Tuesday, December 7, 2010

So, What's the Good News?

LUKE 21:25-35

And there will be signs in sun and moon and stars, and on the earth distress of nations in perplexity because of the roaring of the sea and the waves, 26 people fainting with fear and with foreboding of what is coming on the world. For the powers of the heavens will be shaken. 27 And then they will see the Son of Man coming in a cloud with power and great glory. 28 Now when these things begin to take place, straighten up and raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near.”29 And he told them a parable: “Look at the fig tree, and all the trees. 30 As soon as they come out in leaf, you see for yourselves and know that the summer is already near. 31 So also, when you see these things taking place, you know that the kingdom of God is near. 32 Truly, I say to you, this generation will not pass away until all has taken place. 33 Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away.34 “But watch yourselves lest your hearts be weighed down with dissipation and drunkenness and cares of this life, and that day come upon you suddenly like a trap. 35 For it will come upon all who dwell on the face of the whole earth. 36 But stay awake at all times, praying that you may have strength to escape all these things that are going to take place, and to stand before the Son of Man.”

In the name of Jesus:
The Danish philosopher, Kierkegaard, tells a parable of a theater where a variety show is proceeding. Each show is more fantastic than the last, and is applauded by the audience. Suddenly the manager comes forward. He apologizes for the interruption, but the theater is on fire, and he begs his patrons to leave in an orderly fashion. The audience thinks this is the most amusing turn of the evening, and cheer thunderously. The manager again implores them to leave the burning building, and he is again applauded vigorously. At last he can do no more. The fire raced through the whole building and the fun-loving audience with it. "And so," concluded Kierkegaard, "will our age, I sometimes think, go down in fiery destruction to the applause of a crowded house of cheering spectators."
When I hear or read about the Last Times, the End of the World, in the media today, I get the distinct impression that the fun loving world in which we live in will give our Lord’s Coming a rousing round of applause for the special effects that will accompany the Lord’s return. But is it for show? Is the Lord’s Coming for entertainment purposes only?
Just look at how the End of the World has been portrayed in film. In the movie “2012” millions die in violent earthquakes and volcanoes which signal the end of the world. In the movie “2008” a worldwide pandemic threatens the existence of the known world. Other movies and books have played up the theme of doomsday, to sometimes rave box office reviews, most certainly to make money, but all in an effort to entertain the masses.
Doomsday is big business, however the End of the World will not be entertaining for anyone! Listen to what the Lord says about His return in the Gospel of Luke: “And there will be signs in sun and moon and stars, and on the earth distress of nations in perplexity because of the roaring of the sea and the waves, 26 people fainting with fear and with foreboding of what is coming on the world. For the powers of the heavens will be shaken. 27 And then they will see the Son of Man coming in a cloud with power and great glory.” How then is the child of God to take these words? Jesus here Luke speaks to His beloved children, those who believe in Him. The Lord’s Second Coming certainly will bring foreboding and dread on the part of many WHO HAVE REJECTED HIM! That day of the Lord will be the DAY OF JUDGMENT. People who have rejected God’s grace in this life will see a cataclysmic change in nature as God removes His gracious hand from His creation. On that Day those who have rejected God’s grace in Christ, those who have thumbed their noses at God, who have been indifferent or apathetic toward God will truly feel God’s wrath. The nations will wonder, what in the Lord’s name is going on here? The seas will roar and the heavens open and then all will see Jesus coming in Judgment. As we confess in our Creeds, the living AND the dead will be judged, and at the sound of the trumpet: the mysteries of God will be fulfilled and the all of the dead will rise. It will be the great and terrible Day of the Lord that Scripture speaks of and no one will escape.
This is what the Lord says. It is His Law; you can take it to the bank. So, for those who believe in Christ, what is the Good News? In all of this, is this something we should be looking forward to? In a word: ABSOLUTELY! Jesus speaks these words to comfort His followers. These words in our text for today are words, which the believer is to cherish. Why? Because when all of this happens, Jesus instructs His followers: “Now when these things begin to take place, straighten up and raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near.”
Your redemption is drawing near! Did you catch that? This is why Jesus came down from heaven to be born of a Virgin, to give Himself up in life and in death, dying a bloody death on the cross, and then rising from the grave on Easter morning! Christ came to redeem us, we are blood bought sinners, and God who lived, died and rose owns us again for our salvation! The blood of Jesus cleanses you from all sin! God HAS saved you. What does it mean to be saved, but to be delivered from sin, Satan, and death.
Most certainly through faith in Christ we are forgiven. Most certainly your sins have been washed in Baptism. Today, now is the day of your salvation, today you belong to God and live for Him. And yes, Christ has defeated death for all who believe in Him. God most certainly loved the world that He gave His one and only Son so that whoever believes will not perish but have eternal life. But eternal life is not some pie in sky in the dream. Jesus didn’t come to just take us to heaven when we die. Yes, that will happen, but there is more, so much more! Jesus came so that we would have eternal life in the flesh. That is what Easter and the resurrection is all about!
That is why Jesus tells His followers to look to the heavens when He comes again, for He comes to take you home. The bodily risen Christ comes again, to rise up all of the dead and to take with Him all of His children. You will live with Jesus in the new heaven and earth. You will be alive in the flesh, as you are today, yet without sin. You will be with all of the saints who have gone before you. You will see and be able to say with Job: I know that my Redeemer lives and I will see Him in the flesh.
The Day of the Lord is going to be a terrible Day for those who do not believe. They will be judged and perish forever in Hell. But to those who believe, for you and me who are Jesus’ disciples, we will live forever in the flesh with Him! Think of it, no more sin, no more stress, no more disease, no more strife, no more war, no more sin, no more death. The old will have passed away and the new will come! We will see our redemption in Christ on that Day and live with Him forever, just as He has promised!
Until then, Jesus instructs us to look at the signs. When trees lose their leaves, we know winter is coming. When they bud and bloom, spring and summer are near. So too, note the signs of the times and prepare yourself for the inevitable Day when the Lord Jesus returns. The world is literally falling apart at the seams. People daily are denying Christ. Sin continues to rear its ugly head and God’s children are being persecuted and martyred for the faith. All things anti Christ seemingly now are in vogue and are the rage. It is becoming more fashionable to make fun of Christ and have a lack of respect and apathy toward Christ and His Church. The signs are there. We need to prepare. You need to prepare, for Christ comes again!
How shall we prepare? Jesus tells us: “34 “But watch yourselves lest your hearts be weighed down with dissipation and drunkenness and cares of this life, and that day come upon you suddenly like a trap. 35 For it will come upon all who dwell on the face of the whole earth. 36 But stay awake at all times, praying that you may have strength to escape all these things that are going to take place, and to stand before the Son of Man.” Jesus here says for us to be at the ready, to watch ourselves so that our lives are not anxious about the cares and needs of this life. Jesus warns us not to store up for ourselves treasures on earth, but to store up treasures in heaven. Be on your guard, then, be watchful for His coming. Daily repent of your sins, daily ask Christ for forgiveness. Seek the Lord where He may be found, call upon Him while He is near. Christ has come as our Savior. Jesus will come again as Judge. Until that time, pray to God to give you strength that you may be found faithful unto death so that you will receive the crown of everlasting life. Jesus today stands at the door and knocks, He comes to you in His Word. He speaks to you in His Word. His Word is God breathed, God speaking to you. It is sharper than any two edged sword. It cuts to your soul to reveal your sinfulness that you might turn to Christ and live. Hear His Good News spoken in His Word that Christ has come, that He was born in the city of David for you. He died on the cross for you. His blood cleanses you of all sin. Know for certain that His Word will not return to Him empty but will accomplish His will. In these last days, cling to Christ. Trust in His Word, for He says: “Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away.”
Even though heaven and earth will pass away, God’s Word will never pass away. God’s Word became flesh and dwelt among us for a time. In Christ we have seen God’s glory, His salvation for sinners, our redemption. Christ has come. He comes today in Word and Sacrament. He will come again and put an end to this madness. And so we rejoice! And we pray: Come Lord Jesus!

Thursday, December 2, 2010

It's Time to Wake Up!

It Is Time To Wake Up!
Romans 13:11-14

11 Besides this you know the time, that the hour has come for you to wake from sleep. For salvation is nearer to us now than when we first believed. 12 The night is far gone; the day is at hand. So then let us cast off the works of darkness and put on the armor of light. 13 Let us walk properly as in the daytime, not in orgies and drunkenness, not in sexual immorality and sensuality, not in quarreling and jealousy. 14 But put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to gratify its desires.

In the name of Jesus:

Revielie is the traditional call to wake up for the military. It is usually a bugle call to wake up our armed forces. Reveille comes from the French word reveil, which means to wake up. There are different lyrics that are associated with reveille in the United States; the first says:
I can't get 'em up I can't get 'em up, I can't get 'em up this morning; I can't get 'em up, I can't get 'em up, I can't get 'em up at all! The corporal's worse than the privates, The sergeant's worse than the corporals, Lieutenant's worse than the sergeants, And the captain's worst of all!< repeat top six lines >
An alternate rendition to the U.S. tune above:
I can't get 'em up I can't get 'em up I can't get 'em up this morning; I can't get 'em up I can't get 'em up I can't get 'em up at all! And tho' the sun starts peeping, And dawn has started creeping, Those lazy bums keep sleeping, They never hear my call! < repeat top six lines >
But it is probably this version that is most well known, and is appropriate to our text for today:
You've got to get up You've got to get up You've got to get up this morning You've got to get up You've got to get up Get up with the bugler's call The major told the captain The captain told the sergeant The sergeant told the bugler The bugler told them all.

God today calls His children to Wake Up! It is time for us to get up from our spiritual slumber, it is time for you to wake up, shake off the doldrums, and rise and live for Christ!
Paul uses a picture to describe the situation that Christians and the Church finds itself in while living in a sinful world. Think of the last time you found yourself asleep (not during the sermon, try another time). When you were asleep, the world went on about its own business. You were oblivious to what others were doing. Perhaps you were dreaming and all caught up in your dreams. If you were having a nightmare, you were startled from your sleep and found it difficult if not impossible to return to your slumber. But the point of sleep is this: while sleeping you were shut off from the world around you. You had no clue as to what was going one.
Paul uses sleep as a way of describing spiritual inattentiveness. Most certainly we can point to the world today and say that many are spiritually asleep. There are many today who go about their own business without thought or mind of God. They live as if they are oblivious to God and His will. They dream as if they can live without God, and many certainly many try. Their sins are listed by Paul in our text: living in the darkness as their lives are marked by drunkenness, sexual immorality and sensuality, quarreling and jealousy. They exhibit in their lives neither the love of God nor the mind of God.
Yet, as sinful people we too are fallen. Before we can say, thank you Lord that I am not like those people, we have our own sins which bear their weight in our lives. These weigh us down. For we at times live as if God is not really important. There are times in our lives when we care more about what others think than what God thinks. We conform and bend to peer pressure. We are quick to judge, we snap in anger and rage at those whom we love. Rather than to treat and act in love, we love to turn and twist the truth, gossiping that which we know not is true, failing to speak up for the good name of a neighbor, failing to act because of selfishness and thus we will not show mercy and love to someone in need. You see, it is easy to point fingers at others who live without God. The sad fact is that we as God’s people choose to live without God. We live and act as if we are spiritually asleep, as if God does not matter. How many times have you thought: Oh, I don’t have to do this, God will understand. How many times have you cheapened God’s love and forgiveness? How many times have you gone about your business without seeking God’s guidance, direction, or blessings? As a child of God, you have lived your life as if God did not matter, as if His Word was not important, as if there were more important things in your life instead of God. And God’s work and His Kingdom have suffered for it.
This is why Paul tells you and me to wake up! Come to your senses! It is time to awaken from the slumber that we are in and repent! In these days before Christmas, the season of Advent, the Christian Church pauses to reflect upon its sinfulness and repent of its sins, turning to God who is merciful and who will forgive sins. God invites you to come and reason together with Him, for though your sins are like scarlet, they will become white as snow.
How will they become white as snow? Because of the mighty work of God! God the Father in love sent His only Son, Jesus, to keep God’s Law for sinners without a flaw, Jesus lived the perfect life. Then in love Jesus died, paying the price for the forgiveness of all sin. Jesus cried out on the cross: “It is finished!” Nothing more needs be done. All has been accomplished by God on the cross of Christ. In victory Jesus rose from the grave, defeating sin, Satan, and death for all who believe. You have been saved by a free gift of God in Christ, not because of works, but because of Christ. You have confessed this in the Creed, professing that you believe in Christ by the power of the Holy Spirit. In Baptism you have been clothed with Christ. You ARE FORGIVEN! Now, as a child of God, how then should you live? Like the rest of the world that acts as if God doesn’t exist? As if we are asleep at the switch? Or do we live for God, in thanks to Him for what He has done for us in Christ? You know the answer, we live in thanks to God! Paul, though, gives us another reason as to why we live for God in these dark days, we live for God because the day of our salvation is nearer than when we first believed!
It is a fact that Christ has come, born of a woman, born to redeem sinners. It is also a fact, that we believe what WILL HAPPEN, and we confess this in our Creed, that Christ will come again, as Judge, to judge the living and the dead. Paul exhorts Christians, he exhorts YOU to live for Christ today because that day of Christ’s second coming is closer by the day!
How do you prepare for that His Coming? By putting off the works or darkness. By living your life in continual and constant repentance and faith. We are called by God to examine ourselves in the light of God’s Law each day and repent, turn from sin, confessing it to God who forgives us in Jesus. And then, trusting in Christ for full forgiveness, we live lives on alert. Like a soldier standing guard or a sentinel who stands at the ready, you are called to live your life as a solider for Christ, at the ready for Christ. Being alert in your life for the temptations of Satan, who Scripture says is like a roaring lion seeking ones he can devour. Being alert, you remember what God has done for you in your Baptism, and remembering who you belong to, namely Jesus, you live a life pleasing to God.
How is this done? Let’s look at how some various versions of the Bible translate this passage, to get an idea as to what God is talking about. Make no provision for the flesh in regard to its lusts. Don't plan to have your fleshly desires aroused. Make no provision for the flesh, to fulfill its lusts. Make not provision for the flesh, to fulfill the lusts thereof. Don't make plans to enjoy evil. Make no provision for the flesh, to gratify its desires. Stop giving attention to your sinful nature, to satisfy its desires. Forget about satisfying your bodies with all their cravings. Give no more thought to satisfying the bodily appetites.
It is one thing to say that God has given us our body and therefore we are to satisfy our God given appetites. These are not wrong per se. But what God is warning us against is that we must be on our constant guard not to let these appetites rule us, nor to use them wrongly. When it's a matter of sinful lust we must say NO. In Baptism we have put on the Lord Jesus Christ, which means that you live out your Baptism each day, giving Satan no quarter or place in your life. As a baptized child of God, you don’t leave room for the devil to operate.
Even thought the world in its sinfulness stands condemned by God and under His wrath, you are called to live in the light of God. Paul tells us in verse 13: “Let us behave decently, as in the daytime, not in orgies and drunkenness, not in sexual immorality and debauchery, not in dissension and jealousy.” Now the good Lutheran asks, what does this mean? Simply, it means that the believer is faithful to Christ in all things. It means that the child of God will not participate in revelry and drunkenness . Paul here is talking about all night drinking parties and celebrations which cause harm to others. What am I talking about? Think in terms of riots after victorious sporting events, or riots on college campuses during Halloween. Paul goes on to warn against fornication and unrestrained pleasure. The Christian is called to hold marriage as a high and honorable estate between a man and a woman, and to keep the marriage bed undefiled, which prohibits sexual activity which is forbidden by God’s Law. The child of God is to lead a life of restraint. Too many times in the sinful world we see and hear the message, if it feels good do it. That is not becoming of a child of God. The Christian is not to live as a slave to sin, not giving in to any and all desires, of shameless greed and lust. We are not animals, but creatures of God redeemed by Christ! We are called to live as such! to not live as a slave to self indulgence or living a life without any inhibitions. Paul warns us elsewhere in Scripture: “Let anyone who thinks he stands take heed lest he falls!” (1 Corinthians 10:12) Anyone who thinks they could not become the victim of such sins deceives himself.
Rather, we are called to run from sin, to repent and turn from sin, and live in the light of Christ. You are a new creature in Christ. By faith in Christ you have the power and the strength to live godly lives. Baptism is to be your daily dress, so that each day you live as a Baptized child of God! Putting off the works of the flesh, denying the darkness of the world, forgiven by Christ you rise to newness of life, living in the light of Christ’s light and sharing His love and light with a darkened world. You live by faith in the Son of God who now lives in you (Galatians 2:20) Jesus is the vine, you are His branches, grafted into Him so that you will bear fruit for Him (John 15:1-8;) You have been born again in Christ so that the world will know of Jesus in and through you! (John 17:23). Christ has redeemed us so that we may serve Him with fear for the rest of our lives IN HOLINESS AND RIGHTEOUSNES all of the days of our lives until He comes again to take us home to be with Him forever!
In these next few weeks we will be preparing for Christmas. Soon the Christmas trees will be erected and lit. We will, with joy, celebrate the birth of the Savior. But all the while we must not fall asleep. We must not give in to the devil, the world, or our sinful flesh. Saved by the grace of God, forgiven as His children, we are called to stand at the ready to serve our God and others in the name of Jesus. It’s time to wake up, and continually walk in the grace of God, for the day of Christ’s coming is drawing near!

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

The Secret of Contentment


10 I rejoiced in the Lord greatly that now at length you have revived your concern for me. You were indeed concerned for me, but you had no opportunity. 11 Not that I am speaking of being in need, for I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content. 12 I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need. 13 I can do all things through him who strengthens me.
In the name of Jesus:
Last Monday Luann and I were driving home from Nashville Tennessee where we attended the LCEF Leadership Conference, sponsored by the National Lutheran Church Extension Fund. On our drive home we stopped just north of Cincinnati at a place called Jungle Jims. Jungle Jims is a well know supermarket, no it is more than a supermarket, it is a store that has literally anything and everything related to food. If there is ever a hard to find item that you need for a recipe, you will find it at Jungle Jims. In Lancaster we joke about Slater’s Hardware, in that if you need anything hardware related, Slater’s will have it, they have so much stuff in stock they just need to find it. Jungle Jims puts Slater’s to shame. Would you like Irn-Bru, which is a soft drink in Scotland? Jungle Jims has it. Luann found a type of cheese that she used to have for breakfast when she was an exchange student in Brazil. You get the idea, if you need it and it is food related, Jungle Jims has it from any place around the world.
But the place is overwhelming. There is so much that one does not need. You can spend hours in Jungle Jims, and spend a fortune on items that you don’t need. Luann and I spent an hour in the store, just browsing and buying a few things, so few we could go through the express aisle. But if you spend any time in the store, the sheer volume of stuff would overwhelm you. Luann and the girls are planning a day trip around Christmas just to go and look. But our time at Jungle Jims reminds me of another story.
In the fifth century, a man named Arenius determined to live a holy life. So he abandoned the comforts of Egyptian society to follow an austere lifestyle in the desert. Yet whenever he visited the great city of Alexandria, he spent time wandering through its bazaars. Asked why, he explained that his heart rejoiced at the sight of all the things he didn't need. Think about that for a moment. Those of us who live in a society flooded with goods and gadgets need to ponder the example of that desert dweller. A typical supermarket in the United States in 1976 stocked 9,000 articles; today it carries 30,000. It is estimated that Jungle Jims is stocked with over 150,000 items. But how many of them are absolutely essential?
How many of the things in your life that you have accumulated are absolutely essential? How much of the stuff that is on your Christmas list is stuff that you can live without? As Americans, we, in spite of a recession, are still one of the richest countries on the planet. We have more stuff that we throw away than the majority in our world has for their own possessions! Which begs the question, how much is enough?
You see, we need to learn, above all other things, the meaning and the secret of contentment. In spite of our material riches, we are not content. We are not satisfied. Far from it, if we see something new, we want it before the store runs out, if there is a newest gadget that is to make our lives easier, we want it, but in the end, our lives are still filled with things in which moth and rust destroy and it is the type of stuff that thieves break in and steal.
Listen to what God says: “You shall not covet anything that belongs to your neighbor.” We are to fear and love God that we do not scheme to get that which is not ours. We are called by God to be satisfied with what we have. To do this means that we fear and love God above all else. But herein lies the problem! We don’t! God says that we should fear, love, and trust in Him above ALL THINGS. Yet our hearts and desires are fixed on things, these have become our gods, we base our lives and hopes and happiness on acquiring things, all at the expense of our relationship with God.
God is not fooled. He knows your heart AND your desires. He sees the insatiable lust that you have for the best of everything, the desire to have things you do not need. No wonder we aren’t content! Our god has become that which we own. Paul, in our text for tonight, calls us to repent, to turn from our love of stuff and the things of this world, and look to the One who loves us so much that He gave Himself for the world.
Paul learned to be content because He understood that everything he needed came from God. It isn’t that Paul didn’t appreciate the things of the world or the material gifts of others; it is that Paul didn’t trust in material things to grant him security and happiness. Nor is it the case that Paul was thankless for what he had. No, on the contrary, Paul saw that everything he had was a gift of God, and that as God’s child He was called to worship the Gift giver instead of the gifts.
Listen to what Paul says, I learned the secret of contentment. Paul learned it. Not many people learn the secret of contentment, but Paul did and he shares it with you tonight. God truly taught Paul and Paul was receptive of God’s teaching. He learned the secret of contentment from God. Paul says that he was content: "In every respect and on all occasions." What a blessing this is and it is something that we in the USA have to learn from Paul. Paul teaches here by example.
Paul knew what it was like to have too little, to have not enough, and even to have abundance. He was content because he didn’t trust in what he had, he trusted instead in Christ. Paul knew that the God of all creation loved His fallen creatures to the extent that He would spare no expense but give Christ as the Redeemer and Savior of all. For God so loved the world that He gave His only Son, so that you have everything you need: forgiveness of sins, eternal life, joy, the peace that surpasses all understanding, you have everything because you have Christ!
You have Christ because God gave you Jesus in your Baptism. You have Christ because God speaks in His Word. You have Christ in the Lord’s Supper. You have Christ for you have been baptized in His name and now you belong to Him. The God of all creation, who owns everything, has given to you Himself in Jesus Christ. And knowing that God has done this for you, He will also “supply every need of yours according to His riches in glory in Christ Jesus.” (Phil. 4:19).
That is why Paul is content. That is why he is able to say: Rejoice in the Lord always, again I say rejoice! For Paul has Christ, and for Paul, and for each of us, to live is Christ, to die is gain. Paul knew, and we need to learn and believe this: that when you have Jesus, and more important, when Jesus has you, you have everything that you need.
And you have Jesus and Jesus has you! He has purchased you with a price, not with silver or gold, but with His holy precious blood and innocent suffering and death SO THAT you are His own. You belong to Christ. And in Christ, you have everything you need.
So what is the secret of contentment? It isn’t something you can find at Jungle Jims. You can’t get it with a coupon, and it isn’t based on the stuff you have accumulated in your garage or basement. The secret of contentment is not a possession, but it is because God possesses you in Christ. In Baptism God has called you by name, you belong to Him. And in Him we know that nothing will ever separate us from God’s love in Christ. God showers us with His blessings each and everyday, and He tells us to trust in Him for “God will supply every need of yours according to His riches in glory in Christ Jesus. “ And so we, repenting of our sins, look to Christ for forgiveness and for all things. Only in Christ will we be and will we continue to be: content.
In Jesus’ name

Monday, November 15, 2010

The Deadly Sin of Laziness


6 Now we command you, brothers, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that you keep away from any brother who is walking in idleness and not in accord with the tradition that you received from us. 7 For you yourselves know how you ought to imitate us, because we were not idle when we were with you, 8 nor did we eat anyone's bread without paying for it, but with toil and labor we worked night and day, that we might not be a burden to any of you. 9 It was not because we do not have that right, but to give you in ourselves an example to imitate. 10 For even when we were with you, we would give you this command: If anyone is not willing to work, let him not eat. 11 For we hear that some among you walk in idleness, not busy at work, but busybodies. 12 Now such persons we command and encourage in the Lord Jesus Christ to do their work quietly and to earn their own living. 13 As for you, brothers, do not grow weary in doing good. 14 If anyone does not obey what we say in this letter, take note of that person, and have nothing to do with him, that he may be ashamed. 15 Do not regard him as an enemy, but warn him as a brother.
Dear Friends in Christ,

My mom and dad had an old saying, perhaps you have heard of it: “Idleness is the devil’s workshop.” The meaning of the saying is simple: Don’t give the devil any room to operate in your life. Be busy, stay active and busy, not as a busybody, but as one working for the Lord Jesus Christ. The early church recognized this fact when they named idleness, or laziness, as one of the seven deadly sins.
The Apostle Paul addresses the sin of laziness in our text for today. The congregation at Thessalonica was well acquainted with the Apostle Paul and his co-workers. They had witnessed Paul, Timothy, and others being active, earning a living as well as being active workers in the congregation. For Paul it wasn’t a case of either or, it wasn’t a case where he worked outside of the congregation earning a living and then used the excuse of not having the time or the energy to work in the church. No, rather it was a case of both and, that Paul taught and lived a life giving as example as how one should work for the Lord.
Paul teaches as one who is an apostle, his teaching comes from Jesus and has the authority of Jesus. No one can say, ‘Oh that is just Paul saying this” because this word that Paul proclaims IS FROM THE LORD HIMSELF. No excuses! What Paul says comes from Christ and is how Jesus would treat the situation of people being lazy, not working to earn a living, and not working within the Christian congregation.
This was not something new that Paul was saying, after all in his first letter Paul told the congregation to admonish the people who were disorderly and who were lazy. He exhorted them to mind their own business, not to be busy bodies, but to busy their bodies in service to the Lord. But some didn’t listen, they wouldn’t listen. This is why Paul writes it again and is so forceful in his words. It is sinful to be lazy; to be idle in the sense of not using the gifts God has given to a person for the common good of all. It was a sin then, and it still is today. Christians have a moral obligation to use the gifts God has given His people for the good of others. What good does it do if God gives a doctor the gift of healing and he is lazy and doesn’t use his gift? It benefits no one. The doctor can’t earn the living, and those in need of healing are still in need. What good does it do for a farmer, who has an ability to grow crops, to be lazy and not farm, for he neither puts food on his table and he doesn’t put food on the table of others.
Paul, Silvanus, and Timothy all made it a point to work, they were models to the congregation They plied their trade outside of the congregation, but also they “were not idle when we were with you,” they worked WITHIN the congregation a well. Certainly Paul and others welcomed the hospitality that was shown to them, but they never took advantage of people. They lived and worked, using their God given gifts, within and outside of the congregation, so that they would not be a burden to society or a burden to the church.
So Paul issues a directive, “If a man will not work, he shall not eat.” Paul says that no one is excluded. There are no exceptions! If God gives you the ability to work, you should work. Work is a God given gift. Paul, Silvanus, and Timothy made a model of themselves to everyone; they worked inside AND outside of the Church. No one was exempt. The Greeks, who thought that work was just for slaves, are stand corrected by Paul. People who believe that they are too good to work stand corrected by Paul. No one is to be above work. Paul wasn’t. Jesus wasn’t, no one is to be above working inside and outside the church. Paul is speaking, not about those who CAN’T find work. He IS speaking about those who REFUSE to work. The elderly who find themselves in a place where they cannot work, the sick and infirmed who cannot work, the small infant or child who cannot work, these Paul is not speaking about nor is he speaking to them. He IS speaking to those who refuse to work.
Paul is speaking to the idle, the lazy ones. The ones who were living an undisciplined life, idling their time and lives away. Instead of being busy, they were busy being busy bodies. They spent their time meddling in other’s affairs and wasting their time on things of no eternal value or consequence. Paul knows who these people are, but he doesn’t name names. But he is firm, he says thus saith the Lord. They know who they are. Paul tells them to repent, to turn from this sin and live for Christ.
Laziness is a plague that is prevalent in our day and age, and yes, sadly, even within our congregation. Those who refuse to work for a living, which is different from those who cannot work for a living, are sinning against God and their fellow man. And those who refuse to work for the Lord within the context of the Christian congregation are sinning against the Lord as well.
That is where we find ourselves today, in that many Christians, here in this congregation but also within the Christian Church at large, refuse to work for the Lord. They refuse to get involved. They will not use their God given abilities; they will not take the time to work in God’s vineyard. They look for reasons NOT to get involved, they take time to do anything but work for the Lord, they hide behind their excuses believing that God as the God of love understands and will grant an exception.
But will He? God will not be mocked. In the Gospel of Matthew Jesus says that the end is drawing near, when all will have to give account to the Lord. Jesus calls us to work while it is day, for the days are certainly drawing to a close. God gives His people work to do. He gives you work to do. He has given you the ability, the time, the means and wherewithal to accomplish great things. And so, how will we answer the Lord?
Will we answer by continued inactivity and laziness? Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, our Lord has freed us from the bondage of sin, including the sin of laziness. If we continue to be lazy when the Lord has work for us to do, then we abuse our liberty, using that freedom as a cover up for evil. The Apostle Peter warns us that we should not “use our freedom as a cover up for evil.” Make no mistake, the secular, unbelieving world looks at the lives of Christians and they see our laziness as a welcome excuse for their unbelief! How many times have you seen people rejoice at the failings of Christians today! They think: “How can church be THAT important when church people don’t even act like it is important!” We give a witness that it Christ and His death and resurrection don’t really matter at all! No wonder people doubt Christ and refuse Christ today, when they see in our own lives evidences that Christians have a higher priority on the things of the world rather than the things of God! The sin of laziness is deadly, for Christians for in our laziness our hearts and faith grow cold and our wants and cares drive us away from Christ. This sin of laziness is deadly for others as well, for in our laziness people are perishing and stand to live a Christ less eternity in Hell.
God calls sinners to turn from sin, to repent. God says if we repent of our sins, God is faithful and just and will forgive all sin and cleanse the sinner from all unrighteousness. The blood of Christ shed on the cross washes away all sin, including the sin of laziness.
Repent of your sin. Look to Christ. Remember that you are a child of Jesus, YOU ARE BAPTIZED. Look to Christ, see the crown of thorns on His head, and see the price that God has paid for YOUR sin, for Jesus who knew no sin became SIN for YOU, He was punished, He died, and He paid the price. He has died and has risen from the grave so that you might live the new life! By the power of the Spirit who now lives in you WORK FOR CHRIST, LIVE FOR CHRIST, and “never tire of doing what is right.” (v13).
May God grant us faithfulness AND fruitfulness as we work for Him in His Kingdom!

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Please Read: A Veteran's Day to Remember

The title of this post asks you to read my meager reflections on this day. Thank you for reading up to this point. I hope that my reflections might make this day a little more meaningful to you, as it has been for me.

As a pastor you never know where the Lord will take you throughout the course of a day. As I was making appointments this morning to visit the shut ins of Redeemer, I learned that one of my members was at the VA Hospital in Chillicothe. Seeing as I had some time before my afternoon appointments, I took the one hour drive to see my member. I thought of the irony of visiting a vet on Veteran's Day at a Veteran's Hospital. I did my duty as pastor and visited and ministered this faithful saint. I read Scripture, had a prayer, thanked him for his service, and I was about ready to leave. I noticed the patient in the next bed. I greeted him and thanked him for his service on this Veteran's Day. He told me that he served in both the Army and Marines. After our conversation, he thanked me for thanking him. Isn't that odd? Here is a vet who gave a part of his life so that we can live in freedom. It is our duty to thank them, yet he thanks me for thanking him! It didn't feel right, to accept his thanks, he really needs to accept our thanks.

As I walked back to my car, I passed other vets, sitting outside, smoking and conversing. I waved to them and made it a point to thank them for their service. To a man, they thanked me for thanking them. Again, how odd! Here are men in wheelchairs, some with lost limbs, they paid the sacrifice, they deserve my thanks, our thanks, and yet, on this day for them, they thank someone who is grateful for their service. They thanked me for thanking them.

As I thought about this on the way home, it started to make some sense, as to why these veterans thanked me. It is a part of who they are. You see, when you serve your country and serve others as these men (and women) have, you aren't looking for thanks, or praise. You are just doing your duty. That is what sacrifice is, doing your part without expecting a reward. Our veterans strike me as humble people. They don't want to talk about the battles they fought to win our freedom. They don't even want to talk about themselves. It isn't about them, it is about US (the United States). That is why they served. That is why they still serve. They pay the price so that we might be free. Thank God for our soldiers and our veterans. They are truly gifts of God, serving in a vocation that many of us take for granted. Walking through the halls of the VA Hospital in Chillicothe, and meeting some veterans who are hospitalized there, has made this Veteran's Day a day that I will remember. To our vets I say thank you, not only today, but I will try to thank them every time I can. Because of their sacrifice and service, we can truly be free.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Who Are These People?

Who Are These People?
Revelation 7:9-17
After this I looked, and behold, a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, with palm branches in their hands, 10 and crying out with a loud voice, “Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!” 11 And all the angels were standing around the throne and around the elders and the four living creatures, and they fell on their faces before the throne and worshiped God, 12 saying, “Amen! Blessing and glory and wisdom and thanksgiving and honor and power and might be to our God forever and ever! Amen.”
13 Then one of the elders addressed me, saying, “Who are these, clothed in white robes, and from where have they come?” 14 I said to him, “Sir, you know.” And he said to me, “These are the ones coming out of the great tribulation. They have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.
15 “Therefore they are before the throne of God, and serve him day and night in his temple; and he who sits on the throne will shelter them with his presence. 
16 they shall hunger no more, neither thirst anymore; the sun shall not strike them, nor any scorching heat. 
17 For the Lamb in the midst of the throne will be their shepherd, and he will guide them to springs of living water, and God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.”

In the name of Jesus:

The Book of Revelation is one of the most complex books of the whole Bible. Written by the Apostle John on the island of Patmos, it is written in picturesque language. Picture language is not a language that is literal but it is descriptive. The sixth chapter of Revelation describes the Lamb's opening of the six of the seven seals. Here we have frightening judgments of God: the first is the white horse, which represents either the Antichrist or perhaps some successful military power. The second is the red horse, murder and death. The third is the black horse, which represents famine and scarcity on earth. The fourth is the pale horse, widespread death on earth. The fifth is the cry of the martyrs. And the sixth depicts cosmic disturbances, which cause universal panic among men.
The seventh chapter opens with a brief description of four angels, evidently Satan's agents, whose intention it is to do universal harm on the earth. But another angel, who has the seal of the living God on him, prohibits the evil angels from doing harm until the total number of God's elect is sealed. This introduces the first of the two visions in chapter seven.
In the first vision, verses 4 to 8, we are told about God's elect in the Church Militant. They are described as 144,000 people under the figure of the twelve tribes of Israel. It is clear from text and context that the writer is speaking about the total number of the elect among both Jews and Gentiles.
This is followed by the second vision, verses 9 to 17, and the multitude of the great white host surrounding the throne of God in heaven. They are crying out with a loud voice saying: “Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne and to the Lamb!” Angels bow down and worship God saying: “Amen, Blessing and glory and wisdom and thanksgiving and honor and power the might be to our God forever and ever! Amen.” Then one of the 24 elders asks John a question. These elders were positioned around the throne of God. There is really no consensus from the commentators as to who the elders are. All we know is that this is a person in heaven. It is not an angel, or angels, but these are the representatives of the 12 tribes of Israel, that is, the Old Testament Church, and the 12 apostles, that is the New Testament church. It is a picture of the church of God surrounding the throne of God in heaven, both people of the Old and New Testaments, surrounding God’s throne. These 24 elders represent in a picture the heavenly Jerusalem.
Now, one of these elders approaches John and asks this question: Who are these people? In the words of our text, the elder inquires: “Who are these clothed in white clothes and from where have they come? John’s answer is simple: Sir, you know who they are and where they come from. And then the elder speaks of who they are: These are the ones coming out of the great Tribulation. They have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb. Who are these people? Let’s take a closer look:
Dateline Baghdad: Hundreds of grieving Christians and other Iraqis packed a funeral service Tuesday for members of the faith killed in a militant siege on a Baghdad church. The attack, which an al-Qaida-linked group claimed it carried out, left 58 people dead and dozens wounded. The complex attack was carried out Sunday evening October 31 on parishioners celebrating Mass at the Our Lady of Salvation church in an affluent Baghdad neighbor-hood.
Who are these people? This item from North Korea: With North Korea paving the way for its next leader, Christian persecution watchdogs are hoping that the change of leadership will mark a turning point for the country’s Christian population, which is forced to hide their faith or face arrest, imprisonment, torture and even death. Presently Christians in North Korea are forced to hide their faith, and risk arrest, imprisonment, torture, and death.
Who are these people? In North Africa: There is a region that has had next to no church for eight centuries. But now the church is rising again in spite of daily challenges, Even though there are no exact figures, the number of Christians in North Africa is estimated to be in the tens of thousands. In the likes of majority-Muslim Morocco, Tunisia and Algeria, most Christians are converts from Islam. In such a hostile environment, growing in their new identity as a Christian is not easy and many new converts face losing their friends and family,
Who are these people? Closer to home parents, following the Lord’s directive, bring their children to the waters of Holy Baptism. Recognizing the need for forgiveness, desiring that their children have a saving faith in Christ, Christian parents humbly bring their infants to the fount imploring God to bless their little ones. And God does, in the water connected with the Word, washing away their sins and by the power of the Holy Spirit possess a saving faith in Christ as Lord.
Who are these people? Closer to home sinners come to church, broken and bruised. They see their loves ones dying of cancer, the elderly afflicted with dementia, they feel the brokenness of living a life here on earth where there are disagreements, disillusionment, divorce, hatred and anger in the hearts of people. They come to church, confessing their sins on bended knee. They feel the weight of their sin and they ask God for forgiveness. They plead for mercy. And in Christ, God does forgive. He shows mercy, forgiving all who repent and believe in Jesus Christ who is the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world.
Who are these people? Closer to home they are wearied and weak from the pilgrimage of life. They are looking for strength. And so they come in feed at the Lord’s Altar, receiving heavenly food for the nourishment of their souls, the forgiveness of their sins, for the eternal salvation, so that they can depart in peace forgiven as God’s people.
Who are these people? Look closely. They are a great multitude that no one can number. They come from every tribe, nation, people, color and language. They have names, and families, and places where they call home. The white robes that they are wearing, with palm branches in their hands identify them. WHO ARE THESE PEOPLE?
Look closely. They are not identified by their individual names. God does not tell us if these people are good looking, or wealthy, or poor. We are not told how tall they are, or short, what jobs they held, their athletic ability is not revealed, neither is their political party or persuasion. Their earthly works and abilities are not revealed. All we know is that they are wearing white robes and waving palm branches. Who are these people?
They are the ones who have come out of the great Tribulation on planet earth. Certainly we all live in tribulation. Jesus promised His believers, as much when He said, “In the world you will have trouble and tribulation.” And as the time passes, and the world comes to its conclusion, the times that the Church will find itself in will be difficult. There will be persecutions, wars and rumors of wars. There will be all types of suffering, of one type or another. Paul the Apostle says that it will be necessary for the Church to go through many tribulations before it enters the Kingdom of God. (Acts 14: 22, 2 Tim. 3:12). But all the while, God is in control, building His Church so that the gates of Hell will not prevail, even cutting short the days of the end for the sake of his elect.
Who are these people? These are the ones who have repented of their sins and have trusted in Christ as Savior and Lord. These are the ones, who though their sins have been as scarlet, have had their sins washed in the blood of the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world. These are the ones who have been faithful unto death and have received God’s gift of eternal life. These are the members of the holy Christian Church, from every time and place and corner of the world. Abraham and Isaac, David and Isaiah, Mary and Joseph, Peter and Paul and Thomas and Luther and your sainted grandma and grandpa and your loved ones who have died believing in Christ are the ones who are here numbered. You and I are here, and all who believe in Christ are here. These are the ones who have been saved by grace through faith in Christ. Saved by grace, through faith in Christ, these are God’s children who now live a life in eternity with God!
In this life, there are many shedding of tears. Each of us has our joys, and our sorrows. We daily are called to pick up our crosses and follow Christ. In the midst of our daily struggles, and there are many, God gives us a vision of what is to come. We are the ones, you are there pictured here singing praises to God in heaven! No matter how difficult life gets, Christ has overcome the world for you! Keep the faith. Be faithful to Him. Jesus forgives you. He works all things out to your good and to His glory. And He will see you home to be with Him on the Last Day. For God will turn our weeping and mourning into dancing and laughter. Why? Because the Lamb will be in the midst of the throne, He will be their Shepherd, He will guide us to springs of living water, He will wipe all tears from our eyes, and we will be home, with Jesus. Thanks be to God.

Sunday, October 31, 2010

An Act of God

ROMANS 3:19-28

Now we know that whatever the law says it speaks to those who are under the law, so that every mouth may be stopped, and the whole world may be held accountable to God. 20 For by works of the law no human being will be justified in his sight, since through the law comes knowledge of sin. 21 But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law, although the Law and the Prophets bear witness to it— 22 the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction: 23 for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, 24 and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, 25 whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith. This was to show God's righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins. 26 It was to show his righteousness at the present time, so that he might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus. 27 Then what becomes of our boasting? It is excluded. By what kind of law? By a law of works? No, but by the law of faith. 28 For we hold that one is justified by faith apart from works of the law.
In the name of Jesus:
In the October 16 edition of the Columbus Dispatch, there was a picture of two men who worked for a local construction company. These men were tearing shingles off of a roof, which was damaged by a recent storm. The caption underneath the picture read: “Fixing an Act of God.”
Certainly God can work through nature, if He so chooses to do so. There are all sorts of acts of God, which are recorded in Scripture: plaques, locusts, darkness, earthquakes, and hail to name just a few. Scripture certainly does ascribe to God these acts of God at the time when they occurred. But what about today? The Bible doesn’t really speak about acts of God that are seen in or through nature. A lightening strike, hail strikes, a tornado hitting a church, may seem like an act of God, but how can we be certain? In fact, different groups of different persuasions will claim an act of God has taken place, for their own purposes, even though there isn’t a one to one correspondence revealed in the Bible.
For example, take some ill informed Christians who say that a hailstorm was God’s pronouncement on sin. It happened last week in Brooklyn New York. The Baptist congregation which has made the news for all of the wrong reasons: protesting at the funeral of servicemen and women among other things, had the audacity to say that a recent hail storm in Brooklyn was God’s judgment upon the Jews in New York who have rejected Christ. My question to the group is simply: then what about the Christian men and women who had their cars damaged as well? Was this an act of God judging them? Sadly, they would say yes, but the Bible doesn’t answer that question. God does say in His Word that God makes the rain to fall on the just AND the unjust. And God will not be mocked, He WILL punish sin, but does God act through these occurrences today? The Bible doesn’t say.
God does tell us in His Word for today that God holds the entire world accountable for its sinfulness. There is no distinction, God says, ALL HAVE SINNED. Listen to Paul in Romans 3: “Now we know that whatever the law says it speaks to those who are under the law, so that every mouth may be stopped, and the whole world may be held accountable to God. 20 For by works of the law no human being will be justified in his sight, since through the law comes knowledge of sin. For there is no distinction: 23 for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, “
God reveals in His Word through the Ten Commandments that He alone is God, that He gives His glory to no one else. God is in control and we are not. There are so many things in our lives that are out of our control, that we call them acts of God, because we can’t explain them. Insurance companies will speak about floods, tornados, and other things as acts of God, because they have no reasonable explanation as to why something happened when it did. These natural acts show us that we need to rely on Someone else, namely God, rather than ourselves. We are helpless and we see this when disasters strike. When we hold our works and ourselves up to God we are also helpless. God is not impressed by your religiosity, by your potential or good intentions. No, rather than impressed, God condemns you and all people as sinful and falling short of God’s glory.
God’s act of judgment is something that no one would be able to stand. To face God in His glory and we in our sinfulness is too much for anyone to bear. Our sinfulness separates us from God, so much so that human beings wonder if God even exists. Even Christians question where God is when they are in the midst of suffering. When suffering or any type of catastrophe takes place, people wonder is this God speaking?
God speaks to mankind most certainly and most clearly in His Word. And in His Word this day God speaks, telling us that even though we and the rest of the world are sinful people, God still loves the sinner. God loves sinners and the world so much that He HAS acted, doing something and no one else could do or would do. God has mediated this bridge, this chasm that exists between God and man because of sin by sending His one and only Son, Jesus, to be the Mediator, the only hope for a fallen world.
By nature sinful mankind is an enemy of God. But because of the act of God in becoming man in Jesus, sinful man has now been made friends with God, not by human works, but by God’s work, by His divine intervention. Through Jesus’ keeping of the Ten Commandments, His scourging, His bloody death on the cross God has acted and has slain the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world. Sins are washed away in Christ. Debts are paid by Christ. Transgressions are forgiven by Christ. This is what is known in our text as the righteousness of God in Christ. Man has been made right with God, friends with God, because of the life, suffering, death, and resurrection of Jesus.
This righteousness of God is not of our doing. It is foreign to us; we play no part in it. God has decided, and has judged Christ in your place. It is as if God as the Judge of the world sits on His throne and hears your plea of guilty, yet by His Word He forgives you and declares you not guilty so that you may go free and live freely for Him.
Pastor George Stoeckhard, an old Lutheran pastor and professor put it this way: “This righteousness of God rests outside of us in God, in God's judgment, and so is as firm and immovable as God Himself . . . He whom God declares righteous is righteous, even though all the world and all devils condemn him, even though his own conscience pronounces him guilty and judges him . . .. The righteousness of which he speaks is identical to the forgiveness of sins.”
This forgiveness is offered freely. You are reconciled to God not because of what you have done, but because of what Christ has done for you. This reconciliation is yours. This righteousness from God comes through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe. There is no difference; only an act of God can restore sinners from ungodliness to communion with God. Only God can act and He has, for God justifies, pronounces righteous, unrighteous man; He 'justifies the ungodly'. (4:5)
Jesus has given His life as a ransom, so that you are no longer a slave to sin and the world, but are now free to give praise and glory to God. And so we boast. Not of ourselves, but of Jesus. We boast of what God has done for us in Christ. We boast of His forgiveness, His new life, His salvation, and we offer this to others in our work together as brothers and sisters in Christ and members of His Church. We boast of God’s love in Christ for nothing will ever separate us from Christ. For you and I have been purchased with a price, we belong to God! We have been purchased, not with silver or gold, but with His, Jesus, precious blood and by His innocent suffering and death, that we may be His own and life under Him in His kingdom, serving Him in everlasting righteousness, innocence, and blessedness.
May God empower us to boast of our God who saves us in Jesus!

Thursday, October 28, 2010

FCA Staff Devotions

Earlier today I had the opportunity to address the Fairfield Christian Academy staff, so I chose to she with them thoughts from Scripture. Here is my devotional address.

Text: Matthew 13:1-9
That same day Jesus went out of the house and sat beside the sea. 2 And great crowds gathered about him, so that he got into a boat and sat down. And the whole crowd stood on the beach. 3 And he told them many things in parables, saying: “A sower went out to sow. 4 And as he sowed, some seeds fell along the path, and the birds came and devoured them. 5 Other seeds fell on rocky ground, where they did not have much soil, and immediately they sprang up, since they had no depth of soil, 6 but when the sun rose they were scorched. And since they had no root, they withered away. 7 Other seeds fell among thorns, and the thorns grew up and choked them. 8 Other seeds fell on good soil and produced grain, some a hundredfold, some sixty, some thirty. 9 He who has ears, let him hear.”

In the name of Jesus:

Over 28 years ago Luann and I drove into town, new to the ministry, with grand hopes and designs. We were visiting Lancaster and the first call I had into the ministry. We drove down route 33, arriving on the outskirts of town only to see a car on a pole, advertising a local gas station. Little did I know at that time that the owner of that station, his wife, children, and parents would become members of Redeemer. But that is how God works; our ways are not His ways. It was 1982 and Redeemer Lutheran Church was a congregation in decline. It once at a thriving school through grade six. The school and church were known throughout the area as a beacon for Christian education. I had hopes of reopening the school in 1982, but it wasn’t in God’s plan.
Luann and I wondered what God had in mind. Why were we here? Oh, Redeemer gained some members, and lost some members. In these past 28 years of ministry, I have had my share of frustrations. The church hasn’t grown the way that I would have liked it to grow. After 28 years of sermons, Bible classes, visitations, counseling sessions, meetings, and other aspects of ministry, there have been many times when I have wondered what in the world is God’s plan?
Luann and I were blessed with children; you know all of them because they have all gone to school here. When Rachel was born in 1985 we were so hopeful on getting a school at Redeemer, but God had other plans. Soon other kids would follow Rachel: Emily, Drew, and Mark. We did our duty as parents, made certain that they were baptized as infants, took them to church and Sunday school raised them in a Christian home. Christ has been and continues to be the center of our home and family. We prayed for a Lutheran school in the area. But God had other plans.
FCA began as a dream here, we heard about it, and prayed about whether or not we should send our kids here. It seemed risky to go from the known public schools to a school that had not even opened their doors.

Christian education is one of the pillars of Lutheranism, when Luther wrote his Small Catechism, he began his work by writing: “As parents should raise their children…” We wanted a school that would assist us in raising our children. That is our responsibility, to pass our faith in Christ on to our kids. We take it seriously. We enrolled our kids in FCA; we kept planting the seeds of faith, asking God to give the increase.
We are a blessed family. Three of our kids have graduated from this institution (can I call it that?). Rachel graduated from Concordia University in Chicago with honors and now works as a congressional assistant for Congressman Steve Austria. Emily graduated with honors from Concordia University in Wisconsin. She is now a second year law student at John Marshall School of Law in Cleveland. Drew is now a junior at Concordia Chicago, goes to school in Washington D C this semester at what is known as the Lutheran semester in Washington, and is an intern at C-SPAN. Mark, well, I think many of you know Mark, a sophomore here this year.
My kids are doing well, but most important to Luann and I, is that they have faith in Christ. They love their Church, they are active in their church, as much as circumstances allow, but they are active. Credit alone goes to God. No one can say that Jesus is Lord except by the power of the Spirit. Luann and I are thankful, we pray for them daily, and you have played a large part in their faith development. For that, you have our humble thanks.
I pray that our kids will remain, as Jesus calls us to, remain faithful unto death. Luann and I continue to try to plant the seeds of the Gospel. You have done and in Mark’s case continue to do your part. God alone gives the increase, thanks be to God for what He has done and what He continues to do.
In our kid’s case, we can see some results. I pray to God that they will be faithful and fruitful. But there are many cases in ministry, in the pastoral ministry and in the teaching ministry, that you can’t see the results. There seems to be no fruit. It is frustrating, I know, to keep on doing the work of the Lord, and you wonder if it is worth it? Do the people we work with actually get it? For all of the sacrifices made by people in the ministry, is it worth it?
I think all too often we get all caught up in looking for results. It’s the American way. We want to see something happen instantaneously. After all, who has to wait today for anything? We have instant meals, microwaves ovens to instantly cook our food. A tap on a phone means we can instantly connect and talk to a loved one, or a click of a computer enables us to instantaneously to find information or communicate with a person half way around the world. We have grown accustomed to instantly getting results. But the church, and church work, I have found, is not like that at all.
I guess that is why I continue to go back to the parable of the sower. God is the sower and He sows the seed. He uses us, as Christians, as pastors, and teachers to sow the seed. But if you know anything about farming, fruit doesn’t just happen overnight. It takes time, a long time for the seed to take root and bear abundant fruit. And when the seed is sown, sometimes it falls on rocky soil, sometimes it grows and the weeds choke the seed. Yes, I see it in ministry all of the time, sadly the Gospel of Jesus Christ and His salvation are shared with others but the cares of the world, or temptation, or any number of things inhibit and prohibit the seed. But God is still in control. He wants all to be saved and come to know Christ. That is His will. And He gives us His work to do. You have done a great job! Thank you for your work, your dedication, and your sacrifice. And in those times when you get frustrated, and we all do, remember, God alone gives the increase. This is His work we do. Christ promises that He will build His Church and the gates of Hell don’t stand a chance of succeeding. Yes there will be problems, difficulties, and frustrations. God, though, is greater than all of these. Christ has defeated sin, Satan, and death for you! And is promise is sure and certain: God’s word will not return to Him empty but will accomplish what He wants. So don’t be discouraged, don’t lose heart. Your work is so valuable. God is still using you mightily. You may not be able to see the fruit until you get to the other side. But this much I know: Christ has given to us the Kingdom, and He grants us the honor of working for Him. God has purchased and won each of us, not with silver or gold, but with Christ’s holy and precious blood, so that we and those to whom we ministry will belong to Him, serve Him in everlasting blessedness, and give thanks to Him in all we do. Thank you for your service and sacrifice, and may God bless you for your faithfulness.
To the glory of God and in Jesus’ name.

Monday, October 25, 2010

The Self Righteous Pharisee

LUKE 18:9-14

He also told this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and treated others with contempt: 10 “Two men went up into the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. 11 The Pharisee, standing by himself, prayed thus: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other men, extortionists, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. 12 I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I get.’ 13 But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even lift up his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, ‘God, be merciful to me, a sinner!’ 14 I tell you, this man went down to his house justified, rather than the other. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but the one who humbles himself will be exalted.”

In the name of Jesus:

The famous actor Gregory Peck was once standing in line with a friend, waiting for a table in a crowded Los Angeles restaurant. They had been waiting for some time, the diners seemed to be taking their time eating and new tables weren't opening up very fast. They weren't even that close to the front of the line. Peck's friend became impatient, and he said to Gregory Peck, "Why don't you tell the maitre d' who you are?" Gregory Peck responded with great wisdom. "No," he said, "if you have to tell them who you are, then you aren't.
That's a lesson that the Pharisee in our gospel reading apparently had never learned. His prayer, if it can be called that, is largely an advertisement for himself. This is why he is called self-righteous. He is the standard for righteousness; he believes that all others should be judged by his life.
It is worth noting that Jesus says that told this parable to those who trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and in their self-righteousness, they treated others with contempt. The parable begins by focusing on two men who were going to the Temple to pray. Why would they be going to the Temple to pray, when they could have prayed at home? They were on their way to the Temple because it was there at that time that atonement was being made for the sins of the people. It was at the Temple where the priests would slay the perfect sacrificial animals it was there where the bull, goats, and lambs would be sacrificed, the blood poured out on the altar, in accordance with God’s command. These two people, the Pharisee and the tax collector, went to the Temple because it was there where sins would be forgiven and a relationship with God restored through the forgiveness of sins.
But note closer these two men. The Pharisee was an upstanding man. He WAS a Pharisee, one who went to church, one who knew the Bible, one who felt comfortable in church. He went to the Temple because it was required; he was doing his religious duty.
Now listen to how Jesus describes this man: “The Pharisee, standing by himself, prayed thus: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other men, extortionists, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. 12 I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I get.” The Pharisee stood by himself, because he considered all of the others in the Temple unclean, so he did not want to associate with them. Oh, to be clear, all were there to have sins forgiven, but this Pharisee did not want to defile himself. So he stands by himself, off to the side, and he prays to God, thanking God that he is not like all of the other sinners, no he is in a special class of sinners. There are sinners, and there are sinners. The Pharisee thanks God that he is not like the other men, the extortionists, the unjust, the adulterers, or even like this sinner, the tax collector, the one who cheats people out of their hard earned money. And on top of that, the Pharisee fasts twice a week. He was only required to fast once a week, but so religious is this Pharisee that he goes over and beyond what is expected of him.
The tax collector, however, doesn’t consider himself worthy. The Pharisee placed his trust, not in his prayer, but in his own works. The tax collector does otherwise. Note what Jesus says in comparison: “13 But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even lift up his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, ‘God, be merciful to me, a sinner!’
This tax collector sought a right standing with God based on God’s standard. The Pharisee compared his life with the others and in HIS JUDGMENT he thought that he was superior, of course God would be pleased with him, after all, just look at all of these other sinners! However, the tax collector didn’t compare his life or works with others. He knew that only ONE counted, and that was God. This tax collector examined his life in the light of the only standard that matters, God’s Law, the Ten Commandments. He didn’t try to justify himself; he knew that he was without excuse. So he offered none, he simply confessed his sin by pleading to God: “God, be merciful to me, a sinner.”
In order for the tax collector to be justified, God would have to do the justifying. And God did. This man trusted in God, just like Abraham did in the Old Testament, where we read: “Abraham believed God and it was counted to him as righteousness.” (Genesis 15). Abraham was right with God because of what God said, not because of what Abraham did. And so too the tax collector was counted as righteous before God, not on account of his merits, works, or potential, but on account of what God has done for sinners in Jesus Christ.
The Bible states that sinners have been made right with God by God’s grace in Jesus Christ. Jesus did what no man could do: living the perfect life and dying the God ordained death for the forgiveness of sins. Faith receives what God has done in Jesus Paul writes in Romans 4: that man is made right with God and is counted to those who believe in the One who raised Jesus from the dead for our justification.
This is what the tax collector knew to be true; it is what he believed with every fiber of his being. The tax collector is one who could sing the well-known hymn: Thy works not mine O Christ speak gladness to this heart.” The prophets of old all were consistent in their proclamation that sinners needed to repent of their sins and trust in the coming One of God who would save His people from their sins. This is not of man; this is of God, according to His standard.
The message of Scripture is this: Repent of your sins for God’s kingdom is at hand. Repent, because you have not and cannot meet God’s standard of perfection. Repent, turn from your sins and ask God for mercy. This is what the tax collector did when he said: “God be merciful to me, a sinner.” This is what we do, when we kneel in confession, when we sing the Kyrie, when we kneel to receive the Lord’s Supper, we kneel, confessing our sins and asking God for forgiveness. And God does forgive in Christ, for He is faithful and just and He forgives our sins and cleanses us from all unrighteousness.
Jesus says that as a result, the tax collector left as a man who was now right with His Maker. It wasn’t anything that he had done; he was changed because he trusted in God’s word of forgiveness. Jesus says: “ I tell you, this man went down to his house justified, rather than the other. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but the one who humbles himself will be exalted.” The tax collector left taking God at His Word that he was forgiven and right with God.
Dear friend in Christ, you and I are both the Pharisee and the tax collector. Luther often said that Christians are both sinners and saints. There are times in our lives when we can see and relate to the Pharisee in our lives: times when we prejudge people, compare our lives with others, look down upon others because of their color, their culture, their religion, or their shortcomings. We like to think that when we are compared with people who “really sin” we come out smelling like a rose. But all we smell like, when we do that are sinners whose righteousness is like filthy rags. Our sins, our religiosity, our self-righteousness stink to high heaven.
God shows us that in light of His Law, we stand condemned as sinners. But God’s good News is that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us. Christ died for you. In Baptism your sins have been washed away, in Baptism you have been called out of darkness into the marvelous light of Christ.
In Christ you are forgiven. In Christ you have God’s mercy. When you are self righteous, look not to yourself but to God and His standards of righteousness. See your sinfulness, confess it, look to Christ and His cross and pray with the tax collector: “God be merciful to me, a sinner.” For in Christ you have been made right with God. And you can leave knowing that nothing will ever separate you from the love God has for you in Christ Jesus. To God be the glory!

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

The Word Brings Christ

“The written and spoken Word derives its power from its content, Christ. The Word of God, the Gospel, is powerful to save, then, because it proclaims a message, a cognitive message, concerning the saving work of Jesus Christ. He is the essence, soul, and center of the Gospel. Only this message can restore hope to a lost sinner. This is the chief and central message of Scripture. Therefore, if one does not seek in the Word of the Bible the Word that was made flesh, it would be better to spend one’s time reading adventure stories. For what is written in Scripture has to do totally with this Word…. But the Gospel actually brings Christ to those who hear it.”
"From The Theology of Post Reformation Lutheranism, by Robert Preus, pg 373)

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Pray and Do Not Lose Heart

LUKE 18:1-8

And he told them a parable to the effect that they ought always to pray and not lose heart. 2 He said, “In a certain city there was a judge who neither feared God nor respected man. 3 And there was a widow in that city who kept coming to him and saying, ‘Give me justice against my adversary.’ 4 For a while he refused, but afterward he said to himself, ‘Though I neither fear God nor respect man, 5 yet because this widow keeps bothering me, I will give her justice, so that she will not beat me down by her continual coming.’” 6 And the Lord said, “Hear what the unrighteous judge says. 7 And will not God give justice to his elect, who cry to him day and night? Will he delay long over them? 8 I tell you, he will give justice to them speedily. Nevertheless, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?

In the name of Jesus:

Desperate people will do desperate things. What we have in our Gospel lesson for today is a desperate woman taking matters into her own hands.
Jesus is here telling a parable. He uses common everyday occurrences that everyone would know about. Jesus begins the story by telling us that the judge who was to hear cases before him was a scoundrel. The populace did not elect judges in Israel, as they are in our country today. Rather, judges were appointed. Moses had instructed the people in Deuteronomy that when judges were appointed, they were to be the most upright of people. Moses says in Deuteronomy chapters 1 and 16: “Hear the cases between your brothers, and judge righteously between a man and his brother or the alien who is with him. 17 You shall not be partial in judgment. You shall hear the small and the great alike. You shall not be intimidated by anyone, for the judgment is God's.” And “You shall appoint judges and officers in all your towns that the Lord your God is giving you, according to your tribes, and they shall judge the people with righteous judgment.” (Deut 1 and 16)
There was also a woman in the town who was a widow. In some way she had been wronged and needed to go before the judge to have a hearing for the case. Widows at the time of Jesus were in desperate straits; they had no economic means and had no power. She was literally at her wits end, not knowing who to turn to or where to turn, such was her desperation.
The judge SHOULD have been just. He SHOULD have shown impartiality. But he could not and would not. Why? Because as Jesus says: “he neither feared God nor respected man.” He did not care what God had to say about the matter, He could care less about God and even lesser about this poor woman. She had been wronged, she had a case, but the judge could have cared less about her plight, and so would no give her the time of day.
So what does this woman doing? Desperate as she was, she figured that she had nothing to lose to keep asking, so she became a pest. A thorn in the judge’s side, this woman repeatedly beat down the door of the judge, so much so that this judge, who still did not care what God or other’s thought, realized that the only way that he could get peace, the only way he could get her off his back, would be to give her a hearing. And so Jesus says: “For a while he refused, but afterward he said to himself, ‘Though I neither fear God nor respect man, 5 yet because this widow keeps bothering me, I will give her justice, so that she will not beat me down by her continual coming.’
This woman was desperate and so she beat down the door of the unjust judge so that she would get justice. Are you so desperate? Why is your prayer life so shallow, almost non-existent? Is it because that you feel you do not need God or His justice? Is it because you are so comfortable in your life that you feel that you don’t need God’s blessing? Is it because you don’t want to bother God or perhaps you feel that you are becoming a pest? Is it you feel that God tires of hearing your requests, so that you quit asking? Or is it because you have become so comfortable in this life, so immune to your needs that you have lost sight of whom you actually are and what you actually need?
God is not an unjust judge. He is the just judge, the ONLY Just Judge. He is holy, perfect, and all of His judgments are right and fair. God always looks out for His people; He always acts for His people. In love He created humanity. Unlike the unjust judge, who cares not for justice or man, God does care that justice is served. It is God who says that vengeance is mine, says the Lord. And it is God who loves His people. He loves sinners, so much so in that while we were yet sinners, Christ came down from heaven to live and die and rise again. God punishes sin, He pours out His justice on evil on His Son Jesus, who knew no sin so that He would become sin for us. Christ became sin for you!
Why? Because of God’s love, but also because we are sinners. Think of it, there is nothing in us that would move God to love us. Paul says that we were dead in our trespasses and sins. Dead as in having no life, no spark, nothing before God. We don’t want God’s justice, for to have God’s justice would mean that God should punish us. No, rather that justice, we want, we need, and we desire God’s mercy. His underserved love. We need God to pity us. And He has in Jesus.
Martin Luther said it a day or so before his death: We are beggars, this is true. We ARE BEGGARS. This is true and it is the point of the parable for today. Jesus calls us to pray like the widow, to beat down the doors of heaven for we have, not an unjust judge, but a merciful God who looks kindly at us and hears our prayer for Christ Jesus’ sake. The persistent widow was desperate, so much so that she would do anything for a hearing before the judge. Oh that we were so desperate and persistent in our prayers like this widow!
The Bible says that for the joy that was set before Him, Christ came down from heaven to endure the shame and punishment of the cross. God spared not His only Son but delivered Him up for all. And in love God tenderly invites you to bring your requests, your petitions, your intercessions, your prayers of need and prayers of praise before God, for He hears you for Christ’s sake. And He not only hears, but He will also act.
This fact Jesus reminds us as Jesus says:” And will not God give justice to his elect, who cry to him day and night? Will he delay long over them? 8 I tell you, he will give justice to them speedily.” God has acted for His people by sending His only Son. And Christ will come again, to judge the living and the dead. But when He returns, will people believe? Will they still have faith, or will they lose heart? God’s children WILL have faith, they WILL believe, they will pray and not lose heart, their hearts will not grow faint, because they know whose they are! Belonging to Christ, forgiven by His shed blood, they will ask their Lord, their Master for help in time of need. And He will, for God is our ever-present Help in times of trouble. So pray and not grow weary. For your Lord loves you and will keep you. Cast your cares upon the Lord, He cares for you, pray and do not lose heart, for He will answer and act, for the good of His people, in accordance with His will.

Mr P.

Today at Redeemer we honored Len Pohlod, affectionately known as Mr. P. Len has served as Sunday School superintendent and Sunday School teacher faithfully for numerous years (I have been at Redeemer 28 years and he was volunteering before I arrived). Len has taught many Redeemer youth, my four kids included. I am forever indebted to men and women who serve our Lord as Sunday School teachers. They assist in raising children in the fear and love of the Lord. They point sinners to Christ. Their work is invaluable. Len was honored as Volunteer Teacher of the Year for the Ohio District. In accepting the award, Len humbly noted that many should have received the award, for countless men and women serve faithfully in our Sunday Schools. To Mr. P and to all of our faithful Sunday School workers, for pastors everywhere, please accept our heartfelt thank you.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

A Day for Family

What a glorious day! Cool and sunny, a perfect day for the fair! So we are off to grab some lunch at the fair, followed by a family dinner and then tonight we will watch the Buckeyes.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Our Duty

Our Duty
Luke 17:11-19

11 On the way to Jerusalem he was passing along between Samaria and Galilee. 12 And as he entered a village, he was met by ten lepers, who stood at a distance 13 and lifted up their voices, saying, “Jesus, Master, have mercy on us.” 14 When he saw them he said to them, “Go and show yourselves to the priests.” And as they went they were cleansed. 15 Then one of them, when he saw that he was healed, turned back, praising God with a loud voice; 16 and he fell on his face at Jesus' feet, giving him thanks. Now he was a Samaritan. 17 Then Jesus answered, “Were not ten cleansed? Where are the nine? 18 Was no one found to return and give praise to God except this foreigner?” 19 And he said to him, “Rise and go your way; your faith has made you well.”

In the name of Christ:

On a trip to India some years ago, I had the opportunity to visit the ancient city of Varanasi. How can I describe this ancient city to do it justice? I can think of two words, cesspool or sewer comes to mind. Varanasi is considered one of the holy cities of India, where one would find the Ganges River. I had heard much about the Ganges River, but my reading and everything that I had heard did not and could not prepare me for what was to follow. After we had got off the bus, the aroma was pungent; the stench of a local crematory filled the air. The streets were filled with animal and human waste. We were literally walking on dung. There was filth all around us. As we walked through the streets, we were approached by beggars and by lepers. I had never seen a leper in my life, but now I was up close and personal, too personal for my own comfort level. Fingers and toes of lepers were not existent, having fallen off due to the disease. I witnessed blind lepers, mute lepers, and lame lepers, lepers of all sizes, shapes, and colors. It was if our party had walked into a modern day leper colony. There were a range of emotions that flowed through my being, not the least of which were fear and repulsion.
We hastened down to the Ganges River to see the ceremonial washing, where it is believed that washing in the river would wash away ones sins. But wait, the river looked and smelled like the sewer that it was. People bathing and washing and brushing their teeth, it literally turned my stomach. The trip back to the bus was a quick one, and I hoped that the bus driver would floor it to get our traveling party out of the Hellhole called Varanasi.
On the way to Jerusalem, Jesus came upon a village. There: ten lepers, who stood at a distance because they were unclean, met him. Seeing Jesus they called out in a loud voice: Jesus, Master, have mercy upon us. And Jesus did. In keeping with the Law, for Jesus always kept the Law, He told the lepers to go show themselves to the priests, for only the priests could declare the unclean clean. On the way to the priests, they were cleansed and one, seeing that he was made clean, returned to thank God. He fell down at Jesus feet and sang the Doxology in a loud voice: Praise God from whom all blessings flow! This man was not a Jew, not a member of God’s chosen people, no; he was an outsider, a Samaritan. He returned to thank God. And Jesus, seeing His faith, gave him not only his health, but also gave him heaven.
That is what Jesus does. That is His God given job, His duty, His calling. The Scriptures say that while we were yet sinners, Christ came down from heaven to save sinners. I thought about that as I walked through the streets of the Hellhole sewer called Varanasi. Jesus came down from heaven because He loved these people. Walking in human filth reminded me of my own sinfulness and of how He who knew no sin became sin for us. Christ came down from heaven, walked and lived in this sinful stench of a world, and He was not repulsed. He did not withdraw Himself from those in need. No, He had mercy. Undeserved love. Pity. Jesus gave Himself to humanity, as a gift. Lepers came to Him to be touched, and Jesus reached out His hand. Sinners came to Jesus and He forgave. Dead people could not come to Jesus so He gave them life. As hard as sinners try to wash away their sinfulness they cannot, such is the filth that we live in. So Jesus gives a holy washing, a simple washing whereby water is connected to His Word to really forgive, to give faith, deliver from the death and the devil, and to empower people to live in thankfulness to God.
As repulsed as I was in Varanasi, I thought of how I would have responded if someone showed mercy to me in that situation. Would I be grateful, or would I forget to say thanks? Looking back at my travel and of the people I saw, I have no doubt that if I was in that state, and if Someone cured me of my leprosy, that I would really be thankful.
Someone has. For I am no better than they, and truth be told, neither are you. We are in bondage to sin and we cannot free ourselves. We are enslaved to sin, we live in filth everyday and God is not pleased. Death is our just punishment, for the soul that sins will most truly die. And yet Christ came to show mercy, to be mercy, to have mercy upon us. Each and every one of us. In the water and the Word we have freely received His mercy. We have tasted His mercy and it is good in the Supper that He instituted. God’s mercy in Christ lasts forever!
And yet, what is our response? How do we react? If we are honest, we are less than satisfied with what God has done for us. We complain that we don’t have enough, we are angered when wronged, we fear death, which God has defeated, we grumble when things do not go our way, we live at times as a most miserable people!
But we are forgiven! God has said so, but we don’t seem to appreciate it, or thank God for it. While we would like to think that we can relate to the one leper who returned to give thanks, our lives give evidence that we are more like the nine who went on to live unthankful lives, as if Jesus had not done anything for them.
Our Lord still, though is merciful to those who need mercy. And boy, do we need mercy. Recognizing your sinful state, God calls you to repentance. Confess you sins to Jesus, for He is faithful and just and He forgives you of your sins and cleanses you from all unrighteousness.
And forgiven we are set free. Free from our transgressions, free from the guilt and punishment that we so richly deserve. We are free to do our duty to God. To love Him with all of our heart, to show love to those in need, to reach out as Jesus did, being merciful to those in need of mercy. Just as we have received God’s mercy, so also we are called to share it. Or as Luther says, that you were bought with a price, not with silver or gold but with the precious blood of Jesus, for which it is now your duty to thank, praise, serve and obey Him.
In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

When in times of trouble

Here is an excellent quote from the Confessions about troubling times.
"Therefore troubles are not always punishments or signs of wrath. Indeed terrified consciences should be taught that there are more important purposes for afflictions, so that they do not think God is rejecting them when they see nothing but God's punishment and anger in troubles. The other more important purposes are to be considered, that is, that God is doing His strange work so that He may be able to do His own work, as Isaiah 28 teaches in a long speech. When the disciples asked about the blind man who sinned, Christ replies that the cause of his blindness is not sin, but that the works of God might be displayed in him.....Therefore troubles are not always punishments for certain past deeds, but they are God's works, intended for our benefit, and that God's power might be made more apparent in our weakness."
(From the Apology, Article XII, paragraphs 61-63).

I beg your forgiveness

For those of you who take the time to read this blog, forgive me for not posting for a while. It has been a busy time, but seeing as we are going to revamp our church web site, now is as good a time as any to begin again. Thanks for your patience

Friday, April 2, 2010

When God Damns

PSALM 22:1

My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?
Why are you so far from saving me, from the words of my groaning?

In the name of Christ:

Today words don’t mean what they used to mean. We have either redefined words or have grown cold and callous to their meaning. Damnation is one such word. In our society, damnation has lost its meaning and power. For some, damnation is a pipe dream, a fairy tale, something that will never happen. For these people, they have redefined sin and right and wrong. What used to be called a common truth is now a falsehood or called into question. Sin, therefore, no longer is viewed as sin, but as a choice. Take, for example, homosexuality. The Bible defines it as sin, and yet our culture has redefined it as a lifestyle choice. What used to be wrong is now viewed as right.
It happens in subtle ways as well. God states in His Word that we should not harbor anger or resentment against someone else. However, in these days, people willing hold grudges and makes excuses as to why they should continue to hold a grudge. Anger becomes justified, and the words and actions which proceed are excused, because we must understand how angry a person can get.
Words mean things. In anger, today people curse in the name and under the guise of freedom of speech. Our culture has thrown away words which mean nothing to the people who use them. Damnation is one such word. I don’t say damnation or damn to get a charge out of you or to shock you. Damnation is very real. This Holy Week and the events which took place on Good Friday is all about damnation. God’s damnation is real and justified.
God is justified in threatening damnation. The Holy God created all and it was declared good. Mankind, though, has sinned and spoiled the relationship that was given by God. Sin has entered the world through the disobedience of one man, Adam, and sin and death has spread to everyone. God threatens to punish all who transgress His Holy Word and Will. The soul that sins will most certainly die. The wages of sin is death. Death affects everyone. But death is not damnation.
God would have been justified to damn Adam and Eve, but He didn’t. He banished them from the Garden of Eden, and punished them and their offspring with death. But God did not damn them. God did not damn Adam and Eve’s son Cain, the one who killed his brother Abel. God spared Cain, was merciful to him. Oh, God was would certainly be justified in damning Cain, but God did not. Instead, God placed a mark on Cain so that Cain’s life would be spared. Cain still died because of his sinfulness, but God did not damn Cain.
This can be said of every human being. God is justified in damning His creatures who have sinned, and seeing that all have sinned, God would be justified in damning us! But God did not and does not. At least, not now, for God is patient and wills that all come to know of His love in Christ. God is love and loves all. That is why He gave His one and only Son, Jesus to be the Savior from God’s damnation. At the right time in human history God sent His Son Jesus, to be born of the Virgin Mary, to live and keep God’s Law for each and every sinner, and then, as a result of Christ’s perfect life, God chose to punish His Son instead of punishing His creation.
This is what God did to His Son Jesus, on the cross. This is why Jesus cried out those words from the cross: My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me? To be forsaken of God means that God withdraws Himself from the sinner. It means that the sinner is all alone to face the white hot wrath and anger of God. It means that God damns, really damns, sin and the sinner in His Son Jesus Christ. God damned Jesus so that you would not be damned, but forgiven. For God so loved the world that He gave His one and only Son, but that whoever believes in Jesus will not perish but have eternal life.
On that First Good Friday, God damned Jesus. He damned His Son. When God damns the day light turns black. When God damns sinners and the Devil quake. When God damns, the earth shakes. When God damns the earth and all of creation turns silent. No one can stand, when God damns. So Jesus stands, in the place of every sinner. For Jesus took all of God’s punishment, all of the damnation we and sinners so justly deserve. Just listen to these words: “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? Why are you so far from saving me, from the words of my groaning? [2] O my God, I cry by day, but you do not answer, and by night, but I find no rest. [3] Yet you are holy, enthroned on the praises of Israel. [4] In you our fathers trusted; they trusted, and you delivered them. [5] To you they cried and were rescued; in you they trusted and were not put to shame. [6] But I am a worm and not a man, scorned by mankind and despised by the people. [7] All who see me mock me; they make mouths at me; they wag their heads; [8] "He trusts in the Lord; let him deliver him; let him rescue him, for he delights in him!"
When God damns Jesus stands, in our place as our Substitute and Savior.
Jesus took it all and died on the cross, willingly, never doubting God’s mercy and justice. This is truly God’s gift. This is truly Good News, that we have a loving God, who spared not His own Son but freely damned Him so that we might be saved. And we are! For God accepted Jesus’ sacrifice, and Jesus rose three days later, to defeat sin, Satan, and death, for you and for all!
This is what the Bible means when it says that Jesus, who knew no sin, became sin for all, that we might know God’s love for all in Jesus. Yes God is good; He is gracious, all on account of His Son Jesus Christ. And so we give thanks to the Lord, for He indeed is good, His love lasts forever, because of His justice poured out on the cross.