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God’s Faithful Love! A Sermon on Lamentations 3:22-33

church at communion 2God’s Faithful Love
Lamentations 3:22-33

I.H.S.

May the grace of God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ bring you peace and help you to realize how faithfully He loves you!  And knowing this, may you learn to wait in hope, knowing He will never abandon you forever!

Fear of Abandonment

In that day, people had turned their back on God.  They had chosen lives filled with immorality and deceit, lives that were so perverse that they didn’t even realize how badly they were enslaved to sin.

They were beginning to reap the consequences of their action, as families were divided, as their cities were being destroyed from within and without, as they were no longer a place where refugees came for hope, but a place where they fled from, not with any plan, but they simply had to “get away.

They were a people that were broken, much like many in our community in our nation, in our world today.  There felt like they were alone – and that they were abandoned by God.  This was reinforced by the shame that what they were experiencing, shame they knew they deserved because of their sin.  They felt abandoned, without any hope…

And then a prophet spoke.

There would be healing, so that even in their grief, they would know not only that God was compassionate, they would experience that compassion.  For God has promised that His love is faithful and unending, that His mercy, His compassion, His work forgiving and restoring people will never end.

And this faithful love of God endures today.  It is why this church can be what we say it is, the place where people find healing in Christ while helping others heal.

Submitting to the yoke…together

I want to read verse 24 through 27 again,

24  I say to myself, “The LORD is my inheritance; therefore, I will hope in him!” 25  The LORD is good to those who depend on him, to those who search for him. 26  So it is good to wait quietly for salvation from the LORD. 27  And it is good for people to submit at an early age to the yoke of his discipline: 28  Let them sit alone in silence beneath the LORD’s demands

While we look at 26 through 28 a little closer, please keep in mind the attitude expressed in 24 and 25, that we have hope, for God is our inheritance, that He is good to those who depend upon Him.

But in verse 26-28 we find some things that are… challenging, and if we think through them, disturbing.

The first is that it is good to wait quietly, (and the Hebrew includes the idea of expectantly) for God to rescue us.  Let’s get past the word salvation and realize that this is a matter of spiritual life and death we are talking about.

This word salvation, getting down to simple thoughts, is about being rescued, about being picked up from the crap that we have gotten ourselves into, the trouble we have made for ourselves, the sin we committed, that leaves us broken, frustrated, and alone.

The issue of sin is the reason Jeremiah tells us that it is better for us to submit to a yoke of discipline at an early age.  A little explanation there.  A yoke was that which was put over a team of oxen or horses’ necks so that they could be used to work.  It was a way of controlling them, but even more, a way of teaching and guiding them.  For a new ox would be paired with one who was experienced and together they would get the job done,

In the same way, it may seem hard to think of God disciplining people, but He doesn’t leave us alone, for as He disciplines us with that yoke, he is also carrying it with us, doing the work, making sure we “get” it, never leaving us alone, even though we think we can’t bear it anymore.

And that is the way it is throughout our entire life.  Even when we struggle, He is there, right beside us, working us through it, bringing us back on track.  Far better to learn this as a young person, but it is never too late!

For we find as God guides us, even if it is with a “strong hand” that we not only endure, we are blessed by His presence, even if we don’t really enjoy His strong hand, and His correction.

His Mercies begin Fresh, they never cease

But this is what it means that His love is faithful, and it never ends.  God’s love for you and it means that He will always, always do what is best for us.  That is the nature of this love, this cHesed.  It binds Him to us, His love for us demands He be faithful to us, even when that faithfulness isn’t easy, or comfortable, say for instance when it required the death of Jesus.

On the cross.

Because He loves us, and He will not ever give up on us, or abandon us.  But we live forever with Him.

In this book of lament, there is one thing that still amazes me, and brings me to tears, not of grief, sorrow or shame.

It is verse 23, “His mercies begin afresh every morning.”

Every morning.  No matter how bad I screwed up yesterday, no matter how shameful my sin, no matter how badly you think you shattered that relationship, that mercy, that bond that God has with you is there, as new and precious as it was when He cleansed you from sin in your baptism.

That is why we are told to remember our baptism every evening before we go to sleep, so that we may sleep without guilt and shame, and why we should begin every day thinking of what God promised us here, not just the forgiveness of sin, but the presence of the Holy Spirit, who will accompany you all day, guiding you, correcting you, comforting you.

That is the faithfulness that Jeremiah offered to the sin-ridden people of Israel

And it is the faithful love of God I promise you is there, for you this day.

God is with you, and because of that, you can know He will be merciful, He will forgive because He loves you.  And like Jeremiah, as He is healing you, you can reach out to others who need healing.

For you can live with Him, knowing His incredible peace, now and forever!

Let’s pray.

Transformed Minds: The effect of the Resurrection. We have life together… (with Him) Acts 1:12-20

church at communion 2Transformed Minds: The effect of the Resurrection
We Have a Life to Live, Together (with Him!)

Acts 1:12-20

In Jesus Name

May the grace of God our Father and our Lord Jesus Christ surround us with peace, even as He guides our work together in Him!

A Test of Faith 

Most of you know I wasn’t always a pastor, for a while I was in management, and my undergraduate degree is in Organizational Management.

This is probably most surprising to some, but for a while, I was pretty decent at managing things, from restaurants and bookstores to a divisional department at Pepperdine.

When I became a pastor, I found out that not everything in management theory is transferable to church, and it is taking me over 20 years to determine what things will work, and what things do not.   One of those things is finance, personnel management quite fit either, and another is leadership development.

Look at today’s reading from Acts, I mean who would ever tell a CEO or COO to pick a replacement for the Board of Directors by flipping a coin or rolling a dice?   I mean what if our nominations committee did that… they just gave us a list of names of all qualified people for each office, and we just rolled a die to see who the next president, vice president, secretary and treasurer were?

Anyone want to take a chance at that method?  Let’s see, who would be qualified to be the next congregational president?  Al? Jim?  Bob?  You guys meet the qualifications, so we add you to the list…and flip a coin and let’s see what happens. Okay?  For vice president, all the names, and let’s roll some dice!

How much faith does it take, to hear God, and trust in an ancient way of asking His guidance that basically accepted that guidance based on a flip of a coin, or a roll of the dice?  We’ll get to the faith in a moment.

Replacing Judas ( to do what?)

That’s what they did, they cast lots, like the Urim and Thummim to choose who would replace Judas among the Twelve.

We know why he had to be replaced. In his actions we see the damage sin can do played out completely.  He didn’t trust Jesus, and so Judas betrayed Jesus, trying to force him to do what Judas thought was right.

That’s not only a sin we are all capable of, it is a sin that most of us are guilty of this week, and often enough to realize the guilt and shame that would drive Judas to death.  For that is what the guilt and shame does, when we realize the damage we have done, not listening to God or obeying His word.

Without Jesus, what happened to Judas would happen to us all,

Obviously, replacing Judas was important.  It is the first act of the church after the Ascension.  But one of the questions to ask is for what reason was Judas replaced?  Was it to be a leader or ruler of the church?  Was it to be a VIP on the Board of Directors, or to be the new Chief Financial Officer?

I mean we must have structure in the church, and these twelve and their roles are pillars in the church. So what does scripture say the role he was chosen for was.

Hear scripture again,

21 “So now we must choose a replacement for Judas from among the men who were with us the entire time we were traveling with the Lord Jesus—22 from the time he was baptized by John until the day he was taken from us. Whoever is chosen will join us as a witness of Jesus’ resurrection.”

Witnesses of Jesus Resurrection.  That is the role of the Twelve.  In Greek, they were the twelve Martyrion, the me who would be witnesses of the death and resurrection of Jesus.  I wonder if Matthias and Barsabbas were volunteered for this?

That is the critical role of the church, to bear witness to the fact that Alleluia, He is Risen!
All other roles, whether elected offices or hired positions work to make this one task, being a witness to Jesus possible.  Which brings us back to choosing, and having faith in God in that choice.

How do we get that kind of faith?

So where should the faith come from, that leads us to trust God’s leading in choosing who will do this kind of work, or any work today?  It doesn’t matter whether it is a vote, or a flip of a coin, or whatever method, it doesn’t matter.

We have to trust God for whom He calls into leadership through the church.

Verse 14 and verse 2 show the secret.

“They all met together and were constantly united in prayer” and “they all prayed”.

They were gathered in the presence of God and communicated together as one! It is where the church finds unity, it is there where our dependence on God is encouraged, nurtured, strengthened, where we encounter God’s mercy as others show it us as well,

As one pastor shared it, Do you see? That cable—strand upon strand, many of them woven tightly together—is strong enough to lift enormous weights. You and your brothers, with wills united to carry out God’s will, can overcome all obstacles.

It is not because of our own strength that this happens, it takes God weaving us together, splicing the places where we have become frayed.  It is in the peace that the church is the church, that it bears witness to God’s love.

It as we find our lives in Jesus that things become clearer, and we simply focus in on the mission, of bearing witness to His resurrection, and our resurrection in Him.

For a Paul quotes,

27  “His purpose was for the nations to seek after God and perhaps feel their way toward him and find him—though he is not far from any one of us. 28 For in him we live and move and exist. Acts 17:27-28 (NLT2)

That’s what the world needs to know, and you and I are sent to share that message, a message of great hope, incredible peace, all sustained by His mercy and love.  AMEN!

Repent Finally, and Let’s Go Fishing

church at communion 2Repent Finally and Let’s Go Fishing

Mark 1:14-21

I.H.S

May the grace and peace of God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ give you the confidence you need as God grants you repentance and then invites you to go fishing!

Two Invitations, two blessings

Have you ever been asked to go somewhere with someone, and dreaded it, only to find yourself really enjoying it?

I remember taking Kay one year for her birthday to see a musical at the Pantages.  Like a lot of guys, I am not much into musicals.  It’s not just the “guy” thing.  I’ve been asked to play in the band/orchestra for a couple of them, and both times, I hated it.  So taking Kay to a musical was something I did for her, dreading it, well prepared to hate every moment of sitting there, except enjoying the smile on Kay’ face.

I was greatly surprised when I actually found myself enjoying Phantom of the Opera.  So much so I actually took her to see it a couple more times.

Life is like that sometimes.  So is walking with God.  Somethings we seem to dread….we find are incredible blessings.

In the gospel this morning, we see two incredible blessings of that kind.

We probably don’t see them as blessings, but that is the point of this sermon.  To help us understand what Jeus was offering to people were life chaging blessings, incredible, mind-blowing blessings that we would enjoy, and rejoice in, and share with others.

Blessings we describe with a couple of words

Repent

Evangelize.

Don’t those things sound far more fun than going fishing, or going to a quilt show, or for me and William, hanging out in Best Buy or Fry’s?

So, let’s see how these things are blessings, blessings that provide joy beyond our ability to comprehend

Repentance – and invitation to be changed!

Hear Jesus’s words again,

15 “The time promised by God has come at last!” he announced. “The Kingdom of God is near! Repent of your sins and believe the Good News!”

REPENT OF YOUR SINS!!!!

Don’t worry, not going to turn into Baptist and preach Hellfire and brimstone.

Because that is based on a faulty understanding of repentance, one that makes it sound like beating yourself up until you really feel sorry and then God will forgive you, maybe.

Hear how it is used in the Book of Acts,

17  If then God gave them the same gift he gave to us when we came to believe in the Lord Jesus Christ, who was I to be able to hinder God?” 18  When they heard this, they stopped objecting and glorified God, saying, “God has then granted life-giving repentance to the Gentiles too.” Acts 11:17-18 (NAB)

Life-giving repentance!

Life-giving repentance!

Does that sound like something to be afraid of?

But repentance isn’t something to be afraid of, it is an invitation of the greatest kind.  Literally it means to change one’s mind, or one’s way of thinking.  Another way to hear it described is to put on the mind of Christ.
This is what God does to us, as we hear of His love and experience its breadth and width, height and depth. He transforms our mind.  When Jesus says the Kingdom of God is near, when He is explaining to them that God does care,

Yes, repentance means giving over to God our sin, but that is a gift.  To walk away from our sin, from our shame and guilt, to live freely in God’s kingdom.  To know that God has forgiven us and experience the love of God in every facet of our lives.

That is why Jesus talks of repentance as a parallel to “believe in the Good News!”  Because repentance is something incredible, a blessing to change our lives, to be free of all of our failures, to know we are loved and cared for, because that is the change God makes in us, that change is repentance!

Fishing for people, (Or Knitting them together)

Repentance is a joy, but so is evangelism, or as Jesus told a bunch of fisherman, fishing for men.  I suppose that if he was talking to quilters he would say sewing another square into the quilt, that square being….human..

That might work in the case of some human, others might not like being called a square!

But as fishing for men, and bring them in works, so does sewing someone into the family of God, creating for them home, a place where they know they are cared for, a place where they know they are loved.

That is what evangelism is, sharing the news, the good, great, wonderful news that God cares for us.  Helping people become part of the family, because God our Father wants them to be part of the family.

That’s what evangelism is, reaching out to people and saying, God cares for you, and He died to remove all that would steal their life, just as He did for us.

That’s the amazing thing, the more we understand His grace, the more we experience His love, the more we want others to experience it that love, that immeasurable love, as well. A love that we experience as we celebrate that love at the altar, and share in the Body and blood of Jesus.

So repent, let God transform you – and then lets go fishing for men, or sewing them into the quilt of our church.  So they can share in the love and peace of God our Father!  AMEN?

AMEN!

 

 

 

The Infinitely Valuable, That Leaves All in the Dust; A sermon on Phil. 3:4-14

church at communion 2 The Infinite Valuable

That leaves all in the dust…

Phil. 3:4-14b

 In Jesus Name

 May you realize the infinite value of the grace of God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ, and as you do, may you not even notice the things left behind.

Value beyond calculation…

Every once in a while, when the lottery gets over 500 million, I wonder what that kind o money would look like, and all the good things that could be done with it.  It is kind of silly, to want to know what kind of money looks like, but interestingly Google has the information.

500,000 dollars in $20 dollar bills would be a stack over 10 feet tall, and it would weigh close to 60 pounds.

Interesting,

It might be difficult to calculate, but it can be done.  And its value?  That is easier to calculate.  A half of a billion dollars could provide

2500 full-ride scholarships for 4 years
It could buy 750 homes for homeless families that live in places like Coyote Creek or the Santa Ana River Trail.
It could provide 5 thousand people health insurance for 10 years.
or it could build 50 new churches and provide them a pastor at district scale for 2 years.
Or perhaps, our dear friend Pr. Bernie could use it for his mission projects in … 6 months? 😊

So its value isn’t infinite

Not even close.

Yet today we are looking that is, enough so that as we realize it, we drop everything, leaving it all behind.

Because what we are given is the infinitely valuable thing in our life.

An Important word?

Like most of Paul’s writings, there is a lot to focus on in this passage.  Some like to focus in on Paul’s qualifications and talk about how important he was.  Others like to talk about the athletic language used in verses 12-14.

Me?  I get distracted by one of my favorite words in Greek.

Skubala.

Translated in most modern translations as rubbish (who uses that today?  Rubbish?) or garbage.  The old King James was more accurate with dung.  While it has the same amount of letters, it was in common Greek, you might say a much coarser or foul synonym.

For some reason I always got a chuckle out of Paul using that word to describe his genetic lineage, his academic and professional accomplishments, and that the word is in scripture, and that translators struggle with how to put it…nicely.

Rubbish?  really?

But that is part of the problem we face, in this passage which talks about not just the most valuable, but the infinitely valuable, we mess around with resumes, sports terms and other bull… rubbish.

I wish I understood why we can get so easily distracted, why we find it so easy to focus in on other things in a passage, rather than what the passage itself says is most important.

Important enough to leave all else in the dust.

For they have no value, and knowing Jesus who was chosen and anointed to save us, to realize He is our Lord, knowing Him is everything.

Nothing is worth chase after, like chasing after we’ve been caught

Paul explains why a few verses down,

I become righteous through faith in Christ. For God’s way of making us right with himself depends on faith. 10 I want to know Christ and experience the mighty power that raised him from the dead. I want to suffer with him, sharing in his death, 11 so that one way or another I will experience the resurrection from the dead!

This is why knowing Jesus is infinitely valuable.  Not just knowing about Him, knowing Him.  To experience life, the life that comes from dying with Him, and being raised, for we are united to Him.

To be that close, to know Christ, to depend on Him, sure that while we may fail, He will never fail us.

In one of my readings this week, a pastor wrote the words he us with a burnt out pastor,

Delight,” I told him, “in the mystery of God revealed in Christ, who, by the Spirit, is united to our humanity and opens the way to our union with God. Delight in the incarnation of God in Jesus, in his sacrifice for our sins, his victory over the powers of evil, and the good news that everything that needs to be done to unite us with God and establish our spiritual relationship with God is done through grace by faith in our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Affirm that Jesus, in union with God, dwells in you and you in him, and see the world through God’s divine embrace. Then live in your freedom to participate in God in the life of the world!”[1]

That pastor, like so many of us, was looking to his own works to make him holy, looking to his own actions to prove how spiritual he was.  And like the apostle Paul, he couldn’t do it.  No way, no how.

Graduating seminary and getting ordained are great tools to prepare you to minister, but they don’t make you holy.  Neither does just coming here, and doing your duty.  All that stuff, if we don’t hear Jesus, if we don’t get to know Him, if we don’t hear His voice, if we don’t experience His love as He brings us to life,  all that other stuff is a bunch of….. rubbish.

But when we come here, when we spend time hearing of His love, of His promised work in our lives, from forgiving us our sins to comforting us as we struggle, as He holds us in His embrace…

That is infinitely valuable.

So come, celebrate the Lord’s love for you.

Come, taste and know the love of the Lord…

For He is with you and wants you to know Him, and then know His peace.  AMEN.

 

 

[1] Webber, Robert E. The Divine Embrace: Recovering the Passionate Spiritual Life. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2006. Print. Ancient-Future Series.

Intimate Prayer, the Theologians Fertilizer

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERADevotional Thought of the Day:

6 Then Jesus told them this parable: “There was once a man who had a fig tree growing in his vineyard. He went looking for figs on it but found none. 7So he said to his gardener, ‘Look, for three years I have been coming here looking for figs on this fig tree, and I haven’t found any. Cut it down! Why should it go on using up the soil?’ 8But the gardener answered, ‘Leave it alone, sir, just one more year; I will dig round it and put in some manure. 9Then if the tree bears figs next year, so much the better; if not, then you can have it cut down.’ ”  Luke 13:6-9

 

To God the Holy Spirit:

KYRIE, bountiful Spirit, united with the Father and the Son in a subsistence of one substance, proceeding from both the Father and the Son, have mercy.
KYRIE, who, when Christ was baptized in the waves of the Jordan, appeared in Your glory in the form of a dove, have mercy.
KYRIE, kindle our hearts with divine fire so that we are made worthy to praise You forever, have mercy.  (2)

And what about us? Are we so far away from the stable because we are much too refined and too smart for that? Do we not get all entangled in scholarly exegesis, in the proof or disproof of historical authenticity to the extent that we have become blind and deaf to the Child himself? Do we not really all too intensely dwell in “Jerusalem”, in a palace, withdrawn within ourselves, in our self-sufficiency, our fear of being challenged, too much so to be able to hear the voice of the angels, to set out to worship? Thus, in this holy night, the faces of ox and ass are turned toward us questioningly: My people does not understand, do you recognize the voice of your Lord? When we put the familiar figures in our crèche, we would do well to pray that God would bestow on our heart the kind of simplicity that recognizes the Lord in this Child—just like Francis in Greccio. Then this might happen also to us: everyone returned home, full of rejoicing.

Martin Chemnitz, perhaps the greatest of the Lutheran theologians.   Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger (Later Pope Benedict XVI, in my opinion, the greatest of the theologians in the last century.

Martin’s prayer and Joseph’s words about the birth of Jesus give us a picture of their souls.  Brilliant though they may be, they see the need for God to work on our hearts, to create the simplicity, to kindle in them a divine fire.

These words help us realize that the study of theology must take a back seat to those intimate times where we realize the presence of God. Where we hear HIs voice, where we see His hand at work, where we experience His glory.

Good theology is a result (not the result) of a prayer life that is created, nurtured and guided by the Lord and Giver of Life. It cannot simply be the work of active minds but needs to be preceded and immersed in the presence of God.  It then becomes more than an academic pursuit, it becomes life, a life pregnant and incarnate with the presence of God.

It is the same for those theological masterpieces we call sermons and Bible studies.  They need to come our of our devotional life, out of the riches of our interaction with God.  If Chemnitz and Pope Benedict need this in their lives, how could we think we don’t need this work of the Holy Spirit?

Otherwise, we may look like a fig tree, have the leaves and trunk of a fig tree, but we won’t bear any fruit.

May we pray with simple hearts, formed and enkindled by Holy Spirit, as we do what God has called and planned for us to do!  AMEN!

Chemnitz, Martin, and Jacob A. O. Preus. Loci Theologici. electronic ed. St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1999. Print.

Ratzinger, Joseph. Co-Workers of the Truth: Meditations for Every Day of the Year. Ed. Irene Grassl. Trans. Mary Frances McCarthy and Lothar Krauth. San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1992. Print.

Our Confident Hope of Real Life IN HIM! A Sermon on Col 1:1-11

The Simple Christian Life – Love, HOPE, Faith

Our Confident Hope of Real Life IN HIM!

 In Jesus Name

May your eyes be opened more and more to the reality of your life in Christ, as you know the transformation found in God’s peace.

What is Real?

Paul, in the words to the Colossian Christians, gives them something to think about, something to spiritually chew on.

He tells them that they don’t know what reality is, that what they think is real, the things of earth, those things are not real. What is real is found in what we can’t see, the life we have in Christ.

You’ve heard about people who are so heavenly minded that they are no earthly good?  Paul says we’ve got that wrong – we are good, when our eyes are on Christ, when we realize that our reality could be phrased as this…..

Alleluia!  He is Risen! (He is Risen indeed!  Alleluia!)

And therefore?  ( We Are Risen Indeed!)

And since you have been raised to your new life in Christ, then it’s time to redefine what is truly reality – to understand that our life is in Christ, that it is not subject to the things of earth.

That sounds easier than it is, to live a life that is holy and as righteous as God would have us be, as God sees us.
But the struggle to be holy, can be frustrating, and if we go about it wrong, we will fail, giving up as we don’t see the growth we think God expects.

But when we understand what it means to dwell on the things of heaven, this transformation makes sense.

What needs to be stripped away

The first thing is to understand that since we have been baptized, the sin which can so easily ensnare us is has been defeated – we have been cleansed of it, the sin we commit and the unrighteousness that affects us.

That is why Paul says “since you’ve been raised to new life”  Since – it has already happened.  But we need to understand it, with our head, but even more with our heart and soul.  Which means we aren’t looking at those sins we’ve committed, we aren’t dwelling on the unrighteousness that affects us.

I can’t see any of us arguing for the list of unrighteousness Paul notes, Let’s look at it again.  Do any of you want to be affected by these things, or the consequences of them?

Sexual immorality,

impurity, or basically being unclean
Evil and what it causes us to crave

Greed?  (Which Paul properly identifies as idolatry – to serve that which we can’t take our eyes or hearts off of)

uncontrolled emotions

malicious behavior – having the intent by word or deed to try and destroy someone.

Slander – that is denigrating speech – whether it is true or not, saying things which will hurt the character of another person,

Filthy language

The list isn’t exhaustive, it simply helps us understand what this world does to us, what sin causes us to do.  How it breaks us, even when what starts out with good intent turns, and a desire for justice turns into a desire for revenge.  Looking at something special turns into coveting, envy and a desire to get something for less.  Frustration turns into gossip – and then slander, because we can’t figure out how to trust God and care for those who are difficult

It is as if these things are struggling for control of our life What a struggle that seems at times!  Paul, talking of that struggle to the church in Rome declared himself a wretch.
Where is our hope?  Where is this hope – our confident hope for this new life?

Remember the Since at the beginning of the readings?

Where it said, “Wince you have been raised to new life in Christ?  The answer begins there.

and in verse 10, putting on the new nature – or as one translation describes it – getting dressed like Christ.

Put on New Nature = Live in Christ

Look at verse 10,

 10 Put on your new nature, and be renewed as you learn to know your Creator and become like him.

The renewal that happens in your life and in mine happens to us, as we come to know God our creator.  Knowing God who creates and restores us, making us become like Him.  As Paul urged the church,


I pray that out of the glorious richness of his resources he will enable you to know the strength of the spirit’s inner re-inforcement – that Christ may actually live in your hearts by your faith. And I pray that you, firmly fixed in love yourselves, may be able to grasp (with all Christians) how wide and deep and long and high is the love of Christ – and to know for yourselves that love so far beyond our comprehension. May you be filled though all your being with God himself!
Ephesians 3:14 (Phillips NT)

How wide, how deep and long and high is the love of Christ – and to know that love ourselves, love so far beyond comprehension, and may you be filled through all your being, with God himself

That is the same concept as setting your mind on things above –

Spend the time necessary thinking of the love shown you here – at the font when Christ died for you, and you were joined to that death.

To the place where you will kneel and again – be a participant, not just an observer and receive the Body broken for you, the blood spilled to cleanse you of your sin.  Know the power of sin was shattered there, as you begin to comprehend His love, it changes you… you become like Him, as He transforms you.  This is what is real, this is where our focus of life needs to be.

Being holy isn’t done by sheer will, but recognition of need, and the wonder and awe that comes from seeing that need met.

God loves you…loves you enough to unite you to His son.

The son who, alleluia is risen!

and therefore

AMEN

Matt 7 – THe Love of a Mother, the Love of THE Father

The love of a mother,

& the Love of The Father

Mark 7:24–30

  † I.H.S

As you go through life, may you be assured of the love God has for you, love that will go to extreme measure to free you from all that oppresses

What this isn’t about/What it is

As I preach about the gospel lesson this morning, I need to make something clear.

Yes, I know there are demons, and I am sure this lady’s story is exact and true.  It isn’t some parable. Her daughter had a demon.

Okay, now onto what the story is really about, the love of a parent for their child.

The love of a mother,

and the love of the Father.

Understanding the depth of that love will reveal the cross, and the reason that Jesus took a side trip from his home into a spiritual no man’s land.

It will also make the difference in your life, for you are His beloved child.

You see, the demons in this passage – they aren’t relevant, they are a side note. Although in a way it would be easier to preach about fighting them.

It is the love that matters, the love that we so desperately need to know.

The Love of a Mother

I don’t even think Jesus had unpacked at the home he was staying at when she showed up.  A desperate mom, looking for something to help her very young daughter.

I don’t have to have you imagine the pain, the desperation that leads her into Jesus presence the moment people realization it is a Jewish Rabbi – maybe even Messiah that has come into their presence.

But I will remind you that she is so desperate that she breaks every cultural norm, every piece of etiquette, and risks his very anger.  For to be in the presence of a woman in such situation would render Jesus unfit to teach as a rabbi.  As a man of God, being that close to someone outside the people of God would also render him unclean and able to serve, and to do a miracle for her?

Unthinkable.

She throws all decorum aside – she wants her daughter to be healed, to be delivered to, to be right.  When I first read that she fell at Jesus’ feet, I thought the word there would be the root word for worship – to bow and lay prostrate before someone, a position of worship, adoration, honor.

It’s not, is the word we get Pepto in Pepto-Bismol from, she collapses in front on him, a withering wreck.  And her only hope? A hyped up prophet from a country that hasn’t produced anything of value in 400 years….

She tosses everything aside, all pride, all loyalty to her people, everything if only there were hope.

She is so desperate she pleads, she begs, with everything she has.  Heck, she even argues for table scraps from this prophet from that oddball place with the oddball religion.

Such is the love for her daughter.

Even a daughter who, obviously, wasn’t easy to care for, wasn’t easy to love.

A daughter who was more trouble than any can imagine, a daughter who would be un-lovable, even one most people would be afraid of, except for a parent.   No one else would care, no one else would endure, but somehow she did.

As she collapses before Jesus, as she needed to depend on someone becomes more and more apparent, her responses grow stronger as if she intuitively knows that Jesus can help.

How could she know the love of God the Father, a God she was unfamiliar with, a love that would be revealed in Jesus coming near?

The Desperate Love of the Father
We have the benefit of hearing these stories, of knowing, even if we sometimes forget, a little bit about the depth of God’s love.   Usually, I ask Chris to say the word in Hebrew, (cHesed) but I think I want to keep our guest musician dry this morning.

cHesed – the love that would go to any length for the one who is loved.  That would go to any length to restore that which is broken,

it would drive a woman to the feet of a crazy prophet…

The same love that would drive a Father to send His only Son to her.

I want you to hear something in this passage again.  I want you to see it, think about it.

He didn’t want anyone to know which house he was staying in, but he couldn’t keep it a secret
He couldn’t keep it a secret.  He wasn’t able to another translation says,  The Greek uses the word from where we get dynamic, dynamo, dynamite.  He was without any power in this instance.  The One through whom the universe was spoken into being, the one whose words sent demons scurrying, who calmed seas, whose words brought the dead to life, who spoke forgiveness and taught with authority.

He couldn’t keep where he went on vacation secret from anyone.

It’s as if someone was letting people know – here’s the prophet, here is your hope!

Because immediately, she found him.  And right after that, Jesus leaves the area and goes back to Galilee.  It is as if this wasn’t really a vacation, a chance to get away, but simply a trip to her, a divine appointment.

Think about this what stopped him, what took away his power to remain incognito?  What could make Jesus the Messiah incapable, powerless, vulnerable?

Jesus couldn’t keep his presence secret because God sent Him to be there, for this lady, for this daughter who would collapse at Jesus’ feet.

Because God loved her even as He loves us.  He didn’t send him just to deliver the child from the demon.  Jesus obediently went where the Father sent them, to deliver them from everything that oppresses them.

Even as He delivers us.

Even as Jesus was sent to us.  Even as He was sent to die on the cross for us.
Even though we weren’t clean and holy.  Even though Jesus would have to dwell in our sinfulness, even as He would take on every sin we committed. Even if we acted like we were demon possessed.  Even if our battle with sin is beyond belief.

Isaiah prophesied that the Father would lay every sin we’ve committed on Jesus.  His suffering and death would cleanse us, make us righteous, heal us.

That is what we have to understand – God doesn’t will that any would perish, God won’t let anything separate us from His love,

God gave us this ministry as well, this ministry of reconciling everything to Him, even as we plead with people to be reconciled to God.

As we enter this new school year, as we swing into fall, we are going to see this over and over, that God wants us to be in communion with Him.  That He loves us, that He will deliver us from evil. And that He sends us out, with His Spirit, to bring other broken people home to Him. To free others that are oppressed, by sharing with them His love.

It’s not about getting the scraps from the table.  It isn’t about our being “not good enough”

It is about even if we are there, completely collapsed, knowing God will restore us and care for us, and comfort us. That He will heal those we bring to Him.

The Father’s love is that deep.  And that love is revealed to us in the cross of Christ, in the presence of the Holy Spirit, in the promises of our baptism, and the feast that is but a small sample of the feast to come.

May you dwell in God’s peace, the peace beyond anyone’s understanding, assured that you will be kept in that peace by Jesus.  For He has come to us, to deliver us from all evil.  AMEN.

How Do You Measure Up A Sermon on Amos 7 (Audio VIdeo and text)

How Do I Measure Up?

Amos 7:7-15

In Jesus Name

As you experience the grace of God our Father and our Lord Jesus Christ, may you desire that they free you from all that oppresses you, confident of their mercy and love!

Jesus measuring us up

The Old Testament Vision that Amos sees and describes this morning is frightening!

What would happen if the words of the Lord in verse 8 were true today?

“I will test my people (at Concordia) with this plumb line. I will no longer ignore all their sins.

Imagine the Lord Jesus showing up this morning, with the intent of comparing us against the standard, like a building inspector, trying to figure out if a building can be occupied, or should be condemned. So who is going to measure up, and who needs some demolition work done?

Anyone want to volunteer?

Al?  Tom?  Jim?

Surely someone wants to be the first to step up to Jesus, and find out if they measure up to the standard God set for us….

Hey I know, Chris, you just got back from a missionary trip, where you spent time sacrificing comfort in order to be able to teach people how to help others learn to worship God in all of His glory.  Surely you measure up…..

Or maybe I should start with…. Me.

How many of us are ready for this?  I mean the really scary part

Are we willing for God to not ignore our sins?

How do we react to the news?

As we explore this test of God, I have a few questions that will help us understand this work of God, that is promised.  This question of whether we measure up.

The first is, “How do we react to the news that God will do this?”

We see the actions of the priest at Bethel, and the King of Israel   They react to the prophet’s message with anger and fear

They will threaten and accuse him of being in it, “for the money”, that is how deeply he threatened them.

What did Amos’s prophecy threaten?  Everything they counted on! (and everything we do as well!)

First the prophecy attacks the shrines of their ancestors.  As God measured them, what they would find is that they defined themselves.  For the Jews, this was their ancestors, they are good because they were Abraham’s descendants.

Do we ever define ourselves as good because of our heritage, because of our connections?

Then Amos says God will take on their false idols, what they count on for the future, what they place their hope in, and what they turn too when life is tough.

Today that could be our money or fame or anything else we count on when time gets tough.

The last threat is to their pride, to their arrogance, to their independence.  God will crush the idea that we are in charge of our lives.  The dynasty of Jerobaom would fall, they wouldn’t be in charge.

Amos tells them it is all worthless….

And still they try to justify themselves…

So do we, and we need to stop. For these things – How we define us, what we cling to, our idea that we are in charge warp us from being true, from measuring up.

Law – Herod’s problem

We can see this in the gospel reading, where the interaction between Herod and John is described.

for Herod respected John; and knowing that he was a good and holy man, he protected him. Herod was greatly disturbed whenever he talked with John, but even so, he liked to listen to him.

I think that is how we are at times, we know we need to repent of some sins, or of sin in general, but we struggle when we hear someone saying exactly what we need to hear.  It is disturbing, yet in a way, comforting.  We can’t hide any more, something has to be done. Paul knew this well.

17  But I need something more! For if I know the law but still can’t keep it, and if the power of sin within me keeps sabotaging my best intentions, I obviously need help! 18  I realize that I don’t have what it takes. I can will it, but I can’t do it. 19  I decide to do good, but I don’t really do it; I decide not to do bad, but then I do it anyway. 20  My decisions, such as they are, don’t result in actions. Something has gone wrong deep within me and gets the better of me every time. 21  It happens so regularly that it’s predictable. The moment I decide to do good, sin is there to trip me up. 22  I truly delight in God’s commands, 23  but it’s pretty obvious that not all of me joins in that delight. Parts of me covertly rebel, and just when I least expect it, they take charge. 24  I’ve tried everything and nothing helps. I’m at the end of my rope. Is there no one who can do anything for me? Isn’t that the real question? Romans 7:17-24 (MSG)

We need to realize this vision the prophet Amos sees of Jesus, coming to us and measuring us is like Paul’s realization that he doesn’t.

We need to realize we need God to take His perfect standard, and find out if we need to measure up…

We don’t, we need Him, we desperately need Him to ruin the things we count on instead of Him, we need Him to smash the idols we have, and we need Him to replace the person who wants to be in control of our lives, and take control Himself.

Gospel seen in the prophet

When the prophet Amos answers the high priest, there is a clue to the hope we need, if we are going to let God deliver us from us.

He says he isn’t a professional prophet, nor was he one who was trained up to be one.  He had two real jobs, and in those jobs, we see a picture of what Jesus would do…

The first is one we are well aware of, the Good Shepherd, the pastor. The One who will guide us, protect us, see us even through the valley of the shadow of death.  For He died, so that we would rise from the death of that Valley, and live forever in the presence of the Father.

The other is amazing, the caretaker of sycamore-fig trees.  What it means in Hebrews is the one who very carefully cuts open the fig, and trims that which would hinder it from becoming ripe. It is a tedious process, the worst job in the vineyard and one which requires the most skill.

That is what is amazing when you back and look at what the prophecy is about. About how Jesus carefully cuts away all that impedes our growth in our lives.

Jesus carefully cut away the things we count on to define us. As the Jews counted on their link to Abraham, so things we count on beside Jesus are trimmed away.

Jesus carefully cut away the idols, those things which we turn to when life is stressed, that we count on for when times are stressed.

And lastly, Jesus gently brings an end to our being the king of our lives, the captains of our fate.   And removing that need, the Spirit binds us to Jesus, so that even as He died, we died with Him, and were raised to a new life.

Such is the work of Jesus, carefully cutting out that which doesn’t fit the image we are to measured up again, the image we were made to reflect.  Paul tells the church in Colossae this has been fulfilled, when he says,

11  When you came to Christ, you were “circumcised,” but not by a physical procedure. Christ performed a spiritual circumcision—the cutting away of your sinful nature. Colossians 2:11 (NLT)

It is what God has planned to do all along, and in doing so, rids us of that which separates us from Him.  That’s what the cross is about.  It is what Herod couldn’t dare to hope for, or what the priest and king couldn’t bear to hear, saying it was intolerable.

That which they found intolerable is the exact reason why you and I have hope.

Because God cuts away our sin in baptism, when we died and rose with Jesus.

He reminds us the sin is cut away, as we hear, “your sins are sent away, your are forgiven”

Then He invites us to the celebration of our being in Jesus, measuring up, for He has made it work, which is why we praise Him, and thank Him for the peace that passes all understanding, and guards our hearts and minds in Christ Jesus!  AMEN!

Every time He said, A sermon on 2 Corinthians 12

Video Presentation of Sermon

Every time He Said, 

2 Corinthians 12:1-10

In Jesus Name

 

My God’s words of love penetrate your heart and enlighten your life, as you live trusting that His grace is indeed sufficient!

How many times!!

I don’t think it matters which relationship we talk about, but it seems that in every kind of relationship known to mankind, there is a serious issue that arises.  (SLOW CLICKS)

Simply put, we don’t know how to listen to each other.

For example, is there a parent who never questioned whether their teenage children listened to them all the time?  And wives, what about you, has there ever been a husband that paid perfect attention to everything you said?

I am pretty sure that there have been times where I wasn’t listened to, whether when I was in management or as a pastor, and there are times I am sure I didn’t listen as well as I should have.

Anyone here want to say they listen perfectly, all the time?   I mean, there was this cartoon on FB this week… Would it be there if a lot of people didn’t find it… true?

We have some good company then in the apostle Paul, in who letter this morning we heard… well, at least I hope we heard…

“Every time he (that is Jesus) said, “

Meaning that it took Paul three times to hear what Jesus said!
We’ll get to what we said earlier, let’s first deal with the topic of listening, and specifically, listening to God.

The Problem of Narcissism

Things have changed a little since the church came to America.  Back in the days of John Hancock, the Adams brothers and the signers of the Declaration of Independence, the pastor or priest in most villages was the most educated man in the community.  Some would say he was also the smartest, and if he had been around for a while, one of the wisest.

Even today sometimes we play the game that was going on in Corinth, where the people wanted to be led by the smartest pastor or apostle, the best speaking one, the one who looked and lived like he was blessed by the gods.  We even get in competition some times when we gather.  Hey my church just doubled in size, or my budget is 8 million.

Rarely do we hear the stories I like to hear, and even more witness, about the 2 year olds that are so at peace at the altar that they do not want to leave when their parents get up from communion.  Or the children who might not be able to explain it, but know something incredible is happening when someone is baptized, or when the Body and Blood of Christ is given to eat, to drink.  Or do you notice your bodies relax when I get the pleasure of saying, “in the stead and by the command of Jesus Christ, I forgive you all of your sins…”

But do we hear that, or do we hear what we want to hear?

Do we try to find the most educated, most successful or at least the most popular person we can find to agree with us?  Do we hear ourselves saying, “this is what Bill Gates said, or Ronald Reagan or the Abraham Lincoln or Martin Luther wrote; pointing to their words to back up what we want to hear?

The church in Corinth did that all the time.  Remember these words from Paul?

12  Let me put it this way: each one of you says something different. One says, “I follow Paul”; another, “I follow Apollos”; another, “I follow Peter”; and another, “I follow Christ.” 13  Christ has been divided into groups! Was it Paul who died on the cross for you? Were you baptized as Paul’s disciples? 1 Corinthians 1:12-13 (TEV)
You see, sometimes our ability to hear and understand is limited by our own desire to be right, our own desire to be better than the person next to us.  That is why Paul had to go on what he called a foolish mission to convince everyone that he was as good as an apostle as the next guy,  He thought it foolish and a waste of time, which is why he said,

6  If I wanted to boast, I would be no fool in doing so, because I would be telling the truth. But I won’t do it, because I don’t want anyone to give me credit beyond what they can see in my life or hear in my message,

But sometimes, we need to be humble enough to hear it.  We can’t be so full of ourselves that we don’t leave room for the Holy Spirit to teach us.

Which means, sometimes like Paul we need to hear, over and over the message of God’s love, we need to be able to say with Paul,

9  Each time he said, “My grace is all you need. My power works best in weakness.

The Penetration of the gospel

His power works best when we can’t oppose it, when we are so desperate for His action in our lives, that we hear it.

In Greek, the word for hearing, and the word for obeying (to take action on what is heard) are related.  One is simply the other with the prefix “hyper”  Akouo and Hyper-akouo.  Think about it, when you ask someone if they heard you, what you are really asking is, are you acknowledging what I said and doing what I asked.  Right?

Yeah, some things never change.  To hear is to understand something so well you respond to it.  I came across this quote about faith that bears this out this week,

We do not simply choose grace for ourselves, for grace is by nature an answer and is therefore attributable in the first place to what comes to me from another person, penetrates deeply into me, and makes me open to say thou and so to become truly I. It is, in truth, a gift given me by another person, and yet I am more deeply and more completely involved in it than in any work I might have chosen for myself. Faith is likewise a Yes to God in Jesus Christ, who looks upon me, makes me open, and enables me ultimately to entrust myself to him.[i]

I love that picture of grace, as it is described penetrating into us and opens in us the ability to recognize that the Lord is with us.  To be able to address God, not in the third person, but in the second.  For those who don’t remember English – to address Jesus as you – and not “him”!
Because God’s love penetrates deeply into our souls, getting us to recognize His presence, it involves us at a level deeper than just our intellect, and more completely than just our emotions.

It hits us in our souls, where we need to know we aren’t alone.  Where we need to realize His love at its deepest need, and enables us, as the quote mentions, to entrust ourselves to Him.

For we’ve heard the message, this message Paul had to hear 3 times.

His grace is sufficient, it is all we need.

Let’s pray,

Lord, help us to hear you in this, help us to realize the depth of your love, and may that message sink deeply into our souls.  Help us to trust you more, and cling to you in all things, and in all times and places.  Help us to rejoice in that which keeps us humble, for then we are able to see you at work.  God we thank You for your grace, which works in every person in Christ Jesus.  It is in His name we pray!

AMEN.

And the peace of God, which passes all understanding, shall guard your hearts and minds, in Christ Jesus.  AMEN!

[i] Ratzinger, J. (1992). Co-Workers of the Truth: Meditations for Every Day of the Year. (M. F. McCarthy & L. Krauth, Trans., I. Grassl, Ed.) (p. 214). San Francisco: Ignatius Press.

We Can See!

2 Cor. 3:12-4:6

 May the glorious gifts of mercy and peace you receive from God our Father and our Lord Jesus Christ shine into your world, as God transforms you into the image of Christ!

The Unnerving Glorious Mathematical Law

Featured imageAs we look at the incredible Transfiguration of Jesus, we need to understand it mathematically.

That is right; I said Mathematically.

We can show this mathematically, because of the of the epistle reading.  We can understand why the transfiguration is much more than what was revealed that day to the three terrified apostles.   As we see Christ revealed in all of His glory, we can make a connection from that event to our lives today, to our lives this week.

To what Paul talks about in Colossians 1,

27  For God wanted them to know that the riches and glory of Christ are for you Gentiles, too. And this is the secret: Christ lives in you. This gives you assurance of sharing his glory. Colossians 1:27 (NLT)
Read that last sentence, this gives you the assurance of sharing His glory.

What a glorious promise, what an incredible truth!

So what about the math?

There is a mathematical axiom that dates back to the time before Christ.  It goes like this.

If A=B and B=C, then….

C=A.

Simple, right?

Now let’s apply it to scripture.

In verse 18 of our epistle reading from 2 Corinthians 3, it states this.

“And the Lord—who is the Spirit—makes us more and more like him as we are changed into his glorious image.”

So the transition could look like  Our Image => Image of Christ

Jesus Christ is the exact likeness, the exact image of God,

Then we are being restored to what we were created to be, going all the way back to Genesis,

27  So God created human beings in his own image. In the image of God he created them; male and female he created them. Genesis 1:27 (NLT)

This is amazing, glorious, that we would be undergoing a transfiguration that will leave us sharing in the glory of Christ.

That is the work of God in us!  This is true of you and me, for we are being remade in the image of God!

That Which obscures this in all of us

That is a heavy burden if you consider it for a moment.

Does God expect us to live, to speak, to think… like Jesus, to be like God, in whose image we are created?

Are we going to be judged based on how well we each resemble Jesus?  How our thoughts are His thoughts, whether we love others like He did?
I think that is the problem the Jews had, for they measured their righteousness against the Old Covenant law. Because of that, all they could see was failure, they missed the presence of God.  They hear the “you shall keep the Sabbath Day Holy” and miss the idea that we find rest in God’s presence, as He gathers us together, as His family.  They hear “you shall not bear false testimony,” and look around at all the evil and unrighteousness, not realizing the comfort and security we have, trusting Jesus to care for us as promised.

Legalism comes from looking at the rules, and trying to keep them, without realizing why we do so.  As we focus on the law, we are blinded to the God, who describes our life with Him in that law.

Because we are blinded, we miss Him!

If the Law is our focus, our lives our failures, for the burden is beyond anything anyone can accomplish.  Judged by that law, we know what scripture tells, we all fall short of His glory.  All have sinned, no one is good, no one but God!.

Even the reflection of God’s glory in the face of Moses would fade…as it did as Moses left the presence of God.

How this transformation occurs

This transformation then is not by our effort; it never could be!  We cannot keep the law perfectly.  That veil, that inability to look to God, to recognize His presence can only be removed by God.

Notice it says,

18 So all of us who have had that veil removed can see and reflect the glory of the Lord.

We’ve had that veiled removed; it is not something we’ve done. It is the work of Christ, on the cross, and pays for all our sin.  It is the Holy Spirit at work as well, who through word and sacraments like baptism and the Eucharist assures us that we are united to Jesus.  United to Him in death, and then that death, that veil removed as we rise with Him, cleansed and healed.  We’ve become adopted children of God our Father.

We are being transformed into His image, even as we see the glory of God in Christ, as we adore Him.  As we look to Him, as our focus moves off of our sins and failures, and off of those around us, we begin to reflect that glory, it becames more and more natural…

That is why Paul tells the church in Ephesus,

4  Even before he made the world, God loved us and chose us in Christ to be holy and without fault in his eyes. 5  God decided in advance to adopt us into his own family by bringing us to himself through Jesus Christ. This is what he wanted to do, and it gave him great pleasure.
Ephesians 1:4-5 (NLT)

This transformation we are undergoing, it gives to God great pleasure!

This transformation, where the Spirit removes the veil in baptism, who keeps us close as we commune, as we hear that our sins are forgiven, that we can see God!

What this transformation looks like..

What an amazing change this is in life, to know God’s desire is fulfilled in reconciling us to Himself, in revealing His presence in every aspect of our life!  In securing us to Jesus.

The results?  Paul talks about this way of God giving us boldness, that we will never give up!  That as His mercy is revealed, as we know it is mercy and love towards us, we stand in that love.

Everything else fails away, for there is nothing that compares to it.  We do not have to force God’s love on people; we simply share the hope we have.  We do not have to put out false images of perfect lives, we can share the hope that comes from seeing God, and that image becomes imprinted on us.

It is why Paul can use the “image” idea as he tells the people in Corinth,

33  I, too, try to please everyone in everything I do. I do not just do what is best for me; I do what is best for others so that many may be saved. 1  And you should imitate me, just as I imitate Christ. 1 Corinthians 10:33-11:1 (NLT)

Going back to our math, and the A=B and B=C, we find ourselves, our eyes on Christ, running a race without thought of sin, just focusing on Him.  We see that image imprinted on Paul. Knowing His love, being transformed into His image.

We find ourselves doing what Christ did, inviting people into the presence of God, making the sacrifices that would remove that which blocks them from Him.  For that is what He did.

So look to Jesus, for you can see Him!  He is the author and perfector of your faith, who with joy gave it all, discounting the shame, the pain!  Who now waits for us at the right hand of the Father!

That is our destination; that is why the Spirit transforms us, readying us for that day.  Comforting, empowering, causing us to grow and transform, as we dwell in His amazing peace. AMEN!

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