Category Archives: Devotionals

Church – your consultants faith? Is it in statistics and probabilities, or in God?

Featured imageDevotional Thought of the Day
 Do this because you are a people set apart as holy to GOD, your God. GOD, your God, chose you out of all the people on Earth for himself as a cherished, personal treasure.  GOD wasn’t attracted to you and didn’t choose you because you were big and important—the fact is, there was almost nothing to you.  He did it out of sheer love, keeping the promise he made to your ancestors. GOD stepped in and mightily bought you back out of that world of slavery, freed you from the iron grip of Pharaoh king of Egypt.  Know this: GOD, your God, is God indeed, a God you can depend upon. Deuteronomy 7:6-9a (MSG) 

Something similar has happened to us. With little effort we could find among our family, friends, and acquaintances—not to mention the crowds of the world—so many worthier persons that Christ could have called. Yes, persons who are simpler and wiser, more influential and important, more grateful and generous. In thinking along these lines, I feel embarrassed. But I also realize that human logic cannot possibly explain the world of grace. God usually seeks out deficient instruments so that the work can more clearly be seen to be his.

I have had it with the church statistics “experts”.  The well intention men and women who tell churches that they have only a 25 year life cycle, that they are going to die and close their doors, and that this can be a good thing.

Or the men who say that the fastest growing churches, and the best return of investment is to plant new churches (even if they are only 2 miles from a healthy church.  Who play around with statistics and charts and give advice and sell their coaching services. Whose advice becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy as people believe them, and forget that ministry is not about statistics and what gives us the biggest bang for our buck.  The new thought is that a church while it still has value should close, before it loses what value it has, in order that God would do something new somewhere else.  (That line I have a problem with, because doing something new in scripture was about the cross and resurrection – the death of Christ – not his church)

We don’t “do” church in ways because of what makes sense in a business model.  Statistics don’t governthe church, God does. Brooklyn Tabernacle was once a dead, tiny church, the American Baptist hcurches in Northern Calfiornia were once empty.  My first church was under 20 in attendance.    We do church because God calls us to minister to those who are broken, to reconcile people to them, to see their souls healed. We are there to pray for comfort and healing of the cancer patient, to remind the imprisoned that God hasn’t given up on them, to help people broken by divorce, or challenged by changes in their lives, or the past that haunts them.

Wo are the church to “do” grace, to be “grace”, to be the place where God incarnates, where he is revealed.

The church is something that can’t be reduced to statistics, or to methodologies.  Because it isn’t about numbers, it is about life.  It is about the supernatural invading and transforming the natural. It is about the power of God made clear as it transforms the lives of people who thought there was no hope.

What does beating the statistical models take?  How can we avoid being another church which closes its doors?

It’s so simple that the experts can’t see it.

Know Christ! revel in His presence! Help people give to God the burdens and anxieties they carry.  Plead with them to let God  reconcile them!  Teach them to treasure God’s time and presence. Fall in love with Him to the point where your heart beats in harmony with His.

It works, because God promised not to abandon us… but to work through us.

Abide in Him. And watch what He does … it is amazing!

Escriva, Josemaria (2010-11-02). Christ is Passing By (Kindle Locations 424-429). Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition.

Pastor and Priests are Shepherds…That is Our Life

Devotional Thought of the Day

34  Jesus saw the huge crowd as he stepped from the boat, and he had compassion on them because they were like shFeatured imageeep without a shepherd. So he began teaching them many things. 35  Late in the afternoon his disciples came to him and said, “This is a remote place, and it’s already getting late. 36  Send the crowds away so they can go to the nearby farms and villages and buy something to eat.” 37  But Jesus said, “You feed them.”   Mark 6:34-37 (NLT)

14  “Return home, you wayward children,” says the LORD, “for I am your master. I will bring you back to the land of Israel one from this town and two from that family from wherever you are scattered. 15  And I will give you shepherds after my own heart, who will guide you with knowledge and understanding. Jeremiah 3:14-15 (NLT)

11  It was he who “gave gifts to people”; he appointed some to be apostles, others to be prophets, others to be evangelists, others to be pastors and teachers. 12  He did this to prepare all God’s people for the work of Christian service, in order to build up the body of Christ. 13  And so we shall all come together to that oneness in our faith and in our knowledge of the Son of God; we shall become mature people, reaching to the very height of Christ’s full stature. Ephesians 4:11-13 (TEV)

14 We lay hold of him when our heart embraces him and clings to him.
15 To cling to him with all our heart is nothing else than to entrust ourselves to him completely. He wishes to turn us away from everything else, and draw us to himself, because he is the one eternal good. It is as if he said: “What you formerly sought from the saints, or what you hoped to receive from mammon or anything else, turn to me for all this; look upon me as the one who wishes to help you and to lavish all good upon you richly.”
16 Behold, here you have the true honor and the true worship which please God and which he commands under penalty of eternal wrath, namely, that the heart should know no other consolation or confidence than that in him, nor let itself be torn from him, but for him should risk and disregard everything else on earth.  (1)

By the preaching of the word and by the celebration of the sacraments, the center and summit of which is the most holy Eucharist, He brings about the presence of Christ, the author of salvation. But whatever truth and grace are to be found among the nations, as a sort of secret presence of God, He frees from all taint of evil and restores to Christ its maker, who overthrows the devil’s domain and wards off the manifold malice of vice. And so, whatever good is found to be sown in the hearts and minds of men, or in the rites and cultures peculiar to various peoples, not only is not lost, but is healed, uplifted, and perfected for the glory of God, the shame of the demon, and the bliss of men.24 Thus, missionary activity tends toward eschatological fullness.25 For by it the people of God is increased to that measure and time which the Father has fixed in His power (cf. Acts 1:7). To this people it was said in prophecy: “Enlarge the space for your tent, and spread out your tent cloths unsparingly” (Is. 54:2).26 By missionary activity, the mystical body grows to the mature measure of the fullness of Christ (cf. Eph. 4:13); and the spiritual temple, where God is adored in spirit and in truth (cf. John 4:23), grows and is built up upon the foundation of the Apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus Himself being the supreme corner stone (Eph. 2:20).  (2)

This morning I had the greatest 15 minutes of my week since Sunday. I met and visited with a lady who was an incredible blessing to me.  Her words though few, and with a tired voice, encouraged me to be what I am, a pastor.  As I prayed with the lady who has lived in 10 different decades, I watched a beautiful smile, and her tired body relaxed, as she knew again the love of God.  It is the first time we’ve met, and I am already looking forward to seeing her again.

It is not why I do what I do; It is who I am.

That is being a pastor, a shepherd.  It what those called into ministry are called to be. I’ve included a lot of citations above, because they explain it far better than I can.

The reading from Ephesian starts it out by expressing that we aren’t born to be pastors/shepherds, but we are chosen to do it.  Chosen to shepherd (that is what pastor means) and to guide people as they mature in Christ, as they struggle with living out the promise of being someone united to Jesus, as they struggle as the Holy Spirit transforms them into His image. As they struggle with their growing pains. As we hear Jesus command us to feed them (and he had to tell Peter that THREE times according to St. John’s gospel!)

I love how Vatican II puts it, as we see the transformation, even the exorcises all evil from them ( Paul calls this circumcising the heart and Ezekiel speak of it as well)  Paul talks of us pleading with them to be reconciled to God, to being drawn to Him, to bring them to be embraced by a God who is both merciful and loving.

It is of the greatest of joys when this happens, as it did this morning as I sat next to my new friend, the new person I had the honor of reminding that Christ is indeed with her.  Something she indeed knew… but loved to hear again.  There are other times; it is not so easy.  When showing them what Luther wrote of in the catechism means bringing about healing. Treating that which hurts and is painful.

This is why Jesus said pray for the shepherds, that God would send them as promised.  It isn’t easy, it is heart-breaking and frustrating, it is ministering to people who might be angry at you, mad at you, that may think you are intentionally trying to hurt them.

A pastor stays with them, doesn’t discount them, and continues to point them to Jesus.  He keeps encouraging them to cling to Jesus. He keeps reminding them that Jesus is there.  Though it may be tempting, he doesn’t run from wolves or alligators or those who are crying in pain.  He doesn’t run when it hurts him, or even those he loves. He helps them cling to Jesus. To trust in Him rather than their idols.

He is who he is; it isn’t a job, is a vocation.

If you are a pastor or priest, spend lots of time being amazed at what God is doing through you, for it is still He who will provide the food, the word and the Lord’s Supper which nourishHis people with the knowledge and experience of His presence.

If you are served by one of us, pray for us, encourage us, be patient with us, knowing we have to draw you into God’s presence, sometimes even as you are kicking and screaming. As you can help us to – for there are more broken people that we can minister too at times…

At all times – may we cry out together, Lord Have Mercy!

And may we encourage each other by crying out, “the Lord is with you!” and hearing “and also, with you!”

(1)    Tappert, T. G. (Ed.). (1959). The Book of Concord the confessions of the Evangelical Lutheran Church. (p. 366). Philadelphia: Mühlenberg Press.
(2)    Catholic Church. (2011). Decree on the Mission Activity of the Church: Ad Gentes. In Vatican II Documents. Vatican City: Libreria Editrice Vaticana.

?? Is the Church Asking the Right Quesion as It Tries to Share its Hope??

Featured imageDiscussion/Devotional Thought  of the Day

10  God has made us what we are, and in our union with Christ Jesus he has created us for a life of good deeds, which he has already prepared for us to do. Ephesians 2:10 (TEV)

15  But have reverence for Christ in your hearts, and honor him as Lord. Be ready at all times to answer anyone who asks you to explain the hope you have in you, 1 Peter 3:15 (TEV)

“If you were to die tonight, would you go to heaven?”  “why?  (1)

“The only preparation which multitudes seem to make for heaven is for its judgment bar,” (2)

Nearly 30 years ago, my pastor and I were trained in what was known as Evangelism Explosion. The goal of the ministry was to prepare people with a scripted message that they could share the Christian faith. Tens of thousands of pastors and people were trained in the method.  The scripts basic concept (as with most evangelism methods ) was to give peopel the assurance of eternal life in heaven, rather than eternal damnation/annihilation/punishment and the wrath of God.

In fact, last week someone asked those very questions to me via social media.

And this blog has been simmering ever since.  The key was the quote from my devotions this morning, which brought it home.  is our evangelistic work as believers primarily focused on making sure people get into heaven? Or is it about giving them the life, the peace, and the knowledge of God’s presence in this life, that is our hope for eternity?

If it is evangelism to prevent them from being sent to hell, there is strong motivation that would cause us to share God’s love with those we care for, with those we love. But that mission accomplished, is there the tight communion that you should see, is there the shared life, is there a willingness to stay together through thick and thin.  To be blunt, does create a life that struggles with sin, and strives to love others as Christ did?

If our questions and manuscripts lead people only to get past the St Peter and those who guard the gates of heaven, what are we really doing?  is conversion something that happens in a twinkling of an eye?  You were going to hell, woops now you are going to heaven?

Or is our hope, our expectation based on a promise that we have a hint, a glimpse of in this life, and that glimpse changes everything?  A promise that is repeated time and time in the scriptures.You will be my people, and I will be your God.”

isn’t that where our hope lies? In the fact that who weren’t once a people, are now a people?  Isn’t our hope seen in the promise that God will transform us and cause us to walk in ways that are incredible and blessed. (even though they might include suffering)

The evangelism explosion questions have their place, much of the material I still use to this day. Even so, the direction of our evangelism must be more than selling eternal fire insurance.  What our hope is based on is one promise, that is as true now as it will be then.  That gives us hope for this world, when it seems like it is falling apart, and yes  for eternity.

The hope that is found when we know that the Lord is with us, and will never abandon us.

May the questions you ask lead people to realize this.

(1)  paraphrase of the two questions from Evangelism Explosion used in many evangelism training seminars

(2)  Celtic Daily Prayer, Harper 1 Publcishing – the devotion for this day

The Image of God, Seen Today in Our Midst

Featured imageDevotional Thought of the Day
1  Take me as your pattern, just as I take Christ for mine. 1 Corinthians 11:1 (NJB)

27  God created man in the image of himself, in the image of God he created him, male and female he created them. Genesis 1:27 (NJB)

18  And all of us, with our unveiled faces like mirrors reflecting the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the image that we reflect in brighter and brighter glory; this is the working of the Lord who is the Spirit. 2 Corinthians 3:18 (NJB)

Is our being made in the image and likeness of God something invisible, something confined, perhaps, to the soul? But if so, then it is not an image, for an image is, by its nature, something that can be seen. And, in fact, we can see the image—not in the momentary flash of photography, but in the demeanor that reveals a life: in the goodness of a mother, in the uprightness of a husband, in the fidelity of a friend in our time of trouble, in the patience of one who suffers, in the gentleness and maturity of one who prays. When we see these signs, we are seeing the image of God. (1)

Every once in a while you hear about Jesus image, maybe in a piece of toast, or a tortilla or pancake, or in some artifact.  It is kind of funny the fuss that is made over these things,

But what if I said I saw God’s image today, the glorious image of God, reflected in the face of an 89-year-old lady, or a two-year-old child, That claim might seem rather over the top.  There is a strong Biblical basis for it.  A basis recognized in the devotion I came across this morning.

I love how Cardinal Ratzinger sees the image of Christ, not in a static picture or print, but in a life lived reflecting the glory, the love and mercy of God.  The glory of God at work, redeeming and reconciling for Himself a people, and doing it through….. the people He has redeemed.  The people He has reconciled to Himself.  He causes them to love, as the Holy Spirit transforms them into the image of Jesus. The Holy Spirit molds them, and as Eph. 210 discusses – we are changed into a work of art, God’s great masterpiece,

A people who resemble their Lord and Savior, the One, who sent the Spirit, to focus them on Jesus, and transform them.

So the lady in my Bible Study, who always pauses to pray, and give thanks and know God’s love, in Her I see the image of God reflected.   In the two year old, who is most comfortable and most at peace at the altar, even though she can’t explain what happened in her baptism, in the friend who reaches out and listens, even though pressed for time.  In each the image of Christ is reflected, the glory of Christ is seen and known and experienced.

Lord, have mercy, and He shows He does, as people find the healing that is only in Christ while helping others heal.

Godspeed!

(1)  Ratzinger, J. (1992). Co-Workers of the Truth: Meditations for Every Day of the Year. (M. F. McCarthy & L. Krauth, Trans., I. Grassl, Ed.) (p. 219). San Francisco: Ignatius Press.

A Great Explanation of What Faith in God Really is

Featured imageDevotional Thought of the Day
4  But even though we were dead in our sins God, who is rich in mercy, because of the great love he had for us, gave us life together with Christ – it is, remember, by grace and not by achievement that you are saved – and has lifted us right out of the old life to take our place with him in Christ in the Heavens. Thus he shows for all time the tremendous generosity of the grace and kindness he has expressed towards us in Christ Jesus. It was nothing you could or did achieve – it was God’s gift to you. No one can pride himself upon earning the love of God. The fact is that what we are we owe to the hand of God upon us. We are born afresh in Christ, and born to do those good deeds which God planned for us to do. Ephesians 2:4 (Phillips NT)

“What is faith? Well, it is an act that penetrates to the very heart of a person, an act comparable to the definitive Yes of a great love. That is why faith not only can, but must, also be called grace, for like love, it is ultimately a gift, a recurring grace. We do not simply choose grace for ourselves, for grace is by nature an answer and is therefore attributable in the first place to what comes to me from another person, penetrates deeply into me, and makes me open to say thou and so to become truly I. It is, in truth, a gift given me by another person, and yet I am more deeply and more completely involved in it than in any work I might have chosen for myself. Faith is likewise a Yes to God in Jesus Christ, who looks upon me, makes me open, and enables me ultimately to entrust myself to him. Faith penetrates to what is most personal and most interior in me and, in doing so, responds to the Person of Jesus Christ, who calls me by name. But just because it is so entirely personal, faith has nothing narrow or exclusive about it; rather, it leads me into the community.”  (1)

14 We lay hold of him when our heart embraces him and clings to him.
15 To cling to him with all our heart is nothing else than to entrust ourselves to him completely. He wishes to turn us away from everything else, and draw us to himself, because he is the one eternal good. It is as if he said: “What you formerly sought from the saints, or what you hoped to receive from mammon or anything else, turn to me for all this; look upon me as the one who wishes to help you and to lavish all good upon you richly.”
16 Behold, here you have the true honor and the true worship which please God and which he commands under penalty of eternal wrath, namely, that the heart should know no other consolation or confidence than that in him, nor let itself be torn from him, but for him should risk and disregard everything else on earth.

If you didn’t know from whom the above quotes in blue and green came from (the citations are below0, you would hold them to be in agreement.  They are both consistent with the top quote from scripture, which describes God’s work in His people.

That faith comes from, is born from knowing that God loves you (yes, you the reader) and that love is revealed in Christ Jesus.

Both Cardinal Ratzinger’s (later Pope Benedict XVI) and Martin Luther agree on this, the intimate relationship that God calls us to, as He unites us to Christ

When I came across Cardinal Ratzinger’s words in my devotions this morning, I was amazed at this picture he draws, of God’s love penetrating deeply within us.  That love gives us the ability to respond to God, to return His love as we recognize His presence.  And in coming to know His is with us, we find out who we really are.  Everything else is laid aside, except for the relationship God has called us to.  A relationship where we can trust God completely, with everything we are, even the darkest, most troubled parts of our souls.

I find these words so… powerful, so resonant with the truth we know, yet struggle to believe.  That God cares for us, and would free and with great love cleanse us from all that causes the guilt and shame.  Even the stuff we don’t want to admit.

As we entrust ourselves to Him, as we put our faith in Him, we achieve something the world cannot.  We understand that when life is fully about God, it is fully about us.  For in our dance with God, nothing can separate us from Him, nothing can tear us away from that moment and the realization that Christ is with us.

Cardinal Ratzinger makes the link, in this devotion to baptism.  I also see the link to the communion of the saints, that moment when God has called us all together, made us one. God’s work, he says, is so personal that it cannot be exclusive, that is why we rejoice that we are tasked with reconciling every person to God.  That is why we want to reveal this treasure, this hope to everyone.

We gather to worship to celebrate this very thing, and it is that which unites us, this presence of Christ.  It is why I would rather pray for the church’s unity, rather than celebrate any division in the church. That we would recognize that which Paul says,

2  Always be humble and gentle. Be patient with each other, making allowance for each other’s faults because of your love. 3  Make every effort to keep yourselves united in the Spirit, binding yourselves together with peace. 4  For there is one body and one Spirit, just as you have been called to one glorious hope for the future. 5  There is one Lord, one faith, one baptism, 6  and one God and Father, who is over all and in all and living through all. Ephesians 4:2-6 (NLT)

One God and Father, who is over all, and in all and living though all,….

May we grow in such faith, as Christ is revealed, bringing us to faith, to entrusting ourselves to Him.

AMEN!  

(1)  Ratzinger, J. (1992). Co-Workers of the Truth: Meditations for Every Day of the Year. (M. F. McCarthy & L. Krauth, Trans., I. Grassl, Ed.) (p. 214). San Francisco: Ignatius Press.

(2)  Tappert, T. G. (Ed.). (1959). The Book of Concord the confessions of the Evangelical Lutheran Church. (p. 366). Philadelphia: Mühlenberg Press.

The Challenge of Preaching this Sunday:

Devotional Thought of the Day:
..simply concentrate on being completely devoted to Christ in your hearts. Be ready at any time to give a quiet and reverent answer to any man who wants a reason for the hope that you have within you. . 1 Peter 3 (Phillips NT)

32  And when I am lifted up from the earth, I shall draw all people to myself. John 12:32 (NJB)

But only when this message is preached does the real sin manifest itself, the sin of which it is stated here that it makes all the difference, namely, that “they do not believe in Me.” For the world does not want to hear such preaching: that they are all sinners before God, that their work righteousness has no validity before Him, and that they can obtain mercy and salvation solely through this crucified Christ. This unbelief toward Christ becomes a combination of all sins; it leads man into a damnation from which there is no rescue.  (1)

As I have watched the internet and twitter today, I have grieved over the entire situation. I have contemplated and prayed about how I and the other pastors (I met with over 200 this morning, as well as laypeople representing churches all over Southern Cal, Arizona and Nevada.  We did not meet about this, it was our every three year meeting. But the decision was mentioned).  I have wondered about writing about this, knowing I must.

Knowing as well that there will be expectations about sermons on Sunday, and I imagine many pastors will be re-writing their sermons tomorrow.  Our sermons will need to confront all sin, and call people to be reconciled to God.  People will have different expectations, some thinking we should fall on one side of the issue or the other.

I have to disappoint them, The decision and reaction to it are not the sin we need to talk about on Sunday.

The sin we need to talk about is the one that robs us of our hope, the sin that sucks life out of us, the sin where we forget, or indeed rebel against God loving us. People who agree with the Supreme Court have sinned, as have those who do not agree with the Supreme Court.  All have sinned; all have experienced the brokenness of life.

We need to examine ourselves individually and find the Spirit granting us repentance of the sin of not loving God, about not trusting Him to keep His promises.  Promises like:

28  We are well aware that God works with those who love him, those who have been called in accordance with his purpose, and turns everything to their good. Romans 8:28 (NJB)

and just a few verses later,

38  For I am certain of this: neither death nor life nor angels, nor principalities, nothing already in existence and nothing still to come, nor any power, 39  nor the heights nor the depths, nor any created thing whatever, will be able to come between us and the love of God, known to us in Christ Jesus our Lord. Romans 8:38-39 (NJB)

My reaction to the Supreme Court will not reveal to people Jesus, who lived and died for them.  It won’t share a love that drove him to suffer and die on the cross to give all sinners the hope of being righteous.  All sinners, including gossips, slanderers, idolators, haters, adulterers, people who are so envious of others it consumes them, and those who are so bitter that they cannot love people enough to desire reconciliation and healing of relationships.  From sin, we need to be cleansed, to be transformed, not just from individual sins.  Sin, as Luther wrote above, is not trusting, not having faith, bot believing God.

My friends, we are called to give the reason we have hope, why we expect something greater that the division of our country and the world. To do so, we have to realize our mission is to not demand purity, to plead with people to be reconciled, to let God draw them to Christ Jesus.

We need to be saved from sin – not just from sins.  We need to find the life He promised, that the Holy Spirit gives, the hope that comes in Christ Jesus.

That’s what He does… He embraces us, brings healing to our battered lives, brings holiness and sanctity to those who sins He has died for, to free them.

He is our hope, no matter how shattered or communities, our neighborhoods, our families and our churches.  Yes they are shattered, and the sin of our unbelief, our distrust of God is what shattered them.  But that sin of unbelief is why He came.

Be reconciled to God, I plead, for there, in His love, there is hope.

The Hope we are commanded to give, the hope that is the reason we preach and administer sacraments.  If we do that, if we lift Christ, the hope of sinners, high, if we reveal Jesus on the cross, because He loves us, Sunday will be a day of joy for all who are drawn to Him.
Luther, M. (1999). Luther’s Works, vol. 24: Sermons on the Gospel of St. John: Chapters 14-16. (J. J. Pelikan, H. C. Oswald, & H. T. Lehmann, Eds.) (Vol. 24, pp. 342–343). Saint Louis: Concordia Publishing House.

Are You Ready to Serve God? Yes, this means you!

Featured imageDiscussion Thought of the Day:
14  “Now then,” Joshua continued, “honor the LORD and serve him sincerely and faithfully. Get rid of the gods which your ancestors used to worship in Mesopotamia and in Egypt, and serve only the LORD. 15  If you are not willing to serve him, decide today whom you will serve, the gods your ancestors worshiped in Mesopotamia or the gods of the Amorites, in whose land you are now living. As for my family and me, we will serve the LORD.” Joshua 24:14-15 (TEV)

364    Ah, if you would only resolve to serve God seriously, with the same earnestness that you put into serving your ambitions, your vanities, your sensuality …  (1)

Over the years, I’ve heard part of the Bible passage quoted above used to call people to faith, to challenge those who do not believe, to believe.

It has always bothered me a bit because when you look at the entire context, you see that Joshua isn’t challenging the people who are not yet in a relationship with God. He is challenging those who are in covenant, who have known God’s promises and have been blessed because God is faithful.

He is challenging us, my fellow believers!

Imagine what would happen if the church were as dedicated to serving God as they are to television?  If they were as dedicated to prayer as they were to playing Candy Crush Saga or whatever version of Farmville exists? What would happen if we heard Joshua’s call and began to take seriously the call to look out for others, to love and care for them?

What if we were willing to embrace the call to correct in love those whose disobedience drove them apart form God?

What if we were so committed to God that His passion overrode our passion?

I can continue to ask all the “What if’s”, they are good to use to see we need to do more like Christ, to be more like Jesus. If we are to live like those who are baptized believers.

But that won’t cause us to be.  We can’t “decide” to do this, and be successful at it. What we are choosing is more than to do stuff, though as we are transformed, we will find ourselves sacrificing our very lives (see Romans 1:1-10)

What we are called to do is more than serve.  It is to serve the Lord.   TO walk with Him, to be in a relationship with Him, to so know and trust Him that all He is is revealed to be who we are.  We are remade in His image and are called to imitate Him, transformed into His image!

Choosing this day to serve Him is a call to discipleship, to prayer, to sacrifice, to witness, to put aside our own vision, our own passion, everything we are.  It is time to live with Him.

It is a high calling, but it is your calling, and the calling to which you are tasked to share and encourage others to take up, as they come to know Him.

Let’s walk with Jesus… it is time to hear His call.

Lord, have mercy upon us!

(1)  Escriva, Josemaria (2010-11-02). The Way (Kindle Locations 927-928). Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition.

Who Do You Call First?

Featured imageDevotional Thought of the Day:

10  We were God’s enemies, but he made us his friends through the death of his Son. Now that we are God’s friends, how much more will we be saved by Christ’s life! 11  But that is not all; we rejoice because of what God has done through our Lord Jesus Christ, who has now made us God’s friends. Romans 5:10-11 (TEV)

A god is that to which we look for all good and in which we find refuge in every time of need. To have a god is nothing else than to trust and believe him with our whole heart. As I have often said, the trust and faith of the heart alone make both God and an idol.
If your faith and trust are right, then your God is the true God. On the other hand, if your trust is false and wrong, then you have not the true God. For these two belong together, faith and God. That to which your heart clings and entrusts itself is, I say, really your God. (1)

1009      Whenever the worrying thought enters your head that you lack rectitude of intention—sometimes it may come like a flash of lightning, at other times like a filthy pestering fly which you brush off but which keeps coming back—always make acts of the opposite virtue straight away… and carry on working calmly for Him and with Him. At the same time, even though you might feel you are only pronouncing the words mechanically, say slowly: Lord, I want nothing for myself. May everything be for your glory and for your Love. (2)

My son and I, a couple of weeks ago, went to my college alma mater to watch a basketball game.

As we were about to leave, we passed a table offering raffle tickets to raise money for the girl’s team.  All four top prizes were computer tablets, so we bought a few tickets and walked away.

Yesterday, as I was working in my office, I got a phone call.  We won!  (this is the second tablet I’ve won… 🙂 ) Before I was off the phone, I was already walking to where my son was, eager to share with my techie son that we had another “screen” in the family. I had to let him know.  My wife found out later, and silly me, I forgot to

As I was reading the Large Catechism (the blue quote) this morning, I thought of that – who do we go to first?  When life just sucks, or the opposite when something extraordinary happens, when we are suffering or simply trying to endure.  Who do we call?  Who do we go to find sustenance?  Who do we praise and glorify?  ( I include both good and bad things on purpose)

Is it a person, a spouse or a parent?  Is it some item, such as a bottle or chocolate, or some drug?  Or do we choose to suffer alone?  Or do we tell the world by FB, Twitter, and text?  Do we ever bring it to God?  Have we set up an idol, even many idols?

Who do we cling to?  Who do we count on?

Do we ever think about our relationship with God in that way?  As the closest of friends?  Can we even conceive of a God, who is that interested in us, that desires to be given all we can’t handle, and yes, to be thanked when something special happens?

Do we realize that is what it means to pray without ceasing, to give God the good, the bad, the challenged?

As we walk through this Lent. As we walk with Christ to the cross, may we share it all with Him! May we depend upon Him so much, may we adore Him so much, that it is His name we call first, in prayer and praise!

May we call Him first, and always!
AMEN

(1)  Tappert, T. G. (Ed.). (1959). The Book of Concord the confessions of the Evangelical Lutheran Church. (p. 365). Philadelphia: Mühlenberg Press.

(2)  Escriva, Josemaria (2011-01-31). The Forge (Kindle Locations 3558-3562). Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition.

The Restoration of Christmas… and the People of God

Devotional Thought of the Day:

17  The LORD, your God, is in your midst, a mighty savior; He will rejoice over you with gladness, and renew you Featured imagein his love, He will sing joyfully because of you, 18  as one sings at festivals. I will remove disaster from among you, so that none may recount your disgrace. 19  Yes, at that time I will deal with all who oppress you; I will save the lame, and assemble the outcasts; I will give them praise and renown in all the earth, when I bring about their restoration. 20  At that time I will bring you home, and at that time I will gather you; For I will give you renown and praise, among all the peoples of the earth, When I bring about your restoration before your very eyes, says the LORD. Zephaniah 3:17-20 (NAB)

Would it be a bad thing for the church to move the celebration of Christ’s birth to the spring. The tradition of Christmas and Christ’s birth could be seperate. Just a thought.” ( my friend Mark B. )

“When I hear the phrase Merry Christmas I think of decorated trees, presents and good food. Christ’s birth is the last thing that comes to mind.” ( also from Mark B )

A few days ago, one of my friends responded to one of my wild ideas about a sermon concept, as you see above. My basic idea, well – you can read the sermon, I posted it a little while ago.  ( Or listen to it on Itunes at Concordia Radio)

Mark has a very valid point. We’ve allowed Christmas and its traditions to be redefined.  To the point where celebrating Christmas is a completely separate idea from celebrating God’s invasion into our lives, as the baby laid in a manger, who would die on the cross.

I’ve seen this in the lament of some, as churches cancel midnight services/masses, once “the” service that all went to on Christmas Eve.  You see it in the multitude of Meme’s talking about keeping Christ in Christmas, and how to do so.  You see it in the willingness of people to beleive “modern” scholarship which will claim Jesus’ birth happened at some other point in the year, but the one day it couldn’t have happened was 12/25.

I think many would go along with Mark’s thought, out of frustration, out of a sense of hopelessness.  Let’s just start all over again!  Let’s just celebrate Christ-birth at some other point that on Christ-mas Day.

I asked Mark if I could share this, and what his vocation is.  He saw the connection, and agreed.

So here it goes.

Mark is in the furniture restoration business, so I am going to suggest we use some of his techniques in restoring Christmas, and then re-use the same concepts in restoring our congregations, our parishes, His Church.

1.  Vision
The first thing to know is that you don’t restore something based on your vision.  You didn’t create it, and as you begin to carefully work at it, the vision that has been muddled, covered over, damaged will be restored!

2.  Value
In restoring something, you have to be aware that it survived because it had value.  Maybe it is pragmatic, maybe it is artistic, maybe it is both.  If it was simply sentimental, it wouldn’t have survived and taken all the abuse, neglect and paint that it has.  (Example – having everyone over to feast…. there is something about gathering together to celebrate Christ’s birth hidden under all of it!)  Sure, it’s often about gluttony and to see which part of the family has bragging rights now… but once… it was to celebrate God’s faithfulness!

3.  Flexibility
Because the value and vision are often so muddled, so hidden, so broken, we may not perceive it accurately.  That’s okay, be willing to adapt to what is revealed.  After all, no Christian at baptism knows everything… we grow and mature.  So will the revelations as you see more and more what you do points to Jesus.
You also have to realize that what you thought was the valuable part, may be that which obscurs the most, and the part you originally were doing to toss aside.. is a critical component.

4.  Love

in order to have the patience, the ability to make this happen, you have to learn to love what you are restoring.  It’s the only way you will take the years and maybe a decade it take to see the job towards completion.  There will be interruptions, distractions, days of frustration, that’s okay.There might even be people who question, you wisdom, your integrity, your sanity – they do this to me all the time!

The goal is worth it – a beautiful restoration that is a double piece of work of art…..that of the Creator, and that where the Creator’s vision was once again visible to mankind… and the hopelessness became hope.

I said in the beginning that this works with churches and parishes as well with the simple idea of making Christmas about Christ’s coming to us.  The Mission and concepts are the same, and the goal is the same.  To preach Christ crucified, whom is our hope of Glory. It’s what we do here at my church, when Christmas Day was first 10-12 people, now is 50, (Our Christmas Eve services have also grown)  where once it was a bother, now people are excited to come.  It can happen

It is what God promised, look above at the scripture, dive deeply into those promises… and rejoice… for God is restoring you… that started that very first Christmas morning.

He is with us.  Immanuel.

Focus on that…. and all comes into place.

For no one does restoration work like God our Father!

(and if you need restoration work done on furniture – go talk to Mark at http://www.bausmanandfather.com/ or

https://www.facebook.com/pages/Bausman-and-Father-Furniture-Refinishing-of-Huntington-Beach-Ca/321617409278?pnref=lhc

The Hard Lesson From the Manger…..we have to share in it…

Featured image

Artwork by my friend, and soon to be ordained Mark Jennings. His artwork (either originals or prints) is available through http://fineartamerica.com/profiles/mark-jennings.html

Devotional THought fo the Day:

1  Your life in Christ makes you strong, and his love comforts you. You have fellowship with the Spirit, and you have kindness and compassion for one another. 2  I urge you, then, to make me completely happy by having the same thoughts, sharing the same love, and being one in soul and mind. 3  Don’t do anything from selfish ambition or from a cheap desire to boast, but be humble toward one another, always considering others better than yourselves. 4  And look out for one another’s interests, not just for your own. 5  The attitude you should have is the one that Christ Jesus had: 6  He always had the nature of God, but he did not think that by force he should try to remain equal with God. 7  Instead of this, of his own free will he gave up all he had, and took the nature of a servant. He became like a human being and appeared in human likeness. 8  He was humble and walked the path of obedience all the way to death— his death on the cross.

1  Imitate me, then, just as I imitate Christ. 1 Corinthians 11:1 (TEV)

562      When I preach that we have to make ourselves a carpet so that the others may tread softly, I am not simply being poetic: it has to be a reality! It’s hard, as sanctity is hard; but it’s also easy, because, I insist, sanctity is within everyone’s reach.  (1)

We have a fear of being taken advantage of, one that can easily consume us.

I feel it every time I get a phone call, and the person promises to come to church, if only we would pay their rent, or buy their meds, or provide them with money to buy food. I feel it when I get that text message at 10pm or 2am, knowing that the people need to listen, more than they are ready to hear my wisdom.

I see my fellow pastors, and all those who minister at this time of year struggling with it to, because they put in some much work, and sometimes only see a few people who will benefit from it.  Or we fear that this is the year when only 3 people will show up for the midnight service.on Christmas Eve. I see in it families, where one member always feels underappreciated, even as they continue to meet the needs of others in it.

We don’t like to be taken advantage of, we don’t want to be walked all over.

And that fear is confronted by the words of St. Josemaria Escriva.  What?  You think we should allow ourselves to be run over, run down, wiped out?  You want us to be a carpet or door mat that people can walk all over, grinding into us the mud on their feet?  He wants us to just take it, and serve people, knowing we may never even get a simple thank you?

(quick disclaimer – I am not talking about being run over by sexual, physical or emotional abuse)

But yeah, St. Josemaria is saying exactly what Paul is saying in Philippians 2.  The lesson of Jesus, lying there in the manger.  Lying there, with the shadow of the cross already promised, with the stripes that will be caused by whips already accepted, with the humiliation, with the fact that the very people that will praise Him, that He’s come to save… spitting on Him, cursing Him, nailing Him to the cross.

That Jesus would suffer all of that, to save us.  He through whom everything that has been created was created, becoming a infant, needing sustenance from another, needing another to change His diapers. That level of humiliation at the manger and at the cross, is first and above all, a picture of God’s love.

It is also a picture of God’s plan for our lives, here, during this life.

Paul knew that – and tried to live that way, accepting times of hardship, taking on the sacrifice it would take, including the humility to not strike back. but instead to let people see the strength of Christ-crucified, Christ-Incarnate alive in Him.

And he calls us to imitate him, as He imitates Jesus.  To live in Christ as Paul strived to, to have that attitude, that being a carpet doesn’t matter, that seeing people reconciled to the Father is far greater a reward than inconvenience, sacrifice, even martyrdom.

This is the lesson – that little Baby, willing left Heaven for you…. so you could walk with Him……in good times and bad.

that’s the lesson we need to remember…..

Escriva, Josemaria (2011-01-31). The Forge (Kindle Locations 2107-2110). Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition.

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