Tag Archives: worship

Tell it to the Church Matthew 18

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[4] Ibid p 241

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

I’m going to do it God’s way, by His Word in Scripture

A lot of feedback I get is to the extent, “sound really strict”, “not very loving”, “why are you always quoting the Bible?”. There is a lot of pretty superficial Christianity out there. As a Lutheran pastor I’ve always been taught, to be faithful to what the Bible says, it’s God’s Word that matters. It’s your job to help people understand it, grow in it, live their life in accordance with the Bible, not to make things up. Imagine if we all lived according to the Bible and not just the way we think things should be, the world would be a much better place. Fact is, we are all sinners, even in our best intentions we do things that are messed up and hurt people and hurt our relationship with God. We can turn back to Him for His forgiveness and blessing, or we can keep messing things up, even unintentionally and keep driving each other away. We live so isolated from each other today, we have our superficial relationships, heck we really think we’re friends with someone because they accepted us on FaceBook. No it’s really time to build relationships the right way and not the way the world tells us that we all know inevitably hurts us and other people.

For example, “it’s all about love”. It’s not about “love” in terms of doing what’s right, of being a blessing to others by helping them to really focusing on God, His Word and your neighbor. (I do find it interesting that people will always quote “Love they neighbor”. They seem to forget that Jesus said first, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and all your strength.”) You can’t really love your neighbor until your relationship of love with God is firm and established. Until you know how to “love” as God wants you to “love”, then you’re really just kind of playing with people.

To many people “love” means, “you make me happy, you do things for me”. (Often those things are give me sex, booze, drugs or just cash, make it easier on us.) Love means what’s doing the best for that person, helping that person be the best they can be and not just an enabler for whatever sin that they’ve become chained to, that’s supposed to make them “happy”. Come on, let’s face it, let’s take a, somewhat, benign sin like ice cream. It costs money, good ice cream gets a little pricey after awhile. It puts on weight, with very little nutritional benefit. It causes much more serious health issues. I know plenty of people with diabetes, yet we’re so consumed with smoking. Smoking is sin too, but get a grip. Too much junk and diabetes will kill you. There’s people all around getting constant medication for diabetes, going blind, losing limbs, dying. Don’t know anyone with lung cancer.

Let’s really love and start holding people accountable to what they should be doing. Being “happy” today, is just a fast track to poor health  and early death. Throw in drugs, booze, lack of exercise. Poor health in general is everywhere, do we really love when we see someone tooting another joint, or doing another in a long line of “16 ounce curls”?

There is so much “me” today and so little in terms of God’s will. We make God to be an agent of our “happiness”  and we really aren’t interested in what God has for us. People would look at my life and think that it might be pretty goofy. Picking up and moving from a place I had grown up in, raised children in, then moved to an unfamiliar place (actually two), far away from family and friends. But I do have peace that this is where God wants me and I am doing what He wants me to do. Way too many people today do what they think makes them happy, but have very little peace, hmmm, how do you think that happens? Telling God to go take a hike in order for me to do what makes me “happy”, then finding out what makes you “happy”, just messes you up. What God wanted for you would make you “happy”, but you just decided “don’t confuse me with the facts” if God wants it, then it’s probably boring or lame, I don’t want to do that.

But yes, in God’s will I do have peace. Doesn’t mean things are easy, we see with the disciples, many people down through history. Things weren’t easy, read what Paul wrote about 2 Corinthians 11: 16-33, he went through more in a few years, then most of us will in a lifetime. He knew God was guiding him and strengthening him, making him a better man and certainly a more godly man, and certainly not a messed up man.

So I do what God guides me to, yea sometimes it’s not very pleasant, there are plenty of times I take shots for what I preach, teach or write. Doesn’t mean what I’m doing is wrong, just means someone thinks it’s ok to take shots at me, even if they don’t have a good reason to, don’t know what they’re talking about. Being faithful in God is not settling for just a “feel good” Gospel, something that makes everyone happy for the moment. Sorry just doesn’t work. The trials and tragedies of life pop up all to quick and then we don’t feel good anymore and it’s all God’s fault. My job is to equip those who are in Jesus in order for them to deal with all the good times, tough times, and mundane, maybe even boring times in order for them to grow closer to God and to glorify Him who provides so much for us. That includes eternal, perfect life in the resurrection, it’s only through Jesus. This also includes being strong and being a Christian example for others. The next time you need to be encouraged and strengthened, you think your local drug pusher is going to help you? No! In the end he’s only going to make it worse. What really works is a strong /mature Christian man or woman (and yes that excludes the “feel good” Christians out there too). Too often we want to be made “happy”, placated like a child. We know that leaves us worse off then we were.

God sacrificed greatly for me in His Son Jesus. I have to step up and live a true life in Jesus, not a life of go-along to get-along. I have to be that example of a mature faithful Christian man. That is what God expects from me, to be faithful in continuing to grow, in following where He leads and not in what I think is “happy”, or what I “like”. Lots of other people look to me for that too, imagine what a great place the world would be if everyone were living that way. But that’s not going to happen because in this day and age it’s all about me and what makes me, what I think, happy. We can’t just continue to “hang” where we are and to be pacified, You aren’t going to find any example of that in the Bible. The Bible is what God wanted us to know about Him. He inspired men to write the Bible and show what is the truth. You don’t see people just coasting along in life, sitting around getting snookered and honoring God. Only those who are strong and faithful honor Him. What you find over and over again is men and women who are pushed to step out of their comfort zone in order to live up to God’s will and not their own. Why on earth do we think we should be different today? Is it because we know we can’t handle it and need to be babied?

You will think what you will, but Jesus made it very clear that many will be deluded, fooled, by wrong messages. That His true disciples will have to deal with the trials and antagonisms of the world. We are seeing Christians being martyred right now, all around the world. Not for “feel good”, but because they know who Jesus is and that they need to serve Him and others even in extremely difficult circumstances. There were more Christians martyred in the 20th century, then in all of history, combined! There’s no “feel good” Christianity there, yet it is only through Jesus that we are saved, some of us do have to suffer to the extreme in order to be saved. It dishonors them and Jesus when we make being a a Christian about “what makes us happy”.

What does honor Jesus, the millions who have lived in Jesus through the centuries, the millions who live around the world? It is being true, faithful disciples of His. Doing what He teaches us in His Word the Bible, and not what other people try to make Him out to be. To follow where He leads us and to what He leads us to do through His Holy Spirit. Jesus said He will tell many to be gone because “I never knew you”. Many who thought that what someone told them to “tickle their ear”, was actually genuinely in Jesus. Someone who tried to make Jesus into what they wanted instead of what Scripture truly says about Him. I know my responsibility as a teacher will be greater and I will be held much more responsible for what I teach. I intend to do all that I can to truly teach God’s Word in the Bible. I seriously fear for those who have to answer to God who ignored God’s Word and made up what they thought would make people feel good, it will be very scary for them.

Our Power as Jesus’ disciples in the Holy Spirit Acts 2: 1-21 May 15, 2016 First St Johns

[for the audio of this, please click on 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 those who pray come Holy Spirit, come, they said … AMEN!!!

Grace is the most important thing that separates Christianity from the other world religions. All other “religions” impose requirements that their believers must achieve to have, not the assurance of salvation, but the chance to be saved. Grace for a Christian is that God has done everything necessary for us to be saved. As long as we faithfully follow Christ, by being baptized, attending worship, taking His Body and Blood, hearing His preached Word from Scripture, you are saved, solely in Jesus and by what He has done for us. There is nothing we can ever do in order to “earn” grace, receive the free gift of salvation in Jesus.

Another thing that distinguishes Christianity from other world religions is that God, the one and true God, has actually been in the world. God Father and Son are now in heaven. Jesus sits at the right hand of the Father in glory as our great high priest to pray for us and intervene for us. But Jesus was very publicly in the world, all His major acts, His miracles and teachings, His crucifixion, His resurrection, His ascension, all events that were done in public for all to see. Again unlike the other major religions of the world.

God the Holy Spirit remains in the world, with those who have received salvation in Jesus: ESV 1 Corinthians 6:19 Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God? You are not your own, ESV 1 Corinthians 6:20 for you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body.

The Holy Spirit is part of us in order to guide us, in order to continually point us to Christ. On this day that we remember as the Day of Pentecost, we often refer to it as the birthday of the church of Jesus Christ, the place where His disciples grow and reach into the world. The word Pentecost is from Greek, “pentokoste hemera” meaning the fiftieth day, which is the fiftieth day after Passover. It was an ancient Jewish holiday known as the festival of weeks. It would certainly be reasonable to construe that the Godhead (Father, Son and Holy Spirit), jointly chose this day to, again, bring to public attention, a major move of God. On this holiday there would be Jews from all over the known world in Jerusalem to observe the holiday. As was read this morning; Medes, Elamites, Mesopotamia, Judea, Cappadocia, Pontus, Asia, Phrygia, Pamphylia, Egypt, Libya, Rome, Cretans, Arabians. As it is today, all these people continue to speak much different languages. We see in our first reading the reason why they spoke different languages. Then, as now, there were a bunch of smart guy people who decided they should put themselves at the same level as God. Just relatively recently the world had been destroyed because of the presumption of man. Now man would be separated from each other by language in order to keep them from conspiring together to try to do what Satan tried, to usurp or put themselves on an equal footing with God. Yes, I know, they could not possibly have achieved this end. But the point is that neither Led Zepplin in our time, or these ancient people could build a tower, or a stairway to heaven, but the arrogance of man will often bring quick and direct action from God. At some point God decides to let man just wallow in his sin and let it drag man down to death. Certainly God could have let them build the tower and then it would inevitably collapse, due to their ignorance, and kill many people. Mercifully God chose to save a lot of lives, but to also separate those sin-filled presumptuous people and hopefully keep them from collaborating on more presumptuous, arrogant acts that would also end up in physical or, worse, spiritual death, either way creating separation between God and man. The people continued to sin and act arrogantly. Certainly we see their acts when God Himself comes into the world to give them an opportunity to direct them from their evil, self-destructive ways. God the Son came into the world in order to proclaim as visibly as possible who He is and that He is the only way to life and eternal salvation in Him. As we know, people chose to reject that plea.

That does not mean that the Godhead retreated into heaven and left man to try to figure it out for themselves. Yea, we see a lot of attitude from people, but God continues to do whatever it takes to bring us to Him. And He always does all those things in a very public, very obvious way.

Jesus gives His disciples, then and now, such touching and compelling words of encouragement in our Gospel reading. He’s leaving them, He knows that, they don’t. “ESV John 14:25 “These things I have spoken to you while I am still with you. But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, he will teach you all things and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you. ESV John 14:27 Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid.”

The Greek word that is used here for “Holy Spirit” is para,klhtoj( in older translations of the Bible you will see the Holy Spirit referred to as paraclete, the Greek means “helper, intercessor”. John is the only one who refers to the Holy Spirit in this way, it’s not used in the Book of Acts. In the same sentence Jesus refers to the Holy Spirit directly, pneu/ma to. a[gion( while we give it what seems a rather benign meaning, “spirit” the Greek word meaning blowing/breathing, and also wind. This may sound rather charming, it’s very much intended to be very powerful, in terms of the breath of life, yes, life giving. Tell me what the word “pneuma” says in English, here’s a hint, has to do with tools, … pneumatic tools. If you’ve ever used pneumatic tools, you know a compressor pumps hard to build up a lot of pressure so that the tool, that’s connected to the compressor, can perform various tasks, ever been near a jack-hammer working? We’re connected to the Holy Spirit.

The disciples don’t have a lot of context for what Jesus is telling them. They are probably thinking, “aren’t those nice, comforting words”, but at best have a vague idea of Who/What the Holy Spirit is, but on the Day of Pentecost, they would have a very powerful/lifegiving demonstration of Who the Holy Spirit is and just a slight idea of the kind of power the Holy Spirit is capable of.

Raniero Cantalamessa writes: “Origen informs us that the pagans of his day used to challenge Christians by saying: how can one man, who for good measure lived in an obscure township in Judea, fill the world with the perfume of the knowledge of God, as you Christians say, referring to 2 Corinthians 2:14? Origen’s answer was that Jesus can do this because he has consecrated a large number of disciples with the Holy Spirit and sent them through the world, and these devote themselves to saving the human race by living in purity and righteousness and by teaching the same doctrine as Jesus. Thanks to them, ‘the precious oil sprinkled on the head’ of the true Aaron, who is Christ, runs down ‘onto the collar of his robe’, referring to Psalm 133:2, that is, it spreads throughout the body of the Church and, through it, to the whole world.”

“We are those disciples sent throughout the world to spread the ‘sweet smell’ of Christ! To succeed, we too must ‘shatter’ the alabaster vessel of our human nature: we must mortify the works of the flesh, the old Adam which acts as an inner barrier to the rays of the Spirit…”[1]

We have mini-Pentecosts today! Ok, we don’t have 3,000 people being baptized at once. But in each baptism that is done here, we see the power of the Holy Spirit being demonstrated, that someone is being born again in Christ. When we accept someone into membership of the church as we do today, we add a new person to the Body of Christ, His church. It is the power of the Holy Spirit descending on that person, that person, having been indwelt by the Holy Spirit at baptism, is now a living example of the Holy Spirit. They are a container of the immense power of the Spirit, we all are as confirmed members of Christ’s church. As possessors of such power, the question becomes what do we do with that? How do we disciple those who are new in that power, so that both you and they will live that life of power in the world. We have too many cold and timid “Christians” today, we need to be renewed in the pneumous, the immense power of the Holy Spirit to stand as strong and equipped disciples who point the world to Jesus Christ.

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

[1] Raniero Cantalamessa  The Holy Spirit in the life of Jesus p 18

Leftovers for God? Is that a smart way to go?

Yea the Blackabys have inspired me to get this written, it’s been sitting for awhile, but the blanks have been filled in. It’s about how we give God the leftovers, if that. I’m not innocent of this, as I lay person I didn’t have an appreciation for what goes on at a church while I’m not there and didn’t feel as motivated as I should to give the very best. The Blackabys point out”When the Israelite gave an offering to God, it was no longer their own, it belonged entirely to God. God would only accept the best that people could give. It was an affront to almighty God to offer him animals that were damaged or imperfect in any way. God Himself set the standard for sacrifices when He offered His own Son as the spotless lamb.”(Experiencing God Day by Day Henry Blackaby, Richard Blackaby p 268).

Certainly to the point they write “You do not serve Him in your spare time or with your leftover resources.” Yea, as a pastor I really do feel it. Too often “hey here’s five in the offering plate, great service.” Try to imagine how that makes me feel. I really do try to make worship as uplifting and yes challenging as possible. Compare that to the therapist/counselor who charges, just you, a lot more. I’m there to push you to grow in Jesus, to make the best for Him for what He’s given you and to also push myself. I have some great folks who help me, but too often you just hear about how the big box church has produced some massive show for about one-tenth your total annual budget for one Sunday.

But for the most part, it’s about people’s soccer games (a general reference to all the other things going on Sundays. Really?! Sunday? Morning? seven days in the week, you can’t reserve half a day, read give or take three hours?) To be there to lift up praise and worship to God Father, Son and Holy Spirit who created you, sustains you and gives those in Jesus the promise of eternal life? How about the other folks that do rely on church for encouragement, often times just to see younger people and interact and encourage others. Few if any there to encourage them, because they’re working, they’re traveling, they’re at sports or some other event, they’re at home because they had a tough week. Yes, maybe three Sundays out of 52 (not including weekday worships, which I miss even more rarely), I am there the rest of the time really trying my best. No I’m no Chuck Swindoll and I’m always looking for feedback. However I’m also working hard to faithfully worship as millions have for 500 years and millions do around the world today. That is a faithfulness that can’t be matched by any of our current fads, that just have to be on Sunday morning.

I get it, people do travel, people do other things. But clearly the priority is no longer church, worship, their pastor, their fellow congregants. People tell me all the time they’re going to meet with me, they’re going to come to church. Gotten to the point where it seems, unless of course someone wants something, that about 80% of the time what they say is bupkus. So much for integrity. My wife says they just tell you what you want to hear. Really how about just tell me the truth? It’s far more disillusioning when someone tells me something that they will do and don’t, then just telling me the way it is. I’m a big, tough, ugly, gnarly guy, you’re not going to hurt me with the truth. But wow, when people say they’ll be there, do something, support something and don’t because there is something more interesting going on elsewhere, it really does beat you down and yea does hurt. Really what I do isn’t interesting and challenging?

Hey, to be sure I’m not going to stop. There are Christians through history and all around the world who are going through far worse than I am and I’ve made promises to the church, to the congregation to do as much as I can. I feel very strongly the need to be able to tell someone I did all I could, probably more for Christ and His church. Yes, there may come a time when I may have to sacrifice a lot more. For now I can look you in the face and say I have every intention of being faithful to my vows, for working hard 6+ days a week. For those who have become church members, you might also want to remember that you made vows to be a member to support the church with your time, treasure and talent. From 13 year old confirmands to those who come to Christ later in life. Way too many just pooh-pooh those vows. (As far as time, for most of you a two day weekend is a given, for me, it’s a holiday. If I have one day that is truly about me and my family, that’s even pushing it. I can’t remember the last time that I had a three day weekend. Hasn’t been in the last year.)

How about it? For those who have never gone, maybe you should get over yourselves and see what it’s all about. For those who have a “sawtooth” pattern, if that regular, maybe you could step it up about 50%, maybe everyone could do a little more in all respects to the time, treasure and talent? “But I’m so busy!” I will compare Day-Timers with anyone out there, you’re not that busy. Giving the best to God? I’ve had people who haven’t been in church in decades, members, who call me and expect that because of some, usually tragedy, that I’m supposed to now jump for them. There are people who’ve supported that church for decades, so that I could be there, but you didn’t, now I supposed to jump for you? And for those who like to give me that patronizingly little pat on the head “oh it will all work out”, no, no it won’t. And you won’t like it.

I am privileged to work with a handful of people at my church who can say they do. But for the most part, the rest just give left-overs and for too many people pretty scraggly left overs. So yea, this is a challenge, especially to the guys. Let’s see you step up and really lead your family in Christ, start by showing up, listening to what needs to happen, being that disciple of Christ that your wife, children, community, employers will be forever grateful for, as well as your brothers and sisters in Jesus, you will be great and I will be there to do whatever I can to make you that guy. Lose the lame excuses and step up to things of eternal value.

Jesus Ascends, our high priest, Ascension Day 2016

[For the audio version click on 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. Amen

Starting at Ash Wednesday, through Lent, all of the Holy week remembrances. Sunday morning we celebrate “He Has Risen! He has risen indeed hallelujah.” It can be tough for us to observe all the important milestones of the Lent/Easter season. They are packed together and they kind of come at you, bang/bang. It’s not over either, another big one, Pentecost where the disciples are really grabbed by their collars and  moved right out into the fray.

Luke seems to give us the most complete account of this time. He might have been there and he certainly had access to people who were right there. He doesn’t stop in his Gospel, his next book, Acts, picks up from where he stopped. Acts still has them standing there gaping into the sky. Hey, I don’t blame them, even in this technologically advanced age, we don’t see people being levitated out of sight into the sky. That they wouldn’t be standing there gaping would surprise me, because I would be. Seems a little disjointed between the end of Luke’s Gospel and the beginning of Acts, but either way the disciples are now being moved on, in the Holy Spirit. Sure they would have liked Jesus to be with them physically, who wouldn’t want to hang with Jesus. But it’s, obviously, physically impossible. The entire world is about to find out about Jesus, He can’t be everywhere all the time, physically, and it is now time for a new chapter. It is time for the Holy Spirit to appear and because He is God/Holy Spirit, He can be everywhere. God Father, Son and Holy Spirit are all equally God, they are all omnipotent, omniscient, omnipresent, but in Spirit, we can be that physical temple of the Holy Spirit. He can dwell in all of us, as Spirit. And He will be what physically drives the disciples, Paul and new Christians to bring the Gospel of salvation in Christ to the rest of the world.

Backing up to Easter morning, they thought that He was gone, they were despondent, defeated. Luke 24 starts out by telling us that the women are visiting the tomb, having no expectation that they are there to properly prepare Jesus’ Body, something they were unable to do because of the Passover Sabbath. Jesus wasn’t there! How could that be? There are two men there, angels, telling the women that Jesus has risen. Just as He told them He would, but of course who would believe that? But it’s true! Now they have a second chance, He has risen, He has returned. Luke doesn’t go into detail about what was said in the forty days after the resurrection. Jesus had explained that He would be killed, but then He would be resurrected. Obviously, they weren’t listening then. But now so much has happened, and the Body is gone and two angels have told them straight out what has happened, who knows maybe it’s the same two angels who pop up while they’re standing there staring into the sky. Now that Jesus had their undivided attention, He would have mine, I’ve never known anyone to be resurrected and yet He is right here. So now He has their undivided attention, He was crucified and now He’s alive. That has to be enough to keep even the attention of the most attention deficient person. During the forty days He has probably told them what will happen next, that He does have to leave, again. But this time He is leaving as the Lord of creation, He is going to the glory of being seated at the right hand of the Father. Just as you see in the stained glass window above me. He has been to the deepest depths, beaten beyond recognition, no food/water, tortured, naked, nailed into and lifted up on a rough wooden cross and then a spear drive through Him. All this to be the payment for our sins. Reduced to the lowest humiliation, our creed says He even descended to Hell. Certainly not condemned, but to free those who are now free in Him.

We see that Jesus leads His disciples to Bethany and some translate the word “Bethany” as the House of Obedience. It certainly does seem appropriate. Another writer describes Bethany as a “miserable” village. So Jesus isn’t giving them some “white glove” treatment. Certainly the disciples are going to find being obedient, is going to cause some misery. While the disciples are going to be getting further orders, seems as if Jesus is making a point? This is the last time you will see me and as I said, He probably has told them what is about to happen. Gives them some final instructions and rises into the air helped by angels. They don’t seem upset in any way that He’s leaving, He gives them a final blessing, they worship Him and “returned to Jerusalem with great joy.” It does seem as if the disciples have a much more profound understanding of what is going to happen. Nonetheless they are still human, they may have returned to Jerusalem joyously. Jesus no doubt gave them promises and assurances. The disciples had seen Jesus do miracles, teach with a wisdom that is beyond what they had known from any human. They saw Him die on a cross, they saw Him resurrected, now they see Him rise far into the sky, into heaven. Augustine writes that “Jesus ascends in his body so that the person of Jesus, divine and human nature is not separated.”[1] He is now the Great High Priest, very God, very human as the writer of Hebrews tells us: “Since then we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession.” That great high priest has to be man, but He is also the all mighty God the Son. Our Lord and Savior. Leo the Great submits that because Jesus has returned to heaven, both God and man, the disciples have further assurance of the fact that they enter into heaven along with Him. So surely, at this point they will return to the upper room joyously. But even a day can make a big difference, and there has been a lot of attention put on the disciples. So when we see them again, a week from Sunday, they will be hunkered down in fear. They have had the assurances of Jesus just ten short days ago, but they still do not have the Holy Spirit as they will on Pentecost, so their joy only lasts so long, they probably don’t know exactly what the next step is, ten days is a long time when you are waiting, and their joy is back to fear. But with the Holy Spirit in them, they will charge out, not just in joy, but in determination, guided by the promised Holy Spirt who will lead them to various places in the known world, and who faithfully leads us today where the Lord had destined us to serve Him.

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

[1] Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture p 391

God is merciful, but is paying attention Ezekiel 33: 7-20

[for the audio please click on the above link]

We make our beginning in the Name of God the Father and in the Name of God the Son and in the Name of God the Holy Spirit and all those who live and turn from their evil ways said … AMEN

We are in the season of Lent, we should reflect on what our life is about all year long and certainly repent at those times when we have sinned and failed God. Reflection, repentance, are the primary focus of Lent. Today’s readings emphasize that. Most of the Bible is very straightforward, very real in the day to day lives of the people it describes. Many people like the mysticism, the mystery of many other beliefs, just for that reason and dismiss Christianity as being a little too prosaic and not mysterious enough. I disagree, the realness of the Bible, from beginning to end, make it totally relatable, real world, it describes the darkness and sinfulness of a fallen world, and it describes in very gritty, earthy ways many of the people in the Bible. There was little mystical about David, Elijah, Peter, they were very manly-earthy-gritty men, even Jesus. The Bible is not about being mystical, mystery, that so many try to make it out to be, but in some respects it is. There are compelling mysteries in Christian theology: The Trinity, the atonement of Jesus, the virgin birth of Jesus, the resurrection. There are mysteries that we may never understand, but that does not diminish the very straightforward realities of who Jesus is, how we are saved, what the Father does in our lives everyday as we are guided by the Holy Spirit. There are mystical parts to the Bible. Daniel can be, Revelation certainly is, parts of Isaiah. Kenneth Stevenson and Michael Glerup write: “Ezekiel also leaves its mark on the New Testament. The image of Jesus as the Shepherd (Matthew 18: 12-14; John 10: 11-18) finds its inspiration in the prophecy about the shepherds and the sheep (Ezekiel 1: 5-10). Revelation bears several significant traces of the influence of Ezekiel: the vision of the chariot from heaven with the four living creatures (Ezek 40-48; Rev 21-22) … and each book ends with a vision of the new temple.”[1] In our reading today Ezekiel is pretty straight forward, and according to Stevenson and Glerup; “…his teaching about judgment seems at times harsher than the message of Isaiah and Jeremiah.”[2]

Through Ezekiel, Yahweh is pretty tough on Israel and He could be saying essentially the same thing to today’s culture. David Peters writes: “You are no better than the Canaanites. Your father was an Amorite and your mother was a Hittite [reminds me of the Monty Python line Your father was a hamster and your mother smelt of elderberry –mine] You were such an ugly baby they left you out to die.” (Ez 3: 7-9) Peters goes on to write: “This is pretty rough talk coming from the Lord. God compared them to the people for whom they had the least respect – the Samaritans and the Sodoms. This sarcasm attracted the people’s attention and they protested that God was being unfair to them. God replied, “You say, ‘The Lord is being unfair in his assessment of us?!’ Listen to me! You are the ones being unfair not I.’” (Ez 18:25) In a contest as to who is fair, God will always win.”[3]

The most poignant part of the lessons for me is when Ezekiel takes his foot off the gas in the middle of the reading to remind his audience: “As I live, declares the Lord GOD, I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but that the wicked should turn from his way and live, turn back from your evil ways, for why will you die, O house of Israel?” (Ez 33:11) Who is the “house of Israel” that God is talking to? … Yes, us, we are Israel. Jesus is Israel, we are in Jesus, even 500 years before Jesus, God, through Ezekiel, is talking to us and almost pleading with us. I don’t want to see people die in their sins, I don’t want to see people lost in Hell for eternity, that is horrible, I want you to fear me enough, to know who I am, what I have done for you and for you to stop resisting and find peace and rest in My grace. God is often practically pleading with us, stop it, get over this ridiculous, rebellious, attitude that only leads to death! We should be in a state of reflection, repentance and prayer all year long, but we have been given this time of Lent to specifically reflect on the reality of the state of our sinful nature. Not as a way to beat you down, but as a way for you to truly live “I am the way the truth and the life…” Jesus tells us. His way, life and life more abundant in the resurrection. The world’s way is sin and death. We may think Ezekiel is being overly harsh, but God, through Ezekiel, is desperately trying to steer us away from our rebellious and sinful nature and find true life, hope, promise and eternal life of perfection in Him. Is there any doubt that when someone repents, stops his rebellious ways that the Father will be joyful? Luke writes: “ESV Luke 15:7 Just so, I tell you, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance.” Because we can’t have it our way, we act as if God is the enemy. We live in a “gotcha” culture. It’s not about what you do, the great ways you serve, the things you accomplish. There are people out there who genuinely think they are serving by waiting in the weeds in order to “gotcha” on the most trivial issues and show what a truly horrible person you are. The world tries to project that mind-set on to God. Nothing can be further from the truth. The “gotcha” God wants is the times when you realize your sin, repent and mourn in ashes over your sin and realize all that He has done to save you and give you eternal life. Is there any doubt in your mind that the Father, on His throne, will be smiling when you realize what has been done for you? Sure He knows who He has saved, but in the middle of the joy of heaven, there will be the Father’s smile of satisfaction, that His plan in that person has come to pass? In the parable of the talents Jesus tells us how our Master, God, “Enter into the joy of your master.” (Luke 25: 21, 23) The world tries to convince us it’s an “us against Him”.

By the same token, He isn’t playing. You want to take the wide road into the wide gate, do it your way? You can’t expect God to be pleased with your destructive behavior. He wants to save you, Jesus came in order to be the salvation of the world. The Godhead knows that most of the world faces destruction, death, the eternal wrath of God, and why shouldn’t they who have rejected God? God takes no pleasure over the death of the wicked, but they made their choice and rejected God. Ezekiel writes: “Again, though I say to the wicked, ‘You shall surely die’, yet if he turns from his sin and does what is just and right,…he shall surely live; he shall not die.” (Ez 33: 14, 15). Through the Holy Spirit, the Father has made the path to salvation quite obvious and doesn’t make us jump through hoops to be in Him, as all other beliefs do. He gives us pure, unqualified grace in His Son Jesus. Jesus did the hard work and the heavy lifting. Jesus died on the Cross the perfect sacrifice for the sins of the entire world. God made the road to salvation quite obvious in His Son’s life, death and resurrection. There is nothing we can do to earn it, to justify it, to deserve it, it is given to us to have life and life more abundant.

In our Gospel reading people are asking Jesus if the people who died because of Pilate or an accident somehow deserved such violent deaths because they were bad people. The people asking were somehow “good” and those that died got what they deserved. Jesus replied: “No, I tell you; unless you repent, you will all likewise perish.” Not that a tower will fall on all of them, but Jesus was saying, keep doing what you’re doing and you will all die in your sins, you will be condemned to the eternal fire where there is weeping and gnashing of teeth. We do not have a “gotcha” God who is just waiting to condemn us. John 3:16 for God so loved the world that He gave us His Son to give us a sure and certain way to salvation, everlasting, perfect life in the resurrection. Trust in Him who does so much for us, turn and repent and know that in Him, in His church, in our baptism in Him and in the Lord’s Supper when we eat His Body and Blood, in Jesus’ life and sacrificial death, He has saved you to that eternal life in the resurrection. He wants what is best for you and waits to give it to you. There is no joy in the death of a sinner, there is joy in the man and woman who repents and receives the free gift of grace in Jesus.

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

 

[1] Stevenson and Glerup in “Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture Ezekiel, Daniel” p xx

[2] Ibid p xiv

[3] David Peters “The many Faces of Biblical Humor”