My Soul in Stillness Waits for the Lord of Light!

1st Wednesday of Advent

May the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all, dear friends in Christ, (read text) “My soul in stillness waits for the Lord of Light.”  Light and darkness are so common to our every day experience, aren’t they?  They play an important part in our everyday life.  Every day we see the light go down and the darkness of night arrive and in the morning the brightness of daylight arrives again.  We depend on light to see.  When we enter a dark room we instinctively and immediately search for the light switch.  We need light.  Light is an essential element to our very existence.  Even someone who is blind depends on others who can see light in order to live and survive.  We like light.  We need light.  Our vision depends on light.  Our eyes need light to be present in order to reflect off things and enter the eye so we can see.  And what a wonderful thing light is for our lives!  Not only can we see where we are going and pick out details but we can also because of light enjoy beautiful scenery and look at different colors.  In our world we also use the concept of light and darkness to illustrate knowledge.  If someone doesn’t know something or is ignorant about something we might say he or she is “in the dark.”  The “eyes of someone’s mind” can’t see or connect how different bits of information fit together.

Not only is the concept of light and darkness used for vision and knowledge it is also a very prevalent picture that God uses in the Bible to refer to spiritual things.  In a sense the Old Testament people lived in darkness and shadows.  They knew one day God would send a Savior, a Messiah, they had glimmers of light and flashes of light given them in the Old Testament Scriptures.  We saw one of those in our first reading for this evening.  In Isaiah God told His people that Jesus would be a light for Gentile people, opening the eyes of the blind, and freeing sinners from sin’s prison.  But in many ways they lived in darkness and shadows.  They didn’t know exactly who Jesus was going to be or all of the things He would do or teach.  They lived in the dark holding on to God’s promises.

Finally the Bible talks about light and darkness in one other sense as well.  To illustrate this I’m going to ask the ushers to shut off all of the lights they can and we’ll turn them on again after a few moments.  Wow!  Darkness adds a lot of uncertainty and question marks, doesn’t it?  In the bible God pictures living in unbelief and sin as living in darkness.  Just like light and darkness are complete opposites, so also in our lives here on this earth we will live with a constant battle inside of us between light and darkness, sin and faith.  Until our last breath darkness will not stop trying to get the upper hand in our lives.  We see this in our lives when we are blinded by our own selfishness.  Instead of finding ways to help those around us we often live with impatience, unkindness, or rudeness.  It shows itself in anger or hurtful words or physical abuse.  It shows itself by looking out for only me, what’s in it for me, how can I get ahead.  Sin leads to darkness.

In the midst of a dark world full of sin and the shadows of uncertainty one night was different.  A few shepherds were tending their flocks when all of sudden angels lit up the sky and the glory of the Lord shone around them…why?  Because Jesus showed up!  (Go ahead and turn the lights back on).  In complete unselfishness Jesus came to bring life and light.  To show us the way to the Father through Him.  Jesus came to give us His glory and shine in us the light of truth and life.  Jesus came to give us the good news of salvation.

Darkness would one day spread over the earth.  It was on a day we call Good Friday.  On that day Jesus went to the cross to pay for the sins of the world.  It makes sense because all the world’s sin and darkness were placed on God’s Son, Jesus, all sins, all the times you and I have been selfish and Jesus paid for it all.  It was dark and the forces of darkness thought they had won.  But then on Easter Sunday at the early morning as the light of dawn dispelled darkness some women traveled to the tomb only to find that death, darkness and sin did not win, Jesus did!  Jesus conquered death and darkness and brought life and eternity to light through His victory.

And He’s given you that victory!  Jesus has shined His light of truth in your heart and given you the light of faith in Him.  You’re no longer in darkness!  You know and see clearly where you are going: heaven is at the end of your path!  He’s given you the light of His Word, no more stumbling around in the darkness.  Jesus won forgiveness…for you!  Jesus won heaven…for you!  Jesus adopted you in His family!  Jesus guides and directs your life for your benefit!

Jesus has come for you!  He has brought life and light to you!  No you’re not in darkness anymore!  No you are no longer a slave to selfishness.  Jesus is your light, you see, you know!  Let us this Christmas season be filled with the selfless love of Christ who came to this earth in order to dispel the darkness of sin and selfishness in our lives and bring us into His wonderful light!  Help us to live, dear Jesus, as your children of light!  Amen.

 

Sermonette on VBS Lessons, Jesus is Your True Provider!

3rd Sunday after Pentecost

Dear friends in Christ, a man’s gotta eat on a ranch.  Right?  A long hard day roundin’ up cattle and ridin’ the trails can really make a rancher hungry.  Right?  What happens when you don’t eat for long periods of time?  First, your stomach starts to growl, soon you’re distracted and all you can think about is where to get something to eat, then (if you’re like me) your head starts to hurt and you feel miserable, then if you wait long enough you get this just dead pain in the pit of your stomach, then… you get the picture.  Thank the Lord that we have someone who provides for us.  As I read through this rather familiar account ask yourself this question: How does this account show Jesus as my true provider?  (Read text)

God does not have to eat.  The very fact that we human beings have to eat in order that we don’t literally starve to death is a consequence of sin.  Think about it.  God created Adam and Eve in His image- perfect, holy, and they wouldn’t die.  When they disobeyed God and introduced sin into the world by taking the fruit off the tree they lost every good thing, every blessing God had given them.  God was not obligated to save them.  God also no longer was obligated to allow even a single seed to sprout for them or give them air to breathe or cause animals to multiply for them for food.  And since we, as Adam and Eve’s descendents, inherited that sin, we justly cannot expect God to provide even a crumb of bread or a breath of air for us nor should we be upset about it.  Why?  Because a just, holy, and sinless God ought to let each one of us sinful humans die of hunger.  Die of a hunger physically AND a hunger spiritually.  Ouch!

So what was God’s answer?  We get a picture of the answer in this account.  Thousands of people followed Jesus out to the middle of nowhere and didn’t even pack a lunch.  Come on!  Was Jesus obligated to provide for them?  No, but He did, generously and abundantly!  That’s an example of God’s love.

Of course, we get even better examples of God’s love.  God sent Jesus to both live a sinless life and die on the cross as payment for all sin.  Through that act of righteousness God showed His love to all people.  There Jesus won the most important stuff, spiritual things (which we’re unable to earn or deserve), like forgiveness of sins, new life, salvation, righteousness, for us, and because of that He also provides the physical things (also which we don’t earn or deserve) like nourishment and daily bread for us.  And so, every good thing comes and has to come from those hands, the same hands which miraculously fed over 5,000 people with 5 loaves and 2 fish, Jesus’ hands.  Thank the Lord for Jesus who graciously and abundantly continues to provide not only what you need most, spiritual food in His Word for eternal life, but also what you need in this short life, your physical and temporary needs, like food!  Yes, Jesus provides for you!

You are safe in the arms of the Good Shepherd!

4th Sunday after Easter

Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ!  In His great mercy He has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead.  Dear friends in Christ: Having a 2-year old daughter I’ve learned to appreciate a certain word that her mother and I use a lot: “Megan, don’t touch that!  Megan, don’t walk into the road!  Don’t climb that tree!  Don’t put that in your mouth!  Don’t put that in Jenna’s mouth!”  Don’t, Don’t, Don’t. Warnings, warnings, warnings. Why such warnings?  Some of the things she’s doing are dangerous and we want to keep her safe.  We don’t want her to get hurt; we don’t want her to be harmed; so we give her warnings.  Warnings are meant to keep people safe; their meant for good.  In our text for today Jesus gives a striking warning.

It’s about four months before Jesus would be put on trial and crucified.  It’s December and there’s a celebration going on in Jerusalem.  They’re celebrating the Jewish festival called the Feast of Dedication also called Hanukkah.  They’re celebrating a time when a great Jewish political leader led a successful revolt against a foreign empire. This revolt led to a rededication of the temple and a period of independence for the Jewish nation.  (Read text).

“Come on, Jesus; if you’re really the Christ, the great promised leader, just say so!”  Jesus answered, “I DID tell you, but YOU do not believe.”  Jesus confronted them: “Why do you keep closing your ears to what is said? Why didn’t you listen?” “These are the Scriptures that testify about me, yet you refuse to come to me to have life” (Jn 5:39-40), “I am the bread of life. He who comes to me will never go hungry…” (Jn 6:35) “Before Abraham was born, I AM” (Jn. 8:58), “I am the Light of the world…” (Jn. 8:12), “I am the good shepherd…” (Jn. 10:11).  “And why do you keep shutting your eyes to what I do?  Didn’t you see how I changed water to wine, healed the paralyzed man, walked on water, gave sight to the man born blind?”  Jesus left all kinds of evidence of who He is; the fault lies not with Jesus, but with their unbelieving hearts.  “I DID tell you, but YOU do not believe!

Jesus’ warning was blunt, direct, and to the point.  Why?  Because of what’s at stake here.  Those who refuse to listen to Jesus are listening to the lies of the devil.  Those who do not believe are lost in darkness.  Those who keep turning their back on Jesus are headed for condemnation, judgment, and destruction.  Those rejecting Jesus will go to… eternal death.  So, in love Jesus warns them, “Look, you’re on the wrong path…you aren’t my sheep because you refuse to believe in me. Look at what you’re missing: Those who are my sheep, they listen to my voice and I give them eternal LIFE and they’ll never, ever perish!”

Jesus’ warning didn’t stop with His first hearers; it still rings in our ears today, doesn’t it?  I need to hear this warning; you need to hear this warning too.  How so? When I give God’s Word about as much attention as yesterday’s newspaper, I’m blocking out my Shepherd’s voice.  When I treat my spouse with neglect or disrespect, I’m shutting out my Shepherd’s call.  When MY hopes and MY dreams are all that matter to ME, I’m ignoring my Shepherd.  When I turn my back on Jesus’ words, I need to hear Jesus’ stern warning, “I DID tell you! But you’re refusing to listen to me!”

Indeed we constantly stray from our Shepherd’s fold.  But thank the Lord that our Shepherd is faithful; He’s never left us like we so often have left Him.  Thank the Lord that He still calls after us.  He continues to reach out after us through His Word and not only with warnings, but with the precious Words of life.  He tells us, “I am the resurrection and the life…he who believes in me will live” (Jn.11:25), “I am the way, the truth, and the life” (Jn. 14:6), “I am the vine; you are the branches” (Jn. 15:5).  Jesus continues to call out after us, continues to care for us, and continues to seek us out.  And why?  Because as God’s dear children, God wants to give you the ultimate safety; life eternal!

What a glorious blessing this is!  Yes, you can turn your back on Him, you can shut His Word out of your life, you can jump out of His protecting hand, BUT He’s never going to do that to you!  The Good Shepherd is faithful.  He, on His part, is going to do everything in His absolute power to keep you safe.  Just like I warn Megan when she’s in danger, because I want her to be safe, so God warns you and me, God wants you to be safe.  He wants you to have the final, ultimate protection of heaven.  He will never forsake you.  He will never leave you.

Jesus says to you, “My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me.  I give them eternal life and they shall never perish.”  You’re a member of God’s flock and look at what’s yours!  You hear your Savior’s voice, you hear your Shepherd’s loving call; it’s in His Word.  Your Good Shepherd knows you; He knows what’s best for you.  He constantly leads you, even through the rough and dark places of life.  He gives you the greatest confidence ever; He’s given you the assurance of eternal life right now.

And lest we ever doubt it or wonder about His faithfulness Jesus says, “No one can snatch them out of my hand.”  Nothing at all can rip you away from your Shepherd’s loving care.  How do we know this?  Look at whose hands you’re in!  These aren’t the hands of just anyone; these are the hands of the One whose might and strength created all things.  These are the life-giving and gracious hands of the Ruler of all! These are the hands of the One who by His unlimited power rose from the dead, defeated sin for all, conquered the devil, and won the victory over all His enemies for you!  Yes, these hands will keep you safe!

Yea, Megan might not always appreciate our constant warnings.  You might not always appreciate God’s constant warnings to you.  But in the end, He wants what’s best for you.  He wants to give you the ultimate safety- eternal life!  And so, be assured, you rest securely in the hands of your Good Shepherd! Amen.

The Seven Words from the Cross

Good Friday

Luke 23:34 This is a word of forgiveness.

Do you see what Jesus is doing here?  He’s interceding to God Almighty on behalf of those who are tormenting Him.  And what is He asking?  He’s asking that God might be merciful and graciously pardon them from their sins so that they too may one day enjoy eternal paradise in heaven with Him.  Wow!

Is that how we picture forgiveness?  How do we act?  “Why should I forgive them! Look at what they did to me!”  “Maybe I’ll forgive them…if they show me they’re sorry first!”  Is that true forgiveness?

Thank the Lord that Jesus spoke these words.  Jesus shows us true forgiveness.  Forgiveness begins in the heart of the One who’s forgiving.  Because that’s God’s heart, your forgiveness is authentic.  Forgiveness is complete.  Forgiveness is lasting.  Forgiveness is freely given.

By dying on the cross that’s exactly the forgiveness Jesus has given to you!

Luke 23:43 This is a word of hope.

The criminal had hope.  Maybe he had hoped for riches and earthly glory.  Maybe he had hoped for getting an earthly paradise from crime and dishonesty.  Now his pathetic hope was lost as he hung on a cross as a pathetic criminal.  What about our hope?  Hope for a good life, hope for a long retirement, hope for a healthy, successful, better life?  But how fast can any of those hopes fail and disappoint?

Thank the Lord He speaks this word of hope.  To a criminal who had no earthly hope, Jesus gives true hope.  To us who need sure hope, Jesus gives true hope.  “Today you will be with me in paradise.”  That is a hope that will never change, fail, or disappoint.    That is a hope that is certain, sure, and true.  That hope knows that an eternal paradise in heaven awaits Jesus’ followers.

By dying on the cross that is exactly the hope Jesus has given you!

John 19:26-27 This is a word of personal care.

I’ll never be able to fathom what Jesus is enduring when He speaks these words!  The physical pain, the physical exhaustion, and yet even more than that…incomprehensible soul torment of bearing the sins of the world!  It’s easy for us to assume Jesus was at this moment concerned only with this great, big, glob of sinful humanity as a whole.

And so for us He speaks this word, “Dear woman, here is your son,” and to the disciple, “Here is your mother.”  In the height of suffering He’s concerned about the individual.  He’s concerned about His mother’s earthly needs.  He cares about her welfare.  He also cares about you, the individual.  He cares about your earthly needs.  He cares about your surgery, your job, your marriage, your homework. 

By dying on the cross Jesus shows His concern for you, personally and individually.

Grace that stoops to bear a cross of wood!

2nd Wednesday of Lent

In the name of Jesus our Savior and Cross-bearer, dear friends in Christ.  It would normally work like this: the person was sentenced to death.  There would be a procession.  A soldier would ride on horseback to lead the procession.  Behind him there would be a herald announcing to everyone the reason for the crucifixion.  He would carry a white board on which the crime was written.  Then a handful of soldiers, usually four, would prod and beat the person sentenced to death on the route to the place of crucifixion.  And the criminal would be forced to carry his own torture instrument, the cross.  What grace is this, that Jesus, though innocent, did this for us! (read text)

What grace is this?  He probably had nothing to eat or drink since the night before, He didn’t have any rest during the night, He was mistreated by the members of the Sanhedrin, He was scourged and mistreated by the soldiers, He was tired and exhausted from the trial and the ordeal.  Fatigued, worn out, and beat, yet… He kept going.

What grace is this?  The almighty Creator who fashioned the mountains with His word stoops to bear a cross of wood!  The One who calms storms with the word of His mouth stoops to bear a cross of wood!  The One for whom and through whom all of creation exists stoops to bear a cross of wood!  Why does He do it?  He bears the cross of wood to pay for the sins of all!

How much do I value this grace?  Do I make this grace something cheap by neglecting those close to me?  Do I devalue this grace by being complacent and smug about God and about God’s Word?  Do I turn this grace into something worth little by questioning God when my petty little problems come?  Do I make this grace a cheap thing?

Oh no!  Then, what grace is this?  Grace greater than all!  Grace that kept going!  Jesus didn’t call on angels to come to His aid.  He didn’t strike dead those who wanted Him dead.  He didn’t even use divine power to march triumphantly to the altar of the cross.  Why?  He bore the full brunt of God’s judgment… for you.  He carried the full impact of hell’s fury…for you.  He bore on Himself the sins of the world…for you!  He stooped to bear the cross of wood for YOU!

What grace that saw you! What grace that saw you and kept going!  What grace that knew we couldn’t do it, so He did it all!  What grace that knew we didn’t deserve forgiveness, so He forgave our sins totally and freely!  What grace that knew we were heading for hell, so He made heaven our inheritance!

Jesus stooped to bear a cross of wood for you!  He gives you this grace!  Grace that gives you peace, your salvation has been taken care of!  Grace that gives you joy, your God has prepared heaven for you! Grace that gives you confidence, God is on your side.  Grace that shows you true love, your God will do anything and everything, including bearing a cross, to give you eternal life!

What amazing grace that stooped to bear a cross of wood…for YOU!

Jesus Quenches Your Spiritual Thirst!

2nd Wednesday of Advent

May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in Him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.

The Israelites before Jesus waited and longed for the waters of life.  We read in the Psalms…

“My soul thirsts for God for the living God.  When can I go and meet with God?” (Psalm 42:2) “O God, you are my God earnestly I seek you; my soul thirsts for you, my body longs for you, in a dry and weary land where there is no water.” (Psalm 63:1)  “I spread out my hands to you; my soul thirsts for you like a parched land.” (Psalm 143:6)

The Israelites waited.  They trusted God’s promises.  They knew one day God would send a Messiah, a Savior, into the world.  But they didn’t know when or exactly what it would be like when He came, or the words He would speak.  They thirsted for living water.  Then He came.   The Gift of God appeared.  The Spring of Joy burst forth in the middle of the desert (slide 2).  Jesus came, He was born into this world, He brought “living water” that satisfies, “water” that completes, “water” that comforts, “water” for thirsty souls!

(slide 3) If it was all up to us we should be wandering around thirsting.  If we were all on our own we would be wandering around in the parched and dry desert of… unbelief.  If it was up to us we would be trying to satisfy our thirst with the world’s sand (slide 4) – like earthly power or wealth or pleasure.

But, then Jesus came (slide 5).  He gave us “water” to drink.  Not just ordinary water, but living water.  He sent the Holy Spirit into our hearts, He worked faith inside of us, He led us to trust in Him for complete forgiveness of sins.  He rained down upon us the life-giving waters at our baptism.  He gave us His Word.  He comforts us with the joy of our eternal salvation.

So, no longer do we thirst for meaning in life, we know who we are: children of God.  We no longer thirst slavishly for the pleasures the world offers for we have all we need in Jesus.  We no longer have to thirst the way the world thirsts for things in this world which will one day pass away because we have what is eternal.  We have tasted the waters of life.  Through His word we have seen our Savior born into this world as a little baby.  Unlike the Old Testament Israelites, we see the life of Jesus, the Messiah, our Savior in the Word.  We have His Word.  We thirst for His Word.  His Word brings us comfort.  His Word satisfies our greatest thirst.  We drink His Word and it fills us, it fills us so much that it becomes part of us.  We live His Word in our lives.

So, here we have a lady whose life was a mess.  She had five husbands and the man she was living with was not her husband.  She didn’t even know that she was spiritually parched.  And here, Jesus reaches out to her with life-giving, living water, which satisfied her spiritual thirst for eternity.  If Jesus was willing to do that for her, he certainly has filled you so you will never thirst spiritually.  He certainly continues to fill you with His living water that becomes in you a spring of water welling up to eternal life!