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2/10/19 "Follow the Forgiver!"

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

Grace…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

God grant it..

2/3/19 "Ultimate Authority"

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

God grant it…

 

 

1/27/19 "Release From Captivity"

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

Grace…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

God grant it…

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…

 

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