Monthly Archives: December 2015

Whose Side is God On? The Battles to See Who is Right?


Devotional/Discussion thought of the day:

 *While Joshua was near Jericho, he raised his eyes and saw one who stood facing him, drawn sword in hand.h Joshua went up to him and asked, “Are you one of us or one of our enemies?” 14 He replied, “Neither. I am the commander* of the army of the LORD: now I have come.” Then Joshua fell down to the ground in worship, and said to him, “What has my lord to say to his servant?” 15 The commander of the army of the LORD replied to Joshua, “Remove your sandals from your feet, for the place on which you are standing is holy.” And Joshua did so.  Josh 5:13–15

“..what difference is there between philosophy and the teaching of Christ? If we merit the forgiveness of sins by these elicited acts of ours, of what use is Christ? If we can be justified by reason and its works, what need is there of Christ or of regeneration?”  (Apology of the Augsburg Confessio; Article IV

I have a friend who still contends that the Dallas Cowboys are still America’s Team.  I will concede that in his presence, noting that Bill, Tom and the rest of the New England Patriots are God’s team.  Another friend declares that God is surely a fan of the Nebraska Cornhusker’s while demeaning the Oklahoma Sooners to be cheered on by someone a bit south of God’s abode.

Most of the time, I think such revelry and rivalry is fun, as we claim which side of a battle is holy and righteous.  Except around the college bowl season – or the NFL playoffs.  It is then that such discussions take on a more serious form.

We do this in other arenas as well, such as the political arena, as those who are pro-gun rights seek a verbal “trial by combat” with those who are for taking care of refugees and immigrants seeking solace.  Or those who are pro-life take the field against those who want universal healthcare. Republicans versus Democrats, Tea Party versus something called being progressive.

We also do this in the realms of philosophy and theology, as if who wins in the public debates of blogs and podcasts determine where there is truth, and who is correct.  Lutherans versus Reformed, Catholics versus Protestants, Pentecostals versus Baptists, Liberals versus Conservatives, Traditionalists against those who prefer Innovation.   Everyone, absolutely everyone attacking the Muslims.  Oh, and we are all on the defense against the JW’s and LDS.

Even within denominations we see this, and it tears the church apart.

Listen, folks, Melancthon nailed it.  You are not saved by your pure theology or the logical supremacy of your philosophy.  It is not what you think or what those thoughts cause you to do that saves you.  What Joshua realized as he talked to Jesus, was simple.

It isn’t about whether God is on our side.

It isn’t whether your blog or mine has more followers or hits. It’s not whether my Patriots can again intercept a pass on the goal line.  There are political positions on both sides of the aisle that need to be listened and heeded.

But what is important is whether you find yourself in the presence of God, with other broken sinners, finding the healing that you need.   That the Holy Spirit will bring you to life spiritually, whether you will be transformed, and live in peace.

The desire to win so divides us if our definition of winning is causing the other person to submit to our view.  But a desire to see God’s love win is one where humility reigns, not bravado.  It is where sacrifice and service take on more meaning than statistics and trophies. It is where hanging in there with that person who others would give up on matters more than attracting the stars, and the crowds.  It is where truth matters more than our opinion, and, therefore, the journey is mutual, not combative.

We seek fellowship, with all, based in our relationship with God.

This is life, in Christ.

May we seek it in the next year, and lovingly work with all.  AMEN.

Tappert, T. G. (Ed.). (1959). The Book of Concord the confessions of the Evangelical Lutheran Church. (p. 109). Philadelphia: Mühlenberg Press.

 

The Glory of God and the Alien


Devotional/Discussion Thought of the Day:

17 lYou shall not deprive the resident alien or the orphan of justice, nor take the clothing of a widow as pledge. 18 For, remember, you were slaves in Egypt, and the LORD, your God, redeemed you from there; that is why I command you to do this. Dt 24:17–18 NABRE

43 yThe resident aliens among you will rise above you higher and higher, while you sink lower and lower. 44 They will lend to you, not you to them. They will become the head, you the tail. Dt 28:43–44 NABRE

This song sets a standard; it helps us understand what Christmas is all about. It contains the key word, which, in our time especially, commands people’s interest more than just about anything else: peace. The biblical term shalom, which is usually so translated, implies much more than the absence of armed conflict; it means the right order of human affairs, well-being—a world where trust and friendship prevail, where neither fear nor want, nor treachery nor dishonesty is found. The song of the angels first lays down a precondition, without which there can be no lasting peace: God’s glory. This is the message of peace at Bethlehem: peace among men results from God’s glory  (1)

In my daily devotions, I am presently reading four very different things.  Scripture, on a yearly reading plan, two doctrinal works, and this devotional quoted in green, taken from the writings of Pope Benedict, but done while he was a cardinal.

Often I look to see the connection between the works, often between the two theological works. Today I knew there was a connection between what is quoted above from scripture and Pope Benedict, but it takes some thought to see it.  It takes prayer, and meditation on the blessings of God in our sacraments to see it come to reality.

And it is necessary today.  Very necessary among the people of God that is the Church.

You see, we want the shalom, the peace of God which Benedict XVI writes so powerfully about.  We are tired of living in broken and anxiety laden lives.  We want peace, but like so many other things, we are only considering peace for ourselves.   Real peace, though, the kind of peace that is found in dwelling in the glory of God, is communal. It is more than the absence of conflict, more than compromise so we can get along.

Peace, serenity, harmony is what we are talking about, and as I said, it is impossible through human manipulation or negotiation.  It can only happen when we are aware of the work of God, reconciling us to Himself.  When He is present. When His glory overwhelms us enough that He can heal us.

So what does this have to do with the alien in our midst?  (not to mention the widow and the orphan)

Simple, they are part of the peace.  Our loving, benevolent actions toward them, which are commanded by scripture, are well thought out.  They are neither blind charity, nor ignoring the needs of those who desperately have them.  Those who need a new life, a new place to live, who need to be delivered from the bondage they lived in, just as we were, or, at least, our ancestors were.

There is the connection, the one we don’t want to make.  These people that are scorned mocked, who often invest all they have in coming into our presence are looking for the peace, the shalom that can only come from being in the presence of God. The very peaceful, glorious presence we desire for ourselves.  The very peace-filled, glorious presence we are called into, together.

Lord have mercy on us….  AMEN!

 

 

(1)  Ratzinger, J. (1992). Co-Workers of the Truth: Meditations for Every Day of the Year. (I. Grassl, Ed., M. F. McCarthy & L. Krauth, Trans.) (p. 409). San Francisco: Ignatius Press.

Christmas Sunday Sermon: “I Have Seen!” (Growing past weariness)


I Have Seen!

Luke 2:22-40

†  Jesus, Son, Savior

 I pray for you this, on this third day of Christmas.  That you would know the awe, the joy, the wonder on the 8th day of Christmas, that Simeon and Anna knew… and that you would never forget this joy of seeing God’s salvation for all people!

How tired, how weary, and this strange man

It was a cold day when they woke up, and Joseph packed up all they had.  We think he had a donkey, but who can be sure?  We do know that they were among the poorest of the poor, so it is possible they had to carry all they had.

Even so, the mother of the Messiah, seven days after giving birth picked him up, and with her husband set out on a six to seven-mile hike.  A hike that would climb 2000 feet in elevation, as they went through olive groves and past military outposts.

Al, how many of us could walk from here to your house? That would be a little farther, but not as strenuous of a climb!  Seven days after giving birth.  They were still weary from the long trek from Nazareth to Bethlehem.  Deacon Bob asked a question in our preparation that I couldn’t answer.  Would it be easier for Mary to hike that distance, or ride a donkey, considering she just gave birth. I have no idea…..neither sounds like an easy trip!

They had no choice to take either journey.  The first was mandated by the laws of men.  The journey on this day mandated by the laws of God.

The good thing was that they were in Bethlehem, and not Jericho.

As they finally climb the temple mount, weary and tired from the three to four-hour journey, a very old man wanders over to them, with a huge smile, mumbling praise God! Praise God! He looks down at Jesus and gently takes Him from Mary, crying out to someone(?), I see! I see!

I wonder what they thought when he broke into song????
How would you feel, if you someone handed to you Jesus, the Messiah?

What would it be like to hold Jesus, the one who would die for your sin? Not sure of that perhaps, but knowing the hope for all humanity was there… in your hands?

That is what Simeon experienced…

How tired and weary are we?

Do we manage the things God desires?

What if Mary and Joseph didn’t?

The apostle Paul once wrote,

9  So let’s not get tired of doing what is good. At just the right time we will reap a harvest of blessing if we don’t give up. 10  Therefore, whenever we have the opportunity, we should do good to everyone—especially to those in the family of faith.
Galatians 6:9-10 (NLT)

Somehow, Mary and Joseph found the strength to make it to Jerusalem, to have Jesus circumcised, to offer the sacrifices that it took, for Him to be considered righteous.  I mean, what would have happened if they had said – well the roads will be too rough, Mary needs another week in bed, we can go to the temple any time?  Or the temple opens too early, or tool late, or we don’t like the long lines.  I could even imagine Joseph saying, Mary, if you don’t stop trying to give me directions we are just going to head home!  If they didn’t complete the journey, if the offerings and circumcision hadn’t happened, then he would not be righteous, and he couldn’t have died for us.

My friends weariness is not a valid reason for you or I to sin.  To fail to do the good that God commissioned fro us to do.  To say a mean word because we are tired and irritable is as much a sin as the lies and gossip we know are forbidden.  Failing to help someone because they drain what energy we have left is just like stealing from them, or even murdering them. Sin is sin, whether we feel like we are Abraham’s age, or William’s.

That’s why Paul encourages us not to grow weary, not to stop doing what God has prepared for us.

it’s hard you say.  I agree.

But so was a virgin and her husband, who had given birth a week before – making the trek to the temple.

I have seen!

As they come to the temple, they meet two people have known weariness.  They have spent their lives in prayer, and in ministering to others.  We hear of their devotion, their faithfulness, their righteousness,  Both are guided by the Holy Spirit, even as we are.  And despite their age, they serve God with willingness and great desire. And both are older, much older.

Simeon, the one guided by the Holy Spirit that day, who was told that this baby, this newborn, was the one who would make us born again.

He had seen it, what he had been waiting for all of His life, why he spent that life eagerly awaiting for the Messiah to appear.  So assured by the Holy Spirit that all he had to see was the baby, to hold him.

The nunc dimitis. Our completion, there in his hands.

This baby would reveal God to every nation, it was the reason God had chosen this small nation of Israel and protected and guided it.  This child who would be a great joy to many, the One, who would reveal all our deepest thoughts, and cleanse us anyway.

As God had promised, our salvation revealed!

Our salvation, there in Simeon’s hands.

The other person, whose weariness would fade was a 84-year-old woman who had spent 64 years waiting for that day.  For sixty-four years and more, she would fast and pray, that God would save His people.  As Simeon noted, not just Israel, but all of His people.  And so He did!  She told everyone there, everyone who was waiting for the Messiah.

He’s here!  Simeon is holding Him!

How much the weariness would disappear from their old bones.  How much the joy of knowing God had kept His promise.

As we gather at the rail this morning, as we are given the Body and Blood of Christ, Take a moment…and think about what you have been given.  For we too see our salvation, we see God revealed to us, we are brought into His glory.

Find the peace that chases away the weariness, the love which embraces you, the joy of Christ’s gathering us to Himself…and sharing Himself with us.

And rejoice, for He is with you!

The Second Day of Christmas….or Have We Already Moved Past the Awe?


Devotional Thought of the Day:
30  I have seen your salvation, 31  which you have prepared for all people. Luke 2:30-31 (NLT)

And what about us? Are we so far away from the stable because we are much too refined and too smart for that? Do we not get all entangled in scholarly exegesis, in the proof or disproof of historical authenticity to the extent that we have become blind and deaf to the Child himself? Do we not really all too intensely dwell in “Jerusalem”, in a palace, withdrawn within ourselves, in our self-sufficiency, our fear of being challenged, too much so to be able to hear the voice of the angels, to set out to worship?  (1)

Twenty-four hours ago, I was standing before people, putting into their hands the Body and Blood of Jesus, as we celebrated the Incarnation, one of the most amazing of miracles the world has ever born witness too.  For those who don’t know the term, this is the physical birth of Jesus, the Savior.

Like the shepherds, we were in awe, this is God, this is the one who made it possible for all of humanity to become children of God.  The God who counts us not as servants, but as friends.

I woke up this morning, had breakfast, watched a little bit of a movie with my son, talked to him about his presents, cleaned the car in anticipation for our vacation starting tomorrow afternoon, and came to work to write a sermon on the passage listed above.  Calculating how to get my laptop’s keyboard fixed, how to manage 100 other things.

Then I come to my office, pull out my devotional reading, and hear Pope Benedict’s question.

What about us?  Are we already so far from celebrating Christmas that it doesn’t matter?  Have we already forgotten the joy and relief as we help in our hands the very body of Jesus, in and under the bread and wine?  Have we already lost the awe of the moment?

Unfortunately, I had to be shocked into remembering; this is Christmas! 

I had to be shocked into calming down, focusing and thinking about the fact that God so loved us, that He came to us.   That He continually dwells among us.  We need to see His glory; we need to know His presence.  Instead of dwelling on that, and knowing His peace, that I had, as the former pope noted, drawn into myself.

You and I need these words of a simple old man named Simeon burned into us….

30  I have seen your salvation, 31  which you have prepared for all people. Luke 2:30-31 (NLT)

Take time over the next few days, to repeat those words, to get to realize what they mean.  Let over the next week those words burn into your soul….

And rejoice, for to you a Savior has been born, and you dwell in His presence, like the shepherds, and Joseph, and Mary.

AMEN!

(1)   Ratzinger, J. (1992). Co-Workers of the Truth: Meditations for Every Day of the Year. (I. Grassl, Ed., M. F. McCarthy & L. Krauth, Trans.) (p. 406). San Francisco: Ignatius Press.

The Only Right That Matters


The Only Right that Really Matters

John 1:1-14

†  I.H.S.

 I pray for you my friends that you would grow to realize even deeper this truth.  Because Jesus was born, lived, died and rose from the dead, you are the children of God!

It seems we are always talking about our rights.  In the Constitution, it talks about inalienable rights, and its first ten amendments were the Bill of rights.  People talk about human rights; there have been numerous civil rights movements.  We talk about water rights, mineral rights, the right to assemble, the right to education, the right to medical care, the right to arm bears, o wait, bear arms.  Theologians and philosophers talk about the right to basic human dignity. Heck, I even remember one old rock song from 30 years ago that encouraged us to fight for the right…to party!  (yeah 30 years ago!)

But what if all but one right were taken away.

What if every right people claimed and demanded were stripped of them, but they could choose one….

I would hope we take the one that we heard a moment ago in the gospel.

It is the only right that really matters.

And to receive it, to trust that we have that right, means that all other rights are diminished, that all other rights are revealed to be something less.  They become like idols of wood or stone; that lose their luster and their importance.

Rights, or Self-idolatry?

While I am one who often speaks about making sure others are treated well, I think that we often make what we demand the right to, into an idol, a God that serves us.  We can’t think of life without that “right”, and we will fight to protect that right.

I’ve even heard of some people who indicate they will fight for that right, even to the point of death.
I am not talking about trying to serve others, and ensure they have what most would consider basic things in their life. I am talking about when those things or things not so basic or necessary become idols, where we think life must have them, or it isn’t really living.

It is then we have taken something good and turned it into something bad.  It is like the Israelites, taking Gideon’s armor and worshipping it, rather than the God who directed Gideon.  Or the staff with the snake, that God had Moses fashion, to heal people of the snake bites they received when they were unfaithful.  We do it to, when we take the things that remind us of Jesus, from buildings to people, from crosses to music, and say that’s what matters.

Or even when we take a day like Christmas, and make it more about the presents and food than about the Lord, who came to us.

The Lord, who laid aside his rights as God, to come and live among us, to serve, even to the point of death, and that death on a cross.

The Right

So what right do we cling to? What right is the one that makes the difference in our lives?

This one…

12 But to all who believed him and accepted him, he gave the right to become children of God. 13 They are reborn—not with a physical birth resulting from human passion or plan, but a birth that comes from God.

You have been given the right to be a child of God.  His son, His daughter. The child whom He loves.

So has everyone else on the planet.  Everyone in history,

This is why we are here.

It is not just for the brunch; it is not because of the music, or my eloquence. It’s not because of tradition, or because someone forced you to wake up and be here.  (although they might have!)

It is because God drew you here, to remind you of the right He gave you.

That He purchased for you by sending Jesus here, to be born and laid in a feeding trough, to wander around as an itinerant prophet without a home, to be mocked and brutally beaten and hung on a tree to bear every curse your sin earned.

So you would have the right to be a child of God.

To share in His love, His mercy, His glory, His peace……

AMEN.

Christmas Eve: Relationships: Isaiah 9


Relationships

Isaiah 9:6-7

†  I.H.S.

May you realize the long awaited promise of God’s active presence in our lives, came true for all on a night like this… as Jesus the Messiah was born.

Four Letters.

Four simple letters, written by a prophet 700 years before the event he saw.  The promise of God nearly two millennia before that.

Four letters, divided into two words, that matter more than we can imagine.

“to us.”

This child that we celebrate, this man who is God whom we glorify, was born to us.

To us…..

And everything changes, as the relationship that God wants to have with us, is revealed.  That which they couldn’t understand in Isaiah’s day, and couldn’t understand on the night when Mary gave birth, made clear.  God came to us.  To have a relationship with us, to relate to us in a number of ways Isaiah tells US.

Like Kay is my wife, the church’s office manager, the mother of my son, so too does God relate TO US in a number of incredible ways….. and as we celebrate Jesus coming to us, as we ponder what this all means, it is worth looking at who Isaiah says this Jesus, this God is saves relates… to us

Wonderful Counselor, the one who comforts and directs, who consoles and guides, whose wisdom we depend upon.  This is the God, who came to us. It is the first way Isaiah tells us that He will relate… to us.

He does this because we need direction, we need comfort, we need God here, to be our shepherd. Because we too often lose our way morally, We need Him when life results in despair and mourning. So a child was born to us.

That baby, who was laid in a feeding trough, this child born of parents who would soon leave their country because of persecution and move. He is one we truly need, A God, the God, not made of wood or fashioned from stone.  A God, who is mighty, and uses that might, that ability, that power, for us. For that is how He would relate to us.  Not just minimally from a distance but interacting with us here.

Too often we make false gods, ones who would promise to do what we want, what we think we want.  We don’t want these gods to love us; rather we only want them to give us what we think we need.  This God, though, who came as a child to us…is not like that.  He is a mighty God, who loves and knows what we truly need.  He relates to us as the God, who is always able to be Whom we need,

The next way is is my favorite of the ways in which God relates to us humans, to his people. As our eternal dad, as the loving Father, we run to when we are hurt when we’ve broken our neighbor’s window, or their hearts when we’ve done the things that leave us needing His strong embrace.

And this Father is eternal, and he will be our Father eternally.  Think about that.  God just isn’t a god of this day or that, a fad.  He will be your God always.

There is a lot in this idea that this child relates to us as our Father, our everlasting Father.  Theologians make a big deal of it.  But when you need Him, His embrace is there…for you.

The last way God relates to us, through this child given to us, is so needed today.  With all of the stress, all of the fears, with all the brokenness we have to witness, such is the nature of the God who comes to us.  He is the Prince of Peace!

We so often picture the serenity of the manger scene, which I am not quite sure would be that peaceful.  A woman gave birth, a husband tired and weary, the shepherds, still in awe of the million angels announcing the glory of Christ being born… into that scene comes the prince of peace… and we always picture that scene as serene, peaceful, because we know His character.

The child who would be, no who is, the prince of peace….our Prince of peace.

This child in the manger calms our fears, our anxieties, our lives…our world.  Because of him, we have this peace… peace beyond understanding.  For that is why He came… to us.

And the prince of peace….to us is given

The prince of peace who has come… to us.

AMEN!

Christmas Eve: He Will, He Has!


For He Will: For He Has….
Matthew 1:18-25

Jesus! Son! Savior!

May the grace of God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ reveal to you the hope of Glory, His gift to you!

 What does this Mean?

As people are driving by the church this evening, as they see the cars in the parking lo now, and later, and tomorrow morning, I prayer that they ask a simple question.

Why are these cars here??

I pray that they also seek out the answer. That they would realize the reason we are here is more than just tradition, It is more than the lights and music.  It is worth delaying the gifts, and the family and friends that didn’t accept our invitations to join us.

It is here in this place, Christmas takes on a real meaning.

For this night, we celebrate the greatest blessing the world has ever known.  The greatest blessing that we will ever have, and nothing else is close.

We will realize this through the eyes of Joseph this evening….as we see him twice, both times somewhat unable to put his thoughts into words.  Both times unable to really understand what is going on…

Anxious Joseph…

The first we see of Joseph, he is struggling, confused, hurt, broken.  Feeling betrayed and overwhelmed

His fiancé tells him she is pregnant, and he knows he isn’t the father.  In fact, he hasn’t been alone with her, so how could….  what is a man to think?  The story Joseph was told?  How could she be so malicious, to think Joseph such a fool?

Our translation tonight used the phrase, “as he considered this,” yet the word picture behind the original is one who is breathing hard, who is out of control.  Hurt and broken, feeling betrayed, shocked, he is beyond words.  Speechless, he struggles through the night.

Some of us know this kind of anger, this kind of stress, we’ve felt that betrayal.

Most of us have experienced this kind of stress, this anger, hurt, betrayal, and pain.  Maybe like Joseph, we cannot conceive of how someone else’s actions could be anything but evil.  We can’t find a way to explain the situation in any positive way.

It hurts, we can’t figure a way to get out of the relationship with more pain, yet…can we even stand the pain any longer?  He had every right to demand she pay for her unfaithfulness, but the pain was so deep, he knew that wouldn’t help.

Or maybe, it wasn’t someone else who betrayed us.

We are the one who betrayed us.  I betrayed myself, you betrayed you.  We fell into that one sin, we gave into temptation, we chose to do something we know we would risk becoming broken. We can’t believe we did it.  We can’t sleep, we are so angry with ourselves, so full of guilt and shame…..

And in either case, we need an angel, a messenger from God to come, and make everything right again.

We end up beside ourselves, or we bury the guilt and shame, or the anger and resentment deep, where it causes so many other problems when we can’t bury any more

The Second Joseph

When the angel comes to Joseph, it changes everything.

He hears the news from an angel,

“Joseph, son of David,” the angel said, “do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife. For the child within her was conceived by the Holy Spirit. 21  And she will have a son, and you are to name him Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.” Matthew 1:20-21 (NLT)

He will save, this baby that is growing in Mary’s womb.  He will save Joseph, and Mary, and his family.  He will save his clan and nation and all people will have the opportunity to be saved from that life of brokenness.

This message brought the news that would repair his relationship with Mary.  No longer would he think her guilty of being unfaithful.  No longer would he deal with the brokenness inside him.

The message of who this baby would be changed all of that. That is what He will save means.

It gave him hope it restored what was broken.

If we are to explain why we are here, in this place, if we are to ask what this ceremony means, it is the same message.  For Joseph the message was He will save His people, for us it is He has saved us from our sin.

For Christ is the greatest message from God, as God comes to us, to tell us He loves us, and because of that, we are saved by Him.

Saved from our sin, our guilt, and shame, and delivered into God’s presence, saved and healed in this life, saved to see relationships restored and healed.  Including our most important relationship, our relationship with God.

God coming, and making everything right, everything righteous, as Jesus goes from a wooden manger to a wooden cross.  A new life which would bring life for the rest of us.

This is why this ceremony, and the one at 1115, and the one tomorrow are worth being at, this is what these ceremonies mean….for the gift is beyond all comprehension.  It is a gift of everlasting peace, and joy, and the glory of God.  It is knowing where we belong, and who we are, and freedom from all that is not good and holy.

Let us worship and praise Him with angels and archangels, shepherds and even wise men.  AMEN!

When being “spiritual” or “in a relationship” isn’t enough. Our need for religion.


Devotional Thought of the Day:

26  Then your children will ask, ‘What does this ceremony mean?’ Exodus 12:26 (NLT)

1  As for you, my son, be strong through the grace that is ours in union with Christ Jesus. 2  Take the teachings that you heard me proclaim in the presence of many witnesses, and entrust them to reliable people, who will be able to teach others also. 2 Timothy 2:1-2 (TEV)

318         Many years ago now, I saw most clearly a truth which will always be valid: the whole web of society needs a new way of living and spreading the eternal truths of the Gospel, since it has departed from Christian faith and morals. Children of God at the very heart of that society, of the world, have to let their virtues shine out like lamps in the darkness—quasi lucernae lucentes in caliginoso loco. (1)

“What does this mean?” – Martin Luther (throughout both the small and large catechism)

People often respond when they find out I am a pastor with responses indicating that they are “spiritual” or are only interested in a relationship with God.  They might even note they have no need for organized religion, (not a problem if you’ve seen my office) or some other disparaging remark about being religious.  It’s been going on for almost all of my adulthood, as each generation takes up the mantras in a different way.  (you might even say they religiously do so!)

Even among theologians and pastors there is no immunity from this, as when I ask about prayer life or worship or personal Bible study time there is the response that they aren’t pietists.  Some will even justify this by claiming that they aren’t saved by such things. (And a lot of the articles about being in a relationship not a religion are written by people who employed as church workers… imagine that!)

I am going to say this, and I want you to hear it clearly.  We need to be religious!

When Luther’s catechisms were developed, the one question asked over and over is, “what does this mean?”  And then the dialogue would show our need to be in a relationship with God, and how that commandment, belief, prayer, sacrament affected that relationship positively.

I am not talking about heavy theology, I am talking about the basic things a follower of Christ does, that helps them trust in Jesus more.

Growing as we being to Understand Gods will for how we live (the commandments) and how that blesses us.

Growing as we grow deeper in understanding God’s will and actions in creating, healing, and being set apart for that relationship

Growing in our conversation with God, as we learn and pray, giving Him all that causes anxiety and fear, and trusting that He will not only answer those prayers generally, but specifically in our lives.

Growing in appreciation and desire of how God pours out His blessings, His mercy, His peace in those things we call sacraments.  Baptism  (as He adopts us and marks us as His own), Confession and Absolution (as He comforts and heals us in our brokenness and cleanses us from our sin, and the incredible feast celebrating Christ’s work for you.

All of these things are what I think of when I think of religion.  I don’t see anything objectionable to any of them.  We should desire to know God more, but that means on His terms. He’s God after all, and He is Who the relationship depends upon.  Knowing such things, knowing the “why’s”, gives us hope when life is shattered, when we are oppressed, when we are anxious.  A relationship without formed, or formed in our minds cannot do that, for it has no reality in Christ.

Paul told Timothy to pass on what he learned.  He was basically telling him to teach people to answer the “what does this mean” question.

It would be a good question to help people ask. And then, religiously answer it, passing down to others what gives you hope.

God bless you as you ask, and give answers to those who ask.  For this is your religion, revealing the relationship God wants to have with each of us.

AMEN.

(1)  Escriva, Josemaria (2011-01-31). Furrow (Kindle Locations 1506-1509). Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition.

4th Week of Adven: He Will Lead – Micah 5 –


He Will Do All the Good Things He Promised!
He Will Lead
Micah 5:2-5a

† Jesus, Son, Savior †

May God’s mercy sustain you throughout your life, as you realize that He is the Prince of Peace!  Your Prince of Peace!

Looking for Leadership

It doesn’t take a prophet to predict that the next year will be full of conflict, full of verbal abuse, full of people trying to manipulate most of the people of the United States, and often using fear and greed to do so.

As a relatively cynical man, I dread election years. I fear them because I fear that the result will be division, conflict, fear, and in my case apathy, occasionally mixed with sarcasm.

You all know that sarcasm is a major temptation of mine, right?

Apathy is even a worse temptation.

But I do fear the relationships that will be damaged, as people’s fear will dominate the reason they vote, fears that find some basis in self-centeredness.  What this means is that we won’t have discussions with each other.  We will attack each other’s candidates, and more than an argument will occur.  A great division will occur because our fears cause us to invest in our candidates as much with our hearts as our minds, we will see someone supporting an opponent as a threat.  They in turn, will get defensive.  We will not comprehend how someone in their right mind could support candidate Q, because we see them as a threat.  We will forget that we are family, neighbors, a community.

The reaction may take years to heal.

That is why I dread such years, and why I become so apathetic.

For it is hard to see good come from such times.

Why Do We Want to Trust in Princes

I wonder why we struggle to understand the wisdom of God when it comes to leadership, whether that is in national leadership, or local leadership.  Hear God’s wisdom again,

3  Put not your trust in princes, in a son of man, in whom there is no salvation. Psalm 146:3 (ESV)

We might even quote that about the opposition, see- they’ve put their trust in those people, how could they!  While we do the same – hoping that our candidate will save us.  Without thinking, we begin to believe, to have hope, in the work of men.

How about these two

8  It is better to take refuge in the LORD than to trust in people. 9  It is better to take refuge in the LORD than to trust in princes. Psalm 118:8-9 (NLT)


22  Don’t put your trust in mere humans. They are as frail as breath. What good are they? Isaiah 2:22 (NLT)

and this cry for mercy,

11  Oh, please help us against our enemies, for all human help is useless. Psalm 60:11 (NLT)

Finally, there is this one… which is terrifying,

5  This is what the LORD says: “Cursed are those who put their trust in mere humans, who rely on human strength and turn their hearts away from the LORD. Jeremiah 17:5 (NLT)

That might be the nicer of the translations, others use the word condemned.

Like I said, this isn’t just about politics.  It can be that this job will save us, or that if we can only make it to retirement, then everything will be okay. Or meeting the right star, or seeing out children or grandchildren succeed, as the world measures success.  We create many idols, convinced that life will be alright, if only they…

It is clear, there is no one we should put our trust in, no one we must depend on, except for God.  No one else we should count on or hope in, even those who claim to be good Christians.

Otherwise, we have created an idol.

And those idols will be out in force.

And they can lead us into lives that are cursed.

The Good He Has promised

Advent reminds us of the failure of idols in the past, and that we need some One more solid to place our hope, our expectations in.

We need a God, not an idol.  We need a leader who restores us, who heals us, who makes us whole. Hear Micah’s prophecy again,

4  And he will stand to lead his flock with the LORD’s strength, in the majesty of the name of the LORD his God. Then his people will live there undisturbed, for he will be highly honored around the world. 5  And he will be the source of peace

If we want a leader, we have but to look at the cross.   We see there a leader whose life isn’t centered in himself, or an agenda that promotes his party’s preferences.  We see a leader who wants the best for us, a leader who brings us into a place of peace, a leader who is willing to die to comfort us and heal us in our brokenness.  We see a leader that gathers his people, who helps them grow by refining them, we need a leader who will keep the Good He has promised. 

This is Jesus, our Lord.  Immanuel, the proof that God is with us.

And yes He leads us. The world will say they cannot see Him, but neither have I seen a president, premier, or king personally.  They are somewhere out there, whereas God is here, His Spirit within every believer in this place.  So I see him when I look into Chris’s eyes, or Esther’s, or Manny’s, or Cyndee’s.

Even more I see God when we see the body and blood of Christ, which He gives us, shed for the forgiveness of our sin. When I see His people kneel at the altar, ready for Christ to come to them. We hear Him as we hear our sins being forgiven, for it is by His authority and it is His desire to show mercy and bring us to the Father.  We hear it when He claims His people, when He claims us as His own.

This is a leader who will bring us into peace, both then, and now.  For that is His called, to guard our hearts and minds in the peace of God our father, a peace we dwell in, right now, because of Jesus, the Lord who leads us and helps us see all the good God has promised, He has delivered.

AMEN?

 

 

Are You Ready for….What are we getting ready for?


Devotional & Discussion Thought of the Day:
37  “When the Son of Man returns, it will be like it was in Noah’s day. 38  In those days before the flood, the people were enjoying banquets and parties and weddings right up to the time Noah entered his boat. 39  People didn’t realize what was going to happen until the flood came and swept them all away. That is the way it will be when the Son of Man comes. Matthew 24:37-39 (NLT)

50 Just as God’s name is holy in itself and yet we pray that it may be holy among us, so also his kingdom comes of itself without our prayer and yet we pray that it may come to us. That is, we ask that it may prevail among us and with us, so that we may be a part of those among whom his name is hallowed and his kingdom flourishes.
51 What is the kingdom of God? Answer: Simply what we learned in the Creed, namely, that God sent his Son, Christ our Lord, into the world to redeem and deliver us from the power of the devil and to bring us to himself and rule us as a king of righteousness, life, and salvation against sin, death, and an evil conscience. To this end he also gave his Holy Spirit to teach us this through his holy Word and to enlighten and strengthen us in faith by his power.

This word of promise and joy thus turns into a question for us, making visible the challenge and meaning of Advent. Only when all flesh beholds God is his coming complete; the new heavens and the new earth can come about only when available to all. This word constantly intends to open the heart of Christianity, indeed our own heart. Adveniat Kingdom tuum [thy Kingdom come]—this plea of Advent, put on our lips by the Lord himself, is prayed by us correctly only if we allow it to transform us; if we let it open us up to all of God’s children, all flesh shall see the salvation of God.

As many of us prepare for Christmas, for the parties, as we gather gifts, even as we get ready for the abundance of church services over the next week, we may hear the following question.

Are you ready?

We get nervous, for most of the time we are not ready, otherwise the concerned friend wouldn’t wouldn’t recognize the fear and anxiety that has gripped our very lives.

The problem is we are getting ready for the wrong thing.  We are, like one Ebenezer Scrooge, trying to deal with Christmas past and Christmas present, and not looking not to Christmas future, but the Advent of Christ in our future. We are like the people in Noah’s day, not always doing things outside of “normal” life, but not questioning what normal life should be. 

How many of us have given any thought to Christ’s return since Thanksgiving?  How many of us have seriously considered whether our lives are being focused on that time, of the Christ-mass – the gathering of Christ that will happen on that day.

We can’t run around to prepare for it.  We can’t check out all the stores; we can’t do anything special to prepare for His coming.  Matter of fact, if we are trying to do something special, we’re are even less prepared.  For being ready for Christ’s second coming isn’t a special event, it is life itself.  Life abiding in the presence of God.  Life being comforted and lifted up by the presence of the Holy Spirit. 

Life as Joseph Ratzinger, who would become Pope Benedict XVI, described so well in the green quote above.  A desire for God’s kingdom, His reign to come to all, a prayer of desire and desperation, a prayer born in brokenness.  Our individual brokenness, our communal brokenness. 

Luther agrees of course, as he notes that the reason Christ came was to bring us to the Father.  And the Holy Spirit is given to reveal this to us, and support us in the life that is until we see God face to glorious Face. 

When we consider the normal life in view of Jesus’ return, in view of death for those who are not here, we end up depending on God in a far different way.  Our life is transformed by the His love, as we look forward with expectation, as we look forward with joy, as we trust in Him, and we are filled with life.

This is why we ask are we ready.  Not to stress us more, but to cause us to be still, and know He is God, that He is our refuge, our sanctuary, our life.

May your normal life find you not just ready, but desiring His return, and the homecoming that follows.  AMEN  †

Tappert, T. G. (Ed.). (1959). The Book of Concord the confessions of the Evangelical Lutheran Church. (pp. 426–427). Philadelphia: Mühlenberg Press.

Ratzinger, J. (1992). Co-Workers of the Truth: Meditations for Every Day of the Year. (I. Grassl, Ed., M. F. McCarthy & L. Krauth, Trans.) (p. 399). San Francisco: Ignatius Press.

 

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