Week after week, as we meet for corporate worship of our Triune God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, as the very body/the very BRIDE of Christ Jesus, the pastor invokes the Triune name of God reminding us that we are baptized into Christ’s death and resurrection, and then says these words: “LET US THEN CONFESS OUR SINS TO GOD OUR FATHER”
There is a slight pause and then the congregation, YOU…respond with these words: MOST MERCIFUL GOD, WE CONFESS THAT WE ARE BY NATURE, SINFUL AND UNLCEAN. WE HAVE SINNED AGAINST YOU IN THOUGHT, WORD AND DEED, BY WHAT WE HAVE DONE, AND BY WHAT WE HAVE LEFT UNDONE. WE HAVE NOT LOVED YOU WITH OUR WHOLE HEARTS, WE HAVE NOT LOVED OUR NEIGHBORS AS OURSELVES. WE JUSTLY DESERVE YOUR TEMPORAL AND ETERNAL PUNISHMENT. FOR THE SAKE OF YOUR SON JESUS CHRIST, HAVE MERCY ON US. FORGIVE US, RENEW US, AND LEAD US, SO THAT WE MAY DELIGHT IN YOUR WILL AND WALK IN YOUR WAYS TO THE GLORY OF YOUR HOLY NAME.
I want to explore that time of self-examination and confession of our sins, by taking a deeper look at these words of REPENTANCE that I just shared with you—with the framework of our OT lesson for this coming Sunday to guide us through it.
15 See, I set before you today life and prosperity, death and destruction. 16 For I command you today to love the Lord your God, to walk in obedience to him, and to keep his commands, decrees and laws; then you will live and increase, and the Lord your God will bless you in the land you are entering to possess. –Deuteronomy 30:15ff
You are indeed sinners, no doubt about it. But God in His grace, God in His MERCY, gives you an opportunity—like He gave to the Israelites so long ago—an opportunity for REPENTANCE—to TURN from our sinful lives—to put to death, DAILY, our sinful selves…and TURN TO GOD!
♫ RETURN TO THE LORD YOUR GOD, FOR HE IS GRACIOUS AND MERCIFUL, SLOW TO ANGER AND ABOUNDING IN STEADFAST LOVE, AND ABOUNDING IN STEADFAST LOVE. ♫
Choose life, God says, “That you may love the lord your God. That you may listen to His voice. That you may hold fast to Him.” “THAT WE MAY DELIGHT IN YOUR WILL, AND WALK IN YOUR WAYS, TO THE GLORY OF YOUR HOLY NAME”
Real life, true life, is found there, in Christ alone. And the fruit of the faith that God gives us moves us toward Christ, and toward a life where those things are what we desire—To delight in the will of God, above your own will. To walk in God’s ways, instead of forging a path of your own. To bring glory to God’s Holy Name (FATHER, SON, and HOLY SPIRIT), instead of seeking out/and demanding such glory for yourselves.
Thank you for taking the time to read this! Blessings on your lives as you walk in the ways of God, who gives you LIFE in Christ!
Grace, mercy and peace be yours this day and always from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.
This morning, in the tail end of a Blizzard, those who made it here this morning, and are worshiping right now, as well as those of faith who are in our hearts and minds, are together beginning a New Church Year, as we enter today into the season of Advent. Advent means “coming” and for us refers most specifically to the coming of our Salvation through the Messiah, our Lord Jesus Christ. It also can mean the 2nd Advent of Jesus when He fulfills His promise to come AGAIN. It is this second Advent to which we turn our attention this morning as we take a look at Paul’s words in Romans 13. This is a passage that has its roots in the second table of the Law.
Please read with me now the commandments of the second table of the Law of God on page 321 in the front of your hymnals, and their meanings—beginning with commandment 4 on the bottom left hand column. The second table of the Law includes commandments 4-10. We ought to read these to know what St Paul is getting us into in this text.
(THE 2nd Table COMMANDMENTS AND THEIR MEANINGS ARE READ)
The Law leads us to know our sin and our need for a Savior. In a way, that makes this a perfect text to begin the season of Advent, a season of preparing for the coming of the Righteous One. The King of Kings, the Savior of sinners—Jesus.
And really, the only way to prepare for Jesus to come is the same way that John the Baptist prepared the way for the Lord when Jesus came the first time. He preached repentance. The same message we still preach today. Repentance and forgiveness of sins through Jesus Christ, the Righteous One. Law and Gospel.
We recognize that repentance liturgically by eliminating a certain particularly joyful song – the Gloria in Excelsis – from our Sunday Service. Let us consider the Epistle lesson for the First Sunday in Advent. Paul presents us with the urgency of faith and salvation by reminding us how short our time is, and how swiftly things will be over and done with. He tells us that the night is almost gone and the day is at hand. Of course, Paul wrote these words almost two thousand years ago. If the night was almost gone then, imagine how it must be today. If you believe these words, you must know that it is time to get serious about the gospel.
The night that Paul wrote about is the night of this world and of sin. Sin and evil are always dark and black and night in the Bible. We do not have to look to hard to see that night and how dark and evil it is. We have an enormous drug problem in our nation. We have an out of control sexual immorality problem running rampant throughout our society . We have violent crime rates that stagger the imagination, and gangs, and drive-by shootings, murder, suicide, euthanasia, and abortions at about 125, 0000 per day , and the love and concern of one man for another is at low ebb in our culture today. We may certainly find our current conditions in the economy troubling as well, but the social decay of our society is a better barometer of just what time it is.
Primum non nocere (Pre-Mum Nun no-chair-A) First do no harm. This is part of the Hippocratic oath, the oath that physicians take: to treat the ill to the best of one’s ability, to preserve a patient’s privacy, to teach the secrets of medicine to the next generation, and so on…
If I didn’t know better, I would say that Hippocrates had read from our Epistle lesson for this morning in Romans 13 prior to writing the Hippocratic Oath. Because it sounds an awful lot like Do not put to death…Have love for your neighbor as for yourself. 10Love does no wrong to his neighbor, so love makes the law complete.
DO NO WRONG!
After all, isn’t that what St. Paul is telling us in our lesson?
Kind of putting a damper on our Holiday celebrations isn’t it? Our text is certainly one way to put a halt to our festiveness…DO NO WRONG! That’ll wake you up from your turkey drug-induced slumber.
But pastor, it’s ADVENT. Aren’t we supposed to be preparing for the birth of Christ. Ah, yes, dear Christian believers, but in order to properly prepare for the birth of the Savior, we must understand what He was coming to be a Savior of.
The King of Kings salvation brings.
Say it with me! “The King of Kings salvation brings.” That’s got a nice ring to it doesn’t it? If one were to take a worldly approach at this, however, one might take on the following attitude: But what do I need a Savior for?
Foolish world! Don’t you know you are perishing?
Why would you say that? How could I be perishing? I assure you, I am quite alive, you see! Besides, I am basically a good person. Wouldn’t you agree? What should I have to be worried about? I just mind my own business.
“And you Mary shall give birth to a son, and you shall call His name Jesus, for He shall save people from their sins.”
The King of Kings salvation brings, FROM SIN!
Let us be reminded that, “If we say we have NO SIN, we deceive ourselves and the TRUTH is not in us.” Jesus said, “I AM the WAY, the TRUTH, and the LIFE.”
The King of Advent, Jesus, comes on the scene, and breaks into the world. Immanuel, God with us. And He performs many signs and wonders, yes, but Jesus does His best work when He comes to be king in your heart. Immanuel, God WITH us….The TRUTH, Jesus, Savior of Sinners, IN our hearts!
Savior of the Nations Come! Come, Lord Jesus! O Come, O Come, Emmanuel. The Spirit and The Bride say, Come!
The day that Paul wrote about is the Last Day, the Parousia, the day of the resurrection of all flesh and of the ushering in of eternal life and full salvation for all those who believe. It is the day of the end of the world. That is the day that is almost upon us….in God’s time.
Paul writes, now salvation is nearer to us than when we believed. What he meant we would say today like this, “salvation is nearer to us now than when we first believed.” Knowing the time, knowing that it is almost time for the resurrection of all flesh to commence, and knowing that it is now two thousand years into the very brief wait, we must stand convinced that we are on the verge of Christ’s second Advent.
Knowing how near we are to all things eternal causes us – or should cause us – to get serious about the gospel. There’s that URGENCY again. We want to do that because the gospel holds forth the promise of resurrection from the dead and of the life of the world to come. Now, part of repenting means refocusing on the Gospel and believing it with all of your heart. But, as we see clearly by looking at the Old Testament example, faith is not simply an intellectual exercise. It reflects itself in real behaviors.
Our behaviors. One’s that we ourselves have control over. Those who have Jesus, who put on Christ, whose Old Adam is drowned daily in repentance, those who walk by faith and not by sight, those who have hope in the promises of God in Christ Jesus, behave or act in a manner worthy of our calling in Christ, and do NOT continue chasing after their former lives of sin. They do NOT look to do harm to others, but seek ways to love others as Christ loves us….To show mercy to others as we have been shown mercy. To forgive one another as we have been forgiven. To reconcile with each other as God has reconciled us to Himself in Jesus Christ, His Son.
We are different now, changing each day, being formed and re-formed in the likeness of Christ. St Paul writes earlier in Romans chapter 5: Therefore, as one trespass[f] led to condemnation for all men, so one act of righteousness[g] leads to justification and life for all men. 19 For as by the one man’s disobedience the many were made sinners, so by the one man’s obedience the many will be made righteous.
And before that, within the same passage Paul tells us what this all means… Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. 2 Through him we have also obtained access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and we rejoice in hope of the glory of God.
We live in that same hope now, in this interim time, with that urgency of spreading the Gospel to all nations ever before us, and the 2nd Advent of Christ always on our hearts.
Before the Dawning Day
Let Sin’s dark deeds be gone
The sinful self be put away,
The new self now put on.
May it be so in our lives for Jesus’ sake, who is coming again soon!
O Give Thanks Unto The Lord For He is Good, and His mercy endures forever! –Psalm 136:1
What a thing, to give thanks! It is one thing to give credit where credit is due, but giving thanks is more than this. To be truly thankful in our hearts is to acknowledge where the good things we are grateful for all come from. The verse above from Psalm 136 reminds us that the one who we return to again and again to give thanks for all good gifts in our lives, is the Lord our God, the Maker of heaven and earth and all things. It is not just on this day that we have dedicated as a nation as “Thanksgiving Day” that we should be giving thanks to God. For it is every single day that God provides and sustains and guards and protects your very lives. Because He cares for you. Because He LOVES you! Because Jesus, His only Son, died for you and forgives you all of your sins.
Last night in our Thanksgiving Eve Prayer and Preaching service, I gave a sermon about remembering all that God has blessed us with. I talked also about receiving what God gives to us now through His means of grace (Word and Sacrament). And I talked about returning to God in repentance and thanksgiving as we wait for Jesus’ future return in all His glory. So much to be thankful for, in past gifts, present grace, and future promised blessings!
So as the song goes, “Give Thanks with a grateful heart, give thanks to the Holy One, give thanks, because He’s given Jesus Christ, His Son.” (LSB 806)
Blessings to you on this Thanksgiving Day and always! In Christ our Lord,
As each has received a gift, use it to serve one another, as good stewards of God’s varied grace:11 whoever speaks, as one who speaks oracles of God; whoever serves, as one who serves by the strength that God supplies—in order that in everything God may be glorified through Jesus Christ. To him belong glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen. 1 Peter 4:10-11
Recently I have been working on my very first novel, an historical fiction novel set in World War II. I am on the last part of this novel now. But I am finding it difficult to start this third part. For the longest time I couldn’t figure out why. I enjoy writing. I enjoy using this gift that God has given me of crafting words together until they sound right to me. Words are fun to me. I can use my thoughts, emotions, ideas, daydreams and imaginations and pour them all in to a volcanic explosion of verbiage on a blank page, and then as if I were doing a finger painting, move all the words around into the order that I think works best, editing and changing this word and that phrase until the “masterpiece” unfolds on the white canvas.
So, why if I love to do this, am I having such trouble getting started on what arguably is going to be the most exciting part of my novel? What is the stumbling block? It is NOT writers block. I have given that one a lot of thought. I figured that had to be it. But I know exactly how I want things to unfold, who the characters are that I am introducing in this section of the book, and how much development I want with each one. The images are very vivid in my mind. Writer’s block is not my hangup. So what can it be?
Surprisingly, the big hangup is ME! That’s right! I am the stumbling block to myself. Instead of using the gifts that God has given me, I have been letting FEAR get in the way. Fear of WHAT, you may be asking. Fear of what to do once I have finished the novel. Fear of what comes after that. I know, editing, editing, and more editing. I know that much. It is the whole publishing world that grabs hold of my anxieties and puts my writing to a halt. The fear of rejections I suppose. I hate rejection. [And to listen to all those writers out there who have been through the whole process, there is so much rejection in the publishing world that its flowing like mud. Quicksand is more like it!] And the thought of it makes me feel like I’m suffocating. I know, I should just suck it up and just start writing part 3. The fear that paralyzes me sometimes makes me feel like a lazy bum, because I accomplish nothing when it hits. It is not until I sit down and actually start typing that the words start coming like an avalanche. Then I can’t stop. I don’t want to stop. The fears disappear and I am in the world that I am making. Immersed in the world of characters and places, times and events that I am constructing from my imagination. The creative part of my brain is in charge now. And it’s not listening to anything else. Maybe that is what I am scared of. It’s that age-old Stephen King like motif of the writer being thrust right into the world of his own imagination, only now that is the new reality. Or the artist whose paintings are not just realistic, they actually come to life.
Sorry, I had to take a little break there and get a glass of water. I got the chills a little bit. Maybe it would help if I closed the window by the kitchen table on this cold November afternoon. There is actually snow falling now.
I want to switch gears off of myself for a minute, and pose a question. What is it that keeps YOU from using a gift that God has given to you? What is the stumbling block that gets in your way? Is it time? Our schedules are often over saturated with things we HAVE to do that we are perhaps too exhausted to do those things that we ought to be doing with the gifts God has given to us. Is it entertainment? I must admit, I enjoy a good movie or television show, perhaps too much sometimes, (especially if they have really interesting characters). But when I cut out much of that, I find that I have plenty of time and energy to do some of those other things. And most of the time, I even enjoy it MORE. Is it FEAR? I already explained how fear gets in my way sometimes. A Lot of people, I have found, are not using their God-given gifts because fear is getting in their way. Or perhaps it is because you do not know what your God-given gifts are. Perhaps you need a friend, or family member, or even a pastor to help you discover what your gifts are. I know that you have them. God says to us in His Word that each person has received different gifts from God’s varied grace. And that we are to use them to serve one another. What are your God-given gifts?
I promise you this…Even though it might be scary initially to venture into finding out what your gifts are–sometimes it is WAAAAY outside of a person’s comfort zone–it DOES get easier, but you have to make that first little baby-step. And yes, you might fall down a couple times trying, and you also might discover that you are NOT good at something that you thought you might be, or wanted to be good at. (I totally wish that I could just sit at the piano and play any song I want to play, like some people can do. That is THEIR gift, not mine. But I have been given gifts that they do not have. That is how God does things.) Regardless of what gifts God has given to you, or not given to you, we are to make use of the ones that we DO have. And we are to use them as a blessing for others. And I have found that doing this ends up being a blessing to me as well. A blessing of happiness and satisfaction that somebody else gets joy out of what I have done with my gifts. It fills me up in a way that I know about but almost never anticipate. That is part of the satisfying aspect of it I suppose.
Well I have babbled on enough for now. I hope that you have discovered some of the gifts that God has given to you. If you haven’t, seek out someone who can help you find out what they are. And don’t be afraid to move outside your comfort zone either. There are a lot of good surprises in those areas for all of us to discover. And quite often, God likes us to move outside our comfort zones to find out that we have those gifts. Then He can do amazing things with you in His kingdom. Try it! And I promise I will try not to let my fears keep getting in the way of using my own gifts. Everything done to the glory of God!
Blessings to you today and always in Christ Jesus our Lord!
10 For the death he died he died to sin, once for all, but the life he lives he lives to God.11 So you also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus.
October. Probably one of my favorite months. No, not because it is supposed to be Pastor appreciation month (although admittedly that has a nice ring to it). The truth is I love the season as much as the month. Autumn. Leaves turning colors; crisp, cool air; HS soccer season (at least where I am from); football games and tailgate parties; bonfires; Homecoming parades; spice cake (with cream cheese icing); apple cider, apple butter; apple pie; APPLES; or for that matter: pumpkin pie; pumpkin muffins; pumpkin bars; pumpkin bread; my new Fall favorite…pumpkin spice lattes; PUMPKINS! I’m getting hungry just writing this.
But this blogpost isn’t about food. I could start a whole other blog for foodies. This is a devotional blog. And this post is about identity…our identity….our identity in Christ! Sure the things above describe things that I like, things I look forward to this time of year. And that gives you a small glimpse into who I am, but only a glimpse. It does not define me at all. You can’t take that list of things and think, “Oh yes, I’ve got this guy’s number.” Just because a person likes/dislikes things, appreciates/doesn’t appreciate something, or has an opinion one way or another about something, doesn’t mean that particular thing defines everything about them. But that seems to be how the world likes to view things. We think we know the whole sum of a person based on one relatively unimportant aspect of their lives.
But what if that one thing IS important. What if it is of such great importance that the Scriptures, our Confessions, our hymnody and other writings speak about it to our consciences in such a way as to cause us to understand it as the sum and substance of who we are and whose we are?
“God’s own child I gladly say it”:I am baptized into Christ! (Lutheran Service Book #594 st. 1, CPH St Louis, Mo 2006)
This hymn has quickly become one of my favorites as I am daily reminded of my baptism into Christ Jesus, and my relationship to my Savior from sin. In my own daily struggle with sin (Read Romans 7:7-25) I need this daily reminder that I am connected to Jesus in such a way that He who paid the full price for all of my sins imparts his righteousness to me. I am reminded that all of my sins have been washed away and that I emerge a new person in Christ.
Stanza 2 of hymn #594 states it quite well:Sin, disturb my soul no longer: I am baptized into Christ! I have comfort even stronger: Jesus’ cleansing sacrifice. Should a guilty conscience seize me, Since my Baptism did release me. In a dear forgiving flood, Sprinkling me with Jesus’ blood?
So you want to know who I am? Start with WHOSE I am. That is my identity now. Nothing less, nothing more. I am baptized into Christ…I’m a child of paradise!(Hymn #594 st. 5, CPH 2006)
12 Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship. 2 Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will. 3 For by the grace given me I say to every one of you: Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought, but rather think of yourself with sober judgment, in accordance with the faith God has distributed to each of you. Romans 12:1-3
It is interesting to read that even in St. Paul’s time people had trouble with conforming to worldly ideas, and imitating worldly ways. We certainly are seeing this in our lifetime. So what? Why is this a problem? We live in this world don’t we? I think there is a big clue for us in Paul’s words to the Roman Christians above, as to why this matters for us who are in Christ. IN VIEW OF GOD’S MERCY. In His mercy, God sent Jesus to take on flesh like ours (INCARNATE WORD), and to live perfectly obedient to God, because we could not. Ultimately, Jesus came to bear the sin of us all on the cross, and to die in the place of sinful human beings, that is, ALL OF US. That is what God in His mercy has done for us, though we certainly did not deserve this mercy, this wondrous love from Him.
Jesus also reminds us that in Him, we are now different from the world. In John chapter 17, while praying for His disciples, Jesus has the following words…14 I have given them your word and the world has hated them, for they are not of the world any more than I am of the world. 15 My prayer is not that you take them out of the world but that you protect them from the evil one. 16 They are not of the world, even as I am not of it. 17 Sanctify them by[d] the truth; your word is truth.
John also reminds us of this reality once again in his 1st Epistle, chapter 4, Every spirit that acknowledges that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God, 3 but every spirit that does not acknowledge Jesus is not from God. This is the spirit of the antichrist, which you have heard is coming and even now is already in the world. 4 You, dear children, are from God and have overcome them, because the one who is in you is greater than the one who is in the world. 5 They are from the world and therefore speak from the viewpoint of the world, and the world listens to them. 6 We are from God, and whoever knows God listens to us; but whoever is not from God does not listen to us. This is how we recognize the Spirit[a] of truth and the spirit of falsehood.
So, it also helps us in discerning and recognizing the difference between a Spirit of Truth and a spirit of falsehood. But if we become like the world, and imitate it, I suppose that difference will become more blurred for us. It is something to be very aware of, and pay close attention to, and test our hearts on.
One thing is for certain, we are most definitely changed by the faith that God has given to us; and that change means that even though we live in this world, we are not to be of, or LIKE the world in what we think, say and do. But as Paul reminds us, “Be TRANSFORMED, by the renewing of your mind.” In this way, through studying God’s Holy Word, we are able to know what the “good, pleasing, and perfect will of God is.”
Then the Lord answered Job out of the whirlwind and said:
“Who is this that darkens counsel by words without KNOWLEDGE? Dress for action like a man; I will question you, and you make it known to me.”—Job 38:1-3
Holy cow! I read this and think, whoa, I hope Job had a change of underwear handy. Truthfully, when many people think of Job, it would seem that they prefer to think of the God of Job 42:10-17…
10 After Job had prayed for his friends, the Lord restored his fortunes and gave him twice as much as he had before. 11 All his brothers and sisters and everyone who had known him before came and ate with him in his house. They comforted and consoled him over all the trouble the Lord had brought on him, and each one gave him a piece of silver[a] and a gold ring.12 The Lord blessed the latter part of Job’s life more than the former part….16 After this, Job lived a hundred and forty years; he saw his children and their children to the fourth generation. 17 And so Job died, an old man and full of years.
Now doesn’t that sound much better? But the God in Job 42 is the same God of Job 38-40, the same God in chapters 1 and 2, where He allows Satan to take everything from Job, including his health.
We, like Job want to question WHY? We want to approach God as if we understand the Lord and His will and His ways enough to try and TEACH the One who created all things, sustains all things, the one who redeems and sanctifies and makes things NEW. How could we possibly understand God completely, or the completeness of His will, or the depth of His love, or the complexity of His ways?
And so when we come at God, as Job did, to try and TEACH God something about His own attributes, or will, or ways, that is when we need to be humbled. That is what God is doing with Job, who had been a faithful servant of God. (Even faithful servants of God need to be humbled—trust me, I know). If we are truly repentant we will at the very least have an understanding that in our sinfulness, we have no right to come before a HOLY God and approach Him with foolish pride and contempt and attempts at justifying ourselves.
When we read a text like the three verses in chapter 38 above, we may even wonder if we can/should approach God at all. This is where seeking out Jesus in the Word of God becomes so important. In searching the Lord and His ways through reading, marking, learning and inwardly digesting His holy Word (regularly), we discover that Jesus makes it possible for us to come (humbly) before the Lord (as beggars—like Luther said). “Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need” (Hebrews 4:16).
We do not have to be terrified of approaching the Lord, but because of Jesus being the mediator between God and Man, and because Jesus died for each one of us, we can approach the Lord our God with confidence and even boldness. But we should remember who is the Creator, and who are His Creatures, and never get that wrong, or try to teach God about Himself. You won’t find anything good in the Scriptures about somebody being arrogant in approaching God. Yeah, that doesn’t usually turn out too well.
But when we do humbly come before the Lord we are not treated like beggars, but as His dear children, brothers and sisters of Christ Jesus—God’s only Son. We have a special place because of Christ and His work of redemption of mankind through humbling Himself to die on the cross in your place.
PRAYER: Lord Jesus, thank you for making it possible for us to come before our Father in heaven at all times and in all circumstances. Help us to search for You in Your Holy Word, that we may know the Father and His will, and walk in His ways, through knowing You. May we always approach You in humility, and with fear, love, and trust in You above all things…especially over and above our feeble and sinful understanding. In Jesus’ name we pray. AMEN.
See now that I, even I am He, and there is no god beside me; I kill and I make alive; I wound and I heal; and there is none that can deliver out of my hand.–Dueteronomy 32:39
Greeetings readers, and thank you for taking a look at my blog. It has been a while, once again, since I last posted anything. Thank you for your patience. I have been getting myself ready and making lots of plans for returning to work in my pastorate at Peace Lutheran here in Rapid City, SD. It has been almost 6 months since I was placed on medical leave by the elders of my congregation. I praise God, who kills and makes alive, who wounds, and who also heals. His own Word bears this out in Deuteronomy chapter 32, our OT reading for Palm Sunday, this weekend.
It has been a very difficult road. Pastoral burnout, depression, and situational anxiety, with added grief due to multiple deaths in our extended family, all played a major role in my sinking into “the pit” so to speak. Most of those things a lot of people do not understand, so you can add that to the mix of what I was constantly dealing with. But after months and months of not receiving any relief for all of that, God gave me a wonderful gift. I got placed on medical leave. This alone did not solve all my problems or fix everything that was wrong. There was a lot of hard work to be done and several different physicians of differing specialties to consult; medications to be tried out in order to find the right combinations. There were difficult talks and challenging meetings with officials from the congregation, and officials from the district office.
It seemed like every step of the way I was being challenged on this journey, or my faith being tested in the things I was learning from God in His Word, or confronted with something in therapy, or from some of those other difficult conversations. I would also say that thankfully, most people were nice and supportive, but there were some who were not and took a much different approach where I and my wellness were concerned. And it was very hurtful, and injurious to my healing process. Why would God allow these things to happen on top of what I was already dealing with?
Why me? We often ask that question, don’t we? In fact, it is usually the first question that comes to mind when things become difficult for us. And then we must remember that God is the one who kills and makes alive again. God is the one who wounds and then heals. He tests our faith to see if we have really learned anything, and moves us toward repentance and further trusting in Him alone, above all things. The only real question is in whom do we trust when things become so difficult in our lives.
That is what this text from Deuteronomy is really about. In the beginning of the text is the Lord reminding that He “will vindicate His people and have compassion on His servants.” And He follows this up by mocking those who place their trust in other gods and practice idolatry. Now idolatry can come in many different forms. It is always fearing, loving, or trusting in other things above God. We can fear and love the one true God (Father, Son, Holy Spirit), but still trust in other people, or things, including ourselves. More likely than not, when things get difficult, we trust in ourselves. That is what happened in my case, and I ended up trying to give to others from an empty cup so to speak. What can you give from an empty cup? Nothing good, I can tell you that!
The good news for us is this…We DO have a God who vindicates us, and has compassion on His servants. Though it may be hard for us to understand, we have a God who also kills and makes alive; who wounds and also heals. We have a God who nobody can take us out of His hands or snatch us away from Him. “Nothing can separate us from the LOVE of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord!”
God’s peace to you as we prepare to meditate on our Lord’s Passion!
Greetings and salutations in this brand new calendar year! I have not been actively blogging for some time now dear friends, as I have been on medical leave for pastoral burnout and depression. Hell of a thing these two ugly monsters. Not only does one suffer through trying to squeeze those last drops of fuel out of one’s tank, and those last dregs at the bottom of the cup to keep on giving to others (which I found out in therapy does more harm than good); and not only does one try to hide that they are depressed and show up to work, or ministry, (or family) trying to mask the pain that you are really feeling every day to make everything seem like it is nice and normal like ( we wouldn’t want anyone to suspect that we are hurting, exhausted, and depressed, would we?…as if they couldn’t tell anyway) But there is also the problem of people all around you not understanding things like pastoral burnout and anxiety and depression.
My point in writing about all this is not, boo hoo, poor me. If that was the case, I would not have been working so hard to get well these past nearly 3 months now. I am writing about this, because in my wellness program I have discovered many truths about just how BIG a problem these things are already among church workers, and that the church really doesn’t have much of a clue about how to deal with it. I have also, in speaking to several certified therapists about the situation, have found that they suspect that the problem is going to get much worse in the future. Having seen many of the holes in how the church deals with these issues, and experienced them firsthand, I have no doubts that this is going to be true.
It has been said by a colleague, “If you had cancer, the people would be doing everything they could to get you well.” I would add to that from my own experience, “And not question you, your illness, or your treatment plan, or how long you might be out, or think that you are just faking all of this to get some extra time off, or whatever they are thinking.“
But I am also not simply writing this to rant about the problems I have experienced during this medical leave. I am writing because I am very thankful for all of the people, family, friends, colleagues, parishioners, and especially my doctor and therapist, who have been so wonderful and supportive to me.
So many people have never experienced burnout, or anxiety, or depression in their lives and don’t really know what that is like. And yet so many more are suffering from one or more of these things as I write this. Perhaps they are scared. Perhaps they are alone. Perhaps they are thinking that if anyone finds out they have so much to lose.
If anyone out there is experiencing any of these things right now and are scared and feel like you are alone in dealing with it. I assure you that you are not. There is plenty of help out there, and support for you. But many around you may not know that you need the help, or may be unsure what to do to help you.
For those of you who want to help, you can start by simply being supportive. LISTEN! That goes a long way. I was not listened to when I was crying out for help! Prayers definitely help. A smile or word of encouragement helps lift a person and bring them some light in an otherwise often dark day. Being angry and frustrated with them because you do not understand these things they are going through does NOT help them at all.
I would encourage you also, if you are suffering these things to seek guidance and counseling from professionals who are both certified and skilled at dealing with these things.
If you are hurting even deeper, or considering suicide, please contact the
National Suicide Prevention Lifeline
Call 1-800-273-8255 Or text the Crisis Text Line at:
Text CONNECT to 741741 in the United States.
A live, trained Crisis Counselor receives the text and lets you know that they are here to listen.
Crisis Text Line is free, 24/7 support for those in crisis, connecting people in crisis to trained Crisis Counselors. Our first priority is helping people move from a hot moment to a cool calm, guiding you to create a plan to stay safe and healthy. YOU = our priority.
Happy New Year! Please be kind and compassionate to one another in 2019 and always! God’s blessings and love to you all! I will be writing more now that I am in a better place physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually! Praise God from whom all blessings flow!
Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be frightened, and do not be dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go. —Joshua 1:9
I have just started studying the book of Joshua, and something really struck me about those words, “STRONG AND COURAGEOUS“. Of course, it kind of jumps off the page at you, when the Lord Himself uses that phrase 3x in just 9 verses trying to ready Joshua, son of Nun, for delivering the people of Israel the rest of the way to take their inheritance of the promised land. It was to be no easy task, but God wanted Him, and all of them as well, to remember that He was always with them wherever they go. And for Joshua, as a leader, to be “strong and courageous,” and to remember that God would not “leave or foresake” him. He also commands Joshua not to “be frightened or dismayed.“
It got me to thinking about those times in my own life when I have lost confidence or been frightened or dismayed. If I am being honest, it usually has been when I took my eyes off of the Savior, when I have forgotten His promise to always be with me, when I have tried to make it all about myself and what “I” have to do. But it is not at all about me or what I have to do. Rather it is about the Lord’s Word, and His promises, and what HE is doing in and through this life that He has given to me.
As His disciple, following Him means not taking my eyes off of Him, not turning away from Him or the path that He has given to me, and fearing the Lord above all things, including and especially the things (and people) of this world. This doesn’t mean that I am “afraid” of the Lord, but have a healthy and faithful respect for who the Lord is and what He has done and continues to do in the lives of His people.
It was God’s delight to choose Joshua to lead Israel after Moses’ death. And in doing so, He had certain things for Joshua to be aware of and to do in order to be a good and faithful leader for God’s people. First of all to be strong and courageous. But part of doing that was also doing what God had commanded, “not turning to the left, or to the right” of it. And keeping these commands, God said would give Joshua success.
It is God’s Word that I am always drawn back to when I lack courage, or confidence to do the things that He has called me to do. And His Word reminds me that He is always with me wherever I go and whatever I am doing in His kingdom, no matter how difficult or challenging, no matter how frightened or dismayed I may become. It reminds me that I can be strong and courageous because of who I am in Christ Jesus, who was strong and courageous all the way to the cross for me, and for you.
PRAYER:Heavenly Father, we thank You for these words of encouragement that You gave to Your servant Joshua. We thank You for Your promise to always be with us. Give us strength and courage as we live and work each day in Your kingdom, and keep us grounded in Your Holy Word to do what You have commanded and not stray from it, or take our eyes off the Savior, so that we may bring glory to Your Holy Name. AMEN.