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The Difference Between Singing Praise Songs and Worship.

Devotional Thought of the Day:

15  But what could I say? For he himself sent this sickness. Now I will walk humbly throughout my years because of this anguish I have felt. 16  Lord, your discipline is good, for it leads to life and health. You restore my health and allow me to live! 17  Yes, this anguish was good for me, for you have rescued me from death and forgiven all my sins. 18  For the dead cannot praise you; they cannot raise their voices in praise. Those who go down to the grave can no longer hope in your faithfulness. 19  Only the living can praise you as I do today. Each generation tells of your faithfulness to the next. Isaiah 38:15-19 (NLT2)

The resurrection of Jesus Christ lays hold on us with all the authority of sovereign obligation. It says that the Christian church is to go and make disciples—to go and make disciples of all nations. The moral obligation of the resurrection of Christ is the missionary obligation—the responsibility and privilege of personally carrying the message, of interceding for those who go, of being involved financially in the cause of world evangelization

“Pray! For hope no longer lies in arms but in God. If anybody defends us against the Turk,18 the poor children who pray the Our Father will. Our wall and firearms and all the princes will probably leave the Turk untouched. I told the master builders too, ‘Dear Sirs, why are you spending so much time building? Unless prayers build a wall that declares that angels surround you with protection, your wall is worthless.

As I am pursuing a doctoral degree in worship, talking to people has been interesting.

They think this is a music degree, that it has to do primarily with the instruments I play, and the songs I have written.

It doesn’t.

My breakfast with a friend this morning was an experience of worship as much as when I pick up my guitar and play with our liturgical band on Sunday morning. As we talked about the brokenness we’ve witnessed (and went at the side of others!) As we talked about where God has guided us on very unique tracks to where we serve, him in the public sector, me in the church, there was a sense of what Hezekiah talked of in the scripture passage from Isaiah above.

We’ve experienced it all, the need to be humbled, the oppressive anguish, the discipline (corrective action) taken, I have had the challenges to health, he’s witnessed others experience them, and we’ve seen God deliver us from it all.

Sharing that is worship. Appreciating, even being in awes of how God has guided us is praising and glorifying God. I left a little less tired, a little more able to expect to see God’s work today, a little more determined to pray before the actions I know are coming, and less time building the walls which cannot protect me.

Tozer talks of a sovereign obligation to be missional—that because of the resurrection, we must share the hope born from experiencing God. I agree there is a need for that action, but I don’t think it is as much a moral obligation as we think of obligations, something done in repayment of something that has benefited us. Rather, it is as a subconscious spiritual compulsion to love those we are sent into the midst of, for surely God has done sent us into these places.

Surely singing is part of this, how this attitude is formed, how it buries itself deep in our sub-conscious, along with hearing the word of God and receiving the sacraments. The Holy Spirit uses all of this to form us in a way where the life of worship is just part of who we are. We struggle with it of course, allowing sin and the brokenness we observe to distract us temporarily us from our life in Jesus. Even then, God is at work, delivering us, calling us back,  and getting our attention.

And because of that, with Hezekiah and all who have been re-born in baptism and faith, we worship Him. In sanctuaries, and our homes, and even over breakfast at Polly’s.

God is good.. and He is with us!

 

 

A. W. Tozer, Tozer for the Christian Leader (Chicago: Moody Publishers, 2015).

Martin Luther, Luther’s Works, Vol. 54: Table Talk, ed. Jaroslav Jan Pelikan, Hilton C. Oswald, and Helmut T. Lehmann, vol. 54 (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1999), 419.

This is Ministry…

Thoughts leading us to Jesus, and because of which, we adore Him:
1  Then this message came to me from the LORD: 2  “Son of man, prophesy against the shepherds, the leaders of Israel. Give them this message from the Sovereign LORD: What sorrow awaits you shepherds who feed yourselves instead of your flocks. Shouldn’t shepherds feed their sheep? 3  You drink the milk, wear the wool, and butcher the best animals, but you let your flocks starve. 4  You have not taken care of the weak. You have not tended the sick or bound up the injured. You have not gone looking for those who have wandered away and are lost. Instead, you have ruled them with harshness and cruelty. 5  So my sheep have been scattered without a shepherd, and they are easy prey for any wild animal. 6  They have wandered through all the mountains and all the hills, across the face of the earth, yet no one has gone to search for them. Ezekiel 34:1-6 (NLT2)

The Christian minister, as someone has pointed out, is a descendant not of the Greek orator but of the Hebrew prophet.
The differences between the orator and the prophet are many and radical, the chief being that the orator speaks for himself while the prophet speaks for God. The orator originates his message and is responsible to himself for its content. The prophet originates nothing but delivers the message he has received from God who alone is responsible for it, the prophet being responsible to God for its delivery only. The prophet must hear the message clearly and deliver it faithfully, and that is indeed a grave responsibility; but it is to God alone, not to men.

In those cities and places, likewise, where the parish churches have no certain boundaries, neither have their rectors their own proper people to govern, but administer the sacraments to all promiscuously who seek it, the holy synod commands bishops, that for the more perfect security of the salvation of the souls committed to their charge, having divided the people into fixed and proper parishes, they shall assign to each its own perpetual and peculiar parish priest, who may know his own parishioners, and from whom alone they may lawfully receive the sacraments; or they shall make such other provision as may be more profitable, according as the character of the place may require

Someone reminded once again me that evangelists are also physicians for souls; new converts need a physician of the soul just as long time members. A lot of listening, consoling, absolving, praying, and blessing was just as important for Sonia, the zealous new convert, as it was for George, the patriarch of a family known as “pillars of the church” for generations.

As I read from the writings coming out of the Council of Trent this morning, those words in blue hit me hard. It wasn’t like resonated in a good way, but like play a guitar and one key is so far out of tune… it hurts.  People who go to a church may not know the man who is preaching, if he is even in the same building and not located on another campus, and his picture live-streamed into that building. There is a disconnect there, and while thye have someone preaching at them, it is not the same as a conversation with them, know them and having the ability to call in a moment and have them pray.

It’s not just true in big churches, COVID has done this to many family sized (50-300 member churches) as our people have been spread out, and limited to digital contact or a phone call or two. As much as I like bringing my thoguhts together on this blog, I would rather have 4 or 20 people in a Bible study, or a dedicated prayer time. There is something about the people of God, gathered together, spending time in His presence together.

Tozer’s comment about the pastor being a descendant of the prophet fits in here. God has a message for a specific group of people, and has placed the pastor there to give it to them, in a way they can understnad it. That means you have to know them well enough to spek into their heart. That is scary for both the pastor and the people. But if it doesn’t happen., if this connection isn’t made, then people spread out, and begin to do what is right in their own eyes–and that includes the pastor.

We all need to be ministered to, the atheist, the person God is transforming from scratch, the person God’s been working on for decdes.

And the most needed and hardest ministry happens when the pastor and people are laughing and crying together. As souls are comforted…and healed by the same power which raised Christ Jesus from the grave.

A. W. Tozer, Tozer for the Christian Leader (Chicago: Moody Publishers, 2015).

Theodore Alois Buckley, The Canons and Decrees of the Council of Trent (London: George Routledge and Co., 1851), 201–202.

Harold L. Senkbeil, The Care of Souls: Cultivating a Pastor’s Heart (Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press, 2019), 234.

Visionary Servant Leadership

Thoughts helping us focus on Jesus…

Jesus knew that the Father had given him authority over everything and that he had come from God and would return to God. 4 So he got up from the table, took off his robe, wrapped a towel around his waist, 5 and poured water into a basin. Then he began to wash the disciples’ feet, drying them with the towel he had around him. John 13:3-5 NLT

Leadership requires vision, and whence will vision come except from hours spent in the presence of God in humble and fervent prayer?

God remains the center, and man is drawn beyond himself toward the absolute as it manifests itself. He “possesses” love only insofar as love possesses him, which means that he never possesses love in such a way that he could describe it as one of his powers, which lies at his own disposal. To be sure, this does not mean that love remains external to him, but if it does not, it is only because love itself takes possession of him in his innermost heart—interius intimo meo.

Nevertheless, as a spiritual physician I’m treating the whole person, not just their emotions. When the soul is at rest in God, emotions will stabilize.

There are a lot of books out there that one could read to learn about Visionary Leadership. That includes those written by pastors, former pastors, corporate CEOs, former military leaders, and sports figures like John Wooden.

Rarely do I find that there is a spiritual component in these books or the seminars they spawn. If so, spirituality made be motioned as an afterthought. Even though we have generations of servant leaders, and the example of the prophets and Jesus of such incredible leadership.

We think such leadership is a gifted ability, something innate in that person but missing in this person. In thinking so, we make a mistake. Authentic leadership is not a gift as much as it is a side effect. (Note – leadership in Romans 12:8 is closer to administration than leading and guiding people. )

A side effect of time with God.

That time with God results in a deeper dependence, a deeper trust. Theologians call this faith, but that overused word rarely is thought of as the desperation that results in our clinging to God, knowing there is no other answer.

And the side effect of that dependence is the leadership Jesus shows as he washes the disciples’ feet and dies for them and the world the next day. Tozer talks of leadership coming from hours spent in the presence of God. Balthasar speaks of being drawn to God and possessed by God’s love – even to the most interior, intimate part of being. God is there; that is what conversion is, as our hearts and minds- cold, dead, broken by sin are replaced by the Spirit with Christ’s heart and mind. It all comes down to dwelling in HIs presence, and being sure of the promises, as Chirst was, as he washed the feet of the apostles… even of Judas…

Ultimately, this kind of leadership is focused on drawing people into the heart of God. That is where we must lead them, for that is where we find out who we are. We have to be confident of God’s presence and His work – then leadership is simply part of the response. This is the work Senkbeil speaks of – the healing that takes place as we wash feet, go and pray, or take the time to explain what the scripture means.

That is visionary servant leadership… which is the kind that makes an actual difference in the lives of people… both not and eternally. AMEN!

Tozer, A. W. 2015. Tozer for the Christian Leader. Chicago: Moody Publishers.

Balthasar, Hans Urs von. 2004. Love Alone Is Credible. Translated by D. C. Schindler. San Francisco: Ignatius Press.

Senkbeil, Harold L. 2019. The Care of Souls: Cultivating a Pastor’s Heart. Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press.d

The Question about Ministry…

In Awe of His love…

36 The harvesters are paid good wages, and the fruit they harvest is people brought to eternal life. What joy awaits both the planter and the harvester alike! 37 You know the saying, ‘One plants and another harvests.’ And it’s true. 38 I sent you to harvest where you didn’t plant; others had already done the work, and now you will get to gather the harvest.” John 3:36-38 NLT

5  Finally, I confessed all my sins to you and stopped trying to hide my guilt. I said to myself, “I will confess my rebellion to the LORD.” And you forgave me! All my guilt is gone. Interlude 6  Therefore, let all the godly pray to you while there is still time, that they may not drown in the floodwaters of judgment. Psalm 32:5-6 (NLT2)

That person sitting across from you in your study or lying in a hospital bed is just another wayward child of God the Father, each in their own way yearning to return to the Father’s house. Baptismal therapy is nothing more and nothing less than a return to baptism and the ongoing application of the gifts bestowed once in that sacred bath by which sins are forgiven and life restored.

The heart of the Easter mystery is our personal discovery of intimacy with God which scripture calls “innocence.” It is the innocence arising from easy and continual exchange of the most delightful kind with God.…

This morning I received official notice that my Ph.D. dissertation was fully accepted – the writing can “officially” begin. But it is something that has been forming in me for the last 28 -30 years. The readings this morning echo that concept. The nature of the ministry is bringing people into the glory of God. They are restored to dwell in that place!

Ministry is the work of reconciliation – the workers are sent out to gather people in the harvest – bringing them into eternal life. Doing that work only happens in the way the Psalmist experiences. When I know my sin is forgiven when I stop trying to hide my guilt. The response is simple. I want others to experience
the freedom, the peace, the life that comes in knowing Christ Jesus!

Senkbeil describes this revelation as the forgiven sinner sees the person as another prodigal – another wandered who is lost, trying to find their way in the world. The ministry then reminds the person what God has done in them as He cleansed them in baptism. If the person hasn’t been baptized, sharing the news of God’s mercy and compassion on those in bondage to sin. Yes, we desire; we hope and pray that they experience the intimacy with God that Keating talks about as he describes the sinner’s innocence.

This is what drives ministry – at its basic and best, it is the desire for others to experience the love of God that is unexplainable. A love that is beyond measure that leaves us experiencing innocence, righteousness, justice, and holiness, all because God loves us, and He is here.

This is ministry, as we have freely received – we freely give… This leaves you – and those around you with a question to ask. Do you need to hear that God loves you – and is merciful to you…. Or do your need to be the one that helps others find a deep, intimate, healing relationship with Jesus?
(I can help you either way!)

Heavenly Father, send forth Your Spirit on all believers, that they may realize how deeply You love them. As they experience the innocence that comes with salvation, help them share Your love with those around them. We pray this in the name of Jesus, your Son, our Savior and Lord!  AMEN!

Senkbeil, Harold L. 2019. The Care of Souls: Cultivating a Pastor’s Heart. Bellingham, WA: Lexham 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.

Don’t Confuse Church with Heaven…

Thoughts to urge you closer to Jesus… and to adore Him!

6  I am quite confident that the One who began a good work in you will go on completing it until the Day of Jesus Christ comes. Philippians 1:6 (NJB)

They dream of a church as righteous as Adam was in paradise, though the wrath of God was revealed from heaven against him when God said, ‘Adam, you may eat of every fruit, but if you eat of this tree you shall die.’

The Eucharist received in Holy Communion awakens us to the permanent presence of Christ within us at the deepest level. The Eucharist, like the Word of God in Scripture, has as its primary purpose to bring us to the awareness of God’s abiding presence within us.…

There are times where being a part of a church is overwhelming.

It might be because of conflict.

It might be because people have expectations that they place on the church, but not on themselves as part of the church.

It might simply be because of too much truama.

Simply put, church is not heaven on earth. We might want it to be perfect, we may think it should be, we will get angry when it is not heaven on earth, when people in it disappoint us, and even hurt us.

People may think churches are built on holy ground – and I will argue they are! But that doesn’t mean everything that happens within it is holy and perfect. For sinners in need of grace find a place there, and God begins His work in someone’s life, as the church is gathered together, and shares in the words of God, and the sacraments through which He pours out His love.

Keating is right – church is where God reveals Himself to His people, especially through the Eucharist! He is here as God’s people are gathered – whether in stately cathedrals, simple wooden buildings, caves, or at the local starbucks.

But Luther is also correct – in this midst of these groups, there is sin, and sin that God must purge or punish, cleanse or condemn. ANd sin means people get disappointed, hurt, betrayed. They fail and yes, they sin.

Here is why – the work of sanctification happens there – as God continues His work – and will continue it, until we are are completed when Jesus returns. That means there is always work going on, sins being confronted and cleansed, reconciliations occuring where there was only brokenness, life becoming real and glorious, even as evil is dealt with, and people who are muddied with sin being cleansed. If these things aren’t happening in a church, it isn’t the church.

Church isn’t heaven…. but it is the place where we see glimpses of it, as we see God at work. It’s full of broken people – and that can be frustrating – and even depressing – and it can even break you. But it is also where you heal, where you find God at work, where you find hope and rest..

So keep looking to what He is doing – and become part of it…. and be patient with His work, and not dismayed that it is needed. In fact, rejoice as you see it being accomplished – for it means God is at work…. around you and in you. And He will complete it!

AMEN!

Luther, Martin. 1999. Luther’s Works, Vol. 54: Table Talk. Edited by Jaroslav Jan Pelikan, Hilton C. Oswald, and Helmut T. Lehmann. Vol. 54. 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.

It was by faith…. that…

“It was by faith that...” Hebrews 11:4,5,7,8,11,17,29,21,22,23,24,27,28, 29,30, 31,33,

The astonishing wonderment is that God condescends to place his consoling, comforting word on human lips like ours. And so we, like the prophets of old, open up our mouths to speak that word with the confidence and trust that it does what it says. We have an incredible front row seat seeing God at work as his word has its full effect, creating order out of chaos and bringing solace in the midst of horrific hurt and bitter pain.

But the person of faith who can go alone into the wilderness and get on his or her knees and command heaven—God is in that. The preacher who will dare to stand and let his preaching cost him something—God is in that. The Christian who is willing to put himself in a place where he must get the answer from God and God alone—the Lord is in that!

“it was by faith…that”

Over and over the writer of Hebrews calls our attention to those people who had the ability to depend on God. They weren’t heroes, they weren’t especially holy, if you define holiness as being somehow perfect in your attitudes and actions.

They were like us, wounded by sin, broken by this world. Men and women who doubted who they were, and yet, found a refuge in God’s presence, even as they experienced His love. Within that place of peace, they were compelled to act. They were guided in the “that” by the Holy Spirit.

That guidance isn’t listened to because of the strength of our character – but because the Holy Spirit has been revealed in our weakness, in our wanderings, n our time in the wilderness.  Tozer talks about it as finding ourselves in a place where we must hear from God. Those times seem more and more frequent presently than they did in the past, or perhaps they were always there, and I am simply realizing it sooner.

But out of those places comes the amazing things we witness! Senkbeil’s words for pastors are true for all people. There are times that we know are words don’t address the issue as fully a we desire, yet they bring peace, they help the people we minister to in the midst of their wilderness, in the place were they have no option but to trust the God who is there… who sent us to demonstrate His love and presence.

That is the ministry of the church – that is what we have freely received, and freely give. This ability to trust God, to depend on Him, is priceless. It is even more amazing when we realize it is what He desires.

May we learn to rejoice with Him, as this faith grows deeper and deeper… and causes us to do that, and that…by faith.

Senkbeil, Harold L. 2019. The Care of Souls: Cultivating a Pastor’s Heart. Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press.

Tozer, A. W. 2015. Tozer for the Christian Leader. Chicago: Moody Publishers.

The Church Militant… may not be what you think?

How great is the goodness you have stored up for those who fear you. You lavish it on those who come to you for protection, blessing them before the watching world. 20  You hide them in the shelter of your presence, safe from those who conspire against them. You shelter them in your presence, far from accusing tongues. 21  Praise the LORD, for he has shown me the wonders of his unfailing love. He kept me safe when my city was under attack. Psalm 31:19-21 (NLT2)

Contemplative prayer is a process of interior transformation, a conversation initiated by God and leading, if we consent, to divine union. One’s way of seeing reality changes in this process. A restructuring of consciousness takes place which empowers one to perceive, relate and respond with increasing sensitivity to the divine presence in, through, and beyond everything that exists.

So then, effective and faithful pastoral ministry in each succeeding era must remain intimately connected with its essential core—the divinely given presence of Christ Jesus and the truth of his word by which alone we live.

Now more than at any other time in generations, the believer is in a position to go on the offensive. The world is lost on a wide sea, and Christians alone know the way to the desired haven. While things were going well, the world scorned them with their Bible and hymns, but now the world needs them desperately, and it needs that despised Bible, too.

When one studies Theology, there is a division of the church. The first section is called the Church Triumphant; it is all those who have gone to be with the Lord at death. The second is the Church Militant, the people of the church still alive and engaged in the spiritual battles that make up everyday life.

The problem is the word militant; it brings up pictures of a great Christian army dressed for battle against the heathen, against the cults, against atheists and agnostics. We see this as if the salvation of the church depended on making others submit to the church. We are to go on the offensive – and passages like Matthew 16 and Ephesians 6 are used to cheer on those preparing for WAR!

Too often, the church has become offensive rather than going on the offensive. We have forgotten our mission is the same as our Lord’s – to see the sinner find the rest that Tozer calls a haven. That is why he talks of the church on the offensive. Those who seem to despise the church are the ones who need us the most. Hose who scorn us and think us ridiculous are the ones we are placed in the midst, for God knows their needs.

That need is described in Psalm 31, as God is praised for providing shelter, the haven. It is finding the unfailing love, the intimate care which God is revealed, even as we are drawn into His presence. Senkbeil refers to this intimate presence as the essential core of ministry. Without it, our lives are not being lived; what instead happens is akin to the life of the shadows.

The church militant is aggressive, but not in the attack against unbelievers. It pursues its connection with the Father. As the words about contemplative prayer describe, it is the transformation initiated and guided by God. It is the time in His presence where we are changed. Paul talks about pressing for this in Philippians. 

Simply put, the more we are aware of His presence, the more we see Him working through us, reaching the very people that God will gather. The mroe time we spend basking in and in awe of His florious love, the more we are changed, the more we love Him, and

You want to win the world for Christ – seek how He is revealing Himself to you through the Gospel and the Sacraments. Rejoice as He provides for you, and then lovingly invite others into these intimate moments where God is…. with us.

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.

Senkbeil, Harold L. 2019. The Care of Souls: Cultivating a Pastor’s Heart. Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press.

Tozer, A. W. 2015. Tozer for the Christian Leader. Chicago: Moody Publishers. Entry for January 1st

The Peace that We Need…

Where we find true peace

Thoughts to encourage our clinging to Jesus…

Then Moses called for Mishael and Elzaphan, Aaron’s cousins, the sons of Aaron’s uncle Uzziel. He said to them, “Come forward and carry away the bodies of your relatives from in front of the sanctuary to a place outside the camp.” 5 So they came forward and picked them up by their garments and carried them out of the camp, just as Moses had commanded.
6 Then Moses said to Aaron and his sons Eleazar and Ithamar, “Do not show grief by leaving your hair uncombed* or by tearing your clothes. If you do, you will die, and the LORD’s anger will strike the whole community of Israel. However, the rest of the Israelites, your relatives, may mourn because of the LORD’s fiery destruction of Nadab and Abihu
.
Leviticus 10:4-6 NLT

He is gnawing at his own heart,” said Luther. “I, too, often suffer from severe trials and sorrows. At such times I seek the fellowship of men, for the humblest maid has often comforted me. A man doesn’t have control of himself when he is downcast and alone, even if he is well equipped with a knowledge of the Scriptures. It is not for nothing that Christ gathers his church around the Word and the sacraments=- and is unwilling to let these be hidden in a corner. (1)

Of course, if you’re not careful you can burn yourself out in pastoral work. Sadly, thousands of pastors end up spiraling into emotional and spiritual collapse every year.
But when you take care to receive Christ’s own love and strength by means of his Spirit through his word, you have something to give to others without yourself being depleted and emptied.
(2)

Any appeal to the public in the name of Christ that rises no higher than an invitation to tranquillity must be recognized as mere humanism with a few words of Jesus thrown in to make it appear Christian.…
Christ calls men to carry a cross; we call them to have fun in His name. He calls them to forsake the world; we assure them that if they but accept Jesus the world is their oyster. (3)

I have to admit, I don’t like the words Moses spoke to Aaron and his boys. Why aren’t they allowed to grieve alongside their family? Paul talks of us weeping with those who weep (and laughing with them as they laugh as wll.) So this stupid act of their cousins should bring a time of grieving and being there for the family.

Shouldn’t it?

In this case, by no means in every case, they could not be there. We have to be careful of making this scenario a case study and establishing ground rules for pastoral care. I have heard that pastors must keep their distance and be above and remote from the scenario to pastor people. Based on the Romans 12 description of weeping and laughing, I have heard the opposite.

The question is, how do we become wise enough to know the difference? And how do we deal with our own pain? How do we find our peace when we encounter such trauma as pastors or people? Where do we find the wisdom to enter into the family’s pain, or not?

Senkbeil and Luther both note the high cost of enduring such trials. Trials that lead to the “gnawing at your own heart,” not being able to “have control of himself,” and “emotional and spiritual collapse” that most pastors deal with regularly. They will both find the same solution, which I will get to in a moment after I deal with Tozer – his words help clarify the discernment needed.  

The idea that our message is only an invitation to peace and tranquility is the danger of trying to multi-task as a mourner and spiritual care provider. I am not saying God cannot work in these situations, but it taxes us too significantly and will lead to a message that doesn’t tie our peace to the cross. Establish enough of these trials, one after another, and the pain will break anyone. And when we fail, our words become something less, a placebo, no longer connected to the peace that is genuinely needed in a time like these.

Tozer calls the believer to carry the cross first…to forsake the world because focused on Christ whom we meet at the cross, we can be relieved of burdens and find the peace we need. This is why Senkbeil talks of letting the Spirit work through Word and Sacrament to receive Christ’s love and strength within us.  It is why Luther talks of the fellowship
and the humblest maid comforting him, even as Jesus gathers His church around the Word and Sacraments. It is only connected to God’s grace that our words can do more than be a placebo. Only then is there something to give something beyond all understanding… the peace of Jesus!

Aaron and his boys were responsible for the Old Covenant sacrifices, those activities that pointed to God’s promise of peace. They weren’t forbidden to weep because God was uncaring. Rather, I think they needed to have the strength
of the promise that would enable the community to find grace and peace at the moment. They needed to remind people that God was still with them and that God was sustaining them, and even as God was ministering to them through the community, Their comfort and peace came from God, and they needed to lead people there. For us that means embracing the cross, accepting its suffering, realizing that there we meet Jesus. That is where we find life and hope, and rest. THat is why baptism, absolution and the Lord’s Supper take us there.. to Jesus… at the cross. 

When I was a hospice chaplain, I watched nurses put aside their grief to care for the patients who passed away. We would weep together later – apart from those we had gone to care for, the patient and their family. Like Aaron and his
boys, we were the hands and voice of God for those hurting and grieving. I think that is what Moses was working from with these words. He directed them to not show grief at that moment because if they lost their way in despair, not
only would they drown, so would the community. As they focused on God… and His mercy…then they would be comforted and be able to offer the same.

This isn’t easy; this idea of keeping our eyes on Jesus in the middle of the pain. To be bluntly honest, I needed to be reminded of it presently… but it is there, at the altar with others.. that God’s peace is found, where the burdens
are lifted.

After the years of 2020 and 2021… that is where we need to be found… and when we are… we can minister to so many who need to know the peace of Jesus.

 

 

(1) Martin Luther, Luther’s Works, Vol. 54: Table Talk, ed. Jaroslav Jan Pelikan, Hilton C. Oswald, and Helmut T. Lehmann, vol. 54 (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1999), 268.

(2) Harold L. Senkbeil, The Care of Souls: Cultivating a Pastor’s Heart (Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press, 2019), 7.

(3) A. W. Tozer, Tozer for the Christian Leader (Chicago: Moody Publishers, 2015).

Why did you think this would be easy?

Thoughts I pray help you depend on Jesus..

But among you it will be different. Whoever wants to be a leader among you must be your servant, 27 and whoever wants to be first among you must become your slave. 28 For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve others and to give his life as a ransom for many.” Matthew 20:26-28 NLT

But I will make Pharaoh’s heart stubborn so I can multiply my miraculous signs and wonders in the land of Egypt. 4 Even then Pharaoh will refuse to listen to you. So I will bring down my fist on Egypt. Then I will rescue my forces—my people, the Israelites—from the land of Egypt with great acts of judgment. 5 When I raise my powerful hand and bring out the Israelites, the Egyptians will know that I am the LORD.” Exodus 7:3-5 NLT

Some of you know something of that which has been called “the dark night of the soul.” Some of you have spiritual desire and deep longing for victory but it seems to you that your efforts to go on with God have only brought you more bumps and more testings and more discouragement. You are tempted to ask, “How long can this go on?”…
Yes, there is a dark night of the soul. There are few Christians willing to go into this dark night and that is why there are so few who enter into the light. It is impossible for them ever to know the morning because they will not endure the night.

For every nail that pierces Christ, more than one hundred thousand should in justice pierce you, yes, they should prick you forever and ever more painfully! When Christ is tortured by nails penetrating his hands and feet, you should eternally suffer the pain they inflict and the pain of even more cruel nails, which will in truth be the lot of those who do not avail themselves of Christ’s passion.

One of my mentors, Dr. Rodney Vliet, once told a bunch of us that it was not reasonable to think our families wouldn’t suffer because of the ministry we all hoped to enter. He was quite blunt, and said that there would be times where our families’ wants and desires would be sacrficed because someone in the church was in trauma. There would be times where even their needs would be laid down as a sacrficie.

Some are told today that not only does family come first, but family’s comfort should come first.

I struggle with this… a lot. For I’ve found out that Dr. Vliet was right. Not just the vocation of the pastor or worship leader, but the vocation of every volunteer in the church – wheter and elder, a sunday school teacher, or the person who gets up early…

Being a Chirstian includes being part of both the Church, and a church. And that means being a servant to others. Putting them first, even above other commitments.

Even when the ministry is tough, and you want to run. Moses wasn’t promised an easy kingdom too lead – first he had to deal with Pharoah, then, once free of that – he would have to deal with Israel! Ministry wasn’t easy then, nor would it be for the judges, the prophets or the apostles.

Nor should we expect it to be easy, simple, and able to be blocked out on a standard schedule.

Tozer talks about the dark times, the times where it is so dark we want to quit, where we think we’ve reached our max burnout level, where we can’t see how God is going to work.

And then, looking to Him on the cross, we see our suffering is not what we deserve. Jesus saved us from that. I love that point of Luther’s that we deserve so much for our sin, that any sacrifice we make because we are forgiven, to help others know, is worth it. …

Sacrifice is not as great a sacrficie as we think, compared to Jesus. Even martyrdom is not, for we die to bear witness to a death that bore all of our sin, Leave your burdens behind, tkae up your cross and walk with Jesus, knowing that His work thorugh you will save others from Hell. It doesn’t matter if you are a preacher, a missionary, a preschool or junior high Sunday School teacher, or someone who visits shutins…

what ever the sacrifice, it is worth it… for people will experience God’s love… for you do not make the sacrifice alone…

He is with you…. just cling to Him…

A. W. Tozer, Tozer for the Christian Leader (Chicago: Moody Publishers, 2015).

Martin Luther, Luther’s Works, Vol. 42: Devotional Writings I, ed. Jaroslav Jan Pelikan, Hilton C. Oswald, and Helmut T. Lehmann, vol. 42 (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1999), 9.

The Ministry of Theology

The Good Shepherd, carrying His own.

Thoughts that I pray cause you to adore Jesus, your Savior…

Thereafter, Hagar used another name to refer to the LORD, who had spoken to her. She said, “You are the God who sees me.”* She also said, “Have I truly seen the One who sees me?” 14 So that well was named Beer-lahai-roi (which means “well of the Living One who sees me”). It can still be found between Kadesh and Bered. Genesis 16:13-14 NLT

Rector Bernard von Dölen,142 minister in Herzberg, complained bitterly about his arrogant auditors who despised the reading of the catechism. Dr. Martin [Luther] was greatly disturbed and fell silent. Then he said, “Cursed be every preacher who aims at lofty topics in the church, looking for his own glory and selfishly desiring to please one individual or another. When I preach here143 I adapt myself to the circumstances of the common people. I don’t look at the doctors and masters, of whom scarcely forty are present, but at the hundred or the thousand young people and children. It’s to them that I preach, to them that I devote myself, for they, too, need to understand. If the others don’t want to listen they can leave. Therefore, my dear Bernard, take pains to be simple and direct; don’t consider those who claim to be learned but be a preacher to unschooled youth and sucklings. (1)

Nonetheless, for Luther theology was not a detached academic pursuit circumscribed by the walls, procedures, customs, and language of the university, but a matter of life and death. He took God seriously. Nothing is more important in man’s life than his relationship to God. The chief function of theology (and of the theologian), then, is not to speculate about God or even to systematize man’s knowledge of God. Rather its function is to lead men to and strengthen them in faith. For Luther faith meant specifically trust in God through Jesus Christ. Inevitably Luther’s classroom extended far beyond the university and the circle of educated students to whom he lectured there. (2)

The pastoral care that is provided to Hagar never ceases to amaze me. She is not the one through whom the promise is given; that is Sarai, her mistress, the one who has the power of life or death over her. And yet, God takes the time to
visit with her. He cares for her, ministers to her, and cares for her son (who will be a challenge.) Finally, God restores her to her former place.

It works with the two readings I had this morning, which talk about the ministry of theology. Usually, seminaries and universities studies in scripture and ministry describe that the other way, with courses on the Theology of Ministry. Rarely do you hear people talk about the ministry of theology. People will talk about types of theology, Systematic, Exegetical, HIstorical, and Pragmatic, but rarely will there be a focus on how theology is supposed to be used to
minister to the church.

Those readings talk about it in Luther’s usual blunt style. Theology is not primarily an academic topic to be studied and dissected, according to Luther. Theology has a particular role, to be used to help man deepen their dependence
on God, to encourage spending time meditating on the move and mercy of God, to experience His love and presence, in a way that the Apostle Paul said was beyond words. (see Ephesians 3:17-19) This is the chief function of theology,
which seems all but lost these days.

Consider the advice to Bernard, who talked with the arrogant visitors he had, nitpicking on everything. Luther’s direction is to ignore them and preach the gospel to the hundred or thousand people who need to know the gospel and understand why hope is found in Christ. (this is Peter’s idea of apologetics, when he writes, “Instead, you must worship Christ as Lord of your life. And if someone asks about your Christian hope, always be ready to explain it. 16  But do this in a gentle and respectful way. Keep your conscience clear. Then if people speak against you, they will be ashamed when they see what a good life you live because you belong to Christ. 1 Peter 3:15-16 (NLT2)

This is what we are here to do, to use the knowledge and understanding that studying the word of God gives, as the Holy Spirit draws them to Jesus and brings light into their lives. This is not only the role of theology but also liturgical worship, pastoral care, and counseling. This is the focus that all those who lead in the church are called to do, to work with all we are, and to present everyone perfect in Christ. ( Colossians 1:28-29) For us Lutherans,  this is what the 6th article of the Augsburg Confession is about, as our good works are the fruit of our faith.

May Theology be restored to this glorious ministry, of causing others to grow deeper in their dependence/faith/trust in God. And may the church ever see it as a tool dedicated to that purpose.

(1) Martin Luther, Luther’s Works, Vol. 54: Table Talk, ed. Jaroslav Jan Pelikan, Hilton C. Oswald, and Helmut T. Lehmann, vol. 54 (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1999), 235–236.

(2) Martin Luther, Luther’s Works, Vol. 42: Devotional Writings I, ed. Jaroslav Jan Pelikan, Hilton C. Oswald, and Helmut T. Lehmann, vol. 42 (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1999), x.

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