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, November 28, 2012

Modern Work Righteousness Abounds, How to Tell

“For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast” (Eph. 2:8-9). We are saved by grace, but what is grace. Grace may be understood as God’s Riches At Christ’s Expense, which is a good way to point to Jesus. But most certainly, grace is a gift. A gift is a gift, not because of something done by the one being given the gift, but because of the action of the one giving the gift. How absurd to suggest that for a person to get a birthday gift s/he must claim it, accept it, not reject it, or any other action on his/her part. To suggest an action on the part of the one being given to suggests an earning or deserving making it no longer a gift, but a reward.
 
Forgiveness, salvation, faith, heaven, these are all gifts, not because of some action on the part of the one being given to, but solely because of the work and actions of the Giver. To suggest an action on the part of the one being given to, such as even suggesting the one being given to must receive the gift, subtly implies an action on the part of the one being given to and thus subtly implies an earned or deserved reward.
 
Why is this so difficult? Because of our tainted will and sinful human nature. And because of the “work” and “earn” world and society in which we live being taught from birth that nothing in life is free.
 
How is this dependency on works righteousness manifest in our world today? All you have to do is listen to the way people speak, how they express their certainty of salvation. Does one point to oneself or to their dependency on Jesus alone. You might be rather stunned when you actually listen to a person’s expression of faith to find that more often than not it is an expression that points to self, not Jesus.
 
Statements which focus on self are similar to the following: “If you want to be saved, all you gotta do . . .” “If only you . . . ” “You can be . . . ” “ You have to . . . accept, not reject, open your heart, commit yourself . . .  etc.” When you hear or say these phrases or similar phrases you become the object of your salvation, which means you are dependent on yourself for salvation, which is works righteousness.
 
When someone gives you a gift what is your response? Of course, in asking that question it is inferred that one has been taught the appropriate response because an appropriate response is not something that comes naturally. When we are children our parents teach us an appropriate response, usually by asking, “What do you say?” And our response is “Thank you.” So, as we grow older and we are given a gift, we respond by saying, “Thank you.” To answer with something other than simply, “Thank you,” would bring certain confusion to the gift giver. An example would be if we were given a gift and we were to respond, “Look what I got for myself,” or “Look what I have claimed for myself,” or any phrase that points to me or suggests that I need to do or say anything except say, “Thank you.” With this understanding that our response to a gift is to say, “Thank you,” we can see one’s dependency on their own works righteousness when they respond with something other than to say, “Thank you” when Jesus gives us the gifts He has to give. When Jesus gives the gifts He has to give, when He gives us faith, when He gives us forgiveness of sins, when He gives us eternal life, our response is simply to say, “Thank you.” To respond in any other way to the gifts God gives, pointing to oneself, is work righteousness. “Look what I claimed for myself, faith,” “Look at the forgiveness I choose for myself,” “Look at how I dedicated my life to Jesus, lucky Him,” all these responses are work-righteous response.
 
God gives, and we are given to, and He even moves in us and stirs in us, much like our parents so that we respond appropriately, “Thank you, Lord for all your good gifts and blessings.”

Sunday, November 25, 2012

What Will Pass Away? - November 25, 2012 - Last Sunday in the Church Year (Proper 29) - Text: Mk 13:24-37

This morning we move to the end of our present church year. At the same time, we continue to move ever closer to our final day on this earth. Perhaps you have never thought about it this way, or had it put in this perspective; from the moment of our conception, we are destined to have only a short time on this earth. Our time on this earth will end, sooner than we know and probably sooner than we might expect, thus it is important, and even imperative that we spend our days on this earth getting ready for our eternity in heaven.
 
In our text for this morning Jesus gives us more signs of the coming of the day of Judgement and what that day will be like. Thus, we are encouraged, with the imperative, to be ready. According to Jesus’ words in verse thirty-one of our text, and these are words to which we will cling, “Heaven and earth,” that is our present, physical living quarters, “will pass away, but my words will not pass away.” Certainly we will want to readily cling to that which is permanent, His Word. And so, we spend our time on this earth watching.
 
What do we watch for? We watch for signs. We started talking about this last week, but we need to continue this week. We do watch. We are a visual society. We watch television. In a way we may “watch” the radio. We “watch” the newspaper. We “watch” magazines. We watch the internet, Facebook, MySpace, google, Yahoo and the like. We watch for information to keep us tuned in to what is going on in our world. For some of us, we watch the sports section and the comics section of the newspaper, along with the obituaries.
 
We go outside and we check the thermometer, we watch the clouds, we watch the wind direction and wind speed and we use this information to help decipher the weather, as if anyone can accurately decipher and predict the weather. But we do watch the weather, perhaps looking for the best time to picnic, or to go hunting or fishing, or to do our gardening.
 
We watch the stock market. We check stock prices. We check to see how our mutual funds are doing. We check the interest rates to make sure we are getting the best return for our investments, our IRAs, our 401Ks, and so forth. We look to see when is the best time to invest or to buy or sell. And certainly, an added benefit of this watching is that this would be in keeping with being good stewards of the blessings which our Lord gives to us.
 
We watch and as we watch we “interpret” these things we are watching. We interpret what we see according to our own knowledge and understanding of how these things might affect us in our own lives. Most of all, let me remind you that, while all this watching may be meet, right and salutary, this watching is simply and only for our lives in this world. All this watching is fast and fleeting. All this watching will soon pass away. Certainly, there is something more important for which we need to be watching.
 
Our texts for last week, our texts for today, and yes even our texts for next week as we begin a new church year, all remind us that the end of the world will come. In the first article of the Apostles’ Creed we confess that we believe in God the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth. We confess that we believe, not only has God created, but He also continues to preserve His creation. The only thing that keeps this world going is the almighty power and hand of our good and gracious Lord. The end of the world will come. We will see it when the universe collapses into itself, that is we will see the end of the world happen with the removal of the all preserving hand of God.
 
The end of the world will come. Jesus outlines some of the events which will occur at the end of the world. At the end of this world we will see the angels of heaven sent out to gather the Lord’s elect from the four winds, from the ends of the earth to the ends of heaven. He will send His angels to gather us, who, by His Word and Holy Baptism, have been given faith, that is, have been elected and made a part of His Kingdom.
 
The end of the world will come. We will see it when we see the Son of Man comes in great power and  glory. Certainly, this will not be something easily missed. Certainly, our Lord will not need any satellite coverage or global media, no tweeting, you tubing, or facebooking, when He returns. His return in great power and glory will be such that all people will know that this is the day.
 
And when the end of the world comes, we will see it and we will stand to be judged. Our Lord will separate the sheep, the believers, us, from the goats, the unbelievers, those who continue to deny Christ and refuse and reject His good gifts and blessings. And our message is that this day will come, sooner than we know and sooner than we might expect. So, what do we do?
 
We realize that now is the time; now is the time to get ourselves ready for this coming. There will be a time when it will be too late. There will be a time when there will be no more opportunities for becoming a Christian. That time will be when Jesus comes on the day of judgement. On that day, as we are told in John’s revelation, every knee will bow and every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, however, on that day, it will be too late for those who have refused and rejected Him up until that hour.
 
Because we do not know when our time will come, now is the time to get ready. It is true, we do not know when our last hour on this earth will be. Open the newspaper. There are many of you, I am sure, who check the obituaries. I can tell you this, noone listed in the obituaries knew that it was their last day, their last hour, their time, as we say. Thus, it is important, it is imperative, that we are at all times ready for our time to meet our Lord.
 
It is said that there are two certainties in life, and those certainties are said to be death and taxes. Well, I do not know if these are both certainties, but I do know that there is one certainty, that is that the end of our time on this earth will come. The end of our time on this earth will be, either at the time of our own death or at the time of Christ’s coming. And we do not know when either of those times will be.
 
Yet, there is another certainty. Jesus tells us plainly, the Word of God will never pass away. God’s Word is His Word. God’s Word is unlike any other word. God’s Word is a Word with power. God’s Word is a Word which does what it says. Let us take a closer look at God’s Word.
 
The Word of God is that word which is the Law. The Law is that Word of God which tells us what we are to do and not to do. The Law is that Word of God which gives us boundaries to keep us on the narrow path, which keeps us out of trouble, which shows us how we have not been faithful and have not kept His Word. The Word of God is a Word which is intolerant of sin. Yes, we are in the final days of this world. We see time and again how the people of this world do not want to hear the Word of God, but they want to hear what their “itching” ears want to hear. What we need to hear is the fact that we have not kept the Ten Commandments, we have not done what we are supposed to be doing and we have been doing what we are not supposed to be doing. We have sinned and we continue to sin, as we confess, in thought, word and deed, by what we have done and by what we have left undone. We are by nature sinful and unclean. We are spiritually blind, spiritually dead and enemies of God. Left to ourselves, there is no hope.
 
Thanks be to God that His Word, which does not pass away, is also a Word of hope. His Word is a Word of Good News, of Gospel. His Word is that which gives forgiveness of sins. In the Epistle reading for this morning we are reminded to encourage one another, to keep ourselves in the love of God, indeed to keep our eyes fixed on Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith. Jesus is the founder of our faith, that is He is the one who gives us faith, who puts faith in our hearts. He is also the perfecter of our faith, that is, He is the one who strengthens and perfects our faith and this He does through His means of grace, His Word, which never passes away and His sacraments, Holy Baptism and the Lord’s Supper as well as Holy Absolution. Jesus gives us the gifts we need for eternal salvation. He gives us the gifts He earned on the cross. Yes, it is Jesus who lived perfectly for us in our place. It is Jesus who took all our sins upon Himself. It is Jesus, who suffered and died, who paid the price for our sins. It is Jesus who endured the cross, despising the shame of the cross and after His resurrection and ascension, is seated at the right hand of the throne of God, where He is watching over us, ruling over us and interceding for us.
 
Thanks be to God that His Word does not pass away, because it is His Word that gives life, even eternal life. Yes, when we are given faith, through His Word and though Holy Baptism, we are given life. Eternal life is something which is ours now. Certainly, we will not move into our eternal home until we fall asleep in faith, that is until we pass away in this present life. But the fact remains, we have eternal life now.
 
Thus, it is imperative and urgent that we believe and that we tell others who do not yet know of Jesus and His love for them. It is imperative and urgent, because, as we have said, we do not know the day nor the hour when Christ will return and on that day and hour it will then be too late.
 
The signs show that the end of the world is near. This fact reminds us of our need to be ever ready. We get ourselves ready by being reminded of the importance of taking God’s Word seriously, by reading and listening to it, and by believing it, because it will never pass away. We are ready when our faith is firmly planted in Jesus who promises never to leave us nor forsake us. Now is the time. May the Lord bless and keep you, and strengthen you in faith so that you might be found ready when your last hour comes. To Him be the glory for Jesus’ sake. Amen.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

God Shall Provide All Your Needs - November 23, 2005 - Thanksgiving Eve - Text: Philippians 4:6-20

Tomorrow has been declared by the President of the United States as a national day of thanksgiving. It has become sort of automatic that each year our President makes the same proclamation. Tomorrow is not a religious holy day as we think of most holidays, but tomorrow is a national, social day of giving thanks. And to whom do we give thanks? For us, we give thanks to the one we acknowledge as the giver of all good gifts and blessings. We give thanks to our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. This evening I would like to make three points from our text.
 
Our first point comes from Paul’s words, “6do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.” (v.6). By these words Paul encourages us to be in constant prayer to the Lord. That does not mean that we are to be constantly kneeling, bowing our heads, folding our hands and offering up prayers and petitions. It does mean that, really, our whole lives should be lived as a prayer to the Lord. We remember that prayer is a heart to heart talk with God, anytime and anywhere. I do not know about you, but I find myself in constant prayer to the Lord. Many times each day I find myself praying for one need or another, for one bit of rejoicing or another.
 
Paul also encourages us to give thanks as we present our requests to the Lord. We present our requests with thanks knowing and having confidence that the Lord will answer our prayer. And we know that the Lord will answer our prayer according to what He knows is best for us according to His good and gracious will, not necessarily according to what we might think we need. And yes, we even give thanks when our Lord in His infinite wisdom says, “no.”
 
The second point I will make this evening comes from Paul’s words, “7And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” (v.7). This it the phrase we hear after many sermons, perhaps not from this translation, but from another. Just as our hearing the Word of the Lord gives us true peace, so as our lives become a prayer to the Lord, He will give us true peace. True peace is that peace which is not simply a worldly peace, not simply a few moments or even an hour of earthly calm and serenity, but true peace is that peace which comes from knowing our sins are forgiven, because with forgiveness we know that we have life and salvation. What other, or better peace can we have than to know that our eternity is set, that heaven is a present reality.
 
God’s peace is a peace that is beyond all understanding. His peace is beyond our understanding because we cannot understand how God could love us so much that He would give the life of His Son for ours. We cannot understand how a Creator could love His wayward creation so much that He would reconcile the debt the creation owes its Creator. It is the life of His Son on the cross which earned for us our forgiveness and eternal life.
 
Paul gives his life as an example of the transforming power of God’s peace. God’s peace is that which makes it possible for us to be content in all things. It is God’s peace which makes it possible for us to keep our thoughts and minds on all things true, noble, right, pure, lovely and admirable. And we remain in God’s peace by being in His Word.
 
Another example that Paul gives concerning the power of peace in his life is the example of contentment. He has learned to be content by learning the difference between wants and needs. As blessed as we are in this country, we continually have a difficulty understanding this difference. Most of us probably believe that a telephone in every room of the house is a necessity, or every member of the family having a phone, or that a television in every room, or today, a computer in every room is a necessity. We believe having more than one change of clothes or more than one pair of shoes is a necessity. We have been and are so blessed that many of the things we have we believe to be necessary. Paul helps us distinguish what is necessary and what is simply a want. Please understand, to want things beyond what is necessary is not in and of itself wrong. What is sin is when our wants dictate our actions and so consume us that we forget what is important. Paul’s example is one which we would do well to imitate as we live in the peace of the Lord.
 
The third point I would like to make this evening comes from Paul’s words, “19And my God will supply every need of yours according to his riches in glory in Christ Jesus.” (v. 19). When it comes to contentment we learn to be content by learning that it is the Lord who gives first. The Lord gives us everything that we need and even more than we want. I have challenged many people from time to time and I will offer than same challenge to you. Can you name even one thing that is yours that did not in some way come from God? In one way or another, everything we have, except our sin, has its beginning with our Lord. What we are born with and what we take with us when we die is what is truly ours and everything else is simply on loan to us from God while we live in this world. Being content begins with learning the difference between wants and needs. Again, for us in America, most of us have so many things. We have more than we need and many times, more than we could want. Today is the day to take time to give thanks for all those things, the things we need and the things we have that are wants.
 
The second part of contentment is to respond in thanks. Being content is recognizing that all things, in one way or another, come from God and then thanking Him for all His good gifts and blessings.
 
And as the Lord gives and as we return a portion from what He has first given with thanksgiving to the Lord, He gives us even more. He does this to remind us that we cannot out give Him. The Lord gives to us everything we need and He gives to us a whole lot more.
 
As we celebrate our national day of thanksgiving we do so by giving thanks. I guess I do not see how a family can sit down at a thanksgiving meal and not give thanks, yet there are many who will do so tomorrow. I do not see how a family can begin a day of thanksgiving without first giving thanks to the Lord for He is the giver of all good gifts and blessings.
 
As I think about the gifts that God gives I am reminded that; first the Lord has given me the gift of life. He gave me that gift at my conception. The first spiritual and really the most important gift I was given by the Lord happened thirteen days after my birth and that was the gift of new life at my baptism. At my baptism the Lord gave me the gift of faith, forgiveness and eternal life in heaven. He has provided this forgiveness by giving His Son and the life of His Son, yes, even His own life as God in flesh so that I might have this forgiveness, but not just me, He has provided this forgiveness for all people. And with forgiveness we know that we have life and salvation, indeed there is no greater gift.
 
But I know that God has not just given me these spiritual gifts, although with just those gifts I know that I am especially blessed by God. God gives me physical things as well. He has provide me with a loving wife and four loving children. He has provided for us a nice house which we are making into a nice home. He allows for me to arise each day as each day is a gift from Him. He gives me the ability each day to do whatever work He has prepared for me to do. He has brought us to this congregation to love and be loved by the members of this congregation. He gives me food and clothing. He gives me all that I need. He even gives me more than I need and more than I want.
 
He also stirs in me to give thanks. I know that in and of myself I am a selfish person. I take what God gives me and I always want more. That is why I am so thankful that the Lord also stirs in me a desire to give Him thanks for all that He gives to me, for all His good gifts and blessings.
 
I am going to leave here this evening. I am going to wake up in the morning and around noon I am going to eat some turkey and southern cornbread dressing. I am going to watch one or even both and maybe even three football games. I am going to enjoy the company of my family and friends. I am so glad that you have been with me this evening to begin our Thanksgiving celebration right, by coming to Divine Service, to be given God’s gifts through His Word and by being able to give Him thanks and praise for all His good gifts and blessings. May the Lord be with you this day, tomorrow and always as you give thanks to Him. To God be the glory for Jesus’ sake. Amen.

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Watch with Eyes That See - November 18, 2012 - Twenty-fifth Sunday after Pentecost (Proper 28) - Text: Mark 13:1-13

Thirteen years ago, already, as we approached the end of 1999 there was an air of anxiety and anticipation concerning what might happen as we moved into the year 2000. And even twelve years ago as we approached the end of that year, 2000, there was still some of that same anxiety and anticipation by those who believed that was the year change, which really moved us into the 21st century, was going to bring the end of the world. And still today, there are some in our world who live anxiously each year as the old year approaches an end and the new year approaches a beginning. Some are anxious about the possibility that the Mayan calendar might be true. I only mention this, because we in the church have a different calender. Our calendar ends at the end of Pentecost. You may have noticed that today is the twenty-fifth Sunday after Pentecost and actually is the second-last Sunday in the Church year, meaning that there is only one more Sunday left in our current church year. Our church calender, our church year begins with the first Sunday in Advent, this year that will be December 2.
 
This year, like years past, our emphasis at the end of our church year is on the end times, the final days of our time on this earth and especially the coming of Jesus on Judgement day. I believe that it is, indeed, fitting that each year, as we approach the end of the church year, that we concentrate on things of the end times. I believe this is fitting, because I believe too many people, even too many Christians have lost their focus on the fact that, just as God kept His first promise to send a Savior, even though it took Him some 4500 years to keep that promise, and many people missed the fulfillment of that promise because they had come to deny its possible fulfillment, so today, we have waited some 2000 years since Christ promised to return and since He has already waited so long, I believe there are many who no longer believe that God will keep that promise. It is imperative then, that we review the promise and remind ourselves of the fact that Christ will return and it may be that He will return during our lifetime. Now, certainly to the unbeliever these will be times of terror, but for us Christians we have the hope and confidence that God is with us and that, when our last hour comes, we will go to be with Him in heaven. This morning we watch with eyes that see, that is, we watch with eyes of faith.
 
There is a lot of watching that goes on in this world. As we watch television we see one advertizement after another asking us to watch and see if they do not make their promises come true. We have all heard the phrase, “Have I got a deal for you” and we all know what that phrase means. When we hear that phrase it makes us listen very carefully. Because of the scepticism of our world we hear that phrase and usually we try to find out what is the catch.
 
Yet, there are other signs which we watch in our world today. We watch for the budding of the trees and know that this budding is a sign of spring. We watch the clouds in the sky, the wind pick up it speed, and it looks like we might be in for a storm. We watch the weather radar and the Doppler radar to see what the weather might be. We watch the vector coordinates to see when is the best time to go fishing. We all have the little things we watch to help us get through each day.
 
For many their eyes are looking to see when the little hand is on the five and the big hand is on the twelve and that is quitting time. For little children they want to know how many days it will be until their birthday or until Christmas or until school starts or is out. There is indeed a lot of watching going on in this world and much of the watching has to do simply and only with this world and the things of this world.
 
In our text Jesus talks about watching for the end of the world to come. Jesus is talking about Judgement day, the day He promised He would come in order to take us from this vale of tears, this earth, to be with Himself in heaven. Jesus encourages us to watch out so that we are not deceived and lose faith. He even gives us hints of some things which will be happening as the end of this world approaches. He says that there will be wars and rumors of war, but we are not to be alarmed. At first glance we might come to the conclusion that we are at the end of the world, because especially today we continue to hear about wars and rumors of war and we continue to be in a war against terrorism. And we should be mindful that we might be close to the end of our time on this earth.
 
Jesus says that nation will rise against nation and kingdom against kingdom. Have you noticed all the conflicts that are going on around the world. Read the paper, watch the news on television, listen to the radio. One look at the land of the middle east brings Jesus’ words to mind. All around the world there continues to be conflicts as one nation and one kingdom fights against another. Again, we should be mindful that we might be close to the end of our time on this earth.
 
Jesus also mentions the fact that there will be earthquakes and famines. At other times He mentions other, what we call, “natural disasters” such as tornados and hurricanes and earthquakes and wildfires, and so forth. Every year we see, again, what we call the forces of nature have great and devastating affects on the earth. Paul reminds us that the whole world is groaning with the pains from the sins of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden. The whole world is waiting and watching for Jesus’ return.
 
And while the whole world is watching and waiting, there is also the personal side of watching and waiting. As Christians, Jesus reminds us that we will undergo personal persecution. Jesus tells us that we will be arrested simply for the fact that we are Christians. While we may not fear this type of persecution, yet, here in the United States, I understand that in Canada, to the north of us, and in other countries around the world, there are, already, laws which do not allow for the preaching of any kind of intolerance. In other words, a person could be arrested for suggesting that any behavior listed as sin in the Bible is wrong. Today we are getting close to such a law as our lawmakers discuss such laws as anti-discrimination laws. In other words, there may soon come a day here in the United States that you or I could be arrested for speaking the truth of the Bible when we declare deviant behavior as sinful and wrong.
 
Yet, Jesus comforts us and tells us that we are not to worry about what to say when we are confronted with the issues of our faith, when we are put in jail and asked to stand before the courts. He comforts us by telling us that he will give us the words to speak to give testimony of the faith that is in our hearts. Where do we get these words? We learn what to say through Divine Service and through the Word and the Sacraments. Why do you think personal reading of God’s Word is so important? Why do you think Divine Service and Sunday School and Bible Class are so important? Why do you think family devotions are so important? Why do you think I make such a big deal about making regular and diligent use of the means of grace? These are the times and the places, these are the means where and through which we learn the answers God gives us to speak out for the faith and the hope that is in us.
 
Jesus comforts us and tells us that we will give testimony to the nations. This is not a have to, but a get to. What a privilege the Lord has bestowed on us as His children. He allows us to be able to go out and speak for Him. He gives us His authority to proclaim His message of salvation. Particularly, right here at St. Matthew He has given us a great location, even if our access is a bit difficult. People drive by and see our church and so we pray they will be able to find their way over and come to visit. God has also given us a Mother’s Day Out Program and only He knows how much He will bless our program and whose lives we may touch through this program. Through this program, as well as through our Vacation Bible School, even our Sunday School and Bible class, parents and children come in contact with the message of Jesus and His work of salvation.
 
Again, the words of comfort of Jesus are that the Holy Spirit will give us the words to speak so that it is not we who are speaking, but the Holy Spirit who is speaking through us. Here let me say it this way, not if, but when our time comes, when we are faced with persecution, we can find comfort first in Jesus’ love for us, seen in His death and resurrection for us. Greater love has no one than this than that they would give their life for another and that is exactly what Jesus did, He gave His life, He paid the price for our sins, on the cross, for you and for me. We can find comfort in Jesus’ words of giving us His authority and His promise that He is with us, always, even to the end of the world, and now here in our text we find comfort in His words that He will give us the words and the courage to speak and give testament of the faith that is in us. He will be with us in our own personal watching.
 
So what? Do we live life with a fatalistic attitude? Do we live life for what we have here? Or do we live life watching for the world to come? Jesus helps us, here too, by giving us the measure for judgement. Jesus does not tell us to be successful while we are in this world, rather He tells us, “The one who endures to the end will be saved.” He has given us faith, through Holy Baptism and through His Word. The world defines success, usually in terms of power, wealth and fame, as we have said in other messages. Jesus wants from us, not success, especially not success according to the ways of the world, but He wants us to remain faithful, to endure to the end, and stand firm on His will and Word.
 
And even more, He also promises to be with us, to give us faith, to strengthen and keep us in faith until He comes again. As we confess in the explanation of the third article of the Apostles’ Creed, “the Holy Spirit, calls, gathers, enlightens and sanctifies” us while we are still on this earth. And He does His work as we make use of His means of grace, the Word and the Sacrament. Here again we see the importance of continuing to make use of reading the Bible, attending Divine Service and Bible class, having family devotions and the like. All this is included in our watching.
 
The end of the world will come. It will come for each one of us either at our own time of death or when Jesus returns to take us all to heaven, both of which I believe will be sooner than we know and sooner than we might expect. Until that time we are to watch. We are to watch for the world to come. We are to make sure that we are prepared. And we know we are prepared as He prepares us, by having our faith firmly planted in Jesus and His death and resurrection for us.
 
The signs of this world do show that the end of the world is near. The signs remind us of our need to be ever ready and ever believing in Jesus. We cling to His promise to never leave us nor forsake us. We find comfort in His promise that at the right time He will give us the words we need to speak in testimony of the faith which He gives to us. His word to us is to be faithful until death and He will give us the crown of life, so that we might stand before His throne with all the saints and say, to Him be the glory for Jesus’ sake. Amen.

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Comfort, Comfort

Internalizing Versus Eternalizing

One might deal with life’s struggles by internalizing, which is thinking about the struggles and making them a part of one’s life. Although internalizing is often viewed as a negative because one may act out negative or harmful behaviors to himself or others, internalizing may be beneficial if one is acting out positive or good behaviors.

Rather than internalizing there may be a better, more positive and uplifting approach and that approach is eternalizing. To eternalize is to put life into an eternal perspective. An eternal perspective is to understand that life in this world is short and sweet, as the saying goes, compared to eternity which is forever.

So, if a person has had a struggle in life, he may internalize by acting out, or he may internalize by trying to make himself better, or he may realize that the struggles of this life are simply a result of the cursed world in which we live and that in the end all things will be made right.

Life is indeed like a rose garden. Roses are beautiful, yet they have painful thorns. In the beginning God created a perfect world. Humanity brought sin. Sin brought a curse. The world we live in today is an imperfect, cursed world. Yet, we have God’s promise that He is in control and even though we may not see His control, as when the righteous are punished and the unjust are rewarded, we know that in the end, justice will be meted out.

For one to internalize the struggles of life might mean rationalizing that life is unfair and thus one must do whatever needs to be done to take care of oneself. To eternalize would mean putting the struggles of life into an eternal perspective, realizing that although life on this earth may not seem fair, in the end justice will be served, thus one is encouraged to a righteous life of faithfulness, with the help of God.


Making It Personal

Recently my wife and I suffered the loss of our twenty week stillborn son. Certainly we could internalize and dwell on our cursed world in which we are considered high risk when it comes to having children. Or we could internalize believing the fallacy that there are too many people in the world already, or that we have four children and should be happy. None of these internalizing options brings comfort.

Personally, I am more interested in eternalizing the matter, knowing that although I will not see my son while I am alive in this world, certainly, by God’s grace, through the faith He has given my son as he heard God’s Word in utero every Sunday morning, I know that I will see him in heaven. His stillborn death would mean nothing except for the fact of the eternal love, grace, and justice of our great and loving God. To know that I will see him and meet him in heaven is what brings us comfort and hope, beyond any human explanation.

Sunday, November 4, 2012

Washed in the Blood of the Lamb - November 4, 2012 - All Saints’ Day - Text: Revelation 7:(2-8) 9-17

Although today is the twenty-third Sunday after Pentecost, because All Saints Day was Thursday, this morning we take the time to celebrate All Saints Day. Please understand that when we celebrate all saints day, we are not worshiping, nor are we praising all the saints who have gone on before us, instead we are placing their lives before us as examples of how we are to live our lives, that is that we are to live lives of faith so that others see our faith and give praise to God for our faith as well. Remember, as Lutherans we understand that we are at the same time sinners and saints. By faith in Jesus Christ, faith given to us at our Baptism or faith given to us through the Word of God, we are redeemed, we have been purchased, we are saved, yes, we are saints. At the same time, while we remain on this earth we continue to sin and so we are sinners in need of forgiveness. Thus we understand, we believe, teach and confess that we are at the same time sinner saints.
 
Our text for this morning is from the book of Revelation, and notice this is not a book of revelations, plural, but is one revelation. Revelation is a look into heaven and a look into what our last days on earth and our first days in heaven will be like. As we look into heaven we see the enumerable number of people in heaven. We see them wearing white robes and holding palm branches. We hear them sing. We see how, even John, is unable to answer the question from God concerning what he is seeing, so he refers the question back to God answering, “Sir, you know.” John’s answer reminds us that we do not need to know all the answers to all the questions about the Bible, rather we need to realize that God is so much bigger than we are and He does know all the answers. Which in turn encourages us to continue steadfast in the Apostles’ Doctrine to learn more about Him and be strengthened in our faith.
 
Our text begins with John telling us that he sees “a great multitude that no one could number.” These words remind us that the reference to 144,000 which is the number Revelation speaks about being the number in heaven, this number is not a counting figure, not an actual number one can count, but it is a symbolic figure. The 144,000 means the Old Testament believers from the twelve tribes of Israel times (X) the New Testament believers from the twelve apostles times (X) the number of completion, ten, cubed (v.9-10). In other words, 12 x 12 x 1000, the number 144,000 is what John is seeing, that is a great multitude, all believers who ever lived, from Old and New Testament times. Everyone who believes in Jesus’ life, death and resurrection is included in the great multitude, and in the 144,000. We, you and I, are included in that 144,000.
 
Their song, “Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!” (V. 10b) reminds us that salvation is given by God to those who believe. Notice who is doing what? Salvation is not something we get. It is not something we earn. It is not something we claim for ourselves. Salvation belongs to God. Our salvation was earned by Him and it is given out by Him. It is given by through His means of grace through faith in Jesus. God is the one doing the doing and we are the ones being done to.
 
The song of the great multitude is followed by a song by the angels, elders and four living creatures, “Amen! Blessing and glory and wisdom and thanksgiving and honor and power and might be to our God forever and ever! Amen” (v. 12). We are told that “they fell down on their faces before the throne.” They fell down in fear, in awe and in respect. They fell down in worship. In the Old Testament we are often told of people falling prostrate before the Lord, or a king or whoever. To fall prostrate means to fall on your face, completely flat, face down on the ground. This is a posture of complete submission. Thus, even the angels, elders and four living creatures recognize Jesus as Lord and fall down in complete submission to Him.
 
They worshiped and said “Amen!” They spoke the word which reminds us that God is faithful. In His faithfulness He remembered His promise to send a Savior, Christ the Lord. In His faithfulness Jesus was born as a baby, a human being, as one of us. In His faithfulness Jesus lived a perfect life. He obeyed all God’s laws perfectly. He fulfilled all God’s commands, perfectly. In His faithfulness He lived His life for us, as our substitute. In His faithfulness Jesus took all our sins upon Himself. In His faithfulness Jesus gave His life for ours on the cross, suffering the price for our sins. In His faithfulness Jesus sent the Holy Spirit to bring us to faith, to give us faith, and to keep us in faith until He comes again.
 
They sing a sevenfold song of praise. This sevenfold song is very similar to their previous sevenfold chorus of praise and it is a song of complete praise.
 
John is then questioned by one of the elders. The elder asks, “These in the white robes—who are they, and where did they come from”(v. 12-17)? John rightly answers, “Sir, you know.” John does not know and so he turns the question back to the man who asked so that he might get an answer. The answer is that they are those who have suffered for their faith. The word that is used for tribulation is the same word that Jesus used when He said that we would have trouble in this world, but we are to take heart, because He has overcome the world. This trouble, this tribulation that we suffer is what we have suffered since the fall into sin in the Garden of Eden. To be a Christian means that you inevitably suffer trials and tribulations.
 
You might think of it this way, the devil does not spend time working on those he already has. He spends his time working on those he does not have. Which means that if you are not having troubles in this world, if you are not having tribulation, if you are not suffering from the trials and tribulations of the devil you might want to take a hard look at yourself to make sure that he does not have you already [smile :)]. And this does not mean the troubles, the trials and tribulations we bring on ourselves, which we do because of our sinful nature.
 
The elder continues by saying that these are they who “have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the lamb.” It is faith in Jesus’ death on the cross, the shedding of His blood that brings the white robes of righteousness. By faith in Jesus, we stand before God in His perfection, washed in His blood, robed in His white robes of righteousness.
 
“Therefore,” the elder says, meaning, as a result of Jesus’ redeeming work, because Jesus shed His blood on the cross, by faith in Him, faith given by God, therefore, salvation comes to those who believe. The perfect bliss of the redeemed people of God is described in the next series of ten statements. Remember too, that the number ten is the number of completeness and so we are reminded by these ten statements that there is complete release from all evil and complete fullness of joy which is ours, given to us by God.
 
The first three lines describe the blessedness of the redeemed who stand in the presence of God spending their days and nights in service to Him. Their service is a worship service, a time spent in praise and adoration to Jesus. While we are on earth it is most important and necessary that we come to the Lord’s House, to divine service first and foremost to be given to by God. It is only as we are given to by God that we can respond with lives of faith. In heaven we will be perfected and so we will be able to offer a service of worship, worthy of our Creator God.
 
The next four lines speak about the freedom we Christians will have in heaven from the effects of sin. The curse which was placed on all creation in the Garden of Eden is now broken. In heaven there is no hunger, no thirst, no being beaten down by the sun. In heaven there is no sorrow or sadness, only joy and rejoicing. In heaven we will eat eternal manna and drink of the river of pleasure forever.
 
The final three lines describe heaven in positive terms. We are reminded first that Jesus is the Good Shepherd as John reminds us in His Gospel. Jesus compares us to His sheep and He is our Shepherd. He leads us beside the quiet waters as we read in the Psalms. Jesus is the living water. We are Baptized into faith through water. We need water to live. Jesus is that living water for us. And with God there will be no suffering, no more tears. Heaven is a place of complete and unending joy.
 
This morning as we get another glimpse of heaven. We are reminded that heaven is a gift, given by God, earned by Jesus’ death on the cross and the shedding of His blood. We are reminded that heaven is a place of forever joy. And we are reminded that heaven is a place of forever worship.
 
The question we might ask ourselves this week is “are we ready?” If you ask young people “are you ready to go to heaven?” Many times you will get the answer, “Yes, I am ready, but I would rather grow up before I go.” How often do we find ourselves answering in like manner. “I think I am ready for Jesus to come again, but I would rather get done doing the things I think I need to do here on earth.” I think that answer begs the question even more. Are we ready? Are we ready if we believe that there is more for us to do on this earth than to get ourselves ready for Jesus’ to come? Or to get ourselves ready for our going to Him, which might be sooner than His coming to us. And maybe we need to spend time getting others ready as well. I wonder if we are ready as we continue to keep our focus on the things of this world instead of on things heavenward.
 
How do we get ourselves ready? We get ourselves ready by making regular and diligent use of those means through which our Lord gives to us and uses to get us ready, His means of grace. In other words, it is not so much we who get ourselves ready, but it is the Lord who gets us ready. He gets us ready by our remembering our Baptism. He gets us ready by our confessing our sins and hearing His most beautify words of forgiveness. He gets us ready by our hearing and reading His Word, by our having personal and family devotions, by our being in divine service and Bible Class. He gets us ready as we come to His table, where He is the host and the meal, where He offers and gives to us His true body and blood to eat and drink for the forgiveness of sins and for strengthening of faith.
 
When I was attending the Seminary, one of my classes followed chapel. Every morning we had chapel at 9 a.m. It was a short service in which we heard the Word of God and sang some hymns. Our professor noticed that some of the men from our class were not making it to chapel, but were missing for some reason. He chastened us one morning by using the following words, “Gentlemen, receive the gifts.” So, too, I come to you and as I come to you I ask you to share these words with those who are not here. Ladies and gentlemen, receive the gifts. Because it is only through the gifts God gives, the gifts of His Word and Sacraments that He can prepare us for Jesus’ coming and/or our going to Him. And now more than ever is the time to be prepared. To God be the glory for Jesus’ sake. Amen.