November 21, 2018 – Thank God for Everything- Psalm 30, 1 Peter 2:4-10

thank god everything

I will extol you, O Lord, for you have drawn me up and have not let my foes rejoice over me.
O Lord my God, I cried to you for help, and you have healed me. O Lord, you have brought up my soul from Sheol. You restored me to life from among those who go down to the pit. Sing praises to the Lord, O you his saints, and give thanks to his holy name. For his anger is but for a moment, and his favor is for a lifetime. Weeping may tarry for the night, but joy comes with the morning.

As for me, I said in my prosperity, “I shall never be moved.” By your favor, O Lord, you made my mountain stand strong; you hid your face; I was dismayed.

To you, O Lord, I cry, and to the Lord I plead for mercy: “What profit is there in my death, if I go down to the pit? Will the dust praise you? Will it tell of your faithfulness? Hear, O Lord, and be merciful to me! O Lord, be my helper!”

You have turned for me my mourning into dancing; you have loosed my sackcloth and clothed me with gladness, that my glory may sing your praise and not be silent. O Lord my God, I will give thanks to you forever! Psalm 30 (ESV)

As you come to him, a living stone rejected by men but in the sight of God chosen and precious, you yourselves like living stones are being built up as a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ. For it stands in Scripture:

“Behold, I am laying in Zion a stone, a cornerstone chosen and precious, and whoever believes in him will not be put to shame.” (Isaiah 28:16, Psalm 118:22-23, Matthew 21:42)

So the honor is for you who believe, but for those who do not believe,

“The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone,” and, “A stone of stumbling, and a rock of offense.”

They stumble because they disobey the word, as they were destined to do.

 But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light. Once you were not a people, but now you are God’s people; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy. 1 Peter 2:4-10 (ESV)

Faith, as we learn from the apostle Paul (see Romans 3), is a gift from God.  We may never understand why some receive the gift of faith and others do not.  We know that Jesus died for the sins of ALL.  Our faith is a gift, and it comes to us through the means of grace – hearing the Word taught and preached, and through the Sacraments of Baptism and Holy Communion.

David’s theme in Psalm 30 is thankfulness. Left to our own designs we fail.  We can see God’s Law in action and it condemns us. God does not owe us anything.  God chooses to act on our behalf regardless of how ornery or obnoxious we are. If we look into David’s life- David, the anointed king, the man with a heart after God, David, the earthly forefather of Jesus, we find a pretty ornery character with quite a few skeletons in his closet.  We are no better than David was, yet like David, we are made right with God by faith.

God is the one who grants us the gift of repentance, which is simply sorrow over our sins and a desire to turn a 180 away from them. God is the one who lifts us up when it seems as if the world and our own evil desires are going to destroy us.  God has mercy on us even though we hardly deserve mercy.  The only thing that we are capable of earning from God is wrath.

Jesus is the one who calls us from darkness to light. Jesus is the one who says to us, “I have chosen you and I am transforming you into one of the precious stones I use to build My house.”  It is by the power of the Holy Spirit that we are being made holy- bit by bit in this world, but fully and completely when we step out of the “now” and walk into finality of “not yet.”

The only response we can have to such generous grace and mercy is deep thanks- thanks for the assurance that we are named, claimed children of God. He will never let us go in spite of our inadequacy and our utter inability to repay Him.

In this season of darkness sometimes it is hard to believe that there will come a day when darkness and despair will be defeated forever. Our mourning will be turned into dancing.  We have been lifted up from the pit of Sheol (place of the dead.)  We are set free to praise and sing. We are God’s people, saved by His mercy.  We have everything to thank Him for.

 

 

 

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

fresh bread

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.

June 20, 2018- Preserve Us From Violence- Psalm 140, Romans 12:19

protect me jesus

Deliver me, O Lord, from evil men; preserve me from violent men, who plan evil things in their heart and stir up wars continually. They make their tongue sharp as a serpent’s, and under their lips is the venom of asps. *Selah

Guard me, O Lord, from the hands of the wicked; preserve me from violent men, who have planned to trip up my feet. The arrogant have hidden a trap for me, and with cords they have spread a net; beside the way they have set snares for me. *Selah

 I say to the Lord, You are my God; give ear to the voice of my pleas for mercy, O Lord!  O Lord, my Lord, the strength of my salvation, you have covered my head in the day of battle. Grant not, O Lord, the desires of the wicked; do not further their evil plot, or they will be exalted!  *Selah

As for the head of those who surround me, let the mischief of their lips overwhelm them! Let burning coals fall upon them! Let them be cast into fire, into miry pits, no more to rise!  Let not the slanderer be established in the land; let evil hunt down the violent man speedily!

I know that the Lord will maintain the cause of the afflicted, and will execute justice for the needy. Surely the righteous shall give thanks to your name; the upright shall dwell in your presence.

Psalm 140 (ESV)

This Psalm is attributed to David. Many times during David’s life he encountered people who didn’t have his best interest in mind.  His predecessor, Saul, tried to kill him more than once. (1 Samuel 19) His own son, Absalom, tried to take over David’s throne. (2 Samuel 16:5-13 ) We encounter adversaries and people who oppose us also.  We will rub some people the wrong way just because we believe in Jesus (John 15:20).  We will encounter people who take delight in scandal, and in spreading lies, or who are unwilling to forgive us for real or even perceived wrongs.

Our prayers to God are meaningful. He hears every one of them. God knows our anguish when wrong things happen to us and other people are cruel to us. The psalmists in Scripture bring every condition and emotion to God in prayer.  God knows when we are angry or unforgiving or frustrated anyway.  We should be honest with Him when we pray, because prayer is one of the ways that God changes our hearts and minds to conform to His will.  When we pray the Psalms we discover a depth of sincerity and emotion.

This being said, in the frank and sometimes violent language of the Psalms we see the humanity of the writers. We want violence done to our enemies, especially for the times we don’t deserve to be slandered or harmed by them. It is better for us to commit our enemies and those who oppose us to God in prayer. God does protect His people.  He forgives us when we do wrong things, and we can trust Him for His vindication and for His mercy when people treat us in wrong ways.

Jesus was persecuted and wronged also, yet He bore the punishment for us -for all the times that we were and are the evil wrongdoer.

It is good to pray first and let God deal with our anger when other people hurt us. The apostle Paul reminds us that God reserves vengeance for Himself.

Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.” Romans 12:19 (ESV)

Only God knows the entire story behind us and our enemies, and only He can see both sides impartially.

We need to take everything to God in prayer- thanks, praise, supplication, grief, anger- He wants us to come to Him with it all. We can trust God that He will protect us.  We will be vindicated and forgiven, as well. In Christ, we have the freedom and the grace to commend our enemies to the judgment and mercy of God.

June 1, 2018- Sing, Dance, Worship! Let God- Psalm 81, Romans 12:1-2, 1 John 1:9

David Dancing before the Lord

Sing aloud to God our strength; shout for joy to the God of Jacob! Raise a song; sound the tambourine, the sweet lyre with the harp. Blow the trumpet at the new moon, at the full moon, on our feast day.

For it is a statute for Israel, a rule of the God of Jacob.

He made it a decree in Joseph when he went out over the land of Egypt. I hear a language I had not known: “I relieved your shoulder of the burden; your hands were freed from the basket. In distress you called, and I delivered you; I answered you in the secret place of thunder; I tested you at the waters of Meribah. Selah

Hear, O my people, while I admonish you! O Israel, if you would but listen to me! There shall be no strange god among you; you shall not bow down to a foreign god. I am the Lord your God, who brought you up out of the land of Egypt. Open your mouth wide, and I will fill it.

“But my people did not listen to my voice; Israel would not submit to me. 

So I gave them over to their stubborn hearts to follow their own counsels. Oh, that my people would listen to me, that Israel would walk in my ways!

I would soon subdue their enemies and turn my hand against their foes.

Those who hate the Lord would cringe toward him, and their fate would last forever. But he would feed you with the finest of the wheat, and with honey from the rock I would satisfy you.” Psalm 81 (ESV)

Shouting for joy and jumping around with trumpets and tambourines might not sound very Lutheran- though it actually is. Lutheran congregations in Africa- and there are more Lutherans in Africa than in the United States- are known for very lively and colorful worship. Those of us in the American Midwest tend to be rather conservative and reserved in our expressions of emotion, including our expressions of emotion in worship. Even so, the northern European Lutheran tradition- where many of us Midwesterners originate from- includes the music of great composers such as Johann Sebastian Bach and George Frederick Handel (Handel was an Anglican, but we like his music anyway). Martin Luther himself wrote many hymns, the best known of which is, “A Mighty Fortress Is Our God.” Music of many genres and styles has traditionally held a high place in Lutheran worship.

The people of Israel in David’s time, when many of the Psalms were written, were not conservative about their expression in worship. It was normal and expected for people to sing, play instruments, and dance (yes, dance) as part of worship. (2 Samuel 6:12-18)

The Psalms were a big part of both teaching and worship.  Since most people weren’t literate in ancient times, it was easier to teach essential truths if they were set to music and sung out loud.

The Psalms don’t sound as lyrical and poetic in the English language as they were written in the original Hebrew, but they are prayers as well as lessons- and they were generally meant to be sung.

There is a contrast here between the beginning of the Psalm, as the Psalmist is praising God and singing for joy, and the second part of the Psalm where God’s people are being obstinate and stubborn. On one hand we as new creations in Christ want to hear the good news and praise God and live as God’s people.  Then the old Adam steps in and starts screaming like a petulant toddler, “MY way, not THY way.” We think we can do better than God. We try to live life our way.  Then we get mad when our way just doesn’t work out.  It’s frustrating, but it is also part of the human condition in this broken world.

We can’t just make up our minds on our own to “straighten up and fly right.” When we do this on our own willpower, we are not really conforming ourselves to the mind of Christ. We end up becoming legalistic and stuffy and self-righteous. (Think Dana Carvey as the Church Lady.)  Rather, we must rely on the mercy and grace of God to let Him transform us.  A good way to visualize our transformation is as we “put on baptism” every day- we acknowledge and remember that we are named and claimed as children of God. Baptism is a means of grace that comes completely as a gift of God and is through no works of our own. He will do for us what we are not able to do on our own.

I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect. Romans 12:1-2 (ESV)

So we return to the themes of Psalm 81- Joy. Worship. Trust God– but trust in ourselves…not so much. When we confess to Jesus that we continually sin and fall short of His good will for us, He promises to forgive us and bind up our wounds, as we learn from 1 John 1:9. We have the assurance that God will carry our burdens. We can be confident that God will see us through our distress and that God will provide us with all good things.  We can’t be afraid to sing it loud and sing it proud- and to live a life of worship.  God feeds us with the finest wheat.  Jesus freely gives us the feast of His Body and Blood, the honey from the rock, and He sustains us with His good and healing Word.  We are set free to love God, to love and serve our neighbor, and to sing out in worship.

March 14, 2018 Spreading the Light- Mercy vs. Judgment John 8:12-20, James 2:12-14

prayer-sinner

When Jesus spoke again to the people, he said, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.”

 The Pharisees challenged him, “Here you are, appearing as your own witness; your testimony is not valid.”

Jesus answered, “Even if I testify on my own behalf, my testimony is valid, for I know where I came from and where I am going. But you have no idea where I come from or where I am going. You judge by human standards; I pass judgment on no one.  But if I do judge, my decisions are true, because I am not alone. I stand with the Father, who sent me. In your own Law it is written that the testimony of two witnesses is true. I am one who testifies for myself; my other witness is the Father, who sent me.”

Then they asked him, “Where is your father?”

“You do not know me or my Father,” Jesus replied. “If you knew me, you would know my Father also.” He spoke these words while teaching in the temple courts near the place where the offerings were put. Yet no one seized him, because his hour had not yet come. John 8:12-20 (NIV)

The writer of the Gospel of John speaks of Jesus being the light (light of the world, light of life, etc.) in thirteen specific references. The concept of Jesus being the light obviously was a point the Holy Spirit wanted the writer of John to get across.

The Pharisees did not want to acknowledge who Jesus was because they were not able to see Him as He is. They were looking for a mighty warrior who would restore the physical kingdom of Israel. They were thinking in terms of an earthly king.  Their vision was limited.

Sometimes we get caught up in what we think we want to see in Jesus that we lose sight of the real Jesus.  Sometimes we get so preoccupied with our own fears and our own darkness that we don’t- or can’t- look up and see the real light.  We all experience those dark nights of the soul where God seems far away.

Even though we struggle and often we have a hard time with the challenge between doubt and faith, at our Baptism we are marked with the Cross of Christ forever. We belong to God even when our feelings or our behavior might indicate otherwise. We are called and made able- not by our own will, but by God’s will- to not only see the light of Christ but to reflect and radiate that light.

Do our lives testify to the light and to the reality of Jesus? Do others see His light shining in and through us?

We can get so mired down in the laws God gives us for our own good that we see them as chains that bind us, or as hammers to hit others over the head with, instead of boundaries given out of love and designed to protect us.

Jesus challenged the Pharisees at numerous points where they used the Law as a hammer, to bring down judgment on others rather than to use the Law to bring people to repentance and to show us our constant need for Jesus.

Do we look at other people and say, “At least I don’t do that sin!” It’s tempting to do when we see what we perceive to be truly scandalous behavior, but sins of the heart and sins committed in the dark outside the public eye are still grieving to God.  We are all guilty under the Law.

It is better for us to look at ourselves and say, “God, have mercy on me, a sinner, of whom I am chief?” (to borrow from the apostle Paul-1 Timothy 1:15 .)

The Holy Spirit is always there for us to call upon- in those dark times when we can’t see, in those times that we struggle with doubt, and in those times that we forget that mercy triumphs over judgment.

Speak and act as those who are going to be judged by the law that gives freedom, because judgment without mercy will be shown to anyone who has not been merciful. Mercy triumphs over judgment. James 2:12-14 (NIV)

Lord, may we be vessels of your light and comfort to those around us, and may we remember that it is only by your grace that we are forgiven and made your own.

 

 

January 18, 2018 – Courage, Conversion and Salvation- Acts 4:8-12, Psalm 118:22-24, Romans 8:26-27

cornerstone

 

Then Peter, filled with the Holy Spirit, said to them: “Rulers and elders of the people! If we are being called to account today for an act of kindness shown to a man who was lame and are being asked how he was healed, then know this, you and all the people of Israel: It is by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom you crucified but whom God raised from the dead, that this man stands before you healed.  Jesus is:

“‘the stone you builders rejected,  which has become the cornerstone.’

Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to mankind by which we must be saved.” Acts 4:8-12 (NIV)

The stone the builders rejected has become the cornerstone; The Lord has done this, and it is marvelous in our eyes. The Lord has done it this very day; Let us rejoice today and be glad. Psalm 118:22-24 (NIV)

Imagine the courage it would take to do what Peter did- to stand up to the authorities and defend his faith.

What would we do in Peter’s position? This was the same guy who had denied Jesus three times before the cock crowed (Matthew 26:75.)  Yet after Jesus’ resurrection and ascension Peter had been filled with the Holy Spirit.  He had supernatural courage that only God could give him to speak boldly even when such speech could cost him his freedom or even his life.

Sometimes we wonder if the Holy Spirit is still at work today. Where is that courage we need when we aren’t feeling it, or when we know we should speak up for what is right, but we don’t?

“In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us through wordless groans. And he who searches our hearts knows the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for God’s people in accordance with the will of God.” Romans 8:26-27 (NIV)

We can be confident that God the Holy Spirit will fill in the gaps. He is strong where we are weak.  That is how Peter, who betrayed Jesus three times, became a bold and stalwart witness for Him.

The Holy Spirit still intervenes for us today. He brings us back to the One Who has become the cornerstone. He gives us the courage to stand when we no longer have- or never did have- the power to stand on our own.  He brings us back from a place of denial and cowardice into a place of defending our faith.

Different Christian traditions have differing views on soteriology (the “how” of salvation) but we can all agree on the Who of salvation.  Whether we believe that salvation is a one-time lightning bolt event, whether we believe we choose God, or that He chooses us, or whether we believe salvation is a gradual and life-long process, the Who of salvation is not in question. It all comes back to the Cornerstone the builders rejected, the Suffering Servant (Isaiah 53:1-5) who Isaiah spoke of so long ago.

Perhaps we can agree that the Holy Spirit has endless means of grace at His disposal. After all, Saul the Pharisee- who became the apostle Paul- was knocked off his high horse on the Damascus Road. That was a pretty dramatic conversion event.  Some of us have experienced dramatic conversion events as well.  Others of us have gently grown into faith over the years through a series of small epiphanies and discoveries about God.  God does speak to each of us differently, and we are called to respond.  We can trust that when we are asked to attest to the reality and the power of God in Christ, the Holy Spirit will lead us and give us the words we need when we don’t have our own.

January 17, 2018- Changing God’s Mind?- Jonah 3:1-10, Ephesians 2:8-11

Jonah11_main

Then the word of the Lord came to Jonah a second time: “Go to the great city of Nineveh and proclaim to it the message I give you.”

Jonah obeyed the word of the Lord and went to Nineveh. Now Nineveh was a very large city; it took three days to go through it.  Jonah began by going a day’s journey into the city, proclaiming, “Forty more days and Nineveh will be overthrown.”  The Ninevites believed God. A fast was proclaimed, and all of them, from the greatest to the least, put on sackcloth.

When Jonah’s warning reached the king of Nineveh, he rose from his throne, took off his royal robes, covered himself with sackcloth and sat down in the dust. This is the proclamation he issued in Nineveh:

“By the decree of the king and his nobles:

Do not let people or animals, herds or flocks, taste anything; do not let them eat or drink. But let people and animals be covered with sackcloth. Let everyone call urgently on God. Let them give up their evil ways and their violence.  Who knows? God may yet relent and with compassion turn from his fierce anger so that we will not perish.”

When God saw what they did and how they turned from their evil ways, he relented and did not bring on them the destruction he had threatened. Jonah 3:1-10 (NIV)

The story of Jonah – whether we take the entire story as literal fact or as an allegory intended to teach us about our purpose, and about God’s grace- is a hopeful story for us. It has a lesson for us about how God views our enemies, too.

Jonah didn’t want to go to Nineveh. The first time God asked Jonah to go to Nineveh, Jonah got sidetracked and decided to go the opposite way (Jonah 1-2) which didn’t end well for Jonah.  Jonah ended up in Nineveh the second time God asked him.  Sometimes God has to ask us a few times before we get the hint that we need to go where He leads us, even if we don’t particularly want to go there.  Jonah didn’t think the Ninevites deserved saving, but God had other plans for them.

Some people have brought up the question of whether or not God changes His mind. Given that we know three basic qualities of God- that He is omnipotent (all powerful), omnipresent (everywhere at the same time in all times and places), and omniscient (all knowing), it would be safe to say it is unlikely- though not impossible- that God changes His mind.

Sometimes, like wayward children, we have to be dragged kicking and screaming to the place where our heavenly Father intends for us to be.

Perhaps prayer and supplication and spiritual disciplines- especially the disciplines of confession and repentance, serve to bring us closer to God’s mind and heart?  After all, Jesus taught us to pray, “Thy will be done.”

Perhaps the message here is that God finds a way to get to his people, and to accomplish His purpose through them?

For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— not by works, so that no one can boast.  For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do. Ephesians 2:8-11 (NIV)

The apostle Paul teaches us that our life and our purpose are gifts of God. We are made by God for God.  So are the people that we don’t like so much. God wants our attitude to align with His attitude-which isn’t always such an easy prayer to pray.

How does this particular epiphany influence our attitude regarding the people around us, and our own place and purpose in God’s world?