Devotional and Discussion Thought of the Day:
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.
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.
Devotional Thought of the Day:
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….
Escriva, Josemaria (2011-01-31). The Forge (Kindle Locations 926-927). Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition.
Devotional Thought of the Day:
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!
† 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.
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!
Devotional Thought of the Day:
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
Devotional Thought of the Day:
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.
Devotional and Discussion Thought of the Day:
17 But it is in that way faith comes, from hearing, and that means hearing the word of Christ. Romans 10:17 (NJB)
24 Some of them were convinced by his words, but others would not believe. 25 So they left, disagreeing among themselves, after Paul had said this one thing: “How well the Holy Spirit spoke through the prophet Isaiah to your ancestors! 26 For he said, ‘Go and say to this people: You will listen and listen, but not understand; you will look and look, but not see, 27 because this people’s minds are dull, and they have stopped up their ears and closed their eyes. Otherwise, their eyes would see, their ears would hear, their minds would understand, and they would turn to me, says God, and I would heal them.’ “ 28 And Paul concluded: “You are to know, then, that God’s message of salvation has been sent to the Gentiles. They will listen!” Acts 28:24-28 (TEV)
123 Meus es tu—you are mine, the Lord has declared to you. To think that God, who is all beauty and all wisdom, all splendour and all goodness, should say to you that you are his…! and then, after all this, you can’t bring yourself to respond to him!
His name is Paul, but most people in the USA who would quickly recognize his voice, have no idea of who he is, or what he does outside of five words.
But say those five words, and they will picture him, his glasses, his short hair cut, the blue jumpsuit and the arm which is glued to a cell phone, which is glued to his ear.
He is always asking, “Can you hear me now?” Over and over and over again.
But he isn’t the only one.
The quote from Acts above is replicated in the gospels, it is retold in Paul’s writings, and some would say it originates in the Isaiah. But the first people to hear it, dwelt in a garden, and daily, physically, walked with God. Can you hear me know Adam? Eve, are you listening?
They weren’t. The people of God in the time of Moses didn’t hear Him that well, in fact, they asked not to hear Him, for to hear God is a scary, intimidating thing. We are afraid of what we will hear. We are afraid of what he says, and like children or teenagers, we become good at hearing what God tells us, is beloved children. We busy ourselves with things, some of which we believe will earn His favor, but which simply exist to keep us from listening from being still and knowing that He is God.
We hear Luther’s “A Mighty Fortress” and want to make it the anthem of a church at war with evil in the world, rather than the cry of one who is broken, abused, neglected and oppressed, who finds rest and sanctuary in Christ. ( Remember, Luther writes that based on Psalm 46, not Revelation)
Will we listen when Jesus calls us to His side, to unite with Him in death, to come to Him because we are weary and burdened, so we can find rest and healing? Will we listen to the Holy Spirit, not described as a Warrior General, as a spiritual Chuck Norris/Bruce Lee/Yoda, but as the Comforter and Consoler. Will we listen to a God who attributes are love and mercy? (cHesed, Ellios, agape)
Will we listen and hear, and let the word of Christ dwell in us,
Or will we claim there was a bad connection, that the email was lost, that we didn’t get the Lord’s message, or understand His desire?
Will we here Him say,
1 “Do not be afraid—I will save you. I have called you by name—you are mine. Isaiah 43:1 (TEV)
Hear Him, dear people of God… and live!
(1) Escriva, Josemaria (2011-01-31). The Forge (Kindle Locations 635-638). Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition.
Discussion and Devotional Thought of the Day:
18 And do not get drunk on wine, in which lies debauchery, but be filled with the Spirit, 19 addressing one another (in) psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and playing to the Lord in your hearts, 20 giving thanks always and for everything in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ to God the Father. Ephesians 5:18-20 (NAB)
16 Christ’s message in all its richness must live in your hearts. Teach and instruct one another with all wisdom. Sing psalms, hymns, and sacred songs; sing to God with thanksgiving in your hearts. 17 Everything you do or say, then, should be done in the name of the Lord Jesus, as you give thanks through him to God the Father. Colossians 3:16-17 (TEV)
3 After all, the chief purpose of all ceremonies is to teach the people what they need to know about Christ. (1)
16 Ultimately, if we should list as sacraments all the things that have God’s command and a promise added to them, then why not prayer, which can most truly be called a sacrament? It has both the command of God and many promises. If it were placed among the sacraments and thus given, so to speak, a more exalted position, this would move men to pray. (1)
Recently, there has been an attack on worship, articles that have challenged it having a prominent role. Some have demeaned it, and denigrated the role of those entrusted to lead and facilitate our praise of God.
Some of the criticisms need to be heard, there are times worship leaders of all styles act like entertainers, deserving to be heard. But I believe most of the criticisms are based in a irrational fear of the emotions we have, which need to be admitted before God. More on that after some basic thoughts
There is a real need for worship, an the role of a worship leader/cantor/praise team/choir and the church (while worshipping and praising God) is at its very core, as much of a means of grace and as sacramental as a sermon, as the readings. Here is why I say that;
There are two “kinds” of lyrics, though in some songs you might have both.
1. Horizontal Lyrics teach
Here the role of the music is to teach, encourage, catechize and reveal the glory and grace of God our Father and our Lord Jesus Christ. The very same goal as a sermon, as the people hearing and singing the words realize their absolute need for Jesus Christ, and they share with each other their sorrows, and their joy when Christ is revealed to them.
This is the word of God, being proclaimed in words accompanied by music, but it is the word of God. Look at how it fits into the passage in Colossians, it is part of the teaching and instruction, the mutual building up of the people of God. Melancthon does exclude worship in his words in the Augsburg Confession – the role of the worship service is to gie to people, to teach them, what they know of Christ.
2. Vertical Lyrics Pray…
Worship that is vertical, that is directed to God is either prayer or praise, “Lord, come do what you promised”, “Lord you have rescued me!”, “Lord, have mercy on me, a sinner.”. This is second commandment work, the proper use of the Name of God, which He has given to us to talk to Him, to sing to Him. Again, the Lutheran Confession talk of such prayer as a sacrament, as being sacramental, even if only because of that we pray more! We need to seek God more, we need to be found like Isaiah, and the 70 elders, we desperately need to experience the fact that we live in the presence of God; Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
That is a scary thought, for to be in the presence of God means that all of our fears, all of our anxieties, all of our emotions, are laid bare. They are known. We can’t hide our hearts or our souls from God. We can’t hide our jealousies, our lusts, our anger, our desire to be in control. Music, singing these biblical lyrics, have a way of doing that, of sneaking in through our (arts/emotion) right brain, while distracting us by occupying our left brain (knowledge, logic) and ministering to our complete brokenness.
We don’t like that, it scares us. And any kind of worship can do this, from 4 or 5 guys singing the doxology on a retreat, to a choir putting voice to O Sacred Head, or A Mighty Fortress, to a praise team simply singing Amazing Grace- My Chains are Gone, or a classical guitarist plucking out the Lord’s Prayer. The music opens our souls, letting out that which poisons them, as the Love of God inherent in the words of scripture rush in and cleanse us.
The music moves us…. and sometimes that is scary, but it is a incredible blessing as well.
This is why as we prepare for worship, it needs to be done in prayer, meditating on the word. This is why the instrumentalists and singers need to practice so well, that they can lose themselves in the worship, even as they lead others in it. Any style can be done poorly, to loud, to erratic, to performance driven. When leading the prayers and praises of God’s people is done poorly, it robs them of their voice, it robs them as well of that which can facilitate their prayers, focus their praises, distract them from being in the presence of God…..
But worship leading, done right? It is as beneficial as a well crafted and delivered sermon. For it is the gospel proclaimed, and because it is prayer, it is sacramental.
And to quote our confessions, if we realize it is such, maybe we will engage in it all the more!
(And remember to pray for those who serve you, the people of God, in this ministry, just as you pray for your pastors)
Kyrie Eleison (Lord Have Mercy!)
Alleluia (Praise God!)
(1) Tappert, T. G. (Ed.). (1959). The Book of Concord the confessions of the Evangelical Lutheran Church. (p. 56). Philadelphia: Mühlenberg Press. AC XXIV
(1) Tappert, T. G. (Ed.). (1959). The Book of Concord the confessions of the Evangelical Lutheran Church. (p. 213). Philadelphia: Mühlenberg Press. AAC XIII
Backseat Conversations on the Way to Heaven:
Where are We Going?
† IHS †
As we journey through this life, may we keep in sight the destination, the place where we realize completely the love and mercy of God our Father, and the Lord Jesus Christ!
Other Destination Options:
Have you ever been tempted to play hookey from a family gathering? You’re on your way to your grandparent’s house, and you see how beautiful a day it is, and you think, we could just spend a little while at the park, or maybe the beach?
Or maybe you are working on a project, sewing that new whatever it is people sew and just another twenty minutes and you will finish it! Or the ball game is on, and you will leave a little later…and make up for it by driving a little faster?
Back when we were kids, and we were about to be stuffed in the back seat together, I bet many of us had a way to stall. Maybe we didn’t want to get dressed up, Or we blamed our sister for taking too much time in the bathroom. For me, it usually was – just let me finish the book I am reading!
It’s not that we didn’t know about the feast that awaited us, Grampy’s sausage, or Uncle Wally’s fireworks, or the French Onion Dip and carved turkey? There were just other things….that seemed important for that moment.
If you did this, and arrived two hours late, were you upset when they didn’t keep everyone waiting for dinner?
Do we play the same game with God?
Do we miss His invitations to spend time with Him, to share the feasts He has prepared, because we have other things to do before we continue on our journey to heaven?
Why Didn’t God wait for Us?
Patient, we hear God is patient.
Abraham and Moses count on it for their people. Joseph comforts his brothers with the thought of God’s patience. David praises God for God’s patience with him. Job depends on it, even when he doesn’t have the answers. Peter tells us why God is so patient, because God doesn’t want anyone to perish, but all to be transformed and made holy. Set apart to a relationship with God.
An interesting thought, this patience of God.
Curious, has anyone here ever had someone take advantage of their patience?
How did it feel?
Ever plan and cook a dinner, like the king in the parable, only to have the people choose to do something else?
What if their excuse, like the excuses in the parable, is somewhat weak? I heard one yesterday, for example, that was that we miss church sometimes because we know church and Bible studies will be here next week, but that other thing, that game, is today. I need to make this abundantly clear: this parable isn’t just about our church life.
How often do we fail to talk to God, to put our trust in Him for the things we are struggling with? How often do we think we have to find another solution for our problems, a different road to take? How often will we pass by the opportunity to think and meditate on His love. Do we find something else, rather than being still, and knowing He is God?
Does being patient cost you something? Does it ever tear at you, frustrate you, even sadden you?
Have we ever wondered what God’s patience costs Him?
We know being patient costs us, we know the levels of frustration, even pain, as we see people we love do the wrong things.
Things that would so concern God, that He sent Jesus, to live life, to suffer and die on the cross, to make it right…
To bring all who would come, to His feast, to be His family.
The good and bad alike…..all are welcome, all are offered the opportunity to be made ready. Matter of fact, we are sent out to bring them here; to celebrate, to enjoy, to know His peace.
But what are we missing?
If I can go back to the original illustration, we know that there are some things that we miss, when we divert from the original journey, we realize we are going to miss some things.
if we were diverted on our way to Grampy DeLuca’s house, it would mean we would miss Grampy’s incredible Italian sausages. Even some 34 years later, I can remember walking down the stairs into his basement, where they would be in the oven. We’d miss Grampy and Uncle Bill, Uncle Butchie and my dad singing. (I’ll actually get to play the piano that I played for them this week. ) we’d miss everyone at peace, the one day when all family fights were given a reprieve, a truce.
I would have us ask what we miss, when we forgo our times with God, whether here at church, or whether it is the time we could set aside for prayer, for spending time meditating on His word, and on the gifts He gives us? What do we give up?
You see my friends, this is about doing things because we have to do them or we won’t be good. It’s about doing them for the same reason we go to our family gatherings, a friend’s birthday party, or make time to go to a wedding. No, Don, it’s not because of the food, its’ because of the love of family, and there is no family closer to us than God.
What we are missing is our time with Him, our time realizing the depth of His love. Our time where He assures us that it will all be okay, that He has forgiven us and made everything right. We’d miss the people He surrounds us with to bless us, to help us grow, to give us a hug because they are glad to see us, or to bring us comfort.
When we forgo our time with Him, we miss Him, and all He brings to our life.
These things Paul called the fruit of the Spirit,
22 But the Holy Spirit produces this kind of fruit in our lives: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness, and self-control. There is no law against these things! Galatians 5:22-23 (NLT)
These things aren’t the reason to feast with God, but they are what happens when we do. The reason is simple… to be in the presence of the One who loves us, who gives us life, who gives us Himself, who makes our lives right…..who feeds and nourishes our Spirit, who lifts us up like no other.
Enough so our souls shout His praises, our hearts trust and depend on His healing and restoration, our minds are transformed, and we begin to see reality differently, His way. And we hear his voice calling to us, encouraging more people to come to the feast, for it is ready!