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A Lesson We Need to Learn. Church is not “Respectable”

closed eyed man holding his face using both of his hands

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The devotional thought of the day:

12 Jesus heard them and answered, “People who are well do not need a doctor, but only those who are sick. 13† Go and find out what is meant by the scripture that says: ‘It is kindness that I want, not animal sacrifices.’ I have not come to call respectable people, but outcasts.”  Matt 9:12-13 Good News Translation (TEV)

Neither illumination nor contemplation but rather spiritual attack (tentatio) concluded Luther’s engagement with scripture. For him, when the Holy Spirit breaks our reason and reveals to us the true intention of God’s word, we are not drawn into some sort of heavenly realm or closer contact to the divine by our effort. Instead, all hell breaks loose. The flesh, the world, the devil and any other anti-spiritual power attempt to wrest from the believer the comfort of God’s unconditional grace and mercy. No wonder the psalmist cried out for deliverance from his enemies in Psalm 119!

One of the most serious temptations that lead us to break our contact with the Lord is the feeling of defeat. Facing a combative faith by definition, the enemy under the disguise of an angel of light will sow the seeds of pessimism. No one can take up any fight if, from the outset, one does not fully trust in winning. Those who begin without trust have already lost half the battle.

People are meant to live in an ongoing conversation with God, speaking and being spoken to by him. God’s visits to Adam and Eve in the garden, Enoch’s walks with God, and the face-to-face conversations between Moses and Jehovah are all commonly regarded as highly exceptional moments in the religious history of humankind.
Aside from their obviously unique historical role, however, these moments are not meant to be exceptional at all. Rather they are examples of the normal human life God intended for us: God’s indwelling his people through personal presence and fellowship.

When 3 of my devotional readings go in a certain direction, it is not unusual.  When four do, when I see how they resonate,  the lesson just is about to burst forth, not from the readings, but through experience. So it is today;

I guess I will start with Luther’s thoughts, about this idea that the way we learn about God, is found in its last step in a fight, in the tension and battle that comes as all hell breaks loose, and Satan tries to wrest from us the comfort of the Holy Spirit, the comfort that is found in His cHesed, that incredible combination of love and mercy and peace that comprise what we call grace.

The fight is echoed in the words of Pope Francis, as we deal with an unnatural pessimism, a moment of despair and depression that is not like normal depression but is contrary to it.  As Satan tries to convince us that God wouldn’t care about us, that God sees us as riff-raff, as not worth His time or interest.  We know this is not true, yet, it is so hard to shut out the voice of the ones who are masquerading as messengers of God.

It is hard because we struggle to see ourselves as God does, as the beautiful, pure, bride, set apart as the bride of Christ, as one who deserves the respect and admiration of God.  Instead, we see ourselves as those who are broken, not worthy of a glance, nothing close to deserving respect.

Yet we often treat the church as if it is the place we have to demonstrate how respectable we are.  We might pretend, dressing us, smiling and saying we are okay when people ask, smiling and greeting each other as if every day was a party.  When what we really feel like is staying home, hiding under the blankets and ignoring the world.

I think this is enhanced by how we see what some call the heroes of faith, the incredible men and women we see described in the Bible. Except we forget that Moses was running from Egypt, a prince hiding out with sheep in the wilderness.  That Abraham was an exile looking for his home and future as well, that David wasn’t the hero, but the man broken by his sin, and then by the sins of his children.

As shattered as we are, yet…

Willard reminds us that they are examples of a normal human life and that God was present, and lived with them.   That God walked with them in their brokenness, even as He walks with us.   They are not exceptional, their walking with God, finding hope there, is our example, for we can as well.

After all, Jesus didn’t come to snob around with the perfect and respectful.  He came to draw outcasts, broken folk, exiles and those who struggle to get out of bed every morning.  Because He loves us…..

And Satan will unleash all of hell to stop us from experiencing this, and in that tension, we find God’s comfort, that He is our refuge, our sanctuary, and our hope.

We are His people, He is our God… and He is calling us to His side, so He can comfort and heal us, the children He loves.

Let us pray,  Heavenly Father, in the midst of trials, in the midst of brokenness, and when it seems all hell is breaking loose.  Help us to see Your glory, revealed in Your love and your comfort.  AMEN!

Wengert, T. J. (2007). Preface. In P. D. W. Krey, B. McGinn, & P. D. S. Krey (Eds.), P. D. S. Krey & P. D. W. Krey (Trans.), Luther’s Spirituality (p. xiv). New York; Mahwah, NJ: Paulist Press.
Pope Francis. (2013). A Year with Pope Francis: Daily Reflections from His Writings. (A. Rossa, Ed.) (p. 352). New York; Mahwah, NJ; Toronto, ON: Paulist Press; Novalis.

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

The Broken’s Feast

10649504_10152396630845878_3341349315020260479_nDevotional Thought of the day:

Elijah was afraid and fled for his life. He went to Beersheba, a town in Judah, and he left his servant there. 4 Then he went on alone into the wilderness, traveling all day. He sat down under a solitary broom tree and prayed that he might die. “I have had enough, LORD,” he said. “Take my life, for I am no better than my ancestors who have already died.”
5 Then he lay down and slept under the broom tree. But as he was sleeping, an angel touched him and told him, “Get up and eat!” 6 He looked around and there beside his head was some bread baked on hot stones and a jar of water! So he ate and drank and lay down again.  1 Kings 19:3-5

Therefore St. Bonaventure says that sinners must not keep away from Communion because they have been sinners; on the contrary, for this very reason they ought to receive it more frequently; because “the more infirm a person feels himself, the more he is in want of a physician.”

880    Don’t let your defects and imperfections nor even your more serious falls, take you away from God. A weak child, if he is wise, tries to keep near his Father.

There he was. seemingly victorious, and yet, he was devastated. He longed to die and saw no hope in continuing to live. He wasn’t suicidal, but he was so broken he couldn’t go on anymore. He was overwhelmed by sin, his own and that which he observed.

Even though I am a simple pastor, I’ve seen that frustration in lay people and pastors, as despair and frustration just tire us out so much we cannot even see the progress we have made. If I am honest, I’ve felt that way more than once.

Instinct in those times drives us toward isolation, but there is no solace there.  In fact, isolation only leaves us more time to contemplate our despair, to feel more overwhelmed, more alone, more… abandoned…not just broken, but shattered.

And Hungry…

Elijah wakes up to a meal prepared for him, a meal prepared by one sent by God to encourage him, to lift him up, to restore his vitality so he can journey a little farther down the road.  Eventually the journey, through storm and fire, through his spiritual and mental fatigue will bring him to the place where he will hear God. Where Elijah will be ready to hear God.

For me, in those moments of brokenness, my one lifeline is being cared for and fed by God.  It is as Bonaventure notes, it is in these times we need to receive it more frequently.  It is the feast set out for those who are broken and weary. Not just bread from angels, but the Body and Blood of Christ Jesus.  The feast where He gives us His own body and blood.

It is our feast.

The feast for the Broken

A time when I can realize God is restoring what is broken, where He heals that which has been ravaged by sin.  A time just like Elijah, yet shared with friends and the family of God.  A time of great peace, and healing, and rest.

As I still have moments where brokenness is profound, where I still want to run away, where I wonder if my life will ever bee less broken and make a difference, I have learned something.  To wait it out, to look forward to the next time we gather together and are provided bread from heaven.

The nourishment we need for the journey, the blessed feast for those of us broken and shattered.

This feast, whether we call it communion, the Lord’s Supper, or the Eucharist, it is the feast for the broken, the turning point where we find such grace and peace that the journey itself changes.  He will provide it, and the Spirit will draw us to it.

This is the hope we need, this is what will satisfy our hunger.

 

De Liguori, A. (1887). The Holy Eucharist. (E. Grimm, Ed.) (pp. 224–225). New York; London; Dublin; Cincinnati; St. Louis: Benziger Brothers; R. Washbourne; M. H. Gill & Son.

Escriva, Josemaria. The Way (Kindle Locations 2025-2027). Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition.

Discouragement, Weariness, and Walking with Jesus

Devotional Thought of the Day:
19  What actually took place is this: I tried keeping rules and working my head off to please God, and it didn’t work. So I quit being a “law man” so that I could be God’s man. 20  Christ’s life showed me how, and enabled me to do it. I identified myself completely with him. Indeed, I have been crucified with Christ. My ego is no longer central. It is no longer important that I appear righteous before you or have your good opinion, and I am no longer driven to impress God. Christ lives in me. The life you see me living is not “mine,” but it is lived by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.    Galatians 2:19-20 (MSG)

“We are children of God, bearers of the only flame that can light up the paths of the earth for souls, of the only brightness which can be never be darkened, dimmed or overshadowed” (1). Responding to our divine vocation demands a constant warfare. Our fight is not a noisy one as it takes place on the battlefield of our ordinary life, for to be “a saint (…) doesn’t mean doing strange things. It means a daily struggle in the interior life and heroically fulfilling your duty right through to the end” (60). We must accept that there will be defeats in this interior fight, and we may be threatened with the danger of discouragement. That is why the Founder of Opus Dei constantly instilled in souls that cry of Possumus!—”We can!”—of the sons of Zebedee.6 It is not a cry that arise from the presumption but from a humble trust in God’s Omnipotence.

There seems to be today a resurgence in the concept of the superhero.  People who take on great odds, and despite fighting in themselves a war, work for righteousness  There’s the movies, of Captain America, Iron man, Thor and their crew.  There is always the Star Wars and Batman and Superman.   There are now television shows that link the Flash and what has become a favorite, the Arrow.

It thinks they are becoming popular for the same reason their comic books became popular after World War II.  In times of great stress, if we can’t be the heroes, we need someone to inspire us, to assure us, to help us know the heroic is possible. In a recent episode I watch, the hero was away, and it was left to the non-super heroes to save the day. But there were interesting discussions about how to survive when the hero wasn’t there to inspire.

As believers, we want to  be heroic.  Most of us probably not the martyr for the faith type heroism, but the kind that lives the kind of life that a Christian should live.  We want to be good people, those who are respected for their moral character, and their love for their family and maybe even community.  We might not desire true holiness, but we want to be better than the evil world out there.

In the process we don’t like the struggle, we don’t like what St Josemaria calls being “threatened with discouragement.”  It means accepting their will be defeated, but never using that as an excuse.  Defeats where sin and temptation get the best of us, where anxiety overwhelms us.  We don’t want others to know of these struggles, because if they did, our illusion of righteousness might fail us.

Paul knew this failure well; I love the simplistic nature of Peterson’s The Message as it translates here the struggle.I tried keeping rules and working my head off to please God, and it didn’t work.

That would be most of us, and often as we get more tired, beyond just normal weary, the harder it is not to fall into that trap. The harder it is not to presumptuous about succeeding on our own strength.  Our ego calls us to “get er done”, and we push a little more, go out on the edge a little more,

We don’t even have the wisdom, reason or strength to know when we approach the point of burn out; so how can we avoid it?  We can’t – and Paul’s epistle explains it.  We don’t have to prove Christ lives in us, we just have to trust Him, We have to identify with Him, really to recognize that He identified us as His. He provides the strength, the ability, the power to serve, and His presence, so clear that we trust Him.  It knows His presence, His omnipotent presence that allows us to have the humility we need.  It is crying out, Lord, help, have mercy, save me, that sees Him answer.

That is where the secret of holiness lies, not in the outward acts that reveal it, but in the discouragement and weariness, where the only option left is to rely on Jesus.  Can we bear our cross and walk with Jesus?

Yes, because we are walking with Jesus.

Whether you are weary or energetic, may you have the humility to know Him, and the power of His resurrection, and the love and peace in which you life, for you life in Christ.

AMEN.

Escriva, Josemaria (2011-01-31). The Forge (Kindle Locations 154-162). Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition.

Why Being Spiritually or Emotionally Weary Isn’t a Bad Thing.

The Good Shepherd, carrying His own.

The Good Shepherd, Carrying His Own….

Devotional and Discussion Thought of the Day:

8  GOD also says: “When the time’s ripe, I answer you. When victory’s due, I help you. I form you and use you to reconnect the people with me, To put the land in order, to resettle families on the ruined properties. 9  I tell prisoners, ‘Come on out. You’re free!’ and those huddled in fear, ‘It’s all right. It’s safe now.’ There’ll be foodstands along all the roads, picnics on all the hills— 10  Nobody hungry, nobody thirsty, shade from the sun, shelter from the wind, For the Compassionate One guides them, takes them to the best springs. Isaiah 49:8-10 (MSG)

“And I have grown weary of Christ’s words not to worry about tomorrow.  But in His grace I have surrendered to God’s sovereignty and His providence, and it has made me free! (emphasis mine)  (1)

778         “I know some men and women who don’t even have the strength to ask for help”, you tell me with sorrow and disappointment. Don’t leave them in the lurch. Your desire to save yourself and them can be the starting point for their conversion. Furthermore, if you think about it carefully you will realise that someone also had to lend you a hand.  (2)

I came across the quote above in green this morning, and it resonated with me.  It was in a devotion extolling poverty, nor because of the suffering it causes, but because of the clarity it gives, the dependence we need to have on God.  It actually made begging sound like a deeply spiritual experience, one leaving us in awe.

I understand to an extent. Though not financially, I’ve spent most of the last year emotionally drained, impoverished you might say. Too much grief, my own and the grief that is shared among friends and church family.  We’ve dealt with a lot of illness, too much death, too many people dealing with too many family troubles, financial problems, burdens for others.  In the midst of it, I understand the joy of knowing God has provided , I can see hat He has done, how He has sustained, how He will continue to work through it all.   I understand that cry of the beggar when he says he’s grown weary of those words of Jesus, the ones that encourage our trust and dependence on Him.

I almost feel like I am one of those Josemaria talks about, the ones who don’t have the strength to ask for help.  Or definitely in the group in Romans, where I have to depend on the Holy Spirit to “translate” some of my prayers, because I am not sure how to pray.

That doesn’t mean I don’t trust in God anymore, I do. Matter of fact, perhaps more than I have ever before.

Because He is there in such times, I have seen it,  Isaiah’s words are dead on accurate.   I know it better than ever. Because He has answered, He continues to form me, He continues to use me to reconnect people to Him.  He does walk us through the valley of the shadow of death.

The writer of the prayer in the Celtic Book of Prayer was right, by grace we surrender to God’s Sovereignty  and Providence.  Big “churchy terms” that need to be broken down, that we need to understand.  Simply put, we know that He is here, that our Master is in charge, that He will care and provide for us.  He will see us through the storms, for sure.  He will also see us through the times after the storms.   The times when the weariness sets in, when we catch our breath and realize how drained we are.  So drained we can’t cry out, we don’t know what to say, we don’t even know if we are where we should be anymore.

We simply need to remember God’s promise.  That He is here… that He will handle it, that He will provide.

These times, they aren’t the worst of times, they are among the most spiritual… for we realize how dependent we are, and can be, on our God.

 

 

 

 

(1)  Celtic Daily Prayer – Meditations day 30

(2)  Escriva, Josemaria (2011-01-31). Furrow (Kindle Locations 3222-3225). Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition.

 

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