When God Doesn’t Answer….then what? The Dark Days of Being a Pastor/Elder/Parent


Devotional Thought of the Day:

16  You spoke to me, and I listened to every word. I belong to you, LORD God Almighty, and so your words filled my heart with joy and happiness. 17  I did not spend my time with other people, laughing and having a good time. In obedience to your orders I stayed by myself and was filled with anger. 18  Why do I keep on suffering? Why are my wounds incurable? Why won’t they heal? Do you intend to disappoint me like a stream that goes dry in the summer?” 19  To this the LORD replied, “If you return, I will take you back, and you will be my servant again. If instead of talking nonsense you proclaim a worthwhile message, you will be my prophet again. The people will come back to you, and you will not need to go to them. Jeremiah 15:16-19 (TEV)

7  LORD, you have deceived me, and I was deceived. You are stronger than I am, and you have overpowered me. Everyone makes fun of me; they laugh at me all day long. 8  Whenever I speak, I have to cry out and shout, “Violence! Destruction!” LORD, I am ridiculed and scorned all the time because I proclaim your message. 9  But when I say, “I will forget the LORD and no longer speak in his name,” then your message is like a fire burning deep within me. I try my best to hold it in, but can no longer keep it back. Jeremiah 20:7-9 (TEV)

224      Interior dryness is not lukewarmness. When a person is lukewarm the waters of grace slide over him without being soaked in. In contrast, there are dry lands which seem arid but which, with a few drops of rain at the right time, yield abundant flowers and delicious fruit. That is why I ask: When are we going to be convinced? How important it is to be docile to the divine calls which come at each moment of the day, because it is precisely there that God is awaiting us!  (1)

There are days where events and situations occur in such a way, I have to wonder if God is on vacation.  

It might be that the burdens i deal with just tire me our, that as prayer requests seem to add up, as more and more people I know have to deal with severe trauma and grief.

It could be the burdens that come as I try to balance being a pastor and a father, as days go longer than I thought, or I don’t get the break I need somewhere in the middle.  Or that somehow my own physical  and personal issues challenge me as well.

It could be that working with some people is such a challenge, even as Jeremiah notes, as they continue to rebel against God, thinking their own way is better. Today they don’t kill those who would warn them, they just laugh it off, or simply ignore it and do what they want to do, not thinking about the consequences, and that God does have a reason for the guidance He gives us.  You can tell them, and sometimes they will listen, and sometimes they will come back, with tears in their eyes…. we pray that God would reveal Himself to them in a way they can’t deny… to quote the gospels,  ‘If they won’t listen to Moses and the prophets (and the gospels and epistles), they won’t listen even if someone rises from the dead.’” Luke 16:31 (NLT)

Whether the people we deal with are victims or the guilty, or even both simultaneously, why does it take so long for them to be restored?  Why do we have to see them struggle?  Why can’t everything be fixed, why can’t prayer work like a magic wand….?  Why doesn’t God just fix their problems – both the problems of the good and the bad?  After all, isn’t that what ministry is about?

Why do Jeremiah’s whines resonate deeply within the souls of so many pastors, priests, lay leaders in every form of ministry, including those who are parents?

is there a cure for how we feel when we wonder why God hasn’t provided the answer to our prayers?

One of the steps is to deal with the issue of self-righteousness.

That’s God’s answer in the first quote from Jeremiah.  He doesn’t tell Jeremiah to force the people to return.  God tells Jeremiah to return!

Jeremiah, you come back, you get back to doing what I’ve called you to do.  You serve, you stop whining, stop making it sound like you are the martyr, the suffering servant.  Proclaim Christ (though it was in the nature of prophecy for Jeremiah – we can point more clearly to the cross)   Time to end the self-pitying, the grass is greener ( or in my case, the leaves ae more colorful) over there.

When we stop making ourselves out to be the crucified one, the martyr of God’s cause,

But how?

I love Josemaria’s answer, for it changes the game.  When there is no answer to prayers, we usually either blame God (as Jeremiah does) or we think there is something wrong with our prayer – either our heart, or our form, that God’s not listening because something we have done is prohibiting the God of the universe from either hearing our prayer, or taking action upon it.

There is a difference between being in rebellion from God, and being in a dry spell, of not praying because we don’t trust or know God is there, and wondering why the prayers aren’t answered yet.  Sometimes, that dryness is needed, because we have to learn that God is there….even when we can’t see Him. We have to learn to be stiil, to wait on the Lord, to know that He is God.

It from such dryness that a revival can spring, that incredible growth may com.  Some places are like gardens, slow and steady, others are like the desert – where a light rain on Tuesday is followed by plants literally bursting forth.  It is that message, the very gospel that causes such, that snapped Jeremiah out of his silence, it is that gospel message that causes the life that seems to be buried to explode out of our parched souls. It is that word of God that brings to us the perspective of God’s love, of His desire, of His work that quickens people, that quickens us.

The gospel message of God’s love, that draws us to Him, that reveals how deep and high, how broad, how wide, that love is… for us.

For them.

A love that answers those prayers, in ways we can’t quite understand, yet ways fulfilling His promise to never leave or forsake us.  The promises that nothing can separate us from Him, even the valley of the shadow of death.  The gospel that says even though we think His words we proclaim may return void, they won’t.   He has promised.

And knowing Him, remembering His promises, we return from our whining to get back to our calling, to proclaiming that love we need to know ourselves to others.

And then, they come… they find that love, they find the healing for the brokenness they chose…. and our prayers… well they are answered.

For He is our God, our refuge, and we are His people, the children He cares for by providing them peace.

AMEN

(1)  Escriva, Josemaria (2011-01-31). The Forge (Kindle Locations 964-968). Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition.

Backseat Conversations on the Way to Heaven: #7 Be Quiet Back there!


Backseat Conversations on the Way to Heaven:Concordia Lutheran Church
Be Quiet Back There!
Psalm 46

 May we be so in awe of the glorious works of God in our lives, that we are found still, and quiet, enjoying the beauty of His Peace!


Backseat grumblings

it was inevitable, on those family drives as children that a fight would ensue between my brother and sister, and sometimes, I would get involved.

Remember, back in the day before seatbelts and child seats?  When there could be a real free-for all wrestling match as dad drove down the highway at seventy miles an hour?

As expected as the war of the backseat was, even more was another thing we heard just a few moments later.

Be still back there!  Be quiet back there!

I could almost hear those words as I drove those same roads last week.

I think when we hear God urging us to be still, urging us to be quiet, it isn’t because he needs to concentrate to get us where we are going.   It isn’t that he will somehow loose control of the journey when a pillow comes flying over the back seat.  Or the sound of a siren on a video game makes him glance guiltily at the speedometer.

Even so, we as individuals, we as the church of God, need to spend some real time in quiet, some real time being still, some extensive time knowing that God is God, and that He is our refuge, our fortress.

For different reasons when we were children, we need to hear Jesus say, my friends, be quiet, be still back there.

In fact, they are the same reasons Martin Luther, and so many before and since him, need to hear those words as well….

What couldn’t we see?  V. 8

In our world today, much like in Luther’s time, there were more than enough fights going on, just like in the backseat of our ’72 dodge dart.

Some of the fights are caused by external things, fights in the world that worry us, whether against enemies like ISIS, or that are more insidious, like Ebola.  Some are fights within the church at large, just as Luther experienced in His day.  Fights over doctrine, fights over traditions, fights over theology.  And some are fights like St Paul noted, fights between our sinful nature and our new nature in Christ.  Those internal fights between sin, and the desire to serve God. They are like David describes in the psalm, times where our lives are shaken like earthquakes, where everything seems to crumble, where we feel like we are being drowned in life.  Where the world is in chaos, and the very strength of our country seems to crumble…

All these fights in the backseat on our journey towards heaven garner our attention, whether we are involved in the fight, or not.  They cause us anxiety and fear, even if we aren’t involved, for like the kid in the middle between two siblings, we can’t help being involved.

And once involved, life overwhelms us.

It was at such a time, inspired by this very psalm, Luther found rest. Despite the hoards of Turks threatening to take over Europe, despite some religious leaders calling for his death, despite health issues, despite his own sin and psychological challenges… Luther found peace.

And so can we… if only we can manage to be still, to be quiet, to be in awe of the glorious works of the LORD.
Being Still… not about behavior…

As we were driving down roads in New Hampshire and Massachusetts, I saw things that I don’t remember seeing. Rivers and streams, small waterfalls, signs notifying us that moose and elk now wandered the woods. Even as William and I stood at the shore of Lake Ossipee, my senses were flooded with what I saw, what I heard.  The wind rustling through thousands of trees, raindrops causing ripples on the stillest of waters.

What God creates in nature is so incredibly amazing!  We need to see them, but even more we need to see God’s glorious works in our lives

Even before the psalm encourages stillness, it encourages us to look at the glorious works of God.  Not the mountains and lakes, the forests and oceans, but what He does to bring peace to our world. To bring peace to our lives.

Promise after promise we’ve heard, we know that nothing can separate us from Him, that all things work for good, that even what is planned for evil, He defeats and causes it to be for our best interest.

When we trust Him, we know that we have a safe place, a fortress that cannot being overwhelmed, a sanctuary that will not be broken into, a refuge where the battles of the world can’t compare to the glory we know, to the peace that surrounds us.

We can’t know that peace when we are fighting, whether the fight is external, or internal.  Whether we are being attacked by thousands of enemies, or we are like Peter, realizing we betrayed the Lord.

We need to hear Jesus’ words, “Peace be with you!”

Even more grace – He is Here, among us!

That peace comes with something more incredible.  We hear the words though out the service, but today we hear them a little differently…
11  The LORD of Heaven’s Armies is here among us;
the God of Israel is our fortress
.
Psalm 46:11 (NLT)

To hear this, to really hear this, results in the very same thing that we normally hear, that because He is hear among us, because God is our sanctuary, our refuge our fortress, we can have the rest from the wars that rage in the world, we can know the stillness and quietness that we need…

We can realize that He is our God…. The Lord God almighty is our God, and therefore we can rest in Him, and know the peace that passes all understanding, guarding our hearts and minds in Christ Jesus!

AMEN!

Why There is a “Label” on My Church Sign


Discussion and Devotional thought of the Day:The church, is always in the midst of a storm... but safe in Him

Imitate me, then, just as I imitate Christ. 2  I praise you because you always remember me and follow the teachings that I have handed on to you. 3  But I want you to understand that Christ is supreme over every man…. 1 Corinthians 11:1-3 (TEV)

1  Finally, our friends, you learned from us how you should live in order to please God. This is, of course, the way you have been living. And now we beg and urge you in the name of the Lord Jesus to do even more. 2  For you know the instructions we gave you by the authority of the Lord Jesus. 1 Thessalonians 4:1-2 (TEV)

203      Surely all those consolations I receive from the Master are given me so that I may think of him all the time and serve him in little things, and so be able to serve him in great things. A resolution: to please my good Jesus in the tiniest details of my daily life.  (1)

It sits there, on the sign identifying the congregation I pastor, on our stationary, on business cards and polo shirts.

A Label, something that identifies our heritage, but also potentially divides us from the body of Christ.

I both love it, and hate it, even despise it.

I despise it because people assume it is something that sets us apart, something that identifies why we are different, as if being a lutheran was a license to condescension, to some higher level of purity or knowledge or perfection.  Though not it’s intent in every place bearing its name, there can be pride associated with that label.  Because of both assumptions, I despise it, just as I despise the fact that we are 3 years from “celebrating” a division in the church, that is contrary to the will of God.  It is my regular prayers that something would happen, a miracle, that would allow the entire church to find healing together in Christ.  That my small section of the church would have the humility to encourage this, even noting our own sin, our own failures, our own poor theology that prevents it.

I hate the label, because it is not specific.  Many “wear” it, and have radically different beliefs.  Some have departed the focus on grace and mercy and Christ’s delivering us into the presence of our Heavenly father, saving us from sin… our sin.  They have neglected the treasuring of a relationship with God that brought such peace and joy to Luther.  For this man realized God was our refuge from the brokenness of the world.  Others have gone the other direction, forgetting the why’s and legislating the hows and whens. They look more to great theologians of different eras, taking even their errors as being right. They will even say their own teaching is beyond question. Extremisms define the label today, far more than the basic teachings of the catechism, and how it summarizes truth from scripture.  In some ways, the extremes almost defeat the benefit of the label.  Knowing this, I would actually think a better description of my church would be the old name, the Evangelical-catholic church.  Historically and with a pragmatic view to our work, it suits us well.

I think the reasons above are why some toss aside the labels, or at least try to toss them aside.  They label their church community church (though there are denominations with that moniker), or Christian Church or church of Christ (though I was originally ordained in that denominational family…err brotherhood of churches)

So why not just hang out a sign that says, “a church”, or “the church on the corner”.  Get rid of all other identifying markings, all other labels.

After all of this, why do I like the title?

1.  It reminds me that who I believe, and what I believe about Him, is bigger than just me.  It was handed down to me, entrusted to me by a larger community of faith.  My congregation and I don’t stand alone.  In the same way my friends in the Roman Catholic Church find comfort in seeing how saints have endured persecution and troubled times, knowing that God would work through Luther, Melancthon, Chemnitz, Walther, Pieper, Piepkorn, that broken men found solace and hope in God’s is incredible to realize.
They pass us down, not just an academic belief system, but a sense of hope, a story of healing, the assurance that God is our refuge, our help in times of trouble.  As Paul encouranged us to imitate him as he imitated Jesus, so these men (and women) provide some helpful tracks along the journey.  The label reminds me of this, and those that went before.  Their failures, their successes, and how they coped with both!

2.  While it doesn’t reduce or eliminate extremism, it gives me a base to start from, a point to evaluate what I teach, and preach and how I administer the sacraments.  While their words are only legitimate when in accord with scripture, they do help me, to ensure I don’t fall far astream.  Creeds and catechisms are never end all, be alls, but they help.  One doesn’t have to go far back in history to see those who claimed to base their understanding solely on scripture fail miserably, leading people astray.  (Jim Jones is an example, as are denominations like the Jehovah Witnesses)  Think of a amusement park, and the “car rides”, which have a steel or cement center rail.  Having a heritage of faithful people running along the same rail before helps us stay the course.  (see Hebrews 11)

I suppose the last reason I love my particular label, is that the irony keeps my humble.  I know Luther would shake his head at us, wondering why in the world we would name our denomination after such a sinner as he was.  The irony that we did, because he was a sinner that God would use to restore something the church had lost (he also messed up a lot – please understand this!) But if God could use a pastor as broken, as crazy, as powerfully as he did…despite his pride, his temper, then there is hope for me, as I ask my people to follow me, as I follow in footsteps of all of those who follow Christ.

Rejoice, we aren’t alone in this journey, God has sustained people beyond number who have handed down to us, what we hand down to others!

By the way, know this, if your label is different, that doesn’t mean you aren’t welcome… just the opposite – please, plese come let’s find out why the labels are blessings… not letting them divide us!

Godspeed!

Escriva, Josemaria (2011-01-31). The Forge (Kindle Locations 901-904). Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition.

 

When Something Excellent Turns Bad…the Challenge of Teaching in the Church


Devotional and Discussion Thought of the Day:Concordia Lutheran Church - Cerritos, Ca , at dawn on Easter Sunday

4  Teach me your ways, O LORD; make them known to me. 5  Teach me to live according to your truth, for you are my God, who saves me. I always trust in you. 6  Remember, O LORD, your kindness and constant love which you have shown from long ago. 7  Forgive the sins and errors of my youth. In your constant love and goodness, remember me, LORD! Psalm 25:4-7 (TEV)

5  Trust in the LORD with all your heart. Never rely on what you think you know. 6  Remember the LORD in everything you do, and he will show you the right way. 7  Never let yourself think that you are wiser than you are; simply obey the LORD and refuse to do wrong. 8  If you do, it will be like good medicine, healing your wounds and easing your pains. Proverbs 3:5-8 (TEV)

Deliver me from self-trustfulness, In the frequent days in which I must do battle with my self as foe, arm me with a constant trust in Thee. (1)

 

Heresy is not so much a new doctrine, but an Orthodox doctrine that is overemphasized. (2) 

A sincere resolution: to have faith in God always; to hope in God always; to love God always… he never abandons us, even if we are rotting away as Lazarus was.

When I read the quote in blue above, from the biography of a man who personally impacted how I preach, it stunned me for its simplicity, and its truth.

I could give example after example of when man’s reason and pride joined together to subtly and slowly twist doctrine, or the reaction to that heresy which caused a quicker reaction that threw them off the cliff in the other direction.

One example is in the discussion of how faith and works are related.  If one overemphasizes the doctrine of justification, he may end up teaching that works and piety are not needed in the Christian life. A reaction to that would be an overemphasis on the doctrine of sanctification, where certain works/gifts/charisms once seen as a reaction to grace now become legislated and those who don’t practice or show those works are taught to question their salvation.  The two sides meet, they harden their position, defending what they see as a true doctrinal position, to the extent that only that doctrine matters.

When I read the quote on the plane, 30 such issues came to mind.  (examples include the Sacraments, the Commandments – especially the Sabbath,  Religion versus Relationship, the Work of the Holy Spirit, Worship Wars, Evangelism/Mission versus Orthodoxy)   Several that friends of mine are dealing with, or have dealt with in recent years. I tucked it away in the back of my mind.  This morning my regular devotions (from which the other four quotes come)  brought up the problem again, and the answer to it.

Hence the blog this morning.

The issue is one of sin, specifically the sin of pride and the exaltation of man’s ability to reason.

We know the danger of man’s reason apart from God, but do we realize that we still fall prey to the pride which exalts our reason, our understanding?  That makes us believe that we know all we need, even more than those around us?  Do we realize we are still but the children of God, that we don’t know it all, and even more importantly, we can’t apply all that we do know?

It is, as the quote in green above states, the battle of self idolatry.  Proverbs reiterates the same thing, our need not to be able to understand, but to trust God, to lean on Him, to continually refer back, not just to man’s wisdom, but to scripture, to prayer. Psalms reiterates this theme of trust, of walking with God.

The challenge is that doctrines are beautiful, there is something overwhelming about those “aha” moments when something life-changing is realized.  But that one doctrine cannot become the defining doctrine of our life.  Even the study of all doctrine cannot be, for doctrine itself doesn’t save us, Christ does.  Doctrine may instruct us in how our souls are healed in how reconciliation occurs, of how the means of grace deliver that precious grace.  The wisdom of God being revealed is a wonderful thing.

But it isn’t our God.

Imagine studying about marriage,  You’ve read every sociological book, every psychological book, every book describing the intimacy that a husband and wife share, physical, spiritual, emotional.  You look at your own marriage certificate, memorizing it so well, that you could reproduce it from memory…even the crinkle in the seal.  You invest every moment of your time in such learning about marriage that many consider you an expert.

But you’ve done so, at the expense of time with your spouse…..

How well can you really know what the union of two souls are?

Same thing with God.

The key to avoiding heresy is not managing to juggle and keep in balance all the doctrines that are taught in scripture.

The key is abiding in Christ.  Of walking with God, of realizing that you are the temple of the Holy Spirit.  Of knowing the dimensions of His love for you and all His people. To receive His mercy, His forgiveness and the healing of our souls. It is then you can hear His voice, it is then you know His love and mercy and grace.  It is then you treasure its words, for what it reveals about God and His people.  It is then that doctrines aren’t just a matter of knowledge, a matter of the mind.  But then that they are a description of our life as thise who trust God.

It is then, that these words, in bold colors above, resonate with us, because they are our prayers.

God’s peace to you… and know that you are kept, your heart and mind, in that peace. by Christ.  AMEN.

 

(1)  From Celtic Daily Prayer, Aidan Readings for 10/25, credited as from Hebridean Altars

(2)  Ortiz, Juan Carlos (2011-08-09). From the Jungles to the Cathedrals: The Captivating Story of Juan Carlos Ortiz (Biography: Great Leaders of Our Times) (Kindle Locations 1717-1718). Vida. Kindle Edition.

(3)  Escriva, Josemaria (2011-01-31). The Forge (Kindle Locations 924-925). Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition.

Lutheran Piety, Pietism, and Walking With God


Devotional Thoughts of the Day:

18  When the people heard the thunder and the trumpet blast and saw the lightning and the smoking mountain, they trembled with fear and stood a long way off. 19  They said to Moses, “If you speak to us, we will listen; but we are afraid that if God speaks to us, we will die.” Exodus 20:18-19 (TEV)

“I am learning that (some) Lutherans know how to talk things but not necessarily walk the talk. Putting things they know into practice makes them “pietists” because good things just pop out of you from thin air. Saying part of my piety – how I practice my faith – I learned from my parents because they took me to church as a child makes me a pietist.”  ( a friend’s post on Facebook)

i have a friend whose recent encounters with those who identify themselves as Lutherans.   The result of such interactions led to the post in blue above, and it seems it is becoming more vocal, more frequent, at least in social media.

I’ve even heard it in a meeting or two, where somethings are looked down upon because they are two mystical.  Sometimes this is meditating on a passage, or spending time thinking deeply about the Lord’s Supper or Baptism.  Heck, I’ve even heard it spoken in regards to the sacraments themselves, as pastors who encourage regular confession and absolution, or weekly (or even more frequent) celebration of the Lord’s Supper, are held in derision.  Too pietistic, to holier-than-thou, too mystical for real Christians.

There is something about these accusations that doesn’t ring true, either Biblically or Doctrinally. It seems almost defensive, as if they were willing to take the promises of being justified by faith, but not desiring the sanctification that occurs as part of God delivering us.

The attitudes appears to be that some prefer that academic theology reign supreme, winning theological arguments is considered a great investment of time.  Using liturgical orders, nice and clean is advisable, or even “loving” one’s hymnal is fine, but talking about seeing people realize they are in the presence of God is not faithful or confessional.  These who would criticise any trying to live in accord with their baptism seem to be afraid to encounter God.  Willing to hold off, realizing that they are in Christ, for the evidence of such, they dislike intensely.  And if appearances are correct, these people are somewhat like the bunch that gather around Moses.

Tell us, they say, and we will listen.

They won’t, we don’t, we can’t.

We know this, we preach it.

Just let us do DS3 and all will be right. Give us the ability to quote Forde, or Gerhard or Preus and all will be well.  But encountering Jesus?

It is as if they were the apostles of John, who knew of God’s love… but don’t understand the Holy Spirit.

What changes us is what some Lutherans call incarnational theology, That Jesus came and dwells among us.  Not just the scripture, He does.  That we are the temple of the Holy Spirit, that where we stand is as holy and set apart as Mt Sinai.  That our baptism is truly uniting with Jesus, in His death and in His resurrection (back to Romans 6), that we are the masterpiece of God (Eph 2:10) that Jesus didn’t just save us from death and sin and satan, but He delivers us to the Father, and we walk with God.

Knowing this make those pietistic actions transform into piety, ways we walk with God.  They make these things sacramental, and holy.  They remind us that as we do these things God has ordained for us to do, we encounter Him in every step, in every breath. We encounter the mystery of God, and yeah – we can’t always explain it.

We just live, in Christ Jesus.

This is why we talk of following Christ, Abiding in Him, that to live is Christ.

Not something to fear, not a terrifying encounter… just being with Him.

This is what brought Luther great peace.  This is why he called God His Fortress, His Sanctuary.

 

Walking with God…..


Devotional Thought of the Day:DSCF1421

22  They came to Bethsaida, where some people brought a blind man to Jesus and begged him to touch him. 23  Jesus took the blind man by the hand and led him out of the village. After spitting on the man’s eyes, Jesus placed his hands on him and asked him, “Can you see anything?” 24  The man looked up and said, “Yes, I can see people, but they look like trees walking around.” 25  Jesus again placed his hands on the man’s eyes. This time the man looked intently, his eyesight returned, and he saw everything clearly. Mark 8:22-25 (TEV)

212      Let us marvel at the lovable paradox of our Christian condition: it is our own wretchedness which leads us to seek refuge in God, to become “like unto God”. With him we can do all things.  (1)

15 years ago this month, I was a young pastor, at my first church a little over a year.  I was starting to crumble, when a query about a church conference turned into an opportunity that changed my ministry career.  I was offered the chance to replace a pastor that had dropped out of a exclusive preaching program at what was called the Fuqua School of Christian Communication.  The Basic course was supposed to have 25 students, and one backed out.  It was held at the Crystal Cathedral, in conjunction with other seminaries who made it part of their DMin program. 

It required me to be videotaped during a short sermon, 15 minutes or so. 

Most of the other pastors were from churches of 350-1500.  Some were on television, some were in famous churches.  I was pastoring a church in the desert, one many have given up on.  We would work 5 to 1 with some of the most famous preachers and christian communicators in the USA.  My mentor was Juan Carlos Ortiz. If you’ve never heard him, in English or Spanish, you should.  He is one of the most dynamic, deep preachers you will ever hear.  He had the first mega church in his home country of Argentina, came to the USA and started a church for people speaking spanish at the Crystal Cathedral.

As I watched him shred the first four pastors in my group, I became more and more fearful.  I was very stiff, monotoned and tried to stuff 45 minutes into 15.  I could anticipate every comment he would make, and already feeling overwhelmed by my “peers”, I was wondering if they advise wouldn’t have been similar to what I had heard before.  That I wasn’t cut our (they said I didn’t have the gift ) to be a preacher.

That’s not what Juan Carlos did.  After shredding (very politely constructively and with the skill and elan of a world class fencer ) the more renowned and skilled preacher, he focused on a 75 second portion of my message.

There, I told the story of the picture above, although thirty-five plus years in the past. Instead of my son and I, I was the son, my dad beside me, on the same road along the shore of Lake Ossipee in Salem New Hampshire.  Then and still, this is the relationship we are to have with God, walking hand in hand down the road together.  Sharing the problems of life, our doubts, our joys, our anxieties. Ask questions about this life that puzzle us,  Asking for help in making life right. (confession)   And sometimes, it is simply walking in silence.

It is this communion that is what the life of a Christian is to be.  It is how Jesus ministered to the blind man as well, taking him by the hand, and walking with Him.  It is as St Josemarie talked of, where our problems, our anxieties, our fears, our sins are the very thing that drives us to God in the first place. There. everything becomes right.

What Juan Carlos told me was to tell this story, the same way.  To get people to know the God who walks with them, as a father walking with his son.  If I did that, everything else would fall into place.

Today I took that walk with my son…. today, I thought back on that lesson… today, perhaps you need to get back on that road you used to walk with your Father in heaven.

It’s time – let’s all go for that walk….

Amen.

 

Escriva, Josemaria (2011-01-31). The Forge (Kindle Locations 926-927). Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition.


Devotional Thought of the Day:The church, is always in the midst of a storm... but safe in Him

Deuteronomy 33:3 (NLT)
3  Indeed, he loves his people; all his holy ones are in his hands. They follow in his steps and accept his teaching.

155      You want to follow in Christ’s footsteps, to wear his livery, to identify yourself with Jesus. Well then, make your faith a living faith, full of sacrifice and deeds of service, and get rid of everything that stands in the way.

It seems the topic of faith and works make for the most popular of blog posts.

One one side are those who are like the men in the video I saw yesterday, who demand that Christians force themselves to be fruitful (defined by how many converts they have “made”.  They consider this to be the way of Christ.  And if you don’t spend your life doing what they think you should, they say your conversion is not valid.

On the other side, are those that say what you do doesn’t matter. That we are saved by grace, not by our works. Therefore, those who focus on work in their spiritual walk are not “getting” it.  Even if they don’t count on the works to save them, any attempt to do things because of their relationship with God is suspect.

Both sides are in the ditch, not understanding something that goes back to the garden of Eden. That trusting God is something that is a relationship, a journey together.  Walking with God, like children walking in the steps of their older brother.  As we walk with Him, we do those things He does, loving, showing mercy, forgiving, serving, sacrificing as He would,

That is how He makes a masterpiece of our lives, in a natural, simple way.

That is how as well, we shed the things, like sin, hatred, greed, envy, that the writer Hebrews says traps us, keeps us from living in peace.  Instead, we are urged to look to Jesus. Paul says the same thing, that as we look to Jesus, the Holy Spirit is at work, transforming us, God is at work,in ways we don’t even realize…

Teaching us how to love, to be like Him…. to know His peace…..

This is good, this is how we are meant to live…so trust in Christ, let the Holy Spirit drive your devotion to the Lord… and live in Christ!

 

 

 

Escriva, Josemaria (2011-01-31). The Forge (Kindle Locations 738-740). Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition.

Are We There Yet? Backseat Conversations on the Way to Heaven


Are We There Yet?Concordia Lutheran Church
Backseat Conversations on the Way to Heaven!

Matthew 22:15-22

IHS

 

May the grace and peace of God our Father, and the Lord Jesus Christ be what sustains you on this journey, until we are before His throne.

 

Are We There Yet? 

If you have ever been on a long journey with children, you will have heard words like this before, perhaps multiple times on one journey.

“Are we there yet?”

You might here the question every 5 or 10 minutes at some point in the journey.  The person beside you might even utter those words a time or two.

That is the nature of a long journey, and we are on one.

For the one knowing the way, there is no question about how long the journey is.  There signs are there, the progress is known. There is no panic, no question, there is jus the journey.  He knows the road, the signs, and the distance…

Even though the questions are asked, over and over.  Even those who ask the question from the back seat aren’t sure, He is.

In our journey on the way to heaven, there are a number of reasons we would ask the question.  It might be because the journey is rough, because of the health issues we have, because of the struggles in life, because of anxieties over ebola, or taxes or just life in general.

In our gospel reading this morning, we heard the answer to whether we are there yet…

Whose picture and inscription is visible upon you?

Is it the image of an idol, or is it the image of God?

Can you say with Paul the apostle, “Imitate Me as I Imitate Christ?”

Do You Bear The Image of God?

Consider this, when you look in the mirror, do you see the image of God?

Do you find yourself doing things you would be sure Christ would do, the things that bring glory to God the Father?

Or do you continue to find yourself doing the things you know you shouldn’t be doing?

Do you find yourself looking at your day, regretting the times you acted sinfully, that you weren’t loving the people God has brought into your life?  Do you trust in Him?  Does it show in your life as clearly as the image of Caesar on a denarius, as clearly as Lincoln on a penny, or George Washington of a quarter?

Do people looking at you recognize God’s image?

 

How would your life look, if you did bear a resemblance to Jesus?

Or does the idea that you should be able to say to those on the journey to heaven, “Imitate me, as I imitate Christ.” cause a moment of anxiety?

If Jesus asked those around you, “Whose image do you see imprinted on Albert/Tom/Chuck/Bob?” what would they say?  Would they identify us with Jesus?

Would you be afraid to ask?

That is why the Pharisees were so amazed, this trap they hoped to catch Jesus in, required them to evaluate themselves.

But what about us, are we there yet?

Have we grown in our trust of God enough, that He is visible in our actions, in our words, in our thoughts?  Or does something else rule over us?  Do we love all people the way Jesus does, or do we hold back, because of resentment or fear?

Paul and the image of God

If we are going to evaluate our own lives by whether people see Christ, we need to remember the sermon in this series where Paul handed over the trash, all of the reasons that he used to think he could claim being righteous.

He once though he could justify himself by his family connections, or by how long he went to synagogue.  He thought because he knew the Old Testament so thoroughly, and he followed God’s law as closely as anyone could.

Yet when he evaluated himself compared to Jesus, he saw all of those reasons he used to think himself good and righteous, as what was holding him back.  They were trash.

In fact, in his letter to the church in Rome, he wrote,

18  And I know that nothing good lives in me, that is, in my sinful nature. I want to do what is right, but I can’t. 19  I want to do what is good, but I don’t. I don’t want to do what is wrong, but I do it anyway. 20  But if I do what I don’t want to do, I am not really the one doing wrong; it is sin living in me that does it. Romans 7:18-20 (NLT)

As he evaluated himself, to see how close he was to being there, honestly, he couldn’t say he was.

He had to confess that he had no right to claiming he was close to his goal, the calling we have in Christ Jesus.

the gospel
If looking in a mirror, you cannot see Jesus, it isn’t the end of the world.  Because it isn’t the end of the journey.

It is why I announced to you this morning, that all of the trash in your life, God has removed, He’s forgiven.

As Paul says, for those in Christ, there is no condemnation,

This isn’t a justification for not acting like Christ, Paul said we shouldn’t sin all the more so that God would get more praise.

Rather, we should strive to follow God, and honestly repent when we fail.

So how do we know we are getting closer!

So, are you getting there?  Are you bearing the image of God more today than yesterday?  How can you tell?  How about the people around you?  Are they?

How can we encourage each other to live in ways that others see us, and know we are the Lord’s?

It all starts with trusting God, just like children trust their parents to get them where they are supposed to go!  That when God promises this work is being done it is, and we simply rely on Him to give us the will and desire to do as He does.  We trust and depend on Him, accepting the way He would have us go, the rules by which we live.

We spend more time with Him, just as kids would in the car with who is driving them!

That is the point, knowing Who we travel with, spending the time with God, listening and talking to Him.  That results in the image of God becoming clearer and clear in our lives.  It isn’t what we do that makes us faithful, it is found in knowing Him, and understanding what He will be faithful to do in us.

He forms us, He teaches us, Knowing He is taking us there,  He is, as Hebrews says, the author and the one who perfects our faith.  Who brings us home…. And until then, keeps us in the faith!

Amen?

A Radical. Ordinary,Practical Faith….Woven Into Our Very Lives


Devotional Thought of the Day:The Good Shepherd, carrying His own.

25  And I have been made a servant of the church by God, who gave me this task to perform for your good. It is the task of fully proclaiming his message, 26  which is the secret he hid through all past ages from all human beings but has now revealed to his people. 27  God’s plan is to make known his secret to his people, this rich and glorious secret which he has for all peoples. And the secret is that Christ is in you, which means that you will share in the glory of God. 28  So we preach Christ to everyone. With all possible wisdom we warn and teach them in order to bring each one into God’s presence as a mature individual in union with Christ. Colossians 1:25-28 (TEV)

Recognizing time as a reality made holy by a loving God, the Celtic saints valued the daily, the routine, the ordinary. They believed God is found, not so much at the end of time when the reign of God finally comes, but now,where the reign ous already being lived by God’s faithful people.  Theirs was a spirituality characterized by gratitude, and in our stories,we find them worshipping God in their daily work and very ordinary chores.  (1)

140      Live your Christian life with naturalness! Let me stress this: make Christ known through your behaviour, just as an ordinary mirror reproduces an image without distorting it or turning it into a caricature. If, like the mirror, you are normal, you will reflect Christ’s life, and show it to others.

It is rare, but every once in a while people ask me why this blog quotes a Catholic saint by the name of Josemaria Escriva so often.  After all he is the founder of what seem to think is a radical catholic movement called Opus Dei. I am a Lutheran pastor, a spiritual descendant of one who didn’t quite get along with the Catholic hierarchy of his day.

So what are you thinking pastor?  ( Some might even think I am some kind of radical infiltrator, a sheep in wolves clothing, or a wolf in sheep’s clothing!  ( I guess mot only would Lutherans be suspicious, maybe some Catholics might be as well?)

An explanation is in order, and my thoughts this morning, looking on the lake near where I grew up got me thinking about this.

I want, no, I need a practical faith.  Like the quote in green above, like the Celts had.  A relationship with God who is Immanuel, that is God with us!  A daily relationship with jesus – whose names is literally Yhwh (the name of God in Hebrew) and saves,

I don’t want a God who is locked in libraries, or only found in the sanctuaries where He does gather His people.  I need one who bakes bread with bakers (I highly suggest Brother Lawrence’s Practicing the Presence of Christ) , and is with kids and collegians in classrooms, and with maudlin 50 year old pastors, going back to where they grew up.

I need, no, we need, a God who is closer to our hearts than our skin. Who brings peace where there was anxiety, where broken hearts find healing.  A God who ensures we are not, whether in Los Angeles or a small New England town, or a city of 15 million in China. that we are never, never alone.

A God who not only shares our lives, but His own, Not just His death, but His glory.

A God who I am grateful to know.

All of my favorite Christian writers talk of such, find rest and sanctuary in this God.  St Escriva and Martin Luther perhaps more than any, but also Gene Edwards, or Martyn Lloyd Jones, Brother Lawrence, or Robert Webber and William Willimon.  In Escriva’s books, it is boiled down simply, naturally, Christ is here… we just need to realize it.

We need a God whom we can worship, because He is here…

And praise and glorify Him, for He is here…. we don’t have to find Him, He found us, even at great cost… and is bringing us home!

(1)  From Celtic Daily Prayer, for October 18:  Original from EC Sellner, Wisdom of Celtic Saints. .

(2)  Escriva, Josemaria (2011-01-31). The Forge (Kindle Locations 690-693). Scepter Publishers. Kindle Editi

The Necessity of Good Works


Devotional Thought of the Day:OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

4  May you always be joyful in your union with the Lord. I say it again: rejoice! 5  Show a gentle attitude toward everyone. The Lord is coming soon. 6  Don’t worry about anything, but in all your prayers ask God for what you need, always asking him with a thankful heart. 7  And God’s peace, which is far beyond human understanding, will keep your hearts and minds safe in union with Christ Jesus. 8  In conclusion, my friends, fill your minds with those things that are good and that deserve praise: things that are true, noble, right, pure, lovely, and honorable. 9  Put into practice what you learned and received from me, both from my words and from my actions. And the God who gives us peace will be with you. Philippians 4:4-9 (TEV)

116      Fill yourself with good desires, which is a holy thing, praised by God. But don’t leave it at that! You have to be a soul—a man, a woman—who deals in realities. To carry out those good desires, you have to formulate clear and precise resolutions. And then, my child, you have to fight to put them into practice, with God’s grace.  (1)

Since Adam and Eve left the garden it seems, there have been discussions about doing good works, about purity of thought, about living a life that would please God.

I realized something about such conversations, they are rarely practical.

They can be theological, discussing how faith and works interact.  Or how works and salvation are related.  Most say that works aren’t necessary for salvation, but the arguments occur after that seemingly go on forever.  The same can be said about the laws of God, and the Law of God.  How does it impact believers, are we bound to first use of the law, or is there a third use.

Nice academic exercises.

One of my parishioners recently hit me hard with a comment, showing what conversations we don’t have.   She mentioned that I explained the what well, and the why well, but often leave out the how.  I thought about it, and I think she has a major point.  It reminds me of one of my greatest fears.  Trying to teach my wife, or my son, how to drive a stick shift, a manual transmission. It is about sensing, not thinking, and therefore it is hard to explain.  Well, that is my excuse, and I won’t stick to it.

So here goes…. how to accomplish good works

When it comes to works, the first step has to be internal.  You can’t do what is right, if our minds are always focused on what is not.

Which is why Paul tells us to fill our minds with things that deserve praise, the good things in life.  Think on these things,  On God’s love, on mercy, on His presence and peace.  Don’t just think about them for thirty seconds, but often dwell on them.  Think of Christ’s example, or that of apostles or those who’ve gone before us in the faith.

From dwelling on these things – to the point of desiring them in your life, desire them.  Think of the good you can do, and for everyone this is different.  It might be holding the hand of someone who is stressed and anxious.  It is always praying for people, not just saying that you will keep them in prayer.  It may be offering help, physical, financial, more often emotional.  POinting them to that which will help their anxiety fade, pointing them to what will strengthen their faith.  (An example – asking them why we commune, or what their baptism means – and reminding them that God is in their life..reminding them of passages like Romans 8:28-38)

Desiring to spend more time walking with God is the key, hearing Him, knowing Him, realizing the peace He brings,   That is the key to doing good works, and yes, in Christ we can… for our lives, our souls are God’s good work, as He transforms us and guides us in doing what He has planned….

So think on Christ’s love, often… let it dwell in you richly… so much you sing about it unconsciously…..

Oh and the necessity of doing this?  Try it for a while, then you will understand….for what happens is beyond our understanding….

Escriva, Josemaria (2011-01-31). The Forge (Kindle Locations 610-613). Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition.

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