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A Call to Intimately Know What We Preach…and Hear

So look at Apollos and me as mere servants of Christ who have been put in charge of explaining God’s mysteries. 1 Corinthians 4:1 (NLT2)

Many of us who preach the unsearchable riches of Christ are often pretty dull and hard to listen to.
The freshest thought to visit the human mind should be the thought of God. The story of salvation should put a radiancy in the face and a vibrancy in the voice of him that tells it. Yet it is not uncommon to hear the wondrous message given in a manner that makes it difficult for the hearer to concentrate on what is being said. What is wrong?…

We learn to trust God beyond our psychological experiences. And we become more courageous in facing and letting go of the dark corners of ourselves and begin to participate actively in the dismantling of our prerational emotional programs. We cannot escape from the worldliness that is inside us, but we can acknowledge and confront it. The invitation to allow God to change our motivation from selfishness to divine love is the call to transforming union.

As I’ve suggested, pastors do everything by God’s word. They listen with ears tuned to the word of God, they speak words taught by the Holy Spirit in his word, they pray by means of the word, and they bless by means of the word. By constant exposure to these words of Christ, you begin to see things from his perspective. You develop the eyes and ears of Jesus. You watch and listen with his outlook. And that includes the lost. When Jesus beheld the milling crowd by the shore of Galilee, “He had compassion for them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd” (Matt 9:36). It was a pitiful sight. Sheep without a shepherd are in dire straits. His heart went out to that vulnerable throng.

Tozer’s bluntness is a something I am learning to appreciate. The reading I encountered this morning is the basis for the call to know intimately what we preach – and what we hear. If the message we are going to hear and share is going to be worth all the time invested in prayer, study, and some deep thought about the subject, it needs to be a message worth treasuring.

We must realize that what was true for Apollos and Paul is true for us. We explain the greatest of mysteries, the fact that God loves us, and desires for us to join Him, and share in the glory of Jesus.

That means investing time in deep thought about God -based on what the scriptures teach us. Not just taking it out on Monday or Tuesday to study for this week’s sermon, but reading it for the same reason we desire to share in communion with the people and with God. These are the times where we are so overwhelmed by God that we beg Him to transform us.  For his transforming us comes, not from academic study and planning, but from time spent with Him.

That transformation cannot remain individualistic in scope – that is the point that Senkbeil is making. The more God transforms us, the more we reflect Christ, the more we cannot stand seeing people wander around in bondage of sin, This desire to see them come to find the peace we know infuses our sermons, our Bible studies and our prayers. This infusion transforms the preaching and sharing of Christ with those around us.

Passion returns to the pulpit and to those seated in the church, when God’s word reveals God’s desire for us to be His people, and the works He does which draw us to Him.

Lord, infuse Your pastors with Your outlook, even as Your Spirit works in the hearts of those they serve in the church. Help us all, I pray, to treasure all you have called into existence, that we may know that You love the world, and us in it. AMEN!

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), 126.

Harold L. Senkbeil, The Care of Souls: Cultivating a Pastor’s Heart (Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press, 2019), 223.

The Rule of Preaching…

The Ark of the LORD remained in Philistine territory seven months in all. 2 Then the Philistines called in their priests and diviners and asked them, “What should we do about the Ark of the LORD? Tell us how to return it to its own country.”
3 “Send the Ark of the God of Israel back with a gift,” they were told. “Send a guilt offering so the plague will stop. Then, if you are healed, you will know it was his hand that caused the plague.”
1 Sam. 6:1-3 NLT

The great deficiency to which I refer is the lack of spiritual discernment, especially among our leaders. How there can be so much Bible knowledge and so little insight, so little moral penetration, is one of the enigmas of the religious world today.…
If not the greatest need, then surely one of the greatest is for the appearance of Christian leaders with prophetic vision. We desperately need seers who can see through the mist. Unless they come soon, it will be too late for this generation. And if they do come, we will no doubt crucify a few of them in the name of our worldly orthodoxy. But the cross is always the harbinger of the resurrection.

The great folly of the pope’s church is that it’s based only on the external rule of reason, without the Word of God, and our salvation is supposed to be bound up with outward child’s play. If this had only had to do with moral and legal matters!”

This post may seem a bit harsh, but I believe it is needed these days.

The folly that Luther once charged “the pope’s church” with is no longer only their problem. It never was only theirs, nor does it affect all of those who preach in Roman Catholic Churches. It is the same issue that Tozer recognized in the 1970s-1980s, and unquestionably my generation has come to know the vanity he foresaw in his time.

The church has become like the Philistines, who could not figure out how to deal with dwelling in their presence. They recognized that something Divine was in their midst, and they saw the effects of the discipline God was pouring out on them. (Note I said discipline, not condemnation.) We’ve lost the ability to discern the presence of God and are even more unable to discern what that presence means. As Tozer said, we have some much Biblical (Theological?) knowledge, but so little of it penetrates past our mine to impact our hearts, our souls.

That is where the folly, even the silliness of preaching is seen.

We study more of the form of the message – than the message itself. We want to know what commentators perceive, rather than spend time quietly meditating on the text itself.  We don’t want to invest the time, perhaps because we don’t value how God is working and can work in us. This is seen on Saturdays, as websites hosting sermons receive many hits (my blog is no exception – 6% of all my hits are on Saturday night before midnight!) We are not preaching out of the depths of our heartache and healing.

We simply take others’ works and present them, expecting that their results will become ours.

What is not then communicated is that incredible fact that in the blood, sweat, and tears needed to prepare a message for the people of God, the message is prepared. As we encounter Him working in our lives, as shown on every page of scripture. That is why meditating on scripture is so praised in scripture. That is why allowing God to apply His truth in you – before you hear what others say
is crucial. We need to have more of an answer than the Philistinean priests… we need to be able to help people see God, and respond to Him. 

As pastors, priests, and preachers, we need to talk with our Lord more.. listen more. Then, the grace which reveals to us His presence and peace…we can show to our people.

The Lord is with you!

Lord, help us not be satisfied with passing on what others think about You and Your word. Instead, help us to experience the love beyond dimensions and the peace beyond understanding, as You restore us… and then help us to guide others into that same place.  AMEN!

Tozer, A. W. 2015. Tozer for the Christian Leader. Chicago: Moody Publishers.

Luther, Martin. 1999. Luther’s Works, Vol. 54: Table Talk. Edited by Jaroslav Jan Pelikan, Hilton C. Oswald, and Helmut T. Lehmann. Vol. 54. Philadelphia: Fortress Press.

The Ministry of Theology

The Good Shepherd, carrying His own.

Thoughts that I pray cause you to adore Jesus, your Savior…

Thereafter, Hagar used another name to refer to the LORD, who had spoken to her. She said, “You are the God who sees me.”* She also said, “Have I truly seen the One who sees me?” 14 So that well was named Beer-lahai-roi (which means “well of the Living One who sees me”). It can still be found between Kadesh and Bered. Genesis 16:13-14 NLT

Rector Bernard von Dölen,142 minister in Herzberg, complained bitterly about his arrogant auditors who despised the reading of the catechism. Dr. Martin [Luther] was greatly disturbed and fell silent. Then he said, “Cursed be every preacher who aims at lofty topics in the church, looking for his own glory and selfishly desiring to please one individual or another. When I preach here143 I adapt myself to the circumstances of the common people. I don’t look at the doctors and masters, of whom scarcely forty are present, but at the hundred or the thousand young people and children. It’s to them that I preach, to them that I devote myself, for they, too, need to understand. If the others don’t want to listen they can leave. Therefore, my dear Bernard, take pains to be simple and direct; don’t consider those who claim to be learned but be a preacher to unschooled youth and sucklings. (1)

Nonetheless, for Luther theology was not a detached academic pursuit circumscribed by the walls, procedures, customs, and language of the university, but a matter of life and death. He took God seriously. Nothing is more important in man’s life than his relationship to God. The chief function of theology (and of the theologian), then, is not to speculate about God or even to systematize man’s knowledge of God. Rather its function is to lead men to and strengthen them in faith. For Luther faith meant specifically trust in God through Jesus Christ. Inevitably Luther’s classroom extended far beyond the university and the circle of educated students to whom he lectured there. (2)

The pastoral care that is provided to Hagar never ceases to amaze me. She is not the one through whom the promise is given; that is Sarai, her mistress, the one who has the power of life or death over her. And yet, God takes the time to
visit with her. He cares for her, ministers to her, and cares for her son (who will be a challenge.) Finally, God restores her to her former place.

It works with the two readings I had this morning, which talk about the ministry of theology. Usually, seminaries and universities studies in scripture and ministry describe that the other way, with courses on the Theology of Ministry. Rarely do you hear people talk about the ministry of theology. People will talk about types of theology, Systematic, Exegetical, HIstorical, and Pragmatic, but rarely will there be a focus on how theology is supposed to be used to
minister to the church.

Those readings talk about it in Luther’s usual blunt style. Theology is not primarily an academic topic to be studied and dissected, according to Luther. Theology has a particular role, to be used to help man deepen their dependence
on God, to encourage spending time meditating on the move and mercy of God, to experience His love and presence, in a way that the Apostle Paul said was beyond words. (see Ephesians 3:17-19) This is the chief function of theology,
which seems all but lost these days.

Consider the advice to Bernard, who talked with the arrogant visitors he had, nitpicking on everything. Luther’s direction is to ignore them and preach the gospel to the hundred or thousand people who need to know the gospel and understand why hope is found in Christ. (this is Peter’s idea of apologetics, when he writes, “Instead, you must worship Christ as Lord of your life. And if someone asks about your Christian hope, always be ready to explain it. 16  But do this in a gentle and respectful way. Keep your conscience clear. Then if people speak against you, they will be ashamed when they see what a good life you live because you belong to Christ. 1 Peter 3:15-16 (NLT2)

This is what we are here to do, to use the knowledge and understanding that studying the word of God gives, as the Holy Spirit draws them to Jesus and brings light into their lives. This is not only the role of theology but also liturgical worship, pastoral care, and counseling. This is the focus that all those who lead in the church are called to do, to work with all we are, and to present everyone perfect in Christ. ( Colossians 1:28-29) For us Lutherans,  this is what the 6th article of the Augsburg Confession is about, as our good works are the fruit of our faith.

May Theology be restored to this glorious ministry, of causing others to grow deeper in their dependence/faith/trust in God. And may the church ever see it as a tool dedicated to that purpose.

(1) 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), 235–236.

(2) 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), x.

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.

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