“Blessed Blessing” Meditation

“You are the salt of the earth. But what good is salt if it has lost its flavor? Can you make it salty again? It will be thrown out and trampled underfoot as worthless.

“You are the light of the world—like a city on a hilltop that cannot be hidden. No one lights a lamp and then puts it under a basket. Instead, a lamp is placed on a stand, where it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your good deeds shine out for all to see, so that everyone will praise your heavenly Father.”

Matthew  5:13-16

It is one of the realities of life, if you want the lights to stay on you have to pay the bill. If you want the phone service, if you want gas or oil to heat the house, you know the routine. It’s a contract: I do this, you do that, but if I break the contract, I don’t do this then you don’t do that. I don’t pay the bill I don’t get what I want.

It’s really easy to take this contract mentality into our relationship with God and how we consider knowing God, actually, every other religion except Christianity does.

Take Karma for example. The basic concept is that you build up good karma by doing good and bad karma for harmful things. The point is to build up enough Karma to achieve enlightenment and reach that concept of God. But because no one can do this in a single lifetime you have reincarnation so you can build up karma from previous lifetimes. But even then you can never actually make it work but you end up in an endless cycle of failure never paying the debt on the contract with God.

If we think of knowing God in terms of contract, then the Biblical terms are simple: “Be holy as the Lord your God is holy.” That’s the check you have to write and the payment you have to make. But we know instinctively that that check has too many zero’s at the end of it, the contract has already been broken and we can’t pay the bill, so we are separated from God eternally.

But our God desiring that not one person perish eternally but have eternal life with God did the only thing that could be done, God paid the bill himself, written in the precious blood of Jesus Christ, paid in full upon the cross. With that done for the sake of Jesus, God does not want us to reckon our relationship with Him in terms of a contract anymore but in terms of a covenant.

Covenants are a completely different way of relating to God because it does not depend upon both parties fulfilling their roles but solely upon the promises of God done for you and me.

In Jesus, God has already paid the bill for the whole world, earned forgiveness of the debt for the whole world, opened up the eternal doors for the whole world. This is God’s covenant with us and the benefits of this covenant are received in faith through the one who made it possible, Jesus Christ. In this faith God has already given you all of these things based on His promises not on our ability.

Now if you want to relate to God apart from this covenant faith in Jesus, you can, but then you’re dealing with God in terms of a contract and I can tell you our check will never be in the mail to pay that one.

You would think that if God has already given you eternity with Him in faith then the moment faith enters the heart and the waters of Holy Baptism touches the skin He would just zap us into heaven. But he doesn’t because God has heavenly work for His people to do on Earth.

Since humanity decided to try and live apart from God the world has been going to hell in a hand basket. I don’t say that flippantly, this world is hellbent. The depth of pain, heartbreak and loss in our own lives is so real let alone the pain of an entire broken world. If it were not for God’s providential hand holding back the worst that sinful man and hell desires not one of us would be able to stand. But God also makes us participants in this providential work by having us bring hope, light and healing to this world.

In our covenant relationship with God you are:

  • Blessed and a blessing.
  • Blessed and the salt of the earth.
  • Blessed and a city shining on the hill.

This is isn’t a contract where God is waiting for you to be a blessing so He can bless you, He has already blessed you and made you a blessing to others.

You have already been blessed with all of eternity and you are a blessing sharing God’s eternal gifts with others.

You have already been blessed with the love of Jesus and you are the salt of the earth seasoning others with the love of Jesus, preserving the innocent and helpless from harm and cleansing the hurt of both body and soul.

You have already been blessed with the light of Christ and you are a City on the Hill that lights the way home for others lost in the darkness.

God has already made you this in Jesus, to do good works in this life so to ease the suffering of the many. This is God’s covenant arrangement with us in faith. This is the sacred burden God has placed upon our shoulders as Christians, you are blessed and a blessing. There is not a third option.

Now, God is still faithful to His promises even if we are not.

People may say of Christian that:

  • The lighthouse on the hill that once illuminated and protected this city has gone dark.
  • The Christian soldiers have laid down their spiritual weapons and will not defend those in need.
  • Those that have fed the poor in the name of Christ have taken the food for themselves.
  • Those whose job it is to preserve others from danger of both body and soul have walked away from their sacred trust.

Let these things not be said of us. But this struggle against evil, some days we are faithful to our sacred trust and some days we are faithless, but God is always faithful and He makes us new every morning to renew our vigor for this fight.

In Jesus, you are called, needed and named for this fight so:

  • Those who are perishing may not have to perish.
  • Those who are suffering don’t have to suffer alone.
  • Those who are down can be lifted up in prayers.
  • Those who are separated from the love of God may know His love.

That many may see your good works and glorify God who is in heaven. Notice how important it is that the Bible does not say that they will notice us but our good works. Because what good would it do for them our us if they gave us the glory? We cannot pay the debt of sin, we cannot cancel their debt, we cannot even save ourselves. No, they must see the good works and know that they are from God, through us, to them. So they can know they are meant for them from God and know God in faith. Then we can together glorify our God in heaven for all that He has done for us.

Camels Unite Against the Bible?

I came across this article today about ancient camels and how they are supposed to debunk the ancient stories of Genesis. Please read below.

 New Evidence Using Carbon Dating Contradicts the Bible, Israeli Archeologists Claim

 I really don’t want to have a huge discussion about carbon dating to try and use it as a straw man. What I have seen is that there is so much disagreement about that topic amongst scientist both Christian and not that I can’t hang my hat on that theory to prove or disprove anything alone. But in reading this I was shocked by the huge claims that are made from this small amount of evidence like:

“The findings, described in the journal Tel Aviv, draw more attention to the disagreements between Biblical texts and verifiable history.”

According to a university statement, “In addition to challenging the Bible’s historicity, this anachronism is direct proof that the text was compiled well after the events it describes.” Christian Post

Just wow, from a small sampling of camel bones are these huge conclusions. Is that scientific? All of the scientists I know would be very cautious in making such wide claims with so little evidence. What about some honest questions like:

  • How large of a sample is this that they are using? From what I’ve read it seems like a very small sample from a small area of the region.
  • They have also found bones of “wild camels” in the sampling dating back to the time of Abraham, Moses and David (Neolothic Era). What is the difference between a wild camel, domesticated and ones being used as pack animals? Can this distinction be made from this sampling?
  • Does the evidence really support the claim or does it support a belief?

 Also, we have to acknowledge the wealth of extra-biblical data that supports the biblical historical account including the Ebla tablet, Merneptha tablet, Hittite Capital Discovery, Walls of Jericho, Seal of Barruch, remains of Soddom and Gomorrah and so much more. Personally, I want to take these thoughts as a deeper discussion of the actual practices of the ancients and what it may have looked like. Not make any broad assumptions based on something so small.

Finally, does anyone remember the “Jesus’ Wife Papyrus” that supposedly showed that Jesus was married and had kids, caused a huge controversy saying it disproved Christianity and was finally found not that long after to be a hoax? See below if you haven’t read it.

http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2207038/British-scholar-says-papyrus-claiming-Jesus-married-fake.html

I just don’t get very excited over these things and I am not going to put my faith and trust in some obscure camel data against the wealth of history, evidence, knowledge, and professionalism of Christianity.

Your thoughts?

 

“Three Tempting Myths” Meditation

Whenever you start a conversation off about temptations and how Christians work through them it almost seems obligatory to tell that really worn joke about a fishing hook, a tasty worm and a fish and when the fish takes a bite out of the tasty worm it is hooked and pulled wherever the fisherman wants to take him, usually to a sharp knife, a hot fire and some lemon pepper seasoning.

Temptations to sin are pretty close to that, except even when we know there is hook behind the tasty worm it doesn’t always stop us from taking that first bite.

There are three myths or misconceptions about temptations that I want to talk about:

1. Temptations are simply about making bad choices.

2. The thoughts of temptation are not sin but doing it is.

3. We can beat temptations alone.

First, let’s start with a working definition of what a temptation is. What definition would you use? Maybe wanting to do something wrong or being seduced to act against your own morals or being led astray or off the path.

These definitions focus on making bad choices and they can incorporate everything from huge billboards that advertise temptation or the temptations that come from inside, thoughts that just seem to come out of the blue. Thoughts like the young man had in college struggling to get through his exam and was sorely tempted to look across the desk to his friend’s test that seemed to be having no trouble at all–temptations to make bad choices.

But it can be really hard to pin down an exact definition of what a temptation is because there are so many different kinds of temptations and what tempts me now may not tempt me 30 years from now and it may be different from what is tempting you right now.

But we know we all deal with temptations and even though there are so many different kinds of temptations for so many different kinds of people, there is a core problem that unifies all temptations and makes them a common experience for everyone.

This brought me back to an insight my favorite author, C.S. Lewis, had about temptations and I’ll paraphrase: that at the heart of every temptation is a good thing.

For example, people generally want to have achievements and be successful in this life, but this good desire is twisted by being tempted to cheat and steal in order to achieve that goal. People also want to connect and be loved but that good desire is perverted by being tempted to fulfill it in places that are exploitive and hurtful.

These good desires to be loved, have meaning and purpose, are all a gift from God and we first find our fulfillment of our good desires by being with God where we receive love, connection, meaning, and purpose in this life. But temptations take all this that is good and urges and lures and seduces us to find love and meaning and connection in all of the wrong places. Places that promise to give you much but take everything that you have. Places that want to ultimately take you away from God.

Temptations always ultimately want to take you away from God.

This common core of all temptations no matter what form they come in defines what a temptation is. Temptations are sin. Sin from our own broken condition that seeks after other things to worship and love before God. Sin from our own mind and desires. Sin from the world we live in that is trying to seduce us away from God.

The first misconception that temptations are simply about making bad choices really doesn’t cover it. Temptations are about taking you away from the God who loves you and the good things that He gives to you.

The second idea about temptations is that the thoughts of temptations are not sin but doing the temptation is. But when we say this it sets up all sorts of weird, unanswerable questions like, when exactly does that tempting thought become a sin? Only when I act on it, or if I’ve lingered on it for 2, 3, 7 seconds? But also questions like if I’m not acting out on the temptation why do I have these thoughts that keep coming back? I thought I was a good person because I wasn’t doing it.

The problem is that trying to differentiate between a thought of sinning and doing sin doesn’t take into account Jesus’ words when he says:

“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lustful intent has already committed adultery with her in his heart”

Matthew 5:27-28

When talking about sin Jesus does not differentiate between thoughts, words and deeds because all of them come from the same sinful condition that all of us have as fallen human beings. All are sin and trying to take us away from God. If we try to separate the thoughts from the actions of temptation, it is like trying to fight with one arm tied behind your back wondering where all of these tempting thoughts are coming from. But if we recognize they are all part of the same package: thought, word and deed that comes from sin, it gives us an opportunity to repent and turn to God for help at every stage.

Recognizing the common nature of tempting thought, word and deed all coming from sin reminds us that not one of us is different in this regard. Someone’s temptations may be visible while someone else’s may be hidden in the mind. Someone may be suffering visible consequences from temptation while others are suffering internal consequences, but both are sin, and we are all sinners–every single one of us–and in God’s eyes sin is sin, temptation is temptation, and we are all in need of the same help from God.

On Superbowl night you may not realize that there were a number of other really important Bowls happening as well. These Bowls included: the puppy bowl, the kitten bowl, the weather bowl-ground hog forecast, the AMC zombie bowl and, probably the most exciting of them all, the fish bowl on National Geographic Wild where viewers got to watch a goldfish, named Goldie of course, swimming around her fishbowl all night.

Trying to deal with temptations on our own apart from God is a lot like being Goldie in her fishbowl; you keep going around and around and around. That gets us to our last misconception that you can deal with temptations on your own.

There are some realities about temptations that every Christian has to face:

-We will never be rid of temptations this side of the veil because, short of heaven, we will never be rid of sin. Both are a part of living in this broken world that is apart from God. Temptations are a fight for life.

-But our savior Jesus Christ will never leave us or forsake us in these battles with temptation. We can be confident because of Jesus that we have already won the war and have the ultimate victory over sin and temptations in heaven.

It is important to know that Jesus will never leave you alone in the battles with temptation and that in Jesus you have already won the war because it can be really easy to get discouraged about this fight, but look what God has already done for you in this fight. If the whole point of temptations are to take you away from God, look at what God has already promised you:

“For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.” Romans 8:38-39

Sin has already failed. Temptations have already failed. You already belong to Jesus and He is never letting you go. So let’s take that reality into our fight with temptation today– knowing Christ has already won the victory, we can learn to live in that victory.

This is true, in the struggle with temptations they will be more powerful than we are but they are not more powerful than God.

This is also true that if the point of temptations is to take us away from God, the best place for us to be is with God and doing the things He requires of us.

To face our temptations we have to face our savior first and often. Be in church. Be in God’s Word. Drink deeply of the Sacraments. Be with Christians. Be diligent about what is good and what is not. Love other people by giving of yourself often. Love God. Love your neighbor.

Remember this is not a fight we can win on our own. That is the most important thing. If we try by our own strength we will fail. Just like we could never save ourselves from sin, but we need Jesus to do that for us. Raise the white flag but, raising it towards Jesus, say, “I can’t do this but you can”. Day by day, step by step, sometimes backwards, but always being pulled forward, victory is in Jesus.

Because temptations ultimately are sin, and they come at us in thought, word and deed, and we can’t fight them alone. We need Jesus and Jesus is always there in the struggle. He never leaves you alone.

“Cliche Church?” Mediation

Sitting in the hospital waiting room, waiting for your wife’s surgery to finish is not the time that you want to hear anything pat or clichéd. Things like: “Don’t worry, she’ll be fine,” or even Christianish things like “God will never give you more than you can handle,” or even “don’t worry, God is in control.”

Because these kinds of words, though they may sound okay, they aren’t really connected to my situation or what I’m dealing with in my life at that moment. Where can I find hope in the hospital room?

But this is the same kind of thing that the Western Church in the US in particular has been accused of and even done many times. It has sometimes become a religion that does not connect to the everyday life of the people, one that uses pat and clichéd catch phrases like “God won’t give you more than you can handle.” Used things that have no meaning in my everyday life and experiences, things that don’t even come from the Bible.

There are large groups of people, many my generation and younger, that have left the church or don’t come to a Christian church even though they feel very spiritual and even close to Jesus  because of these clichés and pat phrases.

As a Christian church and individual believers of every age, this is one of the questions that we are faced with about how church relates to my everyday life and experiences. If church is simply about clichés that don’t relate to my life, is that something I want to encourage my friends and loved ones to join me in? Is it a place where I can find hope and comfort in the hospital room?

As we struggle with these kinds of questions the place to start answering these questions is with Jesus. The Gospel Lesson from Matthew 4 talks about the beginning of Jesus’ ministry and the call of the first disciples.

Jesus began his public ministry preaching “Repent for the kingdom of God is at hand!” The time for messing around is over; God is here in the flesh, repent of your sins and believe. While walking and preaching “he saw two brothers, Simon (who is called Peter) and Andrew his brother, casting a net into the sea, for they were fishermen. And he said to them, “Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men.” Immediately they left their nets and followed him. And going on from there he saw two other brothers, James the son of Zebedee and John his brother, in the boat with Zebedee their father, mending their nets, and he called them. Immediately they left the boat and their father and followed him.     Matthew 4:18-22 ESV

When I hear this call of Jesus to the first disciples I’ve always been bothered by it. When he calls Peter and Andrew immediately they drop their nets and follow him. No conversation, no questions, no future planning, they immediately followed Him. Much the same thing if Jesus walked into your place of business during the workday and said “follow me.”  This is a hard thing because we want to be in control of the situation and dictate what our relationship with Jesus will be like and what it will look like and what areas of my life it will effect.

 “Jesus, I want my faith to look like this, to be a part of this area of my life but not this area, to go to church when I want to, if I want to. I want to be in control.”

 But when Jesus calls us in to faith there are no negotiations—when the very son of God from eternity whom through all things were created, your creator and savior says come, you either follow in faith or you don’t, there are no third options. When he called Andrew and Simon he called them away from their nets and their livelihood and towards being fishers of men. When he calls us, he also calls each of us away from and towards different places, behaviors and relationships. Jesus doesn’t let us separate my faith life and my daily life, in Jesus they are always the same thing and His call effects every aspect of who you are.

 But also notice how personal this call of Jesus is. He doesn’t tell James and John to consult with their father first and what he thought or even their other relatives or even each other. Jesus said come and follow me, this faith is personal, intimate, close at hand. The day you die and are in the presence of God, it will not be because of your parent’s faith, or your spouse’s faith, or your friend’s faith but because faith was in your life and you believe in Jesus.

And if we stop there we might say, ok, Christianity can just be about me and Jesus, I don’t need a church. But we have to remember in those few short verses Jesus took two sets of brothers and made them four brothers who would follow Him together. Those four would soon become twelve brought together by the word of Jesus and those would call 10’s, 20’s, 100’s, 1000’s of others to come and follow Jesus together. We are saved by faith alone in Jesus but in Jesus we are never alone. That is what Jesus does for us, he makes sure that we are never alone. We are filled with His presence by the Holy Spirit in every event of our lives and we are surrounded  by the people of the church to support and encourage us with the words and works of Jesus.

That is what the Church is all about. A group of people who have been called by Jesus to follow him together in this place and time. To hear His words together, not cliché’s or pat phrases, but his living words of conviction, hope, strength and love.  People who share the words of Jesus together and to live the life He has called us to live, together.

That is why, when I was sitting in the waiting room for my wife’s surgery to finish I was not surrounded by cliché’s and things that didn’t matter but by the very Words of Jesus spoken to me by faithful Christians in the Church. In that hospital room I was not alone but was supported by the very hands of Christ reaching out through the Church and lifting me up. These are words and actions that mean everything to me in my daily life that come to me from Jesus through His church. God does still work in His Church and it is a place for you.

A place where we can have hope in the hospital room.

Your thoughts?

(an article I read from http://www.faithstreet.com/onfaith/2013/11/07/5-churchy-phrases-that-are-scaring-off-millennials/25149 by Addie Zierman gave me food for thought on this sermon. Check out the article for more to think on…)

“Why I go to church”- Meditation

This is based on a newsletter article to my congregation at Gethsemane:

When I became a “professional church worker” I realized that people just take it for granted that I go to church.  I mean after all the guy gets paid to show up on Sundays doesn’t he? Yes, I do, but that’s not why I go to church. I’m still very young in my career and I’ve had some life before me when I didn’t get paid to go to church and struggled with the reasons why to spend my Sunday mornings in the House of our God just like everyone else. It was actually these moments when I struggled with the reasons that really brought me to the place where I come to worship every Sunday and to share God’s Word with other believers in Christ.

 I was raised to be in church and like most young people I wasn’t always good in church and many times I remember my poor mother dragging me to the stairs in the back of the narthex at St. Mark’s Lutheran in Cleveland to sit for a well deserved time-out. Week in and week out we went, whether I wanted to or not.  But what it did, and why I am so grateful that my mother did what she did, is that it instilled the love of Jesus in my life and developed an ingrained habit that would return by God’s grace

Then came my early work and college years when church became more of a job for me than a time of renewal and rest. I served as a volunteer youth director at Trinity in Cleveland. I loved what I did at the church, but I was also working my tail off between that and two other jobs and some college classes. Church became work for me for a while and that wasn’t good but it happens to church workers often. We are so busy doing church that we aren’t in church.

Then I finally gained the opportunity to go away to college to pursue this God placed desire to serve as a minister. I went to Concordia St. Paul in MN and oddly enough this was a time in my life when I attended church the least. You see, my church life got placed in the wrong category in my life. It was placed right along with those other things like volunteering and recreation, it became optional for me, a thing to do if I wasn’t sleeping in that Sunday morning. I mean, I was reading, breathing, and studying church stuff, wasn’t that enough? It wasn’t. This ended up being one of the darkest points of my life spiritually, struggling with baggage from my own past and uncertainty about my future. I was lost adrift in a sea of busyness with no anchor to hold me down.

I would love to say I saw the light by myself, but I didn’t. Like most good stories it took the love of a good woman to see me through. How Shi and I met and fell in love is another story, but one of the results was that she dragged me to church with her, admittedly at first reluctantly, but then with new fervor and interest. Here was that thing I was missing, an anchor to hold me down when the world was pulling me apart. God used Shi to help me become that person that both I said I was and I wanted to be.

From that point on church became a cornerstone of my life, the hinge of my door, the axle of my wheel, whatever you want to call it, it was and still is that important in my daily life. But why? Because God in Jesus Christ is here, in a very, very special way that you can’t get anywhere else. The very Words of Life are spoken in this House.  Where else can you say that the Body and Blood Christ is given so your deepest darkest sins are forgiven by the grace of God alone? Where else can people as different as night and day call each other brothers and sisters in Christ? All this given for the cost of a couple of hours a week, less time than it takes us to watch the game on T.V

But it’s easy for us to pander to the consumerism of our culture telling us what we get out of something to try to entice us to come hither. But that kind of hook falls more into the category of the snake in the original Garden, when he told Eve look how pretty the fruit is and let me tell you what it can do for you because you deserve it. But that’s not how our God works. First and foremost coming to church is an act of obedience.

The Christian martyr Dietrich Bonheoffer, in his book The Cost of Discipleship , says that church attendance is an act of obedience to the call of Christ that brings you into the place where faith can be created in your life through the hearing of God’s Word. Have you ever wondered why it is so hard to sometimes get ourselves to church and why for many it is almost impossible? Going to church at its very core is a relinquishing of our own will to God’s will in our lives. There is no good merits achieved in God’s sight by obeying, it does not garner a merit badge or a notch in my belt, but it is simply a “Yes sir,” when the very incarnate Son of God says “Follow me.” This first step, does not create faith, but it puts us in the place where faith can be created, nourished, strengthened and grown. It brings us to the House of Grace, a place in our sinfulness we ridiculously refuse to go to on our own, even though we are drowning in sin. We must be called by Christ and obey.

So ultimately, why I go to church, is because God said so.

“Success Story” Meditation for a New Year

This is a sermon I preached at Gethsemane Lutheran the Sunday before New Year’s Day and I keep reading it to remind me what’s important in this New Year.

***

        We’re looking at the new year and it is time for the Annual New Year’s resolutions! One of the keys to new year’s resolutions is to picture the ideal future you are shooting for. What it would look like, feel like, be like, to be a success story.

TV does this in really exaggerated proportions. It might be a weight loss or acne loss commercial but the before and after pictures are almost always the same. Before the light is dark, the people are frowning and generally looking miserable, slouching with hair messed up and huge close-ups on the body part they don’t like.

Then the after “success story” pictures are filled with sunshine and light, big smiles, tan, hair perfectly done, happy-happy-happy.

The message is clear, before life is horrible and lousy but after you’re a success story, you’re living the dream. Buy our stuff!

This portrayal of life can be so disheartening because you are always starting off as a failure, starting from weakness, trying to strive for that idealized success story. Success stories of course go beyond weight loss and acne, there is business success, social position, wealth, grades, etc.

Take for example, King Herod from the Christmas Story in Matthew 2:16 ESV

Then Herod, when he saw that he had been tricked by the wise men, became furious, and he sent and killed all the male children in Bethlehem and in all that region who were two years old or under, according to the time that he had ascertained from the wise men.

. King Herod ruled Judah during the time of Jesus Christ’s birth, called Herod the Great with good reason.

  •  He had crushed all military opposition to his rule.
  • He was wealthy, handsome, dynamic, politically gifted, an amazing administrator.
  • Excelled in famine relief for the masses.
  • Was responsible for building most of the 3rd Temple in Jerusalem that Jesus’ disciples walked past in awe of. He also built the temple mount a portion that still remains today and the port of Caeserea, all projects that were extravagant and massive.

By most worldly standards he had built himself up as a success story of the ancient world that even very few modern rulers have achieved as much as he did. But his success came at a terrible cost. His god was power and it led him to murder a wife and two children in cold blood, inflict terribly heavy taxes on the people, had such paranoia that he was responsible for the slaughter of the innocents in Matthew 2 trying to kill Jesus he killed all male Jewish children 2 years old and younger.

A success story in the eyes of many but in the eyes of God and all that is good and right, a failure.

Yet there is so much that encourages us to try and follow in his footsteps in small and big ways:

  • The ends justify the means
  • You have to break a few eggs to make an omelet
  • Climb the ladder to success and step on a few people on the way up
  • Take a little off the top for yourself
  • Put down the other person so you look better
  • Dos Equis beer commercial slogan from the “world’s most interesting man” who was apparently a womanizer and alcoholic, “stay thirsty my friends.”

Worldly success does not mean that you are going to be a horrible person, but if you’re god is worldly success then that god will determine what a success story looks like for you and you will sacrifice much at that god’s altar and do much to prove how successful you are.

As Christians we confess that Jesus Christ is our God and so naturally Jesus Christ should also define for us what our success story looks like. But this is where Christianity does a funny thing and flips the ideas of failure and success on their heads. We started off talking about all of those TV commercials where you start off as a failure and have to build yourself up into a success and how lousy it can be because you are always starting off from weakness and failure.

But with Jesus it is so different. Jesus calls us through the hearing of the Word and baptism and creates faith that we respond to. This is something that is done for us and to us as a gift of grace. We do not have to earn it. In faith, in baptism, our God already sees us as holy in His sight, beloved, righteous, and good. That means that in JC you start off as a success story not a failure. You start off with the strength of God not human weakness. You already have all the riches of heaven that cannot be bought on TV. In God’s eyes, because of JC you are already a success story and the cost of this success are things we should rather be rid of anyways:

  • Slavery to sin
  • Selfishness
  • Sinful pride
  • Darkness, evil and brokenness

What happens then is that we get to learn to live within our success story that is given to us by Jesus, let His word teach us, His body feed us, and His church encourage us to be who God has already made us to be.

So I really want to encourage you, as we go into 2014, that whether you lose weight or not, fix the acne, succeed or fail, rise or fall, that in the eyes of God because of Jesus you are and always will be a success story to Him. Amen.

“Life and Death” Meditation on Spiritual Struggle

This is my sermon titled Life and Death based on Luke 20:27-40 that I preached at Gethsemane Lutheran in 2013.

 There came to him some Sadducees, those who deny that there is a resurrection, and they asked him a question, saying, “Teacher, Moses wrote for us that if a man’s brother dies, having a wife but no children, the man must take the widow and raise up offspring for his brother. Now there were seven brothers. The first took a wife, and died without children. And the second and the third took her, and likewise all seven left no children and died. Afterward the woman also died. In the resurrection, therefore, whose wife will the woman be? For the seven had her as wife.”

 And Jesus said to them, “The sons of this age marry and are given in marriage, but those who are considered worthy to attain to that age and to the resurrection from the dead neither marry nor are given in marriage,  for they cannot die anymore, because they are equal to angels and are sons of God, being sons of the resurrection. But that the dead are raised, even Moses showed, in the passage about the bush, where he calls the Lord the God of Abraham and the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob. Now he is not God of the dead, but of the living, for all live to him.” Then some of the scribes answered, “Teacher, you have spoken well.” For they no longer dared to ask him any question.

Sermon Text- Luke 20:27-40

 “How many angels can you fit on the head of a pin?”

 That was the kind of questions that medieval philosophers liked to ask. Questions, that in reality, meant very little in the realm of what really matters when we are dealing with the big questions of life, death and salvation.

I call those kings of questions distractions and smokescreens, something that takes your attention away from what really matters. Because what really matters in life, death and salvation are questions of the heart, a heart killed by sin but made alive by Jesus Christ.

The Sadducees in our Gospel lesson today from Luke chapter 20 ask Jesus one of these distraction kind of questions. The Sadducees where a branch within the Jewish traditions of religious orders along with the scribes, Pharisees and others. A good comparison is to think of the different orders within the Catholic Church like the Dominicans, Augustinians and Franciscans.

Those in the Sadducee order mostly came from wealthy, prominent families and were greatly influenced by the Greek and Hellenistic philosophical culture and practices around them. It was this philosophical influence that led them towards the kind of question that they asked Jesus based one of the Levitical Laws given by Moses in the Old Testament.

The law stated that if a man died before having an heir through his wife then the next unmarried brother in the family was obligated to marry the widow and have children with her to continue his brother’s family line.

The question that the Sadducees ask based on this is hard to imagine asking if this situation happens seven times with seven brothers and they are all in heaven with the widow. Whose wife is she in heaven? How many angels on the head of a pin…

Even though this question is a little far stretched if we bring it down a bit into normal terms, it becomes a question that many Christians have asked. “Will I still be married in heaven?” “What if I have been remarried?”

 Jesus then teaches and reminds the people both then and now that marriage is an earthly institution only and that Christian marriage at its best is meant to be an earthly picture of Christ and His church and that Godly children may be raised from that marriage for generations to come. In heaven all of God’s people find their completeness in God alone and not in each other.

I’ve always wondered that If I had the opportunity the Sadducees did, to sit down with Jesus in my earthly life and ask Him anything I wanted what would I ask. Because, like everyone else I have a lot of questions! But probably a lot of questions in the grand scheme of things are about things that don’t really matter. But if Jesus was right here next to me I hope that I would use my time to ask him the questions that matter, questions of the heart, like:

  • Can you help me with my guilt and shame?
  • Please forgive me?
  • How can I know you better?
  • How can I know you eternally?

Noticed that Jesus doesn’t stay with the periphery question of 7 brothers and a wife in heaven but he moves deeper with his teaching to topics that evoke these kinds of questions of the heart when he teaches the people:

“God is not God of the dead but of the living.”

 He invokes a reference that would have been obvious to his Jewish listeners at the time of Moses talking to God through the burning bush and God identifies himself as the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. What is interesting is that God does not use the past tense, I was the God of… but the present tense because each of these ancient Fathers of the faith find their earthly life in God and their eternal life in Him and they are with Him, alive with all of the saints in Glory.  Then just a few days from this conversation Jesus would prove that He is God of the living through His resurrection on Easter morn.

 This kind of conversation about life and death can be confusing for us because we are all sitting here: breathing, moving listening. This is being alive to us.

But the Bible talks to us about life and death beyond physical animation. From John 3 when Jesus talks about new life in Him he tells Nicodemus that he must be born again of water and the Holy Spirit, a picture of Holy Baptism. Colossians 2:13 says “And you, who were dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made alive together with him, having forgiven us all our trespasses.”

 Life and Death is something that is greater than physical and bodily life, it has to do with the soul. But also, someone can be moving breathing and walking, alive on the outside and be dead on the inside.

You might remember a movie from the mid-90’s, “Dead Man Walking.” It was the true story of a catholic nun who was ministering to a man on death row. On the day of his execution as the guards were leading him down the cells to the chamber one of the guards would traditionally cry out “dead man walking here, dead man walking.” This was an acknowledgement that even though this man was walking, talking breathing on the outside in the eyes of the law he was already dead and condemned.

Our own sinful thoughts, actions and words, our guilt and shame and God’s law already accuses us and tells us that because of sin we are separated from God. That apart from God we are condemned, dead men and dead women walking, talking and breathing but dead inside. Because God alone is life and life eternal apart from Him we can never truly be alive.

Jesus tells us that He is the Resurrection and the Life, not just life eternally but being made alive fully in this life by finding ourselves in Him in faith. To look alive on the outside and be alive on the inside, that is the gift of faith in Jesus, the gift of baptism. Though we were dead in our sins, Jesus has made us alive in Him.

As Christians in our daily life, this is what are struggle with sin and sinful behaviors is all about. Your soul and your very life has been snatched away from the realm of sin, death and the devil. In Christ, you have been made alive spiritually and there is nothing that evil hates more than life. There is a spiritual warfare going on in your life and your spiritual enemies are trying to take your life away from you and kill you. To make you a walking dead person once again.

Think about the hurtful things in your life, that things that you do even saying “I know this isn’t good for me, but…” All of these things do damage to the very life of our souls. But thanks be to God that He gives us the victory through Jesus Christ. In Jesus He gives us the ways of eternal life in your daily life right now.

Death wants you to miss church on Sunday morning but Christ calls you to the gifts of life in His Word and Sacrament found in the fellowship of the Christian church.

Death wants you to fall back into those sinful habits and behaviors that continue to kill you but Christ calls you to look to Him for all things that are needful and to find your hope in Him.

Though we daily struggle with death, Christ is our victory and life is in Him.

 

 

“Light is for Dark Places” Christmas Eve Meditation

Light is for dark places.

Drive around the light displays through the fairgrounds at night and see how they light up the darkness.

Drive through the neighborhoods, park your car, turn off the headlights and spend some time enjoying the simple and elaborate displays of light around you how they lighten up the darkness with the bright glow of Christmas.

But come morning the lights are turned off because we don’t need them anymore. The sun has come and dispelled the darkness and lightens the world.

Think of all of the things we use to lighten the holidays:

  • A cup of eggnog cheer
  • Festive garland
  • Glittery ornaments
  • Dazzling lit trees
  • Strategically placed mistletoe

All crying out its Christmas time, time to be of good cheer!

But there is a truth here that we wouldn’t need to add holiday cheer if there was no darkness in the holidays as well. Trying to lighten up the holidays with festivities and lights is an admission of the darkness all around us.

  • Grief and loss of loved ones that is a palpable and very real thing
  • Suffering of those less fortunate who have little to lighten their holidays
  • Present tension of worry and concern over how to provide for today and what is to come tomorrow.
  • The very real darkness of sin that throws shadows in our hearts, on the people we love and between us and the God who loves us.

Yes, light is for dark places and this holiday and all year round we live in a dark place filled with sin and brokenness. But what we use to lighten the holidays are mere brief respites at best and at worse illusions of light that can deceive.

  • Eggnog curdles
  • Lights are missing their bulbs
  • The mistletoe can be scorned
  • And garland is just plastic after all

These things cannot lighten up the darkness that has engulfed our lives, our homes and our world. We must have a light that the darkness cannot overcome.

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made. In him was life, and the life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.

John 1:1-8

 This light that John talks about is why we celebrate this evening and every Christmas every year because the light of the world is born on Christmas day!

  • God’s Word that was spoken into the darkness and void, before time or creation ever existed, “Let there be light and there was light and it was good.”
  • This same light that gave life and hope to the sin sick and broken, to those lost in the darkness.
  • This light whom not even a bloody cross or death’s dark embrace or the cold tomb could diminish.
  • This light that was not overcome by the darkness but overcame the darkness with light and rose on Easter morning to give light all of humanity.
  • This light that is the light given to our hearts that the darkness cannot ever take away.

Jesus Christ is the light of the world born on Christmas day and He is our eternal, never-ending light in the darkness.

We can take away the artificial lights, eggnog, garland, mistletoe, ornaments and trees because we don’t need them anymore, the Son has come and He dispels the darkness and lightens our world.

But if we take away Jesus Christ from Christmas all you have left are empty cups, cheap plastic lights and dead trees on the curb.

Keep the light of Jesus Christ in Christmas in your hearts and your homes where it belongs to lighten the world of darkness around you.

  • To remind those who grieve that it is okay to grieve right, but in Christ we do not grieve as those who have no hope.
  • To be with the lowly knowing Christ was born to a poor family in a manger made of straw.
  • To encourage those held down by worry with the provisions of God and the love of His people.
  • To lighten our sin-sick hearts with His forgiveness and Joy.

And then go home and celebrate with eggnog and cheer, garland and mistletoe, lights and tree if you like, but do it all in honor and celebration of the light of Christmas who is Jesus Christ born for us this day!

 

“Praise the Lord!” Meditation on Christian Worship

Everybody loves to get a compliment! Everybody likes to get some praise once in a while. We all like to hear things like: “good job,” “ ataboy!” “proud of you,” “keep up the good work!” It’s good to be praised like this, it let’s us know that we are on the right track and all of the hard work and time put in is appreciated.

We take this human idea of compliments and praise and apply them to our relationship with God as well, especially when we like what God is doing and how things are working out in our lives. When we praise God, sometimes it’s like we are saying “good job God,” “ataboy God!” “proud of you God,” “keep up the good work God!”

When we think about praising God more often than not we think about Sunday morning service, when we come to church to thank God for all of the blessings he has given to us. But our Bible passage from the book of Hebrews reminds us to continually offer up a sacrifice of praise to God.” That’s more than on Sunday mornings, it is all day, every day, in every circumstance, offer up praise to God.

Sometimes we take this Biblical encouragement to heart by adding “Praise the Lord!” to our everyday vocabulary. They will say things like:

“I got that parking spot, praise the Lord!”

         “I got that raise that I needed, praise the Lord!”

         “I actually got good news from the doctor, praise the Lord!”

         “I paid all of my bills this month, praise the Lord!”

The difficulty happens when life isn’t going so well and things aren’t working out right. Do we say:

“I didn’t get that raise that I needed, praise the Lord!”

         “I didn’t get good news from the doctor, praise the Lord!”

         “I didn’t pay all of my bills this month and I’m falling behind, praise the Lord!”

 That kind of thing sounds phony and insincere. Like we are trying to be perfect, plastic, happy people living in a perfect, plastic happy world. But we know that is not our world, or how we live, or even how God works with us.

So, how do we follow this Biblical encouragement to offer “constant sacrifice of praise” to God and what does that look like? Going back to our Scripture lesson today God’s word tells us more about what praise is all about. 

Through him then let us continually offer up a sacrifice of praise to God that is, the fruit of lips that acknowledge His Name.”

In this passage, we have a really good, biblical definition of praise. Praise is the fruit of our lips that acknowledge His, or God’s name. The Bible often uses this illustration of our lips bearing fruit and that fruit is produced in our hearts. Many times it is done in a negative sense talking about our sinful and broken hearts producing sinful and broken things that come out of our mouths. But it also occurs in a positive sense with a heart that God has reached out to in His Word and creates faith in, this heart that God is working in produces good fruit on the person’s lips, that is acknowledging the Name of God. When we acknowledge the name of God we are confessing who God is, how he has revealed himself in His Word and who He is to us.

 So, when we offer a constant sacrifice of praise it is our heart touched by God confessing through our lips who he is.

We offer a constant sacrifice of praise when we confess:

  • God is the Lord and maker of Heaven and Earth and yet He still knows my name.
  • God loves me so much that He sent His one and only son, Jesus Christ to die upon the cross for me so that I wouldn’t have to die eternally.
  • God is my Heavenly Father and He has made me His heavenly child both now and eternally.

Notice that in all of this praise to God we never focused on our own feelings or our own situation that is happening around us. That is because praise to God first and foremost doesn’t have to do with us but with who God is. God is still God no matter where I am or what is happening in my life.

Because praise is about God I can say “Praise the Lord!” when times are good and things are going well because my heart in faith confesses through my lips that God is the source of all good things and blessings in my life.

But I can also say, “Praise the Lord!” when times are rough and I’m hurt or scared or lost, because my heart in faith confesses through my lips that God is my Rock and strength, comfort and hope in every time of trouble. It is like the Psalmist said in the Old Testament “My eyes look up to the hills, from where does my help come from. It comes from the Lord the maker of Heaven and Earth.” (Psalm 121:1)

In any and every circumstance in my life I can offer a constant sacrifice of praise to God because God is still God no matter where I am or what is happening in my life. Praise the Lord!

But before we finish today I want to take a quick look at vs. 16 in our Bible passage“Do not neglect to do good and to share what you have, for such sacrifices are pleasing to God.”  This passage reminds us that doing good and caring for the people around us is also part of our praise to God. Just like praise, helping other people is always easier when we are happy and life is going well but when we aren’t doing well and life is hard it becomes a lot harder. You know how trouble and hardship end up being, they get so big and so in your face that many times its hard to see anything else. It’s like not being able to see the forest for the huge tree in front of you. But even when we are going through difficult times God still calls us to look to the needs of our neighbors, family and friends because they also are going through difficult times as well. And this helps us a little bit to get past that thing in our own life and to see where the people around me also need care and love. Those same people that we then try to care for in their time of need are also called by God to care for us in our time of need.  This is done so that no one is left alone and we are all cared for in the family of Christ and together we can say “Praise the Lord!”

 

“Who Am I?” Meditation on Christian Identity

Who am I?

that is a basic fundamental question that every human being has to work through, what is my identity.

As adults, that question may come close to the heart with the other one “what do you want to do when you grow up?” when we wonder have we actually found the answer to that question.

Many times we define ourselves through employment:

–       I am a pastor, a teacher, an engineer, a technician, a consultant, a student, a firefighter, a retiree or unemployed.

We also define ourselves through the roles we fill:

–       I am a father, mother, son and daughter, grandparent, aunt…

And we define ourselves by our physical attributes:

–       tall, skinny, heavy, short, lean, muscular, petite…

Sometimes there are circumstances that try to define us:

–       cancer, illness, trauma, violence, hurt, but they are not who we are

and our beliefs define us as well:

–         moral, Christian, patriot , believer

as well as our family of origin and locale:

–       us citizen, irish, Italian, german, portugese.

But in all of those things there is so much about who we are that changes as we walk through life. Career paths change, needs of children are different as they become adults, we lose and gain weight, events happen that reshape our understanding of ourselves and our place in this world. And when those life changes occur and throughout our lives the change is hard and we wonder sometimes if we knew ourselves at all.

And while so many would agree that flexibility in facing the changes in life is key to making it through is there anything solid for us to stand upon, a sure footing where in the myriad changes and chances of life we can find a place that doesn’t change, a place to call our own, to be ourselves. An identity that I can be sure of not matter what changes around me, in me, on me or by me that will never change?

Believe it or not, this question of identity is the main point of our Gospel lesson today from Matthew where we have the picture of Jesus being baptized by John the Baptist. As John was baptizing many in the waters of the Jordan river for repentance of their sins and bringing them into the kingdom of God Jesus Christ comes to be baptized as well. For John, this made no sense at all. This was Jesus Christ, the son of the living God, the Savior of the World, if anyone was in the kingdom of God it was Jesus because was the kingdom of God. So why, would Jesus want John to baptize Him? John even says, no Jesus, you’ve got it all wrong, I need to be baptized by you!!! Then Jesus responds with this almost cryptic-feeling answer:

“Let it be so now, for thus it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness.”

Jesus, at that moment in time was revealing Himself not as God from on high filled with power and might, the very word of God that created the Heavens and the Earth, but as the babe born in the manger, the suffering sacrifice, the sinless one who would bear the sins of the world upon the cross.

His identity as our savior that would lead to the cross and the empty tomb was marked in that baptism, this is who He was and through his works upon the cross we too would be given an identity as well, not one that is defined by the world around us but by God and his love for us. Our identity leads us to walk in the footsteps of Jesus. He leads us through the waters of baptism so that we can be given a new name- the name of beloved son and daughter of God with whom He is well pleased because of Jesus. He leads to bear our own crosses for His sake and He leads us to rise with Him through the empty tomb of Easter to the glory of a new life in Heaven. Because this is where Jesus identity as our savior was named so our identity as the ones to be saved start and are promised here in the waters of baptism.

Just as Jesus’ identity never changes, he is from eternity the son of God and the our Savior he brings each Christian into himself so that we too can have an identity that will never change no matter what happens in this life.

When St. Paul writes:

 Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life.

he is telling us that our true identity, the solid footing and a place to call our own is found only in Jesus Christ and his eternal nature and this is all done in our baptisms. By God’s promise and power when we are baptized we are connected to Jesus, made part of His family which is God’s family and we are given a name and identity that never changes or can be taken away.

You are named “a baptized child of God” and called His own. For the sake of Christ, God’s only Son, when we are baptized into Jesus Christ, God calls us his children, and gives to us eternity with Jesus.The wonderful news of this message is that when God calls you His own in your baptism, it is a fixed point in time that never changes or can be taken away from you no matter whatever changes in your life:

You are a baptized child of God no matter if you are a

a pastor, a teacher, an engineer, a technician, a consultant, a retiree, umemployed

or a:

a father, mother, son and daughter, grandparent, aunt…

or if you are:

–       tall, skinny, heavy, short, lean, muscular, petite…

or if

–       cancer, illness, trauma, violence, hurt, and even death happens

In any and all circumstances you are a baptized child of God, it is your identity, your security, your hope and your eternity. And it is the fixed point from which the rest of your life can flow, a life that can be lived not in fear of the changes of the world or in fear of losing our identity and who we are but a life of Joy knowing always who we are and who we belong to and where we are going eternally.

I am a baptized child of God.

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