Resolutions for 2017

New Year’s Eve Sermonettes

Resolution #1 – That We Would see ourselves as God sees us: Isaiah 61:10-62:3

“I delight greatly in the LORD; my soul rejoices in my God.  For he has clothed me with garments of salvation and arrayed me in a robe of righteousness, as a bridegroom adorns his head like a priest, and as a bride adorns herself with her jewels.  11For as the soil makes the sprout come up and a garden causes seeds to grow, so the Sovereign LORD will make righteousness and praise spring up before all nations.  1For Zion’s sake I will not keep silent, for Jerusalem’s sake I will not remain quiet, till her righteousness shines out like the dawn, her salvation like a blazing torch.   2The nations will see your righteousness, and all kings your glory; you will be called by a new name that the mouth of the LORD will bestow.   3You will be a crown of splendor in the LORD’s hand, a royal diadem in the hand of your God.”

New year’s resolutions. This is the time to think about them. Do you have any? What about Adam and Eve. Do you think they would have made New Year’s Resolutions? When they were first created, do you think they would have sat down and thought about resolutions? I don’t think they would have. Why not? Because they were perfect. They didn’t need them. The very fact that we consider new year’s resolutions is because we’re sinful.

I’m also going to guess that if you’ve made new year’s resolutions, that there’s a certain sameness to them J. “I’m going to start exercising this year.” (I’m guessing that’s one that’s been on the list year’s past.) “I’m going to do a better job managing my money.” “I’m going to read my bible every day.” You see, even when we make resolutions, we tend to break them. Why? Because we’re sinful and unfaithful. We’re unfaithful to God, unfaithful to other people, and even unfaithful to ourselves!

But incredibly, that’s not how God sees you and me! God sees you and me completely differently! “For he has clothed me with garments of salvation and arrayed me in a robe of righteousness, as a bridegroom adorns his head like a priest, and as a bride adorns herself with her jewels.” Because of Jesus, your perfect substitute, because that baby in the manger came not only to die for your sins but to live a perfect life for you, God sees you as looking perfect, glorious, beautiful. He sees you looking like a bride walking down the aisle on her wedding day! That’s what God sees! And God’s resolution is that we would see ourselves and each other the way he does.

And how would that change your life if you consistently looked at yourself the way God describes you here? “Righteousness, splendor, royal diadem…” Do you think you would have less worry, less guilt, less negative thoughts about yourself? Do you think you might have more confidence, more joy, more peace, more hope?

And what if you looked at your spouse/kids/parents/co-workers/classmates this way, and treated them in a way which was consistent with that?  Can you imagine how much your relationships would improve?  Can you imagine how much more patience you’d show to each other, how much more encouragement, how much more respect would be there?

And how does it happen?  Very simply – by being reminded by God, through His Word, of how you look.  In His eyes, you look good!  See yourself that way!

Resolution #2 – That We would See This World for What It Is:  John 1:14-18

“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. 15John testifies concerning him. He cries out, saying, “This was he of whom I said, ‘He who comes after me has surpassed me because he was before me.’”  16From the fullness of his grace we have all received one blessing after another.  17For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ.  18No one has ever seen God, but God the One and Only, who is at the Father’s side, has made him known.”

How many of you like to go camping? I like to camp. A couple years ago my parents gave us their pop-up camper which used to be my grandparents’. We also got a couple tents from them too. Camping’s fun. But how many here would like to live in a tent for several years? Tents aren’t meant to be permanent. They’re meant to be temporary dwelling places.

And so is life. The Greek word translated, “made his dwelling” in verse 14 is literally, “pitched his tent” among us. Jesus came to this world, yes. Jesus lived in this world, yes.

But- it was only a short time. During his adult life he had no place which he called his permanent home; even during His very early life he traveled all over – Bethlehem to Egypt, back to Israel, then to Nazareth. He was here physically for 33 years; and then he left this world. His time here was a tent-dwelling-time. It was temporary.

And so is your life and mine. We’re here for a short time and then we leave this world for eternity. Think about it: the people alive at Jesus’ time, the people who saw Jesus’ glory when he came here (like the apostle John) – they’ve been in heaven for almost 2,000 years! In comparison, the time which they spent here on earth wasn’t more than a “camping trip.”

Our 2nd resolution for tonight is that we would see this world for what it is: a temporary dwelling place. That doesn’t mean this world isn’t important. It is vitally important! But just for one reason. Our time on earth is the only time we have to come to know Jesus as our Savior and to share Jesus with others. That’s it! We’re here on this is earth for that reason: to come to know Jesus and to share Jesus with other people. When our work is finished, Jesus takes us home. That’s the only thing that in the end really matters.

But is that the way we consider this earth and the things in it? Or do we wrap ourselves up with the things of this world? Chasing wealth, power, honor, glory, stuff?

Think about how different life would be if we remembered that this world was just temporary? How much more content could we be if we realize that this world is short, that heaven is our real home? Can you imagine how our priorities would change, how much more important spiritual matters would become, how much more important it would be that we shared the message of salvation with others, and how the things of this world would become less important to us, which would mean less stress, less worry, and more contentment? Do you want that? God wants you to have that: He does so by reminding you that this world is only temporary- heaven is your home.

Resolution #3 – To Know that God has Loved You Forever:  Ephesians 1:1-6, 15-18

“Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God, To the saints in Ephesus, the faithful in Christ Jesus: 2Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. 3Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in the heavenly realms with every spiritual blessing in Christ.  4For he chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight. In love  5he predestined us to be adopted as his sons through Jesus Christ, in accordance with his pleasure and will—  6to the praise of his glorious grace, which he has freely given us in the One he loves. … 15For this reason, ever since I heard about your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love for all the saints,  16I have not stopped giving thanks for you, remembering you in my prayers.  17I keep asking that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the glorious Father, may give you the Spirit of wisdom and revelation, so that you may know him better.  18I pray also that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know the hope to which he has called you, the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints,

 

An unfortunate reality is that many believers in Jesus don’t understand the doctrine of predestination, and therefore, avoid it.  The reality is, the truth of predestination is really wonderful and really helpful.  The doctrine is simple: before God had ever created the world, God had chosen His people.  So, to apply it to you and me, before God ever said, “Let there be light,” He said, “Aaron, I choose you to be one of my children.”  Why did God do that?  Simply because He loved me.  Can you imagine?  God has loved me (and you) since before the world was ever created!  God has loved you for thousands of years.  In fact, God has even loved you before there was something called “time.”  J  (Yes, God created time, too, when He created the world.)  So, He’s loved you forever and ever and ever!

“But how can I know that this applies to me?”  There are several ways.  First, because when Jesus died, He died for all.  If He died for all, then you know for sure that He died for you.  If that wasn’t enough, God’s also told you how He works – He works faith in our heart through the Word and the Sacrament.  So, in your baptism, God claimed you as His own.  In the Word, God keeps on strengthening and building your faith.  In the Lord’s Supper, God keeps on assuring you that the work of Jesus was meant for you personally, for you as in individual, that YOUR sins are forgiven, for Jesus is giving His body and blood to YOU!  In other words, what God did for you in eternity (choosing you to be His child) God gives to you in the course of time, through His Word and Sacrament, so that you can approach life with the confidence of knowing that God has loved you… forever!

And that’s our 3rd resolution – to know that God has loved us forever!  Before there was ever a world, before there were fish in the sea or birds in the air, before Adam and Eve existed, God loved you!  God cared for you!  God has chosen you to be His child!  God has loved you forever!

Oh, and by the way, He’s going to keep on loving you forever, too!  He’s promised you a home in heaven, and He’s going to take you there!  And perhaps fortunate for you and good for you, God will take you to heaven this year!

And so we come to what conclusion?  Well, the first truth is that God HAS loved me forever!  The 2nd truth is that God is GOING to keep on loving me forever!  Which leads us to what conclusion?  The conclusion that God will indeed keep on loving me during this little slice of time which we call 2017.

Doesn’t that kind of encapsulate all of it?  I mean, if we remember that God has loved me forever, and will love me forever, doesn’t that help me to keep this world in proper perspective?  If we remember that God has loved us forever, doesn’t that help us to see ourselves as who we really are?  Sure!

And so perhaps we can summarize God’s resolutions for us by focusing on this truth – God has (and will) love you forever!  And if we focus on that truth by being into the Word, no matter what 2017 might bring, it will be a great year!

Wait in Sureness!

3rd Midweek Advent
Luke 11:37-52

Come, O Come, Emmanuel and ransom us, the captive Israel! Amen. In the name of Jesus, dear friends in Christ,

Keys are an important part of our every day lives. We need keys. We have keys for our cars, for our homes, for our safes, for our offices, for our work places, for our lockers. Keys are really important, but perhaps we don’t think about them much until they’re missing.  I don’t know how much time I’ve spent over the years searching for where I put a certain key. Keys are important- they give us access to things. If we don’t have the key, we don’t have access. So what’s the key to life? What is it that gives you access to the “good” life? Or the “successful” life? Or a “happy life”? What’s the key? How do you get access to that? There are all kinds of things to which people might point- having a successful career, having a good family life, having great health or a lot of wealth, what’s the key to life? While those things might be nice, none of those things are the key, because none of those things truly satisfy.

The Pharisees and experts in the law thought they had “the key” to life, but didn’t. The Pharisees and the experts in the law were very religious people. They claimed to strictly adhere to all of God’s laws and even added extra ones of their own. They were very highly respected by most people because they were so zealous for God’s laws. They were also the ones who taught God’s laws to the people. Well one of the Pharisees had invited Jesus over for dinner. Sounds innocent enough, but if you know anything about the Pharisees, you know what kind of terms they were on with Jesus. Did this Pharisee invite Jesus over to try to find some fault with Jesus? Perhaps- at least at the end of the account we’re told they were trying to find some fault with Jesus. And sure enough, a Pharisee is surprised that Jesus didn’t do the ceremonial washing- that was one of the laws the religious leaders had come up with.

Then reading their hearts Jesus issued them some stern warnings: you seem clean on the outside but are full of greed and wickedness on the inside, you religiously follow the tithe but neglect justice and the love of God, you love the most important and prestigious seats, you look innocent enough but inside you’re like dead and decaying bones!  When Jesus spoke these words an expert in the law felt insulted.  Jesus then addresses these experts in the law: you come up with these hundreds of laws that are impossible to follow and you don’t even keep them yourselves!  You claim to be pious by building these nice tombs for the prophets but that doesn’t make up for the fact that you don’t listen to what they say or to whom they point!

The final “woe” that Jesus addresses them is the most serious.  “Woe to you experts in the law, because you have taken away the key to knowledge. You yourselves have not entered, and you have hindered those who were entering.” You see, they totally abused God’s law. They had turned God’s law into a means by which they thought they could earn God’s love, earn eternal life. Instead of opening up the way to life, they were shutting it and hindering others from entering.

What about you? What if you or I had been sitting at that table with Jesus, what might he have said to you or me? You see, there’s a hypocritical Pharisee that resides in each one of our hearts. Deep down each one of us has this idea that if I’m just a good little boy or a good little girl God will have to love me. There’s a part of us that wants to treat God like Santa Claus – if I just stay off his naughty list and being a good boy or girl, God won’t have an option but to make things work out in my life. I deserve it. I’ve earned it.

But the door to real life, to eternal life is like a massive door with hundreds of deadbolts on it. And on each of these deadbolts are things like “Always generous, never greedy, always having proper priorities, never being hypocritical, always humble, total purity, always compassionate, always just, always kind, never selfish.” Do you have the key to unlock even ONE of those deadbolts? You see, there isn’t one sliver of your life or my life that isn’t totally corrupted by sinful motives, sinful attitudes, and imperfection.

But what did Jesus do? Sometimes love has to be tough. People often get the wrong idea that the opposite of love is anger. But that’s not true. If you really love someone, you’re going to get angry, you’re going to get angry about anything that threatens your loved one or your relationship to your loved one. The opposite of love is hate and the worst kind of hate is apathy, indifference. Jesus loves the Pharisees and the law experts enough to confront them with the truth of their sin. Jesus loves you like he loves the Pharisees. He comes with His law to shatter anything that threatens our eternal life, to demolish anything we might try to use to prop ourselves up with or make us think we’ve earned or deserved anything from God.

He shatters our pride with the law so we’ll appreciate the key of the gospel. The key of the gospel is the key of life, a meaningful life, a purposeful life, a good life. In fact, if you have this key- you have a blessed life whether or not your rich or poor, healthy or sick, popular or unpopular, have a lot of friends or have few friends. This key makes all the difference.

So what IS that key of knowledge?  What is the key to a good life? What is the key to a successful, meaningful, purposeful life? What is the key to having peace with God?

It’s knowing that Jesus has accomplished our salvation 100% Himself.  It’s knowing that Jesus has accomplished what you and I could not do.  It’s knowing that God was willing to come to this earth in order to save us, and that He did it, He accomplished our salvation 100%. In other words, the key to having peace with God is … to wait in stillness for the Lord, as our hymn put it.  To be still, and know that God is God, and that He loves us.

And Christmas says that to you.  Christmas says to you, “Spiritually you’re a helpless, hopeless human being, if left on your own.  But God hasn’t left you on your own.  Instead, He’s come to save you.  He’s come to rescue you.  For look, there in the manger is your God.”

And there’s the key!  And that key isn’t just for a meaningful life here; that key opens the door to eternal life!  And that key … is YOURS!  So wait for Jesus is sureness.  Knowing that Jesus came the first time on that first Christmas so that with His perfect life and innocent payment for sins He could unlock the door of heaven for you!  And one day Jesus will come back with the sole purpose of coming to carry you through that door into life forever in heaven!  Indeed, wait in sureness for Jesus, the one and only Key.  Amen.

Wait for Jesus in Seriousness!

2nd Midweek Advent Service
Luke 11:29-36

Come, Oh Come, Emmanuel and ransom us the captive Israel. Amen. In the name of Jesus, dear friends in Christ,
“Hey, why are you so serious? Loosen up a little bit! Have a little fun! Don’t be so serious!” Has anyone ever said that you? Have you ever told that to someone? We typically say that when someone is seemingly being overly rigid about something or overly determined about one thing. And while there are certain things in life that we can loosen up a bit about and not be too serious about, the reality is, everyone is serious about certain things. In fact, everyone would agree that it’s actually a very good thing to be serious about certain things. And it’s especially true when lives are on the line. I don’t think anyone who rides on an airplane would like their pilots to not take their job very seriously so they don’t end up crashing the plane. I think everyone who hires a mechanic to fix the brakes on their car wants their mechanic to take his job very seriously so that your brakes don’t malfunction when you need them. I think everyone expects that the surgeon who operates on his/her body or the body of one of their loved ones would take his or her job extremely seriously. Being serious about certain things isn’t a bad thing, in fact, when life is at stake -it’s a very good thing!
Our theme for this evening is wait for Jesus in seriousness. The problem in our text is that the people were not serious about the amazing and great thing that God was doing for them. Our text this evening is Jesus’ words right after the words we focused on last Wednesday. Jesus has just done a miracle, he had just driven out a demon who had made a man mute. After that, instead of appreciating this sign that showed that Jesus is God, some said that Jesus drove the demon out by the power of the devil, not God. Jesus answered that charge by pointing out that it wouldn’t make any sense of Satan to drive out Satan for he’d be destroying his own kingdom. Rather, Jesus is like a strong man who has tied up an even stronger man and is carrying away his possessions. After hearing all this a woman yelled out that Jesus’ mother is to be blessed. And in response Jesus said, “Blessed rather are those who hear the word of God and guard it.”
Then Jesus gets to our text. Jesus first calls the people a “wicked generation.” Why so? Because they keep looking for a sign when the most important sign is standing right in front of them. The Queen of Sheba traveled from the ends of the earth to hear the wisdom with which the Lord blessed Solomon- but one far greater than Solomon is here! The Ninevites repented at Jonah’s preaching, but the people in Jesus’ day refuse to listen to him. They aren’t taking Jesus’ seriously.
How serious are you about Jesus? Are we any better than the Jews of Jesus’ day? They ignored the signs of God’s grace right in front of them. What about us? We have Jesus right in front of us, we have his Word in print, His Word attached to water, and His Word attached to his body and blood in the sacraments. How serious are we about these signs of his grace? How serious are you about God’s Word? Do we fritter our life away filling it with trivial things that on the Last Day have absolutely no consequence? How serious are you about your baptism and recalling your baptism and drowning your sinful flesh in the water of your baptism every day? How serious are you about the Lord’s Supper and coming forward with a repentant and joyful heart and leaving to live a new and holy life? Do we hear His Word, receive His sacrament and return to our same old sinful habits? Are we the “wicked generation”? We want our doctors, our pilots, and our mechanics to be serious…but are we serious? This isn’t just physical life! This is eternal life or eternal death- are we serious about that?
Jesus, our Savior, comes to us and tells us to wait eagerly for him in seriousness. He’s coming again. Soak up His Word and his Sacraments. In it he gives you true wisdom and true treasures. What could possibly be more important? Wouldn’t we want to travel far more than the Queen of Sheba to receive the gifts God gives us freely through His Word? Gifts like – forgiveness for sins in Jesus, peace for a guilty and troubled conscience, joy in a risen Savior that no sadness can snuff out, a love that compels us to live more Christ-like everyday.
And what happens when we’re serious about Jesus and His Word? On our own we’re nothing but darkness inside, but the gospel fills us with nothing but light. Light dispels the darkness. When we take Jesus seriously and wait for Jesus seriously His light fills us and shines through us to others. The more you know about Jesus, the closer you are to Jesus, the greater His light shines through you to others. They see it. It’s like having Christmas lights shining in you and through you. Take Jesus’ Word seriously, let His light shine in you, and you will be a beacon of light in this sin-darkened world. And this is how serious this is: God will use His light shining in you and through you to reach more and more souls that they too might be saved eternally. That’s serious business!
So, wait for Jesus in seriousness, taking his word seriously and seriously letting the light of the gospel shine through you. The souls God reaches through you will be eternally grateful that you did. Wait for Jesus in seriousness. Amen.

Rededicate!

1st Sunday of Advent
2 Chronicles 28-29

Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord Jesus Christ! In the name of Jesus, dear friends in Christ, We use words like that all the time, right? Well, what does it mean when we add those two little letters “re” to the front or a word? “re” is a prefix that often indicates that we’re doing something again. So, we have a mechanic “repair” our car- that is, he takes what was broken and he fixes and makes it work again. We take an old piece of furniture to a wood worker to “restores” our furniture – that is, he takes something old and makes it look new again or usable again. If you’re browsing the internet and the webpage you’re on has become outdated or new content has been uploaded, you can press the “refresh” or “reload” button to load the webpage again. We even occasionally have a husband and wife who will “renew” their vows to one another. It doesn’t have to be, but often a renewal of the vows comes after something has broken the relationship or many years have passed that commitment has become somewhat dulled over time and the husband and wife “renew” or “refresh” their promises to one another, recommitting themselves to one another again. We use these “re” words all the time, don’t we?

Well, our text this morning describes a lot of “redoing” – rededicating, re-consecrating, reestablishing – the religious life of the Israelites. But we first need to ask, “Why?” Why did King Hezekiah have to do this?

King Hezekiah ruled about from about 715 BC to 686 BC. He took over being king of Judah after his father, Ahaz died. Remember that about 930 BC is when the kingdom of Israel was divided into two kingdoms after the spiritual rebellion that happened during the reign of king Solomon. So, after that there were two kingdoms – one in the north and one in south. The southern kingdom, also called Judah, continued to carry the line of the promised Savior. The northern kingdom when into a steep spiritual spiral that ended in 722 BC when the Assyrians invaded, demolished, and destroyed it. Unfortunately, the kingdom of Judah was in just about as bad a shape spiritually as the northern kingdom. Ahaz was a terrible king.

What did he do? What are we told?  He did not do what was right in the eyes of the Lord.  “He walked in the ways of the kings of Israel and also made cast idols for worshiping the Baals. He burned sacrifices in the Valley of Ben Hinnom and sacrificed his sons in the fire, following the detestable ways of the nations the Lord had driven out before the Israelites. He offered sacrifices and burned incense at the high places, on the hilltops and under every spreading tree.”  So what did the Lord do? The Lord allowed the Arameans to defeat Judah and inflict heavy losses on them. And how did Ahaz respond? “In his time of trouble King Ahaz became even more unfaithful to the Lord. He offered sacrifices to the gods of Damascus, who had defeated him; for he though, ‘Since the gods of the kings of Aram have helped them, I will sacrifice to them so they will help me.’ But they were his downfall…Ahaz gathered together the furnishings from the temple of God and took them away. He shut the doors of the Lord’s temple and set up altars at every street corner in Jerusalem. In every town in Judah he built high places to burn sacrifices to other gods.” God summarized his rule: “He had promoted wickedness in Judah and had been most unfaithful to the Lord.”  How might you have felt if you were an Israelite at the time of King Ahaz?  “Can it get any worse than this???”

And then Ahaz, the Israelite king who did all the evil and wickedness we just talked about, died.  His son, Hezekiah, took over and “did what was right in the eyes of the Lord.”  Immediately, he re-opened the doors of the temple and repaired them.  He re-consecrated the priests and the Levites (those responsible for leading worship).  He had the priests re-consecrate the whole temple and its furnishings.  He resumed temple worship with blood sacrifices for sin.  He reassembled the people for worship and praise to the true God.  He restored the bringing of sacrifices and offerings.  The people of Judah responded with abundant offerings and sacrifices.  And then at the end of the account of all these reforms we read: “So the service of the temple of the Lord was reestablished. Hezekiah and all the people rejoiced at what God had brought about for his people, because it was done so quickly.” (2 Chronicles 29:35-36). 

Things got pretty bad in Israel, but are things much different today?  Is there godlessness in the world around us?  We see beautiful blessings of the Lord … murdered in their mothers’ wombs.  Drug deals, murders, theft, and corruption are constantly on the news.  And it seems like the sound of police sirens never stops.  How the world continues to wander away from God!

Yet, before we shake our heads at the Israelites or the world around us we need to take a look at our own lives.  What horror we would feel if all our thoughts for just one day were read aloud for everyone to hear.  What terror ought to loom inside of us when we consider our own altars to the idols of greed, selfishness, and jealousy.  What guilt weighs us down from our many past failures and sins!  How often we have shut the doors of God’s temple inside of us!  How unfaithful we’ve been in our devotion to God and His Word!  How far have we fallen?  Each of us has to ask, “Can it get any worse than this?”  Are we ready for the coming of the King?

The Israelites at the time of Hezekiah weren’t ready for the Lord’s first coming.  Many Israelites had completely rejected the Lord.  They had forsaken God, turned their backs on God, and refused to worship Him.  But what did God do?  He didn’t wipe them off the face of the earth, He didn’t completely annihilate them for their unfaithfulness, and He didn’t even leave them to sit in the stench of their sin.  Instead, in great love God gave the Israelites another day of His grace, another opportunity to rededicate themselves to Him.  And even more than that… God accepted their rededication!

And look at what we have standing before us today…yet another day of God’s grace, another day when God gives us the opportunity to rededicate our lives to Him.  God did not have to accept the Israelite’s rededication, but He did.  The same is true for us, we have no right or reason on our own to be accepted by the Lord, but He has accepted you.  In amazing love God took you where you are, lost in sin every day, and accepted you! Before you were even born, Jesus lived a perfect life for you.  Before you were born Jesus died to pay for each of your sins.  Before you were born Jesus gave you the victory of His resurrection!

God chose you to be His own child and now He gives you another opportunity, another day of grace to be His child, so rededicate!  This is what Advent is all about. Our Savior is coming, are we ready? Take this day of God’s grace and rededicate your life to Him!  Take the opportunity to recommit to living in His Word.  Take the opportunity to replace the sinful habits in your life with godly ones.  Take this opportunity to be reminded who you are, God’s loved child!

The Israelites took the opportunity under King Hezekiah and rededicated their lives back to the Lord.  They consecrated themselves for the Lord’s service, they cleansed the temple of the Lord, and they started worshipping the Lord again.  Very importantly, they also all began to bring offerings and blood sacrifices to the Lord.  With these offerings and sacrifices they were again reminded of the coming Savior.  How blood needed to be shed for the forgiveness of sin, how a sacrifice would bring about the forgiveness of sins, and how it would be a whole and complete sacrifice for the forgiveness of sins.  The people responded with their offerings with such generosity and such abundance that the priests could not handle it all by themselves.  And then “Hezekiah and all the people rejoiced at what God had brought about for his people.”  Their rededication caused all of them to rejoice!

And you know what?  Rededication does the same for you and for me, too.   It causes us to rejoice, to have joy!  As I prepare for the King and remove the idols of greed and selfishness in my life, I lean more fully on the Lord.  Trust in the Lord replaces anxiousness, security replaces uncertainty, and prayer replaces worry.  As I prepare for the King and am cleansed from the guilt of my past sins, thankfulness replaces regret, kindness replaces anger, and joy replaces sadness.  What joy fills my life as I rededicate my life for the coming King!

And it doesn’t even stop there.  Rejoice!  The more you prepare the more clearly you see God’s love for you.  As you rededicate your life, the more time you’ll want to spend in the Word, and the more time you spend in your devotion to God’s Word the more clearly you’ll see the love of God your Father.  The more clearly you see the love of God, the more you’ll appreciate the first coming of your Savior Jesus!

But are we on our own?  It’s NOT completely up to us to rededicate our lives for the King! Rejoice with the Israelites at what GOD brings about for his people!  Rejoice, for it is God who works in you to will and to act according to his good purpose (Phil 2:13).  It is God who works in us through His Word to identify sin in our lives.  It is God who works in us through His Word to convince us that Jesus won forgiveness for all of our sins.  It is God who works in us to give us the strength to reject sin and live the life He wants us to live.

Finally, brothers and sisters, rededicate your lives to the Lord!  Why?  Because that baby in the manger came for YOU!  God has dedicated Himself to YOU in the most wonderful and profound way, He became one of us.  The almighty God was born into this world as YOUR brother.  Jesus dedicated Himself totally to YOU by living His life for you, by dying your death for you, and by rising from the dead so eternal victory is completely yours.  Yes, rededicate!  Because God has already completely dedicated Himself to you!  Amen.

Jesus is the Supreme King of the world, of your life.

Christ the King Sunday
Colossians 1:13-20

Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ!

Perhaps the news story that has dominated these past two weeks in America is the presidential election. And if you’re tired of hearing about the election, I’ll assure you that my connection is very short. In somewhat of a surprising turn of events Donald Trump defeated Hillary Clinton and was elected to be the next president of the United States. This made many people in our nation ecstatic and many people angry, some people were glad, some were sad. In fact you’ve probably heard about the many different protesters holding up signs, “Not my president.” What they are saying is that they don’t want him to be their president, they don’t want him as the leader of their country, they don’t want to follow the laws that he’s going to enact. And since America treasures free speech they can legally say that. But whether or not you’re pleased or displeased with our next president, there’s a king infinitely higher, infinitely more important, infinitely more powerful than the United States President. In fact, He is the supreme King. He is the supreme King of the world and He is the Supreme King of your life.

What we have here in our text this morning is just a roller coaster of jaw-dropping, mind-boggling, eye-opening, astonishing information.  God is giving us a description of the power of the Son of God, Jesus. “He is the image of the invisible God.” Philip, one of Jesus’ disciples once asked Jesus, “Lord, show us the Father and that will be enough for us.” And Jesus responded, “Don’t you know me Philip even after I have been with you for such a long time? Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father” (John 14:9). You see, our Triune God has revealed Himself most clearly, has given us an image of Himself in whom? In Jesus. When we look to Jesus we get to know what God is like.

We’re also told that Jesus is the “firstborn over all creation.” In other words, anything that has a beginning has a beginning in Him and so He has no beginning. To understand this “firstborn” concept we also need to understand the culture at Jesus’ time. There was something called the primogenitor law. In short, it meant that the firstborn son would inherit the Father’s estate. So, the firstborn son was considered really equal to the father. Jesus is equal to God the Father.

For by him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things were created by him and for him.” He made everything! There isn’t anything that Jesus didn’t first create. Any king, any president, any ruler, any official is put into their power and position by Jesus. They have to answer to Jesus and Jesus will use them to accomplish whatever he wants them to accomplish and when Jesus is finished with them he removes them from their position.

He is before all things, and in him all things hold together.” The only reason this world continues to exist is because Jesus causes it to exist, he holds everything together. “And he is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning and the firstborn from among the dead, so that in everything he might have the supremacy.” He is the ultimate: he has ultimate power, ultimate supremacy, ultimate rule over everything. Why? “God was pleased to have all the fullness dwell in him.” Jesus isn’t just part God and part human- Jesus is fully God and fully human in one. All the fullness of God dwells in Jesus. All the fullness of God dwells in the Father, all the fullness of God dwells in the Holy Spirit.

What’s the impact of all of this? If you get one thing from this roller coaster ride, you see how often it is repeated “all creation” “all things” “everything”- in other words, Jesus is supreme over all.

Why is there so much attention on the president of the United States? Because of the incredible power of that office. As the president he can enact laws, as the president he can appoint people, as the president he can direct our military, as the president he can do things that affect every citizen of our country. He’s powerful. But the president of the United States, in fact, any ruler on earth is less than a mere ant compared to Jesus.

But what do we often do? We worry about the future. We fill ourselves with fear when we see evil people advance their causes or epidemics and diseases. We put our hope and trust in human leaders and rulers to help us. But there is only one who is supreme, one who is Lord, one who has power over absolutely everything. How dare we trust in an earthly ruler, how dare we worry about the affairs of the world, how dare we fear the future. When we do those things, even though we might not intend it, we’re really acting like protesters saying “Jesus is not my king.” The King ought to use His power to squish us, destroy us, and cast us out of His kingdom forever.

But that’s not King Jesus. Not only is He the King with all might, power, and supremacy, but He’s the King like no other king. He came not to be served but to serve. He came not to be protected by an army or a secret service, but to give his life up as a ransom for many. He used His power not to enlarge an earthly kingdom, but to win an eternal kingdom for you and me. He used His supremacy not to live in a palace, a White house, or a castle, but to be born in a manger, nailed to a cross, sweat, blood, mocking’s, and death. For what purpose? To win you, to reconcile you, to redeem you, to save you. He made peace with you by shedding His blood on the cross for you. And He further used His supreme power in the waters of baptism or in His mighty Word to bring you out of the kingdom of darkness and unbelief into the kingdom of the light of faith. That’s your King.  No ruler, not even Satan himself, can knock Jesus off His throne, Jesus’ term will never be finished, He will never concede an election, Jesus will never be wringing His hands wondering what He’s going to do next. He has all power, He is supreme, and He is the head of the body, the Church, of which you are a part. Your King who loves you more than you can ever know will use His mighty power to lead you and bring you finally to the eternal kingdom of heaven. Relax in the supremacy and salvation of Jesus, the Supreme King of the world.

Jesus is the King of the world, but is He the King of your life? Is He the King of your whole life? He is supreme in all things- that means He wants to be the supreme King of your life- not just a part of it, not just a segment of it, not just an app you’ve downloaded into your life, He’s not just a vitamin supplement to your life, He’s not a pill you take once a week on Sunday morning.

Jesus is the supreme King of your life. That means there are no non-negotiables with Jesus. There is no line drawn in the sand that says, “Jesus, you can be my King as long as you don’t cross this line.” “Jesus, you can be my king as long as you don’t take my spouse, as long as you don’t take my child, as long as you don’t mess with my investments or my bank account or my health. Don’t touch that.” If Jesus is your supreme King, there are no non-negotiables. And that goes for sin as well. “Jesus, you can be King of my life, just don’t ask me to give up my bad language, don’t ask me to give up my sex outside of marriage, don’t ask me to give up my gossiping about others, don’t ask me to give up my negative attitude and behaviors.”

Imagine having a friend who’s been diagnosed with a very serious, life-threatening disease and they are going to be dead in a week. You go with your friend to the doctor. The doctor does some tests and says, “I have great news, there’s a cure, there’s a medication you can take and you will live out all your normal days. You just can’t ever eat any more chocolate” You’re ecstatic, you’re jumping for joy for your friend. Then you look over at your friend and she says, “No chocolate? Nope. Can’t do that. Forget about it.” That’s crazy! But that’s our attitude if we’re not willing to get rid of any and all sin.

Jesus is your Supreme King that means you say to Jesus, “There’s nothing that your Word says, nothing that your will touches that I will say, “Lord, not that.” Relinquish your whole life and everything in it to Jesus the Supreme King.

Jesus is the Supreme King of the world – He has all power, might, authority, and rule. He is in complete charge over everything. Relax in that truth. And relinquish everything to Him. Why so? Because Jesus is the King who used His almighty power to go to a cross, die for you, and rise for you to win you for His eternal kingdom. He loves you that much. Live for Him. Amen.

Sola Fide – Through Faith Alone!

MLseal_largeReformation Sunday
Romans 4:18-25

Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ! In the name of Jesus, dear friends in Christ, Impossible. Can’t be done. No way. That’s what you probably would have said. Things didn’t look good. It seemed as if Satan had won victory after victory and right within the Christian church itself. A sinful human being had been elevated to the place of God on earth and whatever he spoke from his throne was considered just as valid as God’s Word. People were being taught that God saved you partially, but you still have to do your part, you still have to save yourself by doing good works in order to get to heaven. And people were taught right within the church that if you didn’t finish making satisfaction for your sins by the time you died, you’d have to spend thousands of years in a place called purgatory suffering to make up for those sins. The church was also filled with greed. In order to make more money those in the church taught that you could pay some money to the church for something called an indulgence and that piece of paper gave you forgiveness or helped a dead loved one out of time in purgatory. Salesmen would sell these pieces of paper all over the place and one even claimed that he saved more souls by selling this than St. Peter did with the gospel! God’s Word was pushed further and further into the background and most common people had little ability to read God’s Word and little access to it. Error upon error filled the Christian church. Satan seemed to win victory after victory. It looked hopeless. Impossible. And one lone renegade monk from Germany was going to lead people back to the truth, back to God’s Word? No way! Impossible. That’s what you would have thought before the Reformation.
What about today? To what in your life are you saying, “Impossible”? Maybe you’re thinking about the upcoming elections in our country and thinking can anything good come out of this? Impossible. Maybe you’re thinking about a major financial set back that you’re facing and you’re thinking, “Can anything beneficial come from this? Impossible.” Maybe it’s a health problems you’re facing and it doesn’t look good. Can this really be for my good? Impossible.
Well, the patriarch Abraham also faced something impossible. You remember the account, right? Abraham was told by God to leave his homeland and settle in a land not his own. God told him that his descendants were going to be as numerous as the stars and that they would inherit this land and through his descendant all nations on earth would be blessed. That’s great! But there was a major problem: He had no children. And that’s fine if you’re young and perhaps still have the possibility of having a child, but Abraham is 100 years old and his wife is 90! They’re going to have a child?? Talk about impossible!
But God had promised Abraham and Sarah that they would have a child. And what are we told? “Against all hope, Abraham in hope believed and so became the father of many nations, just as it had been said to him, ‘So shall your offspring be.’ Without weakening in his faith, he faced the fact that his body was as good as dead – since he was about a hundred years old- and that Sarah’s womb was also dead. Yet he did not waver through unbelief regarding the promise of God, but was strengthened in his faith and gave glory to God.” You see, there are two bases for hope in life. You can hope in what you see and hear, the world as you sense it and that is as far as human hope can go. But the Christian’s hope is way more- the Christian hope goes from what we sense not to a leap in the dark, but from our senses here to the security of God’s Word and promises. It’s a hope founded in God’s Word, letting God be God, letting God’s Word stand, letting God’s promise be true. That’s what Abraham did.
Fast forward about 3,500 years. At the Diet of Worms Martin Luther was ordered to recant all his teachings in the presence of the decorated and powerful officials of the Catholic Church and the Holy Roman Emperor himself. All the pomp, all the glitter, all the powerful people on one side and then there was the lone monk Luther who faced being excommunicated and outlawed if he didn’t recant. On the surface, to the senses, everything looked hopeless and impossible. But what was on Luther’s side? God’s Word and promises. And one Word of God makes all the world too small. And that’s what Martin Luther had: God’s Word and promise.
That’s what faith does. Faith takes God at His Word. Abraham and Sarah faced the impossibility. There was no way they were going to have a child, but then God promised that they would. And so Abraham was “fully persuaded that God had the power to do what he had promised.” That’s what faith is. Faith isn’t based in the subject, it’s not based in the one doing the believing- like “I hope I have a strong enough faith” or “I hope that I believe enough.” Rather, faith is based in the object. Faith is as trustworthy as it’s object. For example, if you drove here this morning you put a lot of faith in something. You put a lot of faith in the brakes of your car. Your trust in your brakes didn’t make your brakes work any better- the brakes worked by themselves, you just happened to put your trust in them every time you pushed on your brake pedal. But your brakes could fail you.
God never will. And Abraham believed that. He was fully persuaded that God had the power to do what He promised to do. He took God at His Word, believed God’s promise, trusted in God’s power to do what He promised, he closed his eyes to what he saw and took God at His Word even when it seemed impossible. “This is why it was credited to him as righteousness.’ The words ‘it was credited to him’ were written not for him alone, but also for us, to whom God will credit righteousness – for us who believe in him who raised Jesus our Lord from the dead.” Abraham’s faith freely received what God freely gave. Luther, too, trusted not in himself, but in the promise of God that His Word will never fail.
But how did Abraham get such a great faith? How did Luther? How can we? At Martin Luther’s time it was taught that, “Yes, there’s Jesus, that’s part of it, but in addition you have to do these good works to earn God’s favor.” Today we also have a lot of confusion about what faith is. Today people think salvation is God’s part, but faith is my part. Some think the reason I am finally going to be saved is because I chose to believe, I accepted Jesus into my heart, faith is my doing. But that’s a human impossibility.
Why so? Just like Abraham, just like Luther, you and I were born dead in our sins. We were born into this world spiritual dead people. I’m not sure when the last time was that you were in contact with something dead, but one thing is clear, it can’t do anything, can’t accept anything, can’t choose anything. That’s what we were by nature- spiritually dead, unable to change our condition. And there still remains a spiritually dead part of us. There’s a part of us that doubts God’s Word and promise. There’s a part of us that doesn’t want to believe what God says. There’s a part of us that doubts God’s promise to be in control no matter what and we depress ourselves with the affairs of the world and our country. There’s a part of us that shakes our head at God’s promise to work all things out for our good and fills us with fear, worry, anxiety as we face this trouble, that problem, this difficulty in life, or that struggle. There’s a part of us that sees our sinfulness, the horrid things that we’ve done in life that we can’t seem to get out of our head and thinks, “My sins are too great, too numerous, too horrible to be forgiven.”
Yes, it’s true that we don’t deserve it. It’s true that we deserve to go to hell. It’s true that no matter how hard we might try we could never earn anything from God. But God does the impossible. God promised it to Abraham that one of his descendants would be a blessing for all people, God kept that promise; Abraham and Sarah had a child, God kept that promise alive so that at just the right time, Jesus came, Jesus lived, Jesus died on a cross paying for the sins of all and Jesus rose from the dead to prove that the sins of all have been forgiven. And it’s true, it’s true whether you believe it or not. It’s a fact.
But God didn’t stop there, since we’d still go to hell if we didn’t believe it, God does the impossible again. Just as miraculous as Jesus rising from the dead is the fact that He takes us spiritually dead corpses and makes us alive. Through His Word God worked faith in your heart to believe it. The fact that you believe is a miracle of God. “I believe that I cannot by my own thinking or choosing believe in Jesus Christ or come to him, but the Holy Spirit has called me by the gospel.” And that’s wonderful news! Faith connects me to all the blessings God won for me on the cross. If my faith was up to me, if God saved me, but it was my job to believe it, my job to have faith, I would be full of doubt, did I do it right? Do I believe enough? Is my faith strong enough? But thank God it’s God’s work! If He works faith in my heart, I know that He won’t mess it up! I know He won’t do it wrong. It’s sure and certain.
And that’s what God tells us in the last verse, “He (Jesus) was delivered over to death for our sins and was raise to life for our justification.” How do I know I’m forgiven? How do I know that I’m saved? I don’t need to rely on my senses, but God’s Word and promise. I’m saved because Jesus died and Jesus rose. Those are real historical facts. And that’s what our faith is based on. God says, Jesus died, Jesus rose, and because of that you’re going to heaven. Our faith simply says, “Amen.” Thank the Lord for sending Martin Luther who rediscovered the truth that we are saved through faith alone, not by works, not by our achievements, but by God’s grace in Christ through faith alone.
And through faith we get to look at God and, like Abraham, be fully persuaded that God has the power to do what He’s promised. And He can do the impossible. Abraham and Sarah had a child. Today almost 500 years later because God used a lone monk in Germany we get to hear, study, and enjoy the pure gospel message. It looked impossible but God promised that His Word will not return to Him empty. God promised that the gates of hell will not prevail against His kingdom. God promised that kingdoms come and kingdoms fall but the word of the Lord remains forever.
I don’t know what impossible things you’re facing in life right now. But I do know God’s promises to you. He’s promised to be with you always, does He have the promise to do that? He’s promised to never leave you or forsake you. He’s promised that in your baptism you were washed clean of all sin, adopted into His family, made God’s own child. In the Lord’s Supper God gives you His own body and blood for the forgiveness of sins. God’s promised to work all things out for your eternal good. God’s promised that in Jesus all your sins are forgiven apart from anything you have done or not done. God’s promised that when you die He will take you immediately to eternal life in heaven.
Be fully persuaded that God has the power to do what He’s promised to do.
My son David is not quite 3 years old. I’m amazed at his implicit trust in me. Whenever he is up on something, like the top of the stairs or the top of his bunk bed, and he sees me, he will throw himself down expecting me to catch him. He’s fully persuaded that I have the strength to catch him. Well, there’s such a two year old in each of us. Our God hasn’t dropped us yet, and He never will. Through faith alone rest yourself securely in His arms. Amen.

Warning: Enter Through the Narrow Door

15th Sunday after Pentecost
Luke 13:22-30

Grace, mercy and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ! In the name of Jesus, the narrow door, dear friends in Christ,

What does it take to be an Olympic athlete? I’m guessing that not very many of us here have ever really considered that question or have much of any desire to either J. With the Olympics wrapping up, what does it take to be one of those people? How do they do it? Well, I did a little research and although every athlete has their own workout regimen, it’s pretty typical for an Olympic athlete to train for 2 hour sessions, twice a day, five to six days a week. That’s at least 20 hours/ week on training. Then there’s strength and conditioning sessions which are usually 1 to 1.5 hours at a time and 3-4 sessions per week. And they also get “extra workouts” that are more sport specific for 15-45 minute sessions. There’s also time spent with sports medicine for rehab and recovery, there’s proper nutrition and hydration and sleep, studying past performances to learn from mistakes. Wow! So to be an Olympic athlete you’d need to have a LOT of discipline, determination, dedication, hard work, sweat, etc. Why? So that you’re well prepared to excel at your particular sport. And what’s the goal? To win a contest, get a medal, a trophy, maybe get a name in a record book.

What are you prepared to do? What are you spending your life training for? Now, don’t get me wrong, I have a lot of respect of athletes who can do far more than I’ll ever be able to do and I have even greater respect for the athletes who do what they do not for their own glory but for the glory of their Lord and Savior Jesus. But there’s a far greater, far more important, far more costlier contest and struggle that each of us are involved in than the Olympics. And the stakes aren’t just a medal or a trophy, but where you spend eternity. And here’s the question: what are you prepared to do? What are you prepared to do for this struggle? No one would dream of preparing for the Olympics by sitting at home watching TV on the couch while eating potato chips. In fact, if an Olympic athlete did that, not only would they fail miserably, but they’d be a huge embarrassment to themselves and to their team. What are you prepared to do to enter eternal life?

As Jesus was passing through villages and cities and teaching people the gospel while he was making his way to Jerusalem for one final time, someone in the crowd asked Jesus, “Lord, are only a few people going to be saved.” And what you notice is that Jesus doesn’t answer the question. Jesus takes it to a different place. And perhaps that’s good for us. If Jesus had directly answered, like, “Yes, only a small few are going to be saved.” That could lead us to anxiety, concern, worry if we’re going to be saved. And likewise, if Jesus said, “No, there will be many, many saved, don’t worry.” That could lead us to a lazy and lackadaisical approach to our faith. No, rather, Jesus says, “Make every effort to enter through the narrow door.”

Jesus is picturing the kingdom of heaven to be like a great big house, but this house has only one entrance and that’s through a door, and this door happens to be quite narrow. The door is open, it’s open to all to enter, but it’s narrow and one day it’s going to be shut and locked. The door being open is the time of grace that God has given to each and every person. Time of grace isn’t just a religious TV broadcast, it’s time that every human has in this life on the earth in order to come to faith in Jesus and finally be saved. But there will come a time when the door is shut – either when someone dies or when the Last Day arrives – either of which could be at any moment.

And the door is narrow. So, what is this “narrow door.” The narrow door is indicating faith in Jesus as the Savior. You see, there is only one way to eternal life, one way to life in heaven, and that’s through faith in Jesus as your Savior alone. It’s a narrow door, you car won’t fit through this door, your house isn’t going to make it through, your good works won’t fit through this door, it’s narrow.

And what does Jesus say? “Make every effort to enter through the narrow door.” Make every effort, strive, struggle to enter through it. The Greek word that is used here actually pictures an athlete striving, struggling, and straining in order to compete and win the prize.  In other words, Jesus is saying, “Be an Olympic athlete in your discipline, dedication and determination in entering eternal life.

Why so? Because one day the owner of the house is going to get up, close the door, lock it and there will be people left knocking and pleading, “Open the door for us!” But Jesus is going answer, “I don’t know you or where you come from.” But…but…but we know you! “We ate and drank with you and you taught in our streets.” We know who you are Jesus, we were baptized, we warmed a pew in church once in a while, we were part of a Christian family!

But he will reply, “I don’t know you or where you come from. Away from me all you evildoers.” Maybe you called yourself a Christian, but your heart was far from me. Maybe you thought you were a Christian but you lived your life like an unbeliever. Maybe you were baptized and the fire of faith kindled in your heart for a time only to let life’s worries, riches, and pleasures lead you astray. And there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth when you see all these people in the kingdom of God and you yourselves thrown out. You know the feeling of missing a flight, missing a deadline, not making it to an event on time, but infinitely worse would be to hear from God: “I don’t know you…away from me.”

You see, the real question isn’t “Are only a few going to be saved.” The real question you and I need to be asking is, “Am I making every effort to enter through the narrow door?” Am I making every effort to feed my faith, nourish my soul, strengthen my spirit? And the warning Jesus gives is real. Olympic athletes train, they strive, they struggle, they discipline and dedicate in order to win a prize. What about you? What about me?

Are you willing to gamble on being part of a congregation, group, or organization where a little false teaching or error is taught or tolerated? Your eternity’s on the line! Are you willing to gamble that you could be spiritually ok with a little false doctrine? Or what about living in a way contrary to God’s will? Scripture is very clear that living in unrepented sin is inviting the wrath of God. Do you want to gamble with that? Are you willing to gamble that God won’t really be angry with you if you purposefully live in a way that is contrary to his Word? That’s an eternal gamble! Or what about our approach to our spiritual life? Is it ok to skip church? Is it ok to not read God’s Word on a regular basis? Faith comes from hearing the message. Are you willing to gamble that your faith will be strong enough when you’re not giving it your all? There are no second chances, once the door is closed, it’s closed forever!

So, what are you prepared to do?  I hope that each of us would say, “I want, I need, to give 100 percent, full effort to my spiritual life! Many are going to go to hell, I don’t want to be one of them! There’s only one way in through faith in Jesus. I want and need to be focused on the Word of God so that God can build my faith and keep me on the narrow path to eternal life. So be an Olympic athlete, train like an Olympic athlete when it comes to your faith. Jesus said, “Make every effort to enter through the narrow door.”

But what does God see when he looks at us. Does he see us giving a 100 percent to our spiritual life? What do we see when we look at our offering amount, when we examine our prayer life, when we reflect on our worship to God, when we think about how much time and how quality of time we spend in his Word.  Is it an Olympic effort? I have to hang my head in shame as I look at the struggle Olympic athletes go through for their sport and how pathetic my faith life really is in comparison. Instead of an Olympic training regimen, it’s more of a spiritual potato chips and TV regimen. You too?

So, it would be fair if God did to you and me like the home-owner did in this text, lock the door and say, “Go away! I don’t know who you are!” That would be fair.

But that’s not what God does! God says, “There’s a way in!” In incredible love God opened the door of heaven. There was a far greater competition and struggle that happened on this earth than the Olympics. The real hero, the real athlete, came into this world and did what no one else could do. By living a perfect life He earned a perfect record before God. And He didn’t stop there, he also took the competition to the cross, shedding His own blood for all of our spiritual lethargy and laziness, for every time we’ve eaten potato chips and watched TV spiritually instead of watching and praying, reading and studying His Word, for every failure we’ve made in the spiritual competition, Jesus died and with his blood paid for it. And Jesus didn’t compete to win a medal for Himself, no, he gives His trophy, His medal, His prize of eternal life to you! He opened heavens doors! He opened the place of eternal peace, eternal joy, eternal hope. He opened the door to being able to live in peace knowing that your sins are forgiven now and forever. The door is open and it is open for all.

And through faith in Jesus you’re going through that narrow door.  He made sure that you knew that you were in by baptizing you into His own name.  He continues to strengthen you in your baptismal faith by speaking to you in the Word, by feeding you with the sacrament of the Lord’s Supper.  And in so doing He’s assuring you over and over again that the door is open, open to you!  God STROVE for you.  He did all that was needed for your salvation!  He did it all!  FULL effort!  One hundred percent focus!  In regards to winning salvation, God has done absolutely everything that we need!  He’s died, He’s risen, He’s opened up the door!

But now there’s effort to be done.  No, not an effort to earn salvation, not at all.  Jesus did that work.  But rather, effort to keep us on the road to eternal salvation.  God has chosen to strengthen our faith through the Word, through the sacraments.  He gives to you the incredible honor of deciding how much you will be into that Word, how often you will partake of the sacrament.  The stakes are THE highest!  But the blessings are THE highest, too, the blessings of life eternal.

Knowing all that, what are you prepared to do?  Amen

Lie: Life Should be Easy

10th Sunday after Pentecost
James 1:2-4

Grace, mercy, and peace are yours from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, in the name of Jesus who bore His cross to rescue and save each one of us, dear friends in Christ, All I have to do is push one button on my smart phone and I can instantly call any phone number I want, I can read a text message and have it sent to anyone, I can tell it to navigate me to anywhere in the United States and within milliseconds have the fastest route there. It can look up any information that I want it to. I can go home and have fresh coffee made within minutes, I can warm up any leftovers within seconds in my microwave. I can flip a little switch and instantly have light in my house. More and more it becomes a bit uncomfortable for us to be out of cell phone range, to have the battery in our electronic gadget die, or to lose electricity for hours or days (as some of you did this past week). We live in a world where trillions of dollars and countless hours are spent in finding ways to make life easy. But there’s a caution. We can become so accustomed to an easy life that we begin to feel that life should be easy. Do you think that?

Or, perhaps you’re looking at this lie that, “Life should be easy,” and you’re thinking to yourself, “Now this one, I surely don’t believe. I know that life isn’t easy, trust me. I have many personal reminders of the difficulties and sinfulness of life. All I have to do is watch the evening news and see the problems and difficulties in the world. All I have to do is look at my yard that perhaps is covered with trees that were knocked down or damage or debris. Or, I’ve lost a loved one, I’ve endured sickness, I’ve experienced the stress and frustration at work, I’ve experienced marriage difficulties or tried to parent my children – believe me, I know how difficult life is, I know that life isn’t easy.”

But consider this, even though we know we have difficulties and should expect them, do we want our life to be easy? Do we want things to just work out for us? Part of falling into the trap of this lie is when we see other people who seem to have better lives than we do. Maybe a friend tells you about their wonderful family or a coworker fills you in on all the intricate details of their incredible vacation or your neighbor tells you about his perfect job. Or maybe you begin to think that everyone else seems to have it put together, “why does this always have to happen to me!” No one else has marriage problems like I do, no one else seems to experience the parenting struggles like I do, no one else is as stressed as I am, no one else seems to have as bad of money problems as I have. Other people are smarter, skinnier, have more money, a better spouse, a better job than me. Maybe once I retire I can finally live life like those people, once I get that new job I’ll finally have an easy life like those people, once my children are grown up I can finally enjoy life again. So, while we might say that we know that our life is not going to be easy, is an easy life something that we strive for or live in envy of? Or maybe we’re just plain tired of dealing with all our problems and just wat a break, we just want an easy life. We think, “Life should be easy.”

The effect of believing the lie that life should be easy is bitterness, resentment and envy. Think about it, what are we really saying to God when we’re not content with what He’s given to us and want more to be like someone else? What are we saying to God when we’re envious, resentful of others, and harbor bitterness maybe toward God or to other people for the difficulties that we’ve been through, that we’ve suffered, that we’ve had to endure which seem far worse in comparison to other people. Aren’t we really saying, “Life should be easy”? And perhaps the worst effect of believing this lie is that although we know in our heads that God is loving, powerful, and wise, in our words and actions to we give the impression that God isn’t loving or he wouldn’t have allowed this to happen, that God isn’t wise, otherwise he would have done things this way, or not powerful , otherwise he would have prevented this horrible thing from happening.

Our text this morning is a difficult pill to swallow. God is essentially saying that we should rejoice when problems and trials come into our lives. How in the world is that possible? That’s about the last thing we want to do. Typically we think it’s good if we just deal with the problems we face, let alone rejoice in them! The only way that we can rejoice even in the midst of difficulties and hardships is taking the promises of God that we know in our heads and driving them down into our hearts so that God’s promises have an effect on both on our emotions and our faith.

The writer James addresses this book to “the twelve tribes scattered among the nations.” So, he’s really writing this letter to Christian Jews scattered all over the place, they weren’t living in Jerusalem any more. That gives this letter somewhat of a unique characteristic. He’s not addressing Christians in a certain city with certain struggles, but he’s addressing Christians in general with general truths from God. And one of the things that he takes for granted is that the Christians will experience trials and difficulties. And that’s no surprise. Jesus told us, “If anyone wants to come after me he must deny himself, take up his cross and follow me.” And in the book of Acts the apostles said, “We must go through many hardships to enter the kingdom of God.”

So, the truth is not “life should be easy” but really the truth is “life should be difficult” – that’s what we should expect. We should expect a world full of disease and death, stress and money problems, terrorism, persecution, crime, hate. Not only in world but also in our lives. Notice what our text says, we will face “trials of many kinds.” We will face general difficulties in life, but even more, we’ll face trouble because of the fact that we’re Christian. Notice what the first lesson said, “In fact everyone who wants to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted.” So God promises that we will experience problems and difficulties and trials in life.

But along with the promise of problems, God promises something else- “Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, 3 because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. 4 Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.” In other words, God’s promise is that the trials we face are for our good. They make us stronger, they cause us to persevere. God’s promise is that He actually does work all things out for our good. A classic example of someone who experienced many trials was Joseph. He was sold into slavery in a foreign country, then thrown into prison, then was forgotten about in prison. There was plenty of opportunities for Joseph to become bitter, angry, resentful and envious or he could choose to trust God and serve God even in the midst of the difficulties.

Problems will come, but God has promised to make them work for our good- so when problems come, “Consider it pure joy.” It’s one thing to deal with problems, it’s another thing to be joyful about it. How can we find joy when we face sickness, when our car breaks down, when work or family problems increase? Most of us have a hard enough time to just deal with the difficult things of life let along “consider it pure joy.”

God wants us to have ultimate joy but in order for us to have ultimate joy the reality is, we must have pain. Think about Jesus. Why did He have to go to the cross? If God loved His own Son so much, why would He send him there? Jesus went through pain and torment far more than we could ever imagine on that cross- both physical and spiritual as God punished him for our sins. Why so? “For the joy set before him he endured the cross scorning its shame.” So that we could be with God permanently. Yes, we have pain and difficulty and it may be hard for us to think that things could be worse, but they could have been. We could be going from pain here to ultimate pain and suffering in hell, but God spared us from that! Instead of God directing his wrath and anger for sin at us, He directed all of it at His own Son on the cross.

So, that means that when we’re experiencing problems or difficulties in life we know they are for our good. When you suffer you KNOW that God is not punishing you for something that you did, because he already punished Jesus for your sins. So there must be another purpose for our suffering. What does God say? The “testing of your faith develops perseverance.”  You are being made “mature and complete, not lacking anything.” God doesn’t send pain in anger, but in love making sure that He doesn’t lose you for eternity.

So, all that’s left is rejoicing – even and especially in suffering. That doesn’t mean that we have to jump up and down when we get sick or lose our job, but it does mean that we can rejoice that we have a God who doesn’t just want us to have a comfortable life here, but an eternity of comfort with him. We can rejoice that God loves us like a father enough to discipline us to make us stronger in our faith. We can rejoice that God has the power to even use the sinful things of this world for our good. We can rejoice that God has the wisdom that He can even turn our own mistakes into a way to help us and maybe even others. We can rejoice when we face problems because it’s a reminder that this world isn’t our home.  True rest, true joy, true happiness for our souls is found only in Jesus, not in our outward circumstances.

There’s a neat illustration about two trees. One tree was out in the middle of a field and the other tree was growing right next to stream. Through dry spells and droughts the tree in the middle of field had to struggle to get water it had to put its roots down and deep to find water through difficult seasons. The tree by the stream, however, had it really easy, had a constant supply of water didn’t have to struggle much. But then a storm came – like the storm we had this past week- and the tree in the middle of the field that struggled through dry spells and droughts withstood the strong winds because it had deep roots. But the tree that had it easy by the stream was uprooted by the wind.

No, life should not be easy, life is difficult, God’s promised that. But God also has promised to use every difficulty and trial for our good, to strengthen our faith and drive us closer to Him for He is our God who is all-wise, all-powerful, all-loving and with him as our God we can be content and even consider it pure joy when we face many kinds of trials. Amen.