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.

June 25, 2018 Today is the Day of Salvation- 2 Corinthians 6:1-13

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Working together with him, (Jesus) then, we appeal to you not to receive the grace of God in vain.  For he says,

“In a favorable time I listened to you, and in a day of salvation I have helped you.”

Behold, now is the favorable time; behold, now is the day of salvation.  We put no obstacle in anyone’s way, so that no fault may be found with our ministry,  but as servants of God we commend ourselves in every way: by great endurance, in afflictions, hardships, calamities, beatings, imprisonments, riots, labors, sleepless nights, hunger; by purity, knowledge, patience, kindness, the Holy Spirit, genuine love; by truthful speech, and the power of God; with the weapons of righteousness for the right hand and for the left;  through honor and dishonor, through slander and praise. We are treated as impostors, and yet are true;  as unknown, and yet well known; as dying, and behold, we live; as punished, and yet not killed; as sorrowful, yet always rejoicing; as poor, yet making many rich; as having nothing, yet possessing everything.

We have spoken freely to you, Corinthians; our heart is wide open. You are not restricted by us, but you are restricted in your own affections.  In return (I speak as to children) widen your hearts also.”  2 Corinthians 6:1-13 (ESV)

Lutherans generally don’t view salvation as a one-time event; rather, we see it as a lifelong process. We don’t do altar calls or expect miraculous immediate healings. Yet we do believe in the promises God gives us in Scripture.  We believe what Jesus and His apostles taught us. We believe that in our baptism we are named and claimed by God, and that we receive the real Body and Blood of Jesus- given to save us from our sins- when we come to the communion table. Our sins are washed away. Although now we live with one foot in this world and one in the next, and we struggle with sin and unbelief every day, salvation is our hope, The Promise, the ongoing process of God restoring, renewing and preparing us for live forever with Him.

For us, every day is the day of salvation, just as the apostle Paul preached during his ministry. Paul’s ministry was fraught with danger. As he and other Jesus followers endured persecution, shipwreck, starvation, imprisonment, deprivation and eventually martyrdom, the promise remained.

Because we know today is the day of salvation, and every day is a day to put on our baptism and know that in Jesus we have salvation, we are free to live in a way that honors Jesus no matter what obstacles or hardships we face.

We deal with living in this fallen world. We have suffering, loss, poverty and disappointment all around us.  Yet we also have that great and precious promise of salvation- Jesus with us now even through all of our pain, sorrow and loss- and life forever with Jesus.

Trust the Mercy of God- Psalm 28, Hebrews 10:30-31

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To you, O Lord, I call; my rock, be not deaf to me, lest, if you be silent to me, I become like those who go down to the pit. Hear the voice of my pleas for mercy, when I cry to you for help, when I lift up my hands toward your most holy sanctuary.

Do not drag me off with the wicked, with the workers of evil, who speak peace with their neighbors while evil is in their hearts. Give to them according to their work and according to the evil of their deeds; give to them according to the work of their hands; render them their due reward. Because they do not regard the works of the Lord or the work of his hands, he will tear them down and build them up no more.

 Blessed be the Lord!  For he has heard the voice of my pleas for mercy. The Lord is my strength and my shield: in him my heart trusts, and I am helped; my heart exults, and with my song I give thanks to him.

The Lord is the strength of his people; he is the saving refuge of his anointed.  Oh, save your people and bless your heritage! Be their shepherd and carry them forever.

Psalm 28 (ESV)

The Psalms are a great gift to us, as is all of Scripture, but in the Psalms we experience the full spectrum of human pathos and experience. As the psalmists pour out their prayers and praise as well as their petitions, pain and laments to God, they underscore that we are not alone.

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. Hebrews 12:1-2 (ESV)

Every one of the great cloud of witnesses before us have also had to experience the same heartaches, disappointments, suffering and pain as we do. As we pray the Psalms we can find comfort and strength, knowing that as so many who have come before us also know, the Psalms keep directing us back to Jesus, our Source of life and hope.

Sometimes when we read passages in the Psalms in which the psalmist petitions God for justice against the wicked, it seems cruel and almost contradictory. After all, if God wants to, He can do a much more thorough job of revenge than we ever could.  Admittedly, the imagery of a vengeful God taking action against obnoxious or evil people can make us feel better for a minute.

For we know him who said, “Vengeance is mine; I will repay.”(Deuteronomy 32:35-36) And again, “The Lord will judge his people.” It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God. Hebrews 10:30-31 (ESV)

God knows the whole story. In Jesus we are vindicated.  We can trust that He will handle our situations, and He will handle those who oppose us or who have done us wrong.  Jesus teaches us to forgive others as He has forgiven us.

All of us are on both sides of the psalmist’s petition. We are both the “wicked” and the “anointed.”  As we read the psalmist’s prayer that God would repay the wicked, we go back to the Lord’s Prayer, knowing that we need to forgive those who do us wrong as Jesus forgives us for all the things we do wrong.

Perhaps Jesus’ mercy toward us may also extend toward those who are doing evil things now? We are not the only ones pleading for forgiveness and mercy.

As we pray the Psalms, we should always follow their direction to point us to Jesus no matter if we are mourning, praising, or lamenting. We are free to let God handle impossible people and impossible situations. He knows our hearts and minds and circumstances better than we do. He created us, He carries us, and He redeems us. God has the universe and all things in His control.

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.

July 27, 2017- Is God “Audience Appropriate?” Psalm 119:130

spiritual-awakeningThe unfolding of your words gives light; it imparts understanding to the simple. Psalm 119:130 (NRSV)

As a person who has hyperlexia, the phrase “audience appropriate” is a concept I always have to keep in mind in both written and spoken communication.  I write far more effectively than I speak, because I speed read (always have) and I have a broad vocabulary because I read constantly and compulsively.  I retain information better when I read it as well.  If I want to remember what someone says, such as in a lecture or sermon, I do better to write it down, (which is why I am always scribbling down notes during Pastor’s sermon) because I process language visually. When I listen to people speak, I have to visualize the words in my head written out in print so they make sense.

This processing style can make communication with others difficult, because most people don’t process language this way. I memorize much of what I read, because I can see the print in my head.  As a child, I assumed that if I knew the meaning of a word or a concept that everyone else automatically knew those meanings as well.  I found out very quickly that I had no idea what it meant to be audience appropriate. I was communicating in a way that I could understand, but no one else around me was privy to the conversation.  I was not communicating effectively with others.

All through elementary school (and later in life too) I have been reprimanded for “talking over everyone’s heads.” I didn’t talk over people’s heads on purpose, but over the years I have learned (and constantly continue to learn) how to be audience appropriate and to communicate effectively with the people I am speaking with or writing to.

The message doesn’t matter if the messenger can’t get it through.

Fortunately God finds a way to speak to us exactly where we are.  God is beyond our understanding and His knowledge is infinitely over our heads, but He finds the right language to speak directly to our hearts and minds. He walks beside us as we learn and grow at our own pace.  God unfolds and reveals His wisdom to us as we are able to understand. His revelation and unfolding of His wisdom is more like slowly turning on a dimmer switch and gradually brightening the room, rather than blinding us with a flaming bright spotlight.  He enlightens us gently and gradually- as we are able to absorb the light and soak it in.

Sometimes we all have difficulty being audience appropriate, and not just in the realm of written or spoken language. It can be difficult for us to empathize with others, to put ourselves in the place of those who are suffering or weary or troubled.  How often do we write off someone who claims to be “fine” when we know full well they are anything but “fine?”  We are prone to get lost in our busyness or buried in our own concerns to see how a simple act of kindness toward another could communicate a vital message of reassurance and love.

God’s words in Scripture are unfolded and revealed as we study, as we pray, and as we worship and praise in songs and hymns. God’s words are also unfolded and revealed as we strive to make connections with others that bring light and wisdom and understanding.

The Holy Spirit is always available to us to intercede on our behalf, to step in and pray for us when we don’t have the words.