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.

Sunday, September 29, 2013

What Will Convince You? - September 29, 2013 - Nineteenth Sunday after Pentecost (Proper 21) - Text: Luke 16:19-31

This week Jesus continues His message to the people. Unfortunately, for us, that message is divided up into many “sound bytes” of which we hear only one each Sunday. The people who were listening to Jesus were able to hear the message in its entirety, all at once. Perhaps that in itself is a message to us to be in the Word, to go home and read the message for ourselves in its entirety. Anyway, to get us up to speed, Jesus has laid out the facts and these are the facts. Two weeks ago we were reminded through the parables of the Lost Sheep and the Lost Coin that it is not we who go looking for the Lord, rather it is the Lord who comes looking for us. God sent His one and only Son, Jesus, to seek and to save the lost. Jesus came to find us, to redeem us, to forgive us, to call us to faith and to a purpose. Last week we were reminded through the parable of the Shrewd Manager that our purpose is to live our lives as lives of faith. Our purpose is, as Matthew tells us in His Gospel, that as we are going, as we are living our lives, we have God’s authority and promise to be with us as we share the Gospel message, the good news of salvation, the story of Jesus Christ and His love for us to others. And we are to do this sharing using our influence and using all the resources of this world which are available to us.
 
Last week we ended with Jesus’ words of warning that we cannot serve two masters, but we must serve only one, either God or money. And we had His word of warning to not be like the Pharisees who attempted to hide their love for money by justifying their lack of charity. This week Jesus gives us the extremes of what a person is like who serves money and what a person is like who serves God. Keep in mind that these two characters are the extremes and most of us are probably somewhere in the middle, not that this is any better, because we still must serve either one or the other, not both.
 
This morning we hear Jesus tell the account of the rich man and Lazarus. Jesus begins, “19There was a rich man who was clothed in purple and fine linen and who feasted sumptuously every day. 20And at his gate was laid a poor man named Lazarus, covered with sores, 21who desired to be fed with what fell from the rich man’s table. Moreover, even the dogs came and licked his sores.” (v. 19-21). You may have noticed right away that the rich man has no name. His name is not written in the book of heaven, so he needed no name. You may have also noticed his pompous attitude. He was not concerned about tomorrow, especially not about his eternal life, rather he was living for himself, he was living for the moment, he was living for today. The other character in our account is Lazarus. He does have a name, because his name, as we will see when he dies, is written in the book of heaven. He was covered with sores. He was hungry. The dogs were his companions. Also, understand that this Lazarus is not the Lazarus Jesus raised from the dead. This Lazarus is a character in Jesus’ parable.
 
The parable continues, “22The poor man died and was carried by the angels to Abraham’s side. The rich man also died and was buried” (v. 22). First, we are told that the beggar died, but there is more to his death, he died and the angels carried him to Abraham’s side. This designation of Abraham’s side was a familiar Jewish way of speaking about the fact that he went to heaven. We are also told that the rich man also died and was buried (period). Notice that there is no fanfare for this rich man. Nothing more needs to be said about him. We do not need to know his name and all we need to know is that he died and was buried, that is it. Jesus could stop here and give us quite a bit of commentary on life and death. You see, it is our faith which sustains us while we are here on this earth and it is our faith in Jesus Christ which gains our access to eternal life. And yet, the story continues.
 
Jesus says, “23and in Hades, being in torment, he lifted up his eyes and l saw Abraham far off and Lazarus at his side. 24And he called out, ‘Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus to dip the end of his finger in water and cool my tongue, for I am in anguish in this flame.’” (v. 23-24). First, again, we hear from the rich man. We are told that he looks up and sees Abraham and finally he notices Lazarus. The whole while he was on earth Lazarus was sitting right under his nose (so to speak) begging at his gate and he did not notice him, but here, now that he was in torment in hell, he notices and he asks for Abraham to send Lazarus to comfort him.
 
Our text continues, “25But Abraham said, ‘Child, remember that you in your lifetime received your good things, and Lazarus in like manner bad things; but now he is comforted here, and you are in anguish. 26And besides all this, between us and you a great chasm has been fixed, in order that those who would pass from here to you may not be able, and none may cross from there to us’” (v. 25-26). Abraham explains the situation, not meaning that either earned their place, simply that each was receiving the reverse of what he had on earth. And besides there is a chasm fixed so that they cannot cross between the two places. Here Jesus assures us that not only is there a heaven, but that this place where we live is not hell and He assures us of the fact that there is a hell. Also, here we have an indication of the eternity of heaven and the eternity of hell.
 
Jesus continues, “27And he said, ‘Then I beg you, father, to send him to my father’s house—28for I have five brothers—so that he may warn them, lest they also come into this place of torment.’” (v. 27-28). Here it looks like the rich man finally thinks of someone besides himself and yet, in so doing he subtly accuses God for his being in hell, after all, if only he had known about heaven and hell  things would have been different. In his revelation, John tells us the same thing, that on the last day all people will bow before Jesus and acknowledge Him as the Son of God and those who are doomed to eternal death will also try to blame their eternal death on God. But that does not work with God.
 
Jesus continues, 29But Abraham said, ‘They have Moses and the Prophets; let them hear them.’” (v. 29). Abraham explains that it is the means of grace, especially the Word of God, the Law and the prophets which have power to convert. Yes, Abraham is talking to us, today. It is God who converts, it is God who gives faith and He does so through the means He has given us, the Word and the Sacraments. Abraham’s not so subtle message to us today is that we need to be in the Word and that we need to be sharing that word with others, so they too might have a share in the kingdom of God. And yet, the rich man persisted, “30And he said, ‘No, father Abraham, but if someone goes to them from the dead, they will repent.’ 31He said to him, ‘If they do not hear Moses and the Prophets, neither will they be convinced if someone should rise from the dead.’” (v. 30-31). The rich man does not stop, but persists and finally Abraham explains why the rich man is wrong and why we are wrong today to think the same way, that our seeing something with our eyes will make us believe. Did you listen carefully to Abraham’s words, they are rather prophetic words. The person about whom he is speaking, the person rising from the dead is Jesus. You see, Jesus did die. Jesus was born and lived perfectly. He took all our sins upon Himself. He suffered and died for the sins of the rich man in the parable. He suffered and died for the sins of the Pharisees and the teachers of the Law who were listening to Him. He suffered and He died for your sins and for mine. Jesus died. He was buried. And He rose from the dead, yet, the Pharisees and the teachers of the Law still would not believe Him. So, too, today, too many people still do not believe and consequently are condemned.
 
So, I ask the question, “Who will you serve?” and “What will convince you?” How often it is that we put more stock in this world and the things of this world, the business of this world and the things of this world and we forget that this world is merely a temporary place. Too often we invest too much of our time, talents and treasures in this world instead of, as Jesus reminded us last week, being shrewd and using our influence and the resources which our Lord has given us in this world for the purpose of extending God’s Kingdom. Here I am reminded how, each year millions of people watch the Super Bowl. I am one who particularly likes to watch, not so much for who is playing, but to see what new commercial ads are being shown. These ads costs the companies over a million dollars just for a minute or a half a minute and each year the cost is higher, yet their ad is seen by millions of people. So, millions of people are introduced to a new beer commercial, a new Coke or Pepsi commercial, a new e-service commercial and the like. I always sit and wonder, as I watch these millions of dollars being shown before my eyes, what would happen, what could happen if we would take those millions of dollars and use them to spread the message of salvation to the world. How many people could be saved? Because I am sure that a great number of those millions who are watching do not know Jesus.
 
Perhaps our problem is our weakness of faith. Oh, we have faith sure enough, but our faith is un-stretched, our faith is untested, our faith is still being fed with milk instead of the meat and potatoes of the Word of God. Perhaps there are times that we think that seeing a miracle would cause us to believe, or to be strengthened in our faith. Do not be fooled. I am here to encourage you and to tell you, be in the Word, read your Bible, remember your Baptism, make regular and diligent use of the Lord’s Supper, because in so doing the Lord will strengthen and keep you in faith until He comes again.
 
Remember God’s great love for us is show in this, that while we were sinners, Christ died for us so that we might have salvation. The Father created us, the Son redeemed (bought us back) us, and the Holy Spirit, working through the means of grace, brings us to faith and keeps us in faith. How precious we are to Him and His Word and Sacraments are to us.
 
Here again today, the three lessons work well together. The Old Testament Lesson reminds us of the complacency of the children of Israel and their neglect in carrying out their God given mission of sharing the Word of God to the world. Paul, writing young pastor Timothy in the Epistle lesson reminds us of our need to be content with the gifts that God gives us, and the need to use those gifts for the extending of His kingdom, not just for our own pleasure. And here in our text we are reminded that we are responsible for our making use of the gifts and blessings our Lord gives, so that we are to use them for the extending of His kingdom and to the praise and glory of His Holy Name.

What will convince us? The events of fairly recent history, September 11, the devastation of hurricanes, the terrorist attacks around the world, the events of our present history, people dying and being killed, all remind us that our lives in this world are temporary and that there are many people who do not know Jesus Christ and who are and who will be condemned to eternal death. September 11, 2001 brought a temporary change in the behavior of many people. People were nice, for a while. Perhaps you have noticed how things and people in our world quickly “got back to normal.” People went back to being rude. Road rage returned. People flying on air planes went back to being rude. Yes, things have “gotten back to normal.” Why? Because only God can change our hearts. The events of this world can cause our attitudes and even our behavior to change for a while, but only God can change our hearts and only if our hearts are changed will life be different. Jesus came and lived perfectly for us in our place, because we are not able to live so. Jesus gave His life for ours so that we might have forgiveness and so that we might start over every day and with His help try to live God pleasing lives. And yet, it is only God who can change our hearts and He does that through means, the Word and the Sacraments, thus there is work to do and God has called us to do His work. So, what will we do? By the grace of God, by the power of the Holy Spirit working in and through us, we will live our lives in such a way that they show forth the faith that is in our hearts; we will share the good news of salvation to all who do not know Him; we will give comfort and strength, inviting people to our church to hear the message of salvation; we will make regular and diligent use of the means of grace so that we are strengthened and kept in faith and we will work to extend the kingdom of God in this place. We will be given the gifts of the Lord, so that we might say, to Him be the glory, for Jesus’ sake. Amen.

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

7 “Christian” Rules that Every Christian Ought to Break as Often as Possible by Jonathan Fisk

This is the fifth and last in a series of articles expounding on the quotes from the book 7 “Christian” Rules that Every Christian Ought to Break as Often as Possible, by Jonathan Fisk. As you read the quotes, honestly think about the answers to the following questions: Does this “belief” remind you of anything (denomination, preacher, philosophy) in our world today? Have you ever had this “belief”?

“The Ever-Lie: The belief that you find God. The counterfeit ‘Christian’ rule behind all other counterfeit ‘Christian’ rules, then, is nothing more than worship of yourself.” The Christian faith is not about you, it is about Jesus, the cross and the tomb. Yet, care must be taken when we examine our faith so that when we become aware of Jesus’ true love for us, we do not think it was something in us, which then focuses us back on ourselves.

We hear this stated many times and often we even say it ourselves, such statements as, “Well I did not reject Jesus,” as if we had some part in “accepting” Him. We have a difficult time expressing our faith without pointing to ourselves, because our whole society and world always focus our attention on ourselves. We are taught from early on that we need to make right decisions, right choices and so forth. It seems difficult to be able to express the Christian faith, one’s own faith, keeping faithful to our doctrine of justification, yet as always we get confused and we confuse others when we point to ourselves. We get it right when we are pointed back to the sure and certain source of salvation, the very Word of God.

How do we express our faith, pointing to Jesus and not confusing the doctrine of justification? By pointing to Jesus. I am saved because Jesus lived, died and rose for me. I am saved because Jesus wrote His name on me at my baptism. I am saved because Jesus gives me faith, forgiveness and eternal life. I am saved because Jesus does it all for me and gives it all to me.

“The only true Christian Rule: The Truth - Because your salvation is not dependent on you, but has all been done by Jesus and credited to you as righteousness, you will never ever land on the wrong side of God’s justice.” Thus, as always we get it right when we are pointed back to the sure and certain source of salvation, the very Word of God.

Our response of faith is to give thanks to Jesus. Our response of faith is to have an urgent and eager desire to be where the means of grace are so that we might be given even more of the gifts the Lord has to give. Our response of faith, worked in and through us by the power of the Holy Spirit is to live in our vocations serving God by serving others, to the praise and glory of His Holy Name.

Sunday, September 22, 2013

Serving Two Masters - September 22, 2013 - Eighteenth Sunday after Pentecost (Proper 20) - Text: Luke 16:1-15

Our text for today is one of those text that may be difficult to understand. So, as we begin we want to remind ourselves that even though we could go many different ways with this text it is important that we look for the one main point of the text, that we let Scripture interpret Scripture and that we keep it in its proper context. With that said, let us begin by putting this text into its proper context and setting. Last week we heard the parable of the lost sheep and the lost coin. We skipped the parable of the Lost Son, or the Prodigal son and this week we have the parable of the Shrewd Manager. Last week Jesus was speaking specifically to the Pharisees and the teachers of the law. This week Jesus turns to speak specifically to His disciples, and that is not to say that the Pharisees were not listening. Please keep this in mind, that Jesus is speaking to His disciples, His close Christian friends, which puts this in the area of sanctification, that is, responding to God, what we do because we are saved, not what we must do in order to be saved.
 
Getting into the account of the dishonest or shrewd manager, we begin at verse one, “1[Jesus] also said to the disciples, “There was a rich man who had a manager, and charges were brought to him that this man was wasting his possessions. 2And he called him and said to him, ‘What is this that I hear about you? Turn in the account of your management, for you can no longer be manager.’ 3And the manager said to himself, ‘What shall I do, since my master is taking the management away from me? I am not strong enough to dig, and I am ashamed to beg. 4I have decided what to do, so that when I am removed from management, people may receive me into their houses.’ 5So, summoning his master’s debtors one by one, he said to the first, ‘How much do you owe my master?’ 6He said, ‘A hundred measures of oil.’ He said to him, ‘Take your bill, and sit down quickly and write fifty.’ 7Then he said to another, ‘And how much do you owe?’ He said, ‘A hundred measures of wheat.’ He said to him, ‘Take your bill, and write eighty.’ 8The master commended the dishonest manager for his shrewdness. For the sons of this world are more shrewd in dealing with their own generation than the sons of light” (v. 1-8).
 
The parable begins with the rich man who does not keep an account of his own goods, but hires someone to do it for him. He has heard some rumors that his accountant, his steward, I guess today we would say his CPA, is not being honest so he calls him in and confronts him, asking him to give an account of his business. Today we might say he was being audited.
 
Fearing the loss of his job, the loss of income, and the loss of a good retirement, the steward begins to devise a shrewd plan. Now, a person can look at this plan in two ways, but both ways lead down the same road and have the same meaning. First, it could be that the steward reduced the amount each debtor owed knowing that they would then owe him for this discount. He could later get some of this money back even if he had to blackmail the other debtors. Or it could be that he was merely reducing each debtors debt by the amount of interest which he overcharged in the first place. Either way of looking at what the steward did, the outcome is that he did whatever he believed he had to do in order to secure for himself a good income after he was fired.
 
After he devised his plan, he called in the debtors and put his plan to work. And it was such a good plan that even the master commended the dishonest steward because he had acted so shrewdly. And please keep in mind, it was not that the master was praising the steward for his dishonesty, rather he was praising him because of his resourcefulness, even if it may have been dishonest resourcefulness.
 
Jesus tells the disciples the parable and to make sure they are not confused, that they do not misunderstand, and to make sure we are not confused and so that we do not misunderstand, Jesus then goes on to give the interpretation of the parable. We pick up the account at nine, Jesus says, “9And I tell you, make friends for yourselves by means of unrighteous wealth, so that when it fails they may receive you into the eternal dwellings. 10One who is faithful in a very little is also faithful in much, and one who is dishonest in a very little is also dishonest in much. 11If then you have not been faithful in the unrighteous wealth, who will entrust to you the true riches? 12And if you have not been faithful in that which is another’s, who will give you that which is your own? 13No servant can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and money” (v. 9-13).
 
Verse nine is an interesting verse, but let us not misunderstand it. Again, we want to remind ourselves that this is a parable that is talking about sanctification, that is, what we do as a response to what God has first done for us, not what we do in order to gain something from God. Remember, Jesus is speaking to His already converted disciples. Verse nine does not tell us that worldly wealth should be an end in and of itself, rather Jesus is telling us that we should use the gifts of this world that God has given us in order to help others. More specifically, Christians should use worldly wealth in order to increase Christian charity. One more way of saying that is to say that as Christians we are to use our worldly wealth responsibly, to help those in need, understanding that the wealth of this world comes from outside ourselves, from the Lord, and so we are to use it in service to Him and His Kingdom.
 
Are we here as a church in this community to have the community serve us? Are we here as God’s people in this place to have the community bring in their monies to support us, through services provided at a charge, through fund-raisers and the like? or, are we here in the community as God’s people in this place to serve this community? If we are here to serve the community then than means serving the community and not asking the community to pay for services rendered. What wonderful opportunities our Lord has set before us, that He has blessed us and will continue to bless us so that we might be a blessing to the people of this community, reaching out to them and serving them so that they too may come to know Him as their Savior and be a part of His Kingdom as well. And we certainly can trust the fact that as the Lord has provided in the past, He will continue to provide as we go about doing His work in this place.
 
Jesus also talks about the faith factor. Let me paraphrase what He says. He says, “I give little and much to whomever I wish so that whoever can be trusted with the very little that I give to them, can also be trusted with the very much that I give to them, and whoever is dishonest with very little will also be dishonest with much. So if you have not been trustworthy in handling worldly wealth, if you have not been trustworthy in the faith which I have given you, how can I trust you with the true riches of heaven? And if you have not been trustworthy with someone else’s property, namely with all that I have given to you and entrusted to you to use while you are living on this earth, how can I give you property of your own, property in heaven?”
 
And all this culminates in the fact that we cannot serve two masters. How important it is that we take a sober look at who or what is our master, at who or what is our God. Is our master this world and the things of this world, or is our master our Lord Jesus? Are we like the Pharisees as our text concludes, “14The Pharisees, who were lovers of money, heard all these things, and they ridiculed him. 15And he said to them, “You are those who justify yourselves before men, but God knows your hearts. For what is exalted among men is an abomination in the sight of God” (v. 14, 15)? Do we hide our love of money by justifying how we spend what we believe is our money and our lack of charity before others? Or, do we respond with our first fruits and tithes to our Lord, returning a portion as He has first given all to us?
 
What we are talking about is not new. In our Old Testament Lesson for today we read about how the children of Israel were not trustworthy in handling God’s promise of salvation through the Israelites, thus the Good News and the message of salvation is now for the Gentiles.
 
In our Epistle Lesson for today we are reminded to pray for our government and for those in authority over us. I thought it was interesting that this Epistle is included with this text which talks about being honest and trustworthy, but I believe that we need to be in constant prayer to our Lord that He will help those in authority as well as help us to be honest, trustworthy and good stewards of all that He has to give to us.
 
So, What does this mean? This means that we should fear and love God so that we recognize and admit, not just with our lips, but with our hearts and with our actions that all things, even our own salvation comes from outside of us. It is God who gives everything to us. Until we move from mere lip service, saying to ourselves, “yeah, everything is a gift from God,” and thinking in our brains, “I earned it all myself,” until we move from lip service to heart service we will never change. We must first admit with our vary being that everything we have is a gift from God. Then, we are to be good stewards of all that He has given to us.
 
As we are good stewards with the little that He gives to us,  so He will make us stewards of much. So, what are we to be stewards of? We are to be stewards of the gifts of the mysteries of God. We are to be stewards of the faith that He has given to us at our Baptism and through His Word. As we use the faith He has given us, He continually increases that faith. We are to be stewards of the forgiveness of sins He has earned for us and given to us. As we are given the forgiveness that He has to give to us through His death on the cross and as we share that forgiveness with others, He is there always giving us more forgiveness. We are to be stewards of the gifts of Word and Sacrament. As we are given the gifts of His Word and His Sacraments, He gives us even more gifts through them. We are to be stewards of His gifts of salvation and everlasting life. As we are given these gifts from Him and share them with others He strengthens us in them. As we are stewards with little, so He entrusts us with much.
 
For some reason, perhaps it is because we are conceived and born in sin, perhaps it is because we daily sin much and are in need of forgiveness, for some reason we do not always see things as Jesus sees things. We have a tendency to rely on ourselves or to at least think that we must rely on ourselves. We have a tendency to forget that the Lord has provided us with all that we need and that we can trust that He will continue to provide for us all that we need. Thanks be to God that He continually points us to see how this is true. When we enter this sanctuary the focus of our attention is on the cross. It was on the cross that Christ earned our salvation. After His death, He rose and showed Himself beyond a doubt to be alive. Before He ascended into heaven He promised to send the Holy Spirit and that He would return. Now, by the power of the Holy Spirit and with Him working in and through us, we are encouraged to use every means, which He supplies, to share the Good News of salvation.
 
Our response is to serve Him, not the things of this world. We serve Him by coming to be given the gifts that He has to give to us especially through Divine Service and Bible Class. We serve Him by acknowledging that everything we have is a gift from Him. We serve Him by not refusing the Holy Spirit, but by letting Him work in us so that we can serve Him.
 
We have an amazing God. We have a God who gives us each and every day and He is always there ready to forgive us and help us to start over. He is there, ready always to give us all His gifts.
 
How can I say this? We have a God who has so much that He wants to give to us. As our text for today reminds us, if He can trust us with a little, He can trust us with a lot. Ladies and gentlemen, I implore you, simply to be given the gifts that God has to give to you. For Jesus’ sake. Amen.

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

7 “Christian” Rules that Every Christian Ought to Break as Often as Possible by Jonathan Fisk

This is the fourth in a series of articles expounding on the quotes from the book 7 “Christian” Rules that Every Christian Ought to Break as Often as Possible, by Jonathan Fisk. As you read the quotes, honestly think about the answers to the following questions: Does this “belief” remind you of anything (denomination, preacher, philosophy) in our world today? Have you ever had this “belief”?

“Revivalism: A philosophical movement arising in eighteenth- and nineteenth century Protestantism that believed an increase in spiritual interest and renewed life could be achieved in all churches through the introduction of so-called ‘new measures.’” “Restorationism: A nineteenth-century movement of Christians who sought to bring back, or ‘restore,’ the Church of Jesus Christ, which they believed had ceased to exist. Instead of ending denominationalism (as they had hoped), they only further splintered the American spiritual landscape, giving rise to such new denominations as the Plymouth Brethren (1827) and the Disciples of Christ (1849).” The Threefold Path to a Failed Church: The Idolatry of Oder, thinking that the right church structure will solve the declining church. The Idolatry of Worship, thinking that the right recipe for the way we worship will solve the declining church. The Idolatry of the Leader, thinking the right charismatic leader will solve the declining church. The problem with all these solutions is that the focus is on the wrong thing, in the wrong place, on the wrong person. The idol of spirituality is religion, to think that you can find God in the churches.

Some of the thinking that went into Revivalism and Restorationism can be seen in the so called Church Growth Movement and the new version the Missional Movement. One of the underlining ideas of these movements is that church “success,” usually meaning numbers of people or prosperity can be achieved apart from the very means God has given His Church to “succeed.” Of course, God never uses the word “succeed” when speaking about His Church, rather He gives us His Word and Sacraments as the means through which He grows His Church and His Church grows, not necessarily numerically, but in faith, in nurture and in admonition of the Lord. As a matter of fact our Lord even reminds us that as the end days approach the visible church will struggle.

Studies confirm that neither the polity of the church (the governing orders), nor the type of worship (tradition, blended, contemporary), nor the charisma of the leader are what achieve “growth” and “success” in the church. The question should be asked, “How does the Church grow?” and the answer is, “God makes the Church grow.” God grows His Church and He does so through the very means He has given to grow His Church, the means of grace, thus where the means of grace are eliminated, so is the ability for the church to thrive.

When we point to ourselves and our own reason and strength, our own imagination and ideas, we end up with false hope. As always we get it right when we are pointed back to the sure and certain source of hope and salvation, the very Word of God.

“Freedom: The belief that God’s will for you is that you choose your will for yourself, that His strongest presence is found in His absence, that His only law is that you become a law unto yourself. Freedom, then, is nothing more than worship of lawlessness.” “Freedom’s lie: You can’t really find God.” The idol of lawlessness is freedom, that you can find God in God’s absence.

“I don’t believe in organized religion.” Nice out we might think, although my usual response is that we are not really that organized. “I worship God in nature.” So, is that a worship of the creation rather than the Creator? Truly any excuse is a good excuse, yet that is what most excuses are, simply excuses.

God loves us and He has shown His love in His Son. God speaks this love to us through His very Word, the Bible. And in His Word He tells us not to cease meeting together, for our own benefit and for the benefit of others. Indeed, He has given us His Word as well as His Sacraments as means through which He promises to pour out on us all His good gifts and blessings. The antithesis of making regular and diligent use of the means of grace, and being where those means are distributed, is to refrain from Divine Service and Bible Class, thus refusing and rejecting the gifts God has to give, and ultimately putting our very souls in eternal peril.

As we have been saying over and over, we get it right when we are pointed back to the sure and certain source of salvation, the very Word of God.

Monday, September 16, 2013

Sunday, September 22 Preview

Luke 16:9 does not tell us that worldly wealth should be an end in and of itself, rather Jesus is telling us that we should use the gifts of this world that God has given us in order to help others. More specifically, Christians should use worldly wealth in order to increase Christian charity. One more way of saying that is to say that as Christians we are to use our worldly wealth responsibly, to help those in need, understanding that the wealth of this world comes from outside ourselves, from the Lord, and so we are to use it in service to Him and His Kingdom.

Sunday, September 15, 2013

Forgiven and Forgiving - September 15, 2013 - Seventeenth Sunday after the Pentecost (Proper 19) - Text: Luke 15:1-10

Finally, after a couple of weeks of “questionable” Gospel readings this morning we can truly say, “This is the Gospel of the Lord!”
 
I remember back in the 60's there was a campaign going on in which there were these bumper stickers which touted, “I found it.” The idea behind this statement is that the person was saying that they (he or she) had found the Lord. My first response to a statement like that, and please understand that this is coming from my Lutheran background, is that “I did not know He was missing.” I am also reminded of what we confess in the explanation to the third article of the Apostle’s Creed, “I believe that I cannot by my own reason or strength believe in Jesus Christ my Lord or come to Him.” So, although the idea of a bumper sticker to get out the message of salvation might be a good idea, it is not we who are out looking for the Lord, but it is He who is out looking for us and it is He who has found us and I believe that is most important any way.
 
We live in a fast paced society. We are constantly running here, there and everywhere. And we are constantly forgetting and losing things. I lost my wallet. Where was I last, before I lost it? Where have I been since I lost it? We trace our steps looking for our wallet. But we do not always lose things instantly, like our wallet. Some things we lose over time. If you are a musical person and neglect to practice playing your instrument, you get rusty, you forget some of the notes. If you are a person who enjoys exercise and you forget to workout for a while, it is difficult to start back up again. If you have been following my progression here and you listened to the Gospel lesson then you will not be surprised when I remind you that if you neglect being in God’s Word, if you neglect Divine Service and Bible class attendance, personal and family devotions and the like, then not only does your faith get rusty, but you can also lose your faith.
 
That last statement presumes that you have faith, because you cannot lose what you do not have. If you do not have faith then you cannot lose it. We never hear about sailors losing their sheep, because, typically, sailors do not have sheep. Bringing that closer to home, we are reminded that we are born spiritually blind, spiritually dead and enemies of God. We are born without faith. It is through baptism that God instills faith in us. At our Baptism our Lord washes us. He places His name on us. He creates faith in our hearts. He claims us as His children. He makes us His. And even though God does this, we have a tendency to stray and fall away. Isaiah (53:6) says it this way, “All we like sheep have gone astray, we have each gone our own way, and the Lord has laid on Him the iniquity of us all.”
 
You cannot lose what you do not have, but you can lose what you do not use. From God’s point of view that comes out like this. He loses us when we no longer follow and serve Him, when we neglect to be in His Word, in Bible Class, Divine Service, and private reading of the Word. When we absent ourselves from confession and absolution and from His Holy Supper. When we forget our Baptism. In our text for today we are compared to being sheep and to being a lost coin. When we stray, when we are lost, God loses us. And we might also rightly say that this is what we mean when we speak about gift refusal. We refuse the gifts God has to give when we fail to make use of the means through which He comes to us to give us all His good gifts and blessings. Every Sunday morning we see that over two thirds of our congregation refuses the gifts God has to give by making something other than Divine Service attendance a priority and absenting themselves. This is a spiritual problem!
 
From our point of view it comes out like this. We lose when we no longer follow and serve Him. We refuse and lose the gifts that He has to give to us. We refuse and lose the gift of forgiveness. We refuse and lose the gift of salvation. We can even refuse and lose the gift of faith.
 
From both points of view: God gave us His holiness when He recreated us at our baptism. We lost our holiness by our sin. A good way to think of sins is to think of sin as losing something. The person who lies loses honesty. The person who steals loses integrity. The person who hates loses love. The person who misuses sex loses a two-become-one relationship. The person who condemns others loses forgiveness. The person who curses loses the opportunity to give blessings.
 
One of the difficulties about being lost is that you cannot find yourself. A sheep that is lost, does not know it is lost and does not go looking for its shepherd. A coin that is lost does not know it is lost and it does not flip back to its owner. People that are lost do not know they are lost and do not “Find themselves.” People who are lost spiritually do not realize they have a spiritual problem and do not seek to return to the gifts of God.
 
Way back in Genesis. God created Adam and Eve. When they sinned they did not go looking for God. Instead, they were ashamed and hid themselves. God had to came looking for them. In our world today we are no different. When we sin we do not go looking for God, rather we go looking for excuses, or we go looking for someone to tell us that what we did was okay. We go running as far away from God as possible, even trying to hide from Him. When we put the things of this world in first place in our lives instead of God, (remember our Bible reading a few weeks ago, “for where your treasure is, there your heart will be also”) when this happens we go looking for friends with lots of things to make us feel like we fit in, that we are okay, that we have not done anything wrong. Everyone else is doing it and we like to think that makes it okay for us to do it too. When we curse and swear using God’s name we go looking for others that will accept this behavior as normal. When we neglect to be in Divine Service and Bible class, as well as when we neglect to live out God’s Word, we look for others who will make us think we are saved because we are just as good a Christian as they are.
 
When we cheat the government, when we speed, when we disobey those in authority over us, we look for friends who will help us find excuses for our sinful behavior. When we say hateful and hurtful things, killing our neighbor, we look for someone to tell us we were justified in what we did. When we get pregnant or move in with another person without the benefit of marriage we use the excuse, “we’re living in the twenty-first century” as if God’s Word has changed and now it’s okay. When we think we would do almost anything to get something, we look to others who might help us in our stealing. When we speak evil about others behind their backs, we look for someone to tell us that we were justified in our gossiping.
 
Simply stated, we do not find ourselves by looking inside ourselves. All that we find inside ourselves is sin. For us to be found, God must come looking for us. God comes from outside us and finds us. In our text we see our loving Savior who receives us and welcomes us as Luke begins, “1Now the tax collectors and sinners were all drawing near to hear him. And the Pharisees and the scribes grumbled, saying, ‘This man receives sinners and eats with them.’” (Luke 15:1-2). Listen to the parable again and notice who is doing what, “3So he told them this parable: 4‘What man of you, having a hundred sheep, if he has lost one of them, does not leave the ninety-nine in the open country, and go after the one that is lost, until he finds it? 5And when he has found it, he lays it on his shoulders, rejoicing. 6And when he comes home, he calls together his friends and his neighbors, saying to them, “Rejoice with me, for I have found my sheep that was lost.” 7Just so, I tell you, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance.’” (Luke 15:3-7). Jesus as the Good Shepherd who comes looking for the lost sheep.  Also, listen again to the second parable and notice, again, who is doing what, “8Or what woman, having ten silver coins, if she loses one coin, does not light a lamp and sweep the house and seek diligently until she finds it? 9And when she has found it, she calls together her friends and neighbors, saying, ‘Rejoice with me, for I have found the coin that I had lost.’ 10Just so, I tell you, there is joy before the angels of God over one sinner who repents.” (Luke 15:8-10). We see Jesus as the woman sweeping the house looking for the lost coin. The exciting thing about it is that Jesus comes looking for us because of His great love for us. And it is not that Jesus loves the one sheep more than the 99, nor that He loves the one coin more than the other 9. The exciting part about it is that He loves the 99 and the 9 just as much as He loves the one that is lost. Jesus loves each one of us as we are the only person He has to love and yet He loves each one of us with that same intensity of love. He loves each one of us so much that He gave His very life for each one of us. That may not be rational and logical, but that is how much God loves us and how great His love is for us.
 
Which brings us to the celebration. The celebration which is a come as you are party. As sinners we might struggle with the question, does God love me even though I am a sinner? We might think, in order for God to love me I must first do something, like repent or something. The best analogy I can give you is to ask if you get cleaned up before you take a bath? Of course not, the reason you take a bath is because you are dirty. God loves you while you are in the dirtiness of your sin and it is His love and forgiveness which clean you up.
 
This celebration is a come as you are party, but it is not a stay as you were party, as if you would want to stay as you were. In other words, once Jesus has found you. Once you have been washed, once you have been forgiven, you will want to change. And here Jesus helps you to change as well. With the power of the Holy Spirit working in your heart you will do great things for the Lord, but it is not you, rather it is the Lord working though you so we say, Praise the Lord.
 
When we look at these parables together we come to realize that very often we are the ones who are lost. We are born in sin and daily we add to our sin. For His part, God’s love is such that His will is that all people are saved and as such, He has come to seek and to save those who are lost. Yes, sometimes, we are among the saved, that is we are among those who are safe and sound and when we are not lost we know that He loves us. There are also those who are lost in this world, lost because of their own sinfulness and straying and sometimes we are counted among those who are lost.
 
God cares about those who are safe and those who are lost. He has shown His love and care by sending His Son, Jesus, to seek and to save the lost. Jesus came into our world as one of us, one with us, one like us except without sin. Jesus came and lived perfectly for us. He did everything that we are unable to do. And, He took all our sins upon Himself and He suffered and died. He paid the price, the eternal spiritual death penalty for us, in our place. He gave His life for ours. He died for all people.
 
And so, when someone is found by Jesus, when someone is convicted and converted by the Word of God, there is much rejoicing over the finding of that lost person.
 
In the Old Testament lesson for today we were told that “11Behold, I, I myself will search for my sheep and will seek them out” (Ez. 34:11). That is good news to us, because we are His people and when we are lost and in our sin, we do not know to go looking for our Lord. In the Epistle lesson for today, Paul writes to young Timothy, “ Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the foremost” (1 Tim. 1:15b). Those words might well be our words, because, being born in sin and daily adding to our sin, we are the worst sinners. Finally, in our Gospel reading we hear these sweet words, from the Pharisees and the teachers of the law, “This man receives sinners and eats with them” Luke 15:2b). What wonderful news, what great words to hear, because we are the ones He receives and with whom He eats. Thanks be to God that He has sent Jesus to seek and to save us, to welcome and eat with us, to bring us into His eternal kingdom. To Him be the glory, for Jesus’ sake. Amen.

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

7 “Christian” Rules that Every Christian Ought to Break as Often as Possible by Jonathan Fisk


This is the third in a series of articles expounding on the quotes from the book 7 “Christian” Rules that Every Christian Ought to Break as Often as Possible, by Jonathan Fisk. As you read the quotes, honestly think about the answers to the following questions: Does this “belief” remind you of anything (denomination, preacher, philosophy) in our world today? Have you ever had this “belief”?

“The Enlightenment: A cultural movement in eighteenth-century Europe and America that sought to improve society through the advancement of knowledge.” “Rationalism: The belief that contact with God can be found through the clarity of your observations or the consistency of your logic. Rationalism, then, is nothing more than the worship of your thoughts.” The idol of rationalism is your reason which suggests that you can find God in your mind.

The Enlightenment and Rationalism, in a sense, put Religion on the back burner with the idea that knowledge can be observed and trusted apart from religion and that religion was something that could not be proven but must be believed. The post-modern world put science back on the back burner with religion because even science, as we know, can be wrong.

When it comes to who can be trusted to tell the truth we might ask, “Have human beings ever been wrong?” and of course the answer is “Yes!” But we might also ask, “Has God ever been wrong?” and of course the answer is “Never!” Thus, when there is a question and a discrepancy of and answer between what God says and what man postulates, I will side with God and suggest that man reevaluate his answer until it falls in line with what God says.

This approach, that man is fallible and God is infallible works in all areas of life, from translating and interpreting Scripture to science and archeology. We all have the same “facts,” or “data,” how we interpret those “facts” and “data” flows from our understanding (presuppositions) and trust in the most logical and reasonable explanation.

Here again, as always we get it right when we are pointed back to the sure and certain source of salvation, the very Word of God.


“Modernism: The belief that the new economic, social, and political conditions ushered in by the Industrial Revolution made more “traditional” forms of art, literature, architecture, and faith increasingly outdated.” “Romanticism: A cultural movement that reacted against the Enlightenment by validating personal experience as a significant source of authority.” “Postmodernism: Rising in reaction to Modernism, the belief that reality is only apparent, a variety of evolved social constructions, always subject to change.” “Pragmatism: The belief that knowledge found by evaluating the consequences of actions can create more efficient or “intelligent” future actions.” “Prosperity: The belief that the way God feels about you is measured by how good your life is right now. Prosperity, then, is nothing more than worship of health, wealth, and wellness. Prosperities lie: you can find God in this world.” The idol of prosperity is material things and the thought that you can find God in the world.

History bears out the fact that one generation rebels and pushes back against the previous generation, thus Romanticism pushes back at Modernism and Post-moderism pushes back against Romanticism. Pragmatism mediates with the idea that what works is the best, thus we have less interest in tradition, doctrine (beliefs and teaching), core values and the like and instead we want to do what works, i.e., “Build it and they will come.” Using what works, whether or not it is grounded in our beliefs brings “success” as defined by the one defining success, so that the ultimate goal is “prosperity” which implies success.

God’s covenant with Abraham, although a covenant concerning the Promised land, was broken by His people, the Children of Israel, yet that was not the main thing or the most important thing in the covenant. The main thing in the covenant was the promise of a Savior who would earn forgiveness and lay claim to an eternal inheritance, an eternal land in heaven. Thus, earthly prosperity truly means nothing because “You can’t take it with you.”

Here again, as always we get it right when we are pointed back to the sure and certain source of salvation, the very Word of God through which the gifts and promises of God are distributed, including an eternal inheritance in heaven.

Sunday, September 8, 2013

On Giving up Everything - September 8, 2013 - Sixteenth Sunday after the Pentecost (Proper 18) - Text: Luke 14:25-35

There is the old story about a chicken and a pig who lived on a farm. The farmer was not doing well financially and so the chicken and the pig thought about how each might contribute to help the farmer. The chicken suggested that they provide the morning meal for the farmer to which the pig pointed out to the chicken that her suggestion showed the difference between volunteering to make a contribution, that is that she would lay the egg, and making a total commitment, for to provide the ham, bacon or sausage, meant the pig’s life. Our text for today is not for the squeamish. Our text is another one of those Gospel readings about which we read and question, “This is the Gospel of the Lord?”
 
Our text begins with Jesus’ words of warning, we begin at verse twenty-five, “25Now great crowds accompanied him, and he turned and said to them, 26‘If anyone comes to me and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple. 27Whoever does not bear his own cross and come after me cannot be my disciple’” (v. 25-27). As Jesus moved from place to place, the crowds followed Him. Some were looking to witness a miracle or to be part of a miracle. Some were looking to be feed. Most were looking from something for themselves. At one point, Jesus stops, turns and addresses the crowd. His words are hard words. The cost of true discipleship is great indeed.
 
Jesus speaks words which might at first hearing sound rather harsh, that is that one must “hate” one’s own father, mother, wife, children, brothers, sisters, and even one’s own life or he or she cannot be His disciples. And here is one of those instances in the Bible where we might be puzzled and think that the Bible contradicts itself, because we are told in other places that we are to love others, so if we are thinking this is some contradiction then the problem is not with the Word of God, but with us and our understanding, or misunderstanding. Always remember, the Bible never contradicts itself, so if we think there is a contradiction, then we need to look deeper to find our misunderstanding. So, let us look a little deeper. And as we look deeper we see that this word “hate” is a word which means “not love more than,” in other words, we are to not love our father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, even our own life, more than we love Jesus. Of course, this is what we confess in the explanation to the first commandment, that we “fear, love and trust in God above all things.” One must be willing to love Jesus more than one’s own family, even more than one’s own life. We can only be a true disciples of Jesus by putting Him first in our lives.
 
The ultimate challenge of true discipleship is showing one’s love for Jesus so much that one must be willing to die for Jesus, which, incidentally is what we promise at our confirmation and when we joined this congregation, that is that we will “remain true to God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, even to death.” Similar to the hen and the pig providing breakfast for the farmer, true discipleship is more than simply volunteering to make a contribution, true discipleship is a total commitment.
 
Jesus continues by giving two illustrations to help the people and to help us to understand what He means, we pick up at verse twenty-eight, “28For which of you, desiring to build a tower, does not first sit down and count the cost, whether he has enough to complete it? 29Otherwise, when he has laid a foundation and is not able to finish, all who see it begin to mock him, 30saying, ‘This man began to build and was not able to finish.’ 31Or what king, going out to encounter another king in war, will not sit down first and deliberate whether he is able with ten thousand to meet him who comes against him with twenty thousand? 32And if not, while the other is yet a great way off, he sends a delegation and asks for terms of peace” (v. 28-32).
 
Notice how Jesus builds His illustrations. First, one does not build a tower without first setting down and counting the cost of building a tower. Here we are reminded of the very foundation of our own Christian faith life. The foundation of our own Christian faith is that of the means of Grace, the Word, the Bible and the Sacraments, Holy Baptism and the Lord’s Supper, and of course, confession and absolution. Through the means of the Word of God and Holy Baptism our Lord brought us to faith and made us a part of His Kingdom. Now, through our Divine Service and Bible study and through our private reading and devotions, we, with the help of the Holy Spirit, work to build on that foundation.
 
It is only after we have set a firm foundation that we count ourselves worthy to go to war for the Lord and so, we then count the cost of war. We do not go to war by ourselves thinking that we might be able, by ourselves to defeat the enemy, for he is far too superior to us, rather we go to war only as our Lord leads us into battle.
 
The final step in being a disciple of Jesus, after building a firm foundation and after being made ready for battle is a fight against one’s own sinful flesh and renouncing oneself, we read the last verse of our text, verse thirty-three, “33So therefore, any one of you who does not renounce all that he has cannot be my disciple” (v. 33). Many of you know that I like to put things into context and perspective and in particular into an eternal perspective. So, let me remind you of the eternal perspective of discipleship. What we are born with and what we take with us when we die is what is truly ours. So, basically, nothing is really ours. The “preacher” in the Old Testament book of Ecclesiastes reminds us that all is vanity and that what one spends a lifetime of accumulating, their heirs will quickly be rid of, spending it without thought to how much was put into accumulate it. Jesus’ warning is that we not let the things (and this is what they are, things) of this world get in the way of our discipleship and unfortunately, that is too often what we do, we let the things of this world cloud our minds and keep us from discipleship.
 
Perhaps, if we are looking to a “bottom line” for this text, the bottom line is that Jesus came to give His complete self, to give His life and so He demands complete allegiance from us. Which brings us back to the question, “This is the Gospel of the Lord?”
 
So, if this is the Gospel of the Lord, What does this mean? Jesus is speaking to a group of people with a mind set, not unlike ours today. Today, we live in a country which believes that there is nothing free in life. And everything that is said to be free, we are told that there are strings attached. So, when we hear these words from Jesus we might first declare, “See, I told you so, there are strings attached to being a Christian.” Well, let us see if that is really true, or if there is more to this than meets the ears.
 
First, we might remind ourselves that we are saved by grace, that is we are saved, we have the gift and promise, we have the hope and certainty of eternal life only because Jesus gave His all, even His life for ours. Jesus did not simply contribute something to save us, He gave His all to save us. As we were reminded last week and the week before, and many times, Jesus is God and as God, He was enjoying all that glory that was His in heaven, and yet, He gave up the glory that He was enjoying. Because of His commitment to us, His children, the commitment He made back in the Garden of Eden after Adam and Eve sinned, He gave up all the glory that was His in order to take on human flesh and blood, becoming one with us, one like us except without sin. He humbled Himself, being born of a woman, being born and placed in a manger, a feeding trough for animals. He humbled Himself, coming, not to be served, but to serve. He came to give His life as a ransom for all. He lived perfectly, for us, in our place, because we cannot. He took our sins upon Himself and suffered and died to pay the price for our sins. He rose from the dead, showed Himself beyond a doubt to be alive, and He promised to send the Holy Spirit. He also promised that He would come again. He ascended into heaven from where He came and now, along with being everywhere present, He is also in heaven watching over us, ruling over us and interceding for us.
 
Jesus came to give His all and He did. And He continues to give to us. Now He gives to us all His good gifts and blessings: faith, forgiveness, life and salvation. And He gives us these blessings through His means of grace, His Word and Sacraments. Jesus gives, and we are given to, no strings attached. But what about our text and its demands on discipleship?
 
Again, let me say that Jesus demands nothing from us and yet, while Jesus demands nothing from us, He instructs us in appropriate ways in which He directs us to respond to all that He has done for us and given to us. Our response of faith, not our way of working for salvation, not our way of paying off what He has done for us, but our response of faith is, with His help and by the power of the Holy Spirit, to live lives of faithful discipleship. We are not our own, we were bought with a price, the price of Jesus’ life. Jesus loves us with a complete love. He counted the cost and He paid the price. And His offer to us is to work in and through us through His means of grace so that we might be His disciples.
 
If you have not figured it out by now, one of the reasons the world despises Christians and the Christian faith is because the Christian faith is an exclusive faith. There is only one way to heaven and that way is through Jesus and faith in Him, alone. This means that we are not sure and confident of our eternal well-being simply by being associated with a church or a family of Christians. We may be confident only as the Lord gives us faith, strengthens and keeps us in faith through His Word and Sacraments, reminding us of the importance of making regular and diligent use of these means.
 
Whenever I sit down to look at a text in order to preach on it, one of the first things I do is to look at the text and in one sentence say what the text means. As I looked at this text, the sentence I used to state the main idea of this text was this, “Although there may be many who would associate with a Christian church today, simply for social reasons and the like, Jesus continues to warn that true discipleship costs one’s life, that is that one is willing to give their life to follow Him, as He has given His life for us.” My prayer for each one of you is that the Lord would continue to work in your life, through His means of grace, as you make regular and diligent use of the means, to give you, strengthen you and keep you in such faith until Christ comes again, at which time we will gather with all the saints and say, “to God be the glory, for Jesus’ sake,” Amen.

Saturday, September 7, 2013

The Christian and the Culture

I am not sure what Pastor White will be presenting during this conference, so I am not sure if my opening devotion will contradict, overshadow, or compliment his material, but one thing of which I am sure, God will work it out! Most people do not think in terms of culture or world views let alone what goes on in society outside our own circle of influence, thus Jay Leno is able to make fun of the, and forgive the term, ignorance of many people in his “Jaywalking” segment, speaking to and asking people about things outside their life experiences, which many people simply believe does not affect them.
 
I believe we all need to be very aware of our culture, not simply popular culture, but the various cultures as well as world views that we have in our nation, our country as well as the world. We need to be aware lest what happened in Germany and other countries happens to us, we wait until it is too late and we have lost everything. And believe me, Satan is alive and well wreaking as much havoc as he can in our world today.
 
Thus, our theme this weekend is to help us to understand and bear witness to the cultures in which we live and move and have our being. With that said, let us look at what God says.
 
The Lord saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intention of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually (Gen. 6:5)
 
1I charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, and by his appearing and his kingdom: 2preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching. 3For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions, 4and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths (2 Tim. 4:1-4).
 
18For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth. 19For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. 20For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse. 21For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened. 22Claiming to be wise, they became fools, 23and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man and birds and animals and creeping things.
 
24Therefore God gave them up in the lusts of their hearts to impurity, to the dishonoring of their bodies among themselves, 25because they exchanged the truth about God for a lie and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever! Amen.
 
26For this reason God gave them up to dishonorable passions. For their women exchanged natural relations for those that are contrary to nature; 27and the men likewise gave up natural relations with women and were consumed with passion for one another, men committing shameless acts with men and receiving in themselves the due penalty for their error (Romans 1:18-27).
 
We live in a culture and society in which God is not accepted. We live in a culture and a society in which God is being pushed out. Yet as Christians, we know that Holy Scripture is true and God’s Word is true.
 
The religion of evolution and atheism cannot stand the truth of God’s Word. The immorality of homosexual, gay/lesbian, trans-gender community cannot stand the moralism of God’s Word. Satan is working overtime in our world even as we speak.
 
Would that the world would do Christianity the favor Christianity has afforded the world over the last too many years, live and let live, but that is not even the case anymore. Anything that is Godly is now target, not simply because it is Godly, but for the sole aim and purpose of destroying what is from and of God.
 
Most recent examples of the demise of this world is the fact that instead of starting their own organization, the homosexual community has joined the Boy Scouts of American and is working to make it into its own playground of immorality. Of course, this behavior does not surprise us in the church, as this behavior has been happening for years, people working to change the church into their image, I say this, rather than they going off and starting their own church and leaving us alone.
 
Indeed, every intention of the thoughts of man’s heart is evil continually.
 
What is our response? We heard the words of Paul to Timothy, to “be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching.”
 
As Paul says to the Galatians, “1Brothers, if anyone is caught in any transgression, you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness. Keep watch on yourself, lest you too be tempted. 2Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ (Gal. 6:1-2).
 
We have Jesus giving us His authority to speak as such and His promise that He will be with us when we speak, “16Now the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain to which Jesus had directed them. 17And when they saw him they worshiped him, but some doubted. 18And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age” (Matt. 28:16-20).
 
We also have Jesus promise that He will give us the words to speak, “16“Behold, I am sending you out as sheep in the midst of wolves, so be wise as serpents and innocent as doves. 17Beware of men, for they will deliver you over to courts and flog you in their synagogues, 18and you will be dragged before governors and kings for my sake, to bear witness before them and the Gentiles. 19When they deliver you over, do not be anxious how you are to speak or what you are to say, for what you are to say will be given to you in that hour. 20For it is not you who speak, but the Spirit of your Father speaking through you (Matt. 10:16-20).
 
And finally, we have Peter’s encouragement to always be ready to give a defense of our faith and to do so with gentleness, “13Now who is there to harm you if you are zealous for what is good? 14But even if you should suffer for righteousness’ sake, you will be blessed. Have no fear of them, nor be troubled, 15but in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect, 16having a good conscience, so that, when you are slandered, those who revile your good behavior in Christ may be put to shame (1 Peter 3:13-16).
 
As Christians, we have the greatest gifts of all, faith, forgiveness of sins and eternal salvation, earn for us and paid for by Jesus life, suffering, death and resurrection. Rather than simply “Keeping the faith,” we have God’s authority to give it away, to share it with others and His promise that He will be with us as we do so, even giving us the words to speak, with gentleness. Thus, we see the importance of having our finger on the pulse of the culture, having our hearts, our noses, our eyes in the Word of God and being ready to give an answer, a defense for our faith. And we have God’s promise that His Word will not return void. Yes, we may not be good at it, but God never asks us to be good, simply to be ready to give an answer with His promise that He will bring out the best in any given situation.
 
My prayer this weekend is that we might all be enlightened and encouraged so that we may all be ready to give a defense of our faith so that God’s Kingdom may be extended, that we His people might be strengthened and that praise and glory may be given to His Holy Name, for Jesus’ sake. Amen.

Let us Pray
Almighty and gracious God, send Your Holy Spirit to bless, with His grace and presence, all those here assembled in Your name. Bless our presenter with words of teaching, learning and wisdom. Bless our hearers with ears that hear. Bless our conference that Your Church, being preserved in true faith and godly discipline, may do the will of Him who loved her and gave Himself for her, even Jesus Christ, our Lord. Amen.

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

7 “Christian” Rules that Every Christian Ought to Break as Often as Possible by Jonathan Fisk


This is the second in a series of articles expounding on the quotes from the book 7 “Christian” Rules that Every Christian Ought to Break as Often as Possible, by Jonathan Fisk. As you read the quotes, honestly think about the answers to the following questions: Does this “belief” remind you of anything (denomination, preacher, philosophy) in our world today? Have you ever had this “belief”?

“Mysticism: The belief that direct knowledge of God can be attained through your subjective experiences of God or something godlike. Mysticism, then, is nothing more than worship of your emotions.” The idol of mysticism is your emotion which suggests that you can find God in your heart.

Back in the late 60s and early 70s there was a “program” of Bible studies using what was called the serendipity approach, which, more or less was an approach for Bible study in which each participant was asked, “So, what does this passage mean to you?” This “emoting” was expounded in the Star Wars movies with the understanding that it was the feeling of the “force” that led one to act. A corollary to this approach is the post-modern belief that truth is relative, that what may be true for me may not be true for you and visa-versa, but what is true is what you feel to be true for you. As someone, and I do not remember who, said, if you were on an airplane and the pilot would announce over the loud speaker, “We are approaching the runway. I am going to turn off all the instruments, close my eyes and let the force lead my landing.” My response would be, “No, no, no, open your eyes, turn on all the instruments, or let someone else land the plane!”

Our emotions are often fickle and change according to our experiential experiences. In other words, as we move through the day and experience each part of the day, our emotions change. To make our emotions the root of our faith would lead us on a very traumatic roller coaster ride.

Rather than let our emotions, which are not very trustworthy, rule the day, we depend on the unchanging Word of God. It is God in His Word who gives us knowledge of Himself, and it is the Holy Spirit working through the very Word of God, when and where He pleases giving faith, forgiveness and eternal life. We always point people to God and His Word as the only sure and certain source of salvation.

“Moralism: The belief that access to God can be achieved through your personal efforts or attempts to improve yourself. Moralism, then, is nothing more than the worship of your works.” The idol of moralism is your vocation, that is that you can find God in your hands.

Today we hear moralism in those who would teach (and preach) that you can be the person God wants you to be; you can achieve being a morally good person on your own, without any help from God. Now certainly, to some extent people can be morally good and have a morally good character, but this social moralism does not and cannot achieve access to God. God’s command is quite clear, “You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect” (Matt. 5:48). Since we are conceived and born in sin (Ps. 51:5) and since every intention of our hearts is evil all the time (Gen. 6:5), we cannot achieve access to God through our morally good character. And interestingly enough, to suggest that we can achieve access to God through our morally good character, if that were true, we would have no need for God, for Jesus, for salvation as we would indeed save ourselves.

Moralism, therefore, leads one either to despair because we cannot be the people God wants us to be, or it leads to works righteousness thinking that we have earned God’s good pleasure. Pointing back to God and His Word, He tells us that we are sinners and yet because of His love for us He sent His only Son, Jesus, to live perfectly for us in our place and then trade His perfect life for our imperfect life, our sins in order to pay the price for our sins on the cross. As always, we get it right when we are pointed back to the sure and certain source of salvation, the very Word of God.

Sunday, September 1, 2013

Humble Service - September 1, 2013 - Sixteenth Sunday after Pentecost (Proper 17) - Text: Luke 14:1-14

God gives and we are given to and as we heard last week, our purpose in life is to be love by God and to be given to by Him. God gives life at conception. God gives new life, faith and eternal life through the waters of Holy Baptism. God gives gifts, talents and abilities, even our vocations and careers. And our response of faith is to live our lives as living sacrifices, to serve God by serving others. This morning by the power of the Holy Spirit working through the Word of God, which is His usual way of working in our lives, we will hear Jesus teach us concerning our humble acts of service to Him in our serving others.
 
Our text begins with verse one, explaining that Jesus was invited to the home of a Pharisee, we read, “1One Sabbath, when he went to dine at the house of a ruler of the Pharisees, they were watching him carefully. 2And behold, there was a man before him who had dropsy. 3And Jesus responded to the lawyers and Pharisees, saying, “Is it lawful to heal on the Sabbath, or not?” 4But they remained silent. Then he took him and healed him and sent him away. 5And he said to them, “Which of you, having a son or an ox that has fallen into a well on a Sabbath day, will not immediately pull him out?” 6And they could not reply to these things” (v. 1-6). Interestingly enough, as we read in this opening verse, we are told that the Pharisees were watching Jesus carefully. They were watching, waiting, even hoping that He might “slip up” so that they might somehow catch Him and be able to accuse Him of something, anything. Because Jesus is omniscient, that is because He is all knowing, perhaps His knowing they were watching Him is why He intentionally questions them concerning healing on the Sabbath and because of their refusal to answer, He does heal the man and then uses their smugness and lack of an answer to teach them which He does through the parable.
 
Now, remember, we were told in verse one that the Pharisees were watching Jesus. We pick up at verse seven of our text, “7Now he told a parable to those who were invited, when he noticed how they chose the places of honor, saying to them, 8‘When you are invited by someone to a wedding feast, do not sit down in a place of honor, lest someone more distinguished than you be invited by him, 9and he who invited you both will come and say to you, “Give your place to this person,” and then you will begin with shame to take the lowest place. 10But when you are invited, go and sit in the lowest place, so that when your host comes he may say to you, “Friend, move up higher.” Then you will be honored in the presence of all who sit at table with you’” (v. 7-10). In verse one we were told that the Pharisees were watching Jesus and now in verse seven we are told that it is Jesus who was observing those around Him.
 
And what is Jesus noticing? He is noticing that the people who were invited to the party were coming in and taking the seats of honor. Now, there is nothing wrong with taking the seat of honor, especially if you were invited to sit in the seat of honor. After noticing what was going on, Jesus tells a parable to explain what He is noticing and what might happen.
 
In the parable we are told how someone might be invited to a party and thinking they are the honored guest they might take the seat of honor. However, if this one is not the honored guest, then the host of the party will come to them and asked them to move down to a lower seat and in so doing they would be humiliated, or humbled. In the same way, the one taking the lower seat, would be asked to move up to a higher seat, even to the seat of honor and in so doing they will be honored in front of everyone.
 
Jesus ends this parable with a statement of truth, verse eleven, “11For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.”” (v. 11). Certainly we understand these words in our world today. How often it is that we might think we are the honored guest and take the seat of honor only to be humbled and perhaps humiliated when we are asked to take a lower seat. And how often are we honored when we show a real humility about ourselves and take a lower seat only to be asked to move up to the seat of honor. How true it is that “everyone who exalts himself will be humbled and he who humbles himself will be exalted.”
 
I cannot say if Jesus intended to quote the Proverb lesson for today or not, but His word certainly do sound like they come from our Old Testament lesson. Of course, we understand that Jesus is God and is the author of the Old Testament as well, so perhaps He did have in mind this verse from Proverbs when He told His parable. Above all, please make note that Jesus’ words are not just for the Pharisees He is addressing. His words are to us today. I will say that I know from personal experience that His words are true, if we exalt ourselves we will be humbled, and if we humble ourselves we will be exalted. And remember that the ultimate exalting and humbling will be done on the day of Judgement.
 
But our text is not complete. Jesus continues by speaking to the host of the gathering, we pick up at verse twelve. “12He said also to the man who had invited him, “When you give a dinner or a banquet, do not invite your friends or your brothers or your relatives or rich neighbors, lest they also invite you in return and you be repaid. 13But when you give a feast, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind, 14and you will be blessed, because they cannot repay you. You will be repaid at the resurrection of the just” (v. 12-14).
 
True charity is not simply inviting those who you know will invite you over and in so doing repay you. True charity, true Christian charity, true charity in God’s eyes is not what most of us do, most of the time. And let me say that does not mean that there is anything wrong with having friends over, even if you know that they will invite you back over to their house on another occasion. It is certainly God pleasing to share in fellowship of food and company of fellow Christians, family and friends. Yet, our text is speaking about true Christian charity which is not simply inviting those who repay you by inviting you back over to their place. True Christian charity is inviting those who cannot repay.
 
And the great thing about true Christian charity is the fact that it has a reward, not on earth, but in heaven. As we exchange having family and friends over and going over to their homes, that is its own reward. Yet, true Christian charity of giving to those who cannot repay has its reward in heaven.
 
Not only is there a connection to our Old Testament reading for this morning, but there is also a connect to our epistle lesson for this morning. The Hebrews connection is that Paul urges us to have a similar attitude of service to others. “1Let brotherly love continue. 2Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for thereby some have entertained angels unawares. 3Remember those who are in prison, as though in prison with them, and those who are mistreated, since you also are in the body” (v. 1-3).
 
It all begins with faith which reflects in our attitude, which reflects in our actions, and finally which reflects in our works of service. James reminds us that “faith without works is dead.” Yet, the heart of works is faith which motivates such works. And Jesus here reminds us that our works come from a humble attitude of putting others first.
 
So, we ask, what does this mean? or what lessons might we learn today? Certainly the greatest lesson we can learn is the lesson of Jesus’ own life. Jesus humbled Himself. He gave up the glory that was His in heaven. And think about it, as God, He certainly was enjoying great glory in heaven, yet He gave up His glory in heaven in order to take on human flesh and blood, to become one of us. Jesus shows His humility in the fact that His first crib was a manger, a feeding trough for animals. He further shows His humility in that He did not come to be served, but to serve. His greatest show of humility was to humble Himself to the point of death, even death on a cross for our sins.
 
Jesus shows true charity in giving His life for us, knowing that we cannot repay and that is precisely why He gave His life because He knew we could not repay. By the giving of His life, Jesus gives us forgiveness of sins and with forgiveness we have life and salvation. And now, here in our text Jesus also gives us instruction in faith, that is that faith shows itself in humility. Faith shows itself in putting others first, in giving and especially in giving when we know we cannot be repaid.
 
Faith shows itself in service and in works of service. These are not works which we do in order to attempt to repay Jesus for all He has done, nor to try to minimize the fact that we owe Him our very lives, but these are works of service done in response to all that He has done, does and continues to do for us.
 
At Christmas time, do we give gifts or do we normally exchange presents? Perhaps this might be something to think about now, before Christmas gets here. I would suggest that our normal way of doing things at Christmas is that we gather at someone’s home and we exchange presents. And this we do to celebrate Jesus’ birthday. How would we like it if everyone came to our birthday party to celebrate our birthday and exchanged presents and we received nothing? And please understand, I believe exchanging presents can be a great expression of love as well. That is not the point I am trying to make, nor the point Jesus is trying to make. The point is that exchanging present for present, invite for invite, meal for meal, is not really charity. Real charity is giving with out expecting and without receiving in return. Real charity is what Jesus gives to us, His life for ours.
 
So, in response of faith and in response to all our Lord has done for us and given to us, might I suggest that this Christmas, since it is still early and you have plenty of time to prepare. This Christmas, along with our usual exchange of presents, perhaps we might think of something to do that is more fitting of Jesus’ words in our text. Something, such as giving a gift to someone we know will not be able to repay us, perhaps even doing it anonymously so there would be no guilt or less guilt on the part of the recipient. Perhaps even giving a gift to the Lord in some fashion or another. And as we make this unusual gift, might we remind ourselves to do it in humility, without telling anyone, so that our reward is indeed not on this earth, but in heaven.
 
God gives and we are given to and as we heard last week, our purpose in life is to be love by God and to be given to by Him. God gives life at conception. God gives new life, faith and eternal life through the waters of Holy Baptism. God gives forgiveness of sins through His Word and His Holy Supper. And God gives to us and stirs in us our response of faith is to live our lives as living sacrifices, to serve God by serving others. God has indeed done great things for us and certainly He expects nothing in return from us. Instead of our meeting His expectation, of giving Him nothing in return, my prayer for each of you is that by the power of the Holy Spirit, we might live our lives of faith in humble service to Him and others, and as we do so we are boldly professing our faith saying, “To God be the glory, for Jesus’ sake.” Amen.