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Faith in Action is in Dialogue (IV) A sermon on James 5:13-20

church at communion 2Faith in Action:  Is in Dialogue
James 5:13-20

† I.H.S. 

May the grace, mercy and love of God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ instill in you the confidence to be drawn to them and enter intimate dialogue with Them

People in trauma

The people that James was writing too sound like us.  Based on the words we read just this morning, we could ask if they are part of Concordia!  Hear how James describes them

verse 13 asks if they are suffering hardships
verse 14  ask if any are sick
verse 15 mentions people who have committed sin
verse 16 may be the hardest question of all, have some of us wandered away from Jesus.

Pretty sure you can find most of us on that list, in fact, some of us probably can answer more than one of those questions.

As we’ve said a few times around here, how do we get through this life, without knowing Jesus?

This life is broken, we see it enough in our homes, in our workplaces, in our families, even in our churches.  But it isn’t a new thing, James wrote about these problems to people nearly 2000 years ago.

Even with all the differences, the problems are still the same, hardships, sickness, sin, and our struggle to go our own way.  And in asking how people go through this life without Christ, we begin to see how James addresses each of these ways we are broken with a simple, misunderstood four letter word.

Pray.

There is an answer

Prayer, Praise, Prayer, Pray for each other

Suffering hardship – pray!
Sick  call the elders (pastor and deacons too!) and have them pray
Sins?  Confess and pray for each other
Wanders from Jesus (the truth) bring him back from the wandering so he can communicate with God, with us.

Pray… Pray… Pray…

Sounds like one of Al’s emails or text messages to me. They often end that way… and for  reason.

We know prayer makes a difference. We know when that prayer isn’t what you do when there is nothing else to do.

It is what you do first, and always.

Not because prayer adds up like tickets you get playing skeeball at an arcade, or frequent flier points.

That’s not the way prayer works or the reason to pray.  It’s not about what we do to impress God, it is an act of faith, it is the way we depend on God.

But what is prayer – Elijah’s example.

James gives us as an example of prayer, in the situation with Elijah and the weather.  That prayer was not simple monologues, they are conversations. As you follow the story throughout 1 Kings 17 and 18, you see Elijah moving by God’s direction, enabled to do what he did because God was there, with Him, even as the Lord is with you! (and also with you?)

You see that in these chapters where Elijah is ministering to Israel, and to a the widow in what is now Lebanon, as he confronts sin and evil, as he deals with brokenness, and sickness and even death. As he is on top of the world, and as he feels like he’s the last man standing and isn’t sure how much more he can stand.

In other words, he is a man like us!  And yet. Because he walked and talked with God, this was said of him,

24  “Now I know for sure that you are a man of God, and that the LORD truly speaks through you.” 1 Kings 17:24 (NLT2)

God speaks through those who hear Him, who talk with Him, and that is what prayer is.
A conversation with God, depending on His presence, and on His love, shown in the mercy He has on us.

And then we see the greatest work that depending on God, talking to Him, hearing Him brings about.

19 My dear brothers and sisters, if someone among you wanders away from the truth and is brought back, 20 you can be sure that whoever brings the sinner back from wandering will save that person from death and bring about the forgiveness of many sins.

Here is where prayer is so necessary, to see those who come back from wandering away from God, sometimes even running away from God, come back.

To see them saved from death and hell, to see them freed form sin and the guilt and shame that can so haunt those caught in its grasp. That only happens when our faith is active, and that faith requires us to be in conversation with God.

We have to depend on God, for otherwise there is no way we can have the patience, the determination to have patience, the ability to withstand the rejection, and still leave the door open for them to come in, look around, put their toe in the water…ask a question or three.. even be critical.

Trusting in God, communicating with Him, knowing His heart for us and all prodigals like us, we can take the time to see people return to God, even if we have to help carry them.

This is the power of prayer, this is what knowing that the Lord is with you causes to happen in real life.  That is a major part of who we are. As one pastor wrote,

Finally, the suffering person is entrusted to an innkeeper, so that he might continue to care for him, sparing no expense. Now, who is this innkeeper? It is the Church, the Christian community—it is us—to whom each day the Lord entrusts those who are afflicted in body and spirit, so that we might lavish all of his mercy and salvation upon them without measure.
[1]

So let us pray, and as we dwell in Christ’s peace, the peace that passes all understanding.  AMEN!

[1] Francis. (2016). Wednesday, 26 February 2014. In Audiences of Pope Francis, 2013–2015 (English). Vatican City: Libreria Editrice Vaticana.

Do Not Pursue Virtue and Perfection. There is a better route…

nativityDEvotional Thought for our Days:
7 So that I would not become too proud of the wonderful things that were shown to me, a painful physical problem n was given to me. This problem was a messenger from Satan, sent to beat me and keep me from being too proud. 8 I begged the Lord three times to take this problem away from me. 9 But he said to me, “My grace is enough for you. When you are weak, my power is made perfect in you.” So I am very happy to brag about my weaknesses. Then Christ’s power can live in me. 10 For this reason I am happy when I have weaknesses, insults, hard times, sufferings, and all kinds of troubles for Christ. Because when I am weak, then I am truly strong.  2 Cor. 12:7-10

In a letter to Leonie, Therese writes,

I find perfection very easy to practise, because I have realised that all we have to do is take Jesus by the heart. Consider a child who has just upset his mother by losing his temper or disobeying her. If he goes and hides in a corner with a sullen look on his face and cries because he is afraid of being punished, his mother will certainly not pardon his fault. But if he comes to her and holds out his arms to her and smiles at her and says, “Give me a hug, I’ll never do it again,” how can his mother resist taking him fondly and pressing him to her heart, forgetting his childish wickedness? Yet she knows perfectly well that her dear child will do it again as soon as the occasion arises, but that makes no difference; if he takes her by the heart again, he will never be punished.

Tugwell informs us that “Therese had herself been tormented by scruples for more than a year” but later on came to a different conclusion about herself: Even if she committed every possible sin, she would still have exactly the same confidence in God. She no longer needed the assurance of her own virtue.

11 Likewise, faith does not ask if good works are to be done, but before one can ask, faith has already done them and is constantly active. Whoever does not perform such good works is a faithless man, blindly tapping around in search of faith and good works without knowing what either faith or good works are, and in the meantime he chatters and jabbers a great deal about faith and good works.

When I came across the words of St Therese, (quoted by a Baptist) I was a little in shock.  

The words resonate with me, I could have perhaps said them myself, for the value running to God when we see, and when we are tempted is beyond explanation.  To know the comfort of God, the mercy, and peace that flows over us as we are in God’s arms, 

Knowing that love of God is so powerful, so overwhelming that we dropped the carefully constructed facade of virtue that we create.  His love makes us so confident we can drop the attitude of piety that we careful craft, and admit that we are simply poor, broken sinners. Sinners who have no confidence in our own strength, but instead learn to completely depend on Jesus. We can depend on God like the child running to his mother, rather than being punished in the corner.

This is when holiness, when sainthood is seen by others.  When it is not contrived, when it is not planned, when it is no longer an act, but the natural life lived in the presence of Christ. It’s the life of faith that the reformers saw, one that doesn’t argue about faith and works, one doesn’t even contemplate how to do good works, but simply does them, constantly active. It doesn’t wait for the exegetical, historical and systematic explanation of loving God and therefore loving those around them, but faith does that, while searching the scriptures for God, find the promises delivered to them in and through Jesus. 

That is true holiness, one that isn’t holier than thou but realizes that hope for its brokenness is found in the God we adore, and in finding in His heart, our life.

Dwell in peace… knowing the blessed life that is found in Christ!  Amen!

Webber, Robert E. The Divine Embrace: Recovering the Passionate Spiritual Life. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2006. Print. Ancient-Futpietyeries.  

Tappert, Theodore G., ed. The Book of Concord the Confessions of the Evangelical Lutheran Church. Philadelphia: Mühlenberg Press, 1959. Print.

Good Friday Sermon: A Cry of Great Faith – Into Your Hands…

Into Your Hands…
Luke 23:46

Jesus, Son, Savior

May you realize the depth of the love of God our Father for you, revealed in Christ’s purchase of your grace.  AMEN!

Is this what we perceive?

It has been said that people hear what they want to hear.  Matter of fact, I think most of us are pretty good at it.

Like for instance, if I ask my wife if I can go to Sam Ash or Guitar City, her approval also means I can come home with a new guitar or keyboard. After 28 years of marriage, she won’t let me go to Best Buy or Fry’s alone.   She did, however, make the mistake of letting me go to the car dealership to get my oil changed two weeks ago…

It can work the other way as well if a professor says something critical, a student’s world collapses, or if a boss says you need to improve, you go home and tell the wife you are in danger of getting fired.

When we hear the words from the cross, we hear things through our frame of reference as well.

It’s true in the last words Jesus says, the words that he pushes out with his last breath…

Into your hands….I commit my spirit.

They are not just the final words of a man who has been betrayed by his friends, tried, beaten, forced to carry a cross out of the city, up a hill and be nailed on it.

They are a lesson in faith, an example of great dependence on God.

It would be what Paul talks about when we are told to imitate him, as He imitates Christ Jesus.

It was a cry of faith, not one of despair.

But that is not how we hear it.

The struggle of faith, and praying

There is rapid decline, or so the experts say, in the prayer life of people in America.

I can believe it because we have forgotten the joy, the comfort, the peace that comes in trusting God.  In depending upon Him, in the words of Jesus, in our ability to says these words, “into your hands I commit my Spirit.”

We hear Jesus, broken physical and I think we expect Him to be broken spiritually.  We hear the pain in His voice, the anguish, the trauma.  There is, in my mind, no doubt of the pain and anguish, that He felt, and I struggle to imagine these cries being anything else but the despair I would feel in such a situation.

The despair and even doubt I feel when I am subjected to suffering, or when those I love and care for are.

I hear these words, when I am in pain, when I hear them said with His dying breath, and they sound like a surrender, an admission that I am defeated, that you can feel the hope draining out from Jesus,

Because that is what I feel, that is the effect of the brokenness of sin on us who are mortal.

There is nothing left, no strength of body, or mind, or will.  There is only the inevitable; there is only death.

In times less trying we can’t even think of God because the weight of despair is too much.  We just feel numb, lost, empty. hopeless.  It is as if, for the moment, sin has won, and life has been taken from us.

We hear these words as the final admission of defeat.

He breathed His last…

But what if these words mean something more?  What if they are not the words of despair, but words from the last breath that reveal hope, that reveal faith, that reveal a trust that is deeper than the pain?

What if these words, like Psalm 22’s cry, accept the pain of the moment given victory that is complete and total and joyous?

Into your hands, I commit my Spirit.

A quote from Psalm 31, a quote which continues

5  Into your hand I commit my spirit; you have redeemed me, O LORD, faithful God.

Hear it one more time…

5  Into your hand I commit my spirit; you have redeemed me, O LORD, faithful God. 6  I hate those who pay regard to worthless idols, but I trust in the LORD. 7  I will rejoice and be glad in your steadfast love because you have seen my affliction; you have known the distress of my soul,   Psalm 31:5-7 (ESV)

5  Into your hand I commit my spirit; you have redeemed me, O LORD, faithful God.

These last words, are not just those of a man has hit rock bottom.  They are a cry of faith, a cry of wisdom that knows that the answer is found in the very steadfast love of God. A cry that celebrates that we aren’t alone in our distress, that we aren’t alone in our grief.

That though we barely have a breath left, it is a breath that is taken with God’s spirit.

It is a lesson for us, a cry for us to utter, not just when we have only one breath left, but when we are brought to life in Christ.  When we are crucified with Him in our baptism when we kneel and take and eat the Body and Blood of Christ, when we share in His death… and in the promise of His life.

It is His cry, a lesson to us with our very last breath.

A lesson in trusting God through it all, a lesson that we aren’t alone in our trial, in our fight, even when it gets down to the last breath.

St. Paul said it well,

4  For we died and were buried with Christ by baptism. And just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glorious power of the Father, now we also may live new lives.
Romans 6:4 (NLT)

So repeat these last words of Jesus with me, knowing that the Holy Spirit with strengthening you, and help you make them your own.

Into your hands, I commit my Spirit…

And in God’s hands, in the Father’s hands, you will know peace that goes beyond your understanding, even as it guards your weary hearts and minds, for as you died with Christ in His death, so you find life in Christ.  AMEN!

The Theological K.I.S.S. Principal for Preachers/Pastors/Priests

A Devotional Thought of the Day:

5  God blesses those who are humble, for they will inherit the whole earth.
Matthew 5:5 (NLT)

8  No, the LORD has told us what is good. What he requires of us is this: to do what is just, to show constant love, and to live in humble fellowship with our God.
Micah 6:8 (TEV)

The simple faith of simple souls merits the respect, the reverence of the preacher, who has no right simply to pit his intellectual superiority against a faith which has remained simple and which, by its simple and intuitive comprehension of the Faith as a whole, can, in some cases, understand the essence of that Faith more profoundly than is possible for a reflective faith that is fragmented by division into systems and theories . (1)

Whether I agree with him completely or not, Pope Benedict XVI has to be counted as one of the most brilliant theologian-pastors in the last 100 years.   He wrote documents and letters that are stunning in how profound they are, and yet they are intimately pastoral, a look into the life of an introvert who pastored a billion people.

Seeing writings like that in blue above, perhaps it would be better phrased to call him a pastor-theologian, a man who kept his priorities straight, and recognizes it is the faith in Christ, our trust, and dependence on God, that matters more than our meager intellectual pontifications. That is why those of us who would count ourselves as theologians, as professionals in the world of religion, need to respect and honor the simple and deep faith of the simple soul.

It is that Jesus points us to in the Beatitudes, that Micah calls us to, to realize that God’s silliness is far greater than our wisdom, and to live our lives in recollection of this.

For, in the end, it is not the stimulating blogs, our journal articles we write, or the great tomes on doctrine, or our understanding of the great theologians and philosophers in the past that matters.

Rather, as the former pope, who before was responsible for all the doctrine of the Roman Catholic Church wrote, the understanding of the essence of our faith.

The joy we take in hearing and responding to phrases like this:

“He is Risen!”

and

“The Lord is with you!”

and finally, knowing that God will hear and answer our cry,

“Lord have mercy!”

So keep it simple my brothers, reveal to them the height and breadth, the depth and width, of God’s love for them, seen in Christ Jesus!  AMEN!

(1)  Ratzinger, J. (1992). Co-Workers of the Truth: Meditations for Every Day of the Year. (I. Grassl, Ed., M. F. McCarthy & L. Krauth, Trans.) (pp. 94–95). San Francisco: Ignatius Press.

 

It’s Monday, do you know where your faith is?

Devotional Thought of the Day:
1  And now, a word to you who are elders in the churches. I, too, am an elder and a witness to the sufferings of Christ. And I, too, will share in his glory when he is revealed to the whole world. As a fellow elder, I appeal to you: 2  Care for the flock that God has entrusted to you. Watch over it willingly, not grudgingly—not for what you will get out of it, but because you are eager to serve God. 3  Don’t lord it over the people assigned to your care, but lead them by your own good example. 4  And when the Great Shepherd appears, you will receive a crown of never-ending glory and honor. 1 Peter 5:1-4 (NLT)

” Each individual layman must stand before the world as a witness to the resurrection and life of the Lord Jesus and a symbol of the living God. All the laity as a community and each one according to his ability must nourish the world with spiritual fruits.212 They must diffuse in the world that spirit which animates the poor, the meek, the peace makers—whom the Lord in the Gospel proclaimed as blessed.213 In a word, “Christians must be to the world what the soul is to the body.””(1)

It may seem odd, to read the quotes I start my blog out with this morning.  One is about pastors and leaders in the church, and the other about every other believer, every other member of Christ’s people, also known as the church.  

But this is Monday, and these passages talk about our faith, the visible actions that result in trusting God.

For those in leadership, it means not to focus on the authority we think we’ve been given, but with the responsibility we have been given, to lead people towards Christ, to guide them into a relationship with Him, where the love they experience spills over into every part of their life, from the holiest to the darkest.  Maybe especially the darkest, for there the love of Christ transforms them, so that they begin to reflect His light even there.

The quote from Vatican II is also essential, for it well describes what the ordained are to model, the result of which is that people take on that same attitude of Jesus. For if we are to bear witness to the Resurrection, it is seen in our living the life of one who is united to Christ’s death and resurrection.

In this common life, there isn’t one of us strong enough, holy enough to do this on our own.  This is the result of trusting Jesus, of being in communion with Him, of trusting in Him.  That is faith, and as we do, we walk with Him into places of peace, places where He guides.

So go back up to the top – read the quotes again, and ask God, in faith, to transform you into Christ’s image.  It will change your Monday, I promise!

 

(1)  Catholic Church. (2011). Dogmatic Constitution on the Church: Lumen Gentium. In Vatican II Documents. Vatican City: Libreria Editrice Vaticana.

What if the Lord didn’t ask for you to be the martyr, but..

Devotional Thought of the Day:

1 The LORD spoke to Moses and said: 2 Consecrate to me every firstborn; whatever opens the womb among the Israelites,a whether of human being or beast, belongs to me.  Ex 13:1–2 NAB-RE

209         You made me smile, because I know what you meant when you said: I am enthusiastic about the possibility of going to new lands and opening a breach there, perhaps very far away… I would like to find out if there are men on the moon…Ask the Lord to increase that apostolic zeal of yours.  (1)

On facebook this morning, I saw a man saying that he definitely would speak for Christ if he was put in the place of a potential martyr, where the decision was to either say he believed in another god or Jesus.  And then he challenged everyone else to claim they would as well.

It made me think of the passage in red that I came across a few days ago, about the command of God to dedicate to His service every firstborn.  We can think of those who did in scripture. Hannah comes to mind, as does Elizabeth.  Abraham had the question put to him, and his faith in God was proven true.  And less we forget Mary’s first son, who she watched God the Father dedicate to the purpose of saving all of mankind.

Dedicating a child to God’s work isn’t something new, but it is something forgotten.  During the middle ages, and even until recent history, the second male was encouraged to enter the ministry.  Not the first, because that would be the heir of the family name, but the second.  (Who gets the better inheritance IMHO)

These days, we aren’t so ready to do so.  Not with the first or the second. We aren’t ready or willing to give them up to a life of service, or for that matter, a life of martyrdom, as they sacrifice and even are sacrificed to accomplish the work of God.

Fewer men are entering the ministry, fewer women dedicating their lives to working in the church and church schools as well.  Fewer willing to go on the mission field, whether far abroad or here in the inner cities.

We claim to be people who trust God in everything, will we trust Him with our children?  Will we trust Him with those who are precious to us?

Even if their vocation is to be a pastor or priest, missionary or even if they are called to martyrdom?

Do we trust Him with life?

Again, go back to Mary’s son, her first born.  The only-begotten Son of our Heavenly Father.  Who was the pastor, priest, missionary, and yeah – martyr as He died on the cross.  As He saved us from our sin.  As He came to us.

The firstborn of the firstborn.

May our trust in God grow, as we consider what God the Father committed and consecrated His firstborn to do, and may we seriously encourage more and more people to consider a vocation that sees them ministering to others.

Amen.

 

(1)  Escriva, Josemaria (2011-01-31). Furrow (Kindle Locations 1082-1085). Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition.

Surviving Criticism by Walking with Jesus.

Featured imageDevotional Thought of the Day
59  So they stoned Stephen while he called upon God, and said, “Jesus, Lord, receive my spirit!” 60  Then, on his knees, he cried in ringing tones, “Lord, forgive them for this sin.” And with these words he fell into the sleep of death ….. Acts 7:59-60 (Phillips NT)

16  Live in harmony with each other. Don’t become snobbish but take a real interest in ordinary people. Don’t become set in your own opinions. 17  Don’t pay back a bad turn by a bad turn, to anyone. Don’t say “it doesn’t matter what people think”, but see that your public behaviour is above criticism. 18  As far as your responsibility goes, live at peace with everyone. 19  Never take vengeance into your own hands, my dear friends: stand back and let God punish if he will. For it is written: ‘Vengeance is mine. I will repay’. 20  … these are God’s words: ‘Therefore if your enemy hungers, feed him; if he thirsts, give him a drink; for in so doing you will heap coals of fire on his head’. Don’t allow yourself to be overpowered with evil. Take the offensive – overpower evil by good! Romans 12:16-20 (Phillips NT)

688    Once again, they’ve been talking, they’ve written— in favor, against; with good, and with not so good will; insinuations and slanders, panegyrics and plaudits; hits and misses … Fool, big fool! As long as you keep going straight toward your target—head and heart intoxicated with God—why care about the clamor of the wind or the chirping of the cricket, or the bellowing, or the grunting, or the neighing? Besides, it’s inevitable; don’t try to install doors in open air.

It is the odd day that someone isn’t criticized for their beliefs,  It seems a past time to criticize others, and most of us have been hurt deeply by that criticism.  And perhaps as often, we have struck back hurting others as we’ve been criticized.  Either hitting our target, the one who attacked us or striking some innocent person who walked into range at just the wrong time.

This is true in the secular world, and it is as true in the world of religion.

It is hard to allow people to strike us, without striking out in self-defense. It is hard to take the abuse and not be hurt.

Such oppression dealt with in a manner like Jesus’ dealing with his accusers, or dealt with as  St. Stephen did, can lead to reconciliation and community in ways we could never have imagined.

Yes, it takes great faith, an incredible level of trust in God.  That is the key.

Having thick skin isn’t the key.

Pretending the words don’t hurt isn’t the key. Neither is not taking it personally! When our beliefs and opinions are, well ours, we can’t just shake it off. To pretend we can is living a lie.

In order to survive our beliefs being criticized, in order to hear the words, apply what is true and beneficial, and not strike out, we need to do what St Stephen does, cry out to Jesus.  We need to keep focused on our target, Jesus. To not deviate from our adoration of Him, our awe at the depth of His love for us,  I love the way St. Josemaria puts it, our head and heart intoxicated with God!  To make life centered on receiving that love, and returning it.  Living life in full view of it, and becoming the saints He has planned for us to be.

It is then that true constructive criticism (or that two lines out of a thousand) become something we are grateful for, as they help us draw closer to Jesus. And that which isn’t constructive, we ask that God forgive, that He handle, because He has the wisdom we don’t.

That kind of love, that kind of trust in God helps us to not just dismiss the evil we encounter, but sees GOd’s love overwhelm it.  Just as Paul, who wrote then incredible words in Romans quoted above, and witnessed Stephen pleading with God to be merciful with Paul.

May our cries for the Lord to have mercy, not only include us, but all, including our enemies and adversaries.

AMEN!

Escriva, Josemaria (2010-11-02). The Way (Kindle Locations 1602-1606). Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition.

When Is Enough… Enough!?

Devotional/Discussion Thought of the Day: The Pantheon, a place once dedicated to worship of idols and the sacrifice of innocents, but reborn to host the worship of God, to celebrate Christ's sacrifice  May our lives tell a similar story as we realize what God does to us in baptism!

38  “Here’s another old saying that deserves a second look: ‘Eye for eye, tooth for tooth.’ 39  Is that going to get us anywhere? Here’s what I propose: ‘Don’t hit back at all.’ If someone strikes you, stand there and take it. 40  If someone drags you into court and sues for the shirt off your back, giftwrap your best coat and make a present of it. 41  And if someone takes unfair advantage of you, use the occasion to practice the servant life. 42  No more tit-for-tat stuff. Live generously. 43  “You’re familiar with the old written law, ‘Love your friend,’ and its unwritten companion, ‘Hate your enemy.’ 44  I’m challenging that. I’m telling you to love your enemies. Let them bring out the best in you, not the worst. When someone gives you a hard time, respond with the energies of prayer,  Matthew 5:38-44 (MSG)

I look up to the mountains— does my help come from there? 2  My help comes from the LORD, who made heaven and earth! 3  He will not let you stumble; the one who watches over you will not slumber. 4  Indeed, he who watches over Israel never slumbers or sleeps. 5  The LORD himself watches over you! The LORD stands beside you as your protective shade. 6  The sun will not harm you by day, nor the moon at night. 7  The LORD keeps you from all harm and watches over your life. 8  The LORD keeps watch over you as you come and go, both now and forever.   Psalm 121:1-8 (NLT)

“Here am I Lord,  I’ve come to do Your will, Here am I Lord, In Your presence, I am still” (1) 

5 “Meditate on this slowly: I am asked for very little compared to how much I am being given.”  (2)

It is, I know personally, a struggle to deal with some people.

I witnessed it in the past few days, as several people I know were offended (not at the same time), and found myself extremely frustrated by the way I was treated. It literally took me a couple of hours, and some distraction to deal with my own frustration.  No, let me be honest, it wasn’t just frustration, there was some anger that was beginning to settle in and take residence in my heart.

The first reading, especially the italicized part, came to mind in the shower this morning.  Except in the older translations sense, this is the passage about “turning the other cheek”.  But I think Peterson does a good job in getting the heart of the matter.  I’ve heard a lot of people “explain” this passage, trying to get out of what we are called to do, trying to justify their own anger, or resentment.  We try to justify our thirst for revenge by saying we want to stop them from doing this to others. Or that Jesus couldn’t have had what this person did…

Skip past the second passage for a moment, it was part of my devotions this morning, as were the two short extra-biblical readings.  Look at them.

From the Celtic Prayer Book, we find the idea that serving God sometimes means standing still.  Psalm 46 comes to mind, but that to is written amidst a storm, against threats.  Written by one who was no stranger to war, and yet must trust God to deliver the stillness, to deliver the victory!  What a challenge when you know how to treat those who oppress and attack us.  Can I be still in those times?  Confident in God’s presence and His strength and His desire to work in my life?

Even as I read that, the next part of my devotions include this little passage by St. Josemaria.  And I think that I have done far worse to Jesus, and perhaps to others, than was said to me.   I think of the others I know, that I observed getting offended, Yeah – we, the offended, the oppressed are not innocent of similar offenses, we don’t have the right to cast the first stone, for the One who would crush us, died for us instead. That puts things into better perspective, as I realize how blessed we are, how the times we’ve offended people were paid for, as Christ proved the depth of God’s love for us by coming and living among us, by dying, by rising, by ascending and He still is there, at the right hand of God the Father, interceding for us.

His ministry to us, through us, isn’t over, until the last sinner/saint has come home.

That is where the second reading, my psalm of the day comes into this discussion.  Do I trust God at these words? Do I know my help is coming from on high?  Do I realize that He doesn’t sleep, Do I realize that what happens to me will work out for good somehow, for this is His promise.  The promise of the crucified Lord.  The promise of God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit?

In the words of a man who needed to know God’s deliverance….

Yes, I believe, Lord help me believe.

A form of a heart depth’s cry for the Lord’s compassion…. and the hope, the expectation that we will know it.  AMEN

 

(1)  Meditations for day 17, Celtic Daily Prayer 

(2)Escriva, Josemaria (2011-01-31). Furrow (Kindle Locations 261-262). Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition.

My Faith, One Step Forward, Two Steps…?

6:11 But you, Timothy, are a man of God; so run from all these evil things. Pursue righteousness and a godly life, along with faith, love, perseverance, and gentleness. 12 Fight the good fight for the true faith. Hold tightly to the eternal life to which God has called you, which you have confessed so well before many witnesses. 1 Timothy 6:11-12 (NLT) 

There are days where being a believer is a fight, where it is just a struggle.  There is a “fight” against the world, and its pressures, and seduction and mocking criticism.  There can be a “fight” within the church, as we interact closely with others who are dealing with the paradox of being forgiven sinners.  ( if they would only stop sinning, and also – don’t they understand they are supposed to forgive me?)  But the biggest struggle for me is not the external fights, it is the internal one.  The kind Paul describes himself going through in Romans 7 -the fight within me to pursue righteousness, to see mercy dominate, to keep in mind the struggle of this life pale in comparison to God’s presence now, and what He longs for, when we are all home in heaven.

After those days of internal fighting, I wonder about my faith.  Do I deserve to be called a “christian”, never mind deserving to serve as a pastor?  I comprehend all to well Paul’s word’s about not doing what I know I should, and doing that which I know I shouldn’t.  I want to beat myself into submission, I want to find a way to get rid of the sin, as Hebrews 12 urges us – setting it aside for that which I enjoy more………and just when I do, something comes up – and my cynical and sarcastic side takes over… again.

So how do we mature, how do we overcome in this struggle?

We strive, but not in our own strength – we begin to depend on the One who is our source of righteousness – who created the faith we have, and will perfect it.  We don’t give up, thinking there is not option to failure.  But we are reminded by that failure of our need to depend on Jesus. As one pastor/priest wrote:

“You are not getting worse. It is just that now you have more light to see yourself as you really are. You must avoid even the slightest hint of discouragement.

Along the way to personal sanctity we can at times get the impression that we are going backwards instead of forwards, that we are getting worse instead of better. As long as there is interior struggle this pessimistic thought is only an illusion, a deception to be rejected as false. Persevere and don’t worry. If you fight with tenacity you are making progress and are growing in sanctity.” (1)

If our “fight” is to grasp more onto Christ, it makes sense that we will see that which would pull us away more clearly, that we would feel the drag on us more acutely, that we would learn the hard way, that trying to make progress is effective as we depend on Jesus, His love, His mercy, His guidance, His presence, more and more and more.   That Godly life can only be learned from within the Kingdom of God, the place where we have belonged since our first day, when God cleansed us in baptism.  When He took hold of us.

Hold on, don’t be distracted or drained by the currents of life, for know that He has a hold of you as well, as nothing can separate you from His love.

 

 

(1)Escriva, Josemaria (2011-01-31). The Forge (Kindle Locations 957-964). Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition.

 

 

 

 

One holy, catholic and apostolic church…how?

Devotional thought of the day:
It is a line from our creeds, “I believe in one, holy, catholic and apostolic church.”  Many believers – even a majority say such a phrase at least once a week, as we are gathered together by God, in His presence, in His Name.

Yet do we desire that which we state we believe in, that which the Holy Spirit creates as He calls and gathers us and sets us apart as His people.  For the church is simply that – in Greek – “the called”, or “the chosen”.    And many of us desire that the church be one, whether it is the church across the world and across all denominational boundaries, the church as in our particular denomination/synod/sect, or whether it is the church as in our own local expression of the church – the congregation – those gathered together in one place, where God put His name – so they can pray and know they are forgiven, and that those who don’t know God can pray, and they can know He is.

When the creed was composed, the idea of “one church” was obvious – both the word “one” and the word “catholic” testify to the church. But our forefathers in the faith were quite wise in adding the other words, “holy” and “apostolic”.  For there we find some of the things which express our unity together.

Holy is much misunderstood these days – as if someone who is “holy” is a goody-two shoes, the person who never makes an error in morality, never doubts, always is serving others – an ideal saint.  But if you look in history, saints were pedestal people  (well – except for the Stylites…but that’s another story) They were common people often, who had to deal with anxieties, who had to deal with family issues, and financial struggles, who were challenged by their governments, and somehow – realize that the answer was not within themselves, but found in realizing that God was God, and God loved them.  Their trust in God and HIs promises, was the the foundation of their strength, they would become attune to the direction of God, and while they would still sin like the rest of us, they could be assured that even there God was working.

The work of making them holy – wasn’t their discipline, it was and is the Spirit working in them, sanctifying them – making them saints.  Setting them apart for God’s work, no matter whether the work is baking bread (like the lay-brother who wrote “practicing the presence of God – or the new baker whose work with provide for and subsidize a new seminary in the Sudan) or whether it is preaching and leading others deeper into dependence on God as priests and pastors and missionaries and Sunday School teachers.

And that brings us to the other word – we are an apostolic gathering of people. The question I’ve asked – is tha apostolic as in hearing the apostles teaching, or is it apostolic as in the idea that we – like the many people talked about as apostles in the New Testament (besides the 12 ) are sent into the word, to reflect the glory of God, and be His ambassadors to bring hope to the world.  I tend to think it is both, but more the latter.  And that is where the church is seen by the world, as it brings hope for healing -healing of relationships, healing from the damage of sin, healing of families, as we realize that Christ is healing us.

one, holy, catholic, and apostolic church – the body of Christ that is set apart to be salt and light in the world.

When you see it occur, you know it, and it is truly amazing….. God’s people, knowing the glory of His love and mercy and peace… and their reflection of that – drawing people into that very glory.

May we cry, “Lord have mercy” and find that He has…together.

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