If the Son sets you free, then you will be really free. John 8:36 (TEV)
Not that grace somehow adds to an otherwise imperfect creation, but that grace puts a stop to our misguided attempts to usurp God’s place and so allows creation to shine forth in all its glory
The “world” is the body of those who hate, because they are prisoners of their own narrow illusions and petty desires. They cannot recognize the presence of the Holy Spirit because they are not willing to conform their lives to His inspirations. They cannot become free with the freedom Jesus compared to the unpredictable blowing of the wind, for they are rooted in their own attachments and bound down by their own compulsions. They have a fixed way of acting (which may be wild and erratic and possess a spurious “freedom” of its own) and they cannot break away from it. They have rendered themselves incapable of doing anything but their “own will” in the sense of their enslaved will. Only the Spirit Himself can penetrate their hard carapace of resistance, and too often they will not let Him do so. They are unable to love freely because they are afraid of freedom.
The power and effect of faith are especially seen in temptations, when sin, death, devil, and hell are overcome. Nor are these weak enemies; they bring out perspiration, weaken our limbs, and make heaven and earth cramped. When the devil and death come, no one can help except only the person who has said, I am he who shall sustain thee. Under such conditions we learn what faith is.
Yesterday, my son’s high school was locked down, and for several hours I waited for him to be released. First, they were kept secure in a classroom. Then, they were escorted to some fenced in tennis courts where, eventually, they were released to parents. The parents waited in the sunlight for hours, because of miscommunication.
My thoughts upon getting into the car hours after I arrived was the old phrase, “Free at last, Free at Last!” A couple of hours of inconvenience, and yet I treated it like a lifelong trauma. ( A little projection here, as I was also wanting to deal with some other traumatic events)
So I was thinking about freedom as I came across these words this morning. And the illusion of freedom was shredded, again and again.
When we clamor and protest to have freedom, we must contemplate two things:
- What are we wanting freedom from?
- What do we want to do with this freedom?
Answering those questions will help us determine whether what we want is truly freedom, or simply the ability to serve our own preferred slavery –to our lusts and desires, our addictions and other sins that plague us. The problem is, enslaved to those things–we don’t even realize we are enslaved! Or, if we do, the lure of that which we are enslaved to overshadows the life we don’t know we can live.
Luther’s words about faith are clear here. It is not an easy fight to overcome sin. It requires a lot sweat and a lot of tears. It takes prayer, and mostly, it takes dying with Jesus on the cross to break those shackles, and the work of the Holy Spirit to draw us to that cross.
Forde’s words are so clear to that as well, as the Holy Spirit convinces us to set aside our self-idolatry, nailing that sin to the cross as well. That when the Son sets us free- we can begin to see glimpses of the glory of God.
There is freedom from everything we need to be free from – hatred, violence, anxiety, resentment, sin, guilt and shame…
And there is freedom to do one thing… to love.
Upon getting home, just before 6, homework and chores awaited both my son and I. As did dinner. We weren’t free to do whatever we wanted, but we were free to do that which was good, and beneficial. Mostly, my family was free to be together. And so it is with freedom we find in Christ Jesus-we are free to be in the presence of God, to know His love, to be with our brothers and sisters in Christ…
This is accomplished simply by having faith in God, depending on what He’s promised – that He will set you truly free..
Gerhard O. Forde, “Hearing,” in Theology Is for Proclamation (Minneapolis, MN: Fortress Press, 1990), 144.
Thomas Merton, The New Man (London; New York: Burns & Oates, 1976), 132.
Martin Luther and John Sander, Devotional Readings from Luther’s Works for Every Day of the Year (Rock Island, IL: Augustana Book Concern, 1915), 102.
Would any of you who are fathers give your son a stone when he asks for bread? Or would you give him a snake when he asks for a fish? Bad as you are, you know how to give good things to your children. How much more, then, will your Father in heaven give good things to those who ask him!
*“Do for others what you want them to do for you: this is the meaning of the Law of Moses and of the teachings of the prophets. Matthew 7:9-12 GNT
Now if our doctrine is to be found in the Bible, we certainly should not seek it elsewhere; all Christians should make daily use of this book. No other bears the title here given by Paul—book of comfort—one that can support the soul in all tribulations, helping it not to despair, but to maintain hope.
Proclamation belongs to the primary discourse of the church. Systematic theology belongs to its secondary discourse. Primary discourse is the direct declaration of the Word of God, that is, the Word from God, and the believing response in confession, prayer, and praise. Secondary discourse, words about God, is reflection on the primary discourse.
A long time ago in my undergraduate work, I had 4 classes on preaching. The basic idea we were taught was that sermons explained and explore the Biblical passage under consideration. The recommended method was exegetical, dissecting every word (I still do that in preparation) and then explaining those points. Along with that was including the theological points those verses supported.
I enjoyed studying that way. I enjoyed writing sermons that way. Not so great at delivering them for one simple reason.
Ultimately, they were meaningless.
Meaningless because I had so focused on the words that I missed the Word. I got lost in the Greek and Hebrew to the point where Jesus was not the focus, and people didn’t hear of their need for Him, how much He longed to meet that need as He drew them to Him, and onto the cross with Him. Luther’s words about Romans 15:4. ( For whatever things were written before were written for our learning, that we through the patience and comfort of the Scriptures might have hope. Romans 15:4 (NKJV)) He puts it there well, that these words of scripture are there to support the soul, to protect it from despair, and to give and maintain hope. The hope that is found in the cross and resurrection.
A solid knowledge about theology, whether Exegetical, Systematic or Historical, is not the end purpose of our message. If that is all that it is, then we should turn our churches into lecture halls, our Bible Studies into micro-universities. There must be more than that, if we are to offer people something that makes a difference in their lives, that gives them hope, as scripture was written to give them hope. Something that gives them the expectation of forgiveness as they confess their sins, something solid to base their confession of faith upon, the hope that Someone is listening and responding to the prayers that we share, and a God who is worthy to be praised.
This is what our sermons and Bible studies need to do—to address people where they are in life, and draw them to Jesus, as we lift Him up for them to see.
This is what we do… we listen to hear of our Lord and His love.. and that is what is communicated in our sermons and studies. So that our people can know
Alleluia! He is risen!
And therefore, we have risen indeed!
Martin Luther and John Sander, Devotional Readings from Luther’s Works for Every Day of the Year (Rock Island, IL: Augustana Book Concern, 1915), 395.
Gerhard O. Forde, Theology Is for Proclamation (Minneapolis, MN: Fortress Press, 1990), 2.
You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your friends, hate your enemies.’ 44But now I tell you: love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, 45so that you may become the children of your Father in heaven. For he makes his sun to shine on bad and good people alike, and gives rain to those who do good and to those who do evil. Matt 5:43-45 GNT
The sum of the matter is this, that those persons are saved who place their trust solely in God, not in their works, nor in any creature. Consequently man should learn to have greater confidence in God’s mercy than in the zeal with which he makes confession. One cannot be too active, determined and guarded against the accursed evil of confiding in one’s own works. Therefore we should accustom our consciences to trust in God, and let it be done with the understanding that to believe and trust in God is pleasing to him, and that unreserved trust in God is his highest glory.
The question may be asked: “How does the living Christ feel today about the sinful men and women who walk our streets?”
There is only one answer: He loves them!
We may be righteously indignant about the things they do. We may be disgusted with their actions and their ways. We are often ready to condemn and turn away from them.
But Jesus keeps on loving them! It is His unchanging nature to love and seek the lost. He said many times when He was on earth, “I have come to help the needy. The well do not need a doctor—but the sick need attention and love.”
There is no doubt in my mind that sin is prevalent today. And just noting that, may be a sin. It is when I look at the sins of others as if I was the judge, When I catch myself at doing such, I cringe, and wonder if I am ever going to learn…
More precisely, am I ever going to learn to walk with Jesus
My indignation, my disgust, my willingness (even eagerness) to walk away is as sinful as whatever sin they committed.
I need to see His desire to them back, to draw them into His presence–so they can heal. For that reinforces that I am healed as well.
This is what it means to love your enemies more than anything else you can do. To help them see the grace of God is directed to them, and it heals what divides us.
We cannot hold back the grace of God that we’ve come to know. The church does not have that authority–we only have the responsibility to make it known to everyone, just as it was made known to us. For then, as we encourage others to share in the mercy of God, have become like Jesus, and like our Father.
This is the Church, investing what it treasures, the relationship where the Father in Heaven treasures is, and wants us all to be His people….
Martin Luther and John Sander, Devotional Readings from Luther’s Works for Every Day of the Year (Rock Island, IL: Augustana Book Concern, 1915), 390.
A. W. Tozer and Gerald B. Smith, Mornings with Tozer: Daily Devotional Readings (Chicago: Moody Publishers, 2008).
But God showed his great love for us by sending Christ to die for us while we were still sinners. 9 And since we have been made right in God’s sight by the blood of Christ, he will certainly save us from God’s condemnation. 10 For since our friendship with God was restored by the death of his Son while we were still his enemies, we will certainly be saved through the life of his Son. 11 So now we can rejoice in our wonderful new relationship with God because our Lord Jesus Christ has made us friends of God. Romans 5:8-11 NLT
Without argument, most things are at their best when they are fulfilling their purpose and design.
For instance, a piano is made with a specific purpose: to produce music. However, I happen to know that someone once stood on a piano in order to put a fastener of some kind in the ceiling. Some artistic women have used piano tops as family picture galleries. I have seen piano tops that were cluttered filing cabinets or wide library shelves.
There is an intelligent design in the creation of a piano. The manufacturer did not announce: “This is a good piano. It has at least nineteen uses!” No, the designer had only one thought in mind: “This piano will have the purpose and potential of sounding forth beautiful music!”…
Do not miss the application of truth here. God was saying to Abraham, “You may have some other idea about the design and purpose for your life, but you are wrong! You were created in My image to worship Me and to glorify Me. If you do not honor this purpose, your life will degenerate into shallow, selfish, humanistic pursuits
556 The Way of the Cross. Here indeed is a strong and fruitful devotion! May you make it a habit to go over those fourteen points of our Lord’s Passion and death each Friday. I assure you that you’ll gain strength for the whole week.
I love Tozer’s illustration, but struggle with the application.
Simply put, we weren’t created to worship God, or to glorify Him. I have seen too many people over the years try and fulfill that purpose, only to burn out, then drop out.
We were created for a purpose, and understanding that purpose can result in the most amazing worship, and result in God’s being glorified, a glory we are promised to share in. (see Col. 1:26-29)
Our purpose, our erason for existence is simpler, and more amazing.
As the piano was made to make music, we are made to be loved by God! We are created to be His friends!
Nothing less that being the ones whom God pours Himself to, whom God has chased throughout History, planning each step to bring us into this wonderful relationship.
We can’t mistake our response for the reason. It doesn’t work backwards. St Josemaria wants us to encounter that passionate love, that is why He wants us to contemplate the cross. Not out of duty, but because we need to know we are loved. And the Way of the Cross shows it to us, step by step, as Christ embraces torment, because it will show that love in a way that is undeniable.
It may be a blunt and graphic illustration, but saying that worship is the purpose and meaning in life is like saying going to the bathroom is the purpose of eating and drinking. Worship isn’t the purpose, it is the consequence. The purpose is being loved – a completely passive experience, and something we have no control over. This even works into my somewhat profane illustration, because a major part of worship is relieving oneself of everything impure… for God’s love will cause the eliminating of waste in our lives.
Therefore His sustains us through the most painful points of life. In the places where everyone else abandons us, He is there, comforting us, drawing us into His peace.
Finally, the glory of God has someone to love. In fact He draws us to Himself and loves us, that is truly glorious.
That is our purpose – to be loved. That is what gives meaning to our lives.
Know that you are loved beyond measure, experience that love that is unexplainable… and find out why we praise His name!
A. W. Tozer, Tozer for the Christian Leader (Chicago: Moody Publishers, 2015).
Escriva, Josemaria. The Way . Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition.
Some thoughts for the day
11 There is much more we would like to say about this, but it is difficult to explain, especially since you are spiritually dull and don’t seem to listen. 12 You have been believers so long now that you ought to be teaching others. Instead, you need someone to teach you again the basic things about God’s word. You are like babies who need milk and cannot eat solid food. 13 For someone who lives on milk is still an infant and doesn’t know how to do what is right. 14 Solid food is for those who are mature, who through training have the skill to recognize the difference between right and wrong. Hebrews 5:11-14 (NLT2)
The contemporary moral climate does not favor a faith as tough and fibrous as that taught by our Lord and His apostles. The delicate, brittle saints being produced in our religious hothouses today are hardly to be compared with the committed, expendable believers who once gave their witness among men. And the fault lies with our leaders. They are too timid to tell the people all the truth. They are now asking men to give to God that which costs them nothing.
Our churches these days are filled (or one-quarter filled) with a soft breed of Christian that must be fed on a diet of harmless fun to keep them interested. About theology they know little. Scarcely any of them have read even one of the great Christian classics, but most of them are familiar with religious fiction and spine-tingling films. No wonder their moral and spiritual constitution is so frail. Such can only be called weak adherents of a faith they never really understood.
But this I say for myself: I am also a doctor and a preacher, just as learned and experienced as all of them who are so high and mighty. Nevertheless, each morning, and whenever else I have time, I do as a child who is being taught the catechism and I read and recite word for word the Lord’s Prayer, the Ten Commandments, the Creed, the Psalms, etc.  I must still read and study the catechism daily, and yet I cannot master it as I wish, but must remain a child and pupil of the catechism—and I also do so gladly Luther’s introduction to the Large Cathechism
Essentially, there are two components in the care of your own soul: God’s word and prayer. The first is the means of the Holy Spirit to sanctify your soul and body. The second is your response; the result of your sanctification, you could say
It took constant effort to keep ourselves in some semblance of peace when we were seeking fantastic goals that were constantly frustrated, setting off the afflictive emotions of anger, grief, fear, pride, lust, greed, jealousy, and the other capital sins. As the false self diminishes and trust in God increases in the night of sense, our energies can be put to better purposes
There was a lot of richness in my readings this morning.
Some of it seems caustic, and the context of Tozer and Luther’s quotes were far more so that what I cut and pasted here. words 50 and 500 years ago still sting, because the church still faces the same challenges it did then, and even back when the church was young, and the Book of Hebrews chided believers for not maturing in their relationship ith God.
Part of me, reading this, wants to figure out to save the church, to find a way to preach so powerfully that the church just finally wakes up and grows up! (It doesn’t help that I’ve been listening to Keith Green music for the last week!) Gosh, if only there was some way to get us all fired up for Jesus!
Luther’s got the idea, echoed by Senkbeil and Keating. Before I see God transform my people and my community, I have to see Him, and allo him to circumcise my heart, to cut away those emotions Keating identifies, as well as the sin. Only the Holy Spirit can remove sin, and its minions—guilt and shame. That is why Luther would go back to basics, to the Prayer, to the word of God, to the Creed, to be reminded of these things that God is doing. That is why Tozer would point people to the heavier classic works of Christianity – not for theological training, but to ask the hard questions. The questions that help us take up and bear our crosses–the truth that we desperately need Jesus.
Not just to remove the stain of sin….
But to walk with us, to be with us,
For then life is sanctified, and our energies are put to a better purpose… for God has removed what isn’t us.
That is the way we become more dedicated, and yet expendable. For what happens to us is not as important. We are expendable because we realize our walk with God is greater than our self-preservation. The more God cuts away that which is not us, the more He recreates us, the more we long for eternal life, and yet the message we communicate becomes a message that convinces people that we walk with God.
Not because of the eloquence of the words, but because we depend God in this life, we know how He provides, and that means more than anything. That is why, despite struggles with sin and doubt, we keep coming back to Him, we keep wanting to hear His voice, and we realize that anyone who knows this can replace us, for the remarkable thing is not that we are witnesses of His glorious love, but the love that we have witnessed. A love that goes beyond anything we’ve known…
A love that changes everything, and mostly changes us.
Expendable simply means that love means more to us than life, because that love is eternal… and it is life.
A. W. Tozer, Tozer for the Christian Leader (Chicago: Moody Publishers, 2015).
Robert Kolb, Timothy J. Wengert, and Charles P. Arand, The Book of Concord: The Confessions of the Evangelical Lutheran Church (Minneapolis, MN: Fortress Press, 2000), 380.
Harold L. Senkbeil, The Care of Souls: Cultivating a Pastor’s Heart (Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press, 2019), 243.
Thomas Keating, The Daily Reader for Contemplative Living: Excerpts from the Works of Father Thomas Keating, O.C.S.O., Sacred Scripture, and Other Spiritual Writings, ed. S. Stephanie Iachetta (New York; London; New Delhi; Sydney: Bloomsbury, 2009), 140.
Thoughts to help us run to Jesus…
Caiaphas, who was high priest at that time,* said, “You don’t know what you’re talking about! 50 You don’t realize that it’s better for you that one man should die for the people than for the whole nation to be destroyed.” John 11:49-50 NLT
They say, “God has abandoned him. Let’s go and get him, for no one will help him now.” 12 O God, don’t stay away. My God, please hurry to help me. Psalm 71:11-12 (NLT2)
Scripture’s commandment to turn the other cheek does not contain a primarily ethical meaning—to overcome oneself, or to give the other an example of one’s self-mastery or enlightenment—but the meaning of love, which “demands that one suffer humiliation with the humiliated Christ rather than receive honor, to be seen as a fool and madman for Christ’s sake, who himself was seen primarily as such, rather than to be esteemed as wise and clever in this world” (Ignatius of Loyola)
Now note that deliverance from evil is the very last thing that we do and ought to pray for. Under this heading we count strife, famine, war, pestilence, plagues, even hell and purgatory, in short, everything that is painful to body and soul. Though we ask for release from all of this, it should be done in a proper manner and at the very last.
Why? There are some, perhaps many, who honor and implore God and his saints solely for the sake of deliverance from evil. They have no other interest and do not ever think of the first petitions which stress God’s honor, his name, and his will. Instead, they seek their own will and completely reverse the order of this prayer. They begin at the end and never get to the first petitions. They are set on being rid of their evil, whether this redounds to God’s honor or not, whether it conforms to his will or not.
The Canaanite woman had the kind of faith which penetrates the clouds. She would not take any kind of refusal as a real refusal, as a real “no.” She kept on praying with faith. The more she was tried, the more she placed her trust in Jesus, until she finally achieved her goal and got all she wanted. This is the disposition God waits for in the crisis of faith: trust in his mercy no matter what kind of treatment he gives you. Only great faith can penetrate those apparent rebuffs, comprehend the love which inspires them, and totally surrender to it.
Barely a day goes by without ads or advice about how to save the church. Here is how to make your preaching more relevant, how to do outreach online, and how to grow this ministry, that ministry. If only you had a program like Alpha or Rooted or follow Purpose Driven Church theory or…
For someone who doesn’t even know what a box is, never mind think out of it, my answer for what the church needs to do is described well in the devotional readings I encountered this morning.
The answer to survival is that we again need the church to be considered fools and madmen/women.
The phrase comes from the reading of Balthasar – and refers to people who are willing to be humiliated for no other reason than we do so with Jesus. The world would say we are nuts; we are fools. We embrace the suffering we encounter, whatever God allows, to seek Him and find Him and be with Him.
That is what Luther was getting at as well, as he explored the phrase, “deliver us from evil.” It is not the first plea in the Lord’s prayer but the last. It is not the most important thing – in fact, the most important thing is that we use God’s name to address Him. We need to set it apart for those deeply intimate conversations. We ask to ask for a lot, but only last do we ask for delivery from evil. If we believe all else is answered and delivered, where is the power of evil? It has already been broken and shattered.
Take a moment and think about it – what has Satan left if we are sure God’s Kingdom has come, and God’s will has been done?
This is what servant-leadership truly is in the church, being willing to embrace the suffering and remind people of God’s presence in the most broken parts of their lives. It requires tenacity, not to endure, but to pursue God like the Samaritan woman Keating praises! Jesus praised her, for she trusted that Jesus loved her and her daughter. We need to seek that experience of His love and His mercy, counting on Him to reveal Himself there.
That is why we endure… to depend on Christ – to dwell in Him… and as we do, we serve amid brokenness. We embrace it, knowing that God rules, and therefore it works. and if the world things we are fools and madman… that’s okay.
Balthasar, Hans Urs von. 2004. Love Alone Is Credible. Translated by D. C. Schindler. San Francisco: Ignatius Press.
Luther, Martin. 1999. Luther’s Works, Vol. 42: Devotional Writings I. Edited by Jaroslav Jan Pelikan, Hilton C. Oswald, and Helmut T. Lehmann. Vol. 42. Philadelphia: Fortress Press.
Keating, Thomas. 2009. The Daily Reader for Contemplative Living: Excerpts from the Works of Father Thomas Keating, O.C.S.O., Sacred Scripture, and Other Spiritual Writings. Edited by S. Stephanie Iachetta. New York; London; New Delhi; Sydney: Bloomsbury.
Thoughts to drive us to Jesus side…..
Save me, O God, for the floodwaters are up to my neck. 2 Deeper and deeper I sink into the mire; I can’t find a foothold. I am in deep water, and the floods overwhelm me. 3 I am exhausted from crying for help; my throat is parched. My eyes are swollen with weeping, waiting for my God to help me. Psalm 69:1-3 (NLT2)
Almost anything associated with the ministry may be learned with an average amount of intelligent application. It is not hard to preach or manage church affairs or pay a social call; weddings and funerals may be conducted smoothly with a little help from Emily Post and the Minister’s Manual. Sermon making can be learned as easily as shoemaking—introduction, conclusion and all. And so with the whole work of the ministry as it is carried on in the average church today.
But prayer—that is another matter. There Mrs. Post is helpless and the Minister’s Manual can offer no assistance. There the lonely man of God must wrestle it out alone, sometimes in fastings and tears and weariness untold. There every man must be an original, for true prayer cannot be imitated nor can it be learned from someone else.
There is an analogy between growing up spiritually and the growing up that takes place in the normal course of human life. In approaching adolescence and adulthood, everyone seems to have to pass through a crisis.… God has great sympathy for those who are going through this crisis in their spiritual life. They do not know what is happening to them and tend to concentrate on the disintegration of what they love, rather than on the real spiritual growth of which they are becoming capable.… If we look on the bright side and are firmly convinced that it is normal to have to forge new relationships, our crisis of faith will appear as a great invitation to go deeper into the heart of Christ. The very transition makes it impossible for the former people we counted on to help us. Part of growing up is to become independent—not of everybody, but of those on whom we are too dependent—so that we may depend completely on the Holy Spirit. That is what spiritual maturity is.
Tozer is correct…. the actual day-to-day tasks of being a pastor or one of those who help him are not that difficult. They don’t take the mind of a rocket scientist or incredible skills in management and business. That’s why people are getting “self-ordained” or getting one-day licenses to do weddings or just doing memorials on their own.
But a real pastor, a real elder, a real Sunday School teacher, or worship leader is not just a combination o talent and academic preparation. They have to be someone who wrestles with themselves and God – much as Jacob did. As each man’s gifts are different, so are the battles. The temptations, the anxieties, and the circumstances that they dwell in are different, making each battle unique – and therefore, the healing from battle damage is never the same.
Those battles are irreplaceable in one’s growth as a believer. Keating’s comparison to the challenges of the transition from childhood to adulthood is perfect. During that time, physically, mentally, spiritually, everything is challenged. Some demean it, having forgotten those long nights and empty feelings. As we enter Christ, everything changes, as idols and those who could become idols are removed. And while we have their words and often their examples, we are bereft of the comfort and the fact that someone is listening.
And that makes the brokenness echo throughout our hearts and minds, and yes, our souls. As we come on the other side of it, what disintegrated is replaced (much as Job’s family and fortune were!) Life becomes different, and we look at it with eyes that have grown weary as spiritual maturity is forced upon us. Every thing is stripped away, and we find everything is found as the Holy Spirit grants us the faith we need.
The place where the Psalmist was, is more important for a pastor or any other servant leader or believer in the church to experience. It is out of such times we God’s hand clearly, and the brokenness gives way to grace.
Ministry isn’t rocket science – it is more complicated. Still, as we see the breakthroughs and see the miracles, it is more rewarding…for it is walking with God… each step.
Tozer, A. W. 2015. Tozer for the Christian Leader. Chicago: Moody Publishers.
Keating, Thomas. 2009. The Daily Reader for Contemplative Living: Excerpts from the Works of Father Thomas Keating, O.C.S.O., Sacred Scripture, and Other Spiritual Writings. Edited by S. Stephanie Iachetta. New York; London; New Delhi; Sydney: Bloomsbury.
I WILL NOT! I CAN NOT!
† In Jesus Name †
May the grace of God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ remind you constantly of God’s desire to be part of your life.. and His committing to be part of it.
- What does God Look like?
It is one of those questions that pastors cannot honestly answer, but we get asked on occasion….
What does God the Father look like?
Here are a couple of paintings of Him, most from the renaissance.
Look at them carefully; they all show an old man with a beard and a receding hairline that is grey and white.
But there is one thing I notice above all – that these pictures don’t show God with a smile; they don’t show him with His eyes lit up with joy, with the determination to see His people come from home
Especially this last one, I am not sure what He had for dinner or whether He was watching me this week. He looks either a bit sick to his stomach or severely disappointed and sad…
Today’s sermon is based on the Old Testament passage, where Isaiah’s words paint a far different picture…
Hear again how the passage begins,
Because I love Zion, I will not keep still. Because my heart yearns for Jerusalem, I cannot remain silent. I will not stop praying for her until her righteousness shines like the dawn, and her salvation blazes like a burning torch!
That doesn’t sound like it comes from the mouth of the One pictured in the painting. Neither does the last verse of the reading,
Then God will rejoice over you as a bridegroom rejoices over his bride!
That is the picture I want you to take with you today… that is the picture I want you to share with others. The image of God who loves you so much that it is indescribable…. Except to know He rejoices when you are in His presence.
- Never again… (which means there was a time)
As Isaiah goes on, these words just stuck in my mind,
3 The LORD will hold you in his hand for all to see— a splendid crown in the hand of God. 4 Never again will you be called “The Forsaken City” or “The Desolate Land!
We have to read this, knowing the past, but realizing the truth of the present. We have been saved, God has got us in His grasp, but there is a “before,” a state we were in, where God says, “never again!”
As we go into it, it reminds me of Paul’s words to Titus,
3 Once we, too, were foolish and disobedient. We were misled and became slaves to many lusts and pleasures. Our lives were full of evil and envy, and we hated each other. 4 But—Titus 3:3-4 (NLT2)
We know this “but” is coming, but part of understanding who God is, is realizing in the midst of our sin – in the midst of our sin that will leave us feeling abandoned and desolate, there is God, saying,
Because I love you, I will not keep still, because My heart yearns for you – I cannot be silent.
I will not! I cannot!
In the middle of it all, God is there; He’s always promised to be there! Right in the middle of our worst battles with sin, He was there, relentless working to get to the point He descried with these words…
I will not stop interceding for her until her righteousness shines like the dawn, and her salvation blazes like a burning torch. 2 The nations will see your righteousness.
That is where God the Father’s heart is…what His desire is,
That is why He sent Jesus, while we were sinning, to rescue us, and still does. That is our hope for those caught in our sin… that is our hope when we struggle with temptation…. That is our hope until we hear God’s voice… calling us…
- Delighted & Committed
And look what He calls us…
Your new name will be “The City of God’s Delight” and “The Bride of God,” for the LORD delights in you and will claim you as his bride.
I would translate these names for you, these names God calls us. I think most of the translations are more than a bit weak in this…
The first – the “City of God’s delight,” Hephzibah – is simply the “one I find joy with….”
That is you, the one who God enjoys being in the presence of…. Imagine that…
God’s greatest joy is found when we realize we dwell in His presence.
The second… Ba’aulu – is just as profound.
It means, “You are the one I am committed to..forever.”
Bride doesn’t quite say that… this idea of God committing Himself to you, forever.
I gave you the part of Paul’s words to Titus… let me give you what comes after the “but.”
4 But—“When God our Savior revealed his kindness and love, 5 he saved us, not because of the righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy. He washed away our sins, giving us a new birth and new life through the Holy Spirit. 6 He generously poured out the Spirit upon us through Jesus Christ our Savior. 7 Because of his grace he declared us righteous and gave us confidence that we will inherit eternal life.”
Eternal life with Him, the LORD God who finds His greatest joy when His children are with Him, who has committed Himself to us… to make us holy and perfect, for that is who His children, His beloved are…
That’s why Paul’s words end with this…
8 This is a trustworthy saying, and I want you to insist on these teachings so that all who trust in God will devote themselves to doing good. These teachings are good and beneficial for everyone. Titus 3:4-8 (NLT2)
So let’s help the whole world know this… God finds great joy in being with us and commits Himself to us, And He will not, He cannot stop until He makes this true for all His children. So let’s help the whole world know… AMEN!
Thoughts to encourage you to adore and cling to Jesus…
5 The LORD observed the extent of human wickedness on the earth, and he saw that everything they thought or imagined was consistently and totally evil. 6 So the LORD was sorry he had ever made them and put them on the earth. It broke his heart. Genesis 6:5-6 NLT
Through all the changes scenes of life, in trouble and in joy, the praises of my God shall still my heart and tongue employ!
Of His deliverance I will board, till all that are distrest, from my example comfort take and charm their griefs to rest. (Evangelcial Lutheran Hymnal of 1927 – Hymn 75 by Tate and Brady)
There are days I wake up, and I wish God hadn’t promised to flood the earth again. I look out and see the devastation of sins. Sins of Omission, Sins of Comission, deliberate ones, and ones that were not intended, but happened anyway. Let me be honest, my sins and the sins of others take a horrible toll on me, and I can understand how it breaks God’s heart… for even as guilty of sin as I am, it breaks mine. I am reminded again of Luther, in his monk’s room, melting down and screaming in the middle of the night at Satan, and despairing of his own life. Been there…
Would He come down and just end it all – a flood, a fire, the second coming!
So how do I find it possible, in these troubled scenes of life, to find the joy and peace needed to praise Him?
There is only one way, to look to the cross and see how God’s promise comes to fruition there. How he carefully circumcises our heart, cutting away the sin and damage its caused. Scripture also uses the term from which we get cauterizes for describing the healing that can take place, as God seals off the wounds, and uses the Body of Christ to bring healing to the wounds.
It is defintely hard to see, in the midst of the troublemd waters, in the midst of the pain, and the way our minds spiral because of the pain.
Yet, He is there…. having died for all the sin, wanting to transform us, and redeem the time. Let us encourage each other to look to Him.
For there is our hope… found in the love that drove Him to the cross, and raised Him from the dead.
A Hard Devotional Thought for these Days
Then Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, because they do not know what they are doing.” And they divided his clothes and cast lots. Luke 23:34 CSB
It appears that too many Christians want to enjoy the thrill of feeling right but are not willing to endure the inconvenience of being right.
Therefore the entire sum of what it means not to kill is to be impressed most explicitly upon the simple-minded. In the first place that we harm no one, first, with our hand or by deed. Then, that we do not employ our tongue to instigate or counsel thereto. Further, that we neither use nor assent to any kind of means or methods whereby any one may be injured. And finally, that the heart be not ill disposed toward any one, nor from anger and hatred wish him ill, so that body and soul may be innocent in regard to every one, but especially those who wish you evil or inflict such upon you.
I knew what was coming today in my Bible reading.
It made me want to delay it as much as possible.
The words from the cross above frustrate me… significantly frustrate me. Especially if the Apostle Paul’s words are echoing through my mind at the same time.
Imitate me, as I also imitate Christ. 1 Corinthians 11:1 CSB
Yesteday, I was planning the service for the day after the twentieth anniversary of 9/11. Flashing across my news feed and social media were call for revenge, including a horrific prayer for it to have quickly, to wipe out a people. It wanted revenge, not justice, and definitely not mercy.
And my first reaction was to agree, even as it soured my stomach… and I knew it was wrong.
Did I mention following Jesus was inconvenient?
Another line from the Scriptures, this time from Jesus,
43 “You have heard the law that says, ‘Love your neighbor’ and hate your enemy. 44 But I say, love your enemies! Pray for those who persecute you! 45 In that way, you will be acting as true children of your Father in heaven. Matthew 5:43-45a (NLT2)
This isn’t just inconvenient… I don’t even have the words.
It is more tha just difficult, it is impossible… at least for me.
Never mind those who have killed people in what they consider war… this is true for those in all sorts of positions. Some actively hate, some unintentionally hurt (how could they not see their own narcicism?)
But on this day, as I read of Jesus on the cross, I realize again how much I have to be united to that cross, to let my narcicistic self die there, and rise to life with Him. How that means I give up my desire for revenge (though I call it justice – let’s be honest here) I need His mercy, I need His love…
I need Him to heal me of my hurt.
This isn’t about being weak, about not standing up for what is right and wrong. Luther’s quote makes that clear – we can’t let our hearts be ill-disposed, but rather we need to lift these enemies to the Lord in prayer, and desire, as God does, that they come to repentance. That’s not being weak….
It is accepting the inconvenience of following Christ, and realizing that Him joy
As we do, it will take prayer, it will take a lot of thought about the cross, and the grave, and why Jesus, for the joy set before Him,… set aside revenge… and loved.
A. W. Tozer and Marilynne E. Foster, Tozer on the Holy Spirit: A 366-Day Devotional (Camp Hill, PA: WingSpread, 2007).
Martin Luther, The Large Catechism, trans. F. Bente and W. H. T. Dau (n.p.: WORDsearch, 2003).