August 21, 2008- Shadow, Refuge, Light and Jesus, Lord of All -Psalm 36:7-9, Acts 7:9-16

Cross

How precious is your steadfast love, O God!
The children of mankind take refuge in the shadow of your wings.
They feast on the abundance of your house,
and you give them drink from the river of your delights.
For with you is the fountain of life;
in your light do we see light. Psalm 36:7-9 (ESV)

And the patriarchs, (i.e. Joseph’s brothers) jealous of Joseph, sold him into Egypt; but God was with him and rescued him out of all his afflictions and gave him favor and wisdom before Pharaoh, king of Egypt, who made him ruler over Egypt and over all his household. Now there came a famine throughout all Egypt and Canaan, and great affliction, and our fathers could find no food.  But when Jacob heard that there was grain in Egypt, he sent out our fathers on their first visit.  And on the second visit Joseph made himself known to his brothers, and Joseph’s family became known to Pharaoh. And Joseph sent and summoned Jacob his father and all his kindred, seventy-five persons in all.  And Jacob went down into Egypt, and he died, he and our fathers, and they were carried back to Shechem and laid in the tomb that Abraham had bought for a sum of silver from the sons of Hamor in Shechem. Acts 7:9-16 (ESV)  (See also Genesis 37 and Genesis 45:1-15.)

God, the fountain of life, the light of the world, God our refuge, is for us. Even though situations can appear hopeless, God makes a way for His people.

Joseph seemed to have been born with a silver spoon in his mouth. He was his father’s favorite child, much to the disdain of his older brothers.  His brothers became so angry with and jealous of Joseph and his favored position that they decided to take his clothes and sell him into slavery.

One might think that it would be difficult to see the hand of God in being sold into slavery and to being made to suffer humiliation and even time in prison (Genesis 39) during that enslavement.  Yet God preserved Joseph so that he would be able to provide a way for his family to survive a terrible famine.

Sometimes we might wonder what God is doing with us in our particular time and place.

The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, and the knowledge of the Holy One is insight. – Proverbs 9:10 (ESV)

Walking by faith- trusting God- doesn’t always make sense. We have no idea most of the time what God has in mind when we find ourselves in situations we would never want to be in.

It’s hard to say, “Trust God,” when someone is in the middle of suffering. It’s hardest of all when we have to look up and trust God through impossibilities, through adversities, and through our tears. Sometimes we wonder what use we can be to ourselves or others when we are disabled, or broke, or too scattered and busy. Other times we wonder if God really cares about us or our lives.  As we study the Bible, time after time we see all the ways that God makes a way for His people.  We can trust He will make a way for us as well, even when we can’t see it or we don’t understand.

We look to Jesus, whose thoughts were of us as His earthly life bled away on the Cross. What did God do with such a seemingly senseless sacrifice? Jesus told us that we must take up our crosses too – Luke 9:23– as we follow Him.  Because He died and rose from the dead, we share both in His death as well as His resurrection life.  He walks with us through it all- even as He walked with His forefather Joseph through the impossible and the unfair and the seemingly hopeless.

Walking by faith, trusting God, seems like a very silly thing to do if we subscribe to the wisdom of this world. Confessing our sins to God daily, putting on our baptism and accepting His free grace and forgiveness, bringing our prayers to God, forgiving others, serving others, these are gifts of the Holy Spirit to us.  Jesus is the only Way, Truth and Life.  He works in and through – and sometimes in spite of- the crosses we are called to bear even though we don’t see how most of the time.  We may never see the good that God works in and through us in our lifetimes.  Even so, because of God’s good gift of faith, we can hope beyond our temporary circumstances. We look up, we trust God, and we know that we are covered under His wings.

August 18, 2018 – Be Wise About What is Good- Romans 16:17-20

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Fear the Lord, you his holy people,
for those who fear him lack nothing.
The lions may grow weak and hungry,
but those who seek the Lord lack no good thing.

 Come, my children, listen to me;
I will teach you the fear of the Lord.
Whoever of you loves life
and desires to see many good days,

 Keep your tongue from evil
and your lips from telling lies.

 Turn from evil and do good;
seek peace and pursue it. Psalm 34:9-14 (ESV)

 

I urge you, brothers and sisters, to watch out for those who cause divisions and put obstacles in your way that are contrary to the teaching you have learned. Keep away from them. For such people are not serving our Lord Christ, but their own appetites. By smooth talk and flattery they deceive the minds of naive people. Everyone has heard about your obedience, so I rejoice because of you; but I want you to be wise about what is good, and innocent about what is evil.

The God of peace will soon crush Satan under your feet.

The grace of our Lord Jesus be with you. Romans 16:17-20 (ESV)

Unfortunately human history is a timeline filled with fallen, fallible people getting it wrong. Dogs bark because that’s what dogs do. Cats meow because that’s what cats do. People sin because people are sinners. It’s what we do.

No sooner than Moses had turned his back and returned to Mount Sinai to hear from God after he came to the people of Israel with the tablets of the Law, the people turned away from God and bowed down to a golden calf they had made. (Exodus 32)

We have been given all kinds of warnings against breaking God’s Law, but we still do it. We can’t help ourselves.

Even David, who wrote Psalm 34, wasn’t able to do as he instructed, and David was a man after God’s own heart.

Christians are no exception to the sinner rule. While we are also saints because of the offense of the Cross- that Jesus died for our sins and took the punishment we deserve- our sinful nature is evident in everything we do and that we don’t do.

The apostle Paul warns the people in Rome about believing bad teaching and wrong ideas just as he warns the Galatians and the Corinthians. There are people who teach doctrines that are contrary to what we learn in the Bible, and often these are teachings that lead people either to serving their own interests (prosperity “gospel”) or to lining the pockets of their “teachers.”  Sometimes bad teaching can be made to sound logical or good, but it does not point us to Jesus. We are warned because there are many things in the world that can lead us away from the truth.

There is no such thing as a perfect church. We are at best a collection of fallible and imperfect sinners.  If we rely on any one particular person or doctrine, we are going to encounter errors.  There will be disagreements and conflicts. We are not going to “do it right.”

God has given us holy Scripture so that we can hear and read His Word and know the truth. The more that we read, study, know and talk about the Bible the better equipped we are to see what is the real deal and what isn’t.

We are called to discernment- to test the spirits-  and to hold on to the good news of Jesus, as the apostle John teaches us:

Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, for many false prophets have gone out into the world.”- 1 John 4:1 (ESV)

We are called to ask questions and to find answers.  We can do this knowing that even though we are never going to get it right in this world, we have the written Scripture God has given us. We have each other, and we have been given the Holy Spirit to guide us.  We are invited to confess our sins, to be forgiven, and to live in the sweet assurance that in our baptism we have been named, we have been claimed and we belong to God because Jesus died for us.

August 16, 2018 There is a God- and He Ain’t You….or Me!-Exodus 20:1-6, Ephesians 2:1-3

love commandments

“I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery. “You shall have no other gods before me.

“You shall not make for yourself an image in the form of anything in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the waters below.  You shall not bow down to them or worship them; for I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God, punishing the children for the sin of the parents to the third and fourth generation of those who hate me, but showing love to a thousand generations of those who love me and keep my commandments.” Exodus 20:1-6 (ESV)

The first lesson in the Catechism is on the First Commandment:

Thou shalt have no other gods.

What does this mean?–Answer. We should fear, love, and trust in God above all things. Martin Luther,  Small Catechism

There is a God- and He ain’t you….or me.

This simple truth seems so painfully obvious, but the First Commandment shows us the sin of the Fall, the root of all sin.

We want to be God.  We want to be the center of our own universe.  We want things to go our way, according to our will.  We don’t want to pray that hardest petition of the Lord’s Prayer, “Thy will be done.”  We don’t trust God. We aren’t able to.

Intellectually we get it- sort of- that God is the Creator, but every one of us has that screaming toddler inside who wants his or her own way.  We want to trust ourselves, but we aren’t fit to be trusted.  Left to our own devices we are still those toddlers who would throw tantrums in the middle of Kroger’s and demand M&Ms and ice cream for every meal.  When we try to live by “my will be done,” it doesn’t end well.

Historically the church has referred to our inability to obey God as “original sin,” which the apostle Paul discusses here:  “As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins, in which you used to live when you followed the ways of this world and of the ruler of the kingdom of the air, the spirit who is now at work in those who are disobedient. All of us also lived among them at one time, gratifying the cravings of our flesh, and following its desires and thoughts. Like the rest, we were by nature deserving of wrath.” – Ephesians 2:1-3 (NIV)

Paul does not mince words here.  We aren’t “kinda good.”  We are no good through and through.  The theologian John Calvin would describe our state before God (apart from Jesus) as the total depravity of man. 

God demands we put Him first, yet we are constantly distracted and chasing after everything but God.

Apart from Jesus, apart from being covered by Him in baptism, apart from being covered by Him because He died to save us from sin, we are completely incapable of putting God first or obeying any of His laws.  We are not able to be perfectly good like God requires. We aren’t even “sorta good.”

Thank you, Lord for the faith you give us as a free gift, the faith in Jesus that saves, the faith that counts us righteous in your sight for Jesus’ sake.  Forgive us for all the times we fall and forget to trust You alone.

August 14, 2018 Grow in the Grace and Knowledge of Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ-2 Peter 3:14-18

I am the way

Therefore, beloved, since you are waiting for these, be diligent to be found by him without spot or blemish, and at peace. And count the patience of our Lord as salvation, just as our beloved brother Paul also wrote to you according to the wisdom given him, as he does in all his letters when he speaks in them of these matters. There are some things in them that are hard to understand, which the ignorant and unstable twist to their own destruction, as they do the other Scriptures.  You therefore, beloved, knowing this beforehand, take care that you are not carried away with the error of lawless people and lose your own stability. But grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. To him be the glory both now and to the day of eternity. Amen.  2 Peter 3:14-18 (ESV)

We are traveling through the Sunday sermon series on Galatians, where the apostle Paul spells out what the good news of the Gospel is and what it isn’t. We learn through today’s text that the apostle Peter had similar conundrums with the people to whom he was teaching and writing.  They were hearing all kinds of silly things and they were getting confused by what some people were teaching. People are really good at getting the Gospel message wrong, especially in adding conditions to it.

Peter is leading us back to hold fast to the basic premises of grace alone, faith alone, Christ alone. This is the Gospel in its impossible, blessed, life-saving simplicity.

When we get away from the clear teaching of Scripture we depart from the Gospel. On one side of the road we can get into strict legalism in which we try to earn our way to God by keeping the Law and by having all sorts of regulations imposed upon us.  On the other we can fall into antinomianism (anti = against, nomian=law) and pretend there is no law at all and we just do whatever we want.  Both errors are dangerous because they lead us away from the truth.  Legalism takes our love of others away and makes us self-righteous, which never works out well.  No law at all leads to no discipline, no boundaries and nothing but self-indulgence, which also does not work out well.  Legalism and antinomianism are ditches on the opposite sides of the same road, but both errors lead us to take our focus off of Jesus and the saving Gospel truth and put our focus squarely on ourselves.

The best way for us to stay in the truth is to keep studying the Bible. What does the Bible say about our life in Christ?  What does the Bible say about this or that teaching? Peter exhorts us: But grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.

It is important for us as Christians to pay attention to what we believe.  Jesus is always at the center of everything.  Our life is found in Him. The more that we read, study, pray and know the truth set out in Scripture- which points us to Jesus, the better equipped we are to hold fast to the truth when people try to teach us things in the name of God that aren’t the Gospel.

August 10, 2018- Something, Nothing, the Law of Love, and the Cross- Galatians 6:1-10, 1 John 4:19

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Brothers (and sisters,) if anyone is caught in any transgression, you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness. Keep watch on yourself, lest you too be tempted. Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ. For if anyone thinks he is something, when he is nothing, he deceives himself.  But let each one test his own work, and then his reason to boast will be in himself alone and not in his neighbor.  For each will have to bear his own load.

Let the one who is taught the word share all good things with the one who teaches. Do not be deceived: God is not mocked, for whatever one sows, that will he also reap.  For the one who sows to his own flesh will from the flesh reap corruption, but the one who sows to the Spirit will from the Spirit reap eternal life.  And let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up. So then, as we have opportunity, let us do good to everyone, and especially to those who are of the household of faith. Galatians 6:1-10 (ESV)

It’s easy to look around and point fingers and see others’ flaws. It’s easy to catch other people doing the wrong things, but it’s not so easy to examine our own behaviors and motivations before confronting someone else for his or her faults.  We ourselves fall into temptation and error without much provocation or assistance. All too often we can get self-righteous and instead of gently restoring a fellow believer in love, we become the pots who call the kettles black.  Correction is best given out carefully and gently, with humility, and with the aim of lifting the other person up.

In some ways it almost seems as if Paul is contradicting himself here. In most of Paul’s letters he continually underscores our utter dependence on Jesus and (Paul, the former legalistic Pharisee,) downplays the importance of our works. We know that there is nothing we can do to score brownie points with God.  Our good works come as a result of what Jesus has already done for us.  Our obedience to the law of love (and yes, the command to love others is not the Gospel but is actually part of the Law) flows from Jesus loving us first.

We were created by God to do good works as we learn in Ephesians 2:10.  Those good works are for the benefit of our neighbors here and now, not so much for God, as God does not need anything from us.  The people around us, the world around us, however, could really use our good works.

Our lives will be more in step with the will of God both individually and collectively here and now as we do good works and help each other instead of being surly and arbitrary and fighting good order. When we pray the way Jesus taught us, “Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven,” we trust that the Holy Spirit will work in and through us to bring about God’s will, even here and now.

We know that as we live with fellow believers that we are both saints and sinners. We live a paradox in that even though Jesus is the sole source of our being, our sustenance and every provision, our life still requires suffering and hard work and cooperation with other people. In this world we still are under the curse of the Fall and its slavery to sin and toil.  Life takes the grace to forgive- and to give sacrificially- that can only come from Jesus.

If we are going to live our lives the way that God would have us live (and none of us even comes close to doing a good job of this) we can only rely on Jesus. We can only love others because He loved us first (1 John 4:19.)  We can only gently correct and forgive others because we are dependent upon the grace of God ourselves.

When we think we’re something and we are convinced that we’re all that, it’s time to turn away from ourselves, look to Jesus, and turn to the Cross. Jesus is the one who gives us what we need to bring about His will. He gives us the endurance and the strength to do the good works He planned for us in advance.

August 9, 2018- The Strength of Jesus for the “Three Score and Ten”-Psalm 34:1-8, Romans 15:1-6, Psalm 139:16

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I will bless the Lord at all times;
his praise shall continually be in my mouth.
My soul makes its boast in the Lord;
let the humble hear and be glad.
Oh, magnify the Lord with me,
and let us exalt his name together!

I sought the Lord, and he answered me
and delivered me from all my fears.
Those who look to him are radiant,
and their faces shall never be ashamed.
This poor man cried, and the Lord heard him
and saved him out of all his troubles.
The angel of the Lord encamps
around those who fear him, and delivers them.

Oh, taste and see that the Lord is good!
Blessed is the man who takes refuge in him! Psalm 34:1-8 (ESV)

(The apostle Paul writes:) We who are strong have an obligation to bear with the failings of the weak, and not to please ourselves. Let each of us please his neighbor for his good, to build him up.  For Christ did not please himself, but as it is written, “The reproaches of those who reproached you fell on me.”  For whatever was written in former days was written for our instruction, that through endurance and through the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope.  May the God of endurance and encouragement grant you to live in such harmony with one another, in accord with Christ Jesus, that together you may with one voice glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.  Romans 15:1-6 (ESV)

There is a distinct irony in the apostle Paul’s teaching here, especially in referring to the persecuted church as, “We who are strong.” Who is Paul kidding here?

He is speaking of the strength that we who believe have in Christ. In  2 Corinthians 12:1-10 we learn of the struggle that Paul endured with the thorn in his flesh.  He doesn’t come right out and say exactly what that thorn was, but we can infer that it was some sort of painful physical infirmity.  Those of us who live with chronic pain can certainly identify with Paul’s struggle.

(The apostle Paul writes:) For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong. 2 Corinthians 12:10 (ESV)

Human beings are vulnerable in many ways. Even the most robust and physically sturdy among us are only a slight electrical charge- the one that tells our hearts to beat- away from sudden death.  Our physical bodies are vulnerable to disease and injury.  Our mental and spiritual states are tenuous as well.  In this life all of us are only a missed heartbeat or a rogue driver away from the end of worldly existence, and no amount of money, influence or anything else can change the reality of our physical mortality. We might think we can delay the inevitable, but we learn from Scripture: Your eyes saw my unformed substance; in your book were written, every one of them, the days that were formed for me, when as yet there was none of them. Psalm 139:16 (ESV.)

Human strength and the promises of health or longevity via modern science are fleeting at best. Try as we might, we don’t see too many people who live beyond the “three score and ten” of Psalm 90:10.

The omniscient God of the universe knows exactly how long each of us is set to live on this earth. He has equipped each of us to meet the challenges that we will face, and He gives us what we need to endure this life.

When we realize that we have no real strength or power in and of ourselves, we are free to abide in and trust the mercy and the strength of God. We look to God knowing our own fragility and powerlessness. We can trust Him to meet our own needs and also to provide for the needs of others.

In Jesus’ strength– not our own- we can lift each other up. In Jesus’ strength we can endure the unendurable for ourselves and we can help bear the burden for others. In Jesus’ strength we have hope, renewal and peace now, even in this wretched, paradoxical place of “not yet.”

 

 

 

July 31, 2018- The Bread King or the Bread of Life? John 6:22-40

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On the next day the crowd that remained on the other side of the sea saw that there had been only one boat there, and that Jesus had not entered the boat with his disciples, but that his disciples had gone away alone. Other boats from Tiberias came near the place where they had eaten the bread after the Lord had given thanks.  So when the crowd saw that Jesus was not there, nor his disciples, they themselves got into the boats and went to Capernaum, seeking Jesus.

When they found him on the other side of the sea, they said to him, “Rabbi, when did you come here?” Jesus answered them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, you are seeking me, not because you saw signs, but because you ate your fill of the loaves.  Do not work for the food that perishes, but for the food that endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give to you. For on him God the Father has set his seal.”  Then they said to him, “What must we do, to be doing the works of God?”  Jesus answered them, “This is the work of God, that you believe in him whom he has sent.”  So they said to him, “Then what sign do you do, that we may see and believe you? What work do you perform?  Our fathers ate the manna in the wilderness; as it is written, ‘He gave them bread from heaven to eat.’”  Jesus then said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, it was not Moses who gave you the bread from heaven, but my Father gives you the true bread from heaven.  For the bread of God is he who comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.”  They said to him, “Sir, give us this bread always.”

Jesus said to them, “I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in me shall never thirst. But I said to you that you have seen me and yet do not believe. All that the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never cast out. For I have come down from heaven, not to do my own will but the will of him who sent me. And this is the will of him who sent me, that I should lose nothing of all that he has given me, but raise it up on the last day.  For this is the will of my Father, that everyone who looks on the Son and believes in him should have eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day.”  John 6:22-40 (ESV)

What must we do? Everything in the natural world has a catch. The most basic premise of psychology is that human beings have to have a reason to do things.  We have to have a motivation. Do we look at Jesus as a celestial Santa Claus, who will give us what we want right now, or as the God of the Universe, who has our forever-life in mind?

Many of Jesus’ early followers were after a bread king- someone who would provide them with food for their bellies. Bread for the belly is important, but the bread from heaven is far better and far more than just a meal for a day. Even so, how often do we trade the peace and solace found in Jesus for incessant worry about how we are going to get by?

Jesus points out that it was God who rained down manna in the wilderness (Exodus 16) – the people of Israel did nothing to earn or deserve it.  All they had to do was pick it up.

The bread from heaven- the bread of life– as Jesus refers to Himself, is free to those who simply believe that Jesus is who He says He is.  We spend our lives so worried about our temporal needs and what we need to do to meet them, while the very bread of life has already been given for us, to break the curse of sin and to sustain us in forever-life with God.

Even our faith is a gift from God, as we cannot come to faith of our own accord. This doctrine is explained in the Epitome of the Formula of Concord.  Our faith is derived from God doing the acting on us.

We learn from Jesus Himself: No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him. And I will raise him up on the last day. John 6:44 (ESV)

Jesus doesn’t require us to do anything. We come as we are- crude, dirty, flawed and broken. Sometimes we are brought to Him screaming and protesting, yet we are drawn to Him- in the waters of baptism, in the words of the Gospel (Romans 10:17) and in the Body and Blood of Christ given for us in Holy Communion.

God provides the bread. Just as the manna fell in the wilderness, we are given Jesus Himself- the bread of life. There is no catch. To be doing the works of God is to trust Jesus, to know that He is the one Way, Truth and Life. This is the faith by which God transforms us, the power of God that makes us “good trees” from which good fruit will come.

If we are to bring forth good works that are truly God’s will and from God, we can only do that by God’s grace and transforming power.

We are reminded to remember our baptism daily so we do not forget that God has named us and claimed us and made us His own. We need to stay immersed in the Scriptures, where we hear the words of the Gospel, which are the very voice of God. In Holy Communion we get a foretaste of the kingdom to come, a taste of the heavenly manna, and we are reminded that we are part of the body of Christ. We are also reminded when we come together for worship that we belong to God, and that He serves us with His great gifts.  God provides.