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, May 25, 2014

Christ’s Exaltation - May 25, 2014 - Sixth Sunday of Easter - Text: 1 Peter 3:13-22

What is our purpose in life? That is the question asked by many today. Some answers that are given are that our purpose in life is to do something for God, to praise Him, to work for Him, to do His bidding, to please Him, to appease Him and so forth. The assumption behind these answers is that God needs something from us. My question is, “What kind of a God does one worship who needs something from us?” That sounds a lot like the gods Paul was referring to in our first lesson when he addressed the Athenians on Mars Hill. And so, as Paul says, I say to you, we worship “24The God who made the world and everything in it, being Lord of heaven and earth, does not live in temples made by man, 25nor is he served by human hands, as though he needed anything, since he himself gives to all mankind life and breath and everything” (Acts 17:24,25). Therefore, our purpose in life is simply to be loved by our God who created us to love us.
 
In our text for today, Peter continues encouraging us in our own faith life. He encourages us especially in times of suffering. We being in our text at verse thirteen, “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 regard 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; 16yet do it with gentleness and respect, having a good conscience, so that, when you are slandered, those who revile your good behavior in Christ may be put to shame. 17For it is better to suffer for doing good, if that should be God’s will, than for doing evil” (v. 13-17).
 
If we are good people, as we often believe ourselves to be, if we do good, that is, if we follow the law, if we do not speed, do not steal, do not kill, do not commit adultery, do not gossip, and so forth, then we need not fear harm. If we are being good and are doing what we are supposed to be doing and not doing what we are not supposed to be doing, then we really do not have anything to fear in this life.
 
On the other hand, and this is where Peter is encouraging us, if we suffer for doing good, then we are to rejoice. If we suffer, especially because we are Christians, we are to rejoice. Now, I have said it before, I do not believe that this affects us much here in the United States of America, at least not yet, but I do know for a fact that there are Christians throughout the world that are suffering, that are persecuted simply because they bear the name of Christ, that is, because they are Christians. And they rejoice in their suffering.
 
Verse fifteen is one of my favorite verses, especially in the context of what we are to be doing for our Lord, or at least what we think we are to be doing for the Lord. Thinking in terms of what is our purpose in life, for many years we have all heard the great commission and how the great commission tells us how we are to go out and tell others about Jesus, and I would never discourage you from doing so. However, I believe Peter gives us a better way. Peter tells us that our response of faith is to have a natural consequence and flow that is that as we are living lives of faith we are to always be ready to give a defense of our faith and certainty of heaven. As we live lives of faith and as others ask about our faith we are to give the reason, the answer or as our text literally says, an apology, that is a defense of our faith and we are to do this in gentleness.
 
Perhaps you have heard the phrase, “Kill them with kindness,” or as Paul says in Romans (12:20), “if your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink; for by so doing you will heap burning coals on his head.” In other words, in our making a gentle defense of our faith against those who work to slander us, we put them to shame. So, here, Peter reminds us, it is certainly better, as a Christian, in God’s eyes, to suffer for doing good than to rightly suffer for doing evil.
 
But Peter is not done. He goes on to give us Christ’s example. We pick up reading at verse eighteen, “18For Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, that he might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh but made alive in the spirit, 19in which he went and proclaimed to the spirits in prison, 20because they formerly did not obey, when God’s patience waited in the days of Noah, while the ark was being prepared, in which a few, that is, eight persons, were brought safely through water. 21Baptism, which corresponds to this, now saves you, not as a removal of dirt from the body but as an appeal to God for a good conscience, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ, 22who has gone into heaven and is at the right hand of God, with angels, authorities, and powers having been subjected to him” (v. 18-22).
 
Rather than simply encourage us, Peter gives us the example of Jesus who suffered unfairly. Jesus, who was without sin suffered for our sins. Of course, that is the reason Jesus came into this world; that is the reason He was born, to restore our broken relationship with Himself. Jesus came to pay the price for sin, the price of eternal spiritual death, the price that was set in the Garden of Eden. And that is what Jesus did. He who was without sin, took our sins upon Himself and He suffered, on the cross, the eternal spiritual death penalty, for us, in our place, and not only for us, but for all those who had already lived, for us living today and for all those who ever will live.
 
After suffering on the cross and dying, when Jesus descended into hell it was not to suffer any more. His suffering was completed on the cross. His descent into hell was to declare victory over the devil as well as His victory over sin, death and the power of the devil.
 
And then Peter gives us the example of God’s patience in dealing with us, His sinful human beings. Some may wonder why God is waiting so long to end the world. Some may be wondering how long the Lord will put up with this world. The answer is seen in God’s patience and not wanting anyone to perish, but in giving enough time as possible for as many people as possible to come to faith. The answer is seen in God’s patience in the days of Noah and how long He waited to send the flood, giving enough people time to see what Noah was doing so they might repent. In the same way He is waiting today for His return.
 
And now we get to Peter’s words on Baptism. Notice how Peter tells us that Baptism saves. Let me say that again so we do not miss it, Baptism saves. We see Baptism save every Sunday we witness a Baptism. We see how those being baptized are saved through the waters of Holy Baptism. They do nothing, but their Baptism saved them. Baptism saves because Baptism is God’s doing. Unfortunately there are those who reject these words of Peter suggesting that baptism is something we need to do to show our obedience to God. They say this because they do not understand how simple water and God’s Word can do such great things. Here Peter tells us, as he says, “Baptism now saves.” Baptism saves because we put the focus back where it needs to be, not on us, but on God who does the work in and through theses simple means, water and God’s Word, God’s name. Peter gives the example of the flood. In the flood, the water killed the evil and the ark saved the righteous. Water saved the eight in the ark. Interestingly enough, those who believe that the only valid baptism is a baptism by immersion need to see that they find little support for their views here. Notice, the only persons who are immersed were those who were drowned by the flood waters, not the ones who were saved. In Holy Baptism water washes away our sins and saves us through the putting on of Christ’s name. In Holy Baptism God is doing all the work, God is doing all the doing and we are the ones who are being done to and being given to. And notice how we get it right when we get the focus right.
 
And now, Peter reminds us that Christ is exalted and He is seated at the right hand of the Father. Jesus is at the right hand of the Father, not that He cannot be anywhere else, because we know He is God and as God He can still be all places at all times, but Peter tells us He is at the right hand of the Father so we might find comfort in knowing that He is there watching over us, ruling over us and interceding for us.
 
And so, now in good Lutheran fashion we ask, “What Does This Mean?” First, we understand that there is a difference between suffering as a consequence of sin and suffering for one’s faith. Certainly there are times that we suffer as a consequence of our actions, but we need to be assured, that we never have, nor will we ever suffer the eternal punishment for our sins, because that is what Jesus suffered for us on the cross. Yet, when the time comes and it may come in even in our own country, and soon, but when the time comes that we may suffer for simply the fact that we are Christians, Peter encourages us that we would rejoice in our suffering for our faith.
 
And in those times of suffering for our faith, God’s will is that we would give a defense for our faith. In other words, God will give us the strength to bear up, and He will give us the words to say in defense of our faith.
 
Notice, again, how we get it right when we get the focus right. When focus on ourselves, on what we must do, or have to do, then we tend to get confused about our purpose in life, we get confused like the Athenians on Mars Hill. But when we get our focus right, that is when our focus is on what God has done, what God does, and what God will continue to do for us, then we get it right, then we get our purpose right, then we get our lives right. God gives, and we are given to.
 
Jesus has done it all and He gives it all to us. And we have the assurance that Jesus is exalted and He is seated at the right hand of the Father where He continues caring for us. And we say, thanks be to God.
 
And so, finally, I again encourage you, brothers and sisters in Christ, be zealous in doing good, let your light shine, have no fear of the troubles of this world, instead, focus on Christ and all that He has done, does and will continue to do in and through you knowing that He has taken care of your eternal life. To God be the glory, for Jesus’ sake. Amen.

Sunday, May 18, 2014

Now, You Are God’s People - May 18, 2014 - Fifth Sunday of Easter - Text: 1 Peter 2:2-10

In our first reading for this morning we are reminded, once again, of the importance of the means of grace. The early church was growing. It was growing so fast that more leaders need to be enlisted to help take care of the believers. Notice the importance that was placed on the means of grace. The apostles knew that the church would not grow except through the means of grace and so they wisely suggested that they enlist helpers while they continue to be in the ministry of the Word. “And” as verse seven says, “the word of God continued to increase, and the number of the disciples multiplied greatly in Jerusalem.” It is through the Word of God, as well as through His Sacraments, Holy Baptism and the Lord’s Supper, that our Lord grew His early Church and through which He still grows His Church today.
 
In the Epistle Lesson, our text for this morning we are reminded of our beginnings in the Church, through the means of grace, and the importance of continuing in those same means of grace. Peter begins by reminding us of our being given faith, we begin reading at verse two, “2Like newborn infants, long for the pure spiritual milk, that by it you may grow up to salvation—3if indeed you have tasted that the Lord is good. 4As you come to him, a living stone rejected by men but in the sight of God chosen and precious, 5you yourselves like living stones are being built up as a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ” (v. 2-5). For most of us, we were given faith through the water and God’s name placed on us at our Baptism. At our Baptism Jesus put His name on us, He put faith in our hearts, He gave us the forgiveness of sins He had earned for us on the cross, He wrote our names in the book of life, He made us new people. And now, now that we are growing in our Christian faith life, he encourages us to grow even more in our faith life. He encourages us to grow by making use of the means of the Word of God.
 
Some of us may have been brought to faith through Holy Baptism, others may have been brought to faith through the Word of God, which works faith and then the desire to be Baptized. Either way, either being brought to faith through Baptism or through the Word, our faith is shown in our desire is to continue to be in the Word which is what strengthens and keeps us in faith.
 
We are given faith, either through Holy Baptism or through the Word, yet that faith has to have an object. Faith in a tree does not bring eternal salvation. Faith in ourselves or in what we think are our good works does not save. Faith in an idol does not bring eternal salvation, at least not in heaven. Only faith in Jesus brings eternal life in heaven. Faith, true faith must have Jesus as its object in order to be saving faith.
 
Peter tells us that with Jesus being the object of faith dead stones are turned into living stones. Most of us understand that stones are inanimate objects. Stones are not living things, yet we are described by Peter as stones. Before begin given faith through the means of grace we were not living beings. We were dead beings. We were dead in our trespasses and sins. We were conceived and born in sin. We were spiritually dead, spiritually blind, and enemies of God. We were certainly as good as dead. But by faith given through the means of grace we have become living stones, because we are connected to the main living stone, the main foundation and cornerstone, Jesus Himself.
 
Again, the object of faith is important. We continue reading at verse six, “6For it stands in Scripture: ‘Behold, I am laying in Zion a stone, a cornerstone chosen and precious, and whoever believes in him will not be put to shame.’ 7So the honor is for you who believe, but for those who do not believe, ‘The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone,’ 8and ‘A stone of stumbling, and a rock of offense.’ They stumble because they disobey the word, as they were destined to do” (v. 6-8).
 
Jesus is the stone, the Cornerstone, the Living Stone. As the Living Stone, He is also a stumbling block to those who do not want to acknowledge their sins and repent. I believe the old cliche’ goes something like, “Pride goeth before the fall.” In other words, sometimes we are too proud to confess and acknowledge our sins, our part in Jesus’ death on the cross, so much so that we end up refusing and rejecting the benefits of Jesus’ death, namely the forgiveness of sins, which means the fall into eternal spiritual death. We confess this almost ever Sunday morning, “If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:8,9). Thus, Jesus is a stumbling block for all those who do not believe they are so bad that Jesus had to die very much for them.
 
Jesus is a stumbling block, He is also an offense. He is an offense to those who believe they can be good enough to earn their way to heaven. Yes, He is an offense to many Americans, because we know the way we were raised, that is that there is nothing free in life. We are raised to believe that anything that is free has strings attached. We have to make our own way in life. We have to pull ourselves up by our bootstraps. We have to make our own way. And this makes its way into our churches and our own faith life with our thinking that there must be something we can do to earn heaven. Thus when we are told how sinful we really are, how spiritually depraved we are, how our only inclination is to evil, how our will is completely tainted by sin and all we can do is refuse and reject Christ, when we are told these things we tend take offense at Jesus.
 
Peter reminds us here that Jesus is the Cornerstone to those who have been given faith. Earlier we were reminded that stones are not living things, but are inanimate objects. Here we are reminded that every good structure needs a good foundation and a good cornerstone. When we speak about the Church (capital “C”) we are speaking about all believers in Jesus. The Church (capital “C”) also needs a good foundation. The foundation of the Church, the Cornerstone on which the Church is built is Jesus Christ Himself. Remember Jesus words to Peter after he confessed for himself and the disciples that Jesus was the Christ, Jesus said, “You are Peter and on this rock,” that is on Peter’s confession that Jesus is the Christ, in other words, on Jesus, “I will build my Church.” Jesus is a living Cornerstone and by faith in Jesus, faith given to us through His Word and through Holy Baptism, faith which has Jesus as the object, through faith in Jesus we dead stones become living stones and a part of the Church.
 
Which brings us to the priesthood of all believers. We pick up at verse nine, “9But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light. 10Once you were not a people, but now you are God’s people; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy” (v. 9-10).
 
At conception we were very much like stones, inanimate objects, spiritually dead, spiritually blind and enemies of God. It is only as our Lord has called us to faith and given us faith in Jesus that we are given to be a part of the priesthood of all believers. Being a member of the priesthood of all believers means that we have immediate access to our Lord. We may go directly to Him in prayer at any time and any place. He speaks to us through His Word at any time and any place and we speak to Him through our prayers at any time and any place.
 
Being a part of the priesthood means that we were brought out of darkness into His marvelous light. As He gives faith through His means, so He strengthens and keeps us in faith through those same means. As we confess in the explanation to the Third Article, “I believe that I cannot by my own reason or strength believe in Jesus Christ, my Lord, or come to Him; but the Holy Spirit has called me by the Gospel, enlightened me with His gifts, sanctified and kept me in the true faith.” Notice the call by the Gospel and the enlightening with His gifts, again the means of grace.
 
Finally, being a part of the priesthood moves us to do the good works He has prepared in advance for us to do, namely to proclaim His excellencies. How can we not, after all our Lord has done for us, how can we not help but shout to the world of the great things our Lord has done, does and will do for us.
 
Perhaps this morning, instead of asking the questions, “What Does This Mean?” we might instead ask, “What is our purpose in life?” And we might rightly answer that our purpose in life is to be loved by God.
 
Remember, we are conceived and born in sin. And we add to that the fact that we daily sin much and are in need of forgiveness. We sin in thought, word and deed. We sin sins of omission, not doing as we ought and we sin sins of commission, doing those things that we ought not to do. Our nature and our will is only to sin. And our nature is to want to not admit our total depravity and our total dependance on someone outside of us for our salvation. We sin and we sin boldly.
 
Yet, even though we sin, we have a great God who is a God of love who looks after us, cares for us and does everything for us. He gives faith through His means of grace, the Word or Holy Baptism. He works to strengthen and keep us in faith. He has taken care of our sin, the price of which is eternal spiritual death. He took care of our sins once and for all by suffering the price on the cross, because of His great love for us. He gives us His means of grace, including and especially His Word of Law which reminds us of our total depravity and His Gospel which tells us of His total love for us. He gives faith, forgiveness, life and salvation.
 
Our response of faith, again, our response of faith, is to live lives of faith, that is, to do the good works which He has prepared in advance for us to do, to confess our sins, to encourage and build each other up in the body of Christ. Our response of faith is to have a craving for the Word. Our faith shows itself in our constant need and desire for His Word, being in Divine Service and Bible class as often as offered, having personal and family devotions and reading His Word. Our response of faith is being given the gifts. Our response of faith is not seeking some purpose we might think we need to have to appease an angry God, or to need to do something for a God who might need something from us. No, our response of faith is simply to be loved by God, to be loved by our God who created us to love us.
 
And so, brothers and sisters in Christ, fellow members of the priesthood of all believers, I encourage you as well, know that you are God’s people, living stones, members of the priesthood, by His help, live as God’s people. To Him be the glory, for Jesus’ sake. Amen.

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

An Example of Lifestyle (Vocational) Evangelism

I recently officiated at a wedding for one of the members of my congregation. After the service I was able to join in the celebration, mingle with the other guests, and enjoy a nice evening. While visiting with some of the guests I was told how well they thought of me because the bride had told them how she liked her pastor, how she was able ask him questions, especially theological and ethical questions and then how she would be better able to give an answer to others. They expressed how the bride truly liked her church and her pastor. She, the bride was truly a great witness, even evangelist and a great example of lifestyle or vocational evangelism as she was living her life as a living sacrifice always being ready to give an answer for the hope she had in her Savior. She exemplifies what lifestyle or vocational evangelism is at its best.

To get a better understanding of how effective was her witness is to understand the opposite, that is to understand people who continually degrade, bad mouth, and talk down their church and especially their pastor. When one lives a life of such a negative witness is it any wonder that should they ask any of their friends or coworkers if they would want to come and visit their church the answer would be a resounding “No!” Indeed, when we make such a negative witness, either consciously or unconsciously, griping and complaining, talking negative, bad mouthing and degrading or church or our pastor whom God called to be our pastor, we simply become a negative witnesses and evangelists even a witness and evangelist for Satan.

God has given us our church. He has called our pastor to be His representative and shepherd in His congregation. At the same time, God does not call us to like our pastor or our church, although it would certainly help if we did. God calls us to faith and to faithfulness including defending, speaking well of, and putting the best construction on everything (Eight Commandment Explanation). God calls us to be witnesses, living lives as living sacrifices for Him! I wonder how much better our own lives would be and how much more effective our churches would be in reaching out to others if we stopped and engaged our minds especially thinking about for whom we are witnessing, before we speak, especially before we speak negatively. Perhaps then, we might speak positively instead and truly be a good witness/evangelist!

Sunday, May 11, 2014

Healed, by His Wounds - May 11, 2014 - Fourth Sunday of Easter/Mother’s Day - Text: 1 Peter 2:19-25

This morning we celebrate Good Shepherd Sunday, so called because our Gospel reading is the reading of Jesus our Good Shepherd. Today is also our secular holiday of Mother’s Day and so we extend cordial greetings to the mothers who are with us this morning as we say, “Happy Mother’s Day.”
 
The image of sheep and shepherds has long been used in our church as a way to help us to understand how our Lord cares for us. We are His sheep and He is our Good Shepherd. We even use this imagery in our own congregations, that is we call our local minister our pastor or our shepherd. Certainly I include myself as one of God’s sheep here on this earth. Jesus is our Good Shepherd who cares for us and shows how much He loves us in this fact that He gave the ultimate sacrifice of Himself for us. And just as sheep tend to get into trouble, following where their nose leads, following the sheep in front of them into trouble, getting into one “mess” after another, even after the shepherd just rescued them from one “mess,” even so, we continue through this life getting into trouble, following where our will and whim leads us, following other sinners into sin and getting into trouble and one mess after another, perhaps even asking God, “What have you done for me lately?”
 
In our text for this morning Peter continues talking to us about the trials and tribulations, the troubles of this world. There is a difference between the troubles that we bring on ourselves and troubles that are brought upon us. Peter distinguishes between just suffering and unjust suffering. Just suffering is suffering for when we do wrong. When we do wrong, we get punished, that is justice. If I disobey the speed limit sign and get caught, I get a ticket. If I take something from someone without asking and get caught I get punished. Yet, even if I do not get caught when I do wrong, very often my own conscience will punish me and bother me.
 
Even the one thief on the cross recognized this just and unjust punishment. He recognized that he and the other thief were receiving their just reward, the punishment for their sins, but Jesus was being punished unjustly. Jesus never sinned. Jesus was perfect. Certainly we cannot imagine perfection, because we have never experienced perfection. We may only be able to imagine perfection to a small degree, but Jesus was perfect and yet, in His perfection, He bore the punishment for our sins.
 
Peter speaks about just suffering and about unjust suffering. We begin reading at verse nineteen, “19For this is a gracious thing, when, mindful of God, one endures sorrows while suffering unjustly. 20For what credit is it if, when you sin and are beaten for it, you endure? But if when you do good and suffer for it you endure, this is a gracious thing in the sight of God” (v. 19-20). Again, as we have said, when we are punished for doing wrong, that is just punishment. But, when we are punished for doing right, that is unjust punishment. There are many in our world today who suffer such unjust punishments. There are many who have been, who are, and who will continue to be punished simply for the fact that they believe in Jesus, that is there are many people in our world who suffer simply because they are Christians.
 
Peter encourages us in this same way. Although, at this time, we may not suffer to a great extent for being Christians, there may come a day, anytime soon when we may have to suffer for our faith. It may one day (soon) be illegal to make the exclusive claim we have made for so long, that is that faith in Jesus alone saves. It may not be too far off that we will be punished, fined or imprisoned for expressing the belief that certain immoral acts are wrong and sin, such as homosexual behavior, abortion, and the like. If and when this time may come, that is to suffer for doing good, we are to count this as a gracious thing in God’s sight.
 
Peter gives us the example of Christ. We continue reading at verse twenty-one, “21For to this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you might follow in his steps. 22He committed no sin, neither was deceit found in his mouth. 23When he was reviled, he did not revile in return; when he suffered, he did not threaten, but continued entrusting himself to him who judges justly. 24He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. By his wounds you have been healed” (v. 21-24).
 
Unlike you and me, Jesus was conceived and born in perfection. Jesus lived perfectly. He never did anything wrong. He always did what was right. He never had original sin, because He was conceived by the power of the Holy Spirit. He never had actual sin. He never sinned sins of commission, doing anything that was wrong, thinking anything that was wrong, or speaking anything that was wrong. He never sinned sins of omission, not helping, thinking or speaking the best. He never sinned in thought, word or deed. He was perfect.
 
Only because Jesus was perfect was He able to do for us what He did, namely that He was then able to take our sins upon Himself. He became sin for us. He became our substitute. He took our sins upon Himself in order to pay the price for our sins. The price for sin was set in the Garden of Eden, eternal spiritual death or hell. Jesus paid that price for us, for you and for me as well as for all people of all places of all times. He paid the price for sin completely.
 
Jesus, who was perfect, suffered unjustly for our sin.  Even the thief on the cross recognized that Jesus was innocent, that He was righteous, that He did not deserve what He was getting, but that it was for him and for our sins that Jesus died.
 
Jesus died. God died. Jesus paid the price for the sins of all the people who had lived and sinned up to this point in history. He also paid the price for the sins of all people who would live and sin after Him. Jesus bore the sins of all, including and especially He bore your sins and my sins.
 
Peter uses the sheep and shepherd imagery also. He says we were straying sheep. We finish reading the text, verse twenty-five, “25For you were straying like sheep, but have now returned to the Shepherd and Overseer of your souls” (v. 25). If you know anything about sheep you know that they tend to stray. Their eyesight is not very good and so they have a tendency to follow the sheep directly in front of them. They like to eat and so they tend to stray wherever their nose leads.
 
Jesus is the Good Shepherd. Our Gospel reading brings this out. There is a difference between a hired hand and a good shepherd. Jesus is our Good Shepherd. Jesus calls men to be undershepherds, that is to be pastors in our congregations. There are some pastors who truly are hired hands and there are pastors who truly are shepherds who care for their sheep. Understanding that we pastors too are human, but caring for you often entails the not so pleasant tasks that many of us relate to parenting, correcting the sheep when they err. Please understand that just as a parent corrects their child or children out of love, so pastors are to correct their sheep out of love. To not correct the sheep, to let the sheep roam and stray into any mischief, false doctrine and the like and especially to lead the sheep into false doctrine and teaching is not the work of a shepherd, but a hireling.
 
Jesus is our Good Shepherd and He models what it is to be shepherds in the flock, in the congregation. Again, Jesus is perfect, we pastors are not so perfect. Jesus finds us and brings us back into the sheepfold. Pastors, as well as those of us who are brothers and sisters in Christ are to likewise imperfectly follow His example and care for one another.
 
Ultimately, Jesus is the one who watches over us. I cannot look into your hearts, but Jesus can and He does. He is the great Good Shepherd and He does care for us as He has cared for us as He ultimately showed His caring in the giving of His life for ours.
 
And so, in good Lutheran fashion we ask, “What does this mean?” First and foremost, because of our sinful nature, being conceived and born in sin, sinning in thought, word and deed, sinning sins of omission and commission, we understand that we are deserving only of a just punishment for our sins. We are deserving of eternal spiritual death, hell.
 
However, we have not, we will not, nor will we ever receive what we deserve. We will never receive eternal spiritual death because Jesus paid that price for our sins. That is what He suffered on the cross. That is why He took our sins upon Himself. That is the price He paid for us. Because of His great love for us.
 
Peter tells us, by His wounds we are healed, that is, by Jesus wounds, by His suffering and death we are healed, that is we are healed spiritually, our sins are forgiven. Two weeks ago we heard Jesus say words of peace to His disciples and to us. His peace is true peace. His peace is not simply a moment or two of calm and quiet, or even serenity, but His peace is true peace, the heart of which is the forgiveness of sins. Without forgiveness there is no peace. You know how it is, when you do something wrong your conscience bothers you. Jesus gives the peace of forgiveness which calms the troubled conscience. By His wounds we are healed.
 
And now, because we have been redeemed, bought back, traded for, forgiven, make just, righteous and holy in God’s eyes, by faith in Jesus, faith given to us through His means of grace, now, we rejoice in our sufferings, because when we suffer for doing good, especially when we suffer for being Christians, we give glory to God.
 
We might rightly confess, we are unworthy. We are unworthy of all that our Lord has done for us, does for us and will continue to do for us. We are unworthy that He should even care for us. We are unworthy and yet He makes us worthy. We gives us life. He gave His life so that we might have life. He gives us faith. He gives us forgiveness. He gives us eternal life. He gives, He gives, He gives and we are given to. Indeed, by His wounds we are healed. Thanks be to God and to Him be the glory for Jesus’ sake. Amen.

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Recognizing Satan’s Temptations and Defeating Him

Satan is alive and well. He hates everything that is good and is of God. He hates Christians and God’s Church. He hates us and St. Matthew Lutheran Church of Westfield. And so he attacks relentlessly. How do we recognize his attacks and what do we do?

When we face the attacks of Satan, God may provide help in one of three ways. First, God may provide a way out. Perhaps you are visiting with some friends when someone begins talking about someone else not present, tearing them down and defaming their precious name. And here I would suggest that first and foremost we pray for that friend that Satan is unwittingly using to defame, tear down and speak ill of another (Matthew 18:7). Anyway, and we know how this scenario works, as this one person continues, they may stop and look at you with that expecting look, giving you the opportunity to join in tearing down, speaking ill of and defaming that person as well. Recognize this as a temptation of Satan. God may provide a way out of this temptation by you simply changing the subject and talking about something more uplifting.

Again, when we face trials and temptations, God may provide a way out or God may provide the strength we need to bear up. Again, back to our scenario, suppose the person turns and looks at you with that expectation that you join in the tearing down, speaking ill of and defaming another person. God may provide you with the strength to say that it is not right to be defaming this person and you will not join in. Perhaps God may provide you with the strength to speak in positive terms, putting the best construction on everything and speaking in the kindest way.

But, once again, when we face trials and temptations, God may provide a way out or God may provide the strength we need to bear up, or God may take away the trial or temptation. Back to our scenario, if God does not provide a way out, that is that you may simply change the subject and if God does not provide you with the strength you might think you need to speak up and defend the person being torn down and defamed, then He may take the temptation away, perhaps something will distract your friend. Ask Him to help you.

Now, this may be a rather simplistic scenario, but I am sure most of us have experienced something like this and it does, nonetheless, illustrate that fact that God does help us in times of trials and temptations. The bottom line, if you will, is that because we are Christians, we will face temptations and difficulties in this world. Rather than fear those challenges, our Lord would have us cling to Him, who has defeated all, so that He will help us to overcome and win out in the end. And rest assured, even when we fail, and we do and will fail, with Jesus there is always forgiveness, that is the reason He came to give His life for ours.

Sunday, May 4, 2014

This Word Is the Good News - May 4, 2014 - Third Sunday of Easter - Text: 1 Peter 1:17-25

Again this morning we continue to revel and rejoice in the resurrection of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. What a great God we have. What a loving God we have. What a gift giving God we have. I often lament for those people who do not know Jesus and for those who have no surety of salvation because they do not understand grace and the gifts God gives and instead cling to some wishy washy human hope that they have been good enough, or done enough good things, or the right things, or have chosen Jesus or dedicated their lives to them. And I lament those who worship some deceased god or leader of some cult or sect. Indeed, as Christians we worship a living God. We worship a God who does it all and gives it all to us and demands nothing from us. Notice the complete difference. Worshiping a god who needs and demands of us to do everything for him, which is truly idolatry, or worshiping the one true God who has done everything and given His all, even His life for us and needs nothing from us, but who has created us for the very purpose of loving us! Indeed, we worship a risen God. He is risen, He is risen, indeed, Alleluia.
 
In our text we might say that Peter lays out God’s plan, picking up at verse seventeen, “17And if you call on him as Father who judges impartially according to each one’s deeds, conduct yourselves with fear throughout the time of your exile, 18knowing that you were ransomed from the futile ways inherited from your forefathers, not with perishable things such as silver or gold, 19but with the precious blood of Christ, like that of a lamb without blemish or spot. 20He was foreknown before the foundation of the world but was made manifest in the last times for your sake, 21who through him are believers in God, who raised him from the dead and gave him glory, so that your faith and hope are in God” (v. 17-21).
 
Peter explains that according to God’s foreknowledge, that is what God knew before He set the foundation of the world, God knew that Adam and Eve would be disobedient and would sin and He knew that He would send His Son to suffer and die. This is what we call foreknowledge that is that God knew before it would happen. This does not mean that this is something God had predestined, that is that He had predetermined that these events would happen. What God had predestined, or better said, what is God’s will is spoken of elsewhere in His Holy Word and that is that it is God’s will that all people are saved and yet, even in His foreknowledge, even before it happens, God knows there are those who refuse and reject Him. God’s plan was and is to save all people.
 
According to God’s plan to save all people, He sent His only Son, yes, even God Himself taking on human flesh and blood in the person of Jesus. Jesus is the perfect, spotless Lamb, like the sacrificial lamb which pointed to Him. He was without spot or blemish. He was perfect and holy. And He had to be perfect and holy because God’s demand is that we are perfect and holy.
 
According to God’s plan, Jesus, being perfect and holy, took our sins upon Himself. He who was without sin became sin for us, in our place. Jesus paid the price for sin, eternal spiritual death in hell for us, not with perishable barter, but with His Holy Innocent suffering and death and with His holy precious blood. The price for sin was set in the Garden of Eden, death, blood had to be shed and Jesus shed His blood, He died for us.
 
According to God’s plan, this was done so that we might call on God as our Father, that is so that we might pray to Him. God’s desire is to be in communion and fellowship with us. Since we broke that fellowship, He has restored our relationship. And now He carries on a conversation with us through our listening to Him in His Word and our speaking to Him in our prayers.
 
And, according to God’s plan, we call on Him as Father in fear, that is in respect because He is an impartial judge. Indeed, when we are in our sin, we should fear and tremble before the Lord as He is a just and impartial judge and we are guilty sinners. Yet, because of Jesus, because Jesus took our sins and paid the price for our sins, we fear our Father as we respectfully and joyfully call on Him just as we call on our earthly fathers.
 
Peter moves from explaining God’s plan to giving us the result, picking up at verse twenty-two, “22Having purified your souls by your obedience to the truth for a sincere brotherly love, love one another earnestly from a pure heart, 23since you have been born again, not of perishable seed but of imperishable, through the living and abiding word of God; 24for “All flesh is like grass and all its glory like the flower of grass. The grass withers, and the flower falls, 25but the word of the Lord remains forever.” And this word is the good news that was preached to you (v. 22-25).
 
God has taken care of everything for us. God has taken care of our sins by having Jesus pay the price for our sins. By faith in Jesus, which faith is given to us, Jesus perfect life, His perfect death, His perfect resurrection have become our perfect life, death and resurrection. Indeed, He has purified us so that when we stand before God what our Father sees is that He sees us in purity and perfection, in Jesus purity and perfection made ours.
 
Peter goes on to remind us that our time on this earth is fast and fading. One look at the obituaries in the paper on any given day bears out the fact that we will die and our hour of death can come at anytime, young or old. Indeed, each day we live moves us one day closer to our final day on this earth and that time will be sooner than we know and sooner than we might imagine. With that “warning” if you will, then we are moved to understand the importance of being ready at all times to meet our maker.
 
And so Peter reminds us that God’s Word yet remains, even forever. Peter reminds us of the certainty of God’s Word because it is through the Word of God that we get ready and are made ready for our final hour on this earth. Perhaps Peter’s words might stir us to understand the futility of investing so much of our time and energies focusing on ourselves and the momentary joys and sorrows of this world and instead focusing our attention on where it needs to be, in our relationship with Him, in our encouraging and building up one another as brothers and sisters in Christ, and in our living lives as living sacrifices, always speaking encouraging words, giving an answer for our faith, and sharing God’s love and word with those who do not yet know Him.
 
What does this mean? For those of us who think we are good people, who think we do not have a spiritual problem, who do not think we need God’s forgiveness each and every day, we need the constant reminder that we are conceived and born in sin. And we daily add to our sinfulness. One quick trip through the Ten Commandments reminds us of our total depravity before God and if we think we are good simply because we have not actually physically broken any of the commandments, then we need the reminder that we break them through our thoughts and words as well as by not doing what is required, that is by sinning sins of omission as well as committing sin. Indeed, by ourselves, in and of ourselves our standing before God, even in our “goodness” is that we are totally lost and condemned creatures.
 
Thanks be to God that Jesus lived for us, being perfectly obedient to all of God’s laws and commands. Remember, the demand of God is that we are perfect and since we cannot be perfect, although we might think we can be pretty good, thus minimizing God’s gifts to us, the fact is that Jesus was perfect for us. If we want to make any comparison of ourselves because we think we are pretty good, the only comparison we need to make is to compare ourselves with Jesus and we always come up lacking. But, again, thanks be to God that Jesus lived for us.
 
Thanks be to God that Jesus came to give His life as a ransom for us, to be sacrificed for us in our place. Because we cannot pay the price for our sins, Jesus took our sins and paid the price for us in our place. What we owe, Jesus paid. What Jesus earned, He has given to us. It is all gift and gift given and we are given to.
 
Thanks be to God that He continues to give us the gifts He has to give and His usual way of giving us the gifts He has to give is through His means of grace. Indeed, we are born again through the Word and through the waters of Holy Baptism. We are given forgiveness and strengthening of faith though Confession and Absolution and through His Holy Supper. These gifts are gifts, neither earned nor deserved, but wholly given to us because of His great love for us.
 
Sometimes in our catechism we have the second question after “What does this mean?” as “How is this done?” Or we might say, what is our response of faith and that is what it is a response to what God has first done for us and given to us. Our response of faith is to, with the Lord’s help, live lives of faith. I call this living in our vocation, that is that as we live our lives in our various vocations as a son or daughter, father or mother, husband or wife, owner or worker, police officer, lawyer, doctor, teacher, carpenter, welder, engineer, computer programer, salesman, whatever our vocation we serve God by serving others. We live and work for God demonstrating our faith through our labors.
 
And our response of faith is to make regular and diligent use of the means of grace. We can be most sure of God speaking to us and working in and through us when He does so through His means of grace. It is through the means of His Word, Confession and absolution, Holy Baptism and the Lord’s Supper that our Lord gives to us and moves and stirs in us what we might call our works obedience, and yet, we always point to and give credit to our Lord for His gifts to us.
 
What a great God we have, the most loving, gift giving, living God. When we come to understand the depth of our depravity and greatness of God’s love for us, how can we not but desire to be given even more of the gifts He has to give? How can we not help but desire to be blessed by Him, being where the gifts are given as often and whenever they are offered? Indeed as Peter so well says this morning, “This Word is the Good News that was (and is now being) preached to you.” Our response is simply to be given to and to say, to God be the glory, for Jesus’ sake. Amen.