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How can I fail to take up your soul….?

church at communion 2Devotional Thought for our days:

 15  GOD then said, “Dress up like a stupid shepherd. 16  I’m going to install just such a shepherd in this land—a shepherd indifferent to victims, who ignores the lost, abandons the injured and disdains decent citizens. He’ll only be in it for what he can get out of it, using and abusing any and all. Zechariah 11:15-16 (MSG)

15  And I will give you shepherds after my own heart, who will guide you with knowledge and understanding. Jeremiah 3:15 (NLT)

14  “I am the good shepherd; I know my own sheep, and they know me, 15  just as my Father knows me and I know the Father. So I sacrifice my life for the sheep. John 10:14-15 (NLT)

There was a mother who, like all mothers, was passionately fond of her little child, whom she called her prince, her king, her treasure, her very sun.
I thought of you. And I understood —for what father does not carry deep inside some maternal feelings?— that it was no exaggeration for that good mother to say: you are more than a treasure, you are worth more than the sun itself: you are worth all Christ’s Blood!
How can I fail to take up your soul —pure gold— and place it in the forge, and fashion it with fire and hammer, until that gold nugget is turned into a splendid jewel to be offered to my God, to your God?

As I begin to read St. Josemaria Escriva’s devotional book the Forge, I came across the words in blue in the prologue. It describes the heart of a pastor, a priest, a shepherd and caretaker of souls.

It is a heart to aspire to, at least in my mind.

I have been involved in a couple of conversations recently about pastors and their relationship to their people, to their parishioners.  One raised the question of whether pastors could be friends of their parishioners. Another was about the difference between worship and work at the church.  A third was about pastors retiring from ministry, and finding something completely different to do in their retirement.  Let’s just say I was in the minority in several of these discussions, and to be honest, I don’t understand the idea that ministry is work, that it is just a job, like caring for inmates or hotel guests.  

I think our hearts have to break when our their hearts break.  I think we have to desire what God would have for our people, to realize the treasure He sees in them.  To give them the sacraments, assured of the blessing we are giving them, as we untie them to Jesus death and resurrection, as we give feed their souls, as our words (actually His words) mend and heal broken hearts and souls.  

So how could this be a career, isn’t it our very life?

I won’t claim I have arrived.  There are still long days that weary me out, there are still people who ability to get under my skin challenge the pastoral heart I want to have.  There are people that hurt me, and I struggle to have a pastoral heart toward them, Or the people who won’t listen to God, and choose lives that are lived in rebellion to God.  Those people cause frustration, and often tears.  ( I want to say I would love to just stuff them into St Josemaria’s forge)  I am not going to say pastoring these people is easy, but it is necessary.  A pastor can’t just dismiss them as alligators, that decision and judgment is not in our pay grade.  Weare simply to try to reconcile them to Jesus.

This is why Jesus talks about good shepherds, as opposed to the stupid shepherds that have served his people in the past.  About shepherds who will have His heart for His people, which can mean laying down our lives for them, sacrificing time, energy, money, whatever it takes to see them drawn to Christ, and made holy by the Spirit that works within us all.

Again, even as I write these words I am torn.  For that is what I would desire as a pastor, yet I know I fall short, often too far short.  That is not an excuse or a reason to stop desiring to see my people grow.  Their failures and mine are not a reason to distance me from them as if that can reduce my brokenness.  Instead, it is a reason to cling all the more to God, for He will pour out comfort and mercy, continue to transform me, and yes, He will continue to cause us to grow, to forgive our sins, to transform us into the image of His son ( see 2 Cor. 3:16ff)

Lord, have mercy on Your shepherds, break our hearts and give us hearts like Jesus, so that your people can be assured of their salvation, and set apart to walk with You!  Amen!

Escriva, Josemaria. The Forge (Kindle Locations 226-231). Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition.

Once Upon a Time: A Sermon on 1 Peter

Combined 1Once Upon A Time

1 Peter 2:2-10

In Jesus Name

May the grace of God our Father, and the Lord Jesus Christ overwhelm your heart with the knowledge you belong to Him, for you have received mercy!

A struggle to belong

I’m going to list a group of television shows and movies and I want you to think about them as I do.  You may not know them all, but think about what they have in common,

The Breakfast Club, MASH, Friends, Force 10 from Nazarene, the Power Rangers, Stripes, Grey’s Anatomy, Seinfeld, Gilligan’s Island, Cheers, the Dick Van Dyke show, Lost.

You might know some of those movies and shows, a few of you might know all of them.  Some of those are comedies, some dramas, some tragedies.  They span five decades, and include diverse casts, playing diverse people.  People who will get on each other’s nerves, that won’t understand each other at first.  They will grow to depend on each other and find a place in each other’s lives.

Which is why we resonate to such shows.

It gives us a hope that we might find a group of people we belong with, that we can depend upon, a group that belonging to will give us something to identify ourselves by.  A chance to stop being the outsider but to belong.

But they are only television shows, they are only movies.  No matter how much they resonate with us, they are simply stories that strike a chord in our soul.  These things help us identify a need that the Apostle Peter identified for us nearly 2000 years ago.  He described the need this way,

Once you had no identity as a people…

Once upon a time, you didn’t belong, you had no place in life, you were broken off, lost, helpless.

But all that has changed now.

how we got there

There has been a great concern for a couple of decades regarding how we see ourselves, our self-esteem, how we see ourselves, how each one of us identifies themselves.

We, as a culture, and as individuals struggle with this, and because of that, we often fell left out, not part of the in-group.  Most of the characters in the movies and shows I mentioned had that problem.  And they dealt with if differently.

Some very aggressively, trying to lead and dominate the group

Others tried to impress, or make themselves valuable and needed.

A few kept back, afraid to trust others, afraid for people to see who they really were.

And many tried all of those tactics at one time or another.

We do this today as well, as we try to figure out our roles, to figure out the meaning in our life.  We want a reason to belong, a valid reason that gives us value.

The problem with this is that our creating our identity usually backfires, for what happens is we separate ourselves from those not like us, who we think cannot understand us, and the further we separate, the harder it is to let the others be part of our life.

We just go on our own way and assume no one else knows or even cares. We realize we aren’t like others and we won’t fit it with them.  Hurt by this, and even angry about it, we eventually will make the decision that they aren’t worth it.

Which is why the following

43  “You have heard the law that says, ‘Love your neighbor’ and hate your enemy. 44  But I say, love your enemies! Pray for those who persecute you! 45  In that way, you will be acting as true children of your Father in heaven

Jesus goes on…

46  If you love only those who love you, what reward is there for that? Even corrupt tax collectors do that much. 47  If you are kind only to your friends, how are you different from anyone else? Even pagans do that. 48  But you are to be perfect, even as your Father in heaven is perfect.    Matthew 5:43-48 (NLT)

Anyone struggling with this standard?   Anybody else got a group of people they don’t understand, don’t like, are afraid of, and can’t imagine being part of that you find it hard to love?

Yeah?  Well, Jesus calls you to love them.

That is what following Jesus, results in, that is your identity, what it means to receive mercy…when you can’t imagine someone showing you mercy.

The key is found in Peter’s words about acting like babies.  Seriously!

The Cry 

Hear Peter’s words again,

2  Like newborn babies, you must crave pure spiritual milk so that you will grow into a full experience of salvation. Cry out for this nourishment, 3  now that you have had a taste of the Lord’s kindness. 4  You are coming to Christ, who is the living cornerstone of God’s temple.

Where I to have several hours to preach, I would explain the cornerstone illustration more completely.  But realize this – God has given us an identity, a part in those who are called to be His people.  Each one of connected to Jesus the cornerstone,

We find our identity in how we relate to Him, we find our place in life based on His place in our life.  We find out who we are in God’s eyes, and we find the mercy, the welcome, the hospitality in the eyes of Jesus who died and is risen, that we would know life.

But this is just a little taste of His love, of His desire to make us His own. Peter says to crave experience this love, now that you know about it, drink deeply of His love, desire it, make experiencing it the major priority of your life.

For knowing His love, with not just your mind but your heart, your soul, that is what helps you realize you fit in, that we all do, for we find our place in our relationship to God.

Our identity as well, and the reason we can love those we formerly didn’t fit in with, for they two are coming to Jesus, and being made part of His chosen people, called out of the darkness into His glorious light.

For once upon a time you had no identity, but now you are identified as His people.

AMEN!

The Ministry is Not About the Clergy!!!

Devotional Thought of the Day:
11  Now these are the gifts Christ gave to the church: the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, and the pastors and teachers. 12  Their responsibility is to equip God’s people to do his work and build up the church, the body of Christ. 13  This will continue until we all come to such unity in our faith and knowledge of God’s Son that we will be mature in the Lord, measuring up to the full and complete standard of Christ.
Ephesians 4:11-13 (NLT)

5  I left you on the island of Crete so you could complete our work there and appoint elders in each town as I instructed you. 6  An elder must live a blameless life. He must be faithful to his wife, and his children must be believers who don’t have a reputation for being wild or rebellious. 7  For an elder must live a blameless life. He must not be arrogant or quick-tempered; he must not be a heavy drinker, violent, or dishonest with money. 8  Rather, he must enjoy having guests in his home, and he must love what is good. He must live wisely and be just. He must live a devout and disciplined life. 9  He must have a strong belief in the trustworthy message he was taught; then he will be able to encourage others with wholesome teaching and show those who oppose it where they are wrong.
Titus 1:5-9 (NLT)

11 If ordination is interpreted in relation to the ministry of the Word, we have no obligation to calling ordination a sacrament. The ministry of the Word has God’s command and glorious promises: “The Gospel is the power of God for salvation to every one who has faith” (Rom. 1:16), again, “My word that goes forth from my mouth shall not return to me empty, but it shall accomplish that which I purpose, and prosper in the thing for which I sent it” (Isa. 55:11).
12 If ordination is interpreted this way, we shall not object either to calling the laying on of hands a sacrament. The church has the command to appoint ministers; to this we must subscribe wholeheartedly, for we know that God approves this ministry and is present in it.  (1)

. Since only general laws can be made where there exists a wide variety of nations and regions, a special “program of priestly training” is to be undertaken by each country or rite. It must be set up by the episcopal conferences, revised from time to time and approved by the Apostolic See. In this way will the universal laws be adapted to the particular circumstances of the times and localities so that the priestly training will always be in tune with the pastoral needs of those regions in which the ministry is to be exercised.  (2)

This summer, there will be a lot of talk in my denomination about the ministry, and in specific the ministry of the diaconate, (Ministry in Greek is diakonos) .  Our problem is somewhat in semantics and somewhat an issue of ignorance. Ultimately, it is a misunderstanding of the ministry, and what it means to be divinely called to serve the church.

Without a doubt, those who serve the Church are a gift to the church.  Yes ,there is a divine call to not just pastors and priests, but to deacons and I believe any who teach in the church. The need to be trained and examined, and prayed over and for as they take up their roles, their vocations.

But the ministry isn’t about them.  The ministry is about serving the needs of those they are called to serve.  The people God would call to be His people, His children.

You see that clearly in the Ephesians passage, as we are called to minister, and even a point to which the job is complete.  (GULP)  But we see it as well, as the Titus passage describes our roles, again using the idea of building up, encouraging, being a Paraclete.

We see this in the idea early Lutherans (the quote in blue from the Apology of the Augsburg Confessions) as ordination is considered a sacrament if the ordination is setting them apart for this ministry of teaching God’s word.  (The first president of my Lutheran denomination included in this group all those the pastor delegated such work to as well!) This is why there was a time where ordained clergy not in dedicated full-time parish ministry was not considered “in the ministry”.  It’s about the care of souls, about urging them to cross, where they will find mercy and love and peace.

We see as well in the Catholic Church’s cry (the quote in Vatican II) to make seminary training about being in tune with meeting the spiritual needs of the people in the area they are to serve.  They clearly understand that what is important is what we do, and our personal identity is to be lost, so that we speak as stewards of the mysteries of Christ.  if our training is merely academic, merely the recitation and repetition of the experts who have gone before, and not tailored to give people what they need to know about Jesus, then the seminaries and universities have failed in their mission.  (as have pastors who train up Deacons and Sunday School Teachers, and all who have part of our ministry.)  What is true fo the clergy is as true for all those who will serve in the church?

It’s about the people being drawn into the presence of God. Our identity as ministers is that of the servant making sure his Master’s guests arrive.   The focus then has to be on the guests, their needs, being met by the church, being served by those who have been called and examined and placed there, because God wants them to be.

This is their ministry, God’s gift to them.

AMEN.

 

 

 
Tappert, T. G. (Ed.). (1959). The Book of Concord the confessions of the Evangelical Lutheran Church. (p. 212). Philadelphia: Mühlenberg Press.Catholic Church. (2011). Decree on Priestly Training: Optatum Totius. In Vatican II Documents. Vatican City: Libreria Editrice Vaticana.

Catholic Church. (2011). Decree on Priestly Training: Optatum Totius. In Vatican II Documents. Vatican City: Libreria Editrice Vaticana.

We Are His!

Alleluia!  He is Risen…thereforeSAMSUNG

We are His!
John 17:1-11

In Jesus Name

 As we walk through this life together, may we know the grace and peace of God, for He has made us His own…

 

He is Risen, and therefore…

There is an old tradition among God’s people, to greet and respond to each other during the seven weeks between Christ’s resurrection and Pentecost with the following words,

Alleluia!  He is Risen!

(Some respond “He is Risen Indeed!  Alleluia!”)

Let’s all try that – English and Chinese at the same time

Alleluia!  He is Risen!

(response)

We’ve added something to that, this year in our congregation.  It is that I respond, “therefore” and the congregation responds, “we have risen indeed!  Alleluia!”

In each of our sermons, then, we’ve looked at what it means to be the people of God who are united to Christ in His death and in His resurrection.  Today is the last day of that series, and in our gospel reading we see the incredible truth,

He is risen and therefore we know we are His!

If there is something that should cause our praises to be heard throughout California, through the world, it is this.  You and I are Christ’s, and therefore dwell in the presence and glory of God!

Let’s look at how this is laid out in John’s gospel….

But first I want to hear it one more time.

Alleluia, He is Risen (response)

therefore, ((response)

The Son Gives us Eternal life

In verse 2, we are reminded why Jesus came, what the moment of His glory was all about.  It says there,

For you have given him authority over everyone. He gives eternal life to each one you have given him.

But what is eternal life?  My first funeral sermon was done back in 30 years ago at a church in Yorba Linda.  Since then, I have done hundreds, and I’ve heard people talking before and after the services about what heaven is, or at least asking the same questions.

“Will my dog be there?”
“Will there be golf?”
“How old will I look?”
“Will we know each other?”

Or one of my favorite comments,

“When I get to heaven, I am going to ask God, (or maybe the Apostle Paul) why….

Most of the questions, we can’t respond to, they aren’t dealt with in the passages that describe heaven, like 1 Corinthians 2:9 – which says it is beyond our ability, or the passages in the Book of Revelation, where it talks its perfection.

Jesus describes eternal life here though, in this passage, in a way that is simple  and clear.

And this is the way to have eternal life—to know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, the one you sent to earth.

Eternal life is simply knowing the Father and the Son, to be in a relationship with them, to dwell in their presence, to dwell in their glory.  This is what it is, this relationship with God that is described here eight times in these verses, that we are His!

I think that deserves a Alleluia!  Or if we translate that – a “Praise the Lord” or in Mandarin (teach English speakers to say it  J )

Eight times as Jesus prays we are described as being God’s, either the Father’s or that we’ve been given to Christ by the Father!

  • Keep His Revelation

We are God’s people, that has been the plan since before the foundation of the world, it is what Jesus accomplished on the cross, and it is there that we are united to His death, and to His resurrection.

We see that relationship described in verse 6 as well, as we are described,

6 “I have revealed you* to the ones you gave me from this world. They were always yours. You gave them to me, and they have kept your word.

We are described here in a way that is incredible. We have kept the Father’s word,

“Kept His word.”  Some translations in English translate this as obey, as if God’s word is simply about obeying the Ten Commandments, checking each one off, one by one.  The words go deeper than that – the word for kept is to guard, to observe, to value and treasure and protect.  In English it goes back to the most secure place in the community, the castle keep, where you put all of your treasure.  TO keep something was to secure it, to guard it with every ounce of your strength, for it is precious.

It is the same word as in verse 11, where Jesus asks the Father to protect us by the power of His Name.  The word for word is rhema in Greek – God’s declaration, God’s official statement regarding the issue.

In this context, I think of the word, as that which we find in Moses writings, and in the prophets, the statement that God makes to us.

“You will be My people, and I will be your God” or “You will be My people, for I AM your God”.

That is a declaration of God that should be at the core of who we are, for it completely defines who we are.

We are His!

And that is worth treasuring, not just with “a” Alleluia, or a Praise the Lord, but a life filled with praises, a life glorifying Him, as we live in complete awe of His love for us!

  • Keep/protect Us

I mentioned before, that the word translated as “kept” was also seen in verse 11 as “protect”, when Jesus prays,

11 Now I am departing from the world; they are staying in this world, but I am coming to you. Holy Father, you have given me your name;* now protect them by the power of your name so that they will be united just as we are.

This word, keep/protect, brings up the last point of our message, our reason to celebrate today.  The power of God seen in our lives again, as God protects us, as God guards us, protects us with the full power of His name.

That is something to have confidence in, to be in awe of, and to contemplate.  That God cares about us so much, that we are protected and His treasured people. That He would take the time to cleanse us of sin, to deliver us from the bondages of that sin, and of Satan, that He would free us of our anxiety and fear of death, for we know we have life eternal.

It is from this place of security, this place of peace, this walking with Christ daily that holiness and unity flows.

We are one, not because of our work, nor are we holy because we decided to be holy.  We find our unity, our eternal life, in God, in His making us His people.

All because God the Father send Jesus to us, to claim us for we are His.

For jesus Christ was born of Mary, was crucified, died and Alleluia! He is risen!  (let them answer) and therefore ( We are risen indeed.)

Hear it as Paul wrote to the churches in Colossae,

1  Since you have been raised to new life with Christ, set your sights on the realities of heaven, where Christ sits in the place of honor at God’s right hand. 2  Think about the things of heaven, not the things of earth. 3  For you died to this life, and your real life is hidden with Christ in God. Colossians 3:1-3 (NLT)

So treasure the eternal life you’ve been given, know the blessings of God revealing that you are His children, His people, and be confident, that you are kept in Christ and we are one in Him!  To sum it up,

He is Risen, and therefore We are His!

Is a church, The Church? Why Do We Operate As If It Were So?

Devotional Thought of the Day:The church, is always in the midst of a storm... but safe in Him
7  Was I wrong when I humbled myself and honored you by preaching God’s Good News to you without expecting anything in return? 8  I “robbed” other churches by accepting their contributions so I could serve you at no cost. 9  And when I was with you and didn’t have enough to live on, I did not become a financial burden to anyone. For the brothers who came from Macedonia brought me all that I needed. I have never been a burden to you, and I never will be. 2 Corinthians 11:7-9 (NLT)

212  Hominem non habeo— I have no one to help me. This—unfortunately!— could be said by many who are spiritually sick and paralytic, who could be useful— and should be useful. Lord: may I never remain indifferent to souls.

Last night in our Bible Study, we talked a great deal about the verses that are listed above.  It was a pretty stimulating conversation, and it had me thinking last night, and this morning while I worked out, and into writing this blog today.  Recent conversations about the church here in the USA as compared to what we consider the mission field, also entered the thoughts.   So to the talks about the rise of both denominationalism and congregationalism that I’ve given in the course I am teaching presently.

The conversation last night wasn’t about the church in Corinth and the issues where Paul had to correct their errant thoughts.  Instead the conversation ended up focusing on the sacrificial attitude of those churches, and that of Paul himself.  Because they gave, not of their abundance, but rather before they thought of their own needs.  To help another congregation, another “church”.  But why?  The Corinthians had everything in abundance, they had more money, more “names” (look at the discussion about all the ministers that had worked there!)  The churches that gave?  They had little.

But they still gave, that others could minister to the church in Corinth.

Why?

Because of the gospel, because of the love of God was the answer, after a couple of moments of thought.  Because they saw a brother in need, and knew the power of the gospel and the change it would make in the life of the Corinthians.  That the church in Corinth needed Paul more than they did, and they saw that need and met it.  Even though it meant they would do without.  Paul would go on his journeys, knowing that he could be beaten and tortured and eventually would be killed.

For the sake of the church.  That people would know the joy of God’s presence, the exhilaration that comes from knowing you are loved.

Corinth needed that, they needed to know God in the way the other churches did.  Those churches who didn’t see the church as their congregation, but considered the church as those who make up the entire family of God.  That is why they could sacrifice for people they didn’t know, That is why they would respond to meet Paul’s needs, knowing the effect of Paul’s ministry there.  Knowing how Paul taught them, as he wrote to the church in Ephesus,

3  Make every effort to keep yourselves united in the Spirit, binding yourselves together with peace. 4  For there is one body and one Spirit, just as you have been called to one glorious hope for the future. 5  There is one Lord, one faith, one baptism, 6  and one God and Father, who is over all and in all and living through all. Ephesians 4:3-6 (NLT)

Let’s face it – denominationalism and congregationalism are “isms”, (no matter how they are justified by other titles, like brotherhood, association, the label – “non-denom” or my own group’s “synod”)  Although often started with a major issue, rather than resolve it, we just get comfortable in our “group” and shut out others.  When we get comfortable there, when we use our separation to justify our in-action, our hoarding of our own gifts and talents and abilities, Please don’t get me wrong – there are times where, because of the gospel, because of those who would pervert the grace, mercy, and peace of Christ – there is a separation.  But to allow that separation to become the status quo, to isolate ourselves into smaller and smaller groups, behind this leader or that, is wrong.

Last night, we primarily talked about this, not in view of denominatalism, but in terms of congregational autonomy.  We aren’t separate from our sister churches in the area, we need to work together, even if it begins with only us.  To work with those we are in fellowship with, to work with those who will work beside us, to test doors to see if they are open.  To pray for the doors that are slammed in our face, grieving over them.

TO see the church, not as just our congregation, but as His one, holy, catholic (universal/united) apostolic (misisonal) Church.

And to plan or prioritize and work with the spread of Christ’s saving us from sin, and making us holy as the core of what we do.

 

Escriva, Josemaria (2011-01-31). Furrow (Kindle Locations 1095-1098). Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition.

 

Having a Crisis of Faith? Come Join us!

Devotional Thought of the Day:

22  So let us come near to God with a sincere heart and a sure faith, with hearts that have been purified from a guilty conscience and with bodies washed with clean water. 23  Let us hold on firmly to the hope we profess, because we can trust God to keep his promise. 24  Let us be concerned for one another, to help one another to show love and to do good. 25  Let us not give up the habit of meeting together, as some are doing. Instead, let us encourage one another all the more, since you see that the Day of the Lord is coming nearer. Hebrews 10:22-25 (TEV) 

324 The dust thrown up by your fall blinds and disorients you, and you have thoughts which rob you of your peace. Have you sought relief in tears by the side of Our Lord, and in confident conversation with a brother?  (1)

If a pastor or priest or even lay ministers are honest, they will admit (but not often) that they have what some call a “crisis of faith” occaisonally.  We aren’t perfect, and its my opinion that our people must know this.   Simply put, if we are hoenst about this, then they will be as well, and we will be able to minister to them in spirit and in truth.

A crisis of faith isn’t that we don’t believe in God, but that we simply struggle to believe in God.

It may be that the trauma in our own lives is too much, or that the trauma we help others go through has taken its toll as well.   It could be our sin, or temptation, which finds a spot in our weakened state and steps on through.  Despising our own weakness, we try to overcome it on our own, rather than deal with it at the foot of the cross.  Or it can simply be that we have fallen into a rote faith – we go through the motions, numbed by time to the words, and the God whom they reveal.

Either way, it is as our spiriutal life has become paralyzed.

There is a need in such times for each of us to have what they now call a “spiritual director”, or what I prefer to call a “father-confessor”. Someone who is able to speak for God to us, someone who will shepherd us and guide us, and help us until the fog clears.  Someone who can share God’s love because they’ve known it during their own crisis, their own brokeness. (which is why I think we have to let people know we go through such times ourselves)   They are the ones that can find us, and have our permission to find us, in our  caves, when we choose to isolate ourselves.

We need those times, when we can hear the still small voice of God comforting us.  Even so, we can’t, especially in those times, avoid gathering with others, sincere in our brokenness, yet needing the encouragement that comes from realizing we are not alone. We need to hear of God’s faithfulness, and to celebrate it together.  This too is essential, a major part of our Christian life.  For when we realize that God doesn’t give up on any of us, we begin to realize that His promise of being faithful includes us.  The illusion is then pierced, and we realize the crisis of faith isn’t a crisis of trust, or us being abandoned by God.

It’s simply that we are tired and overwhelmed and… well yes broken.

We say at my church that we are a place where broken people find healing in Christ, while helping others heal.

The cure for such times, is not to avoid the people of God, fearing they will not understand, it is to come and be embraced by them, to join them at the altar and receive the grace of God as we receive the Body and Blood of Christ (yes – during a crisis of faith – communion, the eucharist is a blessing.. a very needed blessing!)   For we all have had, and maybe even having a a crisis of faith, and the church, the people of God provides a great sanctuary during such times.   Let’s lift each other up, as God calls us together, a people He will care for, a people He will comfort.

And that starts with us, those who lead in church… those who are broken, so that you may have faith, for if God can heal us… He can (and will ) bring healing to your crisis.

For the Lord will have mercy!

I know – received it over and over.   You can too.

(1)   Escriva, Josemaria (2011-01-31). Furrow (Kindle Locations 1529-1531). Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition.

Vacation?

26  If (one) part suffers, all the parts suffer with it; if one part is honored, all the parts share its joy. 27  Now you are Christ’s body, and individually parts of it.  1 Corinthians 12:26-27 (NAB) 

I am sitting here, after driving 10 plus hours (somehow getting through Soledad took more time than taking the 91-405-101 during morning drive-but that is another blog)

I am beginning to rest, the camper is all set up….and I finally think back to our church services yesterday.  I think about our Taiwanese congregation, who are in those challenging days where they are looking for their new pastor….I think about the guests we had in our multi-cultural service, friends of friends.  I think of our people suffering through cancer, through depression, through work issues and family issues.  Sunday was my 5th anniversary with these people…we have been through the ringer…and have come out all the more dependent upon God’s love and mercy!

It was a little strange as so many of my friends, my parishoners said that I needed some rest that I needed to get away…. as if it was them that I needed to escape from!  Be assured…we will get physical rest.  But spiritual rest for me comes as we sing together, as we praise the God who brought us together, the God who is with us.   When we witness God working through each other, even those whom those who don’t know God’s love and mercy would consider the weakest.  Especially them, for they are the most amazing to watch God work through!  Watching the people of God trust in Him…watching that trust grow and build…it does a pastor’s heart good!

The verse above perhaps explains my rambling a bit better.  We are the people of God.  We belong to Him, and therefore are bonded to each other.  Distance can’t separate us.. lack of cell phone service or internet…( bahahahaha,,,,the campground has wonderful wireless!)  can’t separate us.  We’ve dined together with God.

There is nothing better….

Now to go and rest… knowing my people are in God’s hands…for that is not just my desire…it is His!

And my dear people at Concordia know this…above all….The Lord is with them! ( And also with me!)

And also…with you.

Remember – We Speak for Christ

We Speak for Christ
2 Corinthians 5:16-21

In His Name


As we speak for God, may we speak through the knowledge of the grace, the mercy and love which reconciled us to God, as we bring others the message of reconciliation!

We Speak for Christ, but what are we saying?

The sermon title you see before you, “we speak for Christ” is one which is an incredible burden, but it is something we need to keep in our mind, not just during the sermon, and the worship service, but every moment of the day.

You see if we claim to others that we speak for God as we talk about His will, as we talk about grace, as we invite them to church, then we need to realize that often, they will judge God by what they hear from our voices at other times as well.

I was talking to a lady this week, she was talking about why she and her husband were considering leaving the big church they were going to, and thinking about looking for a smaller church.  In the process, she told me about the church that they went to before the mega-church.  I asked her about why they decided to check out the big church in the first place, and she told me of the event that soured her husband on their original church some ten to fifteen years ago.

She related how they had gone there one morning, in her husband’s older truck.  As they parked the truck in the parking lot in front of the church, a man came out, and asked them to move the truck and park it somewhere else.  The man was concerned with what kind of image would be given, if beat up cars were in plain view in the parking lot.

The man moved the truck, to a different church and its parking lot where he and his wife have been going to that church ever since.  She did promise that upon their return from vacation, they might return to the church here.  You see, this church was where their children were baptized and confirmed.

 

It is a challenge for us to do what we are told in Colossians 4:6,  6 Let your speech always be with grace, seasoned with salt, that you may know how you ought to answer each one. Colossians 4:6 (NKJV)

It is even harder sometimes, for our words to be Christ’s as we respond to those who’ve sinned against us.  It is hard for us to forgive those whose words may not have been as gracious to us, for in that same way we are tempted not to be gracious.

How we see them, determines how we speak to them

       

I’ve joked once or twice about not putting Christian bumper stickers on my car, because I don’t want my driving patterns to reflect badly on God. There is some truth in that, and the same thing when not thinking about representing God, we step on our tongues and insert our foot in our mouths.  There is one thought – maybe we just never claim to talk for God? Then people wouldn’t blame God for our failings – right?

But then, we are ignoring the multitude of scriptures that talk about the people of God, both in the Old Testament and the New Testament, being God’s voice to call people out of darkness and sin, to share in His peace.  We need a better solution than just being quiet about our faith, our of fear of misrepresenting God.

 

It is found in the first verse of our epistle reading,  St. Paul writes,

16 So we have stopped evaluating others from a human point of view. At one time we thought of Christ merely from a human point of view. How differently we know him now!

 

Most of our problem, controlling our tongue is because we look at people as un-redeemed, or not worth our time, or for that matter, God’s time.  Maybe we are snobs, and think others are below us, or that they are just different, or maybe, even as we look around this room, we think – “thank God I’m not like that sinner…”

How we interact with people is based often in how we “see” them, how we perceive their value to us, to society. It isn’t just the generations represented in this room – it’s been a problem even back to the time of Christ…

For some, including Paul who wrote this letter, saw Jesus as illegitimate, as an outcast, as an wandering religious kook – who, because of a lack of education, couldn’t possibly understand the deepest part of the Jewish faith… to the extent Paul really persecuted the people whose trust was in Christ.  Paul would realize Jesus was more than homeless religious fanatic… that he was the Son of God, and what it mean – that Jesus would die on the cross.

The difference comes into play when we stop looking at them based on human standards of value, but understand how Christ sees every man, woman and child that has ever existed, and when we consider their value to Him.

How does Christ see them?

In verse 17, we are told that anyone who belongs to Christ isn’t just waiting to become something else – they have become something new already.  It’s passages like this – and the discussion between Jesus and a Pharisee named Nicodemus that we get the concept of being born again, the washing of rebirth that we commonly call baptism.

Which Is how we are to see each other – as people whose value is not measured according to value on earth, but rather value to God.  Who thought enough of us, who valued us enough, that He reconciled the world to himself – He brought us back – He reconciled us, He cleanse us, the ways scripture describes this incredible work we given “church words” like justified and sanctified, ransomed and redeemed, and the one in this passage – reconciled.
As in reconciling a checkbook, or a set of accounts, where not only is everything accurate, but it is the way it should be – every negative entry accounted for and every error corrected.  Where there is nothing left to devalue what is, by God’s account – priceless and precious.  Where after everything is accounted for – and everything is checked – it all balances….

And this miracle – the way that every sin has been paid for – Paul describes in verse 21:

21 For God made Christ, who never sinned, to be the offering for our sin, so that we could be made right with God through Christ.

That is Christianity simply put – God loved the people He created, to the extent He has taken care of our sin.  He values us, our company, our presence, He values us enough to let Jesus bear all of our debt on the cross.   All of it.

That is how, then we are to relate to each other, with the same value as God has for us…. We are to each other as people God cared enough that Jesus would die for them.

The offer on the table…which we take to them

       

That then leads us back to the original concept – that people base their perception of God on how we treat them, of the things we say, and don’t say…

That we are His ambassadors, given the task of reconciling all people to God.  That we have the responsibility to plead with those who don’t know Jesus, who don’t know the love of the father, to come back, just like the prodigal does, when he remembers how his father treated all of his people.

To see it through – we need to look at others, as those God would die for, for indeed He did.  We need, for our own deeper understanding of God’s love for us, to realize it extends to all – that He is not willing that any should perish, but that all would be reconciled – that’s why Christ came to reconcile us all – so that all children of God could always come home.

That Is the glorious message we have been tasked with, the message we, as Christ’s ambassadors are tasked to deliver… and no other message then this… that all would come back to God…

That they would all know His love…
His mercy…
His peace.

The peace of God that is beyond all understanding, the peace in which we are kept, for we dwell, reconciled in and by Christ Jesus.  AMEN!

Where do we Abide?

Where do we Abide?

Philippians 3:17–4:1

 

Jesus, Son and Savior

May your life find its focus in the gifts of God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ, His mercy, His peace. His love, but mostly, in His presence!

 

The Tears of Paul, the Cry of Jesus 

Knowing His past, the way in which he dealt with the enemies of what he perceived his faith to be, these words of Paul testify to His coversion, the transformation that had occurred in his life, as he came to know the love of God.

Hear them again,


18 For I have told you often before, and I say it again with tears in my eyes, that there are many whose conduct shows they are really enemies of the cross of Christ. 19 They are headed for destruction. Their god is their appetite, they brag about shameful things, and they think only about this life here on earth.

Hear His reaction – it is not one of anger, of lust for revenge, but one of great sorrow, of great sadness.

I say it again with tears in my eyes,

It is the reaction, not of a crusader, but of one who has been rescued from brokenness, whose heart has known the healing of being raised from worthlessness and given life and meaning, who has been called to be loved….

And grieves when he sees others who refuse such a call….to live in Christ
It is the attitude that Paul would encourage us all to imitate – the example he tried to set, even as Paul would imitate the Lord who came to him, and called him.  We hear the same attitude in Jesus’ cry to the people of God in today’s gospel,

34 “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones God’s messengers! How often I have wanted to gather your children together as a hen protects her chicks beneath her wings, but you wouldn’t let me.

 

Indeed, Paul had become much like his Lord Jesus… and now he calls to us, to become like him, to follow the path of Christ trod, finding our strength in the God’s presence, and looking forward with Joy, even as we dwell now as citizens of heaven, as the people of God, whom He protects and loves and heals…
Do We Know the Price of Condemnation?

Most of us would hesitate before condemning someone to hell, most of us wouldn’t say “Go to Hell” in anger, or “I hope they burn in Hell” even about the people whom we can only see as “evil”, as they practice which is evil.  I have seen similar reactions recently, heard them or read them on internet, against the likes of Jerry Sandusky, or Chris Dorner.

Even while we may not actively hope that others would go to hell, do we passively let others continue on their merry way towards Hell?  Does it bother us, as it did the apostle Paul to the point that we cry over such people?  Even our enemies? Or maybe we don’t want them to suffer eternally, just a period of time we would consider fair and equitable. 

Do we realize that those who oppose Christ, who disdain or passively dismiss the cross are headed for destruction?  Or do we just go about our own lives, going by the old saying, “live and let live?” Do we realize that such a attitude is against what scripture teaches about loving your neighbor?  Is it loving to allow anyone to head towards experiencing the wrath of God?

Paul says these people are heading to destruction.  The word there isn’t destruction as they might lose their house or their job, or that their families and lives will fall apart in this life. It is talking about destruction as in eternal – as in their complete separation from love, and life, and goodness.  Total and complete.  Do we weep for them?

Do we weep for those who oppose the cross of Christ, who deny mercy, who contend with the gospel, who put stumbling blocks in the ways of those who God would have them call out to?  (It is funny that in the context of this passage – Paul is talking about people in the church!)

How many people do we know who are described as Paul describes those he is dealing with?

Their god is their appetite, they brag about shameful things, and they think only about this life here on earth.

What a sad way to be described – to realize that our emotions, our “appetites” could have so much control over us. To realize that people can be co confused that they would choose that which is disgraceful over what is good and right and a benefit to themselves and to others, whose choices are selfish and narcissistic and hurt others..

Do we respond to such people in anger?  Or is sorrow and tears, grieving how they have chosen to separate themselves from God’s love and mercy?

Do we fall into a reaction that nurtures our appetites, that speaks the truth without love, which becomes condescending and shameful, and is only about that which occurs here on earth?

How do we learn to react as Paul began to react?  How do we follow his steps, even as Paul learned to walk as Christ had?

Knowing our End, our Destination,

Paul gives us what he found to be his answer, there in verse 20.

20 But we are citizens of heaven, where the Lord Jesus Christ lives.

While the focus of those we are to weep for, pray for is on what makes their life here better or easier, our focus is based on whose we are, whose kingdom we are citizens of, to whom we owe our loyalty.

I think we misunderstand this – when we talk of being in the Kingdom of heaven, and for that reason, we’ll talk about it more in Bible Study.  But for now, our answer to not being like those whose lives cause us anger – if we respond inappropriately, or sorrow, if we respond like Christ, is to remember where we live, to remember whose kingdom we belong to, to dwell in Christ, and under His rule.

It is here, in our experience at the altar, that we begin to see this.  If we see this time and this place, not so much as a routine, or a duty, but a meal with our Father, a time where we remember where our homeland is, a time to look forward to our going home.

A number of people have asked me how I liked the food in China.  It’s kind of funny, because the Cajun food was good, the American restaurants were fine, the Italian was as good as in Italy – maybe better!  Even though I worked a with some Chinese nationals, a lot of time was spent ministering to our missionaries, folks who were there with a purpose, but who hearts and lives were lived in view of “home”.  They needed a reminder of where they were from – even more spiritually than physically.

Likewise it is for us, we are here in Cerritos, as God’s ambassadors, as missionaries ourselves.  A lot of our lives is lived in being “homesick” for heaven.  That is why communion becomes so central, so necessary in our lives.  Our communion feast is the “missionary team dinner” at Red Garlic, or up on the Peak at Bubba Gump – a time to look forward to our going home to be with our family, the angels and archangels and whole company of heaven.

Please understand, I am not saying Christ isn’t with us 24/7/365, but that this time is a special one, where we encourage each other, and are encouraged to dwell in God’s presence, where our hearts and minds are re-focused on God’s love, and the extent that His love is there for us, healing us, providing for us.

It is a moment in our week of being home…

Until the time our weak mortal humble bodies are found transformed into glorious bodies… for the same power that is at work then, has been at work, as all things have come into His kingdom, as He reigns and guides and protects, His people…

As we dwell in peace, and yes, weep over those who have yet to know that peace, or who confuse and bind others and prove themselves lacking in it..

This peace is yours, people of God, this peace of our Father, which passes all understanding and guards our hearts and minds as we dwell, citizens of where our Lord reigns… and cares for His people.

AMEN?

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