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How Should the Church Position Itself in These Days?

Devotional Thought of the Day:

And today the LORD has affirmed that you are his own possession as he promised you, that you are to keep all his commands, 19 that he will elevate you to praise, fame, and glory above all the nations he has made, and that you will be a holy people to the LORD your God as he promised.” Deuteronomy 26:18-19 CSB

27 The God of old is your dwelling place, and underneath are the everlasting arms. Deuteronomy 33:27 (CSB)

We will never be where we ought to be until we go back to those old paths and learn to find God. [Then] we will cease to be bored with God.…[W]e will center our affections upon God and Christ … and become specialists and experts in the realm of the spiritual life.
It is amazing how little outside stimulus we need if we have that inward stimulus. It is amazing how much God will meet our needs. It will not be God and something else. It will be God everything.

My soul, why art thou so timid and fearful at the sight of the goodness and infinite love of thy Lord? why such distrust? Now that thou art made worthy to receive within thee Jesus Christ, let thy sentiments correspond to this grace, by confiding in that goodness of God, who gives thee all himself. Truly his judgments are terrible, but they are terrible only to the proud and to the obstinate; but to the humble and penitent, who desire to love and please him, his judgments are all mercy and love, emanating from a heart full of compassion and kindness.

Tozer’s words struck me this morning.

There is a lot of talk about how the church needs to position itself, what it needs to do to survive and grow in these days of crisis.

I think Tozer is on to something in these words. What are the old paths where God was found? He wrote this not long after the time some think was the “golden age” of the church in America – the 1950’s, so he didn’t mean then.

There have been similar calls throughout history: Barton Stone, John Smith, and Alexander and Thomas Campbell in the 1800s. The work of the Wesley’s before that. Luther and some in the Counter-Reformation. Francis, Augustine, and Anthony, and Athanasius. All sought God and turned ot the times when people did walk with Him.

The time of the gospels, the time of Acts. The good times in Jewish history. The places where they found “the God of Old.” The God who didn’t have to be searched for long, for He made himself apparent to His people.

The times where He comforted them. The times where He rescued them from enemies, or the times He rescued them from idolatry. The times the Lord confronted their sin and healed them of it.

We need to come across, in our own words, the feelings de Ligouri speaks of, where we see God’s compassion and kindness.

This is a time where humility is the only option. We don’t know which doctors to believe; we don’t know which politicians or news media to believe. The pressures caused by trauma are becoming more and more intense.

There is one place the church needs to position itself in this time. In the arms of God, in His presence, for He is our Fortress, our refuge, our strength. We need to find those altars where He has placed His name, where He feeds His people His Body and Blood. The altars from which the declaration that our sin is forgiven comes.

That is what makes us the church… let’s get back to it.

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

Alphonsus de Liguori, The Holy Eucharist, ed. Eugene Grimm, The Complete Works of Saint Alphonsus de Liguori (New York; London; Dublin; Cincinnati; St. Louis: Benziger Brothers; R. Washbourne; M. H. Gill & Son, 1887), 85–86.

The Church will not die in America.

Concordia Lutheran Church – Cerritos, Ca , at dawn on Easter Sunday

Devotional Thought for the Day”

7  Please hurry, LORD, and answer my prayer. I feel hopeless. Don’t turn away and leave me here to die. 8  Each morning let me learn more about your love because I trust you. I come to you in prayer, asking for your guidance. Psalm 143:7-8 (CEV)

To bring people closer to God, competency and clarity are important, but they are not enough. Of themselves they do not touch hearts deeply. Personal sanctity and goodness do. It is the saints who light fires. There is a direct correlation between the beauty of holiness and the fruitfulness of our work and interpersonal relationships.

When we believe God is something other than a lover, it is inevitable that we will sin.

As I look at some of my more competent friends in ministry, to those who are skilled communicators, who sermons hit all the right points, I grow concerned for them, and for the church.

Even before COVID hit, they were scrambling. There was concern first about us being in the post -modern age, and how do ou communicate to millennials. (Of course, that originated in not being able to communicate to GenXer’s, or trying all sorts of things to communicate to Baby-boomers (see the Seeker movement)

I even heard one such friend, a man in ministry for nearly 40 years, write “I just don’t know how to do this!” This written for all to see in a on-line training session with one of the latest book writing gurus, who found a theory on how to survive in these times.

If these experts don’t have the answers, if they are getting to the point where ministry must be completely re-thought… what hope does the church have in America?

As I read the despair in the voice of the Psalmist this morning, I found great hope, and a model for revival.

It is to do what I’ve done many times in ministry, cry out in despair, and realize my hope in ministry is not found in what I do. I am competent, but that is often set aside because of the tyranny of the moment. I am not always clear… (I’ve had people lovingly tell me so, and their body language in the church helps keep me focused )

Our hope must be in learning, in experiencing the love of God.

That is what is needed for the church to revive in the midst of this time, a dedication ot spend more time getting to experience the love of God than simply reading about it. More time spent rejoicing His promises delivered through word and sacrament than trying to find the latest thoughts on making the church relevant, or faithful to our traditions.

We NEED Jesus in our lives, we need to know God is love, we desperately need to experience that love, poured out through His word, and with the sacraments He ordained to deliver us what we need to revive…

We need to let Him transform us, to covert us, and we need to pour out to Him our frustration, our despair, our brokenness, assured of His love and desire to heal us.

This is the hope for the church… to dwell in Christ…anything else is simply a manmade patch on a sinking ship.. and will leave us in even greater despair.

And that is true whether our church is 50 people or 5000…..it was true in first century Ephesus, or 21st century Los Angeles, or Lawrence, Massachusetts…

Cry out to Him, and then spend time experiencing the love of God.


Thomas Dubay, Deep Conversion/Deep Prayer (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 2006), 97.

Peter Kreeft, The God Who Loves You (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 2004), 166.

Upon Them All – A Pentecost Sermon from Numbers 11:24-30

Upon Them All!
Numbers 11:24- 30

May the grace of God, our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ reveal to us the work of the Holy Spirit in our lives daily!

 An Incredible Desire Comes True

When most believers think of Pentecost, their minds sweep to Peter, the other apostles, and the one hundred and twenty or so believers and the incredible display of tongues of fire, and the sound of the Holy Spirit testifying to the glory of God, through the believers.

Others will think about the Old Testament feast, the feast fifty days after Passover, when people were to bring evidence to God the Father of His blessing them. They were to bring the first part of the harvest and celebrate it together.

After Jesus’ ascension, Pentecost takes on a similar proof of God’s work. Jesus prophesied about it this way…

23  Jesus replied, “Now the time has come for the Son of Man to enter into his glory. 24  I tell you the truth, unless a kernel of wheat is planted in the soil and dies, it remains alone. But its death will produce many new kernels—a plentiful harvest of new lives. John 12:23-24 (NLT2)

Pentecost is the proof that God’s love makes a difference in lives. It is when we realize the word God does and celebrate the new lives he has created.

Pentecost is the fulfillment of prophetic dreams!  The dream God gave Abraham, that through his seed, through one of his descendants, the world would be blessed, the dream that Jesus referenced in that passage.

Many other prophecies in the Old Testament that promised salvation, that promised restoration, that promised God hadn’t abandoned His plan, a plan for His people.

Like the desire of Moses, we heard this morning,

Are you jealous for my sake? I wish that all the LORD’s people were prophets and that the LORD would put His Spirit upon them all!

Angst over what we don’t understand

It used to bother me that this young and Joshua were upset that two other elders, not with the 70 at the tabernacle, were prophesying. After all, what right did they have to judge the two leaders?

Why would Joshua beg Moses to make them stop?

Couldn’t he recognize the work of the Holy Spirit?  The very same Holy Spirit that he had watched work through Moses?

I want to get mad at them for their immaturity, at their jealousy, at their inability to recognize God at work. I want to call it what it is, I want to judge them.

At which point, would I be any better than they are?

The two young guys judged the two old guys for speaking for God. That caused more trouble, and unless Moses had spoken up, who knows what would have happened!

We need more people like that, more people to speak up, not based on their understanding, but on God’s understanding. People who will speak as God would speak, who prophesy against sin, not to condemn, but to remind people that God will show them mercy. This is what speaking for God; it is what prophecy is all about.

That is why Moses was all for every person being able to prophesy, This is Moses wanted “that the Lord would put His Spirit upon them all!”

We can see what Moses Long to see!

This is what Pentecost is all about, the struggle to see what God is doing, the life that has come to be, because of the planting of Jesus, the seed of Abraham in the ground.

It is about us coming to God and saying, “God, you are amazing, look at what you are doing here!  Look at what your love planted, and your mercy nourished, what the Holy Spirit is creating right here in our lives.

For when our eyes are open to the work of the Holy Spirit, when we are seeing what God is doing, because of the death and resurrection of Jesus, when we know that because He rose from the dead, we have arisen as well; that is when all things become new.

That my friends have been possible for every single believer for some 1990 years since the very first Pentecost – when God poured out His Holy Spirit on all believers. It happens anew every time someone is baptized, as Paul wrote to Titus,

3  Once, we, too, were foolish and disobedient. We were misled and became slaves to many lusts and pleasures. Our lives were full of evil and envy. We hated each other. 4  But—“When God our Savior revealed his kindness and love, 5  he saved us, not because of the righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy. He washed away our sins, giving us a new birth and new life through the Holy Spirit. 6  He generously poured out the Spirit upon us through Jesus Christ, our Savior. 7  Because of his grace, he declared us righteous and gave us confidence that we will inherit eternal life.”
Titus 3:3-7 (NLT2) You have been baptized, if you haven’t – we can take care of that as soon as you get here!

So start looking for His work around you, it won’t take long.

For He has risen!

And therefore

You are risen!

And that means the Lord is with You!  AMEN!

 

Will We Worship Together? And what does that mean?

church at communion 2Passover wasn’t celebrated in the first month,l which was the usual time, because many of the priests were still unclean and unacceptable to serve, and because not everyone in Judah had come to Jerusalem for the festival. So Hezekiah, his officials, and the people agreed to celebrate Passover in the second month. 
Most of the people that came from Ephraim, West Manasseh, Issachar, and Zebulun had not made themselves clean, but they ignored God’s Law and ate the Passover lambs anyway. Hezekiah found out what they had done and prayed, “LORD God, these people are unclean according to the laws of holiness. But they are worshiping you, just as their ancestors did. So, please be kind and forgive them.” 20 The LORD answered Hezekiah’s prayer and did not punish them.2 Ch 30:1–4, 18-20  CEV

Before all else, the teacher of peace and master of unity desires that we should not make our prayer individually and alone, as whoever prays by himself prays only for himself.

In Cyprian’s words about the Lord’s Prayer, we find described a call to pray together. Not just physically together, but really together.  To pray with one heart and one mind.

It was the reason for Passover being delayed that year so that all could pray together. That those who were unclean, those damaged by sin could deal with it, according to God’s provision.  According to how God laid out one could become cleansed of sin.

They, as a people, needed to pray together, they needed to worship together, they needed to realize that they lived in the presence of God, who so desperately wanted to care for them.

But they needed to do it together.

I will repeat myself, not just together physically, but together spiritually, emotionally, cognitively.

We need this today as well. Isolation is oppressive, we grow more and more distant apart. We become more protective of what belongs to me and less aware of each other, and each other’s needs. Cyprian describes that well, as he talks about only praying for oneself.

That needs to stop.

We need to be praying for everyone.  Everyone in our church, everyone in our community, everyone we don’t feel like praying for.

So as we come together, let us pray that the Lord unite His church and the communities in which it dwells. May the church help the community to learn, not only how to find reconciliation, but how to love.

Tertullian, Cyprian, and Origen, On the Lord’s Prayer, ed. John Behr, trans. Alistair Stewart-Sykes, Popular Patristics Series, Number 29 (Crestwood, NY: St Vladimir’s Seminary Press, 2004), 69.

How the Church is Not a Sanctuary…

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Concordia Lutheran Church – Cerritos, Ca , at dawn on Easter Sunday

Devotional Thought of the Day:

Listen when anyone in Israel truly feels sorry and sincerely prays with arms lifted toward your temple. 39 You know what is in everyone’s heart. So from your home in heaven answer their prayers, according to the way they live and what is in their hearts. 40 Then your people will worship and obey you for as long as they live in the land you gave their ancestors.
41-42 Foreigners will hear about you and your mighty power, and some of them will come to live among your people Israel. If any of them pray toward this temple, 43 listen from your home in heaven and answer their prayers. Then everyone on earth will worship you, just like your people Israel, and they will know that I have built this temple to honor you.  1 Kings 8:38-43 CEV

884    You are full of weaknesses. Every day you see them more clearly. But don’t let them frighten you. He well knows you can’t yield more fruit. Your involuntary falls—those of a child—show your Father God that he must take more care,….   Each day, as our Lord picks you up from the ground, take advantage of it, embrace him with all your strength and lay your wearied head on his open breast so that you’ll be carried away by the beating of his most loving heart.

One of the names often used for the church building is a sanctuary, a safe place. Usually, that is interpreted to mean that we have found a place to hide from the world. Indeed, there was once a time in Europe when those in authority could not remove someone from a church, even if they were wanted for a crime.

But if we think that is is a sanctuary from the world, as in others arent welcome into it, as if it is the place of protection from those who are sinful, who are broken, who are oppressed and even possessed by evil, think again.

It is not.

Solomon made that clear, at the dedication of the temple – all are welcome in the presence of God, all are invited to pray in those places where God puts His name, where He makes it clear that this is where He will meet with all of us.

Age doesn’t matter, color doesn’t matter, ethnicity doesn’t, even the sins you have committed ( and don’t ever doubt they are sins!) do not matter.

For church is the place to come and discover that God loves you enough to erase those sins, to wipe them out wIth the blood of Jesus, shed on the cross, cleansing you of that sin. And that isn’t just for the little white lies, or the gossip that is listed along with sexual sins and murder.

It is about all sins, your deepest, darkest sins that your thought you buried and concealed, along with the sin of your neighbor which you said is so bad that it makes you want to throw-up.

You see, that sanctuary is first a place to come and be restored from your own brokenness, it is the place to come to be healed when you are broken. Look at the prayers in the scripture. It is our own sins that we need to know are forgiven, it is our own brokenness that we need to know will be healed. That is the prayer that we need to know will be heard.

These places aren’t a sanctuary from others, They are where we find healing in communion with each other, as Christ heals us all.

That is something the church needs to remember, especially when the time of brokenness is upon us, as it is now.  We need to help others see that God will pick them up, even as He has picked us up!  We need to help them be comforted by Him and carried by Him.

Even as we are!

Heavenly Father, help us to know your presence in our lives. Lord lift us up, and help us to bring others into Your Holy Place, that wherever You are, they will know Your mercy, and Your Love, and Lord, help us rejoice in the sanctuary You provide for all of us, in Christ Jesus.  AMEN!

Escriva, Josemaria. The Way . Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition.

The Kingdom of God is a Pizza! A sermon on 1 Cor 1:10-18

The Kingdom of God is Like a Pizza
1 Corinthians 1:10-18

 I.H.S

May the grace, mercy and peace of God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ help you enjoy your role in others’ lives and their role in yours.

  • The Kingdom of God is Like a Tripoli’s Pizza

Growing up, one of the great treats was going to the beach, and the best part of the trip was stopping at Tripoli’s Pizza. It was an incredible treat, so much better than the other pizzas that we would get back home.

Little 4-inch square simple cheese pizza.  Occasionally, if it had been a good week for my folks, there would be Pepperoni on top.  But there was something about it, the flavor was incredible, from the dough to the sauce, to the cheese. It was perfectly put together and it hit the spot. Always the same, always good, always hit the spot. Not sure what was in the recipe, or it was the salt air of the beach, or what it was.

It was good and right…and perfect, and nothing compared to it, heck nothing still compares to it.

The Kingdom of God is like that…

Until sin enters into the picture.

  • Dividing the Pizza Up

And if we bought an entire pizza, as opposed to the normal 2 slices for a quarter, the battle royal between my brother, sister and cousins began. Everyone wants their particular slice, usually the corner with the extra pizza dough.

Or if we were blessed to get Pepperoni, there would always be one person who would count how many slices were on each piece, and if they didn’t get as many pieces as the others, oh my gosh, the battle that would ensue!

The world is like that, everyone wants what they want, everyone wants to make sure they get what they consider is their right, and what they consider is “just.” It’s not just the world though, it can happen in the church.

As it did in Paul’s day, as they compared who they followed, whose teaching, or who baptized them.  In Greek, it is even more divisive, as it reads, “I am Paul’s!”  “I am Peter’s!” “I am Apollos’s”, and some, even more, condescending said, “nana nana na na, I AM CHRIST’s”!

It wasn’t just then either, Martin Luther said it this way,

In the first place, I ask that men make no reference to my name; let them call themselves Christians, not Lutherans. What is Luther? After all, the teaching is not mine [John 7:16]. Neither was I crucified for anyone [1 Cor. 1:13]. St. Paul, in 1 Corinthians 3, would not allow the Christians to call themselves Pauline or Petrine, but Christian. How then should I—poor stinking maggot-fodder that I am—come to have men call the children of Christ by my wretched name? Not so, my dear friends; let us abolish all party names and call ourselves Christians, after him whose teaching we hold.[1]

That lasted until after he passed away – and then the Evangelical-Catholic church was renamed…. The Lutheran Church.

You see, what this is all about isn’t who we follow, not really.  It’s about me getting mine, it’s about my pride, my superiority.  It’s not about doctrine, most of the time, it’s about me getting the corner piece of pizza, the one with the extra half slice of Pepperoni!

  • What if we are the pizzas

Here is here the sermon flips. I said the Kingdom of God was like a pizza, not like eating pizza. We aren’t the ones fighting for “our” piece, or for equal shares of pepperoni.  We aren’t in control of the church, or our community.

God is.

That’s a good thing!

Some of us are the dough, some of us are the sauce or the various spices in the sauce, some of us in this community are the cheese, others are the pineapple or anchovies.

O wait, Tripoli only made cheese pizza.

Again, God makes life – life, our lives, masterpieces. He’s the cook and the One who writes the recipes.  He pulls all the ingredients together, mixes us all up and makes it a masterpiece.

While those not focused on God think this is foolish, we realize it is something so much more. We see it as God at work, bringing us together, putting each of us into the mix in just the right place, at just the right time.

Sure we have to be cleaned, and cut up, some of us have to me squashed or grated or tossed about like Pizza dough, but that is where faith comes into play.  We trust in God’s work in our lives, knowing the incredible thing He is creating.

That what happens when we are brought into the faith, God puts us in just the right place.  You see, in my analogy, the Kingdom, the Body of Christ is the pizza. Christ is the pizza, and we have our place in Him, together.

We can count on His love and mercy, and His amazing wisdom when we don’t get what we want when we don’t think it is fair when someone else gets more.  Because He has promised at the end there is something amazing that He is preparing,

That is why Paul didn’t use all his 50 dollar words in writing these letters because the message of God bringing us back is so necessary for us not just to hear, but to understand.  What why the cleansing of our sin resembles washing, why our celebration of Christ’s death and resurrection is a feast, where again we are told this is where the relationship is defined, where we are welcome to be honored guests, part of the feast.

We have to get this – the love and care that God takes in making our lives, with the outcome in mind at all times.

For then, with the goal in sight, we can rejoice, and let Him do His work in our lives.

AMEN!

 

 

[1] Martin Luther, Luther’s Works, Vol. 45 : The Christian in Society II, ed. Jaroslav Jan Pelikan, Hilton C. Oswald, and Helmut T. Lehmann, vol. 45 (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1999), 70–71.

Sometimes it is so good, you have to share

Devotional Thought of the Day:

28  And that’s not the half of it, when you throw in the daily pressures and anxieties of all the churches. 29  When someone gets to the end of his rope, I feel the desperation in my bones. When someone is duped into sin, an angry fire burns in my gut. 2 Corinthians 11:28-29 (MSG)

Salvation may be described as the blind receiving sight, the deaf receiving hearing, the dead receiving life; but we have not only received these blessings, we have received CHRIST JESUS himself. It is true that he gave us life from the dead. He gave us pardon of sin; he gave us imputed righteousness. These are all precious things, but we are not content with them; we have received Christ himself. The Son of God has been poured into us, and we have received him…..

The scripture passage above was one I included in a blog a few days ago. It is something I am dealing with, something I, to be honest, am struggling with, as I observe some disconcerting things in the Church, and as I observe some stress and pain, and as I see people who are immune to seeing that stress and pain.

I know that desperation, and the fire burning in the guy. (Jeremiah knew it too – check out Jeremiah 20:7)

There is a tendency to fight or flee. TO argue till they see our side, until they follow our holy rules and acknowledge our superior wisdom, or to take the ball, our ball, and walk away. We don’t see a third option, and to be honest, we often do not want to see that option.

Because it means we lose, that our agenda is set aside, that we have to humble ourselves and work with our adversaries, not only do we have to work with them, we have to listen to them… and instead of winning or losing, instead of compromising, we have to seek God together.

Tony Campolo used to tell the story of walking from a parking structure in Philadelphia to a big meeting, some major players were going to donate a large sum of money to back some mission efforts he was developing. Important stuff, millions of dollars on the line. He was late, and as he walked down the street, he noticed a homeless guy walking toward him. He did what most of us would do, he tried not to make eye-contact with him. After all, he was in a hurry, to do something incredible for God!

Every once in a while he would look up – and the guy had zeroed in on him. I think he used the word, “crap” or perhaps something stronger. He realized he only had a $20 in his pocket, and didn’t want to waste it. The guy approached, Tony got anxious, nercous, tried to think of something to say.

“mister, I want to give you something”

“HUH????”

“Here, you need this, as he tries to hand Tony the cup in his hand”

Tony accepts it, he can feel the heat through the cup. Then he looks and it is a steaming cup of Dunkin Donuts coffee. He’s like “how much do I owe you”

The guy explains, “Nothing Mister, someone gave me enough for two cups this morning, and mine was so good, I had to give the other to someone else. You looked so stressed out, I had to give it to you. Haven’t you had something so good that you needed to share it with someone else?

I’ve heard Tony tell that story, of that horrible cold, wet Philadelphia day probably 5 or 6 times. Each time he does it with a tear in his eye, as he remembers the swirling feelings of guilt and joy.

Back to my original point.

Paul describes us too well,

28  And that’s not the half of it, when you throw in the daily pressures and anxieties of all the churches. 29  When someone gets to the end of his rope, I feel the desperation in my bones. When someone is duped into sin, an angry fire burns in my gut. 2 Corinthians 11:28-29 (MSG)

Here is the cup of coffee we need to savor,

Look back u to the words of Spurgeon in purple.

Go ahead…

no really – and if you did ,,, think about it again. really work through it.

Now that is your cup of coffee, and you and your adversary, you and the person in the church who is causing you pain, the one you think you struggle with, that is inconvenient, needs to know this.

Now go and share you cup of coffee…

C. H. Spurgeon, Morning and Evening: Daily Readings (London: Passmore & Alabaster, 1896).

What Does Corporate Worship Matter?

Photo by MIXU on Pexels.com

Devotional Thought of The Day:

23  But the time is coming—indeed it’s here now—when true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and in truth. The Father is looking for those who will worship him that way. 24  For God is Spirit, so those who worship him must worship in spirit and in truth.” 25  The woman said, “I know the Messiah is coming—the one who is called Christ. When he comes, he will explain everything to us.” 26  Then Jesus told her, “I AM the Messiah!” John 4:23-26 (NLT2)

Faced with the political and social crises of the present time and the moral challenge they offer to Christians, the problems of liturgy and prayer could easily seem to be of second importance. But the question of the moral standards and spiritual resources that we need if we are to acquit ourselves in this situation cannot be separated from the question of worship. Only if man, every man, stands before the face of God and is answerable to him, can man be secure in his dignity as a human being. Concern for the proper form of worship, therefore, is not peripheral but central to our concern for man himself.

She knew so little, but enough to hold on to some hope… … …

This lady who had depend on a guy to live, and had to depend on him in the most desperate way, still had a little of her childhood religion to cling too, but often, she must have wondered.

Many of us, even us pastors, wonder at times. in the midst of all of the broken and shattered mess of ife, wonder if that 90 minutes on Sunday, and maybe another 60 on Tuesday or Wednesday night makes a difference.

We pin our hope on the return of Jesus, and that is appropriate, but it can seem so far away, and how do we endure this moment, and the next. Will we be able to stand up after the next one?

She was standing before him, and she realized who she was, and that changed everything. A far off dream became true hope, that is what it means to find yourself in the presence of God who tells you, “I AM”

This is what should happen in worship, as we come face to face with God, who looks at our life, and smiles, and says I AM here, even as He proceeds to clean us up, to heal our brokenness, . That is why we worship together, to witness this happen in each other’s lives, as God comes to us, and reveals Himself.

I was able to witness this Sunday, as my partner in ministry was able to commune his father for the first time. I have seen it as the women abandoned finds hope for her and her two daughters. I see it in the old man broken by health, who lives each week to take the Body of Christ in hand, to pass his own hand over and caress the baptismal font. I see it in the little child who doesn’t go to church, but in its preschool answers, “God takes care of us, He gives us our food, He is always with us,” and another preschooler who scribbled, “He took our sins away, and that makes us feel better”, because they learn these things in chapel together.

In those moments, the broken words seem to have faded away. Political and social crisis don’t matter at the font and the altar.

In those moments, we realize how precious these people’s lives are.

In these precious moments, we realize He is with us! AMEN!



Joseph Ratzinger, The Feast of Faith: Approaches to a Theology of the Liturgy, trans. Graham Harrison (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1986), 7.

Some Blunt Talk About “the Ministry” and Supporting it.

Devotional Thought of the Day:

The priests have the priesthood as their share of what I have given Israel to be handed down from one generation to another. They are not to hold property in Israel; I am all they need Ezekiel 44:28 GNT

God’s divine power has given us everything we need to live a truly religious life through our knowledge of the one who called us to share in his own glory and goodness. 2 Peter 2:1-3 GNT

363    You’re disheartened, crestfallen. Men have just taught you a lesson! They thought you didn’t really need their help and so they made you plenty of empty promises. The possibility that they might have to help you with hard cash— just a few pennies—turned their friendship into indifference. Trust only in God and those united with you through him.

There is a part of me that doesn’t want to write this blog. Partly because I know pastors who are well described in the words of St Josemaria. Ministers who needed a few pennies, and were turned down by congregations whose people drove new luxury cars, and lived in more than moderately priced homes. And there are pastors whose people are just as poor and financially desperate as they are.

And the words disheartened and crestfallen are descriptions that are blunt and accurate. Depressed and anxiety laden could be added.

I won’t say I’ve always had a solid salary to work on in ministry, Twenty-one years after I started serving “full-time” I am about where I was before I entered the ministry. My wife has had to work all the time, and there have been times where I worked a second or third job, but when push comes to shove, we’ve not gone without a meal, or been late on the rent. God’s people have been there. For which I am grateful

I know guys who haven’t had their church there. Pastors whose families are on welfare, who receive assistance from the government. Or who are too proud for that.

And then I come to passages like the two in my Bible readings this morning. Odd they come up on the same day, on a day I am writing a sermon about the disciples asking Jesus to “increase our faith”. Are these passages just talking about the days of old? Does the LORD still provide all that those in full-time service to him need? Do we have everything we need to live a truly religious life?

Yes, but we don’t often see it, and our lack of vision causes us to stumble, and fall into despair.

Yeah there are times we are stretched thin, and times where our people don’t see our need and doubt. Some of that is our fault, not helping them see what is going on. ( One church wasn’t aware how much their pastor’s rent was – they all owned homes, and hadn’t reconsidered the housing allowance for 30 years!) Sometimes it is necessary that we look somewhere else, as God is opening up doors for ministry. ( I know of two pastors who planted a church while working for a large hardware store – they built it from their regular customers whom they got to know. Similarly, my first church grew from the students I taught computer science to, and the families of the hospice patients I served as their chaplain).

The challenge is seeing what comes, the good and the bad, the time of wealth and the time of great need as something where God is. Being transparent about that, all the while investing in people the one treasure we have in abundance, the presence of God. Of realizing there are times where God’s provision is in the few pennies, or the bag of groceries (ot supermarket gift card) that appears on your desk. Other times it is in the opportunity you find to provide for yourself and your family. Other times it is found in going to your people and saying. can someone help us with food, or pay for our meds, or… and all the time trusting in God for your needs. And in the process, watch your people’s dependence on God grow as well…and that, my friend, my brother in ministry, is worth all our trials. It is why we do what we do… to see our people walk with God

Above all, remember how God fills our greatest needs, the need for peace, for mercy and love found in His presence. For that is our greatest treasure… one that doesn’t get used up, or go into the red. God is with your there…

Escriva, Josemaria. The Way (Kindle Locations 924-927). Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition.


Real People + Real Life Problems + Real God = Real Christianity

Devotional Thought of the Day:

27  Gideon made a sacred ephod from the gold and put it in Ophrah, his hometown. But soon all the Israelites prostituted themselves by worshiping it, and it became a trap for Gideon and his family.
Judges 8:27 (NLT2)

2  He was twenty-five years old when he became king, and he reigned in Jerusalem twenty-nine years. His mother was Abijah, the daughter of Zechariah. 3  He did what was pleasing in the LORD’s sight, just as his ancestor David had done. 4  He removed the pagan shrines, smashed the sacred pillars, and cut down the Asherah poles. He broke up the bronze serpent that Moses had made, because the people of Israel had been offering sacrifices to it. The bronze serpent was called Nehushtan. 2 Kings 18:2-4 (NLT2)

It says, “I called upon the Lord” (118:5). You must learn to call. (You have heard that well.) Do not sit by yourself or lie on your bed hanging and wagging your head and devouring yourself with your thoughts by worrying. So do not strive and struggle to free yourself, and do not dwell on how badly it is going for you, how miserable you are, and how much you are suffering as a person. But get up, you lazy scoundrel, get down on your knees, lift your hands and your eyes to heaven, recite a psalm or the Lord’s Prayer, and place your trouble with tears before God. Complain and call upon God, as this verse teaches, as well as Psalm 142:2: “I pour out my trouble before God, I tell God my trouble.” Similarly, Psalm 141:2: “Let my prayer be counted as incense before you, and the lifting up of my hands as an evening sacrifice.” Here you learn that praying, taking your troubles to God, and lifting your hands are the most pleasing offerings to God. God longs for you, wants you to bring your troubles, and does not want you to multiply your troubles by letting them weigh on you having you carry them around, torture yourself, and be the martyr. God wants you to be too weak to carry these troubles and overcome them by yourself so that you learn to
find your strength in God. Thus you will glorify God’s strength in you. In this way people become real Christians
.

Last week I heard an interesting lecture, where the speaker proposed that the modern church has begun to worship… well worship. One of his point was the way we “market” our churches, as we will spend great energy extolling our traditional worship with excellent choirs, ancient hymns, or our amazing contemporary worship, blah blah, blah.

We may not even get around to telling them our main mission, revealing to them the love of God, drawing them into a relationship with Him where they will find hope and healing as they realize how present He is in their lives.

I am going to have to watch that video over, because I think he is right. Our worship wars of the 70’s-90’s have resulted in this, we treasure our worship style more than the One we worship. We have done what the people of God did with Gideon’s breastplate, and with the Bronze Serpent. We have made our work the focus, and we pin our hope for the church on organs or keyboards, on choirs or praise teams, and we’ve left God out of the picture.

In comparison, look at this passage from Luther, and the way he describes prayer. Look at the way he shows us to dialogue with God, raw, blunt, harsh, pouring out everything on our hearts. In a word, a dialogue that is as intimate as anything we’ve experienced.

God won’t blast us for sharing our doubts our anxieties, our troubles. Luther notes this is pleasing to God, this is what He desires. As odd as it sounds to us, it is the picture we see in scripture, that God would pick us up, that He will allow us ot be weak enough that we realize that we aren’t alone, that there is a relationship we need, with Him. Christianity isn’t about being strong, it is about being vulnerable, and allowing God to do what a God should do, care for His creation.

That knowledge of God’s care should cause us to remove the idols from our midst. It should reveal the emptiness of our idols, and cause us to hunger for a real God, who will help us with our real problems, This is what it means to be a real Christian, to be one of God’s people, to realize the relationship we have with God our provider. To realize His love, His tender mercy and how He provides for us.

Lord, help us to see you, and become more and more confident in Your presence. Help us pour out our hearts to You, knowing Your desire to dwell in our midst. AMEN!

Martin Luther, Luther’s Spirituality, ed. Philip D. W. Krey, Bernard McGinn, and Peter D. S. Krey, trans. Peter D. S. Krey and Philip D. W. Krey, The Classics of Western Spirituality (New York; Mahwah, NJ: Paulist Press, 2007), 210–211.

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