You are stronger than I am, and you have overpowered me. Everyone makes fun of me; they laugh at me all day long. 8  Whenever I speak, I have to cry out and shout, “Violence! Destruction!” LORD, I am ridiculed and scorned all the time because I proclaim your message. 9  But when I say, “I will forget the LORD and no longer speak in his name,” then your message is like a fire burning deep within me. I try my best to hold it in, but can no longer keep it back.     Jeremiah 20:7-9 (TEV)

333 Think about this carefully: being transparent lies more in not hiding things rather than in wanting things to be seen. It is a matter of allowing the objects lying at the bottom of a glass to be perceived, and not trying to make the air visible.  (1)

it has been one of those weeks. The kind I have had far too often recently, but this one is up there.

Six years ago, even though I read the verses above from Jeremiah many times before, I actually preached on it.  I was at the time deciding to accept a call to the church I presently serve.  Leaving behind friends and a church that was described by my predecessor as the nicest church he had ever encountered in 50 years of ministry.  So why would I leave?  And what did it mean that I would preach on this dark passage from Jeremiah?

Weeks like this one.  Where I started the week praying for friend that was likewise moving from one parish to another, at the choice of his supervisors. Trying to grieve the change, while ministering to those he was coming to serve.  Difficult.  Very difficult.  Another old friend this week revealed that he was also moving from one church to another – re-assigned by his supervisors.  A challenging move for him as well, and then another friend last night, was told it was time to move in his ministry.

I am praying for one of the men I had a part in training for ministry, he has brain cancer and is fading fast.  Another friend I found out this morning, who I also trained as a deacon, had a heart attack. Last night, out of the blue, I found myself discussing the death of one of the best friends in my life, who ministered at my side for far too long.   There as well was another of my best friends, who lost his dad a month after I lost mine, and a few months later, his mom went to be with God as well.

Tomorrow, as our children wish us Happy Father’s Day, for the first time we can’t go to lunch with our dads, or talk to them on the phone.  Some 15 of our friends lost dad’s or a granddad after ours passed.

This is not counting the trauma of those around us, which dwarfs our own.  Dear friends with health problems. Families torn apart and going through death, others through divorce, family facing issues with those they love who are in bondage to drugs or alcohol.  People dealing with financial crisis, people dealing with disabilities, including those of the mental health variety.  Missionaries who are trying to deal with poverty that makes our headspin, or with violence and threats and potential martyrdom.  Other people making decisions that will wreck their lives, decisions they know are wrong, but justify with justifications that…

It is enough to make you want to scream “stop”, or yell out in anger and frustration.

And if we admit it, if we are honest and transparent, the One we want to yell at …. is God.

Couldn’t He do something?  “In only you had been here Lord,”the sisters of Lazarus has said.  Whose fault is all of this suffering, all this pain? Why can’t life be simple and pleasant and without all this…. painful crap… (I wrote something else there.(shit).. but edited it)

It took preaching on Jeremiah’s hitting the breaking point, to be able to realize that it was ok to yell at God.  That you can say that God tricked you, deceived you, to cry out like a 5 year old, “That’s not fair” or “This sucks…. That transparency with God, about our feelings, our frustrations our pain is a good thing, and I will dare say, it is necessary.

Because being that transparent with God is a matter of faith, it is necessary if we are to trust Him to bring us through the situation, if we are going to allow Him to walk us through the fire, through the storm, even through the valley of the shadow of death.  It is necessary to grieve, because then acknowledging the pain, we can let Him, ask Him, count on Him, to bring healing, to bring peace, to flood our lives with His love, and comfort.

You can’t do that if you are hiding it, if you are bottling it up, letting it turn to resentment.  Pouring it out on those who become you victims, because you won’t let the frustration and anger be turned on the One who has shoulders to bear it, shoulders that bore the stripes of whips, the very stripes that Isaiah prophesied would heal us, cleanse us… save us.

Have to admit, I don’t like writing this blog.  Have to admit – I would love to just spend tomorrow walking along Lake Ossipee, with my son, and yeah – with my dad.

It needs to be written, for my own sake, but perhaps for yours as well.  To give us the confidence to say,

Lord have mercy…. which can only be said… when we know we need it… even desperately need it.

Amen.

(1)   Escriva, Josemaria (2011-01-31). Furrow (Kindle Locations 1555-1557). Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition.

 

In Hard Times Like These… hug Christ


Baptism of Christ. Jesus is baptized in the Jo...

Baptism of Christ. Jesus is baptized in the Jordan River by John. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

1  That is why we must hold on all the more firmly to the truths we have heard, so that we will not be carried away. 2  The message given to our ancestors by the angels was shown to be true, and those who did not follow it or obey it received the punishment they deserved. 3  How, then, shall we escape if we pay no attention to such a great salvation? The Lord himself first announced this salvation, and those who heard him proved to us that it is true. 4  At the same time God added his witness to theirs by performing all kinds of miracles and wonders and by distributing the gifts of the Holy Spirit according to his will.  Hebrews 2:1-4 (TEV) 

When the branches are united to the vine they grow to maturity and bear fruit. What then should you and I do? We should get right close to Jesus, through the Bread and through the Word. He is our vine… We should speak affectionate words to him throughout the day. That is what people in love do. (1)

Been through a bit of stress this week… and part of me wants to lock myself in a room – or dive into a book or a video game.  It takes a lot to make me go introverted… and while it is a defense mechanism… it is dark at times when you are alone. (What is really hard is when I need to do the opposite – and have many people encouraging me to climb into my hole and lock them out..)

I added 10 people to our prayer list this morning…. people recovering from surgery.  People mourning friends who we won’t see until we are before the throne, I’ve talked too others, very afraid of another war, and others whose finances are so stretched beyond belief.  These are hard times, for so many, times of tears and weariness and emotional exhaustion.

THe strength we have, if at all, in these times, is remarkable and extraordinary.  It comes from deep within us… yes, even as it is not ours, and is clearly something alien to our basic nature.  It is because at such times, everything is cut away, and we find ourselves in Christ’s embrace.   And there, we find His heart, and the strong beat of life that calms our soul.

When my 6 year old was an infant, he used to go to sleep at night in my arms with his head over my heart.  Because I have two artificial heart valves – my heart literally clicks. Its funny – on the nights when he 2-4 and was scared or sick and desperately asks to sleep in our bed – he usually ended up with his head pressed (not just touching) about the same place – or against my back – where he could hear my heart click.  I can only imagine it brought him comfort and security.  He could rest.

We need to be like that with Jesus, that close, that spiritually aware, that intimate, that involved in the relationship.  As Escrvia says – we do this with the Bread and in the Word, as we connect to Jesus, to our Lord.  As Lutherans our way of saying this is through word and Sacrament.  For as we hear the word, the Holy Spirit, the Lord and giver of life does more than just “teaches” us, that word is planted in us and grows, and we don’t just know it academically, but intuitively, with all that we are.  The same thing as we commune with God, and notice it is not you or I, but we…. the family of God.  It is these times we see Christ, revealed to us is His very Heart, the love He has for us… and how He has taken us into His heart, even as the Holy Spirit abides in ours.

There is a part of me that hates these hard times… I despise the pain, the abslutely… stripped feeling I have.  The seeming loneliness, the emotional rollercoasters…

Yet there is a part of me that has learned to deal with them… to welcome rather than run… because I know in these times… the Lord who makes us one with Him is there… ready to love, ready to show mercy… ready to embrace us….

And for that… what else can we do but adore Him?

(1)  Escriva, Josemaria (2011-01-31). The Forge (Kindle Locations 1683-1686). Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition.

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