They stumbled because they did not believe in the word; such was God’s will for them.
9 But you are the chosen race, the King’s priests, the holy nation, God’s own people, chosen to proclaim the wonderful acts of God, who called you out of darkness into his own marvellous light. 10At one time you were not God’s people, but now you are his people; at one time you did not know God’s mercy, but now you have received his mercy. 1 Peter 2:8b-10 GNT
When prayer is genuine, possessing the fire by which it is kindled, prompted by a sincere heart which recognizes its need and likewise the blessings that are ours as proclaimed in the Word, and when faith in God’s Word—in his promise—revives, then the individual will be possessed with a fervor prompting him to fall upon his knees and pray for strength and for the power of the Spirit. Martin Luther
767 What really makes a person—or a whole sector of society—unhappy, is the anxiety ridden, selfish search for well being, that desire to get rid of whatever is upsetting. Escrivá, Josemaría. The Forge .
I’ve been doing some research into the collapsing mid-sized church, those that run 250-2000. In my group of churches, their numbers are shrinking faster than the hopes the fans of the… (well I won’t mention the team name). Seriously, we have a problem across the board–and many younger pastors are leaving their church to pick up the problems some other pastor left, in order to take the place of pastor #3. Or more likely, they leave the parish, and become life coaches or counselors or teachers or..
I have to believe some of this is do to our poor formation, not only of pastors, but of church leaders in general. As churches shrink, we put in place anyone breathing – anyone willing to volunteer, rather than adequately prepare them. Then frustration and anxiety set in, as they don’t feel successful, and the leaders who put them there see no results. We become unhappy, as if happiness is the answer to everything, and the lack of it causes anxiety and desperation and often, change that is… unwise
St. Peter’s words talk about what eventually happens – they forget the promises in the word of God and they don’t hear it…even as we study it with our churches, we don’t hear it. We hear about the Greek or Hebrew, we read and hear about the background of those who did hear it, and how the Holy Spirit used it to change their lives. We hear what we have to do, the doctrines we have to believe, the way we must behave (or that how we behave is okay…when we know scriptures teaches differently) But we don’t hear about the good news, the love of God poured out on His people…along with mercy and grace and healing…as He restores us.
And without hearing that, without knowing God is hear for us, ready to listen, ready to act…the noise and stress and anxiety only gets worse. Eventually, pastors and people leave, determining there has to be more, a different way…..and they try to find it on their own, or coach those who are looking for it–but are just as lost in the darkness….
The church needs to draw them out of that darkness, as it is gthered by Jesus and reflects His glory, as He revives them. He’s there, we just need to recognize our need for Him, and those promises, the promises that we are no longer alone – but we are His people. A message we receive, not just in sermons and the Lord’s Supper, but in that neglected sacrament of prayer…
Oddly enough – though Lutherans may not talk about it often today, Luther points us to that need – to pray for the power of the Spirit to be manifest in our lives together, in the church where the Spirit gathers and enlightens us all.There is no doubt of the need, there should be no doubt of the theology… and there should be no doubt of the promise…
So hear that word, those promises and pray with me…
2 Let me see you in the sanctuary; let me see how mighty and glorious you are.
3 Your constant love is better than life itself, and so I will praise you.
4 I will give you thanks as long as I live; I will raise my hands to you in prayer.
5 My soul will feast and be satisfied, and I will sing glad songs of praise to you. Psalm 63:2-5 TEV
We are delivered from ourselves when we finally seek God for Himself alone!
Our union with Him depends on His love for us, which is simply the extension of the Father’s love, through Him, to ourselves. And the charity of Christ, which springs from the Father as from its hidden and infinite source, goes out through us to those who have not yet known Him, and unites them, through Christ in us, to the Father. By our love for other men, we enable them to discover Christ in themselves and to pass through Christ to the Source, the Beginning of all life, the Father, present and hidden in the depths of their own being. Finding Him, they who have long been torn and divided by the disintegrating force of their own illusions are able to discover and integrate themselves in one.
Too often these days, I find myself tired of life… and I know I am not alone.
I want to cry out, “Maranatha!” (which means ‘Come Lord Jesus!) with all I am. I so want Jesus to come back, to bring His people into the presence of perfection in the presence of God the Father.
I want God to return, I really, really want Jesus to return and put an end to all the suffering, all the evil, all the health issues, all that I see people going through…
And as I contemplate how wonderful it will be to be free of all of that, I realize I am praying for His return for the wrong reasons.
I need to grow in this area – perhaps more than any.
I need to want Jesus to return, simply so I can be with Jesus, to be welcomed into His presence, and God our Father. I need to have what Tozer speaks of, to be delivered of everything that is me, and simply seek to be with Him.
Merton is correct as well, that the only way this happens is Jesus. Our union with God depends completely on His work, on the Spirit’s cutting open and circumcising our hearts. It is that love, which spreads through us out into the world, that enables us to praise Him. As the Spirit draws us into Christ, everything the Psalmist says is now real, as God reveals Himself – and we know He is everything.
He is our life, our hope, our joy, our love, and He reveals Himself in us, much as He reveals Himself in and under the Bread and Wine.
Lord Jesus, as we go about our days, help us to recognize your presence. May we see you in the people we speak to, and may they see You as You love them through us! May the Spirit help us to empty ourselves, so that truly our lives are Yours, and may we long for Your return. AMEN!
A. W. Tozer and Gerald B. Smith, Mornings with Tozer: Daily Devotional Readings (Chicago: Moody Publishers, 2008).
Thomas Merton, The New Man (London; New York: Burns & Oates, 1976), 135.
I said, “I have sinned against you, LORD; be merciful to me and heal me.” Psalm 41:4 (TEV)
The error of universalism is that it simply cuts off the move to proclamation. As a result, the God who supposedly loves and elects everyone never gets around to saying it to anyone.
But what do those do who are filled with fear and do not desire to have him come, when they pray, “Thy kingdom come,” “Thy will be done”? Do they not stand in the presence of God and lie to their own hurt?
Every once in a while, i have someone try to convince me that it doesn’t matter which god you worship, or if you even worship a god. All you have to do is be good to people. And then life will be good, and everything will be all right.
I have a significant problem with that.
A god without definition cannot meet my needs. I can’t be assured this universal and therefore unknown God is listening.
That’s a problem. I need a God who listens,
I need a God who hears my cries, whether they are for mercy because my life is challenging, or because I am struggling with guilt and shame. My cries for mercy, for healing—I need to know these cries, these prayers are heard. I need to know God loves me enough to hear and respond.
And a generic god who is an amalgamation of all religious systems, that god cannot tell me he/she/it hears, nor can I have any confidence that they can hear me.
That’s the difference about God who reveals Himself throughout the Old and New Testaments. The God who reveals Himself as a baby in a manger, as the suffering servant on the cross. The God who talks to us, whether as Jesus talks to the apostles and people, or as the Holy Spirit talks to us, as He dwells in the new heart given us in our baptism (Ezekiel 36:25ff)
He’s here, He listens, He speaks, and He heals.
His message–throughout scripture–I will be your God, and you WILL BE my people.
So whether oppressed by sin, or struggling with health, life, finances, relationships, know He will hear you.. and answer.
Gerhard O. Forde, “The Preached God,” in Theology Is for Proclamation (Minneapolis, MN: Fortress Press, 1990), 34.
Martin Luther and John Sander, Devotional Readings from Luther’s Works for Every Day of the Year (Rock Island, IL: Augustana Book Concern, 1915), 431.
Once we, too, were foolish and disobedient. We were misled and became slaves to many lusts and pleasures. Our lives were full of evil and envy, and we hated each other.
4 But—When God our Savior revealed his kindness and love, TItus 3:3-4 NLT
In what I have to say I may not be joined by any ground swell of public opinion, but I have a charge to make against the church. We are not consciously aware of God in our midst. We do not seem to sense the tragedy of having almost completely lost the awareness of His presence.…
Revival and blessing come to the church when we stop looking at a picture of God and look at God Himself. Revival comes when, no longer satisfied just to know about a God in history, we meet the conditions of finding Him in living, personal experience.…
No one knows the Father like the Son because He emerged from the bosom of this Trinitarian Mystery that John says is love. Notice John doesn’t just say God shows love. God is love. This is a huge distinction. The love of God is God. That means it’s not sentimental. It’s incredibly powerful. It’s ruthlessly determined. It’s determined to give itself away at any cost. And one problem we will have with the God who really is, is that he’ll invite us to do the same.
As I write this, I feel rushed, I feel anxious, there are so many things to do to prepare for the weeks to come, there are people I need to see now, there are things I need to figure out how to defuse, and move past.
I didn’t want to do my readings and prayer this morning, or maybe it was I was tempted not to. (Last night Bible Study was on the Lord’s prayer and “lead us not to temptation!”) Satan would love me not to break and spend time…and my own flesh is weary.. and the pressures of the world… well lets not go there.
In the worship service, what some call the mass, there is a phrase often repeated that we need to correct. It sounds like a blessing in modern English, yet it was a statement of fact in the old days.
“The Lord BE with you!” Is how it sounds in most Lutheran and Anglican Hymnals, and in the missals our our brother and sister Roman Catholics.
We need to hear that as “The Lord IS with you!” (and us who guide worship – desperately need to hear, “and also with you!”)
Tozer had it right – to often we enter worship and go all the way through it without giving a thought to the presence of God. That He IS with us, in that moment, a participant in worship–more active even than we are. (side note: as I write this, my grammar checker tells me that the words “the presence of” are not needed for clarity! I think the church has unknowingly done the same! ) We must recognize that we are standing on holy ground.
This is the God of whom Keating is speaking, The God who IS love. A love that is powerful, ruthlessly determined to make Himself known, and willing to give up everything for the benefit of those whom He loves.
I need to know that – as do you. And there are days we desperately need to know this!
We need to know what Paul told Titus about..
We need to see God reveal His kindness and love…and in order to do that, we have to be drawn into His presence. He needs to clean us, teach our hearts and souls and minds that He loves us. If we don’t get that point right, everything else we do as a church is worthless, hopeless, and pitiful.
We have to get HE IS HERE. HE IS with you and me. RIght now, at our desks, or in our work places. He is here to heal, forgive, comfort, lift up, and give us hope. Hope for this life… and for eternity.
He is with you my friends.
The Lord IS with you!
A. W. Tozer, Tozer for the Christian Leader (Chicago: Moody Publishers, 2015).
Thomas Keating, The Daily Reader for Contemplative Living: Excerpts from the Works of Father Thomas Keating, O.C.S.O., Sacred Scripture, and Other Spiritual Writings, ed. S. Stephanie Iachetta (New York; London; New Delhi; Sydney: Bloomsbury, 2009), 251.
Devotional Thought of the Day!
18 So the LORD must wait for you to come to him so he can show you his love and compassion. For the LORD is a faithful God. Blessed are those who wait for his help. Isaiah 30:18 (NLT2)
31 But those who wait on the LORD Shall renew their strength; They shall mount up with wings like eagles, They shall run and not be weary, They shall walk and not faint. Isaiah 40:31 (NKJV)
31 But those who trust in the LORD will find new strength. They will soar high on wings like eagles. They will run and not grow weary. They will walk and not faint. Isaiah 40:31 (NLT2)
There is an inactivity that, paradoxically, is the highest possible activity. There can be a suspension of the activity of the body, as when our Lord told His disciples to “tarry ye in the city of Jerusalem, until ye be endued with power from on high” (Luke 24:49). They waited. And the Holy Spirit came on them in power.
In the Old Testament, to wait on God meant coming before His presence with expectation and waiting there with physical and mental inactivity.
Do we expect prayer to work like a drive-thru? We wait in line, somewhat impatient as our body cries our for coffee. We place our order, drive up, sacrifice something and get what we dearly wanted ( or in my friend Mike’s cases – desperately needed!)
Is that how we picture prayer?
Do we reduce God to a barista? Do we expect Almighty God to be there for our present need, then once that is quenched we don’t have to see him until the need strikes aagain?
Tozer’s words got me thinking about our expectations of God when it comes to prayer. Do we wait on Him only until we get what we want? Or can find peace in His presence in the midst of the need, in the midst of the emergency?
I do find it interesting that the NKJV uses the classic “they that wait on the Lord,” whereas my preferred NLT translated the passage, “those who trust in the Lord.” There is a difference. For trust speaks of a deeper relationship, a sense of dependence. Wait sounds like there are only 18 cars in front of us in the drive thru! We aren’t good at waiting, and the idea of being dependent on God frustrates those who were raised to be self-sufficient.
This kind of waiting God gets to the heart of the matter, far beyond the humility it takes. For while we are waiting, while we are trusting the all-powerful, all-wise, all-loving God to act, we are doing the greatest thing that we can do, hanging out with our Creator. This isn’t time in a drive thru line, or in a waiting room. Prayer and waiting on God is done while we are in His presence, looking at Him, talking with Him, listening to Him. When we are here, it is not a matter of just getting what we want… it is about life. It is about being at peace, it is about knowing we are loved.
You see prayer isn’t being in line in a drive thru. It is about coming home…waiting for the barbecue feast and enjoying the company of our Father, as He creates the masterpiece!
May we come to realize this… and so desire to spend more time aware of His presence in our lives! Amen!
A. W. Tozer and Marilynne E. Foster, Tozer on the Holy Spirit: A 366-Day Devotional (Camp Hill, PA: WingSpread, 2007).
Devotional Thought for the Year:
You are true to your name, and you lead me along the right paths. 4 I may walk through valleys as dark as death, but I won’t be afraid. You are with me, and your shepherd’s rod makes me feel safe. Psalm 23:3b-4 (CEV)
I love to speak of paths and ways, because we are travelers, journeying to our home in heaven, our Father’s land. But don’t forget that, though a path may have some particularly difficult stretches, and may occasionally involve wading across a river or passing through an almost impenetrable wood, as a rule it will be quite passable and hold no surprises for us. The danger lies in routine, in imagining that God cannot be here, in the things of each instant, because they are so simple and ordinary!
I am tired.
In the last year, almost 10 percent of my congregation passed away. Not one from Covid. And that was only a small part of the trauma my people endured…
This year seems to be competitive so far. Yesterday, I received news of a mentor whose health is failing. Then, a message that a staff member’s sister is in ICU after a drunk hit her head-on. I was with my mom, who had a procedure that confirmed another complicated procedure is needed. Four other people with other serious health issues came to my attention.
I am tired.
Did I say that?
If I am honest, there are days I wonder if I am on the right path. One of my elders joked that we change the church’s name so that trouble and trauma would have a more challenging time finding us. I wonder what I had done, which caused all this mess and all this trauma. Am I the bad luck charm that causes all the trauma, all the stress, the crap that invades the world around us?
This path that St. Josemaria mentioned is one that is one that has particularly difficult stretches. It seems that we are going through such a time right now. Like the forests in a Tolkein novel, the forest seems impenetrable, the dark valleys where things that terrify surround us. ( I think those show up in his novels because he endured them as he journeyed with Jesus.)
It is those dark valleys that David walked through that caused Psalm 23 to be written. The CEV translation broke the sentences a little differently, which hit me this morning. For before and after the mention of those dark valleys, there is the assurance of the presence of God. Hie leading, His protection, His PRESENCE.
Amid the weariness, hearing this is so needed. St. Josemaria notes that danger is found when we imagine God is not there… that He is not in each instant. I know that, but I need to hear it as well.
He is here… HE IS HERE!
Realizing that I can find the rest I need, even if it is only for a moment in a praise song, in a word that reminds me of His love, His mercy, His presence.
When we realize that, our weariness changes form. It changes, no longer communicated by groans, to that with sighs of peace For we know the hope created by our destination; and we know Who it is to guide us on the journey.
Be still, find your rest in Jesus, with whom we have died at the cross so that we are raised in His glory and peace.
If you don’t understand this, please give me a call – or drop me a message. These days, this forest is too challenging to take on, on your own.
Fazio, Mariano . Last of the Romantics: St. Josemaria in the Twenty-First Century (p. 149). Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition. (taken from Friends of God by St Josemaria Escriva , p 313-314)
Devotional Thought of the Day:
14 Then John’s disciples came to him, saying, “Why do we and the Pharisees fast often, but your disciples do not fast?”
15 Jesus said to them, “Can the wedding guests be sad while the groom is with them? The time will come when the groom will be taken away from them, and then they will fast. Matthew 9:14-15 (CSBBible)
Peter Lombard was adequate as a theologian; none has been his equal. He read Hilary, Augustine, Ambrose, Gregory, and also all the councils. He was a great man. If he had by chance come upon the Bible he would no doubt have been the greatest.”
If I read aright the record of Christian experience through the years, those who most enjoyed the power of the Spirit have had the least to say about Him by way of attempted definition. The Bible saints who walked in the Spirit never tried to explain Him.
Thou dost promise to come with the Father and the Holy Spirit to abide forever in their souls: He who loveth Me shall be loved of My Father, … and We will come to him and make Our abode with him.3 And what more hast Thou to promise and to give, to entice men to love Thee? My dearest Lord, I see how it is; Thou dost wish also to be loved by me: yes, I love Thee with all my heart; and if I do not love Thee, do Thou teach me to love Thee; make me to love Thee, and to love Thee above all things: “Give what Thou commandest, and command what Thou wilt.”
I have to admit, I snickered when I read Luther’s words about Peter Lombard. Immediately came to mind some self-proclaimed theologians I know, men who have little time for worship or devotions. As I carefully stored away this little insult, I realized my need for repentance…
But then, I do not believe Luther was just snarky. I believe he was onto something and perhaps needed to go farther.
Tozer makes that point with more clarity, as he describes saints who walked with God, who could not, and did not spend time trying to explain the Holy Spirit; they experienced Him.
I am not saying we become seekers of experience, to be driven for emotional highs and lows. There is a difference between experiencing God and seeking experiences. The former is the earnest prayer of de Ligouri, as he begs God to teach him to love God, to make him love God. That is what Luther is getting at, what is missing from Lombard.
I am not saying we shouldn’t study, but it has to have its proper place. In fact, without time in prayer and meditation, without sacramental time, without worship, such study is simply an academic exercise.
The Lord is with you! The Spirit dwells in you…
Rejoice and enjoy the presence and work in your life!
Alphonsus de Liguori, The Holy Eucharist, ed. Eugene Grimm, The Complete Works of Saint Alphonsus de Liguori (New York; London; Dublin; Cincinnati; St. Louis: Benziger Brothers; R. Washbourne; M. H. Gill & Son, 1887), 92.
Martin Luther, Luther’s Works, Vol. 54: Table Talk, ed. Jaroslav Jan Pelikan, Hilton C. Oswald, and Helmut T. Lehmann, vol. 54 (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1999), 26.
A. W. Tozer and Marilynne E. Foster, Tozer on the Holy Spirit: A 366-Day Devotional (Camp Hill, PA: WingSpread, 2007).
Devotional Thought of the Day
If you see your brother Israelite’s ox or sheep straying, do not ignore it; make sure you return it to your brother. 2 If your brother does not live near you or you don’t know him, you are to bring the animal to your home to remain with you until your brother comes looking for it; then you can return it to him. 3 Do the same for his donkey, his garment, or anything your brother has lost and you have found. You must not ignore it.a 4 If you see your brother’s donkey or ox fallen down on the road, do not ignore it; help him lift it up. Deuteronomy 22:1-4 CSB
Along with mortification of our character, this “laying down one’s life for others,” this imitation of the Lord, and transformation of all our relationships with others into opportunities to live charity, implies a spirit of service. Turn your gaze constantly to Jesus who, without ceasing to be God, humbled himself and took the nature of a slave, in order to serve us. Only by following in his direction will we find ideals that are worthwhile. Love seeks union, identification with the beloved. United to Christ, we will be drawn to imitate his life of dedication, his unlimited love, and his sacrifice unto death. Christ brings us face to face with the ultimate choice: either we spend our lives in selfish isolation, or we devote ourselves and all our energies to the service of others.“
You probably won’t see your neighbor’s ox or sheep walk into your yard this afternoon (unless you are my friend Tara), but you might see a $20 bill on the ground.
What do you do? Does it depend on whether anyone is there? Do you try and justify keeping it, saying you need it just as much as anyone else?
Do you turn it in, hoping that no one claims it in 10 days?
What if it’s $100, or a wallet with $5000?
Does it make a difference?
Deuteronomy would have you look for your brother/neighbor or wait for them to return. Some might say that seems unreasonable for $20, but it might not for a more considerable amount.
Dare we ask what Jesus would do in this situation? Or what someone like St. Josemaria would do? Would we want to face the question of what would be the “loving” thing to do? What would be that which sets aside our own self-serving nature? What looks to the best of our neighbor, to the best for others?
We have to learn to consider ourselves again as part of a community, part of a family, and a group that cares for each other. It is not a closed group either, but a group that brings us all together; a group, a community that is willing to do what it takes, embrace the hardship, embrace the challenges, sacrifice saying what we want to say what they need.
This is not because we have to go to heaven. It is something far more of an intimate need than that. This is who we were created to be, men and women made in the image of Jesus. This is when we find the true self, this is where we become genuinely self-actualized, as Maslow described it. This is where life begins, as our identity is so clearly reflective of our Lord.
What do you do with the twenty doesn’t matter as much as how you process being responsible for it.
God’s peace in the process…
Fazio, Mariano . Last of the Romantics: St. Josemaria in the Twenty-First Century (pp. 144-145). Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition.