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


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

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

JDL - Direction Thirty - We love because He first loved us - importance of order - God first

We love because he first loved us. (1 John 4:19 (ESV))

In the beginning our Lord created the heavens and the earth. He created the sun, moon and stars. He set everything in order to mark the seasons. The sun is of particular importance, and our Earth’s setting in the order of the layout of the planets is important as well. Our order and distance from the sun is just right for life. The other planets are either too close or too far away from the sun to sustain any type of life. What a wonderful creator God we have.

As our planet circles around the sun, at one season the north pointing more toward the sun and at other times point away we have our seasons, Spring and Summer, Autumn and Winter. As the earth circles the sun, we have various star systems and constellations to look at, and we also have a large mass called the moon which is circling us. The moon gives us tides and marks times we call months.

Interestingly enough, although we see the moon in its various stages throughout the month, it has no light of its own. The only way we can see the moon is if it is at such an angle that it can reflect the light of the sun so that we can see it. And that is why (and how) we have full moons, quarter moons, half moons and so forth, depending on how much of the sun it is reflecting. And that is why when the earth is in the way of the sun, there is no reflection, and we have no moonshine.

The relationship of the sun and the moon is a good way to understand our relationship with the Son of God. We are like the moon; we have no love of our own. As a matter of fact, as we have said from time to time, we are conceived and born in sin; we daily sin much and are in need of forgiveness; we are born spiritually blind, spiritually dead and enemies of God. We are like the moon when the sun is unable to shine on it.

The only way we are able to love is if and when God first loves us. As God the Son loves us and shines His love on us, then we are able, with His help, to reflect that love on to others. When things get in the way of our relationship with the Son, then our ability to love is blocked. When we get hurt or when we hurt others, when we sin and fail to confess and be given forgiveness, the love from the Son is blocked, and so we are not able to love others, forgive them and live at peace with them.

John speaks words of truth; we love only because Jesus first loves us. How important it is to remove those things which get in the way of our being given the Son’s love so that we might be able to reflect it to others. And when the Son’s love is shining on us, that also means that He is directing us. Jesus is directing us, and that is what we are looking for, a Jesus-directed life.

Think About
What is in the way of Jesus’ love entering your heart? What is in the way of your reflecting and shining that love to others?

Heavenly Father, thank You for loving me and sending Your Son to give His life to pay the price for my sins. Forgive me when I let the devil, the world and my own sinful flesh get in the way of Your love for me and in my loving others as You have first loved me. Help me always to reflect Your love to others, for Jesus’ sake. Amen.

Monday, August 30, 2010

JDL - Direction Twenty-nine - The importance of forgiveness

And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors. (Matthew 6:12 (ESV))

The most beautiful words in the world are “Your sins are forgiven.” There are no more beautiful words than these. These words are the most beautiful words because we know that with forgiveness comes life and salvation.

When counseling young couples who are about to be married, and even when preaching a wedding sermon, I like to talk about the importance of forgiveness, but I like to do so in the context of what our society says is important. Many people will tell you that the most important thing in any relationship is communication. Some people go on and on about the importance of communication. Some people will outline the three basic forms of communication, or the five steps to good communication. And yes, communication is important.

First, we want to understand that communication is important in all relationships because without communication a relationship could easily fall apart. If we do not talk to each other, we may become suspicious of one another or even have a wrong idea about the other party because we have not heard from them. Although, even as I say that, I do know of relationships that are easily picked up as good relationships even after lengths of time apart. Anyway, communication is important, but it is not the most important thing in a relationship.

The most important thing in every relationship is the forgiveness of sins. I can easily and quite well communicate to someone how much I do not like them or even hate them, but that is not something good to communicate. But, when I have done something wrong to or against someone, I can ask for and be given forgiveness which means the deed is erased, forgotten and is no more.

It is important that I forgive because, as we pray in the Lord’s Prayer (Matt. 6:9-13), if I do not (or even think that I cannot) forgive, then I am asking God to not forgive me. If I cannot forgive then how can I expect God to forgive me (Matt. 6:14-15)? It is actually the Good News of the Gospel that we know that the sins which have been committed have already been forgiven, which moves us to confess our sins. When Jesus died on the cross, He paid the price for all sins, even those which we have yet to commit. Certainly that does not gives us a license to sin, but it does give us the comfort of knowing that as we have been forgiven, so we may forgive others.

How can we be directed by Jesus when we have malice in our hearts? When we forgive others with the Lord’s help as we have been forgiven, we open our hearts to be led and directed by Jesus. As He directs us, we are led and directed to forgive as we have been forgiven. As we are forgive and as we forgiven, this works to strengthen our relationship with our Lord and with each other. This in turn gives us the confidence to continue to love and forgive.

Think About
Do you hold malice for anyone in your heart? Is there anyone you have not forgiven? If you have not forgiven, so you are refusing the very forgiveness you are not giving.

Heavenly Father, thank You for the greatest gift and blessing, forgiveness of sins. As You have already paid the price for all my sins, so I confess all my sins, in thought, word and deed, sins of omission and sins of commission. Help me to forgive others as You have forgiven me, for Jesus’ sake. Amen.

Sunday, August 29, 2010

JDL - Direction Twenty-eight - How God works - through means part three (Confession and Absolution)

Truly, I say to you, whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven. (Matthew 18:18 (ESV))

Therefore, confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person has great power as it is working.(James 5:16 (ESV))

You may be surprised if I tell you that there are actually two ways to get to heaven. One way, of course, is by the saving faith in Jesus Christ; the other way is by being perfect. If we could be perfect, then we could waltz right in. That is the way it was with Jesus. Of course, He had the distinct advantage of being born without sin, an advantage we do not share as we are each conceived and born in sin (Psalm 51:5). Instead of taking on our sin and suffering and dying, Jesus could have simply said, “Okay, Father, I am ready to come back home.” Thanks be to God this is not what He did, but instead He did take our sins upon Himself in order to pay the price for those sins so that we might have forgiveness and the gift and promise of eternal life with Him.

Sin is the thing that separates us from God the Father, and it is the thing that separates us from one another. Because of sin, because of Adam and Eve’s sin (Original Sin), because of our own sin (Actual Sin), we have a broken relationship with God the Father. With the main relationship broken, so we have broken relationships with one another. Ever wonder why husbands and wives have disagreements and fights? Ever wonder why children fight with one another and with their parents? Ever wonder why two people cannot get along, let alone three or more people? It is because of sin, our own sin and the sin of others.

Because our God is so great a God and because He is a gift-giving God, one of the most important gifts He has given to us is the gift of forgiveness and that we might share this gift of forgiveness with each other. What a wonderful thing that we can say, “I’m sorry.” And we can hear, “You’re forgiven.” Unfortunately, that is not what we hear in our world today. Too often what we hear is, “I’m sorry,” and, “That’s okay,” when in reality, it is not okay. Sin is not okay and is never okay. Sin is sin, and it needs to be taken care of. In other words, it needs forgiveness. The only way to give forgiveness is to offer it, that is to give it. We understand that when we speak words of forgiveness, when we offer forgiveness, it is not we who are giving it or earning it, but we are offering what Jesus has earned and gives. We are announcing what has happened; forgiveness has been earned and is meted out.

What a wonderful privilege God has given to us, His children, that we can share the forgiveness earned by Jesus with one another. And with forgiveness is the healing power that comes with it. There is no better way to heal a broken relationship than through the power of forgiveness. Remember, when Jesus encountered anyone who had a need, and usually it was some felt need of healing, His first priority was to meet their real need, forgiveness of sin. When the paralytic was put down through the house by his four friends, the first thing Jesus did and said was, “Your sins are forgiven (Matt. 9:2), meaning, your relationship with God the Father and Myself is healed.” And with that spiritual healing the man was indeed healed. The rest of the story is that Jesus also gave him physical healing, but that was really a bonus.

Although Confession and Absolution is not a sacrament, at least not according to our definition of a sacrament, we know and understand that it is a means of grace. Confession and absolution is another way in which our Lord comes to us to gives us forgiveness of sins, and as always, we know that with forgiveness there is also life and salvation. And with forgiveness we are open to hearing and being directed by Jesus in the rest of our lives.

Think About
When someone hurts you and says, “I’m sorry,” what do you say in response? Next time say, “You are forgiven.”

Heavenly Father, thank You for the greatest gift, forgiveness of sins. Forgive me when I refuse Your forgiveness by failing to ask for forgiveness and when I refuse to reflect Your love and forgiveness to others when they seek such forgiveness. Help me to always be ready to forgive as You have forgiven me, for Jesus’ sake. Amen.

Actions Speak Louder than Words - August 29, 2010 - Fourteenth Sunday after Pentecost (Proper 17) - Text: Proverbs 25:2-10

All of our readings for this morning remind us to have an attitude of humility. At the same time, we are reminded that this attitude of humility is not something that comes naturally, nor is it something that we can fake. If you have ever been around or worked with children for a time, you know that they know what is the attitude of people, especially adults. Our attitude is what flows out of our heart. Certainly we as adults can see the attitude of others simply by observation. Perhaps you know someone who has had a difficult life and you can tell by their “cranky” “bitter” attitude that they blame God or others for the way they have been treated by the world. And yet, there are those who have had a difficult life who have an attitude of grace about them and this is shown in their actions as well, which ties into our title, the fact that our actions speak loudly concerning our attitude.

As Christians, as sinner-saints, there are times that our lives show mixed signals, as my wife reminds me as we are driving down the freeway, “Don’t forget, you have a clergy sticker on the back of the car.” Or as the story goes, the policeman pulled over the motorist and cautiously approached the front door of the car. He asked for his identification and registration and explained that he thought, perhaps the car was stolen. When the motorist asked why the policeman thought the car was stolen, the policeman explained, “When I saw the “Save the unborn children” sticker, the Christian fish emblem, the Local Church sticker and the cross hanging from your mirror and then saw you angrily shouting at and waving at another motorist, I thought for sure you were not the owner of the vehicle.” Actions speak louder than words and as Christians, sometimes we send mixed signals with our actions. Thanks be to God we have forgiveness.

Getting to our text, I want to begin by looking at the other two readings this morning because I believe they tie in well with our Old Testament text. The Epistle reading exhorts us to “Let brotherly love continue” (v. 1). Perhaps this is another way of encouraging us to let what is in our heart show forth in our lives. Of course, the writer is counting on the fact that what is in our hearts is love and in this instance, brotherly love. So, we are encouraged to love as God first loved us. It is this love, God first loving us, that stirs in us to love God and to love others. One particular example that we are given is the encouragement to remember our leaders. Today we would be encouraged to pray for our leaders, for our president, our governors, our mayors and so forth.

In the Gospel reading for this morning we have the account of Jesus in confrontation with the Pharisees and His use of a parable to illustrate His point. Jesus’ words to the Pharisees are rather pointed, but we will want to remind ourselves that His words are for us today as well. Jesus reminds the Pharisees and us that an attitude of self-worth may result in humility, but an attitude of humility may result in exaltation. The “bottom line,” if you will, of Jesus’ parable is to remind us that this world is fast and fleeting, this world is nothing compared to the world to come and so, blessed are those who receive a reward, not in this world, but at the resurrection.

Now, getting to our text from Proverbs. Our text begins with a bit of a distinction between God and the king, understanding that the earthly king receives his power to rule from God. Verse two, “2It is the glory of God to conceal things, but the glory of kings is to search things out” (v. 2). With these words and by inspiration of God, Solomon reminds us that although God’s glory is seen only in how and when He chooses to reveal Himself, a king will strive to keep his kingdom open and honest. How true these words are today as we see that the trusted leaders of the world are those who are open and honest and not trying to hide their dishonesty and shameful acts from the people who have consented to be governed by them.

Yet, there may be times for the sake of security, that a ruler may need to keep things concealed. Picking up at verse three, “3As the heavens for height, and the earth for depth, so the heart of kings is unsearchable” (v. 3). Even today, when it comes to protecting our country, for the sake of national security, some information may need to be concealed, however, care must be taken in this concealing of information so that improprieties may not be concealed.

Continuing on in our text, Solomon reminds us that in order to run a good government, the wicked must be exposed and expelled, lest the ruler’s character is besmirched because of his associations. Picking up at verse four, “4Take away the dross from the silver, and the smith has material for a vessel; 5take away the wicked from the presence of the king, and his throne will be established in righteousness” (v. 4-5). In our world today we know the truth of the matter that a person’s character can be seen by the company that person keeps. For a ruler to rule effectively, the company they keep, the people who would share in the responsibility of his rule must also be of good character. Thus, a rulers rule is only as good as the weakest link in his administration.

Solomon continues by speaking words similar to the words of Jesus in our Gospel reading for this morning. He reminds us that the rewarding of a humble attitude is better than a humiliation of an exalted attitude, picking up at verse six, “6Do not put yourself forward in the king’s presence or stand in the place of the great, 7for it is better to be told, “Come up here,” than to be put lower in the presence of a noble” (v. 6-7). Certainly an audience with the king is a great but rare privilege, thus to come into the kings presence only to be rebuked would be the worst outcome for anyone. We might note that even today we do not see too many people shown in the presence of our own president, which is seen as a great honor. And one invited to come into the presidents presence would certainly understand the need to come in humility.

Finally, Solomon gives us good advice concerning the matter of our legal system. He tells us that it is better to settle things out of court than in court, picking up at verse eight, “8do not hastily bring into court, for what will you do in the end, when your neighbor puts you to shame?” (v. 8). Perhaps these words might remind us of Jesus words telling us to not be quick to judge others for according to the same judgement we might be judged.

Why might we be not hasty in going to court, Solomon continues by telling us that one revealing secrets becomes known as being untrustworthy, picking up at verse nine, “9Argue your case with your neighbor himself, and do not reveal another’s secret, 10lest he who hears you bring shame upon you, and your ill repute have no end” (v. 9-10). Remembering that the courtroom is a place where “the truth, whole truth, and nothing but the truth” is to be presented, the secrets of many may be laid bare, even those of the one bringing the suit. Thus, Solomon warns that rather than trying to hurt the reputation of another, and maybe having your own reputation hurt, either by your own testimony or by those who see you in court, it is better to work to settle your dispute with your neighbor himself.

Now that we have looked at our readings and have looked at our text, in good Lutheran fashion we ask, “What does this mean?” I know the title of this message is rather cliche, however, I believe all our readings for this morning show the truth that our actions do speak louder than our words and our actions do show what is in our hearts. Today, perhaps the cliche we are familiar with most which is similar is the one that says, “If you are going to talk the talk, then you need to walk the walk.” Certainly what is in our hearts should and does show itself in our actions.

As a Christian, we understand, we believe, teach and confess that our life, our attitude and direction must be directed by our faith. In our church we have heard discussions concerning style and substance, which is another way of saying practice and doctrine, or in more modern language we would say what we believe and how we act out what we believe. How do these two things, style and substance, doctrine and practice, what we believe and how we act relate? Or do they relate? Again, as a Christian and according to God’s Word in our readings for this morning, we understand that how we act is directed by what we believe so that what we believe directly correlates to how we act. You cannot separate what you believe from how you act and how you act from what you believe.

Again, as a Christian, because it is our faith which is at the heart of and directs our actions, we know that our faith is important. As we talked about a couple weeks ago, our faith is the means or instrument God uses to give us all the gifts and blessings He has to give and it is also what is given to us by God either through His Word or through the waters of Holy Baptism. With God, it is a package deal. Maybe you remember my illustration of the ice cream. When your friend gives you ice cream he does not simply give you the ice cream, he gives you a spoon with which to eat the ice cream. So it is with God, when He gives us His good gifts and blessings which are ours by faith, He also gives us the instrument through which He gives us all the gifts and blessings He has to give. So, God gives us faith and our lives are guided by and directed by the faith which He gives. In other words, our actions are determined by the faith which God gives.

As Christian, then, as we live lives of faith and here again we have talked about this over the past few weeks, as we live lives as priest in the priesthood of all believers, as we live in our various vocations, as we live lives as living sacrifices for the Lord, our lives give glory to God, thus, God is glorified through His people, our faith being lived out in our actions showing forth and giving God glory.

Notice, again, and again, and again, as we have been reminded again and again and again, God is the prime mover. Have you noticed over the past few weeks, as we have been working through these Old Testament readings, and as they have, in many instances related so well with the other readings, what a great teacher God is, as He strives to teach and reteach so that we get the message. This teaching and reteaching is another reminder of the need for regular and diligent use of the means of grace so that our Lord can teach and reteach so that He can have His way with us.

God is the prime mover. God gives us life. God gives us faith. God gives us forgiveness of sins. God loves us. God stirs in us to love others. God stirs in us to reflect His love to others. God moves us to live lives of faith. He forgives us when we fail to live lives of faith and when we live mixed signal lives as sinner/saints. How can we not show forth the faith that is in our hearts even in an imperfect way?

According to our text for this morning, according to the wisdom of Solomon, we understand that the wisdom of the wise is seen in the humble nature of one who takes care in their associations, as well as in speaking, and in patience in bringing accusations. Further, we are reminded that a humble attitude, a clear conscience, and a good reputation are signs of Christian faith and love. And we are finally reminded that God’s glory is seen through what we might describe as faith driven actions, through the humble attitude of the children He has given faith, through us, so that our lives do say, to God be the glory for Jesus’ sake. Amen.

Saturday, August 28, 2010

JDL - Direction Twenty-seven - How God works - through means part two (Lord’s Supper)

You cannot drink the cup of the Lord and the cup of demons. You cannot partake of the table of the Lord and the table of demons. (1 Cor. 10:21 (ESV))

The Passover meal was for the children of Israel and any foreigner who might be in their midst. This was a meal to remember and celebrate the “passing over” of the angel of death in Egypt when the children of Israel were delivered from their bondage of slavery in Egypt. This meal was meant to remind the children of Israel to keep from straying and sinning lest they be overtaken and put into bondage again (as happened many times throughout their history).

Although this meal was intended for the children of Israel and any foreigner in their midst, when Jesus gave His Supper, He gave it only to those of His closest friends. He gave it to those of the same faith. As you read through the accounts of Jesus giving the Lord’s Supper, you will notice that before Jesus gives His supper, Judas has left. Jesus then institutes, gives His supper and He gives it as a closed communion, without foreigners.

Understanding what Jesus gives us is the Lord’s Supper, that is, it is His Supper means we do it best, we do it right when we do it the way in which He has given it to us to do. For example, when you are invited to someone’s house for dinner, you do not go in and say, “I do not want to do it the way you are giving it, I want to do it my way.” No, you sit and are given to as the host gives to you. Likewise, at the Lord’s Supper, you do not say, “This is a me and Jesus thing, and so I should be allowed to come to your table.” No, instead you come as a poor miserable sinner, desiring to be given Christ’s body and blood and the forgiveness of sins. You do not come with the attitude that it does not matter what you believe because we all believe something different about this meal; again, that is a “me and Jesus” attitude. No, you come in faith, believing the very words of the Host, Jesus Himself, that with the bread you are being given body and with the wine you are being given blood. You come, not to take but to receive. You come to be given to. The Greek word for “take” in “take eat” literally means take or receive, or be given to. We do not take; we are given the Lord’s Supper. We are given His Supper in faith, preparing ourselves and being given in the way in which He gives it. In this way we remember, we participate in His death until He comes again.

We come to the Lord’s Supper to be given to, and what are we given? We are given bread and body. This is what we call real presence. In, with and under the bread is the body of Christ, truly, really present. We physically eat the bread while we spiritually eat the body.

We are also given wine and blood. This, too, is what we call real presence. In, with and under the wine is the blood of Christ, truly, really present. We physically drink the wine while we spiritually drink the blood.

And we participate in the Lord’s death. This is what we call remembering His death. We participate in His death meaning that His life becomes our life, His death becomes our death, His resurrection becomes our resurrection. The forgiveness which He earned He earned for us and is ours.

In good Lutheran fashion we ask, “What does this mean?” This means that we take seriously our statement of our practice of the Lord’s Supper which is printed in the bulletin each week (See Appendix One). Hopefully your congregation includes such a statement.

This means that we come prepared. We examine ourselves to make sure that we believe that we are sinners and are in need of forgiveness, that we are sorry for our sins, and that we believe that through the Lord’s Supper we will be given forgiveness of sins.

This means that we come in faith, especially believing in the real presence of Jesus’ body and blood, in, with and under the bread and wine. As Paul reminds us in 1 Corinthians 11:27-31, “Therefore, whoever eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty of sinning against the body and blood of the Lord. A man ought to examine himself before he eats of the bread and drinks of the cup. For anyone who eats and drinks without recognizing the body of the Lord eats and drinks judgment on himself. That is why many among you are weak and sick, and a number of you have fallen asleep. But if we judged ourselves, we would not come under judgment.”

This means that we come as a community of like-minded believers. That we come, not lying about our confession, but confessing together. In other words, if we partake of the Lord’s Supper at the table of other denominations, then we are saying that we confess what they confess. If that is true, then we are lying when we come to our table, because our confession is not the same. Thus, it is important that we make a clear and honest confession when we come to the Lord’s Table.

And this means that we come being given to. We come to be given forgiveness, strengthening of faith and eternal life.

The Lord’s Supper is just that, the Lord’s Supper. He gives it to us, and He gives it to us to be given in a certain way, a Jesus-directed way, according to how He has given it. The Lord’s Supper is where we go to be given the gifts which the Lord earned on the cross on Calvary. May the Lord prepare us to faithfully be given and to make use of His most blessed Supper.

Think About
What is your attitude when coming to the Lord’s Table? What do you believe concerning the very Words of the Lord in His hosting and giving His meal?

Heavenly Father, thank You for Your body and blood in Your holy meal. Forgive me when I take Your meal and Your Words lightly failing to examine myself and believe what You are giving to me. Help me to come with an attitude of gratitude and be given what You so lovingly have to give to me, for Jesus’ sake. Amen.

Friday, August 27, 2010

JDL - Direction Twenty-six - How God works - through means part one (Holy Baptism)

And Peter said to them, “Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. For the promise is for you and for your children and for all who are far off, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to himself.” (Acts 2:38-39 (ESV))

In the Old Testament, the putting on of God’s name was something very important. When God put His name on something, that meant that it was His. He was claiming it as His. He was marking it as His. When God put His name on the children of Israel, they were His. When God put His name on the children of Israel, after calling them to be His people, they stood out as being His people. They belonged to Him, and the nations around knew that they belonged to the Lord.

In a very similar way, when water and God’s name are put on us at our baptism, that is God putting His name on us. God uses the pastor’s hands (or the hand of any Christian in the case of an emergency) to put water on us and to speak His name on us. God’s name, Father, Son and Holy Spirit is put on us. This is very important because, as God puts His name on us, so He is claiming us as His own. Of course, as we have said before, He is also putting faith in our hearts, giving us forgiveness of sins, and with forgiveness is always life and salvation.

Remember when you were growing up and first going to school? Your mother put your name on everything. She put your name on your lunch box or lunch bag. She put your name on your coat. She put your name on your books. She put your name on your pencil box. You may have even had pencils with your name on them. Everything that was yours had your name on it. This was so that you knew what was yours and so that others knew what was yours.

Name recognition is important. We each have a name, and that name is what identifies us. We also have a surname which identifies the family to which we belong. This naming, this recognizing and belonging is very important. Likewise, as Christians, we have a name and we have a family to which we belong. We have our own name, and we also bear the name Christian. This name identifies us and sets us apart as belonging. As Christians we belong to the one name Christ; His name is in our name. Because we belong to Him, we know we are His. Because we bear His name, we know we are His. And because we bear His name, we know that He claims us, and ultimately that claiming means eternal life.

Certainly, God would never confuse us with anyone who does not belong to Him, and He would never miss those of us who do belong to Him. His name is on us. We bear His name. His name, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are so important, because His name marks and identifies us as His.

A Jesus-directed life understands the importance of the right name. We know that unless our name is His name, unless His name is on us, we would have no hope. But, as His children, as ones bearing His name, we know that He is with us to guard, guide and lead us through all of life.

Think About
Do you have your name written on anything that belongs to you? Did those items claim you and put your name on themselves or did you purchase and/or claim them and put your name on them?

Heavenly Father, thank You for claiming me, for purchasing me with Your blood, for putting Your name on me through the water of Baptism. Forgive me when I forget Whose I am and help me, rather to live as Your chosen, purchased, and claimed child, for Jesus’ sake. Amen.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

JDL - Direction Twenty-five - The Lord’s Supper - from tolerance to care

Whoever, therefore, eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty of profaning the body and blood of the Lord. (1 Cor. 11:27 (ESV))

Fortunately, and at times unfortunately, we live in a tolerant country (society). This means that we tolerate others’ belief systems. This is good in so far as we, as Christians, may freely practice our faith and live and worship as Christians in this country. This is not so good when this tolerance ekes its way into the church.

As Christians we understand that we are to be respectful of others, and we are to treat others as we would like to be treated (Matt. 7:12). Thus, as Christians we are tolerant of others, their beliefs, their church, even their lifestyle, insofar as it is at least morally sound. Yet, even though we may be tolerant, God is not tolerant. God is intolerant of sin. God is intolerant of faith in any other god other than Himself. God demands we worship Him and serve only Him. God demands perfection from us in our lives. And the threat is, unless we live as such, we are bound for eternal spiritual death.

Thanks be to God that there is forgiveness. As was discussed earlier, where there is confession there is absolution. But what does this have to do with the Lord’s Supper? And you will notice that I use the term, the “Lord’s Supper” instead of any other term which one might use such as; Holy Communion, The Last Supper, the Sacrament of the Altar, etc. It is the Lord’s Supper. He is the one who has given it to us, and so it is His Supper. He is the host, and we are His guests, and so it is His Supper.

We do the Lord’s Supper right, and we do it best when we do it in the way in which He has given it to be done by remembering that the main thing in the Lord’s Supper is bread and wine, body and blood, and forgiveness of sins. We also do it best by remembering that the added benefit of the Lord’s Supper is that it is also a witness of oneness in fellowship. Remembering those things, we do well to take care in how we do His meal.

Paul is to the point when he tells us that one might eat or drink to one’s judgement. As a Christian congregation, then, we will want to do everything in our power to care for those who approach the Lord’s Table so they do not hurt nor harm themselves spiritually. It is because of our love for those who come to the Lord’s Table that we practice the loving practice of closed communion. And really there are only two options, either open communion meaning that anyone and everyone may dine, or closed communion meaning that only those who are prepared and are in fellowship together may dine .

The early church and even Jesus practiced closed communion. Jesus did not invite anyone except His disciples (even Judas was excluded) when He gave His Supper. In the early church those who were not partaking of the Supper were excused and the doors to the church were closed.

The Lord’s Supper is not a “me and Jesus” meal. The Lord’s Supper is a community celebration. It is a confession of faith and an identification with a community. When one partakes of the Lord’s Supper at a Roman Catholic church, one professes one belief in the Lord’s Supper. When one partakes of the Lord’s Supper in a Baptist church, one professes a different belief in the Lord’s Supper. When one partakes of the Lord’s Supper in a Lutheran church, one professes yet one more belief in the Lord’s Supper. Thus, if someone partook of the Lord’s Supper at a Roman Catholic church, a Baptist church, and a Lutheran church, they would be lying to two of the three churches and their members.

We are worthy and prepared to approach the Lord’s Supper, through which our Lord comes to us to give us His good gifts and blessings and to direct us in our lives, when we have prepared ourselves. We prepare ourselves by reviewing the fact that we are sinners, and it was because of our sins that Jesus had to die on the cross. We confess our sins and pray the Lord’s help and guidance in not sinning those same sins again. We believe that we are being given the body and blood of Christ, in, with and under the bread and wine. We believe that this gift is for me. And we believe we are being given forgiveness of sins, strengthening of faith and life and salvation through this most holy gift. And we understand that through this means as through the other means of grace, our Lord directs us and our lives.

Think About
If actions speak louder than words, what do your actions say concerning your belief in the Lord’s Supper? What about the belief of those who dine with you?

Heavenly Father, thank You for Your most precious gift of Your body and blood in Your Holy Supper. Forgive me when I fail to make witness of my faith in Your gift of Yourself. Help me to always be ready to give an answer, even a defense of my faith, for Jesus’ sake. Amen.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

JDL - Direction Twenty-Four - The Lord’s Supper - from Temple to Church

For I received from the Lord what I also delivered to you, that the Lord Jesus on the night when he was betrayed took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it, and said, “This is my body which is for you. Do this in remembrance of me.” In the same way also he took the cup, after supper, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me.” For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes. (1 Cor. 11:23-26 (ESV)

In the Old Testament, God gave the children of Israel a rather elaborate set of rules and guidelines for dealing with sin and for offering sacrifices. Each sin committed, either on purpose or on accident, had a particular penalty or sacrifice associated with it. Some sins were deemed greater than others and required a larger sacrifice than others. Each sacrifice included a liturgy of the one offering the sacrifice to do a certain part and the priest, on God’s behalf, doing a certain part.

Interestingly enough, for all the sacrifices that were made, none of these sacrifices truly paid for anything. No animal sacrifice is enough to pay the price of any one person’s sin. However, all of these Old Testament sacrifices did serve one purpose; they were pointing to the One Sacrifice which would be enough.

In the Garden of Eden, God told Adam and Eve that if they disobeyed Him and ate from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, they would die. And when they ate of the fruit of that tree, they did die. They immediately died a spiritual eternal death (hell), although that death was atoned for by Jesus. And they began to die an earthly physical death. The result of their sins continues to be seen in our world today as death and dying continue.

At a certain point in history God chose the children of Israel. Out of all the nations of the world and by His grace, He called them. He called them to be His people. He put His name on them making them His people. He did everything for them and gave everything to them. And yet, they continued to sin. And He continued to forgiven them and promise and reiterate His promise to send a Savior through their nation. He instituted the sacrificial system so that they might see the cost of their sins. Because of their sins, blood had to be shed, life had to be given.

When the repentant sinner would bring the sacrifice, after placing his hands on the head of the offering as the priest killed it, the priest then cut up the animal. Some parts were burned completely, other parts were given to the priest and lastly the sinner would eat of some parts of the sacrifice (almost like a bar-be-que). And thus, the sinner would participate in the sacrifice, bringing the offering, putting his sins on the offering, watching the burning of the offering and eating some of the offering.

When we get to the New Covenant, the New Testament, we have something similar happening. We are the sinners who bring ourselves before the Lord. Jesus is the great High Priest. We come empty handed. Jesus comes offering Himself as the supreme sacrifice, the Lamb of God who came to take away the sins of the world (John 1:36). Jesus allowed Himself to be crucified, sacrificed on the cross for our sins. And now, when we come to the Lord’s Supper, we eat of this sacrifice. We eat of the bread and Jesus’ body, and we drink of the cup of wine and of Jesus’ blood. And in this way, in this eating and drinking we participate (“Do this in remembrance of me” (1 Cor. 11:24)) in this sacrifice. In His death, His life is given for us and for our life. Thus, His death is our death. Yet, He does not stay dead but rises from the dead, and so His resurrection is also for us. His resurrection is our resurrection. And His life, His eternal life is our life, our eternal life.

There is no more need for any type of sacrifice. Jesus is the ultimate sacrifice once and for all for the forgiveness of sins (Heb. 10:10). When we partake of the Lord’s Supper we partake for the forgiveness of sins earned by Jesus and given to us.

And again, the main thing, then, in the Lord’s Supper is still the main thing, the fact that it is His supper. He is host and we are guest. He is the one giving the meal, the meal of Himself, and we are the ones being given to. He gives us His body and blood to eat and drink. He gives us forgiveness of sins, through the eating and drinking of His body and blood. He gives us faith and strengthening of faith. Yes, He gives, and we are given to. In like manner, in a Jesus-directed life, He is the one who gives (guidance and direction) and we are given to. And there is no better way to be directed than that we are first given forgiveness, which brings us back into a right relationship with Him, so that we might then listen as He speaks and gives to us.

Think About
In reading the Biblical account of the Lord’s Supper, read the words, which mean what they say. What does Jesus take? What does Jesus say He has? Hint: He takes bread and says it is His Body, He takes the cup of wine and says it is His blood.

Heavenly Father, thank You for Your gifts of bread and body, wine and blood, through which You give me faith, strengthening of faith, forgiveness, life and salvation. Forgive me when I impose my own logic on what You have given because it is truly beyond my human understanding. Instead, strengthen me to believe the very words You speak and so be given the gifts You give, for Jesus’ sake. Amen.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

JDL - Direction Twenty-Three - The Lord’s Supper - from Passover to Seder

Now on the first day of Unleavened Bread the disciples came to Jesus, saying, “Where will you have us prepare for you to eat the Passover?” (Matthew 26:17 (ESV))

Jesus, true God, gave up all the glory that was His in heaven and took on human flesh and blood, being born as a true human. He came to His own people and was born as an Israelite. At the age of twelve He was bar mitzvahed, and we hear about Him in the temple. At the age of thirty He began His earthly ministry. And every year as He was able, He went to Jerusalem to celebrate the Passover. The Passover was that Israelite celebration commemorating the children of Israel’s triumphant deliverance from bondage of slavery in Egypt and the passing over of the angel of death during the last plague.

As Jesus sat down to eat this last meal with His disciples, when He came to the point in the celebration of the third cup, the cup of redemption, He took this celebration and from it gave us a new celebration, the celebration of His Holy Supper, the Lord’s Supper as we call it.

Jesus took some of the bread, gave thanks, broke it and gave it to His disciples. This bread, in His hands, He gave to His disciples with the words, “Take and eat, this is my body.” Thus, the words of Jesus Himself, the account of the Word of God in all its truth and purity tells us that what is present is bread and Christ’s body.

After the bread, Jesus took the cup, the third cup, the cup of redemption and gave it also to His disciples. As He gave them the cup of wine, He said, “Drink of it, all of you, for this is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins. I tell you I will not drink again of this fruit of the vine until that day when I drink it new with you in my Father’s kingdom” (Matthew 26:27b-29 (ESV)). Thus, the words of Jesus Himself, the account of the Word of God in all its truth and purity tells us that what is present is wine and Christ’s blood.

The old Passover celebration has now been given anew. The new Passover celebration, that is, the Lord’s Supper is now celebrated. In the New Covenant, the sins (of all people of all places before this time) which had formerly been passed over have been paid for in Jesus’ death. And the sins of those living as well as those yet to live have been paid for in Jesus’ death. By faith in Jesus and His death and resurrection, the angel of death now passes over us.

In the Lord’s Supper we eat and drink, bread and wine, body and blood, and we participate in the Lord’s death and resurrection. When Jesus says to “Do this in remembrance of me,” He is not asking us to perform some memorial meal. He is not asking us to act something out. Rather what He telling us is that when we partake of His body and blood, in, with, and under the bread and wine, we are participating in His death and resurrection. His perfect life becomes our perfect life. His death becomes our death. His resurrection becomes our resurrection. His life becomes our life.

The main thing, then, in the Lord’s Supper is the fact that it is His supper. In His supper He is host and we are guest. He is the one giving the meal, and we are the ones being given to. He gives us His body and blood to eat and drink. He gives us forgiveness of sins, through the eating and drinking of His body and blood. He gives us faith and strengthening of faith. Yes, He gives, and we are given to. In like manner, in a Jesus-directed life, He is the one who gives (guidance and direction) and we are given to. And there is no better way to be directed than that we are first given forgiveness, which brings us back into a right relationship with Him, so that we might then listen as He speaks and gives to us.

Think About
Do you understand how an aspirin works to cure your headache? It works whether you understand or not. The same is true for the Lord’s Supper; it works for the forgiveness of sins because God makes it work.

Heavenly Father, thank You for the gift of Your body and blood, in, with and under the bread and wine in Your Holy Supper. Forgive us when we fail to recognize and believe Your Word which tells us what You are giving. Help us to always desire Your Holy Supper and the gifts You give through Your Holy Meal, for Jesus’ sake. Amen.

Monday, August 23, 2010

JDL - Direction Twenty-Two - Confession and Absolution

If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. (1 John 1:8-9 (ESV))

One of the most important, if not the most important, gifts and blessings we have from our Lord is the gift of confession and absolution. Knowing, understanding and believing that God’s Word does what it says, when we speak words of repentance, confessing our sins, and we hear the words of absolution, “Your sins are forgiven,” we know that is exactly what is happening; our sins are forgiven.

The interesting thing about confession and absolution, about repentance and forgiveness is that we cannot have one without the other. Without confession, without repentance, there is no absolution, there is no forgiveness. This is called “gift refusal.” We refuse the gift of forgiveness when we refuse to confess and repent of our sins.

When a child is given a brand new toy and told to take good care of it, that is what is expected of him. When he breaks that toy, unless he admits and confesses that he broke the toy, there can be no attempt to repair the toy. A parent cannot repair or replace a broken toy unless they know about it. Similarly, unless we confess and repent of our sins, acknowledging our sins, there can be no absolution, no forgiveness. The cost, the price, the wage, what sin has earned is eternal spiritual death. Paul writes, “For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 6:23 (ESV)). The cost of sin has to be paid.

In the Garden of Eden, not too long after God created a perfect world and a perfect man (Adam) and woman (Eve) to live in the world, they disobeyed God and sin entered the world (Original Sin). Their sin has now infected all people (of all places of all times). Their sin along with the sins we each commit each and every day, even many times a day (Actual Sin, including sins of omission and commission) are counted against us. But how bad can that be, really? Suppose we only sinned thirty times in a day. Certainly that is a minimal number considering how many times we sin and we do not even realize we are sinning. Too often we sin, and since we do not realize we are sinning, we sin even more. It is just our nature to sin (Genesis 6:5). It comes so natural to us that we do not even need to practice. But suppose we only sin thirty times in a day. Multiply that by 365 days in a year, that equals over 10,000 sins a year. Now, multiply that number by how old you are, and we begin to realize what big sinners we really are.

The price for sin is death, eternal spiritual death. This sin is that which has separated us from God. And if we remain in our sin, we remain separated from God. Even the sin of all people before Jesus died on the cross, those sins which were set aside for a time (Romans 3:25), had a price to be paid. When Jesus came, He paid the price for those sins committed before He came as well as all the sins of all the people living at the time. And even more, He also paid the price for the sins of all people who had yet to sin. Even all the sins I have yet to commit, their price has been paid. The price for all sins has been paid.

There is nothing we need to do to make this forgiveness ours; it is all there, all paid for, all given to us. All we can do is resist it and refuse it. We resist and refuse God’s forgiveness when we fail to confess, acknowledge and repent of our sins. That is gift refusal.

And yet, the beauty is that when we do confess, when we do repent, then we hear the most beautiful words, “Your sins are forgiven.” Those are the most beautiful words in the world because we know that where there is forgiveness, there is also life and salvation.

Here again we see the beauty and the wonder of the Gospel, which tells us that when we confess our sins, there is forgiveness. It is this beautiful message which motivates us to confess and repent, not the harsh finger pointing of the law which merely points out our sin and our sinfulness and our worthless state. The law would merely lead us to despair, but this beautiful Gospel promise of forgiveness stirs us to repent and be given forgiveness.

And with forgiveness, our hearts and minds are open to be given more words of direction in Jesus leading our lives. And that is truly a Jesus-directed life.

Think About
How many times in a day do you find yourself confessing, “I wish I had not done that” or “I wish I had done something”? How often in a day do you find yourself in the midst of sinning, but you just had not thought about it?

Heavenly Father, thank You for the gift of forgiveness, that all my sins have been paid for by Jesus. Help me when I am having a difficult time letting go of and admitting my sin so that I may confess and hear Your words, “Your sins are forgiven” so that I may have forgiveness, peace, life and salvation, for Jesus’ sake. Amen.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

JDL - Direction Twenty-One - The message - Law (what we do) and Gospel (what God does) - Part Two

For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 6:23 (ESV))

We talked about the Law, and now we need to move on and talk about the Gospel. The Law is important because it shows us our sins. If we did not know we sinned, then we would not know we need a Savior. If we did not know we need a Savior, then we would be lost forever.

Again, the Law accuses; the Law shows our sins; the Law does nothing for us that would move us or motivate us to anything except despair, or worse, self-righteousness.

Thanks be to God that Jesus also speaks words of Gospel to us. Just as we learned the S.O.S. of the Law, so there is an S.O.S. of the Gospel. The Gospel Shows our Savior. The purpose of the Gospel is to point us to Jesus. The Law pointed us to ourselves wherein we saw our deficiencies and, in and of ourselves, our lack of hope. The Gospel points us to outside ourselves, even to Jesus who did everything for us.

Very often when we speak about the Gospel, we tend to minimize it to simply being that Jesus died for my sins and rose again. That is most certainly Gospel as is the Gospel in a nut shell, John 3:16; however, that is not the totality of the Gospel. The totality of the Gospel lies in the fact that the “passion” of Christ began with His conception and birth under the Law.

Remember, Jesus came to His own, the children of Israel. He came as the embodiment of the children of Israel. What the whole nation of Israel could not do, Jesus did. He fulfilled all the Law and the Prophets, perfectly. He did everything perfectly, not only for the children of Israel but for us as well. He did everything we are to do perfectly. He suffered every temptation we suffer and even more and greater, and He never sinned. He obeyed all the laws perfectly, something we cannot do. And after living a perfect life, He then became our substitute. He who was without sin, He who knew no sin became sin for us (2 Cor. 5:21).

He, Jesus, took all our sins upon Himself as well as all the sins of all the people who ever lived, who were living, and who ever will live, and He suffered and died to pay the price, the wage, the cost for those sins. He died the eternal death penalty for all people, and most specifically, for us in our place. And He did it because of His great love for us.

“The wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 6:23 (ESV)), and this eternal life did not come as a free gift. Oh, forgiveness is ours, free of cost, but our sins did not just vanish in the wind. The price, the cost for sin, for our sins had to be paid. Jesus paid the price for our sins with His life; that is why the gift which He gives and which He can give because He is the one who earned it is eternal life which He freely gives to us.

When Jesus directs our lives, He speaks to us words of Law which remind us of our state of being before He called us out of the darkness of our sin. And He directs us as He speaks words of Gospel, words which motivate us to confess our sins and to begin forgiveness. And those words of forgiveness are most precious because with forgiveness there is always life and salvation. Oh, how wonderful to be directed by Jesus through His wonderful words of forgiveness and salvation. It doesn’t get any better than that.

Think About
What is the price for sin? Can you pay the price for sin?

Heavenly Father, thank You for Your message of salvation, the Good News, the Gospel message that Jesus lived for me, took my sins and died for me. Forgive me when I attempt to take any credit for what You alone have done. Help me to be better able to express what You have done for me through word and action, for Jesus’ sake. Amen.

Signs of What Is to Come - August 22, 2010 - Thirteenth Sunday after Pentecost (Proper 16) - Text: Isaiah 66:18-23

The comedian Steven Wright quips, “I know when I am going to die because my birth certificate has an expiration date on it.” Every generation, or so it seems, has believed theirs to be the last generations, at least that is the thinking with each generation. Things have gotten so bad that they believe, this must be the end. From the time of the promise of a Messiah until His actual birth, God waited some 3000 years. Before His ascension, Jesus promised He would return. So far we have waited only 2000 years. Will God wait another thousand years? Will God return during our lifetime? I do not know. What I do know, and what I would encourage you to know is that He tells us to be ready and He gives us examples of those who were not ready; those not ready for the flood, those not ready for the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah, and likewise those who will not be ready for His return on the last day. And what I do know is that we will stand before the Lord to be judged by Him and that day will be, either when He returns, or when we pass on from this world, when we die and go to Him, either way, it will happen, we will see our last day and I believe that last day will be sooner than we know and sooner than we might expect. So, it is indeed, truly important, to be ready at all times.

In our text for today, words given by God through Isaiah, especially to the children of Israel, but words to us today as well, we are reminded that the time is coming, the end, the day of Judgement is coming. As the end approaches, Isaiah reminds us that God knows our works and thoughts. We begin at verse eighteen, “18“For I know their works and their thoughts, and the time is coming to gather all nations and tongues. And they shall come and shall see my glory” (v. 18). On the last day, on the day of judgement, the Lord will gather all people, believers and unbelievers alike and we will all stand before Him to be judged and we will be judged, not by any outward appearance, but by the contents of our hearts as the Lord will look into our hearts and know our thoughts.

Continuing on at verse nineteen, Isaiah reminds us that God will gather all nations to be judged, “19and I will set a sign among them. And from them I will send survivors to the nations, to Tarshish, Pul, and Lud, who draw the bow, to Tubal and Javan, to the coastlands afar off, that have not heard my fame or seen my glory. And they shall declare my glory among the nations” (v. 19). All people from all over the world will stand before the Lord. Isaiah tells us, in slightly different words, what John says in Revelation, that on the last day, all nations, all people, believers and yes, even unbelievers, will bow down and acknowledged that Jesus is Lord.

Continuing on at verse twenty, until that day, the day of the Lord’s return on judgement day, the Lord will send out missionaries to call people to faith, “20And they shall bring all your brothers from all the nations as an offering to the Lord, on horses and in chariots and in litters and on mules and on dromedaries, to my holy mountain Jerusalem, says the Lord, just as the Israelites bring their grain offering in a clean vessel to the house of the Lord” (v. 20). Of course, we are reminded that this does not simply mean sending missionaries out to people in far off foreign lands, because today we, you and I are missionaries. Just look at the cultural diversity we have here in our own country. People from countries where Christianity is illegal, have come here to our country, to us, and as we have opportunity, as we live lives of faith, as we live as priests in the priesthood of all believers, as we live as living sacrifices, and as we are asked, so we are to boldly, with God’s authority, share the good news of the message of salvation to all those the Lord gives us opportunity to speak to.

Verse twenty-one reiterates this priesthood idea. Those who have been given faith are to serve in their vocation as priests, “21And some of them also I will take for priests and for Levites, says the Lord.” (v. 21). What a privilege, to be a witness, to be a missionary for our Lord as He gives us the opportunity.

Perhaps we do not think about it enough, but our days on this earth are numbered and are few, especially compared to eternity. It will not be long and our Lord will create a new heaven and a new earth. On the day of judgement the Lord will separate the believers from the unbelievers. Those judged to eternal life will share in His glory, verse twenty-two, “22“For as the new heavens and the new earth that I make shall remain before me, says the Lord, so shall your offspring and your name remain” (v. 22). Those who have been given faith and who remain in faith will be given eternal life in heaven with the Lord.

And this eternal life in heaven will be eternal. As for time, in heaven there will be no time for time will be the eternal present and complete holiness, picking up at verse twenty-three, “23From new moon to new moon, and from Sabbath to Sabbath, all flesh shall come to worship before me, declares the Lord” (v. 23). Heaven will be an unending place of eternal joy.

So, what does this mean? As we have been reminded the last number of weeks and so as we continually need to be reminded, which is the reason we come to divine service every Sunday, because of our constant need to be reminded, God is the prime mover. God acts first. God gives and we are given to. God gives life, faith, forgiveness and eternal life. And God’s usual way of giving the good gifts and blessings He has to give is through means, namely the means of grace, His Word, Holy Baptism, Confession and Absolution, and His Holy Supper. These are the means God uses to give us faith. As we live lives as priests in our vocations, as we have opportunity, we invite others, especially our unchurched family and friends to “Come and see,” to “Come and hear,” the Word preached and taught, so that the Lord might work through these very means to give faith to those who do not yet know Him.

Not only does God give faith through His means of grace, He also uses these same means to strengthen and keep us in faith. Just as a person who fails to go to the grocery store to purchase food, may run out of food and starve, so it is with those who fail to go to the Lord’s spiritual grocery store, those who fail to be in divine service where the Lord distributes His gifts and blessings. The questions is not, “Do we have to go to church?”, rather the joy is, “When do we get to go to church?” As King David said, “I was glad when they said to me, ‘Let us go to the house of the Lord!’” (Psalms 122:1). It is as we make regular and diligent use of the Lord’s means of grace that He has His way with us, that He gives, strengthens and keeps us in faith because the day will come when the Lord will return, or we will go to Him.

The day will come when God will judge. He will come to judge the living and the dead. He will come as a thief in the night. He will come on a day and at an hour no one will suspect. He will come and all will know that day has arrived.

And when He comes to judge, God knows if we have faith or not. And it is this faith, or no faith that will determine our eternal destiny. There are those in our world who have friends and family members who are not Christians, who do not know the Lord and unfortunately rather than confront their family or friends, because you know how it is, we do not talk about religion or politics, many have simply adjusted their belief to think that God will save all people, no matter what they believe, as long as they are sincere. I am sorry to inform you, but that is not what God says.

God tells us that those who are without faith, will receive their reward of eternal spiritual death in hell. Those are not my words and that is not my judgement. Those are the Lord’s Word and His just judgement. God’s just Words reminds us, then, of our need to bear witness of the faith which He has given to us so that others might be saved.

God also tells us that those with faith, will be given their reward of eternal, everlasting life in heaven. It is faith in Jesus Christ and His work, His life, His suffering, death and resurrection for us that saves us. God knows what is in our hearts. He knows if we have faith or no faith. And to those He has given faith and to those who have not refused the faith He has given, He gives eternal life in heaven.

Thus, we have Jesus’ encouragement to keep watch and be ready. We do not know the day or the hour. We do not know when we will die or when the Lord will return. We do know that this world means nothing compared to the world to come. We do know that all that we might amass in this world means nothing in the world to come. We do know that the most important thing in this life is having a right relationship with Jesus. And so that is what Jesus encourages us to work on, our relationship with Himself.

This morning we also have God’s encouragement, through Paul, to rejoice in discipline, which helps keep us ready. We talked about this discipline a bit last week and the fact that God does discipline those He loves, not because He likes to see us in pain, but because He wants to keep us on the straight and narrow, because He wants to keep us faithful, unto death, so that He might give us the crown of life.

This morning, then, I also encourage you. Keep ready and strive to help others to be ready. Live lives of faith. Make regular and diligent use of the Means of Grace. Be in divine service and Bible Class. Come and be loved by God. Come and be given to by God. Come be filled so that you might go and live and bear witness.

I know none of us has an expiration date on our birth certificate and I am glad. I do not think any of us wants to know the day we will die or the day the Lord will return, that would not help us in the being ready always department. What we do know is that the Lord has promised that He will return or that we will pass on, that we will die and go to Him. We do know that the Lord has acted first in our lives as the prime mover, giving us faith, either through our Baptism or through His Word. We do know that the Lord stirs in us through the means of our remembering our Baptism, through the means of His Word, through the means of our confession and absolution and through the means of His Holy Supper to strengthen and keep us in faith. We do know the Lord loves us and has created us to love us. And we do know that He will be with us, giving us His authority to speak when asked for the hope that we have in Jesus, as we have opportunity as we live lives of faith as priests in the priesthood of all believers. And so our whole lives say, to God be the glory, for Jesus’ sake. Amen.

Saturday, August 21, 2010

JDL - Direction Twenty - The message - Law (what we do) and Gospel (what God does) - Part One

For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 6:23 (ESV))

Jesus directs us. He directs us through His Word. We might rightly divide the His Word into two important parts, His Law and His Gospel. In the Law our Lord gives us direction for our lives. The Ten Commandments are an example of the Law of the Lord. This law was the Law He first gave to His own chosen people, the children of Israel. Along with the Ten Commandments the children of Israel were to follow the civil law, the ceremonial law, and the moral law.

The civil law helped the citizens of the children of Israel to live in harmony with one another and with those around them. The ceremonial law was the rules and regulations which governed their worship. The moral law included the Ten Commandments and were laws which governed their rightful living and treatment of one another as fellow members of the same religious order.

When Jesus came, not only did He fulfill all the promises and prophecies concerning the coming of the Messiah as one of many proofs that He was and is the Messiah, but He also fulfilled all of the laws, perfectly. Jesus’ fulfillment of the Law did not do away with the Law, but His keeping the Law on our behalf gives us reconciliation before God the Father.

When we move into the New Testament, God gives us a new covenant. The New Covenant is one that is based on God’s love for us. Yes, we still have the Ten Commandments, but we no longer are bound by the ceremonial law. We still observe and obey the civil laws of our country, and we still abide by God’s moral demands on us.

So, as we think about God’s Law in our world today, we are reminded that the purpose of His Law has changed. The purpose of the law of God today is that it is meant to show us that we have sinned. “The wages of sin is death” (Rom. 6:23), that is Law. The Law is a word that condemns. Unfortunately, the Law does nothing except accuse us. An easy way to remember the purpose of the Law is to think of it as the S.O.S. of the Law. The Law Shows our Sin.

The Law can be used to motivate us. When we hear the threat of the Law we are motivated to try to not sin. Of course, because of our sinful nature, this is impossible. And so instead of showing us how we are to live and act, we are discouraged as we continue to see how we daily disobey the Law. The Law may then lead to despair because we may think we have no hope.

Unfortunately, if the Law is coupled with a bit of moralism, we might be lead to think we can save ourselves through our own merits, through works righteousness. Still, this too is unsatisfactory. The Law accuses; that is its purpose. It might motivate us to attempt to be good and to do good, at least for a while, but that eventually wears off as we become more and more discouraged, and we see time and again how we are completely unable to do what is demanded of us.

The Law accuses; that means that it points us to ourselves, and that is the problem. When we look at ourselves we only see our imperfections and our sins, and so we are not encouraged, rather, we are discouraged. As we read through the Word, we will certainly make note of Jesus’ Words of law, of His Words of direction, of His Words that point to our ineptness. Jesus speaks these words to us not to discourage us, but to show us that in and of ourselves we are lost and we have no way to make ourselves right with Him. Jesus speaks these words of Law because He has a better way, a more loving way, a perfect way, His way of directing us which we will get to next.

Think About
Have you ever been told that you can keep the Law? Do you really think you can keep God’s Law perfectly?

Heavenly Father, thank You for Your Law which helps me to see my sin. Forgive me my sins especially as I forgive those who have sinned against me. Help me to know and believe in Your forgiveness, for Jesus’ sake. Amen.

Friday, August 20, 2010

JDL - Direction Nineteen - Personal Devotions - from God to us, not what we do for Him.

The thief cometh not, but for to steal, and to kill, and to destroy: I am come that they might have life, and that they might have it more abundantly. (John 10:10 (KJV))

We profess in the creeds which we confess that “I” believe. Faith is something that I must have. I cannot believe for someone else, and someone else cannot believe for me. Faith must be personal. Yes, Jesus died for the sins of all people of all places of all times (what we call universal atonement), but more importantly, He died for me (what we call vicarious atonement). Thus, as we look at our own lives, we see the need for our own personal relationship with Jesus. Yes, we need a corporate identity, that is we need to affiliate with a local or even national denomination, and we need a familial identity, that is we need family devotions, but we also need our own time with Jesus.

If you have ever had a close friend, you may have noticed that the friends who are your closest are the ones with whom you spend more time. At the same time, these are the friends you make time to spend with, and so it works both ways. When we fail to spend time with friends, our friendship wains, and when our friendship wains, we tend to spend less time with certain friends. Likewise, we say that Jesus is our best friend, but do we act like it? Do we spend the time with Him that we would with a best friend?

Of course, some of this leads us back to the old admission that we do not do as well as we aught. Certainly we could do better. We are imperfect, even sinful human beings and left to ourselves we would mess up our relationship with Jesus and we do. We betray Him. We betray His trust in us. We fail to spend time with Him, speaking to Him in prayer and listening to Him in His Word.

Thanks be to God that Jesus really, truly is our best friend and that He shows it through His constant looking over, watching over, ruling over us and even and especially interceding for us before the Father in heaven. Jesus is the one who came to do what only a greatest friend would do, give His life for ours. He continues to come to us. He continues to look for us. He continues to reach out for us.

How important our personal relationship with Jesus is can be seen in the fact that we are so important to Him. But notice the direction that this relationship moves. It is always from Him to us. We do not go seeking after Him. As a matter of fact, we often (because of our own sinful human nature) go running away from Him. We fail to spend time with Him. We fail to make the time to spend with Him. We do things we should not be doing, and we do not do the things we should be doing. Really, if Jesus were a regular friend, He would have dumped us a long time ago. For Him it is just not fair. He does all the work in our relationship, and we try to take all the credit.

Again, then, thanks be to God for Jesus and His devotion and friendship to and with us. Thanks be to God that Jesus does everything He can to be a part of our lives. Even when we mess up, which we do daily, He is always there, ready to forgive, ready to welcome us back.

Knowing what we know about how much Jesus loves us, we might well pray for the power of the Holy Spirit to work in us so that we might be better prepared and better able to share in our relationship with Jesus, speaking to Him in prayer and taking the time to listen to Him as He speaks to us through His Word. And His speaking to us through His Word is the way He comes to us, giving us His good gifts and blessings and directing our lives.

Think About
God gives us 365 days in one year, that is 52 weeks, or 12 months. God gives us 7 days a week or 168 hours in one week. How much of that time do we spend doing the things we do? How much of that time do we spend with Jesus?

Heavenly Father, thank You for the gift of life and for the time You have given me on this earth. Forgive me when I fail to give You a part of my time, which You have first given to me. Make me ever conscious of spending time with You, for Jesus’ sake. Amen.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

JDL - Direction Eighteen - Family Devotions

And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers. (Acts 2:42 (ESV))

Understanding that our Lord’s usual way of working with us, of coming to us to give us His good gifts and blessings, is mediately, rather than immediately, that is, His usual way of coming to us is through means rather than directly, we begin to understand the importance of our making regular (every day and every Sunday) and diligent (careful and purposeful) use of those things through which He comes to us. In other words, since our Lord’s usual way of coming to us to give us His good gifts and blessings is through the means of grace, the Word (the Bible) and the Sacraments (Holy Baptism and the Lord’s Supper), and confession and absolution, we will want to make sure that we are reading and hearing His Word, confessing our sins and hearing words of absolution, remembering our Baptism, and partaking of the Lord’s body and blood for the forgiveness of sins.

Our first teachers are our parents. With that in mind, we are also reminded of the axiom which says that “more is caught than taught.” In other words, our first teachers are our parents, but they teach us more by what they do and how they live than what they actually tell us. If you ever wonder why a child thinks, speaks or acts the way s/he does, if it is your child, go look in the mirror. If it is someone else’s child, then look at those parents. Children watch and imitate. Unfortunately (and maybe fortunately at times) some adults are the same way; they watch their favorite sports hero or other such hero and imitate them.

The upshot of all this is that children will also imitate the spiritual life led by and modeled by their parents. As the parent is seen living a life of faith, so the child will imitate that life of faith in their own life. As the parent is seen showing how important are the means of grace, so they will be important to the child. As the parent shows how important are divine service, Bible Class, personal and family devotions, so the child will grow up knowing and living their importance as well.

Family devotions are a way to build a solid foundation for one’s family. Family devotions may be as simple as reading a Bible verse and a children’s devotion book story (all age appropriate) and then having a prayer. Or they may be as elaborate as singing hymns or songs, having extensive Bible readings and reading something for each age person in the family. One suggestion would be to have family devotions immediately following a meal time. This devotion would be geared for the youngest child that may comprehend what is happening. And then have a bed time devotion or other Bible reading that is age appropriate for each child; thus, there is the personal aspect of devotion time and the corporate aspect of family devotion time.

Certainly family devotion time will reflect a conversation with God. God speaking to us through His Word and our speaking to Him in prayer, thus conversation. Family devotions may also reflect the beginning of an understanding of the ebb and flow of divine service. God speaks to us, and we speak back to Him. As the children grow older, family devotions may include more reading and responsive reading from and with the children.

As we said from early on, a Jesus-directed life begins early, even from birth, as this is caught by the children from the fathers and carries on from generation to generation (Duet. 6:4-9). When we absent ourselves from the means through which our Lord comes to us, then we are refusing the gifts He has to give. As we make use of His means, with His help and by His leading and through the power of the Holy Spirit, then we are uplifted, strengthened and indeed, directed by Him.

Think About
How do you reflect and imitate what you learned from your parents, either verbally or non-verbally? How do your children reflect and imitate what they have learned from you, either verbally or non-verbally?

Heavenly Father, thank You for those persons You have placed in my life that have been good examples for me. Forgive me when I have not be a good example of a Christian in my own life, and help me to do better. For Jesus’ sake. Amen.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

JDL - Direction Seventeen - The message, the authority, the absolute from Genesis 1

In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth. (Genesis 1:1 (ESV))

The best way to begin is with God. Here in Genesis 1:1 we are told by God Himself that in the beginning He was there. No one else was there; only He was there. Now, there have been many who have tried to speculate what it was like in the beginning, and they do this speculating based on what they see in the world today as if the world today is exactly the same as it was when God created the world which we know it is not. Yet, no one knows what the world was like at the time of creation, and apart from what God tells us, no one can know.

Interestingly enough, the devil works as hard as he can when and where he pleases. One of the devil’s greatest victories has been to work to convince people that God is not real. Thus, if there is no god, then how did we get here? The answer would then have to be through some sort of naturalistic way, some sort of accident. Thus, the theory, the unproven, and often times contradictory theory of evolution was born. Evolution seeks to explain a world without any god. One of the many problems of this theory is that there is no proof. Another problem is seen in what this theory has done to the many societies which teach and believe it. If the theory of evolution were true, then that would mean there is no ultimate authority, there is no ultimate truth, there is no one to whom anyone must be accountable and we are not to be blamed for anything we do. As a matter of fact, according to evolution, there is no such thing as right or wrong. And just stating these facts sounds like a lot of people believe this in our world today.

Of course, the question should always be asked of anyone trying to explain what happened at the beginning of the world, “Were you there?” And when the answer is given, “No, but neither were you.” We might rightly respond, “No, I was not there either, but I know someone who was there, and He told me how it happened. And I believe Him.”

One of the interesting things about leading a Jesus-directed life is that we do not have the luxury of picking and choosing the parts of Jesus’ directing we want. If the Bible only “contains” the Word of God, then that leaves it open to abuse. You might like one part, and I might like another. You might discard one part, and I another, and then nothing is left. If the Bible merely “contains” the Word of God, then we might as well throw it all out.

Because the Bible is the Word of God, we believe all of it even if we do not like some of it. We must understand that Matthew, Mark, Luke and John can be true only if Genesis is true. If Genesis is not true, then none of the Bible is true. If Genesis is not true, then there is no fall into sin, and no fall into sin means no need for a Savior. No need for a Savior leads Jesus to be a phoney and a fake.

Thus, we see the importance of all of Holy Scripture. We believe the Bible from Genesis One, from creation, from the fall into sin and the need for a Savior. We believe the Bible from God’s promise to mend what was broken, His creation’s perfect relationship with Himself. It is because of the events of Genesis that we need the events of the rest of the Bible. It is because of the events of Genesis that we need the Gospels: Matthew, Mark, Luke and John.

When it comes to the Word of God, it is either all or nothing. If any part is not true, then it is all suspect and all not true. Thus, when we begin we always begin with Genesis. We begin where our Lord begins. We begin by letting Him tell us what it was like in the beginning, how all things were created, by Him and out of nothing. We let Him tell us of our fall into sin which brought sin and death into our world. We let Him tell us of His solution, the giving of His Son and His Son’s life for ours. Yes, a Jesus-directed life always begins at the beginning. In the beginning God!

Think About
Would you believe it if someone told you that a house was built by a tornado blowing through a lumber yard? Or would you believe someone who told you that over millions of years the various parts of your car came together and became your car? Why would you believe that your body, which is far more complex than a house or a car, came together by accident? The theory of evolution must be believed, and so it is indeed a religion.

Heavenly Father, thank You for tell me how You created this wonderful, marvelous, complex world, including me. Forgive me when I doubt Your Word. Help me to stand firm in the faith You have given me and especially help me to understand and explain this world through Your Word. For Jesus’ sake. Amen.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

JDL - Direction Sixteen - A right understanding of The Message of The Word of God

Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of the disciples, which are not written in this book; but these are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name. (John 20:30-31 (ESV))

In the seventies and eighties there was a movement toward what was termed “Values Clarification.” Situations were studied, and one would make a value estimation according to what they understood to be right and wrong. Unfortunately, without a good foundation, and here we would stress apart from faith in Jesus, one cannot rightly make a good value clarification.

At the same time, the study of God’s Word moved from being an empirical study to an emotive study. The move was from “What is God telling us in this passage of Scripture?” to “What does this passage of Scripture mean to you?” The implication was that the Bible means different things to different people. Now, certainly, there are times when one portion of Scripture might have a greater impact on one’s life at one time and another portion at another time. Although this change in perspective may be understood to mean that the Bible has different meanings to different people, that is not the case. The Bible has one meaning for all.

As an illustration; whenever a husband writes a love letter to his wife, he does not hope she understands what he is saying when he says, “I love you.” Likewise, when his wife reads those words, she does not hope she understands what he is saying. The writer and the reader understand what each is writing and reading because the words for each mean the same thing, what they were intended to mean.

When it comes to the Word of God, it does not have many meanings. God gave us His Word which has one message, the message of His love for us. If we do not get that one message, then the problem does not lie with the Word but with us who are reading the Word. Thus, for the person who would suggest that the Bible contradicts itself, the problem is not with the Bible because it does not contradict itself, because God cannot contradict Himself. Rather the problem is with the reader who then needs to go back and reassess his/her understanding of what is read.

When it comes to translating the Word of God, there are many translations. And every translation is an interpretation of sorts. Whenever anyone translates the Bible, they do so from a particular understanding of what is in the Bible. Thus, the best way to study the Bible (presuming you cannot read the original texts of the Greek or Hebrew) is to have several translations and see how each verse is translated. The best approach is not to look for the translation that reads the way you want to understand any particular verse. This is to impose your own agenda on the Word. Rather the best approach is to let God’s Word be His Word whether you like it or not.

God has graciously given us His Word. He has graciously given us four Gospels. God has given us His Word with His message. His message is His love letter to us. His love letter reminds us that we are sinners and are in need of a Savior. This comes from Genesis which we will get to later. His love letter continues by reminding us of His promise to take care of our sin by sending us a Savior. He gives us many indications (prophecies) which point to the One who is the Savior, so that when the Savior comes (came) we would know Him. As we review the life and times of Jesus, we can see that, yes, He is the One promised as He came and did everything God said the Savior would do.

The people of the Old Testament were saved by God’s grace through faith in the coming Savior. We, the people of the New Testament, are likewise saved by God’s grace through faith in Jesus who came as our Savior. This is God’s love letter to us that He loved us so much that He gave His Son for us. And His Word testifies so that we might believe. He continues even today to direct our lives through this same Word.

Think About
Do you believe God is saying something different in His Word to you than to someone else? How do you feel about certain portions of God’s Word? Go back and reread His Word, and let God speak.

Heavenly Father, thank You for Your Word and Your message, Your One Message to me of Your great love for me. Forgive me when I attempt to impose my own understanding and justification for my actions through Your Word. Help me to read Your Word as Your Word and let You speak to me through Your Word. For Jesus’ sake. Amen.

Monday, August 16, 2010

JDL - Direction Fifteen - Worship: Doctrine determines Practice and Practice determines Doctrine

And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers. (Acts 2:42 (ESV))

One important area of concern when considering living a Jesus-directed life is the area of worship or divine service. One attends church in order to worship or be in the divine service of the Lord. Where one attends depends on one’s understanding of God, and where one attends also determines one’s understanding of God. Thus, if you worship in a way in which the importance is placed on what you as a worshiper is doing, then you belief system, your theology, will grow into a theology in which you will need to do something for God, rather a works righteousness theology. And, at the same time, if you have a works righteousness theology, then you will gravitate toward a church which has a service wherein that is emphasized.

As was stated earlier, there are really two views of worship. One view of worship is that we need to do for God. This type of worship flows out of a theology of works. The second view of worship is that we come to be given by God, and this type of worship flows out of a theology of grace. The main emphasis is this: the way we worship flows out of what we believe. And the way we worship is either connected to or disjointed from the past, present and future.

Unfortunately, there have been many who have attempted with great success to set opposed what is often called traditional worship against what is called contemporary worship. The impression given is that traditional worship is old and no good and contemporary worship is best because it speaks to today. Again, this is unfortunate because at the heart of this misnomer is a confusion of what is traditional and what it means to be contemporary.

Tradition can be and is a good thing when it has a good Biblical foundation and when it flows out from a good thing. In other words, to make the sign of the cross as a remembrance of one’s baptism is a good tradition. To not eat fish on Friday because it was important to help the fishing industry years ago is not as good a tradition. When traditions flow out of and point us to the Word, even to the Word made flesh, these are good.

Contemporary means set in or with the present time. Contemporary is here today and gone tomorrow. It is disjointed in terms of flowing out of the past and into the future. And, unfortunately, contemporary usually means an inculcation of the present culture into the church where it is not always in harmony. Too often, and even more often than not, the church stands against the culture for many and various reasons depending on the subject.

When it comes to traditional versus contemporary, we must always keep in mind that God’s Word is always contemporary. God’s Word is for today no matter when today is because God’s Word is not time or culture bound. Perhaps the best worship then may be called contemporary worship in a traditional setting.

The Old Testament church had a very liturgical system especially when it came to the sacrifices in the temple. There were parts that the people bringing the sacrifice performed, and there were parts the priest performed. In a like manner, these practices have been passed down from generation to generation, and though we do not have animal sacrifices today, there are parts of worship wherein there is clergy and laity responding back and forth.

Our style of worship is what sets us apart from the style of worship of others. Each worships in their own way as a response to their own theology; thus, we can attend a service of worship and identify one’s theology. How wonderful it is to have a type of worship which flows out of the past even out of the Old Testament into the New Testament and from generation to generation down to today, and we know it will continue on tomorrow. There is just something about this worship which transcends time and which reminds us that we are in this time worshiping with all the saints who have gone on before us and will continue on after us.

A few years back the statement was made that the medium is the message. Today we would translate that in the context of worship as the substance is the style, that is the substance of the theology and doctrine shapes the way one worships. And yet, we continue to remind ourselves that the style also then shapes the substance. There is the teaching part of worship. Not many people sat down and memorized the Lord’s Prayer or the Apostles’ Creed, yet we all know them by heart. Why? We know them because we said them Sunday after Sunday after Sunday until we know them by heart. And so we realized that these were important parts of worship.

Thus, worship is important. How we worship, what we worship, who we worship is important. The ebb and flow of worship of God coming to us and our responding to Him is important. The meeting of God in His Word is important because that is where He comes to us to give us His good gifts and blessings, faith, forgiveness, life, and salvation. And that is where He comes to direct us in our lives.

Think About
What does the style of worship you enjoy teach you about what your church believes, teaches, and confesses? Is your Sunday morning experience more worship and doing for God or more divine service and being given to by God?

Heavenly Father, thank You for my past, my history and my lineage. Forgive me when I attempt to separate my past from my present and my future. Help me to better see You through Your divine service to me, for Jesus’ sake. Amen.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

JDL - Direction Fourteen - Worship - Ask Not What You Can Do for God

Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. (Matthew 11:28 (ESV))

There seems to be a debate on what worship is. Some say our purpose on earth is to worship God. Some would suggest that in worship God is the audience, the congregation are the actors, and the preacher and choir are the prompters. This scenario would imply that God is in heaven watching us and being worshiped (entertained) by us. This scenario would further imply that we have a God who needs something from us, that is that we are here on this earth to do something for Him, to bring Him pleasure perhaps. Interestingly enough, perhaps before the fall into sin in the Garden of Eden when Adam and Eve were still perfect, they might have been able to bring God pleasure, but now, after the fall, when our nature is sinful and our propensity is always and ever toward sin (Gen. 6:5), it is very difficult for us to be any kind of pleasure to God.

Another implication in this worship scenario is that God needs something from us. God needs our prayers. God needs our stewardship. God needs our good works. God needs us to be witnesses and evangelists. God needs our hymns of praise. God needs our accolades. Wow, what kind of a God needs anything from us, His Creation and creatures? Certainly an idol worshiper would need to do everything for their stone or wooden god. An idol of wood or stone would need to be carried, would need to have prayers offered to it, would need to have offerings given to it, would need others to do everything for it, would need others to tell about it, and would certainly demand attention in the form of hymns of praise and accolades. That is the problem with an idol. The idol worshiper knows it is an idol and that the only way s/he can persist in any “meaningful” relationship with the idol is by keeping up the facade. Interestingly enough, the bottom line of the idol worshipers is that they are actually their own god. It is that they now have someone, something, to blame. And personally, I believe all idolaters know they are idolaters.

The one true God is not like the idol. Really, think about it, what does our God, the creator of all, need from us? Does God need us to pray? Being omniscient (that is, all knowing) He knows everything we need and everything we are going to pray for even before we pray. So, why bother praying? Does our God need our stewardship (our time, talents, treasure, etc.)? He is the one who created all things out of nothing. He needs nothing from us. As a matter of fact, He is the one who gives everything to us. So, why bother being a good steward? Does God need our good works? Being omnipotent (that is, all powerful) He does everything. Again, God created all things out of nothing. Is there really anything He cannot do or anything He really needs us to do? So, why bother doing good works? Does God need us to be witnesses and evangelists? Someone suggested that we are God’s arms and legs. Does God need us to be His arms and legs? There was a time when I counseled young people and told them that they were important, that God needs them, but the more I learned about God, the more I realized that God does not need any one of us. Yes, He puts up with us. Yes, He allows us to do for Him, but it is not because He needs anything from us. We need Him! So, why bother being a witness or an evangelist? Does God need our hymns of praise or our accolades? Is God’s self esteem so low that He needs us to build Him up? Is God so down that He needs us to cheer Him up? Perhaps as we realize what sinners we are and how bad we have made His creation, we might think He needs us to cheer Him up. So, why bother singing hymns of praise, and why bother worshiping?

God needs nothing from us. We need everything He has to give. Why pray? Why practice good stewardship? Why be a witness or an evangelist? Why worship? We do these things, not because God needs us to do these things, but because of our own need to do these things. We need to pray. We need to pray in order to acknowledge our needs and to bring them before our Lord. We need to be good stewards, giving of our time, our talents and our treasure, because we cannot help but want to give as a response to all that He has done for us and given to us. We need to bear witness of our faith and share the evangel, or the good news, because we cannot help ourselves. We want to tell someone about what a great God we have. We worship, not because God needs our worship, but because we cannot help but want to come and give thanks and praise to God. We cannot help but to want to come and encourage and build each other up in the body of Christ. We cannot help but want to come and be given even more of the good gifts and blessings our Lord has to give to us. And so we come to His house of worship to be given by Him. The reason we call our service a divine service and not worship is because it is first and foremost God giving to us.

Think About
Can you name one thing that you have that did not in one way or another first come from God? Next time you stand at the store in front of the bread, think about how many people were involved in your purchase of that loaf of bread, including the one who sold the seed to the farmer, the miller who ground the harvest, the baker, the bag supplier, etc.

Heavenly Father, thank You for giving me everything I need to support this body and life, for providing for all my physical as well as spiritual needs. Forgive me when I think there is something that You truly need from me, rather help me in my frailty to respond to Your grace accordingly. For Jesus’ sake. Amen.