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, May 26, 2019

The Lord Opens Hearts - May 26, 2019 - Sixth Sunday of Easter - Text: Acts 16:9-15

Over the past three Sundays we have been reminded that our lives bear witness of the faith that is in our hearts, or that it bears witness of our lack of faith. Indeed, we are encouraged to love others as God first loves us, thus we live in our vocations as a response of all that God first does for us. We live as priest in the priesthood of all believers, living our lives as living sacrifices to the Lord, serving God by serving others. We were also reminded of the fact that because of our inborn sinful nature we do bear witness imperfectly.
In our text for this morning we continue to see God working through Paul, but even more, we continue to see the Church, that is the Holy Christian Church grow through the means of the preaching of the Word of God as well as through the Sacrament of Holy Baptism. Again, this morning we are reminded that God’s usual way of coming to us, of giving to us, of doing for us, of working in and through us, is through means and in particular the means of His Holy Word and His Holy Sacraments.
Our text begins with Paul’s vision, verse nine, “9And a vision appeared to Paul in the night: a man of Macedonia was standing there, urging him and saying, “Come over to Macedonia and help us.” 10And when Paul had seen the vision, immediately we sought to go on into Macedonia, concluding that God had called us to preach the gospel to them” (v. 9-10). Up until this time Paul was told “no,” you are not to go to Macedonia. Paul had a desire to go to Macedonia, but the Lord had prevented him from going by putting other obstacles in his way, but no longer.
With Paul, we continue to see God working outside His usual means of dealing with His people, that is, with Paul, God again comes to him a bit more directly, this time in a vision. God shows Paul a vision of a man from Macedonia calling him and urging him to go to Macedonia. And so Paul plans to go.
Our text continues with the rest of the story, picking up at verse eleven, “11So, setting sail from Troas, we made a direct voyage to Samothrace, and the following day to Neapolis, 12and from there to Philippi, which is a leading city of the district of Macedonia and a Roman colony. We remained in this city some days. 13And on the Sabbath day we went outside the gate to the riverside, where we supposed there was a place of prayer, and we sat down and spoke to the women who had come together. 14One who heard us was a woman named Lydia, from the city of Thyatira, a seller of purple goods, who was a worshiper of God. The Lord opened her heart to pay attention to what was said by Paul. 15And after she was baptized, and her household as well, she urged us, saying, “If you have judged me to be faithful to the Lord, come to my house and stay.” And she prevailed upon us.” (v. 11-15).
As we follow along here in Acts, Luke lays out the travel plans for Paul. The trip took the group from Troas, to Samothrace, to Neapolis, and finally to Philippi in Macedonia. Interestingly enough we are told that this is a Roman colony, which means, for Paul, being a Roman citizen, he has certain privileges that other non-Roman citizen do not have.
Anyway, we are told that on the Sabbath, that is on the day of rest, which for the Jews was the last day of the week or Saturday, Paul was looking for a place to worship. Here we are reminded that Paul’s usual custom is being in divine service and keeping the third commandment. “13And on the Sabbath day we went outside the gate to the riverside, where we supposed there was a place of prayer, and we sat down and spoke to the women who had come together” (v. 13). Paul was new to the city and did not know what to expect, so he went to where he thought was a place of prayer and then sat down with those who had already gathered.
Because there were no men present to lead the service, the missionaries, Paul, Silas, Timothy and Luke lead the service and Paul had the opportunity to preach the Word of God. We are not given Paul’s sermon, but from our reading of Paul’s letters, certainly we would believe that Paul preached a sermon of law, convicting those gathered of their sins, and a word of Gospel, presenting and proving that Jesus was the Christ, the Son of God, God Himself who gave His life for the forgiveness of those gathered and for all people.
And now we have our reminder, again, this morning, as we have had over the past few weeks, how the Lord works through the very means of His Word to give the gifts and blessings He has to give. We are told that those gathered paid attention to the words that were spoken, to what was said, and what was said was the Word of God and as God’s Word does what it says, we are told that it worked conversion. Through the very means of the Word of God which Paul spoke, Lydia was given faith, forgiveness and life.
But even more, we are reminded that faith’s response is the desire for baptism and so, Lydia and her household were baptized, giving faith to the rest of the household. Now, a couple important things to remember; when faith is given through the Word of God, faith’s desire is baptism. For a person to say they believe yet do not have a desire for Holy Baptism is to deny one’s faith. Also, as Peter reminds us in his Epistle, baptism is also a means of grace so that through the Sacrament of Holy Baptism one is given faith and we see this in our text as we are told that Lydia’s household was baptized and we understand that to mean that they too were given faith. Notice we are not told the ages of those in her family, because the age is not important. We are accountable to God from the moment of conception, and because we are conceived and born in sin, our need for forgiveness and baptism is evident. Notice also, that we are not told of the mode of baptism, whether by immersion or sprinkling, because the mode is not what makes for a valid baptism.
Finally, we are told that her response of faith was to offer hospitality, to have the missionaries come and stay at her house while they were in Macedonia so that she might tend to their physical needs. And Luke says, “she prevailed upon us,” in other words, they could not say “no.”
So, what does this mean and what does this mean for us today? This morning we are reminded once again, as we have been reminded over the past number of weeks, that God’s usual way of coming to us and giving to us, is not directly, but indirectly, not immediately, but mediately, that is through a mediator or a means. Remember the reason the Apostle’s had the ability to do miracles, to heal, raise from the dead and the like, was to attest to the validity of their work and their Words which were the Words of the Lord. As the Apostles died off so did this ability to perform miracles, signs and wonders, because they were no longer needed. So, as I have said before, what we often see today, especially on television, what is touted as a miracle, is either a “slight” of hand, a trick, simply a show or con, a work of Satan himself, or in very rare and I mean very rare instances, truly a miracle. Personally, when it comes to believing in miracles, I give more credence to what I would call the quiet, unassuming miracles, those miracles which give glory to God and to God alone and are not accredited to any human person.
What we see in our text for this morning is what happens in our world today, that is that God, is working through His usual means, the means of grace to call to and give faith, forgiveness and life, through these usual ordinary means. God’s call to faith is through the means of His Word, the Bible as well as through the means of the Sacraments, Holy Baptism and the Lord’s Supper. It is through these very means, these ordinary things, these common, earthly things, that God does great things and He does great things through these ordinary means because He is a great God. The Bible is a book unlike all other books. The Bible is a book with power, to do and give what it says. When God says we have forgiveness, we have forgiveness. When God says we have faith, we have faith. Holy Baptism is another powerful gift from God. As Peter reminds us in his Epistle, “Baptism now saves you.” We do not save ourselves, but Baptism, the very means of baptism, saves us. God, using the ordinary, earthly means of water, connected to His very Word, and in particular, His name, does and gives what it says. And the same is true for the Lord’s Supper. Though the very means of the ordinary food of bread and wine, connected to God’s very Word, He gives us His body and His blood so that we participate in His death and resurrection until He comes again. Yes, in the Lord’s Supper, Jesus life becomes our life, His death becomes our death and His resurrection becomes our resurrection, that is what “Do this in remembrance of Me,” means, we participate!
God gives faith, forgiveness and life through these ordinary, every day, earthly  means. And we can add to these means, the means of confession and absolution. Every Sunday we come and we begin our service by confessing our sins and then when we hear the word of absolution, the words that our sins are forgiven, although we hear them from the mouth of the one God has called to speak them in this place, from our pastor, we know that they are God’s Word of forgiveness and as God’s Word of forgiveness, so it is so, His Word does what it says, His Word gives us forgiveness so that we can be certain that our sins are forgiven, by God for Christ’s sake.
And finally, God stirs in us a response of faith. Our response of faith is what shows that God has given us faith. Our response of faith is to not refuse and reject the gifts that God gives, “I don’t need any more gifts this week Lord, I have enough, maybe next week I will need some more.” Rather, our response is the desire to be where the gifts are given, when the gifts are given. Our response is not, “Do I have to go to church?” but “When do we get to go again?” Our response is that we simply cannot get enough of God’s grace, forgiveness, strengthening of faith, life and salvation.
God loves you so much. He has shown His love in the gift of His Son and His own life for you on the cross, because of His great love for you. God has so much that He wants to give to you. He has given you life, faith, forgiveness and eternal salvation and He has so much more He wants to give to you. My prayer is that He will continue to work through these very means that He has given to continue to move you to be given the gifts He has to give and to continue to live a life of faith, to live your life as a living sacrifice as a priest in the priesthood of all believers. So that your life bears witness of the faith He has given to you and so that your life says, to Him be the glory, for Jesus’ sake. Amen.

Saturday, May 25, 2019

Homeschool Graduation Address

Graduating Class of 2019, let me remind you as you move from one part of your life into the next, the world is not a nice place. Indeed, the devil is in the world roaming around as a roaring lion seeking whom he may devour. As our world moves further and further from the truth of God’s Word, there are those who would prey on you, especially you who are homeschooled and Christian. As a matter of fact there are many whose sole desire would be to “break” you of your beliefs. Thankfully God is on our side.
First, let me say, that going to college or university may not be for everyone. There are many opportunities and even more and more so today in the trade fields. Dr. Martin Luther spoke much of our vocations that are the places in life where we serve God by serving others. He expressed the fact that the milkmaid serves God better in her vocation than the monk who sits in his cell all day and meditates (not his exact quote). The point being that as we live in our various vocations, son, daughter, mother, father, sister, brother, factory worker, plumber, electrician, doctor, lawyer, pastor, priest, farmer, rancher, no matter what our vocation, we serve God by serving others and that is what gives meaning and purpose to our lives. As long as we are working in an honest vocation serving God by serving others, we should rejoice in that gift of vocation, whatever it may be. Yet, even in all workforce vocations, the devil will be there to tempt you.
Should you decide to further your education, the devil will be there even more so. So, let me explain something to you before you move on, up and perhaps out. The big world of academia seeks to scam you into believing that what you have been taught as a Christian makes you not so smart. They will attempt to persuade you that they know what is best for you and how you might become a free-thinking person, your own person, intellectually independent shall we say. What they will attempt to do is to convince you that if you think like your parents, like you were taught growing up then you are not truly smart nor a free thinker. Instead, they would ask you to give up your ways and instead to think like they do, because then and only then will you be truly smart and a free thinker, indeed intellectually independent. Yet, if you have been following carefully you will see that they simply want you to trade one set of norms, morals and values for another, your parents for theirs. I would challenge you to challenge any professor that says they want you to be a free thinker, ask them if it is okay to disagree with them. You might find that you will fail if you were to actually bring up free thinking ideas. So, you might be careful how you address your professors.
What is my advice? Cling to what you know is right, what you have been taught. Certainly your parents, who brought you into this world, who fed and clothed you, who taught you, changed your diapers, rooted for you, encouraged and even disciplined you, love you more than you can know. Your professor simply has you as a student, a number in his or her class. They do not know you from anything, do not be fooled into thinking they actually have the best in mind for you. I would encourage you, do not trade the values you have learned for the values or lack thereof of your professor and think that makes you a free-thinking smart intellectually independent person. The truth is you will have simply traded the values of those that love you for one who seeks a notch on his or her belt.
How do you keep from falling prey? The B-I-B-L-E. You know what Bible stands for, Basic information before leaving earth. Every group that I get to speak to and teach I make sure I begin with the foundation, the basics, the Word of God. As we know, the Old Testament points to Jesus. The New Testament points to Jesus. The calendar, B.C. (Before Christ) points to Jesus and A.D. (Anno Domini) points to Jesus. All history, all time, the Bible points to Jesus. Thus, you know you get it right when you point to Jesus. I would encourage you to go back to your Bible, to read especially Genesis chapters one through eleven. In Genesis God sets the standards for life. He tells us exactly how He created the world meaning that there is a Creator, thus there is an ultimate Authority, and there is One to whom we are ultimately responsible. He tells us how He created humans beings, two genders, men and women and how marriage is for one man and one woman, not any other perversion of this gift. My rule of thumb in life is this: Human beings are by nature imperfect sinners and often get it wrong. Look at any science book and see how many times theories are changed. God is perfect and never gets anything wrong. So, if there is ever a difference between what God says and what men say, I am going to go with what God says and figure that the human has gotten something wrong and needs to go back and look again.
With that said, please understand, God never said that life in this world would be easy, as a matter of fact, because of the exclusive claim of Christianity, that there is one and only one way to heaven, the world will hate you, but indeed it is not you but Jesus they are hating. The various religions, cults, and sects of the world, the various theories of molecules to man evolution, the many worldviews of our social society have come about because of man’s desire to be the captain of his ship, his own ruler, the one to determine his own destiny or fate, in other words, to make himself or herself their own god, which we know is idolatry.
So, let me encourage you. Matthew 28:19-20 is usually referred to as the Great Commission. I would like to encourage you to read it as the great giving of authority and the great promise. Jesus begins by telling us that all authority in heaven and earth has been given to Him and therefore He infers that He is giving that authority to us. So, when someone asks you, who gives you the right to speak for God, say, Jesus does. Then as He continues, the tense of the verbs is not a command, rather it speaks of the fact that as you are going, as you are living, as you are living in your vocation, make disciples and we do that by always being ready to give an answer, a defense, an apology for our faith, that is when someone asks us what we believe, we eagerly answer their question. And let me encourage, as hard as it may be, no one wants to listen to you if you speak when not asked. So, although you may desire to pour out your faith on another, patiently wait and pray for the opportunity, to be asked. And then we have Jesus’ promise, lo, I am with you to the end of the age. Indeed, let me assure you, Jesus will give you the opportunity, the courage and the very words to speak to bear witness of Him. And then go on rejoicing and praying for that person.
Now, although this may sound discouraging, please be encouraged by this fact, heaven is a place of complete perfection. The world we live in may be difficult at times. When we get to heaven how much of this world do you think you will remember? I am an avid Cowboys and Astros fan, but in heaven how many Super Bowls, or World Series they have won really will not matter. My point is this, too many people spend too much time on the struggles of this world and too often to the detriment of their spiritual well being, on what is important, preparing for our real lives of heaven. When life gets difficult, remember this world is only a temporary place.
Finally, let me say, each of you can make a difference, or better said, the Lord can make a difference through you. I would say keep the faith, but I will say, give it away. Live life to the fullest, enjoying the gifts the Lord has to give and share that with others, as you have opportunity and as you are asked. And remember, you do not convert anyone, you simply share the Word and God does the rest, let Him do what He does best. May God bless you in whatever vocation you choose, serving Him by serving others and always doing so to His glory.

Sunday, May 19, 2019

Repentance that Leads to Life - May 19, 2019 - Fifth Sunday of Easter - Text: Acts 11:1-18

In our Gospel reading for today, Jesus said, “By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another” (John 13:35). A contemporary song tells us,“They’ll know we are Christians by our love, by our love, yes, they’ll know we are Christians by our love.” Last week we saw the example of Paul’s life of service, loving others as God in Christ first loved him. This week we are given another example of love in action as we see the example of Peter’s life as God instructs him concerning his own prejudices. This morning, as we see how our Lord deals with Peter and his prejudices, might we use this example in our own lives as we think about our own prejudices and the fact that, as we were reminded last week, how our own lives bear witness, not always that we love one another, but that truly we cannot love except that God first loved us. And certainly we will be reminded from our text of God’s great love for us, that He first loved us and that He stirs in us to love one another, but let us get to our text.
Our text begins with Peter being questioned, verse one, “1Now the apostles and the brothers who were throughout Judea heard that the Gentiles also had received the word of God. 2So when Peter went up to Jerusalem, the circumcision party criticized him, saying, 3‘You went to uncircumcised men and ate with them’” (v. 1-3). Peter is questioned by his own people we might say, the circumcised party, that is, the Jews. The Jews were quite prejudice against all other people, believing themselves to be God’s chosen people, meaning that they did not believe that God cared about any other people except their own. But let us be fair, these were God’s chosen people, yet it was not so that they and they alone were chosen to be saved. God chose Israel as the nation through which the Savior of the world, of all people, would be born. So, truly, more than their being an “elite” group of people is that they were responsible for being good witnesses of the truth of salvation by grace through faith in the Messiah alone, a responsibility at which they failed miserably, not that we can do any better.
Anyway, Peter was accused of eating with the uncircumcized party, that is the Gentiles. Remember, God gave Israel the rite of circumcision to mark them and set them apart from all the other nations, cultures and people. Circumcision was for the Jew very much like Baptism is for us, except that we know that Baptism is a means of grace and a way in which and through which God gives faith, forgiveness and life.
Continuing on in our text we have Peter’s defense, picking up at verse four, “4But Peter began and explained it to them in order: 5'I was in the city of Joppa praying, and in a trance I saw a vision, something like a great sheet descending, being let down from heaven by its four corners, and it came down to me. 6Looking at it closely, I observed animals and beasts of prey and reptiles and birds of the air. 7And I heard a voice saying to me, ‘Rise, Peter; kill and eat.’ 8But I said, ‘By no means, Lord; for nothing common or unclean has ever entered my mouth.’ 9But the voice answered a second time from heaven, ‘What God has made clean, do not call common.’ 10This happened three times, and all was drawn up again into heaven” (v. 4-10).
Peter’s defense is that God told him to kill and eat, literally. Peter tells of his vision, the sheet of unclean animals and God’s command to “Kill and Eat.” Peter explained that he was indeed a Jew of Jews and would never do anything against the laws of the Jews, but God told him to kill and eat and so what else could he do except obey God?
Peter then explains his vision, that is that as God explained to him, that God is the Creator of all things, out of nothing and that God is the one who, in the first place, declared certain foods to be clean or unclean for His people, and now God has made all things clean. Again, what could he do except obey God.
But Peter is not done with his story. He continues, verse eleven, “11And behold, at that very moment three men arrived at the house in which we were, sent to me from Caesarea. 12And the Spirit told me to go with them, making no distinction. These six brothers also accompanied me, and we entered the man’s house. 13And he told us how he had seen the angel stand in his house and say, ‘Send to Joppa and bring Simon who is called Peter; 14he will declare to you a message by which you will be saved, you and all your household.’ 15As I began to speak, the Holy Spirit fell on them just as on us at the beginning. 16And I remembered the word of the Lord, how he said, ‘John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.’” (v. 11-17).
Peter’s defense continues with the explanation that he was moved by God to go to Caesarea. For Peter these events were no mere coincidence. And we all know what a coincidence is right? There is no such thing as a coincidence. A coincidence is simply God’s unseen hand working in our lives. And so Peter, moved by God, goes to Caesarea.
After Peter arrives and is told the story of those who sent for him, Peter does what he was sent to do and what he came to do, he preaches the Gospel. And Peter attests that as he is preaching the Gospel, the Holy Spirit works through the means of the Gospel to give the gifts He has to give, faith, forgiveness and life. Now, please notice, just as an aside, we are not told that these people are speaking in tongues, nor are they professing to do anything. There is no altar call, no decision for Jesus, simply that the Holy Spirit is giving them faith through the means of the Word of God.
And as the Holy Spirit gives faith through the very Word of God, the individual response is the desire for Holy Baptism. And so, Peter’s conclusion is that “17If then God gave the same gift to them as he gave to us when we believed in the Lord Jesus Christ, who was I that I could stand in God’s way?”
Our text concludes with the response of the committee called to investigate these matters, verse eighteen, “18When they heard these things they fell silent. And they glorified God, saying, ‘Then to the Gentiles also God has granted repentance that leads to life’” (v. 18). The first response of the committee is silence. Perhaps even for us today, when God speaks our first response should be silence. Then, we are told, they glorified God. They glorified God because indeed Gentiles are being saved. Certainly the fact that Gentiles are recognized as being saved is a great accomplishment for the Jews of Peter’s day, because if you remember, they believed that only the Jews were God’s people and only they had a part, a share in His kingdom.
So, what does this mean? Unfortunately there are those in our world today who believe that God has made two covenants with His people, one to the Jews and one to the rest of the nations and peoples of the world, those known as Gentiles. And unfortunately, we still live in a world full of prejudice, cultural prejudice, religious prejudice, social and economic prejudice. Of course, that is our nature, sin. Personally, I believe the best way to rid ourselves of such prejudices is to go back to the beginning and be reminded of what God says, what God does and what God gives.
Remember, God’s first promise to send a Savior was made in the Garden of Eden, immediately after Adam and Eve sinned and years before there was a Jew or Gentile. God made one covenant, that is that He would send a Savior, one Savior, to take care of the sin of Adam and Eve and the sins of all people. After God cleansed the world with a flood, after God scattered the nations and cultures of the world following the tower of Babel, then, God chose Abram and promised that through his family the Savior of the world would be born. And to Abram, it was only the fulfillment of God’s promise that was narrowed, not the promise itself and it was not a new promise, nor a new covenant that God made with Abram and his family.
Through history, especially through the history of the Children of Israel, God continually reminded and narrowed the fulfillment of His promise, but never was His promise changed, amended, or revised. Indeed, what happened was that many of those from the nation through whom the Savior would be born, gave up, refused and rejected God’s gift of a Messiah. And so they no longer had a part in the covenant. It was not God who did not keep His part of the covenant, but the people. And let me keep reminding you, the covenant God first made was not a covenant of the flesh, not a covenant of works, but was a covenant of grace, of God doing and our being done to and for. As Jesus reminded His own people, who rejected Him, God can raise up children from stones. One is a child of God, not by flesh, not by birth, but by grace.
For us, especially for those of us who are Gentiles, non-Jews, we rejoice in the fact that the promise is to us. We are indeed children of Adam and Eve. We are indeed, God’s children by grace, through faith in Jesus Christ alone. It is faith in Jesus which makes us members of the body of Christ. It is faith in Jesus, given to us through the means of grace which make us a part of His kingdom. And the same is true for all people, no mater what culture, ethnicity, or national background. God is no respecter of persons, Jesus died for all people, of all places, of all times. If God loves all people so much that He sent Jesus to die for them, who are we to love anyone any less?
It is God who gives. God gives faith, forgiveness and life and He gives through the very means He has given us to give the good gifts and blessings He has to give, His means of grace, Holy Baptism, confession and absolution, His Word, and His Holy Supper. Because we know that God gives through His means of grace and because we know His means of grace are in full use in His divine service, why would we want to be anywhere else on Sunday morning, except in divine service where His means of grace are in full force and where He is pouring out and lavishing us with all the good gifts and blessings He has to give.
But even more, for us Christians, for those of us who are the true people of God, the true Israel, the true chosen nation, God also calls us to vocation and gives us a response of faith. God calls us and stirs in us to live lives of faith giving glory to His holy name. Thus, with Peter we understand that God has granted salvation to all who believe and so with the help of Jesus we do indeed show that we are His disciples by loving one another.
You have heard me say it before, the greatest gift God gives is forgiveness of sins, because without forgiveness we would be left with our sins and we would be eternally lost, but with forgiveness, we know, is life and salvation. As we come to the Lord’s house, as we are reminded of our baptism and forgiveness especially through our invocation and later through the benediction, as we confess our sins and hear our Lord’s words of Absolution, “your sins are forgiven,” as we hear the Lord speak to us through His Word and as we taste and participate in the Lord’s death and resurrection through our partaking of His body and blood in His Holy Supper, we rejoice in our forgiveness and our salvation and with Peter and the council at Jerusalem we say, to God be the glory, for Jesus’ sake. Amen.

Sunday, May 12, 2019

Commended to God’s Word - May 12, 2019 - Fourth Sunday of Easter (Mother’s Day) - Text: Acts 20:17-35

Today we continue to celebrate Easter. Remember, as Christians, we worship on Sunday because for us each and every Sunday is a miniature Easter celebration. Each and every Sunday we are reminded of God’s great love for us. Each and every Sunday we have the opportunity to come to divine service in order to be given to, in order to be lavished with all the good gifts and blessings our Lord has to give to us. Why would we want to be anyplace else?

Today we also celebrate the social holiday of Mother’s Day. Indeed, the highest calling of God to a woman is motherhood because as was His promise, the Savior of the world was born through a mother, the Virgin Mary. So, to all our Mother’s we are glad you are here, that you brought your family and we say to you, “Happy Mother’s Day.”

Now, getting to our text for this morning, Paul has called the elders from Ephesus in order to address some concerns he has for them. Paul is being compelled to go to Jerusalem and he says that this will be the last time he will see these people and so he gathers this congregation and in essence he is preaching his farewell sermon.

Paul begins his sermon by putting forth his own life as an example. We begin at verse seventeen, “17Now from Miletus he sent to Ephesus and called the elders of the church to come to him. 18And when they came to him, he said to them: “You yourselves know how I lived among you the whole time from the first day that I set foot in Asia, 19serving the Lord with all humility and with tears and with trials that happened to me through the plots of the Jews; 20how I did not shrink from declaring to you anything that was profitable, and teaching you in public and from house to house, 21testifying both to Jews and to Greeks of repentance toward God and of faith in our Lord Jesus Christ” (v. 17-21).

Paul puts his life before the people as an example. He is not boasting or bragging, remember his desire is only to boast in the Lord. Yet, the example Paul leaves is that he lived among the people as a servant, serving in humility. Paul boldly proclaimed the Word of God. He did not shrink back from any opportunity to proclaim the Word of God. Paul did not shrink back from having to proclaim words of Law to the people. He preached the Law in all its severity and he preached the Gospel in all its sweetness.

Again, Paul is looking ahead to going to Jerusalem, picking up at verse twenty-two, “22And now, behold, I am going to Jerusalem, constrained by the Spirit, not knowing what will happen to me there, 23except that the Holy Spirit testifies to me in every city that imprisonment and afflictions await me. 24But I do not account my life of any value nor as precious to myself, if only I may finish my course and the ministry that I received from the Lord Jesus, to testify to the gospel of the grace of God. 25And now, behold, I know that none of you among whom I have gone about proclaiming the kingdom will see my face again. 26Therefore I testify to you this day that I am innocent of the blood of all of you, 27for I did not shrink from declaring to you the whole counsel of God” (v. 22-27).

Paul understands that imprisonment and affliction await him in Jerusalem and yet, he is not afraid to go because he believes the Holy Spirit is calling him to go in order to testify of his faith in Jesus. For Paul, the value of his life is the Gospel of the grace of God. We might imagine that Paul sees the “big” picture of life that is that his life in this world of sixty or so years is nothing compared to his forever life in eternity so he is not overly concerned about this world, but is more concerned about the real world of eternity. And he is concerned about the souls of people.

Yet, before he goes, Paul speaks words of warning. Picking up at verse twenty-eight, “28Pay careful attention to yourselves and to all the flock, in which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to care for the church of God, which he obtained with his own blood. 29I know that after my departure fierce wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock; 30and from among your own selves will arise men speaking twisted things, to draw away the disciples after them. 31Therefore be alert, remembering that for three years I did not cease night or day to admonish everyone with tears. 32And now I commend you to God and to the word of his grace, which is able to build you up and to give you the inheritance among all those who are sanctified. 33I coveted no one’s silver or gold or apparel. 34You yourselves know that these hands ministered to my necessities and to those who were with me. 35In all things I have shown you that by working hard in this way we must help the weak and remember the words of the Lord Jesus, how he himself said, ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive” (v. 28-35).

Satan is alive and well and is working in this world as much as he can. Paul knows that after he is gone that Satan will work through his own followers, as Paul describes them as fierce wolves, to come in and attempt to deceive them. Paul knows that there will be those who will attempt to twist God’s Word, to change the Gospel into a new law and the Law into a new Gospel, confusing the law and the Gospel, commingling the law and the Gospel and leading people away from salvation.

So Paul’s warning and instruction are to listen carefully to what is proclaimed. As elsewhere Paul instructs other Christians, they are to be as the Bereans, testing everything they hear and comparing it with what they know is right, the very Word of God. Remember, last week we were told that Paul was proving that Jesus was the Christ. And Paul’s concern is especially for those new Christians, those who may yet be weak in the faith, that is that the strong are to help the weak. Again, this echos Paul’s words and Jesus’ words concerning the fact that we are brothers and sisters in Christ and we are to build each other up as members of the body of Christ. We are to look after and encourage one another.

The first question we might ask ourselves this morning concerning Paul’s words to these Christians of the early Church and to us is, “How is this done among us?” Paul put forth his own life as an example to the Christians to whom he was addressing. Might we follow his example and put forth our own lives as an example? Not in a boastful way but in a humble, serving way? If we do put forth our own life as an example, what is our life example? Certainly we have all heard the law motivating questions, “If you were accused of being a Christian, would there be enough evidence to convict you?” Another question certainly we have heard and we might ask ourselves is this, “Do others know we are a Christian by our actions?” Both of these questions are indeed law questions because both of these questions convict us. We are not the people we know we should be and even though we know our actions bear witness of what is in our hearts, very often our actions speak of the lack of faith we have in our hearts. Yes, we are all, always witnesses and very often we are bad witnesses.

Continuing on, following Paul’s example, are we ready to give an answer, a defense of our faith, or do we shrink back? Do we let others know that we are Christians, or are we embarrassed at being a Christian? Not every work environment is conducive to one professing to be a Christian. So, with Paul, are we willing to face imprisonment and affliction as we vowed at confirmation for the sake of the Gospel? Are we ready to face being embarrassed? What is the value of our short life on this earth? I would suggest that we live in a world which tends to value life in this world more than life in the world to come. We live in a world which invests more energy in this life than in the life to come. And unfortunately, I believe there are too many that do so to the detriment of their own soul.

Continuing on in following Paul’s example, are we aware of those who try to deceive in our world today? Are we aware of those who twist God’s Word? Do we listen carefully and discern what is mete, right and salutary? And do we help the weak? You have heard me encourage you as Paul does to be discerning, to be as the Bereans. I know it may be hard to believe, but what is presented as entertainment in our world is not always simply entertainment. Very often what is presented as entertainment is presented with a message and more often than not, in our world today, that message is contrary to the Word of God. How often do we see the agenda of Satan portrayed in various forms in entertainment today with the underlining message that such deviance is okay? I get so frustrated with television and the need of the media to present the homosexual lifestyle in a manner which attempts to make it look normal, yet God in His Word speaks of the condemnation of such behavior. The media and entertainment industry present extramarital affairs, adultery and fornication, as normal behaviors. Truth is presented as being relative and according to the words of the teller. And of course we are constantly bombarded with the opinion that all religions, all beliefs, all faiths lead to the same heaven. We constantly hear messages which confuse and co-mingle law and Gospel, not only in the media, but especially through e-mails, texts and tweets, and whatever social media platform there is available. How often do you get an e-mail or facebook post, which makes you feel guilty and gives you hope if you do this, that or the other thing, suggesting that some work, some action, some good deed you do will cover a multitude of sins? Now, if you have enough faith, tell this sermon message to five people in the next hour so good things will happen to you. Folks, please be discerning.

So, what does all this mean? What do we take from Paul’s words this morning. First we might ask, “What is important in life?” We are brought into this world with nothing and we will leave this world with nothing. Is the amassing of stuff and things important? Our lives in this world are numbered, perhaps sixty, seventy, eighty, maybe for some a hundred years, but our lives in the world to come are forever, without ending, but continual, forever. Are we ready?

Thus, how are we to live? Paul’s life is a great example for us. Paul understood the gifts God has to give and His means of giving those gifts. God loves us so much. God loves you so much. God has given you so much and He has so much more He wants to give you. Ultimately God wants to give you eternal life in heaven. And we understand, we know, we believe, teach and confess that God’s usual way of giving  the good gifts and blessings He has to give is through His means of grace. Each and every Sunday we have the opportunity to come to His house, to divine service, through which He comes to us through the means He has given us to come to us, Holy Baptism, Confession and Absolution, His Holy Word, and His Holy Supper, to give us all the good gifts and blessings He has to give. Yes, the Lord loves you and wants so much to lavish you with all the good gifts and blessings He has to give.

My prayer for you this morning and every morning is that you will be discerning, that you will understand the importance of making regular, each and every Sunday, and diligent as often as offered, use of the means of grace so that the Lord may come through these means to give you all the gifts and blessings He has to give. My prayer continues to be that you might understand the shortness and the finiteness of the world so that your life may be lived looking forward to the permanence of heaven. And finally, my prayer continues to be that through your making regular and diligent use of the means of grace, the Lord will have His way with you, will strengthen and keep you in faith, and will stir in you a response of faith so that your life does say, to God be the glory, for Jesus’ sake. Amen.

Sunday, May 5, 2019

A Chosen Instrument - May 5, 2019 - Third Sunday of Easter - Text:Acts 9:1-22

Today we continue to follow along with the acts of the Apostles following Jesus’ resurrection and ascension. Our text for this morning is the conversion of Saul, to faith and to Paul and for our purposes this morning I am simply going to call him Paul, his Christian name, so even if our text gives his Roman name of Saul, I will still use his Christian name of Paul. In our text we see, as usual, the fact that it is God who calls to and gives faith, and yet, we also see that in the calling of Paul to faith, at times God acts outside His usual means, that is instead of God calling Paul to faith through His usual means of His Word and Holy Baptism, God comes to Paul directly to call him to faith. With that said, we might make note, that even though God came directly to Paul, we might remember that Paul was well educated in Judaism. Paul was a Pharisee of Pharisees, educated under Gamaliel, so he knew his Old Testament well, and we might be certain that it was this Old Testament knowledge which the Lord used in His convicting and converting of Paul. And certainly, I believe that it was this Old Testament knowledge that God used to speak through Paul in order to prove that Jesus is the Christ. But, let us get to our text.
Our text begins with Paul’s intent, beginning at verse one, “1But Saul, still breathing threats and murder against the disciples of the Lord, went to the high priest 2and asked him for letters to the synagogues at Damascus, so that if he found any belonging to the Way, men or women, he might bring them bound to Jerusalem” (v. 1-2). Paul was steeped in the ways of Judaism and this new sect, as he considered it, was a threat to what he knew and believed to be right and so he is doing everything he can to defeat this threat including, breathing threats and murder. In his defense we would say that he would believe these threats and murder to be justified. As we know there are many in our world today who are so convinced by what they believe that they would willingly kill those who do not believe as they do. What would it be like if we Christians had such conviction with our faith, not to kill those who disagree, but to be so convicted as to boldly speak out and profess our faith?
Because of his conviction, Paul asks for letters of authority to take to Damascus in order to arrest anyone who was a follower of this new sect, the Way, in order to imprison them and keep them from spreading their dangerous beliefs, again, in his opinion.
Yet, as we know the story, before Paul makes it to Damascus, he encounters Jesus. Picking up at verse three, “3Now as he went on his way, he approached Damascus, and suddenly a light from heaven flashed around him. 4And falling to the ground he heard a voice saying to him, ‘Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?’ 5And he said, ‘Who are you, Lord?’ And he said, ‘I am Jesus,  whom you are persecuting. 6But rise and enter the city, and you will be told what you are to do.’ 7The men who were traveling with him stood speechless, hearing the voice but seeing no one. 8Saul rose from the ground, and although his eyes were opened, he saw nothing. So they led him by the hand and brought him into Damascus. 9And for three days he was without sight, and neither ate nor drank” (v. 3-9).
Now, several points to notice from this encounter. Notice that at first Jesus does not name Himself, He simply asks, “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?” While Paul is persecuting the Christians, the heart of his persecution is indeed, Jesus.
Next, notice that Paul calls Jesus “lord,” yet, the word “lord” that he uses is the word “lord” without respect to divinity, in other words, he is not calling Jesus God, simply calling him with respectful title, “lord.” We might say he is calling him “Mr. Jesus.” And we might imagine that his words of respect flow from the fear he has of this person who has blinded him on the road.
When Jesus speaks, He first uses words of Law, “Why are you persecuting Me?” “I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting.” Jesus convicts Paul of persecuting Him, not His people. Again, the heart of Paul’s persecution is Jesus. And Paul was convicted.
We are told that for three days Paul was without sight and neither ate nor drank, perhaps an image and a reminder of Jesus’ own death and time in the tomb. We are not told what happened during these three days, yet, I would imagine that this time gave Paul an ample opportunity to look at his life and Jesus’ words to him. Perhaps it may have been a time for Paul to meditate on the Old Testament Scriptures he knew so well and Jesus’ revelation so that he might be convinced that Jesus is the Messiah, but again, we are not told exactly what happened during those three days.
Our text then moves us to the instructions to Ananias. Picking up at verse ten, “10Now there was a disciple at Damascus named Ananias. The Lord said to him in a vision, ‘Ananias.’ And he said, ‘Here I am, Lord.’ 11And the Lord said to him, ‘Rise and go to the street called Straight, and at the house of Judas look for a man of Tarsus named Saul, for behold, he is praying, 12and he has seen in a vision a man named Ananias come in and lay his hands on him so that he might regain his sight.’ 13But Ananias answered, ‘Lord, I have heard from many about this man, how much evil he has done to your saints at Jerusalem. 14And here he has authority from the chief priests to bind all who call on your name.’ 15But the Lord said to him, ‘Go, for he is a chosen instrument of mine to carry my name before the Gentiles and kings and the children of Israel. 16For I will show him how much he must suffer for the sake of my name.’ 17So Ananias departed and entered the house. And laying his hands on him he said, ‘Brother Saul, the Lord Jesus who appeared to you on the road by which you came has sent me so that you may regain your sight and be filled with the Holy Spirit’” (v. 10-17).
God appears to Ananias in a vision and instructs him to go to Judas’ house and heal Paul of his blindness. Ananias’ response was not a question of faith, nor a questioning of God, rather it was a matter of clarification, “are you sure, Lord?” Ananias and all the followers of the Way, the Christians, in Damascus knew why Paul had come and certainly there was concern among them.
And so God explains to Ananias the role and calling He has for Paul. God has called Paul to be an instrument to carry His message and His name to the Gentiles, to kings, and yes, even to the children of Israel. It will not be easy for Paul, but God has called him, is giving him authority, and is giving His promise to be with him. Certainly we can see in this calling of Paul, our own calling, and what is often called the great commission, which I believe is the great giving of authority and the great promise, but more on that in a little bit. So, Ananias comes to Paul and brings absolution and healing.
Paul’s response, picking up at verse eighteen, “18And immediately something like scales fell from his eyes, and he regained his sight. Then he rose and was baptized; 19and taking food, he was strengthened. For some days he was with the disciples at Damascus” (v. 18-19). Immediately, we are told, Paul was baptized, and we might make note that this was probably not by immersion and I say this because there was probably nothing in the house in which to immerse him. Also make note, that as God gives faith, if that faith is not given through Holy Baptism, but through the Word of God (whether written or oral) faith’s immediate response is the desire to be baptized. Paul is baptized and then after eating we are told he immediately went out proclaiming the Gospel.
Finally, we are told of the response of the people, picking up at verse twenty, “20And immediately he proclaimed Jesus in the synagogues, saying, ‘He is the Son of God.’ 21And all who heard him were amazed and said, ‘Is not this the man who made havoc in Jerusalem of those who called upon this name? And has he not come here for this purpose, to bring them bound before the chief priests?’ 22But Saul increased all the more in strength, and confounded the Jews who lived in Damascus by proving that Jesus was the Christ” (v. 20b-22).
The people were amazed. They were amazed at Paul’s turn around, from reeking havoc to proclaiming Jesus as Savior. We are told that as he preached Paul increased in strength and confounded the Jews, and the line I find the most fascinating is that he was proving Jesus was the Christ. Today we say that the Bible cannot be proven, well, Paul did it, so why can we not do it?
So, what does this mean? I believe that in this calling of Paul, we can see our own calling, not that God has called us to be “a chosen instrument of mine to carry my name before the Gentiles and kings and the children of Israel. 16For I will show him how much he must suffer for the sake of my name” (v. 15b-16), but that God has called us to and given us faith, and more. But let me start from the beginning.
Just as Paul was breathing threats and murder, so we are conceived and born in sin, and we are enemies of God, that is our nature. We are conceived and born spiritual blind, spiritual dead and enemies of God. Every inclination, that is every intention of our heart is evil all the time. We simply cannot help ourselves and that is not to give us an excuse, we are still accountable for ourselves, before God. We are very much like Paul, enemies of God.
As God called Paul, so God calls us to faith, but rather than calling us directly, God calls us through means, in particular through the means of His Word. As God spoke the words of the Law to Paul, so Paul was convicted. God speaks the word of the Law to us, convicting us of our sin and our part in putting Jesus on the cross. The law, however, is not what moves us to repent. The law does not call us to faith. The law merely convicts. It is the Lord’s word of the Gospel which converts, which moves to repentance, and which gives faith.
And along with God’s Word, it is through the waters of Holy Baptism that God gives faith. For most of us it was through the waters of Holy Baptism, connected with God’s Word, namely His name that was put on us at our baptism which convicted us and gave us faith.
Getting back to this calling of Paul and God’s commissioning of Paul to preach the Gospel.  God also calls us. He calls us to faith and to purpose. Yet, what is often called the great commission, I believe, is the great giving of authority and the great promise. Just as God called Paul and gave him the authority to proclaim His name, so that Paul was proving that Jesus was the Christ. I believe Jesus gives us the same authority, to proclaim that Jesus is the Christ. And just as God promised Paul that He would be with Him, so God’s promise is that He will be with us even to the end of the age.
Today, God calls us to faith and He calls us to live out our faith in our vocation, that is as we live lives of faith we are to always be ready to give an answer, an apology, a defense of our faith so that others might hear the good news of Jesus and be a part of God’s kingdom as well.
God calls us to and gives us life, at conception. God calls us to and gives us faith, through His means of grace. God calls us to and gives us our vocation. And God calls us to and gives us a response of faith, to live lives of faith, to live lives loving others as He first loved us.
What a great God we have. What a loving God we have. God loves you so much and He has so much He gives to you and so much He wants to give to you. What else can we do except be given to and rejoice and give thanks, and say to God be the glory, for Jesus’ sake. Amen.