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Is it worth it? A reflection on 20 plus years of ministry….

Jesus foot washingDevotional Thought of the Day:

10 After Job had prayed for his friends, the LORD restored his prosperity and doubled his previous possessions.11 All his brothers, sisters, and former acquaintances came to his house and dined with him in his house. They sympathized with him and comforted him concerning all the adversity the LORD had brought on him. Each one gave him a qesitah and a gold earring. 
12 So the LORD blessed the last part of Job’s life more than the first.  Job 42:10-12  HCSB

670    Jesus says: “Everyone who has left house or brothers or sisters or father or mother or wife or children or lands, for my name’s sake, shall receive a hundredfold and shall possess life everlasting.” Try to find anyone on earth who repays with such generosity!

Twenty years ago this August I made the decision to leave my position at Pepperdine University, and become a full-time pastor at the small desert church I was pastoring on weekends. Ten years ago, we made the decision to leave our very comfortable life in the mountains where I pastored, to come back to the hustle and bustle of Los Angeles.

In both situations, the decisions had a significant financial impact, and more, for pastoring means you are there as people die, as others struggle with their sins (a number of times I have had members or former members who were arrested ) as people struggle with their brokenness.  Though most pastors don’t know it, part of the burn out is from something psychologists call “Second-Hand Shock Syndrome”  a subset of PTSD that occurs for those like pastors, nurses, fireman and counselors who encounter regularly the brokenness. of the world.

As I have thought about the last 20 years (and some before that as a jail chaplain) and looked at others who struggle in ministry, the words from Job and St. Josemaria echo in my ear.  I wonder, seriously wonder at times, when the payoff described will happen.

I am not asking you to feel sorry for those in ministry, especially me.  There are incredible blessings out there, every time I see someone baptized, or someone cry with joy as they realize that “God loves you” and “the Lord is with you” aren’t just trite sayings.  They are the truth and a life-changing truth. We get to see these incredible miracles, and they are a blessing that goes beyond description.

Yet there are days as well when most of us wonder when the work will ever get easier if the stresses will ever end.

So is having newer homes, and more kids, and more riches the reward that is waiting?

If that is all that is waiting for me, the answer is simple.

No, absolutely not.

While God is generous and loving and merciful, I think the blessings, whether now or in heaven that counts is what happens before chapter 42.  It is in the discussion God and Job have, in the fact that here is a man who converses with God, whom God challenges, yet doesn’t throw away. Whom God will declare is righteous, and though suffering becomes a blessing to his friendly tormentors.

It is this relationship, where God knows me better than I know myself, where He doesn’t abandon me (though sometimes I wonder why He hasn’t!) that is the ultimate level of generosity, that is the ultimate payoff. Intimacy with God who loves us is what this is all about, and that is more precious than any earthly reward.

And it isn’t just for pastors and priests.

He calls us all to be His sons and daughters. He desires to clean us from all that mars us, to heal our brokenness, to never leave us alone, to guide us through every portion of life, even when we don’t notice.

And to bring us into eternity, where we will see Him face to face.

25 But I know my living Redeemer, and He will stand on the dust at last. 26 Even after my skin has been destroyed, yet I will see God in my flesh. 27 I will see Him myself;  my eyes will look at Him, and not as a stranger. My heart longs within me. Job 19:25-27 HCSB

There it is, the “payoff” that makes this all worth it.  To look at a God and know Him, not as a stranger.  This is what makes it worth it for the lady that teaches 3-year-olds in Sunday School, or the Elder who takes communion ot the shut-in (and rushes to get there, so the lady can then go play Bingo at the senior center!) or the worship leader, tired from a hard week, who still smiles and ignores her own pain and anxiety and leads the people of God in praising Him, or the returned prodigal, who rejoices that wherever he goes people want to talk about God.

Or the pastor, who is simply tired… yet keeps on going, sustained by the God who is not stranger….but loves us all.  And who is reminded of that presence by those who lovingly tell him, “and also with you!”

For the Lord is with you as well… and I pray that you will see Him revealed, in all His glory, as you are embraced by Him.

 

Escriva, Josemaria. The Way (Kindle Locations 1559-1561). Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition.

How Important is Our Belief In Jesus?

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERADevotional Thought of the Day

25 But I know my living Redeemer, and He will stand on the dust at last. 26 Even after my skin has been destroyed, yet I will see God in my flesh. 27 I will see Him myself; my eyes will look at Him, and not as a stranger. My heart longs within me.  Job 19:25-27 HCSB

22 “And now I am on my way to Jerusalem, bound in my spirit, j not knowing what I will encounter there, 23 except that in town after town the Holy Spirit testifies to me that chains and afflictions are waiting for me. 24 But I count my life of no value to myself, so that I may finish my course and the ministry I received from the Lord Jesus, to testify to the gospel of God’s grace.  Acts 20:22-24 HCSB

15 These are the most necessary parts of Christian instruction. We should learn to repeat them word for word.
16 Our children should be taught the habit of reciting them daily when they rise in the morning, when they go to their meals, and they go to bed at night; until they repeat them they should not be given anything to eat or drink.
17 Every father has the same duty to his household; he should dismiss man-servants and maid-servants if they do not know these things and are unwilling to learn them.
18 Under no circumstances should a person be tolerated if he is so rude and unruly that he refuses to learn these three parts in which everything contained in Scripture is comprehended in short, plain, and simple terms,
19 for the dear fathers or apostles, whoever they were,7 have thus summed up the doctrine, life, wisdom, and learning which constitute the Christian’s conversation, conduct and concern.

579    Faith. It’s a pity to see how frequently many Christians have it on their lips and yet how sparingly they put it into their actions. You would think it a virtue to be preached only, and not one to be practiced.

If you read the words from Luther in blue above, they might seem a bit extreme.  Over the top.  Harsh.  One might even accuse him of child neglect or abuse for insisting that children don’t eat until they can repeat them. (please notice it says repeat them)  And employees be terminated for not knowing them?  Isn’t that a bit much?

Then look at St. Josemaria’s words, decrying the life-less faith of those who can say they believe, but that belief doesn’t impact their lives.  They can preach it, they can state the arguments, but there is something missing.  One might even ask if they truly have faith if they depend on the Jesus they confess to with their words.

We need to have the kind of dependence on God that we see in Job, or in Paul.  One was encountering great trauma (and then it was greatly compounded by his wife and wise counselors) and the other, went where everyone told him not to go because the Spirit revealed to them the pain and trauma he would endure.

Job said no matter how bad it gets, he knew God would be faithful and would raise him from the dead just so he could be with God.  Paul corrected them, noting that the chains and afflictions were easily worth it, knowing that people’s salvation was at stake, knowing that without knowing God, there would be no comfort, no solace, no serenity found in the midst of life.

So how does our faith, our ability to depend on the God whom we can’t see, grow?  Is it possible to have the faith of Job, Paul, Luther, or Escriva?  Or are they just heroes of the faith that we cannot hope to be like?

For myself, my faith, my dependence on God grows or deepens, the more I encounter God’s love.  Whether that encounter is at the Altar, sharing in the Eucharist, the Lord’s Supper with others who are struggling, whether it is in studying the word and teaching it.  Whether it is in times of prayer.

Perhaps the greatest times of growth occur when I hit rock bottom.  When I have no other option, no other hope, and I cry out to God.  I may cry out for a day, or even a week, but in the end, I find out He was always there.  In the end, I realize where He was working in my life, especially in the words of those who pointed me to God’s mercy and peace. It is then what I was taught in the basic tenets of our faith, the Ten Commandments, the Creed, the Lord’s prayer, and the promises attached to the sacraments also cause me to be still, to catch my breath, to know that He is God.  Our God.

This is why those that went before us are so insistent that we learn these basic things. It is critical, for people were right in the 80’s.  Life can be a bitch, and in the end, we die.  But for those who know God, even then, in our flesh we will see God, our Redeemer.  And until then, depending on Him, we can live in a peace that doesn’t make sense, kept there by Jesus himself.

Depend on it.  He who promised this is faithful.  AMEN!

Lord, have mercy upon us, and grant us the ability to depend on you!

 

Tappert, T. G. (Ed.). (1959). The Book of Concord the confessions of the Evangelical Lutheran Church. (p. 363). Philadelphia: Mühlenberg Press.

 

Escriva, Josemaria. The Way (Kindle Locations 1383-1386). Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition.

Mondays, the Wife of Job, and an Uncomfortable Faith…

cropped-will-new-camera-12-2008-167.jpgDevotional Thought of the Day:

9His wife said to him, “You are still as faithful as ever, aren’t you? Why don’t you curse God and die?”
10 Job answered, “You are talking nonsense! When God sends us something good, we welcome it. How can we complain when he sends us trouble?” In spite of everything he suffered, Job said nothing against God.  Job 2:9-10

75         Miles—soldier—so the Apostle calls a Christian. So it is that in this holy and Christian war of love and peace for the happiness of all souls, there are, in God’s ranks, tired, hungry soldiers, covered in wounds… but happy. For they bear in their hearts the sure light of victory.

It is foolish of us to regard the demands of faith—which makes unwanted demands on us and contradicts our own will—as “legalistic” and “institutional” and whatever similar terms may suggest themselves in order to shake ourselves free of it and so to sink into the leaden emptiness of a lusterless and selfish existence that receives nothing because it gives nothing. This thought should strike us anew: admittedly faith is uncomfortable, but only because it challenges us, compels us, to let ourselves be led where we do not wish to go. In this way, it enriches us and opens for us the door of true life.

There are Mondays, and there are Monday’s in which people around us act like Job’s dearly beloved, wife.  Actually out of the 142 days that have passed so far in 2017, too many have been Mondays, and it seems as many have had people like Job’s wife in the background.

Or maybe I’ve met Job’s wife as I look in the mirror, as I see the trauma of this world, the suffering of people, and I utter those words, directed to myself.  Maybe not curse God and die, but perhaps curse God and find a cave to hide in, give up, find something else.    

I know the tired hungry soldiers, covered in wounds who try to minister to the people of God.  Who struggle to work with people, trying to reveal to people the love of God who will cleanse and heal their hearts, their souls, their minds.  It doesn’t seem reasonable the pain endured by missionaries and pastors, teachers and other church leaders.  

I know the weariness of Job, slammed time after time with disaster and trauma, and I would pray for the faith to praise God when He provides times of discomfort and growth as well as the times where everything clicks right. For there are times we are led where we don’t want to go, there are times trusting in God makes us suppress our own desires and want, and sometimes, even our needs. We also suppress our own despair, recognizing it for what it is, and how Satan would use it to isolate us from the comfort and peace found in Jesus.  There are times we are called to be like Jesus and need to rely on His Holy Spirit to sustain us, even as He was sustained.

We can either curse God and run/die, or we can trust in God’s faithfulness in His promise of comfort and peace.

It’s hard, and often we waver, but He is faithful.  And when we stumble, we can let Him pick us up, cleanse us again, and lean on Him in this journey of life.

The victory is sure, the hope of glory is ours, and He is here, and will never abandon us.

Amen.

Escriva, Josemaria. Furrow (Kindle Locations 535-538). Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition.

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

Eight Years, and Still Learning this Lesson; A Sermon on Job 38

Why Ask?

Job 38:1-18

†  In the Name of Jesus †

May you be blessed by truly grasping that the grace, mercy and peace of God our Father and our Lord Jesus Christ Jesus is indeed yours, even as it was Job’s!

A Questioned answered, with a Question

I know it is very valid educational method, but it still irritates me.  It is called the Socratic Method, and it can be very effective, in both teaching and in counseling.  You simply make the student process the information by only responding to them with a series of questions, based on their answers.

As I said, it can be very effective, because it makes the person you are teaching or counseling think.  Instead of giving them the answers, you guide them in finding the answer. It does wear on the student a little, as they struggle with the process.  But because they come to the conclusion, they understand the answer far better.

25 years ago, this month, I was a freshman at a Bible College, and my first class in Ephesians had a professor who taught in this manner.  It was great, and he was excellent at this style of teaching.  I still remember some of the discussions in that course.  The next semester though, he used the same educational theory.  The only problem was the course was elementary Greek!  So Mr. Parker, what do you really think the 2nd person aorist passive verb “pistis” means!  Socratic teaching doesn’t work for things like ancient Greek, or Algebra.  But it has its place.

Like when someone like Job is looking for an answer, an answer they already have.  It is then far more beneficial to have them answer the questions, moving ever towards the answer that they already know.

When Job asks why? God doesn’t answer directly, but starts Job on a series of questions, that will lead Job back to what is essential, not only for Job, but indeed, for us.

What the question isn’t asking

            How dare you? 

            Why do we hear it that way?

            We are attuned to the Law, to the Wind and Waves

Hear again, the first verses of our reading,

 1 Then the Lord answered Job out of the whirlwind and said: 2 “Who is this that darkens counsel by words without knowledge? 3 Dress for action like a man; I will question you, and you make it known to me. 4 “Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth? Tell me, if you have understanding Job 38:1-4 (ESV)

A bit attention getting? I think so!  Out in Anza, we had a lot of dust devils – miniature tornadoes which spiraled dirt a hundred feet in the air.  They made a lot of noise when they hit the church, and if you drove through one, the dirt will come flying through the A/C vents!  I can’t even imagine the whirlwind that hits job, both the one out of which God answers, and the one his life was in.  He lost everything, he had friend doubting his faith, and as he sits there, crushed and broken, Godfinally answers.  “Get up, and answer me…”

I have to wonder, if when we read this passage, we read it as God criticizing Job, as God putting Job in his place.  Hey Job, don’t you realize that you are nothing, that you can’t measure up to me, that you are insignificant in my eyes?  After all you’ve never done anything, and you won’t measure up to what I can do.  Come on Job, be a man, put up your dukes and let’s rumble! Winner takes all, and I, Almighty Sovereign, Everlasting God will challenge you to a fight of 10 rounds. Ready?

Except can’t be that.  We know from the rest of the book that God favors Job, that He loves him. That God counted Job as His.  That God said that Job would not stop entrusting himself to the God that love him, because the love is beyond the stuff of the world.

So why do we hear these questions of God in this way?  Why do we not question the way this sounds?  Does it seem to be the God you would want to follow? To be that petty, that mean, that self-serving?  Yet, how often do the people of this world see God, and indeed, His church, as that kind of God?  How many think that God and the church only exist to condemn, and brutally use guilt and shame to control them? Do we give them that expectation?  Do we expect it ourselves?  Why?

Is it perhaps because we are afraid that God would be that way?  That we hear God’s law questioning our lives, and we automatically assume that the reason He is questioning us, is to prosecute us?  So we are afraid to admit that we have failed, that we gossiped, or lied, or lusted or wanted to kill someone, or betrayed someone’s trust, or didn’t love that person.

How many of us are afraid of the voice that would answer us, out of the storms that are our lives?  We fear being blown over by that wind, or maybe we are afraid of what God will ask of us, and that as sinners, we will be called to do something incredible, like Peter’s walking on water.

The danger of not getting the Entire story!         

But Peter didn’t drown in his storm, and neither did Job. We know that Jesus reached down and saved Peter, and if we read three more chapters of Job, we would know that God also redeemed his life.  The issu

You see, God is asking these questions in a Socratic form.  The answer to each of them, “No, I wasn’t there Lord”, “no, I didn’t do that”, is not to humiliate Job, but to get him to think.  The questions are asked with a goal in mind for Job.  That he would understand that it is okay for mankind to struggle with life, and the heavy questions of suffering and why things happen.  That we don’t have the answers to why, but that we can answer who is the One who determined the measurements of the world.  Then we know the answer to whom controls the waters and who the morning stars, and the angels shouted for joy to see!

A few chapters after these questions, God says if Job can only answer him, 14 Then will I also acknowledge to you that your own right hand can save you.”  Job 40:14(ESV)I don’t know about you, but the last thing I want God to think, is that I can save myself.  I cannot, for I will screw it up.  I don’t want God to applaud my efforts, I want Him to reach out and save us, to make us His, to redeem us.

That is what the questions lead to, and what Job remembers, when in chapter 42 we find this. “1 Then Job answered the Lord and said: 2 “I know that you can do all things, and that no purpose of yours can be thwarted.” Job 42:1-2 (ESV)

Job is back, back to where he was in the beginning, when all was going well.  He remembered that his trusting God was based, not on his holiness, but on God’s faithfulness, on God’s character and strength.  That is where the questioning leads, to the very relationship that God assured satan was unshakeable.  Not because Job was perfect, but because Job knew whom to trust.

25 For I know that my Redeemer lives, and at the last he will stand upon the earth. 26 And after my skin has been thus destroyed, yet in my flesh I shall see God, 27 whom I shall see for myself, and my eyes shall behold, and not another. My heart faints within me! Job 19:25-27 (ESV)

Job knew, in the midst of his suffering, that God would redeem him. That somehow, even though he were to die, that he would then live to see God. That is the voice speaking of someone who knows they are God’s, that is assured that God is one their side, that their redeemer will come.  In God’s answer to Job’s complaint here is a far better answer.  You are not God – I am.

I am.. I am your God.  I am the one who will save an redeem, and answer.

In Christ’s death, centuries after Job’s life ended, the answer was seen in its fullness.

That is where God was leading Job in the questioning, not to self-suffiency, or humiliation, but to call on Him, trusting in the His love.  Love so strong, that it would pay the highest cost, the Body and Blood of Jesus, to redeem us, to save us from our sins, and the sin of the world.

I have a son, a cute little pain in the neck.  As I leave in the morning, I call out to Him and ask, do you love me?  He runs and hides, or says no, with a great big smile on his face.  I long to hear him say I love you dad, or to reach out His arms to me. Patience will get me the hug I want – and God is more patient with me – waiting for me to remember He is God. The God who asks me to call upon Him,.

That is the nature of God and Job, it’s not about the suffering, it’s not about the challenges, it’s not about humiliation.  It is about a God, and one of His people.  The One who promised to redeem, and the one who would be redeemed.

My friends, we are the redeemed.  Redeemed not by our own works, but called to redemption by God, and made to be His people.

May you live in God’s peace, knowing this.  Peace that surpasses all understanding, and guards our hearts and minds, in Christ Jesus.

Amen?

Be at peace.

Augustine’s confession and the reality of Monday

Devotional Thought of the Day:

11  No! I can’t be quiet! I am angry and bitter. I have to speak. 12  Why do you keep me under guard? Do you think I am a sea monster? 13  I lie down and try to rest; I look for relief from my pain. 14  But you—you terrify me with dreams; you send me visions and nightmares 15  until I would rather be strangled than live in this miserable body. 16  I give up; I am tired of living. Leave me alone. My life makes no sense. 17  Why are people so important to you? Why pay attention to what they do? 18  You inspect them every morning and test them every minute. 19  Won’t you look away long enough for me to swallow my spit? 20  Are you harmed by my sin, you jailer? Why use me for your target practice? Am I so great a burden to you? 21  Can’t you ever forgive my sin? Can’t you pardon the wrong I do? Soon I will be in my grave, and I’ll be gone when you look for me. Job 7:11-21 (TEV)

For I bore about a shattered and bleeding soul, impatient of being borne by me, yet where to repose it, I found not. Not in calm groves, not in games and music, nor in fragrant spots, nor in curious banquetings, nor in the pleasures of the bed and the couch; nor (finally) in books or poesy, found it repose. All things looked ghastly, yea, the very light; whatsoever was not what he was, was revolting and hateful, except groaning and tears. For in those alone found I a little refreshment. But when my soul was withdrawn from them a huge load of misery weighed me down. To Thee, O Lord, it ought to have been raised, for Thee to lighten; I knew it; but neither could nor would; the more, since, when I thought of Thee, Thou wert not to me any solid or substantial thing. For Thou wert not Thyself, but a mere phantom, and my error was my God.  (1)

Yesterday’s sermon was on the slaughtering of the innocents, and the despair of Israel as the children were led away into captivity.  An odd way to begin the year, I thought.  I included statistics that were overwhelming, the number of martyrs, both those who died without denying Jesus, and the number of lives cut short before their 

It’s enough to make you stagger, to bluntly reveal our brokenness, to tear our hearts apart by simply being honest.  Even those who helplessly look on are devastated and struggle to find God, and even more, we often push away the comfort He would give us.  

Often times, we are too polite, to bound by a sense of hospitality, to address these things.  We want to shove the pain into some dark corner or our soul  We are afraid to be honest with God, to openly cry about the pain, to admit the anger, to let ourselves be purged of our bitterness.

Augustine tried to find such solace, he couldn’t escape the pain. Neither could Job.  But it is as they confess this, as they struggle with the god they cannot see, that they cannot fathom, that hope begins.

I understand them, perhaps all too well.  When I am at such points, overwhelmed, I want to run and hide.  To find solace in a place like Lake Ossipee, NH.  To dive into the fictional works I love, of earlier times in history, or the worlds of Tolkien or Feist. I long to be someplace other.  To replace prayer with the study of theology, to replace the sacred times, the sacramental life with busyness serving others.  Ministry can be a great place to hide in the illusion of self-preservation known as denial. 

David knows this grief, as did Solomon.  the emptiness, the lack of the peace we pursue. You can’t read the Psalms without noting it, or Ecclesiastes without finding the bitter pain of a life that seemed only to be defined by vanity.

It is in facing that vanity, that lack of peace, that emptiness that we can realize our need for God.   That we can understand what faith is, that we can understand how intimate the relationship is, where God teaches us to desire and pray to see His Kingdom come and will be done. 

Stop running, cry out with your soul until you can be still. For then you will know that He is God, know He is here, and that He is your refuge.  For being still is not possible until we deal with the pain that would have us fight or flee. It is then, broken, wounded, weeping, that we come to the cross, and indying to ourselves, we find Him.

There, at the cross, worn out and weary beyond measure, you will be still; ou will find what Agustine and Job, David and Solomon all found, and what transformed them.  A God who comes to us… and brings healing and peace.

AMEN.

 

Augustine, S., Bishop of Hippo. (1996). The Confessions of St. Augustine. (E. B. Pusey, Trans.). Oak Harbor, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc.

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