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Do we care enough to ask?

woman wearing black shirt

Photo by MIXU on Pexels.com

Devotional thought fo the Day:
19  My friends, if any of you wander away from the truth and another one brings you back again, 20  remember this: whoever turns a sinner back from the wrong way will save that sinner’s soul from death and bring about the forgiveness of many sins.    James 5:19-20 (TEV)

Anyway, I would gladly know how things are with your soul. Have you finally become sick and tired of your own righteousness and taken a deep breath of the righteousness of Christ and learned to trust in it.

What a question for Martin Luther to ask his friend George!

Can you imagine me, or any pastor, or any friend asking that question of you?  What would be your response?  How would you respond?

Maybe I should ask you!

Or perhaps it is isn’t as questionable as “maybe”.  We need to ask this question of each other.  We need to care enough about people to ask them this, to genuinely care for their souls, for their spiritual needs.

And while I am not exclusively talking about pastors, elders and other church leaders, it starts with us.  We are the ones tasked with shepherding souls, with reconciling the broken.  This job belongs to the entire church, the caring for souls, whether they are members of our church, or atheists, whether they are our family and friends or our nemesis.

The words of James’ epistle strike this home. if someone wanders away, we bring them back, we cover a multitude of sins, and we save them from death. 

As hard as it sounds, we have an obligation to our brothers and sisters, to lovingly help them bring their sins to Christ, to let Him remove and annul them.  Not just to look the other way, not to just say, “well, really, except for this or that, Joe was a good guy, good enough to get to heaven.”  That is easy, but really, it isn’t loving, it doesn’t call him back to God, it lets him wander through this life. It leaves him bound to self-righteousness, or to the guilt and shame he dwells in. 

The church, you and I, have the ability to be there, to assist the prodigal on the way home, to help them know what we should know so well, the words of God declaring we are forgiven.  We need to help them do as Martin Luther encouraged his fried George to do, to take a  “deep breath of the righteousness of Christ and learned to trust in it.”

Lord, help us not to hide our sin, help us encourage others to be drawn closer to You, to receive your promise of absolution, and to live lives free and forgiven.  Help us to be one people, united together in Your presence, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  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. Krey, Trans.) (p. 3). New York; Mahwah, NJ: Paulist Press.

We Can’t Avoid it (or each other) Any Longer…

MV5BMTE0NTI1MDAyNDZeQTJeQWpwZ15BbWU4MDg5ODg5OTgx._V1_SY1000_CR0,0,1386,1000_AL_Devotional Thought of the Day:

10 But Moses said, “No, LORD, don’t send me. I have never been a good speaker, and I haven’t become one since you began to speak to me. I am a poor speaker, slow and hesitant.”
11 The LORD said to him, “Who gives man his mouth? Who makes him deaf or dumb? Who gives him sight or makes him blind? It is I, the LORD. 12 Now, go! I will help you to speak, and I will tell you what to say.”
13 But Moses answered, “No, Lord, please send someone else.”  Ex 4:10–13  TEV

22 “You don’t know what you are asking for,” Jesus answered the sons. “Can you drink the cup of suffering that I am about to drink?” “We can,” they answered. 23 “You will indeed drink from my cup,” Jesus told them, “but I do not have the right to choose who will sit at my right and my left. These places belong to those for whom my Father has prepared them.”  Mt 20:22–23  TEV

We cannot proclaim Christ’s promises to ourselves; we cannot store them away safely on a computer disk or in a safety deposit box for later reference. We need the word to come from outside of us so that it may reign over us. Someone must wash us, someone must feed us, someone must speak an inescapable and unconditional word of absolution, and in doing so these someones become Christ for us. The worldly spirituality of Luther with its emphasis on vocation and service to the neighbor is also a thoroughly churchly spirituality. We are called to venture forth on our individual paths of discipleship as members of a redeemed people, the very body of Christ.

There is no way for the Christian to avoid the brokenness in life.

We may try to hide it.  We may try to justify it in our hearts and minds, yet our soul will still feel the brokenness.

We may try to run from it, and to be honest, this week, there have been times I wish I could have.

We encounter brokenness in each day, in each relationship, and even if we could isolate ourselves from the world, lock ourselves up in some monastery, we would still be crushed by our own brokenness.

So too often we from this aspect of brokenness to that one.  From this shattered place to that, never having found the rest we need, never dreaming that there could be a way to see all of life healed, never seeing life restored.

Moses ran from where he encountered the greatest point of brokennes in his life. Everything he was. up to that point, disappeared in a moment of rage. And so he ran, rather than face his brokenness.  God sends him back, not to deal with his own, but to help others deal with theirs. To deliver them from slavery, not the physical kind primarily, but the spiritual kind.

Moses goes back to help people realize that God isn’t distant, but that He is here.  That God loves them, that He wants a relationship with them where He can love and care for them. (That is why Christ came as well!)  And Moses, broken, afraid, more than willing to let someone else bear the burden, Moses would let someone else address the sin and shame.

God wouldn’t let him, but God also didn’t let him wander back alone.  He never does.

We are meant to see people healed and find hope in the community.  For even as Moses ministers to Pharoah and Israel, Aaron will minister to Moses, serving him as his mouthpiece, being his right hand, and Aaron does what Moses cannot do for himself.  They were Christ for each other, as we need to be.

That can get pretty messy, as we, sent by Christ in his stead ( and yet paradoxically with Him) encounter their brokenness.  As we share the grace they need, speaking absolution, binding their wounds, helping them have hope.  Them helping us by serving us as Christ would. This interchange can get extraordinarily painful, as we sacrifice our own comfort, our own illusion of peace in order to encounter the brokenness.  And even then, God provides real peace – that passes our understanding, meeting us in the midst of soul-wrenching pain that brokenness causes.

It takes confidence in God to reveal your own brokenness, to confess is and let yourself It takes confidence to go, and embrace those who are broken, to reach out and give them the proof of God’s healing them, the hope of the day when there will be no more sorrow, no more tears.  When brokenness and the spiritual death it threatens is swallowed up in the greatest of victories.

This is what we hold onto, this hope of the new day coming. The day the church holds onto each other until, as we minister to each other, and remind each other of the love of Christ.

Lord, help us neither hide our brokenness or run from it, or the brokenness of those around us.  But let us begin to minister to each other, to be Your hands, Your feet, Your mouthpieces, even as You minister to us through others. AMEN!

Strohl, J. E. (2007). General Introduction. In P. D. W. Krey, B. McGinn, & P. D. S. Krey (Eds.), P. D. S. Krey & P. D. W. Krey (Trans.), Luther’s Spirituality (p. xxx). New York; Mahwah, NJ: Paulist Press.

The Church Needs to Stop Betraying Sinners… now!

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The Good Shepherd, carrying His own.

Devotional Thought of the Day:

What do you think a man does who has one hundred sheep and one of them gets lost? He will leave the other ninety-nine grazing on the hillside and go and look for the lost sheep. 13 When he finds it, I tell you, he feels far happier over this one sheep than over the ninety-nine that did not get lost. 14 In just the same way yourq Father in heaven does not want any of these little ones to be lost.  Matthew 18:12-14

312         You should not want to make the world into a cloister, because this would be a disorder. But don’t convert the Church into some earthly faction either, because that would be tantamount to treason.

One of the great challenges facing the church today is sin, not its existence, but how we are to deal with it, and the damage it causes.

St Josemaria points out the two different dangers in our response to sin.

The first is when the church tries to isolate itself from the world, for instance, when we create all our own options so our people don’t have to mix with the world.  Our own schools, our own fraternal clubs, our own coffee shops, and even stores and social media.  When we try to create a community that isolates our people from the world, creating a victual cloister.   You see this as well in the attitude that the church is here to minister to its own, and those like them.

The second seems like the opposite, when the church, trying to “reach” people and bring them into the church, allow sin to convert them. We then bring into question what God really meant by sin, and was it only in that context, or since God will forgive all sin, why do we bother with telling people to stop, and just focus on healing the symptoms, trying to teach them to live a symptom free life, without getting at the cause itself, sin.

These two approaches aren’t really that different.  They both shy away from dealing with sin.  They try to avoid the appearance of sin, not by avoiding it or finding ways to absolve it, but rather just bury it, or hide from it, or try to justify it, because if it isn’t sin, we don’t have to confront it.

And in both cases, we betray the sinner, by denying them the grace they need, by blocking them from the healing and the restoration they need.

Dealing with sin and the brokenness it causes is brutal. Whether it is our own sin, the sin we have committed; or the sin people commit against us, or the sin we witness and are entrusted to help bring reconciliation to God to those who commit the sin.

And we have too often, afraid of being contaminated, or being labeled as accessories, as Jesus was mocked and berated for hanging out with sinners, the tax collectors and prostitutes of his day.

It is time for the church to start going out after the sinners, to bring them to the place where they can find healing, and hope, and be restored.  It won’t be easy, we will have ot deal with both anger, and even being sickened by the sin and the damage it has caused.

The church must commit to helping people heal from this brokenness.  We can’t leave people out in the darkness anymore.  We have to do this cautiously as Jude warns, and aware of our own inability to deal with sin, depending on the mercy of Jesus.  That is the key to dealing with sin, to be so aware of Jesus presence, of His intimate role in our lives, in the place He dwells in our heart, soul, and mind.

This is our vocation, the true role of the church in this world, to go after the one, the broken.   Let us pray,

Heavenly Father, strengthen our relationship with You, through Jesus, as the Holy Spirit draws us close to you.  Give us the courage to honestly address sin, our own, and the sin of the world, turning to You to be healed, to be absolved, to be made complete.  We ask this in Jesus name, depending on Your love, revealed to us at the cross.  AMEN!

 

Escriva, Josemaria. Furrow (Kindle Locations 1484-1486). Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition.

Please Come Back Soon, Lord! Huh? You Are Here!!!!

Jesus foot washing7 God sent me ahead of you to rescue you in this amazing way and to make sure that you and your descendants survive. 8 So it was not really you who sent me here, but God.  Genesis 45:7-8 GNT

Trial and temptation are the initial means of spiritual formation. Through them the Christian is stripped time and time again of presumption and the delusions of righteousness. One is thrust into a kind of existential free fall with nothing to break the descent into darkness, nothing to hold onto but Jesus the Christ.

309         Far away on the horizon heaven seems to meet the earth. Do not forget that where heaven and earth really meet is in your heart of a child of God.

Yesterday, I posted on FaceBook the following thought

“Struggling with the idea that Maranatha shouldn’t be just a prayer of despair, but one of expectation.”

Let me be honest, the last week or so, as I’ve have witnessed so much trauma, that I would be very grateful for the Second Coming of Christ.  And in a desperate way, I want to plead for it, for the release from the tribulation and tears that seem to be occurring wherever I turn.

And yet part of me regrets wanting the Second Coming for such a personal excuse, for such a homecoming, for such peace.  I know I should know this peace, and there are times where I know it, especially as I hand to my brothers and sisters the Body of Christ, as my elders and deacon encourage them to take and drink the Precious Blood poured out to activate the New Covenant, a relationship where we are free from sin.

As I look out on this broken world, this shattered community, as I see the sin ravaged relationships, my instinct to run and hide from the pain.

And gently confronting my angst this morning, I came across the readings above, and sit in wonder, as I realize God’s providence.

In the reading from Luther’s Spirituality, I see the blessing of such tribulation, as it strips from me everything but Christ.  Out of need I cry out to Him and find He’s already there.  He’s not on the distant horizon, not somewhere out there in time.  But He is here, He is wonderfully sustaining me! He is wonderfully here!

And then, like Joseph, I realize the pain’s purpose, the salvation of all of those around, the chance we all have because even in this midst of the trauma, I see God at work.  Oddly enough through some of the most broken, those in the deepest pain, those with no other option but Christ.

What an amazing paradox, what a wondrous mystery. What an unbelievable peace that is found now, in the presence of the Lord who will wipe away every tear one day, yet now cries with us, even as the Holy Spirit comforts us,

And as I think this through, I realize the peace, the incredible peace of being claimed and cleansed in baptism, of the feast where God celebrates our being united to Him. And though the trauma remains… so can we.

If you too are dealing with, or surrounded by those who are dealing with trauma, pain, whether from nature or because of sin, consider this prayer for you as well.

Lord, there are so many in need of Your peace, as they feel pressures crushing them, or feel for those who are being crushed, Lord reveal yourself to them, may they know the presence of the Holy Spirit, that in the midst of everything, builds within them the undeniable peace that is unable to be explained, but comes from knowing they are loved by you, Jesus, and the by the Father and Holy Spirit, as You reign and care for us, forever and ever, AMEN!

Strohl, J. E. (2007). General Introduction. In P. D. W. Krey, B. McGinn, & P. D. S. Krey (Eds.), P. D. S. Krey & P. D. W. Krey (Trans.), Luther’s Spirituality (p. xxvii). New York; Mahwah, NJ: Paulist Press.

Escriva, Josemaria. Furrow (Kindle Locations 1471-1472). Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition.

Can I forgive and not forget? How can I ever forget?

man wearing jacket standing on wooden docks leading to body of water

Photo by Wouter de Jong on Pexels.com

Devotional Thought of the Day:

51 He said, “God has made me forget all my sufferings and all my father’s family”; so he named his first son Manasseh. 52 He also said, “God has given me children in the land of my trouble”; so he named his second son Ephraim. Gen 41:51-52  TEV

I cannot count the times that I have heard, “I will forgive them, but I will never forget.” And I know the difficulty, as we deal with the pain of being betrayed, the pain of being the victim of sin.

But how do we turn our backs on the pain?  How do we risk being so brutally betrayed again? And how can we stand with the victims, and yet be obedient to God’s call to work for the reconciliation of all to Jesus?  How can we have hope as well, when we struggle to obey, “forgive us our sins, and we forgive the sins of others.”

I don’t know about you, but this isn’t just a matter of teaching others. It is a matter of my own ability to forgive. And I deal with the guilt of it, how can I encourage people to turn to God for forgiveness, when I can’t forgive them?

How I long for the blessed peace that Joseph must have felt as he encountered his brothers.  The same brothers that so made his life miserable growing up, that eventually threatened to kill him, but instead simply sold him into slavery.  The brothers he could exact revenge upon, without hesitation.

And he chose to love instead, able to because of God’s making Joseph forget because God giving him a new family in the place where the only a life of struggle had been known.

Amazing grace, how sweet the sound, that saved a wretch like me.

It is God’s work that heals us, that removes the burden of resentment, that restores us from the brokenness that shatters us beyond repair. It is the loving mercy of God (cHesed) that enabled this to happen in the life of Joseph.

This is what we need, what we need to hope for and expect from God.  It is the miracle we need to depend upon Him for, as the Holy Spirit comforts us, not only in regards to our being betrayed but in the moments we realize we betrayed someone else.

This is what grace is…

Heavenly Father, bless us as you blessed Joseph, as you made him forget, and enabled him to love and provide for those who betrayed him, knowing it was all Your work and ability to make it so. AMEN!

Are You Ready for God to Invade Your life?

Good News BibleDevotional Thought of the Day:

Joseph’s brothers were jealous of him, but his father kept thinking about the whole matter.   Gen 37:11 TEV

True evangelization presupposes a desire in the Church to come out of itself and go to the peripheries, not only geographically but also to areas where the mystery of sin, pain, injustice, ignorance, and indifference to religion has its permanent dwelling.
We have no right to keep caressing our soul, to stay locked up in our own little, tiny bubble.

we see persons who regard personal communion and communication with God as life-changing episodes and as daily bread. Untold thousands of humble Christians who will never preach a sermon or have their name appear in print can testify to the same kinds of encounters with God as are manifested by the great ones in the Way.
Reflect: How do you respond to God invading human personality as a daily occurrence? How might you want God to invade your personality in greater ways?

As I was reading Genesis this morning, the sentence above struck me.  It reminded me of the times Luke records Mary pondering these things in her heart, and of the Psalms urging us to meditate on God’s word, to consider what He has done for His people.

So Israel considered all that God was showing Joseph, and he tried to think it through, tried to understand these encounters with God, for he recognized that was what his beloved was enduring.

The quote from Dallas Willard in green notes the same kind of encounter. Some radical, something life-changing, something where God invades not just our lives but invades our personality.  Where communion runs deeper than our minds can express, where our hearts and souls are overwhelmed by His mercy and love.  It is what we so desperately need, this invasion of God.

When God invades, there is nothing that He doesn’t affect, there is nothing left untouched. Oh how we need to learn to desire this more, how we need to grow comfortable with His presence!

This is what truly empowers evangelism, It brings us to the place where we are drawn to the brokenness, where sin and all its accompanying problems overwhelm people, we need to be there, as God invades the brokenness.

For while we need to meditate on His love, on His presence, this meditation gives us the ability to be there when the darkness seems to dominate, to be there when the presence of God is needed.

I think, even for those of us who ponder his love, who sit in awe and wonder at the things God is doing, if there isn’t a temptation to stay there, and not join God’s invasion.  The gates of Hell cannot withstand His invasion, His actions to rescue people from their brokennes, from their sin.

So spend time, thinking about how He has sustained His people in the past… and then… be ready, to dwell with Him now means we go places to invade the brokenness with Him.

Lord, help us to be so comforted by You, so confident in your cleansing, so aware of Your presence that You reveal to us, that we become those who reveal Your glorious healing light to those trapped in darkness… AMEN!

Pope Francis. (2013). A Year with Pope Francis: Daily Reflections from His Writings. (A. Rossa, Ed.) (p. 366). New York; Mahwah, NJ; Toronto, ON: Paulist Press; Novalis.

Willard, D., & Johnson, J. (2015). Hearing god through the year: a 365-day devotional. Westmont, IL: IVP Books.

 

Faith in Action: Makes Sure! A Sermon on Hebrews 3 (with video of the service!)

Faith in Action…
Makes Sure

Hebrews 3:12-29

I.H.S.

May the grace and peace of God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ so fill your lives, that you without thinking look and support those who are struggling with sin.  And when they come to support you, that you will let them.

Be Careful

I love the old movies, where the hero has to survive a gauntlet, avoiding the traps, the deadfalls, and make the decisions that mean life or death.  They avoid death,  if they, in the words of one of those who guided one such hero, choose wisely.  (btw – that movie was released 29 years ago – so I guess it can be classified as an “oldie”!)

The hero had to be careful, he had to take his time, evaluate his situation, realize the words that had been spoken, and choose to act wisely.

In the case of the letter to the Hebrews, the idea of being careful include  a deep discerning look at our situation, at the challenge we face with that sin, and the evil and unbelief it can cause in our lives.

Yeah – this passage is a call to us, this call to take a deep, hard look into our lives, and make sure about our hearts, warning and supporting each other….

For being deceived by sin is all to easy, and happens all too often.

Who Was it?

We see how easy it was, in the example provided by the writer of Hebrews.

The people of Israel, led by Moses from Egypt, who heard God’s voice and trembled.  Who saw his power, both judging the sins of the Pharaoh in Egypt and in the incredible miracles at the Red Sea, and in the provision of water, and manna and quail.

And yet, as direct as their contact was, they still fell into temptation, they still sinned, and when things got hard, they didn’t trust God.

They didn’t believe.

For that is what faith and belief in God is, the ability to trust in God despite the entire world, and even your own life telling you that He isn’t there. Despite them telling you that he doesn’t care.

They struggled, oh how they struggled! They heard the very voice of God, yet still rebelled.  They saw the signs of His presence, the miracles, the cloud of smoke by day, the pillar of fire by night, and still hardened their hearts

And so they did what was evil, what was in rebellion from God.

Too often, you and I join them. You might even have already asked, like the apostles, “Is it I Lord?” when He talked of the one who would betray Him.

We’ve heard His voice calling us, we’ve seen His power at work, We know both His wrath and mercy, Yet, we struggle to trust God in situations we encounter, or we all too easily forget about Him.  Especially when we are tempted by sin, even what we might call the smallest of sins, or perhaps the biggest.

For the biggest of sins, the violation of the first commandment happens to us all the time.  We create our own gods, something we want to trust in, something we can find hope in. and set aside the God who has revealed Himself to us, through word and sacrament, through the people that are the church.

We aren’t any better than the people of God in the days of Moses.  We have all these blessings pointing to God in our lives, and yet sometimes we still turn away, we still get deceived, we still fall to scold others, rather than warn and counsel them as scripture teaches.

And so, we need to take time, to be careful, and discern what we are doing. Looking carefully at what we do, what we think, what we say!

Make Sure your (plural) own hearts (Parakleso)

It took me a while in studying this passage, to see an incredible blessing that God has given us, His people, His church.

It’s seen in words like “your” and “each other” and “you”, and “we” in this passage.

I think we hear the words, “Be careful” and “war” and “if faithful to the end, but we miss these pronouns and fail to see the blessing God gives us, when He takes us into Himself and makes us the body of Christ.

You see, when one of us baptized, when Christ’s promises are given them, they join us in His body.  And the body looks after itself, each part caring for the rest. To be careful then is not just talking about individual introspection and confession, but being careful and in love, approaching those who are struggling with faith and sin, and lifting them up, helping them see God’s love and mercy revealed to them again.

We are one people, saved in Christ together, forgiven together, sent into this world together.

So we choose wisely, and care for each other, warning each other in a way that is loving and yet firm, which calls back the sinner, and assures them of the grace of God.

You see that word for warning, it’s not the kind of warning that warns you from the shore that your drifting to toward the waterfall.  It dives in with a rope, catches you and helps you get back to short…

Or in Jones case, sweeps away all the other false gods, and leaves the one Chalice, the one filled with the love and mercy of Christ Jesus, that’s what a friend, a fellow member of the body of Christ would do, bringing you back to the word and sacraments, to remember and revive the word and sacraments

We are each a blessing God gives to us, when we care more for each other than the discomfort of helping someone being deceived, moving to the point of their hearts becoming evil and not trusting in God’s presence, in His mercy and Love.

As James wrote in His epistle,

19  My friends, if any of you wander away from the truth and another one brings you back again, 20  remember this: whoever turns a sinner back from the wrong way will save that sinner’s soul from death and bring about the forgiveness of many sins. James 5:19-20 (TEV)

So choose wisely, make sure that all our hearts are not evil and unbelieving turning us away from God, and warn each other, so none are deceived by sin, and hardened against God.  Serve one another, loving each other enough to share in God’s glorious grace, helping each other to dwell in the peace of God which is beyond our comprehension, yet in which we dwell together, in Christ Jesus.  AMEN!

 

 

Faith in Action is in Dialogue (IV) A sermon on James 5:13-20

church at communion 2Faith in Action:  Is in Dialogue
James 5:13-20

† I.H.S. 

May the grace, mercy and love of God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ instill in you the confidence to be drawn to them and enter intimate dialogue with Them

People in trauma

The people that James was writing too sound like us.  Based on the words we read just this morning, we could ask if they are part of Concordia!  Hear how James describes them

verse 13 asks if they are suffering hardships
verse 14  ask if any are sick
verse 15 mentions people who have committed sin
verse 16 may be the hardest question of all, have some of us wandered away from Jesus.

Pretty sure you can find most of us on that list, in fact, some of us probably can answer more than one of those questions.

As we’ve said a few times around here, how do we get through this life, without knowing Jesus?

This life is broken, we see it enough in our homes, in our workplaces, in our families, even in our churches.  But it isn’t a new thing, James wrote about these problems to people nearly 2000 years ago.

Even with all the differences, the problems are still the same, hardships, sickness, sin, and our struggle to go our own way.  And in asking how people go through this life without Christ, we begin to see how James addresses each of these ways we are broken with a simple, misunderstood four letter word.

Pray.

There is an answer

Prayer, Praise, Prayer, Pray for each other

Suffering hardship – pray!
Sick  call the elders (pastor and deacons too!) and have them pray
Sins?  Confess and pray for each other
Wanders from Jesus (the truth) bring him back from the wandering so he can communicate with God, with us.

Pray… Pray… Pray…

Sounds like one of Al’s emails or text messages to me. They often end that way… and for  reason.

We know prayer makes a difference. We know when that prayer isn’t what you do when there is nothing else to do.

It is what you do first, and always.

Not because prayer adds up like tickets you get playing skeeball at an arcade, or frequent flier points.

That’s not the way prayer works or the reason to pray.  It’s not about what we do to impress God, it is an act of faith, it is the way we depend on God.

But what is prayer – Elijah’s example.

James gives us as an example of prayer, in the situation with Elijah and the weather.  That prayer was not simple monologues, they are conversations. As you follow the story throughout 1 Kings 17 and 18, you see Elijah moving by God’s direction, enabled to do what he did because God was there, with Him, even as the Lord is with you! (and also with you?)

You see that in these chapters where Elijah is ministering to Israel, and to a the widow in what is now Lebanon, as he confronts sin and evil, as he deals with brokenness, and sickness and even death. As he is on top of the world, and as he feels like he’s the last man standing and isn’t sure how much more he can stand.

In other words, he is a man like us!  And yet. Because he walked and talked with God, this was said of him,

24  “Now I know for sure that you are a man of God, and that the LORD truly speaks through you.” 1 Kings 17:24 (NLT2)

God speaks through those who hear Him, who talk with Him, and that is what prayer is.
A conversation with God, depending on His presence, and on His love, shown in the mercy He has on us.

And then we see the greatest work that depending on God, talking to Him, hearing Him brings about.

19 My dear brothers and sisters, if someone among you wanders away from the truth and is brought back, 20 you can be sure that whoever brings the sinner back from wandering will save that person from death and bring about the forgiveness of many sins.

Here is where prayer is so necessary, to see those who come back from wandering away from God, sometimes even running away from God, come back.

To see them saved from death and hell, to see them freed form sin and the guilt and shame that can so haunt those caught in its grasp. That only happens when our faith is active, and that faith requires us to be in conversation with God.

We have to depend on God, for otherwise there is no way we can have the patience, the determination to have patience, the ability to withstand the rejection, and still leave the door open for them to come in, look around, put their toe in the water…ask a question or three.. even be critical.

Trusting in God, communicating with Him, knowing His heart for us and all prodigals like us, we can take the time to see people return to God, even if we have to help carry them.

This is the power of prayer, this is what knowing that the Lord is with you causes to happen in real life.  That is a major part of who we are. As one pastor wrote,

Finally, the suffering person is entrusted to an innkeeper, so that he might continue to care for him, sparing no expense. Now, who is this innkeeper? It is the Church, the Christian community—it is us—to whom each day the Lord entrusts those who are afflicted in body and spirit, so that we might lavish all of his mercy and salvation upon them without measure.
[1]

So let us pray, and as we dwell in Christ’s peace, the peace that passes all understanding.  AMEN!

[1] Francis. (2016). Wednesday, 26 February 2014. In Audiences of Pope Francis, 2013–2015 (English). Vatican City: Libreria Editrice Vaticana.

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

The Context of our Future and Hope!

Jesus foot washingthe devotional thought of the day:

For this is what the LORD says: “When 70 years for Babylon are complete, I will attend to you and will confirm My promise concerning you to restore you to this place. 11 For I know the plans I have for you” —this is the LORD’s declaration—“plans for your welfare, not for disaster, to give you a future and a hope. 12 You will call to Me and come and pray to Me, and I will listen to you. 13 You will seek Me and find Me when you search for Me with all your heart. 14 I will be found by you”—this is the LORD’s declaration—“and I will restore your fortunes and gather you from all the nations and places where I banished you”—this is the LORD’s declaration. “I will restore you to the place I deported you from.”   Jeremiah 29:10-14  HCSB

4 But when the kindness of God our Savior and His love for mankind appeared, 5 He saved us not by works of righteousness that we had done, but according to His mercy, through the washing of regeneration and renewal by the Holy Spirit. 6 He poured out this Spirit on us abundantly through Jesus Christ our Savior.  Titus 3:4-6  HCSB

In the first quote above, the one from Jeremiah, there is an amazing and well-known quote.  For I know the plans I have for you” —this is the LORD’s declaration—“plans for your welfare, not for disaster, to give you a future and a hope! 

But is even more amazing, give the context of it.

I’ve heard a lot of people quote this passage when they get into hard times, or when they don’t know what is coming next. But that isn’t the context. Which is why it is even more amazing.

God’s not giving a future and a hope to those who are His spiritual superstars, not the heroes of the faith either.  The context is those whose sins are so shameful, so repugnant, so evil that God had to lead them into captivity.

The people in context were banished, they were broken, they were dominated by seeking after their own welfare, and indeed, their own pleasure. They were in the midst of being disciplined, discipline as hard as any faced in scripture.  They lost their home, their country, and all the things they counted on to tie them to God.  The temple – gone.  The sacrifices – gone. The land promised to Abraham, Issac and Jacob.. gone.

Because of their sin.

And yet they were given a promise, a future, and a hope.  The assurance that when they ceased being the prodigal, God would still be there.  The promise of reconciliation and restoration, when the time is complete.

Like them, there are sometimes that we become dominated by sin, when we are as broken when we deserve to be punished and disciplined, and worse, we deserve the wrath of God. We deserve the same kind of treatment that He poured out on Sodom and Gomorrah, the plagues He poured out on Pharoah and Egypt, the justice He poured out on the people of Noah’s time.

Yet for us, even as for the exiles, there is a future and a hope.  There is a God who promises He can be found, and when He finds us. He pours our something incredible on us.

His Spirit, the Holy Spirit who washes us clean with the word and the water.  Who revives and regenerates our broken lives, who renews our strength, so that we don’t faith.

This is the promise you received as God baptized you, as He claimed you as His.  When He declares that we are healed, cleansed, His people.

This is the promise of a future and a hope that we’ve been given.

Rejoice in it! Remember it!  Celebrate it!  Hang on to it, when things are challenging, when you life is broken, when you find yourself yielding to temptation and sin, and despair…

He has promised you to cleanse you, guaranteed by the cross.  AMEN!

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