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The Pastoral Need for the Lord’s Supper

Thoughts to draw you closer to Jesus…

But Stephen, full of the Holy Spirit, gazed steadily into heaven and saw the glory of God, and he saw Jesus standing in the place of honor at God’s right hand. 56 And he told them, “Look, I see the heavens opened and the Son of Man standing in the place of honor at God’s right hand!”  Acts 7:55-56 NLT

Acedia means a lack or absence of care. And that’s deadly. Whenever we grow numb to Christ’s saving work and the Father’s gracious gifts by which he makes us and preserves us, spiritual boredom takes hold, followed by apathy and subsequent despair. Where acedia takes root in the soul of a pastor, the flock suffers greatly.

There is today no lack of Bible teachers to set forth correctly the principles of the doctrines of Christ, but too many of these seem satisfied to teach the fundamentals of the faith year after year, strangely unaware that there is in their ministry no manifest Presence, nor anything unusual in their personal lives.

The gift of contemplative prayer is a practical and essential tool for confronting the heart of the Christian ascesis—namely, the struggle with our unconscious motivation—while at the same time establishing the climate and necessary dispositions for a deepening relationship with God and leading, if we persevere, to divine union.

As I look at the deacon, Stephen, I see a man who is living in the moment. He is not bound to anxiety or fear. He is not burnt out, and He cares about the people with whom he is interacting. The power of the resurrection is something he wants them to know; he wants them to know Jesus.

As I look at the church today, there are many pastors and church leaders that are suffering and struggling, not only in their lives, but in their spiritual lives as well. The are well able to teach the doctrines they believe in, if they still do. But they don’t care, or they are tired of caring. There is something lacking behind the doctrine, a “so what” to the “what” that is so well known and taught. Acedia or Ascesis is so evident in the lives of many I talk to in the church, and the constant work wears the men and women in ministry down.

The hard question is, if this is happening to our leaders, then what is happening to the flocks with which they have been called to shepherd?

Keating talks of the answer to this being contemplative prayer. A time to stop and listen, to contemplate what it means to dwell in the presence of God. To take the time to listen, to invest in the relationship by letting God “hear” us — so that we know He has.

Perhaps this is why the Lutheran Confessions call prayer a sacrament, a sacred time where God’s grace communicates deeply, intimately with the hearts of His people.

It is one of the other sacraments that I run to, that I long for, when spiritual burnout, spiritual fatigue, and life just sucking. The Lord’s Supper is so precious, the peace that comes from being united to the death and resurrection of Jesus is beyond measure. Sharing it with my people, whether in the sanctuary, or in their homes, lifts me out of the spiritual funk (and often physical/psychological funks as well).

Here is the theology behind this – we know that when we take and eat the bread, we unite to Christ’s body (koinonia). The same when we drink from the cup, there is unity with the sacrifice of Christ. But anytime God unites us with the death of Christ Jesus, there is the absolute promise of the resurrection! Knowing this is our reality, and someday will be a visible reality, stirs the soul, and revives me. This is not just some activity or obligation without an impact in our lives. To realize we commune with God, in that instance, He draws into His glory, and gives us a tangible lesson in how deep His love is for us.

Every pastor gets tired, every pastor gets weary and suffers from burnout. The same for elders, deacons, ministers of every type. I do not know a pastor during COVID who didn’t think of hanging it up – and finding some other field of work. The answer is that divine unity that Keating points out, the “manifest presence” is how Tozer describes it. Stephen, even in the face of martyrdom, finds his hope there, as he gazes into heaven and sees the glory of God.

That is the experience of the altar, whether serving the people of God, or receiving it with them.

We need that… so let us not neglect it, but run to it. AMEN!

 

 

Harold L. Senkbeil, The Care of Souls: Cultivating a Pastor’s Heart (Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press, 2019), 210.

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

Thomas Keating, The Daily Reader for Contemplative Living: Excerpts from the Works of Father Thomas Keating, O.C.S.O., Sacred Scripture, and Other Spiritual Writings, ed. S. Stephanie Iachetta (New York; London; New Delhi; Sydney: Bloomsbury, 2009), 123.

Why I MUST Stuggle with the Scripture and God

Thoughts I pray drive you to the cross…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

God loves us.  

Not from a distance, but right here and now. 

 

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

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

 

God is Making You… His People. A sermon for the celebration of the Lord’s Supper

God is Making you… His People
Jeremiah 31:31-33

† In Jesus’ Name †

May the grace and mercy of God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ convince you that you are the people of God!

  • Missing at the Feast…

It was a card table, probably purchased back in the 1950s. It came out for every Thanksgiving and Christmas dinner, with 4 folding chairs that were far sturdier than they looked.

At 18 to 19, just starting to date Kay, I understood that I would be sitting there with her 5 and 7-year-old nephews, Kay’s 14-year-old niece, and Kay.

It was the kiddie table, and we were the younger folk there.

I did think that there would be a time when I could move to the adult table; I just didn’t think it would take until I was in my fifties.

As we share in the Lord’s Supper, we are in the present moment, and yet we are also part of that great feast when Jesus returns. It is what we are looking towards, yet we are a part of it as well, as with angels and archangels and the whole company of heaven, we praise God, our heavenly Father.

There is no kiddie table at that feast, for we all have matured and become complete in Christ.

And we see that promise in the passage read earlier from Jeremiah. 

  • The Difference Between the Covenants

Jeremiah describes how people related to God in the reading. “I took them by the hand and brought them out of the land of Egypt. They broke that covenant, though I loved them…

It sounds more like Israel acted like a toddler rather than a partner of God’s. I picture Israel as a toddler having to be brought to the table, seated, then getting up to see what’s happening everywhere else. What’s on their plate? Is their chair better than mine? And, of course, causing all sorts of spills and breakage, left behind as something else catches their eye.

The world is not different today, and neither are many of us in the church. We want what we want when we want it! We often “unintentionally” redesign Christianity to be more consistent with what we wish… rather than allowing God to conform us to the image of Jesus.

It’s easy to throw a tantrum against God, demand what we want…that we cry and howl and tell Him to get lost. Heck, even at the last supper, the disciples fought over who was better…

And Jesus bows down… and takes a towel and washes their feet….

  • Preparing them for the new covenant…

And in doing so, shows them a new way…

We often talk about foot-washing as an example – this is how we should serve others. But Peter had to learn something first – to let Jesus wash his feet, for boy, they needed to be cleaned….

We need to be drawn into this relationship, this covenant with God. We need God to do what He’s promised to do, the promises we’ve been looking at – God’s work.

And that is seen easily this night. Everything about the Passover points to his sacrifice in the morning – a sacrifice he looked forward to – because of the joy of Jeremiahs’s promise being fulfilled.

  • How God puts His instructions inside us…

Here it again…

“But this is the new covenant I will make with the people of Israel on that day,” says the LORD. “I will put my instructions deep within them, and I will write them on their hearts. I will be their God, and they will be my people.

That is why Jesus says this is His blood, the blood of the new and everlasting covenant. The Body and Blood shed for you that all your sins, including those tantrums, are forgiven.

This is why we are here… this is what it is all about… God with us.

A new relationship that goes beyond anything we can think or imagine.

A relationship where God comes to us feeds us, and makes us know we are home… for we are His people. 

So let’s celebrate – with the feast that is the foretaste of the feast to come…

Visionary Servant Leadership

Thoughts helping us focus on Jesus…

Jesus knew that the Father had given him authority over everything and that he had come from God and would return to God. 4 So he got up from the table, took off his robe, wrapped a towel around his waist, 5 and poured water into a basin. Then he began to wash the disciples’ feet, drying them with the towel he had around him. John 13:3-5 NLT

Leadership requires vision, and whence will vision come except from hours spent in the presence of God in humble and fervent prayer?

God remains the center, and man is drawn beyond himself toward the absolute as it manifests itself. He “possesses” love only insofar as love possesses him, which means that he never possesses love in such a way that he could describe it as one of his powers, which lies at his own disposal. To be sure, this does not mean that love remains external to him, but if it does not, it is only because love itself takes possession of him in his innermost heart—interius intimo meo.

Nevertheless, as a spiritual physician I’m treating the whole person, not just their emotions. When the soul is at rest in God, emotions will stabilize.

There are a lot of books out there that one could read to learn about Visionary Leadership. That includes those written by pastors, former pastors, corporate CEOs, former military leaders, and sports figures like John Wooden.

Rarely do I find that there is a spiritual component in these books or the seminars they spawn. If so, spirituality made be motioned as an afterthought. Even though we have generations of servant leaders, and the example of the prophets and Jesus of such incredible leadership.

We think such leadership is a gifted ability, something innate in that person but missing in this person. In thinking so, we make a mistake. Authentic leadership is not a gift as much as it is a side effect. (Note – leadership in Romans 12:8 is closer to administration than leading and guiding people. )

A side effect of time with God.

That time with God results in a deeper dependence, a deeper trust. Theologians call this faith, but that overused word rarely is thought of as the desperation that results in our clinging to God, knowing there is no other answer.

And the side effect of that dependence is the leadership Jesus shows as he washes the disciples’ feet and dies for them and the world the next day. Tozer talks of leadership coming from hours spent in the presence of God. Balthasar speaks of being drawn to God and possessed by God’s love – even to the most interior, intimate part of being. God is there; that is what conversion is, as our hearts and minds- cold, dead, broken by sin are replaced by the Spirit with Christ’s heart and mind. It all comes down to dwelling in HIs presence, and being sure of the promises, as Chirst was, as he washed the feet of the apostles… even of Judas…

Ultimately, this kind of leadership is focused on drawing people into the heart of God. That is where we must lead them, for that is where we find out who we are. We have to be confident of God’s presence and His work – then leadership is simply part of the response. This is the work Senkbeil speaks of – the healing that takes place as we wash feet, go and pray, or take the time to explain what the scripture means.

That is visionary servant leadership… which is the kind that makes an actual difference in the lives of people… both not and eternally. AMEN!

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

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

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

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

Thoughts to help us run to Jesus…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Ministry Isn’t Rocket Science…but

each trial was a step in maturity… yet… so hard

Thoughts to drive us to Jesus side…..

Save me, O God, for the floodwaters are up to my neck. 2  Deeper and deeper I sink into the mire; I can’t find a foothold. I am in deep water, and the floods overwhelm me. 3  I am exhausted from crying for help; my throat is parched. My eyes are swollen with weeping, waiting for my God to help me. Psalm 69:1-3 (NLT2)

Almost anything associated with the ministry may be learned with an average amount of intelligent application. It is not hard to preach or manage church affairs or pay a social call; weddings and funerals may be conducted smoothly with a little help from Emily Post and the Minister’s Manual. Sermon making can be learned as easily as shoemaking—introduction, conclusion and all. And so with the whole work of the ministry as it is carried on in the average church today.
But prayer—that is another matter. There Mrs. Post is helpless and the Minister’s Manual can offer no assistance. There the lonely man of God must wrestle it out alone, sometimes in fastings and tears and weariness untold. There every man must be an original, for true prayer cannot be imitated nor can it be learned from someone else.

There is an analogy between growing up spiritually and the growing up that takes place in the normal course of human life. In approaching adolescence and adulthood, everyone seems to have to pass through a crisis.… God has great sympathy for those who are going through this crisis in their spiritual life. They do not know what is happening to them and tend to concentrate on the disintegration of what they love, rather than on the real spiritual growth of which they are becoming capable.… If we look on the bright side and are firmly convinced that it is normal to have to forge new relationships, our crisis of faith will appear as a great invitation to go deeper into the heart of Christ. The very transition makes it impossible for the former people we counted on to help us. Part of growing up is to become independent—not of everybody, but of those on whom we are too dependent—so that we may depend completely on the Holy Spirit. That is what spiritual maturity is.

Tozer is correct…. the actual day-to-day tasks of being a pastor or one of those who help him are not that difficult. They don’t take the mind of a rocket scientist or incredible skills in management and business. That’s why people are getting “self-ordained” or getting one-day licenses to do weddings or just doing memorials on their own.

But a real pastor, a real elder, a real Sunday School teacher, or worship leader is not just a combination o talent and academic preparation. They have to be someone who wrestles with themselves and God – much as Jacob did. As each man’s gifts are different, so are the battles. The temptations, the anxieties, and the circumstances that they dwell in are different, making each battle unique – and therefore, the healing from battle damage is never the same.

Those battles are irreplaceable in one’s growth as a believer. Keating’s comparison to the challenges of the transition from childhood to adulthood is perfect. During that time, physically, mentally, spiritually, everything is challenged. Some demean it, having forgotten those long nights and empty feelings. As we enter Christ, everything changes, as idols and those who could become idols are removed. And while we have their words and often their examples, we are bereft of the comfort and the fact that someone is listening.

And that makes the brokenness echo throughout our hearts and minds, and yes, our souls. As we come on the other side of it, what disintegrated is replaced (much as Job’s family and fortune were!) Life becomes different, and we look at it with eyes that have grown weary as spiritual maturity is forced upon us. Every thing is stripped away, and we find everything is found as the Holy Spirit grants us the faith we need.

The place where the Psalmist was, is more important for a pastor or any other servant leader or believer in the church to experience. It is out of such times we God’s hand clearly, and the brokenness gives way to grace.

Ministry isn’t rocket science – it is more complicated. Still, as we see the breakthroughs and see the miracles, it is more rewarding…for it is walking with God… each step.

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

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

A Glorious Land! A Lenten Mid-week Sermon from Psalm 85:9

A Glorious Land!
Psalm 85:9

† In Jesus Name †

May the grace of God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ help you look forward to the glorious day of Christ’s return!

  • What No Eye has seen… but is revealed!

I can read our theme verse for lent a thousand times more, and it will still leave me in awe of what God has promised us.

Hopefully, you will always rejoice when the expectation is laid out before you. You think about what God has waiting for you – because you love Him – because He loves you.

More incredible than the most awe-inspiring, beautiful thing you have ever seen. More amazing than anything you’ve ever heard, more mindblowing than anything you’ve ever imagined…

That’s what is waiting for us… when God brings all His people together on the day of Jesus Christ.

That is what Lent and repentance prepare us for as well. We realize what we need to leave behind… because of what is waiting.

  • The picture of that day

Listen again to the description

Surely his salvation is near to those who fear him, so our land will be filled with his glory. 10  Unfailing love and truth have met together. Righteousness and peace have kissed! 11  Truth springs up from the earth, and righteousness smiles down from heaven. 12  Yes, the LORD pours down his blessings. Our land will yield its bountiful harvest. Psalm 85:9-12 (NLT2)

Once or twice I have mentioned that what God saves us for is more important than what he saves us from. The psalmist starts to help us picture it…

God’s love and truth meet…. This means hatred and falsehood no longer exist…

Righteousness and peace kiss – meaning injustice and every kind of fighting – from family disputes to workplace arguments to gang battles and war – will be long forgotten…

Oh! How I long for that day!!!

These interactions are incredible, as we see God pouring down His blessings – and a harvest is huge – not of plants but of souls!

What an incredible picture of God creating something for those He calls His people!

It will be a glorious day when God’s love overwhelms everything – and we see reality the way God does!

  • It isn’t heaven on earth

The challenge here, of course, is that while this promise is ours, the cross of Christ making it guaranteed for those who trust and depend on God, we really don’t see it yet. We see the brokenness that leads the psalmist to cry out,

4  Now restore us again, O God of our salvation. Put aside your anger against us once more. 5  Will you be angry with us always? Will you prolong your wrath to all generations? 6  Won’t you revive us again, so your people can rejoice in you? 7  Show us your unfailing love, O LORD, and grant us your salvation. Psalm 85:4-7 (NLT2)

Can you hear the despair in that cry? Can you hear a heart – much like our own – that is tired of the world, that is tired of the brokenness caused by sin… that needs healing, that needs to be revived?

That needs the hope that is only found in the cross of Christ – where injustice and conflict are dealt with, as God pours out His wrath on Jesus… so that we can live for eternity with Him.

I’ve said before that repentance is a change of mind – that God works in us. We know about where we are – and where we’ve been… tonight I Hope you see where we are heading… to a glorious land where God has prepared a place for you and me…

AMEN!!

The Rule of Preaching…

The Ark of the LORD remained in Philistine territory seven months in all. 2 Then the Philistines called in their priests and diviners and asked them, “What should we do about the Ark of the LORD? Tell us how to return it to its own country.”
3 “Send the Ark of the God of Israel back with a gift,” they were told. “Send a guilt offering so the plague will stop. Then, if you are healed, you will know it was his hand that caused the plague.”
1 Sam. 6:1-3 NLT

The great deficiency to which I refer is the lack of spiritual discernment, especially among our leaders. How there can be so much Bible knowledge and so little insight, so little moral penetration, is one of the enigmas of the religious world today.…
If not the greatest need, then surely one of the greatest is for the appearance of Christian leaders with prophetic vision. We desperately need seers who can see through the mist. Unless they come soon, it will be too late for this generation. And if they do come, we will no doubt crucify a few of them in the name of our worldly orthodoxy. But the cross is always the harbinger of the resurrection.

The great folly of the pope’s church is that it’s based only on the external rule of reason, without the Word of God, and our salvation is supposed to be bound up with outward child’s play. If this had only had to do with moral and legal matters!”

This post may seem a bit harsh, but I believe it is needed these days.

The folly that Luther once charged “the pope’s church” with is no longer only their problem. It never was only theirs, nor does it affect all of those who preach in Roman Catholic Churches. It is the same issue that Tozer recognized in the 1970s-1980s, and unquestionably my generation has come to know the vanity he foresaw in his time.

The church has become like the Philistines, who could not figure out how to deal with dwelling in their presence. They recognized that something Divine was in their midst, and they saw the effects of the discipline God was pouring out on them. (Note I said discipline, not condemnation.) We’ve lost the ability to discern the presence of God and are even more unable to discern what that presence means. As Tozer said, we have some much Biblical (Theological?) knowledge, but so little of it penetrates past our mine to impact our hearts, our souls.

That is where the folly, even the silliness of preaching is seen.

We study more of the form of the message – than the message itself. We want to know what commentators perceive, rather than spend time quietly meditating on the text itself.  We don’t want to invest the time, perhaps because we don’t value how God is working and can work in us. This is seen on Saturdays, as websites hosting sermons receive many hits (my blog is no exception – 6% of all my hits are on Saturday night before midnight!) We are not preaching out of the depths of our heartache and healing.

We simply take others’ works and present them, expecting that their results will become ours.

What is not then communicated is that incredible fact that in the blood, sweat, and tears needed to prepare a message for the people of God, the message is prepared. As we encounter Him working in our lives, as shown on every page of scripture. That is why meditating on scripture is so praised in scripture. That is why allowing God to apply His truth in you – before you hear what others say
is crucial. We need to have more of an answer than the Philistinean priests… we need to be able to help people see God, and respond to Him. 

As pastors, priests, and preachers, we need to talk with our Lord more.. listen more. Then, the grace which reveals to us His presence and peace…we can show to our people.

The Lord is with you!

Lord, help us not be satisfied with passing on what others think about You and Your word. Instead, help us to experience the love beyond dimensions and the peace beyond understanding, as You restore us… and then help us to guide others into that same place.  AMEN!

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

Luther, Martin. 1999. Luther’s Works, Vol. 54: Table Talk. Edited by Jaroslav Jan Pelikan, Hilton C. Oswald, and Helmut T. Lehmann. Vol. 54. Philadelphia: Fortress Press.

God, Where are You… when I NEED YOU?

Thoughts encouraging our being drawn closer to Christ

“Sir,” Gideon replied, “if the LORD is with us, why has all this happened to us? And where are all the miracles our ancestors told us about? Didn’t they say, ‘The LORD brought us up out of Egypt’? But now the LORD has abandoned us and handed us over to the Midianites.”
22 When Gideon realized that it was the angel of the LORD, he cried out, “Oh, Sovereign LORD, I’m doomed! I have seen the angel of the LORD face to face!” 23 “It is all right,” the LORD replied. “Do not be afraid. You will not die.” 24 And Gideon built an altar to the LORD there and named it Yahweh-Shalom (which means “the LORD is peace”). The altar remains in Ophrah in the land of the clan of Abiezer to this day.
Judges 6:13, 22-24 NLT

One word from the lips of the man who has actually heard the lute play will have more effect than a score of sermons by the man who has only heard that it was played. Acquaintance is always better than hearsay.

There’s a classic distinction that can serve us well in sorting out how to go about our work. In the church’s parlance over the centuries we have spoken of those things that are bene esse (beneficial) and those things that are esse (essential). Most people have an innate grasp of this concept, but too often it’s set aside in practice.

Gideon knew of God’s love, but only saw it as God’s love demonstrated to His people in the past. Sure,, God was with them during the Exodus, and of course, during the conquest of the Promised Land.

But now, that Gideon and those he loved were struggling under immense burdens… where was God?

Even as he asks, God is interacting with him…. and soon, Gideon will see and realize it!

God is at work, and far too often, we aren’t aware of it.

Senkbeil gives one reason why we spend time taking care of the church’s business, more than just being the church. The esse – the essence of who we are (esse from the root of the word “to be”) gets covered and overwhelmed by dealing with the details. We see that every generation as cell groups, kinship groups, and now “house churches” are created with an attempt to free the church of the bureaucratic, structural, and legal nonsense that gets thrown at us. Only to find out that as those groups grow – they need that garbage as well! The garbage is important – but not critically important – like realizing God’s presence is. 

And a generation later, the church’s new leaders try to free themselves from the stuff again!

For Tozer’s observation becomes true – we have forgotten what the lute sounds like because we’ve been focused on crafting the thing… (If you don’t believe me, look at those who advocate and coach house churches – they had great experiences being part of small groups – they re-invent what had meening to them and want to see that become the new model)

What if, instead, we took the time, as the apostles did – to ensure that there were men who devoted themselves to prayer and teaching, and others took up the structural stuff. Our leaders were men who worked in the Kingdom of the Right (the sacred) and had ministers who took care of the Kingdom of the left ( the secular/business stuff). What if our lives were similarly arranged – with time set and dominated by Senkbeil’s esse – and left lesser time for the bene esse, but didn’t just dismiss it?

The “who we are” would flow naturally into and flavor “what we are.” Our walk with God would be seen and experienced more as we walk through life.

We would know God is with us… while He guides us to be free from what oppresses us…..

Until the day where bene esse fades, and in the presence of God we know we are His… and we know where He was, when we needed Him. 

Lord, help us prioritize our time around knowing Your presence before putting other priorities of life and ministry first!

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

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

The Call Never Changes: A sermon on Isaiah 6 and Luke 5

The Call Never Changes
Isaiah 6 & Luke 5

I.H.S.

May the grace of God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ sustain you, as you are formed for the works God has planned for you in the future, as you walk with Him through this life!

  • Called to Train

Andrew Murray, a 19th Century Missionary from the Netherlands to South Africa, wrote,

“Let the Church awake to her calling to train the feeblest of her members to know that Christ counts upon every redeemed one to live wholly for His work. This alone is true Christianity, is full salvation.”*

While we need to carefully unpack that statement, it is quite true. Every person part of this community, young or old, is called to live for Christ.

Each of you is called to do God’s work, no matter what else you do, no matter where you do it.

The challenge is not to think that serving God is what saves you. Instead, salvation looks like these men’s lives: a relationship like Isaiah and Peter enter into with God. An intimate relationship resulting in a joy found in walking with Jesus throughout life.

And as you are called to walk in this journey, you are following in Isaiah and Peter’s footsteps, for the call never changes…

  • Called into God’s Presence

The first part of the call is finding ourselves in the presence of God. For Isaiah, that was the incredible vision of heaven, seeing God in all His glory. It must have been overwhelming, to say the least, to see the angels ministering to God, praising God, seeing how God’s glory envelopes the entire world.

Peter and Andrew’s call was somewhat different. Their call happened at the end of a long night of fishing- long because all their hard work resulted in nothing but sore bodies and frustrated attitudes. As Jesus taught, and then the miracle – catching fish when and where you aren’t supposed to catch fish, led Peter to the same conclusion as Isaiah. “I have been called into the presence of God….”

  • Called into God’s grace

Once called into God’s presence, both Isaiah and Peter had the same reaction,

Then I said, “It’s all over! I am doomed, for I am a sinful man. I have filthy lips, and I live among a people with filthy lips.

When Simon Peter realized what had happened, he fell to his knees before Jesus and said, “Oh, Lord, please leave me—I’m such a sinful man.” For he was awestruck by the number of fish they had caught, as were the others with him.

To me, that they could talk while seeing God’s glory is amazing!

They were both aware of two simple facts…

The first is that God is so incredibly holy and righteous.

The second was how they described themselves.

for I am a sinful man. And I’m such a sinful man.

But that is where the second part of the call comes into play.

For these men were not sinners in the hands of an angry God, they were in the presence of a God determined to be merciful, a God who loved them, a God who had a plan for their life….

And even as they are called into God’s presence, they are called into His grace…into receiving His forgiveness and pardon. Hear that clearly….

He touched my lips with it and said, “See, this coal has touched your lips. Now your guilt is removed, and your sins are forgiven.”

Jesus replied to Simon, “Don’t be afraid!

God doesn’t call us in this life to punish us. He calls us into His presence to purify us, and so both Isaiah and Peter are calmed, and their sin dealt with…so that they can see the last part of their call into the presence of God

  • Called to Minister to Others

What happens to Isaiah and Peter next is important.

Not because it happened to them… but because the call of God never changes.

Remember Murray’s statement?

“Let the Church awake to her calling to train the feeblest of her members to know that Christ counts upon every redeemed one to live wholly for His work. This alone is true Christianity, is full salvation.”*

Peter is told he will become a fisher of men, so he will. Isaiah responds to the same call that brought him into the presence of God, saying, Here am I – send me! I often hear that like this…

Send me! Send me! Please send me!

For that is the response. One early church describes it this way,

“The Lord does not say unequivocally whom he is sending. He leaves the matter vague so that the prophet might respond to the call voluntarily. When Isaiah responds, he does not do so out of rashness or overconfidence but out of trust. For his iniquity has been removed, and he has been cleansed of his sins”[1]

And Luther adds,But to offer one’s service is to say, ‘I’ll be glad to accept if you can use me in this place.’ If he is wanted, it is a true call. So Isaiah said, ‘Here I am. Send me’ [Isa. 6:8]. He went when he heard that a preacher was needed. This ought to be done.”[2]

Sharing God’s love is always a matter of faith – of trusting that God has sent us into that place, using whatever gifts, whatever knowledge we have – no matter whether we are 9 or 90, a preschooler or a Ph.D. A fisherman, a tax collector, a student, a pastor, a financial guru, it doesn’t matter… We are called into this relationship… something so incredible, we need to bless others by bringing them into it.

Most of us will be like Peter, just fishers of men called where we live. As we live, called in the presence of God, saved by the cross of Christ, the end result is fantastic… sinners end up in heaven.

Just like we will be…. So my friends… when you are in the presence of God… hear His call… and go where He sends you…trusting in Him. For you dwell in His presence. AMEN!


* Andrew Murray, Working for God!: A Sequel to Waiting on God! (New York; Chicago; Toronto: Fleming H. Revell, 1901), 35.

[1] Wilken, Robert Louis, Angela Russell Christman, and Michael J. Hollerich, eds. 2007. Isaiah: Interpreted by Early Christian and Medieval Commentators. Translated by Robert Louis Wilken, Angela Russell Christman, and Michael J. Hollerich. The Church’s Bible. Grand Rapids, MI; Cambridge, UK: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company.

[2] Luther, Martin. 1999. Luther’s Works, Vol. 54: Table Talk. Edited by Jaroslav Jan Pelikan, Hilton C. Oswald, and Helmut T. Lehmann. Vol. 54. Philadelphia: Fortress Press.

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