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.