Monthly Archives: January 2020
Devotional Thoughts of the Day:
After the LORD helps you wipe out these nations and conquer their land, don’t think he did it because you are such good people. You aren’t good—you are stubborn! Deut 9:4-6 CEV
Liturgy does not come about through regulation. One of the weaknesses of the postconciliar liturgical reform can doubtless be traced to the armchair strategy of academics, drawing up things on paper which, in fact, would presuppose years of organic growth.
It ought to grow and become firmer amid good works as well as temptations and dangers, so that we become ever stronger in the conviction that God cares for us, forgives us, and hears us for Christ’s sake. No one learns this without many severe struggles. How often our aroused conscience tempts us to despair when it shows our old or new sins or the uncleanness of our nature! This handwriting is not erased without a great conflict in which experience testifies how difficlt a thing faith is.
Sigmund Freud is a good example. In Civilization and Its Discontents, he argues against altruistic love as the meaning of life and the key to happiness by saying simply, “But not all men are worthy of love.” No, indeed they are not. Agape is quite defenseless against this objection. The love we are talking about goes beyond reason, and a rationalist like Freud just does not see it. We who take agape for granted because of our Christian education should realize its precariousness. There is simply no effective rational answer to the challenge: “But give me a reason why I should love someone who does not deserve it.” Love is the highest thing. There can be no higher reason to justify it.
Fourth, some say, “I would indeed have confidence that my prayer would be answered if I were worthy and possessed merit.” I reply: If you refuse to pray until you know or feel yourself worthy and fit you need never pray any more. For as was said before, our prayer must not be based upon or depend upon our worthiness or that of our prayer, but on the unwavering truth of the divine promise
The People of the “poor”—those who, humble and meek, rely solely on their God’s mysterious plans, who await the justice, not of men but of the Messiah—are in the end the great achievement of the Holy Spirit’s hidden mission during the time of the promises that prepare for Christ’s coming.
It has never happened before. From every book I read a section of in my devotional reading, something struck me important enough to put down, to consider, and to process my thoughts all together. (Spurgeon will be a later blog…but His is impressive too)
Tempting to just leave the quotes here for you to read.
They are that significant, at least to me.
But I do this to process through these works of scripture, and of other believers who struggle with faith. So I need to struggle, to let these words wrestle with my soul.
The reading from the Old Testament sets it all up and confirms what I (and probably one or two of you already know.
We aren’t good enough.
We sin, We screw up, we get hurt and contain the resentment inside us.
And if we expect God to be on our side because we are good American Christians who have better morals and values than the rest of the world, we are the most deceived people to ever live.
Kreeft and Luther tell us in following quotes that knowing this is okay. We don’t have to justify God’s loving us. God isn’t unreasonable or illogical, but His ways are beyond ours, His ways are the purest, deepest, highest love. God listens to us, our needs, our groans, our pleas, not based on how worthy we are – in fact, that is the beauty of His logic.
That is where the Catholic Catechism and Lutheran Confessions come to play, noting our struggle, noting the need for humility, noting the Holy Spirit’s miracle in bringing us to depend on God, even when our minds are convinced we cannot. If I could add another 2000 words, I would explore that more. We have got to understand that the struggle to have faith in God, when we know our brokenness, is part of the journey of faith, the journey to depend on God who is there, working in our lives. That faith isn’t some random intellectual decision that fires off, it is a miracle. It happens because of an encounter with God that goes beyond our ability to explain.
That is why Liturgy cannot be drawn up or manipulated by those in ivory offices, those disconnected from the altar where Christ’s Body and Blood come to feed the people of God. Pope Benedict is right on in that quote. Or, as Pascal noted, “GOD of Abraham, GOD of Isaac, GOD of Jacob! not of the philosophers and of the learned. Certitude. Certitude. Feeling. Joy. Peace.” The worship service needs to see people encounter God, be in awe of Him, afraid, and yet comforted by His love and mercy.
That can’t be observed, that can’t be experienced in some far off place in St. Louis or Rome. It happens here, where the struggle is, where we need to know He loves us, even as we are not worthy of that love. That is the message our church services, our Liturgy needs to develop by resonating it deep into the souls of the people of God.
In your soul and mine. (gulp)
Yes, this is about us… and that should stagger you… for it does stagger me.
You may never consider yourself lovable by God. You may never think you are good or worthy or holy enough for Him to listen to your prayers, to laugh and cry with you…
That doesn’t matter… HE DOES.
Joseph Ratzinger, The Feast of Faith: Approaches to a Theology of the Liturgy, trans. Graham Harrison (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1986), 81.
Theodore G. Tappert, ed., The Book of Concord the Confessions of the Evangelical Lutheran Church. (Philadelphia: Mühlenberg Press, 1959), 160–161.
Peter Kreeft, The God Who Loves You (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 2004), 60–61.
Martin Luther, Luther’s Works, Vol. 42: Devotional Writings I, ed. Jaroslav Jan Pelikan, Hilton C. Oswald, and Helmut T. Lehmann, vol. 42 (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1999), 88–89.
Catholic Church, Catechism of the Catholic Church, 2nd Ed. (Vatican City: Libreria Editrice Vaticana, 1997), 189.
Devotional Thought for the Day:
27 Then Jesus said to them, “The Sabbath was made to meet the needs of people, and not people to meet the requirements of the Sabbath. Mark 2:27 (NLT2)
6 Dear brothers and sisters, if I should come to you speaking in an unknown language, how would that help you? But if I bring you a revelation or some special knowledge or prophecy or teaching, that will be helpful. 7 Even lifeless instruments like the flute or the harp must play the notes clearly, or no one will recognize the melody. 8 And if the bugler doesn’t sound a clear call, how will the soldiers know they are being called to battle? 9 It’s the same for you. If you speak to people in words they don’t understand, how will they know what you are saying? You might as well be talking into empty space. 1 Corinthians 14:6-9 (NLT2)
For it is the existential presence of the celebrating, praying faithful which makes the liturgy into the worship of God; change is necessary so that their awareness of what is going on and of their part in it are not restricted by extraneous factors. Roman history reveals a most eloquent example of a form of worship which had become unintelligible. After three centuries no one any longer understood the ritual, the ceremonies or the meaning it was all meant to express, with the result that religion dried up and became an empty shell, although it was no less practiced than before. The lesson is that, if liturgy is to retain its vitality and have an influence on individuals and society, there must be a continual process of adaptation to the understanding of believers. For believers too, after all, are people of their time, people of their world.
Over the past 40 years, I have participated in just about every flavor of worship service and liturgy on could imagine. I have play pipe organs in my youth, and electric guitars and keyboards, done traditional non-denom worship, and straight out of the hymnal liturgy.
I have my preferences, and they would probably surprise most people who know me.
Preference laid aside, and it must be, there is only one reason to change the wording of the liturgy or the way a church worships.
It is what Paul is the very pragmatic reason Paul is discussing, in relation to the very real gift of tongues, in 1 Corinthians 14. It echoes Jesus teaching about the Sabbath.
Does your liturgy, your order of worship allow people to hear God, and does it allow them to respond to Him?
The Lutheran confessions talk of the mass’s chief purpose to give people what they need to know about Jesus. His love, His mercy, His presence in their life. What they need to know – not just with their mind, but with their heart, soul and strength.
Do the words said and sung communicate this in an understandable way? If not, reset them. Do the people have the opportunity to experience the awe of being in the presence of God and respond to Him with joy? If not renew your service, focus it on the incarnate God who loves them. Open up the lines of communication, ensure that they know God speaks to them in a way that anyone can understand.
Maintaining the liturgy that doesn’t communicate to people is a waste of time. So is changing it for any other reason is just as much a waste of time.
Lord, help us to guide your people until with heart, soul, mind, and strength realize that You love them all. And then, help us guide their discussion with you, their prayers and praises.
Joseph Ratzinger, The Feast of Faith: Approaches to a Theology of the Liturgy, trans. Graham Harrison (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1986), 79.
The Kingdom of God is Like a Pizza
1 Corinthians 1:10-18
† I.H.S †
May the grace, mercy and peace of God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ help you enjoy your role in others’ lives and their role in yours.
- The Kingdom of God is Like a Tripoli’s Pizza
Growing up, one of the great treats was going to the beach, and the best part of the trip was stopping at Tripoli’s Pizza. It was an incredible treat, so much better than the other pizzas that we would get back home.
Little 4-inch square simple cheese pizza. Occasionally, if it had been a good week for my folks, there would be Pepperoni on top. But there was something about it, the flavor was incredible, from the dough to the sauce, to the cheese. It was perfectly put together and it hit the spot. Always the same, always good, always hit the spot. Not sure what was in the recipe, or it was the salt air of the beach, or what it was.
It was good and right…and perfect, and nothing compared to it, heck nothing still compares to it.
The Kingdom of God is like that…
Until sin enters into the picture.
- Dividing the Pizza Up
And if we bought an entire pizza, as opposed to the normal 2 slices for a quarter, the battle royal between my brother, sister and cousins began. Everyone wants their particular slice, usually the corner with the extra pizza dough.
Or if we were blessed to get Pepperoni, there would always be one person who would count how many slices were on each piece, and if they didn’t get as many pieces as the others, oh my gosh, the battle that would ensue!
The world is like that, everyone wants what they want, everyone wants to make sure they get what they consider is their right, and what they consider is “just.” It’s not just the world though, it can happen in the church.
As it did in Paul’s day, as they compared who they followed, whose teaching, or who baptized them. In Greek, it is even more divisive, as it reads, “I am Paul’s!” “I am Peter’s!” “I am Apollos’s”, and some, even more, condescending said, “nana nana na na, I AM CHRIST’s”!
It wasn’t just then either, Martin Luther said it this way,
In the first place, I ask that men make no reference to my name; let them call themselves Christians, not Lutherans. What is Luther? After all, the teaching is not mine [John 7:16]. Neither was I crucified for anyone [1 Cor. 1:13]. St. Paul, in 1 Corinthians 3, would not allow the Christians to call themselves Pauline or Petrine, but Christian. How then should I—poor stinking maggot-fodder that I am—come to have men call the children of Christ by my wretched name? Not so, my dear friends; let us abolish all party names and call ourselves Christians, after him whose teaching we hold.
That lasted until after he passed away – and then the Evangelical-Catholic church was renamed…. The Lutheran Church.
You see, what this is all about isn’t who we follow, not really. It’s about me getting mine, it’s about my pride, my superiority. It’s not about doctrine, most of the time, it’s about me getting the corner piece of pizza, the one with the extra half slice of Pepperoni!
- What if we are the pizzas
Here is here the sermon flips. I said the Kingdom of God was like a pizza, not like eating pizza. We aren’t the ones fighting for “our” piece, or for equal shares of pepperoni. We aren’t in control of the church, or our community.
That’s a good thing!
Some of us are the dough, some of us are the sauce or the various spices in the sauce, some of us in this community are the cheese, others are the pineapple or anchovies.
O wait, Tripoli only made cheese pizza.
Again, God makes life – life, our lives, masterpieces. He’s the cook and the One who writes the recipes. He pulls all the ingredients together, mixes us all up and makes it a masterpiece.
While those not focused on God think this is foolish, we realize it is something so much more. We see it as God at work, bringing us together, putting each of us into the mix in just the right place, at just the right time.
Sure we have to be cleaned, and cut up, some of us have to me squashed or grated or tossed about like Pizza dough, but that is where faith comes into play. We trust in God’s work in our lives, knowing the incredible thing He is creating.
That what happens when we are brought into the faith, God puts us in just the right place. You see, in my analogy, the Kingdom, the Body of Christ is the pizza. Christ is the pizza, and we have our place in Him, together.
We can count on His love and mercy, and His amazing wisdom when we don’t get what we want when we don’t think it is fair when someone else gets more. Because He has promised at the end there is something amazing that He is preparing,
That is why Paul didn’t use all his 50 dollar words in writing these letters because the message of God bringing us back is so necessary for us not just to hear, but to understand. What why the cleansing of our sin resembles washing, why our celebration of Christ’s death and resurrection is a feast, where again we are told this is where the relationship is defined, where we are welcome to be honored guests, part of the feast.
We have to get this – the love and care that God takes in making our lives, with the outcome in mind at all times.
For then, with the goal in sight, we can rejoice, and let Him do His work in our lives.
 Martin Luther, Luther’s Works, Vol. 45 : The Christian in Society II, ed. Jaroslav Jan Pelikan, Hilton C. Oswald, and Helmut T. Lehmann, vol. 45 (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1999), 70–71.
Devotional Thought of the Day:
1 Watch what God does, and then you do it, like children who learn proper behavior from their parents. 2 Mostly what God does is love you. Keep company with him and learn a life of love. Observe how Christ loved us. His love was not cautious but extravagant. He didn’t love in order to get something from us but to give everything of himself to us. Love like that.
Ephesians 5:1-2 (MSG)
Are you told to distribute to the poor? Do it, not because charity is a burden which you dare not shirk, but because Jesus teaches, “Give to him that asketh of thee.” Does the Word say, “Love God with all your heart”? Look at the commandment and reply, “Ah! commandment, Christ hath fulfilled thee already—I have no need, therefore, to fulfil thee for my salvation, but I rejoice to yield obedience to thee because God is my Father now and he has a claim upon me, which I would not dispute.” May the Holy Ghost make your heart obedient to the constraining power of Christ’s love, that your prayer may be, “Make me to go in the path of thy commandments; for therein do I delight.” Grace is the mother and nurse of holiness, and not the apologist of sin.
This brings up a second popular misunderstanding, closely related to the first. It is easy to have love for humanity, but it is hard to have it for one’s neighbor. For the mass of humanity is not here on my doorstep, my neighbor is. Humanity never surprises you, never disappoints you, never bugs you. Humanity is as safe as a picture in a museum. It is just that: a mental picture in the museum of the mind.
Jesus never once told us to love humanity. If preachers tell you that he did, they are serving up their own recipe instead of Jesus’. The only Jesus we know, the Jesus of the Gospels, told us to love as he did; that is, to touch and serve the specific individuals we meet. Jesus did not come to earth for the sake of humanity. He came for you and for me.
I didn’t do my devotional reading earlier this morning, because I was watching my son, and truly amazed at what he experienced.
At the invitation of a brother of a friend, 7 people from my church went about 30-40 minutes up the freeway to go help distribute food at a food bank. And while I worked on one table, William was coordinating the food at another table.
His reaction to help some 240 households have food for a week? “Dad, can we come back next week, no every week?” He was even willing to get up early and ride his bike if need be. ( I don’t think he understands what a forty-mile ride would be like!
It didn’t matter! Putting faces to people he was helping, helping them know what they could have, talking them into healthy choices, that was his entire desire!
That’s the kind of love that Kreeft (purple letters) is talking about. Not living humanity, but loving individual humans. Touching and serving specific individuals. Even the ones who bug you, disappoint you, even shock you. Even those you have to lovingly remind that there are limits to the food.
Love them.. each of them.
Spurgeon also knew some of what my son learned. He was indifferent about going, or maybe just tired. He learned to love what he was doing, and that is the desire to go back. Not to impress me, not to impress God, but because loving people is actually something you can enjoy. It shows the “claim of God” on us, and that is why obeying the command is so energizing, so enjoyable, so fulfilling. (Even when it isn’t, it is!)
Which brings us back to scripture. I am pretty sure my son wasn’t planning on getting something back when he was enjoying himself. That wasn’t his intent. But he did… something more valuable than much of anything else he could have gotten today. In the same way, God’s true love isn’t self-seeking, yet His love instills and compels us to love in return. To love Him, and to love people we interact with.
And that is contagious! Ask my son!
Heavenly Father, continue to show us how to love those around us…and to help them see that You love them. In Jesus’ name, we pray! AMEN!
C. H. Spurgeon, Morning and Evening: Daily Readings (London: Passmore & Alabaster, 1896).
Peter Kreeft, The God Who Loves You (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 2004), 54.
Devotional Thought of the Day:
Stay quiet before Yahweh, wait longingly for him, do not get heated over someone who is making a fortune, succeeding by devious means. Psalm 37:7 (NJB)
The continual recitation of the canon aloud results in the demand for “variety”, but the demand is insatiable, however much these eucharistic prayers may proliferate. There is only one solution: we must address ourselves once again to the intrinsic tension of the reality itself. In the end even variety becomes boring. This is why, here especially, we are in such urgent need of an education toward inwardness. We need to be taught to enter into the heart of things. As far as liturgy is concerned, this is a matter of life or death. The only way we can be saved from succumbing to the inflation of words is if we have the courage to face silence and in it learn to listen afresh to the Word. Otherwise we shall be overwhelmed by “mere words” at the very point where we should be encountering the Word, the Logos, the Word of love, crucified and risen, who brings us life and joy.
It happens every so often, when a worship leader or the rubrics (the small italic letters in our hymnals or bulletins) call for silence, that a musician determines that he must fill the silence with a solo. Sure, it is well-meant, and not ostentatious. just a little light playing.
But there is a reason for silence, a reason for the awkward feeling of emptiness. the time when we are left alone with our thoughts when we need to realize they aren’t on God.
It is awkward, it even may produce a moment or two of guilt and regret.
That doesn’t mean we should ditch those moments.
In fact, we need them! Desperately need them.
We need to enter the heart of worship, as the old worship song describes, the moment of awe in the presence of God, a presence so powerful we cannot speak. It is not that we dare not, rather, we need to wait for God to speak.
We need to be comforted by Him, we need to enter into His presence to hear that He is taken care of our sin, and we belong with Him.
We can’t do that if we are trying to fill each and every moment with sound, with novelty, with trying to make things fresh and new. Eventually, you can only overload people with so much, before the stimulation overload numbs them, and their participation is minimized. ( Try playing five songs without a break, each one with the congregation clapping – how many are left at the 13-minute mark? )
I am not saying we do the stuff dry and without meaning either. And i don’t think Ratzinger/Pope Benedict was saying that either. Rather I think his point is making sure people realize that they are in the presence of God…..
and are loved by Him…
and have the time of silence ot know this… to realize it, not just as an academic point, but in the depth of their souls, the place that needs the most healing. Time to descend to that place, and there, even as we cry out because of the pain, we find God at work, cleansing the wounds, healing them, comforting us…
We need this.
For it is the heart of our worship…
Lord, help us to shut up… and hear You, see You at work comforting us, and healing us. AMEN!)
Joseph Ratzinger, The Feast of Faith: Approaches to a Theology of the Liturgy, trans. Graham Harrison (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1986), 73.
Devotional Thought of the Day:
My dear friends, as a follower of our Lord Jesus Christ, I beg you to get along with each other. Don’t take sides. Always try to agree in what you think. 1 Cor. 1:10 CEV
18 The message about the cross doesn’t make any sense to lost people. But for those of us who are being saved, it is God’s power at work. 1 Cor. 1:18 CEV
Finally, we praise His kingdom, His power, and His glory because they are nothing but the reign of love. “Why do you speak of nothing else?” “Because there is nothing else.” John the Beloved Disciple knew the point of it all.
I have heard from people that don’t yet trust God that the church tries to control people’s beliefs. That we try to indoctrinate people on everything from pseudo-science ot politics and ethics. Although I haven’t heard this in years, last week I heard it twice. One person at the table we were sharing at a music trade show was talking on this concept, looked up and saw my color. We both were a little embarrassed!
If only changing people’s minds about Jesus and the church was that easy!
Actually, I am glad it isn’t.
It causes me to focus on what is the most important thing, in fact, the one thing I need you to know. It is also the secret of getting a church, full of people with different thoughts, beliefs, agendas to get along with each other, and agree.
For if they understand this message of the cross, then everything else falls into place.
But to many people, it does seem foolish, unbelievable, moronic even.
Here it is, the one thing I need you to know about my religion, about my faith.
God loves you!
That is the message of the cross. The creator of the universe loves you, and the cross is His demonstration of how much He loves you!
You may question why it is true! I question why He loves me, it doesn’t make sense.
You may question what this means, or how it happens, been there as well.
You may even question that He exists, or whether He knows you exist. I have had, and occasionally still have those days as well.
But at the end of the day, you can depend on this, He loves You.
Enough to heal your brokenness, enough to show you mercy, enough to comfort your tears and dance for joy when you spend time with Him.
God loves you…
That’s what I need you to know…for everything in Christianity finds its origin in that love.
Can’t force you to know it, can only invite you to experience it…
Peter Kreeft, The God Who Loves You (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 2004), 47.
Devotional Thought for the Day:
Always be humble and gentle. Patiently put up with each other and love each other. 3 Try your best to let God’s Spirit keep your hearts united. Do this by living at peace. 4 All of you are part of the same body. There is only one Spirit of God, just as you were given one hope when you were chosen to be God’s people. 5 We have only one Lord, one faith, and one baptism. 6 There is one God who is the Father of all people. Not only is God above all others, but he works by using all of us, and he lives in all of us. Eph. 4:2-6 CEV
It becomes genuinely possible for people to share in a common expression once this interiorization has taken place under the guidance of the common prayers of the Church and the experience of the Body of Christ which they contain. Then people are no longer merely juxtaposed in role-playing but actually touch one another at the level of being. Only in this way can “community” come about.
He means that in human relations it is not peevish, harsh, or implacable; that it covers up some of the mistakes of its friends; and that it puts the best construction even on the more offensive actions of others, as the common proverb says, “Know, but do not hate, the manners of a friend.”
We call God “our Father” because we believe in His fatherly love and care.
We want His name hallowed and loved and praised, because we love Him and want others to do the same.
We want His kingdom to come because His kingdom is the kingdom of love.
We want His will to be done, even in preference to our own—we will the abolition of our own will when it is out of alignment with His—because we know His will is pure love. Ours is not.
This morning, I led the invocation and benediction at our city’s Martin Luther King. Jr. Day remembrance in our community. As I listened to the young people sing, read, and recite, and my friend Bill preach, my heart wanted to see the dream come true.
A day when the color of their skin and my son’s skin didn’t matter at all. A day when Dr. King saw coming to fruition as we found our way onto a mountain top. As we obeyed God more than we obeyed our hearts.
As I left, I wonder how many left determined to do what would make that dream happen?
It will, of course, when we reach that mountain top that Dr. King spoke of, when we enter into the presence of God, when those who see Him face to face understand true peace that comes from a love we can not wrap our heads around…yet.
It is not a coincidence that my readings today approach this subject of unity.
Nor is it a coincidence that the quotes above, from those readings, all focus on God as the hope for such a life. It is, after all, how He designed for us to live! It is God’s dream, even more than Pastor King’s.
It is why the Father sent the Son to reconcile us to Himself, and therefore to each other as well. For the sin that so marrs our unity, the self-centeredness that stops us from loving our neighbor can only be dealt with in Christ. That is where God’s will becomes a reality, as we are joined to Christ’s selfless act of sacrifice, as He, in His mercy pays for our sin. It is there, united in His heart, that our hearts find each other, and learn to value and love each other. There we find the power and desire to forgive, to cover our neighbor’s, and our enemies’ faults and brokenness.
It is there, with our souls resonating in a way stronger than this broken life can manage, that unity occurs.
Unity in Christ then becomes something to cherish, to rejoice in, to work to maintain, looking again to Jesus, who is the author and perfector of our faith. Reconciled to Him, we find our lives reconciled to each other.
Therefore patience and love, mercy and understanding become something that is our norm, and not just the virtues of saints.
You want to see these kids’ dreams, based on a speech decades ago come true?
Realize the love of God, realize His mercy and sacrifice, His patience,
And then, in Him, you can share it with your community, and the world.
Joseph Ratzinger, The Feast of Faith: Approaches to a Theology of the Liturgy, trans. Graham Harrison (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1986), 70.
Theodore G. Tappert, ed., The Book of Concord the Confessions of the Evangelical Lutheran Church. (Philadelphia: Mühlenberg Press, 1959), 141.
Peter Kreeft, The God Who Loves You (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 2004), 46.
Useless! It’s All Useless! ??
† I.H.S. †
May the grace of God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ assure you that your life and your ministry is not worthless!
The Feeling of Uselessness
There are times in life when you will put all your effort into your work, or into the work you do here at church.
But when you sit back at the end of a day or a week, you look and wonder why you worked so hard. You wonder why you tried so hard,
And yet, you seem to have accomplished so little.
There are still bills to be paid, dishes to be done, there is still a pile of tasks at work, and the church doesn’t seem to grow the way you would like.
It is not a good feeling, and it can tempt you to despair.
to wonder why things aren’t getting better
to wonder if they ever will.
My friends, we aren’t the first to ever wonder that!
In fact, that is part of our reading from the book of Isaiah. Part of our reading this morning was this,
He said to me, “You are my servant, Israel, and you will bring me glory.” 4 I replied, “But my work seems so useless! I have spent my strength for nothing and to no purpose. Is. 49:3-4
I’ve had days like that, where I know that my actions and thoughts should be bringing God glory, that they should have some tangible results, and yet…
So how do we deal with this feeling?
Why does it exist?
First, we have to identify where it comes from.
The first is simple and often overlooked.
Satan would try to cause us to believe there is nothing to our relationship with God.
He would love to paralyze us, blinding us to the work God is actually doing in our lives,
and through our lives.
You heard that! God does the work through us!
The second cause is our own sin,
When we want to play God and determine the impact and effect of what we do.
You see, we aren’t the ones who determine the results of the actions that God calls us to do, and the Holy Spirit guides us and empowers us to do.
When we demand to know the results, we usually have demanded to determine the actions as well.
What we’ve forgotten is what Paul taught the Corinthians,
5 After all, who is Apollos? Who is Paul? We are only God’s servants through whom you believed the Good News. Each of us did the work the Lord gave us. 6 I planted the seed in your hearts, and Apollos watered it, but it was God who made it grow. 7 It’s not important who does the planting, or who does the watering. What’s important is that God makes the seed grow. 1 Corinthians 3:5-7 (NLT2)
That is what is comes down to sometimes, we want to determine the growth. We want to be in charge, rather than letting God be in charge.
We try to get the results we want, and ignore living and ministering to others in the way He has directed us to live.
Loving Him with all our heart, soul and mind.
Loving our neighbor as we love ourselves. (depending on God’s love to make this happen)
When we demand the results, per our standards, per our expectations, we need to go back and double-check our actions, our plans, and see whether they are in line with His commands.
And if not, repent, and seek the forgiveness that God graciously plans for us.
The Real Answer
The person Isaiah writes about found the same answer, and the way to measure the results.
“Yet I leave it all in the LORD’s hand; I will trust God for my reward.” Isaiah 49:4b (NLT2)
That’s a challenge, to simply place all that we do in the Lord’s hands, to let Him determine how He will use what He directs and empowers us to do.
He is God remember? He is with us! His Holy Spirit dwells in us, gives us the gifts that we have to use in loving Him and loving each other!
Our reward ultimately is when He tells us, “well done, MY good and faithful servant!” Matthew 25:21NLT2
That reward is what is guaranteed when we leave it in His hands!
Remember He makes what is righteous, righteous, and in cleansing us from all sin and unrighteousness, even that is judged righteous!
Without having to worry about how we will be judged, we can simply look at what we want to do, measure it by how it loves God and our neighbor, and if it does, go with it.
That’s why I tell people in the English service, whatever idea you have for this church to minister to others, let’s pray about, make sure it loves God and our neighbor, and ask God to bless it, and do it!
Leaving the results in the hands of our loving, heavenly Father.
Remember, He cares for you… and for the people around you.
He sent Jesus to correct all the times we try to be in charge, when we try to manipulate the results, and when we despair when we don’t get what we want.
That’s why the cross, and that is the final proof of this passage.
You see, the passage isn’t just about us. At the cross, one could easily wonder if the work of Jesus was useless! He had spent his life investing in the people of Israel, and in 12 guys, all of whom betrayed Him.
Sounds useless to me!
What value was it? He didn’t cause great revival during His life, he couldn’t even get 12 guys to get it right.
Yet, His reward is that every knee will bow, and every tongue confess He is Lord.
No, His reward is greater than that. His reward is our homecoming, our relationship with the Father, that He invested His life, and death to re-create
If Jesus didn’t love the Father and love us, the cross makes no sense. But because of that love, it makes sense, and it is rewarded!
Loving the Father who loves us, loving our neighbor, even if they would crucify us… or just make our life inconvenient, and less about…. Us. That is how we live in Christ, that is what makes our life incredible.
We can do that because of His forgiveness, because He heals our souls, because the Spirit, given to us in baptism, empowers that and makes it happen. Look to Him, fall madly in love with God, pray, and let us serve Him together!
Devotional Thought of the Day:
16 We never give up. Our bodies are gradually dying, but we ourselves are being made stronger each day. 17 These little troubles are getting us ready for an eternal glory that will make all our troubles seem like nothing. 18 Things that are seen don’t last forever, but things that are not seen are eternal. That’s why we keep our minds on the things that cannot be seen. 2 Corinthians 4:16-18 (CEV)
Anxious to serve his Master, he finds his strength unequal to his zeal: his constant cry is, “Help me to serve thee, O my God.” If he be thoroughly active, he will have much labour; not too much for his will, but more than enough for his power, so that he will cry out, “I am not wearied of the labour, but I am wearied in it.”
There are days when every pastor, every worship leader, every elder and layperson that serves and attends church are tired. Sometimes we let that tiredness turn to exhaustion and without a sabbath, we will burn out, and crash and burn.
Our friends and family may witness it… they may be victims of it!
We want to do good, we have a burning need to serve the people of God, to make a difference in their life, by revealing the love of God. Work, that if we are tired, may seem futile, like we aren’t impacting people’s lives, that they are not growing in their dependence on Jesus. When they walk away or need the same lesson for thirty-fifth time, or look to other sources,
The dissonance that Spurgeon mentions is an incredible reality.
The way he describes the cry of despair deeply resonates with me.
I am not weary of the work, I love it, I need it. But doing it can devour our energy, our strength, our hope… and sometimes, we get confused by our exhaustion, and its cause.
To those of us in this situation, carefully reading Paul’s words to a tired church helps.
The strength he describes despite our tiredness. In fact, it may require our being tired, lacking the energy of our own, and dependent on God to simply keep going. Paul directs us not to put one more step in front of the other, but rather to look to Jesus. To look to the point He guarantees the rest that comes from when we enter the presence of the Father.
With eyes fixed on Christ, the burdens don’t disappear, the discomfort and weariness still are there, and yet, somehow, their impact on us lessens. and the blessings of seeing God at work is magnified. For those things we see Him doing become the blessing we so need.
It is then we find that kneeling at the altar, in prayer, and in receiving the Body and Blood of Jesus becomes so amazing, and those moments, the greatest moments of peace, of rest, or restoration.
So contrary to the normal thought, the idea of rest found away from the ministry. Rather, rest is found in the ministry. Not in the meetings, or the casting of vision. Not in the administration of programs and in training, comforting and disciplining people.
But in the gathering of God’s people into His presence, to be assured of His love, and His presence. He heals and nurtures us, as He declares we are His, and then proceeds to prove that we are righteous, as the Holy Spirit cleanses and transforms us into the very image of Jesus. Showing us the love we cannot explain, can only experience as we plunge its immeasurable dimensions.
That’s where we find the tiredness of being on this mission field evaporate, leaving us with the mission we will never tire of.
Find rest my friends, at the altar, in the prayers, and in the Body and Blood broken and shed for you and I. AMEN!
C. H. Spurgeon, Morning and Evening: Daily Readings (London: Passmore & Alabaster, 1896).
Devotional Thought of the Day:
I tell you that this poor widow has put in more than all the others. 44 Everyone else gave what they didn’t need. But she is very poor and gave everything she had. Now she doesn’t have a cent to live on. Mark 12:43-44 CEV
By the words “to save” we understand the whole of the great work of salvation, from the first holy desire onward to complete sanctification. The words are multum in parro: indeed, here is all mercy in one word. Christ is not only “mighty to save” those who repent, but he is able to make men repent. He will carry those to heaven who believe; but he is, moreover, mighty to give men new hearts and to work faith in them. He is mighty to make the man who hates holiness love it, and to constrain the despiser of his name to bend the knee before him. Nay, this is not all the meaning, for the divine power is equally seen in the after-work. The life of a believer is a series of miracles wrought by “the Mighty God.”
The pagan knew the fact that our hearts are restless, but he did not know the reason. Christianity supplies the reason, the key to the lock, the answer to the puzzle pondered by the great philosophers Socrates, Plato, Aristotle, Cicero, even by Qoheleth in the book of Ecclesiastes. All these thinkers believed in a God, but they were not happy because they did not know God was love. Socrates worshipped the unknown God whom he would not name and knew he did not know. Plato’s God was impersonal truth and goodness. Aristotle’s God was a cosmic first mover who could be known and loved but who did not know or love us. Cicero’s God was only a vague object of “piety”. And the God of Ecclesiastes sat unmoving and unknown in Heaven while man’s life on earth remained “vanity of vanities, all is vanity”
172 Augustine says very clearly, “All the commandments of God are kept when what is not kept is forgiven.”1 Therefore even in good works he requires our faith that for Christ’s sake we please God and that the works in themselves do not have the value to please God.
173 Against the Pelagians, Jerome writes, “We are righteous, therefore, when we confess that we are sinners; and our righteousness does not consist in our own merit, but in God’s mercy.”
The novel Christian reality is this: Christ’s Resurrection enables man genuinely to rejoice. All history until Christ has been a fruitless search for this joy. That is why the Christian liturgy—Eucharist—is, of its essence, the Feast of the Resurrection, Mysterium Paschae. As such it bears within it the mystery of the Cross, which is the inner presupposition of the Resurrection.
This morning I came across some very powerful quotes in my reading. I love them, whether it is from a soon to be pope (Ratzinger), an incredible philosopher (Kreeft), a group of rebels (the early Lutherans), or a British pastor who was perhaps, the first mega-church pastor.
They all point to one thing, the fact that Christianity is different. Philosophers tried to point to him, but they couldn’t understand God. That the Eucharist does, more clearly perhaps than anything else, for we encounter and experience Jesus there. In the mercy of God which makes our broken lives perfect as God grants to us repentance and sanctification – as He completely saves us.
What an incredible concept, this salvation.
But do we really comprehend this blessing, this gift?
I do not think we do, at least not always.
How about this explanation. We (the church) are like children at Christmas, more interested in playing with the box our present came in than actually enjoying the present.
Salvation, the complete work of God is so large a gift, we cannot understand it. But we can experience it, and it does more than change us. Jesus does more than give us life, He is that life. That is what makes Christianity different, it is the religion that is more than a relationship, for a relationship cannot begin to express what living in Christ is like.
The old lady with the two pennies experienced it. She wasn’t impressed with the box, she simply enjoyed walking with God, and gave what she had that others would as well.
We don’t even know her name, and she could care less.
She was with God, and among His people, as broken, as misdirected, as….unfocused on what she knew and responded to…
May we be more like her….. and enjoy living in Christ, as the children the Father loves.
C. H. Spurgeon, Morning and Evening: Daily Readings (London: Passmore & Alabaster, 1896).
Peter Kreeft, The God Who Loves You (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 2004), 39–40.
Theodore G. Tappert, ed., The Book of Concord the Confessions of the Evangelical Lutheran Church. (Philadelphia: Mühlenberg Press, 1959), 130–131.
Joseph Ratzinger, The Feast of Faith: Approaches to a Theology of the Liturgy, trans. Graham Harrison (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1986), 65.