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!


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.

Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Change in Doctrine

Over thirty years ago the Lutheran Church Missouri Synod and the Texas District bought into the “Church Growth Mythologies” (Methodologies) and now we are beginning to see the results and the change of doctrine that these so called innocuous changes have made. The mythologies, called methodologies of the “Church Growth” movement were concocted from various social trends studies with the idea that growing a church was much like growing a business, that is if you apply certain social changes you can make a difference in bringing people into the church (which might be true to an extent, but that is not the same as bringing them into the Word so that God can work faith in their hearts). The following is the beginning of a list of the doctrinal changes that have occurred and these are really only the obvious changes.

You know there is a change in doctrine when your district convention votes in affirmation of declaring the inefficacy of the Word of God by suggesting that there are other ways of reaching certain “target” audiences. Matthew 28:18-20 tells us that as we are living our lives (in our vocations) we are to make disciples of all nations, by (the means of grace of) baptizing and teaching.

You know there is a change in doctrine when your brother pastors express their lack of trust in the means of grace as being effective when they tell you they want to find ways to not get in the way of the Word of God or they want to help the Word of God, as if we can get in God’s way and as if His Word does not have the power to do what it says it will do.

You know there is a change in doctrine when you hear members of so called Lutheran Churches talk about “receiving” or “accepting” Jesus. And when you hear their pastor speak the same language. And especially when this is presented on a video put out by your church extension fund. Since when do Lutherans believe in decision theology?

You know there is a change in doctrine when there is a false juxtaposition put forth between confessing doctrine and practicing mission as if one can only do one or the other. Matthew 28:18-20 reminds us that as we are living our lives (in our vocations) we simply cannot help ourselves but make disciples of all nations by (the means of grace) baptizing and teaching as we are given God’s authority as well as His promise that He is with us and will give us the very words to speak His Word.

You know there is a change in doctrine when you know and understand that we practice a particular style as that style is informed by what we believe, our doctrine (doctrine and practice; style and substance go hand in hand) and yet we see different styles being practice under the guise of diversity (divide is in this word) showing, not diversity, but a divide of doctrine.

You know there is a change in doctrine when a member of your Lutheran congregation moves and rather than joining another Lutheran church joins a church of another denomination, because that other denomination’s theology is more in line with what they have been taught at your church.

You know there is a change in doctrine when the theologically trained pastors do not and cannot agree on “What does this mean?” or they profess that these are the tenets in which we agree and yet, these are rather the tenets in which we no longer agree because we each have a different “understanding” of what each tenet means, understanding that the agreement has not changed for those who have agreed since the first writings.

You know there is a change in doctrine when the theologically and pastorally trained pastor attempts to assume a position for which he is not trained, that is the position of Chef Executive Officer and also attempts to push his parishioners, who have been trained as CEOs and not as theologians or pastors, to be ministers (pastors) to each other. Thus, the office of Holy Ministry is no longer an office to which one is called by God, but simply another vocation to which anyone may espouse.

Sunday, June 28, 2015

Riches in Poverty - June 28, 2015 - Fifth Sunday after Pentecost (Proper 08) - Text: 2 Corinthians 8:1-9, 13-15

If you could have anything in the world that you wanted what would you desire? Let me take that one step further, if you could have anything in heaven or on earth or for that matter in the whole universe, what would you want? Well, in this morning’s text Paul tells us about someone who had everything He wanted in the universe and what He did. Let us look and see.
Paul actually begins by describing the response of faith of the churches of Macedonia. He describes their response of faith as an eager desire to give back. We begin at verse one, “1We want you to know, brothers, about the grace of God that has been given among the churches of Macedonia, 2for in a severe test of affliction, their abundance of joy and their extreme poverty have overflowed in a wealth of generosity on their part. 3For they gave according to their means, as I can testify, and beyond their means, of their own free will, 4begging us earnestly for the favor of taking part in the relief of the saints—5and this, not as we expected, but they gave themselves first to the Lord and then by the will of God to us. 6Accordingly, we urged Titus that as he had started, so he should complete among you this act of grace. 7But as you excel in everything—in faith, in speech, in knowledge, in all earnestness, and in our love for you— see that you excel in this act of grace also” (v. 1-7)
Notice, first and foremost, that the giving of the churches of Macedonia was a response of faith. It was not that they gave first and then expected something in return from God. No, God gave first. They acknowledged that God gave first. God gave to them first and their response of being given the gifts of God is that they “overflowed in a wealth of generosity.”
And notice, not only did they give what they could give, but Paul tell us that they gave even more. Perhaps you have heard the encouragement to “give until it hurts.” Well, it always hurts to give. I would encourage you, do not give until it hurts, but give until it feels good.
Paul says of the Macedonians that they begged to give even more. Paul must have known the financial status of the churches of Macedonia. He must have known that they had limited resources. And yet, this did not stop them from wanting to give more. The faith and love of the church of Macedonia overflowed and is seen in their desire to contribute to and to help other saints who were in need.
Reading on in our text, we get to verse nine of our text which is one of those verses that a person could easily read and go on, not giving it a second thought. But upon closer examination we will see that verse nine happens to be a verse, a sentence, packed with a tremendous amount of gospel. Let us unpack verse nine and see what is there. The verse begins by telling us that, “you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ,” and we do know His grace. His grace is His undeserved love for us. We do not deserve God’s love. We are by nature sinful human beings. David reminds us that “(We were) brought forth in iniquity, and in sin did (our) mother conceive (us)” (Ps. 51:5). In Genesis God reminds us, “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” (Genesis 6:5). We are selfish, stingy, greedy, lustful people. We sin in thought, word and deed. We sin sins of omission, not doing what we should be doing and sins of commission, doing the things we should not be doing. We deserve death, not love. Remember the verse, “while we were sinners Christ died for us.” This is what grace is all about, God’s undeserved love for us. If we are not such bad people, if we deserved God’s love and if we deserved heaven because of something we did then there would be no grace or need for grace. But we do know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, because His grace comes to us undeserving as we are.
Verse nine continues, “that though he was rich.” Yes, this is talking about Jesus being rich.  Jesus was rich, richer than we could ever imagine. While He was in heaven with the Father He was rich in glory. Think about it, Jesus was in heaven before coming to earth. He had everything He wanted or needed. Everything in the whole universe was at His disposal. He shared in His Father’s splendor in heaven. He was rich beyond all human imagination.
“Yet,” verse nine continues, “for your sakes he became poor.” When we put this into the context of what we just said we can begin to understand what this grace really means. Jesus was in heaven, with the Father, in all His glory. But He gave all that up for us. He became poor, not poor as in lack of money, He became poor in that He gave up His glory and He took on our form, He became a human being. “So that you by his poverty might become rich.” In other words, so that we through His perfect life, suffering, death, and resurrection might share in His riches, in His glory in heaven. All of this Gospel Paul packs into this one sentence.
With that said, let us take a step back and look at our text as a whole. At first reading, this text sounds like a stewardship text and it would be a good one, however this is not necessarily the emphasis I want to make this morning. But before you breath a sigh of relief I would like to point out the motivation this text gives behind our own giving. It would seem that when we talk about stewardship that our first response is, “Oh, no, another talk on giving.” Which is a very law oriented statement. Of course, by now you realize that for the most part I do not preach stewardship sermons, unless the text is a stewardship text. And for the most part my stewardship sermons, and the stewardship sermons you would hear in other churches, I would hope, are Gospel oriented. I think as humans we tend to hear the law and miss the Gospel motivation. Well, listen real close because I want you to hear the Gospel this morning, because as our text says, the message I want you to hear is that they give themselves first.
Most often our first response to a stewardship drive or a stewardship talk is, “They want my money.” Well, this morning let me say that I do not want your money. And I will say it again, because I do not want anyone to leave here and say that pastor said he wants our money. I do not want your money. Now listen real close, God does not want your money.  No, you did not hear me wrong. God does not want your money. He does not need your money. Think about it like this, God made the world, He created the earth and all the planets, He separated the waters and dry land, He created plants and animals and formed man out of the dust of the earth. What does He need with a human invention called money? God does not need your money, God does not want your money, He wants you!  Did you hear me? I said, God does not want your money, He wants you! In our text Paul is speaking about the people in the Macedonian churches and he says that “they gave themselves first to the Lord.” God wants you to give yourself to Him. And I would ask the same, that you would give yourself to the Lord. And I must go on to add, so we do not confuse justification and sanctification, that the only way we can give ourselves to Him is that He has first given Himself to us, loved us, and given us faith so that we might respond by giving ourselves to Him. Remember, we love because He first loved us.
As far as the giving part goes, God stirs in us through the Gospel the desire to give. God gives the desire to give of our time, helping out with some church project. God gives gifts, talents, and abilities perhaps for making something for the church. God gives not only the means, but also the desire to give financially. That is what verse seven is all about. This is what Paul means by excelling in the grace of giving. The grace of giving is a gift from God because God gives the desire to give. The desire to give, even to give ourselves to the Lord, does not come from inside of us. The desire to give comes through the Holy Spirit working through the means of grace. The desire to give comes as a response to all that our Lord has first given and done for us.
I am glad that verses 13-14 have been included as a part of this text. These verses help us to understand that God does not and is not trying to burden anyone. To help us to understand this equality talk we need to simply look at what has been happening in our world. At different times and in different places in our world we have concern for the hurricane victims, for tsunami victims, for earthquake victims, tornado victims, fire victims and the like. Today there may be help needed for the victims of a volcano. Tomorrow there may need to be help for victims of any other disaster. What Paul told the Corinthians in their day holds true today.  “13I do not mean that others should be eased and you burdened, but that as a matter of fairness 14your abundance at the present time should supply their need, so that their abundance may supply your need, that there may be fairness” (v. 13-14). In other words, we help others that are in need now, because we are in the position to help. There may come a day when we will be in need. When that day comes then they will be in the position to help us.
Here at St. Matthew we have the ladies of Prism who are working to give to mission projects that are in need. Many of our members give to NAM and other agencies that work to help others in need. Our congregation gives money for the mission work of Pastor Brillinger, as well as the work of the Lutheran Heritage Foundation so they might translate and print good Lutheran material for people in other countries. We also give mission monies to our district and synod. There are many ways St. Matthew gives to help others.
When our needs have passed we look forward to the opportunity that we might be able to share with others who might be in need. As the people you have helped have their needs fulfilled then they will look forward to helping still others in need. In this way there is equality. 
Maybe you can understand this equality stuff a little better if I explain it using a sort of humorous story about the difference between heaven and hell. In hell it is said that everyone is seated around a huge table full of all kinds of delicious gourmet food. However, all the people have to eat with are forks that are five feet long. The only way to eat is by using these five foot forks and so everyone in hell is starving, because they cannot get the food to their mouths. In heaven there is the same set up, everyone is seated around a huge table filled with gourmet foods and everyone must eat with forks that are five feet long, but in heaven everyone is feeding someone else with their fork so everyone is filled. And this is what equality is all about.
What does this mean? I cannot say it enough, God gives first. God gives everything. I do not believe that you have ever, nor will you ever see a U-haul trailer behind a hearse. What we bring into this world and what we take with us is what is truly ours. In other words, nothing is really ours. Everything belongs to God and He simply gives it to us or loans it to us to use while we are here on this earth, which means we need to be responsible for how we use what He gives.
God gives the best and greatest. He has given His Son and the life of His Son for us. Without this gift, without God giving first, we would be left with nothing and we would have nothing with which to respond. God gives the greatest and the best. Through Jesus we are given forgiveness, faith, strengthening of faith, life and salvation. And these are the greatest gifts.
Finally, our faith is shown in our desire to respond, which He helps us to do. As always, we know that God is having His way with us when He is running the verbs.
Because the Lord knows all our needs and provides for those needs we respond by living the sanctified life. Remember we are all declared righteous by God’s grace, by faith in Jesus we all have the gift and promise of eternal life in heaven, now we live our lives according to His good and gracious will. We do this by our daily family and private devotions, by our daily prayers and reading of God’s Word, by our every Sunday worship and Bible Class attendance, by our attending the Lord’s Supper as often as we can and so on. We respond to all the Lord has done for us by giving ourselves first to the Lord. As we do this we are strengthened in our faith and the Lord works in us the desire to give of our time, our talents, and our treasures. And in this way there is equality. To Him be the glory. For Jesus’ sake. Amen.

Sunday, June 21, 2015

Do Not Receive the Grace of God in Vain - June 21, 2015 - Fourth Sunday after Pentecost (Proper 07) - Text: 2 Corinthians 6:1-13

A few weeks ago we celebrated Mother’s day. Today, in order not to show favoritism, we celebrate Father’s day. One of my favorite sayings about fathers is this: “anyone can be a father, but it takes a special person to be a daddy.” It is true, “anyone can be a father,” especially in our world today, “but it takes a special person to be a daddy.” We hear a lot of talk about fathers, and even mothers, spending quality time with their children. I think we should encourage, not just the spending of quality time but, the spending of quantity time with children. I have never heard a child or an adult say, I wish my father would not have spent so much time with me. Or, I wish my father would have been gone away at work more often and for longer hours. As it is, as we have heard over the past two weeks, our time on this earth is fast and fleeting. Our time on this earth is a mere handbreadth as the Psalmist reminds us. Now is the time to be a good daddy because as Paul reminds us in our text for today, we will not live forever on this earth.
Most of us remember the second commandment, that we are not to take the name of the Lord our God in vain. We understand this commandment to mean that we are not to misuse God’s name because His name is holy. We are not to curse or falsely swear by His name. We are not to lie or deceive others by the way we use His name. We are not to seek palm readers, fortune tellers, nor refer to horoscopes and the like. Instead, we are to rightly use God’s name, calling on Him, especially using His name in times of trouble, we are to praise Him, pray to Him and give thanks to Him. In these ways, we do not take the name of the Lord our God in vain. In our text for this morning Paul urges us not to receive God’s grace in vain. May the Holy Spirit guide us as we understand what Paul means so that we do not receive the grace of God in vain, but for our eternal well being.
Our text begins with Paul reminding us of the gifts of God. Paul says, “1Working together with him, then, we appeal to you not to receive the grace of God in vain. 2For he says, “In a favorable time I listened to you, and in a day of salvation I have helped you.” Behold, now is the favorable time; behold, now is the day of salvation. 3We put no obstacle in anyone’s way, so that no fault may be found with our ministry,” (v. 1-3). Paul begins by reminding us that the Holy Spirit works in our hearts to give us faith, forgiveness, life and salvation. The way he says this is that “working together with him,” that is with the Holy Spirit working through the Word of God, Paul appeals to us to not receive these gifts of the grace of God in vain.
How does one receive the grace of God in vain? One receives God’s grace in vain when a person makes a practice of referring to the Redeemer, but himself trusts in his own merits. And, unfortunately, this happens to us, even to us Christians, many times in our lives. We have a tendency to talk a good talk. We talk about how we believe in Jesus. We talk about how we believe the Lord will take care of us. And then we practice something different. We fret and worry. We get overly concerned about our own situations in life. We worry about monies. We worry about problems. We worry about temptation and sin. We worry and worry and worry. What we are doing is trusting in ourselves instead of trusting in God. We are receiving God’s grace in vain.
Paul reminds us that Jesus has taken care of everything. Notice that this is past tense. This is a completed action. We are given to. This is all past, completed action and passive action on our part. We do nothing to earn our salvation. We do nothing to merit our salvation. If anything, we get in the way. We make things worse. We put our faith in ourselves instead of in our Lord.
And so, Paul encourages us, in our struggles. He says, “4but as servants of God we commend ourselves in every way: by great endurance, in afflictions, hardships, calamities, 5beatings, imprisonments, riots, labors, sleepless nights, hunger; 6by purity, knowledge, patience, kindness, the Holy Spirit, genuine love, 7by truthful speech, and the power of God; with the weapons of righteousness for the right hand and for the left; 8through honor and dishonor, through slander and praise. We are treated as impostors, and yet are true; 9as unknown, and yet well known; as dying, and behold, we live; as punished, and yet not killed; 10as sorrowful, yet always rejoicing; as poor, yet making many rich; as having nothing, yet possessing everything.” (v. 4-10). Paul previously reminded us that in good times, in favorable times we do not have a problem being a Christian. But now he asks, how do we react during times of struggles? How do we handle adversity? Do we handle adversity and struggles with joy or with bitterness? Paul outlines our struggles at times of affliction, hardship, calamities, beatings, imprisonments, riots, labors, sleepless nights, hunger and so forth. And lest we think we may be immune to these struggles and afflictions, perhaps we better think again. As Christianity is outlawed in many countries in our world, there may come a day, real soon, when it is outlawed here in our country. Paul suggests, that as Christians, our reaction will be patience, kindness, living lives full of the Holy Spirit, in genuine love, with truthful speech and in the power of God. In other words, Paul suggests that as Christians we will handle struggles with joy and not bitterness.
How we handle adversity is important because the world will see how we react and how we handle adversity. Our handling of adversity may be either a great influence on the world, or it may be a stumbling block. Of course, this simply mirrors our Savior’s affect on the world. For some, Jesus is a stumbling block. For others He is the very cornerstone and foundation of faith. For some, to believe that Jesus is the only way to eternal life is a stumbling block because they like to believe in tolerance, in a tolerant god and in many ways to some type of eternal enlightenment. Too many in our world do not want an intolerant god, because an intolerant god will not allow for them to do their own thing. And so, what happens is, instead of believing in the One True God, too many people believe in themselves and they become their own idols. Thus, Jesus becomes a stumbling block. For others, especially for those who see that they cannot save themselves, for those that see that there is only one true God, only one true religion of grace, only one way to heaven, Jesus is the cornerstone of faith.
And finally, Paul speaks words of encouragement. He says, “11We have spoken freely to you, Corinthians; our heart is wide open. 12You are not restricted by us, but you are restricted in your own affections. 13In return (I speak as to children) widen your hearts also.” (v. 11-13).  Paul is speaking words of love and concern as he describes himself as his heart is wide open. Paul encourages us to speak to others in the same way. And yes, this does mean we may be putting ourselves into situations where we may be vulnerable. We may get hurt, emotionally, psychologically, mentally. I guess the only words of encouragement I can give is to think about what our Lord has done for us. Our Lord created us. He redeemed us. He continues to love us. And what happens. Time and again we fail. We mess up. We sin and we sin boldly. We hurt Him. Ultimately we hurt Him by nailing Him to a cross. And yet, He still opens Himself wide open for us, He still loves us.
When we are hurt, how does that affect our affections? When we get hurt, do we still love others. Here, the only comparison I can make is the comparison of parents or grandparents, and children. We love our children and when our children hurt us, do we get angry and desire to get even, or do we forgive and continue to love?
How do we live “wide open” heart lives? We live “wide open” heart lives by inviting others to be a part of our lives, by making our lives inviting lives, by making our church an inviting church. We love “wide open” heart lives by not receiving the grace of God in vain. We bless those who curse us. We love those who hate us. We pray for our enemies. All the things we do not do naturally, but with the help and by the power of the Holy Spirit, we do imperfectly.
What does this mean? Because of our nature, our inborn human nature, we do tend to receive God’s grace in vain. Especially when life is going smoothly, when we are not having too difficult of a time in our life, during these times we have a tendency to talk about Jesus, but more often than not, we still put more trust in ourselves. At times we have a difficulty in that we compartmentalize our lives. When we are at church we talk about Jesus and our faith in Him. When we are sick or having a difficult time with life, when we are having struggles, we may pray more during that time of our lives. But when push comes to shove, instead of trusting in God to do the right thing, we rather trust in our own human knowledge and abilities. We trust the doctor and his opinion. We trust our savings and our own financial standing. We trust our own opinions. Yes, we naturally trust more in our own selves rather than trusting in our Lord.
And we tend, again, because of our nature, to be stumbling blocks. We tend to refuse the gifts God has to give and instead to rely on ourselves and our own resources. We tend to want to rely on our own good works, thinking that we are not so bad a person, after all we have never actually stolen anything, at least not on purpose. We have never actually killed anyone. We do not think bad thoughts, well at least not too bad of thoughts about others. We do not do the awful things other people do. And what we fail to realize is that until we recognize how sinful we really are, then we cannot begin to fathom how great God’s love and grace really is.
We tend, once more, because of our nature, to not live “wide open” heart lives. When we get hurt, we keep to ourselves. We do not want to be open to being hurt again. We tend to be protective of ourselves. We do not reach out to others, again, because we do not want to get hurt.
The good news is that Jesus has already done everything for us. He has been tempted for us. He has suffered all the temptations and even greater temptations than we suffer. He has been hurt, humiliated, emotionally, mentally, psychologically, physically hurt more than we might ever imagine. He has taken care of all our sins. He has done everything for us. And more, He continues, through the sending of the Holy Spirit, to do everything for us. He continues to work and move in us to do those things we have not done and those things we cannot, because of our nature, do ourselves. He continues to keep His heart “wide open” for us knowing that we will hurt Him more, time and again.
Both the Old Testament reading and the Gospel lesson speak well of our nature as human beings. How often we tend to be like Job and question God, when we have no right to question Him. And how often we tend to be like the disciples, unbelieving and of little faith. And in both instances, God shows Himself to be almighty, all powerful, all everything. And God does not get angry because of our lack of faith. Instead, He continues to open Himself up to us, pouring His grace out on us and giving us all His good gifts and blessings. What a great God we have. What a gift giving God we have. What a grace giving God we have. And as Paul urges us, so I urge you, do not receive the grace of God in vain.
God the Holy Spirit works in us to give us faith, to strengthen and keep us in faith, so that we may face the struggles that lie ahead in life, so that we do not harden our hearts, so that we do not become stumbling blocks to others because of our bitter attitude, but that our hearts might be wide open, freely expressing our love for others. And our response is just that, a response, a response of faith which says, to God be the glory, for Jesus’ sake. Amen.

Saturday, June 20, 2015

Some Father's Day Thoughts

On this Father’s Day I am reminded of the fact that fathers are given, by God, the task of being the leader, role model, teacher, spiritual leader, and the one God holds responsible for his family. Thus, it amazes me when parents, fathers in particular seem lax in their worship attendance, perhaps once or twice a month rather than every Sunday, and when they fail to bring their children to Bible Class and then in later years wonder why their children have been lured away by others to a different doctrine in a different denomination, and even giving up the faith all together. Father, you are you child’s greatest example especially concerning your priorities, which are seen and not spoken. One more reminder, life on this earth, in this world is short, 70, 80, 100 years, but eternity is forever, thus truly more important than fishing, golfing, camping, sleeping in, baseball, softball, or hunting is our relationship with Jesus and as we know, relationships are built on spending time together and our Lord love spending time with us, quantity and quality time. If you ever wonder where your children have learned certain things, language, habits, idiosyncracies, go look in the mirror. So, where will you be on Sunday morning, Father’s Day. Our great loving God has so many gifts and blessings He desires to give, to you and your children. What better idea can there be than to be where He gives His gifts, in worship (divine service) where His means of grace (those means through which He gives His gifts) are most prevalent. As one of my favorite professors would say, “Gentlemen, receive the gifts!”

Sunday, June 14, 2015

We Live by Faith - June 14, 2015 - Third Sunday after Pentecost (Proper 06) - Text: 2 Corinthians 5:1-10 (11-17)

Last week we summarize Paul’s words by saying that by faith in Jesus resurrection from the dead, faith given to us by God, we are stirred to share that faith with others so that God might be glorified. At the same time, although we struggle with our aging bodies and fight against those who oppose Christ, we know that this world and these struggles are only temporary for our eternal home is heaven. This week we move on to the next chapter in Paul’s second letter to the Corinthians.
In our text for today Paul again puts our lives into proper perspective, and yes our text for this morning sounds a lot like our text from last Sunday. Paul says, “1For we know that if the tent, which is our earthly home, is destroyed, we have a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens” (v. 1). Paul reminds us that our life on this earth is very short compared to our life in eternity. To emphasis this point he uses the comparison of a tent to a house. He reminds us that our life here on this earth is like living in a tent, a temporary structure, while our life in heaven is like living in our building, a house, built by God, a permanent structure.
Think about it. How often do you hear the phrase, “my how time flies.” How often do you hear people say something like, “why it was just yesterday that . . .,” something happened and you can fill in the blank. Most of the time we think about ourselves traveling through time, but when we have an important event coming up it is more like time is traveling towards us at an extremely quick pace. Years ago our nation started reducing the work week, thinking that we would have more free time to enjoy life. Then computers came along in order to give us more time. What has happened is that the more free time we have the more things we try to cram into that free time. The busier we get the faster time seems to go. It is not that time is moving any faster, it is just that we are unaware of it because our minds are on something else.
We are on this earth for a relatively short period of time, especially when compared to eternity. Eternity is millions of billions of forever years and our lives in this world, on this earth are what, 70, 80, 100 years, if that. I hate to break the news to you, but you will die. People every day are dying, people of all ages, young and old alike.  Check the obituaries, watch the news, read the newspaper. The only way out of this world and into eternity is physical death, unless Jesus returns first.
Until we die, as Paul says, “2For in this tent we groan, longing to put on our heavenly dwelling,” (v.2). We groan. We groan a sinful groaning when we disrespectfully question God and ask, why can’t life be perfect?, as if God had something to do with making our world imperfect. We sinfully groan when we ask, why does bad happen to me? as if we deserve only good to happen to us. We sinfully groan when we ask, why do I have to live as a good person? as if our living as a good person makes us right before God and gives us justification for only good to happen in our lives.
Not all of our groaning is sinful groaning, sometimes we groan because of illness. Of course we understand that illness, too, is a result of sin and the curse from Genesis three. Our bodies groan in illness, proof that our bodies are imperfect. Remember how Paul describes our earthly bodies as tents, compared to our heavenly bodies being described as houses. Tents get old, they begin to wear out, they leak, they rip, they tear. Our bodies are not getting better, they are continually getting worse.
Even as Christians we groan. We groan because we want out of this world. We get tired of temptation and sin. We get tried of “losing” our family, friends and loved ones who have passed on before us. We groan because we want to be in heaven. As Christians we groan, not a demanding or questioning groan to God, but a groan of desire to be clothed with our heavenly dwelling.
Thanks be to God that our groaning is not for nothing. Paul continues by telling us the very purpose for which God made us, “5He who has prepared us for this very thing is God, who has given us the Spirit as a guarantee” (v.5). We have talked about this before, the fact that God has created us for a purpose and that is to love us, and God has redeemed us for a purpose and that is to do the good works which He has prepared in advance for us to do, even if we can only do them imperfectly. God has given us His Holy Spirit to work His purpose in us so that eventually we will be transformed into the perfect likeness of Christ. Eventually we will be perfect, of course that eventually is only when we are in heaven.
“6So we are always of good courage. We know that while we are at home in the body we are away from the Lord,” (v.6). That is, we know that as long as we are living in our bodily, earthly tents we cannot be in our heavenly houses. Yet, we remain confident knowing that this does not mean that we are deprived from the Lord’s spiritual presence with us in our daily lives. We are confident that the Holy Spirit is continuing to work in and through us daily.
Therefore, “7we walk by faith, not by sight” (v.7). The world may tell us that God is dead. It may appear that God has left our world and is letting it become as corrupt as it can, but we do not let these mere appearances get us down. No, we live by faith, that is we know with no uncertainty that God has given us His Word that He will be with us always. We know that He keeps His Word and we know that He is with us.
Therefore, “8Yes, we are of good courage, and we would rather be away from the body and at home with the Lord” (v.8). By the power of the Holy Spirit working through God’s Word we have seen Jesus. We have seen Jesus live the perfect life for us, because we cannot. We have seen Jesus take all our sins upon Himself. We have borne witness to the fact of Jesus’ suffering, death, and resurrection. We are confident that we too will rise again to be with Him in heaven and that is our desire, more than anything in this world.
“9So whether we are at home or away, we make it our aim to please him” (v.9). By the power of the Holy Spirit working in and through us, what we call sanctification, we strive to live our lives according to God’s good and gracious will. We do this not to gain anything for ourselves, because everything has already been given to us, what we call justification, but simply as a response of faith as a way to please our loving Father in heaven. And although we will fail, time and again, we know that with our Lord there is always forgiveness.
When our final hour comes Paul tells us as Christians, “10For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one may receive what is due for what he has done in the body, whether good or evil” (v.10). We will be judged by the things that we have done or not done, because what we do reflects what is in our hearts. We must make note that Paul is not speaking about our being justified before God by our good works, because Scripture is clear that there is no salvation for those who do not believe, no matter how many good works it may appear they have done. Paul is speaking about sanctification, that is, he is speaking about our living our faith, with the help of the Holy Spirit.
The result of Jesus’ work of salvation and the work of the Holy Spirit in and through us is that we are God’s people. Paul continues, “11Therefore, knowing the fear of the Lord, we persuade others. But what we are is known to God, and I hope it is known also to your conscience” (v. 11). As our Lord encourages us through these words of Paul, we bear witness of our faith through our fear and love for Christ.
Paul continues, “12We are not commending ourselves to you again but giving you cause to boast about us, so that you may be able to answer those who boast about outward appearance and not about what is in the heart. 13For if we are beside ourselves, it is for God; if we are in our right mind, it is for you” (v. 12-13). Not only do we bear witness of our faith through our fear and love for Christ, we also bear witness of our faith through our encouraging and building each other up in the body of Christ, as well as defending and speaking well of each other. We focus our attention, not on ourselves, not on what we might think we are doing, besides being sinners, but rather we focus our attention on what God in Christ has done, does and continues to do for us. We focus our attention on Christ running the verbs.
And Paul concludes, “14For the love of Christ controls us, because we have concluded this: that one has died for all, therefore all have died; 15and he died for all, that those who live might no longer live for themselves but for him who for their sake died and was raised. 16From now on, therefore, we regard no one according to the flesh. Even though we once regarded Christ according to the flesh, we regard him thus no longer. 17Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come” (v. 14-17). We bear witness of our faith through our living lives of faith. We bear witness of our faith that although we fail, although we daily sin much, with Christ there is forgiveness because He died for all.
What does this mean? In the beginning God created the world, plants, animals, and us.  God created us to live. God did not create us to die. Because Adam and Eve fell into sin in the Garden of Eden, physical death became a part of our living on this earth. Now God has given us each a certain length of time to live on this earth. Remember, death is not a part of God’s plan, death is a result of sin. Paul is so right, we daily sin much and are in need of forgiveness. We daily sin much and groan begging our Father in heaven to give us strength to hold up under the massive temptations of this world. We daily groan as we pray to be taken from this vale of tears to live in heaven.
God has given us life at our birth. He has given us new life and faith at our baptism. He continues to give us strengthening of faith through His Word and His Sacraments. He continues to give us His gifts of forgiveness, life and salvation. Every morning we awake we pray to our Lord, thanking Him for the gift of a new day in which we might serve Him and live our lives for Him. Every day we thank the Lord for sending His Only Son, Jesus to live the perfect life we could not live. We thank the Lord that Jesus loved us so much that He took on Himself the punishment for all our sins, that He died the eternal spiritual death penalty in our place.
Because of all that God has done for us, we overflow with response, with the help of the Holy Spirit. We respond by living our lives according to His good and gracious will. We respond by letting our faith bubble over through our actions so that others may see our hope for eternal life. We bubble over with praise and thanks to our Heavenly Father who has done it all for us, who saw to it that when our short time on this earth in our earthly tent is over, He has a permanent building, a permanent house waiting for us in heaven, for Jesus’ sake. To Him be the glory. Amen.

Sunday, June 7, 2015

Wasting, Transient Tent vs Eternal Heavenly Home - June 7, 2015 - Second Sunday after Pentecost (Proper 05) - Text: 2 Corinthians 4:13-5:1

Today is the second Sunday after Pentecost. We have completed what we call the festival portion of our church year, that portion of our church year which includes the festivals of Advent, Christmas, Epiphany, Lent, Easter, Ascension, and Pentecost. We are now in what we call the non-festival portion of our church year. The color of our paraments has been changed to green and will remain green for another thirty-three or thirty-four weeks. The color green is the color of growth. So, for the remainder of this present church year we will not be specifically following along toward celebrating the birth of Jesus, nor His death and resurrection, rather we will be following along being taught, being discipled by Jesus through His Holy Word.
This morning we are being taught by Paul as he writes to help us to understand the distinction between our earthly life and our eternal life in heaven. Paul begins by reminding us that faith shows itself in action, as he says, “13Since we have the same spirit of faith according to what has been written, “I believed, and so I spoke,” we also believe, and so we also speak, 14knowing that he who raised the Lord Jesus will raise us also with Jesus and bring us with you into his presence. 15For it is all for your sake, so that as grace extends to more and more people it may increase thanksgiving, to the glory of God” (v. 13-15). Paul reminds us that as we have been given faith that faith is such that we cannot help but share that faith through word and action. It is kind of like when we get something new, a new car, a new house, a new job, a new whatever, we simply get so excited that we cannot help but go out and tell others. The same is true with our faith in Jesus. As we come to divine service and Bible Class, as we are filled with the Word of God, we get so excited in the faith and forgiveness we have been given that we want to share that with others, both through our words and through our actions.
Of course, as we live lives of faith those outside of faith will most certainly question our faith and so Paul address this issue as well. He reminds us that the certainty of our faith is in the resurrection of Jesus. The reason Jesus spent forty days showing Himself to be alive after His resurrection was so that we might have such certainty. And the reason we have the very Word of God is so that we might have that certainty as well. As John reminds us in his Gospel, “but these are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name (John 20:31). You see, those outside the Christian faith continually question the Christian faith, even despising the Christian faith because of it exclusive claim that there is one and only one way to eternal life in heaven. As Christians our faith will be continually questioned by others so Paul here assures us of the certain of what we believe by pointing to the resurrection of Jesus.
And Paul reminds us that our sharing Jesus’ love with others is what brings a multiplication of His grace and even more brings glory to God. Indeed, as we live in our vocations, as we live lives of faith, no matter where we are, God gives us His authority to speak in His name and His promise that He is with us always even to the end of the world, so that as we are asked about our faith, as we are questioned concerning our faith, He gives us the words and courage to speak and share our faith with others so they too might be a part of God’s kingdom. This promise reminds us that we never need to question or second guess our speaking and giving an answer for the faith that we have. This most certainly gives God glory.
Yet, Paul understands that while we are in this world our lives are not perfect. He understands our struggles and so he addresses those struggles. Paul says, “16So we do not lose heart. Though our outer nature is wasting away, our inner nature is being renewed day by day. 17For this slight momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, 18as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal” (v. 16-18). Paul says that our nature is wasting away. Yes, Paul reminds us that we are not getting any younger, but indeed we are growing older. As we grow older our bodies begin to show the results of the aging process. But notice that he calls this process our “slight momentary afflictions” and certainly when we compare our short time on this earth to our time in heaven we would have to agree that our struggles in this world, our aches and pains are a “momentary” affliction.
Paul makes a definite distinction and focuses our attention, not on our earthly body, but rather on our spiritual well being. Paul puts the best construction on everything. He reminds us that as we mature, as our bodies grow old, we are to grow in our faith. Indeed with this encouragement then we are reminded that our time in this world is short and rather than spend so much time being concerned about our lives in this world we would be better suited in being prepared for our eternal lives in heaven.
In speaking about the afflictions of this world Paul is speaking both about afflictions from the unbelieving world, perhaps meaning being persecuted for our faith, and afflictions from our aging bodies. Yet he reminds us here as he does in Romans that neither of these afflictions are anything compared to the glory which will be ours in heaven. Thus, we understand the momentary nature of this struggle.
I think most of us will readily admit that the older we get the faster life seems to move. As someone once described time, it is not as if we are traveling through time but rather that time is traveling at us, like a locomotive and nothing can stop it. Indeed, the older we grow the more transient, the more temporary we know this world to be. Unfortunately too often it is on ones deathbed that this realization occurs and then there are regrets about how one lived. I have never heard anyone on their deathbed say anything like, “You know, I wish I had spent more time at work and away from my family.” “I wish I had spent more time being away from Church and God’s Word.”
In the last verse of our text Paul compares the temporary nature of this world verses permanent nature of heaven. He says, “5:1For we know that if the tent, which is our earthly home, is destroyed, we have a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens” (v. 5:1). Paul describes our bodies as being merely tents and he does so in much the same way as John related in His Gospel concerning the fact that Jesus merely tented among us. A tent is a temporary structure, a cover for a short time, until one packs it up and moves to the next place. Our lives in this world, indeed, our bodies in this world are merely temporary structures or housing for our souls until we reach heaven.
Our permanent home is in heaven. Our permanent home is a house not made with human hands. God has made our home in heaven. Jesus has paid the price for our home in heaven. And our home in heaven will not be a temporary residence, but will be our final home, our eternal home.
What does this mean? As we live in this world our usual approach is to focus our attention on this world and the things of this world. When we are young our focus is on our daily needs and wants. We focus on food and drink, on clothing and shoes, on a place to sleep and rest. We focus on games and distractions. As we grow older our focus is on our education, on preparing for getting a job, on getting married, on purchasing a house and a car, on purchasing those things we believe will make our lives better. We focus on our enjoyment of this world and the things of this world. As we grow older still our focus moves to preparing for retirement, on making sure we have the wherewithal to provide for ourselves as we grow older. Now let me say that in and of itself there is nothing wrong with such a focus and certainly we should concern ourselves about such matters. In our text Paul directs our focus away from ourselves, reminding us as always that we get it right when we focus on Jesus.
More important than focusing on the things of this world is focusing on the things of the world to come, because the fact is and the difference is that if we fail in preparing for this world our lives may be more of a struggle, but that is only a temporary things. If we fail to be prepared for the world to come, that is if we fail to prepare for heaven, that means eternal, spiritual death which is most certainly not a temporary struggle.
As you have heard me say time and again, our greatest need is forgiveness of sins. Without forgiveness our sins remain on us and we would be doomed to eternal spiritual death, but with forgiveness is life and salvation. Our greatest need is to focus on things eternal. Our greatest need is to be about the business of being in the Word. Through the means of grace, through the Word of God, through Confession and absolution, through Holy Baptism and the Lord’s Supper Jesus gives us faith and the surety of that faith comes through His resurrection.
As the saying goes, God never promised us a rose garden. Of course as I hear that quip I am reminded that even roses have thorns, thus we are reminded that God never promised us an easy life. We will have struggles while living in this world, indeed, the fall into sin and the curse of this world accounts for the struggles we will bear while living in this world. The struggles of this life may be discouraging, yet our focus is heavenward not earthbound. Our focus is to be drawn to Jesus who has taken care of our eternal home, our permanent dwelling place.
So Paul encourages us in reminding us of the key, that is that our faith is renewed daily and weekly through the means of grace. When struggles happen in life we can go one of two ways, we can blame God and run away, which is what the devil wants you to do, or we can cling to our Lord even more knowing that He is the answer, the only answer and the only one who is capable of helping us through our struggles. As we live lives of faith, as we live in our vocations, as we live as husband or wife, father or mother, aunt or uncle, butcher or baker, CPA or lawyer, plumber or electrician, banker or teacher, son or daughter, student or professor, engineer or builder, life guard or carpenter, whatever our vocation, as we live lives of faith, we are to always be ready to give an answer for the hope that we have in Christ, because as we live lives of faith our hope in Christ will be seen so that others will ask, what is this faith you have. And remember, we have God’s authority to speak of our faith and we have His promise that He will give us not only the courage, but also the words to speak.
Our lives can point to the importance of the things of this world or our lives can point to our heavenly home. Paul encourages us to, with the help of the Lord, live lives that point to our heavenly home and in so doing we will bring glory to God.
Might we summarize Paul’s words to us this morning by saying that by faith in Jesus resurrection from the dead, faith given to us by God, we are stirred to share that faith with others so that God might be glorified. At the same time, although we struggle with our aging bodies and fight against those who oppose Christ, we know that this world and these struggles are only temporary for our eternal home is heaven. Thanks be to God and to Him be the glory, for Jesus’ sake. Amen.