Treasuring God’s Gifts:
Results in Living Content with What He Provides!
Exodus 20:17, Eph 2;!0
† IHS †
My friends, my desire for us for this Lenten Season is this, that from us is removed all that hides that we are the Masterpiece of Christ. For that is what God’s grace and mercy does, leaving us in His peace.
From now until Easter Sunday morning, we find ourselves in the time of the year know as Lent. Some think it is a time to sacrifice, to give up something, to embrace some suffering, and doing without, to help us realize what it costs to give up pleasure, to suffer. So they give up candy, or caffeine, or some have even suggested giving up all things electronic!
As I look at it, its not about sacrificing that which is good, or even that which we treasure in order to suffer. It’s about seeing our idols sacrificed, the things we give control over our lives, a time of testing them. Because if it is a god, it can be killed off and rise again, without our help, without our desire.
Lent is about purifying ourselves from our self-centeredness, not because we have to, but because we know these things have power over us, they take our attention off of God. In doing so, they rob us of remembering God’s grace, of remembering our access of Him.
As we journey through this particular year of Lent, it is going to be a journey where we begin to treasure God’s gifts to us more, to treasure the promises, and the life He has created us to live, the work of our lives that with Him are glorious.
The works that sin would mar, that self-centeredness would hide from us…
That is why we hear in Luke, that the life God commissions for us, the masterpiece He’s designed can be summarized in two statements.
Love those He brings into our lives.
All of them.
We are going to look at the 10 commandments, in a way that we don’t often talk about them. To see them as God’s blessing of our lives, as the Old Testament version of the Beatitudes. We are going through them backward, seeing them confront our lives, not to condemn or judge us, but to free us, in order to love each other, in order to love each other, and those who so desperately need the freedom we rejoice in.
So let’s get at it.
The Challenge of Contentment
In the ninth and tenth commandment, the issue is described as not coveting, not desiring that which others have been given, the blessings and curses with which they have to live. That’s one of the odder things, we often desire what those who have them consider great burdens!
The opposite of coveting, of desiring what others have, is knowing contentment.
Be satisfied with what you have, not letting some thing or someone so consume you, that your thoughts are consumed, and eventually your heart and mind by possessing it, by getting their affection. To believe that your life will only complete if you get that car, or can live in that kind of house, or get that next promotion, or if can have a relationship like the ones you have with others. Or simply have their life, or their health.
Contentment, a hard thing to have, its completely contrary to the environment we live in, that we’ve been raised in. Today it might be having the Benz, or the BMW, or going to that school, or on that vacation, or having a spouse that looks like, acts like, etc.
The Real Challenge – Will We Trust God Completely?
Do We Believe His promise?
As we will see with every single commandment, there is a challenge that is far deeper than the challenge we see. The “rules”, the shall nots and shalls, are often misunderstood as regulations, even as we often see religion and relationship with God somehow divided.
But the basis of the commandments, or the Decalogue as it used to be called, is not a list of impossible commands, it is the life that God described through the apostle Paul.
For we are God’s masterpiece. He has created us anew in Christ Jesus, so we can do the good things he planned for us long ago!
The commandments, the Decalogue is about trusting God has made our lives into that masterpiece, into something where we can do the good things that He has planned, to live our lives in His presence, to love Him with all we are, and to love those around us fully, and with abandon.
TO live content is nothing less, than to see God’s blessing of each of us, and to realize He knows what He is doing. That if one person has more, or less, then God has given them a burden. It is there in contentment we find the healing that comes when we give up the desires that dominate and oppress us. The desires that somehow turn into what we deserve, what we have a right too, will slowly disappear as we see Christ, and the cross, and His gifts to us.
Contentment is about trusting God’s wisdom, trusting what He given us, from our talents and abilities, to the blessings of our homes and all in them, to the blessings of the relationships He has called us into, professionally, our family and friends, even our romantic relationships.
As we realize these treasures, given to us by the One we treasure above all, we find ourselves trying to help others realize how they are blessed, more than we chase what they have. More than we let desire consume us, we can help them, and they us, enjoy our blessings, the different things God gives us.
You see, the masterpiece God has commissioned, like a rich person commissioning an sculpture, or a painting, or a musical, is not about restricting us from fun, or living the good life. These commandments are about living a full and abundant life.
Lent is realizing that we need His presence to live this way, to have Him fix the times we fail to, to bring healing to the times we ignore His presence.
We can’t live this way, without Him, we don’t have the strength, or the power, or the ability to. But as we journey to the cross, as we realize His care and His design, and His desire to see us this way….
We find ourselves treasuring His ways, because we treasure Him. Because we know His love, and His work transforming us, and we trust Him because of it.
and there we find peace….
Let us pray..
Devtional THought of the Day:
2 Do not conform yourselves to the standards of this world, but let God transform you inwardly by a complete change of your mind. Then you will be able to know the will of God—what is good and is pleasing to him and is perfect. Romans 12:2 (TEV)
2 May your behavior and your conversation be such that everyone who sees or hears you can say: This man reads the life of Jesus Christ.
This morning, I found out a good friend of mine is going to be experiencing a massive change this summer, as he returns to the U.S.A from the mission field. His children were born on the field, all they know is living in Asia. It will be a massive challenge to readjust to life here.. Another friend, a Catholic priest, will be also changing parishes, leaving behind people he loves, and taking on some challening responsibilities. Many I know are going through changes of life, as they get older, as they are married, as they leave school and enter the workforce. The change that happens as health crisis threaten.
Change – it is challenging, it is frieghtening, it is ocverwhelming, and based on a lot of experience, it often simply, sucks.
Maybe that is why Lent is such a challenge for us. Because of the changes that we will undergo as we consider our lives. I am not talking about giving up chocolate, or not eating meat on Friday, or of committing to do a good thing every day. These actions, taken with great sincerity, are simply symbolic of what we hope and fear to see coming out of a Lenten season, our of a life that is, to use a fancy church word penitnent. (More than just being sorry, but grieving over sin and the brokenness it causes.
Lent is a season of change. A season of transformation, a season of realizing our desperate, yes desperate need for the presence of God in our lives. For Him to come into our life, into our brokenness, into the deepest parts of our lives. The parts we would rather not face, the pasts we are scared to revisit, He comes there, and takes on the sin, the pain, the brokennes. He consumes it, there on the cross where it is with Him. This is a change as fierce, as daunting, as radical as anything we can undergo in life. For it is death for that part of us, the part we cannot cope with, the burdens we need to be freed from, for they crush the life out of us.
It could be said that this process of facing our brokennes is hard, is extreme, is a process of change that goes beyond our ability to bear. For we have to die to self, and trust that we will coem alive in Christ. It is a re-living of our baptism, for it happened there as well. Unting with the death of Christ………the strkness, the cruelty of the cross.
Yet, on the otherside, there is light and peace… and joy.
For there is God, there is Christ, there is the gift fo the Holy Spirit who walks us through this valley of the shadow of death, to celebrate Christ’s feast.
That is our journey of lent, our journey that changes us, as we walk with Jesus to the cross, and to the resurrection.
May you embrace the change this year, knowing God’s mercy, and allowing Him to clean out the places in your life where you fear to go.
Escriva, Josemaria (2010-11-02). The Way (Kindle Locations 174-175). Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition.
Devotional Thought of the Day:
10 I want to know Christ and experience the mighty power that raised him from the dead. I want to suffer with him, sharing in his death, 11 so that one way or another I will experience the resurrection from the dead! 12 I don’t mean to say that I have already achieved these things or that I have already reached perfection. But I press on to possess that perfection for which Christ Jesus first possessed me. 13 No, dear brothers and sisters, I have not achieved it, but I focus on this one thing: Forgetting the past and looking forward to what lies ahead, 14 I press on to reach the end of the race and receive the heavenly prize for which God, through Christ Jesus, is calling us. Philippians 3:10-14 (NLT)
1033 Make those reflections of your friend your own. He wrote: “I was considering how good God was to me and, full of interior joy, I was ready to shout out loud, there in the street, for everyone to know about my filial gratitude: ‘Father! Father!’ And though not in fact shouting out loud, I kept calling him so—‘Father!’—in a low voice, many times, quite certain that it pleased him. I seek nothing else. I only want to please him and give him Glory. Everything for him. If I desire my salvation and my sanctification it is because I know that he desires it. If in my Christian life I hunger for souls, it is because I know that he has this great hunger. I say this in all truth: I will never set my sights on the prize. I don’t desire a reward: everything for Love!” (1)
As I was completing my devotions this morning, I came across the quote above my St. Josemaria Esciva, one of my favorite writers. My reaction to it, as I was reading it, was “WOW” – this is powerful stuff. And then I got to the last two sentences and was jarred a bit. Okay, more than a bit.
It seems to clash with the Bible passage above, one of my favorites since I could actually run long distances, back in high school and college.
I don’t set my eyes on the prize, or I do? Scripture should win this, the imitation of St/ Paul, an apostle and the author of scripture. RIght?
But what if the prize that Josemaria is speaking of is different than the one St. Paul is speaking of?
I’ve done enough funerals in my life to know that people have all sorts of interesting images of heaven. Most of which have nothing to do with what scripture teaches. A place of no more sorrow and tears for sure, but the idea of our sitting on the porch of our heavely mansions, sipping tea, or getting our wings fitted so we can play in the clouds, those ideas and many others don’t come from scripture. The peaceful, idealized version of heaven is not the prize we seek.
For Paul, and I believe Josemaria, and I pray for me, that the prize is simply knowing Jesus, to realize He is calling us into a relationship with God our Father. To enter into and bear witness to the glory and majesty of God which is seen so clearly in the depth of His love for us. To build up a level of faith, a level of trust in God that Josemaria describes so well. Where our desires become subject to His desires, because we realize the purity of His love. Where heaven is only a word that describes our cming into His presence. To have our trust in Him become such that His will becomes ours, where His righteousness is ours, where His mission, what Jesus was sent for, to seek and save the lost – is ours.
The prize that both seek is not heaven, it is the Lord of heaven.
It is not a reward for our work, but the reward already won, on a brutal cross.
Where communion with God is more than an event, it simply is life.
Lord have mercy on us, and show us your glory!
(1) Escriva, Josemaria (2011-01-31). The Forge (Kindle Locations 3650-3656). Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition.
2 Peter 1:16-21
† In Jesus Name †
May you know the height, the depth, the width and breadth of God the Father’s love for you, as we see it revealed in our Lord Jesus Christ.
How do we see scriptures?
Maybe I am just projecting my own personality onto Peter, but I think he must have had the hearing of a typical guy, somewhere from age of 4 until the age of 94. In other words, he probably had that dreaded disorder called “selective hearing”, especially at church.
Well, it’s not completely based on my own experience, but on his words in the epistle, look at verse 19.
19 Because of that experience, we have even greater confidence in the message proclaimed by the prophets. You must pay close attention to what they wrote,
Maybe it is because I am cynical, but I see Peter, prior to the experience of the transfiguration, sitting in synagogue because his mom or wife is dragging him there. As the Rabbi is reading the Torah, or Isaiah, he’s thinking about where he will fish this week, about the taxes he has to pay, about the challenges he faces working with his dad…who happens to be sleeping two pews back…
Let’s be honest, there are times in our lives where the Old Testament scriptures, and sometimes the New Testament scriptures don’t seem as important to us as who will win the big game, or the struggles we face at work, or the challenges that affect those we love. We may have forgotten the wisdom of Leviticus last week already, the often repeated phrase in the midst of the commandments,
I am Yahweh, your God.
Or we might have forgotten the phrase we learned back in January, “Alleluia, He is Risen!” (therefore I am risen indeed! Alleluia!)
Something happened to Peter, up on that mountain. That changed how he looked at scripture, how he felt about those boring Old Testament scriptures… so much so that he encourages us, begs us to pay close attention to them…..
I pray we shall, as we encounter the Christ they reveal to us.
Getting Peter’s attention…As we hear Peter tell of the event, we hear his passion well, how much this event, years later, changed him. It is one of the reasons why I love teaching people how to read scripture, and the bottom line is to read it like you would read to a young child. Let me read it again, but first, consider this.
Imagine someone coming up to you, Al, and asking that all the stories you told, about the joy of baptizing your granddaughter were really true? Or asking any of you ladies if your wedding really happened? Or some event that moved you more than anything else in your life, actually was that important. Now, as you think through that attitude – hear these words.
16 For we were not making up clever stories when we told you about the powerful coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. We saw his majestic splendor with our own eyes 17 when he received honor and glory from God the Father. The voice from the majestic glory of God said to him, “This is my dearly loved Son, who brings me great joy.”
I wouldn’t call it being defensive, perhaps Peter could be, but this is important to him, it is one of those events that you don’t forget, for God is revealed to you in all of His glory. As you realize, like Moses, David, Solomon, Elijah, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel and every other prophet, and yes, Peter, James and John that there it is a wondrous thing to be found in the presence of God, and to realize you are welcome there.
Instead of hearing a list of his sins, and the verdict of complete judgment, Peter hears God the Father’s voice, uttered from heaven, sharing about His love for His son……..
And completely foretold in the Old Testament.
Now God has Peter’s attention… but will He have ours?
Words shining in Darkness
So do we need a transfiguration event, an experience like Peter’s to help us take scripture, including the Old Testament writings more seriously? Do we need something to help us pay attention to all the promises of God’s love, to the promises of Jesus coming to deliver us, to carry us back into relationship with God our Father, the promises that God will never abandon us?
Or will Peter’s words, about these stories he tells, that are neither fables or myths be enough? I can point us to the transformation in Peter’s life, the repentance and humility that becomes so part of Paul’s life, the changes in people like King David’s life, the determined hope of Jeremiah?
What will it take for these stories to so impact us, that we can’t wait for Bible Study on Wednesday or church on Sunday, but that we desire and guard our time that we can spend as Paul encourages us; to pay close attention to what is written and proclaimed by the prophets?
Will it take a mountain top experience? I don’t think so, been on enough retreats to know the fervor fades, much as Moses face did coming off of Mt Sinai.
What about the other things Peter witnessed, the miracles, the great teaching, or the things he experienced, the walking on water, or looking into an empty grave?
What will help us see the these words in scripture as a lamp shining into the darkness
What would help us know these words, in order that we could bring light into our neighbor’s darkness? If not for our sake, for theirs, to see them transformed as we have been, as we are in our baptism, to see their joy as they come and celebrate God’s love at the altar, as we commune with the Body and Blood of Christ?
Peter’s answer was simple – the experience made him realize that the scripture was all about Christ’s light invading our darkness, about His coming, the incarnation, about God dwelling with us. When the Nunc Dimitis is SPOKEN by Simeon, he quotes the Old Testament about the light that shines for the darkness.
Similarly John takes up that theme…
14 The Word became flesh, he lived among us, and we saw his glory, the glory that he has from the Father as only Son of the Father, full of grace and truth. John 1:14 (NJB)
They saw His glory, His light invading the darkness. That is what makes the difference, and it is what we need to see, to really think through.
We say it sort of, when we ask how people who don’t know God’s love can survive in life. We realize something has happened to us, but do we realize how much?
Yes, and yet no,
We can’t , until we find ourselves before the throne of God,
Until that day…
Which is why we should pay close attention to scripture, to hear the promises, to see what eyewitness record, to see the lives that are changed because they walked with God, and the lives that were sustained, because they know God is there….
Put simply, the reason we read scripture is to know that our lives, as we walk through them with God, are transformed. That we walk with Jesus, that the Holy Spirit dwells in us, and we in Him. To know and be assured of the promises that spell out the depth of His love for those He calls to be His own. The very things that life tries to hide.
Those prophets, those writers tell us of His love, of His mercy, of His healing presence. That’s why Luther said he saw Jesus on every page of scripture, because that is who He was looking for there!
You see, that’s what devotional reading of scripture, and even serious study is about. To know as Paul tells it, of the incredible depth and height, the width and breadth of God’s love for us in Christ. It’s not about knowing the theology, its about knowing God.
It’s why it’s not fable or myth – it changes lives to know that love, to understand the promises, to get why this baptismal font and this altar and the words we say here matters.
It’s about God’s love – a love that can’t be stolen from you, a love that will see us to the day when we clearly see Him.
But until that day, of the promises you have been given, I end it with this one,
May you know you dwell in the presence and the peace of God our Father, a peace that can’t be put into words, but indeed a peace that holds us, comforts us, strengthens us, as our hearts and minds secure, for we abide in Christ Jesus our Lord. AMEN?
So pay close attention to those promises then!
Devotional THought of the Day: 1 God, hear my cry, listen to my prayer. 2 From the end of the earth I call to you with fainting heart. Lead me to the high rock that stands far out of my reach. 3 For you are my refuge, a strong tower against the enemy. 4 Let me stay in your tent for ever, taking refuge in the shelter of your wings! 5 For you, God, accept my vows, you grant me the heritage of those who fear your name. 6 Let the king live on and on, let his years continue age after age. 7 May his throne be always in God’s presence, your faithful love and constancy watch over him. 8 Then I shall always sing to your name, day after day fulfilling my vows. Psalm 61:1-8 (NJB)
1. A mighty Fortress is our God a trusty Shield and Weapon;He helps us free from every need that hath us now o’ertaken.The old evil Foe now means deadly woe,deep guile and great might are his dread arms in fight. On Earth is not his equal.
2. With might of ours can naught be done soon were our loss effected; But for us fights the Valiant One, Whom God Himself elected. Ask ye, Who is this? Jesus Christ it is.Of Sabaoth Lord, and there’s none other God; He holds the field forever.
3. Though devils all the world should fill, all eager to devour us.We tremble not, we fear no ill, They shall not overpower us.This world’s prince may still acowl fierce as he will, He can harm us none, He’s judged; the deed is done; One little word can fell him. (A Mighty Fortress is Our God: Martin Luther)
I wasn’t planning on writing about Spiritual Warfare again, about the church being under “attack” by society, until I looked at my devotional reading above this morning. Seems King David was no light weight when you consider the internal and external spiritual warfare he faced in life. THink of the time with Saul, where David’s music calmed his spirit. His sons who died, one because of David’s sin, one because of his own rebellion. The man was surrounded by enemies, yet so often, not did he just escape, but he triumphed.
Spiritual warfar is like learning the passive self defense styles like judo and akido. You want to ask the Master, “what do you mean I need to let him hit/kick/grab me before doing anything else?” “What do you mean that their attack is the beginning of their loss?” Except we take it one step further. A real victory for those who attack us, becomes something we rejoice in, in the same way we rejoice in our baseball team, (the World Champion Red Sox) getting the final out that leaves us victorious.
For their victory isn’t found in their triumping over us, but in Christ enveloping them in His love, in His crucifixion, and in the hope of the resurrection.
That is our goal something possible when we realize that if Christ is our Fortress, that if our trust is in Him, then they have to attack us on our ground. In the fortress where mercy prevails over unforgiveness, where righteousness triumphs over sin, where love overcomes all that is not loving. That when they come to fignt, condemn, mock us, that as we are confident in Christ’s presence, we can point to Him, not as judge, but as Deliverer.
It may be that we have to suffer some, in order to see this happen. It may be that our “rights” are taken away, it may be, as it is in many countries, that Christians will becoem martyrs, their lives given as a testimony to the love and mercy of Christ. It’s happened before, it is happening all around the world. Yet it is in those places, where the church/the faith is under true attack, that there are miracles of reconcilliation, or redemption, of repentance.
May we yearn for that, more than we yearn to prove ourselves, our culture, even our theology, “right”.
Lord have mercy, and help us look on our persecutors with mercy and love.
Devotional Thought of the Day:
10 Blessed are those who are persecuted in the cause of uprightness: the kingdom of Heaven is theirs. 11 ‘Blessed are you when people abuse you and persecute you and speak all kinds of calumny against you falsely on my account. 12 Rejoice and be glad, for your reward will be great in heaven; this is how they persecuted the prophets before you. Matthew 5:10-12 (NJB)
1026 Violent persecution had broken out. And that priest prayed: Jesus, may every sacrilegious fire increase in me the fire of Love and Reparation.
There are times I think, that the church in America has re-written the scripture passage above in their hearts. It goes something like this:
Blessed are those who avoid persecution or complain about it, for religious freedom will be theirs. Blessed are you when people abuse you and persecute you and speak bad about you, because you say you are a Christian, but refuse to love them, and sacrifice for those you consider evil and corrupt. Rejoice and be glad, for this is how the pharisees operated back in the day.
You may think that harsh, but while there are churches being burnt down with their parishoners inside, we claim the church in America is being persecuted. Why? Because our society doesn’t resemble us, and our nice fantasy that America is primarily a Chrisitan country is being dashed to pieces. And our reaction to our image being shattered? ”It’s persecution? Those people are evil! The church needs to stand up and fight for what is right! We’ve got to restore this country to greatness”
And in taking that attitude, we’ve lost something, we’ve lost the vision of the Savior who came to care for those broken, lost in darkness, We’ve lost the knowledge that spiritual warfare is about freeing those bound in sin and darkness, it is about delivering them into the presence of a God who completely loves them. It’s about giving all to minister to them, even dieing if necessary. It’s about not loving our own lives, so much that we wouldn’t die for the sake of the Lord we trust in, the Lord who called us into relationship with Him.
I love Josemaria’s words here, a man who struggled through civil war, where Chrsitians, laypeople and clergy were killed by both sides. Let the fires of persecution, the sacrileges committed as people are killed because of their faith – let those fires increase our fire, our zeal to love, our zeal to see reconciliation, our zeal to see the gospel free people from all that oppresses them, and open to them the power of God. For the more we see the brokenness of the world, the more we cry out for God to work, the more we depend on Him, the more we are spurred on to show the only hope that only God provides.
That’s why the church in places like the Sudan, in the Ukraine, in the Middle East, in so many dark places in the world grows rapidly, for it is the only place of hope. That is why scripture talks about turning the other cheek, and going beyond what is required by the law, but embracing suffering for the sake of those who are caught up in sin, for those dominated by evil. Because as they see us, they realize there is something different. We see it as Paul and his companions sing praises in Jail, or as saints throughout the ages bless their persecutors like Stephen did.
Don’t whine about perceived persecution. Stand firm in your witness to Christ – and love and work to reconcile them to God. For this is how Revelation describes us,
10 Then I heard a voice shout from heaven, ‘Salvation and power and empire for ever have been won by our God, and all authority for his Christ, now that the accuser, who accused our brothers day and night before our God, has been brought down. 11 They have triumphed over him by the blood of the Lamb and by the word to which they bore witness, because even in the face of death they did not cling to life. Revelation 12:10-11 (NJB)
Don’t fight the fire of persecution with counter attacks, but instead with the fire of God’s love.
Lord have mercy! God give us the strength to love our enemies, and to zealously pray for those who persecute us!
Escriva, Josemaria (2011-01-31). The Forge (Kindle Locations 3630-3631). Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition.
Devotional Thought of the Day:
Now if your experience of Christ’s encouragement and love means anything to you, if you have known something of the fellowship of his Spirit, and all that it means in kindness and deep sympathy, do make my best hope for you come true! Live together in harmony, live together in love, as though you had only one mind and one spirit between you. Never act from motives of rivalry or personal vanity, but in humility think more of each other than you do of yourselves. None of you should think only of his own affairs, but should learn to see things from other people’s point of view. Let Christ himself be your example as to what your attitude should be. For he, who had always been God by nature, did not cling to his prerogatives as God’s equal, but stripped himself of all privilege by consenting to be a slave by nature and being born as mortal man. And, having become man, he humbled himself by living a life of utter obedience, even to the extent of dying, and the death he died was the death of a common criminal. Phillipians 2:1- 6ish ( Phillips New Testament)
“In solitude we can come to the realization that we are not driven together, but brought together. In solitude we come to know our fellow human beings not just as partners who can satisfy our deepent needs, but as brothers and sisters with whom we are called to give visibility to God’s all-embracing love. In solitude we discover that community is not in common ideology, but a response to a common call. In solitude we indeed realize that community is not made, but given. (1)
I have slowly been working through a document assigned to me, about my role within the church at large. I have struggled with it, because it finds “hope” for the church, not within the body of Christ itself, but within the leadership of the church. I don’t think so, matter of fact, I know from 15 years of pastoral ministry, and almost that long in management, it doesn’t work that way. It instead. Deacons, Pastors, Priests, Bishops, are not that which around the church grows, even if we are often a focal point during a worship service.
The identity of the Church, whether in a congregational form, or in the sense of the Church being all believers throughout the world and time (what some theologians call the invisible church) is not based in its leadership. It is based in Christ, and in His love and mercy. It is found when people are brought together in the love of Christ, and begin experiencing that love from others. It requires patience, as we grow in love, and the side effect of that is growing in knowledge. Let me make this clear – it is not growing people primarily theologically that is the mission of the church, it is growing people int heir trust of God, in their desire to receive His love, which results in them loving their neighbor. Theology may help in this endeavor, but it will not, cannot replace that which the church should be.
Let me give two examples. You can have the proper view of the Lord’s Supper, You can define it as well as Chemnitz, be able to receite Acquinas and Abelard and every theological nuance about it. But if that is what is going through your mind as you kneel at the altar rail, you have missed something. The words Luther found so necessary to know, given/shed for you. I’ve seen guys who were gang members, and little children be able to know that, to cry with tears of “for me? Really”, to tears of purest joy as they partake. That is the church.
Another example. A little less than a month ago, my wife gave me the news that she was pregnant. At our age, we were concerned and ask people to pray, and many did. On Tuesday, we were told that Kay had miscarried, something we suspected…yet prayed wasn’t true. It’s hard to even type these words. But the church, the church as the entity of the body of believers are coming through. Many expressions of their sorrow with us, but even more, the words that sound so powerfully into my heart. ”praying for you”.
Praying for you.
Only two people tried to come up with some kind of theory that they thought would relieve our pain, or make it less. Those explanations didn’t make it less. But over 100 people acknowledged the loss, the lack of words, gathered us up and brought our pain before God, knowing no other words would offer us help. That’s not top-down church. That’s not the owrk of just one congregation, for there were Lutherans, Catholics, a Methodist. Young and old, Clergy and laity,. Ministering to my wife and I, in a way that made sense. That’s just the church, the people of God, having the mindset of Christ. They know His love, and know that in times like this, that is what will sustain us. That’s the church. That is the church who will love those around them, even as Christ does. That’s the church that will reach out to those that are broken, and minister to them, doing whatever it takes, for the broken come first.
The church, gathered, brought together to be in Christ, is something wonderful to behold. But it is not something that can be driven, It is something that is generated and kindled by God’s love. Can a leader set the example? Yes, but he cannot demand those who follow to toe the line, or force Christ-likedness.
Lord Have mercy on us!
(1) Hendri Nouwen, from Clowning in Rome (as cited in Celtic Daily Prayer, Aiden Readings 2/27)
Devotional Comment of the Day:
1 One night as I lay in bed, I yearned for my lover. I yearned for him, but he did not come. 2 So I said to myself, “I will get up and roam the city, searching in all its streets and squares. I will search for the one I love.” So I searched everywhere but did not find him. 3 The watchmen stopped me as they made their rounds, and I asked, “Have you seen the one I love?” 4 Then scarcely had I left them when I found my love! I caught and held him tightly. Song of Songs 3:1-4 (NLT)
“1030 My God, when will I love you for yourself? Although when we think about it, Lord, to desire an everlasting reward is to desire you, for you give yourself as our reward.
1031 Taste and see that the Lord is good, the Psalmist says. Spiritual conquest, which is Love, has to be—in big things and small—a desire for the Infinite, for eternity”.(1)
If you gather ten average men together, they will talk about the desires they have for their baseball or football teams. They will do so with great energy, with a competitive fever, and with an incredible level of enthusiasm. You will have great trouble changing the subject. A similar group of men will wax eloquent about their cars, and the experience driving them, or the cars they dream of driving. ( My preference – just one of two cars from 1970-71 – the Triumph Spitfire or Datsun 240z)
But change the subject and ask them to talk about the passion and admiration they have for their wives, how thye adore them and value them, and they clam up. ABout the only thing they will discuss with less emotion is their faith.
And that is a problem.
A serious problem.
There are even books out there advising pastors to not talk about God and our relationship with Him, for it will drive men away. Tenderness, compassion, caring, deep love, these are words that we are told we cannot continue to use, for men will turn off their minds, and stop listening to the sermon, or the lesson. Talk about the logic of Christianity, the proofs of it, heavy theology fine. Create systems and programs and methods for growing the church? Fine. Desire for Christ’s presence? Nope. Christ’s passion and compassion for people? Never! Spend an hour weeping and praying over the brokenness of our communities, begging God to show us how to intervene? You have to be kidding.
It is it any wonder that we’ve ripped the heart out of the church, that we our passion for the lost, the hurting, the broken has all but dried up? That our church’s have developed into houses of reason, that the “approved music” by denominations is complex and majestic and too dang hard for the average person to sing and praise their God with? We’ve taught people that they can’t trust their emotions, forgetting that in Christ, those emotions have been cleansed, that in baptism the heart of stone has been replaced by a heart of flesh. Desire for God is dismissed, too pietistic, too emotional, and those things don’t belong in church, we are told.
Is it any wonder our churches are dying?
The above quote in red is from the Song of Solomon, and ancient commentators thought of it as an appropriate description of the emotinal bond between Christ and His Beloved, the people that are gathered as the church. The desire there described would blow past any limitations in order to see, to be with, to know (not just “biblically”) the Beloved. And the beloved responds in a similar manner. Desire, longing, and emptiness when the presence of the loved one isn’t there. Other theologians have said it can’t be, and I wonder if it is less because of the physically intimate talk, or because of the transparent desire for the presence of God.
St Josemaria didn’t hesitate in describing such love, neither writers like C.S. Lewis (read Till We Have Faces) and Gene Edwards or George McDonald, philosophers like Pascal, pastors like Luther and Wesley. Songs like Amazing Grace and It is Well and A Mighty Fortress in their completeness describe this desire, this longing, this adoration of God, and of His desire to make His presence clear in our lives, as He does throughout all of scripture!
“I will be your God, and you will be My people! (Leviticus 6:12 and many more places!)
God desires a relationship with us, He desires to pour out His love upon us, that is what salvation is all about. A God passionate for His people. A God who would do more than move heaven and earth for His people, a God who would prove out His love by sacrificing His Son.
Yeah – that’s intimidating, but also so incredible, so overwhelming,
And it is a treasure that we can share, for as we come to know His desire for us, we realize it is a desire for the world, and for our family, neighbors and friends.
HIs desire for us, even before we cry, “Lord have mercy”, is an answer to that cry…
May we respond to His desire for us, with a growing desire to spend our lives in His presence, and exhausting ourselves in that which pleases Him.
(1)Escriva, Josemaria (2011-01-31). The Forge (Kindle Locations 3643-3647). Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition.
Holiness, What Does it Look Like?
Leviticus 19:1-2, 9-18
† IHS †
May the grace of God our Father and our Lord Jesus Christ build your confidence in their work in your life!
May Your Children Grow up
Rumor has it, that someone in this sanctuary may have uttered the following blessing once or twice.
“I hope you children grow up to be just….. (like you!)”
Now, I know some may have said it with less intent than a blessing. But there is One here, who would has indeed said it as a blessing, as a prayer. That they desired the children of the One they were talking to, as they grew up to resemble Him in every way.
Indeed, that is the very reason Jesus came, to make sure that the children of His Father, would grow up to resemble God.
That is why we hear the words today in two readings, “You must be Holy, because, I, the Lord your God am holy.”
You must be holy, you must resemble your Father in heaven. There is no maybe, it is not just a challenge, a goal for us, it is truth. It is reality,
You must be Holy, for you Dad in heaven is, and His children, grow up to be just like Him.
And that, my brothers and sisters, is a very good thing!
So say it with me, “I must be holy, for my Father in heaven, the LORD, my God, is Holy!”
Now say it like you mean it!
“I must be holy, for my Father in heaven, the LORD, my God, is Holy!”
So what does that look like, in real life in Cerritos in 2014? What does Holiness look like, lived out our lives?
I am the Lord
As we look at the Old Testament reading, there is going to be a temptation to define holiness by the “do’s and “do not’s” listed there. It is a great list, which we will look at in Bible Study, but there is more to holiness than just those behaviors. Holiness is more than just the attitudes we hear described there.
Don’t get me wrong, those behaviors need to describe us, but the key to our holiness, to our being just like our Father, isn’t found there.
It’s found in His name.
That’s why it is repeated five times throughout the passage.
I am the LORD.
Slight tangent for a moment. It’s one of my frustrations with English translations, that instead of putting God’s name in scriptures, we cover it up with LORD, in all capitals. I understand it, but the result is we often overlook it, and what it means for God to give us His name. 6000 times in scripture, the Name of God is there, for us to hear, and know He is, and He is with us!
So five times, in this list of behaviors, God reminds people He is the LORD, He is YHWH, He is the I AM. It is the same way He starts every list of commandments, every time He describes how the people of God should live life! A life set apart in a relationship with Him, for God is, and He is with you!
Here, like in the 10 Commandments, God describes how we are not to use His name, We aren’t to use it falsely, or bring shame on it. Which means, Luther points out, that we are to use it, to praise and glorify Him, to bring honor to His name, to use it in the way that pleases Him, calling out to Him as a child calls out to its Father.
Each time that name is used in scripture, it should call to mind that God has taught us to depend on Him, to call out to Him, for yes, He is our father.
That is where Holiness begins, dwelling in His presence! No wonder the psalms encourage us, telling us of the joy it was to be going up to the house of the Lord!
Or why Paul writes,
18 All of us, then, reflect the glory of the Lord with uncovered faces; and that same glory, coming from the Lord, who is the Spirit, transforms us into his likeness in an ever greater degree of glory. 2 Corinthians 3:16-18 (TEV)
If we are transformed into His likeness, that likeness includes the holiness of God, that we must be!. For you must be holy, even as YHWH God is Holy!
So what does holiness look like?
Incarnate, Crucified, Risen.
with whom in baptism we are united.
We are holy, we must be holy, for in Christ, we are made to be so.
So you must be Holy
So these words that surround God telling us He is our God, that He is at work in our lives, that we have a relationship with Him and therefore are holy; what about those words? Do we ignore them?
Or, are we not holy, if they do not describe us?
It is a heavy list, if we see it as requirements, if we hear it as God’s law.
If indeed, it is law. But there is a problem there, we can’t make these changes on our own. Even if we just look at the bottom line, the command to love all our neighbors as ourselves – I know I struggle just to know mine, but to love them?
To look out for all that would gladly settle for the leavings? To provide extra for them, the poor and the foreigner?
What about the challenge of not causing the blind and deaf to struggle? We may think we do not do it, but what if it is that they are deaf and dumb in regards to knowing the love of God? Do the actions we take towards them, or the actions we don’t take, become a stumbling block in their responding to God’s call to them, to come and find the healing they need?
The option is to do what our church vision is, as we find ourselves healing in Christ, to help others heal. CLICK
You must be holy isn’t just a command, it is a statement of Christ’s effectiveness, in coming and saving us!
That is why holiness happens, not by a force of our will, but by being transformed into the likeness of Jesus, of realizing these qualities define Him, and therefore, as we are transformed into His likeness, they begin to define us even more.
For He is the LORD, our God, our Father, and the work of Christ is to present us perfect complete in Him. That is the work of the Holy Spirit as well, transforming us, sanctifying us, making us holy… to Him.
The secret to Holiness?
Look to God, look to Christ’s love, shown at the cross, united to youn in your baptism, the love we share in, the Christ we share in as we take and eat His body, as we drink His blood, as we proclaim His death for us, for all of us, until He comes again.
Call on Him, remember His call to you, remember His work, and then you will begin to love others as He does… and His sense of justice, His sense of mercy will become yours.
For apples don’t fall far from the tree…
and children grow up to be just like their dads…. And you will grow up to be like your heavenly Father, because of Jesus
Holiness? What does it look like?
You as you dwell in Christ,, for you must be holy, for your Father in Heaven, YHWH your God, is Holy
Knowing His holiness, that peace which can’t be described in words, yet in which you dwell, your heart and mind guarded by Jesus Christ. AMEN?
Devtional/Discussion THought of the Day:
29 Levi gave a large dinner at his home for Jesus. Everybody was there, tax men and other disreputable characters as guests at the dinner. 30 The Pharisees and their religion scholars came to his disciples greatly offended. “What is he doing eating and drinking with crooks and ‘sinners’?” 31 Jesus heard about it and spoke up, “Who needs a doctor: the healthy or the sick? 32 I’m here inviting outsiders, not insiders—an invitation to a changed life, changed inside and out.“ Luke 5:29-32 (MSG)
1024 Help me repeat in the ear of this person and of that other one… and of everyone: a sinner who has faith, even if he were to obtain all the blessings of this earth, will necessarily be unhappy and wretched. It is true that the motive that leads us (and should lead everyone) to hate sin, even venial sin, ought to be a supernatural one: that God abhors sin from the depths of his infiniteness, with a supreme, eternal and necessary hatred, as an evil opposed to the infinite good. But the first reason I mentioned to you can lead us to this other one. (1)
Yesterday in our Adult Bible Study the comment came up again, about Jesus’ words. “judge not, lest you be judged”. We were dealing with the Leviticus 19, and the call to confront those we struggle with, lest we carry the burden of their sin. It seems, that we are challenged, greatly challenged, by what appears to be contradictory commands in scripture. We are not to judge (actually condemn might be more accruate) but we have to make the judgment that a relationship damaged by sin, needs to be fixed. We have to risk being judged for being judgmental. (for surely those accused of jduging will be judged!)
Some will say in response, “You have to hate the sin, and love the sinner!” If this is just a way of accepting the inevitable fact that all of us still sin, and that we have to love people who are dominated by such sin, then it is not accurate. Hating the sin means hating the hold it has over people, the oppression it causes, as people get sucked into its grip. We have to realzie that sin is powerful, it does control and oppress people, and it can do devastating damage to a person, and to those around them. No wonder Paul said,
17 But I need something more! For if I know the law but still can’t keep it, and if the power of sin within me keeps sabotaging my best intentions, I obviously need help! 18 I realize that I don’t have what it takes. I can will it, but I can’t do it. 19 I decide to do good, but I don’t really do it; I decide not to do bad, but then I do it anyway. 20 My decisions, such as they are, don’t result in actions. Something has gone wrong deep within me and gets the better of me every time. 21 It happens so regularly that it’s predictable. The moment I decide to do good, sin is there to trip me up. 22 I truly delight in God’s commands, 23 but it’s pretty obvious that not all of me joins in that delight. Parts of me covertly rebel, and just when I least expect it, they take charge. 24 I’ve tried everything and nothing helps. I’m at the end of my rope. Is there no one who can do anything for me? Isn’t that the real question? Romans 7:17-24 (MSG)
Do we hate that feeling that nothing we can do helps, when we are oppressed by sin? Do we cry out as Paul does here, openly, to the Church in Rome? Or, have we just given up, and left people in bondage to it, accepting that it just is that way?
Remember why Jesus said He came above. It’s not for us who think we are whole, who claim we’ve broken the power of sin, and we are holy.
It is for those broken by sin, devastated by it, those who are crying out for help. Those who need a healing that only Jesus Christ can bring about, as He unites us to Himself, as He takes on our sin. That’s what the Pharisees didn’t see, that Christ didn’t come to celebrate the good life, but to crush sin and its power. Hating sin as God does means that we want to see people come to that transformation, that incredible thing called repentance, to the freedom from its power. Paul finished off his cry above with this,
25 The answer, thank God, is that Jesus Christ can and does. He acted to set things right in this life of contradictions where I want to serve God with all my heart and mind, but am pulled by the influence of sin to do something totally different. Romans (MSG) 1 With the arrival of Jesus, the Messiah, that fateful dilemma is resolved. Those who enter into Christ’s being-here-for-us no longer have to live under a continuous, low-lying black cloud. 2 A new power is in operation. The Spirit of life in Christ, like a strong wind, has magnificently cleared the air, freeing you from a fated lifetime of brutal tyranny at the hands of sin and death. 3 God went for the jugular when he sent his own Son. He didn’t deal with the problem as something remote and unimportant. In his Son, Jesus, he personally took on the human condition, entered the disordered mess of struggling humanity in order to set it right once and for all. Romans 7:25-8:3(MSG)
In Christ, we are set right, once and for all. But that means we need to realzie that people need to be set right, they need to be freed from this oppressive thing we know as sin…..
But that means we need to confront, in love. A tough challenge, a lot of risk. But that is why He came – and that is why we are here….for if Christ didn’t come to care for the well, but the sick, shouldn’t we be following His example?
Lord have mercy on us, help us to hate the sin, and seek healing for sinners from its ravages!
(1) Escriva, Josemaria (2011-01-31). The Forge (Kindle Locations 3623-3628). Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition.