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Psalm 71


In you, O LORD, do I take refuge; let me never be put to shame! In your righteousness deliver me and rescue me; incline your ear to me, and save me! Be to me a rock of refuge, to which I may continually come; you have given the command to save me, for you are my rock and my fortress. Rescue me, O my God, from the hand of the wicked, from the grasp of the unjust and cruel man. For you, O Lord, are my hope, my trust, O LORD, from my youth. Upon you I have leaned from before my birth; you are he who took me from my mother's womb. My praise is continually of you. I have been as a portent to many, but you are my strong refuge. My mouth is filled with your praise, and with your glory all the day. Do not cast me off in the time of old age; forsake me not when my strength is spent. For my enemies speak concerning me; those who watch for my life consult together and say, "God has forsaken him; pursue and seize him, for there is none to deliver him." O God, be not far from me; O my God, make haste to help me! May my accusers be put to shame and consumed; with scorn and disgrace may they be covered who seek my hurt. But I will hope continually and will praise you yet more and more. My mouth will tell of your righteous acts, of your deeds of salvation all the day, for their number is past my knowledge. With the mighty deeds of the Lord GOD I will come; I will remind them of your righteousness, yours alone. O God, from my youth you have taught me, and I still proclaim your wondrous deeds. So even to old age and gray hairs, O God, do not forsake me, until I proclaim your might to another generation, your power to all those to come. Your righteousness, O God, reaches the high heavens. You who have done great things, O God, who is like you? You who have made me see many troubles and calamities will revive me again; from the depths of the earth you will bring me up again. You will increase my greatness and comfort me again. I will also praise you with the harp for your faithfulness, O my God; I will sing praises to you with the lyre, O Holy One of Israel. My lips will shout for joy, when I sing praises to you; my soul also, which you have redeemed. And my tongue will talk of your righteous help all the day long, for they have been put to shame and disappointed who sought to do me hurt. (ESV)

Congregations Gone Wild

Thursday of Pentecost 19

23 October 2014

In his New York Times op-ed piece entitled "Congregations Gone Wild," G. Jeffrey MacDonald, did not offer any solutions for the phenomenon of clergy burn out except that parishioners must begin to understand what the church really exists to do: call people to repentance and to save those who would perish without Christ. He called on parishioners to ask for and accept challenging daily devotional materials and the call to reach out in the community with the gospel. While I love the idea of challenging daily devotional materials, I think what is causing clergy burn out is much deeper and more fundamental.


God has called his pastors to preach the gift of divine salvation as Paul says: "Pay careful attention to yourselves and to all the flock, in which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to care for the church of God, which he obtained with his own blood" (Acts 20:28). The church is the precious possession of God bought by the infinitely valuable blood of God's Son. We dare not play fast and loose with His possession. The flock must act like sheep of the One shepherd and the undershepherds must proclaim what the Holy Spirit sends to the overseers by the word of God.


While I agree that parishioners must continue to hold out the expectation that their pastors preach Christ and His gospel, I also think we have actually reached this crisis point because pastors failed in their courage to preach the truth no matter what the cost. They were often too afraid to proclaim the difficult truth and so they compromised to keep restless and undisciplined parishioners happy and snoozing contentedly. Such compromise averted disaster in the short run only to lay the groundwork for a future catastrophe of much larger proportions. Just wait until churches find someone to lead them who can tell better jokes than their present pastor and replace him with someone far more entertaining.


Years ago, my wife's grandfather, who was an old Slovak Lutheran, would leave church immediately after the service. He would go and sit in the car, no matter how hot or cold it was until the rest of the family emerged from chatting with their friends. And when he was asked about this odd habit, he said in his broken English, "If we have heard the Word of God, why would we need to hear any more talk?" Unfortunately, the reverse is also true, for when there is just talk, we have no need of the Word of God. It's no wonder pastors trained to care for souls by preaching the gospel are giving up in frustration these days because congregations have gone wild.


Martin Luther


"Paul pronounces these words (Gal 5:2) out of great indignation of mind and spiritual disturbance: 'If you receive circumcision, Christ will be of no advantage to you; that is, absolutely no benefit will come to you from all His blessings, but in vain He has offered al this to you.' This makes it abundantly clear that there is nothing more pernicious under the sun than doctrines of human traditions and works; because at the same time they overturn the gospel, faith, true worship of God, Christ Himself, in whom the Father has comprehended all things. As Colossians 2 states: 'In [Christ] are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge'; 'in him the whole fullness of deity dwells bodily" (Col 2:3, 9). Therefore anyone who is a founder or a worshiper of the doctrine of works overthrows the gospel, nullifies the death and victory of Christ, obscures His sacraments and abolishes their proper use, is a denier, enemy, and blasphemer of God and of all His promises and blessings. This is why Paul called the law of God a "yoke of slavery," because those who say that circumcision must be observed for salvation make Christ useless. Anyone who is not frightened away from the law and circumcision, much less from human traditions and from trust in his own righteousness and works and who is not incited to yearn for freedom in Christ is harder than rock or iron.


Therefore the statement is crystal clear: If anyone receives circumcision, that is, trusts in his circumcision, Christ is useless to him; that is, He will have been born and have suffered uselessly. For, as I said earlier, Paul is not discussing the actual deed in and of itself, which has nothing wrong in it as long as there is no trust in it or opinion of righteousness. However, here he is discussing how the deed is used, namely, the trust and the righteousness that are added it. We must understand Paul in accordance with the subject matter under discussion or the argument as he undertakes it, which is that men are not justified by the law, by works, or by circumcision. He is not saying that works in and of themselves are nothing, but that trust in works and righteousness by works causes Christ to be useless. Therefore anyone who receives circumcision with the idea that it is necessary for justification, to him Christ is of no value."


Martin Luther, Lectures on Galatians, 5.2


Merciful God, in Holy Baptism You washed away our iniquities and cleansed us from our sins. Do not cast us from Your presence, but restore to us the joy of Your salvation. Open our lips to declare Your praise that we may sing of Your righteousness for all eternity; through Jesus Christ, Your Son, our Lord, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.


For Mary Lewis, in thanksgiving to God for health and healing, that God would be praised for His merciful care


For all those undergoing therapy for cancer, especially Luke George and Kim Cheng, that they would be granted strength in body and soul


For all firefighters, that they would be kept safe as they offer service to those in crisis 
Art: Crucifixes  Uppsala Cathedral (medieval)

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