Category Archives: Life in Jesus
Thoughts that draw me closer to Jesus, and His cross.
28 Then the man said, “Your name will no longer be Jacob. Your name will now be Israel, because you have wrestled with God and with people, and you have won.”29 Then Jacob asked him, “Please tell me your name.” But the man said, “Why do you ask my name?” Then he blessed Jacob there.
30 So Jacob named that place Peniel, saying, “I have seen God face to face, but my life was saved.”…
3 Jacob himself went out in front of them and bowed down flat on the ground seven times as he was walking toward his brother.
4 But Esau ran to meet Jacob and put his arms around him and hugged him. Then Esau kissed him, and they both cried. 5 When Esau looked up and saw the women and children, he asked, “Who are these people with you?” Genesis 32:28-30, 33:3-5, NCV
For the minds of these people have become stubborn. They do not hear with their ears, and they have closed their eyes. Otherwise they might really understand what they see with their eyes and hear with their ears. They might really understand in their minds and come back to me and be healed.’ Matt 13:15, quoting Is. 6:9-10 NCV (emphasis mine)
The culture of individualism, consumerism, and quick fixes continues to creep into the work of the counselor whenever performance and quick results are the primary motivations. Often we get so extremely busy and preoccupied by our compulsion to quickly remedy “problems” that in reality require an unhurried transformation not only of the head but of the heart, that we grasp for the next best treatment available or hold onto tried and tested modes of intervention. Yet at the end of our therapeutic work we somehow get the sense that something is amiss and unfinished, that somehow all these theories and techniques have fallen short of responding to the soul ache that comes from a deeper, more primal place.
It is taught among us that the sacraments were instituted not only to be signs by which people might be identified outwardly as Christians, but that they are signs and testimonies of God’s will toward us for the purpose of awakening and strengthening our faith.
2 For this reason they require faith, and they are rightly used when they are received in faith and for the purpose of strengthening faith.
I do a bit of counseling now and then, sometimes in groups, and sometimes with individuals. Almost always, it is because of conflicts and strife, even if that is because of an internal conflict.
Having that occur more often as the holidays come near – I saw something in this morning’s devotion that I’ve overlooked before. Jacob/Israel’s dramatic change in dealing with his older brother Esau. Jacob left his homeland, fearing for his life, as he scammed his borther out of everything – his birthright, his blessing as older (and therefore chief of the tribe) son. His fear was obvious, as he sought to buy forgiveness, sending gifts on a head.
But his encounter with Jesus changed all that…he was drawn back to God, even fighting him–as stubborn as ever–refusing to submit. But that fight and blessing changed him, even as he “triumphed,” and was saved. For it was only by engaging God that this could happen, it was only then that reconciliation, true reconciliation was possible for Jacob/Israel.
That is what Jesus points to, in quoting Isaiah’s ordination warning. Only by engaging God can sin be dealt with, and the person healed. Just as the Lutheran Confessions talk of the sacraments being the place where we are healed as our trust/dependence on God is strengthened and made our foundation of life.
That is the primal place where Nolasco notes the soul’s ache originates. The healing necessary to pursue healing with others can only be seen when God’s peace is known, when He is depended upon for a deeper healing. It is there the transformation takes place – even if the transformation takes 20 years. (some of us wrestle with God longer than others!) That of course means that pastoral counselors and shepherds, and regular counselors as well as we need to be patient, and let God draw us to himself. It means trusting in the promisess given to us through His word, and through the sacraments He instituted and blesses us through.
It is not a quick fix, even though the road starts with a dramatic change of heart. That change was being caused by God for a lot longer period of time than we can see, for it was planned for from before the cross, from even before time.
But God will make it happen – He will complete the work He began in us, showing us miracles of reconciliation, miracles of healing, even as we wrestle with Him through it.
So hang on, and let the Spirit cut open your heart (see Ezekiel 36:25 and Acts 2:36-37) and bring healing…and then, rejoice for you well in a peace beyond comprehension… even though you may not always see/feel/know it.
Rolf Nolasco Jr., The Contemplative Counselor: A Way of Being (Minneapolis, MN: Fortress Press, 2011), 7.
Augsburg Confession – XIII The USE of the Sacraments; (emphasis mine) Theodore G. Tappert, ed., The Book of Concord the Confessions of the Evangelical Lutheran Church. (Philadelphia: Mühlenberg Press, 1959), 35.
21 “Not all those who say ‘You are our Lord’ will enter the kingdom of heaven. The only people who will enter the kingdom of heaven are those who do what my Father in heaven wants. 22 On the last day many people will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, we spoke for you, and through you we forced out demons and did many miracles.’ 23 Then I will tell them clearly, ‘Get away from me, you who do evil. I never knew you.’ Matt 7:21-23 NCV
I pray Thee, O God, pour out upon me Thy Holy Spirit,—the Spirit of prayer,—that I may ever love and desire to pray; being daily free to approach Thee, with all confidence, in the name of my Lord Jesus Christ; to bow the knee before Thee in every time of need, as a child well beloved.
And so we go about our lives almost mechanically with little or no awareness of the seed of contemplation buried deep within. This is as true of many, if not most, Christian counselors as it is of their clients.
We live by default, doing what we have been programmed to do. We have been conditioned to believe that busyness and multi-tasking are a mark of effectiveness, that human efforts and plans speed up positive change, and that vitality is acquired by activity. The cultural focus on doing as opposed to being that society privileges tends to strengthen this conditioning.
For the past two months I have been thinking about the church, mine, those in my district, those in my denomination and those across the USA.
For a dozen years or more, people have been saying we are in the Post-Christian Age, though I think they mean the post church and post congregational age. Experts are telling us to redefine minsitry away from preaching the Gospel, and administrating the sacraments, and to do something, anything – to bring people into community. Old programs are being reinvented, redefined and placed out there as the hope for what they didn’t deliver in the first place. Others lament and want to go back to the systems and practices of the 1950’s or earlier, as if the church was perfect back then. We panic when this then doesn’t work, and hop into the next hope–often written by someone in the midst of their own efforts to overcome the slump their church is in….until the next book comes out, the next magazine or blog that promotes this or that…
I think we need to stop…seriously stop what we are doing.
I think if we don’t, the church is going to find itself as the fulfillment of Jesus’ prophecty above – a church that spoke for Him, delivered people out of bondage, and even did miracles, but never knew Him, and were not known by Him.
I believe Nolasco describes this place we are at as well as any… we do things – even mechanically, but we aren’t away of what God has planted in His church. We don’t spend time contemplating it in prayer. We ,measure our effectiveness, and now be-moan it…without considering what we know – that the Holy Spirit is in charge of the harvest. Our books on leadership, even in the church, push this – and we buy into it. We miss the chapters on prayer and devotion written by those who planted and replanted churches before us, to get to what “we have to do!” But because we lack a seriously intimate relationship with Jesus, we don’t have the foundaiton of worship and prayer that all renewal and revival is based.
Let me take it a step further, the church no longer cares about preaching about the sin its own people need to be delivered from, because it doesn’t treasure the intimate relaitonship with Jesus found at the cross.
Lohe’s prayer, translated in 1914 can be prayed (maybe translated first!) today. That all the church, from its pastors to the newest visitor need to spend time in prayer and contemplation of the presence of God! We need to receive and treasure the comfort and mercy we have, the peace that comes upon us, the moments we know that He is here…for us.
It is only, by stopping, being silent, finding our place in His refuge and knowing what it means for Him to be our Lord and God, that we will ever realize the ministry we’ve been given… it is only because of experience the burdens of sin and all its corrolary effects that our freedom in Chirst ever becomes something of glory. It isonly then we can approach Him confidently, as children approaching the One they know loves them…
and then, aware of what He does nin our lives, we begin to see the needs of the world, for that sae revelation, for that same intimate relationship.
For that same joy…
William Lœhe, Seed-Grains of Prayer: A Manual for Evangelical Christians, trans. H. A. Weller (Chicago: Wartburg Publishing House, 1914), 7–8.
Rolf Nolasco Jr., The Contemplative Counselor: A Way of Being (Minneapolis, MN: Fortress Press, 2011), 1–2.
16 “Now tell your fellow-exiles what I am saying. I am the one who sent them to live in far-off nations and scattered them in other countries. Yet, for the time being I will be present with them in the lands where they have gone. Ezek. 11:16 GNT
But God is trying to reveal by His Holy Spirit the utter weakness of the child of God who is still putting his trust in himself.
Why does it take us so long to put our complete trust in God? He has made it so simple, so rewarding to yield what we are to Him!
767 What really makes a person—or a whole sector of society—unhappy, is the anxiety ridden, selfish search for well being, that desire to get rid of whatever is upsetting.
As I read Ezekiel’s words to the exiles, I can easily put myself in their shoes. There are days I feel like I don’t belong, that I am all by myself and feel like there is no hope.. no relief from the pain or the loneliness. I also know I am not alone in this – all you have to do is look at the number of pastors leaving the ministry, the number of teachers leaving education, the number of frontline workers leaving sheriff’s departments, police departments, and the rise of “coaches”–more often than not those who could not continue in their vocation, but someone want to help those who remain (and find a remnant connection to it)
Often times we call such times of self-imposed exile “burnout.” And truly, they are.
Those times come with a promise though, one seen by Tozer, that God will reveal our weaknesses, and use those times to deepen our relationship with Him–that we would come to trust Him more. You see exile and burnout are a matter, not of a lack or weak faith, but a time that reveals those times so that we value what God’s presence in the brokenness provides.
What it we took St. Josemaria’s idea of what was upsetting – and instead of getting rid of it, saw it as an opportunity to get to know Jesus better? To look for how He will provide? To find the joy in the presence of God who loves and embraces us, even in the midst of all that we consider negative. What if we heard Ezekiel’s message – that our exile was not just a disciplinary action by God, but a chance to see Him active in our lives, restoring us, calling us back–fulfilling the promise He made through the words of Ezekiel.
God sends us off into the exile we choose in our rebellion, so that He can be with us, and therefore restore us. Even there, WE ARE NOT ALONE!
God is with us… even in our doubt-filled, sin caused periods of exile we choose and impose on ourselves. He lets us go there.. so He can bring us back..
A. W. Tozer and Gerald B. Smith, Mornings with Tozer: Daily Devotional Readings (Chicago: Moody Publishers, 2008).
Escrivá, Josemaría. The Forge . Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition.
10 As the priests were leaving the Temple, it was suddenly filled with a cloud 11shining with the dazzling light of the LORD’s presence, and they could not go back in to perform their duties. 1 Kings 8:10-11 GNT
20I am telling you the truth: you will cry and weep, but the world will be glad; you will be sad, but your sadness will turn into gladness. 21When a woman is about to give birth, she is sad because her hour of suffering has come; but when the baby is born, she forgets her suffering, because she is happy that a baby has been born into the world. 22That is how it is with you: now you are sad, but I will see you again, and your hearts will be filled with gladness, the kind of gladness that no one can take away from you. John 16:20-22 GNT
While they are thus in fear and terror, the Lord brings them peace, not by removing any danger, but by quieting their hearts.
Now the liturgy is meant to form the individual Christian. Hence we have to learn how to understand its symbols, in order to absorb the lessons which they convey. But at the same time the liturgy is more than symbolism and more than ritual. Through the medium of the Church, which He has entrusted with the task of guiding, sanctifying and instructing mankind, God exercises a sacramental action upon the spirits of men of faith.
I have been thinking about church a lot recently, trying to understand why in parts of the world, the church is growing faster than it ever had, and why in others, it is rapidly shrinking.
I would love to blame the shrink on the amped up political atmosphere, as extremists in every spectrum try and force their way into power. Whether it is legalism or lawlessness, whether it is tieing to the secular conservatism or secular progressivism, the tactics are much the same.
I could blame it on apathy, and a country not able to escape the consequences of isolation.
I could blame it on a season dominated by every sin and temptation known to mankind.
Placing blame will do nothing – except causes dissention, more division and accelerate the decline of the Church, as sanctuaries empty—as they no longer are sanctuaries, as people find no refuge or peace in the places dedicated to communion with God.
I need the church to be such a place–a refuge, a sanctuary, the holy ground were peace overwhelms the struggles I am embroiled in this life. Luther’s words resonate with this, as he pictured God not taking away the struggles, the chaos, the anxiety or the pain. Instead, He quiets my heart, and the hearts of those with whom I share God’s word, the peace given them as I share with them the Body and Blood of Jesus.
Merton identified this as the sacramental action of God, as He pours out the blessings, the mercy, peace and love which forms us, creating a faith, a dependency on God, wherein the awe we find in His presence, makes everything else an inconsequential shadow. That all sounds like heavy theology tainted with a bit of mysticism.
I wish I could explain it in a simpler way, but the peace of the moment is beyond explanation, Jesus illustrates it well, in the moment a new mom holds her baby, and all the travail and even the mess isn’t important… the baby is here..
or in our case, God is here.
and like the priests – we are so in awe, that all we can do is enjoy the presence of God.
(Merton was wrong – this isn’t individual. It is who we are…together – the family of God)
This is why I need the church, the people of God gathered around His word, the people who receive His sacraments… who experience His peace..
I get to see it, facilitate it and that is awesome… but what is better – I participate….
I am so looking forward to this tomorrow… will you join me… either at Concordia, or with the saints in another location, but sharing in the same presence of the same Lord.
Please… come and know His peace and healing!
Martin Luther and John Sander, Devotional Readings from Luther’s Works for Every Day of the Year (Rock Island, IL: Augustana Book Concern, 1915), 138.
Thomas Merton, The New Man (London; New York: Burns & Oates, 1976), 160.
Glorious! (not dark despair)
† In Jesus’ Name †
May the grace of God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ, which eliminates all darkness in your life, reveal to you the freedom and victory won for you… and those around you!
- Titus 3:3—So once were you
Someone once said that those who do not study history are condemned to repeat it. When it comes to politics or military strategy, education or sociological phenomena, it seems pretty accurate.
It is different when it comes to our faith.
We are not condemned to relive our past—We just condemn others to repeat our lives without God.
Paul discussed this with Titus in Chapter 3 this way:
3 Once we, too, were foolish and disobedient. We were misled and became slaves to many lusts and pleasures. Our lives were full of evil and envy, and we hated each other. 4 But—“When God our Savior revealed his kindness and love, 5 he saved us, not because of the righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy. He washed away our sins, giving us a new birth and new life through the Holy Spirit. Titus 3:3-5 (NLT2)
This is the view that complements the view of Isaiah. Isaiah says—you have hope, this is going to happen…. Paul says—this has happened don’t forget it.
Not because you will have to repeat it, but because there are people you need to help rescue from the darkness you once knew.
- The pressure of dark despair
I don’t know how few of us remember the darkness before we realized the love of Jesus. Most of us plod through our spiritual lives, knowing God is there, but not walking closely with Jesus. We know hard times, depressing and oppressive times, but the light is always at the end of the tunnel.
Can you remember life without that? Where the darkness and despair doesn’t just threaten to overwhelm us, it completely has taken over life.
That’s what people deal with, every day of their lives. No hope in this life, just the illusion that success or money or sex or fame brings with it joy… and peace.
That empty, that lost, that not even aware that there is a God out there, who knows their name—and loves and cares for them.
Hear the promise to them again:
Nevertheless, that time of darkness and despair will not go on forever. The land of Zebulun and Naphtali will be humbled, but there will be a time in the future when Galilee of the Gentiles, which lies along the road that runs between the Jordan and the sea, will be filled with glory. 2 The people who walk in darkness will see a great light. For those who live in a land of deep darkness, a light will shine.
We may not remember this transformation… from absolute oppressive darkness to light, but God has definitely removed the shadows, or comforted us in the midst of them.
C.S. Lewis talked of people caught up in the darkness and despair and being so used to it that they cannot cope with the light and joy and peace, so they desire to return to despair.
But remember—Paul reminds us we were once there…
- But now… in Christ—the Victory….of all victories- shattering everything
How did you feel after nearly 2 weeks of rain, when the sun came out this week? I was walking from the sanctuary back to the office, and I just stood along the sidewalk and just wanted to soak in the sun’s warmth, even though the breeze was cold..
It was just incredible to stay for a moment in the warmth and light of the sun.
Even more awesome was it for the apostles and all Israel to revel in the presence of God, the son, Jesus the Messiah. Even though they didn’t understand what it meant that Jesus was the Messiah—the world went ballistic following Him as we heard in the gospel.
Think about it, people would leave their family and home, their farms, their animals, to wander out to find this man that everyone was talking about.
Even more we know it, for we clearly understand what it means for Christ to come and be born of Mary, live, teach, suffer, die, and rise from dead.
We know what God has done as well, for as Christ died and rose, we have died to our sin, and the darkness and despair, and risen with Him into a new life.
Hear the rest of the promise of Jesus’s actions,
3 You will enlarge the nation of Israel, and its people will rejoice. They will rejoice before you as people rejoice at the harvest and, like warriors, dividing the plunder. 4 For you will break the yoke of their slavery and lift the heavy burden from their shoulders. You will break the oppressor’s rod, just as you did when you destroyed the army of Midian.
This is describing a victory beyond victories.
IN a couple of weeks, there will be a football game, and in a couple of months the Stanley Cup playoffs. When those teams play, there will be a winner, and a parade, and some tears of joy. A big deal will be made out of it, and everyone who is a fan of the winning teams will go crazy!
But that is nothing compared to the celebration of Angels when one person is baptized, and they go from the darkness to the light of God’s glory
All of heaven celebrates that victory as much as they did the birth of Jesus.
A similar joy in heaven occurs when God’s people realize they are freed from the darkness and despair as their sin is forgiven, or a communion feast is given, which is a tiny sample of our homecoming feast—the wedding supper of Jesus.
The Holy Spirit dwells with us, right now, right here. We dwell in the presence of the living God, as much as Moses at the burning bush, or Solomon in His temple, we dwell in the glorious presence of God
These moments, when we experience the love and peace of God, are what awaits us, every moment of eternity.
And are available, not only to those who believe, but are available to everyone…
Paul described that this way…
He generously poured out the Spirit upon us through Jesus Christ our Savior. Because of his grace he declared us righteous and gave us confidence that we will inherit eternal life. This is a trustworthy saying, and I want you to insist on these teachings so that all who trust in God will devote themselves to doing good. These teachings are good and beneficial for everyone. Titus 3:6-8 (NLT2)
I continually explain this for this reason, that we teach those around us about this loving God, who draws us into His glory. Paul insisted that we do this as a church—and we shall.
For we dwell in God’s glorious love and peace—even though we can’t understand or describe it.. but we know we are kept there. By Jesus. AMEN!
Now all this happened in order to make what the Lord had said through the prophet come true, 23*“A virgin will become pregnant and have a son, and he will be called Immanuel” (which means, “God is with us”). Matt 1:22-23
How foolish it is therefore for the inexperienced to assume pastoral authority when the care of souls is the art of arts.1 For who does not realize that the afflictions of the mind are more hidden than the internal wounds of the body
This true bride-love God presents to us in Christ, in that he allowed him to become man for us and be united with our human nature that we might thus perceive and appreciate his good will toward us. As the bride loves her betrothed, so also does Christ love us; and we on our part will love him, if we believe and are the true bride. Although he gave us the wisdom of all the prophets, the glory of all the saints and angels, and even heaven, yet would we not esteem them unless he gave us himself. The bride can be satisfied with nothing; the only one thing she wants is the bridegroom himself. “My beloved is mine and I am his.”
A seller of purple, Lydia traveled to the market of her day, and undoubtedly she had found freedom and satisfaction in that era when women were not counted at all.
But Lydia heard the Apostle Paul tell of the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, and the Lord opened her heart. In Christ she found an eternal answer, which career and position had never been able to give.
Religions do not, in fact, simply supply answers to questions. Or at least they do not confine themselves to this until they become degenerate. Salvation is more than the answer to a question.
Every November 1, I change up my devotional reading list. It is like saying goodbye to old friends, and trying to get used to new friends.
Except this year.
This year, the new selections are like meeting an old friend who has had massive changes in their appearance, yet re the same person inside. At least that is my impression after the first day. The readings, from a early Roman Catholic Pope, a different selection from Luther, Tozer and Merton all bring home what I’ve dedicated my ministry to, as well as my academic career.
We need Jesus…. and we need to guide people into the presence of Christ, despite what they think they know of Him. This sounds simple, but only after 25 years of ministry and three degrees do I feel like I’ve only begun to understand how to bring people into the presence of Christ in such a way they find healing and peace. Pope Gregory is right, this is an art form, not an academic exercise. But there is nothing–absolutely nothing–more important. Getting people to open up and share their woundedness is rarely possible in an hour. Sometimes it takes a decade. But when it happens, and they learn to walk with Jesus a step or two… oh how wonderful it is!
This is what Luther is trying to help us understand, as he urges us to understand God’s love, and His good will (care) for us, in the intimately deep way that a husband should care for his wife, knowing her needs, caring for her when life is challenging. Knowing that Christ cares for us this deeply, this completely, allows us to toss aside that which burdens us, just to spend time with Him–being His. We need this time, more than anything, for from it comes the ability to care for others, even as we’ve been cared for by Jesus.
Again–the idea of SoulCare is right there, in front of everything.
That is what Lydie found, as Tozer commented. Ahead of her culture by two millennia, this woman ran a very incredible, high profit business. And found something all the success in the world could not provide. A soul at peace! A soul that was content in waiting for what God has planned for those who love Him because she heard Paul’s voice, and the Holy Spirit showed her the love and care of Christ…for her.
Which brings us to Thomas Merton, the wild card in my reading this year. And yet he nails it, this idea that our religion isn’t just an answer to a question. Christianity is more than dealing with the questions of sin, guilt, shame, death, even more than questions about heaven and hell. It is about the relationship with Jesus, who is God-with-us—even now! Right where you are reading this. He is Immanuel, God with us! Knowing this changes everything about life. As Luther noted – everything else falls aside, and we concentrate on the One who loves us.
Which brings us to the last quote, the odd translation of the Good News Translation in Genesis 1 – where God established the night and the day to determine the timing of religious festivals. The Hebrew there means “appointed times”, which makes me think there is a point here, since the order seems a little odd. Days, years and holidays (holy days) seems more logical than days, years and seasons. These appointed times/religious festivals where special times of rest, where God gathered His people to allow them a chance to rest, and to heal. A time to be cared for, cleansed, assured that God loves, even adores His people. This is what heals the soul, this incredible blessing of knowing God’s attitude toward us!
The Lord is with you! And there is a reason for Him to be here. To show you that you are loved.
This is what this religion is about – not just the answer to a question, but a relationship deeper and more precious than anything we can experience… and we are only just beginning it.
May we know this – more and more thoughout this next year!
St Gregory the Great, The Book of Pastoral Rule, ed. John Behr, trans. George E. Demacopoulos, vol. 34, Popular Patristics Series (Crestwood, NY: St Vladimir’s Seminary Press, 2007), 29.
Martin Luther and John Sander, Devotional Readings from Luther’s Works for Every Day of the Year (Rock Island, IL: Augustana Book Concern, 1915), 384–385.
A. W. Tozer and Gerald B. Smith, Mornings with Tozer: Daily Devotional Readings (Chicago: Moody Publishers, 2008).
Thomas Merton, The New Man (London; New York: Burns & Oates, 1976), 1–2.