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Tuesday, April 2, 2013

New publication from our District of the LCMS

The Iowa District East of the Lutheran Church Missouri Synod has begun producing a "Theological Journal for the Church". The first issue is available here.

In this issue you will find some engaging studies of the Biblical teaching on marriage, family, and human sexuality.

Monday, April 1, 2013

Easter Sermon

March 31, 2013
Scripture readings:
Christ, the Life
Luke 24:5-7

And as they were frightened and bowed their faces to the ground, the men said to them, “Why do you seek the living among the dead? 6 He is not here, but has risen. Remember how he told you, while he was still in Galilee, 7 that the Son of Man must be delivered into the hands of sinful men and be crucified and on the third day rise.” And they remembered His words.
These ladies, Mary Magdalene and Joanna and Mary the mother of James and the other women with them, should have known better. They shouldn’t have been surprised to find the tomb empty. They shouldn’t have been perplexed by the fact that body of Jesus was not where it was supposed to be. They should not have been frightened at the appearance of the angels at such a great event as this day would turn out to be.

Jesus had told them and his other followers that he would be handed over to the pagan authorities, he would suffer, be crucified and on the third day rise again.

Jesus had taught them that in many ways that He was the author of life, the one who has ultimate power and control over life and death, and that he would come again on the last day to judge all life.

After Jesus fed more than 5,000 people, miraculously from just a few loaves and couple of fish, He said, “I am the Bread of Life” Whoever feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day.

Another time Jesus had said, “I am the Way, the Truth and the Life.”

And just a couple of weeks before, when He had raised Lazarus from the dead He had said, “I am the Resurrection and the Life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live.”

Jesus Christ is the Life. How could death hold Him? How could death win?

Now, we can’t be too hard in a critique of those first people to hear the news of the resurrection. They should have known better, yes. But ask any teacher and they can tell you how often students don’t remember the lessons they have been taught. If you’ve ever taught Sunday school, or midweek or Vacation Bible School you may have been surprised at how the students didn’t retain the lesson that you thought you made clear. If you’ve never taught Sunday school, Midweek classes or Vacation Bible School, you should once so you know what it’s like. You can talk to me about that right after the service.

The women who came to the tomb that Sunday morning should have expected that Jesus might not be there.  But it took the angel to remind them, “Why do you seek the living among the dead?  He is not here, but has risen.”

We each know ourselves how things like that can go. We’ve all had times when we realized that we were slow to learn our lessons. We should just know that it’ll go better for us if we don’t sin. We’ll have a better day if we don’t get angry, don’t lust, don’t cheat or deceive. We should just know that we’ll feel better about life and ourselves if we do good works, showing care toward our neighbor and going even a little out of our way to help someone, even our enemy. It’s good to forgive. Forgiveness is divine. But often we don’t remember our lessons.

Or how about this one: We should know better than to fear. Our negative attitudes and our unhealthy emotions often show that we have failed to learn our lessons.

The women at the tomb who were perplexed, confused and frightened at the sight of the angels, should not have been. So likewise you should not fear. A lot people are deathly afraid of shame or embarrassment. There’s no reason to fear. Jesus has forgiven you all your sins, so now because of Him God loves you. It’s not such a big deal if there a few human beings that think little of you. Your God thinks you’re special and worthy. That’s a lesson to not forget.

A lot of people are afraid of the future because their imagination is way too active at thinking up the worst possible things that could happen. What’s the worst that can happen? You don’t have to imagine it. Just look at the cross, it happened to Jesus. He suffered. He died. He cried out “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me.” Jesus willingly took that cross so you don’t have to.  – so you can hear God say instead, I will never leave you. I will never forsake you.

A lot of these fears we have about the future, about suffering, about shame, stem from that greatest and ultimate fear, the fear of death. And I just can’t tell you, stop it. Don’t be afraid of dying. Because it is real and it is inevitable. Everyone’s doing it. No one seems able to beat it. Except One.
For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive. (1 Corinthians 15:22)  

And when you believe that, when you remember His words, when you put your trust fully in Jesus Christ who is your life, the fear evaporates away, like fog when the sun shines through. When you believe that Jesus Christ has forgiven you all your sins, the fear of shame and embarrassment evaporates. When you believe that Jesus lives forever and is sitting at the right hand of God the Father almighty, in control of all things for your good, your fear of the future evaporates. When you believe that Christ is the life, your fear of death evaporates.

 A colleague of mine told me that one of his parishioners once told him, “Pastor, you need to get some new material. It seems like every time I hear you preach, it’s the same old thing: Jesus and His resurrection.”
My pastor friend, kindly and patiently replied to this man, “well, you know, if you came to church more than just at Easter, you might hear that there is more that we talk about.”

But there is some truth behind that parishioner’s criticism. We in the church can’t get enough of talking about the resurrection of our Savior from the dead.

We need to keep this good news in our thoughts all throughout the year and in our daily lives. We like the women at the tomb who heard the angel’s message, need to “remember His words.”

We are surrounded by a world that is seeking a living among the dead.

If you’re looking for some sense for your life in the things that give you pride, you’ll be so disappointed when they pass away.  Your strength, your health, your prosperity, your good luck, your honored position among citizens can give you the false impression that you are worth something on your own. But all of those things don’t last forever. They grow weak, old and succumb to death. If you get some sense of the value of your life and your purpose from those things, it’s like you’re seeking the living among the dead.

If you’re prioritizing your life around those things that give you pleasure, if you make all your choices based on what’s gonna feel good, you’ll be disappointed and you will suffer because such things never last and they never give the happiness they seem to promise. 

By nature we are drawn to love these things most. And all these things we love most are passing away they are dying, they will not last forever. Why do seek the living among the dead?”

Find your sense of life in Christ, the Life.

Find your identity, not in the temporary, dying things that you’d like to be proud of, but in Christ your life.
Seek the living One. Seek Christ the Life.

And He will find you.

He found you and made you His own in the new life of baptism.

He finds you when through His word, you hear that precious Gospel that your sins are forgiven and you will be with Him now and forever, even through the resurrection of the body and the life everlasting.

He finds you when you are fed His body and cleansed by His blood.

He finds you and gives you eternal life. He is Christ, your Life.


Thursday, February 14, 2013

Lent Sermon Series

Every Wednesday in Lent we will be meditating on the passion of our Lord Jesus and on one of the Titles used to address him or refer to Him. These titles help us to know Who Jesus is and what He does for us.

The sermons will be posted on the following pages of the blog:
(click on the title to go to the page for that sermon)

Ash Wednesday -- Christ, the Savior
2nd Wed of Lent -- Christ, the Servant
3rd Wed of Lent -- Christ, the Son
4th Wed of Lent -- Christ, the Prophet
5th Wed of Lent -- Christ, the King
6th Wed of Lent -- Christ, the Priest

Sunday, January 27, 2013

"As was His custom. . . "

January 27, 2012
3rd Sunday after Epiphany

“As was His Custom. . . “

Luke 4:16

"And he came to Nazareth, where he had been brought up. And as was his custom, he went to the synagogue on the Sabbath day, and he stood up to read."

We see here in this passage that our Lord Jesus, like so many of us, behaved according to His custom. He had grown up in the town of Nazareth in the pious Jewish family of Mary and Joseph. He had been accustomed to going to the synagogue  every Sabbath. Now that He had begun His public ministry it is no surprise that He was in the custom of going to the synagogue on the Sabbath day and preaching there.

We know what it is like. We are creatures of habit. We have patterns and routines in our lives that are sometimes very necessary and often times, comfortable and comforting.  There is nothing wrong with that. It’s how we are made. God created us and He created a universe that would best suit us. This creation has an order to it -- a rhythm. God created the Light and separated it from the darkness so that there would be morning and evening and the passing of days and years. He allows the earth to go around the sun in such a way that there are seasons, seedtime and harvest. He created the world in six days and on the seventh day He rested and He told His creatures that they too should follow that pattern of weekly rest.  Being creatures of habit is not a bad thing. It has a divine source.

Jesus Christ was conceived by the Holy Spirit, born of the V irgin Mary and was made man. He, the creator, in this inexplicable miracle that is the incarnation became a creature of habit.

Do you suppose that anyone around that household of Mary and Joseph in Nazareth, ever asked that question, why do we have to do it this way?  Do you suppose that Jesus, as he was growing up, ever heard the answer: “because we’ve always done it that way.”

As times change, so must we. We must progress, we must stay current with some things.  But with some things, there is great value in holding to the customs and ways that are proven and sure, moral and good. God help us to know the difference.

You need not be ashamed of doing things out of habit. So what if some would despise you for bowing your head and whispering a prayer for a meal. Perhaps they will say, “oh, they’re just going through the motions. It’s just a habit, they don’t even think about it.”

No don’t be bothered by such ideas. Habits are useful. Customs are good.. . as we see in the example of Jesus.

But the thing about habits is this:  You and I and all Christians, throughout our lives must examine ourselves, examine our hearts, our thoughts, words and deeds. We must regularly ask ourselves, are these habits I have good, healthy, godly habits or are they bad habits.

A Christian can get into the bad habit of just going through the motions of prayer and worship and turn the good habit of regular, customary prayer into the bad habit of an empty, thoughtless act of self-righteousness.

For instance, a listener can fall into this sort of habit at the start of the sermon. The hymn ends and the pastor gets in the pulpit and the mind begins its habit of wondering. The thinking is, Ok, now’s the time that the pastor has to say what he must say. I can relax and imagine something more enjoyable.  That line of thinking is a bad habit that must be broke. Instead the listener needs to be in the good habit of saying what is there today in God’s Word that is for me to hear and believe and then live by in the week ahead.

So you must examine yourself: thought, word and deed. Have you let yourself get into habits that are sinful. For example, is there some part of your daily routine in which get so totally self absorbed, that your spouse or your children or your neighbor who needs you, must suffer on without you.

Have you left behind the good habits you should be fostering?

Examine yourself, beginning with your thoughts. Our thought patterns are most likely to follow the custom we’ve allowed to happen. Rain drops fall and gather into pools and then streams follow the paths cut for them by the customary erosion. So with our thoughts. They will naturally follow the same course again and again.  Are your thoughts, then, too customarily lustful? Do you spend much of your day entertaining thoughts and imaginations that follow the rut of greed and coveting what does not belong to you? Do you find yourself habitually getting angry over the same things that go on in your household or on the job. Is the problem what others are doing – or is the problem your bad habit of angry thoughts.

Thoughts are the seeds from which our words and actions grow. Unkind words sprout up from thoughts that do not take into count the best in others, but always focus on the worst.

Selfish and self-serving habits grow where there are little or no thoughts to how you might serve your neighbor and show love to those God has given you.

Good habits of personal prayer and devotion to God will only come from the heart and thoughts that are in the good habit of carefully, attentively listening to His word.

One Sabbath, almost 2000 years ago, Jesus, as was his custom and good habit, went to the synagogue and began to preach. He was handed this big scroll that contained the 66 chapters of the prophet Isaiah. Jesus read from this ancient scroll a description of what He the promised Christ, the anointed one would do.  What his habits were, so to speak.

“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
    because he has anointed me
    to proclaim good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives
    and recovering of sight to the blind,
    to set at liberty those who are oppressed,
to proclaim the year of the Lord's favor.”  (Luke 4:18-19)

Listen to the good habit Jesus has of preaching good news.

Jesus was on a mission to proclaim good news to the poor. To proclaim liberty to the captives. Who are the captives? One who is stuck in the rut, bound by the chains of bad habits: bad thinking, bad patterns of speech and action or inaction. He or she can feel and in a very real way is captured.

In Jesus, we see One who has the habit of proclaiming good news, to set at liberty those who are oppressed.  He had been doing it ever since Isaiah was inspired to first teach this and even before. 

He spent His lifetime Proclaiming that good news and freedom. He preached it loudly from the cross when He said Father, forgive them.

He proclaims that good news to you now and always.  Hear Him in His word. Prayerfully repent of your bad habits and with love in your heart for your Savior, ask His help in changing them.

And He will. He who made the blind to see and the lame to leap, also lifts you out of the captivity of sin and disgrace and sets you on His paths of righteousness.