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5/27/18 "How Can These Things Be?"

“For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through Him.”  John 3:17; Trinity Sunday; 5/27/18

Questions…We’ve all got a lot of them!  Why is the sky blue?  Why is the grass green?  Why do some people hear “Yanni”, while other people hear “Laurel” even when it is the same sound byte?  Many of these questions have answers, like there is water vapor in the air that reflects blue light, and chlorophyll in the grass which reflects the green light, and we think we hear Yanni or Laurel because of the sound frequency that particular people normally hear.

But, there are other times that there are just not easy answers.  Sometimes, you need to dig, really dig into the question and go right to the source. You can’t just “google it” or “you tube it” to get the answer.  They are deeper mysteries. You have to hear it from the source.  You have to hear the reasons and the motivation behind the answer, to be able to understand.      

Well in an age way before google, and way before youtube, and thank God that it was, our text from the Gospel of John shows us that Nicodemus had a question or two, and he wanted to go straight to the source.  Nicodemus was a Pharisee.  He had probably heard of Jesus for quite some time.  Jesus had been performing miracles all throughout the land.  Turning water into wine, healing a paralyzed man, giving hearing to the deaf, and sight to the blind.  In addition, Jesus had been teaching multitudes of people.  Why was Jesus doing these things, Nicodemus probably wondered?

And what is more, Nicodemus was on the ruling council of the Jewish people, called the Sanhedrin.  There were some others who were also on that council, especially the High Priest, Caiaphas, and his father in law, Annas, who were furious about Jesus.  They wanted Jesus dead!  They were Sadducees, and they didn’t believe in miracles.  They thought Jesus was a fraud.  But, Nicodemus wasn’t so sure.  Some things that Jesus did probably tugged at his heart.  Things like healing the sick, and the lame, and the blind.  Certain things that the prophet Isaiah had spoken about the Messiah, that seemed to closely match what Jesus was doing.

So, Nicodemus decided he needed to go to the Source Himself, Jesus.  He likely waited until dark, so no one else would see Him, because Jesus was so controversial.  And he began saying, “Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher come from God, for no one can do these signs that you do unless God is with him.” That was the statement, but the questions behind it really are, “Jesus, who are you?  And just why have you come?” 

But, Jesus, the Master Teacher, wouldn’t give those answers quite yet.  At least not without some background.  He said, “Truly, truly I say to you unless one is born again, He cannot see the kingdom of God.”  You won’t really get me, (Nicodemus) you won’t really understand Me, Jesus is saying, unless you’re born again (born from above.)  You need a change of mind and heart, Nicodemus!

What is this, Nicodemus wondered.  “How can a man be born when he is old?  Can he enter a second time into his mother’s womb and be born?”  This defies human logic.   I don’t understand.  So, Jesus responds, “Truly, truly I say to you unless one is born of water and the Spirit He cannot enter the kingdom of God.  That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit.” 

Before you can understand, Nicodemus, you need to change.  You were born of the flesh.  You were born covered in sin.  You need to have a change to be able to understand.  And that change comes through water and the Spirit.  It comes through Baptism, where your sins are forgiven, and you become a child of God and a temple of the Holy Spirit.  It’s then that you will begin to understand.

And that is where we all begin too.  Because like Nicodemus, we must change.  The Bible teaches, that we also were covered in sin, spiritually blind, dead, even enemies of God.  Like Nicodemus, we, needed to be born again, born from above, through baptism.  We, could not understand the Kingdom of God, or why Jesus has come.  But, now, through the power of the Holy Spirit, we see!

We see that sin has a way of destroying us, like serpents in the wilderness.  We would be lost forever, wiped out, and destroyed eternally in hell.  But God has the solution, the perfect cure.  He sent His Son, Jesus, out of love as our Savior.  So here are the answers Nicodemus had been waiting for all along.  He wondered who Jesus was and why He came.  And Jesus responds, “For God so loved the world that He gave His only Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish, but have eternal life.”

There’s a reason that this passage, John 3:16 has become the most famous passage in the New Testament of all time. (Sometimes we have become so familiar with it, that we take it for granted.)  But, this passage states a truth that we all need to know so well.  It needs to be repeated again and again.  For God so loved the world, that He gaveHis only Son!  God loves the people of this world!  He doesn’t love the sin!   But, He loves all people, sinners like you and me.  He loves us so much that He gave His precious only Son, to die the death that we deserved, so that we, through faith, would not perish, but have eternal life.

Today on this Memorial Day weekend, we remember those who have given their life for the sake of our country.  And we thank God for them.  But, on a far, far greater level, we thank God for sending His only Son, Jesus for the sake of the whole world, people of all times and places, that their sin would be paid for, and through faith in Him, they would be saved.

But, sometimes this truth of God’s love, is hard to fathom.  It’s like a great mystery.  Why would God love us so much?  And what may be more for us to fathom.  Why would He love all the people of this world—even those who hate Him?  I’ll just simply say, that’s who He is.  That’s what He’s all about! Go to the source—in the Bible. “For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through Him.”

Today, we also celebrate the Holy Trinity—One God, yet three persons, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  Although we cannot completely understand how three are one, we can go to the source of the Bible and clearly see, the work of the Father, who sent His Son, Jesus, who gives us the Holy Spirit, so that we may believe in Jesus and be saved.

Oh, we may have many questions in life.  Some that are easily answered, and others that need to be researched more fully.  Others that we will never fully understand in this life.   But, let us never forget the beautiful answer that Nicodemus first heard, in that intimate room with Jesus, “For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through Him.”

God grant it…



5/20/18 "My Spirit is in You!"

“And I will put my Spirit within you, and you shall live, and I will place you in your own land.  Then you shall know that I am the Lord; I have spoken and I will do it, declares the Lord.”  Ezekiel 37:14; Pentecost Sunday; Trinity Ministry Sunday; 5/20/18


Many years ago, “Time” magazine ran an article in their medical section about a man who went to a psychiatrist complaining that he was always hearing radio broadcasts.  Wanting to humor him, the psychiatrist asked what the man was hearing right then, at that time?  The man replied that he was hearing a singer, singing with some big band music, broadcasting from the Steel Pier in Atlantic City.

After much questioning, the psychiatrist discovered that the man worked in a glass bottle factory and had gotten some silica crystals in some of his dental cavities.  The combination of crystals, saliva, and some bridgework in his mouth had literally transformed him into a walking radio! So, wherever he went, he did hear music!  Way before Walkmans with headphones, Ipods, and way before smartphones, this man had music wherever he went.

The Bible says that those who are filled with the Holy Spirit are tuned into a heavenly frequency and carry a song around with them everywhere they go—speaking to themselves in songs, hymns, and spiritual songs, singing and making music to the Lord in their hearts.

Today is the day that we remember the mighty work of the Holy Spirit, who came powerfully into the lives and hearts of the Apostles that day in Jerusalem that we call Pentecost.  The Holy Spirit brought courage and joy into the hearts of those disciples, so that they were able to speak the words of the Good News of Jesus Christ in many different languages.  And on that day, the Bible says, 3,000 people were baptized into the family of God!  Wouldn’t that be great—to see 3,000 baptisms?  No wonder we call Pentecost Day the birthday of the church.  (So, Happy Birthday Church!)

Today, we also come to God on this birthday of the church, asking that He would renew us, and revive us, in the power of the Holy Spirit.  Many times in life, we feel like we are running on empty.  The temptations of Satan and the troubles of the world, and our own sinful self have a way of really getting us down and discouraged.   Even with our faith in Jesus, at times we may feel afraid, deflated, and stagnant in our faith.  But, we should always remember that we are not alone.  We have the Lord with us on every side, and He will send us His Spirit to help us overcome.

Our text for today is from the book of Ezekiel, chapter 37.  Ezekiel was a prophet of God during a very difficult time.  He was a prophet at about the same time as Jeremiah and Daniel, about 580 years before Christ.  Now if that time frame doesn’t immediately grab you, you should know that this was an extremely discouraging time for the people of Judah.  In about the year 587 BC, the entire city of Jerusalem was routed by the Babylonian King Nebuchadnezzar, the buildings and the temple itself were destroyed.  In addition many of the people were captured by the Babylonians, and most of the talented and able bodied ones were taken off to Babylon as exiles.  Ezekiel the prophet was one of them, who had been exiled in shame.  

Just imagine, how difficult it must have been for the people of Judah.  They were God’s people, that’s what they thought, even though they had not acted like it.  They thought however that God would never let His temple be destroyed, and His people carried off.  But, here they were now in a foreign country, cut off from their homeland.  Maybe, some even felt cut off from God. 

But, God gave Ezekiel a new vision.  In it, God took Ezekiel, in the Spirit of the Lord, and brought him to a valley of bones.  All around, wherever he looked, he saw bones.  And the text tells us, they were very dry.  This means, there was no life left in them.  They had been there a while.  But, the Lord asks Ezekiel, “Son of Man, can these bones live?”

It’s a strange question, really.  Can they live?  Yeh, right!!! Ezekiel might have been tempted to answer.  He had probably seen a lot of destruction during his lifetime.  Life in Jerusalem during his lifetime was like a deflating balloon.  Tragedy after tragedy in his lifetime.  Can they live?  Can they live?  “O Lord God, You know.”

Then God said to Ezekiel, “Prophesy over these bones, and say to them, ‘O dry bones, hear the Word of the Lord.  Thus says the Lord God to these bones:  Behold, I will cause breath to enter you, and you shall live.”  And that’s exactly what Ezekiel did.  He spoke the words God told him to speak.  And an amazing thing happened.  Those dry bones started coming together.  Sinews and muscles started to appear on them, with flesh and skin.  And then God told Ezekiel to speak more of His Word, and command breath to come into these bodies, and this one time valley of dry bones, “lived and stood on their feet, an exceedingly great army.!  Dry bones came back to life, as God’s Word was spoken, and the Holy Spirit came into them!

God did this to show Ezekiel that His Holy Spirit revives people who feel lost, rejected, and even exiled.  Yes, even dead.  God’s Spirit brings life.  He brings hope.  Listen again to the last verse of our text, “And I will put my Spirit within you, and you shall live, and I will place you in your own land.  Then you shall know that I am the Lord; I have spoken, and I will do it declares the Lord.”

This reminds me of what Jesus told His disciples in our Gospel for today. Jesus’ disciples were afraid of what was to come.  Jesus had told them that He would suffer and die for them.  He also told them that He would rise again on the third day.  But it didn’t sink in to them.  They were still afraid.  But Jesus said, “I have more to say to you, more than you can now bear.  But when He, the Spirit of truth comes, He will guide you into all truth….He will bring glory to Me by taking from what is mine and making it known to you.” 

And that is exactly what the Holy Spirit did for the disciples on Pentecost Day.  The Spirit of Truth came into their hearts and they were guided into all truth.  They went from fearful disciples into bold preachers of the Gospel.  It’s like dry bones coming back to life.  And God raised up an “army” of believers for Him on that day, through His Spirit.

Sometimes, we all come to points in our lives where we feel discouraged, fearful, and we even doubt God and His Word.  Sometimes it’s longer than points in our lives, it goes on for months, even years.  Dear Lord forgive us!  Today, on this day of Pentecost, we pray, send out Your Spirit, to forgive us, revive us, and unify us for work in Your kingdom. 

Today, in your worship folder, you received a tri-fold brochure.  (It says, “How Will I Be Involved?)  It lists many of the different ways that we serve the Lord together here at Trinity.  Many of you are serving already.  But, we pray that all of us would, by the power of the Holy Spirit, would be moved to help out this mission that God has given us, in at least one way.   Maybe you could be a “Reader” or a “Greeter”, serve on the properties and grounds committee.  Maybe you could be a part of the “Let Us Pray” prayer chain, work with student hospitality, or serve with Vacation Bible School.  We pray that God would send His Spirit into our hearts to “raise up an army” for Him.

Ezekiel saw how God transformed dry bones into a living and mighty army for the Lord.  The disciples saw how God transformed them from being fearful, into might preachers of His Word, that now led a huge group of people.  And God has not forgotten us.  He will send His Spirit into us, to revive us, and fill us with joy to serve our risen and ascended Savior, Jesus Christ, so that the world will know that they have salvation in His name! 

God grant it…

5/13/18 "Calling Out Confidently"

“And this is the confidence that we have toward Him, that if we ask anything according to His will, He hears us.”  1 John 5:14; Easter 7; May 13, 2018


Today is Mother’s Day.  It’s a day that we set aside to give thanks to God for the woman who carried us, nurtured us, and helped us along during our primary years of life.  And also, as the years went on,  hopefully also taught you how to care, how to treat others,  and gave you an example of a loving faith in God--one to live by throughout your life. 

As I was thinking about Mother’s Day this past week, I thought about the way my mom helped me in my life especially as I got older.  She was a great mom when I was young, but as I grew older, our relationship matured.  We became good friends too.  She was someone I knew who was always praying for me and my family.  She was always encouraging us.  And I always knew that I could confidently talk with her knowing that she had my family’s best interest at heart.

Confidence…This is something that God’s Word highlights for us today.  John says, “And this is the confidence that we have toward Him, that if we ask anything according to His will, He hears us.”  Jesus, the almighty Son of God, who rules in all authority, (He) hears us!  We can be confident in this!

Over the past month we have been preaching a sermon series called, “For the Love of God!”  This is based on the book of 1st John.   For the love of God, we “proclaim Jesus’ life” and resurrection.   For the Love of God, we are called “Children of God.” For the love of God, we know love”, and show love.  For the love of God, He is our Vine and we are His fruitful branches.  And last week, For the love of God, we are “Overcomers”, we are victorious.  And now lastly, this week, “For the Love of God, “We call out to Him confidently.”

The Apostle John wrote this letter of 1st John in about the year 85 AD.  He was the only one of the original twelve disciples who was still living on earth at this time.  The others, except for Judas, had died from persecution.  The disciples had been faithful in spreading the Good News of Jesus wherever they went.  And the Christian faith was growing and growing.  But, they faced great opposition.

Some of the opposition was physical, and the disciples’ lives were put on the line.  But, the other even more sinister opposition was spiritual.  False teachers were coming around and they were leading others away from the truth.  At this time, we believe that John was writing against the false teaching that Jesus was not fully God and man at the same time.  The false teachers wrongly stated that He couldn’t both be God and Man.  And so they said, Jesus couldn’t really die.  He couldn’t shed His blood.  It just looked like it.  But, that is why right before this lesson, John says, “For there are three that testify:  the Spirit, and the water, and the blood, and these three agree.”  The Holy Spirit (the Word of God) , Jesus’ baptism (where God said “This is my beloved Son) , and His death on the cross, they all agree.  Jesus Christ is the Son of God, 100% God, and 100 % Man. 

John says, “If we receive the testimony of men, the testimony of God is greater.”  I think it’s interesting that the Apostle John lived to be the last living link of the twelve disciples to Jesus.  He held a unique position in that He knew exactly what Jesus said, what He did, and how He lived.  John was an eyewitness.  So when false teachers came along and tried to lead people astray, John could say, that’s not what Jesus said, that’s not what He did, and  God’s testimony is greater.

So often in our lives we also listen to other voices to try to get the approval of other people.  We are tempted to put the testimony, the advice of other people above the testimony of God.  And we often fall.  We follow their ways, rather than God’s ways.  We try to be popular with the world, rather than being faithful to God.  And we pray, “Dear God, please forgive us!  You are the Lord of all life.  And in You we have confidence!  John says, “And this is the testimony, that God gave us eternal life, and this life is in His Son.”

Look at the life and ministry of Jesus.  Every moment was lived to bring life.  He was baptized by John in the Jordan, to fulfill all righteousness.  He was tempted by Satan in the wilderness and He overcame by the Word of God.  He came back to Galilee and called out to people, saying, “Repent, for the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand. (It’s present!)”  Everywhere He went, He brought the Kingdom of Heaven to earth.  He healed the lame, the blind, the deaf, the lepers, and the demon-possessed.  He calmed the storms, He raised the dead.  No one else has ever done these things.  But, the greatest thing He did was to bring the forgiveness of sins and hope to all people by submitting to death on the cross, and rising again on the third day.  So that we, through faith in Him would be victorious, and have eternal life.  Jesus said, “I have come that they may have life to the full.”

Have you ever wondered what life would be like without Jesus?  What do people do?  What do they think?  How do they live without Jesus? I’ve often wondered that myself.  Because without Jesus, we would be lost, alone, and have no purpose.  We wouldn’t know what we are truly worth.  We would be empty and broken, still carrying our guilt and shame.  We would have discontent, and live in despair.  In fact, we would still be stuck in our sins, and have no hope for eternal life. 

But with Jesus, we have everything! We have hope for every moment of life.  There’s not a single situation that does not have hope because of Him.  We have a purpose to life, to serve Him.  We have a value in life because of Him.  We are Children of God.  (Just think of all that Lydia was given today in baptism!) We have freedom, peace, and contentment, because of Him.  And through Him we have forgiveness for all that we have done, and the full promise of eternal life with Him forever.  John says, “I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God that you may know that you have eternal life.”

Today, we also celebrate the Ascension of Jesus into heaven, where He is reigning (ruling) in all power and authority at the right hand of God.  This happened 40 days after the Resurrection.  And we can be confident that He is in charge.  John says, “And this is the confidence that we have toward Him, that if we ask anything according to His will, He hears us.” Far greater than our earthly mothers or fathers we can trust in Him!  We are confident in Him. Our hope is real in Him!

At the beginning of the sermon, I mentioned that as the years went on with my mother, our relationship matured.  Not only was she my mother who cared for me when I was little.  She became someone I could confide in, when I was older.  In a far, far greater way, God’s Word invites us further to confide in your Greatest Friend, Jesus Christ, who loves you, and desires to help you in the greatest way.  He has all authority, above all, and invites you to call out confidently to Him.

Oh, I know that sometimes the troubles of this world can really weigh us down.  We are prone to discouragement, doubt, despair, and unbelief.  And sometimes that’s all we see.  I’m sure that there were times that the Apostle John also struggled with these things.  But the testimony of God’s Word reminds us today, that Jesus, the Son of God, has come to give us life, and we can call out confidently to Him in prayer.  Remember, the testimony of God is greater!

He will never let us go.  We are His beloved children.  Like Paul says in Romans 8, “I am convinced that neither death, nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation will be able to separate us from the Love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Rom. 8:38-39)

God grant it…

5/6/18 "Overcomers!"

“For everyone who has been born of God overcomes the world.  And this is the victory that has overcome the world—our faith.  Who is it that overcomes the world except the one who believes that Jesus is the Son of God.”  1 John 5:4-5; Easter 6; May 6, 2018


(Thank you first of all to you, the students of West Shore Lutheran, for your music and for the reading of God’s Word.  Your faith and love for God are a great encouragement for all of us!)

I think it will come as no shock to you, for me to say, that this is a very tough world!  And life on this earth is very complicated.  Although there may be times that might seem a little bit easier than others, especially when we look back on our life.  Life is very difficult.

Just think, for a moment, how we tried to have this service to give thanks to God for West Shore Lutheran three weeks ago.  (Remember that?)  We had it planned for April 15 for a couple of months, and made all sorts of plans, but nope!  It didn’t work!  We had an ice/ snow storm instead.  So, we rescheduled it for today, and all is certainly well.  But it sure isn’t easy!

Just think of all of the things we have to face in life on a regular basis.  Projects for school and work.  Deadlines and commitments.  The costs of raising a family.   The changes we face in our work life, and our home life.  Challenges with our cars and means of transportation.  Changes in our neighborhoods.  Challenges in our country and the world.  Changes in relationships.  Changes in our health.  Changes in the health of our loved ones.  Sicknesses, heartache, the death of our loved ones.  And some of you might say, that’s just a part of it.  There’s so much more!  It’s enough to make you just want to raise the white flag, retreat and say, “I give up!”

But, before you do that, God’s Word has something to say to all of you.  “You, my friend, my brother and sister in Christ, are an overcomer!”  What?  You’re an overcomer!  You’re not just a survivor.  You’re not just someone who “deals with it”.  Not just someone who “grins and bears it.”  You are someone who overcomes the difficulties and the hardships of life.  You are an overcomer! 

In fact there’s more to that word “overcomer” than at first, meets the eye.  The word that is translated in our Bible as “overcomer”, has as its base the Greek word, “νικᾷ” (nika—we might say nike).  (Right, like the shoe!)  Sometimes that same word can be translated as “conqueror” or “victorious”.  Through faith in Jesus, we are overcomers; we are conquerors; we are victorious!!!

But, you might ask, “Then, Pastor, why doesn’t it feel that way?”  I still feel beat up by the world.  Like I’m constantly in a battle.  The struggles of day to day life in school, or work, really weigh me down.  Many things don’t work out the way that I want them to.  The countries of our world seem to be constantly at war with each other.  I still deal with heartache, sickness, and death.  How can I be an overcomer? 

Well, first, because the Bible says you are!  It says, “Everyone who believes that Jesus is the Christ has been born of God…and everyone who has been born of God overcomes the world. And this is the victory that has overcome the world—our faith. ”  It may not always feel that way, but the truth in the Bible, that is the Holy Spirit says that you are victorious through faith in Jesus Christ.

Sometimes we wish that God would come and talk with us, just like He did with many of the heroes of the faith.  Well, that is really what is happening here today.  God, the Holy Spirit, is saying this to you—“You are victorious through faith in Jesus Christ.”

Just look at Jesus’ life and ministry.  It didn’t always seem that He was victorious either, but He was.  He was raised in Nazareth, and they thought nothing good could ever come from there.  And yet, out of Nazareth came the greatest good that ever walked the face of the earth.  He cared for the poor, and the blind, the lame, and the lepers—those who were rejected by society, and yet those who were healed became great witnesses for the truth.  Jesus, Himself, was betrayed and denied by friends.  He was captured and put on trial.  He was whipped and nailed to a cross, all for your sins and mine.  This certainly doesn’t seem victorious, and yet out of those greatest of sorrows, came the greatest good.  Your sins are forgiven, and you have peace with God.  And it doesn’t stop there because as the banner shows, Jesus rose again on the third day, so that we would know that every evil has been defeated!  Sin is defeated.  Death is defeated.  And Satan himself Is defeated. No evil that we face in this life is the final story.  Because of Jesus victory, we too are victorious. We too are overcomers.  Like Paul says in Romans, “We know that in all circumstances God is working for good for those who love Him and are called according to His purpose.”  (Rom. 8:28)

We are overcomers, through faith in Jesus Christ.  This is what the students of West Shore Lutheran get a chance to hear every day.  They may not hear it in these exact terms, but that is the message.  This applies to every area of their life.  Just think of how as the years go on this will apply to every stage of life.  So when troubles come their way, they can remember that this is not the end.  God will bring about something good through this.  When there are relationship struggles, God promises that He will hear us in prayer and answer us.  And even when sickness and death come to a friend or even their family members, God will bring something good out of that.  On the last day, God promises that those who believe in Him will rise to be with Him forever. 

Of course, Satan is still hard at work.  He tries to get all of us to doubt God’s Word, even though he’s been defeated.  And there are times that we all sin and fall for his temptations.  Times that we can’t seem to believe that anything good would ever come from the situations we are in, even though God promises it.  That’s where forgiveness comes in.  That’s where the power of baptism comes in.  Where we remember that we have been forgiven, and we have been born again of water and the Spirit.  John says, “For everyone who has been born of God overcomes the world.”

Being born of God is to believe in Jesus Christ.   And you should know that when you believe in Jesus Christ, you become a warrior.  There will be many challenges, to be sure.  There is a battle to be fought.  Satan and the world will challenge you in many ways.  Jesus even promised His disciples, ‘In this world you will have many troubles, but take heart.  I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33)

You are an overcomer because Jesus has overcome the world.  It’s not because you have done so much, or helped others so long.  You are an overcomer because of Jesus. His blood shed on the cross for us changed everything.  It was the perfect sacrifice for all of the sins of all time.  He paid for your sins completely and through the grace of God, you have been given faith in Him.

John says, “For there are three that testify: the Spirit, and the water, and the blood; and these three agree.”  You are an overcomer, victorious, and a champion through faith in Jesus Christ.

God grant it…

4/29/18 "Fruitful Branches"

“(Jesus said): I am the vine, you are the branches.  If a man remain in me and I in him, he will bear much fruit.  Apart from Me, you can do nothing..”  John 15:5; Easter 5; April 29, 2018


(Congratulations to Noah, Lexi, and Kate upon your confirmation day…)


Today, we celebrate the connections that God has made in our life, through baptism, as Noah, Lexi, and Kate will re-affirm their baptism, and publicly confess their connection to the Triune God, through faith in Jesus.  It’s a day where they will promise their faithfulness to our Savior, even to the point of death.  But, even more, we rejoice that we are connected to Jesus as a branch is to a vine, as the hymn says, “I am His and He is mine.”  We are connected!


We live in a world today that is increasingly individualized—closed off to connections.  This phone, could well symbolize our time.  Many people in our world live secluded and isolated lives.  They are separate from as much as possible.  And it is ironic, because the phone can connect us to so many things.  But, if you watch people, looking only at their phone, even when they are in groups, they are open only to who or what they choose, when they choose it, and how they choose it. 


With advancements in technology, which allows for even more individualism, people are allowed to live even more secluded than ever before.  One can work at home, shop at home, socialize with whom they want at home, or not, and gain their spiritual support, or lack of it, at home too.  We live in a world that is increasingly individualized.


But, Jesus draws us into community.  He desires for us to be connected to Him and others as well.  He says, “I am the Vine, you are the branches.”  Jesus spoke these words first to His disciples on that Maundy Thursday, probably right after He had washed His disciples’ feet and instituted the Lord’s Supper, and shortly before He had gone out to the Garden of Gethsemane.  Jesus had promised that He would be taken away from them.  He promised that He would suffer and die.  And that He would rise again on the third day.  But, what did it all mean for the disciples?  What would happen to them?  Would they just separate from Him and others, and go back to their own little world as if nothing happened again?  Would they just be on their own again?  Would Peter and Andrew head back to Capernaum and start their fishing business again? Would Matthew go back to collecting taxes?  Would Simon the Zealot just go off and start a new uprising? 


In this lesson, Jesus draws upon some beautiful Old Testament imagery that every Jewish person would have known, that is, the vineyard.  The Children of Israel, the Jewish people,  were often referred to as, “The Vineyard.” Psalm 80 says of God, “You brought a vine out of Egypt; You drove out the nations and planted it.” (Psalm 80:8)  Israel was the choice root stock that was taken out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery, taken through the Red Sea and planted in the Promised Land of Canaan.  Every Jewish person recognized themselves as part of that vineyard, and so did those disciples. 


Israel was to produce fruit for the kingdom of God.  They were to be a nation that brought light to the world.  And yet, so often they did not.  Time after time Israel failed.  Although they knew the truth, they gave it up for a lie.  And the branches of the vine, were broken, the fruit was sour, and troubles set in.  And they felt disconnected with God.  Were the disciples now supposed to just go back and live those disconnected lives again?


No, not at all.  This is why Jesus begins with such an emphatic “I AM”  “I AM the true vine, and my Father is the gardener.” This is one of the seven “I AM” statements that is included in the book of John.  I AM the Good Shepherd.  I AM the living water.  I AM the Resurrection and the Life.  By these statements, Jesus is clearly identifying Himself to His disciples as the True God of heaven and earth.  No longer would they need to rely on themselves or their pride in their heritage.  In fact, that was what was destroying them.  Instead, the True Vine would fully supply, all that was needed and their connection to Him would be all that matters for the years to come.


Some years ago, I had the opportunity to hear a Christian vineyard owner, from California, speak about this passage, in light of our relationship to Jesus Christ.  She reminded our group that grape vines grow quite naturally in many places all across the United States.  You might even have a wild grape vine crawling across your fence in your back yard.  But, that wild grape vine doesn’t produce anything good for quite some time.  It takes many, many years before the grapes are good or will be fit for making wine.  As a matter of fact, new branches need to be changed, before they can produce a good crop, because new vines have a natural disease in them.  It is just something in them that causes wilt, and weakness, and sour grapes.  They have defective DNA.  So a master vinedresser, must take that branch, and cut that branch and graft it into a pure root stock, which might be a hundred or more years old, and has a disease free root system which allows for no wilt, or weakness, and instead produces sweet fruit.


I believe that this is wonderful analogy to the Christian faith.  Left on our own, we are lost.  We have a disease inside of us called sin that destroys us.  If it is left alone, without any connection to the True Vine, it takes over our lives.  Satan, in fact, loves to isolate us.  He knows that we are easy prey, when we are left alone.  He loves to build a false sense of pride in and of ourselves, saying such things like, “Just leave me alone!” “I’ll do it my own way.”  Or even, “I can handle it on my own.” 


Some of you probably know of someone, who believes they can handle life on their own.  They don’t need anyone telling them what is right, and what is wrong.  At least that’s what they think.  And yet that attitude is just destroying their life.  Whether it is drugs, alcohol, pornography, or just a continued depressed and debilitating attitude, their pride is leading them to destruction in hell, and unless they become connected to the True Vine, they will be destroyed. 


 Each of us here today, is susceptible to this as well.  Through faith, and the power of baptism, you are connected to the True Vine, Jesus Christ.  But, sometimes you allow only so much of Him in your life.  You have drawn a line in the sand, and said only this far.  It’s like a confirmation student who says, I’ve learned the faith.  I don’t need any more.  You’re cutting back on your connection.  You’ve said or thought things like this, “I’ll say I’ll go to church, but that’s it.  It’s what I was told way back when in confirmation class.  But, I’m gonna call the shots after that.  One hour I can handle.  But, I don’t need to go to Bible Class.  I don’t need to go to youth group.  I don’t need to have personal devotions.  I don’t need to learn more on how to pray, how to live my life, or how to give my offerings to God.  I don’t need to be involved in the church, by serving on a board.  God asks us today, do you want to be a fruitful branch or a branch that is cut off and thrown away?


Dear people of God, a fruitful branch wants to be connected to as much of the Life-Giving source that Jesus provides.  God desires for you to be a fruitful branch.  He provides His Word and Sacraments, as the source of life that helps the branch grow and bear fruits like love, joy, hope, and peace.  Spiritual growth is a joy for a healthy branch.  The more Jesus, the more joy.  Those branches that do not remain in Jesus, eventually wither in faith.  And the branch eventually becomes a stick.  Like Jesus says, “If anyone does not remain in me, he is like a branch that is thrown away and withers; such branches are picked up, thrown into the fire and burned.”


Do you want to be a healthy and fruitful branch?  I hope and pray that you do.  Then you will allow the Lord to have His way with you.  There are some times the Master Gardener will need to prune some things out of your life.  Perhaps it is your pride, of thinking about yourself first.  Your time, Your money.  Instead, by the grace that God provides, you’ll start thinking of these gifts rightly.  I pray today that you would let God’s Word have its way with you!


In a few moments, Noah, Lexi, and Kate will publicly confess their faith in God.  Together with the rest of us, they will ask God to help us all to be faithful and fruitful branches of His vineyard.  I hope that we all will take these words to heart, and we pray that God would help us all to be faithful and fruitful branches.


God grant it…

4/22/18 "How We Know Love"

“By this we know love, that He laid down His life for us, and we ought to lay down our lives for the brothers.”  1 John 3:16; Easter 4; April 22, 2018


There’s an old saying that says, “Talk is cheap.”  You can say something, but if you don’t back it up with action, it really doesn’t demonstrate what you say.  For instance, you can say you love someone.  But, if there is no action behind it, others may think you don’t really love someone.  In our world, there is so much cheap talk when it comes to love.

Several years ago, Christian author and marriage counselor, Dr. Gary Chapman wrote a ground-breaking book called, “The Five Love Languages.”  In it, Dr. Chapman said that there are five major ways that a person can show love to another person.  The five ways are “receiving gifts”, “quality time”, “words of affirmation”, “acts of service”, and “physical touch”.

According to Dr. Chapman, everyone has one primary way, and one secondary way that they receive love best.  For instance, for some people the best way to show them love is to give them a gift.  It might be very small, or even what many would consider trivial.  But, for that person, the giving of the gift means everything.  Others respond better to quality time.  It really touches their heart.  Still others may need words of affirmation, acts of service, or physical touch.  Each person is a little different in the way that they know love.  So the questions for today are, “Which love language works best for you? ““How do you know love?”

So, what about you?  Is it a gift?  Or quality time, like taking a walk together.  Maybe those extra words of affirmation like, “You did a great job!”  Maybe an act of service, or even physical touch, like a pat on the back.  How do you know love? 

In our text for today from 1st John, the Apostle John makes this abundantly clear for us.  “By this we know love, that He (Jesus) laid down His life for us, and we ought to lay down our lives for the brothers.”  John is saying, if Jesus had only talked about love, it would not have had the desired effect on us.  His talk would have been cheap.  But, Jesus didn’t just talk about love.  He went on the ultimate journey for us.  He laid down His life for us on the cross!  He suffered death for us, only to take it up again.

Time and time again Jesus talked about love in His ministry.  On one occasion a scribe asked Him, which of the commandments was the greatest, He said, “Hear O Israel, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength, and the second is this, You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”  (Mk. 12:29-31)  Then, on the night that He was betrayed, Jesus gathered His disciples in the Upper Room to celebrate the Passover.  He took off his outer robe, and poured water in a basin, and began washing His disciples feet.  Although Peter at first objected, Jesus continued to demonstrate that love.  Later He said, “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another, just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another.  By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”(John 13:34)  Jesus didn’t just talk about love, He demonstrated it, and He calls us to do the same.

John says in our text today, “But if anyone has the world’s goods and sees his brother in need, yet closes his heart against him, how does God’s love abide in him?  Little children, let us not love in word or talk but in deed and in truth.”  (1 John 3:17-18)  And therein lies the issue.  I’ve had many people over the years say something like this to me, “Pastor, I love the Lord.  But, those people, I can’t do it.”  And sad to say, there are times that I feel the same way.  On the one hand, it seems so easy to love the Lord.  He’s done everything for us—created us, redeemed us on the cross, rose from the dead for us, sent His Holy Spirit to us.  How can we not love the Lord?  But, those people?  Dear Lord, forgive us! 

God doesn’t give us the option.  Love the Lord, and love your neighbor.  They go together.  The first table of the Law, “Love the Lord” and the second, “Love your neighbor.” John says, “Little children let us not love in word or talk but in deed and in truth.”

The problem for us in showing love to our neighbors is that it takes humility, and some see it as a sign of weakness. And by our sinful nature, we don’t like that.   It takes a certain sense of humility to clean up for your children or care for your aged parents.  It takes some more humility to take care of your neighbor who might not every say, “Thank you!” . It takes humility to serve in a soup kitchen.  It takes humility to clean up areas that have been ravaged by poverty and crime, and sometimes others may not seem to care.  And yes, others may see this love as a sign of weakness too.

But, today on this Good Shepherd Sunday, I call you again to look to Jesus.  He humbled Himself and fulfilled the Law for us.  He loved the Lord with His whole heart, and He didn’t stop there.  He loved His neighbor as Himself.  He says, “I am the Good Shepherd.  I know my own and my own know me, just as the Father knows me and I know the Father, and I lay down my life for the sheep.”  Jesus, your Good Shepherd sees you as His neighbor, His beloved sheep.  He became weak and gave His life for you, so that you, in turn would be strong.  This is how we know love.

And He calls us today, to let our love be shown in action.  “Little children let us not love in word or talk but in deed and in truth.” Maybe there’s a gift we could give to another.  It may not necessarily be something big, but something heartfelt that we could give to someone in need.  Maybe there’s some quality time, that we could give.  Maybe an act of service, by helping to clean, or putting on a fresh coat of paint, or maybe even just patting the shoulder of someone, or giving another person a caring hug to assure them that they are loved.

I remember in my previous congregation, there was a big man by the name of Jim Lord.  Jim was about 6’4”, pretty imposing kind of guy.  At first he seemed kind of rough and gruff.  But, I knew something more about him.  Jim was retired, and he could have used his time differently, but three times a week, during the school year, he went to his local middle school, and he helped at-risk middle-school students who had trouble reading.  Jim spent quality time with some troubled middle school students.  And he did it because of His Savior, Jesus Christ.  He let his love be an action verb.  Just think of the students lives that he affected. That’s how they know love. 

I know that some will have the objection, “maybe those middle school students would know it, but the rest of the world, they don’t care!” God’s Word says, “By this we shall know that we are of the truth and reassure our heart before Him.” (1 John 3:19)  Brothers and sisters in Christ, it’s easy to show love when others are kind, or nice, or loving back to us.  Martin Luther said, “To love a brother who is kind and pleasant in return—this is a trivial matter…John doesn’t say, “Let us love those who are saintly, agreeable, and rich.”  He says, “We ought to lay down our lives for the brothers.” Luther says, For example, “He who is educated should serve him who is not, and he who is rich should serve him who is poor, and he who is sensible should serve him who is foolish.” (AE 30:278-9)

Now you might say, this is really tough and hard.  It is for me too.  There are times I have turned away from showing God’s love to others.  And it troubles me.  That’s why this message from 1st John is so important.  It goes on to say, “for whenever our heart condemns us, God is greater than our heart, and He knows everything.”  Today, we give thanks that God is greater than our heart.  He forgives us.  He laid down His life for us.  This is how we know love.

Today, by the power of the Holy Spirit, God calls us to take this love out into the world.  “Let us not love in word or talk, but in deed and in truth.  That is how they will know love!

God grant it…



4/15/18 "Living As Children of God!"

“See what kind of love the Father has given to us that we should be called children of God; and so we are.  The reason why the world does not know us, is that it did not know Him.”  1 John 3:1; Easter 3; 4/15/18


(What a blessing it is to see and hear the students of West Shore Lutheran here participating in our worship service today, through your instruments, through song, and through the reading of the Bible! Thank you so very much!)

Several years ago, when I was a student at Concordia Seminary in St Louis, studying for the ministry, I was privileged to have a professor by the name of Dr. Won Yong Ji.  (We just called him Dr. Ji)  Dr. Ji was close to 80 when he was my professor, and was a very wise man originally from Korea.  He would relate ancient Korean proverbs to all of us like, “The higher you go in the tree; the windier it gets.”  Or “When you back a rat into a corner, the rat will always bite back.”

But what Dr. Ji really taught me is something that I will never forget in life.  He traveled all over the world, spoke several different languages, and represented the Lutheran church at several major conferences.  But, he told us one day, that all over the world, people basically ask and struggle with three main questions in life.  Who am I?  What am I doing here? And where am I going?

What he meant by it, is that these questions really form the basis of what people are searching for out of all of life. Who am I?  What am I doing here?  And where am I going?  They spend their whole life yearning for these answers, whether they are from different nationalities, cultures, and religions of the world.  But, as Dr. Ji would say, only through faith in Jesus Christ are these questions answered with the confidence and the certainty that we are loved and cherished and we have forgiveness and hope for every situation of life.

That is why I am so happy this morning to have heard these children read this text from 1st John 3 that says, “See what kind of love the Father has given to us that we should be called children of God; and so we are.”  The Apostle John says, “We are the children of God!” That’s who we are!  We are His dear children and He is our true, dear Father. Whether you are a little child this morning, or 90 years old.  You are God’s child through faith in Jesus and through the power of Baptism.  This is who you are!

So let’s take a closer look at this.  John says, “See what kind of love the Father has given to us”.  The King James version says, “Behold!” It’s something to stop and marvel over.  Behold what manner of love…  This is not normal.  It is not of this world.  It is extraordinary in the way we have been loved.  And what makes it so extraordinary is that you have not earned this at all!  This love from the Father is a complete gift.  That’s the manner of His love.   You are His beloved and gifted children!

This book of 1st John was written through inspiration, by the Apostle John, late in life--  Sometime between 85 to 95 AD.  We believe he was an older man by now, late in his life.  And although John had met up with many many hardships and persecutions in life, as he followed Jesus, he couldn’t help but marvel at the constant love that God had shown to him throughout life.  That he, John, would still be called a child of God.

This is the same John, who in his younger years, while Jesus was still in His earthly ministry, along with his brother James, who argued with other disciples over who was the greatest in the kingdom.  But, when Jesus heard it, he brought in a little child to stand among them, and said, “I tell you the truth, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.  Therefore whoever humbles himself like this child will be greatest in the kingdom of heaven.”(Matthew 18:3-4)

Very often in life, we get to thinking that we deserve God’s favor.  We deserve the good life.  We deserve to have forgiveness. We deserve to have salvation.  But, oh how wrong we are!  We don’t deserve this!  God’s Word shows us clearly that we all have sinned and deserve nothing but punishment, but God, our Father sent His one and only Son, Jesus Christ, who gave Himself on the cross so that we would be saved from our sin.  And He rose again on the third day, so that we would have victory over sin, death, and the devil!  Like our text says, “The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the works of the devil.” (1 John 3:8)  And now He calls us “children of God”!  That is who we are, because of the gift of Jesus Christ!

So now, we come to the second question, “What am I doing here?”  You and I are here today praising God.  And right now we are at peace with this.  But, this is a question that really troubles a lot of people in our world.  They don’t know what they are supposed to be doing here on this earth?  Are we supposed to get as much “stuff” money, cars, toys, as we can in life, and just pile it all up?  Are we supposed to just live in as much pleasure as we can? Are we supposed to just lie around and waste our time?  And sometimes we also struggle with this.    John says again, “Beloved, we are God’s children now...”  John is emphasizing again the importance of living as God’s children—“walking that walk of faith” like we talked about last week.  We are here to serve our heavenly Father!

So, this morning we are here serving and praising God, in worship.  But, do you realize that God is really calling you for not just one hour, of one day of the week, but to serve, praise, and worship Him in all of your life, all through the week?  How do you do that?  You serve and worship God by doing your best in school.  By respecting and honoring your teachers.  By forgiving your classmates.  By working as a good employee at your work, or being a faithful boss.  By loving and cherishing your children and grandchildren as gifts from God, and loving and supporting your husband or wife.  This is part of serving and honoring God.  Listen to what Paul says in Colossians, “And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through Him…It is the Lord Christ that you are serving.”(Colossians 3:17, 24)  We are here serving the Lord, in many different ways, but He is our first priority.

I know that this is often very difficult, and we often fall short.  There are many temptations and sorrows and struggles in life.  There are temptations to sin against God and just be lazy, temptations not forgive, temptations to be bitter against God and others, temptations to rage, and temptations to just plain give up!  Satan is very evil and sneaky.  But John is saying, “Remember you are Children of God, that’s who you are!”  And later in this lesson he says, “Everyone who make a practice of sinning also practices lawlessness; sin is lawlessness.”    Sinning against God is not just a trivial little thing.  Your sin, my sin, cost Jesus His life!  And John says, “You know that He appeared to take away sins, and in Him, there is no sin.”  So, when you are struggling with sin, or have fallen into sin, remember what Hebrews 12 says, “Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the Author and Perfecter of your faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, scorning it’s shame and sat down at the right hand of God our Father.”(Heb. 12:2)

Who am I?  I am a child of God.  What am I doing here?  I am serving the Living God! 

And third, where am I going?  Some of you may be saying “After worship, this morning I am going to the gym for a free brunch!”  But, oh there’s far more!  After this life, in which there are trials, and struggles, and sorrows, God has heaven in store for us!  Perfection for eternity!  John says, “Dear Friends, now we are the children of God, and what we will be has not yet been made known; But we know that when He appears we shall be like Him, for we shall see Him as He is.”  This life is not the end!  There’s much more to come!  Because just as Jesus rose from the dead, we will also rise.  And as the Bible teaches, there will be no more sorrow, or tears, or pain, for the old order of things will pass away.  Through faith in Jesus, we have heaven in store for us, where we will meet Jesus face to face!  What an awesome time this will be!

Who am I?  I am a child of God.  What am I doing here?  Serving the Living God.  Where am I going?  Through faith in Jesus, You and me are going to heaven!

God grant it…