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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.

His Church: Marketing or Talking with God?

Thoughts to encourage us to spend time with Jesus.

Please listen, O Shepherd of Israel, you who lead Joseph’s descendants like a flock. O God, enthroned above the cherubim, display your radiant glory 2  to Ephraim, Benjamin, and Manasseh. Show us your mighty power. Come to rescue us! 3  Turn us again to yourself, O God. Make your face shine down upon us. Only then will we be saved. Psalm 80:1-3 (NLT2)

He told me, ‘Cornelius, your prayer has been heard, and your gifts to the poor have been noticed by God! 32 Now send messengers to Joppa, and summon a man named Simon Peter. He is staying in the home of Simon, a tanner who lives near the seashore.’ 33 So I sent for you at once, and it was good of you to come. Now we are all here, waiting before God to hear the message the Lord has given you.”   Acts 10:31-33 NLT 

Listening to someone personally beats hearing about that person second hand. Yet strangely when it comes to the mission of the church we settle for the latter. Too much of what passes for gospel mission is second hand information; it may be factual and instructive, but it’s not personal. It resembles advertising more than anything else.

Then he [Martin Luther] was asked whether the sacraments have a spiritual power in themselves, so that baptism would be consecrated water which by its own strength could wipe out sins, even in case the water were drunk by an ass. He replied, “Because the spiritual power of God doesn’t comprise corporeal, inanimate matter, baptism doesn’t accomplish anything at all as water existing by itself. But as an action (which would be in its use) baptism has power, so that if anybody sprinkles an infant with water together with a recitation of those words of Christ by which he instituted baptism and promised the forgiveness of sins, that action, and not the water, has divine power.

The experts that study the church have told us for years a simple thing about why people come to church. It is because a friend, relative or co-worker invited them to come, and made sure they knew they would be welcome. Maybe it is because we are tired of trying to motivate our people, or we’ve seen too many “invite-a-friend” Sunday fail that we fall for the glamour and hype modern marketing and business planning offers us. Mission statements, goals and objectives, strategic implementation all geared to help us sell our faith…

BUt we aren’t in the business to sell our faith. We are ind the ministry to share why we have hope.

Sharing why we have hope, giving the reason for it means that we have discovered a reason to have hope—God revealed it to us, It is an overwhelming hope, as God guarantees us an eternity free of guilt, shame, resentment, pain, sorrow. It is a life where His presence brings us peace during the trials and traumas of life. This is hope at its best, and assurance of God’s love and presence in our lives–a presence that is available to everyone.

What if our efforts were teaching people to pray like those who wrote the Psalms did, expectantly begging God to make Himself known to all of us?

What if we realized He desired to turn us and draw us to His side, to smile at us, to save us all?

Senkbeil mentions the importance of hearing from someone directly, and he is talking about hearing from God. Both Cornelius and Peter did, and responded to what the message God had given them. Luther takes it another step–it is listening to God’s promises in the words of Christ that make a sacrament a sacrament.

If the people who are the church hear God, hearing His word will transform them. That transformation will cause their hearts to break as they see people suffer without Him, and they will want them to know His peace.

That causes revival, the knowledge of God’s love and His work rescuing us…

Or, as we say at my church – we are the broken people finding healing in Jesus, while helping others heal.

Lord Jesus, reveal to us today more of the work you are doing in our lives, turn us again and draw us closer to You. Then Lord, help us see others as You do, and use our lives to draw them through You to the Father. AMEN!

 

Harold L. Senkbeil, The Care of Souls: Cultivating a Pastor’s Heart (Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press, 2019), 226.

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), 358.

This sermon is written…for the same reason as the Scriptures: A sermon on John 20:30-31

May be a cartoon of text that says 'REGDIT IT ALL CA NESES Beginner Books Green Eggs and Ham By Dr.Seuss'

a sermon by Deacon Robert Foutz, delievered at Concordia Lutheran Church 4/24/2022

This sermon is written…for the same reason as the Scriptures
John 20:30-31

Every night I would read my daughters a bedtime story.  First I read them a Bible story and then a regular story.  One of their favorites was Dr Seuss’s Green Eggs and Ham.  It’s a very simple story with only two characters; the first is a guy named Sam and his friend, Sam’s friend has no name, I will just call him Sam’s Friend.

Sam only has one goal in the story that is to get his friend to eat green eggs and ham.  He says, “taste my green eggs and ham . . . just try them and you’ll see they taste good.”

But his friend does not want to try green eggs and ham.

And on and on it goes, until Sam I am says, “You do not like them, so you say. Try them! Try them! And you may. Try them and we will see.”

Spoiler Alert! Sam’s friend does finally try them and does like them!  And he likes them!

Say! I like green eggs and ham! I do! I like them, Sam!

Thank you, Sam.

As a parent, I’ve read that story to my daughters hundreds of times. They never seemed to grow tired of it.

Over and over, night after night I read Sam’s request as he repetitively asked his friend to try his green eggs and ham. You get the idea.

Sam I Am has one simple message. “Try my greens eggs and ham. They are good.”

So what does Sam’s green eggs and ham have to do with the passage in John, and what I am doing here today?

John has only has one simple message try my Jesus! You will like him, just try and see.  And Pastor Parker needs a day off so it’s my turn to be like Sam tell you about Jesus.

So why am I up here?

What is Pastor Parker’s goal for me being up here? What is Pastors goal when he sends me off to other churches?  What am I supposed to do – just tell jokes and tell you about some interesting facts about a book that was written 2000 years ago to people who don’t speak our language?

Or is my purpose to preach what Pastor taught me in my deacon class on Worship?

That the chief purpose of all worship services is to give you what you need to know about Jesus? 

There was only one question on the final exam: What is the chief purpose of all worship services?

Answer: To tell the people what they need to know about Jesus.

Kind of like how Sam had only one message, one goal:  To get his friend to try green egg and ham.  I have one message, one goal:  To tell you about Jesus.

That’s pretty close to what the Apostle John says here – in verse 30 The disciples saw Jesus do many other miraculous signs in addition to the ones recorded in this book. 

John 21:25 — Jesus also did many other things. If they were all written down, I suppose the whole world could not contain the books that would be written.

I would like to know all about these miracles but then the Bible would probably be about a foot thick.  Think about it for a minute, Jesus’ ministry lasted about 3 years and if Jesus performed one miracle a day, the disciples saw 1,095 miracles. Writing all that down would take all the paper in Jerusalem. 

It also tells me the disciples only recorded the miracles they thought were the most important miracles, the most amazing miracles, the miracles that proved Jesus was the Messiah, the Son of God.

So my job is to help you experience Jesus, depend on Jesus, to know without a doubt that Jesus is your Savior and then help you see the life you have as you grow to trust Him.

And not be like doubting Thomas.

Verse 26 says “Jesus was standing among them. “Peace be with you,” he said. 27 Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here, and look at my hands. Put your hand into the wound in my side. Don’t be faithless any longer. Believe!”

Thomas the Apostle—often referred to as “Doubting Thomas”—was one of the twelve main disciples of Jesus Christ. In the Gospel of John, Thomas famously doubted Jesus’ resurrection, telling the other disciples, “I won’t believe it unless I see the nail wounds in his hands, put my fingers into them, and place my hand into the wound in his side.”  

All Christians suffer doubt at one time or another, why does God let us suffer? And a hundred other questions I have for him.

But that doubt does not mean disbelief, they are not the same thing, I have questioned God, I have doubted why God did things many times but never, never ever lost my faith in God. Big difference!

The example of doubting Thomas provides both a teachable moment and encouraging one. After His crucifixion and resurrection, Jesus appeared alive and glorified to His disciples to comfort them and proclaim to them the good news of His victory over death.

I doubt (it wasn’t only Thomas), but all of us from time to time doubt.  It was 33 days after Thomas’s proclamation, that according to Matthew 28:16, some of the disciples still doubted – they still didn’t get it all.  

Last week Pastor told us about the men on the road to Emmaus, how an unrecognized Jesus explained the entire Old Testament to them.  

Now let’s look at verse 31 But these are written so that you may continue to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that by believing in him you will have life by the power of his name.

We can depend on Jesus, he is the one Anointed by the Father.  All the miracles, all the scriptures point to this simple fact: Jesus is the Messiah, Jesus is the Son of God.

And when we depend on Jesus, we have life, life here on earth and life in heaven.  How does this happen?  It is simply because Jesus has claimed us as His own.

He bought and paid for us, sins and all, on the cross. 

Two of my favorite phrases are “pay to the order of”

and “paid in full.” 

To me nothing feels better feeling than getting a paycheck and then sitting down and paying all your bills.  But sadly, next month all the same bills show up again. 

But there is a true feeling of freedom on peace when you make the last payment on something like your last car payment.  Mark it paid in full! Done! I never have to pay that bill again!

That what Jesus did on the cross my sins are paid in full! Done! I never have to pay that bill again!

That is what John is telling in this passage of scriptures to depend on Jesus because of everything He has promised us. Everything he has paid for us!

And when we experience Christ and know what he’s done, then when God tells us His peace is ours, we get it, because we know Him and His promises.

I remember the day after my father died, a friend came over and told about when his mother died.  He told me “it well get easier.” He said “the pain will never go away but it will get easier.  I promise.”  I thought he was nuts, this hurt, this loss, this emptiness will never end.

Well, he was right.  Over the years it has gotten easier.  Like all of us, we miss our loved ones at big events, family gatherings, Christmas, birthdays, am I right? 

But you know when I really miss my dad, the day that make me cry every year?  Easter.  The promise of the resurrection! 

Some versions of the Bible use the word “Hope.” They use phrases like the hope of Christ, the hope of the resurrection. 

NO No no!

I hope the Green Bay Packers win the Super Bowl. I hope I catch a lot of fish next weekend. 

I don’t hope that my dad is in heaven, I have a promise from Jesus

You see my dad, stood on the promise of Jesus Christ the Son of the most, high God. And Jesus promised to take him home to be with him.

I am up here this morning to remind you of my nine favorite words.

The Lord is with you . . . and also with you.

Followed by my favorite 13 words.

He is risen, he is risen indeed.

And therefore, we are risen indeed.

Amen

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.

Trickle Down Discipleship…

This isn’t discipleship…

Thoughts to encourage us to cling to Jesus

From his abundance we have all received one gracious blessing after another.* 17 For the law was given through Moses, but God’s unfailing love and faithfulness came through Jesus Christ. 18 No one has ever seen God. But the unique One, who is himself God,* is near to the Father’s heart. He has revealed God to us. John 1:16-18 NLT

The law of the leader tells us who are preachers that it is better to cultivate our souls than our voices.… We cannot take our people beyond where we ourselves have been, and it thus becomes vitally important that we be men of God in the last and highest sense of that term.

So the struggle ensues: Every baptized believer lives each day on a battlefield in this fallen world, contending not just against the devil but also wrestling with the compulsions and obsessions of his own sinful flesh. These forces conspire to defile and desecrate the holiness that belongs to every baptized believer. That means that the Christian life in this world calls for constant vigilance; the Christian is always under siege and at war with the devil, this sinful world, and his own sinful flesh.

I am not sure what I believe regarding trickle down economics – and this post is not a challenge to convince me one way or another. But I am going to apply the theory to discipleship. That discipleship is something that trickles down – or perhaps trickles up – since pastors and other ministers are servants, not masters. But if the pastor/minister is to be a shepherd, they need to be disciples – and they need their time sitting with the Master, being taught and healed and cleansed by Him.

Senkbeil explains why – the struggle. Every pastor, every priest, every director of Christian Ed or elder or member of the altar guild is involved in a struggle. No, not a struggle, the struggle. And that requires constant vigilance – not to fight the war by one’s own strength – but to be vigilant by keeping one’s eyes on Christ! There is our only answer, our only hope, our only refuge – just in Jesus.

For as the gospel points out, He reveals to us the Father, and the Father’s love for us. And so we have to listen and think, and be “illuninated” by the Holy Spirit. (This is Luther’s phrase from the catechism – it means the Spirit has to turn the lights on in us… so we stop stumbling in the dark!) Without that ongoing ministry of sanctification, we don’t know the glory and joy of being freed – and we can’t lead others through it.

Tozer says we can’t lead where we haven’t been. You can’t take someone thorugh the ominous oppressive darkness, unless you are going thorugh it, guided by Jesus. We can’t help them deal with that which defieles and desecrates them, unless we’ve come to that place where healing begins as Jesus deals with that which still tries to defile an desecrate us.d

This isn’t about us just leading people in spiritual disciplines as if we were a PE coach or drill instructor ordering people around. We have to be there, familiar with the muck and mire, familiar with the despair, haunted by the grief and shame – but familiar as well with the joy of having the weight lifted from us by Jesus. We have to depend on Him, we have ot see how much He loves us, how faithful He is to us.

and living in Christ – well that does trickle down – or up…


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.

Celebrating the Transfiguration: A Sermon on Luke 9

Celebrating the Transfiguration of Jesus
Luke 9:28-36

I.H.N.

May the peace of God, our Father who raised Christ Jesus from the dead, transform you in a way others can see… and may that transfiguration cause others to worship Him.

  • Shutting Peter up!

As I read and re-read Luke’s recounting of the Transfiguration, I tried to imagine what was going through Peter’s mind. He wasn’t having the best day…

He fell asleep on Jesus’s discussion with Moses and Elijah.

Then Peter managed to put his mouth into action prior to thinking or even asking what Jesus wanted to do…

Then he was terrified by the storm cloud surrounding him after he screwed up…

In between all that – he had to deal with seeing Jesus differently than he would ever see him…. Revealed in all of His glory, revealed as God.

I get all that. I can fall asleep kind of quickly, I can get scared by storms, and I can, as most guys can, put both feet in my mouth with room to spare…

But what I didn’t understand was how one thing happened. Luke describes it in a straightforward phrase, “They didn’t tell anyone at that time what they had seen!’

Somehow Jesus got Peter to shut up about the most outrageous miracle Peter haver seen to that point.

Peter, the one who couldn’t shut up – silenced…

What he saw – was that incredible… so powerful… and the promise with it so intimately personal – it changed him.

Peter had to wait until after the resurrection to share the story. We do not; we get to celebrate the transfiguration of Jesus! We get to celebrate His being revealed in all His glory… to us.

  • Reactions to the glory of God – First – Fear

There are two reactions to God’s glory being revealed. The first is simple – it is fear.

In Adam hiding after eating the avocado and Moses at the burning bush, you see that. As described in the epistle, you also see it when the people of God saw Moses reflecting the glory of God…

They wanted no part of it; it terrified them, much as hearing God the Father’s voice terrified Peter, James, and John. Collapse in fear level terror. Solomon and the people of God knew that fear at the dedication of the temple, just as Isaiah knew.

Simple reason, without Jesus to explain the difference, all we got is that God is pure and perfect and hates sin…and we’ve sinned.

Even the reflected glory of God in Moses’ face was enough to terrify the people of God. As Paul wrote about – they cannot understand the truth – the truth that would set them free – that God loves them and would save them from everything…

And without that knowledge – collapsing in fear is pretty much what you get.

  • Reactions to the glory of God – second peace

Compare that kind of fear to the reaction of Peter, James, and John. Seeing Jesus in all His glory, along with the two of the three greatest heroes in the Old Testament, they … they fell asleep?

No terror, nor fear, no collapsing or losing control of their bodies… they rested. They had found that kind of peace in the presence of Jesus.

Imagine that – being so restful – so at peace, that you could sleep through a miracle of epic proportions?

That is the difference that Jesus makes in our lives – because of Him, we can be comfortable in having the fullness of God’s glory revealed all around us.

By the way – this isn’t just my idea – this is what Martin Luther said,

Thus it was that the three apostles who saw Moses and Elijah on Mount Tabor were not afraid of them, because of the tender glory in the face of Christ [Luke 9:32]. Yet in Exodus 34[:29–35], where Christ was not present, the children of Israel could not endure the splendor and brightness in the face of Moses, so that he had to put a veil over it.[1]

I love the way Luther phrases it – they weren’t afraid – because of the tender glory in the face of Christ…

And that was before Jesus headed to the cross and died for their sin, and for ours. It was before He instituted the Lord’s Supper – the place where we weekly encounter the glory of God, the love and compassion that are demonstrated as God gives us the Body and Blood of Christ.

IN our interactions with Jesus, whether it is studying His word, prayer, or the sacraments of Baptism, Absolution, or the Lord’s Supper – we see the glory of God so different than the people of Israel do…

We see the glory of love demonstrated to us as Jesus served, healed, taught, and looked forward to the cross for the joy set before Him. (Hebrews 12:2)

Knowing this, we can rest – and even sleep.. peacefully!

  • Now, what do we do?

Now the challenge happens, as we wake up and realize we are in God’s presence…

We could be like Peter – and simply do what makes the most sense… except we don’t have to build tabernacles or temples. We have a perfectly nice one here. 

Hopefully, we don’t need the storm clouds to come out and the sky to crack open with the voice of the Father…

We just need to hear – and treasure what Jesus has to say to us…

Treasuring His love and glory enough to just do it…

Like loving enemies and praying for those who persecute and oppress us…

Or going and making disciples of nations, baptizing them and teaching them to treasure all God has established…

In both cases, the goal is the same – to help people experience the glory of God – the kind that comes as they see the tender glory of Christ’s love for them, as they enter into His presence, as they realize what the cross and empty grave mean…. as they respond to you, as you tell them…

The Lord is with you!

Well – that is true – but I said you would be telling others this – and hearing them respond back…

Reassuring you of the glory of God and the peace that surpasses all understanding – for you dwell in Christ… and share in His glory! AMEN!


[1] Luther, Martin. 1999. Luther’s Works, Vol. 35: Word and Sacrament I. Edited by Jaroslav Jan Pelikan, Hilton C. Oswald, and Helmut T. Lehmann. Vol. 35. Philadelphia: Fortress Press.

Great Hope in Dark times found in… the tithe? (huh????)

A most interesting party

Thoughts to encourage us to cling to Jesus… and adore Him.

24 “Now when the LORD your God blesses you with a good harvest, the place of worship he chooses for his name to be honored might be too far for you to bring the tithe. 25 If so, you may sell the tithe portion of your crops and herds, put the money in a pouch, and go to the place the LORD your God has chosen. 26 When you arrive, you may use the money to buy any kind of food you want—cattle, sheep, goats, wine, or other alcoholic drink. Then feast there in the presence of the LORD your God and celebrate with your household. 27 And do not neglect the Levites in your town, for they will receive no allotment of land among you.
28 “At the end of every third year, bring the entire tithe of that year’s harvest and store it in the nearest town. 29 Give it to the Levites, who will receive no allotment of land among you, as well as to the foreigners living among you, the orphans, and the widows in your towns, so they can eat and be satisfied. Then the LORD your God will bless you in all your work.
Deut. 14:24-29 NLT

What grief and despair did Lazarus feel in his last hours, knowing that Jesus could have come and did not come? This divine action challenges our idea of God, our idea of Jesus Christ, our idea of the spiritual life. Surrender to the unknown marks the great transitions of the spiritual journey. On the brink of each new breakthrough there is a crisis of trust and of love.

This mornings devotional readings seemed. all over the place. As is my preference, I try to put together what I read into one thought. into one concept, that I can apply to what I will encounter that day. Today,

This morning’s devotional readings seemed. all over the place. As is my preference, I try to put together what I read into one thought. into one concept, that I can apply to what I will encounter that day. Today, finding that message seemed challenging, none of the readings, from scripture, and from the sections of devotional reading came close.

My heart resonated with Keating’s words about suffering, about what went through the heart of Lazarus as he waited in vain for Jesus to come. We read it an know Lazarus will rise from the grave, but he did not, for neither did his sisters. How dark that road must have seemed! How lonely and forsaken. So our days, our roads seem at times, as we suffer, as our hearts cry out… and there is no answer.

I think then of the tithe, something we don’t understand all that well. At least the tithe Moses describes. Imagine working hard, separating out the tithes, and then realizing you must leave everything behind, and journey over steep mountains to get to a place – to present the tithe. It takes faith to leave home and flocks and fields behind. It takes trusting God to make the rugged journey as well.

But then, the reason for this tithe (there were several) was to throw a party, to celebrate in the presence of the Lord! To use all that was to be sacrificed, but the sacrifice was to celebrate what God had provided (and was taking care of in your absence!)  Is this a forerunner of the feast in Heaven?  Perhaps… no probably.

Amid feelings to the contrary, in the midst of pain, grief, sorrow, and even depression, the idea of that tithe is powerful. That God wants this celebration – all the best food, the best drink, reminds us that the journey is not the destination. That the suffering and darkness will give way to light, and a life of great joy. That even the power of sin will be silenced, and the guilt, shame and resentment it causes is erased. For we will be in the presence of God…. God who loves us.

The answer to our darkness and despair always comes as we find ourselves being moved to the celebration, to the feast, to the moment where everything else is left behind to know He is God.

Soon my friends, the party will begin, and from the blessings God has poured out on us, we will bring to celebrate with Him. Invite the stranger, the alien, the pastor to, for together, we share in the love and glory of God. Till then, one step in front of the other, and think of the promised feast at the end of the journey.

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.

How Do I get… like That? A sermon on Psalm 71:15-24

How do I Get Like That??
Psalm 71:15-24

I.H.S.

May the Grace of God our Father and our Lord Jesus Christ so transform us, that our lives are lived in praise of God!

  • Intro – I so wanna be this excited about my faith!

When I read the Psalm preparing for this week, I immediately wished I could always be this excited about my relationship with God.

The second was to blast the translators for missing out on their punctuation. I mean, this is how they wrote it…. (read flatly)
 
15  I will tell everyone about your righteousness. All day long I will proclaim your saving power, though I am not skilled with words.”

Compare that to this (pumped up!)

15  I will tell everyone about your righteousness! Though I am not skilled with words, all day long, I will proclaim your saving power!

How I wish I could, every waking moment of the day, find the energy to be like that. Even more, I want my sermons to reveal the amazing love that God has for you, that that was your attitude and behavior.

  • Young and Old

One of the lines I really want to look at in this passage is verses 17-18. Hear those again,

17  O God, you have taught me from my earliest childhood, and I constantly tell others about the wonderful things you do. 18  Now that I am old and gray, do not abandon me, O God. Let me proclaim your power to this new generation, your mighty miracles to all who come after me.

Again, I love the energy of the Psalmist and the idea that God has been teaching us from our youngest moments. For it is often in our youth, or our earliest days walking with God, that telling others about the “wonderful things God is doing” occurs. That is an amazing time in our faith, as our dependence on God just soars.

  • Present things – aren’t the future –

But there is the second half of it there – which is all too real. As we go through life, there are times when we might wonder if God has abandoned us. Times where our understanding of God wavers and where we don’t see His power and mighty miracles so easily. 

Where did God go? 

Why don’t we see Him at work in this?

And while we respond “and also with you,” we aren’t so sure He is with us. The Psalmist was there – and prayed accordingly.

That is why He could also rejoice – for he knew, 20  You have allowed me to suffer much hardship, but you will restore me to life again and lift me up from the depths of the earth!21  You will restore me to even greater honor and comfort me once again!

That is the kind of trust, the kind of faith that we should have! Not the type that denies the downtimes exists but embraces them – knowing the promises of God for the future and for our eternity.

That is trusting God. That is finding joy knowing His promises overwhelm the present challenges that we face. God will restore us, even as He restored Job. And He will comfort us, His presence there, always.

That is what I desire each of you have, even more than I want it for myself. The confidence that allows you to look past these days of COVID, these days of uncertainty, knowing the love of God will sustain you.

  • Look to His wonders – to His faithfulness – to His righteousness

For it is by knowing His promises that we can join in worship with the Psalmist,

22  Then I will praise you with music on the harp, because you are faithful to your promises! O my God. I will sing praises to you with a lyre, O Holy One of Israel! 23  I will shout for joy and sing your praises, for you have ransomed me! 24  I will tell you about your righteous deeds all day long!

In the adult Bible Study, we will also talk about this as we end chapter 8. Promises that God will use everything to bless us, and nothing can separate us from God. But that is the same focus David has here…

That God will be dependable, that what He has promised – He will do!

And that realization should get us excited…  We can sing and shout for God has made us His own!

He has done what is right, and He has made us His own children. As we are invited and drawn into His presence, we know that that is the purpose of this sermon, this service.

To help you know this. God loves you, has saved you, and you are welcome in His presence, both now and for eternity.

And knowing this, may you realize that you dwell in peace, even though you can’t explain how wonderful it is. And until we are before His throne, that peace of heart and mind is guaranteed to us in Jesus. Amen!

The Peace that We Need…

Where we find true peace

Thoughts to encourage our clinging to Jesus…

Then Moses called for Mishael and Elzaphan, Aaron’s cousins, the sons of Aaron’s uncle Uzziel. He said to them, “Come forward and carry away the bodies of your relatives from in front of the sanctuary to a place outside the camp.” 5 So they came forward and picked them up by their garments and carried them out of the camp, just as Moses had commanded.
6 Then Moses said to Aaron and his sons Eleazar and Ithamar, “Do not show grief by leaving your hair uncombed* or by tearing your clothes. If you do, you will die, and the LORD’s anger will strike the whole community of Israel. However, the rest of the Israelites, your relatives, may mourn because of the LORD’s fiery destruction of Nadab and Abihu
.
Leviticus 10:4-6 NLT

He is gnawing at his own heart,” said Luther. “I, too, often suffer from severe trials and sorrows. At such times I seek the fellowship of men, for the humblest maid has often comforted me. A man doesn’t have control of himself when he is downcast and alone, even if he is well equipped with a knowledge of the Scriptures. It is not for nothing that Christ gathers his church around the Word and the sacraments=- and is unwilling to let these be hidden in a corner. (1)

Of course, if you’re not careful you can burn yourself out in pastoral work. Sadly, thousands of pastors end up spiraling into emotional and spiritual collapse every year.
But when you take care to receive Christ’s own love and strength by means of his Spirit through his word, you have something to give to others without yourself being depleted and emptied.
(2)

Any appeal to the public in the name of Christ that rises no higher than an invitation to tranquillity must be recognized as mere humanism with a few words of Jesus thrown in to make it appear Christian.…
Christ calls men to carry a cross; we call them to have fun in His name. He calls them to forsake the world; we assure them that if they but accept Jesus the world is their oyster. (3)

I have to admit, I don’t like the words Moses spoke to Aaron and his boys. Why aren’t they allowed to grieve alongside their family? Paul talks of us weeping with those who weep (and laughing with them as they laugh as wll.) So this stupid act of their cousins should bring a time of grieving and being there for the family.

Shouldn’t it?

In this case, by no means in every case, they could not be there. We have to be careful of making this scenario a case study and establishing ground rules for pastoral care. I have heard that pastors must keep their distance and be above and remote from the scenario to pastor people. Based on the Romans 12 description of weeping and laughing, I have heard the opposite.

The question is, how do we become wise enough to know the difference? And how do we deal with our own pain? How do we find our peace when we encounter such trauma as pastors or people? Where do we find the wisdom to enter into the family’s pain, or not?

Senkbeil and Luther both note the high cost of enduring such trials. Trials that lead to the “gnawing at your own heart,” not being able to “have control of himself,” and “emotional and spiritual collapse” that most pastors deal with regularly. They will both find the same solution, which I will get to in a moment after I deal with Tozer – his words help clarify the discernment needed.  

The idea that our message is only an invitation to peace and tranquility is the danger of trying to multi-task as a mourner and spiritual care provider. I am not saying God cannot work in these situations, but it taxes us too significantly and will lead to a message that doesn’t tie our peace to the cross. Establish enough of these trials, one after another, and the pain will break anyone. And when we fail, our words become something less, a placebo, no longer connected to the peace that is genuinely needed in a time like these.

Tozer calls the believer to carry the cross first…to forsake the world because focused on Christ whom we meet at the cross, we can be relieved of burdens and find the peace we need. This is why Senkbeil talks of letting the Spirit work through Word and Sacrament to receive Christ’s love and strength within us.  It is why Luther talks of the fellowship
and the humblest maid comforting him, even as Jesus gathers His church around the Word and Sacraments. It is only connected to God’s grace that our words can do more than be a placebo. Only then is there something to give something beyond all understanding… the peace of Jesus!

Aaron and his boys were responsible for the Old Covenant sacrifices, those activities that pointed to God’s promise of peace. They weren’t forbidden to weep because God was uncaring. Rather, I think they needed to have the strength
of the promise that would enable the community to find grace and peace at the moment. They needed to remind people that God was still with them and that God was sustaining them, and even as God was ministering to them through the community, Their comfort and peace came from God, and they needed to lead people there. For us that means embracing the cross, accepting its suffering, realizing that there we meet Jesus. That is where we find life and hope, and rest. THat is why baptism, absolution and the Lord’s Supper take us there.. to Jesus… at the cross. 

When I was a hospice chaplain, I watched nurses put aside their grief to care for the patients who passed away. We would weep together later – apart from those we had gone to care for, the patient and their family. Like Aaron and his
boys, we were the hands and voice of God for those hurting and grieving. I think that is what Moses was working from with these words. He directed them to not show grief at that moment because if they lost their way in despair, not
only would they drown, so would the community. As they focused on God… and His mercy…then they would be comforted and be able to offer the same.

This isn’t easy; this idea of keeping our eyes on Jesus in the middle of the pain. To be bluntly honest, I needed to be reminded of it presently… but it is there, at the altar with others.. that God’s peace is found, where the burdens
are lifted.

After the years of 2020 and 2021… that is where we need to be found… and when we are… we can minister to so many who need to know the peace of Jesus.

 

 

(1) 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), 268.

(2) Harold L. Senkbeil, The Care of Souls: Cultivating a Pastor’s Heart (Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press, 2019), 7.

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

Help in these dark days….


Thoughts to help you realize Christ’s devotion to you!

And Moses told them, “It is the food the LORD has given you to eat. 16 These are the LORD’s instructions: Each household should gather as much as it needs. Pick up two quarts* for each person in your tent.”
17 So the people of Israel did as they were told. Some gathered a lot, some only a little. 18 But when they measured it out,* everyone had just enough. Those who gathered a lot had nothing left over, and those who gathered only a little had enough. Each family had just what it needed.
19 Then Moses told them, “Do not keep any of it until morning.” 20 But some of them didn’t listen and kept some of it until morning. But by then it was full of maggots and had a terrible smell. Moses was very angry with them
.
Exodus 16:15-20 new living translation

The entire scope of the mystery of Christ is experienced at ever-deepening levels of assimilation as we celebrate the liturgical seasons.… We are invited … to relate to Christ on every level of his being as well as our own. This developing relationship with Christ is the main thrust of the liturgical seasons.… The transmission of this personal relationship with Christ—and through him with the Father—is what Paul calls the Mysterion, the Greek word for mystery or sacrament, an external sign that contains and communicates sacred Reality. The liturgy teaches and empowers us, as we celebrate the mysteries of Christ, to perceive them not only as historical events, but as manifestations of Christ here and now. Through this living contact with Christ, we become icons of Christ, that is, manifestations of the Gospel in … daily life.

I look at the manna provided, day by day, to the people of Israel and I see a test I would fail, and fail at miserably.

Starving, and food appears, and my instinct would be to gather as much as I could – enough for the weeks and even a month ahead…. because what happens if it stops appearing? What happens when God doesn’t provide as he did on Sunday… what happens when the well is dried up… and not only the people I am responsible for, but me, face the test of trusting God for tomorrow?

Having been put in that place many times, and even in some recent situations, I know I will fail to trust God for tomorrow. Heck, I am having a struggle trusting Him today…

In this the season where darkness lasts longer each day, and where that darkness seems darker and colder, trusting God for eternal life is hard, because trusting Him for tomorrow seems impossible. So we sin by trying to grab upp more than He has promised to provide.

That is where the liturgy, and the church seasons have lent their support in the past, and still do, even in the darkness of today.

Because the liturgy is drawn from scripture, because it works through the life of Christ, from being an anticipated promise, to being born and dwelling among us, to dieing and rising, ascending and reigning, the movements mirror our own lives- including this darkness of the fall, and the depth of the winter’s depression. THe church year in its readings reinfroces this movement, and recognizes in Advent the darkness before the arrival of Christ.

A darkness where hope needs to be realized, a darkness needed to be shattered, andour being sustained by God’s providence until it is shattered. ANd the liturgy and the church year provide a reminder that it has been shattered… and that God is with us, in Advent and Easter, in the darkness and the new life. And as we walk with Him, as we realize His presence, we become icons, reflecting His glory.

In the midst of the heartache and pain, the loneliness and isolation, the season of Advent gives us a chance to breathe…. to look around… to hear God saying, I am here today…. walk with me now… and don’t worry about tomorrow…

and someday. we will be in the land of promise… Home with Him…

Lord, help us in the dark times of life to shed our anxiety, our heartache, and simply rely on what you provide in this moment, and in the word and sacrament that pours out Your grace. Help our faith, our dependence on You, grow in these times… that we may know You are here… 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), 341.

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