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The Truly Important Ministry….is Unseen but by a few.


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Dawn at Concordia

Devotional thought for your day:

“Watch out! Don’t do your good deeds publicly, to be admired by others, for you will lose the reward from your Father in heaven. 2  When you give to someone in need, don’t do as the hypocrites do—blowing trumpets in the synagogues and streets to call attention to their acts of charity! I tell you the truth, they have received all the reward they will ever get. 3  But when you give to someone in need, don’t let your left hand know what your right hand is doing. 4  Give your gifts in private, and your Father, who sees everything, will reward you. Matthew 6:1-4 (NLT)

718         If only they could see the good things I do!… But don’t you realise that you are carrying them around like trinkets in a basket for people to see how fine they are? Furthermore, you must not forget the second part of Jesus’ command: “that they may glorify your Father who is in heaven.”

Nearly a year ago, I did the memorial service for an incredible lady.

The bulletin of that service still resides on the little refrigerator in my office, a reminder of our very simple, very special relationship.

Every Tuesday at 9 am, I would travel about 500 yards from my office, enter the house she had a bedroom in, and talk a moment, then pray for her.  No more than 15 minutes, more likely ten or so. On occasion, I would bring her the leftover flowers from church on Sunday,

And every time I left, even when she was too tired to talk, I felt lifted up.  She ministered to me far more than I ministered to her.

I knew she had a couple of incredible jobs in her life.  The executive assistant to a seminary president, the producer of a mega church pastor’s television ministry.  She didn’t talk about those things.  Rather it was the joy of hearing from this friend or that pastor.  It was about reading the sermons of those she knew.  It was always about someone else,

Given the honor of officiating at her service, I realized that day how much of an honor it was.  Men who served the church for decades and trained thousands of preachers were there.  They told me of the things my friend did, and how she ministered to them for decades.  How she helped and raised money for seminarians and worked for equity among the staff. How she interacted with world famous preachers ( I still love the story of her moving a bicycle rack to protect a parking spot for Billy Graham – and how he helped her move it back where it belonged when he got there! )

Yet I knew none of this as I visited her, as I prayed for her, as we looked at Roses and carnations and lilies and marveled at the hand of God that created the beauty we observed.   I simply knew a lady whose bright eyes ministered to me as I prayed for her, a  lady who lived so simply, so beautifully that I looked forward to visiting her each week.

I think she got the passages above and the incredible things she did in life weren’t paraded around, for her reward was to hear Jesus welcome her home.  Looking back on a life full of incredible service to God wasn’t her style, it wasn’t what she counted as important. Rather it was finding God’s peace, as a neighborhood pastor stopped by, and she could fill his life with God’s peace, even as she rejoiced in a small time of prayer.

I miss my friend – but thank God for what she taught me about ministry and walking with God, watching Him at work.

Escriva, Josemaria. Furrow (Kindle Locations 2995-2999). Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition.

Be Different: Act like God’s Kids


clydes-cross-2Be Different:  Act like God’s kids

Matthew 5:38-48

In Jesus Name

May the gifts of God’s mercy, love and peace enable you to truly live life, as you learn to love those God brings into your life.

The hardest lesson to live!

The words of Jesus that I read this morning are hard to hear.

They are easily understood, but how easy are they to live up to?

Turn the other cheek!  Give up more than you are sued for, give to those who demand of you, don’t turn away those who want to borrow.

And these hard words of Jesus, “Love your enemies, pray, that is, ask God to bless, those who persecute you.”

In a world where we are trained to look out for ourselves and those we love, how do we even do this?  How do we set aside our resentment, our fears and anxieties, and the pain others cause, and love them?

Yet Jesus asks us to do exactly that….

And it doesn’t matter who our enemy is, whether it is a global one or the bully that lives down the street.

How can God ask this of us?  What is really going on here?  What is God up to?
What is God up to?
We see a clue in another of the verses,

In that way, you will be acting as true children of your Father in heaven. For he gives his sunlight to both the evil and the good, and he sends rain on the just and the unjust alike.

Why would God give good stuff to those who are evil?  Why would He rain blessings on those who are not just?  And what does that have to do with the challenge we have, in loving those who are our enemies, or who we think are, and therefore are afraid of them?

The first answer is the old one, (First written by Augustine) that talked about the fact that in hating our enemies we are hurting ourselves more than we could ever hurt them.

A better answer is seen in one parable, where Jesus taught that He doesn’t remove the weeds among the wheat; because we can’t be sure of not uprooting wheat when we dig out the weeds.  Likewise, the enemy of today may become the friend, the brother in Christ.  The one which we are praying for may stop persecuting us, as Paul the apostle went from killing and tormenting Christians, to being one who preached about Jesus’ love from Jerusalem to Athens to Rome and perhaps beyond.

We don’t know, we just know the heart of God, who the apostle Peter tells us is patient, not willing that any should die in their sin, but that would come to the transformation that happens when our sin is forgiven.

To put it another way, what makes the different between a weed and what is not how they look, but what happens when they encounter Jesus.  That’s why the Old Testament prophet Ezekiel would write this,  “

 21  But if wicked people turn away from all their sins and begin to obey my decrees and do what is just and right, they will surely live and not die. 22  All their past sins will be forgotten, and they will live because of the righteous things they have done. 23  “Do you think that I like to see wicked people die? says the Sovereign LORD. Of course not! I want them to turn from their wicked ways and live. Ezekiel 18:21-24 (NLT)

 Knowing God’s heart, and knowing that neither we nor angels can know how someone will turn out, these are things that help us love those that others tell us can’t be loved.  Knowing that every single one of them God loves and desires to be one of His own.  This helps too…

Acting like God’s kids!

But what helps the most is knowing that God loves us, while we were His enemies, while we chose to live without him, choosing to do what we thought was right more than we cared what He thought, what He wanted.

Paul makes it clear – while we were all His enemies, Jesus died for us. He died, taking on the judgment we deserved.  He died to make sure that our sin wouldn’t divide us from God.  He died that we might live, and live life knowing God loves us and is with us.

So for us to be God’s kids – to live like that, we need to know what He loves, and how Jesus lived.  Loving those the rest of the world considered unlovable, loving those who are our enemies, and asking our Father to bless those who make our lives difficult.

For when we know that, loving those who the world considers our enemies, is nothing more that loving those our Father in heaven would have become our brothers and sisters.  And loving them becomes possible because we dwell in God’s glorious peace, peace that the world doesn’t understand, which is the peace in which Jesus guards our hearts and minds.  AMEN!

I Will Trust in My God! A sermon for the second week of Epiphany!


church at communion 2Epiphany!
I will Trust My God!

Isaiah 49:1-17

 In Jesus’ Name!

As the light of Christ’s glory shines in your hearts, may you know how great His mercy, how complete His peace, and how deep His love for you is!

Is it him, or me?

When we look at a prophecy in the Old Testament, there are some things we have to consider. 

How was it in originally fulfilled.

Is it primarily about Jesus during the time from His incarnation to his

But there is a third application of the prophecy – whether it is just a lesson for us, revealing Jesus, or whether it is directly applicable to us.  For example, in the 23rd Psalm, or in Psalm 51 or 139, the words are as applicable to you and me as they are to David.

But what about today’s selection?  Is it like those Psalms that are more about Jesus, or the ones that tell us more about ourselves?

Are we the ones who were named by God before our birth, while in our mother’s womb known by God?  Or is it Jesus?

Are we the ones hidden in the shadow of His hand, who serve God the Father and will bring Him glory, or is it only Jesus who is so aimed, whose words will cause people to know God’s decision that declares them righteous?

Who is this passage about?  Jesus, our Lord, the one who brings the light of His glory into our darkness, or are these words of Isaiah about you and me?

Al – don’t say it!

Could He know the despair?

If I were to make the case that it is about us, what would seem to make that point is found in verse 4.

4  I replied, “But my work seems so useless! I have spent my strength for nothing and to no purpose.

That sounds like something you or I would say, far more than it sounds like something the only begotten Son of God would say.

Think about those words for a moment.  Do these words of despair sound like they would come from the mouth of the Lord Jesus?  From the same lips that blessed bread and fish and fed thousands upon thousands?  From the same lips that calmed storms, and called the little girl and the widow’s son and Lazarus back to life?  Could Jesus, who forgave the adulteress, and healed the blind and paralyzed, could he have uttered such words of hopelessness?

Doesn’t this lead us to think these words, therefore, must be just about you and me?

Or is this what the writer of Hebrews means when he says,

15  We don’t have a priest who is out of touch with our reality. He’s been through weakness and testing, experienced it all—all but the sin. 16  So let’s walk right up to him and get what he is so ready to give. Take the mercy, accept the help.
Hebrews 4:15-16 (MSG)

If so, then this passage could still be about Him.  If it is, then we have a God who doesn’t just look down on us, but can be there for us, knowing the challenges.  He just doesn’t sympathize with us, this God who lights up our darkness with His light, it is His empathy that drives Him to do so!

If this passage is about Jesus, then it brings a whole different understanding to our faith.  It isn’t n vain, and it isn’t a leap.  Our hope is an expectation, just like Jesus’ faith is expressed back in verse 4,

“But my work seems so useless! I have spent my strength for nothing and to no purpose. Yet I leave it all in the LORD’s hand; I will trust God for my reward.

Somehow, Jesus was able to trust the Father, He was able to leave it all in the Father’s hands.  Dealing with Peter and James and John and the wishy-washy disciples, dealing with Herod and the religious leaders who wanted to kill him.  Dealing with the rich young ruler who walked away.

Did Jesus know those days when it seems like nothing works, that nothing makes a difference, and simply trusted in the Father’s will?

yes.

It is both, because we find life, in Christ!

So is this passage only about Jesus?  Or can we utter those words as well?  Can we leave it all in the hands of God, trusting in God to see us through?

Is He the only one who God formed to be his servant?  Is he the only One who God uses to bring back those who’ve wandered off, to bring salvation to all who are far off, even to the ends of the earth?  Who will see the powers and authorities of this world bowing before?

While it is about Jesus, it is about us as well, for we find our lives, the lives the Holy Spirit calls into existence, cleansing us from sin, in Christ Jesus.  It is true of us because it is true of Him.  For in the book of Acts Paul tells some gentiles in Athens that their poets had it correct when they said, “In Him we live and move and have our being”.

That is what it means to be in the season of Epiphany, to share in the glory of Christ Jesus.  This is what it means for Him to be here, shattering our darkness.  As we realize His presence anew every time we commune at the altar, every we time we hear His voice speak to us, as the Holy Spirit uses the gospel to create life within us!

We see this the last verse, where Isaiah says to those in Christ, it is the LORD, the faithful One, the Holy One of Israel who has chosen you…

This is not about the one who is spoken too, it is not about their faith, but the faithfulness of the LORD who speaks.  It is about His faithfulness in saving us, in lighting our way, in ensuring we endure, ensuring we hear His call of us, by name.  The name for the church throughout scripture is this very term – the chosen or called ones.  Called by name, kept in the hand of God, given a message to deliver to the nations.

This is our life, spent in Christ, our journey in the light of His glory, the glory that came when He came to dwell with man, and in our baptism as the Spirit comes to give us this wondrous life.

This is our focus during Epiphany, this is why we sing, as we recognize His glory has appeared here, where the Lord is with you!  AMEN!

Ready, Are We? A Sermon on life as We Await Jesus’ Return


MarkJ AdventReady, Are We?

Matthew 24:36-44

I.H.S.

 As you encounter the grace, the mercy, and love of God our Father and Lord Jesus Christ, may your desire to experience His presence grow, as will your desire for Jesus to come again!

2 A.M. Somewhere….

Most of us picture Jesus returning based on a passage in First Thessalonians,

16  For the Lord himself will come down from heaven with a commanding shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trumpet call of God. First, the Christians who have died will rise from their graves. 17  Then, together with them, we who are still alive and remain on the earth will be caught up in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. Then we will be with the Lord forever.

1 Thessalonians 4:16-17 (NLT)

We see him, His long hair and robes flowing in the wind, his hand stretched out and a look of pure serenity on His face, with just a few high clouds in the sky, and the sun shining brightly, but no obscuring his glory.

But did you ever think – that somewhere when he returns – it will be 2 a.m in the morning?  That somewhere people will be sound asleep; and in another home, a mom will be feeding her baby, as some will be taking their delivery trucks out, as bars and clubs close.

And somewhere, in the midst of their lives, at some time of the day or night, some people will be engaged in sin. Someone will be cursing using God’s name, and another forgetting to pray for an enemy.  Someone will be killing with physical weapons, and others simply using their words to do damage as significant.   Some will be committing adultery, and others gossiping., and some, just struggling to depend on God who they can’t see.

And out of the clouds, whether 2 p.m., 2 a.m. Jesus will return.

Our gospel tells us we must be ready always, for Jesus will not only return, but he will also return when you least expect it.

So as I share God’s love this morning, I want you to think about a couple of questions.

First – Do you care?

The first is challenging, well, they both are.  But here is the first question:

Do you, or do you think the church cares about whether Jesus is coming back?

Is it on your radar at all?  Do you wake up in the morning, and wonder if this will be the day?   Do we ever consider it given our decisions to do this or that?

Do we even think about Jesus coming back?

Think about that for a moment.

second – why?

if you do think about Jesus returning, the second question comes into play.

Why do you want Him to return?

Is it to escape the pressure and depression that this world and the evil in it causes?  I have to admit; there are days I don’t want to hear any news, to see any headlines.

Is it to stop having to struggle with life and the complications we have in our lives?  Complications like aging and sick bodies, challenged relationships.  ( Great line from Skorpion  – Thanksgiving is about having meals with people we don’t get along with the rest of the year!)

Is it to stop having to deal with our sin, our guilt, shame, brokenness?

When we pray for Jesus to return – is it to be rescued from something, or to be delivered into the presence of God?

That’s what the issues were in Noah’s day, they forgot about the presence of God in their lives, and they lived life without thinking about God.

And to be honest, many of us get trapped in the same kind of life.

Unaware of God, and only turning to Him to be rescued.

Walking with Jesus is much, so much more meaningful than that. Eternity will be so much more than simply being free of the crap of this world!  Eternity with God is dwelling with Him, in the purest peace, the most mindblowing joy, in fellowship divine.

It is to live, as we are being drawn into the glory of God…..

And it will happen… sooner than we have prepared for…

Ready, Are we?

 

SO then, the questions change a little….

How do we get ready for Jesus to return?

We turn to the words of Paul in the epistle…

12 The night is almost gone; the day of salvation will soon be here. So remove your dark deeds like dirty clothes,

This speaks of two things – first our baptism, and the incredible work of God that started there, as God cleanses us from all our sin, just as He promises. But it also speaks of repentance – the continuing action of our being transformed – what we see when we confess our sins and expect God to keep His promise there as we and then the question of how we stay read

14 Instead, clothe yourself with the presence of the Lord Jesus Christ.

And this speaks of baptism too – as God the Father clothes us in Christ’s righteousness, in His holiness.  As we see the work of God drawing us closer, and it is so incredible, so peaceful and so joyous that we begin to desire it more and more.

And we see that not only in baptism, but here as we kneel, as we receive Christ, as we have a glimpse at our relationship with God, and the height and depth, the breadth and width of His love for us, this endless joyous love.

Advent?  TO desire Jesus presence, to have nothing hindering it, not guilt, no shame, no brokenness, this is what advent is about – and why we desire Him to return…

And may that desire grow – as you know His love, as you dwell in His peace.

AMEN!

The Maintenance Man: A Modern Parable



Devotional Thought of the Day:

Very rarely will I post another person’s work on my blog, but this parable reflects a real life event in their life.  And perhaps, as good parables do….. our lives as well. As you read it, consider who you might be, and as needed, approach God’s throne of grace…and maybe bring a friend, a pastor, a professor, a maintenance man, and find the stone who the builders rejected.  To the one who wrote this, thank you my friend, for helping us see.

The Maintenance Man

Well, the stones were all square. That’s what they had in common. And they all

(or at least some of them) got walked on. And yes, they were different sizes, to form a

pattern, but each one had its place, fitting neatly into the matrix of the walkway. Anne

liked how they all fit together, and so she felt a little guilty when she accidentally kicked

one loose. Locomotion required some serious willpower these days, and she hauled

her hesitant feet behind her into the building. Muttering, a maintenance man shook his

head in annoyance at all the cementing he’d have to do to replace that chipped stone.

Unaware of his displeasure, the young lady continued toward the building. She

wasn’t convinced this whole thing was a good idea, but in the face of her obvious

incompetence, she would obey the wishes of friends and administrators. They had

noticed the permanently blank look on her face, her listlessness, and her habit of

assuming failure, and they had particularly urged her to do this. Her response had been

one of apathy and resignation. “I suppose I’ll go, but I don’t know what good it’ll do.”

Mentally she had added, “or why they bother now.”

She knew right where the Pastor’s office was, and she followed the familiar path

there. As Anne walked in, the church secretary forced the corners of her mouth up just

a little bit. With as much work as the Pastor had given her, it was the best she could do.

Anne smiled back to encourage the older woman.

“The Pastor is with someone right now. Do you have an appointment?” His

calendar lay open on her desk.

“No.”

The secretary hated this part of her job. So many people were turned away. “He

is very busy today. Would you like to make an appointment for another day? I think we

could probably fit you in sometime next week, even though things are pretty hectic

around here.”

“No, thank you. I think I’ll just wait, if you don’t mind.”

“He probably won’t have time for you.”

“I shouldn’t be long.”

“OK. Whatever you’d like to do.” The secretary turned back to her typing. Better

not to think about it.

Presently, the study door opened and the pastor emerged from his office with the

new organist. They were chuckling to themselves, and joking about the old, worn organ

the church had.

“Thanks, Pastor. We’ll have a go at these. If the choir can learn them well, I

think they can lead the congregation on Sunday.”

“I’d appreciate that. Oh, and also, the elders think the services are too long, so

let’s try to pick up the tempo a bit on Sunday.”

“We’re already moving at a good clip, but if there’s no other way …”

“Thanks! Have a good day!”

“You too. Bye.”

Anne shook her head to clear the cobwebs.

“Excuse me, Pastor?”

“I’m really pressed for time right now. What do you need?”

Anne followed him into the study. The pastor gave a mental groan as she closed

the study door behind her. Anne noticed. Some things never change.

“What can I do for you?” His office seemed smaller. Perhaps it was the mounds

of paper that had accumulated on his desk and on the floor next to his desk.

“Well, I’ve been having some trouble concentrating – my grades are getting lower

and lower – my advisor told me to come and see you before I flunk out.”

“Why? Did the Professor seem to think there was something I could help you

with?” His brain silently translated, “Couldn’t it have waited till after Easter?”

Anne didn’t really believe he could help her at all, unless he happened to be

carrying something sharp. She was always in somebody’s way. But she answered him

politely. “He thought you might be able to get a handle on why my act isn’t together. I

wasn’t so sure, but I promised him I’d come see you.”

“Anne, we’ve talked about this before, and I’m afraid I just don’t have anything

else to say. Until you do something about your attitudes, things are never going to

change. It’s that simple. You come to church in jeans, you never smile, and all you

seem to care about is home – whether your mom called, your dad’s new girlfriend, or

how much he’s been drinking. You’d think you were the only person jin the world who’s

lived through their parents’ divorce. Take some advice, OK? Go back to the dorm,

have some dinner, and crack the books. Let your brothers and sisters worry about your

parents. The best thing you can do for your grades is buckle down and study.”

Anne didn’t have any brothers or sisters, but somehow she didn’t think that would

matter to him. “Well, I won’t take up any more of your time. Please tell the professor I

came to see you.”

“OK. I’ve really got to go now. See you Sunday!” Pastor hurried out of the

office. He had to get to the flower shop before it closed to pick up those extra palms. If

they ran out tomorrow, the elders would be upset with him. Yes, he had things to do.

Anne showed herself out. Walking slowly, she was deep in debate with herself.

Right, toward the river, or left, toward town? She decided on left, and forced her body in

that direction.

The maintenance man saw her, and hurried to finish the hedges he had begun

when she arrived. Exhausted, he decided to leave the walkway til Monday and head

home. He had a blister on his hand, but at least the hedges would look nice for Palm

Sunday. He kicked the errant walkway stone back into its hole, stomped it down good,

and packed up his things. Anyway, the sky was clouding up.

Somewhere in the back of Anne’s mind it registered. Through the cloudiness,

thunder. Although it tried, the realization didn’t manage to worm its way forward until

her cheek felt the first trickles of the downpour. Weary from the struggle to make her

feet obey, she sought shelter in a nearby drug store.

Greeting cards, prescription drugs, vitamins, magazines – the signs intruded on

her foggy consciousness. Stopping in front of the non-prescription drugs, she tried to

look like she was shopping. The clerk eyed her suspiciously.

Then, as if a breeze blew through her mind, the fog cleared, and she understood.

Smiling, she selected the generic sleeping aids.

The clerk wanted her out of his store. “That’ll be three dollars and forty-six

cents.” She was barely to the counter. Handing him three-fifty, she left without her

change.

Leaning up against a nearby post, Anne was suddenly calm. At least she

wouldn’t be in anybody’s way anymore. Finally spotting a water fountain, she

swallowed the contents of the bottle she had just purchased, sat down on a nearby

bench, and dozed off with the rain dripping off her fingers.

The Professor seemed angry when the pastor spotted him walking into church

the next morning.

“I know she isn’t here yet, but Anne asked me to tell you that she came into see

me yesterday.”

“Yes.” His voice lowered, and took an edge to it. “Well, she won’t be coming any

more. They found her on a bench about two blocks from here.” The Professor paused

to let his words take effect. “Her parents are flying in tomorrow from Ohio. Apparently

she decided to get rid of her insomnia for good.”

The verdict had been handed down.

“She never mentioned any insomnia.”

“You never asked.”

The gavel hit the bench.

The pastor looked disgusted. The Professor left. He didn’t think he’d be back.

Slowly walking out the front door, he stopped half0way down the crumbling path. There

was mud all over, and, dep in thought, he traced something in it with his toe. Then he

shook the wet earth off his feet.

The sentence had been pronounced.

After all, it really is difficult to get good help these days. He called to the

maintenance man, just arriving for church.

“You shouldn’t have left that loose stone, you know. Now all the soil’s washed

out from underneath and the whole thing will need replacing.”

The maintenance man scowled and didn’t answer. He walked in, muttering

greetings to the Pastor as he passed, who scowled and muttered back. Now the pastor

had yet another sermon to prepare this week, and he didn’t have time to deal with

maintenance men.

Closing thought,  from the words of another battered and chipped stone, named Paul. ” 19  You Gentiles are no longer strangers and foreigners. You are citizens with everyone else who belongs to the family of God. 20  You are like a building with the apostles and prophets as the foundation and with Christ as the most important stone. 21  Christ is the one who holds the building together and makes it grow into a holy temple for the Lord. 22  And you are part of that building Christ has built as a place for God’s own Spirit to live.”Ephesians 2:19-22 (CEV) 

Confronting The Inner Pharisee…


Devotional Thought fo the Day:

13 “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, you hypocrites. You lock the kingdom of heaven* before human beings. You do not enter yourselves, nor do you allow entrance to those trying to enter. “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, you hypocrites. You traverse sea and land to make one convert, and when that happens you make him a child of Gehenna twice as much as yourselves. NABRE Matt 23:13-15

I have loved thy beauty, and the place of the habitation of the glory of my Lord, thy builder and possessor. Let my wayfaring sigh after thee, and I say to Him that made thee, let Him take possession of me also in thee, seeing He hath made me likewise. I have gone astray like a lost sheep: yet upon the shoulders of my Shepherd, thy builder, hope I to be brought back to thee. (1) 

As I come to Matthew 23 in my devotions, I feel the necessity to guard my heart.  It is all too easy as Jesus begins to challenge Pharisees and Sadducees to begin to name their modern counterparts.

I know them, as they sit on either end of the spectrum, trying to create a system out of the covenant relationship God calls us into being , as His children, His beloved.   As they create rules and rubrics, best practices and by-laws, assuring others that doing so is faithful and proper, missional and confessional.

I see them as either throwing out the baby with the baptismal water or drowning the baby in it, oblivious to the baby, for the sake of the holy water.

And this is exactly why I have to guard my heart, for Jesus words aren’t just calling them to repentance, but they are calling me to repentance.  For I can lock the door on these Pharisees and Sadducees as quickly as they do for those I find myself akin to, those who are broken, lost and trying desperately to hear His voice of hope. What is worse, my cynical and sarcastic response to the Pharisee or Sadducee sets a horrid example for those I am leading, those who I am discipling.  An example which doesn’t shepherd them into the presence of Christ who would heal them, but away from Him, into the desert where they will trust no one, eventually including me.

So where is my hope, how can I allow my inner Pharisee to be called to repentance, and see God deal with those who would drive people to a place outside the church?

I think Augustine in his simple brilliance showed me an answer this morning.

Focus on the presence of God!  Let him carry you broken back tot he Father.  We have to abandon yourself into His care, His guidance, join Him on the cross, and let Him heal us, including killing off our inner pharisee, or at preferably, purifying that devoted pharisee in the death and resurrection of Jesus.  We need to let the Father remind us that we are in the presence of God, in His dwelling place, and call our mind back from the pigpens where our brothers were living large.

There is hope for Pharisees, and Sadduccees and so many others…

In the cross, in being carried back, physically or spiritually, into the presence of God’s glory, God’s mercy, God’s love.

And that is where we belong….   AMEN!

(1)  Augustine, S., Bishop of Hippo. (1996). The Confessions of St. Augustine. (E. B. Pusey, Trans.). Oak Harbor, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc.

 

The Reason the Church is Here….


Devotional Thought of the Day:

17  When they saw him, they fell at his feet in worship, even though some of them struggled to trust Him. 18  Jesus went to them and said, “I have been given all responsibility in heaven and on earth. 19  You area going disciple people of all cultures: by baptizing them in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, 20  and instructing them to treasure this covenant relationship I committed to with you! And I am with you ever day, for forever.”   Matthew 28:17-20 (parker’s paraphrase)

To be a disciple of Jesus means that we can and must follow a way that is directly opposed to our own natural gravity, to the gravity of egoism, to the search for what is merely material and for the maximum pleasure that we confuse with happiness. Discipleship is a way through agitated, stormy waters that we can follow only if we are in the gravitational field of the love of Jesus Christ, if our gaze is fixed on him and therefore supported by the new gravity of grace that makes possible for us the way to truth and to God that we would have been unable to follow by our own efforts. That is why being a disciple of Jesus is more than concurrence with a definite program, more than sympathy and solidarity with a person whom we regard as a model. It is not just Jesus, a human being, that we follow; we follow the Son of the living God. We follow a divine way. Where does Jesus’ way lead us? It leads us to the Resurrection, to the right hand of the Father. It is this whole way that we mean when we speak of following Christ as his disciple. Only thus do we journey the whole way of our vocation; only thus do we really reach the goal of undivided and imperishable happiness. And only from this perspective do we understand why the Cross is also a part of our discipleship as followers of Christ (cf. Mk 8:24). There is no other way for us to come to the Resurrection, to the community of God. We must follow the whole way if we want to be servants and witnesses of Jesus Christ. And every single step is different depending on whether we intend to go the whole way or merely to carve out for ourselves a kind of human party program. We can come to Christ only if we have the courage to walk on the water and to entrust ourselves to his gravity, the gravity of grace.

I have to start with a disclaimer.  I want to write nothing about this post, save what you see above.  The charge for us to disciple the world, by helping people enter into a relationship as part of the people of God, and then to teach them to treasure this covenant relationship, this relationship based on God’s plan, on His terms, for Hs is God.  That is the work of the church that is how we are to love our neighbor; that is the work of God, or as my favorite pastor/author noted, the Opus Dei.

These words of Cardinal Ratzinger in blue (later Pope Benedict XVI)  are an incredible description of that relationship, this discipling process.  Go back and read them again.  Go ahead, go do it.  And again, savor the words describing your relationship with God, as you are pulled into this incredible.

But is this what we are about in the church?

Is this what we value in our own lives personally? Do we understand this incredible, blessed fellowship we have been brought into with the Father, Sona nd Holy Spirit?

We need to, and we need to get that this is far more than obeying laws and commandments (though that is part of it).  It is, to use the Old Testament prophecies, the very “being” that is knowing that we God has made us HIs people, and He is our God.

This is what is revealed, from the very beginning to creation to each time someone is baptized or is revived as their sins are forgiven, or are renewed as they take and eat the Body broken for them, the bloodshed to bring them into this covenant relationship.

This is what we treasure; this is what we guard, (which is what tereo means – not just obey/observe) This is what we reveal to the world, it is how we disciple, this is how we live.

Even when we struggle, or doubt, for Jesus is our Lord. And He is with us.

AMEN!

(1)   Ratzinger, J. (1992). Co-Workers of the Truth: Meditations for Every Day of the Year. (I. Grassl, Ed., M. F. McCarthy & L. Krauth, Trans.) (p. 140). San Francisco: Ignatius Press.

Billy Joel’s Piano Man: A Parable of Ministry.


Devotional Thought of the Day:
25  God has given me the responsibility of serving his church by proclaiming his entire message to you. 26  This message was kept secret for centuries and generations past, but now it has been revealed to God’s people. 27  For God wanted them to know that the riches and glory of Christ are for you Gentiles, too. And this is the secret: Christ lives in you. This gives you assurance of sharing his glory. 28  So we tell others about Christ, warning everyone and teaching everyone with all the wisdom God has given us. We want to present them to God, perfect in their relationship to Christ. 29  That’s why I work and struggle so hard, depending on Christ’s mighty power that works within me.
Colossians 1:25-29 (NLT)

4      Christ, who went up to the Cross with his arms wide open, with the gesture of the Eternal Priest, wants to count on us—who are nothing!—to bring to all men the fruits of his Redemption.

It always has been my favorite piece of music, more than any classical piece, more than any hymn or praise song.  It describes the joy of musician doing what he does best, in the words of the manager, “he knows that it’s me that they are coming to see, to forget about life for a while…”  ( I would make the point that it does not forget about life, but finding it, that makes the piano man’s music draw them)

It starts with an old man’s request, “son, can you play me a melody, I’m not really sure how it goes, but it’s sad, and its sweet, and I knew it complete, when I wore a younger man’s clothes.”

I think much of what we do as pastors, as preachers, our ministry to those already in the church is that very thing – bringing back into people lives the melody of the gospel, something they knew well, but that life drowns out.  For the people who sit in our churches need to hear that gospel just as much as the person in the bar listening to a man play piano.

Of course, this preaching and teaching goes beyond our church doors, as St Josemaria tells us, we need to bring this message of the fruit of redemption to every man and woman.  The one in church, the crowd around the bar,  the one in the hospital or jail, the one in boot camp, or in a refugee camp, or even in the terrorist camp; they all need to hear of this hope, the hope of glory found in realizing Christ lives with us, in us.

It is this message that makes the difference; it is the message that brings to them life, that will present them perfect to God.

So why do we mess around with other messages?  Why do we throw them back to the world without the hope found when we realize the life we have Christ?  Why do we put our hope, not in Christ but in the latest theories about how churches can be successful?  Or in the latest thing that gives our people a sense of peace financially, or as a family, or who to back in a political election, as if they will make the changes that will make life alive.  Those theories are nice, and have their place, but they will be found to be empty in a year or two, or at least within a decade or generation.

There is only one melody, one message that will bring the comfort and peace….to the bartender, to the sailor, to the waitress practicing politics, to the business trying to get stoned…

The message of Christ,

May we struggle as Paul did, to teach and preach this Christ, working with all that we have, depending upon Christ whose power works within us.  AMEN.

Escriva, Josemaria (2011-01-31). The Forge (Kindle Locations 246-248). Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition.

He Set You apart!


He Set You Apart!

Jeremiah 1:4-10

 In Jesus Name

 May you realize the grace of God our Father and our Lord Jesus Christ, who set you apart from before you were formed, who will have you share with others His love, and our need for it!

To the Nations

A few weeks ago, 6 of us had the blessing of picking up 24 youth who were all born in Eritrea.  Just curious, how many of you know where Eritrea is?

Last week, Pastor Bernie shared for a few moments about what happened in the Sudan, where he put stoles that our ladies made, on the shoulders of 16 newly ordained pastors, just as he had three years prior.

Yesterday, some of us went to a Himalayan restaurant in Artesia, and celebrated with a young lady and her family, as she prepares for a wedding next week.

Next week on our campus, our brothers and sisters in the second service will be celebrating Chinese New Year.

As I look out over our congregation or our preschool chapels, I see people from all over the world, from 5 continents.  And from even some very, very different places, like Lawrence, Massachusetts.

It is an amazing thing to think of, as we hear again, God’s word to Jeremiah

“I knew you before I formed you in your mother’s womb. Before you were born I set you apart and appointed you as my prophet to the nations.”

God’s words to Jeremiah, and to us.  Yes, to us.
The message

Jesus has done the same thing to us that He did to Jeremiah.  He set us apart with a purpose, to share a message with people from all of the world.  A message that we all need to hear, even as it has to tear some down, and lift others up.

What we call law and gospel in “Church language”.  That’s the message Jeremiah was given; it is the message Jesus died to reveal, it is what Peter and Paul and others claimed from the Middle East throughout all of Europe to Central Africa to India in one generation.
It is the same message that everyone needs to hear, no matter if they are 3 or 93, no matter their ethnicity or their culture.

It is a message that crushes those of us who think we are the only righteous folk around, revealing to us that we are sinners, and there is nothing we can do to repair what we’ve broken.  For that is what sin does.  It shatters relationships; it shatters family, it shatters us as individuals.

God’s law isn’t just about behaving properly; it is a way God designed for us to live in peace, to know we are loved.  And when we step outside the plans God has for us, it crushes us, as the things He warns us against come true.

One pastor put it this way, use the Law to afflict those comfortable in their sin, and those afflicted by their sin, comfort them with the good news.

The news every prophet, every pastor, every evangelist and every believer counts on and is chosen by God to embrace and share with others.

The news of the gospel.  That God loves us that He will heal our brokenness. That He will make our lives like new.  That our sin will be forgiven, that our the relationships will be reconciled.

This is the gospel that all need to hear, it is the reason we have hope.

God has made all of the creation, and all of us in it, with a purpose.  The purpose of living with him, as His children, as the people He loves.  He loves us so much that Christ died to make this possible.  TO heal our relationship with Him and with others, not just until the next time we destroy it, but for all of eternity.

That is why when we are saved when He cleanses us, there is no need to do so again.

But us?

Like most ministers, Jeremiah had a  problem with God trusting Jeremiah with the message.  We can find a million reasons why we shouldn’t have to share God’s message with our neighbors and family, never mind to the world.

But God has chosen us. He knows us as long as He knew Jeremiah, from since before we were born, from before we were conceived.

The message isn’t complicated, and as we realize it, the inclination to share it is automatic.  God is with you.  He loves you; He wants to comfort you and reconcile and heal that which is broken.

Don’t hold back, let Him do so…and rejoice!

AMEN!

The Wise Ones say, “Do Your Job!”


Devotional Thought of the Day:

8  In fact, it says, “The message is very close at hand; it is on your lips and in your heart.” And that message is the very message about faith that we preach: 9  If you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. 10  For it is by believing in your heart that you are made right with God, and it is by confessing with your mouth that you are saved. 11  As the Scriptures tell us, “Anyone who trusts in him will never be disgraced.” 12  Jew and Gentile are the same in this respect. They have the same Lord, who gives generously to all who call on him. 13  For “Everyone who calls on the name of the LORD will be saved.” 14  But how can they call on him to save them unless they believe in him? And how can they believe in him if they have never heard about him? And how can they hear about him unless someone tells them? 15  And how will anyone go and tell them without being sent? That is why the Scriptures say, “How beautiful are the feet of messengers who bring good news!”
Romans 10:8-15 (NLT)

When then he came, I found him a man of pleasing discourse, and who could speak fluently and in better terms, yet still but the self-same things which they were wont to say. But what availed the utmost neatness of the cup-bearer to my thirst for a more precious draught? Mine ears were already cloyed with the like, nor did they seem to me therefore better, because better said; nor therefore true, because eloquent; nor the soul therefore wise, because the face was comely, and the language graceful. (1)

Today’s average Christian assumes on the basis of this principle that faith is a product of the individual point of view, of intellectual endeavor, and of the work of specialists, and such a point of view seems to him more modern and more self-evident than the Catholic positions. For many today it is hardly comprehensible that a mysterious divine reality lies behind the human reality. But, as we know, that is the Catholic understanding of Church.

In this sense it is said, “The doers of the law will be justified”; that is, God pronounces righteous those who believe him from their heart and then have good fruits, which please him because of faith and therefore are a keeping of the law.
253 These words, spoken so simply, contain no error….  (3) 

No, this isn’t about Tom and Bill, and the game this week.  But it is what happens on Sunday, and should happen through the rest of the week as well.

It is about something far more important, far more important than another Superbowl, and more accolades.  It is about a dynasty, but not an earthly one.

The passage from Augustine, the second quote above, reaches out to when he was expecting a great man to give him insights on life that would change everything.  And the man, though a phenomenal speaker, failed to impress. The rest of that passage goes on about how disappointed, and yet relieved, for from there he would go and realize more clearly the love of God

Benedict XVI, (then Cardinal Ratzinger) wrote how this issue has been recycled in our age.  That philosophers and theologians, the specialists, have so spoken of faith and Christianity that people don’t always realize that what religion is, is an encounter with the Creator of the myseterious divine reality that lies behind what we perceive as reality.  What disappointed Augustine in the arrival of Faustus is now the norm.  What Jefferson tried to do, in eradicating the miraculous from scripture, has been accomplished by those who study it until it is dead.  Simply put, they have studied it until it is either a complex set of moral guidelines or completely accepted to be a nice set of fables.

That is not the “job” of the theologian or the philosopher.  They are, by their labels, those tho are to study the logic, the reason of God (the-logos) and the lover of wisdom (Philo-sophia) Their job then, should be to reveal the God that was revealed to them, to pass on the truth and wisdom and awe of a God who left heaven, humbled himself, served and died on a cross to prove to us that He loves us.

The Lutheran confessions exemplify this when summarizing the incredible truth.  God pronounces sinners righteous because they believe, trust, depend on His revelation of His love for them.  That belief/trust/faith/dependence is what God sees, as the Holy Spirit transforms their lives.  This is what Benedict knows as faith, even as he weeps over its being redefined, not by the world, but by the church. It is the revelation Augustine was hoping to hear.  God loves us, and depending upon that love, revelling in it, adoring the God, who loves us, changes us.

Which brings us back to St Paul, and his words to a young church, easily swayed by fancy orators and powerful leaders.  People need to trust in God, the God, who will never let them be shamed.

And the way they come to know that is simple.  We bring it to them; we send to them those who will reveal that love to them. That is how we do our job so that all can come to know His love.

It’s not rocket science.  It is the work of those who understand the word of God, and those who love wisdom.

So do your job, send, be sent, share Christ, and watch the glory of God enfold as the Spirit transforms lives, heart and minds that find peace in Christ Jesus.

 

(1)  Augustine, S., Bishop of Hippo. (1996). The Confessions of St. Augustine. (E. B. Pusey, Trans.). Oak Harbor, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc.

(2)  Ratzinger, J. (1992). Co-Workers of the Truth: Meditations for Every Day of the Year. (I. Grassl, Ed., M. F. McCarthy & L. Krauth, Trans.) (p. 30). San Francisco: Ignatius Press.

Tappert, T. G. (Ed.). (1959). The Book of Concord the confessions of the Evangelical Lutheran Church. (p. 143). Philadelphia: Mühlenberg Press.

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