Monthly Archives: June 2022
I came naked from my mother’s womb,
and I will be naked when I leave.
The LORD gave me what I had,
and the LORD has taken it away.
Praise the name of the LORD!”
Since all standard hymns have been edited to delete inferior stanzas and since any stanza of the average hymn can be sung in less than one minute … and since many of our best hymns have already been shortened as much as good taste will allow, we are forced to conclude that the habit of omitting the third stanza reveals religious boredom, pure and simple, and it would do our souls good if we would admit it.
As we begin to trust God more, we enjoy a certain freedom from our vices and may often experience great satisfaction in our spiritual endeavors. When God decides we are ready, he invites us to a new level of self-knowledge. God withdraws the initial consolations of conversion, and we are plunged in darkness, spiritual dryness, and confusion. We think that God has abandoned us.… Then comes a period of peace, enjoyment of a new inner freedom, the wonder of new insights. That takes time. Rarely is there a sudden movement to a new level of awareness that is permanent. What happens when we get to the bottom of the pile of our emotional debris? We are in divine union. There is no other obstacle.
The second and third readings are cause and effect.
When our worship becomes dry, when our spiritual lives exist in a state of boredom, we need God to take action.
But I will warn you, it isn’t pretty. It may not be as dramatic as Job encounters, but it will feel like it at times. (It does for me today) The classic devotional text The Dark Night of the Soul, also documents this, and how God allows Satan to strike us, for our good.
Like Job, the journey isn’t easy, like Job the challenges overwhelm us, and we find ourselves at the point of despair, and we will accuse God of abandoning us. That accusation may come with surprising force, because it comes from the darkest regions of our heart and soul.
God hears the accusation as a prayer. A cry for help that will be answered in a way that Keaton recognizes is full of peace. We abandon ourselves into the hands of a loving, merciful God, and are willing to see what He will do, for there is nothing else. Everything, including our hearts and minds are emptied out, and He is there… and that is what we need.
For we realize it is a blessed thing for God to take away what divides us from Him. That is part of His healing ministry.
Oddly enough, this healing work, stripping us of all that isn’t of God–that is the content of many of those “third verses” that Tozer laments the loss of. Consider this one
My sin, oh the bliss of this glorious thought (a thought)
My sin, not in part, but the whole (every bit, every bit, all of it)
Is nailed to the cross, and I bear it no more (yes)
Praise the Lord, praise the Lord, O my soul
(from It is Well with My Soul!)
God is with us…Blessed Be His Name!
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), 179.
May the mercy of God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ be so profound in your life that you realize — you have learned by experience that you are loved!
If you have ever seen the television show Broken, you may tear up at the picture on this slide. We’ll get to the profound story it tells in a moment. But it is one I know everyone of us needs to experience.
I don’t care which political side of the synod you sit on; I don’t care whether you use LSB (though I still prefer TLH), or have contemporary worship. I don’t care if you serve a mountain congregation of 20, an urban congregation that is struggling, or Lutheran Mega-Church in Orange County or Arizona.
You all need to have the experience of the guy in the purple chasuble, to receive the forgiveness and mercy that God’s love makes so real.
Otherwise, this synod will remain broken, your church will remain broken, and you, no matter how hard you try, will be broken.
Twenty years ago, I left my non-denominational congregation to spend 3 and a half years to become part of all of you. I owe a great debt to Dr. Stephen Mueller, Bill Cwirla, Greg Seltz, and Bob Rossow.
Among the lessons I learned was one some of you might have memorized once… that’s why there is no slide for it.
I believe that by my own understanding or strength I cannot believe in Jesus Christ my Lord or come to him, but instead the Holy Spirit has called me through the gospel, enlightened me with his gifts, made me holy and kept me in the true faith (Martin Luther, T
Worship isn’t worship without that call and enlightenment. I don’t care how logical your systematic theology is, how reasonable your apologetics are as you try to prove the gospel, without the Holy Spirit working in your heart, soul and mind, it is as empty as the Bills or Vikings Superbowl Trophy Case.
What happens is what happens to the priest in the show. Dealing with the normal trauma every church experiences, from death to immorality, from injustice to darkness, the priest struggles to approach the altar. He states,
“because I know, in here, , that I am not fit to be a priest. So -at the supreme moment of priesthood – the consecration, this, this, reminds me of all the dirty filthy things I’ve done in my life, and the dirty filthy things that have been done to me. And it says, how dare you think yourself worthy of this…” Fr. Michael in Broken
When I came into the LCMS, the biggest difference I noticed was not logical. It was the acceptance of what Fr. Michael said, and yet every person in the church being drawn to the altar, anyway. It didn’t matter if it was at the page 15 service with Doctor Hendry officiating, or Mike Coppersmith preaching at a contemporary service. It could be gossip, being sexually broken, using God’s name in vain, the brokenness caused by sin was real…
People didn’t come to the altar thinking they were worthy of this…. But they came.
At the altar they found what was beyond logic, beyond reason. They found that they were loved. That’s what Fr. Mike in the show found out, even as he was communing someone he sinned against…who let him know he was a wonderful pastor. He knew God’s love far more clearly at that point…
Loved by God who was willing to die for them, and have them share in the death sacramentally, that they would rise with Him.
There, at the altar, broken people and broken pastors found something that Paul prayed for the church in Ephesus to experience…the prayer I read earlier…
May you experience the love of Christ, though it is too great to understand fully.
I saw this at both churches, as people came forward, their bodies betraying the conviction that they were stressed-out, overwhelmed, wounded by their own sin and sins of their community. They knelt there and received the body and blood of Christ again, and you saw them physically transform. Their bodies relaxed, their eyes bright, a smile breaking out on their face.
Greg Seltz used to call that incarnational and sacramental.
I have a better phrase, in that moment, we realize the intimate relationship God has drawn us into with Him.
In the picture, the lady had been betrayed, the relationship with her pastor destroyed. Not just because he wasn’t there when she needed him, but because he lied about it, and her son was killed. The grief and shame overwhelmed him and there, on the day he was planning to leave the ministry, as he gave out the Body and Blood of Christ, she and the church brought him back from the edge.
If we are going to be abundantly more, if we are going to accomplish infinite more than we might ask or think, where it will happen is at baptismal fonts and at the altar, in coffee shops and business meetings, where we plead with people, “Come back to God.” and they do…
And they experience what we have, the call and enlightenment that comes as the Holy Spirit opened our eyes through word and sacrament, and we begin “to understand, as all God’s people should, how wide, how long, how high, and how deep his love is. 19 May you experience the love of Christ, though it is too great to understand fully.
Thoughts which draw us to Jesus, and the cross where we died with Him, that we might live!
And having chosen them, he called them to come to him. And having called them, he gave them right standing with himself. And having given them right standing, he gave them his glory. Romans 8:30 NLT
What good is all our busy religion if God isn’t in it? What good is it if we’ve lost majesty, reverence, worship—an awareness of the divine? What good is it if we’ve lost a sense of the Presence and the ability to retreat within our own hearts and meet God in the garden? If we’ve lost that, why build another church?
The false self is looking for fame, power, wealth, and prestige. The unconscious is very powerful until the divine light of the Holy Spirit penetrates to its depths and reveals its dynamics. Here is where the great teaching of the dark nights of St. John of the Cross corresponds to depth psychology, only the work of the Holy Spirit goes far deeper. Instead of trying to free us from what interferes with our ordinary human life, the Spirit calls us to transformation of our inmost being, and indeed of all our faculties, into the divine way of being and acting.
Tozer’s words resonate deeply within me…. for I have seen the devastation of churches that once seemed alive. I have seen others give up on the church over the last 40 years, trying to build community, trying to create communities that have different names than “church.” Others panic, and try to hold onto the practices of the church they treasure, but do so forgetting the message of those churches that comforted and inspired them to comfort others.
What good is it, if the pattern continues, and the next generation closes down the missional communities that abandoned the fellowships that abandoned the church? What good is it If the million churches to be planted end up with 100 -people each are replaced 15 years down the road by 500,000 with 30 people, or even if they all reach 1000?
What good is this if none of them are aware of the presence of God in their lives?
Keating explains what we need – what St John of the Cross called “the darks nights of the soul.” The times of despair where we realize that our only hope is the comfort of the Holy Spirit. To let the Spirit transform us from the inside out, the deepest, darkest places of our psyche. These places, once damaged by sin, are made right only by Jesus. But we have to face those uncomfortable nights of the soul, and we have to trust those the Lord who brought us through that night, and promises to bring us into His presence, into His glory.
That’s what makes building a building the church… building the church. It is the people of God in the presence of God.
Everything else is a side effect of that…
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), 166.
But God showed his great love for us by sending Christ to die for us while we were still sinners. 9 And since we have been made right in God’s sight by the blood of Christ, he will certainly save us from God’s condemnation. 10 For since our friendship with God was restored by the death of his Son while we were still his enemies, we will certainly be saved through the life of his Son. 11 So now we can rejoice in our wonderful new relationship with God because our Lord Jesus Christ has made us friends of God. Romans 5:8-11 NLT
Without argument, most things are at their best when they are fulfilling their purpose and design.
For instance, a piano is made with a specific purpose: to produce music. However, I happen to know that someone once stood on a piano in order to put a fastener of some kind in the ceiling. Some artistic women have used piano tops as family picture galleries. I have seen piano tops that were cluttered filing cabinets or wide library shelves.
There is an intelligent design in the creation of a piano. The manufacturer did not announce: “This is a good piano. It has at least nineteen uses!” No, the designer had only one thought in mind: “This piano will have the purpose and potential of sounding forth beautiful music!”…
Do not miss the application of truth here. God was saying to Abraham, “You may have some other idea about the design and purpose for your life, but you are wrong! You were created in My image to worship Me and to glorify Me. If you do not honor this purpose, your life will degenerate into shallow, selfish, humanistic pursuits
556 The Way of the Cross. Here indeed is a strong and fruitful devotion! May you make it a habit to go over those fourteen points of our Lord’s Passion and death each Friday. I assure you that you’ll gain strength for the whole week.
I love Tozer’s illustration, but struggle with the application.
Simply put, we weren’t created to worship God, or to glorify Him. I have seen too many people over the years try and fulfill that purpose, only to burn out, then drop out.
We were created for a purpose, and understanding that purpose can result in the most amazing worship, and result in God’s being glorified, a glory we are promised to share in. (see Col. 1:26-29)
Our purpose, our erason for existence is simpler, and more amazing.
As the piano was made to make music, we are made to be loved by God! We are created to be His friends!
Nothing less that being the ones whom God pours Himself to, whom God has chased throughout History, planning each step to bring us into this wonderful relationship.
We can’t mistake our response for the reason. It doesn’t work backwards. St Josemaria wants us to encounter that passionate love, that is why He wants us to contemplate the cross. Not out of duty, but because we need to know we are loved. And the Way of the Cross shows it to us, step by step, as Christ embraces torment, because it will show that love in a way that is undeniable.
It may be a blunt and graphic illustration, but saying that worship is the purpose and meaning in life is like saying going to the bathroom is the purpose of eating and drinking. Worship isn’t the purpose, it is the consequence. The purpose is being loved – a completely passive experience, and something we have no control over. This even works into my somewhat profane illustration, because a major part of worship is relieving oneself of everything impure… for God’s love will cause the eliminating of waste in our lives.
Therefore His sustains us through the most painful points of life. In the places where everyone else abandons us, He is there, comforting us, drawing us into His peace.
Finally, the glory of God has someone to love. In fact He draws us to Himself and loves us, that is truly glorious.
That is our purpose – to be loved. That is what gives meaning to our lives.
Know that you are loved beyond measure, experience that love that is unexplainable… and find out why we praise His name!
A. W. Tozer, Tozer for the Christian Leader (Chicago: Moody Publishers, 2015).
Escriva, Josemaria. The Way . Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition.
15 I’m not asking you to take them out of the world, but to keep them safe from the evil one. 16 They do not belong to this world any more than I do. John 17:15-16 (NLT2)
Without worship we go about miserable; that’s why we have all the troubles we have. You wonder why young people act like such idiots. Some young people have a lot of energy and don’t know what to do with it, so they go out and act like idiots; and that’s why gangsters and communists and sinners of all kinds do what they do. They are endowed by God Almighty with brilliant intelligence and an amazing store of energy, and because they don’t know what to do with it they do the wrong thing. That’s why I’m not angry with people when I see them go off the deep end, because I know that they have fallen from their first estate along with Adam’s brood and all of us together. They haven’t been redeemed and so they have energy they don’t know what to do with; they have capacity they don’t know how to use. They have skills and don’t know where to put them, and so they go wild and police have to arrest sixteen-year-olds and put them in jail. If they had been taught that they came into the world in the first place to worship God and to enjoy Him forever and that when they fell Jesus Christ came to redeem them, to make worshipers out of them, they could by the Holy Ghost and the washing of the blood be made into worshiping saints and things would be so different
He always wants to remind us to recall the First Commandment, that he is our God; that is, that he wishes to help, comfort, and protect us, so that he may restrain our desire for revenge.
 If we could thoroughly impress this on people’s minds, we would have our hands full of good works to do.  But this would not be a preaching for the monks. It would too greatly undermine the “spiritual walk of life” and infringe upon the holiness of the Carthusians. It would be practically the same as forbidding their good works and emptying the monasteries. For in such a teaching the ordinary Christian life would be worth just as much, indeed much more.
They saw that the work of the cure of souls (Seelsorge) brought joy (Freudigkeit) despite the burdens of office. When God’s love is in motion, there is joy even in the midst of sorrow. And never forget it: Your ministry is God’s love in motion.
We live in an age of monasticism. Perhaps not in dark, gloomy, castle-like buildings centered around, and protecting the sanctuary, but the church has grown more and more isolated in the decades I have been alive. Some form this isolation by trying to protect the church they treasure, the beliefs and practices that have given them great peace at one time, which they remember, if not experience daily. Others see themseles as missional crusaders, those that venture forth from the walls of the church, in order to draw people into their lifestyle. Truly this group has grown as isolated as those who try and protect their traditions, as they rely on their visions and mission principles and para-church agencies. We even invest in politics, aligning ourselves with those we feel are the most willing to protect our way of life.
It is as if they both believe that because we are not of this world, we have to create a lifestyle that is apart from the world. And so churches add to their facility their own restaurants and coffee shops. Our own bookstores, our own universities that are becoming less and less open to the spiritually unwashed masses.
And then we complain about the world that we send to hell in a nice wrapped up gift basket.
Tozer’s wrote the words in purple at a point when I was young—maybe even before I was born. He wants to complain about the idiotic things people do, but he realizes they do those things, using the gifts God’s given them, because they don’t know God. That means if there is someone to be “mad” at, it is the Christians in their lives who have remained silent about the love of God.
That’s right, if anyone can be blamed for the state of America today, (and most of Europe) it is the church who has retreated into its sanctuaries and tried to defend them from evil! Do we not get the truth of the first commandment? That God, Who has already delivered and saved us, who is protecting us, has sent us into the broken world, just as He sent Jesus into the world to save it? Just as God the Father and God the Son sent the Holy Spirit into our lives, that we might help save others?
We are to live right in the middle of the world, that souls may be cured of the illness of sin, and the ignorance of God. I love the last sentence in the quotes, our “ministry is God’s love in motion.
Stop avoiding the broken, stop complaining about them and condemning them, go walk besides them, helping where you can. Stop being a modern monastic, and instead find the joy of seeing God heal others….and then you will experience peace and joy in ways beyond anything you could think or imagine.
Lord, help us to live as we do in church, in our lives with others. AMEN!
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), 413.
Harold L. Senkbeil, The Care of Souls: Cultivating a Pastor’s Heart (Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press, 2019), 279–280
13 O LORD, come back to us! How long will you delay? Take pity on your servants! 14 Satisfy us each morning with your unfailing love, so we may sing for joy to the end of our lives. 15 Give us gladness in proportion to our former misery! Replace the evil years with good. 16 Let us, your servants, see you work again; let our children see your glory. 17 And may the Lord our God show us his approval and make our efforts successful. Yes, make our efforts successful! Psalm 90:13-17 (NLT2)
We all long for something simpler and more predictable; surroundings less threatening and tumultuous, more comfortable and secure. But such is not our lot. We are not nostalgia freaks, trying to retreat to a more comfortable past. We move confidently into an uncertain future emboldened by our Lord who gives us his word of hope and life to preach to a world lost in despair and death.
He is so completely devoted to the dearest will of his Father that he forgets about his own death, his sin, and his hell imposed on him, and he intercedes for his enemies, for their sin, death, and hell [Luke 23:34]. We must, similarly, let these images slip away from us to wherever they wish or care to go, and remember only that we cling to God’s will, which is that we hold to Christ and firmly believe our sin, death, and hell are overcome in him and no longer able to harm us. Only Christ’s image must abide in us. l.
It would seem that the stresses of this time have no comparison to the past
Yet there have always been wars and rumours of wars. There has always been violence in the streets. There have always been broken relationships between parents and children, husbands and wives, co-workers, and even among churches. Anxiety has aways been there, though known by different names.
Such worldly oppression, on top of the weight of our own sin leads us to want to “return”. Return to a simpler time, or a more peaceful place. (My choice is Ossipee, N.H. or kneeling and praying in St Francis Church in Lawrence, Mass – circa 1978) as if those times and places were closer to heaven. Others think their peace depends on a form of worship, or a translation of the Bible.
As long as we are looking nostalgically, whether the time we want is 1963, 1973, or 2018,the hope and peace we are delusional. Given time to think, we could find the stressors and oppression in those times.
Luther comes up with the solution, as does David. What we long for in our memories is the peace that comes in the future, that comes in the time of rest where we know God is, and who He is. We need to see HIs glory and majesty, and we need to see His intimacy. We need those moments to come, just not be in the past. Only when we are focused on Jesus will sin, guilt, shame, resentment, and all that comes with them. Those things are nothing compared to knowing Jesus…
What we are looking for in the past actually awaits us, and can be experienced today. It is Jesus. This is why the psalmist prays we see His glory, why Luther, who lived in a dark time, wrote as he did.
Lord Jesus, we need to see the Father’s glory as much as those in King David’s time, as much as in Martin Luther’s time. Break open the heavens, and show us, that we and our children, and our communities may find Your satisfying peace! Amen!
Harold L. Senkbeil, The Care of Souls: Cultivating a Pastor’s Heart (Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press, 2019), 272.
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), 108.
“I will abandon my people until they have suffered enough for their sins and come looking for me. Perhaps in their suffering they will try to find me.” Hosea 5:15 (TEV)
This is the human condition—to be without the true source of happiness, which is the experience of the presence of God, and to have lost the key to happiness, which is the contemplative dimension of life.… What we experience is our desperate search for happiness where it cannot possibly be found.
In the sacraments your God, Christ himself, deals, speaks, and works with you through the priest. His are not the works and words of man. In the sacraments God himself grants you all the blessings we just mentioned in connection with Christ. God wants the sacraments to be a sign and testimony that Christ’s life has taken your death, his obedience your sin, his love your hell, upon themselves and overcome them. Moreover, through the same sacraments you are included and made one with all the saints.
Hosea’s message is brutal, or at least it seems that way.
How could a good God consign people to suffering, to the pain that is endured because of their sins. Not just the individual sins, but the sins of the community and the sins of the world. (There is another post there, that sins, and their consequences are not individual issues – but every sin is allowed, and affects the community) Back to the thought, how could a loving, compassionate God be this petty?
What God is allowing is not the suffering. Scripture tells us over and over He would prevent that suffering. He would protect us from suffering, and He will heal us from the wounds that we and society embrace.
The problem is our search for happiness, and our hunger for pleasure that we mistake for happiness. Keating is correct, we become so desperate in our search for happiness, because we look for it in places that it cannot be found! Instead, those illusions of happiness only drive us harder to find it, even as we look for it in the places that have already left us dry, wounded, broken.
Money can’t buy us the happiness we thought it could. The perfect house/home, once found and purchased, becomes empty. The perfect job doesn’t fulfill the way we thought it would. Relationships require far more work to be completely fulfilling and sex only leaves us wanting more of the moments of pleasure, or leaves us disappointed as those moments aren’t achieved. Every form of pleasure, though echoing pleasure for a moment, ends and leaves us wanting more. When they don’t provide what we want, we turn to things to distract us from the lack of happiness. Or to anesthetize the emptiness.
In 57 years of life, I have found happiness in the sacramental life. Not just at the communion rail, or in a shut-ins home sharing in prayer and the Lord’s supper. More there than anywhere else, of course, but the promise of such moments sustains me in the most brutal of weeks…. I know the moment of seeing God, of receiving all the blessings of which Luther spoke, is coming. Like heaven itself, these moments, whether forgiving or being forgiven, communing, or seeing new life begin in baptism, show the deep intimate relationship the people of God have been given.
These are the moments of revival of life, and of joy, and of peace. The hope they reveal of a day without pain and heartache brings its own happiness, and empowers us to live, until we are welcomed home by the Father.
And so God allows us to look in places where happiness isn’t, guiding us back to where it is promised. In His presence, in knowing He is here, with us.
And so letting us wander, letting us search, is allowed by God in order that we are drawn home. The power that Christ from the dead is at work, drawing us home, and cleansing us, so that we may be presented without sin, unbroken, completely healed. This is what the sacraments promise, and what they see accomplished, for God has promised this!
Lord Jesus, draw us home from our wanderings, help us hunger for what does fulfill our deepest needs, needs fulfilled by the Holy Spirit. Amen!
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), 154
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), 108..