Category Archives: Devotions

We all know God loves us, but far too often the stresses, anxieties and problems in life crowd Him out of our view. Here find a moment to re-focus and remember how incredible it is that God loves us, and what it means to live in His presence, in the peace that passes all understanding…

This is Ministry…

Thoughts leading us to Jesus, and because of which, we adore Him:
1  Then this message came to me from the LORD: 2  “Son of man, prophesy against the shepherds, the leaders of Israel. Give them this message from the Sovereign LORD: What sorrow awaits you shepherds who feed yourselves instead of your flocks. Shouldn’t shepherds feed their sheep? 3  You drink the milk, wear the wool, and butcher the best animals, but you let your flocks starve. 4  You have not taken care of the weak. You have not tended the sick or bound up the injured. You have not gone looking for those who have wandered away and are lost. Instead, you have ruled them with harshness and cruelty. 5  So my sheep have been scattered without a shepherd, and they are easy prey for any wild animal. 6  They have wandered through all the mountains and all the hills, across the face of the earth, yet no one has gone to search for them. Ezekiel 34:1-6 (NLT2)

The Christian minister, as someone has pointed out, is a descendant not of the Greek orator but of the Hebrew prophet.
The differences between the orator and the prophet are many and radical, the chief being that the orator speaks for himself while the prophet speaks for God. The orator originates his message and is responsible to himself for its content. The prophet originates nothing but delivers the message he has received from God who alone is responsible for it, the prophet being responsible to God for its delivery only. The prophet must hear the message clearly and deliver it faithfully, and that is indeed a grave responsibility; but it is to God alone, not to men.

In those cities and places, likewise, where the parish churches have no certain boundaries, neither have their rectors their own proper people to govern, but administer the sacraments to all promiscuously who seek it, the holy synod commands bishops, that for the more perfect security of the salvation of the souls committed to their charge, having divided the people into fixed and proper parishes, they shall assign to each its own perpetual and peculiar parish priest, who may know his own parishioners, and from whom alone they may lawfully receive the sacraments; or they shall make such other provision as may be more profitable, according as the character of the place may require

Someone reminded once again me that evangelists are also physicians for souls; new converts need a physician of the soul just as long time members. A lot of listening, consoling, absolving, praying, and blessing was just as important for Sonia, the zealous new convert, as it was for George, the patriarch of a family known as “pillars of the church” for generations.

As I read from the writings coming out of the Council of Trent this morning, those words in blue hit me hard. It wasn’t like resonated in a good way, but like play a guitar and one key is so far out of tune… it hurts.  People who go to a church may not know the man who is preaching, if he is even in the same building and not located on another campus, and his picture live-streamed into that building. There is a disconnect there, and while thye have someone preaching at them, it is not the same as a conversation with them, know them and having the ability to call in a moment and have them pray.

It’s not just true in big churches, COVID has done this to many family sized (50-300 member churches) as our people have been spread out, and limited to digital contact or a phone call or two. As much as I like bringing my thoguhts together on this blog, I would rather have 4 or 20 people in a Bible study, or a dedicated prayer time. There is something about the people of God, gathered together, spending time in His presence together.

Tozer’s comment about the pastor being a descendant of the prophet fits in here. God has a message for a specific group of people, and has placed the pastor there to give it to them, in a way they can understnad it. That means you have to know them well enough to spek into their heart. That is scary for both the pastor and the people. But if it doesn’t happen., if this connection isn’t made, then people spread out, and begin to do what is right in their own eyes–and that includes the pastor.

We all need to be ministered to, the atheist, the person God is transforming from scratch, the person God’s been working on for decdes.

And the most needed and hardest ministry happens when the pastor and people are laughing and crying together. As souls are comforted…and healed by the same power which raised Christ Jesus from the grave.

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

Theodore Alois Buckley, The Canons and Decrees of the Council of Trent (London: George Routledge and Co., 1851), 201–202.

Harold L. Senkbeil, The Care of Souls: Cultivating a Pastor’s Heart (Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press, 2019), 234.

His Church: Marketing or Talking with God?

Thoughts to encourage us to spend time with Jesus.

Please listen, O Shepherd of Israel, you who lead Joseph’s descendants like a flock. O God, enthroned above the cherubim, display your radiant glory 2  to Ephraim, Benjamin, and Manasseh. Show us your mighty power. Come to rescue us! 3  Turn us again to yourself, O God. Make your face shine down upon us. Only then will we be saved. Psalm 80:1-3 (NLT2)

He told me, ‘Cornelius, your prayer has been heard, and your gifts to the poor have been noticed by God! 32 Now send messengers to Joppa, and summon a man named Simon Peter. He is staying in the home of Simon, a tanner who lives near the seashore.’ 33 So I sent for you at once, and it was good of you to come. Now we are all here, waiting before God to hear the message the Lord has given you.”   Acts 10:31-33 NLT 

Listening to someone personally beats hearing about that person second hand. Yet strangely when it comes to the mission of the church we settle for the latter. Too much of what passes for gospel mission is second hand information; it may be factual and instructive, but it’s not personal. It resembles advertising more than anything else.

Then he [Martin Luther] was asked whether the sacraments have a spiritual power in themselves, so that baptism would be consecrated water which by its own strength could wipe out sins, even in case the water were drunk by an ass. He replied, “Because the spiritual power of God doesn’t comprise corporeal, inanimate matter, baptism doesn’t accomplish anything at all as water existing by itself. But as an action (which would be in its use) baptism has power, so that if anybody sprinkles an infant with water together with a recitation of those words of Christ by which he instituted baptism and promised the forgiveness of sins, that action, and not the water, has divine power.

The experts that study the church have told us for years a simple thing about why people come to church. It is because a friend, relative or co-worker invited them to come, and made sure they knew they would be welcome. Maybe it is because we are tired of trying to motivate our people, or we’ve seen too many “invite-a-friend” Sunday fail that we fall for the glamour and hype modern marketing and business planning offers us. Mission statements, goals and objectives, strategic implementation all geared to help us sell our faith…

BUt we aren’t in the business to sell our faith. We are ind the ministry to share why we have hope.

Sharing why we have hope, giving the reason for it means that we have discovered a reason to have hope—God revealed it to us, It is an overwhelming hope, as God guarantees us an eternity free of guilt, shame, resentment, pain, sorrow. It is a life where His presence brings us peace during the trials and traumas of life. This is hope at its best, and assurance of God’s love and presence in our lives–a presence that is available to everyone.

What if our efforts were teaching people to pray like those who wrote the Psalms did, expectantly begging God to make Himself known to all of us?

What if we realized He desired to turn us and draw us to His side, to smile at us, to save us all?

Senkbeil mentions the importance of hearing from someone directly, and he is talking about hearing from God. Both Cornelius and Peter did, and responded to what the message God had given them. Luther takes it another step–it is listening to God’s promises in the words of Christ that make a sacrament a sacrament.

If the people who are the church hear God, hearing His word will transform them. That transformation will cause their hearts to break as they see people suffer without Him, and they will want them to know His peace.

That causes revival, the knowledge of God’s love and His work rescuing us…

Or, as we say at my church – we are the broken people finding healing in Jesus, while helping others heal.

Lord Jesus, reveal to us today more of the work you are doing in our lives, turn us again and draw us closer to You. Then Lord, help us see others as You do, and use our lives to draw them through You to the Father. AMEN!

 

Harold L. Senkbeil, The Care of Souls: Cultivating a Pastor’s Heart (Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press, 2019), 226.

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), 358.

A Call to Intimately Know What We Preach…and Hear

So look at Apollos and me as mere servants of Christ who have been put in charge of explaining God’s mysteries. 1 Corinthians 4:1 (NLT2)

Many of us who preach the unsearchable riches of Christ are often pretty dull and hard to listen to.
The freshest thought to visit the human mind should be the thought of God. The story of salvation should put a radiancy in the face and a vibrancy in the voice of him that tells it. Yet it is not uncommon to hear the wondrous message given in a manner that makes it difficult for the hearer to concentrate on what is being said. What is wrong?…

We learn to trust God beyond our psychological experiences. And we become more courageous in facing and letting go of the dark corners of ourselves and begin to participate actively in the dismantling of our prerational emotional programs. We cannot escape from the worldliness that is inside us, but we can acknowledge and confront it. The invitation to allow God to change our motivation from selfishness to divine love is the call to transforming union.

As I’ve suggested, pastors do everything by God’s word. They listen with ears tuned to the word of God, they speak words taught by the Holy Spirit in his word, they pray by means of the word, and they bless by means of the word. By constant exposure to these words of Christ, you begin to see things from his perspective. You develop the eyes and ears of Jesus. You watch and listen with his outlook. And that includes the lost. When Jesus beheld the milling crowd by the shore of Galilee, “He had compassion for them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd” (Matt 9:36). It was a pitiful sight. Sheep without a shepherd are in dire straits. His heart went out to that vulnerable throng.

Tozer’s bluntness is a something I am learning to appreciate. The reading I encountered this morning is the basis for the call to know intimately what we preach – and what we hear. If the message we are going to hear and share is going to be worth all the time invested in prayer, study, and some deep thought about the subject, it needs to be a message worth treasuring.

We must realize that what was true for Apollos and Paul is true for us. We explain the greatest of mysteries, the fact that God loves us, and desires for us to join Him, and share in the glory of Jesus.

That means investing time in deep thought about God -based on what the scriptures teach us. Not just taking it out on Monday or Tuesday to study for this week’s sermon, but reading it for the same reason we desire to share in communion with the people and with God. These are the times where we are so overwhelmed by God that we beg Him to transform us.  For his transforming us comes, not from academic study and planning, but from time spent with Him.

That transformation cannot remain individualistic in scope – that is the point that Senkbeil is making. The more God transforms us, the more we reflect Christ, the more we cannot stand seeing people wander around in bondage of sin, This desire to see them come to find the peace we know infuses our sermons, our Bible studies and our prayers. This infusion transforms the preaching and sharing of Christ with those around us.

Passion returns to the pulpit and to those seated in the church, when God’s word reveals God’s desire for us to be His people, and the works He does which draw us to Him.

Lord, infuse Your pastors with Your outlook, even as Your Spirit works in the hearts of those they serve in the church. Help us all, I pray, to treasure all you have called into existence, that we may know that You love the world, and us in it. 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), 126.

Harold L. Senkbeil, The Care of Souls: Cultivating a Pastor’s Heart (Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press, 2019), 223.

The Pastoral Need for the Lord’s Supper

Thoughts to draw you closer to Jesus…

But Stephen, full of the Holy Spirit, gazed steadily into heaven and saw the glory of God, and he saw Jesus standing in the place of honor at God’s right hand. 56 And he told them, “Look, I see the heavens opened and the Son of Man standing in the place of honor at God’s right hand!”  Acts 7:55-56 NLT

Acedia means a lack or absence of care. And that’s deadly. Whenever we grow numb to Christ’s saving work and the Father’s gracious gifts by which he makes us and preserves us, spiritual boredom takes hold, followed by apathy and subsequent despair. Where acedia takes root in the soul of a pastor, the flock suffers greatly.

There is today no lack of Bible teachers to set forth correctly the principles of the doctrines of Christ, but too many of these seem satisfied to teach the fundamentals of the faith year after year, strangely unaware that there is in their ministry no manifest Presence, nor anything unusual in their personal lives.

The gift of contemplative prayer is a practical and essential tool for confronting the heart of the Christian ascesis—namely, the struggle with our unconscious motivation—while at the same time establishing the climate and necessary dispositions for a deepening relationship with God and leading, if we persevere, to divine union.

As I look at the deacon, Stephen, I see a man who is living in the moment. He is not bound to anxiety or fear. He is not burnt out, and He cares about the people with whom he is interacting. The power of the resurrection is something he wants them to know; he wants them to know Jesus.

As I look at the church today, there are many pastors and church leaders that are suffering and struggling, not only in their lives, but in their spiritual lives as well. The are well able to teach the doctrines they believe in, if they still do. But they don’t care, or they are tired of caring. There is something lacking behind the doctrine, a “so what” to the “what” that is so well known and taught. Acedia or Ascesis is so evident in the lives of many I talk to in the church, and the constant work wears the men and women in ministry down.

The hard question is, if this is happening to our leaders, then what is happening to the flocks with which they have been called to shepherd?

Keating talks of the answer to this being contemplative prayer. A time to stop and listen, to contemplate what it means to dwell in the presence of God. To take the time to listen, to invest in the relationship by letting God “hear” us — so that we know He has.

Perhaps this is why the Lutheran Confessions call prayer a sacrament, a sacred time where God’s grace communicates deeply, intimately with the hearts of His people.

It is one of the other sacraments that I run to, that I long for, when spiritual burnout, spiritual fatigue, and life just sucking. The Lord’s Supper is so precious, the peace that comes from being united to the death and resurrection of Jesus is beyond measure. Sharing it with my people, whether in the sanctuary, or in their homes, lifts me out of the spiritual funk (and often physical/psychological funks as well).

Here is the theology behind this – we know that when we take and eat the bread, we unite to Christ’s body (koinonia). The same when we drink from the cup, there is unity with the sacrifice of Christ. But anytime God unites us with the death of Christ Jesus, there is the absolute promise of the resurrection! Knowing this is our reality, and someday will be a visible reality, stirs the soul, and revives me. This is not just some activity or obligation without an impact in our lives. To realize we commune with God, in that instance, He draws into His glory, and gives us a tangible lesson in how deep His love is for us.

Every pastor gets tired, every pastor gets weary and suffers from burnout. The same for elders, deacons, ministers of every type. I do not know a pastor during COVID who didn’t think of hanging it up – and finding some other field of work. The answer is that divine unity that Keating points out, the “manifest presence” is how Tozer describes it. Stephen, even in the face of martyrdom, finds his hope there, as he gazes into heaven and sees the glory of God.

That is the experience of the altar, whether serving the people of God, or receiving it with them.

We need that… so let us not neglect it, but run to it. AMEN!

 

 

Harold L. Senkbeil, The Care of Souls: Cultivating a Pastor’s Heart (Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press, 2019), 210.

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), 123.

Why I MUST Stuggle with the Scripture and God

Thoughts I pray drive you to the cross…

When the LORD heard them, he was furious. The fire of his wrath burned against Jacob. Yes, his anger rose against Israel, 22  for they did not believe God or trust him to care for them. 23  But he commanded the skies to open; he opened the doors of heaven. 24  He rained down manna for them to eat; he gave them bread from heaven. 25  They ate the food of angels! God gave them all they could hold. Psalm 78:21-25 (NLT2)

“Consequently this is the best advice, that one should draw from the source and diligently read the Bible. For a man who knows the text is also an extraordinary theologian. One passage or one text from the Bible is worth more than the glosses of four writers who aren’t reliable and thorough. 

Only one stipulation do I make: my teacher must know God, as Carlyle said, “otherwise than by hearsay,” and Christ must be all in all to him. If a man have only correct doctrine to offer me I am sure to slip out at the first intermission to seek the company of someone who has seen for himself how lovely is the face of Him who is the Rose of Sharon and the Lily of the Valley. Such a man can help me, and no one else can.

In my libraries I have closed to 10,000 books, both printed in paper and digitally on 3 different software programs.  S

Some are from favorite authors, like St. Josemaria, Michael Card, Martin Luther, Pope Benedict XVI, Peter Kreeft, Will Willimon, and Juan Carlos Ortiz. There are some newer writers that I am coming to appreciate more and more, like Tozer or Senkbeil. And there are other authors who are not as favored in my sight, yet all are men whose lives I thank God for, for they have affected me, or those whom I minister to at my church or in the community.

It would be really easy to just sit back in awe of their devotion, and spend time with their works. 

After all, I’ve read the Bible through more than once, in multiple translations. 

But it is there, in the pages of scripture, and in receiving and administering the sacraments, that I find God. It is where He hears me, and where I hear Him. There, on every page, there is Jesus. It is there where I find the words to think about, to ponder, even with which I question and argue. (It would be sad if I didn’t question and argue with them, for then I would be dishonest, or perhaps crazy… for God needs to transform me – which means I need to be honest where I am!) 

I cannot simply accept what men, far more brilliant that I could ever be, claim about the Greek and the Hebrew. I cannot accept their systems of theology. Simply put, they are sinners as well. Luther and Tozer are right – find the people that know God and rejoice in the intimate relationship He is forging with them. Learn from them how they encounter and walk with God, let them disciple you as you walk with Him. But always let Jesus be your focus, let the scriptures be the resource you measure it all with…

Like the passage from the Psalms, get to know the God, who even when you are struggling with Him, opens the skies and provides for you the bread of heaven and more. For that is when faith is more than just a list of doctrines, it is a relationship where you can depend on God in whatever life throws at you. Get to know the God who didn’t give up on Israel – Issacs’ son, or Israel – the 12 tribes. Get to know Him… experience His love… and without thinking–rejoice!

God loves us.  

Not from a distance, but right here and now. 

 

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), 352–353.

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

 

Him? What? Why? Me? A sermon on Acts 9:1-22

Him? What? Why? Me!
Acts 9:1-22

I.H.S.

May the grace and peace of God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ astound you, as you minister and love those whom the world has given up on

  • The other conversion

In today’s reading from the book of Acts there are two conversions. One is the one everyone knows about, the incredible conversion of a man who used the law to kill and torture those he didn’t like. He seemed out of his mind, and unwilling to consider any other position but his.

The bigger miracle, in my opinion, is the conversion of the other guy.

Looking at that one will have more impact on us anyways, because to be honest, I don’t think many of us are like Saul, who kept uttering threats to kill elders and pastors and other leaders of the church.

We need to see how Ananias was converted, how God changed his mind, and then see the incredible joy he was able to witness, because he was willing to head God’s heart, and consider a vision bigger than his own

  • Look at it my way….

I want you, for a moment, to put yourselves in Ananias’s shoes. There are all sorts of rumors going around, way before he has a vision. Everyone knows about Paul leading the group that killed the first deacon…and they know he’s on the warpath.

Paul gets the high priest to effectively declare war on Christians. No holes barred, for the high priest’s letter to the synagogues have the weight of all of their office behind them.

Ananias knows this… and then the vIsion… I am going to paraphrase it a little…

Good morning Ananias!

yes Lord?!?

I’ve got something for you to do… Go over to Straight Street, to the house of Judas. When you get there, ask for a man from Tarsus named Saul. He is praying to me right now. 12 I have shown him a vision of a man named Ananias coming in and laying hands on him so he can see again

And Ananias response is a three letter word that is the worst thing you can say to God….

BUT!

Never, ever, ever say that to God… even when we think we have a reason, it is usually means that we somehow don’t trust Him or think we know better. 

Ananias thinks he knows the whole story – this guy was as evil as they come…he enjoyed killing Christians. God don’t you realize how much trouble this guy is? Don’t you realize how black and evil his heart is?

God treats Ananias a lot nicer than I would have….

I would have said, “Ananias, you remember – I am God? Don’t you remember that besides loving me you have to love your neighbor Saul?  Don’t you remember what I taught about forgive him even as I forgive you?

Come Ananias, you know that even though the church gave up on Saul I haven’t!

Ananias needed his mind changed just as much as the Paul!

And so do we.

Too many times we doubt that God is able to do things in a person’s life. We believe someone is too evil, or too broken. And so we treat them like someone beyond God’s reach….

Or maybe they are mean murderous types… maybe they are just cold and don’t come across well, or they are a pain in the neck, or they are poor and homes, or maybe we thing they are so rich, they wouldn’t even think we exist.

Not one of them is beyond God’s reach – not one of them….

But will we believe it? Will we trust God when He tells us that God has chosen them? That God has a plan for their lives?

God’s words were simple…. “Go, for Saul is my chosen instrument to take my message to the Gentiles and to kings, as well as to the people of Israel. 16 And I will show him how much he must suffer for my name’s sake

  • Learning to Treasure God’s masterpiece

So Ananias mind is transformed by God. He remember that God is in charge,, and listens, and sees a miracle that is beyond anything he ever expected….

His heart changed… and he ministered to and love this wayward, power abusing murderer.

Hear again what Ananias saw God do.. through him.

He laid his hands on him and said, “Brother Saul, the Lord Jesus, who appeared to you on the road, has sent me so that you might regain your sight and be filled with the Holy Spirit.” 18 Instantly something like scales fell from Saul’s eyes, and he regained his sight. Then he got up and was baptized. 19 Afterward he ate some food and regained his strength.

Saul stayed with the believers in Damascus for a few days. 20 And immediately he began preaching about Jesus in the synagogues, saying, “He is indeed the Son of God!”

Imagine Ananias’ reaction…. Paul is now preaching about Jesus… proclaiming that He is the Messiah, the Son of God!

I can almost hear Ananias, in awe going… “I knew God was going to do something special with that boy! I just knew it!”…

Seriously, God can change anyone… and he can change our hearts toward anyone.

We just have to hear how much God loves them, and forgave their sin by dying on the cross. They might refuse . but that doesn’t change what God has promised them…The more we see that change others, the more we are able to see God at work, in us.

That is how God changes His people; Some he has to change as He did Paul, some He has to change as He did with Ananias.

And most of the time – we aren’t aware of it, for we are in awe – and sharing that Jesus is the Son of God…and He will never give up working on us, in and through us. For as God changes and converts us, we find ourselves dwelling in His peace… a peace that can affect all around us, for we learn to love, because we are loved. AMEN

Partners: A sermon for the installation of a pastor and his congregation

Partners
Phil. 1:3-6 & Matt. 28:16-20

I.H.S.

May the grace and peace of God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ become so evident in this place that  your ministry partnership is full of joy!

  • The Band Leader

I have looked forward to this day for nearly three years.

Because this day is the result of a lot of work, a lot of time on the phone, and reading emails, a lot of frustration at times, if we are honest, some doubt, and finally, some relief.

And so people of Grace Lutheran School and Grace Lutheran Church, this is the day the Lord made…. For you!

You see, this day isn’t about Rev. Michael.

This day is about Grace Lutheran Church and Grace Lutheran School, of which Mike, you, and your family become a part.

One of my illustrations of how the partnership between a community of faith – the church and school – and their pastor work together comes from my youth.

You see… my parents were ballroom dance teachers, and when I asked them to teach me…. They handed me a guitar. I asked them a few years later, and they helped me get a piano. Something about my coordination being so wrong that it would be bad for business if I tried to dance.

But have you ever seen ballroom dancers try to dance without music? 

Here is the point.

You are here to be in the background as the people learn to dance with God. You will, in your time of prayer for them, in your devotional time, in your time preparing sermons and Bible studies, in your time laughing and crying with them, you will be helping them learn to dance….

To dance with God.

That is your role in this partnership.

You are the band. You have to help them with the rhythm; you have to lift their spirits and help them learn to live life, moving in response to God.

And hopefully, as dances end… you will give thanks to God for their partnership in the ministry, as you see how God brought them through this life and finished His work with them.

  • Anxiety and Doubt

This isn’t to say it is going to be easy.

One of the things so often overlooked as we look at the Great Commission is where the disciples were. Just a little while after, they realized “Alleluia He is Risen” (He is Risen Indeed, Alleluia!) and therefore… (We are risen indeed, Alleluia) is this phrase,

Then the eleven disciples left for Galilee, going to the mountain where Jesus had told them to go. 17 When they saw him, they worshiped him—but some of them doubted!

Wait… what? Witnesses to the Lord’s nail spike prints in his hands, gaping spear wound in his side, and they….doubted?

Do you mean even they struggled?

Yeah – and there will be days for the entire community.

There might be an odd day when you are playing polka, and they are dancing the foxtrot. And the dissonance will make you wonder who is wrong and who is right….

Oddly enough, you can dance the foxtrot to a polka – you just have to move really quick!

But the partnership doesn’t end there… you get back to working with each other. You help them back into the groove, and then you almost want to stop playing – because they are doing the work of the ministry soooo sooo well as they learn to dance with God.

  • Treasure what God has put together

And what is that ministry? 

Well, how many people are in this Valley? According to the internet, about 517,000 people. About 60 churches here as well, according to one internet page.

So before you go into all the world to make disciples, you start here. 8618.6667 people to disciple, just if y’all take a single portion. Since you guys have such a clear view of grace, are such an awesome church body – and have a good pastor… let’s triple that. 25,850 people that you guys can reach out to, helping them become people who know Jesus loves them and learn to dance with Him!

There is the ministry of the church. 

That is one of the things that happens when this partnership is doing what it is supposed to: when you, Pastor Hall, are setting the rhythm through your administration of the sacraments, your teaching and preaching, and the way you live. You set the rhythm in the way you dance with God…

What does it mean to make a disciple? The first step is easy – you wash them clean of sin in baptism. Not that the water is essential – teach them what Ezekiel 36 and Titus 3 say about God’s promises and actions.

The second part is a bit of a translation issue.

Most translations say, “teach them to obey the commands.”

The Greek is a lot better. I could teach for an hour on this – but Mike will do a better job. Here is what it says in Greek.

Teach them to guard the treasure (tereo) I have called into existence. (entellomai)

Teach them to guard the treasure that I have called into existence….

What treasure is that? 

This treasure that the Father sent Jesus to die to create…

What I call the dance – that is what the treasure is.

When a good male leads his partner in the dance, and she trusts in him, there is a level of communication that occurs instinctively; it is based on that trust.

That is the treasure – this incredibly excellent relationship with the Creator of the Universe….

As your people learn to dance with God, something incredible happens. They reach out and love people around them, drawing them into the dance…

You are partners in this thing, and I pray dear brothers and sisters of Grace Lutheran Church and School – including your pastor- are so overwhelmed by what God does through this partnership that you give thanks to God every time you think of each other. Amen!

The Cure for Spiritual Tantrums…

Why not run here….

Thoughts to encourage running to Jesus!

But Naaman became angry and stalked away. “I thought he would certainly come out to meet me!” he said. “I expected him to wave his hand over the leprosy and call on the name of the LORD his God and heal me! 12 Aren’t the rivers of Damascus, the Abana and the Pharpar, better than any of the rivers of Israel? Why shouldn’t I wash in them and be healed?” So Naaman turned and went away in a rage.
13 But his officers tried to reason with him and said, “Sir,* if the prophet had told you to do something very difficult, wouldn’t you have done it?
2 Kings 5:11-13 NLT

Liberal Protestant theology understood this in a fundamental way when it expressed Jesus of Nazareth as the pure face of the eternal Father’s love beyond the Old Testament’s teaching of the Father who shows two faces, the face of wrath and the face of love.

Step by step, materially then spiritually, as you see from the text, especially as we read on, he is left with only one thread of consolation: the fact that God is God, the Creator who can do whatever he likes; and nobody can say to him, “You can’t do that to me.

….nevertheless do not know what his attitude is toward them. They cannot be confident of his love and blessing, and therefore they remain in eternal wrath and condemnation. For they do not have the LORD Christ, and, besides, they are not illuminated and blessed by the gifts of the Holy Spirit.

Why We Throw Spiritual Tantrums….

He was a grown man, a leader of leaders, appreciated and loved by his king.

Nevertheless, he stomped around and threw a tantrum that would make any 3-year-old proud! Arrogant, proud, and unwilling to admit his need, he was ready to give up his healing. Pride and arrogance are a deadly combination. If not for some of his men’s bravery, he would have spent his life cursed…

At least once a month – usually once a week, I find myself falling into the same trap. Be honest, you do as well. We want what we want when we want it, how we want it, acquired in the manner we planned!

Like Liberal Theology, we want to strip Jesus of his role as judge and only recognize him as the face of what we consider love to be. As He works to heal our brokenness, we tell Him to stop – and say the unthinkable, “you can’t do that to me!” We see it all around us; we’ve learned it well from society! We hear, “you can’t charge us that much for gasoline!”, “you can’t give me a bad grade,” “You can’t let my health fail,” and “you can’t tell me my coping mechanism is a sinful addiction,” “you can’t tell me this behavior, lifestyle, choice are wrong!” The list grows, and we throw more and more tantrums…

The officers that called Naaman to stop whining took a chance. They confronted him because the prophet was speaking for God, who didn’t have to heal him but provided a way he could be healed. They led him to take the step of acknowledging God didn’t have to heal him. He realized God could do it, and God was the one who set the terms.

In our case, the terms are particularly nasty.

“Take and eat; this is my body, broken for you!”

“Take and drink; this is my blood, shed for you for the forgiveness of sin!”

Hearing those words, we know what Luther wanted us to know about Jesus. That is, His mindset toward us – which leaves us confident of His love and the blessing He poured out upon us! He united us with His death and His resurrection.

I know this, and I think you do too… yet we will throw a tantrum today, no later than tomorrow. I pray someone will be there to remind us of the heart of God, and His attitude toward us, which is necessary to facilitate our healing. Tomorrow, the same challenge appears, and the only way out of such sin… is through the cross.

It is difficult to go there, but it is more exhausting not to run there! We actually sometimes need those tantrums, to remember why God is in charge… to know we can hear and recognize His voice, His invitation, His desire to comfort us.

So come, and know you are welcome at the altar.

So stop the tantrum… and drag your Naaman with you…

Hans Urs von Balthasar, Love Alone Is Credible, trans. D. C. Schindler (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 2004), 148.

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), 117.

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), 440.

Prayer is like a jacuzzi…

a jacuzzi near a tree
Photo by Erik Mclean on Pexels.com

Thoughts to Encourage Your Devotion to Jesus…

But when you pray, go into your own room, shut your door and pray to your Father privately. Your Father who sees all private things will reward you.” Matthew 6:5 (Phillips NT)

The habit of breaking off our prayers before we have truly prayed is as common as it is unfortunate. Often the last ten minutes may mean more to us than the first half hour, because we must spend a long time getting into the proper mood to pray effectively. We may need to struggle with our thoughts to draw them in from where they have been scattered through the multitude of distractions that result from the task of living in a disordered world.…

First he invites Christians to pray his very own prayer along with him, joining their prayers to his. “Our Father,” he invokes, by these words implying that any Father of his is our Father too. Since we pray in and through Jesus to the almighty Maker of heaven and earth, we have the privilege of approaching him as beloved children

From God’s point of view, it is not accomplishments but efforts that count. If we accept our poverty and limitations, but still go on trying, we will rate higher than everybody else in God’s book, just as the poor widow did.… If we make the effort and receive that one precious point for trying, God can take his pencil and start adding zeros after it.

As I was confronted by Tozer this morning, I struggled with his honesty. I don’t know how often I start to pray or read the scriptures and find my mind wandering off into space. I find myself checking a text, answering an email, or thinking of someone I need to call. Many things demand my attention, and I don’t even struggle to fight them off. I try to justify it by saying I am growing old, and my concentration isn’t what it once was… but that is just a poor excuse.

We need to sink into prayer like we do when we go into a jacuzzi. It requires great patience and the acceptance that it takes a little while to get used to it. But when we do, the comfort it gives, the stress it relieves, and the benefit it brings us are beyond belief. So it is with prayer, the first five to ten minutes are tough. Still, eventually, Satan will tire, and the distractions will dissipate. You will find yourself welcome in this conversation with God.

We need to realize that we belong in that moment. There is a point in entering a jacuzzi when you know you can take the final step in, when the heat has moved up your legs as blood returns to the heart, and you are internally ready. We can boldly enter the water then, and in the same way, as we pray, we get to the point where it just becomes a bold move. We are up to our necks….dwelling deeply – nothing else but our Lord, listening, comforting, directing, healing, empowering.

It takes effort because we are, as Keating notes, poor and limited. What we have to offer doesn’t seem enough. We go on trying, encouraged by the Father of Jesus, our Father, who loves us. And as we struggle, we learn to keep praying, knowing we will find ourselves in a moment with Him. Then we learn it was not about us straining to reach Him but realizing that He came to us.

Distracted as you are praying? Find a quiet place – keep praying… even if it is simply savoring the Lord’s Prayer or personalizing Psalm 8, 23, 139. Keep trying to pray, seek His face, His voice, and His care. You will get there… and then the feeling is incredible…for He is your God, and you are His.

Lord, help us to be patient while we enter the waters of prayer. Help us to keep praying until the distractions pass, and all we know is You and Your love. AMEN!

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

Senkbeil, Harold L. 2019. The Care of Souls: Cultivating a Pastor’s Heart. Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press.

Keating, Thomas. 2009. The Daily Reader for Contemplative Living: Excerpts from the Works of Father Thomas Keating, O.C.S.O., Sacred Scripture, and Other Spiritual Writings. Edited by S. Stephanie Iachetta. New York; London; New Delhi; Sydney: Bloomsbury.

The meaning of the empty tomb…

8 Then the disciple who had reached the tomb first also went in, and he saw and believed—9 for until then they still hadn’t understood the Scriptures that said Jesus must rise from the dead. 10 Then they went home. John 20:8-10 NLT

This changes the conversation on problems in the ministry immensely. Yet most of us still don’t get it. We keep focusing on visible things and neglect the spiritual. Ironic, isn’t it? You and I both know that most of our work involves things that are invisible, yet very real. No one has ever seen God, after all, and yet you and I daily teach and preach about him to others. We console, comfort, rebuke, and exhort the faithful using the invisible power of the Holy Spirit mediated through the word and sacraments. Forgiveness, peace, holiness, joy, consolation—all these are intangible and beyond the range of the senses, and yet our work revolves almost totally around these invisible things. It’s strange, then, that when confronted with roadblocks and obstacles in ministry we address only things we can see, touch, and measure externally.

But if we view creation with the eyes of love, then we will understand it, despite all the evidence that seems to point to the absence of love in the world. We will understand the ultimate purpose of creation: not only the purpose of its essence, which we seem to make some sense of through the various intelligible relationships among individual natures, but the purpose of its existence in general, for which no philosophy can otherwise find a sufficient reason.

The disciples had a lot to learn, as does every Christian.

But it is not just something discovered in the classroom or found by reading blogs or listening to podcasts. Like the sermons preached every Sunday in a million churches, lectures, lessons, and the ubiquitous podcasts and blogs are heard by the intellect. The “aha” moment that struck up such a passionate response in praise on Sunday is gone by Tuesday, or perhaps Wednesday.

This was true of the disciples – they heard Jesus speak of his death and resurrection. They heard that the seed needs to fall to the ground and die, then life is given to a multitude. They heard all the parables. The Apostle John said that until the moment they entered the tomb… they still didn’t understand the Scriptures that said Jesus must rise from the dead.

They had to encounter and experience the incredible love of God, at work at the cross, and then,  only then, in the darkest spiritual despair, find the living Lord. The impossible had to happen – they would never understand it until it was experienced. The word of God simply points to that experience, where forgiveness, peace, holiness, joy, consolation – all these things Senkbeil points to and more, flood the life of one who knows Jesus died and rose… for them.

As we encounter Jesus, risen from the dead, life can make sense. Existence is no longer an ordeal to be navigated. It is about God’s love for us and the ability to love He enables in us. That is the ultimate purpose of Creation seen in the empty tomb… we need to know the power of His resurrection – for it is at work in us.

This was done…

for us!

The scriptures reveal this; this is what the sacraments help us experience.

We need to look in the tomb… we need to experience the death and resurrection of Jesus. We need to finally understand…He is Risen, and therefore we are risen indeed!   All praise and glory to our Lord! Amen!

Senkbeil, Harold L. 2019. The Care of Souls: Cultivating a Pastor’s Heart. Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press.

Balthasar, Hans Urs von. 2004. Love Alone Is Credible. Translated by D. C. Schindler. San Francisco: Ignatius Press.

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