Friday, June 29, 2012

Bible Reading Challenge Week 26 Day 5

Our reading challenge for the day is Job 11-15. I’ll hit a few highlights. You make comments too and fill in the gaps. What strikes you as specially significant?

Job 11 - Zophar, the third friend, addresses Job. He wishes Job would be quiet long enough to hear God’s wisdom. Job is guilty and God has treated him less severely than he deserves. Yet if Job repents he will again have safety.

Job 12 - Job, in response, says he also has some wisdom. He has lived a life of repentant dedication to God. This suffering is ultimately from God, who is good and wise. Yet Job does not know the reason.

Job 13 - No matter what happens, Job will hope in God. Yet he would like to be able to receive an answer from God. If he can know his sin he can repent. The friends, however, are not shedding any light at all.

Job 14 - Job confesses that life is short and full of trouble. After death we have no promise of life. This is discouraging.

Job 15 - We return to Eliphaz who says Job does not revere God enough. He has never listened to God well enough. He does not see God’s mercy. Job suffers because he is godless.

Thanks be to God, both Job in his hopelessness after death and Eliphaz in his view of works righteousness are wrong. Jesus has given us hope in the resurrection and has secured salvation for us, what we could never do. We simply respond by looking to him in faith.

Thursday, June 28, 2012

Bible Reading Challenge Week 26 Day 4

Our reading challenge for the day is Job 6-10. I’ll hit a few highlights. You make comments too and fill in the gaps. What strikes you as specially significant?

Job 6 - Job replies to Eliphaz’ claim that Job is suffering because of sin. He agrees that his suffering is from the hand of God. He would like to know the reason for suffering. Death is better in his eyes than suffering without understanding. Yet Eliphaz didn’t give him any knowledge.

Job 7 - Job talks more about his lack of hope. Compare chapter 7 verse 17 with Psalm 8. Both use almost the same language but say very different things. Job knows that God’s judgment deprives us of hope.

Job 8 - The second friend, Bildad, now speaks. He accuses Job of windy speech against God. He calls Job to repentance and tells him the children died because of their own sin.

Job 9 - Job replies to Bildad’s speech. We cannot clmplain against God. He is too mighty. All we do is ask for mercy. If there were a mediator Job would be more able to cry out for mercy.

Job 10 - Job continues. He does not think he is guilty. Yet he still doesn’t know the reason for his suffering.

In much of our lives we are like Job. We don’t see the reason behind our affliction. The Bible says the world is cursed by sin so it suffers. But we do have a mediator, Jesus, who is our advocate and our suffering savior.

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Bible Reading Challenge Week 26 Day 3

Our reading challenge for the day is Job 1-5. I’ll hit a few highlights. You make comments too and fill in the gaps. What strikes you as specially significant?

Job 1 - Job, a righteous man, is attacked by Satan with God’s permission. God says he will not fall into sin. Job himself is unaware of this spiritual dynamic. He loses his riches and family but does not sin.

Job 2 - When Satan attacks Job’s health, he is still faithful to God. Job’s friends, whose speeches will make up a lot of this book, agree to go and comfort him. To their credit they spend a week just being with him in his pain.

Job 3 - Job laments his birth. He is sorry that he has to endure this trial. There is a place for laments. Notice that despite his sorrow he trusts in God.

Job 4 - Eliphaz begins to speak. he claims some sort of vision and a voice which says all are impure before God. This claim of a vision is a dangerous claim. It gives his speech divine authority. Yet if he has not understood his impression rightly he has still lifted his opinion up to the level of divine revelation.

Job 5 - Eliphaz says Job is suffering because he has not sought God. God is the one who protects the righteous from all trouble. But he reporves the wicked. Therefore, Job needs to repent of his wrongdoing and God will forgive him.

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Bible Reading Challenge Week 26 Day 2

Our reading challenge for the day is 1 Timothy 1-6. I’ll hit a few highlights. You make comments too and fill in the gaps. What strikes you as specially significant?

1 Timothy 1 - Consistent doctrine deserves to be held carefully, not departing from the faith first delivered to us. Jesus has changed us, especially Paul, from the foolish and sinful unbelieving life, making us over into his image.

1 Timothy 2 - We pray for leaders to be submissive to God. All are to live peaceably and in submission to God. Paul specifically points to women as having a ministry of good works, learning, not exercising authority over the men. The role of governance is appointed to men.

1 Timothy 3 - The overseers here - elders - are perfectly normal men who lead in the local church. All should strive for these character qualities. Likewise the deacons - servants of the Church - akin to the elders but without the teaching office. All the church leaders point to godliness as shown in Jesus.

1 Timothy 4 - Some depart from the faith by imposing strict asceticism, legalistic demands. Rather, we live by faith in Christ, following him. Timothy is to emphasize Scripture in reading, exhortation, and teaching.

1 Timothy 5 - The leaders of the Church encourage the believers in living wisely for Christ. This includes Timothy and the other elders who rule and teach.

1 Timothy 6 - Above all, hold to genuine Christian doctrine. Pursue righteousness, not other types of gain. All our doctrine is based on Jesus and his work on our behalf.

Monday, June 25, 2012

Bible Reading Challenge Week 26 Day 1

Our reading challenge for the day is Esther 6-10. I’ll hit a few highlights. You make comments too and fill in the gaps. What strikes you as specially significant?

Esther 6 - The king, in a sleepless night, learned that Mordecai had saved him from treachery. He summoned Haman, who was planning to kill Mordecai, and had him show honor to Mordecai instead.

Esther 7 - In the second evening of her dinner party, Esther reveals her identity as a Jew and Haman’s as the one who plans to exterminate the Jews. The king goes away briefly and returns to find Haman falling on Esther’s couch begging for mercy. Not only does he think Haman is assaulting Esther, he also finds out Haman’s plan to kill Mordecai. Haman is then killed on the gallows he constructed.

Esther 8 - Because royal decrees such as those against the Jews could not be revoked, a counter-decree is issued, that the Jews may defend themselves on that same day they were to be attacked. The Jews are elevated in society and many join with the Jews.

Esther 9 - On the appointed day people fear the Jews, who end up killing about 75,000 of their enemies throughout the land. Because of God’s deliverance the Jews celebrate a feast and give gifts to this day.

Esther 10 - Mordecai is raised to be second in command because of his faithfulness to the welfare of his people.

God uses us right where we are to make a difference in our society. It may be great or small, but it is important in God’s eyes.

Sunday, June 24, 2012

Sermon for 6/24/12

Sermon “Forerunners of the Messiah” Luke 1:57-80

May the Lord make us faithful as John was with this Gospel he has given us, in the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, Amen.

We learn a lot about the priorities of characters in the Bible as we read their words. Especially we learn a great deal from the blessings which are proclaimed upon different people. Today, this day of the Nativity of John the Baptist, the day the Church remembers his birth, we read the blessing of God delivered through his father Zechariah. As we read that blessing we find out what God’s priorities are for John.

It amazes me to realize that God has priorities he wishes to express over this little baby. Last week I took a newborn baby in my arms. Did I tell you that I’m a proud first-time grandparent? I hadn’t had a little bitty newborn with me for quite a while. Baby John is eight days old here. Nothing but a little squirt. He can’t hold his head up. He’s probably still sleeping about twenty hours a day. His little arms flail around aimlessly because he isn’t yet mature enough to make very purposeful motions. He’s a lot like the eight day old baby I held on Wednesday. And our Lord knows all about him. He knows what John is going to do. He knows every day that John will have. He’s lovingly numbered each and every one of them.

I’d like us to look at just a few of the prophecies made over John. You might want to look in your Bibles with me at those poetic verses we read in Luke 1, verses 68-80. I encourage you, keep your Bibles open, and if you bring your own Bible, remember you can always jot notes in the margins, underline key words, and do other things to try to improve your picture of what you read in Scripture.

What has God done? Zechariah gives us four main headings here. God has redeemed his people, raised up a horn of salvation, shown mercy, and established his covenant. We’ll look at those concepts in turn.

First, he has redeemed his people (v. 68). What is redemption? It’s buying something back from someone else. For instance, if a manufacturer gives a coupon, we can redeem something else with that coupon. Maybe it’s good for a discount or for a free product. We present the coupon and it works like money to buy something. Essentially the company buys the coupon back from us. God has redeemed his people. He has bought them back. They were sold to sin, but through the person and work of Christ on their behalf, God has bought them from slavery. He has bought us, all who believe, from the bondage of sin. It can no longer hold us. The price of our salvation has been paid. We who were bound to sin have been set free. And it’s by God’s work in Christ, not by our own work. Jesus has paid the penalty for sin and has redeemed us. Yet I wonder if you noticed a little oddity about the verb there in verse 68? Zechariah is praising God for redeeming his people. He says it is finished. He “has redeemed” his people. That’s in the past tense, just like you “have arrived” in the church building. You’re already here or I wouldn’t say you “have arrived.” But when did Jesus redeem us from sin? Jesus hasn’t been born yet. John is about six months older than Jesus. But in God’s eyes, he has already redeemed his people. Remember that Jesus is very much alive, though he is still in his mother’s womb. Salvation has come in the person of Jesus, even before he is born. How much more do we realize salvation in Jesus some thirty-odd years later when he dies for our sin and rises from the dead on our behalf? God has redeemed his people. He has redeemed you, he has redeemed me. He has bought us back from the power of sin and death. We are no longer in captivity, through faith in his name. Praise be to the Lord. He has redeemed his people.

What do we see next? He has raised up a horn of salvation, in verse 69. This idea of a “horn” is a little different in the Bible than we might think of it today. You all know what a horn is, right? After all, we know what has one horn and gives milk, don’t we? A milk truck. Beep, beep. Or maybe we think of a horn and picture a trombone. But when the Bible talks about a horn, it’s a symbol of strength. Think of a bull’s horn or a ram’s horn, something used for butting other animals out of the way. We also see the word “horn” used as a wing or a flank of an army, the part jutting out from the center, which could be used to attack the enemy. A horn in the Bible is used as a symbol of power. God has raised up a horn of salvation. He saves us from evil. In verses 77-79 we read what that salvation looks like. It’s forgiveness of sins. It’s pictured as the light of the rising sun. It’s that kind of light that dispels the darkness, chases away shadows. It’s the peace of God which directs us through this life, and it’s the life we receive when God has chased away death. Jesus, our horn of salvation, has destroyed death. He has driven it away. He has conquered this enemy.

Now how can I say that Jesus has conquered the enemy, death? Many of you know that just as I spent some time last week holding a sweet little baby, as alive as can be, I also spent time last Tuesday visiting some of Martha’s family members who were gathered around the funeral of her brother-in-law, John, who we have prayed for here recently. We saw him lying in the casket. He was dead. It didn’t seem like death was conquered. And we’ve seen death in this congregation as well, quite a number of times in the past year. How has Jesus conquered death? It seems to still be in effect. But Jesus has indeed conquered death. By faith in his name, by trusting in his work on our behalf, we who are mortal, when we die, will be clothed with immortality. It’s what we read last week in Corinthians. We are waiting to be born, and we will be born when this mortality has put on immortality. Jesus has conquered death by being the one who could bear all our sin, be killed by it, and rise to life again. Jesus proclaimed his victory to the souls in prison, those who were dead. Jesus showed that he had victory over death by rising from the dead. And he has promised that we will be as he is, rising from the dead as well. Jesus, our horn of salvation, has conquered death.

This is part of the great mercy of God we read about in verse 72. Zechariah doesn’t talk a lot about God’s mercy in specific detail. It’s more like a summary of all God has been doing here. He has shown mercy. Why did he bring salvation? Not because of our good works. It’s because of his mercy. Why does he present us faultless before himself? Because of his great mercy. Yet look at this. It isn’t his mercy to us here in verse 72. It’s his mercy to our fathers. Who are the fathers? God has shown mercy to the fathers of Zechariah. Generation after generation he has shown his mercy by preserving the line of the Messiah. Generation after generation he has proclaimed his mercy, not visiting Israel with punishment their sins deserved. Generation after generation, for thousands of years, he has preserved the seed of Adam, who would crush the serpent’s head, as he promised in Genesis chapter 3. He has raised up judges as we are reading in the Adult Bible class. He has preserved his people through the Babylonian captivity, as we read last week or the week before in the Bible reading challenge. As we read in Esther this week he has raised up his people in key places in their captivity, protecting this line of the Messiah, the line of the deliverer. God has shown his mercy. And he has shown his mercy to each and every one of us, not treating us as our sins deserve. We are not worthy of God’s forgiveness. Yet Jesus has granted us forgiveness anyway, taking upon himself the penalty of each and every one of us. God has shown his mercy.

Does it seem to you that maybe God’s mercy is some sort of a whim? Did he decide to be gracious the same way the pagan gods we read about in mythology are gracious, out of some self-centered or capricious motive? Not at all. Why was God merciful? It was because of his covenant. We saw that in verse 72. It’s all about God’s desire. He does not want anyone to perish but desires that all should have eternal life, life found in Jesus, by trusting that he is who he said he is, the resurrection and the life. This is God’s covenant. It isn’t our covenant. It’s his covenant. See how he is the one who swore the oath to Abraham. See how he’s the one who promised to rescue us. And notice that now it is “us” rather than “the fathers.” God has promised to rescue us, and Zechariah proclaims that his rescue operation is active. As God rescues us from our enemies, particularly sin and death, he makes us able to serve him. What kind of a fearful thing is it, after all, to serve God? Once again, think of the non-Christian religions. What happens when you try to serve Zeus and make a mistake? He’s the one with the lightning bolts. What happens when you promise to serve Athena and Juno gets wind of it? She’ll make your life miserable. What happens when you try to appease the volcano god? Someone dies, and if you don’t do it right, that someone may just be you. What happens when you try to make peace with the Great Spirit of the Plains? Hard to say. What happens, though, when the true God, the triune God confessed by Christians, makes peace by his covenant? He establishes the covenant, he makes the promises, and he puts himself to death on our behalf, realizing that we were never able to keep the covenant in the first place. Salvation is of the Lord. He enables us to serve him without fear, because he has destroyed fear by his perfect love, which casts out all fear.

How are we going to serve him, then? We serve him in holiness, in righteousness, and forever. We saw that in verse 75. This all happens only because our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ has purchased us from sin.

Well, there’s been something mysteriously absent from this sermon. Have you noticed it? It’s called “Forerunners of the Messiah.” Who is Zechariah talking to? He’s making a prophecy over John, his infant son, the forerunner of the Messiah, Jesus. But what is John’s role in all of this? He doesn’t seem to have much of a role. Zechariah gets to it in verse 76. John will be a prophet. He will go before the Lord. He will prepare the way of the Lord. He will be a forerunner, pointing people to this Jesus who has accomplished salvation. Do you see how John himself almost gets lost in this prophecy? It’s all about Jesus. But John is the one who is being circumcised, dedicated to the Lord. Yet isn’t that appropriate? As we receive baptism and are consecrated to God, it isn’t really about us. It’s all about Jesus, who has purchased our salvation, who puts our sins to death. When we repent and believe in Jesus it isn’t about the quality of our repentance or even our belief. It’s about the quality of our Jesus. We aren’t on center stage. Jesus is. Just look around this room. Even in our church services we see that we aren’t on center stage. Where does the preacher stand? He stands off to the side. What’s center stage? It’s an altar, a cross, a copy of the Scripture at center stage. Jesus is center stage. John is just a forerunner.

May the Lord make us forerunners in our community. May we have the grace to proclaim Jesus’ wonders. May we have grace to point many to our Lord and Savior. As Professor Nagle used to say, “Don’t tell me about your faith. Tell me about your Jesus.” May we also be forerunners of Jesus, telling of his plan of redemption, of him as the horn of salvation, of him as the deliverer of God’s mercy, of Jesus as the one who brings God’s covenant to us, so we can serve him.

Do you believe that Jesus is the one who can take away all your sin? Maybe you wonder if sin is a real thing in this world. Sin is what brings death. It is what brings all the curse of God on this life. It’s real. And we all have it. We all deserve death and condemnation. But the good news is that through his good pleasure God has borne the penalty of sin on your behalf and on my behalf. All we do is believe that Jesus is the one who saves us, who forgives us our sin. And we receive his cleansing, becoming his messengers, forerunners of the Gospel. Do you believe? May the Lord bless us to trust in him more, day by day, looking to him, the author and finisher of our salvation.

Now may the grace of the Lord guard your hearts and minds, making you, as he made John, messengers of this Gospel, in the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, Amen.

Saturday, June 23, 2012

Bible Reading Challenge Week 25 Day 5

Our reading challenge for the day is Esther 1-5. I’ll hit a few highlights. You make comments too and fill in the gaps. What strikes you as specially significant?

Esther 1 - Ahasuerus is also known in history as Xerxes. After a conflict with one of his wives, Vashti, he sends her away as an example of a woman who dishonors her husband.

Esther 2 - Mordecai was a Jewish nobleman. He was among those selected as captives, not a typical refugee. Esther, his neice, was very beautiful. At his urging she was brought into the pool of potential queens. About the time the king was pleased with her, Mordecai discovered a plot against the king and foiled the plot.

Esther 3 - Haman, a royal official, was offended by Mordecai and plotted against all the Jews. He obtained permission from the king to destroy them and sent messengers to appoint the date.

Esther 4 - Mordecai learned of the plot, entered into mourning, and passed the decree to Esther, urging her to seek mercy from the king. She was in that position of influence for a reason.

Esther 5 - Esther approached the king and invited him and Haman to dine. Meanwhile, Haman, angry at Mordecai, has a high gallows prepared for him.

We leave the story near its climax. Where are we now? What situation has the Lord placed us in? How can we protect his people? How can we guard his interests? Our Lord can lead us right where we are.

Friday, June 22, 2012

Bible Reading Challenge Week 25 Day 4

Our reading challenge for the day is Nehemiah 10-13. I’ll hit a few highlights. You make comments too and fill in the gaps. What strikes you as specially significant?

Nehemiah 10 - The people bind themselves under a curse saying that they will be faithful to God’s commands. So many times we who know the Gospel fall short by either not taking God’s commands seriously or by living as though by our own strength we can be pleasing to God.

Nehemiah 11-12 - Jerusalem is repopulated with people who bring sacrifices, praise, singing, and prayers. God’s people are dedicated to his service, giving thanks back to the Lord from whom they have received abundantly.

Nehemiah 13 - Despite all this consecration God’s people are quick to return to their sinful arrogance, arranging matters to their own pleasure rather than God’s command. We too are well warned by this, as we are drawn to repentance so as to receive forgiveness from our Lord.

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Bible Reading Challenge Week 25 Day 3

Our reading challenge for the day is Nehemiah 5-9. I’ll hit a few highlights. You make comments too and fill in the gaps. What strikes you as specially significant?

Nehemiah 5 - Sometimes we want to keep the sacred and secular too far separated, sometimes not far enough. Nehemiah the governor dealt with problems of state in a godly way, by considering God’s character and legislating in light of divine priorities.

Nehemiah 6 - Sometimes when the Lord gives us a task to do our opponents try to scare us. Our fear may make us lay down God’s priorities so as to run and hide. May we rather hide in the shadow of our Lord’s mighty hand.

Nehemiah 7 - Catalogs of priests and offerings are important. Knowing who may lead the people as they receive forgiveness from God is critical in the State of Judah.

Nehemiah 8 - God’s Word brings both weeping and rejoicing - mourning for our sin and rejoicing in God’s deliverance. This day is a day of rejoicing, though, since the people have seen God’s mercy.

Nehemiah 9 - The confession of sin is remarkably specific. I wonder if our hesitancy to linger over God’s Word is because we are afraid of what he will convict us of?

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Bible Reading Challenge Week 25 Day 2

Our reading challenge for the day is Nehemiah 1-4. I’ll hit a few highlights. You make comments too and fill in the gaps. What strikes you as specially significant?

Nehemiah 1 - Nehemiah’s prayer of repentance for his people has many similarities to Ezra’s in chapter 9. We pray for God to have mercy on us, all of us, for we are all unfaithful to him.

Nehemiah 2 - At royal command Nehemiah goes to Jerusalem to build the walls. He spends some time alone reflecting on the need. He also finds opposition. We can ask ourselves whether God wishes to do his will through us. The answer is always “Yes.”

Nehemiah 3 - The residents of Jerusalem are invested in rebuilding the wall. Many of them are working on areas near their homes and businesses.

Nehemiah 4 - As opposition and danger arises the people continue their work, keeping themselves armed and ready to defend against attack. This vigilance, though difficult, is necessary for all of us. In trying times we work toward the goals God has given, trusting him and at the same time being willing and ready to change our tactics.

Monday, June 18, 2012

Bible Reading Challenge Week 25 Day 1

Our reading challenge for the day is Ezra 6-10. I’ll hit a few highlights. You make comments too and fill in the gaps. What strikes you as specially significant?

Ezra 6 - Darius the king had research done into past royal decrees. Because the building of the temple was previously approved he ordered it to continue and be funded. So construction did continue and the feasts of worship were restored.

Ezra 7 - By royal decree the priests and other leaders continue to go to Jerusalem as the official leaders of that region.

Ezra 8 - We have some lists of the priests coming to Jerusalem. More important is the attitude shown by Ezra. They had affirmed trust in God to protect them on their journey with priceless articles of worship. So they prayed and went. God was good to his word and brought them through safely.

Ezra 9 - See how Ezra prays for the sins of his people, as he is one of the people involved in their shame, though he himself is not. How do we pray for our communities?

Ezra 10 - As a result of Ezra’s prayer the people of Judah agree in repentance and set about the difficult task of reconciliation. Prayer for the people is powerful as our prayers are dependeont on God’s mercy.

Sunday, June 17, 2012

Sermon for 6/17/12

Sermon “Welcome to the Invisible Kingdom”

Lord, bless us to hear and receive your word with a willing heart. Amen.

Our Gospel reading for today compares the kingdom of God to growing seed. That’s not foreign to very many people around here. We’re used to the idea of seeds, plants, growing, whether we’re involved in farming or not.

(You might want to use a different or more detailed story here.) I remember when I was a little boy, though, it didn’t make much sense. A seed doesn’t always look much like the plant you want to grow in your garden. And once you put it in the ground it seems like nothing happens. I didn’t understand that it took patience, that the plants just need to take their time and go through their course. I know quite a bit more now about how seeds and plants work. The more I find out, though, the more I realize I don’t know about what’s happening inside the seeds and plants as they do their work. But we put the seed in the ground. We take care of it as well as we can. And as we wait, day by day, week by week, it grows into a crop. Sometimes it’s a better crop than it is at other times. But the seed does its work. Once the crop is ready we won’t gain anything by waiting longer. When it’s time to harvest it’s time to harvest. So we bring in the harvest our Lord has given us and we rejoice that he has provided for us.

When Jesus talks to his disciples like this, in parables, he is not being completely clear. Remember that a parable doesn’t always say precisely what the main point is. He lets us try to figure it out. And somewhere in that parable we can see what Jesus is talking about. He gives it to us in verse 26. It’s about the kingdom of God. How does the kingdom of God work? Someone sows the seed. It takes effect somehow, though we can’t explain it. Yet as the seed, the word of God, does its work, we see the Christian growing in grace. Sometimes we see that more clearly, sometimes less clearly. And we see believers growing in some ways here, some ways there. But as God’s word works in us we do grow in grace. We gradually become more like the mature grace-filled follower of Jesus, being conformed into his image.

But how are we going to look at this kingdom, the kingdom of God, the kingdom that’s right here, where God’s Word is being proclaimed? After all, we aren’t all alike. Some people have some gifts, others have other gifts. And we’re different in the ways our gifts have developed and how we use those gifts. We’re all being equipped by God’s Word to participate in His kingdom. But we are not at all the same as each other. Something we need to realize, something we need to remember every day of our lives, is that we are not all the same. God’s kingdom is not uniform. We aren’t all supposed to be the same. We’re simply all busy being changed into the image of Christ our Savior. And that change looks a little different for each of us. It makes us uncomfortable because we expect to see a visible kingdom. We expect the kingdom of God to look a lot more like the kingdoms of people. We expect to see the Church growing through the same kind of means, the same kind of quantifiable measures that we would expect in other parts of life. We can measure the growth rate of crops. Shouldn’t we be able to measure the growth of our church in the same way? We can tell by looking at the fruit on a tree how it is developing. Shouldn’t we be able to look at godly growth the same way?

It isn’t that easy. It isn’t that straightforward. The problem is that God’s kingdom is not always visible. We saw that in our reading from 2 Corinthians chapter 5. We saw that we shouldn’t be too at home here in what Paul calls our “earthly home,” our “tent.” We find out that as long as we are mortal we haven’t been fully born yet. We aren’t fully alive as long as we are earthly. We get to spend our time in this life waiting for God to make us truly alive. We wait for Jesus to take us to our real home, his home, our heavenly dwelling.

To come back to the parable of the farmer, we’re like the seed that’s still under ground. We haven’t really come up and matured yet. Or if we’ve sprouted, we aren’t finished maturing yet. The harvest time is not yet. Some of us are closer to the harvest than others, but we aren’t there. It’s God who will choose when to put in the sickle and harvest us. And he will do it in his good time, when he is ready, when he sees that we have borne the fruit that he has appointed for us, when he has conformed us into his image.

The kingdom of heaven, then, is really invisible. We don’t see it. God has revealed himself in these last days in the person and work of Jesus, coming to live a perfect life for us, die a perfect death on our behalf, and rise again as the firstfruits of the resurrection. But he has not given us the full view of himself. We don’t get that until we come face to face with him, after the harvest. Until then we are busy growing and maturing. Until then we are still under development. We walk by faith and not by sight. We know that one day we will no longer be walking by faith because we will see Jesus as he is. Then we look to him and see him face to face. Faith has borne fruit, our hope is fulfilled.

But there’s one more parable in our reading today. I think we need to move back to Mark and look at this other parable a little bit. It’s the parable of a mustard seed. Jesus says it is the smallest seed there is. He’s just exaggerating here. There were plenty of smaller seeds known to gardeners of his time. But have you ever looked at a mustard seed? It’s pretty little. Not much to it. Yet when it grows, the tree is pretty big. Not a huge tree, but not a tiny little shrub either. There are plenty of smaller garden plants. What is Jesus saying about the mustard seed and the kingdom of God? As God plants his seed, his Gospel in this world, it grows. From something that seems insunbstantial, powerless, from a little water, from words on a page or spoken through someone’s voice, through a little drink of wine and a bite of bread, our Lord builds his kingdom, a kingdom of power and might, the kingdom which he says the gates of Hell cannot stand before. He builds his kingdom in which all nations of the earth will be blessed. He builds his kingdom in which we have no reason to fear, because he has conquered all our enemies, even death itself.

So even as we are growing, even as we are seeking to be clothed with immortality, even as we are away from home because we are still living here, we are God’s instruments of blessing to our world. We are the people of God. We are the visible part of his kingdom. We look to the invisible reality, but we show that reality through what we are, how we are visible. What do people see when they look at Faith Lutheran Church? Is this what our Lord would have them see? Do people see the family of Christ, a family that cares for one another? Do people see a fellowship centered around the Word of God and prayer? Do people see a Church that looks to Jesus its master in faith and true hope? Do people see that God has chosen to bless all nations through the Church? Do we see that as well? May the Lord have mercy on us as we, the people he is bringing forth as a result of the Gospel, seek to live out this mortal life as a blessing to our neighbors. May the Lord have mercy on us as we strive to love and serve those around us. May the Lord continue his work, the work of the Gospel, dwelling in us through Word and Sacrament, until he brings us to fruition, until the day of harvest.


Saturday, June 16, 2012

Bible Reading Challenge Week 24 Day 5

Our reading challenge for the day is Ezra 1-5. I’ll hit a few highlights. You make comments too and fill in the gaps. What strikes you as specially significant?

Ezra 1 - Cyrus, king of Persia, moved by God, sent those of the people of Judah who wished, back home. Cyrus gave some gifts as well as restoring the furnishings taken from the temple. See how this was to fulfill God’s prophecy.

Ezra 2 - This chapter is mostly intended to document the lineage of priests. Because the priesthood was hereditary it was very important to know who could and could not serve in bringing God’s forgiveness to the people.

Ezra 3 - Sacrifices and festivals were restored, then the foundation of the temple was laid. It’s significant that the restoration of acts of worship received primary attention. We gather to receive from God even if we do not have all the structures completed.

Ezra 4-5 - Local residents did not wish to be excluded from God’s work. Yet they were not people of Judah and the leaders did not trust them. So a series of letters began, through the time of multiple kings. “Persia” ordered construction to stop. The Jews began again. It was reported as a rebellious act.

How do we act when God’s work is hindered or prohibited? Do we pray that God’s will may be done, then respectfully seek means to continue with what God has ordained?

Bible Reading Challenge Week 24 Day 4

Our reading challenge for the day is 2 Thessalonians 1-3. I’ll hit a few highlights. You make comments too and fill in the gaps. What strikes you as specially significant?

2 Thessalonians 1 - The Thessalonians are growing in faith and love. Yet they endure persecution. God will reward them and bring affliction on those who persecute them.

2 Thessalonians 2 - People have been deceiving the Thessalonians, saying the end has come. God will deceive those people because they have refused to believe his truth. Christians, on the other hand, are to hold fast to the truth, that which was taught to them from the apostolic tradition.

2 Thessalonians 3 - The apostles want the Thessalonians to pray for them as well. We all need people to pray for us that we would stand firm in Christ and not give up hope. In that hope we go ahead and do our work, serving the Lord and our neighbors.

Bible Reading Challenge Week 24 Day 3

Our reading challenge for the day is 2 Chronicles 31-36. I’ll hit a few highlights. You make comments too and fill in the gaps. What strikes you as specially significant?

2 Chronicles 31 - Hezekiah’s reforms make the priests and other temple works have enough for themselves and to share with the needy.

2 Chronicles 32 - Sennacherib and the Assyrians come to attack Hezekiah in Jerusalem. Sennacherib’s big offense was claiming that the true God was very like the gods of the other nations. So the LORD rescued his people Despite all this hezekiah finally was not thankful to God late in his life. How quick we can be to trust in ourselves.

2 Chronicles 33 - manasseh the sone of Hezekiah was an evil king, building altars to the false gods. He has one of the more remarkable conversions, as in his later years he was a good and faithful king. His osn Amon did not repent, though. He was king for only three years.

2 Chronicles 34 - Josiah grew into a good and faithful king. Because of his lack of examples it took him a long time to find out all about being a godly ruler. May we have grace to train the next generation from an early age.

2 Chronicles 35 - The capstone of Josiah is the keeping of the Passover. Though his reign is cut short in battle still he had consecrated the people of God through his faithful service.

2 Chronicles 36 - After Josiah life in Judah turned down sharply. God brought destruction and deportation to his people, calling them to repent and believe again.

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Make that Grandpa Salty

So this evening was a momentous occasion as Cap'n Salty's first grandchild was born. She looks very much like her mother. So the grandpa is going to be on the road a bit in the near future. Hopefully we'll still get some posts up, as the computer tucks into a briefcase quite well.

The Repertoire of Rites, part 1

Senn, Frank C. Christian Liturgy: Catholic and Evangelical. Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1997.

This is a book that I read in part for a course at The American Lutheran Theological Seminary. I’m also using it to help my daughter learn to write chapter summaries for her own edification and instruction. So probably these posts will at least partially be hers rather than mine. The chapters tend to be long and involved, so we might put up several posts about one chapter.

Chapter 1 “The Repertoire of Rites” pp. 3-29

Senn begins this chapter by defining liturgy as the rites Christians engage in during public assemblies. While in recent generations Western culture has defined rituals as “obsessive and regressive” (p. 3), they have historically been recognized as perfectly healthy and normal, even essential to an ordered culture. We develop as humans in a community as we engage in those rituals, whether they are carrying a flag at the front of a parade, taking off hats to bow to the king, or striking our hands together to show approval of someone’s performance.

On page 5 Senn turns his attention to symbols. Many ritual behaviors involve symbols. For instance, in the United States the symbolic octagon which is red in color has a clear meaning, even if the word STOP is not painted on it in white. Red is considered a symbolic color of danger in this culture The Christian life is full of symbolic language. God gives us signs which expand the meaning of what we do. For instance, breaking of bread together in communion shows us not only that God’s nourishment is present for us, but that it is present through the breaking of Jesus’ body.

Sometimes modern Western people find symbolic meaning difficult to understand. This explains, at least in part, why some have so much difficulty with historic liturgy. We understand signs which are relatively clear, but when there is additional symbolic meaning, expanding the signs, we find ourselves confused. Yet the sacred life is full of symbols of inclusion and exclusion, light and dark, feasting and fasting, joy and sorrow. Learning to understand these layers of symbolic meaning will only make our participation in worship more fulfilling.

I observe again that these chapters are long and full of important ideas. I’ll leave us mid-chapter on page 9. We’ll pick up where Senn begins to talk about rites of passage.

Bible Reading Challenge Week 24 Day 2

Our reading challenge for the day is 2 Chronicles 26-30. I’ll hit a few highlights. You make comments too and fill in the gaps. What strikes you as specially significant?

2 Chronicles 26 - Uzziah was a great king until his pride took over. That was his undoing. Notice here we also have a reference to Isaiah the prophet who wrote the book of Isaiah. While the author of 2 Chronicles says Isaiah wrote the acts of Uzziah, that is not what we find in the book of Isaiah. Apparently Isaiah wrote other works as well.

2 Chronicles 27 - Jotham was another good king of Judah. This brief chapter hits a few highlights of his relatively brief reign. See as always how the author of Chronicles talks about the faithfulness of the king in relation to the well being of the people.

2 Chronicles 28 - Ahaz turned away from God. We see that he trusted in the alliances he could make with others. This was his undoing and was very destructive to the people of Judah, who were attacked and defeated by Israel and were molested by the Philistines, the Moabites, and the Assyrians, among others.

2 Chronicles 29-30 - Hezekiah the good king restores true worship to the people of Judah. I’m intrigued by what he does with the Passover. Many of the people were not appropriately cleansed and purified prior to receiving this meal. However, the king prayed for them and they received the Passover anyway. Could this be a sign of the way Jesus gives himself as the Paschal Lamb to us even though we are sinful and unclean?

Monday, June 11, 2012

Who Is God?

Kinnaman, Scot A. & Laura L. Lane (eds.) Lutheranism 101. St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 2010.
“Who Is God?” Chapter 1

In this chapter we see that God is one God but exists in three persons, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. While we are able to describe God we are not able to explain all aspects of his character. We know God exists because of creation. The complexity and interrelated nature of the universe is too intricate to come about by accident. We also find that there is no other adequate explanation for morality, love, or altruism.

God has revealed himself not only in nature but through the written word in Scripture, where he presents himself as one God who exists all at the same time in three persons. The word “trinity,” though it doesn’t appear in Scripture, is described in the Bible. It really means a threefold unity. We see this in Jesus’ baptism narratives, where all three persons of the Godhead appear. We also see in Matthew 28:19 Jesus commands baptism in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

If this seems too complicated to be true, we simply need to remember that God is different from the rest of his creation. While we may try to provide a definition of God that essentially says what we are not, the Bible would give us a definition of God as the creator of everything else, but himself not created. Looking at God as the sovereign, wise, and good creator who exists in three persons does not provide us with an exhaustive explanation. But it does give us plenty to be working with.

What about a biblical view of humanity? We see in the Bible that we are created by God as creatures who depend on God. Our merciful and gracious creator has given us what we need, including some glimpses of his grace. Our role in all this is to realize that we are part of creation, we are not God. We are recipients of his blessing.

Bible Reading Challenge Week 24 Day 1

Our reading challenge for the day is 2 Chronicles 21-25. I’ll hit a few highlights. You make comments too and fill in the gaps. What strikes you as specially significant?

2 Chronicles 21 - Jehoram followed the lead of his wife, the daughter of Ahab, king of Israel. He did evil before the Lord. God protected his royal house because of his promise but allowed Jehoram to lose almost everything, including his health and life. He was an unpopular king.

2 Chronicles 22 - The kingdom of Judah seems poised to fall. Also notice the confusion of names, with Ahaziah being the son introduced in chapter 21 as Jehoahaz. See that he allied himself with Jehoram of Israel, not of Judah, who was also called Joram. Add to all this confusion the troubles associated with his sinful ways. After his death his mother Athaliah tried to kill all his children and take the reign for herself. Evil abounds when we greedily seek our own power.

2 Chronicles 23 - Jehoiada the priest plays a key role in restoration of the kingdom to God. He boldly defends Joash as king and secures an agreement that the king and the kingdom would destroy the Baals and follow the true God.

2 Chronicles 24 - Jehoiada had served as an advisor to Joash, who received the throne when a child. After Jehoiada’s death Joash listened to other advisors who led hm away from God. He went so far as to have Jehoiada’s son killed when he didn’t like the message the Lord gave this priest.

2 Chronicles 25 - Amaziah was not as evil as the other kings we saw in today’s reading. Yet when confronted in his error he rejected wise counsel.

Today’s reading has a recurring theme of people receiving good or bad counsel and acting, for the most part, based on the bad counsel they receive. Why are we so swift to follow ungodly counsel? Maybe because it makes the most sense to our minds which have been darkened by the curse of sin. Let us rather look to the Word of God in faith and receive what our Lord has given us.

Sunday, June 10, 2012

Sermon for 6/10/12 Jesus, Our Eternal Fortress

Sermon “Jesus Our Eternal Fortress

Lord, grant us a view of our frailty and your mighty loving power, in the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, Amen.

Today we want to recognize our graduates. As we look around and see Krista, Scot, Sarah, and Blake we realize that they have done a good bit of work to reach the milestone they celebrated not long ago with their classmates. They call that graduation ceremony something interesting, don’t they? What was that “c” word they used for it? Commencement. What does that mean? It means you are beginning something. Graduation is not an end, it is a beginning. The word “graduation” itself means “a step.” And you step forward into the next stage of your life. At that time, yes, you get to wear funny clothes and go through some ceremonies. Believe me, the clothes continue to have more layers of symbolism the more degrees you have completed. There’s a good deal of ceremony involved. It’s a dignified occasion. It isn’t a time for silliness. It’s a time to take stock of your life so far and look at the next step you are going to take. Usually there isa speaker who more or less tells you how to be careful in that next step.

In 2 Corinthians chapter 4 the apostle Paul tells the church at Corinth about some of their next steps. They have found that life is difficult. In fact, it’s very difficult. They ran into some troubles, church troubles like I hope we never see here, but troubles that we are all capable of engaging in. The congregation members were quarreling about one another. Some were saying they were more spiritual because of which apostle they tended to follow. There were people who were exalting themselves because they were rich. There were people who were boasting about being poor. There were people who always desired to show the most prominent spiritual gifts and who were always on display for the congregation. There were people who had involved themselves in immoral living situations and were approved by some, condemned by others. These are all situations that can and do happen in today’s world.

Does our Lord care about our finances? He sure does. He cares about the poor and blesses them. He cares about the rich, whom he has blessed financially so they can love and serve their neighbors. Does our Lord care about our seeking out training in his Word as well as in other areas? Yes he does. He cares as much about what you are studying and learning if you are reading the Bible while sitting on your couch or if you are trying to decode big theological books at a library or if you are studying anatomy, physiology, molecular biology, or economics. All the affairs of this life come from our Lord and they are all important to him. Does our Lord care about whether we strive to live a life which is morally pure in our financial and emotional dealings? He sure does. It’s all important to him. And it’s important in this local congregation just like it was in the congregation at Corinth.

What did Paul see, though? What is it that he saw and talked about that I expect your commencement speakers forgot to mention? In verse 16 he says that they do not lose heart. Those graduation speakers and other motivational speakers never seem to focus on the idea that we could lose heart. It’s always a very rosy world which we face. You the graduates, or other people in the crowd are always the cream of the crop and you are going to rise to the top. There’s no reason even to think about losing heart. But if we’re honest with ourselves, there’s plenty of reason to think about losing heart. As Paul says, we are wasting away outwardly. We wear out. We find ourselves in conflict with others. We look for peace and find strife. We look for health and find weakness. We look for riches and find this world is full of financial need, more than we could ever meet. We look for knowledge and understanding and we find there’s always another book we haven’t read, another idea we don’t understand. The more I study the more I realize I don’t know. And for some of us who are in business the more money we make the more we realize we didn’t make. In manufacturing the more efficient we become the more inefficiency we see. In health care the more we are able to help and heal people the more illness we see around us. And in our moral lives, the more we pursue purity the more we see our impurity. We have reason to lose heart. We are sinful people. We are wasting away. We’ve got trouble. This world is full of sorrows. What will we do? We graduate to the next step, like everyone does many times in every day, and we see that next step is full of challenges, some of them brought on by our sin, some by the sinful condition of the world.

Do we lose heart? No, we don’t. Why not? Because, as we read in 2 Corinthians 4:14 (NIV), “the one who raised the Lord Jesus from the dead will also raise us with Jesus and present us with you in his presence.” There’s our picture of eternity. There’s our priority. It isn’t about us. It isn’t about what we can do. It isn’t about how smart we are, how well trained, how honest, how pure. Those are all good things but they won’t seal our destiny. And the more realize about our nature the more glad we should be that we aren’t the ones who get to earn eternity. We couldn’t do it. We’re wasting away. But we don’t lose heart. Jesus has come, has lived that perfect life of righteousness and has been able to do it on our behalf, to give us his righteousness. Jesus has come, has died in our place so that we don’t have to die eternally. Jesus has come, has risen from the dead so we can be raised from the dead. Jesus has ascended to the Father in heaven so we will also rise and ascend to our father. We don’t see all this right now, but we can look forward through eyes of faith, knowing that Jesus has done all that is necessary for us. We do not lose heart. Though the world come apart at the seams, we do not lose heart. Though our intelligence leave us we do not lose heart. Though our health go from us we do not lose heart. Though our family and friends forsake us we do not lose heart. Though we realize the depths of our sinful desires, how we have sinned in thought, word, and deed, yet we do not lose heart. Why not? Because Jesus has risen from the dead. Because Jesus has given us his perfect righteousness, desiring that he should be the firstborn among many brothers. Because Jesus is our Lord, the eternal lord. He is our fortress. He is our strong tower. He is our deliverer. We do not lose heart.

Graduates, this is what your commencement speakers didn’t say. When your world throws challenges at you, you don’t lose heart. And you don’t lose heart because Jesus is here for you. All the education you have received or ever will receive may fall apart. It may or may not serve you. You don’t know. But when the challenges of your world are great, Jesus is greater. He has promised to stand by you, to lead you, to guide you, to provide you with that eternal home in heaven, not made by human hands, made by God in Christ. And this is your home as you believe that Jesus gave himself for you.

But as we close, I want to ask everyone. Is this what we are believing? Do we believe that Jesus gave himself to redeem us from the curse of sin? Do we believe that our Lord has purchased us by his own blood? Do we look to him in hope? Or maybe we have lost heart. Maybe we have been crushed and are not looking to Jesus. Remember what we confessed. We have sinned in thought, in word, in deed, in what we have done, in what we have left undone. We turn then to Jesus asking for his forgiveness. And he has promised it. How much of your sin does he forgive? He forgives it all. It is gone, as we believe that he is the one who lifts that burden off of us. Look to Jesus, one and all! He is the one who cleanses us, who renews us, who makes us walk in his paths. There is our hope.

Now may the grace of God give you hope and confidence in HIm, in the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, Amen.

Friday, June 8, 2012

Bible Reading Challenge Week 23 Day 5

Our reading challenge for the day is 2 Chronicles 16-20. I’ll hit a few highlights. You make comments too and fill in the gaps. What strikes you as specially significant?

2 Chronicles 16 - Near the end of his life Asa turned away from trusting the Lord. He and the kingdom suffered for this. We bring harm upon ourselves and others by our lack of faithfulness.

2 Chronicles 17-20 - Jehoshaphat is a good king. Yet he forms alliances with unbelieving kings, Ahab in particular. God delivers him and his people. Yet there is more turmoil than there would be if Jehoshaphat had not been so interested in alliances with others.

Sometimes we do well to interact with others, sometimes we would do better to keep to ourselves. It is always better if we form alliances with likeminded people. As I often say in church, doctrine does matter. Where we have agreement we function much better.

Bible Reading Challenge Week 23 Day 4

Our reading challenge for the day is 2 Chronicles 11-15. I’ll hit a few highlights. You make comments too and fill in the gaps. What strikes you as specially significant?

2 Chronicles 11 - Rehoboam has a fairly good start, listening to the prophet who urges him to faithfulness. He also receives the displaced priests and Levites from Israel. It must be especially painful to see the nation where you are one of God’s servants turn to idolatry.

2 Chronicles 12 - The review of Rehoboam turns downhill after five years. Continue to notice how the author of Chronicles is particularly interested in the leader’s faithfulness to God. Rehoboam is found wanting. Things are not too bad in Judah but Rehoboam has turned away from God and receives the penalty of his sin.

2 Chronicles 13 - After the time of Rehoboam, Abijah in Judah stood up boldly for God’s commands before Jeroboam. God gave him the victory though he was significantly outnumbered. Do we stand up for God’s truth? What is our confidence when we are outnumbered?

2 Chronicles 14-15 - We then have yet another good king in Judah, Asa. He is quite forceful about looking to God alone. Remaining faithful to God is a challenge. Yet it is a challenge that is full of rewards. We can have confidence that if our Lord has ordained our path we can walk down it without fear.

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Bible Reading Challenge Week 23 Day 3

Our reading challenge for the day is 2 Chronicles 6-10. I’ll hit a few highlights. You make comments too and fill in the gaps. What strikes you as specially significant?

2 Chronicles 6 - In the dedicatory prayers for the temple, see how Solomon prays that God’s mercy would be upon his people and upon all who call on God. We would normally like to dedicate things for our service or for just our people. Solomon’s desire, and God’s desire, is that the mercy and grace of the Lord should be shown to all people everywhere.

2 Chronicles 7 - Even as God accepts the offerings Solomon makes at the consecration of the temple he continues to warn Solomon not to turn aside from the true faith. We likewise are to be on guard, not depending on our obedience, but depending on the Lord in whose grace we stand.

2 Chronicles 8 - Solomon has interesting situations, first with his wife the daughter of Pharaoh, then later with other wives. In chapter 8 he makes it clear that she, not being a partaker of the covenant of God, is not to be in the holy places. Later we will see that he is led astray by his wives and allows his identity to become confused. May we always be careful in our human relationships, looking to God and His will above all those allegiances we might have with other people.

2 Chronicles 9 - The author of Chronicles sees the riches of Solomon as a sign of God’s blessing upon him and on the kingdom of Israel. Yet not all was well. The kingdom was set up for strife and dissension.

2 Chronicles 10 - Between Jeroboam the son of Nebat and Rehoboam the son of Solomon both the southern and northern kingdoms are full of turmoil. How our leaders live out their lives before God makes a difference in the way our lives will be as well. May the Lord draw our leaders to himself.

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Bible Reading Challenge Week 23 Day 2

Our reading challenge for the day is 2 Chronicles 1-5. I’ll hit a few highlights. You make comments too and fill in the gaps. What strikes you as specially significant?

2 Chronicles 1 - Even as Solomon seeks wisdom from God, he receives not only wisdom but riches. He busily works on a building program even as he enriches himself and the kingdom, taking on more and more of the trappings of other monarchs. What kind of trappings do we take on when God blesses us? Do they end up serving as nets and snares which will . . . well, trap us?

2 Chronicles 2 - God blesses different people with different skills. He brings specialists into contact with Solomon so they can do the fancy work involved in building the temple. We all do well to consider not only the gifts God has given us but also the gifts He has given others.

2 Chronicles 3-4 - There is a tremendous amount of work that goes into this temple. Consider the size of the building. It would fit inside most of our modern church buildings except it is very tall. The temple isn’t a place where people gather to hear the Word of God and worship together. It is a place where they would bring sacrifices which would be offered by the priest and received by God. The corporate life of Israel happens outside of the temple, in the community.

2 Chronicles 5 - The consecration of the temple is full of the praises of God because of his goodness and his everlasting mercy. In God’s presence none can stand. How do we consider God’s presence? Do we approach worship in a reverent way, knowing that when our Lord speaks and appears to his people we cannot possibly stand before him?

Chapter 2 “The Means of Grace: The Presence of God”

The idea of a “means of grace” is not very familiar in the broadly evangelical Church culture of Western Christianity. Lutherans use the term “means of grace” a little differently than those other groups who use the term. While Veith doesn’t go into the specifics, Lutherans define a means of grace as having God’s word of command and promise as well as an earthly element. So we are able to define three different means of grace: Scripture, baptism, and communion. This does not mean that God doesn’t use other means to encourage his people, but the true encouragement in Christ comes through the Scripture.

Veith talks in detail about the Word of God as something with supernatural power. This makes some people uncomfortable. Confessing that words on a page have power to make spiritual change by their proclamation and reception by faith is not within the mainstream of our modern and postmodern thought. Yet the Bible consistently takes a view of the physical granting spiritual grace. Likewise in baptism water conveys the washing of sin, a spiritual benefit. And in communion we would confess that Jesus is truly present. Veith does not go as far as traditional Lutheranism in his statements, allowing for some other groups to say that they believe Jesus is truly present in communion, but truly spiritually present. A Lutheran view is that Jesus is present in true bodily substance, though imperceptibly, along with the bread and wine.

Monday, June 4, 2012

Bible Reading Challenge Week 23 Day 1

Our reading challenge for the day is 1 Thessalonians 1-5. I’ll hit a few highlights. You make comments too and fill in the gaps. What strikes you as specially significant?

1 Thessalonians 1 - The fellowship of the believers with one another, looking to the Lord in faith, serves as a witness to the world that God has granted life and salvation through faith in Jesus.

1 Thessalonians 2 - See the love that Paul, Silas and Timothy, the apostles, have for the people in Thessalonica. This mutual love and respect is based on the bringing and reception of the Gospel as God’s true word. What respect do we have for the Word of God and for those who bring it to us, as well as those who receive it with us or from us?

1 Thessalonians 3 - How do we react when someone is critically ill? We are concerned, we check on the person, we send others to check on the person, we notify all our friends to pray. How do we react when someone is shaken or weak in the Christian faith? Do we, like Paul, see that this is a very serious condition, worthy of all our care?

1 Thessalonians 4 - The resurrection of the dead is a great encouragement. I have had several opportunities in recent months to encourage people who have just been bereaved. In the most recent situation we were looking together at Jesus’ promises of resurrection. Sharing communion in the hospital room we observed that the gentleman who had died in Christ was himself in perfect communion with the Lord and was looking now to the resurrection of the body. Do we see our earthly death as the end? Jesus is the resurrection and the life.

1 Thessalonians 5 - The end of the world is a hot topic just now. Recall that the last day is a day of comfort and hope to the Christian. It is the day when our Lord will gather his people to himself and rescue them from all danger.

“The Hope of the Gospel: Life-Changing Power that Can Heal Your Relationships”

Sande, Ken & Kevin Johnson Resolving Everyday Conflict. Grand Rapids: Baker, 2011.

Chapter 2 “The Hope of the Gospel: Life-Changing Power that Can Heal Your Relationships”

Trying to obey the Bible’s commands to love one another seems impossible. We read passages like John 13:35, John 17:23, and John 17:21 and we realize that we do not have the kind of impact on our world that Jesus is talking about. In fact, we are often trying to love one another in our own power, not in Jesus’ power. We follow our world’s patterns and end up being seen by the broader community as people who aren’t so different from anyone else. But Jesus lays out something distinctive for us.

Lutherans have classified this for generations as a right distinction between Law and Gospel. As Sande and Johnson put it, we do actually know what is right. But we don’t have the power to do it. Jesus gives us commands. Yet while we can understand them we are not able to follow them. Our following the Law of God will never save us (Romans 8:3) and even if our current obedience to God’s Law could wipe out past sins we aren’t going to be able to keep the Law well enough. We are commanded by God to live at peace. And we can’t do it.

Enter the Gospel, what God has done for us, as opposed to what we do for God. The Gospel tells us that Jesus is the one who has made peace with us. He is the one who has wiped away the alienation that existed between man and God (Colossians 1:21-22). It is very simple, though it is not something we could do. John 3:16 points out that God loved us by having Jesus perish on our behalf so we could believe and live in him. We confess that we cannot earn God’s approval (Romans 3:20, Ephesians 2:8-9), that Jesus paid for our sins (Isaiah 53:1-12, 1 Peter 2:24-25), and that Jesus gives us his perfect righteousness. As we live in that Gospel we end up living as people who have been transformed by Jesus (2 Corinthians 5:17, 2 Corinthians 5:15).

Of course, despite being changed by the Gospel we don’t live consistently as Christ’s chosen people. We would find this life much easier if we did. The good news is that we continue to repent and believe and our Savior continues to cleanse us from sin. Living as a Christian is an ongoing activity (Colossians 3:12-15) in which we strive to put on the character of our Lord. We pray for one another as Paul prayed for his disciples in Ephesians 3:16-19 that we may see and know the power of Christ dwelling in our hearts. Then we repent, pray to believe, and ask the Lord to use us as his instruments, loving our enemies (1 John 3:16, Luke 6:27-28), resolving conflicts (Romans 5:8, Matthew 5:23-24, Matthew 18:15), confessing our faults (1 John 1:8-9), and seeking to be witnesses of God’s mercy (2 Corinthians 5:15-21).

The great good news is that the Gospel changes us, even in this world.

Discussion Questions:
1) In what area of my life to I see right now that I need the Gospel?
2) Are our attempts to keep God’s Law necessarily bad? Why or why not?
3) How would the Lord work through me to care for others?
4) Is there someone I can work with to memorize and discuss the Scriptures in this chapter?

Sunday, June 3, 2012

Sermon for 6/2/12

Sermon “God Proclaims His Gospel

Lord, let us see your face, in the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, Amen.

Have you ever been confronted with something great and amazing? Maybe you've been amazed by watching a big thunderstorm. Maybe you've been impressed by the actual size of a mountain range when you'reclose to it. Maybe you're one of those men who knows the awe and wonder of an antique car that runs flawlessly, true romance indeed. Or maybe you're like my son-in-law who is amazed by the beauty of the structure of proteins. These are just a few examples of ways God has revealed his glory, ways that our Lord shows that he is the creator and sustainer of all, that he is the one in whom all things hold together. God reveals his glory to us in things that are greater than we can imagine. We saw a few examples of that in today's Scriptures.

In Isaiah we saw that when our Lord comes to us he calls us to repentance. His glory fills the temple and we are undone. He reveals himself and Isaiah sees that he is defiled and unworthy. God comes on the scene and all of a sudden we realize that we are insignificant little beings without hope in this world. We see that we cannot possibly stand in his presence. We need our Lord to cleanse us and forgive us. Isn't that exactly what we confessed earlier in today's service? Just as he did in Isaiah's case, he will work in us. We confess our sins and he is faithful to forgive our sins. He is the one who purifies us from all our sin. Is that always a pleasant process? Not really. We don't like being cleaned up. We don't like having those rough edges worn off. We don't like having our evil dug out of us. Notice in Isaiah that the angel took the coal with tongs and applied it to Isaiah's mouth. Is this fearful? What will your reaction be if I take something out of the fire and move it toward you? Of course I'm not God's angel and it is not a coal from the fire of God's altar. But when our Lord promises cleansing it isn't always something we want. He promises to forgive us our sin, but he tells us to confess it. Really? Confess THAT?? I don't even want God to know about THAT part of my life!! But I've got news for you, in case you hadn't noticed. Our Lord knows everything. He already knows what we need to confess. He already knows our sin and shame. He knows it better than we do. He knows and cares enough to die in our place. Jesus calls us to repentance so he can apply his forgiveness to us. That's the means he uses. Confess before the Lord! He will forgive freely.

What else does the Lord do when he confronts us? He calls us to questioning. Sometimes we need to ask him what he is doing. Sometimes we need to ask him what we are doing. Like Nicodemus, sometimes when we are amazed we simply need to seek clarification. Even he, a teacher of God's Law, needed to ask about the grace of God. We don't really understand it. But what does our Lord say? He tells Nicodemus that he works out his grace in a particular way. I think I've probably said this before here, but if you're like me you don't remember when someone tells you once. Remember John 3:16? Jesus doesn't use a word to say that God loves the world “so much” that he sent his son. He says that God loves the world “in this way” - that he sent his son. That isn't the way we would probably love the world. We'd do something else. The possibilities are endless. If we wanted to devise a way to save the world from sin, I'm sure we could think of lots of ways. How did God do it? He did it by arranging that God the Son would come and die, taking upon himself all the sin of the world, and paying the penalty for that sin himself. Then he would put his own righteousness and love upon us, so that as we believe that Jesus has given himself for us we see that he really has. God has loved the world. And he tells us how. Nicodemus needed to ask. Likely we do also.

How does God's glory confront us? He does it through Scripture. He does it through showing himself in his creation. How does God give us his comfort? How does he resolve our repentance? How does he answer our questions? He does it in His Word. He does it in his living Word, Jesus, crucified and risen for us, giving himself again and again on the altar in communion. What does Peter have to say in Acts? He says that God has revealed himself in history and finally in the person and work of Jesus we receive forgiveness and all that we need for life and salvation. Jesus as revealed in Scripture is God himself, coming to accomplish God's purposes. This drives us to repentance so we can receive God's forgiveness. It also should drive us to a careful study of the Scriptures. It is through the Word of God that we realize who we are in the eys of God. It is through the Word of God that we realize what our Lord has done in this world on our behalf.

How are we going to look to our Lord if we do not know the Word of God? That's why I've been challenging people in reading the Bible. That's why we are having a very serious, hard-hitting teen Bible class starting this Wednesday. The young people in our church and community deserve to know about this New Testament, the collection of writings that give us very specific revelation of our Savior, the collection of writings that sprang from the group of people who, as we read in Acts, “turned the world upside down.” Our young people deserve to know how to read and understand the Scripture better. And that goes not only for the teens in our own church, but I have asked them and will continue to ask them to invite their friends, Christian or not, because we're going to look at what is is those Christians believed in the early years, why they believed what they believed, and what it influenced them to do in their society, forming charitable organizations, hospitals, food relief, adoption agencies, groups who would work together for good in their community. Do we want to see people living with purpose? Let's get ourselves and others plugged into God's Word! Let's fill this building with people studying the Scripture and praying, people who are then ready to go out and show Christ's mercy to our community. Let's see the men's group thriving and leading us in worship, study, and service. Let's see that the women's circles pour themselves into the Scripture and prayer, doing acts of charity diligently. Let's see our young people trained in the things of the Christian faith so they can live a godly life and defend the faith before their peers. It all starts as we look to our Lord, revealed in Scripture, coming to us in Word and Sacrament, showing himself to be the mighty, holy Lord, calling us to repentance and faith.

Are we ready to receive from our Lord? Are we ready to lay down our ideas of what makes us good and worthy, preferring to be cleansed by him, forgiven? Are we ready to stop trying to save the world by our suffering and rather see that our Lord and Savior Jesus suffered on our behalf to give us his perfect righteous love? Are we ready to let our Lord use us as his instruments of mercy? Then let us confess our common faith together, turn to him in hope, and see that he has presented himself to us, the greatest offering of all, laid on the table, to feed us with forgiveness, life, and salvation.

Pray with me, please.
Our Lord God, you have shown your glory to us. Grant us repentance, that we may confess we are not able to govern our lives rightly. We confess that we have sinneed before you. Take the coal from your altar. Burn away our evil. Present us before you as a holy offering. We pray that in your grace you would look upon us and see the perfect righteousness of your Son Jesus Christ. This we pray in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, Amen.

Friday, June 1, 2012

Bible Reading Challenge Week 22 Day 5

Our reading challenge for the day is 1 Chronicles 25-29. I’ll hit a few highlights. You make comments too and fill in the gaps. What strikes you as specially significant?

1 Chronicles 25 - See how the music - the liturgy - is well cared for. These clans of musicians were appointed by God through human means to see that God’s people would faithfully sing His praises.

1 Chronicles 26 - As the nation of Israel has settled down with Jerusalem as its capital the Levites end up serving as civil servants in some ways. They keep the gates of the city and will care for the temple and its treasuries in one place rather than working with the tabernacle and moving from place to place.

1 Chronicles 27 - We see a sort of numbering of troop strength. Yet this one may not be incurring God’s judgment. Observe that the forces are divided out for service in different months. There is a legitimate civil reason for numbering these people, as it is important to keep the military forces balanced from month to month. It is also important to know how many people need to be fed, clothed, and housed while on duty. This is different from taking a wholesale census so as to find out how well the troops can defend the nation.

1 Chronicles 28-29 - See again the concern of the author of Chronicles. The religious life of Israel is first and foremost in these chapters, as David passes the kingdom and all the plans for a glorious temple to his son, Solomon. We know of the problems in David’s later years from Kings, but the author of Chronicles emphasizes the centrality of God’s provision and command through David.

We, like David, are at the same time saint and sinner. Though our lives may be plagued by sin and shame, at the same time we can look to the Lord in hope, being instruments of his grace.