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It is not preaching unless…It is not worship unless…

Come and see the wonders of God; his acts for humanity are awe-inspiring. Psalm 66:5 (CSBBible)

For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes.
1 Corinthians 11:26 (CSBBible)

When we journey without the cross, when we build without the cross, when we profess Christ without the cross, we are not disciples of the Lord, we are worldly; we may be bishops, priests, cardinals, popes, but not disciples of the Lord.

When somebody inquired whether a person [under the papacy] would be saved if he had not embraced this teaching of ours, he [Martin Luther] replied, “I really don’t know. God might have had regard for his baptism. This could do it. Even so, I have seen many [monks] die with a crucifix held before their eyes [as was then customary]. In spite of everything else, the name [of Christ] proved to be effective on their deathbed.”

When Jesus comes to the soul in Holy Communion, he brings to it every grace, and specially the grace of holy perseverance. This is the principal effect of the Most Holy Sacrament of the Altar, to nourish the soul that receives it with this food of life, and to give it great strength to advance unto perfection, and to resist those enemies who desire our death.

Most of my college professors were focused on reading, studying, and preaching the Bible verse by verse. That is called exegetical preaching. Exegesis is the art of drawing the message from the text. All the professors taught this way,  except one, my preaching professor. He would criticize me to no end, saying that “unless you preach the gospel, you may have given a good message, but you haven’t preached. And that gospel requires you to bring them to the cross. (Doug Dickey, multiple times in 1984-1986. He wanted you to include God’s grace, God’s love, God’s mercy, and if you didn’t – back to the library you went until you did!

I think that needs to be a rule, not only for preaching but for worship. We need to bring the people of God to the cross – We need to be there as well! Oh, do those who preach and lead worship need to come to the cross! We need to see with the Psalmist – the wonders of God as He acts on our behalf!  We need to see Him take on death and destroy it!  We need to see Him triumphant over our sin! That is why the Lord’s Supper explains the giving of Christ’s Body and His Blood shed for us! The entire service needs to focus there to journey with the cross throughout the week! 

The cross needs to be there; the sermon and the sacrament need to draw us to Jesus! Look at the monks Luther describes, as they die, they just wanted to focus on the crucifix, to be in awe of God’s love for His people.

Can you preach verse by verse and still proclaim the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus? I believe so, but will the cross and the resurrection be your primary focus? The same question may be asked to those who preach topically,
who do a series on marriage or faith. Or those who preach from the pericope, the rotation of verses over 1 or 3 years. You must go to the scriptures, see how they point to Jesus, and work on that passage until you figure out how!  The same as the worship service is formed, how does each song, each reading, each prayer draw people into Christ and make them more aware of His love! Of course, the decision on whether to offer commune fits there as well! Where else is the work of God as manifest at that moment, as people commune with the Body and Blood of Christ? (1 Cor. 10:16)

It is not preaching unless Christ crucified is revealed, nor is it worship if we are not brought to that cross in awe and celebrate that death was for us. This is why we gather… this is the refreshment given. It is time to celebrate!

Pope Francis, A Year with Pope Francis: Daily Reflections from His Writings, ed. Alberto Rossa (New York; Mahwah, NJ; Toronto, ON: Paulist Press; Novalis, 2013), 125.

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), 87–88.

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), 224.

The Interrupted Devotional Time

Devotional Thought of the Day:

33  By faith these people overthrew kingdoms, ruled with justice, and received what God had promised them. They shut the mouths of lions, 34  quenched the flames of fire, and escaped death by the edge of the sword. Their weakness was turned to strength. They became strong in battle and put whole armies to flight. 35  Women received their loved ones back again from death. But others were tortured, refusing to turn from God in order to be set free. They placed their hope in a better life after the resurrection. 36  Some were jeered at, and their backs were cut open with whips. Others were chained in prisons. 37  Some died by stoning, some were sawed in half, and others were killed with the sword. Some went about wearing skins of sheep and goats, destitute and oppressed and mistreated. 38  They were too good for this world, wandering over deserts and mountains, hiding in caves and holes in the ground. 39  All these people earned a good reputation because of their faith, yet none of them received all that God had promised. 40  For God had something better in mind for us, so that they would not reach perfection without us. Hebrews 11:33-40 (NLT2)

To them the Spirit was One to be loved and fellowshiped the same as the Lord Jesus Himself. They would have been lost completely in any metaphysical discussion of the nature of the Spirit, but they had no trouble in claiming the power of the Spirit for holy living and fruitful service.
This is as it should be.

While the neoorthodox theologians were diverse, the movement as a whole believed that preaching is key for people to encounter the Word of God.

Jesus awakens great hopes, especially in the hearts of the simple, the humble, the poor, the forgotten, those who do not matter in the eyes of the world. He understands human suffering, he shows the face of God’s mercy and always bends down to heal body and soul.

As the prayer requests were called and texted into the church’s office today, my devotions were interrupted. It happens.

As I finally got around to them, the readings that I highlighted seemed even more important! It was the faith of the people I was praying for, from a 10 year old boy to a 94 year old man, described in these quotes above.

Like the saints in the scriptures and their contemporaries, it was a dependence on God that made the difference. They were in love with God, not trying to determine which member of the Trinity- they just reveled in His presence. Therefore they did things that only those who know God Almighty loves them are capable of doing.  Pope Francis is right; they know God’s mercy and realize His presence, His coming into their lives because they know Jesus. I guess that is what concerns me today, as people hear sermons designed to know about the word of God, the scriptures, rather than the Word of God – that is, to know Jesus. And it is something I need to be aware of and ask myself – how did this sermon, these songs, this Bible Study help people to know Jesus.

How will it help them to someday be part of that great group of witnesses to God’s glory, who found their dependence on God fully justified? How will it encourage a Kurt or a Sam? How will it help them walk with Him, in His light, in His glory?

Weighty questions for eleven o’clock!  But ones that need to start affecting me more… and more. I pray you to benefit from them – as my congregation does.



A. W. Tozer and Marilynne E. Foster, Tozer on the Holy Spirit: A 366-Day Devotional (Camp Hill, PA: WingSpread, 2007).

Ronald J. Allen, Thinking Theologically: The Preacher as Theologian (Minneapolis, MN: Fortress Press, 2008), 49.

Pope Francis, A Year with Pope Francis: Daily Reflections from His Writings, ed. Alberto Rossa (New York; Mahwah, NJ; Toronto, ON: Paulist Press; Novalis, 2013), 23.

How Do I Communicate THIS?

such wonder!

Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, I also send you.” 22  After saying this, he breathed on them and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit. 23  If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.” John 20:21-23 (CSBBible)

Jesus, breathe Thy spirit on me,
Teach me how to breathe Thee in,
Help me pour into Thy bosom
All my life of self and sin.[1]

Pious Exercise to acquire the Proper Disposition for making a good Confession
Preparation
To prepare ourselves well for confession, we should retire from every external source of distraction, go either to a church or an oratory, place ourselves in the presence of God, and make the following act:
Act of Adoration
Supreme and adorable Majesty, God of heaven and earth, I firmly believe that Thou art present, and that Thou seest me and knowest the dispositions of my heart. I adore Thee and render Thee my humble homage, acknowledging Thee for my God, my Creator, and my Sovereign Redeemer. In testimony of this my faith, I prostrate my soul and body before the throne of Thy Infinite Majesty, and offer Thee the adoration which is due to Thee alone.
[2]

For Tillich, the realities to which the biblical and traditional symbols pointed are still present today. Over time, however, the biblical and historic language of the Christian community has lost much of its power to evoke the living experience that it had in earlier times.[3]

O EVERLASTING, Merciful God, Heavenly Father, I beseech Thee to grant Thy Holy Spirit unto all who are entrusted to my ministry. Give them grace to know Thee and Jesus Christ, Thy Son whom Thou hast sent; enable them to remain steadfast in the true faith, to grow in grace and love, and to serve Thee with humble and penitent lives. And grant unto me, O Lord, grace to teach them Thy Word in truth, and to set before them an example of godly living.[4]

Tillich was correct, the reality of Scripture is not lost in this time. Andyet, the arning about language is concerning. The Spirit is able to work, still cutting open people’s hearts, cleansing them out, dwelling within them, even as the Spirit did in the Apostles.

Do my words, or the way I speak them, get in the way? I pray it is not so, even as Loehe – a Lutheran pastor from the 1800’s did. There are times when I wonder if I miss this or that, and I fear that somehow I’ve missed that which revives their hearts and souls, breathing life into them.

How precious it is, to see the Holy Spirit, the Breathe of God swirl inside someone, cleansing them, as God has longed to do! To see someone’s faith come alive, to see their desire to know God, to have the same experience of God, that His word has always evoked.

That is why I love the way Ligouri teaches the Believer about returning to God, to examine one’s life, to confess sin and be forgiven. He urges us to start, not by confessing our sins, but by adoring God! Preparing to be cleansed by adoring the God who offers that, who desires to do that which we need, knowing how we will be, when healed of our sin! As Tozer says, once again pouring ourselves in Christ Jesus, assured of His love and mercy!

This is what Loehe meant about knowing God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ, to grow in grace and love! To realize we are in Christ, that is the reality that we need, to understand it better than anything we can ever imagine! As Paul said, quoting Isaiah, it is more beautiful that anything we have ever seen, more wonderful than anything we can imagine, more than our hearts can ever dream up… ( 1 Cor. 2:9)

This is what our people need to see revealed to them, to be able to picture themselves so love by God, to see Him looking into their eyes iwth love that assured them all will be… so much more….

This is what I need to communicate – and I pray you hear…


[1] A. W. Tozer and Marilynne E. Foster, Tozer on the Holy Spirit: A 366-Day Devotional (Camp Hill, PA: WingSpread, 2007).

[2] 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), 61.

[3] Ronald J. Allen, Thinking Theologically: The Preacher as Theologian (Minneapolis, MN: Fortress Press, 2008), 29.

[4] William Loehe, Liturgy for Christian Congregations of the Lutheran Faith, ed. J. Deinzer, trans. F. C. Longaker, Third Edition. (Newport, KY: n.p., 1902), 12–13.

Why I Don’t Care How Fast Your Church is Growing (or Shrinking)

IMAG0406

The church, is always in the midst of a storm… but safe in Him

Devotional Thought of the Day:

27  I will live there with them; I will be their God, and they will be my people. 28  When I place my Temple there to be among them forever, then the nations will know that I, the LORD, have chosen Israel to be my own people.” Ezekiel 37:27-28 (TEV)

I want you to know that God has never yet punished the world more harshly than by allowing blind and ignorant leaders to exist, who destroy us by withholding the Word of God and our bread. Let the Turks be Turks. This plague surpasses them. Woe unto us for not realizing this and praying for it to cease!
On the other hand, God has never been more gracious to the world than when he granted it well-informed and devoted spiritual leaders, who supplied this Word daily and abundantly. Christendom, and every Christian soul, is born in and through the Word of God.

The whole point of justification by faith is God’s scandalous, crazy, and wonderful gift of love.

Luther’s words are scathing, brutal, and today are as true as they ever have been.

O sure, we have more pastors with higher education perhaps, more and more of my friends are getting Doctor of Ministry and Ph.D./Th.D  degrees. I am going for one myself.

So why am I saying that we are in a period where church leaders are blind and ignorant?

I think it is because we are spending most of our time on things besides the gospel. We are trying to find the answers to the declining church attendance, the aging church, how to fight the decline in morality, the sociological and political jungles out there.  We hear the latest Barna report,, the latest Pew Research Study, the latest from our favorite religious blogger/vlogger/podcast and we treat our parishioners to our newfound wisdom, our conservative theological acumen, or our theory on how to get our churches to grow and be relevant while staying confessionally centered.

We might even wax eloquently on the core doctrine of Justification by Faith!

Yet we forget the point of justification is to return us to God, to cause us to walk in the presence of God. To realize, using Dr. Kreeft’s words, that God is scandalous, and crazy, as He loves us!

I don’t care if your church is growing 40 percent a year, or declining as you weed out the refuse. If pastors and church leaders aren’t revealing to people the wonderful, crazy, scandalous love of God for them, their work is a curse!  Whether the church is 2000 people on Sunday morning, or 24 faithful, confessional, traditional people.

We have to get back to preaching about God’s love for us broken people. It has to be our message.  We have to reveal to them that love as we preach and teach, as we give voice to God’s forgiving them (a wonderful, crazy, scandalous thing on its own,) as we give them the Body and Blood to eat and drink.

Pastors, do these things – we know they bring life to our people.  People, pray for your pastors, ask them to focus on revealing God’s love for you, constantly.  You are in this all together, and you are not alone.  For the scandalous, crazy, wonderful God who loves you, is with you!  AMEN!

Martin Luther, Luther’s Works, Vol. 42: Devotional Writings I, ed. Jaroslav Jan Pelikan, Hilton C. Oswald, and Helmut T. Lehmann, vol. 42 (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1999), 55–56.

Peter Kreeft, The God Who Loves You (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 2004), 25.

Why I Bother… to preach

Devotional Thought of the Day:

6  For a child is born to us, a son is given to us. The government will rest on his shoulders. And he will be called: Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. Isaiah 9:6 (NLT2)

16 as Paul says in Rom. 5:1, “Since we are justified by faith, we have peace with God.”
19 In former times this comfort was not heard in preaching, but poor consciences were driven to rely on their own efforts, and all sorts of works were undertaken. 20 Some were driven by their conscience into monasteries in the hope that there they might merit grace through monastic life. 21 Others devised other works for the purpose of earning grace and making satisfaction for sins.
22 Many of them discovered that they did not obtain peace by such means. It was therefore necessary to preach this doctrine about faith in Christ and diligently to apply it in order that men may know that the grace of God is appropriated without merits, through faith alone.

c. Through the Spirit of Christ, who is the Spirit of God, we can share in the human nature of Jesus Christ; and in sharing in his dialogue with God, we can share in the dialogue which God is. This is prayer, which becomes a real exchange between God and man.
d. The locus of this identification with Christ, facilitated by the Spirit, which necessarily implies that those involved are also identified with one another in Christ, is what we call “Church”. We could in fact define “Church” as the realm of man’s discovery of his identity through the identification with Christ which is its source.

On Mondays I sit in an office, with my monitors full of Greek and Hebrew and the work of scholars. It is easier of course these days to do the work than when I was a young pastor, but it is still tedious work. I mull over the results, as I do the research, and then plan our a service that works on the same message that I see coming from the text.

On Saturday, after considering the passages and the questions and answers the research and prayer bring, the manuscript is formed. Some weeks this takes 6 hours, others eight, and depending on how many stop by to chat, or to unload their burdens, or simply to hear that God is indeed, with them.

That’s a lot of work to invest in 12-18 minutes of life. And while it is not back breaking work, it is challenging, and the returns take a while to see, if they are seen.

So why do it? Why pour my mind and my heart and a lot of time into those few moments, where the “return on investment” is so… vague?

The Augsburg Confession, which started this thought process this morning gives me the one great motivator for my preaching. I treasure the moments when “my” people can drop their worries, their problems, their pain and for a moment experience the peace of God. Do they always see it? Do they always know that God is with them? No, but they grow in recognizing it,

It is that moment when what Cardinal Ratzinger/Pope Benedict calls the point where man discovers his identity in Christ. That is when the peace comes, when we can rest, when life is focused and we know He is with us.

When it happens, when I look at the growth in people, not in their being independent, but in their growth as they learn they can depend on God, as they learn that in that dependence on Him, n their interaction with Him, they find peace.

The peace the angels mentioned as Jesus took human form, to bring about that peace, and to defeat all that would steal it, including our sin.

That is why we bring the good news, much as the angels did…

AMEN!

Theodore G. Tappert, ed., The Book of Concord the Confessions of the Evangelical Lutheran Church. (Philadelphia: Mühlenberg Press, 1959), 43–44.

Joseph Ratzinger, The Feast of Faith: Approaches to a Theology of the Liturgy, trans. Graham Harrison (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1986), 26.

The Substance of our Message, our Ministry

The Good Shepherd, carrying His own.

Devotional Thought of the Day:

28  And it came to pass, when Jesus had finished these words, the multitudes were astonished at his teaching: 29  for he taught them as one having authority, and not as their scribes. Matthew 7:28-29 (ASV)

1   I have complete confidence, O God! I will sing and praise you! Wake up, my soul! 2  Wake up, my harp and lyre! I will wake up the sun. 3  I will thank you, O LORD, among the nations. I will praise you among the peoples. 4  Your constant love reaches above the heavens; your faithfulness touches the skies. Psalm 108:1-4 (TEV)

A woman phoned our convent in Vancouver and said ‘I am a Witness of Jehovah and lately I am getting a strong interior message to go inside a Catholic Church; can I come to see you?’ She came. As I walked into the Church ahead of her, towards the tabernacle, thinking of how to explain the red candle, etc. Suddenly she screamed loudly and ran out of the Church. I also ran to see what was happening and she shouted: ‘God is in there! God is in there!’

Never, ever, should they think that they have completed learning these parts of the catechism or know them well enough, even though they think right away that they know them all too well. For even if they learned and knew all these things perfectly (which is, of course, impossible in this life), they would still, in any case, find it useful and profitable to read it daily and incorporate it into their meditations and conversation. For the Holy Spirit itself is present during such reading, conversing, and meditating and always gives more and new light and devotion. Thus it tastes better and better and is digested, as Christ also promises in Matthew 18[:20], “Where two or three are gathered in my name, I am there among them.”

He points the way to Holy Scripture and reveals it as the center from which every perplexity of interpretation is to be resolved. He points the way to the word of God, to the primordial words that are preserved in the third and fifth books of Moses—words about the love of God and neighbor. When we hear these words, we observe first of all that they begin, not with a commandment, but with a profession of faith in something that is already known. “Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is one” (Mk 12:29). It is the core of Israel’s belief, and Jesus makes it the fundamental core of Christian belief as well. “Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is one.” Every one of these words is important. Before doing comes hearing—comes acceptance of reality. Man is a being that answers. If we are to act rightly, our gaze must first be pure and our ear open. It is impossible to act rightly without truth.

I wonder, if after our church services, our people reflect the attitude seen in Psalm 108. Do they have confidence in God, are they desiring to praise Him more, to lay all of their burdens down and trust in Him.

If they aren’t, we have to re-examine the words of our sermons, the songs and hymns we sing, the way we worship, the way we teach our Bible studies, the way and the amount of time we spend in preparation, and more importantly, prayer.

Do people run from our sanctuaries, from our Bible studies, from our prayer meetings, screaming that God is “in there.” (Hopefully from joy!)

Or do they come, week after week, finding some rest, but not finding out they are loved by God, not experiencing the love that is too great to understand, that they can barely begin to explain?

As Luther points out, do we think we know it all, that they have learned the curriculum? Or are they, like the old hymn noted, “hungering and thirsting to hear it (the new of God’s love, of His presence) like the rest?

We need to teach this with authority, not from the point of observation, but from the point of experience. To be able to share that our God, the Lord, is One, that He is here. As Pope Benedict urged, we need to hear, before we can work. For that leads to an eye witness testimony, that leads to hearts that actually adore the God we sing the praises of, that leads to beginning to be overwhelmed by the love.

Whether we are the pastor, or the person who cleans up communion, or the visitor who doesn’t have a clue about the service, each person who walks into our sanctuaries needs to encounter God. As we leave those holy places, the people we encounter need to see the glory of God, reflected from us. They find that encounter, as they encounter those who have encountered God, rather than just learned about Him.

That is why the sacraments are so essential! That is why our sermons have to expose God’s grace, in all its beauty, in all its unbridled power, in all of the holiness. This is why spending time with each other, caring more about each other, comes more naturally after encountering God. As Paul shared,

Christ is in you, therefore you can look forward to sharing in God’s glory. It’s that simple. That is the substance of our Message. Colossians 1:27 (MSG)

We need to help each other see this. That is why we gather…this is what we do… and then watch as people run screaming for joy, as they encounter God.



Joseph MC. (2012). From Adoration to Serving the Poor. In A. Reid (Ed.), From Eucharistic Adoration to Evangelization (p. 180). London; New York: Burns & Oates.

Luther, M. (2007). Luther’s Spirituality. (P. D. W. Krey, B. McGinn, & P. D. S. Krey, Eds., P. D. S. Krey & P. D. W. Krey, Trans.) (pp. 186–187). New York; Mahwah, NJ: Paulist Press.

Ratzinger, J. (1992). Co-Workers of the Truth: Meditations for Every Day of the Year. (I. Grassl, Ed., M. F. McCarthy & L. Krauth, Trans.) (p. 239). San Francisco: Ignatius Press.

Why asTheologians We Need to Re-learn Common English

Devotional Thought of the Day:

6 Think, friends: If I come to you and all I do is pray privately to God in a way only he can understand, what are you going to get out of that? If I don’t address you plainly with some insight or truth or proclamation or teaching, what help am I to you? 7 If musical instruments—flutes, say, or harps—aren’t played so that each note is distinct and in tune, how will anyone be able to catch the melody and enjoy the music? 8 If the trumpet call can’t be distinguished, will anyone show up for the battle? 9 So if you speak in a way no one can understand, what’s the point of opening your mouth? 10 There are many languages in the world and they all mean something to someone. 11  But if I don’t understand the language, it’s not going to do me much good. 12 It’s no different with you. Since you’re so eager to participate in what God is doing, why don’t you concentrate on doing what helps everyone in the church? 13 So, when you pray in your private prayer language, don’t hoard the experience for yourself. Pray for the insight and ability to bring others into that intimacy. 14 If I pray in tongues, my spirit prays but my mind lies fallow, and all that intelligence is wasted. 15 So what’s the solution? The answer is simple enough. Do both. I should be spiritually free and expressive as I pray, but I should also be thoughtful and mindful as I pray. I should sing with my spirit, and sing with my mind. 16 If you give a blessing using your private prayer language, which no one else understands, how can some outsider who has just shown up and has no idea what’s going on know when to say “Amen”? 17 Your blessing might be beautiful, but you have very effectively cut that person out of it.
1 Corinthians 14:6-17 (MSG)

He (Luther) had labored hard to put the word of God into the everyday language of the German people so that hearing and reading the scriptures would inform their biblical spirituality. He considered the gospel more as an oral message (mundhaus) than as a literary text (federhaus).

I read a lot of books.

From a lot of different genre’s, from a lot of different sources.

A lot of them are novels ( I love 18th-19th-century naval historical fiction) and a lot of them are religious works. Some are written very technically, with a vocabulary that often causes me to pull out my dictionaries or a Biblical Encyclopedia (or a Greek, Hebrew, Latin lexicon) Those are more challenging, yet they have their place. But they are a different language.

Their place is not in worship, or in Bible Study with my people.

Maybe in a class or individual study, maybe in a gathering of pastors, but it is not necessary for the people of God.

We don’t need to speak in “another tongue” when we lead worship or preach, or when we teach. And yet, far too often, we do that very thing.

That is what Luther is getting at when he speaks of the gospel as more an oral message than a literary text. It is a message that is to be communicated, not just analyzed. It is something that speaks to the soul of a person, not just their intellect. It is something that gives them hope, peace, and joy, even when they are in the midst of trauma.

That is what Luther wanted to do, he wanted to make his work, trying to reveal the love and grace of God to the people he was entrusted to care for, and to those who didn’t have shepherds, or whose shepherds didn’t do their work.

So we need to examine what language we use, in our sermons, in our lessons, in our liturgies, and whether those words are in common language. Not just vocabulary, but the style in which we write. It has to be common English, words that affect and encourage their walk with God.

As St. Paul says, “Pray for the insight and ability to bring others into that intimacy.”

The intimacy to walk with God, to revel in His love, to find rest in His peace, to savor what it means to be forgiven.

This isn’t just about teaching them “our language.” This is about pastors ensuring we explain and reveal God’s love in a language they understand and giving them the ability to praise God in words that mean something, that resonates with them.

Imagine a church, where people we able to be still, to be quiet and just know that God is our God and that we are His people. That is what the prayer that Paul instructs us in has as its goal.

Not that they would be able to diagram the communication of magisterial attributes of Jesus…

But rather that they would burst into tears of joy when they hear, “The Lord is with you!”

Abba Father, Lord Jesus, help us to be so overwhelmed by Your love and mercy that we have the insight and ability and desire to bring others into a relationship with You that leaves them in awe. Help us to speak clearly, and rejoice as we see this happen. Send Your Spirit to inspire us, and guide us in this we pray. AMEN!


Luther, M. (2007). Luther’s Spirituality. (P. D. W. Krey, B. McGinn, & P. D. S. Krey, Eds., P. D. S. Krey & P. D. W. KLrey, Trans.) (p. 119). New York; Mahwah, NJ: Paulist Press.

Communicating the Gospel: Don’t confuse the method for the purpose!

pexels-photo-279991Devotional Thought of the Day:
18  And all of this is a gift from God, who brought us back to himself through Christ. And God has given us this task of reconciling people to him. 19  For God was in Christ, reconciling the world to himself, no longer counting people’s sins against them. And he gave us this wonderful message of reconciliation. 20  So we are Christ’s ambassadors; God is making his appeal through us. We speak for Christ when we plead, “Come back to God!” 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.
2 Corinthians 5:18-21 (NLT2)

24 We believe and confess that these two doctrines must be urged constantly and diligently in the church of God until the end of the world, but with the due distinction, so that in the ministry of the New Testament the proclamation of the law and its threats will terrify the hearts of the unrepentant and bring them to a knowledge of their sin and to repentance, but not in such a way that they become despondent and despair therein. Rather, since “the law was our custodian until Christ came, that we might be justified by faith” (Gal. 3:24), and hence points and leads not away from but toward the Christ who is the end of the law (Rom. 10:4), 25 the proclamation of the Gospel of our Lord Christ will once more comfort and strengthen them with the assurance that if they believe the Gospel God forgives them all their sins through Christ, accepts them for his sake as God’s children, and out of pure grace, without any merit of their own, justifies and saves them. 

The method of preaching, no matter which tradition, can be simplified as telling people why they need Jesus, and how Jesus meets that need, and our lives change as we walk with Him.

In the Lutheran tradition, the method of communicating that is called preaching “Law and Gospel.  It has been a focus and method of our preaching since Martin Luther was still an Augustinian monk.  And the first president of the Lutheran Church gave a series of lectures which were turned into a book titled, “The Proper Distinction between Law and Gospel”.  While this post will use the word “preaching” a lot, this rule is true for any conversation, whether from a pulpit or altar or over a pumpkin-laden coffee or a nice ale.  Preaching is not just a formal sermon or homily, it is any time we take a moment to help people realize their need for God and His response to their need.

Preaching law and gospel is a method, and it is far more than just preaching the law, checking off a box, then preaching the gospel and checking off the second box.  Unfortunately, we can often get in that mindset, settling for that simplistic understanding of the method.

Even worse, we often preach against sin with a bias.  Some sins may be more repugnant to a pastor, or to an individual, and they may try to eradicate that particular sin with more force.  We might even come across as trying to purify the church from sinners who have committed that particular sin, driving those who are guilty of it into despair, into hopelessness, further into the guilt and shame which already haunts them.  ANd some would applaud this, saying we really crucified that sin, that we nailed it to the cross. They might see the role of the preacher, or the evangelist as the drill instructor, yelling at his recruits, trying to help them save their lives.

But that denies the purpose of preaching and in fact is contrary to the concept of preaching law and gospel.  Reading the quote from the Formula of Concord above, preaching the law so that people fall become despondent and despair, is not appropriate.  For doing so drives them away from where they could find hope, and the goal of preaching the law is such that realizing their brokenness, we can bring them to Jesus, we can help them see the cross and its blessed meaning in their lives.

What a challenge, to help them see their brokenness, to help them see their need for Jesus, rather than just making them feel guilty and ashamed!  Helping them to seek a source for the transformation, a source that is provided by the Spirit, as He draws them to Jesus, and then in Christ to the Father.

In Paul’s letter to the Corinthians, he describes the purpose of preaching, the purpose of evangelism, which is far more than the method of preaching law and gospel.  The purpose is to reconcile people to God. To help them realize that Jesus was the offering for the sin they are haunted by, that causes them to feel so ashamed, so full of guilt.

Proper preaching acknowledges its mission, to reconcile people to Father, by drawing them back to Jesus.  The method can be the preaching of Law and Gospel, holding them in tension, but that tension is for the purpose of becoming the people of God, the people who know His mercy and feel compelled to explore the dimensions of His love for them.

And again, preaching is not just the formal presentation of a sermon, it is as we comfort those who are anxious, as we cry with those who weep, as we listen ot those burdened, helping them see God take care of their burdens.

This is our mission, it is our apostolate, why we are sent where we walk in this world, as we walk with the God who pours out His love and mercy on us, and through us. So remember this purpose as you are with family and friends, and even those who antagonize you.  Remember these words as you sit in your study, crafting your messages, listing to the Holy Spirit. And rejoice, for you know GOD is with you!

 

 

 

Tappert, T. G. (Ed.). (1959). The Book of Concord the confessions of the Evangelical Lutheran Church. (pp. 562–563). Philadelphia: Mühlenberg Press.  (Formula of Concordia: Solid Declaration: V. Law and Gospel

Dare I pray this? Dare I not?

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God, who am I?

Devotional Thought of the Day:

23  God, examine me and know my heart, test me and know my concerns. 24  Make sure that I am not on my way to ruin, and guide me on the road of eternity. Psalm 139:23-24 (NJB)

Pursue love and desire spiritual gifts, and above all that you may prophesy. 2 For the person who speaks in another •language is not speaking to men but to God, since no one understands him; however, he speaks •mysteries in the Spirit. l 3 But the person who prophesies speaks to people for edification, encouragement, and consolation. 4 The person who speaks in another language builds himself up, but he who prophesies builds up the church.  1 Cor 14:1-4 HCSB

771    God exalts those who carry out his will in the very same things in which he humbled them.

There is a joke about being cautious as you pray for things like patience and faith, because surely God will hear those prayers, and give you the opportunity to see your growth.  Of course, the only way to see growth in those things is when you have to demonstrate them.

Even though the idea of having to be patient is scary, the idea of praying the psalmist pray this morning is even scarier.  To give God permission, to beg God to investigate every nook and cranny of our heart, our soul, our very being, and to make sure I am not doing anything offensive, anything evil, anything that would lead me to ruin.

God knows our right and our wrong, our acts of rebellion, our sin, but to invite Him in to purge them from us?  That is a hard prayer, that is one that scares me, for somehow I think that what I hide from him, what I deny to myself, somehow doesn’t count, it doesn’t affect me and others, it just was a passing moment, something I barely remember.

And yet, it is only after I pray that, only after letting Jesus carefully circumcise my heart, that I can begin to understand how great His love his and be in awe of His mercy. It is only then that I can begin to realize what it means to be the one He loves, and adore God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. It is only then that life begins.

A focus on such love, pursuing such love is essential for those of us who preach, who prophesy, who teach.  Whether it is to a parish of thousands, or to two or three in a elementary sunday school class.  I believe there is a distinct impact on preaching and teaching that comes from knowing we are loved.  Not just knowing it as a fact, but living in the midst of that love, knowing that love so well that we easily trust Him, even with the darkest parts of our lives.

It is as we are rescued from that darkness we can speak of it in a way that edifies the church, that lifts them up, that convinces them of the love of God.  THat allow them to realize that God loves them as well, that they can trust Him to transform them.

That when God humbles us, it is so that, cleansed of all that has damaged us, we can be lifted up, healed, and in awe, knowing He loves us.

Such is our calling, such is our relationship with HIm… and though this prayer still scares me, can we pray it together?

Heavenly Father, we count on our love, we acknowledge the need of the Spirit to come through our lives, cleansing us from our sin, our brokenness, our pursuit of things we know distress you. Lord, help us to pursue the love you told us you have, and counting on that love, search our hearts our souls and minds, Find the things that displease You and take them away, so that you may guide us on this way of everlasting life.

AMEN!

 

 

 

 

Escriva, Josemaria. The Way (Kindle Locations 1785-1786). Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition.

The Difference Between a Preacher and a Pastor

DSCF1421Devotional Thought of the day:
5 For you can have 10,000 instructors in Christ, but you can’t have many fathers. For I became your father r in Christ Jesus through the gospel. 16 Therefore I urge you to imitate me. 17 This is why I have sent Timothy to you. He is my dearly loved and faithful t son in the Lord. He will remind you about my ways in Christ Jesus, just as I teach everywhere in every church.   1 Cor. 4:15-17 HCSB

How beautiful is this gaze of Jesus, how much tenderness is in there!
Brothers and sisters let us never lose trust in the patience and mercy of God!

But what is it to pray that his name may become holy? Is it not already holy? Answer: Yes, in itself it is holy, but not our use of it. God’s name was given to us when we became Christians at Baptism, and so we are called children of God and enjoy the sacraments, through which he so incorporates us with himself that all that is God’s must serve for our use.

As I was working through my readings this morning, the first, the reading from Paul’s letter to a church he loved (and struggled to love) kept coming back to mind.   And then as I read Pope Francis, and Pastor Martin Luther’s words, I saw great examples of what Paul was teaching.

Anyone can deliver a lesson, a sermon that is exegetical and explains the Bible passage more completely than someone can see at first glance. To be honest, you don’t even need a good preacher to do so, for we have 2,000 years of commentators like John Chrysostom, Augustine, Luther, Lenski, Matthew Henry and William Barclay who will do that for you.

Someone whose primary goal is preaching can do the studies, or borrow them from someone else, and lecture you, mailing you on what you did wrong, showing you how you must behave, and reminding you of who God is, helping you explore the incredible knowledge we have in scripture.  They are instructors, and we need that kind of information.

But a sermon, a real sermon, is something a pastor crafts and delivers.  It is a pastor, someone who acts as a spiritual father.  Someone who has learned from their errors, and cares enough to help you when you are in error, guiding you back to the way that is “in Christ”.

The pastor brings you to see God in all His glory, the glory that comes from our love and our mercy.   He wants you to experience the healing that happens when seeing Christ, you respond to His love being poured out upon you. When you realize as Luther said, that God through His word and sacraments, just doesn’t teach you, but see you incorporated into Christ that our thoughts turn to Him, depending on Him to care for us. 

A pastor shepherds you to the place where you realize what a treasure it is to know God as your Father, when you realize the difference that makes in your daily life, no matter how challenged, no matter how boring, no matter how broken.

you see this in the words of Pope Francis, and Fr. Martin Luther.  You see them not just wanting to impart knowledge of God, but helping people experience the love. 

Imagine a boy learning to teach.  The instructor tells him all about the bait, all about the rods and reels, all about the way to study the river or the lake.  The pastor father takes the young man fishing, watching him learn, urging him to be patient, applauding him when he catches something, consoling him when the big one gets away.  This is the father-pastor at work, and that care needs to occur in the midst of the sermon, in the midst of the worship service.  Helping people “catch” God, who is never far away….reading to be caught, ready to be devoured, ready to be incorporated i our lives, as we are incorporated in His.  

This is a pastor’s calling… to help people experience the love of Christ, even though it is too great ot understand fully (see Ephesians 3:19) while being made complete with all the fullness of life and power that comes from God.  AMEN!

Pope Francis. (2013). A Year with Pope Francis: Daily Reflections from His Writings. (A. Rossa, Ed.) (p. 216). New York; Mahwah, NJ; Toronto, ON: Paulist Press; Novalis.

Tappert, T. G. (Ed.). (1959). The Book of Concord the confessions of the Evangelical Lutheran Church. (p. 425). Philadelphia: Mühlenberg Press

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