Because of what God has done,
I plead with you…
May you experience the incredible gift of the love of God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ, and as that love changes your very life!
Because of What He’s Done
Normally, I unveil the bread and wine during the Lord’s prayer.
As I say the words, Thy Kingdom Come, Thy will be done, for in that moment we recognize that God’s will, I uncover and reveals the chalice and the tray. That Jesus would die, giving up His body and blood, that our sin would be forgiven, that our lives would be renewed.
I am not going to wait to do that but will do that now, and as I do, I would ask that we all take a moment of silence, and think about the suffering, the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus Christ.
Now, thinking of all God has done for you, I plead with you, as Paul pleaded with the church in Rome, give your body to Jesus, a sacrifice that lives and breathes and IS holy.
For God has done so much!
As Paul wrote, everything comes from Him, exists by His power and is for Him! All Glory to Him for ever and ever! AMEN!
So let’s find out what it means for us to be living and holy sacrifices…if we can!
I say if there for a reason. We are talking about dealing with, and interacting with God, the Creator of all there is, the one whom Paul started this passage describing when He said,
How great are God’s riches and knowledge, How impossible it is for us to understand His decision and His ways!
We know it is impossible to know what God knows, and I think we get that it is impossible to understand His decisions and the ways He arranges our lives.
Even so, how often do we try to advise God, or throw a tantrum when things do not go our way? How many times do we choose to go our way rather than His? How many times do we struggle with life, and choose to sin because we can’t see how God’s way makes more sense than ours?
Maybe we don’t understand why it’s so important to be faithful to our spouse, (not just sexually faithful – but in all ways) Or maybe we struggle with respecting an authority figure because we can’t figure out why God put them there. Maybe the temptation is to covet what someone else has, not being content with what God has blessed us with in our lives. Or maybe the problem we have is with judging people and sharing that judgment in a way that is called gossip. Or maybe we don’t understand why God would have us set an entire day apart, we don’t get why we should waste it and be still, and know that He is our God, that He is our refuge and strength.
It doesn’t matter which sin it is, for they all find their origination in our not recognizing that God is greater in riches and knowledge, as we determine that since we cannot understand His decisions and ways, that ours is better.
It isn’t, and we don’t realize it until we hit rock bottom. And most of the time not even then.
It takes the grace of God to run us over before we ever can realize that God’s decisions, His ways, His knowledge is best, even if we cannot understand it.
It takes the mercy of God, it takes a transformation, the one Paul describes that happens to us as we realize God’s ways are not just bigger, but far better. Hear Paul again,
You Will learn
2 Don’t copy the behavior and customs of this world, but let God transform you into a new person by changing the way you think. Then you will learn to know God’s will for you, which is good and pleasing and perfect.
Notice it doesn’t say let Pastor Dt change you, or change yourself, or let the latest self help guru change the way you think about yourself.
What Paul wants us to do is to let the Holy Spirit transform us, by changing the way we think. What it says in Greek isn’t just to change a though or two, but to change your mind.
This is an absolute key, and it is what causes our lives to be lived in a way that is discussed in the rest of the chapter, to embrace depending on God, to work as God calls us to live, doing what He has chosen, but doing it in in accord with the faith he gives.
That is part of the result of the transformation.
You are a transformer!
Paul describes this transformation to the Corinthians this way,
18All of us, then, reflect the glory of the Lord with uncovered faces; and that same glory, coming from the Lord, who is the Spirit, transforms us into his likeness in an ever greater degree of glory.
What a transformation God does to us! (Much better than going from a car to a militant robot!)
A transformation that affects every part of us, every bit of our lives.
For God creates life in us, and shows us that we can have faith, we can depend on Him, and we can know, not all the mysteries of our faith, but what God’s will is for us, His pleasing and perfect will.
What is that will? To do what God has called and equipped you to do.. whether it is to speak publicly about God, to serve others who are in need, to teach, to encourage others, to give beyond normal, to lead others, or simply show kindness to others…
just do it, depending on Jesus – as much as you can, as humbly as you can, as God has called you to do.
just do it, because of God’s love for you – and the work He does, revealing His love to you, serving you, teaching you, encouraging you, giving to you without any boundary, leading you, and simply showing you His mercy and kindness….
live life, moving with Him, for He is your God, and you are His people…..
For that is His good and pleasing will….for you – to know you are His, and He is with you always… AMEN!
Take Up Your Cross:
What Does that Look Like?
† Jesus, Son, Savior †
May the grace, mercy and peace of God our Father, and the Lord Jesus Christ flood your lives, enabling you to “really” love others!
Take up the Cross…but what does that look like?
The words of Jesus we know well, we’ve heard them before, but how often do we think through what they mean?
“If any of you wants to be my follower, you must turn from your selfish ways, take up your cross, and follow me.
Turn from our self-centered, self-serving, self-focused needs. That is a real challenge, especially in a culture that jokes about what it feels to be true. You know that saying, “It’s all about me”
That’s tough, and God’s law does convict us when we act like life is “all about me.’
But it’s the second and third actions that are required, that make it more challenging.
Taking up a cross? Which one – the one above the altar – hey no problem. The one Vicar Chai carried in this morning? It’s kind of heavy – but most people can carry it. No, it is something far more than that.
Take up the cross, and follow me, Jesus says!
Are you willing? More importantly, are you able?
In order to answer that question, we have to know what does this mean: “take up your cross, and follow Jesus”.
You have to know what it looks like.
That is what the section of Paul’s letter to the church in Rome describes, so let’s look there.
What it looks like
Though the description of taking up your cross and following Jesus flows through the entire twelfth chapter, I want to start with verse 11 this morning, for it is the key
11 Never be lazy, but work hard and serve the Lord enthusiastically. 2 Rejoice in our confident hope.
Now, most of the people here are not even remotely lazy, most work hard. We commit to serving the Lord enthusiastically. We are confident in the hope we have; that God will be faithful to His promises. So this bearing the cross thing seems possible, and since we are good people, we can do this!
But those encouraging words are to spur us on to do that which is more challenging….
It goes on,
Be patient in trouble, and keep on praying. 13 When God’s people are in need, be ready to help them. Always be eager to practice hospitality. 14 Bless those who persecute you. Don’t curse them; pray that God will bless them.
15 Be happy with those who are happy, and weep with those who weep. 16 Live in harmony with each other. Don’t be too proud to enjoy the company of ordinary people. And don’t think you know it all!
17 Never pay back evil with more evil. Do things in such a way that everyone can see you are honorable. 18 Do all that you can to live in peace with everyone. 19 Dear friends, never take revenge.
These actions and attitudes are not easy, they are indeed, what it looks like to take up your cross, and follow Jesus. They sum as well, this idea of love, which started the reading.
9 Don’t just pretend to love others. Really love them.
No hypocrisy allowed, no “but they did, said, thought,” just really love them….
So how do we “really” love
This is difficult, is it not? I mean we are supposed to really love our family, our neighbors, our co-workers, those annoying phone solicitors and even our pastor? Really love them? Not sure we can do that all the time, Are we sure we can bear that cross. Are we sure we want to bear that cross.
But bear it we must, if we follow Christ, if we are with Christ, if we are in Christ.
For that is what bearing our cross is, it is walking in Christ. To give up our lives, if that is what it takes, for that is what love led Him to do.
Peter said it well,
21 For God called you to do good, even if it means suffering, just as Christ suffered for you. He is your example, and you must follow in his steps. 1 Peter 2:21 (NLT)
This doing good, this bearing one’s cross, this setting aside what benefits us, what makes us happy is what happens when we are being transformed by God. Remember – that is where the chapter started,
1 And so, dear brothers and sisters, I plead with you to give your bodies to God because of all he has done for you. Let them be a living and holy sacrifice—the kind he will find acceptable. This is truly the way to worship him. 2 Don’t copy the behavior and customs of this world, but let God transform you into a new person by changing the way you think. Then you will learn to know God’s will for you, which is good and pleasing and perfect. Romans 12:1-2 (NLT)
So What happens when we slip and throw a whine party?
These words cause a bit of anxiety. Because I know that we are not always following Christ. I know we struggle to bear our cross, tossing it aside at times.
So what can we do, when we find ourselves justifying why we shouldn’t love this person, or that one? When we want to justify tossing the cross aside, because we don’t want to love them, to really love them? Or we are afraid to, for the pain we might go through.
Jeremiah knew that feeling. In the Old Testament reading we find it, and God’s response to Jeremiah’s whining,
Jer 15:19 To this the LORD replied, “If you return, I will take you back, and you will be my servant again. If instead of talking nonsense you proclaim a worthwhile message, you will be my prophet again. The people will come back to you, and you will not need to go to them.
When we struggle like Jonah loving Nineveh, or Jeremiah loving the rebellious children of Israel, it is simply that, a struggle. It is the same struggle Jesus had when he looked at the cross, and realize the shame that carrying it might bring, and that is where we find our answer, on how to love others.
Let us strip off every weight that slows us down, especially the sin that so easily trips us up. And let us run with endurance the race God has set before us. 2 We do this by keeping our eyes on Jesus, the champion who initiates and perfects our faith. Because of the joy awaiting him, he endured the cross, disregarding its shame. Now he is seated in the place of honor beside God’s throne. 3 Think of all the hostility he endured from sinful people; then you won’t become weary and give up. Hebrews 12:1-3 (NLT)
The struggle for us is not that we can’t love them, it is that we’ve taken our eyes off what Paul told us to do, to 1”Rejoice in our confident hope.”
This was Peter’s answer as well, that we should always be ready to have an answer for the reason we have hope.
You want to follow Jesus? Take up the cross of walking in His love, keeping your eyes on Him. The cross where He has joined you to Himself, and realize that there, you can see their need for His love, for His mercy, even as you needed it yourself.
This is what it all boils down to, our baptism, our celebration of the Lord’s Supper, our hearing that our sins are forgiven, it is all about God coming to us, uniting us to His cross, bringing us with Him…
Knowing His cross, we cling to that hope, we find the will of God, and a desire to see it come to be, that all would know His love, that all would be ministered to, no matter the sacrifice.
For that is what happens, when we allow God to transform us into people who dwell in is peace, the peace that goes beyond comprehension or explanation. The very peace that guards our hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. AMEN?
The Task of Ministering to Others ( For pastors, priests, deacons, elders, and all who serve in the church)
Devotional Thought of the Day:
1 I, who am an elder myself, appeal to the church elders among you. I am a witness of Christ’s sufferings, and I will share in the glory that will be revealed. I appeal to you 2 to be shepherds of the flock that God gave you and to take care of it willingly, as God wants you to, and not unwillingly. Do your work, not for mere pay, but from a real desire to serve. 3 Do not try to rule over those who have been put in your care, but be examples to the flock. 4 And when the Chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the glorious crown which will never lose its brightness. 1 Peter 5:1-4 (TEV)
1 So then, my friends, because of God’s great mercy to us I appeal to you: Offer yourselves as a living sacrifice to God, dedicated to his service and pleasing to him. This is the true worship that you should offer. 2 Do not conform yourselves to the standards of this world, but let God transform you inwardly by a complete change of your mind. Then you will be able to know the will of God—what is good and is pleasing to him and is perfect. Romans 12:1-2 (TEV)
The Good Shepherd does not demand that shepherds lay down their lives for a real flock of sheep. But every spiritual shepherd must endure the loss of his bodily life for the salvation of the flock, since the spiritual good of the flock is more important that the bodily life of the shepherd, when danger threatens the salvation of the flock. This is why the Lord says: The good shepherd lays down his life, that is, his physical life, for his sheep; this he does because of his authority and love. Both, in fact, are required: that they should be ruled by him, and that he should love them. The first without the second is not enough.
Christ stands out for us as the example of this teaching: If Christ laid down his life for us, so we also ought to lay down our lives for our brothers.
From an exposition on John by Saint Thomas Aquinas, pastor (Cap. 10, lect 3)
I received the quote from Thomas Aquinas from a friend who I have never met, yet we feel towards each other like brothers. He is an older priest in Sicily, just about to turn 80, who still serves a parish. With the help of google translate, we communicate as we can.
Maybe he sent this to me because of my sermon yesterday, on the passage from Romans above. Maybe it was his reading this morning at Mass, or in his private prayer and devotional time. I don’t know. But on Monday, it is a good, no a very good reading for all of us who serve parishes, whether we are volunteers or paid, ordained ministers or lay ministers. As we call our group of pastors, deacons, elders at our parish – the diakonos, simply meaning the servants.
We are called to live sacrificially, yet, eventually we find it is not so sacrificial. We give of our time, our talents, and our treasure (or give up the opportunity to obtain these things for our own use) to those whom we serve, those who become our children in the faith. My friend, Fr. Giuseppe, has spent his life as a celibate priest, and yet the pictures of his parish show him with his children and grandchildren and great grandchildren in the faith. Those pictures show a love and care for my friend that is incredible.
But still we are called to sacrifice, our all, our lives, our hearts, Paul would even have sacrificed his own soul ( if he could have) , in order that these people know Christ. In order that this is not just book knowledge, but deep intimate knowledge of His love. The kind of knowledge that in awe leads to worship, that leads to adoration.
It’s a challenge and blessing because in sacrificing these things, we have to also give up our pride, our vanity. We have to remember that they and we are broken people, needing Christ’s healing. We have to be slow to anger, quick to forgive. Quick to apologize and make things right, long-suffering and patient to guide them toward the repentance they so need. This is the laying down our lives that Aquinas talks about – perhaps not being physically nailed to the cross, but spiritually, and emotionally, and often figuratively, as we work until we are exhausted and more.
It is an impossible task, this being examples to our flocks. Impossible save one thing. We have a God who answers our cry for mercy, who is our example, who doesn’t lord it over us, but serves us in love. That is why the task is all gospel, not law, because we encounter and need Christ in every moment, in every sacrifice.
May we follow the examples of those who have served before, who followed the examples of Christ.
Worship Isn’t A Song or and Event
It is our very life!
May the grace of God our Father and our Lord Jesus Christ leave you in complete, life changing awe of their love and care for you!
Not now…. Then!
I would hope by this time of the service; your mind is clear of the distractions of life. That you are getting ready to engage in what God created you to do, to be. That you have been encouraged by hearing all your sins are forgiven, that the music has inspired you to look to Christ, that the readings have compelled you to draw closer to Him,
It is nearly time…
In about 30 minutes, after the sermon, after communion, after the Benediction and then we begin to worship!
Yes, you heard me right, we begin to worship!
As Paul tells the church in Rome, it will be time to “give your bodies to God because of all He has done for you. Let all that you are become a holy and living sacrifice. This is the kind of worship that God finds acceptable.”
That is what Paul says, “This is truly the way to worship Him!”
This is what worship is! It isn’t just sitting in here, singing your hearts out. It isn’t just kneeling here, as you receive Christ’s precious Body and Blood. Indeed, those events are part of it; this service should encourage your worship – but it isn’t what worship IS.
Worship isn’t a song, or an event, it is your very life!
So how does this happen?
How it all starts, being in awe,
I asked a question this week online, and I got an incredible answer. The question was, “Do we desire God’s presence? Do we desire Eternity?”
Here is what they wrote”
“In answer to your question do we really desire to be in God’s house. Maybe one of the reasons is because we keep trying to make it Our house that elevates Our presence rather than Gods.”
Brilliant theological insight! We make it about us, rather than God
This insight is exactly what keeps us from a life of worship. We somehow think this is our life, not His, That it is our church, not His. That what matters is what our will desires, not His, that this is our time. Our place, our job, our family, our life. We ignore God’s presence in it, His part, His desires, His plan.
That is why Paul starts out with a discussion about the incredible-ness of God. He wants us to see God’s glorious nature! To realize that we cannot understand how thoroughly He works.
Remember, God promised back in chapter 8 that all things work for good for those who love God? Yeah, we don’t see that all the time, even with 20-20 hindsight. We can’t give Him advice, though we try.
A Life of worship starts in being in Awe of God.
In realizing we can’t know His ways, but we can trust Him.
That we aren’t His guide, He doesn’t need our support; we need His!!
That we can never give Him so much, that He is indebted to us, but that He gives us freely, out of the heart of love.
A life of worship recognizes that He is God, we are His children. And this realization comes as He reveals Himself through His word. This life of worship starts as we become find ourselves in awe of God. As we realize what it means that He has given us the Body and Blood of Christ.
When we find ourselves in awe of God’s work in our lives, the very work He promised, we find ourselves being changed. Which brings us to step two.
“let God transform you into a new person by changing the way you think. Then you will learn to know God’s will for you, which is good and pleasing and perfect.”
This is part of the worship, allowing God to convict us our sins, in order that He can cleanse us of them. Easy to face? No, but knowing in advance that God has promised to heal us and He is doing so, makes our confession different. It is an act of trust, it is worship!
This transformation isn’t just about being freed from sin. Hear how Ezekiel describes God’s promise:
26I shall give you a new heart, and put a new spirit in you; I shall remove the heart of stone from your bodies and give you a heart of flesh instead. 27 I shall put my spirit in you, and make you keep my laws, and respect and practise my judgements. Ezekiel 36:25-27 (NJB)
This is what God is doing in us, to us, and by the Holy Spirit. He is transforming us, as Paul says renewing our minds, changing our hearts, counting us not only righteous, but making us holy!
Making us able to trust Him, to live out our faith in worship!
So as we are in awe of God, as we are being transformed, and as the Spirit takes up residence in us, the change that is made in our lives turns them into a life of worship! We begin to see our actions are being done in praise of God.
That is what Paul is talking about, as he talks about us having a proper perspective about ourselves. Not how tall, or handsome, or intelligent, or how many things you have suffered through. No, the way we evaluate ourselves is much simpler and much more real. Do you trust God? Are you willing to let Him use you, where God would put you?
How we measure ourselves is based in this simple thought.
If God calls us to use the gift He has given us, will we listen and obey, trusting that He will make it work for good? No matter whether we get it right, or whether we see the outcome, that it will be a blessing to us, and to all who love Him?
Will you use the gift God has given you, at this time, where you live, work, and hangout? Will you proclaim God’s love, trusting in Him?
Will you serve others, meeting needs, whether physical, spiritual, emotional, and trusting in Him?
Will you teach those who need to be taught, trusting in Him??
Will you come alongside and lift up those who are down, trusting in Him?
Will you give generously, even sacrificially, knowing that God will care for you?
Each has a different gift, and some different gifts for different periods of their lives, but will you use them, not trusting in things of this world but trusting in God?
Not holding those gifts back, not resisting the transformation that God is doing to us, in us. That happens as the Holy Spirit works in our lives, causing us to live in and reflect the glory of Christ.
That’s worship! Whether we are asking God to use our life, singing, or when we put out our finances to support His work, or when we offer a cup of cold orange juice and some pancakes to a hungry person.
Worship is our very life, every moment, for worship is living in awe of His presence, here and now, whenever that here and now is. Worship is letting God run our lives, wherever He sends us.
Worship is also a life in awe, and therefore in a miraculous peace, for we live with God…. His believed children, and guard in Christ. AMEN.
Devotional/Discussion thought of the day.
People often comment about pastor’s never retiring, and I have often wondered how to explain to them, that being a pastor is never a career, it is not a job from which you can retire. It was hard to explain, until I came across this great explanation – given by a Catholic priest….
A long time ago someone asked me, tactlessly, whether those of us whose career is the priesthood are able to retire when we get old. And since I gave him no answer, he persisted with his impertinent question. Then an answer came to me which, I thought, is indisputable. “The priesthood”, I told him, “is not a career: it is an apostolate.” That’s how I feel about it. And I wanted to put it down in these notes so that—with God’s help—none of us may ever forget the difference. (1)
What Lutherans call the “office of Holy Ministry”, what my friends who are catholic call receiving “Holy Orders” is not a career, it is something about who we are – it becomes as much our existence, even though we poorly serve in it, as any other thing which defines who we are. Priests, pastors, deacons, bishops/district presidents, whatever the semantics, those called into ministry, serve with their very lives. I love how Romans 12, describes such service.
1 So then, my friends, because of God’s great mercy to us I appeal to you: Offer yourselves as a living sacrifice to God, dedicated to his service and pleasing to him. This is the true worship that you should offer. Romans 12:1 (TEV)
Living sacrifices don’t have expiration dates – we are what we are. Those called into the office of ministry serve, and when they “retire” they find other people to serve, other places – often those places that can’t afford a pastor – or another pastor. Nor should they, even at least serving as mentors to younger pastors, or spending their times investing themselves into the next generation of servants – doing so, not with the air of the professional – but the attitude of Christ – with gentleness and humility, lifting up those who have served.
But that brings me to another point, the idea that while some are called to the office of ministry, all of us are called to minister – for the word diakonos – minister – simply means servant. Romans 12 goes on to describe a number of ways all those in the church serve – just as St Peter says in 1 Peter 2:9.
9 But you are a chosen race, a kingdom of priests, a holy nation, a people to be a personal possession to sing the praises of God who called you out of the darkness into his wonderful light. 1 Peter 2:9 (NJB)
You do not get to retire either – and I see this – some of the most dependable servants in the church, are some of the oldest, and indeed some many would wonder why they bother.
When I think about it – the reason we, as believers, shouldn’t retire – the best reason is this:
Because it’s not just a job…..it is walking with God – and seeing Him at work...
Remember to ask that His mercy is seen, as well as had – as you serve for the rest of your life as well.
(1) Escriva, Josemaria (2011-01-31). The Forge (Kindle Locations 2165-2170). Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition.