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1/20/19 "Age to Age the Same!"

“Listen to me, O house of Jacob, all the remnant of the house of Israel, who have been borne by me from before your birth, carried from the womb; even to your old age I am he, and to gray hairs I will carry you. I have made, and I will bear; I will carry and will save.”  Isaiah 46:3-4; Sanctity of Life Sunday; 1/20/19, with credit also to Rev. Michael Salemink, Executive Director, Lutherans for Life.

Grace…

Children are a great blessing from the Lord.  They bring great joy and a lot of laughter.  Sometimes spending time with them changes the way we look at life.  But, anyone who has ever taken care of a child before, knows that there are times that children throw tantrums.  Some of those tantrums may be legitimate, like when they are hungry, uncomfortable, sick, or afraid.  But, there are times when these tantrums are “flat out ridiculous”.  For example, if you were to “Google” “reasons why my child is crying.”  You would get some interesting pictures of tearful tots, with profound captions.  Toddlers bawling because, “Someone ate all the muffins” (but it was really him.)  Another crying because his mother “wouldn’t allow him to eat Styrofoam.”  Another bawling because “There was a hotdog hidden in his cornbread.” Another, “who doesn’t want to go” (even though she was repeatedly told that we weren’t going anywhere.)   One who threw a tantrum because the “slide was too slow.” Another because “he couldn’t get the last Cheerio on the spoon.” And the last because his mother wouldn’t allow him to “push his fingers into her throat until it made the noise he likes when she gags and can’t breathe .”  It’s really something to hear why these kids are crying.

Throughout the book of Isaiah, God pictures Israel as His beloved child.  He says, “Listen to me, o house of Jacob, all the remnant of the house of Israel, who have been borne by me from before your birth, carried from the womb.” (Is. 46:3)  Even from the very beginning of the book of Isaiah, in chapter one, God says, “Children have I reared and brought up, but they have rebelled against me” (Is. 1:2)  Why was Israel rebelling?  Why were they crying?  In truth, they fattened themselves until they grew too large to harvest the food that got them large.  They pampered themselves until they became too lazy to make the furniture that left them lazy.  They had so much prosperity.

And they began throwing tantrums.  They trampled upon their laws and morals until they left those laws powerless to protect them.  They swallowed the poisons they took in their mouths to spit poison at each other.  The leaders who got them rich by cheating them cheated them out of even their rightful share.  The officials they bribed to favor them betrayed them because of a bigger bribe. 

And so the Israelites sulked.  Why?  They took such advantage of one another that they left none to defend them against strangers.  The treasures they raided from their neighbors attracted raiders from other neighborhoods.  The bullies to whom they handed over lunch money went ahead and helped themselves to dinner and breakfast.

Then the Israelites became hysterical.  They cast golden idols too stiff to stand up for themselves.  They carved wooden gods too heavy to help.  They didn’t listen any more to the divine commands from the true God, and instead wearied themselves with the ways of the world.  As a result, they no longer heard the beautiful promises of God.  Rather than being a joyful child in his beloved father’s arms, they became the child throwing a wild and ridiculous tantrum.

Now, you might say, “Silly Israel! Why didn’t you just grow up!”  At least we don’t bow down to graven images.  Okay, maybe we worship pleasure.  Maybe we serve prosperity.  Maybe we revolve around property, submit ourselves to popularity, and surrender ourselves to pleasure.  But at least we haven’t forgotten the words of the Almighty God.

Okay, maybe we dismiss the doctrines our national atmosphere finds offensive, but at least we aren’t losing the lines of what is right and wrong.  Okay, maybe we concern ourselves instead with what is convenient, comfortable, practical, and profitable, but at least we don’t abandon widows and fatherless neighbors. 

Thankfully we don’t act like Israel!  Good thing we don’t behave like those sinners.  Right???  Unfortunately it’s wrong!!!  We’re just like them!  We throw our tantrums too.  Maybe even worse.  Our people fear public opposition more than God’s disapproval.  Our leaders revere the almighty dollar more than what God’s Word has to say.  Our culture blesses death as some kind of salvation from suffering.  Our country gratifies the sinful flesh’s appetites like a sacrament.  Our communities abort our brothers and sisters in the name of progress.  Our world euthanizes our sisters and brothers for the sake of uniformity.  Our consciences often permit it. Our minds justify and rationalize it.  Our mouths lie silent, and our hands stand idly by.  We need help!  We desperately need help!

Well, dear people, brothers and sisters in Christ, we have that help, and we have the great cure from One who became a baby for us.  Isaiah speaks of the Jesus who was conceived for us.  He wrote, “The virgin shall conceive and give birth, and bear a son, and shall call His name Immanuel” (which means God-with-us).  “A child is born for us.  A son is given to us!.” Infant Jesus was wrapped in swaddling clothes and was laid in a manger.  Chubby-cheeked Lord Jesus toddled around.  Skinny legged Jesus had a childhood.  Jesus also had a time He was an adolescent, a teenager.  Isaiah reminds us that He was delicate and determined in adulthood—“like a lamb that is led to the slaughter.”  Christ Jesus—humble in the Garden, vulnerable under the law.  Christ Jesus—broken on the cross and incapacitated by crucifixion.  God chose Him to become weakened, defenseless, deadened, and dependent like us.  Behold, He is one of us!

The Almighty made Himself tiny so that He might draw near to each of us. The Most High made Himself mild so that He might dwell with all of us.  He shares in our ailments and our pains.  He suffers with us in our discontent and hysterics.  He saves us from our own deficits and failures. This Father will have us despite our sulking and tantrumming.   The Savior assumes our difficulties and accepts our differences.  The Lord takes on our immaturities and takes away our sins.  During our disrupting and demanding, He still welcomes us and wants you.  Through our emergencies or our excesses, He respects us and protects us.  He calls us precious!  He embraces all of us, even those of us who participate in abortions.  God forgives that.  God forgives you and this proclaims the littlest among us special.  He loves us with an amazing grace-filled love.  And this grace pronounces babies and old aged, impaired and unable, humankind beginning to end precious and priceless.

You are God’s children!  God’s babies.  We’re all His little ones.  Age to age, we’re still the same.  God says, You “have been borne by me from before your birth, carried from the womb, even to your old age I am he and to gray hairs I will carry you.  I have made and I will bear; I will carry and will save.”  You are precious to Him.  Because He lives and reigns, every human being has this identity, this purpose, belonging to and beloved by Him who has neither rival nor equal, as it was in the beginning, is now and will be forever.  From age to age He’s still the same! Take it!  Trust it!  You are righteous in Christ.  Receive it.  Believe it.  Life is never a sentence.  Life is always a story. It’s a story of God’s unconditional love for us at all stages of life from conception to old age.  From age to age, God’s love is still the same.

You can speak this truth.  You get to show this love.  You share this Gospel, and Jesus Himself shines through your courage and compassion.  Like the shepherds who saw the Christ child in the manger, and told everyone, we can share the message of forgiveness and hope to a world that so desperately needs to hear it.  Human life is precious, at all stages.  From conception to old age.  God sees us as His precious children from age to age, He’s still the same.

God grant it…

1/13/19 "Who Are You?"

“Now when all the people were baptized and when Jesus also had been baptized, and was praying, the heavens were opened, and the Holy Spirit descended on Him in bodily form, like a dove and a voice came from heaven, You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased.” Luke 3:21-22; Baptism of our Lord; 1/13/19

Grace…

A heavily booked commercial flight out of Denver was canceled, and a single airport agent was rebooking a long line of inconvenienced travelers.  Suddenly an angry passenger pushed his way to the front and slapped his ticket down on the counter.  “I have to be on this flight and it has to be first class!”  He insisted. “I’m sorry sir, “the agent replied.  “I’ll be happy to help you, but I have to take care of these other folks first.”  The passenger was unimpressed. “Do you have any idea who I am?” He demanded in a voice loud enough for the passengers behind him to hear.  Without hesitating, the agent smiled and picked up her public-address microphone. “May I have your attention, please?” she broadcast throughout the terminal.  “We have a passenger here at the gate who does not know who he is.  If anyone can help him find his identity, please come to the gate…  As the man retreated back to his right spot, the people in the terminal burst into applause.

Dear friends, in Christ, what is your identity?  Who are you, really?  This is the question we want to investigate today, because so often in life, we forget who we are.  We have an identity crisis.  We give in to the temptations of the devil, the world, and our own sinful self and we believe that we are someone that we are not.  Sometimes those temptations may lead us to think that we don’t need any help, we’re just fine on our own—self-made men and women.  But on the other hand, the temptations may lead us to believe there is no hope, and we may be led to despair.

For example, right about now, this time of year, the reality of the New Year really starts to settle in.  What I mean by this is that often, during the Christmas and New Year holidays, we get so busy going back and forth between family and friend activities, that we may not pay attention to some of the other realities of life, like school, or work, or health, or relationships.  Sometimes, in the New Year we may come back to our work and find that there are going to be cutbacks, and you are one of them.  Others may find out a problem with their health on a routine visit to the doctor.  Still others may find that the one friend or loved one that you have counted on for so long, can no longer be counted on. For a variety of reasons, reality sets in.

Well today, I would like to encourage you onward in faith into an even greater reality.  Today, we continue in the season of Epiphany.  Epiphany is the season that begins with the visit of the Wise Men, as they witness and worship the Christ Child in Bethlehem.  Christ revealed Himself to them.  That’s what Epiphany means—God revealing, appearing, showing, manifesting Himself.  And today, we look to the Baptism of Jesus, as He reveals Himself further to us.

Our text for today is from the 3rd chapter in Luke.  Luke begins by explaining that many people were coming out to see John the Baptist.  They hadn’t heard from a prophet in a long time, and this guy was different.  He was fiery!  He told things like they were.   He didn’t hold anything back.  He dressed in camel skins.  And they even thought, maybe, just maybe, he was the promised Christ, the Messiah.  They had waited so long.  But John said, “I baptize with water, but He who is mightier than I is coming, the strap of whose sandals I am not worthy to tie. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire.” John was saying, “I’m not the Messiah!  But He is coming!”

“His winnowing fork is in His hand,” John says, “to clear His threshing floor and to gather the wheat into His barn, but the chaff, He will burn with unquenchable fire.”  The Christ is coming.  He will address sin and sinners head-on.  This is a reality.  But are we the wheat—the believers? Or are we the chaff—those who are resisting God’s call?  Who am I?  Who are we?   Because the chaff, the husks, John says, will burn in the unquenchable fire of hell?  Are we done in?  Do we have hope for salvation?  Who are we?

Where do we turn, when we need help on the most important questions of life?  We look to Jesus. We look to what He says.  We look to what He does. Jesus comes to John to be baptized.  He is baptized by John, not because He has to, but because He desires to identify with us.  In the Gospel of Matthew, Jesus says of His baptism, “This is to fulfill all righteousness.” 

And as Jesus came up out of the water,  Luke tells us, “the heavens were opened, and the Holy Spirit descended on Him in bodily form, like a dove; and a voice came from heaven, “You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased.”

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, whenever we have an identity crisis, whenever we wonder whether God is really present in our lives, whenever we fail to see any hope for the days and weeks to come, we turn to this event.  Here Jesus enters the Jordan to identify with us, and here through baptism we are connected to Him.  All that we have, sin, is given to Him!  All that He has, forgiveness, righteousness, and hope, is given to us! 

Heaven is open for us.  The barrier between heaven and earth has been opened with Jesus.  The Holy Spirit has descended upon us too.  He lives inside of our hearts.  He has made our body His temple.  And the voice of God the Father comes to us as well.  You are my beloved Son, (my beloved daughter) with you I am well pleased.  Who are you?  You are a child of God, a temple of the Holy Spirit and eternal life is yours through faith in Jesus!

So when Satan, the world, and sometimes even your own sinful flesh tempt you and say, you’re no good, of no account, and there’s no hope.  You say, “I am a child of God”, and because of it, I have forgiveness and hope for every situation of life.  I have the Holy Spirit living within me, and heaven is my real home.  I am a child of God.  This is our true identity. It is the greater reality.  Not that we have deserved it, but it’s been given to us by grace through faith in Jesus Christ.

Our identity is something that we all struggle with.  Each day we face challenges in our lives. Whether it’s at work or school, or our neighborhood, or at home.  We hear the voices, saying things like, “You’re not good enough! You’re not thin enough!  You’re not smart enough!  You’re not rich enough!” And sometimes we may even be led to despair.  Maybe you are going through this right now.  But it may be someone you know and love.  I would encourage you to be an instrument of God.  Remind them of the hope and forgiveness that is found in Jesus.

Because, you are a child of God!  You’ve been baptized into His family.  You belong to Him.  In Him you’re identity is secure.  And all of His blessings are yours as well.

God grant it…

1/6/19 "Mysteries Revealed"

“The mystery is that through the Gospel the Gentiles are heirs together with Israel, members together of one body, and sharers together in the promise in Christ Jesus..” Ephes. 3:6; Epiphany of our Lord; January 6, 2019

 

Life is a series of “eye opening experiences”, or revelations.  When you are a child, you can walk around all day and point at things and ask, “Why? Or What’s that?” and the older people who love you will tell you why or what they are.  It’s a series of “eye openers” or revelations.  As we come into our teenage years, there are the two-fold revelations of first, how hard life is, (Why?) and second, how much you are loved, even though you have made mistakes. Young adulthood has its series of revelations that may end up with the realization of how wise your parents were.   Middle age sets in and it is revealed to you, how quickly time passes by, so you best make the most of it.  And in the senior years of your life, you begin to be aware of the frailty of the human body, and hopefully how much we yearn for our heavenly body.  Life is a series of revelations.

 

Some of these revelations we easily understand.  Many remain mysteries because we are not ready to understand them at that time.  Whether it is that we are socially or mentally unprepared, or it may be that we are spiritually unprepared for the mystery to be revealed to us.   This is likely what St. Paul meant when he wrote in 1 Corinthians 13, “When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child.  When I became a man, I put childish ways behind me.  Now we see but a poor reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face.  Now I know in part then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.” (1 Cor. 13:11-12)

 

Life is a series of revelations.  That is what Epiphany is all about.  It’s about the Wise Men, Magi, who came from the East, following a star, to visit the One who was born King of the Jews.  It’s about threats and intrigue too.  Epiphany is also about joy, extravagant offerings of gold, frankincense, and myrrh, and the worship of the King of all kings.  It’s about dreams and further revelations.

 

But the message of Epiphany doesn’t end there, because the revelations do not end there.  Epiphany is about God making Himself clear in our lives.  It’s about Him opening our eyes to see His grace, and our need for forgiveness, peace, and love for all people.  Ultimately, Epiphany is about God revealing Himself to us in our day-to-day life.

 

This is what St. Paul was writing about in our text for today.  God, the Holy Spirit, was making the mystery of the Gospel clear in his life.  For Paul this was an eye-opening experience, literally, as he began to understand the mystery of how deep and wide and long is the love of God in Christ Jesus.

 

This letter of Ephesians was written by Paul, while he was imprisoned, perhaps under house arrest, most likely in Rome.  Why was he imprisoned, you might ask?  Really it was all for the cause of Jesus Christ, because Paul was teaching that there was salvation for all people, Jews and Gentiles alike through Jesus Christ, and some of the authorities didn’t like that.  Paul’s calling was to reveal the mystery of God’s love to all people, and eventually, even while he was imprisoned, that is what he did!

 

Who knows the kind of eye-opening experiences Paul had as he awaited his trial before Caesar!  Surely he had flashbacks to earlier parts of his life when he was known as Saul, a man who violently persecuted Christians.  Yet, Jesus in His mercy, had plans for Saul, and appeared to him and asked him, “Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?”  (Acts 9:4)

 

It must have been a humbling experience for Paul to realize how greatly he had sinned by persecuting the church.  But, even more humbling was what came next.  That God in His great mercy had chosen him to be the instrument to spread the Good News of Jesus Christ to the Gentiles and to the rest of the world.  What a marvelous God, who could take this chief of sinners, who opposed Jesus Christ viciously, and forgive him and use him as part of His plan.  What an eye-opener!  What a revelation!  What an epiphany!

 

It is similar to the kind of Epiphany the Magi must have had.  God had revealed to them in a special way, through the study of the stars, that the King of the Jews would be born.  Because of the types of gifts they brought, of gold, frankincense, and myrrh, we can safely assume that they realized He was very special.  Even more remarkable was that they fell down and worshiped Him.  God used these Wise Men as part of His plan, to reveal the Good News to all people.

 

So, what is God revealing to you today on this Sunday of the Epiphany, 2019?  What kind of eye-opening experience or revelation is He leading you to, today, in this first worship service here in 2019?  Perhaps you say, it’s tough to say in particular—it’s a mystery.  Maybe so, but, it’s safe to say a few things for all of us.  First, God is speaking to you through His Word, to teach you that although you are a sinner like Paul in need of God’s forgiveness, you also are a part of His plan for the salvation of the world.

 

But, on Epiphany, I remember also, that God can use any means to bring people to worship Him.  God used a star to bring the Magi to Jesus.  They were the scientists of the day.  A few years ago, a renowned scientist, Dr. Francis Collins, who was also an atheist, took part in leading a study into the DNA of human beings.  It was called the “Human Genome Project.”  Through the study of human DNA he was led to see the order and wisdom behind creation, and was eventually brought to faith in Jesus Christ.  Collins was like a modern day Magi.

 

How about you?  Every year I give my confirmation students the job of taking sermon notes.  It’s my hope that they stay alert, and realize that these sermons are for them too.  But, even more, I want them to understand that God wants them to know that they are part of His plan too.  Each of them is given a form.  It looks like this.  And the last question they are always asked is this, “Through the work of the Holy Spirit, how can I apply this sermon to my life?

 

I’ve had some interesting responses over the years.  I remember one Sunday in which I was preaching about God’s forgiveness of our doubts and fears.  Instead, faith simply trusts God and believes that He will be with us.  One 14 year old boy, took this in a different direction than I would have thought.  He felt that the sermon was encouraging him to ask out the girl that he had been afraid of.  He may have missed the major point of the sermon, but in some strange way, he did understand something.  He believed that God was revealing something to him.

 

Dear people of God, brothers and sisters in Christ, while we do always need to be watchful about what we think God is revealing to us, on this Epiphany, we must become even more aware, that God is seeking to open our eyes more and more to His plan.  He wants to reveal to us more and more about how He has taken us, “chief of sinners” though we are and desires to use us in His plan. Day by day, week by week, year by year, that God would use us, in our home, our neighborhood, our work, our school, our leisure and in our church, to be part of that plan.  He wants to reveal this mystery to you that you are an instrument of His good and gracious will, that all people would come to know Jesus Christ as Lord, to the glory of God the Father for the salvation of their souls.

 

Maybe it is through your humble work in something like the Christmas Nativity Walk, maybe it is through your support of a mission, through a devotion or prayer in your home or school, a cup of hot chocolate to a teen, a sewing project that you are working on, or maybe, just maybe in your words of encouragement to a friend or acquaintance.  It may just even be a smile that you show to another person to give them hope and joy in his/her life.

 

Today, God through His Word speaks to us, to show us that His light has come to the world through Jesus Christ.  Jesus appeared to the Wise Men, and to the Apostle Paul, and now He appears to us in His Word, to call us to share the message to the world, that God has brought forgiveness and hope to this world, and His name is Jesus!

 

God grant it..

12/23/18 "Here I Am!"

“Then I said, “Here I am—it is written about me in the scroll—I have come to do your will, O God.”  Hebrews 10:7; 4th Sunday of Advent; Dec. 23, 2018

Grace…

What a great time of year this is!  I look forward to it all throughout the year!  And I hope that you do too!  There’s no other season quite like it!  The lights, the decorations, the presents, the wrappings, the cookies, the cards…and the gatherings.

Many of you, no doubt, are working on preparing for a gathering.  Either you are planning on going to one, or planning on having one.  And if you are planning on having one, you know the feeling of having guests in your house.  If you have children, and you have guests coming, you know what it’s like to hear them say, “They’re here!”  “Our guests are here, let the party start!”

Well, there’s a sense of this today, as we await the celebration of Christmas in a day or two!  We are preparing for a Guest!  It’s Jesus Christ!  The celebration is almost here!  We’ve been preparing for quite a long time!  Are we fully prepared?  Could you imagine Him coming to the door of your house saying, “Here I am!  It is written about me in the scroll—I have come to do your will O God!”

Our Gospel lesson for today, gives us an interesting view of a pre-Christmas visit of Jesus.  It is the visit of Mary to her relative, Elizabeth.  Of course, there’s more to this beautiful story.  Elizabeth is pregnant with John the Baptist, and Mary, of course is pregnant with Jesus! (My goodness!)  And as Mary comes in the door of Elizabeth’s house, she shouts out, “Blessed are you among women and blessed is the fruit of your womb!  And why is this granted to me that the mother of my Lord should come to me?  For behold, when the sound of your greeting came to my ears, the baby in my womb leaped for joy.”  Leaping for joy…It’s the first recorded visit between John the Baptist and Jesus, and they weren’t even born yet…but John was leaping for joy!

That’s the kind of anticipation and excitement, God’s Word has for us today!  Like John the Baptist, leaping for joy at the anticipation of meeting Jesus! Leaping for joy for the celebration of Christmas and what it means for us.  Leaping for joy to hear Jesus’ voice saying, “Here I am!  It is written about me in the scroll—I have come to do your will O God!”

Those of you that have hosted a party at your house know this feeling of anticipation.  But, you may also know the feeling of anxiety and fear of having a guest come to your home, because your house is not as clean as it should be.  There’s a stain on the carpet that just won’t come out, from something that was spilled a year ago.  There’s some painting that never got done.  The tree looks like the Charlie Brown Christmas tree. And your Guest is still coming.

But, Jesus hasn’t come to inspect your house with a white glove, or inspect your carpet, or painting, or even your Christmas tree.  He’s come to inspect your heart and your life.  He’s come to address a far deadlier thing than dust, or stains, or chipped paint.  Jesus has come to address the sin in our lives.  That is His Father’s will.

The book of Hebrews reminds us that in Old Testament times, according to the old covenant, the people of God would take an animal to the temple to be sacrificed, to atone for the sin in their lives.  Again and again and again.  A goat or a bull or a lamb would be taken to be sacrificed for the sins of the people.  By calling for this, God was reminding the people of the deadly nature of sin.  Sin isn’t some cutesy little thing.  It’ the breaking of God’s Law.  It’s the defiance of His Law. It took the death of an animal to pay for, to atone for, the sin of the people. 

But this old covenant was just a shadow of what was to come.  Because God had a greater plan—a new covenant to address the sin in our lives. This time God sent His best.  Not a goat, or a bull.  His own precious Son, the Lamb of God to address the sin in our lives.  This little child born in Bethlehem, was the Savior of the World, yours and mine, and had come to do His Father’s will.  He said, “Sacrifice and offering you did not desire, but a body you prepared for me; with burnt offerings and sin offerings you were not pleased.  Here I am!  It is written about me in the scroll!  I have come to do your will O God!”

How great God’s love is for us!  That He would send His precious Son to do this work.  All of the sins of all of the time of all of humanity, heaped up on a huge pile!  Your sins and mine!  O Lord, forgive us!  And that is exactly what He does.  He said, “I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.”  There’s no need to have anxiety, worry, or fear of judgment, because our greatest Friend has come for us.

Of course, we all may struggle with this at times.  Just like a home-owner may put a throw-rug over the stain on the carpet, or put up a picture to cover the chipped paint, there are times that we try to put our own cover-ups over the sin in our lives.  We try to do it ourselves, but it just doesn’t work.  But, Jesus brings that forgiveness, He brings that hope, He brings back the joy!  There is no sin that cannot be forgiven, no situation without hope, no sadness that cannot be reversed.  This is what Advent and Christmas are all about!  Jesus was born that we may have life and have it to the full!

So, today, I encourage you to be like John the Baptist, and in your heart leap for joy!  Your Savior, your Messiah has come for you.  And He is truly here with us right now, in His Word.  As we read it and hear it, He’s saying to us, “Here, I am!”  And as we rejoice in our baptism, that we are the children of God, He is saying, “Here I am!”  And in just a few moments as we receive His very body and blood shed for the forgiveness of our sins, He is saying to us, “Here I am!  I have come to do your will O God”

And how marvelous then, that He sends us out into this world, to do God’s Will.  Each one of us is placed in unique circumstances in our home, our place of work, or school, and neighborhood.  God has placed us into the circumstances we are in.  We are there to do God’s Will.  Some of us will be going to family gatherings to build relationships with family members and friends.  I encourage you to be focused on God’s will.  If there is forgiveness that needs to take place, then by God’s grace do it.  If there is a prayer that is needed, share it.  If there is an opportunity to read God’s Word, take the opportunity. 

And in all circumstances, point them to Jesus, the One who fulfilled the Word which says, “Here I am.  It is written about me in the scroll—I have come to do God’s Will.”

God grant it…

 

12/16/18 "Unfailing Joy"

“Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice.” Philippians 4:4; Advent 3; December 16; 2018

Grace…

Do you ever have to laugh at yourself?  At something silly that you did or thought, or said.  Something silly, just plain silly?  You may not have thought a lot before you did something.  But, you went ahead and did it.  Let me tell you what I mean.

Several years ago, when we lived in the Chicago area, I had an old set of dining room chairs.  These chairs were not in the greatest shape, and the spindles on the bottoms of the chairs would keep falling out every now and then, we would sit down on them.  It led to a lot of problems as you can well imagine.  I tried a lot of things over the years for minor repairs like sanding the spindles down, and using carpenters glue, tried it again, used gorilla glue, listened to the guy at the hardware store, and a few other home remedies.  Nothing seemed to work.

So, one day in my frustration, I decided to just use some super glue.  It’s not made for it, I know.  I poured the super glue on and slammed the spindle into the socket.  But, the problem was that when I did this, the super glue shot out and went directly in my eyes, causing my eyes to be glued shut.  Immediately, I knew I was in trouble.  I called for my wife.  “Take me to the emergency room, I have super glue in my eyes. They are glued shut!”  On the way to the emergency room, thoughts went through my mind like, “Oh no, what if I never see again?” 

When we got to the emergency room, and proceeded to explain what happened, they immediately took me to a room, and started simply running water over irrigating my eyes.  Within a short amount of time, the doctor mentioned, “You’ll be just fine. The super glue has loosened up.”  You’ll be just fine.”    

Have you ever had something like that happen to you?  You want to do something well.  But, you get frustrated and start to complain.  And out of your frustration, you do something completely wrong.  And it backfires.  Sometimes you just have to be able to laugh at yourself and really rejoice in forgiveness, second chances, and mercy.

And in this Advent season we have so much to rejoice about.  As the Philippians text reminds us, “The Lord is at hand.”  The celebration of the birth of the Christ Child is so near. It is “at hand.”  We Christians believe with all of our heart that the birth of the little Child in Bethlehem so many years ago changed everything, right?  Right?

I honestly have to chuckle a little bit every year that the assigned lectionary readings for the 3rd week of Advent call us to “rejoice.”  Way back in Christian church history this 3rd week of Advent is called “Gaudete” in Latin—which means “rejoice!”  It’s usually indicated in other ways in the church too, like even the Advent Wreath with a pink candle, which is lit today to remind us that today is special, so rejoice!

And the point is this.  Sometimes we get all caught up in the hustle and bustle, and frustrations of life that we forget what we really have.  For many people the middle of December is “stressed out” time.  We don’t have this or that done yet?  We worry, we fret, we complain about the struggles of life.  The things that pester us, we lose our joy, and we forget.  Remember this, the Holy Spirit says, “Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say rejoice! Let your reasonableness be known to everyone.  The Lord is at hand.”

But, you might say, that’s easy to say when it’s just a chair falling apart, or minor things like that.  How about when we get major changes in life.  When it feels like you’ve literally been punched in the gut?  When it becomes personal.  A visit to the doctor tells us that we have major changes in life to prepare for.  Your boss decided that your branch office is no longer needed, and sad to say, you’re going to need to find a new job.  Your best friend is moving far away and you will miss her.  Those are the breathless, hard moments, where we don’t know what to do, at first.

Well, dear friends, it’s times like this that we are called by God to think about who we are and to whom we belong.  The Word of God reminds us today to rejoice.  And we certainly rejoice about that baby born in Bethlehem who is the Savior of the World.  This little baby named Jesus, born of the Virgin Mary and laid in swaddling clothes, changed the world, and brought God’s love down to earth.  And we rejoice that this same Jesus, will come back on the Last Day to take all who believe in Him to heaven, to be with Him forever, in a place prepared just for us.  This is great news!  This is the Good News for all people!

Beyond this, there is something even more for right now.  Through the Holy Spirit, St. Paul reminds us to rejoice because the Lord is “at hand.”  Paul uses the Greek word ἐγγύς .  It literally means “near and even present.” These words remind us that He is here with us right now.  He is present.  God is saying come with me a little farther.  Follow me a little more.  Hold my hand. I am ready to teach you something more. I am ready to open your eyes and your ears up even more.  Lift up your heads for the King of Glory is here with us right now, so rejoice.  He is with us in His Word.  He is present in our baptism.  You are a child of God.  And He is present in the Lord’s Supper.

Paul is writing to the Philippian people from a jail cell.  But he is writing to people whom God placed together, to grow in faith and love.  At the beginning of the chapter he wrote, “Therefore my brothers, whom I love and long for, my joy and my crown, stand firm thus in the Lord my beloved.”  I am convinced that he wrote this letter with a smile on his face as he though back to the people who were part of the church in Philippi.  They were people like Lydia, a woman who sold purple cloth.  And it’s likely that in that congregation was a man who was a one-time jailer who had imprisoned Paul years before.  A man who heard Paul singing praises to God at midnight—who saw a miraculous opening of jail cells.  A man who at one time almost took his own life, but God caused to be saved.  He was a man who asked the question, “What must I do to be saved?”  And Paul said those beautiful words, “Believe in the Lord Jesus Christ and you will be saved—you and your whole household.” (Acts 16:31)  And as the Bible teaches Paul baptized that jailer and his whole family.

In no less miraculous ways, we have all been brought together.  Each of us has a story too.  You may sometimes think it was no miracle, but God has called us out of darkness to His marvelous light—rejoice together for the Lord is near! 

And when the perils of life come your way, instead of worrying, acting out in anger, present your requests to God with thanksgiving, knowing that He will hear, and He will understand in a way that is best for you.  And let the peace of God which surpasses all understanding guard your thoughts and minds in Christ Jesus.

There’s an old saying in life, that says, “Keep your chin up!”  And what it means is in all circumstances of life, look at it with hope, and be confident.  In the church, we have the statement, “Lift up your head, for the king of glory is coming.”  People can have all sorts of reasons why to keep their chin up.  But nowhere else than in the church, can you truly know the peace of God, the nearness of Christ, the blessing of the Christian life, and the joy of following Him in a Christian congregation.

Look around…here you have people—a great group of people that God has brought together—people young and old—uniquely called.  I hope that they bring you joy, like they do with me.  They are people loved by God.  Called from places near and far away.  Long time Christians, and new ones alike.  Take joy in them.  In hearing their voices.   In praising God together.  In being in their presence.

In a moment, you are going to hear the hymn, “Joy to the World”.  It was written by Isaac Watts in 1719, to proclaim God’s fulfillment of His promises in Jesus.  Joy to the World, the Lord has come!  Let heaven and nature sing.  That’s you and me too!  God is in charge!  Joy to the world!

This Advent….This Christmas…and always, dear people, let joy be your guard.  Let it protect you from the grumbling and the super glue of life, because the Lord has come.  He is truly here!

God grant it…

12/9/18 "Live Prepared"

“As is written in the book of the words of Isaiah the prophet, the voice of one crying in the wilderness:  Prepare the way of the Lord, make His paths straight.”  Luke 3:4; Advent 2; December 9, 2018

Grace…

“Semper Paratus”!  It is the motto in Latin of the United States Coast Guard.  And it means, “Always Prepared!” Always prepared for whatever lies before them.  The Coast Guard needs to always be prepared in rain or snow, high winds, the heat of the summer, or the icy cold of the winter.  Always prepared to help, assist, and rescue those in danger on the lake or ocean.  Always prepared!  Semper Paratus! Always prepared.

Of course it’s a very difficult task to be always be prepared.  And with the weather, at least in our area, being so difficult to predict, and the people of our area even being more difficult to predict, it’s almost impossible to always be prepared for everything.  The weather is one thing—but how can you always be prepared for people?  Prepared to rescue a fisherman who went out during a storm?  Or prepared for a teen who just wandered out on the half-frozen ice? 

So, my question for you today is, “Are you always prepared?”  You might say, “Well, it all depends—on what?  In this Advent season that we are in, the what is—are you prepared to celebrate once again the birth of Jesus?  Are you prepared right now?  And…in addition, are you prepared for His return”?

Our text for today from the Gospel of Luke takes us to John the Baptist, the man God had sent to prepare the way for Jesus.  This preparation was a long time coming.  Like a master craftsman who spends his waking moments on details in preparation, God was preparing for this time well in advance. 

God had planned to send the Savior of the World, but before He sent Him, He sent a forerunner.  He wasn’t found in a king’s palace in Jerusalem.  He wasn’t found in a fine school at a rabbi’s feet.  No, John came as the text says, “crying in the wilderness: Prepare the way of the Lord make His paths straight”

God could have used any method to prepare the way for Jesus.  But, He chose this rough and tumble prophet, this man who wore camel skins, and ate locusts and wild honey to make the preparation that was needed.  And just what was the preparation?  John came to address our sin, first and foremost.  “You brood of vipers!” he said,” Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come?  Bear fruits in keeping with repentance.!”

“You brood of vipers!”  Who is he talking to?  Most often when we hear these words we might think—“Well, he can’t be talking about me!”  It’s got to be the Pharisees and the scribes.  They were the ones who were deceptive like a snake, sneaky, and hypocritical.  They were the ones who said one thing and did another.  It can’t be me!  But, if you notice in the text, John is speaking to the crowd.  That is, all people--.  You and me alike. 

If you want to prepare for the Savior, then John is saying, face up to your sin in your life.  Sin is not some cutesy little game, some little child’s play.  Sin is evil in thought, word, and action.  It is the evil that we do, and the things that we leave undone.  And, so often, we want to try to blame it on others.  It’s not my fault we think!  And like the Pharisees and the scribes we, at times, also talk behind other’s backs, undermining them and hoping that they fall. Dear Lord, forgive us!

Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come?  Today, we thank God for the gift of John the Baptist.  He’s the one God sent to warn us to change!  To repent!  As John says, “Bear fruit in keeping with repentance!”  That is, look at your life.  If you are truly sorry, truly repentant, then your life will show the change! 

God wants you to be prepared.  But so often in our lives we let our guard down.  Sin creeps back in very easily into our lives, through the back and side doors, through the foundation, and sometimes right in the front door.  Sin often presents itself as something fun, at first, and before you know it, it engulfs you and even blinds you to the error of your ways.  John takes off the blinders, speaks the truth, and opens our eyes to prepare the way for Jesus. 

And as we repent, Jesus comes.  He comes to bring health and healing.  He comes to bring forgiveness and hope for life.  This Child who came in Bethlehem was also the One who came to take every sin, and every burden to the cross.  To suffer and die and rise again so that we would see the salvation of our God.  He came that we would be prepared at all times and have life to the full.

So often in our lives when we are asked if we are prepared for Christmas, we begin to stress out and worry!  But, we worry about things like trees, and decorations, and clothes, and lights.  And it causes us to lose focus, and become downhearted and downright fearful. 

God instead looks at our hearts. And points us to Jesus.  Right after this lesson John says this, “I baptize you with water, but He who is mightier than I is coming, the strap of whose sandals I am not worthy to untie.  He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire.”  We have been baptized into Jesus, and are connected to Him in every way, so that there is hope for every situation, and you truly live prepared.

You know, as I was thinking about this lesson today, I began thinking of how God has been preparing each of us, like a Master Crafstman—filing down those rough edges, shaping us for the unique situation that you are in.  You may be in some circumstance in your life that you may think that you are totally unprepared for.  But, God will give you the strength and courage and love that will prepare you for that situation.

Think of John the Baptist, who was shaped by God to prepare the way.  But also think of the people in the crowd who heard his message.  They too were prepared by God for their Savior.  Think also of people like Mary, and Joseph, the shepherds, and the wise men. God had been preparing for them long before they ever were put in the situations that made them famous.

But, what about some of the “not so famous people”? What about them?  Because there were, without question, many others that God was preparing who never really became famous. They were moms and dads and children, brothers, and sisters, maybe nieces and nephews and distant relatives of some more famous ones.  God was preparing for them too.  Calling them to repentance and leading them to a relationship with their Savior.  In fact, the book of Ephesians reminds us that before the creation of the world God was preparing the way for each of us to be connected to Jesus.

And God desires to use each of us to prepare the way for Him.  Maybe it’s a friend at work or school; maybe someone in your neighborhood or community, maybe someone in your own home or family, who has some rough patches, and even some crooked ways.  They too are people loved by God.  Sometimes they just need someone who listens to them, cares about them, and invites them to hear about Jesus, and the hope that He brings to all people, so that all people (all flesh) will see the salvation of their God.  Live prepared that God has called you, for such a time as this.

God grant it…

 

12/2/18 "Increasing and Abounding in Love"

“And may the Lord make you increase and abound in love for one another and for all, as we do for you. So that He may establish your hearts blameless in holiness before our God and Father at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.”  1 Thessalonians 3:12-13; Advent 1; December 2, 2018

Grace…

Advent is a great time of year!  It’s a time of hope, peace, joy, and love!  The Christmas trees are up, (or going up!)  Decorations are going up. (or getting there!)  Cards are getting ready to be written up!  Cookies and celebrations are in the works!  We’re singing the Christmas carols!  And maybe even preparing to go to a concert as well!  Advent is a great time of year, because Christmas is coming, right?

But, so often during this time of year, the busyness of life takes over even more!  And those things we “get to” do, as fun things, like putting up the Christmas trees, and decorations and Christmas cards and cookies sometimes become chores we feel we’ve “got to” do!  And of course with smart phones and Facebook, we see how everybody else across the country has all these things beautifully done with a smile already.  And we want to try to do the same.  But, all that busyness very easily can turn us into grumpy, “bah humbug” people.  We forget the reason for the season.  It’s a challenge! Even in the church, even among Christians.

Well, this morning, I would like for you to clear your mind of this busyness for a while.  Sit back, and rejoice in this Advent season, take a deep breath, relax, and imagine!  Imagine a simpler, less busy time before cell phones and text messages.  Before even landlines and mail that could bring you a letter in a couple of days.  Imagine back to the days of the Apostle Paul, about 50 AD.  If you wanted to find out something about someone else living in a different town, you had to go there yourself or send someone out for you.  It could take days, weeks, or even months before you had to go back.  You just had to wait and wait—and go on with life while you waited.

In our text from 1st Thessalonians, the Apostle Paul had sent out Timothy and had waited for him to come back.  Paul, himself, couldn’t visit the congregation he’d started in the town of Thessalonica.  The Bible says, Satan somehow kept him from that journey.  But, Paul knew the people in that church were suffering from persecution.  They were being pressured to give up their faith.  And Paul wanted to know how they were doing under the circumstances.  So, he sent Timothy to find out. 

Then one day, Timothy came back.  I can just picture that Paul would be so happy to see that Timothy was safe.  Then, he might ask, “So, what’s the news?  What’s happening to the believers in Thessalonica?  Are they still together?  Timothy would have a big smile on his face and say, “Yes!  They’re still together!  They’re standing strong in the faith.  They haven’t given up on Jesus! It’s good Paul! Lots of great news in Thessalonica.

And Paul is so thankful.  You can just see him offering up a prayer of Thanksgiving!  “Yes, Lord, thank you for what You’ve done!  Thank you for keeping these believers in the faith.  Thank you for this joyous news! He simply can’t thank God enough for the good news for the church in Thessalonica.

But, then Timothy fills him in on what else is going on in that church.  Not all is good.  Something is lacking in their faith, in the way they’re living out their lives of faith.  And so Paul gets busy writing a letter back to them.  Right in the middle of the letter, he breaks out in prayer.  He prays that he can come and see them soon.  He prays that these believers will “increase and abound in love.”  He prays that they will be found blameless on the Last Day when Jesus Christ comes back!  But what about that part of the prayer where Paul asks the Thessalonians increase and abound in love?  What was missing in this congregation that Paul would offer up this prayer to God?  “And may the Lord make you increase and abound in love for one another and for all, as we do for you.” 

While I can’t say all in detail, but right after this prayer Paul encourages the people there to please God more and more by not falling into sexual immorality.  He encourages them to please God by keeping this gift pure.  Then he urges them to love more and more by the way they do their work so that others will respect them.

Now…have you ever wondered what an apostle might say about your congregation today?  Imagine if  what report Timothy would bring back about Trinity Lutheran Church of Muskegon.  Picture Paul saying, “Now Timothy, this time go to that congregation in Muskegon, Michigan and find out about the believers there.”  Time passes.  Timothy visits.  He comes back to Paul.  The greeting is warm, and again there’s the question, “So what did you find out about them?”

Oh, Paul, there’s so much to be thankful for!  Jesus is at work in this congregation.  I was at a worship service, and I heard that they believe in God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit!  You should have heard it Paul!  You should have heard them sing about faith in Jesus.  They rejoiced in what Jesus had done for them.  The day I was there, they heard about Jesus riding into Jerusalem triumphantly on the back of a donkey.  They heard about the cry that went up about Jesus as the King who comes in the name of the Lord.  So many there knew what happened after that palm-waving parade during that final week of Jesus life.  They confessed that He was beaten and crucified for them!  They trust that Jesus rose from the dead and that they have victory in His name.  It was great, Paul!  Jesus is present in that congregation and the people believe in Him.

What’s more, there’s a big cross in their church, with a heart to remember God’s continuing great love for them.  There’s stained glass windows and banners all around to encourage great faith.  During the week children from their school come into the church to hear about Jesus and sing praises to Him.  You’d be pleased Paul!  They also have people who show the love that comes from their faith in Jesus.  Some give food to those who are hungry through a food truck.   Some of their women work so hard in making blankets and clothing for the poor. They have a free community meal for all people some who are really struggling in their community.  They serve to help the poor in a neighboring supper house.  They even reach out to young teens by offering them hospitality, and a cup of hot chocolate on Mondays after school.  They send servant teams to help out the poor in Detroit.  They send mission teams to help the underprivileged in Guatemala.  And they work together each year to tell the true story of Jesus birth in a wonderful way that they call the “Christmas Nativity Walk.”  All because they have faith in Jesus Christ.

And Paul would give thanks!  Yes, Lord, thank You for what You have done!  Thank you for keeping these believers in the faith.  Thank you Lord for this joyous news.  Thank you Lord!  He simply can’t thank God enough for the good news he’s received about the church in Muskegon.

But, then Timothy would tell him that not all is well at Trinity.  Paul you need to know that the people there are still lacking in their faith, and living out their faith.  During the worship service I saw many empty seats.  People are missing out on worshiping Jesus!  They’re getting ready to celebrate Jesus’ birth in a season they call Advent.  It’s supposed to be a time to reflect on what our Lord came to do when He was born in Bethlehem.  They have extra services.  They have concerts and programs.  What happens though is that people get so busy with other things like decorations, shopping, parties, sports, TV, and video games.  They get caught up in the busyness of life.  It gets so hard for them to catch their breath and spend time with Jesus.

And then Paul would sit down and write us a letter.  And in that letter would be a prayer.  He would pray that our “love would increase and abound more and more for one another and all, so that God may establish our hearts blameless in holiness before our God and Father at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ!”

And that prayer about increasing and abounding in love is answered when we focus in on the true meaning of this season.  God sending His Son, Jesus to this earth, out of love for His creation.  Not because He had to, but out of love.  He brings us hope for every moment of life!

“Thank you Lord for the people of Trinity.  Thank you for the faith you have given them!  Thank you that they are holding on to Jesus when so many pressures are trying to pull them away!”  And I pray that by the power of the Holy Spirit, that they would increase and abound in their love, more and more!

God grant it…

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