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


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

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

“Church Growth” Myths

Myth 1:
People want a contemporary style of worship so we need to change our style of worship to make it more people friendly.

Worship is its own style. To suggest that a church needs to change it style of worship to satisfy the desires of the people would mean the need to offer many types of services, i.e., a rap service, a hip hop service, a country service, a heavy metal service, a rock service, an easy listening service, etc. The fact is that the Divine Service is its own style, thus we put aside our preferences once a week for an hour or so in order to worship in a style that transcends time, ethnicity, and generations. If you ever looked at our hymnal, you will notice that the hymns are cross-cultural, generational, and are from many eras. Our worship flows out of what we believe, teach and confess and thus our worship speaks about our faith and the faith of the Lutheran Church. If you ask many of the youth who attend the Higher Things conferences, they will tell you that they prefer liturgical worship. I would suggest this is so because of the order of the service which is the opposite of the disorder of the lives of people in our world today. Finally, it is a proven fact that the style of worship is not what draws people to a church. Rather it is worship done well, and we do liturgical service well. The best approach, then is to teach the service and why we worship the way we worship.

Myth 2:
We do not want to get in the way of the Word of God. Instead we want to do everything we can to make sure the message gets out.

At the heart of this myth is that the Word of God is powerless on its own and that we need to do something in order to help it along, or not get in its way. The fact is the Word of God is His Word, and God can and does work through His Word to give, strengthen and keep in faith, when and where He pleases. Indeed, the Word of God is a Word with power which we see first and foremost in Genesis as God spoke the world into being. Even more, the Word of God continues to be a Word with power. When God’s Word says we have forgiveness, then we know we have forgiveness. When the Word of God says we have faith, then we know we have faith.

Myth 3:
We need to be carrying the Word of God to others in order to grow the church.

This myth confuses the means of grace with the belief that people are the means of grace, that is that people convert people. The fact is we, you and I, people, human beings, cannot convert anyone. It is God who gives faith and He gives faith through the very means He has given to give faith, His Means of Grace, the Word of God, that is the Bible, Holy Baptism, Confession and Absolution and the Lord’s Supper. Through these very means as our Lord has promised He gives the gifts He has to give.

Sunday, January 25, 2015

The Time Is Short - January 25, 2015 - Third Sunday after the Epiphany - Text: 1 Corinthians 7:29-31 (32-35)

Can you believe it, we are already 25 days into 2015. We are almost through one month of this new year. Time has a way of getting past us. As children we may have thought that time took forever to get here, time for this or time for that. As adults, especially the more we have to do, the faster time seems to move. There is nothing we can do to stop time, it keeps coming at us, faster and faster. One person once described our traveling through time, not as our moving through time, but as time swiftly moving at us. We are born today, and we die tomorrow. We are here on this earth for a relatively short period of time.
Time is short especially when compared to eternity. Eternity is forever, no beginning and no end. Our lives on this earth have a beginning, and that is at our conception, and our lives have an end, usually less than 100 years later. We are mortal, which means we do die. And do not be fooled, just because some people may live to be a hundred, there are just as many and even more who die at birth, or are even killed before birth.
In our text Paul tells us that we are to live as if we had no wife, as if we did not mourn, as if we were not happy, as if we did not purchase things that belonged to us, as if we were not engrossed in the things of this world. Notice that he does not say that a man should not have a wife, nor that a person should not mourn, or not be happy, or not purchase things, rather he says we are to live as if we do not have these things. Paul is trying to direct our attention away from the unimportant things of this world to the important business of being prepared for our eternal life.
Paul tells us that this world in its present form is passing away. How well we know that. We are constantly reminded of earth quakes, hurricanes, tsunamis, snow storms, wars and rumors of wars, terrorism all around, we are even told that the sun is burning up, that everything is getting worse. As Christians we realize that because of the curse after the fall into sin the whole world has been groaning waiting for the Lord to return and create a new heaven and a new earth, the home of righteousness.
What does all this mean? Paul was writing shortly after Jesus ascension and he believed that Jesus would return very very soon. Paul and all the Christians of his day were expecting Jesus to return during their life time. Paul did not realize that Jesus would wait over 2000 years and more to return. But let us not lose our context. When we compare 2000 years to eternity we realize that even 2000 years is a very very short period of time. Paul is right when he reminds us that Jesus will return soon which means that even more so now, as we are 2000 years into the future from Paul’s day, should we heed his words today.
Because Jesus will return soon, Paul tells us to live as if we had no wife, as if we did not mourn, as if we were not happy, as if we did not purchase things that belonged to us, as if we were not engrossed in the things of this world. What does Paul mean by telling us this? He means that we are not to wrap ourselves up in the anxiety or the enjoyment of this world, but keep our eyes focused and fixed on the hope of eternal life. Marriage, tears, joys, purchases, the whole world of earthly things, we Christians may have all of them, use all of them, experience all of them, for what they are, as belonging to this present world. What Paul says is true: as soon as we go beyond this limit and permit any or all of these to interfere with our spiritual life and our relation to the life to come, a false power reaches into our lives and begins to ruin them.
Time is short. This world is going down hill, ever since the fall into sin things have been getting worse. Even evolutionist tell us that the world is getting worse, not better. Watch the news, listen to the radio, read the paper, we are here for a very short period of time.
Last week we were reminded that our bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit. We were reminded especially of two sins, gluttony and immorality. We were reminded that over eating is a sin just like any other big or little sin. We were reminded of the boundaries God gives us, good boundaries because He loves us and wants to keep us safe. And yet we were reminded how too often those good boundaries are despised by the world as barricades to our freedom or perceived freedom. We were reminded of our responsibility and privilege to speak up and speak out against the immorality of this world even if it means being labeled intolerant and perhaps even being persecuted or even jailed.
Two weeks ago we were reminded of our “duty” to struggle and fight against temptation and sin. We were reminded of what true grace is, not God giving us the ability to do something, not our choosing, accepting or making a decision for Jesus, but the fact that God has chosen us, that He has called us, that He gives us faith, forgiveness and eternal life. Indeed, to suggest that anything needs to be added to grace means it is no longer grace, but what has been added. Grace is grace plus nothing.
Today Paul continues to encourage us in our faith life especially reminding us that our focus is to be heavenward, not earthward and that we cannot do both for we will either love this world or the world to come. Paul’s words may sound rather harsh. He tells us that a person’s first duty is to the Lord and no earthly duty should get in the way of that first duty.  All the matters mentioned should not be the end and aim of existence. We do not wrap ourselves in the enjoyment of this world, but we keep our eyes focused and fixed on the hope for eternal life.
Paul is telling us that marriage, tears, joys, purchases, the whole world of earthly things, we Christians may have all of them, use all of them, experience all of them, but with the warning that we are to use them for what they are, as belonging to the schema, σχμα or form of this present world. The things of this world belong in this world. The things of this world are only for this world and we must be vigilant about making this distinction. Paul’s words remind us that as soon as we go beyond this limit and permit any or all of the things of this world to interfere with our spiritual life and our relation to the life to come, a false exousia, ἐξουσία (6:12b) or power reaches into our lives and begins to ruin them.
Indeed, Paul’s words are so true and can be seen so well in our world today. The things of this world have so taken the attention of the people of this world that every Sunday morning more and more people find something they believe is more important than being in the Lord’s House to be given the eternal gifts He has to give. And just like we said last week, when the preacher preaches about sin in general that is okay, but when he starts preaching about my sin, then he is meddling and so I will meddle again this morning. What is happening in our world today is that every Sunday morning more and more people believe it is more important to be at a ball game, fishing, hunting, at the lake house, on the golf course, or anywhere except in the Lord’s House where His gifts are being given out. It is as if we believe we really are good people, that we have not sinned too much and so we do not need too much forgiveness. “No gifts for me this week Lord, I’m okay.” Sometimes I wonder if our attitude comes from the fact that we do not really believe the Lord will return during our own lifetime. We are kind of like the rich man in the parable who tore down his barns and built bigger barns with the idea that today I will eat, drink and be merry and tomorrow I will worry about my soul. If we remember that parable, Jesus says that very night his soul was required of him.
One look at the obituary section of the newspaper, which I believe is now called the life tribute section will remind us that from the moment of conception we are destined to die. Which reminds us that even if the Lord does not return during our own life, we will pass on and go to Him. Either way, we will stand before Him and I would suggest as I always do that day will be sooner than we know and sooner than we might image. So we would do well to heed, not my words, and really not Paul’s words, but God’s Word which says that we are to not let the things of this world get in the way of our spiritual well being, as we often do.
The good news, however, as we stated last week, is that there is forgiveness. All the sins which we commit and even those we have yet to commit have been paid for by Jesus on the cross. The forgiveness is there. The problem is when we refuse and reject that forgiveness, which we do when we fail or refuse to confess. Remember, with confession comes absolution. The forgiveness is there so that all we can do is reject it and indeed Satan puts all kinds of temptations in our way, the things of this world, so that we do reject the gifts God gives.
With confession is absolution, the forgiveness of sins and with forgiveness we know is life and salvation. Indeed, our greatest need is this forgiveness of sins, and God has it for us in abundance. His grace, His forgiveness always outweighs His law. What great joy comes from sins forgiven and the certainty of heaven.
Time is short, Paul reminds us. This world in its present form is passing away. Therefore we are to live our lives focused on our prize of eternal life with our Lord in heaven because of Jesus’ redeeming work on the cross because of His great love for us.
Time is short and so I encourage you, focus your attention, not on the things of this world, at least not so much that you become anxious about your lives in this world. Instead, focus on what is important, getting yourself ready for heaven. Focus on making regular and diligent use of the means of grace, those means through which the Lord works to get you ready for heaven, those means through which the Lord works to give you faith, forgiveness of sins, strengthening of faith, life and salvation. As the Lord helps you in getting your focus right, you will notice how your anxieties will melt away. As Paul says in the last verse of our text: “I say this for your own benefit, not to lay any restraint upon you, but to promote good order and to secure your undivided devotion to the Lord” (v. 35). To Him be the glory for Jesus’ sake. Amen.

Sunday, January 18, 2015

Honoring God - January 18, 2015 - Second Sunday after the Epiphany - Text: 1 Corinthians 6:12-20

Paul’s words in our text for this morning might not go over so well in much of our world today. Today we live in a world which preaches and teaches tolerance. We are to be tolerant of other’s beliefs and practices. We are to be tolerant with the way other people express themself, even boarding on this, that we are to encourage others in their diversity, even if and especially if it is something with which we do not agree. So it is, in much of our world today. In our text for today, Paul advocates something which we hardly ever hear advocated by too much of the media today. In our world and in the media of today we encouraged to think only of ourselves, what is good for us, what makes us feel good, what gives us pleasure and the like. Paul tells us we are to think, not of ourselves, but of others and especially to think in terms of how we might please God, even if this means giving up our own pleasure, rights and privileges.
Our text for this morning boarders on, if not entirely passes over, intolerance, which we all know is a “no, no” in our world. Some of you may have been reading the newspaper over the past few months and years and may be reminded that such sermons, sermons suggesting that Jesus is intolerant, may be labeled as “hate sermons” in our world today. It is so unfortunate that to care for another person by putting up protective boundaries is seen as being hateful. So be it. I talk to people about the sins of this world, and especially about their own sin and it does not surprise me when they get offended. Of course we know how it is, even on Sunday morning. When I preach about sin in general, that is okay, but when I start preaching about your sin, then I am meddling. I like to think of our tolerant society as being a good parent or a bad parent. As a parent would you tolerate (allow) your child to run unsupervised out into a busy street? Certainly you would discipline your child for running out into a busy street, and your child would not like it, because you are putting a damper on his or her freedom. And as a parent it might be tough to handle your child’s disappointment and maybe even hatred for your actions, yet as a good parent you know and understand the need for boundaries and to enforce those boundaries. And so you love your child anyway and enforce their not being allowed to run out into the busy street. Being a pastor of a church, being a Christian, and speaking the truth in love to others concerning sin, is very similar. Is it more loving to let your friend go on sinning and doing what is spiritually harmful, or to call them to repentance? Is it more loving to allow an alcoholic to go on abusing alcohol, maybe even encouraging them, or to call them to account for their abuse?
In our text for this morning Paul reminds us that Christian liberty and license of the flesh are incompatible. We begin at verse twelve, “12“All things are lawful for me,” but not all things are helpful. “All things are lawful for me,” but I will not be enslaved by anything” (v. 12). Paul begins by reminding us of the freedom we do have. He says that everything is permissible, that is the freedom of the Gospel. He goes on to give two examples of freedom. One is that we have the freedom to eat what we want. God declared that all foods were clean. We may eat what we want, yet we must not leave off Paul’s last words, “but not all things are helpful.” Sometimes we think about sin, but we too often forget about one of our favorite sins, gluttony. I do not know about you, but I like “all you can eat” buffets, and I like to get my moneys worth at them, yet I must remind myself that eating too much is a sin just like any other “little” sins or “big” sins. Concerning the issue of food, Paul sums it up very well when he says, “13‘Food is meant for the stomach and the stomach for food’—and God will destroy both one and the other” (v. 13a). Yes, we have the freedom to enjoy the bounty of this world, but we must not let the bounty of this earth rule us. Freedom brings responsibility.
The second illustration Paul gives is the illustration of the flesh, the one which, I believe, is still at the top of our list of sins today. We continue beginning with the last part of verse thirteen, “The body is not meant for sexual immorality, but for the Lord, and the Lord for the body. 14And God raised the Lord and will also raise us up by his power. 15Do you not know that your bodies are members of Christ? Shall I then take the members of Christ and make them members of a prostitute? Never! 16Or do you not know that he who is joined to a prostitute becomes one body with her? For, as it is written, “The two will become one flesh.” 17But he who is joined to the Lord becomes one spirit with him.” (v. 13b-17). And this is where God’s care and love, which brings His intolerance, is seen as hate. God wants only the best for us and so He gives us boundaries in order to help keep us on the straight and narrow, in order to protect us from - ourselves. Our world says, “experiment with your sexuality,” God says, “do not be promiscuous.” Our world says, “if it feels good do it,” God says, “restrain yourself.” Our world says, “sexual orientation and lifestyle is a choice and maybe is hereditary and thus should be openly expressed,” God says, “the body is not meant for sexual immorality.” Our world says, “you’re going to do it anyway, so protect yourself,” God says, “Do you not know that your bodes are members of Christ himself?” Our world says, “do not try to restrain yourself, that it is unnatural,” God says, “flee from sexual immorality.” Our world says, “it is a choice,” God says, “it is a child and it is killing.” Our world would have us believe that tolerance is the higher way and the way of freedom and happiness, God tells us what is right and what is best for us because He cares for us and He alone knows what is right and what is truly best for us. And, just like the parent who is seen as being mean and hateful by their child because they try to stifle their freedom, so our world sees God and Christians as hateful for trying to stifle their perceived freedom.
We do have freedom in the Lord. But, our freedom brings responsibility. We continue at verse eighteen, “ 18Flee from sexual immorality. Every other sin a person commits is outside the body, but the sexually immoral person sins against his own body. 19Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God? You are not your own, 20for you were bought with a price” (v.18-20a).  Paul reminds us, “You are not your own, for you were bought with a price.” Our world of choice says, “It is my body and I can do with it as I wish.” Unfortunately, Paul’s words would remind us that it is not our body, but that we belong, body, soul, mind, spirit, and all, to the Lord. Our body is the temple of the Lord. Would we come into the Lord’s house and do with our bodies as we would do with them outside the Lord’s house? Would we come into the Lord’s house and do drugs? Would we come into the Lord’s house and get drunk, over eat, commit adultery and fornication? Would we come into the Lord’s house and do many or any of the things we do with our bodies outside the His house? We are not our own, we belong to the Lord and we are His not without a price. The price Christ paid for us was the price of His life, even eternal spiritual death for us in our place, so that we might have life, not so that we might abuse life, but so that we might have life and have it more abundantly.
Freedom is not cheap grace. Cheap grace is, “can I sin and then ask for forgiveness?” That is premeditated sin. I have asked this question to many groups and I will ask you here this morning. If you knew that God was watching you, would you do some of the things you do? Unfortunately, we often forget, or at least conveniently do not remember, that God is always watching. And yes, I include myself in this, I sin too. It is our nature to sin, but that still does not give us an excuse to sin.
Fortunately for us, we do have a God who is a God of love and He will and does forgiven us. As a matter of fact, He has already forgiven us all us sins. The person who over eats is forgiven. The person who commits sins of immorality is forgiven. The person who commits any sin, who sins against any of the commandments, who sins sins of omission or commission, that person is forgiven. We must never forget that all sins have been paid for by Jesus on the cross. Yes, we daily sin much and are in need of forgiveness. And yes, there is forgiveness. With the Law we must never forget the Gospel, not as an excuse, not as a cheap way out, but with confession comes absolution. And to that we say, “Thanks be to God.”
With forgiveness, then comes the joy of “glorifying God.” We read the last part of verse twenty, “So glorify God in your body” (v. 20b). We always remember that we were saved for a purpose, to do the good works which God prepared in advance for us to do (Eph. 2:10). Paul tells us, “So glorify God in your body.” And we remember that we do these things not in and of ourselves, but only as the Holy Spirit helps us. We glorify God with what we eat. We glorify God by not being gluttons, but by eating sensibly. We glorify God by not being a stumbling block for others who might struggle with our own eating habits. We glorify God in how we live in this world and in how we enjoy the bounty of this world.
We glorify God when we live within the boundaries that He gives us. We glorify God when we live lives which show that we are not our own, but that we were bought with a price. We glorify God when we stand up for Him and His Word. Apathy really is a low level of acceptance. If I do not speak out against something then I am seen as being in favor. Talk about a dilemma - are we to stand up and appear intolerant, or are we to sit quietly by and appear in favor of what society says, even against what God says? Personally I know what that is like. How often I have heard the remark, “you only say that because you are a pastor, you do not understand what it is like in the real world, you are just to closed minded, and so on.” And all I am doing is speaking the Word of God, take it up with Him. When I stand up for the Lord, which I do only with His help, then I am glorifying Him.
We glorify God as we worship Him and as we are given His gifts of faith, forgiveness, strengthening of faith, life and salvation through the means of grace. We glorify God when we honor His most precious gift, the gift of life, life in this world and life in the world to come, even eternal life. We glorify life when we raise life to the highest standard - meaning, living life in the way the Lord would have us to live, living life in such a way that our life does say, to God be the glory. And then giving Him thanks for stirring in us and helping us to live in such a way. Again, to Him be the glory, for Jesus’ sake. Amen.

Sunday, January 11, 2015

United with Christ - January 11, 2015 - The Baptism of Our Lord - Text: Romans 6:1-11

This morning we celebrate the Baptism of our Lord, Jesus Christ. Just last Tuesday we celebrated the end of the Christmas Season and I hope everyone celebrated until January 6, which was Epiphany. On Tuesday we celebrated the revelation of the Messiah, Christ the Lord, the Savior of the world, to the Gentile Magi from the East, or the wise men as they are called, as they came to the house where the toddler Jesus was staying. This visit reminded us of the fact that the Messiah was promised to all people, of all cultures, of all places, of all times. This morning we fast forward some twenty-eight years as we begin our trek, once again, to the cross, the focal point of this child’s birth.
Paul is writing, using one of the techniques he often employs in his writing, that is that he is writing asking and answering possible questions his opponents might be asking. We begin at verses one and two, “1What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound? 2By no means! How can we who died to sin still live in it?” (v. 1-2). So, in essence Paul is asking, “Is God’s grace an excuse to sin?” The logic is that if we sin there is more grace so we should sin more so that grace may abound more. Or perhaps as you have heard it said, “sin boldly.” Of course, here we see what happens when we let our logic get in the way of the gifts God gives. Paul explains the illogic of this in that we are not to go on sinning because we have died to sin.
Paul explains further with the his explanation of the great gift of Baptism and being Baptized with Christ. We pick up at verse three, “3Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? 4We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life. 5For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his” (v. 3-5). Here we see the illogic of human logic that baptism is something we do simply in obedience to God’s command, that is that we get baptized in order to show God that we have accepted Him or that we have dedicated our lives to Him and that this is a sign of our obedience. Here we see baptism as it is, a sacrament, a means of grace, a giving from God to us. Here we see that God is the one who is doing the doing, doing the giving and we are the one’s being done to and being given to. Through baptism we are given. We are given faith and it is this faith that grabs hold of and makes the rest of the gifts that God gives ours.
To be baptized means to be washed. To be baptized also means to be drowned. In our baptism we are drowned, we are literally killed. Our old sinful nature, our old Adam is drowned. In our baptism Jesus’ death becomes our death. Through His baptism Jesus identifies with us, doing what we need to do in order that He might be our substitute. In our baptism we identify with Jesus, giving Him our sins and being given His identity. Thus, through baptism, we identify with Jesus in that His death, His eternal spiritual death becomes our death, which is the penalty we owe for our sins.
But there is more, it does not stop with death, thanks be to God. Not only does Jesus’ death become our death, but more importantly, Jesus’ life becomes our life. Here again we see this complete substitutionary role Jesus plays. He came, not only to die for us, but also to live for us. Thus, when God looks at Jesus on the cross, He sees our sins. When He looks at us He sees Jesus’ perfection.
And as we know, Jesus did not stay dead, but He rose from the dead. Here, once again, through the waters of Holy Baptism, through Jesus completely identifying Himself as us, through His substitutionary role, His resurrection becomes our resurrection. When Jesus rose from the dead, we rose from the dead. Death and the grave have no power over Jesus. Death and the grave have no power over us. By faith in Jesus, given through the water and God’s name placed on us at our Baptism, we have been united with Jesus such that His work is ours and our sins are His.
But Paul is not finished. He goes on to remind us that we yet have a life to live in this world. We pick up at verse six, “6We know that our old self was crucified with him in order that the body of sin might be brought to nothing, so that we would no longer be enslaved to sin. 7For one who has died has been set free from sin. 8Now if we have died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him.” (v. 6-8). Paul reminds us of the fact that remains. We are slaves and we always will be slaves. We will either be slaves to sin or slaves to Christ.
We were slaves to sin, notice the past tense, we were. We were conceived and born in sin. Our sinful nature shows itself in our propensity to sin. Our natural desire is to sin, we do not even need practice. We do not even need to think about it. We do sin and unfortunately, we often sin boldly. We sin in thought, word and deed. We sin sins of omission, not doing what we should be doing and sins of commission, doing what we should not be doing. Yet, Paul reminds us, our old sinful self was crucified in Christ. By faith in Jesus, with His help we can and we do overcome temptation and sin. Certainly there are times that we yet fail, but, again, with God’s help we do win. So, again Paul reiterates, if we have died with Christ, we also are alive with Him. It is Christ who gives us the strength and power to overcome.
Paul concludes with words of our own assurance of eternal life. We pick up at verse nine, “9We know that Christ being raised from the dead will never die again; death no longer has dominion over him. 10For the death he died he died to sin, once for all, but the life he lives he lives to God. 11So you also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus” (v. 9-11). Christ was raised from the dead, never to die again. Jesus did what He came to do, identify with us, live perfectly for us in our place, obey all of God’s laws and commands perfectly, fulfill all of God’s prophecies and promises completely, take our sins upon Himself, suffer and die for those sins, substitute Himself for us and die. And He did. He died. He died the eternal spiritual death penalty, the price for sin, for us in our place. He died a physical death, which is also a consequence of sin and which awaits each one of us. Yet, Jesus did not stay dead, but He rose from the dead, victorious over sin and death.
By faith in Jesus, faith given to us through the means of grace, we are identified with Jesus so that He becomes us and we become Him. By faith in Jesus, then we will never die. We will never die the eternal spiritual death which He died for us, in our place. Certainly, we may die a physical death, that is, unless He returns first. Yet, we are reminded that eternal life is ours now. Eternal life is a present reality. We have eternal life, thus we need have no fear of death.
And please notice, Jesus’ death was once, for all, for all people. Jesus does not die again. He is never re-sacrificed. Jesus will never die again. And so, we consider ourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus.
What does this mean? This means we continue to live under God’s grace, His undeserved love for us. Even when we get confused, even when we get it wrong, He still gets it right. Thus, we have the constant reminder to let Jesus be Jesus in the way He shows Himself to be. You have heard me say it before, but it bears repeating, we get it right when we get right who is doing what. As we celebrate the Baptism of Jesus, we celebrate His identifying with us. We celebrate His subsitutionary atonement for us. And we look to our own baptism as His gift to us as well. Thus, by grace, God gives. God gives through the means of grace, through the Word, that this through Holy Scripture, as well as through the sacraments, Holy Baptism and the Lord’s Supper, and we would also include as a means of grace, confession and absolution. Through these very earthly means our Lord gives us faith and this faith is what takes hold of and makes all the other gifts and blessings the Lord gives ours as well, forgiveness, life and salvation.
Yes, through means our Lord gives faith and also through means our Lord works to strengthen us in faith. Faith is not something that is stagnant, but is alive and growing, or it begins to die and backslide. One cannot remain at one place in one’s faith life, for either we are growing in faith or we are losing faith. Thus, here again we see the importance of making regular, every day and every week and diligent, always, use of the means of grace, remembering our baptism, attending worship and Bible class, coming to the Lord’s Supper and confessing and hearing those most beautiful words of absolution, “Your sins are forgiven.”
Because, through these means, through faith, our Lord also gives eternal life. Think in terms of an eternal perspective. Our lives in this world are but a moment, a breath, a twinkle of the eye compared to our eternity in heaven and yet, unfortunately so often we spend most of our earthly life fretting about this world instead of making sure our lot in heaven is secure. Of course, our eternal lot is secure, by grace, through faith in Jesus. Heaven is ours and it is given to us. Yes, the Lord does it all and gives it all and we are done to and are given to.
I know you hear me continue to speak of making regular and diligent use of the means of grace and I will continue to encourage you in such manner. I do this because if we look at our lives we notice that, as Paul says in our text, we are Christ’s and we are slaves to Him and yet, we do continue to sin, to refuse and reject the gifts the Lord gives. So, I will continue to encourage you to be a slave to Christ, to continue to be given and done to as the Lord gives and does to you, regularly and diligently so there is never any reason to fret about your eternal inheritance. And so that ultimately we may all say, to God be the glory, for Jesus’ sake. Amen.

Sunday, January 4, 2015

Knowing True Grace - January 4, 2015 - Second Sunday after Christmas - Text: Ephesians 1:3-14

This morning we continue to celebrate the birth of the Christ-child, God in flesh, Jesus. Our Gospel reading moves us some twelve years from last week when Jesus was presented in the temple to Jesus participating in the Passover with His parents in Jerusalem, perhaps this may even be His own barmitzpha wherein He is now considered an adult in the Jewish community.
Our text is the beginning of Paul’s letter to the Ephesians. He begins this letter as he begins most of his letters, with words of praise. Paul begins by saying, “Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ,” or literally, “‘Good words’ be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.” God is praised, or using not so good English, He is “good worded” in connection with Jesus. God is praised because Jesus has accomplished His work of salvation and is seated in the heavenly realms. God is praised because He has accomplished what He said He would accomplish. His Word, spoken and written, have been fulfilled in Jesus, God in flesh, who gave His life for all people.
Paul continues by telling us that God is praised because He chose us, before creation, to make us holy and blameless. We did not choose God, He chose us. He chose us, not because of anything deserving within us, not because He knew we would do anything to deserve His choosing. He chose us by the death of His Son which He told us would happen.
Paul goes on to tell us that in love, that is in agape Christlike love, God adopted us and made us a part of His kingdom. He did this according to His good will and pleasure. It is God’s will that all people come to faith and are saved. And He works that out according to His plan of salvation.
God’s plan of salvation is that according to His grace, His undeserved love, a love that is freely given, He gave us His Son, the Word made flesh to give His life for ours. It is through the death of the One He loves, His only Son, that He works His plan of salvation.
Continuing on in our text, Paul says it so well, explaining that the mystery of God is that it is God’s will that all people are saved, however some are not saved because they refuse God’s gift of salvation. Even Jesus says that we are to “Struggle to enter in through the narrow door, because many, I say to you, will seek to enter in and they will not be able” (Luke 13:24). One of my commentaries puts it this way, “the struggle through which one enters is repentance,  which is a work of God in the human heart. The struggle is produced when the Word of God . . . calls one to repent and trust in Christ, but sinful human nature wars against God’s Word. The struggle is resolved as the old Adam is put to death by the Law and the person of faith is raised to new life with Christ by the power of the Gospel.”
Paul goes on to explain, “7In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace, 8which he lavished upon us, in all wisdom and insight 9making known to us the mystery of his will, according to his purpose, which he set forth in Christ 10as a plan for the fullness of time, to unite all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth. 11In him we have obtained an inheritance, having been predestined according to the purpose of him who works all things according to the counsel of his will, 12so that we who were the first to hope in Christ might be to the praise of his glory. 13In him you also, when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and believed in him, were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit, 14who is the guarantee of our inheritance until we acquire possession of it, to the praise of his glory” (v. 7-14).
Paul gives a true definition of grace that is that grace is the outpouring of Jesus’ blood, not God’s giving us the ability to do anything. Perhaps you have heard me say it this way before that Grace is God’s Riches At Christ’s Expense. Grace is gift. Indeed, to require or to imply that anything is required according to grace means that it is no longer grace. To say one is saved by grace, but all one has to do is, x, y or z, would mean it is no longer grace, but the x, y, or z that would save. Remember, grace plus anything is no longer grace, but the anything. Just as zero plus anything is the anything, so it is with grace. Grace plus works, means works is what saves. Grace plus being good, means being good is what saves. Grace that is truly grace is gift and always and only points to Jesus. Jesus does and we are done to. Jesus gives and we are given to.
In His wisdom and understanding, true wisdom and understanding, Godly wisdom and understanding, it is God who has lavished us with His grace. Certainly in our finite human wisdom we cannot fathom nor understand God’s wisdom and understanding. Oh, we might think we are wise and understanding, as we find many in our society who think they are as smart or even smarter than God and can explain this world and its existence outside of and without God, but we know that our own human wisdom is limited and even more is tainted by sin and the curse given in the Garden of Eden. Certainly, God’s foolishness is so much wiser than man’s wisdom just as God’s weakness is so much stronger than man’s strength. We would do well to always remember than when so called brilliant men of science speak and what they say is contradictory to what God has said, we would do well to believe that the brilliant scientist is wrong and has made a mistake, and instead we will trust what God says.
God reveals the mystery of His love in Jesus, reconciling the broken relationship of Himself to His creation from Genesis. As we have discussed before, for too many in our sin filled world, they cannot understand how a Creator God could love His wayward, sinning creation so much that He would give His all even His life to make it right. Even more, how can a Creator God, knowing that His creation would rebel, even create it in the first place. Yet, God’s love is so great, even beyond our understanding.
God’s will is that all people are saved and to that end He sent Jesus and now He sends His Holy Spirit who works through the means of grace to give us faith and to make us a part of His eternal kingdom. God is not slow in His return as some count slowness, but He is patient, not wanting anyone to perish, that is how great His love is toward us all.
As I read these words from our Epistle lesson today I realized how relevant and how fitting Paul’s words are for us today. And so I come before you to tell you that as Paul prayed for the Ephesians, so I pray the same thing for you.
First, I want to remind you that God has chosen you. He has not chosen you because of something you have done, or will do. In the same way He does not disown us because of something we do or do not do. He has chosen you because He has given the life of His Son, whose birth we just celebrated, for you.
Next, I want you to know that you are saved by God’s grace alone. Again, this is not something we can accomplish in and of ourselves. This is not something we can earn, deserve or work for. We are saved by God’s grace, by His undeserved love for us. We are saved by the blood of Jesus poured out for us on the cross. But we are not saved for no reason. We are saved and given a purpose, indeed a response of faith. First and foremost we are saved to be loved by God and He does love us and has shown us His love in the giving of His Son. Next we are saved so that we might respond by doing good works. Yes, we are to do good works. We are saved so that the faith which is given to us at our baptism, at our conversion, is reflected in our love for each other, indeed, in our reflecting His love for us to each other.
My prayer, then, is that you will continue to make use of the means of grace so that you might be strengthened in your faith. In the same way the you were brought to faith by God’s good Word, I pray that you will continue to use that good Word to be made stronger in your faith. Remember, the mystery of why some are not saved is because they refuse God’s gifts. We refuse God’s gifts by not making use of the gifts that He gives, the gifts of His means of grace, the gifts of His Word and Sacraments. My prayer is that you will make good use of that good Word, written and given and shed for you for the forgiveness of sins.
And my prayer for you is that you will have the hope, that is the certainty, of heaven. Too often I hear a person say, “I hope when I die I will go to heaven.” I pray that you can say, “I know that when I die I will go to heaven.” I pray that you will have that certainty because that certainty comes from the good word of the Lord. That certainty comes from knowing the Good Word of Jesus. That certainty comes from faith given by the Holy Spirit and strengthened by Him through His Word and sacraments.
I read a shirt once that read, “So many books, so little time.” If you like to read you know how true that is. There is a plethora of reading material available in our country today. Unfortunately, not all of it speaks favorably or even speaks of the most important Word, the good Word, the Word made flesh, the Word given to us to eat and drink at His holy Supper. I will continue to pray for you, that the Lord will continue to give you a real hunger for His Word, that you may be weaned off the milk of the Word and hunger for the meat and potatoes of God’s Word through which the Holy Spirit will strengthen and deepen your faith in the Lord and you love for each other. May it be done to the glory of the Lord. For Jesus’ sake. Amen.