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3/29/20 "The Resurrected Life!"

Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. “Whoever believes in me though He die, yet shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die.” John 11:25-26; Lent 5; March 29, 2020

Grace…

God’s richest blessings to you.  I pray that this message today, would bring you peace, joy, and encouragement as you rejoice in the blessings of faith in Jesus.

I am sure for all of you it has been quite a change for you in these past weeks.  Social distancing and isolation are not easy things to do for many of us. They are the right thing for us to do right now to try to slow down the spread of this coronavirus.  But, it’s not easy to do!   Just speaking for myself, I miss the face to face interaction.  I miss the laughter and the good natured kidding going back and forth.  One day we will have that again, but, God’s Word always has a great deal to say to us at all times in life, and I believe especially right now.

By now most of you may have been cooped up for a while.  Like the walls of your house are even closing in on you.  Sometimes sin closes in on us too.  It hems us in.  We need to be called out and released from our bad habits, our worries, our anxieties, our doubts, our fears and the sin that so easily slows us down.  That’s what faith in Jesus does for us.  Jesus breaks the bonds of sin.  He calls us out to a new and invigorated life in Him.

Just imagine Lazarus and his family in our text.  At the beginning of our text in John 11, it tells us that he is ill.  The inference of course is that this is not a mild illness, a common cold, or a sore throat, but whatever he has is major and deadly. His sisters, Mary and Martha send word out to Jesus, the One they know who can cure it, and they say, “Lord, the one whom you love is ill.” This was the way to say, “Lord, your close friend is very sick!” But Jesus response is first, “This illness does not lead to death.”

Now when we first hear this, it might sound a bit uncaring or cavalier from Jesus.  Like, well, he’ll get through this.  And some among them when they first heard this might say, well “He’s cured so many people, why doesn’t He just say the Word where He’s at and have Lazarus be cured.  He’s healed people like the Centurion’s servant, from a distance.  But, Jesus goes on to say, “It is for the glory of God, so that the Son of Man may be glorified through it.”

This may strike some as being kind of curious.  But, this section reminds us that sometimes the Lord permits His people to go through difficulty, so that God would be glorified through it.  This time of the coronavirus might also be one of those times in our lifetimes.  It has changed many of our lives in just a short amount of time.  But, I believe God is bringing us back to our homes and families to focus on what’s really important.  I am hoping and praying that your families are coming together in prayer, the reading of the Bible, and hopefully worship—even though that for this time, it’s on-line.  And I pray that the Son of Man, Jesus, is glorified through it

For those in Bethany, Jesus does something even more.  He waits with His disciples even two more days.  Mary and Martha were caring for their brother.  They were surely seeing him get weaker, and the breathing getting shallower.  Death was knocking at the door.  But, Jesus still was not coming.  Perhaps some of you have been in this situation before.  A loved one is going through a prolonged sickness, and there doesn’t seem to be an answer from God.  Then worry, doubt, fear, and anger set in.  The doctors may even say something like, “There is nothing more that we can do!” It’s a scary feeling. 

But we pray that we would always remember, that God always has the final answer.  We pray that God would forgive our fears and our worries, and help us trust the Lord with all of our heart. This, of course, takes great faith but it’s in these great teaching moments that we learn our life’s greatest lessons.   “Remember that during the test, the teacher is often silent.” The Teacher, Jesus, seemed silent during this time, but He was mighty at work.  Remember that Jesus said, “It is for the glory of God.” And it surely was!

After Jesus hears that Lazarus has died, then He begins the journey to Bethany to see Him.  Some may have wrongly  said it was kind of useless now.  Lazarus has died.  It’s over. In those days, the burial takes place the same day.  He’s wrapped up, put into the tomb, and the stone is rolled in front.    It’s over! Why go now?  But, Jesus demonstrates why.

First He comes, and the text tells us that Lazarus has been in the tomb for four days.  This is actually important to the text, because some of the ancient rabbis taught that the person’s soul hovered over the body for three days after death, and then decomposition sets in.  The point is, that Lazarus is fully dead.  And Jesus still comes.  Martha greets Him first outside of the village and says, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.  But even now I know that whatever you ask from God, God will give you.”  It is really quite a beautiful statement.  She can’t quite understand why this has happened, but she knows that Jesus can change everything.  And that, He begins to do.  Jesus’ response is very straightforward and resolute, “Your brother will rise again.” 

Martha said, “I know that he will rise again in the resurrection on the last day.”  It’s a statement of faith, we share with Martha. We profess it in the Apostles’ Creed. We said it just before.  She believed it.  But, on that day Jesus would do something more for the glory of God. First He said, “I am the resurrection and the life.  Whoever believes in me, though He dies, yet shall He live, and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die. Do you believe this?”  Do you believe this Martha?  Do you believe this Mary?  Do you believe this brothers and sisters in Christ?...

Our text then tells us Jesus starts to make His way to the village.  On the way He meets the other sister, Mary who is weeping and falls at His feet.   In grief she also says, “If you had been here, my brother would not have died.” Very importantly, the Bible tells us that Jesus looked at her weeping, and was deeply moved.  Then it says, “Jesus wept.” It’s important for us to focus on this, to remember that the Lord knows our sorrows in life.  He also shares in them.  He also weeps for us.  Death is not the way this world is supposed to be.  We shouldn’t have sorrows, sickness, and death.  They were not part of God’s original plan for us. Satan and sin have brought death and destruction into this world.  But, Jesus will have the final word!

“Where have you laid him”, He asks.  So they take Him to the place.  “Take away the stone.” He says.  And although there is some objection to this, they do it.  Jesus prays to His heavenly Father, then calls out, “Lazarus, come out!” And out from the grave comes His friend Lazarus, bound in linen.  “Unbind Him, and let him go!”  Can you imagine the reaction of the people? (Many put their faith in Him) 

Dear people of God. Often in life we get hemmed in by our fears and sorrows.  They have a way of closing in on us.  They bind us up.  God’s Word comes to us today to call us out and unbind us from our sin.  We are reminded today that Jesus is “The Resurrection and the life.”  First, to be sure, He will raise  on the last day.  What a glorious and awesome day that will be for us and our loved ones to rise again! 

But there is something more for our life right now.  Jesus has come for us right now, to give us the Resurrected life, right now. He gives us victory over our worries, doubts, sorrows, and fears.  He calls us out and says “Come out!”  Perhaps there’s a particular worry, sorrow or fear over your family, your marriage, or a relationship, over your job, your business.  Sometimes we just resign ourselves and say, “It is what it is.” But, Jesus has come to bring life.  He says, “I have come that they may have life and have it to the full.” 

Let’s bring our sorrows, fears, doubts, and worries to Jesus!  He will bring us through!  This miracle of the raising of Lazarus, is one that shows us to not just resign ourselves to sorrow, but to rejoice in the glory of God.  Today He calls us out.  This too will be for God’s glory!  He unbinds us, and gives us victory and life, for He is the Resurrection and the Life. 

God grant this…

3/22/20 "Believing is Truly Seeing"

“He said, Lord I believe, and he worshiped Him.”  John 9:38; Lent 4; March 22, 2020

Grace…

Sometimes it’s very hard to see!  Maybe like in the children’s message it’s because you’re too short to see it all.  Or maybe it’s because someone tall sat right down in front of you.  Maybe it’s because something else is in your way.  I remember one time I got tickets to a game at old Tiger stadium and they were obstructed view seats.  There was a post right in front of me and I always had to crane my neck around it to see. Sometimes, like mentioned before we might be too tall to see something, and we may really need to stoop down to see. 

Too small, too tall, too far away, too near, obstructed view, too blurry, and then there’s the case where we just can’t see at all.  Maybe because we’ve become partially blind due to some problem like a cataract, macular degeneration, or glaucoma.

It’s interesting that the Bible compares this physical blindness to spiritual blindness as well. Spiritual blindness is the condition where a person can’t see things in a spiritual way.  They cannot see their sin.  They cannot see their need for a Savior.  And, they don’t know who the Savior really is.

Today in our text in John 9, we meet a man born physically blind.  We can only imagine the heartache of the man, living in an age before any advancement, like braille, and other types of help for those who are handicapped. And what is worse, there is the stigma from the ancient world attached to this man that he or his parents must have sinned grievously to receive a burden like this.

And that is exactly what the disciples ask Jesus, “Rabbi, (teacher) who sinned, this man or his parents that he was born blind?  But, Jesus replies, “It was not that this man sinned, or his parents, but that the works of God might be displayed in him.”  The physical blindness was here to show something more.  Something that was not yet apparent to the man, and even to Jesus’ disciples, because the works of God would be displayed in and through him.

So often in life when we also meet up with difficulties, we have tendencies to question and grumble to God, like, “What did I do to deserve this?”  What did we do to deserve this ?  Maybe you’ve asked this question a time or two lately especially with the coronavirus so drastically changing our lives!  What did we do to deserve this?  Well first, there is truth that sin has caused the condition of the world that we are in.  A study of the Bible shows that sin causes sorrow, disease, thorns, thistles, and even death itself.  But, rather than asking, what did I/we do to deserve this?  Jesus calls us to ask, “What will God display through it?  Lord, forgive us for grumbling and complaining against you and help us to see, really see what you will display.  Open our eyes for you are the light of the world!

Many people say that “Seeing is believing” but faith in Jesus says, “Believing is really seeing! “ And so, in our text for today from John 9, the man born blind was the recipient of a miracle in at least two ways.  Jesus spits on the ground and makes mud with the saliva.  He covers this man’s eyes with mud, then says, “Go wash in the pool of Siloam.”  So he went and washed and came back seeing.  It’s interesting how Jesus handles the situation.  He makes mud with His own spit.  And since God made the first man from the dust of the ground, so God’s Son, Jesus, brings health and healing to the man with this new ground. His sight was recreated.  He was washed and He was healed.

It sounds too simple to believe at first.  At least for the Pharisees.  They had viewed this man as a sinner because he was blind.  How could a man like this be healed?  He put mud on my eyes, and I washed and I see.” The man said.  But, the Pharisees couldn’t believe this, because they were spiritually blind. 

We are now in the 4th week of Lent.  Each week we have been looking at the depth of the sin of this world to which Jesus came. What amazing love Jesus had as He came willingly to a world stuck in sin.  He came to people like Nicodemus and the woman at the well.  He came to people like the man born blind.  He even came for His enemies like the Pharisees. Today He comes to us as well.

For when we came into this world, we were born spiritually blind, spiritually dead, and even enemies of God.   We couldn’t see or believe on our own.  But, as Paul says in Ephesians 2, “But because of His great love for us, God who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions—it is by grace you have been saved.”  (Ephesians 2:4-5)

This grace, this undeserved love has been poured out to us through Jesus.  Out of His most excruciating death on the cross, He gives us forgiveness and every blessing in Christ.  It’s there on the cross, that God shows that He brings all things together for good.  He brings us forgiveness, health, and healing for every moment of the day.

As I mentioned before, the man born blind had two miracles performed on him.  The first, is that he was physically healed, so that he could see. Just try to imagine what that would have been like to physically see for the first time.  But, the greater work of God was that now He would believe in Jesus as his Savior.  Jesus asked him, “Do you believe in the Son of Man?”  And he answered, “And who is He sir, that I may believe in Him.”  Jesus said to him, “You have seen Him, and it is He who is speaking to you.  He said, “Lord, I believe, and he worshiped Him.”

Sometimes even though we say we believe in Jesus, our faith gets pretty cloudy.  Sin, like a cataract, keeps coming into our lives so that we cannot clearly see and believe.  We begin to doubt God and we complain and grumble, and say, “Why me?” “What have I ever done to deserve this? Rather that believing that the works of God will be displayed.

So, what do you see? When you look out on today’s world, your community, your own life?  With this coronavirus pandemic so much has changed so quickly.  So many problems.  And add to them divisions, poverty, greed, and hatred.  They are all there, it’s true.  But remember so is Jesus.  He is present in this world.  And because of Him, “The works of God will be displayed.”  He said, “In this world you will have trouble.  But, take heart, I have overcome the world.” 

Just think how Jesus will display his works right now.  I’m praying that through this time, many will come to faith in Jesus.  God’s word promises that “all things will work together for good for those who love the Lord and have been called according to His purpose.” 

I pray that this will be true for you in Jesus name…that God would grant you eyes to see and that His works would be displayed in you life right now.

Remember, believing in Jesus is really seeing!

God grant it…

3/15/20 "The Power of Hope!"

“Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.  Through Whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand, and we rejoice in the hope of the glory of God.” Romans 5:1-2; Lent 3; March 15, 2020

 

Grace…

 

A man approached a little league baseball game one afternoon.  He asked a boy in the dugout what the score was.  The boy responded, “Nine to nothing—we’re behind.”

 

“Boy”, said the spectator, “I’ll bet your discouraged.”

 

“Why should I be discouraged?”  replied the little boy.  “We haven’t even gotten up to bat yet!”

 

Hope…that’s what this little boy had.  He had hope, and it is hope that carries us on in the face of some of the most difficult circumstances in the world.  Dale Carnegie, the pioneer in public speaking,  once said, “Most of the important things in the world have been accomplished by people who have kept on trying when there seemed to be no hope at all. The poet, Emily Dickinson wrote, “Hope is the thing with feathers, that perches in the soul, and sings the tunes without words, and never stops—at all.”  (It sings the tunes without words and never stops at all.)  That’s hope.  Maybe you have seen hope on the face of a loved one.  It’s an inspiration to everyone around.

 

In our text from the book of Romans, St. Paul writes about the joy of Christian hope.  It is the fuel that keeps us going against some of the greatest obstacles of life.  Satan, this dark world, and our own sinful flesh keep presenting obstacles in the path of life, and St. Paul encourages the Roman Christians to stand firm in faith, and hold fast to that blessed hope.

 

As St. Paul wrote this text to the Roman Christians there were a great number of things that were trying to tear away this hope from people’s hearts.  First, opposition to the Christian faith was on the increase. Satan had deluded the Roman emperor, Nero, into believing that the Christians were the cause of problems in their empire.  By the time that this letter was written in 57 AD Christians were beginning to face imprisonments, beatings, and even death in Rome.  More and more persecutions were to come in the years ahead.  And Paul, through inspiration of the Holy Spirit wanted the people of God to be prepared.

 

But, there were other things to be sure, pressures in society to give in to the pagan ways of life seemed to be on the increase.  It seemed easier to be sure to live like the rest of the world, than to live as a Christian. There were less hassles, less troubles. In addition, at times, the Christians in Rome had a hard time getting along with each other.  Particularly troubling was the relationship between the Jewish Christians and the Gentile Christians.  The Jewish Christians felt that they were more deserving of a close relationship with God, because they had the Old Testament heritage, and the Gentile Christians felt that the Jewish Christians were going about this relationship with Christ in the wrong way.

 

Arguments and factions within the church, the allures of a more fashionable lifestyle in high society, the fears of what others might say or do to us, when they know that we are Christians. These all sound pretty familiar don’t they?  Sometimes these roadblocks have a way of trying to take the wind out of our sails.  But, Paul would say to the Roman Christians and to us as well.  Stand firm.  For your hope is not based on thin air.  This is not a “pie in the sky” kind of hope.  It is hope based on the certainty of Jesus Christ.

 

We have hope first and foremost, because of the grace of God, in Jesus Christ, who came to this evil world precisely because it was filled with sin.  He came to save sinners.  He came to a world full of emperors who stood opposed to Him.  He came to people who loved their sinful lifestyles, and wanted others to join in with them.  He came to people who hated each other, and fought each other tooth and nail, and yet they were blood brothers and sisters.  He came to a world literally sick with sin, spiritually blind, and enemies of God.  And yet, he didn’t turn His back on them. He had compassion on them and He has compassion on us.  The book of Hebrews tells us, “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 it’s shame, and sat down and the right hand of the throne of God.  Consider Him who endured such opposition from sinful men, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.”  We have hope because of Jesus Christ. 

 

Just look at the way He spoke to the woman at the well.  He didn’t come to the well to condemn her.  It’s clear that He came to save her.  He pointed out that He knew about her adulterous life, but He had compassion on her.  He pointed out that faith in Him, was “the spring of water welling up to eternal life”  The same can be said for the way he dealt with Nicodemus, and the tax-collector Zaccheus, and all of the rest who knew Christ in the Bible.  He took their burdens and placed them on His shoulders, and took them to the cross.  Isaiah writes of Him, “But He was pierced for our transgressions, He was crushed for our iniquities. The punishment that brought us peace was upon Him, and by His wounds we are healed.”

 

In Christ, we are healed. We are forgiven.  We are made whole.  We are justified, in Christ.  And that gives me hope.  As your pastor, it is my calling to remind you that we have hope in every circumstance of life.  It is not just my job.  It is what God has called me to.  And I believe it with all my heart.  There have been times when I have struggled, when there has been some type of crisis or trial in my life or the life of our church.  But, God has always provided the inspiration at just the right time.  It’s hard for me to even count the number of times I have opened the Bible to read and it brings comfort and hope for just the exact problem that I had.  And now it is perfectly timed to speak to us for this corona virus emergency.

 

But, this is not just “Why I have hope.”  It is why each of you has hope in every circumstance of life.  God will provide for you because of Jesus Christ.  Do you have problems in your classroom? Problems in your school?  Problems at work?  Problems in your community?  Problems with your children, or your parents?  Problems in your marriage?  Problems in your church?  God will provide exactly the right remedy.  Have you brought the problem to Him?   I remind you are precious to Him, through faith, in the power of baptism. He will provide.

 

God will provide for you even when you are suffering and troubled in life.  That is why St. Paul writes, “Not only so, but we also rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance, and perseverance, character, and character, hope, and hope does not disappoint us because God has poured out His love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit whom He has given us.”  Are you suffering or troubled right now in life?  Maybe you know someone who is?  Remind them to stand firm in faith in Christ.  God will certainly provide endurance, character, and hope, that does not disappoint, for you.  He will lift you up in due time!

 

Dear people of God, one of St. Paul’s favorite examples of hope is Abraham.  Just right before our lesson to the Romans, Paul said that “ Abraham in hope believed and so became the father of many nations.”   Abraham was blessed to be a blessing.  And today, it is my prayer that you would take that blessing of hope out into the world, into your homes, and families, in your work place and school, and in your community, so that you would bring a blessing of joyful hope to others.

 

God grant it…

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…

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