Category Archives: Lutheran Christianity

Tell it to the Church Matthew 18

We make our beginning in the Name of God the Father and in the Name of God the Son and in the Name of God the Holy Spirit, we take this time to remember those who died in the attacks of September 11, 2001 and for the comfort and peace of their families in at this time. We all joined together and said … AMEN!

We lift up in prayer all those in Florida, in the path of the next hurricane, we pray they are kept safe and that minimal damage is done. We thank you Father that the people in Puerto Rico were spared serious damage. We also remember Houston and pray that they continue to recover. Most of us remember well the attacks of 9/11, we certainly know of the war that continues in Afghanistan, although we may not know of a lot of the other activity that has occurred to stop terrorism and to break up and bring to justice those who would murder and destroy for their own purposes, for their own glory and do it in the Name of God. God the Father, Son and Holy Spirit does not inflict violence. Only the love of the true God which moves us to know and grow in Him and for those who do not know Him, He continues to move them to focus on Him and His true life here, salvation in heaven and eternal life in the resurrection. Help us to know Him in His love and relationship to Jesus, His Church and His people, in true, everlasting life and love.

Dr Martin Luther writes: “The amaranth is a flower …[which] is easily broken off and grows in joyful and pleasant sort… being sprinkled with water, becomes fair and green again, so that in winter they used to make garlands thereof. It is called amaranth from this: that it neither withers or decays.

I know nothing more like unto the church than this flower, amanranth. For although the church bathes her garment in the blood of the Lamb and is colored over with red, yet she is more fair, comely, and beautiful than any state and assembly upon the face of the earth. She alone is embraced and beloved of the Son of God, as His sweet and amiable spouse, in whom only He takes joy and delight and whereupon His heart alone depends. He utterly rejects and loathes others that condemn or falsify His Gospel.[1]

A couple of times a year we step outside the walls of our stunning sanctuary. We do all we can to share this church and this great monument to our Lord Jesus Christ. To invite our neighbors, family and friends who do not know Jesus and His church. We have been given a great gift, to be saved in Jesus and in that salvation to be a member of His church. Not everyone who is saved is part of such a magnificent testament and monument to Jesus. Too many think that, by choice, a place that is simple and does not have anything to really honor Him or even remind those who are there that this is supposed to be a place to honor and worship our Lord and to show the world how important Jesus is. Too many in our culture today are more concerned with makes them happy, they’re really not concerned about honoring or worshipping Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Until such time, of course, when it’s very obvious that they need God and expect Him, and yes, His Church to be there for them. We who faithfully serve Jesus’ church know how difficult it is to maintain this place of worship and that it may not always be there.

Many love to tell us how enlightened they are because they’ve made up their mind that the church is wherever they decide it should be. The snarky remarks about worshipping on the golf course, at the beach, some have told me drinking or even taking drugs. They claim that is their form of worship. We live in a truly delusional society that thinks it’s all about them and can make reality any way it pleases them. Those are the same ones who when all is said and done; “will be thrown into the outer darkness. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.” (Matthew 8:12) The same phrase Matthew quotes Jesus as using in Matthew 13:42, 13:58, 22:13, 24:51, 25:30. “Omaha” Jesus makes it plain the fate of those who reject Jesus and His Church. It is a combo package, you can’t have a church that doesn’t accept Jesus, it’s not a church that will save you. Likewise you can’t have Jesus and not the church. The Church is the Body of Christ on earth, to be in Christ is to be a part of the Body of Christ which is saved to the eternal resurrection. You have to be a part of the Body of Christ, His church.

In two places Jesus refers to His church. “ESV Matthew 16:18 And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it. And in today’s reading: “ESV Matthew 18:17 If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church. And if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector.” Despite what today’s culture likes to think, it is plain that Jesus’ purpose was for His church to do His will on earth. Not for everyone to have their own little worship of whatever I want or makes me happy. In today’s reading Jesus makes it very plain that, yes we are to judge. Not in a pharisaical, harsh way, but in a way that is trying to get the person back into a right relationship with Jesus and His Church. That is what excommunication is about. Not to be punitive or flex ecclesial muscles, but to make it plain that someone’s lifestyle; abusing others, undermining Jesus’ church and ministry, sexual sin, coveting after the things of the world, abusing God and His Name, murder, stealing, lying, that all these things are not acceptable in the Church of Jesus and won’t be tolerated. That the person committing those sins isn’t being judged, as much as condemning him or her own self by their actions. The church’s job is to call them to account on their sin and if he refuses to listen to a brother or sister in Jesus, then to three or more, then as Jesus says: “…if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector.” (Matt 18:18) The church is given the power to judge, as Jesus goes on to say, what we call “the keys of the church”: “whatever you [meaning the church body] bind on earth shall be bound in heaven and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.” Whatever you as the church, truly functioning in good faith, good intentions, truly trying to redirect those who by their actions and rejection of My, Jesus’, Church, won’t listen “even to the church”, note the emphasis. Ok, it’s one thing not to listen to your neighbor, or maybe 3 people from the church, but when the entire church, that you won’t listen to the entire church! Ok, then the church in My authority as Lord of the church, tell you that you should treat this person as a Gentile and tax collector. In the context of the time the most damning condemnation one could make. The lowest person in Jewish society at the time was a Gentile or tax collector. Don’t have anything to do with them, except that you reach out in prayer, love and compassion, always doing what you can to restore them to the church.

This arrogant attitude we have today, really idolatry, that is making oneself the object of worship when you claim that “oh I worship on the beach, the golfcourse”. The attitude being that worship, if any, is going to be on my terms, my time, place, emotion. As if God’s supposed to follow you around like a puppy dog hoping that you will deign to privilege Him with your attention. Doesn’t work that way, that is arrogance, self-worship, quoting CFW Walther: “…pious speech without a living and believing heart in one accord is nothing before God except a hypocritical abomination. Christian fellowship is founded on the promise from Christ Himself, as our text makes irrefutably certain. No Christian can say: ‘I prefer to remain alone. Why should I have fellowship? I derive no blessing from it.’ Whoever speaks like this contradicts Christ and questions His faithfulness.”[2] Clearly Jesus means that when two or more are gathered, no one is entitled to set their own rules of worship, and that more than two are intended to come together in true worship.

Dr Luther writes about the church of Jesus Christ: “…She grows and increases again, fair, joyful and pleasant. That is, she gains the greatest fruit and profit thereby; she learns to know God properly, to call upon Him freely and undauntedly, to confess His word and doctrine. She produces many fair and glorious virtues… the church will by God be raised and wakened out of the grace, and become living again. The church will everlastingly praise, extol and laud the Father our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, His Son and our Redeemer, together with the Holy Ghost.”[3]

It is only in the church that there will be everlasting praise of God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Only those who have praised, extoled, lauded God in life, will be there to do the same in heaven, and even more so in the resurrection, where we are restored in our bodies to everlasting life in the perfect world that God originally intended for us, to live our life the way we were supposed to live it. Satan, the world will tell any lie to keep you from Jesus’ church, but as Jesus promises: “ESV John 10:10 The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life and have it abundantly.” Nothing and no one can give you any hope or promise that truly matters except for Jesus and He does that in and through His Church. Quoting Luther: “…I am not troubled that the world esteems the Church so meanly; what care I that the usurers, the nobility, gentry, citizens, country people, covetous men, and drunkards condemn and esteem me as dirt? In due time, I will esteem them as little. We must not suffer ourselves to be deceived or troubled as to what the world thinks of us. To please the good is our virtue.”[4]

The peace of God that surpasses all understanding keep your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus. Amin and Shalom        He has risen! He has risen indeed! Hallelujah!

[1] Martin Luther Table Talk Bridge Logos edition p 242

[2] C.F.W Walther quoted in God Grant it Daily Devotionals from CFW Walther edited by Gerhard Grabenhofer p 545

[3] Martin Luther Table Talk Bridge Logos edition p 242, 243

[4] Ibid p 241

Idols hmmmm, really? Tells me to remember who’s really in charge!

I am the pastor of First Saint Johns Church in York, Pa. First Saint Johns (FSJ) was completed in 1875, as you can see from the featured image, the altar, and the rest of the sanctuary are very nice and very reverent.

There are those who I have showed the sanctuary to and felt that there was just “heavens, too much idolatry”. Rather amuses me. I’ve been in a lot of sanctuaries where you might truly wonder what the space is actually used for. By looking at this picture, there should be little doubt what or, better, Who this space is about. It’s all about Jesus and the people who built his sanctuary 140+ years ago knew it.

The altar is especially interesting in that it shows the most important aspects of who and what Jesus is all about. Underneath the flat part, called the mensa, is a lamb, shows that Jesus is the Lamb of God. Next is a crucifix, reminding us that Jesus died on the cross for our sins. Next is Christ ascending to glory in heaven. The top stained glass window shows Jesus as Lord of all creation, at the right hand of God the Father.

The stained glass windows on the sides have various Christian symbols and at the top is one of the apostles.

People have actually told me how idolatrous this is??? Yet I can go into an old Quaker, Calvinist, etc churches and honestly wonder what’s going on there. I can go into a lot of “community”, “independent”, etc and see no indication that I’m in what purports to be a “Christian” sanctuary. There is a lot of symbology on the altar and on the stained glass at FSJs. A lot of visual reminders of what we believe and Who we hold important. Over the ascending Jesus is the motto “Sola Deo Gloria”, yea wow, “To God only the glory”, yikes that’s a first commandment buster, right?

Why do people really object to this? Why do they prefer to have a “church” that is essentially void of anything that is Christian? I would submit that especially with all the “big-box” non-denominationals, that it’s really more about those in the church preferring to kind of push aside all the Jesus stuff. Yea, they sing about Jesus and kind of preach about Him. But it’s not really about Him, if it was why is there a problem about having a lot of visual reinforcement.

My answer. In the world today it’s all about me, what’s good for me. Well Jesus is good for you, the only and ultimate good. But too many people don’t see it that way. Today’s culture says: I don’t want to be reminded of all that Jesus stuff, if I’m here I’m worshiping what I want, “ooo that gory crucifixion stuff”. Well that’s a whole big subject, and well we just shouldn’t have to do that, just make me happy God. I showed up, I should get the big payoff. Doesn’t work that way folks. It is all about God and not about you. That’s why we have all these reminders to reinforce that in us when we are in true worship, lifting up and praising God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

People who built these great old churches understood that and when I stand in front of the altar here I know exactly what and especially Who it’s all about. It’s why we at First Saint Johns are serious about what we do and why we do it, it’s for Jesus who sacrificed all for us and we will be His for all eternity. So instead of mouthing silly platitudes and not thinking about what is important, let’s all do some serious thinking about what and Who is ultimately important. I have all these beautiful and compelling reminders here, maybe it’s time for you to think about why this is all important.  Sanctuary 140th anniversary

Do Wedding Ceremonies and Religious Beliefs Matter to God?

CRI-Blog-Hanegraaff, Hank-Marriage in ChurchQ: I never came across anything in the Bible that says to be married in a church by a pastor. I was wondering are you able to marry spiritually in God’s eyes?

The human condition is such that we need to make a commitment before man as well as before God. Now so many people think that marriage is just a feeling of love, but love has never been exclusively a feeling. The bedrock of love is commitment. Feelings ebb and flow, but a commitment never dies. If a commitment is the foundation of your love relationship, then that commitment should be made formally and publicly in the eyes of God but with a commitment to cherish, to honor and to take care of that loved one until “death do us part.”

Q: My fiancé is a Jehovah’s Witness and I’m a Christian. What does the Bible say about mixing religions?

“Do not be unequally yoked” (2 Cor. 6:14, ESV). This is unequivocal, clear, and direct.

A Jehovah’s Witness has a completely different Jesus. The Jesus of Christianity is the one who spoke and the universe leaped into existence. The Jesus of the Jehovah’s Witnesses is the archangel Michael, who was during his earthly sojourn merely human, and after his death recreated as an immaterial spirit creature. The Jesus of the Jehovah’s Witnesses is neither the Jesus of the Bible nor is their plan of salvation a biblical plan of salvation—it’s about what you do as opposed to what Jesus Christ has done for you. Jesus Christ, according to the Jehovah’s Witnesses, is not even the creator of all things. He was created by God and became a junior partner in the creation of all other things. Neither is the Jehovah’s Witnesses’ Bible nor their authority equivalent to the Christian Bible. The New World Translation is a perverted translation of the Bible. Christianity and the Jehovah’s Witnesses are two religious systems. One based in history and evidence and the other cultic that can never be harmonized.

I can tell you right now that if you go down that road (entering into marriage with an unbeliever) you are bringing yourself a life of sorrow.

—Hank Hanegraaff

Justified and sanctified in Jesus

I have been asked on a regular basis if Lutheranism is Christian. For all the denominations and “independents” and so many of these faux attempts at Christianity, YES! All of these other denominations and other presumed attempts at Christianity came from Martin Luther. In fact if your non-denominational “pastor” has any training at all (so many don’t and just presume to hand out a shingle calling themselves a church) but if he has any grounding in genuine Christianity he will, on a regular basis, quote Martin Luther. Dr Luther is the one who called out and broke away from the Roman Catholic Church. The Roman’s were right on one score, you open up Christianity, and you risk having a lot of presumptuous people thinking they know the drill who will pose themselves as “Christian” teachers and preachers. On the other hand the Roman Church was so wrong on many counts and we see those errors seeping into Reformed Christianity. Mainly in terms of “works-righteousness”. That is the idea that while Jesus saved us, you still have to do a few things to get you over that line into salvation. Make no mistake, we can reject our salvation. But as one Concordia seminary professor puts it, “God does the verbs”. That is God does what is necessary for us to be saved, there isn’t one thing we can add to what Jesus did for us to have salvation. It’s either all about him and nothing about me, or salvation doesn’t happen. There is also what is called antinomianism. That is that the Law doesn’t have any effect on Christians, we can go about and do just whatever we want and because of the grace of salvation, we’re forgiven of everything while we just flout God’s Law. There is no sin that Jesus didn’t die for. That doesn’t mean we can just go off and do whatever we like. There are consequences to our sin and at some point God decides that you really don’t have the fruits of the Spirit and that you’re just not really saved.

The point of this blog, though, is about the Lutheran teaching in terms of how our salvation is worked out. So for you who like to play at being a Christian, take some serious note here. We are saved because we are justified in Jesus. Justified, coming from the root word “justice” that we are completely innocent, completely guiltless because Jesus paid the price of our sin by dying on the cross. He took the punishment that we should have in order for us to be free of the guilt of our sin.

We are also sanctified, from the Latin “sanctus” completely holy, set apart, totally God’s man or woman. Again, that is only because we have been clothed in the holiness of Christ because of His sacrifice for us. If we are not completely justified, if we are not completely sanctified, and the only way that can happen is in Jesus, then we can not be saved. We cannot die and come into the presence of a completely holy and innocent God, God the Father of Jesus Christ.

One of the greatest Lutheran teachers, was C.F.W. Walther, the first president of the Lutheran Church in the United States. I’ve started a book by Concordia Publishing House which is a collection of Walther’s writings in a daily devotional, translated by Gerhard Grabenhofer.

Walther writes: “Justification happens in a blink of an eye. As soon as a sinner, in despair, recognizes his sin and desires grace and redemption, God speaks a word in heaven and justification takes place.” ( p 670) Walther wrote in the mid 1800s and I really like the style of writing from that period and Walther doesn’t disappoint. Likewise, he doesn’t pull any punches.

While we are immediately justified in Jesus, there is a process of sanctification, of growing in holiness. “Sanctification, on the contrary, does not happen suddenly. It occurs gradually and it continues until the end of our life. Justification is immediately perfect. Each one who is justified instantly receives the full forgiveness of his sins, the complete righteousness of Christ, and a new status as a child of God. Sanctification, which follows justification , begins weakly and grows until death, but it never comes to perfection.” ( pp 670-671).

Having said that I would point out that while we are, hopefully, always growing in sanctification, when we die as directed by God, the Lord of our life, we come into His presence completely justified, completely sanctified, completely righteous, but not due to anything we’ve done, only due to what Jesus has done for us. In baptism we become that new child in God, therefore we become completely justified. Baptism is the “new birth” in Jesus. We become completely saved in Jesus. Yes people are baptized, then become as lost as anyone else in the world, through their own bad choices. But not because God failed them in anyway, they chose the way of the world, and the way of the world is sin, death and eternal condemnation in Hell. Sure, lots of people would like to amend that and make it according to their own plan, but this is God’s plan and that’s just the way it’s going to happen. You can continue to live in your little world of denial or realize that the only Lord of life is Jesus and He has revealed salvation to us and that’s the way it’s going to be.

Walther writes: “Perfection for the Christian is the clear recognition that he is imperfect in himself, but nevertheless perfect in Christ Jesus”. For those who think that they’re “all that and a bag of chips”, don’t need Jesus, ok, how’s that going to work out. While you’ve made an idol of yourself, because you think you know what it’s all about, the only way to eternal life is through Christ. You can make it up, but it’s pure fiction and you’ve basically told God “yea, not really happy about your way, I’ve got a better idea”. You may think it’s better, but without anyway to save yourself, again eternal condemnation. Harsh? Not really, we want to know how to be saved, but when we get God’s way and decide it just doesn’t work for us, well it’s God’s way or no way and you’re not god, deal with it.

“When a person is justified, God generally lets him taste the sweetness of His grace in order to draw the sinner from the world to Himself. At this point, many a beginner in Christ thinks he is rid of the world, sin and Satan. but if that were truly the case, it would not be long before such a person became secure and proud. Therefore, our faithful God removes the sweet feelings of grace and power from most of His believers and from that time on, He bestows such blessings meagerly and allows His Christians to grow in humility. When a person becomes truly poor, he must daily beg God for everything and adhere to Jesus’ word of grace so he is not lost. He also comes to realize that God’s work of grace in sanctification is revealed in the fact that his spirit continues to struggle against his flesh. If he feels that sin rages in him, but something else in him prevents sin from gaining dominion over him, this moves him to prayer and to the word of God.If he succumbs to sinful temptations, he goes to Jesus and prays to Him for forgiveness. Such a person is not dead, for a dead heart no longer beats.”

“We have been reborn into true life in Jesus in our baptism. We were dead in our sin with the rest of the world, now we have true life. When we are given that new life, we become completely righteous in Christ and as a new child in Jesus we begin the journey of Christian maturity in our sanctification in Jesus.” (pp 671-672)

This is what is truly important about being saved in Jesus. We can get into a lot of mushy, pointless, emotionalism, or we can understand that we are sinners, that our only salvation is in Jesus and only through Jesus do we become justified and sanctified and truly fit to be made a child of God and to be in His presence and to live in the resurrected, eternal, perfect world that God had always intended for us.

A sense of urgency in Jesus Luke 12, August 14, 2016 First Saint Johns

We make our beginning in the Name of God the Father and in the Name of God the Son and in the Name of God the Holy Spirit and all those who have a sense of urgency in Jesus said … AMEN!

In the OT and NT passages today, there is an obvious sense of urgency. This idea that “everything is beautiful” that we just mosey on down the easy path, always tomorrow, just chill, the world’s perspective on things is not the Biblical perspective. In Jeremiah, Yahweh is telling Jeremiah to push on His people. “Behold the storm of the LORD! Wrath has gone forth, a whirling tempest; it will burst upon the head of the wicked…” Does that sound like a nice mellow, just take life easy attitude? For most of us, life here in our insulated part of the United States is easy compared to pretty much the rest of the entire world. But that certainly doesn’t give us any guarantee that it will always be that way, for us individually or for all of us. The things we take for granted, kid ourselves into believing that the world is all just nice and placid and no need for me to get all spun up about it. We are incredibly blessed, living as we do and where we are. So many right around us are not, not just in terms of their soci- economic status, but many are confronting death, dealing with serious illness, many are facing the day to day hopelessness of being lost. They don’t know Jesus, they simply struggle on from day to day, thinking that something is going to happen to just spill all over them, make their life oh so different, and it’s just not going to happen. The drugs, alcohol, murders, sexual, greed, sin of pretty much anything you can think of, the compulsion to want and want, take and take, any of this is supposed to give people some sort of hope or long-lasting pleasure, and it doesn’t. All the things that are going on in the inner city between the residents and police. We have been blessed right here in York because we aren’t seeing a lot of that turbulence, maybe our leaders, our police, our residents, a combination thereof are all able to keep it a little real and not feel entitled to or justified in perpetuating the violence here, although there certainly is violence. Jesus told us there would be division, that the world would hate Christians because the world hates Him. Clearly there is division, there is no “god” according to too many people right around us, so the only thing to do in the world is to contribute as little as possible and to take as much as possible, and it doesn’t matter one bit who it hurts; spouses, children, parents, siblings, neighbors, so long as, of course, it doesn’t hurt me. The division that Jesus talks about is quite plain, for those who trust in Jesus and look to Him to provide, as we talked about last week, for those who are in Jesus not to worry, not to take what isn’t theirs, that is the Christian perspective, it is not the world’s perspective. Jesus tells His disciples in Matthew 24: 9-10: “Then they will deliver you up to tribulation and put you to death, and you will be hated by all nations for my name’s sake. And then shall many be offended, and shall betray one another, and shall hate one another.” How many times a day now do we hear how someone is heavens to Betsy “offended”, it’s use is so juvenile and pervasive that it’s become trivial and not even worth the time to talk to someone, they are simply not intellectually able to discuss something and they hide behind phoney clichés. The division is quite obvious, those who have the hope, who want to talk to others with hope, passion, an agape servanthood, the desire to genuinely give hope and promise to so many in the world, and those on the other side who only see hope in the next check, in the next meal, sexual partner, in the next home, vehicle, job, and after years and years of their pointless pursuits wonder why they are so lacking in hope, why they are further away than ever of achieving any true hope, peace and feeling of true love and assurance in their life. Therein lies the division, those who have that hope and promise in Jesus and those that don’t. We know there are all sorts of people who just can’t stand to see someone else be happy or achieve, just be content to be where they are. It drives them really crazy when they see Christians serving and trying to take a genuine interest in someone else. How can they do that? Don’t they know they’re supposed to be grasping and grubbing for everything they can, that is supposed to be miserable and wracked with envy and greed. Yet they will look you in the face and try to tell you how Christians don’t know how to have fun. They have no clue how destructive and just really nasty their “fun” is, and what the difference is between fun and “joy”. Paul tells the Galatians: “ESV Galatians 5:22 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness,” the world would read that in terms of grasping, self-love, greed, impatience, happy. For too many of the world who have so much and have decided that they’re uninformed world view is superior to God’s Word in Scripture, they have chosen what C.S. Lewis describes as; “…the safest road to Hell is the gradual one – the gentle slope, soft underfoot, without sudden turnings, without milestones without signposts.” What so many in the world let themselves get lulled into, the idea that it will all work out and they can live in their evil and that will be OK with God, despite Jesus’ clear words and warnings. Robert Schmalzle who wrote the 7 Habits of Jesus, wrote: “Some of [Jesus’] teaching on forgiveness and peace may have given the impression that he was spreading a soft gospel. Jesus assures his listeners that Christian discipleship is costly, even causing division in the family. The Gospel challenge is clear.”[1]
So when Jesus says: “Do you think that I have come to give peace on the earth? No, I tell you rather division,…” You can hear the incredulity in Jesus’ voice; “You all hear what you wanted to hear, you haven’t heard what I’ve said” and we have that to this very day. These men were Jesus’ disciples, but they were not mature in their faith, we see them arguing and scrabbling with each other right up to the time of Jesus’ crucifixion. They were trying to make Jesus into a nice little fairy tale, the Davidic King who comes in and wipes away the Romans and the Pharisees, scribes, lawyers, Sadducees, all the bad people. All the good people, at least themselves and some of the other disciples, along with Jesus, would then roll right in and take over, the new heavenly kingdom would be there with each disciple, no doubt, thinking that Jesus will be wise enough to pick him to be at his right hand and things in the world will be all straightened out. Jesus is telling them: “oh no, there is so much more to happen, so much strife and difficulty, so much more that you are going to have to contend with and you better get over this idea right now that it’s going to be just a nice easy slide into the heavenly kingdom. No way? Things are going to get much more difficult before everything is destroyed and then the world restored to the way my Father and I had intended it at creation.

Jesus is very unhappy, I’d dare say angry. He simply cannot believe how clueless his disciples are. Do you honestly think that Jesus would be any happier with His church today? There certainly is division in the church today, much of which is created by people who simply want their fairy tale Christianity and ignore Jesus’ words in Luke 12, Matthew 24, and so many other passages. Yes He does love us, He does want what is best for us, but for too many in the world, they decide what is best for them. They don’t really know, but they’re pretty sure that it has something to do with more and more, give me what I want, indulge my definition of happy, because after all I really am my own idol and I know far better than anyone else and just provide me, with my poorly informed ideas of “happy”, and we will all be happy in our denial of what real joy and contentment is in Jesus. Yes we all have those times when we slip into the world’s idea of “happy”, but we grow in knowing what true joy is in Jesus and not delude ourselves in the world’s paradigm. That we can even as brothers and sisters in Jesus, begin to grasp what is true joy in Jesus. The division is that we know our eternal life in the resurrection, the perfect world is in Jesus. The world believes that their life and happiness is here in the world as it is now, a world full of sin, evil, death, destruction, greed, envy. There has never been true joy in the world and it will never be realized in the world unless it is in Jesus and that joy will not be perfected until we are all resurrected into the new world, the world that God had always intended us to live in. There are plenty who call themselves “Christians”, churches that claim to be “Christian”, who have divided Christianity, who have caused conflict and dissension in the church. They ignore God’s word in the Bible, decide that they know better than God, because He is just so vengeful, so mean and they teach things contrary to His word, because they have that fairy tale idea of Jesus. They ignore Jesus’ clear teachings and then accuse others of hate and ignorance who are faithful to Jesus’ clear words. There is an undivided church of Jesus, it is made up of Christians from many different denominations, it is the invisible church that Dr Luther taught. That church does not try to make the Bible just one of many teachings, that church does not try to make evil good, that church has a very clear understanding of the evil in the world and that in the end those who make up their own world paradigm, “Christian” or not, will be condemned along with the rest of the world, regardless of their opinion or what they call themselves. Is our dependence, trust and faith in Jesus, or is it in other teachings that try to “rationalize” His Word and turn it into a self-serving attempt to justify our sins and evil life style so that we can be happy according to our word?

The writer of Hebrews tells of so many who ignored the lies of the world and accomplished so much through the strength and insight God gave them, many of them who served God’s will in the world. Many who died because of their faithfulness to God: “Others suffered mocking and flogging and even chains and imprisonment. They were stoned, they were sawn in two, they were killed with the sword. They went about in skins of sheep and goats, destitute, afflicted, mistreated, of whom the world was not worthy – wandering about in deserts and mountains and in dens and caves of the earth.” (Heb 11: 36- 38) So many today who are persecuted and martyred because they faithfully follow God’s Word and not the world’s or those who presume to be Christian.

We know that the Holy Spirit is with us and if we get out of His way guides us 24/7. The writer of Hebrews goes on to give us the hope and promise in Jesus: “Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.” (Heb 12: 1-3) We have the indwelling of the Holy Spirit, we have an entire cheering section of the great, cloud of witnesses, we have our life in Jesus Christ, we have no need of the opinion of a dying and lost world and we need to run the race that has been set before us by our Lord who did all that was necessary to save us. There has to be a sense of urgency to run a race, Jesus’s words urge as to remember what we will be facing and in the faith He gives us we have our strength to continue to deal with the division in the world and continue to confront the world. The writers of Hebrews tells us that we will have all the support we need in the support of that cloud of witnesses and keeping our eye on Jesus, but we can’t be cavalier about it, we need to reach out to the world in hope, promise and with a sense of urgency.

The peace of God that surpasses all understanding keep your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus. Amin and Shalom

[1] Robert Schmalzle 7 Habits of Jesus email  Aug 8, 2016

Faith and Preparation or Worry? Luke 12 First Saint Johns Church Aug 7, 2016

We make our beginning in the Name of God the Father and in the Name of God the Son and in the Name of God the Holy Spirit and all those who know the faith that God has given them said … AMEN!

Our epistle reading today in Hebrews is often referred to as “the catalog of the heroes of faith”. It’s also referred to as the Faith Hall of Fame. People dealing with issues that have been pressing down on their heart. Abram and Sarai have gone decades beyond child bearing years, and they both have heavy hearts, they know that God is aware of their desire, a good desire. It can be a selfish desire. Abram keeps referring to the fact that he wants an heir of his own body to pass all of his wealth to. He has no idea who this child will be, no less that he will ever have a child, but the idea of leaving his wealth to a servant, not someone who will carry on his name weighs on him. God knows the motivation for Abram’s desire and plans that Abram will have that child, but in God’s own time. Abram is about 80 years old, Sarai about 60 years old. God has already done so much for Abram, but as well all do, Abram has put that aside and is looking for the next part of God’s promise. How many times do we do that in our life? I try to keep track of the times that God has answered my prayers, moved me along to where He wants me next. I do that because I’ve come to realize that I forget way too easily about God’s answers to prayer and I remember way to well the prayers that God didn’t answer that I feel He should have. When I look back I realize why God did one thing and didn’t do another, but it’s still very much in my head the other things I think He should have done. I too often take for granted what I have, as if God owed me the answers, but get way too caught up in waiting for other answers, or getting “no” as an answer. God moved Abram from Ur to Canaan. Abram already had wealth and God added to it and gave him land where he could provide very well for himself and the growing number of his family and servants. Abram had power, he had wealth, he had land that God designated just for him. He had no other worries, but he wanted that son and despite the things that had been done for him, Abram decides that God hasn’t been sufficiently faithful. God makes a covenant with Abram, He tries to give Abram every reason to trust in God’s will and not his own. “Do not be afraid Abram. I am your shield: your reward will be very great.” That promise is to all of us who are in Jesus. He went on to promise Abram that his offspring will be greater than all the stars in the sky. God certainly fulfilled that promise since all Christians, Jews and Muslims claim to be descendants of Abram, billions of people. But very shortly after God makes these promises with Abram, after He gives Abram this covenant, this contract, what does Abram and Sarai do? They take matters into their own hands. At that time it was common practice for masters to have children with their slaves, especially if their wife hasn’t had any children. Children were valuable at that time, something we shouldn’t forget, they were the parent’s source of provision in their old age, and it was important that their family continue. So they decide that Hagar should have Abram’s child, which was not part of God’s plan. Instead of being the answer to prayer, Ishmael’s presence caused problems. The Arab people of today claim to be descendants of Ishmael. The descendants of Ishmael, the Arab people, and the descendants of Isaac, the Jewish people have had continual conflict since then. Violating God’s plan didn’t solve Abram’s problem and created problems for hundreds of millions of people since then.

The writer of Hebrews lists out those in the Old Testament who have been notable for their faith. We know all these people who were written about were faithful Jews and are now being presented as great examples of the faith for Christians that God gave them. They all trusted God’s Word, His promises and directions, even under very difficult circumstances.

Dr J Vernon McGee points out that we all want a blueprint. I’ve had this happen to me repeatedly; “ok pastor, tell me what I’m supposed to do and I’ll do it”. Doesn’t work that way, what God trusted to Abram, what he trusted to Enoch, Noah, David, Daniel, Isaiah, Samuel, on and on, these were all very different people, very different times, places and circumstances. The “rules” Ten Commandments, Sermon on the Mount, those are a baseline, what we are expected to follow, but it is always and only through faith that we live our life out according to the Lordship of Jesus. The attitude for is “I followed the rules, so now give me what I want”. The fact is we can’t see what is truly important, we don’t really understand what God wants for our life and how His will is what is genuinely important and will give us the life that is always the best for us. As McGee points out, he likes to have a neat, clear set of directions, makes our life easier. “But in this chapter we are going to find people who went an altogether different route [which is God’s route]. They walked by faith, and that is the way God wants us to walk today.”[1]

Always to eternity in the eternal life of the resurrection. It’s pretty difficult for us to imagine eternity when we just want what we want right here and now. Jesus said: “Fear not, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom.” We would so quickly settle for crumbs, things that won’t last, things that will lose their shine in a very short time and will end up just being junk. So many people do that with their lives. Trade the Father’s good pleasure for the things that are eternally important, for power, wealth, big homes, drugs, alcohol, sex. “For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.” All of us make idols out of the things that we think we should have and they lead us nowhere. Jesus tells us: “Instead, seek his kingdom,” God’s kingdom is promise to all of us who are in Jesus and “all these things will be added to you.” They will be part of all that God is pleased to give us. This doesn’t mean that as soon as we think that we should have these things, well there they are right there for our faithful following. Certainly God does provide as Jesus is telling us all through this pericope. But that He will provide for us on the journey, that He will do what is necessary for us to follow His will.

There was always a “ready boat crew”, the people who would be expected to go on a call at any time, night or day. If one of us was on that crew we would just sleep in our clothes. If the buzzer went off, or if someone came in the room in the middle of the night, there wasn’t time for fumbling around for our uniform, we would just slide off the bunk into our strategically located boots and then rush down to the boathouse to get underway to rescue those in danger. Jesus is telling us that for His people, those He died for, that we should “stay dressed for action and keep your lamps burning.” Be ready to serve, be ready at any time to do what was necessary, Jesus said even in the second or third watch, between about 8pm and 6 am. Not that we should obsess over being ready, sit around constantly worried, but to be aware that He can come at any time; “for the Son of Man is coming at an hour you do not expect.” A note for those who think they can predict that time, well Jesus said you can’t. A note for us to be prepared and when we trust in Him, when we have the faith that He gives us, that we are focused on Him and His will. That means we’re not all about what we want next, what will make us happy, what idol we can serve, but being focused on His return and His will for us.

No matter what our circumstance God does provide for us. It will be at a time and in a way that we can never anticipate. Since we can’t anticipate it, our worrying about it doesn’t make one bit of difference and it is always in His hands and as Christians we know in our heart that it will always be to the best result. Even in those times where it doesn’t seem so, our true life is not in this world, Jesus is our Lord and Savior in this world, He is our Lord and saves us to the eternal life of the resurrection. Where He gives us life and life more abundant. The Father knows what we need in this life and we do receive it, but true life is in the resurrection and we who are His need to stay prepared, dressed for that, no matter what our circumstances are in this short and difficult life.

We can get caught up in our “needs” here and spend all our time worrying about it, or as Peter Chrysologus writes: “All this is what that treasure brings about. Either through alms-giving it raises the heart of a man into heaven, or through greed it buries it in the earth. That is why he said, ‘For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.’ O man, send your treasure on, send it ahead into heaven, or else your God-given soul will be buried in the earth. Gold comes from the depth of the earth – the soul, from the highest heaven. Clearly it is better to carry the gold to where the soul resides than to bury the soul in the mine of the gold. That is why God orders those who will serve in his army here below to fight as men stripped of concern for riches and unencumbered by anything. To these he has granted the privilege of reigning in heaven.”[2]

Worry, anxiety, covetousness are not the ways that the world will see Jesus in us. The world all around us has no hope, no promise, anything they put their faith in will never last and gives no promise of their future. Our Lord Jesus died for us, high and lifted up on a Cross, He surrendered His life for us to give us the way to eternal life, the very visible promise of our life in Him, the world does not have that hope and promise. Ambrose writes: “Jesus indicates that grace will not be lacking for the faithful in the present or in the future, if only those who desire the heavenly do not seek the earthly. It is unseemly for the soldiers of the kingdom to worry about food. The King knows how to feed, cherish and clothe his household, and therefore he said, ‘Cast your burden on the Lord and he will sustain you.”[3]

The peace of God that surpasses all understanding keep your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus. Amin and Shalom

[1] Dr J Vernon McGee  “Thru the Bible Commentary Series Hebrews Chapters 8 -13

[2] Peter Chrysologus quoted by Arthur Just editor  “Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture New Testament III” pp 211-212

[3] Abrose Ibid p 211

Prayer our all powerful resource from God Luke 11 First Saint Johns Church July 24, 2016

We make our beginning in the Name of God the Father and in the Name of God the Son and in the Name of God the Holy Spirit and all those who know that their refuge is in God the Father through prayer said … AMEN!

God gave His church the most powerful tool in the universe, PRAYER! Jesus gave His disciples, those who asked Him to teach them how to pray and His disciples all the way to you, me, and those growing into disciples. There is no greater power in the universe. Through prayer we are given access to God the Father. Prayer puts us very much in His presence, His power and glory. Even for the biggest and toughest, to be in the presence of Abba, Daddy. He is not only the most powerful being in all of creation, also the most loving. No matter who you are, you can take in all the love, peace and comfort of God in the simple act of sitting down and following Jesus’ directions; “When you pray say: “Father,…” Matthew writes that we start “Our Father” The Greek in Matthew 6:9 says: “Pa,ter h`mw/n” Many jump on that as another “contradiction” in the Bible. Why does Luke just say “Pa,ter”, ? While Matthew says: “Pa,ter h`mw/n” In any human dialogue there’s dozens of reasons why we say, or hear something different. Matthew was there, he heard, “Pa,ter h`mw/n” I took French for seven years, I have a plaque in the office with the Lord’s prayer “notre pere”, of course, at First Saint Johns, many times the German “unser Vater” has been used in the 140 year history of this sanctuary. Whichever language, He is “our Father”, just as Jesus told His disciples. The Bible is the inspired word of God. The Holy Spirit inspired the remembrance of Jesus’ words for Matthew and whoever told Luke. I’d like to think that the Holy Spirit wanted us to know either way is good, that He wants us to know that He is my Father, that I can, even should address Him as “Pater, Vater, Pere, Father”, but that He is collectively our Father. Because I am born again in Christ, the Holy Spirit has made me that new creation in Jesus, that I am a born again son of the Father, that He is very much my own Father, but that He is also Father to billions. I have billions of brothers and sisters in Jesus right now and through the last two thousand years of history. Brothers and sisters that are in all parts of the world, all over the world, and in all the ages of the last two thousand years. We are so vastly different as people, but through prayer, through our Father, through our Savior and Lord Jesus Christ we are all the children of the same God, through whom all creation was made, sustained and will be restored to the perfection that was intended by Him at the beginning. We all pray the same thing, different languages, different countries, even at different points in history, but Father, our Father, He hears us all calling to Him as Father.

Prayer certainly does unite us, reminds us that people all around the world are saying Father, Our Father. One of the most unifying prayers is in 1 Chronicles 7:14. “If my people who are called by my name humble themselves, and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and heal their land.” By far the Gospel that is most focused on prayer is Luke’s, Luke makes constant references to Jesus going and praying, usually by Himself. That certainly is another model for us that we need time to be alone to focus on being in God’s presence, that there is nothing to distract us, to take us out of His presence, that nothing interfere with Him pulling us toward Him, uniting us with Him in our prayer. As His children we are entitled, we are expected to come before our Father, regularly, to be in His presence. Sure there will be times when we will come into His presence cowering, knowing what Ricky Ricardo used to say to Lucille Ball, “Lucy, you got some explaining to do!” Lifting up to God our repentance and asking for forgiveness. He does forgive, He certainly puts it on our heart that He expects better, that He is there, in prayer, to steer us away from the rocks and shoals that we launch ourselves onto and find ourselves stuck on. Through Him, in prayer, He reminds us of the things we need to stay away from and also that He is there, one short prayer away to keep us from hitting the bottom and damaging ourselves. More importantly He reminds us that He is our refuge. In his Psalms David refers to God as His refuge 46 times. In Psalm 64:10 David writes: “ESV Let the righteous one rejoice in the LORD and take refuge in him! Let all the upright in heart exult!” We all have God as our refuge and are united in Him when we take refuge in Him together through our prayers. We ought to constantly go to His refuge, the place where He provides for all that we need.

Too often though we come to Him only in times of desperation, how much better it would be for us if we were constantly in prayer relying on His refuge. Robert Pase writes: “But God’s intent in giving us the gift of prayer isn’t that we wait to pray until all seems lost. God intends that prayer be an everyday, every moment part of the Christian life, including when life seems to be clear sailing, a pleasure cruise. The fact is that God rights the ship, keeps the world on an even keel, by the prayers of his Church. The saints on earth and in heaven are constantly praying, and God is constantly answering – with good weather, good crops, good health and all sorts of things we might take for granted. God invites us to pray about everything every day, not just as a last resort.”[1] You thought I was the only one who used sea metaphors. The point being that prayer is not just for times of distress, but is for all the time and certainly in those times when we want to be in His very presence. His refuge provides us with peace, safety, strength, knowing that no matter what, He is in control, it is all according to His will and the more we align ourselves with His will in prayer, the more we will realize that we need to let go of our fears and worries and to pray to be in His will and set our agenda aside. Our peace is always in God and in the fact that He will be there through our trials and at the end to welcome us as His good and faithful servant. That will only be reinforced and hardcoated into our brains through prayer, constant prayer. There are a lot of sea metaphors, the sea was a metaphor to the Jewish person of chaos and danger. If you are far from shore, at the mercy of the sea you have an acute understanding of the day to day lives so many of us live with, a feeling that there is nothing that we can really secure ourselves to. E Stanley Jones, quoted in Chuck Swindoll’s book writes “Prayer is surrender – surrender to the will of God and cooperation with that will. If I throw out a boat hook from a boat and catch hold of the shore and pull, do I pull the shore to me, or do I pull myself to the shore? Payer is not pulling God to my will, but the aligning of my will to the will of God.”[2] God has His line out to you through prayer. He is pulling you to Him, not the other way around. So long as we persevere in Him, He will be taking us to safety in Him.

Paul promises us in: “ESV Romans 8:26 Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words.” Even in those times we just fall on our knees and have no idea where to begin, the Holy Spirit intercedes for us. He knows what is on our heart, what we need to pray and He will lift those prayers to the Father for us. But we can also look at the prayers that King David makes in the Book of Psalms. Psalm 86 is called a prayer of intercession where David is desperate for God’s attention, he prays: “ESV1 Incline your ear, O LORD, and answer me, for I am poor and needy. 2 Preserve my life, for I am godly; save your servant, who trusts in you- you are my God. 3 Be gracious to me, O Lord, for to you do I cry all the day. 4 Gladden the soul of your servant, for to you, O Lord, do I lift up my soul. 5 For you, O Lord, are good and forgiving, abounding in steadfast love to all who call upon you. 6 Give ear, O LORD, to my prayer; listen to my plea for grace. 7 In the day of my trouble I call upon you, for you answer me. 11 Teach me your way, O LORD, that I may walk in your truth; unite my heart to fear your name. 12 I give thanks to you, O Lord my God, with my whole heart, and I will glorify your name forever. 15 But you, O Lord, are a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness.”

God is our Father, for those of us who are fathers, we would do whatever we could to provide for our children. We passionately want what is best for them. Yes it is often in a selfish way, but we don’t want to see our children hurt or struggling. I know my heart is often hurting for one of my children. Jesus puts it directly to us: “What father among you, if his son asks for a fish, will instead of a fish give him a serpent, of if he asks for an egg, will give him a scorpion? If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!” (Luke 11: 11-13) Certainly for those of us who are fathers, we know well how much we want to help our children to live a life that glorifies God where they know who their strength, provision and refuge is. Our all powerful, all loving God knows that infinitely better than us and waits for our prayers, waits for us to ask, to seek, to knock so that He will pour out His love and strength on us. We here at First Saint Johns know the power that we have in prayer. Many of us have worked hard to provide many ways to lift up prayer and to keep us focused on being united to the Father in prayer. If we are ever in need of prayer, we know that we will be included on our weekly prayer list and those in the church, the Lord Jesus in whose Body we share, that we will be prayed for. A prayer room has been made ready by loving hands on the second floor as a place of peace, quiet and refuge. A group often meets after worship to join together to lift up others and themselves in prayer. We gather together for a monthly prayer breakfast for our individual needs, the collective needs of First Saint Johns, for our church and those outside of our church who are looking for support in prayer. That we are always looking for opportunities to come together in prayer and to encourage individual prayer. That we maintain an environment here that is a constant reminder to all of us of the strength and power we have when we go to the Father in prayer that our refuge is always in Him.

The peace of God that surpasses all understanding keep your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus. Amin and Shalom

[1] Robert J Pase  “Concordia Pulpit Resources” Volume 26, Part 3, Series C p 17

[2] E Stanley Jones, quoted in Chuck Swindoll’s “Swindoll’s Ultimate Book of Illustrations and Quotes” p 453