Thursday, June 30, 2011

Psalm 114, Joshua 5.1-6.5, Acts 10.1-17 - Lectionary for 6/30/11

Today's readings are Psalm 114, Joshua 5.1-6.5, and Acts 10.1-17.

The God of all is able to work out all things according to his purpose. We see in today's readings how supernatural our Lord really is. He sets apart his people, rolling away the reproach of Egypt in circumcision, showing that God is able to make a distinction among people even in the hidden places. He provides for his people to eat the Passover as they reach the end of the bread which God has provided from heaven. He gives his commands to Joshua and directs him in the way that God will overthrow Jericho. In our New Testament reading our Lord sends visions to Cornelius, a Roman centurion, and to Peter, just at the right time to prepare the way of the Gospel for Cornelius and his household.

What plans do we have today? As we go about our business will we be sensitive to our Lord's direction? Will we see when the Lord shows us his glory? Will we give thanks to God in Christ when we receive our daily bread, all the provision we have? Will we rejoice that our Lord uses us to work out his will and his ways in the world all around us? Our God is the supernatural God who works in and through us to care for the needs of this world. May we have grace to recognize his hand in all we do.

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Psalm 103.1-12, Joshua 4.1-24, Acts 9.23-43 - Lectionary for 6/29/11 - St. Peter and St. Paul, Apostles

Today is the commemoration of St. Peter and St. Paul, apostles.

Today's readings are Psalm 103.1-12, Joshua 4.1-24, and Acts 9.23-43.

In today's high-power, high-velocity culture we seem to assume that the more influential someone is the less concern he will have with day-to-day affairs. Not so in the early Church. See in today's reading from Acts how Peter spends a good deal of time going here and there, praying for people who are sick, even raising Dorcas from the dead. Wouldn't we think this apostle of Christ, this greatly influential saint would have something more important to do? Shouldn't he be arranging an evangelistic crusade or a hard-hitting discipleship program? On the contrary, the saints of God spend a great deal of time in the New Testament just walking around praying for people and doing good wherever they find themselves.

I wonder where I will find myself today? I wonder if I'll be faithful to stop, visit, and pray with someone? May the Lord grant it to be so.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Psalm 89.24-29, Joshua 3.1-17, Acts 9.1-22 - Lectionary for 6/28/11 - Irenaeus of Lyons

Today is the commemoration of Irenaeus of Lyons.

Today's readings are Psalm 89.24-29, Joshua 3.1-17, and Acts 9.1-22.

As we read today we see God's love for his people as he prepares the way for them. Yet our selection from the Psalms, being a Messianic Psalm, reminds us that the very real events from history are actually a foreshadowing of God's work in Christ. The people of Israel are brought across the Jordan river through the waters which would bring them death, just as Jesus brings the eternal Israel through death by faith in him. Jesus prepares the way for Saul who is persecuting him to become the messenger of the true Gospel. Likewise, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us, the just for the unjust, to bring us to God. This is the real reality.

Monday, June 27, 2011

Psalm 51.1-9, Joshua 2.1-24, Acts 8.26-40 - Lectionary for 6/27/11 - Cyril of Alexandria

Today is the commemoration of Cyril of Alexandria.

Today's readings are Psalm 51.1-9, Joshua 2.1-24, and Acts 8.26-40.

Cyril of Alexandria is well known for his defense of orthodox Christianity in the face of detractors. Our Scripture readings today show others who defended faith in the true God regardless of what others would say. Joshua and the other spies who entered the promised land did not know quite where they would go or what they would do. Yet in God's providence they accomplished their mission, searched out the land, and found that the people of Canaan were not ready to offer resistance. In our New Testament reading today we see Philip doing much the same thing. He had previously been appointed to do works of mercy but was directed by an angel to go to a road leading out of the area. At that place he found a man waiting to be told the Gospel. After he had finished explaining about Jesus to the Ethiopian eunuch and had baptized this man the Lord moved Philip to a different place where he continued the work of an evangelist.

Where do we find ourselves today? Do we expect that the triune God - Father, Son and Holy Spirit - will use us according to his good pleasure? May we be his faithful instruments.

Sermon for 6/26/11 "Looking Pretty Grim"

SERMON “Looking Pretty Grim” Jeremiah 28.5-9 audio link

May the grace of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ guard our hearts and minds, in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Have you ever been around one of those people who talks negatively all the time? Maybe you know someone you can count on not wanting to talk to. You know the kind. Every time you see him (or her) you can expect to hear a hard luck story. And you’ve heard plenty of them. Maybe this week it’s about the relative or friend who ended up in jail. Last week it was about someone who is sick with five fatal illnesses. Maybe you’ve heard about the auto repairs needed which would cost more than the car was worth. Then the child’s dog had a flea infestation that spread to the whole house. Someone’s in trouble in school again. Someone’s been fired from a job. The more you listen to this person talk, the more you expect to be rained on, to develop a dread disease, or to be run down by a truck next time you cross the street. I think we’ve all run into those people who seem to have so much turmoil it’s hard to believe. And after a while we start wishing they would change their message. Can’t something good happen to them sometimes? Or maybe they would like to talk about something else? Surely they know about some good, some kindness, some little thing in this world to smile about. But it would seem not. Things are looking pretty grim.

Jeremiah, God’s prophet to Jerusalem, was one of the people who had a reputation for being negative. He was proclaiming his Lord’s truth to the people of Judah. But God’s truth was hard to swallow. At this time, God’s message to his people was that their longstanding history of unrepentant sin was sending them into exile. The city was to be besieged, overthrown, sacked. The people could expect to lose everything. This is a hard message. It’s unpopular. But at that time and in that place it was absolutely the truth. Everything was looking grim. No doubt there were people who wanted Jeremiah to stop. They didn’t want to hear this message, they had heard enough of it. They were scared enough by their surroundings, now they didn’t want God’s prophet to tell them about God’s judgment. So various people rose up against Jeremiah. One of them, here in Jeremiah 28, is named Hananiah.

Hananiah brought a message of hope. God’s enemies would be leaving within two years. The things which had been taken away would be returned. The kingdom would be re-established. Life in Jerusalem is going to change. God’s blessing is going to be upon us once again. Hananiah would say that Jeremiah was wrong. He didn’t know what God was doing. He was simply inventing a negative message in character with his negative attitude.

What was Jeremiah’s response to Hananiah? We read it a little while ago. Jeremiah would love it if Hananiah were right. May the Lord deliver his people and take them from the hands of their enemies! May he do exactly that and nurture his people again! But we are going to believe it when we see it. We don’t have permission to look to a rosy future until God brings that future to pass. Then we’ll know that Hananiah is right.

What does this have to do with us? We know from history that Hananiah died that very year, that Babylon overthrew Jerusalem, and that the captivity lasted some seventy years. Jeremiah was right. And here’s what he was focused on. It’s a message we need to look at. It looks pretty grim. Jeremiah, you see, knew that God’s people, the children of Israel, descendants of Abraham, were all sinners. They were all corrupted. They had fallen in Adam. And in that fallen, sinful state they couldn’t deliver themselves. The fruit of their sin remained. They were to receive the penalty for their sin, at least some of the penalty of their sin.

Maybe we need to bar the doors for a moment. Because I have to talk pretty frankly about sin. That’s one of those messages that the mega-church people think is negative. They don’t like to talk about it a lot. And I don’t either. Believe me, your doctor doesn’t like to tell you that you’re going to die and your lawyer doesn’t like to tell you that you’re going to jail. I don’t like pointing out sin. But sometimes we need to tell those difficult truths. Remember what we confessed at the start of the service? If our Lord kept a record of sins we couldn’t stand. We confess that we are unworthy. We confess that we sin in thought, word, and deed. Often in our confession we include the idea of sin in what we have done and in what we have not done. Do we need to go farther in how we identify sin? It’s anything that does not approach God in perfect love and trust. It’s anything that does not glorify God regardless of who is watching. It’s anything that lifts us up in glory, honor, and pride, exalting ourselves or anyone other than the triune God. I don’t think I need to start naming your sins or my sins. You know far more of them than I do. And our Lord knows them all. We are all condemned as sinners. That’s a hard message. Since I proclaimed God’s forgiveness at the start of the service, we’ve all had plenty of time to condemn ourselves again. Things are looking pretty grim. It’s a hard message. But it’s the truth, and I’m bound to speak it.

What relief is there? I can’t unbar the doors until you hear God’s remedy! After all, we who are condemned before God, convicted of our sin, could rush out and do ourselves harm. And we wouldn’t want that. We do all we can to nurture and protect people, not harm them. Earlier I said that we wouldn’t know Hananiah was right unless his prophecy came true and God delivered his people. It’s my great honor to tell you today, as a servant of the Gospel of Christ, that God has given us the remedy for sin, for the sin of the world, for every sinful act we have or ever will commit, in the perfect life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ on our behalf. Jesus has carried our sin. He has borne the penalty for the sins of his people in Jerusalem at the time of Jeremiah. Jesus has borne the penalty for the sins of his people in this congregation at this time. He has come to draw people to himself. He has promised his reward, as we read in Matthew 10. What is that reward? Jesus, who died for us, has risen from the dead. He is victorious over death, hell, and the grave. In Christ there is no more condemnation, no more shame, no more destruction. Even our mortal bodies, which are destined to die and decay, will be raised again in the glorious resurrection. How do we know this? Because Jesus has risen from the dead. He has triumphed. And he’s triumphed over our sin.

Now I can unbar the doors. Things don’t look very grim any more. This is the good news of the Christian life. Jesus has conquered my sin. He has conquered your sin. The rest of this Christian life is getting used to the fact that he’s done what he did. It’s a matter of living a life of repentance, knowing that our sin comes back to haunt us again and again, but that Jesus has granted us new life, that we can walk in the forgiveness he brings, that he will conform us into his image. Our Lord, who has shown us the depth of our sin, will also show us the glorious majesty of his righteousness. Buried with him in baptism, we rise again to walk in newness of life. And we walk in that newness of life together, confessing our common faith, receiving from our Lord in Word and Sacraments, feeding our faith in communion, encouraging one another in fellowship and prayer. Will things still look pretty grim sometimes? They sure will. You might still go to jail. You are very likely to die if our Lord doesn’t come soon. But our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ can and will strengthen you and me, building us up as living stones in his temple, his body, his Church, so we can find security, hope, and purpose in life, no matter the trials we face.

Let us rise and pray together.

Our Lord, thank you for sending the trials we face. We confess that they are difficult. We confess that we have seen the dangers all around us and that we have been frightened. We have been tempted at times not to trust in your providence, to look for other answers. Turn our hearts to your forgiving grace. Conform us into your image, that we may look to you, our hope and help in this world and in eternity, for you live and reign with the Father and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Psalm 31.19-24, Joshua 1.1-18, Acts 8.1-25 - Lectionary for 6/26/11 - Jeremiah

Today is the commemoration of Jeremiah.

Today's readings are Psalm 31.19-24, Joshua 1.1-18, and Acts 8.1-25.

Be strong and courageous! Whether you are Joshua leading the people of Israel into the promised land against all odds, or whether you are Philip, bringing the Gospel to the enemies of Israel in Samaria, being used by God to cast out demons and convert magicians, or whoever you are, God has called his people to accomplish his will on this earth. Do we trust in Jesus? What then will be impossible for us? What force of this world can stand against Christ's Church, following their Lord who conquered death itself? Nothing will stand against our Lord and Savior as he works in and through his people. Is there anything that is too difficult for him? Not at all. It may be too difficult for us. We may not understand what we are doing or what God's purpose is for us in our journey. Like Philip we may know that our enemies could kill us. We may also have times of uncertainty, not knowing where we will go next or what we will do next. Yet there is no need for fear. Our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, knows how he will use us. His perfect love casts out all fear. So may the Lord bless us to be strong and courageous this day.

Saturday, June 25, 2011

Psalm 119.41-48, Proverbs 31.10-31, John 21.1-25 - Lectionary for 6/25/11 - Presentation of the Augsburg Confessions

Today marks the presentation of the Augsburg Confession to the German civic leaders.
Today's readings are Psalm 119.41-48, Proverbs 31.10-31, and John 21.1-25.

God shows his love for his people through providing for their needs - particularly their need of forgiveness and restoration. See in today's Gospel reading that Jesus provides for the disciples' economic need by providing them with an abundant catch of fish. He provides for Peter's need for forgiveness by restoring him and having him declare his love for Jesus as many times as he had formerly denied his Lord. He provides for John's need of comfort by saying that he would be with John throughout his long life, no matter what might happen to everyone else.

Our Lord has preserved his Church through the ages, always being there for his people, always working through the Gospel to draw people to himself. We can have the greatest confidence that he will always be with his people, for he has promised never to leave them. We are not orphans. We have received the forgiveness of God in Christ.

Friday, June 24, 2011

Psalm 85.7-13, Proverbs 30.1-9, 18-33, John 20.19-31 - Lectionary for 6/24/11 - The Nativity of John the Baptist

Today we remember the Nativity of John the Baptist.
Today's readings are Psalm 85.7-13, Proverbs 30.1-9, 18-33, and John 20.19-31.

Our readings today all speak of the apparent contradictions in the world. In Proverbs we see the royal bearing of both a rooster and a king. We see that wisdom and folly are not always what they seem to us. And in our Gospel reading we find that Jesus' work in the resurrection is also different from our expectations. Jesus, in the bodily resurrection, is able to appear where he would not be expected, through locked doors. He has overcome death and is perfectly healthy, but is able to show his disciples wounds on his hands and side. He gives the disciples the Holy Spirit by breathing on them. And the work of the Holy Spirit, counter to all we would expect of an impartation of God, is that the disciples can forgive sins in the name of God.

We look to a living God who acts in ways we do not expect. May the Lord give us discernment to understand him rightly.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Psalm 139.14-18, 23-24, Proverbs 27.1-24, John 20.1-18 - Lectionary for 6/23/11

Today's readings are Psalm 139.14-18, 23-24, Proverbs 27.1-24, and John 20.1-18.

Our readings today are full of praise for God and the way he has made us, as well as a number of rather miscellaneous proverbs. I'm struck by reading the proverbs about fellowship and mutual edification. For instance, in Proverbs 27.10 we see that a neighbor and close friend is more important than a relative who is far away. In verse 17 we see the oft-quoted proverb of iron sharpening iron. In verses 23-24 we are reminded to take stock of our resources. All this is well and good. However, our Gospel reading reminds us of that which is of primary importance at all times. See how, when Jesus is reported as being missing from the tomb, the disciples come running to search. Mary Magdalene has a confrontation with the risen Lord, who reminds her of the promises he has made. There's the point of utmost importance. All our understanding of God's love, all our mutual edification, it all is to direct us to Jesus, the one who died for us and rose as the firstfruits of the resurrection.

At this time I'm starting to work in my new setting as a pastor of a Lutheran congregation in Illinois. I've got a lot of people to meet. I have a flock to get to know. As I am taking stock of my flocks and herds and they are taking stock of me, may we together look to our Lord and Savior who has risen for us. That's truly job #1.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Psalm 22.12-21, Proverbs 25.1-22, John 19.23-42 - Lectionary for 6/22/11

Today's readings are Psalm 22.12-21, Proverbs 25.1-22, and John 19.23-42.

Psalm 22, which is very frequently read in the Divine Services around Good Friday, serves as a detailed prophecy of the crucifixion of Christ. We see in today's readings how Jesus, in his death, fulfilled the prophecies about him. Not only did Jesus fulfill prophecies, though, so did the soldiers who crucified him, though they were almost certainly unaware of the prophecies.

Our God is the kind of God who moves people to do his will even without their knowledge. He is able to do anything he desires. And we see in the death of Christ that God's desire is that Jesus should die for our sins, the just for the unjust. Can the death of Jesus actually serve as an atonement for my sin? It most certainly can, because God has proclaimed it to be so. When we Jesus doing something in Scripture, let us look carefully and see what God has proclaimed that action to accomplish. We can be assured that it did not happen by some accident which has not purpose in God's kingdom. We may not always see the purpose, but God is most certainly accomplishing his good will.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Psalm 22.22-27, Proverbs 24.1-22, John 19.1-22 - Lectionary for 6/21/11

Today's readings are Psalm 22.22-27, Proverbs 24.1-22, and John 19.1-22.

Pilate's actions in John 19 show Proverbs 24.10-11 in an interesting light. In Proverbs we are told that we are to endure adversity and that we are to rescue those who are condemned. What does Pilate do? He makes several attempts to rescue Jesus and to defend him, even while he is bound by the political reality and the angry mobs to carry out the death sentence. John depicts Pilate as someone who has been placed in a no-win situation. He cannot both save Jesus from death and avoid an incredible upheaval, possibly one which would be destructive to himself, all his forces, and the people of Jerusalem at the same time.

We might well ask ourselves a few questions about today's readings. First, is there any evidence that we would act any differently than Pilate? Second, what do we do to defend the name, honor, and people of Christ? Third, when we have opportunity to endure adversity and to rescue those who are condemned, do we do it because of Christ's love or for our own glory? And finally, when we realize our sin and failure, do we also realize that Jesus is the one who has given himself for our forgiveness and restoration? After all, it is for our reconciliation with God that Jesus made sure he would die according to the Scripture.

Monday, June 20, 2011

Psalm 45.6-12, Proverbs 22.22-23.12, John 18.15-40 - Lectionary for 6/20/11

Today's readings are Psalm 45.6-12, Proverbs 22.22-23.12, and John 18.15-40.

We see today that God is the true king. He has established his principles for all to see, including principles of justice which are beneficial to all societies. Personal property, legitimate boundary lines, and works of mercy are all part of our Lord's plan for how an orderly society should function. We can see throughout history that well-ordered societies have recognized the very principles that God lays out in the Scripture.

What happens when we deny the order that our Lord has instituted, including the right acknowledgement of God as king? What happens to Peter when he denies even knowing Jesus, God the Son, the rightful king of all? He is covered with shame and grief. He needs restoration from his Lord and Savior.

When we deny our Lord, as we do daily, let us also be thankful that we have divine revelation. We have been told who this King is to whom we can flee for help, comfort and protection. It is he who has established heaven and earth. It is he who grants us forgiveness and restoration. We are able to come before Jesus, our King, and plead that his righteousness will be imputed to us, that we will receive his mercy by faith, and that he will restore us. Let us never fear, for he is the King who gives himself on our behalf, loving us even though we deny him, even though it costs him his life. He is the King who has given his own life so we could have life, abundant life, eternal life.

Sermon for 6/19/11 "God's Great Promise"

Let us pray.

Our Lord and Master, as you have called a people from every nation, tribe, and tongue by your grace, so work in us by the power of your Holy Spirit that we may delight in the rich promise of your presence which you have given, in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Already in today's divine service we have celebrated the promises of God in Christ. We have looked to our Lord in repentance and claimed his promise of forgiveness. We have prayed that our Lord would work in this world, bringing his mercy to us gathered here and those far abroad. We have read the Scriptures and trusted that in the hearing of the Word our Lord will create and sustain faith in our hearts. We have applied water in accordance with the Word to our little brother here and have welcomed him as a saint in Christ's kingdom. There's plenty to be thankful for. Yet our Lord is not finished with us today, not by any stretch of the imagination.

In the Gospel reading for today we see that Jesus is not finished with us. Just as he was not finished with his disciples on that day in Galilee, he is not finished with us. He still has a promise for his people. What is this promise? Jesus claims the ultimate authority, all authority in heaven and on earth. And then he ties that authority to a command and a promise. In this command, Jesus tells the eleven to go and disciple all nations. Why are Christ's servants to go and disciple all nations? Jesus connected his statement of authority with his command using the word "therefore." Because Jesus has all authority, he gives his disciples a command. This command to disciple all nations is based on our Lord's love for his people. He loves the world in such a way that he gives himself for us, so none might perish. To Jesus, our salvation is a matter of life and death - our life and his death. Because he has all authority, he sends his people to make disciples, to call people to Christ in faith. And that's exactly what Christians in all ages have done. We have about twenty centuries of Christians going and discipling other people.

There's even more to the promise than that, though. We disciple all nations by doing two things, baptizing and teaching. See the order in which Jesus gives those means of grace? We don't withhold baptism from people. Our desire is to pour out the washing, the regenerating work of the Holy Spirit through this very concrete proclamation of the Gospel known as baptism. We are given that means of grace to be applied to everyone who will receive it. Are we deserving of baptism? Is there anyone in this room who is deserving of baptism in himself? Not one. All have sinned. We don't deserve baptism. We need baptism. That's different. We need it specifically because we don't deserve it. But it's what we need, and what our Lord has given to be applied to all nations. So we go and disciple people, baptizing them. And how do we baptize them? We baptize them literally "into the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit." Baptism seals people, it claims them as God's possession. It puts his name tag onto us. And what's the one name on that name tag? The one name is the triune name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. We'll let the Athanasian Creed that we confess shortly unpack some of that. But we see that there are not three gods, but one God, trinity in unity. It's a matchless name, this triune name of God, because it can only ever apply to one God. But this is the name of God placed upon us in baptism. It is the name of God in which we receive forgiveness of sins and blessing of every kind. We are unabashedly trinitarian, claiming the name and authority of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, into whose name we have been baptized.

What about the teaching? There's a reason I'm so very serious about ongoing lifelong study of the catechism, the confessions, and the Scripture. Our Lord claims people into his name, and he tells us to teach them to obey everything he has commanded. All our God has given us in Scripture is for our good. All Scripture is God-breathed and is profitable for teaching, correction, reproof, and training in righteousness. This is how God prepares his servants. This is how we know the God who has claimed us, who has put his name upon us.

How are these promises? Is baptism a promise? It most certainly is, for our Lord has claimed us as his own in baptism. He promises to take us as his own in baptism. That is doubtless a promise. Is teaching about God a promise? It sure is. After all, God has revealed himself in Scripture. He promises that we can know him as he has revealed himself in Scripture. These are great and precious promises from our Lord and Savior. But there's another promise here, the one Matthew closes with, the one Jesus closes with, and the one I will close with. Jesus promises to be with his disciples always, to the end of the age. Forever, Jesus will be with his disciples, with their disciples, with all those who believe on the Lord Jesus Christ. He will never leave us. There is no situation we can find ourselves in without him. He will be with us. We are not left as orphans. We are not stranded. We are not left behind. The Lord our God is with us, wherever we go. And he is the mighty Lord, the one with all authority. He is the one who has sealed us with his name. He is the one who will defend us to the end. Our hope in the promises of God is sure. We can have every confidence that our Lord will do all he has promised. He has conquered death. Is there anything he cannot do? No, there is nothing our Lord can't do. There is nothing that can stand against his great love for his people. There is nothing that can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus. Nothing at all. Jesus, the giver of the great promise, is able to keep every promise he has made.

Go therefore! Make disciples by baptizing and teaching! Know that the Lord will be with you wherever you go. This is the Gospel of our Lord. Thanks be to God.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Psalm 46.1-7, Numbers 35.9-30, Luke 24.28-53 - Lectionary for 6/19/11

Today's readings are Psalm 46.1-7, Numbers 35.9-30, and Luke 24.28-53.

We read today that God is our refuge. When we find that we are in sin, he has provided us with a place to flee. Under the Old Covenant people could flee to the city of refuge to find safety. Notice the limitations. People were not to sin in a high-handed way against others. They would be tried and found guilty. But for those who sinned accidentally there was protection. This protection lasted as long as the high priest was alive.

Under the New Covenant, we are still not to sin purposely. God never winks at our sin. Yet our sin has been atoned for in Jesus, our great High Priest who lives forever in the resurrection, showing himself to be the true and everlasting high priest who will grant us forgiveness and restoration. We come to Jesus, our city of refuge, and find hope, help, and everlasting protection in him.

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Psalm 97.6-12, Numbers 32.1-6, 16-27, Luke 24.1-27 - Lectionary for 6/17/11

Today's readings are Psalm 97.6-12, Numbers 32.1-6, 16-27, and Luke 24.1-27.

Today we read about God's people entering into their promise. The tribes of Reuben and Gad do not wish to enter into the promised land but vow to help their kinsmen obtain the land of Canaan. The promise remains. What about the promise of the Gospel? The disciples left Jesus in the tomb but now do not know what has become of him. He has entered into the promised deliverance from sin, death, and the grave. Is he going to bring his people with him? Beginning with Moses and the prophets, the risen Christ shows the sorrowful disciples all the things written about him, how he would rise from the dead, lead captivity captive, and deliver his people to their eternal rest in him. Thanks be to God, who always keeps his promises.

Friday, June 17, 2011

Psalm 132.8-12, Numbers 27.12-23, Luke 23.26-56 - Lectionary for 6/17/11

Today's readings are Psalm 132.8-12, Numbers 27.12-23, and Luke 23.26-56.

Today the Psalmist calls out that God may rise to his resting place. The same happens in the Gospel today, as we read of Jesus, truly God and truly man, being crucified and dying, being laid to his rest on the Sabbath. In this laying to rest, Jesus, who is bearing the sin of the world, lays sin to rest as well, giving all those who believe on him a Sabbath-day's rest from sin. Have we entered into God's rest? Have we been clothed with Christ and his atoning death? If we believe that he died for us we are indeed clothed in his righteousness. We are accounted righteous for the sake of Jesus, who became sin for us so that we may be the righteousness of God. May God rise to his place of rest, laying our sin to rest as well!

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Safe Arrival

I guess I should post to say that our family and all our things have arrived safely in Watseka, Illinois and I have spent a good portion of the last couple of days in the church office making order out of my desk, attempting to figure out who does what and where I need to dig in to this pastorate first. Meanwhile, we're spending a good part of our days putting the house in order as well.

We are very thankful for the safe journey, the move-out crew in Huntington, the move-in crew in Watseka, and the many supportive people who have helped us along the way.

Psalm 1, Numbers 24.1-25, Luke 23.1-25 - Lectionary for 6/16/11

Today's readings are Psalm 1, Numbers 24.1-25, and Luke 23.1-25.

Very often the Psalm reading appointed for a day has a reflective quality, a way of stepping back and looking at what we are reading in our other passages. It is very much so today. Who is the blessed man but one who trusts in the Lord? No matter what the Balaks of this world do, no matter what Pilate, Herod, and the execution squad do to us, we can look to our Lord in faith and trust, knowing that he is able to keep us in perfect peace and safety, even in and through the time of death. Our Lord has delivered us, though he did not deliver himself. May he grant us faith to look to him rather than to ourselves in the day of trouble.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Psalm 22.19-26, Numbers 23.4-28, Luke 22.47-71 - Lectionary for 6/15/11

Today's readings are Psalm 22.19-26, Numbers 23.4-28, and Luke 22.47-71.

When we think of a conflict, or really of any sort of a contest, our assumption is that the victor will be someone who asserts himself, who shows his power and ability. Who is more of a victor than God? As we see in Numbers today God is able to overcome the mouth of a prophet, forcing him to speak God's favor on Israel and God's disfavor on Moab. What, then, do we make of Jesus? Here in Luke 22 God the Son is betrayed. He is arrested, he is denied, he is mocked, and when tried he does nothing but convict himself. Jesus looks for all the world like the most defeated contestant there is.

Let us never forget that our contest is not against flesh and blood. The loyalty or lack of it found in Jesus' disciples and those who arrest and try him is, on one level, irrelevant. These people are acting according to their sinful nature, according to the weakness of their perception, according to their desire to protect themselves. In order to win victory over sin and death, Jesus, the holy and immortal one, needs to take sin upon himself. He needs to be subject to death in order to conquer death. He needs to take sin upon himself to put sin into its grave. And this is exactly what he does.

Our Lord acts counter to our intuition. Yet he is right. He is the one who never fails, and who did not fail in his perfect life, death, and resurrection so that all who believe on him may receive his life. Yes, Jesus is the Christ. He is the victor. Thanks be to God.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Move Under Way

Yesterday morning I picked up a 26' moving truck. A team of two strapping young movers came "for a couple of hours" to get the truck loaded. They came at 9 and worked diligently and quickly until 5. Time and money well spent. The truck is packed to the gills. So we left yesterday and put some miles behind us before staying overnight near Cincinnati. About four hours' driving remains.

The cat's having a rough time. He tends to be nervous. But he's with us. I found him this morning hiding under the seat of the truck. Hopefully he'll start to eat and drink again soon.

The rest of us are doing fine, just tired. We have a volunteer crew coming to meet us in Watseka so as to help us get moved into the parsonage there. Though there are a million details to take care of, many of which I'm sure I haven't thought yet, it's all going relatively smoothly.

Psalm 94.8-14, Numbers 22.21-23.3, Luke 22.24-46 - Lectionary for 6/14/11 - commemoration of Elisha

Today is the commemoration of the prophet Elisha.
Today's readings are Psalm 94.8-14, Numbers 22.21-23.3, and Luke 22.24-46.

Today we remember that our Lord knows our thoughts. He is the one who knows our intentions. What good is that? We realize that our intentions are evil. Balaam goes to Balak with the intention of becoming wealthy. God confronts him and tells him once again that he is only to say what he is commanded by God. Jesus confronts Peter with his intention which Jesus knows Peter will not fulfill. Peter intends to stay with Jesus no matter what the dangers might be. Jesus knows perfectly well, and tells Peter clearly, that Peter will not live up to his intention, but will deny Jesus. What are our intentions? What is reality? We may have the best intentions in the world yet Jesus knows we are unable to be faithful to him. That's exactly why he came and died in our place. He knew we would not do it ourselves. Yet through faith in his name we can give ourselves, while still living, into the death of Christ, realizing that he has died and risen again on our behalf, that his body was broken for us and his blood was shed for us, that he could show himself to be both the master of all and the servant of all.

Lord, you know our hearts, that we are weak and quick to deny you. Restore us and live in us that we may proclaim your merciful love to all generations.

Monday, June 13, 2011

Psalm 128, Numbers 22.1-20, Luke 22.1-23 - Lectionary for 6/13/11

Today's readings are Psalm 128, Numbers 22.1-20, and Luke 22.1-23.

There's a lot of talk in today's readings about remembering things. We remember the Lord who grants us increase and prosperity. We remember that our God is so mighty even the pagan prophet Balaam promised to say only what God commanded him. And we remember Christ's body broken for us and his blood shed for us, a new covenant in which he atones for our sins, no matter how terrible a sinner we might be. We see that among the first communicants was Judas who in his sin went and betrayed Jesus. And we remember in communion that we are also sinners who daily betray our Lord.

Whenever God talks about his own remembering, he remembers in the sense that he comes and accomplishes something by his remembrance. May we be blessed to remember our Lord and be moved to repentance and reception of his forgiving love.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Sermon for 6/12/11 "Jesus, the Person of Pentecost"

Sermon “Jesus, the Person of Pentecost”

Our Lord, grant us eyes to see you, ears to hear, a heart to believe and follow, in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Today, the day of Pentecost, is probably one of the most important holidays of the Christian Church. On this day we celebrate the coming of the Holy Spirit in power upon the earliest Christian believers. We see the birth of Christianity in some ways. We see the reality of God’s promises. Yet, like most other Christian holidays, this one easily becomes obscured by the busy affairs of our civic and family lives.

Where did the celebration of Pentecost come from? The name means “fifty.” Seems like an odd thing to celebrate. But the holiday was named in Greek after its position on the calendar, fifty days after Passover. In the Old Testament we see this as the feast of the firstfruits. It’s the time the first of your produce becomes available. I looked at my little garden patch and saw, sure enough, there are some carrots there ready and waiting for me. Some years there are foods ready to be picked earlier, sometimes later, and this is a holiday that moves around depending on the date of Passover. But it’s at the start of the time when we can count on bringing in fresh fruits and vegetables. So it was a time for bringing your first fruits, the start of your harvest, the sign that God would provide for you, as an offering to be eaten before the Lord and to be shared with the priests and Levites.

Over the years, this first sign of God’s provision has become very important in the lives of his people. We like to track beginnings and celebrate them. After all, we celebrate birthdays, anniversaries, and other special occasions on an annual basis. So it’s only natural that we would celebrate God’s gift of sustenance for another year.

But, like all the Old Testament holidays, this one foreshadows something more important. When God the Son asked God the Father to send God the Spirit, it was appropriate for the outpouring to come at Pentecost. This is the beginning of God’s provision for his Church as we await the end of the world. After all, we know that all prophecy points to Christ crucified for sinners. Think about the passage we read just a few weeks ago when Jesus appeared to his disciples on the road to Emmaus. Beginning with Moses he told them all about himself. So the feast of Pentecost points to Jesus, the outpouring of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost in today’s reading points to Jesus, the whole life of the Church points to Jesus.

As we read last week, the Spirit will make us witnesses to the whole world. But we have to ask ourselves, to what are we witnesses? Again, we look to our passage from Acts. What did the listeners hear? They heard the disciples proclaiming God’s wonders in their own languages. What did the early Christians tell about? What was their message that shook their world and drew people to repentance and forgiveness? They proclaimed a clear message of God and his glory.

There’s our pattern. In the power of the Holy Spirit we proclaim God’s greatness. He then shows his greatness in calling sinners like you and like me to repentance and pouring out his forgiveness on them. So let’s remember some of those wonders of God for a moment.

Through Jesus, the living Word of God, the heavens and the earth and all that is in them were created. Without him nothing was created that was created. Through him all things came into being, and they all hold together in him, the architect and builder of all.

When man fell into sin, God the Father delivered the promise that from the seed of the woman a savior would be raised up who would crush the head of Satan. This very savior, Jesus Christ, born in the fullness of time, came to destroy the works of Satan, to destroy death itself. He himself is the firstfruits of the resurrection, showing that death, hell and the grave are defeated. He has done the impossible by taking the sin of the world upon himself and conquering sin, giving righteousness and life to all who believe he has taken their sin.

When God’s people were in bondage in Egypt, suffering the fruit of their sin, our Lord and Savior showed himself to be their deliverer. He gave them the sign of the Paschal lamb and later showed that Jesus himself is the true lamb of God. While the people of Israel could do nothing to save themselves God raised up a deliverer, bringing him out of the death sentence of the Pharaoh, showing signs and wonders to remove the children of Israel, all who believed on God, from the land of bondage.

As God was delivering his people from bondage in the land of sin he caused them to pass unharmed through the watery grave of the Red Sea. In like manner we pass through the grave of baptism, in which we are buried with Christ and raised up in newness of life. God delivers us from death into life, washing us, imputing his righteousness to us.

Throughout history, when God’s people find themselves in suffering and bondage because of their sin and unbelief, our Lord has always raised up a deliverer to rescue them from their slavery. This is what he did time and again during the period of the Judges. This is what he did through the years of the kingdom. This is what he did in the time of the exile, and in these last days God has raised up Jesus Christ, the deliverer who has crushed the head of Satan, who has been wounded for our transgressions, bruised for our iniquities, who bore our sorrows, and who heals us by his stripes. In the fullness of time God brought forth his Son, born of a virgin, called Emmanuel, God with us. Very God of very God, he has come to deliver the love of God, in that all who believe on him should not perish but should have everlasting life. God has raised up his Son, our Savior, Jesus Christ, who has promised never to leave us or forsake us. He has given his Holy Spirit as a surety of his salvation. And the work of the Holy Spirit is to proclaim the wonderful works of God, to draw people to himself, to call us, to enlighten us, and to sustain us until that final day.

Truly God has poured out His Holy Spirit upon his people. But how do we treat this gift our Lord has given us? Do we engage ourselves in proclaiming our own glories rather than the glories of God? Do we make ourselves busy about everything but the proclamation of God’s mercy? Are we well schooled in baseball statistics but know nothing of God’s records? Do we spend our time and energy encouraging our neighbors to be good people or even inviting them to come to church with us when we realize that our neighbors are no more able to be good people and conquer their own sin than we are able to conquer our own sin? Do we encourage a moralism rather than a reliance on the forgiveness of God in Christ? May the Lord rebuke that attitude in us and make us look to him in reliance on his forgiving love. We start our service with confession and absolution, confessing to God that what we do and what we do not do all constitutes sin. Are we then going to seek moral perfection and completeness in our own deeds? May it never be! That isn’t what Christ died for. That isn’t what God sent the Holy Spirit to do. Let us rather look to the wonderful works of God, not the filthy rags of our own righteousness. Let God be God and every man a liar, that God may be justified in all that he does. Let us then look not to ourselves, but to Jesus Christ who lived a perfect life on our behalf, died a perfect death on our behalf, rose as the firstfruits of the resurrection of the dead, and on this day of Pentecost poured out the Holy Spirit on his people to proclaim his mercy.

Let us pray.

Come, Holy Spirit, sent from above, direct our hearts and minds to the glory and praise of God the Father and Jesus Christ, God the Son. Take our minds off our broken selves, turning us instead to look to the wonders of God, the triune God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.

Psalm 135.8-14, Numbers 21.10-35, Luke 21.20-38 - Lectionary for 6/12/11 - the Day of Pentecost, Commemoration of the Council of Nicea.

Today is the Day of Pentecost. It is also the commemoration of the council of Nicea.
Today's readings are Psalm 135.8-14, Numbers 21.10-35, and Luke 21.20-38.

There have been a lot of controversies surrounding the end times lately. Today's readings remind us of the importance of this area of study. The end of the world is coming. God is coming in judgment and will finally conquer his enemies and bring everlasting peace and blessing to those who trust in him. It will be a time of terror for some, as they realize that the God they have mocked is real. In fact, I dare say it will be a time of terror for all, because we all realize that we have mocked God and not trusted in him as we ought. Yet it is a time of confidence for all who believe on Jesus. We can know with confidence that Jesus, God the Son, has fulfilled all righteousness on our behalf. In Luke 21.28 we see that our redemption is coming. He who gave himself that all who believe on him might be saved is in fact coming to save them from destruction.

The narratives in the Bible about the end of the world are given so Christians can encourage one another. Do we see our world crumbling? Let us take confidence that God is going to take care of it all. There is no need to fear. Jesus, who has triumphed over sin and death, is coming again to gather us in his triumph.

Saturday, June 11, 2011

Psalm 116.1-4, 16-19, Numbers 20.22-21.9, Luke 20.45-21.19 - Lectionary for 6/11/11 - St. Barnabas, Apostle

Today is the commemoration of St. Barnabas, Apostle.
Today's readings are Psalm 116.1-4, 16-19, Numbers 20.22-21.9, and Luke 20.45-21.19.

Our Psalm ties the Old Testament and Gospel passages together today. What do we offer to God? We give him thanksgiving and trust. We call on his name, looking to him in obedience and giving him honor. We see that Aaron's death outside of the land of promise is because of his failure to give God glory for his provision. We see that the people who die from the serpents in the wilderness are dying because of their mistrust in God. Those who live trust in God's provision of raising up a bronze serpent on a pole. They look, believe God will save them, and they live. In the Gospel portion today we see that the offerings made from a desire to trust in God, like the widow's offering, are acceptable, while the gifts people give trusting in themselves are not.

May we look to our Lord and live, trusting in him to provide all our needs.

Friday, June 10, 2011

Psalm 78.9-16, Numbers 20.1-21, Luke 20.19-44 - Lectionary for 6/10/11

Today's readings are Psalm 78.9-16, Numbers 20.1-21, and Luke 20.19-44.

Our Scriptures today remind us of the depravity of mankind. Depravity is a word that most of us don't like to use very much any more. It means that we are bad by nature. In fact, it implies that we are evil in some way in every part of our being. When we say people are depraved, we don't mean that every person is as bent on doing the worst evil deeds possible all the time. But we do mean that everything good we would imagine contains some sort of evil, at least in the sight of God.

See how the people of Israel respond to God's merciful protection by grumbling? See how Moses and Aaron take the credit for God's providing the people with water? See how the scribes and chief priests decide to crush Jesus' statements because they realize he is talking about them? See how the Saducees want to vindicate themselves above the other religious parties? No matter who we are, we are bent on defending ourselves, showing ourselves to be martyrs, showing that we are right, or getting the credit for what we haven't really done. That's our nature.

Compare this to the view of life in our Psalm for today. The people turn back from God's covenant, forgetting his provision. But God works his wonders. Our God is the one who is consistent. God is the one who claims glory rightly. May our Lord grant us repentance and faith that we can trust in his care for his people.

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Move minus four

So we're down to about four days - literally 96.5 hours as I write this - before the loading crew arrives to put all our stuff in a truck and to head to Watseka, Illinois. Are we ready for the move? Yes and no. Packing is going well. I think we're right on target for that. We may even find ourselves with very little to do the afternoon before the move. We had a nice meeting with our realtor two days ago so the house will be on the market and she's ready to start showing it next week. We have someone coming to clean and do some touch-up painting after we leave. We're moving into a parsonage which I'm told will be cleaned and put in order for us. I'll confirm the truck reservation today, as that's pretty important in making Monday's work go over. Friends have been dropping by to say farewell through the week. It's been good.

Are we ready for what lies ahead? To speak realistically, we probably are not. When you're going to make a major shift in the way your vocations are carried out you are unlikely to be truly ready. Starting next week I'll be both a pretty much full time pastor and a pretty much full time teacher. The upcoming year will be very busy. But it isn't the level of activity that concerns me the most. I want to be sure I'm faithful to the people who have trusted me. Am I ready for that? Sure. But there's always some uneasiness. Who am I going to fail? Surely lots of people. Am I going ti sin against people? Doubtless. Will there be opportunities for reconciliation? Surely there will, and I have no doubt that I and the other people involved will take advantage of some of those. What about the others?

Way back when, as one of the members of the elder board at Grace Fellowship Church, we would interview people who wished to be recognized as members of the church. One of the questions we would have for them was what they would do when we sinned against them. It's a good question. All right, Watseka. Here I come! as Martin Luther would put it, I'm one of those hard-boiled sinners in need of serious forgiveness. When I transgress against you, are you going to call me to account and be God's instrument to call me to repentance? I sure hope so. I'll need it. And I'll try to do the same for you.

Psalm 80.14-19, Numbers 16.41-17.13, Luke 20.1-18 - Lectionary for 6/9/11

Today's readings are Psalm 80.14-19, Numbers 16.41-17.13, and Luke 20.1-18.

We read in Numbers of Moses standing between the rebellious people of Israel and their certain destruction. It seems that no matter how much of God's mercy we have seen we still end up bent on unbelief. We run quickly to our own destruction. Yet see that God has raised up someone to intervene. He does not allow his chosen people to destroy themselves, at least not completely.

As we turn to the New Testament we see very clearly that Jesus is, in fact, the one who stands between us and our destruction. He is the one whose merit is applied to us. He is the one who acts with authority, as the true Son of God. What is our reaction to Jesus? Are we going to reject him and prefer our own destruction, as did the chief priests, the scribes, and the elders? Or are we going to admit that he is who he says he is, trust him, and see that he stands between us and our own self-defeat?

May the Lord make us faithful.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Psalm 118.19-25, Numbers 16.23-40, Luke 19.29-48 - Lectionary for 6/8/11

Today's readings are Psalm 118.19-25, Numbers 16.23-40, and Luke 19.29-48.

How is God's wrath revealed? It is revealed in Scripture against everyone who tries to live based on his own authority. The supporters of Korah were destroyed by the hand of God. Why? They tried to exalt themselves above what God had ordained as his own means of life, his own means of approach to himself, the living God, who cares for the needs of all his people.

How is God's love revealed? It is revealed in and for everyone who lives based on the authority and command of God. And God's command is that we look to him in trust, knowing that he is the mighty King who comes in peade, as Jesus comes in peace, riding on a donkey, not a warlike animal. God's love is poured out on all who realize the loving and protective hand of God upon his people. His love is poured out in the person of Jesus, who comes to his people and cleanses his temple of robbers who would hinder true worship by their profiteering.

In the end of our gospel reading today we see that the people "were hanging on his {Jesus'} words" (Luke 19.48b, ESV). May God grant that we also hang on his words, receiving them with confidence, knowing that our Lord has the words of life.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Psalm 111, Numbers 16.1-22, Luke 19.11-28 - Lectionary for 6/7/11

Today's readings are Psalm 111, Numbers 16.1-22, and Luke 19.11-28.

God's judgment is shown in today's readings. We see that our Lord has provided for the needs of his people and has given them every opportunity for life and blessing. They are simply to believe what he has told them and walk in the light of God's mercy and love. Yet for some reason God's people want to rearrange his promises and walk in their own authority. In the Old Testament reading we see Korah and his followers who wish to take on a role God has not given them. In our New Testament reading we see the parable of the ten minas, where the servants of the king are given funds to invest and use. The one who does not act according to his master's intention and character is stripped of the blessing he was given.

What has the Lord given us? What are our vocations? What are the roles he has blessed us with? How can we use those in accordance with the character of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ so as to both live in his blessing and bring his favor to those around us? He has given us what we need. It is our job only to walk in light of his provision.

Monday, June 6, 2011

Psalm 146.5-9, Numbers 14.26-45, Luke 18.35-19.10 - Lectionary for 6/6/11

Today's readings are Psalm 146.5-9, Numbers 14.26-45, and Luke 18.35-19.10.

The Gospel reading for today gives us some glimpses of Jesus passing by people. What is our cry when we find that Jesus is in the area? Do we ask him to have mercy on us? Do we boldly confess that we need him to accomplish something in our lives? Or do we think that it's all about what we can do for Jesus?

The Christian life is all about what Jesus is doing in and for us. Let's not lose sight of that, even if we have to be like Zaccheus and climb a tree to see it happening.

Sunday, June 5, 2011

Move minus seven

We're counting down to the move. Enjoyed spending this morning in civilian clothes making contact with dear old friends in two different churches where I've spent lots of time in the past. Our third floor is pretty well wrapped up, as is the second floor and the garage. There are a few things from the bedrooms and closets that will require a couple of hours' attention in about a week. The first floor is going to be the focus of attention now. I was observing that it's a little like the set of a movie or television show. We can look at the dining room from one angle and it looks perfectly normal, like nothing is going on. We can look from the opposite direction and it's an incredible bit of organized chaos. The kitchen is entirely untouched and is rather shut off from the rest of the house (a terrible bit of architecture but in this instance it creates a very nice little haven). One view of the living room is perfectly normal and the rest of it is awash in boxes, newspapers, bubble wrap, and tape just waiting to be put to work.

Maybe this is a little like our lives. We're works in progress. We'd like to think everything is peaceful and idyllic. And on one level it is. Yet at the same time we can have a great deal of activity going on. What we try to learn, and do learn more or less well, is that all the elements of our life are somehow working together and that the gracious Lord Jesus is mercifully in charge, protecting us from all harm. There are some things that matter a lot, like knowing where your eyeglasses are or being able to communicate with dear old friends. Then there are some things that don't really matter that much, like having the boxes sorted according to size or being able to lay your hands on the onyx pig that proudly sits on your desk in his rightful place.

As one crusty old missionary I met once would say, he and his wife would look at one another and remind each other, "We're going to make it. We may not look like much when we get there, but we're going to make it."

Dave Spotts
blogging at

Sermon for 6/5/11 "Thy Kingdom Come"

Sermon “Thy Kingdom Come”

Grace and peace to you in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen.

“Thy kingdom come.” We pray these words in the Lord’s prayer. I expect they come out of most of our mouths pretty easily. Maybe we say them even without thinking as much as we should. We pray that our Lord would bring his kingdom and establish it on earth as it is in heaven. And today, this seventh Sunday in Easter, the Sunday before Pentecost, our reading from Acts brings up the question which we ought to ask ourselves. Here in verse 6 we read, “Lord, are you at this time going to restore the kingdom to Israel?” (NIV). What does our Lord show us in answer to that question?

First, Jesus says that the kingdom of God comes at God’s time. It is not by our own power or authority. The coming of God’s kingdom is in the time that the Father has set. It is in the authority of God the Father that the kingdom comes. And it is in his timing. This is something which Jesus is not telling us. We don’t know the details of our Lord’s coming. We don’t know how God will bring his kingdom. We certainly don’t know the timing. People throughout history have tried to proclaim the time of God’s coming. And they’ve been wrong, time after time.

Why do we desire to manipulate God’s kingdom? Why do we want to proclaim a particular time, imposing deadlines on God? This is foolishness. Rather, we look at the time our Lord has given us. We do not know the day or the hour of his coming. Therefore we are vigilant, we try to live in such a way as to be prepared for his coming, whenever that might be. Will our Lord find us waiting? Will he find us busy about the tasks that he has given us? Then he will delight in us and make us sit down at the table with him serving us. May the Lord give us trust in him, that whenever he brings the time of the end he will find us looking to him in faith.

How does God’s kingdom come, then? Do we usher it in by our great plans or our works of obedience? Not at all. God’s kingdom does not come through our power. It comes by the power of the Holy Spirit, as we read in Acts 1.8. This is our Lord’s supernatural provision for his world. It is his way of reconciling the world to himself. It is through the work of the Holy Spirit that he draws people to himself, that he protects them, that he guides them into all truth, that he sustains his people in all their trials. God’s kingdom is not our kingdom. It doesn’t come by military force, economic force, or any sort of human means. It is much greater than that, in that the Holy Spirit – God himself, delivers his kingdom.

How great is the effect of God’s kingdom? Again, unlike our kingdoms, God’s kingdom has no boundaries. See that the disciples will be “witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth” (v. 8, NIV)? They will not know the cultural and political boundaries that they grew up with. There’s nothing to hold them back. They are not going to stop at their border, at the edge of the village where they grew up. They are not going to worry about where they might go. As citizens of God’s kingdom there is no fear about leaving family and friends, for the Holy Spirit raises up family and friends wherever his people are. God’s kingdom, evidenced by forgiveness of sins and salvation through Jesus Christ, extends to every part of the world. There is no place where God’s mercy and grace will not operate.

What confidence can we have in our Lord’s kingdom coming? As we saw earlier in verse 7, the kingdom of God doesn’t come according to our plans. We make our plans and they fail. We try to do this or that and sometimes we are successful, sometimes we aren’t. Yet the coming of God’s kingdom is according to God’s command and foreknowledge. Just because he hasn’t told us when he will establish his kingdom doesn’t mean that he hasn’t planned it out. He knew all his plans before he created the heavens and the earth. The end has been known from the beginning. And the God of all has ordained his kingdom to come. It is unstoppable. Even the gates of hell will not prevail against the kingdom of God, the Church which Christ has purchased by his own blood. Are we able to control the wind? Are we able to limit what God does? Is he not able to overthrow all our inclinations? Can’t he bring his kingdom as well? What is too difficult for our Lord? There is nothing that he cannot do. Nothing is too difficult for the Lord.

So how has he brought his kingdom? I ask that in the past tense, because in one sense he has restored the kingdom. He has not restored it to national Israel. But he has granted that we who believe on Jesus Christ will be raised up as spiritual children of Israel, heirs of Abraham, some of those who are counted like the stars of the sky or the sand on the seashore. Our Lord has brought his kingdom among his people through the perfect life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. He has accomplished salvation for his people. In that sense the kingdom has been restored. Has Jesus’ atoning death atoned for your sins and for my sins? Is he not proclaimed as the lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world? Is Jesus the one gave himself as an atoning sacrifice for our sins and for the sins of the whole world? Jesus’ kingdom has come, and it has come in power, because there is no sin which is too great to be washed by the blood of Christ. There is great hope here. When we pray that God’s kingdom will come we are praying that it will be made manifest in us. We are asking that Jesus will apply his atoning sacrifice to our hearts and minds, our whole lives, through repentance and faith in him.

We see then that Jesus came and gave himself for our sins in God’s timing. He lived, died, and was raised from the dead in the power of the Holy Spirit. His death is effective for sins of people all around the world, including us as we believe on his name. This all happened according to God’s command and foreknowledge. And it is finally all about Jesus, the heart and center of the Scriptures, the one revealed in every book of the Bible, the one who breaks the bonds of sin, death, and hell itself.

When will the Lord restore his kingdom? The better question is when we will see that the Lord has restored his kingdom. He has done it. He’s accomplished it already. And he will make it obvious to all at some time yet to come, when every eye will see, every knee will bow, and every tongue will confess that Jesus is Lord to the glory of God.

Lord, may your kingdom come, now, visible to us by the eyes of faith. May we have your grace to see that you have poured your mercy out upon us, your people. Let us see you and your work in all our lives. Lead us in repentance. Give us your forgiveness. Let us look to you, the author and finisher of our faith, the firstborn among many brothers, the firstfruits of the resurrection. Give us a great hope, an expectancy, as we wait for the power of the Holy Spirit, coming to accomplish your will on earth as it is in heaven, through Jesus Christ, who ever lives with the Father and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.

Psalm 81.10-16, Numbers 14.1-25, Luke 18.18-34 - Lectionary for 6/5/11 - Boniface of Mainz

Today is the commemoration of Boniface of Mainz, eighth century missionary to the Germans.
Today's readings are Psalm 81.10-16, Numbers 14.1-25, and Luke 18.18-34.

I don't know if it's just me or if I'm really seeing a common theme of moving out into strange territory in today's readings. It may be just me, as my family and I are working on packing our things for a move in the near future. But I think there's something about moving and change in our readings today as well.

The Israelites are in territory they don't know. They are unsure of themselves. They wonder whether they will find everything they need. The people they are facing are big and scary. Yet God has promised to care for his people. The hesitation his people show is tantamount to a distrust in his promise. What is God's proclamation? Because Israel will not trust in him they will be allowed to live with their distrust in the situation they currently have until they die.

In our Gospel reading today we realize that the rich ruler is also allowed to remain in his own situation rather than trusting in Jesus. Jesus will not make his people receive his blessing. Maybe receiving the blessing of God is scary. Yet we cannot reject God's provision and receive it at the same time. Our Lord has met all our needs. He has given us his promises. He has given us his forgiveness. Yet he leaves it to us whether we will walk in that forgiveness or stay bound by our own lack of belief in him.

Do the journeys the Lord takes us on scare us? They should. Yet we know he himself has walked through every kind of trial that we will ever face. We can trust that our Lord will bring us safely to the end of the journey.

Saturday, June 4, 2011

Lutheranism 101 . . .

is a new book published by Concordia Publishing House. It's been highly recommended to me, so I decided to get a copy for my Kindle. Several people have expressed an interest in looking at some of the distinctives of the Lutheran faith recently. I looked over it very briefly and think it might bear some fruit, at least provoking some good discussion. Anyone interested in participating in a discussion about it? Maybe someone who is technologically inclined can tell me how people do that online these days. I knew how we did it about ten years ago, but suspect it's different now.

One caveat - I'll not be able to do much with this instantly. But by the time people have had time to notice this post and comment on it showing interest or non-interest and maybe a good way of carrying on a discussion, we should be moved and I ought to be ready to spend some time with you all discussing this book.

So comment away!

Psalm 119.97-104, Numbers 13.1-3, 17-33, Luke 18.1-17 - Lectionary for 6/4/11

Today's readings are Psalm 119.97-104, Numbers 13.1-3, 17-33, and Luke 18.1-17.

There's a striking parallel between our passage from Numbers and from Luke today. In Numbers the Israelites send twelve spies into the land of Canaan, where most are afraid of the inhabitants and suggest that Israel should not attempt an invasion. In Luke we see the parable of the persistent widow. How are these related? Consider Joshua's attitude. He, knowing that God had promised the land of Canaan to Israel, expected that an invasion would be successful. After all, God is far superior to any of the Anakim. The widow, knowing that God supports just causes, did not fear to approach the unjust judge.

How do we approach the challenges in our life? Do we let odds which look insurmountable stop us from believing God's promises and his character as shown in the person and work of Jesus? Do we not know that Jesus says in Luke 18.7-8 that God is the opposite of the unjust judge, for he meets the needs of his people against all odds? Whatever our Lord has proclaimed to be so is so. We should make no mistakes about it. Has he promised a substitute for sin? Then there is one. Has he promised to create faith in the hearts of people who are dead in sin? Then he will do so. Has he promised that he is actually present with his believers? Then he is there. We have no reason to doubt our Lord. He is just as true now as he always has been.

Friday, June 3, 2011

Received by UPS today . . .

a cardboard box! And what was in this cardboard box but a briefcase from Saddleback Leather Company. I'd been eyeing their products for some time and getting a kick out of some of their write-ups. For instance, they have a Bible cover that they point out has a large enough strap that you can both hold your Bible closed and tuck a cigar into the strap as well.

This hundred-year-warranty briefcase looks tough and manly. A significant portion of the profits from the country goes to providing safe water wells for impoverished villages in third world countries. I look forward to migrating my things from the pockets of my current well-worn briefcase that I've been using for the past twelve years into the pockets of this one. It's got just the right appointments for my portable communion set, bottle of oil for anointing the sick and praying for them, a pocket size Bible, migraine remedies, and lots of other stuff.

Since I'll probably never buy another from them I thought I'd give them a plug on my blog. One of the most interesting things in the package was a business card for the company. On the back, along with a picture of an incredible suitcase I could never afford, were two words printed in Greek characters. One word is in Greek, but the other is an English word. Χριστος ρυλες.

I wonder what the people over at Cranach would have to say about Christian vocation of making fine leather products and spending corporate profits to enable people to have safe water to drink? Seems pretty good to me.

Shifting Blame - a long overdue post

Okay, it's time to lay some blame at the feet of several people. Brace yourselves!

Early in my Christian walk, as a high schooler and in my early collegiate years, I ran into a pastor by the name of Gary Denbow. He taught me always, always, to trust what the Bible says. It doesn't matter what we think about it, what does the Bible say about it? Great question.

Some years later I ended up teaching in a Christian school where the headmaster, Don Post, reminded us all that in God's providence there are no bad days. There are difficult days, but there are not bad days.

About the same time we were involved in a church with another pastor who was highly influential. Dr. Robert D. Jones, now a seminary professor, taught me a great deal about a biblical view of eldership in the local church, how counseling is pastoral and biblical, and many other invaluable pastoral formation lessons. During the years I spent laboring alongside Bob my desire for pastoral ministry grew again, after several years of disappointment.

When we were abandoned by Bob, who somehow thought it would be a good idea to go teach seminary students the same things he had been teaching in the local church, my fellow elders stepped up to the plate and assigned me more duties within the local church during the year it took to locate and call another full-time pastor. Without Fred, Gerald, and Danny encouraging me I'm sure my overall journey would have been quite different.

Now it's time to lay some real blame. My good friend Terry Roush started talking about the Law and Gospel distinctives in Lutheran theology. He got me turned on to the Issues, Etc. radio show (see the widget in the side bar). I had long been dissatisfied with the Arminian theology from my early Christian years. I had never been able to swallow some of the Calvinist theology among those I had been involved with since graduate school. Yet it always seemed the Calvinists were the sound thinkers. As I started looking into Lutheran theology I saw point after point where this historic faith approached the Scriptures clearly and answered the weaknesses I was finding in Calvinism. It seemed to be well balanced. So my friend Terry and the people at Issues, Etc. are receiving the blame for my eventual departure from the Calvinistic church where I had served as an elder, nurturing people in God's Word. All this because I became convinced of a truly effectual sacramental view of baptism and communion - yet I could not stay as a representative of a view which I could no longer embrace. Terry remains a great friend, despite his rearranging my life. I still try to listen to all the segments of Issues, Etc. as part of my continuing education. They always provoke me to thought - sometimes to annoyance, often to prayer, always to thought about God's mercy in Christ.

About two and a half years ago, then, with firmly Lutheran convictions and twenty plus years of experience on various levels of part-time ministry, along with innumerable hours spent in reading and discussion of biblical matters, I joined a Lutheran congregation. I'll lay some blame now on another pastor, Mark Kloha, who treated me and my background with considerable respect. He gave me a chance to watch and learn, to ask questions, and to explore some of the implications of Lutheranism "on the ground" as opposed to in theory.

About a year ago I was looking seriously at biting the bullet and getting myself through that seminary education toward the goal I'd had for so many years - serving a local congregation in Word and Sacraments. I ran across The American Association of Lutheran Churches and pastor Rich Shields, who serves as the head of their seminary and distance learning program. Again, he took me seriously and investigated my background. He told me that it would be possible for me to serve in a local congregation while completing my academic training, provided I was under adequate oversight and was deemed adequately prepared by an evaluating board. At his urging I took the hardest test I've ever taken, went through the most difficult interview I've ever had, and was brought into their ministry program which will allow me to serve in a local congregation in Word and Sacrament while I complete coursework and pastoral formation opportunities leading to full and permanent ordination.

With the encouragement of Rich Shields and pastor Frank Hays, presiding pastor of The American Association of Lutheran Churches, I've accepted a call to serve Faith Lutheran Church in Watseka, Illinois, which call I take up in about two weeks. So maybe they are also to blame for my disturbed sleep, sore muscles, and the smell of cardboard boxes which is currently permeating my life.

So there you have it. I'm shifting blame. Would I trade those opportunities? Not on your life. All these events are adding up to yet another step in this amazing journey called life in God's grace.

Dave Spotts
blogging at

Psalm 77.11-15, Numbers 11.24-29; 12.1-16, Luke 17.20-37 - Lectionary for 6/3/11

Today's readings are Psalm 77.11-15, Numbers 11.24-29; 12.1-16, and Luke 17.20-37.

"The proof is in the pudding." We often hear that results are what prove whether our actions are appropriate. While that may hold true in cooking it is not a biblical way of looking at ministry. In our readings from Numbers and Luke today we find people involved in controversy. Who are the prophets? What sets Moses apart? When is the kingdom of God coming? How will we see it? In both Old and New Testament we find that looking at results is not going to be adequate until the final day, when we will see the entirety of God's salvation clearly. In this age God distributes his gifts to his servants as he will, appropriate to the situation they are in. We don't follow prophets, we don't follow miraculous signs, we don't look for people to work wonders as a means of proving their spirituality. Rather we look to the true Lord Jesus Christ, revealed in Scripture, knowing that he will work through this age until his coming. It is not ours to manipulate things and usher in the kingdom of God. It is his business, and his entirely.

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Psalm 130, Numbers 11.1-23, 31-35, Luke 17.1-19 - Lectionary for 6/2/11 - The Day of Ascension

Today is the day of the ascension of the Lord.
Today's readings are Psalm 130, Numbers 11.1-23, 31-35, and Luke 17.1-19.

God's mercy shows itself in unusual ways. We aren't altogether prepared for the way our Lord cares for us. We complain and God shows his blessing, rather than censuring us. We are hungry so the Lord gives us an over-abundance of food, as he did with the Israelites. At the same time, like they did, we may see that satisfying our greed also brings a curse upon us. As Jesus says in our reading from Luke, we are often tempted in many ways, including the temptation to trust in what we see, what we can do, and what we know from our experience.

On the day of ascension we realize that all our power, all our claims to authority, everything that fits into our experience of normalcy falls apart. Jesus, the Lord who has risen from the dead and appeared to his disciples now promises to be with them always. He follows that promise by ascending to heaven and being received out of sight of the disciples. God is showing himself to be supernatural. He doesn't work according to our logic and our plans. He works according to his own plan. May he give us mercy and grace to understand, or at least to follow in his footsteps.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Psalm 62.5-10, Numbers 10.11-36, Luke 16.19-31 - Lectionary for 6/1/11 - Justin, Martyr

Today is the commemoration of Justin, Martyr.
Today's readings are Psalm 62.5-10, Numbers 10.11-36, and Luke 16.19-31.

Our readings today are full of journeys. We walk along with the Israelites as they set out from Sinai toward the land of promise. We walk with the rich man and Lazarus through death. In both Numbers and Luke we see that God is going with his people as they leave what they know, entering into what is unknown. His hand of protection is on his chosen people and he opposes those who are not his people. Yet regardless, God is there. The Psalmist reminds us to look for God, in whom we find salvation, glory, and protection. All the situations we find so attractive and comfortable are of brief duration. It is the triune God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, who lasts forever.