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.

Thursday, June 22, 2017

The Lutheran Difference - Explaining Doctrinal Consistency

I am Lutheran because of the consistency of the teachings of the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod (LCMS) throughout the church body as a whole. Having said that, I would confess that today this consistency is not quite as strong as it has been over years past for the simple fact that, as congregations have changed their practices, they have also adopted new doctrines which are not as consistent with all congregations. Although there are differences in doctrine and practice in LCMS congregations, there is the same underlining doctrine of justification by grace through faith in Jesus Christ alone, as well as a proper distinction between Law and Gospel and a right administration and understanding of the sacraments.

I am fascinated with the inconsistency of the churches of my evangelical friends (those of Calvinest, Reformed, Anabaptist, “non-denominational” backgrounds) who have no trouble moving from church to church, following one pastor or another, changing their doctrines according to the whims of the pastor, or those who simply change pastors and then follow whatever doctrinal changes the pastor wants to make. How in the world do you believe anything if what you believe is constantly in flux and changing? One pastor says that dancing is a sin. He leaves, and the next pastor says dancing is okay. The pastor I like relocates, and so I relocate with him. What is the foundation of my belief? Should my company move me to another location, how do I go about finding a church home? I guess I go to one that makes me feel comfortable. What about being as the Bereans? And to what do we hold the pastor accountable if there is no standard of teaching?

For the most part, those of the Roman, Orthodox, Anglican, Episcopalian, Lutheran, etc. denominations have a set of unmovable, unshaken doctrine. This unmovable, unshaken doctrine is the standard by which one can rightly “examine the Scriptures daily to see if these things were so” (Acts 17:11b). If there is no standard, how can one be sure if what is said is so?

In the LCMS church if a pastor takes a call, then the congregation calling a pastor can rest assured that the pastor they call has subscribed, that is has made a confession of faith, to the Lutheran confessions so that they know he will teach the same doctrine as the man who was before him. They do not need to be concerned about whether or not something that was sin is now not sin or something that was not sin is now sin. And should one move from one LCMS church to another LCMS church, they can be sure that the same doctrine will continue to be taught in their new congregation.

As many have certainly heard, “you have to stand for something or you will fall for anything.” While many churches of many denominations do not publish what they stand for, their core confessions or statement of faith, the LCMS Church boldly presents our confessions for others to read and hear. Indeed, they are all posted on the lcms.org website for all to read.

Sunday, June 18, 2017

You Will Be for Me a Holy Nation - June 18, 2017 - Second Sunday after Pentecost (Proper 06) - Text: Exodus 19:2-8a

Two weeks ago we celebrated Pentecost Sunday and the giving of the Holy Spirit. Last Sunday we celebrated Holy Trinity Sunday and the fact that we worship a God who has revealed Himself to us as Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Pentecost Sunday brought us to an end of our Easter Season, but not an end to our resurrection celebration. Indeed, the very reason we worship on Sunday is because each and every Sunday is for us Christians an Easter celebration. Today we move into what we call the non-festival portion of our church year and the season of Pentecost. The non-festival portion of our church year is that portion in which we do not have a lot of celebrations, as we did with Advent, Christmas, Epiphany, Lent, and Easter. This non-festival portion of our church year continues until Advent. So, beginning today and for the next twenty some odd Sundays we will hear the Sunday as the Sunday after Pentecost.
 
Today is also a secular holiday as most of you know. Just as it is fitting and as we did celebrate mothers and motherhood a few weeks ago, so today we fittingly celebrate fathers and fatherhood today. So let us acknowledge our dads and say, Happy Father’s Day to all our fathers here today and we are glad you are here.
 
Our text for this morning is our Old Testament reading and it reminds us that we can never truly be independent as we might think ourselves to be. While this inability to be independent is especially true in our spiritual life, it is also true in our daily life as well. We are constantly dependent on other people for many things in life. We depend on the grocery store to have a supply of food to purchase. We depend on the city to make sure we have water. We depend on the power company for gas and electricity. We depend on so many people in our world. As a nation we may be independent from the rule of any other nation and we elect our own leaders, but we must never forget that we are never independent from God. It is when we begin to forget that we are dependent on God that we begin to fall prey to other temptations, which we can see is happening in our nation today.
 
With our own independence and our nations independence in mind, let us look at our text and see how God related to the nation of Israel and how dependent they were on Him. Very briefly, the background of our text is that the children of Israel had just experienced the first Passover. They had witnessed the lose of the oldest child in each Egyptian family. They had been lead out of Egypt, safely through the Red Sea. They saw the Egyptian army drown in the Red Sea. Now here they were at the base of the mountain, ready to receive the Lord’s commands.
 
Our text begins with God reminding Moses and the Israelites of all that He had done for them. We read, “3while Moses went up to God. The Lord called to him out of the mountain, saying, “Thus you shall say to the house of Jacob, and tell the people of Israel: 4You yourselves have seen what I did to the Egyptians, and how I bore you on eagles’ wings and brought you to myself” (19:3-4).  The imagery of the eagle is one which brought to mind that God is a strong, yet caring God. The eagle is the symbol of strength. It is a very strong bird, but the eagle is also a bird which cares for its young. When the mother eagle is teaching her young to fly she takes them high in the sky and lets them go, literally drops them. As they fall helplessly toward the earth the mother swoops quickly under the baby bird in order to safely catch it before it hits the ground. Here in our text God tells Moses to remind the people how much He cares for them, so much that He used His strength to carry them out of their bondage and slavery in Egypt.
 
In verse five He goes on to explain to Moses His plan for making His covenant with the Israelites and what is their part of the plan. We read, “5Now therefore, if you will indeed obey my voice and keep my covenant, you shall be my treasured possession among all peoples, for all the earth is mine” (19:5). Israel’s part of God’s plan was simply to obey the commands of God. God said, if you obey me then all nations will be my treasure. God chose Israel to be a part of His plan to save the world, notice to save the world, not just Israel. Israel was to be the mediator of the knowledge of Yahweh, between He and the world. Israel was not to keep their knowledge of God from the rest of the world, they were to be God’s instruments to bring salvation to the rest of the world.
 
God even tells them how they are to do this, “6and you shall be to me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation. These are the words that you shall speak to the people of Israel” (19:6). The Israelites were to be priests, set apart from the rest of the world, in order to serve the living God.  They were to be set apart, wholly consecrated to do the will of God. They were to be a holy nation, different from the surrounding heathen nations. They were to be God’s examples to the world.
 
To all of this the people responded and answered, “All that the Lord has spoken we will do” (19:8). What other response could they give. They had just been reminded of all their so recent experiences and how God so lovingly brought them out of their misery in Egypt. How could they respond with anything except that, “All that the Lord has spoken we will do” (19:8).
 
Are we any different from these people of Israel? I do not think so. Each and every Sunday we are reminded of what our Lord has just done for us, continues to do for us and will continue to do for us. Each and every day as we read our Bible and remember our baptism we are reminded of what all our Great God has done for us. We have seen what God has done for us, how He gave us our very life at our birth, even at our conception. How He gave us new life at our baptism. How He gives us forgiveness on a daily basis. How He gives us His Word and sacraments and how He comes to us through these means. How can we respond any differently from the children of Israel and say anything other than, “All that the Lord has spoken we will do” (19:8).
 
That may be what our response is immediately following our Divine service, but it changes at some point on the way home. Our response that we will do everything changes to something like, “I might do something if I am asked.” So much for our response. Our response becomes a burden. A burden especially for the person to whom you will be the twentieth person to turn down. A burden to you because you really have a great excuse as to why you cannot help with whatever it is you are being ask to consider to do.
 
Our response shows on whom we are depending for our physical necessities as well as for our salvation. We decide how we will respond to all the Lord has first given to us with our time, our talents, and our treasures, how much we will return to the Lord. We decide we need more of what God has given to use in service to Him while we are young, but we will decide to give God more when we get older and can afford to. So much for responding to God’s gifts. Rather than responding to God’s gifts we think we are the master’s of our fate. We think that what we have is ours. We think we are doing God a favor by offering our measly crumbs to Him.
 
When we are asked to volunteer, we sit back and wait to be asked personally. And when we are asked personally to do something, like teach Vacation Bible School, or Sunday School, like being on a Board or committee, we say, “no,” because we think we are supposed to do something, something we think we are not equipped to do. We forget that it is the Lord who works in and through us to teach or to work on any board of committee. We so easily forget what God has done and continues to do for us.
 
God’s covenant to us is the same covenant He made with the children of Israel. He has said that He will be our God and that we will be His people. We are very much in the same situation as the Israelites. We were enslaved, in bondage to sin. Sin was our master and sin still tries to keep us under its bondage. A quick run down of the ten commandments reminds us of our failures. A quick look at our response to God’s work, or rather our lack of response will also remind us of our shortcomings.
 
Because we are slaves to sin, God sent us a mediator. Jesus is our mediator. In much the same way that Moses spoke to God for the children of Israel, Jesus is the one who pleads our case before our Father in heaven. Jesus is also our high priest. He is the one who intercedes, prays, for us before our Father in heaven. Jesus is the ultimate mediator, the ultimate High Priest, because not only does He mediate our case, not only does He offer intercession for us, He gave the ultimate mediation, the ultimate intercession, the ultimate sacrifice of Himself for us on the cross.
 
God asked Israel and us to respond to His saving work by obeying His commands. In the same way that Israel could not perfectly obey God’s commands, neither can we. In the same way the Jesus came as Israel and perfectly fulfilled God’s commands, so Jesus came as you and me to perfectly obey God’s commands. Because of what Jesus did for us, we are His holy nation.
 
I keep telling people in private conversations, and in Bible class, we know we get it right when we point to Jesus, when we do it the way God has given it to us to do and that applies to everything in life, our response of faith of our time, talents and treasure. So to make sure we get it right I want to reread our text. (reread Ex. 19:2-8a) “2They set out from Rephidim and came into the wilderness of Sinai, and they encamped in the wilderness. There Israel encamped before the mountain, 3while Moses went up to God. The Lord called to him out of the mountain, saying, “Thus you shall say to the house of Jacob, and tell the people of Israel: 4You yourselves have seen what I did to the Egyptians, and how I bore you on eagles’ wings and brought you to myself. 5Now therefore, if you will indeed obey my voice and keep my covenant, you shall be my treasured possession among all peoples, for all the earth is mine; 6and you shall be to me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation. These are the words that you shall speak to the people of Israel.” 7So Moses came and called the elders of the people and set before them all these words that the Lord had commanded him. 8All the people answered together and said, “All that the Lord has spoken we will do.” (Exodus 19).
 
Today, as always, we are reminded that God is the prime mover. God gives and we are given to. God gives us life at conception and new life through the waters of Holy Baptism. God calls us to and gives us faith and He calls us to a response of faith. Very much like Israel our initial response is “All that the Lord has spoken we will do.” But then the realities of life settle in and the devil, the world and our sinful nature pull and tug us in other directions. We tend to seek our own independence thinking we are our own person. As the struggles of life close in, God continues to call out to us. He continues to loves us and care for us. As we sink in the muck and mire of this world our Lord reaches out His hand and pulls us out of our sins, washes us, clothes and robes us in His robes of righteousness. Ultimately, through the faith that He gives to us in His Son whom He gave to give His life for ours, He calls us to heaven and seats us at His banqueting table where He feeds us His eternal manna. Today, our response might best be, “All that the Lord has spoken we will fail to do, yet thanks be to God that Jesus has done it all for us and the Holy Spirit works in and through us to imperfectly do some of what His desire is for us to do.” And most certainly He stirs in us to rejoice and say, to God be the glory, for Jesus’ sake. Amen.

Sunday, June 11, 2017

In the Beginning God! - June 11, 2017 - Holy Trinity Sunday - Text: Genesis 1:1-2:4a

This morning we celebrate Holy Trinity Sunday. We celebrate the fact that we worship a God who has revealed Himself to us as one God who is Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Our second lesson from Acts shows us that Jesus is truly God as He was before David, even as He was at creation. Our Gospel lesson reminds us of the trinity in Jesus’ command to baptize in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Our text is the Old Testament lesson and the account of creation with our emphasis this morning being on the “proof” of the trinity at creation. With that said we must confess that, “yes, the word ‘trinity’ is not in the Bible,” but that does not mean that we cannot use it to describe how God reveals Himself to us, that is as a trinity, a three in one, a triune God; Father, Son and Holy Spirit. God clearly describes Himself as being one God as we heard last week, “Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God the Lord is one” (Deut. 6:4). And as being a plurality, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, as we will see.
 
Our text for this morning is the Old Testament Lesson from Genesis and although this text would make for a wonderful sermon recounting the might of our almighty God, that is not our agenda for this morning. Instead, our text for this morning and God’s account of creation is set before us as “proof,” if you will, of the trinity of our God.
 
Before we use this text as “proof” of the trinity, let us take a moment to look at some of the important messages from this Biblical account of creation. As we look at the account of creation and let me say that I am not an expert in science but nonetheless I would put forth that there are basically two theories of how our world came into existence. One theory, posed by human beings who are known to be wrong, is that it came into existence by itself, without God. This theory comes in many forms and variations, and although most are referred to simply as the theory of evolution, I prefer the term “Darwinism” named after its main creator, Charles Darwin. The theory of Darwinism is only a theory and we Christians must also confess that the Creation Account, at least in human terms, is only theory as well, because neither can be proven, because no one, except God, was around at creation, so no one can say with absolute certainty that it happened one way or another. As Christians, however, we take God’s account as fact because we believe that He was there at Creation and because He never gets it wrong. When God speaks it is truth. Darwinians suggests that all that we see came about by its own doing. To me that sounds as reasonable as my suggesting that I was born according to my own doing.
 
With that said, let us take a quick overview of this Biblical account and theory of creation. First, we will make note that this account was recorded by Moses as directed by God. Again, as I just said, no one was around at the creation of the world except God and since God does not lie we accept Moses’ account as God revealed to him and moved him to write. Besides, if you really take a look at the facts of the creation of the world, you will notice that the Biblical explanation fits the facts a lot better than any human explanation, especially since the human explanation is an explanation tainted by sin, and because they change over time. Remember, after God created a perfect world, sin enter the world through Adam and Eve. And if anyone wants to discuss this more in detail, please find me later.
 
Anyway, the Biblical account of creation reminds us that there is an absolute, there is an ultimate authority, and that ultimate authority is God the Creator. Ultimately we will be held accountable to Him. The Biblical account of creation personalizes the creation of the world. The world was thought out, was planned, was designed, was created special. All things in the world have meaning and purpose and as Christians our response is to be good stewards of all things in this world, meaning that we are to take care of the environment, as well as be good humanitarians. As Christians, recognizing that all things were created and given to us by God we will respond with responsible stewardship of all of creation.
 
The Biblical account of creation also reminds us that we are special. We are not just the products of many accidents that happened over millions and billions of years. Rather, we were thought out. We were designed. We were created special. We have a purpose. Our lives have meaning. We are God’s children and have been created to be loved by God. And, as a response of faith, God works in us to live our lives to His glory.
 
With that said, let us move to our trinity emphasis, that is that this creation account is “proof” of the trinity of God in whom we worship. Our text begins with the words, “in the beginning God,” and the word God is in the plural. In Hebrew there is a singular form of the word “god” (El) and a plural form of the word “god”  (Elohim) and the word which is used in our text is the word “god” (Elohim) in the plural. And yet we do not understand the word god in the plural to mean that we worship a pantheism or a polytheism of gods, that is we do not worship a god who is in all things nor a god who is many gods.
 
We are also told in verse two that “the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters.” Here we have another indication that there is more to God than a singleness can encompass. God is God and He is Spirit. In the New Testament we are given the name of God the Spirit as the Holy Spirit and we get a better understanding of God as Father and Son as well as Holy Spirit.
 
Finally, in verse twenty-six, God said, “Let us make man in our image, in our likeness...” Again, we see the plurality of God as He again refers to Himself in the plural. Now, let us not misunderstand God in the plural. As I said, this does not mean that we are polytheistic, in other words this does not mean that we worship a god who is many gods. Remember, we do not make a doctrine, a teaching using only one passage of the Bible, but we keep the Bible as a whole to understand God and what He reveals and gives to us. Thus, when we get to Deuteronomy, we hear the Lord say, “Hear, O Israel: the Lord our God, the Lord is one” Deut. 6:4. Here in Deuteronomy the word god is in the plural and yet He tells us He is one. Thus, we see that this plurality of God is held in His singularness, three persons in one godhead is how we say it.
 
Every Sunday we confess our faith in our triune God. We do this as we confess either the Apostles’ or Nicene Creed and on this Sunday, Holy Trinity Sunday, once a year we confess this faith in the Athanasian Creed. These creeds were written in defense of the trinity of God and in order to refute heresy’s that were going around concerning the trinity of God. Today they remind us of our confession of the trinity and the role of God in all of life.
 
In these creeds we confess that we believe in God the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth. We confess that we believe that God is the Creator of all things and that He created all things out of nothing. As human beings we change things, we remake things, but we cannot create or destroy matter, only God can do that and that is what He did, He created, brought everything into existence out of nothing. He said, He spoke and it came into being. He is the ultimate authority and He will hold each one of us accountable for our lives.
 
We confess that we believe in God the Son, that is Jesus Christ who is true God, who gave up the glory that was His in heaven, who took on human flesh and blood, who lived perfectly for us in our place, obeying all the laws and commands of God for us, in our place because we cannot, who took all our sins upon Himself and suffered the eternal death penalty for us. He became accountable for us, in our place. He gave His life for ours so that we might have forgiveness of sins. And with forgiveness we have life in this world and life in the world to come, yes, eternal life in heaven.
 
We confess that we believe in God the Holy Spirit. It is the Holy Spirit who comes to us through the means of grace, the Word, the Bible and the Sacraments, Holy Baptism and the Lord’s Supper. It is the Holy Spirit who comes through these means to give us faith, to strengthen us in our faith and to keep us in faith until eternal life.
 
Verse one of our text, then, is the summary verse of all of Holy Scripture. Verse one reminds us that in the beginning of human history and time, and even before, there was nothing except God. There was not even time as we know and understand time. At creation God created. He created time. He created all things out of nothing. He created us.
 
In the beginning was God. He was not created. He was not begotten. He simply was and is and always will be. God has no beginning. He has no end. He simply is and He is eternal. Indeed, that is how we understand God as He tells Moses He is “I AM.” He is God in the eternal present.
 
In his Gospel John begins with the words, “In the beginning...” but he continues with “was the Word and the Word was with God and the Word was God...” and he continues a little later with the words, “the Word became flesh.” John shows us that Jesus is God with the Father and the Holy Spirit. Jesus was with the Father and the Spirit at the creation of the world as nothing was made that was made without Him. John shows us that Jesus is God who became flesh for us, He dwelt or tented for a while among us. Jesus came only for a short period of time, enough time to accomplish our forgiveness and salvation. John shows us the way to salvation. “Jesus said to him, ‘I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me’” (John 14:6). The exclusive claim of the Christian Church, and why we are so hated by the world, is that there is only one God, the one true God who is Father, Son and Holy Spirit, and there is only one way to heaven and this is by faith in this one true God.
 
Again, the Bible does not use the word “trinity” or “triune,” but it does reveal to us a God who is a plural in a singular, a God who is three distinct persons in one God. The Bible passages of which we have been reading this morning are only a few of all that are in the Bible that show God to be a triune God. Yet, even more, our Bible directs us to how great, wonderful and loving our God is. Even though we are conceived and born in sin, even though every inclination of our heart is evil all the time, even though we daily sin much and are in need of forgiveness, even though we continually refuse and reject His gifts, we might say, even though we act like spoiled rotten children, He continues to shower us with His love and His good gifts and blessings. Certainly this is inconceivable to the non-Christian, but to us who would otherwise be perishing, these are words of great comfort and joy. What a great God we have. This morning we praise the Lord that, although we may not fully comprehend with our finite minds His incomprehensibleness (and I might add that for that we are grateful, that is that we have a God who is bigger than our little minds), He has revealed to us what we need to know for salvation and all that we need to know is wrapped up in faith in God the Father who created us, in His Son Jesus Christ who gave His life for ours and in the Holy Spirit who gives us that faith. And to Him we say, to God be the glory, for Jesus’ sake. Amen.

Sunday, June 4, 2017

Putting On the Lord’s Spirit - June 4, 2017 - Pentecost Sunday - Text: Numbers 11:24-30

Last week we somewhat celebrated that church holiday that is pretty much ignored, as we said last week because it is not such a sellable holiday. Last week we were reminded that Ascension day had occurred and we were looking forward to our celebration of today, Pentecost Sunday. Last week we were reminded that for forty days after Easter Jesus showed Himself to be alive and then on the fortieth day after Easter, Ascension Day, Jesus gathered His disciples, gave them His authority and promise to be with them, told them to wait in Jerusalem and then ascended back to the place from which He had descended in order to come and save all people.
 
Today we celebrate Pentecost Sunday. Today marks fifty days after Easter. Today marks the giving of the Holy Spirit to the Apostles, to the disciples and even to us. Now there are some who would suggest and have us believe that Pentecost is the first time we see or hear of the Holy Spirit. That is not correct. As a matter of fact, we see and hear of the Holy Spirit right from the beginning. In Genesis chapter one we are told that the Spirit of God hoovered over the face of the earth. But even more specific, a little later in Genesis chapter one we are told, God said, “Let us make man in our image” (v. 26). This us does not mean that we worship a God who is many gods, because in Deuteronomy the Lord tells us, “Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one” (Deut. 6:4). Here in Deuteronomy we have the word God in the plural as He tells us He is one. These and similar passages remind us that we worship, what we humanly label, a triune God, a God who is three persons in one Godhead. But there is more evidence of the Holy Spirit throughout all the Bible. In our Old Testament reading for this morning we are reminded that God poured out His spirit on the seventy who prophesied. And so we see that God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit are one God in all of Holy Scripture and in all times.
 
But, in order to help us get a better understanding of what we are celebrating today, Pentecost Sunday, let us go back a little. Perhaps you remember that after God created the world, man fell into sin. Sin brought death, eternal spiritual death and physical death. At one point God cleansed the earth with a global flood saving only Noah and his family. Unfortunately, sin was not eradicated as the population again began to grow so people began, again, to sin, which should not be a surprise since sin was now in our DNA, indeed we are conceived and born in sin. And so, instead of obeying God spreading out and populating the world the people all stayed at Babel, grew to be a large number of people and worked to build a tower to themselves, thinking themselves as gods, that is what it means when we read that they wanted to make a name for themselves, they wanted everyone to know who and how great they were, at least in their own minds. Here let me just throw in a contemporary analogy. The people at Babel thought so highly of themselves that they were in control of this world, a lot like some believe concerning man’s ability to control the world and even the weather today. How pompous of us to think so highly of ourselves. Anyway, when God saw what the people were doing, not obeying Him, He went down and divided their tongues, that is He gave them all different languages so they could no longer communicate with one another. Not being able to communicate with each other, the people had to find those who could speak the same language and then they dispersed to different parts of the world. And here we have a lesson in what is mislabeled as races. Truly, there is only one race, the human race, but from the disbursement of the tower of Babel we have the various cultures or ethnicities that have come about in the world today. And yes, this is genetics, as the people who spoke the same language found each other and then dispersed, going to various places around the world they carried with them certain dominant genetic information which give us the distinctive characteristics of the various cultures we have in our world today. With this information as our background we move on to today.
 
Fast forward to fifty days after Easter, to Pentecost and we have what many call the undoing of the tower of Babel. At the tower of Babel the languages were separated, at Pentecost God gave the gift of languages so there was in essence the uniting of languages. This brings us back to the fact that when God promised to send a Savior, that promise was made before there were the various people groups, when there was only Adam and Eve and so now the message of salvation again has the opportunity to be given to all people.
 
Now, finally, getting to our text. Moses is God’s chosen leader for the children of Israel. Moses was having a difficult time leading by himself. So, the Lord provided help. The Lord had Moses appoint seventy elders. These would be men of good repute who would serve under Moses at God’s direction. The elders were separated from the rest of the people and as we heard in our text, all except two gathered around the tent. Then we are told that the Lord poured out His spirit in an extraordinary way allowing them to prophesy giving evidence of the authority He was bestowing on them.
 
The next thing we hear is that “a young man ran and told Moses,” that Eldad and Medad were prophesying in the camp. These two were chosen as part of the seventy, but for some reason they failed to be with the others. Joshua, who was to be Moses successor, was jealous for Moses. He pushed Moses to stop these two men. However, Moses tells Joshua that he would like that all could prophesy. Moses was not a power hungry, authoritarian leader. He was humble servant of the Lord. Moses who was not afraid of losing any authority and we know that His authority did not diminish, but instead God multiplied his authority and power by giving these seventy more authority and power.
 
What does this mean? As we have been reminded over the past few weeks, God gives the Office of the Keys to congregations, that is God gives congregations the authority to preach the Gospel, to administer the sacraments and to forgive and retain sins. This authority is carried out in our congregations when congregations call pastors to carry out the office of Holy Ministry in their midst. And this is carried out when members of congregations live out their calling in the priesthood of all believers.
 
God gives congregations pastors to exercise the Office of Holy Ministry. Pastors are called by God, through the congregation to preach the Gospel, administer the Sacraments, and forgive and retain sins. When we remember that God comes to us through means, the means of grace in particular, we begin to understand the importance of this Office. Without a pastor there is no one to deliver the means of grace. Without the means of grace the gifts of God remain undelivered. No gifts, no faith, no forgiveness, no life and salvation. But with a pastor, the Gospel is preached, the Word of God is expounded, both on Sunday morning in Bible class and in Divine service, and at other times during the week through Bible studies. With a pastor the sacraments are administered, children and adults are baptized and the Lord’s body and blood are given for the forgiveness of sins. With a pastor confession is heard, either corporately, during the Sunday morning service, as we did this morning, or privately, and absolution is given. Thus, the gifts of God are distributed and given: faith, strengthening of faith, forgiveness, life and salvation.
 
God gives the priesthood of all believers, that is God gives all believers faith and strengthening of faith as well as guidance and direction to live lives of faith so that others see the faith that is in our hearts so they too may be brought to faith. As believers, as members of the priesthood of all believers we are to work together with our pastor and with each other. One of Satan’s greatest victories in any congregation is when he works to divide us. There is the “we” and the “they.” Of course, that is our nature, after all we are conceived and born in sin and Satan knows the best ways to work this out. One person gets upset with another. Someone does not like a decision that was made. Someone stepped on someone’s toes. Someone’s feelings got hurt and what happens, we begin to divide and conquer. Lest Satan get a grip on us, perhaps we would do well to constantly remind each other that this is God’s church, not our church, not their church.
 
Perhaps we would do well, also, to constantly remind each other of the purpose God gives us for being His church in this place. First and foremost, as you have heard me say, time and again, God’s purpose for us as individuals is to be loved by God. God created us to love us and He shows His love time and again, especially He showed His love in the giving of Himself in Jesus Christ as He died on the cross to pay the price for our sins, including the sins we have talked about this morning from our text, jealousy, envy, divisiveness and the like. As a congregation, God calls us to be His people in this place for the purpose of strengthening the faith of our own members. In other words God’s first call is that we make regular and diligent use of His means of grace by being in divine service and Bible class. We are to be so filled with God’s gifts and grace that we overflow and share our faith with others which is God’s will so that His Kingdom here in this place may be extending out into the community. And if we are doing these things then this will indeed bring praise and glory to His Holy Name.
 
God calls and when God calls His calling is never without a purpose. God called the seventy and put His Spirit on them, giving them authority to be of service to Moses and to Himself. God calls us and puts His Spirit on us, which was done at our Baptism. He gives us gifts, talents and abilities and His authority to be His people, His disciples, His witnesses to our family, friends, neighborhood and the world. God calls each one of us. He calls us to life, to faith, to our vocation, and He calls us to be loved by Him. When we fail to be in divine service and Bible class we refuse the gifts and call He extends. It’s kind of like telling your mother you do not want any of the fresh cookies she spent all morning baking. And yet, even when we refuse and reject the gifts of God He continues to call us to be given the gifts He has to give, forgiveness, life and salvation.
 
Fifty-three days ago we celebrated Jesus’ death, not that we celebrated His dying, but we celebrated the fact that He took our sins and paid the price for our sins, which should have been ours to pay, eternal spiritual death. Fifty days ago we celebrated Jesus’ resurrection, the fact that Jesus did not stay dead and the fact that we worship a living God. Right after Easter we asked the question, does Easter make a difference? Obviously to too many people in our world it does not make a difference. Last Sunday we celebrated Jesus’ ascension and we realized the importance of Jesus being in heaven, as well as being everywhere present, where He is watching over us, ruling over us and interceding for us. Today we celebrate God’s continual working with us and among us. Although we may tend to downplay the Holy Spirit and His work today, He is still with us. He is constantly working through the means of grace which is how He works with us. He is constantly point us to Christ, to the cross, to forgiveness of sins. My prayer is Moses’ prayer, “Would that all the Lord’s people were prophets, that the Lord would put his Spirit on them.” To God be the glory, for Jesus’ sake. Amen.

Sunday, May 28, 2017

A Constant Witness - May 28, 2017 - Seventh Sunday of Easter - Text: Acts 1:12-26


Thursday we celebrated one of the not so big events in the church year, at least not so big in the eyes of the public. Thursday probably went unnoticed by most, but it was Ascension Day. I contend that the reason we do not celebrate Ascension day is because it is not as “sellable” as Christmas, Easter, Halloween and other holidays. At Christmas we buy stuff to give away or to exchange as presents, at Easter we buy candy, stuffed animals and toys, at Halloween and Valentines Day we buy a lot of candy. What would you buy to celebrate Jesus’ ascension? This morning we continue our trek through the Acts of the Apostles. Acts is Luke’s second writing. His first writing was his gospel account of Jesus’ life, death and resurrection. This is his account of the new church and the events of the new church.
 
Today is the seventh Sunday of Easter. From Easter to Ascension was forty days. Jesus spent these forty days showing Himself to be alive. He appeared to His disciples, not once, but many times during these forty days. He wanted to make sure that they knew that He has risen from the dead, bodily risen from the dead, that He was not dead, but was alive, that this really was Him, the same person who was with them for the previous three years. He wants to make sure that we know that we worship a living God. Remember, we talked about this fact last week that the difference between the Christian Church and all other churches, religions, cults and sects is that we in the Christian Church put forth the exclusive claim of Jesus’ death and resurrection. We worship a living God.
 
Not only did Jesus appear to His disciples, He appeared to many people, at many different times in order to give as much proof as possible of His resurrection. Certainly, just as we do not have a listing of all the miracles and works that Jesus did while He was here on this earth, neither do we have a listing of all the times and all the places and to all the people to whom He showed Himself following His resurrection and before His ascension. Thankfully listing all those times is not important, what is important is that it happened and God’s Word bears witness of it happening.
 
Luke reminds us that during His life and during the time between the resurrection and His ascension Jesus spoke concerning the Kingdom of God. Of course, we are looking back at these events and Luke’s testament of these events, so we can see clearly about what Jesus was speaking. We know that it was Jesus Himself who ushered in the Kingdom of God. We are living in the last days as it were. Jesus told the disciples some of the things that would be happening, but very often they just did not get it. They were very much like many people still are today. So many people just do not get it. People today are still looking for god, but the god for whom they looking is in reality the one they have created in their own image and according to their own likenesses and so they have a hard time with the God of the Bible. “My god is not like that,” we hear. Very often we hear this when something is quoted about the God of the Bible that we do not like, because it does not fit into our concept of god in our pluralistic world of today. Yet, God continually shows us who He is through His Word and especially through His Son, Jesus.
 
For the disciples, Jesus gave them instructions to wait in Jerusalem until the giving of the Holy Spirit. This giving of the Holy Spirit would be on Pentecost, which was fifty days after Easter, and which is what we will be celebrating next Sunday which is ten days after His ascension, which is when He told them to wait in Jerusalem.
 
On Thursday we celebrated Jesus’ ascension and after His ascension we are told that the disciples returned to Jerusalem. We are told that they “with one accord devoted themselves to prayer, together with the women and Mary the mother of Jesus, and his brothers” (v. 14). Luke even tells us the names of the apostles, that is the eleven remaining apostles. There are only eleven apostles at this time because you may remember Judas had rejected Jesus’ forgiveness and then went out and hanged himself. He simply could not believe Jesus could or would forgiven him.
 
As they continually gathered together to be in divine service and Bible class, we are told that Peter stood up among the group and began to preach. Peter used this as an opportunity to explain about Judas who was one of the twelve. Jesus called Judas to be one of the apostles. Judas was an important part of the twelve. Yet, Judas sinned which was not really the problem, as all the disciples continually sinned, the problem was that Judas could not believe that Jesus could or world forgive him and so in his despair he hanged himself, dying in unbelief and that is what condemned Judas.
 
Peter’s message helps us to understand that he believed David’s words in the Psalm to mean that Judas must be replaced, that there must be twelve apostles. When we get to the book of Revelation we would certainly agree with the need for Judas’ replacement and there being twelve apostles as we hear of the 144,000 which is a number in reference to the twelve tribes of Israel and the twelve apostles (12 x 12) and 1000, the number of completion, meaning heaven will be filled with all those in the Old and New Testament who believe that Jesus is the Messiah. Peter quotes Psalm 69:25 and Psalm 109:8 as an indication that Judas must be replaced.
 
The criteria for replacing Judas was that it must be “one of the men who have accompanied us during all the time that the Lord Jesus went in and out among us, beginning from the baptism of John until the day when he was taken from us” (v. 21, 22). Actually this criteria makes sense because the one called to be set apart as an apostle most certainly would need to be one who was with the other apostles and Jesus while He was still on this earth.
 
From the group, only two fit the criteria and so two were put forward. They were Barsabas and Matthias. After the group prayed together they cast lots to decide, or that they allow God to choose for them through this method. Some have suggested that this casting of lots may have been a form of voting, perhaps not unlike the way a congregation votes when calling a pastor. I believe they put two beads of different colors in a bag and drew one out, the one God would move them to draw. Anyway, the lot was cast and Matthias was chosen to take Judas place. And, interestingly enough, this was the last we hear of Matthias.
 
Today we have been chosen by God. No we have not been chose to be apostles. There are and will be no more apostles, only twelve. Today, however, we have been chosen to be disciples. A disciples is a learner and follower and we have been chosen by God to be learners and followers of Him. Today, we have been given the power of the Holy Spirit through the Word and the sacraments, Holy Baptism and the Lord’s Supper. These are the means, these are the ways our Lord has of continuing to come to us today to give us His good gifts and blessings. As we make regular and diligent use of these means, reading the Word of God, remembering our Baptism, partaking of the Lord’s body and blood in His holy meal, as we continue to make regular and diligent use of these  means of grace, the Holy Spirit comes into us to give us, strengthen us, and keep us in faith until Christ comes again.
 
Even more, today we are to call pastors to carry out word and sacrament ministry among us. As we talked about a few weeks ago, God gives the Office of the Keys to churches, to congregations and congregations call men into the Office of Holy Ministry, to be pastors in order to carry out the Office of the Keys, that is for the preaching of the Gospel, the administering of the sacraments and for the forgiving and retaining of sins. And we also talked about the fact that God calls Christians to be a part of the priesthood of all believers, that is we have all been given the power of the Holy Spirit through the Word and Baptism in order that we might live lives of faith and be ready and able to give an answer, literally to give a defense of our faith and hope in Christ.
 
And even more, the Holy Spirit also works in us so that we are able to be the His witnesses in our neighborhood, city, country and the world. This is a natural thing. When we get excited about something, when we have had a great and grand experience, we want to share that with others. We get so excited we cannot keep it to ourselves. So too, with the Word of the Lord and with our relationship with Jesus, we cannot help but tell others and we are not alone, because the Holy Spirit is with us giving us the courage, strength and words to speak.
 
We have God’s promise. His promise is that He is with us and will remain with us as we make regular and diligent use of His means of Grace, the Word and the Sacraments. At the end of the Gospel according to Matthew, at his account of Jesus ascension, we read that Jesus gives us His authority. “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore as you are going make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age” (Matt. 28:18b-20). Next Sunday we will celebrate the giving of the power, the giving of the authority, the giving of the Holy Spirit which happened ten days after last Thursday, Ascension day. But until then, we wait patiently with the disciples, anticipating more of God’s good gifts and blessings.
 
Today we gather, as we do every Sunday, to celebrate the resurrection of our God, Jesus Christ Himself. As we gather to celebrate we rejoice that we can look back and see all the “proofs” of all the Gospel writers, that Jesus is the Christ, that He is God, that He took on human flesh and blood, that He suffered and died for our sins, that He rose from the dead, that He showed Himself alive many times before He ascended into heaven, that He is ascended into heaven, that He is seated at the right hand of the Father where He is watching over us, ruling over us and interceding for us. We rejoice that we have the Holy Spirit, that we have the power and authority from God so that we can live our lives in such a way that they show forth the faith that is in our hearts. We rejoice in the fact that we do have forgiveness of sins and with forgiveness is life and salvation and to all this we say, to God be the glory, for Jesus’ sake. Amen.

Sunday, May 21, 2017

He Gives Life - May 21, 2017 - Sixth Sunday of Easter - Text: Acts 17:16-31

Our text for this morning sounds very much like Paul is speaking to many people in our modern world. There are some in our world today that would have us believe that we all worship the same god, we just call him different names. There are those in what we call the “ecumenical movement,” that is the movement which wants to join all the religions and churches of the world into one big church, who would have us believe that the differences which we have really are only minor or superficial. Interestingly enough, as was the case with Paul, whenever we hear people espouse such nonsense such as the belief that we all worship the same god we simply call him by different names, when we, in the Christian church get to the point of Jesus’ death and resurrection, that is where our paths diverge and that is where we are called all kinds of names. The fact of the matter is, we do not all believe in the same god and simply call him by different names, rather, we, in the Christian Church, believe in the one true God who shows Himself to be God, who lived, suffered, died and rose from the dead.
 
Our text for this morning is the first reading from Acts 17. I know this is a favorite texts for some people and it is an intriguing text to me. I do not think I am alone as a pastor when I say, “Boy, I wish I could preach like Paul.” Paul always knew the right words to proclaim to the right audience. It is no coincidence that his words are also applicable to us today. So, this morning, I will attempt to let Paul preach as we look at his sermon on Mars Hill.
 
Ladies and Gentlemen of Westfield, Spring, Houston and the surrounding area! I see that in every way you are very religious. And here I will change the pronoun and say that we are very religious. We are in the habit of making our own gods and our own gods come in many shapes, forms, and sizes. Our gods today consist of idols of work, money, power, prestige, fame and fortune. Think about it, what do you hear being bragged about these days? “I put in an 80 hour work week last week.” “I make $250,000 a year.” “I am the CEO of my company.” When is the last time you heard someone say, “I spent 80 hours with my family, with my wife and my children last week”?  Or, “I made a lot of money, but I gave most of it back to my local congregation because I do not need so much and others have greater needs.” Or, “I make just enough for us to get by, but that is okay because I really enjoy my work, it brings me fulfillment, and I am able to touch so many lives”?
 
We are religious, but the word religious as Paul is using it really means ‘fearful.’ The sense that Paul is trying to get across is that we are demon-fearing. We read our horoscopes, not because we believe them, but “just for the fun of it.” We call the psychic friends hot-line, do not walk under ladders, do not break mirrors, and do not step on the cracks in the sidewalk. Of course, we all know that these things are silly, are not true and we do not really believe them, but you can never be careful, so just in case - knock on wood.
 
We are religious in that we make our own gods. We even make our own god in a box. We watch the religious shows on television. We listen to the “Christian” (make air quotes) radio station. We watch the religious movies. We read the religion section in the newspaper. We listen to the politically correctness of our society. We think all these things through in our own minds and then we speak what we think the Bible says, but unfortunately, what we very often forget to do is to go back and check out what the Bible really says. How often have you said, or heard said, “My god is not like that,” or “My god would never do that?” In the past we have met the Bereans and as I have encouraged before, so I encourage again, be as the Bereans. Paul tells us, the Bereans were of a more noble character. They listened to what was preached and carefully checked it against the Bible to see if it was what God really said. The God of the Bible is not necessarily politically correct or the god of this world’s design.
 
We are Americans and as Americans we pride ourselves on the fact that we are self-made people. We pull ourselves up by our bootstraps. We did it our way. And we still do it our way. Today our gods may not be idols shaped in silver or gold, but our gods are images made by man’s design and skill nonetheless. In many and various ways we are very religious.
 
Paul says, “For  as I passed along and observed the objects of your worship, I found also an altar with this inscription, ‘To the unknown god.’ What therefore you worship as unknown, this I proclaim to you” (v. 23). Those are Paul’s words. Today he might say it this way, “For as I walked around and looked carefully at the things you have made in this world I have seen buildings erected to money, churches, cults, religions and sects of all kinds, and people who have boiled it all down to these simple terms, ‘it does not matter what you believe as long as you believe something, as long as you are sincere and are good enough.’ Now what you worship in a pluralistic way, not knowing who you worship, I am going to proclaim to you.”
 
This is what God is really like. God is God. He is almighty. He is bigger than big, stronger than strong and smarter than smart. He is the one who made the world and everything in it, out of nothing. God shows His might in this, He said, “let there be” and it was. He gives us life at conception and new life through Holy Baptism. He gives us skills, talents and abilities to work, a job to perform, a way to make a living in order to be able to afford a roof over our heads, clothes on our back and food to eat.
 
God does not live in temples or churches built by human hands, so that we come to see Him on Sunday and then leave Him in the building until next week when we come to see Him again. No, God is everywhere present. He is always everywhere at the same time. He is bigger than the universe itself and at the same time He is as small as the smallest molecule. He knows our every thought. He sees our every move. And usually, we never think about that fact when we are in the middle of doing something we should not be doing, sinning in other words, He sees us. We come here to this place and worship God, not because He needs us to worship and adore Him, but because of our need to express our worship and adoration to Him and because of our need to come here to be given the gifts He has to give as He gives them through His means of grace, His Word and His Sacraments.
 
God is not served by human hands, as if he needed anything. If our God needed something from us, He would not be a very mighty god. Rather, if God is the one who gives all things as we said, what would we have that He would need from us? It is very much like the relationship of a parent and a child. How often do children talk about their bed or their bedroom when it reality these things belong to the parents. We talk about the things of this world being our things when in reality all things are God’s. What we have when we are born and what we take with us when we die is what is really ours, nothing. Our response to God is to give back to Him. We give of our selves, our time, especially our time in divine service and Bible class, we give our treasure, not because God needs these things from us, but because of our need to recognize and return a portion to Him.
 
God Himself gives all people life and breath and everything else. We come to God and we pray to Him, not because He needs to hear from us, because He already knows what we need even before we ask, but it is because of our need to acknowledge our needs as well as our need to express ourselves to Him.
 
In Him we live and move and have our being. God is so almighty that if He were to remove His all powerful preserving hand from this universe it would collapse. And yet, He does not do that, but He is with us, keeping and sustaining us in all our needs every day. We are His children.
 
God is the same yesterday, today, and forever. What a comfort to know that God does not change and that He does not change His mind. In an ever changing world it is good to know that what were God’s commands years ago are still His commands today. And yes, that means that what was a sin long ago is still a sin today. In the past God overlooked this ignorance, as Paul calls it, but not so today. Today we are accountable. Today, He commands all people everywhere to repent. To repent means to turn 180 degrees, to turn away from sin.
 
God will judge the world with justice by the man He has appointed. There are absolutes in our world. The is an ultimate authority. There are things that are right and things that are wrong. God will judge and His standard for judgement is Jesus. We like to compare ourselves with others and we can always find others who are “worse” than we are, at least in our own minds, but the standard we need to go by is Jesus and He is perfect.
 
Thanks be to God that the Standard is also the one who gave Himself for us. Jesus was born, true God in human flesh in order to live for us, that is in order to completely and perfectly obey all God’s commands, laws and decrees for us in our place because we cannot. God put our sins all our sins on Jesus so that He was worse than all of us. He was the worst of the worst, because He had on Himself the sins of all people of all places of all times. He suffered the eternal death penalty, which was the verdict that was placed on us, for us in our place. But Jesus did not stay dead. God raised Him from the dead. Now He is seated at the right hand of the Father where He is ruling over us, interceding for us and watching over us. This does not mean that He is only in heaven, because as God, Jesus is also with us, right here.
 
It is at this point that Paul had a difficult time and at this point we still have a difficult time today. The cross is not what we like to talk about. The cross, that is a bloody thing, that is a means of torture and death, that is something we like to avoid, but it is unavoidable. The cross is front and center. The cross is what brought us forgiveness and life. There are many people today who have a problem with the cross, but this is where we rejoice. Thanks be to God that Jesus gave His life for ours. Thanks be to God for this forgiveness, earned and won for us, given to us. And with forgiveness, we have eternal life in heaven.
 
This world and life in this world is short, perhaps a hundred years compared to eternity, forever, millions, billions, and trillions of years, which is forever. Your time in this world will run out. The Lord will return or we will die. No amount of knocking on wood will save us. No amount of good works will save us. No amount of obedience will save us. No amount of just believing in anything or with sincerity will save us. If just believing in anything would be sufficient, then why did Jesus die on the cross. It does not make sense. Narrow is the way to everlasting life and that narrow way is Jesus and Jesus alone. Just Jesus, that is our message and that is our hope and confidence. And the best thing is that it is a gift. God gives and we are given to, thanks be to God. May the Lord fill you with His Holy Spirit and work through His Word to give you, strengthen you, and keep you in faith. To Him be the glory for Jesus’ sake. Amen.

Sunday, May 14, 2017

The Office of Holy Ministry and the Keys - May 14, 2017 - Fifth Sunday of Easter/Mother’s Day - Text: Acts 6:1-9; 7:2a, 51-60


Today is the Fifth Sunday after Easter meaning that we are still in the Easter Season and so we are still celebrating the resurrection of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Indeed, the reason we worship on Sunday is that each and every Sunday is an Easter resurrection celebration. Today is also the most sacred, secular holiday of Mother’s Day and here, indeed, we in the church should be first in celebrating Mother’s and motherhood, as we might suggest one of the primary ways the church grows is through the birth of children who are to be raised in the nurture and admonition of the Lord. So, Happy Mother’s Day to our Mothers here today. We are so glad you are here and we are so glad you brought your family.
 
As we get to our Scripture readings for this morning, what a wonderful opportunity our text affords us, the opportunity to get a better understanding of what we as Lutherans believe, teach and confess concerning the office of Holy Ministry and the Office of the Keys. Let me begin by reminding you that we believe that God issues three calls, and even four as we understand God’s call to life at conception. First, although some people resist, refuse and reject, God calls all people to faith and He does this through the means of grace, that is He calls us to faith either through the means of the sacrament of Holy Baptism, as He called and gave faith to many of us as babies, or God calls to and gives faith through His Word. After calling us to faith, God strengthens and keeps us in faith through these means of grace as well as through confession and absolution, our hearing and reading His Word, and the Lord’s Supper. So, God’s first call is to faith. God’s second call is that He calls us to our vocation, that is God calls us to and gives us each the abilities, skills, talents and opportunities to work to make a living and while He calls us to the vocation in which we work, we are to work, not as if we are working for a boss, but that we are to work as if we are working for our Lord, in other words, we are to work, doing our best and giving a witness of our faith in Jesus. The third call which God issues is not issued to all people, but God calls some men to serve in the office of Holy Ministry. And so these are the calls God issues.
 
Now, getting to our text, we are told by Luke that a dispute had arisen in the early Christian Church, but that a solution was also thought out. Because the Church and the local congregation was growing so fast, the work of the apostles and disciples grew as well. The church was not a communist or socialist church, but the wealthy did provide for those in need. As the distribution of the wealth to the needy took place there appeared to be a discrepancy concerning one group of people, perhaps the group not as well known to those distributing the goods. When a complaint was brought forward, whether founded or unfounded, and here we see that Satan uses whatever he can grasp to bring division, the situation was dealt with. The apostles and the congregation knew the greatest importance of the work of the apostles in Word and Sacrament ministry so the suggestion to “elect” seven for the daily tasks of distribution was accepted. Those elected must be of good Christian character and report, also we might note that they were not called ministers or given any “ecclesiastical” name, simply they were called to serve. The congregation agreed to the proposal and seven were elected. We are told especially of the faith of Stephen, faith from which flows one’s Christian life and character.
 
Notice that the dispute was not necessarily a quarrel or fight. What we are told is that there was a complaint and evidently this was a justified complaint. It appears that there was no intention of malice, no intention of leaving out some of those in need, simply the fact was the church was growing so big that some of those in need were being overlooked and neglected.
 
The solution helps us get a better understanding of the Office of Holy Ministry. The office of Holy Ministry is that peculiar office into which God calls certain men for the tasks of being about the business of the Word of God, that is pastors are to be teaching and preaching the word of God. Here again we are reminded that the Word of God is a means of grace, a way in which our Lord comes to us to give us the gifts and blessing He has to give. Notice that pastors do not call themselves. God calls Pastors through the local congregation to preach and teach the word of God.
 
Along with teaching and preaching the Word of God, Pastors are called by God through the local congregation to administering the sacraments, that is to baptize children as well as adults after instruction. Pastors are also to administer the Lord’s Supper for forgiveness and strengthening of faith of the members. And we might add, pastors are also to minister to those who are sick and shut-in. Yes, pastors make house calls.
 
Finally, along with preaching the Gospel, and administering the sacraments, the other work God calls pastors to do is to forgive and retain sins. Certainly we see this done every Sunday morning as we have corporate confession and absolution, in other words as we have confession and absolution as a congregation. But even more, the pastor is available, and I would encourage you to make use of your pastor for the purpose of private or individual confession and absolution.
 
So we have heard the work God gives to pastors. God also gives work to the lay people in the congregation. The work of the laity is that they are to be about doing good. They are to be about doing works of service. Notice how the seven were chosen for a specific task. We have various boards and committees on which to serve, we have various activities going on and God gives us the talents and abilities as well as time and treasure to do these various activities. To not use our gifts, talents and abilities for service to God in His kingdom is to misuse what He gives.
 
But let us get back to our text. Luke tells us in particular, about one gifted servant, Stephen. I am sure we have all heard the story of the stoning of Stephen, but have we looked at the exemplary life and example he leaves for us. Let me summarize Luke’s account. After reciting the history of Israel, Stephen accuses the Pharisees and teachers of the law of being worse than the idolatrous nations they put out of the promised land, because they refused God’s grace! My commentary gives this note: “Note: The sermon of Stephen admonishes us Christians to be mindful of the great blessings of God under the new dispensation, lest we also become indifferent and then callous, and finally resist the work of the Holy Ghost.” Stephen was probably not finished with his sermon, but the Pharisees and teachers of the law were. Stephen is given a special revelation as he faces martyrdom, a revelation of heaven and Christ Himself. All of this even more angered the Pharisees and teachers of the law so much that they held their hands over their ears, shouting so as not to hear and then began stoning him to death. All the while a young man name Saul watched their coats.
 
Stephen is a great example and really an example greater than we could ever think or imagine to follow. His example is that he lived as a Christian. Stephen did not simply have his name on the rolls at his church, he did not simply show up on Sunday or every other Sunday, or once a month, no, Stephen was involved, using the gifts, talents and abilities God gave him in service to the Lord.
 
Stephen also gave an answer for the hope he had as he was questioned. You can tell Stephen had been in Bible class and divine service. Perhaps he was even teaching a Bible class. Stephen was ready and filled with the Holy Spirit so that he was ready to gave an answer for his faith.
 
Stephen was not afraid to live or die for the Lord. Someone once said, “Dying for the Lord is easy, it’s the living that is so hard.” And there is a point to these words. Remember, once we have died and gone to heaven our life is great. It is difficult, and apart from God and His grace, it is sometimes impossible for us to live for the Lord.
 
Finally, Stephen rightly spoke the Gospel and especially at his stoning he spoke words of forgiveness of sins. We often make the comparison of Stephen to Jesus. Just as Jesus forgave those who crucified Him, so Stephen forgave those who stoned him. Will we so easily be able to forgive those in this world who sin against us? whether they ask or not?
 
So, let’s get to the what does this mean? First and foremost this means that we need to remind ourselves that God gives the Office of the Keys, that is God gives the Church the authority to preach the Gospel, to administer the Sacraments and to forgive and retain sins. This authority is a gift from God and is given for the purpose of giving and strengthening the faith of the members of the Church, for the purpose of extending God’s kingdom by sharing the Gospel with others, and for the purpose of giving praise and glory to God’s Holy Name.
 
God gives the office of the Keys to the Church and God gives churches to call pastors to exercise the office of the keys through the Office of Holy Ministry. A man does not call himself to be a pastor of a church, but God calls a man through the external means of His church to be a pastor where He would have him serve. The work of the pastor is to preach the Gospel, and here we are reminded by Paul that pastors are to be pastor/teachers. The work of the pastor is to administer the sacraments, to baptize and administer the Lord’s Supper, and to forgive and retain sins. Remember, when Jesus was visiting with Mary and Martha, Martha was so distracted by worldly things.  Mary sat at Jesus’ feet and listened. When Martha complained Jesus explained that the most important thing for all is what Mary chose, to hear the Word of God.
 
God gives the Office of Holy Ministry in which He calls some men to serve and at the same time God gives the priesthood of all believers for all Christians to be a part. God gives gifts, talents and abilities for all of us to use in service to Him. Perhaps we would do well to remind ourselves that this is not our Church. None of us was here when this church began. In a few years none of us will be here as we will pass on to eternity. This is God’s church. Perhaps we might do well before we make decisions, to ask, what would God have us to do? How can we best be His Church in this place? How might we use the gifts, talents and abilities He has given to us in service to Him? How might we best go about the business of strengthening the faith of our own members, sharing the Gospel with others to extend God’s kingdom in this place and all of this will indeed give praise and glory to His Holy Name.
 
Finally, and really, most importantly, we need the constant reminder that God gives faith, forgiveness and life, even eternal life. God gives these gifts through Jesus who earned forgiveness and life for us. In our Gospel reading for today we are reminded as to why we in the Christian Church are so hated and despised by the rest of the world and that is because of the exclusive claim we, or rather God makes. Jesus does not say there are many ways to heaven, or enlightenment or nirvana, rather Jesus says there is only one way and that way is through Him alone. In our Epistle reading Paul encourages and urges us to long for, to desire the pure spiritual milk of His Word so that we may grow up into salvation. And he too explains how Jesus is the cornerstone, the only way to heaven. Thanks be to God that He gives us faith, that He strengthens and keeps us in faith, that He gives us forgiveness of sins and eternal life.
 
And to wrap this up, thanks be to God that He gives us our parents, our fathers and especially on this Mother’s Day, our moms to teach us, to read Bible lessons to us, to teach us to pray, to bring us to His house, to church and Sunday School, so that we might be raised in the nurture and admonition of the Lord, so that we might hear His Word, be given and strengthened in faith, have our sins forgiven, and be certain of our eternal salvation. To Him be the glory, for Jesus’ sake. Amen.

Sunday, April 30, 2017

Fellowship - April 30, 2017 - Third Sunday of Easter - Text: Acts 2:14a, 36-41

Last week we heard words of forgiveness. Actually, every week we come to hear words of forgiveness. We need, so desperately, every week, even every day to hear words of forgiveness. A few years back in one of the Portals of Prayer devotions, the writer wrote the following: “Marghanita Laski, one of this century’s best known secular humanists, said shortly before her death: ‘What I envy most about you Christians is your forgiveness; I have nobody to forgive me.’ It’s so easy for Christians to take for granted the precious gift of the forgiveness of sins—a gift so many people have never truly known.” Yes, as Christians we have that most precious gift of forgiveness of sins. Last week we heard Peter’s words of Easter’, of Jesus suffering, death and resurrection. This week we hear the very conclusion of Peter’s sermon, the response of the people, and the result in the church.
 
Being the good Lutheran that he was, Peter preached a beautiful Lutheran sermon of both Law and Gospel. The effect of the Law was that it convicted the people of their sin. Peter’s words of law were that you crucified Jesus. And yes, he is speaking to us today. We have crucified Jesus. With our sins, with our continuing to sin, with our sins of thought, word and action we crucify Jesus. When the movie The Passion of Christ came out there were some who attempted to discredit this movie by suggesting that it was an anti-Semitic movie, blaming the Jews for crucifying Jesus. Obviously this charge was made by those who did not see the movie and do not understand the Word of God. The movie well portrayed what is true, the fact that although Jesus was convicted by the ruling Jewish council and put on the cross by the Romans, it was for our sins that He died, in other words, truly it was us, you and me that put Him on the cross. We daily sin much and are in need of forgiveness. We even sin by coming and hearing God’s Word and being given His good gifts and blessings, but not responding, not letting Him make a difference in our lives. Have you ever noticed the build up to Easter, the large crowd on Easter and then the low attendance the Sunday following Easter? Someone was prompted by these events to ask, “does Easter matter?” We come to hear the message, but does that message bring about a change in our hearts and lives?
 
The events of 9/11/2001 caused a change in the behavior of many Americans. People were nicer. People seemed to care a bit more, at least for a while. Even church attendance was better, at least for a while. Again, there was a change of behavior. But that change did not last very long. It did not take long for people to go back to the way they were acting before 9/11. The problem was that there was no change of heart. And unless there is a change of heart, a change of behavior is never permanent. It is only as our heart is changed that we will be truly changed.
 
Our text tells us that Peter’s words, “cut to the heart” of the people present. That is what the Law does, it cuts to the heart. They did believe in Jesus. They did recognize their sin. They admitted their sin. They confessed their sin. They were “cut to the heart.”
 
The people’s response was “what must we do?” Theirs was not a question of earning forgiveness. Theirs was not a question of what must we do to work off the sins which we have committed. They were not asking how may “hail Mary’s” or “rosaries” they must do to make satisfaction for their sins. They were not asking if they should be re-baptized, or if they should rededicate and recommit their lives to the Lord. They were not seeking to be more obedient to the Lord or to His laws and commandments. They were not looking to forward an e-mail to five friends in five minutes. They were not asking if they should make a donation to their favorite charity. What they were asking is how could they be given God’s greatest gift of forgiveness. The person who breaks an ancient one-of-a-kind vase knows that there is nothing they can do to replace it and so their question of “what must I do?” is not one in which they expect an answer of “glue it all back together.” Rather their question is one of “how can I be given your forgiveness?”
 
Theirs was a response of guilt produced by the Law and a motivation to confess produced by the Gospel. Remember, the Law only leads us to recognize our sins. Without the Gospel the Law leads either to self-righteousness, thinking we can do something or ultimately to despair, thinking we have not hope. The Gospel alone gives us hope which leads us to confess our sins and be given forgiveness.
 
Peter’s response to their response is not a formula for working out their forgiveness, rather his are words of gift getting. Peter says to “repent and be baptized.” Peter says, do not refuse the gifts, rather be given the gifts of forgiveness, faith and life.
 
And the response of the word was faith. The people heard the Word. The Holy Spirit worked through that Word to give faith. The best illustration of how this works is this: Suppose someone came up to one of the people who stand out at I45 and 1960 begging for money and put a million dollars into their hand. They took the persons hand, pulled it out from their side, put the money in it and pushed it back to them. What part did that person play in getting that money? Did he do something to earn it? Did he dedicate his life to the gift giver? Did he recommit himself to anything? Did he do anything to receive, or be given that money? No, he did nothing. The only option he had was to refuse the gift. Likewise with us. God comes to give us all His good gifts and blessings. We stand in our sin. We do not even reach out to Him. We do nothing to deserve being given to, yet, God gives all to us. He is the one who lifts us up out of our lives of sin, washes us, puts His robes of righteousness on us, gives us faith, forgiveness and life. Our response is a life of thanks.
 
Which brings us to the second part of our text which is a look at the early church. Several things you will notice about the early church. They devoted themselves to the Apostles’ teaching, that is, to the Word of God. In other words, the Word of God was important to them. They did not just say it was important, they made it a part of their lives. It was not just a Sunday thing, or a once, twice or three times a month thing. Rather than live their lives around the world and the things and events of this world, they actually lived their lives around the Word, so that nothing got in the way of being in the Word first and foremost, it was that important. They devoted themselves to the study of the Word, nothing got in the way or hindered them from their study of the Word. Or as you so often hear me say, they made regular and diligent use of God’s Word.
 
They devoted themselves to the breaking of bread, that is, the Lord’s Supper. They continually met and participated in the Lord’s death and resurrection, in the forgiveness of sins through His Holy Meal. They made regular use of the Lord’s Supper and by regular they meant daily.
 
They devoted themselves to prayer. They prayed without ceasing and that does not mean that they constantly were kneeling, folding their hands and bowing their heads. Their very lives became lives of prayer. Their lives were lived in such a way that their faith in Christ showed through.
 
They devoted themselves to one another. They called on one another. If the person that usually sat next to them was absent they gave them a call. They did not worry about it being someone else’s job, they called, they were concerned.
 
They devoted themselves to sharing the Word of God with others. They did not keep their faith a secret. They lived their faith. They invited people to divine service and Bible class. They talked about their faith. Even during times of persecution, they continued to share their faith with others, even if it meant their own life.
 
And they grew, by the power of God working through the means of grace, the Word and the Sacraments. Can we say these same things about ourselves, about St. Matthew Lutheran Church? Are we devoted to the Word, the Lord’s Supper, prayer, one another and the sharing of the Word with others. Are we growing through the means of grace, or are we sitting on our grace? Does Easter make a difference for us?
 
God has given to us all things. He has given His Word, the Word made flesh to dwell among us, to give His life for ours. He has given us His Word through which He gives us all His good gifts and blessings.
 
God has given to us to be a church on the Word. He has given us His Word as the foundation for St. Matthew Lutheran Church. Our liturgies, our readings, our messages, our Bible studies, all these are grounded and founded on the Word of the Lord.
 
God has given to us to be a church in the Word. He has given us His Word. He has given us time to live. He has given us time to read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest His Word.
 
God has given to us to be a church growing in the Word. We grow in the Word when we as individuals read and grow in His Word. We grow in the Word when we as a congregation read, listen to, and grow in His Word. We grow in His Word as we grow and are strengthened in our own faith. We can only grow in numbers as a church as we grow as individuals in our own faith life. If we are not growing in our own faith the result is that we will not share that faith with others, but as we do grow in our own faith it is shown in our response of faith, in our giving of our time, our talents, ourselves, our first fruits, our fellowship and sharing of that faith with others.
 
My prayer is that the Lord will stir in us a change of heart, even before we have a change of behavior, because as we mentioned, it is only as our heart is changed that our behavior will be a permanent change. My prayer is that we might become like the disciples in the Gospel reading, the disciples on the road to Emmaus, that is that our hearts might burn with zeal for our Lord. My prayer is that the Lord will bless us so that we are filled with the Holy Spirit, so that we devote ourselves to the apostles’ teaching and to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. My prayers is that the Lord will bless us so that we are filled with awe, and that many wonders and miraculous signs may be done among us. My prayers is that the Lord will bless us so that we can be together and have everything in common, so that no one will be in need. My prayer is that the Lord will bless us so that we are moved to meet together, be in divine service together, share the Lord’s Supper together, and praise God together. And that the Lord will bless us so that we might be a blessing to Him. To Him be the glory, for Jesus’ sake. Amen.

Monday, April 24, 2017

A Proper Distinction Between Justification and Sanctification


We get it right when we point to Jesus. Pointing to self is Law. Pointing to Jesus is Gospel. The Law tells us what we are to do and not to do. The Gospel tells us what Jesus has already done. The Law demands, the Gospel gives. So too with Justification and indeed with Sanctification.
 
Justification points to Jesus. Sanctification points us to self but through Jesus, thus indeed points us to Jesus as well. When Sanctification only points to self and not to Jesus, then we go back to the statement, “We get it right when we point to Jesus.”
 
So, what is the proper distinction between Justification and Sanctification? We begin with Justification, the heart and soul of Christianity (Lutheran Doctrine, Article IV of the Augsburg Confession and the Apology to the Augsburg Confession). Justification means to be made just and right in God’s eyes. When we acknowledge that we are “brought forth in iniquity, and in sin did my mother conceive me” (Ps. 51:5), that “every intention of the thoughts of [our] heart was only evil continually” (Gen. 6:5), that “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Rom. 3:23), that “no one does good, not even one” (Rom.3:12), indeed that we are truly sinful human beings, then we realize there is nothing within us of redeeming value. Just as a drowning person cannot save himself, or he would not be drowning, just as a dying person cannot save himself or he would not be dying, just as we did not choose to be born, so we do nothing to justify ourselves before God. We do nothing to save ourselves.
 
If we were to attempt to put forth any merit on our own part as if we could, as Paul so well reminds us (the good that we would do we do not do, the evil we would not do that is what we do Rom. 7:21ff), if we attempt to justify ourselves by keeping the Law, which some are wanting to do (“but fails in one point has become accountable for all of it” James 2:10), then we will be held accountable for keeping the whole law, which we cannot do. After the fall into sin, the world was cursed. After the fall into sin, Adam and Eve no longer knew only good. They knew good and evil. After the fall into sin, the will of all has been tainted so that our will is truly at odds with God. Our will is only to do what is evil, as Paul expresses (Rom. 7:21ff). As Paul reminds us, “No one can say ‘Jesus is Lord’ except in the Holy Spirit” (1 Cor. 12:3).
 
Our right standing before God does not come from ourselves as we are not and cannot be the people He would have us to be. If we could be the people He would have us to be, then we would have no need of Him. What a fool we claim Jesus to be for sacrificing Himself when we point to ourselves for any iota of our own justification and salvation.
 
Justification is all Jesus. Jesus was born true God, begotten from the Father and true man, born of the virgin Mary. Jesus lived the perfect life for us in our place as our substitute, doing for us what is demanded of God (“You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect” (Matt. 5:48)) because we cannot be perfect. The fullness of the Gospel is this: that what Jesus did He did for us in our place as our substitute. Jesus obeyed all of God’s Laws perfectly: the ceremonial laws which pointed to Him and His sacrifice, the moral law of the Ten Commandments, and the civil law of the land. Jesus never sinned. After living in perfection He took our sins, all our sins and the sins of all people, of all places, of all times, upon Himself and suffered and paid the price for those sins, hell (The wages of sin is death (Rom. 6:23)). He descended into hell to declare victory over Satan. He ascended back to where He had come, and rightfully has taken His place in heaven where He now watches over us, rules over us and intercedes for us. This is Justification, and this God freely gives to us because it is His to give. We do not get it as if we “get saved,” nor do we claim it as if it is our claim. Rather it is given to us from the One whose it is and who can give it to us.
 
This understanding now moves us to Sanctification. Sanctification means the process of being made holy. God has justified us before Himself by the blood of Jesus; thus, when we stand before Him, He sees us robed in Jesus’ robes of righteousness, indeed as saints. Yet while we remain on this earth, we also continue to sin and will remain being sinners until we reach complete perfection in heaven.
 
Sanctification is expressed best in Martin Luther’s explanation to the Third Article of the Apostles’ Creed, “I believe that I cannot by my own reason or strength believe in Jesus Christ, my Lord, or come to Him; but the Holy Spirit has called me by the Gospel, enlightened me with His gifts, sanctified and kept me in the true faith. 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.”
 
Just as we have expressed in Justification, so, too, in Sanctification we cannot believe in Jesus Christ our Lord on our own through our own efforts. Again as a drowning person cannot save himself or he would not be drowning (and if a drowning person attempts to help in the rescue it only serves to drown them both), so too we cannot choose Jesus or we would not be lost. It is the Holy Spirit who calls us to faith and gives us faith, and He calls and gives us faith through the very means of the Gospel–the message of Jesus and His work of redemption–buying us back from sin, death and the devil. Not only does the Holy Spirit call us to and give us faith, but He also enlightens us and strengthens us in faith through the means that God has given to give us His good gifts and blessings, His means of grace–His Holy Word, Confession and Absolution, and His sacraments, Holy Baptism and the Lord’s Supper. Through these means the Holy Spirit “calls, gathers, enlightens and sanctifies the whole Christian church on earth, and keeps it with Jesus Christ in the one true faith.” It is through these very means that the Lord gives His gifts, forgiveness, strengthening of faith, life and salvation. Thus, as Christians, our desire will always be to be where and when the gifts of God are given out so that we might be given even more of His gifts.
 
When it comes to God’s gift giving, we understand that God does not do fractions. He does not give us some of His gifts now and some more later, perhaps after we have done something for Him or something to earn a bit more. He gives the whole lot of His gifts now and a whole lot more later. All of His gifts He gives, and we are given to.
 
We count as good works, at least those that are seen as good works in God’s eyes, those works that are motivated in us by God, worked through us by God and give Him glory. These are what are truly good works in God’s eyes. These are not the same as social good works which are often done for a tax write off, for accolades, or for any other pointing to self reason. Indeed, more often than not we do good works when we are not aware of what we are doing.
 
Thus, just as Justification points to Jesus who has done it all and gives all to us, so too with Sanctification, we point to Jesus who motivates us so we are given to and we give God glory.
 
Some would have you believe that the more you grow in faith the more perfect and holy you get so that you may indeed be a mentor to someone else in their faith walk to help them to become more and more holy. If this were the case, that we become more and more holy, then we would need Jesus less and less until perhaps we would think we would need Him no more. As Lutherans we understand that the more we grow in our faith, the more we realize just how sinful we truly are and the more we need to cling to Jesus, just Jesus.

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Explaining the Worship (Lutheran Worship in Particular)

Is worship something we are doing for God (bringing our praise to God for all He has done for us)? Or is worship something God is doing for and to us? Some have suggested that in worship God is the audience, the congregational members are the actors, and the pastor and choir are the prompters; thus, worship is something we do, perhaps even need to do, for God. Of course, that understanding would imply that God needs something from us, perhaps our helping raise His self-esteem by singing praises to His name.
 
When we understand our sinful nature and our need to be given to by God, and when we remember that we are born with nothing and we take nothing from this world, and that it is God who has created all things in the first place and has created us to love us, then we get a better understanding that our worship service is an opportunity to come and be given even more of the good gifts and blessings God has to give which is why we call the worship service, not worship, but Divine (from God) Service.
 
Contrary to the popular misunderstanding, the Divine Service did not begin with Martin Luther and is most certainly not German. Rather it can be traced back to the first century around the world, even found in all parts of the world, and even can be traced back to Leviticus, now in its fulfilled form. In other words, our Divine Service is not simply something that was made up by the Roman Catholic Church and “tweaked” by Martin Luther to make it Lutheran. So, if the Divine Service can be traced back to the first century and parts of the service can be traced back to that to which they were given to point back in Leviticus, that is since the Divine Service originally pointed to Jesus through the ceremonial laws and now points to Jesus through the fulfilled parts of Scripture, perhaps we might be more careful in what we change or even if we should change any parts.
 
The Children of Israel were in a land, surrounded by pagan culture, false religion and gods that had all sorts of worship practices. As they desired to be more like those in the land, they moved further and further from God. This practice should be a warning to us. We would do well to beware of worship that seeks to look like the culture. When you see worshipers “getting down” with the jam of the band, ask yourself, “Is this any different than a concert I might attend?” If you cannot tell the difference, then maybe the culture and its norms have stolen your worship.
 
Worship is not entertainment and should not be confused with a concert. Worship is not vying for who is the lead or the star, who leads the “praise band.” Worship that is true worship, or orthodox worship is Divine Service and always and clearly points to Jesus, just Jesus, and not to self, not to the “leader,” not to anyone, but Jesus. Worship points to Jesus because Jesus is the One who is there giving out His gifts.
 
In worship everyone has a part. The called and ordained servant of the Word, the pastor, has the part of delivering the gifts of God to the people of God. He delivers these gifts through the means God has given to deliver the gifts, the means of grace. The pastor begins the Divine Service, the God Service by invoking God, by reminding the worshipers of their Baptism, “In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.” The pastor delivers the gifts of God through the pronouncement of the forgiveness of sins following the confession of the worshipers. The pastor delivers the gifts of God through the reading of the Scripture Texts appointed for that particular Sunday, and then expounding on that text in his sermon as he attempts to rightly speak Scripture. The pastor delivers the gifts of God through the Bread and Wine as he serves as the host at the Lord’s Table where he invites and distributes Jesus’ body and blood for the worshiper to eat and drink, thus participating in Jesus’ life, death and resurrection.
 
The laity, the parishioners also have a part in the Divine Service. The part of the worshiper is to be given to, that is to hear the Word of God, to believe the Word of God, to go out into the community and live the Word of God, even to share the Word of God with others as they are given the opportunity to do so through their various vocation. The laity are not called to distribute the gifts of God but to be given the gifts of God.
 
Worship, Divine Service reflects and flows out of Doctrine. In other words, Doctrine, what we believe, is intrinsically attached to practice, how we do what we believe. The two cannot be separated. Thus, because we believe that Baptism and the Lord’s Supper as well as Confession and Absolution and the Word of God are the very means through which our Lord comes to us to give us His good gifts and blessings, this belief, this doctrine is seen in the practice of the Divine Service.
 
We also understand that worship, Divine Service. is for believers as an opportunity to be strengthened in faith in order to face the world and take the message of salvation to the world through their various vocations. Evangelism may take place in the Divine Service as we invite our unchurched family and friends to “Come and see Jesus” in the Divine Service, but more often than not, evangelism takes place in our various vocations. As we have opportunities and as we are asked about our faith in our various vocations, we have God’s authority to speak and His promise to be with us to give an answer, a defense for our faith in Jesus. And God then does His part, that is the Holy Spirit works through His Word to give faith when and where He pleases.
 
Here are some simple ways to know if you are experiencing orthodox worship or doing something else, i.e. heterodox worship:
  1. If you can confuse what you are doing on Sunday morning to thinking you are at a concert, you are probably not at worship.
  2. If, in your worship song, you can replace the name of Jesus with your spouse or boy/girl-friend or significant other, then it is probably not a worship song.
  3. It there is a discussion concerning who gets top billing, then you are probably not talking about worship.
  4. If you have come to do something for God because you think He needs something from you, then it is probably not worship.
  5. If you are being pointed to anyone or anything for salvation besides Jesus, then it is probably not worship.
  6. If you are being told how God desires for you to be rich, famous, powerful, happy and so forth, then it is probably not worship (maybe a self-help seminar).
  7. If you are being told how good you are and how you can be the person God wants you to be, rather than being reminded of your sins and God’s grace and forgiveness, then it is probably not worship.
  8. If you do not see a cross, or altar, or anything that looks like the facility might be a worship facility, then it is probably not a worship facility and thus will probably not be worship.