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May We Never Think This Life Is Normal!

Thoughts that drag me to the cross of His mercy

For we are not fighting against flesh-and-blood enemies, but against evil rulers and authorities of the unseen world, against mighty powers in this dark world, and against evil spirits in the heavenly places. Ephesians 6:12 (NLT2)

6  “I will also bless the foreigners who commit themselves to the LORD, who serve him and love his name, who worship him and do not desecrate the Sabbath day of rest, and who hold fast to my covenant. 7  I will bring them to my holy mountain of Jerusalem and will fill them with joy in my house of prayer. I will accept their burnt offerings and sacrifices, because my Temple will be called a house of prayer for all nations. Isaiah 56:6-7 (NLT2)

In times of extraordinary crisis ordinary measures will not suffice. The world lives in such a time of crisis. Christians alone are in a position to rescue the perishing. We dare not settle down to try to live as if things were “normal.” Nothing is normal while sin and lust and death roam the world, pouncing upon one and another till the whole population has been destroyed.

Paul says, “While we live, we are always being given up to death for Jesus’ sake, so that the life of Jesus may be manifested in our mortal flesh” (2 Cor. 4:11). Thus, according to his view, the passion and resurrection of Christ are going on all the time. They are always present and not limited to an historical moment. It was rather an historical moment which introduced the eternal values of the cross and resurrection into the whole of time. We participate in Christ’s divine life through baptism and the other sacraments. As a consequence, we must learn how to express the risen life of Jesus rather than our false selves in our conduct and relationships.

We also believe, teach, and confess that no church should condemn another because the one has fewer or more external ceremonies not commanded by God than the other has, when otherwise there is unity with the other in teaching and all the articles of faith and in the proper use of the holy sacraments,

I’ve heard people talking about the “new normal” in relation to both COVID and the price of gas. Just get used to things being broken, and hardships, for life is different now. Get used to the new morality, or at least how it is being re-defined.

And the church hears these things and marshals its people to go to war at the ballot box, and on Social Media. I’ve even heard that such times will find us allied with folk we shouldn’t be allied with, for politics and apparently faith makes strange bedfellows.

And once again the Church has entered the wrong war, and is using the wrong weapons.

Because of that, it is losing the war for control over public opinion, and far, far more importantly, we aren’t even in the battle for people’s souls. We are letting them be destroyed, and dare I say, the church is even helping by destroying people’s faith.

Tozer is correct, and we must realize that we always exist in crisis. Add to that the idea of Keating, that our way of battle is not promoting ourselves, but dying to self, that Jesus may be seen, instead of us. That those who are baptized become the evidence of Christ’s death and resurrection. That must be our strategy, that must be our missional value.

How about this for a mission statement for a church?

Making manifest Jesus’ love, by dying to self! 

This is how we see our real enemies, sin, self-centeredness, and Satan defeated.

Our weapons are simply, the early Lutherans identified them as all that is necessary for church unity.

Teaching people what they need to know about Jesus, and sharing Him through Baptism, Absolution and the Lord’s Supper.

Each of these sacraments helps us see how we died to self and have risen in Christ. Each shows us the love and mercy of God. They do so for they are commissioned by Jesus to deliver that promise.

You want the world to change? You want everyone to do what is right? You want to win the war we are in?

Know Jesus, experience His love poured out on you… share that victory with others, seeing them freed from what Christ has freed you- not from – but to… to share in the glorious love of God.

For that … should be what we consider normal.

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), 223.

Robert Kolb, Timothy J. Wengert, and Charles P. Arand, The Book of Concord: The Confessions of the Evangelical Lutheran Church (Minneapolis, MN: Fortress Press, 2000), 516.

The Investment Needed for a Church to Grow…

Thoughts that draw (even drag ) me to Jesus and His cross!

For the LORD is our judge, our lawgiver, and our king.
He will care for us and save us. Isaiah 33:22 NLT

Lord, we’re too selfish, busy doing our own thing. Give us a spirit of love, of unselfishness, of willingness to pay any price for the sake of the gospel. Do it for Jesus’ sake. Amen.

Every Christian, by virtue of the grace of baptism, has the vocation to oneness with the Father through Jesus Christ in the Holy Spirit. Everyone needs some kind of practice in order to accomplish this vocation. Obviously, a rule of life cannot be as detailed for those living in the world as it is for people in a monastery. But everyone has to build his or her own kind of enclosure as far as one’s duties allow, by setting aside a certain amount of time every day for prayer and spiritual reading

I wish we all were the evidence that God answered Tozer’s prayer, that every person in every church would pay any price for the sake of the gospel.

That happens when revival, true revival, occurs. There is no more manipulation or guilt or system that has tremendous results. There is simply not enough time during revival to study what happens and duplicate it!

But revival has a cost.

It costs to develop a heart that does things for Jesus’ sake, and not to “gain” something from Him.

When a person finds themselves made one with God in Christ, that price has been paid, the investment has been made as God marks them with His name – as He takes “possession” of us. He is our judge, lawgiver and king.

THe problem is when people hear those titles; they think of God’s condemnation, and the legalistic tendencies that some church members and pastors, and that God wants to ruin and rule each of our lives. They see that as the “cost” and an extremely high cost at that!

But that is a horrid understanding of what it means for God to be those things for us. We must understand those words, in view of His mission, expressed in the next line-He will care for us and save us!

That happens when we hear Keating’s encouragement to spend time with God. To take the time out to just sit and listen and hear the Spirit tell you of Christ’s love. It is not law to spend that time, we need it! It helps us become the people who love like Jesus, who show mercy like Jesus, 

We need time to be one with God, to dance with Him. To get to know this God who loves us, so that we can truly experience our vocation as being one with Him!

In doing so, we finally begin to understand who we are… the children of God.

…the children God cares for…

And then revival happens, and churches truly grow as people and granted repentance and are transformed in Baptism. (see Ez. 36:25ff)

Lord, help us to desire to spend the time with You we need! AMEN!

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), 215.

Not WWJD?, rather WDJD!?!!!

Thoughts that draw me closer to Jesus:

15  As for me, I will see Your face in righteousness; I shall be satisfied when I awake in Your likeness. Psalm 17:15 (NKJV)

18  All of us, then, reflect the glory of the Lord with uncovered faces; and that same glory, coming from the Lord, who is the Spirit, transforms us into his likeness in an ever greater degree of glory. 2 Corinthians 3:18 (TEV)

Against both of these errors we believe, teach, and confess unanimously that Christ is our righteousness neither according to his divine nature alone nor according to his human nature alone. On the contrary, the whole Christ, according to both natures, is our righteousness, solely in his obedience that he rendered his Father as both God and a human being, an obedience unto death.

Then there are the men who are good but not great, and we may thank God that there are so many of them, being grateful not that they failed to achieve greatness but that by the grace of God they managed to acquire plain goodness.…
Every pastor knows this kind—the plain people who have nothing to recommend them but their deep devotion to their Lord and the fruit of the Spirit which they all unconsciously display. Without these the churches as we know them in city, town and country could not carry on. These are the first to come forward when there is work to be done and the last to go home when there is prayer to be made. They are not known beyond the borders of their own parish because there is nothing dramatic in faithfulness or newsworthy in goodness, but their presence is a benediction wherever they go.

Yesterday was one of those days I am glad I am a pastor. Not because of anything I did, but simply because I saw everyday people ministering to others as Jesus would have done. 5 different situations, 4 of them in my church, and one of them in a church I am trying to help, showed me the kind of people that Tozer’s quote describes.

People in ordinary walks of life, who blessed others, and thought nothing of it. Their deep trust in God resulted in a “unconscious display” of the Holy Spirit’s work! THere wasn’t 1000 conversions, or a hospital filled with people who were healed. A young couple were helped with some challenges, a handicapped lady found peace during a medical procedure, a young man was encouraged in his preparation for seminary, an church elder asked for help in caring for their pastor, I see it in a daughter, who honors her mom by caring for her in ways beyond description, and a grandmother, energized and active in her two grandchildren’s lives. There are more stories, none of them “heroic” yet all of them living a life that is being transformed by the Holy Spirit as they look to Christ, as they depend on His work in declaring them righteous and holy. They are my version of Hebrews 11, the group we can talk about by saying, “by faith they….”

This is what it means for Jesus to be fully God and fully man, He has the ability to connect the sacred and the secular, the holy and profane, so that there can be this kind of change. He makes us righteous, He makes us Holy, He works through us!

These people are the church, they don’t ask “What Would Jesus Do?” but are evidence of “What did Jesus do!” His ministry thorough them is obvious, because of what God is doing in them.

It is a wonder to behold, and therefore, I rejoice.

I need more days like yesterday… or maybe, I just need to open my eyes more

God is work in wondrously common ways, through people who simply trust in Him. I pray I see His work in and through you, as you see His work all around you!

Article 3: The Epitome of the Formula of Concord; Robert Kolb, Timothy J. Wengert, and Charles P. Arand, The Book of Concord: The Confessions of the Evangelical Lutheran Church (Minneapolis, MN: Fortress Press, 2000), 495.

A. W. Tozer, Tozer for the Christian Leader (Chicago: Moody Publishers, 2015). 7/27/2022

Revival IS Coming… but what until then?

Thoughts which draw me closer to Jesus… and closer to the cross

 “Now, O LORD my God, you have made me king instead of my father, David, but I am like a little child who doesn’t know his way around. 8  And here I am in the midst of your own chosen people, a nation so great and numerous they cannot be counted! 9  Give me an understanding heart so that I can govern your people well and know the difference between right and wrong. For who by himself is able to govern this great people of yours?” 10  The Lord was pleased that Solomon had asked for wisdom. 11  So God replied, “Because you have asked for wisdom in governing my people with justice and have not asked for a long life or wealth or the death of your enemies— 12  I will give you what you asked for! I will give you a wise and understanding heart such as no one else has had or ever will have! 13  And I will also give you what you did not ask for—riches and fame! No other king in all the world will be compared to you for the rest of your life! 14  And if you follow me and obey my decrees and my commands as your father, David, did, I will give you a long life.” 1 Kings 3:7-14 (NLT2)

As I say, I have been sitting on these boards for many years, and there are always two kinds of board members: those who can see the miracle and those who can only see their calculators and their strings of calculations.…
The people with the calculators have seen the problem, but they have not seen God. They have figured things out, but they have not figured God in.

Then somebody said, “Yet Paul seems to distinguish, Doctor, when he declares, ‘Man believes with his heart and so is justified, and he confesses with his lips and so is saved’ [Rom. 10:10].”
The doctor replied, “Here confession means perseverance, for St. Paul means to say, ‘Faith must express itself and be confessed, and one must abide in it, otherwise faith disappears again.

The eighth Fruit of the Spirit is Long-suffering (patience). Long-suffering is certitude in God’s unwavering fidelity to his promises. Our security is no longer based on anything we might possess or accomplish, but rather on our conviction of God’s unfailing protection and readiness to forgive.

As we wait for the coming revival, there are many things that challenge God’s people.

Enrollment at many seminaries is dwindling, Christian colleges and universities are struggling as well to recruit many more who they can HELP prepare for ministry.

Many mid size churches, in decline prior to  COVD (and in denial about that) are not rebounding after COVID. Smaller churches are struggling, and are often told to give up. (It may be phrased in more noble words, but the message is still the same)

People are dealing with more trauma, more polarization, and being put under great pressure to compromise and approve of sin. This is not new, but where it was “Don’t ask, don’t tell” I have had people tell me it is no longer “right” to even think this way. Or if I do, I recognize the consequence, that my thoughts mean I cannot be their friend anymore.

Tozer’s accountants have taken over. The context is Phillip’s comments about the cost of feeing the crowds that had gathered to hear Jesus speak. He saw the problem; he saw the cost. He overlooked that God was there…with him. Feeding the 5000 wasn’t the primary mission of Christ, but it was part of the journey.

Dealing with our day to day needs must be done, and sometimes it seems about as hopeless as feeding 15000 people with a few hamburger buns and two filet of fish patties.

That brings me back to the dilemma. DO we live by the calculator, or do we persevere–depending on the providence of God.  Do we confess with Luther that God redeems and restores, even that damaged by sin, or do we give up, and walk away? Do we walk with Keating as well, who also brings into play God’s redeeming action destroying sin.

We must continue to trust God, we must continue to treasure the gifts of love poured out through His words and sacraments. We have to pray for the simple wisdom of Solomon, rather than pray for the earthly victories we think we must have.

For God will take care of the lesser tings. Miracles will happen, people will see their lives transformed, ours will be transformed as we walk with Jesus, as we depend on Him. It is from that kind of faith. Solomon wanted something more, something that calculators couldn’t measure, but his people would be able to see affected them more than money. Revival doesn’t happen because planners and accountants see it is time. It happens because people depend on God and look for His appearing.

That is what we need now, a confidence in God that spawns wisdom, that tells us when to put the calculators away, that rejoices in the amazing things God is doing, for He loves us.

Lord Jesus, help us to be aware of Your presence and providence, and may that awareness cause our faith to deepen until we see revival break forth, and people return to you. AMEN!

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

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), 402.

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), 194.

Inventory of Blessings: Presence – A sermon based on Psalm 41

Inventory of Blessings
Presence!
Psalm 41

Jesus, Son, Savior

May the grace of God our Father, and our Lord Jesus Christ keep you aware of the Spirit’s comforting, cleansing, empowering and guiding presence in your life!

Inventory Management Systems

Thirty-five years ago, I was the night shift manager at McDonalds. There was a lesson I learned there. A lesson I think we need to learn regarding our relationship with God.

And that lesson is the backbone of this sermon series, which I’ve titled “Inventory of Blessings”

We have to keep track of our assets. We have to know what we have to work with each day. At McDonalds, it was burger patties, bread, French fries and all the stuff that went with them. If you didn’t take inventory, you could have too much on hand, and it could go bad and cost the company money. If you don’t know you need to restock, and you run out of French fries—you lose not only sales—you lose your customer base.

While we can never have too many or too few blessings from God, we need to take inventory of them often, so we know what we have to depend on as we go through life. This is far more important than having enough burgers or filet-o-fish in the freezer!

We see King David doing such an inventory in Psalm 41 this morning. And it wasn’t as easy—but that is a good lesson for us to live as well.

  • Look how great God Is!

He starts out well in verse 1, taking inventory of God’s work!

The Lord gives joy to those who help the poor
The Lord rescues those in trouble
The Lord protects them and keeps them alive.
The Lord gives removes all obstacles. (gives them prosperity)
The Lord rescues them from enemies
The Lord Nurses them when they are sick and restores them to health!

Wow—look at all the things David saw God doing for others! What an amazing thing it is, to see God at work in the lives of people around you! To see the God whose given His name (which we replace with Lord) as how His people are to know Him, at work in the lives of people, is a truly amazing thing.

What an amazing thing to know God in this way!

The more he considers, the closer he gets to praying a prayer that God desires to answer.

4  “O LORD,” I prayed, “have mercy on me. Heal me, for I have sinned against you.”

David reaches out and confesses his sin…he’s taken a huge step, trusting God to heal him of the damage sin causes. David entrusts his very life, and all its brokenness to God…

And at that moment… all hell breaks loose.

  • Wait—my confession wasn’t supposed to be used against me!

David goes right from pleading for forgiveness to overwhelming paranoia.

But my enemies say nothing but evil about me. “How soon will he die and be forgotten?” they ask. 6  They visit me as if they were my friends, but all the while they gather gossip, and when they leave, they spread it everywhere. 7  All who hate me whisper about me, imagining the worst. 8  “He has some fatal disease,” they say. “He will never get out of that bed!” 9  Even my best friend, the one I trusted completely, the one who shared my food, has turned against me.

One problem that happens when we are entrusting our lives, including sin, to God, is demonic interference.

Satan and his demon horde would do anything to stop us from realizing how present and compassionate God our Father is! There are many games that can be played! One of the greatest is to get us to look at how the world condemns us for the sin that we just confessed!

David thinks, “How people would gossip about me!” They would meet out in the parking lot, or at the coffee shop and mock me. I can hear the exaggerations now!

It is not beyond reason to picture shame and guilt as demons, fighting to keep their claws hooked in our heart and soul, trying to convince us that the world hates us, not because of who we are, but because of what we thought, what we said, what we did.

Everything we saw God doing disappears in this fight!

Sometimes, that paranoia is right on!

That little line about those who are closest, those who eat with you, betraying you, is something most of us know, and deal with, as the deep wounds caused by loved ones turning against us…

Even Jesus felt those wounds, as all 12 of the apostles abandoned him at the cross. Two of the closest, Peter and Judas, abandoned him as clearly as King Saul and David’s son, Absalom, betrayed David.

And in the middle of dealing with all this, we sin again, having taken our eyes off of God. forgotten that we had cried out, and we miss His answer…

  • It doesn’t matter He is here!

This is when we need to take inventory of God’s blessings the most.

That is when we need someone to say something we respond to with, “and also with you!”

We need to take inventory and remember our great asset is the presence of God Almighty in our lives. The God who brings us peace and comfort, whose presence gladdens our heart, who cares and protects us so well that we can sleep the night in true peace…

He is here!!

Remember all the things David saw do for others? He again asks God for mercy, and then they all come true for David.

Here how the psalm declares these praises:

10  LORD, have mercy on me. Make me well again, so I can pay them back! 11  I know you are pleased with me, for you have not let my enemies triumph over me. 12  You have preserved my life because I am innocent; you have brought me into your presence forever. 13  Praise the LORD, the God of Israel, who lives from everlasting to everlasting. Amen and amen!

David gets back to business. He cries out for God’s mercy and healing!

Look at verse 12 one more time: “12  You have preserved my life because I am innocent; you have brought me into your presence forever.”

David said this, and we can and should say it as well,

God, You have preserved my life because I am innocent; you have brought me into your presence forever.

That is the work of Jesus at the cross… because of His death, where our sin was nailed to the cross, we have entered, not will enter, have entered the presence of God—where we will dwell forever!
1  Since you have been raised to new life with Christ, set your sights on the realities of heaven, where Christ sits in the place of honor at God’s right hand. 2  Think about the things of heaven, not the things of earth. 3  For you died to this life, and your real life is hidden with Christ in God. 4  And when Christ, who is your life, is revealed to the whole world, you will share in all his glory. Colossians 3:1-4 (NLT2)

That is the day we are looking for, this day when our life in Christ is revealed to the whole world. When we see God, in whose presence we dwell….

Until then—take inventory often, realizing that you already dwell in His presence. He has cleansed you of sin, comforted and healed you! For this He has promised you…and promised you can help others realize these blessings… and praise God with them.

For you dwell in His presence and know His peace! AMEN!

 

How to Endure Beyond the Ups and Downs of Life…

Thoughts which draw me closer to the cross of Christ…

Search for the LORD and for his strength; continually seek him. 5 Remember the wonders he has performed,  his miracles, and the rulings he has given,  Psalm 105:4-5

The third Fruit of the Spirit is Peace. Peace is the pervasive sense of contentment that comes from being rooted in God while being fully aware of one’s own nothingness. It is a state that endures beyond the ups and downs of life, beyond the emotions of joy and sorrow. At the deepest level one knows that all is well, that everything is just right despite all appearances to the contrary. At all times one can pray with Jesus, “Father, into your hands I commend my spirit” (Luke 23:46)

To this I reply that what they provide is not fellowship at all, and if that is the best thing the church has to offer to hold the people together it is not a Christian church in the New Testament meaning of that word. The center of attraction in a true church is the Lord Jesus Christ

There is a word that scares me. Perhaps haunts me is better.

Endure.

I have endured a bit in life. More than some, less than others. I have sat with those enduring far more, crying and laughing with them as I try to reveal to them the only thing that enables me to endure.

And even though I have endured what I endure, I hate the word with a passion. I wish what it describes would never have become issues in life. I hate the brokenness, physical, emotional, and spiritual that exists in life. I hate seeing families torn apart, workplaces divided and friends become enemies. Nature wreaks havoc, sin causes even more, and the fight or flee reactions from both causes more tragedy and trauma, which we have to endure.

And yet, I endure. Even more encouraging, I have helped people endure.

The only way is through the peace that is a comes as the Holy Spirit dwells in us, the peace that Tozer so precisely describes. One that doesn’t depend on what is going on in our lives – whether they are at the pinnacle of the mountain top or rushing towards rock bottom. (I think it is worse heading for rock bottom than being there!) A peace that is there despite all appearances to the contrary.  One that comes when we realize our prayer for God to handle all our lives, was answered before we even prayed it…

Indeed, it was how we are able to pray it.

We depend on Him.

That is why Tozer says that church isn’t just about the “fellowship” of people with the same thoughts and beliefs.

It is about Jesus, and centered on Him, drawn there by the Spirit. We know that peace, and we begin to even expect it to be there, when we don’t see or feel it. Enough so that we look for Him constantly, for He is our hope, our deliverance, our life.

Knowing that, that no matter how blind we are to His presence, He is working on revealing Himself.

And how we will praise Him, as we see this happen!

 

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), 189.

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

He is Here…but i struggle to focus on Him

Thoughts that draw me closer to Jesus

Even now my witness is in heaven. My advocate is there on high.
I need someone to mediate between God and me, as a person mediates between friends. Job 16:19,21 (NLT2)

This does not mean that we do not have unwanted thoughts during prayer, but that we return again and again to the basic consent of self-surrender and trust. We say “yes” to that presence, and every now and again enter into union with it as we identify the divine presence in Christ’s humanity with the divine presence within us. When we say, “Come, Lord Jesus,” we should remember that Christ is already here and that his coming means that he becomes more and more present to our consciousness.

Somebody asked, “Doctor [Luther], if a parish minister absolves a woman who has killed her infant child and afterward the matter becomes public through others, should the parish minister, when asked, offer testimony in this case before a judge?”
“By no means,” said the doctor [Martin Luther], “for the forum of conscience is to be distinguished from the forum of the civil government. The woman didn’t confess anything to me; she confessed to Christ. But if Christ keeps it hidden, I should conceal it and simply deny that I heard anything.

When Fr. Keating mentions prayer being interrupted by unwarranted thoughts, I breathed a sigh of relief. I struggle with that often, for even while I am praying for someone or about some situation, my mind wanders far off. Then, rather than refocus on the cross, my soul struggles with my spiritual lack of focus, I wallow in guilt and shame.

I need to run back to the cross, I need to find my comfort and strength and direction there. I need to find Him in my consciousness. And like Job, i know my advocate is in heaven, but I need to know He is here on earth, with me as well. A mediator who is more than that, a mediator who is a friend. 

There is no doubt in my mind that Jesus is here. But to convince my hear and soul of that, and that Jesus is a friend…sent by God the Father, is a little more of a challenge. Especially when my mind struggles to focus on our relationship.

As I was reading my devotional readings this morning, I kept coming back to Luther’s words about a pastor. I know I speak for Christ, and as I hear other pastors, and they speak the words that declare us righteous, holy, for our sin has been removed. I treasure those words, and what they mean to me and to other believers. What hit me from Luther’s answer was that not only is the pastor put there to say those words, but He is there to hear the sins, the failures, the words loaded with grief and shame as well.

Hearing that opens a door, it helps me see another side of Christ – that He is will to hear those words, despite how they confess my betrayal of Him. He desires to take that burden away, ridding me of the weight of it. And then to bring me into the presence of God the Father, saying “Abba, look who I’ve brought home…this is my friend..”

Thinking about those moments, and other sacramental moments, helps calm me enough to see His presence. To just realize the presence of God, is one thing – to realize the purpose of His presence, to spend time with us, with me, is another. He is there as Job requested, to intercede with the Father, to comfort with His presence, to share in a love that goes beyond our words.

Knowing this helps the focus, and when it loses its sharpness, causes me to remember, and look again to see my Friend, who is already here with me, and there with you.

Heavenly Father, help us realize the presence of Christ in our lives, and that He has drawn us into His death so that we could rise with Him! Help us, when our concentration fades, to still see His face, and be drawn back once again into His love. Thank you for not giving up on us, but caring for us and teaching us to be compassionate. We ask this in Jesus’ name. AMEN!

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), 183.

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), 395.

The Cure for “Boring” Spirituality/Christianity

Thoughts that give me confidence because Jesus is drawing us closer to Him!

I came naked from my mother’s womb,
and I will be naked when I leave.
The LORD gave me what I had,
and the LORD has taken it away.
Praise the name of the LORD!”
Job 1:21

Since all standard hymns have been edited to delete inferior stanzas and since any stanza of the average hymn can be sung in less than one minute … and since many of our best hymns have already been shortened as much as good taste will allow, we are forced to conclude that the habit of omitting the third stanza reveals religious boredom, pure and simple, and it would do our souls good if we would admit it.

As we begin to trust God more, we enjoy a certain freedom from our vices and may often experience great satisfaction in our spiritual endeavors. When God decides we are ready, he invites us to a new level of self-knowledge. God withdraws the initial consolations of conversion, and we are plunged in darkness, spiritual dryness, and confusion. We think that God has abandoned us.… Then comes a period of peace, enjoyment of a new inner freedom, the wonder of new insights. That takes time. Rarely is there a sudden movement to a new level of awareness that is permanent. What happens when we get to the bottom of the pile of our emotional debris? We are in divine union. There is no other obstacle.

The second and third readings are cause and effect.

When our worship becomes dry, when our spiritual lives exist in a state of boredom, we need God to take action.

But I will warn you, it isn’t pretty. It may not be as dramatic as Job encounters, but it will feel like it at times. (It does for me today) The classic devotional text The Dark Night of the Soul, also documents this, and how God allows Satan to strike us, for our good.

Like Job, the journey isn’t easy, like Job the challenges overwhelm us, and we find ourselves at the point of despair, and we will accuse God of abandoning us. That accusation may come with surprising force, because it comes from the darkest regions of our heart and soul.

God hears the accusation as a prayer. A cry for help that will be answered in a way that Keaton recognizes is full of peace. We abandon ourselves into the hands of a loving, merciful God, and are willing to see what He will do, for there is nothing else. Everything, including our hearts and minds are emptied out, and He is there… and that is what we need.

For we realize it is a blessed thing for God to take away what divides us from Him.  That is part of His healing ministry.

Oddly enough, this healing work, stripping us of all that isn’t of God–that is the content of many of those “third verses” that Tozer laments the loss of. Consider this one

My sin, oh the bliss of this glorious thought (a thought)
My sin, not in part, but the whole (every bit, every bit, all of it)
Is nailed to the cross, and I bear it no more (yes)
Praise the Lord, praise the Lord, O my soul
(from It is Well with My Soul!)

God is with us…Blessed Be His Name!

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), 179.

 

We Search for Happiness and Peace in All the Wrong Places

Thoughts to draw us to Jesus and find healing there.

“I will abandon my people until they have suffered enough for their sins and come looking for me. Perhaps in their suffering they will try to find me.Hosea 5:15 (TEV)

This is the human condition—to be without the true source of happiness, which is the experience of the presence of God, and to have lost the key to happiness, which is the contemplative dimension of life.… What we experience is our desperate search for happiness where it cannot possibly be found.

In the sacraments your God, Christ himself, deals, speaks, and works with you through the priest. His are not the works and words of man. In the sacraments God himself grants you all the blessings we just mentioned in connection with Christ. God wants the sacraments to be a sign and testimony that Christ’s life has taken your death, his obedience your sin, his love your hell, upon themselves and overcome them. Moreover, through the same sacraments you are included and made one with all the saints.

Hosea’s message is brutal, or at least it seems that way.

How could a good God consign people to suffering, to the pain that is endured because of their sins. Not just the individual sins, but the sins of the community and the sins of the world. (There is another post there, that sins, and their consequences are not individual issues – but every sin is allowed, and affects the community) Back to the thought, how could a loving, compassionate God be this petty?

What God is allowing is not the suffering. Scripture tells us over and over He would prevent that suffering. He would protect us from suffering, and He will heal us from the wounds that we and society embrace.

The problem is our search for happiness, and our hunger for pleasure that we mistake for happiness. Keating is correct, we become so desperate in our search for happiness, because we look for it in places that it cannot be found! Instead, those illusions of happiness only drive us harder to find it, even as we look for it in the places that have already left us dry, wounded, broken.

Money can’t buy us the happiness we thought it could. The perfect house/home, once found and purchased, becomes empty. The perfect job doesn’t fulfill the way we thought it would. Relationships require far more work to be completely fulfilling and sex only leaves us wanting more of the moments of pleasure, or leaves us disappointed as those moments aren’t achieved. Every form of pleasure, though echoing pleasure for a moment, ends and leaves us wanting more. When they don’t provide what we want, we turn to things to distract us from the lack of happiness. Or to anesthetize the emptiness.

In 57 years of life, I have found happiness in the sacramental life. Not just at the communion rail, or in a shut-ins home sharing in prayer and the Lord’s supper. More there than anywhere else, of course, but the promise of such moments sustains me in the most brutal of weeks…. I know the moment of seeing God, of receiving all the blessings of which Luther spoke, is coming. Like heaven itself, these moments, whether forgiving or being forgiven, communing, or seeing new life begin in baptism, show the deep intimate relationship the people of God have been given.

These are the moments of revival of life, and of joy, and of peace. The hope they reveal of a day without pain and heartache brings its own happiness, and empowers us to live, until we are welcomed home by the Father.

And so God allows us to look in places where happiness isn’t, guiding us back to where it is promised. In His presence, in knowing He is here, with us.

And so letting us wander, letting us search, is allowed by God in order that we are drawn home. The power that Christ from the dead is at work, drawing us home, and cleansing us, so that we may be presented without sin, unbroken, completely healed. This is what the sacraments promise, and what they see accomplished, for God has promised this!

Lord Jesus, draw us home from our wanderings, help us hunger for what does fulfill our deepest needs, needs fulfilled by the Holy Spirit. Amen!

 

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), 154

Martin Luther, Luther’s Works, Vol. 42: Devotional Writings I, ed. Jaroslav Jan Pelikan, Hilton C. Oswald, and Helmut T. Lehmann, vol. 42 (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1999), 108..

There is only one place to go, to find hope

Devotional Thoughts Reminding Us of our Hope in Chirst… while dwelling ina  seemingly broken world.

“And Solomon, my son, learn to know the God of your ancestors intimately. Worship and serve him with your whole heart and a willing mind. For the LORD sees every heart and knows every plan and thought.   1 Chronicles 28:9 NLT

So, too, those who boast of great learning, wisdom, power, prestige, family, and honor and who trust in them have a god also, but not the one, true God. Notice again, how presumptuous, secure, and proud people are when they have such possessions, and how despondent they are when they lack them or when they are taken away. Therefore, I repeat, the correct interpretation of this commandment is that to have a god is to have something in which the heart trusts completely.

When I think of the angels who veil their faces before the God who cannot lie, I wonder why every preacher in North America does not begin preaching about God—and nothing else. What would happen if every preacher just preached about the person and character of God for an entire year—who He is, His attributes, His perfection, His being, the kind of a God He is and why we love Him and why we should trust Him? I tell you, God would soon fill the whole horizon, the entire world.

A third fruit of the night of spirit is the purification of our idea of God, the God of our childhood or the God worshipped by the particular group to which we belong.…

The number of people in the last 24 hours who have mentioned the need for Jesus to come back right now is staggering. Person after person, so disturbed by the grief, by the anxiety, by the brokenness, mention the prayer, “Maranatha,” which simply means, “come Lord Jesus.”

We recognize that His return, and the promise of eternity, seems to be the only hope we have. Perhaps we’ve given up on the idea of creating heaven on earth. The naivete of creating a perfect world—shattered by the events on the daily news.

Life has crushed our dreams and our idols. Luther and Keating sadly point to the necessity of this. Our false gods, our ideas of god that we blindly accept, must die. Otherwise, there is no way for us to gain that most precious commodity: hope.

David, at the end of his life, calls for Solomon to go through such a process. To intimately know God means to know WHO He really is, who He reveals Himself to be. That means Solomon had to have his illusions shattered. He needs to know God, not just have theories and handed down knowledge about God. He needed to know the God David loved and trusted. Solomon needs to go from trusting the God of his father and his ancestors to simply trusting God.

It isn’t easy…. it is necessary….

For only knowing God’s heart and mind toward His people can we find that we actually don’t have to go anywhere for hope.

It is here, for He is here. You dwell in His presence, as do I.

Amid the tears, He holds and comforts us.

Amid the smiles and laughter, He is there as well.

Tozer desired that we get to know Him, and that pastors would help their people get to preach in a way people get to know the God that loves them enough to die on the cross. That we could live… now and eternally.

He’s there, and if you don’t believe it, let’s talk. Let me help you get to know Him..and encourage me to know Him more, while we see Him revealed to us. For then we will know His peace which is beyond reason.

Martin Luther, “The Large Catechism” Robert Kolb, Timothy J. Wengert, and Charles P. Arand, The Book of Concord: The Confessions of the Evangelical Lutheran Church (Minneapolis, MN: Fortress Press, 2000), 387.

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), 145.

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