Welcome

Over the years I have written several "book" or "booklets" and many, many, many newsletter and bulletin articles. Because the book market seeks writings to meet specific needs at specific times, my material has never been accepted. I have a tendency to write what is on my mind and so I am left with self publishing. So, with the encouragement from my wife and others, I am beginning this blog in order to put my "ramblings" "out there"! I hope you enjoy!

Disclaimer

Please note that while my intentions are to use good grammar, because of the way in which some of the material presented here is presented (orally) the grammar and syntax might not always be the best English. Also note that good theology is not always presented in the best English so there may be times when the proper grammar rules are purposely broken.

Wednesday, June 30, 2010

I Wish I Had the Power I Am Attributed to Having Or, How Do You Think God Will Respond?

“So and so made me do it.” It is so easy to pass the blame to someone else, when the truth is, we should answer, “I did not get my way and so this is my ‘adult’ way of pouting.”

But, let us take this to the ultimate, theological conclusion. Let us say we are standing before God on Judgment Day. We have not been to church in years. We have been bad mouthing our pastor, other church members, etc. We believe we are justified in our anger. (And Satan is proud!)

So, God asks, “Who are you?” “Do I know you?” “Have I seen you before?” and we answer, “Yes, we know you Lord, remember, we are members of Your Church.” “Then, why have I not seen you?” God asks. Our response, “Well, it is so and so’s fault.” “So and so made me do it.” Do we actually believe God will say, “Oh, okay, that makes sense, after all, I never did create you to be responsible for yourself.”

It is amazing how narrow focused, self-centered, we have become in this world. Our focus is rarely where it should be and needs to be, on the goal, eternal life with Christ. How little thought we give to the fact that our life in this world is truly fast and fleeting. Instead, we begin life thinking we are invincible and live life on the edge. We then live life thinking we need to make the most of this life while we can. And, unfortunately, it is not until and only if we live long enough that we begin to think about the goal and it is usually at this time that we begin to realize how short our life has been and the regrets we have for the things we have done and said.

Jesus told the parable about the rich man for a reason. Remember the story, the rich man believed he needed to build bigger and better barns, stock up and enjoy life, eat, drink and be merry and tomorrow he would worry about his soul, but that very night his soul was required of him.

None of us knows when we will die, because our birth certificate does not have an expiration date on it, so we need to be always ready, especially always ready to give an answer, even to our God, the judge who may not recognize us, because we have not been the people He would have us to be.

So, perhaps we would do well to keep life in perspective, to keep our eyes on the goal, to forgive as we have been forgiven, to not take offense, to not throw tantrums, to be ready to stand before God and answer for ourselves taking responsibility for ourselves. No one can make us do anything, not even God (well, I guess He could if He wanted to, but that is not how He operates). When we act, when we react, we do so according to our own intentions and we are accountable, before God for our actions.

How to respond to, “So and so made me do it?” “Well, if I made you do this, then would you have done the opposite if I had told you?” “Then why did you not do the opposite, because that is what I would have told you!”

The good news is this, God is gracious, God is love, and He loves us so much. He has earned forgiveness for us and He has the power and the will to stir in us, to guide us, to help us to be the people He would have us to be, to act and react appropriately, taking responsibility for ourselves, and even when we fail, He is there always ready to forgive and help us again.

Sunday, June 27, 2010

The Sound of a Low Whisper - June 27, 2010 - Fifth Sunday after Pentecost (Proper 08) - Text: 1 Kings 19:9b-21

Wise King Solomon, by inspiration of God relates these words from God in one of his proverbs, “Be still, and know that I am God. I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth!” (Proverbs 46:10). How difficult it is for us in our fast paced world today to “be still.” Most of us believe we simply do not have enough time to “be still.” Anyone who has ever been laid up for medical reasons understands how difficult it is to “be still.” But, let me tell you this, if you take the time, if you make the time, if you will “be still,” you might be amazed at what you might see and hear and what might happen.

In order to best understand our text for this morning, we will need to make sure we hear it in its context, so let us go back a bit and review what had happened before we get to our text. In the chapter before our text we have Elijah’s challenge and defeat of the prophets of Baal. Now, personally, I believe this story is a very instructing story, both for us as individual Christians and as a church body. Now, I do not want to rehash the events of the Yankee Stadium conundrum of 2001, but I do believe Elijah’s response is a good example of what should have been done. Elijah challenged the prophets of Baal to a sacrifice “throw down.” They, the prophets of Baal, would offer a bull as a sacrifice and so would Elijah, but neither would light their offering. The “winner” would be the one whose sacrifice the Lord God would light and consume. Now, notice that in the account, Elijah did not join the prophets of Baal in prayer, instead, he stood off and mocked them. He made fun of them. At no time did he even imply that the one true God was even close to being on the same level as the false god of Baal.

After the prophets of Baal were unable to get their god, small “g,” or idol to wake up and accept their offering, Elijah made his offering, even pouring water on his offering and as the story goes, the Lord God, the one true God, took his offering and the water in the trenches. And notice that after he won the sacrifice “throw down,” Elijah did not evangelize the prophets of Baal, but he put them to death. God never wants us to put Him on an even par with any other false god or idol, but always to make sure that He is the exclusive God of all, which is why we Christians are hated, as we have said before.

So, after his victory, Jezebel threatens Elijah and he runs away. At this point, Elijah believes that he and he alone is the only person left in Israel who is faithful to the Lord. Elijah did not run away because he was afraid of Jezebel, because we know he was a great man of faith, look at what he had just accomplished, but he ran away because he believes that he has noone left in Israel to befriend and thus he has no reason to stay.

So, now we pick up at our text for today. God appears to Elijah, not to chastise him, but to ask him what is on his mind. We pick up at the second part of verse nine, “9bAnd behold, the word of the Lord came to him, and he said to him, ‘What are you doing here, Elijah?’ 10He said, ‘I have been very jealous for the Lord, the God of hosts. For the people of Israel have forsaken your covenant, thrown down your altars, and killed your prophets with the sword, and I, even I only, am left, and they seek my life, to take it away’” (v. 9b-10). Elijah laments to the Lord that he believes that there are no longer any faithful believers left in Israel.

Which brings us to my words of introduction and how God speaks to us. As our text continues, God speaks to Elijah and notice how He speaks to Elijah, picking up at verse eleven, “11And he said, ‘Go out and stand on the mount before the Lord.’ And behold, the Lord passed by, and a great and strong wind tore the mountains and broke in pieces the rocks before the Lord, but the Lord was not in the wind. And after the wind an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake. 12And after the earthquake a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire. And after the fire the sound of a low whisper. 13And when Elijah heard it, he wrapped his face in his cloak and went out and stood at the entrance of the cave. And behold, there came a voice to him and said, ‘What are you doing here, Elijah?’ 14He said, ‘I have been very jealous for the Lord, the God of hosts. For the people of Israel have forsaken your covenant, thrown down your altars, and killed your prophets with the sword, and I, even I only, am left, and they seek my life, to take it away’” (v. 11-14). Notice that God did not speak to Elijah in the loud rumble of the “great and strong wind,” nor in the earthquake or fire, but instead He spoke to Elijah in a still small voice, “the sound of a low whisper.”

And the Lord instructs Elijah in what to do, including naming and anointing his predecessor, Elisha, naming and anointing a new king over Syria, Hazael, and naming and anointing a new king over Israel, Jehu. Notice that God is still in control. God is still in charge. God continues to guide and work with His people, even His sinful fallen people, to work out the best for them. God is still with Elijah, guiding and directing him.

So, what does this mean? And what are we to do? First, I believe this narrative serves well to remind us that God’s desire is that we do not compromise our doctrine and faith. There are many in our world today who would suggest that we all believe in the same God, we simply call Him by different names. The problem with that suggestion is that these same people do not believe in a God who would die and rise again, instead, they believe in a god who insists that one is saved by one’s character. It all goes back to who is running the show, who is doing what. Do we worship a god who needs us to do for him, if we are, then we are worshiping a false god and an idol. Or, are we worshiping a God who does everything for us and gives everything to us, if we are, then we are worshiping the one true God.

It is God who gives us the victory. God created a perfect world into which man, namely Adam and Eve, brought sin, corruption and death. Yet, it was God who immediately promised to take care of their sin and the sin of all people, of all places, of all times. It was God who sent His Son, truly Himself in human flesh to live perfectly for us in our place because we cannot. It was God, in Jesus who took our sins upon Himself in order to pay the price for our sins. It was God in Jesus who suffered the eternal spiritual death penalty in hell for us and died and rose so that we might have forgiveness of sins and eternal life. Notice how the one true God is the one who does for us, His people, not one who demands that we do for Him.

And our God continues to care for us so that we may lay our burdens on Him. Just as Elijah had his own down time and lamented to the Lord, so we may come to our Lord and lay on Him our troubles, our hardships, our heart aches and the like and He will lift us up and take care of us.

Just as Elijah was in conversation with the Lord, so today, we continue to be in conversation to the Lord. We speak to Him in prayer and He speaks to us through His Word. Very often, the reason we fail to hear God speak to us, is because we fail to make use of His Word, we fail to “be still” and listen to “the sound of a low whisper” through His Word. Or, if we do take the time to read and hear His Word, we fail to hear the Lord in His low whisper because we fail to believe His Word. Either way, the problem is not with the Lord, but with us.

The Lord our God is a jealous God, desiring that we have faith in and worship Him alone. It is through His Word that He instructs us, reminding us of the authority He has given us and the promise to be with us even to the end of the world.

So, what are we to do? First and foremost we are to be given to. We are to be still and know that the Lord is God. We are to be still and be given the gifts He has to give, and in particular to be loved by God. God created us to love us. God created us to lavish us with all the good gifts and blessing He has to give.

And so our Lord does love us and lavish us and He does so through the means He has given us to lavish us, His means of grace, His Holy Word, the Bible and His Sacraments, Holy Baptism and the Lord’s Supper, along with Confession and Absolution. As we make regular and diligent use of His means of grace, our Lord comes to us through these means to give, strength and keep us in faith, to give us faith, forgiveness, life and salvation. Which reminds us that the opposite is also true, as we neglect to make use of the means of grace, so then we are refusing and rejecting the gifts God has to give, in essence we are rejecting His love and the gifts He desires to lavish on us.

As Christians, making regular and diligent use of the means of grace, being given to and lavished on by God, the good gifts and blessings He has to give, so He stirs in us and moves in us to live lives of faith, that is we live as priests in the priesthood of believers. As we work in the various vocations the Lord has given us so that we offer our lives through these vocations as living sacrifices for the Lord.

And ultimately, as God lives in us, lavishes us with all His good gifts and blessings, and stirs in us to live lives of faith, our lives bear witness of the faith that God has given to us and in so doing, give glory to the Lord. Notice, God is the prime mover. We love because He first loved us. And we know His love and we hear Him speak to us especially as we are still and as we listen to the whisper of His voice.

God never promised that life would be easy, as a matter of fact, a beautiful rose has painful thorns. God has promised that He will be with us, even to the end of the world. God has promised that He gives us His authority to boldly proclaim His Word and the exclusive nature that He is the Way, the only Way, the Truth, the only Truth, and the Life, the only Life so that no one can come to the Father, no one has eternal life except those He has called and given faith, forgiveness and life. So, I encourage and exhort you yet today, make regular and diligent use of the means of grace, be given the good gifts and blessings the Lord desires to lavish on you. And rejoice and give praise to the Lord, for He is good, for His mercy does endure for ever. To Him be the glory, for Jesus’ sake. Amen.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

I Will Do For My Servants Sake - June 20, 2010 - Fourth Sunday after Pentecost (Proper 07) - Text: Isaiah 65:1-9

Although Father’s Day is a secular holiday, certainly as Christians, it is mete, right and salutary that we would desire to recognize God’s gift of fatherhood and so this morning let me begin by wishing all of our fathers a Happy Father’s Day. I pray the Lord may bless your being in divine service this morning and indeed your whole day.

Stephen R. Covey who wrote the best-selling book, The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, once wrote, “The main thing is to keep the main thing the main thing.” This morning, the main thing of our text is the first two verses, “1I was ready to be sought by those who did not ask for me; I was ready to be found by those who did not seek me. I said, ‘Here am I, here am I,’ to a nation that was not called by my name. 2I spread out my hands all the day to a rebellious people, who walk in a way that is not good, following their own devices” (v. 1-2).

In our text, God, speaking through the prophet Isaiah, seeks to set the record straight. God’s promise of salvation was, is and always will be to all people. Beginning in the Garden of Eden before there was a Jew and Gentile, God’s promise was to all people and here in Isaiah, God’s promise continues to be to all people, and even to us today, God’s promise continues to be to all people. Certainly we rejoice because God’s promise of salvation is for us even today.

In our text, Isaiah speaks of “those who did not ask.” “Those who do not ask,” are the Gentiles. By the time we get to our text, the Jews have established themselves as God’s chosen people, yet they have done so in such a way that they have excluded the rest of the people of the world and the Gentiles know this, that is they know that they are not included in the Jewish world, let alone the Jewish faith or religion. In other words, the Gentiles simply have come to believe that they have no part in the Jewish Savior and so they do not even ask.

As for the Jews, God’s chosen people, the nation through whom the Savior of the world was promised to be born, they have become a rebellious people. Although God chose Abraham and his people to be the nation through which the Messiah would be born, they have rebelled against the Lord, against His commands, against His good gifts and blessings and have followed after their own devices. At this point we might say that God is not happy with either the Jews or the Gentiles and so His words are words of warning and a call to repentance and faith.

Let us look a little closer at these people, the Gentiles. The Gentiles were any people who were not of Jewish descent. Up until the call of Abraham, there really was no distinction, at least Biblically speaking, between any of the nation groups on the earth. Certainly there were the various culture groups which spoke different languages that spread out after the confusion of the languages at the tower of Babel, but, Biblically speaking, all people were the same. It was at the call of Abraham that a Biblical distinction began to be made, and this distinction was not a distinction concerning who would be saved and who would not be saved.

As for the Gentiles, the Savior of the world was not promised to be born through their offspring. In essences, the Jews, the nation through whom the Savior was promised, became first class citizens, at least that is what they thought of themselves, and they regulated the rest of the world, the Gentiles to second class citizen status. I believe there is a cliche that says, “Pride goeth before the fall.” With the Jews, perhaps it was their proud nature, thinking themselves as first class citizens and regulating the rest of the world as second class citizens which began their own fall as we will see.

As for the Gentiles, they knew God, not as the chosen nation, not from the great blessings the Lord bestowed on them compared to the Jews, but they knew God, through natural knowledge as well as through revealed knowledge proclaimed to them. Remember, God’s promise to send a Savior was never a promise to just a certain group of people, but was always a promise to all people of all places of all times.

And so, the Gentiles, not having the special status of the Jews, rejoiced in the good news. It is no wonder that when the Apostles finally recognized God’s favor on the Gentiles as well that the Gospel so easily took hold in the Gentile community.

As for the Jews, they were God’s chosen people, but not necessarily the way they believed themselves to be. The Jews were the people of the family line of Abraham. It was Abram, whose name was later changed to Abraham, who was chosen by God. Abraham did not choose God, but God chose him. And God chose him, not because of any deserving reason on his own part, simply God chosen him.

God chose Abraham and made a promise, a covenant with him. God’s covenant with Abraham was that He would bless him, that He would make him a great nation and that the Savior of the world, of all people, of all nations, Jews and Gentiles alike would be born through his offspring. And God made Abraham a great nation.

As the nation of Abraham grew, as they became the nation of Israel, as they were forced into slavery and then delivered from slavery in Egypt, as they were brought into and give the promised land, you would think that with all that God had done for them they would be His loyal people, however, instead, they disobeyed God and went after other gods and idols. That is what the rest of our text for this morning is about, the fact that they were not and did not act like the people of God, the people God called and through whom God promised to send the Savior of the world.

As a matter of fact, as we look at the history of the children of Israel, we see that they were constantly disciplined by the Lord. Their history was rather a roller coaster ride of sin and rebellion, discipline and punishment, repentance and forgiveness, and then moving back and starting again with sin and rebellion, discipline and punishment, repentance and forgiveness. And this ride went round and round for many years, until the birth of the Messiah.

So, what does this mean? And what does this mean for us today? As I have said, time and time again, God’s promise to send a Savior was given in Eden, before there was a Jew or a Gentile and His promise was made to all people of all places of all times. If only those who continue to misread the book of Revelation would only go back to the beginning of the Book, they would see quite clearly that the Lord made one covenant with all people, not two covenants, one with one group and one with another group. And the covenant the Lord made was not a covenant of birth or genetics, but was a covenant of grace, of God’s doing, of God’s giving and our being done to and given to. It always, all begins with the Lord.

Again, if one would take the time to read God’s Word, from the beginning, and let God speak and actually listen to and believe what God says, one would realize that the fulfillment of God’s promise was narrowed so that His promise would be fulfilled through the line of Abraham. This narrowing of the line of fulfillment in no way took away from the fact that the Savior would be the Savior of all people of all places of all times, simply that the family line through which the Savior would be born would be through the family of Abraham.

From our text for this morning we are reminded of the misuses, the abuses, the misunderstandings, of those who imposed or attempted to impose their own will onto God and His covenant, gifts and promises. And certainly, as I have reminded you from time to time, we are no different today than the children of Israel of old. How often does God find us running after other God’s and idols who are not the Lord? How often does God find us breaking, not one, not two, but all His commandments? How often does God find us “interpreting” His Word according to our own sinful desires? If we actually read God’s Word and took His Word as His Word and took His Word seriously, our world would be a different world. Unfortunately, because of the sin in the Garden of Eden, where it all began, we live in a sinful world filled with sin and that will be the way it is until the Lord returns and recreates everything anew.

The key, how do we know we are getting it right? How do we know we are right and others, other religions, cults and sects are getting it wrong? Simple! All the religions, cults and sects and be classified under two headings: those who must do for their god, in order to appease him, please him or manipulate him, which is idolatry; and those who believe the God of Holy Scripture who runs the show, who does for us, who gives to us, who made His promise and fulfilled His promise to take care of our sin and be our Savior. Remember, it is a matter of who is running the verbs, who is running the show. And if God is running the show, if Jesus is the Savior for all people of all places of all times, then we are indeed children of God and children of the promise, not by birth, not by genetics, but by God’s grace, through faith, given to us, in Jesus Christ alone. Which is why we as Christian are so hated by the rest of the world, because of the exclusive claim of God that there is only one way to be saved and that is through Jesus Christ alone.

The best way I can summarize the Lord’s Word and the key to His Word is the fact that God gives and we are given to, God does and we are done to. It all begins with God. He created us. He gave us life at conception. He gave us new life through Holy Baptism. He paid the price for our forgiveness. He strengthens and keeps us in faith through His means of grace, His Word and His Sacraments. And we rejoice as He stirs in us a response of faith, to give glory to His Holy Name.

As we celebrate Father’s day, as we celebrated Mother’s day, we are reminded that none of us chose to be born and none of us chooses for God to give us faith, forgiveness and life. God gives to us according to what He knows is best for us, according to His good and gracious will. God loves you so much and He has so much He has given to you and so much more He wants to give to you. Rejoice and be given the gifts God has to give to you for Jesus’ sake. Amen.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

You Know Where You Are By What You See

If you were blindfolded and taken into a store anywhere in the United States and the blindfold was removed, and you saw a store mostly painted red, with red circles and circles inside circles, you might imagine you were in a Target® Store. If you removed the blindfold and you saw predominately a blue paint and little flowers and smiley faces, and the brand Great Value you would know you were in a Walmart® Store. The same could be said for any of a number of department stores, Sears®, Penny’s®, Kohls®, Kmart®, and the list could go on. Simply by our observation of what we see in a store, the colors, the arrangement, the store name brand, and so forth, we know the store. The philosophy of business of the store dictates the design and function of the store.

There is a cliche that states, “If it looks like a duck and quakes like a duck, it is a duck.” This may be applied to what we have been saying about these large department stores. You would not go into a Walmart® and expect to see little red targets. You would not go into a Sears® and find the Great Value brand. Because of the particular business philosophy of each business, each business has a particular way of designing the layout of the store, a particular way of presenting the items for sale, a particular way of advertizing, having sales, etc.

Since this connection is true in the business world, and since too many (one is too many) in the church would like to emulate the business world and incorporate the business model into the church, believing the church should be run like a business, certainly we can make a comparison in the church. Interestingly enough, although there are those who would like to run a church like a business, they do not want to compare the connection of the business philosophy to the way the business carries out their philosophy. The reason for this resistance to compare the two in this manner is because those who would like to run a church like a business want to make a disconnect from the business philosophy and the business practice.

The “brass tacks” of this is that even in the business world there is a connection between philosophy and practice just as in the church there is a connection between doctrine and practice. In the church some label this as “style” and “substance.” Style is practice and substance is doctrine or philosophy. In the business world they go together so that no matter in what store you shop, you know you are in that store. When there is a disconnect, as has been attempted in the church, there is confusion. So, although in years past if you went into any Lutheran Church, you knew you were in a Lutheran Church, the same cannot be said today, because, there are some Lutheran Churches who attempt to make this disconnect today. Which means that as the practice has changed, the style has changed, and the heart of this change can be traced to a change in substance, in doctrine. So, just as a business that changes its philosophy reflects this change in how it conducts business, so a church that has changed its doctrine shows this change in its practice. And the reverse is also true, if a church has changed its practice, its doctrine will change.

If you go to a church that looks like a Baptist Church, sounds like a Baptist Church, acts like a Baptist Church, etc., then you know you are in a Baptist Church. It does not matter what the name on the marquee is, non-denomination, pan-denomination, un-denomination, etc., it is what it practices. If you attend a Church that has the Lutheran name, but sounds, looks and acts like a Baptist Church, do not be fooled, it is a Baptist Church.

Perhaps we would do well to stop trying to fool people concerning who are what we are and be proud of our history, name, doctrine and practice.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

The Lord Has Caused Your Sin to Be Put Away - June 13, 2010 - 3rd Sunday after Pentecost (Proper 06) - Text: 2 Sam. 11:26- 12:10, 13-14

Last week we broached the subject of the correlation between sin and temporal punishment, or consequences of our actions. Perhaps you remember that I said that we cannot always say that a person is suffering as a direct consequence of a specific sin. I suggested that a child who contacts AIDS through a blood transfusion is not necessarily suffering the consequences of his actions of sexual promiscuity or drug use with bad needles, rather he is suffering from the sins of our society as a whole. We live in a world that is and has been infected by sin since the fall into sin in the Garden of Eden and the sins of the world do indeed result in pain and suffering. With that said, however, this morning there is a direct correlation between sin and the temporal consequence of King David’s sin, as we will see.

The narrative that leads up to our text is that King David had committed adultery with Uriah’s wife, Bathsheba and she became pregnant. Remember the story, David was out looking out over the town and saw Bathesheba, invited her over, an invitation that she accepted and the result was that she became pregnant.

As the story continued, David tried to cover up his sin of adultery by bringing Uriah home to sleep with his wife, so that it might appear that she was pregnant with his child. What King David did not count on was that Uriah did not sleep with his wife because he was a more honorable man. His fellow soldiers were in the field at war and were not able to enjoy the benefits of marriage, of being at home and so he believed that he should not either. Thus, David’s plan “A” failed, so he moved on to plan “B”.

David had Uriah murdered by the hand of his military. He had Uriah put at the front of the battle and then had the troops pull back so that it appeared as if he was killed in battle. And then after the period of mourning for her husband, David married Bathsheba. It looked as if no one would be the wiser, that she would have David’s child and that everything was done in a legitimate way.

In the course of time, the baby was born, the baby of the adulterous affair. Not too much later, as Samuel relates the account, “26When the wife of Uriah heard that Uriah her husband was dead, she lamented over her husband. 27And when the mourning was over, David sent and brought her to his house, and she became his wife and bore him a son. But the thing that David had done displeased the Lord (v. 26-27). Notice how this sin as well as all that happens is known to God. We may be able to hide our sins from the rest of humanity, but we cannot hide from God. God knows all and sees all and Samuel relates to us, “the thing that David had done displeased the Lord,” which is probably an understatement.

So, God sends Nathan the prophet to confront David. Nathan tells David a moving and convicting story, picking up at verse one of chapter twelve, “12:1And the Lord sent Nathan to David. He came to him and said to him, “There were two men in a certain city, the one rich and the other poor. 2The rich man had very many flocks and herds, 3but the poor man had nothing but one little ewe lamb, which he had bought. And he brought it up, and it grew up with him and with his children. It used to eat of his morsel and drink from his cup and lie in his arms, and it was like a daughter to him. 4Now there came a traveler to the rich man, and he was unwilling to take one of his own flock or herd to prepare for the guest who had come to him, but he took the poor man’s lamb and prepared it for the man who had come to him” (12:1-4). At this point David does not know that Nathan’s story is a story of symbolism in which he is a main character, the rich man.

David hears the story and immediately his judgement is the death penalty, picking up at verse five, “5Then David’s anger was greatly kindled against the man, and he said to Nathan, “As the Lord lives, the man who has done this deserves to die, 6and he shall restore the lamb fourfold, because he did this thing, and because he had no pity” (v. 5-6). Yes, David knows right from wrong. Remember, David was a man of God. He was a righteous man, at least up until this time. David was chosen to be King of Israel because he was a man after the Lord’s heart. His judgment on this man in Nathan’s story was that he deserved to die.

And now, Nathan reveals to David the truth of the story, verse seven, “7Nathan said to David, “You are the man! Thus says the Lord, the God of Israel, ‘I anointed you king over Israel, and I delivered you out of the hand of Saul. 8And I gave you your master’s house and your master’s wives into your arms and gave you the house of Israel and of Judah. And if this were too little, I would add to you as much more. 9Why have you despised the word of the Lord, to do what is evil in his sight? You have struck down Uriah the Hittite with the sword and have taken his wife to be your wife and have killed him with the sword of the Ammonites. 10Now therefore the sword shall never depart from your house, because you have despised me and have taken the wife of Uriah the Hittite to be your wife’” (v. 7-10). Nathan explains the symbolism in his story. He explains that God had given David everything and if everything was not enough He would have given him even more, but what he did was not right. God knew what David did. God knew that David committed adultery with Bathsheba. God knew that David had Uriah murdered and now God is calling him to account.

Upon hearing Nathan’s words of conviction, David’s response is an immediate confession of his sin. What else could he do, but confess, verse thirteen, “13David said to Nathan, “I have sinned against the Lord.” And Nathan said to David, “The Lord also has put away your sin; you shall not die” (v. 13). David confessed and Nathan immediately announces God’s absolution. That is the way it is with God and with confession and absolution, even today. We confess and God absolves.

But the narrative is not over. Nathan announces God’s absolution, but he then announces God’s temporal consequences or punishment for David’s sin, that is that the baby will die. Verse fourteen, “14Nevertheless, because by this deed you have utterly scorned the Lord, the child who is born to you shall die” (v. 14). Yes, in this instance there is a direct correlation between David and Bathsheba’s sin and the consequence of the Lord’s requirement of the life of the child.

So, what does this mean? What do we take from this account for our own lives today? First and foremost we might look in the mirror and see that even today we sin and we too try to hide our sin. For some reason, especially when we are in the midst of our sinning we fail to realize that God is watching us and that He knows exactly what we are doing. You might think that if we truly believe that God was watching us, at all times, it might deter us from sinning, but it does not. We sin anyway.

As always, God knows our sins and through His law shows us our sins. The reason we have the commandments is not to limit us, not to take away our freedom, but to protect us, to give us boundaries, to keep us safe and to give us order and peace. The law is good, because if we did not have the law then there would be only anarchy and chaos. You might remember that in catechetical instruction we speak of the three uses of the law; a rule which helps us to distinguish between right and wrong; a curb which helps us to stay on the straight and narrow; and a mirror which shows us our sins.

As a mirror, the law condemns. Notice that it is not the law which moves us to repentance, at least it is not the law by itself. Without the Gospel the law would lead us either to despair, thinking there is no use in trying to be good because we can never be good enough; or it may lead to self-righteousness which is what is proclaimed in may TV churches today; and what many people like to hear, that is that you can be good enough as God wants you to be. If we could be good enough as God wants us to be then we would have no need for a Savior, because we could save ourselves, thus the problem with the law without the Gospel is that it leads us away from our complete trust and dependance on our Savior.

It is the Gospel, the good news of forgiveness which moves us to true repentance. It is the fact that Jesus has already paid the price for our sin that we can confess and repent of our sin, that we are not afraid to confess our sins. Because we know that when we confess our sins, that with repentance is forgiveness. It is failure to confess that is gift refusal. You have heard me use this illustration before, but it bears repeating. There is the story of the teacher who passed out boxes of new crayons to her students with the specific instructions to be careful and not break them. After a while, one student actually broke a crayon. When the teacher then asked those students who had broken a crayon to place it on their desk, instead the student put the crayon back in the box so it did not look broken. The teacher then collected the broken crayons and gave new crayons. The student who did not put out the broken crayon did not receive a new crayon. This is how we understand that forgiveness is freely offered, but when we fail to repent, we are refusing the free gift of forgiveness. Thus it is the offer of forgiveness, it is the Gospel, which moves us to repent.

Now as for the temporal consequences of our sin, we may at times suffer some temporal consequences, or punishment for our sins. Certainly, we understand that if we break the law of our country, we will be punished, if we are speeding we may get a ticket as a consequence of our action. Yet, we do understand that when Jesus died on the cross, He suffered much of the temporal consequences of our sins as well as all the eternal consequences.

Because Jesus lived perfectly, took all our sins upon Himself and died on the cross, we know that we will never suffer the eternal consequences, the eternal punishment, eternal spiritual death in hell for our sins, because they have all been taken care of by Jesus on the cross.

Our Gospel reading (Luke 7:36-8:3) for this morning gives us a great example of just how much the Gospel stirs in us a response of confession, not the law. Rather than thinking that as we grow in our Christian faith and life, that we are getting to be better and better people, and perhaps need Jesus less and less, which would move us to be like the Pharisees; as we grow in our Christian faith and walk with Jesus, we understand more and more how sinful we truly are, and how because of our great sin, how much we need God and how much God loves us because He gave His life for ours. We who are forgiven much love Jesus so much more and cling to Him so much more.

This morning we are shown quite clearly the need to properly distinguish between the law and the Gospel. We are shown quite clearly how the law works and how the Gospel works. And we are shown quite clearly how each needs to be used and is used. God loves you so much and He has so much that He wants to give to you. My prayer continues to be that, rather than refuse and reject the gifts God has to give, that as you make regular and diligent use of His means of grace, especially as you confess your sins, you may indeed rejoice in His forgiveness knowing that with forgiveness is life and salvation. To Him be the glory, for Jesus’ sake. Amen.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Wisdom and Strength

Praise the Lord for the power and wisdom of God. Praise the Lord that His weakness is stronger than our power. We may think we have power, well, after all, we can blow up the earth, but in His power God said, “Let there be” and there was. God alone can create and destroy matter. We human beings can only change the matter which our Lord has created for us.

Praise the Lord that His foolishness is wiser than our wisdom. We may think we are wise, especially when we begin to explain the processes that occur in our world. This is where we need to constantly remind ourselves, lest we forget, that we are merely explaining processes. It is God who created all the processes, how long has it taken us to understand just a few? Oh, there are people who would like to explain away the world according to chance, but the faith it would take to believe those theories is much greater than the faith the Lord gives us to believe His truth.

The other day I saw a car with the Christian fish made with legs and the name “Darwin” inscribe in the middle. I would like to have stopped the person and asked, “So, how many years did it take for all those parts to come together by themselves to make your car?” Certainly, the person would have looked at me like I was crazy. And I did leave out the whole problem of where did the parts come from in the first place. If you would ask anyone this question they would think you were out of your mind. Yet, no one seems to mind suggesting that our bodies, which are even more complex than a car, evolved over millions of years. How much greater is the foolishness of God than the greatest wisdom of man.

There are basically two religions in the world. There is man’s religion and there is God’s religion. The religion of man is based on self-righteousness, on man’s reaching up to God, on man’s ability, his character, his working out his own salvation. Basically, according to man’s religion, one must earn his or her salvation. A person is to do good and then he or she is saved.

And then there is God’s religion. God’s religion is based on grace. God does it all and gives it all. And God does it all and gives it all even though we are undeserving of any and all that He has to give. God gives salvation and then a person is motivated, again, by God, to respond, that is to do and to live.

Thus, the cross is foolishness to the self-righteous and so they do not hear the preaching of the cross. The cross is simply another reminder of our sin and our inability to do anything about our sin. We like to think of ourselves as basically good people. Have you noticed how the people of our world flock to these churches that, basically tell people they are good people. And if we are basically good people, then we do not need anyone to pay any price for our sins, because basically we do not have any sin. This is man’s wisdom. Or should I say, “This is man’s wisdom?” (Said in a questioning tone). Remember, as I said last week and as I have said numerous times before, the forgiveness of sins is our greatest need and the greatest gift we are given to by God. For, without forgiveness, we are yet in our sins and we would be destined to eternal spiritual death. When we think we are so good that we have no need for forgiveness, when we are not reminded of our sins so that we confess, then we remain in our sins and our destiny is set.

Yet, as we see, there are many in our world today who revel in this foolishness and in this powerlessness. People flock to churches and seminars where they are told how good they really are and how they can do some many good things to please the Lord. There are many who believe God wants and even needs something from them. Here again we see human wisdom at its best. As Christians, as redeemed children of God, as sinners made saints through God’s grace which gives faith, forgiveness and eternal life we are certainly reminded, what could our God possibly need from us? He is the One who created us. He is the One who redeemed us. He is the One who is working in us our Sanctification. He created us in order to do for us and give to us, in order to love us. How many parents do you know have children so they can be served by their children? No, we have children in order to love them, care for them, and raise them in the nurture and admonition of the Lord. We are God’s children and He created us to love us, care for us and nurture us.

So, if we are going to boast, then we only boast in the Lord. As we look at our three texts for this morning, we are reminded that we boast in the fact that our Lord loves us so much that He gives us the Ten Commandments, which point out our sins, so we do repent. We boast in the Lord, that Jesus is the Son of God, even God Himself, who came to earth to do for us what we are unable to do. That is, Jesus obeyed all the commandments perfectly for us and then took our sins of breaking all the commandments, and paid the price for our sins. And now we are reminded of the foolishness and weakness of our Lord, which are far greater than what we believe to be our wisdom and strength.

Praise the Lord that in His power and wisdom He did not let the weaknesses and foolishness of this world get in the way so that He did accomplish His plan of salvation so that by grace, through faith in Jesus’ death and resurrection we have the promise of forgiveness of sins, life and salvation. To Him be the glory, for Jesus’ sake. Amen.

Sunday, June 6, 2010

The Word of the Lord Is True - June 6, 2010 - Second Sunday after Pentecost (Proper 05) - Text: 1 Kings 17:17-24

“Why do bad things happen to good people?” That is a question that is often asked, especially by people who believe that bad things are happening to them and who believe that they are good people. An attempt to answer this question was made a few years back with the book, Why Bad Things Happen to Good People. Although this book was a popular book, it is unfortunate that it attempted to answer the question according to human wisdom, which we talked about last week, human wisdom compared to Godly wisdom. With all the “bad” things that continue to happen in our world today, it seems to be a question that continues to be on the minds of many people today. Of course, as you have heard me say before, concerning the evil that is in this world, evil and bad are a result of sin. Sin has infected our DNA. We are conceived and born in sin. The real question we sinful human beings should ask is, “Why do good things happen to sinful people?” And of course the answer is that it is because God loves us and continually seeks to work out the best for us.

In our Gospel reading for this morning we see Jesus working out the best for the widow of Nain as He brings her son, and as the text says, her only son, the one who is taking care of her, back to life so he can take care of her. In the Epistle reading Paul reminds us how the Lord called him, who was persecuting Christians, to be an Apostle to go out and preach the Gospel. And in our text for today we read the account of Elijah and the raising of the son of the widow of Zarephath. The verses before our text are the account of Elijah’s meeting this widow and the miracle of the oil and flour that were never used up. From these accounts we see that the Lord provides for His people. By the time we get to our text, however, we get the usual question of, “What has the Lord done for me lately?” And from the widow we get the question of why God allowed for my son to die?

Getting to our text, we read beginning at verse seventeen, “17After this the son of the woman, the mistress of the house, became ill. And his illness was so severe that there was no breath left in him. 18And she said to Elijah, “What have you against me, O man of God? You have come to me to bring my sin to remembrance and to cause the death of my son!” (V. 17-18). Our text begins with the death of the son and the immediate blaming of Elijah by the widow for his death. Let us try to understand the widows logic. She thinks that it is because of Elijah’s holiness that she looks so bad before God. If there were some sinner living with her she would look good before God. Since she looks so bad before God, she believes God is punishing her by taking her son.

In our world today, we have a very similar logic to the widow. WE often compare ourselves to the person down the street. “I’m not as bad as so and so.” “How come bad things happen to me, I am a good person.” If we look hard enough we can always find someone who is a worse sinner than we are, at least a worse sinner in our own eyes, but we can also find many who are better people than we are. Unfortunately, rather than look at our blessings we tend to pity ourselves because we think we have it so bad in this life. We can always find someone better off than we are, but we can also find people who are worse off.

Continuing on in our text at verse nineteen, “19And he said to her, “Give me your son.” And he took him from her arms and carried him up into the upper chamber where he lodged, and laid him on his own bed. 20And he cried to the Lord, “O Lord my God, have you brought calamity even upon the widow with whom I sojourn, by killing her son?” 21Then he stretched himself upon the child three times and cried to the Lord, “O Lord my God, let this child’s life come into him again.” (v. 19-21). You may have noticed that Elijah does not protest the fact that the widow blames him, rather he quietly asks for the boy. He takes the boy to his room, lays him on his bed and prays to the Lord. To have an argument with the widow would not have done anything for the boy. Elijah knows the source of all power and healing, the Lord and so that is where he goes. And when Elijah prays, he prays in faith, knowing, believing and trusting that God will hear and answer his prayer.

As Elijah prays, he too struggles with the question of why God would take the boy’s life, but at the same time he never doubts God’s divine will and goodness. How easy it would have been for Elijah to just give up. This is a man who has had a lot happen to him in his life, none of which did he ask for, and most of which made for a difficult life for him, but the theme that runs through his life is his never failing faith in the Lord that He is good and His mercy endures forever. Elijah may question, but his question is not one of disrespect, rather his question is one of admitting that the Lord is the one who is ever in charge and can make do and can bring out the best of any and every situation.

Perhaps as we look at our own lives in our world today we might imagine that we are very similar to Elijah. Although we may question God in our struggles, in a sense this questioning too is praising God, because we are letting Him know that we know He is the one who is in charge. When we are in the depths of depression we may cry out, “Lord, why did You do this to me?” or “Lord, why me?” These words of questioning show our deeper faith in the Lord, because these words show that we go to the source of all life. “Lord, why?” is our cry to the Lord who we confess to be in charge.

But we are not through with our text. Getting back to the last part of our text we continue with the last verses, “22And the Lord listened to the voice of Elijah. And the life of the child came into him again, and he revived. 23And Elijah took the child and brought him down from the upper chamber into the house and delivered him to his mother. And Elijah said, “See, your son lives.” 24And the woman said to Elijah, “Now I know that you are a man of God, and that the word of the Lord in your mouth is truth.” (v. 22-24).

Our text tells us that the Lord heard Elijah’s prayer and raised the boy back to life. Did God answer Elijah’s prayer and raise the boy back to life because he was such a great man of faith? Was the boy given life because he believed that he would be raised? Was the boy raised because of Elijah’s great amount of praying? No, none of these are the reason for God’s gift of life for the boy. The reason God raised him from the dead was so that He might be glorified. Another reason God raised the boy back to life is because it was God’s desire to do so. I saw a sign on a church once that said, “Miracles happen to those who believe.” I wanted to stop and make the sign completely true by taking off the part that said, “to those who believe.” Miracles happen because God makes them happen, because God does them, whether anyone believes them or not. It is not our faith, it is not any amount of our praying, it has nothing to do with anything on our part that God does what He does, except the fact that what He does He does because of His great love for us. In our text, the miracle increased the faith of the widow.

When we think about, talk about, hear about miracles, we want to remember that this miracle as well as all of Jesus’ miracles are meant to show that He is true God and to give glory to God. Remember the story in the Gospel of John, about the man born blind. The disciples asked Jesus, “was this man born blind because of his sin, or because of the sin of his parents.” Jesus answer was that the man was born blind for neither of those reasons, rather he was born blind, “So that the glory of the Lord might be revealed.”

So what does this mean for us and for our lives here in 2010? First we need to be reminded that Jesus’ suffering, death, and resurrection paid the price for sin, for all sin, the eternal price, eternal spiritual death, and it paid the price for all sins of all people of all time, those from the first sin of Adam and Eve, until the last person on earth is born. How can this be? This can be because God is not stuck in time like we are, God transcends time and so does His work of forgiveness. Notice, Jesus suffered the eternal punishment for all sins. He also suffered much of the temporal punishment for our sins, what we might call the consequences of our sins. There may be times when we must suffer the temporal punishment or consequences of our sin, but the eternal punishment, eternal spiritual death in hell is something that by faith in Jesus we will never suffer.

Today our lessons fit well together, from the Old Testament lesson which falls in line with the Gospel lesson to the epistle lesson as well. All of these texts show us that God is in charge and that He always has in mind for us the best and what is the best for us is indeed what gives glory to His holy name. Did you notice in our text that the “bad” things that happen to people in life, are not because of their own sin specifically, although we may be punished specifically, that is we may suffer the consequences of our sins, but the bad things that happen in life happen in order for the glory of God to be revealed.

Although suffering is a result of sin, we cannot always say that a person is suffering for their own specific sin. Take the example of a child who has contacted AIDS through a blood transfusion. He is not suffering from AIDS because of his own sin of promiscuity or use of drugs with bad needles. He is suffering for the sins of our society. We all suffer, the good and the bad, the believing and the unbelieving, because we live in a world of sin.

The good news of our text as well as all our readings for this morning is the fact that God loves us and He shows His love for us, even through the sin, the bad and the difficulties of this life by working them out for our best. Out of the death of her son at Nain, God brought the son back to life to care for his mother and in so doing demonstrated to us that Jesus is God in flesh with power over life and death. Although Paul was persecuting the Church, God called him to faith and sent him out to tell others the good news of salvation as was revealed to him by God Himself so that others were called to faith, given faith, and made a apart of God’s kingdom. And out of the death of her son, God demonstrated to the woman of Zarapheth that Elijah was a prophet of God and that God loved her and always looked to give her what was best for her. In all these examples in Holy Scripture, God speaks to us telling us that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the living God, even God Himself in human flesh; although we may have difficulties in life, perhaps we may even at times fight against the Lord, as Paul did, God always calls us back to faith, to repentance and forgiveness; and God always has the best in mind for us. There may be times when we do not see the good God has in store for us right away, but we know, we believe, we confess that God’s will and ways are always good and we know that because of His great love for us, He will always do for us and give to us what is best for us.

Yes, evil happens in our world today, and will continue to happen as a result of sin. Yet, we take heart because we know that our Lord has overcome the world. He has overcome sin, death and the devil. He has won the victory. And He gives us the crown of life in heaven, for Jesus sake. To Him be the glory, for Jesus’ sake. Amen.

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Tolerance and Getting Along

I want to begin by asking you to be tolerant of my good behavior this morning. I would like to ask that you be tolerant of what I pray will be good theology, good law and good gospel. Now, doesn’t that sound rather absurd? We do not need to ask for people to be tolerant of our good behavior. When someone is asking us to be tolerant of their behavior it is because they are going to do something that is not good, meet, right and salutary. So, usually we are asked something like this, “will you be tolerant of my homosexual behavior/lifestyle?” “Will you please be tolerant of my drug abuse, spouse abuse . . . etc.?” “Will you be tolerant of my misuse of law and gospel and lousy theology?” And you get the idea. Let that float around in your mind for a minute.

In the Epistle lesson, Paul is writing to the Corinthians because there is a problem. Perhaps the problem is that they are not being tolerant enough of one another? I wonder what their problem might have sounded like in one of our district or synodical conventions today? We are following church growth principles. We are following the principles of Rick Warren. We are following the principles of Bill Hybels. We follow the principles of Joel Osteen, he will bring out the champion in us. We are following the principles of the Fuller Institute. We are following the principles of Kent Hunter. We are following the synod guidelines. We are following Luther. And you know it will happen, someone will get up and say, “Why can’t we just get along?”

“Why can’t we just get along?” That is code for, “Why can’t everyone agree with me?” Of course my response is, “If you will agree with me then we can get along.”

The problem is, we cannot all get along. We are sinners. We are conceived and born in sin. Every inclination of our heart is evil all the time. And, of course Satan knows this and uses this to his greatest advantage pushing and pulling us against one another, tempting us with this or that false teaching, heresy and easy way to “success.”

As a pastor I know that, unfortunately, not all the laity actually realize what the pastor is called to do. Perhaps some people confuse what we do as members of the congregation; anything that needs to be done at times, taking out the trash, fixing the copy machine and so on, we confuse this with our calling to preach the Gospel, administer the sacraments and forgive and retain sins. God calls us to be faithful and to faithfully carry out our calling. No where in Scripture does God indicate that He expects anything from Pastors or from Christians except faithfulness. And actually, the only place Scripture speaks about success has to do with a military campaign and the success is not a human success but is God’s success.

God calls us to be faithful and He knows that even that simple expectation is difficult for us because of our nature. Paul says he was glad he did not baptize anyone (and then he begins remembering the ones he did baptize), but his point is this that he was called by God to preach the Gospel, to preach Christ, to preach Christ crucified, what folly.

Everyone knows that the winner is the one who defeats and comes out on top in the end. The Super Bowl is coming on Sunday and we believe the winner will be the greatest team (when we know the Cowboys are the best, did I say that out loud, sorry). Perhaps the winner will be the best team, at least for a few months until it starts over next season, but he point is, this is a human idea.

Paul, and for that matter, I and, I pray, all good pastor preach Christ crucified. I believe what some fail to understand that we will understand how great is God’s grace and forgiveness only as we understand what miserably, awful sinners we really are. If we follow the tolerant schemes of the world, then we think we are not so bad and perhaps Jesus only had to die a little for me. Not much grace there. Perhaps we can believe in ourselves and the champion in us will come out so that really, we won’t need Jesus at all. No grace there.

One little sin condemns to eternal death. Let alone the fact that we are great sinners indeed. Have you ever thought about it. Suppose we only sinned 3 times a day, when the actual figure is more like 30. So, 3 or 30 times 365 days in a year equals 1000, or 10,000 sins in a year, times how old we are. No, we are not pretty good people. We are rotten, miserable sinners. And God is not tolerant of sin, thus, God is not tolerant of us. The price for sin was set, eternal spiritual death and that price had to be paid. We cannot get along with God because our sin has separated us from Him. There is only one way and that way is not the easy way, that way is the hard way, the death way, the cross way, the Jesus way. There was no quick fix. There was no tolerance. There was no getting along. There was no success, except that Jesus was successful, after all, He did defeat Satan, sin and death, completely. No matter how you look at it, there is only one way and that way is Jesus. And it’s not me and Jesus, it’s just Jesus. Me and Jesus takes way from Jesus. Me and Jesus puts me in the drivers seat. It’s just Jesus. Jesus lived perfectly, obeying all God’s laws perfectly for me, because I cannot. Jesus fulfilled all God’s promises perfectly for me. Jesus saved me because I cannot save myself. It’s just Jesus and even then, Jesus pours out everything on us. He graciously gives us His good gifts and blessings. He graciously pours out His bounty on us giving us gifts upon gifts, the whole lot of His gifts and a whole lot more. With Jesus, we have no need for anything more! Amen.