Category Archives: Devotional Reading
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.
Thoughts which drive me to Jesus, and to the Cross
So then, my brothers and sisters, because of God’s great mercy to us I appeal to you: offer yourselves as a living sacrifice to God, dedicated to his service and pleasing to him. This is the true worship that you should offer. 2Do not conform yourselves to the standards of this world, but let God transform you inwardly by a complete change of your mind. Then you will be able to know the will of God—what is good and is pleasing to him and is perfect. Romans 12:1-2 GNT
Those who have been cast down in terror should not despair, or flee before God, but rise again and be comforted in God. God wishes to have it preached and published that he never lays his hand upon us in order that we may perish and be damned. But he must pursue this course to lead us to repentance, else we would never inquire about his Word and will. If we seek his grace, he is ready to help us up again, to grant us forgiveness of sins, the Holy Spirit and eternal life.
Oh, if we would only stop trying to make the Holy Spirit our servant and begin to live in His life as the fish lives in the sea, we would enter into the riches of glory about which we know nothing now. Too many of us want the Holy Spirit in order to have some gift—healing or tongues or preaching or prophecy.
Yes, these have their place in that total pattern of the New Testament, but let us never pray that we may be filled with the Spirit for a secondary purpose!
Remember, God wants to fill you with His Spirit as an end in your moral life. God’s purpose is that we should know Him first of all, and be lost in Him; and that we should enter into the fullness of the Spirit that the eternal Son, Jesus Christ, may be glorified in us!
In WEB Griffin’s masterpiece about the US Army, and officer responds to a question about a combat decision with, “I regret it was necessary”. The phrase always stuck in my mind. I can’t even remember when Captain Parker (that name stuck in my mind) said it, or in which book it was said.
It came to mind while reading Luther’s quote this morning, as I think God thinks something like that every time He has to discipline us, whether individually, as a community, as the world. Does God enjoy it? Never! Even for the wicked who die in bondage to their sin God weeps over. Its not His plan, and He works through His people, through the word and sacraments they share, to constantly to lift up those who realize how broken they are.
This is what St. Paul is describing to the church in Rome, encouraging people to stop fighting God, to simply let Him transform them into the image of Christ – as He planned. This will be uncomfortable at times, it will be disappointing at other times, but you cannot reshape and repurpose something without some changes being made. Embrace those changes!
The changes are necessary, completely necessary–even if we regret that they are needed.
That is where Tozer’s quote comes in, as too often people come to God with their own agendas. In this case it is referring to charismatics, but it is applicable to all who claim to follow God. It isn’t about the gifts, the theology, the worship style, about our pleasure (because we are living sacrifices) it is completely about being lost in Christ, having the Holy Spirit envelop us, knowing God in all His glory.
That is what this religion called Christianity is all about – nothing less than this…
The Lord is with you!
Martin Luther and John Sander, Devotional Readings from Luther’s Works for Every Day of the Year (Rock Island, IL:
A. W. Tozer and Gerald B. Smith, Mornings with Tozer: Daily Devotional Readings (Chicago: Moody Publishers, 2008). Augustana Book Concern, 1915), 229–230.
20 You have nothing to do with corrupt judges, who make injustice legal, 21 who plot against good people and sentence the innocent to death. Ps 94:20-21 GNT
Yet popular Christianity has as one of its most effective talking points the idea that God exists to help people to get ahead in this world! The God of the poor has become the God of an affluent society. We hear that Christ no longer refuses to be a judge or a divider between money-hungry brothers. He can now be persuaded to assist the brother that has accepted Him to get the better of the brother who has not!
Too often, individuals and organizations look to get the best deal. How can their actions benefit themselves, or the group that they owe allegiance too. Even within orgranizations, there is competition between divisions and departments. It exists in churches and denominations as well. We want ours to get what it needs, even at the cost of others. Even if it means they shut down.
There is a name for this in scripture,
We can justify it all we want, but covetousness is contagious. It starts out small, like the man who tells the pastor that he doesn’t care what happens to the church – as long as it is their to do his and his wife’s funerals. There is little care for the people around him. It then extends out to churches and denominationals that see other churches as places to prey on – and so welcome and recruit people from other churches, offering them “more” of this, and ‘more” of that–to meet their perceived needs. It can go on, to people pushing agendas that prey on needed ministries to fund those agendas.
THis isn’t new, Tozer’s words acknowledge it 30 years ago.
You see it in the scriptures as well, as people go against the work of Ezra and Nehemiah, as the Kinsman passes his right to Boaz (who gets to slap him in the face with a sandle!) so his son gets the full inheritance. In the apostles who are jealous of others ministering in Jesus’ name.
Here is the option.
The word cHesed in Hebrew, often translated as love, loving-kindness, has the sense of loving loyalty. It is the word used in conjunction with a covenant, to express the attitude that one should do everything in their power, not only to keep their end of the covenant, but to help the other party keep their end of it.
Even if it means death.
This is what compelled Jesus to die on the cross, the promise ot help mankind receive all the promises made to Adam, and to Abraham, and the promises given to all naitons through Moses.
This is the heart of the matter in Luther’s understanding of the 7th commandment as well. In explaining it to dads, so they can explain it to their children, Luther wrote, “but help him to improve and protect his income and property.”
To do otherwise is to disobey God by stealing from one’s neighbor.
But when we do help them, when we invest in them, when we strive on thier behalf, we see God at work in them and we see God’s blessings upon them, and we get to share in their joy.
Is such easy? no!
Is such perhaps met with suspicion and reluctance? yeah… because of past history.
Is it worth it? Was it worth it to Christ.
Our being in Covenant with God means we are in covenant with all of mankind, and so cHesed – this loyalty/love/kindness compels us to these kinds of actions. May we welcome such compulsion, and turn our back on coveting that which God gave to someone else.
A. W. Tozer and Gerald B. Smith, Mornings with Tozer: Daily Devotional Readings (Chicago: Moody Publishers, 2008).
Martin Luther, “The Small Catechism: The Ten Commandments”, Theodore G. Tappert, ed., The Book of Concord the Confessions of the Evangelical Lutheran Church. (Philadelphia: Mühlenberg Press, 1959), 343.
10 One Sabbath Jesus was teaching in a synagogue. 11 A woman there had an evil spirit that had made her ill for eighteen years; she was bent over and could not straighten up at all. 12 When Jesus saw her, he called out to her, “Woman, you are free from your illness!” 13 He placed his hands on her, and at once she straightened herself up and praised God.
14 *The official of the synagogue was angry that Jesus had healed on the Sabbath, so he spoke up and said to the people, “There are six days in which we should work; so come during those days and be healed, but not on the Sabbath!”
15 The Lord answered him, “You hypocrites! Any one of you would untie your ox or your donkey from the stall and take it out to give it water on the Sabbath. 16 Now here is this descendant of Abraham whom Satan has kept bound up for eighteen years; should she not be released on the Sabbath?” 17 His answer made his enemies ashamed of themselves, while the people rejoiced over all the wonderful things that he did. Luke 13:10-17 GNT
At our human and Christian best we are not fascists barking our orders to God and his creatures. At our human and Christian best we are not quietists dumbly submissive before fate. At our human and Christian best we pray in the middle voice at the center between active and passive, drawing from them as we have need and occasion but always uniquely and artistically ourselves, creatures adoring God and being graced by him, “participating in the results of the action.”
This is written for our admonition, that we may in the light of his example also cheerfully suffer want and temptation for the service of God and the good of our neighbor, like Christ did for us, as often as necessity requires it, which is surely accomplished if we learn and confess God’s Word.
As long as I’ve studied the Bible, I’ve noticed a theological battle between two groups.
They go by many labels, but the basic common fiber they have is that they have is not being a relationship with God. They see themselves as observers of God, those who study what He does.
Often, that is seen like the Pharisee who would rather have Jesus obey his traditions than heal someone tormented by demonic spirits. We get so caught up in how it has been–we forget why it is that way. Freeing the lady from demonic power was the basis for the Sabbath – a chance for the broken to find rest in God.
Yet he barked at Jesus, and told God that helping this lady find her Sabbath rest was wrong. The other side of that is to allow her to be that way, to just give up, and let what is will be. Leaving her to the fate of suffering–assuming that this was simply what God wanted for her.
The lady in question, an impressive picture of the church, may not be able to describe the theological nuances of Jesus being her Lord, her Savior. But He didn’t leave her in captivity, to sin or to the demons that haunted her. She didn’t tell Jesus what to do, but she certainly was a “participant in the results of the action.” That participation ended up with her worshipping Him. Not as something planned, not something scheduled out, but as a blessing that was incredibly deep.
This enables us to suffer through want and temptation, this participation in the glory of Christ. Having been united to Him in His death and resurrection, this salvation begins a transformation where we become more like Him. This, too, is the work of the Holy Spirit, who, through His word creates in us a new life that is like Jesus. We participate, really, in His life, in His glory, in His Sabbath’ rests peace.
This is why He came to us.. this is why we are here.
Eugene H. Peterson, The Contemplative Pastor: Returning to the Art of Spiritual Direction, vol. 17, The Leadership Library (Carol Stream, IL; Dallas; Waco, TX: Christianity Today; Word Pub., 1989), 111.
Martin Luther and John Sander, Devotional Readings from Luther’s Works for Every Day of the Year (Rock Island, IL: Augustana Book Concern, 1915), 66.
Now all this happened in order to make what the Lord had said through the prophet come true, 23*“A virgin will become pregnant and have a son, and he will be called Immanuel” (which means, “God is with us”). Matt 1:22-23
How foolish it is therefore for the inexperienced to assume pastoral authority when the care of souls is the art of arts.1 For who does not realize that the afflictions of the mind are more hidden than the internal wounds of the body
This true bride-love God presents to us in Christ, in that he allowed him to become man for us and be united with our human nature that we might thus perceive and appreciate his good will toward us. As the bride loves her betrothed, so also does Christ love us; and we on our part will love him, if we believe and are the true bride. Although he gave us the wisdom of all the prophets, the glory of all the saints and angels, and even heaven, yet would we not esteem them unless he gave us himself. The bride can be satisfied with nothing; the only one thing she wants is the bridegroom himself. “My beloved is mine and I am his.”
A seller of purple, Lydia traveled to the market of her day, and undoubtedly she had found freedom and satisfaction in that era when women were not counted at all.
But Lydia heard the Apostle Paul tell of the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, and the Lord opened her heart. In Christ she found an eternal answer, which career and position had never been able to give.
Religions do not, in fact, simply supply answers to questions. Or at least they do not confine themselves to this until they become degenerate. Salvation is more than the answer to a question.
Every November 1, I change up my devotional reading list. It is like saying goodbye to old friends, and trying to get used to new friends.
Except this year.
This year, the new selections are like meeting an old friend who has had massive changes in their appearance, yet re the same person inside. At least that is my impression after the first day. The readings, from a early Roman Catholic Pope, a different selection from Luther, Tozer and Merton all bring home what I’ve dedicated my ministry to, as well as my academic career.
We need Jesus…. and we need to guide people into the presence of Christ, despite what they think they know of Him. This sounds simple, but only after 25 years of ministry and three degrees do I feel like I’ve only begun to understand how to bring people into the presence of Christ in such a way they find healing and peace. Pope Gregory is right, this is an art form, not an academic exercise. But there is nothing–absolutely nothing–more important. Getting people to open up and share their woundedness is rarely possible in an hour. Sometimes it takes a decade. But when it happens, and they learn to walk with Jesus a step or two… oh how wonderful it is!
This is what Luther is trying to help us understand, as he urges us to understand God’s love, and His good will (care) for us, in the intimately deep way that a husband should care for his wife, knowing her needs, caring for her when life is challenging. Knowing that Christ cares for us this deeply, this completely, allows us to toss aside that which burdens us, just to spend time with Him–being His. We need this time, more than anything, for from it comes the ability to care for others, even as we’ve been cared for by Jesus.
Again–the idea of SoulCare is right there, in front of everything.
That is what Lydie found, as Tozer commented. Ahead of her culture by two millennia, this woman ran a very incredible, high profit business. And found something all the success in the world could not provide. A soul at peace! A soul that was content in waiting for what God has planned for those who love Him because she heard Paul’s voice, and the Holy Spirit showed her the love and care of Christ…for her.
Which brings us to Thomas Merton, the wild card in my reading this year. And yet he nails it, this idea that our religion isn’t just an answer to a question. Christianity is more than dealing with the questions of sin, guilt, shame, death, even more than questions about heaven and hell. It is about the relationship with Jesus, who is God-with-us—even now! Right where you are reading this. He is Immanuel, God with us! Knowing this changes everything about life. As Luther noted – everything else falls aside, and we concentrate on the One who loves us.
Which brings us to the last quote, the odd translation of the Good News Translation in Genesis 1 – where God established the night and the day to determine the timing of religious festivals. The Hebrew there means “appointed times”, which makes me think there is a point here, since the order seems a little odd. Days, years and holidays (holy days) seems more logical than days, years and seasons. These appointed times/religious festivals where special times of rest, where God gathered His people to allow them a chance to rest, and to heal. A time to be cared for, cleansed, assured that God loves, even adores His people. This is what heals the soul, this incredible blessing of knowing God’s attitude toward us!
The Lord is with you! And there is a reason for Him to be here. To show you that you are loved.
This is what this religion is about – not just the answer to a question, but a relationship deeper and more precious than anything we can experience… and we are only just beginning it.
May we know this – more and more thoughout this next year!
St Gregory the Great, The Book of Pastoral Rule, ed. John Behr, trans. George E. Demacopoulos, vol. 34, Popular Patristics Series (Crestwood, NY: St Vladimir’s Seminary Press, 2007), 29.
Martin Luther and John Sander, Devotional Readings from Luther’s Works for Every Day of the Year (Rock Island, IL: Augustana Book Concern, 1915), 384–385.
A. W. Tozer and Gerald B. Smith, Mornings with Tozer: Daily Devotional Readings (Chicago: Moody Publishers, 2008).
Thomas Merton, The New Man (London; New York: Burns & Oates, 1976), 1–2.