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Matters of the Heart: A sermon on Mark 7 from the Concordia Lutheran Church!

church at communion 2

(if you would rather see the service, and hear the sermon, it is posted on my FB page and at Concordia.org_

Matters of the Heart
Mark 7:14-23

Jesus, Son, Savior

May this grace, the love and mercy of God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ, show you how He is transforming your heart so that you can love Him and your neighbor!  AMEN!

 

The Gospel?  Really?  ( O wait = there it is …Bacon is fine!)

Passages like the gospel always bring out my sense of irony.

I mean, we read these nine verses, talking about how our vile hearts defile us, and then I get to say, “This is the gospel of the Lord!”

Using less religious language, “This is the good news that Jesus has for you!”Yeah!  Good news!  You are defiled because your heart is vile! Not really a balance there between Law and Gospel…this passage is 100% law. Well, Bob found some good news in it, in our deacons and pastor study Monday night.  There down within the parenthesis you see it, “Every kind of food is acceptable in God’s sight!”  Which means bacon and shrimp and lobster are as acceptable as broccoli or kale or that horrid pumpkin spice stuff that is invading our stores! But how do we take a passage so focused on our failure, our sin, our being defiled, and find good news there?  Where is the gospel in this gospel reading?Or put another way, while this passage tells us we really need help, how do we find it?  Or are we always going to be defiled by our vile hearts?

We are defiled/vulgar (but that isn’t what you think it means_

Inigo Montoya, the famous swordsman in Princess Bride, uttered these works. “You keep using that word (inconceivable). I do not think it means what you think it means!”We’ve got a couple of those words in today’s reading.  The first is the word defile.  It sounds like it means rotten, disgusting, horrid, sickening, to use an old word, gross.

It isn’t actually bad as bad as it sounds, though, in reality, it is worse.

It is the opposite of holy, it means common.  Which was the original definition of vulgar.

Using last week’s illustration about holiness, to be set apart for a special purpose, I said Missy’s guitar was meant to play music with, not to be used as a stepping stool to change a light bulb.  You defile something when you take something that has a special purpose and use it for something… far less.  Say instead of using it for playing beautiful music, Missy used her guitar to move fertilizer around her parent’s backyard.  That would be defiling is, making it something used for something in common.

Or imagine you are going into surgery, and you see the surgeon opening his latest package from Amazon with the same scalpel.

Our hearts’ purpose had never been to be the place of origin for sin. We were meant to be set apart, our purpose to be the people, the children of God.  We were set apart to dwell in His love, and love the family of God.  Sin simply wrecks that, destroying our heart and soul, making us no better than any other biological creature, controlled by physical needs and desire for pleasure.

Sin changes us, from being the children of God, and that sin comes from a heart that doesn’t recognize God.  And that sin finds its origin, not in the world, but in our hearts.  That is what Jesus keeps coming back too…

It is not what is us that is wrong, it’s not the bacon, it is the heart that is a glutton that causes the desire to overeat.  It’s not the beauty that causes the sin, it is the uncontrolled desire for pleasure.

It is what is within us, what controls our heart, and our will that causes us to engage in sin.

The gospel – a heart transplant The OT Promise

If this is true, then what hope exists for us, in this world so oppressed by the sin which has ensnared us? What hope is there for our friends, of children, our grandchildren? If all there is to life is living without a special purpose, without reason,

We find the law in the Gospel today, so let’s look back at the Old Testament to find the gospel.  If sin originates in our hearts, then what is underlined in this passage is the only way to deal with it.  Let’s read it together

26  And I will give you a new heart, and I will put a new spirit in you. I will take out your stony, stubborn heart and give you a tender, responsive heart.

There is our answer, a cardiac transplant. To allow God to change our heart, from the one in which sin, passed down from Adam, and which dominates our heart. Changing our heart like he did with David, making us men and women after God’s own heart, men, and women who share His desire.

This is the promise made sure in us, as it was for Ethan last week, as God pours water on us, and cleanses us from all sin, and He makes us His people.

This new heart changes us… and enables us to do things that please God, it allows us to walk with Him, and relate to Him.  For as He changes our heart, as He puts His Spirit in us, we return to being holy, a people are special to Him, for we are His children!

What does this mean?

How can we believe this, I mean, we still sin, don’t we?

How can sin still come from a heart that has been changed?  From a heart that is supposed to beat in rhythm with God’s own heart?  The simple answer is, that sin is the old us, and as we walk closer to God, depending on Him more and more, others may see the change in us, while we never do.

I think that’s so we never stop depending on God, so we learn to run to Him when we are tempted, so we learn to run to Him, assured of His mercy and forgiveness, so that we learn to run to the God who has poured water on us, cleansed us of sin, given us a new heart, put His Spirit within us…

and who promises this as well

6  And I am certain that God, who began the good work within you, will continue his work until it is finally finished on the day when Christ Jesus returns. Philippians 1:6 (NLT2) Amen!

The Hardest Lesson: One We Can’t Learn on Our Own

Jesus foot washingDevotional Thought fo the Day:

9  Two are better off than one, because together they can work more effectively. 10  If one of them falls down, the other can help him up. But if someone is alone and falls, it’s just too bad, because there is no one to help him. 11  If it is cold, two can sleep together and stay warm, but how can you keep warm by yourself? 12  Two people can resist an attack that would defeat one person alone. A rope made of three cords is hard to break. Ecclesiastes 4:9-12 (TEV)

11  May our God and Father himself and our Lord Jesus prepare the way for us to come to you! 12  May the Lord make your love for one another and for all people grow more and more and become as great as our love for you. 13  In this way he will strengthen you, and you will be perfect and holy in the presence of our God and Father when our Lord Jesus comes with all who belong to him. 1 Thessalonians 3:11-13 (TEV)

26  “The Helper will come—the Spirit, who reveals the truth about God and who comes from the Father. I will send him to you from the Father, and he will speak about me. John 15:26 (TEV)

21 So it is with all idolatry. Idolatry does not consist merely of erecting an image and praying to it. It is primarily in the heart, which pursues other things and seeks help and consolation from creatures, saints, or devils. It neither cares for God nor expects good things from him sufficiently to trust that he wants to help, nor does it believe that whatever good it receives comes from God.

Luther’s words about the first commandment are always convicting to me at first. For it is too simple to set up an idol.  We can make them out of anything, ranging from money and worldly success to our dreams, to our honor.

Whatever we place our hope in, whatever we pursue as if attaining it will give us peace, that becomes our idol. 

Even if it was something that was given to us by God for good. An example of this is the Bronze Serpent, a foreshadow of Christ, that brought healing to a situation, that people later worshipped.  The same for Gideon’s ephod, and later relics and holy objects.  These should have pointed us to God, but sometimes we forget the reality of God and focus on something that should remind us of Him.  We can even do this with our church life, where we only want certain hymns or songs, or we want a certain kind of sermon or lesson. Because that is what gives us comfort.  

Solomon’s words out of Ecclesiastes should help here, especially when taken along with Jesus’s promise of the Holy Spirit.  Two are better than one, and when the One we are tied to is the Holy Spirit, the Comforter, it is His immeasurable strength that holds us as one.   The same with the promise in Thessalonians, the work God does in our lives to strengthen us. 

This gets to the heart of faith, why it is more than simply knowing the facts. Faith isn’t depending on the facts, it depends on the God who draws us into Himself. Who cleanses us from all our idols (see Ezekiel 36:25). 

Even in this sin of idolatry, it is too hard for us to overcome ourselves. Again, even as we struggle with this, God is at work, healing us, cleansing us, comforting us.  He is incredible that way and has shown His continual patience, patience that wisely tempers His jealousy.  Yes, God is jealous when you turn away from Him to idols of your own making!

We need to learn to trust and depend upon Him, We need to realize that He cares, that He wants to help, that even the things we don’t like that He provides, (like broccoli or the situations that cause growth!)

He is good, He loves you, more than you know, and the only way to grow is to experience that love.

So I pray you do this week… and that we all can learn to rejoice as idols are removed….

The Lord is with you! Rejoice!

What things do you struggle to trust God with?  What things might offer more comfort than God at first glance?

as always, comments and discussions gladly accepted 

 

The Large Catechism of Martin Luther:   FIrst Part, The First CommandmentTappert, T. G. (Ed.). (1959). The Book of Concord the confessions of the Evangelical Lutheran Church. (p. 367). Philadelphia: Mühlenberg Press.

Is Correct Doctrine and Practice Enough? Are We Just Going Through the Motions?

Altar with communionDevotional Thought for our Day:

2 I know what you do, how you work hard and never give up. I know you do not put up with the false teachings of evil people. You have tested those who say they are apostles but really are not, and you found they are liars. 3 You have patience and have suffered troubles for my name and have not given up.
4 “But I have this against you: You have left the love you had in the beginning. 5 So remember where you were before you fell. Change your hearts and do what you did at first. If you do not change, I will come to you and will take away your lampstand from its place. Rev. 2:2-6  NCV

Here we must also mention those hypocrites who put their trust in their own righteousness before God, as the Pharisees in Luke 18:10 ff. Upon such people falls the guilt of many sins, because they do not recognize their own weakness, they do not recognize that in the eyes of God they are worthy of punishment because they have a false confidence and do not call upon God through Christ the Mediator. Indeed, they put their own works forward in the place of the Mediator’s. I have described their attributes above under the fifth degree.

A third point should be added here: when absolution has been given, one should accept the new melody of life and let oneself really be re-tuned to the new rhythm of God. The first indication of this new melody in our lives is prayer, for the new life is above all also a turning to God. 

It seems like a new idol is gaining strength in the church.  That pastors, ministers, and others who serve are being trained to serve this idol.  That people are being led to put their faith in this idol, that if it is served, that if sacrifices are made to appease it, then everything will be okay.  

It really isn’t a new idol, it simply put on new clothes and addresses a certain fear we have, that somehow, God is displeased with us, that this is the reason that churches in 1st world countries are shrinking and closing. 

The church in Ephesus also had to deal with this, look at what the Apostle John wrote it above. 

They didn’t tolerate false teaching, they tested everyone and discovered who was teaching falsely.

They had patience and suffered troubles (even ones they didn’t create for themselves!)  

They had doctrine and practice of that doctrine down pat, so much so that Jesus even praised them for it!  Yet they were as empty as the Pharisees railed against.  When we enter a point where our focus is primarily correct doctrine and practice, we leave behind the Lord we love, (ironically the one correct doctrine should lead us to adore, which is what is the definition of true orthodoxy!)

Please hear me, teaching correctly about God’s grace is important, critical even.  Worshipping Him in a way consistent with what the scriptures reveal is also very important.  Do things our own way, in what makes sense to us in that moment is dangerous.  But making doctrine and practice THE focus of our ministry, or how we judge other’s ministry is still idolatry. 

St John encourages us to return to our first love, the love we had for the Lord who delivered us, who brought us into fellowship by the power of the Holy Spirit.  To change our hearts ( not our minds (doctrine and practice dwell there too!) and return to what we did at first, being in awe, trying to learn how to love God.  It is from such a life of prayer that doctrine and practice really come alive anyway.  The words mean more, they aren’t just rote, the actions we take we find are nourished and strengthed by the Lord we dedicate them to Him!

I love how Pope Benedict XVI phrased this, in regards to absolution.  THe idea of God re-tuning us, transforming us to live in this new melody of life, these new movements, My guitar cannot tune itself, neither can I tune myself.  Yet as God does this, as I get out of the way, I find myself desiring to spend more time with Him.  I find the music that is life sweeter and more comforting, more serene.

FOr it is God turning us to Himself, revealing His presence, His embracing us, even as the prodigal was embraced by the Father who loved him.

For He loves us…and therefore, we can love Him, our first love…

Lord Jesus, help us to know the presence of the Holy Spirit, Tune our hearts and souls so resonate deeply with your voice, that we may love you more, and so that this new melody would be heard by many. AMEN!

Chemnitz, Martin, and Jacob A. O. Preus. Loci Theologici. electronic ed. St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1999. Print.  quote from Melancthon

Ratzinger, Joseph. Co-Workers of the Truth: Meditations for Every Day of the Year. Ed. Irene Grassl. Trans. Mary Frances McCarthy and Lothar Krauth. San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1992. Print.

 

A True Test of Faith: Prayer

Devotional Thought of the Day:
Featured image2  Open the gates to all who are righteous; allow the faithful to enter. 3  You will keep in perfect peace all who trust in you, all whose thoughts are fixed on you! Isaiah 26:2-3 (NLT)

1  I cry out to the LORD; I plead for the LORD’s mercy. 2  I pour out my complaints before him and tell him all my troubles. 3  When I am overwhelmed, you alone know the way I should turn.  Psalm 142:1-3 (NLT)

990      Sanctity consists precisely in this: in struggling to be faithful throughout your life and in accepting joyfully the Will of God at the hour of death.

As I read the passages from Isaiah and Psalms that I placed at the beginning of this devotion, I wonder again about my faithfulness.

Not from the point of not sinning and doing everything right.  It is another issue of faithfulness.

I have often found it hard to pour out my complaints, I find it hard to give Him all my troubles. I don’t’ turn to God at first, when troubles overtake me. There are ways we avoid this.

One may bottle it up, just shove it own inside until the day when we just sob uncontrollably.  Our bodies are purging our soul of bottled up grief or anger, or sorrow, any and every.

Another option is to vent but in an inappropriate way.  Venting looking for some affirmation; someone to recognize our heroic endurance, our suffering under injustice, the strength of character that it takes to endure.

Please hear me, I am not saying we shouldn’t look for support from other brothers and sisters who know God’s love.   But I am saying that we can go to others for affirmation that would glorify us, even if that glory is someone noting our ability to survive the struggle.  If we are blessed, our friends won’t allow us to throw a pity party.  Instead, they will guide us to the cross, and the mercy and grace that will heal us.

What is faithfulness?  St. Josemaria talks of it as accepting the Will of God joyfully – even at the hour of death.  It is with Isaiah knowing that God keeps us in perfect peace, and we trust Him to keep that promise, and look to Him to do it!

That faithfulness is crying out to God like Jeremiah, (see Jeremiah 20:7) when we feel like life isn’t fair.  Or even if it is fair when we feel overwhelmed by it.  When we don’t hesitate to plead for Hi mercy, to pray with both the bluntness of sharing our despair, and trusting God, and only God, to make a difference.

That is the faithfulness we need to develop.  The faithfulness that results in holding nothing back from the God, who loves US.  To give Him our life, not just our willingness to serve Him wherever He leads, but to give him our shattered hearts, our bruised and broken souls.  We need to entrust to Him the things that we hate to face in our lives.

That is faithfulness; the prayer of the broken and needy.  The prayer of a child, calling out to his Father to rescue them from the darkness.

The prayer so easily said…but one that echoes to the deepest part of us, and finds that even there, God is with us.

The Prayer:  Lord, have mercy on me….

Let us pray…

(1)  Escriva, Josemaria (2011-01-31). The Forge (Kindle Locations 3490-3491). Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition.

The Lord is With You? What you say matters….?

Devotional Thought of the Day:The Good Shepherd, carrying His own.

45  A good person brings good out of the treasure of good things in his heart; a bad person brings bad out of his treasure of bad things. For the mouth speaks what the heart is full of. Luke 6:45 (TEV)

7  LORD, you have deceived me, and I was deceived. You are stronger than I am, and you have overpowered me.   9  But when I say, “I will forget the LORD and no longer speak in his name,” then your message is like a fire burning deep within me. I try my best to hold it in, but can no longer keep it back. Jeremiah 20:7a,9 (TEV)

26      It is painful to see that after two thousand years there are so few people in the world who call themselves Christians and that of those who do call themselves Christians, so few practise the true teaching of Jesus Christ. It is worth while putting our whole life at stake!: working and suffering for Love, to accomplish God’s plans and co-redeem.(1)  

I hear people claiming they know God, that they invited Him into their heart, that respond, “and also with you” or “and with your Spirit.  I do as well, and yes, this blog is written at me, as well as many of you.

If this is true, an I read the first quote from St. Luke’s Gospel correctly, then what should flow out of our mouths should be Christ Jesus’s words.  Words that encourage, words that heal, words that forgive and reconcile, words that invite people on a journey with Christ, towards the Father, towards eternity.

But what comes out of our mouth more often is complaining, criticising, lofty words that extol theological treatises, but never point to Christ.  Words that are full of innuendo, cheaping the blessing that God gives in the intimate relationship between a man a woman that He has joined together in marriage.   Words that lie, or gossip (is there a difference?) the demean, or dominate.  Curses, swears, false oaths. Words dripping with sarcasm, not realizing the blood those words can draw. Words that not only judge, but condemn and call for death to those whose sins are different than us. Words that betray a heart that doesn’t trust in anything, nevermind praising God for the promises He is fulfilling in our lives.

When I was a younger pastor, I would suggest that we just need to be disciplined.  That we struggle to be righteous in our words by simply a force of will.  Except that I didn’t quite get that the words are but a symptom of a heart and soul issue.   We might be able to discipline our tongues in some things like word choice (though we will slip out now and then…) But what about our thoughts, our attitudes, and what we truly trust in?  Those still will betray us unless there is a change.

Unless our souls, our hearts, our minds find themselves being conformed to the mind of Christ. Unless we see the cross, and its suffering that Christ embraced as an example of His love and desire for us.  It is there, in awe of the Body of Christ broken, the blood of Christ shed for the forgiveness of sins, that change begins to happen.  It is as we realize that God has marked us, claimed us, sealed us as His in Baptism, that He has reconciled and absolved us in sin.  That the Father in Heaven calls us His children, that Jesus will call us His brothers, that the Holy Spirit will reside in us; this is when this transformation, this metamorphosis happens.

it is them, like St Josemaria encourages, that we begin to desire to put our whole life on the line, and work and sacrifice in ways without even considering that it is work, that it is sacrificing our lives.  It is then, tired, weary, even burnt out, that what comes from our hearts, souls and minds are the words of God.  The miraculous words that bring to Him a people, who weren’t a people.

The Lord is with you always, dwell on that, recognize its truth, meditate on the blessing that is, a blessing revealed in God’s word, and delivered in the sacraments.

The Lord is with you…and He has brought you many gifts, the gift of faith, and the gift of repentance, the gift of reconciliation, the gift of life. ….

The Lord is with you, showing you the depth, the height, the width and breadth of God’s love you…. dwell on this, as often as you can……and then watch what happens to your words, and your thoughts.

The Lord is with you…

AMEN!

(1)   Escriva, Josemaria (2011-01-31). The Forge (Kindle Locations 329-333). Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition.

Where’s the Rest of my Story? I Have to Know I Get the Miracle, Don’t I?

Devotional Thought of the Day:Concordia Lutheran Church - Cerritos, Ca , at dawn on Easter Sunday

8  It was then that some Babylonians took the opportunity to denounce the Jews. 9  They said to King Nebuchadnezzar, “May Your Majesty live forever! 10  Your Majesty has issued an order that as soon as the music starts, everyone is to bow down and worship the gold statue, 11  and that anyone who does not bow down and worship it is to be thrown into a blazing furnace. 12  There are some Jews whom you put in charge of the province of Babylon—Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego—who are disobeying Your Majesty’s orders. They do not worship your god or bow down to the statue you set up.” 13  At that, the king flew into a rage and ordered the three men to be brought before him. 14  He said to them, “Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, is it true that you refuse to worship my god and to bow down to the gold statue I have set up? 15  Now then, as soon as you hear the sound of the trumpets, oboes, lyres, zithers, harps, and all the other instruments, bow down and worship the statue. If you do not, you will immediately be thrown into a blazing furnace. Do you think there is any god who can save you?” 16  Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego answered, “Your Majesty, we will not try to defend ourselves. 17  If the God whom we serve is able to save us from the blazing furnace and from your power, then he will. 18  But even if he doesn’t, Your Majesty may be sure that we will not worship your god, and we will not bow down to the gold statue that you have set up.” Daniel 3:8-18 (TEV)

872         To help you keep your peace during those times of hard and unjust contradictions I used to say to you: “If they break our skulls, we shall not take it too seriously. We shall just have to put up with having them broken.”  (1)

In my devotional this morning, the Old Testament reading was exactly what you see above.

My first reaction was, why stop it here?

Why not give us the rest of the story.  (spoiler alert?)  Why not just let us read on, to the glory, to the miracle of the 4th man? To the repentance of the community in its sins, not just to God, but to me!

I want the rest of the story!  And I want it….. now!

I looked ahead – I don’t get the rest of the story tomorrow!  What is up with that?

What is up with that is the words of faith that the three men said.  They were sure of their trust in God enough to embrace the fact that the story might not end with a miracle, and somehow, they are okay with that.  Somehow, knowing that God is at work is enough, being sure He will keep His promises is enough.

Many martyrs die without receiving what we would want, their release back into the world.  Their freedom from those who would oppress, torture, and eventually kill them.

And they were able to endure, knowing something that their captors did not.

That God, by his very cHesed nature,the depth and height, the breadth and width of His love,  is worthy of the trust that the three men showed.  Even if He didn’t rescue them, even if they didn’t get the miracle they expected.  They knew His love.

May we, as we think through the work of God accomplished in our Baptism, as we meditate on the Body and Blood of Christ, as we hear with absolute delight that our sins are forgiven, that all is made right, know God enough to trust Him, even if we don’t get the miracle we want……

For we have the one we need. The Cross.  (see Romans 6:3-8)

He is our God.

AMEN.

(1)   Escriva, Josemaria (2011-01-31). Furrow (Kindle Locations 3565-3567). Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition.

Preaching with A Soul on Fire: A Necessity!

Devotional/Discussion Thought of the Day:Concordia Lutheran Church
27  God’s plan is to make known his secret to his people, this rich and glorious secret which he has for all peoples. And the secret is that Christ is in you, which means that you will share in the glory of God. 28  So we preach Christ to everyone. With all possible wisdom we warn and teach them in order to bring each one into God’s presence as a mature individual in union with Christ. 29  To get this done I toil and struggle, using the mighty strength which Christ supplies and which is at work in me. Colossians 1:27-29 (TEV)

14  But even if you should suffer for doing what is right, how happy you are! Do not be afraid of anyone, and do not worry. 15  But have reverence for Christ in your hearts, and honor him as Lord. Be ready at all times to answer anyone who asks you to explain the hope you have in you, 1 Peter 3:14-15 (TEV)

815         You have seen very clearly your vocation to love God, but only with your head. You assure me that you have put your heart into the way you are following. But you say that you are distracted at times, and even attempt to look back. That is a sign that you have not completely put your heart into it. You need to be more sensitive!  (1)

The second requisite for effective preaching is that the preacher not only himself believe the things he preaches to others, but that his heart be full of the truths which he proclaims, so that he enters his pulpit with the ardent desire to pour out his heart to his hearers. He must have an enthusiastic grasp, in the right sense of the word, of his subject. Then his hearers get the impression that the words dropping from his lips are flames from a soul on fire. That does not mean that the Word of God must receive its power and life from the living faith of the preacher; for the Lord says distinctly: “The words that I speak, they are spirit, and they are life.” John 6:63. Moreover, the writer of the Epistle to the Hebrews says: “The Word of God is quick and powerful and sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing even to the dividing asunder of soul and spirit, and of the joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart.” Heb. 4:12. But when a preacher proclaims what he has ever so often experienced in his own heart, he easily finds the right words to speak convincingly to his hearers. Coming from the heart, his words, in turn, go to the hearts of his hearers, according to the good old saying: Pectus disertum facit, that is, it is the heart that makes eloquent. This does not mean the artificial eloquence acquired in a school of elocution, but the sane spiritual art of reaching the hearts of hearers. For when the hearers get the impression that the preacher is in full and dread earnest, they feel themselves drawn with an irresistible force to pay the closest attention to what the preacher is teaching in his sermon. That is the reason why many simple, less gifted, and less learned preachers accomplish more than the most highly gifted and profoundly learned men.  (1)

In our midweek Bible Study, I have been teaching about preaching this summer.  Not because my people are going to preach from the pulpit, but because:

1)  It will help them interact with the sermon/homily more, and therefore benefit from it more

2)  It may help me grow in the area of preaching>

As we are going through a very elemental book on the craft of preaching, I came across the quote above in blue.  I very well may take the italicised part of that and hang it above my desk,   It is to become a goal of mine, knowing the context from where the quote comes.

I want people to know what I know, the presence of God.  Gosh I want them to know it.

Why?

Because it seems to me the only way to survive this life.  To get through things like I’ve gone through in life. the pains, the surgeries, the anxieties, the pain.  To deal with things like the sin which the author of Hebrews says so easily ensnares us.  For it does, and the grief and shame of our own sin can crush us, and resentment towards those who sin against us can tear our souls apart.

To be able to deal with death, something I’ve had to deal with since a child, my own hovering over me, and later, ministering to those who are dieing, and those who were left behind.  Knowing God’s promises are the only way to deal with that pressure.  To deal with demons as well, both those who are figurative, the idols we create that drag our life’s focus from God, and the real one’s who work to destroy our life by attempting to destroy our relationship with God.  We see both of those demons at work today, although we can never quite be sure which is which… both are real.

I love Escriva’s words, and I Pray mine would encourage people to believe with their heart (as Paul talks about in Romans 10), to know God, and relate to Him as their Lord, as their Savior.  Not to just know about Him.

Can a sermon be passionate, charismatic, full of zeal and dripping with flames from a soul on fire?

It can, if the pastor, the priest, the preacher has been broken and by God’s loving kindness is healing.

For as we heal – we begin to see the height, the depth, the breadth and the width of the love of God, revealed to us all in Christ Jesus.

That’s preaching…. that’s proclaiming.

And our people, not from pulpits, but in their homes, and their workplaces, in restaurants, coffee shops, in line at Walmart, will begin to do the same.

For such is our glory, the hope that we have in Christ Jesus….

And may we share it with zealous love.

(1)  Escriva, Josemaria (2011-01-31). Furrow (Kindle Locations 3361-3364). Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition.

(2)  Walther, C. F. W., Dau, W. H. T., & Eckhardt, E. (2000). The proper distinction between law and gospel: 39 evening lectures (electronic ed., p. 112). Saint Louis: Concordia Publishing House.

Is God Reasonable or Logical?

Devotional Thought of the Day: God, who am I?


1  So then, my friends, because of God’s great mercy to us I appeal to you: Offer yourselves as a living sacrifice to God, dedicated to his service and pleasing to him. This is the true worship that you should offer. 2  Do not conform yourselves to the standards of this world, but let God transform you inwardly by a complete change of your mind. Then you will be able to know the will of God—what is good and is pleasing to him and is perfect. 3  And because of God’s gracious gift to me I say to every one of you: Do not think of yourself more highly than you should. Instead, be modest in your thinking, and judge yourself according to the amount of faith that God has given you.Romans 12:1-3 (TEV)

ANOTHER TEMPTATION is to prefer head-values to heart-values. That should not be the case. Only the heart unifies and integrates. Intellect without a sense of piety tends to divide. The heart unites ideas with reality, time with space, life with death and with eternity. The temptation is to dislodge intellect from the place where God our Lord put it. He gave it to us so that we could clarify faith. God did not create human intelligence so that we could set ourselves up as judges of all things. It is a light that has only been lent to us, a mere reflection. Our intellect is not the light of the world; it is simply a flash for illuminating our faith. The worst thing that can happen is for human beings to let themselves be dragged along by the “lights” of reason. They easily become ignorant intellectuals or carefree “sages.” The true mission of our minds is to discover the seeds of the Word within humanity, the logoi spermatikoi.  (1)
On vacation, so a different set of devotions may appear for the next few days.  I left my normal devotional book in my office, and so I picked up Pope Francis’s book off my kindle – and came to this passage.

It addresses far more clearly that I something I have long thought.

We’ve somehow disconnect the heart of our faith, preferring the reason of faith.   We hear “logos” and reduce it to logic, to human reason, and make the “logos” of God submit to our ability to process it, to analyze it, to dissect it and categorize it.

This despite the numerous passages, scripture that remind us how God’s ways are not ours, how His thoughts are beyond ours.

The result is staggering!  Children of the enlightenment, of the age of reason, we consider ourselves judges of everything.  We judge manuscripts, ignoring the 99.996 percent consistency, but that gives us the right and authority to judge which texts are to be heeded, and which we can dismiss.  On the other edge of the spectrum, we build from scripture a legal system that cares less for mankind, but raises the system we produced to God’s writ.   There is no mercy, confession and absolution becomes a duty, not a sacrament (we even consider ourselves lords over the sacrament!)

The struggle is to dismiss the heart, if we cannot create cardio-eunuchs, we are least circumcise our heart until it is smaller than the Grinch’s. We let reason drag our Christianity behind it, as Pope Francis said.

Faith is like loyalty, like volition, a matter of the heart.  It is the relationship, both with God and with those who live life in our midst, or we in theirs.  Faith is a verb, better translated trust, and the trust we have in God supersedes our knowledge.  Just as a young couple in love will not be reasonable in their parent’s eyes when it comes to establishing a home and finances, there are times our trust and love in God will seem unreasonable and even foolish to those around us, and even us.  We will dare to love our enemies, we will forgive those whom logic demands eye for an eye.  We will sacrifice our desires and preferences in order to see people come to know God’s love, and to love Him in return.

We realize that God has planted, as Solomon wrote, eternity into the hearts of mankind.  As Francis wrote – the seeds of the Word.  That capitalized Word is not logic, it is not reason as man understands it. It is Jesus Christ, the one who came and suffered and died, and rose from the dead (which of these is “logical” by man’s standard?

Does our intellect have its place?  Sure!  Can academic theology have its place, a role in helping us understand the love we know?  Yes, but it is a servant, not a guardian.  It is a tool, not the foreman.

The great commands, and the Great commission bear that out – we are to love, God and our neighbor, we are to make disciples, not converts.  We are to proclaim God’s grace, that mercy and peace that is ours because He loves us…. Even though it doesn’t really seem reasonable….

Let us learn well, but let us trust and love the Lord, and may that love govern our reason.

Amen.

 

(1)      Pope Francis; Jorge M Bergoglio (2013-11-18). Open Mind, Faithful Heart (pp. 27-28). The Crossroad Publishing Company. Kindle Edition.

Is God Listening? Is God here?

Devotional thought of the day:

  “When you pray, don’t babble on and on as people of other religions do. They think their prayers are answered merely by repeating their words again and again. 8  Don’t be like them, for your Father knows exactly what you need even before you ask him!Matthew 6:7-8 (NLT) 7

463         Your prayer will sometimes be discursive; maybe less often, full of fervour; and, perhaps often, dry, dry, dry. But what matters is that you, with God’s help, are not disheartened. Consider the sentry on duty. He does not know if the King or the Head of State is in the palace: he is not told what he might be doing, and generally the public figure does not know who is on guard. It is not at all like that with our God. He lives where you live, He cares for you and knows your inmost thoughts. Do not abandon the guard-duty of your prayer!  (1)
One of the more interesting challenges I have, is teaching my son how to pray.  Not the words to say, he has that down, but how to realize that prayer is a conversation with God.  That God is there, that God is listening, that God is present.

For a very intelligent 6 year old, who can read like a teenager can eat, what isn’t in front of him, visible, is hard to see.  It is hard not to see prayer and simply something we do together, a time we spend together.  Body language and voice intonation lets me know he is involved, yet not quite discerning the presence of God.  At least that seems to me to be what I’ve seen over the last year or so develop.

I look at people, and are we any different?  As we gather, two or three, together.  As we pray together in Church, never mind if I dare ask people about their prayer habits.  I’ve thought about the pastors gathering that is hosted at my church, and wondering what would happen, if we talked about out prayer habits, and how many would show up if I pre-announced that topic!  (Even writing this makes me a bit nervous, because if I ask them, they will surely ask me!)

So how to encourage this regular conversation with God?  How do we dare open our lives to Him?  How do we pour out on Him our anxieties, our concerns and how do we know He is listening?  How do we know the Creator, Redeemer and Sustainer of all creation is waiting to talk to me?  

The problem is, like a 6 year old, we struggle to believe in that we cannot touch, We want documentation, a proven methodical concept that works the same way each time.  In a way, we want to reduce prayer from the dynamic communication it is, to a formulary set of practices that will work the same way, each time.  And when it doesn’t, we can analyze what we did wrong, or dismiss the entire thing as a intellectual fraud.

Relationships are a matter of the heart though, not of our mind.  They are surprising and fluid, they are intense, and yet if abandoned dry out.  They are life, which is why its called a life of prayer. It is experiental – beyond our ability to logically or within our scope of reason.  So why would a relationship with God be any more rational, definable, subject to our control?  Knowing His presence is observable, but not with our eyes. It’s know through a trust in Him that is alien to our minds, but with which the heart overrides that analysis, and does so in great joy… for it is there we find peace.

All I can say is faith relies on Him.  It trusts Him.  He promised to be here,

Jesus in Pray

Jesus in Pray (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

and He promised to listen and to craft our lives and all that happens to work out for our best.  He invited us to pray, taught us how to lay it all out before Him, to let Him care for our burdens and bring life to our weary and broken lives.

I pray that we can be aware of the promises and the reality of them.

AMEN

A Call to Teach/Preach about Jesus with our hearts as well as our minds…

Devotional Thought of the Day…

 4  Every time your name comes up in my prayers, I say, “Oh, thank you, God!” 5  I keep hearing of the love and faith you have for the Master Jesus, which brims over to other Christians. 6  And I keep praying that this faith we hold in common keeps showing up in the good things we do, and that people recognize Christ in all of it. 7  Friend, you have no idea how good your love makes me feel, doubly so when I see your hospitality to fellow believers. 8  In line with all this I have a favor to ask of you. As Christ’s ambassador and now a prisoner for him, I wouldn’t hesitate to command this if I thought it necessary, 9  but I’d rather make it a personal request. 10  While here in jail, I’ve fathered a child, so to speak. And here he is, hand-carrying this letter—Onesimus!  Philemon 1:4-10 (MSG)

230         The wish to teach and to teach from the heart creates in pupils a gratitude which is a suitable soil for the apostolate.

I am blessed to be able to be at a church where I get to teach a lot. My people love studying the Bible, and so a majority of those in church stay for Bible Study, and come on Wednesday Evenings, or every other Thursday morning.  I also am blessed to teach some guys who want to serve in the church, to assist their pastors, and I get to work with a guy who is in seminary.

But the more I teach, the more I realize what Christian Teaching is, and isn’t about.

It’s not like teaching history, (even when we are teaching Church History)  or like teaching Math or English or even Ancient Greek.  While there are things to commit to memory, you want them more to be committed to the heart.   There are important details to remember – but more, you want people to know not just about Jesus, but to know Him.  To trust Him, to find Him with them, whereever they are, whatever they are going through.

The challenge is that teaching to the heart requires the “instructor” to teach from the heart and mind.  Or to use another concept – we isolate right and left brain and educate only one side at a time. Not just from one – but from both.  In the “West” or among people where the enlightenment and rationalism have become the process of thought, this is difficult – out educational models are based in such things as the scientific process and linear thought. We even think children are not capable of cognitive thought – that happens later.  Those that struggle with this go to the opposite extreme (as I often have) and try to focus on the experiential.  Role play and the experience dominate – even as we realize that people can learn more from failure than from success.

Even all this analysis loses the point – we must teach them with all our heart and with all our mind when we teach them about Christ.  That means opening up our heart – letting those we mentor/teach/guide see how Christ has ministered to us, we have to let them see the passion of knowing Christ’s love, the excitement and joy of exploring the depth and breadth and height and width of his love.  You see this in Paul’s pastoral letters – especially to Philemon, as he wants Philemon to experience the joy of seeing Onesimus as a blessing – and the challenge of restoring him and forgiving all debt.. being the blessing of seeing ministry done by Onesimus – because God has called him to it.  Such forgiveness?  You can’t teach that in just a sterile classroom.

Nor should a sermon follow the norm of an educational presentation, or a technical, missional briefing.  Nor should worship and liturgy be that kind of concept – dry, encoding of those who are completely passive.

It has to go beyond that – if we are teachers and preacher of the gospel want people to know Christ – we have to show them how much it means to us to know Him, to know His love. It requires us to be honest like Paul is in 2 Corinthians,

 7  We now have this light shining in our hearts, but we ourselves are like fragile clay jars containing this great treasure. This makes it clear that our great power is from God, not from ourselves. 8  We are pressed on every side by troubles, but we are not crushed. We are perplexed, but not driven to despair. 9  We are hunted down, but never abandoned by God. We get knocked down, but we are not destroyed. 10  Through suffering, our bodies continue to share in the death of Jesus so that the life of Jesus may also be seen in our bodies. 11  Yes, we live under constant danger of death because we serve Jesus, so that the life of Jesus will be evident in our dying bodies. 12  So we live in the face of death, but this has resulted in eternal life for you. 13  But we continue to preach because we have the same kind of faith the psalmist had when he said, “I believed in God, so I spoke.” 14  We know that God, who raised the Lord Jesus, will also raise us with Jesus and present us to himself together with you. 15  All of this is for your benefit. And as God’s grace reaches more and more people, there will be great thanksgiving, and God will receive more and more glory.  2 Corinthians 4:7-15 (NLT)

This revelation, of how much pressure that Paul and crew and going through isn’t complaining, it isn’t whining…but it’s there to help the Corinthians realize God’s power and presence atwork in the life of every believer. It is teaching from the heart and the mind – allowing people to see his utter dependance on God and His love.   A bit hard for us guys to do, yet, for their sake, it needs to be done… and perhaps for ours – for we have to realzie our need for Christ.  This isn’t about him… it’s about Christ, and the hope and power Jesus brings and generates in us, for He abides in us.

Such teaching is powerful – not because it is emotional, but because it is real.  It cannot be programmed into a lesson, or a service, and it goes beyond manipulation.

It simply is our heart – resonating with the heart of Christ… bringing others to resonate with it as well.  For they will – far more than they will resonate to logic and dictated presentations….for in our healing in Christ – they find the hope of healing as well…..

 

Escriva, Josemaria (2011-01-31). Furrow (Kindle Locations 1159-1160). Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition.

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