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An Everlasting Sign: A sermon on Isaiah 55

DSCN0014An Everlasting Sign
Isaiah 55:10-13

 I.H.S.

 As we walk though this life, may we continually see the everlasting signs of God’s power and love, at work in our lives, and in the lives of those around us. 

Walking by the lake… you can’t take it all in… 

Walking by the side of Lake Ossipee in New Hampshire, I learned a lesson about photography, and perhaps about life.

Simply put, the camera can’t take all that we experience with our eyes.  They can’t take in the gentles waves, little more than ripples, and the beautiful homes across the lake, never mind the mountains that are visible on the horizon.   You can’t take in a 360-degree panorama of beauty, never mind the feeling that occurs when you walk down a road with your son, that you and your dad walked down before.

Likewise, even our eyes can’t focus on everything at once.

There is so much more than we can see and hear, never mind the stories that give the story more depth, and the experience that goes beyond words.

Either because the experience is so full of joy, or so full of the pain of being broken, or sometimes, because the experience is both, and how do you concentrate on the joy, when you are struggling with tears?

And if that is simply trying to process a vacation, how do we catch what is really important about life?

Maybe we need a sign or two to help us along the way, to help us focus on what we need?

Do we see the fruit God’s word accomplishes?
One of the things I don’t often see is what Isaiah recorded God telling us,

10  “The rain and snow come down from the heavens and stay on the ground to water the earth. They cause the grain to grow, producing seed for the farmer and bread for the hungry. 11  It is the same with my word. I send it out, and it always produces fruit. It will accomplish all I want it to, and it will prosper everywhere I send it.

This illustration might be harder for us to understand here in California than it is sitting beside a lake in New Hampshire.  After all, like looks little different at first today than it did a year ago when we are in a drought.  Yet there is still snow in the high Sierras, the depleted reservoirs are again full.

We can’t see those signs, but we do know of the snow and rain from the crops that provide us food, from the grain that gives us bread to the grapes that provide us wine!

But like the camera view that cannot pick up everything, sometimes it is hard to see the blessings of God.  They are there, just like the water that sits up in the High Sierras and the reservoirs.  We may not regularly note the benefits of the blessings, but the blessings sustain us, none the less.

Again, do we see the rain and snow here?  Not so much, but the evidence of that blessing we share see in a moment, just as we do every we eat, and with every sip we drink.  His work is there, providing for us, even if all we can “see” are the end results of the blessings.

It is the same way spiritually, as God works through means, and delivers us grace and comfort, as He reveals His compassion and peace.

It will accomplish what God desires it to accomplish, and that is an incredible blessing.

The change is real – let’s see it!

 So if in the physical life we see the end product, the food and drink that nourishes us, is there something similar spiritually.

Is there an eternal sign that proves God is at work, that He is blessing us?

Is there something that changes dramatically as a land that was once filled with thorns and weeds being filled with towering cypress and abundant colored myrtle trees, as verse 13 describes?

Yes indeed, we can see the effect of the blessing of God’s word, for the growth and change it does cause.  The lives that do change, the lives that hear and know God’s peace in the midst of trauma, the lives that are reconciled.

I started this sermon by talking about the pictures that can’t take in everything the eye can see, and the eyes that can’t take in everything we experience.

Bu those eyes can take in a cross, and contemplate it’s meaning as we are joined to Christ’s death on the cross in our baptism.  Those eyes can rejoice as we are welcome to feast on Christ’s body and blood, even as we try to meditate on that incredible feast.  Our ears can celebrate as we heard our sin is forgiven, and rejoice as we hear that God is with us.

And as we know this peace, and share it, for so many need to know God’s gift of peace, given through His Son. That peace is the sign of His everlasting power and love, a peace bought for us at the cross and delivered to us in word and the sacraments.  The word and sacraments used by the Holy Spirit to change us, for God is with us!  AMEN!

 

 

Be Different: Act like God’s Kids

clydes-cross-2Be Different:  Act like God’s kids

Matthew 5:38-48

In Jesus Name

May the gifts of God’s mercy, love and peace enable you to truly live life, as you learn to love those God brings into your life.

The hardest lesson to live!

The words of Jesus that I read this morning are hard to hear.

They are easily understood, but how easy are they to live up to?

Turn the other cheek!  Give up more than you are sued for, give to those who demand of you, don’t turn away those who want to borrow.

And these hard words of Jesus, “Love your enemies, pray, that is, ask God to bless, those who persecute you.”

In a world where we are trained to look out for ourselves and those we love, how do we even do this?  How do we set aside our resentment, our fears and anxieties, and the pain others cause, and love them?

Yet Jesus asks us to do exactly that….

And it doesn’t matter who our enemy is, whether it is a global one or the bully that lives down the street.

How can God ask this of us?  What is really going on here?  What is God up to?
What is God up to?
We see a clue in another of the verses,

In that way, you will be acting as true children of your Father in heaven. For he gives his sunlight to both the evil and the good, and he sends rain on the just and the unjust alike.

Why would God give good stuff to those who are evil?  Why would He rain blessings on those who are not just?  And what does that have to do with the challenge we have, in loving those who are our enemies, or who we think are, and therefore are afraid of them?

The first answer is the old one, (First written by Augustine) that talked about the fact that in hating our enemies we are hurting ourselves more than we could ever hurt them.

A better answer is seen in one parable, where Jesus taught that He doesn’t remove the weeds among the wheat; because we can’t be sure of not uprooting wheat when we dig out the weeds.  Likewise, the enemy of today may become the friend, the brother in Christ.  The one which we are praying for may stop persecuting us, as Paul the apostle went from killing and tormenting Christians, to being one who preached about Jesus’ love from Jerusalem to Athens to Rome and perhaps beyond.

We don’t know, we just know the heart of God, who the apostle Peter tells us is patient, not willing that any should die in their sin, but that would come to the transformation that happens when our sin is forgiven.

To put it another way, what makes the different between a weed and what is not how they look, but what happens when they encounter Jesus.  That’s why the Old Testament prophet Ezekiel would write this,  “

 21  But if wicked people turn away from all their sins and begin to obey my decrees and do what is just and right, they will surely live and not die. 22  All their past sins will be forgotten, and they will live because of the righteous things they have done. 23  “Do you think that I like to see wicked people die? says the Sovereign LORD. Of course not! I want them to turn from their wicked ways and live. Ezekiel 18:21-24 (NLT)

 Knowing God’s heart, and knowing that neither we nor angels can know how someone will turn out, these are things that help us love those that others tell us can’t be loved.  Knowing that every single one of them God loves and desires to be one of His own.  This helps too…

Acting like God’s kids!

But what helps the most is knowing that God loves us, while we were His enemies, while we chose to live without him, choosing to do what we thought was right more than we cared what He thought, what He wanted.

Paul makes it clear – while we were all His enemies, Jesus died for us. He died, taking on the judgment we deserved.  He died to make sure that our sin wouldn’t divide us from God.  He died that we might live, and live life knowing God loves us and is with us.

So for us to be God’s kids – to live like that, we need to know what He loves, and how Jesus lived.  Loving those the rest of the world considered unlovable, loving those who are our enemies, and asking our Father to bless those who make our lives difficult.

For when we know that, loving those who the world considers our enemies, is nothing more that loving those our Father in heaven would have become our brothers and sisters.  And loving them becomes possible because we dwell in God’s glorious peace, peace that the world doesn’t understand, which is the peace in which Jesus guards our hearts and minds.  AMEN!

Overwhelmed by Joy! A sermon on Isaiah 61-62

church at communion 2

Overwhelmed by Joy!

Isaiah 61:10-62:3

 Jesus Son & Savior

As we begin this year, may the grace of God our Father and our Lord Jesus Christ overwhelm you, leaving you noticeably at rest and full of joy!

Standing in the wings

Isaiah, the prophet gives an incredible description of the new beginning we have in Christ in today’s Old Testament.  It takes most of back a decade or two or five.

Back to when us guys were standing in churches, or chapels, and waiting for the doors to open. Back when you ladies were on the other side of those doors, in that moment of anticipation, in that moment of joy.

That’s what Isaiah starts the passage with, as he attempts to describe the joy he feels, as he catches a vision of the restoration of the people of God.  Hear it again,

10  I am overwhelmed with joy in the LORD my God! For he has dressed me with the clothing of salvation and draped me in a robe of righteousness. I am like a bridegroom in his wedding suit or a bride with her jewels.

All dressed up – and waiting, but what clothes!  Salvation and Righteousness!

And Isaiah saw this coming – and the joy was overwhelming!

As we start this new year, this is what we need to realize, that our lives have changed, and changing as much as a young couples lives change, as the bride and groom see each other on their wedding day….

We’ll get back to that in a moment…
The prayer – for the new beginning
We need to understand that Isaiah is one of the prophets whose writings are filled with lament.  With the words that people will hear, because they continually choose sin over God.  They are self-centered, and ignore those in need, which Isaiah mourns over, even as he warns them what they are heading for, if they continue.

In between the woes, and the promises of judgment, there brief views of hope.  He will talk about a virgin who would conceive, and the baby who would be the wonderful counselor, eternal Father, the prince of peace.  He would mention the one who pleased God by taking on himself all the wrath of God, thus giving life to those crushed by their own sin.

But overall, the book is challenging to read, Lots of what we might call hell fire and brimstone.  But then, sin is a serious issue, and it took a serious cross to cure and heal the damage done to sinners.

But you see God’s heart reflected in Isaiah’s prayer

Because I love Zion, I will not keep still. Because my heart yearns for Jerusalem, I cannot remain silent. I will not stop praying for her until her righteousness shines like the dawn, and her salvation blazes like a burning torch.
Even as the prophet has his moments, okay, more than moments, years of struggling to get them to listen to God, he has a desire for them to come into the relationship they were meant to be in.

God’s desire infused the heart of Isaiah, and even as he weeps over their disobedience, he longs for the change that God has promised.

He has to pray, and will pray until they are right with God, so right they shine like the sun rising, and the proof of God’s delivering them lights up the darkness like bonfire.

This is what the prophet longs for, and what causes incredible joy, as he looks to the future, and gets a hint of what Jesus, the one born of a virgin, the suffering servant whose wounds would provide our healing, when Isaiah realizes the work of Christ!

Even as it was His hope, it is ours as well, and we are so much closer to realizing it fulfilled.

We like Isaiah are dressed, and waiting for the doors to open, to see the promise come into its fullness.

The clothes and the name.

When I mentioned the joy of Isaiah being such that he compared it to a groom standing here, or a bride back at the door, all dressed up in their clothing of salvation and the robe of righteousness, I didn’t explain the depth of those words.

The clothing is that of the greatest finery – the same words are used for the special robes of a priest on the highest of holy days.  As is the robe – we aren’t talking about a bath robe or choir robe, we are talking about the covering of a king… and the types of garments aren’t even the best thing!

The clothing of salvation – that is in Hebrew the being clothed with Yeshua – being clothed with Jesus!  The very thing Paul will talk about, as we are united to Jesus – as we put Him on,

Which explains how our robes are righteousness – the purity and innocence of one who does not know sin at all.

This is what Isaiah saw as our future, this moment of pure joy, pure bliss, as the people of God are made so righteous that the world is amazed, because we will share in the glory of God, as He holds out for all to see.

This moment as God makes you His, this special moment that Isaiah prayed and prayed and prayed for, that the people of Israel and all the nations would come to know…

The moment we were united to Christ, it is already here, it happened at the cross.

In the beginning of the sermon, I mentioned waiting here as a groom would, or there, as a bride would, that is what Isaiah saw – but for us, we’ve come to that point where the pastor announces our name for the first time, for we have be claimed by Christ at this font, and again at this altar.

We are his, and though we can’t quite believe it has happened, it has, and the rest of life is the walk down the aisle, dwelling with Him in holiness, until we go out into eternity.

The thought of this occurring caused Isaiah great joy, so much so He was overwhelmed,

How much more can this overwhelm us, who don’t see it far off, but know it true now.

How much more can it affect our very lives, this incredible gift of God.

May we sing His praises, now and forever!  AMEN

1

The Hidden Story of Repentance….in the middle of St. Paul’s conversion

Devotion Thought of the Day:

11  The Lord said to him, “Get ready and go to Straight Street, and at the house of Judas ask for a man from Tarsus named Saul. He is praying, 12  and in a vision he has seen a man named Ananias come in and place his hands on him so that he might see again.” 13  Ananias answered, “Lord, many people have told me about this man and about all the terrible things he has done to your people in Jerusalem. 14  And he has come to Damascus with authority from the chief priests to arrest all who worship you.” 15  The Lord said to him, “Go, because I have chosen him to serve me, to make my name known to Gentiles and kings and to the people of Israel. 16  And I myself will show him all that he must suffer for my sake.” 17  So Ananias went, entered the house where Saul was, and placed his hands on him. “Brother Saul,” he said, “the Lord has sent me—Jesus himself, who appeared to you on the road as you were coming here. He sent me so that you might see again and be filled with the Holy Spirit.” 18  At once something like fish scales fell from Saul’s eyes, and he was able to see again. He stood up and was baptized; 19  and after he had eaten, his strength came back. Saul stayed for a few days with the believers in Damascus. Acts 9:11-19 (TEV)

Most believers know well the events on the road to Damascus, as Saul the persecutor of the church is confronted by Jesus, and is transformed into the Apostle Paul.  This scholar, missionary, apostle’s repentance is easy to see, and often held out as an example of the work God does, in giving someone a repentant spirit.

But in the midst of Paul’s conversion there is another story of repentance.  Notable because the man who repents is already a believer. Yet, even as Paul didn’t recognize God or God’s will, neither did Ananias.  Until they both repented.  Until they both responded to God’s intervention.

Perhaps it is because of Paul’s incredible story, that we miss the story of Ananias, and the transformation that occurs in his life.  For he repents, and goes, and shows to Saul/Paul the love of God, and brings healing to Saul/Paul’s eyes, and to his soul.

I think for those of us in the church, we often forget to repent, we often forget to hear God’s call to love Him with everything, and to love other humans as much as we love ourselves.  We hang onto resentment and fear, we allow rumors and generalizaitons to fire us up and fuel division, even leading to hatred.  We get defensive and hostile.

Worse of all, we lose our faith.  Ananias forgot the will of God, that desires that all come to repentance, to be transoformed.  He forgot the power of God that would transform Saul, and he being overwhelmed by fear, his faith in God disappeared.  He didn’t hear God, he didn’t trust Him.  In fact, in disobedience, he tries to correct God.

The blessing is how God dealt with Ananias, much the same as God dealt with Paul.  He revealed Himself, He revealed His love, and He welcomed Ananias to share in God’s plan.  This is what Jesus is talking about when He says, “15  I do not call you servants any longer, because servants do not know what their master is doing. Instead, I call you friends, because I have told you everything I heard from my Father. 16  You did not choose me; I chose you and appointed you to go and bear much fruit, the kind of fruit that endures. And so the Father will give you whatever you ask of him in my name. 17  This, then, is what I command you: love one another.”  John 15:15-17 (TEV)

Ananias repents, as does Paul.  Both then God continues to transform, conforming them to the image of Christ.  Both the believer and the unbeliever, brought deeper into relationship with God.

Two incredible stories of repentance.

Brought about by God, who desires we all experience this blessing.

AMEN.

 

A Metric for Church Leaders/Evaluating our Ministries

Devotional Thought of the Day

22 “And now I am bound by the Spirit* to go to Jerusalem. I don’t know what awaits me, 23 except that the Holy Spirit tells me in city after city that jail and suffering lie ahead. 24 But my life is worth nothing to me unless I use it for finishing the work assigned me by the Lord Jesus—the work of telling others the Good News about the wonderful grace of God. 25 “And now I know that none of you to whom I have preached the Kingdom will ever see me again. 26 I declare today that I have been faithful. If anyone suffers eternal death, it’s not my fault,* 27 for I didn’t shrink from declaring all that God wants you to know.  28 “So guard yourselves and God’s people. Feed and shepherd God’s flock—his church, purchased with his own blood*—over which the Holy Spirit has appointed you as elders.  Acts 20:22–28  NLT

10 9. We must learn about Christ from the Holy Gospel alone, which clearly testifies that “God has consigned all men to disobedience, that he may have mercy upon all” (Rom. 11:32), and that he does not want anyone to perish (Ezek. 33:11; 18:23), but that everyone should repent and believe on the Lord Jesus Christ (1 Tim. 2:6; 1 John 2:2).

As most pastors do, I regularly get letters and packets, the “best advice” that I will ever hear.  Or invitations to pastors conferences guaranteed to change my ministry.I have to wonder if they share the standard of the apostle Paul, as he writes,

..my life is worth nothing to me unless I use it for finishing the work assigned me by the Lord Jesus—the work of telling others the Good News about the wonderful grace of God.

and

I declare today that I have been faithful. If anyone suffers eternal death, it’s not my fault,

When churches are tasked with evaluating their ministries, there is some metric, some measuring standard that is to be used.  The end result of that standard is a mission statement, and a core list of values, and a general direction for the ministries of a church.  Consultants and coaches are often the givers of guidance, as our national and even international leaders.

But I wonder if these words from Paul, as he seems to realize his days of ministry are coming to a close part of the consideration of whether a pastor,  a teacher, an elder, a parish or even an entire denomination can be content with their work?

Go back through the readings above, hear the Lord asking you if you measure up to these standards.

You may think I am going to give my super secret way of getting to that level of maturity, my 6 plans or some cute five letter acronym to remember to motivate you to do God’s work.  I don’t.

My advice?

Spend more time in God’s presence. Receive the Lord’s Supper more, contemplate the cross and your baptism more. Spend time being relieved of your sin, confessing and being absolved of it Find ways to know and revel in this simple truth.

The Lord is With You.

It is from there, from knowing God’s heart because His love has been shown to you – that is where the desire for ministry comes from, that is from where the dunamis  power and ability comes.  If you want you church to be able to follow Paul’s  guidance, do the same. Feed them the word and sacraments that confirm the covenant, the declaration that they are His people.

Be sure that the Holy Spirit will work through you, and open your hearts and hands to do so.

And rejoice, for they will reach the measure of the fulness of Christ… for that is why you were called. And know this, He won’t abandon you forsake you – for that too is a promise.

AMEN!

Tappert, T. G. (Ed.). (1959). The Book of Concord the confessions of the Evangelical Lutheran Church. (p. 495). Philadelphia: Mühlenberg Press.

Dare We Pray, THY Will Be Done?

Featured imageDo we Dare Pray:
Thy Will Be Done On Earth?

 

May you be so aware of the grace and mercy of God our Father that you desire and to see His will revealed in your life!

A Picture of God’s Will, made Complete in heaven:

I want to re-read the Revelation passage, that describe what God’s will looks like, when revealed in Heaven:

9  When this was done I looked again, and before my eyes appeared a vast crowd beyond man’s power to number. They came from every nation and tribe and people and language, and they stood before the throne of the Lamb, dressed in white robes with palm-branches in their hands. With a great voice they shouted these words: “Salvation belongs to our God who sits upon the throne and to the Lamb!”
11  Then all the angels stood encircling the throne, the elders and the four living creatures, and prostrated themselves with heads bowed before the throne and worshipped God, saying, “Amen! Blessing and glory and wisdom and thanksgiving and honour and power and strength be given to our God for timeless ages!”     
Revelation 7:9-14 (Phillips NT)

It is the vision of the Nunc Dimitis, the incredible song Simeon spoke as he held Jesus. The song we will sing, having been given Christ’s body and blood…

29  “Sovereign Lord, now let your servant die in peace, as you have promised. 30  I have seen your salvation, 31  which you have prepared for all people. 32  He is a light to reveal God to the nations, and he is the glory of your people Israel!” Luke 2:29-32 (NLT)

When we pray for God’s will be done on earth, as it is in heaven, we are asking Him to save the world, to bring us all into a relationship with God the father, through Christ.  To see the love of God revealed, to and in the people we know, to see them join the name of those whose names are written in the book of life.

What a thing to celebrate.

For every time a sinner is welcome home, cleansed and made a child of God, the heavens rejoice, and so should we!

Every time they learn to pray and trust to lay everything in God’s hands, including their very lives, the joy of heaven is inexpressible.  God’s will had been revealed in our midst.  Every time we approach this altar and share in His feast…. His will is seen again, for we take His body and blood into us, even as we have been joined to His death, and the resurrection, and added to the number whose voices will thunder His praises!

But Why Would We Hesitate?

       To see this happen, what needs to happen to us?
Do we dare pray this happen?

Do we realize what we are asking God to do?  How He will change us?

What will it take, for Jesus to be that well known here by people here, in our little corner of Cerritos?

it is the same question that Chris asked a couple of weeks ago, when He asked what it meant for God’s name to be Holy in this place.   We are going to have to let God, not Chris or Albert or I, meddle in our lives.

We will have to embrace being uncomfortable, as we have to make sure our traditions and practices work to draw people to Jesus, that what we do and say and think reveal that our lives have been changed by God, and that we are eternally grateful.

We will have to embrace change, as God cleans us up, ridding our lives of our desires, our words and actions that aren’t consistent with His will, strengthening us against the temptation, ridding our hearts of anything that isn’t loving towards anyone.

We are asking God to invade our lives, and rip out anything that isn’t loving, that isn’t reflecting His love and mercy.

Because if His will is to be seen in our midst, it has to be seen in our lives.

You resent others?  That has to go.
You hold on to things people have done and said to you?  Those feelings and thoughts have to go.
You are jealous and envious of others things or relationships or roles because you deserve better – that attitude has to go.
You would rather be safe and secure, rather than be willing to give up all, that some would know Jesus?  Time for that to change as well.
Frustrations, Anxieties, Lust, unrighteous anger, desire for revenge?

They all go, because they will stop you from realizing the will of God, and seeing what God desires happening in your life, in our life together.

Do you still want to pray this prayer?

Are you ready to?

Why We Pray this may be done among us.

So why do we pray this?

Go back to the vision, of people from every place and time, from every culture, from every language coming together in the presence of God – all of gathered as His people, as His family.

To a place where tears no longer flow, where there are no enemies, no adversaries.  Where we gather to celebrate His love, to see the miracle that we are, when we have been saved, and realize that God wanted to do this very thing.

To realize that when we pray this, that God’s will be done, it is being done in our lives, personally, and as a community.  Right now!  When see someone baptized, and united to Christ means they are united to us as well, they become part of that crowd that will be there in heaven, with each of us. This service is a foretaste of that To kneel at this altar with people, to be part of the great company of heaven singing His praises.

You and I, despite our selfishness, despite our sin, welcome into His kingdom, and not just welcome, but welcome as His children, His blessed children He wants to share His glory with.  His greatest desire, His will is that we would be with Him.
May it happen in heaven… and may it happen here and now….

For the Lord is with us, and we know we need to know His will, will be done here in our lives.  So let us spend the rest of this service talking in prayer with our Father…. Amen!

His Mysterious and Awesome Plan!

His Mysterious and Awesome Plan!

Featured imageEphesians 1:3-14

May you realize the grace of God our Father, and our Lord Jesus Christ, the grace that reveals you are what they desired, as from before time, the manger and the cross became their plan in action!

18 times…. One Thought 

Eighteen times in the course of eleven verses, the plan of God is either mentioned directly or indirectly or the plan itself is simply reveled.

In these beginning verses of Ephesians, we are told over and over about this plan of God.

Paul wants to make sure the church in Ephesus knows that God’s mysterious plan, this awesome desire of His is made clear, that it is full revealed.

The Holy Spirit didn’t stop there, as this plan from before the foundation of world was executed, as it was completed.  As we, nearly 20 centuries later, see what God has planed and did impact our lives.

Right now, God’s plan is being revealed, and it is revealed in our lives..

18 times Paul mentions the plan….

It is that important to understand that plan for us…

Is real.

Is now….

…….And it defines who we are…..

The Amazing Plan….

We see the plan revealed with these words,

who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly realms because we are united with Christ

for the glorious grace he has poured out on us who belong to his dear Son. He is so rich in kindness and grace that he purchased our freedom with the blood of his Son and forgave our sins.

this is the plan: At the right time he will bring everything together under the authority of Christ—everything in heaven and on earth.

12 God’s purpose was that we Jews who were the first to trust in Christ would bring praise and glory to God. 13 And now you Gentiles have also heard the truth, the Good News that God saves you.

The apostle Paul is explaining the reason for the manger, for the cross, for the baptismal font, for the altar from which we receive the feast of all feasts, the Lord’s Supper.

This purpose, this plan, was to reconcile everything to God the Father, as it was united to Jesus.

Paul will use the gardening/farming illustration of grafting us to Christ, of binding us to Him, for He is the source of our life.

He will use the banking illustration of reconciling us to Christ, and of redeeming us from the debt owed.  Everything we are, moved from a liability to an asset in God’s balance book.

He will talk of freeing us, and declaring us justified/righteous, judicial terms, and the medical concept of quickening – the bringing back to life.  God uses the image of the travel agent even, delivering His people into the land of milk and honey, the image looking toward the day Paul mentions in Colossians,

If then you were raised with Christ, seek what is above, where Christ is seated at the right hand of God. 2 Think of what is above, not of what is on earth. 3  For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. 4  When Christ your life appears, then you too will appear with him in glory. Colossians 3:1-4 (NAB)

 This is all why this exists, this plan of God to make for Himself a people, the masterpiece he will mention in chapter 2, verse 10.

A plan which no one could really understand prior to the cross, a mystery because no one could have understood that all this would be accomplished through a cross, through the violent death of God, as we killed Jesus, as God the Father raised Him from the dead.

The Amazing Reason….

If the plan for our deliverance, for our salvation, a plan put into place before the garden of Eden and is incredible and praiseworthy and glorious, there is a comment about this plan that is more astonishing.

It is mentioned a number of times as well…. The idea of bringing us home, of making us in Christ Jesus His children, is that this is His desire, this is what brings God, our creator great pleasure.

This is God’s goal for creation, it has been what the Trinity has determined to be their plan since the beginning.  God desired to adopt you Bob, and you Ben, you Carol, and you Julie.

If God had a facebook account with pictures of His kids….it would include you!

That may sound silly, (or it might cause some great concern – He’d have the most embarrassing pictures ever!)

But you are God’s adopted kids, a process that He takes the greatest joy in….

You are His, and you are the one He wanted….

Hear that again… all of this… all of Christmas….all of the symbolism, all of the decorations, all of advent and lent, Ash Wednesday, Lent, Holy Week, Good Friday, Easter, Ascension, Pentecost… it’s all about one thing….

God desire to make us His children, and doing what it took to make it so….

Our Reaction

That’s why this passage from Ephesians is called a doxology – an ancient song of praise.

Because God has desired this, because He has done this.

He’s made us His!

He has blessed us in a way we know is promised, and occasionally we get a glimpse of, like when someone is brought into the family of God, whether as an infant, or as someone in their 90’s.

We are amazed at such love, and we have to delight in it – we have to praise Him directly and to others… it is the reaction that comes from knowing such great love!

It is why this is all here as well – to testify, to proclaim that this love is for every person that has lived – and celebrated, for those who are living now – to come and pray here, a place for this incredible, glorious plan of God to be revealed to them, for His desire to be His children to be made known.

For all the people who live with 20 miles of this place to know the height and depth, breadth and width of God’s love, for them to rejoice and praise Him, for them to dwell in the peace we know…. For in Christ, we live in that peace, awaiting the day of His return…with Him.

AMEN?

If you are interested in hearing this sermon – you can check it out at

God’s Not Dead… but He did die on a Cross…

Devotional Thought of the DayThe Good Shepherd, carrying His own.

22  Jews want miracles for proof, and Greeks look for wisdom. 23  As for us, we proclaim the crucified Christ, a message that is offensive to the Jews and nonsense to the Gentiles; 24  but for those whom God has called, both Jews and Gentiles, this message is Christ, who is the power of God and the wisdom of God. 1 Corinthians 1:22-24 (TEV)

16  I ask God from the wealth of his glory to give you power through his Spirit to be strong in your inner selves, 17  and I pray that Christ will make his home in your hearts through faith. I pray that you may have your roots and foundation in love, 18  so that you, together with all God’s people, may have the power to understand how broad and long, how high and deep, is Christ’s love. 19  Yes, may you come to know his love—although it can never be fully known—and so be completely filled with the very nature of God. Ephesians 3:16-19 (TEV)

I venture to assure you, my dear reader, that if you and I enter into this forge of the Love of God, our souls will become better, being cleansed of some of the dross that clings to them.  (1)

I watched a couple of interesting movies yesterday.  The first was Good Will Hunting, and then I watched the movie that has become quite popular among Christians, God’s Not Dead.

I wrote last night on FB that both were about redemption, and that both fell short.  They both dealt with brokenness, they both had characters, several of them, that needed to be healed of the darkness they dwelt in, and they both seemed to find healing for their brokenness.  And both fell short. Both were incomplete.

But what surprised me is that I found that God’s not Dead seems to have fallen shorter in some ways.

Good Will Hunting isn’t a movie trying to serve as an apologetic.  It is simply a John Hughes movie, done in the context of Boston. Quite realistic, even to the language.  it got it when the character that is redeemed can’t be helped by the wisdom and knowledge of the world, of the professors and clinicians.  It takes a broken, battered man (Robin Williams) and the unlikely average joe to bring about the promise of redemption, of meaning.  And it is found, not in the career, not in the perfection of life, but in the need for real love, and the chase of the one who loves.  Replace Minnie Driver with Christ, the sexual scenes with times of intimate prayer – and you have something.

But the brokenness and pain can’t be healed by anything but love.

Now to God’s not dead

Did you notice anything really conspicuous missing from the movie?

Think.

Think again.

The ontological arguments were well done.  The brokenness of relationships with God and between Dean Cain and his family, and Kevin Sorbo and his girlfriend, students and life in general are well done, if a bit over the stop in stereotypes.  The dealing with cancer, and the band ministering to the girl with a cancerous death sentence, nice done as well.

But there is something missing.

Figure it out yet?

I’ll help.

Where was the cross?

You can prove the existence of the Divine, of a Creator, logically and completely, and still have someone who is bound by satan, enslaved by sin, in anxiety over death.

Luther noted that this was true, as he explained the work of the Holy Spirit in the Large Catechism

For all outside of Christianity, whether heathen, Turks, Jews, or false Christians and hypocrites, although they believe in, and worship, only one true God, yet know not what His mind towards them is, and cannot expect any love or blessing from Him; therefore they abide in eternal wrath and damnation. (2)

We  can know all about the existence of God, but without the cross, you cannot know God’s attitude is towards you.  All we can realize is that you don’t deserve love, but punishment.  Like the mathematicians and fancy psychologists, we cannot find a way out of our brokenness.  We are so broken, so torn up, so enslaved by sin. Even forensic, scientific apologetics becomes, not a hope, but a hindrance.  The victory of young Wheaton in the movie is something we can triumph in, we defended God successfully!  We won the battle, even as they don’t see the victory in the back room, or out on the street, or even behind him, as the girl who lost her family but found Christ was there.

We have to have the cross, for it is there we find God’s attitude toward us, we see the incredible dimensions of His love in those rough beams, in the blood soaked body of Christ.  We proclaim His death until He comes again, as Paul says we do as we celebrate the Lord’s Supper, the incredible love of the Eucharist.  We are joined to that cross in our baptism (see Colossians 2, Romans 6, Titus 3)

it is impossible to know the love of God without seeing His work, without seeing the cross.

And it was missing.

The relationship?  It was a minor secondary thing compared to the victory.  Compared to the people who came to “know” about God by deciding God’s case.

As if we could comprehend His ways, understand His actions simply by deducing there is a God.

We have to know there is a God who loves us……who loves us enough to die for us.

Yes, God’s not dead, but He did die….

for you.

Get to know Him, walk with Him, it is why He died.

(1)  Escriva, Josemaria (2011-01-31). The Forge (Kindle Locations 203-204). Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition.

(2)  The Large Catechism of Martin Luther.Part II  Of the Creed: Article III

 

Is Desiring Reconciliation Optional for Christians?

Devotional Thought of the Day:OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

11  As surely as I live, says the Sovereign LORD, I take no pleasure in the death of wicked people. I only want them to turn from their wicked ways so they can live. Turn! Turn from your wickedness, O people of Israel! Why should you die? Ezekiel 33:11 (NLT) 

23  “Do you think that I like to see wicked people die? says the Sovereign LORD. Of course not! I want them to turn from their wicked ways and live. Ezekiel 18:23 (NLT)

9  The Lord is not being slow in carrying out his promises, as some people think he is; rather is he being patient with you, wanting nobody to be lost and everybody to be brought to repentance. 2 Peter 3:9 (NJB)

18  And all of this is a gift from God, who brought us back to himself through Christ. And God has given us this task of reconciling people to him. 19  For God was in Christ, reconciling the world to himself, no longer counting people’s sins against them. And he gave us this wonderful message of reconciliation. 2 Corinthians 5:18-19 (NLT)

824         Do you feel as if goodness and absolute truth have been deposited with you, and therefore that you have been invested with a personal title or right to uproot evil at all costs? You will never solve anything like that, but only through Love and with love, remembering that Love has forgiven you and still forgives you so much! (1)

Therefore it is God’s ultimate purpose that we suffer harm to befall no man, but show him all good and love; and, as we have said it is specially directed toward those who are our enemies.  (2) 

It seems like yesterday I had to quote the passages above from Ezekiel a half dozen times, and should have quoted them a dozen more.

In each, people were rejoicing over brokenness.  Some were larger than life, as they rejoiced over victories in war. Some were more organized, as people planned to celebrate larger divisions between people groups. (including the Reformation.)  Some were far more personal, as people encouraged each other to rejoice in division, to rejoice in broken relationships. There were even a couple of situations were those trying to promote reconciliation were attacked and mocked.

Yes I know, that in some of these cases, pain is involved,  But what about those who encourage the joy?  What about those who welcome the brokenness, who encourage it?

It is even more tragic that in each case, the people involved were leaders in the church.  Some of the brokenness was in the midst of the church, Traumatic and tragic, this lack of desire for reconciliation is!

And it is not Christian.  It is not imitating Christ.  It is not being obedient to His giving us the mission of reconciling people to Him, as Paul points out.  For in reconciling them to Him, we find them reconciled to us.

Life isn’t a personal crusade to stamp out evil.  That only turns us into evil people, as we place ourselves in the place of God.

Life isn’t about rejoicing over division, over the bad things which happen to those we consider enemies, adversaries, or just pain in the ass’s.

God has told us to love them, to work for their good, to see them reconciled to Christ.  For that is His will, even though every person who is brought to reconciliation was once God’s enemy, who chose evil over good, and hate over love.

This blog isn’t easy to write.  I have my own people I struggle with, who I have to grow in Christ to love and seek to reconcile with.  But let me tell you, the joy that is there when we do… is amazing.

I’ll leave you with this blessing, knowing that it pleases God when people reconcile:

20  Now may the God of peace— who brought up from the dead our Lord Jesus, the great Shepherd of the sheep, and ratified an eternal covenant with his blood— 21  may he equip you with all you need for doing his will. May he produce in you, through the power of Jesus Christ, every good thing that is pleasing to him. All glory to him forever and ever! Amen! Hebrews 13:20-21 (NLT)

(1)  Escriva, Josemaria (2011-01-31). Furrow (Kindle Locations 3390-3393). Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition.

(2) The Large Catechism of Martin Luther.

 

The Lord’s Supper, and Spiritual Apathy

Devotional Thought of the Day:OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
28  That is why you should examine yourself before eating the bread and drinking the cup. 29  For if you eat the bread or drink the cup without honoring the body of Christ, you are eating and drinking God’s judgment upon yourself. 30  That is why many of you are weak and sick and some have even died. 1 Corinthians 11:28-30 (NLT)

“These words, I have said, are not preached to wood or stone but to you and me; otherwise Christ might just as well have kept quiet and not instituted a sacrament. Ponder, then, and include yourself personally in the “you” so that he may not speak to you in vain.

In this sacrament he offers us all the treasure he brought from heaven for us, to which he most graciously invites us in other places, as when he says in Matt. 11:28, “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy-laden, and I will refresh you.

”Surely it is a sin and a shame that, when he tenderly and faithfully summons and exhorts us to our highest and greatest good, we act so distantly toward it, neglecting it so long that we grow quite cold and callous and lose all desire and love for it.”

It’s my twenty-fifth anniversary today.  As I was thinking about that, and about my sermon this week, the quote from Luther’s Large Catechism above kept coming back to mind.  Let me explain why.

Twenty-five years is a pretty decent period of time.  We’ve faced unemployment, major health issues (2 years in I had a massive cardiac arrest due to a genetic problem).  We’ve faced adjusting to having a child after seventeen years of just us.  An incredibly brilliant son, but who has some challenges as well. We have survived, we have endured.  Like our parents, who also have endured much.  There is a challenge to this though, and that is frequent interaction with each other.  Reminding each other of our love for each other. Being passionate and perhaps even more… compassionate towards each other.

It is all to easy to stop working, to just assume the other will be there.  To become apathetic in our relationship, to just get by.  But the problem is that when our hearts look for that which is needed.  The support, the encouragement, the interaction.  The rest that comes when a couple’s home is their place of rest, their place of being nurtured, their place of being able to drop everything.

Are Kay and I perfect at this?  No. ( I am involved in this after all!  🙂  )  But we do well… and have endured by God’s grace.

So what has this to do with communion?

Well, it is a primary contact point – a refuge, a place of peace and restoration in our walk with God.  It is a treasure, that too often we get apathetic about, not realizing what it is… God calling us to gather around His table, and feeding us in way that is incredible.  The family of God getting together, celebrating the forgiveness of sins and mercy of God and His love for us all.  Clearly seen when we realize that piece of bread – yes it is His body, that little cup of wine, His precious blood – give for you and I.

As Luther says – those words aren’t for rocks and stones – Jesus spoke these words for you and I!

There are two ways I see us growing, as the church at large, callous and cold to it.

The first is when we think that it is somehow less necessary than the sermon, and therefore we celebrate it far less often. Or we cut it out of our masses or worship services because of time or convenience.  (even heard one church that wanted to cut it out because of the cost of bread and wine..!)  What message are we saying when we do such a thing?  Are we reducing our belief that it is effective, that it is not profitable for our spiritual renewal?

The other way is when we just look at the celebration mechanically, as a duty, not as a joyous celebration of love.  When we realize that God wants us there, that His greatest desire is to fellowship with His people – and that is why we gather.  That we look at it with anticipation, recognizing what God is doing in this precious time.  The more we consider that, the more hungry we get for it, the more it takes on a meaning that is precious – the more we desire it.

In both cases – in determining that we don’t need to celebrate it often, and simply it being a duty and not a celebration – we lead people into apathy, we lead them away from realizing the grace and love revealed to them in Christ.  Paul says such is the reason for our spiritual apathy, and even spiritual death.  Luther concurs with scripture, calling such an attitude a sin.  It’s something we need to think about today, as the church in America has fallen asleep… and in some places is beginning to revive, breaking its fast from the blessings of God, and growing in desire of them.

This is a precious time with God, some of the most valuable and nourishing time we have in our week.  It is a treasure, a necessity, a blessing beyond our able to understand, but easily one we can appreciate.

it’s a homecoming, a feast, a celebration, a time that should inspire us to worship, a time where we can know God’s promises are true in Christ.

So come, blessed children of the Father, to a feast prepared for you……

[i] Tappert, T. G. (Ed.). (1959). The Book of Concord the confessions of the Evangelical Lutheran Church. (p. 454). Philadelphia: Mühlenberg Press.LARGE CATECHISM – Sacrament of the Altar

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