November 30, 2008

A Life-Changing Visit - Nov 30, 2008

Luke 1:68-79

Blessed is the Lord God of Israel, for He has visited and redeemed His people, and has raised up a horn of salvation for us in the house of His servant David, as He spoke by the mouth of His holy prophets, who have been since the world began, that we should be saved from our enemies and from the hand of all who hate us, to perform the mercy promised to our fathers and to remember His holy covenant, the oath which He swore to our father Abraham: to grant us that we, being delivered from the hand of our enemies, might serve Him without fear, in holiness and righteousness before Him all the days of our life. And you, child, will be called the prophet of the Highest; for you will go before the face of the Lord to prepare His ways, to give knowledge of salvation to His people by the remission of their sins, through the tender mercy of our God, with which the Dayspring from on high has visited us; to give light to those who sit in darkness and the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the way of peace.

In the name of Jesus who was, who is, and who is to come, dear fellow redeemed:

Do you remember the first time you met your spouse? Was there an immediate impact upon your life? Maybe you didn’t even know right away that this was the person whom you would marry. For those of you yet unmarried, maybe you have already met your future spouse and just don’t know it. While many may not recall fireworks going off, it would be hard to think of another person that will have a bigger impact on your life. When children are born that is also life-altering. You never know all the exact ways that they will change your life, but undoubtedly change happens.

When God chose to send His Son to this earth, this was a life-changing moment for you. Many people were not aware of it at the time, nor are many people today aware of just how big Jesus’ impact is on this world. But we praise God as Zacharias did, “For He has visited and redeemed His people.” [v.68] He came to visit to save us from our enemies and to give us a purpose in life. No one has impacted our lives more. As we focus on the coming of Christ this Advent season may God lead us to recognize Jesus for who He is and what He has done for us.


One Saturday morning my children were watching a cartoon in which a space alien took different forms whenever he met a person. He would appear as that person’s greatest fear. It would be interesting if each of us could project onto a screen what is, in our mind, our greatest fear. For a small child it might be some sort of monster or a robber. For an adult it might range from losing a job, to loneliness, crime, or physical harm coming to your children. Our defenses are sharpened against all of these fears and against the enemies we have in this world.

Many people look at their greatest fear or their perception of their greatest enemy and then assume that Jesus came for that particular situation. Two thousand years ago in Israel the greatest enemy was the Roman Empire. So when people heard prophecies about the Messiah, their assumption was that He was coming to uplift them from political oppression. People today are looking for a savior from many different situations: poverty, AIDS, terrorism, war, and pandemic flu.

Yet, if we think that these are our biggest enemies and that Jesus came solely for that purpose, we are far off the mark and are greatly underestimating His work. The enemies whom we should fear are far greater than terrorists. Consider Satan—He has the power of an angel. He has been around since the beginning of time and uses his accumulated knowledge to tempt us into sin. Our sinful nature is all too eager to agree with Satan and disobey God even though such disobedience is worthy of eternal death. If left unchecked, our spiritual enemies would lead us directly into a lake of fire—Hell itself. Without intervention from a Savior we are shackled to Satan and the fate of being sinners in the hand of an angry God. If we prioritize earthly concerns and enemies above sin, death, and the powerful grip of Satan, than we are playing right into his hand. We end up making Jesus smaller and less powerful in our minds.

Zacharias was one who fully understood why Jesus was coming. It would be his son who would prepare the way for Jesus. By inspiration, Zacharias pulled passages from the Old Testament to prophesy exactly what the Savior was all about. He said that God “has raised up a horn of salvation for us.” [v.69] Nearly every time “horn” is mentioned in the Bible it is symbolic of power. Don’t make the mistake of looking at that baby in the manger and thinking that He is somehow weak. Jesus is true God. He is the Creator of the world and lacks nothing when it comes to power. Don’t look at His love and forgiveness and make the mistake that He is some sort of pushover. Don’t think that His enemies had control over Him as they led Him to the cross.

Against our powerful enemies we need an even more powerful ally. That is Jesus Christ. Satan could not stand up to Him, but was subdued and tied up. Death lost its sting when Christ rose from the grave. The unbelieving world wanted to get rid of Him, but He loved them all the same, and even was willing to sacrifice Himself to save them. He is the horn of salvation.

This should have been no surprise to people. We read in our text that God made a covenant—an agreement that this would take place (cf. v. 72). He swore an oath to Abraham that in his Seed (Jesus) all the nations of the earth would be blessed. He pre-planned the coming of Christ and made sure that it would happen.

We do a lot of planning for special events in our lives. Some spend over a year planning for a wedding. Maybe for a special birthday or anniversary or family reunion we’ll be getting details arranged months in advance. The Lord has that planning beat by far. Even before time began He chose to save you. He didn’t back off as the world became increasingly wicked. Even as He destroyed much of the world in the flood, He still preserved the remnant of Noah and his family so that the promise of a Savior would be kept. And then when the fullness of time came God sent His Son into the world, to live for us and to die for us, “that we should be saved from our enemies and from the hand of all who hate us.” [v.71]


We know what we are saved from, but we are also reminded what we are saved for. In His rescue Jesus has given us purpose. In this life we are able to serve Him in holiness and also give knowledge and illumination to those around us.

When the former Soviet Union broke up, it was not an easy transition from communism. Although I believe it is getting better, at first they went from one form of oppression to another. The freedom from the oppression of the government was abused, and soon criminal elements such as the Russian mafia took over and crime was rampant.

When we are freed from our enemies, we are not left in some sort of spiritual limbo or neutrality. “To grant us that we, being delivered from the hand of our enemies, might serve Him without fear, in holiness and righteousness before Him all the days of our life.” [v.74] For some this wouldn’t seem like much of a deal: “Wait a minute! We’re going from being slaves of Satan to having to serve God? I want to be free!” They think they are trading one form of oppression for another. Not at all. It is with joy and gratitude that we serve our Savior because we don’t have to be afraid of God who will judge all. Rather we have a relationship with Him. Our destination has been changed from Hell to Heaven. This makes our service to Him in holiness and righteousness something in which we may rejoice.

We also have something to share with others. As Zacharias gazed upon his son, John, he knew what his service would be. “You will go before the face of the Lord to prepare His ways, to give knowledge of salvation to His people by the remission of their sins.” [vv.76-77] You and I do not have the same office of John the Baptist but we have been commissioned with that same message. Instead of pointing ahead like he did, we point back to the visit of God to His people in the form of Jesus. We point out the tender mercy of our God in the free forgiveness that He provided. Like John we can point to Jesus and say, “Behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world” (John 1:29).

We are here to tell of Jesus’ purpose “to give light to those who sit in darkness and the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the way of peace.” [v.79] Through Christ we are able to see things clearly. We are able to label sin for what it is without excusing it. We are able to know who our greatest enemies are and who has defeated them. In Christ we may know what is the path of righteousness and what is the path of death.

But how many are in the shadow of death? How many Christians easily slip back from the light into the darkness? As you are reminded of a life-changing visit from the King of Kings you too can tell. You know the one who saved us from our enemies and gave us purpose in this life. Bring Him into the lives of those who surround you that they may know and be illuminated. Amen.

The peace which comes from God, which far exceeds all our understanding will guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.

—Pastor Michael M. Schierenbeck

November 27, 2008

A Thankful Heart (God's Recipe) - Nov 27, 2008

Grace and peace be to you, from God our Father, and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.

What’s your favorite way to cook the turkey? Do you deep-fat fry it outside in a big kettle of oil? Do you bake it in the oven, traditional style? Do you have a special turkey rub that you put on the bird to make it taste just right? There’s more than one way to cook the Thanksgiving turkey, or “tofurkey” if tofu is more your style. But, not every recipe is created equal. Depending on the “ooohs” and the “aaahs” of your guests, a recipe gets promoted or forgotten.

Well, today we’re not going to talk about how to make the mashed potatoes the fluffiest or the gravy the smoothest. For our mediation in God’s Word we’re going to look at a recipe for a thankful heart.

Now, there are a lot of different recipes floating around out there for a thankful heart. One recipe directs us to look at those less blessed than we are, that should make us thankful. Another recipe would have us do without for a little bit, then we’ll appreciate what we have.

Beneficial as these recipes may be, there is a better recipe for a thankful heart. It comes from the pages of the Bible, from the kitchen of the Almighty Himself. Let’s take a look at that recipe.

The first ingredient is “3 Handfuls Water”.

Ephesians 5:25b-26 (NIV) Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her 26to make her holy, cleansing her by the washing with water through the word,

God’s recipe for a thankful heart begins with faith. A person can’t be thankful to the true God unless he knows who that God is. That’s where the three handfuls of water come in. They are the three handfuls of water used in Baptism.

Now, when a Baptism is done according to Jesus’ recipe, that is, when water is applied in the Name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, only a single drop of water is really required. But, most Baptizers find that three handfuls works real nice. One for each of the persons of the One True God: Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

Now, you can use any water, just make sure you use the Jesus’s words with that water. Then the Holy Spirit can flow in and begins faith in a child’s heart, or seal the faith of an adult. As God’s Word says in Galatians:

“26You are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus, 27for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ” (Galatians 3:26-27 NIV).

The power of Baptism is that it connects sinful people to Jesus by the steel chain of faith. And through this connection, sinners are forgiven all their sins.

“5 tbs. Grace and Mercy”.

Ephesians 2:4 (NIV) 4But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, 5made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions—it is by grace you have been saved.

These two ingredients come from the same family of spices, but they are a little bit different.

The original Greek word for “mercy” is talking about a love that reaches out to help someone because it sees how pitiful their condition is. Mercy sees a person’s inability to help themselves and takes action. God is rich in mercy.

The original Greek word for “grace” is talking about a love that reaches out to help someone even though they don’t deserve it. When a person helps someone else when they are not obligated to do so, and when they even have good reason not too, there you have grace.

From God these two ingredients come packaged together in a cross shaped box. It’s because of Jesus’ suffering and death in our place that we receive God’s grace and mercy.

This double ingredient is an essential ingredient for a thankful heart. For every other undeserved gift that we receive is only good for the length of our human life. But the gift of grace and mercy that comes from Jesus’ Cross gives us a place in heaven for all eternity. That means that the thankful heart made using God’s grace and mercy – lasts forever.

“2 Sifters of Remembering”.

Psalm 103:2 (NIV)
2 Praise the LORD, O my soul,
and forget not all his benefits—

Ever cooked a cheese soufflé? At the Schaller house they come in two varieties: fluffy and light or dense and heavy. You have to remember to walk softly around the oven while cheese soufflé is baking. If you tromp around, you’ll only get the dense variety. I guess you could say that “remembering” is a vital ingredient in fluffy cheese soufflé.

Remembering is also a vital ingredient in God’s recipe for a thankful heart. In fact, without remembering, a thankful heart is impossible to make.

When we sift back through the years and remember all that God has given us, our thankfulness grows. Try doing this today. If you don’t like making lists, sift through an old photo album, or the photos on your hard-drive. Unpack one of those old boxes of things you’re saving just because you can’t bear to throw them away. There’ll be something to make you thankful.

Or try sifting through King David’s list of things to be thankful for. He wrote it out in Psalm 103.

“1 Praise the LORD, O my soul;
all my inmost being, praise his holy name.
2 Praise the LORD, O my soul,
and forget not all his benefits—
3 who forgives all your sins
and heals all your diseases,
4 who redeems your life from the pit
and crowns you with love and compassion,
5 who satisfies your desires with good things
so that your youth is renewed like the eagle’s” (Psalm 103:2-5 NIV).

“2 ½ Cups Contentment, Stir in Thoroughly”

Philippians 4:11b-13 (NIV) I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. 12I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. 13I can do everything through him who gives me strength.

One of the great curses of the human heart is that it persists in telling us that happiness is one possession away. Or one vacation. Or one retirement. And while it is true that possessions and vacations and retirements hold a certain measure of happiness, that happiness fades over time. Better to be content with what God gives to you, than to hang your happiness on what might never be yours.

Paul’s relationship with Jesus Christ gave him the ability to be content no matter what the circumstances. Whether well fed or hungry, whether living with stuff to spare or with nothing to sit on, Paul had Jesus. And because he did, Paul had exactly what he needed. His soul was secure and ready for transport to heaven whenever God decided to let the axe fall. All because Jesus was his friend and Savior. Happiness isn’t one possession away, it’s one PERSON away.

Living with Jesus means learning contentment. And with contentment in the recipe, the heart can’t help but turn out thankful.

“Dash of Trial, Pinch of Testing”

James 1:2-4 (NIV) 2Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, 3because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance. 4Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.

When I cook I like to use all the ingredients listed even if they don’t sound like they’d be good in the recipe.

I’ve discovered that when I take out the things I’m not familiar with or that I think I won’t like, a recipe becomes one-dimensional or less flavorful than it would have been. All the added ingredients that the original cook put in there really do serve a purpose, even if I can’t identify them all in the finished product.

In His recipe for a thankful heart God throws in some trials and tests. We humans tend to think that the recipe would turn out just fine without these additions, maybe even more thankful without these things. But, the Master Chef really does know what He’s doing. The trials and tests He throws in are just enough. They don’t ruin the thankful heart, rather, they give it depth and dimension.

We might not always understand the LORD’s recipe, but lets try to stick to His plan, even when we think that we know better. Let’s remember what James says, to consider it joy when God sprinkles trial and test into the mixing bowl of our lives. When He does, His intention is to make us complete.

“Season with Joy, Sprinkle with Laughter”

Psalm 126:2-3 (NIV)
2 Our mouths were filled with laughter,
our tongues with songs of joy.
Then it was said among the nations,
“The LORD has done great things for them.”
3 The LORD has done great things for us,
and we are filled with joy.

I was looking through pumpkin pie recipes when I stumbled across one with a lattice top. I quickly eliminated that pie from the pool of possible choices. How silly, a lattice top goes on a cherry pie, or an apple pie, not a pumpkin pie.

We recognize many foods because of their distinctive outward appearances. We recognize a thankful heart in the same way. Outward joy and laughter mark the person in which a thankful heart dwells. In Proverbs it says,

“A happy heart makes the face cheerful,” (Proverbs 15:13 NIV).

Some foods are just naturally good looking, others need a little help. In the same way some people are blessed with bubbly, cheerful spirits while others have to work at it.

The best place to obtain genuine joy and laughter for garnishing the heart, is at the foot of Jesus’ empty cross. That may sound like a strange place to go for joy and laughter, but not when you understand that the big empty cross is really one big receipt. On that receipt is printed the total debt of the world’s sin, your and mine, and because of Jesus that receipt has been marked “paid”. Joy and laughter? You bet, for a place of death is now the place of life – for all.

“Pour into heart. Bake. Repeat.”

Hebrews 10:25 (NIV) 25Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching.

The Ten Commandments are a summary of the will of God which was given to the Old Testament people of Israel. The third commandment was specifically written for the people of Israel: “Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy”.

The Israelites were to take Saturday off, but the Sabbath was more than just a day off from work. The Sabbath was also the worship day.

The Bible says that we are no longer required to take Saturday off and worship on that day, but God still wants us to keep the Sabbath. We keep it today whenever we honor and respect the Word of God by gladly hearing it and learning it.

Part of keeping the Sabbath is joining with our fellow Christians regularly so that we might encourage each other in Christ. When we come together we can help each other remember all the ingredients in the recipe. We can mix up the ingredients of a thankful heart – together.

Sometimes my daughters need help pouring a new jug of milk. When they think they don’t need anybody else, that’s when they make the biggest mess. You and me are the same. We need the support of our fellow Christians and they need ours. That’s why God put us here together.

“Pray Unceasingly! Sing lots!”

1 Peter 5:7 (NIV) 7Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you.

Another passage in the Bible directs Christians to pray unceasingly. This one from Peter’s first letter tells us why. Christians want to learn how to pray unceasingly because prayer is how we take our worries off of our own backs and place them on Jesus’ strong and willing shoulders.

On our backs our worries do little more than weigh us down and hinder our thankfulness. When we place them on Jesus, along with the rest of our sins, then we are free to move about with grace and agility.

A thankful heart can’t rise to it’s intended height when the lid is on the pot of prayer. But with open and continual prayer the thankful heart takes on it’s proper shape and height.

And it sings too. Yeah. Some food sizzles, some pops, but the thankful heart sings as it grows.

The book of Psalms is actually a book of heartfelt prayers that were written, most of them, to be sung. That’s what “Psalm” means, “song”.

It’s so fitting isn’t it. For what do we do when we are really joyful? Don’t we sing? Or whistle? Or at least hum a little tune as we go about? Even those who are not musically inclined seem to flow along as if on the notes of a song when on the wave of great happiness.

So pray unceasingly, and sing lots as your thankful heart rises in the heat of Christ’s love and forgiveness. Like the Psalm says,

Psalm 146:1-2 (NIV)
1 Praise the LORD.
Praise the LORD, O my soul.
2 I will praise the LORD all my life;
I will sing praise to my God as long as I live.

If you find that you aren’t praying as much as you think you should, or want too. If you find that your heart isn’t singing. Then come back again to Jesus. Increase your reading and hearing of His Word of life. Increase your time with the Christians of your fellowship. We need the warmth of Christ to make our thankful hearts rise and sing.

There are a lot of recipes out there to make a thankful heart. But the LORD’s recipe is tried and true. It’s a crowd pleaser when we stick to it. And that’s the real truth. All cute recipe comparisons aside. A thankful heart is pleasing to God, for it is to him that we offer the song of a thankful heart. And a thankful heart is pleasing to the people around us too, for what lifts the spirit more than a light and joyful person?

You know, there are a lot of people in our world who don’t know Christ and the forgiveness He gives. We can’t make ‘em believe. But we can make ‘em thankful. Thankful for us in their lives.

Confident in our own forgiveness, we can forgive. Knowing God loves us, we can extend our love to others. Having experienced hard times, we can reach out and support people going through the same. Yes, we can be confident, forgiving, loving, praying, singing followers of Christ.

Yeah, God’s recipe for a thankful heart serves God and our neighbors. And for some of them, it just might be the appetizer that prepares them for the bread of life that is Jesus Christ.


November 23, 2008

The LORD's Character Changes Us - Nov 23, 2008


Through the highly ordered and functional creation that is all around us God shows us that HE EXISTS. But to see what God’s PERSONALITY is like, we must examine how He interacts with the human race.

Our Creator reveals His character to us through the history recorded in the Bible. As we worship today, we will ponder a part of the Old Testament in which God reveals at least five of His character traits.

Different vitamins provide different health benefits for the body. In the same way, God reveals His character traits to us in order to produce healthy reactions in our souls. Today, as you see each different part of God’s character revealed ask yourself, “What reaction does this part of God’s character produce in my heart?”


LORD Almighty, through Your word You have revealed to us that you are three persons, but only one God. Our minds do not understand this, but through the faith you have created in our hearts, we believe it. It is impossible for us to know You unless You make Yourself known to us. So, help us to know You LORD. Reveal Your personality to us through Your Holy Word, and change us by who You are. Amen.


The LORD promised Abraham that his descendants would be a great nation and that they would be given a land of their own to live in and enjoy.

In our sermon reading for today, the physical descendants of Abraham are on the verge of entering into that land that God had promised.

The Israelites were camped about 105 miles southwest of Jerusalem at a place called Kadesh Barnea in the desert of Paran.

So the people would have good idea about what the Promised Land was like, the LORD told Moses to arrange for a group of 12 spies to scout out the land for forty days. Before they left, Moses instructed them:

“18See what the land is like and whether the people who live there are strong or weak, few or many. 19What kind of land do they live in? Is it good or bad? What kind of towns do they live in? Are they unwalled or fortified? 20How is the soil? Is it fertile or poor? Are there trees on it or not? Do your best to bring back some of the fruit of the land” (Numbers 13:18-20 NIV).

When the spies came back they said that the land was wonderful, just as the LORD had told them. But ten of the spies also reported that the people who lived there were too mighty to fight against. They spread this message throughout the camp:

“The land we explored devours those living in it. All the people we saw there are of great size. We saw the Nephilim there (the descendants of Anak come from the Nephilim). 33We seemed like grasshoppers in our own eyes, and we looked the same to them” (Numbers 13:32b-33 NIV).

So the people of Israel panicked and began talking about choosing a new leader and returning to Egypt.

Moses and Aaron didn’t know what to do. Thankfully, two of the scouts had a different message for the people. Joshua and Caleb, told the people not to be afraid. They said:

“…The land we passed through and explored is exceedingly good. 8If the LORD is pleased with us, he will lead us into that land, a land flowing with milk and honey, and will give it to us. 9Only do not rebel against the LORD. And do not be afraid of the people of the land, because we will swallow them up. Their protection is gone, but the LORD is with us. Do not be afraid of them” (Numbers 14:7-9).

It is here that our sermon reading picks up the account.

SERMON READING Numbers 14:10-24 (NIV)

10But the whole assembly talked about stoning them. Then the glory of the LORD appeared at the Tent of Meeting to all the Israelites. 11The LORD said to Moses, “How long will these people treat me with contempt? How long will they refuse to believe in me, in spite of all the miraculous signs I have performed among them? 12I will strike them down with a plague and destroy them, but I will make you into a nation greater and stronger than they.”
13Moses said to the LORD, “Then the Egyptians will hear about it! By your power you brought these people up from among them. 14And they will tell the inhabitants of this land about it. They have already heard that you, O LORD, are with these people and that you, O LORD, have been seen face to face, that your cloud stays over them, and that you go before them in a pillar of cloud by day and a pillar of fire by night. 15If you put these people to death all at one time, the nations who have heard this report about you will say, 16‘The LORD was not able to bring these people into the land he promised them on oath; so he slaughtered them in the desert.’
17“Now may the Lord’s strength be displayed, just as you have declared: 18‘The LORD is slow to anger, abounding in love and forgiving sin and rebellion. Yet he does not leave the guilty unpunished; he punishes the children for the sin of the fathers to the third and fourth generation.’ 19In accordance with your great love, forgive the sin of these people, just as you have pardoned them from the time they left Egypt until now.”
20The LORD replied, “I have forgiven them, as you asked. 21Nevertheless, as surely as I live and as surely as the glory of the LORD fills the whole earth, 22not one of the men who saw my glory and the miraculous signs I performed in Egypt and in the desert but who disobeyed me and tested me ten times—23not one of them will ever see the land I promised on oath to their forefathers. No one who has treated me with contempt will ever see it. 24But because my servant Caleb has a different spirit and follows me wholeheartedly, I will bring him into the land he went to, and his descendants will inherit it.

FIRST HYMN TLH 18 verses 1-3

“The LORD is Powerful, therefore…
…He is to be Trusted.”

11The LORD said to Moses, ‘How long will these people treat me with contempt? How long will they refuse to believe in me, in spite of all the miraculous signs I have performed among them? (Numbers 14:11 NIV).

When Pharaoh wouldn’t let the Israelites go, God sent ten devastating plagues on Pharaoh’s people and their land.

When the Israelites fled from Egypt, the LORD went before them, leading them with a pillar of cloud by day and a pillar of fire by night.

When they came to the shores of the Red Sea God opened up a path through the waters, making the waters stand up on either side like walls.

But when the Egyptian army followed, God closed the path and drowned the whole army of Pharaoh.

As they travelled through the wilderness God fed the people with bread that formed on the ground overnight like dew. He supplied them with meat by causing great flocks of quail to settle down in their camps.

The LORD is powerful. That much is obvious. In the case of the Israelite people, He was powerful FOR THEM. He used His great might, not to destroy them, but to set them free and keep them safe.

When God then told the Israelites to take the Promised Land as their own because He was giving it to them, they should gone into the land with confidence. But their sinful hearts responded to the LORD’s power with doubt instead of trust.

May God forgive us when we do the same.

God made our dead, unbelieving hearts alive. Even though even though we were dead in sin and living in a world if lies and superstitions, God was powerful enough reach through all that and make us His people through the message of His Son Jesus.

When the LORD directs you and me to do that which seems foolish or impossible, may our response ever be trust. For the LORD is not only powerful, He is powerful FOR US, and therefore He is to be trusted.

SECOND HYMN WS 784 verses 1-2

“The LORD is Just, therefore…
…He is to be Feared.”

“The LORD is slow to anger, abounding in love and forgiving sin and rebellion. Yet he does not leave the guilty unpunished; he punishes the children for the sin of the fathers to the third and fourth generation” (Numbers 14:18b NIV).

People like the idea of a God who loves mankind. But some take God’s love too far, and make Him into an unjust God. They say that God loves sinners so much that in the end he just won’t punish anyone for their sin. This isn’t what the Bible says.

God does describe Himself as a loving God, but also a just God. He does not leave the guilty unpunished. A person cannot live their life according to their own rules and expect that God will smile on them after their death. In the judgment, those who have denied the God of the Bible will be denied by Him.

The LORD is just, therefore He is to be feared.

When we sinners think about God’s justice and our sinfulness, fear of God’s punishment creeps into our hearts, for our sins are many.

In the red Hymnal there is a hymn called, “Stricken, Smitten and Afflicted”. It’s about Jesus suffering on the cross. The second verse reads:

“Tell me, ye who hear Him groaning,
Was there ever grief like His?
Friends through fear His cause disowning,
Foes insulting His distress;
Many hands were raised to wound Him,
None would interpose to save;
But the deepest stroke that pierced Him
Was the stroke that Justice gave” (The Lutheran Hymnal, Hymn 153, v.2).

The stroke of justice that should have fallen on sinners, fell on Jesus instead. By His wounds, we are healed.

Because of Jesus, our “fear” of God is no longer an utter terror, but is now a respect, an awe and a love for the God who loved us so much that He was will take the fall for us.

So, what does a Christian do when he starts to fear God’s judgment over his sins? He takes them to God in honest confession. He takes them to the cross of Christ, where they fade to nothing in the light of Jesus’ sacrifice.

I’ll let you converse with God about your specific sins at home, in your private prayers. Right now let’s confess our sins together, in a general way, and listen again God’s gracious reply.


“The LORD is Patient, therefore…
…He is to be Praised.”

19In accordance with your great love, forgive the sin of these people, just as you have pardoned them from the time they left Egypt until now” (Numbers 14:17-19 NIV).

From the very beginning the descendants of Abraham complained. When Moses appeared before Pharaoh the first time, Pharaoh refused to let the people go. Pharaoh also decided to make the work of the Israelites harder to teach them a lesson. The leaders of Israel complained to Moses, saying:

“May the LORD look upon you and judge you! You have made us a stench to Pharaoh and his officials and have put a sword in their hand to kill us” (Exodus 5:21 NIV).

In turn, Moses complained to the LORD, saying:

“…O Lord, why have you brought trouble upon this people? Is this why you sent me? 23Ever since I went to Pharaoh to speak in your name, he has brought trouble upon this people, and you have not rescued your people at all” (Exodus 5:22 NIV).

Over and over the people of Israel cried out against God, saying that He was not taking care of them properly. They suggested that perhaps God was leading them out into the desert just to kill them all!

How foolish and shortsighted they were.

God’s immense patience is seen throughout His dealing with Israel, and throughout His dealing with us. For we can be foolish and short-sighted too. Don’t we find ourselves fretting about the state of the economy, about the government, about our own health problems. Many are the worries that we allow to weigh our hearts down, instead of taking them to the LORD in prayer. Instead of diligent prayer, our spirits cry out in frustration, “What are You thinking LORD? How can this be good for us?”

But the ever patient LORD works things out according to His wise plan. And He patiently carries us along as while we pout and whine and complain like little children.

The LORD is patient, and patient with you and me, therefore He is to be praised.

THIRD HYMN TLH 34 verses 1-2

“The LORD is Loving, therefore…
…Let us also be Loving.”

“The LORD replied, ‘I have forgiven them, as you asked. 21Nevertheless, as surely as I live and as surely as the glory of the LORD fills the whole earth, 22not one of the men who saw my glory and the miraculous signs I performed in Egypt and in the desert but who disobeyed me and tested me ten times—23not one of them will ever see the land I promised on oath to their forefathers. No one who has treated me with contempt will ever see it’” (Numbers 14:20-23 NIV).

Like Jesus Himself would do on the Cross of Calvary, Moses stepped between the LORD and the sinful people. Boldly, Moses begged God to forgive them instead of destroying them. God listened to Moses, and forgave their sin once again.

But even though God forgave the people, this generation of doubters would die in the wilderness. They would not acquire the land that God had promised to Abraham.

The LORD is loving, but sin has consequences in this life.

Sometimes the consequences for one man’s sin, fall on more people than himself. When parents sin, sometimes the consequences fall on their children too.

“The LORD is slow to anger, abounding in love and forgiving sin and rebellion. Yet he does not leave the guilty unpunished; he punishes the children for the sin of the fathers to the third and fourth generation” (Exodus 14:18).

What the LORD says here sounds all wrong to our ears. How can God be just and loving if He punishes the children for what their parents did!

God’s love is a wiser love than ours. He is not ashamed to send pain on the children of sinful parents so that they will not follow their parents’ evil ways down to the grave and hell. God’s love will carry the consequences of sin to the third or fourth generation if that’s what it takes to turn the hearts of the children back to the True God.

The LORD is loving, therefore, let us be loving too. But let us not love in the way the world does. Let us not love with a flimsy and self-serving love, but with a true love that is guided by our LORD’s perfect Word.


“The LORD is Faithful, therefore…
…His people are Faithful too.”

“But because my servant Caleb has a different spirit and follows me wholeheartedly, I will bring him into the land he went to, and his descendants will inherit it” (Numbers 14:24 NIV).

That the LORD is faithful to those who follow Him is seen in the story of Caleb’s inheritance.

Caleb had seen the richness of the land. He had faithfully encouraged the people to take it because the LORD had given it to them. God had recognized Caleb’s good confession and had promised that he would possess his own part of the land

But even so, Caleb had to go back into the barren wastelands of the Sinai peninsula with the rest of the Israelite people. For forty years he would wander the desert with them. He had been faithful. He had received God’s promise. But He would have to wait all the same.

The generation of those who had tested and doubted the LORD perished one by one in the desert, but Joshua and Caleb remained. Forty five years later the LORD kept His promise to Caleb, and gave him his own plot of ground in the Promised Land.

The LORD is faithful, therefore so are His people. Let us always be faithful to Him. Let us seek His blessing on everything we do. Let us seek His wise counsel in every question. Let us seek His loving forgiveness for every sin. The LORD is faithful, so let us depend on Him. Amen.

November 16, 2008

Because the LORD is There - Nov 16, 2008


On Sunday, November 15, 1970, this building was dedicated as a place for worshipping the God of the Bible. Thirty-eight years and one day later we have gathered for the purpose of worshiping the True God once again. Most of the Scripture readings and hymns selections that we’ll use today are the same ones that were used twenty-eight years ago in that first dedication service. We pray that today the LORD will kindly and graciously stoop down to visit us again so that we might thank Him for this place, and rededicate our hearts to Him.

Prayer: O eternal God, You live in the highest, most holy place, but You also live in the sin-sorry humble heart. Look on us today, with kindness, heavenly Father. With grace. With forgiveness. Bless this house built for Your Name, and bless all who enter it’s doors with life eternal through faith in Your Son. In this way, bring glory to Your everlasting name, even through sinners like us. Amen.

To begin our meditation on God’s Word, I’d like to read all of Psalm 26. We’ll be focusing on just verses 6-8, but I want us to have the whole Psalm in mind as we zero in on those three verses.

Psalm 26 (NIV)


1 Vindicate me, O LORD,
for I have led a blameless life;
I have trusted in the LORD
without wavering.
2 Test me, O LORD, and try me,
examine my heart and my mind;
3 for your love is ever before me,
and I walk continually in your truth.
4 I do not sit with deceitful men,
nor do I consort with hypocrites;
5 I abhor the assembly of evildoers
and refuse to sit with the wicked.
6 I wash my hands in innocence,
and go about your altar, O LORD,
7 proclaiming aloud your praise
and telling of all your wonderful deeds.
8 I love the house where you live, O LORD,
the place where your glory dwells.
9 Do not take away my soul along with sinners,
my life with bloodthirsty men,
10 in whose hands are wicked schemes,
whose right hands are full of bribes.
11 But I lead a blameless life;
redeem me and be merciful to me.
12 My feet stand on level ground;
in the great assembly I will praise the LORD.

These are the words that the Holy Spirit inspired David to write. May that Holy Spirit fill our minds with understanding, and our hearts with faith.

Grace and Peace be to you from God our Father, and from our Master and Savior Jesus Christ.

David kinda takes our breath away and puts a puzzled look on our faces a few times during this Psalm. How about that first verse, “Vindicate me, O LORD, for I have led a blameless life.” What? David wants the Holy God to look down on his life and help him out because David has been such a good, obedient boy?

What happened to the David who committed adultery with Bathsheba? What happened to the David who had murdered Bathsheba’s husband so that he could have her? What about the David who openly declared that he was a sinner in Psalm 51? In Psalm 51 David prayed,

“…Have mercy on me, O God,
according to your unfailing love;
according to your great compassion
blot out my transgressions… Surely I was sinful at birth,
sinful from the time my mother conceived me” (Psalm 51:1,5 NIV).

David knows that he is a sinner. In Psalm 26, after he says, “I lead a blameless life”, David goes on to asks God to redeem him and be merciful to him. He wouldn’t ask for God’s redemption and mercy if he thought he had never sinned. David knows he is a sinner. So why does his prayer point God to his life?

In Psalm 26 David is contrasting the life of a believer with the life of the unbelieving. As a follower of God, David’s life was characterized by faithful service to the LORD. The life of the unbelieving, on the other hand, is characterized by hypocrisy and lies.

David points to his life because God’s work in his life proves that he is one of God’s people. David is saying, “Look in my life LORD! My life shows that you are my God because Your fingerprints are all over it! You are active in my life! I am Yours, now come and save me.”

David recognized what made him special. God had associated Himself with David.

Association with the true God is what makes things special in this sin stained world. The altar of the LORD that David talks about in Psalm 26 wasn’t the only altar around back then. Just like today, the world back then was filled with altars dedicated as many false gods as man could think up. The altar that David circled was special because it was the only one dedicated to the LORD.

In verses 7-8 David says,

“I wash my hands in innocence,
and go about your altar, O LORD,
proclaiming aloud your praise
and telling of all your wonderful deeds” (Psalm 26:6-7 NIV).

You see, it’s all about the LORD. David was special because his life was dedicated to the LORD. The table that David worshipped at was special because it was dedicated to the LORD.

If this altar behind me wasn’t dedicated to the LORD it would be just be another table, and not a very useful one either. But this altar is not just another table. We don’t play cards on it. We don’t serve regular daily meals on it. It is the LORD’s table.

We use this table in the same way that David describes in Psalm 26. We walk around it praising God and talking about all the wonderful things that He has done. Remarkable, thousands of years have passed and we’re still doing the same thing as we approach the altar of the LORD.

There is a difference between the altar that David was circling and this altar though. A pretty big difference. In David’s day the altar was still used to offer blood sacrifices to the LORD, ours isn’t.

In David’s time, Jesus had not yet been offered as the perfect sacrifice for sin on the cross of Calvary. In David’s time God’s people were still offering blood sacrifices that had been commanded by the LORD. Sacrifices which were meant to foreshadow the blood sacrifice that Jesus would be. Did you know that when the Temple of the LORD was standing a perfect, spotless, healthy lamb was sacrificed every day. One in the morning. One in the evening. Every day. All looking forward to the perfect, sinless Jesus who would died instead of us.

Our altar is not designed to hold and burn animal sacrifices because there is no more reason to look forward to the sacrifice of the perfect Lamb of God. Jesus has already been offered, and accepted by God the Father. We don’t need to offer up sacrifices to appease God because we are His forgiven children through faith in Jesus Christ.

Talking about Jesus, the book of Hebrews says,

“12He did not enter by means of the blood of goats and calves; but he entered the Most Holy Place once for all by his own blood, having obtained eternal redemption” (Hebrews 9:12 NIV).

And in Ephesians,

“7In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, in accordance with the riches of God’s grace 8that he lavished on us with all wisdom and understanding” (Ephesians 1:7-8 NIV).

We have redemption through HIS blood. That’s why this altar never holds a sacrifice. That’s also why this decorative cross is empty. The sacrifice that destroyed the record of our sins and united to God in eternal forgiveness is finished! When Jesus felt all the wrath of God over our sins, and when He had triumphantly breathed His last living breath, He died. They took Jesus’ dead body off the cross to lay it in a tomb. Three days later, because He accepted the sacrifice, God raised His Son from the dead. He restored His glory and power and authority forever, and has promised all who trust in Him will rise in the same way. What a God it is that we worship!

In verse 8, David prays,

“I love the house where you live, O LORD,
the place where your glory dwells” (Psalm 26:8 NIV).

On Sunday, November 15, 1970, this building was dedicated to the LORD. Thirty-eight years and one day later we have gathered for the purpose of worshiping the True God once again. There are bigger buildings. There are more beautiful buildings. Some might ask, “Why is this building so special?”

The answer is found in the words of Dedication printed in “The Lutheran Agenda”.

“Albeit the Most High dwelleth not in temples made with hands, but with His glory doth fill the heavens and the earth, He hath yet been pleased to reveal His gracious presence wherever His holy Word and Sacraments are in use. For thus He spake through Moses: In all places where I record My name I will come unto thee, and I will bless thee; and, again, through Christ, His Son: Where two or three are gathered together in My name, there am I in the midst of them. Where as then, this house hath been built for the manifestation of the grace of God in Word and Sacrament and we are for the first time gathered together here in His name, let us, therefore hear the Word of the Lord and by our prayer commend this place to Him, knowing that all things are sanctified by the Word of God and prayer” (The Lutheran Agenda, p.158).

Why gather in this house of wood? Because the LORD is here, in the Father’s Word, in the Spirit’s Baptism and in the Son’s Supper.

Why did those first families gather in the Peterson house? Because the LORD was there, in His Word.

Why was the Upper Room of the Granite Curling Club a great place to worship? Because the LORD was there, in His Word.

Why did our members gather for worship in the Cypress Elementary school, the parsonage basement, the Alderwood Elementary school and in the basement of this structure? Because the LORD was there, in His Word.

Without the LORD, David’s life would have remained sin-stained and worthless. Without the LORD, this altar would only be a tall table. Without the LORD, this house would only be a shelter from the weather.

But because the Good News of sins forgiven through Jesus is read and preached and taught here, the LORD is here. That’s why this house is more than a refuge from the rain. It is a refuge for sinners one and all. It is a shelter where sins are removed. A shelter where peace lives and is distributed. A shelter where the glory of God is seen by faith, through the message of Jesus Christ.

May this house, ever be a place where the LORD dwells by His Word. And may our hearts be the same.


The peace which comes from God, which far exceeds all our understanding will guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.

November 9, 2008

Be Prepared to Meet the Son of Man - Nov 9, 2008

When a group of people sits down to plays a game of cards, sometimes one of them has never played before. Usually someone tries to explain the game to the person who has never played. After a minute of attempting to explain the object of the game, all the rules, various strategies, exceptions, etc. someone else will suggest, “Hey, let’s just play the game, and you can learn as we go.”

This could also be translate, “Hey, let’s watch you lose the first three or four games horribly. By then you’ll get the idea.”

Diving into a game of cards may well be the best way to learn how to play, but it’s not a real good strategy for winning. If you want to win, you need to prepare.

If you and I want to win on Judgment Day we’d better not dive in unprepared. We’d better be ready. The part of the Bible that we’re considering today shouts this message to us.

“Be Prepared to Meet the Son of Man”
1. Because preparations will cease when He appears.
2. Because there will be no warning before He arrives.

SERMON READING Matthew 24:29-36 (NKJV)

29“Immediately after the tribulation of those days the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light; the stars will fall from heaven, and the powers of the heavens will be shaken. 30Then the sign of the Son of Man will appear in heaven, and then all the tribes of the earth will mourn, and they will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of heaven with power and great glory. 31And He will send His angels with a great sound of a trumpet, and they will gather together His elect from the four winds, from one end of heaven to the other.
32“Now learn this parable from the fig tree: When its branch has already become tender and puts forth leaves, you know that summer is near. 33So you also, when you see all these things, know that it is near—at the doors! 34Assuredly, I say to you, this generation will by no means pass away till all these things take place. 35Heaven and earth will pass away, but My words will by no means pass away.
36“But of that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels of heaven, but My Father only.

Grace and Peace be to you from God our Father, and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ – who is the Son of Man.

It was the week before Jesus was crucified. He and His disciples were walking toward the place where they were staying outside of Jerusalem. On the way, one of the disciples pointed out how massive and beautiful the stones of the Temple were. Abruptly, Jesus turned and told the disciples that in days to come all these great stones would be toppled. Jerusalem would be destroyed.

Later on, the disciples asked Jesus to tell them exactly when Jerusalem would be destroyed. They also asked if there might be some signs that would indicate when Jesus would return and when the end of the world was near.

It appears that the disciples thought all these things would come together. Jerusalem would be destroyed, Jesus would return and the world would come to an end – all at once. Of course this wasn’t the case. Jerusalem would be destroyed in just a few decades, in 70 AD. But Jesus’ return and the end of the world would not happen until a much later date.

When Jesus responded to their questions, He made it clear to the disciples that His return to earth would NOT be in connection with the destruction of Jerusalem. He said to them,

“Therefore if they say to you, ‘Look, He is in the desert!’ do not go out; or ‘Look, He is in the inner rooms!’ do not believe it. 27For as the lightning comes from the east and flashes to the west, so also will the coming of the Son of Man be” (Matthew 24:26-27 NKJV).

Like lighting which cannot be hidden, but is seen from the east and the west, when Jesus returns to Judge the world everyone will know it. As it says in the book of Revelation:

“7Behold, He is coming with clouds, and every eye will see Him, even they who pierced Him. And all the tribes of the earth will mourn because of Him…” (Revelation 1:7 NKJV).

With the opening words of our sermon text Jesus begins to describe the Last Day when He will appear in glory. Then, the wheels will fall off the wagon of this world. The sin-tainted creation that we are familiar with will unravel, and come to its end.

Jesus says that the sun will wink out in the sky. Poof. Like God blowing out a candle it will be done shining its light on the earth. Without light from the sun to reflect, the moon will also go dark. Jesus says that the very stars of the sky will fall as the powers of the heavens are shaken.

The Old Testament prophet Isaiah foresaw this strange and dreadful image. He wrote:

“All the stars of the heavens will be dissolved
and the sky rolled up like a scroll;
all the starry host will fall
like withered leaves from the vine,
like shriveled figs from the fig tree” (Isaiah 34:4 NIV).

And amid all these signs Jesus will appear in the sky.

When Saul saw the resurrected Jesus on the road to Damascus he said that Jesus was brighter than the sun (Acts 26:13). When the disciples saw Jesus talking with Moses and Elijah on the mount of transfiguration they said his clothes were as white as light (Matthew 17:2). When John was given the visions recorded in the book of Revelation he described Jesus’ eyes as burning like fire. John collapsed to the ground at the sight of Him. It was too much for him to take in (Revelation 1:14-16).

When Jesus returns, His appearance will speak volumes that all will understand. He does not return to preach the Gospel of the Kingdom, but to separate the faithless from His chosen people. He will not return to offer forgiveness, but to judge sinful men and women and gather in those who have trust in Him. The wicked will be consigned to hell. Those who by faith in His blood have been washed clean of their sins will enter God’s presence forever.

This will not be a good time for getting ready to meet Jesus. If we are not ready when the Son of Man appears, we never will be. All preparations will cease when He appears.

So then, let us prepare to meet Him NOW, while preparations can still be made. How do we do this? How do we prepare to meet Jesus on the Last Day? We are prepared to meet Jesus on the Last Day by getting to know Him now, through the Bible. When we listen to the Word of God it tells us that our sins have been forgiven because Jesus suffered and died in our place. We prepare to meet the Son of Man by confessing our sins to God and receiving His gentle but powerful comfort. “You are forgiven by the cross of my Son”, He assures us.

Jesus once told His disciples:

“…the Son of Man did not come to destroy men’s lives but to save them.”” (Luke 9:56 NKJV).

By working simple faith in Jesus, in our hearts, God has fully prepared to meet Him when He returns.

In the verses before our reading Jesus described some of the signs that would indicate that Jerusalem was about to destroyed. These signs would enable anyone who recognized them to escape from Jerusalem before it was too late.

Jesus then went on to talk about some of the other things that would happen while His visible presence was gone from the earth. These events would be signs that His return was coming, but only in a general way. In other words, these signs, though they would precede the Last Day, could not be used to pinpoint when Jesus would return.

When we examine all the things that Jesus said would happen before His return to Judge the world, we find that they are completed.

The Holy Spirit came to the apostles on Pentecost and enabled them to preach the Good News of forgiveness with boldness. As predicted Jerusalem was destroyed. The apostles were martyred for preaching Christ’s message of free forgiveness. Many Christians fell away from faith. Many false prophets appeared. The Antichrist was revealed. The love of many grew cold. The Gospel was preached throughout the world. All these things predicted to precede the End are done. Nothing is left to be fulfilled before the return of the Son of Man.

This is the second reason why it is so important that we are prepared to meet the Son of Man. There will be no warning before He arrives.

In verses 32-36 Jesus talks about how the sprouting fig tree is a sign that summer is near. Then He tells His disciples:

“33So you also, when you see all these things, know that it is near—at the doors! 34Assuredly, I say to you, this generation will by no means pass away till all these things take place” (Matthew 24:33-34 NKJV).

Since Jesus was just talking about the end of the world, when you read these two verses for the first time it seems like Jesus is saying that the Judgment Day would come within the lifetime of the disciples! But it didn’t. And that was never what Jesus meant.

Most likely that Jesus is again talking about the signs which would precede the destruction of Jerusalem. Those signs would appear before the generation of the apostles had died out.

Others believe that Jesus is using the word “generation” not to indicate a group of people with similar birthdates, but a group of people with similar characteristics. The “generation of the wicked” or the “generation of the righteous”. If this is what Jesus meant, then He was emphasizing that there will be no Christian Utopia here on earth before the end of the world comes. Nor will the Christians become extinct before the Son of Man returns. From other parts of Scripture we know that there will be both unbelievers and believers on earth when Jesus returns.

Either way, all signs predicted to precede the return of the Son of Man have been completed. No signs remain with which a person could predict the day and hour on which the Son of Man will return. Only the Father knows that day and hour.

We are Christians who live in these Last Times. We are thankful for this reminder that only the Father knows. For it reminds us to pay no attention to the fortune teller who predicts when the Last Day will be. We will busy our souls not with futile predictions, but with preparations to meet our Savior rightly.

Part of remaining prepared to meet Christ is being on the lookout for sins in our lives which are growing. Sins which seek to drive a wedge between us and Jesus.

Toward the end of Jesus’ conversation about the end times, He spoke the following warning to His followers:

“But take heed to yourselves, lest your hearts be weighed down with carousing, drunkenness, and cares of this life, and that Day come on you unexpectedly. 35For it will come as a snare on all those who dwell on the face of the whole earth. 36Watch therefore, and pray always that you may be counted worthy to escape all these things that will come to pass, and to stand before the Son of Man” (Luke 21:34-36 NKJV).

When we see our sin growing stronger in our lives, we must flee to Christ Jesus and seek His forgiveness and love. We must drag those sins that weigh us down to His cross and give them to Him in sincere confession. He promises to forgive what we confess to Him. He fully removes our guilt by His cross.

For me, all this talk about being prepared to meet Christ reminds me that if it feels wrong, I shouldn’t do it. I don’t want to bring sins into my life and tend them like houseplants. I want to feed the faith instead. I want to come back to Jesus daily, feeding on Christ. Meeting with the unseen Son of Man. Praying, confessing, reading. Talking with my friends in Christ. Growing in Christ so that when I meet with Him it will be the joyful reunion of old friends.

In the third chapter of John’s Gospel it is written:

“14And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of Man be lifted up, 15that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life. 16For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life. 17For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through Him might be saved” (John 3:14-17 NKJV).

Be prepared to meet the Son of Man. Continue to believe that He is your great God and Savior. Then you will be properly prepared to not only MEET Him on the last day, but to GREET Him with words of love, praise and thanks. And by faith in Him, you will also be prepared for meeting anything that this world might send your way before the Son of Man returns. Amen.

The peace which comes from God, which far exceeds all our understanding will guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.

November 2, 2008

Only Christ's Gospel Gives Life - Nov 2, 2008

Thematic Introduction

On this Reformation Sunday, we’re going to take a look at some of the people that preceded Martin Luther. We might call these people, “forerunners” to the reformation. Through them the stage was set for the Gospel of Jesus Christ to break free from a cold and corrupt church, once again taking its rightful place at the center of Christian teaching.


1 John 4:1 (NIV) “Dear friends, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, because many false prophets have gone out into the world”

JOHN WYCLIF (1320?-1384)

The message of preachers must ever be judged on the basis of what the Bible says. Those who preach Christ as Savior are from God. Those who don’t, aren’t. But what if we did not have the Bible with which to judge their message?

Un-biblical teaching consistently came from the church of Wyclif’s day. Since Bibles were unavailable in English, the English people had no reliable way of judging what they heard. False teachings went largely unchallenged.

Knowing Latin, John Wyclif was able to study the Bible extensively. Seeing that the teachings of the church did not mirror the teachings of God’s Word, he spent much of his life attempting to reform the church. He spoke out against un-biblical teachings and even challenged the authority of the Pope, preaching that the true church of God needed only one head - Christ (Ephesians 5:23).

Wylclif’s greatest gift to the world, however, was his translation of the Latin Bible into English. Corrupt church leaders greeted this first EVER English translation of the Bible with contempt, saying, “the jewel of the clergy has become the toy of the laity.”

Thirty-one years after Wyclif’s death, the church showed their appreciation for Wyclif’s work by excommunicating him. Twelve years later, Pope Martin V had Wyclif’s remains exhumed, burned and cast into the river Swift.

What Wyclif placed in the Englishman’s hand, let us place in our hearts. That is where God intends His Word to live. Then we will be ready to test the spirits with confidence.


Mark 10:42-45 (NIV) “Jesus called them together and said, ‘You know that those who are regarded as rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be slave of all. For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.’”


The church was corrupt. High ranking religious leaders godlessly abused their office to gain wealth and power.

But not all men of the church were so spiritually bankrupt. Martin Luther would later honor one such man, the Dominican Friar Girolamo Savonarola, by publishing his meditation on Psalm 51. And now the rest of the story.

When Savonarola spoke out against the immorality of Pope Alexander VI, he was commanded to cease preaching. When he refused, he was imprisoned. After six weeks of torture, in which the rack was used, Savonarola signed a confession with the arm his torturers had spared for this purpose. This would not be the last word from Savonarola’s hand.

Before being burned as a heretic, Savonarola wrote the meditation on Psalm 51 that Luther would publish in 1528. In it Savonarola pleads for God’s mercy for his weakness under torture, and expresses his hope for salvation:

“Who will take pity on me? To heaven I dare not lift up my eyes, for I have deeply sinned against it; on earth I find no refuge, for I have been an offence to it. What therefore shall I do? Shall I despair? Far from it. God is merciful, my Savior is loving. God alone therefore is my refuge…”

It is a humble service that Savonarola’s life and death provide to us, but such is the service that Christ gives His children to provide. Through Savonarola we see the depravity of the days preceding the Reformation, and the depth through which God’s love was willing to reach.


1 Timothy 6:3-6 (NIV) “If anyone teaches false doctrines and does not agree to the sound instruction of our Lord Jesus Christ and to godly teaching, he is conceited and understands nothing. He has an unhealthy interest in controversies and quarrels about words that result in envy, strife, malicious talk, evil suspicions and constant friction between men of corrupt mind, who have been robbed of the truth and who think that godliness is a means to financial gain.”

JOHN HUSS (1369-1415)

In 1411 two Popes were claiming leadership in the church. Pope Gregory XII and Pope John XXIII. Today, the Catholic church only recognizes the first as a real pope.

In 1411, Pope John XXIII was at war with Naples, Italy. In order to raise money for this war, he authorized the selling of “plenary indulgences”. These slips of paper claimed that some of the “extra” good deeds done by previous Christians had been transmitted to your record and would therefore lessened your suffering in “purgatory”.

John Huss, a priest working in Prague, protested the selling of indulgences. So did many of the students of the University. Three students were detained and beheaded in secret because of their opposition to indulgences. These murders enraged the people, but their anger didn’t stop the Pope from excommunicating Huss and placing Prague under the “interdict”. This meant that no clergy of that city could perform the regular “sin cleansing acts” that supposedly absolved the people of their sins to that point.

Many religious leaders of our time still preach lies in order fill their bank accounts. But their false teachings cannot give true peace or forgiveness.

True forgiveness does not come with a price tag that we can pay with currency minted by man. Nor can forgiveness be secured with the imaginary currency of “un-required” good works done by Christians of the past.

Our forgiveness was purchased by Jesus’ sinless life and innocent death and made ours through faith. You see, the church does exists to make men rich – spiritually rich in Christ Jesus our Lord.


Luke 21:12 (NIV) “But before all this, they will lay hands on you and persecute you. They will deliver you to synagogues and prisons, and you will be brought before kings and governors, and all on account of my name. This will result in your being witnesses to them.”


Like Christ, His apostles would also be abused, arrested and falsely accused before secular authorities. But in the end, even the shameful treatment of God’s representatives would serve to bring the Gospel to more people.

After being excommunicated for opposing the church’s selling of salvation by way of indulgences, John Huss went into hiding. But Huss genuinely wanted the conflict to be healed and the truth of God’s Word to be taught.

Therefore, when Emperor Sigismund asked Huss to appear at the Council of Constance, Huss said he would be there. The emperor had convinced Pope John XXIII to call this council to end the Papal schism which had resulted in three popes now claiming authority in the church.

Huss traveled to Constance trusting the emperor’s promise of safe conduct to and from the city and hoping to speak to reasonable men. He would be disappointed in both points.

After arriving in Constance Huss was detained by representatives of the church and held in the dungeon of a Dominican monastery. Though the emperor was furious at how the church had ignored his promise of safe conduct, he chose not to act on Huss’ behalf, fearing that the council would break up and leave other issues unresolved.

After a false trial Huss was condemned as a heretic and burned at the stake.

Remarkably, Huss told his judges that he was willing to change if corrected using the Bible. Like the Apostles, Huss was blessed with the honor of proclaiming God’s truth before men of high authority.

Even in his death, Huss continued to proclaim the name of his Savior. Before the wind shifted and the flames enveloped him completely, Huss was heard repeating this prayer:

“O Christ, thou Son of God, have mercy on me.”


Revelation 14:6 (NIV) “Then I saw another angel flying in midair, and he had the eternal gospel to proclaim to those who live on the earth—to every nation, tribe, language and people.”

PETER WALDO (?-1218)

Lutheranism has traditionally seen Martin Luther as a fulfillment of this angel. Of course, Martin is not the only fulfillment of this image. The vision of God’s messenger hovering out of harm’s way and continually proclaiming the Good News is fulfilled whenever the Gospel is spoken by God’s people.

Peter Waldo and his followers remind us that the eternal Gospel of Jesus Christ will prevail, being preached and proclaimed in every age until we see our Savior’s face on the day of judgment and salvation.

Peter Waldo was a merchant who worked in Lyons, France. He learned of the Gospel and cherished its message greatly. He had the New Testament translated into the language of the people and began to distribute copies of the New Testament. He also began preaching the pure Gospel of Christ to his countrymen. He organized a society to further the Gospel and broaden the distribution of God’s Word.

Waldo’s mistake came when he asked the Pope to confirm the Bible society that he had established. In 1179 Pope Alexander III confirmed Waldo’s vow of poverty, but forbade him to preach. Needless to say, Waldo continued to proclaim the eternal Gospel of Christ.

Eventually Waldo and his followers were excommunicated from the church for their “heresy” and persecuted greatly. The blood of the Waldensians fell heavily on the ground as many thousands were burned or slaughtered for preaching salvation through Christ. But this only caused these “angels” of God to be scattered throughout Europe, bearing the eternal light of the Gospel wherever they went.

My fellow “angels”, by the grace of God, we bear that same light of Salvation through Christ. Let us cherish it as Waldo did, and gift its light to our neighbors also.


“…prophecy never came by the will of man, but holy men of God spoke as they were moved by the Holy Spirit” (2 Peter 1:21 NIV).

In our sermon meditation for today, we consider the Holy Spirit’s words as recorded for us in Galatians 1:1-12 (NIV):

1Paul, an apostle—sent not from men nor by man, but by Jesus Christ and God the Father, who raised him from the dead—2and all the brothers with me,
To the churches in Galatia:
3Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ, 4who gave himself for our sins to rescue us from the present evil age, according to the will of our God and Father, 5to whom be glory for ever and ever. Amen.
6I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting the one who called you by the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel—7which is really no gospel at all. Evidently some people are throwing you into confusion and are trying to pervert the gospel of Christ. 8But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach a gospel other than the one we preached to you, let him be eternally condemned! 9As we have already said, so now I say again: If anybody is preaching to you a gospel other than what you accepted, let him be eternally condemned!
10Am I now trying to win the approval of men, or of God? Or am I trying to please men? If I were still trying to please men, I would not be a servant of Christ.
11I want you to know, brothers, that the gospel I preached is not something that man made up. 12I did not receive it from any man, nor was I taught it; rather, I received it by revelation from Jesus Christ.

Grace and Peace be to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.

The movie, “Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade” is a movie about a treasure hunt. But the treasure is more than just a pile of gold. In “The Last Crusade” the characters are trying to find a magical cup called the “Holy Grail” that has the power to give eternal life.

In the last scene of the movie Indiana Jones finally enters the room where the magical cup is kept. But there isn’t just one cup, there is a bunch of them of all different shapes and sizes. The guardian of the grail tells him that the only way to find the right one is to take a drink and see what happens. The true grail gives life, but the others take it away.

It is interesting how art imitates life. All around us there are people who want to tell us how to get to heaven. All the religions of the world claiming to know how to reach God are like the many cups that Indiana Jones saw: There’s only one among them that is true. Only Christ’s Gospel gives life, all the rest take it away.

“Only Christ’s Gospel Gives Life”
1. Apostle Paul Offers
2. What Christ Secured
3. And Satan Hates

You and I are disciples of Christ, but we are not apostles of Christ. Jesus had many disciples during his ministry, but only twelve apostles. The disciples were his followers, those who learned from Him. That’s what “disciple” means, “learner”. The twelve apostles on the other hand were selected from the large group of Jesus’ disciples. These twelve men would become Jesus’ closest friends. They would learn from Him in more intimate settings than the rest of the disciples would. When they were ready, Jesus would send out His apostles into the surrounding villages to speak His message, and later He would send them out into the world. That’s what “apostle” means, “one sent out”.

The apostle Paul was an unusual apostle. When the original twelve apostles were selected by Christ, Paul was not yet a Christian. When the first Christian was stoned to death for his faith, Paul was on the stoning team’s side. Paul wasn’t selected by Christ to be His apostle until after Christ’s death and resurrection.

Paul was on his way to Damascus to see if he could find some Christians to take back to Jerusalem in chains. Paul hated Christ’s people. He thought Christianity was a manmade cult that was leading good followers of God astray. But then our resurrected Lord appeared to Paul and told him that he would be carrying a new message soon. The true message. The Good News that sins can’t be forgiven because of good deeds that we do, but sins have already been paid for because of what Jesus did.

In his letter to the Christian churches of Galatia, Paul reminds them that he is a Christ appointed apostle right at the beginning. Paul does this because he wants them to know that what he had told them before, and what he was about to tell them again, was not some man-made counterfeit good news. It was the very Gospel that the resurrected Jesus had revealed to him on the Damascus road.

Paul wasn’t selling some man-made philosophies and logically constructed religious ideas. He was offering them the message he himself had been given from Son of God.

This is what made Martin Luther such a great preacher too. Luther wasn’t selling some religious ideas that he had come up with while passing time in a monastery. Martin offered the world what he himself had been given from the Son of God.

The resurrected Jesus did not visibly appear to Martin in his little monk’s cell. But as Martin struggled with his sin and guilt Christ came to Him through the words of the Bible.

The head of Martin’s order had assigned him to study the Bible. And as Martin meditated over the book of Romans, he found something that church had never taught him.

“17For in the gospel a righteousness from God is revealed, a righteousness that is by faith from first to last, just as it is written: “The righteous will live by faith” (Romans 1:17).

Martin discovered that sinners cannot erase their own sins with good deeds. Martin discovered that God forgives our sins because Jesus Christ suffered the punishment for our sins. Through trust in Jesus, God covers the sinner with Christ’s righteousness!

Martin later explained to his friends that when he realized what Christ’s Gospel was saying, he felt like he had been born all over again.

What the Apostle Paul offered to the world in the first century, Martin Luther offered in the 16th century. Both Paul and Luther simply took what they had been given by Christ and offered it to others. May God loosen our hearts and minds and mouths that we might do the same today.

Paul describes exactly what it is that Christ had secured for the people of Galatia in verses 3-5.

“3Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ, 4who gave himself for our sins to rescue us from the present evil age, according to the will of our God and Father, 5to whom be glory for ever and ever…” (Galatians 1:3-5 NIV).

Through Christ’s Gospel the Galatian Christians had received grace and peace.

The Greek word for “grace” is “charis”. It means a love which is not deserved. Through Christ Jesus sinners receive forgiveness for their sins, and an eternal place in heaven. These things are totally undeserved, but are given by God through faith in Christ Jesus.

Along with God’s undeserved love, Paul tells the Galatians and us that they also have peace. Paul wasn’t talking about peace with this world and the people in it. Christians will never have peace with this world and the unbelieving people in it. Paul was talking about peace with God because the punishment for sin has been paid by Christ.

Paul summarizes the Gospel right here for the Galatians: Undeserved love and peace with God are yours because Jesus gave himself for your sins. And because He did, you don’t have to fear this world, heaven is your destination. And why? Because God the Father wanted sinners saved.

Christ’s Gospel brings peace to us because it brings the forgiveness of sins. But it brings us peace for another reason too. The Gospel of Christ tells us that God the Father loved us before we ever loved Him. God the Father loved sinners even when we hated Him.

“4But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, 5made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions—it is by grace you have been saved. 6And God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus, 7in order that in the coming ages he might show the incomparable riches of his grace, expressed in his kindness to us in Christ Jesus. 8For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God—9not by works, so that no one can boast” (Ephesians 2:4-9 NIV).

Martin Luther knew what it was like to hate God. From his youth, Martin was taught that God lets us be born into the world sinners, and then demands that we be perfect. When that doesn’t happen He damns us to hell. Only through obeying the church and lots of suffering on earth could a person hope to avoid an eternity of pain.

This made Martin hate God. He thought God was unfair, before he discovered Christ’s Gospel. In Christ’s Gospel he discovered that God truly was unfair, but to the sinner’s advantage. God’s Son took all our punishment for sin, and gave us all His perfect righteousness. Talk about unfair! No wonder Martin felt like he had been born again, God’s grace and peace had been given to him free of charge! That same grace and peace have been given to us through Christ’s life giving Gospel.

Satan hates Christ’s Gospel. It’s like a weed to him. When Satan thinks that he’s pulled up all the Christians in one place, in sweeps the wind of the Holy Spirit bringing more Christian seedlings to grow up and proclaim Christ’s Gospel.

When Satan cannot remove all the Christians from a place, he has learned to do what we do when we cannot pull all the weeds from our lawns: He poisons the Gospel. And when unwary Christians suck up the poisoned Gospel, they begin to die.

The Galatian Christians were being served a poisoned Gospel. We can tell what kind of poison was being offered to them by reading through the rest of Paul’s letter. It appears that some Jews were saying that Jesus was great and all, but that you also had to keep the Old Testament laws in order to be saved. In other words, faith in Christ was not enough.

Paul says,

“6I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting the one who called you by the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel—7which is really no gospel at all. Evidently some people are throwing you into confusion and are trying to pervert the gospel of Christ” (Galatians 1:6-7 NIV).

God had sent Paul to offer the forgiveness that Christ had secured for sinners. But Satan had sent out his own apostles to preach a Gospel that would kill faith in Christ.

Paul understood right away, if you add your own works to Christ, then you’re trying to earn forgiveness again. That doesn’t work! It’s all Christ or it’s nothing!

Later in his letter Paul says,

“I do not set aside the grace of God, for if righteousness could be gained through the law, Christ died for nothing!” (Galatians 2:21 NIV).

Paul speaks so strongly about those who preaching a different Gospel because he knows that only Christ’s Gospel gives life, all the others take it away.

That’s also why Martin Luther put such a strong emphasis on sticking to the Word of God. If it isn’t from God, it’s from Satan. And every false teaching from Satan has one ultimate goal: kill Christ’s Gospel, and kill saving faith.

In J.R.R. Tolkien’s classic fantasy story, “The Lord of the Rings” one of the evil black riders carries a special dagger. This dagger is more dangerous than an ordinary knife because its blade breaks off when used. The detached blade causes infection an will eventually work its way to the heart of the victim if not treated.

That’s how every false teaching of Satan works. If it is left alone, it will infect other teachings as it works its way toward the heart of the Christian’ faith – Christ’s Gospel. The only solution is to remove Satan’s lies from our hearts and minds with the surgical steel of God’s Holy Word. To recognize false teaching before it grows strong, Christians need to know God’s Word well. Especially reviewing the Gospel and the other chief teachings found in God’s Word.

Satan hates Christ’s Gospel, because it gives fallen sinners life and salvation. But if there is a number two on Satan’s list of hated things, it’s Christians who won’t tolerate the poisoning of the Gospel. So, study the Word of God. Meditate on Christ’s Gospel. Read it, listen to it, talk about it. Be someone that Satan hates.

In the movie, “Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade” Indy finally figures out which cup is the Holy Grail, the cup which will give a person eternal life if you drink water out of it. But in the exciting end of the movie the cup is lost down a deep crack in the earth, never to be seen again.

In the past there have been times when it seemed like Christ’s Gospel had disappeared for good. During the time of Martin Luther, the corrupt church was doing a pretty good job of hiding the source of eternal life from the people. But thankfully, Christ’s Gospel was restored by the power of the Word itself, translated into the people’s language so they could put it in their hearts.

Thank God for the Christ’s life giving Gospel. And thank God for the Reformation which put it back where it belongs. In the hands of the common man. In the hearts of the simple Christian. On the lips of the forgiven. Amen.

The peace of God, which surpasses all understanding will guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.