Welcome

Over the years I have written several "book" or "booklets" and many, many, many newsletter and bulletin articles. Because the book market seeks writings to meet specific needs at specific times, my material has never been accepted. I have a tendency to write what is on my mind and so I am left with self publishing. So, with the encouragement from my wife and others, I am beginning this blog in order to put my "ramblings" "out there"! I hope you enjoy!

Disclaimer

Please note that while my intentions are to use good grammar, because of the way in which some of the material presented here is presented (orally) the grammar and syntax might not always be the best English. Also note that good theology is not always presented in the best English so there may be times when the proper grammar rules are purposely broken.

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

God Comes to Abram - November 30, 2016 - First Advent Midweek - Text: Genesis 17:1-21

This year during the Wednesday evenings of Advent we will hear about the role the angels played in the history of Christmas. This week we will follow along and hear the angel, even Jesus Himself reiterate His covenant with Abram to be the father of the Savior of the world. Next week we will hear the angel announce to Zechariah that Elizabeth would have a son who would be the one who would make straight the way for the Savior of the world. The following week we will hear the angel announce to the young virgin, Mary, that she has been chosen to be the mother of the Savior of the world. In week four, an extra week this year as we usually only have three Advent services, but with Christmas on Sunday we will add a forth Advent service the Wednesday before Christmas, we will hear the angel announce to Joseph that Mary’s baby is the Son of God and that it is okay for him to go ahead with his marriage to her. On Christmas Eve we will hear the angel announce the good news of the Savior’s birth to the shepherds, and on Christmas day we will again hear the good news that God has come into the world in human flesh to save the world.
 
In order to get to the work of the angels during this Advent season we have to go back to the first work of the angels or rather the giving and reiterating of the covenant which brings us to the work of the angels during this time of preparation for the birth of the one being promised. Indeed, in Genesis three God has already promised Adam and Eve and all mankind that He would send a Savior, a Messiah even a Christ to save all people. After the flood God reiterated His promise of a Savior to Noah and on down to God calling Abram to be the one through whom the Savior would be born. In the verses before our text we have an angel appear to Abram, yet we are also told that this is the Lord who appears to Abram. Thus, we describe what we are seeing is that the angel who appears to Abram is what we describe as the pre-incarnate Christ, that is this is Jesus before His conception and birth as a man, in bodily form.
 
God appeared to Abram in order to reiterate the covenant He first made in Eden before there was a Jew or Gentile. The promise by God first given in Genesis is that God “will put enmity between [Satan] and the woman, and between [Satan’s] offspring” all the followers of the Devil, “and her offspring” in particular the Savior, Jesus, “he,” Jesus, “shall bruise your head” that is Jesus will deal a complete death blow to Satan crushing his head, “and you shall bruise his hell,” that in the process of Jesus utterly defeating Satan Jesus will be hurt, He will have His heel bruised, He will die on the cross, not an eternal death blow, but a physical death blow defeating Satan.
 
The covenant made in the Garden of Eden was a covenant that God made with Adam and Eve and all people. It was a covenant that God would carry out. As for Adam and Eve and all people, their part in the covenant was only to be saved. Thus, as God reiterates His covenant with Abram we see that it always was and is a covenant of grace through faith. God is the one acting and we are the ones being acted on, being given salvation.
 
When God speaks and reiterates His covenant with Abram He adds the earthly part of the covenant, that is He adds certain physical earthly blessings to His covenant, and as we will hear these extra blessings come with a condition. The spiritual blessings have no condition, except faith which is given, but the physical blessings do have certain condition as we will see.
 
God’s promise is that He will make Abram a great nation, that is Abram will have many children, grand children, great grand children and so on. From one of his descendants, from one of his children, grand children, or great grand children the Savior of the world would be born. God’s promise is that He will give Abram and his descendants a land. This promise makes sense because a great nation will need a place to live and so God promises a place to live. Again, then is reiterated the promise, the spiritual promise that the Savior of all people would be born through Abram’s family line.
 
The condition for these spiritual blessings is faithfulness to the covenant of God, that is faithfulness to God, to worship and serve only the one true God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Indeed, the condition of salvation is faith in Jesus alone.
 
The second part of our text is God’s giving of the sacrament of Circumcision. Circumcision was the sacrament setting apart and marking those who were a part of the covenant. As God would fulfill His promises of physical blessings, giving Abram many children and a land as a nation, so He did not want His people to be like the heathens and pagans that were in the land and that were to be driven from the land, so He gave the sacrament of circumcision to set them a part and mark them, even make them His own.
 
Today we have been given Holy Baptism as the Sacrament that sets us apart and marks us as a part of the covenant. God’s desire is that we are His people so that we do not look or act like the heathens and pagans of this world. God’s desire is that we live lives as His holy children, as priests in the priesthood of all believers.
 
And yet, just as was the case with the first promises, so God’s covenant continues to have a condition to it which is faithfulness. Interestingly enough, it is not so much our faithfulness as it is God’s faithfulness which is what saves us. Even in the unfaithfulness of the children of Abram, the Israelites, God has been faithful in keeping His covenant, in sending a Messiah. Even in our unfaithfulness as God’s children, He is faithful in continuing to pour out on us His love and forgiveness.
 
God’s covenant has always been a covenant that pointed to Jesus. All the ceremonial laws, all the sacrifices, always pointed to the one ultimate, once and for all sacrifice of Jesus on the cross for our forgiveness.
 
As history bears out, the children of Abram, that is the children of Israel rejected Jesus, thus unless one believes in Jesus they are outside the covenant. Indeed, the first Christians were those of the children of Israel who did believe in Jesus as the Messiah. Those who did not believe have been and are outside the covenant. Again we see it was and is a covenant of grace and faith.
 
Even today, God gives us faith, through Holy Baptism, through His Word so that unless one believes they are outside the covenant. Yes, there are even those who attend Divine Service, those who attend without faith who are outside the covenant.
 
Jesus is the fulfillment, the true Israel in all its sense. Jesus was conceived and born as a human being in order to live a perfect life for us in our place according to God’s command because we cannot and He did live perfectly. Jesus perfectly obeyed all the commandments, never disobeying, never sinning even once.
 
Jesus perfectly fulfilled all the law and prophets. All the prophecies which pointed to Jesus, all the promises of the coming Savior, Jesus fulfilled completely and perfectly. After fulfilling all things perfectly He took our sins, all our sins, and all the sins of all people, of all places, of all times, even those sins we have yet to commit, upon Himself and He suffered and died to pay the price for those sins. He suffered hell for us in our place. And He rose from the dead, victorious over sin, death and the devil. And now He gives us faith, forgiveness and life!
 
As we prepare ourselves to celebrate once again, the birth of our Savior, our Messiah, our Christ, we are reminded of God’s promises and their fulfillment in Jesus. And we are reminded of the gifts He continues to pour out on us even today, faith, forgiveness, life and salvation. Thus, we rejoice and say to Him be the glory for Jesus’ sake. Amen.

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

What's Different About You Lutherans - Explaining Holy Baptism

(This article was included in our church's December Newsletter. This article and the ones following, will be posted each month as printed. I pray they will be helpful to those who wish to share the joy of being Lutheran with others so they might rejoice in the same grace.)
 
Last month you may recall we began talking about giving an answer for the hope that we have in Jesus, that is giving an answer for our faith and why we are Lutheran and why we believe what we believe. This month we continue by giving an answer for our teaching of Holy Baptism, that is why we believe Holy Baptism is so important and why baptizing as soon after birth is so important.
 
In order to fully understand Holy Baptism as a Sacrament given by God, one must first understand that from which Baptism is given, which is the Sacrament of Circumcision. In the Old Testament God make a person His child through Circumcision. Abram was made a child of God through the outward marking of Circumcision, as were his children and their children and so on. This marking of God upon His people was done at the age of eight days. In circumcision one was marked and made a part of God’s family. Paul lays this out for us in his letter to the Colossians, “8See to it that no one takes you captive by philosophy and empty deceit, according to human tradition, according to the elemental spirits of the world, and not according to Christ. 9For in him the whole fullness of deity dwells bodily, 10and you have been filled in him, who is the head of all rule and authority. 11In him also you were circumcised with a circumcision made without hands, by putting off the body of the flesh, by the circumcision of Christ, 12having been buried with him in baptism, in which you were also raised with him through faith in the powerful working of God, who raised him from the dead” (Colossians 2:8-12). God’s Word to us through Paul today is to encourage us not to be deceived by human reason and tradition which puts more emphasis in the one being made a child of God rather than the One making us a child of God.
 
After Jesus fulfilled all righteousness in His circumcision at the age of eight days, He then proceeded to give us something new in how we are now to be identified as children of God. As Jesus presented Himself to John the Baptist to be baptized with water and the Holy Spirit, He continued to fulfill all righteousness. And just as Jesus was circumcised only once, so He was baptized only once.
 
Peter connects Holy Baptism to God’s work of washing the world through the waters of the flood as we read, “18For Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, that he might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh but made alive in the spirit, 19in which he went and proclaimed to the spirits in prison, 20because they formerly did not obey, when God’s patience waited in the days of Noah, while the ark was being prepared, in which a few, that is, eight persons, were brought safely through water. 21Baptism, which corresponds to this, now saves you, not as a removal of dirt from the body but as an appeal to God for a good conscience, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ, 22who has gone into heaven and is at the right hand of God, with angels, authorities, and powers having been subjected to him” (1 Peter 3:18-22). Just as God saved Noah and his family in the Ark, keeping them from drowning in the waters of the flood, which cleansed the world, so God saves us through the waters of Holy Baptism, which drowns the Old Adam so that the New Man rises, so Peter pointedly says, “Baptism . . . now saves you.”
 
Although the Children of Israel broke God’s covenant so that the original earthly part of the covenant is no longer valid, but is null and void (the earthly promises of an earthly land), God never broke His part of the covenant, that part which pointed to the ultimate fulfillment in His heavenly land. So, even though we no longer need to observe the ceremonial law of circumcision, God has given us His Holy Sacrament of Holy Baptism in which He comes to us and gives to us faith, forgiveness and eternal life.
 
Holy Baptism is not something we do, just as circumcision was not something an eight day old child would do to himself. And certainly if circumcision was done on the eight day, marking one as a part of God’s family, we would understand that Holy Baptism would be done as early as possible marking one as a part of God’s family. Indeed, Jesus says to make disciples of all nations (Matthew 28:19), and just as one is a part of a nation at birth, so God would have us become a part of His family at birth or as early as possible.
 
To point to self when speaking of Holy Baptism is to be deceived by human reason and gives the impression that one can save oneself. Indeed, just as a drowning person cannot save themself, or they would not be drowning, and just as a child cannot choose to be conceived, neither can we choose God or choose to be baptized or choose to save ourselves.
 
Holy Baptism rightly understood is a gift from God, a Sacrament, which is a sacred act wherein God comes to us, and through the hands of the called and ordained servant of the Lord, the Pastor, He puts water and His name on us, marking us as one of His dear children and a part of His heavenly kingdom. This baptizing need only be done once, because, after all God gets it right the first time. And yet, as we live our daily lives we are often reminded of our baptism (which is why we make the sign of the cross as a reminder) so that we are reminded that we belong to God and He has so many gifts and blessing He desire to pour out on us daily, forgiveness, life and salvation.

Sunday, November 27, 2016

God Gives Spiritual Blessings - November 27, 2016 - First Sunday in Advent - Text: Isaiah 2:1-5

Happy New Year, or better, Happy New Church Year. Today we celebrate the beginning of our new Church year. Over the past three years I have been preaching from the Epistle lessons, that is I have used the Epistle lessons as the texts for my sermons. Last Sunday we completed the third year of readings and this Sunday we begin again with the first series of readings, Series A. Perhaps a word of instruction at this point might be in order. Many years ago wise men sat down and “mapped out” the Bible readings we have for Sunday morning worship. This “mapping out” of the Bible readings is known as a Lectionary. The Lectionary gives the Bible readings for each Sunday as well as for occasional Sundays, Feast and Saint Sundays as well as any other special Sundays. For each of these Sundays or events we are given an Old Testament Reading, an Epistle Reading and a Gospel reading. And included with our Propers for the day , those parts of the service which change every Sunday, we are given a Psalm as well as the Introit, Gradual and Collect. Anyway, with the three year Lectionary series, over the course of three years we hear much of the Word of the Bible. In the first year we hear especially from the Gospel of Matthew, in the second year, the Gospel of Mark and in the third year the Gospel of Luke with the Gospel of John used to fill in certain Sundays. Also, the readings correlate with the season of the church year and an attempt is made so that all three readings relate to each other, or if that is not possible, at least two readings relate to each other. The same is true for the one year series which some congregations use, except that there are less readings. With that said, we use the three year Lectionary and this year we are back at Series A. And for the most part, this year I will be preaching from the Old Testament Lessons.
 
The season of Advent is the beginning of our new church year and we use this time of advent to prepare ourselves for our celebration of Jesus first coming, His birth in Bethlehem on which we celebrate on Christmas eve and Christmas day. And we celebrate for the full twelve days of Christmas which does not end on Christmas as our secular world seems to think, but we begin on Christmas and celebrate for twelve days until Epiphany, January sixth. It was this first coming of Jesus that ushered in the Kingdom of God on earth as well as ushered in Jesus journey to the cross and our forgiveness and eternal salvation. As we get into our text we notice that it talks about the last days. The last days began with Jesus incarnation, in other words, it was Jesus birth, true God taking on the form of a human being, that ushered in the kingdom of God and the last days. We are not waiting for the kingdom of God to appear as some think, teach and believe, because it is here. The kingdom of God is here. We are living in the last days.
 
The prophet Isaiah always pointed forward. He pointed, not only to Jesus first coming, in Bethlehem, but he also pointed to Jesus second coming, His coming to judge the living and the dead. At the end of the church year we speak about Jesus coming on Judgement day or our going to Him at our passing and our need to be ready for either of those certainties, remember last Sunday’s sermon? Here at the beginning of the church year we focus more on Jesus first coming. This morning, as we have the advantage of seeing Isaiah’s prophecies already fulfilled in Jesus’ first coming, we are better able to know for certain that this is the fulfillment of God’s Word through him and so as we concentrate on his words we do so seeing Jesus as the one promised, the Messiah, the Savior of the world.
 
The last days of the world began with Jesus birth and include Jesus perfect life, His taking our sins upon Himself, His suffering and death on the cross, and His resurrection. By His work on the cross Jesus not only ushered in the Kingdom of God here on earth, but also made us a part of His Kingdom. By grace, through faith, we are members of the Kingdom of God. This is not something we will have, but it is our now. Yes, we will wait to move in, but heaven is ours right now!
 
And the last days include the sending of the Holy Spirit on Pentecost. It is the Holy Spirit, working through the means of grace, the Word and the Sacraments, Holy Baptism and the Lord’s Supper, who brings us to faith and keeps us in faith. This is not our choosing, earning or deserving, this is all gift. God chooses us. Jesus earned, paid for our salvation. Salvation belongs to our God and He freely gives it to us. He gives us faith, forgiveness and life.
 
We are living in the kingdom of God here on earth and will continue to do so until our own passing, our own physical death or until His second coming. Jesus second coming will be on the last day, on Judgement day. At His Second coming He will separate the sheep from the goats. He will separate the believers from the unbelievers.
 
After separating the sheep, the believers, from the goats, the unbelievers, He will send the goats, the unbelievers to hell. Judgement day is a day of final judgement, there will be no more chances to come to faith, to believe in Jesus. For the unbeliever this will be a very sad day, indeed.
 
For the believers, for us, He will take the sheep, the faithful, the believers, us, to heaven to enjoy perfect peace, the peace that only He can give, the peace which passes all understanding.
 
We are living in the kingdom of God and we are waiting for Jesus second coming. Up until that time, God has sent the Holy Spirit to work through the means of grace, the Word and the Sacraments, to bring people to faith. It is God who gives faith. Faith is not something that we go out looking for, it is not something that we find, it is not something we get or declare. Faith is a gift from God, worked in our hearts by the Holy Spirit at our baptism and through God’s Word. Faith is what the Holy Spirit gives to us which is what reaches out and grabs and takes hold of all the gifts that God has to give, the gifts of forgiveness of sins, eternal life, and salvation.
 
Not only does the Holy Spirit work faith in our hearts, through the means of grace, the Word and the Sacraments, but also He works in our hearts to strengthen us in our faith, in our ability to take hold of and be given the gifts God gives. Faith is not something that is stagnant, it is either growing or shrinking, it does not stay idle. In other words, it is a misnomer to think that I can stay in one place in my faith. If a person is not growing in their faith, then they are losing their faith. And, yes, faith is something that can be lost. That is why divine service and Bible class attendance, personal and family devotions, personal reading of the Bible and prayer time are so important. God works through these means to strengthen us in our faith. When we absent ourselves from these means, we remove the very means God has of giving us His gifts and we could lose our faith.
 
The Holy Spirit works through the means of grace, the Word and the Sacraments, to bring us to faith, to strengthen us in our faith, and to keep us in faith. The most dreadful thing in the world that could ever happen to us would be for the Holy Spirit to bring us to faith and for us to stay away from God’s gifts until we have completely lost our faith. Praise the Lord that He has given us His Holy Spirit who moves in us to have a desire to continue to hear God’s Word and to be given His gifts so that we are strengthen in our faith and so that we are kept in faith until He comes again to take us to heaven.
 
Our faith life and faith walk with Jesus is first and foremost the work of the Holy Spirit. Our faith life and faith walk is the Holy Spirit working faith in our hearts, strengthening us in our faith and keeping us in faith and it is the Holy Spirit working in us so that we might respond to these gifts from God. Dr. Luther put our response this way, “For all this it is my duty to thank and praise, serve and obey Him.” Unfortunately that word “duty” implies something that we have to do, that is why I like the word privilege better. It is my privilege to thank and praise, serve and obey Him. This is something unbelievers cannot do, because they do not believe in Jesus.
 
But my privilege goes beyond being able to thank and praise, serve and obey Him it also entails “that I may be His own and live under Him in His kingdom and serve Him in everlasting righteousness, innocence, and blessedness, just as He is risen from the dead, lives and reigns to all eternity.” The ultimate privilege of being a Christian is the inheritance of heaven, earned for us by Jesus death on the cross, made ours by the Holy Spirit working faith in our hearts.
 
Our faith life and faith walk is really, not something we do, rather it is something God does in and through us. It is recognizing that everything I have, that faith, forgiveness, life and salvation, are gifts from God and all I can do is to respond to these many gifts and blessings from the Lord. This means that I confess and admit that “I cannot by my own reason our strength believe in Jesus Christ, my Lord, or come to Him; but the Holy Spirit has called me by the Gospel, enlightened me with His gifts, sanctified and kept me in the true faith. In the same way He calls, gathers, enlightens and sanctifies the whole Christian church on earth, and keeps it with Jesus Christ in the one true faith. In this Christian Church He daily and richly forgives all my sins and the sins of all believers. On the Last Day He will raise me and all the dead, and give eternal life to me and all believers in Christ.”
 
Our Epistle lesson for today talks about the present time, it talks about the hour that has come. Our Gospel lesson reminds us to “be ready, because the Son of Man will come at an hour when you do not expect him.” How fitting that the time of the beginning of our Advent season, the time of the beginning of the Church year is the time that we are reminded of our faith life and faith walk, about our Lord and the many good gifts and blessings He has given, gives and continues to pour out on us, faith, forgiveness, life and salvation, and about our response to God’s many good gifts and blessings. How fitting that we are reminded of the many good gifts and blessing we have been given and will continue to be given by the Lord. How fitting that we are reminded of the most important gift from the Lord, the gift of faith which helps us to grab hold of all the other gifts and blessings our Lord has to give to us. Because it is this gift of faith which brings us the ultimate gift of all, the gift of forgiveness of sins and eternal life in heaven with Jesus who will return at any hour, at the hour we do not expect. Come Lord, Jesus, come quickly, we are ready. To God be the glory for Jesus’ sake. Amen.

Wednesday, November 23, 2016

Shout for Joy and Sing - November 23, 2016 - Thanksgiving Eve - Text: Psalm 65:1-13

How fitting it is that we celebrate a national day of thanksgiving. That does not mean that this is the only day we are thankful for all the blessings our Lord has bestowed on us. We are thankful every day, or at least we should be thankful every day. We have so many things for which to be thankful and really only so many days on this earth in which to express our thanks to our Lord. Yet, it is not as if God needs our expression of thanks, but that we need to express our thanks out of the overflow from our hearts. This evening my message is based on the Psalm which we read responsively for the Introit. If you would like you may follow along in the bulletin as we use this Psalm to help us give thanks to the Lord.
 
The Psalmist begins by praising God for (v. 1-4) the mercy with which He rules out of Zion. In verse one he reminds us to praise the Lord as He rules over us from heaven. Our God is not a God who is a far off, rather He is a God who is very near to us. He is in heaven watching over us and ruling over us and at the same time He is right here with us. For where two are three are gathered in my name, there I am in the midst of them.
 
In verse two he reminds us to praise the Lord as He hears our prayers and answers them. Our God is not a God who turns a deaf ear to our petitions, rather He is a God who hears our every prayer and answers our every prayer, according to our need and according to His good and gracious will.
 
In verse three he reminds us to praise the Lord as He forgives our sins. Our God is not a God of vengeance, rather our God is a God of love, who loved us so much that He sent His one and only Son, to suffer and die on the cross for our forgiveness.
 
In verse four he reminds us to praise the Lord as He has chosen us to be His children, indeed each of us are reminded that He chose me to be His child. Our God is not an impersonal God, rather our God is a God who loves each one of us. He has chosen us to be His own. At our Baptism He has put His name on us. He has made us His.
 
The Psalmist praises God for (v. 5-8) the loving kindness which Israel as a people among the peoples has experienced. We can relate well to this because our great God also shows His loving kindness to us. In verse five the Psalmist reminds us to praise the Lord as He answers us with awesome deeds of righteousness. The deeds of righteousness with which the Lord answers us include our conversion, that is bringing us to faith, especially through the waters of Holy Baptism and His Word, earning our forgiveness on the cross, giving us life, eternal life and salvation.
 
In verse five he also reminds us to praise the Lord as He is our hope and is the hope for all the world. Here we are reminded that not only is Jesus our personal Savior, that is, not only did He die on the cross for me personally, He is also the Savior of all people of all time of all places.
 
In verse six he reminds us to praise the Lord as He is the Creator and Preserver of all things, of all the world. With these words the Psalmist reminds us that our God not only created the world and all things, but that He is also always with us with His ever preserving hand. God is not watching us from a distance, He is right here with us. It is the all preserving hand of the Father who keeps this world going.
 
In verse seven he reminds us to praise the Lord as He has power over the seas, the wind, the rain, over all nations. It is God who tends this world, giving us the rain in its season. He gives us the sun by day and the moon by night. He gives us the four seasons for planting, growing and harvesting. And His promise, contrary to what is believed by some in our society, is that the seasons, seed time and harvest will remain until the end.
 
In verse eight he reminds us to praise the Lord as He gives us each day, morning to evening. The Psalmist reminds us that each day is a gift from God. Yesterday is over that is why we call it the past. Tomorrow has yet to come, that is why we call it the future. Today is a gift from God, that is why we call it the present.
 
The Psalmist praises God for the past and (v. 9-13) the present year’s rich blessings, which He has bestowed upon the land of His people. In verse nine the Psalmist reminds us to praise the Lord as He sends the rain to water the earth. God gives us the rain.
 
In verse nine he also reminds us to praise the Lord as He waters the crops for an abundant harvest. God gives us the rain so that the crops grow so that we have an abundant harvest. Rain and harvest are gifts from God.
 
In verse ten he reminds us to praise the Lord as He sends the rain as we need it. God knows our needs and supplies them accordingly.
 
In verse eleven he reminds us to praise the Lord as He abundantly gives us bounty from His gracious hand. God gives everything and we are given everything. God gives graciously.
 
In verse twelve he reminds us to praise the Lord as He even cares for the desert which is ignored by man. God remembers and cares for even the little things about which we forget, the things for which we are negligent in caring, and the most seemingly menial things, the Lord cares for them all.
 
In verse thirteen he reminds us to praise the Lord as He covers the earth with meat and grain to eat. God supplies us with all that we need and more than we need.
 
In verse thirteen he also reminds us to praise the Lord, shout for joy and sing. Our response is to worship and praise the Lord. Our response is to receive the gifts that He has to give, shout for joy and sing praises to His Holy Name.
 
The only way to sum up this Psalm. The only way to answer, “What does this mean?” to this Psalm is to go back to Dr. Luther’s Small Catechism and to remind ourselves of his explanations of the articles of the Apostles’ creed. I say that because the Apostles’ Creed so well expresses our belief in God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit. And Dr. Luther’s explanations so well explain what our great God does for us and gives to us as our God. I want you to follow along and read along with me. Please turn in your hymnal to page 322.
 
In the first article we confess that I believe in God the Father who is the giver of all. This means (please read with me): I believe that God has made me and all creatures; that He has given me my body and soul, eyes, ears, and all my members, my reason and all my senses, and still takes care of them. He also gives me clothing and shoes, food and drink, house and home, wife and children, land, animals, and all I have. He richly and daily provides me with all that I need to support this body and life. He defends me against all danger and guards and protects me from all evil. All this He does only out of fatherly, divine goodness and mercy, without any merit or worthiness in me. For all this it is my duty to thank and praise, serve and obey Him. This is most certainly true.
 
In the second article we confess that I believe in God the Son who is the giver of all. This means (please read with me): I believe that Jesus Christ, true God, begotten of the Father from eternity, and also true man, born of the Virgin Mary, is my Lord, who has redeemed me, a lost and condemned person, purchased and won me from all sins, from death, and from the power of the devil; not with gold or silver, but with His holy, precious blood and with His innocent suffering and death, that I may be His own and live under Him in His kingdom and serve Him in everlasting righteousness, innocence, and blessedness, just as He is risen from the dead, lives and reigns to all eternity. This is most certainly true.
 
And in the third article we confess I believe in God the Holy Spirit giver of all. This means (please read with me): I believe that I cannot by my own reason our strength believe in Jesus Christ, my Lord, or come to Him; but the Holy Spirit has called me by the Gospel, enlightened me with His gifts, sanctified and kept me in the true faith. In the same way He calls, gathers, enlightens and sanctifies the whole Christian church on earth, and keeps it with Jesus Christ in the one true faith. In this Christian Church He daily and richly forgives all my sins and the sins of all believers. On the Last Day He will raise me and all the dead, and give eternal life to me and all believers in Christ. This is most certainly true.
 
This evening we come especially to give thanks and praise to God for His many good gifts and blessings. This does not mean that this is the only time we acknowledge and confess that God is the giver of all, rather this is just an extra day, an extra opportunity, a special time to give Him thanks and praise. To God be the glory for Jesus’ sake. Amen.

Sunday, November 20, 2016

Jesus, True God, Creator, Redeemer, Sanctifier - November 20, 2016 - Last Sunday of the Church Year (Proper 29) - Text: Colossians 1:13-20


We get it right when we point to Jesus. We get it wrong when we point to ourselves. Why? Because we are conceived and born in sin and every inclination of our hearts is evil all the time. We sin, but Jesus was conceived and born without sin and He lived a perfect life. He never sinned. Thus, we point to Jesus who gives us forgiveness, faith, life and salvation. Today is the last Sunday in our present church year, it is our New Church Year’s Eve of sorts. This Thursday we will celebrate a national day of giving thanks, of course we will celebrate in worship on Wednesday evening, and then next Sunday we will begin a brand new Church year, a new year to prepare for our celebration of Jesus’ birth, to prepare for His suffering and death and to celebrate His resurrection which then is followed by another year of being given His gifts through the rest of the church year; quiet a wonderful way of living our Christian faith.
 
In our text for today we are reminded of who Jesus is. When we talk about Jesus, the Christ, we call this “Christology,” or the study of Christ. In the first part of our text we read of Jesus, who is true God, and who was at creation. “13He has delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son, 14in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins. 15He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. 16For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things were created through him and for him. 17And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together” (v. 15-17).
 
Jesus is true God as He was with God the Father and the Holy Spirit at the creation of the world. Even in Genesis chapter one verse one the Hebrew word for God is in the plural, not that we worship a plurality of gods, that is we are not polytheistic, but that we worship one God who reveals Himself to us in three distinct persons.
 
As we confess in the doctrines or teachings of the church, Jesus is always one with the Father and the Holy Spirit. In the Athanasian Creed which we use once a year on Trinity Sunday, we confess the unity of God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit. You might remember that rather lengthy confession, it is on page 319-320 in your hymnal. You might remember that what we say of the Father we say of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, what we say of the Son we say of the Father and of the Holy Spirit and what we say of the Holy Spirit we say of the Father and of the Son.
 
The point of this confession is that Jesus is true God and He had to be true God in order to be born in perfection. Jesus had to be perfect because of our imperfection. If He were imperfect then He would be in the same boat as we are in, in need of forgiveness and perfection.
 
The second part of our Christology study brings us to hear that not only is Jesus truly God, but He is also true man. “18And he is the head of the body, the church. He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in everything he might be preeminent. 19For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, 20and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether” (v. 18-20).
 
Jesus is truly human, as we confess in the creeds, being born of the human woman, Mary. Jesus was conceived in the same way you and I were conceived, except that His Father was not a sinful human father like yours and mine. Jesus was conceived by the power of the Holy Spirit, again as we confess. So, Jesus is truly God, as God is His Father and truly man as Mary is His mother.
 
Jesus is God in flesh, He is God who took on human flesh in order to live as a human. The only difference is that Jesus lived in perfection. Jesus came to live the life demanded of us, a perfect life. Adam and Eve were created in perfection and the expectation was that they would be perfect and live in perfection. Because of their disobedience and sin God cursed the earth and now we live in imperfection. Jesus came to make all things right so He came to live perfectly according to God’s demand. And He did. Jesus obeyed all of God’s laws and commandments perfectly. He also fulfilled all God’s promises concerning Himself as the Messiah/Savior, perfectly.
 
As a man, having lived in perfection, then Jesus took our sins, all our sins, as well as the sins of all people who have ever and will ever live, of all places on Himself and He suffered and died paying the price for sin, which is eternal spiritual death, hell. Jesus took the punishment which should have been ours. Jesus suffered for us in our place. Jesus gives us the greatest gift, the gift He purchased and won for us, the gift that gives us eternal life, that is the gift of forgiveness of sins. Forgiveness is the greatest gift because without forgiveness we would be left in our sins and we would be eternally condemned, but with forgiveness is life and salvation.
 
Jesus is true man and had to be true man in order to substitute His life for ours. When it comes to substitutions as we say you cannot compare apples and oranges, thus neither can you substitute unlike things, God for man. Jesus was a human so He could substitute His humanity for our humanity. And He did just that for us because of His great love for us.
 
What Does This Mean? As we approach the end of our present Church year we are reminded of the fact that we are also approaching the end of our earthly lives, either at our own passing or the Lord’s return. When will the Lord return? No one knows, not even Jesus, but only God the Father. When will we die? Again, no one knows, but God. However, I do believe we can agree on the fact that each day we live brings us one day closer to both of those eventualities, either the Lord’s return or our passing on and going to Him. The question we need to ask ourselves each and every day is are we ready for either of these days, the Lord’s return or our own passing? Indeed, this is the ultimate question because this earth and our lives in this world are fast and fleeting and compared to eternity our lives on this earth truly are nothing compared to our eternity either in heaven or not in heaven.
 
How do we face this eventual certainty? Jesus’ life, death and resurrection bring us comfort and confidence as we approach our own earthly end. Because God’s demand is perfection and because we know that we are imperfect, no matter how hard we try and very often our attempts are simply to place our imperfections alongside one more imperfect than ourselves so we do not look as imperfect, as if that makes us more perfect, yet we still see our sin. Of course, that is the purpose of the commandments, to be a mirror through which we see our sin and imperfection. That is also the purpose of the law, to show us our sin. It is only as we see our sin and the severity of our sin that we can truly hear the Gospel and the comfort we have in Jesus’ perfection for us in our place.
 
All history points to Jesus and so we are pointed to Jesus. Have you ever noticed how even our time designation, B.C., before Christ and A.D., Anno Domini, in the year of our Lord, or after death as we say, points us to Jesus as the center of all history. Even our Old Testament which points forward to Jesus and our New Testament which points us back to Jesus, centers all history on Jesus. So we point to Jesus.
 
Too often we forget or need the reminder that Jesus had us in mind from the start of creation and even before. From the moment of creation He thought of us and He created us in order to love us. During His life Jesus had us in mind so that He was living His life for us, for you and for me. While He was on the cross Jesus was thinking of us, and following His resurrection He had us in mind.
 
The whole purpose of Jesus’ life was to reconcile us to Himself by paying the price for our sins. Jesus loves us so much. He reconciled us by paying the price that we owe, that is He shed His blood, paying the price for our sins.
 
Thus, our confidence as we approach the end of the church year and our own earthly end should we pass on before our Lord returns, is always and only in Jesus. The whole of Jesus’ life has always been and always will be on us. He created us to love us. He loves us even though in His foreknowledge, that is even though He knew Adam and Eve would mess up everything, He created us anyway. He loves us so much that He lived for us, took our sins, suffered, died and rose for us. We are His and He loves us. Today He pours out His love for us through the blessings of Holy Baptism wherein He puts His name on us and marks us as His own. He pours out His love for us through confession and absolution wherein He gives us forgiveness of sins. He pours out His love for us through His Word which does and gives what it says. And He pours out His love on us through His body and blood in His Holy Supper, given and shed for you for the forgiveness of sins. Indeed, through these very tangible, earthly things God gives us His good gifts and blessings.
 
Today is New Church Year Sunday Eve. Today we conclude our current Church Year. How much longer, how many more days, even years will our Lord give to us and to our world. We do not know. No one knows, and I would suspect that is a good thing. As Luther is said to have remarked, “If I knew the Lord would return tomorrow I would plant a tree today.” And so we live our lives in the same way, with eager anticipation. Each day we live as if it might be our last, not in decadence, but in humble submission and faith. Each day we live being prepared for the Lord’s return or our passing on to Him. Each day we live in joyous faith and hope, which is a certainty of our eternal life in heaven with Him who created us, who loves us, who redeemed us, and who gives us all we need, faith, forgiveness, life and salvation. Thanks be to God and to Him be the glory for Jesus’ sake. Amen.

Monday, November 7, 2016

What’s Different about You Lutherans? (Or why I am Lutheran)

(This article was included in our church's November Newsletter. This article and the ones following, as mentioned in this article, will be posted each month as printed. I pray they will be helpful to those who wish to share the joy of being Lutheran with others so they might rejoice in the same grace.)
 
On the Mount of Ascension Jesus addressed His disciples and told them that all authority in heaven and on earth had been given Him, implying that He was in turn giving that authority to them, and to us. The authority He gives is that as we are going, that is as we are living our lives in our various vocations, we are to make learners, disciples of Jesus, and we do that by baptizing and teaching. And then we have the promise that He is with us, even to the end of the age. We know that as we have the opportunity to give an answer for our faith in Him, He gives us His authority to speak such Word, as well as the promise that He is with us and will even give us the very word He would have us to speak.
 
So, how is this done? After our Vacation Bible School closing program this past summer someone approached me and asked, what is it that is different about you Lutherans? “Oh ho,” I said to myself. “Someone has asked me a question and so now I have an opportunity to give an answer.” Interestingly enough, it is only as we are asked questions that someone is truly interested in what we have to say. In other words, we might speak of our faith all the time, but unless someone wants to know, they really are not paying attention.
 
So, how do we answer such a question? Would that more people ask us what is different about us Lutherans so we might boldly, with God’s authority, give an answer. My answer at the time and continues even today to be of such: We Lutherans have a better understanding of Justification and Sanctification, a better understanding of the proper distinction between Law and Gospel, a better understanding of God’s grace and mercy, and a better understanding of the Sacraments. Next month we will discuss our better understanding of Holy Baptism and the following month our better understanding of the Lord’s Supper.
 
I would pray that each one of us is always ready to give an answer for the hope that we have in Christ and further I would pray that each one of us is asked what hope we have so that we might give an answer. How do we answer and how do we know what to answer? One answer we might easily give is the Apostles’ Creed as the Apostles’ Creed gives a simple short answer of what we believe about God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit. But I believe we can do better than simply speaking our words of faith. I would pray that we would be able to enunciate clearly what we believe, teach and confess. How and from where do we get our words of witness? We get our words of witness from the Lord and His Word, from our reading our Portals of Prayer. How often it is that the morning devotion contains the answer for the afternoon question I am asked. We get our words of witness from our family devotions and personal reading of God’s Word. We get our words of witness from our Divine Service attendance and especially from our Bible Class study. It is only as we are filled with the Lord’s Word that the Holy Spirit can access our brains data banks to have the words to give an answer for the faith and hope in Christ we have, thus as you hear me constantly speak, regular and diligent use of the means of grace is so important, not only for ourselves, but also for our ability to give an answer.
 
As we approach the 500th anniversary of the Reformation (October 31, 2017) there will be more and more opportunities for our family, neighbors and friends to hear something about the Reformation and Lutherans, and I would pray that we would be able to give an answer as to how we are different, why we are different and how great it is that we are different and what a wonderful message and answer we have for them. And certainly we would invite them to “come and see Jesus.”

Sunday, November 6, 2016

Washed in the Blood of the Lamb - November 6, 2016 - All Saints’ Day (Twenty-fifth Sunday after Pentecost) - Text: Revelation 7:(2-8) 9-17


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