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Is it worth it? A reflection on 20 plus years of ministry….

Jesus foot washingDevotional Thought of the Day:

10 After Job had prayed for his friends, the LORD restored his prosperity and doubled his previous possessions.11 All his brothers, sisters, and former acquaintances came to his house and dined with him in his house. They sympathized with him and comforted him concerning all the adversity the LORD had brought on him. Each one gave him a qesitah and a gold earring. 
12 So the LORD blessed the last part of Job’s life more than the first.  Job 42:10-12  HCSB

670    Jesus says: “Everyone who has left house or brothers or sisters or father or mother or wife or children or lands, for my name’s sake, shall receive a hundredfold and shall possess life everlasting.” Try to find anyone on earth who repays with such generosity!

Twenty years ago this August I made the decision to leave my position at Pepperdine University, and become a full-time pastor at the small desert church I was pastoring on weekends. Ten years ago, we made the decision to leave our very comfortable life in the mountains where I pastored, to come back to the hustle and bustle of Los Angeles.

In both situations, the decisions had a significant financial impact, and more, for pastoring means you are there as people die, as others struggle with their sins (a number of times I have had members or former members who were arrested ) as people struggle with their brokenness.  Though most pastors don’t know it, part of the burn out is from something psychologists call “Second-Hand Shock Syndrome”  a subset of PTSD that occurs for those like pastors, nurses, fireman and counselors who encounter regularly the brokenness. of the world.

As I have thought about the last 20 years (and some before that as a jail chaplain) and looked at others who struggle in ministry, the words from Job and St. Josemaria echo in my ear.  I wonder, seriously wonder at times, when the payoff described will happen.

I am not asking you to feel sorry for those in ministry, especially me.  There are incredible blessings out there, every time I see someone baptized, or someone cry with joy as they realize that “God loves you” and “the Lord is with you” aren’t just trite sayings.  They are the truth and a life-changing truth. We get to see these incredible miracles, and they are a blessing that goes beyond description.

Yet there are days as well when most of us wonder when the work will ever get easier if the stresses will ever end.

So is having newer homes, and more kids, and more riches the reward that is waiting?

If that is all that is waiting for me, the answer is simple.

No, absolutely not.

While God is generous and loving and merciful, I think the blessings, whether now or in heaven that counts is what happens before chapter 42.  It is in the discussion God and Job have, in the fact that here is a man who converses with God, whom God challenges, yet doesn’t throw away. Whom God will declare is righteous, and though suffering becomes a blessing to his friendly tormentors.

It is this relationship, where God knows me better than I know myself, where He doesn’t abandon me (though sometimes I wonder why He hasn’t!) that is the ultimate level of generosity, that is the ultimate payoff. Intimacy with God who loves us is what this is all about, and that is more precious than any earthly reward.

And it isn’t just for pastors and priests.

He calls us all to be His sons and daughters. He desires to clean us from all that mars us, to heal our brokenness, to never leave us alone, to guide us through every portion of life, even when we don’t notice.

And to bring us into eternity, where we will see Him face to face.

25 But I know my living Redeemer, and He will stand on the dust at last. 26 Even after my skin has been destroyed, yet I will see God in my flesh. 27 I will see Him myself;  my eyes will look at Him, and not as a stranger. My heart longs within me. Job 19:25-27 HCSB

There it is, the “payoff” that makes this all worth it.  To look at a God and know Him, not as a stranger.  This is what makes it worth it for the lady that teaches 3-year-olds in Sunday School, or the Elder who takes communion ot the shut-in (and rushes to get there, so the lady can then go play Bingo at the senior center!) or the worship leader, tired from a hard week, who still smiles and ignores her own pain and anxiety and leads the people of God in praising Him, or the returned prodigal, who rejoices that wherever he goes people want to talk about God.

Or the pastor, who is simply tired… yet keeps on going, sustained by the God who is not stranger….but loves us all.  And who is reminded of that presence by those who lovingly tell him, “and also with you!”

For the Lord is with you as well… and I pray that you will see Him revealed, in all His glory, as you are embraced by Him.

 

Escriva, Josemaria. The Way (Kindle Locations 1559-1561). Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition.

Why the Little Things in Ministry Matter More…

20170124_103703Devotional Thought for Our Day:

42 And whoever gives j just a cup of cold water to one of these little ones because he is a disciple —I assure you: He will never lose his reward!”  Matt 10:42 HCSB

Mission springs from the certainty of faith that coexists with the thousand questions of a pilgrim.
Faith is not a matter of ideology, existential security, but of an irreplaceable encounter with a living person, Jesus of Nazareth.

Most of us will never baptize 30 people in a day, never mind 3000.  Most of us will never write a book that will revive and change the church at large.  We aren’t Calvin or Luther or Pope Ratzinger.  We aren’t the great minds of the church, nor the servants whose love and sacrifice is honored by millions

Yet our ministry is just as powerful, if not more so, even when it is as simple as praying with someone who is struggling or offering a cup of water to someone who is tired and weary.

Pope Francis explains it well if a bit technically. Mission, the work God sends us to do, doesn’t come about because of our doctrinal knowledge. It doesn’t come about because we have all the questions answered, and know it all.  We will still have thousands of questions, many of them which will go unanswered in this life.  For doctrinal statements are not really statements of faith.

Nor does faith come about just because we have security in this life and for the next. It is not because we are assured of heaven that we spring up to serve others, to care for them, to reveal to them the God who loves them.  We can’t even anticipate what heaven is, it is unfathomable.

But faith, the kind of faith that leads to being “mission-minded” comes from encountering Jesus.  An encounter that is irreplaceable, an encounter that leaves us in awe, and in peace that is inexpressible.  For in our encounter, Jesus takes away our burdens, our sins, our resentment,  It’s all gone.  Even the anxieties of today and eternity, and the academic explanations of religion, they slide into the background,  for there is only Him.

Only Him….

only HIM!

And it is wonderful, it is beyond explanation.

And from there, we find something else happening.  We see our hearts aware of those in need around us, the very people God has sent us to minister too, even when that ministry is a simple cup of water…given because the Lord is with you!

I pray that we all experience Jesus’ presence, revealed by His word, know in His sacraments, and therebt dwel and minister to others in His peace.  AMEN!

 

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. Print.

UnderCover Boss: What if God became One of Us?

UnderCover Boss:

What if God became One of Us

Hebrews 2:14-18

† IHS †

May the grace, mercy and peace God our Father and our Lord Jesus Christ has planned to be part of our lives become more and more the reality we live in, as we realize God became one of us…

What if God became one of us?

 

Whatever the reason they agree to give up their comfortable lives, their homes and their families, the end result is staggering.  CEO’s of everything from restaurants like Hooters to portable toilet suppliers; from hotel chains to retail stores and airport shuttles. They go on the show, and are changed by doing the basic things their people do every day.

At the end of the show, if you have never seen it, the boss calls them into the corporate office, for a little chat.  He’s given money to help them change their lives, scholarships, promotions, new roles. But the big change is in their lives, as they stay in simple hotels, and live like the rest of us.  The changes they can cause in their peoples lives are nothing compared to the changes they find in their own lives, in their own work.

In the television show “Undercover Boss” there are great lessons for us all to learn, as we realize we aren’t dealing with just numbers, but with real people that are around us.  People with real challenges, People that become important, as we realize our lives are impacted by so many different people, people whom we don’t really know.

I owe credit for today’s sermon title to Kay, who looked at my sub-title – and thought of the show. But can you imagine if the Boss came undercover, and lived life as part of your world, your work?

How would that change your life at the end of the day, when you are called into His office?

What would happen today, if God became one…of us?

Do we realize God knows what our life is like?

Some of you, the theologians and scholars in our midst, are probably thinking that God has.  Remember the baby in the manger, the miracles, the transfiguration and cross and grace and Resurrection?

Yes, I do… but I meant today.

What would happen if the person next to you tomorrow at Starbucks was Jesus?  Or the person you encounter about 10:00 at work or the nurse taking your blood pressure at the doctor’s office?

What would that be like? If that person was “the Boss”?

The real question behind this is one we need to seriously ask ourselves. Does God know what our lives are like, and more importantly, does He care?  Or are we just another piece in His puzzle, another number on a spreadsheet, some of us in the assets column, some in the liabilities?

Does God know each one of us, and does He care?

How we answer that question will determine a lot of things in our lives. Especially how we relate to each other, and well of course to Him.

God’s answer is seen in the reading from Hebrews 2 this morning

Reason #1 to Come – You can’t help if you aren’t here

We often hear, and talk about, the role Jesus has and had, in delivering us from the power of sin, about the grief and shame we know, because we fail to do the things we are supposed to do, and we can’t stop those things we do the negative and things we think and have anxiety about.  It is true, that Jesus came to take care of those things, to deliver us from guilt and shame and the anxiety that sin causes.

But the author of Hebrews looks at another aspect of Christ’s coming here, to deal with our fears and anxieties, including that of death.  Hear the words again, 14 Because God’s children are human beings—made of flesh and blood—the Son also became flesh and blood. For only as a human being could he die, and only by dying could he break the power of the devil, who had the power of death. 15 Only in this way could he set free all who have lived their lives as slaves to the fear of dying.

it is amazing in the show to see what the bosses learn, not about their job, but about their people. The things that handicap them, the things that could be done to make their lives easier.  When at the end of the show the Bosses help the people, the emotional level is so high, they realized the Boss is human too.

The apostle John said that Jesus, the logos of God, came and dwelt among us, and that they beheld His glory, A glory that shatters the darkness, a glory that is demonstrated in a love that took on death for us. A glorious love that shattered it power over us, and freed us from the fear and anxieties we have about it.

That’s what the cross does, it puts everything in perspective. It tells us Jesus Christ, truly God, truly man, has been here. He has come.

If that was all it would mean, for Him to come, there is much to rejoice in, but that isn’t all.

Reason #2 to Come – to run to our aid..

I want you to look at the last verse of that reading, where it says:

18 Since he himself has gone through suffering and testing, he is able to help us when we are being tested.

The word translated help, is a bit more powerful than that, though I don’t know any word that adequately would cover it.  It combines the concept of a scream or a yell – and an immediate run to give aid. That’s the word picture, Jesus, not looking perfectly groomed, but rushing headlong to our aid. 

Since He knows our lives, since He lives with us, since He is… here.

Unlike most of the undercover bosses, Jesus knows us completely..  He knows the ups and downs, and how to survive, for He lived and still lives in us. He didn’t come here to make a television show, or to make His company more profitable, or perfect.  He came into our lives to stay, to bring mercy, comfort and love and peace.

He is here, and He has promised that we will never ever be forsaken, that He will be with us to the end of the age.

Undercover Boss?  Not really, not at all.  He desires we reveal His presence to every person, so they can know for sure, that He has become one of us, even more, through His death on the cross,

God didn’t just come to be one of us, but God came to be one with us.

God has come, and dwells among us.

That’s what this is all about…this service, this church, our preschool.

Helping you realize His presence, in every moment of our lives…..

and knowing this, the peace of God which passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.  AMEN!.

To Boldly Go

Eph 3:1-12

In Jesus Name

May we find our trust in God the Father and in the work of Jesus Christ growing to the point where we understand and rejoice in His mercy and Grace…for it means we can boldly abide in His presence!

 

To Boldly Go….
The last verse of the epistle reading,

12 Because of Christ and our faith in him, we can now come boldly and confidently into God’s presence

 

Proving you pastor is a complete nerd, or geek, or whatever the term is these days, I heard an ancient voice echo through my head when I started my study of the passage…

“Space: the final frontier. These are the voyages of the starship Enterprise. Its five-year mission: to explore strange new worlds, to seek out new life and new civilizations, to boldly go where no man has gone before.”

I have a slightly different version of that famous quote – which I will share with you at the end of the sermon.

We probably do not see life as such a great adventure, as we did in the various editions of Star Trek.  Oh sure – we have a list of characters like Spock and Data, courageous leaders like the impetuous Kirk and the thoughtful Picard, people like Bones and Scotty and Number One.
Yet our journey together, is something more incredible – something that discovers treasures and new life.  It is a journey, a mission we share, a journey that brings challenges and joys; a journey of our lifetime, and a journey that continually reveals something that is beyond belief…

 

SO let us look at this journey, and let us be encouraged on the mission we are on…

His Eternal Plan.. Revealed

The power – capability to know

When we talk of God’s plan being revealed – we often think of the last book of the Bible – the Revelation of Jesus Christ.  Yet, in the epistle today – Paul talks of God’s plan being revealed.  Not just to him, or to a select number of very special people – though it was revealed through the apostles and the prophets, it was revealed that it could be further revealed….to us, and like Paul – through us… to the world.

I love how verse four states it,


 As you read what I have written, you will understand my insight into this plan regarding Christ.

 

In the original Star Trek – they did not know where they were going- they, like Columbus or Magellan, were simply heading off into the dark. They did not even know what they would discover, or what those discoveries would mean for them.

Sometimes, we do not know what we will discover on our journey, the people we will meet, the new life we see created as sinners come to understand God’s plan, and are cleansed and are brought to faith and life.  We do not yet see the joys that will be shared, or the grief we will endure, together.  Yet though we do not know the specifics, we know something even better, for by the power of the Holy Spirit, we understand the plan of Christ that Paul shows us.

It is what Paul was referring to – that God had given the responsibility of extending God’s grace – His gift of life, and faith and repentance and forgiveness that leads to that life, to us.
Extending Grace


Paul actually does not identify the destination, and indeed the journey until the end of the passage – but what he does describes in verses 6-9, as he explains the plan, does give us incredible insight into the journey and the destination.

Despite many prophecies to the contrary, there developed among the people of God in the Old Testament the idea that only certain people were welcome into God’s presence, that if you did not have the right connections, you were not eligible to be part of the family of God.  This was such a case, that in nearly every epistle, and definitely in the book of Acts of the Apostles, that this misconception has to be addressed.

Get it straight, there is no group that is excluded from the grace of God, shown to us in Christ.  It is not just for the people of one continent, or one nation.  It is not just for one economic bracket, for one age group, or for one gender. There aren’t levels – that pastors or elders get more grace, and then comes the choir – not at all!

We share equally in the riches – all who trust in the message of the Gospel – the message we sing in the memorial acclimation, that even as Christ has died, risen and will come again, so shall we.  The phrase in Greek is that we have equal lots in the inheritance – all who trust in God’s message to us – that He loves us, that He is merciful.

If you have ever noticed that scripture repeats itself often, there is a reason for it – we need to hear it over and over again.  We can hear the words that we are forgiven, that His body and blood were broken and shed for your sins, and we still need to hear them, our souls need to be reminded.

That is why Paul repeats the message here – yes – we share – equally – in the inheritance.  He repeats it by saying we are part of the same body, Gentiles and Jews – two categories that compromise not just the diversity of a neighborhood or a community, but also that of the entire world.  It is like saying Concordians, and the rest of the world, it contains everyone for whom Christ has died!

He goes on to include all those who would believe, all who would trust as those who enjoy – not will enjoy – but enjoy – the promises of the blessings – why?  Because we belong to Christ!  We have been made His in Baptism, we have been made His as the Holy Spirit gifted us with faith and repentance, and God re-created us.

Paul finalizes the description with one more reference that he was chosen to tell the gentiles – that is us folks – about the endless treasure available to us in Christ Jesus.

 

Carried out in Christ!
We trust in Him, and that trust delivers us – that we may boldly and confidently enter His presence!

In verse 11, we find Paul describing how the plan came to completion – how it was made possible and guaranteed to those who trust in God.

 This was his eternal plan, which he carried out through Christ Jesus our Lord.

 

John described it as well – as the fulfillment of the prophecy we heard in the reading from Isaiah,

 

32 And when I am lifted up from the earth, I will draw everyone to myself.” John 12:32 (NLT)

 

There is out mission – to be in the presence of God – brought there, drawn there, guided there, to the cross – and then eternally present with Him, never alone again.

Or as Paul says it,  “12 Because of Christ and our faith in him, we can now come boldly and confidently into God’s presence.

We often talk of the mission of the church, as to go out into all the world, as Paul did – to share the gospel.  That mission of the church happens because we are in the presence of God – that He is with us, that with us, He is bringing His presence to others, revealing to them His plan, through our words, even as we share the gospel that Paul did…..

I promised, at the beginning of the sermon, that I would, in the style of star trek, revise the phrase to fit us, – well here it is..

“Life: the final frontier. These are the journeys of the congregation Concordia. Its ongoing mission: to extend the grace of God, to see created new life, and deepened communion, to boldly go together into the presence of God”

We can do so, only because of Jesus Christ, only because He has claimed us, because we belong to Christ.  This has been the plan for us, for all mankind, since the beginning.  For so Paul has written to us, and so the Holy Spirit has given us the ability to know…

We are blessed to live in a time – where it has been revealed… where we know the peace of God, which passes all understanding, which guards our hearts and minds, in Christ Jesus.  So rejoice – and enjoy the journey!

AMEN?

The Church: Broken People healing while helping others heal

Devotional thought of the day:

It was one of those conversations I will never forget.  A dad – obviously by the tatoos and mannerisms and piercings he one who had been challenged with a past.  He was sitting on the planter, outside of my church, the night of a preschool graduation.  As I walked by in my clerical collar, I greeted him, and asked him if he was shocked about how fast time flies and our kids grow up.  His response shocked me,

“Pastor, I know with my tats and my piercings, I am not allowed in the church, but can I watch the graduation from the lobby”

I am still shocked someone would think that about any church, and even more schocked that they would think that about my church.  Of course you are welcome in the house of God.  Of course you can come – that’s why your child came in the first place.  You see, my people aren’t anything like that, they wouldn’t care about the tats, or the piercings, they would be glad the man was there.  More importantly God wants him to be welcome, to know the Lord’s presence is with him.  I invited him in and told him to sit up front – where he would get a good view of it all.  (People tend to stand up a lot to take pictures at such graduations, not thinking that they are blocking someone else’s view.  )  But his response… really, is amazing, and it makes me wonder about our churches….the Church.  How could they not know?

Luke’s story of Jesus love tells of an incident.  One time, in dealing with some people that were a bit too self-righteous, he records   “Jesus heard about it and spoke up, “Who needs a doctor: the healthy or the sick? 32 I’m here inviting outsiders, not insiders—an invitation to a changed life, changed inside and out.”   Luke 5:31-32 (MSG)

Church isn’t a place for perfect people – they don’t need to be there – they are perfect.  It’s a place for broken people, people broken by the sins of this world, and yes, by their own sins as well.   Its a place to heal, to have relationships fixed, to be assured of God’s love and His desire to work in our lives, as He speaks life into our tired, weary, and spiritually dead souls.  As He makes His desire, His plan perfectly clear.

We belong in His presence, not because we are perfect, but because He desires us to be there, and makes it possible.

I am still not sure if the man believed me or not.  I got the feeling that he had been turned away from other churches, in other times.  I look at the planter daily, and often remembered our conversation.  It is one of the reasons that Concordia’s mission statement, our motto, is simple…

“Where people find healing in Christ, while helping others heal…”

Lord Jesus, in our brokenness, come into our lives, bring healing, peace, rest, comfort, and open our eyes to those around us who need what You freely have given, for that is the Father’s desire, and why you came.  Lord have mercy, and teach us to share that with all those around us.  Lord as well, help us to never hide that brokenness, that weakness – from you or from those who need to see You working, bringing healing to us.  Seeing that – may they realize it is theirs as well.  

AMEN

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