May 30, 2016

May 29, 2016 - 1 Kings 8:26-34

Theme: Words of Grace Come from our Father
1) They come through the Father’s house.
2) They come to the unworthy sinner.

Dear fellow members of God’s household:

It’s estimated that the average person spends one-fifth of his or her life talking. Based on that proportion, if all of our words were put into print, the result would be that a single day's words would fill a 50-page book, while in a year's time the average person's words would fill 132 books of 200 pages each! That’s a lot of words. Among them all there are bound to be some spoken in anger, carelessness, or haste. We see the necessity of God’s command before us today. It seems that the greater the gift we have from God the more damage it can do through carelessness and sin. That certainly rings true for the way we speak.

Even though the eighth commandment focuses on bearing false witness to one another, or essentially lying, it really comes down to any mode of speech that is sinful – anything that we say which falls short of God’s righteousness. When we think about it like that, compared with how often we speak, that’s a lot of heartache and problems just from the way we use our voices. Add to this the things we now write each day too, through email, social media, texting, etc. As our communication increases so does the potential for sin against our neighbor.

This is one reason why we must daily refresh ourselves with what our heavenly Father speaks to us. God instructs us to take regular time away from the daily matters of life to hear His Words. It’s tempting to think that we reach a certain point in life when God’s Words lose their value. Perhaps it’s because we know them so well. Growing up in a Christian home, learning Bible instruction in Sunday School and Catechism class, coming to Bible Class and Church each week will surely increase your knowledge of the Word. But, thinking that you can reach a point where you know so much that the value is lost misses the point. The Words of God are much more than random pieces of information to be assembled in the human mind. They are literally power to salvation. They are the mode of the Holy Spirit’s work; the way we keep on being renewed in God’s will.

Others feel like God’s Words are outdated or irrelevant. Most never take the time to actually learn what the Bible says. That’s folly too, for it assumes that the healing solution for our sinful words is the the very thing that created the problem, something from humans. Those who suffer from sin need help from something or someone outside of themselves. At the height of Israel’s power in the Old Testament, they suffered from the same problems. Problems of sin from human words. As Solomon finished the construction of God’s temple, he was reminded of the importance this building would have because of words. Words which bore false witness, and words of grace from God.  

1 Kings 8:26-34 "And now I pray, O God of Israel, let Your word come true, which You have spoken to Your servant David my father. 27 "But will God indeed dwell on the earth? Behold, heaven and the heaven of heavens cannot contain You. How much less this temple which I have built! 28 "Yet regard the prayer of Your servant and his supplication, O LORD my God, and listen to the cry and the prayer which Your servant is praying before You today: 29 "that Your eyes may be open toward this temple night and day, toward the place of which You said, `My name shall be there,' that You may hear the prayer which Your servant makes toward this place. 30 "And may You hear the supplication of Your servant and of Your people Israel, when they pray toward this place. Hear in heaven Your dwelling place; and when You hear, forgive. 31 "When anyone sins against his neighbor, and is forced to take an oath, and comes and takes an oath before Your altar in this temple, 32 "then hear in heaven, and act, and judge Your servants, condemning the wicked, bringing his way on his head, and justifying the righteous by giving him according to his righteousness. 33 "When Your people Israel are defeated before an enemy because they have sinned against You, and when they turn back to You and confess Your name, and pray and make supplication to You in this temple, 34 "then hear in heaven, and forgive the sin of Your people Israel, and bring them back to the land which You gave to their fathers.

Part 1 - They come through the Father’s house.

We’re told that Solomon took 7 years to build the temple (1 King 6:38). The structure was made of cedar wood. The inner sanctuary and altar were made with pure gold. Certain fixtures were carved out of olive wood. It was a magnificent structure (an artist’s depiction is printed in your bulletin). But despite all its aesthetic allure, when it came to the dedication, Solomon focused on the words that would be spoken in it. These were the words of grace from God.

These would be words that remembered God’s promises to His people. Solomon prayed that God would remain faithful to everything that He promised his father, David. Certainly one of the promises to David was that his son would construct God’s house. It had been a lifelong goal of David’s to build the temple but it was accomplished by Solomon. On this day of dedication Solomon, no doubt, remember his earthly father. But there was an even greater promise that God gave David, and this temple would be a testament to that as well. This greater promise was the covenant, given to many of God’s servants throughout the Old Testament. David, in particular, had a unique relationship to this promise because the Messiah would be his descendent. God promised this to David by telling him that his son’s kingdom would endure forever.

2 Samuel 7:12-16 "When your days are fulfilled and you rest with your fathers, I will set up your seed after you, who will come from your body, and I will establish his kingdom. 13 "He shall build a house for My name, and I will establish the throne of his kingdom forever. 14 "I will be his Father, and he shall be My son. If he commits iniquity, I will chasten him with the rod of men and with the blows of the sons of men. 15 "But My mercy shall not depart from him, as I took it from Saul, whom I removed from before you. 16 "And your house and your kingdom shall be established forever before you. Your throne shall be established forever."'"

Certainly Solomon is mentioned here as the son of David who would build the temple. But Solomon didn’t reign forever. Upon his death, the kingdom of Israel fell into disarray and rebellion. Assassinations took place. People were betrayed by family members. The kingdom became divided. And eventually it stayed that way until both the northern and the southern tribes were taken into captivity. From Solomon on, the history of Israel was definitely not glorious and definitely not eternal.

But God was promising more to David than earthly fame. He was also picturing the coming of Jesus, David’s greater son, who would establish the eternal reign of spiritual Israel, God’s Church. And in place of a temple made with cedar and gold, Jesus would offer up His own body to secure God’s eternal reign in the hearts of believers. Remember how He said, “Destroy this temple and I will raise it in three days.” 

It’s important to understand this about God’s promise to David just for the sake of getting it right. But it also shows us the value that God’s temple served at the time. Solomon was right that it was about God’s healing Word in the place of Israel’s sinful words. That eternal Son of David needed to come because of the wickedness of our sin. When Israel worshipped in God’s house, the number one reason was to receive assurance that God forgave them in His mercy. It was about His Words of Grace.

We should think of the same when we enter God’s house. Solomon’s words of dedication are just as true for our sanctuary as they were for his. The importance is not in the scenery. We don’t have the beauty of Solomon’s temple on the outside, but the Words of Grace from our heavenly Father remain the same. Focusing on those Words and learning from them is the main reason why we gather each week. Sin threatens our lives just as much as it threatened the kingdom of Israel. Without knowing that God also remembers His promises to us and responds in His mercy, we, too, would be lost and divided; led to captivity to sin and Satan.

Part 2 - They come to the unworthy sinner.

Another striking point of this dedication is Solomon’s humility. Here was a man with great power and wisdom. He had just completed the greatest temple in the history of the world, for any religion. He also had just spent 13 years building his own house and the civil buildings of Israel. This was a moment of triumph for Solomon and an opportunity to display his power. And yet his tone is completely lowly and focused on the Lord. This is yet another reminder that the intent of this ceremony was spiritual.

No matter how powerful and wealthy Israel would get, they would never lack for need of God’s forgiveness. They would always be unworthy sinners when compared to the Lord’s power and holiness, and that’s precisely why God gave them the opportunity to construct His house. Lest we think too highly of Solomon too, we should remember that he would later have his moments of failure as he turned to false religions and was led away by riches and pleasures. But in this moment his focus was appropriate.

He mentions in vv. 31-32 that the temple would fulfill the need to take oaths before one another as a way of justifying wrongdoing. In a way that mirrored God’s covenant of forgiveness, He commanded His people under Moses (Exodus 22) to make their own covenant before one another concerning certain sins. Now that the temple was complete, it would serve as the appropriate place for these promises. The people were supposed to promise forgiveness and the setting of things right through these oaths. It was a picture of the way God forgave His people, through Words; by a promise taken to remain faithful at all costs. 

Surely, throughout the use of this temple, there were many times when these oaths would be taken. But, as we have reminded ourselves today about human speech, there were surely many times, as well, when these very oaths, meant to take sin away, would themselves be broken. Human forgiveness, though noble in intent, is also flawed by sin. Even when we make promises to right the wrongs that have been committed, we often turn that reconciliation itself into a further wrong by breaking our promises. Israel was no different. Their oaths before the Lord, in His temple, were reminders of His promise to them. But there was one huge difference. God keeps His Word and we often don’t.    

Israel would take their oaths to practice the Lord’s forgiveness, but it didn’t mean anything without a holy sacrifice for sins. They would give words of encouragement and hope to one another but it wouldn’t mean anything without words of Grace from their heavenly Father. That should sound familiar to our lives because we do the same today. We make promises to one another in God’s name. God-willing, next week we will see the greatest example of that through the vows of Confirmation to God’s Word and teaching. We also promise one another forgiveness for sins in God’s name. We use words of confession and absolution. Yet, without the Lord’s promise to accompany it through the Gospel, we would be left with bearing false witness against one another. 

We are unworthy, humble sinners, and we should be reminded of that each time we enter God’s house. He is the almighty, eternal God who cannot be contained even by the heavens, let alone a tiny structure like our church. But, He chooses to come to us. He wills to be part of your life. He shows us mercy and forgiveness even when we are careless with His Word and in our promises. And because of that mercy, shown to us directly by Christ, the Son of David and eternal temple of God, we have the same hope in our words as Solomon did. The Lord will hear us. He will respond to our sins in mercy. He will forgive. He will bring us to the eternal Promised Land. He has taken an oath to confirm this – His covenant of grace.

It’s amazing how many words we speak each day. A 50 page’s worth! There’s a lot of failure, heartache, and pain in that book each day. To help us, to save us, God gives us His own book of His Words. Let us use it in proportion to our words. If we are always speaking, we’ll never be listening. Listen and learn from your heavenly Father’s grace. Amen.

The peace of God which surpasses all understanding will keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.

May 28, 2016

May 22, 2016 - Trinity Sunday

Theme: God’s Sequence for Your Life
1) The Holy Spirit receives from the Son who received from the Father
2) The Holy Spirit declares to you through the Word of God.

John 16:12-15 “I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now. 13 However, when He, the Spirit of truth, has come, He will guide you into all truth; for He will not speak on His own authority, but whatever He hears He will speak; and He will tell you things to come. 14 He will glorify Me, for He will take of what is Mine and declare it to you. 15 All things that the Father has are Mine. Therefore I said that He will take of Mine and declare it to you.”

I’m sure many of you have played the game, Sequence, before. It’s a well-known game, easy to play. We play the Sequence for Kids version at our house. The basic objective of the game is clear, there’s a board with different cards from a normal deck printed, and you try to get a row, or sequence of cards. First one to get a sequence wins.

The idea behind Sequence really isn’t new. There are plenty of other games that follow the same form. Another example would be the simpler game of Connect Four. But no matter which game you’re talking about, if it follows the same basic rules, you must find the proper order to win. Without order, not only can you not win the game, it won’t make any sense to begin playing at all.

In our short text for today, God reveals a much more important sequence for our lives. This isn’t some trivial game, this sequence is a matter of life and death. Moments before His death, Jesus took great lengths to make sure the disciples understood this sequence and how important it was for their lives. We review it today because we are reminded of how influential the Holy Spirit is in this process and how, without Him, would have no standing before the Father. 

But what we start with is what is behind the scenes in this text. We don’t often look at these verses in this way, but it’s interesting to note that they provide proof of God in Trinitarian form. We have clear testimony about the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, and the importance of each in our lives. It’s very fitting that we would think of this on this Trinity Sunday.

But it’s precisely with the Trinity that we see God’s first sequence in our lives. Jesus is speaking here but if we jump ahead to verse 15 He tells us where He gets His message from. All things that the Father has are Mine. Therefore I said that He will take of Mine and declare it to you.” In that verse alone, if we properly follow the context, we have a clear reference to the Trinity. Let’s follow the point that Jesus is trying to make. He wanted the disciples, and through inspiration all others who would read this, to know that His (Jesus’) message was not His own but that it came from God the Father and was agreeable to God the Father.

We just concluded our Bible class study on the Gospel of John, so this is fresh for many of you, but we must remember how many people viewed Jesus. They didn’t understand or accept that He was God, even though He was continually pointing them to the fact that He was. They thought He was a man only. That’s actually why Jesus was killed. The Jews understood His claims to be God but rejected them; and therefore accused Jesus of blasphemy, the sin of putting oneself in the place of God.

Because of this inability for the majority of the populace to get to the point where they could believe that Jesus was God, Jesus had to explain His rightful claim to authority in terms that they would understand. He explains it from the perspective of being just an ordinary human like the rest of them, because that’s what they were stuck on, even though He was also God. This is where the sequence comes in. Even if Jesus was just as regular human, those who rejected Him would still have to get around the fact that what He spoke came from the Father and was given through the Holy Spirit. Jesus wasn’t coming out and directly saying, “I am God, so listen to Me.” He knew the majority would write Him off immediately if He did that. He tried a different approach; tried to get them to think about it differently. And so He describes that His Words come from the Father and that Jesus has the right to send forth the Holy Spirit to help people trust and understand those Words. For the disciples, they may not have had the stumbling block of denial in their lives, but this explanation was just as important for them. It gave them something to help build around the foundation of Jesus as the Messiah, a concept that they accepted already. For them, it helped describe how Jesus was the Messiah and how He would influence their lives in service to God.

So that’s where the first sequence comes in. Jesus had a lot more to tell the disciples, both for their faith and for those that they would minister to when He was gone. But, time was running out. God’s eternal plan of salvation was reaching its completion point very soon. The task of continuing education would be taken up by the third member of the sequence, of the Trinity, the Holy Spirit. And that process is still going on today in our Church. The Holy Spirit works in our hearts through the Word. He blesses our attempts to minister through the Word. And He continues to build and sustain the universal Church here on earth.

Part 2

The first sequence tells us source of the information. If the message we hear and believe is not from God the Father, God the Son, or God the Holy Spirit, we’re being misled. But Jesus also talks about the sequence God uses to transmit the information of salvation to you. And we shouldn’t be surprised that the promised Helper, the Holy Spirit, plays a major role here too. This sequence is as follows: The Holy Spirit uses the Word of God, to bring the message of salvation to your heart. 3 parts, just like the 3 parts of the Trinity. The Holy Spirit, The Word of God, and You. Take out either of 3; the sequence is broken, and you lose hope and truth.

We might naturally ask, well, where does the Word of God come into the picture? The first sequence is clear, since the Father, Son, and Spirit are all mentioned. But Jesus never talks about God’s Word. He never uses the terms “gospel” or “Holy Scriptures.” That’s true, but the Bible comes out in the way Jesus describes this sequence. He said to the disciples:
·         The Holy Spirit will speak God’s truth to them.
·         Twice He says, The Holy Spirit will take from Jesus, who takes from the Father, and declare it to them.

When Jesus says that the message comes through speaking and declaring it quite naturally fits with the Scriptures. God has ordained the use of His holy Word for the express purpose of helping us know, with certainty, that we are saved. The Holy Spirit must reveal this Word to us. He is caretaker of this timeless message that has come from the Father and fulfilled through the Son. The reason we need this revelation is because we are lost on our own. By nature we have no indication that God loves us; we know only His righteous standards by the law, obligations that we cannot keep. The Holy Spirit is absolutely essential to the sequence of our understanding because He shows us the love of Christ.

Paul explained the Holy Spirit’s role in detail to the Corinthians by saying, “The natural man does not receive the things of the Spirit of God, nor can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned. These things we teach, not in words which man’s wisdom teaches but which the Holy Spirit teaches.”

Take out the Holy Spirit and you remain lost. But the same applies to the other two parts of the sequence, too. Take out the Scriptures, the declaration of God’s truth, and it doesn’t matter how much you think or feel like you have the Holy Spirit, because you don’t. And take yourself out of the equation through rejection or unbelief, and it doesn’t matter how powerful the Holy Spirit works through the Word, because you have chosen to reject it.

It’s simply fascinated to stop and ponder how each person of the Trinity takes an active role in your salvation. The Father created you with purpose so that you might seek and find Him in this life. He ordained salvation through the promise of His covenant long ago. He preserved that promise throughout history down to the perfect moment for His Son to enter time and space for you. The Son then took up the mantle and lived perfectly in your place. He carried the burden of His Father’s law for you; that great debt that held all people hostage. Not only this, He carried that burden to the cross and died under its weight so that it would never be held against you ever again. He put the finishing touch on it all by rising from the dead so that you too could share in that gift one day. And finally, the Holy Spirit took up His active part in history on Pentecost Sunday. He continues to work with Christians everywhere, when the Word of God is taught in truth and the Gospel is freely shared through proclamation and Sacrament.

That is the sequence that your God, Father, Son, and Spirit went through and continues to work through to bring you hope of life eternal. Take out either of the three parts and the game is over. Paul actually explained the Christian faith to people in this same way. Writing to Titus he said, There are many insubordinate, both idle talkers and deceivers, especially those of the circumcision, 11 whose mouths must be stopped, who subvert whole households, teaching things which they ought not, for the sake of dishonest gain. They profess to know God, but in works they deny Him, being abominable, disobedient, and disqualified for every good work. Therefore rebuke them sharply, that they may be sound in the faith (Titus 1:10-11, 16, 13).

Paul clearly says that those who exalted themselves over Jesus were insubordinate, deceivers, dishonest, and ultimately, disqualified. Very literally they were losers. They had lost the right to stand before God because they rejected the sequence of God’s salvation. He wrote similarly to the Corinthians: Examine yourselves as to whether you are in the faith. Test yourselves. Do you not know yourselves, that Jesus Christ is in you?-- unless indeed you are disqualified. 6 But I trust that you will know that we are not disqualified (2 Corinthians 13:5-6).

Same thought here. Reject God’s plan. Try to achieve salvation with your own sequence of truth and you lose the game, you become disqualified. This is obviously true of those who deny God outright, but it is also true for those who deny God’s way of imparting His truth. The way in which God gives salvation is just as important as the way He has achieved salvation. These are the two sequences that Jesus taught the disciples. Break either one and you end up in the same place, disqualification.

We should not be discouraged by this, even though we break God’s truth often. Because the entire purpose behind God’s plan is that He is always in control. From our perspective it seems that there are so many things we have to do to earn God’s favor. This is partly true because we are obligated to keep the entire law. But, that’s not the whole story. God comes to you in your fallen condition and lifts you up by His grace. He does not cut corners. He does not shortchange His righteous demand. But He says, I will work in you the will and power to do what I command. I will save you by grace, an underserved gift. And therefore, He takes care of it all for you. You should not be worried about this, but you should rejoice and be at peace! Your future is not dependent upon you. Someone greater than you takes care of it all. Both the cost of earning it and the work of getting it to you. Both sequences, from God, by God, for you. Amen.

The peace of God which surpasses all understanding will keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen. 

May 15, 2016 - Pentecost Sunday

Theme: God’s Holy Spirit gives us our spirit
1. Our spirit that is Broken but Steadfast
2. Our spirit that rejoices and proclaims God’s glory

Psalm 51:10-17 Create in me a clean heart, O God, And renew a steadfast spirit within me. 11 Do not cast me away from Your presence, And do not take Your Holy Spirit from me. 12 Restore to me the joy of Your salvation, And uphold me by Your generous Spirit. 13 Then I will teach transgressors Your ways, And sinners shall be converted to You. 14 Deliver me from the guilt of bloodshed, O God, The God of my salvation, And my tongue shall sing aloud of Your righteousness. 15 O Lord, open my lips, And my mouth shall show forth Your praise. 16 For You do not desire sacrifice, or else I would give it; You do not delight in burnt offering. 17 The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit, A broken and a contrite heart-- These, O God, You will not despise.

You may have noticed in the news this week a story about a prominent professional athlete who committed an offensive act. Perhaps that’s not much of a surprise to you since we’re used to headlines about public figures getting into trouble, but the indiscretion this athlete committed was somewhat unique. The contest that this event concerned was a professional basketball game between an American team and a Canadian team. When two different nationalities play against one another, it’s common to open the game with both national anthems.

Everyone knows that it’s a sign of disrespect if you don’t stop what you’re doing and show respect during the national anthem. However, this athlete, an American, continued to warm up and shoot during the Canadian anthem. It was blatant and created quite a media buzz during and after the game. It was natural for the athlete to be questioned about his lack of respect for the Canadian people after the contest. The public was looking for an apology and, really, the entire situation could have been diffused with one. However, no apology was given. The athlete’s response was, “I'm not a disrespectful person. So if anybody thinks I'm being disrespectful towards a country, then they have no idea of who I am.”

Not hard to see that that’s not an apology and it’s not a surprise that this comment created and even bigger problem. When public perception did not let up, the same athlete came back a few days later and tried again. This time he said, "No disrespect at all from me, I apologize for Canada thinking I would disrespect them as a country.” A little better, but not quite there is it. Apologizing for how country reacted to your actions is not the same as admitting fault and asking forgiveness. In fact, it’s more an insult than anything.

I’m sure you’ve seen apologies like this before, it’s not just celebrities that make them. The apology is really not an apology at all, it’s an excuse. It’s an apology that says, “I’m sorry you took things the wrong way. Not that I actually did anything wrong.” In the end, it shifts the blame to others.

Part 1

What a stunning contrast from this example to the words of David in our text. In this psalm David pours out his heart when it came to his most public sins. David had committed lust in his heart for another man’s wife. That lust led him to commit adultery with her. That adultery led to a pregnancy. That pregnancy led to David lying and trying to deceive one of his most loyal allies. And ultimately, that deception led to murder.

David tried the excuse game and it didn’t work. Like this athlete, it only spiraled down further into a bigger problem. All excuses are offered for the same reasons, because of fear and insecurity about losing something. David was worried about losing respect as King and leader of the army. He was worried about losing credibility with the people. And so he tried to cover things up one his own. That never works. Sometimes, people get away with the cover-up, David didn’t. But it never works, because God always knows.

When the prophet came and confronted David with his sin, he was truly convicted for the right reasons for the first time. Convicted by the Holy Spirit through the law of God. David wasn’t concerned about his own self-image anymore. He writes, “Create in me a clean heart, O God, And renew a steadfast spirit within me. 11 Do not cast me away from Your presence, And do not take Your Holy Spirit from me.” This now, with the guidance of the Scripture and the Holy Spirit, was David’s biggest concern. He did not want God to leave him.

When David pleaded with God not to cast His presence away from him, he was talking about the gift of faith. Faith in God attaches us to God. It puts us in His presence so that He looks favorably upon us. Think of the blessing that God first gave to His people through the High Priest, Aaron. “The Lord bless you and keep you, the Lord make His face shine upon you and be gracious to you, the Lord lift up His countenance upon you and give you peace.” We repeat that same blessing at the close of our services each Sunday. It’s a reminder and a promise that God will not depart from us. He will not stop looking down upon us in love because His own Son was forsaken in our place. Yes, when Jesu was on the cross, He was cast out from His Father’s presence. He lost the very blessing that David pleads to God about tin our text. And Jesus didn’t deserve any of it. He did that so that our prayers of the same, that God would not forsake us, would hold true. 

David realized that his sins had much greater consequences than public image and support from others. The most important danger threatened his faith in God. David had risked this gift because of these senseless acts. He knew that without God he was nothing, yet the attachment to his sinful nature caused him to forsake this blessing. And at the very prospect of losing God, David was crushed. He says in verse 17, “The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit, a broken and a contrite heart, these O God, You will not despise.”

It was God Himself who brought this weight upon David’s heart, as He does with all sinners. The testimony of the law of God crushes any hope we have in deliverance from ourselves. It breaks us under a weight that we cannot bear. But the Spirit doesn’t leave us crushed. David spoke of one another thing that the Holy Spirit generated in his own spirit, a steadfast hope in God’s mercy. This comes in verse 10. His prayer that God would cleanse his heart was spoken for the purpose of making his own weak spirit strong.

This idea of being steadfast means to have a fixed or established position. The Christian’s prayer to God is that He would keep His Spirit with us to keep our spirit fixed on the truth. The contrast to being steadfast is what Paul described to the Ephesians, “that we should no longer be children, tossed to and fro and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the trickery of men, in the cunning craftiness of deceitful plotting (Ephesians 4:14).” That’s a lot to take in there but it all comes down to being positioned securely in the word of God. The Holy Spirit in the one who does that for us.

The weight of God’s law was indeed a strong motivator for David. But what was even stronger was the foundation of the gospel. The Holy Spirit creates a spirit in the believer’s heart through both the law and gospel. One crushes us, it breaks our sinful will. The other makes us strong and steadfast in the hope of God’s forgiveness. The key to both is that we need the Holy Spirit to lead us. He works through His Word to enact these things in our hearts. And it wasn’t until Nathan came to David with the Word of truth, that the Holy Spirit worked upon David’s own heart and he was led to express the beauty of these words before us today.        

Part 2

The beginning and the end of our text bookend the way the Holy Spirit motivates, both through law and gospel. In the middle, David describes what this proper spirit of faith in His Savior led him to do. David would teach sinners about God’s truth (v.13). David would sing aloud to God with praise (vv.14-15). And David would offer gifts of sacrifice back to God, not for atonement, but as a thank you to God (vv.16-17).

There are many more things we could say about a faithful response to God’s salvation. But these things which David lists all involve a common theme. We use what God has given us for His glory. Without the Holy Spirit’s conversion of David’s heart, he never would have responded in these ways. We must recognize the same in our lives. If we truly desire to serve God it must first happen by the change in our hearts. The Holy Spirit must lead us through the spirit of brokenness and steadfastness. And the accompanying gifts that we give back to God only come through His power.

When God rescues sinners, He doesn’t immediately separate them from the rest of the world. He has a plan for all believers that begins at conversion and continues on throughout the rest of their lives here on earth. That plan involves sharing the Word of God with others. And each step of the way the Holy Spirit is working behind the scenes. He works to break down. He works to build up. He works to produce fruits. Each part is important to the Christian life. 

So when David proceeded forward from wicked thoughts and actions that brought about these words, he didn’t just relapse to his former ways. Sometimes that does happen to Christians. There’s no doubt that David had plenty of other sins that followed the renewal of the Holy Spirit in the context. But they weren’t planned by David. His heart was changed. The days of making excuses for these sins were gone. The great cover up was exposed and was taken away by God’s mercy. The spirit of new life given to David by the Holy Spirit would not return to these things. 

That leads us back to where we began. If David’s apology was anything like so many of the vain apologies we see in the world, he truly would have completely lost God’s presence. But instead of shifting the blame, instead of hiding from what he did, instead of making excuses; David was completely honest about his sins. It broke him but it also created room for the Lord’s healing grace.

What are your apologies like? When you apologize to God for your sins, is it more like the professional athlete or more like King David. It’s tough to be completely honest. It’s hard to know that the Holy Spirit is breaking your sinful flesh down. No one likes how that feels. It’s easy to say the words but to mean differently in your heart. You confess your sins but tell yourself it’s really not that serious. It’s just something you do because you’re supposed to or because everyone else in church is. You say you’re sorry but you know you’re going to do the same thing again, and soon. It ends up sounding a lot like that athlete’s apology. “I’m sorry if You took it wrong God. Clearly you don’t know me because I wouldn’t do something like that. It’s just not me.”

How vain it becomes. It takes a greater spirit than our own to come back to reality. God doesn’t want your excuses. He doesn’t want your sacrifices for your sins. He simply wants you. The true you, not the deceptions you try to get away with. Therefore, He sends the Holy Spirit to you. To convict you of your sin and to restore you to a steadfast spirit. Without the Holy Spirit we wouldn’t get there.

But let’s also remember that the Holy Spirit doesn’t work as an independent contractor for God. He uses what Jesus has done for you. Your deliverance happens completely outside of who you are as a sinner. Jesus died for those sins on His own, without your help. He offers that to you on His own, without your will power. And the Holy Spirit uses that foundation to make you steadfast, to give you fixed point of security outside of yourself. Something that can hold you safe throughout life’s storms. Jesus, your Savior, outside of you. The Holy Spirit, your motivator, outside of you. He breaths into your heart the life of faith, completely in tune with Jesus Christ. Amen.

The peace of God which surpasses all understanding will keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus, Amen. 

May 8, 2016 - Ascension Sunday

Theme: When Our Plans Meet God’s Will
1. David’s plan: a temporal house - God’s will: a heavenly home
2. The disciples’ plan: an earthly leader – God’s will: a spiritual King
3. Our plans: mothers and families

Proverbs 16:9 A man's heart plans his way, but the LORD directs his steps.
Consider these familiar passages:
·         I was glad when they said to me, "Let us go into the house of the LORD." (Ps 122:1)
·         LORD, I have loved the habitation of Your house, And the place where Your glory dwells. (Ps 26:8)
·         One thing I have desired of the LORD, That will I seek: That I may dwell in the house of the LORD All the days of my life, To behold the beauty of the LORD, And to inquire in His temple. (Ps 27:4)

The words of King David leave us with little doubt that he loved going to church. The psalms he wrote lead us to believe that he loved even the THOUGHT of going to the LORD’s house. As David settled into being king over Israel and built himself a palace, this love of the LORD and love of the worship of the LORD led him
to devise a plan. He told the prophet, Nathan, “See now, I dwell in the house of cedar, but the ark of God dwells inside tent curtains.” (2 Sam 7:2) When King David brought the ark to Jerusalem he had prepared a tabernacle, a tent structure, to place the ark within. To David this did not seem right. He felt that the LORD deserved better and wanted to start a church building project.

Nathan’s reply? “Go, do all that is in your heart, for the LORD is with you.” Great idea! Go for it! Nathan could think of no reason why not. David’s heart was in the right place - he thought the living God deserved a better place of worship than inside tent curtains. The King had a plan and the prophet said to go for it!

How many times haven’t we been in a similar situation? Our zeal for the LORD leads us to devise a plan. A plan that comes from a believing heart which loves the LORD. Which one of us hasn’t prayerfully, thoughtfully, and lovingly made plans or made requests of the LORD which did not violate Scripture and come from our zeal for the LORD and His worship? We can hear the Prophet Nathan’s response, “Go! Do all that is in your heart, for the LORD is with you!”

While the Prophet Nathan told the King to go ahead with his plans, it wasn’t God’s ultimate will for King David.
Rather than David’s plans to build a house of cedar for the LORD, the LORD would build David a house. “I will set up your seed after you, who will come from your body, and I will establish his kingdom,” said the Lord. The LORD promised that from David’s lineage, an eternal King would come. This is the promise of the Messiah, the Savior of the World. Like the Ark of the LORD residing in the humble tabernacle, the fulfillment of the LORD’s promise to King David would not look all that glorious to the naked eye. From David’s seed, a humble virgin named Mary, from a no-nothing town of Nazareth, a child would be born. His first bed was an animal’s food trough. His ministry only lasted 3 years and was marked by rejection. He was rejected by the religious
leaders of the day and condemned to death by crucifixion by the powers that be. So inglorious was this Seed of David, that He didn’t even have His own burial plot - His corpse was laid to rest in a borrowed tomb. Like the Ark of the Covenant inside tent curtains, it seems that the promised Seed of David deserved a better life and dwelling than Jesus of Nazareth experienced.

Yet the LORD reminds us again and again just as we had last weekend: “My thoughts are not your thoughts, Nor are your ways My ways, For as the heavens are higher than the earth, So are My ways higher than your ways, And My thoughts than your thoughts.” This humble Seed of David was not just A Son of man, but the eternal and almighty Son of God. When the Word was made flesh and dwelt (literally, pitched his tent) among us, He was establishing an eternal reign. Through His humiliation, He was conquering our sin. His miserable death on the cross, was to pay the debt to God for our transgressions. By the cross, He was crushing Satan underfoot. And from that humble, borrowed tomb Christ rose and overcame death forever.

Flash forward now to Christ’s ascension. We see the humble Seed of David ascending to an eternal throne in heaven, at the right hand of God the Father, “far above all principality and power and might and dominion, and every name that is named, not only in this age but also in that which is to come. 22 And He put all things under His feet, and gave Him to be head over all things to the church, 23 which is His body, the fullness of Him who fills all in all.” (Eph 1:21-23) This is the consummation of the Building project that the LORD was planning for King David. The Son of David, Jesus Christ, would ascend to the right hand of the Father where He would rule not just over a piece of real estate, but over all of Creation for the good of His Church. The plans of the King of kings was much greater than the plans of the King of Israel.

There wasn’t anything wrong with David’s desire to build a temple to the Lord. It wasn’t a sinful or wicked desire. It just wasn’t the Lord’s plan. Sometimes, that’s the way it goes for us too. Our ideas, our desires, our prayers, may be good and just, but God has a better way.

Part 2

Ascension also reminds us another group of believers who had plans that didn’t quite work out the way they wanted. Upon seeing Jesus in His glory after the resurrection, Luke tells us the disciples’ reaction: “Lord, will you at this time restore the kingdom to Israel?” The disciples thought this would be the perfect time for Jesus to take His rightful claim as King of Israel. What had puzzled them so much during their Lord’s suffering, namely that Jesus would subject Himself to these horrific acts, was a thing of the past.

This plan was long in the making too. The disciples, as with many of the Jews at that time, were brought up to believe that the Messiah would conquer their earthly enemies. Therefore, we understand why James and John would argue about who would be greatest in the new kingdom. We see why Peter drew his sword in the Garden of Gethsemane, even though Jesus rebuked him. They were well-intentioned, and they had grand plans, but not according to God’s will. Jesus’ simple reply was to the point: “It is not for you to know the times or seasons which the Father has put in His own authority.” In other words, “the time for the kingdom is God’s business, not yours.” God’s true plan and true kingdom, which had been in play for much longer than the disciples’ plan, would indeed come to pass. Pentecost Sunday was just 10 days away from Ascension day. The Holy Spirit would come to God’s Church and begin the construction of King David’s eternal temple, the Holy Christian Church, through the proclamation of the gospel in word and sacrament. A spiritual temple for a spiritual Savior.  

Needless to say, the disciples didn’t quite get the message right away. As Jesus left their sight on His way to heaven, they were left standing with perplexed gazes toward the sky. They needed an angel to remind them that it was time to get to work. Keep your heart centered on Jesus in heaven, but keep your eyes and hands at the task of sharing the Word. God’s plan for His New Testament Church had begun.

Part 3

Learning about examples of the Lord’s direction from the Bible is good and nice. But we’re often left asking, what about my life? Each day we’re beset by problems upon problems. Perhaps we can weather these things well here and there. But what about when big changes happen? A car accident, being laid off from work, a major illness, financial troubles, petty arguments that last years, anger and hostility within our family. You simply can’t be in the world without being exposed to major changes and problems. The Christian is left wondering, if my faith in Jesus is such a great thing, then why all this heartache? I was kind to my employer and a hard worker, why did I get let go? I was responsible with my time, my money, and my possessions, why did God take that away from me? I refrained from hurling insults and from judging, why is that person so mean to me? The questions continue day after day, but they all boil down to the one thing. The struggle of doing what is right and knowing that you may suffer from it. Why does God allow that to happen?

It's kind of like our plans. Maybe they’re not bad. Maybe there’s nothing wrong with the request or the goal, but God has a different way. You shouldn’t think that God doesn’t care or that something is wrong with you if He chooses to go a different way. The reminders of David and disciples and many others in the Bible serve as reminders for us. They went through the same thing too. But more importantly, they show us why we have hope even our plans don’t work out. For God’s eternal plan for you and me is salvation through Jesus. He has promised to make sure nothing changes that. And every plan He directs for you is centered on getting you to heaven through Jesus. David and disciples’ plans didn’t work out. But it was for their own eternal good.

We think especially today of the role of Christian mothers. A Godly mother suffers much for no reason. She cares and provides for her family yet she must put her own dreams on hold, or often give them up entirely. What’s the Lords’ plan? A Godly mother prays and prays for her children, yet so often very few family members think of her. What’s the Lord’s plan? A Godly mother knows that love must be tough sometimes; she can’t always be her child’s pal and encourage what they are doing. She must put her foot down sometimes and show them the truth; the kind of love no one else would show; yet when she does she is often despised and disrespected. In response to her love, she receives resentment. What’s the Lord’s plan? Think of how many times Godly mothers do what is right and receive what is wrong in return.

For all Godly mothers or whatever vocation you have, Jesus said, "Blessed are you when people hate you and when they exclude you and revile you and spurn your name as evil, on account of the Son of Man! 23 Rejoice in that day, and leap for joy, for behold, your reward is great in heaven; for so their fathers did to the prophets (Luke 6:22-23).”

Peter instructed the early Christians, But even if you should suffer for righteousness' sake, you will be blessed. Have no fear of them, nor be troubled, 15 but in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect, 16 having a good conscience, so that, when you are slandered, those who revile your good behavior in Christ may be put to shame. 17 For it is better to suffer for doing good, if that should be God's will, than for doing evil (1 Peter 3:14-17).

The message is clear, if you suffer because of the plan that God has, you are blessed. It defies how suffering makes us feel, but it is the clear evidence that we have been redeemed by Christ, and that that redemption has worked. When you show glory to God, especially when the world calls for you not to, you prove that the victory is complete. Jesus was, and still is, the only one who rightfully could complain about having to suffer. But He never has and never will, and therefore neither will we. It’s okay if God changes the plans that we make. Sometimes He does so because we are setting ourselves up for disaster. Other times He does so because He has a better alternative. But in every case He is always in control and always working for your benefit. We have assurance of this because He offered up Jesus the proof of His promise. God went to that extreme so that He could continue His plan for your life. A plan that was made in eternity and a plan with eternity in mind. If Jesus did not die for your sins and suffer unjustly in your place, the plan would have been lost.

Perhaps unwittingly we wish that was the case. If God’s will in Christ was demolished, we could always get what we want. We could be the sole authority in our lives. We would never have to worry about God interrupting our plans. But that would also be a life without purpose or direction. It would be life of selfish greed and not unconditional love for God and for one another. And it would be a life without hope in heaven.

We have plenty of reminders that God’s plan reigns. King David and the temple. The disciples and ascension. The work of our Godly mothers for their children and their husbands. But none greater than Christ crucified for us. Without a doubt the most unlikely plan. Foolish to human perception. Impossible to skeptical observation. Unknown without God’s revealing. Yet, in truth, the only plan that could work. The only way that allows life and forgiveness to exist with freedom and love. Christ for sinners, through death, through resurrection, through ascension. The only plan for us. Amen.

The peace of God which surpasses all understanding will keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.

May 3, 2016

May 1, 2016 - Isaiah 55:6-11

Theme: No Time Like the Time of Grace

Oh the depth of the riches, both of the wisdom and knowledge of God. How unsearchable are His judgments and how untraceable are His ways. The portion of His Word on which we meditate today comes from Isaiah 55:6-11:

Seek the LORD while He may be found, Call upon Him while He is near. 7 Let the wicked forsake his way, And the unrighteous man his thoughts; Let him return to the LORD, And He will have mercy on him; And to our God, For He will abundantly pardon. 8 "For My thoughts are not your thoughts, Nor are your ways My ways," says the LORD. 9 "For as the heavens are higher than the earth, So are My ways higher than your ways, And My thoughts than your thoughts. 10 "For as the rain comes down, and the snow from heaven, And do not return there, But water the earth, And make it bring forth and bud, That it may give seed to the sower And bread to the eater, 11 So shall My word be that goes forth from My mouth; It shall not return to Me void, But it shall accomplish what I please, And it shall prosper in the thing for which I sent it.”

What motivates you to get things done? What’s the driving force that gets you out of bed in the morning and keeps you going throughout the day? Oftentimes it depends on what we’re doing. The motivation behind work is providing for ourselves and loved ones. The motivation behind vacation is having time for relaxation and enjoyment. The motivation behind family activities is growing closer with one another. The motivation behind a doctor’s visit is staying healthy. There are many different forces that motivate us day by day.

The opposite of motivation is procrastination. Procrastination is putting off or delaying something, especially something that demands immediate attention. Procrastinating often makes us feel good right away but has negative long term effects. And procrastination can be addictive, the more we do it, the more comfortable we are with it, and the more we are tempted to continue doing it.

There’s a familiar saying that many of you know when it comes to dealing with procrastination: No Time Like the Present. This little saying reminds us not to put things off that can be done right away. If you’ve got the chance to do something now, don’t put it off just for the sake of putting it off. You never know when the future might change and you won’t have the opportunity to get it done. God calls for us to apply a similar lesson in our lives through the words of Isaiah this morning, and through the story of His Son’s work to redeem us from sin.

We need to “seek the Lord while He may be found.” In other words, we need to heed the instructions and guidance he gives us in His Word, because we have that Word today. We need to receive, by faith, the blessings of forgiveness that God fought so hard to attain, which led Him to offer up His very life. Sound like God thinks your salvation is important? Again, why put off for tomorrow what you can do today? So, just as there is No Time Like the Present, so also there is No Time Like the Time of Grace. That phrase, the Time of Grace, is used to describe the opportunity that God has given us here on earth. The Time of Grace is the time we have to learn about and grow in the Lord’s love. Everyone has this opportunity from the moment they are conceived. God calls to all people to listen to His Grace and receive it by faith for the salvation of their souls.

The pressing issue is that like all units of time, even our Time of Grace has an ending point. Each of us has a day, whether that be the day we die or the day the Lord returns, that our opportunity to hear the gospel will end. There are no second chances after this day arrives. God tells us that once we die we are judged, there’s no time gap in between (Hebrews 9:27). Just like once Jesus died on the cross, all our sins were forgiven, no need to seek further atonement. This is obviously one of the reasons why Isaiah implores his readers to “Seek the Lord while He may be found.” After death or Judgment Day, whichever comes first for us, there will be no more opportunities to seek God’s Grace, for the Lord will immediately send us to either heaven or hell.

Isaiah’s warning of losing the nearness of the Lord is not just message to be concerned about when death. Every day, whether it be our first or last, presents moments to grow closer to the Lord or drift farther from Him. This admonishment is given especially to those who now have the Word. This applied directly to Israel when Isaiah first recorded this message. Today, it applies directly to us. We have been extremely blessed to have access to God’s Word our entire lives. Not all people in this world have that opportunity. This truth is even more apparent in our age of digital communication. The entire Bible can be read and copied effortlessly on a computer. A vast array of audio devices can play the words directly into our ears. Churches exist all over our nation that broadcast the Word every week. Without a doubt we certainly have the Lord and His Word among us today. But will it always be like this?

It’s not hard to see the history of how the Lord’s Word has come and gone in different parts of the world. Back before the Lutheran church was formed, it was extremely difficult for people to get their hands on the Bible. This was due, in part, to the tediousness of making copies by hand. The invention of Gutenberg’s printing press in 1450 helped alleviate this stress and got more copies of the Bible out there. But the church also had a hand in keeping Bibles from people, if you can believe that. The Roman Catholic policy before the Reformation was that only ordained priests could personally use the Word. The only access common people had to God’s Word was through the voice of the priest, and sadly many priests abused this authority. It was illegal, punishable by death, for people to try and translate the Bible. And many died to so that the Bible could be read by you and me today.  

But as is with all things in life, what was new, exciting, and valued quickly becomes commonplace and people began to forget about the amazing blessing they had. In time, what used to be considered a blessing, namely access to the Word of God, is thought of by many today as a resentful burden. The more subjective and self-centered our culture becomes, the more people will question God’s Word because it speaks to His absolute truth, not man’s opinions. It’s almost as if Isaiah prophesied directly about the history of Christianity in Europe and America. For people no longer desired to seek after God and find Him in the Bible. People forgot that God’s ways are higher than ours and that His Word is able to accomplish His will. And the trend continues today.

A major complaint against God is why He chooses to remain silent. Why does God allow wickedness to prosper if He indeed hates it? Why does God put up with sinful mankind if He indeed has all power? Why do we believe in God if we can’t see Him? These are questions that we all have about God at times. In many ways, these questions strike directly to the nature of God and the need we have for a Savior. Why should we continue to seek God if He left us? Why couldn’t Jesus stay on earth with us, why the need to go back to His Father? Well, the Bible tells us why. In Acts 2, the Holy Spirit tells us why through the sermon of Peter on Pentecost:

“God has resurrected this Jesus. We are all witnesses of this. 33 Therefore, since He has been exalted to the right hand of God and has received from the Father the promised Holy Spirit, He has poured out what you both see and hear (Acts 2:32-33).” Christ defeated sin on your behalf and rose again through His resurrection to pour out His blessings of righteousness upon you. It’s very much like a seed in springtime. The seed must die. The seed starts small. The seed seems insignificant to the rational mind. But in the proper setting, the seed gives life and the life leads to fruit. Perhaps now we can see why Isaiah would choose to describe the Word of God as a scene out of springtime. The sun returns, the waters flow upon the earth, seeds are planted, life springs anew. Every year, around this time, we have a reminder of what the Lord’s Word of gospel truth means for us. It’s not impressive to outward observer. But to the believer, it is the power of God unto salvation.   

As the Holy Spirit now uses us to work through the Word of God, He tells us that Christ is among us through the Word. Apply His message in the book of Hebrews to our Savior’s death and resurrection: Long ago God spoke to the fathers by the prophets at different times and in different ways. 2 In these last days, He has spoken to us by His Son. God has appointed Him heir of all things and made the universe through Him. 3 The Son is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact expression of His nature, sustaining all things by His powerful word. After making purification for sins, He sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high (Hebrews 1:1-3).

For us who are living in the final days, God has revealed His grace to us directly through His Son. We have the testimony of His Son’s work in the Words of the Bible. Jesus said a similar thing to His disciples: The light is among you for a little while longer. Walk while you have the light, lest darkness overtake you. The one who walks in the darkness does not know where he is going (John 12:35). Jesus is the light of the world. We have that light among us now when we listen to His Word. As our living Savior, He means much more to us than just a bodily presence. He is with us every time we pick up our Bible and see His love flow from the pages. We have the light among us today just as the disciples did. This is an amazing gift, but let us take heed not to lose it. Isaiah reminds us, “Seek the Lord while He may be found.”

A day is certainly coming when our time of grace will end. It could happen today, tomorrow, next week, next year, or 100 or more years down the road. The key is that now is the time to listen and believe. Now is the time because everything is fulfilled now. Jesus has finished the work of salvation that proved to be impossible for each of us. He has declared His victory over death and the grave, by many eye-witnesses and validation from the Scriptures. He has returned to His kingdom in heaven and is interceding on our behalf right now. But, He’s also coming again. No Time Like the Time of Grace, to believe and to receive life in Christ.

But there’s no time like the present also because the gospel continues to move. The Word of life stays with those who follow it and departs from those who reject it. It truly is sad to see how this process played out in Europe where unbelief and idolatry have ravaged the land. But it’s a reminder for us in America. God’s Word does not remain stagnant with those who continually reject it. It will move on to those who receive with meekness and joy.

Let us learn from that lesson for our own lives. Every day in God’s grace is an opportunity to grow closer to Him or drift away. Every day, we either water and tend the precious seed of faith or we let it wither away on it’s own. It’s not hard to see the direction that our country is headed; as a whole we are trending the same as Europe, a slippery slope toward unbelief. We can and should certainly try to counteract this through Christ’s powerful word of gospel but it doesn’t mean it will change. No matter what we do, we can’t convince people to “seek the Lord,” we can only support and speak to the truth.

You must also be ready to look at your own life and give an account to the Lord. Which direction are you headed? Isaiah recorded this message to give us guidance. Seek the Lord while He may be found. Christ demonstrated His love for you by dying on the cross of God’s punishment in your place. And not only that, He is currently in heaven now, working on your behalf as the worthy Substitute between you and the Father. There is no question about His desire to be with you.

We’re not able to witness every stage of development and change with our own two eyes, but we trust that it will take place because we know it will happen. No one can deny that a seed will grow in soil with the proper amount of sunlight and water because we’ve seen it happen many times before. You’d be laughed at it you doubted such a matter. Yet, the change and growth of God’s grace on our hearts is gradual. Don’t doubt it just because you are impatient or because you are pressured by the world.

We have a great blessing today by having God’s Word among us. This is a blessing that we can share not only with each other but also with those who may not know it yet. Remember, there’s no time like the time of Grace. God has extended all people an opportunity to believe in Him, and He is truly among them through the Word. Let us not procrastinate by wasting this precious chance to grow in the grace and knowledge of Christ. There is nothing more important that you can do with your life, and you have God’s promise that He will make you prosper.

Let us not doubt or fear because of all of the uncertainties of life. We have God’s Grace today, let us humbly and gladly receive it, each day. There’s no time like the present. Amen.

The peace of God which surpasses all understanding will keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus, Amen.