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10/28/18 "Once and For All"

“Unlike other High Priests, He (Jesus) does not need to offer sacrifices day after day, first for His own sins, and then for the sins of the people.  He sacrificed for their sins once for all when He offered Himself.”  Hebrews 7:27; Reformation; 10/28/18

Grace…

About this time every year I get the same feeling!  It happens every year!  It goes kind of like this.  The other day, I had just finished picking up the leaves on my lawn.  I actually kind of enjoy it.  I mow them and put them both in recycling—“kill two birds with one stone, right”.  And afterward, I looked over my lawn, and thought, “Wow, that looks great!”  The grass is green, the leaves are all colorful and up in the trees.  It’s a beautiful crisp fall day.  All is well!

But, within a short amount of time, I went inside my house and looked at my back yard, and those beautiful leaves that were up in the trees just a few minutes ago were now laying on that once picked up lawn.  And I thought to myself, “Now, I’m going to need to do it all over again!  The leaves keep coming!  Again and again and again, until the snow comes—right?  And then that will need to be taken care of, again, and again, and again.  Because the snow keeps coming!

But, if you think about it, there are so many jobs that we have to do, over and over, again and again in life! Wash the dishes, or pack the dishwasher, unpack the dishwasher, sweep the floor, vacuum the carpet.  Make the lunches.  Clean up afterward.  Prepare the dinner.  Clean up after dinner.  Go shopping.  Unpack the car.  Clean the car.  Some of them very easy, some of them harder, but they always need to be done again and again and again.  It is ongoing and sometimes never seem to stop.

Imagine some of the other much more difficult jobs that need to go on and on, every day!  How about for people who lived long ago?  How about for a moment the job of the Old Testament Jewish priest.  His job dealt with offering sacrifices to God every day.  Some of the sacrifices would be things like incense which would be burned at the altar of incense, and sometimes grain would be offered, burned as a grain offering to the Lord.  Those offerings would be pretty easy.

But each day there also would be offerings of doves, and bulls, goats and sheep—a lamb in the morning and at night!.  Every day, the job of the priest was to offer these sacrifices by ceremonially killing the animal, and placing them on the altar to be burned in a way that was given by the Lord, as a way to pay for people’s sins.  Imagine, how hard of a job that would be, each and every day.  And because people did not stop sinning, the sacrifices in the Old Testament needed to continue every day.

What is more, once a year, on the special day called the Day of Atonement, Yom Kippur, the High Priest would sacrifice one bull for his own sins and one goat was sacrificed for the sake of all the people.  The blood of the bull and the blood of the goat were taken and sprinkled in the special room in the temple, called the Holy of Holies, on what was called the mercy seat of God.  These things happened year after year.  It was the job of the High Priest.  There didn’t seem to ever be an end to it, because the sins kept coming, and they need to be atoned for.  Talk about a tough job that seemed to have no end—day after day, year after year!

But, praise God, because that was the old covenant, the old promise, which was just a shadow, something that pointed to, what was to come.  Because God has a new covenant, far better that is fulfilled in Jesus Christ.  Here, there’s no need for daily sacrifices of animals (praise God), and no need for the yearly sacrifice both for the High Priest and the people on the Day of Atonement.  No blood needs to be sprinkled in the Holy of Holies on the mercy seat of God any more.  Because the genuine, authentic, High Priest Jesus Christ Himself, has shed His own blood for each one of us, once for all on the cross.  Like the book of Hebrews says, “Unlike the other high priests, He does not need to offer sacrifices day after day, first for His own sins, and then for the sins of the people.  He sacrificed for their sins, once for all when He offered Himself.”  And what is more, your High Priest, Jesus Christ rose again from the dead on the third day, so that we would have eternal salvation in His name—forever and ever Amen!

Today, in our church, we are celebrating the Reformation.  The Reformation was a movement that was started by Martin Luther, on October 31, 1517 (501 yrs. ago), as he nailed the 95 Theses to the church doors in Wittenberg, Germany to begin a conversation to reform or bring change to the church.  The Catholic church of Luther’s time and still today, wrongly taught that if you really wanted to have your sins fully forgiven, you needed to do something more too.  Christ’s forgiveness wasn’t complete until you did something more as what was called satisfaction.  That satisfaction, in Luther’s day may be buying an indulgence, paying to touch a relic, making a pilgrimage to Rome, or perhaps even today saying a special set of prayers.  But, one of Luther’s main points in the Reformation that still applies today, was that Jesus’ forgiveness was already full, complete, and once for all.  We cannot and dare not, add anything to it, His forgiveness is complete!  Just imagine, if you had to try to earn it every day!  It would be like saying Jesus sacrifice wasn’t complete enough.  And sometimes we all fall into that temptation to also think that way.  Dear Lord forgive us!

Because, unlike so many other things in life, your forgiveness has been paid in full through Jesus.  There’s no need to have it re-upped every day, every week, or once a year.  It’s the gift of a lifetime—eternal life—and it’s given by Jesus once for all!  The text in Hebrews says, “Such a high priest meets our need—one who is holy, blameless, pure, set apart from sinners, exalted above the heavens.”  Our high priest Jesus meets all of the needs of our life. 

What are our needs in life?  To know that we are loved.  You are precious to Jesus, each and every one of you.  “God so loved the world that He gave His one and only Son, that whoever believes in Him will not perish, but have eternal life.  To know that we are forgiven.  “Jesus sacrificed for your sins once for all.”  And on the cross He said, “It is finished.” (The debt is paid)  And we have the need to know that He is with us.  He said, “Surely (Lo), I am with you always, even to the end of the age.”(Matt. 28:20)  And if you look closely at this passage from Hebrews, you will see that it says, “Such a high priest meets our need”—singular.  Our greatest need is to know that we have eternal salvation in Jesus.  It is ours.  It is the truth.  And that truth will set you free!

Maybe you know someone who struggles with a lot of worry, stress, and anxiety in life.  They constantly worry because they feel they’re not talented enough, not smart enough, not good enough.  Satan, the world, and their own sinful flesh make them feel like they’ve got to do more, to earn their acceptance, and earn their salvation.   It has cost them a lot.  Loss of sleep, loss of health, loss of friendships.  Maybe it’s even led them down the road of bad habits and addictions to, alcohol, drugs, and other types of things.  Maybe this someone is a friend or family member.  Maybe it’s even you!

Let this Reformation truth sink into your heart and soul… Let it bring you hope and joy…Your High Priest, Jesus Christ, meets our need—all of them, our greatest need—He is holy, blameless, pure, set apart from sinners, and exalted above the heavens!  He genuinely and authentically loves you!  He has sacrificed for you, once for all, and grants you His forgiveness, (it keeps coming)  daily, hourly, all the time, and calls you freely to serve Him with joy…

God grant it…    

10/21/18 "Living and Active Word of God"

“For the Word of God is living and active, sharper than any two edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart.  And no creature is hidden from His sight, but all are naked and exposed to the eyes of Him to whom we must give an account.” Hebrews 4:12-13; Pentecost 22; October 21, 2018

Grace…

It was mid-August, about a week before the first day of school, and back to school shopping was in full throttle.  There I was in a shopping line waiting to check out.  My family had gone to an outlet store on the other side of the state to get a certain pair of authentic Nike tennis shoes.  Nothing else would do.  Now granted I didn’t go to the other side of the state just for this, but I was spending a large hunk of a Sunday afternoon, waiting in line when I could do something far more productive.

There I was, approximately number 60 in a line of 80 people, wrapped around the whole store in the shape of a snake.  There I was, standing, wondering why I needed to be there, in that store, at that time.  Of course, it was so that I could get those genuine, authentic Nike shoes for my daughter, so that she could have just the right tennis shoes.  Perhaps you’ve been there too!  Oh, maybe not at the Nike outlet store.  But struggling, needing patience to overcome the odds just to get the genuine article—the authentic goods for your children, grandchildren or for yourself.

Imagine if we would have the same type of perseverance, the same kind of effort, the same intensity to find the genuine, authentic Words of God.  If we fought through the obstacles, gave up the other luxuries, showed great perseverance to hear, and let it take root in our lives with the Word of God, like we do with so many other things.

Sad to say, in our society today, the Word of God is not always sought after.  It’s often treated with a yawn or less.  When people say, the Bible says this, or the Bible says that, the reaction by some is, “Big Deal”, “So What!” or “Whatever!”

The Bible says, “Worship the Lord Your God and Him only!”  And the world says, “Big Deal!” The Bible says, “Love your neighbor, and pray for those who persecute you.” And the world says, “So What!”  And the Bible says, “Forgive one another as you have been forgiven.”  And the culture of our world says, “Whatever!”

But, let me remind you today, that this Bible that I hold in my hand is not just like any other book.  This is the genuine, authentic Word of God!  When it is read, or listened to, it is just as if God Himself was speaking to you!  Can you imagine yawning if God was speaking to you?  How about looking at your phone, or playing a game on your device if God, the Lord of life, was speaking?  How about being more interested in sports, or Facebook, or what’s on Pinterest, than what God’s Word has to say about our lives?  Our text from the book of Hebrews says, “For the Word of God is living and active, sharper than any two edged sword….discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart.”

This book of Hebrews was written around the year 65 AD.  It was written to Christian people who were being tempted to give up their faith.  This was happening because some of the Christians were being threatened with persecution, jail time, beatings, and even death.  Some were giving up their Christian faith and turning back to Judaism, which was at that time protected.  Some turned away from following Jesus Christ, and began simply following the Old Testament ceremonies and sacrifices.  But, the author showed again and again that Jesus Christ is the fulfillment of the Old Testament law. He is far superior to Moses, far superior to the sacrifices. Far superior to the High Priests, because He is the very Son of God and Savior of the World.

The text reminds us, that in the Old Testament, the Children of Israel traveled from slavery in Egypt on to the Promised Land of Canaan.  But, many rebelled against God, and His servants Moses and Aaron.  Their hearts became hard and stubborn with sin. As a result, they did not make it to the Promised Land to find rest.  They died in the desert, in the wilderness, apart from the rest that God had provided for them.  In our text, the author reminds the people that like the Old Testament people of old, we are walking on to the Promised Land of heaven where we will find rest. 

So, the author says, “Today, if you hear His voice, do not harden your hearts.”  God’s Word is calling us onward today to, “Come, follow Him.”  Although we are not walking in the wilderness, we are walking through life together.  And, it often seems like a wilderness, right?  We are called to follow Jesus, and seek first His kingdom and His righteousness, and yet so often we go and do our own thing. Sometimes our hearts get hardened and calloused by the sin of this world.  And we say things like, “So what!” “Who cares?” and “Whatever?”

But, “the Word of God is living and active sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and spirit, joints and of marrow and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart.” God’s Word speaks to our hearts like nothing else in this world, because God is our Creator.  It is our heart language.  He knows us better than we know ourselves.  He knows that we are all sinful people.  His Word is like the sword because it sharply addresses and cuts the hardness of sin out of our life.  We may try to cover things up, but God knows what is going on in our lives, and His Word speaks to it.  It says, “No creature is hidden from His sight, but all are naked and exposed to the eyes of Him to whom we must give account.”

I remember a time when I was a teenager where I came to church on a Sunday with a chip on my shoulder.  I was there, but I came with a hard heart.  Some things were going on in my life, and I didn’t think that God cared about them.  The service started, there was a song, confession and forgiveness of sins, the Bible readings, and another song.  Then the pastor began preaching.  And, wouldn’t you know, it sounded as if the pastor was preaching right about what was going on in my life.  I remember thinking, “Wow, how does he know what is happening, and how my heart feels.”  I remember looking over at my dad, wondering if he had told the pastor about what was going on in my life.  But, he didn’t.  The pastor was just faithfully preaching God’s Word.  And God’s Word had it’s way with me.  You can fool a lot of people a lot of times, but you cannot fool God.  God’s Word addressed my stubborn sinful heart, brought me to repentance, and it cut it out.  Then it turned me to Jesus, my Savior, who brings me forgiveness, hope, and rest for my soul.

That is what God’s Word does for us today.  God knows your heart.  He knows the stubborn sin in our lives, and He desires to cut it out.  And He points us to Jesus.  The Bible says, “Since then we have a great High Priest, who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession.  For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin.”  Jesus knows our situations in life.  He sympathizes with us.  He knows how hard our temptations are.  He was tempted just like us.  But, He brings complete forgiveness for every situation of life.  He understands us, and He is there to forgive and help us. 

He’s there for you Cerina and Owen, and for your family.  He’s connected you to Himself through baptism, called you His children, given you the Holy Spirit, and all the blessings of heaven are yours.

We all may spend a great deal of time looking for what is genuine and authentic in life.  Today, we are reminded that the Word of God in the Bible, is truly genuine and authentic.  It is living, and active.  It works within you, cutting away the hardness of sin, and leads you to Jesus Christ, the Lord of Life, who genuinely and authentically loves and cares for you.

The writer of the book of Hebrews then says, “Let us then with confidence, draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.”

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, let’s walk forward together in faith with confidence.  We have the genuine authentic Word of God guiding us to follow Jesus and find our rest in Him!

God grant it…

10/14/18 "Treasures in Heaven"

And Jesus, looking at him, loved him, and said to him, “You lack one thing: go, sell all that you have and give to the poor and you will have treasure in heaven, and come, follow me.”  Mark 10:21; Pentecost 21; October 14, 2018

Grace…

Alfred Nobel, dropped the newspaper and put his head in his hands.  It was 1888.  Nobel was a Swedish chemist who had made a fortune, inventing and producing dynamite.  He had just heard that his brother Ludvig had died in France.

But now Alfred’s grief was doubled by shock.  He’d just read an obituary in a French newspaper—not his brother’s obituary, but his own!  An editor had confused the two brothers.  The headline read, “The Merchant of Death is Dead!”  Alfred Nobel’s obituary described a man who had gotten rich by helping people kill one another with dynamite and bombs.

Shaken by this judgment of his life, Nobel resolved to use his wealth to change his legacy.  When he died eight years later, he left more than $9M to fund awards for people whose work benefited people.  The awards have come to be known as the Nobel Prizes, and every year are given for such things like Peace, Literature, Medicine and Economics.

Alfred Nobel had a rare opportunity—to look at the assessment of his life, at its end and still have the chance to change it.  Before his life was over, Nobel made sure he had invested his wealth in somethings he thought had lasting value. 

How about you? Are you investing in the temporary things of this world?  Having a closet full of clothes, the latest technology, the biggest toys? Or are you investing in the things that are eternal, that is in the One thing needful, that is in a relationship of faith in Jesus Christ? What’s most important in your life? 

This is a good question to ask today, because our text from the Gospel of Mark takes us to a discussion between Jesus and a rich young man over what’s most important in life.  This man certainly knew who Jesus was.  Perhaps he had seen Jesus perform a miracle, or heard Him speak.  He knew that Jesus was a good rabbi, a teacher of the Scriptures, and so he came running, knelt down and asked the question, “Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?”

On the surface, this is a great question!  What must I do to inherit eternal life?  The young man is obviously concerned about eternity.  He wants to know what he needs to do to inherit eternal life.  My goodness, he’s thinking about eternity!  How often today, do people think about eternity?

But, there’s a problem with his question, and Jesus will eventually point it out.  “What must I do to inherit eternal life?”  (What must I do?)  As if eternal life was all about the things that we do.  Is it praying a certain prayer ten times.  Kneeling down at the right place.  Making a trip, or pilgrimage to the temple or another country.  Good teacher, what must I do? 

But, Jesus, in His unique style, answers this young man’s question with another question.  “Why do you call me good?  No one is good except God alone.” Do you believe that Jesus is good?  Do you believe that He is God?  And if so, look at what He says.  “You know the commandments: Do not murder, Do not commit adultery, Do not steal, Do not bear false witness, Do not defraud, Honor your father and your mother.”  Even just what we call the 4th through the 8th commandments…the commandments that especially apply to our neighbors…have you kept them spotless and pure in your life?

And, the young man replies,  “Teacher, all these I have kept from my youth.” How many of you (today) could honestly answer that question this way?  (I know I could not.)  All these I have kept from my youth?  How could this young man even say this?  Because it’s not just how you keep the commandment on the surface, that God looks at.  God looks at the heart and motivation.  Jesus says in the Sermon on the Mount, “You have heard that it was said to those of old, “You shall not murder…But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment. “ And “You have heard that it was said, “You shall not commit adultery.  But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lustful intent has already committed adultery with her in his heart.”   Even with this small sample of the commandments, we must all say with the Apostle Paul, “No one is righteous.  No, not one…For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God!”(Rom. 3:10, 23) Dear Lord, forgive us!

But, the beautiful part of this lesson is that Jesus knows this about this rich young man too.  Jesus knows that he has not kept the law perfectly.  He knows he’s a sinner.  But He lovingly speaks to him, “You lack one thing: go sell all that you have and give it to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come follow Me.” Come, follow Me! 

Because by your own works, young man (young woman, middle aged person, senior citizen) you can’t keep the Law.  We are lost on our own.  Doomed to destruction in hell on our own.  But through Jesus, we have the forgiveness of sins.  We have hope for every situation of life.  Because He kept the Law perfectly.

Every step of His life and ministry was done to keep the Law perfectly for us.  Not only did He keep the Law on the surface, but He kept it perfectly in the motivations of His heart.  He fully obeyed His Father’s will.  He knew all along that it would take His life to pay for our sins.  In the Garden of Gethsemane He prayed, “Father, take this cup from me, nevertheless not My will, Your’s be done!” He was betrayed, captured, and put on trial submitting to the Law for our sakes.  And then on the cross, in His dying breath said these words, “It is finished!”  The debt was paid.  The Law was fulfilled for your sake and mine.  And He rose again on the third day, so that we would have victory through Him.   Eternal life is a gift to you through faith in Jesus.  It’s not about what else you need to do, it’s simply to believe in Him.

Now you may ask, then why did Jesus tell this rich young man to “go sell all He had and give it to the poor and you will have treasure in heaven…”?  Because, it seems pretty clear that this young man loved his riches first.  Jesus was lovingly asking him, “What is more important to you, the treasures of this world, or the treasures of heaven? Are you investing in the temporary things of this world, or are you investing in the things that are eternal?

Christian author Randy Alcorn asks this question, “When you leave this world, will you be known as one who accumulated treasures on earth that you couldn’t keep?  Or will you be recognized as one who invested treasures in heaven that you couldn’t lose?”  Alcorn then he goes on to say, “Where we choose to store our treasures depends largely on where we think our home is.” 

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, the Bible says we’re “pilgrims and strangers, aliens on earth.”  (Heb. 11:13)  This life on earth is temporary.  The things of this earth are temporary.   “We are citizens of a better country—a heavenly one.”  For as Paul says, our “citizenship is in heaven.” (Phil. 3:20)

Jesus was saying to the rich young man and to each of us today, to invest in what is eternal, in what will truly last.  It’s an amazing transformation.  He says, “Lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal.  For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”(Matt. 6:20-21)

So, God’s Word encourages you today, to give of yourself, your time, talents, and treasures to the things of heaven.  Spreading the message of Jesus personally, and through your church, through missions projects, Christian schools, (like here at West Shore Lutheran), youth projects, evangelism programs, Bible classes, projects of mercy and outreach to the poor.  Letting others know about the hope we have in Jesus.  Investing in the things that are eternal!

Sad to say, the rich young man didn’t like what Jesus had to say.  The Bible says, “Disheartened by the saying, he went away sorrowful for he had great possessions.” He is one of the very few men in the Bible that came in contact with Jesus and went away sad. 

I pray that instead, you will rejoice in your Savior, who has given you eternal life as a gift, and follow Him, laying up treasures in heaven.  Some day, even the Nobel prizes that Alfred Nobel gave will come to nothing, but the Word of the Lord, and faith in Jesus will stand forever.

God grant it…

9/23/18 "The Last Are First"

“And (Jesus) sat down and called to the twelve.  And He said to them, “If anyone would be first, He must be last of all and servant of all.”  Mark 9:35; Pentecost 18; September 23, 2018

Grace…

Right about now, in late September in the world of sports, it’s a busy time.  In baseball we have the stretch drive toward the division title, the playoffs, a pennant, and the World Series.  (Of course, not for the Tigers, but maybe for the Cubs, Indians, and the Cardinals.)  At the same time there are High school football qualifications going on already working for the state title.  Another road to the Super Bowl is underway in pro football.  And there is early season positioning for the NCAA Football playoffs.  We all understand competition.  In the sports world it’s with us almost every day.  Who’s going to be first?  Who’s going to win the championship?

But that quest for first place is going on all around us in many different ways as well.  In the shopping market, many of us look at who can be the very first to get our food and get out of there as quick as possible.  And many others just go a step further and just order their food on line, and have it delivered.  There’s a race going on.  And that race becomes very literal as you get your car out on the road, through the main streets, highways and side streets of our lives.   Who’s going to be first? 

Who’s got the fastest, the biggest, the most powerful, the most expensive gear around?  Who’s got the biggest house, the fastest boat, the largest yard?  Who’s physically the strongest, the quickest, the toughest, the most beautiful?  Who is first?  Who is the greatest?  This competition for first place is such a part of our lives.

I guess it should then come as no surprise that the disciples argued about this as well.  They were human just like me and you.  They argued about who is in first place too.  Who was the greatest in the kingdom of God?  Who was Jesus’ favorite?  Probably, whose prayers were more effective?  Maybe who could heal more?  Who was the greatest?  But, Jesus had them come and sit down by HIm, and said to them, “If anyone would be first, he must be last of all and servant of all.”  (What a change!  What a transformation!)

Now, in these past few weeks we have been studying God’s Word with the theme, “Amazing Transformations.”  We’ve been looking at how God brings about amazing transformations of lives through faith in Him.  Through faith in Him, like the healing of the deaf man, He says “Ephatha” “Be Opened” to us as well.  He gives us ears that truly hear His Word, and not just let these words go in one ear and out the other.  Instead, we would build our lives upon His Word.  Through faith in Jesus, we are also transformed to believe that “All Things are Possible to those Who Believe.”  Like the father with the troubled son we say, “Lord, I Believe, Help My Unbelief.”  And today, faith in Jesus transforms us to understand and believe that “If you want to be first, then you must be last and the servant of all. “  Talk about an amazing transformation!  Jesus says the greatest one is not the fastest, the strongest, the most beautiful, instead it’s the one who is the servant.

What Jesus is getting at today, is our pride.  Although we may not want to admit it at first, we often spend much of our time and energy in ways to try to make ourselves look great.  But, Jesus says, if you want to be great, then serve other people, help them, encourage them, show them compassion.  And we pray, “Dear Lord please forgive us, help us, and transform us to serve others.”

This  argument among the disciples about who was the greatest interestingly came up immediately after Jesus had once again promised that He was going to be “delivered into the hands of men and they will kill Him.  And when He is killed, after three days He will rise.”  Delivered into the hands of men?  Killed?  Jesus was their leader!  Their master! This doesn’t sound like first place!  It doesn’t sound great!

But, the greatness of Jesus is this.  He gave up the majesty and the greatness of perfection in heaven to come to this earth and serve.  He saw people struggling in sin and had compassion on them.  He came to the lowliest situations, bringing health and healing wherever He went.  Sight to the blind, hearing to the deaf, cleansing for the lepers, and forgiveness of sins to all.  He saw people like you and me in our greatest need, the need for forgiveness, the need to be loved, and the need to have peace with God.  And He laid down His life for us.  And then on the third day, He rose again so that we would have the abundant life, true life forever with Him.  Jesus became last and a servant to all, so that we would in turn become first with God.

Paul writes in Philippians, “So if there is any encouragement in Christ, any comfort from love, any participation in the Spirit, any affection and sympathy, complete my joy by being of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind.  Do nothing out of rivalry or conceit, but in humility count others more significant that yourselves.” (Philippians 2:1-4)

I know that some may say, it sounds here like Jesus doesn’t want us to use our abilities to do our very best.  No, not at all, God wants us to use our abilities and to do our best, but He does desire a transformation, a change within us.  A transformation from an attitude of pride, to one of humility. 

Pride shows itself in many subtle and lethal ways.  Are you a proud person or one who is humble?  I came across this comparison between pride and humility, and I think it’s so helpful to see the differences between them and let them apply to your life:

“The proud heart focuses on the failures of others; the humble heart is overwhelmed with their own spiritual need.  The proud heart is critical and fault finding.  The humble heart is compassionate and forgiving.  The proud heart is independent and self-sufficient.  The humble heart is dependent and recognizes the need of others.  The proud heart thinks how lucky others are to have me serve them.  The humble heart thinks how incredible God is to use me at all.  The proud heart is wounded when others are recognized.  The humble heart rejoices when others are recognized.  The proud heart is quick to blame others.  The humble heart accepts responsibility, and sees where they could be wrong.  The proud heart has a hard time saying, “I was wrong.”  The humble heart is quick to admit their failure and seeks forgiveness.”

Today, we ask God to help us with this change of heart.  Jesus says, “If anyone would be first, he must be last of all and a servant of all.”  He knew his disciples both then and now struggled with this.  So He gave them an example.  He took a child, a toddler if you will, and He put him in the midst of them, and taking him in His arms, He said to them, “Whoever receives one such child in my name receives me, and whoever receives me, receives not me, but Him who sent me.”

This child is Jesus object for learning the lesson of true greatness, becoming last and servant of all.  This child is humble and unassuming.  He has needs and wants.  You cannot ignore his cries.  He needs you to help with his most basic needs of life.  Jesus says that the person who receives this child honors our Lord and our heavenly Father who sent Him.

But, some may say, a little child I can serve, but it’s those others who don’t care, or those who are my enemies.  Where do you draw the line?  Well let me ask you this, “Where did Jesus draw the line of service to others?  He served us all.  He humbled Himself, and became last, so that we would become first with God.  And He says to us in turn, “If anyone would be first, he must be last of all and servant of all. 

God grant it…

9/9/18 "I Hear You!"

“And looking up to heaven, (Jesus) sighed and said to him, “Ephphatha,” that is, “Be opened.” And his ears were opened, his tongue was released and he spoke plainly.”  Mark 7:34-35; Pentecost 16; September 9, 2018

Grace…

“Fixer-Uppers”, “Flip or Flop,” “Love it or List it”, and “Extreme Home Makeovers”.  They all have something in common.  These are all television shows about homes that have gone through amazing transformations.  Some of these shows especially delight in taking the old dilapidated almost “good for nothing” shacks, and transforming them into the most beautiful, modern, homes.

Or maybe you have witnessed the amazing physical transformations of a person before?  Maybe you have seen someone who had some major health problems.   But because of some event in life, they became more aware of taking care of their body, and begin to start eating and drinking in a better way, and begin to exercise properly.   Most of us would probably say, that is also an amazing transformation.

The Bible is full of amazing transformations.  Moses was a shepherd who had run away from Egypt to save his life.  But, God turned Moses into a courageous leader of the Children of Israel, who led his people out of slavery in Egypt and into the promised land.  Isaiah was a man of unclean lips, but God transformed him into someone who wrote some of the most beautiful passages in the Bible of all times.  “For to us a child is born.  To us a Son is given.  And the government shall be upon His shoulders.  And His name will be called, Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.”  And Peter in the New Testament is transformed from one who denied that he even knew Jesus, to become a courageous and mighty preacher of God’s Word.

Today, in God’s Word, we witness an amazing transformation of a man who was unable to hear, and unable to talk.  It’s a good probability that he had been dealing with this his whole life.  Just imagine the hardships of not hearing the beautiful sounds of nature, not being able to hear music, not hearing from the ones you love, and not being able to clearly express yourself.  Surely this kept him from doing things that the rest of the people could do.  He must have felt like an outsider.

Our text begins, saying, “Then (Jesus) returned from the region of Tyre and went through Sidon, to the Sea of Galilee, in the region of the Decapolis.”  Many people would more or less skip over this verse, but there are a couple of very interesting points.  First, the areas that are all listed are Gentile areas.  Jesus was returning from healing a woman’s daughter who had an evil spirit, in Tyre, to the north, and now went over on the other side of the Sea of Galilee to the Gentile area of the Decapolis or Ten Cities.  Most Jewish leaders would have considered these areas to be unclean.  They would have never gone there.  But, Jesus goes to bring health and healing to all people.  And, second, this is really a long distance, on foot.  Between 60-100 miles.  Jesus, knowing all things, had planned well ahead of time that He would be visiting this man to bring him the ability to hear and speak.

As Jesus comes, the text tells us, “and they begged (Jesus) to lay His hand on Him.  And taking Him aside from the crowd privately, Jesus put His fingers into His ears and after spitting touched his tongue. And looking up to heaven, He sighed and said to him, “Ephphatha,” that is, “Be opened.”  One can only imagine the pleading that went on, “Jesus, I beg you, please help my brother, my friend, my neighbor.  Please help this man! 

And look at the compassion Jesus shows.  He could have healed him in a different way.  But, this was very personal.  He took Him to the side.  His fingers touched his ears. And the Bible says, “After spitting” His hand touches his tongue. 

And looking up to heaven, He sighed.  This is a sigh of compassion.  It’s like a groan, saying this is not the way it’s supposed to be.   These problems shouldn’t be like this.  There shouldn’t be deafness, or blindness, or cancer, or heart disease.  And yet Jesus doesn’t turn away from them.  In fact, He comes for situations just like this.

He comes to bring health and healing.  He comes with compassion to bring forgiveness and hope.  He comes to fulfill the words of the prophet Isaiah, “Then will the eyes of the blind be opened and the ears of the deaf be unstopped.”  (Is. 35:5)  He calls out “Ephphatha,” that is “Be Opened!”  And the Bible says, “And his ears were opened, his tongue was released and he spoke plainly.”  Can you imagine the look on the man’s face, as he heard for the very first time, and was able to say, “I hear you!” (repeat!)

Today, God comes to our ears as well.  He wants us to be able to hear Him, really hear Him!  Because in truth, God has sought you out as well!  Like the deaf man, Jesus knew about you way before you knew about Him.  You also were an outsider, lost and spiritually dead in sin, but God sent His Son Jesus Christ for you.  To take your burdens and sins straight to the cross, so that you would have the forgiveness of sins and salvation in heaven.  And He rose victoriously, for you so that you would have the abundant life, life to the full, free from the fears of the devil the world and even death itself.  Jesus came so that you would have opened ears, opened eyes, and an open heart to His Good News.  So that you can say, “I hear you, Jesus!  I hear you!”  Just think about it, you get to hear the wonderful news of God’s compassion and your tongue, (your mouth) is able to tell others about it.

“I hear you!”  Dear people of God, sometimes in life, we sin, by taking God’s word for granted.   Our ears get plugged up. We don’t really hear His Word.  We say we hear it, but we let it go in one ear and out the other.  We hear about God’s compassion for us.  But, then we have no compassion for others.  We hear how God has forgiven us, and how we are also to forgive, but when someone sins against us, we hold a grudge and seek revenge. 

At times we also have “selective hearing.”  You know what that is, right?  We hear the things we like, but those things that are harder, we say we don’t hear.  Like the child who hears when their parents say, “Dinner’s ready!”  But, when the same parent says, “It’s time to clean up!”  They say, “Well, I didn’t hear that!”  Sometimes we do the same with God.  Dear Lord, forgive us, and amazingly transform us, so that we truly hear, and say to you with full confidence, “I hear You, Lord!”

In Matthew 7, Jesus says that people who hear His Word and “puts them into practice, are like a wise man who builds his house on the rock.  The rain came down and the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house; yet it did not fall, because it had it’s foundation on the rock.”

Today, God’s Word comes to us, so that we would truly hear.  It miraculously comes to each of us saying, “Ephatha!  Be opened!”  So that we don’t just take it for granted, and we don’t selectively hear it.  So that His Word would sink down into our hearts and lives, and we would build our lives on Him. 

In the text, Jesus tells the people to not tell anyone about what He had done, because His time of the cross had not yet come.  But today, He tells us something greater.  He tells us “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, and teach them to obey everything I have told you.  And behold, I am with you always.”  Do you hear Him?

 I pray that you do, and like the people in our Gospel text, you can say, “Jesus has done all things well.  He even makes the deaf hear and the mute speak!’ 

God grant it… 

8/26/18 "A Profound Mystery"

“Husbands love your wives as Christ loved the church and gave Himself up for her, that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the Word.” Ephesians 5:25; Pentecost 14; August 26, 2018

Grace…

Have you ever had the feeling that something you see looks like something else?  Like for instance, for most of us Michiganders, our hand looks like the shape of Michigan?  We regularly raise it to show where we live or where we grew up, or where we are going.  Or maybe you have even had the occasion to see that there’s even some food, or other object that you see in front of you looks like Michigan? 

Perhaps you have also had the belief that a certain person looks like another famous celebrity, as in the case of this man looking like former President Obama.  Today in our culture, there is even a word borrowed from German “doppelganger “that basically means “double or lookalike” that has become popular. And sometimes we even can see that certain celebrities may even be doppelgangers of each other, like this with Stephen Colbert and Bob Saget.

Today, in our lesson from God’s Word in the book of Ephesians, the Apostle Paul, through inspiration of the Holy Spirit, shows how the marriage of a husband and wife looks like the relationship between Jesus Christ and the Church. This is a tall order to be sure, and may be difficult at first to comprehend.  But, because we believe that this is God’s Word, God through His Spirit desires to teach us all more, both about marriage and about the profound mystery of Jesus Christ and the Church.

As we begin, it’s important to give some background to this lesson.  Over the past several weeks, we have been looking at this book of Ephesians under the theme, “The Lavish Grace of God.”  How God continuously regularly pours out His undeserved love for us in our lives.  It’s not just one time, it’s again and again and again! And it started with the opening chapter that God “chose us before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless before Him.”  God lavishly chose the Apostle Paul before the creation of the world, to be His apostle to the Gentiles.  God chose the Ephesian believers before the creation of the world to be His followers.  God chose Jace Harold Juergens before the creation of the world to be part of His family and God has chosen you and me before the creation of the world, and has given you salvation as a gift by grace through faith in Jesus Christ.  You are not an afterthought! You are a part of  divine God’s divine plan!

Because of this rich and lavish grace, God calls us to see our lives in a new way.   It’s no longer, “What’s in it for me?  But, instead, “What’s in it for Jesus Christ?  And what’s in it for them—my neighbors?  To live a life of love, and as we said last week, “give thanks always and for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.” Life may not always be easy, and we all fall short in sin, but God’s forgiveness is given to us again and again, so we always have a fresh new starting point. Each day is a new day to begin in faith again!

Our lesson for today begins with the closing words from last week, “Submit to one another, out of reverence for Christ.” Submit—it’s a good word.  It means “line yourself up under” or “subordinate” yourself under another, out of respect for Christ.  As a matter of fact, do it all for the sake of Christ.

All through this latter part of Ephesians, Paul wanted to encourage these Ephesian believers to live their lives in a way that is dramatically different from the rest of the world.  He wanted them to live as “children of light”, that is to reflect the light of Christ in their lives.  And now, especially in the way they view and treat their marriages.

Some may say that what follows is only for married people.  But, that’s not so.  This message is for all people.  Those who will be married some day.  Those who have been married.  Those who are single.  It is for all people, because how we value marriage makes a marked difference in our society.  Marriage is a gift from God, first instituted in the Garden of Eden, between the man Adam, and the woman Eve.  Marriage was instituted in perfection, even before the Fall into sin, and therefore is good and right.  Marriage was designed by God, so that the two would become one, beginning a family, and allowing for the gift of children.  So, the point is that marriage is a gift from God.   

Paul begins, “Wives submit to your own husbands as to the Lord.  For the husband is the head of the wife even as Christ is the head of the church, His Body, and is Himself its Savior. Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit in everything to their husbands.”  Some may say this sounds old fashioned, or that it doesn’t fit in our modern world in the 21st century.  But, let me remind you that this is the timeless Word of God.  Paul, through the Holy Spirit, was comparing marriage to the model of Christ and the church.  Just as he calls for the church to submit to Christ, so he calls wives to submit to their husbands—respect them. 

This does not give husbands the right, at all, to be domineering or overbearing.  Not at all.  In fact, quite the contrary.  It calls husbands to love, really love their wives.  Paul says, “Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave Himself up for her, that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the Word.” It’s a relationship built and modeled on love—sacrificial love.  Jesus Christ willingly gave His life for the church—that is the people, like you and me.  The church is people—not a building—but people around the world who believe in Jesus, past, present, and future.  In fact, Jesus Christ gave His life for all the people of the whole world.  He loved us so much that He submitted even to death on the cross, so that we would have the forgiveness of sins and life forever. 

This teaching of the marriage of God and His people is not new.  Throughout the Old Testament, God viewed the Children of Israel as His bride.  He called them through Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.  He brought them out of slavery in Egypt, into the Promised Land.  Now, Christ looks at His Church as His precious bride, through which His kingdom is enlarged, encouraged, and invigorated.  His precious church, the body of true believers, one group of which we have here at Trinity.  You are His precious prized possession.  He has purchased you through His blood, and now wants to present you as holy and blameless without stain, or wrinkle, or any other blemish.  Just like a bride, in pure white is presented to her husband.  So, Christ loves the church.

Now you may ask, “How can the church be pure and holy?”  It’s made up of sinful people.  And that is true.  Some have even said, “Jesus I respect, but the church I cannot respect.”  But, they forget that the church and Jesus have a hand in hand relationship.  Christ loves His church.  The church must respect the Word of her Savior, Jesus.  It is a hand in hand relationship.  Together, they are one.  Just as in a marriage of a husband and a wife.  We are constantly renewed through the waters of baptism.  As we are daily renewed and reminded that God has forgiven us, so we are called to trust God’s Word.

In addition, Christ continues to care for and nourish His Church, with His own body and blood in the Lord’s Supper, and in the Word.  In this way, God continually transforms us, pointing out the error of our ways, then turning us to Jesus, the Author and Perfector of our faith, who for the joy set before Him, endured the cross, scorning its shame and sat down and the right hand of the throne of God.” Heb. 12:2

So also, God calls for His people to lead lives “worthy of the calling.”  Today we raise up the beautiful relationship of marriage, not just for our sakes, but for God’s purpose.  We do this out of reverence for Christ.  We want others to know Jesus Christ, and to see in our marriages, a picture of the profound and beautiful mystery of the hand in hand relationship of Jesus Christ and His Church.

God grant it…

 

8/19/18 "What's in it For Me?"

“Giving thanks always and for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, submitting to one another out of reverence for Christ.”  Ephesians 5:20-21; Pentecost 13; August 19, 2018

Grace…

What’s in it for me? (Repeat) This is a question that is often asked when we are presented with some options in life.  How will this help me?  How will it benefit me?  What’s in it for me? It’s a natural question and something we all deal with.

We see it all start very early in life, when we place two little children in the same room with just one toy.  Soon mayhem begins with two former precious cherubs, tearing each other apart for the toy and screaming to high heaven, “Mine!”  “Mine” It’s mine!  We might say, “What’s in it for me?”

And in truth, the question is probably asked inside of all of our heads several times every day.  What’s in it for me?  How will I benefit from this? Is it worth my time, energy, and money? What will I get out of the deal?  Of course this seems like such common sense to us.  It’s what we’ve been taught to do.   Look out for number one.  And that number one is often you and me.  It seems so logical, and natural. 

In this last few weeks here in worship, we have been looking closely at the Apostle Paul’s letter to the Ephesians, under the theme of “The Lavish Grace of God.”  How God continues to spread out His undeserved grace upon us over and over again and again so lavishly in life.  He just continues to pour it over us!  Paul started in the opening chapter describing how God “chose us before the creation of the world that we should be holy and blameless before Him.  In love He predestined (planned out for) us that we would be adopted as sons (and daughters) through Jesus Christ.”  This is all so wonderful and mysterious that God would choose us and plan out this wonderful life as followers of Jesus out for us, even before the creation of the world!

Then in following weeks we looked at our salvation, which is a gift by grace through faith in Jesus Christ, for all people both Jews and Gentiles alike, and how God desires to help us grow to understand how wide and long and high and deep His love is for us.  This love that is so rich and powerful, beyond human understanding, and more than we could ever imagine! This love calls for us to “bear with one another, eager to maintain the unity of the spirit and the bond of peace.”

Last week, we looked at how this love from God calls us further to even be “kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.”  In fact, Paul even goes so far to say, Be imitators of God, as beloved children, and walk in love as Christ loved us.” Not in a haughty way, or a way that you act as if you are better than others, but to “live a life of love” for others, because of Jesus.  Imagine how great of a place this world could be!  Imagine our home and family—our marriages!  Imagine our school or workplace.  Imagine how great our relationships would be if we would just live a life of love!

But, it’s so hard isn’t it?  Because the world operates in such a different way.  It operates in a “Me First” mentality.  What’s in it for me?  My pleasure…My bank account…My prosperity. Like we are all in competition against each other.

But, Paul, through the Holy Spirit, is saying to the Ephesian Christians and to each of us, “Awake O sleeper, and arise from the dead and Christ will shine on you!”  He’s saying “Wake up!”  “Walk as children of the light!” You are new men, new women, new people!  Dear Lord forgive us, because our life is no longer about “What’s in it for me?”

Can you imagine if Jesus asked that question?  What’s in it for me?  Coming to a sin-filled earth out of the glory of heaven?  Being born to a humble young virgin, named Mary, who was married to an ordinary carpenter named Joseph.  Having to “grow up” in a place like Nazareth? What’s in it for me?   Calling ordinary people like Peter and James and John to be your disciples.  Being followed around by people who needed healing all the time, the sick, the lame, the blind.  Can you imagine if Jesus asked what’s in it for Me?

And what is more, as Jesus came into Jerusalem on the back of a donkey for the final time, as people shouted, “Hosanna!” But knowing that it would soon be “Crucify Him, Crucify Him!” Imagine if He asked, “What’s in it for Me?”  And just turned and rode that donkey right out of town.  But, He didn’t. 

Instead He was thinking of you and me and all the people of the world. He knew what would happen to Him.  But, He submitted His life to His Father’s will.  He was thinking of those people who betrayed Him and mocked Him, beat Him and sentenced Him to death on the cross.  He thought about them.  He cared for them and each of us.  He said, “Father forgive them for they know not what they do!” He could have walked away.  But it was love for us that kept Him there.  And He gave His life for all of our sins, so that we would have true life in Him.  And He rose again on the third day so that all who believe in Him would rise again, and have eternal life in heaven forever.  He gave His life so that we would have forgiveness, peace, and hope for every situation of life. 

Paul says,  “Give thanks always for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, submitting to one another out of reverence for Christ.”  Jesus Christ has done this all for us!  So our life would be a thank offering for Him.  In the way that we talk, the way that we sing, the way that we live!  For God first and also for others!

But, you might say, “Well, hold on a second!  What about me?  Who’s going to take care of me and my needs? God will!  In fact, He already has!  He’s given us every spiritual blessing in Christ, and these spiritual blessings of love, joy, peace, and patience far outweigh the physical blessings.  So now, God’s Word says “Submit to one another, out of reverence for Christ.”

“Submit.” It’s not an easy word at first.  But, it’s such a beautiful Biblical word.  It means to “line yourself up under” or “give up your right or will; to subordinate yourself.” It means to think of others before yourself.  Parents or grandparents will do this gladly for their children or grandchildren.  They love to give of their time or talents or treasures for the sake of their children.  Gladly! 

But, how about those people who never do anything for us?  Or how about those who live in different town from me, or who look different than me?  The Bible says, “Submit to one another.”  Don’t ask what’s in it for me?  And what about those people that are mean to me, and really don’t even love God?  What about them?  The Bible says, “Submit to them, out of reverence for Christ.”  Jesus willingly gave His life for them.  We love, because He first loved us.

Now you may ask, “What if they want me to sin? Then what?”  Well in that case, we do not follow them.  We follow the apostles who said, “We must obey God, rather than men.”  But we still love them. We pray for them. And we serve them, out of reverence for Christ.

What’s in it for me?  And you? And you?  Everything! Because Jesus Christ gave His all for us!

God grant it.,..

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