What’s in your heart?

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6th Sunday of Easter
1 John 3:11-18

Thanks be to God! He has given us a new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead! In the name of Jesus, dear friends in Christ,

Has this ever happened to you? You’re walking along holding a cup of some liquid (maybe coffee, juice, water, etc) and someone bumps into your arm, what happens? Whatever was in the cup spills out. Now, why does that happen? This isn’t that profound. Whatever it was that spills out comes out because that’s what was in the cup. Well, that same thing is true about our lives. The inevitable knocks, bumps, irritations that we encounter in life cause what’s inside of us to “spill out.” So, if you’re full of anger, and someone bumps you, what’s going to come out? Anger. If you’re full of hate and someone bumps you, what’s going to come out? Hate. If you’re full of kindness, on the other hand, and someone bumps you, what’s going to come out? Kindness. Inevitably what’s inside of us is going to come out in our words and actions. So the unexpected knocks, bumps, irritations of life give us a pretty good indicator of the quality of life on the inside.  Jesus said the same thing, “Out of the overflow of the heart, the mouth speaks.”

Our text this morning tells us what it is that God wants us to be so full of on the inside that it just spills over into the rest of our lives- in our words and actions. And the apostle John uses our Old Testament lesson about Cain and Abel as a case study about this.

God tells us, “Do not be like Cain, who belonged to the evil one and murdered his brother.” Now try to picture this: Cain and Abel had grown up together. Perhaps Abel was only a couple years younger than Cain. They had likely played together, worked together. Can you picture Cain showing his little brother how soft a lamb’s fleece was or showing his brother how after planting little seeds in the ground they sprout and grow into plants? They had both been raised by the same parents, both had been told about the Garden of Eden and how perfect everything was until they had taken the fruit off the tree and disobeyed God and how God had banished them from the Garden, but how God had promised to send a Savior who would crush the head of the beast. Both Cain and Abel had been taught by their parents to respond to God’s goodness by giving back to the Lord.

So, as our first lesson pointed out, they both gave offerings to the Lord. And we’re told, “The LORD looked with favor on Abel and his offering, but on Cain and his offering he did not look with favor.” Now, perhaps we’re a bit troubled by that. What was wrong with Cain’s offering? My goodness, he’s at least bringing an offering!! Why wasn’t God pleased with it? You see, the difference wasn’t so much with the offerings that were given, it was what was on the inside. Martin Luther said, “Abel could have brought a nut and God would have been pleased.” The problems wasn’t the offering, bu the heart of the one giving the offering.  Cain didn’t care.  Cain brought an offering because he had to, it was expected of him he felt, it was necessary, he was simply fulfilling the rules and regulations, it was repulsive to him.  Abel, however, brought offerings to God because he wanted to, because he knew God as the gracious and forgiving God, because he knew God had promised his parents a descendant who would crush the serpent’s head, who would undo the damage in the world caused by sin and its effects.

Do not be like Cain, who belonged to the evil one and murdered his brother. And why did he murder him? Because his own actions were evil and his brother’s were righteous.” Hatred boiled in his heart. When he thought of Abel, his nostrils flared, his teeth clenched, he felt a burning in his chest. He couldn’t stand his brother anymore. Rage surged within him. He brought his brother out to a field where he slaughtered him.

You see, there was a battle being fought in the heart of Cain and he gave in to the Beast within, his anger and hatred against God boiled over against his brother and killed Abel. That same battle is raging right within you too. You see, what’s inside of you will come out in your words and actions. Have you ever felt a loathing for someone close to you? Have you ever been a little shocked that you could feel such hatred toward another human being? Have you ever naively toyed with the idea of what life would be like if he or she was out of the way? God sounds his warning, “Sin is crouching at your door; it desires to have you, but you must rule over it.

It’s the bumps and irritations of life that will reveal what’s inside. If you’re angry or upset, ask yourself why? What’s behind this attitude? Could it be that God is allowing you to see a sin that you’ve allowed to take root in your heart? Could it be that God is opening up your eyes to Satan getting a foothold? If there’s greed or coveting on the inside, it will show itself with an ungenerous spirit, with selfishness, with a lack of care for others. “If anyone has material possession and sees his brother in need but has no pity on him, how can the love of God be in him?“  Sin is crouching at your door; it desires to have you, but you must rule over it.” What’s on the inside will come out.

What sins are you clinging on to?  What sins might God giving you warning about?  What sins are crouching at the door of your heart wanting to master you?  Anger, jealousy, hatred, bitterness?  What sins have mastered you?  Have mastered me?  Are we any better than Cain?  No, we haven’t physically murdered someone but who here can stand when God says, “Anyone who hates his brother is a murderer, and you know that no murderer has eternal life”?  We deserve nothing from God but His eternal judgment.

But notice how God deals with Cain. God could have struck him dead right then and there, God could have sent him to hell right then and there. But notice, did you see? God’s repeated seeking love for Cain. He doesn’t leave him in his sin, but he comes to him, confronts him, questions him, calls him to repentance. And in further love and mercy and totally undeserved grace God puts a mark on Cain to spare his life, to give him a lifelong reminder of God’s undeserved love for him to call him to repentance. That’s the kind of God we have.

If hatred ultimately reveals itself in murder, love, then taken to its conclusion, reveals itself in sacrifice. Hatred seeks to destroy another’s life, love, however, gives its own life so that another may live. Abel wasn’t only the first human being to be killed, he was also the first shepherd to be killed. But there was another Shepherd who was killed, killed for his sheep. “This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us.” We don’t know if Abel struggled or not, but we do know that Jesus willingly let it happen to him. He laid down his life for us. Jesus never felt the rage and hate that stormed through Cain. Although Satan tried plenty of times to get Jesus to become angry with his disciples, or to hate those who hated him, or to curse the Roman soldiers who nailed him to the cross, all that could come from Jesus’ lips were, “Father, forgive them.” It was Jesus who took upon himself all the rage and hate and unrighteous anger, all the filth, all the sin that we let fester in our hearts, Jesus took it all upon Himself and took all of God’s righteous wrath for the sins of the world on the cross paying for it in full.

In grace God marked Cain to spare his life. God has also marked you. In your baptism God brought all his love and forgiveness to you working faith in your heart. When you were baptized the minister said, “Receive the sign of the cross on the head and on the heart to mark you as a redeemed child of Christ.” Through faith in Jesus you have passed from death to life. You live and will continue to live forever. God has filled your heart with love, true love. Love not just with words or tongue, but with actions and in truth.

This week you’re going to be bumped and knocked and irritated and whatever is in your cup is going to spill out. So what’s it going to be? Hate, anger, jealousy, bitterness? No. Look at the love God has for you. He’s filled you with His love. At your baptism he marked you as his child. In His Word He fills you with the fruits of the spirit: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness. And in His Supper this morning once again this morning He presses to your lips Jesus’ own body and blood for the forgiveness of all your sins. Let God’s love and kindness for you spill out everywhere in your life. Amen.

Jesus: God’s Son, our Savior

 

Jesus - Stained Glass

Christmas Day Sermonette
John 1:1, 14

“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. In him was life, and that life was the light of men….the Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the One and Only, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.”

Christmas is really about this truth: the miracle of the incarnation. What does incarnation mean? It’s really a Latin term that refers to the mind-boggling truth of the infinite God taking on human flesh and blood. Well, what’s so important about that? What practical difference does it make that Jesus is not just a human being but God himself? What practical difference does it make that Jesus is not just God, but a real human being?

Immanuel. That’s what Jesus is. “God with us.” If this baby born in Bethlehem is God Himself, then what? If Jesus is God, then He is the Almighty, Eternal, transcendent God. Then He deserves not just our complete obedience, not just our total worship, but the absolute first priority of our lives.  If Jesus is God, then we need to stand in absolute awe of who He is and what He does. There’s no place for disobeying Him, no place for questioning His ways, no place for neglecting Him or His Word.

But what’s the reality of our lives? Our lives are full of disobeying God, full of question Him, full of neglect of Him and His Word. All that we can expect is His just punishment, His cold shoulder, His wrath forever. That’s what we deserve.

But then, here it is again: Immanuel. God with us. If this baby born in Bethlehem is God Himself, that means the work that He came to do is of infinite worth.  And what did He come to do? He came to shed His blood as a ransom to pay our sins. But this isn’t just any blood, this is the blood of God Himself! Think about how absolutely priceless that is! One man cannot pay for the sins of another man, I can’t pay for your sins, you can’t pay for my sins, but God? Can God pay for someone else’s sin? Yes! No sin is too great to be forgiven, no evil is too great to be paid for. He is God. Your conscience can rest completely – your sins are forgiven in full, God paid for them!

Finally, if Jesus is God, then salvation is by grace. Think about this, every single other religion than true Christianity says that the founder of their religion was a great person, a great teacher, a great prophet who was sent by God to show people what they must do in order to be saved. But think about that, if our salvation was just something that WE had to do, you know what God could have done? He could have just sent a prophet or an angel to inform us on what we must do to be saved. But that’s not Christmas! This is God Himself coming, He didn’t come in order to tell us what we have to do, but He came to do for us what we could not do ourselves. He came to rescue us with His life and death. That’s grace!

This God, this eternal God, look what He did to come to be with you! Now, what I want to know is what you’re doing to get with Him? What are you doing to be close to Him? What are you allowing to get in the way of spending time with Him in His Word? God didn’t allow anything to get in the way of Him being with you, don’t let anything get in the way of you being with Him. Amen.

The Small Catechism

Reformation Sunday

Romans 3:20 and Galatians 3:10 – The Ten Commandments

How do you feel about mirrors?  Let’s imagine that you went to a very nice wedding reception complete with white table cloths, fancy dinnerware, everyone’s dressed up in nice clothes.  And you have a wonderful time, talking with people, laughing with them, telling stories.  You really enjoy the evening.  Then you get home and while you’re in the bathroom you look in the mirror and…what is that!?!  You have a blotch of red sauce on your face and…what is that!?!  A large chunk of food is stuck in your teeth!  Ahh!!  How are you feeling?

All of sudden you begin to reflect on the night.  Were all those people really being friendly?  Were they laughing at me?  Had I really made a good impression?  Is everyone going think of me as some goofball or slob?  Great!  The mirror was a good thing…but…it had a way of ruining something you thought had gone real well.

God’s commandments are like a spiritual mirror for each of us.  We like think of ourselves as real good people.  When our conscience starts to bug us about something we’ve done, we just try to do good stuff to make up for the bad stuff.  Maybe be extra helpful, maybe do something good for someone, maybe compare ourselves to people who seem a lot worse than us and say, “At least I’m not that bad.”

But then we get in front of the mirror of God’s Ten Commandments: You shall have no other gods, you shall not misuse God’s name, you shall not murder, you shall not commit adultery, you shall not steal, you shall not covet.  God’s commands force us to look at ourselves and see who we really are.  God’s commands make us see our sin so clearly, force us to see the reality of our sins, to see that we have failed to do everything God has demanded of us and therefore we are under a curse, that we deserve God’s punishment, we aren’t as good as we thought, in fact, because of our sin we look horrible and deserve nothing but hell.  Mirrors are helpful, but they can be quite a letdown.

Romans 1:16-17 – The Apostles Creed

Luther began the small catechism with the Ten Commandments for a reason.  You see, God’s law, His bad news, has to do its work first.  If we don’t see our sin, don’t see our need for salvation, then we’re not going to be much interested in Jesus and His work for us.

Luther never criticized the Catholic church for giving him a sense of sin and guilt that made him cry out in despair, “How will I ever find a gracious God?’  In that respect the Roman Church did not do Luther a disservice.  Later Luther once said, “The more you minimize sin, the more will grace declines in value.” But here is where the Church at Luther’s time when wrong.  Having terrified his conscience with the threats of the Law and portraying God as an angry Judge, they urged him to turn to himself and his own good works to find peace for his soul.  This teaching drove him to become a monk, to form callouses on his knees from praying, to whip himself, sleep on hard wood floors, etc.  He tried to comfort himself by his observance of the law but it didn’t work – he couldn’t be perfect as God demands.

So in his catechism, Luther followed the 10 commandments with the Creed.  Why?  Because the Creed is full of the wonderful things that GOD has done for us humans: He created us, He preserves us, He sent His Son, who was conceived by the Holy Spirit, born of a virgin, suffered under Pontius Pilate, died, and buried, He descended into hell, and on the 3rd day was raised to life.  It’s all the wonderful work of salvation!  The wonderful things GOD has done to save us!  So after the Law has crushed us, the gospel is what assures us that we are forgiven and that what Jesus has done for us has been credited to us!

So just like the Law is a mirror and when I look at it I’m filled with despair because I see myself according to my sinful self.  The gospel is a different kind of mirror.  When I look in the gospel-mirror, I see Jesus.  I see his life, his death, his resurrection that’s been credited to my account!

God brought Luther to that understanding through the words of this text.  It says that the righteous will live by faith.  Notice what it doesn’t say; it doesn’t say that the righteous will live by what they do, or by their good works, or by their obedience to the law, no!  It says the righteous will live by faith.  In other words, salvation isn’t something that you do!  It’s a gift that God GIVES to you.

Luther said that when God gave him that understanding it was like the gates of heaven had been flung open to him.  God was not an angry judge who demanded from him a perfection that he couldn’t give, but a merciful and loving father who did for him what he couldn’t do.  Now he had peace and confidence and not shame and guilt.

And God’s given that to you too!  When it comes to your salvation the laws demands have all been met, by Jesus!  The requirements have all been fulfilled, by Jesus!  And that’s what you confess in the words of the Creed.

Ephesians 5:25b-27 – Baptism

I need reminders.  I easily forget things.  If you tell me something on Sunday morning, I’ll probably say, “Please remind me or send me an email or write a note.”  Without reminders we can easily forget things.  There’s a reminder that we have in front of church every Sunday: the baptismal font.  Of what does that remind us?  Of our baptism, of course.  And what’s so significant about baptism?  Luther explained to us that with a little water and a little word at your baptism God works forgiveness of sins, delivers from death and the devil and gives eternal salvation.  In other words, at your baptism your sins were cleansed and washed away, God adopted you into His family, you were born again as God’s redeemed child, your name was recorded in the book of life, and you were clothed with Jesus’ perfect life, radiant, without stain or blemish but holy and blameless.  All in your baptism!

Why is this reminder so important for us?  Luther once said, “There are times when I feel my sins most severely.  And the devil then tries to get me to question whether or not God really loves me.  At that point I say, “Devil, I am a baptized child of God and you can’t take that from me.” Baptism is an objective part of your personal history, a seal from your God to you that your sins are forgiven and no one can take your baptism from you.

So be reminded when you see this font, be reminded when hear water running, when you see water, be reminded of the water and the Word by which God brought you into his family through baptism.  Amen.

1 John 1:9-10 and John 20:23 – Ministry of the Keys and Confession

A week and a half ago we went down to the Cities to help my mother-in-law move in to her new home.  We carried quite a few boxes into her house.  Some boxes were large full of dishes…they were heavy.  What’s it like to carry something heavy?  It’s tiring, it’s straining, it causes your muscles to ache, your skin to sweat, it’s exhausting.  Well, carrying around unrepentant sin is also exhausting spiritually, emotionally, and even physically.  King David talked about how God’s hand was heavy upon Him, how his bones wasted away, when he refused to repent of his sin with Bathsheba.  Carrying around a grudge is likewise exhausting.  Are we guilty of sin?  Yes.  Are we guilty of carrying around grudges?  Yes.  What do we need?  We need God to lift the burden from our shoulders.

And God has done just that.  With Jesus’ death and resurrection God took the first step and forgave all our sins against him.  He didn’t hold a grudge, He forgave us.  Why?  So we could live in repentance.  We could live confessing our sins and receiving and announcing forgiveness.  Confession and forgiveness is the heart beat of the Christian’s life.  Sorrow over sin and trusting in Jesus for forgiveness.  In His grace God says that when we announce forgiveness to repentant sinners it is as good and as valid as if God Himself were saying it.  What an awesome burden God lifts from our shoulders!

 

Matthew 26:26-29 – The Lord’s Supper

Luther concluded his small catechism with the Lord’s Supper.  In his comments in the Large Catechism on the Lord’s Supper he admits that there is a lack of human logic to this. People protest, “How could Jesus give his body and blood to people?  How could that really happen?”  Luther admitted and we also admit, there’ a lack of human logic to all of this.

But Luther also makes the point that God is way smarter than every human and that God is… God!  If God wants something to happen, it will happen, whether or not it makes sense to our human brains.  So, when Jesus says, “This is my body, this is my blood.”  We can be confident that as we eat bread and drink wine we really do receive Jesus’ body and blood and it offers, gives, and seals to us the forgiveness of sins, life, and salvation.

Here’s one illustration that Luther used when discussing the Lord’s Supper.  He compared Jesus’ words in the Lord’s Supper to an official document which guarantees an inheritance.  If you have that official document, it doesn’t matter how scaly, scabby, stinking and most filthy you are, you get the inheritance.

Scaly, scabby, stinking and filthy.  That’s who you and I are when we examine ourselves against God’s commands.  But then in the creed we hear about Jesus our Savior.  In baptism God washes us clean from our sins.  The keys are used to keep assuring us of our salvation.  And then God comes to us in the Supper.  God gives us the miraculous, himself, His own body and blood together with bread and wine.  And with it God guarantees to us the ultimate inheritance, he garuantees and eternity with him in heaven!  And whether it makes sense to us our not, it doesn’t matter because God is smarter that we are, stronger than we are, and when God says it, it works!  Amen.

The Triune God Testifies to You!

Trinity Sunday
1 John 5:5-12

The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all.  Amen.  In the name of our Triune God- Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, dear friends in Christ, Parents are very familiar with how this goes.  It’s a regular occurrence in my house.  Something will happen, something will break and the parent has to exercise some fact finding.  “Which of you children broke this?”  Now, the child really has 3 options: a. tell the truth and face the consequences, b. plead ignorance or lie, or c. blame it on your 2 year old brother who can’t defend himself.  Humans are good at lying, we learned how to do it when we were very young.  Our world understands this.  You walk into a courtroom and what do you hear?  “Do you solemnly swear that you will tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth, so help you God?”  People who are called to testify in court are typically required to take some sort of oath in order to validate their testimony.  Why?  Because our world understands that people don’t always tell the truth, people lie.

But why is this so important?  Because it’s often the court’s job to establish what is true and factual and what is not.  Normally, in court you have two parties both claiming opposing things and yet both claiming to be telling the truth.  So judges and juries are often called upon to examine the testimony of evidence and witnesses in order to determine what true and what is not.

Well there’s something in life that is absolutely vital for us to know is true and real and that’s God.  We need to know who our God is and what our God has done for us.  But what God tells us isn’t easy for us to believe- it’s actually impossible for us to believe on our own.  Every Sunday it comes up in some way, our God is a Triune God.  That means He is three but one.  There is only one God.  Yet, this one God has revealed Himself to us in 3 distinct persons: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  How can God be 3 in 1? It goes far beyond our minds and is something that we can’t fully comprehend or understand.  So God has provided us with testimony not that we might fully understand Him, but that we might fully understand the truth of where we stand with Him and be confident knowing it.

We live in a world full of lies and deceptions, don’t we?  And the last thing any of us wants is to be wrong.  Where did all these lies come from?  From the very beginning.  God the Father created a beautiful, wonderful and perfect world out of His goodness and power.  He spoke and it came to be.  Then in amazing love He fashioned and He formed specially and uniquely the prize of His creation: humans, Adam and Eve.  He gave them the whole creation to use and rule and He gave them one command by which they could show their love to Him: “You are free to eat from any tree in the garden; but you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat of it you will surely die.”  (Genesis2:16-17).  Then came the first liar and father of lies.  He told them, “You will not surely die!  God knows that when you eat it you will be like him.  He’s holding something from you, you’re missing out, he really doesn’t love you.”  And so now you have a question: Who are you going to believe?  God who created you or this serpent?  One is telling the truth, one is lying.  Unfortunately, they believed the lie and became ashamed and afraid of God.

That’s where it all started.  Those are our first parents.  Ever since then our world has been both full of lies and full of shame and fear of God.  And you’ve felt it.  Your conscience has felt it.  We’re faced with lies all the time, aren’t we?  “You’ll feel better if you just get angry, get even, talk about him behind his back.”  “It’s about time you served yourself, do what you want for a change” “It’s your body, do with it whatever you want.”  “Just try this drink or take this illegal drug that will help you.”  Our world is full of lies to get us to turn from God and disobey Him.  And at times we’ve listened to those lies and have felt the shame, the fear, and the guilt.

But the biggest lie and the goal of all lies that the father of lies, the devil, will try to get you and me to believe is this: that God is not true, that God doesn’t love you, and that God hasn’t saved you.  How will he do this?  He’ll try to get you to think that God doesn’t exist or that the Bible isn’t true or the Bible is just a nice collection of stories that aren’t necessarily factual or that Jesus really isn’t God, that He was just a nice guy or a great prophet or whatever.  Well this is the lie that the devil was using at the Apostle John’s time.

A false teacher by the name of Cerinthus was teaching that Jesus was actually not fully God.  Rather, he claimed that Jesus was born of earthly parents and then at his baptism he became the Messiah, but then just before he suffered and died he stopped being the Messiah.  So, the believers that John wrote his letter to were faced with a tough question: is Jesus God or was Jesus just a man who took on God qualities for a little while?  Which is true?  Which is a lie?

He begins with the truth: The one who believes that Jesus is the Son of God has overcome the world.  If Jesus is the Son of God, the second person of the Triune God, the Savior of the world, the payment for all sins, then they know that no matter what happens, their salvation is accomplished and sure.  But if Jesus was not true God, then we are still in our sins and there is no hope we are lost.

Then God calls three witnesses to the stand: “This is the one who came by water and blood- Jesus Christ.  He did not come by water only, but by water and blood.  And it is the Spirit who testifies, because the Spirit is the truth.  For there are three that testify: the Spirit, the water and the blood; and the three are in agreement.”  What is he talking about with this “water” and “blood”?  Obviously John is using picture language that was familiar with those who first read his letter, but not so familiar to us.  What is most likely is that “water” here refers to Jesus’ baptism.  Think about what had happened: Jesus went to John the Baptist to be baptized, John pointed to Jesus and said, “Look the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!” Then at his baptism God the Father spoke from heaven saying, “You are my Son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased” (Luke 3:22). Then the Holy Spirit descended in the form of a dove.  Clear testimony that Jesus is God.  But unlike what Cerinthus said, Jesus remained God even at His death where He shed His precious blood that purifies us from all sin.  And recall the events: the temple curtain torn in two, earthquakes, rocks splitting, darkness, the soldier exclaiming, “Surely he was the Son of God!” (Matthew 27:54)  Again, clear testimony that Jesus is the Son of God.

The third witness is third person of the Triune God, the Holy Spirit.  The Holy Spirit is the truth.  The Holy Spirit doesn’t need any help; He is His own convincer of the truth.  God’s Word is the Spirit’s tool to work on people’s hearts.  As the Holy Spirit does His work through the Gospel he turns hearts to believe the truth.  This last week we had Chris Driesbach here for a concert.  Chris also told his story.  He spent the first 42 years of his life as an unbeliever, as an atheist.  Then he met a Lutheran pastor.  He thought, “This is going to be fun, I’ll be able to prove him wrong and argue with him.”  Well, every question Chris had, the pastor always directed him back to God’s Word and soon Chris found himself thinking, “You know, this stuff in the Bible and about Jesus is true!”  How did he come to know that?  The Holy Spirit.  How do you know about Jesus?  The Holy Spirit.  The fact that you believe is personal testimony to the work of the Holy Spirit in your heart!  Otherwise you’d never believe this!

Then John goes on, “We accept man’s testimony, but God’s testimony is greater because it is the testimony of God, which he has given about his Son.  Anyone who believes in the Son of God has this testimony in his heart.  Anyone who does not believe God has made him out to be a liar, because he has not believed the testimony God has given about his Son.

We receive people’s testimony all the time.  This past week, no doubt, you all heard about the tornadoes that devastated parts of Oklahoma and Texas.  How did you come to know that information?  Well, likely one or more news agencies testified to you that tornadoes really did cause all kinds of devastation and death.  Perhaps you saw photos and videos.  We also all know that photos and videos can be edited, people can lie, and yet I doubt any of us here would insist that the tornadoes didn’t take place.  When there is a testimony of something you either believe it or you don’t believe it there’s no middle ground.  The fact that you believe tornadoes caused devastation in Oklahoma is because you believe the testimony of people who were there and who saw it- even though none of us traveled to OK to witness the devastation first hand.  Well, if we take people’s testimony of events that take place in this world all the time, how much more so ought we to take God’s testimony of the most important thing in all of life and death, namely, that Jesus is the Christ the Son of God.  Add to that, if you don’t believe someone’s testimony regarding something you are calling that person a liar.  If someone doesn’t believe God’s testimony that He has provided, that person is calling God a liar.

God has laid out His evidence, provided ample testimony to the truth, it is a fact.  God the Father created all things and continues to sustain all things by His infinite power.  Then in His extraordinary love He sent God the Son, Jesus, to take on human flesh, to live on this earth perfectly, and to die on the cross to pay for the world’s sins.  Then He sent the Holy Spirit to work through the Word and Sacraments to convince you that it’s all true and applies to you and me!  And the result?  Eternal life.  Everyone who believes in Jesus has eternal life, everyone who doesn’t believe, doesn’t have life.  It’s that simple.

In a world full of lies and deceptions you can move forward confidently knowing the truth.  Why?  Because God Himself has testified to you!  Your Triune God has done everything to rescue you and make you His through Jesus, and God, who cannot lie, says because of that you have life- eternal life.  That’s the truth, believe it!

Live as Lived In, Love as Loved!

7th Sunday of Easter

To Him who loved us and has freed us from our sins by His own blood, to Him be power and glory forever and ever, Amen!  In the name of Jesus, dear friends in Christ, air is an essential component of our lives, isn’t it?  We need air to live and to breathe.  Air is all around us and we enjoy it.  But air can also cause problems especially when it is mixed with something.  For example, about this time of year many people suffer because the air carries pollen and allergens, if you’re driving on the road and you drive by a dead skunk- the air isn’t very pleasant smelling.  And yet there are times when air can be quite pleasing.  For example just after a fresh rain the air is clean and crisp, or when the air carries a pleasing aroma of some fragrance or flower.  I went to school in the same town as a Nestle Chocolate factory.  I remember every now and then when the wind was right I could smell the sweet smell of chocolate- almost like just drinking it in.  Those pleasing smells permeated the air.

In a way there is an “air” or atmosphere that exists in every home, in every family.  This atmosphere can be very warm and sweet and pleasing or it can be foul or stale or cold.  What is in the air of your family?  The key fragrance that makes any home pleasing and enjoyable is love.  Now this love is not just any kind of love or love defined by human standards, rather, this is the love of the One who created love, who is love’s author, it is God’s love.  So how can we ensure that our homes remain sweet smelling and fragrant and filled with true love?

God gives us the answer in 1 John.  “We know that we live in him and he in us, because he has given us of his Spirit.”  God wants us to realize who we are: people in whom He lives.  People in whom God the Holy Spirit lives.  Now, this isn’t just some pious wish or some happy thought – it is the fact.  Through faith God’s Spirit lives inside of you.  He has made His home in your heart.  But really?  How can we be sure?  “And we have seen and testify that the Father has sent his Son to be the Savior of the world.  If anyone acknowledges that Jesus is the Son of God, God lives in him and he in God.”  Our faith rests on historical facts, it is not some giant leap or wishy-washy hope.  So the very fact that you acknowledge and confess that Jesus is the Son of God and Savior is proof that God does live in you.  God tells us, “No one can say, ‘Jesus is Lord,’ except by the Holy Spirit” (1 Cor 12:3).  God lives in us and He does things in our lives: He causes us to be loving and caring to other people- that’s evidence that God lives in you.  An unbeliever in whom God does not live, can only do everything for selfish reasons.  But notice what else that means: If you acknowledge that Jesus is Lord and Savior, then you’ll act like it.  You can’t say, “Jesus is Lord, my Savior, He is the world to me, and He lives in me” and then go out and act totally differently.  That’d be like a husband who promises and vows to his wife that he’ll be faithful to her to death and then goes out and cheats on her.  Your confession and your actions can’t be inconsistent.  Yet so often they are, aren’t they?

Even in Christian families, so many problems can occur.  Brothers and sisters can have disagreements and get into fights.  Husbands and wives can get into sharp arguments and word wars.  Parents can lose patience with their children and let anger out in words or actions.  Children can disobey their parents and purposefully ignore them.  All these things can cloud the air within a family and make it hard to breathe and hard to live.  Even though we know God lives in us, each one of us too easily forgets that and acts out with selfishness that results in anger and pain.  And we all know all too well how difficult it is to live in a home when sinfulness pollutes the air.

Yet what’s astounding, though, is that even though our hearts still wreak with sinfulness and selfishness, our hearts are un-breathable and unlivable because of sin, that in spite of who we are, God chooses to remain in us, to live in us, to make His home in our hearts!  He continually, day after day, never stops living inside of us.  Why?  In order to make the air of our lives and the air of our homes clean with His presence.  You see, it’s realizing that God lives in us that motivates us to live like Him.  If you realize that God is living in you, will you want to say that hurtful, angry word?  If you realize that God is living in you, will you want to ignore your parents?  If you realize that God is living in you, won’t you want to be kind and compassionate, loving and caring?  Live as lived in!

You see, the fact that God lives in us changes our outlook on life and our attitude with those who are our family.  It is this love of God that changes us.  Do we want more breathable air in our homes?  Do we want an atmosphere of love to live in?  Then we don’t look to ourselves, rather, we look to the source of true love, the author of love itself, we look to God’s love.  “And so we know and rely on the love God has for us.  God is love.  Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in him.”  If we want love to grow in our homes and in our lives, we look to God’s love.  The more we know and learn and appreciate about God and His love, the more we’ll reflect that love in our lives.  Take a married couple for example.  The longer a husband and wife live together and share things together, the closer they get.  They get this mutual understanding and begin to know what the other is thinking before words are even spoken.  We have this same intimacy with God as we live in His Word and grow closer to Him.  As we immerse our lives in Him we begin to think His thoughts and His ways, which are always loving and good.

In this way, love is made complete among us so that we will have confidence on the day of judgment, because in this world we are like him.  There is no fear in love.  But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment.  The one who fears is not made perfect in love.

Love and fear are opposites.  Think about God’s love for you in Christ where He shows you how valuable you are to Him.  If you are afraid because Judgment Day scares you it’s because of sin.  Perhaps there’s some sin that is still pestering you, a sin that keeps you up at night, a sin that you’ve tried over and over to forget, a sin that the devil never lets you forget, it is sin or sins like that that give you fear when you consider Judgment Day.  “Will God on that final day hold me accountable for that shameful thing I did, that careless word, the lack of love I showed, the failure I’ve committed in the family God’s given me…will God on that final day single me out and call my name and convict me of my failure before the whole human race and heavenly host?  Will he?”  If those fears are present in our hearts the reason is not because of God but because a lack of trust in Jesus’ blood.  Do you think Jesus lied when He said, “It is finished”?  Do you think God is kidding when He says He bought you with something more precious than this world has ever seen, Jesus own blood?  Wondering if Jesus has or has not paid for your sins is actually robbing God of glory.  Jesus’ sacrifice was fully sufficient, was fully capable, was more than enough to wipe your sins- every one of them- completely away!  Jesus died on the cross, Jesus rose from the dead and because of that God says, “Your sins are forgiven completely, you are no longer guilty, I’ve forgiven and forgotten your sins, I’ve removed them as far as the east is from the west, I don’t see your sins because you stand before me looking like my perfect Son Jesus, heaven is your eternal home, your free gift.”  Because of God’s love you stand before God looking like Jesus, then there’s absolutely no reason to be afraid on Judgment Day.

That’s the key: properly valuing Christ’s blood gives you the most confidence and the best assurance in life ever.  No matter who you are, no matter what you’ve done, no matter what atrocities you’ve committed and shameful acts you’ve done in the past, Jesus has paid for them all with His blood, His life and death.  Be at peace!  Live in response to that!

One way to live in response to God’s love is in parenting.  Children need to know that their parents love them unconditionally.  There’s a security blanket that covers them and removes fear from their lives.  If children grow up in a household with no security and they don’t know that their parents love them unconditionally, they will live in fear.  They’ll always be waiting for the blow to fall on them.  That’s tough air to breathe in!  Now parents have the awesome privilege in life to be God to their children.  In all that a parent does in interacting with their children they follow God’s pattern.  God doesn’t let us run rampant in our sins, He gives us His laws to protect and bless us.  God disciplines us when we disobey with painful consequences of our sins so that we learn to keep away from them.  God loves us unconditionally.  His love for us will never run out or be used up.  He longs for our eternal good.

If we want our lives to be filled with peace in the face of fear, with love for other human beings, with love especially for those God has chosen to place closely around us, then we focus not so much on us, but on God, not so much on how we could be showing others love better, but on how God has shown us love perfectly.  Finally, “we love because He first loved us.”  Our love for each other is a response to the love God has shown us.  As we focus on God’s love we learn some amazing things about His love: It’s giving- it gives us His most important “possession”- God loved us so He gave up His own Son.  There are no boundaries to God’s love, no limits, no steps He won’t go through for us.  God’s love is so great that He’s willing to endure pain for the ones He loves.  God’s love is unconditional – it isn’t our response to His love that moves Him to love us- He loves us because He loves us.  God’s love begins not with us, but in Him, He chooses to love us in spite of who we are, in spite of the fact that we were His enemies.  God’s love is patient, kind, it rejoices in truth, protects, trusts, hopes, perseveres, it doesn’t envy or boast or be prideful or self-seeking or easily angered.  So let us love each other as we are loved.

God has picked us dirty, rotten, filthy specimens for His home.  God has chosen to perfectly love us with a selfless, limitless, boundless, giving, and unconditional love.  Focus on that.  Think about those things.  And live in response.  Then the air of your family and your home will be permeated with sweet, fragrant, and pleasing love.  Live as lived in, love as loved.

God has Shown His Love to You!

Children’s Christmas Sermonette

In the name of Jesus, our Savior God, born and placed in a manger for you and me.  Dear friends,

The Word of God for our brief meditation this morning is from 1 John 4:9-10 “This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him. 10 This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins.”

Take a look at Luther’s seal.  What’s at the very center? A red heart with a black cross.  Let’s consider that red heart for a moment.  No one can see what’s inside of another person’s heart.  And even more than that, on our own, it’s absolutely impossible to examine what’s in the heart of God.  So how do we know what’s inside of God’s heart?  How do we know how He feels about us?  How do we know where we stand in His eyes?  In amazing grace He shows us.  He shows us by sending His one and only Son into that humble and lowly barn in Bethlehem.

What!!! We have to gasp in amazement!  Really!? God, the almighty, perfect, holy God sent His one and only Son where?  Into the world!  Into this world? Did He know what He was doing?  All you have to do is pick up a newspaper or read on the internet or in history books: wickedness, corruption, greed, perversity in this world…and God sent His Son from eternal paradise… here?!!

Why ever should God even bother with humans like us?  Why did He do it?  Why? Because He wanted to show you and me how much He loves us.  What!? The just, holy, righteous, perfect, all-powerful God loves… you and me?  Did He know what He was doing?  He sent His Son into the world for ME?  ME, who would much rather love myself over the Creator… ME, who so often loves the things of this world more than Owner of all… ME, who would much rather live in comfort and ease at my neighbor’s expense!  God sent His Son into the world for ME!!!  We gasp in amazement.  It takes your breath away!  God knew everything about you and me, how completely sinful and undeserving we are, and yet He still sent His Son, His one and only Son, into the world for me and for you!  That’s love!

This is love: NOT that we loved God, NOT that we met God halfway, NOT that we were such good people, NOT that we decided to love God, but that He loved US and sent His Son as the sacrifice for US.  Jesus, the Lamb of God, was born and laid in that manger for one purpose: that He might go down to the altar of the cross and be the sacrifice for all sins of all time including each one of ours.  That’s how God shows His love for you!

God was born in that barn in Bethlehem for YOU!  God thought of YOU and YOUR sin when He sent His one and only Son into the world for YOU!  That manger became God’s throne for YOU!  God thought YOU were worth it!  God wants YOU to live eternally so He became one of us!  That little baby lying in a manger came for YOU, to be YOUR Savior!  Wow! Love shown so clearly, so wonderfully, so magnificently in that manger in Bethlehem, that is at the red heart of God.  Amen.