Author Archives: justifiedandsinner

The Investment Needed for a Church to Grow…

Thoughts that draw (even drag ) me to Jesus and His cross!

For the LORD is our judge, our lawgiver, and our king.
He will care for us and save us. Isaiah 33:22 NLT

Lord, we’re too selfish, busy doing our own thing. Give us a spirit of love, of unselfishness, of willingness to pay any price for the sake of the gospel. Do it for Jesus’ sake. Amen.

Every Christian, by virtue of the grace of baptism, has the vocation to oneness with the Father through Jesus Christ in the Holy Spirit. Everyone needs some kind of practice in order to accomplish this vocation. Obviously, a rule of life cannot be as detailed for those living in the world as it is for people in a monastery. But everyone has to build his or her own kind of enclosure as far as one’s duties allow, by setting aside a certain amount of time every day for prayer and spiritual reading

I wish we all were the evidence that God answered Tozer’s prayer, that every person in every church would pay any price for the sake of the gospel.

That happens when revival, true revival, occurs. There is no more manipulation or guilt or system that has tremendous results. There is simply not enough time during revival to study what happens and duplicate it!

But revival has a cost.

It costs to develop a heart that does things for Jesus’ sake, and not to “gain” something from Him.

When a person finds themselves made one with God in Christ, that price has been paid, the investment has been made as God marks them with His name – as He takes “possession” of us. He is our judge, lawgiver and king.

THe problem is when people hear those titles; they think of God’s condemnation, and the legalistic tendencies that some church members and pastors, and that God wants to ruin and rule each of our lives. They see that as the “cost” and an extremely high cost at that!

But that is a horrid understanding of what it means for God to be those things for us. We must understand those words, in view of His mission, expressed in the next line-He will care for us and save us!

That happens when we hear Keating’s encouragement to spend time with God. To take the time out to just sit and listen and hear the Spirit tell you of Christ’s love. It is not law to spend that time, we need it! It helps us become the people who love like Jesus, who show mercy like Jesus, 

We need time to be one with God, to dance with Him. To get to know this God who loves us, so that we can truly experience our vocation as being one with Him!

In doing so, we finally begin to understand who we are… the children of God.

…the children God cares for…

And then revival happens, and churches truly grow as people and granted repentance and are transformed in Baptism. (see Ez. 36:25ff)

Lord, help us to desire to spend the time with You we need! 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), 215.

What has meaning in my life? A sermon on Ecclesiastes, 1-2 from Concordia

An Inventory Our Blessings
What Means Something
Ecclesiastes 1:2, 12–14, 2:18–26

 

Jesus, Son, Savior

May the Grace of God our Father and the Lord Jesus demonstrate to you that your life, in Christ, has meaning!

  • A man at the end of his wits!

Solomon, the wisest man in the world’s history, had a severe problem. He is the Teacher of all of Israel, as well as the ruler of that country at its absolute greatest point.

He has riches; he has power; he has a level of wisdom that is beyond anything anyone has ever imagined. The leaders from all over the world come to him for advice.

And He is exhausted, mentally, physically and, most the critical—spiritually.

He is at the ends of his wits, hear His own words from our Old Testament reading:

So I gave up in despair, questioning the value of all my hard work in this world. Ecclesiastes 2:20 New Living Translation

I am not anywhere near Solomon’s intellect, nor do I run a nation. But I’ve known the despair he is discussing. I’ve known it when I was in the administration at Pepperdine. I’ve known it pursuing my Ph.D., and during and after covid, as I look at the church at large, and at Concordia, I’ve known it.

And I’ve been delivered from that despair, time after time.

  • Does Devotion to a cause mean anything?

There are two different issues that cause Solomon to fall into this deep despair.

The first he described in verses 13-14 of chapter 1,

13 I devoted myself to search for understanding and to explore by wisdom everything being done under heaven. I soon discovered that God has dealt a tragic existence to the human race. 14 I observed everything going on under the sun, and really, it is all meaningless—like chasing the wind.

I don’t care how smart someone is, or they think they are, there are limits to a person’s intellect, and to the point of which they can apply that intellect.

We hate that we are limited, but it is what it is. We are now different than Adam and Eve, wanting to know it all, and why!

When we let that frustrate us, when we let pride mix with curiosity, it drives us to know as much as God knows, rather than trusting Him.

The effect when it becomes an issue of pride is devastating, for it is sinful, a lack of trust in God. And when we declare it is not worth it, when we declare it meaningless, we dive into despair!

  • Does Hard Work mean anything?

The second issue Solomon has is with his hard work. He hated it, for He could not see a long-range benefit. He wrote,

18 I came to hate all my hard work here on earth, for I must leave to others everything I have earned. 19 And who can tell whether my successors will be wise or foolish? Yet they will control everything I have gained by my skill and hard work under the sun. How meaningless! Ecclesiastes 2:18-19

Have you ever felt like that?

It is as if Solomon knew his heir would shatter the Kingdom by listening to foolish advisors! That is exactly what happened!

Solomon’s son would shatter the promise given to Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and Judah. That those actions would lead to captivity.

Something you worked hard on, invested your life in, wanted to see come to fruition, only to realize that you won’t be able to make it continue after you are gone…

That insight can cause great despair, and as often as Solomon says life is meaningless, he complains about the difficulty of the job even more than He complains about how meaningless it all is!

And there are days like that—maybe it isn’t because you are about to retire, or move on, maybe it is that things at work, or at home aren’t working the way you thought they would, and you wonder if anything will ever change…

And it doesn’t.

Without God’s presence, everything we do, everything we think and ponder, is meaningless. With Solomon, we move from despair to hating where we are in life.

For our attempts to understand leave us without knowing what matters, and our work only makes a difference for a moment, if that.

  • Recognize What God is doing and will do!

Two weeks ago, we heard the gospel story about Martha and Mary, and that Mary was drawn to listen to Jesus, and it was good, what had meaning.

Martha was moving towards Solomon’s despair. Whereas Mary was content, receiving the grace that Jesus poured out with every word.

Solomon comes to that conclusion in verses 24 and 25.

24 So I decided there is nothing better than to enjoy food and drink and to find satisfaction in work. Then I realized that these pleasures are from the hand of God. 25 For who can eat or enjoy anything apart from him?”  Ecclesiastes 2:24-25

He figured it out!

You can’t enjoy anything apart from God.

You cannot find joy or meaning In life, without Christ in your life!

This means that the answer to finding life’s meaning, and joy in that life is revealed

14  So the Word became human and made his home among us. He was full of unfailing love and faithfulness. And we have seen his glory, the glory of the Father’s one and only Son. John 1:14 (NLT2)

In that same way, Jesus promises this at the end of Matthew’s gospel. I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” Matthew 28:20 (NLT2)

Jesus came and lived and died and rose for one purpose, to live with us, both now and for eternity!

As we sit in His presence, he gives our minds something to think, to dwell on that means something—we are loved.

We are cared for…

Jesus does so much for us! From cleansing us of sin and its companions of guilt and shame. That includes our times where we forget to trust Him and enter seasons of despair. Or when our pride crashes our lives spectacularly. God cleans us up.

But that is only the beginning.

God makes every part of our lives holy. That means He sets it all aside for a purpose. He gives it meaning. And that meaning is the key—to walk with Him.

That is when our thoughts have meaning, because God is involved in them with us, sharing the moments, sharing the time.

HE makes it all happen; He gives us all the meaning and the joy that goes with it.

That is what the Christian faith is all about, helping us realize what God has done to become an intimate part of our life.

For that makes our life have all the meaning there is in our lives.

And then that life has meaning and incredible joy, and a peace that passes all understanding, even as Jesus guards our hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. AMEN!

Why is Spiritual Growth such a Long Ordeal?

Thoughts that drag me close to Jesus

Three different times, I begged the Lord to take it away. 9 Each time he said, “My grace is all you need. My power works best in weakness.” So now I am glad to boast about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ can work through me. 10 That’s why I take pleasure in my weaknesses, and in the insults, hardships, persecutions, and troubles that I suffer for Christ. For when I am weak, then I am strong. 2 Co 12:8–10.  NLT

When the doctor’s (Luther) wife exclaimed, “How can people be so wicked and defile themselves with such sin!” the doctor said, “Ah, dear Katy, people don’t pray,” and then he added, “I think if God had commanded women to take on every man who happened along and in like manner commanded men to take every woman who came by—in short, if things were the opposite of what they are—people would earnestly have sighed for the institution of marriage.

Our lofty idealism would argue that all Christians should be perfect, but a blunt realism forces us to admit that perfection is rare even among the saints. The part of wisdom is to accept our Christian brothers and sisters for what they are rather than for what they should be.…

The Gift of Understanding reveals what is hidden in the major truths of Christian doctrine. The Gift of Understanding perfects, deepens, and illumines faith as to the meaning of revealed truth, adding new depths to the mystery to which we consent. For instance, it could be some aspect of the Holy Trinity or the greatness of God. It could be the presence of Jesus Christ in the Eucharist. It could be the infinite mercy of God in the Sacrament of Reconciliation. In other words, it is not merely the affirmation of something we believe and assent to. A characteristic of the Gift of Understanding is that it provides a kind of living experience of the mystery.

Luther’s wife and Tozer would have gotten along well! Both of them could voice their frustration with people who don’t mature in Christ, who still struggle, and sometimes embrace the sin that defiles them. Tozer had to remind himself and the church that Christians aren’t perfect, not even the holiest of us.

This doesn’t mean that we use some trite phrase to excuse the sin and unrighteousness that we should have set aside! “Christians aren’t perfect, just forgiven,” is one of them, which seems to allow for Christians to have the freedom to go and sin some more!

Nor do I think we should use what Luther jokes about, a kind of reverse psychology/spirituality that encourages people to feast on their sins till they make them sick to their souls. That didn’t work when my dad tried to teach me the evils of drinking, it won’t work with sin either. Luther’s point is that it wasn’t the sin, it was that whatever is labelled good – whatever is encouraged, our sinful nature will rebel against it!

For me, the frustration of this is one of my weakest points. I am not the most patient person, and I hate seeing myself or others endure the consequences of our own sin and sin nature. TO watch this over and over, to watch people make bad choices for themselves over and over, leaves me dry, worn out, burnet out.

Oddly enough, that is when God works the best.

That is when those blessed sacramental, incarnational moments occur.

It is when people begin to live in the mysteries, especially the sacramental ones, where they experience the love and acceptance of God so profoundly that they (and their pastor/friend) are in awe, and lose the ability to talk.

Those are the moments when we realize how sufficient, how effective, how precious the grace of God is.

I only wish I could say with Paul that I always treasure my weakness, that when I experience them I know something astonishing is about to take place. I wish I could say that, and it is a lesson that is being taught to me, over and over and over…

And Jesus never fails to amaze me, as those moments that impact others come out of moments of my most profound ineptness, weakness, and sense of failure. In those moments, when God’s grace is so manifest – the spiritual growth is amazing as its lack was disturbing.

He is here! He is God! He is guiding and caring for us!

and in that, I can rejoice, and find rest, and praise Him.

I pray the same for you! And then I will rejoice in what God is doing in our lives. That is our moments of weakness, and in our moments of frustration with other’s weakness, we can remember God is at work… and He is creating masterpieces of our lives.

 

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), 415.

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), 209.

Not WWJD?, rather WDJD!?!!!

Thoughts that draw me closer to Jesus:

15  As for me, I will see Your face in righteousness; I shall be satisfied when I awake in Your likeness. Psalm 17:15 (NKJV)

18  All of us, then, reflect the glory of the Lord with uncovered faces; and that same glory, coming from the Lord, who is the Spirit, transforms us into his likeness in an ever greater degree of glory. 2 Corinthians 3:18 (TEV)

Against both of these errors we believe, teach, and confess unanimously that Christ is our righteousness neither according to his divine nature alone nor according to his human nature alone. On the contrary, the whole Christ, according to both natures, is our righteousness, solely in his obedience that he rendered his Father as both God and a human being, an obedience unto death.

Then there are the men who are good but not great, and we may thank God that there are so many of them, being grateful not that they failed to achieve greatness but that by the grace of God they managed to acquire plain goodness.…
Every pastor knows this kind—the plain people who have nothing to recommend them but their deep devotion to their Lord and the fruit of the Spirit which they all unconsciously display. Without these the churches as we know them in city, town and country could not carry on. These are the first to come forward when there is work to be done and the last to go home when there is prayer to be made. They are not known beyond the borders of their own parish because there is nothing dramatic in faithfulness or newsworthy in goodness, but their presence is a benediction wherever they go.

Yesterday was one of those days I am glad I am a pastor. Not because of anything I did, but simply because I saw everyday people ministering to others as Jesus would have done. 5 different situations, 4 of them in my church, and one of them in a church I am trying to help, showed me the kind of people that Tozer’s quote describes.

People in ordinary walks of life, who blessed others, and thought nothing of it. Their deep trust in God resulted in a “unconscious display” of the Holy Spirit’s work! THere wasn’t 1000 conversions, or a hospital filled with people who were healed. A young couple were helped with some challenges, a handicapped lady found peace during a medical procedure, a young man was encouraged in his preparation for seminary, an church elder asked for help in caring for their pastor, I see it in a daughter, who honors her mom by caring for her in ways beyond description, and a grandmother, energized and active in her two grandchildren’s lives. There are more stories, none of them “heroic” yet all of them living a life that is being transformed by the Holy Spirit as they look to Christ, as they depend on His work in declaring them righteous and holy. They are my version of Hebrews 11, the group we can talk about by saying, “by faith they….”

This is what it means for Jesus to be fully God and fully man, He has the ability to connect the sacred and the secular, the holy and profane, so that there can be this kind of change. He makes us righteous, He makes us Holy, He works through us!

These people are the church, they don’t ask “What Would Jesus Do?” but are evidence of “What did Jesus do!” His ministry thorough them is obvious, because of what God is doing in them.

It is a wonder to behold, and therefore, I rejoice.

I need more days like yesterday… or maybe, I just need to open my eyes more

God is work in wondrously common ways, through people who simply trust in Him. I pray I see His work in and through you, as you see His work all around you!

Article 3: The Epitome of the Formula of Concord; 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), 495.

A. W. Tozer, Tozer for the Christian Leader (Chicago: Moody Publishers, 2015). 7/27/2022

Why Did the Church Give Up Its Battle Against Sin?

Thoughts to draw us closer to Jesus on the cross

For sin is the sting that results in death, and the law gives sin its power. 57 But thank God! He gives us victory over sin and death through our Lord Jesus Christ.  1 Cor 15:56-57 NLT

The man who does not prefer the evil of death to the evil of sin loves God his Father but little. God has ordained that this evil be brought to an end by death, and that death be the minister of life and righteousness.

The voice of unbelief says, “Yes, I’m a believer. I believe the Bible. I don’t like those modernists, liberals and modern scientists who deny the Bible. I would not do that for the world. I believe in God, and I believe that God will bless.” That is, He will bless at some other time, in some other place and some other people. Those are three sleepers that bring the work of God to a halt. We are believers and we can quote the creed with approval. We believe it, but we believe that God will bless some other people, some other place, some other time—but not now, not here and not us.…
If we allow the gloomy voice of unbelief to whisper to us that God will bless some other time but not now, some other place but not here, some other people but not us, we might as well turn off the lights because nobody will get anywhere.…

Some may look at the title of the blog and expect I will try and condemn all the sinners out there.

It is to you that I write this, wondering why you have given up the true battle against sin. The battle that was won at the cross, where every peson created

Especially those who commit “those” sins, the ones that we bash because they aren’t our sins.

Sin is sin, and it has the power of the covenant law behind it, and all who sin are accursed. Every single one of us deserves condemnation.

Which is why Luther would prefer to deal with death that sin. At least death is temporary!

Because of Christ, the evils of death and dying are temporary.  There is something that is free of sin on the other side, and it frees us from the guilt and shame on this side, too.

For the conservative – that is our only victory against those who deny scripture. Our victories aren’t won by arguing against them, winning battles of logic, or at least engaging in it. Those aren’t victories. They are all losses, because of souls that walk away not knowing the mercy of God, and not seeing it in action.

I think we have taken the attitude that Tozer describes, it isn’t time for revival, or it is happening over there in Africa, and over there in South America. We’ve believed the lie that we are in a post-Church culture, and that we cannot win the battle against evil. And so we turn off the lights, or at least encourage others to turn off the lights, and give to those places who might have a chance.

To fight this, the church has to recover the vision of Christ, who came into a world that was totally in darkness… 400 years without a prophet. An empty temple, and only the illusion of being the people of God. It is time, in every era, it is the place, for God would redeem us all, and this gospel is for you and your household, your extreme legalist neighbors and the liberal progressive ones as well.

It is not time to shot out the lights. It is the time to reflect the light of Christ, which will shatter the darkness…

It is time to rescue people from the curse of sin.

It is the time to see the Spirit poured out here and now.

It is time..

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), 130.

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

The Myth of Self-Control (and the life hack we need!)

Thoughts that draw me closer to Jesus:

Remember me, LORD, when you show favor to your people; come near and rescue me.
5 Let me share in the prosperity of your chosen ones. Let me rejoice in the joy of your people;
let me praise you with those who are your heritage. Psalm 106:4-5 NLT

The ninth Fruit of the Spirit is Self-control. Self-control as a fruit of the Spirit is not the domination of our will over our emotions. It is rather our awareness of God’s abiding presence and is the result of the infusion of God’s steadfast love. Hence our former compulsive reaching out for security, affection and esteem, power and status symbols ceases.

The others, however, who are not so callous and dissolute but would like to be good, should not absent themselves (from the Eucharist), even though in other respects they are weak and frail. As St. Hilary has also said, “Unless a person has committed such a sin that he has to be expelled from the congregation and has forfeited the name of Christian, he should not exclude himself from the sacrament,” lest he deprive himself of life.

Keating’s words are powerful, for they recognize the truth.

If self control is a matter of will-power, I might as well give up now.  There are too many points where self control is overwhelmed. The desires we have will eventually break us down and overwhelm us. Hunger and Lust are two examples – if we feed them to often, or not enough, they will dominate us, wanting to be fed, or fed more. Other desires include a need for recognition, a need to be valued. That is where security comes from – the position of having meaning, knowing we are needed in a place, by those around us.

Simply put, if we are needed, our place in life is secure.

The problem is when we feel we aren’t needed, then all our desires run rampant, and we become open to addictions of every sort.

Keating makes self-control focus not on man’s will-power, but the infusion and enlightment that comes as the Spirit inswells in us. No longer do we need to be needed, for we know God has a place for us. We no longer need to be valued by the world, because again – He shows us our value as He sends Jesus to the cross, and to the altar. THe more aware of HIs presence in our lives, the less we are needy for others to recognize us.

Hence the Psalm’s cry, for God to come nearer, for God to include us. It is a cry for that security, that recognition, for the need to be valued.

Luther nails it as well, in describing who should come to the Lord’s Supper. It is the life-hack for those who are empty, broken, feeling worthless, and therefore are out of control. There reconciliation and rehabilitation happen, as God lovingly pours peace into our lives. That is why Luther welcomes believers who are struggling. In fact, he encourages them, reminding them they are the reason the feast exists.  He quotes Hilary saying this is where we find life!  Even as our life began anew when we were baptized, so we find renewal as the Father gives us Christ’s body and blood.

This is who we are, this is our security, that God Himself has paid the highest cost to make us HIs own people, and brings this reminder to us as often as we are drawn to HIs altar. This is where healing happens, and reconciliation, and where peace is poured out – because we are valued by God. It is where we know best the presence of God, the presence that floods through us and helps us realize – nothing comes close to feeding us like this.

Lord, help us to find our life in You, as we receive Your body and Blood frequently. And may our desire for these moments grow, and overwhelm all other desires as You provide for all our needs. 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), 195.

Martin Luther, “The Large Catechism: The Sacrament of the Altar”, 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), 473.

Revival IS Coming… but what until then?

Thoughts which draw me closer to Jesus… and closer to the cross

 “Now, O LORD my God, you have made me king instead of my father, David, but I am like a little child who doesn’t know his way around. 8  And here I am in the midst of your own chosen people, a nation so great and numerous they cannot be counted! 9  Give me an understanding heart so that I can govern your people well and know the difference between right and wrong. For who by himself is able to govern this great people of yours?” 10  The Lord was pleased that Solomon had asked for wisdom. 11  So God replied, “Because you have asked for wisdom in governing my people with justice and have not asked for a long life or wealth or the death of your enemies— 12  I will give you what you asked for! I will give you a wise and understanding heart such as no one else has had or ever will have! 13  And I will also give you what you did not ask for—riches and fame! No other king in all the world will be compared to you for the rest of your life! 14  And if you follow me and obey my decrees and my commands as your father, David, did, I will give you a long life.” 1 Kings 3:7-14 (NLT2)

As I say, I have been sitting on these boards for many years, and there are always two kinds of board members: those who can see the miracle and those who can only see their calculators and their strings of calculations.…
The people with the calculators have seen the problem, but they have not seen God. They have figured things out, but they have not figured God in.

Then somebody said, “Yet Paul seems to distinguish, Doctor, when he declares, ‘Man believes with his heart and so is justified, and he confesses with his lips and so is saved’ [Rom. 10:10].”
The doctor replied, “Here confession means perseverance, for St. Paul means to say, ‘Faith must express itself and be confessed, and one must abide in it, otherwise faith disappears again.

The eighth Fruit of the Spirit is Long-suffering (patience). Long-suffering is certitude in God’s unwavering fidelity to his promises. Our security is no longer based on anything we might possess or accomplish, but rather on our conviction of God’s unfailing protection and readiness to forgive.

As we wait for the coming revival, there are many things that challenge God’s people.

Enrollment at many seminaries is dwindling, Christian colleges and universities are struggling as well to recruit many more who they can HELP prepare for ministry.

Many mid size churches, in decline prior to  COVD (and in denial about that) are not rebounding after COVID. Smaller churches are struggling, and are often told to give up. (It may be phrased in more noble words, but the message is still the same)

People are dealing with more trauma, more polarization, and being put under great pressure to compromise and approve of sin. This is not new, but where it was “Don’t ask, don’t tell” I have had people tell me it is no longer “right” to even think this way. Or if I do, I recognize the consequence, that my thoughts mean I cannot be their friend anymore.

Tozer’s accountants have taken over. The context is Phillip’s comments about the cost of feeing the crowds that had gathered to hear Jesus speak. He saw the problem; he saw the cost. He overlooked that God was there…with him. Feeding the 5000 wasn’t the primary mission of Christ, but it was part of the journey.

Dealing with our day to day needs must be done, and sometimes it seems about as hopeless as feeding 15000 people with a few hamburger buns and two filet of fish patties.

That brings me back to the dilemma. DO we live by the calculator, or do we persevere–depending on the providence of God.  Do we confess with Luther that God redeems and restores, even that damaged by sin, or do we give up, and walk away? Do we walk with Keating as well, who also brings into play God’s redeeming action destroying sin.

We must continue to trust God, we must continue to treasure the gifts of love poured out through His words and sacraments. We have to pray for the simple wisdom of Solomon, rather than pray for the earthly victories we think we must have.

For God will take care of the lesser tings. Miracles will happen, people will see their lives transformed, ours will be transformed as we walk with Jesus, as we depend on Him. It is from that kind of faith. Solomon wanted something more, something that calculators couldn’t measure, but his people would be able to see affected them more than money. Revival doesn’t happen because planners and accountants see it is time. It happens because people depend on God and look for His appearing.

That is what we need now, a confidence in God that spawns wisdom, that tells us when to put the calculators away, that rejoices in the amazing things God is doing, for He loves us.

Lord Jesus, help us to be aware of Your presence and providence, and may that awareness cause our faith to deepen until we see revival break forth, and people return to you. AMEN!

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

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), 402.

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), 194.

What Do I Want To Be When I Grow Up?

Thoughts that draw me closer to Jesus- and I pray it causes you to draw close as well!
20  No, don’t say that. Who are you, a mere human being, to argue with God? Should the thing that was created say to the one who created it, “Why have you made me like this?” 21  When a potter makes jars out of clay, doesn’t he have a right to use the same lump of clay to make one jar for decoration and another to throw garbage into? Romans 9:20-21 (NLT2)

590 Don’t forget that you are just a trash can. So if by any chance the divine gardener should lay his hands on you, and scrub and clean you, and fill you with magnificent flowers, neither the scent nor the colors that beautify your ugliness should make you proud. Humble yourself: don’t you know that you are a trash can?

Hence it is easy to answer all kinds of questions that now trouble people—for example, whether even a wicked priest can administer the sacrament, and similar questions. [16] Our conclusion is: Even though a scoundrel receives or administers the sacrament, it is the true sacrament (that is, Christ’s body and blood), just as truly as when one uses it most worthily. For it is not founded on human holiness but on the Word of God.

I remember being asked what I wanted to be when I grow up by a family friend, a priest by the name of Fr. Alex.

My answer to him is actually what I do, and where I find my joy. I get to put into the hands of people the precious body of Christ, broken that they would be made whole, healed of their brokenness.

But there are two parts of that I wonder about.

The first is whether I will do something different when I grow up. There is a part of me that thinks this is temporary, that at some point, i will need to get an actual job! That someday I will need to decide what I want to be when I grow up.

The second thing is more serious, and that is that I don’t deserve the incredible blessing of being the waiter at this feast. That who I am should disqualify me from such an important task as connecting people to God. I resemble St Josemaria’s trashcan, and I know it.

And I wonder why God doesn’t find someone holier, more charismatic, more right for such a precious position. I am tempted to look around, and realize that all pastors and priests wander around with similar thoughts.. In my more sane moments, I know that all pastors and priests should feel that way, but when I am down, I don’t see that.

Two things keep me going. The first is the thought from the Lutheran Confessions. That even if I were the most broken, unholy, sin-filled person on earth, the Lord’s Supper is still the Eucharist, and people still commune with God. The promises He makes to HIs people are not diminished by the staff being perfect.

The second thing is more important – God put me here – for people/ He is the Potter who made me what the person that He placed in this position. His decision, His call, His equipping, and His responsibility. He is the one who cleaned up the trash can and put something beautiful in it.

Which is where you come in….

The bread that is the Body of Christ in my hand it is there for you.

Those words in my sermon, they are there to be heard—so that you will know Jesus, and experience HIs love.

Those words, when I say, “you are forgiven” are there, and I know them well, for I am forgiven as well.

There is another lesson for here as well. IF God can do this with me, He will certainly do amazing things in your life, to bless others.  You may struggle with that thought – but God will make it happen. Just walk through life, knowing you are loved.

Escriva, Josemaria. The Way . Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition.

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), 468.

Inventory of Blessings: Presence – A sermon based on Psalm 41

Inventory of Blessings
Presence!
Psalm 41

Jesus, Son, Savior

May the grace of God our Father, and our Lord Jesus Christ keep you aware of the Spirit’s comforting, cleansing, empowering and guiding presence in your life!

Inventory Management Systems

Thirty-five years ago, I was the night shift manager at McDonalds. There was a lesson I learned there. A lesson I think we need to learn regarding our relationship with God.

And that lesson is the backbone of this sermon series, which I’ve titled “Inventory of Blessings”

We have to keep track of our assets. We have to know what we have to work with each day. At McDonalds, it was burger patties, bread, French fries and all the stuff that went with them. If you didn’t take inventory, you could have too much on hand, and it could go bad and cost the company money. If you don’t know you need to restock, and you run out of French fries—you lose not only sales—you lose your customer base.

While we can never have too many or too few blessings from God, we need to take inventory of them often, so we know what we have to depend on as we go through life. This is far more important than having enough burgers or filet-o-fish in the freezer!

We see King David doing such an inventory in Psalm 41 this morning. And it wasn’t as easy—but that is a good lesson for us to live as well.

  • Look how great God Is!

He starts out well in verse 1, taking inventory of God’s work!

The Lord gives joy to those who help the poor
The Lord rescues those in trouble
The Lord protects them and keeps them alive.
The Lord gives removes all obstacles. (gives them prosperity)
The Lord rescues them from enemies
The Lord Nurses them when they are sick and restores them to health!

Wow—look at all the things David saw God doing for others! What an amazing thing it is, to see God at work in the lives of people around you! To see the God whose given His name (which we replace with Lord) as how His people are to know Him, at work in the lives of people, is a truly amazing thing.

What an amazing thing to know God in this way!

The more he considers, the closer he gets to praying a prayer that God desires to answer.

4  “O LORD,” I prayed, “have mercy on me. Heal me, for I have sinned against you.”

David reaches out and confesses his sin…he’s taken a huge step, trusting God to heal him of the damage sin causes. David entrusts his very life, and all its brokenness to God…

And at that moment… all hell breaks loose.

  • Wait—my confession wasn’t supposed to be used against me!

David goes right from pleading for forgiveness to overwhelming paranoia.

But my enemies say nothing but evil about me. “How soon will he die and be forgotten?” they ask. 6  They visit me as if they were my friends, but all the while they gather gossip, and when they leave, they spread it everywhere. 7  All who hate me whisper about me, imagining the worst. 8  “He has some fatal disease,” they say. “He will never get out of that bed!” 9  Even my best friend, the one I trusted completely, the one who shared my food, has turned against me.

One problem that happens when we are entrusting our lives, including sin, to God, is demonic interference.

Satan and his demon horde would do anything to stop us from realizing how present and compassionate God our Father is! There are many games that can be played! One of the greatest is to get us to look at how the world condemns us for the sin that we just confessed!

David thinks, “How people would gossip about me!” They would meet out in the parking lot, or at the coffee shop and mock me. I can hear the exaggerations now!

It is not beyond reason to picture shame and guilt as demons, fighting to keep their claws hooked in our heart and soul, trying to convince us that the world hates us, not because of who we are, but because of what we thought, what we said, what we did.

Everything we saw God doing disappears in this fight!

Sometimes, that paranoia is right on!

That little line about those who are closest, those who eat with you, betraying you, is something most of us know, and deal with, as the deep wounds caused by loved ones turning against us…

Even Jesus felt those wounds, as all 12 of the apostles abandoned him at the cross. Two of the closest, Peter and Judas, abandoned him as clearly as King Saul and David’s son, Absalom, betrayed David.

And in the middle of dealing with all this, we sin again, having taken our eyes off of God. forgotten that we had cried out, and we miss His answer…

  • It doesn’t matter He is here!

This is when we need to take inventory of God’s blessings the most.

That is when we need someone to say something we respond to with, “and also with you!”

We need to take inventory and remember our great asset is the presence of God Almighty in our lives. The God who brings us peace and comfort, whose presence gladdens our heart, who cares and protects us so well that we can sleep the night in true peace…

He is here!!

Remember all the things David saw do for others? He again asks God for mercy, and then they all come true for David.

Here how the psalm declares these praises:

10  LORD, have mercy on me. Make me well again, so I can pay them back! 11  I know you are pleased with me, for you have not let my enemies triumph over me. 12  You have preserved my life because I am innocent; you have brought me into your presence forever. 13  Praise the LORD, the God of Israel, who lives from everlasting to everlasting. Amen and amen!

David gets back to business. He cries out for God’s mercy and healing!

Look at verse 12 one more time: “12  You have preserved my life because I am innocent; you have brought me into your presence forever.”

David said this, and we can and should say it as well,

God, You have preserved my life because I am innocent; you have brought me into your presence forever.

That is the work of Jesus at the cross… because of His death, where our sin was nailed to the cross, we have entered, not will enter, have entered the presence of God—where we will dwell forever!
1  Since you have been raised to new life with Christ, set your sights on the realities of heaven, where Christ sits in the place of honor at God’s right hand. 2  Think about the things of heaven, not the things of earth. 3  For you died to this life, and your real life is hidden with Christ in God. 4  And when Christ, who is your life, is revealed to the whole world, you will share in all his glory. Colossians 3:1-4 (NLT2)

That is the day we are looking for, this day when our life in Christ is revealed to the whole world. When we see God, in whose presence we dwell….

Until then—take inventory often, realizing that you already dwell in His presence. He has cleansed you of sin, comforted and healed you! For this He has promised you…and promised you can help others realize these blessings… and praise God with them.

For you dwell in His presence and know His peace! AMEN!

 

How to Endure Beyond the Ups and Downs of Life…

Thoughts which draw me closer to the cross of Christ…

Search for the LORD and for his strength; continually seek him. 5 Remember the wonders he has performed,  his miracles, and the rulings he has given,  Psalm 105:4-5

The third Fruit of the Spirit is Peace. Peace is the pervasive sense of contentment that comes from being rooted in God while being fully aware of one’s own nothingness. It is a state that endures beyond the ups and downs of life, beyond the emotions of joy and sorrow. At the deepest level one knows that all is well, that everything is just right despite all appearances to the contrary. At all times one can pray with Jesus, “Father, into your hands I commend my spirit” (Luke 23:46)

To this I reply that what they provide is not fellowship at all, and if that is the best thing the church has to offer to hold the people together it is not a Christian church in the New Testament meaning of that word. The center of attraction in a true church is the Lord Jesus Christ

There is a word that scares me. Perhaps haunts me is better.

Endure.

I have endured a bit in life. More than some, less than others. I have sat with those enduring far more, crying and laughing with them as I try to reveal to them the only thing that enables me to endure.

And even though I have endured what I endure, I hate the word with a passion. I wish what it describes would never have become issues in life. I hate the brokenness, physical, emotional, and spiritual that exists in life. I hate seeing families torn apart, workplaces divided and friends become enemies. Nature wreaks havoc, sin causes even more, and the fight or flee reactions from both causes more tragedy and trauma, which we have to endure.

And yet, I endure. Even more encouraging, I have helped people endure.

The only way is through the peace that is a comes as the Holy Spirit dwells in us, the peace that Tozer so precisely describes. One that doesn’t depend on what is going on in our lives – whether they are at the pinnacle of the mountain top or rushing towards rock bottom. (I think it is worse heading for rock bottom than being there!) A peace that is there despite all appearances to the contrary.  One that comes when we realize our prayer for God to handle all our lives, was answered before we even prayed it…

Indeed, it was how we are able to pray it.

We depend on Him.

That is why Tozer says that church isn’t just about the “fellowship” of people with the same thoughts and beliefs.

It is about Jesus, and centered on Him, drawn there by the Spirit. We know that peace, and we begin to even expect it to be there, when we don’t see or feel it. Enough so that we look for Him constantly, for He is our hope, our deliverance, our life.

Knowing that, that no matter how blind we are to His presence, He is working on revealing Himself.

And how we will praise Him, as we see this happen!

 

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), 189.

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

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