† In Jesus Name †
May the grace, mercy and love of God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ be with you as you walk through this time of Harvest!
- Context! Context! Context!
I recently began riding a bike again, and I am amazed at how much more you are aware of everything around you than you are in a car. From the potholes to neighborhood dogs to whether you are going uphill or down.
You end up so much more aware of your context!
As we look at scripture, we need to be aware of the context of the passage! Not just who is talking to whom, but what surrounds the passage we are looking at, what bookends the passage.
Today we see these bookends:
10 “Beware that you don’t look down on any of these little ones. For I tell you that in heaven their angels are always in the presence of my heavenly Father.
4 In the same way, it is not my heavenly Father’s will that even one of these little ones should perish…
And so there is a lot of focus on those God considers His little ones… and the rest of the passage gives us insight into who they are…
- Take Care of the Little Ones
So who are these little ones? We start to see who they are in what the two comments book end.
12 “If a man has a hundred sheep and one of them wanders away, what will he do? Won’t he leave the ninety-nine others on the hills and go out to search for the one that is lost? 13 And if he finds it, I tell you the truth, he will rejoice over it more than over the ninety-nine that didn’t wander away! 14 In the same way, it is not my heavenly Father’s will that even one of these little ones should perish.
So this isn’t just about those we normally think of as “little ones.” It follows through their lives, and God is the Shepherd who never gives up. So God’s little ones include those of us who have occasionally wandered away, whom He is working to return.
God cares about each of us, as much as every parent cares for their child. It is something that never changes, this care that God has for us. The only difference is God doesn’t worry like a mom whose son just got a new bike. (Even if he is a 58-year-old pastor!)
But God rejoices when we He is able to forgive and restore us. His joy is so enthusiastic that Isaiah says He will dance when we arrive at the point where all of God’s children are home! And that, even now, when someone comes to depend on God and the promises He has made to save them, all heaven rejoices!
That’s something that to me shows God’ love. It doesn’t stop because we throw a tantrum, or we tell Him off, or we decided we would rather have it our way, and dwell in what we call sin – the destructive behaviors God has warned us about—because those behaviors destroy our relationships, with God, with others and our internal peace.
What is worse is that when we are caught up in such behavior, we are like that lost sheep, we don’t even see the mess and the danger we’ve gotten ourselves into!
Which is why God sends Jesus, and his followers out to find us, and bring us home.
And He does do that—He searches for us, He sends friends and pastors and other believers to find us, He might even drag us to see a friend or family member prayed for, or a child’s back blessed and to see them sing…
All to bring a lost wanderer home to where they can find peace, where they can know they belong, where their souls can find rest and healing.
Because we are God’s children, this is what He wants for us!
- Those Needing Forgiveness
Which brings us to the last section of our gospel reading this morning.
15 “If another believer* sins against you,* go privately and point out the offense. If the other person listens and confesses it, you have won that person back. 16 But if you are unsuccessful, take one or two others with you and go back again, so that everything you say may be confirmed by two or three witnesses. 17 If the person still refuses to listen, take your case to the church. Then if he or she won’t accept the church’s decision, treat that person as a pagan or a corrupt tax collector.
18 “I tell you the truth, whatever you forbid* on earth will be forbidden in heaven, and whatever you permit* on earth will be permitted in heaven.
We have to see that this passage isn’t about just correcting someone who has done us wrong. It’s about bringing that little one, that sheep that is wandering lost, back into the family, to make sure they know they are welcome at home.
Notice it doesn’t put the emphasis and the work on the sinner, but rather on the one who was sinned against, the one still in the family, still part of the church. It is our job to restore people, to take on the sin and work for reconciliation in a process.
Not just one conversation, several, then several involving wise men of the church skilled in reconciliation, then even bringing the entire church into the discussion – that the lost sheep might be restored…
That is the responsibility of forbidding and permitting, what is called the authority of the keys. To use the responsibility God gives us to say sin is forgiven, or not, to rejoice in the announcement of reconciliation—this is even the end of treating someone like a pagan or tax collector – the people that Jesus reached out to, and died to save.
It’s all about bringing the children of God back to Him – no matter how far we have wandered.
SO let’s go bring everyone who is lost and wandering home, even as God has brought us here.
Be An Influencer!
† I.H.S. †
May the grace of God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ influence others through you, even as it has influenced you!
- Word of Mouth
IT has been true for a long time that “word of mouth” advertising is the best way to build a business, a school or any other ministry. You can have the greatest media campaigns, the most state-of-the-art equipment, the greatest of staff people, and if no one recommends you to their friends, nothing happens!
Some people have made this a fine art and use the internet and social media to help people hear the words of their mouth, and they are called influencers. For one reason or another, people trust them, listen to them, and try what they say. Some of the infleuncers are teenagers, not even old enough to work at McDonald’s. But they make significant money because millions of people trust the words that come out of their mouth and the pictures they post on Instagram.
Jeremiah foresaw this, or actually God did, when he had Jeremiah write, “You must influence them; do not let them influence you!
So how do you become an influencer?
You start by sharing your story…like Jeremiah did…
- The Journey
For Jeremiah, the journey began with these words, “15 Then I said, “LORD, you know what’s happening to me. Please step in and help me. Punish my persecutors! Please give me time; don’t let me die young. It’s for your sake that I am suffering.
So many of our journeys start when we give up, and we turn in despair to God. We may be believers who have been around forever, some of us are newer, and all of us try to do it on our own, But there is a point, where we realieze the presence of God and reach out in desperation.
This call for help can only be heard because God has been waiting for us, gently drawing us closer, until we call out… and He answers.
That answer explains the next section of Jeremiah’s prophesy, “6 When I discovered your words, I devoured them. They are my joy and my heart’s delight, for I bear your name, O LORD God of Heaven’s Armies.”
For someone desperate enough to call out on an unseen God, the promises sin the word of God are a breath of fresh air! That’s why Jeremiah wants to devour them – the blessings and the curses, the sin and the reconciliation. The hard times and the rescues where God comes ot the aid of His broken people.
You see, reading God’s word isn’t because Greek and Hebrew are so interesting, nor is it to become the world’s greatest theologian.
The reason Jeremiah found such joy in reading scripture, the reasoned he devoured them is because it is told Him that God would be there for Him, as God was for so many across the pages of Scripture.
- Righteous Indignation?
The next phase of growth is different in fact, Jeremiah’s words describe someone who is going backwards,,,,
17 I never joined the people in their merry feasts. I sat alone because your hand was on me. I was filled with indignation at their sins. 18 Why then does my suffering continue? Why is my wound so incurable? Your help seems as uncertain as a seasonal brook, like a spring that has gone dry.”
I think there is a part of Jeremiah here that is like the prodigal son’s older brother. He is so into God’s word, and trying to do what pleases God, that he forgets his responsibility to his family and friends.
That’s the danger we have to watch out for, the more we see how much God loves us, we have to remember that God loves them just as much.
To say it another way – the first 3 commandments tell us how we relate to God, but we fail at that, we sin, if we don’t follow the next 7, and love our neighbor, even our sin plagued neighbor. The more we focus on their sin, the more our own weaknesses haunt us, that is why Jeremiah says the wound is incurable.
And why we feel our sin, and the brokenness of the world – even now. The more we look at the sin of the world, the sin of those who oppose us, the more we feel the guilt and shame of our own.
However, the more we try to reach out with His grace, with His love, the more we realize the power of Christ that has cleansed us.
- How is this possible?
Hear Jeremiah’s record of God’s response, “19 This is how the LORD responds: “If you return to me, I will restore you so you can continue to serve me. If you speak good words rather than worthless ones, you will be my spokesman. You must influence them; do not let them influence you!
Here is God’s idea of an influencer!
It is each one of you! Just as it was each one of Israel, who remembered the promises of God that hade made them. So the natural reaction to His drawing us back to Him, to our returning, it s to serve God as His messengers to the world. Each one of us, from Manny and the elders to Jonah and Violet. Each of us has the ability to be influencers with something far more influential than a car, or a new computer. Our influence leads people to peace, to freedom from guilt and shame, into an eternal relationship with God.
And not just any relationship – a relationship where God adopts us as His children, where Jesus welcomes us as His brothers and sisters.
This won’t be an easy journey, we will face some opposition, even as Jeremiah did.. but hear what God promised,
“They will fight against you like an attacking army, but I will make you as secure as a fortified wall of bronze. They will not conquer you, for I am with you to protect and rescue you. I, the LORD, have spoken! 21 Yes, I will certainly keep you safe from these wicked men. I will rescue you from their cruel hands.”
He will rescue us, for He has invested in us the blood of His Son, And He will always save us, grabbing us when we take our eyes off of Him and begin to sink.
He will be there for us, He is there for us now.
For the Lord is Risen! (He is risen indeed! Alleluia!) therefore… (we are risen indeed! ALLELUIA!)
† In Jesus Name †
May the grace of God our Father and our Lord Jesus Christ be evident in your life in the Harvest field!
- You are that answer to Prayer
For the next 11 weeks we are going to be talking about God working through us, turning us into an answer to prayer—a prayer Jesus taught us to pray. It comes from Matthew 9:38, There, we find written:
36 When he saw the crowds, he had compassion on them because they were confused and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. 37 He said to his disciples, “The harvest is great, but the workers are few. 38 So pray to the Lord who is in charge of the harvest; ask him to send more workers into his fields.”
Matthew 9:36-38 (NLT2)
And so we pray, and then we find that we are the answer to pray – each one of is not just sent into the harvest fields once in a while, God has called us to live in the midst of the field that He has planted.
As we look at this, there are a number of lessons to learn experientially, before we get to the reading of Revelation 7, and the final eternal celebration of the Harvest:
We will hear that description on Reformation day,
“9 After this I saw a vast crowd, too great to count, from every nation and tribe and people and language, standing in front of the throne and before the Lamb. They were clothed in white robes and held palm branches in their hands. 10 And they were shouting with a mighty shout, (have everyone read this part) “Salvation comes from our God who sits on the throne and from the Lamb!” Revelation 7:9-10 (NLT2)
I can’t wait to hear you say that in heaven!
Today’s reading from Psalm 67 talks about it… we see the promise of the harvest, 6 Then the earth will yield its harvests, and God, our God, will richly bless us. 7 Yes, God will bless us, and people all over the world will fear him.
So what happens before that…
- Before the harvest
Is prayer – a prayer that God’s blessings be known, not just to us, or to the Israeli people, but to everyone. Hear it again!
2 May your ways be known throughout the earth, your saving power among people everywhere. 3 May the nations praise you, O God. Yes, may all the nations praise you. 4 Let the whole world sing for joy, because you govern the nations with justice and guide the people of the whole world.
5 May the nations praise you, O God. Yes, may all the nations praise you.
I still wish Bible translators knew of the existence of exclamation points!
People throughout the whole earth, people everywhere, need to know what God is doing! How He is using all His power to save people everywhere! We need to know, everyone needs to know God is there, to the point where their reaction is simply to praise Him.
Which means to know what it means to be saved.
We need to explore that – because to just say, “hey, you were just saved.”—especially without a exclamation point…. Doesn’t inspire a lot of praise and adoration.
Our salvation – yeah that does. Or it should!
- Justice and Guidance
So to understand salvation – we have to look deeper into the passage, to where it talks about God governing the nations with both justice and guidance.
The first is justice – everyone thinks they want justice in this world, until you really think about what it means. I had two instances where I had to think about what justice truly is this week. One situation has played out in the news, the other was regarding something I witnessed.
The first case, I urged patience in, the details of the court case was only given by one side. And the other side is only beginning to be heard. Rumors abound, which doesn’t help anyone, it just divides people. The second case, I thought I wanted what I thought would be justice… and then, when it didn’t go quickly or easily, I became uneasy, and when the dust settled – my thought was the accused got way too light of a sentence for the suffering he caused.
And then I looked at my sermon notes again…
If anyone of us got the sentence that justice demands for our sins, the sins we commit in our thoughts through our words and what we do, not one of us should be here. Not one of us should be allowed to receive communion, in fact, Bob and I should be struck dead as we approach the altar…
So God’s justice cannot be what we call justice. It must be something more…
It has to be God’s justice, or to use the other word that is translated as–His righteousness. God governs us, which is about judging us and our lives.
And in His righteousness, He sees us as righteous.
His level of righteous…for in Christ’s death and resurrection, Jesus was credited with our sinfulness, as He credited us with His complete righteousness. So, God is completely just, His judgment is unquestionable.
After judging us as righteous, God does something even more phenomenal. He invests in our lives. He guides us and takes responsibility for our lives.
This is why we praise Him! He makes us His own, caring for us, cleansing us, walking with us through life, simply because He loves us.
These are His ways that need to be made know throughout the earth, the effective way He will save everyone who depends on Him..
- The Harvest that is now – and not yet
As we spread that message, as those seeds are planted, they grow until the harvest at the end of time. We heard it from the Psalmist earlier, but let’s hear it again,
5 May the nations praise you, O God. Yes, may all the nations praise you. 6 Then the earth will yield its harvests, and God, our God, will richly bless us
Or as Jesus said it
13 But the one who endures to the end will be saved. 14 And the Good News about the Kingdom will be preached throughout the whole world, so that all nations will hear it; and then the end will come. Matthew 24:13-14 (NLT2)
So its simple – we work in the fields we live in, sharing the work of God, knowing His presence, and then, the harvest happens, and we are all brought before the throne of God. Until that day, God governs us and guides us, His people as we dwell in His peace…doing His will, sharing His love with the world. AMEN!!
Who Am I?
† In Jesus Name †
May the love of God our Father and our Lord Jesus Christ help you realize who you are…in Christ.
- Paul hits hard…
When I read stuff by the Apostle Paul that I don’t like, I remember the words of the Apostle Peter about Paul:
Some of his comments are hard to understand, and those who are ignorant and unstable have twisted his letters to mean something quite different, just as they do with other parts of Scripture. And this will result in their destruction. 2 Peter 3:16 (NLT2)
And I agree, some words of Paul take a lot of thought, something I don’t want to invest.
I will admit, I want to apply those words of Peter’s to some of the clearest words of Paul, like where he says,
Bless those who persecute you. Don’t curse them; pray that God will bless them. Romans 12:14 (NLT2)
Remind the believers to submit to the government and its officers. They should be obedient, always ready to do what is good. Titus 3:1 (NLT2)
Unfortunately, there is nothing hard to understand about those two passages, and really, there is nothing hard to understand about today’s passage either.
“And I know that nothing good lives in me, that is, in my sinful nature. I want to do what is right, but I can’t. 19 I want to do what is good, but I don’t. I don’t want to do what is wrong, but I do it anyway” Romans 7:18-19
This bothers the heck out of Paul, ever after talking about the glorious truth that we died with Christ, and because, praise God, He is Risen, we are risen indeed. It bothers the heck out of me as well, because it is true, and I understand why Paul felt like a wretch!
Too bad Peter wasn’t right about this!
- Ergon versus Poieo
It gets even worse when you look at it in Greek.
You see, when Paul is talking about desiring, not just wanting, but to desire to “do” what is right, he uses the word we get “ergonomics” from—simply work that we do, even without thought. Paul wants to do what is right like he breathes—to simply do it.
And he cannot.
But when he talks about doing what he does instead, doing what is wrong, what is contrary to the plan and order of God – he uses a different word—the word we get poetry and poem for—a word that means to artistically craft something, putting effort and imagination into it.
So Paul wants to do what is holy and right automatically, just because of being alive, and he puts a ton of effort into his sin, planning, executing and defending it.
Thank God that none of us are like the Apostle Paul! (let the sarcasm drip like water flowing over Niagara Falls)
This is where John Newton, when he wrote Amazing Grace, found the line he adapted to describe himself—“that saved a wretch like me!” Here the translators went with “what a miserable person I am,”. How much we suffer, both because of the consequences of our sin, and when we realize we sin and we get down on ourselves, as Paul is doing here. The word picture for this feeling is even darker.
- Your living conditions!
You see, Paul talks about living with sin, and being a slave to it. The word picture is that sin, makes its home with you. It dwells incredibly close to you. It is that body of death Paul wants to be delivered from…
Back in Paul’s day, you literally had to live with your sin and the consequences of your sin. If Bob killed me, the Emperor could and order me to be tied to Bob for the rest of Bob’s life, or until all my body parts fell off. Imagine Bob inviting you over for steaks, about 3 months after that sentence. Wouldn’t be a pretty sight to see, or to smell!
That is what Paul is talking about, when he asks who will deliver him from the body of death tied to him.
But that is where this principle of life comes in. Let me read the first two verses of Chapter 8 again,
So now there is no condemnation for those who belong to Christ Jesus. 2 And because you belong to him, the power of the life-giving Spirit has freed you from the power of sin that leads to death.
Here is our answer, if God declares you are not condemned, that body of death that is sin cannot be attached to us.
This is the greatest statement about you that has ever been made. It defines you as one of God’s precious children,
That body of death, the sin that you live with, it is gone.
Was it there? Yes
Did it create a war inside your very soul? Yes
Did it cause guilt and shame? Yes
Did it win? No
You have been freed from it, you are welcome in the holy, glorious presence of God because you belong there, for you belong to Jesus, and you find life, not with sin strapped to your back, not with it making its home in your life… but you finding your life is in Jesus.
The reality of our struggle with sin is that we need to realize Jesus killed off the sinful part of us, that He has freed us from the guilt and shame.
In the last two weeks, Bob has pointed us to the altar and the blessing of the sacrament of the Lord’s Supper. I would point us to the third sacrament in Lutheran theology… hearing that the power of sin and death, and the grip it has on you has been shattered in your baptism, and confessing it and hearing you are forgiven, for you dwell in Jesus, bring you to the table of the Lord.
You are free, you are forgiven,
For you dwell in Jesus, because the Spirit has given you life. Not because, as the song said of what you’ve done, but because of who you am, in Christ. AMEN!
For those interested in the pushishment refered to, here is one citation. There is also a reference in one or Virgil’s poems to the concept for an older source. It is graphic… but powerful things often are!
Who will rescue me from this body of death?
This is a reference to the Roman method of punishment in which the body of the murdered person was chained to the murderer. The murderer was then released to wander where he might, but no one was allowed to help or comfort him upon penalty of suffering the same punishment. In the hot Eastern sun the dead body would soon begin to decay, overwhelming the sentenced person not only with the smell but also with infection from the rotting flesh. It was perhaps the most horrible of all sentences that the imaginary Romans ever devised. To Paul our putrefying body of sinful flesh is like this, and only Christ can rescue us from it.
James M. Freeman and Harold J. Chadwick, Manners & Customs of the Bible (North Brunswick, NJ: Bridge-Logos Publishers, 1998), 537.
1 Peter 3:13-18
† In Jesus’ Name †
May the grace of God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ give the desire to share the hope you have in Christ with everyone around you!
- Apologetics – The Necessity
Back in the 1970’s and 1980’s, two terms became important in the church in America. The first was “evangelism” as program after program was developed to guide the church in evangelizing the world.
The second, which became needed as people started to try to evangelize their neighborhoods and the world, was Apologetics. Since that time, you can now take college courses in apologetics, even get a Master’s Degree or a Doctorate in it, as one learns to “defend” the faith.
The term apologetics comes from the passage in 1 Peter read this morning.
“And if someone asks about your hope as a believer, always be ready to explain it. 16 But do this in a gentle and respectful way. “
Where Evangelism is defined as bringing good news, Apologetics is very simply “giving the reason,” in this case, giving the reason we have hope in this life. The question then becomes, how do we explain why we have hope?
What is necessary to explain this hope we have, which means we also define what isn’t necessary.
What have we learned or experienced or do we have in our lives that they need to know in order to have the hope we have?
- What isn’t necessary?
Somehow, in the midst of the church movements of the 70-80’s, the idea of evangelism and apologetics almost became a profession. Radio shows were created like “The Bible Answer Man” with and “Christianity on Trial. Books were written “evidence that demands a verdict, and later-the Case for Christ. Universities created Masters and Doctoral Degrees in evangelism and apologetics. The latter has been re-defined to meaning to “defend the faith”, whether historically or from the basic of logic. Lots of things to memorize – and all of it is good – and somewhat interesting.
But it isn’t what you need to explain to people why you have hope!
I don’t have hope because I can argue about how the Bible was written over 2500 years. I don’t have hope because I can explain some complications inherent in the describing how the Trinity functions and relates to each other. I don’t have hope because I can teach on all the different views about baptism or the Lord’s Supper.
I am not saying that we don’t need to know – and don’t need to pursue the truth about Jesus> We need to, and it must be based on what He’s revealed to us in scripture. We need to do that – that’s why we study the scriptures together! That’s why we test what people teach against the scriptures.
But when someone wants to know why you have hope in the midst of this crazy, messed up world, they don’t need to know the 5 different views about the Lord’s Supper, or be able to express arguments about how much water is needed to baptize someone, or how to accurately explain what the Trinity is, or what the difference between free will and predestination…
All that stuff can encourage hope once we have it—but it doesn’t explain why we have hope in the middle of this broken world.
It just makes us feel good to know we know more than them…which can easily lead to the sin of pride, and hurting our neighbor because we didn’t explain why we have hope.
- What is of value – what is necessary to tell the unbeliever?
What we need to tell them is why we have hope….
The fact we know God loves us, as Peter said because “Christ suffered for our sins, once and for all time,” so that, “He died for sinners to bring us safely home to God.”
That’s where we can start – just the facts – God loves us, He died to set us free of sin, to set us free from the fear of death.
If we bring up the sacraments, it’s not to debate them! It’s to simply to relate the promises they give us: the forgiveness of sins, the gift of the Spirit, and eternity in God’s joy-filled, glorious presence.
That is what we have hope for, to enter the presence of God, the creator of everything that is,
And as Peter said, the way we do it is through Christ’s death on the cross.
That is why we have hope….
- You’ve brought safely Home
That hope is what the people we come in contact need to hear. Manny’s lesson in Sunday School takes this even farther, as it looks at an example in Acts of this very thing. It talks of people who were curious about the resurrection of the dead, because their religions and idols had nothing like it.
Nor did they have the Son of God, Jesus, who would be appointed judge of all, who loves us so completely that He would come and dwell among us.
Some people have reached the point where they are ready to hear of that hope, others we are simply planting a seed for the future. The hope that comes because, as Peter wrote, “He suffered physical death, but he was raised to life in the Spirit.
Therefore… we have risen… ALLELUIA!
Useless! It’s All Useless! ??
† 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.
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!
A Chance to Relive our Deliverance
† I.H.S. †
May the grace and peace of God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ help you to go all through your community and tell them everything God has done for you!
A Map of our Journey
Today’s message is a little different than most of those I deliver. I am going to take you on your life’s journey, seen through the eyes of the man who had been possessed not by just a demon, but whose life had been a plaything for thousands of them.
For most of us, such a journey is difficult, because, well I could joke and say it is because we are at Concordia, but because, as one philosopher once said, “life is suffering” Or so it can seem! Especially when Jesus seems like he’s moved on from us.
So let the journey begin.
The journey begins… alone and in darkness
Before we knew Christ, and even some days now, our lives seem like that of the man who found Jesus on the side of the lake. We may not live among the gravestones, or actually be the property of a horde of demons, but our lives may have been as dark.
Sin can dominate and rule us as certainly as demons, and they aren’t afraid to haunt us with temptations that seek to ensnare us
Like the man, in those dark days, we barely know anything except the emptiness. We may feel quite distant from people, and though we love them, there is a grave disconnect, as if we aren’t sure they understand us, or “get” us.
We might even hear their words of love and care as them trying to control us, to force us to change from who we are, for the brokenness we experience seems to be who we are.
When we are in bondage to sin, like when the man was haunted and owned by demons, there is this sense of walking around in the fog, disconnected from the world.
Even God seems a bit hard to communicate with.
Did you ever notice Jesus doesn’t talk directly to him at first? He addresses that which haunts him?
Joined on the Journey
On this broken journey, that is what happens next, we all of a sudden find ourselves standing in brilliant daylight, freed from what has hounded us, what has caused us to be disconnected,
We are no longer alone, as the light sines from our partner in our journey, the one that makes it come alive. The brokenness seems, for the moment to be mending, and people notice as well, something is different in your life.
Some may even be overwhelmed by the change, like the community where the man who the demons were forced to free were overwhelmed. They didn’t know what to make of it, and were so afraid, they couldn’t adjust to the glory of God that was transforming this broken man’s life and making him whole and healthy.
No wonder all the man wanted to do was to sit at Jesus feet, to hear Him speak of the Father’s love, to dwell in the sweetness of the moment, to just enjoy the peace and freedom that is here.
I think that is why little kids love to come to this rail and just sit here… I know that is why here, at the altar, or even over on the side, hiding behind the pulpit is the place where I feel the most at home in the entire world.
It is so radically different from dwelling in darkness, hounded by sin and despair.
To just sit here and know, the Lord is with you, and that because Jesus has risen, so we are risen indeed! ALLELUIA
He wants us to go where? WHY?
is then we hear the words of Jesus, as He leaves where He found us, and began
our healing, and showed His love, and the life that His gives us, freed,
forgiven, and healed/
We want to stay here, we never want to go without Him, and He says to us, as he did to the man, “No, go back to your family and tell them everything God has done for you!”
Uhm, Lord, if I walk away, what happens if the demons return? What If I can’t handle it, and I fall into temptation and sin reaches out and gets me?
I can imagine these things went through his mind. Why? Because they can go through my mind, when I forget the most important truth in my life, that the Lord Is with me.
Then there is the fear, if I was this man, I would phrase It this way. “Lord, send me to anywhere, but please not back to the people that know me and my weakness so well. Not back to the people that rejected me, and who I have hurt. I could come up with 1000 reasons, but the bottom line is that I would rather be here, in them moments to come.
I even wonder if Jesus wasn’t accepted by his family, why I would ever expect my family and my community to listen to me.
Even so, having delivered us from what oppressed us, and as He is healing us, He sends us out, to those who will recognize the change God has made in our lives, to those whom we know need what God has given us. And as we share what God has done in us, we realize the depth of His love even more, and we realize what it means that because He died on the cross, and rose from the dead, we have risen indeed, and were are given new life and the companionship of the Holy Spirit who resides in us.
The more we experience this love, the more we seek to share what God has done, and that is something we can share…. Reliving again and again what He has done, as we share these blessings… and are in awe of His love.
Heavenly Father, help us to realize the incredible done in our lives, help us to live our lives, among those whom You have sent us, sharing all the mind-blowing things You have done for us. Help us to praise Your name while sharing it with those around us who need to escape their darkness. We pray this in Jesus name. AMEN!
Two Encounters With Jesus
† Jesus, Son, Saviour †
May the grace of God our Father and our Lord Jesus Christ cause you to recognize Him, and bring to Him those who need to be made whole.
The Challenge to Evangelism?
In twenty years of ministry, one of the hardest things to see develop in a church is the attitude that we exist and serve to bring others to Christ. Some call this being missional, some call it recognizing our apostolate.
You see, each of us is sent by God, to live where we are, and to reflect the love of God to those who are broken and so desperately need His touch upon their lives.
The challenge is not in learning what to say, most of us have been taught how to explain our faith. I mean how many of us can say the Lord’s Prayer and the apostles’ creed without looking at the bulletin?
We know the teachings, the basic doctrine.
So what do we need? What will change us into being a church that reveals to people the Jesus who will make them whole?
The key to Concordia, or any other church, becoming an evangelistic church, is simple. We need to know how to act when we encounter Jesus.
For when our souls learn to recognize Jesus, when our hearts know we dwell in His presence, the intuitive thing to do will be to drag people to Jesus, to the places where we know they will encounter them.
In today’s gospel, there are three encounters with Jesus. Two will show us how we can react to seeing Him. And the third, well, we will get to it later.
Seeing Him, amazed and confused!
The first way people reacted to Jesus is seen in the boat. The apostles, tired and weary, still overwhelmed by their first mission trip, and the feeding of thousands, see Jesus.
They see him, the word there is from where we get “identify.” Picture someone routinely checking driver’s licenses, and then realizing the person in front of them is someone famous. This is how they reacted, and their hearts, confused by all of life, were described as too petrified to take it all in. We all get that way sometimes, as life throws a few curves at us. As we get overwhelmed, as we are struggling with what is going on, or with the storms in our lives.
The apostles were there, “hey” its Jesus. Oh no! It’s beyond natural! It’s something supernatural! It’s not something normal.
Uhm, yeah Peter and James and John. It’s Jesus! What did you expect from Him, if not the supernatural?
We don’t recognize Jesus all that well at times, or the Holy Spirit’s prompting. We struggle to see Him during the hard times, and we don’t completely get what God is up too when we see the miraculous happen.
Our hearts are petrified, they are too hard to take it all in. But can we change?
Knowing Him – and dragging people in bed to Him
The second group was the group that encountered Jesus when He got out of the boat. These people just didn’t identify Jesus, the Greek indicates they knew Him, they deeply knew Him, who He was, and what it meant for Him to be there.
Whereas the Apostles went crazy with fear, these people went crazy bringing every person they could find that was broken. They ran around, grabbing people on mattresses and carrying them, they even just knew that if they could encounter Jesus, even just touching the edge of their robes, it would change everything….
And it did.
They encountered Him in the everyday mess of life. Though they had no clue about the cross, or the grave, the resurrection, they were sure He was a messenger from God, and they knew he would do the supernatural. So they brought the broken, the needy, almost without thinking about it!
Imagine lying there on your bed, some guys storm in, and the next thing you know, you are being dragged to meet Jesus, no explanation given. As you encounter Jesus, something more occurs than just being healed. You are made holy, you are saved. You are made right, perfect.
That’s what happens when you reveal the love of God to someone, that is what happens when Jesus is revealed In your life, what occurs when you encounter Him.
So How? Close Encounter of the Third Kind
So how do we go from the first reaction to reacting like the evangelists in the second group of people? How do we go from going crazy because of trauma and stress, to being crazy trying to get people to come to Jesus? What hope is there for those of us who are overwhelmed, whose hearts are too hard to take it all in?
Because even the holiest and most devout of us can get overwhelmed by life.
I did this week, as the prayer list seemed to explode with people in need.
It isn’t within me to remember 24/7 that God is here, actively working in our lives, actively working through our lives. I get too distracted, I get too overwhelmed by the storm, I get too frustrated by the work that God sent me to do.
So how do we keep centered on Jesus? How do we stay aware of His presence in life?
One pastor wrote it this way,
Only from a personal encounter with the Lord can we carry out the diakonia (service) of tenderness without letting us get discouraged or be overwhelmed by the presence of pain and suffering. (Pope Francis)
Remember where the disciples were heading with Jesus when they came back from their first mission trip? When they took off and found people chasing them on the shore, and then Jesus fed them?
They were heading off to a place to be with Jesus, to find time to pray, to find time for that personal encounter with God. To know Him enough to recognize Him.
Jesus did this, He went away for a time to talk to the Father, that was why He had to chase the boat, and if it is a blessing for Him, it is necessary for us.
Not just to please God, though it does. I need it, and you need it too. We need to be able to recognize God’s presence in our lives, to expect it, and the healing and peace that He brings. For that presence ties out theology to life, it makes what we say more than words.
To know Him, to encounter Him in prayer, and in the sacraments, they help us to now He is there. And so this week, God blessed me by helping me encounter Him more, as people took time out, and we shared in the Lord’s Supper together. Then when the storms hit, we know to look for Him, to expect His presence.
For from there, recognizing God at work is easier, knowing He is here, and He will make us whole is easier. For with Him revealed, we are still, and we know He is indeed God. And that He keeps us, our hearts and minds safe in Jesus. AMEN!
The Evidence is Within
2 Cor 4:5-12
† I.H.S. †
May the gifts of God’s mercy and peace become so integrated in your lives that everyone can see and praise God that Christ lives in you!
Can you keep going?
Yesterday, I had the opportunity to see my first two churches. They are 115 miles from here, in a desert community called Yucca Valley. Saw a lot of friends at one of them, as we gathered to pay respects to a man I helped trained in ministry. He was diagnosed with cancer 2 weeks after he was installed as a pastor at his first church. Drove by the other, my very first church.
During the drive I back, I did a lot of thinking, about why I’ve been doing this twenty years as a pastor and years before that as a chaplain. I thought about my friend, who at 62 started seminary to become a pastor, and who died a week ago. I thought my own mentor that retired in that place whom I was able to see. And I thought about some of the challenges that fellow pastors and ministers are facing…
And I heard again these words of St Paul that were read this morning…
8 We are pressed on every side by troubles, but we are not crushed. We are perplexed, but not driven to despair. 9 We are hunted down, but never abandoned by God. We get knocked down, but we are not destroyed. 10 Through suffering, our bodies continue to share in the death of Jesus so that the life of Jesus may also be seen in our bodies.
I’ve seen that statement become true not just in pastors’ lives, but Christians who live all over the world. Some face physical threats, in places like the Sudan, or China. Some are harassed and mocked because of their faith. Some face challenges in the inner city, or in churches that struggle to survive, both financially and because of conflict. I know a younger lady, with a master’s degree in International Business, who set that aide to be a missionary among the refugees in Turkey, while her sister is working at an orphanage school in Nigeria. I know people who serve in churches as teachers or setting up everything every Saturday for Sunday service, who volunteer thousands of hours.
Not one of them does it for the accolades or the applause. Just like the Apostle Paul in that passage – we don’t talk about ourselves. Those who know and follow Jesus serve each other and the world for Jesus sake.
Because God has shown the light of His glorious light into our hearts.
That is why all this is here… To help people know that…
In verse 6-7, Paul explains why people would embrace suffering,
. 6 For God, who said, “Let there be light in the darkness,” has made this light shine in our hearts so we could know the glory of God that is seen in the face of Jesus Christ.7 We now have this light shining in our hearts, but we ourselves are like fragile clay jars containing this great treasure. This makes it clear that our great power is from God, not from ourselves.
The light that invades the darkness…A darkness that affects our hearts and oppresses our very lives.
The darkness has a name, it is called sin.
What is this thing we call sin? Basically, It is failing to love God and hear His voice as He shows us how to live. It is failing to love Him and all those around us, helping them. even those that count themselves, enemies and adversaries, because God loves them and would invite them into this incredible relationship with Him, that would make them our family.
Sin can seem as little as a tiny lie or breaking an oath or gossiping about someone. It can seem as big as murder or theft. In every case, it works to destroy relationships, it plunges us into darkness.
This is the darkness God’s love shatters.
The love that we see in Jesus, as He died to remove all that darkness, all of the burdens, healing the relationships that have been broken.
That is what the cross is all about… the payment for the sin, but in order that we can be in fellowship with God, so that we walk with Him, not only during this life but eternally.
That is the reason for the forgiveness of sin, for the forgiveness of those times where we put ourselves first and forget God and others. Yet despite the damage we’ve done, and may still do, God is willing to deal with it, He has dealt with it. By dying on the cross for us, and rising from that death, so that even death cannot separate us from Him
This is what it means for Him to shine His glorious love into our lives, by revealing to us the love that erases the punishment, in the life and eternity, that we would have earned.
It is that glory that you see, in the lives of people that are willing to give up everything, fame, fortune, salaries, comfort, their own pride, even the right to be angry at someone who has hurt them. This is the love you see, as someone gives up their comfort, or even their retirement, to serve others, This is the glory you see, the evidence that Jesus lives in us, even in us broken down older folk.
God loves us, and wants to cleanse all of us and make us His own people. His own children. It is then we know the peace of God, which goes beyond all comprehension, as He guards our hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. AMEN!
Let Everyone Know
† I.H.S. †
May the grace of God our Father and our Lord Jesus Christ so visibly impact your life that you indeed let everyone know of His love, for you and for them!
“whom you crucified”
In our reading from acts, we find the title for today’s message.
It is a command, an urgent command,
Let Everyone know!
Let Everyone know for certain!
Let everyone know this, and not just as data, but as the knowledge that sinks deep within you, and changes your life forever.
Let everyone know for certain… that God has made this Jesus to be both Lord and Messiah!
Because of this, Alleluia, He is Risen! (He is Risen Indeed, Alleluia! And therefore.. We are risen indeed! Alleluia!)
O wait, I forgot a part of that verse.
God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, to be both Lord and Messiah!
Now, you may be thinking, at least it wasn’t me who crucified Jesus. That’s been an interesting discussion for centuries, who killed Jesus. Was it the authorities? Was it the Roman’s who weren’t in covenant with God? What it the Jews who cried out. “Crucify Him?”
Or was it every one of us, with each of our sins pounding the nails into Jesus’s feet, into His hands?
It was your sins, and mine, that caused him to be crucified, and we need to know this. Just as much as the Jews and Romans of that day, with others help, we nailed Him to the cross and crucified him. We need to realize that, we can’t just pretend that because we come to church we don’t sin, or that our sin didn’t really cause Jesus to suffer, not as much as other people’s sin.
Our sins put Him there.
Our sins killed Him.
Our sin, our greased, our lust, our anger, our jealousy, our gossip, our desire to be in charge, our desire to be judge, jury and executioner, our desire to be God, that is what cost Jesus His life. That is what crucified him.
Hear it again, from the other place in Acts. Hear and face the truth,
23 But God knew what would happen, and his prearranged plan was carried out when Jesus was betrayed. With the help of lawless Gentiles, you nailed him to a cross and killed him
Hear that…. God knew what would happen, and it did, just as God the Father had planned.
Jesus died for your sin, and for mine.
But He wouldn’t stay dead…. As planned!
Even as we realize it was for our sins that Jesus embraced the agony and pain of the cross, we need to realize as well that His death wasn’t the end of the plan. God had something more in store, just as David said,
26 No wonder my heart is glad, and my tongue shouts his praises! My body rests in hope. 27 For you will not leave my soul among the dead or allow your Holy One to rot in the grave. 28 You have shown me the way of life, and you will fill me with the joy of your presence.’
This is the faith of Jesus, these words are His words, His attitude, His faith in God our Father. Death could not keep him in its grip, Jesus wasn’t bound to death, He wouldn’t stay dead.
This too was planned, just as His dying for out sins was planned, so to was the resurrection.
Jesus was to say, “You ( Father) will fill me with the joy of your presence!”
Since we are united with Jesus in His death…
In Romans and Colossians, it talks of our being put to death with Christ, that we might rise with Him, so these words of David’s about Jesus, apply to us, that we can know these things because they are true about Christ Jesus.
Because you have been redeemed, because you have been cleansed, because you have been united with Christ, these words are your as well,
I see that the Lord is always with me, I will not be shaken, for he is right beside me. 26 No wonder my heart is glad, and my tongue shouts his praises! My body rests in hope. 27 For you will not leave my soul among the dead or allow your Holy One to rot in the grave. 28 You have shown me the way of life, and you will fill me with the joy of your presence!
That is the wonderful description of a life lived depending on Jesus, where we realize that the Holy Spirit is transforming us into the image of His holiness, that we rest in hope. That is where the joy comes from, and the incredible power of our praises, as we know He is here. That is where we find rest, and the way of life, found
This is what happens when we are united to Christ, all of this!
Let’s repeat that thought together, knowing that these words, so used of Christ, also describe those who are in Him and trust in Him.
I see that the Lord is always with me, I will not be shaken, for he is right beside me. 26 No wonder my heart is glad, and my tongue shouts his praises! My body rests in hope. 27 For you will not leave my soul among the dead or allow your Holy One to rot in the grave. 28 You have shown me the way of life, and you will fill me with the joy of your presence!
So now, let everyone know, that He is our Lord and Our Messiah! AMEN