Tag Archives: brothers and sisters in Jesus

Fear the world or fear God?

Seems like we’ve had it backward for a long time. Oh sure, the world can do bad, mean things to you. However, can it do anything worse than an all-powerful God who can not only allow your life to be tough here, but can just allow you to slide away from Him and into an eternal world of “wailing and gnashing of teeth”. (Matthew 13:42, 50)

Fear is just so prevalent in the world, despite all the technological advances, plenty of almost anything, fear is even more common. You see these people with their facial hair, tatoos, piercings, all intended to intimidate. What you find are these fearful little people who live in a constant state of anxiety.

The Blackabys’ point out “…Their fear hinders them from pleasing God because they waste their efforts appeasing other people…Fear causes us to stop and question what God has clearly told us to do.” (Experiencing God day by day p 34)

Just like all the other vices of the world, the ones that we are just so “free” in, (yea ask the next heroin user you see how “free” that person is. Same goes for alcohol, sex, money, power, yea sure “free”)

The question for me is how to I help people understand how real God is, how they should fear Him. “ESV Matthew 10:28 And do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell.” Shouldn’t this focus people’s attention? This life is not all there is, there is an eternity. That eternity will be in Christ in the new world, the perfect life of the resurrection. Or it will be eternal separation and suffering. That is what existence is separated from God, if you reject Him, you are choosing separation, existence without the all-powerful protecting hand of God.

God does not will anyone’s death, He does not want anyone separated. But if you let your fears separate you from God, if you do not trust in His power, that He will save you from anything you are afraid of now, ultimately in the new world, then you have rejected life and allowed yourself to be separated, because of your fears and that you thought you could handle your fears alone.

I hope that you will pray that the Holy Spirit guide you from your fears, to show you true freedom in Jesus, that life won’t always be easy. But in Jesus we will ultimately overcome our fears. Say thank you to the Holy Spirit for guiding you from your fears and into Jesus.

Hallowed be His Name

Worship, that is about hallowing God’s Name. That’s how Jesus tells us to pray, “hallowed be Thy Name”. We are called to bring glory to God’s Name. As the Blackabys point out: “If, however, our actions detract from God’s reputation…We can so tarnish the name of father that we hinder other people in coming to God.” (Experiencing God day by day  Henry and Richard Blackaby p 229)

People today are hungry for God, God the Father of Jesus Christ, the all-powerful, omniscient, omnipresent, Creator and Sustainer of all. But we, as Christians, have trivialized His Name so much. Starting decades ago, Jesus our buddy, our brother, our co-pilot. How can God be all – powerful if He needs us to lead the way and He’s just there to buck us up. I can always use another buddy, God has blessed me with many, but what I really need is an all powerful God, who created the universe, controls the universe and is completely in control of how this is all going to play out and how I, as an eternal being in Jesus, will live my eternal life. The world really wants to know that God. The world wants to see Him being treated worshipfully and reverently by His people. How can they take seriously a God that when we leave “worship”, it’s about the same way we would feel leaving an Aerosmith concert. All pumped up, but not for the right reasons.

Our worship should be respectful in terms of how seriously we take God vs how much it’s really about us. We talk about profaning God’s name vs Hallowing His Name. How does a “praise band” hallow God’s Name in worship. Seems to me that trivialize God’s Name for our own comfort and amusement. How can anyone else take His Name seriously, turn to Him as the true strength against the evil of the world, the true salvation of the world, the true sustainer of the world? “Jesus is my buddy, Jesus makes me happy, it’s all about me la, la, la”. One person said they really question a song about Jesus when the number of personal pronouns outweighs anything else in the song. Me, I, ours, it’s not really about Jesus is it? It’s really about you, isn’t it? That’s what distinguishes hymns about God, they are all about God, how He is the ultimate, how we glorify Him. He is the infinite, eternal, all powerful God, there is so much to say about Him, not what we usually have now, a mindless mantra, repeating over and over some particular attribute. The attribute the singer clings to because they really don’t know all that much about God. Jesus told us: “KJV Matthew 6:7 But when ye pray, use not vain repetitions, as the heathen do: for they think that they shall be heard for their much speaking.” [Bible works}

We are taking God, the rock of our salvation and making Him the rock and roll of the trivial. We’re trying to turn worship into a time that pleases us, not Him, making His Name common place and trivial, what’s the point of glorifying Him? After all it is all about me, right? God is a tool for me, to use or not use as I deem necessary. He’s not the all powerful Savior, Sustainer, Creator, all powerful God. He’s just something to amuse and please me. If He doesn’t serve my purposes, well there are other alternatives in our great post-modern world, things that will make me “happy”, because the ultimate goal isn’t the reverential worship of God almighty, hallowing His Name. The ultimate goal is that I “like” things and they make me happy. “We ought to pray daily, as Jesus taught us to, that God’s name be treated as holy.” (Blackabys)

Sometimes you just want to chuck it Luke 4 First St Johns Feb 14, 2016

[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 look for peace, rest, renewal and restoration in Jesus said … AMEN!

Yea, there are plenty of times when you just want to chuck it. We are blessed that the people who stuck with First St Johns didn’t feel that way. We are blessed with those who have persevered, carried on and passed on Lutheran worship here. And very blessed that the Holy Spirit has kept us strong and committed. But all of us, no matter how bull-headed have had times when we just want to pull back and rest. A lot of times we feel that being a Christian is a grind, always things to do, always a new season. Usually we are excited, anticipating the new season. Other times we feel we haven’t recovered from the last chain of events, and we’re looking down a whole new line of hoops to jump through. There are certainly times when we just need to pull back and rest. We can, and often are led to by the Holy Spirit to rest and re-energize for a new pursuit, new growth in Christ.

While we can make it that way, being a Christian isn’t about being ground down with constant tasks, constant occasions to have to step up and run into another burning house. Being a Christian is very much about rest, peace, promise, hope. It is about knowing that our heavenly Father isn’t pushing down on us, but we are there for Him to pull us up to him. The Father expects us to rest and wait for Him to move us, He doesn’t expect the effort to be on our part. We’ve all had the experience when you have felt the Holy Spirit grabbing you by the collar and sitting you down. “No more, stop, I’m not about constant frenzy. I am about peace, rest.” Jesus told us; “ESV Matthew 11:30 For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” This is meant for the resurrection, but it’s also meant for this life too.

Rest, recovery is important. It is stressed over and over again with athletes. An athlete has to get eight hours of sleep. God designed our bodies to be mended while we sleep. Not just mended, strengthened too. We cannot repair and build muscle without sleep. We can exercise, eat right, do all the active stuff, but if we do not give our body the chance to do what it was designed to do, rest, sleep, so our bodily processes can take over and repair and build, we will not be as strong as we should be. Since God designed our bodies to be like that, it stands to reason that He has made our spirits to be that way too. We can be in perfect physical health, but if our spirit has been pushed to the limit, beaten down, it will affect our health.

I submit that the season of Lent was timed by God in order to help us to do that. Winter puts a lot of stress on the body, certainly this winter has so far. We need to be set up in order to charge out into the season of growth and renewal and it seems God intended Lent for us to do that. We have grown away from an agrarian society, we are out of touch with the seasons that God created. Most of us have to work and produce year round, so we miss the importance of restoration, renewal and growth. Shouldn’t we see the period of Lent as that time?

In our reading today, we see that Jesus has been led out into to the wilderness to be tempted by Satan. It seems as though Jesus was given forty days of peace and then submitted to Satan’s temptations. Forty days where He was left to contemplate, to take in, to be built up, strengthened, fortified, and then to, as it were, take Satan’s best shots. Clearly Satan confronted Jesus when Jesus’ hunger was greatest and His resistance was lowest. The Jewish people actually considered the desert to be a place of evil, filled with trials and where evil lurked. God sent Israel into the desert to wander for forty years because they had continually defied God after escaping from Egypt, clearly that was a God ordained time out for people who just would not get with God’s plan. St Ambrose writes: “It is fitting that it be recorded that the first Adam was cast out of Paradise into the desert, that you may observe how the second Adam returned from the desert to Paradise… Adam brought death through the tree. Christ brought life through the cross. Adam, naked of spiritual things, covered himself with the foliage of a tree. Christ, naked of worldly things, did not desire the trappings of the body. Adam lived in the desert. Christ lived in the desert, for he knew where he could find the lost. With their error canceled, he could recall them to Paradise… So Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit is led into the desert for a purpose, in order to challenge the devil. If he had not fought, he would not have conquered him for me.”[1] Jesus took the fight to Satan in an evil environment. All of Lent, Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, Easter is not about what we do or have to do. It’s not about us and what we have to do, because we don’t have to do anything. Sure there are things that we should do, we should be in worship. Not about us being there, but about being ministered to and receiving the gifts God gives us in worship. Worship is a time of rest and renewal. Jesus takes the fight to the desert, the desert which is the world, to confront Satan, in order that we can be left behind in our normal environment to live, to rest with a minimum of confrontation and conflict in our lives, we have time to rest and renew because it is about Jesus and what He does. When we are led by the Holy Spirit to take action, which can be to retreat, He steps up so that we are guided to step back. Jesus has been baptized, the Matthean version is more straightforward, Luke starts the chapter saying that Jesus was led from the Jordan, Matthew makes it clear what happened at the Jordon. In Jesus’ baptism, the Father makes it very clear who Jesus is, that was the signal that it was on. Satan knew it was on. The Holy Spirit picks Jesus up and puts Him in the desert, where Adam had been banished to out of Eden and Satan waits 40 days and then confronts Jesus, the battle is now on, who will impact the world. Satan tempts Jesus with worldly power, the easy way, Jesus knows that He will bring His Kingdom into the world, but it is not through a deal with Satan, but by overcoming sin, death and Satan; by being the perfect sacrifice to free us from sin and Satan. Jesus gives us the opportunity to rest in Him. Worldly people fall under Satan’s dominion in sin, to struggle against Satan, we have peace and rest in Jesus. The battle is on and being waged by Jesus, now.

Rev Dr Charles Stanley says this: “Although we can’t see all the specifics of God’s plan, we know that His goal is to use adversity to supply something we lack so we can be mature and complete. Even though the experience is painful, rest in the Father’s comforting arms, and let Him do His perfect work in you.”[2] We cannot fight the battle, only in Jesus is the battle fought and is won. Yes, there will be times when we need to be active and work according to the Holy Spirit’s leading. But the victory is His and instead of us being smashed on the rock, we are at rest in Him who saves us. Use this time of Lent to rest in Him, be restored remember it is His strength not ours.

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

[1] Ambrose in “Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture, Luke” p 73

[2] Dr Charles Stanley August 10, 2015  http://www.intouch.org/read/magazine/daily-devotions/don’t-waste-your-adversities

Serving God in His gifts to us 1 Corinthians 12 First Saint Johns January 17, 2016

[for the audio version of this sermon please click 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 use what God gave them to serve others and His church said … AMEN!

As Christians we have a lot of “vocations”, we often thing of vocation as a trade school kind of thing, but it actually means calling. Our very little Bible study that we do on Wednesday mornings, is about our different vocations as Christians, how we serve in those vocations as a Christian. We use a book by Dr Gene Veith, a Lutheran, who has a very Lutheran view of a Christian’s vocation or calling. Dr Veith emphasizes that we are called to live our Christian life in our worklife, as citizens, as parents, children, neighbors, our church, all to the glory of God. Dr Luther had a very different view of vocation/calling then the Roman church. The church of the time and even now saw Christian vocation in a very limited sense, only those “vocations” that were considered to be “religious”, were a valid calling, that is priests; from the parish to a bishop, cardinal, pope, monks, nuns, other auxiliary types of church servants. These people had a Christian vocation and because of their vocation, they were directly serving the church and therefore the church saw those vocations as “holy”. All other vocations were secular and not as important. The word vocation is from the Latin vocatio or voces, meaning “calling”. Luther saw every vocation in terms of our Christian life. You might be a plumber, but as a Christian you are called to that vocation by God, you are to serve as a Christian plumber.

One of the discussions that Dr Veith has is in terms of Christians serving as police officers, military, judges, corrections officers. That is positions where someone might have to use deadly force to compel someone to submit or can impose death on another person. Lutheran teaching is quite clear in this area, if we are serving those who are, secularly speaking, innocent victims, those who expect the government’s protection, then as Christians in order to compel submission /compliance, we can use deadly force. That applies to those who are duly appointed to positions of public safety, and it certainly applies to American citizens who can use deadly force in order to protect someone who might be subjected to violent or deadly force. Luther actually commends those Christians who are willing to serve in occupations that could result in death or serious injury. Those Christian sects which refuse to recognize this principle are just wrong. They claim that Christians are forbidden from killing another human being, that is just not true. The sixth commandment tells us not to “murder”, that is to take the life of someone who is, again, innocent, it does not forbid us from taking the life of someone who is trying to harm another person. I’ll bet if a terrorist is trying to ignite a bomb in a crowd you’re in and a police officer or military person kills to prevent the terrorist from killing others, women, elderly, children, you’re not going to stand there and wag your finger at that person and tell them they’re bad for shooting. There are Christians who will do just that and they don’t know what they’re talking about. God had no compunction telling Old Testament figures like Debroah, Joshua, David to take someone out who was threatening His people.

We as Christians are called to a number of vocations. God calls us to those vocations and He wants us to serve in those vocations to His glory. So if you are a Christian plumber, you have just as holy a calling as a church pastor. If you are called to be a Christian accountant, you are not just regulated under FASB, you are also regulated to the extent of what God expects you to be as a Christian accountant. I am sure that you know that means to a much higher standard than others who are plumbers, accountants, police officers, military, public office holders, on an on. How about our young people? “I’m not in church, I’m in my seventh grade classroom, so I don’t need to get all caught up in what God’s calling me to do as a student.” My response: “Wrongo, chalk breath”, if you are serving God as a student, does He not have a reason and a plan for you to be in that particular classroom, studying that particular subject? If you decide, “eh, history’s not that important, I can mess around and slack off in this class”. Again, wrongo. God has you in that class for a reason.

If we are faithfully serving God, those around us should know that, they should know we are Christians. Yes, we should profess our faith, tell people about our faith and what Jesus does in our lives. That’s one reason why we have “faith- sharing moments” at the end of worship. For you to tell us how you’ve shared your faith, and I think we all understand that the Holy Spirit can lead us to do that in the workplace, the classroom, the softball team, the Elks Lodge, etc, etc, never to disrupt what is going on, but at a time when you know you should, telling someone about Jesus, especially in the context of what they and/or you are dealing with at the moment. But since those around you probably know you’re a Christian, but they also know that you’re disruptive, unreliable, you don’t do your job well, or study well, in general you don’t strive for what is best and glorifies God, you create problems for those around you. How do you think they will view Christians and especially in terms of God. “Wow, how can I take God seriously, when the Christians around me tell me it’s all about God, and yet they’re lousy students, unhelpful, even harmful in their work?” They’re not going to think much of God because you’ve shown them that being a Christian and your relationship in Jesus isn’t serious in terms of your whole life. We are to show people that we are serious about our vocations, that our calling is not just to do a good job, but to also show that whatever we are doing, we are doing it to the glory of God. Everything we do should be to the glory of God, and should be in a way that truly shows excellence, team-building, loyalty, trustworthiness, and much more. Anything less shows others that God isn’t really worth knowing.

You might think it’s pretty limited what our callings are. For most people in the world they see their “vocation” as their employment and we, as Christians, certainly have a calling in our 9-5 work life. That calling is not just in terms of I show up, do what I’m supposed to do, punch out, go home and that’s that. As Christians we are called to a much higher standard. We also have to understand that in terms of “serving”

Finally serving does mean to the best of our ability in the church. Remember, we serve because it is God who enables us to serve, in many ways, and then guides us into the service that He wants us to perform. We have many here in the church that put their time, talent and treasure in service to God, to the church. God has inspired them to be where they are, doing what they’re doing to His glory. When we are faithfully following Him, we serve Him to the best of our ability, not just sit back and let others carry the load. Stewardship is a vitally important part of being a church member. It is a subject that I will be including in my sermons from now on. I don’t want to make stewardship a five week sermon series. But I do want to make sure you understand how God is leading you to serve His church by the best use of your financial offerings, the talents and skills that God has given you and the time and health God has given you to devote to His church. Look over our reading in 1 Corinthians. Paul writes that there are a variety of services, activities and gifts God gives us: “To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good.” (12:7) How disobedient is it to have a God-given, gift, talent, time, and keep it entirely to yourself, fail to do anything with it in order to serve His church, His people and the people around you? We like to think that what we have is entirely because we’re such wonderful, special people and we deserve everything we get. As Christians we better know better than that! Whatever we have has been given to us by God and certainly we can enjoy it, benefit from it, grow in it, but we are not allowed to hoard it and not use it in service to others. People have hoarded their gifts, and at some point God simply pulls those gifts away from them. Could be money, could be a talent, could be your time. If you misuse it or don’t use it for God’s glory, He could decide to take it back, bestow it on someone God can trust to use it to the building of His Kingdom on earth.

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

Encouragement, wow what a relief it is!

I just want to add that I have received such genuine encouragement from this blog and that it seems that this is a very felt need with a lot of people. Always seems to be plenty of people to tear down and I’m not saying we shouldn’t push on people, challenge, I’m not saying it’s like most of society today, tell everyone they’re wonderful. It is strange for so many they just hear the down side, the criticism, and for others they’re enabled in their negative and destructive lives. Anyway, I appreciate the positive feedback I’ve received from some very genuine people, their encouragement was very much appreciated.

We who write these Christian blogs often seem to be writing to or for ourselves. That’s actually a good thing, we aren’t going to have the world patting us on the back. But when I put out a signal for encouragement and I got it. People like Wally Fry is a regular encourager, it’s almost like he looks for the opportunities and I try to look to encourage too. Real nice note from anitvan, that there are lay people out there who do have a ministry of encouragement. Please give your input, and when I deserve it let me know where I could improve, I have no doubt I need a lot of improvement. And I’m not saying there will be times when you shouldn’t ask “what were you thinking? Or that’s not the way to do that!” I appreciate that too, if someone’s willing to take the time to make me better, I am very thankful. Thanks to all who take time to read these blogs and I hope that I can encourage many of you as much as you’ve done for me. In the meantime let’s keep talking to each other and building each other in Jesus.  Continue reading

Keep moving, trust God to work things out

The Blackabys write: “…We tend to divide problems into two categories: problems that we know require God’s help and problems we can handle on our own.” Sort of I will handle everything God, no need for You. Ah well, in this case, I’m going to need a miracle, so You handle it.

The right answer? Ya, turn it over to God, whatever the problem is. I have to tell you, it is very freeing, and despite what we big, tough, know-it-all guys think, it’s going to work out the way God wants it to anyway. With or without me and I’m probably only going to get in the way and mess things up with my efforts.

No, it does not mean you passively sit there in our little pity puddle just hoping, “how come I always have these problems”, we all do, get over it. Or letting problems just distract us so much, dwelling on them, losing sleep over them and often letting the rest of life pass us by. Yea, we want to be in control, we want everything to work out according to our plan.

OK, guess I’m getting to the age where it’s finally hitting home for me. I can dwell on stuff, or I can keep going in the direction the Holy Spirit is leading me. For those of you who have not had the benefit of years of experience, do yourself a big favor and come to this realization faster than me; you are always going to have issues in your life. You do what you need to do and move on. Dwelling on them is not what God wants you to do. He will work them out. Sure, you are going to, usually, have to do something, but don’t get bogged down in it. There are the things that will need attention. I really have found that what needs attention I deal with, then the Holy Spirit is refocusing me, moving me where He wants me and He’s dealing with the issue.

I would even submit that it seems that it is often some kind of demonic influence that is putting problems, issues, whining and crying in our path in order to knock us off the path we’re supposed to be on. Does God give us trials? Ya, but it always seems you can distinguish between God’s trials to move us, teach us, mature us and demonic problems. The demonic always seems to be about petty nonsense, you can almost feel yourself being dragged down into some insipid silliness intended just to distract. In both cases I submit that you can almost feel the Holy Spirit moving me past the pettiness, but focusing me on what God wants me to do and to learn and not trusting in me, but in Him. I really think God wants us to push through ‘problems’, to not get distracted with the trivial.

Does that mean that some problems are going to “look” bigger more compelling? Sure. Is that more reason to get caught up in them? No. If it really is an evil influence that wants to confuse us, seems that is all the more reason to not get caught up in it. Then we refocus on God and trust that He will work it out and we get back on the track He wants us on and keep pressing ahead on His plan and goal.

Believe me, I know what it is to be distracted by what seems to be more compelling, even though I know it is more about the negative and ungodly. Resist the urge to let yourself be diverted from God’s guidance and focus on His positive influence. Keep in prayer that He will deal with the evil influence, He will.

The Blackabys (Experiencing God Day by Day p 283) end: “If you feel strong in an area of your life, beware! Often your strength, rather than your weakness, hinders you from trusting God. God will bring you to a point of weakness if that is what it takes to bring you to trust in Him. Do not despise your weakness, for it leads you to trust in God’s strength.” For a lot of us, we think we can confront the evil and demonic in our own strength and still follow where the Holy Spirit is leading us. That’s simply not realistic, why we would try to fight something far older, more experienced that can easily outsmart us, when God is there, who is infinitely wiser and smarter than any being, trying to get us to focus on Him. I’m going to stick with Him and in faith trust that He’s going to deal with all the negative and lead me to do the positive uplifting things He’s planned for me.

You need community and it is only found in the truly Christian Church

Community, one of the most overlooked aspects of Christianity today. People will honestly look me in the face and tell me that they don’t need the church, they don’t a pastor, they don’t need a fellow Christian, and here it is “because it’s all about me” and then, almost incidentally, and God. Often times not even bothering to define what/who “God” is, but whatever makes me happy. At the same time describing the 12 with Jesus as His “ Apostals” (sic) vs the correct context would be disciples, students. Apostle is actually a messenger, almost in the sense of an ambassador. Henry and Richard Blackaby wrote a great devotional on Christian community. “Two are better than one, Because they have a good reward for their labor. For if they fall, one will lift up his companion, But woe to him who is alone when he falls, For he has no one to help him up. (Ecclesiastes 4: 9-10) (Experiencing God Day by Day p 327) As the Blackabys point out we were made by God to be in community and for those that God chose, starting with the nation of Israel and then progressing to Jesus and those saved in Him, God’s church has always been the community of His believers.

Certainly the Trinity is the original “community” God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit. The Godhead working together to fulfill their roles and guide the people of God. The Blackaby’s note: “…the success of our endeavors depends upon our interdependence. This is why He established His Church and released His Holy Spirit to empower the community of believers to spread the gospel. We are to be a kingdom of priests (1 Peter 2:9).” Obviously we can only support and build each other in the context of community. One thing that always bites me is someone telling me that they can worship God on their own. Certainly we can come to God and lift up our prayers, we are certainly, in Jesus, in relationship with the Father. But that is done through the church of Jesus. When we baptize we baptize as the Body of Christ, His Church, in the presence of the Body and through the authority of His ministers who administers the sacraments. I didn’t invent baptism, that was given to us in the Bible and passed down through His church. We only become a child of God in baptism, we become that new creation in Christ. If that is not done in and through His church, sorry, but it isn’t baptism. Can we as Christians, in extremis, baptize? Yes, and we should. If someone is right there dying and aren’t baptized in Jesus, we can’t wait for them to get to church for the normal baptism ceremony, absolutely baptize that person. But that baptism is still recorded in His church and done under the authority of the church.

The Blackaby’s write: “…if we have cultivated supportive friendships, we will find strength in the comfort and encouragement of those who care about us. Interdependence is also a safeguard for us when we are lured by temptation. The consistent testimony of those who have fallen to temptation is that they isolated themselves from other believers and were not held accountable by Christian friends.” The attitude today seems to be: “I will do whatever I stinkin’ want to do and if you do like it too bad for you.” Yea well the downside is that their particular sin finally bites them and who do they turn to? Or, in many cases they just let that sin drag them down and condemn them. Name it, being the pastor of a downtown church I see pretty much the whole span. People who have sunk in their sins of drugs, alcohol, sex, gluttony, covetousness etc. Always seem to mess them up and then they expect someone to be there to pick up the pieces for them.

Yes, I should try to help those who’ve really become lost in their sin. But on the flip side, I have a congregation of people who faithfully supported their church with their time, money and talents. Only so much time and how do I justify to them that I have to put ministry off in order to pay attention to someone who, by the sin of presumption, thought they had it altogether and could sin nice and safely and now they’re knocking my door down for attention? We are supposed to take responsibility for ourselves as adults and not engage in things that are inevitably going to hurt us. Yet in today’s world everyone is a smart guy and is sure they can handle drugs, alcohol, fornication, adultery, etc and then when the consequences hit them, as they will, “well someone’s got to bail me out”. That is what community is for. Pull that person back from the edge, pick them up when they fall. Not when they’ve created a situation that’s going to require extensive attention, or when it really is too late, but at the outset. We love to think that we know it all, but over and over I hear the same thing: “I should never have gotten involved and now I regret it, but now you have to help me.” News flash, I don’t have to help you. There are plenty of those have faithfully live their life and do innocently fall into difficulty. Have to tell you, there’s barely enough in resources to help those I really have to help. Why would someone compound their sin, with the sin of presumption and assume I’m just waiting around to jump through hoops for them? And quite often I just don’t have any way to help. Sorry, but there are times when I just have nothing.

Of course the whole “don’t judge me” attitude so prevalent in society plays into this condition. Not only that, but the attitude seems to be do what I want, enable me in my sin and then I will go on my way. Yea, no, that’s just not going to happen. The attitude of the world seems to be that the church is only there for their individual convenience. Because of this attitude that “it’s all about me”, more and more church’s just don’t have the resources to be there to provide. I have to hoard my meager resources just to make sure I have something to provide for those in the church who have faithfully supported the church. Why would someone presume to tell me that I have to just hand over what others have faithfully given to me to be a faithful steward of? The answer of course is that because “it’s all about me”.

It’s not to say that we don’t have individual lives that God has a plan for. God certainly wants us to live the life that He has made us especially suited for. But that life is always in the context of the church and how God puts the pieces together in His church to effectively serve. If people punt on that responsibility and expect to be served, but to never serve, how effectively do you think that plan’s going to work? Too many people just don’t seem to grasp, or probably more likely, don’t want to because they might have to do something for someone else, how God tries to pull each person together so that together we grow in the synergistic impact of the church. One person punts on their part and everyone loses. Is there any doubt in anyone’s mind that by choosing to do only live for yourself and ignore those in Jesus’ church that the person that rides off alone gets picked off by the world and makes things a lot tougher for those who stay and faithfully serve? That also goes for those who are part of the church, but expect that the church simply entertain them and just hand over the benefits.

An article in Christian Counseling Today (vol 20 No. 4 pp 34-39) certainly does convey the impact of community, the context being in terms of healing community, generally 12 step programs. These programs certainly have grasped the concept of healing and support in community and many have not just benefited from that community, but have also paid back by becoming an active part of that community to support others. I have seen in my own experience a very effective community, and one that is effective, but is also abused by those who, again, expect to just have it handed it to them and still expect to live in their one way life and continue to be abusive to others. My life has been made a little tougher because some who participated in a 12-step program thought that everything was there for their convenience unnecessarily stepping on the toes of others and of those who were trying to help. I don’t mind the extra effort, but I get tired of having to answer for those who think that the world is there for their convenience.

As I said I’ve seen those groups do great work and it should be supported. Henri Nouwen is quoted in the Christian Counseling Article: “’When we honestly ask ourselves which persons in our lives mean the most to us, we often find that it is those who, instead of giving advice, solutions, or cures, have chosen rather to share our pain and touch our wounds with a warm and tender hand. The friend who can be silent with us in a moment of despair or confusion, who can stay with us in an hour of grief and bereavement, who can tolerate not knowing, not curing, not healing and face with us the reality of our powerlessness, that is a friend who cares”.[1]

Certainly that is the look that the church should have, but on the other hand, how far can the church go with that when everyone wants attention and few want to support. When the church was being supported, pastors could truly care for those who genuinely needed attention, there was the time and resources. But now with the attitude that “I know better, I’m going to do what I want, when I want”, there’s only so much, so far. In the same article Dr. Henry Cloud is quoted: “’It is interesting to compare a legalistic church with a good AA (Alcoholics Anonymous) Group. In the church, it is culturally unacceptable to have problems; that is called being sinful. In the AA group, it is culturally unacceptable to be perfect; that is called denial. In one setting, people look better but get worse, and in the other, they look worse but get better … The sad thing is that many of us come to Christ because we are sinners, and then spend the rest of our lives trying to pretend that we are not!”’ (Changes that heal). OK, point taken, and I think that is one reason why the church has wounded itself in the past. But I also think that the cultural paradigm has changed so much that churches today are putting up a fence is because there are so many who have decided that the process should be the other way around. Before the paradigm was, I’m part of a church, I support the church. But at some point I fall and need help and those in the church help me. Now it’s I don’t do anything for anyone and when I need help everyone’s supposed to jump to my aid.

Absolutely, we are all sinners and we need the church and none of us is going to come into the church perfect. We absolutely should stipulate that we are there to help each other grow and overcome those things in our lives. The Lutheran Church is certainly different than other Reformation churches in that we start worship with Confession and Absolution. Yes, we are sinners, we are here because we know that, and we are in need of continual forgiveness. So yes, in terms of “big-box churches” that I think Dr Cloud is referring to, we in the Lutheran Church all start from the same flat-footed start, we are all sinners, now what?

The problem with 12-step programs is that the person’s presenting issue is what constitutes their entire life. Well we in the Lutheran Church would say no. We are all sinners and we all need to deal with issues. Sure some of us need a particular way to deal with that, and if having someone who has gone through that experience helps you in that, great. The problem is that you become so immersed in your narrow issue, you really begin to lose real world perspective. The entire world is not in terms of your alcohol problem. The attitude of these 12-step programs is that only an alcoholic can help another alcoholic. I would submit that the best thing for a person is to be discipled in the church by a faithful, godly person of the same gender, who has lived their life as a Christian. They’ve had to deal with the sin, the world, all the stuff, but they’ve had a much more well-rounded life, that hasn’t consisted of only primary issue. The whole world is not about alcoholism. It is about being saved in Christ. We all have a sin issue and that is what we need to confront, not how do I deal with alcohol, or whatever is the besetting sin. I would submit that for most people who abuse something, and yes that’s all of us to some degree, being a part of a Christian community and dealing with a real world of all kinds of sin is more realistic than your little 12-step enclosed culture. The 12-step program is a good initial answer, but that should only be for a very short time and then time to get back and deal with the real world. Despite what you think that real world was made by God and is all about Him. Not about the places and people you used to hang out with as an alcoholic.

The same article quotes Richard Rohr: “’Most of us were taught that God would love us if and when we change. In fact, God loves you so that you can change. What empowers change, what makes you desirous of change is the experience of love. It is that inherent experience of love that becomes the engine of change.”’

Amen, couldn’t agree more, but is that change going to effectively take place in a very narrow demographic of people dealing with a particular 12-step issue? No, I really don’t think so. It’s going to be more effectively addressed in a community that includes Grandma and Grandpa Schmidt, and the Hispanic kids, the folks who live here, work there, people who have really lived the life or are trying to get up to speed in the life. A genuine slice of contemporary society. The guy in the Men’s Group that works at the Insurance Company, the Computer Company, the auto dealership. Yea, they have issues to deal with too, but sorry, too often in 12-step programs it is more enabling someone in their particular sin, then genuinely giving them the help that will be life changing in a genuine Christian community.

I can hear the objection now; “they’re going to be so judgey”. Yea, that immediately tells me, that they’ve been more enabled in their very close 12-step program, instead of having to deal with the reality of the world. Sorry folks, time to be a part of genuine diverse Christian community. I get it, too many big box churches are fairly affluent, pretty much lilly white and do, as Dr Cloud claims, tend to exacerbate people’s sin problems. However, a church like First St Johns, that is slowly becoming very diverse, is still, white, but has been in a downtown location for many years. It is a community that fully gets the fact that there are people out there with serious sin and abuse problems and accepts them, because those same people don’t live under some goofy delusion like the big-box churches that everyone there has it altogether. While serving in the Coast Guard I would once in awhile be rotated down to a sub-station that was in a very affluent community. I got the chance to talk to the local police officers down there and I once made the observation to one of them that it must be really nice being a police officer in such an affluent community. He understood what I meant, but he quickly pointed out that their biggest problem was dealing with domestic issues. Physical abuse, substance abuse, sexual on and on. As much as we would like to think otherwise, the police there were expected to keep such situations under very confidential wraps. They were expected to basically cover over the issues and make everything nice and pretty. I agree with Dr Cloud that there are too many big-box churches that are like that. “Don’t you worry about that sin thing dearie, you’re a good person, just keep plowing money into the ministry so we can keep providing expensive entertainment and maintain an expensive facility and everything will be just fine.”

Yes, just by virtue of being a down-town church does not necessarily make you a spiritually healthy one either. There are too many who let their churches dwindle down to a couple of dozen, actively resist anyone different from being a part and expect it to be all about them.

I submit that there is a movement, especially among the denominational churches, admittedly still very much in its infancy, but to turn around churches so there will be genuine Christian ministry. That people can be a part of a church of people who are very much aware of the world around them in many aspects, not just the narrow aspects of substance abuse or some other 12-step program. Who want to reach people for genuine Christian ministry. Who are trying to grow as Christ’s disciples and who are ready to disciple others, effectively/real world, as well as be discipled. That is in a true Christian model, based on the Acts church, the churches that Paul describes in his epistles. Has the church messed up and been messed up? Absolutely. Is that a reason to shun the church? Absolutely not. Sorry, but more and more we are all realizing in society that we can’t go it alone, that there are not any institutions that will genuinely reach out to people and be there for them as well as have others be there for you. You can use all the hypocritical justification you can think of, but the only way to salvation is through Jesus. It is only through the Body of Christ that salvation and true life can come through. Otherwise you become lost in your sin and become a part of the ever growing angry and bitter world, that thinks that everyone else is supposed to be there for them.

As the Blackabys write: “If you are not a part of a caring community of believers, you are missing out on what God designed you for. You are also in danger of falling into sin. You must link your life with others who are seeking God’s will. Seek to be a person who willingly joins others in carrying out God’s assignments. Strive to be a source of support and encouragement that those around you need.” And I would add that you need too. The church is the only place that is going to do that. And a church that lives in a very real environment like First Saint Johns, is going to be that truly diverse group of people who will welcome you regardless of where you’re at, so long as you’re willing to serve and be served. Live in denial if you want, but serving and being served will only happen in the church of Jesus Christ. Being a lone ranger is only going to make you an easy target for the sin and death of the world to take you down. As smart as you think you are, you will go down.

[1] Henri J.M. Nouwen, Out of Solitude: Three Meditations on the Christian Life).

Unworthy, yet still saved in Jesus Luke 3 First Saint Johns Dec 6, 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 hear John the Baptist’s words to warn those to flee from the wrath to come said … Amen!

It’s Advent, the beginning of the liturgical year when we remember the coming of Jesus, not just the first coming His incarnation, but we also think about His second coming, when the old will be destroyed and Jesus brings the new perfect world.

John the Baptist, some like to call him John the Baptizer, can well be talking to our generation as well as talking to the generation of the first century. John was an Old Testament prophet, he wasn’t playin’, he was there to make sure that things were set up for the coming of God the Son. He was quoting Isaiah, we often call Isaiah’s book the fifth Gospel. The Greek word Gospel means “Good News” and Isaiah was certainly telling the people of his time, five hundred years before Jesus’ coming, the Good News, the Gospel of Jesus’ coming. That the hope and promise of Yahweh, God the Father, would come and that they would have the hope and promise of reestablishing the relationship that Yahweh had with His people. The people of Isaiah’s time had been brought to the bottom. They needed this hope and promise, they were beaten, they were exiled, they had no expectation of seeing their homeland, Israel, ever again. They felt abandoned and lost, and they knew they were exiled for a reason. They knew that they had sinned against God over and over. They knew they deserved to be punished. By the same token, God knew that He couldn’t just leave His people in Babylon with no hope and He gave Isaiah the words to give them the hope and promise that He had not forgotten them and that they would be restored into the relationship they had with Him. But it wasn’t going to be right away. God wanted to make sure the lesson had sunk in. It seems that it had. Israel stopped looking for foreign “gods” we don’t see further evidence of people worshipping Baal or Molech or other pagan “gods”. By the time John made his appearance, they did seem to be patiently waiting for Messiah, the anointed one of God, to restore them.

This doesn’t mean that they were all nicely squared away in waiting. They let a lot of pious kinds of beliefs build up around God’s Word. Jesus certainly criticized them for letting their man-made traditions get in the way of God’s Law. Also the Jews expected that Messiah would come to drive out the Romans which was wrong. Jesus was not some Davidic king who would drive out the Romans and re-establish a Davidic kingdom, the height of the Jewish nation. Jesus came so that all people would know the true God, and to give them God’s Word and Will. Jesus came to live that perfect life, to be the perfect, wholly innocent sacrifice, He would be the payment of our sins. God is truly holy, merciful and just. God’s justice cannot allow sin, there has to be a penalty for sin. The only penalty that would be truly sufficient to pay for the sin of the world, was the sacrifice of His truly holy, perfect Son, who lived the perfect life, in order to be the perfect sacrifice. So the Old Testament preacher, John the Baptist, is sent to fulfill the first prophecy that in the spirit of Isaiah, the one Isaiah said would come to make his, the Messiah’s, path straight. Like Isaiah and the rest of the Old Testament prophets, John knew he hadn’t been sent to make nice, pat people on the head, tell them it’s all about “Your best life now” [Joel Osteen book]. John is telling them, no more playin’, it’s time to pay attention and know that God the Son is coming and will lead you back to a relationship with the Father in Him and John is not pulling any punches.

John quotes Isaiah saying: “…Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight … all flesh shall see the salvation of God…” [Isaiah 40:3-5]. His words, 500 years earlier. Now, it’s happening and it’s time to stop floundering around, making things up, living in denial. It’s time to either know who Jesus is and that a new generation, a new era has begun, or resign yourself to hopelessness and loss. There’s no other choice. John says: “You brood of vipers! Who warned you warned you to flee from the wrath to come?” Let’s take the second part first. John is saying, you’re not worthy to be here, who led you here in order to hear the words of salvation? If we are following God’s script, that’s really kind of a rhetorical question. If you know why you’re here, how do you know that? As Lutherans we know the answer to that. Who leads us to know Christ as our Lord and Savior and leads us to salvation? … The Holy Spirit leads us. We can’t know how to be saved, we don’t make that decision. We are too lost in our sin to know the holiness and salvation of God. John is the first to refer to the Holy Spirit, that Jesus will baptize us in the Holy Spirit.

Too often we read the Bible as being all nice and polite. But John’s first statement is flat out judgmental, oooh, that’s not nice, being judgmental. Yet here it is. Why is this so judgmental? A brood is defined as a family of young animals. So first Johns is saying that you’re just a bunch of not just immature, but animals. Not just any animal, he says they are a brood of snakes. Why snakes, why would that be especially compelling, even insulting to a group of Jews? What was special to them about the snake? … The snake was the form that Satan took to corrupt God’s perfect creation. The snake corrupted Eve and because Eve had fallen, Adam followed Eve and gave in to the temptation offered by Satan. Adam snubbed God and chose to give in to Satan’s temptation. The same with the people John is preaching to.

So John goes on to say. “OK, you may be here as a result of the Holy Spirit leading you here. If that’s the case, then you better start living up to that and repent of all your sins, and start to bear fruit in accordance with that repentance.” In other words, you need to start living your life in a way that glorifies God and justifies the fact that He has sent His Son to save you. Why? Because “…Even now the axe is laid to the root of the trees. Every tree therefore that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.” John is saying that at this point, every one of you here is doomed to Hell. God has already condemned you and judged, oh, that bad word again, judging. God has already condemned your sin and your snubbing of Him will send you to Hell.

The people listening, have completely understood what John is saying and decided that they need to take him seriously. How do we know that? … The crowds started to ask him “What then shall we do?” It’s too early for John to say “you need to know Jesus as Savior.” Neither he nor anyone else there knows how that’s going to play out. But he does say, “start getting your life together”. Stop trying to live just for yourself and live for those around you, so that they will see that things are changing. John answers the crowd saying: “Whoever has two tunics is to share with him who has none, and whoever has food to do likewise.” Stop living selfishly, if you are in a position to help someone else give them something that they are in need of. The tax collectors and soldiers then ask John what they can do. Remember, these are probably the two most hated groups in Israel at the time. But clearly the Holy Spirit has moved these groups of men, who appear to be far over the boundary of redemption. No one wants them saved, yet John gives hope and promise to even the two groups of hated sinners. He tells them, stop ripping people off, stop trying to intimidate, injure and kill other people.

His listeners are now just breathless with anticipation, “…surely this has to be Him, this has to be the Messiah that God has promised us for centuries.” John sets them straight, that someone who will be much more then him is coming. He promises them that the Messiah to come will be that hope and promise. But in good Lutheran style, John warns them one more time: “His winnowing fork is in his hand, to clear his threshing floor and to gather the wheat into his barn, but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire.” For those who are trying to convince us that Jesus isn’t serious about Hell, John is making it very clear. Jesus will come and gather the wheat, the good crop, gather those who are saved in Him into His “barn”, into heaven, to eternal life in the Resurrection. But, for those who are chaff, those who are not a good crop, not saved in Him, they will burn with unquenchable fire. The only place I know that is “unquenchable fire” is Hell. John makes it very clear, this is the default, which we are all in danger of, which is Hell. Salvation and true life is in the Messiah to come. That is the message I am telling you now. John then goes on to “preach good news to the people”. The Gospel of salvation in Jesus.

Advent is a time of preparation, our preparation as those who are saved in Jesus is always to the time when He will return, our resurrection in the New perfect World. Part of that preparation has to be in terms of being someone who will warn those around us who do not know Jesus “to flee from the wrath to come.”

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

Will God really bless you’re being MIA from the real church?

Since I’ve been in ministry over five years, I think I can make some valid assessments. Especially being in a downtown/inner city church. While it is inner city and there are violent incidents, I can honestly say that there has been very little impact while I have been there. We’ve had a couple of incidents of material vandalism, but these were isolated, no one really even around. A couple of incidents of people who needed to be confronted, one physically removed. But I frankly don’t believe it’s anymore than any other church. We all have our unfortunate incidents, a downtown church is not immune from that. I grew up and lived in a larger city for over thirty years. There’s nothing in York that is really impressively violent. It’s certainly not parts of Boston, Detroit, Baltimore etc. While I can’t give you hard measurements, it seems that if anything, at least for the area surrounding First Saint Johns, things have improved, since I’ve been here.

Another observation I’ve made is the number of “realists” who think that their uninformed opinion and their life in general is just A-J squared away and that they have some compulsion to share it. Part of that is this disregard for the importance of the serious Christian church, especially in the urban area.

At First Saint Johns, there is a faithful group of people, who genuinely want to be part of the community. Now, that has been somewhat stunted because of some negative influences among the membership. More and more that is being pushed aside and the church is more and more being a part of the community.

But we still have many outside of the church who seem to think that it is all about them (and yes, there certainly is that element in the church), that the church is there solely to meet their needs. It’s as if it’s some kind of social service agency that is just there to meet their needs and then leave them alone.

For those outside of the church, I’ve had many over and over who show up and expect people to just hand over things. People showing up around worship is a regular routine. Apparently the scenario is that I’m too busy to really deal with them, so I’ll just hand over what they want, they seem to think that I don’t want them there to begin with. Seems that they may be a disruption and I don’t want to deal with that. Yea, I’m just not going to rise to that bait. My standard procedure is to tell them to go to worship and then I’ll have time to talk to them afterwards. We have fellowship time after worship and they’re certainly welcome to share. I know that doesn’t go over big with some people in the church, but again I’m not there to play to those who have been there decades and expect that I’m supposed to be on their script. In five years there’s been a couple of people who’ve stayed and it gives me a chance to see a little of what they’re about and, maybe, help them. For the most part, when they see that the their plan isn’t going to play out the way they want, they unceremoniously leave.

When someone like that actually does want to talk, one thing I emphasize is what they’re going to do in order to pull things together. That being a part of a church community is probably one of the few places in our world today that you can build a genuine human face-to-face relationship. I try to impress upon them that people are much more willing to help and help in a meaningful way, if they will make the first step to become part of that community. I have seen it work. Too often, the subject person just won’t give it a legitimate try and walks away in scorn. But for some who have really done it the right way, I have seen them grow and begin to pull a real life together. Not saying it’s perfect, but I think and I’ve been told, that it has made a real change.

This is the more obvious example, but everyone out there needs to build genuine relationships and of course the most vitally important relationship is with Jesus. There is simply no way to build that relationship unless you are in a church body, the Body of Christ, with genuine, faithful, orthodox Christian believers. Sure other non-Christian churches do build personal relationships, but they are not building people to relationships in Christ.

My question is: Does God bless someone when they are MIA (Missing In Action) from his genuine, evangelical, Law and Gospel preaching church? Have to tell you, the answer is a genuine no. I’ve had it happen a few times, most recently when we were doing an outreach, right out in front of the church for a large road race that goes right by the church. A man stops who’s asking me what’s the difference between our church and the local big box church, which of course he thinks is all that and a bag of chips.

I told him, First Saint Johns is genuine worship. We’re not there for entertainment and amusement and feel good Christianity. We are here to be genuine disciples. Jesus tells us in Matthew: [ESV Matthew 7:22] On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?'” And Jesus replies to them: “[ESV Matthew 7:23] And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.'” Sorry, but there are too many “pastors” out there who are playing to the crowd and too many crowds expecting to be entertained and patted on the head, who both think that what they’re doing is genuine worship. Not only that, but I’ve had this a few times, people who have had nothing to do with a genuine church, but when real life happens (as compared to big-box churches who generally will tell you that everything is just hunky-dory so long as you have faith), they expect a genuine church to swoop in and give them the comfort of Christ in their tragedy. Sorry, but the big-box churches won’t do that, to them, any kind of trial is on the person being subjected to trial, they obviously didn’t have enough faith. But please, showup and tell me about your nice earth toned building that entertain you once a week, or whenever you show up, but does little in terms of growing disciples and genuine outreach to serve those in genuine need.

Let’s look at the Acts church, a genuine church. Now let’s put aside all the charismatic stuff. Because I’m sorry Pentecostal churches, the Acts Church was not dancing around making the Christian life all fun and games and miracles. Yes, there were miracles, but this was the church in its infancy, the Gospels hadn’t been written yet. The moving of the Holy Spirit discipled them, and that’s fine. But for subsequent churches, they were discipled by men who had been genuinely taught and trained and could teach from the writings of the Gospel writers. Faith was based and is based today on what we are taught and led by the Holy Spirit. Not some fatuous, pretentious claim of speaking in tongues, healing, prosperity, but genuine Christian discipleship. There are genuine Christians out there who don’t speak in tongues, who are unhealthy and who are not financially well off. There are too many phoney Christians out there who are pretty sure they know more than everyone, they can buy or work their way to salvation (I refer you to Donald Trump’s recent comments) and that it is according to their script. This ladies and gentlemen, is the Pharisaical philosophy of the big-box church. This was the Corinthian Church as compared to the Acts Church.

The Corinthian church had a bunch of pretty well to do members who were pretty sure it was all about them. They would tolerate gross sexual immorality, they would bring in their big feasts, send the poorer members out to the kitchen to forage what they could, while they enjoyed their big feasts with their fellow Pharisees in the stately dining room, of course befitting their position, opposed to those poor Christians in the kitchen.

The Acts Church was nothing like that. In fact Paul was out raising money to support the church in Jerusalem. The church had nothing to speak of, its members had nothing to speak of and basically every one lived hand to mouth. Living not for themselves, but for each other feeding each other, caring for each other, helping each other through the trials. The Corinthians would have pooh-poohed such a pathetic situation. Sound familiar? Now objectively looking at both, which church would you really say demonstrated genuine faith?

Referring back to those Pharisees who come and tell me how everything should be, “I’m going to share with you everything you need to know to do things right” types. (Really I swear these people think I just fell off the tuna trolley.) This type of person is an interesting study, they will tell you how smart they are, yet, not smart enough to know what they’re talking about, or who they’re talking to. They simply don’t let the facts get in their way. I would compare education, life experience, work ethic with any of them, but they simply are not interested in getting the full story, they just want to make sure they know that I know they know it all, and that I’m incredibly naive to think that anyone needs a genuine Law/Gospel, discipling Christian church. Hey, here’s a thought Mister know it all, I might actually know things that will help you, I can give you real ministry, trained, experienced, genuine, doctrine that’s been around for 500 years and has guided millions of people to Christ. You might actually get something out of a genuine Christian church and know what it truly means to be a Christian.

Now this applies to both those who are coming in demanding that I hand over what they want, so they can leave and buy their booze, drugs, sex etc. And to those who are quite sure that because of their blessings that they are all that and a bag of chips and if I were smart like them (heaven forbid) I should listen to them and they’ll get me all straightened out. I submit, that if you would give me the opportunity, you might finally realize that the poorly trained pastor (most barely have a “Bible School” training. The Lutheran Church generally requires a Masters Degree) at your pretty happy-clappy-earth toned theatre, (ya, hardly ever a real church, usually built like a theatre for entertainment versus a genuine sanctuary. And you’re never going to see a crucifix, and probably not any type of cross or other meaningful Christian symbol. Because hey that would just harsh everyone’s buzz). Contrast with the “pastor” who really has no life experience, no real education, thinks that being a Christian (like to much of the world is entertainment and a handful of nice cliches, which are not usually even biblically based), mostly because he/she is immature and has never lived any life yet, but hey at least they make you feel good.

But when you want true Christian ministry, because you are now confronted with genuine crisis, genuine trials and you realize the “churches”, Christian mantras and “feel good”/prosperity prattle really doesn’t help you to cope in life, you may not have a church to come back to. You may find that genuine Christian ministry doesn’t have time for you. Does God really bless and support you when you’ve rejected His real church for decades? That you’ve failed to raise your children in a real church? That you’ve made it all about you and nothing about Jesus who died as a payment for your sins? That you expect an already overworked, extended pastor, who has been doing genuine ministry, for people who have been leading a genuine Christian life, that pastor is going to drop everything and jump through hoops for you? You, a person who expects people to jump through hoops and yet you make little if any sacrifice from your own life? That’s the sin of “simony”, when Peter told the sorcerer Simon that he should perish with his money. Do me and a lot of genuine pastors out there, a favor, keep your money. My integrity is only in Christ and what He did for me. Show some real integrity on your part and start supporting a genuine church of Christ. Are you genuine or do you just talk a good game? I know for most of those people who want to tell me what it’s really all about, they talk a good game, but they wouldn’t know genuine Christian ministry and discipleship if it bit them in the  nose. I’ve seen a lot of types, in different areas of my life, who have managed to do well in life, by doing very little except talk a good game, but not really know what it is to be a new creation in Christ.

Too many out there need to pick the real team, get back in the real game. Great things are happening here at First Saint Johns Church. To be sure God is going to work His blessing, with or without you. For once in your life, listen instead of presuming to know what is really going on. For those who have been truly serving for so long in God’s church, they need others to step up as genuine Christians to begin to do genuine Christian service and ministry, in a place where it really matters. If you’re really all that smart, show us how real Christian ministry can lead others to eternal life in Christ and genuine service in the world, true disciples.

Call me intemperate, over the top, but it’s way past time for many to step up and take real responsibility for their role in Christ’s church and to support genuine ministry and not ministry that is solely about entertainment and tickling your ears. I will be working my butt of supporting genuine ministry to genuine Christians, those who have been there for Jesus’ church through all the trials, tribulation and celebrations. I owe them my time and I will give as much time, talent and treasure as God leads me to do, day or night, 24/7. How do I know that? Because that’s what I’ve been doing. But for those who expect to drop in then drop out, you may not have a place to go. My time, talent resources are genuine, they’ve been given to me by God to use in His service and the priority for those resources are going to be for the benefit of those who have served and been disciples in Christ’s church. For those who think that the church is their for their convenience and just don’t seem to get true ministry, they may well have to wait. Let’s see real Christian men jump into the true fight and not sitting patting each other in your pretty little earth-tone churches.

In such a fragile world, let’s focus on eternal life Jude First St Johns Nov 22, 2015

[for the audio please click on the above Sound Cloud 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 ready to be used to truly save lives, to eternity said … AMEN!

We are again talking about eschatology, end times, I seem to run into different people over and over who have this fascination with eschatology. But there are “end times” when God will decide that the world will come to an end. And there are end times when someone dies now and dies to eternity, who does not have a saving relationship with God and is forever lost and condemned, they have had their “end time”. You can talk about the end times that Jesus tells us in the Gospels and in the Book of Revelation, but for those who die without being saved in Jesus, their end time happened when they died. I don’t understand this fascination, to me, the end of time, the final judgment, Armageddon, are all about the fragility of life. We just do not appreciate how much of a miracle it is for us to be here, to be what we are, to do what we do. The human body is so fragile, relatively slight changes around us can limit us, cripple us and even kill us. Yet we survive pretty well, considering how much could go wrong with us, the vast majority of people are healthy, death is unusual. But when we talk about end times, I think back to how very fragile we are and also to the fact that despite all my physical limitations, as complicated as the human body is, how easy it would be for something to go wrong, that our Creator, Glorious God keeps us strong, in body, mind and spirit and if it wasn’t for Him, we would be living day to day, in terror of the evil in the world. The Holy Spirit protects us from that evil.

St Jude writes: “But you beloved, building your selves up in your most holy faith and praying in the Holy Spirit, keep yourselves in the love of God, waiting for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ that leads to eternal life And have mercy on those who doubt; save others by snatching them out of the fire;”

While serving in the Coast Guard I had a number of times when I was reminded of the fragility of life. One time started out as a foggy, cool, quiet Sunday morning and the Search and Rescue buzzer going off. It was really foggy, you couldn’t see more than ten – fifteen feet ahead. There is a lot of low water around the station and you just can’t go flying out of there even in a serious emergency, because there’s just too many areas that you can ground the boat. When there’s only about fifteen feet of visibility, it’s even more difficult and we had to pick our way out of the harbor. A small commuter airplane, the husband was the pilot and the wife was a stewardess missed the runway at Logan Airport. The airplane went right into Boston Harbor. The husband was very lucky. He was ejected out of the cockpit and a lobsterman, who just happened to be working on a Sunday morning, which they don’t usually, heard him calling out and the lobsterman picked his way over to the man and pulled him out of the water. Even in the middle of the summer, the water north of Cape Cod, of the Gulf Stream is cold, you don’t want to all of a sudden find yourself thrown out of a plane and into the water. While it was tough on the husband, the wife was trapped in the fuselage and at the bottom of Boston Harbor. I was driving the boat, while two other crewmen were in the back tending to the husband, he had been pretty battered. I had already dealt with a lot of death and injury, but for some reason this one hit me hard. I’m concentrating on trying to pick my way back into Boston Harbor, to the base in Boston to transport the man to the hospital as quickly as possible, but I also became preoccupied with the wife in the cold water, at the bottom of the harbor. I remember at one point having to choke back tears to focus on driving the boat and avoid hitting anything in the fog. It really hit me, this is a couple that just wanted to be back in Boston in the morning, enjoy the city, had no other expectations than to have Sunday brunch and enjoy a day off. The husband did survive, but the wife didn’t make it.

If I could have articulated the passage in Jude at the time, it would have really hit me. I didn’t know if this woman was saved, if she knew Jesus as her Lord, if she knew that Jesus died for the sins of the world, her sins included, in order to restore us to the Father and save us to eternity. St Jude’s quote really hits home and is convicting to me and should be convicting to all of us who are in Jesus: “…save others by snatching them out of the fire…” I had the privilege of serving for 29 years, full-time and part-time Coast Guard, I had many opportunities to “snatch people out of the fire”. I participated in saving many lives. But I and all of you here today, have an opportunity to “save lives” in a much more significant way. Anyone that I was involved in “snatching from the fire”, may have been saved that day, but will, eventually, die. We all will. But the issue is will any of us die and then be in the presence of the Lord? Or will we die for eternity? You have the opportunity with so many of those around you; family, friends, those you work with, your neighbors, to genuinely save lives. It might sound more exciting to plod through the fog to pull someone out of the water and save them from physical death. But it means so much more to save someone from eternal death and all of you here, young, old, strong, not so strong, regardless of education level, work status, marital status, you can save people to eternal life in Jesus. Someone can be saved now, will grow old, sick, infirm, and die without Jesus and be lost eternally. Or they can be saved now, and have the promise of the eternal resurrection. Eternal life in the perfect world, to life that God intended for us at the beginning of creation. We have the promise in today’s Gospel lesson, that at the end of time, when we see the stars falling from heaven and the powers on earth and in heaven be shaken, that the Son of Man, Jesus will come in the clouds with great power and glory, that He will send His angels to gather His elect. Who are His “elect”? You and me, those who Jesus chose from the beginning of time to be saved in Him. We don’t know who those elect are. How do we know that we are elect? We are baptized in the all powerful Name of God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit. We are confirmed to be members of His Body, His church. We take His Body and Blood to strengthen us in our relationship as new creations, sons and daughters of God the Father. That we are forgiven saints, restored in our relationship with the Father. We hear His preached Word as we are doing right now, that reminds us of that relationship and our responsibility to live our lives in the world, right now, to reach those who the Holy Spirit is guiding us to reach. We can be the greatest life-savers, that even if someone’s physical life ends tomorrow, what we did to witness to Jesus and show them salvation and eternal life in Him, that their lives will be saved to eternity and to true life in the resurrection. That is true life-saving and we get to do that every day we are in this world to serve our Lord and Savior Jesus. Isaiah writes: “My righteousness draws near, my salvation has gone out, and my arms will judge the peoples…” (Isaiah 51: 5) God comes nearer to us every day and His righteousness will triumph over the evil of the world. The Father has promised us salvation in Jesus, He who died to pay for our sins. But He also promises there will be a judgement. For those in Jesus the verdict will be true life eternal. For those not in Jesus, the judgment will be eternal separation from God in Hell. Take some time this week to think and write about the lives you could be saving to eternity.

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