Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Why I find preaching so interesting....

I am on John Stott's daily mailing list. His ministry sends snippets of quotes from his writings and Bible commentaries to those who are interested. John Stott is now retired but he has been, and in my mind remains, one of the giants of the Church for this generation. His thoughts for today include the challenges of communicating the Good News of Christ to a people of a different culture. Even though he writes in the context of cross cultural communication in the mission fields of Africa, his words apply to the homiletical task. He writes:

"How can I...take the Gospel from the Bible which was written in the cultures of Judaism and the Greco-Roman world....and communicate it...without either falsifying the message or rendering it unintelligible? It is the interplay (of cultures) which constitutes the exciting, and yet exacting, discipline of cross cultural communication." From "Culture and the Bible" (Downers Grove: IVP, 1981, pg 40).

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Encourage One Another


“But exhort one another every day as long as it is called today, that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin.”

In the name of Jesus:
My wife, Luann, has a saying which goes like this: “History is prologue”. The meaning is simple, if you know a little history; you can have an indication of what may happen in the future. I look at this saying, history is prologue, and takes it to mean that you learn from history, from the experiences of others, so that you can grow and benefit from their trials and errors. Life is full of trials and errors, and in the terminology of our text for today, it is filled with discouragements and disappointments. Discouragements abound in life. Things which can go wrong often do go wrong. It is not Murphy’s Law, it is realism. A realistic look at life will take into account the disappointments and discouragements that will inevitably occur along life’s way.
God’s people have faced disappointments and hardships in the journey of life. The Children of Israel, even though they were chosen by God to be His people, had their share of hardship. That is not to say that they were not blessed by God. The children of Israel under the leadership of Moses were released from the bondage of their captivity in Egypt. Their release from bondage did not come easy. Pharaoh would not listen to Moses and his plea to let God’s people go. Pharaoh hardened his heart to God and His word. So God used Moses to do great things in Pharaoh’s sight, ten plagues were sent by God to show the power of God to the unbelieving Pharaoh. But Israel was still in bondage; their labor and hardship were increased.
God kept true to His word, He kept His promises to His people and through the Exodus God delivered His beloved people. He led the children through the parted waters of the Red Sea, safely to the other side. Pharaoh and his army pursued in vain, the waters of the Red Sea swallowed God’s enemies. His people were saved. And yet, some complained, saying that it was only wilderness in front of them and it would have been better to stay in Egypt than face the hardships of the wilderness and desert.
In spite of the bitterness and complaining, God provided for His people, leading them through the wilderness, by fire at night and a cloud during the day. When they were hungry, God sent manna and quail from heaven. When they were thirsty, God led them to springs of flowing water. God saved His people and continued to provide for them. But it was not enough.
God, as we see in the Book of Hebrews, was provoked. He was angered at His chosen people. Why? Because they complained bitterly to God, they did not see what they had; they only saw what they thought they didn’t have. They complained about their journey in the wilderness, because the journey was hard and it was long. They became discouraged in their journey. The writer to the Hebrews says that they, God’s children, went astray in their hearts, building a golden calf, worshipping the idols of their enemies, and wanting to become more like the nations surrounding them rather than the people of God that they were called to be. And so God dealt with His people. He disciplined them so that they would turn to Him in faith. However, they did not enter into God’s promised rest. They did not live to see the fulfillment of God’s promises, so a new generation would then learn to not only trust in God but follow Him into the Promised Land.
The tale is the same in our age as well. Many people today have heard of God’s mighty acts in history. Many have tasted and seen the goodness of God. They have become God’s children in the waters of Baptism. They have worshipped and communed at the altar of God. They even have experienced the grace of God today in that they have received the blessings and provisions of God in their lives. And yet, even as God was provoked in the past, even now He is not pleased.
Why? Because His own have lost sight of who they belong to and what God has done for them. It is true that the journey of life is long; man is born of a woman and lives 70-80 years in life. The human life is filled with disappointments and discouragements. The journey of following Jesus in life is difficult, Jesus says that the way is narrow, and sadly, many have lost their way.
Some have become discouraged and have given up the faith and the Christian walk. Others have gone astray, leaving the faith and following the gods of this world: money, pleasure, fame, popularity. They have sought to become like the world rather than live out their faith as the people of God. They have become interested in being popular or hearing the plaudits of man rather than the word of God. They absent themselves from the hearing of the Word, and the reception of the Lord’s Supper.
Will they ultimately receive their heavenly reward? That is left for God to decide, judge not, lest we be judged. And yet, Jesus says that you know a tree by the fruit it bears. Note what Martin Luther says in his Large Catechism concerning Christians who absent themselves from worship and the reception of the Lord’s Supper: that there are those who think that they are such strong Christians that they need not go to church or the Lord’s Supper. They become quite brutish and finally despise both the Word and the Sacrament. Now it is true that no one should be forced to go to the Sacrament, but it must be known that such people as deprive themselves of, and withdraw from, the Sacrament so long a time are not to be considered Christians. For Christ has not
Instituted it to be treated as a show, but has commanded His Christians to eat and drink it, and there by remember Him. And, indeed, those who are true Christians and esteem the Sacrament precious and holy will urge and
Impel them unto it.
Now it is not our purpose or intent to brow beat those who call themselves Christian and do not take part in the life of the church. Rather, we are called to be the voice of Christ. Jesus never forces or coerces anyone to follow Him, He merely invites and encourages. This is what our text says today: “But exhort one another every day as long as it is called today, that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin.”
God calls His children to be encouragers of brothers and sisters in the faith, particularly those who have fallen away from the faith. This is in accordance with God’s will, for the Bible says that God wants all to be saved and come to know the truth of His love and salvation for all in Jesus Christ. Jesus is God’s only begotten Son, God’s faithful witness to sinners as to the heart and mind and will of God. To know Jesus is to know the Father, for Jesus and the Father are one. The Father’s heart and nature towards sinners is revealed in Jesus, He who knew no sin who became sin for all of us. God doesn’t condemn the sinner in Christ; rather He condemns Christ to save the sinner. Faith receives God’s salvation in Jesus. Faith receives God’s good and gracious invitation to a new life with Him in Jesus.
God invites us and every sinner to come to Him. Through the prophet Isaiah God invites: “Come now and let us reason together, though your sins are like scarlet, they shall they shall be as white as snow; though they are red like crimson, they shall become like wool.” (Isaiah 1:18). God is ready and willing to forgive all sin. If we confess our sins, God is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and cleanse all from all unrighteousness.
God has cleansed you in the precious blood of Jesus shed on Calvary’s cross. That cleansing is given to you in Baptism, where you have become God’s child. You have been given new life, an eternal life with God in Jesus Christ in your Baptism. You have been given a new life in Christ so that you would walk daily with Jesus, journeying with Jesus until you reach your heavenly home. In the midst of the discouragements and trials of life, and they are many, you know them all too well, Jesus is ever present to give you strength for the journey. He daily speaks to you in His Word. Today He gives of Himself in the Sacrament, for the forgiveness of your sins and the strengthening of your faith, all so that you will leave with God’s peace knowing that He is on your side. As you live for Him He contends for you, working all things out in your life to your good and His glory. God’s challenge to you is to be faithful to your Savior, to strive to enter your heavenly rest, so that you may hear the beautiful words of the Master: Well done good and faithful servant, enter now into your heavenly reward.
This is why we contend for the faith, why we seek to be faithful to Christ, and this is why we exhort and encourage others to be faithful to Jesus as well. We live our lives not to brow beat, not to find fault, not to nag, or even give a sinner a guilt trip. We live to proclaim Christ and Him crucified and raised again. We come in the name of Christ to share the power of Christ in and through us. We continue not to lose heart, but to invite, encourage and plead all sinners to come and be God’s friend in Jesus Christ. For those who are wearied by the journey we seek to give them the strength that comes from Jesus. We know that the devil always opposes the Christian, seeking to drive the child of God from Jesus, seeking to separate them from His peace and love. This is why we continue to encourage and invite, giving of ourselves to Christ’s cause and work. Now is the day of salvation, now is the time for all to believe. Now is the time that God gives us to work, to strive, to encourage, to invite all to believe in Jesus, so in keeping with God’s good and gracious will of seeking and saving the lost.
During a championship prize fight, the trainer said to the battered fighter between rounds: “"Champ, you’re going great! He ain't laid a glove on you!" The fighter responded: “"Well, you better keep an eye on the referee then, because somebody in this ring is beating the daylights outta me."
There are brothers and sisters who feel like a battered fighter, losing the fight for the faith. Still others don’t even know that they are in a battle. But we know differently. Satan is alive and well. As Luther writes in his Large Catechism: ““We Christians must be armed and daily expect to be constantly attacked. No one may go on in security and carelessly, as though the devil were far from us. At all times we must expect and block his blows. Though I am now chaste, patient kind, and in firm faith, the devil will, this very hour, send such an arrow into my heart that I can scarcely stand. For he is an enemy that never stops or becomes tired. So when one temptation stops, there always arise others and fresh ones.”
We need encouragement, and so God gives it to us in His Word and Sacrament. And He sends us out that we might be encouragers to others, inviting others to hold fast to Christ, in whom there is eternal life.

Working to Find Rest

HEBREWS 4:1-13

Therefore, while the promise of entering his rest still stands, let us fear lest any of you should seem to have failed to reach it. [2] For good news came to us just as to them, but the message they heard did not benefit them, because they were not united by faith with those who listened. [3] For we who have believed enter that rest, as he has said, "As I swore in my wrath, 'They shall not enter my rest,' "although his works were finished from the foundation of the world. [4] For he has somewhere spoken of the seventh day in this way: "And God rested on the seventh day from all his works." [5] And again in this passage he said, "They shall not enter my rest." [6] Since therefore it remains for some to enter it, and those who formerly received the good news failed to enter because of disobedience, [7] again he appoints a certain day, "Today," saying through David so long afterward, in the words already quoted,” Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts." [8] For if Joshua had given them rest, God would not have spoken of another day later on. [9] So then, there remains a Sabbath rest for the people of God, [10] for whoever has entered God's rest has also rested from his works as God did from his. 11] Let us therefore strive to enter that rest, so that no one may fall by the same sort of disobedience. [12] For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart. [13] And no creature is hidden from his sight, but all are naked and exposed to the eyes of him to whom we must give account.

In the name of Jesus:
One man challenged another to an all-day wood chopping contest. The challenger worked very hard, stopping only for a brief lunch break. The other man had a leisurely lunch and took several breaks during the day. At the end of the day, the challenger was surprised and annoyed to find that the other fellow had chopped substantially more wood than he had.
"I don't get it," he said. "Every time I checked, you were taking a rest, yet you chopped more wood than I did."
"But you didn't notice," Said the winning woodsman, "that I was sharpening my ax when I sat down to rest."
Today we are society that longs for rest. For wholeness and well being. We think that we can find this rest apart from God. Weekend publications in the paper invite us to find diversion from the mundane of life. We think diversion is rest. So we live for the weekend, and its diversions. A night out on the town. Or the chance to catch up on things at home. Or an opportunity to do what we want to do. Seeing as we work all week for someone else or something else, the weekend becomes “my time” where I can do what I want. And so we seek the diversion, we try to find our rest. Now, mind you, diversions are not evil. They are good, and can be God pleasing, but if we allow these diversions to become our rest, while forgetting the rest that God alone can give and that is what we really need, well, then the diversions become idol worship. And this is what happens, people have replaced God with the diversions of the world. All the while, we are left spinning our wheels, wondering why we never have enough time in a day, still anxious over the trials, temptations, and stresses of life. Some turn to substance abuse to cope, other seek more diversions, toys, things. There is still a gnawing inside. We are still a people who need rest, who want rest, but we are unsettled, we can’t find rest.
God promised to His people of the Old Testament rest. But they would not submit to God’s way for rest. They turned to the riches of the world, trusting in popular opinion, worshipping of other gods, turning their back on God and the rest He had in store for His people.
God said that these people would never find rest. They would never enter His rest. There was a rest for the people of God. Their hopes and dreams were in the Promised Land. But on their journey to that land they lost their way, placed their faith in worldly things rather than God. In the end, they were denied that rest that they longed for and sought.
We are on a journey, a journey toward the Promised Land called heaven. A land flowing with milk and honey, a land of peace and contentment, a land whereby we will truly be at rest, no more problems, no more trials, no more sin, no more temptation by Satan, no more death. Heaven is what every human being craves. But we are separated by God because of our sin. We have loved ourselves, the world and its ‘things” we end up selling what we have to gain the world but in the process, we are in danger of losing our souls and the rest we long to have. God warns us not to love the world and its riches. But isn’t that exactly what we do? Hence, we are a people who want peace but have no peace, a people who want to be free from stress but cannot cope with stress, we are burdened with our sins and we can not find a way to save ourselves.
God’s good news, though, is that there REMAINS a Sabbath rest for the people of God. He says to strive to enter that rest, to work hard at obtaining that rest. But, and here is the irony, that rest doesn’t come from our own efforts, ability, or anything that we might or can do. That rest is a gift of God in Christ. It is not earned nor deserved; it comes from having faith in Jesus as Lord and Savior.
Jesus lived a life of contentment, a life of obtaining, not the things of this world, but rather buying back the world which was lost due to Satan, death, and sin. The world in its present state is wasting away, and yet, God so loved the world that He gave His one and only Son to be the payment price to buy back the world from sin, Satan, and death. In His life Jesus lived for sinners and in His death His blood was the purchase price for the souls and lives of sinners, so that by His stripes and shed blood sinners have become children of God, receiving this as a gift of God by faith, simply trusting in Christ as Lord and Savior.
God gives rest in Christ. God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself. God forgives the sins of all on account of Jesus. God’s rest is given and extended to all who believe in Jesus; for only in Jesus does a person enter into the rest that God gives. Only in Jesus can a person have the peace which He alone offers. God says in the Third Commandment to “Remember the Sabbath day, by keeping it holy. What does this mean? It means that as God’s people God calls you to pay attention to it, stop and rest on the Sabbath, to keep this day special from all of the other days. How is this done? Simply it is done by resting from all of the activities of life and worshipping God. It means that on Sunday you do not despise the preaching of God’s Word or the study of it, but you hold God’s Word as special and you hear and learn from that Word.
What does that Word reveal? Only that a person is justified freely by God’s grace through faith in Jesus. You are justified in Christ. Yes, it means that you are forgiven and now have a right relationship with God. The fruit of being justified by Christ is the peace you have with God. To be justified by Christ certainly means that you are forgiven. It means that you not only escape the punishment for your sins, but that you also have now a positive relationship with God. This relationship is a wholeness, a unity of well being, it is salvation, consisting of oneness with God and consequently with others. In the modern vernacular, it means that when you have faith in Christ God has put your life back in order. You have your act together. You are whole, at one with God, at peace with Him and others, because of the relationship you have with God in Jesus Christ.
The writer to the Hebrews says that we must work to enter that rest. Strive to enter the rest. So much in life is all about striving to get stuff which will rot and decay and die. Store up, rather, as Jesus says, treasures in heaven, where moth and rust do not destroy and where thieves will not break in and steal. Work at seeking and receiving the rest God wants you to have. Strive to enter into God’s rest. Prioritize your life so that the things of God come first. Set goals that place God at the center of your life and set goals which will enable you to find your rest. That very well may mean clearing your schedule and actually scheduling in worship, Bible study, and prayer time. If you find it hard to find rest, schedule in time with God and keep that appointment.
Two very practical ways to find your rest is to daily remember who you are. Daily remember that you are baptized, that God has washed away your sins and given to you a new nature, a new life in Jesus. Instead of just thinking of Baptism on Sunday, begin to incorporate it into your everyday life. Begin each day remembering your Baptism; begin each day in the name of the Triune God whose name you are baptized into: make your beginning in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Daily confess your sins, repent of them, and ask God for forgiveness in Jesus Christ. Pray that God would empower you to turn from sin and every evil in your life. In doing this, you would be striving to enter that rest.
But also begin each day by resting in God. Begin each day in the Word. One Christian has said that he is in the Word before he goes out into the world. Helps abound to get you into the Word: Portals of Prayer, Good News Magazine, are just two resources we have for free at our church. Daily you and I need to hear God’s Word spoken to us in His Word. For as we hear His Word, the Holy Spirit strengthens our faith in Christ, we believe more firmly in Christ, and we grow secure in the knowledge that Christ has prepared an eternal rest for us in heaven. There really is rest for the people of God, and that rest in found through faith in Jesus. Just as God kept His promise by leading His people in the Old Testament to the Promised Land, so too He keeps His promise today to lead us to heaven, and He instructs us to follow in the way that He leads, and that way is Christ.
A low cost airline has made this phrase its trademark: Want to get away? When you are looking for a place to rest, look no further than Jesus; Jesus has said “"Let not your hearts be troubled. Believe in God; believe also in me. [2] In my Father's house are many rooms. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you?” Jesus has prepared that place through His innocent life, suffering, death, and resurrection. Jesus is the only way to God, and the only path upon which we travel to find our rest.

Monday, October 12, 2009

My Testimony

All too often you hear Christians speak of wanting to give a testimony. If you listen carefully, there are alot of pronouns in their speech, the speaker keeps speaking about I and me. Is there a way when testimony can be utilized? I like what John Stott says about testimony, in a book entitled Preacher's Portrait. Stott writes: "So much so called testimony today is really autobiography and even sometimes thinly disguised self-advertisement, that we need to regain a proper Biblical perspective. All true testimony is testimony to Jesus Christ as He stands on trial before the world." (From the Preacher's Portrait, London, Tyndale Press 1961, page 57).

This is the proper way to speak of testimony, to lift high the cross of Christ, to be determined, in the Apostle Paul's words, to know nothing less than Jesus Christ and Him crucified. If we are to give a testimony, or boast, let it be about Jesus!

Sunday, October 11, 2009


Be sure to listen to Redeemer Reflections LIVE at the Fairfield County Fair Monday at 4:30 pm. I'll be interviewing Charles Elsea on the vocation of law. You can listen on 90.9 fm, WFCO. The Web site is Stop by and say hello.

Friday, October 2, 2009

David Letterman

I couldn't sleep last night so I watched the news on 10TV. The news anchors told the viewers to stay up and watch Letterman because he had a shocking confession. So, I did what all pastors are called to do... I listened to his confession. I was struck by a number of things: his nervousness, the audience's laughter (were they uncomfortable, did they think that this was funny?), and by a phrase that Letterman used in his confession. I quote: "I am just a towering mass of Lutheran mid western guilt" To which he thanks the audience for their applause.

I have good news for Dave, and all who are "just a towering mass of Lutheran mid western guilt." I hope and pray that somehow he and others will hear (or read this). Lutheranism is not just about Midwestern guilt, but also the grace of God in Jesus Christ. God's good news is that He sent His Only Son, Jesus, to pay the price for the sin and guilt and death that comes from man's separation from God. Dave, I hope that you remember that Lutheranism is not just about the Law and the showing of sin, but also the grace of God in Jesus Christ. Please listen to the grace of God in Jesus: For the wages of sin is death but the free gift of God is eternal life in Jesus Christ. For you have been saved by God's grace, through faith in Jesus, it is not of works, so that if you boast, then boast of the Lord. Come, let us reason together, though your sins are as scarlet, they will be white as snow.

You see, Dave, God's grace is for you in Jesus Christ. It is for all of us. When you are plagued by guilt, go to Jesus. In Him there is forgiveness and hope.

For if you confess your sins, God is faithful and just and will forgive you your sins and cleanse you from all unrighteousness.

Dave, you may have felt better saying what you said last night, but there is another way, the way of Christ. I pray that you will not suffer mid western guilt over this but find forgiveness in Christ. And that is worthy of applause.