Tag Archives: born again

Together or individually, which do you think works? John 20: 19-31 First St Johns April 3, 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 strive to be excellent together with all those in Jesus’ church said … AMEN!!

“We hang together or most assuredly we hang separately”. The church metaphor is to the extent that we hang together spiritually, each conceding part of how we think things should be and agreeing that the church is the Body of Christ and that we are all served best when we act as the Body of Christ and come together to serve Jesus and each other. We hang separately when we try to have things our own way, decide the church is all about us, and let the whole thing implode, hang separately, because we put our desires ahead of everything else.

Today’s opening thoughts in your bulletin put it this way in terms of being there for the group, in our case the church, the Body of Christ: “Thomas will forever be known as a doubter. In reality, he should be remembered less for his doubts, which the rest of the disciples also shared, and more for his failure to be present when Jesus first revealed Himself risen from the dead. No one grows in faith by failing to assemble together with the people of God around His Word and His Table. God grows our faith and deals with our doubts not with distance but with the intimacy of Jesus’ presence through the Means of Grace. The Spirit works through the Means of Grace, and there our doubts give way to faith and trust in Christ’s death and resurrection.” Just to make sure we are in agreement, “The Means of Grace” are … Baptism, you can’t even understand or accept what we are about in the church if you’re not born again in baptism. The Lord’s Supper, you cannot take the Body of Christ for the nourishment of your body and soul, if you are not part of the Body of Christ as a confirmed member in Jesus’ church. The preached word, what the pastor says in his sermons is not going to make sense to those who have not been born again, have not been strengthened by Jesus’ Body and Blood and have not come together as the Body of Christ in order to serve each other and those in the world. We can make it up as we go, or we can fuss and decide our way is the best way, instead of trying to build, grow and mature, we chose to tear down and destroy, for the sake of our own personal gratification.

When people start deciding it’s all about their personal opinion, like Thomas, and not about the group, yes the team, team implies working together for the same goal, for the church that goal is to be there as a witness to Christ so that others might come to know Jesus as their Savior. When the church is no longer on that course and has decided that it is personal preference, the Holy Spirit can’t guide something that’s not moving in one unified course. It becomes DIW, Dead in the water. It’s still floating, but it’s not making way. In my time as a pastor, I’ve observed a rather strange construction, that the world has talked us into, because I can find nothing in the Bible to justify it. Instead of letting, even helping, the church push on people, challenge them, encourage them to grow and mature, there are too many people who think “team” means the lowest common denominator. Too be sure, a team and the church for that matter, is only as strong as its weakest link. To many people, the logic goes this way, instead of trying to strengthen the weakest link, we weaken all the other strong links. No! An excellent team, and this goes for the church too, is certainly to care for, strengthen and encourage the weakest part of the team. But that doesn’t mean to give up on the mission that the Holy Spirit puts in front of us in order to somehow let the weakest part of the chain let the entire construction come apart. This often includes people who are here, but frankly just don’t care. Paul cut Mark loose because he failed him once, Paul wasn’t going to let his mission for Christ suffer because he couldn’t rely on Mark. If Thomas was concerned enough to be with the rest of the disciples, then when they told him what the rest knew was the absolute truth, Thomas would have been a lot smarter keeping his opinion to himself, instead of getting all pompous and patronizing with his unfounded “opinion”. Ever hear the phrase; “felt like a penny waiting for change.”? I can imagine that is exactly how Thomas felt when he was confronted with the very presence of the resurrected Lord. Thomas does make quite a confession: “My Lord and my God!” Thomas knows he was very wrong and to his credit makes an absolutely unconditional whole-hearted confession who Jesus is to him and that ought to be the confession of all of us, all the time. As an excellent team, we certainly care for the weakest. But just as in a military unit, you don’t put the weakest in the place where they are going to fail. The weak, the wounded, the fearful are put somewhere that they don’t get other people hurt. They certainly aren’t making important decisions, or expected to perform important functions, they and the rest of those concerned know enough to keep them where they aren’t going to destroy the rest of the unit, or cause others to fail in their important functions. We certainly don’t let others drag the team, the church, down to mediocrity and compromise. You may not want to go out and reach the world for Christ, but you better not make it difficult for others who do want to perform the mission of the church. An excellent team and that is what the church should strive to be, we have a Savior, a Father and Holy Spirit that exceed the highest levels of excellence, a Savior who took on all the evil, the degeneracy, the weakness of a cold, dark world and overcame it to give us the assurance of new life in the resurrected life of the resurrected perfect world. Can we strive to be anything less than excellent for Him who strove in all excellence for us? An excellent team, the church, pursues excellence and I have no doubt that the apostles were guided as an excellent team, by an excellent coach, that coach being,… the Holy Spirit. Can’t get more excellent than that. Seems I’m always running into people who love to tell me how they don’t need the church, they can do it all by themselves. Really? Are you about being that public witness to Christ, doing whatever you can to pass on Christianity, the love of Christ to the next generation? If they were at all serious about what they were saying, they would realize how much they need Christ’s church. But far too many are just not serious about Jesus, so why would they be serious about His Body, the church? Seems there are also plenty of those same people in the church. They say things, but they are just not serious.

One of my last big cases in the Coast Guard a 60 ton fishing boat was DIW about 50 miles off the coast, it’s generator failed. That is a very bad situation for any boat. It was February, the air temperature was about 17 degrees and the wind was about 30miles per hour. The seas were about five feet, not bad, but definitely a difficult situation. Try to picture this. There is no power in the boat. They are using the radio on batteries, and the batteries soon died. It is black, there is no light around you, it was about 11pm when we reached them. There is no heat, it’s cold and getting colder. You can’t go anywhere. Five foot seas and whatever the current was is pushing you around in a completely arbitrary manner. There is no one else around you. You are trusting that the Coast Guard has the means to reach you. But you’re still out there waiting, and in that time all kinds of other things can happen. If you go in that water, no one is going to reach you in time. Now if the Coast Guard is sitting around and everyone is debating about how this should get resolved, everyone has an opinion, from Group Boston who was in control of this case, down to the crewman on the boat, how do you think that’s going to end? That boat is going to be lost, the more we debate and discuss, the more those arbitrary winds, waves and current are going to take that boat. To the point where we just won’t be able to find it, by the time we decide with all the pushing and pulling that boat is going to be somewhere else and even the best navigator is going to be very challenged to factor in wind, waves and current to have an idea where that is. That is what the church is experiencing these days. Our generator is the Holy Spirit. But too often we take Him off line, decide that we’re going to debate and discuss every piddling point, not trust in those who have been trained to figure out how the church should function and while we’re doing all this hemming, hawing and debating, there is a very cold, dark world that is being pushed around by all kinds of negative waves, winds and currents, and if the church ever figures out what it’s about, it can’t seem to find where the world is and how to reach it  in time. This is the absolute truth, just to extend the illustration. We went out the door of the station at 10 pm. On military bases, 10pm is taps. That means that while we were walking down to the boat house, taps was playing on the station speakers. The name of the boat, was the Grim Reaper. Because we acted as a team, from Group Boston, about 15 miles away, the station leadership and the boatcrew we found the boat fairly quickly and managed to get it towed back, even in some challenging conditions. Five guys went home that morning, got a hot meal, went to sleep in a warm bed. It’s only because everyone trained for long hours, day and night for years, learned the facts, not their opinions, were not just there to rescue, but were eager to rescue, knew their roles in the process of saving, and did what they were trained and expected to do. That is what the teamwork of the church produces. We reach out to people who are very much dead in the water, they have no clue where they should be, what they should be doing. They are being beat down by the wind, waves and current of the society around them. They are in the middle of darkness, cold and the chaos of all the stuff going around them. Sure, you can be a Thomas, the rest of the team huddled behind locked doors and windows, cowering at every sound, every bump; “harrumph, harrumph, I don’t care what you guys think. Jesus wasn’t here, it’s all about me and I’m not going to believe anything you have to say, so harrumph, harrumph, I’m going to do things my way, and we’re all going to cower together completely DIW hoping that we will survive.” That’s no way to live, and it’s certainly not going to help you to survive in a cold, hopeless world.

Thomas decided that it was about him and what he saw, or didn’t see. Jesus gave him the option; “do you really need hands on proof? Go ahead, touch Me.” Thomas realized he needed to trust his brothers and we need to realize that we need to trust and rely on our brothers and sisters in the church, the Body of Christ.” Let’s make up our minds to keep Thomas’ confession on our hearts and to put excellence in what we do in the Body of Christ as Jesus’ team, His disciples.

The community of God’s people, saved by grace, functioning through grace, through the church where we seek to lift up Christ for ourselves, for each other and for the world, collectively, through grace to expand Christ’s church, so that all will see the church and the hope and promise of Christ through His church. While we are individually saved by grace, “the ideal of grace is not lived in isolation, but in community, the church.” The church striving in excellence and grace in Christ for mutual support and encouragement, can only effectively influence the world in that excellence and grace that Jesus gives us.

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

We are His saints, enriched by Him Matthew 5 All Saints Day First St Johns Nov 1, 2015

[For the audio of this sermon please click on the above link]

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 are saints in Christ said in a spirit of celebration and joy … AMEN

I am going to paraphrase Paul: “To the church of God that is in York, Pennsylvania to those sanctified in Christ Jesus, called to be saints together with all those who in every place call upon the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, both their Lord and ours: Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.” (1 Corinthians 1: 2-6)

Paul goes on to say to his brothers and sisters in Corinth as I would like to express those same sentiments to my brothers and sisters in York: “I give thanks to my God always for you because of the grace of God that was given you in Christ Jesus, that in every way you were enriched in him in all speech and all knowledge-even as the testimony about Christ was confirmed among you- so that you are not lacking in any spiritual gift, as you wait for the revealing of our Lord Jesus Christ, who will sustain you to the end, guiltless in the day of our Lord Jesus Christ.” (1 Corinthians 1: 7-8)

As His Saints we win and we didn’t do anything. Because He’s overcome, we have overcome. We have overcome the world. We have overcome death. We couldn’t do any of these things ourselves. While we like to think that we are so strong that we can achieve whatever we are confronted by, deep in our hearts we know we can’t. Why do you think that there is so much fear, anger, angst around us? All of these people who know perfectly well that they just can’t confront the world. They hear the lies of the world all around them and they try to believe them. They have to. Why? Because there is nothing else for them to believe. So they accept that they are somehow gifted, strong, personally endowed with some skill that is going to enable them to make it. But when you ask them what that looks like, how did they get there and for that matter, where is there? You get bewilderment, you get frustration. They don’t know. The world’s told them a lie, that they are somehow special. But they don’t feel special, they say they are. Students in the United States today rank way below the rest of the world in math, language, science. But they do rank first in one thing, in self-esteem. They feel good about themselves. But when you confront them with the reality of what that means, they have nothing. They are somehow special, but special how? They don’t know. Those around us today can’t perceive, or maybe more accurately don’t want to perceive anything past the next event. “Well let’s see what happens after the World Series. Let’s see what happens after the next election. Let’s see what happens after the next Federal Reserve meeting. Sure we wait to see the outcome, then what happens? Pretty much where we were. Nothing much has changed. We cling to the latest stock market numbers, and then we watch as our IRA’s, our financial future drop again. We think we have a way to make money on the stock market, we might even have a little success, then the market closes and we just spent money without lifting a finger. That affects the Christian and the non-Christian. But we have Jesus to cling to. He has overcome the stock market, the housing market, the GNP, the President and the Congress.

“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” That’s us! Ours is the kingdom of heaven. It might not “feel” like it right now. Another thing that separates us from the world? It’s not about our feelings. It is about what Jesus has done, what He continues to do. It’s His promise of heaven and eternity. Things might not be that great for you right now. We all know perfectly well that there are Christians all over the world who are very much suffering for their witness to Christ. You see that last verse in our Gospel reading? “…for your reward is great in heaven…” We have all had days and will have days, when we don’t feel so great, when everything’s going wrong, the future looks doubtful. Are there times when we’d like to give up? Sure! But because we are saved the Holy Spirit doesn’t give up on us. Why? We are His, we aren’t allowed to give up and we won’t because the Holy Spirit saves us from ourselves. The world does not have that promise, believes Satan’s lies and gives up, gives up in the form of drugs, alcohol, sex, money, power. They honestly believe this will save them, but we all know, and they know deep inside too, it will make them slaves and condemn them.

As a saint, as one who is saved in Jesus you are saved, you have the promises of Jesus, you have new life in Jesus, you are a special, holy, sanctified person, completely saved in Jesus and the Father’s special child and you didn’t do anything to be any of that. God chose you, He saved you, He recreated you in baptism, He lifted you up from the waters of baptism a new creation in Him. He gives you His own Body and Blood. His ministers share His saving, life restoring word with you. You received all this. You should praise and glorify God for what He’s given you. But none of that is yours because of your praise or worship, it’s yours because God gave it to you in your baptism in Jesus. Randy Alcorn writes: “What God made us to desire, and therefore what we do desire if we admit it, is exactly what he promises to those who follow Jesus Christ [His Saints]: a resurrected life in a resurrected body, with the resurrected Christ on a resurrected Earth. Our desires correspond precisely to God’s plans. It’s not that we want something, so we engage in wishful thinking that what we want exists. It’s the opposite – the reason we want it is precisely because God has planned for it to exist. As we’ll see, resurrected [saints] living in a resurrected universe isn’t our idea – it’s God’s[1]

For those He has separated, not our choice, His decision. That’s something that we take to the bank. If Jim makes a decision for God what does that mean? Well did I do it the right way, did I do it at the right time? I’m fallible did I make some kind of mistake? It isn’t on me, I am hagios I am holy, separated. You and I are made to be a completely new and different being because Jesus redeemed you and me, He died for you and me, He paid for all of our sins and now we are made perfectly clean and holy. I am made to be completely acceptable to God because of Jesus. The Holy Spirit led me to be baptized and in that baptism I am cleansed from the sin I was born in and the sins I have committed in my life and made to be that new creature, His saint. Then as a part of His church, the Body of Christ, I am given His Body and Blood to strengthen me in Body and Spirit, to be newly cleansed of my sin, renewed in my Spirit. All because of what He did for us, nothing of what we did. We therefore have that assurance that because God did it that it’s done, completely right, totally in His power and none of it in ours. There can’t be a mistake, because of that we have complete assurance that Jesus is the Lord of our lives, in this worldly life and in the true life that is eternal and perfect in the resurrection. Journal about it for the next week, what does it mean to you to be a[gioj completely clean in Christ, how does that compare to what you see in the rest of the world, why is this a reason to give thanks, to praise and glorify our Savior Jesus Christ?

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

[1] Alcorn, Randy   Heaven  pp 7-8

The Faith we are given in Jesus and what He does is what defeats Satan

“Christians are not called to defeat Satan. God has already done that in Christ! Nor is it our mandate to “bind” Satan.” (Henry Blackaby, Richard Blackaby Experiencing God Day by Day p 305) That last sentence really does get me. Regardless of what you’d like to think, my Pentecostal friends, Satan is still a servant of God. Only God “binds” Satan, certainly not any human. Satan is not a being to play fast and loose with or get cute with. Satan has been around thousands of years, no doubt learning a great deal about human nature and how to use it against us. He was created to be the most magnificent, brilliant being by God Himself. So much so that he thought he could, maybe even should, be God. For a human being to trifle with Satan is stupid. While there are Christians who think that they can take on Satan, they will only end up looking stupid. Frankly those who do it make the rest of Christians look stupid, in so many ways. I’m not going to be charitable about this, because there are too many Christians out there who presume way too much. They feel it’s up to them to confront and battle and direct the Holy Spirit as to who, where etc. It’s kind of too bad, like so many other Christians who presume, how much better would it be if we were following the Holy Spirit’s leading, waiting for His guidance, instead of us presuming to be able to call down the Holy Spirit against Satan. Do you have some bizarre idea that God is not aware of what Satan is doing? Let’s let God do it and we do what He guides us to do. “You will find yourself fighting battles that Christ has already won!” Indeed, Satan was defeated by Jesus’ death on the cross, we were saved in Jesus’ sacrifice. Do we pray for Jesus’ protection and guidance. Absolutely, but there is a difference between asking for protection and presuming to direct it.

Does Satan attack? Certainly, not as much as we often like to think. Too often people invite demons in, versus their somehow being an innocent victim. Messing around with the occult, with drugs, alcohol, sex, letting Satan guide and shunning the Holy Spirit. Anytime we fail, or seem to get slammed down does not mean that Satan is attacking either. Often times it is our own failure and we’d much rather shift that on Satan instead of taking responsibility. Does Satan oppress Christians? Absolutely, but too often it is a Christian messing around where he/she shouldn’t be messing around and inviting the oppression. Can a Christian be possessed? I don’t think so. Greater minds than mine have made this case, suffice to say, if we are genuinely indwelt by the Holy Spirit, there is no room for any kind of demonic occupation.

To be sure: “ESV Ephesians 6:12 For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.” I would never disagree with Paul that there are demonic forces acting on us, the world all around us is seeking to turn us away from Jesus to anything else. The Blackabys talk about the fact that Paul was certainly regularly opposed by demonically inspired people on a regular basis in the Book of Acts. I often feel that when others oppose me, the inspiration for this opposition is Satanic. Believe me I’ve seen it in the church. I honestly wonder sometimes how some “Christians” sincerely come to the conclusions they do and take the positions they take. Too often it seems to me, that they have an agenda that they think the church should be picking up on, instead of following the church’s agenda in Jesus.

Absolutely we will be opposed, as Christians, by Satan. If we are faithfully following God’s leading if we are being a faithful servant of Christ and doing His will, there will be those who will be inspired by Satan because they are convinced that their agenda is more important than the church’s the Body of Christ. The Blackabys make the case that we need to be sensitive to the fact: “Your adversary may be hopelessly in bondage to sin. Rather than retaliating, you should immediately and earnestly intercede for that person.” Absolutely you should keep that person in prayer, that they will be lead by the Holy Spirit and put aside their agenda and trust how the Holy Spirit wants them to proceed. Having said that, you don’t let them lead you in the wrong direction. Too often well meaning Christians will be more concerned about the “relationship” versus God’s will. If God is leading me and someone else is trying to take me off track at the risk of “relationship”, my relationship with the Father is far more important than any other person. There are simply too many people out there who are willing suckers for Satan, often for the most frivolous reasons, and expect you to just detour for them and their misguided agenda. We are always looking to build relationships with those who are Christian brothers and sisters and those who are not. But you have to use some genuine Christian discernment. You are pointing them to Jesus, not being led by their misguided “opinion”. Don’t get me started, how many times someone has expected me to fold up like a cheap cot to their uninformed, misguided opinion.

The Blackabys assert that others are often just “misguided”, sort of benignly, innocent, even “unwitting instruments of the spiritual forces of darkness.” (Ibid p 304) Yaaa, I’m not so sure. If these people were sincerely committed to their Christian walk, being true Christian disciples, I would make the case that they would not be so easily misguided, duped. Hey I’m sure I’ve been led astray and thought something was OK, or knew it wasn’t but worked overtime to rationalize it. But I would not expect to be coddled and excused, but that I would be confronted and held accountable. Sure, remember that they are probably being demonically affected, and hold that up in prayer. I can think of occasions in my life where I should be more actively praying for someone who is being misguided. Too many times someone has drowned because they made a well meaning attempt to save someone else, but let that person drag them in and in their panic overwhelmed their presumptive rescuer and ended up letting themselves and their rescuer die. Paul was never bashful about confronting those who opposed him in evil. I’m not saying get all Pentecostal on someone, but I am saying not to let them drag you down with them. They need to be opposed but only in the strength of the Holy Spirit, because if I go up against Satan that is a ridiculous mismatch. If the Holy Spirit confronts Satan to protect and guide me, well Satan will lose, game, set and match. I’m smart enough to figure out how I want to figure in that equation.

Satan is defeated, he is a clever opponent, he has nothing to lose and certainly he is going to oppose anyone who is being used and guided by the Holy Spirit. We who are serving Christ are going to have to expect to take a lot of hits from Satan. That’s a good thing, it means we are truly serving Christ. We should pray for relief and for the protection of the Holy Spirit, but we are also given the faith we need to know that we are also being guided by Jesus’ plan, not ours. That is also a good thing. We should pray that another person be relieved of their being influenced, oppressed, even possessed by demonic forces. But we should never be guided by them out of some misguided “compassion” on our part. They are only going to suffer, maybe destroyed and pull us down with them, somewhere we don’t need to go. Let’s be a positive, pro-active witness for Christ. Not dancing around or presuming to have gifts we don’t have or confronting demons in our own power, it’s just not going to end up well, more than likely being chewed up and spit out. Then we will be wondering why the Holy Spirit didn’t act according to our instructions and maybe even ending up just denying Christ entirely. Satan really doesn’t care how he gets you there, so long as it’s away from salvation and eternal life in Jesus.

Meyer Minute Suicide in the world, those who see no other way Nov 5

This subject is vitally important and Rev Dr Dale Meyer really hits it on the head. The rate of suicide is climbing, especially in terms of middle aged people, although it is one of the leading causes of death for those under 30. Of all the ways to die, suicide is clearly the most controllable and in Jesus it is even more so. The hope of the world is Jesus and we trust what He is doing in our life. We may not like the way our life is going, we probably think we have a better plan, but we trust that in the end Jesus’ plan is much better and it always is. Rev Dr Dale Meyer is the president of Concordia Seminary, he was the voice of Lutheran Hour Ministries.
Dale Meyer

Meyer Minute for November 5

When Charles Gliniewicz was killed on duty in northern Illinois, an extensive manhunt searched for the cop killer. Yesterday: “This investigation has concluded…that this is a carefully staged suicide. He had been stealing and laundering money from Fox Lake” (Wall Street Journal, November 5; A6). Gliniewicz concluded that suicide was his only way out.

Actor and comedian Robin Williams committed suicide in August 2014. Recently his widow Susan said that he struggled with depression, Parkinson’s, and Lewy body dementia, an illness that leads to declining mental ability (St. Louis Post-Dispatch, November 4; A18). Again but for different reasons, Mr. Williams saw no way out.

“Death rates are rising for middle-aged white Americans, while declining in other wealthy countries and among other races and ethnicities. The rise appears to be driven by suicide, drugs and alcohol abuse” (New York Times, November 3; A15).

Whatever sad reasons lead someone to choose death, suicide goes directly against the God who gives life and promises hope (Psalm 42:11). “Thou shalt not murder” (Exodus 20:13). So it’s a sin against God but a sin for which Jesus died. While God only knows the eternal destiny of the suicide, we who survive can know suicide is temptation to be avoided, by you, by me, and by those around us. Easily said, but overcoming the temptation when you’re in emotional or physical despair seems insurmountable. Each of us in our individual and sometimes lonely lives needs to be in a safe place where support and love are dependably present to help us overcome the temptation. Does our family, our congregation and our presence at work and in community promote a culture that cares for the weakest? Even if we do, sin is so insidious that all of us can rely on only one guarantee.

“When the righteous cry out for help, the Lord hears and delivers them out of all their troubles. The Lord is near to the broken-hearted and saves the crushed in spirit. Many are the afflictions of the righteous, but the Lord delivers him out of them all” (Psalm 34:17-19).

“When all things seem against us, to drive us to despair, we know one gate is open, one ear will hear our prayer” (Lutheran Service Book, 915, 4). God, help us all.

Blessed to share Jesus’ blessings Mark 10: 17-22 First St Johns Oct 11, 2015

[For the audio of this sermon click on the above link]

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 share God’s blessings with others said … AMEN!

Today’s reading should seem obvious to us, this is of course Mark’s take on the rich young ruler. To most of us today, we see charity as pretty much of a given, especially in the church. We do things here at First St Johns like the Food Bank, Panera Bread that we give to people on Monday mornings, helping people in job search, distributing clothing. A very few people give towards an “alms fund”, those funds are given to me and I use them to help people who are in genuine need. We do other things on a pretty regular basis. For the first century Jewish person, that kind of charity really wasn’t a given. There were those who were blessed because for some reason God obviously chose to give them great wealth and so they must have some virtue that they deserved to be especially blessed by God. Jesus makes His well known observation of the rich young ruler: “’Truly I say to you, it will be hard for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven. Again I tell you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God.” (Matt 19: 23-24) What was Jesus saying here? Today we kind of nod our head, in agreement, yea you go get him Jesus, those rich people who hoard all that money; George Soros, Bill Gates, Warren Buffet, Rockefellers, Bushes. Ya, the problem is that when we sit there and say that, we’re kind of being disingenuous. Jesus is identifying a very obvious issue here, this man is obviously wealthy and obviously devoted to His wealth. The Concordia Self-Study Bible notes: “In his listing of the commandments, Jesus omitted ‘Do not covet’. This was the rich man’s main problem and was preventing him from entering life.”[1]

Now do you think Jesus just forgot about that one? Or just wanted to give the rich young ruler a cursory overview of the commandments? … We are like little children to Jesus, the oldest and wisest of us, don’t even scratch the surface of the depth and breadth of what God- Father, Son and Holy Spirit know. Have you ever taught a little child to count … One, two, …. Three? Don’t you think Jesus was trying to get the rich young ruler to come up with his own answer. In Matthew’s version Jesus says: “If you want to enter life, obey the commandments.” The rich young ruler replied “Which ones?” I have to interject my opinion as to Jesus’ reaction … What???? Are you somehow of the opinion that the commandments are some kind of smorgasbord? Pick from this one, don’t like that one. Have to tell you, that’s pretty much the consensus today. Ya, the commandments, some of them are good, some of them … nah, n/a, not applicable, at least not to me. Jesus leaves which commandment out that would apply? … Do not covet, number ten. Rather lengthy one too, seems that God wanted to make sure that we understood, we don’t covet anything. Yet here’s this guy who seems to come off as very devout, maybe expert on the commandments and he seems to have a very distorted view of them. Look around today’s world, it is clear the world has a very distorted view of the commandments, much like the young man. The world also seems to add some of their own commandments. One of course being “judge not lest ye be judged”. That seems to be a big favorite today. And other commandments, ya not so important; Have no idols, taking the Lord’s name in vain, Sabbath day, honoring mother and father, false witness, coveting? You can really see why the young ruler wanted to be clear on which ones, I would be willing to bet that first century Israel was much like 21st century America. Pick and choose, which one’s important, which one isn’t. They’re the Ten Commandments, not suggestions!

Let’s look at the Amos reading, we need to be a little fair here. It has almost become accepted today that if someone is wealthy, they had to have done it by either receiving it, or through dishonesty. I got mine honestly, but that guy with the bigger house, bigger car, bigger big screen TV, he must have taken advantage of someone to get all that. No, that is not true, I prefer to believe that most have done it through hard work, sacrifice, being smart. Are there people who achieve wealth in a way that lacks integrity? Yes! In the Prophet Amos’ reading, Amos is certainly saying on God’s behalf that many, seems even most, are acquiring wealth dishonestly: “For I know how many are your transgressions and how great are your sins, you who afflict the righteous, who take a bribe, and turn aside the needy in the gate.” (Amos 5:12) At this time in history, Israel/Judah, the kingdom has been divided by then, has become very corrupt. That is what prophets like Amos, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Zechariah are warning the people about. God is not going to continue to tolerate this. And yet there is the recognition of the fact by Amos: “They hate him who reproves at the gate, and they abhor him who speaks the truth.” (Amos 5:10). The men of a town would gather at the gate to the city where people would bring law suits or accuse someone of breaking the law. It was where people expected justice. For those who did act justly, according to God’s will, they were not appreciated, especially by those who held some level of wealth and power. They expected those who were judges to just roll over for them. They would cheat someone, be accused and the judge was supposed to turn a blind eye, that is why Amos refers to those who “afflict the righteous, who take a bribe.” I have to play by the rules, but apparently the guy who has money and power, he doesn’t, he gets his way regardless. I have to believe that while the rich young ruler talked a good game, which we see many today do, he really didn’t play by the rules. Remember Zaccheus, with Jesus? He offered, without prompting to repay any he might have not dealt fairly with. The rich young ruler didn’t. Much like people today and then, he seemed to have bought into this belief that because of his wealth that was his golden ticket in. That was not what Jesus was about. “Jesus looking at him, loved him…” I think Jesus felt compassion and pity. Jesus knew that the rich young ruler was too tied to his riches and while he said the right things, they were not where his heart was. He had bought into the world’s view that wealth meant he was blessed and had a stairway to heaven. Referring to the Led Zepplin song, clearly even in the 1960s and I think as much if not more so now, “there’s a lady who’s sure all that glitters is gold and she’s buying a stairway to heaven.” Peter doubts Jesus’ words too, “We have left everything to follow you! What then will there be for us?”(Matt19: 27) Jesus replied: I tell you the truth, at the renewal of all things, [the resurrection] when the Son of Man sits on his glorious throne, you who have followed me will also sit on twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel. And everyone who has left houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or children or fields for my sake will receive a hundred times as much and will inherit eternal life.” (Matt 20: 28-29) Oh Peter, because of your faithfulness and the faithfulness of all who will follow, what that man has will look like petty cash compared to what you will receive, paraphrasing Jesus.

Jesus gave up the glory of heaven to live life as a man on earth. He sacrificed to be one of us and more than that, He sacrificed all He had in the torture of the cross, His very life, God the Son, perfect and holy, sacrificed to pay for our sins. God gives us what we need, we pray for our daily bread and He faithfully provides for what we need to live the life that He wants for us. That does not mean that we ignore His will and go out and grab for all that we can, to dishonestly enrich ourselves. For that matter He wants us to use some of the gifts He has given us for those who are in need, to provide for His church so that collectively we can reach and provide for those who are in physical need, and so they can also hear the Gospel of Jesus Christ. To not just live in the world today, but hear the promise of life and life more abundant in the eternal, perfect world of the resurrection. So, yes, take out that journal, take time in prayer. Are we too much about the world’s message? Or are we about the message of the Gospel. Do we believe that because we have much in the world, that God has blessed us to wealth, and yes, pretty much all of us here are pretty wealthy compared to the standards of Jesus’ time and of the rest of the world’s standards today. Do we live the life that Jesus wants for us by sharing our abundance? Or do we live the deluded life of the world that says our life should be plentiful here and also buys us a stairway to heaven?

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

[1] Concordia Self Study Bible p 1477

Original sin

Part of my responsibility in preaching is to preach about Law and Gospel. A good Lutheran sermon always contains discussion that we are condemned under the Law, we all break the Law, we all offend God, when I say all, I mean ALL. That therefore means all those who are human and are alive and have ever been alive (except of course Jesus). No one is exempt and so the pushback I always get is that there must be some, yup like babies, that aren’t sinful. Some Christians will even assert that there is an “age of accountability” and for those who fall below that age they are not sinful. I mean how could cute, sweet infants be sinful? I have to wonder if the person that brings this point has ever had to deal with a baby. Does a baby mean to be selfish, angry, demanding? Of course not they will respond, that’s just their nature. Uhm yea, and that’s the point. We are all naturally sinners, King David writes: “ESV Psalm 51:5 Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity, and in sin did my mother conceive me.” This is Scriptural, there is no reference in Scripture about an “age of accountability”. This is just a way for man to overcome an uncomfortable truth, from birth to death we are immersed in sin and death in this life, that is our condition. You don’t slowly develop into being a sinner, you are one right out of the gate.

And of course you always have the “…well I’m a good person…” Really? In general I’m sure you love your momma and don’t kill people, I’m really not trying to offend, but for every person who thinks they’re a “good” person, I bet I could ultimately turn up five people who would not think they’re so good, would have some problem with them. That’s the human condition, not so much that any of us are “bad”, we are and we do sin, we do things that offend a pure, holy, just God. We sin because we are born of two sinners, into a sinful world, a world of death and defect. None of us can be anything else. So you oh so sensitive souls who take offense at every little slight, first off, get over your sensitive little self. Second, deal with it, you are in this world, with us people and you are as sinful as anyone else. This state of sin cannot but separate us from God whose nature is completely opposite to ours, completely holy.

Having said this, there is a qualification. While we all remain sinners until the day someone’s throwing dirt on our face, some of us have been brought back into relationship with God. There is only one way we can be brought into relationship with God, and that is through the righteousness of God the Son, the Lord Jesus Christ. We are still sinners, but because Jesus paid for our sins through His sacrifice on the Cross and in His perfect righteousness we are saved and restored into right relationship with God.

Martin Chemnitz was the next generation of Lutheran theologians after Martin Luther. Chemnitz picked up Luther’s mantle and wrote and taught extensively on Lutheran belief, or as he and Luther would have taught what was original, genuine Christian teaching. In the following Chemnitz writes about what “original sin” is, that which we are all under and is only healed through baptism in Jesus. Also why sin separates us from God and why that separation needs to be closed in order for us to be in God’s will and not condemned to the sin, death and lostness of the world. We can reject God, but that leaves us in the human condition of sin and death, and that only results in condemnation. If we reject God, there is only one option, we are all condemned by sin and if we stay in that condition and reject Christ we are condemned to Hell. By our rejection of God, because Hell is the final end for all who want their way and not God’s.

To rewind, this is from Chemnitz, in “The Doctrine of Man” (p 196), giving a description of our spiritual condition from birth to death unless it is remedied by baptism, the faith that God gives us and maintained through confession, absolution, taking the true Body and Blood of Jesus and hearing the preached Word of Law and Gospel.

Chemnitz writes about the condition of those who are not in Jesus: ” Original sin is darkness of the mind, aversion to the will of God and stubbornness of the heart against the Law of God. These evils are not called actions, but out of them arise the actual sins, both inner and outer. In the mind come persistent doubts and blasphemies. In the will arise false security, neglect and mistrust of God, admiration of self and the placing of our life and wishes before the command of God. Then come great confusions and a flood of vile affections. Let us not imagine that original sin is an inactive thing. For though indeed a few men are held in check by honest discipline, nevertheless there are great doubts in the minds of men and many inner drives pulling them away from God and running contrary to His Law. It is as Jeremiah says: The heart of man is wicked, brazen and inscrutable (Jer 17:9)”

“Thus with the original depravity there are always actual sins, which in the unregenerate are all mortal. And the total person is damned with his fruits, as John says: ‘He that believeth not the Son … the wrath of God abideth on him’ (John 3:36)…”

Of course we have those who will just reject God’s say. “Who’s to say what is good or bad? I didn’t vote for God!” They will ask up to the point when someone does something to them, then of course it requires a federal investigation. If it happens to you, eh, too bad for you. get over it. If it happens to me? Well of course that’s wrong, I demand justice! This is of course the immature, selfish, sinful nature of the world. The dog eat dog, survival of the fittest, if I can take from you to bad for you and good for me. That’s why there is God, He is a God of justice, completely holy and wrathful against those who sin and offend. He is there to assure that ultimately those who offend, who reject Him, who make themselves their idol, their ultimate end, that they will not be allowed to offend again. That His people will be saved to eternal life. They will no longer be subjected to the evil, sinful lusts of those in the world who truly believe that it is all about them. In Christ we have the promise of eternal life the way it was meant to be, the new world of the resurrection. Yes there is a God, who does love us, who did give His Son to save us. Who also is not going to tolerate anyone else presuming to be God, to set the rules, to determine what is “fair” and “unfair”. It always amuses me to hear someone say something to the effect that they don’t need God, they can operate their own life, it’s not fair, I didn’t vote for this. There really are presumptuous, arrogant people like that. But if we’re all honest, we’re like that to some degree. The world and all who are in it are sinful by nature and man is just fine with that, we want it our way. We are all condemned by original sin which is our nature, God will not tolerate that. He did give us a way to be in relationship with Him even in this lost world and that is through Jesus. So you can live in your fantasy world that denies the sinful world around us and that you don’t need to be saved. Or you can really decide to follow where the Holy Spirit is leading you and to start living true life in Jesus. You are a sinner and you need to be saved in Jesus.

Confess and pray to one another that we will be healed James 5 First St Johns September 27, 2015

[For the audio version of this sermon click on the above link]

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 trust in the Lord for healing body and soul said … AMEN!

If you have been to a healing service here, our epistle lesson this morning will sound familiar. The first verse is instructional to all of us “Is anyone among you suffering? Let him pray. Is anyone cheerful? Let him sing praise. We should not just pray, but also praise.

Certainly I appreciate the faith of those who come to the healing service and are looking to God for healing. This service isn’t my invention, it is in the Lutheran Service Book and we who are brothers and sisters in Jesus know the pericopes in the Gospels that are about the many healings that Jesus did. He healed people who were suffering from demonic possession, the man with the withered hand, the woman with the flow of blood, the man who couldn’t walk etc. We know that if it is God’s will and we lift up in prayer, by ourselves and/or part of a Christian group that God will heal. I think that the line “And the prayer of faith will save the one who is sick” is interesting. It says the prayer of faith will “save” the one who is sick. We know that it is not always God’s will to heal. The healing service includes “we also pray that those who are suffering do not lose faith.” As much as the healing service is about physical healing, it is also about spiritual healing.

I do not give them a 30-day money back guarantee when I do the healing service. I can’t promote this service as if it’s some Benny Hinn football stadium rally in front of 30,000 people. What about the people who don’t make it on the stage in time? Too bad for them? How come Benny Hinn can’t heal everyone in the stadium, if he has this miraculous power? Seems they have to come up on stage in front of the crowd and cameras so that he can make a spectacle out of his “healing”. I very much believe in the healing power of God. I very much believe that when faithful brothers and sisters gather together to pray for healing that it is effective. I don’t believe that I should turn it into a spectacle. Because I’m special? That I just send healing requests to the Throne of God and He heals on command? “Oh was that Driskell, he needs someone healed of cancer? OK, Jim’s my boy, there ya go healed.” This is the sin of presumption. I don’t set up the stadium, have a whole lot of people show up and bibady, bobady boo, everyone’s healed on my word. That would be great, but that’s not how God works. It’s about His will and who He wants healed and, in some cases, who He wants to take home. As one wag on the internet said, if these Benny Hinn types are so great, why don’t they stop at the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, which specializes in the treatment of pediatric cancer in Boston and heal all the children there? Seems the people who do this are more interested in self-promotion and the spot-light.

This is one of the ways the world sees Christians as gullible, superstitious, and presumptuous. Because of this many dismiss Christianity as silly and fatuous. They dismiss the Lord Jesus, He who died to save us, to be our redemption for our sins, to put us in right relationship with the Father. Yes our earthly life is important, but our eternal life in the resurrection is so much more important. That is all dismissed by the world because they don’t want to be one of those silly, easily influenced Christians. It does make me wonder: “OK, you don’t believe that Jesus can heal, what do you have that’s better?” I never get a straight answer, but the attitude seems to be, that they are too dignified, just plain too full of themselves to believe in silly Christian superstition. It really is kind of a metaphor of the world. I’m not going to believe what Jesus did for me for the sake of my dignity. There is no other solution, so I’m going to make my pride, the important factor, reject Jesus and be eternally condemned. OK, whatever? I can relate to the feeling that there are too many out there who try to make a side show attraction out of healing, which never seems to help the sick person and just makes Christians look silly.

The old country preacher was holding a healing service and he invited anyone to come up for healing. Billy comes up and says “Pastor I need help for the hearing.” Preacher raises his hands up in prayer, puts his hands over Billy’s ears, sticks his finger in Billy’s ears, loudly pronouncing and appealing for healing. Finally he stops and looks at Billy and asks can you hear? And Billy says I can hear fine, I need prayer for the court hearing next week. Yes that was a Chuck Swindoll.

Even the secular world has come around to the fact that there is power in faithful, prayer. Dr Harold Koenig, MD, was a professor at the Harvard Medical School for many years, and one of the things that he taught on was how prayer, faithful Christians have helped many people. Much research has shown that people who are prayed for actually do have better recoveries, fewer complications. Even more compelling those who know they’re being prayed for have even better results than. We have our prayer list that we pray over at every worship, at the prayer group that meets Sunday after worship, and at our prayer breakfast. You are encouraged to take the list in your bulletin home with you and include it in your daily prayers at home. When people ask me to put someone on that list, I ask them to give me the persons mailing address so that I can send them a postcard telling them they’re being prayed for. Sure I do that partly because I’ve seen the research that shows they will have a better result when they know they’re being prayed for and also I do it in faith for what St James tells us, to pray over the person, and our healing service is an effective way to pray over a sick or ailing person. But it’s always in trust that regardless of the outcome it is according to God’s will.

Dr Koenig is now the director at Duke University’s Center for spirituality, theology and health. We’re not talking about Bob Jones University, we are talking about very secular institutions of higher learning, Harvard and Duke have both come to recognize man isn’t just a physical machine, we are also spiritual beings that can be healed through the power of prayer that St James tells us about.

An article in Web MD states: “Research focusing on the power of prayer in healing has nearly doubled in the past 10 years,…” Dr Mitchell Krucoff states: “All of these studies, all the reports, are remarkably consistent in suggesting the potential measurable health benefit associated with prayer or spiritual interventions.” The article quotes other research: “These studies show that religious people tend to live healthier lives.  In fact, people who pray tend to get sick less often, as separate studies conducted at Duke, Dartmouth, and Yale universities show. Some statistics from these studies:

  • Hospitalized people who never attended church have an average stay of three times longer than people who attended regularly.
  • Heart patients were 14 times more likely to die following surgery if they did not participate in a religion.
  • Elderly people who never or rarely attended church had astrokerate double that of people who attended regularly.

Also, says Koenig, “people who are more religious tend to become depressed less often. And when they do become depressed, they recover more quickly from depression. “[1]  We are told to raise up prayers to God and to ask Him for prayer. I would never, ever tell you not to pray for healing. But our prayer has to be in terms of trusting God, relying on His will. His will is not always to heal, but He often does and when it happens it is staggering. But we don’t do it in a prideful, presumptuous way as if God performs services on demand. It is about the faith God gives us and His will, His plan. His will is always, better than ours. Even at the times when we don’t see it that way, we realize later, that whether God chose to heal or not, it was the best result and God uses that healing or lack thereof to His glory, not making it a spectacle. Clearly, as St James tells us: “The prayer of a righteous person has great power as it is working.”

We lift up prayer here at First St Johns for a reason. We are not here to make gratuitous gestures, go through the motions, we are a people of faith and we trust when God tells us to pray for those who are sick. Yes, the secular findings are interesting, but regardless, we trust God’s word to heal or to take a loved one home. We trust His will and we will continue to be people who take prayer seriously. Not just for physical healing, but as Dr Luther tells us, as a pastor I am a seel sorger, a “soul healer”. I want to be involved in physical healing, but also in the healing of the spirit. Healing of the spirit is certainly for life in this world, but our Lord Jesus has given us the ultimate healing, the forgiveness of our sins, our reconciliation with God the Father who heals our soul that we will live in the eternal perfection of the resurrection.

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

[1]http://www.webmd.com/balance/features/can-prayer-heal