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The Truly Important Ministry….is Unseen but by a few.

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Dawn at Concordia

Devotional thought for your day:

“Watch out! Don’t do your good deeds publicly, to be admired by others, for you will lose the reward from your Father in heaven. 2  When you give to someone in need, don’t do as the hypocrites do—blowing trumpets in the synagogues and streets to call attention to their acts of charity! I tell you the truth, they have received all the reward they will ever get. 3  But when you give to someone in need, don’t let your left hand know what your right hand is doing. 4  Give your gifts in private, and your Father, who sees everything, will reward you. Matthew 6:1-4 (NLT)

718         If only they could see the good things I do!… But don’t you realise that you are carrying them around like trinkets in a basket for people to see how fine they are? Furthermore, you must not forget the second part of Jesus’ command: “that they may glorify your Father who is in heaven.”

Nearly a year ago, I did the memorial service for an incredible lady.

The bulletin of that service still resides on the little refrigerator in my office, a reminder of our very simple, very special relationship.

Every Tuesday at 9 am, I would travel about 500 yards from my office, enter the house she had a bedroom in, and talk a moment, then pray for her.  No more than 15 minutes, more likely ten or so. On occasion, I would bring her the leftover flowers from church on Sunday,

And every time I left, even when she was too tired to talk, I felt lifted up.  She ministered to me far more than I ministered to her.

I knew she had a couple of incredible jobs in her life.  The executive assistant to a seminary president, the producer of a mega church pastor’s television ministry.  She didn’t talk about those things.  Rather it was the joy of hearing from this friend or that pastor.  It was about reading the sermons of those she knew.  It was always about someone else,

Given the honor of officiating at her service, I realized that day how much of an honor it was.  Men who served the church for decades and trained thousands of preachers were there.  They told me of the things my friend did, and how she ministered to them for decades.  How she helped and raised money for seminarians and worked for equity among the staff. How she interacted with world famous preachers ( I still love the story of her moving a bicycle rack to protect a parking spot for Billy Graham – and how he helped her move it back where it belonged when he got there! )

Yet I knew none of this as I visited her, as I prayed for her, as we looked at Roses and carnations and lilies and marveled at the hand of God that created the beauty we observed.   I simply knew a lady whose bright eyes ministered to me as I prayed for her, a  lady who lived so simply, so beautifully that I looked forward to visiting her each week.

I think she got the passages above and the incredible things she did in life weren’t paraded around, for her reward was to hear Jesus welcome her home.  Looking back on a life full of incredible service to God wasn’t her style, it wasn’t what she counted as important. Rather it was finding God’s peace, as a neighborhood pastor stopped by, and she could fill his life with God’s peace, even as she rejoiced in a small time of prayer.

I miss my friend – but thank God for what she taught me about ministry and walking with God, watching Him at work.

Escriva, Josemaria. Furrow (Kindle Locations 2995-2999). Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition.

The Most Needed of Ministries

Tau CrossDevotional Thought for the Day:

57 Then they shouted loudly and covered their ears and all ran at Stephen. 58 They took him out of the city and began to throw stones at him to kill him. And those who told lies against Stephen left their coats with a young man named Saul. 59 While they were throwing stones, Stephen prayed, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.” 60 He fell on his knees and cried in a loud voice, “Lord, do not hold this sin against them.” After Stephen said this, he died.  Acts 7:57-69 NCV

This is the perpetual characteristic of the true church: it not only experiences suffering and is dishonored and held in contempt, but it also prays for those who afflict it and is gravely concerned about their perils.[i] 

It is a necessity that we are reminded that Spiritual Warfare is not battling against flesh and blood, rather, the flesh and blood is what we are called to do battle on behalf of, to help free them from what would keep them away from the gospel.

Yet so much of our literature, so much of our training, so much of our attitude is about defeating the person, bringing them to submission, We have so bought into a competitive lifestyle, that it impacts and drives our ministry.

If we are that competitive if we see our spiritual warfare as against those we differ with, how we will nourish the faith and desire we need to pray as Stephen did?

How will we learn to plead for those who do evil as Moses, Abraham, and Paul would?  How can we begin to imitate Christ, who asked the Father to forgive those who mocked, stripped, bet and tortured Him, even as He died to secure their freedom from sin?

We need to develop this characteristic that is found in Christ Jesus.  We need to develop it not just as a measure of our holiness, but for their sake. As Luther said, we need to be concerned about the perils that the people who oppose us will face, especially the peril that would come if they never find out about God’s love.

This may sound imprudent, or impossible,  It may seem that it is only for saints and the holiest of us, but holiness is not an inbred characteristic.  Nor is the patience and compassion that this kind of ministry requires. Which should give us the key to the ministry.  It isn’t about us being holy enough, it is about realizing the compassion and love of God show to us!  It about trusting in God’s promises more than we fear them, or are shamed by the contempt and dishonor they would throw at us,

It’s the result of walking with God, of sharing in His glory, of realizing the love we treasure would free them.

It would bring about reconciliation.

And when it happens, it is amazing to see, it is wonderful and incredible to see

And so needed.  It is our ministry, to walk with Jesus as He seeks and saves the lost.

Lord Jesus, help us love them as you love them. Help us desire that they would know you mercy, that they would experience your compassion and love, that they would find themselves sharing in your glory, as you claim them as your own. Lord, have mercy on us all.  AMEN!

[i] Luther, Martin. Luther’s Works, Vol. 2: Lectures on Genesis: Chapters 6-14. Ed. Jaroslav Jan Pelikan, Hilton C. Oswald, and Helmut T. Lehmann. Vol. 2. Saint Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1999. Print.

It’s Monday…time to open our eyes…and see God!

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God, who am I?

The devotional thought of the day:

35 When Jesus heard that they had thrown him out, Jesus found him and said, “Do you believe in the Son of Man?” 36 He asked, “Who is the Son of Man, sir, so that I can believe in him?” 37 Jesus said to him, “You have seen him. The Son of Man is the one talking with you.” 38 He said, “Lord, I believe!” Then the man worshiped Jesus. 39 Jesus said, “I came into this world so that the world could be judged. I came so that the blind n would see and so that those who see will become blind. 40 Some of the Pharisees who were nearby heard Jesus say this and asked, “Are you saying we are blind, too?”
41 Jesus said, “If you were blind, you would not be guilty of sin. But since you keep saying you see, your guilt remains.”  John 9:35-41  NCV

Open our eyes Lord
We want to see Jesus
To reach out and touch Him
And say that we love Him
Open our ears Lord
And help us to listen
Open our eyes Lord
We want to see Jesus  (1)

445  If you abandon prayer you may at first live on spiritual reserves… and after that, by cheating.

The Pharisees struggled with this idea of Jesus healing a blind man. 

They had even more of a problem with this man showing them the obvious, that the one who healed them was the prophet promised by Moses, the One they were waiting for, the Messiah and Savior, not just of Israel, but the world. (they had trouble with that as wel!)

One of the earliest praise songs I can remember learning to play is in green above.  Simple lyrics, some might say too simple. They are a prayer we need to consider, to pray for ourselves, to teach others to pray.  

They are what Jesus is getting at, as he responds to the Pharisees, noting their blindness, a blindness so complete that they do not even realize they cannot see.  Some would read Jesus’ words as simply chastising the men, but that would overlook His love for them, and the mission He has been sent on by the Father. (Luke 4)  He is there to open the eyes of all the blind, the ones that cry out to him for healing, and those who don’t even know what it is like to see.  

If we only hear Him chastising them, as much as I hate to say it, we must realize that we are no better than them. We have become just like them.

My instinct is that it is then we have forgotten to love a life of prayer, a life not just studying about Jesus, but listening to Him, and realizing that we can tell Him that we love Him, that we adore Him.  We get judgmental, condescending and condemning when we’ve forgotten this, and yes it happens to all of us. 

We get spiritually dry, our reserves have been depleted, we’ve been overwhelmed, and in our dryness, justify and try to find comfort in our position, or our knowledge. We are better than them, whether they be those who are new to the Kingdom of God, or they are our neighbors, or our family, whoever is the one who reminds us that we cannot see God at the moment.

The blessing is that it doesn’t have to be that way.  Repentance isn’t far from us, and the opportunity to pray is always there.  You don’t have to take a number or remain on the on hold.  

God is with you… ready to cleanse and bless and comfort you and I

So Lord have mercy on us, and open our eyes… we need to see You!

(1)  A praise song by Bob Cull  1976

(2)  Escriva, Josemaria. Furrow (Kindle Locations 1975-1977). Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition.

 

Where is the Church?

Devotional Thought of the Day:

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Concordia Lutheran Church – Cerritos, Ca , at dawn on Easter Sunday

9  Love must be completely sincere. Hate what is evil, hold on to what is good. 10  Love one another warmly as Christians, and be eager to show respect for one another. 11  Work hard and do not be lazy. Serve the Lord with a heart full of devotion. 12  Let your hope keep you joyful, be patient in your troubles, and pray at all times. 13  Share your belongings with your needy fellow Christians, and open your homes to strangers. 14  Ask God to bless those who persecute you—yes, ask him to bless, not to curse. 15  Be happy with those who are happy, weep with those who weep. 16  Have the same concern for everyone. Do not be proud, but accept humble duties. Do not think of yourselves as wise. 17  If someone has done you wrong, do not repay him with a wrong. Try to do what everyone considers to be good. 18  Do everything possible on your part to live in peace with everybody. Romans 12:9-18 (TEV)

Christian experience begins in the everyday world of communal experience. Today, the interior space in which Church is experienced is, for many, a foreign world. Nevertheless, this world continues to be a possibility, and it will be the task of religious education to open doors on the experiential space Church and to encourage people to take an interest in this kind of experience. When people share the same faith, when they pray, celebrate, rejoice, suffer, and live together, Church becomes “community” and thus a real living space that enables humanity to experience faith as a life-bringing force in daily life and in the crises of existence.

As a young believer, I watched the church betray and hurt people I loved.  I’ve seen it again recently, to more than one person.

It puts the words from Pope Benedict above in a different context, as he speaks of those for whom the experience of being the church is a foreign world.  We aren’t talking about those who are completely blinded to the gospel, we are talking about those who have had to seek refuge from the Church.

Why would the place described as the place where we “experience faith as a life bringing force in daily life and the crises of existence” be the place where such faith is snuffed?

Have we forgotten that the church is a body, that we are to have the same concern for everyone, weeping and laughing with them, That we are to try and live in peace with everyone? This is why we talk of church as a community, a communion, a fellowship.  Everyone is important, no one is to be silenced because they are drowned out by the crowd.

But how do we create this environment in the church?  How do train leaders to develop such a spirit, especially in a culture which promotes narcissism?  How do we do this in a culture which says we have to take care of things at home?

Pope benedict talks of the mission of religious education being to help people experience this – but how can they, if the church is more often seen as a cold and heartless place?

My answer may seem to simply, but it is the only one I’ve seen work.  That answer is to work on developing hearts full of devotion. This kind of church is not something naively discussed, but it occurs as God’s presence is revealed, and people adore Him, because of what His presence brings about, the lives of joy that His presence creates, strengthens, and sustain.

We find what people what we need, in the communion of saints, the communion that is fashioned by Jesus, and gathers and laughs and cries, as He laughs and cries with us… all as one.

This is where the church is, where it is experienced, where it goes and finds refuge from the world, and then brings others to experience that refuge.  AMEN

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.

All Saints’ Day Sermon – The Gathering of All Companions….

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The Gathering of All Companions

Rev. 7: 9-17

† In Jesus Name! †

We’re all here….

In the epistle to the Hebrews, after describing the great heroes of the faith, there the following words,

39  All these people earned a good reputation because of their faith, yet none of them received all that God had promised. 40  For God had something better in mind for us, so that they would not reach perfection without us
. Hebrews 11:39-40 (NLT)

Thhat prophesy we see in Hebrews is described in the first reading, the one from Revelation 7.  When people from every continent, from every culture, from every language, from every time period in history are gathered together, and God looks out on them,

and they praise Him.

Much as God has gathered us from every corner of this world and brought to this room.  To celebrate the same thing we will celebrate then, that,

“Salvation comes from our God who sits on the throne and from the Lamb!”

I want to hear those words, said by us all, to give us and idea of what they will sound like, in various accents, in various voices, male and female, young and old

We are here for the same reason, for the same purpose, to praise the God who comes to us and loves us.

The Tribulation

There has been much to be written and said about the answer the elder gives about the great crowd dressed in white.

Some translations talk of them coming through, or out of the tribulation.  The translation we use here describes it as those who died in the great tribulation.  I am not sure how it translates into Chinese, but the idea of tribulation in English has for a couple of centuries caused great fear, so much fear that theological systems have developed, not around Christ Jesus, but around when and how this tribulation occurred.

Oh, by the way, its not just any tribulation – it is the mega-tribulation.  The greatest tribulation, the greatest suffering known to man, in all of history, since this passage happens at the end of time.

A tribulation that only God can bring us through, a tribulation where God brings forth all of His wrath against sin.  A tribulation so great, that sin can’t withstand it, and those who are sinners are killed off by it.

All sinners, and it doesn’t matter what they have done.

For as Paul tells the church in Rome, all have sinned.

You might find it interesting, but that mega tribulation has already happened.  It happened much as the Old Testament prophet claimed it would,

5  But he was pierced for our rebellion, crushed for our sins. He was beaten so we could be whole. He was whipped so we could be healed. 6  All of us, like sheep, have strayed away. We have left God’s paths to follow our own. Yet the LORD laid on him the sins of us all. 7  He was oppressed and treated harshly, yet he never said a word. He was led like a lamb to the slaughter. And as a sheep is silent before the shearers, he did not open his mouth. 8  Unjustly condemned, he was led away. No one cared that he died without descendants, that his life was cut short in midstream. But he was struck done. Isaiah 53:5-11 (NLT)

That is why the passage of Revelation mentions that the blood spilt, that causes their robes to be white is not their own, but it is Christ’s.

For it is in His death that we find life, it is united to His death, that we find our sins stripped from us, and our being brought to life.  Don’t take my words for it, that is what Paul writes often,

11  When you came to Christ, you were “circumcised,” but not by a physical procedure. Christ performed a spiritual circumcision—the cutting away of your sinful nature. 12  For you were buried with Christ when you were baptized. And with him you were raised to new life because you trusted the mighty power of God, who raised Christ from the dead. 13  You were dead because of your sins and because your sinful nature was not yet cut away. Then God made you alive with Christ, for he forgave all our sins. 14  He canceled the record of the charges against us and took it away by nailing it to the cross. Colossians 2:11-14 (NLT)

My dear, dear brothers and sisters, what makes us family, part of the family of all Saints, is simply this, that Jesus suffered and died for us….

That’s Why We Praise Him

Because He died, we died with Him, because He has risen, we have been given new life, we’ve been born again, we’ve been quickened by the Holy Spirit, and been cleansed from every sin, and can wear the white robes of God.

That is why we can gather here, people from so many different backgrounds, and yet we are one people, God’s one people. The saints He gathers in His presence, and as we realize this, our voices cry out in praise.

This is our God, who loves us, who gathers us together, as His holy people. It is time to celebrate His love, just like the people do in Revelation.

Church, and especially the celebration of the Lord’s Supper, has been described as the Feast that is a foretaste of the feast to come….. and so the church is supposed to be is a small glimpse of what heaven will be.

So as we feast, on the Lord’s Supper, may we see that moment, when millions upon millions will gather, from many more backgrounds, ethnicities, languages than here.

But this glimpse, is a small view of that peace, the peace that passes all understanding. ..
For we are His people, gathered by Him together… gathered to live with Him.

AMEN.

Grieving our Condemnation of a Photo being taken

Devotional Thought of the Day:

1  Remind the people to respect the government and be law-abiding, always ready to lend a helping hand 2  No insults, no fights. God’s people should be bighearted and courteous. 3  It wasn’t so long ago that we ourselves were stupid and stubborn, dupes of sin, ordered every which way by our glands, going around with a chip on our shoulder, hated and hating back. 4  But when God, our kind and loving Savior God, stepped in, 5  he saved us from all that. It was all his doing; we had nothing to do with it. He gave us a good bath, and we came out of it new people, washed inside and out by the Holy Spirit. 6  Our Savior Jesus poured out new life so generously. 7  God’s gift has restored our relationship with him and given us back our lives. And there’s more life to come—an eternity of life! 8  You can count on this. I want you to put your foot down. Take a firm stand on these matters so that those who have put their trust in God will concentrate on the essentials that are good for everyone.   Titus 3:1-8 (MSG) 

16  If a hostile witness stands to accuse someone of a wrong, 17  then both parties involved in the quarrel must stand in the Presence of GOD before the priests and judges who are in office at that timeDeuteronomy 19:16-17 (MSG) 

758  You say that he is full of defects! Very well… but, apart from the fact that people who are perfect are found only in Heaven, you too have defects, yet others put up with you and, what is more, appreciate you. That is because they love you with the love Jesus Christ had for his own, and they had a fair number of shortcomings. Learn from this!

Yesterday my twitter and facebook accounts were flowing with criticism of three world leaders for taking a picture of themselves ( a “selfie”) at the celebration of Nelson Mandela’s life. They were smiling, but the atmosphere of the celebration was a joyous one. How “shameful!”, how “horrible”, “How disrespectful”. were the cries.   To be honest, the two prime ministers, both of very reserved countries, were not criticised as much as President Obama was.  I wonder, if he had said no, and insulted the Danish lady who asked, how the press and the cybersphere would have handled it?

I challenged a few of the more virulent attacks, wondering where their compassion and understanding went, when the rush to judgment occured.  I asked a few questions,

1.  When exactly in the celebration was the picture taken?

2.  Who asked for the picture?

3.  Did you know this wasn’t the funeral, but a public celebration and testimony of this remarkable man’s work?

I’ve learned to ask these questions, because of my own experience rushing to judgment, and falling on my face as I realized I didn’t know the entire story.  I am not immune to such rushes to judgment, yet I can stop myself a little more often.  Those I asked – came back defensively, as if there was no valid reason to question their public questioning and condemnation of this action.  The irony is slightly amusing, but far more, it grieves me. Especially among those who know God, who understand His mercy, who know His commandments to love, to build up each other,these comments were made, and so I grieve.

I am afraid we’ve lost our way, that we’ve become so polarized in our comfort, that we don’t lift up leaders, that we don’t remember that they, like us, are human.  We don’t take on the big issues, but we look for what we perceive to be charachter flaws, signs of betrayal, and we latch onto those things. What kind of example are we setting, what kind of love are we showing people that God has for them?  If theyknow the scriptures, how could they see us as obedient to God, as treasuring the kind of life that He commissioned us to live?

If we claim to live in GOd’s presence, if we claim to know the Holy Spirit dwells in us, how can we continue to be so ready to believe and pass on every criticism about someone, whether we know the details or not.  How will this behavior reflect on the God who appointed us as His ambassadors?   Will this pattern of behavior, far more self centered than “selfies”, become part of our church relationships?  Our family life?

At what point will we lay down our idolatry, our  self appointed judgeships, and will we pray for our leaders?  When will we look to encourage them and respect them rather than tear them down?

Will will confess these sins, and hear those incredible words  – your sins are forgiven you – go and sin no more!

For God is faithful – and will forgive our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness!

Escriva, Josemaria (2011-01-31). Furrow (Kindle Locations 3150-3154). Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition.

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