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…

Luther: You MUST experience Jesus to Have Faith in Him.

Thoughts which drive me to Jesus, and to His cross

Jesus spoke up and said to him, “Simon, I have something to tell you.”
“Yes, Teacher,” he said, “tell me.”
41 “There were two men who owed money to a moneylender,” Jesus began. “One owed him five hundred silver coins, and the other owed him fifty. 42Neither of them could pay him back, so he cancelled the debts of both. Which one, then, will love him more?”
43 “I suppose,” answered Simon, “that it would be the one who was forgiven more.” Luke 7:40–43. GNT

Then he said to the disciples, “Where is your faith?”  Luke 8:25 GNT

A “mystery” is a hidden secret that is not known; and the “mysteries of the kingdom of God” are the things in the kingdom of God, as for example Christ with all his grace, which he manifests to us. He who knows Christ aright understands what God’s kingdom is and what is in it. It is called a mystery because it is spiritual and secret, and it remains so where the spirit does not reveal it. For although there are many who see and hear it, yet they do not understand it. There are many who preach and hear Christ, how he offered himself for us; but all that is only upon their tongue and not in their heart; for they themselves do not believe it; they do not experience it.

The Truth was hunting for those who would receive it, and relatively few did, for “many are called, but few are chosen.”

When I first started listening to language with these discriminations, I realized how thoroughly culture-conditioned I was. Talk about being conformed to this world! My use of language in the community of faith was a mirror image of the culture: a lot of information, a lot of publicity, not much intimacy. My ministry was voiced almost entirely in the language of description and of persuasion—telling what was there, urging what could be. I was a great explainer. I was a pretty good exhorter. I was duplicating in the church what I had learned in my thoroughly secularized schools and sales-saturated society, but I wasn’t giving people much help in developing and using the language that was basic to both their humanity and their faith, the language of love and prayer.

I think we need to spend some time thinking through Luther’s idea that people (and some preachers) do not believe the gospel we preach (and preach clearly and well) because we have not experienced it The faith remains mysterious to them (ok, us) because we are so caught up in the details and questions, that we fail to simply be in this intimate relationship with the Lord who died for us.

Jesus’ interaction with the “used-to-be-harlot” and Simon the Pharisee demonstrate this all too well. Simon doesn’t understand the gratitude of this lady who knows the depth of her own sin, now forgiven. But she does, she has experienced Christ offering himself for her, even before the cross. She is being made whole, she realizing that her re-creation is God re-creating her in His image once again. At least she understands this in her psyche, and the gratitude–well that is an unprovoked response to His love, to His care, ot he intimate relationship she found herself in, so different from the physically intimate relationships she surrendered herself to. Simon doesn’t think he needs to be as forgiven, so he receives little forgiveness. And the disciples in the boat, haven’t experienced it either, for if they had, their faith would be automatic, and they would be at peace!

This is what Peterson is getting at with his use of language–he elarned it was time to stop talking about Jesus, but time to demonstrate and live talking to Jesus, and hearing Him. THat’s what this pastor’s people needed, it is what my people need as well.

Experience is what Tozer is getting at, as well. Jesus didn’t say I will teach the Truth, the Way and the Life. He said He was the Truth. The Truth that frees us, the Truth that changes our lives. the Truth that is our life, as we live in Him. That is the experience that causes our faith, our trust in and dependance on Him to grow. FOr faith is not a group of beliefs, faith is a relationship you know you can invest in, because you have experienced that the other Person has done just that. Jesus is the Truth that hunted us down, and we are thankful He did!

Heavenly Father, please send the Holy Spirit to cut through our hearts and minds, cutting away all that is not of You. Help us to rejoice, to celebrate, to be in awe of the presence of Jesus and the Holy Spirit in our lives, and then guide our lives lived in awe and gratitude. We pray this in Jesus name! Amen!

 

Martin Luther and John Sander, Devotional Readings from Luther’s Works for Every Day of the Year (Rock Island, IL: Augustana Book Concern, 1915), 51–52.

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

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), 99.

What we know we don’t know…or do we?

Words that draw me closer to Jesus, and to His cross

After the LORD your God has driven them out for you, do not say to yourselves that he brought you in to possess this land because you deserved it. No, the LORD is going to drive these people out for you because they are wicked. It is not because you are good and do what is right that the LORD is letting you take their land. He will drive them out because they are wicked and because he intends to keep the promise that he made to your ancestors, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. You can be sure that the LORD is not giving you this fertile land because you deserve it. No, you are a stubborn people. Deut, 9:4-6

The two most essential truths we need to know are the two things God said to St. Catherine in a mystical vision, the two things that summarize all of divine revelation: “I’m God, you’re not.” My favorite sermon, the shortest and the funniest. The joke’s on us. What’s so incredibly funny (and also incredibly tragic) about that short sermon is that we keep forgetting that second point.

I often wonder how so many people can live with a continuing hope that they will in some way be able to commune with God through their intellectual capacities. When will they realize that if they could possibly “discover” God they realize that with the intellect, they would be equal to God?

After a few years of this, I noticed how different my teaching was from that of early generations of pastors. My secularized schooling had shaped my educational outlook into something with hardly any recognizable continuities with most of the church’s history. I had come into the parish seeing its great potential as a learning center, a kind of mini-university in which I was the resident professor.
And then one day, in a kind of shock of recognition, I saw that it was in fact a worship center. I wasn’t prepared for this. Nearly all my preparation for being a pastor had taken place in a classroom, with chapels and sanctuaries ancillary to it. But these people I was now living with were coming, with centuries of validating precedence, not to get facts on the Philistines and Pharisees but to pray. They were hungering to grow in Christ, not bone up for an examination in dogmatics. I began to comprehend the obvious: that the central and shaping language of the church’s life has always been its prayer language

We hear it often, “we are saved by grace, through faith,”  Most of us have the concept memorized, especially among us Lutherans.

We know it is not by our own reason, our own strength, or anything that we do that God saves us. He justifies us, He sanctifies us, He empowers us to do His will.

Yet we still struggle with it. Peterson notes that in his “confession” –that he needed to learn to teach his people to pray. He wanted them to know everything, to establish his school of teaching. ( I would also maintain that a university’s mission is not just that of downloading data into its students – but to assist in shepherding them into their vocations in Christ) In this age, the church isn’t as focused on salvation by works, as salvation by knowledge. Teach theology, teach doctrine, teach exegetically, teach Socratically, didactically, without asking…are we teaching about Jesus… or are we helping people explore and experience their relationship with Jesus?

Kreeft’s insight gained from a four word sermon reinforces this – God is God, we are not, is just as important as the sermon. We keep forgetting that we aren’t God! That is why we pursue knowing about God, as if we can be equal with God. Experiencing Him is far different, it is humbling; it is awe-inspiring, it leaves us not knowing what to say.

We can’t know enough about Him, and that curiosity is good, unless it replaces our walking with Him. But  in that giving of knowledge has to be the experiential as it is formative.

This is just as amazing as it must have been for Israel. TO be in the presence of the Almighty, Omnscient God. And to remember – that its isn’t because we are perfect, or sinless, that we are simply loved.

 

Kreeft, Peter. Ha! (p. 26). St. Augustine’s Press. Kindle Edition.

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

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), 96.

 

Christians Know This, But Do we Depend on it?

Thoughts which draw us closer to Jesus, and to His cross!

Instead, be concerned above everything else with the Kingdom of God and with what he requires of you, and he will provide you with all these other things. Matthew 6:33 (TEV)

When the prophets try to describe for me the attributes, the graces, the worthiness of the God who appeared to them and dealt with them, I feel that I can kneel down and follow their admonition: “He is thy Lord—worship thou Him!”

Here everything must be abandoned: friends, acquaintances, the whole city of Jerusalem, and everything belonging to these and to men; for all this neither gives, nor aids comfort, until the Lord is sought in the temple, since he is in that which is his Father’s. There he can truly be found and the heart is made to rejoice, otherwise it would have to remain without the least comfort.

Annie Dillard goes to church: “I know only enough of God to want to worship him, by any means ready to hand.… There is one church here, so I go to it.” It doesn’t matter that it is out of fashion, she goes anyway: “On a big Sunday there might be twenty of us there; often I am the only person under sixty, and feel as though I’m on an archaeological tour of Soviet Russia.”
It is unfashionable because it is ridiculous. How can searchers after God and seekers after beauty stomach the “dancing bear act” that is staged in Christian churches, Protestant and Catholic alike, week after week? Dillard, cheerfully and matter-of-factly, goes anyway.

Most Christians know we are to seek first Jesus Christ and His righteous life.

But do we do it?

Peterson’s Annie gets it, I think.

SHe chooses to go to a church which isn’t particularly proper or professional. She goes to a small church where two or three are gathered in His name, and share in His gifts of word sacrament. Finding the God she barely knows, but knows enough to know she has to worship Him, that is her focus…

A million and one things to criticise, but she goes to find God, in the middle of His people.

She succeeds, for God will always be found where He says.

Arriving there, Tozer’s words make sense—it is too much to try to comprehend the God who draws us into His presence. There, realizing the very special incredibly intimate relationship He has created, we are drawn to our knees and our face flooding with tears of joy; we praise Him!

We don’t even think about abandoning everything – we just do. We abandon our sin, we abandon those things we think will make life perfect; we abandon our fears and anxieties and simply desire to join Annie, and worship God, who loves us.

Seek Him first and then be aware He is here… and allow that to change and guide your life. When you mess up – be assured, He will be there.

He loves you.

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

Martin Luther and John Sander, Devotional Readings from Luther’s Works for Every Day of the Year (Rock Island, IL: Augustana Book Concern, 1915), 35.

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), 88.

An Unexpected, Dramatic Change…that testifies to more than the Resurrection

Thoughts which draw me to the cross,

I do this in order that they may be filled with courage and may be drawn together in love, and so have the full wealth of assurance which true understanding brings. In this way they will know God’s secret, which is Christ himself. 3  He is the key that opens all the hidden treasures of God’s wisdom and knowledge. Colossians 2:2-3 (TEV)

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

When he was dead and buried, his followers did not get together in a little liberal clique and comfort themselves with the fact that they still had his teachings. It was over. Mostly his disciples seemed afraid that they might share his fate!

To remit a man’s past without transforming his present is to violate the moral sincerity of his own heart

The apostle reminds us that we are to conduct ourselves in a Christian manner toward our persecutors, who, to a great extent, are to blame for the distress of the saints. It is well to observe that we are not merely advised, but commanded, to love our enemies, to do them good and to speak well of them; such is the fruit of the Spirit.

The observation in blue is one we need to meditate on, this dramatic and unexpected change in the lives

From locked in a room, scared out of their wits, grieving the loss of their mentor, the One who gave them life, to praying in jails, to rejoicing in martyrdom.

The change is stunning, and some would call it evidence of the resurrection.

I think it is more than that, for the Lord Jesus had promised something when he went away, that He would send the Paraclete – the Holy Spirit. (John 14:16, 15:26)

It is the Holy Spirit that transforms us, for God could not simply forgive our sins. There had to be a reason for that, and that reason is fellowship with God. That transformation Luther discusses as  well, for there is no reason to love our persecutors, to do good to them, and to speak well of them. The Holy Spirit draws us together in the love that the Trinity shares, that Jesus embodied, that the Holy Spirit pours into our life, as our transformation is accomplished.

This changes us from a liberal or conservative clique into the body of Christ, gathered around His altar, celebrating His love and His work. I am not trying to diminish the importance of the Resurrection, but the transformation in Christians is due to work of the Holy Spirit, who sanctifies and preserves us.

This is why the change in the apostles and disciples is so radical, and why it is proof of something far more potent than a resurrection 2000 years ago.

This change testifies to and celebrates the presence of the Holy Spirit in His people, the church.

God is with you – right now, right here…

and He changes everything….

 

 

 

Gerhard O. Forde, “The Preacher,” in Theology Is for Proclamation (Minneapolis, MN: Fortress Press, 1990), 73.

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

Martin Luther and John Sander, Devotional Readings from Luther’s Works for Every Day of the Year (Rock Island, IL: Augustana Book Concern, 1915), 20.

Mary, the mother of God, Luther and an Overlooked Prophecy…

Thoughts which draw me closer to Jesus, and to the cross:

34  Then Simeon blessed them, and he said to Mary, the baby’s mother, “This child is destined to cause many in Israel to fall, but he will be a joy to many others. He has been sent as a sign from God, but many will oppose him. 35  As a result, the deepest thoughts of many hearts will be revealed. And a sword will pierce your very soul.” Luke 2:34-35 (NLT2)

The holy Virgin was a real martyr for three days, and these days were harder for her than was the external pain of martyrdom to other saints. She had had such anxiety on her Son’s account that she could not have suffered any more bitter pain. For that is the greatest torture and woe, when the heart is attacked and tortured. That is only half-suffering when the body alone is afflicted, but when the heart is compelled to endure suffering, only great and noble spirits, with special grace and strength, are able to endure it. But why does God permit these afflictions to come upon his loved ones?
…..Thirdly, God does this that he may teach his saints to prepare themselves to find Christ and keep him. Mary and Joseph sought the child Jesus for three days without finding him either in Jerusalem or among their friends and acquaintances, until they came to the temple where he sat among the teachers and where the Scriptures and God’s Word are studied.

I never made the connection between the three days that Mary and Joseph lost Jesus, finding Him in the Temple, and the 3 days His body was in the tomb. That is, until I read Luther’s thoughts this morning. Knowing what she knew from prophecy would only make the anxiety more unbearable – “how could I have lost the Messiah?”–“could this wreck the plans God had to save Israel?” Her mind (and stomach) must have done more flips and somersaults than a Olympic gymnastics competition.

She must have thought that this was the answer to Simeon’s prophecy, this was the time that the sword pierces her soul.

For how could she know this One, the baby she held, the rabbi that was her Son would be tortured and killed? To wonder if He was alive, or to know He was dead. To wonder about all she had seen and heard, from her cousin’s son proclaiming that Jesus was the Lamb of God, to the miracles and the teachings. That was agonizing, and yet, as she would find Him in the Temple, she would find that death could not contain Him.

We, too,  occasionally leave Jesus in the Temple, we occasionally leave Him at the altar. We head back home, only to realize we’ve lost our peace, and wonder where He is at. Realizing that, our life crashes down again, and only “finding Him” can lift us back up. The third reason Luter points to (i deleted the first two) is so that we know this can happen, we can find Him again, and keep Him. Or rather, find out He’s been keeping us the entire time. We can find Him where word and sacrament are offered, where His love and His mercy become tangible. We find Him and what we desperately need to live life in peace.

I don’t think Mary had as much anxiety the second time she found Jesus after “losing” Him. For the resurrection changed everything in her life, and the lives of those around her. As it changes our lives, yours and mine today.

I just need to ask…

have we lost Him in the midst our pilgrimage….and are we ready to find Him where He dwells with His people?

Heavenly Father, reveal our hearts, and in doing so let us never be content with leaving Jesus behind. Rather, make us hunger and thirst for your presence, and rejoice in Your satisfying our desire to dwell in Your presence. AMEN!

 

 

Martin Luther and John Sander, Devotional Readings from Luther’s Works for Every Day of the Year (Rock Island, IL: Augustana Book Concern, 1915), 18–19.

What worship is… the place where souls are cured

8  Every Sabbath day this bread must be laid out before the LORD. The bread is to be received from the people of Israel as a requirement of the eternal covenant. 9  The loaves of bread will belong to Aaron and his descendants, who must eat them in a sacred place, for they are most holy. It is the permanent right of the priests to claim this portion of the special gifts presented to the LORD.” Leviticus 24:8-9 (NLT2)

The rites and liturgy of man acquire the power to evoke the divine mystery that eye has not seen, that ear has not heard and that it has not entered into the heart of man to conceive. Words, therefore, become seeds of prayer and of contemplation, instruments of man’s transfiguration into the likeness of the Holy God Whom no one can see without dying. Words and symbols lie in the depths of man’s inherited store of knowledge and memory and even in the souls of men who have completely forgotten God these archetypal seeds of divinity and mystery still lie hidden, waiting to germinate like the grains of wheat laid away thousands of years ago, with a Pharaoh under his pyramid

Running-the-church questions are: What do we do? How can we get things going again?
Cure-of-souls questions are: What has God been doing here? What traces of grace can I discern in this life? What history of love can I read in this group? What has God set in motion that I can get in on?

In order for the rites and liturgy of which Merton speaks do what he desires, we have to understand that the rites and liturgy of man means that he is an actor, a part of those rites and liturgies. He is not their controller, their guardian, their defender, or the one who manipulates them. They have to be Divine, the rites and liturgies that are soundly based in scripture and they must reveal Jesus to those who need healing. 

Any other goal for worship, which deviates the attention of God and His people dwelling together as God heals hearts and souls, and bodies, that’s not liturgical worship. It doesn’t plant the word of God deeply in them, it doesn’t result in a spiritual connection. It blocks us from seeing what God is doing, replacing His actions with the actions man has done, or that the pastor/leaders want the congregation to do.

They may be highly motivated, they may be doctrinally astute, but that is not the purpose of worship. Worship is to give people what they need to know about Jesus, it is to comfort terrified and anxious souls (see the Augsburg Confession, Article XXIV) The service provides the healing of souls, what has been called the cure of souls. It is what God is providing for His people, this miraculous work of His in our lives. 

This is what Peterson is getting at – the difference between “running a church” and being a place where the “cure of souls” occurs. That cure results in a worship that is beyond just singing a couple of cool songs, it results in a transformation that is beyond words, and a peace that is beyond expression. Both a result of a love that is beyond logic.

And realizing that love, that mercy, that peace, is what we are to be doing…. and then responding with God’s people.

That’s what the scripture passage is really about – the fact that the offerings God’s people give are used to provide for …God’s priests. And since all believer’s now belong to the priesthood… God uses our offerings, our sacrifices – to care for us. (He certainly doesn’t need the $$) Again – a response to the cure of souls…

This is why God gathers us together, to care for us, to cure us, to make us whole, and wholly His.

Lord, help us to see Your work as we are gathered by the Holy Spirit, in Your Name! AMEN!

 

 

 

Thomas Merton, The New Man (London; New York: Burns & Oates, 1976), 60–61.

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), 70.

Another Year… and The Cure for our Broken Time

Thoughts that drive me to Jesus, and to His cross, where redemption and healing occur

“The LORD told Moses *to say to the community of Israel, ‘Be holy, because I, the LORD your God, am holy’…. ‘Keep yourselves holy, because I am the LORD your God. Obey my laws, because I am the LORD and I make you holy.’” Leviticus 19:1-2, 20:7-8 GNT

And all who heard were completely amazed. “How well he does everything!” they exclaimed. “He even causes the deaf to hear and the dumb to speak!”  Mark 7:37 GNT

When I did not confess my sins, I was worn out from crying all day long. 4 Day and night you punished me, LORD; my strength was completely drained,
as moisture is dried up by the summer heat. Psalm 32:4 GNT

Therefore he first gives the law, by which man recognizes this sin and thirsts for grace; then he also gives the gospel and saves him.

None of us can approach a consideration of the eternal nature and Person of Jesus Christ without sensing and confessing our human inadequacy in the face of the divine revelation…..This is the only one who can assure us: “No man cometh unto the Father, but by Me!”

It should be clear that the cure of souls is not a specialized form of ministry (analogous, for instance, to hospital chaplain or pastoral counselor) but is the essential pastoral work. It is not a narrowing of pastoral work to its devotional aspects, but it is a way of life that uses weekday tasks, encounters, and situations as the raw material for teaching prayer, developing faith, and preparing for a good death. Curing souls is a term that filters out what is introduced by a secularizing culture. It is also a term that identifies us with our ancestors and colleagues in ministry, lay and clerical, who are convinced that a life of prayer is the connective tissue between holy day proclamation and weekday discipleship.

I found one of those calculators that tell you how long you’ve been alive.

Over a half million hours. 30 million minutes, over 1,826,841,618 seconds – almost 2 billion seconds!

No wonder I feel old!

If I cannot even think through the enormity of those numbers, how in the world can I attempt to understand Jesus, who has been there. He knows me far better than I know myself – for I might remember a thousand or 2 of those hours– He knows every one of them.

What is overwhelming is that i remember as many of my failures and sins, maybe far more, than the good moments. Luther is right – the law causes me to recognize my sin, and thirst for this idea of grace! I hear the words from Leviticus–this call to holiness, and know I far too often fail spectacularly to meet that standard. I usually don’t even get to last part of verse 7, and the declaration that GOD MAKES US HOLY!

That is the point where a soul is cured. And it is revealed with more and detail every time we pray, every time we contemplate the scriptures.

It begins as Holy Spirit draws us to Jesus, who binds us to Himself in baptism, and brings us into the presence of the Father. And the ongoing work of revealing the cure our heart, soul and mind,

This is the work of the people of God, and those who shepherd them to Jesus.

It is why we pray, to revel in the relationship, to let God remove our burdens and empower us to live as Christ, giving hope to other sin the middle of their 1-3 billion seconds… to help them know they aren’t alone in this moment. This is what it means to be holy – to live in Christ, to love, to care for, to point people to the place where their souls find the cure they need. Even as the Holy Trinity provides the cure we need…

This is the work of the church…reviving the people Gpd called to be His own…seeing them cured.

This is the holiness God creates in us, as we are bound to Him.

Heavenly Father, help us see the cure provided as we are united to Jesus. Help us see that healing provided by the Holy Spirit, and help us look with joyous expectation to the moment we dwell with You forever!  AMEN!

 

 

 

Martin Luther and John Sander, Devotional Readings from Luther’s Works for Every Day of the Year (Rock Island, IL: Augustana Book Concern, 1915), 9.

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

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), 68.

 

God Will Revive You then go and Tell Them How the Lord Restored You!

Thoughts which draw me to the cross

As Jesus was getting into the boat, the man who had had the demons begged him, “Let me go with you!” But Jesus would not let him. Instead, he told him, “Go back home to your family and tell them how much the Lord has done for you and how kind he has been to you.”  Mark 5:18-19 GNT

1   I praise you, LORD, because you have saved me and kept my enemies from gloating over me. 2  I cried to you for help, O LORD my God, and you healed me; 3  you kept me from the grave. I was on my way to the depths below, but you restored my life. Psalm 30:1-3 (TEV)

Had not these shepherds believed the angel they would never have gone to Bethlehem, they would have done none of those things related of them in this gospel. One might say, I would gladly believe if an angel from heaven were to preach to me. But whoever does not receive the Word for its own sake will never receive it for the sake of the preacher, even if all the angels preached it to him.

The vocational reformation of our own time (if it turns out to be that) is a rediscovery of the pastoral work of the cure of souls. The phrase sounds antique. It is antique. But it is not obsolete. It catches up and coordinates, better than any other expression I am aware of, the unending warfare against sin and sorrow and the diligent cultivation of grace and faith to which the best pastors have consecrated themselves in every generation.

Luther points out something we know, at least we should know it. The shepherds, the first of the New Testament evangelists, went to share what they saw in a manger. This is what the angels shared with them, but their message was not about the angels, it was about the Messiah, who came to them.

Likewise, the man posessed by demons, commissioned to bring the gospel to his gentile community, is to talk about what God has done to him.

Hear the Psalmist as well, who understands that they’ve been saved at the gates of hell. Saved from those depths, and restored!

These are the seeds of a revival. These are souls that are being changed by God, souls that have been cured. There is little need ot but point them at their community, at their world and let them go bring the news about God’s ministry in their lives. (Luther goes on to say they shouldn’t remember the messenger – so overwhemed by the presence of God and His love.) This changes communities, it changes the world.

Revival doesn’t just target a demographic. It tells everyone, and they come, for they need God’s love and cure as well. This is so different from the Church Growth Strategies I’ve been taught over the last 40 years!  Those strategies want the pastor and leadership to plan the ministry, to control the way the Holy Spirit focuses, bsaed on data and marketing strategies, leadership principles and, to be honest , investment strategies. (Investement of time and resources, not just money).

Revival means the pastor is, as Peterson notes – more focusd on helping people deal with sin and sorrow by planting seeds of grace, and encouraging people’s awareness of the Christ revealed to them in prayer, study, sermons and the sacraments. Done well, the people treasure these moments of being cured, and it is so amazing that they will share it with those they encounter. Their hunger is for Christ, and to see the Holy Spirit at work.

“Seek God first, and the rest shall be added to you” THis is true for the church, as well as for the individual.

Lord, please help us look to You, to cry out for Your minisry, for You to revive Your church. Help us to seek Your face, and then send us to tell others what You have done!  Help us hear Your message, and to see You revealed to us. We pray this in Jesus’ name. AMEN!

 

 

Martin Luther and John Sander, Devotional Readings from Luther’s Works for Every Day of the Year (Rock Island, IL: Augustana Book Concern, 1915), 456.

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), 65.

THe Pastoral Art of Using Words…

THoughts that drive me to the cross…

7 The LORD said to Moses, “Go back down at once, because your people, whom you led out of Egypt, have sinned and rejected me!  Ex 32:7.  GNT

But Moses pleaded with the LORD his God and said, “LORD, why should you be so angry with your people, whom you rescued from Egypt with great might and power? Ex 32:11.  GNT

The apocalyptic pastor is a poet. St. John was the first major poet of the Christian church. He used words in new ways, making (ποεατεας in Greek is maker) truth right before our eyes, fresh in our ears. The way a pastor uses the language is a critical element in the work. The Christian gospel is rooted in language: God spoke a creation into being; our Savior was the Word made flesh. The poet is the person who uses words not primarily to convey information but to make a relationship, shape beauty, form truth.

Reason cannot understand how there can be pleasure in crosses and peace in disquietude. Such peace is the work of God, and none can understand it until he has experienced it.

The conversation between God and Moses is interesting, it is the poiema – the work of art (from which we get the word poem from) that Peterson references. God will not only provide for His people’s sins, but will teach Moses and all pastors a lesson.

Moses has to realize – I didn’t lead these people from Egypt, I am not their God,  Yahweh is their God, He is the one who rescued them from Egypt, it has to be His work that will save them from their sin. That is what Moses will toss back to God, and I can imagine God smiling inside as Moses tells him – “they aren’t mine, they are Yours!”

“Don’t forget that Moses, and don’t let them forget it, either!”

This conversation teaches Moses a compassion he will need much later, for he will need to remember these people are God’s, and therefore God will have to transform them. He is not the only under-shepherd that is guided by God. Each of the prophets would similarly see the artistry of God, who would use their experiences as parables of grace. Nathan, Hosea, Jeremiah all see life as an experience to share.

That makes the difference———these poems of our lives, these words we use which help people understand the relationship we have with God.

We need to study, to meditate devotionally, to look at our work as God’s craftsmanship–His work–in and through our lives. As we do, perhaps he church will sense our passion for the message, and that they understand it. And then they will treasure church, and listen to sermons and the words of the liturgy and music that all focus on this message God wants us to know.

 

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), 53.

Martin Luther and John Sander, Devotional Readings from Luther’s Works for Every Day of the Year (Rock Island, IL: Augustana Book Concern, 1915), 442–443.

The Greatest Miracle! (If I only remember to think of it!)

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Thoughts which draw me to Jesus, and to His cross

Put this altar outside the curtain which hangs in front of the Covenant Box. That is the place where I will meet you.  Exodus 30:6 GNT

Contemplation is that wisdom which makes man the friend of God, a thing which Aristotle thought to be impossible. For how, he said, can a man be God’s friend? Friendship implies equality. That is precisely the message of the Gospel:

But you may argue that the statement of Paul is too awful, when he says, whosoever eats the bread and drinks the cup of the Lord unworthily, eats and drinks judgment unto himself, and is guilty of the body and the blood of the Lord. Dear friend, you must not consider yourself so much from the standpoint of worthiness or unworthiness of your person as from that of your need, which makes the grace of Christ necessary. If you recognize and feel your need, you have the requisite worthiness and preparation.

It is not hard to see myself as a servant, a slave of God. And I resonate with Paul, as he refers to himself as a doulas – a fully owned slave. Not that I am a particularly good one, I am stubborn, and I don’t follow directions all that well. But God can use us, often despite our thoughts and actions.

That is amazing…

But Merton’s words this morning, I know they are based in scripture (John 15:15), they are still tough for me to work through. A “friend of God?”, even contemplating on that leaves me shaking my head for a while. My mind comes up with 1000 reasons Jesus wouldn’t befriend me. He has to love me, but “friends”? That seems too much, too overwhelming!

Yet that is what God wanted from the beginning, as He walked through the garden with Adam and Eve. That’s what the meetup with God was about at the Ark of the Covenant, and the wonder of the mercy-seat, where blood would cover the sins of Israel.

All done so we could know God is with us, as a friend. That is what Job sought as well,

I want someone to plead with God for me, as one pleads for a friend.  Job 16:21 GNT

And as it would be seen at the Ark of the Covenant, it would really be seen at the cross. As Jesus would tell the Father to forgive us..

He pleaded for His friends would be forgiven, to be restored to Him.

It is not a bad thing we struggle with this idea, though. That is where Luther’s quote come into play. We need to know Jesus makes this friendship possible! Even as we realize our sins have damaged it, for the moment. We can’t assume we deserve it. We know better. But we can rejoice in His actions to make it real, to make it true.

But He does all this, so we can be friends.

Amazing! This is the greatest miracle in all of scripture.

But Merton was right, we need to contemplate; we need to think through and work through and struggle with this thought. But we need to – it is true.

Thomas Merton, The New Man (London; New York: Burns & Oates, 1976), 12.

Martin Luther and John Sander, Devotional Readings from Luther’s Works for Every Day of the Year (Rock Island, IL: Augustana Book Concern, 1915), 400–401. 

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