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11/3/19 "The Victory Song"

“For the Lamb at the center of the throne will be their shepherd; He will lead them to springs of living water.  And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.”  Revelation 7:17; All Saints Sunday; 11/3/19

Grace…

We all need something to look forward to in life.  It may be a meal in which you’re looking forward to getting together with friends.  It may also be a family gathering.  It may be an outing like a football game or a game of hockey that you are going to go to cheer your team on to victory.  It may be a musical or some other kind of artistic kind of outing.  It may be a favorite show on tv.  It may also be a weekly choir practice or a Bible study.  We all need something to look forward to.

Because life, as we know it, gets pretty hard.  Sometimes it’s the monotonous, day in-day out type of thing, that we sometimes feel drones on and on.  Some of you, may feel like your school, work, or life, is the same thing day after day after day.  But, sometimes life’s so much tougher than that.  We hear news of storms roaring through areas and people losing their homes and belongings.  We hear of violence that erupts and there seems to be no easy answer.  We hear of layoffs and loss of jobs.  We hear of sickness, and news of long periods of treatments.  And then we hear of death, and sometimes it’s even the death of a loved one.  It’s not very easy.  Not very fun at all.  Where is the good news in all of this?

Well, today God’s Word in the Book of Revelation gives us something great to look forward to.  In fact, it gives us a victory song!  Over the past several weeks here at Trinity, we’ve been going through the letters to the Churches in the Book of Revelation.  But, today we dig even further into the book.  And as we do, it’s important that we understand a few things about the book.  First, the book of Revelation was inspired by the Holy Spirit to the Apostle John, while John was exiled on the island of Patmos.  Second, through this Revelation, John was able to see the full scope of history.  He was, in fact, able to see behind the curtain of what God was really doing in the world and also behind the scenes. And third, it’s important to understand that the book was written during a time of great persecution.  Christians were being beaten, thrown in jail, and killed for the faith, because they would not bow down and worship the emperor, Domitian.

So, the Apostle John wrote what he saw and heard about the truth of what God was doing, even though Satan and the culture of the world were warring against Him.  Our God is victorious.  He has conquered the devil and the world through His almighty Son, Jesus Christ, and has given the ultimate victory in heaven to those who believe in Him. This victory is definitely something to look forward to!

So, come along!  Let’s listen and look forward to this together.  John writes, “After this I looked and there before me was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people, and language, standing before the throne and in front of the Lamb.  They were wearing white robes and were holding palm branches in their hands.  And they cried out in a loud voice:  Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne and to the Lamb!” John sees a great multitude of believers, larger than anyone could count standing before the throne of God.  They were from every nation, tribe, people, and language.  What an amazing multi-ethnic event.  People from all around the world, every walk of life.  And they were wearing white robes.  White, the color of righteousness, and innocence.  And they were holding palm branches, a symbol of victory, and shouting out in a loud voice, “Salvation belongs to our God, who sits on the throne and to the Lamb!”  What a sight!  What a sound!

Those palm branches bring up memories of another time.  It was a time that John described in his Gospel.  A time where people had gathered together in Jerusalem.  They were preparing to celebrate the Passover.  And there in the distance came a humble man, riding on a donkey into the city.  This was no majestic stallion or war horse.  It was a beast of burden, a humble donkey.  The people had heard of His mighty teachings, His healings, His miracles, and yes even raising the dead.  They had great hopes for Him.  Some, even thought that He would overthrow the hated Roman overlords.  And they went out to meet Him, and waved palm branches, saying to Him, “Hosanna, blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord, even the king of Israel.”(John 12:13)

And yet it sure didn’t seem like a victory song for long.  The Pharisees, the scribes and the ruling council, schemed to oppose Jesus.  They even developed a plan to capture Him, and bring Him to trial.  They didn’t want the forgiveness, peace, and life that He promised.  So they brought Him before Pilate, with false charges.  And although Pilate wanted no part in it, he had Jesus bound over to be flogged and crucified.  It sure didn’t seem victorious.  The suffering, the nails, the agony.  Yet, through it all, God’s plan was being fulfilled.  Jesus, the Lamb of God’s, suffering and death was the payment in full for all the sins of the whole world, and from the cross He announced it to the world.  “It is finished!”  The debt had been paid.  And by His rising from the dead on the third day, Jesus won the victory for all who believe.  Satan, sin, and death have been defeated, for in Jesus we have triumphed.  We can join in with the angels and the elders around the throne singing, “Amen! Praise and glory and wisdom and thanks and honor and power and strength be to our God forever and ever.  Amen!”  It’s so beautiful, and definitely something to look forward to!

But for so many of us, life is so very hard.  The discouragements of life seem to truly mount up at times. We have a hard time singing a victory song.   Every day we hear and see things that are not like they should be.  Children not being raised in love.  Families fighting, and husbands and wives just giving in and giving up.  We see people suffering, and loved ones getting sick and even dying.  “It is what it is”, they say.  And it seems as if there’s nothing but a sad song, like a dirge in life.

But, we need to remember and hold firm to the victory song of heaven, the truth revealed in Revelation.  The truth that is said before the throne of God.  The truth about the believers who praise God around the throne.  The truth that states, “Never again will they hunger; never again will they thirst.  The sun will not beat upon them, nor any scorching heat.  For the Lamb at the center of the throne will be their shepherd; He will lead them to springs of living water.  And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.”

Dear brother and sister in Christ, dear saints, through faith in Jesus.  Perhaps this past year or these past few months have been very tough for you.  Our hearts, my heart, goes out to you in true Christian sympathy and love.  We want to say to you that we are your brothers and sisters in faith, and will stand with you as your friends in your time of loss.  God’s Word also wanted to point you to your Greatest Friend , as Paul says in 2nd Corinthians, “Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles…”(2 Cor. 1:3-4) And even further God’s Word wants to help you rejoice in the victory song that is ours through faith.  Jesus has won the victory.  He is the Lamb at the center of the throne.  He will lead us to the springs of living water where we will be fully comforted.  And God will wipe away every tear.

Maybe it’s not you right now, but maybe you have a loved one, or someone you know who is going through a particularly rough time.  Maybe there are struggling through a situation in life where it seems like everything is going against them.  It’s really powerful to know that another person cares.  Maybe you can reach out to them and simply be a friend by listening to them.  Sometimes people just need to talk.  Maybe you could send a card to them or something as simple as a text message.  This is where the saints of God, become a communion, a communion of saints, a church that cares for others, and lets them know that God loves them, sent His Son Jesus for them, and promises a Victory Song in heaven for them!

God grant it…

10/27/2019 Reformed in Fire

“These are the words of the Amen, the faithful and true witness, the ruler of God’s creation.  I know your deeds, that you are neither cold not hot.  I wish you were either one or the other!”  Revelation 3:14b-15, Dear Church#8; October 27, 2019

Grace…

Picture yourself sitting before a wonderful feast…, perhaps something like an extravagant plate of steak and lobster.  It is being served fresh off the grill.  It is piping hot and the sumptuous aroma fills the air.  The thoughts of a fresh hot meal like this brings excitement to your mind.  Then a prayer is said, the food is served, and the first taste that you have is an unpleasant shock.  It’s not hot and spectacular like you expected it would be.   In fact, it’s lukewarm and even cold and the taste is just kind of blah.  Imagine your disdain over what you thought it could have been like and what it should have been like.

Or maybe steak and lobster is not your thing.  Maybe you just prefer something else like, let’s say –oatmeal.  You like to mix a lot of things into the bowl with it like brown sugar, or honey, raisins, cranberries, pecans and the like.  You like it when it’s nice and hot, so you can mix all of those things in and then pour on a just a little milk.  But then that first spoonful comes, and it’s not hot at all.  It’s not even warm—it’s just awful.  And then that cup of coffee that you had just poured into your cup, you have great expectations to taste that hot first sip, but instead tastes like lukewarm sludge that’s been setting in the pot for the past twelve hours.  Blech!

God has great expectations for our faith too!  He desires for us to take our calling from Him, our relationship with Him, our Christian faith seriously.  He wants our faith, our following of Him to be our first priority in our life, not second, third, or ninety-ninth on our list.   He wants us to have a passion for His kingdom, not a ho-hum relationship, but a deep desire, because there’s nothing else in this world that is more important than a life connected to Him.

This is one of the clear teachings that we have found in this sermon series that we have called, “Dear Church!”  God loves us!  We are His dear church, dear people. He treasures us and He wants us to cherish and treasure our relationship with Him.  He desires for each of us to have a loving, trusting relationship with Him, that directs our whole life, in the way that we go to school, or work, or live in relationship to others in our community and world.

Today marks the last of the seven letters to the Churches of Revelation.  In previous weeks we have mentioned that this book of Revelation was written by the Apostle John while he was in exile on the island of Patmos.  There, while he was worshiping the Lord, on the Lord’s day (Sunday), Jesus Himself appeared to him.  And Jesus told him to write down all that He said, and all he would see, and send it first to the seven churches of Asia.  We also mentioned that this book was written during a time of severe persecution of Christianity.  The Roman emperor in about 95 AD, Domitian, had called on all people to bow down and worship him.  But, the Christians, by and large, had refused to do so.  So, some lost jobs, others lost their property, and still others lost their lives.  So, this book, including the seven letters were written to call the churches to repentance, encourage them onward that God has provided an open door for them, and to remind them of the final victory they had in Jesus Christ.

This last letter, to the Church of Laodicaea, is really the harshest of all of the letters.  The city of Laodicaea had so much going for it.  It was one of the wealthiest cities of the whole area.  It was known for a few things in particular.  First, it was known for the special fine black wool, because the flocks of sheep from the area were beautiful black sheep.  In addition, Laodicaea had a medical school, which specialized in the treatment of eyes and ears.  Along with this wealth accumulated from wool and medicine, Laodicaea was considered the center for worship of false gods, and emperor worship for the area.

In the midst of all this wealth and the pressures of the culture of worshiping false gods including the emperor, the Christian Church at Laodicaea was just sitting back on their hands and letting their faith in God simply dwindle, rather than doing God’s will.  Jesus says, “I know your deeds, that you are neither cold nor hot.  I wish you were either one or the other!  So because you are lukewarm—neither hot nor cold—I am about to spit you out of my mouth.!”  They had been given so much by God—His love, His mercy, His presence in their lives.  But, they obviously didn’t care.  But Jesus says, “I’m about to spit you out!”

Satan and the world had numbed their faith to the point that they felt their faith was just fine the way that they were.  Jesus says, “You say, I am rich; I have acquired wealth and do not need a thing.  But you do not realize that you are wretched, pitiful, poor, blind, and naked. I counsel you to buy from me gold refined in the fire, so you can become rich; and white clothes to wear, so you can cover your shameful nakedness and salve to put on your eyes, so you can see.”  Wow!  The church had taken their faith for granted.  They just didn’t care anymore.  They were filled with apathy.  It was time for them to wake up!  And truly time for all of us to wake up too.

Sometimes we also act as if we don’t care.  We get busy with other things in life.  We take care of ourselves and our own bottom line, but do we really care about the most important things of spreading the message of Jesus and living our lives for Him?  Sometimes we even just go through the motions in worship.  We come to worship like we’re punching in on a time clock, instead of rejoicing that we are here in the presence of God.  At times it seems that people are paying more attention to other things or to their phones than to God’s Word being read and preached from.  Like the Laodicaeans, left on our own, we are wretched, pitiful, poor, blind, and naked.  We need Jesus help desperately!  We need the precious forgiveness that Jesus Christ has won for us, when He gave His pure, and precious blood for us on the cross.  (He was wounded for our transgressions, He was bruised for our iniquities…he gave His life for us!)  We need the victory He won for us in His glorious resurrection, and we need the righteousness He has given to us in Holy Baptism, a righteousness that clothes us, and we need the Holy Spirit to reform us with His fire, like precious gold.  Come, Holy Spirit Come!

On this day where we also celebrate the Reformation, we remember faithful pastors like Martin Luther, who took a stand for the pure truth of God’s Word.  It was of first importance in his life.  While others in his day were teaching that a person could buy their way to salvation by purchasing indulgences through the Catholic church, Luther took the stand saying that we are saved by the Grace of God alone, through faith in Jesus alone, as is found in the Scriptures alone.  And when later He was called to recant or take back what he said and wrote about, He said: “My conscience is captive to the Word of God…I cannot and will not recant…Here I stand…May God help me.  Amen!”

Dear Church, dear brother and sister in Christ, today, God also seeks to reform His church today, our church and each of us with the fire of His Word.  Although He speaks harshly to the Church of Laodicaea and us as well, He speaks out of true love for us.  He says, “Those whom I love I rebuke and discipline.  So be earnest and repent.  Here I am!  I stand at the door and knock.  If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with him and he with me.”  Our Savior Jesus knows us, and loves each of us.  He wants us to take our faith in Him to heart, and He desires to always be first in our lives, not second, third, or an afterthought.  If He didn’t love us, He wouldn’t care. He desires that we grow in the study of His Word, in our prayer life, in the way we serve others, and in the way we share the message of hope and forgiveness in Jesus Christ. And He desires that we would be on fire, captive to the Word of God.

The times during the writing of the book of Revelation were very hard.  There was the real threat of hard persecution going on.  And the times today are very hard today as well.  We may not have physical persecution in our part of the world, but Satan and the culture of our world have tried to lead us to false teaching and despair. 

But, take heart dear friend, have great courage!  Our Savior Jesus is mightily with us!  And He promises victory for us through faith in Him.  He says, “To him who overcomes, I will give the right to sit with me on my throne, just as I overcame and sat down with my Father on His throne…He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.”

God grant it…

9/29/19 True to His Name

“He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.  To him who overcomes, I will ge some of the hidden manna.  I will also give him a white stone with a new name written on it, known only to him who receives it.”  Revelation 2:17; Pentecost 16; Dear Church

Your name is a beautiful thing.  It identifies you.  People know you by your name.  Your parents likely thought long and hard and even prayed over your name.  Maybe you were named after a family member.  Maybe it was after a Bible character.  Maybe you were named after a something or someone famous, like an actor, a sports star, or a president.  Maybe your parents just liked the sound of your name, and how it went with your middle and last names.  Your name is a beautiful thing.

Your name also includes many other things along with it.  Your reputation goes along with it.  That is why the Bible regularly encourages us always to seek a good name.  Proverbs 22 says, “A good name is more desirable than great riches; to be esteemed is better than silver or gold.”  And Proverbs 3 says, “Let love and faithfulness never leave you; bind them around your neck, write them on the tablet of your heart.  Then you will win favor and a good name in the sight of God and man.” 

Today, we continue in our series titled, “Dear Church!” which is based on the letters in Revelation.  God desires for His church to have a good name.  He wants His church and people to live lives that are true to His name, both inside and out.  To not just look good on the outside, but also inside as well.  In recent weeks, we have looked at how sometimes we may be busy with good things on the outside, but we may have lost our first love, our passion of following Jesus.  Last week, we looked at how important it is to “Be Faithful” in all areas of our lives.  Again, not just on the outside, but inside, in our hearts and minds, as Jesus says, “Be Faithful, even to the point of death, and I will give you the crown of life.”

But, before we go further into today’s lesson, it’s important for us to take a step back and understand some things about these letters.  These letters were inspired by Jesus to His apostle John, while John was in exile on the island of Patmos.  There are seven letters to the churches, and throughout the Bible, the number seven represents fullness, completeness.  So, in many respects, the seven churches represent the whole church of God.  Although they were written during times of great persecution, the issues that are spoken of at that time, apply to us as well today.  We may not be going through physical persecution, but Satan and the world are hard at work to try to destroy God’s church today, and faith in Him. 

The churches were all spread out over what was known as Asia Minor back then, but today would be in the nation of Turkey.  They were the major churches of Asia at that time, and probably all had a connection to the Apostle John.  In previous weeks we have looked at the church of Ephesus and last week the church of Smyrna, and now today we look at the church of Pergamum.

Pergamum (Bergama) is located about 50 miles north of Smyrna.  At one time, Pergamum was known as the Capital City of Asia.  It was home to a large library, some 20,000 volumes which was huge in the ancient day.  Some people suggest that parchment was first made there, as many of the volumes in the library were likely made from parchment.  Pergamum was also the home of major pagan temples, to the gods,Zeus, Athene, Dionysos, and also Asklepios, the Roman god of healing.  Because of this, many people would go to Pergamum to seek healing for their diseases. 

But, Pergamum was even more famous for Emperor worship.  In 29 BC a large temple was built for Caesar Augustus, and at the time of the writing of this letter in 95 AD, people were being forced to bow down and worship the emperor Domitian.  Jesus refers to this as the home of Satan.  But the Christians there were standing strong.  Although threatened with loss of job, loss of land, imprisonment, and even death, they remained true to the name of Jesus, and did not renounce their faith in Him.

In the letter, Jesus commends the church of Pergamum for holding on in faith, but He does address the very sinister and evil problem of “compromising their faith” to the ways of the world.  He writes, “These are the words of Him who has the sharp, double edged sword.  I know where you live—where Satan has his throne, yet you remain true to my name.  You did not renounce your faith in me, even in the days of Antipas, my faithful witness, who was put to death in your city where Satan lives.  Nevertheless, I have a few things against you:  You have been there who hold to the teaching of Balaam, who taught Balak to entice the Israelites to sin by eating food sacrificed to idols and by committing sexual immorality.  Likewise you also have those who hold to the teaching of the Nicolaitans.  Repent therefore!  Otherwise I will soon come to you and will fight against them with the sword of my mouth.”

All through the book of Revelation, Jesus speaks of Himself having a sharp double edged sword.  That sword represents the powerful Word of God, which comes out of His mouth.  It is more powerful than all the powers of man.  This Word of God spoke the words of creation.  But this Sword of the Spirit also comes in judgment.  Jesus sees the church in Pergamum as outwardly faithful, but often compromising to the sinful lifestyles of the world.  And He draws upon a lesson from the Old Testament, from the book of Numbers, when the children of Israel were still walking through the wilderness on their way to the Promised Land.  They came near to the land of Moab.  Moab’s king was a man by the name of Balak, and he paid for a sorcerer by the name of Balaam to curse the Children of Israel.  Balaam tried to curse Israel but he could not, but what he did was even worse.  He enticed the Israelites to eat food that was sacrificed to Baal, and even worse, enticed the Israelites to commit sexual immorality with the women of Moab.  They tried to compromise, to be faithful on the outside, but living immorally in private.  But, God saw right through it, and you may remember on that day 24,000 Israelites died.

Jesus sees the same thing going on at Pergamum.  And He calls the church to “Repent”!  Change! Confess your sin! Renounce the compromises that you are making with the world, and let Jesus and His powerful Word bring you forgiveness, hope, and healing.  Many people were coming to Pergamum for healing from the gods.  But the true God, the Triune God, brings healing through faith in Jesus. 

Jesus brings health and healing through the cross.  There He died for the sins of the whole world for the church of Pergamum, and for each one of us.  He said “Father forgive them…”  “It is finished!”  (The debt has been paid!) and “Today you will be with Me in paradise.”  This is what Jesus gives to each of us as well, and also through the Resurrection give us His Spirit to overcome the temptations of Satan and this dark world.

Dear Church, Dear members of Trinity, dear friend, God also knows our lives.  He sees the life of our congregation and our own personal life like an open book.  He knows the outside, how you are trying, but He also sees the inside of our hearts.  He sees how often we compromise to the ways of the world, in the shows that we watch, the books that we read, the sites that we visit on our computer or our phone, in the things that we strive for, and the language that we use.    Compromising to sin has a way of weakening our resolve and our faith in Jesus.   We begin to try to serve two masters.  Today, Jesus calls us personally and as a church to repent.

And He calls us to hear these grace filled words from our true Master.  He says, “He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.  To Him who overcomes, I will give some of the hidden manna.  I will also give him a white stone with a new name written on it, known only to him who receives it.”  We, with ears open overcome through faith in Jesus.  He will bring to us that manna, that gift from heaven, that is the “bread of life”, given to us in the Lord’s Supper which we will receive in just a few moments, to bring us the forgiveness of sins and healing for our lives.

And He will also give us a new name, “Overcomer”, “Conqueror”,  “Victorious” “Not Guilty”, “Set Free” “My Child”, for the white stone was a sign of being declared not guilty in the court of law.  Yes you are an overcomer, victorious, and true to His name through faith in Jesus!  His Dear Church!  His Dear Child!

God grant it…

   

9/22/19 "Be Faithful"

“To the angel of the church in Smyrna write:  These are the words of Him who is the first and the last, who died and came to life again.  I know your afflictions and your poverty—yet you are rich!”  Revelation 2:8-9b; Pentecost 15; 9/22/19; Dear Church #3

I know you!  I’ve known you since you were a little girl, or little boy, and even before then.  I know your parents and your grandparents.  I know all about you!  Maybe you’ve had an experience like that in your life where someone comes up to you and says they know all about you.  Maybe it’s someone here at church.  Or maybe you heard those words from your parent or your grandparent.  I can remember my dad always saying, “I know you better than you know yourself.”  But, does anyone truly know you completely? Your ups and downs?  What brings you joy and what discourages you.  Who is it that truly knows your heart? 

Our text for today from the book of Revelation reminds us that God is the One who truly knows everything about us.   Like Psalm 139 says, “O Lord You have searched me and You know me.  You know when I sit and when I rise.  You perceive my thoughts from afar.  “ God knows what motivates us.  But, He also knows what we hide from others, what makes us afraid.  He knows our faith, and the struggles we have with our faith.  He knows all about us.  And still He loves us and will provide for all our needs as we stay strong in the faith—as we are faithful.

Today, we continue in our study of the Letters in Revelation, which we have called, “Dear Church!”  These are letters written by Jesus to the seven churches in Asia, modern day Turkey, and yet they have a tremendous way of applying to us today.  They are reminder that God knows His Church and He knows His people today as well!

Today’s letter is to the Church of Smyrna.  Smyrna, (modern day Izmir) as you can see on the map, Smyrna is right on the water.  It has a large harbor on the Aegean Sea.  And because of it, had a lot of commerce/trading going on there.  Smyrna often referred to itself proudly as the “First City” of Asia.  It was well known for its stadium, library, and its theater.  But, Smyrna was also known for being the center of pagan worship of the Roman Emperor.  From times even before the coming of Christ, the people of Smyrna had built a temple for worshiping the Emperor, called “Dea Roma”, and afterward had built a temple for the Emperor Tiberius as well.  In addition, Smyrna was also known for having a thriving Jewish population.

All of these things really add in to the background of this letter, because you see, the Christian Church at Smyrna was bracing itself for a very hard persecution.  Because the Christians would not bow down to the Emperor Domitian, they were often imprisoned, beaten, and killed for their faith.  The Jewish population also, joined in with the pagans on this persecution, and made it especially brutal.  Jesus knew that the Christian Church at Smyrna was trying hard to be faithful. 

He writes, “To the angel of the church in Smyrna write, These are the words of Him who is the First and the Last, who died and came to life again.  I know your afflictions, and your poverty—yet you are rich!  I know the slander of those who say they are Jews and are not, but are a synagogue of Satan.  Do not be afraid of what you are about to suffer.  I tell you, the devil will put some of you in prison to test you, and you will suffer persecution for ten days.  Be faithful, even to the point of death, and I will give you the crown of life.”

It’s important to see that Jesus again calls Himself the “First and the Last, who died and came to life again.”  He is the beginning and the end, the Alpha and the Omega.  He sees everything from an eternal point of view.  He knows all things.  And He certainly understands persecution.  He knows that  ultimately everything that opposes faith in Jesus, is truly from Satan.  And so this persecution is not even just man-made.  It comes from the long and bitter fight between Satan, who wanted the control, and wanted to be like God.  That is truly who is opposing the Christians in Smyrna.  Jesus knows the hard afflictions that Satan has brought about, even how long they will last.

Jesus says, “I know your afflictions and your poverty.”  He is saying, “I know what you are going through.  But you are rich!  You have stood strong!  You have held fast.  Yet, what He also sees in the Church of Smyrna is their fear in the face of persecution.  On the one hand, it’s understandable.  There were losing their jobs, losing their land, and Christians were being carted off and being killed.  But on the other hand, fear of the things and the people of this world is really idolatry.   Paul writes these words in Romans 8, “What then shall we say in response to this?  If God is for us, who can be against us?  He who did not spare His own Son, but gave Him up for us all—how will He not also, along with Him graciously give us all things.?”

Jesus Christ was given up for you and me!  He came out of the glory of heaven to “Fight the Great Fight” against Satan and this dark world, and Jesus was victorious.  When He was faced with opposition, He didn’t turn away in fear and run away.  He came straight into Jerusalem, on the back of a donkey, knowing full well that Satan, through his agents, the Pharisees, the Chief Priests, and the Roman Government would desperately try to destroy Him. 

In the Garden of Gethsemane, Jesus, prayed this prayer.  “Father if you are willing, take this cup from me; yet not my will, but yours be done.”  Jesus submitted to His Father’s will without fear. He was captured, put on trial, mocked, and beaten.  He made the great confession before Pontius Pilate, and was sentenced to be crucified.  At any moment, He could have turned and walked away, but He willingly laid down His life for us! So that we would be forgiven of all of our sins.  And He rose again from the dead so that we would be victorious, over sin, death, and the devil, and would never need to fear the things of this world, for they have been defeated.

Dear Church, this is a great message for all of us too!  And very relevant and important for our lives.  So often we get afraid of the things of this world.   We see true Christianity being opposed at every level, and many churches struggling.  We see attacks on the truth of the Bible, which is the Word of God.  And Falsely saying things like “this world was not created by God, it came about on its own and has evolved over millions and millions of years”, when the Bible is clear that God created this world out of love in six days and rested on the seventh.  And also they falsely say “that marriage can be any two people no matter whether they are two men or two women”, when the Bible is very clear that that marriage is a lifelong relationship of one man and one woman, and is a very picture of Christ and the church.  We are often tempted to fear and give up and give in.  Instead, we need to stand strong Church!  As Jesus says to the church of Smyrna and to each of us, “Be faithful, even to the point of death and I will give you the crown of life.”

“Be faithful even to death, and I will give you the crown of life.”  It’s a promise that almost all of us in this church today have made before this altar or one like it as a promise to God.  It is a promise that you would be faithful even to death.  It’s simple but it is very profound!  In your confirmation your pastor likely asked you a question like this, “Do you intend to continue steadfast in this confession and Church and to suffer all, even death, rather than fall away from it.  And you likely answered, “I do so intend. With the help of God!”  But, do you really understand what it means to be faithful?  It means to trust God and His Word in all aspects of life.  In how you love and honor your spouse in marriage.  In how you raise your family and bring them to be baptized and teach them God’s Word.  In how you honor your father and mother.  In how you forgive and love your neighbor as yourself. In how you live as a member of the Church.

And yet, we have all fallen haven’t we?  God knows us!  We have not always been faithful.  That’s why we say “with the help of God!”  We desperately need God’s help!  That’s why He gave His Son for us!  So, we look to Jesus, the First and the Last, the Faithful Witness, and rejoice in His forgiveness, and we pray that God would give us, as His people His church faithful hearts and minds to trust in Him always.

Jesus says, “He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.  He who overcomes will not be hurt by the second death.”  You will not face eternal death at the final judgment.  Instead, you who have faith in Jesus, you who are faithful, will have eternal life, and will receive the victory crown!

God grant it…

2/10/19 "Follow the Forgiver!"

“And when (Jesus) had finished speaking, He said to Simon, “Put out into the deep and let down your nets for a catch.”  And Simon answered, Master, we toiled all night and took nothing!  But at your word, I will let down the nets.”  Luke 5:4-5; Epiphany 5; February 10, 2019

Grace…

Frustrations…we all face them.  Whether it’s the weather that frustrates you-- like the polar vortex of a week and a half ago, or the ice storms of this past week…we all face frustrations.  Frustrations in our work or school, frustrations in the neighborhood, frustrations in our home.  Frustrations with doctors, hospitals, and our health insurance.  Frustrations with employees and employers, frustrations in politics, and especially the frustrations in just getting along with each other—it’s very hard at times.  Our lives are often spent in learning how to deal with the frustrations of life. 

It’s too bad isn’t it?  We often wish that we could just sail through life easily.  Like if the people that we have in positions of authority would never let us down.  Or the car that we buy would never break down.  The house that we live in would never have issues.  The children that we raise would never throw tantrums or cause havoc.  The marriages that we have would never face problems.  The body that we live in would never let us down.

But, they do, don’t they?  They all do from time to time!  We’ve all got issues and frustrations.  We’ve all got situations in our lives that bring us heartaches.   What a blessing it is to know that Jesus Christ willingly came to this world filled with frustrations.  He didn’t turn away from them.  He came to bring health and healing and hope wherever He went.  That’s why the book of Hebrews says of Him, “Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before Him, endured the cross scorning its shame and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.  Consider Him who endured such opposition from sinful men, so that you do not grow weary or lose heart.”  (Hebrews 12:2-3)

Fix your eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of your faith, who in our lesson today, came to the shores of the Lake of Gennesaret, that is the Sea of Galilee, and found some people who desperately needed help.  But, the crowd was so large that He needed to find a different way to teach them.  There in the water were some fishing boats that were not being used.  So, Jesus convinced the owner of the boat to take Him just a little ways away from the shore, and he began to teach the people from the boat. (It was a perfect amphitheater!)

But, our lesson for today, is not necessarily about what Jesus taught the crowd from the boat.  It’s about what He taught Peter and the other fishermen.  For you see, these were frustrated fishermen.  (Does anyone here know what it’s like to be frustrated fishermen?)  It’s hard work!  And to get nothing at all?  Especially the type of fishing these men did.  Casting out their nets, time and time again and coming up with nothing!  And it made it particularly frustrating that their lives depended on it!  This was not just something to do for pleasure.  This was their job!  And they caught nothing. How frustrating!

But, here is Jesus, who has come for them, and He tells frustrated Peter, to “Put out into the deep and let down your nets for a catch.”  You can almost hear Peter say, “Really?”  We’ve been out all night and caught nothing…and now you say go back out!  We’re the fishermen!  We’re the experts!  We know what we’re doing, and you tell us go back out into the deep and let down our nets again, “Really?”

“Master, we toiled all night and took nothing!”  It reminds me of people who say, “There’s nothing good here!  I can’t see anything good coming from this situation.  It is what it is! Many of us sitting here today can understand this emotion.  Maybe you have a situation in your school or work or your community that is like this.  You’re facing frustration in a very real way.  Maybe you’re having trouble getting along.  Maybe it’s one of your children, your spouse, or maybe even your parent.  And it troubles you.  You’re frustrated with it, and maybe you’re even numb about it.  But, I ask you today, first, “Have you prayed about this?”  Have you commended it to God?  Because He’s the One who says,   “Ask and it will be given, seek and you will find, knock and the door will be opened unto you.”  And with Him, “All things are possible!”

Praise God that Peter then recognized this!  He says, “Master, We’ve toiled and took nothing.  “But, at your Word, I will let down the nets.”  First, he calls Jesus, Master.  And then he says, “But at Your Word I will let down the nets!  At your Word, Master!  Oh, how we all could grow from this!  How often in life do we come to frustrations and we are tempted to just give up.  Give up praying.  Give up helping.  Give up serving.  Give up forgiving.  Lord forgive us!  And help us, like Peter, to take you at Your Word!

And look what happened, as they went out into the deep and let down the nets, they caught such a great boatload of fish, that their nets began to break.  They had to call another set of boats to come over and help them bring them in.  “And they came and filled both boats, so that they began to sink.”  Praise God for His goodness and grace, and praise God for the faith that took them out to the deep waters.  This was a miracle!

But, when Peter saw all of the things that happened, with this miraculous catch, he turned to Jesus and said, “Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord.”  Notice Peter doesn’t just call Jesus, just Master, he calls Him “Lord”.  He recognizes that this miracle could have only happened from the hand of God, but Peter says, “Depart from me, for I am a sinful man.” 

It reminds me of Isaiah’s reaction to God, in our Old Testament lesson today.  He says “Woe is me!...For I am a man of unclean lips and I live among a people of unclean lips” I’m not good enough, Lord!  I’ve done too many bad things.  You could never use me!  But, the Lord sent an angel to cleanse Isaiah lips.  And the Lord Jesus looked at Peter and said, “Do not be afraid; for from now on you will be catching men.”  Come follow Me! Don’t be afraid!

It also reminds me of how often in our lives we are presented with opportunities to serve the Lord, and we think, “I couldn’t ever do that! I’ve done too much wrong in my life.  I’ve broken God’s laws again and again!  I’m too young, too old, too much of a bad background.  God couldn’t use me?  Could he?  Oh yes, dear friend!  Oh yes!” 

Peter, the man who says to Jesus, “Depart from me!”  Isaiah the one who had unclean lips.  Paul the one who used to persecute Christians, are forgiven, and come to follow the forgiver!  Just think how their eyes were opened to the excitement of following Jesus and through the power of the Holy Spirit, catching men (people) for the Lord.  God had great plans for all of them!

And God has great plans for all of you as well!  Greater than you could ever imagine!  Just think if Peter had walked the other way!  But, by the grace of God he didn’t.  He followed his forgiver, and became a great leader in the early church. 

And it is my prayer for you and your family and friends that they would take this to heart as well.  God’s not finished with us yet.  He has great plans for each of us, to forgive us, and welcome us to follow Him.  Take Him at His Word and let down the nets! 

God grant it..

2/3/19 "Ultimate Authority"

“And they were all amazed and said to one another, “What is this word?  For with authority and power he commands the unclean spirits, and they come out!”  Luke 4:36; Epiphany 4; Feb. 3, 2019

Grace…(Praise God for National Lutheran Schools Week!)

When Christian Herter was governor of Massachusetts, he was running hard for a second term in office.  One day after a busy morning of chasing votes (and no lunch) he arrived at a church barbecue.  It was late afternoon, and Herter was famished.  As Herter moved down the serving line, he held out his plate to the woman serving chicken.  She put a piece on his plate and turned to the next person in line.

“Excuse me,” Governor Herter said, “do you mind if I have another piece of chicken?”  “Sorry,” the woman told him. “I’m supposed to give one piece of chicken to each person.” “But I’m starved,” the governor said.  “Sorry,” the woman said again.  “Only one to a customer.”

Governor Herter was a modest and unassuming man, but he decided that this time he would throw a little weight around.  “Do you know who I am?” he said. “I am the governor of this state.”  “Do you know who I am?” the woman said.  “I’m the lady in charge of the chicken.  Now, move along mister.”  (She had the real authority.  She was in charge of the food. J”)

Authority…This past week we needed to listen to our authorities.  The weather reporter was one such authority, as we were often told, “Stay indoors and off the roads unless it’s absolutely necessary.”  Our principals and superintendents were authorities as they said, “No school today, again and again and again. J”  Our governor declared a state of emergency, and even sent out a notice on Wednesday night to turn your thermostats down to conserve gas.”

Authority is on our mind today because the Gospel of Luke tells us of a time early on in Jesus’ ministry that He went into the synagogue in Capernaum and He began to teach.  As Jesus taught, it became very clear to those at the synagogue that they were in the presence of an amazing teacher, not just one of the teachers of the law, but a real ultimate authority.  He was amazing!  No one else taught like Him.  He wasn’t just teaching them like the scribes of the day.  Jesus spoke with true authority and conviction.

So, today, I would like to ask the questions to all of you.  What made Jesus teaching so amazing and full of authority?  And is Jesus’ teaching still amazing and full of authority today?  Why or why not?

First, it is said that at the time of Jesus’ earthly ministry, the teachers of the law and the scribes normally taught about God, by quoting human experts.  For example, the pattern of worship in the synagogue was to read from God’s holy Word, the Law and the Prophets, which is the Old Testament of our day.  Then the teacher of the Law would read from what was called the “Mishnah” or ways the rabbis believed you could keep the Law and then also readings from the Talmud which were reflections on both the Law and the Mishnah from rabbis of the past.  What I am getting at, is the teachers of the Law, were often only quoting what rabbis or teachers from the past were saying about the way one can keep the Law.  It would be like a person who hears about a situation or problem in life, and can only quote from a resource manual, instead of talking to someone who truly understands the situation, and can bring true help.

Jesus taught with a message directly from God.  It wasn’t from the Mishnah or Talmud or books from other human writings.  He didn’t need them.  His teaching was directly from God.  Remember Jesus first sermon in His hometown of Nazareth, where He said, “The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because He has anointed me to preach good news to the poor.”  Then He said, “Today, this Scripture is fulfilled in your hearing!” The time had come!  The Kingdom of God was present, Jesus,  God Himself, was present with them.  He spoke with this authority, because God had come to save His people.

Even the demons recognized Jesus and they trembled.  Luke tells us that in this synagogue there was a man “who had a spirit of an unclean demon, and he cried out in a loud voice, “Ha! What have you to do with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us?  I know who you are—the Holy One of God!” The demon knew the authority of Jesus, and they knew what He could do.  However, this horrible, unclean spirit had afflicted this man in the past was now over.  The time had come.  The man was made clean.  The demon was silenced and cast away, because Jesus, the amazing authority of God was here.

The demons recognized Jesus as the Holy One of God, but the people didn’t get it.   In truth, for much of Jesus’ ministry the people’s eyes were still blinded by sin.  They didn’t understand who He was.  They didn’t understand that He had come to address sin head on and destroy the works of the devil.  All of the teaching, the healings, and the miracles were done so that sin and its effects would be overturned.  Yet Jesus knew that it would take one final offering to overturn the works of the devil.  That offering was Himself.  He submitted to all of the rejection, the betrayal and denial by His own disciples.  He was mocked.  He was spit upon.  He was whipped all for us.  He was sent to the cross, until His lifeless body hung for us.  All of this was done so that the works of the devil would be overturned. 

Then on the third day. Jesus rose again to announce the victory, for all who believe in Him. In His resurrection from the dead, sin, death, and the devil have all been defeated.   He had risen, just as He said He would.  And He’s given that victory to us!

So, now I ask, “Is Jesus teaching still amazing and full of authority for us today?” Yes it is, but sad to say, sometimes we don’t treat it that way.   Sometimes His teaching, sad to say, is treated the same way that the demon did.  We know who He is, but we don’t believe in Him.  That’s what the demon did!  And there are times when we do the same.  We know that Jesus is the Holy One of God, but we don’t believe His Word.  He says, “Ask and it will be given, seek and ye shall find, knock and the door shall be opened.”  And we don’t even go to Him in prayer, in good times or in times of trial.  He says “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.”  And we turn to other things, to cure our sorrows.  And He says, “I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life. No one comes to the Father except through me.”  And yet we listen to the ways of the world, instead of what Jesus has to say. Dear Lord forgive us!

Jesus Word has full authority still today, just as it had back then.  And He gives us the privilege of sharing it.  Just before He ascended into heaven He commissioned His disciples saying, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me, therefore, go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you.  And surely I am with you always to the very end of the age. “ Today that authority has been passed on to His church, that means believers like you and me who put our trust in Him.  We are given the privilege of making disciples of all nations.

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, that is why we have Lutheran Schools like West Shore Lutheran School, to stand in the authority of Jesus, and to make disciples.  This year our theme is “Real Present God.”  It’s based on Psalm 46, and it is a reminder that our God is real—He understands our issues and troubles.  He’s not just distant and far off.  He is present with us in our lives.  In His Word and sacraments.   This is a great comfort for all of our children, and families, and we praise God for the blessing of Lutheran schools.

And this ultimate authority of Jesus is true for all of us as well.  Because everywhere we go, by virtue of our baptism, we carry the name of Christ and His authority.  For although sin, death, and the devil have been defeated, they are still here, raising their cruel heads every day.  When real problems come up, like arguments in marriage, or troubles with raising a family, we can be assured that our Real Present God has authority over them.  Rather than just reacting out of anger, let’s take these problems to the Lord and trust that He will bring good out of this situation as well.   He has the ultimate authority over it!   Let’s trust Him at His Word!

God grant it…

 

 

1/27/19 "Release From Captivity"

“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because He has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor.  He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” Luke 4:18-19; 3rd Sunday after Epiphany; 1/27/19

Grace…

Who, me?  You’re talkin to me?  Are you sure you’ve got the right person?  You’ve got to be talking to someone else.  You can’t possibly be talking to me! Can you?

Have you ever had that feeling, when you were in a class or a group of people and the teacher or leader of the group started talking and looked at you, and called on you for the very first time?  You were just hoping to blend into the surroundings like a chameleon, hoping not to get called on, hoping not to get involved, hoping to dream off into your own little dream-world and then this teacher, this leader spoke to you…spoke directly to you.  You tried to duck or deflect the question, or act like you didn’t hear it at first, but there it was and all eyes were on you.  You wished for a moment that you could hit the pause button, and scurry out of the class when no one was looking, and act like you were sick for the day, and have the eyes of that teacher go on someone else.

Sometimes we are tempted to think of the words in the Bible in much the same way.  Like it’s written for other people, so that other people would shape up.  So that they would see the light, not ourselves.   Like, I’m fine just the way I am.  I don’t need to change…it’s the others in this world. They need to straighten up, but, me, I’m fine!

Here we are in this third week after the Epiphany, in this time where we really remember God appearing to people, God showing Himself to people, God revealing Himself to people.  And today in our church we hear of Jesus coming to His own home town of Nazareth.  We hear of Him coming into the synagogue on a Sabbath, and taking the scroll of Isaiah and reading it, saying, “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because He has anointed me to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovering of sight to the blind”  and then the Bible says,  “The eyes of all were fixed on Him, and He began to say to them, “Today, this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.”  God appeared to His people in the synagogue, the church of Nazareth that day.  God’s Word was literally speaking to each of them personally!

What if Jesus was speaking to each of you personally today?  What would you say?  What would you do?  Would you try to avoid Him?  Try to duck away from Him?  Would you think that it was talking and applying just to other people?  Or would you take it personally?  That God was speaking to you, to bring you forgiveness, life, and salvation.  That God was bringing you a release from your captivity too.  That God was coming to proclaim to you liberty and freedom from the things that oppress you.  Because that’s exactly what God’s Word brings to each of us!

The Bible is not just a story about God and His people long ago.  It’s the truth of God, showing His love and mercy to people long ago, and how it applies to each of us today.  His Word in the Bible truly speaks to us, calling us into a relationship with Him, to trust Him, to follow Him, and to fix our eyes upon Him.  The Book of Hebrews says it this way, “For the Word of God is living and active, sharper than any two edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and spirit, of joints and marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart.  And no creature is hidden from His sight…”

So today, we pray, forgive us Lord!  Have your way with us!  Forgive us for thinking at times that we don’t need any help, that we don’t need any change in our lives.  Forgive us for thinking that your Word in the Bible is just for the other people!  For we need You!  We all need you!  And God does forgive us!

Jesus said, “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because He has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor.  He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s  favor“.  There is good news for you! It’s God’s forgiveness for each of you!  Jesus has come to bring you liberty, recovery of sight, and to have release from your captivity that oppresses you.

So, what is it that captivates or oppresses you? Perhaps it is your worry that just dominates practically every thought.  You’re worried about this or that, and this worry just captivates you.  Maybe, along with those worries, you have fears and doubts that just hem you in.  Maybe they have even brought you to have a very gloomy attitude on life.  And you have had a persistent negative attitude, complaining about all of the troubles in your life.  We need God’s Word to remind us that the Lord is in charge.  He is reigning.  He is sovereign.  Jesus says, “All authority In heaven and earth has been given unto Me.”  And in another part says, “In this world you will have trouble, but take heart, I have overcome the world.”  Jesus comes to release you from that captivity to sin.

Perhaps you have developed a further bad habit that oppresses you.  Maybe alcohol or drugs have overtaken your life, so that it has become a terribly bad habit.  And it has caused problems with your health, or your relationships.  Jesus comes to release you from that captivity too.  Maybe it’s another bad habit like pornography that has overtaken your life.  Jesus has come to release you from that captivity as well.  He wants you to have liberty from the things, the sin that has oppressed you.

Maybe you say, it’s not me, but I know someone who is captivated by some sort of oppression, some sort of sin.  Maybe it’s someone you work with, or go to school with, or someone you know from your community, and maybe it’s someone in your own family.  Perhaps the Lord will use you as His instrument to help that person to be released from their captivity. Visit them, talk with them, pray with them.  Perhaps even point them to this passage in the Bible where Jesus said, He has come to release us from captivity.  And praise God if they see the error of their ways and change!

But, they may say, “Who are you, to try to help me with this?”  They may reject you.  They did the same with Jesus.  The people of the synagogue, in our text, looked at Jesus after He said these words, and said, “Isn’t this Joseph’s son?” Now, at first they marveled about Him.  They rejoiced about Him.

But, then Jesus went on to say that God was using Him to bring healing and forgiveness to all people, including the Gentiles, the outsiders.  He used the example of the great prophets Elijah and Elisha in the Old Testament who went outside of Israel to bring health and healing to all people.  At this, the people of the synagogue were furious!  They were filled with wrath!  Even to the point that they drove Jesus out of town, and wanted to throw Him off of the cliff.  But, the Bible says, Jesus “passed through their midst and went away.”  His time had not yet come!

Jesus came to release them from their captivity to sin.  He said, “Today, this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.”  But they rejected Him, and His Word in Nazareth, His own hometown.  But, how about us, here in Muskegon, MI.  His Word is living and active today.   What captivity could He release you from?  For His Word is relevant to our lives.  He has come to us through His Word today to release us from our captivity to sin, to bring us liberty—forgiveness and hope for our lives.  He is speaking to each of us today, so that we would not say, “Who me?” But, instead would rejoice and give thanks in Him!

God grant it…

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