April 25, 2018 – Jesus, Alpha and Omega Be- 2 Timothy 4:6-18, Matthew 10:26-33, Revelation 22:13

jesus and the disciples

(The apostle Paul says) : “For I am already being poured out as a drink offering, and the time of my departure has come. I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Henceforth there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, will award to me on that day, and not only to me but also to all who have loved his appearing.

Do your best to come to me soon.  For Demas, in love with this present world, has deserted me and gone to Thessalonica. Crescens has gone to Galatia, Titus to Dalmatia.  Luke alone is with me. Get Mark and bring him with you, for he is very useful to me for ministry.  Tychicus I have sent to Ephesus. When you come, bring the cloak that I left with Carpus at Troas, also the books, and above all the parchments. Alexander the coppersmith did me great harm; the Lord will repay him according to his deeds. Beware of him yourself, for he strongly opposed our message. At my first defense no one came to stand by me, but all deserted me. May it not be charged against them! But the Lord stood by me and strengthened me, so that through me the message might be fully proclaimed and all the Gentiles might hear it. So I was rescued from the lion’s mouth. The Lord will rescue me from every evil deed and bring me safely into his heavenly kingdom. To him be the glory forever and ever. Amen.”  2 Timothy 4:6-18 (ESV)

In this passage the apostle Paul is coming to the end of his life on this earth. By this time, Paul has worked with several other preachers and teachers throughout his ministry.  Some of them, like Luke, (the writer of the Gospel of Luke) walked alongside Paul faithfully and partnered with him in his ministry. Others, like Titus, Paul mentored and trained so that they could go out as missionaries and pastors in other places to build new congregations.  Still others, like Alexander the coppersmith, were outright hostile to the Gospel and to Paul’s preaching, and opposed him.

Even though some people were helpful to Paul and faithful to doing God’s work alongside him, not all of them were. Other people don’t always meet our expectations.  Sometimes they try, but it’s too much for them, or they are only with you for a little while because their path is a different one from yours, or sometimes they are outright hostile to you and what you are trying to accomplish.

For Paul the constant was Jesus. If people come along side us who work with us and build us up, what a blessing from God.  If people who are a blessing can only be with us for a little while, that’s OK.  Jesus is faithful and stays with us whether people do or not.

It’s easy to worry about what other people think of us or wonder if we will have help to “run the race,” as Paul puts it. We may not know what is ahead of us or what we will be called to do, but we can trust that the God of all creation is our provision and He knows our needs.

Whatever is ahead of us is in God’s hands. As we pray Psalm 23:4 – Even though I walk in the valley of the shadow of death, I fear no evil. Thy rod and thy staff, they comfort me (KJV)- we know we can trust in God who never leaves our sides.

Paul was very aware of God’s provision in every circumstance. Paul clung to Jesus. We also cling to Jesus, who has walked through the valley of the shadow of death, who has experienced death and the grave, and who has conquered the grave.

This life is not easy. The great theologian Axl Rose once said, “You’re not going to get out of life alive.” While our present physical bodies will experience death, it is also true that in Christ there is life in the kingdom to come.

Jesus tells us where we should place our trust, and how to view adversaries in the world:

(Jesus said) : “So have no fear of them, for nothing is covered that will not be revealed, or hidden that will not be known. What I tell you in the dark, say in the light, and what you hear whispered, proclaim on the housetops.  And do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell. Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? And not one of them will fall to the ground apart from your Father. But even the hairs of your head are all numbered. Fear not, therefore; you are of more value than many sparrows. So everyone who acknowledges me before men, I also will acknowledge before my Father who is in heaven, but whoever denies me before men, I also will deny before my Father who is in heaven. Matthew 10:26-33 (ESV)

Jesus, you are before anything was, and you will be when nothing else is.

(Jesus said): “I am the Alpha and the Omega, the first and the last, the beginning and the end.” Revelation 22:13 (ESV)

He who is first and last will be with us forever!

April 24, 2018 – What is Worship Anyway? Psalm 95, Ephesians 2:10

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Oh come, let us sing to the Lord; let us make a joyful noise to the rock of our salvation! Let us come into his presence with thanksgiving; let us make a joyful noise to him with songs of praise! 

For the Lord is a great God, and a great King above all gods. In his hand are the depths of the earth; the heights of the mountains are his also. The sea is his, for he made it, and his hands formed the dry land.

 Oh come, let us worship and bow down; let us kneel before the Lord, our Maker! For he is our God, and we are the people of his pasture, and the sheep of his hand. Today, if you hear his voice do not harden your hearts, as at Meribah, as on the day at Massah in the wilderness, when your fathers put me to the test and put me to the proof, though they had seen my work.

For forty years I loathed that generation and said, “They are a people who go astray in their heart, and they have not known my ways.”

Therefore I swore in my wrath, “They shall not enter my rest.” – Psalm 95 (ESV)

The Psalmist gives us a beautiful picture of what worship is. Worship is not confined to just what we do in church on Sunday.  Some churches call Sunday worship “Divine Service,” which is an apt term, because when Jesus followers come together to worship, God serves us.

We get to hear the word of the One True God taught and preached, the Gospel that proclaims life forever in Christ. We get to raise our voices in song to praise God, which is not just medicine for our hearts, but also as Martin Luther once said, “singing is praying twice.”  We get to experience God coming to us in the Sacrament of Baptism, where God names and claims His children, and in the Sacrament of Holy Communion, where we partake of His Body and His Blood, given to save us from our sins.  We worship by coming together as community on Sunday, but as we are gathered, we are also being served by God as well.

The importance of Sunday worship cannot be understated, because that is where we are equipped to worship the rest of the week, where worship is a little bit harder. As we hear God’s Word our hearts are opened to Him and to His way.

The Psalmist speaks of God’s hands. It’s interesting to envision God as having hands, but it’s also encouraging to know: In his hand are the depths of the earth; the heights of the mountains are his also. The sea is his, for he made it, and his hands formed the dry land.

God holds everything in His hands! Even better, his hands formed: the dry land, as the Psalmist reminds us, but also everything else we can see, touch, hear, taste, and experience.  Nothing is outside of God’s hands.

God gives us hands as well. He gives us vocation– a calling and a purpose in life- not for us to earn brownie points, because He has already named and claimed us in our baptism. He created us for the good works He planned in advance for us to do.

For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them. Ephesians 2:10 (ESV)

We don’t earn anything by doing good works, but good works are part of our worship. We use our hands and voices, our talents and our abilities to praise God, not to appease Him, but because we belong to Him.

So how do we live our lives as worship?

It’s good to know that God holds us in His hands. It’s good to know that God provides everything we need to trust Him, to serve others, and to live as He created us.

We worship God as we work. We worship God as we care for others, including the mundane tasks of cleaning or running errands or changing diapers.  Anything we do for the sake of others is worship.

Jesus, help us see our lives as lives of worship, joyfully connected to You.

April 23, 2018- Gentle Jesus, May We Be Like You- 1 Peter 5:1-5, Romans 10:17, Matthew 23:11-12

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To the elders among you, I appeal as a fellow elder and a witness of Christ’s sufferings who also will share in the glory to be revealed:  Be shepherds of God’s flock that is under your care, watching over them—not because you must, but because you are willing, as God wants you to be; not pursuing dishonest gain, but eager to serve; not lording it over those entrusted to you, but being examples to the flock.   And when the Chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the crown of glory that will never fade away.

In the same way, you who are younger, submit yourselves to your elders. All of you, clothe yourselves with humility toward one another, because,

“God opposes the proud but shows favor to the humble.” 1 Peter 5:1-5 (NIV)

The apostle Peter is displaying Jesus’ example of self sacrifice and serving others in the community. He teaches humility, living by example, and sacrificing one’s time and treasure for others. His example points us to Jesus.

Not every person or organization who claims to be part of Christ’s church truly represents Him. The Gospel is good news, but not easy news.  Anyone who teaches a theology of anything other than a theology of the Cross – one in which we are urged to pick up our own crosses and follow Jesus- is not teaching right theology. The Bible always brings us back to the foot of the Cross, and to the heart of Jesus.  If we truly follow Jesus we will sacrifice and we will suffer.  We will not lead others to worship us, but we will lead others to worship Jesus. We are called to strive to be more like Him and to serve as humble examples for others.

It is especially important for adults to look after the young and vulnerable around us. There is a horrible scourge of drugs and crime that are rampant in our community. Too many young people are left adrift to their own devices, without access to solid mentors and advisors, let alone access to any sort of Christian education.  As we know, Bible teaching is not permitted in public schools, so teachers’ hands may be tied as far as answering questions about Jesus or sharing the Bible with them.  It is important for us to shepherd children and teens in the ways and places where we are able. The Holy Spirit can open doors to essential conversations about Jesus when we take the time to care for kids.  This is a life and death endeavor.  Faith does come by the Holy Spirit, yes, but through hearing the Gospel. (Romans 10:17) God put us here so that others may hear– not just with their ears, but through the acts of sacrifice, mercy and love that God gives us the grace to do.

Children and teens don’t need “holier than thou” adults- they need “Jesus’ servant heart in me” adults.  They need adults who they can confide in, adults who will listen, adults who will take the time and spend the resources to care for them- physically, emotionally and spiritually.

(Jesus said) :The greatest among you will be your servant. For those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted. Matthew 23:11-12 (NIV)

As Jesus reached out to those who were struggling and hurting, He was gentle. He comforted those who were fragile and depleted.  Though He is perfectly within His right to step down with an iron boot on sinful and broken humanity, as the prophet Isaiah foretold, Jesus comes to us- and especially to the marginalized and poor- with comfort and healing.

“Here is my servant, whom I uphold, my chosen one in whom I delight; I will put my Spirit on him, and he will bring justice to the nations.  He will not shout or cry out, or raise his voice in the streets. A bruised reed he will not break, and a smoldering wick he will not snuff out. In faithfulness he will bring forth justice; he will not falter or be discouraged till he establishes justice on earth.  In his teaching the islands will put their hope.” Isaiah 42:1-4 (NIV)

We are called to follow the example of Jesus, the Suffering Servant. The hurting, the hopeless and the wounded of this world will be able to see Jesus through us, as we bind their wounds (visible and invisible) and do what we can do to meet their needs.

Gentle Jesus, help us to be gentle with the hurting and weak as You are. Help us to be caring toward others, and help us keep from breaking those around us who are bruised reeds.

April 18, 2018- Necessarily Annoying? Acts 4:1-4, Romans 10:17, Luke 12:11-13, Hebrews 12:1-3

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And as they were speaking to the people, the priests and the captain of the temple and the Sadducees came upon them, greatly annoyed because they were teaching the people and proclaiming in Jesus the resurrection from the dead. And they arrested them and put them in custody until the next day, for it was already evening. But many of those who had heard the word believed, and the number of the men came to about five thousand. Acts 4:1-4 (ESV)

There is a saying that “well behaved women don’t make history.” The same can also be said for well behaved men. There is a place for gentle speech, logical argument and parliamentary procedure with all its niceties when relating to and when attempting to convince other human beings of a particular point of view.  However, when one’s speech versus silence is the difference between life and death, it can be necessary to be annoying.

It is necessary for an ambulance driver to run a siren and to take the ambulance through traffic lights- to make it highly audible and highly visible and to some, annoying- when the ambulance is being used to make a way to save a life. Desperate times require desperate measures.

We probably wouldn’t still be talking about the apostles Peter and John two thousand years after they died if they hadn’t made themselves annoying for the cause of Christ. It would have been a lot more polite of them if they hadn’t preached Jesus crucified and risen, at least not in the temple. They could have stayed out of jail for the night too, but then who would have heard their message of salvation? What may have become of the five thousand who came to faith by the apostles’ words- had they not been able to hear?  (Romans 10:17)

The fact that we still read about Peter and John and Paul and all the apostles and saints who have held fast to faith and proclaimed Christ even to martyrdom, says something for the truth of who Jesus is, and for the validity of the Word of God. The same good news that saved the five thousand is still saving millions- perhaps even billions- more, because God gave these men the conviction and the courage to be bold and get the truth out, even though they were considered by some to be obnoxious and annoying, even though it led them to persecution and civil consequences, and led many of them to suffer martyrs’ deaths.

It is not always easy to share our faith, especially in contexts where it could make us annoying, or even get us in trouble. The political and social climate is increasingly hostile to the Gospel message.  Even so, God gives us the ability and the courage to witness for Him especially when it is scary for us, or when we annoy the powers that be when we speak the truth because the truth offends their perceived authority.

We have the Holy Spirit to lean on in this: (Jesus said) : ”And when they bring you before the synagogues and the rulers and the authorities, do not be anxious about how you should defend yourself or what you should say,  for the Holy Spirit will teach you in that very hour what you ought to say.” Luke 12:11-13 (ESV)

When we are bold for our faith and we speak the truth of Jesus Christ, we are in good company. Throughout the centuries we are supported by the witness of the apostles as well as by countless martyrs and saints.

Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured from sinners such hostility against himself, so that you may not grow weary or fainthearted. Hebrews 12:1-3 (ESV)

Faith comes from God. The endurance to run the race He has set before us comes from God. We run in HIS strength. We, along with the saints before us, look to Jesus, cling to His Cross, and in Him we can take comfort that the joy that was set before Him is set before us also.

April 16, 2018- An Unnatural Love- 1 John 3:10-16

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By this it is evident who are the children of God, and who are the children of the devil: whoever does not practice righteousness is not of God, nor is the one who does not love his brother.

For this is the message that you have heard from the beginning, that we should love one another. We should not be like Cain, who was of the evil one and murdered his brother. And why did he murder him? Because his own deeds were evil and his brother’s righteous. Do not be surprised, brothers, that the world hates you. We know that we have passed out of death into life, because we love the brothers. Whoever does not love abides in death. Everyone who hates his brother is a murderer, and you know that no murderer has eternal life abiding in him. 

By this we know love, that he laid down his life for us, and we ought to lay down our lives for the brothers. 1 John 3:10-16 (ESV)

If we think that it is possible for us to love everyone all the time, realistically we have to admit we don’t. It’s really easy to become cynical and unloving toward our fellow humans when we turn on the news, when we look out the door, drive on the freeway, or end up cleaning up after a family member yet again. Sinful humanity is really good at letting each other down.

Love does not come naturally to us. Anyone who has observed toddlers (or automotive technicians) for any length of time will find that human nature compels our hearts to stay focused on me, me, me.  It is hard to observe small children for any length of time without fights breaking out over who possesses what thing, or over who gets the most attention or privileges.  If one child wants a particular toy, the others will want that toy as well, no matter how many toys each child already has.  If Grandma is busy with child A, child B will barge in and scream for Grandma’s attention as well.

When humans are left to our own devices, we look out for our own well being, but not so much for the well being of others. We put our own interests and feelings first. Any of us put in the right situation can act just as Cain did. That inclination toward evil is built into our flesh and has been with humanity since the Fall.

God gave us His Law and His commandments because He knows that we need boundaries for our behavior. The Law is a good thing even if we can’t observe it completely and faithfully. Even with protective boundaries, God knew we could not keep His Law and redeem ourselves by good behavior no matter how hard we try.

Because God knew we could not save ourselves, He sent His Son Jesus to die and rise again to save us from our sins. He took the punishment that brings us peace and bore the wounds that bring us our healing, as well as our salvation, restoration and sanctification. (Isaiah 53:5)  Jesus has done for us what we are not capable of doing.  Not because He had to, but because God loves us.

In our Baptism we are adopted into God’s family. With the water and the Word we are baptized into the crucifixion and death of Jesus as well as we share in His resurrection. We share in His suffering, but we also share in eternal life. Our sins are washed away, and we are set free to act as who we have become in Christ.

The difficult part of this paradox of being a sinful human, but a saint of God at the same time (simul justus et peccator) is that we cannot completely drown the “old Adam.”  Even if we take the good advice of Martin Luther and put on Baptism as daily wear, we find that we don’t always have the mind of Christ.   We still sin no matter how hard we try not to.  We still lose our patience, we still scream “me, me, me” like a toddler, and we still hold grudges and offenses against those around us.  All we can do is lean on and rely on Jesus.

Love is the greatest commandment of the Law- to love God and to love our neighbor- including those neighbors we aren’t too thrilled to claim. Apart from Jesus we cannot breathe. We cannot have life. We cannot save ourselves.  Apart from Jesus we can’t even think of loving God or anyone else.  The good news of the Gospel is that Jesus took our place. He does for us what we cannot do ourselves. He gives us all we need and walks with us through every day.  Because of His love for us we are called to respond in love for those around us, that God’s will be done here on earth as it is in heaven.

April 13, 2018- Pray, Let God- Psalm 4, Luke 12:4-7

prayerAnswer me when I call, O God of my righteousness!  You have given me relief when I was in distress.  Be gracious to me and hear my prayer!

 O men, how long shall my honor be turned into shame?  How long will you love vain words and seek after lies?- Selah –

But know that the Lord has set apart the godly for himself; the Lord hears when I call to him.

 Be angry, and do not sin; ponder in your own hearts on your beds, and be silent. -Selah-

Offer right sacrifices, and put your trust in the Lord.

 There are many who say, “Who will show us some good?  Lift up the light of your face upon us, O Lord!” You have put more joy in my heart than they have when their grain and wine abound.

 In peace I will both lie down and sleep; for you alone, O Lord, make me dwell in safety. – Psalm 4 (ESV)

Prayer is conversation with God. The Psalms are timeless prayers given to us in the word of God. They are given to us to memorize and write on our hearts. They are prayers of praise, prayers of thanks, prayers of supplication, and prayers for those times when we are crushed in spirit and can’t find the words.

We learn much about the character of God, and how He reaches out to us when we study and pray the Psalms. God does hear and answer our prayers- though His answers aren’t always what we expect.

We all come into difficult times. Those difficulties are no secret to God.  He knows our every need and He knows every detail about us. He knows our trials, He knows our thoughts, and He calls us to trust Him with everything.

Jesus said: “I tell you, my friends, do not fear those who kill the body, and after that have nothing more that they can do.  But I will warn you whom to fear: fear him who, after he has killed, has authority to cast into hell.  Yes, I tell you, fear him!  Are not five sparrows sold for two pennies? And not one of them is forgotten before God. Why, even the hairs of your head are all numbered. Fear not; you are of more value than many sparrows.” Luke 12:4-7 (ESV)

Fear in this context is a reverent respect. Jesus tells us to be aware of who we are made by and to whom we belong, and to whom we pray.

We aren’t telling God anything He doesn’t already know when we pray. He knows when we are distressed. He knows our anxiety, our anger, our need, and our distress already anyway, even if we aren’t comfortable admitting them to ourselves or bringing those not-so-nice things to Him.

Be angry, and do not sin; ponder in your own hearts on your beds, and be silent (Psalm 4:4)

God does not want us to deny our anger, but He does want us to keep from acting in anger. He wants us to live according to His will.  We can trust Him even when we cannot trust others or ourselves.  We can let Him deal with our anger. Yes we get angry and there is plenty of misery out in the world, and there are plenty of bad circumstances in our lives to be angry about…but…take those concerns and fear and worry and anger to God.  Don’t deny what we feel, but don’t let feelings lead us into sins. Let God deal with that anger and frustration and pain instead. Let Him bring us His peace.

God who spoke the universe into being can deal with our anger- a LOT better than we can.

The Psalmist reminds us that God has brought us through past distress in our lives. We are reminded that God has named and claimed us for His own.  We are reminded that we find our joy and our peace in God.  Our very life is in His hands. We can trust Him with everything when we come to Him in prayer.

God who is the omnipotent, omnipresent, omniscient Creator of all, is also God of the sparrows, God who knows the number of hairs on our heads, God who comes to us in, with and through His Sacraments. The almighty God who suffered and died a cruel death on a Cross to save us from our sins, cares about every part of our lives.

April 12, 2018 In the Name of Jesus We Live – Acts 3:12-23, 1 Corinthians 15, Ephesians 2:10

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While the man held on to Peter and John, all the people were astonished and came running to them in the place called Solomon’s Colonnade. When Peter saw this, he said to them: “Fellow Israelites, why does this surprise you? Why do you stare at us as if by our own power or godliness we had made this man walk?  The God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, the God of our fathers, has glorified his servant Jesus. You handed him over to be killed, and you disowned him before Pilate, though he had decided to let him go.  You disowned the Holy and Righteous One and asked that a murderer be released to you.  You killed the author of life, but God raised him from the dead. We are witnesses of this.  By faith in the name of Jesus, this man whom you see and know was made strong. It is Jesus’ name and the faith that comes through him that has completely healed him, as you can all see.

 “Now, fellow Israelites, I know that you acted in ignorance, as did your leaders. But this is how God fulfilled what he had foretold through all the prophets, saying that his Messiah would suffer.  Repent, then, and turn to God, so that your sins may be wiped out, that times of refreshing may come from the Lord, and that he may send the Messiah, who has been appointed for you—even Jesus.  Heaven must receive him until the time comes for God to restore everything, as he promised long ago through his holy prophets.  For Moses said, ‘The Lord your God will raise up for you a prophet like me from among your own people; you must listen to everything he tells you.  Anyone who does not listen to him will be completely cut off from their people.’ Acts 3:12-23 (NIV)

Yesterday’s lesson was on the lame man (Acts 3:1-10) who Jesus healed through the ministry of Peter and John.  The lame man was healed through Peter and John because Peter and John had faith in Jesus, faith which is a gift of God. Today we move on in Acts 3 to Peter’s explanation of who really performed this work- and as we see, it wasn’t Peter or John.  Peter leads us directly to the death and Resurrection of Jesus.

So why does the Resurrection of Jesus matter anyway? In what we believe to be a day and age of rational thought and of the primacy of science and technology, why should we hold on to a belief that God incarnate was put to death and rose from the grave? It seems silly or irrational on the surface to believe such an implausible account, but the death and Resurrection of Jesus is literally the premise upon which we live or die.

The apostle Paul tells us in 1 Corinthians 15 (it is helpful here to read the whole chapter) that if Jesus did not come back from the dead, we are wasting our time believing in Him.  If Jesus did not come back from the dead, we are dead in our trespasses and sins and fallen nature and we might as well eat, drink and be merry (and be free to lie, steal, fornicate and pillage, etc.) because the only thing we have to look forward to is the grave.  If this world is the end, we are stuck in a rather hopeless state of affairs.

Thankfully this world is not the end.

For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do. Ephesians 2:10 (NIV)

We were not created by God to make our own gods, or to turn ourselves into our own gods. Yet that is exactly what we humans do when we are left to our own devices.

The premise of God’s Law is summarized in the Jewish shema: Love God, and love your neighbor as yourself. (Deuteronomy 6:1-4) The Ten Commandments (Exodus 20:1-17) spell out God’s requirements in even more depth.

God requires our perfect obedience to this Law. We can’t do it.  But because God loved us, and did not want us to suffer the consequences of our sin and disobedience, Jesus had to take our place as a perfect sacrifice.

But Christ has indeed been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. For since death came through a man, the resurrection of the dead comes also through a man.  For as in Adam all die, so in Christ all will be made alive.  But each in turn: Christ, the firstfruits; then, when he comes, those who belong to him. 1 Corinthians 15:20-23 (NIV)

We are not able to follow the Law’s requirements. We are fallen, broken and fallible. Jesus has done what we cannot do for ourselves, and that is Good News.  In Him we have life.  We rise with Him also. He is Risen.  He is Risen, indeed.  He is real.  Our life in Him is real too, and it is forever.