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, September 27, 2015

Word for Christian Living - September 27, 2015 - Eighteenth Sunday after Pentecost (Proper 21) - Text: James 5:(1-12)13-20

In our text for this morning, as we reach the end of our walk through his epistle, James makes three related points as he comes to the end of his letter. James encourages us to focus our life, not on the things of this world, but on the world to come, that is eternal life in heaven. James encourages us to be patient in times of suffering and he points to the example of Job and his suffering as well as the Lord’s reward, if you will, to Job after all was said and done. James writes to encourage us to encourage and build each other up as brothers and sisters in Christ. And we must remind ourselves as we begin looking here at the end of James letter, that James begins with Jesus. James encourages and exhorts us as a response of faith, not for works righteousness.
Getting to James’ first point, he encourages us in our life’s focus. We begin at verse one, “1Come now, you rich, weep and howl for the miseries that are coming upon you. 2Your riches have rotted and your garments are moth-eaten. 3Your gold and silver have corroded, and their corrosion will be evidence against you and will eat your flesh like fire. You have laid up treasure in the last days. 4Behold, the wages of the laborers who mowed your fields, which you kept back by fraud, are crying out against you, and the cries of the harvesters have reached the ears of the Lord of hosts. 5You have lived on the earth in luxury and in self-indulgence. You have fattened your hearts in a day of slaughter. 6You have condemned; you have murdered the righteous person. He does not resist you” (v. 1-6).
James warns us that our earthly treasures will rot. He warns us to not get mixed up in attempting simply to gain treasures for this world, especially to the neglect of the world to come. Perhaps we would do well to constantly remind ourselves that what we are born with and what we take with us when we die is what is truly ours anyway. Which is another way of saying that nothing really is ours. What we have while we live on this earth is merely on loan to us from our Lord, to use while we are on this earth. After we pass away, what we have amassed will be passed on to the next generation and as the preacher of Ecclesiastes suggests, it will be passed on to those who have not earned it to waste it in any way they wish. Thus, we are encouraged to be good stewards of what our Lord first gives to us and we are encouraged to spend our time, not amassing treasures of this world, but treasure for heaven.
James also warns that dishonest gain is a sin and so he encourages us to work at an honest job and not steal in any way. The example he uses is that of his ancestors who kept back wages from the workers. For us today, James simply encourages us to be honest in our labors.
These words from James encourage us to focus our attention and our life, not so much on this world and amassing what will be passed on to the next generation and have no affect on our lives in the world to come, and instead we are to focus our attention on the world to come. We are to focus our attention on our faith and our relationship with Jesus who has secured our lot in heaven. Again, we are reminded that James’ words of encouragement are words of a response of faith.
Moving on to the second point that James makes this morning. He encourages us in our suffering, especially that we are to be patient. We pick up at verse seven, “7Be patient, therefore, brothers, until the coming of the Lord. See how the farmer waits for the precious fruit of the earth, being patient about it, until it receives the early and the late rains. 8You also, be patient. Establish your hearts, for the coming of the Lord is at hand. 9Do not grumble against one another, brothers, so that you may not be judged; behold, the Judge is standing at the door. 10As an example of suffering and patience, brothers, take the prophets who spoke in the name of the Lord. 11Behold, we consider those blessed who remained steadfast. You have heard of the steadfastness of Job, and you have seen the purpose of the Lord, how the Lord is compassionate and merciful. 12But above all, my brothers, do not swear, either by heaven or by earth or by any other oath, but let your “yes” be yes and your “no” be no, so that you may not fall under condemnation.)” (v. 7-12)
James encourages us to be patient and to look forward, in faith, to the day the Lord will return. Unfortunately, too many people, even too many Christians do not believe the Lord will return during their own life time. Yet, He could come any day and any time. And, the fact of the matter is that none of us knows when we will die, so we all need to be ready to meet the Lord each and every day. James reminds us that this world is truly fast and fleeting. Our time in this world is but a breath, even a moment compared to our life in heaven which is for eternity, so we would do well not to dwell so much on the sufferings of this present world, instead, we would do well to focus our attention on heaven. James encourages us not to grumble against each other, instead we are to be patient with each other. And, notice that James says nothing about striving for success in this world, instead he encourages us to remain steadfast, that is to be faithful. James gives us the example of Job who lost everything and yet in the end because of his faithfulness the Lord blessed him with double. Here again, the encouragement to focus our attention on heaven and being faithful.
And James gives a bit of a warning about honesty. He says to let your “yes” be “yes” and your “no” be “no”. In our world today, as truth has, at least for some, become relative, there is a tendency to want to make sure people believe what we say and the way many do this is by adding something to their word. As children we add, “cross my heart and hope to die, stick a needle in my eye,” and so forth. As adults we might add, “I swear to God,” or “to be honest with you,” or any other statement to emphasize we are saying what is true. James urges us simply to let our “yes” be “yes” and our “no” be “no” and to let our honesty attest to our word. And again, we would remind ourselves that James continues to speak in the context of a response of faith.
In the last point of our text, James encourages us to encourage each other as brothers and sisters in Christ. We pick up at verse thirteen, “13Is anyone among you suffering? Let him pray. Is anyone cheerful? Let him sing praise. 14Is anyone among you sick? Let him call for the elders of the church, and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord. 15And the prayer of faith will save the one who is sick, and the Lord will raise him up. And if he has committed sins, he will be forgiven. 16Therefore, confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person has great power as it is working. 17Elijah was a man with a nature like ours, and he prayed fervently that it might not rain, and for three years and six months it did not rain on the earth. 18Then he prayed again, and heaven gave rain, and the earth bore its fruit. 19My brothers, if anyone among you wanders from the truth and someone brings him back, 20let him know that whoever brings back a sinner from his wandering will save his soul from death and will cover a multitude of sins” (v. 13-20).
James encourages us in our prayer life. We certainly understand that our prayer is our part in our conversation with God. He speaks to us through His Word and we speak to Him in prayer. As part of our conversation with God, as part of our prayers, James encourages us to pray for ourselves. We are to pray prayers of thanks as well as petitions for healing and the like. Also we are encouraged to pray for others, especially those who are ill. And we are encouraged to be persistent and patient in our prayers. James gives us the example of Elijah who prayed for three and a half years that it would not rain and then he prayed that it would rain and it did.
Not only are we to pray, we are also exhorted to confess our sins so we might be given forgiveness. Every Sunday morning we confess our sins and we hear our Lord’s most beautiful words of forgiveness. Forgiveness is so important. We might remember that very often the first thing Jesus did when He met someone or healed someone was to forgive them their sins. Forgiveness is our most basic need and with forgiveness we know that we also have life and salvation.
Finally, we are to encourage each other, and especially, in love, share the truth with others, rebuking and admonishing where necessary. We are to encourage our brothers and sisters who stray from the faith. We are to share our faith with others so they too might have a part in God’s kingdom. What wonderful words of encouragement we are given by James this morning. And once more, these words of James are words of encouragement in our response of faith, faith given by God.
So we ask, “What Does This Mean?” In the Old Testament lesson for this morning we see the discontent of the Children of Israel. They grumbled and complained. They exaggerated what they believed to be their condition in Egypt, “they ate fish that cost nothing? They ate cucumbers, melons, leek, onions and garlic that cost nothing?” How quickly they forgot their cry to be delivered from slavery. Yet, their discontent is very much like our discontent. How often we forget what our Lord has done, does and continues to do for us as we continue to ask for more? Yes, even our Old Testament lesson reminds us of our need to keep our focus heavenward. Notice how the discontent of the Israelites is contrasted with Moses’ contentment even that everyone would be full of the Spirit. Quit a lesson to us in our contentment and rejoicing in others and how the Lord blesses them.
In the Gospel reading Jesus warns against sin, even little sins. He also warns that those who are not against Him are for Him, in other words, although we may have doctrinal disagreements with other denominations which keep us from fellowship, unless they are blatantly teaching and believing false doctrine, we would do well to not condemn them. At the same time, this does not negate the fact that we will want to encourage them to get their doctrine right.
Finally, James ties these words together in the last words of his epistle in which he encourages Christians to be content in all things, remembering that this world is fast and fleeting, that we are to be patient in suffering which, as Paul tells us, ultimately produces hope and certainty of heaven, and that we are to build up and encourage each other as brothers and sisters in Christ. And we do this with the Lord’s help, alone and only as a response of faith already given.
Of course, the last question we might ask this morning is, “Where is Jesus?” And we have to answer that He is there as the prime mover. As we read through James we must continue to remind ourselves that James begins with Jesus. James brings words of encouragement that are not apart from Jesus and faith in Jesus. We cannot do any of what James encourages and exhorts us to do. We cannot do the good works of faith, which flow from faith, except that we have faith. Again, James begins with Jesus. Jesus has already done all that James here encourages us to do. Jesus is God in flesh. Jesus is perfect and holy. Jesus never sinned. Jesus suffered all the temptations we will ever face and more and never sinned. And in His great love for us, Jesus took our sin and paid the price for our sin. The depth of the Gospel is that Jesus lived for us and Jesus gave His life for ours. Now Jesus sends the Holy Spirit who works in and through us to be the people he would have us to be, to be the people James encourages us to be. Where is Jesus? He is the beginning, the middle and the end. And we say, thanks be to God and to Him be the glory. For Jesus’ sake. Amen.

Sunday, September 20, 2015

Making Friends with Whom? - September 20, 2015 - Seventeeth Sunday after Pentecost (Proper 20) - Text: James 3:13-4:10

There is the story of the new church which was meeting in a bar. The bar was not open on Sunday mornings so the church rented out the space for their morning service. At this bar there was a parrot. One morning while the church service was going on the parrot woke up. He looked up and saw the pastor preaching and said, “Hum, new bartender.” He looked over at the choir and said, “Hum, new floor show.” And finally, he looked out at the group of people at the service and said, “Same old crowd.” That story helps us to understand what is happening in many of our churches today as we become people not only in the world, but also of the world. James encourages us this morning to be zealous in being people of the Word and people in the Word, not people of the world.
James begins by defining wisdom, beginning at verse thirteen of chapter three, “3:13Who is wise and understanding among you? By his good conduct let him show his works in the meekness of wisdom. 14But if you have bitter jealousy and selfish ambition in your hearts, do not boast and be false to the truth. 15This is not the wisdom that comes down from above, but is earthly, unspiritual, demonic. 16For where jealousy and selfish ambition exist, there will be disorder and every vile practice. 17But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, open to reason, full of mercy and good fruits, impartial and sincere. 18And a harvest of righteousness is sown in peace by those who make peace” (3:13-18). James differentiates between what is viewed as the wisdom of this world and what is true, Godly wisdom. True Godly wisdom shows itself in understanding and meekness. True Godly wisdom is a gift from God. We might be reminded that when God asked King Solomon to ask for any thing he desired as the new king, he asked for discernment, which is the wisdom to properly use understanding, in other words, he asked to be able to rule rightly. True Godly wisdom for us today is to live rightly, discerning the difference between living in the world and being of the world.
On the other hand, James tells us that bitter jealousy and selfish ambition are not wisdom. The way of the world is that this is a “dog eat dog” world and the way to get ahead in this world is through selfish ambition and stepping on others to get what you want, and what you think you deserve. Certainly through His own life, Jesus shows us that this is not Godly wisdom, but is sinful human nature wisdom.
Wisdom from above, that is true Godly wisdom is that wisdom that comes from a heart of faith. As the Holy Spirit gives, even strengthens and keeps us in faith, as a gift, given through the means of grace, so He guides us in all true wisdom, moving us to seek to be godly people, encouraging and building each other up as brothers and sisters in the body of Christ.
As Jesus has His way with us, through the means of grace, a fruit of the Spirit is this peace which is sown from wisdom. Going back to King Solomon, in his writings in the Proverbs, he reminds us of this fact that wisdom sows peace, as he tells us that a gentle answer turns away wrath. When we are provoked by someone, how well we know that an angry response escalates the battle, but a gentle response brings peace. Here again, we see the difference between the Christian who lives in the world but is not in the world and the way the person of the world lives.
As we have talked about with James, he insists that faith without works is dead, that is that our faith is shown through our actions, thus James asks, what does your life say? We pick up at verse one of chapter four, “4:1What causes quarrels and what causes fights among you? Is it not this, that your passions are at war within you? 2You desire and do not have, so you murder. You covet and cannot obtain, so you fight and quarrel. You do not have, because you do not ask. 3You ask and do not receive, because you ask wrongly, to spend it on your passions. 4You adulterous people! Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God? Therefore whoever wishes to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God. 5Or do you suppose it is to no purpose that the Scripture says, “He yearns jealously over the spirit that he has made to dwell in us”? 6But he gives more grace. Therefore it says, “God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble.” 7Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. 8Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded. 9Be wretched and mourn and weep. Let your laughter be turned to mourning and your joy to gloom. 10Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will exalt you” (4:1-10).
James begins by reminding us that quarrels and fights do not come from faith. Quarrels and fights are not the way of Jesus, but the way of the world, the way of power and might, or in the church perceived power and might. We are adapting to the ways of the world when our desire is, well, when our desire is a natural desire. And lest we think we might be exempt from such desire, our Gospel lesson for this morning reminded us that we are really no different from Jesus’ own disciples who desired to be first in the kingdom of God.
James wants us to know that we can either be friends of the world or friends of the Lord. We cannot be both. Are we friends with the world or with the Lord? We are friends with the world when we invest our lives in this world, that is when we invest our time, talents, and treasure in this world. When we spend more time with our own pet projects, interests and hobbies, when we use our talents more for advancing our own lives and careers, when we spend our treasures investing in the things of this world, then we are friends with this world.
On the other hand, are we friends with the Lord? We are friends of the Lord when we invest our lives in the world to come and we invest our lives in the world to come by investing our time, talents and treasure in the world to come. We invest in the world to come by spending time with the Lord, but reading our Bibles, everyday, by having personal and family devotions, by being in worship and Bible class whenever they are offered. We invest in the world to come by using our talents in service to the Lord and for extending His kingdom and certainly by investing our treasure, that is by giving our first fruits and tithes to our Lord who has given everything to us first, namely our time, our talents and our treasures.
Notice the imperatives James uses in our text, submit, resist, and draw near . . . (v. 7, 8). Certainly we understand that these are law words and in and of ourselves we cannot live according to what James here asks. So, maybe we need to go back and remind ourselves that James complements Paul. James and Paul both begin and end with Christ. Thus, these imperatives that James strings along for us are best understood as a response of faith and as being worked in and through us by the power of the Holy Spirit, otherwise, we would certainly be left with no hope.
Finally, James exhorts us to humble ourselves before the Lord and He will exalt us. Here again we begin and end with Jesus. We humble ourselves before the Lord as Jesus has His way with us and He has His way with us through the means of grace. By faith in Jesus, given through the means of grace, we have forgiveness, life and salvation and indeed we are exalted by God the Father.
What does this mean? Last week James reminded us that the power of the tongue reveals what is in one’s heart. This week James reminds us that we are in the world, yet we are not to be of the world. We are of the world when we imitate the world, when the priorities of the world become our priorities and when we fail to focus our attention and our lives on our eternal well-being understanding that our lives in this world are but a breath, but a moment compared to our lives in eternity, which is forever.
James gives us examples of how we know we are either of the world or not of the world. We know we are of the world when we claim to be Christians yet we imitate the world, and as James points out specifically when we quarrel with one another, seeking our own power and position in the world, rather than seeking to serve God and others. James tells us that the heart of such quarreling is the fact that we have our attention focused on this world instead of on the world to come.
Further, James reminds us that we are either friends of the world or friends of God. And yes, even for us Christians this is a tough choice. Daily we are faced with such tough choices and daily we know we fail and sin. Daily we fail to be friends with God. Daily we choose to be friends with the world. Daily we succumb to the temptations of the world and we act like the world and we look like the world.
James reminds us that we do fail. Thanks be to God that just as Paul begins and ends with Jesus, so James begins and ends with Jesus. We fail, but God succeeds. We cannot resist the temptations of the devil, the world and our own sinful flesh, but God has. In Christ God had become flesh. Christ has faced every temptation we will face and more. Jesus never sinned. Jesus took our sins upon Himself and paid the price for our sins.
Thus, James further exhorts us to, and we would certainly understand that this is only with the help and by the power of the Holy Spirit, submit ourselves to God. And the Holy Spirit stirs in us to do what He would have us to do.
As always we are reminded that we get it right when we get our focus right. We get it right when we begin and end with Jesus. God gives and we are given to. We fail and yet God does not give up on us. He is always there to give us even more, faith, forgiveness and life.
James brings us tough words for today. Very often we tend to be of the world. We tend to be like the disciples in our Gospel lesson. Remember the disciples, discussing who was the greatest? They were living in the world and they were being of the world. Living in the world makes it quite difficult to resist the temptation to be of the world. Daily we are tempted and lured to be of the world and daily we fail. Thanks be to God that our salvation does not depend on us. Thanks be to God that when we mess up God is there to clean up. Thanks be to God that Jesus took care of our sins and continues to take care of us. By faith in Jesus, faith given to us by the Holy Spirit, through the means of grace, faith strengthen by the Holy Spirit, by faith in Jesus we have forgiveness, life and salvation. By faith in Jesus, when God looks at us He sees Christ, He sees us as living in the world but not being of the world. By faith in Jesus our Lord looks at us and He exalts us. To Him be the glory, for Jesus’ sake. Amen.

Sunday, September 13, 2015

Small, But Powerful - September 13, 2015 - Sixteenth Sunday after Pentecost (Proper 19) - Text: James 3:1-12

This week we pick up where we left off from last week. Last week we were reminded that we are saved by God’s grace alone, through faith alone, faith given by God, so that we might respond by doing the good works which God has prepared in advance for us to do and because they are motivated in us, worked in and through us by the Holy Spirit and give glory to God, they are good works indeed. This morning we move forward as James reminds us of our responsibility as Christians, especially to be careful of what we say because what we say shows what is in our hearts and because God will hold us accountable for our speech, as well as our actions.
James begins by giving us instructions in Christian responsibility, especially in being responsible for our speaking, our teaching. He says, “1Not many of you should become teachers, my brothers, for you know that we who teach will be judged with greater strictness. 2For we all stumble in many ways, and if anyone does not stumble in what he says, he is a perfect man, able also to bridle his whole body. 3If we put bits into the mouths of horses so that they obey us, we guide their whole bodies as well. 4Look at the ships also: though they are so large and are driven by strong winds, they are guided by a very small rudder wherever the will of the pilot directs. 5So also the tongue is a small member, yet it boasts of great things” (v. 1-5a).
Although James is not necessarily speaking of teachers meaning pastors or preachers of the Word being held to a higher standard, indeed he is speaking to all who teach others of the Word of God. Why this higher standard for teachers? Because teachers are not simply accountable for themselves, which they are, but they are also accountable for the ones they teach. If you ever wonder why I take so much time in sermon preparation it is because I know that I will be held accountable before God, not only for myself, what I believe, but also for what I teach. Have you ever wondered why I am so adamant about what I preach and teach? It is because I know that God will hold me accountable for what is taught and believed by you the hearer.
And yet, James is not simply speaking to those who preach and those who teach, indeed, he is speaking to us all as Christians. As Christians, especially as those of us who claim to be Christians, we must learn to “bridle,” to control our tongue. How often do we see on the evening news how a bad situation becomes worse when tempers flair and angry words come spewing out of one’s mouth? How often in our own lives do we make bad situations worse by failing to stop and think before speaking? As I have told my children and I am sure you have all heard, remember to stop and count to ten, yet we fail to stop and what spews from our mouth are not helpful but hurtful words and once the words leave our mouth there is no taking them back. The writer of the Proverbs gives us a better way when he says, “A soft answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger” (Proverbs 15:1).  James is simply reminding us that what needs controlling the most in our lives is our tongue.
Continuing on in our text James reminds us of the power of the tongue and how great a forest is set ablaze by such a small fire! We pick up at verse six, “6And the tongue is a fire, a world of unrighteousness. The tongue is set among our members, staining the whole body, setting on fire the entire course of life, and set on fire by hell. 7For every kind of beast and bird, of reptile and sea creature, can be tamed and has been tamed by mankind, 8but no human being can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison. 9With it we bless our Lord and Father, and with it we curse people who are made in the likeness of God. 10From the same mouth come blessing and cursing. My brothers, these things ought not to be so. 11Does a spring pour forth from the same opening both fresh and salt water? 12Can a fig tree, my brothers, bear olives, or a grapevine produce figs? Neither can a salt pond yield fresh water” (v. 5b-12).
James’ words remind me of the old contemporary “camp fire” song, “It only takes a spark to get a fire going . . .” Indeed, a spark, a small fire can grow into a great blaze. Likewise a small word can grow into a great conflict. We might imagine that the tongue is the embodiment of evil. Actually, it is not the tongue itself which is evil, that would be like saying that dynamite, in and of itself is evil. Dynamite cannot set itself off. Or today we might suggest that guns in and of themselves are evil, even though guns cannot shoot themselves. The uncontrolled tongue is evil. The uncontrolled tongue gets the one who uses it in trouble and, because we do not live in a vacuum, it gets others in trouble as well.
Perhaps you have heard me say it before, we do not live in a vacuum. What we think, what we say, what we do, draws an equal and opposite reaction. My right to extend my fist may end at where your nose begins, but that still does not give me the right to extend my fist to that point. The very action of my exercise of my right will cause an equal and opposite reaction from you, and then as they say all hell breaks loose, the fires of Gehenna (hell) erupt. The uncontrolled tongue is powerful indeed.
Unfortunately we cannot tame ourselves, we need God’s help. James reminds us that our tongue is a restless evil, full of deadly poison. We need taming, for we do curse, we do sin. As you have heard me say in Bible Class many times, if you want to keep your finger on the pulse of the culture, read the comics and I cannot tell you how many comic writers understand the difficulty with the tongue. How many comic panels have the character speak some word he or she did not wish to speak out loud and there it is, hanging in the middle of the comic strip and he knows there is nothing he can do to take it back.
One movie a while back, one I must admit I did not watch, but someone shared part of the plot with me, illustrated the problem of the tongue quite well. The way the story went was that someone came to the priest to confess a bit of gossip that had gotten out of hand, as pretty much all gossip does. The priest told the confessor to take a down filled pillow, cut it open and let the wind scatter the feathers, and then return. Upon returning the confessor was then told, to be forgiven, now go and retrieve every feather. Such is the trouble of the tongue. As a word to the wise in our own congregation, I must remind you, our congregation is not so big and it certainly is not too difficult to know where the gossip begins.
With the same mouth we curse and we may even bless, yet, James says this should not be so that both curses and blessings coming from the same mouth. A more contemporary way of saying this might be to ask, “Would you kiss your mother with that mouth?” Can we as Christians bless and curse or is this a conflict of confession? Is it ever right, then, for a Christian to utter the words of a curse? The answer is, not of himself. The only curse we may utter is the one given to us by God, for His purposes. To help us to better understand, the rhetorical questions James now asks are asked in such a way that he expects a strong “no” answer. Would you expect, in nature, for a spring to have both fresh and salt water at the same time? No, you would not, because that would not be natural. Can a fig tree bear olives or a vine bear figs. Certainly not, this would be unnatural. A salt spring cannot give fresh water. The mouth is the same way. The mouth is one which either blesses or curses. The implied application that James makes to the tongue is this, that the tongue naturally does what is in one’s heart. If it is in your heart to curse, you will curse and not bless. If it is in your heart to bless, then you will bless and not curse. Again, faith shows itself through a response of works and in this instance these works are works of blessings coming from the heart and spoken through the mouth.
What does this mean? First and foremost James’ words are words of condemnation which is what the law does, it condemns us. We stand condemned because we are sinners living in a sin filled world. We do not do the good that we want to do, but the evil that is before us, that is what we do. Indeed, it is only as we understand just how sinful we are that we can begin to understand just how loving and gracious God truly is. James words this morning, using the illustration of the tongue are intended to show us our sin so that we see our need for our Savior, so we repent and with His help work to be better people. And so as always we get it right when we point not to ourselves, but when we point to Jesus.
What this means is that we are reminded that it is God who is the prime mover. God gives and we are given to. God gives faith through the very means He has given to give us faith, that is through the means of grace, His Word, Holy Baptism, Confession and absolution, and His Holy Supper. God gives faith and He strengthening and keeps us in faith, through those very same means.
God does not do fractions, He gives the whole lot of His gifts and a whole lot more. He gives faith and with faith He gives forgiveness, life and salvation. God does not give us some forgiveness now and perhaps some more later if we are good, no God forgives us all our sins and when we sin some more, He forgives us even more. As a matter of fact, when Jesus died on the cross He paid the price for all our sins, even the ones we have yet to commit. In keeping with James, even those sins our unbridled tongue speak and will speak. Not that this gives us a license to sin, but the good news of the Gospel is what motivates us to confess our sin.
God gives faith, forgiveness and all the gifts and blessings we have and our response is to do the good works which He has prepared in advance for us to do. He gives for us to bless and not curse and yet, we sin and curse and do not bless. And yet again there is confession and forgiveness.
God gives forgiveness, guidance and comfort. Contrary to what some TV preachers might suggest, we cannot be the people God would have us to be. If we could, we would have no need for God. We have been conceived and are born in sin. Every inclination of our hearts is evil all the time. We cannot say Jesus is Lord, except by the Holy Spirit. The good that we want to do we do not do, but the evil that is before us, that is what we do. We are indebted to our Lord and all that we have is and has been given to us by Him. It is His grace, His good gifts and blessings, His work in and through us that are what motivate our response of faith, our desire to be where His gifts are given out as often as they are given out.
God blesses us to be a blessing to others. He has created us to love us, to give to us, and for us to do the good works which He has prepared in advance for us to do. May the Lord continue to stir in you and work in and through you that you might be the people He would have you to be and so that you might speak words of blessing. To Him be the glory, for Jesus’ sake. Amen.

Friday, September 11, 2015

Gospel Mission in a Changing Culture

(Opening Devotion, Texas Confessional Lutheran Free Conference)
In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen. As I have said before in having the opening devotion, I do not know the specifics of what our presenter plans to present, I only know of the title and session themes, so I pray my devotions neither steps on his toes nor steals his thunder.
The text for my words this evening are the words mistitled “The Great Commission” Matthew 28:16-20: 16Now the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain to which Jesus had directed them. 17And when they saw him they worshiped him, but some doubted. 18And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” This is the text.
Dear Christian friends, after thirty plus years of teaching the mythology, mistakenly called methodology, of the social movement called the “Church Growth Movement” we are seeing more and more clearly the change of doctrine in the Lutheran Church Missouri Synod. One glaring example was seen at our Texas district convention last Summer wherein we made note that no longer do we believe that the Word and Sacrament are the means of grace, but following the practice of Win and Chuck Arn of the Church Growth Institute, we now believe that methods and people are the means of grace, at least the means we can trust. This was clearly seen in the resolution which instructed that congregations may plant churches wherever they wish, even at the front door of another congregation as long as they take care in that their “target” audience is not the same as the local church. In my own circuit it has been noted that when people leave one Lutheran Church, in name, instead of joining another Lutheran Church they join a church of a different denomination, wonder why? I have actually had a couple visiting my congregation after being a member of one such LINO, Lutheran in Name Only congregation, only to leave and tell me they believed they were really Calvanists. A difference and change in doctrine. Perhaps doctrine and practice are both important?
Recently one nearby “missional” congregation has been working feverishly to take over what was once a more confessional congregation to the extent that many of the confessional members have had to seek membership elsewhere, all in the name of the fallacious “missional” mindedness of some.
Rather than bemoan these incidents, let me take a few moments and together let us look at our text and see if it might tell us a more better way? First, I would like to point out the humanness of the disciples, which always makes me feel good about myself. Did you notice that “some doubted?” Wow, they had been with Jesus for over three years, witnessing perhaps unbelievable things and yet, “some doubted.” I don’t feel so bad about my doubts anymore.
Next we move on to what I would say is a main emphasis of Jesus’ words and that is He says that He has all authority, and I believe He says this with the inference, that He is giving this authority to His disciples, and to us as well. When we are asked, “Who gives you the right to speak for Jesus?” We can boldly respond, “Jesus does.”
Before we move to the next important part of this text I want to make a bit of an aside from Luther’s history to help explain what I believe is a part of the problem. You might recall that Luther had a struggle with the righteousness of God and his own desire to be worthy of God’s righteousness. Luther’s struggles came about because of, what I would say was, an honest misinterpretation of a word. The Latin Vulgate was used by the church for many years as the Bible. In Matthew 4:17 Jerome translated the Greek word “metanoia” in the Latin as “paenitentiam.” In English he translated the word “repent” or literally “to turn,” “to have a change of attitude” to the word “penitence” or “do penance.” Jerome was not trying to make a theological statement, I don’t think, but his translation brought a misunderstanding, at least for Luther that one must do something in order to be declared righteous before God. In much the same way I believe we have done a disservice to this text in Matthew.
Indeed, Jesus does not give a commission, nor a command, rather His words are an aorist passive, suggesting, not that we are given and imperative to “go on a mission,” rather He is telling us that “as we are going,” that is as we are living our lives, as we are living and working in our vocations, we are to make disciples. And of whom are we to make such disciples, that is what is our “target” audience, “all nations.” Jesus does not tell us to do a demographic study in order to organize our “missional” effort in such a way so we do not get in the way of the Gospel, but so that we might help the Gospel, as if we could get in the way or help God’s Word. He simply directs us to live lives as priests, offering our lives as living sacrifices to the Lord, so that as we have opportunity we might give a defense, an apology, an answer for our faith. We are to make disciples by baptizing, perhaps something we should be doing more of, and teaching.
Interestingly enough, if we truly believe that God works through the means of grace to give His gifts, to give faith when and where He pleases, would that not mean that there really is nothing we need to change in our practice on Sunday morning? A practice which I believe comes to us from Leviticus, except now it is in its fulfilled form. When I have asked this question I get such responses as, well, not everyone is familiar with our divine service and they might be turned off. My response is that “you are not listening to Jesus.” What does the text, the great giving of authority and the great promise tell us? Evangelism does not take place on Sunday morning. Sunday morning is that place we Christians go to be filled with the gifts of God so that we might live out our vocations and so that we might be ready to give an answer for our faith. It is as we are giving an answer for our faith that we instruct our friend in our practice of divine service so that when they do enter God’s house they will rejoice with us in the gifts that God gives through His divine service. Indeed, our divine service is not a German service, but is a service that can be traced back to the first century, and I would again say back to Leviticus. Our divine service is a service that transcend time, culture, and genre. It is a service of Word and Sacrament of means of grace, those means through which our Lord gives the gifts He has to give.
It is when we fail to believe and take God at His Word that we begin to compromise. It is when we believe in ourselves, that we can do it better than God that we fail. It is when we fail to believe and trust in God and let Him do what He has promised to do and does best that we mess up. Just look at the Garden of Eden. Just look at the Garden of Gethsemane. Just look at the church, whenever we put our trust in princes and kings, even in ourselves we fail.
Getting back to our text, we have one last point and that is we have God’s promise, “I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” I cannot count on myself. I get it wrong. I mess up. But I can count on God. I have His Word. I have His promise. I have His instruction. I know He always gets it right. So if I want to get it right I focus on doing it His way, on pointing to Him, on trusting in Him.
God’s Word is truth and His Word never changes. God’s Word has been what has convicted and converted cultures of all ages for generations. Now, more than ever is the time to give up our pride in thinking that there is something we can do to “help” God, or to “get out of His way.” Now is the time to trust God’s promise, that He is with us, that when the time is right He will give us the words to speak and He will give us the courage to speak. And we get these words from our making regular and diligent use of the means of grace, being in divine service and Bible class. Have you ever wondered, when asked a question, why it was that you read that answer in Portals of Prayer this morning, or heard the answer in the sermon, or read it in your morning reading? It did not happen by coincidence, but by God’s design so that He could tap into what you have learned in order to help you give an answer.
I would encourage you, be filled with the gifts of God, so filled that you overflow and spill those gifts on to others. Live you life in your vocation as a priest, offering your life as a living sacrifice. Be ready, always to give an answer for your faith. Answer as the Lord gives you the words to speak. In so doing, you will be an evangelist to “all nations,” no matter the culture. You have God’s authority and you have His promise to be with you. To God be the glory, for Jesus’ sake. Amen.

Let us Pray
Almighty and gracious God, send Your Holy Spirit to bless, with His grace and presence, all those here assembled in Your name. Bless our presenter with words of teaching, learning and wisdom. Bless our hearers with ears that hear. Bless our conference that Your Church, being preserved in true faith and godly discipline, may do the will of Him who loved her and gave Himself for her, even Jesus Christ, our Lord. Amen.

Sunday, September 6, 2015

Faith and Works - September 6, 2015 - Fifteenth Sunday after Pentecost (Proper 18) - Text: James 2:1-10, 14-18

In his letter to the Ephesians, Paul writes, “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God—not by works, so that no one can boast” (Eph. 2:8-9). In our text for today, James writes, “14What good is it, my brothers, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can that faith save him?” (James 2:14). The question always arises, does Paul contradict James, or does James contradict Paul? The answer is neither, rather they compliment each other. We see this as we read on in verse ten of Ephesians chapter two which reads, “For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do” (Eph. 2:10). God did not create us to be or do nothing in His world, rather He created us to do the good works which He has prepared in advance for us to do, good works which are a response of faith, which flow out of faith given by God and worked in and through us by God. Paul stresses salvation by grace through faith and James stresses that good works naturally flow from such faith, they compliment each other.
Moving into our text we read the first section beginning at verse one, “1My brothers, show no partiality as you hold the faith in our Lord Jesus Christ, the Lord of glory. 2For if a man wearing a gold ring and fine clothing comes into your assembly, and a poor man in shabby clothing also comes in, 3and if you pay attention to the one who wears the fine clothing and say, “You sit here in a good place,” while you say to the poor man, “You stand over there,” or, “Sit down at my feet,” 4have you not then made distinctions among yourselves and become judges with evil thoughts? 5Listen, my beloved brothers, has not God chosen those who are poor in the world to be rich in faith and heirs of the kingdom, which he has promised to those who love him? 6But you have dishonored the poor man. Are not the rich the ones who oppress you, and the ones who drag you into court? 7Are they not the ones who blaspheme the honorable name by which you were called?” (v. 1-7). James begins by telling us not to show favoritism. So we might ask, how is favoritism seen? James gives us the example of distinguishing between a rich person and a poor person. We see favoritism even more so in our world today when it comes to people of different ethnicities or cultures, colors, languages and the like. Unfortunately, as sinful human beings we cannot help but be prejudice and show favoritism, because to show favoritism is simply our nature.
James reminds us that God does not show favoritism.  Rich and poor are alike in God’s eyes. James’ words remind us that Jesus shed His blood for everyone, for all people, regardless of ethnicity or culture, language, or skin color. How great it would be if we could see other people with the eyes of Jesus. How great it would be if when we look at another person that we could say, Jesus loved that person so much that He shed His holy, precious blood for that person, who are we to love them any less? Now that type of action is not showing favoritism.
Continuing on with our text we move to section two beginning at verse eight we read, “8If you really fulfill the royal law according to the Scripture, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself,” you are doing well. 9But if you show partiality, you are committing sin and are convicted by the law as transgressors. 10For whoever keeps the whole law but fails in one point has become accountable for all of it” (v. 8-10). James reminds us of the royal law found in Scripture, which is the summary of the second table of the commandments dealing with our relationships with each other, that is that we are to love our neighbor as ourselves. If we could love our neighbor as ourselves we would not break any of the commandments; we would not despise those in authority over us; we would not lust after another person; we would not kill, hate, hurt, or name call; we would not steal, gossip, nor covet anything that is our neighbors. To sum it up, if we could love our neighbor as ourselves we would almost be perfect.
To keep us from thinking we can be perfect or that we can work our way into heaven, James reminds us that if we keep the whole law, if we can obey every commandment perfectly, if we could keep all of the law, except at one point, then we are guilty of breaking it all. The best example I can give is to think about an electric wire. An electric wire carries electricity. Yet, if you were to touch the wire at only one spot, you would still be subject to the entire amount of electricity in the whole wire. Likewise, if we try to get to heaven by demonstrating how good we are, yet we fail in one little point, it is that little point which drains all our good works and we become guilty of all.
Finally in section three beginning at verse fourteen we read, “14What good is it, my brothers, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can that faith save him? 15If a brother or sister is poorly clothed and lacking in daily food, 16and one of you says to them, “Go in peace, be warmed and filled,” without giving them the things needed for the body, what good is that? 17So also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead. 18But someone will say, “You have faith and I have works.” Show me your faith apart from your works, and I will show you my faith by my works” (v. 14-18). James gives a practical example of what he means. We all have many opportunities in a day when we have the opportunity to show our faith through the way we live, that is as we live as priests in our vocations. When everyone at work is bad mouthing the boss around the coffee pot, we can say something nice in his defense. When a collection of can goods is being collected for those who have nothing to eat, we can be the first in line to give, and not just give those old cans of food we have not eaten, but new cans of something we might like and think others might like as well. When no one else will befriend the stranger, hopefully the guest, but at least the visitor, in church, we can be there to hold out our hand and say, “hi”. There are many ways we can demonstrate the faith that we have in our daily living.
When it comes to faith showing itself in action, it is almost like we do not have a choice because we cannot help ourselves, we must demonstrate our faith through our actions. When we go to church and wear the name Christians, we are saying the we are examples of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. How we live then is a loud and clear example of what we believe about Jesus. Have you ever stopped and asked yourself, what are my actions saying about my Savior and my faith in Jesus?
Indeed, just as faith shows itself in actions and so the opposite is just as true, a lack of faith shows itself in a lack of actions. As you have heard me say before, faith’s desire is to be where the gifts of God are being given out. When we have little or no desire to be in Divine Service and Bible class, when we have no desire to read and study God’s Word, when we have no desire to participate in the fellowship of the Christian church that is a sign of a lack of faith. That is why we are to encourage each other in the body of Christ, lest our brother or sister so continue to refuse and reject the gifts of God until their faith has dried up to nothing.
James tells us that faith without works is dead? The best example I can give you is this: if I told you I owned one of the most expensive cars on the market and that I kept it in my garage (supposing I could get it into my garage) would you believe me? As your pastor you might believe me, unless you think about how much I get paid. As I remind you to be as the Bereans, then you probably would not believe me, at least not unless you saw it. Likewise, if I go around telling people that I am a Christian, and tell them what a Christian should be and do, and yet do not act accordingly, then they will not believe that I am a Christian.
The way James puts it, it is almost an automatic thing; faith must show itself by good works. This is especially where Paul and James are so complimentary. Paul reminds us that we are sinful human beings. He reminds us that in the midst of our being sinners and enemies of God, that during our being sinners and enemies of God that is when God sent Jesus to take all our sins upon Himself, to suffer the eternal consequences for our sinning. Because of God’s great love for us, through faith in Jesus, we have forgiveness, life and salvation. So, because of all that God has done for us, how can we do anything else, but respond, with the help of the Holy Spirit, by living our lives according to His good and gracious will.
So we have almost already answered the “what does this mean?” question this morning. To put it back into the language of the text this means that we will want to ask ourselves, “How often do we betray our unbelief by showing favoritism?” “How often do we show our unbelief by sinning against the ten commandments?” How often do we betray our lack of faith by putting something before God and worshiping Him, refusing and rejecting His gifts by not being in divine worship, by not reading His Word, by not having private and family devotions and the like? Unfortunately, the answer is more often than we think, or would like to admit.
Thanks be to God that He does not show favoritism. Or maybe we should say thanks be to God that Jesus showed His favoritism for us in that while we were in the midst of sinning He died for us. Thanks be to God that no matter how sinful we are and can be, our sins have already been forgiven. Every morning we wake up knowing that we have been given today as a gift from God and each day is an opportunity to live it to His glory. And even if we mess today up, He has already forgiven us.
Thanks be to God that with the help of the Holy Spirit we can show our faith in our actions. When we think and believe we can be the people God would have us to be, that is when we try to do good things on our own, in a futile attempt to earn heaven, just a little, we need to remember that electric wire which we touch at only one point. By ourselves, because of our sinful nature, we can do no good thing, but with the help of the Holy Spirit we can and do great things.
Do you remember the Song, This Little Gospel Light of Mine? One of the verses expresses the very thing we have been saying. It is the verse that goes, “This little gospel light of mine I’m gonna let it shine, hide it under a bushel, no! I’m gonna let it shine.” When we think about all the good gifts and blessing our Lord has given to us, and all that He has in store for us, how can we hide all that?  How can we do anything except give Him thanks and praise and live our lives to His glory.
Both Paul and James help us to keep our focus right. They both begin and end with Jesus. As we have been reminded before, God created us for a purpose. The first and foremost reason God created us was in order to love us. As we have heard here many times, even before God began creating the world, He knew how it would turn out. Even before He began creating the world, He knew what Adam and Eve would do. Even before creating the world, God knew us. He knew you and He knew me. He knew us by name. And yet, God still created the world. He created the world to love the world, and specifically to love us. This is how we know we worship the one true God, because our God needs nothing from us, but gives everything to us, that is why He created us. The second part of Paul’s message and James’ message is that God also redeemed us for a purpose. Jesus suffered, died and rose for a reason. He suffered, died and rose so that we might have forgiveness, life and salvation. And, finally, as a response of faith, as Paul and James tell us, our response of faith is this, as the Holy Spirit gives, strengthens and keeps us in faith, as the Holy Spirit works in and through us, through the means of grace, so with His help and by His power we do the good works which He has prepared in advance for us to do and they are good works because He motivates us to do them, He works them in and through us, and they are done to His glory.
“For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God—not by works, so that no one can boast. For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do” (Eph. 2:8-10). With the help of the Holy Spirit, we leave here today, giving glory to God through our very lives. For Jesus’ sake. Amen.