Category Archives: Martin Luther

Dealing with despair….

Thoughts encouraging our devotion to Jesus… as we are reminded He is devoted to us!

And if the LORD is pleased with us, he will bring us safely into that land and give it to us. It is a rich land flowing with milk and honey. 9 Do not rebel against the LORD, and don’t be afraid of the people of the land. They are only helpless prey to us! They have no protection, but the LORD is with us! Don’t be afraid of them!” Numbers 14:8-9 NLT

Nor can godly minds be fortified against despair unless they think that through mercy on account of Christ and not on account of the law they with certainty have both righteousness and eternal life. This conviction consoles, uplifts, and saves godly minds.

It seems to me that having watched the Egyptian army drown in the Red Sea, the descendants of Abraham should have been ready to see God defeat the giants. That they would be prepared to follow him, abiding in His presence.

My view is unrealistic, those people struggled just like we do today, and while they had the pillar of fire and the cloud with them, we are the temple of the Holy Spirit.

It is when we forget He has declared us righteous and given us the promise of everlasting life that our eyes look to what they see below.

Too often, we forget Jesus and His promise to never abandon us. That is when our anxiety runs rampant, when our fears overwhelm us when we fall, as Israel did.

This is nothing new; Solomon wrote, If people can’t see what God is doing, they stumble all over themselves; But when they attend to what he reveals, they are most blessed. Proverbs 29:18 (MSG)

There is the key to surviving when we know we are up to the challenge. It sounds so easy, so elementary, to simply know that God has promised our righteousness and our eternal welcome into His presence. A presence we boldly enter because of Jesus and the cross. If He has made that sure, then the rest of life’s challenges become acceptable, tolerable, endurable.

One last thing – even thought those people in Numbers did not enter the Holy Land in this life, they were still God’s people. Christ would die for their sins as well as ours. While they didn’t see the promises in this life, He never left them, never stopped providing manna for them, and walked with them through it all Even in ths midst of their wounds… He was there… and at the cross, they truly became righteous, and entered into His rest.

He is here, and will be during our journey, until we are home…with Him. He will walk with us, through our troubled times, and He will bring us home. For we are the people He has declared righteous….and He is faithful to that promise.

Apology of the Augsburg Confession: Article IV Justification, Kolb, Robert, Timothy J. Wengert, and Charles P. Arand. 2000. The Book of Concord: The Confessions of the Evangelical Lutheran Church. Minneapolis, MN: Fortress Press.

Blessed Be the Name of the Lord! (even when it is near impossible!)

Photo by Wouter de Jong on Pexels.com

31 But the other men who had explored the land with him disagreed. “We can’t go up against them! They are stronger than we are! Numbers 13:11 NLT

27  On the way, Jesus told them, “All of you will desert me. For the Scriptures say, ‘God will strike the Shepherd, and the sheep will be scattered.’ 28  But after I am raised from the dead, I will go ahead of you to Galilee and meet you there.Mark 14:27-28 (NLT2)

Thus the saintly Job said after he had lost his children and all his property, “The Lord gave it, and the Lord has taken it away; blessed be the name of the Lord” [Job 1:21]. Job, indeed, was a just man from whom no one could take anything because he had nothing that he called his own. God declares in Job 41 [:11], “Whatever is under the heaven is mine; I created it.” Why, then, do you boast about your possessions and wail about an injustice done you? If anyone touches your honor, your reputation, your possessions, or anything else that you have, he is encroaching not upon what is yours, but what is Christ’s! (Martin Luther)

Twice men believed they had lost it all, that they were capable of nothing.

The first time, they were going against giants. They forgot about the promises of God and HIs very presence at the tabernacle. They were not ready to take on the challenge, and they would choose to enter 40 years of trials rather
than recognize that God was there…

The second time is similar and even prophesied. The apostles would see Jesus taken – and even before the cross they ran away, they denied him; they could not stand beside Jesus, as they believed they should. They wanted to be there,
to stand with Him, even against the threat of death. They, too, failed, overwhelmed by their lack of strength and the conviction to hold to the One they trusted in…

So why do we think we shall be any better?

Actually, I think we can do better, but not by the strength of our conviction. Instead, we need to acknowledge not only our weakness but God’s wisdom.

Notice that I did not write God’s strength?

In our weakness, as Luther notes, everything is actually God’s. What He gives, what He takes away, He does out of His love and care for us. He makes a decision – in our favor! That we don’t understand that is challenging, very challenging.
Too many times in my life, I have second-guessed God, complained to Him (and to some others), and struggled with what has happened. Have a situation or two (or five!) like that going on right now! There is nothing I can do to change the situation except turn to God.

I wish I could say that is my first reaction, but like Israel and Peter, my faith in God, my trust in His wisdom waivers. Eventually, I will, as Israel would enter the Holy Land, as Peter would respond to Jesus’s love. At this point in my life, I know how things will end… that I will remember God is God, and He loves me. That doesn’t make the present battle more palatable – I just now have to depend on God’s love to endure… for I don’t walk alone. It may feel like I
do, but that feeling is one I have learned by experience is false. He is here… I’ve seen it too often in the past. 

He is here… He is far greater than what oppresses and opposes me. Romans 8:28 and 8:38 are still promised….

If you are struggling in the darkness, I pray for you –that you don’t beat yourself up for not being faithful enough to shatter the darkness by yourself. Look to Jesus, remember the cross – where you were united to Him…where He claimed you as the Father’s child. Breathe deeply of His peace, let His love wash over you. And know there is a morning coming… where you will be able to see God’s love clearly – and how He cared for you through the night.

He is with you… and also with me.

So whatever happens, let us learn to say with Job, “Blessed be the name of the Lord!”

Luther, Martin. 1999. Luther’s Works, Vol. 42: Devotional Writings I. Edited by Jaroslav Jan Pelikan, Hilton C. Oswald, and Helmut T. Lehmann. Vol. 42. Philadelphia: Fortress Press.

The Paradox of Knowing What to Do, and Doing it.

Thoughts encouraging us to be devoted to God.

The teacher of religious law replied, “Well said, Teacher. You have spoken the truth by saying that there is only one God and no other. 33 And I know it is important to love him with all my heart and all my understanding and all my strength, and to love my neighbor as myself. This is more important than to offer all of the burnt offerings and sacrifices required in the law.”
34 Realizing how much the man understood, Jesus said to him, “You are not far from the Kingdom of God.” And after that, no one dared to ask him any more questions.
Mark 12:32-34 NLT

43 Jesus called his disciples to him and said, “I tell you the truth, this poor widow has given more than all the others who are making contributions. 44 For they gave a tiny part of their surplus, but she, poor as she is, has given everything she had to live on.” Mark 12:43-44 NLT

God, I have tasted Thy goodness, and it has both satisfied me and made me thirsty for more. I am painfully conscious of my need of further grace. I am ashamed of my lack of desire. O God, the Triune God, I want to want Thee; I long to be filled with longing; I thirst to be made more thirsty still. Show me Thy glory, I pray Thee, that so I may know Thee indeed.

Furthermore, we have frequently shown what we mean by faith. We are not talking about an idle knowledge, such as is also to be found in the devils, but about a faith that resists the terrors of conscience and which uplifts and consoles terrified hearts.

There is nothing more affirming, in fact, than the experience of God’s presence. That revelation says as nothing else can, “You are a good person. I created you and I love you.” Divine love brings us into being in the fullest sense of the word. It heals the negative feelings we have about ourselves.

I think the teacher of religious law knew he was right, but he didn’t understand why he was right.

The old lady knew why she did what she did but didn’t know she was right. She just did it.

My quest as a pastor is to help you, my friend, know both sides of the coin. To help you discover what to do in life and why to do it. I want you to love God with everything you are and to do so realizing His presence and love for you.

The quote from the Book of Concord shows why we should depend on God. In those times where problems and anxieties overwhelm us, our dependence on God reminds us He is our Comforter. In those times, we find peace in His presence as we take a breath, and in that still moment, remember the cross and His love.

The old woman knew that – and she responded with everything she had. She knew God loved her; she knew something special about being in God’s presence – so she gave. The idea of affirmation was not on her mind, but it was what was happening…

More often than not, I dwell in Tozer’s spot – I know I should be there; I know I should desire His presence and be more aware of it than I am. I struggle like the teacher of the law- knowing what should be but forgetting why I need to love God with everything. I need, like Tozer, like the teacher of the law – to hunger and thirst for God’s righteousness, to desire God’s presence more than a bride can not wait to see her husband-to-be on her wedding day.

It may sound self-serving, but there is nothing in our lives that compares to being in God’s presence – it is where we find peace, it is where we find love, and therefore meaning to our lives.

A meaning that goes beyond this life into the next, which is God’s desire in the first place…

To have us with Him – because He wants us there…

This is why we love Him… this is why we can give up everything… even our 2 cents.

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

Kolb, Robert, Timothy J. Wengert, and Charles P. Arand. 2000. The Book of Concord: The Confessions of the Evangelical Lutheran Church. Minneapolis, MN: Fortress 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 Peace that We Need…

Where we find true peace

Thoughts to encourage our clinging to Jesus…

Then Moses called for Mishael and Elzaphan, Aaron’s cousins, the sons of Aaron’s uncle Uzziel. He said to them, “Come forward and carry away the bodies of your relatives from in front of the sanctuary to a place outside the camp.” 5 So they came forward and picked them up by their garments and carried them out of the camp, just as Moses had commanded.
6 Then Moses said to Aaron and his sons Eleazar and Ithamar, “Do not show grief by leaving your hair uncombed* or by tearing your clothes. If you do, you will die, and the LORD’s anger will strike the whole community of Israel. However, the rest of the Israelites, your relatives, may mourn because of the LORD’s fiery destruction of Nadab and Abihu
.
Leviticus 10:4-6 NLT

He is gnawing at his own heart,” said Luther. “I, too, often suffer from severe trials and sorrows. At such times I seek the fellowship of men, for the humblest maid has often comforted me. A man doesn’t have control of himself when he is downcast and alone, even if he is well equipped with a knowledge of the Scriptures. It is not for nothing that Christ gathers his church around the Word and the sacraments=- and is unwilling to let these be hidden in a corner. (1)

Of course, if you’re not careful you can burn yourself out in pastoral work. Sadly, thousands of pastors end up spiraling into emotional and spiritual collapse every year.
But when you take care to receive Christ’s own love and strength by means of his Spirit through his word, you have something to give to others without yourself being depleted and emptied.
(2)

Any appeal to the public in the name of Christ that rises no higher than an invitation to tranquillity must be recognized as mere humanism with a few words of Jesus thrown in to make it appear Christian.…
Christ calls men to carry a cross; we call them to have fun in His name. He calls them to forsake the world; we assure them that if they but accept Jesus the world is their oyster. (3)

I have to admit, I don’t like the words Moses spoke to Aaron and his boys. Why aren’t they allowed to grieve alongside their family? Paul talks of us weeping with those who weep (and laughing with them as they laugh as wll.) So this stupid act of their cousins should bring a time of grieving and being there for the family.

Shouldn’t it?

In this case, by no means in every case, they could not be there. We have to be careful of making this scenario a case study and establishing ground rules for pastoral care. I have heard that pastors must keep their distance and be above and remote from the scenario to pastor people. Based on the Romans 12 description of weeping and laughing, I have heard the opposite.

The question is, how do we become wise enough to know the difference? And how do we deal with our own pain? How do we find our peace when we encounter such trauma as pastors or people? Where do we find the wisdom to enter into the family’s pain, or not?

Senkbeil and Luther both note the high cost of enduring such trials. Trials that lead to the “gnawing at your own heart,” not being able to “have control of himself,” and “emotional and spiritual collapse” that most pastors deal with regularly. They will both find the same solution, which I will get to in a moment after I deal with Tozer – his words help clarify the discernment needed.  

The idea that our message is only an invitation to peace and tranquility is the danger of trying to multi-task as a mourner and spiritual care provider. I am not saying God cannot work in these situations, but it taxes us too significantly and will lead to a message that doesn’t tie our peace to the cross. Establish enough of these trials, one after another, and the pain will break anyone. And when we fail, our words become something less, a placebo, no longer connected to the peace that is genuinely needed in a time like these.

Tozer calls the believer to carry the cross first…to forsake the world because focused on Christ whom we meet at the cross, we can be relieved of burdens and find the peace we need. This is why Senkbeil talks of letting the Spirit work through Word and Sacrament to receive Christ’s love and strength within us.  It is why Luther talks of the fellowship
and the humblest maid comforting him, even as Jesus gathers His church around the Word and Sacraments. It is only connected to God’s grace that our words can do more than be a placebo. Only then is there something to give something beyond all understanding… the peace of Jesus!

Aaron and his boys were responsible for the Old Covenant sacrifices, those activities that pointed to God’s promise of peace. They weren’t forbidden to weep because God was uncaring. Rather, I think they needed to have the strength
of the promise that would enable the community to find grace and peace at the moment. They needed to remind people that God was still with them and that God was sustaining them, and even as God was ministering to them through the community, Their comfort and peace came from God, and they needed to lead people there. For us that means embracing the cross, accepting its suffering, realizing that there we meet Jesus. That is where we find life and hope, and rest. THat is why baptism, absolution and the Lord’s Supper take us there.. to Jesus… at the cross. 

When I was a hospice chaplain, I watched nurses put aside their grief to care for the patients who passed away. We would weep together later – apart from those we had gone to care for, the patient and their family. Like Aaron and his
boys, we were the hands and voice of God for those hurting and grieving. I think that is what Moses was working from with these words. He directed them to not show grief at that moment because if they lost their way in despair, not
only would they drown, so would the community. As they focused on God… and His mercy…then they would be comforted and be able to offer the same.

This isn’t easy; this idea of keeping our eyes on Jesus in the middle of the pain. To be bluntly honest, I needed to be reminded of it presently… but it is there, at the altar with others.. that God’s peace is found, where the burdens
are lifted.

After the years of 2020 and 2021… that is where we need to be found… and when we are… we can minister to so many who need to know the peace of Jesus.

 

 

(1) 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), 268.

(2) Harold L. Senkbeil, The Care of Souls: Cultivating a Pastor’s Heart (Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press, 2019), 7.

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

Why did you think this would be easy?

Thoughts I pray help you depend on Jesus..

But among you it will be different. Whoever wants to be a leader among you must be your servant, 27 and whoever wants to be first among you must become your slave. 28 For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve others and to give his life as a ransom for many.” Matthew 20:26-28 NLT

But I will make Pharaoh’s heart stubborn so I can multiply my miraculous signs and wonders in the land of Egypt. 4 Even then Pharaoh will refuse to listen to you. So I will bring down my fist on Egypt. Then I will rescue my forces—my people, the Israelites—from the land of Egypt with great acts of judgment. 5 When I raise my powerful hand and bring out the Israelites, the Egyptians will know that I am the LORD.” Exodus 7:3-5 NLT

Some of you know something of that which has been called “the dark night of the soul.” Some of you have spiritual desire and deep longing for victory but it seems to you that your efforts to go on with God have only brought you more bumps and more testings and more discouragement. You are tempted to ask, “How long can this go on?”…
Yes, there is a dark night of the soul. There are few Christians willing to go into this dark night and that is why there are so few who enter into the light. It is impossible for them ever to know the morning because they will not endure the night.

For every nail that pierces Christ, more than one hundred thousand should in justice pierce you, yes, they should prick you forever and ever more painfully! When Christ is tortured by nails penetrating his hands and feet, you should eternally suffer the pain they inflict and the pain of even more cruel nails, which will in truth be the lot of those who do not avail themselves of Christ’s passion.

One of my mentors, Dr. Rodney Vliet, once told a bunch of us that it was not reasonable to think our families wouldn’t suffer because of the ministry we all hoped to enter. He was quite blunt, and said that there would be times where our families’ wants and desires would be sacrficed because someone in the church was in trauma. There would be times where even their needs would be laid down as a sacrficie.

Some are told today that not only does family come first, but family’s comfort should come first.

I struggle with this… a lot. For I’ve found out that Dr. Vliet was right. Not just the vocation of the pastor or worship leader, but the vocation of every volunteer in the church – wheter and elder, a sunday school teacher, or the person who gets up early…

Being a Chirstian includes being part of both the Church, and a church. And that means being a servant to others. Putting them first, even above other commitments.

Even when the ministry is tough, and you want to run. Moses wasn’t promised an easy kingdom too lead – first he had to deal with Pharoah, then, once free of that – he would have to deal with Israel! Ministry wasn’t easy then, nor would it be for the judges, the prophets or the apostles.

Nor should we expect it to be easy, simple, and able to be blocked out on a standard schedule.

Tozer talks about the dark times, the times where it is so dark we want to quit, where we think we’ve reached our max burnout level, where we can’t see how God is going to work.

And then, looking to Him on the cross, we see our suffering is not what we deserve. Jesus saved us from that. I love that point of Luther’s that we deserve so much for our sin, that any sacrifice we make because we are forgiven, to help others know, is worth it. …

Sacrifice is not as great a sacrficie as we think, compared to Jesus. Even martyrdom is not, for we die to bear witness to a death that bore all of our sin, Leave your burdens behind, tkae up your cross and walk with Jesus, knowing that His work thorugh you will save others from Hell. It doesn’t matter if you are a preacher, a missionary, a preschool or junior high Sunday School teacher, or someone who visits shutins…

what ever the sacrifice, it is worth it… for people will experience God’s love… for you do not make the sacrifice alone…

He is with you…. just cling to Him…

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

Martin Luther, Luther’s Works, Vol. 42: Devotional Writings I, ed. Jaroslav Jan Pelikan, Hilton C. Oswald, and Helmut T. Lehmann, vol. 42 (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1999), 9.

What do you need? How will it happen? The purpose of self-examination!

Thoughts to enocurage you to adore Jesus, and to celebrate His role in your life!

27  So anyone who eats this bread or drinks this cup of the Lord unworthily is guilty of sinning against the body and blood of the Lord. 28  That is why you should examine yourself before eating the bread and drinking the cup. 1 Corinthians 11:27-28 (NLT2)

23  Search me, O God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. 24  Point out anything in me that offends you, and lead me along the path of everlasting life. Psalm 139:23-24 (NLT2)

How long must I struggle with anguish in my soul, with sorrow in my heart every day? How long will my enemy have the upper hand? 3  Turn and answer me, O LORD my God! Restore the sparkle to my eyes, or I will die. 4  Don’t let my enemies gloat, saying, “We have defeated him!” Don’t let them rejoice at my downfall. 5  But I trust in your unfailing love. I will rejoice because you have rescued me. 6  I will sing to the LORD because he is good to me. Psalm 13:2-6 (NLT2)

The philosopher Socrates said, “An unexamined life is not worth living.” If a common philosopher could think that, how much more we Christians ought to listen to the Holy Spirit when He says, “Examine yourself.” An unexamined Christian lies like an unattended garden. Let your garden go unattended for a few months, and you will not have roses and tomatoes but weeds. (1)

Master Gabriel,164 pastor in Torgau, asked Dr. Martin Luther about that passage of Paul to Timothy [I Tim. 4:5], “For it is consecrated by the word of God and prayer.”
Dr. Martin Luther replied, “Godly men acknowledge that all things are of God and consecrate them through the Word of God when they pray. To them all things are pure when they are used according to God’s will.
(2
)

When Tozer quote Socrates, it sounds familiar, and even Biblical.

After all, Paul warns the church that each person should examine themslves prior to receving the Lord’s Supper. The wanring about being jduged for sinning against the Body and Blood of Christ is serious.

I think that Tozer and Socrates have something different in mind than the Apostle Paul. It is not a bad thing, but Paul is talking about something more significant, I would say something more critical. Someting that requires more than anyone is capable of addressing on their own.

That is where Luther comes point out what is necessary, the prayer that God consecrates, man doesn’t.

Our examination simply to recognize the necessity of Christ’s Body to be broken, His blood to be shed. The sacrifice of Christ, and the covenant it creates, is the only answer to what we see when we examine our lives. For what we see are the wounds caused by sin, the brokenness caused by our self-idolatry, the times where we think our desires outweigh the wisdom of God.

The prayer of Psalm 13 anticipates this work of God that occurs as we are consecrated as the consecrated bread and wine, the very Body and Blood of Christ are taken and we commune with God. There we celebrate that God has removed all that offends Him, and where He renews our spirit. All the promises given to us in our baptism – when we were united with Jesus in HIs death and resurrection – all this is renewed as we commune with Him….

And then, renewed, revived, free of the burdens of guilt, shame, resentment, we begin to see this God we worship more clearly…. and praise goes into another level.

So examine yourself… realize how great your need is… and realize it is answered…

God loves you… that much!

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

(2) 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), 244.

The Ministry of Theology

The Good Shepherd, carrying His own.

Thoughts that I pray cause you to adore Jesus, your Savior…

Thereafter, Hagar used another name to refer to the LORD, who had spoken to her. She said, “You are the God who sees me.”* She also said, “Have I truly seen the One who sees me?” 14 So that well was named Beer-lahai-roi (which means “well of the Living One who sees me”). It can still be found between Kadesh and Bered. Genesis 16:13-14 NLT

Rector Bernard von Dölen,142 minister in Herzberg, complained bitterly about his arrogant auditors who despised the reading of the catechism. Dr. Martin [Luther] was greatly disturbed and fell silent. Then he said, “Cursed be every preacher who aims at lofty topics in the church, looking for his own glory and selfishly desiring to please one individual or another. When I preach here143 I adapt myself to the circumstances of the common people. I don’t look at the doctors and masters, of whom scarcely forty are present, but at the hundred or the thousand young people and children. It’s to them that I preach, to them that I devote myself, for they, too, need to understand. If the others don’t want to listen they can leave. Therefore, my dear Bernard, take pains to be simple and direct; don’t consider those who claim to be learned but be a preacher to unschooled youth and sucklings. (1)

Nonetheless, for Luther theology was not a detached academic pursuit circumscribed by the walls, procedures, customs, and language of the university, but a matter of life and death. He took God seriously. Nothing is more important in man’s life than his relationship to God. The chief function of theology (and of the theologian), then, is not to speculate about God or even to systematize man’s knowledge of God. Rather its function is to lead men to and strengthen them in faith. For Luther faith meant specifically trust in God through Jesus Christ. Inevitably Luther’s classroom extended far beyond the university and the circle of educated students to whom he lectured there. (2)

The pastoral care that is provided to Hagar never ceases to amaze me. She is not the one through whom the promise is given; that is Sarai, her mistress, the one who has the power of life or death over her. And yet, God takes the time to
visit with her. He cares for her, ministers to her, and cares for her son (who will be a challenge.) Finally, God restores her to her former place.

It works with the two readings I had this morning, which talk about the ministry of theology. Usually, seminaries and universities studies in scripture and ministry describe that the other way, with courses on the Theology of Ministry. Rarely do you hear people talk about the ministry of theology. People will talk about types of theology, Systematic, Exegetical, HIstorical, and Pragmatic, but rarely will there be a focus on how theology is supposed to be used to
minister to the church.

Those readings talk about it in Luther’s usual blunt style. Theology is not primarily an academic topic to be studied and dissected, according to Luther. Theology has a particular role, to be used to help man deepen their dependence
on God, to encourage spending time meditating on the move and mercy of God, to experience His love and presence, in a way that the Apostle Paul said was beyond words. (see Ephesians 3:17-19) This is the chief function of theology,
which seems all but lost these days.

Consider the advice to Bernard, who talked with the arrogant visitors he had, nitpicking on everything. Luther’s direction is to ignore them and preach the gospel to the hundred or thousand people who need to know the gospel and understand why hope is found in Christ. (this is Peter’s idea of apologetics, when he writes, “Instead, you must worship Christ as Lord of your life. And if someone asks about your Christian hope, always be ready to explain it. 16  But do this in a gentle and respectful way. Keep your conscience clear. Then if people speak against you, they will be ashamed when they see what a good life you live because you belong to Christ. 1 Peter 3:15-16 (NLT2)

This is what we are here to do, to use the knowledge and understanding that studying the word of God gives, as the Holy Spirit draws them to Jesus and brings light into their lives. This is not only the role of theology but also liturgical worship, pastoral care, and counseling. This is the focus that all those who lead in the church are called to do, to work with all we are, and to present everyone perfect in Christ. ( Colossians 1:28-29) For us Lutherans,  this is what the 6th article of the Augsburg Confession is about, as our good works are the fruit of our faith.

May Theology be restored to this glorious ministry, of causing others to grow deeper in their dependence/faith/trust in God. And may the church ever see it as a tool dedicated to that purpose.

(1) 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), 235–236.

(2) Martin Luther, Luther’s Works, Vol. 42: Devotional Writings I, ed. Jaroslav Jan Pelikan, Hilton C. Oswald, and Helmut T. Lehmann, vol. 42 (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1999), x.

What Does It Mean to Know Jesus.

Thoughts encouraging our adoration of God!

24 Now to him who is able to protect you from stumbling and to make you stand in the presence of his glory, without blemish and with great joy, 25 to the only God our Savior, through Jesus Christ our Lord, be glory, majesty, power, and authority before all time, now and forever. Amen. Jude 24-25 CSB

Everywhere … we find persons who are Bible-taught but not Spirit-taught. They conceive truth to be something which they can grasp with the mind.
If a man holds to the fundamentals of the Christian faith he is thought to possess divine truth. But it does not follow. There is no truth apart from the Spirit.
The most brilliant intellect may be imbecilic when confronted with the mysteries of God. For a man to understand revealed truth requires an act of God equal to the original act which inspired the text.
(1)

But how is such sanctifying done? Answer: Just as the Son obtains dominion, whereby He wins us, through His birth, death, resurrection, etc., so also the Holy Ghost effects our sanctification by the following parts, namely, by the communion of saints or the Christian Church, the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body, and the life everlasting; that is, He first leads us into His holy congregation, and places us in the bosom of the Church, whereby He preaches to us and brings us to Christ.
For neither you nor I could ever know anything of Christ, or believe on Him, and obtain Him for our Lord, unless it were offered to us and granted to our hearts by the Holy Ghost through the preaching of the Gospel.

I’ve occasionally heard the comment, “to know in the Biblical sense.” It refers to the use of the word “to know” as a polite way of saying that this man and this woman had sexual intercourse. They interacted in an intimate way, and often without much thought… and the experience was hopefully enjoyable for both!

That this same word for “knowing” is used to describe a relationship with God is troubling for some. Mainly because our society, inspired by Plato’s nonsense about the physical realm being evil, thinks of physical intimacy as dirty, perhaps because of the desire that often accompanies it. Therefore, using similar terms like intimacy or knowing them
becomes troublesome. Knowledge is then reduced to the realm of the mind, the academic, the collection of data about God.

This is why when evangelists and apologetics appeal to the mind, convinced that knowledge is the key, and they miss the mark. These are those whom Tozer acknowledges are Bible-taught but not Spirit-taught. They are the reason Luther states that we can know nothing of God unless the Holy Spirit offers that revelation and imbeds it, not just in
our minds, by driving it deep into our hearts.

This Spirit does this, of course, through the ministry of preaching and the sacraments that preaching drives us toward as we commune with Jesus. This is experiential knowledge, something that teachings our heart and soul as well as
our mind. It is what drove Pascal, one of the greatest thinkers, as he wrote how the gospel burned inside him. It is what comforted Luther as he embraced trauma from within and without. Tozer knew that comfort, too, it would seem, as
he actively tried to help his people experience it.

That comfort, also described as peace and rest in scripture, is the essence of knowing God. It is the work of God we experience as the Holy Spirit leads us into the presence of God. It is when we joyfully realize that we are blameless
– that all is well and right and just because of Jesus on the cross.

This is where worship comes from, this joy of being the presence of God. It is to praise and honor and be amazed at the Lord, who is our refuge and strength. Knowing God results in a desire to thank Him, to praise Him, to adore
Him for what He has done…. just as the psalmist does, even if it is as repetitive and joyously simple as Psalm 150.

Just praise Him!

for He is our God… and He has made us His people! AMEN!

(1) A. W. Tozer and Marilynne E. Foster, Tozer on the Holy Spirit: A 366-Day Devotional (Camp Hill, PA: WingSpread, 2007).

(2) Martin Luther, The Large Catechism, trans. F. Bente and W. H. T. Dau (n.p.: WORDsearch, 2003).

Why We (even Luther and a Catholic Saint) Need a “Safe Place”

my safe place… where bread and wine, Body and Blood of Jesus and His people Celebrate their intimate communion with Him!

Thoughts that help us to adore Jesus, and encourage our devotion to Him..

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. Because of his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead 4 and into an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you. 5 You are being guarded by God’s power through faith for a salvation that is ready to be revealed in the last time. 6 You rejoice in this, even though now for a short time, if necessary, you suffer grief in various trials 7 so that the proven character of your faith—more valuable than gold which, though perishable, is refined by fire—may result in praise, glory, and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ. 8 Though you have not seen him, you love him; though not seeing him now, you believe in him, and you rejoice with inexpressible and glorious joy, 9 because you are receiving the goal of your faith, the salvation of your souls. I Peter 1:2-9 CSB

When we really come to admire and love the most sacred humanity of Jesus, we will discover each of his wounds, one by one. When we undergo periods of passive purgation, which we find painful and hard to bear, periods when we shed sweet and bitter tears, which we do our best to hide, we will feel the need to enter into each one of his most holy wounds: to be purified and strengthened, rejoicing in his redeeming Blood. We will go there like the doves which, in the words of Scripture, find shelter from the storm in the crevices in the rocks. We hide in this refuge to find the intimacy of Christ. We find his conversation soothing and his countenance comely15 because “those who know that his voice is gentle and pleasing are those who have welcomed the grace of the gospel, which makes them say: ‘You have the words of eternal life.’”

Second, I give thanks to him for these precious gifts, that he has revealed his name to me and bestowed it upon me, that I can glory in his name and be called God’s servant and creature, etc., that his name is my refuge like a mighty fortress to which the righteous man can flee and find protection, as Solomon says [Prov. 18:10]

I’ve heard people mock the youth for needing safe places, a

I’ve heard people make fun of brave people who state that they need a safe place.

Part of me wants to ensure those who make fun of others realize that they need a safe place as well. The easy way to do that is to firmly correct their errors! First, the error of their failure to love their neighbor. Second, their belief that they are beyond the need for a refuge, a sanctuary, a safe place.

Luther needed such a place; he wrote sermons and more than one hymn about the ability to find safety in the Mighty Fortress that is God. The words he wrote were not as much a doctrinal manifesto as the cry of a heart that needed comfort, that needed peace. Look a the words of his cry in what was never meant to be the battle anthem it has become. Look at the description of the prayer. He knew God was his safe place…

St. Josemaria also found that refuge, that place to hide, as he meditated on the love which welcomed the wounds borne at the cross. This is where we find the greatest and truly only safe place, where even sin cannot do its damage. It is paid for; it is forgiven.

At this point, in such a sanctuary, the words of Peter become so much more than words!  Go up – and read them again!

There is an ability to deal with grief in various trials. It only comes in those intimate moments with God where we realize His ultimate plan. That amid the refining of our faith, as God removes all that is not of Him, that we find a joy that goes beyond anything we can explain. We may not even think of the eternity promised because we are now experiencing a foretaste of it as we rejoice in Christ!

This intimate grace, so full of compassion, so incredibly healing, as we find rest and peace, this is the glory of God, dwelling in us!

This is our safe place, amid the battles, the storms, the complications, the woundedness, and brokenness….

There are times I hate all of that… and yet… in an odd sense, I appreciate it all. For in it, when I don’t run, I realize I have a safe place….there… amid it all, in Jesus.

Lord, in the middle of life, when we are at our wit’s end… help us to remember that You are our safe place, our sanctuary, our Mighty Fortress.  AMEN!

Oh – and stop making fun of people who know they need safe places – and invite them into yours!

Escrivá, Josemaría. Friends of God . Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition.

Martin Luther, Luther’s Works, Vol. 43: Devotional Writings II, ed. Jaroslav Jan Pelikan, Hilton C. Oswald, and Helmut T. Lehmann, vol. 43 (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1999), 201.

Why Church Traditions Should Matter…

How many thousands found God’s peace in this place…

Devotional Thought of the Day:
“Is not Israel still my son, my darling child?” says the LORD. “I often have to punish him, but I still love him. That’s why I long for him and surely will have mercy on him. 21  Set up road signs; put up guideposts. Mark well the path by which you came. Come back again, my virgin Israel; return to your towns here. 22  How long will you wander, my wayward daughter? For the LORD will cause something new to happen— Israel will embrace her God.Jeremiah 31:20-22 (NLT2)

These wretched men think that building up the church consists of the introduction of some sort of new ceremonies. They don’t realize that building up the church means to lead consciences from doubt and murmuring to faith, to knowledge, and to certainty.”

Imagine the story of the prodigal son, who goes his way, spends his inheritance, starts feeding the pigs and loathes what his life has beocme. He comes to the realization that he would be better off as the lowest servant, even a slave in his father’s fields. He heads home, and instead of the Bible’s version where the Father runs and greets him,….

He finds a foresale sign, and his family has moved on….

Home is now a myth, hope is all but lost, and there is nothing there for him anymore.

I get that feeling, as I’ve gone “back home” and the church I grew up – the external structure is there, but they built a 4 story school inside. The Denniy’s I worked in at 15 was raised to the ground, and there is an emptiness…there is little of my home to go back to, save a ancient cemetary where i used to go read books in its quiet shade.

I think that is why Luther clarifies what reformation, and the revival of the church is about. It is not about changing things for the sake of being new, nor should things remain the same for those inside the church. There needs to be consistency for the prodigal son’s’ sake, and for the wayward daughter’s return. So people can be led from doubt and murmering into the experience of depending on God,

Where Luther was encouraged to start from scratch he couldn’t -because he saw a need for the prodigal, and the wayward. Perhaps more than any other time in my life, that is needed in these days. Peopel need the place where sin is absolved, where God is revelaed to them through the word, where they can once again receive the Sacraments. A place to come home!

That is the irony, for the mature Christian – the old signs and symbols exist, not for their comfort and preference, but for the sake of those who need to be drawn back to church and the relationship with God nurtured there. It is for those who need to have their life with God restored and revived. I’ve done enough funerals of unbelievers and those who left the church to see this in effect, as the Lord’s Prayer and Psalm 23 are spoken in older ways, and their grief and pain is relieved for a moment, and hope flashes before them as the signposts point again to when peace was known. In those moments, as their hearts recognize the signposts, the Spirit speaks to them again.

Does this mean we can’t change anything? Of course not! New music is written – that is good. New translations come and go, written for the context of people. Yet, there needs to be that which helps a person know they are home, where they belong, where God dwells among His people. It is a balance, but that starts with considering who we are keeping or changing things for, and the effect change has.

Even so, I pray your faith is strengthened by those places in life where signposts and altars are erected.





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), 195–196.

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