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8/12/18 "Be Imitators of God"

“Therefore be imitators of God as beloved children. And walk in love as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.  Ephesians 5:1-2; Pentecost 12; 8/12/18

Grace…

I think it’s safe to say that everyone here today has, probably, imitated someone in their life.  We all have done it.  Imitation starts very early in life.  From the way we laugh, the facial expressions we make, the way we walk, the way we talk, and the way we sing.  We need role models who we can imitate in life.  And you have probably heard the saying that, “Imitation is the most sincere form of flattery.”

And that imitation continues as we grow older.  The way we tie our shoes, and tie our ties.  The way we brush our teeth, and brush our hair.  The way we go to work, and the way we actually work.  Our expressions, and even the way we relax, are often a product of someone that we imitate.

I can remember when I was young, for hours imitating the batting stances of various professional baseball players, and also the shooting styles of NBA players.  And some imitators, known as impersonators like Rich Little, Dana Carvey, and Frank Caliendo have made quite a living imitating the speaking styles of famous Americans.

Today, God’s Word in the book of Ephesians tells us “Therefore, be imitators of God!”  Wow!  The Bible is not just talking about imitating your parents or grandparents, your teacher, a professional ballplayer, or a politician.  Paul is going for the gusto!  Be imitators of God!

Paul was writing this letter, while he was in prison, to the Christians living in Ephesus.  Although he was unable to be there in person, he knew them very well, and he encouraged them to live out this Christian life in a way that was distinctively different from the rest of the world.  He had lived there for at least three years, teaching and preaching diligently.

These Christians living in Ephesus, had largely come from a Gentile background, that is, they didn’t have the historic connection to the people of the Old Testament.   They weren’t descendants of King David, King Solomon, or the prophets.  Their ancestors instead were idol worshipers, who believed in many different kinds of gods, and who also lived wild and impure lives.

Paul wanted these Ephesian Christians to live a markedly different life from the ways of the majority of their Gentile world. Listen again to how he speaks to them, “Now this I say and testify in the Lord, that you must no longer walk as the Gentiles do, in the futility of their minds.  They are darkened in their understanding, alienated from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them, due to their hardness of heart.  They have become callous and have given themselves up to sensuality, greedy to practice every kind of impurity.”  Don’t imitate them! Paul says, “Don’t let your heart get hard and stubborn.  Paul says. That’s the way you used to be.  That is your “old self.” It’s time to start new!

Instead, he says, “put on the new self, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness.”  He’s saying, you’re a new man, or new woman, Ephesian Christians!  And you’re a new man, and a new woman, people of Trinity, Muskegon!  Don’t imitate the rest of the world, instead, be imitators of God!

Now sometimes when we hear the term “imitate”, we might think, “That’s easy, just act like them on the outside.”  Like it’s just an act.  And there are times that we have all done that.  Acted one way like Christians at one time, and a totally different way another.  Kind of like, coming to church for an hour on Sunday morning, and then returning back home or another place and acting and speaking the same way as before. This acting job, this hypocrisy, is what Paul is really speaking against, and he calls for us to change through the Spirit. 

Because the truth is, that we all struggle terribly with this—Ephesian Christians who lived in about the year 60 AD and Christians all over the world in all times and places, in 2018, both you and me alike.  We all fall short.  We sin, by letting our old sinful self take over.  We say, “Why shouldn’t i?  The rest of the world is doing it.  So we gossip, we lash out in anger, hold grudges, steal from others, and talk in dirty corrupt ways, even though we say we’re Christians.  It’s a real battle!

But, praise God that we are not judged on how many times we fail or fall short.  Instead, we look to Jesus, who was authentic in every way possible.  There was no acting one way, and living another way in Him.  In all His ways, He was tenderhearted, forgiving, and loving to the core.  That is why He sought out and healed the sick and the troubled.  He went searching for them, the man with a legion of demons, the woman at the well, and Zacchaeus the tax collector.  He spent time with them and cared for their needs. 

And what shows even more, Jesus willingly took the sins of all people of all time to the cross.  And there on the cross He died for them, so that all who believe in Him would have the forgiveness of sins, and eternal life.  On the third day He rose again so that we through faith would have victory over sin, death, and the devil.  This was no act.  It was true to the core.

Now when Paul says, “Be imitators of God”, he’s certainly not saying that we need to save people from their sins by dying on the cross.  No, that’s already been done by Jesus.  He has done the work of salvation, full and free.  But Paul is calling the Ephesian people and us also to imitate the attitude of Jesus, “by being kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.”

What Paul is emphasizing to the Ephesian Christians is that they were created by God for something special.  A few weeks ago, we talked about how God had planned before the creation of the world for the Ephesian Christians to be part of His family.  God knew that they would be brought to faith in Jesus through this missionary Paul, and He knew that they would be baptized and given the Holy Spirit as a deposit in their heart.  And He says, “Do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, by whom you were sealed for the day of redemption.” God the Holy Spirit had great plans for them! 

And God the Holy Spirit has great plans for each of us too.  He knew about you before the creation of the world.  He had plans for you to be baptized and brought to faith in Christ, more than you can imagine.  He has also given you the deposit of the Holy Spirit in your life.  Don’t grieve Him!  Don’t bring Him sorrow.  Don’t allow sin to rule over your life.  The Holy Spirit has made your body His temple.

So let me ask you again, “Who are you imitating in your life?”   Are you imitating the rich and famous of our world?  Paul says, “Be imitators of God, as beloved children, and walk in love, as Christ loved us, and gave Himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.”

Look to the supreme life of Jesus.   Imitate His kindness.  Imitate His tenderheartedness.  And imitate His forgiveness.  And not just on the outside, but let it be from your heart.  I know, there are so many problems, so many temptations, so much heartache.  And sometimes we get frustrated.  But, God has you here to be his hands and feet, His ambassadors.  Look to Jesus!

 Jesus could have so easily walked away from all of the problems, but instead He came to bring hope and healing. The book of Hebrews says it best, “Let us fix our eyes on Jesus the author and perfector 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 will not grow weary and lose heart.” 

God grant it…

8/5/18 "Worthy of the Calling"

“I therefore, a prisoner for the Lord, urge you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called.”  Ephesians 4:1; Pentecost 11; August 5, 2018

Grace…

Last Sunday afternoon, two men with strong ties to Michigan and the city of Detroit, were welcomed in to the class of 2018, of the Baseball Hall of Fame, in Cooperstown, New York.  Jack Morris and Alan Trammell of the Detroit Tigers were welcomed in because their baseball careers were considered worthy of acceptance.  Jack Morris was a pitcher with 254 wins, over 2,400 strikeouts, and pitched for 3 World Championship teams.  Alan Trammell was a six time All Star shortstop, with over 2,300 hits, and was the MVP of the World Series Champion 1984 Detroit Tigers.  They were both welcomed into the Hall of Fame with rounds of applause, standing ovations, and tears of joy.

Behind them, nodding in approval, sat several others who already were members of the Hall of Fame.  They are the greats from the history of the game.  Home run kings like Hank Aaron, stolen base kings, pitchers with over 300 wins like Greg Maddox, and those who fielded the game with excellence and prowess.  They too had been considered worthy to enter the prestigious hall, and to be known from here on in as Hall of Famers.  There were no “so-so” players there; no mediocre or average athletes.  They would never be considered worthy enough to enter the Hall.

We have a real fascination in our world with Halls of Fame.  There is the Astronaut Hall of Fame, the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, the Polka Hall of Fame, the Motorcycle Hall of Fame and of course the famous Hollywood Walk of Fame.  We love to look at who is in these halls or walks, and even more, to debate over who is really worthy to be a part of them.

So, let me ask you this today, “Do you think that you would be worthy to be in the Christian Hall or Walk of Fame?”  St. Paul, in our text for today, writes to the church at Ephesus, “I…urge you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you had been called.”  That’s a pretty heavy statement isn’t it?  “Worthy of the Calling…”  Worthy of being a follower of Jesus Christ.  Worthy of being a Christian…

What does it really mean to be “worthy”?  In this case, the Greek word behind “worthy” is “ἀξίως “ (axios).  Axios is a term used in measurement. It points to a correct weight of equal or right value—like being what you say you are.  Not being false; fake; or a hypocrite. Another way to say it, would be “to be faithful or genuine” having integrity.  Being a genuine Christian, a follower of Jesus Christ who has called you.  Paul is saying to the Ephesian Christians and to each of us, “since you are a follower of Christ, live like it.”  Take it to heart.  Let it be your first priority!

Paul expands upon this “worthiness of the calling”, saying, “with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.”  Paul is saying, “Let true humility be shown in your life.”  Treat others as more significant than yourself.  Don’t just look to your own interests, look to the interests of others.  And treat them gently, with meekness. Not looking for something to argue or fight over, but showing true kindness to others.

Now, you might be saying, well I do those things.  I really try! “I’ve learned to be humble and gentle”, but it’s the next thing that is the “tough one” for me.  Paul says that part of the worthiness of the calling is also having “patience, bearing with one another in love.” Just think about your life.  How patient are you, when you are behind the wheel, driving?  Or when you are in line at the supermarket?  Or when you’re dealing with a person who is trying to help you over the phone?  And really the question behind this is, “Are you dealing with one another in love?”  Are you bearing with them, upholding them, or are you tearing them apart?

Furthermore, are you “eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace?”  Are you working to bring people together, to be at peace with each other, because you are one in the Holy Spirit?  Paul is saying this is also part of being “worthy of the calling”.  This faith, this calling is precious!  Are you worthy of the calling? 

Well, the reality is that as we listen to this list, none of us is truly worthy of the calling.  We all fall short.  Whether it is the hypocrisy, or the lack of humility, or patience, we all have issues.  It is so hard!  We all have temptations all around us.  Things that Satan and this world do to test our humility, that raise our blood pressure, that challenge our gentleness and try to squash our patience.  Yes, based on our own merit, not a one of us would be considered worthy. 

But, there is true peace in that we have One who is worthy, that is Jesus Christ. He is our Brother, our greatest friend and our Savior.  Paul says of Him in Philippians, “Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus…being found in human form, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.  Therefore God has exalted Him and bestowed on Him the name that is above every name.  So that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow in heaven and on earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord to the glory of God the Father.”  Yes, He is the One who is worthy, …and through the wonderful miracle of faith He is yours, and He makes us worthy too.  Not by our own merit, but through His!

Although we don’t know a whole lot about the Ephesian church, they must have had some issues with humility and gentleness and patience.  Paul was writing to them while in prison, far, far away.  And through inspiration of the Spirit, He just wanted them to learn to live like Christian people, “eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.”  He knew that the way that they lived their life, would have a great impact on the people of Ephesus and the mission of the church.  And he knew that the way we live our life, is one of the greatest ways to witness our faith.  That the way we live our faith matches what our faith states. 

And I think that is good for us today, as well.  We are outside here on the front lawn, here in this beautiful place of Roosevelt Park, Muskegon, MI.  This is the community that God has placed us in.  We are here for others to see, and hear.  Not just off in the distant, but that we would be “real” to the people of our community.  That they would know that we care about them.  That we would be humble, gentle, patient….and why?  Because we want them to know Jesus.  We want them to have the forgiveness of sins, hope for every situation, and eternal life in Jesus., because He is truly worthy.

Our worthiness is not based on us going to church over 1,000 times, or going to Bible Class over 500 times, or going to Guatemala on a mission trip, or Camp Restore, or serving on the Food Truck.  Our worthiness comes through faith in Jesus, and the call today in God’s Word is that we would let others know in the way we live our life, always eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.

Paul says “There is one body and one Spirit—just as you were called to the one hope that belongs to your call—one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.”  The Church is the body of Jesus Christ, and He is our head.  We are given the privilege to be His hands and feet and arms and legs in this world.

Let’s remind the world together of the great hope, the eternal salvation that we have in Jesus Christ!

God grant it…

 

7/29/18 "Without Limits"

“Now to Him who is able to do far more abundantly than all we ask or think, according to the power that is at work within us, to Him be glory in the church, and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations forever and ever.  Amen.”  Ephesians 3:20-21; Pentecost 10; July 29, 2018

Grace…

A desire to do something good is a wonderful thing.  It’s God who gives us those desires to do those good things.  To help a person who is down and out.  To share some things with another person.  To mow a person’s lawn.  To serve at a food bank.  To go on a mission trip or a servant event.  These are all good things, and there are so many more.. 

But, so often we deal with limits.  Limits like –too little time; too little money; too little energy; too little support.  And we begin to make excuses—I can’t do those things because “I’m too old; I’m too young; I’m too poor; I’m too tired.  I’m too this; I’m too that.”  And while there are legitimate times that limits come into play, so often we throw out the possibilities without even being open to God’s will.

Just imagine if Noah had not been open to building an ark to hold his family and all the animals which God had brought to the boat.  Just imagine if Abraham had not been open to moving with his wife Sarah to a new land that God had prepared for him.  And just imagine if Paul had never agreed to go on that first missionary trip.  Yes, God would have surely found someone else.  But, just think how blessed we are because these people believed God can and will do the impossible.

Today in our text, the Apostle Paul is truly humbled by all of the things that God has done to bring people to faith in Jesus Christ.  While writing in a jail cell, he is overcome by the strength that God continues to provide. He is amazed at the growth in faith of the Gentile Christians, those who just a few years before had been idol worshipers, living wild, immoral lives apart from the True God.  But now, they are full of faith in Jesus Christ and are joined together in the family of God.  And Paul wants these Gentiles and each of us to give thanks to God for this as well!

Paul writes, “For this reason I bow my knees before the Father from whom every family in heaven and on earth is named, that according to the riches of His glory, He may grant you to be strengthened with power through His Spirit in your inner being.”  For this reason!  Our God is doing amazing, marvelous things!  Paul could sense it, even while in prison.  And through the Spirit, he is praying that their inner being, their core, their inner resolve, their faith, would be strengthened to trust God’s plan.

So, I ask today, how is your inner being, the core of your faith doing?  Are you suffering from the too littles?  Are the limits of life, and the so-called realities taking the joy away from your faith?  Has Satan put blockades up in areas that once were full of hope, and joy and peace? 

Paul prayed for the people and you also that “Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith—that you being rooted and grounded in love”.  Sometimes unexpectedly, Satan comes in and steals away the joy, the hope, the faith that God has given, by saying things like “That’ll never happen!  This is no good!  There isn’t enough time! That’s it!”  But, I believe that is why Jesus again and again showed His disciples that there was no limits to His power.  No limits to His mercy.  No limits to His love. 

In our Gospel lesson for today we heard about Jesus sending His disciples on ahead of Him in the boat.  Then He dismisses the crowd and goes up on the mountain to pray.  What do you think He prayed about?  Perhaps it was that His Father would strengthen the faith of His disciples?  Now granted they had already witnessed Him healing the lame and the blind and the deaf.  They had witnessed Him calming the raging storm on the sea.  They had just witnessed Him feeding the 5,000 with just five loaves and two fish. Shouldn’t that be enough?

But, now as they cross the Sea of Galilee, the disciples see a figure walking on the water. They cry out in fear, because they think it’s a ghost.   They’re terrified.  But, immediately Jesus speaks to them and says, “Take heart; it is I.  Do not be afraid.”

Are there situations in your life today, that you are saying, “It won’t ever get better!  There’s no way this will change!  Nothing good will ever come from this!”  Well, the One who walks on water, Jesus Christ, says to you as well, “Take heart; it is I.  Do not be afraid.” Paul says let “Christ dwell in your hearts…”

This same Jesus is the One who has died for all of the sin both past, present, and future.  He forgives your sins of doubt, and fear, and unbelief.  He has paid the price in full.  He’s won the victory for us.  And He calls us forward in faith to trust Him fully in our life.

Paul prayed that the Ephesian Christians and you “may have strength to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled with all the fullness of God.”   Today we pray that God would remove the limits that stop and limit the power of faith we have in Jesus.

This past week a group of people from our congregation and I went on a “servant event” to Camp Restore-Detroit.  We didn’t know exactly where we would be sent, but we knew that God had plans for us.  Now Camp Restore-Detroit is an outreach arm of Mt. Calvary Lutheran Church in Detroit, located at about 6 mile and Gratiot.  The area around the church has been devastated by poverty, blight, drugs, and crime.  Only about 25% of the homes are livable.  The congregation has dwindled to about 50 members, only about 30 in attendance on a Sunday.  It sounds pretty bleak—like they could give up.  But, they decided instead to reach out to people in the community, and help them, and point them to the love of Jesus.

They sent us to a woman by the name of Lynn Taylor.  Lynn is a retired teacher and a strong believer in Jesus.  Back in about 2001, she began praying to God for help.  She was noticing that her area around her home was devastated.  People were just abandoning their homes left and right.  The city of Detroit was so strapped for cash that they could not help.  So, Lynn decided to pray, and start cleaning up the neighborhood.  She started mowing the lawn of one abandoned house.  By the grace of God she was able to purchase the lot for a minimal cost.  And as the years went on it became two and three more.  If they weren’t kept up there would be further problems.  She knew that she needed more help, so she prayed and prayed.  And the years went on, but she didn’t give up hope.

Well on Monday of last week, Camp Restore sent us to help Lynn out.  They called it “blight removal”.  She called it an answer to prayers.  So we got out the chainsaw and began work.  One of the team members started cutting down old dead trees.  Some other members started working together to board up an old abandoned house.  Others started cutting back old shrubs and cleaning up the land.  In the end, we did a great deal of work and cleaned up the area.

I want you to take another look at Lynn’s face.  See that beautiful smile?  That’s because she knew this was God’s answer to her many prayers.  To us it may seem like something small, but to Lynn, God was showing the breadth and length and height and depth of His love, by bringing in people that she had never met before to do a wonderful thing for her.

Now you may say, that’s wonderful.  But how about me?  I need help too.  Remember that you, like Lynn, pray to the God who is able.   He is able to do “far more abundantly than all we ask or think”.  He’s the One who walks on water.  The One who has defeated death and the grave.  And the One who calls to you today, ““Take heart; it is I.  Do not be afraid.”  This same Savior loves you with an everlasting love.

There is no limit to His power.  No limit to His mercy.  No limit to His love for you! 

God grant it…

 

7/22/18 "Peacemaking"

“For He Himself is our peace, who has made us both one and has broken down in His flesh the dividing wall of hostility by abolishing the law of commandments expressed in ordinances, that He might create in Himself one new man in place of the two, so making peace.”  Ephesians 2:13-14; Pentecost 9; July 22, 2018

Grace…

We live in an increasingly hostile world.  It seems that people are divided on almost every issue.  And they are not often just quietly divided, but sometimes openly hostile.  There is a lot of anger, and people almost prepared to march in opposition at the drop of the hat against the other division. Divisions between male/female; adult/teens; citizens/immigrants; blue collar/white collar;  African American/Caucasian/ Hispanic; liberal/conservative; democrat/republican; pro-choice/ pro-life; NRA member/ those in favor of gun control; carnivore/vegetarian/vegan. Even in the church we have divisions, —Catholic/Protestant; liberal/ conservative; contemporary music/traditional music.

And these divisions may at times bring great anxiety, worry, and stress.  Maybe you even noticed this as I listed off the various divisions, that you got a bit anxious and worried yourself.  You wish that you could just have peace.  That we all could have peace.  That there would not be such an uproar always.  That we could all just get along, instead of always being “at each other’s throats.”  Wouldn’t that be great?

So, where do we begin?  Where does peace come from?  Many people wrongly believe that peace comes from within us.  That we can just have to find that peace within us.  By cleansing our minds, or simply to let these situations roll off of our backs, just like water off a duck’s back.  Others try to find their peace in a bottle of alcohol, or some other drug.  Still others go off into the woods, or retreat far, far away to just get away from it all.

Well, God’s Word for today points us away from ourselves, and turns us instead to Jesus.   The Apostle Paul helps us by tuning us into just how Jesus has brought peace to both Jews and Gentiles.  You might say, well that’s easy, that’s not a difficult division, not like some of ours today.  But you would be very wrong!  This was a major division.  The Jews had absolutely nothing to do with the Gentiles!  Gentiles were considered by them to be unclean.  Gentiles were uncircumcised.  They ate foods like pork that were considered unclean.  They didn’t follow the laws of the Sabbath.  In Paul’s terms, “they had no hope and were without God in the world.”   

But, now those Gentiles who were far off, distant outsiders, were brought near to God through the blood of Jesus Christ.  His death on the cross was for all people, Jews and Gentiles alike.  When Jesus died for the sins of all people, He broke down the dividing wall of hostility, between Jews and Gentiles, by abolishing the Law, even fulfilling it for all people, so that “He might create in Himself one new man in place of the two, so making peace.”  It took the creative power of God to destroy old divisions and create one new person.

For Paul this was very important and personal.  You may remember that He was raised as a strict Jew—a Pharisee.  He was trained under very strict regulations, to believe that the Gentiles were outsiders.  But, Jesus changed his mind completely.  He opened his eyes to see that He died for all, Jews and Gentiles alike.  In 2nd Corinthians Paul writes, “For Christ’s love compels us, because we are convinced that One died for all, and therefore all died.”  Christ Himself is our peace!

Just think about what that means for each of us.  We may all have disagreements over things, but we have peace in Christ.  Those disagreements may be small like a disagreement over a certain food, or they may be major like the disagreements of policies between Republicans and Democrats, but we all have peace in Christ. Jesus Christ died for all, “to reconcile us both to God in one body through the cross, thereby killing the hostility.”

Look at Jesus earthly ministry.  He preached peace both to those who were far off from God and those who were near.  Peace to Zacchaeus who had cheated many with their taxes.  Peace to the woman at the well who lived an adulterous life.  Peace to the man with a legion of demons.  Peace to the Syro-Phonecian woman, who needed help with her little girl.  And peace to the Apostle Paul himself, a one time persecutor of the church.  And what is more, Jesus died for each of their horrible sins as well, and yours and mine too, so that we can all say, “He is our peace.”  In a chaotic world, filled with divisions, we all can find our peace in Jesus!

Each one of us here today, has probably done some things in your life that keeps getting replayed again and again in your life.  It’s been forgiven, but Satan keeps dredging it up again and again to try to get your mind off of Christ, and to cast doubt on His Word.  It sometimes becomes a barrier for you.  But, let me remind you, Jesus is our peace!

I remember years ago, visiting a woman, who was very sick with cancer.  I came to pray and read the Bible with her.  But, she had a very troubled look on her face. I could tell that something was wrong, so I asked her about it.  She proceeded to tell me that she had a vivid dream the night before, and in the dream Satan told her that she wasn’t good enough to get into heaven.  I asked why, what did he say?  She then went on to tell me about something sinful that she had done when she was in 8th grade at 14 years old.  Now this woman was a devout believer, and she was now 80 years old!  I looked at her and said, “You’ve been forgiven of that sin long ago! Jesus died for that sin too!  You tell Satan to get lost, because Jesus died so that you would have peace with God!  You’re not good enough, we’re all not good enough, but Jesus is!”  The look on her face changed almost immediately.  It was like a load was lifted off of her shoulders, and a smile came to her face. 

Jesus said “Peace I leave with you.  My peace I give unto you.  I do not give unto you as the world gives.  Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.” (John 14:27)  The peace that Jesus brings is deep and profound.  It is peace between God and man.  There may be situations where we don’t completely achieve world peace between people.  In fact the Bible teaches that there will be wars and rumors of wars to the last days.  But, that doesn’t mean that we should stop praying for peace.  It’s never a lost cause.  Because we also remember that Jesus said, “With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.” (Matthew 19:26)

We may have situations in our workplace, or school, or neighborhood, or even in our own families that are not always peaceful.  In fact, at this time, they may be chaotic.  But, Jesus death and His resurrection means that there is peace with God.  And that means everything.  Pray for opportunities for reconciliation and forgiveness.  I encourage you to take the first step.  Jesus took the first step for each of us, whether we were far off or near.

And there is something more.  I have always read the statement in this lesson that we are “built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus Himself being the cornerstone. “  There are times that I have kind of skipped over that.  I wondered what it meant to be built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets.   I’ve come to understand that this means that we are built on the words of the Bible, inspired by the Holy Spirit through the apostles and prophets.  That means that we are called to  faithfully study this Word of God, to read, mark, and take it to heart.  Not just once in a while, or even once a week.  How about every day?  Even several times during the day?  Our lives are called to be built on this Word.   

And the cornerstone is Christ Jesus.  He’s the foundation.  Who reminds us that we truly have peace with God and all the barriers have been broken down.  And we are joined together with all believers from all times into one Holy Temple in the Lord, for Jesus is our peacemaker.

God grant it…

7/15/18 "Chosen!"

“Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, even as He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before Him.”  Ephesians 1:3-4; Pentecost 8; July 15, 2018

Grace…

Have you ever had the opportunity to see a good illusionist, who works with cards, amaze you?  They work so confidently, so calmly, and ask a person to choose a card, any card, and then watch as they pull out that random card.  But, to the amazement of many, that illusionist, calmly and confidently pulls out a match of that same card, as if he had it all planned out ahead of time.  Perhaps some of you have had an opportunity to hear how the illusion is done.  And then everything seems to make sense. 

Or perhaps you have recently read or watched a really good mystery, recently.  Much of the book or movie is spent wondering….  Why did this happen the way it did?  Could this person be the culprit?  Or how about her?  And then, when it is all revealed, everything seems to make sense.

Mysteries…there are many mysteries in life, and often we don’t know what to make of them.  But, today, in our text from Ephesians, St. Paul, through inspiration, explains to us, one of, if not the most important mystery of all time.  Why am I here?  Not just why am I here this morning—although that plays into it too, but why am I on this earth, breathing this air, in this place right now?  Why?  Paul says, “God has chosen you in Christ before the foundation (creation) of this world!”  You have been chosen by God to be here, to be part of His plan before the foundation of the world! (Wow!)

Today we begin on an eight week journey through the beautiful book of Ephesians.  This is Paul’s letter to show us the “God’s eye” view of His grace and purpose to our lives.  Sometimes we all struggle with why we are here.  Whether it’s a 9 year old here in worship today, or a 99 year old, we all need to know that we have been chosen by God to be here, and you are part of His plan!

For Paul this had to be a monumental understanding, a glorious unfolding if you will, something that the Holy Spirit had made clear to him, as he was writing this letter.  Ephesians is one of the letters we call the “Prison Epistles”, along with Philippians, Colossians, and Philemon, because Paul wrote them sometime during his imprisonment, about 60 AD, as he awaited his trial before Caesar.  This imprisonment, as tough as it was, allowed Paul to really reflect upon God’s will for his life—of how he, this one time enemy of the Christian faith, had become the head apostle for the church, as the Good News of Jesus Christ was being spread to the Gentiles. 

By this time, Paul had served the Lord for 25 years, served on three major missionary trips, spreading the Gospel from Cyprus, to Psidian Antioch, to Berea, to Philippi, Thessalonica, Corinth, and yes, for sure, to Ephesus, where this letter was directed.  These were people Paul knew quite well, and of all the different areas, where he had served the longest, close to three years.  Many of the people here were Gentile Christians, people who didn’t originally have a lot of the background from the Old Testament, but people who nevertheless were chosen by God to serve Him.

God had a plan for Paul, before the creation of the world, to use him to bring the message of hope and forgiveness through the cross of Jesus Christ. God had a plan for the Ephesian Christians, to hear this message of forgiveness and hope through Jesus, and to spread it to their family members, their co-workers, and the people they came in contact with at the market.  And God has a plan for you, to hear this message, to read, mark, and inwardly digest this Word of Hope so that the Gospel is spread and more and more people come to faith in Jesus, and have eternal salvation.  For you see, God wants all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.  This is His plan before the foundation of the world! 

It is His gracious and good plan!  Theologians call it “predestination”.  You see God knows all about us, our past, our present, and yes, our future.  He knew about them before the creation of the world!  God intended for us to be “holy and blameless before Him.”  He planned ahead of time for our goodness.  But, God also knew that sin would enter the world.  Not that He caused it, in any way, but He knew that Adam and Eve would take that first bite, and that sin would be passed on in this world.  He also knew that each of us would take part in that sin, in thought, word, and deed.  He knew that because of His justice, there would need to be necessary consequences of sin—pain, hardship, suffering, and yes, even death itself.  Again, God did not cause sin, or these consequences of sin, but He is certainly aware of them.  He knows all things!  And through it all, God also knows that His plan, His will, is often accomplished in weakness, in suffering, and in persecution. For His “grace is sufficient” for all times, and His “power is made perfect in weakness.”

For Paul this was of major importance, because even while he was imprisoned, God’s grace was shining through in his letters.  For the Ephesian Christians, even while they were facing persecution, God’s grace was shining on them and the church was growing.  And most important of all, God’s grace shined through, as they remembered the saving work of Jesus Christ, shown most fully when we might think He was weakest—on the cross.  There, on the cross, as Jesus hung, all of the sins of all time were hung on His shoulders.  There on the cross, He said those powerful words, “It is finished!”  And the multitudes of sin for all time were forgiven.  There in the tomb, Jesus’ lifeless body was placed, so that He would take the death that we deserved.  And three days later, His body was gloriously raised so that everyone who believes in Him will have everlasting life, and victory over sin, death, and the devil.  Yes, this victory is part of God’s will, which He planned before the foundation of the world.

And He chose you (and you), and me, to be part of that plan!  Isn’t that awesome?  No human being could have ever conceived of something this good!  Now Paul could have grumbled and complained and fought against that plan in the jail cell.  John the Baptist could have grumbled and complained and called out in anger against God about this plan.  And the Ephesian Christians could have said that they had enough of the persecution they faced for the sake of the faith.  And you and I could complain, doubt, and even fight against God’s plan for our lives.  But, that would be wrong, right? That would be sinful!  But, sad to say, there are times that we all fall into that trap.  Dear Lord forgive us!  And help us to trust your plan, your will from before the foundation of the world.

In a little while, several of you are going to be commissioned to go to Guatemala, to serve the Lord, and His Church, by bringing the Good News of Jesus Christ to God’s wonderful Guatemalan people.  For some of you, this is the very first time!  Who would have ever thought that you would be going?  But, God did before the foundation of the world.  He has made plans ahead of time for Guatemala City, Amatilan, and Buena Vista.  Some of you are going for the second, third, fourth, or multiple times.  Who would have ever thought this?  When you were younger, did you ever think that you would do this type of thing?  God did!

God has a plan for all of our lives.  Maybe some of you today are a bit “envious” of our friends who “get to” go to Guatemala to do God’s will.  You may ask, why am I here?  Well, let me remind you that He is using each of you wherever you go, through whatever you do, whether it’s in playing an instrument, teaching at VBS, showing compassion to a child, or an elderly person, loving your husband or wife, being a parent or a grandparent, being a friend to your neighbor, caring for His wonderful creation.  God chose you, and had planned how He would use you before the foundation of the world.  St. Paul wrote in Colossians, “Whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ…”

For Paul this was a profound and wonderful revelation.  It brought meaning and purpose to him, while he waited in prison.  And I hope and pray that this revelation of you being chosen by God, leads you to praise our God with great joy, in our daily lives, both now and for the days to come!

God grant it… 

 

6/17/18 "Walking Lessons"

“For we walk by faith, not by sight.”  2 Corinthians 5:7; Pentecost 4; June 17, 2018, Father’s Day

Grace…

(Congratulations to you fathers and grandfathers today…)

Today we thank God for our fathers.  Although it may not be so in every case, I hope and pray that we can say that we have learned some good things because of our fathers.  Maybe it was how to catch a ball, or how to hammer a nail, or how to pray.  But, maybe, just maybe it was also how to even “walk.”

We all know that walking is not always the easiest thing to learn.  If you have ever watched a toddler, there are many “baby steps” to take first.  Then there are many tumbles and falls, and plenty of bumps and bruises along the way.  In addition, any of you that have broken a leg or had leg surgery, know that it takes quite a while to learn how to move your muscles again in the right ways, to walk correctly.  Walking is tough.  Although sometimes we don’t even think about it, walking is difficult and complex. 

So it’s really no wonder that in the Bible “walking” is really picture language for living.  As a matter of fact the Greek word περιπατοῦμεν (peripatoumen) can be translated either as walking or living.  For instance, in the ESV it says “For we walk by faith, not by sight.” And the NIV says, “For we live by faith and not by sight.”  So the question for us today, first is “How are you walking lately?”  Paul says we walk by faith, in Jesus!

Our text from 2nd Corinthians begins with Paul speaking about our “tent”.  This term “tent” may at first cause you to wonder, but remember that Paul, himself was a tentmaker.  This was a skill that he used to help support his ministry.  But, Paul is using the term “tent” to make reference to our earthly body.  He writes, “For we know that if the tent that is our earthly home is destroyed, we have a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens.” Just like a tent, our earthly body is temporary.  And although while we are young our body is strong and vigorous, we realize that a brief illness can easily take that away.  It is temporary.  And as we age, our strength of our body starts to decrease too.  Our “tents” our bodies are temporary, but we look forward to our heavenly dwelling.

It’s also helpful to remember that Paul, through the Spirit, relied a great deal on the Old Testament.  We can never forget that the Children of Israel walked through the wilderness (or desert) for 40 years.  They regularly set up their tents, only to take them down again and begin walking again.  Walking was their life.  But they yearned for the Promised Land.   To remember this, year after year, the Jewish people would celebrate the Feast of the Tabernacles (Booths), where they would build temporary dwellings, to remember their days of walking in the wilderness.

But the reality is that we are still walking in the wilderness.  Like the Children of Israel, we often sin by grumbling, complaining, doubting, and fearing the things of this world, rather than trusting in God.  When we think that things are not going our way, we grumble that maybe God has it out for us, or we complain and lash out in anger at our family, or even against God.  We may also sin by doubting that God is truly for us, and because of it we try to hide, developing habits in things like drugs, alcohol, or even our work, or some other thing that takes us away from God.  Dear Lord forgive us!

Paul writes, “For while we are still in this tent, we groan, being burdened—not that we would be unclothed, but that we would be further clothed, so that what is mortal may be swallowed up by life.” Shortly after Adam and Eve committed their first sins, you may remember that they hid and tried to cover up their nakedness.  Their sin brought shame to their life.  And they tried to hide from God.  We too may try to hide our shame from God.  But our God knows everything about us.  And the beautiful thing is that He does not condemn us. 

Out of mercy for us, He sent His own dear Son, Jesus Christ, to come into this world full of complaining, doubting, and groaning.  He came to bring forgiveness, hope, and joy for every moment of life.  He understands the complications that have come into our lives because of sin.  And for those reasons, He willingly went to the cross, bearing our shame, and died for the sins of the whole world, so that everyone who believes in Him would have peace in their hearts.  On the third day He rose again, so that we would have victory over every sorrow of life brought by sin, death, and the devil.  Jesus took the guilt of our shame and in turn clothes us with His own righteousness.

In Baptism, we are given more, the gift of the Holy Spirit, that Paul calls a “guarantee.”  He is a “Deposit” that God has given to us so that as we walk by faith in this world, we are able to overcome the temptations from Satan, the world, and our own sinful self.  This is God’s divine design that God has brought into our lives so that we may walk with courage and confidence.

I know that there are times in our lives where we are all greatly challenged.  We may sometimes wonder how we or a loved one will ever get through a difficult situation.  Things may look very dismal and hopeless.  Whether it is our finances, our health, or a relationship problem.  But, that is why this passage is so helpful for us.  It says, “For we walk by faith, not by sight.”  Sometimes our “eyes” may play tricks on us.  But, faith says to us to have courage!  That’s what the guarantee of the Holy Spirit says to us. You are a beloved child of God.

I believe that’s what a good father often needs to remind his children.  They may have fears of the darkness, or a spider, or some other animal that just causes them to fear.  But, a good father, comes into the room, and turns on the light, and eliminates the fear, and reminds the son or daughter that he is there and there is nothing to fear.  He is their dear father, and they are his dear children. 

And He is “for us.”  Paul says in the book of Romans, “If God is for us, who can be against us?” (Rom. 8:31)  Let’s think about that for a while.  Nothing in this world can match up to the power of God.  No resentment from your coworkers or a neighbor down the street; no army from our fiercest enemy; not even the steaming arrows of Satan himself, can come close to matching the power of God.  And if (since) God is for us, these other things of this temporary world will fall apart. 

The Bible even tells us that even when there are bad things that happen to us in our lives, God will bring them to good.  Paul says, “we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love Him and have been called according to His purpose.”(Rom. 8:28)  Remember Joseph from the Old Testament, whose brothers threw him into a pit, then sold him into slavery.  But God brought it to good, bringing Joseph to second in command in all of Egypt.  So while we are home in this body, we walk with courage, knowing that God is for us!

And what is more, Paul invites us to make it our aim to please God!  He’s the one who has given us life.  He has redeemed us through the cross, and He’s given us the guarantee of the Spirit.  So, let’s live our lives to please Him.  Some of you might know what makes your earthly father happy.  So you may have bought him a special card, or made him a special meal, or are going with him to his favorite place.  We also know what pleases our heavenly Father. 

6/3/18 "Treasure in Clay Jars"

“For God who said, ‘Let light shine out of darkness’ has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.”  2 Corinthians 4:6; Pentecost 2; 6/3/18

Grace…

This morning I would like for us to begin by thinking about the blessings of light.  Where would we be without light?  What a dark and dismal place this world would be!  In fact, it’s quite true that we would probably not even be here.  Our life is really dependent upon light.   Light was the first creation of God.    Genesis 1:3, God said, “Let there be light.”  And it was good!  Even before the creation of the sun and the moon, God created light. 

In fact, it could be said that everything begins with light.  Without light, not only can we not see, but plants do not grow, and our physical lives, of course, depend upon plants.  Science tells us that the process of photosynthesis would not take place without light.  This is the process by which plants grow, and produce food--glucose and also the oxygen we need to live.  We would starve and suffocate without light.  We need light desperately to live! 

Our text today from the book of 2nd Corinthians, talks about light in an even far greater way than this!  Here, the Apostle Paul talks about the light of the Gospel, the Good News of Jesus Christ.  This light of the Gospel is the greater light for this world, even far above the light of nature.  Because in the Good News of Jesus, we have the forgiveness of sins, hope for every situation of life, peace even amidst hardship, and eternal life for all who believe.  Paul writes, “For God who said, ‘Let light shine out of darkness, has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.”

Now Paul was writing through inspiration of the Holy Spirit, to this church at Corinth, in Greece.  This was a congregation that faced several troubles.  First of all, Christianity was at that time just a very small group of believers, amongst the huge metropolis of Corinth.  The vast majority of people there worshiped many different Greek and Roman gods.  And the Christians, of course, were called to worship only the true God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit and to live their lives in a different way for Him.  There were struggles on the outside.

In addition, the Corinthian Christians had many struggles within their congregation.  Some felt that they were better than others.  There were divisions among them.  Some were still living immoral lives, even though they professed to be Christians.  They were dealing with divorce and remarriage.  Some felt that their spiritual gifts were more important than others.  Some were abusing the Lord’s Supper, and some didn’t think the Resurrection, (Easter Sunday) was really all that important.  Paul, of course, tried to straighten these problems out. (That’s what the book of 1st Corinthians was all about.)  And it needed to be said to them, but maybe it came out pretty harsh.

This letter of 2nd Corinthians is like first aid to their and our wounds.  They go together so well.  That even though we live in an impure world, with all kinds of problems.  And even though we’ve got some real problems of our own, that we, by ourselves, can’t overcome,  we do have the light of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.  And this light of Jesus Christ lives in our hearts.  It is the faith that God the Holy Spirit put there, and it shines through in our lives.  Paul says, “But we have this treasure in jars of clay, to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us.”

This Gospel is a treasure that lives in us, and Paul speaks of us as being “Jars of Clay.” It’s no accident that he refers to us this way, because man when he was first created was made from the dirt or clay from the ground, ”and God breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and man became a living being.” (Gen. 2:7)

All through the Bible, God speaks about man and woman being the clay, and God, Himself the potter, who shapes us and forms us, through life experiences.  Through baptism and the Gospel, He places the light of faith inside of us, and allows us to shine out of our clay pots.  Sometimes God even permits some cracks into the clay pots, so that the light of Christ would shine out through us into the darkness of a sinful world. 

Paul was reminding the Corinthian Christians about this as he said, “We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be manifested in our bodies.” (2 Cor. 4:8-10)  We don’t give up, because the Gospel of Jesus Christ has an answer and a cure for every situation of life.

Jesus Christ personally came to this world to overcome sin, death, and Satan.  He didn’t shy away from the problems.  He came to destroy the works of the devil, and to show mercy to the people of the world.  Through His teaching, through His healings, and especially through His death on the cross, and resurrection from the dead, He has won the victory for us, so that everyone who believes and is baptized in Him would have this victory as well.

Oh, I know that sometimes we feel like we are being pushed to the brink—afflicted (hard pressed), perplexed (not knowing what to do), persecuted, and struck down, but the life of Jesus Christ always brings us forgiveness, hope, joy, and the energy to carry on.  Like one person said, “We may feel that we are at the end of the rope, but we are never at the end of hope!  It’s amazing, and really miraculous how this works.  God provides the light of Christ for us to shine into this dark world.  Psalm 112 says, “Even in darkness, light dawns for the upright.”

Today is Commitment Sunday here at Trinity, and it’s also Graduation Sunday for one young man.  Andrew, you have shown a lot of commitment, a lot of faith, to carry on.  God has richly blessed you with many abilities.  Here at West Shore Lutheran School, you have stepped up into a leadership role.  You have been an encouragement to a lot of younger students and a lot of older people too.  Faith in Jesus has carried you on!  We pray that God’s light would continue to shine through in your life.

For the rest of us, members and friends of Trinity, today is an opportunity to step up in faith.  We live in a world often very dark with sin and sorrow.  But, what a great opportunity we have to let the light of Christ shine out of us, clay pots though we are, as we help others, showing mercy, sharing with others, and witnessing our faith in Jesus to others. 

In the last few weeks, and today as well, we gave you a tri-fold pamphlet in your worship folder, titled, “How Will I Be Involved?” that lists several ways that each of us could be involved.  We ask that you would circle or put a check-mark by the area that you feel led to be involved, and also make sure to put your name and information.  Also, inside of this there is a promise card for your financial offerings.  We ask that you would fill this in, tear off the bottom portion, for your records.  Then, later on in the service, after the offering, we ask that you would bring your tri-fold pamphlet and your promise card to be dedicated to the Lord and His kingdom.

In a few moments, we will look at a power point presentation of our members and friends who are serving in various ways in our congregation and our community.  We praise God for this wonderful service, and we pray that, through faith in Jesus, even more of us would take part…  I ask you now to watch this and consider how you also may be involved…

God grant it…  

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