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What if the Lord didn’t ask for you to be the martyr, but..

Devotional Thought of the Day:

1 The LORD spoke to Moses and said: 2 Consecrate to me every firstborn; whatever opens the womb among the Israelites,a whether of human being or beast, belongs to me.  Ex 13:1–2 NAB-RE

209         You made me smile, because I know what you meant when you said: I am enthusiastic about the possibility of going to new lands and opening a breach there, perhaps very far away… I would like to find out if there are men on the moon…Ask the Lord to increase that apostolic zeal of yours.  (1)

On facebook this morning, I saw a man saying that he definitely would speak for Christ if he was put in the place of a potential martyr, where the decision was to either say he believed in another god or Jesus.  And then he challenged everyone else to claim they would as well.

It made me think of the passage in red that I came across a few days ago, about the command of God to dedicate to His service every firstborn.  We can think of those who did in scripture. Hannah comes to mind, as does Elizabeth.  Abraham had the question put to him, and his faith in God was proven true.  And less we forget Mary’s first son, who she watched God the Father dedicate to the purpose of saving all of mankind.

Dedicating a child to God’s work isn’t something new, but it is something forgotten.  During the middle ages, and even until recent history, the second male was encouraged to enter the ministry.  Not the first, because that would be the heir of the family name, but the second.  (Who gets the better inheritance IMHO)

These days, we aren’t so ready to do so.  Not with the first or the second. We aren’t ready or willing to give them up to a life of service, or for that matter, a life of martyrdom, as they sacrifice and even are sacrificed to accomplish the work of God.

Fewer men are entering the ministry, fewer women dedicating their lives to working in the church and church schools as well.  Fewer willing to go on the mission field, whether far abroad or here in the inner cities.

We claim to be people who trust God in everything, will we trust Him with our children?  Will we trust Him with those who are precious to us?

Even if their vocation is to be a pastor or priest, missionary or even if they are called to martyrdom?

Do we trust Him with life?

Again, go back to Mary’s son, her first born.  The only-begotten Son of our Heavenly Father.  Who was the pastor, priest, missionary, and yeah – martyr as He died on the cross.  As He saved us from our sin.  As He came to us.

The firstborn of the firstborn.

May our trust in God grow, as we consider what God the Father committed and consecrated His firstborn to do, and may we seriously encourage more and more people to consider a vocation that sees them ministering to others.

Amen.

 

(1)  Escriva, Josemaria (2011-01-31). Furrow (Kindle Locations 1082-1085). Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition.

?? Is the Church Asking the Right Quesion as It Tries to Share its Hope??

Featured imageDiscussion/Devotional Thought  of the Day

10  God has made us what we are, and in our union with Christ Jesus he has created us for a life of good deeds, which he has already prepared for us to do. Ephesians 2:10 (TEV)

15  But have reverence for Christ in your hearts, and honor him as Lord. Be ready at all times to answer anyone who asks you to explain the hope you have in you, 1 Peter 3:15 (TEV)

“If you were to die tonight, would you go to heaven?”  “why?  (1)

“The only preparation which multitudes seem to make for heaven is for its judgment bar,” (2)

Nearly 30 years ago, my pastor and I were trained in what was known as Evangelism Explosion. The goal of the ministry was to prepare people with a scripted message that they could share the Christian faith. Tens of thousands of pastors and people were trained in the method.  The scripts basic concept (as with most evangelism methods ) was to give peopel the assurance of eternal life in heaven, rather than eternal damnation/annihilation/punishment and the wrath of God.

In fact, last week someone asked those very questions to me via social media.

And this blog has been simmering ever since.  The key was the quote from my devotions this morning, which brought it home.  is our evangelistic work as believers primarily focused on making sure people get into heaven? Or is it about giving them the life, the peace, and the knowledge of God’s presence in this life, that is our hope for eternity?

If it is evangelism to prevent them from being sent to hell, there is strong motivation that would cause us to share God’s love with those we care for, with those we love. But that mission accomplished, is there the tight communion that you should see, is there the shared life, is there a willingness to stay together through thick and thin.  To be blunt, does create a life that struggles with sin, and strives to love others as Christ did?

If our questions and manuscripts lead people only to get past the St Peter and those who guard the gates of heaven, what are we really doing?  is conversion something that happens in a twinkling of an eye?  You were going to hell, woops now you are going to heaven?

Or is our hope, our expectation based on a promise that we have a hint, a glimpse of in this life, and that glimpse changes everything?  A promise that is repeated time and time in the scriptures.You will be my people, and I will be your God.”

isn’t that where our hope lies? In the fact that who weren’t once a people, are now a people?  Isn’t our hope seen in the promise that God will transform us and cause us to walk in ways that are incredible and blessed. (even though they might include suffering)

The evangelism explosion questions have their place, much of the material I still use to this day. Even so, the direction of our evangelism must be more than selling eternal fire insurance.  What our hope is based on is one promise, that is as true now as it will be then.  That gives us hope for this world, when it seems like it is falling apart, and yes  for eternity.

The hope that is found when we know that the Lord is with us, and will never abandon us.

May the questions you ask lead people to realize this.

(1)  paraphrase of the two questions from Evangelism Explosion used in many evangelism training seminars

(2)  Celtic Daily Prayer, Harper 1 Publcishing – the devotion for this day

On Sunday Morning, Do We Not Hear Christ’s Cry, Do We Know Hear the Father’s Desire?

Devotional Thought of the Day:
Featured image

50  Don’t you realize that it is better for you to have one man die for the people, instead of having the whole nation destroyed?” 51  Actually, he did not say this of his own accord; rather, as he was High Priest that year, he was prophesying that Jesus was going to die for the Jewish people, 52  and not only for them, but also to bring together into one body all the scattered people of GodJohn 11:50-52 (TEV) 

906      That cry of the Son of God, lamenting that the harvest is plentiful but the labourers are few, is always relevant. How it tears at our heartstrings. That cry came from Christ’s mouth for you to hear too. How have you responded to it up to now? Do you pray at least daily for that intention?  (1)

A few weeks ago, as I answered the call to provide the invocation at my city’s Martin Luther King day celebration, I thought of the charge laid against the church in the 80’s, which may be still true today.  It noted that Sunday morning was the most segregated time in a church’s week.  With few exceptions, (my Concordia is close to being one ) churches in our country are primarily ethnocentric. It is true, unfortunately, that churches, even the most missional ones, are this way. My own denomination’s national magazine recently had our president lamenting that a district hadn’t planted a church in a predominantly Anglo community in fifteen years.

While this may be an issue of passivity and comfort, there is something that is even more staggering.  A move to isolate the church on Sunday from the world. A pendulum swing reaction from the Seeker-sensitivity of the 80’s and 90’s, that is claiming that Sunday Morning worship services are for believers only.  That we have to return deliberately to encoding everything in practices and languages that a unbeliever would not be able to comprehend. This is what is faithful, we are told, to use words like salutary, or beseech, to strive for an ethereal and beautiful service, but one that our own people struggle to value.

Let me be clear, I am in no way advocating the abandonment of the liturgy. if anything, I think word and sacrament order should be made more available.  

But I am saying we need to hear the Father’s desire that all come to the transformation of repentance. We do need to pray for the work, even the work on Sunday morning!  We all need to realize that the harvest doesn’t pause for a station break on Sunday morning as we, the holy people’ recharge.  Evangelism happens as well as a couple chooses to move from their comfortable place, to sit with those visitors and make them comfortable, and explain the service movements.  Harvest work should be seen throughout every aspect of the service. Our spiritual homes must be places of hospitality to all.  That has always been true, even at Solomon’s temple, and at the tabernacle.

The idea that Sunday is only about those who are members of the church is as ludicrous as those who say it should only be about seekers.  Both ignore the fact that Christ would die for those who are already in covenant with God, as much as He died to bring the nations into that covenant.  For all to know that He is God, and we are His people. 

Worship wars, liturgy wars, wars about what is beneficial or not cease, as do the flurry of articles bashing contemporary worship liturgy, as well as that bashing traditionalism, have no place. They do stop when we focus on God’s desire to call all His people, to gather them together as one.  (this includes those that don’t know… yet!)  As we pray that, God would send more workers into the harvest fields, so these battles diminish.  I pray we realize that the harvest is great, not just in Turkey and Ghana, but also in our own sanctuaries.

May our worship teach anyone there what they need to know about Christ – His presence, His mercy, his faithful love…

AMEN

(1)  Escriva, Josemaria (2011-01-31). The Forge (Kindle Locations 3202-3204). Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition.(1(

Mission, Vocation, and our Neighbor

Devotional Thought of the Day:Featured image

25  A teacher of the Law came up and tried to trap Jesus. “Teacher,” he asked, “what must I do to receive eternal life?” 26  Jesus answered him, “What do the Scriptures say? How do you interpret them?” 27  The man answered, ” ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your strength, and with all your mind’; and ‘Love your neighbor as you love yourself.’ ” 28  “You are right,” Jesus replied; “do this and you will live.” 29  But the teacher of the Law wanted to justify himself, so he asked Jesus, “Who is my neighbor?” Luke 10:25-29 (TEV)

20  If we say we love God, but hate others, we are liars. For we cannot love God, whom we have not seen, if we do not love others, whom we have seen. 21  The command that Christ has given us is this: whoever loves God must love others also. 1 John 4:20-21 (TEV)

 16  No longer, then, do we judge anyone by human standards. Even if at one time we judged Christ according to human standards, we no longer do so. 17  Anyone who is joined to Christ is a new being; the old is gone, the new has come. 18  All this is done by God, who through Christ changed us from enemies into his friends and gave us the task of making others his friends also. 19  Our message is that God was making all human beings his friends through Christ. God did not keep an account of their sins, and he has given us the message which tells how he makes them his friends. 2 Corinthians 5:16-19 (TEV)

Does a believer have a responsibility to be missional?  To go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, and teach them to treasure all God has commissioned?

To speak theologically, is this one of our vocations, along with being spouses, parents, employees, employers and good church members?  Are we all missionaries?  Do I have a responsibility as a believer in Jesus to those around me, who still are lost in darkness?

In a recent discussion, I put forth the first passage – the story behind the story of the Good Samaritan for a reason.  Notice that that our relationship with our neighbor (whether they are our spouse, kids, actual neighbor, co-worker, or whomever) comes right after our relationship with God.  Being a loving neighbor is our vocation.

Our relationship with God and our relationship with our neighbors is inseparably intertwined.  The quote from 1 John makes this clear – our love for Him is seen in that love we have for our neighbor.  That’s why the teacher of the law combines the two.  We can’t love God if we fail to love those He calls us to love.

Loving them isn’t easy, it requires that we know.. no, that we dwell in the love and peace of God.  That His mercy so resonates with our life, that we don’t have to think about the ministry of reconciliation being given to us, we simply work in that ministry.  We seek to free people from the darkness of sin, the oppression of satan, and break the grip that death has on them.

Loving them means inviting them into the relationship where God reconciles them, where He makes us His friends, where we understand what He is about is bringing us home to the Father.  That is what being missional is about, or what some others call our apostolate. It is in loving our neighbors as God does, not because we have to fulfill some quota, but that’s what we do as we walk with Him.  (He describes it clearly for us, but we hear it…. like a duty, not as an invitation to spend time with Him)

We are missionaries, for our Lord is, and we walk with Him. It is His mission – and we live and breathe in Him!  Therefore we work with Him in seeing His desire come to being.

We love our neighbors, we desire to see them reconciled, to become friends with God, because He has done this with us.

May we rejoice in every baptism, and may we teach them to rejoice and treasure this life He has given us!

Pastors and Ministers: Do We Care About the Return on Our Investment of Time, Talent, Treasure?

Devotional Thought of The Day:Concordia Lutheran Church - Cerritos, Ca , at dawn on Easter Sunday

6  I planted, Apollos watered; but God gave the increase. 7  So then neither is he that planteth anything, neither he that watereth; but God that giveth the increase. 1 Corinthians 3:6-7 (ASV)

215 The ploughshare that breaks up the earth and opens up the furrow sees neither the seed nor the harvest.  (1)

In Business, often you make decisions based on a data that provides a potential “ROI”.  Te acronym means, “return on investment”.  Here is a quick summary.

You only have the resources to fund one project, and you have to decide between..

Project A – you invest 1 million, and the result in you make 50,000 in profit, pretty much guaranteed.

Project B – you invest one million, and you have a 50-50 chance of returning 500,000.

Your decision is a matter of risk versus the return you get for the investment. Some would apply this kind of idea to the ministry, where do we plant churches, which direction do we lead the church, how do we decide about staff people.  It even is applied to our daily priorities, which things will I do today, that will build the kingdom?  Who will I invest my time in, who will I pass off to to others.  What will be my best ROI as a pastor?  Do we use such thoughts to justify why we don’t talk to this person, or don’t try that in ministry.  Either the ROI is to minimal, or the risk is too great?  We can’t spread ourselves that thin, or we have to concentrate strongly on this or that.  We use concepts from time management and strategic planning.

I started thinking about this last night – and the challenge my own congregation has in reaching out.  I started thinking about my first congregation and its growth, which was significant given its size.  It wasn’t were I planned to “invest” that provided the growth.  In fact, it was what I had to do besides being a pastor that resulted in growth.  First, my work as a part-time instructor at a college, and as a hospice chaplain.  Neither was supposed to be something I was doing to help our church grow, but that’s what happened.

If we are honest, all of our statistical analysis and projected ROI’s don’t mean diddly squat when it comes to the world of the Holy Spirit.  We don’t know if the nurse watching us minister to the person with alzheimer’s or in a coma will have seeds planted that will result in their baptism.  We don’t know that the student we failed in a class will later come by the office to apologize, and then reveal struggles that only God can heal.   We don’t know if the person who watched us grab someone’s check at a restaurant will ask why we did such a thing, and find our about God’s love.  Or the person we smiled at in the checkout line at Walmart needed some encouragement on a very hard day.

We don’t know when God is using us to break through a hard heart, or plant the seed of His love.  We might not ever know.  That kind of investment cannot be quantified, it cannot be studied, it cannot be controlled and reproduced.  That present to many of us a problem.

We’ve been trained since birth, to look for results, We’ve been trained to do things in a way that can be evaluated by criteria, we’ve been instructed to get the best grade, to aim for successful goals, to describe our mission in life with quantitative elements.

And evangelism, as St.Paul points out, isn’t so easy to see the results of, because it is a matter of teamwork.  It is the Holy Spirit working through all of us, not just one or two.  It is as Fr. Josemaria indicates, often we have no clue of the harvest we’ve been working towards, because that is not our role.  We’re aren’t the owner of the field, or the foreman.  We have our vocations, our gifts, and we follow His lead.  It’s unnerving.  especially as we invest and invest and invest in some people. Being the plow blade that breaks up hardened ground, or hardened hearts is a tough job…. and it is made only tougher because we do not know the result.  Yet it is a necessary job, this work where the Holy Spirits works through us.

What gets us trough?  What eases our frustration our doubt that what we invest will have some positive return?  What helps us to keep going?

Knowing the heart of God.  Realizing that is desire is that non one should perish, but all come to know the transformation to everlasting life. Knowing is promises, how He sustained Jeremiah, how he called Paul, how e worked through Peter.  Those live serve as a legacy, a testimony to us who in this generation serve……

Not knowing the gruit of our labors, but assured He does…..

Lord Have mercy on us, in this amazing, complex, frustrating, ministry of reconciling the world to You….and increase our trust in You!
.

(1)  Escriva, Josemaria (2011-01-31). Furrow (Kindle Locations 1107-1108). Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition.

 

Really? Why God? Oh yeah…..

Devotional/Discussion Thought of the Day.

14  But even if you should suffer for doing what is right, how happy you are! Do not be afraid of anyone, and do not worry. 15  But have reverence for Christ in your hearts, and honor him as Lord. Be ready at all times to answer anyone who asks you to explain the hope you have in you, 16  but do it with gentleness and respect. Keep your conscience clear, so that when you are insulted, those who speak evil of your good conduct as followers of Christ will become ashamed of what they say. 1 Peter 3:14-16 (TEV) 

“No one can keep the treasure of the faith or the treasure of a vocation for himself alone!” (1)

I am sitting here – thousands of miles away from my family.  My wife of nearly 25 years is resting at home, pregnant with our second child, being cared for by our 7 year old.  She is a little older than most ladies who are pregnant – and at 49 there are few chances we would take.  One was my coming here.  One that has been more challenging than any moment I can remember in my faith.

Why?
Personally, I’ve been in a lot of pain – not only is my back pretty tweaked from the turbelence of the flight – but I had the blessing of passing a kidney stone yesterday.
My wife is struggling – there was some bleeding, and her hormones were low – and we are scared.  More advice coming in has relieved that some…yet – the dark moments have come.
I’ve seen others on line – people I care about – struggling with life – and doing so quite openly, and possibly destructively.

So why I am sitting in Manilla, waiting for a ride to go preach at a church located at the university?

I’ve wondered.  Somewhat bitterly in the last 48 hours.  God what are you doing?  Why the pain?  Why the things that You know will cause massive anxiety?  Why not just let this trip go smoothly, let the minsitry excel, or let someone healthier, a better speaker, a more gifted theologian come – rather than me.  Why take me from my family in this moment?

The questioning becomes easier – as I look at the sermon – one posted later today.  You should read it – for re-reading it put everything into perspective for me.  If I have the perfect life – I don’t need Jesus.  If everything works as it should – I don’t need to depend on Him, and if don’t depend on Him, my life is….lost.

I can’t explain it more than to say I know God is here – and as well with my wife.  HIs promises are ours – and our son’s and the baby in my wife’s womb.  That message – the reason we can expect (better word than hope) God to keep His promises go beyond human logic, they overwhelm the pain, they bring calm to the anxious.  To know the God who has claimed us as His, marked us as His with the water of baptism, that is the God who is here… walking with us, never abandoning us – the God whom David describes in Psalm 139.

Such is our God.

Such is the God everyone needs to know – whether it is our children, or the college students of the Phillipines, or the pastor who is feeling homesick and overwhelmed.

We desperately need such a God in our lives – and because He loves us, we do.

So why am I here?

Last night on television, as I sat here trying not to take pain meds… I was watching the second version of Zorrow with Antonio Banderas and Catherine Zeta-Jones.  At the end – as they are renewing their vows, the town church bells ring out for Zorro…His wife urges the Padre to move along the vows quickly – as she says, “this is who we are”.

Not sure what God will do here – or at home.  Whether there will be joy or comfort, but I know this…. He opened these doors – He walks through them with us – and that is who we are.

So it’s time to preach…. may the people here in Manilla – and may you hear as well – that this faith in Jesus – this treasure of trusting in Him alone, that is too good not to share.  And neither is the joy of sharing the Answer to why you have hope.  Please share that with someone who needs it today!

God’s Peace…

(1)  Urbano, Pilar (2011-05-10). The Man of Villa Tevere (Kindle Locations 5914-5915). Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition.

The Chief Purpose of all Preaching…

Jesus christ(coptic)

Jesus christ(coptic) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Devotional/Discussion Thought of the Day:

 1  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.  1 Corinthians 2:1-2 (TEV)

 27  God’s plan is to make known his secret to his people, this rich and glorious secret which he has for all peoples. And the secret is that Christ is in you, which means that you will share in the glory of God. 28  So we preach Christ to everyone. With all possible wisdom we warn and teach them in order to bring each one into God’s presence as a mature individual in union with Christ. 29  To get this done I toil and struggle, using the mighty strength which Christ supplies and which is at work in meColossians 1:27-29 (TEV)

“Homileticians from a wide variety of Christian traditions advocate the preaching of Christ. For example, the Roman Catholic author Domenico Grasso states, “The object and content of preaching is Christ, the Word in which the Father expresses Himself and communicates His will to man.”  The Eastern Orthodox Georges Florovsky asserts, “Ministers are commissioned and ordained in the church precisely to preach the Word of God. They are given some fixed terms of reference – namely, the gospel of Jesus Christ – and they are committed to this sole and perennial message.” The Lutheran homiletician M. Reu contends, “It is necessary that the sermon be Christocentric, have no one and nothing else for its centre and content than Christ Jesus.” The Reformed homiletician T. Hoekstra maintains, “In expositing Scripture for the congregation, the preacher … must show that there is a way to the center even from the farthest point on the periphery. For a sermon without Christ is no sermon.” And the Baptist preacher Charles Spurgeon says, “Preach Christ, always and everywhere. He is the whole gospel. His person, offices, and work must be our one great, all-comprehending theme.”5 Authors from a broad spectrum of traditions, therefore, testify to the necessity of preaching Christ.”  (1)

Nearly all the usual ceremonies are also preserved, save that the parts sung in Latin are interspersed here and there with German hymns, which have been added to teach the people. For ceremonies are needed to this end alone that the unlearned be taught [what they need to know of Christ]. (2)

Just shy of 30 years ago, I met a very humble and unique man, my first professor of preaching, Doug Dickey.  As I tried to learn to write sermons, Doug instilling in me a mantra, “Dustin, if it’s not about Christ, it’s not a sermon!”  I would try to preach about saving the world, about being a better person, about all sort of good things I saw in the text.  But Doug kept on coming back to the basic concept – it had to be about Jesus and His work to bring us to the Father.  I would love to say I learned quickly from Doug, who also ran the college’s ministry to the huge Cal State across the street, but… well.. I was a typical sophomore… a very wise fool.  Two of the passages that convinced me are there above. 


Yesterday, in starting my doctoral work, I am well aware of the wise fool in my, and my ability to go off on tangents that are stimulating and enjoyable and lack any mention of God’s desire to save us, or His work in setting us apart for His purposes of fellowship and loving service of those we encounter.   It was in my first book to read, that I ran across the quote above, noting that this idea of revealing to people God’s love and His desire for them to share in His glory is not just a Restoration Movement ideal, or that of Luther, but it crosses the lines of the church that divide us.   If there is a point where the church can, no must unite, it is here, in Christ to who we are united in both His death and His resurrection.  In the end, litle else will matter, and in truth, in this life nothing else matters as much.

We can talk about all the sins of the world (but not our own), we can point to the glorious worship (which ever is our style) we can talk of leadership or marriage, of finding fulfilment, of motivating people to save the world.  We can call ourselves missional, or confessional, liberal or conservative, traditional or contemporary.  It doesn’t matter.

Unless we reveal the love of God, unless we share His desire to see all brought to repentance/transformation, unless we show how that is what He is doing in us because of the cross….

Our work is in vain…

Thanks  Doug – for helping me realize that Jesus Christ is not just the core of our message – He is our message.

 

 

(1)Sidney Greidanus. Preaching Christ from the Old Testament: A Contemporary Hermeneutical Method (Kindle Locations 118-126). Kindle Edition.

(2) — Augsberg Confession, Article XXIV, Wordsearch Electronic Edition

Liturgy, Language and the People it is for:

Discussion thought of the Day:

2  Those who speak in strange tongues do not speak to others but to God, because no one understands them. They are speaking secret truths by the power of the Spirit. 3  But those

Martin Luther, commemorated on February 18 Eva...

Martin Luther, commemorated on February 18 Evangelical Lutheran Worship. Minneapolis: Fortress Press (2006), 15. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

who proclaim God’s message speak to people and give them help, encouragement, and comfort. 4  Those who speak in strange tongues help only themselves, but those who proclaim God’s message help the whole church.    1 Corinthians 14:2-4 (TEV) 

Falsely are our churches accused of abolishing the Mass; for the Mass is retained among us, and celebrated with the highest reverence. Nearly all the usual ceremonies are also preserved, save that the parts sung in Latin are interspersed here and there with German hymns, which have been added to teach the people. For ceremonies are needed to this end alone that the unlearned be taught [what they need to know of Christ]. And not only has Paul commanded to use in the church a language understood by the people 1 Corinthians 14:2-9, but it has also been so ordained by man’s law. The people are accustomed to partake of the Sacrament together, if any be fit for it, and this also increases the reverence and devotion of public worship.  (1)

Last night, during the time my son and I spend reading scripture and now the Augsburg Confession together ( in Kindergarten – he chose that after 10 times reading the small catechism to me!) we came across this passage, one I think my denomination overlooks I think.  I know I do – simply because in a conversation a month ago, I brought up the quote from 1 Corinthians 14 and was told that it wasn’t speaking about Latin and German (and High English) but rather (their words) just speaking in tongues.

Sigh, I allowed them to get away with it – forgetting that in this Article – it is made all to clear that our spiritual forefathers  were talking about using language that people know – and use regularly.

I have also backed down a bit when people claim that the liturgy is not for people seeking God, but rather for the initiated, for those that cherish words like salutary, words like Nunc Dimitis, and grasp the many varied and intricate ways the mass point people to the fact that Christ is merciful, loving and present in their lives.  This is a reaction to those who claim that the church service must be seeker-sensitive ( I think they mean seeker driven – but that is my opinion)  Again – look at our Lutheran Confessions, the ceremonies of our liturgy are not for those with all the knowledge – but are to benefit those without such knowledge.  It’s not for the spiritually elite, but those of us who have been spiritually bankrupt – without understanding what we need to know about Jesus. ( His love, His mercy, His presence – heck even the middle one needs to be unpacked — mercy= His compassionate and careful cleansing us of all that is unjust – our sin and the sins of others that affect our lives )

I so love the attitude of Melancthon in writing this – an attitude that shows me how much our forefathers cared about those who didn’t know God, or those who knew of Him, but didn’t know Him.  I love the balance that says – what we’ve done is good – great – this liturgy speaks of Christ – but let us speak in a language those uninitiated in the faith.

Let our words proclaim His love, His mercy, His presence in our lives!  Let those words be such that they are heard, and treasured.

And may we see the glory of God that is with us, as we see the awe in faces as they hear and know the love of God – and with us begin to explore its depths, heights, breadt and width!  AMEN!

(1)  — Augsberg Confession, Article XXIV

The Church that Needed to Repent and Be Reconciled to God’s Will

The Holy Spirit depicted as a dove, surrounded...

The Holy Spirit depicted as a dove, surrounded by angels, by Giaquinto, 1750s. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Acts 11:1-18

In Jesus Name

May you be encouraged, and rejoice as God shows you the love and mercy He has given you, as you witness it given to others.

I wonder if Peter was reading from the prophet Jonah?
As Peter starts to describe the way in which salvation had come to the Gentiles, I’ve wondered something.  What was it he was praying about?  What had he been meditating upon?

Was Peter working through the lessons he had been taught over and over and even a third time by Jesus?  Was he considering the incredible grace of God that restored him each time he sinned, each time he tried to play God?

I wonder if he was reading the book of the Old Testament prophet Jonah…who would likewise be called to a place, to bring word of God’s love?  Was he being sent to bring  the blessed gift of repentance to a place his upbringing said wasn’t eligible or worth God’s mercy. Was he going to a people that his culture said was beyond God’s love.

Peter as always, struggled with where God was leading him to serve.  It seemed that the third time God gave him the message; he actually “got” it.  That is the story of chapter 10, which he recounts to those who were struggling with what he did here.  This chapter isn’t really about what Peter did, to share God’s love with the Gentiles, it is what he did to help his fellow Jews to grasp how deep that love of God was, for every person of every ethnicity in the world.

It is amazing to me that Peter didn’t take on the criticism directly, nor did he take it personally.  Instead, he simply focused on what God had done, and laid out the story as it happened.  As Peter did this, led by the Holy Spirit, people changed.

 

Two Groups to Win…

Peter Is summoned to talk with those concerned about “those people” receiving the word of God. They are concerned about Peter compromising the gospel by fellowshipping with them.  There will be a conversion here, a needed one, as people are reconciled to God’s will.

It is not the obvious one though, though that too is marvelous!  The work of God is so incredibly evident there, as those who were far from God, and in bondage to sin.  It is amazing and yet unexpected to hear that God was already working in them, that an angel miraculously intervened in Cornelius’s life, and he sent officials to bring Peter to him, for Peter was to bring them the message that would save him, and all of His household.

How amazing!  That God work so bluntly, so clearly, so undeniably! By the time the vision is over, the words of God were burned into Peter’s heart.  “What God has made clean, do not declare common!”

How incredible that this became true – not just about bacon and lobster, but about Cornelius and all his family!  How amazing that those who were thought to have no hope, were given hope, were given life… were given the presence of God in their lives.

Which leads us to the second “conversion”, the second group that needs to be reconciled to God.  They weren’t as far off, these who wanted this issue examined thoroughly.  It was a foreign idea to them that God would work with these foreigners.  It would be a difficult transition – they needed to see more than just information about God, they needed to see His heart, they needed to understand His will that no one should perish in bondage to sin.  They needed to be reconciled to God, to come in line with His will….
And the Holy Spirit did that – again through the God’s love shared patiently through Peter.

The Critics Silenced…

God’s consistent will seen

 

In the midst of Peter sharing what God had done, as he explains that the men where there, that will of God is hinted at – when he says “And the Spirit told me to go with them, making no distinction.  That word is the same as the word criticize above – again it means to thoroughly examine things – except in this case, no examination, no criticism.  Peter, inspired directly by God’s Spirit, fully reconciled to God’s word by the vision goes…to bring words of life

 

He starts sharing about God’s love – He starts to lay out the gospel, to share with them the incredible love of God demonstrated through the incarnation, through the life, death, resurrection.  He didn’t even get to the part about baptism, before it was evident that this was a God moment, a time when the Holy Spirit was creating life and faith and transforming them, bringing them to repentance.  The very same things that happened at Pentecost – with the Spirit falling on the people of God, with the word being proclaimed, with people’s heart’s being opened and healed as they were washed and cleansed, as they received the gift of the Holy Spirit.

God’s consistent love – showing a depth and dimension unforeseen despite the prophecies, despite the promises that foreigners and immigrants would be welcome. God’s consistent love – so praised in the Old Testament, made evident even for those who were wrongly considered “far off”.

They realized God meant it when he said the Messiah would be a light to all nations,
They realized God meant it when He promised Abraham that all nations would be blessed by his descendant,

They realized Jesus meant it when He said that His blood would be shed on behalf of many, for the forgiveness of sins.

I love the way Paul would describe it,

 

19 you are no longer outsiders or aliens, but fellow-citizens with every other Christian – you belong now to the household of God. Firmly beneath you in the foundation, God’s messengers and prophets, the actual foundation-stone being Jesus Christ himself. In him each separate piece of building, properly fitting into its neighbour, grows together into a temple consecrated to God. You are all part of this building in which God himself lives by his spirit. Ephesians 2:19 (Phillips NT)

 

Peter, the one who was a bit too quick to speak, who overreacted, took his time, laid out what God had done, and when it was complete, there was silence. The doubt dropped to the floor. No one could object to God’s work. They had neither the strength, nor the desire.  Just as Peter realized, when he sad,

17 If then God gave the same gift to them as he gave to us when we believed in the Lord Jesus Christ, who was I that I could stand in God’s way?”


and the party began began.

The Reason for Praise

I have to admit – I love the spontaneous praising and glorifying of God, as these circumcised Jews realize that God loves the long time nemesis – the people of the world. The barriers are down, we are one…
That is what they are realizing, it is what we need to realize. It is what can and should break down every barrier between people – this idea that God has made us one, that God has granted to us “the repentance that leads to life.”

You see, there is something special in watching a brother or sister become part of the Body of Christ, as we did last week.  There is something incredible about seeing that – or those “aha’ moments as we gain a little in understanding more about the depth of the Lord’s passionate love for us.

This is the work God does in both Jews and Gentiles. The change is what Luke describes with the word repentance here – this transformation of both our heart and will, redeeming us from our being oppressed by sin, and reconciling us with the will of God.  That is the work of repentance – a total transformation of our heart and mind, both are used in the prophecies to describe God’s work.

And God has transformed, He has granted this repentance – this change to living a transformed life in Christ.

We see it here, when a child, or a youth, or even someone who has lived 8 decades comes – and is given the promise of that change as they are baptized into Christ!

We are witnesses to it happening here as well! As we gather at the family feast – where God our Father provides us with the Body and Blood of Chris! As He again grants us the power of the transformation, He has promised.  For it is here that He reconciles us with His will, as He reconciles us together as one people – no matter our place of birth or whether the times since can be easily measured in days, years, or decades.  He reconciles us together no matter the language we speak, or have spoken, no matter our height or weight or anything else.

We are One, in Christ.

And that is something so glorious – for God has transformed us all into His people. To Him be all the praise, all the glory and honor.

AMEN?

 

Missions Devotion

Can we begin to realize…

9 After this I looked, and there was an enormous crowd—no one could count all the people! They were from every race, tribe, nation, and language, and they stood in front of the throne and of the Lamb, dressed in white robes and holding palm branches in their hands. 10 They called out in a loud voice: “Salvation comes from our God, who sits on the throne, and from the Lamb!” Revelation 7:9-10 (TEV)

It is coming up on the end of my first week in China.  Tomorrow I move on, and will get on a subway train that seems to be ½ mile long.  Then onto a bus and the next city.  But as I have travelled on these buses… the crowds seem endless – most of them tied into their smart phones, unaware of those who are around them – shocked perhaps by the big white person standing near them.

I have to wonder, how many of them will be in heaven with us?  For that matter, how many of those I see in Cerritos?  How many of people we know will be there, amongst the rejoicing growd?

At the end of my devotions… which are all crazy because of time… I came across this:

Saint Ambrose has some words that fit the children of God marvellously well! He is speaking of the ass’s colt, tethered to its dam, which Jesus needed for his triumph: “Only an order of the Lord could untie it”, he says. “It was set loose by the hands of the Apostles. To do such a deed, one needs a special way of living and a special grace. You too must be an apostle, to set free those who are captive.”

Let me comment on this text for you once more. How often, upon a word from Jesus, will we have to loosen souls from their bonds, because he needs them for his triumph! May our hands be apostles’ hands, and our actions, and our lives also. Then God will give us an apostle’s grace, too, to break the fetters of those who are enchained.  (1)

Who is God sending you to this day?  Who will He bring you together with, just so you can tell them of the hope they have in Christ? He is sending you out – to bring them home…

Such is ministry….

 

Escriva, Josemaria (2011-01-31). The Forge (Kindle Locations 2468-2474). Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition.

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