Discussion and Devotional Thought of the Day:
18 And do not get drunk on wine, in which lies debauchery, but be filled with the Spirit, 19 addressing one another (in) psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and playing to the Lord in your hearts, 20 giving thanks always and for everything in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ to God the Father. Ephesians 5:18-20 (NAB)
16 Christ’s message in all its richness must live in your hearts. Teach and instruct one another with all wisdom. Sing psalms, hymns, and sacred songs; sing to God with thanksgiving in your hearts. 17 Everything you do or say, then, should be done in the name of the Lord Jesus, as you give thanks through him to God the Father. Colossians 3:16-17 (TEV)
3 After all, the chief purpose of all ceremonies is to teach the people what they need to know about Christ. (1)
16 Ultimately, if we should list as sacraments all the things that have God’s command and a promise added to them, then why not prayer, which can most truly be called a sacrament? It has both the command of God and many promises. If it were placed among the sacraments and thus given, so to speak, a more exalted position, this would move men to pray. (1)
Recently, there has been an attack on worship, articles that have challenged it having a prominent role. Some have demeaned it, and denigrated the role of those entrusted to lead and facilitate our praise of God.
Some of the criticisms need to be heard, there are times worship leaders of all styles act like entertainers, deserving to be heard. But I believe most of the criticisms are based in a irrational fear of the emotions we have, which need to be admitted before God. More on that after some basic thoughts
There is a real need for worship, an the role of a worship leader/cantor/praise team/choir and the church (while worshipping and praising God) is at its very core, as much of a means of grace and as sacramental as a sermon, as the readings. Here is why I say that;
There are two “kinds” of lyrics, though in some songs you might have both.
1. Horizontal Lyrics teach
Here the role of the music is to teach, encourage, catechize and reveal the glory and grace of God our Father and our Lord Jesus Christ. The very same goal as a sermon, as the people hearing and singing the words realize their absolute need for Jesus Christ, and they share with each other their sorrows, and their joy when Christ is revealed to them.
This is the word of God, being proclaimed in words accompanied by music, but it is the word of God. Look at how it fits into the passage in Colossians, it is part of the teaching and instruction, the mutual building up of the people of God. Melancthon does exclude worship in his words in the Augsburg Confession – the role of the worship service is to gie to people, to teach them, what they know of Christ.
2. Vertical Lyrics Pray…
Worship that is vertical, that is directed to God is either prayer or praise, “Lord, come do what you promised”, “Lord you have rescued me!”, “Lord, have mercy on me, a sinner.”. This is second commandment work, the proper use of the Name of God, which He has given to us to talk to Him, to sing to Him. Again, the Lutheran Confession talk of such prayer as a sacrament, as being sacramental, even if only because of that we pray more! We need to seek God more, we need to be found like Isaiah, and the 70 elders, we desperately need to experience the fact that we live in the presence of God; Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
That is a scary thought, for to be in the presence of God means that all of our fears, all of our anxieties, all of our emotions, are laid bare. They are known. We can’t hide our hearts or our souls from God. We can’t hide our jealousies, our lusts, our anger, our desire to be in control. Music, singing these biblical lyrics, have a way of doing that, of sneaking in through our (arts/emotion) right brain, while distracting us by occupying our left brain (knowledge, logic) and ministering to our complete brokenness.
We don’t like that, it scares us. And any kind of worship can do this, from 4 or 5 guys singing the doxology on a retreat, to a choir putting voice to O Sacred Head, or A Mighty Fortress, to a praise team simply singing Amazing Grace- My Chains are Gone, or a classical guitarist plucking out the Lord’s Prayer. The music opens our souls, letting out that which poisons them, as the Love of God inherent in the words of scripture rush in and cleanse us.
The music moves us…. and sometimes that is scary, but it is a incredible blessing as well.
This is why as we prepare for worship, it needs to be done in prayer, meditating on the word. This is why the instrumentalists and singers need to practice so well, that they can lose themselves in the worship, even as they lead others in it. Any style can be done poorly, to loud, to erratic, to performance driven. When leading the prayers and praises of God’s people is done poorly, it robs them of their voice, it robs them as well of that which can facilitate their prayers, focus their praises, distract them from being in the presence of God…..
But worship leading, done right? It is as beneficial as a well crafted and delivered sermon. For it is the gospel proclaimed, and because it is prayer, it is sacramental.
And to quote our confessions, if we realize it is such, maybe we will engage in it all the more!
(And remember to pray for those who serve you, the people of God, in this ministry, just as you pray for your pastors)
Kyrie Eleison (Lord Have Mercy!)
Alleluia (Praise God!)
(1) Tappert, T. G. (Ed.). (1959). The Book of Concord the confessions of the Evangelical Lutheran Church. (p. 56). Philadelphia: Mühlenberg Press. AC XXIV
(1) Tappert, T. G. (Ed.). (1959). The Book of Concord the confessions of the Evangelical Lutheran Church. (p. 213). Philadelphia: Mühlenberg Press. AAC XIII
Am I My Brother’s Keeper?
† In Jesus Name †
May the peace of God our Father, and our Lord Jesus Christ be your sanctuary, your refuge, and may you always welcome the journey there!
Cain’s question should haunt us….
There is something special about having friends and family around us. We see that today, as some have come long distances to help their friends celebrate forty years of marriage.
But there is a challenge for family and friends as well, for no one can disappoint us, no one can hurt us, no one can challenge our ability to love, as much as they do. It seems like it has always been so, well not always. Once Adam and Eve screwed up in the garden though, there has always been tension in families, and among friends.
We see it especially in the relationship of their first two sons, Cain and Abel. The challenge of loving each other was brutally sacrificed to bring some sense of relief to the pain and jealousy that found a place in Cain’s heart.
The reason that I bring him up this morning, is a question he once asked of the Lord.
Am I my brother’s keeper?
The son of man hears the answer to Cain’s question, and the answer is found in our Old Testament reading today.
7 “Now, son of man, I am making you a watchman for the people of Israel. Therefore, listen to what I say and warn them for me.
Yes, we are to work to keep your brothers safe… for if something happens to them and they are unaware, the passage from Ezekiel tells we are held responsible.
That is a heavy burden, yet is our mission in this life.
The Apostle John wrote about this as well:
20 If we say we love God, but hate others, we are liars. For we cannot love God whom we have not seen if we do not love others, whom we have seen. 21 The command that Christ has given us is this: whoever loves God must love others also. 1 John 4:20-21 (TEV)
We have to be watchmen for each other…we have to warn each other, as best as we can, for this is the will of God.
We have to care for the wicked folk too!
As we look at Ezekiel’s watchman, it helps to make the connection between the words watchman and keeper. It’s the same word in Hebrew, to guard them. TO be on guard is to work for the safety and peace of those entrusted to your care. A peace and safety corrupted and destroyed by sin.
But note in the Old Testament reading, those entrusted to the watchman’s care are called the people of Israel. They are named, appropriately, after the one whose name means to struggle with God. Not after Abraham, the father of Nations, or Isaac, laughter, but Jacob/Israel, the one who wrestles, who fights God.
It goes on to say that these we care for are wicked, and are certain to die unless they change their ways.
Great description of the people we have to keep safe! Oh wait – he’s describing the people of God. Uhm, that means the description could very well be of us.
Wicked here means those who are guilty, those who have violated either God’s law or His will. Scary thought, if that is the definition of evil. Do we realize we embrace evil when we sin? Paul said it this way,
29 Their lives became full of every kind of wickedness, sin, greed, hate, envy, murder, quarreling, deception, malicious behavior, and gossip. 30 They are backstabbers, haters of God, insolent, proud, and boastful. They invent new ways of sinning, and they disobey their parents. 31 They refuse to understand, break their promises, are heartless, and have no mercy. Romans 1:29-31 (NLT)
All those people are evil, right? Do you hear that it includes those who gossip and quarrel? That it includes those who are proud and boastful? What about those who do not show kindness or mercy?
It is them we are called to warn that certain judgment is coming.
Some of you may contend that the watchman are just the Old Testament prophets, and maybe the apostles and evangelists of the New Testament. We might bristle a bit when we realize it includes the pastor, and that it could include deacons and vicars and elders.
But what if I said that each of one you is called to care, to help your brothers and sisters stand firm in the love of Christ Jesus?
That keeping them, guarding them in Christ by warning them is what we do, because we are called to love them? Think about it for a moment, is it loving to allow someone to do harmful actions? Maybe we can’t prevent them, Ezekiel seems clear about that, but we can call them to repentance. We can call them back to Christ. We can love them that much because He loved us!
Let this mind be in you…. Which is in Christ!
So what do we do with our past? What can we do when we screw up and fail? What do we do with our sin?
What do we do with those times when we failed to be our brother’s keeper, to serve Him as a watchman? When we’ve allowed them to be in bondage to sin without warning them, or when we failed to call them to repentance? When we’ve failed as watchman, guards, and keeping them safe? What about when we’ve rejoiced that they got what they deserved, ignoring our responsibility to call them to trust God?
Well, we don’t “do” something. We listen.
When we confessed it we need to listen and hear of the faithfulness of Jesus to forgive us, and to cleanse us of that sin. Maybe we need to hear His absolving us again. Maybe we need to hear the words of our baptism, that we are united with His death and sin has died to us. We need to hear that His blood was shed, His body broken, that we would live forgiven. We need to hear (and therefore proclaim) His death, until He comes again.
You see, ultimately, this prophecy is about Jesus as well. He is our watchman, our guardian; He is our brother who is our keeper. He is the one who warns us, and makes possible the very repentance, the change of heart and mind that repentance is.
That is why Acts talks of repentance being granted to the Gentiles, even as it was to the apostles and disciples who were Jewish.
He’s called you out of wickedness, into a life filled with hope, with goodness, with joy as we see Him at work. As we see Him take people that are gossips and haters and do not show mercy, who struggle with God, and re-create them into children of God.
This is why the cross happened; this is why He died, taking on the burden of the death and condemnation that awaited us.
That is how a brother acts towards his brothers and sisters. He sacrifices Himself, so that they may live. That is what it took to get our attention, to reveal not just the existence of God, but His love for us.
For our brother, our Lord, Jesus our savior is our watchman – He is the One who is our Keeper, as He keeps us firm our heart and mind in the peace of God our Father. AMEN!
Why Are You Still Being Paid…
For the Wages of Sin?
† In Jesus Name †
May you know in the depths of your being, that incredible gift of God our Father, and our Lord Jesus Christ, the freedom from sin, satan and the fear of death, and the gift of eternal life!
Have you ever had one of those weeks where you worked so hard you were physically and emotionally exhausted? Where you were so tired you couldn’t get up to walk to the refrigerator to get something to drink?
When you finally got home, kissed your spouse, hugged your kids, patted the dog (at least you know you did those things, not sure which thing to whom! ) sat down and fell asleep?
And then, you wake up, realize your paycheck is still in your pocket, you open it up and wonder…. “that’s it?”
That’s all I get for breaking my back, for losing my hair over this job?
I ought to go look for another one. There has got to be something better out there… something less exhausting, something with more of a reward, something that gives me some sense of satisfaction, some sense of life.
Now let’s say that you are offered the position of a lifetime, you are to replace the president of Microsoft, or Apple computers, or become the new head of the I.R.S. Your salary won’t be 6 figures, it will be 8……. A 30 hour work week, and that includes your own staff that does your nails, combs your hair, flies you to Hawaii in your own personal jet….gets you front row tickets to the Spurs, Patriots and Red Sox games…
After taking a week to think it through, you aren’t sure, and so you ask for a month, and for some reason you still aren’t sure…..
Wait – why wouldn’t you take that job?
Well, my bet is that is what you are doing spiritually these days… because I know I am doing it too! Matter of fact, that problem goes all the way back to St. Paul, and the church in Rome!
We have to stop collecting the wages of death, and allow God to give us life!
Why are still collecting death?
As we look at this passage of Romans, we see this point in each paragraph.
In verse 12 and 13, Paul begs us,
12 Let not sin therefore reign in your mortal body, to make you obey its passions. 13 Do not present your members to sin as instruments for unrighteousness, but present yourselves to God as those who have been brought from death to life, and your members to God as instruments for righteousness. Romans 6:12-13 (ESV)
In verse 16 he Says,
16 Do you not know that if you present yourselves to anyone as obedient slaves, you are slaves of the one whom you obey, either of sin, which leads to death, or of obedience, which leads to righteousness? Romans 6:16 (ESV)
And in verse 21, Paul reminds US,
21 But what fruit were you getting at that time from the things of which you are now ashamed? For the end of those things is death. Romans 6:21 (ESV)
What don’t we understand about this?
Yet we freely give in to envy, to lust, to hatred, to gossip about each other, to selfishness. We forget the needs fo those around us, and focus on our wants. We even disregard what God says, choosing to think what we want, thinking what we know is right, doing what brings us momentary pleasure?
We should be receiving Holiness, Righteousness, the Ability to do the things that take us this way…
Paul has spent an entire chapter telling us to live so hindered, so in bondage to sin is unnecessary. In the next two chapters, he will describe this war even more, For he fights it as well. Paul knows what it is, to do the things we know are sin, and do not want to do. He knows the heartache of wanting to do what is right, but failing to do it, over and over.
He started by saying we died to the power of sin, and satan, and the fear of death in our Baptism, when we were united to Christ’s death and resurrection, He will say in chapter 8, again referring to our being united to Christ, that there is no condemnation for those of us in Christ.
Here he says,
“present yourselves to God as those who have been brought from death to life, and your members to God as instruments for righteousness.” Romans 6:13 (ESV)
17 But thanks be to God, that you who were once slaves of sin have become obedient from the heart to the standard of teaching to which you were committed, 18 and, having been set free from sin, have become slaves of righteousness. Romans 6:17-18 (ESV)
the free gift of God is eternal life….
You see, this justified, sanctified life that we have, isn’t by our power, it isnt’ lived by our strength. It is found in dwelling in Christ, in realizing His work, in keeping our eyes on Him, and realizing He lives in us. It is found in being quiet, and listening to the Holy Spirit.
It is realizing what happened to you in your baptism, what is given you at this altar, it is the reason we have joy and hope, the answer we have when others wonder why we can have hope, in the midst of this exhausting world.
It is the same power at work in us, when we look around us, and see the needs of others for Christ, and do everything we can, even more than we can, sacrificing to help them see Christ revealed in their lives. That same power, as we are focused on Christ that enables us to serve the hurting, the broken, whether they don’t know Jesus yet, or whether they’ve known Him for 30 years, or 80.
For we all struggle, for we all do battle with sin, and all need to be re-focused on God’s work in our lives, as He counts us righteous, as He works through us, to see His greatest desire come pass, that all come to repentance, to realize that He is their delivered, their Lord.
As we realize that those who serve Christ, aren’t just counted as slaves, but as His friends, (John 15:15) As we become adopted children of God the Father, co-heirs with Christ.
This is why we don’t continue to dwell as if we’ve earned death as our paycheck, as if we are still slaves, employed by the firm of Sin, Shame & Guilt LLP
Know my friends, that this is God’s plan for you, that you would see Christ. That would know Christ, that you would love Christ…..
And then look back, and see that God has used you, to bring to others, that incredible peace you know, the peace of God our Father, in which you dwell in Christ, your hearts and minds secure in Him. AMEN?
Holiness, What Does it Look Like?
Leviticus 19:1-2, 9-18
† IHS †
May the grace of God our Father and our Lord Jesus Christ build your confidence in their work in your life!
May Your Children Grow up
Rumor has it, that someone in this sanctuary may have uttered the following blessing once or twice.
“I hope you children grow up to be just….. (like you!)”
Now, I know some may have said it with less intent than a blessing. But there is One here, who would has indeed said it as a blessing, as a prayer. That they desired the children of the One they were talking to, as they grew up to resemble Him in every way.
Indeed, that is the very reason Jesus came, to make sure that the children of His Father, would grow up to resemble God.
That is why we hear the words today in two readings, “You must be Holy, because, I, the Lord your God am holy.”
You must be holy, you must resemble your Father in heaven. There is no maybe, it is not just a challenge, a goal for us, it is truth. It is reality,
You must be Holy, for you Dad in heaven is, and His children, grow up to be just like Him.
And that, my brothers and sisters, is a very good thing!
So say it with me, “I must be holy, for my Father in heaven, the LORD, my God, is Holy!”
Now say it like you mean it!
“I must be holy, for my Father in heaven, the LORD, my God, is Holy!”
So what does that look like, in real life in Cerritos in 2014? What does Holiness look like, lived out our lives?
I am the Lord
As we look at the Old Testament reading, there is going to be a temptation to define holiness by the “do’s and “do not’s” listed there. It is a great list, which we will look at in Bible Study, but there is more to holiness than just those behaviors. Holiness is more than just the attitudes we hear described there.
Don’t get me wrong, those behaviors need to describe us, but the key to our holiness, to our being just like our Father, isn’t found there.
It’s found in His name.
That’s why it is repeated five times throughout the passage.
I am the LORD.
Slight tangent for a moment. It’s one of my frustrations with English translations, that instead of putting God’s name in scriptures, we cover it up with LORD, in all capitals. I understand it, but the result is we often overlook it, and what it means for God to give us His name. 6000 times in scripture, the Name of God is there, for us to hear, and know He is, and He is with us!
So five times, in this list of behaviors, God reminds people He is the LORD, He is YHWH, He is the I AM. It is the same way He starts every list of commandments, every time He describes how the people of God should live life! A life set apart in a relationship with Him, for God is, and He is with you!
Here, like in the 10 Commandments, God describes how we are not to use His name, We aren’t to use it falsely, or bring shame on it. Which means, Luther points out, that we are to use it, to praise and glorify Him, to bring honor to His name, to use it in the way that pleases Him, calling out to Him as a child calls out to its Father.
Each time that name is used in scripture, it should call to mind that God has taught us to depend on Him, to call out to Him, for yes, He is our father.
That is where Holiness begins, dwelling in His presence! No wonder the psalms encourage us, telling us of the joy it was to be going up to the house of the Lord!
Or why Paul writes,
18 All 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. 2 Corinthians 3:16-18 (TEV)
If we are transformed into His likeness, that likeness includes the holiness of God, that we must be!. For you must be holy, even as YHWH God is Holy!
So what does holiness look like?
Incarnate, Crucified, Risen.
with whom in baptism we are united.
We are holy, we must be holy, for in Christ, we are made to be so.
So you must be Holy
So these words that surround God telling us He is our God, that He is at work in our lives, that we have a relationship with Him and therefore are holy; what about those words? Do we ignore them?
Or, are we not holy, if they do not describe us?
It is a heavy list, if we see it as requirements, if we hear it as God’s law.
If indeed, it is law. But there is a problem there, we can’t make these changes on our own. Even if we just look at the bottom line, the command to love all our neighbors as ourselves – I know I struggle just to know mine, but to love them?
To look out for all that would gladly settle for the leavings? To provide extra for them, the poor and the foreigner?
What about the challenge of not causing the blind and deaf to struggle? We may think we do not do it, but what if it is that they are deaf and dumb in regards to knowing the love of God? Do the actions we take towards them, or the actions we don’t take, become a stumbling block in their responding to God’s call to them, to come and find the healing they need?
The option is to do what our church vision is, as we find ourselves healing in Christ, to help others heal. CLICK
You must be holy isn’t just a command, it is a statement of Christ’s effectiveness, in coming and saving us!
That is why holiness happens, not by a force of our will, but by being transformed into the likeness of Jesus, of realizing these qualities define Him, and therefore, as we are transformed into His likeness, they begin to define us even more.
For He is the LORD, our God, our Father, and the work of Christ is to present us perfect complete in Him. That is the work of the Holy Spirit as well, transforming us, sanctifying us, making us holy… to Him.
The secret to Holiness?
Look to God, look to Christ’s love, shown at the cross, united to youn in your baptism, the love we share in, the Christ we share in as we take and eat His body, as we drink His blood, as we proclaim His death for us, for all of us, until He comes again.
Call on Him, remember His call to you, remember His work, and then you will begin to love others as He does… and His sense of justice, His sense of mercy will become yours.
For apples don’t fall far from the tree…
and children grow up to be just like their dads…. And you will grow up to be like your heavenly Father, because of Jesus
Holiness? What does it look like?
You as you dwell in Christ,, for you must be holy, for your Father in Heaven, YHWH your God, is Holy
Knowing His holiness, that peace which can’t be described in words, yet in which you dwell, your heart and mind guarded by Jesus Christ. AMEN?
Devotional Thought of the Day…
9 This, then, is how you should pray: ‘Our Father in heaven: May your holy name be honored; 10 may your Kingdom come; may your will be done on earth as it is in heaven. 11 Give us today the food we need. 12 Forgive us the wrongs we have done, as we forgive the wrongs that others have done to us. 13 Do not bring us to hard testing, but keep us safe from the Evil One.For yours is the Kingdom and the Power and the Glory, now and forever! AMEN Matthew 6:9-13 (TEV)
31 “So do not start worrying: ‘Where will my food come from? or my drink? or my clothes?’ 32 (These are the things the pagans are always concerned about.) Your Father in heaven knows that you need all these things. 33 Instead, be concerned above everything else with the Kingdom of God and with what he requires of you, and he will provide you with all these other things. Matthew 6:31-33 (TEV)
857 The Kingdom of Jesus Christ: that is our task! So, my child, be generous: don’t be anxious to know any of the many reasons he has to want to reign in you. If you look at him, it will be enough for you to consider how much he loves you… You will feel a hunger to correspond to his love, crying aloud that you really love him here and now; and you will understand that if you don’t leave him, he won’t leave you.
Back in the 1990’s there was a controversy over what it meant for Jesus to be our Lord. Interestingly, it focused not on God, but on our obligation to God, or more precisely the code of behavior laid down in scripture. On one side, there was a focus on complete obedience to Christ as the only way to be sure we were in God’s will. On the other side, there were pastors and theologians who took a position that since faith alone saves, our behavior had little to do with our salvation – but rather affected our peace and comfort in this life.
The battle seems to be raging anew – with different descriptions, – the latter group being called anti-nomians, the former pietists Old labels for sure, but being applied anew. I chose a different translation for the second passage – we usually hear it as “seek first the Kingdom” – but this to comes on the heals of realizing God’s promise to provide, so that we can focus on living in a relationship with Him. As we focus on what God requires os us, especially we hear His invitation for us to walk humbly with Him
The challenge is realizing that these views are arguing about Christ’s Lordship by looking at th wrong subject. They start by looking at responsibility in the relationship – but they set their priority in the wrong place. It all starts with the master’s responsibility, not ours. IF we are to understand the Lordship of Christ, if we are to understand what it means that He is our master, we must begin there…We must begin by seeing His commitment to us.
As He teaches us to pray, look at what is promised to us, look at the things God is taking responsibility for in our lives. Look at the burdens He would have us place in His hands
I love the point St Josemaria makes – we can think all day of why God would choose to call us, to walk with us. We can try to comprehend all of His logic, to analyze it, to create the theological systems But what if instead, we looked to God, we knew His love, we expored, as Paul urged the height and depth, the breadth and width of that love. What would happen if we looked at His commitment, HIs faithfulness, HIs desire – and our thoughts and our heart were focused there? The resulting response by us as we consider His love as we bask in it, as we realize he loves us, will cause be far more of a change than we could ever negotiate on our own.Looking to His love, knowing it, will see that love work and create a level of trust and bind us to Him.
That’s the point – Christ being our Lord and Master is a promise to us, a promise that He will care for us, be there for us, that He loves us.
And in the end, it becomes even closer, as we hear him say, “I know longer call you servants…but friends”
Be at peace – for you live in Christ Jesus.
Escriva, Josemaria (2011-01-31). The Forge (Kindle Locations 3035-3039). Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition.
This News Strengthens Weak Hands
Unsteady Legs and Racing Hearts
† Jesus, Son, Savior †
As we experience the grace and mercy of God our Father, and the Lord Jesus Christ, may our hearts be calmed, and may we find ourselves strengthening others we encounter!
The Kingdom of God is like.. Christmas Morning…
There was a rule in the house I grew up in, we were not allowed to have our feet touch the first floor of our house until 6:30 on Christmas morning.
Needless to say, by about 5:45, my sister Kelly, my brother Steve and I were crowded on the first step of the stairs, pointing out the presents under the tree, wondering which presents were for which of us. Some of it was easy – if there were two boxes the same shape and size – one was Stephen’s, one was mine – my folks like to buy us the same thing. I think to see who would break the item the fastest?
At 6:31, my mom could be heard descending the stairs, a few moments more, my dad. That was the morning of instant coffee, for they were up late the night before, for we often didn’t get home from grampy’s until after 11. Then they had to wrap presents, and get everything ready.
Exhausted when we woke them up, something always happened as they watched us rip open presents with the energy that only children can have. They began to laugh and smile and enjoy themselves, despite their tired, cold, achy bones. A transformation occurred, as the tiredness somehow evaporated. There is something about sharing joy that is transforming.
The coming of the Kingdom is like that!
The dramatic change of Isaiah’s desert and desert highlands is lost on most of us. We can’t picture a place like Arizona suddenly looking like Yosemite, or the coastal redwoods of Santa Cruz. We don’t see the area between here and Las Vegas all of a sudden looking like the Everglades. The transformation is that incredible, as God comes among us. Can we even begin to comprehend it?
We can understand the language found in verse three and four, about having the tired hands, and knees that just want to give out, and hearts that are so crushed, that they are racing because of stress and wear and tear they undergo.
We need this season of Advent to not just about to be about waiting – but to hear the news –that God is coming, that God is with us…. For then, as the King David says –
11 You have turned my mourning into joyful dancing. You have taken away my clothes of mourning and clothed me with joy, 12 that I might sing praises to you and not be silent. O LORD my God, I will give you thanks forever!Psalm 30:11-12 (NLT)
This week, the third of our advent journey, that is what we find joy in, the news of how the tired, weary and anxious are more incredibly transformed than parents were on Christmas morning!
What causes our weaknesses? What causes our hearts to race?
It was once said that a pastor’s sermon should afflict those comfortable in sin, by comfort those afflicted by it. Those who spiritually are tired, worn out to the point of stumbling, those whose heart races. In other words, a lot of us in this place – are not in need of me ranting about the condition of the world, or of the sins that cause consequences in our lives.
We’ve felt them often, enough so that I can joke about needing to invest in whatever corporation owns Kleenex. It’s why this place is called a sanctuary, a refuge – and why Sunday is our day of hiding in Christ and finding rest.
We know those Isaiah says need to be strengthened and encouraged and to lift our hearts. Sometimes, like John the Baptist in the Gospel, we are the ones who ask – are you really there Jesus, are you really listening to us God? Not because we don’t know – but we need to remember.
We need to know we have a real God whom cares for real people with real problems.
We need to hear God’s message, as we struggle in what seems to be a desert wilderness.
Be calm, be strengthened by this… Immanuel!
That is what advent is all about – this time where we recognize our need for God’s presence, where we try to imagine what going through this life would be like in ancient days.
Not talking about the days with black and white televisions, brownie cameras, pong video games and rotary phones. I am talking about the days before Christ’s being born of Mary, when they knew of God, but because of Jesus not coming yet, they couldn’t quite understand the promises of the Messiah spoke of a hope beyond belief. The hope of a desert suddenly growing plants and trees like a rainforest, the promise of ground cracked and dry, not just having enough water to become muddy, but to become a tropical paradise.
Lives that seemed dry and useless, become lives that are alive, as we bring people to Christ like freeways bringing people to LA.
Though we know Christ, and though we are learning more and more about His love, we still tire out like John the Baptist. We still lose focus on what God is doing here, Advent reminds us – that what is coming when Christ returns is incredible, a wondrous transformation even more radical than what happens when we realize that He has saved us.
That there will be a day when what we know is true in our lives, will be seen in all of creation! When everything is redeemed, when Heaven and earth is recreated, when there is no more sorrow or sadness or tears.
When God display His glory, His splendor, when life begins anew.
Not later, the change is now, if you look at it
It is with such a vision that we can revive hands and legs, and calms anxious hearts. This is the reason we have been entrusted with this news!
Because the truth of such a vision is that, we don’t have to wait for the transformation to begin. It already has, the glory of God revealed clearly in ways that go beyond speech.
The Son of God, choosing to enter into this world, to come and abide with us, to restore us to the image in which we are created. To reverse in us the effects caused by sin’s brokenness.
That same Man, hanging there on a tree, paying for the sin of the past year, the sin of all creation, Our being united there in His death, so that we could rise with Him.
This vision of Isaiah that strengthens us, our weary hands, our wobbling knees and calms our hearts, that even though He has died, all the forces of evil couldn’t keep Him dead… He rose and is at the Father’s side… working on our behalf, our of love for us.
Because He was transformed from death to life, so are we. Get that, it isn’t that we will be. We have been. We have been changed, and we are no longer lost in the desert – we have become that highway in the desert.
As we become the highway for others in the wilderness, the work Christ does in us brings the water of life to others, and brings them to comprehend this transformation, as the Holy Spirit brings life into their barrenness.
Just as He has into ours. We may not get it completely; we may not see the fruit and vegetation yet, but we knows His presence, and the promises that have been made sure as He has cleansed us in baptism – as He increases our faith in our times with Him. As we pray, as He nourishes us with His word, and the promises like these in it. As He invites us to lay our burdens down, and as He strengthens us with His Body and Blood.
That’s why we become the road for others, so that they can learn of the healing, the restoration, what it means to be saved and rescued.
For Christ has come, and it changes everything far more than a parent’s weariness fades as kids unwrap presents..
That is the peace that passes all comprehension, but which we know guards our hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.
today at Concordia, just minutes before this sermon, a little girl was baptised, claimed by God to be His daughter. Read about what happens in baptism in Ezekiel 36:25 and follwoing and in 1 Tim 3:2-8. This is truly a miracle, one of the greatest we experience!
2 Thessalonians 3:1-5
† In Jesus Name †
As we receive the grace, that mercy and peace of God our Father and our Lord Jesus Christ, may Jesus lead our hearts into the full understanding and expression of the love of God, and may we, in Christ patiently endure!
How much will life change in Her life?
I want you for a moment to dream of the future.
A time 60-80 years from now, as Cayleen is sitting in the front row of this church, watching her granddaughter or even great-granddaughter being baptized. The church might have different music then, our new music becoming the old, archaic stuff that her generation longs to hear occasionally.
Maybe there will not be cars in the parking lot, but those little family jets that we saw on the Jetson’s.. Cell phones? Texting? Tablets? I can’t even begin to imagine what life will be like for them. I just think about how much it has changed since my son was baptized 6 years ago.
Except for one thing.
She will still need to know God’s love. There will still be the challenges of life that we will have to endure, for while many things in life changes, life itself will not change as much for her as it did this morning.
Which is why Paul not only asks us to pray, but then offers a blessing for the church in Thessalonica, as He asks God to lead our hearts into a full understanding and expression of the love of God, and the patient endurance that is found in Christ.
Come to think of it, if you can’t remember what to pray for her and indeed for all the baptized, that’s a pretty good prayer to remember!
You promised to pray…
Full understanding and expression of God’s love
That means His mercy, and His granting repentance
I pray that you remember to keep the commitment you made this morning to God, as you keep Cayleen in your prayers. Do not just make this something you said, as you were caught up in the moment. Pray for her, and for those around you, for we all need prayer. Even apostles, even pastors, even grandparents.
Sometimes we do not know how to pray, or what to pray, and I think that is where a passage like this comes in so handy. Two simple things to pray for, to know and express God’s love, and to endure. There will probably be some points where you need to pray for Dan and Kristen for that as well – like when Cayleen is 2, or when she’s that sweet age that starts just after the 12th year and 364th day of her life.
Seriously, pray for her, and for all believers in Christ, and for everyone you know.
Pray that they would follow Jesus, as He leads their hearts into a fuller understanding of the depth of God’s love for them. A love that does not just write us off the first time we sin but he continues to call to us, to urge us to repent, and to sin no more. The love of God that desires to fix the parts of our lives that are broken, to heal the wounds that our hearts and souls have encountered.
For to fully understand God’s love is to realize we do not have to hide our sins, we do not have to pretend they aren’t sins. Rather, we are to go to God and confess those sins, to ask Him to fix them. That takes faith, and confidence, and knowing God’s love and faithfulness so well, that we run to Him whenever we are struggling, whenever we are broken, whenever we break life.
Christ must lead us there!
That is how we endure as well, realizing that Jesus has united us to His death, and to His resurrection. That iss the promise of baptism, that unity to Christ. It is the hope He’s given us of sharing in His glory (col. 1:26-29 talks of that)
When we realize that our destiny is secure, that this life, as long as it may seem some days is going to become eternity in God’s presence, it helps us incredibly to endure. We can stand firm, knowing God’s promise that all things will work for good for us, because we love the God who called us and made us His.
It’s in knowing what Christ endured for us, that leads us to endure in His presence. For that too is a blessing given to Cayleen and all who believe and are baptized. God promises in Matthew 28 that He will never leave us, even until the end of the ages.
That’s why Paul says Jesus must lead us in knowing and expressing God’s love and into that ability to endure. It isn’t based in our own inner strength, even as Christians. Maturity for a believer doesn’t happen after we go through puberty and our voices change.
It happens when we know God’s love, when we know the promises of love given this day. When we realize how Jesus is always faithful, how He is always guarding our hearts, our minds, our souls. How He leads us as the 23rd Psalm says besides still waters and restores our soul. (which means it needed restoration)
That’s what Jesus does, that is what our Lord is tasked with, saving us from sin and the power of satan and death, and restoring us to life, quickening it us. That’s why a believer doesn’t live in terror of God, but in awe of Him, knowing His love, and being able to express that knowing (not knowledge of but knowing) through their voices in praise and through their lives.
But pray also for the mission and for those needing rescue
So pray for Cayleen, pray for those people around you! Make this your prayer for them; that they would be lead by Christ into the full understanding and expression of His love, and that they would, in Christ, endure!
Paul asks us also to pray for the mission, that this message of God’s love be honored, that it is heard and responded to with praise, wherever it goes. And to pray for those who have to deal with what the translation says are wicked and evil people – those who can’t comprehend God’s love, who don’t feel comfortable dealing with His mercy and those who are guilty, and need to deal with it. God dealt with them by the way, as we hear all of Paul’s guards in jail came to know God’s love and were granted repentance.
So finally my friends, pray, give into God’s care those you love – and those you struggle with. Let Him take the anxieties, the worries and challenges from you, freeing you to love them without distraction, to care for them as He would, to point them to Him when you don’t know what to do.
Having does so, knowing God’s love more fully, you will find yourself expressing it, in a place of peace beyond all comprehension. It is there where you are kept, guarded, your heart and mind protected by Jesus himself. AMEN?
- I Have Certainly Seen, I Am Aware, I Have Come Down! (justifiedandsinner.com)
Devotional thought of the day… as we prepare for Holy Week:
14 As for me, may I never boast about anything except the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ. Because of that cross, my interest in this world has been crucified, and the world’s interest in me has also died. 15 It doesn’t matter whether we have been circumcised or not. What counts is whether we have been transformed into a new creation. 16 May God’s peace and mercy be upon all who live by this principle; they are the new people of God. Galatians 6:14-16 (NLT)
Over the years, I have had a number of people who ask me why I, a “protestan” pastor (which I do not consider myself to be – but that’s another conversation) wear a crucifix more often than I wear a cross. Its the same reason the Sunday of Christ’s Passion – the celebration of the depth of His love, is so much more than Palm Sunday…
My answer is simple – it is where my hope is founded, it is what makes a difference in my life, it is what sustains me, as I face the crap of this world, the sin and trauma that just can rip your heart apart, and the sin and trauma that is my own, which then crushes that heart, with the force a sledgehammer.
It is why the drama of Palm Sunday, when the masses are crying out Hallelujah – and Hosanna, and Blessed is He that comes in the name of the Lord, is so ironic, and in a way painful. I can’t but hear under the praises, the same voices starting their other cry, the one that will call for this same man to be crucified, to be tortured and killed. There is great irony in that, in the second cry, as it is heard and acted upon, they will realize the glorious nature of God’s love.
It is why I would rather cling to an old rugged crucifix, than just an old rugger cross. For in baptism – I am joined to Christ there as Paul talks about in Romans 6 and Colossians, It is there at the cross – that a circuimcision of my heart takes place, as God separates my sin and all unrighteousness from me, as He signs adoption papers, as He declares me justified, as I receive the most incredible gift, as I enter into fellowship with the Holy Spirit.
Why do I wear a crucifix more than I wear a cross?
Simple – I desperately need to remember He died for me… and as I share in His death, so too I share in His new life.
That He has had mercy on us,,,, despite the cross.
2 Let us keep our eyes fixed on Jesus, who leads us in our faith and brings it to perfection: for the sake of the joy which lay ahead of him, he endured the cross, disregarding the shame of it, and has taken his seat at the right of God’s throne. Hebrews 12:2 (NJB)
- THE PALM AND THE PASSION: HOMILY FOR THE PALM SUNDAY Rev. Fr. Boniface Nkem Anusiem PhD (frbonnie.wordpress.com)
- PALM SUNDAY and HOLY WEEK (wtmcclendon.wordpress.com)
- The cross isn’t a fashion statement, it’s a passion statement (quinersdiner.com)
Where do we Abide?
† Jesus, Son and Savior †
May your life find its focus in the gifts of God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ, His mercy, His peace. His love, but mostly, in His presence!
The Tears of Paul, the Cry of Jesus
Knowing His past, the way in which he dealt with the enemies of what he perceived his faith to be, these words of Paul testify to His coversion, the transformation that had occurred in his life, as he came to know the love of God.
Hear them again,
18 For I have told you often before, and I say it again with tears in my eyes, that there are many whose conduct shows they are really enemies of the cross of Christ. 19 They are headed for destruction. Their god is their appetite, they brag about shameful things, and they think only about this life here on earth.
Hear His reaction – it is not one of anger, of lust for revenge, but one of great sorrow, of great sadness.
I say it again with tears in my eyes,
It is the reaction, not of a crusader, but of one who has been rescued from brokenness, whose heart has known the healing of being raised from worthlessness and given life and meaning, who has been called to be loved….
And grieves when he sees others who refuse such a call….to live in Christ
It is the attitude that Paul would encourage us all to imitate – the example he tried to set, even as Paul would imitate the Lord who came to him, and called him. We hear the same attitude in Jesus’ cry to the people of God in today’s gospel,
34 “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones God’s messengers! How often I have wanted to gather your children together as a hen protects her chicks beneath her wings, but you wouldn’t let me.
Indeed, Paul had become much like his Lord Jesus… and now he calls to us, to become like him, to follow the path of Christ trod, finding our strength in the God’s presence, and looking forward with Joy, even as we dwell now as citizens of heaven, as the people of God, whom He protects and loves and heals…
Do We Know the Price of Condemnation?
Most of us would hesitate before condemning someone to hell, most of us wouldn’t say “Go to Hell” in anger, or “I hope they burn in Hell” even about the people whom we can only see as “evil”, as they practice which is evil. I have seen similar reactions recently, heard them or read them on internet, against the likes of Jerry Sandusky, or Chris Dorner.
Even while we may not actively hope that others would go to hell, do we passively let others continue on their merry way towards Hell? Does it bother us, as it did the apostle Paul to the point that we cry over such people? Even our enemies? Or maybe we don’t want them to suffer eternally, just a period of time we would consider fair and equitable.
Do we realize that those who oppose Christ, who disdain or passively dismiss the cross are headed for destruction? Or do we just go about our own lives, going by the old saying, “live and let live?” Do we realize that such a attitude is against what scripture teaches about loving your neighbor? Is it loving to allow anyone to head towards experiencing the wrath of God?
Paul says these people are heading to destruction. The word there isn’t destruction as they might lose their house or their job, or that their families and lives will fall apart in this life. It is talking about destruction as in eternal – as in their complete separation from love, and life, and goodness. Total and complete. Do we weep for them?
Do we weep for those who oppose the cross of Christ, who deny mercy, who contend with the gospel, who put stumbling blocks in the ways of those who God would have them call out to? (It is funny that in the context of this passage – Paul is talking about people in the church!)
How many people do we know who are described as Paul describes those he is dealing with?
Their god is their appetite, they brag about shameful things, and they think only about this life here on earth.
What a sad way to be described – to realize that our emotions, our “appetites” could have so much control over us. To realize that people can be co confused that they would choose that which is disgraceful over what is good and right and a benefit to themselves and to others, whose choices are selfish and narcissistic and hurt others..
Do we respond to such people in anger? Or is sorrow and tears, grieving how they have chosen to separate themselves from God’s love and mercy?
Do we fall into a reaction that nurtures our appetites, that speaks the truth without love, which becomes condescending and shameful, and is only about that which occurs here on earth?
How do we learn to react as Paul began to react? How do we follow his steps, even as Paul learned to walk as Christ had?
Knowing our End, our Destination,
Paul gives us what he found to be his answer, there in verse 20.
20 But we are citizens of heaven, where the Lord Jesus Christ lives.
While the focus of those we are to weep for, pray for is on what makes their life here better or easier, our focus is based on whose we are, whose kingdom we are citizens of, to whom we owe our loyalty.
I think we misunderstand this – when we talk of being in the Kingdom of heaven, and for that reason, we’ll talk about it more in Bible Study. But for now, our answer to not being like those whose lives cause us anger – if we respond inappropriately, or sorrow, if we respond like Christ, is to remember where we live, to remember whose kingdom we belong to, to dwell in Christ, and under His rule.
It is here, in our experience at the altar, that we begin to see this. If we see this time and this place, not so much as a routine, or a duty, but a meal with our Father, a time where we remember where our homeland is, a time to look forward to our going home.
A number of people have asked me how I liked the food in China. It’s kind of funny, because the Cajun food was good, the American restaurants were fine, the Italian was as good as in Italy – maybe better! Even though I worked a with some Chinese nationals, a lot of time was spent ministering to our missionaries, folks who were there with a purpose, but who hearts and lives were lived in view of “home”. They needed a reminder of where they were from – even more spiritually than physically.
Likewise it is for us, we are here in Cerritos, as God’s ambassadors, as missionaries ourselves. A lot of our lives is lived in being “homesick” for heaven. That is why communion becomes so central, so necessary in our lives. Our communion feast is the “missionary team dinner” at Red Garlic, or up on the Peak at Bubba Gump – a time to look forward to our going home to be with our family, the angels and archangels and whole company of heaven.
Please understand, I am not saying Christ isn’t with us 24/7/365, but that this time is a special one, where we encourage each other, and are encouraged to dwell in God’s presence, where our hearts and minds are re-focused on God’s love, and the extent that His love is there for us, healing us, providing for us.
It is a moment in our week of being home…
Until the time our weak mortal humble bodies are found transformed into glorious bodies… for the same power that is at work then, has been at work, as all things have come into His kingdom, as He reigns and guides and protects, His people…
As we dwell in peace, and yes, weep over those who have yet to know that peace, or who confuse and bind others and prove themselves lacking in it..
This peace is yours, people of God, this peace of our Father, which passes all understanding and guards our hearts and minds as we dwell, citizens of where our Lord reigns… and cares for His people.