Sermon Text: Isaiah 54:10
“Though the mountains be shaken and the hills be removed, yet my unfailing love for you will not be shaken
nor my covenant of peace be removed,” says the Lord, who has compassion on you.
Clue: Ephesians 2:8-9
Sermon Text: Isaiah 54:10
“Though the mountains be shaken and the hills be removed, yet my unfailing love for you will not be shaken
nor my covenant of peace be removed,” says the Lord, who has compassion on you.
Clue: Ephesians 2:8-9
I’m excited about our Lenten series this year entitled, “Cross Words!” Each week we’ll fill-in part of a crossword puzzle with biblical terms that will help us on our Lenten journey. The cross word puzzle is not meant to stump you, but aid you in your understanding of what Lent means for you. The clues are all in the book of Isaiah. Come, worship with us and discover “Cross Words!”
Here’s the crossword puzzle:
Pastor talked a little bit about the origins of the Wise men and about the star, but there’s so much more than can be said in a sermon. A WELS pastor, Nathan Biebert, a contributor for breadforbeggars.com, did some extraordinary research on Epiphany’s origins, and wrote these two articles:
Check them out.
It’s not just confirmation students asking these questions, it’s adults too. I’ve handled that question as a pastor, and it’s a question I’ve wondered myself. “Is heaven really worth it?” I know I’m not alone. Some, thinking that heaven as like a long church service, are hesitant to commit to heaven as a good idea because they know how they feel at the end of a long drawn-out church service. Some, thinking that heaven is a place of no sin, equate that with “no fun.”
That’s why I appreciated preaching on Isaiah 65:17-25 this last weekend. Not only does the LORD through the prophet Isaiah talk about heaven in negative terms, such as no sorrow, no weeping, no danger from nature, no danger from the devil and his angels, no separation from those you love in the LORD, but also, no wants. “Then it will happen that even before they call, I will answer; while they are still speaking, I will hear.” (Isaiah 65:24 EHV)
If you ever go to a banquet at Von Abel’s in Hollandtown, you know you won’t leave there unsatisfied. And if it’s a banquet where it’s served family-style, you’ll get platter after platter to your table of delicious chicken, potatoes, vegetables, ham, and all the fixings. If you can keep eating, they’ll still bring food to you. You lack for nothing. But there are still sometimes you’ll have to ask for something, because the staff is putting so much in front of everyone they can’t always track if you have enough of each item.
A Thanksgiving dinner, with all the good food, still lacks something. Even if you are sitting at a table with a ton of food on it, you’ll still be asking for this or that to be passed to you. You’re lacking something until everything is passed to you and you have it all on your plate. But then, there’s still something lacking. Maybe the turkey was too dry, or there are raisins in your dressing, or a favorite dish isn’t present. There’s always something that could prevent you from being truly content. Imagine a place where you’ll feel like you have everything you possibly could want. Imagine an existence where you never get to the point where you say, “You know what this needs? More _______.” That’s what LORD through Isaiah was communicating in that one verse. Before you realize you need something, God will provide it. Before you can even think to ask for it, it will be there. This is more than just a genie giving your every wish, but a state of existence where wishes aren’t needed. You won’t even have a wish or a need. God will provide. Can you even imagine an existence where you lack for even a want?
God promises this in Isaiah, that in heaven you won’t have an opportunity to say, “If this had ______, I’d truly be happy.” All your wants will be supplied; you won’t be found asking for more. This is God’s promise. How can you be certain you will go there? Certainly you do not go there through your own effort, for you cannot be perfect as your Heavenly Father is perfect. Your best effort will still be lacking the perfect zeal and perfect motivation. Your best words will still lack the perfect love that God demands. But God sent His Son Jesus to die for you. Jesus lived a perfect life and his perfect sacrifice was credited to your heavenly account, thus giving you a place at the heavenly table. God will keep His promise to you because it is based on what His son has done for you. Until the day God fulfills His promises to the letter, there are those you know who, if the end of all things were today, would not spend eternity with you. Take advantage of the opportunities to invite others to this heavenly feast. Jesus Christ paid their way in too. Let them know. There still is room. And whether they listen or fail to listen, you still have an eternity of heaven to look forward to, a place where tears will be dried, sorrows forgotten, sin destroyed, and your every need supplied. You will lack nothing.
Despite all the pagan references today, Halloween does not have pagan roots.
The word “Halloween” is an abbreviated form of All Hallows’ Eve’ which is All Saints’ Evening.
In the first three centuries A.D. the lives of the martyrs of the Church were commemorated on special days with one day, “All Saint’s Day,” reserved to celebrate them all. Neopagans and Wiccans like to claim that the source of Halloween is the Celtic festival of Samhain. The earliest mention of Samhain in Irish folklore doesn’t come until the 10th Century A.D., whereas All Saint’s Day has its roots seven hundred years earlier. Finally Samhain was a lunar festival of harvest. That means that the day of Samhain can vary up to a month in difference when compared to a solar year date of Oct. 31/Nov. 1.
We remember our loved ones who have died in the Lord, as well as remember why they are saints. Christians are members of the same family with them, as Christian have historically confessed in the Apostles Creed: “The holy Christian church the communion of saints.” Paul speaks to his contemporaries as “saints” and reveals the reason why in 1 Corinthians 1:2, “To the church of God in Corinth, to those sanctified in Christ Jesus and called to be holy, together with all those everywhere who call on the name of our Lord Jesus Christ – their Lord and ours.”
First, we remember them with thanksgiving. God had entrusted them with the gift of God’s Word, and they passed it on to us. They were faithful in that work, and for that we give thanks to God. The second service is the strengthening of our faith. When we see Peter’s denial forgiven, we also are encouraged to believe all the more that grace truly triumphs over sin (Romans 5:20). Sometimes those who have died before us led very colorful lives, perhaps even sinful lives, but later on were much different people, devoted to the Lord and to his forgiveness. The third honor is imitation. As we remember how they lived their lives in faith, may we too imitate their devotion to God and His Word.
Jesus’ parable of the Good Samaritan challenges us to change our thinking about what loving others truly means. A priest and a Levite, who supposedly have a close connection with God and His love, can’t find a reason to help a fellow countrymen who is at the brink of death. On the other hand, a Samaritan who shouldn’t have ONE reason to help, sacrifices income, time, and energy for a stranger.
Here are 5 things often forget about the Good Samaritan.
It starts in our hearts, a heart that has been changed through the love of Christ for us, and a heart that sees other human beings: friends, enemies, people we know, people we don’t know, as neighbors. You can’t read this parable without thinking of how Jesus loved us, his bitter enemies, and rescued us from certain eternal death that we deserved. His unconditional love continues to help us as He provides for us spiritually and physically because that’s who He is. Considering His love for us, changes our hearts to love people as He does.
The Good Samaritan didn’t take a picture of the beaten up Jew, share it on social media, and wait for the outrage. He actually did something that required sacrifice. Giving up his possessions to care for him, and then taking him to an inn, and handing more of his possessions over, required sacrifice. Helping someone else in the midst of our busy day means sacrifice. Whether it’s a car on the side of a road or a friend who needs time for us to listen to them, they need our time, and if our time is spoken for or we’ve wasted our time on ourselves, then how can we help? If you don’t think it’s your job because you don’t have the time, keep reading.
“Go and do likewise.” Jesus said at the end of this parable. When we see others in need, who should help them? The government? Some church program? Anybody but me? Jesus makes it personal for the expert in the law and for us. The expert was to “Go and do likewise.” So are we. Consider that being a good Samaritan is not the job of someone else like a church program or a government program, it’s yours. Thankfully, it was personal for Jesus. He didn’t wait for someone else to save you, He saved you. He is personally active in your life today too.
During the children’s devotion, I asked the kids whether it was easier to help someone you knew or easier to help someone you didn’t know? The kids said that it was harder to help someone you don’t know because you don’t know what they are going to do. This simple truth is in play whenever there is an opportunity to help someone in need. Is this going to hurt me? Am I better off just not helping? This requires trust that the God who provides and encourages you to love as He loved you, will be there for you when you actually do what He asks of you. Guess what, He never fails to keep His promises!
The expert in the Law wanted Jesus to tell him what he had to do to get to heaven. Jesus directed him to the law, and told him to “do this, and you will live.” Do this… ALL THE TIME…no exceptions. The truth is, we cannot love our God and love our neighbor with the intensity and discipline that Jesus demands. Even our best effort to love our neighbor falls far short of the love Jesus has shown us. Thankfully, being a good Samaritan isn’t about us earning a place in heaven, but us being who God saved us to be, His children. His children showing His love so that others may know of their ultimate good Samaritan, Jesus.
My Brown County Supervisors are discussing whether to have an advisory referendum on whether there should be prayer before their monthly meetings. I first heard about it in an interview Brown County Supervisor Patrick Evans gave on WTAQ 97.5FM. In the interview, Patrick Evans invited citizens to express their opinion. As a confessional Lutheran pastor, I feel we should revoke all public invocations in government. No prayer publicly at all in government. It’s an odd position for a pastor to take, I know, but it is in defense of prayer.
As a Christian, I celebrate that I have the freedom and confidence to pray to God. This freedom and confidence is not earned by me, but given to me because of what Jesus has done. The Bible reassures me that God hears me wherever I am–whether the prayer is out loud or only in my thoughts–and God promises to act on my prayers for my good. Prayer is an awesome privilege I don’t use nearly as often as I am able to.
When individuals who hold to the same beliefs about God pray together, it unifies them. Prayer said in a group reminds the group that they are a part of something bigger than themselves, and thus, they are not alone. This is powerful, yet this unity is not without its bumps and bruises. I once had a troubled rancher in Montana start up with me after church saying, “I couldn’t say ‘amen’ to your prayer today.” It was the middle of a dry spell, and I had prayed for rain. He was harvesting his hay, and didn’t want the rain to come. It opened my eyes to see how prayer could be seen as manipulative of another’s faith, and that it takes honest work to bring about and keep true unity.
Not all those who go to the meetings share the same views on spirituality. Instead of acknowledging that some express their spirituality differently than others, a prayer at the beginning ignores these differences, perhaps even tramples on the spiritual beliefs of others, in a superficial display of unity. This makes a mockery of the hard work that is needed to bring people together. Finding common ground takes work, and we belittle the work of those who serve in government by mandating a superficial expression of spiritual unity that doesn’t exist before they do the work we have elected them to do.
Even those who are unified spiritually may not be unified politically or be unified on a particular issue. I serve as pastor of members who are of different political parties but yet are unified in their spiritual beliefs. On the flip side, those of different spiritual beliefs can also be unified politically or be unified on an issue as well, but it doesn’t happen by cheapening the power and purpose of prayer.
While I have not been to any Brown County supervisor meetings, I have heard public invocations that were not prayers to a deity but instead were sermons to those listening. It made me uncomfortable, and I understood better what it was like for that Montanan rancher wanting to harvest his hay and hearing me pray for rain. When a person you don’t know prays for you in the public square, you don’t know what they are going to say, and if you are joining in prayer with them, you are giving assent (albeit passively) to the content of their prayer. That’s like agreeing to “Terms and Conditions” where the Terms and Conditions haven’t even been written down yet.
Granted, when I worship at another church of my church affiliation, I may not always know the content of that particular pastor’s prayer, but since I know the confession of that pastor, I’m confident the pastor isn’t going to manipulate us to do something against our confession. He’s not going to pray that God make us all Chicago Bear fans, for example.
If individuals pray publicly at government meetings, what is there to stop someone from manipulating another’s soul through that prayer? Even if you ask clergy to pray at Brown County Supervisor meetings, you are introducing an unstable element that may manipulate the rest. You don’t know what they are going to say or what they are going to advocate, and you are opening up to being manipulated by another or being manipulated by the group who assents to that prayer.
People don’t all share the same spiritual views. When they come together to do the business of governing; let them govern. They can even center themselves spiritually as they wish before the meeting, but when the meeting starts, let it be about the business of governing. God will still be there. As individuals do the business of governing, individuals will show concern for the welfare of others by expressing proposals and opinions, individuals may even pray privately and to themselves (without anyone noticing even) for composure and patience as the meeting goes on, and individuals will vote and make decisions for the good of others.
Eliminating prayer from doesn’t eliminate God from government. I believe He still is at work there even if He’s not acknowledged. Eliminating prayer respects those of different beliefs, and encourages those of different spiritual beliefs to look elsewhere for religious and spiritual conversations that lead to spiritual unity, conversations which I pray are done in honesty and full disclosure.
Yesterday we talked about an interesting Aramaic word, “mammon.” The inspired writer Luke places it in the middle of his Greek text, 3 times in Luke 16:1-13! Mammon can be translated “money,” but it would then be missing the full weight of what Jesus is trying to say. Jesus is warning about materialism, that is, an attachment to the earthly stuff. That is why he uses the word “mammon” instead of the Greek word for “money.”
In the eyes of some, only a select few struggle with materialism. They might say, “I can’t have a problem of loving stuff because I don’t have that much of it to love!” In the eyes of God, that number that struggles with materialism is bigger…because it’s not about how much stuff we have, but our view of it. What is the stuff for? Whom does it serve? Why do you have your stuff? What is its goal?
“I tell you, make friends for yourselves with unrighteous mammon, so that when it runs out, they will welcome you into the eternal dwellings.” (Luke16:9) Jesus puts before all of us a lofty goal, to have friends enjoy heaven with us.
Years ago, when talking about thanksgiving plans with a couple, they shared with me their plan of using a thanksgiving meal to invite friends to Christmas. “You’re already thinking about Christmas?” I thought. I couldn’t get past Thanksgiving, and here they were thinking about sharing the birth of the Savior with someone. However, I admired them because at least they had a goal. Thanksgiving was going to be fun for them, but it served a purpose. What fun things that you do can be used to eventually share the good news of what Jesus has done with someone?
It’s good to plan for retirement, good to use the resources to take care of yourself and those you love, but consider what your stuff could accomplish after you’re gone. Trusts, wills, estate planning that remember the work of the LORD are ways we manage our stuff so that others can enjoy heaven with us. Imagine meeting “new friends” in heaven who say, “Your gift enabled a missionary to share the good news of Jesus with me.”
The dishonest manager wasted his master’s possessions. It went through his fingers without serving any purpose. Perhaps your finances do the same. Money goes in and money goes out and it doesn’t seem like it accomplishes anything. Developing a budget, accounting for each dollar spent, and sticking to it, reestablishes control, and makes your money serve you. Then, when you have control over your finances, then giving to the LORD and being charitable with those in need are viewed as opportunities to make your money fit your goal instead of times where you have to deprive yourself so that others may benefit.
What is valuable to God? Perfection? A place in heaven? Oh wait, those are things God has freely given us! True riches are what you have because of Christ. God has given you all these treasures up front before you could do or prove anything to Him. They are yours through faith! You get them all! Be free from the burden on your heart of a wasteful past!
A trip to the ER for me made me realize I need to take better care of my health. With my Preveza app, I could see the test results first hand, even the part where it describes me as “super morbidly obese” patient, as if that’s my superpower.
It’s not the best language to describe a patient, but the hospital has to put some label on, that’s what a hospital does, label a problem and address it. What would you rather have it save doubleplusunthin? So, I’ll deal with my “super morbidly obese” instead. Losing my “super status” will be hard. If it were easy, I’d have done it already.
I have yet to serve a church where evangelism and elder work were easy for members to do. But you can’t do it without love. Not the feeling kind of love, but loving as God loved us.
Yet, the one who calls us is faithful.
I have spent time thinking about hope and fear and grace, mainly because of a quote that I was asked to react to. It was found on an outdoor decoration for sale at a local landscaping store.
“Hope is some extraordinary spiritual grace that God gives us to control our fears, not to oust them.”
The author was a Roman Catholic priest, which, okay, you know where he’s coming from, but I hadn’t thought of a connection between hope, fear, and grace. Have you?
Most of the time, the Bible uses the word hope in terms of the afterlife. One example in Hebrews 11:1 “Faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see.” There are spots where hope is another word for optimism, as Paul hopes that the Jews would convert to Christianity (Romans 11:14), or hoped to spend time with certain people (1Corinthians 16:7, 1 Timothy 3:14). Does our outlook about life change because of God’s grace? I think so.
We are hopeful that God’s word works for the good of the individual, and if it doesn’t God’s Word still works… God says so in Isaiah 55:11 “So is my word that goes out from my mouth: It will not return to me empty, but will accomplish what I desire and achieve the purpose for which I sent it.”
“Extraordinary spiritual grace that God gives us” – I’d be careful about a phrase that has grace as something God gives. We can speak Biblically of God giving us grace as long as we understand the Bible’s context that whenever God “gives grace”, He gives first of all because that’s who He is, a gracious God, and the “grace given” means whatever it is we receive is completely undeserved and a free action on His part.
if you think of all grace as some sort of “substance” He gives. Grace as a substance is then something that we can obtain. If grace becomes something we can obtain, than our effort obtains it (even it’s a small piddly effort). Then it’s no longer grace, but something we earn (even if the grace is way better than the effort we put in to get it). This is the trap of Roman Catholic theology, which speaks of grace but defines grace as a substance we obtain. Thus, a Roman Catholic theologian can say, “We are saved by grace” but mean “We are saved by obtaining grace.” This isn’t grace at all.
If fear is defined as anxiety about what’s going to happen to me when I die, then the Bible’s main definition of hope (in Christ being sure of something we have never seen) is the antidote for that. His perfect love for us, culminating in his sacrifice on the cross, drives out fear. 1 John 4:18 “Perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment.” I imagine when I die, I may be afraid of the uncertainty of the mechanics of death, but I’ll be thinking of Jesus the whole time and what He did for me, thereby giving me hope that my eternal fate is not punishment. Thus, the valley of the shadow of death –a scary thought– can be walked….
But that’s not the only fear/anxiety….
The father of the demon possessed boy in Mark 9:23-24 says, “I do belief, help me overcome my unbelief.” The resurrection accounts has plenty of examples of people believing that Jesus rose from the dead but are at the same time afraid or anxious. Why does Jesus say, “Peace be with you” when he appears to them unless they weren’t at peace to begin with?
So, we don’t treat fear/anxiety as a Christian virtue, nor do we say, “No REAL Christian has fear/anxiety.” We address fear/anxiety as potential realities for the person still struggling with a corrupt and deceitful sinful nature. Maybe medications will help the corrupted brain, maybe some helps from a psychologist will enable us to reason with our unreasonable brains. But…
We address them as Jesus did: identifying them and then preaching the Gospel to the soul dealing with them. Christ’s love for me starts with Him loving me, and comes to me as I am, anxieties and fears and all, and forgives me for all anxieties and fears, even those against Him. His love encourages me to pray to Him, sharing with Him all anxieties and fears… As Jesus said, “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest….”
Not even John in 1 John talks about a completely, perfect life free of sin this side of heaven. It’s always the goal to be better, to love more, and to continually drive out fear.
I do like the concept of “controlling a fear.” Controlling a fear, to me, acknowledges that there is a fear yet at the same time separates us from it. “Yes, I am afraid, now how am I going to deal with it?” instead of passively saying “I’m afraid, so I’m going to do what-it-falsely-promises-will-take-my-fear-away.”
So, how would I put fear, hope, and grace in the same sentence?
You can quote me on that.