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Hope For Those Who Weep for the Lost…

Devotional Thought for This Day:

15  In Ramah a voice is heard, crying and weeping loudly. Rachel mourns for her children and refuses to be comforted, because they are dead. 16   But I, the LORD, say to dry your tears. Someday your children will come home from the enemy’s land. Then all you have done for them will be greatly rewarded. 17  So don’t lose hope. I, the LORD, have spoken.
37  Can you measure the heavens? Can you explore the depths of the earth? That’s how hard it would be for me to reject Israel forever, even though they have sinned. I, the LORD, have spoken.
Jeremiah 31:15-17, 37 (CEV)

743      If you put your mind to it, everything in your life can be offered to the Lord, can provide an opportunity to talk with your Father in Heaven, who is always keeping new illumination for you, and granting it to you.

Maybe it is a once dear friend who loved the Lord in a way that inspired others. Maybe it was a cherished mentor in the faith, a professor who taught you more than you ever realized. Maybe it is a parent, a child, a cousin, even a spouse.

Most of us have someone who has rejected God, or is struggling with His way, and so rejects the gifts of forgiveness and mercy, who rebel against God. Perhaps there is a reason, a church, a pastor or priest who has caused them pain.

WE all have a person who has wandered, even as many of us have. Our reaction is usually the same as grieving the loss of physical life, for we realize that eternity is at stake… We may not want to say it is the difference between heaven and hell, yet our heart fears that consequence.

The words of the prophet Jeremiah are so appropriate for those who watch with tears, those who attempt to wander away. The need to hear God say “dry your tears, they will come back” is real, to allow God to comfort those who worry, who deal with anxiety over those they care about.

The second part of the selection, where God reminds us of His power, and the inability of man to completely reject them is even more comforting. It tells us how much God is willing to pour into calling the people back. Despite their sin, God will continue to work in their hearts.

So then, how do we deal with the trauma we see in their lives? Josemaria’s words comforted me this morning. We talk to God about it, we spend time offering the person, and the situation, and our hearts, batter and torn, to Him. It seems counter-intuitive to offer such to God as a sacrifice, but it is the best we can do. We are His children, and our Father wants to fix what is broken in our lives. He wants to recreate, to show the craftsmanship He finds joy in…and as we give into His care those we love, whom we worry about, we can realize peace. He died for them, that they may live.

Lord, help us give you our brokenness, help us place in your care those we would see return to the joy of your salvation. For Your love for them is even deeper than ours, and You can reach them. Help us to trust You, and in Your love and work in all our lives! Amen!

Escriva, Josemaria. The Forge . Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition.

Your Encounter with Jesus, revealed to all!

 

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Concordia Lutheran Church – Cerritos, Ca , at dawn on Easter Sunday

(if you would like to hear the message and the service, please go to bit.ly/concordiacerritos )

 

Your Encounter with Jesus
Revealed to All!
Colossians 3:1-4

† In Jesus Name †

May the grace of God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ convince you that because Jesus has risen, you have risen indeed!

Getting called to the front of the class

There are two types of people in the world.

The first type is the kind that is scared to get called up to the front of the class because it means they are in trouble again.  Or called on in the midst of the sermon… which I can’t do today.

The second type is the kind that is scared of being called up in front of the class period. They don’t like to be in the spotlight, and they are usually more upset when you call on them to praise them, than if they are in trouble.

Either way – most people don’t like being the center of attention.  And yet in today’s epistle lesson, every believer is going to find themselves in the center of attention. You will be in the spotlight!

Isn’t this about Jesus?

You may be saying, wait – this Is Easter, it is supposed to be about Jesus being the center of attention!  It is about the fact that Alleluia! He is Risen! (He Is Risen Indeed – and therefore We are risen Indeed!)

Did you hear that last part?

Now hear how Paul describes this,

4  And when Christ, who is your life, is revealed to the whole world, you will share in all his glory!

This idea that because Jesus has risen, so have we leads to that thought.  We won’t be sitting in the nosebleed section of heaven, nor will we be in the kitchen, or outback mowing the lawn.

We will be there, sharing In His glory.  The term in Greek means to be in the focus of the lights. Yes this is all about Him, and yet the reason it is, is because He is bringing us home!

The Struggle with not seeing ourselves the way God does!

Whether we are type 1 or type 2, the idea of being in the spotlight with Jesus might seem more than a little crazy, it might seem downright insane.

For the first type, the type always getting themselves in trouble, there is a more than a little fear that maybe God will figure out the mistake that was made, that let us into heaven in the first place.  Peter didn’t have a bookkeeper like Sandie, so there was an error that wasn’t caught, and that’s why we are there!

We know we are sinners, it is just a matter of time before we are caught. We think right now that we don’t belong, we are not good enough.

And the type two person may not see themselves as evil and rotten, but they don’t see themselves as anything spectacular, noting essential.

Sin robs us of the truth.

Even the sin we know has been forgiven, seems to leave a shadow hanging over us, convincing us that we might get into heaven, only because of technicality – Jesus had to forgive us, so we get the seats furthest out…

I wonder if that is why Lutherans like the seats in the back of the room?

You will share in His glory!

Seriously, we have to get used to this idea – that God did save us, that Christ didn’t die so that we could be stashed in some back corner of heaven.

He saved us to spend eternity with us.

(And that is a lot longer than a pandemic’s stay at home order)
God’s desire is not that we become some kind of audience in heaven, nor His fanbase.

We died with Jesus in Baptism so that we could rise to live with God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, forever.

That is what faith is, waiting to see Him, to see our real life revealed in Christ Jesus in heaven.

Jesus didn’t die just to save us from our sins, he died for this life to be created, for us to live with Him.  I love how Psalm 68 describes it

18 You have climbed the heights of heavens, having taken captivity captive, you have taken men as tribute, even rebels that Yahweh God might have a dwelling-place with them.   Psalm 68:18

Jesus, having died, burst through the gates of hell, and taken His ransom.

A ransom of people to call His own.

He broke down the walls of hell to rescue you and me,,, to bring us to the Father. That is why Hebrews say this,

19  So, friends, we can now—without hesitation—walk right up to God, into “the Holy Place.” Jesus has cleared the way by the blood of his sacrifice, acting as our priest before God. The “curtain” into God’s presence is his body. 20   21   22  So let’s do it—full of belief, confident that we’re presentable inside and out. 23  Let’s keep a firm grip on the promises that keep us going. He always keeps his word.
Hebrews 10:19-23 (MSG)

A promise that you will share in His glory, for He is risen Indeed Alleluia… and therefore… you are risen indeed ALLELUIA!

Come Back to Me and Live- A Midweek Lenten Sermon based on Ezekiel 37

Come Back to Me
And Live

Ezekiel 37:1-14

† I.H.S. †

May the grace of God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ assure you that the Holy Spirit has been breathed into Your Life and that you Live.

Valley of the Empty Sanctuary
         Will these seats be filled?

As I look out over this nearly empty sanctuary, I think I understand how Ezekiel felt looking out over the valley filled with dry bones.

I will be honest, it is hard to do this, looking out over empty seats where there should be life.  Where a sermon should bring smiles, and deeper thoughts when a call for repentance might bring some tears when the announcement of forgiveness brings from those seats a full, powerful and joy-filled amen!

And I almost hear the Lord asking me, as He once asked Ezekiel, a question. “Can these seats be filled”  When will Concordia’s sanctuary be filled again with life?

And all I can answer is the same answer, O Sovereign Lord, you alone know the answer to that!

He does…  but I wish I could do what Ezekiel did next… and speak and see a miracle take place.

Are we dry bones?
         Is our Hope gone?
         Are We finished?

As I talk to many of our people, and others who are reaching out, the words of the dry bones resonate with what I am hearing.  There in verse 11, are the words of complaint.

Then he said to me, “Son of man, these bones represent the people of Israel. They are saying, ‘We have become old, dry bones—all hope is gone. Our nation is finished.’ Ezekiel 37:11 (NLT2)

Though many people have a good attitude about this, many talk of the weariness, even the times of tears that cannot be stopped…

We grow weary, and hope isn’t gone, but it does seem a long way off in the distance. We miss each other, the handshakes, the hugs, the elbows we usually pass off to each other.  Obviously, the “the Lord is with you and also with you’s” and the hands that reach out an receive the body and blood of Christ.

We are weary, we feel isolated, we feel like the people who Ezekiel wrote too – who were scattered and distant, and not “at home”, even as we are stuck in our homes. They weren’t literally the bones in the valley, but they certainly felt that way.

Which I think we understand, at least in the present moment

Again we don’t know our hope is gone, but it feels like it. We don’t know the effect on our people, but it doesn’t seem good.

So we cry out to God, together… and ask that the Holy Spirit breaths new life into us…

And God has promised that Spirit, the one Jesus calls the Comforter, will do just that.

Come Holy Spirit – Come comforter –
         He will bring us back!
         He will return us Home, He will gather us

There is our hope, as the Holy Spirit has already, because of the blood of Christ, defeated death.  That’s symbolized by the cartilage, muscles, and skin coming back on the skeletons.

But then there is a pause, and life is breathed back in – the Spirit of God, which breathed life into us… once again comes and breathes life into us, and the process of bringing us into the presence of God.

Making us know God is at home with us, wherever we are.

Helping us know that He will restore us to each other…

He is bringing He people back to life – His great army as Ezekiel describes.

And it won’t take as long as it took for Ezekiel’s vision to come to pass.

For God has already guaranteed this promise of the Holy Spirit’s presence with us, first at the cross and resurrection, and then in our Baptism.  The Spirit has come to us, we are its temple – and God will never ever leave or forsake us.

This is our greatest asset in times like this, the work of the Holy Spirit, the Lord and giver of life as we say in the creed, the description of why we have hope, the description of what makes life, life.

This is our hope in this, the word of the Holy Spirit.

There is an old prayer I would like to end with…
“Come, Holy Spirit, fill the hearts of your faithful and kindle in them, the fire of your love!”

Come, fill the place, and every place where people are watching..  AMEN!

Priorities in a Time of Plague

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Devotional Thought of the Day:
31  “So don’t worry about these things, saying, ‘What will we eat? What will we drink? What will we wear?’ 32  These things dominate the thoughts of unbelievers, but your heavenly Father already knows all your needs. 33  Seek the Kingdom of God above all else, and live righteously, and he will give you everything you need.
Matthew 6:31-33 (NLT2)

Raise magnificent buildings? Construct sumptuous palaces? Let others raise them. Let others construct them. Souls! Let us give life to souls—for those buildings and for those palaces! What fine dwellings are being prepared for us!

There is a balance to life, especially a religious life.

It is hard not to worry about the food we will eat this week or next.  It is hard not to see the pictures of the lines. It is hard not to try and make large plans, and make decisions that affect our people. It seems every other day that the government is changing what restrictions are out there, and foreseeing the impact on our people is hard.

As I get to work, my instinct is to lay aside my devotions, to get right to work. There is so much to do, so many people to talk to, care for, so many different things to consider, how do I have time for 30-45 minutes (or preferably 75-90 to catch my breath and remember I  dwell in God’s presence?

My devotional readings this morning were kind of bland.. which didn’t help. I didn’t see anything much to think through that was applicable to my day until I got to St. Josemaria.

Soul care!  What German Lutherans call seel-sorge – this is our calling as the church. Making sure our people are looking to God – realizing that even now, we still need ot seek Him, and lay our burdens down.  Then take the guidance He offers, and go about our lives, assured of His peace.

So I will let those who make the decisions, make the decisions.  I will care for those who come to me and go to the ones who are mine. I will point them to Jesus, and find ways to help.

God is with us, and the peace that news brings gives us the ability to live, and love those around us.

Seek Jesus first!

It will make a difference.

Escriva, Josemaria. The Way . Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition.

 

Can his “Dream” become reality?

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERADevotional Thought for the Day:

Always be humble and gentle. Patiently put up with each other and love each other. 3 Try your best to let God’s Spirit keep your hearts united. Do this by living at peace. 4 All of you are part of the same body. There is only one Spirit of God, just as you were given one hope when you were chosen to be God’s people. 5 We have only one Lord, one faith, and one baptism. 6 There is one God who is the Father of all people. Not only is God above all others, but he works by using all of us, and he lives in all of us.  Eph. 4:2-6 CEV

It becomes genuinely possible for people to share in a common expression once this interiorization has taken place under the guidance of the common prayers of the Church and the experience of the Body of Christ which they contain. Then people are no longer merely juxtaposed in role-playing but actually touch one another at the level of being. Only in this way can “community” come about.

He means that in human relations it is not peevish, harsh, or implacable; that it covers up some of the mistakes of its friends; and that it puts the best construction even on the more offensive actions of others, as the common proverb says, “Know, but do not hate, the manners of a friend.”

We call God “our Father” because we believe in His fatherly love and care.
We want His name hallowed and loved and praised, because we love Him and want others to do the same.
We want His kingdom to come because His kingdom is the kingdom of love.
We want His will to be done, even in preference to our own—we will the abolition of our own will when it is out of alignment with His—because we know His will is pure love. Ours is not.

This morning, I led the invocation and benediction at our city’s Martin Luther King. Jr. Day remembrance in our community. As I listened to the young people sing, read, and recite, and my friend Bill preach, my heart wanted to see the dream come true.

A day when the color of their skin and my son’s skin didn’t matter at all. A day when Dr. King saw coming to fruition as we found our way onto a mountain top. As we obeyed God more than we obeyed our hearts.

As I left, I wonder how many left determined to do what would make that dream happen?

It will, of course, when we reach that mountain top that Dr. King spoke of, when we enter into the presence of God, when those who see Him face to face understand true peace that comes from a love we can not wrap our heads around…yet.

It is not a coincidence that my readings today approach this subject of unity.

Nor is it a coincidence that the quotes above, from those readings, all focus on God as the hope for such a life.  It is, after all, how He designed for us to live!  It is God’s dream, even more than Pastor King’s.

It is why the Father sent the Son to reconcile us to Himself, and therefore to each other as well.  For the sin that so marrs our unity, the self-centeredness that stops us from loving our neighbor can only be dealt with in Christ. That is where God’s will becomes a reality, as we are joined to Christ’s selfless act of sacrifice, as He, in His mercy pays for our sin.  It is there, united in His heart, that our hearts find each other, and learn to value and love each other. There we find the power and desire to forgive, to cover our neighbor’s, and our enemies’ faults and brokenness.

It is there, with our souls resonating in a way stronger than this broken life can manage, that unity occurs.

Unity in Christ then becomes something to cherish, to rejoice in, to work to maintain, looking again to Jesus, who is the author and perfector of our faith. Reconciled to Him, we find our lives reconciled to each other.

Therefore patience and love, mercy and understanding become something that is our norm, and not just the virtues of saints.

You want to see these kids’ dreams, based on a speech decades ago come true?

Realize the love of God, realize His mercy and sacrifice, His patience,

with you.

And then, in Him, you can share it with your community, and the world.

Joseph Ratzinger, The Feast of Faith: Approaches to a Theology of the Liturgy, trans. Graham Harrison (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1986), 70.

Theodore G. Tappert, ed., The Book of Concord the Confessions of the Evangelical Lutheran Church. (Philadelphia: Mühlenberg Press, 1959), 141.

Peter Kreeft, The God Who Loves You (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 2004), 46.

It’s All Useless! A sermon and another sermon in the service – based on Isaiah 49:1-7

Useless!  It’s All Useless! ??
Isaiah 49:1-7
† I.H.S. †

May the grace of God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ assure you that your life and your ministry is not worthless!

The Feeling of Uselessness

There are times in life when you will put all your effort into your work, or into the work you do here at church.

But when you sit back at the end of a day or a week, you look and wonder why you worked so hard.  You wonder why you tried so hard,

And yet, you seem to have accomplished so little.

There are still bills to be paid, dishes to be done, there is still a pile of tasks at work, and the church doesn’t seem to grow the way you would like.

It is not a good feeling, and it can tempt you to despair.

to wonder why things aren’t getting better

to wonder if they ever will.

My friends, we aren’t the first to ever wonder that!

In fact, that is part of our reading from the book of Isaiah. Part of our reading this morning was this,

He said to me, “You are my servant, Israel, and you will bring me glory.” 4  I replied, “But my work seems so useless! I have spent my strength for nothing and to no purpose. Is. 49:3-4

I’ve had days like that, where I know that my actions and thoughts should be bringing God glory, that they should have some tangible results, and yet…

So how do we deal with this feeling?

Why does it exist?

First, we have to identify where it comes from.

The first is simple and often overlooked.

Satan would try to cause us to believe there is nothing to our relationship with God.

He would love to paralyze us, blinding us to the work God is actually doing in our lives,

and through our lives.

You heard that! God does the work through us!

The second cause is our own sin,

When we want to play God and determine the impact and effect of what we do.

You see, we aren’t the ones who determine the results of the actions that God calls us to do, and the Holy Spirit guides us and empowers us to do.

When we demand to know the results, we usually have demanded to determine the actions as well.

What we’ve forgotten is what Paul taught the Corinthians,

5  After all, who is Apollos? Who is Paul? We are only God’s servants through whom you believed the Good News. Each of us did the work the Lord gave us. 6  I planted the seed in your hearts, and Apollos watered it, but it was God who made it grow. 7  It’s not important who does the planting, or who does the watering. What’s important is that God makes the seed grow. 1 Corinthians 3:5-7 (NLT2)

That is what is comes down to sometimes, we want to determine the growth.  We want to be in charge, rather than letting God be in charge.

We try to get the results we want, and ignore living and ministering to others in the way He has directed us to live.

Loving Him with all our heart, soul and mind.

Loving our neighbor as we love ourselves. (depending on God’s love to make this happen)

When we demand the results, per our standards, per our expectations, we need to go back and double-check our actions, our plans, and see whether they are in line with His commands.

And if not, repent, and seek the forgiveness that God graciously plans for us.

The Real Answer

The person Isaiah writes about found the same answer, and the way to measure the results.

Yet I leave it all in the LORD’s hand; I will trust God for my reward.” Isaiah 49:4b (NLT2)

That’s a challenge, to simply place all that we do in the Lord’s hands, to let Him determine how He will use what He directs and empowers us to do.

He is God remember?  He is with us!  His Holy Spirit dwells in us, gives us the gifts that we have to use in loving Him and loving each other!

Our reward ultimately is when He tells us, “well done, MY good and faithful servant!”  Matthew 25:21NLT2

That reward is what is guaranteed when we leave it in His hands!

Remember He makes what is righteous, righteous, and in cleansing us from all sin and unrighteousness, even that is judged righteous!

Without having to worry about how we will be judged, we can simply look at what we want to do, measure it by how it loves God and our neighbor, and if it does, go with it.

That’s why I tell people in the English service, whatever idea you have for this church to minister to others, let’s pray about, make sure it loves God and our neighbor, and ask God to bless it, and do it!

Leaving the results in the hands of our loving, heavenly Father.

Remember, He cares for you… and for the people around you.

He sent Jesus to correct all the times we try to be in charge, when we try to manipulate the results, and when we despair when we don’t get what we want.

Conclusion

That’s why the cross, and that is the final proof of this passage.

You see, the passage isn’t just about us. At the cross, one could easily wonder if the work of Jesus was useless! He had spent his life investing in the people of Israel, and in 12 guys, all of whom betrayed Him.

Sounds useless to me!

What value was it?  He didn’t cause great revival during His life, he couldn’t even get 12 guys to get it right.

Yet, His reward is that every knee will bow, and every tongue confess He is Lord.

No, His reward is greater than that. His reward is our homecoming, our relationship with the Father, that He invested His life, and death to re-create

If Jesus didn’t love the Father and love us, the cross makes no sense. But because of that love, it makes sense, and it is rewarded!

Loving the Father who loves us, loving our neighbor, even if they would crucify us…  or just make our life inconvenient, and less about…. Us.  That is how we live in Christ, that is what makes our life incredible.

We can do that because of His forgiveness, because He heals our souls, because the Spirit, given to us in baptism, empowers that and makes it happen. Look to Him, fall madly in love with God, pray, and let us serve Him together!

AMEN!

What Should Make Christianity…. different?

20170124_103703Devotional Thought of the Day:

I tell you that this poor widow has put in more than all the others. 44 Everyone else gave what they didn’t need. But she is very poor and gave everything she had. Now she doesn’t have a cent to live on.  Mark 12:43-44 CEV

By the words “to save” we understand the whole of the great work of salvation, from the first holy desire onward to complete sanctification. The words are multum in parro: indeed, here is all mercy in one word. Christ is not only “mighty to save” those who repent, but he is able to make men repent. He will carry those to heaven who believe; but he is, moreover, mighty to give men new hearts and to work faith in them. He is mighty to make the man who hates holiness love it, and to constrain the despiser of his name to bend the knee before him. Nay, this is not all the meaning, for the divine power is equally seen in the after-work. The life of a believer is a series of miracles wrought by “the Mighty God.”

The pagan knew the fact that our hearts are restless, but he did not know the reason. Christianity supplies the reason, the key to the lock, the answer to the puzzle pondered by the great philosophers Socrates, Plato, Aristotle, Cicero, even by Qoheleth in the book of Ecclesiastes. All these thinkers believed in a God, but they were not happy because they did not know God was love. Socrates worshipped the unknown God whom he would not name and knew he did not know. Plato’s God was impersonal truth and goodness. Aristotle’s God was a cosmic first mover who could be known and loved but who did not know or love us. Cicero’s God was only a vague object of “piety”. And the God of Ecclesiastes sat unmoving and unknown in Heaven while man’s life on earth remained “vanity of vanities, all is vanity”

172 Augustine says very clearly, “All the commandments of God are kept when what is not kept is forgiven.”1 Therefore even in good works he requires our faith that for Christ’s sake we please God and that the works in themselves do not have the value to please God.
173 Against the Pelagians, Jerome writes, “We are righteous, therefore, when we confess that we are sinners; and our righteousness does not consist in our own merit, but in God’s mercy.”

The novel Christian reality is this: Christ’s Resurrection enables man genuinely to rejoice. All history until Christ has been a fruitless search for this joy. That is why the Christian liturgy—Eucharist—is, of its essence, the Feast of the Resurrection, Mysterium Paschae. As such it bears within it the mystery of the Cross, which is the inner presupposition of the Resurrection.

This morning I came across some very powerful quotes in my reading.  I love them, whether it is from a soon to be pope (Ratzinger), an incredible philosopher (Kreeft), a group of rebels (the early Lutherans), or a British pastor who was perhaps, the first mega-church pastor.

They all point to one thing, the fact that Christianity is different. Philosophers tried to point to him, but they couldn’t understand God. That the Eucharist does, more clearly perhaps than anything else, for we encounter and experience Jesus there.  In the mercy of God which makes our broken lives perfect as God grants to us repentance and sanctification – as He completely saves us.

What an incredible concept, this salvation.

But do we really comprehend this blessing, this gift?

I do not think we do, at least not always.

How about this explanation.  We (the church) are like children at Christmas, more interested in playing with the box our present came in than actually enjoying the present.

Salvation, the complete work of God is so large a gift, we cannot understand it. But we can experience it, and it does more than change us. Jesus does more than give us life, He is that life. That is what makes Christianity different, it is the religion that is more than a relationship, for a relationship cannot begin to express what living in Christ is like.

The old lady with the two pennies experienced it. She wasn’t impressed with the box, she simply enjoyed walking with God, and gave what she had that others would as well.

We don’t even know her name, and she could care less.

She was with God, and among His people, as broken, as misdirected, as….unfocused on what she knew and responded to…

May we be more like her….. and enjoy living in Christ, as the children the Father loves.

C. H. Spurgeon, Morning and Evening: Daily Readings (London: Passmore & Alabaster, 1896).

Peter Kreeft, The God Who Loves You (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 2004), 39–40.

Theodore G. Tappert, ed., The Book of Concord the Confessions of the Evangelical Lutheran Church. (Philadelphia: Mühlenberg Press, 1959), 130–131.

Joseph Ratzinger, The Feast of Faith: Approaches to a Theology of the Liturgy, trans. Graham Harrison (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1986), 65.

The Problem of “Free Will” is we don’t want it freed….

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Devotional Thought of the Day:

Jesus heard them and answered, “Healthy people don’t need a doctor, but sick people do. I didn’t come to invite good people to be my followers. I came to invite sinners.”  Mark 2:17

You may say, “Well, did God not endow us with a free will?”19 I reply: To be sure, he gave you a free will. But why do you want to make it your own will? Why not let it remain free? If you do with it whatever you will, it is not a free will, but your own will. God did not give you or anyone else a will of your own. Your own will comes from the devil and from Adam, who transformed the free will received from God into his own. A free will does not want its own way but looks only to God’s will for direction. By so doing it then also remains free, untrammeled and unshackled.

The transmission of the Christian faith consists primarily in proclaiming Jesus Christ in order to lead others to faith in him. From the beginning, the first disciples burned with the desire to proclaim Christ: “We cannot but speak of what we have seen and heard.”11 And they invite people of every era to enter into the joy of their communion with Christ:

I had perceived—via God’s grace, not my own wit, surely—that since God is love, we must therefore love God and love whatever God loves; that if we turn to the divine Conductor and follow the wise and loving baton that is His will, His Word, then the music of our life will be a symphony.

Over the years, I have heard people argue over the concept of free will.  Some would say we have it, others would simply say we don’t, that God is not only responsible for all of our actions, but He chooses what we will do, in every moment.  I’ve heard it blamed for our sinful choices, and for the temptations that we tried to avoid, but gave into and sinned.  Somehow people think because God gave us the ability to decide to wreck out lives, He is responsible for their breaking.

Until reading Luther this morning, I never conceived of the idea that free will could mean that it is not “our will”; not “my will” or “your will”, but the ability to simply have a will that is free, and therefore can be influenced by God,  A will that Kreeft describes himself realizing that God is love, and therefore we should resonate with His love, and love what He loves.  The power of free will then, is not aligning it to our own desires, but letting it be guided, let it resonate with the will of God.

After all, isn’t that the invitation Jesus came to deliver?  That those of us who are sinners, will be freed from sin, able to walk with Him?

That is why we train people in the faith; why we make disciples, not converts; why we catechize, answering the real questions of faith, rather than indoctrinate.

It’s not to force one’s will to be Christ’s, it is to help people see that their will, their Spirit, once clean of all sin of all injustice, resonates with Jesus.  For we were made in God’s image, and the Spirit causes us to realize this, as we realize the love of God.

This resonance is why salvation, realizing God has removed dampen and distort our lives, is so joyous. A guitar or violin string doesn’t have to be forced to sound, a similar string resonating brings its movement and sound.  Just as the word of God resonates with a truly “free will” creating joy where it resounds.

Heavenly Father, please, once again, send the Holy Spirit to remove all that would distort and dampen the will the Holy Spirit has restored.  In Jesus’ name!  Amen!

 

Martin Luther, Luther’s Works, Vol. 42: Devotional Writings I, ed. Jaroslav Jan Pelikan, Hilton C. Oswald, and Helmut T. Lehmann, vol. 42 (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1999), 48

Catholic Church, Catechism of the Catholic Church, 2nd Ed. (Vatican City: Libreria Editrice Vaticana, 1997), 107..

Peter Kreeft, The God Who Loves You (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 2004), 16.

The context of the bad news, makes the good news so much sweeter…

Good News Bible
Devotional Thought fo the Day

18  Where is another God like you, who pardons the guilt of the remnant, overlooking the sins of his special people? You will not stay angry with your people forever, because you delight in showing unfailing love. 19  Once again you will have compassion on us. You will trample our sins under your feet and throw them into the depths of the ocean!20  You will show us your faithfulness and unfailing love as you promised to our ancestors Abraham and Jacob long ago. Micah 7:18-20 (NLT2)

The text (Joel 2:13) commands us to rend our hearts, but they are naturally hard as marble: how, then, can this be done? We must take them to Calvary: a dying Saviour’s voice rent the rocks once, and it is as powerful now. O blessed Spirit, let us hear the death-cries of Jesus, and our hearts shall be rent even as men rend their vestures in the day of lamentation.

I hate watching hospital shows, whether it is E.R. in the old days, or Gray’s Anatomy or any of the clones today. I actually thought I found one I liked, the ads said the guy did medicine the right way, and I have to admit, it was interesting the first couple of shows. I thought it might be a nicer version of “House.”

But as with all of them, they eventually get to the episode featuring the patient with Marphans, and it gets too personal.

Back in the ’90s, I had a cardiac arrest and had to have CPR performed n me for 15 minutes, then resuscitated 5 times with a defibrillator.  And though I have no memory of when they said clear and shocked me, my body still feels it when I hear those words on a television show.

It is painful to face my own mortality again.

And yet, that same pain renders me thankful for the lady who performed CPR, and for the paramedics and doctors who shocked me back to life.

As I’ve talked to others like me, there is often a different outlook on life. Because we’ve experienced death because we know how fragile life is, life is different.

Spurgeon understands this spiritually, in order for us to grieve over sin, we need to take it ot the cross, to look on the body that was beaten, pierced, and hung on a cross. We need to understand of all those executed in history, Jesus could have stopped the entire charade and made it right. We need to hear the words of Jesus on the cross and realize His entire life was aimed at this very moment.

He chose not to.

He chose to die that you and I could know the wonder that amazes Hosea. The amazement that God overlooks our sins, the compassion that causes Him to be faithful to promises made centuries ago, but to keep those promises for you and me.

I wonder if we can ever appreciate that sacrifice unless we see it in face of our grievous sins. Can we truly appreciate that love, unless we come face to face with our jealousy, our gossip, our desire for the things of others, or our lust, or desire for revenge?  Or simply our desire to play God, and create idols of our own choosing?

You see that in Acts 2, when the people who thought they were good, who thought they were God’s people (and were) realized that they had killed the Messiah. You see it in Paul’s encounter on the road, in the myriad of stories where people encounter Jesus or the apostles, and realize how far they have fallen, and then are picked up, dusted off, and the prodigal is no longer the prodigal, they are a son of God.

You need to realize what you were, not grieve over it, but to rejoice in what God is doing to us, and to look forward to the day when that work is complete.

Rejoice, your sins, which were as dark as night, causing you to decay like a corpse, those sins are forgiven because of the death of Christ.  And because He is risen, so have you.

Rejoice my friends, rejoice.


C. H. Spurgeon, Morning and Evening: Daily Readings (London: Passmore & Alabaster, 1896).

Advent Streams: Singing – a sermon on Isaiah 35:1-10

Altar with communionStreaming to a Joyous Place!
Isaiah 35:1-10

† Jesus, Son, Savior †

May the grace of God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ cause you to sing!

Getting excited…

I had a great conversation (well, we sent messages across the internet) with a promising young theologian this week. He went to the youth group here back in the day, and he asked me some questions about advent.

As we were talking about the idea that Advent is just as much about the Second Coming as Christmas, you could see his mind spinning and a grin break out as he wrote:

“The hope is that the whole of creation can finally Shabbat (that is rest)!

:” and you can wrap in that from the winter (sin) comes the new spring and the new life”

“I like it.  I mostly remember the songs and candles of Advent. But it’s awesome to really dig into what the message is all about”

And finally,

“That is the Christian life, isn’t it?  We look to a future hope of a restored creation.  The whole of scripture points to it, starting in Genesis 3!”

He gets it, that advent is not about looking back to the past, because Christmas is beautiful and the kids in Sheep hats are cute, but advent is about looking forward to the second coming and getting excited about what it means.

The first time, Jesus came and dwelt in our presence.  This time, He is coming to bring us back, so we can dwell in the Father’s presence.

You saw a description of that day when even the wilderness and desert will be glad!

Of all the cool things that will happen, I want to focus on two this morning,

Here is the first…

Those who can’t speak…

Hear the first part of verse 6 again.

“The lame will leap like a deer, and those who cannot speak will sing for joy!”

Now, I look forward to the day when not one member of Concordia needs a cane or a walker, but they are lining up to go in the bounce house after

But what I am looking more towards is when those who cannot speak sing out for joy.

Interestingly, this is not just any song, it is the song of Jubilee in Hebrew, the rejoicing when every debt is cancelled, when everything is restored. It is the most joyous of sabbaths, the greatest rest in the presence of God that could be known in a lifetime.

That is what the people that can’t sing, learn to sing.

That is what being in the presence of God, and knowing how much he loves you does. It happens when we realize that He has taken care of all our sin, when everything we’ve ever done that has hurt someone, betrayed them, crushed their spirit is forgiven, all of it. I think it will be something like this,

Free at last! Free at last, praise God Almighty I am free of sin… at last!

Or maybe more like this…

Praise God from whom all blessing flow…praise Him all Creatures ..(and let them sing it out)

Streaming in..

If you think that was something now, imagine what it will be like in a year, when there will be 60-100 more people here?

Or what it will be like with a couple billion here, around the throne of God.  All excited because Christ has returned, the walkers and canes are tossed aside, and we are singing God’s praises. And all the other blessings are being realized.

When we see Jesus, who died that we might live eternally.

That bore the cost of sin so we didn’t have to,… not that’s not right.

He bore the cost of sin, so we could be with God the Father, forever.

That’s why verse 10 means so much, and so amazes me.

10  Those who have been ransomed by the LORD will return. They will enter Jerusalem singing, crowned with everlasting joy. Sorrow and mourning will disappear, and they will be filled with joy and gladness.

Imagine how great that procession is going to be, every person for who Jesus died for, every person healed of everything, from blindness and being unable to walk to cancer and heart diseases, and most of all, healing of the damage that sin has done to us.

Ransomed, all the debt paid off we will flood into heaven like a flash food.. the mega crowd of billions heading to see God, to worship Him, to praise Him, to hear Him welcome us all home.

This is what we wait for in advent, and get a little foretaste of, every time we hear we are forgiven, every time we hear He is with us, every time we remember what He promised here, and see it again as another person is cleansed in the waters of baptism… We experience His presence, as he takes our cares away as we realize our prayers are answered, in ways more precious than we can imagine.

It is just as Brandon noted..with one thing added in… the Trinity.

“That is the Christian life, isn’t it?  We look to a future hope of a restored creation with the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit! The whole of scripture points to it, starting in Genesis 3!”

And every time Jesus meets us here, as we gather, and once again receive His Body and Blood…

This is advent, a time of now and not yet, a time where we glimpse a little of what it will be like when He returns because He has dwelt among us….and we beheld His glory, just as we will, even more clearly when He comes among us, and we dwell in the Father’s presence.  Amen!

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