Tag Archives: discipleship

Rebuke, Exhort! Don’t minimize and “tolerate”

St Paul wrote the largest amount of the content of the New Testament. Certainly the Gospels are specifically about the life and teachings of Jesus. But on the road to Damascus Jesus personally knocked Paul off his donkey and made Paul focus on who Jesus is and what being a Christian is all about. From there the Holy Spirit took Paul in hand and led Paul to be one of the greatest missionaries of Christianity and one of the greatest, if not the greatest, Christian teacher. Many people like to minimize doctrine, but without Paul’s writings on doctrine we would have very little understanding of our Christian faith, a lot of what we accept as normal Christian practice, we would have to guess about, without Paul.

Paul founded a number of churches during his mission trips and he spent a lot of time and ink teaching people the important aspects of being a Christian. His “epistles”, letters, were written to people in Corinth, Thessalonica, Rome, Ephesus, Galatia, Philippi, Colassae, and undoubtedly other groups in the Roman Empire. These were to address issues the churches were dealing with, or to pass on to them important aspects of being a Christian. In addition to Paul’s epistles to the churches, he also mentored, at least two pastors, Timothy and Titus. His letters to them were how to be pastors and how to lead congregations in the difficult times that these churches, all Christians, were going through at the time of Paul’s letters. Much of what Paul writes about is directly applicable to the Christian church and Christian pastors today.

Paul was not a shrinking violet, he had to contend with an immense amount of adversity during his ministry which culminated in being beheaded. As I said, Paul was probably the greatest missionary and pastor in Christian history. But if you really read Paul’s writings most Christians today, would be taken aback by Paul’s straightforward, even abrupt pastoral style. He wasn’t playing around, things had to be done in the church and in confronting a pagan and hostile society. Again so much of what Paul had to deal with we see today. While I’m not telling people to go out and be contentious, look for fights, or not try to be winsome and inviting, I am saying that there will be many times where you have to be straightforward in proclaiming the Gospel and not worry about who will be “offended”, or upset. As Christians and certainly not pastors we are not here to patronize people, or play to the crowd. As a pastor I took vows, to my death, promising to proclaim the Gospel. Many will be offended as Jesus tells us in KJV Matthew 24:10 And then shall many be offended, and shall betray one another, and shall hate one another.” The adolescent whining you will often hear while proclaiming the Gospel is just a convenient way for people to not deal with the truth. They will be held accountable for their silly little posturing, but we can’t let them intimidate us into shutting up about Jesus and that’s what they’re shooting for.

Believe me if they had interacted with Paul, they would think that someone like me is a little candy cane. Paul wanted to make it clear to churches, like Corinth and Thessalonica, that the Gospel is not about kid gloves. It’s about people’s eternal life, that is the ultimate issue, even if people don’t recognize it. It’s not up to us to candy-coat it or treat it like entertainment. It’s up to us to proclaim it with great knowledge, great compassion, integrity and urgency. Treat the Gospel in a way that is with utter respect as to its importance, not the way most people treat it which is a secondary issue and why worry about it, God will work everything out. I get that attitude all the time and it is just not true.

 

Paul writes to Timothy, one of his disciples who he is mentoring as a pastor. Timothy is in Ephesus, he is a young preacher and it would seem that he was contending with a lot of different people who were teaching false doctrine. Paul tells Timothy: “ESV 2 Timothy 3:14 But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have firmly believed, knowing from whom you learned it 15 and how from childhood you have been acquainted with the sacred writings, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. 16 All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, 17 that the man of God may be competent, equipped for every good work.”

Paul is telling Timothy you know what is important, you know what you need to do, don’t stop doing it just because there are some people who are opposing you and trying to shut you up. We see that in too many young pastors today, “I don’t want anyone to get mad, I don’t want to offend anyone”. I look at it in terms of; “am I worried about upsetting this guy here, or God”? If it’s a choice, I’m sure not going to upset God. Paul makes it clear that it’s about what is in Scripture.

To underline that he goes on to write in the strongest terms: “ESV 2 Timothy 4:1 I charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, and by his appearing and his kingdom: 2 preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching. 3 For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions, 4 and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths. 5 As for you, always be sober-minded, endure suffering, do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry.”

Paul is serious and he’s telling Timothy; by all that we hold as holy, you need to go out and teach that. Don’t pull punches, don’t tell people what they want to hear. That’s not your call, your call is to tell people what God has given us in Scripture. Anything else would be to “suit their own passions”, which isn’t God’s intention, is it? Reprove, Rebuke, Exhort. These are not make nice words. Paul’s words are telling Timothy to make sure people understand these words are serious. Don’t let people get away with it if they’re trying to sell nonsense. We see that today with so many false teachers, it’s no less today than it was 2,000 years ago. Today when you’re faithful to Paul’s teaching you’re going to catch all kinds of flak as to how mean, judgmental, unloving, whatever phobic and whatever other adolescent prattle you hear from people who don’t want to hear God’s word and want to wallow in their nasty little sin. But they still expect God to come through for them and save them, do things their way. Bizarre, but people today truly expect everything their way and that includes God. After all, to quote the prattle from false teachers, God just wants us to be happy! Huh!? God wants us to become mature Christian disciples. That’s much more than “happy”.

Titus was probably an older man, another of Paul’s disciples and he was the pastor of the church on the island of Crete. Ever hear the expression “Cretans”? Not a flattering expression. Titus apparently had to deal with some pretty crude actors.

Paul gave Titus the same direction. Don’t be bashful, preach the truth of the Gospel: “ESV Titus 2:15 Declare these things; exhort and rebuke with all authority. Let no one disregard you.” The last part “Let no one disregard you.” Don’t be brushed off or ignored, don’t let people patronize you, and wow you see a lot of that in the world today dealing with Christians. No! This is the truth, you may not like it but don’t be cavalier about it either, this is serious, treat it as such.

Paul goes on to write: “ESV Titus 2:1 But as for you, teach what accords with sound doctrine.” Yes doctrine does matter, don’t play around or minimize it, preach it. “7 Show yourself in all respects to be a model of good works, and in your teaching show integrity, dignity,” Have Christian integrity, stick to what you know is the truth, be faithful and strong. But do it with dignity too. Don’t look silly and get all emotional and flakey. Assert the truth and move on. People too often don’t treat Christians seriously, make them take you seriously know what you’re talking about. Now more than ever we need to take those words seriously and stop putting on shows of “tolerance” or accommodation. “I am the way the truth and the life, no one comes to the Father except through Me.” (John 14:6) There is no other truth! You may disagree with me, but you have to take Jesus’ words seriously.

As Christians we get a lot of just straight out stupid messages from the world. Too often we make the mistake of trying to dignify them, of being too gracious. Paul, Timothy, Titus and us, we don’t have that luxury. We need to be serious strong disciples and evangelists and witness in a way that we will be taken seriously. It’s not always going to result in conversion, but, Paul told both his disciples, don’t be bashful, rebuke wrongful teaching. Don’t get defensive about someone telling you you’re being judgmental. Say what you want and try to use weenie words to avoid the truth, I’m telling you the truth, and it is judgmental. If you disregard the truth of Jesus Christ : “ESV John 3:18 Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God.” I’m telling you the truth, if you chose to ignore it or minimize it you’ve “judged”, “condemned” yourself, not me.

The Harassed and helpless of the world Matthew 9 First Saint Johns June 18, 2017

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 want to reach out to the suffering of the evil of the world said … AMEN!

Last week the Gospel lesson was the Great Commission … Matthew 28: … “ESV Matthew 28:19 Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit,…” It was Trinity Sunday, Jesus is making us aware that what we do, and certainly baptizing and making disciples are two of the most important things we do, that it and all the other things that are done best when we keep in mind that we are doing it in the Name of God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

Jesus’ command in the Great Commission can certainly be understood in an additional way. What we see in today’s Gospel reading follows what Jesus is telling His disciples, including us, what He told them in Matthew 28. Our Gospel reading is Matthew 9, this is much earlier in Jesus’ ministry and before all of the momentous, triumphant events that have preceded the Great Commission and then His immediate ascension into heaven. Things are still pretty much the regular routine when Jesus sent His disciples out for their first tour as Jesus’ disciples, and certainly evangelists. He sees the people that have been following Him and these are people who really are without a shepherd. You may not feel an immediate need for a shepherd, someone to guide you, to give you protection and certainly when we talk about Jesus in this sense we are talking about someone, like a father, who is there to protect. Sure dads today protect. I think every father feels a duty to stand up for his family when his wife, children are being attacked, taken advantage of, suffering, floundering in the world. Paul writes: “And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience– among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind.”(Eph 2: 1-3) Jesus, the Son of God, certainly He sees this, He knows what these people are going through, He is that Shepherd. Yet He knows His sheep are living such aimless lives and are under constant attack from the evil all around us. Certainly Jesus feels a need to protect these people, and us, from the “attacks” Satan launches against us on a regular basis. Often those “attacks” don’t feel violent or hostile. Often those attacks consist of luring us away to the things of the world that we think give us pleasure, but always result in taking our focus off of Jesus, and making an idol out of the things we think are pleasing. Certainly fathers feel the need to do what they can to try and keep a straying child from falling into bad habits, destructive lifestyles. It’s not easy being a father in today’s world. The evil of today tells us that we’re entitled to these destructive lives. Sure the world doesn’t say it that way, yet we know how it ends up. So many people today, yes someone’s son or daughter, but not always young and immature, feel perfectly entitled to indulge in what they think they should have. The world doesn’t care about what your child does or messes their life up with. The world’s idol is almost always and ultimately, how can I make money off of this person. They won’t let their own children go down their evil path, but they’re perfectly happy to take the money from someone else’s child. The tragedy is ultimately there is a crash and burn and although the father tried to keep the child from crashing, now the child or other people expect the parents, often even the church to be there and help them pick up the pieces and rebuild their lives after their collapse. It’s often the father that has to step up, making life so much more difficult for fathers.

Can’t you imagine Jesus seeing this right before His eyes? All of these people followed Him around, day to day. His heart is breaking, like any father’s would, to see His children being harassed by the evil all around them. Unable to rebuild shattered lives, needing someone else to pick up what they caused in their rush to destruction, believing all the nonsense around them. Jesus is God the Son, but all creation came into existence through Him. No doubt He had a hand in the creation of all us, He is God. It bugs me when someone makes a reference to “Jesus our brother”. Since we’re God’s children and Jesus is God’s Son, well He must be our brother. Yeah, kinda, but really no. He is still all powerful God. He is man, but He is entirely God as we saw in the Athanasian Creed from last week. And no not even really our big brother, but certainly our God.

He knows every one of those people who are hungry, are oppressed, suffering, often as the result of their sins, their envy, greed, their search for pleasure instead of trying to grow in the relationship that Jesus offers them every moment of every day. Dr Jeff Gibbs writes: “the passive forms of sku,llw [harassed] “to flay,, skin and r`i,ptw “to throw” emphasize that the people are victims of evil spiritual forces around them that are beyond their control.” Dr Gibbs goes on to stipulate that the failure is not limited to those people who, because they are without a shepherd, or the shepherd is not faithful to them: “…their deplorable spiritual condition is caused in part by the failure of their spiritual leaders.”[1] That is also a two-way street in Christianity. In a world, today, where we see pastors who are trying to be faithful, pretty much ignored because they are seen as narrow-minded or naïve, and that the world is oh so much more accepting and “tolerant”. Sure, the world can afford to be tolerant, it doesn’t care how someone ends up and even has the chutzpah to criticize the church and the parents because they don’t do enough to help the people the world destroyed to function as adults again. It’s a bizarre world being a pastor in this day and age, and certainly the church has to bear responsibility in a lot of ways that it has not been faithful to the parishioner and the church has done itself harm by its passivity and failure to truly represent Christ and what He truly stands for and how He defends us against the evil of the world, the spiritual, demonic attacks that go on around us every day. But those in the church expect the church to fix those problems by providing material comfort, which in this day and age, serious churches no longer have the resources. But much more important than the material comfort, is the spiritual strength that the church should provide every Sunday morning, as a father provides strength and encouragement to his children. Not to be a faint echo of the world. What’s the point of having a church if it only weakly prattles about the world around us?

I would seriously hope people take Jesus’ words very much to heart in this passage. He knows full well the world that He is sending His men into, like a military commander, He knows He can’t protect His people from all the harm they could incur. But, He can and must prepare them in a way that they at least have every chance, not just to survive, but in order to achieve the objective. Jesus’ objective is clear, He wants His men to grow and have on the job training, bringing His hope and promise into the world. He wants the world to know that there is strength and protection and love and caring from Him in His church. No one is going to find it in a greedy, grasping, lying world that is only about telling anyone what they want to hear. That is not living, that only results in harassment, often physical sickness, disability, which we see all around us, all of the time. It’s time that we went out into the world to serve the Lord of the Harvest, in His harvest of the world. To see all of the harassed, helpless, sick, twisted, results of the world, to get serious about the church that Jesus has given us in order to stand strong against the lying, death dealing ways of the world. We see this smarmy, snarky, weasely attitude towards the church, inside and outside of the church. Our only hope is in Christ, He died in order to fully pay for our sins, He rose again to give us the promise of eternal life, fulfilling and life the way God had always wanted for us, not life the way the world uses to tear us down and destroy us. The church of Jesus Christ is important because it is what we have, as the Body of Christ, to stand up to all the evil around us. The church will always be, but if it continues to limp along, more and more of our families and those around us will be lost to eternal damnation because while we are the church, we chose not to act like the church.

Dads, you are expected to be those laborers, those who go out and protect and build and strengthen. It might even be casting out demons, we see the demonic all around us and quite often, only in the strength of the Holy Spirit, you need to stand up to those demonic forces, those snarky, smarmy forces that threaten our families. We should expect to suffer the slings and arrows of a nasty, evil, threatening world and do what you can to stand up for Christ and true life and ignore the taunts and nonsense of the world in doing it. No matter what our children say and do, they are looking for us to protect them. It’s often messy and unpleasant, but you, me, all men in Christ have to emulate the things that God the Father, Son and Holy Spirit have shown us to do to be true men of God and to reject the evil of the world.

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

He has risen! He has risen indeed! Hallelujah!

 

[1] Rev Dr Jeffrey Gibbs  “Concordia Commentary  Matthew” p 495

Too Comfortable? Amos 6:17 First Saint Johns September 25, 2016

[For the audio click the above icon]

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 a “good person”, said … AMEN!  Aha, tricked you, now, all of you who are a good person, only and solely in Jesus said … AMEN!

It’s a question I continue to struggle with, how to be “good” in Jesus, especially as we, as a society, draw further away from God, that the perception in our society is that God really isn’t necessary. I often want to ask someone I get into this kind of discussion with: Do you honestly believe that this is all there is? Most of the time it really comes down to they just haven’t thought about it, it’s just not an issue, to the extent that “well, either way God’s just going to work it out for me, and since I’m a good person, well I don’t have anything to worry about.” Seems we’re all “good people”, you know except for like Hitler, Stalin, Alex Rodriguez, ok I’m kidding there because hey even ARod is a “good” person, even if he was a New York Yankee. We just refuse to reconcile the fact that it is about us and our sin. God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit are perfectly righteous, perfectly holy/ sanctified, perfectly just and while we like to live in our own little world, with our own rules because we are so smart and can do everything by ourselves, even though what we do is based on me/myself. I have no idea what people are talking about when we get into this discussion, but it’s ok, because they just know that they’ve got it down and they don’t need anyone, up to and including God to tell them otherwise. Until such time as they realize they don’t have it down and then it’s usually a lawyer, a social worker, a school teacher, an accountant etc. None of whom have any guidelines themselves other than professional ethics which too many today see more as guidelines and hindrances if it interferes with their personal agenda. Today the idol is money, comfort, personal satisfaction, basically the Led Zepplin song “Stairway to Heaven”: “There’s a lady who’s sure, All that glitters is gold, And she’s buying a stairway to heaven When she gets there she knows, If the stores are all closed, With a word she can get what she came for, and she’s buying a stairway to heaven.”[1]

That’s the way it is, as much in the church as it is for any “None”, garden variety pagan, Buddhist, we don’t have to worry about that stuff because we will work it out in the end. Give a little extra here, do a little something there, badda bing, it’s all taken care of, we’re all reasonable people, let’s move on.

While that may sound good to us, that’s not God’s perspective. Of course when I say that to someone who just doesn’t know/doesn’t care, I get this petulant/ adolescent response “well that’s just your opinion”. If you’re a Christian, to the rest of the world, your opinion just doesn’t matter. Oddly, their completely uninformed, prejudiced, and totally consumer driven mentality does matter and that’s what they’re going with. Critical thinking in this day and age is a rare commodity. It just doesn’t occur to the average person today that a model where everyone is right based on their uninformed opinion is not a workable paradigm. God created everything, God maintains everything and God is going to end everything and He will do it on His timetable. That will leave a lot of your neighbors to condemnation:  “ESV Matthew 7:13 “Enter by the narrow gate. For the gate is wide and the way is easy that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many.” Jesus wasn’t stuttering, many will enter it, many just because they are perfectly happy in their ignorance. One of the creeds of this society is: “Ignorance is bliss.” You just mind your own business, do what you’re told by those who are smarter than you in business, academia, government, medicine, but heavens no, not ministry, and everything will work out fine. How that works out? No one seems to know, but in this world of the uncritical, “hey I pay my taxes, people are supposed to work those things out for me”. Really? I don’t see how that’s happening.

Probably the biggest threat to our spiritual health as Christians is the comfort and privilege that we live today. Certainly that is what God is telling Israel through Amos in our reading today: “Woe to those who are at ease in Zion, and to those who feel secure on the mountain of Samaria,” Scott Schilbe writes about this passage, the Hebrew: “yAh… Translated as ‘Woe’, this word interjects the idea of God’s judgment. Amos uses this word as a way to capture his hearers’ attention. ‘Woe’ is a warning.”[2] That is God basically saying I’m not playing around, you need to shake off this lethargy, this idea that you’re somehow entitled to just sit back and enjoy what you have and ignore God’s will and the things that you know you should be doing in order to serve Him. While we’re not where we should be today, there is much more being done for those who are poor and oppressed. I understand getting caught up in the headlines and other people’s agenda. We still have a long way to go for social justice, but we also need to back up to where we left the church of Jesus Christ and become a lot more motivated for our eternal life in Jesus. While there is much being done for social justice, and justice in the left hand kingdom of the world is important. But in Christ and to the eternal life of the resurrection we don’t get justice, that’s a really good thing, we get grace, and we get the Lordship of Christ in this world.

Your Christian church is about serving others, we continue to serve all who are here. In my role as a pastor, as a Seel Sorger I serve as a soul healer and if there’s something that the world today is in desperate need of is soul healing. We have, like the Israelites of Amos’ time, become way too comfortable and complacent, leaving the church to gather the crumbs, while we get way too caught up in the headlines and our own comfort. While there is need and we should apply ourselves to that, and your church does, we also have to make our Christian life, as the Body of Christ, His church, a priority in terms of our prayers, our financial support and our mission to continue to reach out to a world whose “god” is its pleasure and in subjection to social engineering while the only true remedy for the strife of the world is in Christ. There will always be a church of Christ, in some form. There will always be a remnant who will continue to enable the church to carry out its mission as God’s apostle. The issue is whether we who profess Christ and His mission will continue to see that as a priority, will we be that remnant? Last week I asked you to reach for that journal and to work out how that will be in your particular case. Will you reconfirm, renew and increase your support for your Christian ministry, for the church that provides you with healing, with presence, and works in our community to provide what we can. Please take out the pledge card from your bulletin and consider increasing your current offering, making a special gift, making a commitment to providing your time to the work of the church, where you can serve your church in order to help us to continue to be a strong and giving presence in our community.

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

[1] Jimmy Paige, Roger Plant performed by Led Zepplin  1971

[2] Rev Scott R Schilbe, STM  Concordia Pulpit Resources Vol 26, Part 4, Series C p 30

Justified and sanctified in Jesus

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Commissioned by God to do the work he has led you to Luke 10 July 17, 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 serve God to His glory in their vocation said … AMEN

There are so many of us “Marthas”, well that’s what I’m about, that’s what I have to do, the other stuff is good, but this is important. Martha was a hostess, she was no doubt the lady of the house, it was her responsibility, at least as she saw it, to make sure the house was being run according to protocol, to hospitality. Jesus isn’t saying there’s anything wrong with that. But He is saying to her and to so many of us, there are other important things. I’m sure Jesus appreciated the freshly squeezed pomegranate juice that Martha put out, I’ve had it in Israel it is so good. I’m sure he appreciated the little food tray, the collection of munchies that a good hostess was responsible for. Being led into the nice, well kept, probably rather fancy house that Martha kept, being led over to the nice big chair she reserved for important guests. But I also know the flip side too. Too often I have something that I really want to share, to get into, I’m all excited to sit down and talk about and get everyone else’s opinion and insights. Very well- meaning folks, men and women, want to make sure that all the hospitality is there. It’s nice, I certainly appreciate their consideration, but there’s things I really want to get down to. To be sure Jesus certainly appreciated Martha’s concern for His comfort, but and I know I feel this way a lot, Mary was concerned about what He had to say, what He wanted to share with Lazarus, Martha and Mary. Certainly Jesus appreciated the fact that Mary was waiting on what He had to say and share. Before I started putting this together, I had just been over to Never Forgotten BBQ and yea, I’ve been trying to get over there for awhile, I do appreciate barbeque. But I immediately sat down at the computer because I was really inspired about what I wanted to say today, as my lunch in the Styrofoam container sat getting cold on the kitchen table. Jesus certainly isn’t criticizing Martha’s desire to serve in what we would say is a practical way, but we as Christians we need to remember Jesus’ words to remind Martha who complained to Him about Mary: “”Martha, Martha, you are anxious and troubled about many things, but one thing is necessary. Mary has chosen the good portion, which will not be taken away from her.” (Luke 10: 41-42 ESV) We are called to serve, but we are also called to keep in mind what is eternal, that while we serve, what we will remember ten years from now and to eternity are the teachings of Jesus. If you have Jesus right there in your presence, or if you have His minister ready to preach and teach the Words of Jesus the “good portion” is the Gospel! In our hurry, hurry world, there is so much around us to be anxious and troubled about and we can all justify the things that we do to work on and to “fix” those things. But the answer to all that we confront always has been, is, and always will be in Jesus’ words and not in the things we do to rush around and fix.

It’s that middle line we walk in so many ways. I’ve said it a hundred times, since I’ve become a minister of the Gospel. I’d love to give you the black and white way on everything, but it’s not always that clear. We have the things that are clear, the Law. The Law convicts us of what we do and shouldn’t do. Jesus was clear, quoting the Levitical law that we should love the Lord our God with all our heart and all our soul, absolutely! In the Sermon on the Mount He is again clear, we shouldn’t be looking at another with lust, we have committed adultery with that person in our heart. We shouldn’t call someone else a fool, we are condemning that person and we aren’t the ultimate judge, God the Father is the ultimate judge. We are told to rebuke, telling someone that they can’t continue to sin and violate the Law, but God is the ultimate determiner and in Jesus we are forgiven of our sins. There are so many ways we can serve and we should serve each other and those in the world in the example Jesus set for us; remember how He washed the feet of the disciples? Certainly a caring and practical way to serve, the thing that the lowest Gentile servant in the household would do. Jesus isn’t telling us not to serve, but He is saying that we should be discerning. The Book of Concord is the doctrine of our faith, in the part titled the Augsburg Confession, our basic faith statement is: “At the forefront of the Augsburg Confession is a dual profession of faith in the person and work of Christ: “they teach that men cannot be justified before God by their own strength, merits, or works, but are freely justified for Christ’s sake, through faith. . . This faith God imputes for righteousness in His sight.”[4] –[1] There are always ways we could serve more or better, but, for example, when the Gospel of Jesus is being proclaimed on Sunday morning, we have to chose the good portion, that for us who are in Jesus won’t be taken away from us and that is His Word, the good news of the Gospel of Jesus.

Now that we are in agreement as to what is the “good portion”, being the Gospel, the teachings of Jesus. I know that if Jesus showed up right here and now, I’d certainly come down from this pulpit, my work, and sit and wait on Jesus, to hear what He has to say. Likewise, I’d hope that we would all put aside the activities and stop and wait on Him, to serve Him and more importantly to listen to Him. I sure hope that if we knew Jesus was going to be here next Sunday, we’d set aside getting the Sunday barbeque ready or going to the Sunday soccer game instead of church and be here to eagerly listen to His words.

The title of my sermon is “Commissioned by God to do the work He has led you to do”. What I mean is that we have been put in our vocation to serve each other, God doesn’t need our service, but He has put us here to serve others. We certainly want that service to be honoring and glorifying to God and a positive witness to others how we serve the Lord. In our reading in Genesis we see Sarah and Abraham both serving three strangers. They turned out to be from God, but they didn’t know that, and in faithful service to them, they are glorifying God who has led them both so far and through so much. Through His angels, and yes they’re male angels, not female, God is telling Abraham, that after all the waiting, that he needs to wait one more year in faith and service to God and He will be given the son they have both been praying for, for decades. We can’t always expect that we will be given what we want because of our service, and even if those prayers are answered, it may take more years to see the answers, but it will be at the best time, God’s time.

We continue to serve in our vocation, God does bless the work we do. May not always be for big bucks or status, but what we do does matter very much to God no matter what our vocation, or service. Whether we are serving household guests like Martha did, or waiting in service on God like Abraham, Sarah and Mary.

One of the basic beefs Martin Luther had with the Roman Church was the idea that either vocation didn’t matter to God, that there were far more important things to worry about than how I earned my daily bread, or that there were different levels of vocation. There were those in Christian service vocation and this was designated to be much more worthy. Religious persons; priests, nuns, monks, others in the church, were seen to be far more worthy in their vocation, than those who worked in the secular world. That the religious person had a fast track to heaven and pretty much everyone else was slotted to take the longer track through purgatory.

Leif Grane in his commentary on the Augsburg Confession writes: “Luther speaks of being as a Christ to one’s neighbor; i.e., in serving one’s neighbor the Christian is not serving God, but, on the contrary, being united with God by faith is participating in the work of God himself. … the works of the Christian, therefore, are divine works, by virtue of faith, despite the sinfulness of the person. The works which are to be done are those works laid upon the person by his or her calling.”[2] Serving others to the best of our ability is working out our vocation, whether that is a lawyer, auto mechanic, dentist, restaurant operator, the person who does your taxes, you know what a blessing it is to find someone who will does this well, fairly and reasonably. No matter what our vocation, parent, housewife, business owner, pastor, accountant, athlete, teacher, when we perform these roles well, when we effectively serve our neighbor, and when we do these things in a way that the person we serve knows that we are serving them because we are working with God, then the particular vocation doesn’t matter. What matters is that God has worked through us to reach someone else through our daily efforts. Certainly you can see that if we do our vocation poorly or to enrich ourselves, others will think less of God and we have failed both our neighbor and God.

The vocation you have been placed in is what God works through on you and other people on a daily basis. If that is God’s will how can it be anything but holy? If it is holy, we want to serve in order to point others to Christ and to glorify God in what we do on a daily basis. Far too often we let God into our lives on Sunday, not even one day, by Sunday afternoon, for too many people, they are back in the world living according to the world’s agenda. Grane writes: “…the issue is not ‘special’ works, but in faith to know that God is present in all circumstances of daily life.”[3] When we remember that and seek to serve Him, not to somehow earn God’s favor, but to live our life in Him to His glory and even in thanksgiving and to also serve Him, by serving others. When our vocation is centered around serving others to glorify God, no matter what your work is it is holy, sacred and precious to God and just as important as any vocation.

Martha was genuinely serving Jesus and Jesus didn’t scold her for that. She was providing for her family and her guest, certainly commendable and something we should all do. Our serving is blessed by God and we serve well as a witness to His blessing and glory. But Mary was commended. Too often it seems that the person sitting around reading, listening, engaging is somehow goofing off, but they are certainly receiving a “good portion”. God has put us in our vocations and we serve in them accordingly. That doesn’t mean that the minister’s vocation, the preaching of His word and the administration of His sacrmanets isn’t important. Help the pastor serve to the best of his ability as a minister, help him to serve you in your vocation and we all serve each other to praise, lift up and glorify our Father in heaven who takes delight in our serving each other in His Name.

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

[1] See more at: http://lutheranreformation.org/theology/christ-office-holy-ministry/?utm_content=buffera69b7&utm_medium=social&utm_source=facebook.com&utm_campaign=buffer#sthash.jH8hLWBj.dpufhttp://buff.ly/29rSUgv

[2] Leif Grane  “The Augsburg Confession, A commentary” pp 201-202

[3] Ibid

Walking/Working Together

I am a pastor in the Lutheran Church Missouri Synod. I say that first because it’s very cool, I am very proud to be a minister of the Gospel and in the LCMS. This name might appear to be provincial, “Missouri”. I’m not from Missouri, was only there for seminary, I’m from Massachusetts very different from Missouri. The name may sound provincial but there is a national baptized membership of 2.1 million, a substantial number and fellowship with Lutheran churches all around the world. Other than Lutheran, named after Martin Luther who by igniting the Reformation and establishing the Christian Church that separated from the Roman Catholic Church, profoundly changed western civilization and the church of Jesus Christ. The other word I wanted to key on was “Synod”.

I never really thought about the meaning, assuming it was an arcane, otherwise out of use word. In the early times of the church in the United States there were a number of “synods”, there still is one other, Wisconsin Synod, an indication of the geographic center of the particular church. Despite the provincial, and old fashion sounding of the name, LCMS is rather compelling. Missouri indicating where the church started and Synod which is an interesting and has a rather contemporary usage. Since you probably don’t get the “Concordia Plans Magazine”, I going to share the article from Rev David Muench writing in the Concordia Plans Magazine he writes: “…’synod’ is take from the Greek words ‘syn (‘with’ or ‘together with’) and ‘hodos’, ( a going’, ‘a journey’, or ‘travel’). We have understood it within our denomination to mean ‘walking together’.” There were many ‘synods’ in the Acts and ancient church, so it is a very old usage and frankly I have a lot more confidence in the old usage of words, then in the pathetic literacy of today. But interesting enough, and since we know, as Gus Portokalos tells us “Give me a word, any word, and I show you that the root of that word is Greek”.(http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0259446/quotes) Gus is actually kind of right. English has a lot of influences, but Greek is definitely the biggest one. As Rev Muench points out, there is a Greek word used in the New Testament 13 times. “that word is ‘synergy’.” It’s from from ‘syn’ and ‘ergon’, which means ‘to do work, action, behavior or deed.’ Thus, ‘synergy’ is to ‘work together’ or ‘fellow workers’.” (Concordia Plans Magazine Summer 2016 p 4).

So while the church name may seem rather arcane, it is the basis of a very profound concept that has a very contemporary importance. Having worked in the corporate world and other parts of society for the twenty years, the word ‘synergy’ is still a very important and rather compelling concept. While a lot of the world seems to be losing this concept, and I’m going to say it, for those who are serious, want to genuinely accomplish things and know they have to pull people together to do it, the word ‘synergy’ has as important a meaning as ever.

Of course in this day and age, something so old and arcane would just be pooh-poohed, because we’re oh so busy abusing the language (like, you know, calling a man or a woman a male or female. Really? Female what? A Female human is a woman!) Yes, I kind of vent when I hear insipid usage of language. But to be a part of a ‘synod’, a one that dates back to antiquity, that means “walking together”, in the sense that I’m walking together with Lutherans today, but also Christians all through the past 2,000 years of Christianity. But that’s not all, so closely associated to a word that is oh so chic today, synergy, working together, a concept that while chic the practice is disappearing in society. It’s very inspiring that our church name has so much to do with walking and working together. So thanks Pastor Muench for giving me the inspiration for writing this and being inspired by our church name. Now, if we can actually walk and work together, led by the Holy Spirit, God’s Word and being disciples of Jesus, let’s keep that in continuous prayer.