The Pastor's Perch

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Brick Walls

A dear friend who is contemplating continuing education in order to serve the Church was counseled to gather his disparate coursework that was scattered over several synodical colleges/universities. This took a lot of sleuthing as he had to go back at least a decade to gather transcripts, visit at least one seminary to find out all the flaming hoops to plan and map out his future coursework and in the case of one college, have a glaring correction made that would allow him to navigate past a entry level course and be allowed to proceed to the next level. 

It took a long, long time, but he has infinite patience. 

Along the way he had to care for an ailing spouse, lose an opportunity to start the next level of his education due to scheduling snafu's, put everything on hold because of COVID, watch his beloved of 50 years' marriage pass from this vale of tears into the glorious heaven above, and then care for and comfort his family, and still do his work for his beloved congregation.

Talk about going through some terrific challenges and heartbreaks. Then, when he wanted to restart this process, he got bumped back to almost square one. At this point, I am tempted to counsel him to just forget it, but we have such a pastor shortage and the Lord may be using this string of disappointments, sorrows and frustrations to not only prove his faith, test his resolve and make him into one who is uniquely positioned to understand others who themselves face seeming insurmountable challenges. And the Lord may be testing us as a congregation and as a circuit to see another path to getting assistance in our circuit. We shall see.

Some of you may know who I describe, but he will go nameless at this point. Keep this nameless saint in your prayers.

Ephesians 4:11 And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, 12 to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ...

ALMIGHTY AND GRACIOUS GOD, You commanded us to pray that You would send workers into Your harvest. Today we pray that You would continue to give us ministers of Your Word. Open our hearts to speak words of encouragement and give personal support to those who hear the calling to serve You in special ministries. Bless our Concordia colleges and universities as they provide higher education within a Christian context, but particularly in the teaching and preaching vocations. Bless our seminaries as they prepare workers for the preaching and deaconess callings. Bless the teaching of Your Word and increase our examples of Christian living for all to see and imitate. Praise be to You, to Jesus Christ our Savior and the Holy Spirit; one God, world without end. Amen

Turn Around; Don't Drown

The title is the National Weather Service's motto to all people thinking that little flood ahead of them while they drive is just enough to access because it looks passable. When I used to make visits in the country, I remember driving over what they called "low water bridges", roads that descended across a little stream, that, in a flood, would cause the water to ascend up to six inches above the road. A stream that high could take out a vehicle because of the volume of water pushing along would make short work of anything passing through it, especially my little Neon. In a case like that, it was better to back up, turn around, and find a real bridge high above the deluge. Doubt me? God to YouTube and type this in: cars caught in low water bridge floods. Watch the mayhem and chaos.

Why do I do this? Because there are those who think they can cross the flood without trouble and find themselves swept away. Duh. We have the capacity to think we can do everything we want. Humans have fallen into the lie that we are the measure for all things. Before the fall into sin, when people sought their identity in God, we simply followed in the path and looked to God alone. After the fall, everybody wants to be their own God, and those who do that, find themselves swept away into an eternal abyss called hell. 

What to do?

Some folks in Jesus' ministry brought up such things, when, after He miraculously produced a meal for thousands from some fish and bread, wanted an encore--more bread--totally missing that He is the Very Son of God and sent to save them. We jump in where they encounter the King of the Loaves, and find a totally different Bread King:

John 6:5 When they found [Jesus] on the other side of the sea, they said to him, “Rabbi, when did you come here?” 26 Jesus answered them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, you are seeking me, not because you saw signs, but because you ate your fill of the loaves. 27 Do not work for the food that perishes, but for the food that endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give to you. For on him God the Father has set his seal.” 

He knocks out the whole business of working toward salvation. Turn around; don't drown. Jesus is the One sent and witnessed about. Jesus is the One Who is the Bread of Life, and we follow no other. We continue:

28 Then they said to him, “What must we do, to be doing the works of God?” 29 Jesus answered them, “This is the work of God, that you believe in him whom he has sent.” 30 So they said to him, “Then what sign do you do, that we may see and believe you? What work do you perform? 31 Our fathers ate the manna in the wilderness; as it is written, ‘He gave them bread from heaven to eat.’” 32 Jesus then said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, it was not Moses who gave you the bread from heaven, but my Father gives you the true bread from heaven. 33 For the bread of God is he who comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.” 34 They said to him, “Sir, give us this bread always.” 35 Jesus said to them, “I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in me shall never thirst.

The deal is sealed in the One Who sealed it with His life, death, resurrection, ascension and immanent return. Only through Jesus, Who feeds us with His Word and Sacrament, are we fed to the full, and from His hand we receive also our daily bread. (Psalm 145)

No one can earn their way into heaven. Only through Christ alone do we receive these gifts of eternal life, salvation and forgiveness, and only through faith given to us can we receive them. In Christ alone we receive our daily bread and in Christ alone do we receive the eternal gifts. He is the Very Bread of Life. We trust in Him alone.

Jesus, thy blood and righteousness my beauty are, my glorious dress; 'midst flaming worlds, in these arrayed, with joy shall I lift up my head. (LSB 653)

Lord, do not let us drown in the sin of thinking our works and acts are enough to gain eternal life, for we are already drowning and lost without You. Guide us by Your Word and Sacraments to seek Your strength through Your works and acts for us in our place. Give us of the Spirit so we die daily to self and live because You live in and through us. Amen.

Hotel Kalifornia

Yes, I know how to spell California, but I wanted to avoid conflicts, lawsuits, etc. I title it like this because of my generation's fixation with the weird and exciting, which for me was anything but. When the Eagles produced that album--yes, vinyl came in more forms than your house's siding--they had an instant hit, and this pushed them further up the long way to the top--shades of another well-known '70's song--and into all the drugs, drinking and dollars they could do, and all she wants to do is dance, dance. Oops, post-Eagles, sorry.

What gets me thinking about this? My generation, the post-60's, post-Vietnam, post-rebellion generation, found out that the things the older baby boomers thought were theirs for the taking became less and less taken. We were not a woke generation, but just the opposite, and probably still trying to wake up from some dream. There are those still dwelling in the past. But sooner or later we had to find a job, go to work, perhaps even marry and have children. We had to settle down and follow a course of life that would bring stability to our families and the generations following us. 

Little did we know....

We crowed that we won't get fooled again, but a fool and his money soon go separate ways, and other 70's songs that we thought spoke for us. It was all a sham. When you buy into the lyrics of a song, that is a mantra that lasts as long as the popularity of the song, and the 70's were filled with one shot wonders that had one song to a band's name, and then they disappeared into the night.

When it comes down to it, the only things that lasts are those things in Christ Jesus. 

Romans 6:11 So you also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus.

1 Peter 3:18 For Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, that he might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh but made alive in the spirit...

Long after the last rocker of the last 70's group dies, long after the lyrics that spawned a 45rpm's popularity fade into the dust of history, long after the forgotten oldies remains forgotten, the Lord will remain and walk with us through all the wasteland of this world to our crossing from this vale of tears to the place of rest until our time of total renewal. 

Want to start, or even better, join a revolution? Pray to the Lord to come soon, and do this every day, not to get Him to do something, but to get your head, heart and soul in proper function. Heed the Spirit's guidance through Word and Sacrament.  Partake of the fellowship of your church so that you can gather and receive gifts as He called us to. Look ahead. Look up for your salvation is near.

John 6:32 Jesus then said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, it was not Moses who gave you the bread from heaven, but my Father gives you the true bread from heaven. 33 For the bread of God is he who comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.” 34 They said to him, “Sir, give us this bread always.” 35 Jesus said to them, “I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in me shall never thirst.

John 4:14 but whoever drinks of the water that I will give him will never be thirsty again. The water that I will give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life.”

Guide me, O my great Redeemer,
pilgrim through this barren land;
I am weak, but you are mighty;
hold me with your powerful hand.
Bread of heaven, bread of heaven,
feed me now and evermore,
feed me now and evermore. Amen.

Rock of Ages

So far, we have the Covid-19 disease, caused by the SARS-CoV-2 virus, and the deadly variants, Alpha, Beta, Gamma and Delta. Delta is supposed to be the more virulent and more efficient than the others. Scientists say the vaccines should help in combating them all, along with handwashing, masking, social distancing and staying away from enclosed places with crowds. We get out of one mess and then back in we go with another one. It does us no good to spend our time fretting about a disease that is among us and probably with us even though we think we are safe by not having contact with others. It can happen to anyone anywhere. It will probably be around for quite some time. So, there you go. No escape.

Now we got that out of the way, think about this: when we were faced with these and other horrible diseases, viruses and various other disasters, what was our first thought? I wonder if I could have that happen to me here? Maybe the second thought was, I am glad I live in the Midwest and don't engage in behaviors that would be risky. Too bad we are so globally linked. A century ago even the smallest hamlet in the remotest place on the planet suffered the influenzas pandemic. No one really escaped it and almost every nation, town, and family suffered either from its physical effects or the loss of someone close to them.

Fear is a great motivator. People tend to react and move fast when threatened by danger. We tend to forget the trivial things in which we were engaged and find a sanctuary in which to hide. 

Sanctuary as a hiding place is a good idea. One of our favorite and cherished hymns has that as its theme. It is found in our Lutheran Service Book, Number 761, "Rock of Ages, Cleft for Me."

Rock of Ages, cleft for me,
Let me hide myself in Thee;
Let the water and the blood,
From Thy riven side which flowed,
Be of sin the double cure,
Cleanse me from its guilt and power.

Jesus is our Rock and to save us and give us shelter, He was riven, that is, He was pierced by nails and a Roman spear, and out came water and blood. A strange phenomenon, it happens to those who are crucified. It happened to Jesus and He knew it was going to happen to Him. He did not run away. He instead thought of you. 

Jesus' water and blood. What does this help us see in a time of fear and death? That we die and rise and we will die and rise.

 The waters of Holy Baptism wash us clean of sin and guilt because those waters were connected to the word of Christ, (Matthew 28:16-20) whose Blood was shed for all people when He was crucified. The Blood that covers us is the Blood that "hide" us, and God no longer sees our sin and guilt, because they were transferred to His Son, Jesus. 

As we continually live in our Baptisms, daily dying to self and rising in Christ, the devil's power is lessened and we are being made new again and again by the Holy Spirit's power. We are nourished with the Bread of Life Whose Blood was shed for the world. We know who that is, Jesus the Christ. We partake of the Body and Blood in His Supper. (1 Corinthians 11:23-29)

The day will come when we will die and rest in Jesus until the End and the remaking of the entire universe commences with His Return, and with it, the resurrection of the believers' bodies in indestructible eternal bodies. (1 Corinthians 15) 

Lord, not the labors of my hands can fill all thy law’s demands; Could my zeal no respite know, could my tears forever flow, all for sin could not atone; Thou must save, and thou alone. Come, Lord Jesus, come. Amen

Fruit of the Spirit

Often when studying scripture, a person finds seminal moments, those times that lead to other things, good or bad, that start off innocently enough. In my devotion today, while reading in the Lutheran Confessions, I was confronted with a strange teaching--not ours--about what is included in the list of fruit of the Spirit, as found in Galatians 5:22-23. It goes like this:

 22 "But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law." (ESV)

The above is not a strange teaching as St. Paul elucidates well what is said to him via the Holy Spirit's guidance. We take if for granted, see that list and understand that those fruit are things which are given freely by God to His people, in order to serve as ones who are given over to good works in response to gifts of salvation, eternal life and forgiveness, paid for by Christ and distributed through Word and Sacrament. By faith we receive salvation and because of faith God is pleased by the works. They are not our works as much as they are His Works through us for the good of others. (Ephesians 2:1-10)

What was disturbing was that in another version of scripture, chastity was tacked on. Chastity was not specifically mentioned as a fruit of the Spirit and Paul, who was not married would probably be first to say that it was a fruit if he were guided to do that. Indeed it was probably an extension of self-control, which covers a lot of ground and is acceptable. 

But the version of scripture in this case was used to support a chastity where the chaste person would enter into a special relationship that would remove them by vows and promises from common society, and also this state of life would merit to them a higher connection to God and be considered meritorious towards their salvation, apart from or in addition to the work of Christ Jesus, thus nullifying our absolute and total dependence upon Him for our salvation, outside of anything we could do to earn in any way our salvation.

I am not picking fruit nor am I attacking those who are chaste because they have found they do not have the need or drive to marry and have a family. God bless you and keep you so that your life not become as one who lusts for other fruit that is forbidden by God--whether you are married or not. (Exodus 20:14)

Our freedom in the Gospel is not an occasion to become libertine while married or single. Paul is clear about that. Paul also commends those who are able to navigate through life single and chaste. Paul can say these things because Jesus does the same, but does not elevate one state of chastity over the other, as He as Creator made it so men and women would desire each other in a chaste way through marriage. So neither singleness nor a married state merits salvation, but only through faith in Christ Jesus and His saving works for us give us access to His gifts including the above. If you want to know where I saw this aberration in an adulterated scripture, let me know through our contact information above. God's peace to you in Jesus Christ alone.

Read through what Jesus says in Matthew 19 and what Paul says in 1 Corinthians 7. Note that the word gift is used, but in a generic sense, so that the person does not necessarily seek one or the other as some sort of reward or work towards one's salvation.

Holy Spirit, help single and married couples to enhance their roles and all relationships.  Teach singles and married how to walk with integrity in this new digital age. Equip them in their relationships with their families, friendships, mentors, and co-workers.  Help them to fulfill Your plans for their lives. Help married couples to love and enjoy each other. Remind them to freely issue mercy and forgiveness quickly without allowing grudges to form.  Encourage, strengthen and unify them, so that their children are given stability and assurance, and the unbelieving see Your plan concerning the sanctity of marriage. We pray this in Jesus' name. Amen.

 

Self-Esteem or Christ in You

Years ago, and in another vocation, because I supervised others, I was supposed to receive instruction in management principles. I listened and listened and was told at every turn not to ever, ever use the "A" word, attitude, as in, "I do not like your attitude." Never mind those workers were wage and not salary workers, who were earning an income to pay their bills or support a family. It is all about making them feel useful, which was contrary to what I had been taught. You earn your wage by working your best, regardless of how useful you feel. Your Boss is watching, you know. And your Boss is not just a person above you, but One who loves you and died for you. He is not going to crush you; there are plenty others to do that, but ultimately, you do prevail, but not on this side of heaven.

This whole feel good business can end when you get sick, become obsolete (as I did) or something else, and then the world turns on you and you are through. Imagine this happening to a single mother who has children and no other income. I had to contemplate that when one of those I supervised ran afoul of management, and I was supposed to turn a blind eye to it. What is a person worth?

Proverbs 3:27 puts it this way: Do not withhold good from those to whom it is due, when it is in your power to act.”

Praise God that He values us in Christ Jesus and while He deals with our sin by punishing it through punishing His Son on the cross, He gives us wisdom to see value in others and care for them. 

While material wealth is a gift from God, we should be content with the wages we are given and use them to promote God's kingdom and extend the message of repentance and salvation through Christ Jesus. 

What is a person worth? God loves each of us through Christ Jesus, provides for us in ways we often miss (Matthew 6:25-34), He provides riches beyond measure which are far beyond material wealth (Matthew 6:19-24), He is present with us through life and does comfort and keep us--even values us in Christ so highly (Matthew 10:26-31) and sees us as His servants He has called to serve Him and others. Our calling, our vocation, is found in Christ Jesus, so that we serve God first and others through Him (Ephesians 6:5-9). We treat each other the same, and pray for those, both those whom we supervise and those who supervise us (Romans 13:9; 1 Timothy 2:1).

Lord of my life, I ask Your blessing on my daily life and especially on my work. My work is good because Your hand is upon it. Do not let me turn my work to selfish purposes. Forgive me when I fail. Help me to remember that You are still Lord when I feel discouraged and useless or when I am tense and angry. Help me to remember You are still Lord when I am satisfied and pleased with my accomplishments. Take my work into Your own hands and give blessings to all I do and say. Use what I accomplish as a blessing to others. Amen.

 

Losses

I bet everyone reading this has experienced some big losses in the last year. Well...duh, who hasn't? But many of us have lost more than others and so the litany of loss is one that follows us around, like an evil singer taunting us, more than reminding us that we cannot even control events around us. We cannot even control our own lives. 

And then people tell us that they will pray the trouble away. But then the trouble does not go away, but intensifies and we are overwhelmed. Did we pray hard enough? Do we lack faith? I don't know but it is not about you or me anyway.

In quite a few stories of Jesus' ministry, He does so many miracles but He did not reach everyone with healing or exorcism or whatever, and that was not the point. The point was that He showed by His work that He is the Messiah, the very Son of God, who inaugurated His reign. His kinsman, John the Baptizer, said it best: "Behold, the Lamb of God, Who takes away the sin of the world." Jesus came to preach repentance and forgiveness, but many rejected Him, and in His own hometown, because of the lack of faith, Jesus did not perform many miracles. It made Him sad and it made Him mad. 

Imagine God mad at you.

Now imagine that very same God who willingly substitutes for you to take your punishment, your sin, your guilt, your sorrows and your sicknesses. Imagine the coming Judge being your Savior, and fulfilling what you could not do--in fact, you cannot do anything to appease the wrath of His Father, and He is not impressed with your works that do not even in any way fulfill any Law that He demands. Imagine.

Imagine instead of hearing the losses and your setbacks and how much of a loser you may think of yourself as, that God does not include you in the terrible judgment as you keep focused on His Son for your redemption and salvation. So much for self esteem, which is a demonic canard. The devil wants you to focus on your failures and encourages you to work your way out of them. Phooey. 

Try this sometime: dig in sand until you can make a tunnel under the sand--no, don't cheat and mix soil or put a tube or box under the sand. Don't super heat the sand and make glass out of it either--it takes 24 hours and you probably do not have a refractory furnace that can keep a consistent 3090 degree-heat anyway.

The point is, we trust in Jesus and His works for us in our place and we lean not on our own understanding. We do not lack faith as much as we lack Jesus, and the devil wants you to replace Jesus with works, thoughts, self esteem--anything but the Lord Christ as your life and hope. We will look more at this in subsequent days.

24 Immediately the father of the child cried out and said, “I believe; help my unbelief!”

Lord Jesus, help us to place our trust in You more and more, and seek our strength in You and Your works. Amen.

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