Tag Archives: Jesus

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.

God places us in our vocation

C.F.W. Walther was the first president of the Lutheran Church in the United States. The following is from a collection of his sermons from Concordia Publishing House. He talks about how we are placed in and used by the Holy Spirit in the vocation we are in for a reason. Dr Martin Luther made vocation an important part of his issues with the Roman Catholic Church. The Roman Church had been teaching that those who are in “religious” vocations are on a higher level than the rest of the worldly vocations. That somehow priests, nuns, monks, do work that is more important. Luther took issue with that in that we are all placed in our vocation by God for His purposes. Therefore since we are in those vocations at God’s behest, we are serving Him to the best of our abilities in that vocation.

As a good Lutheran pastor, Dr. Walther certainly is in tune with Dr Luther’s views. The following is from a sermon he gave based on Luke 5: 1-11:

“In today’s reading, we encounter Saint Peter working diligently in his earthly calling. He explains to Christ that he has worked patiently through the entire night. Although he has caught nothing [no fish], he does not give up the difficult vocation of fishing to seek something more rewarding. Instead, we find him the next morning washing his nets with his partners and preparing to try again.

Every true Christian will work diligently and untiringly. He will not leave his chosen vocation without real cause, recalling the words of the apostle Paul; ‘So, brothers, in whatever condition each was called, there let him remain with God’ (1 Corinthians 7:24). This is not, however, a distinguishing mark of the Christian since unbelievers can also pursue a vocation with dedication and endurance. In some cases, a non-Christian may even surpass a Christian in his devotion to his work.

How, then, does the true Christian show himself to be such by his earthly work? The first thing we notice from Peter’s example is that, although he was very industrious, he laid his net aside and carefully listened to Jesus as soon as He began to preach. Moreover, he permitted Jesus to use his boat as a pulpit when the people on the shore crowded Him from all sides. Finally, when Jesus called him to be a fisher of men, Peter immediately ‘left everything and followed Him’ (Luke 5:11)'”

In the midst of his earthly work, a true Christian shows that it is not the principal activity of his life. Indeed, he places his heavenly calling above his earthly one. He seeks first the kingdom of God and His righteousness. He does not let his bodily work be a hindrance in caring for his soul. He would rather interrupt his bodily support than be without nourishment for his soul from the precious Word of God.

Today’s text tells us even more about Peter. When he let down his net and caught such a great number of fish that the net tore, he did not in any way attribute the success to himself, his diligence, his wisdom, or his worthiness. Instead, ‘he fell down at Jesus’ knees saying, ‘Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord!’ (Luke 5:8). He regarded his great success as a blessing of Christ alone that he did not earn. Here we see the second way a person reveals in his earthly work that he is a true Christian. He does not believe he can preserve himself by his work, his diligence, and his wisdom. but only be awaiting his daily bread from God’s faithfulness. He does not lose heart if his worked proves fruitless, but instead places his reliance upon God. If his work is crowned with success, he receives it as a gift of grace from His heavenly Father. He does not bind himself to earthly things, but separates himself from them that he might be drawn to Christ all the more.

There is one more way in which Peter demonstrated in his work that he was a true Christian. When Jesus had stopped speaking, ‘He said to Simon, ‘Put out into the deep and let down your nets for a catch”’ (Luke 5:4). His command was completely contrary to the rules of fishing and Peter’s own experience. The best fishing is not in the depths of the open sea but close to shore; it is also not during the day but at night. How does Peter respond? ‘And Simon answered, ‘Master, we toiled all night and took nothing! But at Your word I will let down the nets'” (Luke 5:5). This is how all true Christians work. They are motivated by God’s command because His Word says, ‘By the sweat of your face you shall eat bread’ (Genesis 3:19). Christians therefore daily say, in the conviction of their heart, ‘But at Your word I will let down the nets.”‘

“And gently grant Thy blessing That we may do Thy will, No more Thy ways transgressing, Our proper task fulfill, With Peter’s full assurance Let down our nets again. Success will crown endurance If faithful we remain. Amen (The Lutheran Hymnal p 544:5)

(Translated by Gerhard P. Grabenhofer “God Grant it: Daily Devotions from C.F.W. Walther” pp 551-553)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A Spirit Not of Fear but of Power Matthew June 25, 2017 First St Johns

We make our beginning in the Name of God the Father and in the Name of God the Son and in the Name of God the Holy Spirit and all those who trust Jesus and are overcomers said … AMEN!

I’m sure many of you have had this discussion with your parent, to the effect, “But dad I don’t want to because I’m afraid of this person”. The response was to the effect “you have more to be afraid of me, then of aforementioned person.” I’m sure you’ve had the same thoughts in terms of “I don’t want to do this because I’m afraid of the reaction I’m going to get from someone else” and then come to the realization, I’d better be a lot more afraid of what God is going to think or do then the big monster I’m afraid of will do. I was afraid, [Rodney voice] I grew up in a tough neighborhood, the local restaurant only had broken leg of lamb on the menu.[1] On my street, the kids take hubcaps – from moving cars.”

Jesus makes it pretty plain, sure bad things can happen if you get someone in the world angry, but that’s not going to be anything compared to making God angry from failing to be faithful to His will. In fact whenever I’m in that quandary, after all is said and done, when I look back, I realize that the person/ thing/situation that I was afraid of, was nowhere near as big, bad or ugly as I thought. Furthermore, trusting in God usually results in an outcome I never expected, would never planned. I’m not giving you a Harry Potter incantation or Joel Osteen everything’s going to work out because God has a great plan for your life. He does, but not some Osteen formula. It’s according to the only words that matter, Holy Scripture.

Jesus talks about the one who has “endured to the end who will be saved.” While too many “Christians” have a rainbow and unicorn perception of Jesus, as we see in this passage, through the Gospels and particularly the Book of Revelation, to quote another writer: “The Bible teaches Christians to recognize that the world is a battleground, not a playground.”[2] To take Mr Dangerfield’s quotes, we all grow up in a tough neighborhood. We certainly have the assurance that Jesus will be faithful, that when we trust in Him we will be delivered. It might not seem like it, people do die, people do suffer tragedy, or, at least what we perceive as death or tragedy. We know many cases where we might think that someone has been treated unfairly, but what God has lead that person to do in that trial, that tragedy has, in fact, resulted in genuine blessing for that person, for others that they have served, have inspired, have reached. As Christians we know the ultimate tragedy is to be lost for eternity. While we may suffer in this life, and the reality is that we all suffer in one form or another. That we all have a cross to bear, ESV Luke 14:27 Whoever does not bear his own cross and come after me cannot be my disciple.” Arthur Just explains: “These are catechumens who have heard the Word, have left family and understand the costs of discipleship. But as they travel with Jesus to Jerusalem, they begin to encounter rejection and persecution…[this] corresponds to the seed that fell on the rock and withered because of lack of moisture, like those who receive the Word with joy but have no roots and fall away in times of temptation, which can include persecution.”[3]

It’s never my intention to, create fear in people. The words we see in the Bible emphasize being aware and faithful. Jesus told His disciples in this passage; “ESV Matthew 10:16 “Behold, I am sending you out as sheep in the midst of wolves, so be wise as serpents and innocent as doves.” We are saved, we are protected, we are baptized, we eat the Body of Christ and drink the Blood of Christ, we are very much a part of Him, in the sacraments, in the Keys of the Church, His Body that we are very much a part of. We don’t, ultimately, have anything to fear. The same writer: “The Greek word most often translated “overcomer” stems from the word nike which, according to Strong’s Concordance, means “to carry off the victory. The verb implies a battle.” You probably remember the Nike missile, Nike sports gear. Needless to say in war and in sports, the point is victory. To take the simile a little further, the Nike slogan is “just do it”. I wish we, as Christians, understood that motto in terms of our witness to Christ instead of being fearful of rejection and embarrassment. Embarrassed for Jesus? hmmm, sort of where He says: “ESV Matthew 10:32 So everyone who acknowledges me before men, I also will acknowledge before my Father who is in heaven, 33 but whoever denies me before men, I also will deny before my Father who is in heaven.” When we are unfaithful, and put our trust in the world, and the things around us, just chose to punt, to give in to the world, Jesus is under no obligation to be faithful to us. If by our lives and our witness we demonstrate that Jesus is not important in our lives, why would we have the idea that we should be important to Jesus? Why should He stand up for us for eternity, when we won’t stand up for Him for just a moment in a world that is so temporary, so fleeting, so transitory? I have seen it so often, I chose not to stand up, I chose not to bravely confront and deal with a fraudulent world, but then expect someone to stand up for me and they are outraged that they’ve been left completely exposed. The world loves to set people up, as false witnesses, as Paul writes “to be slaves to sin … for the end of those things is death” (Rom 6: 20..21)

The real emphasis in the real language Jesus uses over and over again, is very much in terms of one who stays faithful, the one who endures, the one who while they are afraid, still endures. Many have the idea that the “brave man” has no fear going into danger. That would infer a really high level of stupid. I’ve seen plenty of brave men and women, people who’ve had to face actual, physical danger. They are acutely aware of the danger, and they are by no means stupid people. By the same token, they realize that they have to overcome and trust their fear because others are relying on them, trusting them to do what is necessary. As Christians we should always trust Christ in the face of danger. We have the guarantees, we have the lock, we know how the story ends, we are going to feel fear, BUT, we are certainly called to overcome. How do we overcome, do we overcome in our own strength? NO! We know the Holy Spirit is with us to strengthen us in those times when we face any challenge and certainly that includes up to and including death. Our trust is this, that what we do for Christ will never be wasted. Too often people talk about someone they perceive dying prematurely or being seriously injured as waste. They only see the here and now and don’t wait in faith for how Christ will use this. If that person has rejected Christ, has actually wasted their life, then we can see the reason why they might have died. I’m sure you can imagine many who simply wasted what they were given. By the same token those who have endured, stayed strong, overcome the trials that were given and still pointed to Christ as the reason, we certainly know and will witness to others and we know the Holy Spirit will use that to glorify Jesus and bring others to Jesus. The Christian church in China will be the largest church in the entire world in about 15 years. This in spite of horrendous persecution and suffering. Those who suffer are very real witnesses to others of the truth of Jesus’ church, of the Christian church and that it does save and they become Christians because they know that they have the promises of Christ of their resurrection to eternal, real life, life and life more abundant! The world cannot come close to such a promise, but takes those who fail to persevere, who will not stand in the strength of Jesus and the world toys with those people, gives them empty promises, kicks them to the curb and walks away laughing. “Overcomers are promised that they will eat from the Tree of Life (2:7), be unharmed by the second death (2:11), eat from hidden manna and be given a new name (2:17), have authority over the nations (2:26), be clothed in white garments (3:5), be made a permanent pillar in the house of God (3:12), and sit with Jesus on His throne (3:21). Jesus warned that holding fast to Him would not be easy, but it would be well worth it.”[4]

Jeremiah’s words have to lift you and inspire you, the promise of who God is and what He will most certainly do: “ESV Jeremiah 20:11 But the LORD is with me as a dread warrior; therefore my persecutors will stumble; they will not overcome me. They will be greatly shamed, for they will not succeed. Their eternal dishonor will never be forgotten.”

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] source: http://www.jokes4us.com/peoplejokes/comedianjokes/rodneydangerfieldjokes.html

[2]

[3] Arthur Just Concordia Commentary Luke 9-24 p 581

[4] https://www.gotquestions.org/Bible-overcomer.html0

Leaving it all on the course for Him Matthew 5:21

We make our beginning in the Name of God the Father and in the Name of God the Son and in the Name of God the Holy Spirit and all those who have left it all on the field for Jesus said … AMEN!

You’ve heard the interviews after an athletic contest, one of the most common phrases; “I left it all on the field”, basically I gave everything I had in order to win. It can get a little cliché, but by the same token, I have no doubt that each person who says that truly believes it. At the end of that contest; a race, basketball game, matholympics, I gave everything I had, physically, mentally, emotionally in order to win, or at least to do my best. I’ve done races where I expected it to be a little more challenging and at the end upset with myself that I was holding back too much and I could have pressed harder on the bike or the run. By the same token I’ve seen people sprinting to the finish line, giving everything and as soon as they crossed, going off somewhere and literally getting sick right after they finished. No question they exceeded their normal physical ability in order to find that tiny little bit that they had left in order to finish as well as they could.

We certainly see this in so many of the people described in the Bible. King David wrote dozens of Psalms, but if you think he was all about sitting at a desk pen in hand and dreamily wondering how to compose his poetry, you would be mistaken. Most of his prose was about the different ways that he was left it all out on the field for God. David was a powerful soldier, his soldiers followed him into many different situations, they trusted him as a leader who would be there for them, do whatever it took for his men and defeat his enemy. David had no compunction going out on that field and doing what God directed him to do and pouring every last ounce he had into the fight for his men, his country and very much so for his God. David lived his life for Yahweh, there were times when he failed in that and he failed in a way that only a great king and general could fail. As Dr Luther wrote: Be a sinner, and let your sins be strong [or sin boldly], but let your trust in Christ be stronger, and rejoice in Christ who is the victor over sin, death, and the world.”[1] If King David had known about Jesus and written about Jesus, he would have understood completely what Dr Luther wrote.

In a lot of ways that is what Jesus is saying in the Beatitudes, you have to go over and above, you have to leave it all out there. There may even be a physical price to pay. The Beatitudes can be taken in a legalistic way. Jesus is not saying you have to do this, you have to do that in order to be saved. People have told me that they live by the Beatitudes. It’s not about grace, it’s about them and their performance, what they need to do, that God is keeping score and waiting for them to tank, to hit the wall, to not finish the course. If they somehow fail in one of Jesus’ directives they failed to leave it all out on the field for Jesus, they kept some back for their own pleasure, maybe cheated on the course somehow and didn’t completely live up to what Jesus directed us to do.

The fallacy is this, the Gospel doesn’t tell us that unless we are picture perfect, that we have somehow failed and therefore don’t manage to hit the finish line having left it all out on the course for Jesus. The Gospel does say that Jesus who is entirely perfect God and perfect man, something we could never be, a person that we will never be because there was only one Jesus. Jesus absolutely did leave it all out on the course and it was entirely for us, Jesus didn’t do all that He did for Himself. What’s the point? Jesus is the One through whom all creation came into existence, He is perfectly God, all He did was not for Him, but entirely for us. Nothing we can do, can add to what Jesus did for us, not one iota, not one jot or tittle.

Yet, many people are pretty sure it’s about sticking to the letter of the Law in the Beatitudes and that gets you over the line. I’m not saying we shouldn’t be obedient, Jesus said “if you love Me, you will obey Me.” But Jesus knows that we are fallible, that our obedience is qualified by our failings as sinful people in a sinful world. However, for all that Jesus did for us, how can we not strive to be obedient? How can we not strive to leave it all out on the course for Jesus?

Does a completely good, completely holy, completely gracious God want us to pluck out our eye and throw it away if we are not completely perfect in everything? In this day and age you can’t look anywhere that doesn’t offend your eye. The issue is, did you let your eye linger over that which offended? Or did you realize, “hey, this isn’t glorifying Jesus or doing me any good”, and just turn away? That’s what Jesus is asking us to do, in the Beatitudes. He exaggerates to make a point. He might say. “You really want to try to earn your way, this is what has to happen, if your right hand causes you to sin cut it off and throw it away. I’m thinking, none of us would truly stand that test. That does not, however, minimize the fact that we should strive to avoid things that offend our eye or what we do with our right hand, or our left hand in order to sin.

Marge and I were at Pastoral Leadership Institute immersion this past week, which, ironically is about us and our performance, and driving us higher in Jesus. It’s an honor to be asked to attend, not everyone is, and it’s recognition of the fact that we are striving in evangelism and discipleship and given the opportunity in PLI to push to the next level. It doesn’t makes us more saved, but it does push us to better serve you and the Kingdom of God as leaders of His church.

The Father is not trying to impose unrealistic expectations on us, He is trying to get us to realize that we can’t get there on our own effort. We will fail! We will have plenty of good efforts, being obedient to the things Jesus asks of us, but at some point we will fail to push as hard as we could. That doesn’t mean we’ve lost, that we should cut off our hand. Matt Popovits was one of the speakers, the overall subject was discipleship, which was great, I emphasize discipleship in my ministry. While we are called to be strong and faithful disciples of Jesus, our performance in that respect is not what saves us. The thesis was “How do I measure my worth?” For those who are so sure that it’s all about me and my “opinion”, because my “opinion” is so vitally important! I have bad news for youse, your opinion just doesn’t really matter. Heavens, how can I say such a thing, come on pastor, we all know it’s all about me! It really isn’t. I can tell myself how great and special I am, but despite what I think, it’s not going to get me diddly. Whose opinion does matter? Oh yes, God’s opinion. That is a great thing! By the way, I told Matt I was going to rip him off relentlessly here, he said “fine, go for it!”.

Anyway, Matt talked about “Performacism”, this idea that we measure our worth by what we do, how well we do it, in and of ourselves. Performacism drives you to the following: 1) The fear of and trying to avoid a horrible outcome, a false Hell that you’ve created, that you’re running from in order to make it to an “unfulfilling heaven, that you earn the applause and approval of your peers. That heaven can’t do what you want, doesn’t fulfill your life.”[2] God’s not all powerful, it’s all about you and what you do and more importantly the way you want it to play out. It drives me nuts hearing people talk about heaven as a boring place, “why would I want to end up there”. Heaven is not our ultimate destination, our ultimate destination is the eternal resurrection. We will be put back on this earth in our physical bodies in order to live our lives the way God intended us to live, a world filled with unlimited possibilities and life fulfilling beyond anything we could imagine. Matt points out that Adam and Eve rejected the “Garden of Yes” in favor of the “tree of no”. We make that wrong choice all the time, a garden full of all kinds of possibilities in order for us to indulge in our personal besetting sin.

Matt further observes that we make ourselves a “Functional Savior” that it’s all in our hands whether or not we make it to that amazing eternity. It’s our activity, and accomplishments that save us, so that we are valued by ourselves and by others, because, heavens! in today’s world, it is all about everyone else’s who so precious opinion. We have that problem on a massive scale in our society today and something that our youth get so caught up in, but we’re all susceptible to it. Our self-image, whether our physical attractiveness is valued by others. In a world where everyone’s equal regardless, ya right! Our hypocritical world is just so full of themselves. The fight is to be as superficially attractive as possible to be of value, if you’re not, you might be patronized a little, but just not taken seriously. We see girls today going to extremes because hey the vital thing is to be beautiful, get the right guy, have all kinds of worldly wealth and live happily ever after. Forgetting that despite all our efforts, some, like me, who’ve just been ugly from birth, end up simply being dumped out the other end of life, whether we were beautiful  or not because we no longer meet the standards.

The cut to the chase is this; Jesus tells us that we can do it the hard way, by our own standards, our own worldly, wrong opinions. Or, because Jesus did it the hard way for us, we can trust in Him, that He has done all that’s necessary. Yes, we should leave it all out on the course for Jesus, because that’s what He’s done for us, but never think that is what gets you His promises.

We are so incredibly valued by the Father and there’s not one thing that we can add to that, not by anything we’ve done, not done, or done wrong, but solely who we are in Jesus, so incredibly valued because of who we are in Him and that He died a horrific death in order to save us. For such a huge price and to be adopted into true life in the Father’s family in baptism, we are, each one of us, so incredibly valued and loved. There are those of us who the Holy Spirit is moving to do big things, to serve at high levels. There are those of us who just physically can’t or who are called to do what we feel are humble things. Doesn’t matter to the Father, yes we should follow our calling, but no, we should never doubt how precious we are to the Father and what we are to Him in our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.

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

[1] Dr Ryan M. Reeves https://blogs.thegospelcoalition.org/ryanreeves/2016/04/20/did-luther-really-tell-us-to-love-god-and-sin-boldly/

[2] Matt Popovits PLI seminar, Cary, NC, February 9, 2017

Serving and Faith Luke 7: 1-10 First St Johns May 29, 2016

[for the audio of this sermon click on 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. Amen.

The observance of Memorial Day is about those who have served in the United States military and have died as a result of that service. I had ancestors who fought in the Civil War. One returned home after suffering serious injury, he lived a few more years, but his life was definitely shortened by wounds in military service, therefore someone who should be remembered and honored on Memorial Day.

The United States’ highest military honor is the Congressional Medal of Honor. It’s not a requirement, but the Medal of Honor is usually presented posthumously, that is the recipient died as a result of the action they took to be awarded the Medal of Honor. According to Wikipedia the Medal of Honor has been awarded to 3,471 members of our military. “The first Army Medal of Honor was awarded to Private Jacob Parrott during the American Civil War for his role in the Great Locomotive Chase. The first African American recipient was William Harvey Carney who, despite being shot in the face, shoulders, arms, and legs, refused to let the American flag touch the ground. The only woman Medal of Honor recipient is Mary Edwards Walker, a Civil War surgeon.[1]” Of the number awarded there are only 76 living recipients.

The Medal of Honor is awarded to any member of the military who is so qualified. The next level are the service crosses; the Distinguished Service Cross for the Army, the Navy Cross for Navy, Marines and Coast Guard, the Air Force Cross. Interesting how our second highest military honors are crosses. The posthumous rate for the crosses is not as high as the Medal of Honor, but is still significantly high. How appropriate is it that for many who sacrificed themselves to often rescue or protect others, that they should be awarded a cross, the symbol of Jesus’ sacrifice for all of us.

One particular mission in Afghanistan early in the War on Terror resulted in a few people being awarded the Navy Cross. Probably more than any time in the military history of the United States Special Forces, all branches of the military are required to have a Special Forces unit, have been utilized in the War of Terror to rescue civilian and military persons and to also perform covert U.S. operations and  to assist host countries in various military operations. There is a Special Forces prayer that is quoted in Lt Col Oliver North’s book “American Heroes in Special Operations”. The prayer is: “Almighty God, Who art the Author of Liberty and the champion of the oppressed, hear our prayer. We, the men of Special Forces, acknowledge our dependence upon Thee in the preservation of Human freedom. Go with us as we seek to defend the defenseless and to free the enslaved. May we ever remember that our nation, whose motto is “In God We Trust”, expects that we shall acquit ourselves with honor, that we may never bring shame upon our faith, our families, or our fellow men. Grant us wisdom from Thy mind, courage from Thine heart, strength from Thine arm and protection by Thine hand. It is for Thee that we do battle and to Thee belongs the victor’s crown. For Thine is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever. AMEN”[2]

In one of the first actions in Afghanistan, Navy SEAL Petty Officer Neal Roberts, was part of a unit to be inserted by helicopter into a mountain top area known as Takur Ghar to engage Taliban. During the approach the helicopter was hit by ground fire, engine fluids started pouring over the inside of the helicopter. Petty Officer Roberts lost his footing and went out the back of the helo: “…His buddies watched him fall about ten feet to the snowy outcropping below.” As the Chinook wheeled away from the mountain, the rest of the team watched helplessly as Roberts came under heavy enemy fire. The last they saw of him, was returning fire with his squad automatic weapon, attacking a superior force and going it all alone…”

“A drone was sent to observe and sent back video of Petty Officer Roberts fighting off the enemy for nearly an hour, first with his automatic weapon and then his sidearm until he expended all his ammunition and grenades. He was finally overrun and killed, becoming the first Navy SEAL to die in the war on terror …”[3]

I have interacted with a lot of military and also civilian public safety. They realize that they don’t work a 9-5, punch in/punch out job. They’ve seen and had to deal with situations of life and death and sometimes inhuman acts done against people. Death is a reality to most of them and unlike most people, they are very aware of their own mortality. Too often their attitude towards God, is often, like most people today, think that they’re doing good works and that will punch their ticket to heaven. Many though want to know about God, I’ve had many uplifting encounters with military and public safety people. Often they want to know how God can permit such violence and injury. This has given me the chance to talk to them about sin. God gave us free will, which means that we are free to sin and we do, quite often. For those who are not Christians they are dead in their sins, they don’t know anything other than sin. They might bargain with God and try to do works they think will earn their way. My answer is that we can’t make a bargain with God. He provided one way, Jesus! That’s a great thing. Too often I see people floundering around trying to make their own way to God and they know in their heart that it doesn’t work. We need to be in relation to God through baptism and in Jesus. Anything else is our own works and ends in failure in trying to reach up to God. But there is no mystery about it, Jesus, God the Son, told us very plainly: “I am the way the truth and the life, no one comes to the Father except through me.” Our way to God is obvious, it is not a struggle to be saved. Being saved might be a struggle, but in Jesus we are helped through our struggles and helped to maintain our faith through His grace, that we are living in His will.

In the same sense a Roman centurion is not your garden variety pushover. He had enormous power and authority. He certainly could have been U.S. special forces today. A Roman centurion could pretty much act as he felt necessary, for the most part was trusted to do what was necessary and his word would have much more influence than others. The centurion in this pericope would have been classified as a “God-fearer”, someone who was not Jewish, but who acknowledged the God of Israel as the supreme Creator, Sustainer of the universe. The Hebrew name was yirei Hashem[4]. They did not convert for various reasons, but they recognized the monotheism of the Jewish God. A Roman did not reach the level of centurion by getting involved with charlatans. Certainly an important point of this pericope was to show that Jesus’ power and authority was recognized outside of Jewish circles and was a precursor of the rest of the world recognizing Jesus as God as His disciples/apostles went out into the world. The centurion saw Jesus as having authority as the Roman did. If it was Jesus’ will to have something done Jesus had only to give the word. Chrysostom writes: “…the reason he had not brought him in [his house] was itself a sign of his great faith, even much greater than those who let the patient down through the roof. Because the centurion knew for certain that even a mere command was enough for raising the servant up, he thought it unnecessary to bring him.”[5] Chrysostom also notes: “While on previous occasions he [Jesus] had responded to the wish of supplicants, in this case he rather springs actively toward it.”[6] Obviously the Jewish leaders in Capernaum saw His authority also, they seemed to have no problem intervening with Jesus on behalf of the centurion. For those who deal with the very real world of life and death, they don’t necessarily know Christ as Savior, I’m sure the centurion would have reservations about making that level of commitment, but they usually know the real thing, their life often depends on it. Often as they go along in life they are led by God to know true salvation, again they finally see the authenticity. We honor those who have made a sacrifice for us, we continually hold our Savior Jesus in our heart and in our prayers as He who made the ultimate sacrifice for those who are His to have eternal life in the resurrection. “Greater love has no one than this, that someone lays down his life for his friends.” (John 15:13)

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

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_Medal_of_Honor_recipients

[2] Lt Colonel Oliver North USMC (r) “American Heroes in Special Operations” p 8

[3] Lt Colonel Oliver North USMC (r) “American Heroes in Special Operations” pp 44-45

[4] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/God-fearer

[5] Chrysostom “The Gospel of Matthew Homily” quoted in “Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture Matthew 1-13” Manlio Simonetti p 161

[6] Ibid