The Difficulties of Desolation

Desolation can be understood as a darkness of the soul. It is a spiritually uncomfortable disturbance of the soul that leads to a movement to things low and earthly (in the sense of decay and corruption). Desolation brings about an unquiet of different agitations and temptations. It moves a person to a lack of confidence. It can leave a person without hope, without love, tepid, and sad. It can make a believer feel as if separated from the Divine Creator and Lord. Desolation comes to a human being through the work of a spiritual entity they likely cannot see or even know is present.

God never causes a person to go into desolation but does allow it. God may allow desolation as a trial.  God may allow it for a person to resist the different agitations and temptations of the enemy, since a person can, with the Divine help, (which always remains to him, though he does not clearly perceive it) resist the desolation. A person can come to desolation because of being tepid, lazy, or negligent in spiritual exercises. Finally, and I struggle with this one, God may allow desolation to remind us that any consolation we may receive is because of grace and not of our own doing.

Those who understand the power of desolation know that in time of desolation a person should never make a change (a choice or decision), but to be firm and constant in the resolutions and spiritual determination in which one was in preceding such desolation. This can be a very difficult thing to do. One of the reasons it is so difficult is that in desolation it is the dark (evil) spirit that is seeking to affect our thinking and deciding and will not do so in our favor. Another reason is the pressure our culture puts on us to believe we can create our own consolation through material possessions, ego-related positions, or self-acquired pleasures. Whereas these things may mask desolation, they cannot cure it.

Although I stated that in desolation we ought not to change our first resolutions, it is very helpful to (with intensity) set ourselves against the same desolation, as by insisting more on prayer, meditation, on much examination, and by giving ourselves more scope in some suitable way of doing penance.

Overcoming desolation takes a commitment and work toward patience, which is contrary to the spiritual pain and darkness which come to one in desolation.  It is very helpful to think that one will soon be consoled, employing against the desolation the promises of God and the experiences of a mature faith. God does love us. God does care. We can endure and overcome. Just know it will not be easy.

Wishing

How wonderful to talk

With those who have lived

A long life

Such insight

From the awkward days of youth

To the last days

Of night

A complicated life

Listening to stories of the past

Still they last

In the depth of memory

Wanting, deeply desiring

Someone to remember why

As they now sit and cry

Wishing only

Not to be forget

Or be forgotten

DM

My Reset Button in Pain

I wish I could claim that I had at least part of Job’s righteousness, but I do not. I wish I could call out to God and say, “God answer me for I have done no wrong,” but I cannot. However, when given the advice to curse God and die, I cannot.

What I can do is make the same statement as Job, “O that my words were written down! O that they were inscribed in a book! O that with an iron pen and with lead they were engraved on a rock forever! For I know that my Redeemer lives, and that at the last he will stand upon the earth; and after my skin has been thus destroyed, then in my flesh I shall see God.” (Job 19:23-26 NRS)

The last three years of my life have seen tragedy after tragedy, injustice after injustice, and the schemes of egotist human beings, it has been hard, and it hurts. (Oh, pity poor me, not)

What hurts more though is how I have relational connections, I would hope I could count on, turn on me faster than a top can spin. But again, God never said this life would be easy. The task I face is how to handle the difficult and hard without losing my faith nor compromising who I am.

In the Apostle’s Creed I pray, “I believe in the catholic (universal) Church. I am true to this statement. However, I do not believe in the denominational structures that human beings have created that, I my opinion, exist only for themselves. When faced with a wrong they would rather rally the wagons than do what is right. The church today causes as much pain as it alleviates.

Some of us, through our choices, situations, circumstances, and a spiritual war we cannot even see, carry an enormous amount of suffering, pain, and despair. Some of us spend more time crying than laughing. Some of us must work very hard to just smile even occasionally. Some of us (like me) curse the day we were born and long for death. So how, how can we possibly, honestly say, “Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.” (1 Thess. 5:16-18 NRS) This is the challenge those of us who carry so many negative burdens face. How can one with such a consciousness cope?

In my life, how I have coped is understanding I am going to likely always be on an emotional rollercoaster. I must go through the pain of mind and memory seeking a place in which I can catch my spiritual breath for just a second in order to refocus my thinking on my Lord, Jesus. Jesus who said, “Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” (Matt. 11:28-30 NRS)

When I find this opportunity this moment, I then can use the tools the Lord has offered in Scripture and prayer and the disciplines discovered by the Church (the universal church) developed by the faithful through its history. This seems to be the only way I can have even brief moments of relief. This is where I find Jesus’s words to be true.

I believe, no, more than believe the promise of my Lord, “And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”(Matt. 28:20 NRS) This means that all I am going through, the Lord is enduring with me. This promise is my ultimate reset button I must push when life gets to be just too much to bear. Without such a promise there is no way I could continue to live.

Lectionary Sermon for November 21, 2021

Revelation 1:4-8   We Believe

Fear is a very powerful emotion.  Fear is a response to a perceived or actual emotional or physical danger.  It is one of the emotions we human beings develop as a consequence of our being separated from God by sin.  We fear because we know bad things can happen.  We fear because we know we can be hurt.  We fear because we know we can die. 

A few years back people wore clothing with the words “no fear” in big letters across the front in a cultural craze.  Such thinking is whistling in the dark, it is an illusion.  We all have fears, even the fear of having fears.  Advertisers know this.  Politicians know this.  Terrorists know this and use it to their advantage. 

However, fear has a fear.  Fear has an enemy.  Fear can be defeated with understanding, confidence, trust, and assurance. 

There is a song but a Christian band, the Newsboys, that begins with the line, “In this time of desperation, When all we know is doubt and fear, there is only One Foundation,  We believe, We believe”. The song is filled with elements of the Apostle’s Creed.

What do we believe?  Some of us believe strongly what we stated in the Apostles’ Creed.  Ok, but how does this help us overcome fear?

Some Christian groups have no purpose for creeds. I believe this is because they do not really understand what a creed like the Apostle’s Creed all is about. Yes, in the past creeds have been misused. In reality, a creed is a statement of faith that gives us the foundational core tenets of the faith.  What the creed tells us is who God is, what God has done, and what we can trust in no matter what.

The next verse of the Newsboys’ song states, “In this broken generation, When all is dark, You help us see There is only One Salvation, We believe, We believe.

And what do we believe? We believe in God the Father. We believe in Jesus Christ. We believe in the Holy Spirit, And He’s given us new life.  We believe in the crucifixion.  We believe that He conquered death. We believe in the resurrection, And He’s comin’ back again, we believe!

The book of Revelation is one of the most profound, confusing, troubling, books in the Bible.  There is a joke about two people who are discussing the Bible.  One says to the other, “I used to think I was an expert on the book of Revelation, and then I met someone who has actually read it.” 

The book of Revelation is a book I have given a lot of study in my ministry career.  The book of Revelation is a book of the Bible that God promises to bless those who study it.  Revelation 1:3 promises, “Favored (blessed) is the one who reads the words of this prophecy out loud, and favored are those who listen to it being read, and keep what is written in it, for the time is near.”

And yes, the Book of Revelation has a lot of symbols, images, and visions that are very difficult and hard to understand.  But if you understand the purpose of the Book, you can be blessed even if you do not grasp all the visions and scenes it describes.

The Book of Revelation was likely written between 64 and 81 A.D., almost 5 to 6 decades after the ascension of Jesus into heaven.  Most Christians at the time that Jesus ascended believed that when Jesus said he would return, he would be coming back in a few weeks or maybe months at the latest.   But Jesus did not come back.  The time when on.  Year after year the church looked for Jesus’s return, but it did not happen. 

What did happen was that persecution of the church increased.  Also, as can happen, when Jesus did not come back immediately, some of the zeal and anticipation began to be replaced by complacency and a lack of commitment. 

John, the author of Revelation, was a bishop, likely the pastor of Ephesus, and was worried about the persecution his flock was facing.  John was aware difficult times were coming.  John, himself was arrested for being a Christian.  This lead to his exile on the island of Patmos.  On the island of Patmos, Jesus comes to John and gives him this vision. 

The vision tells of a difficult future.  The vision warns the church of the difficulties that will come.  The vision warns that the challenges the church will face will not only come from without but also from within due to our love growing cold or experiencing misdirection by the things of this world.  The vision warns days are coming in which Christians will need to have a strong faith.  Christians will need to know and hold tightly to what they believe. 

The verses we read today, are verses that give us the foundation for what we need to understand.  These verses proclaim to us who Jesus is, what Jesus has done, and what Jesus most certainly will accomplish in the future.  These verses remind us God is in control.  God knows what is going on. The purpose of these verses is not just informational, but transformational.

These verses state very directly not only who Jesus is, but what Jesus wants us to be.  Jesus has made us a kingdom.  Jesus has made us priests.  Jesus will come for us if we are the ones who truly believe.

It has been very close to two thousand years since Jesus ascended into heaven.  That is a long time.  Why has it been this long?  I don’t know.  But I am glad. 

Why am I glad, because I was not born in Jesus’s day.  I am here today, as are you because God has not yet decided this world will end.  And while I am looking forward to the time of being with Jesus, I understand that if Jesus waits another 1000 years, 10,000 years or 100,00 years it means there will be more people to be part of the eternity that God has planned.  That means there will be more people to love and to love us. 

It also means we must be diligent in doing our job.  We are Jesus’s priests.  We are responsible to intercede and to instruct.  We are the instruments of the one we call Lord.  What a privilege.  What an opportunity.  However, this responsibility is something we will be accountable.  This too, we believe.

Another verse in the Newsboys’ song cries out to us about this responsibility, “Let the lost be found and the dead be raised!  In the here and now, let love invade!  Let the church live loud, our God we’ll say We believe, We believe!

I started this sermon by talking about fear.  Our world is full of things to fear.  There is the fear of terrorists.  There is the fear of disease, cancer, the damage done to the environment, and fear of Covid-19.  There is the fear of failing relationships.  The fear good parents have for what will happen to their children and grandchildren. 

John understood fear.  As a disciple, he saw Jesus crucified and wondered if he would be next.  He saw the hatred toward those who followed Jesus and the young, growing church.  He heard the words our Lord proclaimed about how Satan would want to sift us. 

However, John understood something else.  John knew Jesus was in charge.  John knew just how much Jesus loves us.  John knew and writes to us in 1 Jn. 4:18-19, “There is no fear in love, but perfect love drives out fear, because fear expects punishment. The person who is afraid has not been made perfect in love. We love because God first loved us.”

John had the confidence, assurance, trust, and experience in a living, active relationship with the Lord.  John knew Jesus is the beginning and the end.  John knows and wants us to know that evil will not win, fear can be overcome, and in the grace and love of God, there is nothing that we cannot stand against. 

Again, I want to quote the lyrics of the Newsboys’, “And the gates of hell will not prevail!  For the power of God Has torn the veil!  Now we know Your love will never fail! We believe, We believe!

So, let our faith be more than anthems, Greater than the songs we sing, And in our weakness and temptations, We believe, We believe!

Jesus has promised to be with us always.  Jesus has promised to never forsake us or abandon us.  Jesus has made it clear; he loves us and desires us to have the kind of faith that grows deep and more committed until he returns.

We call him Lord.  Let us live in anticipation of our being in his presence, unashamed and faithful because we believe. 

We believe in God the Father. We believe in Jesus Christ. We believe in the Holy Spirit, And He’s given us new life.  We believe in the crucifixion.  We believe that He conquered death. We believe in the resurrection, And He’s comin’ back again, we believe!

Death didn’t get me this time……..

I write this blog knowing full well that it will likely be used against me. I write it knowing it will make some uncomfortable. I write this blog (over a year after the event) in order for others to know what they face.

I could take the story back to an act of compassion that turned into a battle with a demon, and I may do so at another time. Right now, I want to focus on the short time before I listened to the demon’s lies and tried to take my own life.

I was in pain. I was in physical, emotional, and spiritual pain and I could not get it to stop. I had been betrayed by those who were supposed to help and support me. I had been forced to take retirement, use my savings to move to a new location, and due to a severe back injury while moving was unable to work. So, I listen to the voices in my head that were telling me I was a failure, I was worthless, and had no hope for the future. I even thought that God had abandoned me. So, I took a .45 caliber pistol, put it under my chin and pulled the trigger. I do not remember anything until I felt myself rising above my body in an ambulance. My heart had stopped, and the medics were using the defibrillator paddles to bring me back.

The next thing I remember is being a place where others were waiting for judgment. When it was my turn the demon (likely the same one) tried to claim me. The demon said, “This one tried to take his own life, he belongs to us. Church law says he should go to hell!”

Another, perhaps an angel, said God’s grace trumps church law. This one belongs to God. Then a voice asked me, “Do you want to go back?”

Do I want to go back? As I think back now, I wonder why I was asked that question. Such a question did not fit in with my theology. All I can assume is God was giving me a second chance. I answered yes, yes I want to go back. I have since wondered why I said yes. Coming back into this world meant coming back to all the pain I had before I died plus the handicaps of surviving a traumatic brain injury and several other drastic medical issues related to the wound.

Has my return to this world been painful? Oh yes, even much more than before, but my experience at the crossing had strengthened my faith. I say faith rather than certainty because, as a fallen human being, the only certainty is that I am a sinner prone to self-deception. This is one thing I know I can trust. No matter how bad this life can seem, I know God does love me.

After my after-death experience, the next thing I remember is waking up in a hospital room with a feeding tube and trachea. I had been unconscious for eleven days.

The encounter at the gate of death has given me a deeper understanding of the reality in which we live. It also helps me to continue my struggle with the spiritual entity that has singled me out. However, the greatest gift of grace that I have received from all this is the growing compassion I have for others. I was fortunate in my spiritual encounter with death. Others have not been. I understand, because I have seen, that there will be a time of judgment, and unless on is in God’s grace on is depending.

In the Lord, there is always hope.

In days to come…….

Micah 4:1-5

“In days to come…….neither shall they learn war anymore”

In days to come the mountain of the LORD’s house shall be established as the highest of the mountains, and shall be raised up above the hills. Peoples shall stream to it, and many nations shall come and say: “Come, let us go up to the mountain of the LORD, to the house of the God of Jacob; that he may teach us his ways and that we may walk in his paths.” For out of Zion shall go forth instruction and the word of the LORD from Jerusalem. He shall judge between many peoples, and shall arbitrate between strong nations far away; they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war anymore; but they shall all sit under their own vines and under their own fig trees, and no one shall make them afraid; for the mouth of the LORD of hosts has spoken. For all the peoples walk, each in the name of its god, but we will walk in the name of the LORD our God forever and ever.  (Mic. 4:1-5 NRS)

The country in which I reside sets aside $778 billion dollars for national defense. In other words, they spend $778 billion for the potential to wage war. The weapons we have created have the potential to end life on this planet. For my entire life my homeland has been engaged in war somewhere in the world. It is not just the country I live in. This whole world is filled with countries who are engaged in killing one another. Why, why do we as a race of beings find ourselves compelled to try and destroy one another? There is no righteous answer for this other than human beings do not full understand the purpose for our existence nor the consequences of not walking in the name of the Lord.

However, this will not always be so. In the days to come, we are told that God is going to intervene in our world and end the strife and conflict we live with daily and “neither shall they learn war anymore.” It is hard to imagine or even dream about such a world. Yet, this is something we can be assured of when Jesus returns.

When Jesus came the first time, he brought the possibility of peace between human beings and God. When he comes again, he will bring the actuality of a forever peace in which we will understand and embrace. A world in which there is no more war or weapons of war is wonderful dream that will come true.

Faith and Depression (a short thought)

For those who do not have to live with chronic depression, God has blessed you. Unless you face this mental murder of merry moods on a regular basis you likely have no idea what I am talking about. I am thankful for you. It would be an even more difficult world in which to live is not for the fact that chronic depression does not affect most people.

How does such a state affect the faith of those who must deal with this demon? Well, to be honest in my case the words, “Why God” are uttered often through a veil of tears and a searing pain of feelings that hurt worse than any physical injury I have had. In such times I admit it is hard to rejoice always.

Still, the unique thing about being a human being is that God has given us the capacity to separate our feelings from our faith. It also allows us to accept the truth that what we suffer, God suffers with us. In fact, I have no doubt that when I hurt God hurts. Why do I believe this? Because of the nature of our Lord. God is love and love hates to see a loved one in pain.

Think about a parent who agonizes beside the bed of a sick or injured child. Do you believe that parent is also in pain?

Ok, then why does God allow depression to exist? I would not dare to offer an answer. There come times when faith must be faith and willing to trust even when one cannot understand.

When God became a human being, he entered this world knowing the enemy would do everything in its power to try and break our Lord down. I am sure Jesus knew the demons of depression quite well and would cast them away when they attempted to pull him down into the mental pit that some of us live in. Still, can you imagine living a life knowing your purpose, your existence, your very life would be hated? Imagine (some of us do not have to imagine) knowing that you would be rejected, abandoned, humiliated and that your suffering would make other people happy. Pretty good stuff to cause depression.

God has given us the knowledge to treat chronic depression. God has given us a community (the church) to support us (when it has not compromised itself). Most importantly God has let us know that the suffering in this life is not comparable to the joy that is ours to come.

I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory about to be revealed to us. (Rom. 8:18 NRS)

This helps me make it through the hours, days, weeks of darkness. It is my prayer that through the gift of faith it will help you as well.

Yes, We Will Fail and Fall

What does it mean when a person, a person who seeks to be very faithful to God, falls into a state of deep depression? Does it mean that they have failed in their quest for spiritual perfection? Does it mean that they are weak or shallow in their faith? Do they have unconfessed sins that is pushing God away?

Or maybe, the seeking saint was just overcome with the task of living with the reality of chronic physical pain, complicated health issues, and other pressures living close to the edge of poverty brings. Perhaps, what happens to them happens to almost everyone at some point of their life (with the possible exception of poverty).

Our Lord never ever said this life would be easy. In fact, I believe our Lord wanted us to understand things would become increasingly harder as I move closer and closer to the pivotal point of the end of time.

During times of extreme trial (and only the one going through the trial can define what kind of trial it is) our weakness will come out. Our spiritual immaturities will become manifest. This brings us to the reality of the gift of having faith that can receive grace through the tools of reflection and belief and understand no matter how weak we become, our Lord is infinitely strong enough (long sentence but important).

Understanding that we will face these difficult times is vital to our spiritual health. I believe Ignatius of Loyola gives us the best advice in his Rules, “Tenth Rule. The tenth: Let him who is in consolation think how he will be in the desolation which will come after, taking new strength for then.” Ignatius was well aware of how the enemy of humanity works. He knows that the testing and trials will come. If one is not prepared one is asking for some of the worst regret, shame, guilt, and pain one can experience. The choice is ours.

Lectionary Sermon (Gospel) for October 31, 2021

Mark 12:28-34  Greatest Commandment or Opportunity

When I was attending Bible college, more advanced students enjoyed going into the common room and ask the question, “Does oinos mean wine or grape juice?” (Baptist college) and then sit back and listen to the argument. Or we would walk into the common room and ask the question, “What does the word foreknowledge mean?” Again, the reaction would be an argument that could go on for hours. Our motivation for do this listening to the arguments from students who had not yet discovered there are some questions that cannot be given a satisfactory answer that is agreed to by all. The arguments created by the questions were not productive. They were not loving. They produced amusement at the expense of others, and they tended to produce arrogance.

Often those who were opposed to Jesus would try to trick him with their questions. However

In our passage we are told a scribe ask Jesus a question. Which commandment is the greatest?

The question of placing the commandments in a hierarchy was an issue of importance to the theologians of Jesus’s day.

In their minds there needs to be an order, a cause/effect answer to every question. Everything was either right or wrong (depending on their interpretations), everything has its place in the order of things.

So, in a system where the law is what is important then this is a good question. The problem is that the whole system the religious of Jesus day was wrong. It wants to classify commandment in order of importance, and I believe God would say that all of God’s commandments are important and unless one seems to contradict the other, they should all be cherished as God’s gift to us. The commandments set parameters and define the best way of life for us. However, one needs to be careful of one’s attitude. We need not think of the commandments as things not to be broken but insight to be cherished and loved. As the Psalmist writes, “I may not sin against you. Blessed are you, O LORD; teach me your statutes. With my lips I declare all the ordinances of your mouth. I delight in the way of your decrees as much as in all riches. I will meditate on your precepts, and fix my eyes on your ways. I will delight in your statutes; I will not forget your word.  (Ps. 119:11-16 NRS)

This should be our attitude towards all God’s commandments.

Of course, loving God and each other is the most important thing we can do as human beings. God’s self-definition is love.

Beloved, let us love one another, because love is from God; everyone who loves is born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, for God is love. (1 Jn. 4:7-8 NRS)

Love of God and neighbors (all other people) is our purpose in this life. Nothing should take a higher priority. If we love God, we will seek to understand God’s will and desires. We will trust God’s word to help us make decisions.

I believe Jesus enjoyed talking to the Scribe. This Scribe was trying to have an honest, open spiritual discussion with Jesus. He had an intellectual, mentally correct understanding of God’s desire and way. However, this would not be enough.

For years I taught that once a person was “saved”, they would always be saved. This was a foundational theological concept to those whose base theology was from the reformer John Calvin and his concept of the eternal security of the believer. I cannot accept for myself the tenets of this theological understanding. To me it puts to much emphasis on the mental, legal, time bound linear thinking.

I think more theologians would agree with me that what God wants more than anything else is a relationship of love. A relationship of love does not depend on contracts, covenants, or agreements. A relationship of love is about trust, commitment, faithfulness, and vulnerability. This is why Jesus says, “If you love me, you will keep my commandments.” (Jn. 14:15 NRS) If we love Jesus our service is not a duty it is a delight.

Earlier John writes, “By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” (Jn. 13:35 NRS) This Jesus demonstrated himself with those whom he came into contact with. Jesus modelled love and compassion. Jesus

Halloween

I am a bit troubled by the idea that somehow October 31, Halloween, is a day that Satan claims. First, Satan has no claims. Second, every day offers the opportunity for evil. Third, ultimately even time itself belongs to God. Fourthly, I believe it is spiritually healthy for us to be reminded of monsters, demons, deranged people, and the dangers of this life. And last, It is good to celebrate life and community any time that we can.

Halloween, for me, is a time for facing our vulnerability to evil, but also remembering the All Saints Day which follows and reminds us our faith can and will sustain us no matter what comes our way. The saints overcame through faith and so can we.

God does not need defending. God is not offended by our imagination. Allowing the symbolism and activities of Halloween to be enjoyed does not help evil. Evil operates best when ignored or forgotten. Halloween is a good chance to give thought to evil and how God strengthens us to face it.