Monthly Archives: July 2023

Where is “the” Church FOcusing its Efforts?

Thoughts that move me towards Jesus, and the The Cross

He helps us in all our troubles, so that we are able to help others who have all kinds of troubles, using the same help that we ourselves have received from God 2 Cor. 1:4 GNT

I think we can say that most Christians have no clear end toward which they are striving.

The first and highest work of love a Christian ought to do when he has become a believer is to bring others also to believe in the way he himself came to believe. Here you notice Christ begins and institutes the office of the ministry of the external Word in every Christian; for he himself came with this office and the external Word.

Psalm 119:59 tells of a time of self-examination, a time where the Psalmist looked at his life and probably sight, stood up and began the journey again. It is a hard course of action to take, but one that we each need to do, and perhaps, need to do as congregations as well.

But 30-30 years after Tozer originally noted that we strive without a true direction, we still don’t find it. We get caught up on crusade after crusade. THe latest is to fignt human trafficking, prior to that there were battles on both sides of the CRT issue, and the LGTBQ issue, and this political issue and that one. It’s nothing new, I remember the church being directed to strive against rock & roll, promiscuity, divorce and greed growing up.

And in all of this, we’ve lost what it means to be the church, to have Jesus revealed to us, to believe, trust and depend on the work of God, the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit in our lives.

and then to share that work with those who need it. Which is everyone we encounter. That’s the basis of what Paul is telling the church in Corinth. We need to strive to maintain the hope given to us in the life, death, resurrection and eventual return of Jesus–and then we need to share that with all who are broken.

I need to do this, but so do you. Luther’s clear about this being the work of both those called to shepherd the church. and those who are the church.

This needs to be our focus, our life, this hope of being a relationship with our creator, who loves us.

To strive after anything else, to think spiritual warfare is about anything else, is vanity

 

A. W. Tozer and Gerald B. Smith, Mornings with Tozer: Daily Devotional Readings (Chicago: Moody Publishers, 2008).

Martin Luther and John Sander, Devotional Readings from Luther’s Works for Every Day of the Year (Rock Island, IL: Augustana Book Concern, 1915), 255.

We Need to Take Worship Seriously!

Thoughts which drive me to Jesus, and to The Cross:

58 So then, my dear brothers and sisters, stand firm and steady. Keep busy always in your work for the Lord, since you know that nothing you do in the Lord’s service is ever useless.  1 Cor. 15:58 GNT

42 He remembered his sacred promise to Abraham his servant. 43 So he led his chosen people out, and they sang and shouted for joy.  Ps 105:42–43.

My goals here are to suggest some of the ways in which priests can be pastors and vice versa, to sensitize my fellow pastors to the rich resources for pastoral care within the liturgical life of the church, and to show how insights and skills of the pastoral care disciplines can be of service in the continuing task of liturgical renewal.

Instead, readers will find fresh inspiration to take up again the Scriptures and the practices of the Christian tradition and find in them sufficient hope to finish the race that our Lord and Savior set before us. Hunter does not take us to a final destination, but he equips us for the journey.

As I come to the completion of my formal education at 58 years old, I wonder if the education has been worth it, or if my studies have just driven me mad. My advisor wants to know what academic research I will pursue or encourage next, and yet, I want to return to a focus that is simple, to remind people that God has not forgotten His promises to us, and for those people to then sing and shout for joy.

Not just the people at Concordia, but like Bishop Willimon wrote decades ago, to help pastors and priests see the resources now overlooked in worship. To see worship as not just a way to warm people up and prepare them to be taught, but that worship actively provides the pastor the chance to teach and care for them far deeper than out 15-30 minutes pontificating on some principle or some key to life.

They need to know Jesus, and the Liturgy that is drawn from the Scriptures is a great way to help them walk with Him. (read chapters 2-4 of my dissertation if you doubt me!) These practices weren’t randomly generated by an AI, they came down to us from men who saw their benefit, who compiled them with purpose–that the people of God would experience Christ, from the incarnation through His teaching, His death, His resurrection, through their lives, as they wait for the Second coming.

Is Liturgy the only tool in the toolbox? Is worship the only way to walk with Christ? No, but if the Liturgy is done well… then it can provide a foundation, a place to work from for the entire church. Therefore it is worth the effort, it is worth learning to savor its words like fine bacon wrapped shrimp (or whatever your favorite food is). To live the liturgy in such a way that others hunger for what it is the pipeline for, Jesus, and the grace given to those who depend on Him.

That was what Willimon saw back in the 80’s, and what Bishop Todd Hunter’s new book is supposed to provide. I can recommend both, and a few others, or maybe let me take you out for tea or coffee, and lets’ talk this through…

Lord Jesus, help us to see You as we are gathered with others, that as You are revealed – our soul, our heart and our minds find peace, and joy, and learn to praise You for what You’ve given us…as  promised!  Amen!

 

William H. Willimon, Worship as Pastoral Care (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1982).

Esau McCaulley, Foreward, Hunter, Todd D.. What Jesus Intended (p. 3). InterVarsity Press. Kindle Edition.

The Kingdom of God is Like…Sewing a Quilt! A sermon from Concordia on Isaiah 55

The Kingdom of God is like
Sewing a Quilt
Isaiah 55:10-13

† In Jesus’ Name †

May the grace and mercy of God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ sustain us, as we share His word, and look to see what He produces!

A Needed Parker Parable

  • I have a question to start this message off.

How many of you tilled 10 acres of land and planted seed in the last 3 months?

Maybe a follow up – how many of you are going to go harvest an acre of tomato plants?  Jim, do you have a couple of trucks filled with your cucumbers for us all to share in?

SO maybe I need to use a slightly different illustration to help us understand this passage abut the rain washing down the ground and causing the seed that is sown to grow and provide that which is needed.

So a pastor parker poignant parable…. And I will do a play on words, and instead of comparing the Kingdom of God to sowing seed, we will see that the Kingdom of God is like sewing a quilt…

We might not know much about sowing fields, but most of us have seen the incredible quilts that are made with love and care, and receiving one has a lot to do with receiving the blessings of Christ Jesus.

  • The Benefit of what is sown v.11-13

Isaiah writes,

10 The rain and snow come down from the heavens and stay on the ground to water the earth. They cause the grain to grow, producing seed for the farmer and bread for the hungry. 11 It is the same with my word. I send it out, and it always produces fruit. It will accomplish all I want it to, and it will prosper everywhere I send it.

When God sends the rain, or the sower sows seed, or a lady (or maybe a guy) sews together a quilt, and most definitely when the message of Jesus’ love and forgiveness is shared, there is a purpose, and a person/people who are to be blessed by the creation.

The quilt isn’t just made to toss into a closet somewhere; it has the care and work put into it, even if the recipient isn’t well known to the maker.

In the same way, even the rain, and the seed is worked into the purpose of God—to provide, not just what people want, but what they need. It is amazing to me that Isaiah would write this, not knowing fully what God meant by the word, “Word”.

He’s talking, not just about the scriptures, but Jesus, and the work He would do as He was born, taught and healed, died for you, rose with you, and ascended into heaven until he comes back for us.

Going back to the idea of the quilt in the closet, these things are provided because of need. And we need what Jesus would provide.

Freedom from guilt and shame, that’s surely part of it. Healing for the broken part of our lives. Healing for relationships shattered by sin, and the restoration of the most important relationship we have—the relationship with the One who sends the rain, who provides the seed, the bread, and the life. Just as those who receive a quilt find a special connection with the ones who made it.

There is a relationship that is sewn together, just like the panels of the quilt, according to a pattern that was long provided, just as God planned for Christ to come and dwell in us

  • It’s more about the warmth and comfort than just the beauty!

Isaiah described the nature of this plan, with these words,

12  You will live in joy and peace. The mountains and hills will burst into song, and the trees of the field will clap their hands! 13  Where once there were thorns, cypress trees will grow. Where nettles grew, myrtles will sprout up. These events will bring great honor to the LORD’s name; they will be an everlasting sign of his power and love.”

Both at this church, and in Anza, I saw groups make a bunch of quilts. Those crafting them, and even praying for the people who would receive knew the joy of the work, even as, on occasion, things didn’t fit together just the way they wanted.

But there would be even more joy, when I visited the people who received them, and they had them on their laps, or around the shoulders. Even when it was hot in their living room or hospital room, the quilt was there.

You see, quilts are beautiful and they are warm, but that isn’t the reason they are special. It is the comfort they give, knowing someone cared enough to invest their time and energy and probably a decent bit of money, into making one, for you. Or for someone you love.

It is the same thing – the reason Christ means so much to us, is because God the Father invested Jesus’ entire life – from Birth to the cross, to even now, as He intercedes for us at the right hand of the Father,

And He invests the Holy Spirit in us as well.

Remember Isaiah talked about the rain that pours out?  Similar language is used about the Spirit,

5  he saved us, not because of the righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy. He washed away our sins, giving us a new birth and new life through the Holy Spirit. 6  He generously poured out the Spirit upon us through Jesus Christ our Savior. 7  Because of his grace he declared us righteous and gave us confidence that we will inherit eternal life.” Titus 3:5-7 (NLT2)

Or to keep more in line with the parable, 27  And when you were baptized, it was as though you had put on Christ in the same way you put on new clothes. Galatians 3:27 (CEV)

Or wrapped yourself in a quilt, surrounding yourself in the comfort that comes from knowing that since your baptism, you have dwelt righteously in Him.

Amen!

 

The Need for Dark Empty Nights… and their effect on our soul

Thoughts that drive me to Jesus, and to the Cross

I envy those who are dead and gone; they are better off than those who are still alive. Ecclesiastes 4:2 GNT

19  If our hope in Christ is good for this life only and no more, then we deserve more pity than anyone else in all the world.  1 Corinthians 15:19 GNT

753      When you pray, but see nothing, and feel flustered and dry, then the way is this: don’t think of yourself. Instead, turn your eyes to the Passion of Jesus Christ, our Redeemer. Be convinced that he is asking each one of us, as he asked those three more intimate Apostles of his in the Garden of Olives, to “Watch and pray”.

To this you have been invited, now is the time to come, now the supper is ready. Your Lord Jesus Christ is already born, has died and risen again, therefore do not remain away any longer, accept your promised treasure with joy, come to the table, eat and be happy.

I think we need to go through days as Solomon did, at least the kind of days that cause writing so full of darkness and despair.

I hate those days, as I can easily echo Solomon’s jealousy of those who have gotten to pass through this life and are now awaiting Judgment Day in the presence of God. MY mind comes back to the promise of what is waiting for us there – that the glory of God is more than we’ve ever seen, heard, or can imagine. (1 Cor. 2:9) So I long for that day, even as I grieve fro the broken world that surrounds me, and ingrained in me.

St. Josemaria must have had those days as well, for he could not describe the flustered, dry feeling that can occur when praying. WHen words are beyond you, because you don’t know how to pray, and you even wonder whether God is listening! (Or even worse, if he is playing a Jeremiah 20:7/Job idea on us!)

But we have to go through those “dark nights of the soul”, as one writer called them.

St. Josemaria’s advice is clear – look to Jesus, and see His dark night – that He chose to embrace for us. He knows the emptiness, the vanity of it all, for He experienced it – and was able to focus on the joy of rescuing and redeeming you and me! This is what Solomon would eventually remember – this relationship with God, but he had to process the vanity, the hopelessness of life without God, even as we have to remember that emptiness.

TH\hat is why the Apostle Paul reminds us of eternity and that our hope goes far beyond this life, far beyond this life’s dark times. If that was all there was, so go eat and drink into oblivion.  And piuty those who use religion as a outlet for despair. Jesus died and rose so we don’t have to live without hope, but we can have hope ever while we are despairing of life.

This is why Luther, who knew some dark nights and a lot of futility, became so excited when considering the Lord’s Supper, and the feast that it anticipated. To be invited as a guest of honro, to share in Christ Jesus, to know His presence, love, mercy as we take and eat His body, as we drink His blood–knowing it is the price of our relationship being renewed. This is a moment of incredible, overwhelming joy.

Even in the midst of this life… and its brokenness, we enter into that time where all is set aside, but Jesus.

God is inviting you.. so come to church tomorrow, and know the joy of knowing God is with you now… but has something awaiting you that the Apostle Paul describes this way,9 “What God has planned for people who love him is more than eyes have seen or ears have heard. It has never even entered our minds!”” 1 Corinthians 2:9 (CEV)

Come, celebrate with us, or if too far away, find a church that will provide for you the feast of Jesus…

 

 

 

Escrivá, Josemaría. The Forge . Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition.

Martin Luther and John Sander, Devotional Readings from Luther’s Works for Every Day of the Year (Rock Island, IL: Augustana Book Concern, 1915), 252.

 

Who Am I? A sermon on Romans 7:14-8:2

Who Am I?
Romans 7:14-8:2

In Jesus Name

May the love of God our Father and our Lord Jesus Christ help you realize who you are…in Christ.

  • Paul hits hard…

When I read stuff by the Apostle Paul that I don’t like, I remember the words of the Apostle Peter about Paul:

Some of his comments are hard to understand, and those who are ignorant and unstable have twisted his letters to mean something quite different, just as they do with other parts of Scripture. And this will result in their destruction.   2 Peter 3:16 (NLT2)

And I agree, some words of Paul take a lot of thought, something I don’t want to invest.

I will admit, I want to apply those words of Peter’s to some of the clearest words of Paul, like where he says,

Bless those who persecute you. Don’t curse them; pray that God will bless them. Romans 12:14 (NLT2)

Or

Remind the believers to submit to the government and its officers. They should be obedient, always ready to do what is good.   Titus 3:1 (NLT2)

Unfortunately, there is nothing hard to understand about those two passages, and really, there is nothing hard to understand about today’s passage either.

“And I know that nothing good lives in me, that is, in my sinful nature. I want to do what is right, but I can’t. 19 I want to do what is good, but I don’t. I don’t want to do what is wrong, but I do it anyway” Romans 7:18-19

This bothers the heck out of Paul, ever after talking about the glorious truth that we died with Christ, and because, praise God, He is Risen, we are risen indeed. It bothers the heck out of me as well, because it is true, and I understand why Paul felt like a wretch!

Too bad Peter wasn’t right about this!

  • Ergon versus Poieo

It gets even worse when you look at it in Greek.

You see, when Paul is talking about desiring, not just wanting, but to desire to “do” what is right, he uses the word we get “ergonomics” from—simply work that we do, even without thought. Paul wants to do what is right like he breathes—to simply do it.

And he cannot.

But when he talks about doing what he does instead, doing what is wrong, what is contrary to the plan and order of God – he uses a different word—the word we get poetry and poem for—a word that means to artistically craft something, putting effort and imagination into it.

So Paul wants to do what is holy and right automatically, just because of being alive, and he puts a ton of effort into his sin, planning, executing and defending it.

Thank God that none of us are like the Apostle Paul! (let the sarcasm drip like water flowing over Niagara Falls)

Right?

This is where John Newton, when he wrote Amazing Grace, found the line he adapted to describe himself—“that saved a wretch like me!” Here the translators went with “what a miserable person I am,”. How much we suffer, both because of the consequences of our sin, and when we realize we sin and we get down on ourselves, as Paul is doing here. The word picture for this feeling is even darker.

  • Your living conditions!

You see, Paul talks about living with sin, and being a slave to it. The word picture is that sin, makes its home with you. It dwells incredibly close to you. It is that body of death Paul wants to be delivered from…

Back in Paul’s day, you literally had to live with your sin and the consequences of your sin. If Bob killed me, the Emperor could and order me to be tied to Bob for the rest of Bob’s life, or until all my body parts fell off. Imagine Bob inviting you over for steaks, about 3 months after that sentence. Wouldn’t be a pretty sight to see, or to smell!

That is what Paul is talking about, when he asks who will deliver him from the body of death tied to him.

But that is where this principle of life comes in. Let me read the first two verses of Chapter 8 again,

So now there is no condemnation for those who belong to Christ Jesus. And because you belong to him, the power of the life-giving Spirit has freed you from the power of sin that leads to death.

Here is our answer, if God declares you are not condemned, that body of death that is sin cannot be attached to us.

This is the greatest statement about you that has ever been made. It defines you as one of God’s precious children,

That body of death, the sin that you live with, it is gone.

Was it there? Yes

Did it create a war inside your very soul? Yes

Did it cause guilt and shame? Yes

Did it win? No

You have been freed from it, you are welcome in the holy, glorious presence of God because you belong there, for you belong to Jesus, and you find life, not with sin strapped to your back, not with it making its home in your life… but you finding your life is in Jesus.

The reality of our struggle with sin is that we need to realize Jesus killed off the sinful part of us, that He has freed us from the guilt and shame.

In the last two weeks, Bob has pointed us to the altar and the blessing of the sacrament of the Lord’s Supper. I would point us to the third sacrament in Lutheran theology… hearing that the power of sin and death, and the grip it has on you has been shattered in your baptism, and confessing it and hearing you are forgiven, for you dwell in Jesus, bring you to the table of the Lord.

You are free, you are forgiven,

For you dwell in Jesus, because the Spirit has given you life. Not because, as the song said of what you’ve done, but because of who you am, in Christ.  AMEN!

 

 

 


For those interested in the pushishment refered to, here is one citation. There is also a reference in one or Virgil’s poems to the concept for an older source.  It is graphic… but powerful things often are!

Who will rescue me from this body of death?

This is a reference to the Roman method of punishment in which the body of the murdered person was chained to the murderer. The murderer was then released to wander where he might, but no one was allowed to help or comfort him upon penalty of suffering the same punishment. In the hot Eastern sun the dead body would soon begin to decay, overwhelming the sentenced person not only with the smell but also with infection from the rotting flesh. It was perhaps the most horrible of all sentences that the imaginary Romans ever devised. To Paul our putrefying body of sinful flesh is like this, and only Christ can rescue us from it.

James M. Freeman and Harold J. Chadwick, Manners & Customs of the Bible (North Brunswick, NJ: Bridge-Logos Publishers, 1998), 537.

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