Christians Know This, But Do we Depend on it?

Thoughts which draw us closer to Jesus, and to His cross!

Instead, be concerned above everything else with the Kingdom of God and with what he requires of you, and he will provide you with all these other things. Matthew 6:33 (TEV)

When the prophets try to describe for me the attributes, the graces, the worthiness of the God who appeared to them and dealt with them, I feel that I can kneel down and follow their admonition: “He is thy Lord—worship thou Him!”

Here everything must be abandoned: friends, acquaintances, the whole city of Jerusalem, and everything belonging to these and to men; for all this neither gives, nor aids comfort, until the Lord is sought in the temple, since he is in that which is his Father’s. There he can truly be found and the heart is made to rejoice, otherwise it would have to remain without the least comfort.

Annie Dillard goes to church: “I know only enough of God to want to worship him, by any means ready to hand.… There is one church here, so I go to it.” It doesn’t matter that it is out of fashion, she goes anyway: “On a big Sunday there might be twenty of us there; often I am the only person under sixty, and feel as though I’m on an archaeological tour of Soviet Russia.”
It is unfashionable because it is ridiculous. How can searchers after God and seekers after beauty stomach the “dancing bear act” that is staged in Christian churches, Protestant and Catholic alike, week after week? Dillard, cheerfully and matter-of-factly, goes anyway.

Most Christians know we are to seek first Jesus Christ and His righteous life.

But do we do it?

Peterson’s Annie gets it, I think.

SHe chooses to go to a church which isn’t particularly proper or professional. She goes to a small church where two or three are gathered in His name, and share in His gifts of word sacrament. Finding the God she barely knows, but knows enough to know she has to worship Him, that is her focus…

A million and one things to criticise, but she goes to find God, in the middle of His people.

She succeeds, for God will always be found where He says.

Arriving there, Tozer’s words make sense—it is too much to try to comprehend the God who draws us into His presence. There, realizing the very special incredibly intimate relationship He has created, we are drawn to our knees and our face flooding with tears of joy; we praise Him!

We don’t even think about abandoning everything – we just do. We abandon our sin, we abandon those things we think will make life perfect; we abandon our fears and anxieties and simply desire to join Annie, and worship God, who loves us.

Seek Him first and then be aware He is here… and allow that to change and guide your life. When you mess up – be assured, He will be there.

He loves you.

A. W. Tozer and Gerald B. Smith, Mornings with Tozer: Daily Devotional Readings (Chicago: Moody Publishers, 2008).

Martin Luther and John Sander, Devotional Readings from Luther’s Works for Every Day of the Year (Rock Island, IL: Augustana Book Concern, 1915), 35.

Eugene H. Peterson, The Contemplative Pastor: Returning to the Art of Spiritual Direction, vol. 17, The Leadership Library (Carol Stream, IL; Dallas; Waco, TX: Christianity Today; Word Pub., 1989), 88.

Glorious!!! (not in dark despair): A sermon on Isaiah 9:1-4 from Concordia Lutheran Church

Glorious! (not dark despair)
Isaiah 9:1-4

In Jesus’ Name

May the grace of God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ, which eliminates all darkness in your life, reveal to you the freedom and victory won for you… and those around you!

  • Titus 3:3—So once were you

Someone once said that those who do not study history are condemned to repeat it. When it comes to politics or military strategy, education or sociological phenomena, it seems pretty accurate.

It is different when it comes to our faith.

We are not condemned to relive our past—We just condemn others to repeat our lives without God.

Paul discussed this with Titus in Chapter 3 this way:

3  Once we, too, were foolish and disobedient. We were misled and became slaves to many lusts and pleasures. Our lives were full of evil and envy, and we hated each other. 4  But—“When God our Savior revealed his kindness and love, 5  he saved us, not because of the righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy. He washed away our sins, giving us a new birth and new life through the Holy Spirit. Titus 3:3-5 (NLT2)

This is the view that complements the view of Isaiah. Isaiah says—you have hope, this is going to happen…. Paul says—this has happened don’t forget it.

Not because you will have to repeat it, but because there are people you need to help rescue from the darkness you once knew.

  • The pressure of dark despair

I don’t know how few of us remember the darkness before we realized the love of Jesus. Most of us plod through our spiritual lives, knowing God is there, but not walking closely with Jesus. We know hard times, depressing and oppressive times, but the light is always at the end of the tunnel.

Can you remember life without that? Where the darkness and despair doesn’t just threaten to overwhelm us, it completely has taken over life.

That’s what people deal with, every day of their lives. No hope in this life, just the illusion that success or money or sex or fame brings with it joy… and peace.

That empty, that lost, that not even aware that there is a God out there, who knows their name—and loves and cares for them.

Hear the promise to them again:

Nevertheless, that time of darkness and despair will not go on forever. The land of Zebulun and Naphtali will be humbled, but there will be a time in the future when Galilee of the Gentiles, which lies along the road that runs between the Jordan and the sea, will be filled with glory. 2  The people who walk in darkness will see a great light. For those who live in a land of deep darkness, a light will shine.

We may not remember this transformation… from absolute oppressive darkness to light, but God has definitely removed the shadows, or comforted us in the midst of them.

C.S. Lewis talked of people caught up in the darkness and despair and being so used to it that they cannot cope with the light and joy and peace, so they desire to return to despair.

But remember—Paul reminds us we were once there…

  • But now… in Christ—the Victory….of all victories- shattering everything

How did you feel after nearly 2 weeks of rain, when the sun came out this week? I was walking from the sanctuary back to the office, and I just stood along the sidewalk and just wanted to soak in the sun’s warmth, even though the breeze was cold..

It was just incredible to stay for a moment in the warmth and light of the sun.

Even more awesome was it for the apostles and all Israel to revel in the presence of God, the son, Jesus the Messiah. Even though they didn’t understand what it meant that Jesus was the Messiah—the world went ballistic following Him as we heard in the gospel.

Think about it, people would leave their family and home, their farms, their animals, to wander out to find this man that everyone was talking about.

Even more we know it, for we clearly understand what it means for Christ to come and be born of Mary, live, teach, suffer, die, and rise from dead.

We know what God has done as well, for as Christ died and rose, we have died to our sin, and the darkness and despair, and risen with Him into a new life.

The Promise

Hear the rest of the promise of Jesus’s actions,

3  You will enlarge the nation of Israel, and its people will rejoice. They will rejoice before you as people rejoice at the harvest and, like warriors, dividing the plunder. 4  For you will break the yoke of their slavery and lift the heavy burden from their shoulders. You will break the oppressor’s rod, just as you did when you destroyed the army of Midian.

This is describing a victory beyond victories.

IN a couple of weeks, there will be a football game, and in a couple of months the Stanley Cup playoffs. When those teams play, there will be a winner, and a parade, and some tears of joy. A big deal will be made out of it, and everyone who is a fan of the winning teams will go crazy!

But that is nothing compared to the celebration of Angels when one person is baptized, and they go from the darkness to the light of God’s glory

All of heaven celebrates that victory as much as they did the birth of Jesus.

A similar joy in heaven occurs when God’s people realize they are freed from the darkness and despair as their sin is forgiven, or a communion feast is given, which is a tiny sample of our homecoming feast—the wedding supper of Jesus.

The Holy Spirit dwells with us, right now, right here. We dwell in the presence of the living God, as much as Moses at the burning bush, or Solomon in His temple, we dwell in the glorious presence of God

These moments, when we experience the love and peace of God, are what awaits us, every moment of eternity.

And are available, not only to those who believe, but are available to everyone…

Paul described that this way…

He generously poured out the Spirit upon us through Jesus Christ our Savior. Because of his grace he declared us righteous and gave us confidence that we will inherit eternal life. This is a trustworthy saying, and I want you to insist on these teachings so that all who trust in God will devote themselves to doing good. These teachings are good and beneficial for everyone. Titus 3:6-8 (NLT2)

I continually explain this for this reason, that we teach those around us about this loving God, who draws us into His glory. Paul insisted that we do this as a church—and we shall.

For we dwell in God’s glorious love and peace—even though we can’t understand or describe it.. but we know we are kept there. By Jesus. AMEN!

When (Our) Reason and Logic Fails…there begins hope

WHat do we do, when we find gaps in our logic?

Thoughts which draw me closer to Jesus, and to HIs cross.

They assembled before Moses and Aaron and said to them, “You have gone too far! All the members of the community belong to the LORD, and the LORD is with all of us. Why, then, Moses, do you set yourself above the LORD’s community?”
When Moses heard this, he threw himself on the ground and prayed. Then he said……  Numbers 16:3-5  NLT

Give yourself to the LORD; trust in him, and he will help you; he will make your righteousness shine like the noonday sun.  Psalm 37:5-6 NLT

For no one desires to be lifted if he is unaware that he has fallen, just as one who does not feel the pain of a wound does not seek to have it healed. Therefore, these people must first be shown that the things they love are vain, and then carefully (and over time) they should be made aware of the usefulness of the things they ignore.

We must be careful to follow neither the customs of the world nor our own reason or plausible theories. We must constantly subdue our disposition and control our will, not obeying the dictates of reason and desire.

Faith in God is possible now. What we are blind to is not the law of God, but the glory of God—calling into being that which is from that which is not.

Most of us like to think we are reasonable. Yet we can often see that which is unreasonable in others. Indeed, a loto f the counseling I do will hear the complaint that the other party is “unreasonable” or is too “emotional”

It is too bad that we cannot see the frailty of our own reason, and our need to be suspicious of it. Otherwise, we could prevent our own rebellion, whether we are rebelling against God, or against those whom God has allowed to be in place.

What we need to do is follow Moses example. Whether we are the one’s questioning someone else’s reason, or those whose logic is being questioned, we need to throw ourselves down, and pray and seek God’s wisdom. We desperately need to follow the psalmist’s advice, and give ourselves to the LORD who has saved us already.

This is the only hope for those who know their reason is faulty, that their logic has significant holes and gaps. The challenge is realizing it, for we are blind and deaf to such problems. This is nothing new – Gregory the Great points it out quite clearly, as well as reminds us it takes time to first realize we are broken, to stop defending it, and then to hunger for the healing found in the logic, the logos of Jesus.

It is only then, as we grow and humbly cope with our broken reason, that we can see that our problem wasn’t God’s logic, His definition of right and wrong. Rather, the biggest hole in our reason was not accounting for the glory of God!

For God creates something out of that which is nothing. He does this for one reason – He loves us. Broken, injured, flawed, yet being reconciled and healed and conformed to the image of Jesus.

Heavenly Father, with grace and patience, correct our flawed logic and reason, our emotions and feelings as well. Help us to welcome the Holy Spirit’s work in conforming us to the image of Jesus, cutting away that which is not like Him. We pray this in Jesus’ name.. AMEN!.

 

St Gregory the Great, The Book of Pastoral Rule, ed. John Behr, trans. George E. Demacopoulos, vol. 34, Popular Patristics Series (Crestwood, NY: St Vladimir’s Seminary Press, 2007), 194.

Martin Luther and John Sander, Devotional Readings from Luther’s Works for Every Day of the Year (Rock Island, IL: Augustana Book Concern, 1915), 25.

Gerhard O. Forde, “The Preacher,” in Theology Is for Proclamation (Minneapolis, MN: Fortress Press, 1990), 77.

Glorious!!! (not useless) A sermon on Isaiah 49

Concordia Lutheran Church
January 15, 2023

Glorious! (Not useless)
Isaiah 49:1-7

I.H.S.

May the grace and peace of God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ convince you of the glory your life will bring them!

  • Arguing with God

Have you ever met someone who had to always be right? Who if I said my stole was green, they would say, no, it’s red?

Sometimes people are like that when they are 3, or entering their teenage years, or sometimes as we get older, we think we have to correct those youngsters….

We all go through that stage, or stages.

Even pastors.

Even prophets.

We see that in the Old Testament reading today.

God says Isaiah – Your life (and all of Israel’s) will bring me glory

Isaiah responds, “Not so fast God, my work is useless, and I wasted all my energy! Got nothing left!

Basically this guy, one of the greatest of all the prophets, claiming his life is useless, does the most useless thing imaginable.

He argues with God.

  • Is this the prophet, or Jesus

I thought to use the word irony, the idea of uselessly arguing with God that his life was useless. I think a better was to explain it is…. silly.

I think we’ve all been where Isaiah is, we don’t see our hard work making any impact. The things that might have worked in the past don’t seem to work anymore, or maybe we just don’t have the patience we used to have.

It really doesn’t matter how the feeling develops, but that feeling that everything is vain, empty, worthless, useless.

The problem is that we can’t see 20 minutes into the future, never mind 20  hours from now, or 20 days.

But it is comforting to know we aren’t the only people to feel this way. Isaiah obviously did, as did Jeremiah, Moses, David, and so many others.

And here is the kicker – this passage is a prophecy about the Messiah – so even Jesus was tempted to feel this way.  Understandable of course, having to work with Peter and keeping the Tax Collector and the Anti-Tax, anti-Government Simon the Zealot from killing each other.

But that is where the strength comes, for only Jesus could easily say, “I leave it all in YHWH’s hands, I will trust God for my reward.”

That’s were we need to be, in the middle of feeling useless, but the only way is to trust completely in God… and in what He promises. The only way to have that much faith, is to be united to Jesus, to His death on the cross and the resurrection. Otherwise—such faith is impossible!

That our lives will bring Him glory and praise.

  • God’s Long Range Vision for Us… in Christ

That means there has to be something abnormal, something glorious about our lives. Our lives, like Isaiah’s are going to cause people to praise and see the value of what God is doing in our lives.

Verse 5 begins to describe that, about Isaiah, about Jesus, about us.

5  And now the LORD speaks— the one who formed me in my mother’s womb to be his servant, who commissioned me to bring Israel back to him. The LORD has honored me, and my God has given me strength.

It is one thing to realize that God honors – which simply means to place high value on Isaiah’s work, and it is simple to see that about Jesus…

But what about you.

Do you know that God formed you in your momma’s womb, and has a plan for how you are, like the prophets and like Jesus, to work in His kingdom? Part of your life is to help people come back to God.

No matter how far they have drifted away.

In Isaiah’s day it was bad. People were worshipping other gods, people were not faithful to their families, and to their spouses. People were even taking their newborns and sacrificing them to an idol by heating up this brass statue and tossing their babies into its glowing arms.

IF God was able to use Isaiah and Jeremiah to return people like that to God, how much more can we see it, because of the work of Jesus at the cross!

He goes on to describe this some more,

He says, “You will do more than restore the people of Israel to me. I will make you a light to the Gentiles, and you will bring my salvation to the ends of the earth.

These promises are far more than about Isaiah, they are about Jesus, and because Jesus dwells in us. We’ve seen people baptized in Cerritos, and Nebraska, in Papua, New Guinea and the Sudan, in Turkey and Cameroon, in China and the Philippines because of what people in this church has done. We’ve seen relatives come to know Jesus, and we’ve seen people who have gone away from God come back.

So will we see more of this? Of course.

And here is why,

God chose us in Christ, and because He dwells in us, the mission of Jesus continues through each one of us.

We aren’t Jesus, but our lives bring God the Father glory, because we are united to Jesus. That is what the sacraments do, whether it is remembering our baptism, hearing that our sins are forgiven, or receiving His body and blood, they remind us that because He died and rose, we have died to sin and have risen with Jesus.

What you do this week, as you trust in Jesus, as the Holy Spirit guides you, as you love those around you, including the unlovable – will draw people to the Father through Jesus. There will be people in heaven because of Jesus working through you…people in heaven, not in hell.

And because of that, God will be glorified – because of you, because of the work Christ does through you.

This all happens through the work of the Holy Spirit, because of Jesus, who protects you – your hearts, your minds, as you dwell in the peace of God, a peace that doesn’t make sense, but which you’ve been called to, by name.

AMEN!

 

An Unexpected, Dramatic Change…that testifies to more than the Resurrection

Thoughts which draw me to the cross,

I do this in order that they may be filled with courage and may be drawn together in love, and so have the full wealth of assurance which true understanding brings. In this way they will know God’s secret, which is Christ himself. 3  He is the key that opens all the hidden treasures of God’s wisdom and knowledge. Colossians 2:2-3 (TEV)

All of us, then, reflect the glory of the Lord with uncovered faces; and that same glory, coming from the Lord, who is the Spirit, transforms us into his likeness in an ever greater degree of glory. 2 Corinthians 3:18 (TEV)

When he was dead and buried, his followers did not get together in a little liberal clique and comfort themselves with the fact that they still had his teachings. It was over. Mostly his disciples seemed afraid that they might share his fate!

To remit a man’s past without transforming his present is to violate the moral sincerity of his own heart

The apostle reminds us that we are to conduct ourselves in a Christian manner toward our persecutors, who, to a great extent, are to blame for the distress of the saints. It is well to observe that we are not merely advised, but commanded, to love our enemies, to do them good and to speak well of them; such is the fruit of the Spirit.

The observation in blue is one we need to meditate on, this dramatic and unexpected change in the lives

From locked in a room, scared out of their wits, grieving the loss of their mentor, the One who gave them life, to praying in jails, to rejoicing in martyrdom.

The change is stunning, and some would call it evidence of the resurrection.

I think it is more than that, for the Lord Jesus had promised something when he went away, that He would send the Paraclete – the Holy Spirit. (John 14:16, 15:26)

It is the Holy Spirit that transforms us, for God could not simply forgive our sins. There had to be a reason for that, and that reason is fellowship with God. That transformation Luther discusses as  well, for there is no reason to love our persecutors, to do good to them, and to speak well of them. The Holy Spirit draws us together in the love that the Trinity shares, that Jesus embodied, that the Holy Spirit pours into our life, as our transformation is accomplished.

This changes us from a liberal or conservative clique into the body of Christ, gathered around His altar, celebrating His love and His work. I am not trying to diminish the importance of the Resurrection, but the transformation in Christians is due to work of the Holy Spirit, who sanctifies and preserves us.

This is why the change in the apostles and disciples is so radical, and why it is proof of something far more potent than a resurrection 2000 years ago.

This change testifies to and celebrates the presence of the Holy Spirit in His people, the church.

God is with you – right now, right here…

and He changes everything….

 

 

 

Gerhard O. Forde, “The Preacher,” in Theology Is for Proclamation (Minneapolis, MN: Fortress Press, 1990), 73.

A. W. Tozer and Gerald B. Smith, Mornings with Tozer: Daily Devotional Readings (Chicago: Moody Publishers, 2008).

Martin Luther and John Sander, Devotional Readings from Luther’s Works for Every Day of the Year (Rock Island, IL: Augustana Book Concern, 1915), 20.

Mary, the mother of God, Luther and an Overlooked Prophecy…

Thoughts which draw me closer to Jesus, and to the cross:

34  Then Simeon blessed them, and he said to Mary, the baby’s mother, “This child is destined to cause many in Israel to fall, but he will be a joy to many others. He has been sent as a sign from God, but many will oppose him. 35  As a result, the deepest thoughts of many hearts will be revealed. And a sword will pierce your very soul.” Luke 2:34-35 (NLT2)

The holy Virgin was a real martyr for three days, and these days were harder for her than was the external pain of martyrdom to other saints. She had had such anxiety on her Son’s account that she could not have suffered any more bitter pain. For that is the greatest torture and woe, when the heart is attacked and tortured. That is only half-suffering when the body alone is afflicted, but when the heart is compelled to endure suffering, only great and noble spirits, with special grace and strength, are able to endure it. But why does God permit these afflictions to come upon his loved ones?
…..Thirdly, God does this that he may teach his saints to prepare themselves to find Christ and keep him. Mary and Joseph sought the child Jesus for three days without finding him either in Jerusalem or among their friends and acquaintances, until they came to the temple where he sat among the teachers and where the Scriptures and God’s Word are studied.

I never made the connection between the three days that Mary and Joseph lost Jesus, finding Him in the Temple, and the 3 days His body was in the tomb. That is, until I read Luther’s thoughts this morning. Knowing what she knew from prophecy would only make the anxiety more unbearable – “how could I have lost the Messiah?”–“could this wreck the plans God had to save Israel?” Her mind (and stomach) must have done more flips and somersaults than a Olympic gymnastics competition.

She must have thought that this was the answer to Simeon’s prophecy, this was the time that the sword pierces her soul.

For how could she know this One, the baby she held, the rabbi that was her Son would be tortured and killed? To wonder if He was alive, or to know He was dead. To wonder about all she had seen and heard, from her cousin’s son proclaiming that Jesus was the Lamb of God, to the miracles and the teachings. That was agonizing, and yet, as she would find Him in the Temple, she would find that death could not contain Him.

We, too,  occasionally leave Jesus in the Temple, we occasionally leave Him at the altar. We head back home, only to realize we’ve lost our peace, and wonder where He is at. Realizing that, our life crashes down again, and only “finding Him” can lift us back up. The third reason Luter points to (i deleted the first two) is so that we know this can happen, we can find Him again, and keep Him. Or rather, find out He’s been keeping us the entire time. We can find Him where word and sacrament are offered, where His love and His mercy become tangible. We find Him and what we desperately need to live life in peace.

I don’t think Mary had as much anxiety the second time she found Jesus after “losing” Him. For the resurrection changed everything in her life, and the lives of those around her. As it changes our lives, yours and mine today.

I just need to ask…

have we lost Him in the midst our pilgrimage….and are we ready to find Him where He dwells with His people?

Heavenly Father, reveal our hearts, and in doing so let us never be content with leaving Jesus behind. Rather, make us hunger and thirst for your presence, and rejoice in Your satisfying our desire to dwell in Your presence. AMEN!

 

 

Martin Luther and John Sander, Devotional Readings from Luther’s Works for Every Day of the Year (Rock Island, IL: Augustana Book Concern, 1915), 18–19.

The Blessed Chaotic Life

Thoughts which draw me closer to Jesus, and to our cross:

34 *Then Jesus called the crowd and his disciples to him. “If anyone wants to come with me,” he told them, “he must forget self, carry his cross, and follow me. 35*For whoever wants to save his own life will lose it; but whoever loses his life for me and for the gospel will save it. 36Do people gain anything if they win the whole world but lose their life? Of course not! 37There is nothing they can give to regain their life.  Mark 8:34-37 GNT

But, my dear hearer, it does not matter much whether you know all about the arts of nature and the wisdom of the world. Be satisfied with what your experience and common sense teach you. It is enough for you to know that in the summer other work must be done than in the winter; that you know how to attend to your farm, stock, home and children. Beyond this think only how you may know Christ. He will teach you how you may know yourself, who you are, and what power lieth in you. Then you will know God and yourself, which the masters of the arts of nature and the wisdom of this world do not learn.

But a solved life is a reduced life.

There are days where I would love the idea of a solved life. To have a place for everyone, and everyone in their place. (same thing for…things) The clean desk, the organized calendar, the perfect family. To have a government that isn’t petty, but actually does it work with the intent of providing peace and safety to all.

It sounds like a nice utopian village, and is utterly, completely impossible.

And as I think about it, I am glad it is.

For knowing that life will be chaotic is a blessing, for it strips away that part of me that wants to play God. There is no illusion in my life that life is under control, much less “solved”. I have to approach life much as Luther indicates, satisfied to know the basics of survival – and what must be done now, With that, I find more time to seek after Jesus, to be drawn by the Holy Spirit into His presence. Or to see that presence revealed, for Jesus was there all the time.

This resonates with the gospel of Mark, where Mark is urging us to set aside everything–to lose it–in order to see Jesus save it. For we can’t save ourselves, or even manage our lives once they are saved.

Being not in charge means living in a way that seems out-of-control – even chaotic. But that is okay, when we realize the promise of the one who does understand, and shapes all that chaos into blessings beyond our expectation. Blessings that are full of peace and joy, for they are given by the Lord who is present. I might hate the chaos, but in Christ, we will thrive on it. That isn’t a paradox, it is a promise of God Almighty and All-knowing. Understanding this doesn’t make the chaos any less hectic or disturbing, but it can build a joyous expectation as we wait to see how God will make it all happen.

Heavenly Father, when life seems chaotic and out of control, remind us of Your care, and Your will for us! Amen!

Martin Luther and John Sander, Devotional Readings from Luther’s Works for Every Day of the Year (Rock Island, IL: Augustana Book Concern, 1915), 13–14. 

Eugene H. Peterson, The Contemplative Pastor: Returning to the Art of Spiritual Direction, vol. 17, The Leadership Library (Carol Stream, IL; Dallas; Waco, TX: Christianity Today; Word Pub., 1989), 72.

What worship is… the place where souls are cured

8  Every Sabbath day this bread must be laid out before the LORD. The bread is to be received from the people of Israel as a requirement of the eternal covenant. 9  The loaves of bread will belong to Aaron and his descendants, who must eat them in a sacred place, for they are most holy. It is the permanent right of the priests to claim this portion of the special gifts presented to the LORD.” Leviticus 24:8-9 (NLT2)

The rites and liturgy of man acquire the power to evoke the divine mystery that eye has not seen, that ear has not heard and that it has not entered into the heart of man to conceive. Words, therefore, become seeds of prayer and of contemplation, instruments of man’s transfiguration into the likeness of the Holy God Whom no one can see without dying. Words and symbols lie in the depths of man’s inherited store of knowledge and memory and even in the souls of men who have completely forgotten God these archetypal seeds of divinity and mystery still lie hidden, waiting to germinate like the grains of wheat laid away thousands of years ago, with a Pharaoh under his pyramid

Running-the-church questions are: What do we do? How can we get things going again?
Cure-of-souls questions are: What has God been doing here? What traces of grace can I discern in this life? What history of love can I read in this group? What has God set in motion that I can get in on?

In order for the rites and liturgy of which Merton speaks do what he desires, we have to understand that the rites and liturgy of man means that he is an actor, a part of those rites and liturgies. He is not their controller, their guardian, their defender, or the one who manipulates them. They have to be Divine, the rites and liturgies that are soundly based in scripture and they must reveal Jesus to those who need healing. 

Any other goal for worship, which deviates the attention of God and His people dwelling together as God heals hearts and souls, and bodies, that’s not liturgical worship. It doesn’t plant the word of God deeply in them, it doesn’t result in a spiritual connection. It blocks us from seeing what God is doing, replacing His actions with the actions man has done, or that the pastor/leaders want the congregation to do.

They may be highly motivated, they may be doctrinally astute, but that is not the purpose of worship. Worship is to give people what they need to know about Jesus, it is to comfort terrified and anxious souls (see the Augsburg Confession, Article XXIV) The service provides the healing of souls, what has been called the cure of souls. It is what God is providing for His people, this miraculous work of His in our lives. 

This is what Peterson is getting at – the difference between “running a church” and being a place where the “cure of souls” occurs. That cure results in a worship that is beyond just singing a couple of cool songs, it results in a transformation that is beyond words, and a peace that is beyond expression. Both a result of a love that is beyond logic.

And realizing that love, that mercy, that peace, is what we are to be doing…. and then responding with God’s people.

That’s what the scripture passage is really about – the fact that the offerings God’s people give are used to provide for …God’s priests. And since all believer’s now belong to the priesthood… God uses our offerings, our sacrifices – to care for us. (He certainly doesn’t need the $$) Again – a response to the cure of souls…

This is why God gathers us together, to care for us, to cure us, to make us whole, and wholly His.

Lord, help us to see Your work as we are gathered by the Holy Spirit, in Your Name! AMEN!

 

 

 

Thomas Merton, The New Man (London; New York: Burns & Oates, 1976), 60–61.

Eugene H. Peterson, The Contemplative Pastor: Returning to the Art of Spiritual Direction, vol. 17, The Leadership Library (Carol Stream, IL; Dallas; Waco, TX: Christianity Today; Word Pub., 1989), 70.

Another Year… and The Cure for our Broken Time

Thoughts that drive me to Jesus, and to His cross, where redemption and healing occur

“The LORD told Moses *to say to the community of Israel, ‘Be holy, because I, the LORD your God, am holy’…. ‘Keep yourselves holy, because I am the LORD your God. Obey my laws, because I am the LORD and I make you holy.’” Leviticus 19:1-2, 20:7-8 GNT

And all who heard were completely amazed. “How well he does everything!” they exclaimed. “He even causes the deaf to hear and the dumb to speak!”  Mark 7:37 GNT

When I did not confess my sins, I was worn out from crying all day long. 4 Day and night you punished me, LORD; my strength was completely drained,
as moisture is dried up by the summer heat. Psalm 32:4 GNT

Therefore he first gives the law, by which man recognizes this sin and thirsts for grace; then he also gives the gospel and saves him.

None of us can approach a consideration of the eternal nature and Person of Jesus Christ without sensing and confessing our human inadequacy in the face of the divine revelation…..This is the only one who can assure us: “No man cometh unto the Father, but by Me!”

It should be clear that the cure of souls is not a specialized form of ministry (analogous, for instance, to hospital chaplain or pastoral counselor) but is the essential pastoral work. It is not a narrowing of pastoral work to its devotional aspects, but it is a way of life that uses weekday tasks, encounters, and situations as the raw material for teaching prayer, developing faith, and preparing for a good death. Curing souls is a term that filters out what is introduced by a secularizing culture. It is also a term that identifies us with our ancestors and colleagues in ministry, lay and clerical, who are convinced that a life of prayer is the connective tissue between holy day proclamation and weekday discipleship.

I found one of those calculators that tell you how long you’ve been alive.

Over a half million hours. 30 million minutes, over 1,826,841,618 seconds – almost 2 billion seconds!

No wonder I feel old!

If I cannot even think through the enormity of those numbers, how in the world can I attempt to understand Jesus, who has been there. He knows me far better than I know myself – for I might remember a thousand or 2 of those hours– He knows every one of them.

What is overwhelming is that i remember as many of my failures and sins, maybe far more, than the good moments. Luther is right – the law causes me to recognize my sin, and thirst for this idea of grace! I hear the words from Leviticus–this call to holiness, and know I far too often fail spectacularly to meet that standard. I usually don’t even get to last part of verse 7, and the declaration that GOD MAKES US HOLY!

That is the point where a soul is cured. And it is revealed with more and detail every time we pray, every time we contemplate the scriptures.

It begins as Holy Spirit draws us to Jesus, who binds us to Himself in baptism, and brings us into the presence of the Father. And the ongoing work of revealing the cure our heart, soul and mind,

This is the work of the people of God, and those who shepherd them to Jesus.

It is why we pray, to revel in the relationship, to let God remove our burdens and empower us to live as Christ, giving hope to other sin the middle of their 1-3 billion seconds… to help them know they aren’t alone in this moment. This is what it means to be holy – to live in Christ, to love, to care for, to point people to the place where their souls find the cure they need. Even as the Holy Trinity provides the cure we need…

This is the work of the church…reviving the people Gpd called to be His own…seeing them cured.

This is the holiness God creates in us, as we are bound to Him.

Heavenly Father, help us see the cure provided as we are united to Jesus. Help us see that healing provided by the Holy Spirit, and help us look with joyous expectation to the moment we dwell with You forever!  AMEN!

 

 

 

Martin Luther and John Sander, Devotional Readings from Luther’s Works for Every Day of the Year (Rock Island, IL: Augustana Book Concern, 1915), 9.

A. W. Tozer and Gerald B. Smith, Mornings with Tozer: Daily Devotional Readings (Chicago: Moody Publishers, 2008).

Eugene H. Peterson, The Contemplative Pastor: Returning to the Art of Spiritual Direction, vol. 17, The Leadership Library (Carol Stream, IL; Dallas; Waco, TX: Christianity Today; Word Pub., 1989), 68.

 

God Will Revive You then go and Tell Them How the Lord Restored You!

Thoughts which draw me to the cross

As Jesus was getting into the boat, the man who had had the demons begged him, “Let me go with you!” But Jesus would not let him. Instead, he told him, “Go back home to your family and tell them how much the Lord has done for you and how kind he has been to you.”  Mark 5:18-19 GNT

1   I praise you, LORD, because you have saved me and kept my enemies from gloating over me. 2  I cried to you for help, O LORD my God, and you healed me; 3  you kept me from the grave. I was on my way to the depths below, but you restored my life. Psalm 30:1-3 (TEV)

Had not these shepherds believed the angel they would never have gone to Bethlehem, they would have done none of those things related of them in this gospel. One might say, I would gladly believe if an angel from heaven were to preach to me. But whoever does not receive the Word for its own sake will never receive it for the sake of the preacher, even if all the angels preached it to him.

The vocational reformation of our own time (if it turns out to be that) is a rediscovery of the pastoral work of the cure of souls. The phrase sounds antique. It is antique. But it is not obsolete. It catches up and coordinates, better than any other expression I am aware of, the unending warfare against sin and sorrow and the diligent cultivation of grace and faith to which the best pastors have consecrated themselves in every generation.

Luther points out something we know, at least we should know it. The shepherds, the first of the New Testament evangelists, went to share what they saw in a manger. This is what the angels shared with them, but their message was not about the angels, it was about the Messiah, who came to them.

Likewise, the man posessed by demons, commissioned to bring the gospel to his gentile community, is to talk about what God has done to him.

Hear the Psalmist as well, who understands that they’ve been saved at the gates of hell. Saved from those depths, and restored!

These are the seeds of a revival. These are souls that are being changed by God, souls that have been cured. There is little need ot but point them at their community, at their world and let them go bring the news about God’s ministry in their lives. (Luther goes on to say they shouldn’t remember the messenger – so overwhemed by the presence of God and His love.) This changes communities, it changes the world.

Revival doesn’t just target a demographic. It tells everyone, and they come, for they need God’s love and cure as well. This is so different from the Church Growth Strategies I’ve been taught over the last 40 years!  Those strategies want the pastor and leadership to plan the ministry, to control the way the Holy Spirit focuses, bsaed on data and marketing strategies, leadership principles and, to be honest , investment strategies. (Investement of time and resources, not just money).

Revival means the pastor is, as Peterson notes – more focusd on helping people deal with sin and sorrow by planting seeds of grace, and encouraging people’s awareness of the Christ revealed to them in prayer, study, sermons and the sacraments. Done well, the people treasure these moments of being cured, and it is so amazing that they will share it with those they encounter. Their hunger is for Christ, and to see the Holy Spirit at work.

“Seek God first, and the rest shall be added to you” THis is true for the church, as well as for the individual.

Lord, please help us look to You, to cry out for Your minisry, for You to revive Your church. Help us to seek Your face, and then send us to tell others what You have done!  Help us hear Your message, and to see You revealed to us. We pray this in Jesus’ name. AMEN!

 

 

Martin Luther and John Sander, Devotional Readings from Luther’s Works for Every Day of the Year (Rock Island, IL: Augustana Book Concern, 1915), 456.

Eugene H. Peterson, The Contemplative Pastor: Returning to the Art of Spiritual Direction, vol. 17, The Leadership Library (Carol Stream, IL; Dallas; Waco, TX: Christianity Today; Word Pub., 1989), 65.

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