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Has the Church become a pathetic loser?

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Devotional Thought fo the Day:
I know your works, your labor, and your endurance, and that you cannot tolerate the wicked; you have tested those who call themselves apostles but are not, and discovered that they are impostors.* 3 Moreover, you have endurance and have suffered for my name, and you have not grown weary. 4 Yet I hold this against you: you have lost the love you had at first! NAB-RE Rev. 2:2-4

414    How pathetic: a “man of God” who has fallen away! But how much more pathetic: a “man of God” who is lukewarm and worldly!

A lot of conversations I’ve been in recently have been about the church in decline.

One talked about how we need to start lots of new churches because old churches can’t grow.  

With another friend we talked about how three churches, healthy two decades ago, may share in the services of one pastor, rather than simply have someone come in every Sunday to preach.

A third conversation was about one of the largest of mega-churches, and how it, and its worship, are but a shadow of what they once were.

We look at the extremes of the church, and it is no less grievous.  One side wants to embrace society’s ills, setting aside the scripture that tells us to shine the light in the darkness.  They do such by just agreeing to live there.  The other extreme also avoids shining light in the darkness, by shining light where there is the brightness of day.  Like in the passage from the Revelation, they do all the good things, they detest the false teaching, they suffer abuse and endure.

What you don’t often hear anymore, is how in love the church is with God!

How head over heals we are, how much we are in awe and wonder, and how we adore God. How amazed we are to find ourselves counted as His loved ones.

The result of loving our love for God?  Lukewarmness, busyness, being focused more on what is going on around us, than being aware of His glorious presence in our life.  A church that focuses itself on outreach, or on maintaining a level of purity.

We need to remember this – we need to rekindle that love!  But how does that happen?

We need to spend time, resting in God’s presence, meditating on His love, hearing His voice which calls out to us. We need to hear of His love for us, His desire for us to be in His presence.  As we meditate on such things our love for Him grows, depending on Him, having faith in Him becomes easier, as does sharing that love with others.

Pastor  – you want you church to come alive, for people to grow in faith (and in a pure faith?)  Then fall in love with God, rejoice in His love for you.

The rest will fall in place.

Escriva, Josemaria. The Way (Kindle Locations 1033-1034). Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition.

The Forgotten Furnace Prayer….Is One We Need to Guide our Worship/Liturgy!

Devotional Thought fo the Day:

26 “Blessed are you, and praiseworthy, O Lord, the God of our ancestors, and glorious forever is your name. 27 For you are just in all you have done; all your deeds are faultless, all your ways right, and all your judgments proper. 28 You have executed proper judgments in all that you have brought upon us and upon Jerusalem, the holy city of our ancestors. By a proper judgment you have done all this because of our sins; 29 For we have sinned and transgressed by departing from you, and we have done every kind of evil. 30 Your commandments  we have not heeded or observed, nor have we done as you ordered us for our good.  NABRE Daniel 3:26-30

481      Take a good look at the way you behave. You will see that you are full of faults that harm you and perhaps also those around you. Remember, my child, that microbes may be no less a menace than wild beasts. And you are cultivating those errors and those mistakes—just as bacteria are cultivated in a laboratory—with your lack of humility, with your lack of prayer, with your failure to fulfill your duty, with your lack of self-knowledge… Those tiny germs then spread everywhere.  (1)

Perhaps I had read the Bible passage in red as a child, as I grew up in the Catholic Church. I know I haven’t recently, for I usually use protestant (evangelical) translations of Scripture, which have a few differences in the Book of Daniel.  The passage has been there, and Luther quotes it several times. I have to admit, as I read it – I came to love it, it resonated deeply and pointed me to Jesus.

I find it remarkable, as the three men are sitting in a furnace, and they are heating it up, that they pray in this way.  Their prayer doesn’t start with calls for vengeance, or even a call for deliverance.  They aren’t calling God to blast their enemies.

It starts with their confession – and the acknowledgment that God has every right to punish them for how they turned their backs on Him.

In the midst of their trauma, in the midst of being tortured and persecuted, the three men turn to God and admit they are guilty, and God has every right to punish them. They even recognize that the commandments are for their good, to guide them in life that is lived well and full.

They didn’t obey; their people didn’t obey.

They deserved God’s judgment, and they recognized it.

So they turned to God, confessed their sins and depended upon His character, His mercy, His love.  Assured of His mercy, the second hymn will be a joyous song of praise – sung in the presence of the Son of God.

How we need this spirit to be replicated in us today.  That when oppressed or persecuted, when struggling we recognize that we deserve much worse, (this is our confession)  we are then encouraged to depend on the mercy of God to deliver us ( the sermon), and then have a celebration in the presence of the Son of God (isn’t this what communion really is?)

Rather than striking out at those we perceive to be our enemies.  Rather than calling down God’s wrath upon them, rather than trying to justify ourselves, what if our first reaction was to pray that we be forgiven.  What kind of joy would come from this?  What sense of serenity found in Christ Jesus?   To be rid of the germs our guilt and shame, and the beam that blocks the vision.

What an incredible prayer (I highly suggest reading the entire thing) What an incredible statement of dependence on God, and the effect of it on life.

May we learn to pray and worship this way…even in the midst of the fire…

Escriva, Josemaria. The Forge (Kindle Locations 1834-1838). Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition.

 

 

Worship Isn’t A Song or and Event: it is our very life!

Worship Isn’t A Song or and Event

It is our very life!

Concordia Lutheran Church
May the grace of God our Father and our Lord Jesus Christ leave you in complete, life changing awe of their love and care for you!

 Not now…. Then!

I would hope by this time of the service; your mind is clear of the distractions of life.  That you are getting ready to engage in what God created you to do, to be.  That you have been encouraged by hearing all your sins are forgiven, that the music has inspired you to look to Christ, that the readings have compelled you to draw closer to Him,

It is nearly time…

In about 30 minutes, after the sermon, after communion, after the Benediction and then we begin to worship!

Yes, you heard me right, we begin to worship!

As Paul tells the church in Rome, it will be time to “give your bodies to God because of all He has done for you.  Let all that you are become a holy and living sacrifice. This is the kind of worship that God finds acceptable.”

That is what Paul says, “This is truly the way to worship Him!”

This is what worship is!  It isn’t just sitting in here, singing your hearts out.  It isn’t just kneeling here, as you receive Christ’s precious Body and Blood.  Indeed, those events are part of it; this service should encourage your worship – but it isn’t what worship IS.

Worship isn’t a song, or an event, it is your very life!

So how does this happen?

How it all starts, being in awe, 

I asked a question this week online, and I got an incredible answer.  The question was, “Do we desire God’s presence?  Do we desire Eternity?”

Here is what they wrote”

In answer to your question do we really desire to be in God’s house. Maybe one of the reasons is because we keep trying to make it Our house that elevates Our presence rather than Gods.”

Brilliant theological insight!  We make it about us, rather than God

This insight is exactly what keeps us from a life of worship. We somehow think this is our life, not His, That it is our church, not His. That what matters is what our will desires, not His, that this is our time. Our place, our job, our family, our life. We ignore God’s presence in it, His part, His desires, His plan.

That is why Paul starts out with a discussion about the incredible-ness of God.  He wants us to see God’s glorious nature!  To realize that we cannot understand how thoroughly He works.

Remember, God promised back in chapter 8 that all things work for good for those who love God?  Yeah, we don’t see that all the time, even with 20-20 hindsight. We can’t give Him advice, though we try.

A Life of worship starts in being in Awe of God.

In realizing we can’t know His ways, but we can trust Him.

That we aren’t His guide, He doesn’t need our support; we need His!!

That we can never give Him so much, that He is indebted to us, but that He gives us freely, out of the heart of love.

A life of worship recognizes that He is God, we are His children.  And this realization comes as He reveals Himself through His word.  This life of worship starts as we become find ourselves in awe of God.  As we realize what it means that He has given us the Body and Blood of Christ.

Being transformed

When we find ourselves in awe of God’s work in our lives, the very work He promised, we find ourselves being changed.  Which brings us to step two.

“let God transform you into a new person by changing the way you think. Then you will learn to know God’s will for you, which is good and pleasing and perfect.”

This is part of the worship, allowing God to convict us our sins, in order that He can cleanse us of them.  Easy to face? No, but knowing in advance that God has promised to heal us and He is doing so, makes our confession different.  It is an act of trust, it is worship!

This transformation isn’t just about being freed from sin.  Hear how Ezekiel describes God’s promise:

26I shall give you a new heart, and put a new spirit in you; I shall remove the heart of stone from your bodies and give you a heart of flesh instead. 27  I shall put my spirit in you, and make you keep my laws, and respect and practise my judgements. Ezekiel 36:25-27 (NJB)

This is what God is doing in us, to us, and by the Holy Spirit.  He is transforming us, as Paul says renewing our minds, changing our hearts, counting us not only righteous, but making us holy!

Making us able to trust Him, to live out our faith in worship!

Being Trusting

So as we are in awe of God, as we are being transformed, and as the Spirit takes up residence in us, the change that is made in our lives turns them into a life of worship! We begin to see our actions are being done in praise of God.

That is what Paul is talking about, as he talks about us having a proper perspective about ourselves.  Not how tall, or handsome, or intelligent, or how many things you have suffered through.  No, the way we evaluate ourselves is much simpler and much more real.  Do you trust God?  Are you willing to let Him use you, where God would put you?

How we measure ourselves is based in this simple thought.

If God calls us to use the gift He has given us, will we listen and obey, trusting that He will make it work for good?  No matter whether we get it right, or whether we see the outcome, that it will be a blessing to us, and to all who love Him?

Will you use the gift God has given you, at this time, where you live, work, and hangout?  Will you proclaim God’s love, trusting in Him?
Will you serve others, meeting needs, whether physical, spiritual, emotional, and trusting in Him?
Will you teach those who need to be taught, trusting in Him??
Will you come alongside and lift up those who are down, trusting in Him?
Will you give generously, even sacrificially, knowing that God will care for you?

Each has a different gift, and some different gifts for different periods of their lives, but will you use them, not trusting in things of this world but trusting in God?

Not holding those gifts back, not resisting the transformation that God is doing to us, in us.  That happens as the Holy Spirit works in our lives, causing us to live in and reflect the glory of Christ.

That’s worship!  Whether we are asking God to use our life, singing, or when we put out our finances to support His work, or when we offer a cup of cold orange juice and some pancakes to a hungry person.

Worship is our very life, every moment, for worship is living in awe of His presence, here and now, whenever that here and now is.  Worship is letting God run our lives, wherever He sends us.

Worship is also a life in awe, and therefore in a miraculous peace, for we live with God…. His believed children, and guard in Christ.  AMEN.

A Dream for the Church I pastor…

Devotional and Discussion Thought of the Day:My Church's Building - our goal - to see it restored and filled with people who find healing in Christ Jesus, while helping others heal

2  People from many nations will come and say, “Come, let us go up to the mountain of the LORD, to the house of Jacob’s God. There he will teach us his ways, and we will walk in his paths.” For the LORD’s teaching will go out from Zion; his word will go out from Jerusalem. Micah 4:2 (NLT)

“A few places in the world are held to be holy, because of the love which consecrates them, and of the faith that enshrines them.  One such is….”  Celtic Prayer Book, Reading for 8/11)

For the last couple of months, I have been praying about my congregations, the church that gathers here in Cerritos.

As a entity, there are necessary complications to ministry.  How do we deal with an aging facility, how do we accomplish evangelistic outreach and meet the needs of people in our community.  How do we make disciples of all peoples – of those young and old, of the stranger, of our own people.  How do we effectively use all the talents God gives us.  Big questions for sure, and we are working through them as a people.

But the biggest answer for my dream for our church is seen, not in our future plans, but in the green words above.

It doesn’t matter if we have a sanctuary that sits 500.  Or if we have a school.  Or even if there are 50000 people that attend our services and watch them on television, hear them on radio or live-feed them from the internet.

What matters to me is that where Concordia meets, becomes known as a place of holiness, a place where the love of God is known, a place where people’s trust in God’s faithfulness sees them through their lives.  Where people are devoted to God, where His vision compels them to act in others lives, bringing that holiness there. What disciples become crafted, not just through intellectual stimuli, but by worship, by adoring God, by the thoughts about His love.

I think that was what the prophet Micah is referring to, the ways we are taught by God, to walk His way, That is the change that God’s word makes in our lives, it opens up a relationship defined by words like cHesed, agape, phileo, charis… love, mercy, grace.

If the people of Concordia (or your church, or any church) grow in these things, then we have succeeded as a church.  We are a place where disciples are made, where God’s ways are treasured, where people live the life of those cleansed by God, and are immersed in His life. Where they are sure He will be with them, even until the end of the earth!

.

Midweek Lent III Treasuring God’s Gifts is Helping other s See God’s Blessings

Treasuring God’s GiftsMy Church's Building - our goal - to see it restored and filled with people who find healing in Christ Jesus, while helping others heal

Means We Help Others See God’s Blessings

Exodus 20:15, Eph. 2:10, Luke 10:25-28

† IHS †

As we experience the grace of God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ, may we grow in appreciating how He has gifted us all, and grow in stewardship of all of His blessings!

 

The Expert’s question

 

I would have loved, in preparing for this sermon, to walk around a bunch of churches on a Sunday, with a television camera and ask people the question the lawyer poses to Jesus.

Sort of like the street interviews, Jay Leno does.  He goes onto the street and he asks people what seems to be the simplest of questions, and their answers are… well there is a reason that they end up on late night television.  Thinking about last week’s message about not damaging people’s reputations, and about putting the best construction on everything, let’s just say they weren’t ready to be on camera with a legend. They were so overwhelmed, that they did not think clearly.

The young expert in religious law asks Jesus a simple question, “what must I do to inherit enteral life.”  Curious to know what so many would say these days, simply because people aren’t all that sure.

Jesus puts the question back to him, and the young man answers very wisely.

Love God completely, love my neighbor the same way I love myself.

Not rocket science, this young man gets the answer right.  He sums up the entire decalog, the 10 commandments, very simply.

Love God completely, love my neighbor the same way I love myself.

Give the man credit, he knows what it takes, but the very next phrase he will ask what this love looks like, when he asks,

Who is neighbor?  And what does this love look like?

In these days of lent, as we go backwards through the ten commandments, we see the same commands, the same structure.  We are looking at it differently, in view of the very first words,  I am your God, who rescued you…. Therefore… from your neighbor,  tonight’s phrase,

You shall not steal!

Do this, Jesus says, and you shall live!

We might think it’s easy, but is it?

What it means to “not steal” in Luther’s view

Luther didn’t think so, for stealing can be done both actively, and passively. Here how he explained it:

We must fear and love God, so that we will neither take our neighbor’s money or property, nor acquire it by fraud or by selling him poorly made products, but will help him improve and protect his property and career.

Wait this makes it sound like we are supposed to be our brother’s, (or sister’s) keeper. The truth of the matter is, we aren’t and yet we are.

If we define being our brother or sister’s keeper as we have the authority to boss them around, to condemn their works, to rule over them with an iron fist, we do not.  If we think that being their keeper means we get some material benefit from them, no, we do not.

Being our brother’s keeper means we have responsibility, responsibility to help them, even as we would need help.  Helping them to know God’s love, helping them to see what God has blessed them with, and helping them to enjoy it, even at our own cost. Helping them to see that God is the source of every blessing they have, material, physical, spiritual.

Helping them not waste what God has blessed them with, when we are able.

How it reveals our trust in God

 

We continue to see that this life that God has designed, that He has called us to live, that He has described in the Ten Commandments, is one that is impossible on our own.  Without God, we revert back into self-preservation, and eventually into self-centeredness.

It takes faith, confidence in the very wisdom of God, and in His love for all of us, to find the love we need to share with others.  To realize that God’s plan, that how he provides for each and every one of us.

To trust in His love, in His wisdom.

That kind of trust is a challenge!  We have realize it was the same wisdom that drove Christ to the cross, That He loved us, more than He loved His own life. That is why we trust!

Jesus, the Lord who saw us tossing away our greatest blessing, and did what it took to help us value it, to help us keep it.

The blessing of being the Father’s great masterpiece.  He not only kept us from letting something go to waste, He rescued God’s great work…saving what the Father cherishes.

Us.  The people of God, His very children.

Nothing can steal us from God, because of Jesus.  Nothing can separate us from Him, because of Jesus.  Because of His love for the Father, because of His love for us.  Jesus showed that love to the Father, while showing it to us.  Both summaries of the law, fulfilled.

The more we see this, the more we understanding the depth of His love, the more we can’t stand to see others waste the blessings God has given to them. Whether or not they realize that God has given them this blessing, whether they even realize that God exists.
That’s the nature of God’s love, the deeper we explore it, the more we are immersed in it, that we appreciate and are in awe of all He does.

The more we want others to see all the blessings He pours out on them, and thereby see the depth of His love even more clearly.

In seeing it, they know the peace we’ve come to know, the peace that living in God’s peace brings.  AMEN?

 

The One Who Journeyed for a Promise!

What Child Is This?SAMSUNG

The One Who Journeyed for a Promise!

Genesis 12:1-9

In Jesus Name

 

May you realize how the grace of God our Father, the mercy, love and peace revealed to us as we are united to Christ, may you realize how it sustains you on this journey.

 Journeys…..

I wonder if there were children among Abraham’s people, if during the journey from UR to Bethel, he heard the ever present phrases emanating from the back of the caravan….

“Are we there yet?”

“Fr. Abraham, cousin Michael is hitting me!”

“Honey, is there a bathroom ahead of us soon?  I didn’t have to go at the last Oasis, but now…”

During the journey, there must have been times when Abraham raised his eyes to heaven and said, “Yahweh, you said this journey would be worth it….well – when does it get to be worth it?”

And about that time, someone gets sick…..or there is a flat tire or someone wonders whether the driver is lost, or…or..

Journeys do not always go as we plan.  Sometimes they are fun, sometimes not so much.  Especially when we forget why we are on the journey, when we forget our destiny.

Ultimately, that is what it is all about…knowing your destiny, and knowing that you aren’t alone on the journey….

Abraham’s Journey

So let’s look at Abraham’s journey first.  Imagine the conversations he had with his father, his family and friends.

You are going where?

Who is this God again?  How does He speak with you?  How are you going to manage there, no friends, no help?  Imagine the questions that Sarah had, and Lot.

It’s not easy to pick up everything and go to a destination you don’t know much about, to not even know when you are there!  Take my word for it, Kay and I have done this once or twice….

One of the things about Abraham’s life, that fascinates me, is trust in God, when he had no idea of the depth of the plan. The plan was revealed slowly, and the fulfilment of it was always off in the distance.  Eventually the promise would be seen fulfilled – but how many years?  He knew his descendants would spend time in captivity.  He struggled with how an old man would have heirs.  Like us, he sinned often, doing things like giving into his fears, and letting his wife be taken by a king.  He wrestled with God over the fate of the people of Sodom and Gomorrah, He moved here and there, never really settling in one place in the Promised Land.   He may not have known hardly any of the points in the journey, but he had a promise, and he knew well the Lord who promised him.

CLICK  There is one thing he did, (well besides sinning) that we see here.  He set up places where he could worship, places set aside to interact with God.  Places to pray, places where Abraham could call on the name of the Lord the passage tells us.

It was a regular part of his life, even before the church, even before the Temple and the tabernacle.  Even as his life wasn’t easy, even as he was betrayed and hurt by his nephew, even though he would face small wars… there was a constant.

God’s presence, interaction with God.  What we call a relationship, or abiding with Christ.

A relationship where Abraham knew God well enough to trust Him at His word, and to call upon God often. God was part of his life, that’s why Abraham could trust Him.

Even when the trusting in God meant a long hard journey, with a bare visible promise.
Christ’s Journey

We are in Lent, a time to consider Christ’s journey, to understand our need for Him to take that journey, and to wonder at a love so complete for us.

His journey was different.  He wasn’t able to take his wealth, or a wife, or anything.  He came as a babe, the babe we were singing about 3 months back, asking what child was this.

He probably the only one who chose to go on a long, long journey?

Definitely, He was the only one who took a journey knowing that a destination on the journey was death.  A hard, bitterly cruel death, on a wicked, torturous cross,

He knew the promise. The writer of Hebrews tells us that when he was inspired to write.

Because of the joy awaiting him, he endured the cross, disregarding its shame.

He endured it, he endured the journey, because the cross wasn’t His final destination point.  It was simply a place where He did what the Father wanted, a midpoint, a place to take care of things, and put everything to right. 

The joy was the destination, not even the resurrection, but 40 days later, as He ascended to the Father.  He obeyed, like Abraham finding the strength through prayer, through interaction with the Father.  Knowing that the cross wasn’t the end of the promise, but a waypoint. A part of the journey, but not the end.

His focus was what was the promise.  The Promise.  The Same Promise given to Adam and Eve, and to Abraham, and to Judah, and David, to Isaiah and Jeremiah.  His journey was the beginning of the promise.  Hear Hebrews again,

39  Not one of these people, even though their lives of faith were exemplary, got their hands on what was promised. 40  God had a better plan for us: that their faith and our faith would come together to make one completed whole, their lives of faith not complete apart from ours. Hebrews 11:39-40 (MSG)

His journey was a “there and back again” journey. He had a pick-up to make. That pick-up – are those who would join Him in the journey.  Those who would find life in Him, and start their journey, even as we have.

Our Journey

Back to that quote from Hebrews.  The one that talked of Jesus’ focus on the destination the end of the final leg of journey that we call the Ascension.  Hebrews tells us:

1  Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a huge crowd of witnesses to the life of faith, let us strip off every weight that slows us down, especially the sin that so easily trips us up. And let us run with endurance the race God has set before us. 2  We do this by keeping our eyes on Jesus, the champion who initiates and perfects our faith. Because of the joy awaiting him, he endured the cross, disregarding its shame. Now he is seated in the place of honor beside God’s throne. 3  Think of all the hostility he endured from sinful people; then you won’t become weary and give up.   Hebrews 12:1-3 (NLT)

You see His journey was to come and get us, and return us to the Father’s presence.  That’s the promise of Abraham’s journey, that every nation would be blessed because of Jesus, the seed of Abraham (his descendant see Mt. 1)

His journey and the promise is about our journey!  His destination is ours!

Ours may seem more like Abraham’s at times, and that’s because it is, and well, isn’t.  It is because we will sin, and struggle, there will be times of war, and times where others walk away to places like Sodom (Hopefully we don’t forget to rescue them when needed, and intercede and wrestle with God for them as well!)

There will be times where we wonder – “why aren’t we there yet?” and times where we might get lost for the moment.  We may still sin and struggle, we may still not find a permanent home, for the destination is still some way off.

The promise is still the promise – we can keep our eyes on Jesus, our champion, the one who brings us into a relationship where we grow in trusting God, in hearing His voice.

For that is where we can be most like Abraham, as we establish our times and places to hear God, to praise Him, to let Him nourish and strengthen Him, even as we look to the promise of His presence.

For He will never leave us or forsake us.

That too is His promise, on this journey of life.

What Child is this?  The One who undertook a journey to come and take us on the journey of our lives… the one where the destination is found where we abide in the Father’s glory, the journey where Jesus Christ will guard our hearts and minds, for the journey is taken in His peace… amen?

 

Midweek Lent II: Treasuring God’s Gifts Means We Think of Others as Gifts,

Treasuring God’s Giftsconcordia lutheran button only logo (1) - Copy

Means We Think of Others as Gifts,

 † In Jesus Name †

 

As we realize the mercy, peace and love of God our Father, that crafts the life we have in Christ, may we rejoice in the gifts that life helps us realize are ours!

 

Commands, or sub-clauses?

I said last week that I am coming to see the 10 Commandments, what is known as the Decalogue, more and more as the Old Testament’s Beatitudes.  The Blessed are they whose lives are described in the words that many of us have memorized.

In a way, it is a matter of hearing, even as it is with the Beatittudes.  We hear them as commands, as a list of characteristics we must developed in ourselves.  What English instructors and Greek professors call “imperatives”

If they were, I think we are in more trouble than we think we are, for how many of us can keep these commandments 24/7/365-366?  If we see these as simple commands – do this or you are going to be zapped, we are in deep trouble.

I hate to sound like an English teacher, but if these are instead  sub-clauses (and they are), it is based on the original statement.

I am the Lord your God, who rescued you….. and therefore…

This is how you live.
This is the masterpiece, this is ….His masterpiece.  The one we read together earlier.

10  For we are God’s masterpiece. He has created us anew in Christ Jesus, so we can do the good things he planned for us long ago. Ephesians 2:10 (NLT)
The problem of false witness/gossip
These words, these phrases, that we know so well, take on deeper meaning when we realize they describe how we look as God’s masterpiece, and that sinnings is simply robbing ourselves and God of this masterpiece, smearing the masterpiece, like someone throwing a bucket of pain over a priceless painting, or graffiting a incredible statue.  It mars the image, it obscures the masterpiece that is there for all to see, to testifying of God’s wisdom, His glory, His creative power in our lives.

This week, the phrase we read, from Deuteronomy concerns bearing false witness, testify, talking about someone in a way that wrecks their reputation.  It’s not just about telling lies about them, but as Luther taught,

“we will not deceive by lying, betraying, slandering or ruining our neighbor’s reputation, but will defend him, say good things about him, and see the best side of everything he does.   Luther’s Small Catechism: Developed and Explained.

In the Large cathecism, Luther even reveals that it is not just spreading lies about them, but it can be spreading the truth, if our reason is false – that is, if we spread the truth, because we think it will damage their reputation.

Why?  Where is God’s wisdom in this?

If we begin, even about a person we truly detest, to think bad about them, to gossip about, to assume that what they do is with devious or evil intent, that begins to affect our own character.  It spreads an grows, like an unchecked infection, throughout our lives.

It wrecks our relationships with others, it puts us on the defensive, it robs us of compassion,  and steals us of the ability to love them, as Christ loved us.

That spreads and spreads, and it even affects how people look at us, as they primarily hear us comment negatively about others.

We are all guilty of it, whether we want to admit it or not. We all have those we have trouble understanding, those we don’t want to see the best side of, to think of what they do in the best way.  Some are our enemies, some are those who lead, and some are just people whose actions affect our lives.  They are in far off places like Russia, or Washington D.C. or St. Louis, they might be our co-workers, or family, or they are might be here, in this very room.

Blessed are they, who do not testify falsely, whether in word or intent about others.

The challenge of Trusting God’s craftsmanship

Last we talked about the reason one could be content, rather than jealous had nothing to do with who had more than us, our even our unmet expectations. Rather, whether we talked about it being a matter of trusting God, about realizing that He in love, provides what we need.

The issues about gossip, slander, and trying to damage the reputation of others is the same issue.

If we trust that God is in charge, if we have faith in His Lordship, and that He will deliver us from evil, we must believe He desires to rescue them from evil as well.  That He desires to make their life a masterpiece along with ours.  We see them, not as a drain on society, but someone who either knows God’s love, or needs to know it.  We hear Joseph’s words,

“What you meant for evil, God used for good,” and we know it is about all of us.  That all of us are forgiven, blessed, cleansed, and our actions, no matter what they were, or what our intent was, God will use for good, for those whom He loves, for He has called them by name.
How could we testify about their actions or intent harmfully, if we trust God will make it good?   As we look at them, and see them at the foot of the cross, the blood washing away their sin, as we realize our need to be there as well,

He desires to make our life a masterpiece, and occasionally, we can glimpse that He is doing this very thing.  We trust Him at His promise, the promise that we see here, in baptism, the promise we see here, at the altar….

We know He desires that for every one, and it is the same trust, the same faith we have in God, that leads us to treasure all those He has died to save…and as we realize His love for them… the love that grants repentance, the mercy that transforms, the more we know God will use them… and the more we find ourselves thinking of them in the best possible way – as God’s gifts

As we see them that way – as we love them as we love ourselves… we find ourselves in living in Christ, is peace.
Let us pray…..

 

 

Holiness, What does it look like?

Holiness, What Does it Look Like?

Leviticus 19:1-2, 9-18

 IHS

May the grace of God our Father and our Lord Jesus Christ build your confidence in their work in your life!


May Your Children Grow up

Rumor has it, that someone in this sanctuary may have uttered the following blessing once or twice.

“I hope you children grow up to be just….. (like you!)”

Now, I know some may have said it with less intent than a blessing.  But there is One here, who would has indeed said it as a blessing, as a prayer.  That they desired the children of the One they were talking to, as they grew up to resemble Him in every way.

Indeed, that is the very reason Jesus came, to make sure that the children of His Father, would grow up to resemble God.

That is why we hear the words today in two readings, “You must be Holy, because, I, the Lord your God am holy.”

You must be holy, you must resemble your Father in heaven.  There is no maybe, it is not just a challenge, a goal for us, it is truth.  It is reality,

You must be Holy, for you Dad in heaven is, and His children, grow up to be just like Him.

And that, my brothers and sisters, is a very good thing!

So say it with me, “I must be holy, for my Father in heaven, the LORD, my God, is Holy!”

Now say it like you mean it!

“I must be holy, for my Father in heaven, the LORD, my God, is Holy!”
So what does that look like, in real life in Cerritos in 2014?  What does Holiness look like, lived out our lives?

I am the Lord

As we look at the Old Testament reading, there is going to be a temptation to define holiness by the “do’s and “do not’s” listed there.  It is a great list, which we will look at in Bible Study, but there is more to holiness than just those behaviors.  Holiness is more than just the attitudes we hear described there.

Don’t get me wrong, those behaviors need to describe us, but the key to our holiness, to our being just like our Father, isn’t found there.

It’s found in His name.

That’s why it is repeated five times throughout the passage.

I am the LORD.

Slight tangent for a moment.  It’s one of my frustrations with English translations, that instead of putting God’s name in scriptures, we cover it up with LORD, in all capitals. I understand it, but the result is we often overlook it, and what it means for God to give us His name. 6000 times in scripture, the Name of God is there, for us to hear, and know He is, and He is with us!

So five times, in this list of behaviors, God reminds people He is the LORD, He is YHWH, He is the I AM.  It is the same way He starts every list of commandments, every time He describes how the people of God should live life! A life set apart in a relationship with Him, for God is, and He is with you!

Here, like in the 10 Commandments, God describes how we are not to use His name, We aren’t to use it falsely, or bring shame on it.  Which means, Luther points out, that we are to use it, to praise and glorify Him, to bring honor to His name, to use it in the way that pleases Him, calling out to Him as a child calls out to its Father.

Each time that name is used in scripture, it should call to mind that God has taught us to depend on Him, to call out to Him, for yes, He is our father.
That is where Holiness begins, dwelling in His presence!  No wonder the psalms encourage us, telling us of the joy it was to be going up to the house of the Lord!

Or why Paul writes,

18  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 3:16-18 (TEV)

If we are transformed into His likeness, that likeness includes the holiness of God, that we must be!.  For you must be holy, even as YHWH God is Holy!

So what does holiness look like?

Jesus.

Incarnate, Crucified, Risen.

with whom in baptism we are united.

We are holy, we must be holy, for in Christ, we are made to be so.

So you must be Holy      

So these words that surround God telling us He is our God, that He is at work in our lives, that we have a relationship with Him and therefore are holy; what about those words?  Do we ignore them?

Or, are we not holy, if they do not describe us?

It is a heavy list, if we see it as requirements, if we hear it as God’s law.

If indeed, it is law.  But there is a problem there, we can’t make these changes on our own.  Even if we just look at the bottom line, the command to love all our neighbors as ourselves – I know I struggle just to know mine, but to love them?

To look out for all that would gladly settle for the leavings? To provide extra for them, the poor and the foreigner?

What about the challenge of not causing the blind and deaf to struggle?  We may think we do not do it, but what if it is that they are deaf and dumb in regards to knowing the love of God?  Do the actions we take towards them, or the actions we don’t take, become a stumbling block in their responding to God’s call to them, to come and find the healing they need?

The option is to do what our church vision is, as we find ourselves healing in Christ, to help others heal. CLICK

You must be holy isn’t just a command, it is a statement of Christ’s effectiveness, in coming and saving us!

That is why holiness happens, not by a force of our will, but by being transformed into the likeness of Jesus, of realizing these qualities define Him, and therefore, as we are transformed into His likeness, they begin to define us even more.

For He is the LORD, our God, our Father, and the work of Christ is to present us perfect complete in Him.  That is the work of the Holy Spirit as well, transforming us, sanctifying us, making us holy… to Him.

The secret to Holiness?

Look to God, look to Christ’s love, shown at the cross, united to youn in your baptism, the love we share in, the Christ we share in as we take and eat His body, as we drink His blood, as we proclaim His death for us, for all of us, until He comes again.

Call on Him, remember His call to you, remember His work, and then you will begin to love others as He does… and His sense of justice, His sense of mercy will become yours.

For apples don’t fall far from the tree…

and children grow up to be just like their dads…. And you will grow up to be like your heavenly Father, because of Jesus

Holiness?  What does it look like?

You as you dwell in Christ,, for you must be holy, for your Father in Heaven, YHWH your God, is Holy

Knowing His holiness, that peace which can’t be described in words, yet in which you dwell, your heart and mind guarded by Jesus Christ.  AMEN?

Lord, Please Increase our Faith!

Stained glass showing Lamb of God with vexillu...

Stained glass showing Lamb of God with vexillum and chalice, from chapel that used to be part of a convent (now a Baptist church and school complex) in El Cajon, California (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The Mission Briefing #4

“Increase our Faith”

 Luke 17:1-10

In Jesus Name

Luke’s gospel was written with this blessing in mind, that you would have faith in that which you have been taught, that the Lord is with you.  May this sermon increase this faith.

Temptations and forgiveness and miracles and serving and…….

 

If we look at the gospel lesson today, it seems that Christ is asking a lot of us. We are to deal with temptation, be careful not to tempt others, carefully rebuke others, forgive them, forgive them again, and well, again.  We are  have enough faith to do miracles, and serve others diligently without complaint or asking for reward or thinking about our own needs and aches.

It’s enough of a list, that it doesn’t surprise me that the disciples, right in the middle of the list, cry out – Lord!  Show us how to increase our faith!

Some of us have had one of those weeks, where we want to slow down God’s work in our lives enough to say, “Lord, I need more faith! Show me how to find it, show me how to increase it”

If only we would have the patience to wait for an answer, if only we had enough faith to wait, then maybe our lives wouldn’t be so dry, maybe we wouldn’t be so weary…

Or maybe, we need to be that weak?  At that point, would our faith, our trust, and our dependence on Jesus increase?

Can we face those things… which cause us to need faith?

 

I for one, know how much stronger I need to my faith to be.  I know I need to trust in God a lot more than I do, to have confidence that it is His strength, His power that will not only save me from the sin that crushes me – my own, those whose sin against me, and those who sin I weep over.  I must also have confidence that the Holy Spirit will be there on days like Thursday and Friday, where I had to try to be there for 7 different families, or worse, where I couldn’t be there… and had to trust in God as I put them into God’s hands. That’s the kind of faith we need to see grow.

You see, faith is a very active, very dynamic verb.  To increase in faith means we find ourselves in situations where we know our only Hope is in the one who gives us hope, whose faithfulness, whose trust worthiness is so great – that we trust in Him.

Where temptation, and lovingly correcting others, where forgiving and serving drain us, where we think we can do no more… and the call to serve is great…and we hear Jesus say, Take up your cross, and follow me…

Lord, please, please, increase my faith! Please increase my faith….please, please increase my faith!

Then look to the cross, and know you prayers are answered.

 

 

He’s did His duty… for the joy set before Him.


You see, Jesus isn’t asking us to do something that He wouldn’t do Himself.  He forgives us, not 7 times a day and more, knowing full well we will mess up again, and though we are repentant and sorry, sometimes more than less, He will be faithful and forgive.

He dealt with temptation – as much as we can imagine from Satan, and then the temptation of not wanting to endure the cross.  He has dealt with lovingly rebuking people and forgiving them.  He has demonstrated His faith in His Father’s promises that were recorded in scripture. He has served, without thought to His own reward, but for the joy set before Him….

He is the one we trust – for we know how He reacted when He had to trust, He proved faithful and He will ensure we will be…for He died to pay for when we aren’t.

You see that’s the point about increasing our faith – it happens when we realize that He is here.  That He is always faithful to us, even as He promised. That the promises that He made to at your baptism – those aren’t broken because we slipped up, because we did something stupid, because we forgot He is here.

The promises He makes here – at this altar – that’s the reason we sing the Agnus Dei – because we know here that He will grant us peace – that He will shower us with His love! That we can leave every burden we have, when we come and kneel here.

You want to trust in Him more?  Come, know the depth of His love, come experience His mercy, His forgiveness, even His rebuke, come let His miracles wash over you and come… let Jesus serve you.. let Jesus take those burdens, let Jesus nourish you with His precious Body and Blood.

And then, united with His love – cleansed and few and holding as Timothy did – to His promises – let His love shape you, let it be your pattern of living.

AMEN?

Laity, Liturgy and Worship, Spectators or Participants? A vision for traditional and contemporary facilitators

Devotional/Discussion THought of the day:
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. 25 Those who love their life in this world will lose it. Those who care nothing for their life in this world will keep it for eternity. 26 Anyone who wants to be my disciple must follow me, because my servants must be where I am. And the Father will honor anyone who serves me.27 “Now my soul is deeply troubled. Should I pray, ‘Father, save me from this hour’? But this is the very reason I came! 28 Father, bring glory to your name.”   John 12:23-27

We cannot, then, simply be present at a liturgical rite as spectators.… we must become, to an extent, the actors in it. We must therefore see ourselves sitting at table at the Last Supper, standing along the Via Crucis lightning-struck at the mystery of the risen Jesus’ appearances … In any believer who participates in the liturgy there is no sense of remoteness or of being on the outside. Consequently in celebrating the paschal mystery the believer is taken into and overcome by the dramatic power of the ‘hour’ of Christ, ‘my hour’ as he called it (see Jn 2:4, 12:23, 17:1 etc.) (DL 1982: 173).[i]

As I was doing my sermon preparation reseatch yesterday, I came across the quote above in blue.   It struck me pretty powerfully, especially as I compare it to some liturgy and worship I saw this summerFor those unfamiliar with church lingo,  let me define the first three words in our title.

  • Laity – those who aren’t ordained, commission as pastors, priests, deacons, ministers, etc..  In other words, normal people like you….
  • Liturgy – the order to a church service. Sometimes called a worship service or a mass
  • Worship – our response to God’s love, most often thought of as when the church gathers.

Those words in blue struck me, they resonate with me, because that is how I think we need to engage in liturgy and worship – but even more, how we need to facilitate our people’s engaging in liturgy and worship.

Whether it is a song, or the readings or the sermon, it has to be something that engages them, body ad soul and mind.   That heightens their awareness that we – the congregation, is in the presence of God.  That the leaders aren’t doing worship for the rest of the folk to observe,  (which can happen with choirs and praise teams both) that we are praying with the pastor/prayer leaders, that we are bring invited to dine with God….   That this 60-75 minutes is bringing us into the passion and presence of Christ, as much as if we were in the upper room, as much as if we stood at the foot of the cross, as much as if we were on the mountain as He commissions us all to disciple others, baptizing them and teaching them to treasure and guard the revealtion of God that gives them life.

We are part of the drama, the dialogue, and being part of it transforms us.

But this isnt’ easy to do, it takes thought and preparation and consciously avoiding just going through the motions, and most of all…prayer and dependance on God.   Wlaking with Him, being in awe of Him, knowing His presence and longing to see those who’ve come connected to Him.  It can be done by Catholics and Baptists, Non-Denoms and high church Anglicans, Pentacostals and even Lutherans.  In can be done in majestic basillicas, and humble chapels.  In crowds of 10,000, and 5 people at the beach, or in a park.  Rich, poor, whatever class or level of education, whatever ethnic or langauge or music style…. can do this.

It’s about seeing Jesus, lifted up on the cross – drawing us all to Him – for that is what this is all about…

Not just about the forgiveness of sins…
Not just about healing our brokenness..
not just about eternal life in paradise…

It’s about walking with Him.

Not just the pastor, or the music minister, or the praise team…

All of us… with Him.

AMEN


DL Documents on the Liturgy 1963–1979 (1982) Collegeville: The Liturgical Press.

[i] Torevell, D. (2004). Losing the Sacred: Ritual, Modernity, and Liturgical Reform (pp. 170–171). London;  New York: T&T Clark.

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