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.

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Why I Am a Lutheran Christian

A recent poll was taken which showed that there has been a decline in Christian church membership. In discussing this at Bible Class I mentioned my assessment to the fact that too many of our “mainline” denominations have acquiesced to popular culture so that there seems to be no difference between the church and culture, and if there is no difference, then why bother.

All this begs the questions, “Why are you a Lutheran?” I am Lutheran because I believe there is a sharp and distinct difference between being Lutheran, being a Lutheran Christian and the culture, and a sharp and distinct difference between being Lutheran and being any other Christian denomination.

Why I am a Lutheran Christian
  • I am Lutheran because I believe we have a better understanding of the proper distinction between God’s teaching of Law and Gospel.
  • I am Lutheran because I believe we have a better understanding of Justification and Sanctification and the difference between the two.
  • I am Lutheran because I believe we have a better understanding of what is Grace, true Grace, being a gift from God.
  • I am Lutheran because I believe our worship clearly expresses our faith and doctrine.
  • I am Lutheran because I believe we have a better understanding of the Sacraments, that is the sacred acts of God, Holy Baptism and the Lord’s Supper, not as some symbolic act of obedience, but as God’s gifts to us.
  • I am Lutheran because I believe we have a better understanding of how God gives us His gifts, namely through means, the Means of Grace, and in particular His Word, Holy Baptism, Confession and Absolution and the Lord’s Supper.
  • I am Lutheran because I believe we have a better understanding of the Office of Holy Ministry and the Priesthood of all believers.
  • I am Lutheran because I believe we have a better understanding of how to express our faith.

Sunday, July 26, 2015

To Know the Surpassing Knowledge of Christ Love - July 26, 2015 - Ninth Sunday after Pentecost (Proper 12) - Text: Ephesians 3:14-21

Perhaps you have heard someone pose the question, “Can God create a rock so big that He cannot pick it up?” Questions such as this only serve to detract from what a great and powerful God we have. And, although we may confess with our lips that we believe that God is all powerful, too often in our every day lives we tend to put limits on God, or at least we tend to put limits on what we will believe about God. Sure, Jesus died for the sins of all people, but how can I be sure He died for me? Sure, God created the world, but how do I know that He did not create the world through the process of evolution. It is amazing how easy it is for us to believe human thinking and wisdom and yet doubt God and His Word, because the bottom line is, either God’s Word is true, or it is not.
In our three lessons for this morning we are given a glimpse of God’s power. In the Old Testament Lesson we see God’s power over nature in His sending of the flood which destroyed the world, which He had created. Yet, we also see how, even in the midst of His righteous judgement of the world, His surpassing love for His creation in the promise He gives to never destroy the world in such a way again.
In the Gospel Lesson we see of the power of Jesus over nature. Not only does Jesus walk on water, He also calms the storm. In this lesson we see Jesus showing Himself to be God. As Jesus is God, with the Father and the Holy Spirit, at the creation of the world, so here is Jesus, God in human flesh, showing Himself to be God with power even over nature, the world itself.
Finally, in our Epistle Lesson, our text for this morning, we hear Paul’s recognition of Jesus as God and His power and love beyond all understanding. And we give thanks because our God is such a great God, a God beyond all other gods.
Our text begins with Paul’s words of praise. We begin at verse fourteen, “14For this reason I bow my knees before the Father, 15from whom every family in heaven and on earth is named, 16that according to the riches of his glory he may grant you to be strengthened with power through his Spirit in your inner being, 17so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith—that you, being rooted and grounded in love, 18may have strength to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, 19and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled with all the fullness of God.” (v. 14-19).
Paul is not speaking of an evangelistic moment. He is not speaking about the giving of faith. Rather, he is speaking to those who have already been given faith. Here we might be reminded that our divine service, our worship service, is not necessarily meant to be evangelistic, but is intended for the people of God, for Christians, in order for us to be strengthened in our faith. Evangelism is what takes place in your daily life as you live your life always being ready to give an answer, a defense for the hope that you have in Jesus. Evangelism takes place in what we call our vocations, that is in our lives as we serve God by serving others as husband or wife, son or daughter, worker or employer, and so on. As we live our lives as priests, offering our lives as living sacrifices to the Lord, and as we are asked, “What is it about you?” so, as you share the Word of God with others, the Holy Spirit works through that Word to give faith, when and where He pleases.
And so, Paul is praying for strengthening of faith. He is praying that through the means of grace, especially through the Word of God, we might be strengthened in our faith. It is the Word of God that is efficacious, that is it does what it says. It is the Word of God that gives, strengthens and keeps us in faith. The Word is so important. It all begins with the Word. Without the Word there is no creation, remember, God said, He spoke a word and the world came into being. Without the Word there is no baptism, there is no absolution, there is no Lord’s Supper, there is no Jesus, there is nothing.
Paul is praying for us, that we might have a deeper understanding of the love of God, a love that is beyond all understanding. How do we understand God’s love, or how do we get a glimpse of God’s love. God’s love can only be seen in contrast to our sin. It is only as we understand how completely sinful, how completely lost and condemned we are that we can understand how great God’s love really is.
And we are sinful. We sin greatly, and as we hear almost every Sunday, we sin in thought, word and deed. We sin sins of omission and commission. And we try to justify our sins. Have you ever thought about it? Whenever we try to justify our sins, what we are really saying is that we do not need too much of God’s forgiveness, perhaps only a little. It is a lot like coming to worship. It is at the divine service that our Lord comes to us to give us the gifts He has to give. It is at divine service that the Lord gives us forgiveness of sins. It is as we read His Word, as we remember our Baptism, as we confess our sins and hear the words of absolution, as we attend the Lord’s Supper, through these means the Lord gives us forgiveness of sins. Yet, how often do we fail to make use of these means. How often do we fail to remember our baptism? How often do we skip church. Every time we fail, we are simply telling God, “I am okay, I’m good, I do not need anymore forgiveness today, I do not need anymore of your gifts, thanks anyway.”  Do we turn down a good meal, or any food for that matter? Do we turn down Christmas presents? Yet, we seem to have no problem refusing the gifts God has to give, again, showing how sinful we really are.
Thanks be to God that His love in Christ covers all sins. His love covers our sins of thought, word and deed. His love covers our sins of omission and commission. His love even covers our sins of gift refusal.
The type of love Paul is speaking about in our text is agape love, that is a godlike love and I would add this morning an intelligent love. Agape love is a love that informs. It informs us about God, about His ability, about His nature and character, about His attributes, about His love. It informs us about God’s love that is so great that it is beyond our imagination. God’s love is so great and yet it is seen in the person and work of Jesus. God’s loves is seen in this, that Jesus gave His life so that we might have forgiveness and eternal life.
The last part of our text is Paul’s doxology. We continue at verse twenty, “20Now to him who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us, 21to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever. Amen.” (v. 20-21). Paul’s words speak of his recognition of Christ’s ability to do beyond what we ask, think or imagine. Perhaps that is why we struggle in life. Perhaps that is why we have not, because we fail to think and imagine great things for the Lord and because we fail to ask. Personally, my prayer continues to be that every Sunday the Lord will fill this sanctuary with people to hear the Good News. My prayer continues to be for the members of this congregation, for each one of you, that the Lord would continue to give, strengthen and keep you in faith. My prayer continues to be that every member of this congregation will be here in worship every Sunday and that every member will bring a friend.
Notice how Paul recognizes God’s power. Paul recognizes God’s power to work in us, to give, strengthen and keep us in faith. That is where we get our gifts, from God. The source of every good gift and blessing is God and especially His Word. Very much like anything electric must be plugged into a power source, so, we must be plugged into Jesus, through His Word in order to be given the gifts He has to give. And He has some great gifts to give.
And so, in these words of doxology, in these words of praise, Paul glorifies God in Christ Jesus. As we recognize what a great God we have and as we ask great things from Him, so as He delivers the gifts to us, we might well give glory to our great God.
What Does This Mean? I believe all three of our texts for this morning give evidence so that we recognize Jesus is God. And as we know, Jesus had to be God. He had to be God in order to be perfect. He had to be God in order to raise Himself from the dead.
Not only do we recognize that Jesus is God, we also recognize God’s plan and His plan in Himself, to give Himself. We recognize that Jesus is God in human flesh, being born of the human woman, Mary. Jesus had to be human in order to be our substitute. Jesus shows Himself to be God through the signs, wonders and miracles He performed and He shows Himself to be human through the fact that He was hungry, thirsty, tired, walked from place to place and the like. Jesus is God who gave up all the glory that was rightfully His in heaven in order to save us from our sin.
We recognize Jesus is truly God and truly man and we recognize God’s love for us His creatures and how He works everything out for us because of His great love for us. Unfortunately, our eyes do not always see things the way God sees them. We may not always see God’s hand working out the best for us. Yet, we can know for certain, because our God is a God of love, of agape love, that He always has our best interest in mind. One such example of how we look at things in this world and how God looks at things differently is usually seen in the hospital. When our loved one is sick, and especially sick to the point of death, we may wonder why this is happening. We may pray for healing. What we often fail to realize is that death, dying and going to heaven is perfect healing. That may not be what we want, but at times, in His love, God shows His love by giving our loved  that perfect healing.
This morning Paul again helps us to recognize, as always, the best focus is the focus on Christ. And we focus on Christ by making regular and diligent us of the means of grace.
As we have been working our way through Paul’s letter to the Ephesians over the past few weeks and as we will continue for the next few weeks, I pray that we have been seeing and hearing Paul’s beautiful message of God’s grace and mercy. Our hope is only in Christ who has predestine all to be saved, God has called us all, even before the foundations of the earth were laid, that is He knew us even before He began creation. God calls us through the waters of Holy Baptism, strengthens and keeps us in faith through His Word. And God’s love, which is truly beyond our imagination, is seen in Jesus who gave His life for ours. What a great God we do have! To Him be the glory. For Jesus’ sake. Amen.

Sunday, July 19, 2015

Christ Jesus, the Cornerstone - July 19, 2015 - Eighth Sunday after Pentecost (Proper 11) - Text: Ephesians 2:11-22

Thanks be to God, we are no longer what we were before being given faith. Unfortunately, at the same time, we are also, not all we will be one day in heaven. We are no longer complete lost and condemned sinners. Yet, we are not yet completely perfect and holy saints. We are at the same time both sinner and saint. We are on this path of life, through this world, being given as our Lord gives, forgiven, strengthened and kept in faith, until the day He takes us from this vale of tears to be with Himself in heaven for eternity.
What were we before? Paul describes our situation as he writes, beginning at verse eleven, “11Therefore remember that at one time you Gentiles in the flesh, called “the uncircumcision” by what is called the circumcision, which is made in the flesh by hands—12remember that you were at that time separated from Christ, alienated from the commonwealth of Israel and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world” (v. 11-12). At one time we were “Gentiles in the flesh.” We were called the “uncircumcised.” Here we might make a very real comparison of circumcision and baptism. Circumcision happened for a child at the age of eight days and marked him as being a part of God’s covenant people. Indeed, circumcision was a sacrament for the children of Israel. For us, circumcision is no longer required and is no longer a requirement for being members of God’s family. For us, we are given faith and made a part of God’s family through the means of the Word and Holy Baptism. Holy Baptism is a sacrament, a holy act through which God gives us faith, marks us as His children and makes us a part of His covenant people. Thus, Paul might have easily written to us saying that we were called the unbaptized.
Before our Baptism, before being given faith, we were separated from God. Our nature is that we are conceived and born in sin. Sin is genetically passed on from one generation to the next. And no, I do not believe we will ever find the genetic code, the DNA strand, for original sin, rather I believe that original sin permeates all our genes. We are conceived in sin. We are born in sin. And sin separates us from God, thus we are born separated from God. Certainly this helps us see, even more, the importance of Holy Baptism, especially the importance of baptizing our children and baptizing them as soon after their birth as possible.
Before our Baptism and before being given faith, we were without hope. The prerequisite of heaven is perfection, “be perfect as your Father in heaven is perfect.” We are not perfect. We are not born perfect. We cannot make ourselves perfect. Our perfection must be given to us, it must come from outside of us, otherwise we are without hope.
Paul describes our situation before begin given faith. He also describes what Christ has done for us. We pick up at verse thirteen, “13But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. 14For he himself is our peace, who has made us both one and has broken down in his flesh the dividing wall of hostility 15by abolishing the law of commandments and ordinances, that he might create in himself one new man in place of the two, so making peace, 16and might reconcile us both to God in one body through the cross, thereby killing the hostility. 17And he came and preached peace to you who were far off and peace to those who were near. 18For through him we both have access in one Spirit to the Father. 19So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, 20built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone, 21in whom the whole structure, being joined together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord. 22In him you also are being built together into a dwelling place for God by the Spirit” (v. 13-22).
The price for sin was set in the Garden of Eden. The price for sin is death, physical death and apart from Jesus eternal spiritual death. Blood had to be shed. And, as we have said, we are sinners. We are conceived in sin. We are born in sin. We sin in thought, Word and deed. We sins sin of omission, not doing what we should be doing. We sin sins of commission, doing the things we should not be doing. We sin and we sin boldly. We disobey the commandments. We attempt to justify our sins. And the price for our sins, the cost is death, eternal spiritual death. Left to ourselves, we would be lost, eternally lost. Paul now tells us, Jesus shed His blood on the cross for our sins. What great love our Lord has for us, to take on Himself, our flesh and blood. To take on Himself our sins and to pay the price for our sins.
Not only did Jesus pay the price for our sins, He also fulfilled all the Law completely, thus abolishing the Law. Having said that let me elaborate on this fulfilling and abolishing of the law which some seem to confuse at times. Jesus has fulfilled all the law; the ceremonial law, the moral law and the civil law. In fulfilling the ceremonial law, that law which regulated the sacrifices, that law which pointed to Him, to His suffering, death and resurrection for the sins of all, He has abolished, completely the ceremonial law so that we no longer need to offer sacrifices. However, even though He has fulfilled the civil and moral law completely, that is He kept all the law of the land, the civil law and the Ten Commandments, the moral law, we still live under and abide by these laws. And the reason we have been given these laws, the civil and moral law is in order to keep us safe, for our protection. Yet, because of our nature all the Law does is accuse. All the Law does is point to the fact that we are sinners. If you ever listen to the TV evangelists and radio preachers, more often than not they preach only the law. They tell you what you have to do to be saved, usually implying that you can be obedient. The fact of the matter is that we cannot be obedient. We cannot keep the law. We cannot be perfect which is the demand if we attempt to save ourselves by keeping the law, that is we must keep the law completely for to stumble at one point is to be guilty of the whole law, thus the law truly only accuses us. Yet, Jesus fulfilled the Law. What we could not do, Jesus did, perfectly. And in His perfect obedience of the Law, He abolished the Law, so we are no longer under the Law.
Jesus fulfilled the Law perfectly, He paid the price for our sins and by faith in Him, He brings all people together into one fellowship. As Paul tells us, by faith in Jesus we are no longer considered Jew and Gentile, members of the covenant and non-members. Today, through faith in Jesus, faith that He gives, we too are a part of the family of Christ. Remember, the covenant, the promise of a Savior was made in the Garden of Eden, to Adam and Eve, before there was a Jew or Gentile. The promise was reiterated to Abraham that through his family the Savior of all people would be born. Although the promise to Abraham included a promise of a piece of property, if they would remain faithful, which they were not thus giving up the promise, yet pointing to the ultimate property of heaven, the true promised land. Jesus even said that God could raise children of Abraham from stones reminding us that the true Israel is not an Israel by birth, by genetics, but by faith. Indeed, all those who do not believe in Jesus, no matter what their genetic background, Jew or Gentile, circumcised or uncircumcised, will not be saved. All those who do believe in Jesus are children of Abraham, are the true Israel and are saved, that is you and me.
It is not what we do that makes us one in Christ. It is not the denomination of which we are members. It is not our family name. It is not the congregation we belong to. It is not having our names on some church list. It is not how we act, but it is what we believe. It is our doctrine. It is our faith in Jesus, our faith in Jesus alone for our salvation that makes us one. We are in fellowship as brothers and sisters in Christ in the invisible Church.
When Jesus asked His disciples, “who do people say that I am,” and then “who do you say that I am,” we heard Peter’s wonderful confession, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” and we heard Jesus’ response that this confession was not a confession Peter made on His own, but was a confession given to Peter by God the Father. And we heard Jesus explain that His Church, His Fellowship is based, not on a building or denomination, but is built only on Peter’s confession that Jesus is God, thus this Church, the one true Church, the Holy Christian Church, the Communion of saints is built on the foundation of Jesus Christ, His work and Word.
Not only is the church built on the foundation of Jesus Christ, it is also built up, strengthened and kept in faith together as the Body of Christ, through the work of the Holy Spirit. Notice, as always, all of this is coming from outside of us. We are conceived and born in sin. We sin boldly, yet we have forgiveness, life and salvation, we are given, strengthened and kept in faith because this comes from outside of us. This comes from God having His way with us, giving to us, doing to us, working in and through us.
What Does this Mean? As we have been hearing all along, the fact of the matter is that we are born separate from God and we have to understand, that because of our nature, because we are born separate from God, because our nature is that we are conceived and born in sin, we cannot draw ourselves to Him. We do not seek God, as if to find Him. We do not choose God as if it were a decision we had to make. Our nature is such that we run away from God, we choose sin, we do the exact opposite of what will save us.
Thanks be to God that Jesus has taken care of everything. He has taken care of literally everything for us, in our place, because we cannot. He has lived perfectly for us, because we cannot live perfect lives. He has obeyed perfectly for us, because all we can do is disobey. He has taken all our sins upon Himself and had paid the price for our sins by dying the perfect death. And, yet, He did not stay dead, but He rose from the dead showing us that He has defeated sin and death and giving us the certainty that we too will rise again. Death and the grave have no hold on us.
Jesus has taken care of everything for us as individuals and He is also the one who brings us together as brothers and sisters in Christ. It is interesting, if you look at the individual characters of the twelve disciples, if they had simply met on their own, without Jesus, they probably never would have even been friends. It is Jesus who unites them and it is faith in Jesus that unites all Christians as brothers and sisters in Christ.
Jesus is the glue that binds us together, but even more, He is the cornerstone on which the Holy Christian Church is built. He is the Word made flesh. He is the fulfillment of all of Holy Scripture for us.
Jesus takes care of us, His people, the sheep of His pasture. He is the one who gives the gifts. And we are the ones who are given too. Through His means of grace He gives, strengthens and keeps in faith. Through His means of grace He gives faith, forgiveness, life and salvation. Through His means of grace He has His way with us, loving us, caring for us, protecting us, getting us ready for His kingdom.
And Jesus gives to us to respond. Remember, as a child, whenever someone would give us something, there seemed to always be that prompt from mom or dad, “What do you say?” Oh, yeah, “Thank you.” “Thank you” was not a part of our vocabulary. And it still is not a part of our vocabulary. Our Lord gives to us. Our Lord does to us. Our Lord has His way with us. And we are given to and done to and had our way with and our Lord even prompts us so that we respond with words and actions and lives of thanks and praise.
We are like sheep and Jesus is our Great Good Shepherd. In the Old Testament reading there is the warning of one who leads the sheep astray. In the Gospel reading we see Jesus taking care of the sheep. We are Jesus’ sheep and just as sheep have a tendency to roam and run away, so we have a tendency to do what we should not do and to not do what we should do. We are sheep and just as sheep need someone to watch over them, guide them and keep them out of trouble, so we need someone, we need the Good Shepherd. Left to ourselves we would stray and be eternally separated from God. Thanks be to God that He is our Good Shepherd who constantly works to keep us on the straight and narrow road which leads to eternal life in heaven. Yes, we are not what we were at birth, complete, lost and condemned persons, but we are not yet what we will be in heaven, perfect, sinless, brothers and sisters in Christ. And so while we remain in this world, we pray and give thanks to the Lord for His giving, strengthening and keeping us in faith and we look forward to our being taken from this vale of tears to be with Him and all the saints in heaven. To Him be the glory. For Jesus’ sake. Amen.

Sunday, July 12, 2015

Hope In Christ - July 12, 2015 - Seventh Sunday after Pentecost (Proper 10) - Text: Ephesians 1:3-14

This morning our text addresses the topic of predestination. The difficult part of the topic of predestination is that the Bible leaves us in a tension, a paradox and it does not resolve that tension. Unfortunately, there are too many who attempt to resolve the paradox of predestination, but in so doing, in using human logic, they fall off into one false understanding or another. God is not necessarily logical, as we might think in terms of human logic. Yet, God has given us His Word and even when He leaves us with His Word in tension, sometimes we simply have to leave it in tension as well.
Paul begins by telling us that we are blessed by God. We begin at verse three, “3Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, 4even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him. In love 5he predestined us for adoption through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will, 6to the praise of his glorious grace, with which he has blessed us in the Beloved. 7In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace, 8which he lavished upon us, in all wisdom and insight 9making known to us the mystery of his will, according to his purpose, which he set forth in Christ 10as a plan for the fullness of time, to unite all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth.” (v. 3-10).
What great and wonderful words of Gospel Paul lays out for us this morning. Paul tells us that it is God who has chosen us and He has chosen us before the creation of the world. In other words, before God even began creating the world, He chose us. He chose us to create us, to love us, and to save us. Notice how this takes away any thought we might have that we are the one’s doing the choosing. As a matter of fact, our Lord constantly reminds us that if we had the choice, we would not choose Him, rather we would reject Him and we see how true this is each and every day as we absent ourselves from reading God’s Word, having personal and family devotions and as we see on many Sundays when we absent ourselves being in Divine Service and Bible class. God never asks us to choose Him, instead He comforts us with the Word that He has chosen us, and He has chosen us even before He began creating the very world in which we live.
God’s will is not that anyone is condemned, even though that is a reality, that is that not all people are saved. Notice here is where, if we use our own human logic, we can fall off into the pit of false teaching. We are not told and Bible never says that anyone has been chosen to eternal spiritual death. Our logic would be to deduce that if God chose us to be saved and we know some are condemned, then, logically to us, He must also have chosen some to be condemned, but this is not what He tells us. He simply tells us that He has chosen us to be saved. In other words, His will is to adopt us as His children and He does this through Jesus Christ, through faith in Jesus, faith which He gives to us.
And so we have this mystery. Interestingly enough, this word “mystery” is a word which has a connection with the word proclamation. And although Paul uses this word, which is a word the Gnostics also used, instead of using it in terms of a secret, “I’ve got a secret that you don’t know,” which is how the Gnostics used it, Paul connects this mystery with the cross of Christ. And the cross of Christ is a mystery, especially to those who do not believe. It is a mystery why God would do what He did and does. It is a mystery why Jesus would allow Himself to be crucified for us. It is a mystery why God would save His creation as bad as His creation had become.
As Paul continues to tell us, God’s plan was accomplished in Christ, at His death and resurrection. And keep in mind, this was all known by God, even before He began the very first day of creation. We call this God’s foreknowledge. That is, because God lives in the eternal present, He knew that Adam and Eve would disobey and bring sin and a curse. God knew we would be a rebellious people. God knew what was going to need to be done for His creation even before He began creating and because of His great love for us, He created the world and us anyway. This is quite a mystery indeed.
God’s plan will be further accomplished on the day of Judgement. On the day of Judgement all things will come to a just and righteous end. No matter how sinful the world seems to be getting and is getting, no matter how difficult it may be to be a Christian, no matter how unfair and unfairly treated we are as Christians, in the end we know for sure that God’s just judgement will be meted out. And fortunately for us, we will not get what we justly deserve, eternal spiritual death, but, because of our faith in Jesus, faith which He has given to us, we will get what He has earned, eternal life in heaven.
But Paul is not through. We continue in our text with even more blessings from God. We pick up at verse eleven, “11In him we have obtained an inheritance, having been predestined according to the purpose of him who works all things according to the counsel of his will, 12so that we who were the first to hope in Christ might be to the praise of his glory. 13In him you also, when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and believed in him, were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit, 14who is the guarantee of our inheritance until we acquire possession of it, to the praise of his glory” (v. 11-14).
Getting back to this mystery, why would a perfect God do what He did, give His life and the life of His Son for His imperfect creation? Paul tells us, He saved us to His glory, not in order that we might praise Him as such, but that the world would praise Him as they recognize His work in saving us. In other words, God does not do what He does in order for us to praise Him, as if He needs our praise, but He does what He does in order that the world, His creation, might recognize that He is God and that He is the Savior of the world.
How does God communicate His message with His world, with His creation, with His creatures today? It is the Holy Spirit working through the hearing and reading of the Word which work and give faith. Here again, as always, we see the importance of the means of grace; the importance of hearing and reading the Word of God; the importance of remembering our baptism; the importance of confession and absolution; the importance of partaking of the Lord’s Supper. God works through these means, the means of grace. When we absent ourselves from these means, then we absent ourselves from the gifts God has to give through these means. When we make regular and diligent use of the means then we open ourselves to the Lord having His way with us, giving us the gifts He has to give.
Of course, the greatest gift is the gift of Jesus’ giving Himself on the cross and this is the guarantee of our inheritance. Remember, a person is saved by being perfect which is God’s demand that we are perfect as He is perfect. We know that we cannot be perfect so we must find another way to be saved. We are not perfect and this is seen in the fact that not only do we break every commandment, we tend to break them several times each day. We sin in thought, word and deed. We sin sins of omission and commission. We sin what we perceive to be little sins as well as big sins. Indeed the point is that we sin. We cannot be perfect. The only other way to get to heaven, then, is through forgiveness which removes our sin and guilt. Thus, we see that forgiveness is so important and is our greatest need. To not be forgiven is to remain in our sin and if we remain in our sin, that would mean eternal spiritual death. And so we see how important our confession and absolution is every Sunday and every day.
What does this mean? God is indeed praised and will be praised, especially in heaven. Notice that this praise is not an earthly thing as if He needs our praise. And also, it is interesting that the word for “bless” here in this text is the Greek word “eulogy” which literally means “good word.” God has literally “good worded” us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places. Remembering that God’s Word is efficacious, that is that God’s Word does what it says, how wonderful it is to know that we are “good worded” by God. We are good worded so that His Word does for us what it says. We are good worded with faith, forgiveness and eternal life.
Paul speaks words of predestination that is that God had all things planned, even knowing we would be His before the creation of the world. How wonderful to know that this is all in God’s hands. We spoke earlier about the fact that human logic is that if God had determined that we would be saved and that if we know some are not saved then certainly God must have determined that some would not be saved and although that might be logical to the human mind that is not what God tell us. Here we would add to the tension that no where does God ask us to choose Him, instead, as we heard, it is God who has chosen us. There are passages of the Word which tell us we can refuse and reject God. And here we have our second tension, that is that in logical human thinking, if we can reject God, then certainly we can accept or choose Him, yet that is not what God tells us, in other words, God tells us we cannot accept or choose Him, but we can reject Him, and so we are, again, left in this tension. I believe this is a good tension, a Godly tension and a tension which we should not attempt to resolve, lest we fall off into the ditch of false teaching. Thus, the tension is that God has predestined us to be saved and our only option is that we can reject Him. To state anything else is to go beyond what God tells us.
And so, the story goes. God created the world. He created it perfect and holy. He created a perfect man and a perfect woman and placed them in a perfect garden and even gave them perfect work to do in the garden. Then, the man and the woman God created fell into sin. God immediately stepped in and promised to send a Savior.
Because the price for the sin of Adam and Eve was death, eternal spiritual death, they could not pay that price themselves. Thus, God’s perfect plan and solution was to send His only Son, even Himself in human flesh. God, in the person of Jesus is the ransom for our sins and for the sins of all. What mystery, that God could, would and did love His creation so much that He would offer such a great sacrifice for us.
And now, the Holy Spirit works to point to Jesus. The Holy Spirit works through the means of grace, the Word and the Sacraments to give, strengthen and keep us in faith. The Holy Spirit works through the Word to continue daily to “good word” us with the Word which does and gives what it says.
And what is our part? Since we do not choose Jesus. Since we do not need to praise the Lord. Since we do not have to do anything, what is our part? Our part is simply to respond. We respond, first and foremost by begin given to, by remembering our Baptism, by reading His Word, having personal and family devotions, by being in Divine Service and Bible Class as often as offered, confessing our sins and being given forgiveness, and partaking of the Lord’s body and blood in His Holy Meal for forgiveness of sins. We respond by not refusing and rejecting the gifts God has to give. And we may indeed, by the power of the Holy Spirit working through the means of grace, working through us, acknowledge and give praise to the Lord by saying, to God be the glory.
What a great God we have. A God who is above all other gods. A God who has created all things and who has created us. He has created us for a purpose, in order to love us and He loves us and shows His love for us especially in the giving of His Son and the life of His Son for us. He loves us and He has redeemed us. He has redeemed us for a purpose, in order that, with the help of the Holy Spirit working in and through us, we may do the good works which He has prepared in advance for us to do. To Him be the glory, for Jesus’ sake. Amen.

Sunday, July 5, 2015

My Grace Is Sufficient - July 5, 2015 - Sixth Sunday after Pentecost (Proper 09) - Text: 2 Corinthians 12:1-10

Have you ever thought to yourself, when things were going really well in your life, or so it seemed to you, “I wonder when the next bad thing is going to happen?” “My life seems to be going too well right now, I know something bad has got to happen.” I think we all have those thoughts now and then. I remember back in 1983 when my mother was in the hospital having brain surgery to remove a tumor, she had been having a number of medical problems and at times she seemed to be getting rather discouraged. One day she made the comment, alluding to a verse in Hebrews, “I know the Lord chastens those He loves, I just wish He would love someone else a little more.” Perhaps we all feel that way at times. In our text for today I believe Paul addresses this issue and helps us to understand the grace that our Lord has for us, so much that, to paraphrase another verse from Paul, ‘our momentary hardships will seem like nothing compared to the glory that will be ours in heaven.’
Our text begins with verse one Paul say, “1I must go on boasting. Though there is nothing to be gained by it, I will go on to visions and revelations of the Lord. 2I know a man in Christ who fourteen years ago was caught up to the third heaven—whether in the body or out of the body I do not know, God knows. 3And I know that this man was caught up into paradise—whether in the body or out of the body I do not know, God knows—4and he heard things that cannot be told, which man may not utter. 5On behalf of this man I will boast, but on my own behalf I will not boast, except of my weaknesses. 6Though if I should wish to boast, I would not be a fool, for I would be speaking the truth. But I refrain from it, so that no one may think more of me than he sees in me or hears from me” (v. 1-6). And then, especially in verse seven Paul says, “7So to keep me from being too elated by the surpassing greatness of the revelations, a thorn was given me in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to harass me, to keep me from being too elated.” (v.7).  Paul explains the reason for his thorn in the flesh and this reason is that the Lord had been giving him what he called, “surpassing greatness of revelations.” I have no idea what these revelations were, but you may remember that the Lord originally met Paul in a bright light on the road to Damascus. Rather than the Lord using His usual way of coming to people, through means, at that time He came directly to Paul. I am sure that it must have been a wonderful experience for Paul that the Lord would come to Him directly and reveal His will for Him. How often do we think that it would be great if God would come and speak directly to us to tell us what He has in mind for us? Most of us think it would be great if God actually spoke directly to us, but I am afraid that really is not the case. As skeptical human beings, even if God spoke directly to us, we would question whether it was really God or not, especially if He told us something we did not want to hear. For Paul, the struggle with these great revelations is that evidently they could have caused him to get, what we today call a “big head,” or as Paul says, to become conceited.
In order to keep him from becoming conceited the Lord allowed for Paul to have a “thorn in the flesh.” What this thorn in the flesh was exactly we do not know. Many, many people have speculated on what it might be. Depending on what social, economic or political agenda the person was trying to put forward, Paul’s thorn in the flesh has been analyzed as anything from his having eye problems to his being gay. These struggles with what was Paul’s thorn in the flesh are merely attempts to distract from the Word Paul was trying to get across by changing the subject and getting away from the point of the text. The point of the text is not what was Paul’s thorn in the flesh. The point of the text is that in order to keep Paul from becoming conceited because of the exceedingly great revelations the Lord had been giving him, the Lord also gave him something to keep him humble.
The words of verse eight are a beautiful example to us when we have struggles in our own lives. In verse eight we read that Paul prayed to the Lord.  Paul say, “8Three times I pleaded with the Lord about this, that it should leave me” (v.8). And we should add that it is implied that the three times he prayed Paul always prayed, “Thy will be done.” Notice that Paul’s example of prayer was patterned after Jesus’ example in the garden. Three times Jesus went to His Father in heaven to pray that the cup of suffering He was about to suffer would be removed from Him, but each time He prayed, “Thy will be done.” Here in our text Paul tells us that three times he prayed to the Lord.
The first part of verse nine is God’s answer and Paul’s response to God’s answer. We read, “9But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me” (v.9). Like last Sunday, so this Sunday we again hear of God’s grace. Each and every Sunday we should hear of God’s grace. God’s grace is the main thing we are given in our divine service of the Lord.  God’s grace is His undeserved love for us. God’s grace is the sacrifice of Jesus on the cross for our sins. God’s grace is what we need to be reminded of each and every day lest we fall into despair because of our many sins. Paul tells us that God said to Him that His grace is sufficient for him. In other words, quit complaining and worrying about what you perceive to be struggles and remember that I Am the one who is in charge.
Paul prayed that God’s will be done and God is letting Paul know that His will is being done. It is a difficult thing to pray that God’s will be done and mean it. More often than not we may pray for God’s will to be done but we sure would like it if God’s will would be our will. The difficult part in praying for God’s will to be done is to let go and trust that God always knows what is best for us and always does what is best for us, even if we do not see it at the time.
Paul also talks about God’s power and about His power being made perfect in weakness. The best example of that is in the cross of Christ. The cross of Christ is a stumbling block for so many people. How can a Savior or anyone who professes to be a Savior, subject themselves to being executed on a cross? It just does not make sense to the logical human thinking that death is a way to life. But that is the beauty of the Gospel. We were subject to death. Not only have we been born in sin, but each and every day we add to our list of sins, and often we add to that list rather uncontrollably. Without thinking we curse God’s name, we call others names, we talk about others in very negative ways behind their backs, we lust and covet, we refuse God’s gifts by absenting ourselves from being in worship and Bible Class, we fail to explain everything in the best possible way. Thanks be to God’s power that Jesus suffered the eternal punishment which should have been ours, in our place. That is God’s power made perfect in Christ’s weakness!
To all of this, in verse ten we read Paul’s response, “10For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong” (v.10). Paul’s weakness is very much the same as our weakness. Paul’s weakness and our weakness is that we think we know what we need. We think we know what is best for us and that is what we want God to do for us. The problem is that if we get our own way then, more than likely, things would be even worse than in the first place.
Paul’s weakness and our weakness is also the fact that we suffer temptation. Each and every day we are tempted by the unholy three of, the devil, the world, and our own sinful flesh. When I say the unholy three of the devil, the world, and our own sinful flesh I do not mean these three as vague concepts. I mean these three as very real entities that work through anything and everything in our life to try to lead us away from Jesus Christ. Every day we are tempted to give up our faith and give in to the ways of the world.
During these times of weakness and temptation, Paul’s needs are the same as our needs. During these times of weakness and temptation our need is to be weak so God can be strong. By ourselves we cannot overcome sin and temptation. By ourselves we will always fall victim to the temptations of this world, the devil and our own sinful flesh. God alone can overcome sin, death, and the devil. In Jesus Christ, God has already overcome and by faith in Jesus His triumph is our triumph.
Let us take a step back and get back to this text as a whole. What does this text mean for our everyday life? First, this text begins to explain why there are times that our life seems to be flying high and other times it seems we hit the bottom. Our Father in heaven knows that if we get to elated we might get conceited and forget from where our grace comes. So, in order to keep us humble He allows for us to have struggles. When the Lord allows for us to have struggles there are two agendas at work. On the one hand the Lord is allowing us to go through struggles in order to try us, to strengthen our faith. On the other hand Satan is working just as hard through our struggles in order to destroy us.
When we rely on our own strength, we fail. When we rely on the strength of our Father in heaven we win. God’s strength, God’s power, is Jesus Christ and His work on the cross. When struggles and temptations occur in life, if we rely on ourselves we can never stand because we are sinful from the start. But when we rely on the power of God then He succeeds through us. When we rely on the power of God working through us then it is not we who receive praise but it is we who say, to God be the glory.
Yesterday we celebrated 239 years of freedom in this country, especially freedom of religion, that is freedom to worship God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Certainly we have had many years of joy and an easiness of being a Christian. Over the past couple of weeks we have seen how quickly our freedoms are being taken away. The rulings of the nine unelected for life members of the Supreme Court of the United States will and is making living the Christian faith a struggle and this will more than likely only get worse as the devil continues to work in our world to torment Christians. How do we respond? We respond as Paul tells us in our text, that is we respond by knowing that God’s grace is sufficient for us, that His power is made perfect in our weakness so that we will go on boasting all the more gladly of our weaknesses, knowing that the power of Christ does rest upon us. Christ has already won the victory no matter what happens during our short life on this earth. Our response to the struggles of this world are to continue to live our faith, remaining faithful to Jesus, and always being ready to give an answer, a defense of our faith in gentleness and kindness.
The Lord does allow for difficulties and struggles to happen in the lives of His children, not because He does not love us, but because He does love us and because He wants to continually strengthen us in our faith and draw us closer to Himself. The words of our text for today are beautiful words of life reminding us that it is our struggles in life that cause us to pray. When we pray we pray, “Thy will be done,” knowing that especially in our weakness the grace of the Lord will more than be enough for us and that in His helping us God’s power will indeed shine through.  Once again we see that God is doing it all and we do rejoice and give Him thanks and praise. To God be the glory, for Jesus’ sake. Amen.