Monthly Archives: May 2022

We need (to be) Committed, Exapendable Believers

Some thoughts for the day

11  There is much more we would like to say about this, but it is difficult to explain, especially since you are spiritually dull and don’t seem to listen. 12  You have been believers so long now that you ought to be teaching others. Instead, you need someone to teach you again the basic things about God’s word. You are like babies who need milk and cannot eat solid food. 13  For someone who lives on milk is still an infant and doesn’t know how to do what is right. 14  Solid food is for those who are mature, who through training have the skill to recognize the difference between right and wrong. Hebrews 5:11-14 (NLT2)

The contemporary moral climate does not favor a faith as tough and fibrous as that taught by our Lord and His apostles. The delicate, brittle saints being produced in our religious hothouses today are hardly to be compared with the committed, expendable believers who once gave their witness among men. And the fault lies with our leaders. They are too timid to tell the people all the truth. They are now asking men to give to God that which costs them nothing.
Our churches these days are filled (or one-quarter filled) with a soft breed of Christian that must be fed on a diet of harmless fun to keep them interested. About theology they know little. Scarcely any of them have read even one of the great Christian classics, but most of them are familiar with religious fiction and spine-tingling films. No wonder their moral and spiritual constitution is so frail. Such can only be called weak adherents of a faith they never really understood.

But this I say for myself: I am also a doctor and a preacher, just as learned and experienced as all of them who are so high and mighty. Nevertheless, each morning, and whenever else I have time, I do as a child who is being taught the catechism and I read and recite word for word the Lord’s Prayer, the Ten Commandments, the Creed, the Psalms, etc. [8] I must still read and study the catechism daily, and yet I cannot master it as I wish, but must remain a child and pupil of the catechism—and I also do so gladly  Luther’s introduction to the Large Cathechism

Essentially, there are two components in the care of your own soul: God’s word and prayer. The first is the means of the Holy Spirit to sanctify your soul and body. The second is your response; the result of your sanctification, you could say

It took constant effort to keep ourselves in some semblance of peace when we were seeking fantastic goals that were constantly frustrated, setting off the afflictive emotions of anger, grief, fear, pride, lust, greed, jealousy, and the other capital sins. As the false self diminishes and trust in God increases in the night of sense, our energies can be put to better purposes

There was a lot of richness in my readings this morning.

Some of it seems caustic, and the context of Tozer and Luther’s quotes were far more so that what I cut and pasted here. words 50 and 500 years ago still sting, because the church still faces the same challenges it did then, and even back when the church was young, and the Book of Hebrews chided believers for not maturing in their relationship ith God.

Part of me, reading this, wants to figure out to save the church, to find a way to preach so powerfully that the church just finally wakes up and grows up! (It doesn’t help that I’ve been listening to Keith Green music for the last week!) Gosh, if only there was some way to get us all fired up for Jesus!

Luther’s got the idea, echoed by Senkbeil and Keating. Before I see God transform my people and my community, I have to see Him, and allo him to circumcise my heart, to cut away those emotions Keating identifies, as well as the sin. Only the Holy Spirit can remove sin, and its minions—guilt and shame. That is why Luther would go back to basics, to the Prayer, to the word of God, to the Creed, to be reminded of these things that God is doing. That is why Tozer would point people to the heavier classic works of Christianity – not for theological training, but to ask the hard questions. The questions that help us take up and bear our crosses–the truth that we desperately need Jesus.

Not just to remove the stain of sin….

But to walk with us, to be with us,

For then life is sanctified, and our energies are put to a better purpose… for God has removed what isn’t us.

That is the way we become more dedicated, and yet expendable. For what happens to us is not as important. We are expendable because we realize our walk with God is greater than our self-preservation. The more God cuts away that which is not us, the more He recreates us, the more we long for eternal life, and yet the message we communicate becomes a message that convinces people that we walk with God.

Not because of the eloquence of the words, but because we depend God in this life, we know how He provides, and that means more than anything. That is why, despite struggles with sin and doubt, we keep coming back to Him, we keep wanting to hear His voice, and we realize that anyone who knows this can replace us, for the remarkable thing is not that we are witnesses of His glorious love, but the love that we have witnessed. A love that goes beyond anything we’ve known…

A love that changes everything, and mostly changes us.

Expendable simply means that love means more to us than life, because that love is eternal… and it is life.

 

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

Robert Kolb, Timothy J. Wengert, and Charles P. Arand, The Book of Concord: The Confessions of the Evangelical Lutheran Church (Minneapolis, MN: Fortress Press, 2000), 380.

Harold L. Senkbeil, The Care of Souls: Cultivating a Pastor’s Heart (Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press, 2019), 243.

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), 140.

This is Ministry…

Thoughts leading us to Jesus, and because of which, we adore Him:
1  Then this message came to me from the LORD: 2  “Son of man, prophesy against the shepherds, the leaders of Israel. Give them this message from the Sovereign LORD: What sorrow awaits you shepherds who feed yourselves instead of your flocks. Shouldn’t shepherds feed their sheep? 3  You drink the milk, wear the wool, and butcher the best animals, but you let your flocks starve. 4  You have not taken care of the weak. You have not tended the sick or bound up the injured. You have not gone looking for those who have wandered away and are lost. Instead, you have ruled them with harshness and cruelty. 5  So my sheep have been scattered without a shepherd, and they are easy prey for any wild animal. 6  They have wandered through all the mountains and all the hills, across the face of the earth, yet no one has gone to search for them. Ezekiel 34:1-6 (NLT2)

The Christian minister, as someone has pointed out, is a descendant not of the Greek orator but of the Hebrew prophet.
The differences between the orator and the prophet are many and radical, the chief being that the orator speaks for himself while the prophet speaks for God. The orator originates his message and is responsible to himself for its content. The prophet originates nothing but delivers the message he has received from God who alone is responsible for it, the prophet being responsible to God for its delivery only. The prophet must hear the message clearly and deliver it faithfully, and that is indeed a grave responsibility; but it is to God alone, not to men.

In those cities and places, likewise, where the parish churches have no certain boundaries, neither have their rectors their own proper people to govern, but administer the sacraments to all promiscuously who seek it, the holy synod commands bishops, that for the more perfect security of the salvation of the souls committed to their charge, having divided the people into fixed and proper parishes, they shall assign to each its own perpetual and peculiar parish priest, who may know his own parishioners, and from whom alone they may lawfully receive the sacraments; or they shall make such other provision as may be more profitable, according as the character of the place may require

Someone reminded once again me that evangelists are also physicians for souls; new converts need a physician of the soul just as long time members. A lot of listening, consoling, absolving, praying, and blessing was just as important for Sonia, the zealous new convert, as it was for George, the patriarch of a family known as “pillars of the church” for generations.

As I read from the writings coming out of the Council of Trent this morning, those words in blue hit me hard. It wasn’t like resonated in a good way, but like play a guitar and one key is so far out of tune… it hurts.  People who go to a church may not know the man who is preaching, if he is even in the same building and not located on another campus, and his picture live-streamed into that building. There is a disconnect there, and while thye have someone preaching at them, it is not the same as a conversation with them, know them and having the ability to call in a moment and have them pray.

It’s not just true in big churches, COVID has done this to many family sized (50-300 member churches) as our people have been spread out, and limited to digital contact or a phone call or two. As much as I like bringing my thoguhts together on this blog, I would rather have 4 or 20 people in a Bible study, or a dedicated prayer time. There is something about the people of God, gathered together, spending time in His presence together.

Tozer’s comment about the pastor being a descendant of the prophet fits in here. God has a message for a specific group of people, and has placed the pastor there to give it to them, in a way they can understnad it. That means you have to know them well enough to spek into their heart. That is scary for both the pastor and the people. But if it doesn’t happen., if this connection isn’t made, then people spread out, and begin to do what is right in their own eyes–and that includes the pastor.

We all need to be ministered to, the atheist, the person God is transforming from scratch, the person God’s been working on for decdes.

And the most needed and hardest ministry happens when the pastor and people are laughing and crying together. As souls are comforted…and healed by the same power which raised Christ Jesus from the grave.

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

Theodore Alois Buckley, The Canons and Decrees of the Council of Trent (London: George Routledge and Co., 1851), 201–202.

Harold L. Senkbeil, The Care of Souls: Cultivating a Pastor’s Heart (Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press, 2019), 234.

His Church: Marketing or Talking with God?

Thoughts to encourage us to spend time with Jesus.

Please listen, O Shepherd of Israel, you who lead Joseph’s descendants like a flock. O God, enthroned above the cherubim, display your radiant glory 2  to Ephraim, Benjamin, and Manasseh. Show us your mighty power. Come to rescue us! 3  Turn us again to yourself, O God. Make your face shine down upon us. Only then will we be saved. Psalm 80:1-3 (NLT2)

He told me, ‘Cornelius, your prayer has been heard, and your gifts to the poor have been noticed by God! 32 Now send messengers to Joppa, and summon a man named Simon Peter. He is staying in the home of Simon, a tanner who lives near the seashore.’ 33 So I sent for you at once, and it was good of you to come. Now we are all here, waiting before God to hear the message the Lord has given you.”   Acts 10:31-33 NLT 

Listening to someone personally beats hearing about that person second hand. Yet strangely when it comes to the mission of the church we settle for the latter. Too much of what passes for gospel mission is second hand information; it may be factual and instructive, but it’s not personal. It resembles advertising more than anything else.

Then he [Martin Luther] was asked whether the sacraments have a spiritual power in themselves, so that baptism would be consecrated water which by its own strength could wipe out sins, even in case the water were drunk by an ass. He replied, “Because the spiritual power of God doesn’t comprise corporeal, inanimate matter, baptism doesn’t accomplish anything at all as water existing by itself. But as an action (which would be in its use) baptism has power, so that if anybody sprinkles an infant with water together with a recitation of those words of Christ by which he instituted baptism and promised the forgiveness of sins, that action, and not the water, has divine power.

The experts that study the church have told us for years a simple thing about why people come to church. It is because a friend, relative or co-worker invited them to come, and made sure they knew they would be welcome. Maybe it is because we are tired of trying to motivate our people, or we’ve seen too many “invite-a-friend” Sunday fail that we fall for the glamour and hype modern marketing and business planning offers us. Mission statements, goals and objectives, strategic implementation all geared to help us sell our faith…

BUt we aren’t in the business to sell our faith. We are ind the ministry to share why we have hope.

Sharing why we have hope, giving the reason for it means that we have discovered a reason to have hope—God revealed it to us, It is an overwhelming hope, as God guarantees us an eternity free of guilt, shame, resentment, pain, sorrow. It is a life where His presence brings us peace during the trials and traumas of life. This is hope at its best, and assurance of God’s love and presence in our lives–a presence that is available to everyone.

What if our efforts were teaching people to pray like those who wrote the Psalms did, expectantly begging God to make Himself known to all of us?

What if we realized He desired to turn us and draw us to His side, to smile at us, to save us all?

Senkbeil mentions the importance of hearing from someone directly, and he is talking about hearing from God. Both Cornelius and Peter did, and responded to what the message God had given them. Luther takes it another step–it is listening to God’s promises in the words of Christ that make a sacrament a sacrament.

If the people who are the church hear God, hearing His word will transform them. That transformation will cause their hearts to break as they see people suffer without Him, and they will want them to know His peace.

That causes revival, the knowledge of God’s love and His work rescuing us…

Or, as we say at my church – we are the broken people finding healing in Jesus, while helping others heal.

Lord Jesus, reveal to us today more of the work you are doing in our lives, turn us again and draw us closer to You. Then Lord, help us see others as You do, and use our lives to draw them through You to the Father. AMEN!

 

Harold L. Senkbeil, The Care of Souls: Cultivating a Pastor’s Heart (Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press, 2019), 226.

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), 358.

A Call to Intimately Know What We Preach…and Hear

So look at Apollos and me as mere servants of Christ who have been put in charge of explaining God’s mysteries. 1 Corinthians 4:1 (NLT2)

Many of us who preach the unsearchable riches of Christ are often pretty dull and hard to listen to.
The freshest thought to visit the human mind should be the thought of God. The story of salvation should put a radiancy in the face and a vibrancy in the voice of him that tells it. Yet it is not uncommon to hear the wondrous message given in a manner that makes it difficult for the hearer to concentrate on what is being said. What is wrong?…

We learn to trust God beyond our psychological experiences. And we become more courageous in facing and letting go of the dark corners of ourselves and begin to participate actively in the dismantling of our prerational emotional programs. We cannot escape from the worldliness that is inside us, but we can acknowledge and confront it. The invitation to allow God to change our motivation from selfishness to divine love is the call to transforming union.

As I’ve suggested, pastors do everything by God’s word. They listen with ears tuned to the word of God, they speak words taught by the Holy Spirit in his word, they pray by means of the word, and they bless by means of the word. By constant exposure to these words of Christ, you begin to see things from his perspective. You develop the eyes and ears of Jesus. You watch and listen with his outlook. And that includes the lost. When Jesus beheld the milling crowd by the shore of Galilee, “He had compassion for them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd” (Matt 9:36). It was a pitiful sight. Sheep without a shepherd are in dire straits. His heart went out to that vulnerable throng.

Tozer’s bluntness is a something I am learning to appreciate. The reading I encountered this morning is the basis for the call to know intimately what we preach – and what we hear. If the message we are going to hear and share is going to be worth all the time invested in prayer, study, and some deep thought about the subject, it needs to be a message worth treasuring.

We must realize that what was true for Apollos and Paul is true for us. We explain the greatest of mysteries, the fact that God loves us, and desires for us to join Him, and share in the glory of Jesus.

That means investing time in deep thought about God -based on what the scriptures teach us. Not just taking it out on Monday or Tuesday to study for this week’s sermon, but reading it for the same reason we desire to share in communion with the people and with God. These are the times where we are so overwhelmed by God that we beg Him to transform us.  For his transforming us comes, not from academic study and planning, but from time spent with Him.

That transformation cannot remain individualistic in scope – that is the point that Senkbeil is making. The more God transforms us, the more we reflect Christ, the more we cannot stand seeing people wander around in bondage of sin, This desire to see them come to find the peace we know infuses our sermons, our Bible studies and our prayers. This infusion transforms the preaching and sharing of Christ with those around us.

Passion returns to the pulpit and to those seated in the church, when God’s word reveals God’s desire for us to be His people, and the works He does which draw us to Him.

Lord, infuse Your pastors with Your outlook, even as Your Spirit works in the hearts of those they serve in the church. Help us all, I pray, to treasure all you have called into existence, that we may know that You love the world, and us in it. AMEN!

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

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), 126.

Harold L. Senkbeil, The Care of Souls: Cultivating a Pastor’s Heart (Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press, 2019), 223.

The Need of Pastoral Presence…

Thoughts to encourage our running to Jesus, for help, and to adore Him.   

Philip ran over and heard the man reading from the prophet Isaiah. Philip asked, “Do you understand what you are reading?”  The man replied, “How can I, unless someone instructs me?” And he urged Philip to come up into the carriage and sit with him. Acts 8:30-31 NLT

I’m against the idea of putting the “big preachers” on tape and playing them back to the congregations that feel they are being starved by listening to “little preachers.” Fallacy, brethren—a thousand times, fallacy!
If we could have the Apostle Paul on tape recordings and let him stand here and preach, he could do no more for you than the Holy Ghost can do, with The Book and the human conscience.…
Oh, brethren, I would not detract from God’s great men, but I can safely say that that’s not what the church needs.

Yet what God joined together is often divided in contemporary practice. Pastors are increasingly pressured to make a choice. They can either be an evangelist or a shepherd, a missionary or a pastor. Likely you’ve faced some pressure on this yourself either overtly or subtly, asked to choose between two options that are actually false alternatives. It’s usually put this way: Would you rather be a missionary, actively gaining souls for Christ in an increasingly godless world or will you settle for just being a mere chaplain, quietly tending the faithful as a kind of soul custodian? Refuse to play that game. That’s an arbitrary distinction detrimental to the church’s life. It’s time to reject this false dichotomy and set aside the caricatures and exaggerations being lobbed from one camp to the other.

In Tozer’s day, the temptation was to play audio recordings of more famous pastors, instead of listening to less famous, and perhaps less skilled or less charismatic pastors in the community speak Christ into the lives of the people sitting before them.  Today, it is livestreaming the sermon into a local facility, with a staff member or even a pastor acting as a site coordinator.

While I agree with Tozer’s position, I would perhaps phrase it differently, focusing more on what a local pastor, even in a small (30-75) or micro-church (10-30) brings to the people of God gathered together by God.

Senkbeil’s words confront a similar issue – which role does the pastor have in the life of his people or community? By redefining him as one of two choices, eliminating the definition of the role he has as pastor…

To pastor someone, you have to be present. A Pastor has to speak into their lives, therefore a pastor has to laugh and cry with them. A Pastor has to be there to tell them their sins are forgiven, andbe there as they commune – to point out this is the Lamb of God who takes away their sin.

You can learn from a book, or a video, and find some encouragement…but a pastor is needed for the real ministry. A  pastor has to be present in the lives of the people he guides into the presence of God – so they realize God is present. If the pastor is just a disembodied voice, or a charachter on movie screen, the presence is lacking.

Similarly, the pastor is there, but he is there differs from person to person. To some he will be the evangelist, to some the chaplain, to a few he takes on the prophetic role…confronting them in their sin. All of those roles/techniques serve one purpose – as the pastor is used to guide people into the presence and the glory of God from where they are…

If you are are pastor – keep serving – keep speaking about Jesus being presnent in the places you are with your people – that He laughs and cries with them, even as you are laughing and crying with them. ANd that Jesus will sustain them, and the Spirit will help them know the unexplainable love and peace of God.

if you are one of God’s people, find the pastor who does this – no matter how awkward or unpolished he is… but listen to him, – and let him know you are there, investing in his improvement.

and then together – be the church.

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

Harold L. Senkbeil, The Care of Souls: Cultivating a Pastor’s Heart (Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press, 2019), 221.

The Pastoral Need for the Lord’s Supper

Thoughts to draw you closer to Jesus…

But Stephen, full of the Holy Spirit, gazed steadily into heaven and saw the glory of God, and he saw Jesus standing in the place of honor at God’s right hand. 56 And he told them, “Look, I see the heavens opened and the Son of Man standing in the place of honor at God’s right hand!”  Acts 7:55-56 NLT

Acedia means a lack or absence of care. And that’s deadly. Whenever we grow numb to Christ’s saving work and the Father’s gracious gifts by which he makes us and preserves us, spiritual boredom takes hold, followed by apathy and subsequent despair. Where acedia takes root in the soul of a pastor, the flock suffers greatly.

There is today no lack of Bible teachers to set forth correctly the principles of the doctrines of Christ, but too many of these seem satisfied to teach the fundamentals of the faith year after year, strangely unaware that there is in their ministry no manifest Presence, nor anything unusual in their personal lives.

The gift of contemplative prayer is a practical and essential tool for confronting the heart of the Christian ascesis—namely, the struggle with our unconscious motivation—while at the same time establishing the climate and necessary dispositions for a deepening relationship with God and leading, if we persevere, to divine union.

As I look at the deacon, Stephen, I see a man who is living in the moment. He is not bound to anxiety or fear. He is not burnt out, and He cares about the people with whom he is interacting. The power of the resurrection is something he wants them to know; he wants them to know Jesus.

As I look at the church today, there are many pastors and church leaders that are suffering and struggling, not only in their lives, but in their spiritual lives as well. The are well able to teach the doctrines they believe in, if they still do. But they don’t care, or they are tired of caring. There is something lacking behind the doctrine, a “so what” to the “what” that is so well known and taught. Acedia or Ascesis is so evident in the lives of many I talk to in the church, and the constant work wears the men and women in ministry down.

The hard question is, if this is happening to our leaders, then what is happening to the flocks with which they have been called to shepherd?

Keating talks of the answer to this being contemplative prayer. A time to stop and listen, to contemplate what it means to dwell in the presence of God. To take the time to listen, to invest in the relationship by letting God “hear” us — so that we know He has.

Perhaps this is why the Lutheran Confessions call prayer a sacrament, a sacred time where God’s grace communicates deeply, intimately with the hearts of His people.

It is one of the other sacraments that I run to, that I long for, when spiritual burnout, spiritual fatigue, and life just sucking. The Lord’s Supper is so precious, the peace that comes from being united to the death and resurrection of Jesus is beyond measure. Sharing it with my people, whether in the sanctuary, or in their homes, lifts me out of the spiritual funk (and often physical/psychological funks as well).

Here is the theology behind this – we know that when we take and eat the bread, we unite to Christ’s body (koinonia). The same when we drink from the cup, there is unity with the sacrifice of Christ. But anytime God unites us with the death of Christ Jesus, there is the absolute promise of the resurrection! Knowing this is our reality, and someday will be a visible reality, stirs the soul, and revives me. This is not just some activity or obligation without an impact in our lives. To realize we commune with God, in that instance, He draws into His glory, and gives us a tangible lesson in how deep His love is for us.

Every pastor gets tired, every pastor gets weary and suffers from burnout. The same for elders, deacons, ministers of every type. I do not know a pastor during COVID who didn’t think of hanging it up – and finding some other field of work. The answer is that divine unity that Keating points out, the “manifest presence” is how Tozer describes it. Stephen, even in the face of martyrdom, finds his hope there, as he gazes into heaven and sees the glory of God.

That is the experience of the altar, whether serving the people of God, or receiving it with them.

We need that… so let us not neglect it, but run to it. AMEN!

 

 

Harold L. Senkbeil, The Care of Souls: Cultivating a Pastor’s Heart (Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press, 2019), 210.

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

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), 123.

Why I MUST Stuggle with the Scripture and God

Thoughts I pray drive you to the cross…

When the LORD heard them, he was furious. The fire of his wrath burned against Jacob. Yes, his anger rose against Israel, 22  for they did not believe God or trust him to care for them. 23  But he commanded the skies to open; he opened the doors of heaven. 24  He rained down manna for them to eat; he gave them bread from heaven. 25  They ate the food of angels! God gave them all they could hold. Psalm 78:21-25 (NLT2)

“Consequently this is the best advice, that one should draw from the source and diligently read the Bible. For a man who knows the text is also an extraordinary theologian. One passage or one text from the Bible is worth more than the glosses of four writers who aren’t reliable and thorough. 

Only one stipulation do I make: my teacher must know God, as Carlyle said, “otherwise than by hearsay,” and Christ must be all in all to him. If a man have only correct doctrine to offer me I am sure to slip out at the first intermission to seek the company of someone who has seen for himself how lovely is the face of Him who is the Rose of Sharon and the Lily of the Valley. Such a man can help me, and no one else can.

In my libraries I have closed to 10,000 books, both printed in paper and digitally on 3 different software programs.  S

Some are from favorite authors, like St. Josemaria, Michael Card, Martin Luther, Pope Benedict XVI, Peter Kreeft, Will Willimon, and Juan Carlos Ortiz. There are some newer writers that I am coming to appreciate more and more, like Tozer or Senkbeil. And there are other authors who are not as favored in my sight, yet all are men whose lives I thank God for, for they have affected me, or those whom I minister to at my church or in the community.

It would be really easy to just sit back in awe of their devotion, and spend time with their works. 

After all, I’ve read the Bible through more than once, in multiple translations. 

But it is there, in the pages of scripture, and in receiving and administering the sacraments, that I find God. It is where He hears me, and where I hear Him. There, on every page, there is Jesus. It is there where I find the words to think about, to ponder, even with which I question and argue. (It would be sad if I didn’t question and argue with them, for then I would be dishonest, or perhaps crazy… for God needs to transform me – which means I need to be honest where I am!) 

I cannot simply accept what men, far more brilliant that I could ever be, claim about the Greek and the Hebrew. I cannot accept their systems of theology. Simply put, they are sinners as well. Luther and Tozer are right – find the people that know God and rejoice in the intimate relationship He is forging with them. Learn from them how they encounter and walk with God, let them disciple you as you walk with Him. But always let Jesus be your focus, let the scriptures be the resource you measure it all with…

Like the passage from the Psalms, get to know the God, who even when you are struggling with Him, opens the skies and provides for you the bread of heaven and more. For that is when faith is more than just a list of doctrines, it is a relationship where you can depend on God in whatever life throws at you. Get to know the God who didn’t give up on Israel – Issacs’ son, or Israel – the 12 tribes. Get to know Him… experience His love… and without thinking–rejoice!

God loves us.  

Not from a distance, but right here and now. 

 

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), 352–353.

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

 

Him? What? Why? Me? A sermon on Acts 9:1-22

Him? What? Why? Me!
Acts 9:1-22

I.H.S.

May the grace and peace of God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ astound you, as you minister and love those whom the world has given up on

  • The other conversion

In today’s reading from the book of Acts there are two conversions. One is the one everyone knows about, the incredible conversion of a man who used the law to kill and torture those he didn’t like. He seemed out of his mind, and unwilling to consider any other position but his.

The bigger miracle, in my opinion, is the conversion of the other guy.

Looking at that one will have more impact on us anyways, because to be honest, I don’t think many of us are like Saul, who kept uttering threats to kill elders and pastors and other leaders of the church.

We need to see how Ananias was converted, how God changed his mind, and then see the incredible joy he was able to witness, because he was willing to head God’s heart, and consider a vision bigger than his own

  • Look at it my way….

I want you, for a moment, to put yourselves in Ananias’s shoes. There are all sorts of rumors going around, way before he has a vision. Everyone knows about Paul leading the group that killed the first deacon…and they know he’s on the warpath.

Paul gets the high priest to effectively declare war on Christians. No holes barred, for the high priest’s letter to the synagogues have the weight of all of their office behind them.

Ananias knows this… and then the vIsion… I am going to paraphrase it a little…

Good morning Ananias!

yes Lord?!?

I’ve got something for you to do… Go over to Straight Street, to the house of Judas. When you get there, ask for a man from Tarsus named Saul. He is praying to me right now. 12 I have shown him a vision of a man named Ananias coming in and laying hands on him so he can see again

And Ananias response is a three letter word that is the worst thing you can say to God….

BUT!

Never, ever, ever say that to God… even when we think we have a reason, it is usually means that we somehow don’t trust Him or think we know better. 

Ananias thinks he knows the whole story – this guy was as evil as they come…he enjoyed killing Christians. God don’t you realize how much trouble this guy is? Don’t you realize how black and evil his heart is?

God treats Ananias a lot nicer than I would have….

I would have said, “Ananias, you remember – I am God? Don’t you remember that besides loving me you have to love your neighbor Saul?  Don’t you remember what I taught about forgive him even as I forgive you?

Come Ananias, you know that even though the church gave up on Saul I haven’t!

Ananias needed his mind changed just as much as the Paul!

And so do we.

Too many times we doubt that God is able to do things in a person’s life. We believe someone is too evil, or too broken. And so we treat them like someone beyond God’s reach….

Or maybe they are mean murderous types… maybe they are just cold and don’t come across well, or they are a pain in the neck, or they are poor and homes, or maybe we thing they are so rich, they wouldn’t even think we exist.

Not one of them is beyond God’s reach – not one of them….

But will we believe it? Will we trust God when He tells us that God has chosen them? That God has a plan for their lives?

God’s words were simple…. “Go, for Saul is my chosen instrument to take my message to the Gentiles and to kings, as well as to the people of Israel. 16 And I will show him how much he must suffer for my name’s sake

  • Learning to Treasure God’s masterpiece

So Ananias mind is transformed by God. He remember that God is in charge,, and listens, and sees a miracle that is beyond anything he ever expected….

His heart changed… and he ministered to and love this wayward, power abusing murderer.

Hear again what Ananias saw God do.. through him.

He laid his hands on him and said, “Brother Saul, the Lord Jesus, who appeared to you on the road, has sent me so that you might regain your sight and be filled with the Holy Spirit.” 18 Instantly something like scales fell from Saul’s eyes, and he regained his sight. Then he got up and was baptized. 19 Afterward he ate some food and regained his strength.

Saul stayed with the believers in Damascus for a few days. 20 And immediately he began preaching about Jesus in the synagogues, saying, “He is indeed the Son of God!”

Imagine Ananias’ reaction…. Paul is now preaching about Jesus… proclaiming that He is the Messiah, the Son of God!

I can almost hear Ananias, in awe going… “I knew God was going to do something special with that boy! I just knew it!”…

Seriously, God can change anyone… and he can change our hearts toward anyone.

We just have to hear how much God loves them, and forgave their sin by dying on the cross. They might refuse . but that doesn’t change what God has promised them…The more we see that change others, the more we are able to see God at work, in us.

That is how God changes His people; Some he has to change as He did Paul, some He has to change as He did with Ananias.

And most of the time – we aren’t aware of it, for we are in awe – and sharing that Jesus is the Son of God…and He will never give up working on us, in and through us. For as God changes and converts us, we find ourselves dwelling in His peace… a peace that can affect all around us, for we learn to love, because we are loved. AMEN

Partners: A sermon for the installation of a pastor and his congregation

Partners
Phil. 1:3-6 & Matt. 28:16-20

I.H.S.

May the grace and peace of God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ become so evident in this place that  your ministry partnership is full of joy!

  • The Band Leader

I have looked forward to this day for nearly three years.

Because this day is the result of a lot of work, a lot of time on the phone, and reading emails, a lot of frustration at times, if we are honest, some doubt, and finally, some relief.

And so people of Grace Lutheran School and Grace Lutheran Church, this is the day the Lord made…. For you!

You see, this day isn’t about Rev. Michael.

This day is about Grace Lutheran Church and Grace Lutheran School, of which Mike, you, and your family become a part.

One of my illustrations of how the partnership between a community of faith – the church and school – and their pastor work together comes from my youth.

You see… my parents were ballroom dance teachers, and when I asked them to teach me…. They handed me a guitar. I asked them a few years later, and they helped me get a piano. Something about my coordination being so wrong that it would be bad for business if I tried to dance.

But have you ever seen ballroom dancers try to dance without music? 

Here is the point.

You are here to be in the background as the people learn to dance with God. You will, in your time of prayer for them, in your devotional time, in your time preparing sermons and Bible studies, in your time laughing and crying with them, you will be helping them learn to dance….

To dance with God.

That is your role in this partnership.

You are the band. You have to help them with the rhythm; you have to lift their spirits and help them learn to live life, moving in response to God.

And hopefully, as dances end… you will give thanks to God for their partnership in the ministry, as you see how God brought them through this life and finished His work with them.

  • Anxiety and Doubt

This isn’t to say it is going to be easy.

One of the things so often overlooked as we look at the Great Commission is where the disciples were. Just a little while after, they realized “Alleluia He is Risen” (He is Risen Indeed, Alleluia!) and therefore… (We are risen indeed, Alleluia) is this phrase,

Then the eleven disciples left for Galilee, going to the mountain where Jesus had told them to go. 17 When they saw him, they worshiped him—but some of them doubted!

Wait… what? Witnesses to the Lord’s nail spike prints in his hands, gaping spear wound in his side, and they….doubted?

Do you mean even they struggled?

Yeah – and there will be days for the entire community.

There might be an odd day when you are playing polka, and they are dancing the foxtrot. And the dissonance will make you wonder who is wrong and who is right….

Oddly enough, you can dance the foxtrot to a polka – you just have to move really quick!

But the partnership doesn’t end there… you get back to working with each other. You help them back into the groove, and then you almost want to stop playing – because they are doing the work of the ministry soooo sooo well as they learn to dance with God.

  • Treasure what God has put together

And what is that ministry? 

Well, how many people are in this Valley? According to the internet, about 517,000 people. About 60 churches here as well, according to one internet page.

So before you go into all the world to make disciples, you start here. 8618.6667 people to disciple, just if y’all take a single portion. Since you guys have such a clear view of grace, are such an awesome church body – and have a good pastor… let’s triple that. 25,850 people that you guys can reach out to, helping them become people who know Jesus loves them and learn to dance with Him!

There is the ministry of the church. 

That is one of the things that happens when this partnership is doing what it is supposed to: when you, Pastor Hall, are setting the rhythm through your administration of the sacraments, your teaching and preaching, and the way you live. You set the rhythm in the way you dance with God…

What does it mean to make a disciple? The first step is easy – you wash them clean of sin in baptism. Not that the water is essential – teach them what Ezekiel 36 and Titus 3 say about God’s promises and actions.

The second part is a bit of a translation issue.

Most translations say, “teach them to obey the commands.”

The Greek is a lot better. I could teach for an hour on this – but Mike will do a better job. Here is what it says in Greek.

Teach them to guard the treasure (tereo) I have called into existence. (entellomai)

Teach them to guard the treasure that I have called into existence….

What treasure is that? 

This treasure that the Father sent Jesus to die to create…

What I call the dance – that is what the treasure is.

When a good male leads his partner in the dance, and she trusts in him, there is a level of communication that occurs instinctively; it is based on that trust.

That is the treasure – this incredibly excellent relationship with the Creator of the Universe….

As your people learn to dance with God, something incredible happens. They reach out and love people around them, drawing them into the dance…

You are partners in this thing, and I pray dear brothers and sisters of Grace Lutheran Church and School – including your pastor- are so overwhelmed by what God does through this partnership that you give thanks to God every time you think of each other. Amen!

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