I Will Not! I Can NOT! a message based on Isaiah 62:1-5

I WILL NOT! I CAN NOT!
Isaiah 62:1-5

† In Jesus Name †

May the grace of God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ remind you constantly of God’s desire to be part of your life.. and His committing to be part of it.

  • What does God Look like?

It is one of those questions that pastors cannot honestly answer, but we get asked on occasion….

What does God the Father look like?

Here are a couple of paintings of Him, most from the renaissance.

Look at them carefully; they all show an old man with a beard and a receding hairline that is grey and white.

But there is one thing I notice above all – that these pictures don’t show God with a smile; they don’t show him with His eyes lit up with joy, with the determination to see His people come from home

Especially this last one, I am not sure what He had for dinner or whether He was watching me this week. He looks either a bit sick to his stomach or severely disappointed and sad…

Today’s sermon is based on the Old Testament passage, where Isaiah’s words paint a far different picture…

Hear again how the passage begins,

Because I love Zion, I will not keep still. Because my heart yearns for Jerusalem, I cannot remain silent. I will not stop praying for her until her righteousness shines like the dawn, and her salvation blazes like a burning torch!

That doesn’t sound like it comes from the mouth of the One pictured in the painting. Neither does the last verse of the reading,

Then God will rejoice over you as a bridegroom rejoices over his bride!

That is the picture I want you to take with you today… that is the picture I want you to share with others. The image of God who loves you so much that it is indescribable…. Except to know He rejoices when you are in His presence.

  • Never again… (which means there was a time)

As Isaiah goes on, these words just stuck in my mind,

3  The LORD will hold you in his hand for all to see— a splendid crown in the hand of God. 4  Never again will you be called “The Forsaken City” or “The Desolate Land!

We have to read this, knowing the past, but realizing the truth of the present. We have been saved, God has got us in His grasp, but there is a “before,” a state we were in, where God says, “never again!”

As we go into it, it reminds me of Paul’s words to Titus,

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—Titus 3:3-4 (NLT2)

We know this “but” is coming, but part of understanding who God is, is realizing in the midst of our sin – in the midst of our sin that will leave us feeling abandoned and desolate, there is God, saying,

Because I love you, I will not keep still, because My heart yearns for you – I cannot be silent.

I will not! I cannot!

In the middle of it all, God is there; He’s always promised to be there! Right in the middle of our worst battles with sin, He was there, relentless working to get to the point He descried with these words…

I will not stop interceding for her until her righteousness shines like the dawn, and her salvation blazes like a burning torch. 2  The nations will see your righteousness.  

That is where God the Father’s heart is…what His desire is,

That is why He sent Jesus, while we were sinning, to rescue us, and still does. That is our hope for those caught in our sin… that is our hope when we struggle with temptation…. That is our hope until we hear God’s voice… calling us…

  • Delighted & Committed

And look what He calls us…

Your new name will be “The City of God’s Delight” and “The Bride of God,” for the LORD delights in you and will claim you as his bride.

I would translate these names for you, these names God calls us. I think most of the translations are more than a bit weak in this…

The first – the “City of God’s delight,” Hephzibah – is simply the “one I find joy with….”

That is you, the one who God enjoys being in the presence of…. Imagine that…

God’s greatest joy is found when we realize we dwell in His presence.

The second… Ba’aulu – is just as profound.

It means, “You are the one I am committed to..forever.”

Bride doesn’t quite say that… this idea of God committing Himself to you, forever.

I gave you the part of Paul’s words to Titus… let me give you what comes after the “but.”

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. 6  He generously poured out the Spirit upon us through Jesus Christ our Savior. 7  Because of his grace he declared us righteous and gave us confidence that we will inherit eternal life.”

Eternal life with Him, the LORD God who finds His greatest joy when His children are with Him, who has committed Himself to us… to make us holy and perfect, for that is who His children, His beloved are…

That’s why Paul’s words end with this…

 8  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 3:4-8 (NLT2)

So let’s help the whole world know this… God finds great joy in being with us and commits Himself to us, And He will not, He cannot stop until He makes this true for all His children. So let’s help the whole world know… AMEN!

Dealing with despair….

Thoughts encouraging our devotion to Jesus… as we are reminded He is devoted to us!

And if the LORD is pleased with us, he will bring us safely into that land and give it to us. It is a rich land flowing with milk and honey. 9 Do not rebel against the LORD, and don’t be afraid of the people of the land. They are only helpless prey to us! They have no protection, but the LORD is with us! Don’t be afraid of them!” Numbers 14:8-9 NLT

Nor can godly minds be fortified against despair unless they think that through mercy on account of Christ and not on account of the law they with certainty have both righteousness and eternal life. This conviction consoles, uplifts, and saves godly minds.

It seems to me that having watched the Egyptian army drown in the Red Sea, the descendants of Abraham should have been ready to see God defeat the giants. That they would be prepared to follow him, abiding in His presence.

My view is unrealistic, those people struggled just like we do today, and while they had the pillar of fire and the cloud with them, we are the temple of the Holy Spirit.

It is when we forget He has declared us righteous and given us the promise of everlasting life that our eyes look to what they see below.

Too often, we forget Jesus and His promise to never abandon us. That is when our anxiety runs rampant, when our fears overwhelm us when we fall, as Israel did.

This is nothing new; Solomon wrote, If people can’t see what God is doing, they stumble all over themselves; But when they attend to what he reveals, they are most blessed. Proverbs 29:18 (MSG)

There is the key to surviving when we know we are up to the challenge. It sounds so easy, so elementary, to simply know that God has promised our righteousness and our eternal welcome into His presence. A presence we boldly enter because of Jesus and the cross. If He has made that sure, then the rest of life’s challenges become acceptable, tolerable, endurable.

One last thing – even thought those people in Numbers did not enter the Holy Land in this life, they were still God’s people. Christ would die for their sins as well as ours. While they didn’t see the promises in this life, He never left them, never stopped providing manna for them, and walked with them through it all Even in ths midst of their wounds… He was there… and at the cross, they truly became righteous, and entered into His rest.

He is here, and will be during our journey, until we are home…with Him. He will walk with us, through our troubled times, and He will bring us home. For we are the people He has declared righteous….and He is faithful to that promise.

Apology of the Augsburg Confession: Article IV Justification, Kolb, Robert, Timothy J. Wengert, and Charles P. Arand. 2000. The Book of Concord: The Confessions of the Evangelical Lutheran Church. Minneapolis, MN: Fortress Press.

Blessed Be the Name of the Lord! (even when it is near impossible!)

Photo by Wouter de Jong on Pexels.com

31 But the other men who had explored the land with him disagreed. “We can’t go up against them! They are stronger than we are! Numbers 13:11 NLT

27  On the way, Jesus told them, “All of you will desert me. For the Scriptures say, ‘God will strike the Shepherd, and the sheep will be scattered.’ 28  But after I am raised from the dead, I will go ahead of you to Galilee and meet you there.Mark 14:27-28 (NLT2)

Thus the saintly Job said after he had lost his children and all his property, “The Lord gave it, and the Lord has taken it away; blessed be the name of the Lord” [Job 1:21]. Job, indeed, was a just man from whom no one could take anything because he had nothing that he called his own. God declares in Job 41 [:11], “Whatever is under the heaven is mine; I created it.” Why, then, do you boast about your possessions and wail about an injustice done you? If anyone touches your honor, your reputation, your possessions, or anything else that you have, he is encroaching not upon what is yours, but what is Christ’s! (Martin Luther)

Twice men believed they had lost it all, that they were capable of nothing.

The first time, they were going against giants. They forgot about the promises of God and HIs very presence at the tabernacle. They were not ready to take on the challenge, and they would choose to enter 40 years of trials rather
than recognize that God was there…

The second time is similar and even prophesied. The apostles would see Jesus taken – and even before the cross they ran away, they denied him; they could not stand beside Jesus, as they believed they should. They wanted to be there,
to stand with Him, even against the threat of death. They, too, failed, overwhelmed by their lack of strength and the conviction to hold to the One they trusted in…

So why do we think we shall be any better?

Actually, I think we can do better, but not by the strength of our conviction. Instead, we need to acknowledge not only our weakness but God’s wisdom.

Notice that I did not write God’s strength?

In our weakness, as Luther notes, everything is actually God’s. What He gives, what He takes away, He does out of His love and care for us. He makes a decision – in our favor! That we don’t understand that is challenging, very challenging.
Too many times in my life, I have second-guessed God, complained to Him (and to some others), and struggled with what has happened. Have a situation or two (or five!) like that going on right now! There is nothing I can do to change the situation except turn to God.

I wish I could say that is my first reaction, but like Israel and Peter, my faith in God, my trust in His wisdom waivers. Eventually, I will, as Israel would enter the Holy Land, as Peter would respond to Jesus’s love. At this point in my life, I know how things will end… that I will remember God is God, and He loves me. That doesn’t make the present battle more palatable – I just now have to depend on God’s love to endure… for I don’t walk alone. It may feel like I
do, but that feeling is one I have learned by experience is false. He is here… I’ve seen it too often in the past. 

He is here… He is far greater than what oppresses and opposes me. Romans 8:28 and 8:38 are still promised….

If you are struggling in the darkness, I pray for you –that you don’t beat yourself up for not being faithful enough to shatter the darkness by yourself. Look to Jesus, remember the cross – where you were united to Him…where He claimed you as the Father’s child. Breathe deeply of His peace, let His love wash over you. And know there is a morning coming… where you will be able to see God’s love clearly – and how He cared for you through the night.

He is with you… and also with me.

So whatever happens, let us learn to say with Job, “Blessed be the name of the Lord!”

Luther, Martin. 1999. Luther’s Works, Vol. 42: Devotional Writings I. Edited by Jaroslav Jan Pelikan, Hilton C. Oswald, and Helmut T. Lehmann. Vol. 42. Philadelphia: Fortress Press.

The Paradox of Knowing What to Do, and Doing it.

Thoughts encouraging us to be devoted to God.

The teacher of religious law replied, “Well said, Teacher. You have spoken the truth by saying that there is only one God and no other. 33 And I know it is important to love him with all my heart and all my understanding and all my strength, and to love my neighbor as myself. This is more important than to offer all of the burnt offerings and sacrifices required in the law.”
34 Realizing how much the man understood, Jesus said to him, “You are not far from the Kingdom of God.” And after that, no one dared to ask him any more questions.
Mark 12:32-34 NLT

43 Jesus called his disciples to him and said, “I tell you the truth, this poor widow has given more than all the others who are making contributions. 44 For they gave a tiny part of their surplus, but she, poor as she is, has given everything she had to live on.” Mark 12:43-44 NLT

God, I have tasted Thy goodness, and it has both satisfied me and made me thirsty for more. I am painfully conscious of my need of further grace. I am ashamed of my lack of desire. O God, the Triune God, I want to want Thee; I long to be filled with longing; I thirst to be made more thirsty still. Show me Thy glory, I pray Thee, that so I may know Thee indeed.

Furthermore, we have frequently shown what we mean by faith. We are not talking about an idle knowledge, such as is also to be found in the devils, but about a faith that resists the terrors of conscience and which uplifts and consoles terrified hearts.

There is nothing more affirming, in fact, than the experience of God’s presence. That revelation says as nothing else can, “You are a good person. I created you and I love you.” Divine love brings us into being in the fullest sense of the word. It heals the negative feelings we have about ourselves.

I think the teacher of religious law knew he was right, but he didn’t understand why he was right.

The old lady knew why she did what she did but didn’t know she was right. She just did it.

My quest as a pastor is to help you, my friend, know both sides of the coin. To help you discover what to do in life and why to do it. I want you to love God with everything you are and to do so realizing His presence and love for you.

The quote from the Book of Concord shows why we should depend on God. In those times where problems and anxieties overwhelm us, our dependence on God reminds us He is our Comforter. In those times, we find peace in His presence as we take a breath, and in that still moment, remember the cross and His love.

The old woman knew that – and she responded with everything she had. She knew God loved her; she knew something special about being in God’s presence – so she gave. The idea of affirmation was not on her mind, but it was what was happening…

More often than not, I dwell in Tozer’s spot – I know I should be there; I know I should desire His presence and be more aware of it than I am. I struggle like the teacher of the law- knowing what should be but forgetting why I need to love God with everything. I need, like Tozer, like the teacher of the law – to hunger and thirst for God’s righteousness, to desire God’s presence more than a bride can not wait to see her husband-to-be on her wedding day.

It may sound self-serving, but there is nothing in our lives that compares to being in God’s presence – it is where we find peace, it is where we find love, and therefore meaning to our lives.

A meaning that goes beyond this life into the next, which is God’s desire in the first place…

To have us with Him – because He wants us there…

This is why we love Him… this is why we can give up everything… even our 2 cents.

Tozer, A. W. 2015. Tozer for the Christian Leader. Chicago: Moody Publishers.

Kolb, Robert, Timothy J. Wengert, and Charles P. Arand. 2000. The Book of Concord: The Confessions of the Evangelical Lutheran Church. Minneapolis, MN: Fortress Press.

Keating, Thomas. 2009. The Daily Reader for Contemplative Living: Excerpts from the Works of Father Thomas Keating, O.C.S.O., Sacred Scripture, and Other Spiritual Writings. Edited by S. Stephanie Iachetta. New York; London; New Delhi; Sydney: Bloomsbury.

Lift Up Your Eyes… and See! A sermon for Epiphany!

Lift Up Your Eyes and See! 
They are coming to you!
Isaiah 60:1-6


I.H.S.

May the grace of God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ cause you to shine… as you reflect God’s love and glory into the darkest aspects of life!

  • Epiphany is not a one-time event!

On January 6, the church throughout the world celebrated the feast of Epiphany.

Simply put, it is celebrating the recognition that the light of God’s glory entered the world, and the prophecy from Isaiah 60, read a few moments ago, was fulfilled.

My question for you is…

Before I ask it, I want you to know it will tell me a lot about this church, its trust in God, and its future.

It’s all on the line; everything depends on your answer to this question!

Ready?

When was the prophecy of Epiphany fulfilled?

How many people think it was totally fulfilled when the caravan of wise men from the east showed up?

It’s a decent thought – but the answer is wrong…

If the church is to grow – it has to understand Epiphany better!

Good thing we can take care of this – this very morning!

Epiphany isn’t one day in history to be remembered and preached about once a year. It didn’t stop 2000 years ago when the crew loaded up the camels like a band packing up from a concert.

Epiphany is an ongoing, everyday celebration. The more you realize it, the more this church will grow, as the glory of God shines from this place, for God’s glory, reflected through your lives… will change this community. For Epiphany – the light of the glory of Christ – will draw people to Him.

You will see it as you grow in your awareness of His glory in your life.

  • The Darkness

Isaiah gives a great idea of what life is like before the light of Christ shining forth from our lives,

He describes it as a “thick darkness covering the earth” and a “thick darkness covering the people.” The idea is the kind of darkness that sucks the air and all hope from you. 

We have another name for that darkness – it is sin. The damage it does is brutal as it destroys everything, relationships, families, our sanity. Sin creates anxieties that aren’t normal – it causes us even to fear death. 

In fact, many of us react pretty negatively when our particular sin is confronted when we are revealed to be in the darkness….

If you don’t think so, come on up, and we’ll take you through the ten commandments and see your reaction!

We don’t even need 10; listen carefully to these words from the Apology of the Augsburg Confession…

For, there is no law that accuses us more, that does more to make the conscience enraged against the judgment of God, than this summary of the whole law, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart.” For who among the saints other than Christ dares to boast of having satisfied this law?[1]

I love how the reformed noted that – confronting our sin causes us to be enraged – as if God doesn’t have the right to confront us and bring us to healing. We react – How dare God show us that we don’t love Him more than everything else! Doesn’t he realize there are far worse sinners over there in Azusa, or maybe over there in LaVerne…

That shows how powerful sin is – theologically, we will all agree that we are sinners. But if we dare deal with sin… its darkness consumes us, just as it did prior to the beginning of Epiphany.

The change begins…

That consuming darkness is only brought up in the Old Testament to talk about the glory of the Lord shattering that light. Initially, this refers to Jesus, and the star focuses on Him, which guided the wise men to Him….

But it likewise is God’s light dawning in our lives, as we are drawn to Jesus.

For when the Lord is with you…… there is Christ, His glory, His love.

That is what I mean when I say Epiphany didn’t end when the last wise men departed. As long as Christ is Immanuel – as long as He is here, then the light of God’s glory illuminates our life.

So when scripture talked of Jesus, saying He will “see and be radiant, your heart shall thrill and exult,” it is talking about us as well!

Our eyes wide open! We are experiencing the multi-dimensional love of God, which is beyond all explanation – and the peace that comes from knowing you are loved and forgiven and welcome in the presence of God. In His presence where His glory makes everything brighter than the brightest day – where everything is cleansed and perfect – for that is why Jesus came, that is why He died and rose.

And people are still coming

There is one last thing to talk to you about this morning…

Scripture promises And nations shall come to your light, and kings to the brightness of your rising. 4  Lift up your eyes all around, and see; they all gather together, they come to you; your sons shall come from afar, and your daughters shall be carried on the hip.

The Magi represented the nations, but this promise is for more than that – notice the children of God being gathered together. Sons and Daughters finally coming home from wherever they were, no matter how far off they had wandered.

There is your hope – dear people, it doesn’t matter how far people wander from God – the Spirit lights up the lives of the people of God as we resonate and reflect the love of Christ in which we dwell. God’s glory will illuminate their life, as the word of God is heard, as they are drawn to faith…as they are given hope.

Keep your eyes on Jesus, know you are loved, know God loves the people in your community… and let the hope of His love shine through you – a beacon to all the lost.

For you dwell in the peace of God, which is beyond all comprehension – and He guards your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. AMEN!


[1] Kolb, Robert, Timothy J. Wengert, and Charles P. Arand. 2000. The Book of Concord: The Confessions of the Evangelical Lutheran Church. Minneapolis, MN: Fortress Press.

Whaddya Want, NOW? a sermon on 1 Kings 3:3-15

Concordia Lutheran Church
Cerritos, CA

Surprised by Christmas!
What Do You Want now?
1 Kings 3:3-15

Jesus, Son, and Savior  †


May the grace of God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ show you how to worship God…in His Presence!

  • Surprise!

Just curious – how many of you have heard this story about Solomon before, that instead of asking God for money or fame, or victory in battle, he asked God for wisdom to govern and lead his people?

How many of you knew that God said because He asked this, God would not only grant Solomon the wisdom he would need, but would give him all the other stuff, too?

Curious – I wonder how many of us would follow Solomon’s example – not really wanting to have the understanding about right and wrong that was the basis of wisdom, but secretly thinking that is the shortcut to getting “all the other stuff?”

You all mean I am the one that ever failed at using reverse psychology on God?

As we look at this passage, there is a reason we find it here, on the last Sunday of Christmas…

It isn’t because of the wisdom or the other gifts that Solomon received.

It is because this passage is really about worship, about praising God in a meaningful way… as we recognize we dwell, as Israel did, as the shepherds, as the apostles would, in the presence of God.

  • Heterodox Worship – Solomon’s Sin

In the Old Reading, we see something a little confusing. Solomon leaves Jerusalem, his father’s city and heads to Gibeon and there slaughters 1000 head of cattle in a huge worship service.

The reason it is confusing is that the Ark of the Covenant was back in Jerusalem. Remember, David brought it there, dancing in his underwear? David wanted to build a temple around it, and God said no. Of the Ark, God told Moses this, for every generation to know,

21  Place inside the Ark the stone tablets inscribed with the terms of the covenant, which I will give to you. Then put the atonement cover on top of the Ark. 22  I will meet with you there and talk to you from above the atonement cover between the gold cherubim that hover over the Ark of the Covenant. From there I will give you my commands for the people of Israel. Exodus 25:21-22 (NLT2)

So God promised to meet the people of God at the ark, which is in Jerusalem, and outlined a very clear way of worship – worship that was a response to what God had done….

And instead of that, Solomon leads them off to Gibeon, to worship at a empty tabernacle, the tent formerly used to house the Ark.

God didn’t promise to meet them there though, he promised to meet them at the Ark. So despite the show of 1000 cows being slaughtered to provide burnt offerings, the worship was useless – because of disobedience, because they didn’t seek God, they just sought what was familiar.

Basically, they were worshipping God in vain. They were there, they might have been using His name, but the used God’s name in vain, because they weren’t where His promises were, and they didn’t know the Lord was there… with them.

We do this too….

We sometimes come to church, and we aren’t looking for God. We have something else in mind, we have some agenda, or something is distracting us.  It might be stuff we think is good, family stuff or church stuff…

But if we aren’t where God is… if we don’t recognize His presence here… we are just like Solomon…in the wrong place, doing what we do… and missing what we need.

And we are caught in our sin….

  • God moves us to Worship Him… in His presence.

It tells us something about the character of God that He didn’t fry Solomon right there or allow one of Israel’s many enemies to do so.

Instead, God comes to Solomon, and works with Him.

Just as He does with you and me….

Whaddya want Solomon?  I’ll give you whatever you want….

In the process, Solomon looks at his dad, and what he treasured the most – the love of God. He saw the reaction of David to that love – how David became a holy man, who struggled to depend on God when things were upside down and backward… and God loved him, still.

Of everything David had – this is what mattered the most!

Solomon could think of nothing better than to ask God for that kind of relationship – which was why he asked for the wisdom to govern hem, that they would know the difference between what is righteous, and what is evil. For that only comes through knowing God. That is what changed David.

One pastor wrote about this relationship this way,

prayer is a process of interior transformation, a conversation initiated by God and leading, if we consent, to divine union. One’s way of seeing reality changes in this process. A restructuring of consciousness takes place which empowers one to perceive, relate and respond with increasing sensitivity to the divine presence in, through, and beyond everything that exists[1]

Solomon sees the relationship his father had with God as the priority for his people, there is nothing else more important for them, or for him.

The way to see this is simple.

What does Solomon do after his time talking to God is over?

Then Solomon woke up and realized it had been a dream. He returned to Jerusalem and stood before the Ark of the Lord’s Covenant, where he sacrificed burnt offerings and peace offerings. Then he invited all his officials to a great banquet

His reaction, when given the wisdom of God to lead his people to what was good and not evil was simple – he took them where God promised to be there for them, when the burnt offering would be acceptable, where the peace offering would celebrated – Israel would now experience a peace with God that would last Solomon’s life.

Solomon would have his ups and downs, but he would build the temple – a place for the people of God to meet God, to be cleansed and lifted up by God. Until Jesus came..

Today’s it’s not about location – where we gather is where God is, where He feeds us, because He offered the sacrifice.

But there still is a feast – for His people to celebrate that they dwell in peace, for they dwell in the presence of God….

You dwell in the presence of God…

As we go through this next year, let’s pray that we realize this all the more.


[1] Keating, Thomas. 2009. The Daily Reader for Contemplative Living: Excerpts from the Works of Father Thomas Keating, O.C.S.O., Sacred Scripture, and Other Spiritual Writings. Edited by S. Stephanie Iachetta. New York; London; New Delhi; Sydney: Bloomsbury.

The Church Militant… may not be what you think?

How great is the goodness you have stored up for those who fear you. You lavish it on those who come to you for protection, blessing them before the watching world. 20  You hide them in the shelter of your presence, safe from those who conspire against them. You shelter them in your presence, far from accusing tongues. 21  Praise the LORD, for he has shown me the wonders of his unfailing love. He kept me safe when my city was under attack. Psalm 31:19-21 (NLT2)

Contemplative prayer is a process of interior transformation, a conversation initiated by God and leading, if we consent, to divine union. One’s way of seeing reality changes in this process. A restructuring of consciousness takes place which empowers one to perceive, relate and respond with increasing sensitivity to the divine presence in, through, and beyond everything that exists.

So then, effective and faithful pastoral ministry in each succeeding era must remain intimately connected with its essential core—the divinely given presence of Christ Jesus and the truth of his word by which alone we live.

Now more than at any other time in generations, the believer is in a position to go on the offensive. The world is lost on a wide sea, and Christians alone know the way to the desired haven. While things were going well, the world scorned them with their Bible and hymns, but now the world needs them desperately, and it needs that despised Bible, too.

When one studies Theology, there is a division of the church. The first section is called the Church Triumphant; it is all those who have gone to be with the Lord at death. The second is the Church Militant, the people of the church still alive and engaged in the spiritual battles that make up everyday life.

The problem is the word militant; it brings up pictures of a great Christian army dressed for battle against the heathen, against the cults, against atheists and agnostics. We see this as if the salvation of the church depended on making others submit to the church. We are to go on the offensive – and passages like Matthew 16 and Ephesians 6 are used to cheer on those preparing for WAR!

Too often, the church has become offensive rather than going on the offensive. We have forgotten our mission is the same as our Lord’s – to see the sinner find the rest that Tozer calls a haven. That is why he talks of the church on the offensive. Those who seem to despise the church are the ones who need us the most. Hose who scorn us and think us ridiculous are the ones we are placed in the midst, for God knows their needs.

That need is described in Psalm 31, as God is praised for providing shelter, the haven. It is finding the unfailing love, the intimate care which God is revealed, even as we are drawn into His presence. Senkbeil refers to this intimate presence as the essential core of ministry. Without it, our lives are not being lived; what instead happens is akin to the life of the shadows.

The church militant is aggressive, but not in the attack against unbelievers. It pursues its connection with the Father. As the words about contemplative prayer describe, it is the transformation initiated and guided by God. It is the time in His presence where we are changed. Paul talks about pressing for this in Philippians. 

Simply put, the more we are aware of His presence, the more we see Him working through us, reaching the very people that God will gather. The mroe time we spend basking in and in awe of His florious love, the more we are changed, the more we love Him, and

You want to win the world for Christ – seek how He is revealing Himself to you through the Gospel and the Sacraments. Rejoice as He provides for you, and then lovingly invite others into these intimate moments where God is…. with us.

Keating, Thomas. 2009. The Daily Reader for Contemplative Living: Excerpts from the Works of Father Thomas Keating, O.C.S.O., Sacred Scripture, and Other Spiritual Writings. Edited by S. Stephanie Iachetta. New York; London; New Delhi; Sydney: Bloomsbury.

Senkbeil, Harold L. 2019. The Care of Souls: Cultivating a Pastor’s Heart. Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press.

Tozer, A. W. 2015. Tozer for the Christian Leader. Chicago: Moody Publishers. Entry for January 1st

The Peace that We Need…

Where we find true peace

Thoughts to encourage our clinging to Jesus…

Then Moses called for Mishael and Elzaphan, Aaron’s cousins, the sons of Aaron’s uncle Uzziel. He said to them, “Come forward and carry away the bodies of your relatives from in front of the sanctuary to a place outside the camp.” 5 So they came forward and picked them up by their garments and carried them out of the camp, just as Moses had commanded.
6 Then Moses said to Aaron and his sons Eleazar and Ithamar, “Do not show grief by leaving your hair uncombed* or by tearing your clothes. If you do, you will die, and the LORD’s anger will strike the whole community of Israel. However, the rest of the Israelites, your relatives, may mourn because of the LORD’s fiery destruction of Nadab and Abihu
.
Leviticus 10:4-6 NLT

He is gnawing at his own heart,” said Luther. “I, too, often suffer from severe trials and sorrows. At such times I seek the fellowship of men, for the humblest maid has often comforted me. A man doesn’t have control of himself when he is downcast and alone, even if he is well equipped with a knowledge of the Scriptures. It is not for nothing that Christ gathers his church around the Word and the sacraments=- and is unwilling to let these be hidden in a corner. (1)

Of course, if you’re not careful you can burn yourself out in pastoral work. Sadly, thousands of pastors end up spiraling into emotional and spiritual collapse every year.
But when you take care to receive Christ’s own love and strength by means of his Spirit through his word, you have something to give to others without yourself being depleted and emptied.
(2)

Any appeal to the public in the name of Christ that rises no higher than an invitation to tranquillity must be recognized as mere humanism with a few words of Jesus thrown in to make it appear Christian.…
Christ calls men to carry a cross; we call them to have fun in His name. He calls them to forsake the world; we assure them that if they but accept Jesus the world is their oyster. (3)

I have to admit, I don’t like the words Moses spoke to Aaron and his boys. Why aren’t they allowed to grieve alongside their family? Paul talks of us weeping with those who weep (and laughing with them as they laugh as wll.) So this stupid act of their cousins should bring a time of grieving and being there for the family.

Shouldn’t it?

In this case, by no means in every case, they could not be there. We have to be careful of making this scenario a case study and establishing ground rules for pastoral care. I have heard that pastors must keep their distance and be above and remote from the scenario to pastor people. Based on the Romans 12 description of weeping and laughing, I have heard the opposite.

The question is, how do we become wise enough to know the difference? And how do we deal with our own pain? How do we find our peace when we encounter such trauma as pastors or people? Where do we find the wisdom to enter into the family’s pain, or not?

Senkbeil and Luther both note the high cost of enduring such trials. Trials that lead to the “gnawing at your own heart,” not being able to “have control of himself,” and “emotional and spiritual collapse” that most pastors deal with regularly. They will both find the same solution, which I will get to in a moment after I deal with Tozer – his words help clarify the discernment needed.  

The idea that our message is only an invitation to peace and tranquility is the danger of trying to multi-task as a mourner and spiritual care provider. I am not saying God cannot work in these situations, but it taxes us too significantly and will lead to a message that doesn’t tie our peace to the cross. Establish enough of these trials, one after another, and the pain will break anyone. And when we fail, our words become something less, a placebo, no longer connected to the peace that is genuinely needed in a time like these.

Tozer calls the believer to carry the cross first…to forsake the world because focused on Christ whom we meet at the cross, we can be relieved of burdens and find the peace we need. This is why Senkbeil talks of letting the Spirit work through Word and Sacrament to receive Christ’s love and strength within us.  It is why Luther talks of the fellowship
and the humblest maid comforting him, even as Jesus gathers His church around the Word and Sacraments. It is only connected to God’s grace that our words can do more than be a placebo. Only then is there something to give something beyond all understanding… the peace of Jesus!

Aaron and his boys were responsible for the Old Covenant sacrifices, those activities that pointed to God’s promise of peace. They weren’t forbidden to weep because God was uncaring. Rather, I think they needed to have the strength
of the promise that would enable the community to find grace and peace at the moment. They needed to remind people that God was still with them and that God was sustaining them, and even as God was ministering to them through the community, Their comfort and peace came from God, and they needed to lead people there. For us that means embracing the cross, accepting its suffering, realizing that there we meet Jesus. That is where we find life and hope, and rest. THat is why baptism, absolution and the Lord’s Supper take us there.. to Jesus… at the cross. 

When I was a hospice chaplain, I watched nurses put aside their grief to care for the patients who passed away. We would weep together later – apart from those we had gone to care for, the patient and their family. Like Aaron and his
boys, we were the hands and voice of God for those hurting and grieving. I think that is what Moses was working from with these words. He directed them to not show grief at that moment because if they lost their way in despair, not
only would they drown, so would the community. As they focused on God… and His mercy…then they would be comforted and be able to offer the same.

This isn’t easy; this idea of keeping our eyes on Jesus in the middle of the pain. To be bluntly honest, I needed to be reminded of it presently… but it is there, at the altar with others.. that God’s peace is found, where the burdens
are lifted.

After the years of 2020 and 2021… that is where we need to be found… and when we are… we can minister to so many who need to know the peace of Jesus.

 

 

(1) Martin Luther, Luther’s Works, Vol. 54: Table Talk, ed. Jaroslav Jan Pelikan, Hilton C. Oswald, and Helmut T. Lehmann, vol. 54 (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1999), 268.

(2) Harold L. Senkbeil, The Care of Souls: Cultivating a Pastor’s Heart (Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press, 2019), 7.

(3) A. W. Tozer, Tozer for the Christian Leader (Chicago: Moody Publishers, 2015).

My (very odd) 2nd Favorite Christmas Memory..

Still trying to do it!

Thoughts to enourage our trust and dependence on Jesus…

The LORD called to Moses from the Tabernacle* and said to him, 2 “Give the following instructions to the people of Israel. Leviticus 1:1-2 NLT

Following Mary’s example, the fundamental practice for healing the wounds of the false-self system is to fulfill the duties of our job in life. This includes helping people who are counting on us. (1)

My real apprenticeship in the ministry was served right there on that modest farm at my father’s side. There was always work to be done and lots of it. Though my dad was rather laid back as farmers go, he was a hard worker. There were cows to be fed, hogs to be slopped, eggs to gather, manure to be shoveled, hay to be cut, baled, and stacked, corn first to be planted, then cultivated, later picked, then finally shelled, grain to be drilled and harvested. I learned from dad the invaluable lesson that the best work of all is work done for its own sake. (2)

Accidents may indeed appear to befall him and misfortune stalk his way; but these evils will be so in appearance only and will seem evil only because we cannot read the secret script of God’s hidden providence and so cannot discover the ends at which He aims.… The man of true faith may live in the absolute assurance that his steps are ordered by the Lord. For him, misfortune is outside the bounds of possibility (3)

My favorite Christmas memory will always be playing a LORD piano in my grandfather’s basement, while he (a former professional singer), my Uncle Bill, my Uncle Butch and my Dad sang together in harmony. All my cousins would be lined up on the stairs, and it was great. I remember doing it from the time I was 11 till I was 15, and I still miss the peace and harmony of those days.

But this post is about my second favorite Christmas memory, and that occurred for a few years at the corner of Lincoln and Tustin, in the city of Orange. I worked graveyard shift at a Denny’s there, and the place was always packed – waiting list for 23 of 24 hours we were open one year.

As I was reading my devotional readings this morning, the quotes above all reminded me of that precious time in my life, of working my tail off waiting tables, and the generosity of those people I served.
Like Senkbeil, this was my best training for ministry, learning how to really listen to people, not just for their order, but to make them feel at home. And yes, the best work is simply done – as it lays before us.

In the midst of that hard work, I often forget the dreams that were shattered In the brutal years of 1986 and 1987. I just soaked myself up in my work, and somewhere I still have the comment cards from that day… which showed that I could care and help people. So Keating’s work reminded me of that unique blessing of simple hard work- fulfilling the duties of life, just as the Virgin Mary did. It is hard to say to God that we want to let Him bring about what He desires… knowing that may not dovetail in with our plans.

Which brings us to Tozer, and the idea that there is misfortune, that what is going on in our lives has a direct purpose. He has promised such in places like Romans 8:28-38 – where all things work for good – because they cannot separate us from God. When I struggle with misfortune, or what I perceive to be misfortune (like my connective tissue disorder which can cause pain, and literal heartache) or anything else, I need to know God is in charge. I can then throw myself back into my work, knowing God is taking care of the rest.

I wish I would have learned this back in the day… but I can see it… in the satisfaction that ended those Christmas Days and the double shifts I worked. (11pm to 7 am, then back at 4-midnight) Oddly I miss them now, the energy, the people who had no where else to go.. and the satisfaction that at the end of the day.

God was with me… and still is… and with you!

(1) Thomas Keating, The Daily Reader for Contemplative Living: Excerpts from the Works of Father Thomas Keating, O.C.S.O., Sacred Scripture, and Other Spiritual Writings, ed. S. Stephanie Iachetta (New York; London; New Delhi; Sydney: Bloomsbury, 2009), 355.

(2) Harold L. Senkbeil, The Care of Souls: Cultivating a Pastor’s Heart (Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press, 2019), 1–2.

(3) A. W. Tozer, Tozer for the Christian Leader (Chicago: Moody Publishers, 2015).

Is it time to clean up the Church?

THoughts to help us depend on Jesus.

When it was evening, Jesus sat down at the table* with the Twelve. 21 While they were eating, he said, “I tell you the truth, one of you will betray me.”
22 Greatly distressed, each one asked in turn, “Am I the one, Lord?”
23 He replied, “One of you who has just eaten from this bowl with me will betray me. 24 For the Son of Man must die, as the Scriptures declared long ago. But how terrible it will be for the one who betrays him. It would be far better for that man if he had never been born!”
Matthew 26:20-24 NLT

Jerome Schurff and the philosophers are offended by the form of the church, which is subject to scandals and sects, because they think of the church as pure, holy, unspotted, and the dove of God. It’s true that the church has this appearance in God’s sight, but in the eyes of the world the church is like its bridegroom Christ: hacked to pieces, marked with scratches, despised, crucified, mocked [Isa. 53:2, 3].

Perhaps it was John’s preconceived ideas about asceticism that God wanted to demolish in order to free him in the last days of his life to accept God’s coming in any way at all, including through the eating and drinking and compassion of the actual Messiah.

I need to confess:

Like most pastors and priests who wrk with a denomination or brotherhood, I get a little frustrated by where I see men leading the Church. The agendas, the hatred spewed out against those whose agendas don’t match, the money and mechamisms put in place in denominations and congregations, rather that seeking consensus among the people of God drives me deep into depression. Part of me just wants to hide out with my own people, and forget the church at large. THe other part of me wants to run in, get involved, take control and clean up the mess.

And make no mistake – the church at large, and most denominations are incredibly messed up right now.

Part of the problem is that we are asking who is to blame, and if we can’t find anyone to blame, we start looking at our lives. As we do, we ask the same thing the apostles did, “Am I the one?” Is it my actions, my work, my weakness that is breaking down the church, dividing it? Am I the one who betrays Jesus?

I think we need to ask that question, and if there are things we are doing, repent.

As I read Luther’s words the other morning, it hit home hard, my vision of the church and the reality – that while I am most often seeing the side that Schurff sees, the church that is brutally hacked to pieces, marked with self inflicted pain (like the Gadarene man posessed by demons) and needing to be crucified.

I forget that God sees us differently, as being pure, holy, unspotted and the bearers of peace. And even when I meditate on the that idea, my own view sees something else, and I am challenged to set that aside and trust God in what He sees. I want to take the entire church into the wildernness, so that maybe forty years of wandering around with nothing but God’s providence to sustain them, they might get the point.

In doing so, I am in the same place as John the Baptist, thinking that asceticism, that casting aside everything, is the only way to seek the peace of God that comes when nothing is left.

Keating makes a point about this, that shocks me. To think like John is to dismiss God working in other ways. John isolated and preached hard against the evils of his day. That’s why John the Baptist sent his disciples to ask if Jesus was the one… it was so radically different than how he imagined the Messiah’s coming. But Goid knows what the people of God – those already present and those to come need….

He is God, we aren’t… and His bride is His responsibility…and all we are called to point people to Him, and help remove the things that cause theme to stumble….

Martin Luther, Luther’s Works, Vol. 54: Table Talk, ed. Jaroslav Jan Pelikan, Hilton C. Oswald, and Helmut T. Lehmann, vol. 54 (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1999), 262.

Thomas Keating, The Daily Reader for Contemplative Living: Excerpts from the Works of Father Thomas Keating, O.C.S.O., Sacred Scripture, and Other Spiritual Writings, ed. S. Stephanie Iachetta (New York; London; New Delhi; Sydney: Bloomsbury, 2009), 347.

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