October 13, 2019- Message- Responding to Jesus (Y’all Need Jesus!)

y'all need Jesus

On the way to Jerusalem he (Jesus) was passing along between Samaria and Galilee. And as he entered a village, he was met by ten lepers, who stood at a distance and lifted up their voices, saying, “Jesus, Master, have mercy on us.” When he saw them he said to them, “Go and show yourselves to the priests.” And as they went they were cleansed. Then one of them, when he saw that he was healed, turned back, praising God with a loud voice; and he fell on his face at Jesus’ feet, giving him thanks. Now he was a Samaritan. Then Jesus answered, “Were not ten cleansed? Where are the nine? Was no one found to return and give praise to God except this foreigner?” And he said to him, “Rise and go your way; your faith has made you well.”
Luke 17:11-19 (ESV)

Remember Jesus Christ, risen from the dead, the offspring of David, as preached in my gospel, for which I am suffering, bound with chains as a criminal. But the word of God is not bound! Therefore I endure everything for the sake of the elect, that they also may obtain the salvation that is in Christ Jesus with eternal glory. The saying is trustworthy, for:

If we have died with him, we will also live with him; if we endure, we will also reign with him;
if we deny him, he also will deny us;
if we are faithless, he remains faithful—for he cannot deny himself.

Remind them of these things, and charge them before God not to quarrel about words, which does no good, but only ruins the hearers. Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who has no need to be ashamed, rightly handling the word of truth.
2 Timothy 2:8-15 (ESV)
The relationship of a parent to his or her child can be a strained and complicated one. Some of our children are easy to love some of the time. Some of our children can be difficult and hard to manage from day one forward. Most of them are a little bit of both- a little sweet, a little sour, just like the Sour Patch kids. We do things for our kids not because we want them to be grateful for what we do, but because they’re our kids. We love them even when they don’t care whether we love them or not. We love them when they are unlovable. We love them even when they are ungrateful. We love our children even when they don’t respond to our love in the way that we hope.
There’s a popular T shirt that states: Y’all Need Jesus. It’s fun to wear t-shirts with catty sayings such as this as a conversation starter. In one way the saying on the shirt is supposed to imply that others’ behavior is so bad that they need Jesus to straighten them out. In another it reveals the truth that we are dependent upon Jesus- and for far more than to keep us from saying or doing things we shouldn’t.
Our need for Jesus is just as profound and essential whether we are people needing healing from leprosy or people dealing with the turmoil of the 21st century. We ALL need Jesus. Our very lives, the heartbeats within us, the air that we breathe, the very existence of all matter depends on Jesus, whether we acknowledge His hand and His sovereignty or not. A lot of the time we are like the nine guys, the former lepers who were healed and just went along their merry way, not considering the amazing thing Jesus had just done for them.
All good gifts of God, including healing, are gifts- given not because we are worthy, but because Jesus is worthy. God does not give gifts expecting anything in return from us. What does God need? Is there anything we can give to God that He didn’t give us first?
The rain falls on good and bad people alike, as Jesus teaches in Matthew 5:45. – For he (God) makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust.
That’s not the message we expect to hear. We instinctively gravitate to the wisdom of the world that says, “one hand washes the other.” Quid pro quo. You get what you deserve, which is the concept that some of the world’s religions refer to as Karma, the principle that every world religion, with the exception of Christianity, believes. Because of Jesus we don’t get what we deserve, and that is good news considering that every human being deserves death and hell.
Cause and effect logically follow in our minds. Cause and effect are powerfully evident in the natural world. Good and bad things happen to good and bad people alike. But Jesus’ economy isn’t our economy. Jesus is the Giver, the Sustainer, the Lord of Life, whether we understand or acknowledge that or not. As we learn in the book of Job, God gives and takes away as God wills, not according to what makes sense to us.

Some of us pray for physical healing and will never see it this side of eternity. Some of us grieve the loss of someone precious to us who we will not see again until Jesus returns. All of us are crying out for some sort of deliverance or comfort at one time or another. The human condition since the Fall is such that we will all suffer. Some of us get respite from our torments, while others of us can only take comfort and strength in knowing that Jesus walks with us even through the valley of the shadow of death (Psalm 23:4.)

We will share in the cross of Christ just as we will share in the resurrection and life of Christ.

The Samaritan leper understood the mercy and grace given to him by Jesus. He may have understood it even more profoundly than the Jewish lepers because he wasn’t “born into” the promise. It was only by faith in Jesus that he was healed. He knew that there was no way that he deserved or earned healing and that his healing was indeed a free gift of God.
Jesus tells us a story of a Pharisee – a guy who thought that he earned “having it made with God” and a tax collector, who acknowledged being a sinner in need of a Savior, in the temple.
He (Jesus) also told this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and treated others with contempt:

“Two men went up into the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee, standing by himself, prayed thus: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I get.’ But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even lift up his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, ‘God, be merciful to me, a sinner!’ I tell you, this man went down to his house justified, rather than the other. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but the one who humbles himself will be exalted.” Luke 18:9-14 (ESV)
The Pharisee’s prayer was not as much in praise of God as it was in praise of himself. “Thank God I am not that prostitute, or that tax collector, or that guy.” He might as well have said, “Thank God I go through all the right motions and say all the right things.” The Pharisees even had prayers in which men thanked God that they were not born women. Today we still find ourselves trying to compare ourselves to others, saying things like, “at least I’m not an addict or a criminal,” without realizing that only by the grace of God we could be the ones trapped in addiction or mired in a life of crime. We have no idea to the extent and depth we are beholden to God’s grace.
We see the mercy of Christ when we see how completely and often we break God’s laws, yet He is still good to us. He still forgives us for all the times we break the Law. It is only because of His grace and mercy that we can stand, and He is the One Who chooses to make us His own. We do not choose God any more than children choose their biological parents.
We are invited to come to Him, to confess our sins and to be forgiven. No matter how many times we have broken God’s laws. No matter how horrible a sinner we may believe we are, even a sinner like the apostle Paul who claimed to be the chief of sinners, as he tells his protégé Timothy : The saying is trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the foremost. 1 Timothy 1:15 (ESV)
Jesus bled and died to pay for the sins of ALL. There is no one beyond the scope of God’s grace, unless we choose to put ourselves there. We can choose to ignore God and fail to acknowledge Him, but ignoring God is not a good choice, as we learn from the Psalmist (possibly King David) who teaches : The fool says in his heart, “There is no God.” They are corrupt, they do abominable deeds; there is none who does good. Psalm 14:1 (ESV)

There is a big difference between assuming the grace of God because of what we do or the tradition we follow, and knowing one’s sinfulness and undeserved favor before a holy God.
We learn from the writer of Proverbs that the fear (fear meaning: a reverent respect) of God is the beginning of wisdom.

The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom, and the knowledge of the Holy One is insight. Proverbs 9:10 (ESV)
In our baptisms we are made children of God- some of us are the easy children who smile and hug and cooperate and make our parent’s heart glad. Some of us are the difficult children who are incorrigible and frustrating and are the children who make us question our choice to become a parent. All of us are both- saint and sinner- some of the time. A lot of the time we are like the nine lepers who didn’t give God a second thought. Yet God gives His gracious gifts to us all, for the sake of Jesus Who died to save us from our sins and to reconcile us to the Father.
We all desperately need Jesus. Seeing this need is wisdom, and living in thanks to God for life in Jesus is a gift of faith.
Whether we are healed here and now or whether we suffer here and now, or we live a life of both suffering and of being healed, we live in thanks to Jesus. We look to the Suffering Servant who gave His life so that we may live with God forever. We believe Him and take Him at His word. We thank and praise Him, not as though there would ever be anything we could to do to repay Him, but simply as a response of thankfulness and praise to the Author of all things who has delivered us from death and brought us into ultimate healing- the healing and peace of eternal life with Him.

May 4, 2018-Joyful Noise and Automatic Praise- Psalm 98, Philippians 4:4-13

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Oh sing to the Lord a new song, for he has done marvelous things!

His right hand and his holy arm have worked salvation for him. The Lord has made known his salvation; he has revealed his righteousness in the sight of the nations. He has remembered his steadfast love and faithfulness to the house of Israel. All the ends of the earth have seen the salvation of our God.

Make a joyful noise to the Lord, all the earth; break forth into joyous song and sing praises!  Sing praises to the Lord with the lyre, with the lyre and the sound of melody! With trumpets and the sound of the horn make a joyful noise before the King, the Lord!

 Let the sea roar, and all that fills it; the world and those who dwell in it! Let the rivers clap their hands; let the hills sing for joy together before the Lord, for he comes to judge the earth.

He will judge the world with righteousness, and the peoples with equity. Psalm 98 (ESV)

On days like today it’s easy to praise God as we take in the beauty of creation. When the sun is shining and we look around and see the trees and flowers coming to life again after a long winter, the metaphors of the “rivers clapping their hands” and the “hills singing” seem to fit.

Many of our days are not quite so bright. What about days where the weather is dull and grey and we are mired down in pain and buried in cares? What about those days in which the furthest thing from our minds and hearts is singing?

Is praise to God an automatic response for us? Do we praise God only when we experience the beauty and wonder of nature and when we can feel the presence of God?  Can we still praise Him through our pain?  When He seems far away?  When we can see the ways we have fallen short of God’s glory due to our own sins?

Can we see the salvation of our God in a world that very often appears to be beyond saving in so many ways?

By faith we can praise the God of our salvation and trust Him even when we can’t see. The apostle Paul was often in situations where he was exiled or imprisoned and had to trust in the support of others.  He wrote to the Philippians who were supporting him while he was imprisoned in Rome:

Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice.  Let your reasonableness be known to everyone. The Lord is at hand; do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.  What you have learned and received and heard and seen in me (the apostle Paul)—practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you.

I rejoiced in the Lord greatly that now at length you have revived your concern for me. You were indeed concerned for me, but you had no opportunity. Not that I am speaking of being in need, for I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content. I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need. I can do all things through him who strengthens me. Philippians 4:4-13 (ESV)

Through the gift of faith in Christ, we can praise and sing and rest in God’s peace even when we cannot see beauty or feel God’s presence. By faith we know He is there and that He never leaves us. May our praise not be connected to what we see or our current circumstances, but may our praise and worship rise up by faith- automatically in response to the promises of God.

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

joyful worship

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.

November 22, 2017- Forgive, Be Thankful and Praise God- Colossians 3:12-17, 2 Samuel 6:14-15

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As God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience. Bear with one another and, if anyone has a complaint against another, forgive each other; just as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive. Above all, clothe yourselves with love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony. And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in the one body. And be thankful.  Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly; teach and admonish one another in all wisdom; and with gratitude in your hearts sing psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs to God. And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him. Colossians 3:12-17 (NRSV)

One of the most important “wilderness lessons” I had to learn the hard way is that the heaviest thing to carry is a grudge.

Jesus doesn’t command us to forgive as a cruel joke. We may at times be quite justified in our anger, but holding on to anger does nothing to right the wrongs that have been done against us.  Holding onto our anger does nothing other than poison and paralyze us, while those who have wronged us go on about their merry way, blissfully unaware that we are hanging onto vitriol that is intended for them. Forgiveness allows us to surrender our anger and hurt and frustration to the One Who does have the power to make wrong things right again.  Forgiveness allows our healing and opens our hearts to the love and restoration- and peace- that only God can bring.

thankfulness

Thankfulness is a close cousin to forgiveness. If we forgive others we also give up the “right” to be jealous of what others have. Rather than look at Susie-so-and-so and envy the fact that she is thinner or prettier or has a better car, why not thank God for the many blessings He has given us?  When we think about the simple gifts such as friends and family, the ability to breathe, the beauty that surrounds us, it is easy to be thankful. It is amazing what God can do through us when we have an “attitude of  gratitude,” rather than a heart that covets the things it doesn’t have.

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Praise is a natural by-product of thankfulness. It is said that King David danced before God in praise, and had no inhibitions about it.

David danced before the Lord with all his might; David was girded with a linen ephod.  So David and all the house of Israel brought up the ark of the Lord with shouting, and with the sound of the trumpet. 2 Samuel 6:14-15 (NRSV)

Admittedly, from a cultural viewpoint, Midwestern Americans of European descent are not normally prone to breaking out in dancing. Dancing is not forbidden in the Lutheran tradition, and it is a common form of worship in African congregations.  In some Puritan traditions dancing is frowned upon as being “too provocative” and/or drawing attention to the physical body.  However, we should have the freedom and the openness to praise God in our own way- with singing, instrumental music of all kinds, visual art, poetry and prose, and dancing, should the Spirit so lead us- no matter what other people might think about it.

The apostle Paul (who wrote the letter to the Colossians quoted in the verses above) was no stranger to hardship, deprivation and even experienced prison time because he kept on preaching and teaching about Jesus. Yet he forgave those who tormented him, thanked God for his blessings, and praised God constantly.

How can we forgive those who have wronged us, thank God for all He has done for us, and praise God when no one is around and even when everyone else is watching?

August 18, 2017 Blessings and Peace on All Nations Psalm 67, Numbers 6:24-26

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May God be gracious to us and bless us, and make his face to shine upon us that your way may be known upon earth, your saving power among all nations. Let the peoples praise you, O God; let all the peoples praise you.

Let the nations be glad and sing for joy, for you judge the peoples with equity and guide the nations upon earth. Let the peoples praise you, O God; let all the peoples praise you.

The earth has yielded its increase; God, our God, has blessed us.  May God continue to bless us; let all the ends of the earth revere him. – Psalm 67 (NRSV)

Bad news seems to travel a lot further and wider than good news does. Human beings seem to be drawn to news of humiliation and scandal, betrayal and death much more so than to news of peace, reconciliation and God’s provision.  Some of that hankering for bad news may be self-preservation, as in wanting to steer clear of calamity ourselves. It is good to know where the weather is bad so we don’t travel there, and it is good to know where there are construction or traffic delays so we can plan alternate routes. We want to know where things are going wrong, presumably so we can avoid them.

But certain kinds of bad news- especially when only part of the story is reported, or the story is told from a biased viewpoint- serve only to increase tensions and make relationships with others more difficult. What are our motives for following that kind of reporting?  Does bad news travel faster because bad news sells?  Who profits by fanning the flames of conflict?

We have all heard the expression, “One bad apple ruins the whole barrel.” When we simply listen to the doom and gloom that the media feeds on, we start to paint others with a broad brush. We profile others, and we stereotype. We can be tempted to implement a logical fallacy that states, “If so and so, who was of ______demographic, commits crimes or is otherwise of questionable character, then everyone else of his or her demographic does the same.” In other words, it is neat and tidy and easy to think that people who aren’t like us are somehow evil or inferior, just because some people who are not like us have made tragic choices.  It’s not that simple, and it’s also not true.   Sin and unwise choices are inherent to all of humanity. Sin is no more or less prevalent in any particular ethnicity or nationality or culture.  The difference for Jesus followers is in how God calls us to treat others.

The Good News in Scripture that comes from God- and the Good News is not confined to just the Gospels- is just the opposite of doom and gloom of the media and its obsession with Bad News. In God’s economy one good apple cleans up the rest of the barrel- God’s blessings, poured out over humanity, bring salvation and unity instead of division and rancor.

As Jesus followers we are called to be the good apples, the bringers of blessings. The first verse of Psalm 67 closely echoes Numbers 6:24-26: (the Aaronic blessing)

The Lord bless you and keep you; the Lord make his face to shine upon you, and be gracious to you; the Lord lift up his countenance upon you, and give you peace.

May we be those bringers of blessings and peace.

December 29, 2016-God Sees the Heart, and Beauty for Ashes- 1 Samuel 16:7, 10-13, Ezekiel 36:26, Isaiah 61:3

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But the Lord said to Samuel, “Do not look on his appearance or on the height of his stature, because I have rejected him; for the Lord does not see as mortals see; they look on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart.” 

Jesse made seven of his sons pass before Samuel, and Samuel said to Jesse, “The Lord has not chosen any of these.”   Samuel said to Jesse, “Are all your sons here?” And he said, “There remains yet the youngest, but he is keeping the sheep.” And Samuel said to Jesse, “Send and bring him; for we will not sit down until he comes here.”  He sent and brought him in. Now he was ruddy, and had beautiful eyes, and was handsome. The Lord said, “Rise and anoint him; for this is the one.”   Then Samuel took the horn of oil, and anointed him in the presence of his brothers; and the spirit of the Lord came mightily upon David from that day forward. Samuel then set out and went to Ramah. 1 Samuel 16:7, 10-13 (NRSV)

I find encouragement in the story of David.  He wasn’t anyone who we would consider to be a “first pick.”  He had older and stronger and more “qualified” brothers.  He was consigned to the lowly and dirty job of caring for sheep. Even David’s own father considered him an afterthought.   Yet God knew his heart, and God chose David over his seemingly better equipped brothers.

God doesn’t always choose the beautiful people, or the strong people, or the smart people.  In fact, the theme throughout Scripture is that God equips those who He chooses. He has a real sense of humor in it too, as time and time again He chooses the underdog, the meek, the weak, the poor, and the flawed through which to do His greatest work.  We discover as we study the Bible that the only real hero in the Bible is God, and that He does amazing things with and through really messed up people.

Our potential lies in what God empowers us to do, not in what the world sees in us.  Even the condition of our hearts is not impossible for God to change.

A new heart I will give you, and a new spirit I will put within you; and I will remove from your body the heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh. Ezekiel 36:26 (NRSV)

When we are put in those wilderness places, when we fall short and we know full well we aren’t among the “beautiful people,” or we have been used by others and left hurting for a long time, it’s easy for our hearts to become hard.  Yet God has the power to take our hard hearts and give us new ones- hearts that are after His own heart, hearts that God can use for His good purpose.

Even better news is that God brings restoration and healing to the hurting.  Not only can we be put to God’s good purpose, in the process of doing His work He makes us whole.

…to bestow on them a crown of beauty
    instead of ashes,
the oil of joy
    instead of mourning,
and a garment of praise
    instead of a spirit of despair. Isaiah 61:3 (NIV)

Beauty for ashes.  Greatness from unlikely places and from even more unlikely people.  Such is the nature of God.