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Is it worth it? A reflection on 20 plus years of ministry….

Jesus foot washingDevotional Thought of the Day:

10 After Job had prayed for his friends, the LORD restored his prosperity and doubled his previous possessions.11 All his brothers, sisters, and former acquaintances came to his house and dined with him in his house. They sympathized with him and comforted him concerning all the adversity the LORD had brought on him. Each one gave him a qesitah and a gold earring. 
12 So the LORD blessed the last part of Job’s life more than the first.  Job 42:10-12  HCSB

670    Jesus says: “Everyone who has left house or brothers or sisters or father or mother or wife or children or lands, for my name’s sake, shall receive a hundredfold and shall possess life everlasting.” Try to find anyone on earth who repays with such generosity!

Twenty years ago this August I made the decision to leave my position at Pepperdine University, and become a full-time pastor at the small desert church I was pastoring on weekends. Ten years ago, we made the decision to leave our very comfortable life in the mountains where I pastored, to come back to the hustle and bustle of Los Angeles.

In both situations, the decisions had a significant financial impact, and more, for pastoring means you are there as people die, as others struggle with their sins (a number of times I have had members or former members who were arrested ) as people struggle with their brokenness.  Though most pastors don’t know it, part of the burn out is from something psychologists call “Second-Hand Shock Syndrome”  a subset of PTSD that occurs for those like pastors, nurses, fireman and counselors who encounter regularly the brokenness. of the world.

As I have thought about the last 20 years (and some before that as a jail chaplain) and looked at others who struggle in ministry, the words from Job and St. Josemaria echo in my ear.  I wonder, seriously wonder at times, when the payoff described will happen.

I am not asking you to feel sorry for those in ministry, especially me.  There are incredible blessings out there, every time I see someone baptized, or someone cry with joy as they realize that “God loves you” and “the Lord is with you” aren’t just trite sayings.  They are the truth and a life-changing truth. We get to see these incredible miracles, and they are a blessing that goes beyond description.

Yet there are days as well when most of us wonder when the work will ever get easier if the stresses will ever end.

So is having newer homes, and more kids, and more riches the reward that is waiting?

If that is all that is waiting for me, the answer is simple.

No, absolutely not.

While God is generous and loving and merciful, I think the blessings, whether now or in heaven that counts is what happens before chapter 42.  It is in the discussion God and Job have, in the fact that here is a man who converses with God, whom God challenges, yet doesn’t throw away. Whom God will declare is righteous, and though suffering becomes a blessing to his friendly tormentors.

It is this relationship, where God knows me better than I know myself, where He doesn’t abandon me (though sometimes I wonder why He hasn’t!) that is the ultimate level of generosity, that is the ultimate payoff. Intimacy with God who loves us is what this is all about, and that is more precious than any earthly reward.

And it isn’t just for pastors and priests.

He calls us all to be His sons and daughters. He desires to clean us from all that mars us, to heal our brokenness, to never leave us alone, to guide us through every portion of life, even when we don’t notice.

And to bring us into eternity, where we will see Him face to face.

25 But I know my living Redeemer, and He will stand on the dust at last. 26 Even after my skin has been destroyed, yet I will see God in my flesh. 27 I will see Him myself;  my eyes will look at Him, and not as a stranger. My heart longs within me. Job 19:25-27 HCSB

There it is, the “payoff” that makes this all worth it.  To look at a God and know Him, not as a stranger.  This is what makes it worth it for the lady that teaches 3-year-olds in Sunday School, or the Elder who takes communion ot the shut-in (and rushes to get there, so the lady can then go play Bingo at the senior center!) or the worship leader, tired from a hard week, who still smiles and ignores her own pain and anxiety and leads the people of God in praising Him, or the returned prodigal, who rejoices that wherever he goes people want to talk about God.

Or the pastor, who is simply tired… yet keeps on going, sustained by the God who is not stranger….but loves us all.  And who is reminded of that presence by those who lovingly tell him, “and also with you!”

For the Lord is with you as well… and I pray that you will see Him revealed, in all His glory, as you are embraced by Him.

 

Escriva, Josemaria. The Way (Kindle Locations 1559-1561). Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition.

The Hardest Lesson: One We Can’t Learn on Our Own

Jesus foot washingDevotional Thought fo the Day:

9  Two are better off than one, because together they can work more effectively. 10  If one of them falls down, the other can help him up. But if someone is alone and falls, it’s just too bad, because there is no one to help him. 11  If it is cold, two can sleep together and stay warm, but how can you keep warm by yourself? 12  Two people can resist an attack that would defeat one person alone. A rope made of three cords is hard to break. Ecclesiastes 4:9-12 (TEV)

11  May our God and Father himself and our Lord Jesus prepare the way for us to come to you! 12  May the Lord make your love for one another and for all people grow more and more and become as great as our love for you. 13  In this way he will strengthen you, and you will be perfect and holy in the presence of our God and Father when our Lord Jesus comes with all who belong to him. 1 Thessalonians 3:11-13 (TEV)

26  “The Helper will come—the Spirit, who reveals the truth about God and who comes from the Father. I will send him to you from the Father, and he will speak about me. John 15:26 (TEV)

21 So it is with all idolatry. Idolatry does not consist merely of erecting an image and praying to it. It is primarily in the heart, which pursues other things and seeks help and consolation from creatures, saints, or devils. It neither cares for God nor expects good things from him sufficiently to trust that he wants to help, nor does it believe that whatever good it receives comes from God.

Luther’s words about the first commandment are always convicting to me at first. For it is too simple to set up an idol.  We can make them out of anything, ranging from money and worldly success to our dreams, to our honor.

Whatever we place our hope in, whatever we pursue as if attaining it will give us peace, that becomes our idol. 

Even if it was something that was given to us by God for good. An example of this is the Bronze Serpent, a foreshadow of Christ, that brought healing to a situation, that people later worshipped.  The same for Gideon’s ephod, and later relics and holy objects.  These should have pointed us to God, but sometimes we forget the reality of God and focus on something that should remind us of Him.  We can even do this with our church life, where we only want certain hymns or songs, or we want a certain kind of sermon or lesson. Because that is what gives us comfort.  

Solomon’s words out of Ecclesiastes should help here, especially when taken along with Jesus’s promise of the Holy Spirit.  Two are better than one, and when the One we are tied to is the Holy Spirit, the Comforter, it is His immeasurable strength that holds us as one.   The same with the promise in Thessalonians, the work God does in our lives to strengthen us. 

This gets to the heart of faith, why it is more than simply knowing the facts. Faith isn’t depending on the facts, it depends on the God who draws us into Himself. Who cleanses us from all our idols (see Ezekiel 36:25). 

Even in this sin of idolatry, it is too hard for us to overcome ourselves. Again, even as we struggle with this, God is at work, healing us, cleansing us, comforting us.  He is incredible that way and has shown His continual patience, patience that wisely tempers His jealousy.  Yes, God is jealous when you turn away from Him to idols of your own making!

We need to learn to trust and depend upon Him, We need to realize that He cares, that He wants to help, that even the things we don’t like that He provides, (like broccoli or the situations that cause growth!)

He is good, He loves you, more than you know, and the only way to grow is to experience that love.

So I pray you do this week… and that we all can learn to rejoice as idols are removed….

The Lord is with you! Rejoice!

What things do you struggle to trust God with?  What things might offer more comfort than God at first glance?

as always, comments and discussions gladly accepted 

 

The Large Catechism of Martin Luther:   FIrst Part, The First CommandmentTappert, T. G. (Ed.). (1959). The Book of Concord the confessions of the Evangelical Lutheran Church. (p. 367). Philadelphia: Mühlenberg Press.

We MUST Go to Others! a sermon on Mark 1:29-39

church at communion 2We Must Go to Others

Mark 1:29-39

In Jesus Name

 May the gifts of the love, the mercy and peace of God our Father and our Lord Jesus Christ so accompany you in your life that you are aware of those who lack it, and may that lack inspire you to reach out to them with your greatest treasure!

 Must?

As I tried to come up with a sermon title this week, knowing I was preaching on the gospel I tried to come up with something special, something that would inspire and catch on, a phrase you can’t get out of your mind, encouraging you to walk with Jesus, just as the apostles did,

I couldn’t come up with something, so I figured a great title is found in Jesus’s words,

“We must go on to other towns” or in these days, we can make it simple, “we must go to others.”

The problem using that as the title is that it sounds different than it really means.  It sounds like work and obligation that is demanded of us by God.  To use Lutheran-speak, it sounds like the law, and therefore it points out where we fall short, where we fail God and deserve to be punished.

But that isn’t at all what Jesus is telling the apostles when he says “We must go to others, and I will preach to them too, for that is why we came.”

We need to hear Jesus, and more than that, we need to understand Him.  This isn’t about us being good children of God or good members of the church.

It’s about finding out for ourselves what Paul told the people in Athens,  Repeat them with me.

‘In him we live and move and have our being,” Acts 17:28 (NAB) 

What did “they” do?

Let’s go back a few verses, as Jesus and the apostles go to Simon Peter’s house.  There, Jesus finds Peter’s mum sick, so sick that with a very important guest at her house, she is lying down, burning up with a fever.  I mean, think about it, how sick would our ladies here be, if they didn’t get up and be hospitable?

So Jesus heals her, helps her up, and the word spreads.

Next thing you know, there is a crowd at the door and it looks busier that St Jude’s Hospital ER during flu season.  People with every kind of illness and disease, people even possessed by demons, all being brought to Jesus.

Mark’s gospel tells you that the entire town turned out to watch these miracles….

But how did they know all this was happening?

Someone, more excited than someone winning the Superbowl had to have told them.

That’s what happens when we begin to realize the depth of God’s grace, the depth of His mercy.  When we find out in Him we can live, really live.  When we see our souls begin to be healed, we see others who need it, and then rejoicing even more that there is no limit.  When the demons that torment us lose their grip. And we are freed from them and the guilt and shame that they try to plague us with disappears.

As we get used to that freedom, we never want to leave His side… so how will people know God’s love?  How will they have the blessing of God’s love, the blessing of His mercy and forgiveness revealed to them?

Remember those words

In him we live and move and have our being!

Jesus doesn’t say, “I must” or “you must”

For that is why he came, to give us the knowledge that in Him is everything we are, our life, our breath, what we do, everything we are.

That is what the cross is all about, and all those church words, redemption, justification, reconciliation, renewal, revitalization, all those words picture that in Christ we have died to sin and all that isn’t of God, and our lives, our very being is found in Him.  It is why he was born of a virgin, suffered and died, rose from the ascended and sent the Holy Spirit.

So that He could transform us so that He could give us life.

You see that as He doesn’t just say, “I must go to others,”  and He doesn’t say “you must go to others.”  What does He say, “we must go to others”

We must, Jesus and all those who are with Him must go to others.  All those whom He has joined to Himself.   We Must Go, We being Jesus and you all and me.

And then He is the one who reveals Himself to them, as He draws them here. And we don’t have to go all that far.

Why He Came

Maybe some of us are called to go to the next country, to go with Bernie to the Sudan, or with Christina to Turkey, but when Jesus says “we must go to others” it could be to our neighbor, who could be from the Sudan, or Guyana or Indonesia or France, or Germany or Switzerland or even someplace really strange – like Boston or Wisconsin.

We live in a transient age when people from every country on the planet save one or two have come to our neighborhoods!  We must go, with Jesus, to them, so that He can show them His love.  They even come to us sometimes, as they did yesterday.  As I pulled up, 16 people were in the parking lot, playing a game called Pokemon go, a few hours later, I went to the bathroom and there were another dozen people.  Both times, as we waited for the game to set, they asked me how I heard about the game being live on our campus.  I said… uhm, I am the pastor here… and they asked questions about the church and about the school. People as young as a five-year-old, as old as all of us. came here to play a game on their phones,

At least that is why they think they came…

We, you, me and Jesus need to go to them and let Jesus reveal Himself, and the news of His love.

We, you and me and Jesus, need to go to others and let them know about the love and mercy and healing of their hearts and souls.  Whether that means going across the parking lot, or across the street, state, country or world.  We, Jesus, you and I must go..

Because this is why He came…

And as He goes to others, we simply go with Him, for in Him we live and move and have our being!

AMEN!

A Lesson Pastors Could Learn From Coach Belichick

Belichick.jpg1  When I came to you, my friends, to preach God’s secret truth, I did not use big words and great learning. 2  For while I was with you, I made up my mind to forget everything except Jesus Christ and especially his death on the cross. 3  So when I came to you, I was weak and trembled all over with fear, 4  and my teaching and message were not delivered with skillful words of human wisdom, but with convincing proof of the power of God’s Spirit. 5  Your faith, then, does not rest on human wisdom but on God’s power. 1 Corinthians 2:1-5 (TEV)

It is, therefore, an inherent right of the Church to have at its disposal and to employ any of these media insofar as they are necessary or useful for the instruction of Christians and all its efforts for the welfare of souls. It is the duty of Pastors to instruct and guide the faithful so that they, with the help of these same media, may further the salvation and perfection of themselves and of the entire human family. In addition, the laity especially must strive to instill a human and Christian spirit into these media, so that they may fully measure up to the great expectations of mankind and to God’s design.

Yesterday I watched the some of the Patriots press conferences.  It started with the coach, then moved to Tom Brady, then Danny Amendola. They were absolutely hilarious, because the reporters kept asking the same questions over and over again, hoping to get a different answer, some great admission about the state of Tom Brady’s hand, and whether he will play Sunday or not. 

As they answered them, the press got more and more frustrated, even to the point of asking the Coach if the decision to play Tom Brady will be a game time decision.  The coach shrugged his shoulders and said, “It’s Friday,” meaning how will he know if it will be a game time decision, if it isn’t game time.  Brady and Amendola both gave similar answers, though you could tell they hadn’t quite perfected the flat affect of the Coach.

As I was thinking about that, I thought about the church.  We get as distracted as the press corps did, as we create this moral crusade and that moral crusade, and even crusades against moral crusades!  Yesterday I saw some ministers argue about who spoke at a pro-life event with such hostility that they looked like they would take each others life!

We need to learn from the Coach, and from St Paul, and in regards to the media, to a document written 50 years ago during  Vatican II.   We need to know, and present Christ, our hope,to use what we’ve been given in social media for the welfare of souls.  (Or to use another phrase, the cure of souls)  To see people know God’s mercy, to receive the forgiveness of their sin, to be cleansed of all unrighteousness, to be reconciled to God. 

Reconciliation, the  revealing of God’s mercy and forgiveness is our job, much as winning football games is the Coach’s job.  It is the word we preach, it is the sacrament we administer.  It is the reason we do what we do, and the reason we can do what we do!

To help people have faith in God, to help them depend on His mercy, to count on His love for them.  That changes everything, it is at that point, when it is revealed, that the victory happens, when the party, even including heaven begins.

This is what we do, this is what we are called to be, walking with God, sharing in His mission. Whether in real life or in social media.

Lord have mercy on us, and walk with us, as we do our job…. AMEN!

Catholic Church. “Decree on the Media of Social Communications: Inter Mirifica.” Vatican II Documents. Vatican City: Libreria Editrice Vaticana, 2011. Print.

He Makes His Home with US! A Sermon on John 1:1-14


Ratzinger on the IncarnationHis Presence Blesses Us as

He Makes His home among us

John 1:1-14

† In Jesus Name †

May you realize the joy and peace God gives you, as Jesus comes and makes His home, right here, with you!

Home for the Holidays

Maybe it is a certain smell, or perhaps an ornament you take out of the box, or it’s a Christmas Carol being sung in a certain way, but most of us have something that takes us back “Home” for the holidays.  You know, that place that exists in time, that defines what your heart knows as being home, as life is perfect.

For me, it is sitting at the piano that now sits in my aunt’s basement, much as it sat in my grandfather’s basement. It was there, playing Adeste Fideles and the First Noel that was a moment I define as being “home”. There are things that remind us of those precious days. And for those who are blessed, you can find more than one example of them.  Maybe it is this year that you will find the scene of home that will etch itself in your memory as being “home for the holidays” The time where being with friends and family when peace reigned and was so real

In our gospel reading this morning, we see an incredible statement about being home.

So Jesus became human, and made his home among us.

God became man and found a place to live. Here, among us.

Not just with the apostles back in the day, but here, with you and me.  He in our lives, where He still lives and reigns today.

In these incredible deep and complex words that start John’s sharing of the good news of Jesus, these words are the ones we most need to hear, the words that are the most mind-blowing, the hardest to make sense of,

Jesus became man, and made His home among us.

The Theology.

There is a lot in the passage, from the teaching about the Trinity to the description of the world rejecting Him.  Theologically, we could spend weeks going over the first five verses.  And the “who is God?” questions would still not find answers to satisfy everyone.

The next few verses, talking about some not recognizing and rejecting him, while others would be born again, not a physical birth but something more incredible, being born as children of God.
Theologians have talked and argued and wrote about such things since the first century.  Words longer my arm have been used by experts to determine exactly how God did what He didn’t describe.

These verses are all important – please understand me, we have to struggle with them, we need to work them, but tonight, we need to realize this.

God came and made His home among us.
His Home.

Other translations use the word dwelt with us, and that isn’t a horrid translation, but it doesn’t quite give the passage the full incredible joy that should overflow as we hear this.

First, because the word isn’t just dwelt, it is to tabernacle, to set up a residence with us.  For someone in the first century, this was setting up the permanent tent residences in which you would live.  It is setting up a home.

There is another sense to this, the idea that the verb is aorist tense.  It doesn’t have a definite time period, and in this case, not a specific end.  It’s not just about the day Jesus was born, or end the day He was crucified and died.

What this means is that we can say this.  Even as He came and made His home among the apostles, He is still coming and making His home among us.

And like the apostles, we behold His glory, we get caught up in His love, we find healing for our hearts and souls in His mercy, we find hope for our tomorrows, for He is present, and promises to never leave or forsake us.

He is here. He has made His home in our lives.

This is the place He calls home.

As we come to the altar, may you realize the glory you behold and the peace of God that will make you realize that you are home with God!  AMEN!

Why the Little Things in Ministry Matter More…

20170124_103703Devotional Thought for Our Day:

42 And whoever gives j just a cup of cold water to one of these little ones because he is a disciple —I assure you: He will never lose his reward!”  Matt 10:42 HCSB

Mission springs from the certainty of faith that coexists with the thousand questions of a pilgrim.
Faith is not a matter of ideology, existential security, but of an irreplaceable encounter with a living person, Jesus of Nazareth.

Most of us will never baptize 30 people in a day, never mind 3000.  Most of us will never write a book that will revive and change the church at large.  We aren’t Calvin or Luther or Pope Ratzinger.  We aren’t the great minds of the church, nor the servants whose love and sacrifice is honored by millions

Yet our ministry is just as powerful, if not more so, even when it is as simple as praying with someone who is struggling or offering a cup of water to someone who is tired and weary.

Pope Francis explains it well if a bit technically. Mission, the work God sends us to do, doesn’t come about because of our doctrinal knowledge. It doesn’t come about because we have all the questions answered, and know it all.  We will still have thousands of questions, many of them which will go unanswered in this life.  For doctrinal statements are not really statements of faith.

Nor does faith come about just because we have security in this life and for the next. It is not because we are assured of heaven that we spring up to serve others, to care for them, to reveal to them the God who loves them.  We can’t even anticipate what heaven is, it is unfathomable.

But faith, the kind of faith that leads to being “mission-minded” comes from encountering Jesus.  An encounter that is irreplaceable, an encounter that leaves us in awe, and in peace that is inexpressible.  For in our encounter, Jesus takes away our burdens, our sins, our resentment,  It’s all gone.  Even the anxieties of today and eternity, and the academic explanations of religion, they slide into the background,  for there is only Him.

Only Him….

only HIM!

And it is wonderful, it is beyond explanation.

And from there, we find something else happening.  We see our hearts aware of those in need around us, the very people God has sent us to minister too, even when that ministry is a simple cup of water…given because the Lord is with you!

I pray that we all experience Jesus’ presence, revealed by His word, know in His sacraments, and therebt dwel and minister to others in His peace.  AMEN!

 

Pope Francis. A Year with Pope Francis: Daily Reflections from His Writings. Ed. Alberto Rossa. New York; Mahwah, NJ; Toronto, ON: Paulist Press; Novalis, 2013. Print.

The Power of Words…to Wreck our Mission/Apostolate

Altar with communionDevotional Thought for our days:

Dt 19:16-20 “If a malicious witness comes forward and accuses someone of a crime, 17 then both the accuser and accused must appear before the LORD by coming to the priests and judges in office at that time. 18 The judges must investigate the case thoroughly. If the accuser has brought false charges against his fellow Israelite, 19 you must impose on the accuser the sentence he intended for the other person. In this way, you will purge such evil from among you. 20 Then the rest of the people will hear about it and be afraid to do such an evil thing.

 

902  Acquire the habit of speaking about everyone and about everything they do in a friendly manner, especially when you are speaking of those who labour in God’s service. Whenever that is not possible, keep quiet. Sharp or irritated comment as well may border on gossip or slander.

THE EIGHTH COMMANDMENT

“You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor.”
16 What does this mean?
Answer: We should fear and love God, and so we should not tell lies about our neighbor, nor betray, slander, or defame him, but should apologize for him, speak well of him, and interpret charitably all that he does.

It is too easy to complain about other people.

Our neighbor, our co-workers, our family, our elected officials, even complaining about those who complain too much.  it is all too easy to complain, to bicker, to criticize and condemn.

We might even believe our words, or at least believe the people who passed them on to us.

Too often our words poison our lives, causing us to be blind to what God is doing, cutting off our souls from the peace God would have us live in, the peace Christ died for, in order to bless us. These words can steal from us the hope of reconciliation, both the reconciliation of God, wherein God draws us into His mercy, and the reconciliation that happens there, as we realize we are His family.  It is a serious thing – look at the warning God gives against the misuse of words.

Think of the damage that gossip, slander and the malicious words we utter do to the mission of Christ.  For if our hearts are turned against those God has sent us to reach with his love, how can we?  Why would we pray for those we speak evil above

We need to confess this and ask God for help, for the comfort of the Spirit, to remember the miraculous promise that happens in Christ.  We need to be forgiven and to revel in the joy of that forgiveness and what it restores to us.

We need to hear Him call to us, even as broken as we are, and hear of the value He places on our lives.

He is our hope, HIs word is what matters, the word of life….Hear them, let your mind dwell on them and what they promise.

Amen.

 

 

Escriva, Josemaria. Furrow (Kindle Locations 3672-3675). Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition.

Tappert, Theodore G., ed. The Book of Concord the Confessions of the Evangelical Lutheran Church. Philadelphia: Mühlenberg Press, 1959. Print.

No Man is an Island. Neither is the Church.

f68f6ad20bfbc6d47f4c6aab419b44e6e2044849510c043d7b02e848674b9064_1Devotional thought for the day:

5 Then the LORD said to me, 6“Haven’t I the right to do with you people of Israel what the potter did with the clay? You are in my hands just like clay in the potter’s hands. 7If at any time I say that I am going to uproot, break down, or destroy any nation or kingdom, 8but then that nation turns from its evil, I will not do what I said I would. 9On the other hand, if I say that I am going to plant or build up any nation or kingdom, 10but then that nation disobeys me and does evil, I will not do what I said I would. 11Now then, tell the people of Judah and of Jerusalem that I am making plans against them and getting ready to punish them. Tell them to stop living sinful lives—to change their ways and the things they are doing.  Jeremiah 18:5-11 TEV

9 I wrote you in my earlier letter not to associate with those who sin sexually. 10 But I did not mean you should not associate with those of this world who sin sexually, or with the greedy, or robbers, or those who worship idols. To get away from them you would have to leave this world. 11 I am writing to tell you that you must not associate with those who call themselves believers in Christ but who sin sexually, or are greedy, or worship idols, or abuse others with words, or get drunk, or cheat people. Do not even eat with people like that.
12–13 It is not my business to judge those who are not part of the church. God will judge them. But you must judge the people who are part of the church. The Scripture says, “You must get rid of the evil person among you.”  1 Corinthians 5:9-13  NCV

Our goal is not to form islands of peace in the midst of a disintegrated society but to educate people with the ability to transform this society. Therefore, “fruits and results.”

I often hear people misquoting the Book of the Revelation (often mispronounced revelations) advising people to withdraw from society, to come out of Babylon as if somehow they could live a life separate from their neighbors, their family, and friends who do not know that they can depend on God.

Some Christian schools started with that purpose, and there are Christian groups to offer an option to joining secular fraternal organizations like the Boy Scouts, Lions, or Elks.  There are now even coffee shops on church campuses, that some people use so they don’t have to go to that evil Starbucks and grab their venti triple cappuccino with fancy whipped cream and pumpkin froth.

It is as if we want to form special communities within communities, just for those who are good and pure and holy.  It is as we need to create safe islands for believers so that they are not tempted to sin the rest of the evil world.

Will we recognize the gospel there in the midst of Jeremiah’s prophecy, that God will welcome anyone back?  Not just any person, but any people group, any nation.  What a blessed hope!  What an incredible promise!

Will we recognize the wisdom that inspired Paul to make sure we understood that it was sin among the people of God that concerned him, not the sins of the world?  That we aren’t to avoid interaction with normal sinners, but rather to deal with those in the church that struggle with sin first.  Those others, yes they need to be saved, far more than they need us judging them.

Will we hear Pope Francis plea, not to segregate ourselves, withdraw to our own safe places? Rather, as the Holy Spirit works within us, to educate people to have the ability to transform society, to share the hope and peace found in Jesus which will do that very thing.

We have to have more trust in God than we fear the world’s sin.  We have to have more confidence in His love and care than anxiety about somehow being separated from the love of God ( AN impossibility Dontcha know!)

With our eyes focused on Jesus, we need to go to the same places he did.  To those broken by sin, to those blinded by greed, to those who do not understand that God loves them.  To those who are broken, just like we’ve been broken.  We’ve got to invite them into our homes, our churches, into the place of peace and healing we find as we dwell in GOd.

This is who we are in Christ. people’s who work and message is one of reconciling people to God, and therefore to another.   We can’t do that from pristine protected islands where we pretend all is perfect.

So go out there, live and help someone know that God loves them. AMEN!

Pope Francis. A Year with Pope Francis: Daily Reflections from His Writings. Ed. Alberto Rossa. New York; Mahwah, NJ; Toronto,  Paulist Press; Novalis, 2013. Print.

Do We Have to Choose Between Dominating or Paralysis?

photoDevotional Thought fo the Day:
13  “Find out where he is,” the king ordered, “and I will capture him.” When he was told that Elisha was in Dothan, 14  he sent a large force there with horses and chariots. They reached the town at night and surrounded it. 15  Early the next morning Elisha’s servant got up, went out of the house, and saw the Syrian troops with their horses and chariots surrounding the town. He went back to Elisha and exclaimed, “We are doomed, sir! What shall we do?” 16  “Don’t be afraid,” Elisha answered. “We have more on our side than they have on theirs.” 17  Then he prayed, “O LORD, open his eyes and let him see!” The LORD answered his prayer, and Elisha’s servant looked up and saw the hillside covered with horses and chariots of fire all around Elisha. 2 Kings 6:13-17 (TEV)

101         The difficulties you have met have made you shrink back, and you have become “prudent, moderate and objective”. Remember that you have always despised those terms, when they became synonyms for cowardly, faint-hearted and comfort-seeking.

There is a fine balance between presumption and courage, between demanding God act and hearing the Spirit’s guidance.

Some fail to discern this by assuming God will only bless them because they are those who are good, only they are righteous.  So their presumption leads them to boldly state they are blessed, and what those blessings are.  They are aggressive in their actions because of such a lack of discernment. They talk about a theology that dominates, that takes the perspective that the world is here for us.

Some, like me, fail because we have become prudent, moderate and objective.  We want to take our time, especially when we encounter difficulties. We don’t want to cross the line and become those who synthesize God’s will and their own desires, so we back away.  We struggle on our own, we fail to hear the promptings of the Spirit.   We don’t act as we should, we end up preferring the minimal comfort of just getting along.

And so the church closes up tighter than a clam, afraid of its own shadow, or afraid to be confused with the extreme.  But there is a balance.

Like Elisha’s servant, need to have our eyes opened, we need to see God’s work in our lives.  For if the servant gained courage seeing the army of God surround him, how much more should we be encouraged by God’s presence?

God is with us, who can be against us?

Do we get this?

We need to know He is with us.

We need to live our lives based on knowing Him, for this is our faith, our hope, our joy!

If we get this – we will manage to avoid the extremes, for there is nothing greater to know!

Escriva, Josemaria. Furrow (Kindle Locations 631-634). Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition.

It’s Time to Make Jesus Known!

     church at communion 2It’s Time to Make Him Known!

Acts 17:16-31

I.H.S.†

 May you see Christ so clearly revealed through His word and sacraments, that the grace of God our Father, and our Lord shine brightly through you, to those who need to know His name!

Deeply Troubled, Are We?

Imagine walking around Athens as Paul did, waiting for his friends to show up.  This capital city, formerly the capital of the world, this place that might cause wonder, disturbed him greatly.

Scripture says he was deeply troubled, deeply and profoundly bothered by what he saw, what he experienced.  Wherever he looked there was idolatry, people trying to find hope, and looking to man-made things to provide hope.

Broken, weary, unfulfilled desires become even more broken as their false gods revealed themselves to be nothing but a bunch of rocks.  These people that were searching for answers, those who led them who loved to hear of new thoughts about God, they all needed a God to depend upon, a God to turn to, a God that would be there, a God who would help.

It wasn’t the first time, 600 years before, Diogenes records that Epimenides, a philosopher from Crete was sent for because no one had an answer to their problems, a plague, a drought, a famine all at once went through the land.  Epimenides looked at all the temples, all these false gods and idols and suggested that the answer was that their prayers and sacrifices didn’t work because they didn’t know the real God they could pray to….

And so they made an altar to an unknown God, and prayed, and dedicated an altar with the words agnosto theo – and dedicated the altar to the unknown and real God, asking Him to save them, asking Him to hear their prayers.  For a few centuries they remembered this God and His mercy, then, like many others, they forgot this nameless, faceless, benevolent God.
As Paul arrives, the altar was probably near ruins, the story all but was forgotten, and the people were back to looking anywhere for an answer.

But it was time to make this God known… even as it is today.

Can People Pray to A God they Don’t know?  Will He answer them?

This passage plays havoc with what are called closed theological systems, or those systems that people close off themselves. It has caused a lot of debate, especially among conservative Lutherans.  Because it isn’t beautiful and tidy, and God doesn’t fit in our box.

For example, there is the question of people praying to a God whom they don’t know.

We know we can’t find God if all we are using is our own reason and strength, that is solid, basic theology.  But does that stop them from looking for Him?  Does that stop them from praying to Him, begging Him for help.. and to reveal that He is present here.

Well, rather than just say yes, let me share a few passages, starting with today’s reading,

27 “His purpose was for the nations to seek after God and perhaps feel their way toward him and find him—though he is not far from any one of us. 28 For in him we live and move and exist.

11  Yet God has made everything beautiful for its own time. He has planted eternity in the human heart, but even so, people cannot see the whole scope of God’s work from beginning to end. Ecclesiastes 3:11 (NLT)

and then this from Solomon’s dedication of the temple

41  “In the future, foreigners who do not belong to your people Israel will hear of you. They will come from distant lands because of your name, 42  for they will hear of your great name and your strong hand and your powerful arm. And when they pray toward this Temple, 43  then hear from heaven where you live, and grant what they ask of you. In this way, all the people of the earth will come to know and fear you, just as your own people Israel do. They, too, will know that this Temple I have built honors your name. 1 Kings 8:41-43 (NLT)

And one more, from the Large Catechism, one of the primary documents describing our faith,

All who are outside the Christian church, whether heathen, Turks, Jews, or false Christians and hypocrites, even though they believe in and worship only the one, true God, nevertheless do not know what his attitude is toward them. They cannot be confident of his love and blessing. Therefore they remain in eternal wrath and damnation, for they do not have the Lord Christ, and, besides, they are not illuminated and blessed by the gifts of the Holy Spirit.[1]

Unless of course, someone reveals God to them, as God desires!

So is it wrong for people to pray, even if they aren’t sure who God is?  Will He hear their cries and respond?

Of course, for He desires to draw them close, to save and deliver them into His Father’s presence. Scripture tells us this is God’s will, His desire, to draw everyone to Himself, to cleanse them from sin, to restore them as His children.  He will never force us, but He will always hear us and care and love us.

Paul was sent to Athens by the Lord to do what he did, to reveal to them that He was their Creator, but also that He was their redeemer. He died and rose from the dead so that He could judge the world, and judge us just, righteous, holy, the people who could cry out to Him.

If you kept on reading, Paul would speak to them more about the resurrection from the dead that he mentions in verse 31.  There Paul mentioned that God the Father raised Jesus from the dead,   Some would stop listening to then, others wanted to hear more about it later, including some very learned people.
They heard about the God who would come and die, to deliver them from sin, and the power of death.  They would hear about the God who rise from the dead, and ascend into heaven, the God who would draw us to Jesus lifted on the cross, where we would die with Him, our sin nailed to that cross.  And then, as He rose from the dead, so do we, forgiven, cleansed, separated from sin, now children of the Father.

For the unknown God has made Himself known, and calls us to be transformed and trust in Him.

And so we do, the broken finding healing in Jesus, while we reveal Him to others as Paul did.

This is our life in Christ, for in Him we live and move and exist. For we are His children.  AMEN!

[1] Tappert, Theodore G., ed. The Book of Concord the Confessions of the Evangelical Lutheran Church. Philadelphia: Mühlenberg Press, 1959. Print.

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