Once Jesus was in a certain place praying. As he finished, one of his disciples came to him and said, “Lord, teach us to pray, just as John taught his disciples.”……Then, teaching them more about prayer, he used this story. Luke 1,5 GNT
And I tell you more: whenever two of you on earth agree about anything you pray for, it will be done for you by my Father in heaven. 20 For where two or three come together in my name, I am there with them.” Matthew 18:19-20 GNT
But Christ approached, raised him up, and placed him on a higher plane of faith. “Go thy way; thy son liveth.” Thus the man advanced from his first faith, when he believed that Christ could heal if he were present, to a higher stage of faith, by reason of which he now believed the mere Word of Christ. For if he had not believed the Word, he would not have ceased until the Lord had accompanied him to his house; but he accepted the Word, believed Christ and clung to his Word.
Does that mean we learn how to pray in community, that what we do in solitude is something we take from the community’s worship?
That’s what I mean. If somebody comes to me and says, “Teach me how to pray,” I say, “Be at this church at nine o’clock on Sunday morning.” That’s where you learn how to pray. Of course, prayer is continued and has alternate forms when you’re by yourself. But the American experience has the order reversed. In the long history of Christian spirituality, community prayer is most important, then individual prayer.
I had to look it up, but Petersen is right, our being taught to pray starts in groups. Bible studies, small groups, but especially in the church. In the book he will spend more time on the issue, but I needed to think through just this first part.
It was even this way in scripture, as Jesus taught, bet before, as Moses at Sinai and Solomon at the dedication of the Temple, as Nehemiah and Ezra and Daniel all learned to pray, it was as the family of God.
We need to learn more than by reading a book, for there we can only learn a form. We need to see others struggling with God, blessing God, realizing how complete His mercy is, how beyond reason God’s love is. I think that is what lifts us up, as we see Jesus lift up others. It is in these groups of believers that prayer becomes more than a spiritual exercise routine. It becomes a conversation based on our trust in God, our dependence on Him. We learn that from observation, from sharing in the tears, and in the joy, from sharing as our anxieties are calmed, our spirits are comforted, and as we realize that God is in our midst.
Does this mean we do not pray on our own? Of course not! But there is something about knowing others are praying for you, with you, as we storm heaven to ask God to be there. There is something about seeing others – locked in prayer, and being comforted by the Holy Spirit. The numbers aren’t the issue, the communion, the fellowship, the bonding is.
For as we realize we are praying in one voice, we realize that voice is in respons eot the Voice-the Voice who taught us to pray, together….
Martin Luther and John Sander, Devotional Readings from Luther’s Works for Every Day of the Year (Rock Island, IL: Augustana Book Concern, 1915), 393.
Eugene H. Peterson, Introduction, ed. Rodney Clapp, vol. 17, The Leadership Library (Carol Stream, IL; Dallas; Waco, TX: Christianity Today; Word Pub., 1989), 15–16.
This means that every time you eat this bread and drink from this cup you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes. 1 Corinthians 11:26 GNT
I will give you many descendants, and they will become a great nation. I will bless you and make your name famous, so that you will be a blessing. Genesis 12:2 GNT
With the Lord’s Supper God has bound up his own honor, for in Christ alone he desires to be acknowledged and worshiped as our God. So far as the Holy Supper is a confession before men, the communicant proclaims Christ and teaches faith in him. He helps to spread and preserve the kingdom of Christ, strengthens the influence of gospel and sacrament, aids in the conversion of sinners and in storming the devil’s kingdom.
Meaning is then not something we discover in ourselves, or in our lives. The meanings we are capable of discovering are never sufficient. The true meaning has to be revealed. It has to be “given.” And the fact that it is given is, indeed, the greater part of its significance: for life itself is, in the end, only significant in so far as it is given.
More seriously, the question is not only whether the discipline is doing good but whether it might actually be doing some harm. Could it be that systematic theology as usually practiced actually frustrates the proclamation of the gospel?
I have been in many missional seminars, and read many books about making the church more evangelistic. Read a ton of books about apologetics, and church growth, and personal, lifestyle evangelism; while beneficial to my faith, they haven’t really been as effective as I would have hoped in helping me share Jesus with others.
No where near as effective as experiencing Christ in the Lord’s Supper.
The Apostle Paul in 1 Corinthians notes the missional value (the benefit to sharing our faith) found in the Lord’s Supper. When we are partaking, when we are in communion with God, we are naturally proclaiming His death. Specifically, that His death was “for us”.
I always thought we were preaching to the choir, to the other men and women that are with us there at the altar. But Luther noted that proclamation is more than that. When we realize this is God is in this moment, giving Himself under the bread and wine, the moment can and should become life transforming. We come to the altar tired, broken, plagued by the things of the world, tormented by guilt and we leave, our spirits lifted, our hearts set free, and our outlook on life changed.
This is the gospel that systematic theology should drive pastors and professors to talk about in Bible studies, sermons, books. This is the outside factor that Merton talked about, the revelation giving definition to our lives. it is what Abraham learned from God, that he was blessed, and part of that blessing, a major part is that God’s work through him to bless us, and all who depended on God throughout history.
The blessings come, as Abraham learned, because God is present with us. He is not just the topic of conversation as we ponder the mysteries of our faith. He is present, joining in the conversation, present in the bread and the wine, present as we realize we share in His death and resurrection.
And then we leave church, and see people experiencing the brokenness, and realizing how He is healing ours, and we share with them that His death was for them as well.
Missional thought, being evangelistic comes from hearts and souls touched by God and responding to it.
Consider what God is giving you in the Lord’s supper… and then.. in awe, ask Him to show you others that need it.
Martin Luther and John Sander, Devotional Readings from Luther’s Works for Every Day of the Year (Rock Island, IL: Augustana Book Concern, 1915), 392–393.
Thomas Merton, The New Man (London; New York: Burns & Oates, 1976), 6–7.
Gerhard O. Forde, Theology Is for Proclamation (Minneapolis, MN: Fortress Press, 1990), viii.
In the Same Way…
† In Jesus’ Name †
May the grace of God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ cause you to be incredibly happy—no matter what you are enduring for His sake.
The Pursuit of Happiness!
How many of you like or liked surprise tests in school?
I guess I should have asked how many of you remember school before I asked that!
Well you have a pop quiz this morning.
You need to tell me which of the documents the quote that follows comes from.
- The Constitution of the United States
- The Bill of Rights
- The Magna Carta
So here is the quote:
“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”
So which is it?
What—weren’t all your pop quizzes filled with trick questions? 😊
So do you agree with the Declaration of Independence? Do you think that we have the right to pursue happiness?
Be careful—this might be a trick question as well!
So if you want to be happy, scripture this morning had a surefire way to be happy.
11 “God blesses you when people mock you and persecute you and lie about you and say all sorts of evil things against you because you are my followers. 12 Be happy about it! Be very glad! For a great reward awaits you in heaven. And remember, the ancient prophets were persecuted in the same way.
There you go, to be happy just follow Jesus! Then people will persecute you and say all sorts of evil things about you!
But you will be happy!
- The Standard
SO the next question—what does it look like to follow Jesus in such a way that people will persecute us and say nasty things about us?
Seriously, most of us know how to get persecuted. There is always that one person who we can irritate, even without planning it. We might even enjoy it! But then they try to get us back!
But to get persecuted for Jesus, because we are like Him, is a different story.
The Beatitudes show how Jesus lived, how we can live, when we are focused on Him. It all starts with our need for God! It all starts there, when we realize that we are poor in spirit. You usually don’t think of Jesus as poor in spirit, but hear how Paul describes Jesus.
7 But he emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, becoming as human beings are; and being in every way like a human being ( Philippians 2:7 (NJB)
That emptiness is what being poor in spirit is about. Whether we are wounded by someone else’s sin, or broken by our own, or simply choose to live humbly, dependent on God the Father for everything.
That is what makes believers different, what has made those people we look up to spiritually, so amazing. They could depend on God during challenges, during good times, too. We have seen that in so many of those who have gone before us here. They knew God was with them. Whether it was Pastor and Mrs. Meier, or Clyde or Armando, or Barbara, Tony and Wanda or Bonnie, or this year Kurt, Joan, Ben, Valter, Diana and Chuck over the last year.
The rest of the Beatitudes make sense after you realize you are completely reliant on God.
Because you realize your need for God, if you are mourning, He comforts you.
Because you realize your need for God, if you are humble (and rely on Him), then He gives you everything.
Because you realize your need for God, if you want real justice, God provides that on judgement day.
Because you realize your need for God, you see the mercy that you wanted others to know, shown to you.
Because you realize your need for God, the Holy Spirit changes your heart of stone for a heart of flesh.
Because you realize your need for God, because you are His children you work for peace, where peace seems impossible,
Because you realize your need for God, you do what is just and righteous in God’s eyes, even if there is a cost to you. And there are times where the cost will be high, because others don’t like being just, when you decide to help others rather them. Or when you show mercy to those who don’t deserve it.
(of course—why would you need to show mercy to someone who doesn’t need it.)
Because you realize your need for God, and He meets that need, you realize you found happiness!
When peace, justice and mercy are seen as a major thing in your life, no matter the cost, you are showing the work of the Holy Spirit as He guides you into becoming more and more visibly like Jesus.
But that will irritate people who don’t understand God.
That is where the persecution comes from!
Not from being considered holier than thou, or from being judgmental. When we deal with people in bondage to sin, our demeanor should be like Jesus’ demeanor
That is why all these characteristics show God has blessed us, that He is with us, that the Holy Spirit is active in our lives. It shows us we aren’t alone.
God is with us.
As He has been with His people since Adam and Even and Cain sinned.
Because God is with us, in the same way, He was with the prophets and martyrs and all our examples who have depended on God.
This is where happiness comes from, God who loves us, who has promised us a great reward in heaven, who walks with us know, blessing us in our need. AMEN!
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).
So then, my brothers and sisters, because of God’s great mercy to us I appeal to you: offer yourselves as a living sacrifice to God, dedicated to his service and pleasing to him. This is the true worship that you should offer. 2Do not conform yourselves to the standards of this world, but let God transform you inwardly by a complete change of your mind. Then you will be able to know the will of God—what is good and is pleasing to him and is perfect. Romans 12:1-3 GNT
Did you know that it is possible for a Christian believer to live day after day, clutching the book of Ephesians, and still not realize that he is spiritually lean and hungry? If a pastor or evangelist suggests that this person could be in a more prosperous spiritual state, his reaction may be bristling: “Am I not accepted in the Beloved? Is not God my Father and am I not an heir with God?”
Yes, and my job is not to solve people’s problems or make them happy, but to help them see the grace operating in their lives. It’s hard to do, because our whole culture is going the other direction, saying that if you’re smart enough and get the right kind of help, you can solve all your problems. The truth is, there aren’t very many happy people in the Bible. But there are people who are experiencing joy, peace, and the meaning of Christ’s suffering in their lives.
For a man to be alive, he must exercise not only the acts that belong to vegetative and animal life, he must not only subsist, grow, be sentient, not only move himself around, feed himself, and the rest. He must carry on the activities proper to his own specifically human kind of life. He must, that is to say, think intelligently. And above all he must direct his actions by free decisions, made in the light of his own thinking. They must tend to make him more aware of his capacities for knowledge and for free action. They must expand and extend his power to love others, and to dedicate himself to their good: for it is in this that he finds his own fulfilment.
It is easy to understand what is meant by this man’s (Matt 21:1-13)being without a wedding garment, namely, without the new adornment in which we please God, which is faith in Christ, and therefore also without truly good works. He remains in the old rags and tatters of his own fleshly conceit, unbelief and security, without penitence and without understanding his own misery. He does not from the heart seek comfort in the grace of Christ, nor better his life by it, and looks for nothing more in the gospel than what his flesh covets.
Yesterday, I had the incredible blessing of sharing in the Lord’s Supper three times. All three groups (2 people, 4 people, and 1 person) had reasons why they can’t make it to church, and they know I will, or one of our elders will bring the sacrament to them, pray with them, and share the love of God, revealed in the scriptures.
As much as I want to, desperately want to, I cannot solve their problems. Peterson nailed it, and yesterday – all three divine appointments proved it. I don’t have to – what I have to do is help them see God – and God active in their lives. Then the joy Petersen mentions in is there, while they join in His suffering, and He in theirs. (Phil. 3:10)0 The longer i serve as a pastor, the more I realize this is where ministry truly occurs, in the midst of those wounded and broken.
I think that is Tozer’s point about those who carry the Bible, or a couple of verses (that they treat like cliches), without living in the truth of them. I think that is why some (especially Lutherans) love Ephesians 2:8-9, but miss out on the truth of verse 10 – that we are masterpieces created to live life loving others and helping them. You see this again as Merton points out that choosing to love and sacrifice for others is life—a life many don’t choose to live. This is also the poorly dressed man at the wedding banquet that Luther points to, the man trusting in his old ways, but wanting to be part of the party. The modern equivalents to this are those people who talk about being a Christian, but not needing church, prayer or even time in the Bible. They may pray, talk about prayer, but they deride organized religion (as if churches are organized!) as unnecessary.
Being alive in the faith looks like this: a dependency on God, which is only fed through word and sacrament, and loving others who are broken. This is what pastors can bring to people, it is why churches exist. It is an intimate relationship that starts with God and then, in Him includes all people, even those who don’t know they are loved, and don’t recognize the presence of God…
That is where pastoral care, and general love of the brethren come into play. The church can point out to each other the presence of Jesus, they can point out the healing available, they can point out the healing that will take place as we are gathered together by God. And they can model the life begun in them.
This is the church, the people God has gathered, whom He is healing, who we need to be part of, that we can grow closer to Him. Come join us…
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), 13.
Thomas Merton, The New Man (London; New York: Burns & Oates, 1976), 4.
Martin Luther and John Sander, Devotional Readings from Luther’s Works for Every Day of the Year (Rock Island, IL: Augustana Book Concern, 1915), 388–389.
*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.
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.
Thomas Merton, The New Man (London; New York: Burns & Oates, 1976), 1–2.
Devotional Thought of the Day:
23 And we believers also groan, even though we have the Holy Spirit within us as a foretaste of future glory, for we long for our bodies to be released from sin and suffering. We, too, wait with eager hope for the day when God will give us our full rights as his adopted children, including the new bodies he has promised us.
Romans 8:23 (NLT2)
The question keeps coming up in John’s Gospel: Where does this man Jesus come from? Does He come from God or only from man? The question is the most basic one that can be asked about us and our love. Are we and our love born again from above, from God? Or are we and it only the product of human nature? The answer to this question makes an infinite difference, the difference between Heaven and Hell in the next life.
This work, which begins in the new birth, is carried on in two ways—mortification, whereby the lusts of the flesh are subdued and kept under; and vivification, by which the life which God has put within us is made to be a well of water springing up unto everlasting life.
Thirty years ago, I was defibrillated 5 times. Just like you see on every medical show when they should “clear” and electricity is passed through the body, with the intent of rebooting the electrical and chemical nature of our body, so our heart will restart and run normally.
Spiritually, we need something like that. What Spurgeon called vivification, the idea of bringing us back to life, being born again, where God brings us to life. Kreeft indicated this was the one question that matters, the one most basic to our life, and the one that makes the greatest difference, period
The problem is when we want to be brought back to lift without dealing with what caused us to whither and die. If all the paramedics and ER doctors did was to shock me back to life, and never try to address the cause, it would have mattered not. The same is true spiritually, and while one day we will be free from all sin and suffering, God is freeing us from its effects, even now. This is the mortification that Spurgeon said was part of the same work – the process of eliminating the rot caused by sin, and sin itself.
Mortification isn’t easy, neither is vivification. Both require drastic changes, and discipline and some pain. And yet, the life that is provided, free from the rot, free from the pain, is beyond words.
God is with us, He’s the great physician, the one that does both pieces of work… that makes it not just a possibility – but a promise.
So let Him get to work on you…
Let Him draw you to the cross – where both things happen, as the sinful you dies, and you are raised with Christ Jesus. Amen!
Peter Kreeft, The God Who Loves You (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 2004), 26.
C. H. Spurgeon, Morning and Evening: Daily Readings (London: Passmore & Alabaster, 1896).
Is it that Obvious?
† Jesus, Son, Savior †
May the grace, peace, and love of God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ in your life be…obvious.
Hook: Oblivious to the obvious
It is very clear that the very first word in the first reading this morning was not needed!
It shouldn’t have to be used!
It is completely understood!
Everyone can see the point without explaining it!
It is so simple, and everyone should “get it”
At least, people should be able to understand it.
The word obviously can only truly be used where it is unnecessary. Because, if it is that obvious, do you really need to tell everyone it is obvious?
I mean if you ask me what’s wrong when see me rushing towards a restroom with a plunger in my hand, do I need to waste time saying, “Obviously, a toilet’s overflowing!?”
Or if you ask Bob what’s wrong when you see Bob kneeling by his left rear tire with another tire and a lug wrench in his hand, does he need to really say, “OBVIOUSLY, I have a flat tire!”
Or when the Sherriff pulls you over, and do you have to ask him if there is something wrong? “Obviously, you were going 85 in a 30 mile per hour zone!” (Or was that me?)
We should know those things—just like Paul and Luther and everyone else in their days–would understand clearly what was obviously wrong.
- Luther’s Obvious Problem
Here the scripture again,
Obviously, the law applies to those to whom it was given, for its purpose is to keep people from having excuses, and to show that the entire world is guilty before God. 20 For no one can ever be made right with God by doing what the law commands. The law simply shows us how sinful we are.
This part of the passage, was indeed quite obvious to young pastor Luther. Nothing bothered him as much sin, and it haunted him. It caused him great distress. He would recount many times this story,
When I was a young man at Isleben, I went with the rest in procession, on the day of Corpus Christi, and had on my priest’s attire: it happened that I was in such sort affrighted before the Sacrament, which Dr. Staupitz carried, that I thought I should have fallen down stark dead. Now when the procession was ended, I confessed, and opened my grief to Dr. Staupitz. He said, ‘O! your thoughts are not Christ’s
Obviously, Luther felt that he had no excuse, he knew he was guilty before God. And God’s word did indeed show him how sinful he was…
Just as it shows me how sinful I am, and how sinful each one of you is.
Obviously, if I am that bad, that horrid, I don’t belong up there.
If all there is, is the law which condemns us, if all we know of God is the judge who shows we are guilty of sin, and deserving of condemnation, we are without hope.
I should also note that while we may deny we are sinners, or deny our thoughts, words and deeds are sinful.
Usually, we go one way or the other… we fight and deny that our thoughts, words and actions are sin… or we look at them and condemn ourselves in disgust.
This should be obvious, left on our alone, life is shattered, broken, and the thought of being in God’s presence should cause us to experience terror.
- Paul’s point..But now….
Paul’s word “obviously” is going to be countered by something…but before I get to them – I want to share a little more about Luther and his mentor. Luther wrote,
“Staupitz used to comfort me with these words: “Why do you torture yourself with these speculations (about your sin and damnation)? Look at the wounds of Christ and at the blood that was shed for you. From these (your eternal destiny) predestination will shine. Consequently, one must listen to the Son of God, who was sent into the flesh and appeared to destroy the work of the devil and to make you sure about (your eternal destiny) predestination.
What Staupitz was trying to show Luther was what Paul talked about in the Romans passage,
25 For God presented Jesus as the sacrifice for sin. People are made right with God when they believe that Jesus sacrificed his life, shedding his blood. Romans 3:25 (NLT2)
He goes on to write,
27 Can we boast, then, that we have done anything to be accepted by God? No, because our acquittal is not based on obeying the law. It is based on faith. 28 So we are made right with God through faith and not by obeying the law. Romans 3:27-28 (NLT2)
We are made right, by God. We just need to trust Him at the promises he always made in the church.
For someone so haunted by his past and present sin, this news was radical. We are fully forgiven, fully cleansed, declared as righteous and holy as Jesus is, because Jesus was our sacrifice. Jesus’ body shed for us, His blood spilled out for us, as the sacrificial offering.
The word there is a very special word – it talks of the sacrificial blood poured out on the Ark of the Covenant, once a year – which covered all of the sin of all of the people of God, covering it for a year… til the next sacrifice would do the next for the next year’s sins.
Christ’s blook cover’s all sin, for all time.
- It Is world changing…
This is what changed Luther from a guilty, shamed crazed monk into a pastor who wanted everyone to know that Christ has set them free.
Luther would struggle with a lot of the other stud in the church, both with the Catholics, but even more with reformers like Zwingli and Kaarldstat – men who would dismiss the work of the Holy Spirit.
But his core–and you see this in the Small and Large Catechism – is what Jesus does to cover the obvious problem of our sin, to bring us clean and holy to the Father, where something becomes even more obvious… God Loves us.
and we are His, for God gives us the ability to depend on Jesus’ love and work in our lives.
Knowing this , we experience the peace of God, which passes all understanding, as our hearts and minds are in Christ Jesus. AMEN!
 Martin Luther, Luther’s Table Talk:.
Thoughts which Drive us to Chrsit and His Cross…
“This is what the LORD of Heaven’s Armies says: All this may seem impossible to you now, a small remnant of God’s people. But is it impossible for me? says the LORD of Heaven’s Armies.Zec 8: NLT
When I whistle to them, they will come running, for I have redeemed them. From the few who are left,
they will grow as numerous as they were before. Zec 10:8 NLT
4 This is what the LORD my God says: “Go and care for the flock that is intended for slaughter. 5 The buyers slaughter their sheep without remorse. The sellers say, ‘Praise the LORD! Now I’m rich!’ Even the shepherds have no compassion for them. Zec. 11:4-5 NLT
10 I want to know Christ and experience the mighty power that raised him from the dead. I want to suffer with him, sharing in his death, 11 so that one way or another I will experience the resurrection from the dead! Phil. 3:10-11 NLT
This means that as we sit in faith, opening to the fullness of the presence of God within us, we share the dynamic of the Paschal mystery. In other words, when we stop acting out of our false self and the emotional programs for happiness by deliberately entering into silence and solitude during the time of Centering Prayer, we are immersing ourselves in a special way in the Paschal mystery. The Paschal mystery is Christ’s passion, death, and resurrection, the most comprehensive manifestation of who God is, as far as this can be expressed in human terms.… In the midst of a community praying together in Centering Prayer is the Risen Christ.
As I read the prophet’s words, I cannot but think of what I heard from so many church “experts” today. Not just in my Lutheran body of believers, but across denominations. Once again we are hearding that small churches do not matter. That they have no hope, I saw this back in the 90’s, and I have been seeing it for the last decade or so…
I think there were “intended for slaughter” much as the false shepherds and and false prophets who would profit from the few left in the Holy Land.
These churches are still valid, they are still places where word and sacrament are provided, blessing the people of God. Perhaps they need to be discipled better, encouraged better, that they need to spend more time, being still and knowing God is there. Time spent contemplating the suffering, death and resurrection of Jesus, something we as believers, something we as the church knows
As St Paul noted of Abraham, “This happened because Abraham believed in the God who brings the dead back to life and who creates new things out of nothing. Romans 4:17 (NLT2) This is true for the church, and it happens as the church they dwell in Jesus Christ. THat is how revival always happens, not in the mega churches, nor among the great speakers. It happens when the presence of Christ is revealed, and His mercy cleanses hopeless sinners, recreating them into saints. What was considered impossible, is now possible–because of Jesus.
So let’s encourage each other, let’s see us lift up the small churches, and pray for them, and as we can, help them see they dwell in Jesus.
Thomas Keating, The Daily Reader for Contemplative Living: Excerpts from the Works of Father Thomas Keating, O.C.S.O., Sacred Scripture, and Other Spiritual Writings, ed. S. Stephanie Iachetta (New York; London; New Delhi; Sydney: Bloomsbury, 2009), 302.