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Why I MUST Stuggle with the Scripture and God

Thoughts I pray drive you to the cross…

When the LORD heard them, he was furious. The fire of his wrath burned against Jacob. Yes, his anger rose against Israel, 22  for they did not believe God or trust him to care for them. 23  But he commanded the skies to open; he opened the doors of heaven. 24  He rained down manna for them to eat; he gave them bread from heaven. 25  They ate the food of angels! God gave them all they could hold. Psalm 78:21-25 (NLT2)

“Consequently this is the best advice, that one should draw from the source and diligently read the Bible. For a man who knows the text is also an extraordinary theologian. One passage or one text from the Bible is worth more than the glosses of four writers who aren’t reliable and thorough. 

Only one stipulation do I make: my teacher must know God, as Carlyle said, “otherwise than by hearsay,” and Christ must be all in all to him. If a man have only correct doctrine to offer me I am sure to slip out at the first intermission to seek the company of someone who has seen for himself how lovely is the face of Him who is the Rose of Sharon and the Lily of the Valley. Such a man can help me, and no one else can.

In my libraries I have closed to 10,000 books, both printed in paper and digitally on 3 different software programs.  S

Some are from favorite authors, like St. Josemaria, Michael Card, Martin Luther, Pope Benedict XVI, Peter Kreeft, Will Willimon, and Juan Carlos Ortiz. There are some newer writers that I am coming to appreciate more and more, like Tozer or Senkbeil. And there are other authors who are not as favored in my sight, yet all are men whose lives I thank God for, for they have affected me, or those whom I minister to at my church or in the community.

It would be really easy to just sit back in awe of their devotion, and spend time with their works. 

After all, I’ve read the Bible through more than once, in multiple translations. 

But it is there, in the pages of scripture, and in receiving and administering the sacraments, that I find God. It is where He hears me, and where I hear Him. There, on every page, there is Jesus. It is there where I find the words to think about, to ponder, even with which I question and argue. (It would be sad if I didn’t question and argue with them, for then I would be dishonest, or perhaps crazy… for God needs to transform me – which means I need to be honest where I am!) 

I cannot simply accept what men, far more brilliant that I could ever be, claim about the Greek and the Hebrew. I cannot accept their systems of theology. Simply put, they are sinners as well. Luther and Tozer are right – find the people that know God and rejoice in the intimate relationship He is forging with them. Learn from them how they encounter and walk with God, let them disciple you as you walk with Him. But always let Jesus be your focus, let the scriptures be the resource you measure it all with…

Like the passage from the Psalms, get to know the God, who even when you are struggling with Him, opens the skies and provides for you the bread of heaven and more. For that is when faith is more than just a list of doctrines, it is a relationship where you can depend on God in whatever life throws at you. Get to know the God who didn’t give up on Israel – Issacs’ son, or Israel – the 12 tribes. Get to know Him… experience His love… and without thinking–rejoice!

God loves us.  

Not from a distance, but right here and now. 

 

Martin Luther, Luther’s Works, Vol. 54: Table Talk, ed. Jaroslav Jan Pelikan, Hilton C. Oswald, and Helmut T. Lehmann, vol. 54 (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1999), 352–353.

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

 

The Church Desperately Needs Fools and Madmen – if we are to survive.

Thoughts to help us run to Jesus…

Caiaphas, who was high priest at that time,* said, “You don’t know what you’re talking about! 50 You don’t realize that it’s better for you that one man should die for the people than for the whole nation to be destroyed.” John 11:49-50 NLT

They say, “God has abandoned him. Let’s go and get him, for no one will help him now.” 12  O God, don’t stay away. My God, please hurry to help me. Psalm 71:11-12 (NLT2)

Scripture’s commandment to turn the other cheek does not contain a primarily ethical meaning—to overcome oneself, or to give the other an example of one’s self-mastery or enlightenment—but the meaning of love, which “demands that one suffer humiliation with the humiliated Christ rather than receive honor, to be seen as a fool and madman for Christ’s sake, who himself was seen primarily as such, rather than to be esteemed as wise and clever in this world” (Ignatius of Loyola)

Now note that deliverance from evil is the very last thing that we do and ought to pray for. Under this heading we count strife, famine, war, pestilence, plagues, even hell and purgatory, in short, everything that is painful to body and soul. Though we ask for release from all of this, it should be done in a proper manner and at the very last.
Why? There are some, perhaps many, who honor and implore God and his saints solely for the sake of deliverance from evil. They have no other interest and do not ever think of the first petitions which stress God’s honor, his name, and his will. Instead, they seek their own will and completely reverse the order of this prayer. They begin at the end and never get to the first petitions. They are set on being rid of their evil, whether this redounds to God’s honor or not, whether it conforms to his will or not.

The Canaanite woman had the kind of faith which penetrates the clouds. She would not take any kind of refusal as a real refusal, as a real “no.” She kept on praying with faith. The more she was tried, the more she placed her trust in Jesus, until she finally achieved her goal and got all she wanted. This is the disposition God waits for in the crisis of faith: trust in his mercy no matter what kind of treatment he gives you. Only great faith can penetrate those apparent rebuffs, comprehend the love which inspires them, and totally surrender to it.

Barely a day goes by without ads or advice about how to save the church. Here is how to make your preaching more relevant, how to do outreach online, and how to grow this ministry, that ministry. If only you had a program like Alpha or Rooted or follow Purpose Driven Church theory or…

For someone who doesn’t even know what a box is, never mind think out of it, my answer for what the church needs to do is described well in the devotional readings I encountered this morning.

The answer to survival is that we again need the church to be considered fools and madmen/women.

The phrase comes from the reading of Balthasar – and refers to people who are willing to be humiliated for no other reason than we do so with Jesus. The world would say we are nuts; we are fools. We embrace the suffering we encounter, whatever God allows, to seek Him and find Him and be with Him.

That is what Luther was getting at as well, as he explored the phrase, “deliver us from evil.” It is not the first plea in the Lord’s prayer but the last. It is not the most important thing – in fact, the most important thing is that we use God’s name to address Him. We need to set it apart for those deeply intimate conversations. We ask to ask for a lot, but only last do we ask for delivery from evil. If we believe all else is answered and delivered, where is the power of evil? It has already been broken and shattered.

Take a moment and think about it – what has Satan left if we are sure God’s Kingdom has come, and God’s will has been done?

This is what servant-leadership truly is in the church, being willing to embrace the suffering and remind people of God’s presence in the most broken parts of their lives. It requires tenacity, not to endure, but to pursue God like the Samaritan woman Keating praises! Jesus praised her, for she trusted that Jesus loved her and her daughter. We need to seek that experience of His love and His mercy, counting on Him to reveal Himself there.

That is why we endure… to depend on Christ – to dwell in Him… and as we do, we serve amid brokenness. We embrace it, knowing that God rules, and therefore it works. and if the world things we are fools and madman… that’s okay.

Balthasar, Hans Urs von. 2004. Love Alone Is Credible. Translated by D. C. Schindler. San Francisco: Ignatius Press.

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

Keating, Thomas. 2009. The Daily Reader for Contemplative Living: Excerpts from the Works of Father Thomas Keating, O.C.S.O., Sacred Scripture, and Other Spiritual Writings. Edited by S. Stephanie Iachetta. New York; London; New Delhi; Sydney: Bloomsbury.

How Do I get… like That? A sermon on Psalm 71:15-24

How do I Get Like That??
Psalm 71:15-24

I.H.S.

May the Grace of God our Father and our Lord Jesus Christ so transform us, that our lives are lived in praise of God!

  • Intro – I so wanna be this excited about my faith!

When I read the Psalm preparing for this week, I immediately wished I could always be this excited about my relationship with God.

The second was to blast the translators for missing out on their punctuation. I mean, this is how they wrote it…. (read flatly)
 
15  I will tell everyone about your righteousness. All day long I will proclaim your saving power, though I am not skilled with words.”

Compare that to this (pumped up!)

15  I will tell everyone about your righteousness! Though I am not skilled with words, all day long, I will proclaim your saving power!

How I wish I could, every waking moment of the day, find the energy to be like that. Even more, I want my sermons to reveal the amazing love that God has for you, that that was your attitude and behavior.

  • Young and Old

One of the lines I really want to look at in this passage is verses 17-18. Hear those again,

17  O God, you have taught me from my earliest childhood, and I constantly tell others about the wonderful things you do. 18  Now that I am old and gray, do not abandon me, O God. Let me proclaim your power to this new generation, your mighty miracles to all who come after me.

Again, I love the energy of the Psalmist and the idea that God has been teaching us from our youngest moments. For it is often in our youth, or our earliest days walking with God, that telling others about the “wonderful things God is doing” occurs. That is an amazing time in our faith, as our dependence on God just soars.

  • Present things – aren’t the future –

But there is the second half of it there – which is all too real. As we go through life, there are times when we might wonder if God has abandoned us. Times where our understanding of God wavers and where we don’t see His power and mighty miracles so easily. 

Where did God go? 

Why don’t we see Him at work in this?

And while we respond “and also with you,” we aren’t so sure He is with us. The Psalmist was there – and prayed accordingly.

That is why He could also rejoice – for he knew, 20  You have allowed me to suffer much hardship, but you will restore me to life again and lift me up from the depths of the earth!21  You will restore me to even greater honor and comfort me once again!

That is the kind of trust, the kind of faith that we should have! Not the type that denies the downtimes exists but embraces them – knowing the promises of God for the future and for our eternity.

That is trusting God. That is finding joy knowing His promises overwhelm the present challenges that we face. God will restore us, even as He restored Job. And He will comfort us, His presence there, always.

That is what I desire each of you have, even more than I want it for myself. The confidence that allows you to look past these days of COVID, these days of uncertainty, knowing the love of God will sustain you.

  • Look to His wonders – to His faithfulness – to His righteousness

For it is by knowing His promises that we can join in worship with the Psalmist,

22  Then I will praise you with music on the harp, because you are faithful to your promises! O my God. I will sing praises to you with a lyre, O Holy One of Israel! 23  I will shout for joy and sing your praises, for you have ransomed me! 24  I will tell you about your righteous deeds all day long!

In the adult Bible Study, we will also talk about this as we end chapter 8. Promises that God will use everything to bless us, and nothing can separate us from God. But that is the same focus David has here…

That God will be dependable, that what He has promised – He will do!

And that realization should get us excited…  We can sing and shout for God has made us His own!

He has done what is right, and He has made us His own children. As we are invited and drawn into His presence, we know that that is the purpose of this sermon, this service.

To help you know this. God loves you, has saved you, and you are welcome in His presence, both now and for eternity.

And knowing this, may you realize that you dwell in peace, even though you can’t explain how wonderful it is. And until we are before His throne, that peace of heart and mind is guaranteed to us in Jesus. Amen!

It was by faith…. that…

“It was by faith that...” Hebrews 11:4,5,7,8,11,17,29,21,22,23,24,27,28, 29,30, 31,33,

The astonishing wonderment is that God condescends to place his consoling, comforting word on human lips like ours. And so we, like the prophets of old, open up our mouths to speak that word with the confidence and trust that it does what it says. We have an incredible front row seat seeing God at work as his word has its full effect, creating order out of chaos and bringing solace in the midst of horrific hurt and bitter pain.

But the person of faith who can go alone into the wilderness and get on his or her knees and command heaven—God is in that. The preacher who will dare to stand and let his preaching cost him something—God is in that. The Christian who is willing to put himself in a place where he must get the answer from God and God alone—the Lord is in that!

“it was by faith…that”

Over and over the writer of Hebrews calls our attention to those people who had the ability to depend on God. They weren’t heroes, they weren’t especially holy, if you define holiness as being somehow perfect in your attitudes and actions.

They were like us, wounded by sin, broken by this world. Men and women who doubted who they were, and yet, found a refuge in God’s presence, even as they experienced His love. Within that place of peace, they were compelled to act. They were guided in the “that” by the Holy Spirit.

That guidance isn’t listened to because of the strength of our character – but because the Holy Spirit has been revealed in our weakness, in our wanderings, n our time in the wilderness.  Tozer talks about it as finding ourselves in a place where we must hear from God. Those times seem more and more frequent presently than they did in the past, or perhaps they were always there, and I am simply realizing it sooner.

But out of those places comes the amazing things we witness! Senkbeil’s words for pastors are true for all people. There are times that we know are words don’t address the issue as fully a we desire, yet they bring peace, they help the people we minister to in the midst of their wilderness, in the place were they have no option but to trust the God who is there… who sent us to demonstrate His love and presence.

That is the ministry of the church – that is what we have freely received, and freely give. This ability to trust God, to depend on Him, is priceless. It is even more amazing when we realize it is what He desires.

May we learn to rejoice with Him, as this faith grows deeper and deeper… and causes us to do that, and that…by faith.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

When all else fails… there is peace with Jesus

May I focus on Jesus, that I may know the love revealed to me in all of life.

He did this so that he might reconcile both to God in one body through the cross by which he put the hostility to death. 17 He came and proclaimed the good news of peace to you who were far away and peace to those who were near. Eph 2:16-17 CSB

“Fear not,” the Angel said to Mary in the announcement of the incarnation of the Word. “Do not be afraid,”
Jesus repeated so many times to the disciples. It is an invitation that opens a new, refreshing space in the soul,
giving security and engendering hope. (1)

During the last eight or nine years of her life, her temptations became still more violent. Mother de Chatel said that her saintly Mother de Chantal suffered a continual interior martyrdom night and day, at prayer, at work, and even during sleep; so that she felt the deepest compassion for her. The saint endured assaults against every virtue (except chastity), and had likewise to contend with doubts, darkness, and disgusts. Sometimes God would withdraw all lights from her, and seem indignant with her, and just on the point of expelling her from him; so that terror drove her to look in some other direction for relief: but failing to find any, she was obliged to return to look on God, and to abandon herself to his mercy. She seemed each moment ready to yield to the violence of her temptations. The divine assistance did not indeed forsake her; but it seemed to her to have done so, since, instead of finding satisfaction in anything, she found only weariness and anguish in prayer, in reading spiritual books, in Communion, and in all other exercises of piety. Her sole resource in this state of dereliction was to look upon God, and to let him do his will. (2)

The way [faith] works in experience is something like this: The believing man is overwhelmed suddenly by a powerful feeling that only God matters; soon this works itself out into his mental life and conditions all his judgments and all his values. (3)

Return, o wander, return and seek an injured Father’s face; those warm desires that in thee burn were kindled by redeclaiming grace! (4)

As I read the section in green this morning, it resonated with me. That dread feeling that God has abandoned me, that even in prayer or devotion or at the altar there is an emptinesss. It seems a burden, and de Ligouri’s use of the word anguish is not… unknown

It takes some time usually, before I realize the joy that seems gone is not. The burdens and pains are, oddly enough, gifts from God given to re-focus me from the means by whcih God comforts me, to God himself.

The nun looks upon God finally, Tozer says we get overwhelmed with the idea that only God matters, we hear God’s call on our lives to not be afraid, to not be anxious…

And we find deeper hope, we find security, we find again the the peace which we proclaim.

We find ourselves in the presence of God, who has never really left us, we’ve not been forsaken, or abandoned.

We just needed to realize that we are not alone.

It is then, just in the presence of God, just as the Holy Spirit defibillates our faith, which was wavering… it is then that all our disciplinesbecome desirable again. It is then we see the blessing of the struggle, that God is using it for good, as He has promised to us. The pain and tears are blessings, the dryness is a sign of God’s care… to get us to see HIm… and Him alone.

Everything we do, will at some point fail. But He never will, and as we realize it is all about Him… everything else will come alive as well.

Relax, know that God is with you – and let His peace wash over you!

He loves you… He is with you!

(1) Pope Francis, A Year with Pope Francis: Daily Reflections from His Writings, ed. Alberto Rossa (New York; Mahwah, NJ; Toronto, ON: Paulist Press; Novalis, 2013), 324.

(2) 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), 467.

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

(4) Collyer, Evangelical Lutheran Hymn Book, #54 (Concordia Publishing House 1927)

The Need to Correct Others

Do not be conquered by evil, but conquer evil with good. Romans 12:21 CSB

Let us come now to the means which we have to employ in order to vanquish temptations. Spiritual masters prescribe a variety of means; but the most necessary, and the safest (of which only I will here speak), is to have immediate recourse to God with all humility and confidence, saying: Incline unto my aid, O God; O Lord, make haste to help me.3 This short prayer will enable us to overcome the assaults of all the devils of hell; for God is infinitely more powerful than all of them. (1)

It is quite natural, and even spiritual, to feel sorrow and heaviness when we see the professed followers of Christ walking in the ways of the world. And our first impulse may easily be to go straight to them and upbraid them indignantly.
But such methods are seldom successful. The heat in our spirit may not be from the Holy Spirit, and if it is not then it can very well do more harm than good.…
In this as in everything else Christ is our perfect example. A prayerful, face-down meditation on the life of Christ will show us how to oppose with kindness and reprove with charity. And the power of the Holy Spirit within us will enable us to follow His blessed example.

It seems that there are two ways to deal with error, especially in the church.

The first is to ignore it, well, at least ignore it while the person is in view Sometimes this can result in the frustrations being shared with those around us, initially as, “how can we help them.” But often, that turns into a form of gossip. Both refusing to deal with it, and the gossip caused by still being frustrated, is sin.

The second way is to treat them like the enemy, to attack them with the sincere intent of eradicating the false belief. The problem here is that the person’s soul or their family’s souls suffer significant collateral damage.  While our desire are sincere, our methodology, to be blunt, is sinful.

Tozer is more polite when he simply says the methods are seldom successful. But he is right; such efforts can cause far more harm than good. And we fall into this temptation, especially as we engage in social media, and we are trying to
fix those with whom we don’t have a relationship.

Before we get to correct someone, we must deal with our “need” to correct others! I think De Ligouri has the way to work through the temptation, as he advises us to call out in prayer to God. After all, if we are to be those who work for reconciliation, we need to be in contact with both parties to be reconciled. We need to remember His desire to bring them into a transformation of their mind. Which means we have to remember ours does as well.  

It is then, and only then, that we can conquer evil with good. That we can proceed, guided by the Holy Spirit, to work within our relationships, and approach those in error with love, a love that they will recognize.

God’s peace to all, as we care enough to take our time and remember the presence of God, as we care for those He loves.

(1) 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), 450.

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

Why Church Traditions Should Matter…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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





Martin Luther, Luther’s Works, Vol. 54: Table Talk, ed. Jaroslav Jan Pelikan, Hilton C. Oswald, and Helmut T. Lehmann, vol. 54 (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1999), 195–196.

Take My Life! What Does that Mean? A sermon on 1 Kings 19:1-8

Take My Life! What Does that Mean?
1 Kings 19:1-8

I.H.S.


May the grace of God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ enable you to joyously invite God to take your life and let it be dedicated to Him!

100 years…. A lesson

Church experts, both in Lutheran circles and in other denominations, talk about church life cycles. There is a bit of evidence for this, at least statistically.

Simple theory, the first ten years, the church grows and explodes. The second ten years, it keeps on the trajectory, growing developing programs. In the third ten years, it slows down and loses momentum, and in the last ten, it plummets towards death and closing.

One of the guys who came up with this theory noted that exceptional churches didn’t splash down….they didn’t die.

They simply see God at work still, the God who takes their life. They see God consecrating them as the Holy Spirit making them holy, setting them apart as they dwell with Christ.

That’s how the churches that last 100 years last! They are re-focused on the work of Christ in their midst! They rejoice in the work of the Holy Spirit who dwells in them, the  Spirit whose indwelling is the promise of their baptism. The promise that is celebrated as they break the Bread and drink what Christ has provided!

And they live in that joy, loving God who loves them, and with Him, loving their communities, as they teach them all about Jesus.

In the words of the hymn, Jesus takes their life and consecrates it.

When do we pray for God to take our life?

In the reading this morning from 1 Kings, Elijah tries to give God his life.

Hear his words again,

4  But he himself went a day’s journey into the wilderness and came and sat down under a broom tree. And he asked that he might die, saying, “It is enough; now, O LORD, take away my life, for I am no better than my fathers.” 1 Kings 19:4 (ESV)

There are two problems with this, and it is not that he journeyed to Palmdale. 😊

We face both problems, temptations that, if acted upon, result in sin.

The first is asking God to take his life, not from trusting God to do something with it, but from despair.

Basically, he thought it was time to end it all, and we get there at times. As individuals and as churches, we can get to the point where it seems the work is more than we can deal with, that the investment of our time, our hearts, and energy is not there.

And I bet over the last 100 years, there have been times when people in this church felt that way!

“Lord, we’ve been faithful, we’ve supported our school, we’ve bought the new hymnals, we’ve volunteered for the choir, or we’ve held board positions. The church isn’t what it was 30 years ago, or even before COVID struck.”

And so we doubt what God has in mind for this church – that He’s not revealed yet! Elijah was so focused on his energy into the ministry that he failed to see what God was doing through him.

He was relying all on his own power and reason….

And we’ve done the same thing on occasion.

The second error he made is found in these words,

“for I am no better than my fathers.”

While Elijah’s life led him to think he was done because he didn’t have anything left in the tank, the second, deeper sin crept in. He forgot the call on his life and the work that God made. By saying he was not better, he forgot what God was not doing through him but in him.

He was different from his father’s, at least the ones who died in rebellion and sin.

He walked with God, and God guided his way and empowered the victories he had experienced and would experience. His life had been taken and consecrated to God.

Just as God will do so here, in this place…

But we have to see how God ministered to Elijah.

We have to see how God would take his life and consecrate it to him.

How did God consecrate Elijah’s life

We need to see this work of God in Elijah’s life, and then we can see it in ours. For it is the sweet message of the gospel that helps us heal from our sins, the sins of not depending on God for strength, and that of doubting God’s work within us as if God could not consecrate and make us holy.

It happens as a messenger from God came to Elijah, hear again of the words of scripture,

And behold, an angel touched him and said to him, “Arise and eat.” 1 Kings 19:5 (ESV)

He looked – and there was the provision of God for him – enough to get him through the day…

Something to eat, something to drink – provided for him by God, and the messenger simply drew his attention to it. This is what scripture says happened next….

And he ate and drank and lay down again. 7  And the angel of the LORD came again a second time and touched him and said, “Arise and eat, for the journey is too great for you.” 8  And he arose and ate and drank, and went in the strength of that food forty days and forty nights to Horeb, the mount of God. 1 Kings 19:6-8 (ESV)

The journey was too incredible, the messenger said so – so he would eat and drink again. He would then travel to Horeb – to find God and speak with Him, before taking on more tasks.

But there is our lesson – to realize that there are times when we forget what God does through us because we forgot what God does in us.

He takes our lives and melds them to Jesus’s death and resurrection in baptism, recreating us and making us new by the power of His word, for He promised this.

And then He brings us back to remember that, every time we look and rise, take the Bread, and the wine, the Body and Blood of Jesus, given and broken for us.

This is where you will find God taking your lives, the lives of the school children here, and the lives of this community and consecrating them for another 100 years.

This is where you will see that consecration’s impact in this life, as God drives us to others who are broken, to invite them to share in this mystery God blesses us within Christ.

The Apostle Paul explained it this way,

27  To them, God chose to make known how great among the Gentiles are the riches of the glory of this mystery, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory. 28  Him we proclaim, warning everyone and teaching everyone with all wisdom, that we may present everyone mature in Christ. Colossians 1:27-28 (ESV)

This is why the Grace Lutheran Church of Lancaster has endured 100 years of heat, good times, and trying times… and what it will do if it endures another 200…

To declare to the people who are in this sanctuary, to the children who sit in those classrooms, to work with the other churches to make it known in this valley, the glory of this mystery;

Christ, who was born of Mary, suffered under Pontus Pilate, was crucified, died, was buried and rose again, and did so to bring you to God the father.

The Spirit united you to Him in Baptism. We celebrate this together, as we arise and eat and drink.. looking forward to the day we will eat at the Wedding feast of the lamb.

This is most certainly true.

So my new friends, in a moment, we will share and celebrate this mystery, as the Lord takes your life and again consecrates it, for we know the Lord is with you! And may the peace of God, which passes all understanding, guards your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus! 

Time to Get Out of the God “Business”

Thoughts to help us learn to love God today…

Matthew 24:29–31 (CSB)
29 “Immediately after the distress of those days, the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not shed its light; the stars will fall from the sky, and the powers of the heavens will be shaken. 30 Then the sign of the Son of Man will appear in the sky, and then all the peoples of the earth will mourn; and they will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of heaven with power and great glory. 31 He will send out his angels with a loud trumpet, and they will gather his elect from the four winds, from one end of the sky to the other.

Mankind has succeeded quite well in reducing God to a pitiful nothing! The God of the modern context is no God at all. He is simply a glorified chairman of the board, a kind of big businessman dealing in souls. The God portrayed in much of our church life today commands very little respect.
We must get back to the Bible and to the ministration of God’s Spirit to regain a high and holy concept of God. Oh, this awesome, terrible God!…
To know the Creator and the God of all the universe is to revere Him. It is to bow down before Him in wonder and awesome fear.
God wants to be an experience to us. We need to sense the possibility of being caught between the upper and lower millstones, knowing we can be ground to powder before Him. We need to know what it is to rise in humility out of our grief and nothingness, to know God in Jesus Christ forever and ever, to glorify Him and enjoy Him while the ages roll on
.

The saying of St. Francis of Assisi is most true: “What I am before God, that I am.” Of what use is it to pass for great in the eyes of the world, if before God we be vile and worthless? And on the contrary, what matters it to be despised by the world, provided we be dear and acceptable in the eyes of God?

Tozer’s words in purple are at least a generation old. perhaps 2. Ye they speak to this generation of church as clearly as any I have come across this year. And because the church is not doing what is “projected” and what is a good business model, those responsible for her are panicking.

“Let’s change this!” “Try this book!” “Let’s focus on parachurch ministries!” “Your model isn’t effective!” as if the church was a Fortune 500 company, and we need to change our identity, our modes of communicating our message, and while we won’t say it, the messsage itself.

Tozer’s encouragement is spot on – we need to know God, to experience Him. We don’t need to have God leading us as a chairman of the board, but guiding us like the fireman we wrap our arm over as he guides and carries us out of the flaming building.

We need to enounter the God who will come back for His people, in all of His glory, to gather us. We need to be terrified of His presence, so that our sin-filled hearts and minds can be crushed, and replaced with His heart, with eyes that focus on Him.

We need to realize, as deLigouri said, that our identiy has nothing to do with the world, but only how Jesus see us, who we are in His presence.

Until we see our churches as the people He’s returning for, our churches will appear to be less than they are. Failures that should be closed, or sold, or changed into coffee shops or schools without the influence of the Body of Chirst.

The Church is His Bride. You are His bride. So we need to adore Him.

Nothing else matters until we understand this.

So get out of the God business – and realize you live in His presence… with the rest of His people….

Look for His return – with fear.. but anticipating the joy that comes…. and know the Lord is with you!

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), 368.

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