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.

Sunday, August 30, 2015

Strong in the Lord - August 30, 2015 - Fourteenth Sunday after Pentecost (Proper 17) - Text: Ephesians 6:10-20

Paul set out in his letter to the Ephesians to give the Ephesians and us, that is to give us Christians, a better understanding of God’s eternal grace and purpose in our lives and in His Church. Two weeks ago we were exhorted, by Paul, to be imitators of Christ through the Holy Spirit working in and through us. Last week we were instructed in the good order God gives, flowing out of the order of creation, to put Christ and others first in our lives. This week Paul instructs us in fighting the good fight. As Christians living in this sin filled and sin corrupted world, we are constantly doing battle. We battle with the devil, the world and even our own sinful nature. Paul begins instructing us with and giving us encouragement to be strong, as he says, “10Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might” (v. 10)
Paul instructs us by defining our battle and our enemy. He says, “11Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil. 12For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places” (v. 11-12). Paul encourages us to stand firm against the schemes of the devil. The devil has been scheming since his own creation and rebellion against God and being cast our of heaven. The devil has been scheming since the Garden of Eden where he enticed Adam and Eve to question God and His Word, to disobey God and to bring sin and death into this world. And the devil continues with his schemes yet today. We see the devil constantly scheming in our world today as God and His Word are questioned day in and day out. We see the devil continue scheming with the temptation that we can be like God, even being our own gods and goddesses in living our lives our own way without any regard to our Lord and His will for us.
Paul further defines our battle as being not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, authorities, and cosmic powers. As Christians, our battle is not so much a physical battle, although that might be the case from time to time, but our battle is more often than not a battle against the devil and his evil angels. Our battle is against the evil, atheistic, unbelieving leaders of the world, the false teachers and those who teach falsely concerning our Lord and His Word, including false religions, cults and sects.
Yes, our battle is against spiritual forces in heavenly places. Our greatest battle is a spiritual battle. As the world looks to and embraces other gods, which really are nothing, so it continues to work to undermined and destroy the Christian Church. And this is a great battle indeed.
How do we fight this battle? We fight this battle by being armed for the battle. Paul tells us about the armor with which our Lord arms us. We read, “13Therefore take up the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand firm. 14Stand therefore, having fastened on the belt of truth, and having put on the breastplate of righteousness, 15and, as shoes for your feet, having put on the readiness given by the gospel of peace. 16In all circumstances take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming darts of the evil one; 17and take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God” (v. 13-17).
The first line of defense in our armor is the belt of truth. A belt is that thing that wraps around our body, usually around our waist and holds up other parts of what we are wearing, in particular, our pants. Mainly, though, the belt surrounds us. Paul speaks of this as being the belt of truth. One of the first things that is attacked in the Christian faith is truth. Truth is questioned. God’s Word, as truth, is questioned. As the serpent asked Eve, so the devil continually questions today, “Did God really say?” “Did God really mean?” We live in a world where, for too many, truth is relative. What is true for you may not be true for me and what is true for me may not be what is true for you. When we fasten the belt of truth around us, we are surrounding ourselves with truth, with Jesus who alone is truth. Apart from Jesus, there is and can be no truth. Jesus is the truth, as He is the way and the life. Thus, we begin by surrounding ourselves with Jesus and we do this by surrounding ourselves, immersing ourselves in His Word. To put this into practical terms, I always ask, “Are human beings, even smart human beings ever wrong?” And the answer is of course, “Yes.” Is God ever wrong? And the answer is of course, “No.” So when there is a difference between what fallible humans say and what God says, I am going to believe God all the time and figure that humans have gotten it wrong and need to go back and rethink it.
Next, the breastplate of righteousness is put on us. We are clothed with righteousness, that is we are clothed with Christ’s righteousness and this is done through the waters of Holy Baptism. At our baptism our Lord puts His name on us, He puts faith in our hearts, He writes our names in the book of life, He clothes us with His robes of righteousness. As we remember that we get it right when we point to Jesus, then we also understand that we get Holy Baptism correct when we point to Jesus. Holy Baptism is not something we do. Indeed, we cannot baptize ourselves. Just as a drowning person cannot save himself, or he would not be drowning, so we cannot save ourselves or we would not need saving. Holy Baptism is what God does and according to His Word, what God does in Holy Baptism is that He uses the simple ordinary earthly means of water connected with His Word to give us the gifts He has to give, faith, forgiveness and life, as He reminds us in first Peter, “Baptism now saves you (1 Pet. 3:21).”
Being surrounded with the belt of truth, immersed in the Word of God, being clothed in Christ’s robes of righteousness through the waters of Holy Baptism, we then have put on us the shoes which make us ready to share the gospel of peace. Here we are reminded that true peace is that peace which comes only from forgiveness of sins, for without forgiveness there is no true peace. And we are also reminded that this is indeed how our Lord works with us, namely through means. As we are immersed in the Word, as we are washed and robed through Holy Baptism, we understand that through these means our Lord has His way with us. And here, even through confession and absolution we are given forgiveness and peace.
Having our bodies covered, we move to gain protection through the use of the shield of faith. Here we understand that faith is an instrument and faith is a gift, given through means, the Word and the Sacrament and yet, faith in and of itself does nothing, again, it is an instrument. In order for faith to be saving faith it must have an object and the object of saving faith is Jesus Christ alone. Thus, as a shield absorbs the impact and pain the enemy attempts to inflict, so Jesus has taken care of the pain, the price, the suffering, even the eternal spiritual death which our sins cost us.
The last defensive piece of armor that is put on us is the helmet of salvation. The helmet protects our head as the breastplate protects our heart. The head and the heart are two important and vital organs. With the heart we believe and with the head we know. Both knowing and believing are important for us as Christians. And so, the helmet, along with the rest of the armor work to protect us from losing faith in Jesus.
Finally, Paul tells us that we are allowed one offensive weapon. The only offensive weapon he allows is the sword of the Spirit which is the Word of God. And what a weapon the Word of God is. If only Adam and Eve had used it in the Garden. We see how it is used and how effective it is as when Jesus was tempted by Satan. He wielded the sword of the Word of God and Satan had to leave, for a more opportune time. When temptations arise, we too, are to wield the sword of the Word of God.
Paul has warned us of the battle. He has equipped us with armor and now he gives us our supply line in the battle. We pick up at verse eighteen, “18praying at all times in the Spirit, with all prayer and supplication. To that end keep alert with all perseverance, making supplication for all the saints, 19and also for me, that words may be given to me in opening my mouth boldly to proclaim the mystery of the gospel, 20for which I am an ambassador in chains, that I may declare it boldly, as I ought to speak” (v. 18-20). In a battle, if the army runs outs of ammunition or equipment or even food too quickly, the battle could easily turn to the favor of the enemy. Thus, a supply of reinforcements, a supply of ammunition and equipment continues to be necessary. Our Lord supplies us for battle through the means of grace, the Word and Sacrament. It is as I continually tell you, as we make regular and diligent use of the means of grace that our Lord has His way with us, supplying us with all that we need and even more than we need in order to be ready and to fight and win against the enemy, the devil, the world and our own sinful nature.
Our Lord constantly supplies us with aid through His means of grace. We also receive help from others in particular through prayer and through the Holy Spirit answering our prayer. What a powerful tool we have in prayer. Our Lord promises to hear and answer our prayer and certainly He does, thus we see the need to constantly be in prayer as well.
Our Lord speaks to us through His Word and in our prayers we are speaking with our Lord.. Thus, we are in conversation with our Lord. And the great thing about our prayers is that they can be prayed anytime, anywhere, for perseverance and for boldness. We are to pray for ourselves and others and we are to know that others are praying for us. And God answers our prayers and their prayers.
What Does this Mean? God never promised that life in this world would be easy. And, actually, after God created the world and put Adam and Eve in the Garden He had created for them, He gave them work to do. Work is not a result of the fall into sin. The result of the fall into sin is that now we are constantly at battle in this world. We are in a war. We are constantly doing battle against the unholy three of the devil, the world, and our own sinful nature.
Even though we continue to be at war and continue to be doing battle, the fact of the matter is that Jesus has already won the victory. Satan has been defeated and he knows he has been defeated, yet he constantly works in our world to undermine our Lord and His authority. The devil is fighting for us, not because he loves us and desires that we should be on his side, but because he hates us and he hates anything that is from God or of God. But again, Christ has won. Through the cross and death, Jesus defeated sin, death and the power of the devil. The victory is His.
And yet, while we remain in this world we will continue to fight the good fight. We will fight against temptation and sin. We will fight against the temptations of the devil, the world and our own sinful flesh. Yet, we will not fight alone. We will fight with Christ Jesus on our side. And as Paul tells us this morning, we will fight as we are armed with the means of grace.
And so, this morning, we have Paul’s instruction to us in fighting the good fight. We do live in a sin filled and sin corrupted world. Thus, we must constantly do battle. We battle against the devil, the world and even our own sinful nature. Paul instructs us and encourages us to be strong because we are well armed and well equipped through our faith, faith given, and strengthened by the Holy Spirit through the means of grace. We have the whole armor of God. We have the belt of truth, the breastplate of righteousness, the shoes of readiness, the shield of faith, the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, the Word of God. And we have this confidence, that the battle has been won and by God’s pure grace, through His gift of faith, we have eternal life. To Him be the glory, for Jesus’ sake. Amen.

Sunday, August 23, 2015

Christ Loved the Church - August 23, 2015 - Thirteenth Sunday after Pentecost (Proper 16) - Text: Ephesians 5:22-33

Because of the gifts our Lord has to give to us in our text for this morning, I am compelled to begin with three points of introduction this morning. First, although our text begins with verse twenty-two, I believe, as some commentators suggest, that verse twenty-one might be a better beginning to this text. You may, or may not remember, we ended last weeks reading with this verse, which were words that flowed out of Paul’s exhortation to be imitators of Christ. As Paul says, “21submitting to one another out of reverence for Christ” (v. 21). Second, I also want to begin with the last two verses of our text because I believe they will help us frame our Lord’s Words through Paul this morning. Paul concludes this section by saying, “32This mystery is profound, and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the church. 33However, let each one of you love his wife as himself, and let the wife see that she respects her husband” (v. 32-33). Paul is giving us an image of how husbands and wives should be in the marriage relationship. He does this by giving us an image of Christ and His relationship to His Bride, the Church. So, as we will see, our relationship as husbands and wives should mirror our relationship as a Church to Christ. And third, I believe the word which is translated in many Bible as “submit” and has been translated as “obey” might better be translated as “subordinate.” The word in our text is hupatasso and is a term of ordering. In other words, and this is why I believe verse twenty-one should be included. We might read verse twenty-one as, “ordering yourselves under one another out of reverence for Christ.” If we could each live our lives putting Christ and others first, what a joyous life we would have. If husband and wives could begin by putter each other first, what a joyous marriage they would have. My prayer, as I believe Paul intends, is that hopefully you get the idea that the purpose of our text is to show us how much our Lord loves us, enough to set up good order for us so that we will feel safe and secure as His dear children, in our homes and in our Church.
As we move into our text we see Paul first address wives, we read, “22Wives, submit to your own husbands, as to the Lord. 23For the husband is the head of the wife even as Christ is the head of the church, his body, and is himself its Savior. 24Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit in everything to their husbands” (v. 22-24). The first and main reason that wives are to be, and throughout our text this morning I will use the word subordinate, the first and main reason that wives are to be subordinate to their husbands is because of their love and subordination to the Lord. It is a response of faith. Logically then, the first reason for objection to this subordination is that the wife does not subordinate herself to the Lord.
The second reason wives are to be subordinate to their husbands is because the Lord has made the husband the head of the family. God did not do this out of meanness or chauvinism but simply for the purpose of good order. God knows that families, like businesses and governments, do not work well with two or more leaders. He also knows that good order is needed to prevent chaos and anarchy, thus in His infinite wisdom and love for us He has given to us good order and according to that good order He has placed the husband as the head of the family. The tough part is that even those husbands who give up that God given responsibility will still be held accountable for their families.
The good order which God has given to us is not just a random order, rather it is the order of creation. In Genesis God tells us that He created the man, Adam, then He made the woman as a helper suitable for the man, then He gave them children. God has made parents responsible for their children and He has given the husband the ultimate responsibility for the family as a whole.
One last reason Paul tells wives to be subordinate to their husbands is the example of how the church is subordinate to Christ, likewise he says, wives are to be subordinate to their husbands. When the church goes off doing things not in accord with God’s will, then it has problems as we see happening in many of the denominations of our world today, likewise, when a wife strays from God’s will and usurps the authority not given to her and is insubordinate, there are problems.
Next Paul moves to the duty of the husband, he says, “25Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, 26that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, 27so that he might present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish. 28In the same way husbands should love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. 29For no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as Christ does the church, 30because we are members of his body” (v. 25-30).
The first order for the husband is to love his wife just as Christ loved the church. At first this might not seem like such a tall order, but when we remember how much Christ loved the church we realize that this is a difficult thing, difficult because Christ loved the church so much that He died for her. Husbands, then, are to love their wives so much that they are willing to give even their lives for their wife.
Jesus died not only to bring forgiveness to the church, but also to bring new life and holiness to her. Paul is talking about our sanctification, our becoming holy and Christlike, which had its beginning at baptism and will have its completion in eternity. Jesus has given us new life and He sends us His Holy Spirit to work in us so that we might become more and more Christlike until we reach perfection in heaven.
Continuing with this washing imagery, Paul tells us that husbands are to love their wives as their own bodies because he knows that everyone takes care of their own body. The basis for Paul’s statement is from the quotation of Gen. 2:24 in verse thirty-one. When a man and a woman marry they become one flesh, thus as the husband takes care of his own body he is taking care of his wife who is a part of himself.
Because Christ loves the church He gives it good order, likewise because He loves the family He gives it good order. A marriage has one head. If a marriage had two heads it would make a monster, a freak. Please understand, there are two orders going on in God’s Word. There is the order of creation and the order of redemption. According to the order of redemption, male and female are equal, in other words, God has redeemed men and women equally. Both were sinners and now both are saved. Yet, according to the order of creation, the husband remains the head of the family for the purpose of good order. And he will be held accountable as such.
In verse thirty-one we read, “31‘Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh’” (v. 31). Paul’s quote from Genesis reminds us of God’s gift of marriage, that it is a gift of one man and one woman who are united for life. Marriage is not two men or two women. Marriage is not one man and two or more women or one woman and two or more men. Marriage is not a group activity. Marriage is one man and one woman. A man will leave his father and mother, which is usually easier for the man than the parents, and he with his wife will form a new family unit.
He will be united, joined or, glued, literally yoked, like a pair of oxen, to his wife. Specifically, Paul is speaking about a sexual union which is between a husband and a wife and only between a husband and a wife, with this union making the two one flesh. Within and only within the bounds of marriage has God given us this gift of sex. When sex is kept in the bounds of marriage then it is a good thing, it is a joyous thing, and it gives glory to God.
There is a stress on the two becoming one flesh. This is for the purpose of chastity, fidelity, enjoyment, and procreation. Unfortunately what God has given us in good order and for good has become something very misused and abused in our world today and we can easily see where things have lead. This misuse and abuse of God’s gift of sexuality is easily seen in the facts of the AIDS and sexually transmitted diseases epidemic, the number of illegitimate children being born, the number of unborn children being killed, and the disrespect of Holy Scripture itself.
Is it possible for us to renew the sanctity of marriage in our world today? How can we put marriage and family back in its proper place? Well, as always, by ourselves we cannot do any such thing. It is only with the Holy Spirit working in and through us that we can even begin to make an effort at returning to the good order our Lord has given us. We begin by realizing that God gives us all things, spiritual, physical, and emotional, including marriage. Everything that we have is a gift from God. Because everything we have is a gift from God we use it in such a way as to give glory to His Holy Name.
We realize that one gift from God is the gift of good order, not chaos and anarchy. We shun this gift when we make excuses for our behavior such as, “We’re living in the twenty-first century,” as if that makes a difference, or changes how God gives us His gift. We shun this gift when we simply ignore or refuse it. We shun this gift when we think that a person’s job or the wages they bring home is what gives worth or value to that person, rather than Jesus’ blood purchasing us and giving us our value. We shun this gift when we throw out the Bible as a gift from God and teach some other value system based on our own human opinion. We shun this gift when we make any excuse, and all kinds of excuses, as to why God and His gifts are irrelevant in our lives today. What is so interesting is that after we have shunned His gifts for so long He may just give us what we want, and unfortunately, it is when we get what we want that we realize that it is not what we want and then we blame God.
Thanks be to God that He gives us His Holy Spirit in order to throw off the ways of this world and helps us to follow His will. It is the Holy Spirit who moves in us to help us to realize that God’s Word is just as relevant and just as important to us today as it was when He gave it. He moves in us to bring us to faith in that Word. He moves us to see how He gives us good order because of His great love for us, not because He is prejudice against one sex or another. He gives us blessings upon blessings because of His great love for us, a love that had its completion in Jesus giving His very life for us so that we could receive all these other good gifts and blessings.
And so, in His gift of marriage, God gives us an image of the relationship of Christ to His Church and in Christ’s relationship to the Church He gives us an image of marriage. As the Church, we are the Bride of Christ, thus we are not to go awhoring after other gods, which is adultery and which is idolatry, but we are to be and remain in a one flesh union with our Creator, Redeemer, Preserver God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Christ shows His love for His Bride, the Church, by giving His life for us. He washes us through the waters of Holy Baptism. He robes us with His robes of righteousness. He makes us His own and strengthens and keeps us in faith through His means of grace.
Today our text celebrates God’s gift of marriage and Church and His many gifts to us. In the church Christ gave us His example in that as its leader He humbled Himself to being its servant. Likewise, in marriage we are to humble ourselves as husband and wife and we are to humble ourselves to being given God’s gift of good order for our lives and our families so that we might ultimately give glory to His name. For Jesus’ sake. Amen.

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Thoughts From Your Pastor

Have you ever wondered what is on the pastor’s mind? Well, I will tell you. I have a great concern, not only for our world, for our country, for our congregation, but for you the members of this congregation. I have a great concern for the simple fact that on any given Sunday so many people refuse and reject the gifts God has to give. I am, however, greatly encouraged in the fact our congregation is growing with faithful members excited to be in the Word of God, but my concern as shepherd of this congregation is for those sheep who wander off and absent themselves from where God’s gifts are given. Now, most of you are adults. I am not your parent. I am sure you understand the fact that I cannot force you to be in church. I cannot make you come and be given the gifts God has to give. Neither do I have the power to make you stay away. Indeed if I had such power as to make you stay away, that would mean I would have the power to make you come, and I have neither such power. I find it interesting that as I visit our shut-ins and those who are ill and in the hospital, I see they have a great desire to be in worship but are unable to come, and God understands. Yet there are many who are capable of being in worship and have many opportunities to be there but elect to not come. And how often have I heard such excuses for continued absence of church such as, “I don’t like the pastor.” “I don’t like that every time I attend the pastor is talking to me.” “I don’t like this or that.” “The music is too loud (soft).” “I was made to attend as a child so now I don’t go.” “It’s too cold (hot) in church.” “I have something else to do, fill in the blank, which is obviously more important.” Have you ever thought your excuses through? How would they sound before God?

God:    Why have I not seen you in church?
You:    I don’t like the pastor.
God:    Is he preaching false doctrine?
You:    No.
God:    Is he not preaching the Gospel, administering the Sacraments, visiting the sick and shut-in?
You:    No.
God:    He is the man I have called to be there, what is the problem.
You:    Well, every time I attend it is as if he is preaching to me.
God:    Yes, that is what he is supposed to do. If he were not preaching to you, what good would he be? I have sent him there to speak my word. If he is speaking my word, then truly you have no excuse.

You:    My parents made me go to church as a child so I stopped going.
God:    Well, your parents did their job in raising you in my nurture and admonition. Now I am saddened that you have chosen to reject me and the gifts I have to give.

You:    I don’t like (fill in the blank) so I don’t go.
God:    Is My Word being preached? Are my Sacraments being administered? Then you have no excuse.

As your pastor, I have the unenviable task of pointing out your sin with the objective being that you repent and be given forgiveness. And I would remind you that to repent means not only to stop sinning but to attempt, with God’s help, to go in the other direction and sin no more. Too often it seems to me there is a concern for one’s spiritual well being and that of others only when in fact that is not the case. How often it is that when I speak to people concerning the spiritual well being of their family, they have all kinds of excuses for why nothing can be done. While I attempt to make accommodations, there seems to be no attempt on the other side to meet those accommodations which gives me the impression that I care more for their spiritual well being than they do.

Again, as your pastor, my concern is the fact that God loves you so much, enough to send His Son to shed His blood, to give His life for yours. God has so many gifts and blessings to give to you and yet, Sunday after Sunday so many people, sometimes more than three-fourths of the members of St. Matthew believe they do not need the gifts of God: forgiveness, strengthening of faith, etc. It is kind of like telling God, “No thanks, God. I’m good. I don’t need any of Your gifts this week. I don’t need to be forgiven. I don’t need faith.” Or absenting themselves shows they have something else as a higher priority, so they refuse and reject the gifts of God, and I ache for Jesus. I wonder how He must feel when we constantly reject Him and His gifts? We live our priorities. The First Commandment says we should have no other gods before the one true God. Anything, anyone, any event which takes priority in our lives over our Lord breaks that commandment and pulls us further and further away from our Savior.

Ladies and gentlemen, brothers and sisters in Christ, I truly do not want that to happen to you. I love you, and so I will continue to urge you to come and be given the gifts God has to give!!

Sunday, August 9, 2015

Fed by the Lord to Be His People - August 9, 2015 - Eleventh Sunday after Pentecost (Proper 14) - Ephesians 4:17-5:2

It is said that imitation is the finest form of flattery and while that may be true, I do not, however, believe that Paul is simply telling us in our text for today that we should be imitators of God because we want to flatter Him. Rather, I believe Paul’s encouragement is his usual encouragement of response of faith. When we think about all that our Lord has done for us and all He continues to do for us how can we help but respond by striving, with the help of the Holy Spirit, to be an imitator of Him. Of course, we realize, especially in our world today, that being an imitator of the Lord is not necessarily an easy thing, maybe even at times it is something that is difficult and even impossible to do. Let us move into our text and hear what Word of the Lord we have for today.
Our text begins with Paul’s words of exhortation for Christian living and rather than read his whole exhortation, let me simply sum it up with a short quote, “22. . . put off your old self, which belongs to your former manner of life and is corrupt through deceitful desires, 23and to be renewed in the spirit of your minds, . . . put away falsehood, . . . 27and give no opportunity to the devil. 29Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear” (v. 17-29).
Paul exhorts us to put off the old self, that is to crucify the old flesh. The old flesh is our sinful human nature. The old flesh is the fact that we are conceived and born in sin, that we daily sin much, that we sin in thought, word and deed, that we sin sins of omission and commission. Our old flesh is our genetic nature, the fact that we are sinful from conception. Paul exhorts us to put this off by crucifixion. And, no, Paul is not saying we need to each go out and have ourselves crucified. Remember, by Baptism we have been identified with Christ, so that His crucifixion has become our crucifixion, thus, to crucify the old flesh is to remember our baptism and the Word of the Lord to us and we do that through making regular and diligent use of the means of grace, again seeing why the means of grace are so important.
Paul exhorts us to passively have put on us the new self, the robes of Christ’s righteousness. Here again this is what happened at our baptism. At our baptism we were passively done to. We do not take the initiative, instead we are brought as little babies, by our parents. Jesus, through the hands and mouth of the pastor, washed us with water and put His name on us, Father, Son and Holy Spirit. In the waters of Holy Baptism we were robed with Christ’s robes of righteousness.
Paul exhorts us to speak honestly, that is to speak the truth in love. This is a most difficult thing, especially in our world today, our world which has a difficult time with truth. And this truth is what is so twisted by our world. As Christian, not wanting any one to perish, we must speak the truth, especially the truth that there is only one way to heaven. Yet, this truth sounds so intolerant to our world that they persecute us for our caring, yet, Paul encourages us as such.
Paul exhorts us to work rightly. We are to be honest in our work. We are to reflect our faith in our work. We are to work, not as if we are working simply for some material gain, not as if we are working for some human boss, but work as if we are working for our Lord. And in so working, we reflect and indeed bear witness of our faith.
And Paul exhorts us to encourage and build each other up in the body of Christ, as brothers and sisters in Christ, as many of you are doing.
Our text next moves to state the negative, telling us what we are not to do, we read, “30And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, by whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. 31Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice” (v. 30-31). Our text begins by telling us not to grieve the Holy Spirit. What does it mean to grieve the Holy Spirit? To grieve the Holy Spirit means to make Him unhappy. We do this by wearing the name Christian and acting as if we were something other than a Christian. As Christians we understand that the Holy Spirit lives in us, therefore He hears, sees, feels, and knows all that we do. We grieve the Holy Spirit when we disobey any and all the commandments, which we do daily. We grieve the Holy Spirit when we give God second place in our lives, when we misuse His most Holy Name, when we neglect worship and Bible class, daily devotions, reading the Bible, making regular and diligent use of His means of grace, when we disobey and disrespect all those He has put into authority over us, when we kill by name calling, hating, and hurting, when we lust after others, when we steal from others, when we gossip and speak evil of others and when we covet those things which He has not intended for us to have.
Paul would have us to remember that sin is not just sin if it is acted out, rather sin is sin which begins in our hearts. The sins which Paul lists show the steps of the progression of sin. Sin begins with bitterness which has its beginning in the heart. Bitterness leads to rage and anger. Rage and anger lead to brawling and slander. Brawling and slander lead to every form of malice. Sin does not always begin with an act, most often it begins small in our hearts and if it is not stopped right away it can grow and build until ultimately it could lead a person away from Christ and the church. How do we stop the tide of sin. We move on in our text for that answer.
Our text moves to the positive, telling us how we are to live, we read, “32Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you” (v. 32). We begin to stem the tide of sin by changing our practices. We stem the tide of sin by being kind and compassionate. The more we work at being Christlike, which we understand we can do only with the help of the Holy Spirit, the less we are bitter, enraged, angry, brawling, slanderous, or malicious to others.
The ultimate end of sin is to be forgiving. To be forgiving is a basic Christian attitude. To be forgiving is to reflect God’s goodness to us, toward others. To be forgiving is to not worry about who wronged who, or who needs to apologize first. No, to be forgiving is to forgive one another as God for Christ’s sake has forgiven us. To be forgiving leads to the last two verses of our text.
With the help of the Holy Spirit we strive to be imitators of Christ as we read in verses one and two, “1Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children. 2And walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God” (v. 1-2). Paul begins by calling us, dearly loved children. We are dearly loved children and God has shown His love for us not because of anything we have done to earn His love, as we have been shown, but simply because He is a God of love. We are dearly loved children because God has created us and He has chosen to love us as His dear children.
The love that God has for us is shown in Christ’s love for us. Christ’s love for is His fragrant offering and sacrifice of Himself on the cross for us. Jesus did not have to give His life for us. He was perfect. He could have simply saved Himself, but He did not. Because of His great love for us He took all our sins upon Himself. He took our sins, all those sins we described earlier when we were talking about breaking the ten commandments. He took all our sins and all the sins of the whole world, past, present, and future, upon Himself. He suffered the eternal as well as much of the temporal punishment which should have been ours to suffer. He suffered for us, in our place because of His great love for us.
Because of all that Jesus has done for us, Paul tells us that we are to be imitators of Him. We are to be imitators by living our lives as lives of love, with the help of the Holy Spirit, to the praise and glory of Christ’s Holy Name.
What does this mean? or should we ask, how do we do this? We do this by going against our very human nature which means we do these things only with the help and by the power of the Holy Spirit working in and through us. We do this only as Jesus has His way with us. Thus, we do this by striving to live according to God’s commandments, by cleaning up our act so to speak. We do this by working to keep God first in our lives, by not speaking foul language, cursing and swearing, by being in worship and Bible class, having family and personal devotions, by loving the Lord our God with all our heart, all our soul, all our strength, and all our might and by loving our neighbor as ourselves. If you could love your neighbor as yourself then you would not do any evil thing against your neighbor, then you would keep the commandments perfectly.
We are imitators of God when we cease to put degrees on sin, in other words when we cease to debate who sinned more and who should say “I’m sorry” first. We are imitators of God when we realize that we have all sinned and fall short of the glory of God, that is why Jesus took our place on the cross so that just as freely as we have received forgiveness from Him so just as freely we might pass that forgiveness unquestionably and unconditionally to others.
We are imitators of God when we follow the golden rule, “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” Keeping in mind that we strive to first do unto the others, without expecting something in return. We do first. Remember it was while we were sinners, while we were enemies of God that Jesus gave His life for us. Jesus did not wait until we were good or until we earned that He should give His life for us, rather it was when we needed it the most that He gave His life for us. We are imitators when we go out and first do unto others.
We are imitators of God when we love others, even the unlovable. When we meet someone we, through our human eyes, deem as unlovable maybe we need to remind ourselves that if God loved them enough to send Jesus to die for them, who are we to love them any less. Understanding that Jesus loved everyone so much that He gave His life for everyone, how much more do we respond by telling the whole world of that love for us and for them.
Two things to keep in mind. First, Jesus did not give His life as a ransom for us as merely an example to us. We would never be able to follow that example. Jesus gave His life for us because of His great undeserved love and mercy for us. Jesus gave His life for us to save us. Because of what He did for us we strive to be imitators in our lives of His life. Second, please do not misunderstand what Paul has been saying. Paul is speaking in the context of sanctification, that is in the context of becoming more and more holy. We cannot earn our way into heaven by striving to do the things we have been talking about. Our way into heaven has been given to us, that is an accomplished, completed fact. Because of the gift of heaven, because of all our Lord has done for us, we respond, willingly, freely, by giving our lives to the Lord, by letting the Holy Spirit work these good works in and through us, to the praise and glory of His Holy Name.
So, once again we see God doing it all. He has given us His Son Jesus who gave His very life for ours. Jesus suffering and death was for our forgiveness. And He has given us an example, one that we, by ourselves are unable to follow, so He has also given us His Holy Spirit in order to work in us so that we might be able to follow Jesus’ example. And so we are left to do the only thing we can do and that is to say “Praise the Lord for His good gifts and blessings.” To Him be the glory, for Jesus’ sake. Amen.

Tuesday, August 4, 2015

The Importance of Sunday School and Bible Class

In his book, Already Gone, Ken Ham attests to the facts of what we are seeing in our schools and churches today, even what we are seeing in our own congregation. In our schools our children are being taught that evolution, meaning man came from slime (molecules to man) is a fact and they are being taught to question God and the Bible. Knowing that human beings can be and are often wrong, we put our trust in God and His Word which is never wrong, and so we see the fallacious teachings of the religion of evolution.

With that said, it is sad how many of our children and even adults do not know the history contained in the Bible. Do you or do your children know who Abraham is? And not Abraham Lincoln. What about Moses and Aaron, Jacob and Esau, King David and King Solomon? Do you know and do your children understand how the Old Testament relates to the New Testament? Do you or do you children know how to speak a defense of the faith? So many of our children are already lost to the secular humanism of this world even before they reach confirmation age; thus, it is no wonder they leave the church and ultimately the faith, which does mean eternal spiritual death.

So, what are we doing about it, if anything? Certainly children are God’s gifts to parents, and parents are the first teachers of their children. And just to remind you, you do teach your children whether verbally or not. Your children watch you, and they imitate you. Your children know what is important and what is not important according to how you live because the fact is we live our priorities; we make time for those things that are important.

In speaking to young people who profess one another as “soul mates,” the question finds its answer in the answer to this question, “Do you really care about the spiritual well being of your ‘soul mate’”? Meaning, if we really care about the soul of our children as well as our own soul, we will live our faith as a priority.

Are we teaching our children Bible basics at home? Are we reading Bible history to them? Are we bringing, not sending, but bringing our children to Sunday School so they see that our faith is important as well? Are we bringing our children to Vacation Bible School? Are our children prepared for confirmation, or do we simply expect our pastor to make up for our lost time?

Now, more than ever, is the time to begin preparing your child and yourself for the struggles of this world and to be ready for the more permanent home of heaven. Please be encouraged to not only send, but to bring your children and yourself to Sunday School and Bible Class. And be encouraged to have family and private devotions, the Portals of Prayer are available for free in the Narthex. Your pastor is always available for helpful instruction in preparing yourself and your children in your spiritual well being.

Sunday, August 2, 2015

To Each One Grace Has Been Given - August 2, 2015 - Tenth Sunday after Pentecost (Proper 13) - Text: Ephesians 4:1-16

In our Old Testament reading for this morning in the midst of the grumbling and complaining, in the midst of the sin of the children of Israel, we see God provide for them by raining down manna for them to eat. In the Gospel lesson we see God, in the person of Jesus, provide physical food for the people to eat, in order to satisfy their physical desire and hunger. You may have noticed the people were not too interested in the spiritual food the Lord was giving, simply in having their stomachs filled. In our Epistle lesson, our text for this morning we hear God provide for the distribution of spiritual food in the giving of the office of Holy Ministry for the distribution of the gifts of God through the means of grace as well as in the teaching of the saints in order that they might be able to be vessels for the distribution of the gifts of God through the means of grace. As we are reminded, every good and perfect gift comes from above. And we may notice that God provides these gifts, even in the midst of our sinning and refusing and rejecting the gifts He has to give. To each one of us God has abundantly poured out His grace on us, giving us all the good gifts and blessings He has to give, even giving us to be able to respond to that grace by, with the help of the Holy Spirit, living our lives according to His good and gracious will. With that in mind we move into our text and read how Paul tells us this bit of good news.
We begin at verse one of our text. Paul writes, “1I therefore, a prisoner for the Lord, urge you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called, 2with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, 3eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. 4There is one body and one Spirit—just as you were called to the one hope that belongs to your call—5one Lord, one faith, one baptism, 6one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all” (v. 1-6). This is quite a tall charge Paul puts before us. As Christians we are to live as God’s humble servants. As Christians we are not to boast about our great faith, rather we are to humbly serve others while trying to help build each other up as brothers and sisters in the Lord. And of course, as Paul well knows, we fail miserably in this task. We simply cannot be the people God calls us to be. We are conceived and born in sin. We daily sin much in thought, word and deed. As our Lord reminds us, every inclination of our heart is evil.
Paul also talks about the unity of the Spirt as well as the fact that we have one Lord, one faith and one baptism. There is much talk going on in our world today about denominations uniting with other denominations. Even our own Missouri Synod is continually in talks with other denominations in the hopes of reaching what we call altar and pulpit fellowship. And here I might add that the word fellowship has been so misused, even by myself at times, that it has become a misunderstood word, especially in the church. True Biblical fellowship is that fellowship which has its basis in faith in Jesus Christ alone. Outside of faith in Jesus Christ alone, we cannot have true fellowship with anyone. Getting back to our text, Paul does not tell us to go out and try to unite with others, rather Paul tells us that as Christians we are in union with one another. This fellowship is not something we strive for, it is something we have through faith in Jesus Christ. Notice that Paul says we are to “maintain the unity.” We are to work to maintain what is already there.
At this point two definitions are in order. The first is to define the word “orthodox” which means to be true to the faith and teachings of the church. The second word is “heterodox” which means to not be in agreement or parting from the true faith and teachings of the church. Because we are sinners and because we live in a sin filled world, there are no true, 100%  pure orthodox churches.  Not until we reach heaven will we again have true 100% orthodoxy. Meanwhile we strive to keep our teachings as pure as we can. Personally I believe that our synod, at least up until recent times, is the closest to pure doctrine, otherwise I would be elsewhere.
With those two definitions established we move on to see that Paul does not advocate unionism, which we might define as an outward human unity, rather he advocates that we have a unity in Christ. In other words, we have two things going on in our text. We can strive for a human unity, this is an outward unity, which is not necessarily a unity of teaching but instead is really a false unity. This is what we get when we have sinful human beings working for unity. On the other hand, we have what Jesus gives to us and that is a true unity. This true unity is not something that we see, but is what Jesus gives and is in our hearts. This true unity is based on a purity of doctrine, in other words, true unity is not based on human compromise and democratic vote, but true unity is given to us by Jesus and is maintained by, in as much as we humanly can as sinful human beings, working to keep the teaching of the Bible as pure as possible. Here again, apart from Christ, His Word and teaching, there is no true unity.
Continuing on with our text, Paul explains from where this unity comes, reading at verse seven, “ 7But grace was given to each one of us according to the measure of Christ’s gift. 8Therefore it says, “When he ascended on high he led a host of captives, and he gave gifts to men.” 9(In saying, “He ascended,” what does it mean but that he had also descended into the lower parts of the earth? 10He who descended is the one who also ascended far above all the heavens, that he might fill all things.) 11And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and teachers” (v. 7-11). In these verses, once again Paul reminds us that everything comes from God especially all our spiritual gifts. God has given each one of us grace according to our need. Paul is not necessarily speaking of the grace of forgiveness, we all have that and more, rather he is speaking of the office of Holy Ministry. And notice here that there are not many ministries, but only one Ministry.
So Paul reminds us that our church workers are gifts from God. Our church workers are not people we hire and fire according to our own whims. Our church workers are not people we treat with disrespect and contempt, even if we disagree with them. Our church workers are people for whom we pray; they are people for whom we give thanks; they are people we support and encourage.
Moving on to verses twelve through thirteen, Paul continues to tell us about our church workers and here I will just speak about pastors. Paul says that in particular, pastors are, “12to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, 13until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ” (v. 12-13). Our pastors, the pastors of our churches, are called to do works of service. Yet, our pastors are not to merely tell others what to do, they is to work side by side with the members of the congregation. They are to lead by example and by on the job training.
And here, let me speak of myself as your pastor, I am to prepare you, God’s people, for works of service. This is like the old proverb which says that if you give a man a fish you feed him for a day, but if you teach him to fish you feed him for a lifetime. Likewise, if it is left up to me to do all the work then very little gets done, but if I am able to teach of you how to do the work, then over 300 times as much gets done. And we can all readily admit there are those who are doing their part as well as those who are not.
Together Paul reminds us that we are to build one another up. Rather than wasting our time bad mouthing other members, especially those who absent themselves from Word and Sacrament, we are to spend our time building each other up. Instead of talking bad about the brother or sister who is not here, why don’t we call them and see how they are doing, or if there is anything we can do for them, again, as some of you are doing.
The ultimate goal Paul places before us is that we are to strive to attain the whole measure of the fullness of Christ, which we will not attain until we reach heaven. The whole measure of the fullness of Christ is perfection, that is why we will not attain it until we reach heaven. Until we reach heaven we do strive, with the help of the Holy Spirit to become more and more Christlike. We do this by being in worship and Bible class, by having family and private devotions, by being in the Word and by partaking of the sacraments. And by encouraging others to do the same.
It is our being in the word which will move us to be as Paul describes in the last verses of our text, “14so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes. 15Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, 16from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love” (v. 14-16). As we strive to strengthening our faith then we will not be confused by every nice teaching that comes from other church denominations as well as our society. Then we will be able to distinguish between what is from God and what is from the world. Then we will be better equipped to maintain a unity of faith that is a true unity, based, not on outward human thinking, but based on the pure teaching of Jesus.
We strive for strengthening of faith so that we will better be able to speak the truth in love to our erring brother or sister. We strive to strengthen our faith so that with the help of the Holy Spirit we might stand firm in our faith, so we do not falter, so we do not compromise our faith, and so that we might bear witness to the importance of our faith as a witness to our brothers and sisters in Christ, which, again, will help maintain a true unity of faith.
 We strive for strengthening of faith so that we will grow up into him who is the Head, that is, Christ. In other words, we work together as individuals to build up the body of Christ as a whole, not through compromise or democratic vote, but through the one true Word of God.
We strive for strengthening of faith so that we will be able to each do our part. As usual, by ourselves we can do no good thing. Thus, we continually pray for the help of the Holy Spirit to work in and through us so that with His help we might be able to do the good works which He has prepared beforehand for us to do, to the praise and glory of His Holy Name.
So, what does all this have to do with us? What does this mean? It means that first we realize that we are and continue to be sinners. It means that we realize that Christ has given us everything. It means that we especially realize that it was through the cross of Christ that He has given us everything, including forgiveness of sins, faith, life and salvation. It means that we realize that our unity of faith is only accomplished as Jesus has His way with us, not as we have our way with Jesus.
It means that we never compromise our faith nor do we ever flaunt it, rather we live it humbly to the glory of God, with the help of the Holy Spirit. And so, finally it means that we praise the Lord for all His good gifts and blessings.
Once again we see the hand of God moving in our lives. Once again we see that God is doing it all. God gives us life at our birth, He gives us faith and new life at our Baptism, He gives us forgiveness of sins, faith and strengthening of faith through His usual means, the Word and the Sacraments, and He gives us His Holy Spirit who works through the Word and Sacraments to  move us to do good works, to live our lives according to His good and gracious will so that God’s kingdom might be extended, so that we His people might be strengthened in our faith, so that we might be able to do good works, and so that praise and glory might be given to His holy Name, for Jesus’ sake. Amen.