Devotional Thought of the Day:
The LORD is with you when you are with him. If you seek him, he will be found by you,a but if you abandon him, he will abandon you. 3 For many years Israel has been without the true God, without a teaching priest, and without instruction, 4 but when they turned to the LORD God of Israel in their distress and sought him, he was found by them. 5 In those times there was no peace for those who went about their daily activities because the residents of the lands had many conflicts. 6 Nation was crushed by nation and city by city, for God troubled them with every possible distress. 7 But as for you, be strong; don’t give up, for your work has a reward.” 2 Chr. 15:2-7 CSB
Every pastor knows … the plain people who have nothing to recommend them but their deep devotion to their Lord and the fruit of the Spirit which they all unconsciously display. Without these the churches … could not carry on.
These are the first to come forward when there is work to be done and the last to go home when there is prayer to be made. They are not known beyond the borders of their own parish because there is nothing dramatic in faithfulness or newsworthy in goodness, but their presence is a benediction wherever they go.
They have no greatness to draw to them the admiring eyes of carnal men but are content to be good men and full of the Holy Spirit.…
If eagles, says St. Jerome, on scenting a dead body go from afar to seek it, how much more should we run and fly to Jesus in the Most Blessed Sacrament, as to the most delicious food of our hearts! Hence saints in this valley of tears have always as parched harts run to this fountain of paradise.
Tozer applauds those people that are necessary to the church.
They will rarely be found in leadership (though you can occasionally help them find their role in it!) They are more comfortable being behind the scenes. They are more likely to read a blog than write one. A church can survive without a dynamic pastor; it can grow and thrive if these people are allowed and freed to serve.
And they are too often forgotten in the day-to-day grind of trying to get a church to grow. Sometimes, the church may think they are insignificant or dysfunctional, hindering the church’s growth. Yet, these people are the core.
Yet they are the ones that treasure the church…
De Ligouri describes them well when he describes them as eagles, who intuitively hone in on that which nourishes and sustains them. Take that away, without showing them how what replaces it, and you will know it. They find that nourishment at the altar, and in Sunday School, in workdays and potlucks. They recognize the presence of Christ but may not realize that until you point it out to them, and you should, quite often. But like the eagle, this is more intuitive to most and not as easily explained by them.
They are at their best… when they see the Jesus that they treasure, active in their lives. All of the squabbles, all of the dysfunction caused by not pointing them to Jesus, will fade away when they realize they are in His presence when they are taught why their church’s facility is so special.
And energized by the presence of God, they are that blessing wherever they go. Help them find Him, help them realize what it is that they treasure…
They are more important than all the preachers, all the leaders, all the visionaries…they are the children of the Most High God…..we (leaders) are but their servants.
Treasure them! Show them Jesus and how they already treasure Him in their church lives. And then let them bless others as they are a blessing!
A. W. Tozer and Marilynne E. Foster, Tozer on the Holy Spirit: A 366-Day Devotional (Camp Hill, PA: WingSpread, 2007).
Alphonsus de Liguori, The Holy Eucharist, ed. Eugene Grimm, The Complete Works of Saint Alphonsus de Liguori (New York; London; Dublin; Cincinnati; St. Louis: Benziger Brothers; R. Washbourne; M. H. Gill & Son, 1887), 176.
An Offer They Couldn’t Refuse
Exodus 19, 2-8
† In Jesus Name †
As you learn of the grace of God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ, it is my prayer that you so awe aware of how He considers you His treasure, that you respond to His love, even before you know all His covenant promises.
A Deal you cannot refuse
As we look at the Old Testament reading this morning, as we see Israel committing to hear and treasure God’s word, I thought of the line from an old movie,
“I’ll make you an offer you can’t refuse”
They didn’t refuse it, and unlike the movie, they didn’t accept it from fear or intimidation, they accepted what we now call the Mosaic Covenant completely, and without any hesitation or reservation.
They heard what God said through the prophet Moses, and they accepted it. Enthusiastically, with great joy, and with a hope that didn’t come from studying the fine print, for there wasn’t any fine print yet.
But with hope born from knowing Who it was that they were entering a relationship with, and knowing His character, His care, His patience and persistence, they were willing to become His people again, and they trusted Him at His word, “you will be my own special treasure.”
Having seen that, and knowing the character of God, they accepted,
What else could they have done?
They didn’t make the decision with complete knowledge of the Covenant!
If you take a moment to look at the chapters around this passage,
Right after this chapter, they will hear the basics of what God expected of them, of how they would be able to live in view of the fact that they were His people.
We commonly refer to these words as the 10 Commandments, or more precisely, the 10 Commandments, the Decalog.
Think about that for a moment. They chose what was offered without knowing what it would cost, without knowing what God would require of them. They didn’t have a copy of the covenant, with a magnifying glass to consider the small print. Or for that matter the large print.
Some would say that is blind leap of faith.
Many would say it isn’t enough, it isn’t logical.
I mean – how many of you would buy a house or a car without knowing how much it cost? How many of us would let someone we didn’t know watch out house and our finances for a couple of weeks/
That is what they did here,
They promised to God what He asked of them. No questions, no details, no idea of what God would ask of them.
We may think them naïve, or maybe stupid, We may think their leap of faith is beyond what we could do, we need proof of God’. We might even think that they were caught up in the emotion of the moment, and that they promised something that they could not possibly keep.
It doesn’t matter, for you, whether you know scripture like a professor, or whether you are drawn to trust Jesus right now, are being given the same question right now.
Will you hear and treasure God’s covenant? Will you be His special treasure, His priests, His holy people?
Every year, the Jewish people were to hear all the words of God anew, and re-dedicate themselves to doing this very thing. So will you? Will you listen to God? Will you treasure the relationship, the covenant’s describe? Will you be His people, will you have Him as your God?
No matter the cost?
All they needed to know was God
I said earlier that some people call this a leap of faith, some would say a blind leap.
It is neither.
let me explain, pointing you to what went before this reading.
We know God heard the cry of the descendants of Abraham, Issac and Jacob, and brought them out of Egypt as promised. We know about the plagues and the cool way they crossed the Red Sea on dry ground. We know the Egyptians didn’t make it across the same Sea.
But what amazes me, and what I think convinced the Israelites was what happened next.
They complained, they whined against God. First over no food, then over know water. They turned their noses up with God and said that slavery in Eqypt was preferable to following God through the wilderness. They rebelled, they sinned, they tried to break up with God and go their own way.
And God took care of them anyway.
He provided for them, even miraculously.
He didn’t give up on them, He brought them to Sinai, and said look how I’ve carried you already, look how I’ve brought you to myself. I didn’t give up on you yet, I won’t break my promises.
They didn’t make a leap of faith, they simply were reminded of the love of God, and His patience with them, and the love He poured out on them, even when they were a bunch of whiney discontented folk.
Given the opportunity to cement the relationship they were promised a half century before they were born, a relationship God bound himself to provide,
They said yes, we will…for this was an offer they couldn’t refuse
Neither should we refuse it, for Jesus’ blood, shed at the cross, made this possible. For His sins cover their sins, and our sins, it makes it possible fod God to say, you are my people. Your sin I have sent away, your unrighteousness has been paid for, come be my people, come be my special treasure.
Not saying we should be whiney or discontent, but this is the same relationship we celebrate in this place, from our songs which celebrate it, to the readings and sermons that reveal it over and over, to the declarations like you are forgive, this is His body and blood given for you, to the promise we hear over and over…..
The Lord is is with you.
You are his treasured people.
Will your hear Him still? Will you treasure this relationship He’s drawn you into?
Devotional Thought of the Day:
19 “Don’t store up treasures here on earth, where moths eat them and rust destroys them, and where thieves break in and steal. 20 Store your treasures in heaven, where moths and rust cannot destroy, and thieves do not break in and steal. 21 Wherever your treasure is, there the desires of your heart will also be. Matthew 6:19-21 (NLT)
946 If you want to give yourselves to God in the world, more important than being scholars, you must be spiritual, closely united to our Lord through prayer. You must wear an invisible cloak that will cover every single one of your senses and faculties: praying, praying, praying; atoning, atoning, atoning.* (1)
There was a time where I longed to study, to be the most knowledgeable person. I loved to play games like Trivial Pursuit, and another game called Tribond. (you try to link three things together by what they have in common) I would read and read, hoping to master this piece of history, or that.
I think we have entered an age where the church does is doing the same thing. We want our pastors to have advanced degrees, we want consultants who will share with us the wisdom gain from surveys and studies. We applaud those who have the title theologian, and our young pastors and priests turn to podcasts and blogs to prove their knowledge, and their ability to dominate any discussion.
We desire expertise in churchwork, for we believe that making the church great again requires great knowledge.
This is what we’ve grown to treasure.
We will even downplay anything that smells of spirituality, calling it pietistic, or fanatic. Relationships come to mean less and less, as we prefer followers. Reconciliation loses importance and submission, preferably blind submission, becomes what we expect in our churches. (Even to the extent that we are told to send our troubled folk to larger churches, where they can be marginalized)
What would happen if this changed. If the people we admire were those of prayer, and of devotion to Jesus. What if those we pointed out for others to emulate were those who talked of Jesus love, and clung to him because they knew their hope was there because He promised to be with them?
What if we treasured those who desired reconciliation, and healing of broken relationships? What if we used as examples those who actually tried to imitate Christ, and asked forgiveness when they failed?
What if the church treasured those who treasured the love that is heavenly, that is Christ? Who loved even in the face of persecution, or great personal cost?
Wednesday is a the start of lent.
Perhaps giving up earthly treasures and honor to encourage heavenly treasure would be a good way to spend the 40 days….
(1)Escriva, Josemaria. The Way (Kindle Locations 2193-2196). Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition.
Discussion thought of the day:
25 ‘That is why I am telling you not to worry about your life and what you are to eat, nor about your body and what you are to wear. Surely life is more than food, and the body more than clothing! 26 Look at the birds in the sky. They do not sow or reap or gather into barns; yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not worth much more than they are? 27 Can any of you, however much you worry, add one single cubit to your span of life? 28 And why worry about clothing? Think of the flowers growing in the fields; they never have to work or spin; 29 yet I assure you that not even Solomon in all his royal robes was clothed like one of these. 30 Now if that is how God clothes the wild flowers growing in the field which are there today and thrown into the furnace tomorrow, will he not much more look after you, you who have so little faith? 31 So do not worry; do not say, “What are we to eat? What are we to drink? What are we to wear?” 32 It is the gentiles who set their hearts on all these things. Your heavenly Father knows you need them all. 33 Set your hearts on his kingdom first, and on God’s saving justice, and all these other things will be given you as well. 34 So do not worry about tomorrow: tomorrow will take care of itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.‘ Matthew 6:25-34 (NJB)
“Yes. poverty is a Christian value. The poor person is someone who knows that, by himself, he cannot live. He needs God and other people in order to be, flourish and grow. On the contrary, rich people expect nothing of anyone. They can provide for their needs without calling on their neighbors or on God. In this sense, wealth can lead to great sadness and true human loneliness or to terrible spiritual poverty. If in order to eat and care for himself, a man must turn to someone else, this necessarily results in a great enlargement of his heart. This is why the poor are closest to God and life in great solidarity with one another.; they draw from this divine source the ability to be attentive to others.” God or Nothing, Robert Cardinal Sarah p.140
In the reading in blue came from another source, rather than a priest who grew up in true poverty, I would be more likely to dismiss the words as naivete, or as some idyllic rationalization. But they come from one who was poor, who ministered among the poorest of the poor.
One of the reasons I will struggle with this for a while is because it is written by one who has been there, seen it, ministered among it.
I want to justify this, to spin it, to remind the writer that money isn’t the root of all evil, but that the love of money is. Another way to confront the writer is to compare my wealth to those around me, and claim that I am relatively impoverished. After all, I don’t own my home, and the last time the place we rent remodeled was when Kennedy was president. And my salary is not what it could be by the standards my denomination set.
Compared to 95 percent of the world, we are, in fact wealthy. Maybe even 98% of the world.
Cardinal Sarah points out the real issue. The issue is not wealth, but how wealth adds to the problem of independence, of self-reliance. Wealth destroys the independence of a community. It is easier to forget the needs of others, when we do not have need, or have not faced it. It is easier to write off what happens outside our walls, like the Rich man and Lazarus. Like the Rich man we don’t have an appreciation what he is going through, and the value of the soul and mind of the impoverished.
If poverty is to be considered a virtue, a way to grow in faith, then we begin to see self-reliance as the real problem, the real sin. Or should I say, the illusion of self-reliance? Because poverty normally is thought of as financial, but the other poverties, spiritual poverty, emotional poverty, relational poverty – they all lead to brokenness, to a solitary existence that is contrary to who are made to be.
Here it is, blunt and to the point. We were created with one mission, one purpose. To love, to love God with everything we are, and to love our neighbors as ourselves. To have intimate relationships (not physically intimate – but spiritually and emotionally intimate) is the concept. It is in such relationships that we see the fruit of the Spirit grow, it is in such relationships where we can depend upon others and are depended upon by others., that the faith, hope and love the Holy Spirit nourishes in us matters, and is treasured.
Do I have to give up my wealth? Do I have to be like St Francis of Assissi or Luther (giving up law practice) or a Mother Theresa?
Honestly, I do not know. There is a harder option, which is to ensure the things that I own don’t become treasures. The treasures I have are found delivered by the means of Grace. First, the audacious love and mercy of God, and secondly the community of faith and those who will be part of it, delivered through word and sacrament with us. Those are our true riches.
May the Lord’s Mercy remind us of this, and may that reminder bring us to love one another.
Devotional thought of the day:
10 The crowds asked, “What should we do?” 11 John replied, “If you have two shirts, give one to the poor. If you have food, share it with those who are hungry.” Luke 3:10-11 (NLT)
Simple acts of love, really that is all John the Baptist is encouraging people to do, to show their love for God. Jesus of course will clarify this, He will make it a clear call to love God, and to love our neighbor, by demonstrating that.
As I read this though, I wondered how John the Baptist would phrase this today. Would he only talk about physical clothes and physical food, or because the people of God have a far greater treasure, would we be called to share something more valuable, priceless.
Even as we should share of our physical clothes, how much more should we share of our spiritual clothing…
25 But now that faith has come we are no longer under a slave looking after us; 26 for all of you are the children of God, through faith, in Christ Jesus, 27 since every one of you that has been baptised has been clothed in Christ. Galatians 3:25-27 (NJB)
And the food – even as we share food baskets with those who have less, isn’t there also a desire that they share in a heavenly feast? The one Paul talks of here?
16 The blessing-cup, which we bless, is it not a sharing in the blood of Christ; and the loaf of bread which we break, is it not a sharing in the body of Christ? 17 And as there is one loaf, so we, although there are many of us, are one single body, for we all share in the one loaf. 1 Corinthians 10:16-17 (NJB)
We have been given the greatest of treasures, the greatest of blessings, something that is described a the light breaking through the darkness, that which brings hope to the darkest desperation, that which brings love, where the was only hate, life where there was only death. Should we not share this as well? Should we not love our neighbors, our friends, our co-workers enough?
I love the way the Roman Catholic Pope said it – in a picture a friend shared this morning on Facebook: It pretty much sums it up…
Discussion/Devotional Quote of the Day:
“You are extraordinarily happy. Sometimes you may find out that God has been abandoned by a son of his. THen in the midst of the peace and joy deep within you, you have a pang of grief and a sorry which arises from affection, but you do not allow it really to disturb or upset you.
All right, but.. make sure you use all human and supernatural resources available to help him change his mind. And you must trust fully in Jesus Christ! If you do, the waters will return to their course.” Escriva
It may be a child, or a grandchild, It may be a high school friend – so active in the church during his teens, yet now has no time for God now in his forties, fifties, sixties even. There is even now a classification for such people – the “de-churched” Sometimes they say they believe in God, sometimes they are very angry at God and they say they can’t believe (how can someone be angry at Someone they don’t believe exists? Another question, another day!) Sometimes they live as if it just doesn’t matter, they are so apathetic to anything spiritual…. and sometimes it is that they just have their priorities backward…
It should sadden us, more than just a passing thought. We should pray – deeply pray for such people, and yearn as the Father does for their return. We must also carefully and completely show our care for theme – not nag and harass them – but be there for them, Walk with them instead – journey at their side – for you know where you are going, even if they do not. Don’t be afraid of the mire they are stuck in, you cannot if you are to be the one who brings them the words of life.. and re-kindle that flame of love and adoration of a God who got down into your muck, your mire, to rescue you.
I put in bold the key – the idea that first, always, our trust cannot be in our powers of persuasion, but in Jesus’ love. Nor should we give up hope – for the hope you have for their restoration is found in Jesus, and in the prodigals Daddy, who looked and desired the homecoming of his wandering son. Keep interceding – asking God for their return – knowing God desires it even more than you do. Keep praying, and when the doors are open – be ready and share the love and peace of Christ which you so treasure.
“Lord Have Mercy” we cry, and we know He has…
therefore know He who pulled you out of the mire, walks with you this day…
Devotional/Discussion thought of the Day:
“ Another said, ‘I will follow you, sir, but first let me go and say good-bye to my people at home.’ 62 Jesus said to him, ‘Once the hand is laid on the plough, no one who looks back is fit for the kingdom of God.’ “
Luke 9:61-62 (NJB)
As a pastor, I struggle a lot with those who have the attitude told in this passage. Who say, “Pastor my faith means everything, but I am going to have to miss church (or Bible Study, or even their own devotional prayer time) because I must go and …(insert favorite hobby, activity, vacation, etc)
Of course, if I am honest, I am not much better, for I will allow things to crash my personal time with God, and there are days… if I didn’t have to go to church, I wouldn’t. Partially because I wonder if what I do is effective enough, or whether it is worth the sacrifice that it costs – sacrifices to me, to my wife and son, to my parents and other relatives.
And then I come across this passage, and others like it, and I feel guilt, or sometimes I want to use this passage and the hundreds like it to provoke guilt in those whose commitment is divided, whose life shows the brokenness that comes from not spending it with God.
It’s not how it works though – for if we only do religious things because we have to, because we have an obligation to, because if we don’t, we feel guilty, then we’ve missed the point.
Religion isn’t about obligations, Christianity isn’t about obeying the commandments for the commandments sake,
It’s about walking (following is a word that denotes going on the same journey with the one we follow) with Christ – sharing our lives even as He has shared His life with us.
The reason my Christianity tends to be “convenient”, the reason Conventient Christianity is the fastest spreading form of it in our area… is because we don’t grasp the treasure of those simple words, “The Lord is with you”.
Lord, help us to know, to intimately get this truth, help us to encourage others to grasp it as well. Help us to follow – and to realize nothing is as precious as our time spent with You and yours…