Devotional Thought of the Day:
20 For I fully expect and hope that I will never be ashamed, but that I will continue to be bold for Christ, as I have been in the past. And I trust that my life will bring honor to Christ, whether I live or die. 21 For to me, living means living for Christ, and dying is even better. 22 But if I live, I can do more fruitful work for Christ. So I really don’t know which is better. 23 I’m torn between two desires: I long to go and be with Christ, which would be far better for me. 24 But for your sakes, it is better that I continue to live. 25 Knowing this, I am convinced that I will remain alive so I can continue to help all of you grow and experience the joy of your faith. Philippians 1:20-25 (NLT2)
Thus Psalm 23 [:4] says, “Though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, because you are with me.” If this gain through death has only a small affect on us, it is proof that our faith in Christ is still feeble and does not prize highly enough the reward and gain of a blessed death, nor does it yet believe that death is a blessing. Obviously, we are hindered because the old man and the wisdom of the flesh are still too much alive in us. We should, therefore, try to attain to the knowledge and the love of this blessing of death. It is a great thing that death, which to others is the greatest of evils, is made the greatest gain for us. If it was not this that Christ obtained for us, what then did he do that was worth such a cost, yes, actually the cost of his life? It is indeed a divine work that he wrought, and it is not surprising that he made the evil of death into the greatest blessing.
For the believer death is thus already dead and behind its cloak and mask it holds no terrors. Like a slain serpent, death still has its former terrifying appearance, but now this is only a mask, for it is now a dead and harmless evil
There is an old saying that I resonate with, I fear not death, I just dear dying.”
There is some truth to that for me, partially because of health issues over the years, and the knowledge that my heart was a ticking time bomb. (I say was – because in 1998 I had two heart valves replaced.)
Even so, today, in the midst of a pandemic, we live with fear and anxiety caused by the fact that death threatens us, and threatens those we love. It threatens in a way that we’ve not seen often in the generations alive today.
This is why my devotional reading this morning seems so important to understand.
We have to understand that death will ultimately be a blessing – for it brings us closer to seeing God face to face, and for the believer to an incredible welcome home. . TO see God face to face, to hear His welcome, to hear the celebration thrown for us, to know we are finally where we belong.
To realize with Luther what Paul means when he writes that death has lost its sting, that the grace is no victory for death, no loss, but an incredible gain for us. (see 1 Cor. 15) To understand what Jesus means when he says those who believe will never die.
It is hard to process these days, to take what is a theological truth, an absolute promise of God, and let it affect our heart, our soul.
Even once we realize it there, it is hard to keep that understanding, to not go back, and to fear death again. Every time we have to mourn and grieve, every time our heart is scarred by loss, we revert back to the days before we understood the promises of God, the promises found when we are united to Jesus.
I know this, even as I know what Paul talks about when he talks about ensuring death, for itis better, for him. To realize that death is better n the long run is sobering. To realize that could even lead one to desire death because it means being complete with Jesus,. To realize we do not have to meditate and pray to realize we are in His presence. Instead to look up, and see His face…
To set death completely aside, along with the suffering and brokenness caused by sin, and the fear of death. What a blessing.
Yet it is counting on that blessing that gives us the strength and desire to stay, and minister to those who are in bondage, trying to free them, so that they too can join us in Christ. To see God’s incredible work, as He brings someone to faith, and then strengthens that faith, as burdens slide away, as relationships are healed, as we gain a glance of eternity at the altar together.
To get to that point – to come to the conclusion that it is better to live, we have to realize how incredible eternity is, we have to face the battle of fears, the anxieties, assured of the promises of God are true, that we will be with Him forever. Then we can willingly address the issue, and see the blessing of staying here.. until He calls us home.
Knowing this, we begin to really live…
Walk with Him, through the valley, and learn not to fear it, or any evil.
And become a guide, someone who can help others, helping them to deal with the fears, the anxieties and indeed, the time of death.
Lord, help us walk closer and closer with You, strengthen our faith, be with us, now and at the time when we finally come home. But help us to be there for those who are anxious and fear death, and help us to show them how it will be a blessing. AMEN!
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), 149–150.
Devotional Thought of the Day:
10 But it was the LORD’s good plan to crush him and cause him grief. Yet when his life is made an offering for sin, he will have many descendants. He will enjoy a long life, and the LORD’s good plan will prosper in his hands. 11 When he sees all that is accomplished by his anguish, he will be satisfied. And because of his experience, my righteous servant will make it possible for many to be counted righteous, for he will bear all their sins. Isaiah 53:10-11 (NLT2)
But the Old Testament speaks of God’s wrath as well as God’s love. So does the New. What is the wrath of God then? Is it real or not?
It is real, but it is not part of God Himself. God is not half love and half wrath, or 99 percent love and 1 percent wrath. God is love. Wrath is how His love appears to us when we sin or rebel or run away from Him. The very light that is meant to help us appears to us as our enemy when we seek the darkness. The mother’s embrace can appear as the worst imaginable torture to the angry child who wants only to fight. Thus some of the saints say the very fires of Hell are made of the love of God but experienced as wrath by the spiritually insane.
Over the years, I’ve encountered two primary attitudes toward the idea of God’s wrath.
Neither is accurate.
The first is to ignore or deny that God can and will pour out His wrath on those who choose to dwell in sin. This usually goes along with the fact that we disagree with what sin is, as we defend those we love engaged in it, or we rejoice in that form of sin ourselves. Because of this, we simply can fathom how God could be so mad at the sin as to condemn us for it.
The second used to be more prevalent in the church, and that is to see wrath as purely an action that is driven by God’s righteous anger. Those lousy people (and sometimes including us) deserve to get punished, and God gets painted as a sadist who enjoys watching them suffer. In reality, the sadist (or masochist if we think we deserve the wrath) is us. We see a lot of this in those people who have wanted to portray this virus (and the ones before it like AIDS) as a form of God’s almighty anger, and a foretaste of the wrath to come at the judgment.
Both are wrong, and in my opinion, so change the image of God that they are heretical.
Ezekiel tells us several times that God does not take joy in the death of the wicked. he also divinely shares that repentance by those who are evil will see them forgiven, not punished, restored, not condemned. Let me say it again, God doesn’t take joy in the wicked. Never has, never will.
Similarly, the Apostle Peter tells us that God is patient with us because He doesn’t want any of us to perish. The apocryphal picture of Peter at the gate of heaven allowing some and barring others is misleading – Peter and the church being given the keys is about freeing people from bondage – allowing them to enter the kingdom of God (Matthew 16) even as the church rocks the gates of hell to free people from its embrace.
Are there good people that will reject God that Ezekiel mentions? Yes
Are there people who will choose the bondage of sin, despite the availability of grace and forgiveness, surely.
And this is where God’s wrath comes in, not from a sense of anger, but the sense of love. While we may see it as punitive, the goal for God is restorative. It is not contrary to His nature of love, but love requires it. Kreeft makes this point clear above in the words shared purple – a point that C.S. Lewis wrote an entire book (the Great Divorce) to demonstrate. Simply put, those who end up suffering in Hell would choose their idol and their sin, they would embrace its cost, rather than enjoy the presence of God.
Only once has it pleased God to pour out His wrath, and that was on Jesus.
It was God’s good plan this translation says, others say it gave God pleasure, it pleased Him, to pour out that wrath on Jesus.
No one else.
And the satisfaction of restoring people to God is all worth it. The satisfaction for restoring you to God was why Jesus endured the cross – that is the glory was Hebrews 12 describes.
All other times God disciplines and pours out His wrath is the hardest act of love, the ay to embracing an angry child, for, in that embrace, Jesus takes into Himself our sin, and pays the price.
With that understanding of God’s wrath, we no longer have to deny it, we no longer have to project it on others. We now longer have to judge and condemn, we can simply urge people to let God love them and to rejoice as He does, and they change, relaxing and knowing His peace.
Peter Kreeft, The God Who Loves You (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 2004), 128.
1 Cor. 3:1-9
May the grace and peace of God our Father and the Lord Jesus help you see God at work, causing you to depend on the fact God loves you!
Teaching Little Ones ( or Big Ones!)
There are a lot of amazing things in life. The Grand Canyon, the dawn on the Atlantic Ocean’s beaches and the sunset’s you see sitting on the sands of the Pacific Ocean. Things people do also amaze me, whether it is skilled athlete, or our musicians.
Or our preschool teachers, especially Lisa and Lorena – who work with the tiniest of toddlers. Keeping them focused on a lesson, and sitting still in chapel, well, mostly still
Keeping big kids focused is hard enough, I can’t imagine the faith that results in patience that God gives our teachers!
That’s why Paul will compare the Corinthians (and us) to infants in Christ! For while they should be focused on what is important, they are not. And so in frustration Paul tells them that he has to treat them like toddlers, or people that have absolutely no clue about the love and mercy of God.
Sounds kind of harsh, doesn’t it?
But all we have to do is look around, and we see the leaders who act as if they are playing out back in the playground. Then we see similar things among our church leaders. I will freely admit to getting distracted from what is important, and acting more than a toddler at times! I want what’s mine! Give it back! That’s not fair!
In the background, Jesus waits, for the Holy Spirit is at work… and will use God’s word, including these words penned by Paul, to correct us, to help us to focus, to get us back into what comes close to a line!
Distracted by what is not important
In the readings from 1 Corinthians, we see what was the distraction of the day. It was who the people followed. It must have been a significant problem, for Paul spends some time on it.
For some reason, they tried to establish a spiritual pedigree. I have seen that – even among pastors! They somewhat jokingly compare whether they were trained at our Ft. Wayne Seminary, or St. Louis Serminary! How ludicrous, especially when they know that the best pastors come from Irvine!
Can you imagine if people here argued about whether the Lord’s supper was better from the hand of Pr. Mazemke, or Pr. Rossow, or Pr. Hsu, or Pr. CHen or from me? The bread and the wine are what is important, not whose hand put it into your hand.
If that is true for the communion we serve, it should be true for the message we give. As long as that message is about Jesus, about His love for you, about His forgiveness, that message that we sum up in a couple of statements…
The Lord is with YOU! ( and also with you)
Alleluia! His is risen! (He is risen indeed!) and therefore (we are risen indeed!)
Everything else, including which pastor brought you to know Jesus, or where you learned about His love, isn’t as important as the fact that God loves YOU!
What is important
You see, the intellect, the charisma of the pastor, that is not what caused you to believe. It was not by your reason or strength nor mine. It is, and always will be the presence of the Holy Spirit that causes the growth.
All of us and everything we do is used by the Holy Spirit, whether it is the music team, or Lisa teaching the kids, or Sandi keeping the books, or Dane, Bob, and Tom as they bring other people the Lord’s Supper. Even our coming to the altar is about one thing – letting God do the work of making a masterpiece of our lives,
Hear the verse again,
What’s important is that God makes the seed grow.
To truly being to understand that verse, we need to replace the word seed with the word, us,
What’s important is that God makes me grow!
What’s important is that God makes us grow!
God causes the growth in each one of us, and in us as a while.
We must realize this my friends, this is what is important, the work God does in your life! In our lives together. Seeing that He is working in our midst, through each other, all to the same purpose of helping everyone know God is actively part of their life. That is perfecting them, transforming them as Paul writes in 2 Corinthians,
“17 For the Lord is the Spirit, and wherever the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. 18 So all of us who have had that veil removed can see and reflect the glory of the Lord. And the Lord—who is the Spirit—makes us more and more like him as we are changed into his glorious image. 
That is the purpose – that God is making us more and more like Jesus… that’s the goal and that is how God will continue to work in us, and through us.
That is what encourages pastors to do what we do, and empowers us to be there… -when we see people grow in their ability to depend on God, to trust in Him, to believe in Him. For the miracle we see occurring is that transformation that only the Holy Spirit can be credited for…
and so we shall… (lead into doxology…)
Devotional Thoughts of the Day:
After the LORD helps you wipe out these nations and conquer their land, don’t think he did it because you are such good people. You aren’t good—you are stubborn! Deut 9:4-6 CEV
Liturgy does not come about through regulation. One of the weaknesses of the postconciliar liturgical reform can doubtless be traced to the armchair strategy of academics, drawing up things on paper which, in fact, would presuppose years of organic growth.
It ought to grow and become firmer amid good works as well as temptations and dangers, so that we become ever stronger in the conviction that God cares for us, forgives us, and hears us for Christ’s sake. No one learns this without many severe struggles. How often our aroused conscience tempts us to despair when it shows our old or new sins or the uncleanness of our nature! This handwriting is not erased without a great conflict in which experience testifies how difficlt a thing faith is.
Sigmund Freud is a good example. In Civilization and Its Discontents, he argues against altruistic love as the meaning of life and the key to happiness by saying simply, “But not all men are worthy of love.” No, indeed they are not. Agape is quite defenseless against this objection. The love we are talking about goes beyond reason, and a rationalist like Freud just does not see it. We who take agape for granted because of our Christian education should realize its precariousness. There is simply no effective rational answer to the challenge: “But give me a reason why I should love someone who does not deserve it.” Love is the highest thing. There can be no higher reason to justify it.
Fourth, some say, “I would indeed have confidence that my prayer would be answered if I were worthy and possessed merit.” I reply: If you refuse to pray until you know or feel yourself worthy and fit you need never pray any more. For as was said before, our prayer must not be based upon or depend upon our worthiness or that of our prayer, but on the unwavering truth of the divine promise
The People of the “poor”—those who, humble and meek, rely solely on their God’s mysterious plans, who await the justice, not of men but of the Messiah—are in the end the great achievement of the Holy Spirit’s hidden mission during the time of the promises that prepare for Christ’s coming.
It has never happened before. From every book I read a section of in my devotional reading, something struck me important enough to put down, to consider, and to process my thoughts all together. (Spurgeon will be a later blog…but His is impressive too)
Tempting to just leave the quotes here for you to read.
They are that significant, at least to me.
But I do this to process through these works of scripture, and of other believers who struggle with faith. So I need to struggle, to let these words wrestle with my soul.
The reading from the Old Testament sets it all up and confirms what I (and probably one or two of you already know.
We aren’t good enough.
We sin, We screw up, we get hurt and contain the resentment inside us.
And if we expect God to be on our side because we are good American Christians who have better morals and values than the rest of the world, we are the most deceived people to ever live.
Kreeft and Luther tell us in following quotes that knowing this is okay. We don’t have to justify God’s loving us. God isn’t unreasonable or illogical, but His ways are beyond ours, His ways are the purest, deepest, highest love. God listens to us, our needs, our groans, our pleas, not based on how worthy we are – in fact, that is the beauty of His logic.
That is where the Catholic Catechism and Lutheran Confessions come to play, noting our struggle, noting the need for humility, noting the Holy Spirit’s miracle in bringing us to depend on God, even when our minds are convinced we cannot. If I could add another 2000 words, I would explore that more. We have got to understand that the struggle to have faith in God, when we know our brokenness, is part of the journey of faith, the journey to depend on God who is there, working in our lives. That faith isn’t some random intellectual decision that fires off, it is a miracle. It happens because of an encounter with God that goes beyond our ability to explain.
That is why Liturgy cannot be drawn up or manipulated by those in ivory offices, those disconnected from the altar where Christ’s Body and Blood come to feed the people of God. Pope Benedict is right on in that quote. Or, as Pascal noted, “GOD of Abraham, GOD of Isaac, GOD of Jacob! not of the philosophers and of the learned. Certitude. Certitude. Feeling. Joy. Peace.” The worship service needs to see people encounter God, be in awe of Him, afraid, and yet comforted by His love and mercy.
That can’t be observed, that can’t be experienced in some far off place in St. Louis or Rome. It happens here, where the struggle is, where we need to know He loves us, even as we are not worthy of that love. That is the message our church services, our Liturgy needs to develop by resonating it deep into the souls of the people of God.
In your soul and mine. (gulp)
Yes, this is about us… and that should stagger you… for it does stagger me.
You may never consider yourself lovable by God. You may never think you are good or worthy or holy enough for Him to listen to your prayers, to laugh and cry with you…
That doesn’t matter… HE DOES.
Joseph Ratzinger, The Feast of Faith: Approaches to a Theology of the Liturgy, trans. Graham Harrison (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1986), 81.
Theodore G. Tappert, ed., The Book of Concord the Confessions of the Evangelical Lutheran Church. (Philadelphia: Mühlenberg Press, 1959), 160–161.
Peter Kreeft, The God Who Loves You (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 2004), 60–61.
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), 88–89.
Catholic Church, Catechism of the Catholic Church, 2nd Ed. (Vatican City: Libreria Editrice Vaticana, 1997), 189.
The Kingdom of God is Like a Pizza
1 Corinthians 1:10-18
† I.H.S †
May the grace, mercy and peace of God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ help you enjoy your role in others’ lives and their role in yours.
- The Kingdom of God is Like a Tripoli’s Pizza
Growing up, one of the great treats was going to the beach, and the best part of the trip was stopping at Tripoli’s Pizza. It was an incredible treat, so much better than the other pizzas that we would get back home.
Little 4-inch square simple cheese pizza. Occasionally, if it had been a good week for my folks, there would be Pepperoni on top. But there was something about it, the flavor was incredible, from the dough to the sauce, to the cheese. It was perfectly put together and it hit the spot. Always the same, always good, always hit the spot. Not sure what was in the recipe, or it was the salt air of the beach, or what it was.
It was good and right…and perfect, and nothing compared to it, heck nothing still compares to it.
The Kingdom of God is like that…
Until sin enters into the picture.
- Dividing the Pizza Up
And if we bought an entire pizza, as opposed to the normal 2 slices for a quarter, the battle royal between my brother, sister and cousins began. Everyone wants their particular slice, usually the corner with the extra pizza dough.
Or if we were blessed to get Pepperoni, there would always be one person who would count how many slices were on each piece, and if they didn’t get as many pieces as the others, oh my gosh, the battle that would ensue!
The world is like that, everyone wants what they want, everyone wants to make sure they get what they consider is their right, and what they consider is “just.” It’s not just the world though, it can happen in the church.
As it did in Paul’s day, as they compared who they followed, whose teaching, or who baptized them. In Greek, it is even more divisive, as it reads, “I am Paul’s!” “I am Peter’s!” “I am Apollos’s”, and some, even more, condescending said, “nana nana na na, I AM CHRIST’s”!
It wasn’t just then either, Martin Luther said it this way,
In the first place, I ask that men make no reference to my name; let them call themselves Christians, not Lutherans. What is Luther? After all, the teaching is not mine [John 7:16]. Neither was I crucified for anyone [1 Cor. 1:13]. St. Paul, in 1 Corinthians 3, would not allow the Christians to call themselves Pauline or Petrine, but Christian. How then should I—poor stinking maggot-fodder that I am—come to have men call the children of Christ by my wretched name? Not so, my dear friends; let us abolish all party names and call ourselves Christians, after him whose teaching we hold.
That lasted until after he passed away – and then the Evangelical-Catholic church was renamed…. The Lutheran Church.
You see, what this is all about isn’t who we follow, not really. It’s about me getting mine, it’s about my pride, my superiority. It’s not about doctrine, most of the time, it’s about me getting the corner piece of pizza, the one with the extra half slice of Pepperoni!
- What if we are the pizzas
Here is here the sermon flips. I said the Kingdom of God was like a pizza, not like eating pizza. We aren’t the ones fighting for “our” piece, or for equal shares of pepperoni. We aren’t in control of the church, or our community.
That’s a good thing!
Some of us are the dough, some of us are the sauce or the various spices in the sauce, some of us in this community are the cheese, others are the pineapple or anchovies.
O wait, Tripoli only made cheese pizza.
Again, God makes life – life, our lives, masterpieces. He’s the cook and the One who writes the recipes. He pulls all the ingredients together, mixes us all up and makes it a masterpiece.
While those not focused on God think this is foolish, we realize it is something so much more. We see it as God at work, bringing us together, putting each of us into the mix in just the right place, at just the right time.
Sure we have to be cleaned, and cut up, some of us have to me squashed or grated or tossed about like Pizza dough, but that is where faith comes into play. We trust in God’s work in our lives, knowing the incredible thing He is creating.
That what happens when we are brought into the faith, God puts us in just the right place. You see, in my analogy, the Kingdom, the Body of Christ is the pizza. Christ is the pizza, and we have our place in Him, together.
We can count on His love and mercy, and His amazing wisdom when we don’t get what we want when we don’t think it is fair when someone else gets more. Because He has promised at the end there is something amazing that He is preparing,
That is why Paul didn’t use all his 50 dollar words in writing these letters because the message of God bringing us back is so necessary for us not just to hear, but to understand. What why the cleansing of our sin resembles washing, why our celebration of Christ’s death and resurrection is a feast, where again we are told this is where the relationship is defined, where we are welcome to be honored guests, part of the feast.
We have to get this – the love and care that God takes in making our lives, with the outcome in mind at all times.
For then, with the goal in sight, we can rejoice, and let Him do His work in our lives.
 Martin Luther, Luther’s Works, Vol. 45 : The Christian in Society II, ed. Jaroslav Jan Pelikan, Hilton C. Oswald, and Helmut T. Lehmann, vol. 45 (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1999), 70–71.
Devotional Thought of the day:
7 No, the wisdom we speak of is the mystery of God—his plan that was previously hidden, even though he made it for our ultimate glory before the world began.
1 Corinthians 2:7 (NLT2)
Christianity is both. It is full of mysteries like the Trinity, creation, the Incarnation, atonement, providence, and eschatology. In fact, it is the most mysterious religion in the world. It is not at all obvious, not what we would expect. That is what all the heresies have been: what the human mind naturally expected. Yet Christianity is also supremely simple. John was right. There is, in the last analysis, only one thing: the love of God.
Here is common ground for a discussion of the structure of liturgy. Strictly speaking we should say that liturgy, of its nature, has a festal character.2 If we can agree on this starting point, the issue then becomes: What makes a feast a feast? Evidently, for the view in question, the festal quality is guaranteed by the concrete “community” experience of a group of people who have grown together into this community.
As much as I hate the idea of worship wars, or the ability of both sides to ignore the blessings of their perceived antagonists, I love to talk about worship. Even more, I love worshipping God, with his people. It can be done with choirs and pipe organs, it can be done with a band and people facilitating the singing of the congregation, it is done with a half dozen people and a guitar. Or people singing acapella.
There is no need for worship wars, not when there is so much to celebrate, as the people of God are gathered together.
This is the point that Pope Benedict speaks of, this moment where the community is formed. The feast is not because of the many incredible mysteries we fail to completely understand. Those mysteries, which Kreeft lists, are mere supplements to the true mystery, the truth that binds us all together.
What one thing Peter Kreeft says is the only thing. the love of God! (for us!)
This is our ultimate glory, this is our ultimate joy, this is what we celebrate, for as it is revealed, as the truth of it sets up inside our souls, worship and celebration is the result.
If we are more focused on the realization that God loves us, this staggering, beyond the experience of being truly loved, then worship is empowered to be something more than a pattern, a habit, a time set aside to make sure we are good with God.
It becomes a dance… it becomes a life-giving time of restoration and healing. It becomes the core of our worship, more important than being liturgical or contemporary. More important than being perfect, for all that falls aside with this thought.
“we are loved!”
Heavenly Father, as You gather us together, help us to remember this glorious truth. All we shall hear, say, sing, pray, and even our silence, Lord, may we realize that You love us. AMEN!
Peter Kreeft, The God Who Loves You (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 2004), 35.
Joseph Ratzinger, The Feast of Faith: Approaches to a Theology of the Liturgy, trans. Graham Harrison (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1986), 62–63.
Devotional Thought of the Day:
17 My strength, I will make music for you, for my stronghold is God, the God who loves me faithfully. Psalm 59:17 (NJB)
what more canst thou hope for than the fulfillment of this great promise, “I will be their God”? This is the masterpiece of all the promises; its enjoyment makes a heaven below, and will make a heaven above. Dwell in the light of thy Lord, and let thy soul be always ravished with his love.
It is Karl Barth’s answer to the questioner who asked him, “Professor Barth, you have written dozens of great books, and many of us think you are the greatest theologian in the world. Of all your many ideas, what is the most profound thought you have ever had?” Without a second’s hesitation, the great theologian replied, “Jesus loves me.”
It is refreshing to read words of pastors from other eras in the church. Especially when those words haven’t been translated, and even cleansed in recent decades. Even so, sometimes how things are said are shocking, they set us back, and cause us to process what we read.
Such an occurrence took place as I was reading from Spurgeon this morning.
That seems such an odd word to use regarding the love of God. Whether it is used in the sense of carrying someone away (after pillaging their village) or causing an incredible level of intense delight (https://www.lexico.com/en/definition/ravish ), it just doesn’t seem right or maybe a better word, considering Spurgeon’s roots – proper.
But maybe that is precisely what is missing from Christianity today. We are missing a sense of the incredible idea of being raptured ( a synonym), not in the sense of eschatology. Instead, in the sense that as we realize we are loved by God, everything else is left behind, that the delight, the joy, the wonder of being loved transform where we are, and it is no longer the place we thought we were.
You see that kind of sentiment in the great preachers and saints throughout history. John Chrysostom, Pascal, Saint Theresa, St Josemaria, Luther, all expressed that kind of experience, as they experienced the love of God. It is what mystics search after, these moments of transcendence, these moments of uncontrollable, heavenly bliss.
It is only from dwelling in that love that we can minister to others. It is the only hope we have when we have been broken by the sin of the world and shattered by our own sin. To let our soul be ravished by the love of God, as He takes us out of the brokenness, transforming us and giving us a new perspective on the world in which we dwell.
The world we dwell in, as we live in Him, and He in us. Completely loved and adored, beyond our imagination, beyond our understanding. Rather than trying to figure it out, perhaps it is better to acknowledge it, and the peace we gain from His presence. The Lord loves you! And even as you find delight in that, the realization should hit you, He delights in it as well!
C. H. Spurgeon, Morning and Evening: Daily Readings (London: Passmore & Alabaster, 1896).
Peter Kreeft, The God Who Loves You (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 2004), 34.
Let’s Go See Jesus
A Christmas Day Sermon
† In Jesus Name †
May the Grace of God our Father and our Lord Jesus Christ help you to desire to dwell in the presence of Jesus more and more!
How dare they?
How would you feel if you went to the supermarket tomorrow morning, and the doors were locked shut… and not a staff member was to be seen?
And then you headed over to your favorite restaurant, to use the gift card someone gave you, and it was closed.
Frustrated, you start to head home and realized you needed gas, and the gas station was closed, and the pumps turned off.
I imagine that would be the same response as the owners of all the sheep around Bethlehem if they had gone out to check on their shepherds on the first Christmas Day…
Think of it, all these employees just left their jobs, and took off to go see a little baby, lying in a manger? It wasn’t even their own child or grandchild.
But they took off, and they enter the village and go to the stable, and as they stare at this little baby, mumbling about angels, and being woken up from a sound night sleep and praising God for finally sending the Chosen One, the Messiah.
So who was back with the sheep?
Would we dare to leave it all behind?
So here’s my question, knowing what they did, and why, would you leave your work if an angel showed up and told you Jesus was here?
Not some ceramic doll, but if Jesus was truly here, would you leave your Christmas gifts behind, you plan for lunch or dinner? Would you drop all the other “stuff” in your life, would you forget your plans, would you be that irresponsible?
We need to be
If you wouldn’t, or If you say you would do it later, in a day or two, then I have failed our calling. I need to make sure you understand what it means for Jesus to be in your life, for Him to dwell with you!
Enough that everything and everyone else in your life takes second place.
Not just because He forgives your sins, but the real reason, our fellowship with the God who loves us, the God who came to dwell among us, and whom we will dwell with for all of eternity.
That is why He came, and laid there, for shepherds to see, and praise God to all who would listen. That’s what Mary pondered, that this little one she carried would save, not just all of Israel, but people that will be gathered from every language and tribe and tongue.
The one named Yahweh Save, and who is Called God with Us!
This Baby Jesus, who you came to celebrate today, and receive in the sacrament. He is not just the reason for the season, but the reason for your life. A life He longs to share with you, the good, the bad, the sinful, the holy, all of it. He longs to be yours, and you to be His.
So as the shepherds left everything to find that which mattered most, I pray you see Him revealed to you in this message, and in the sacrament, and because of that, in every moment of this day and week.
Knowing you are His, may the peace of God which passes all understanding guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.. AMEN!
What is in a Name?
† In Jesus Name †
May the Grace of God our Father, and the Lord Jesus Christ, prove to us He is Immanuel, God WITH Us! AMEN!
I’m confused – Do I call him Jesus or Immanuel
Once upon a time, I managed a fast-food restaurant. It was the rule back in those days to call the managers by Mr., or Mrs., or Ms. and their last name, and cooks and cashiers by their first name.
That was always a challenge for me because, at 22, I had a closing crew that was all older than I was at the time. And having my elderly 40-year-old cashier Su-lin from Thailand, or Maximino and Guillermo, two brothers in their 30’s from Oaxaca call me Mr. Parker just didn’t seem right.
Su-lin had a problem with pronouncing Dustin, so as we were talking one night, she asked me what the name Dustin meant. I told her and Max piped up – so we can just call you Pedro. Fine with me, don’t like Dustin that much.
But it made it confusing for the rest of the staff, looking around when one of the three of them called out – Pedro – help!
As I read the story about Joseph from Matthew’s gospel, I thought of the confusion!
Matthew tells us the angels told Joseph to name his foster Son, Jesus. But then says that this was to fulfill the prophecy that he would be called Immanuel.
So which is it, Jesus or Immanuel? Which do we call him? Which is the proper way to address the King of Kings and Lord of Lords?
Maybe looking at what why would call Jesus will help us figure it out. Or maybe there is more to a name than how we yell at them from across the room!
The angels say, “you are to name Him Jesus, for He will save His people from their sins.” Pretty simple, and that is what His name means.
Yah – short for Yahweh – God’s name in Hebrew, and Yasha – to make free, to preserve.
In that name, we hear an incredible message, that Jesus came to save us. As the angel says from our sins, from our brokenness.
That is part of the gospel message – that because of Jesus, we won’t face the wrath our sins deserve.
But as the television ads say, there is more, something greater than this life, which is found in what the Old Testament revealed that people will call Him.
The other name Matthew tells us the Messiah will be called is Immanuel! A word that reminds us that God is immanent, that God is immediate, that God is here, with us.
This is the purpose of Jesus saving us, to spend time with us, not just on Christmas and Easter, but every moment of our lives. This is His goal in saving us, His goal in the incarnation and birth, the life and death on the cross, it all ends up with this simple concept,
God with us.
His dream, His desire, repeated over and over in scriptures, “for I will be your God and you will be my people.
The Light Streams in Our Lives
† In Jesus Name †
May the grace, mercy, and peace of God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ shock you!
- Kreeft and Love
I just started a new book, one I didn’t know a favorite author named Peter Kreeft wrote. In the introduction, he writes something quite startling,
“God loves you”—isn’t that the most well-worn of clichés? It’s just standard filler for the laziest, most obvious and repetitive homilies. Smile. Yawn. Everybody knows that by now, at least everybody who has ever been in a church or read a Bible.
No. Exactly the opposite. It is not familiar. It is shattering. It changes everything. And most Christians do not realize it.
Even as I encountered this in my readings this week, It took me a moment to think about it. Do we know what love is? Do we really know understand it, have we experienced it?
Does it shock you when I tell you that God loves you enough that Jesus died, for you! For you Tom, for you Sandy, for you Missy, even for you who are watching this…
God loves you…
Does it still shock you, this love, when you hear the words I speak at Jesus’ command, “Your sins are forgiven you!”
Or when, into your hand, or on your tongue I place the Body of Christ, and the deacon gives you the cup containing His blood? Are you startled then?
If you aren’t, I apologize.
I haven’t revealed to you clearly enough what it means that God is love… and that love is aimed at you.
- Would we recognize Him today? Or would we reject Him?
In the St. John’s gospel, there is something as staggering to hear,
10 He came into the very world he created, but the world didn’t recognize him. 11 He came to his own people, and even they rejected him.
I still don’t understand this, how in the world could they miss Him with the way he taught, so different from all the others. He who brought healing into their lives, He who dared to forgive the vilest of sins.
He who had compassion on the most broken, those haunted by their sin, those possessed by demons, those who couldn’t be faithful to Him, like Peter and James and John…who even doubted when they saw Him risen from the dead and about to ascend to heaven.
How could they not recognize Him? Consider what Peter would write, “For we were not making up clever stories when we told you about the powerful coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. We saw his majestic splendor with our own eyes 17 when he received honor and glory from God the Father. The voice from the majestic glory of God said to him, “This is my dearly loved Son, who brings me great joy.”
Yet they did not recognize Him, and I am not sure we do either when we encounter Him in the lives of the people He so dearly loves. And even if we realize it from a theological perspective, that doesn’t mean we realize His love for us.
We need to have Jesus revealed to us, through Word and Sacrament, we have to be reminded of His presence and His love.
His love streams among us
So what does it mean when John’s gospel and Peter’s epistle say that saw His glory, His majestic splendor. What is that they saw, when Jesus came and made His home with them, with us?
Simply put, it is the fact that God is love. And that He loves us- this is what they saw… God, in Christ, had compassion on them, he was charitable towards them. He loved them, just as He loves us.
From Peter Kreeft again (did I start the right week to read this, or what?_
Jesus does not merely give us advice about agape. He gives us agape. He exchanges selves with us: we are put in Him, and He is put in us. He is the Love that “does not insist on its own way”. First Corinthians 13 is a description of Christ. His love can be in us only because He is in us. We attain agape not by trying a little harder but by faith, by believing and thus receiving (Jn 1:12), by letting Him in, letting Him invade us, possess us, haunt us.
This is it, we can love because He loves us.
We are loved. How much? Look at the cross, see what He experienced there, so you can experience His love. Look at the font, where He brings you into Himself, fuses your life to His own. Come to the altar…. And realize how much love it takes to forgive every single sin you have committed. No, how much it cost to forgive just that sin.
All this stuff about Christmas, the gifts, the tree, the flowers, the manger, it is all there to convince you of this.
So that you can believe in Him, trust in Him, and know that you have become the children of God. Shocking isn’t it… You are loved.
God loves you. He wants you with Him, now and forever
I can’t explain it any clearer than that.
God loves you… and always will. AMEN!