Category Archives: Tozer

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.

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.

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.

 

Evangelism is More Than a 10 Minute Presentation

Thoughts that drive me to the cross:

22  Among the weak in faith I become weak like one of them, in order to win them. So I become all things to all people, that I may save some of them by whatever means are possible. 1 Corinthians 9:22 (TEV)

28  So we preach Christ to everyone. With all possible wisdom we warn and teach them in order to bring each one into God’s presence as a mature individual in union with Christ. 29  To get this done I toil and struggle, using the mighty strength which Christ supplies and which is at work in me. Colossians 1:28-29 (TEV)

I think we cannot experience that which we have not believed. I still think we must instruct and urge men and women, toiling along in average and common Christian ways, to move forward and claim spiritual victory they have not yet known.

The joyful and the sad should be advised differently. Before the joyful are to be set the sad things that accompany [eternal] punishment, but before the sad the joyous promises of the kingdom should be set.

It was nearly 40 years ago that I was “trained” as an evangelist and trainer of evangelists. Somewhere I even have the certificate from Evangelism Explosion, and the neat talking cards they equipped me with, so that I could be an evangelist, and train others to do the same.

Forty years later, I feel less equipped, having seen that a practiced monologue doesn’t make someone an evangelist. I know now that the role of an evangelist, like that of a pastor, is something that can take years, that requires the patience of a shepherd, and the willingness to sacrifice time and energy helping people see the presence of the Holy Spirit in their lives.

Because we struggle in this world, because we struggle in our own worlds, we need to hear the gospel-the truth that God loves us-daily ourselves. We need to believe, as Tozer points out, what we are sharing. We need to have revealed the victory that God provides. Otherwise we cannot provide it for those who we love and care for, for we cannot give what we’ve not had given to us.

The other part of this is that we can’t give to someone else when we don’t know where they are at. We have to be like them, as Paul so eloquently points out. All of us are evangelists and therefore serve as a conduit of God’s grace. But conduits connect two points, in this case, God and one or ten or 100 of His people. Some of these know they are God’s people, some are beginning to discover it, and some are fighting it. So we come alongside them, and bear their weakness, we share in their trials, and we love them…

The work of an evangelist is never clean, it is never simple. I learned that when on one of my first EE calls, the door we knocked on to visit a couple was answered by the wife’s “friend”, and she would come to the door, well, not adequately dressed. They both, and the husband, needed God’s presence, in the days ahead, yet no card in my stack addressed their situation in a way that would draw them to Jesus. It would take them years to work through life’s issues, as the gospel and the church showed them God loved them. Not a ten-minute presentation followed by a prayer and baptism. More like a spiritual rollercoaster that seems out of control. But God knows the tracks… we just ride with our people.

This is ministry, an investment of time and love, to help the broken find healing they need for the wounds of life, as they get to know the Lord who loves them. This is whether you are a pastor, or a parent, a elder or just a friend. For we all can share the Lord’s love that we’ve come to know.

Let us depend on God’s love and presence, as we share that with those around us….

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

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), 93.

What it means to love your enemy… to share your greatest treasure with him/her

thoughts which drive me to Jesus, and to His Cross…

You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your friends, hate your enemies.’ 44But now I tell you: love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, 45so that you may become the children of your Father in heaven. For he makes his sun to shine on bad and good people alike, and gives rain to those who do good and to those who do evil.  Matt 5:43-45 GNT

The sum of the matter is this, that those persons are saved who place their trust solely in God, not in their works, nor in any creature. Consequently man should learn to have greater confidence in God’s mercy than in the zeal with which he makes confession. One cannot be too active, determined and guarded against the accursed evil of confiding in one’s own works. Therefore we should accustom our consciences to trust in God, and let it be done with the understanding that to believe and trust in God is pleasing to him, and that unreserved trust in God is his highest glory.

The question may be asked: “How does the living Christ feel today about the sinful men and women who walk our streets?”
There is only one answer: He loves them!
We may be righteously indignant about the things they do. We may be disgusted with their actions and their ways. We are often ready to condemn and turn away from them.
But Jesus keeps on loving them! It is His unchanging nature to love and seek the lost. He said many times when He was on earth, “I have come to help the needy. The well do not need a doctor—but the sick need attention and love.”

There is no doubt in my mind that sin is prevalent today. And just noting that, may be a sin. It is when I look at the sins of others as if I was the judge, When I catch myself at doing such, I cringe, and wonder if I am ever going to learn…

More precisely, am I ever going to learn to walk with Jesus

My indignation, my disgust, my willingness (even eagerness) to walk away is as sinful as whatever sin they committed.

I need to see His desire to them back, to draw them into His presence–so they can heal. For that reinforces that I am healed as well.

This is what it means to love your enemies more than anything else you can do. To help them see the grace of God is directed to them, and it heals what divides us.

We cannot hold back the grace of God that we’ve come to know. The church does not have that authority–we only have the responsibility to make it known to everyone, just as it was made known to us. For then, as we encourage others to share in the mercy of God, have become like Jesus, and like our Father.

This is the Church, investing what it treasures, the relationship where the Father in Heaven treasures is, and wants us all to be His people….

 

Martin Luther and John Sander, Devotional Readings from Luther’s Works for Every Day of the Year (Rock Island, IL: Augustana Book Concern, 1915), 390.

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

Being Tired and Discouraged IS NOT the Problem in Life, or in the Church.

Thoughts that drive me to Jesus, and to His cross…

*He made you go hungry, and then he gave you manna to eat, food that you and your ancestors had never eaten before. He did this to teach you that human beings must not depend on bread alone to sustain them, but on everything that the LORD says.”  Deut 8:3 GNT

As Christian believers, we stand together in the evangelical faith—the historical faith of our fathers. Yet, we must confess that many congregations seem bogged down with moral boredom and life-weariness.
The church is tired, discouraged and unastonished—Christ seems to belong to yesterday.
The prophetic teachers have projected everything into the dim future where it is beyond our reach—unavailable! They have dispensationalized us into a state of spiritual poverty—and they have left us there!
But regardless of such teachers, the course of spiritual victory is clear; let us trust what the Word of God continues to say to us!

The assumption of spirituality is that always God is doing something before I know it. So the task is not to get God to do something I think needs to be done, but to become aware of what God is doing so that I can respond to it and participate and take delight in it.

Divine service must be rendered with “one mind” and with “one mouth.” One needs Christ as much as another. We render divine service when we are harmonious, and when we recognize our common equality and our common blessings in Christ; when none exalts himself above another, nor assumes special advantages. We all receive the same baptism and sacrament, the same faith, the same Christ and Spirit, the same gospel—in a word, the same God.

Tozer saw a tired and discouraged church, not much different from the experts see in the church today. I know – I hear them in meetings, and read the books they recommend. Often the strategies they offer are taken from well meaning, but worldly business principles. Or they take what other churches, successful because of moves a decade ago are doing, and emulate the practices they observe, without looking closely at what lies underneath, what caused the actions.

And so we get to the other thing Tozer saw in the church: a lack of astonishment.

From what i’ve seen in the last 30 years, this is the most critical of the observations.

The lack of astonishment happens when we forget we dwell in the presence of God, when we forget the gifts given us through the conduits of word and Sacrament. When we forget God is at work, as Tozer says, way before we plead in prayer. Astonishment disappears when we fail to see that we have received the same baptism, the same sacrament, the same presence of God in our lives.

I get being weary and discouraged, been with many people who are, and for good reason. Yet, their hearts soar when receiving the Eucharist, the Lord’s Supper. Their energy picks up as they remind me that God is also with me, or as we recount the blessing experienced after a tired, long day.

Finding yourself in the presence of God, watching and hearing as His love for you is revealed, experiencing the reconciliation- that brings the astonishment we desperately need to endure. To realize His body was broken, His blood was shed for us… for us! Astonishing!!!!!

And this will restore a tired and discouraged church… even as it heals from wound de

For the Almighty, Everlasting, Merciful and Loving God is here… to be with us…Perhaps God allowed us this season of weariness so we can remember He is here, and we can rely on Him. And as the church remembers that – everything opens up – and despite the weariness, despite the frustrations, the church comes alive… and is drawn to His side. There, joy is known.

So I am discouraged and tired… that’ ok – He is here! And knowing that, recognizing His presence and His work in our lives, we find we dwell in peace.

 

 

 

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

Eugene H. Peterson, Introduction, ed. Rodney Clapp, vol. 17, The Leadership Library (Carol Stream, IL; Dallas; Waco, TX: Christianity Today; Word Pub., 1989), 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), 387.

 

Some Changes… yet the same message!

Then God commanded, “Let lights appear in the sky to separate day from night and to show the time when days, years, and religious festivals Gen 1:14.GNT

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!

God’s peace!

pastor dt

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.

Dealing with Setbacks, and Failures

Thoughts driving me to Jesus, and His cross.

16  Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego replied, “O Nebuchadnezzar, we do not need to defend ourselves before you. 17  If we are thrown into the blazing furnace, the God whom we serve is able to save us. He will rescue us from your power, Your Majesty. 18  But even if he doesn’t, we want to make it clear to you, Your Majesty, that we will never serve your gods or worship the gold statue you have set up. Daniel 3:16-18 (NLT2)

We can afford to follow Him to failure. Faith dares to fail. The resurrection and the judgment will demonstrate before all worlds who won and who lost. We can wait.

732 O Jesus! I rest in you.
733 Trust always in your God. He does not lose battles.

I am struggling this morning. It is not failure persay, but to many things are failing.

Some of them are petty, minor computer problems, forgetting to do this or that, struggling through my devotional readings.

Other failings are significant. The health of a couple close friends, the state of few congregations and their pastors, other issues that I am not a liberty to discuss. It is tough not to dwell on these things, to feed into a loop of depression and despair. There are days, like this one, where I struggle to get moving, to get the tasks I need to get done. Especially my devotions, as I am not sure whether to be disappointed at God, mad at Him, or just ignore Him. (see Jeremiah 20:7, 9 which could be my life verse!)

I did anyway and came across Tozer’s words in blue. And I wondered, if we can afford to fail, can we be afford to be in situations that are failing? If we can take something on which most likely will fail and endure it, can we be in a situation where bodies and spirits are failing?

I believe so, and for the same reason. The Judgement awaits! God’s power, which Josemaria tells us to depend upon, will never lose the battle, never mind lost the war. That allows us to rest in Him… that allows us to endure failures and failings, for in Him, those things are promised to work for good, and nothing can ever separate us from Him!

This is the faith of the three men about to head into the furnace–they trusted God, whether they were going to be rescued or charbroiled. They knew the love of God and His promises, and they knew His presence. In that they found the peace that enabled them to know the hope of eternity. And so failure or success was little different in their eyes. They could wait, as Tozer noted, if their deliverance wasn’t in this minute, for it was sure.

As is ours…

So if you have to take a risk, that some might know God’s love, take it, and fear not failure.
And if things are failing, know He is there.. and you can depend on Him…

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

Escrivá, Josemaría. The Way (p. 129). Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition.

Hope for the Apathetic Congregation or Denomination

Thoughts that drive me to the cross, and the mercy of Christ.

32  Think back on those early days when you first learned about Christ. Remember how you remained faithful even though it meant terrible suffering. 33  Sometimes you were exposed to public ridicule and were beaten, and sometimes you helped others who were suffering the same things. 34  You suffered along with those who were thrown into jail, and when all you owned was taken from you, you accepted it with joy. You knew there were better things waiting for you that will last forever. Hebrews 10:32-34 (NLT2)

The amount of loafing practiced by the average Christian in spiritual things would ruin a concert pianist if he allowed himself to do the same thing in the field of music. The idle puttering around that we see in church circles would end the career of a big league pitcher in one week. No scientist could solve his exacting problem if he took as little interest in it as the rank and file of Christians take in the art of being holy. The nation whose soldiers were as soft and undisciplined as the soldiers of the churches would be conquered by the first enemy that attacked it. Triumphs are not won by men in easy chairs. Success is costly

We also believe, teach, and confess that in a time when confession is necessary, as when the enemies of God’s Word want to suppress the pure teaching of the holy gospel, the entire community of God, indeed, every Christian, especially servants of the Word as the leaders of the community of God, are obligated according to God’s Word to confess true teaching and everything that pertains to the whole of religion freely and publicly. They are to do so not only with words but also in actions and deeds.

As the words of Tozer came on my screen this morning, I grieved. They seem as accurate now as they did in the 80s, when they were published. The church, at least in the United States, is stagnant. Churches are closing, or trying to survive, the present declines. Pastors are leaving the ministry in record numbers, many to start para-church ministries or become consultants. Others are retiring from ministry, or looking to find an easy place to serve out–until they can retire. Denominational leaders are telling even viable churches that there is no long-term hope.

We aren’t just apathetic…it seems we are aggressively choosing to abandon ship, and to encourage others to do so.

And then, as I continued in my devotional readings, I come across the words of a church in the midst of spiritual warfare in the days after Luther. The encouragement then was to confess Christ with words AND actions AND deeds publicly.  To not compromise the gospel (and if it isn’t about Christ – who cares). This wasn’t the matter of giving up a few hours on Saturday. or subsidising a ministry or mission. This was life at stake. But they sacrificed, they served and taught and loved and shared Christ.

The same occurred in the times addressed in the Book of Hebrews. Again, the history is taught to us, but the last verse is the most important.

For it gives us the reason and is what should empower us to go against the flow of the church in decline. Read it again,

34  You suffered along with those who were thrown into jail, and when all you owned was taken from you, you accepted it with joy. You knew there were better things waiting for you that will last forever. Hebrews 10:34 (NLT2)

They didn’t need a pastor to berate them from the pulpit about their apathy. They didn’t need to be shamed into giving more time and money. No one was told they weren’t a good Christian unless they did this or that… (though some will be confronted from time to time) They didn’t need the stick, they needed to be reminded of the carrot.

The better thing.

The best thing.

To be in the presence of God without all the crap we deal with in this life. To know the joy of being loved beyond imagination, to share in the peace that goes beyond everything else. This is what we have to preach, what people should experience in worship and bible study and in thier own devotions, as Paul’s prayer comes true:

19  May you experience the love of Christ, though it is too great to understand fully. Then you will be made complete with all the fullness of life and power that comes from God. Ephesians 3:19 (NLT2)

If a church, or a denomination were to realize this, no church would close, or downsize or find themselves with a unfilled list of duties and positions. It just won’t happen.

To know we are loved and God is with and guiding us now until we are before His throne…. that is what the church needs to help people experience.  For then our hope will be contagious, not harnessable by any program.

So let us share what we know from the time at the altar, and from the dark nights when we pray until God grants us sleep. For out of such struggles comes the assurance of His presence and love as we are given hope for eternity. AMEN.

 

 

 

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

“Smalcald Articles: Article X”, Robert Kolb, Timothy J. Wengert, and Charles P. Arand, The Book of Concord: The Confessions of the Evangelical Lutheran Church (Minneapolis, MN: Fortress Press, 2000), 637.

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