Careers: A Sermon by Vicar Mark Jennings


JANUARY 25th, 2015

Mark 1: 14-20

 

YAHWEH’s most perfect grace and peace to you, in the name of Jesus Christ who calls and chooses you and keeps you forever.

Alleluia, amen!

 

One of the things I have noticed that is changing or has changed in this great country we live in is careers.

What I mean by this is that it seems that people change careers these day faster than you can shake a stick at.

I remember back in the day that people seemed to find a career or job and they stuck with it, it seemed for their whole careers until they retired, even if they didn’t like it! My grandfather was a gardener for 45 years and my father in law was a teacher his whole career.

You got a job and stayed with it.

But now? That doesn’t seem to happen as much anymore. With corporations downsizing and the economy so fluid, these days you may have to choose another career whether you want to or not. It may be out of your control as outside influences seek to change what you think you want to do.

I speak from experience. If you would have said that I was going to be the pastor at OSLC to me 25 or 15 or 5 years ago I would have looked at you like a bull at a new gate! I didn’t want to work Sundays!

I was trying to climb the ladder as a professional artist and designer with the goal of my name up on the screen with a credit on the next Star Wars or Star Trek movie!

But God had other ideas and it’s just not me. There are guys in the SMP program who came from other backgrounds and careers also. One guy worked in the fashion industry and another owned his own beverage company. Another was a children’s book editor while another ran a very lucrative upholstery business.

My brother was a teacher before a pastor.

All these men giving up their careers to start a second career serving God in a new and unique capacity.

An outside influence affected these men just as an outside influence affected those men in our Gospel reading from Mark today.

These fishermen are doing what they do for a living, they are fishing and they are repairing their nets and probably the boats and whatever else it takes to be successful in their careers.

This is the career they have chosen and they had planned to do this til they retire.

Did they retire back then? Maybe move to Arizona or Miami? Did they have a 401k?

So here comes this rabbi who is proclaiming a message of repentance and a belief in some good news that the promises of God are happening right now!

They probably heard the rumblings and talk of this rabbi but then He sees them and makes like a laser beam to them where He says to them, “Come, follow me, and I will make you fishers of men!”

This is the outside influence that changes their career path.

What was their response? Did they look at him and say ohh kayyy and dismiss Him? No, They left their nets at once and followed Him. They repented of their sins and believed the Good News.

This all sounds like they had a choice and chose to accept Jesus.

But listen to what Jesus says in John 15:16 says,” You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit and that your fruit should abide, so that whatever you ask the Father in my name, he may give it to you.”

Of course, they could choose like Jonah tried to do in our OT reading and you saw how that worked out for him!

He became fish bait!

You could say that we have a choice to reject but really we have no choice as that is our standard human default mode. On our own we can’t accept Christ nor do we want to.

So an outside source made these fishers of….fish now start a second career and become fishers of …men!

This was Jesus calling them and choosing them just as He does to us. This was and is Jesus saying,” Consider a new career!”

“Come to me and I’ll do all the heavy lifting. I will make you a trade and a promise, my blood for yours!”

In this promise or covenant is repentance of sins that calls us and changes us and gives all of God’s people a second career, a new start.

Before this we were slaves to our jobs and if we are honest with ourselves, our jobs were sin and we were and are extremely proficient at it even making it our career.

Job and career are the same but different. You work at a job but a career is something usually planned and prepared for. It might include some kind of schooling and training.

Jesus calls these fishermen to leave their jobs and begin a new career with Him just as He does with you and i.

Leave your jobs of sin and begin a new career with our Savior.

Before this new career offer that you can’t refuse, we had settled in to retire in this life. We had no purpose and the products we made was the results of sin. We worked in the dark and on our own trying to control and run our lives and ways..

But the outside interference of Christ changes that.

You’ve been let go of your position and your services are no longer needed or wanted because you now are employed by the Sovereign King of the Universe who sends His Son to bleed and die for you.

The benefits are perfect and the retirement is top notch!

This repentance of sins is yours and it’s freeee!

This repentance of sins though is more than just saying your sorry for your actions, that is a result and response to what God has done and continues to do.  If you look at the Law you realize that you can’t keep the Commandments in thought, word and deed. It really appears hopeless and that is when we hear the good news about the promises of Christ as the Law drives us to the cross.

It is a holistic change and what I mean is that it affects all of you not just a part or section of you but all of you. It is who you become through Christ calling you in baptism. You repent because the Holy Spirit comes to you and you, through the waters of baptism are cleansed and transformed. You have Breen changed and are able to start your second career in service to God through Christ. You are made new.

Remember how it feels when you start a new job? There may be a little apprehension but there is also the fact that you are starting over and starting fresh and new. You have that new car smell not the old fishing trawler smell.

I began the sermon talking about God calling men into a second career as pastors but this calling applies to the entire priesthood of all believers. You all have been called into second careers as you have been repented and transformed by divine love and you now through His work believe the good news.

The good news of Jesus Christ. The very Son of God who came to us and became one of us and died and rose for each one of us and everyone else so that all may live and begin anew!

So consider a new career or better yet, don’t consider or contemplate it, know it through the promises of Christ that you have been called to it and into it.

You have a new career, a second career and what does that mean?

The harvest is plentiful but the workers are few and there are lots and lots of fish to catch.

In your new career you get to fish! My kind of career!

But God has called us to fish for something different and work the harvest for something rather than corn or wheat or grapes.

Our work fishing and harvesting is the sharing of the Word.

Through Christ calling and choosing us which brings the repentance of sins, we can go out and proclaim this same repentance given to us to each other, to family, to friends and co-workers, to our neighborhoods, this neighborhood, to our cities and country.

As we follow Christ in our new and second career, people can see that by our acts of service in response, the repentance and transformation that can be theirs as our Lord calls to us, “Come and follow me and I will make you fishers of men!”

Consider a new career? Instead know that you have one through Christ choosing you like He chose those fishermen!

Alleluia, amen!

The Refuge for A Tiring Monday…..


Devotional Thought of the Day:
Featured image2  For I decided that while I was with you I would forget everything except Jesus Christ, the one who was crucified. 3  I came to you in weakness—timid and trembling….. 5  I did this so you would trust not in human wisdom but in the power of God. 1 Corinthians 2:2,5 (NLT)

19  So far as the Law is concerned, however, I am dead—killed by the Law itself—in order that I might live for God. I have been put to death with Christ on his cross, Galatians 2:19 (TEV)

We live in a world where mental ability is rewarded.  But the heart is not trained.  It just muddles along.  Soon we know more and more, and understand less and less.  (1)  (emphasis mine)

770      When you walk where Christ walked; when you are no longer just resigned to the Cross, but your whole soul takes on its form—takes on its very shape; when you love the Will of God; when you actually love the Cross… then, only then, is it He who carries it. (2)

It was a long, busy weekend, and I am very tired, and thanks to some allergies… wiped out more than usual.

Monday is the longest day of the week for me, most of the time, and I while I love what I do, this day will tire me more.  I know it, even as my aging body groans…..

No amount of knowledge will make it easier.  I won’t find the strength to endure in my knowledge of Greek, or in being able to discuss the communication of magisterial attributes of Christ.  Both things are blessings, but as my prayer book notes, there is a difference of knowing things, of acquiring data, and knowing something, or someone.

I loo around my office, and see the crosses, one painted by a friend, another some fancy hand stitching.  Crosses from Ecuador, from the Ukraine, from Rome and Estonia.   The latter one where Jesus’ body and ornately molded details have been word away from hundreds of years of people holding it close while they prayed.  People who probably could quote the great preachers in history, or the theologian whose works line seminary library walls.

But they knew where to find comfort and peace, in the midst of pain, or anxiety.  They went to the cross, and laid out their lives to the One who loved them. It’s why Paul modeled knowing Christ crucified alone, that they would place their trust in God, in Jesus with who they were crucified.

This goes so against the models of the world, which seeks knowledge for the mind, and allows the heart to struggle and barely survive. Even in the church, the focus is again moving towards a unbalanced focus on knowledge, of getting every aspect of theology, even the minutiae known.  We see a pursuit to explain the mysteries that are unexplainable, and are meant to be that way.  We don’t want to build the tower of Babel, rather a theological equivalent!

But what we need it not knowledge of the material of the cross, or the effective distance of the words of Institution.

we need our souls to live in Christ.  To know the height and depth, the width and breadth of His love, of His mercy, of His desire that we would all become His people.   That can’t be known with the mind alone.  It must be known in our soul, in our heart. That is where the Holy Spirit transforms us (see Ezekiel 36 and 37), as the Breath of God begins our life, and sustains it. (the mind is also transformed, but not just the data storage, but the ability to use that data)

St Josemaria words so resonate here… as do the Celts with Paul.  The cross, the place where suffering can make sense, the place of life….that is where we survive Monday.  It is where our heart, our soul, our mind find the love of God, and find Him carrying all that afflicts us, indeed, it is where He carries us.  For we dwell in Him, in His precious, sacred heart.

So it’s Monday.  You may not want to be where you are, you may be dragging, so much so that your pessimism can’t be overcome with three Trente coffees….. that’s okay…

Run tot he cross… cling to the Lord who died there… that you may live in Him forever.

AMEN

(1)  Celtic Prayer Book – Finian Readings for January 25th.
(2)  Escriva, Josemaria (2011-01-31). The Forge (Kindle Locations 2768-2770). Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition.

It’s Time, Let’s Go Fishing!



It s time…. Come Fishing with Me!
Mark 1:14-20

IHS

Featured imageMay You Be So Changed by the Transforming Gifts of Repentance and Faith that You Don’t Think about Fishing With God, Rather, You Just Do it

Plans? Nah, let’s just go…

There are two types of fishing trips in life.

There is the professional or expert fisherman.

They have everything planned out, they have a place for everything and everything in its place in their tackle boxes.  They have every piece of equipment known to man and Bass Pro Shops.  They have checklists and itineraries, water temperature equipment, fish finders and sonar, first aid kits and emergency beacons, and coolers stocked with food and a Lutheran beverage or two.

In comparison, there was my grandfather, who basically would call up the night before, or show up about 5:30 in the morning, honking his horn a few times rather than knocking on the door, and inviting us to go fishing.

My brother and I, who had trouble waking up for school, would be out of bed, dressed, rods and reels in hand, down the stairs, and out the door, before my mom could wake up and say, no, no, it’s a school day.

We’d be out on the Lake, or in Hampton Harbor, or just outside the Jetty – with the sun barely clearing the horizon.  Fishing… enjoying life… catching a couple dozen flounder, or if it was a bad day… some crabs and eels.

No planning, no fancy equipment, no life jackets, just our rods and reels, a Chinese food carton full of sandworms, a couple of sodas and his cup of coffee.

For a kid, real fishing wasn’t the first kind of fishing.

Real fishing for a 8 year old, was going out in Grampy’s little aluminum boat.

As the disciples abandon their dads, as they leave everything behind, to go fishing for men with Jesus, I picture it like that.

Not a moment’s thought, we knew what we are being called to, and to be honest, we didn’t think about the fishing.  It was what happened, when Grampy picked us up. What it was about was being with him.  The same occurs, when we are awakened by God, and we spend each day fishing for men with Him….

Even as there seemed to be nothing much to Grampy taking us fishing, there was…and those things are there as Jesus takes Peter and Andrew, James and John fishing as well.

Repentance
While we never knew what would cause Grampy to decide to take us fishing on this day or that, it was His decision.  He would have to change His routine, hook up the boat, and drive north from his place.

His horn blast before dawn was like Christ’s call to repentance. It’s time! Let’s go!

With that, everything would change for that day.  Our attitude about staying in our warm beds, about not wanting to leave our place, would dramatically change.  It’s like we weren’t even the same kids.  Our minds focused on something else, our attitudes were that of being alive, and excited about getting up and out!  It wasn’t a conscience change, it was one brought about by the horn.  We heard it, we reacted, we went.

That’s repentance.

Repentance often is pictured as being sorry, or contrite.  Or it is explained as choosing to change how we think and act.  To make a u-turn, especially in how we behave.

It’s not those things.  It is far more internal, in the subconscious. It is hearing the voice of the Lord, and the change that hearing His call awakens in us.

That’s why Luke describes repentance in the book of the Acts of the Apostles as something from God.

30  it was the God of our ancestors who raised up Jesus, whom you executed by hanging on a tree. 31  By his own right hand God has now raised him up to be leader and Saviour, to give repentance and forgiveness of sins through him to Israel. Acts 5:30-31 (NJB)

and
18  When they heard this, they stopped their criticism and praised God, saying, “Then God has given to the Gentiles also the opportunity to repent and live!” Acts 11:18 (TEV)

Do you year the horn going off?  That Jesus has come to take you with Him through life? That things will never be the same?

Maybe its time to wake up, and join Him on this journey through life?

Faith

My grandfather drove a 1970 Ford Maverick.  Besides no back leg room, not even enough for a 8 year old, it had a unique horn sound.  Sort of like a sick frog going through puberty.

Unique enough that it would wake up my 11 year old brother and myself. It would mean something special – because we knew it was Grampy’s.

It wasn’t just believing Grampy was out there.  It meant so much more.  A day fishing with Him, We knew it would be special, because we knew Him.

Having faith in God is like that.  It’s not about believing some cosmological argument for the existence of God, or some theological treatise that attempts to explain how Jesus’s divinity mixed with His humanity.

You just know Him, you trust in Him, and if there is one thing my job boils down to, it is introducing you to the God who loves you enough, to die for every act of self-centeredness you ever committed, for every bit of idolatry, every angry attack on your neighbor, every intimate word, thought or action not directed toward your spouse, every bit of envy, every act of gossip.

He took care of them all, as He said, “it is finished,” and bruised and broken Jesus stopped breathing… and died.

And the promise of everything being made brand new and right and perfect with Him became clear, as He rose from the dead.

That’s what Jesus proclaimed, as He announced the kingdom of God was near…. As near to Peter and James, Andrew and John, as it is to you, this very moment.

The gospel for you to hear.

He is here, calling for you.  It doesn’t matter if you’ve known him all your life, or this is the first time getting to know His call to you, come walk with me, come join me…..

Let’s go fishing.  Not for flounder or Pollock, but for men and women, those that God the Father sent me to call, to catch, that everything would change for them.

Bweeap Bweap….

Time to go fishing, as we live together, as we journey together through life.

Fishing

It’s one thing for two young kids to go fishing with their grandfather.  Yet the eagerness, and the carefreeness of the disciples, is not so different.  They leave everything behind, as will a tax collector, a rebel, a Pharisee and so many others that went with jesus, and lived life fishing for men.
When my brother Stephen and I went with Grampy, it didn’t matter if we caught a ton of fish, or we didn’t.  The experience was about being with someone we loved.  The journey?  The sitting in a cold boat?  We enjoyed it all, just because we were there.  Everyone knew that we went fishing the next day (even our teachers!)

Fishing for men is like this…. Except it is even better.

Because as our attention is spent on Him, that resulting relationship is what draws others to Him, it is how they are caught.

No worms needed, no bait, no trickery or skill.

it is the effect of knowing we dwell in the presence of God.

For He has called us, transformed us, given us a relationship where we know His incredible love……

So it’s time, let’s walk with Jesus through life, having repented and trusting Him, and fish for men.  AMEN?

 

a thought about truly suffering for God


Devotional thought of the day:

Featured image16  “And when you fast, do not put on a sad face as the hypocrites do. They neglect their appearance so that everyone will see that they are fasting. I assure you, they have already been paid in full. 17  When you go without food, wash your face and comb your hair, 18  so that others cannot know that you are fasting—only your Father, who is unseen, will know. And your Father, who sees what you do in private, will reward you. Matthew 6:16-18 (TEV)

3  The people ask, “Why should we fast if the LORD never notices? Why should we go without food if he pays no attention?” The LORD says to them, “The truth is that at the same time you fast, you pursue your own interests and oppress your workers. 4  Your fasting makes you violent, and you quarrel and fight. Do you think this kind of fasting will make me listen to your prayers? 5  When you fast, you make yourselves suffer; you bow your heads low like a blade of grass and spread out sackcloth and ashes to lie on. Is that what you call fasting? Do you think I will be pleased with that? Isaiah 58:3-5 (TEV)

765      Renew in your own soul the resolution that friend of ours made long ago: “Lord, what I want is suffering, not exhibitionism.”  (1)

There is a trend that is growing more and more.  The idea that those who are “persecuted” should be publicly defended,  Sometimes that call for action is taken by the very people under persecution.  Other times people attach themselves to the cause, urging others to join them.  It is almost like people want other Christians to suffer, a sort of Christian version of Munchausen by Proxy, or even a Svengali syndrome.  And sometimes, we can even bring it on ourselves, a masochistic attempt to gain fame or at least attention.

An example, the person who gets fired for using their position of authority to “spread the gospel”.  Or the Christian who boasts of losing family and friends because of the Biblical position against adultery, or abortion, or homosexulaity.

Even the temptation of pointing our how richer, how much fun, how much sex we could have, how much better life would be, if we didn’t sacrifice our desires out of obedience or submission to Christ.

Jesus addresses that pretty clear in the New Testament.  If you are voluntarily suffering, and it is because of your faith, then don’t let it show.  If you are embracing that pain (ar some annoying stuff) then don’t make a public spectacle of it. we could project that out to those who want to make a Christian cause out of everything, because then they can be the hero.

All of this public suffering borders on exhibitionism, We (or the person/cause) we’ve hooked up with gains us acclaim, or pity, it projects a value or praise onto our life. We pursue, as Isaiah writes, our own interests, our own satisfaction?  Our own recognition by others who declare us, “holy”.

Yet what if we endured it, sought true martyrdom even death, without a sense of need of people even knowing?  What if our cause that never appeared in daylight was sacrificing time and money to help others out of poverty.  What if our desire was not to hear man’s applause, but to hear God welcome us home?  Our suffering should be God pleasing, whether a real form of martyrdom, or the self-sacrificial acts we embrace, loving others?

Can we empty ourselves, in this way?  Even as Christ did?

I think we can do better at it, simply by looking to Christ, adoring Him, cherishing His work. Let me rephrase that – as we do those things, we are being transformed by the Holy Spirit!  Then those crosses and burdens we bear?  They don’t seem worth complaining about, or receiving praise for, simply because knowing Christ in those moments far supersedes any praise or attention gained in other places.

Escriva, Josemaria (2011-01-31). The Forge (Kindle Locations 2755-2756). Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition.

Is God Stalking Me?


Is God Stalking Me?
Featured imagePsalm 139

  IHS

 May we revel in the presence of God our Father, who knows everything about us, and yet is determined to show us His mercy and love.

I could see you… WHAT?

You are walking up to someone, you have never met before.  While the person is becoming famous, you aren’t sure why, matter of fact you are cynical about him.

You go to meet him, and as you are walking up to him, and instead of the meeting being all about him, he makes it all about you….

As He does, it becomes very, very personal….

So personal it is eerie…

We don’t know why Nathaniel’s attitude changed so rapidly in the gospel, or what he was thinking underneath the tree… yet…

It was so personal! it was so deep that Nathaniel only had two possible thoughts,

The first was that Jesus was stalking him… how else could he know…

The second was that Jesus was indeed the Messiah, the one that Moses and the prophets promised, that Jesus was the son of God.

It is both frightening and yet comforting; to know that God knows each and every one of us that well.

The gospel reading this morning is a great illustration of the psalm, and this sermon about how well God knows each of you….

The depth of God’s knowledge

David’s psalm should frighten us a little

The psalm starts out with an amazing concept, that God has examined each one of us.  The word there in Hebrew is rich!  It pictures a legal investigation, not just the facts of the case. It is deeper than that, probing not just what we do, by why we do it.  God examines our integrity, our heart, our emotions, and knows even those parts of us, that we don’t want to face.  The parts of us that keep us awake at night, or cause us to shudder.

He knows those times…

God knows our movements, our thoughts, when we are praising Him and close, and when we try to rebel. God knows what we are going to say, and sing even if those words were going to be cuss words, or words that take His name in vain.

The one that hit me as I was reading it this time, was the phrase, “If I go down to the grave.”, or if I translated it, “if I took my place of rest in death”.  The words of despair that King David knew all too well.  This isn’t just a statement about location, there are words born of despair.

We can’t escape Him, we can’t get away from Him.  Even though there are days we are so confused, so anxious, so in pain that we try to run…

We can’t get away!

He is here…. He is here…

Not to condemn, not to chastise, which we deserve, but as the Psalm says,

You place your hand of blessing on my head. 6  Such knowledge is too wonderful for me, too great for me to understand!

It’s too glorious for me
You will support me

If God knows everything about me, if He knows everything, then why doesn’t He give up on us?

If He knows us in the midst of our anxieties, in the midst of our doubt, or depression; if he knows us as we are about to sin, and do so, knowing it is sin, why does He continue to seek us out?  He continues to be ready to catch us, even seems obsessed with the need to care for us.

God, the creator, the Holy One, the One who determines what is right and wrong.

David, the prophet-king-worship leader described as the man who knew God’s heart, thought the reasoning was beyond him.  No wonder I don’t have a clue as to why God loves us.

Seriously, I can’t tell you why God loves us, yet we know He does.  We don’t know why He has chosen us to be His people. We don’t know why our salvation and the salvation of our friends, our family, our peoples is His obsession.  Why He decided to love us, and pour out His mercy upon us.

We simply know He has.

We see that love in the cross, in the very coming of Christ, and the promises that tell us why He came.  To bear the stripes and nails, to satisfy the very wrath we deserve.  We see it as well, as God promises time after time, to call us by name,

He places His hand upon our head… and marks us with His blessing.

No wonder some make the sign of the cross, the sign of our baptism, with such meaning…. For it reminds them of the wonderful things God has done to us!

The promise of His presence, of His guidance, of His support!

Even more… and invitation…

The idea of God stalking us, of God being obsessed with us may seem a bit odd.  Yet that is what He does.  His thoughts are of us, Peter says He desires that all of us come to repentance.

Not all of us at Concordia…. All of us… each one of us.  Peter tells us that He desires all will come to repentance…

But salvation is not just God knowing us, it is about us knowing Him.  About our being as in love with Him, as He is with us.  I love how St Paul puts it:

May you have the power to understand, as all God’s people should, how wide, how long, how high, and how deep his love is. 19  May you experience the love of Christ, though it is too great to understand fully. Then you will be made complete with all the fullness of life and power that comes from God. Ephesians 3:17-19 (NLT)
That isn’t what happens in sermons, but it is why we have them.  It is what happens in the sacred times, especially the one we are about to share in…

Come my friends, to the table of mercy, and know something too wonderful, to glorious, something we struggle to understand, yet that brings us the greatest of comfort, the greatest of support, the greatest of joy.

God has examined you, and loves you, and calls you His own…. AMEN!

An Introduction to Spiritual Warfare…..


devotional thought of the day;

Featured image We use God’s mighty weapons, not worldly weapons, to knock down the strongholds of human reasoning and to destroy false arguments. 5  We destroy every proud obstacle that keeps people from knowing God. We capture their rebellious thoughts and teach them to really hearing (obeying) Christ. 2 Corinthians 10:4-5 (adapted from the NLT)

3  Long ago the LORD said to His People   I have loved you, my people, with an everlasting love. With unfailing love I have drawn you to myself. Jeremiah 31:3 (adapted from the NLT) 

764      Now, when the Cross has become a serious and weighty matter, Jesus will see to it that we are filled with peace. He will become our Simon of Cyrene, to lighten the load for us. Then say to him, trustingly: “Lord, what kind of a Cross is this? A Cross which is no cross. Now I know the trick. It is to abandon myself in you; and from now on, with your help, all my crosses will always be like this.”  (1)

I see a lot of talk on line, and indeed, I’ve probably got 50 -75 books on Spiritual Warfare.

Some dismissing it, some exhaustive guides on what to do when you face this, face that.  Books on praying for those who are spiritually oppressed, even a couple of odd guides on exorcism.  ( Having read them, and knowing about the sons of Sceva… I wonder why those without experience dare write such!)

Ultimately, spiritual warfare is a fight to trust in God.  To abandon ourselves, our hearts, our minds, our souls, in Christ.  To realize the cross we bear… the anxieties, pains (yes physical/emotional/spiritual) we endure, are endured differently, because we are united to Jesus.  That they can’t separate us from Him, that He has promised these things will be a blessing.

When I replaced the word “obeying” with “really hearing” Jesus in the quote above, I do so because that is what the Greek means. Hyper – which translates as…well “hyper”; and the work akou, which simply means to hear.   We need to hear Him, we need to hear of His love, of His mercy.  We need to understand that He became man, suffered under pilate, was crucified, died and was buried – not for His own personal gain, but to gain us… His people.

That is where spiritual warfare begins, at the baptismal font where we are claimed by Jesus, and joined to His cross.   Where we are made His people – as He desires, as He and the Father planned from before the foundation of the world. Where the promises are sealed to us, guaranteed by the gift of the Holy Spirit. (see Titus 3:1-8)

Yeah – there are spiritual battles, there are demons, and Satan, but they cannot steal someone from God.  Knowing that our burdens, our battles, the things that cause our anxieties, worries, fears… they were defeated at Jesus death.

All spiritual warfare is, including exorcism (and yes, in some cases that is a necessity) , is a battle to make that known…. that we may find refuge, sanctuary, peace.

We must know our cry, “Lord, have mercy” is heard……

And we must hear, as Jesus heard at baptism, “You are my child, and in you I find great joy”

AMEN
(1)  Escriva, Josemaria (2011-01-31). The Forge (Kindle Locations 2751-2754). Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition.

A Simple List To Revitalize Church Services: (just 2 things!)


Devotional Thought of the Day:

Featured image

37  Right at the crest, where Mount Olives begins its descent, the whole crowd of disciples burst into enthusiastic praise over all the mighty works they had witnessed: 38  Blessed is he who comes, the king in God’s name! All’s well in heaven! Glory in the high places!39  Some Pharisees from the crowd told him, “Teacher, get your disciples under control!” 40  But he said, “If they kept quiet, the stones would do it for them, shouting praise.” Luke 19:37-40 (MSG) 

For ceremonies are needed to this end alone that the unlearned be taught[what they need to know of Christ. (1)

With zeal and patience, pastors of souls must promote the liturgical instruction of the faithful, and also their active participation in the liturgy both internally and externally, taking into account their age and condition, their way of life, and standard of religious culture. By so doing, pastors will be fulfilling one of the chief duties of a faithful dispenser of the mysteries of God; and in this matter they must lead their flock not only in word but also by example. (2)

Yesterday I was sent links to a number of articles about worship.  They were from every aspect of Christian faith, and from different views, even within my own small corner of Christianity, the Lutheran Church – Missouri Synod.

It was funny because each article had a “to do” list, that if you followed these things, your church’s service would be right, and people would benefit, and be blessed.  It was funny because the advice in the articles were often in complete disagreement!!

Dust off that organ!  Ditch that old organ!

Get people to used to the patterns and use of hymnals!  Get them out of rote use of hymnals!

Of course, they both stipulated the need for trained excellent musicians, that would leave the people in awe – whether organists or praise bands, even as they lamented the fact that people would listen to the musicians of the other style, and not sing!

I am not a expert in worship, I don’t have a PhD, or pastor some church of 2000.  I do teach lay ministers, guys and ladies who help their pastors by serving, and I am about to teach a class on worship.  It is the 7th or 9th time I’ve taught it.  In it I do rely on experts, like Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger (later Pope Benedict XVI, Bishop William Willimon of the United Methodist Church, Dr. Robert Webber, and of course the Lutheran Confession – especially the article quoted above from the Augsburg Confession.  I also learn a lot from my minister of worship arts, Dr. Chris….. and this is what I have learned… and taught, based on experience.

If I boil it down, there are only two things that are needed to revitalize worship services,

Give them something to sing about.
Our job is to preach Christ, their hope of glory, to give a reason for why in the midst of this broken world, e have hope.  To reveal to them the height and depth, the breadth and width of God’s love for them – which is so clearly revealed in Christ’s incarnation, life, death, resurrection, and in their being untied to all of that, and given the gift of the presence of the Holy Spirit in their lives.
The presence of God’s Spirit which brings comfort, peace, mercy, assures us of God’s love and promises…

Give them that to sing about…..as they said at Vatican II – dispense the mysteries of God!  (and teach them what you are giving them! Vatican II and the Augsburg Confession both agree on that)

Let them sing
I have heard a million reasons why people don’t sing in church, why men won’t, why young people won’t, that older people won’t sing new songs.  When I came to my present church, it was clearly stated to me, this church has never sung, does not sing, will never sing!  The music choices pretty much guaranteed this, and propagated it.  Songs that required extensive vocal talent, sung in keys that even a first tenor and first soprano found challenging.  Words that couldn’t be savored, sometimes because you need a dictionary to define them.

We sing now, because we can.  We don’t always do it well, but it is from the heart, it is a reaction to God’s love, poured out on them.  From hearing it through every aspect of the service, from tasting it, touching it.  The songs are simple enough, the instrumentalists facilitate it. The people pour out the emotion need to pour out, the praise, the glory, the trust, the thanks, the despair, the lament… it becomes their music the lyrics that resound from their heart, and we let them sing it. (yeah – even those who voices are challenged)

They sing the praises of the God they know is present, they put into prayer the trut they have, to put it all into His care.

it is at the point that we are no longer afraid to let them sing acapella for a verse, for even a song….or a chant.

And it is wonderful….. whether the powerful anthem, or the simple cry of this version Lord’s prayer.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=R4lcfXcZ68I   (this is how we do it – as our time of family prayer ends)

give them a reason to sing…..

let them sing…

give it a try… and see what happens….. as God is lifted up… and praised.

AMEN

(1)  The Augsberg Confession,

(2)  Catholic Church. (2011). Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy: Sacrosanctum Concilium. In Vatican II Documents. Vatican City: Libreria Editrice Vaticana.

Confidence In His Message, Not Ours…. Means We Need to Hear Him…


Devotional Thought of the Day:

37  Peter’s words pierced their hearts, and they said to him and to the other apostles, “Brothers, what should we do?” Acts 2:37 (NLT)

 17  So faith comes from hearing, that is, hearing the Good News about Christ. Romans 10:17 (NLT)

Simply concentrate on being completely devoted to Christ in your hearts. Be ready at any time to give a quiet and reverent answer to any man who wants a reason for the hope that you have within you. 1 Peter 3:13 (Phillips NT)

“Stillness is not simply silence, but an attitude of listening to God, and of openness towards Him”  (Celtic Prayer Book 1/14 Finian Reading)

I am amazed, as I read the gospels when Jesus talks of a people that hear and see, but don’t understand, that don’t perceive. That have all the tools for being servants of God, yet fail to “live up to their potential.”   They get caught up in legalism, or in liberalism.  They get caught in the idea of their own faithfulness or orthodoxy, or their own serving the least of these, and hold out their position as proper and right.

Been there, done that myself.  Too many times if I am honest.  Too recently if I am blunt.

It is interesting to me, that these times don’t come when we are struggling with the darkness of our life, when we are staring in our own failures, our own sin, our own brokenness, face to face.

It is when we are going well, that our confidence slips, and becomes confidence in our works, in our actions, our wisdom. It is there that we are in the process of sinning, just as the Pharisees did, just as the Sadducees and canon lawyers of Jsus day did. It is when we confuse His message with our own.

And hearing, we do not understand, and seeing, we don’t perceive.

It is those times when we need the silence, not of rest and sleep, but the silence that allows God to speak to us.

It is why i so prefer to deal with the broken, those who are crying for help as they struggle with sin, or the injustice/unrighteousness of the world.  To see to them revealed the blessings of walking with Christ, of being comforted by the Holy Spirit. of rejoicing in the Lord who reveals Himself in word and Sacrament, and through the service of other broken people.  People like me.

We need to hear Him…we need to let Him cut open our hearts, to let His word penetrate, to hear the hope that is only found in Him, and to speak it to others, who need to hear it as badly as we do.

That requires faith in the simplicity of the word and Sacrament, the simplicity of Christ crucified, our hope, of the love of God to be revealed, not through our logical manipulations, nor our self-inflicted martyrdom’s (which really isn’t martyrdom..but we want people to see it as such)

we need to hear that message, that cuts us open and pours transforms, enlightens, grants repentance, that reminds us, we are God’s work of art… not artisans ourselves….

Yes, even to us “mature” Christians,

Be Still.. and know… He is… God.

Why Did Jesus Need to Be Baptized?


Why Was Jesus Baptized?

Featured imageMark 1:4-11, Romans 6:1-11

May the blessing of Christ’s baptism and yours, continue to astound you, as you realize the love of God which bound you to Him, as the water and word made you and God inseparable!

I want you to picture yourself in John the Baptist’s sandals this morning.

You are well aware of the Spirit’s work in your life, you see people coming to repentance in a way not seen in centuries.  You know the prophecies, you’ve had to explain them to so many…

“No, I am not the Messiah”

“Yes, he is coming”,

“what will He be like?  I cannot even begin to think of it, but His ministry to mankind will be more than you can explain.  I can explain this – but the ministry of the Messiah, the Christ?  It will be so amazing that I can’t even compare it to a king and his lowest servant….”

You look up from those you are teaching, and He is there.  Your soul leaps, as it did the day when your mothers met, and both of you were still in the womb.  You know, He knows you do.

Jesus, your cousin, your Lord, your God is here.  Asking to get baptized, by you…

As the other gospels describe this, you would tell him, “No, this doesn’t make sense, I should be the one baptized…”

Jesus response, “no this is right.  I will be baptized by you.”

John obeys, as I hope each of us would…

But the question remains… why does Jesus need to be baptized?

Why is it… right?

Baptism into Death

You into His

          He into ours

When you study baptism throughout the scriptures, it is always connected to death,

We see this clearly in Romans 6 – where Paul tells us that we’ve died with Christ.  That in our baptism, we are joined to death on the cross, to his burial. The scriptures that talk of being born again, that talk of those who trust in God are a new creation.

It all happens in this sacrament.

We need to join into His death… if we are to have the hope of being cleansed of sin of being granted repentance, of being able to live this new life.  That is what the glorious power of God does to us, as God claims us as His children.

This even is true in the Old Testament, where one separated from God and His people because of sin, was sent out of the camp.  They were separated for a time, and prior to rejoining the people of God – had to ceremoniously wash.  It was part of their psyche, their community, that the washing was a sign of repentance. Not only washing the person, but also various things that have come into contact with sin… or with blood.

Sin has to be washed away… it has to be dealt with, and in our baptism, it was… once and for all.   12  For when you were baptized, you were buried with Christ, and in baptism you were also raised with Christ through your faith in the active power of God, who raised him from death. 13  You were at one time spiritually dead because of your sins and because you were Gentiles without the Law. But God has now brought you to life with Christ. God forgave us all our sins; Colossians 2:12-13 (TEV)

I will say we need to be reminded of it often…we need to know the promises of baptism…

the removal of sin

the blessing of repentance

the promise of eternal life,

the promise of the Holy Spirit, entering into an intimate fellowship with God

So we get back to the original question… why did Jesus have to be baptized?

If baptism is the joining in the death of someone, then perhaps we find the answer there.  In His baptism, Jesus must be baptized into our death, to take on those sins, He must die for us, and His baptism is a picture of His death, his willingness to take our death, so that we can rise.

In his baptism – it is right and necessary, that He join us in our death, so that He can defeat it. 

He joins us to bear our death…. We join Him, to be rid of the death, and rise again.  He is baptized to take our sin, we are baptized so He could as well.

But there is one thing point in which we share in baptism with Jesus….

With you I am well pleased…. Sound familiar?

As Jesus was baptized, as He joined himself to us, the heavens opened wide, they split open as we heard Isaiah pray for just a few weeks ago….

What happens next to Him, happens to us…

The Spirit descends on Him, Just as the sins are taken/removed – so to the picture of the Spirit’s descent is true.  We don’t talk about it much, but in each of you, the Holy Spirit dwells.

The Holy Spirit, who sanctifies us, who keeps us in the presence of God, who testifies to us of God’s love, yes, through word and sacrament, through our being reminded of the promises of baptism, in the feast of the Lord’s Supper, who testifies to us in words of absolution, and in times of prayer, and in those times we serve each other….

God is here…

He calls us His sons, His daughters, His children.

And He says to all those, united to His Son in baptism, you are my beloved child, and you bring me great joy…

AMEN.

Are We Afraid of Sanctification? A Cry for the Spirit to Breath Life into the Church


Devotional Thought of the Day:
Featured image1  The LORD took hold of me, and I was carried away by the Spirit of the LORD to a valley filled with bones. 2  He led me all around among the bones that covered the valley floor. They were scattered everywhere across the ground and were completely dried out. 3  Then he asked me, “Son of man, can these bones become living people again?” O Sovereign LORD,I replied, “you alone know the answer to that. 4  Then he said to me, “Speak a prophetic message to these bones and say, ‘Dry bones, listen to the word of the LORD! 5  This is what the Sovereign LORD says: Look! I am going to put breath into you and make you live again! 6  I will put flesh and muscles on you and cover you with skin. I will put breath into you, and you will come to life. Then you will know that I am the LORD.’” 7  So I spoke this message, just as he told me. Suddenly as I spoke, there was a rattling noise all across the valley. The bones of each body came together and attached themselves as complete skeletons. 8  Then as I watched, muscles and flesh formed over the bones. Then skin formed to cover their bodies, but they still had no breath in them. 9  Then he said to me, “Speak a prophetic message to the winds, son of man. Speak a prophetic message and say, ‘This is what the Sovereign LORD says: Come, O breath, from the four winds! Breathe into these dead bodies so they may live again.’” 10  So I spoke the message as he commanded me, and breath came into their bodies. They all came to life and stood up on their feet—a great army. 11  Then he said to me, “Son of man, these bones represent the people of Israel. They are saying, ‘We have become old, dry bones—all hope is gone. Our nation is finished.’ 12  Therefore, prophesy to them and say, ‘This is what the Sovereign LORD says: O my people, I will open your graves of exile and cause you to rise again. Then I will bring you back to the land of Israel. 13  When this happens, O my people, you will know that I am the LORD. 14  I will put my Spirit in you, and you will live again and return home to your own land. Then you will know that I, the LORD, have spoken, and I have done what I said. Yes, the LORD has spoken!’” Ezekiel 37:1-14 (NLT)

683      When a person really lives charity, there is no time left for self-seeking. There is no room left for pride. We will not find occasion for anything but service!

Imagine you are there, in the presence of the LORD, given the right to not just call him Lord, but to call Him by name.   You are the son of Man, in this vision, the one He takes to the valley of the fry bones.

As the muscles form, as the skin begins to cover their bodies, as the effects of sin are reversed, you look in amazement at the miracle and begin to praise God for the miracle.  You write liturgies to celebrate it, songs to teach people about it, you go off and establish ways to tell people – God has justified His people. 

Yet they are there, still sitting in their pews… err… standing in the valley.  

Without breath, without life, but righteous none the less. 

What happens when the church forgets that God not only justifies us, but breathes life into us, sanctifying us? 

What happens if justification is the end of our theology, not just the core of it?  

Will our churches be like the bones covered with muscles and skins, present, undecayed, righteous and yet…. not alive?

We need to remember the third article of the Creed, the work of the Spirit, who is to be called upon, to breath life into these bodies, to breath life into these souls, for He is the Lord and Giver of Life.  Sanctification is not some minor doctrine, slinking about in the shadows of its big brother Justification.  

Sanctification, the Spirit making us alive and Holy is part and parcel with Justification in the larger concept of Salvation.  Which brings to mind Hebrews 2 – how can we escape if we neglect so great a salvation? 

Sanctification, the Holy Spirit working is us, giving us life, repentance, revealing to us the height and depth, the breadth and width of the Father’s love, revealed in Christ.  As He sets us aside and breathes life into us, that we would become God’s army, His family,  As we begin to walk with God, as our lives begin to be described as St Josemaria mentions – lives lived in charity, where love prevails.  Because we know His love, because we experience it, because our faith is alive…. there is the church – serving, ministering, loving… and as it does… growing and alive.

This is the church, this is the people of God, living in the presence of God.  This is the baptized, sacrificed life….

LORD, you have given us your Holy Spirit in baptism, may that Spirit breath life into your people!  May we never again be so focused on one part of salvation, that we neglect all of it.  May your church be holy, set apart, brought to life and nourished by the Holy Spirit.  AMEN1

Escriva, Josemaria (2011-01-31). The Forge (Kindle Locations 2514-2516). Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition.

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