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

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

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

The Feeling of Uselessness

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

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

And yet, you seem to have accomplished so little.

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

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

to wonder why things aren’t getting better

to wonder if they ever will.

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

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

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

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

So how do we deal with this feeling?

Why does it exist?

First, we have to identify where it comes from.

The first is simple and often overlooked.

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

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

and through our lives.

You heard that! God does the work through us!

The second cause is our own sin,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Loving Him with all our heart, soul and mind.

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

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

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

The Real Answer

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Conclusion

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

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

Sounds useless to me!

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

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

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

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

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

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

AMEN!

A Chance to Relive OUR Deliverance! A sermon on Luke 8:36-39

A Chance to Relive our Deliverance
Luke 8:36-39

† 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?

It 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.

Let’s pray,

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: A sermon on Mark 6:45-56

church at communion 2Two Encounters With Jesus
Mark 6:45-56

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 Within, a sermon on 2 Cor 4:5-12

church at communion 2The 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…

We are pressed on every side by troubles, but we are not crushed. We are perplexed, but not driven to despair. 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…

Why?

In verse 6-7, Paul explains why people would embrace suffering,

. 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.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.

The Evidence

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! A sermon for Trinity Sunday (Acts 2:22-26)

church at communion 2Let Everyone Know
Acts 2:22-26

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.

Our sin.

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!

AMEN!

So now, let everyone know, that He is our Lord and Our Messiah! AMEN

Walking with Jesus through trials to the triumph. Part 5 Love found on the walk

Our Lenten JourneyWalking with Jesus through trials to the triumph
Love Found on the Walk
Jeremiah 31:31-34

† I.H.S. †

May you find the gifts from God our Father and our Lord Jesus Christ, the gifts of incredible love and peace, as you realize you spend every day in His presence.

Coming Attractions?

Time for some honesty.

How many of you find the Bible confusing at times?

Good, it looks like I am in good company.  It might sound off to hear a pastor confess that the Bible can seem confusing at times, but it can, and today is one of those times.

God promises through the writing of Jeremiah that there is a day coming when a New Covenant and a new deal will be put in place.  And my heart rejoices in that promise!  But then I look at the description of how people acted towards God, and the promise of how they will look in the new testament, and I struggle.

Because I see people looking more like their Old Testament ancestors than like the prophecy of the New Covenant.

So I am confused,  Didn’t the Old Testament fade away at the cross, and wasn’t the New Testament confirmed with the Resurrection of Jesus?

And if it was, what doesn’t it say if we don’t act like the prophecy?  What does it say about the prophecy of God?  What does it say about us?

Do we still need to be taught?

In the second paragraph of today’s Old Testament reading, there are some descriptions of the people in the new covenant.

We are supposed to have had God’s instructions, the entire description of the Covenant, placed deep within them, and they will be written on your heart.

We are supposed to not need someone to teach us, and we shouldn’t have to teach our families or our neighbors.  And yet, that seems to be the bulk of what I do, either preparing to teach and preach or actually doing the teaching and preaching.

Too often we are like the people in the Old Covenant, the ones that God had to take by the hand and lead them out of Egypt, yet like little kids, they tried to escape from God and go to whatever false god promised us what we want..…

So what has happened?  Why aren’t we living the way God promised we would?  Why do we still have people who get caught up in their sin, who betray God, who hate their enemies rather than loving and praying for them?  Why don’t we live in obedience to God?

Was scripture wrong, or is it not about us?

have to admit, this is and was a confusing passage, one that I struggled to write the sermon on, one I struggled to find the words that explained it well.

Do we know God?

But I am going to explain it this way, the Old Covenant and the New Covenant are different because in one the people were dragged into it, they were drug out of Egypt, and they didn’t know God, barely beyond knowing that God was the God of their ancestors, the God of Abraham, Issac and Jacob.

Not only did they not know about God, but they also didn’t know Him.  So he had to grab them by the hand and lead them, and be constantly aware that they would wander off, that they would be unfaithful, because they didn’t know Him,  even at their best, they only knew about Him.

Luther put it this way,

Although they believe in, and worship, only one true God, yet know not what His mind towards them is, and cannot expect any love or blessing from Him; therefore they abide in eternal wrath and damnation. For they have not the Lord Christ, and, besides, are not illumined and favored by any gifts of the Holy Ghost.
The Large Catechism of Martin Luther.

This is where it all boils down, in Christ we not only know about God, we know Him.  We have something to expect from Him, love and the blessings of peace and forgiveness. In Christ God’s love isn’t just written on stone tablets, it is placed in our heart, ready to resonate with the message of the gospel.

That love, that mercy, that peace was unknown in the Old Testament, it was hidden.  They knew God wants to be their God, but they didn’t get what that meant.  They didn’t make the link between the covenant, and the requirement on God to do whatever it would take to fulfill the covenant, what is called cHesed.

We translate it love, or loving-kindness, and sometimes mercy, but it is a term form covenant.  That is what is written on our hearts!  This covenant of cHesed, this covenant of love and mercy.  This word means you are bound to the other person to the extent that if they cannot fulfill their obligation, you will do it for them.

Not begrudgingly, but out of love, because you care. That is how God bound you to Himself. As He united you with Jesus death and resurrection!  God cares for you so much, all that you have done, all that you cannot fix, He took care of at the cross.

And that is what we see up here, at the cross, the love and mercy of God doing for us, what we cannot do for ourselves.

That’s the God we know in the New Covenant, a God who is so dedicated to us, so willing to care for us, that He will take care of our sin, as He always has promised us. A God who helps us realize that He is our God and we are His people, and what that means, that He bears all of our burdens.

Which is something you cannot really teach, it is something like in our benediction for the yea.r

19  May you experience the love of Christ, though it is too great to understand fully. Then you will be made complete with all the fullness of life and power that comes from God. Ephesians 3:18-19 (NLT)

For that is the covenant of Jesus, the relationship and religion formed when we were united to the lamb of God, who was slain that we would be rescued, who was slain to grant us peace, to help us to know Him, and to know His love.  AMEN!.

Walking with Jesus through Trials to The Triumph EnJOYing the Walk!

Our Lenten JourneyWalking with Jesus through Trials to The Triumph

EnJOYing the Walk!

Romans 5:1-11

In Jesus Name

As you walk with God our Father and our Lord Jesus Christ, may the gift of their love and mercy sustain us, and bring us great joy!

Where is the joy?

Verse 11 in our epistle reading often leaves me wondering.  Specifically, the part that says, “so NOW we can rejoice in our wonderful new relationship with God.”    

Did you guys get this memo?  That because of your wonderful new relationship with God we should be rejoicing, that we should be overwhelmed with joy?  I think somedays I need to be strongly reminded of that, and somehow, I don’t think I am the only one.

As we walk through this season of Lent, as we walk through these trials to The Triumph, we need to experience this joy, not just because it will prevent us from burning out, but rather because the joy is the basis for where we live..

We, who dwell in the presence and glory of God, are to live joy-filled lives.  It is the fruit of the Spirit Paull will tell the church in Galatia, and the Thessalonian church will hear “rejoice always!’

What an odd paradox for Lent, to preach on the fact that we should rejoice, that we should live our lives full of joy, even as we grieve over our sin.  To talk about the joy we should be experiencing is far greater than the joy experienced by winning a gold medal in the Olympics, yet which at times seems as unlikely as me winning said gold medal.

Then again, if we were all full of joy, why would I need to preach about it, or why would St. Paul need to write about it?

A Paradox indeed, this idea of joy!

Endurance leads to confident hope…. For we know

Then again, this passage is full of challenging things to understand, like the fact that when we encounter problems and trials, we can rejoice as well!

As if the problems and trials are the sources of that joy.

They aren’t, and it doesn’t say they are the source of the joy. They just say joy should be expected, that the result of problems and trials results eventually in our confident hope of salvation being strengthened, being made sure, as we realize the breadth and width, their height and depth of God’s love.

We need to get that, for I think most of us look at these problems trials and at points wonder where God is, or why He would allow such a thing to exist?  We stagger in the doubt and anxiety that such problems and trials, these oppressive times, and at times fall into sin, looking for relief from how they dominate the landscape.

Luther noted this challenge in dealing with problems and trials when he discussed the first commandment and what a God was,

What does it mean to have a god? or, what is God? Answer: A god means that from which we are to expect all good and to which we are to take refuge in all distress, so that to have a God is nothing else than to trust and believe Him from the [whole] heart;    The Large Catechism of Martin Luther.

It is all too easy to take refuge in something, especially in those things that are powerfully addictive, from drugs and alcohol to work, sex, politics, technology, social media and even security.  It moves from temptation to sin when those things become our primary refuge, the place we go to first always.  Where do we run when life is challenged, when life is difficult?  That is our god, and far too often, that is not Jesus.  These refuges will draw us in, more and more until we realize them for the trap they are.  By that time, we are helpless.

Then we need to be saved more from our refuge far more than we need to be saved from the problems and trials that assault us.

But when we were helpless!

We aren’t without hope though, and that is part of the process.  For enduring these challenges can only be accomplished as we are drawn to Christ.  When we realize that when we didn’t deserve the privilege of having peace with God, when we realize that when we were utterly helpless Christ came and died for us.

That is where the spiraling into the refuges of idolatry ends, when Jesus comes and rescues us, an unbelievable action, considering he is rescuing us from betraying him!

This is where the joy is found, in that while we were still in rebellion, while we didn’t give a rip about God, and sought out sin rather than depending and listening to Him, He still loved us, He still died for us. He still cleaned up the mess we’ve out of our lives.

That is amazing! That is something to be astounded by!  That is something to be thankful for!

He loves us.  God really loves us!

And even more, because Christ’s blood cleanses and paid for all our sins, we have the promise of sharing in the glory of God!

That is what we rejoice in, this incredible, mind-blowing idea that because of Jesus, because of His love, we have this relationship with God, where He calls us His friends.

A relationship that is revealed when we can’t make it through these problems and trials when we realize that relationship is called a friendship. A relationship that is full of peace, and in that peace, we can rejoice in what Jesus has done, and what God has prepared for us, a place for eternity, dwelling and sharing in His glory.

This is worth rejoicing in, even in Lent, Yes?  AMEN

His Presence Blesses Us, as He Makes Us Holy! A Sermon on 1 Thes. 5

church at communion 2His Presence Blesses Us, as

He Makes us Holy!

1 Thessalonians 5:16-24

 In Jesus Name

 The Blessing

May the grace and peace of God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ strengthen your dependence on Him, as God fulfills His promise to make you Holy!

 How many of you…

A serious question to start with this morning.  

How many of you are always, and I mean always, joyful?

Honestly?

How about this one?

How many of you never stop praying? Every moment, of every day?

And how many of you can you say you are thankful for everything God is doing in your life and has done in the last six months?

Has anyone been able to answer all of those questions positively?

I couldn’t, either.

Which is why the apostle Paul urges us to do so if it was common to do, he wouldn’t be urging his readers then, or us now, to do so.

But rather than hear him urging us to do so, because he knows we will benefit from it, what we usually hear just causes us guilt, and maybe some shame.

Why can’t I do what God wants me to do, our mind says, why can’t I be the person who knows joy every moment, the person who is always thankful, the person who always trusts God and gives to him all that worries us in prayer?

And so what is good advice turns into something we feel we can’t live up to…

And what about this? (Stifling the Spirit)

Then there is the challenge that Paul presents in verse 19, where it talks of not stifling or quenching the Holy Spirit.

The word there in Greek means to suck dry, to dampen, to take all the punch out of it.

It explains it a little clearer in the next verses, as we see the challenge to not dismiss those who claim to speak for God but to test them.

To see if they speak what is Godly and scriptural, what is good.

Does it teach what scripture says, to first love God and then love our neighbor?

Does it work within the guidelines God sets up in the Decalogue, the ten commandments, or in Philippians where Paul instructs us to Philippians 4,

Fix your thoughts on what is true, and honorable, and right, and pure, and lovely, and admirable. Think about things that are excellent and worthy of praise. 9  Keep putting into practice all you learned and received from me—everything you heard from me and saw me doing. Then the God of peace will be with you. Philippians 4:8-9 (NLT)

If it fits within those guidelines – this is good, hold on to it, hold onto it!

Grasp it!

Don’t let go.

If it pulls you away from God if it causes you to put yourself before showing love and mercy to others, if it is contrary to any of God’s commands, then drop it.

For it is bad, it is evil.

That is the simple test – if it helps you know God and shows love to your neighbor – hang on to it.  If it doesn’t completely stay away from it.

And if you do that – living joyfully, giving all your burdens and anxieties to God, and being thankful in all things becomes something that you can begin to do, for nothing is impeding the work of the Holy Spirit!

Here is where it happens!

If we struggle to do the things we should do as God’s people, then we need help.

The Holy Spirit provides that help and more, as the Apostle Paul also states in this passage.

“Now may the God of peace make you holy, in every way, and may your whole spirit and soul and body be kept blameless until our Lord Jesus Christ comes again!”

You see, it is God who saves us, who makes us, and keeps us blameless

This is the blessing that comes to those who trust in God and are baptized, as we are united to Jesus at His death for us on the cross, and with His resurrection.

Not just forgiving our sins once, and leaving it up to us, but giving us the promise that in Him, every sin is forgiven.

That as James writes, we can confess our sin and know He is faithful to forgive sin and cleanse us of all unrighteousness.

It is that ongoing ministry of God, His keeping us blameless through His words, through remembering the promises of our baptism, to the promises here as we commune with Him at the altar, that is the work of the Holy Spirit.

You see, being holy, isn’t about being perfect.

We can try.

We must try!

But holy at its root, means to be set apart.

If Dr. Larry in his chemistry lab doesn’t set apart certain pieces of equipment to deal with this chemical and not others, explosive things might happen!

For example, his students could accidentally make nitro-glycerin.

(By the way, that is why Pastor Parker was never allowed to take chemistry!)

Certain things need to be set apart for everyone’s good.

That setting something apart is what is at the meaning of the word “holy.”

and the other word which translates from the same Greek word, “sanctification.”

God makes us holy, in every way, as the Spirit brings us to life in Jesus, and then keeps us holy, giving us the desire for that relationship.

When we do sin, the Spirit reminds us and urges us to run to God and ask for forgiveness, depending on His promises.

This is how God makes us holy, His special people.

As He does so, we are thankful to Him for all He does, assured that He loves us

We learn to continually pray, giving to Him all that concerns us in prayer, all that worries us, all that grieves us.

And we live in joy, knowing the love and mercy and peace of our God.

For He has promised, and God will make this happen, for He who calls you is faithful!  AMEN!

One more time, hear the blessing and promise the Apostle Peter gave us today,

23 Now may the God of peace make you holy in every way, and may your whole spirit and soul and body be kept blameless until our Lord Jesus Christ comes again. 24 God will make this happen, for he who calls you is faithful.

Amen?  AMEN!

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