Tuesday, October 30, 2012


Every year, when October 31st rolls around, we Lutherans who remember our religious heritage look back to the reformation movement which took place in Germany during the 1500’s.  Hopefully, we will remember this event with thankful appreciation for the Lord causing the glorious light of the gospel message to once again shine in all its splendor.
That gospel message is clearly revealed in the Bible. For example, consider Romans 3:24, 28.  “(All) are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus… We maintain that a man is justified by faith apart from observing the law.”  Simply put, we sinful human beings have been forgiven of all our sins and eternally saved by God’s undeserved love ALONE, through the redeeming works of Jesus Christ ALONE, and we receive it by trusting in Jesus as our Savior ALONE.  It’s good news indeed.
In spite of the wonderful clearness of the Bible’s teaching, during the years leading up to the Reformation period the gospel message was largely obscured by false ideas and teachings.  Instead of looking ALONE to the Bible for direction, the church looked outside the Scripture to human traditions, and to the pronouncements and decrees of the church councils and popes.
As a result of this flawed human reasoning, all kinds of teachings developed.  People began to look at their own good works or the works of the past saints in order to gain God’s forgiveness and the assurance of salvation. These teachings directed people away from Christ as if Jesus’ saving work was not enough.  Such teachings drained away God’s peace and comfort from souls of people and led many people, including Martin Luther, into spiritual despair.
But God opened Martin Luther’s eyes to see the good news of the Gospel.  When Luther saw it, he said that “it was as if the gates of heaven had been opened.”  God opened Luther’s eyes of faith to see the truth that our place in God’s family is not based upon our own performance or works but rather upon the work of Jesus.  Jesus lived the perfect life and died an innocent death as our substitute so that we could be sure that we are forgiven and going to heaven.  When Luther discovered this good news, he wanted to restore the church so that others could know of it.  Thus began the “reformation” a time in church history when the church was “reformed” back to the simple truth of the gospel.
One of the great blessings that came out of the Lutheran Reformation is that Martin Luther put the Scriptures into the hands of the people. Up until that time, the Bible had been translated into Latin, a language most common people could not read.  Luther translated the Bible into the language of the people. 
Today, we have the Bible readily available.  Make use of it.  Let’s not make the same mistake so many past generations have made.  Let’s keep our ears turned to God’s Word – so that we may keep the wonderful blessings of the Gospel.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Everyday is a great day for the child of God!

Two boys who went to the dentist to have a tooth pulled. They walked into the office and one of them bravely said, “I want you to take out a tooth but I don’t want you to use any anesthetic because we’re in a hurry.” “You sure are brave,” the dentist said. “Which tooth is it?” The boy then turned to his friend and said, “Show him your tooth, Tommy.”
It’s easy to be brave when it’s someone else who has the problem. We often tell someone who is faced with a difficult situation to hang in there. “Things will get better in time,” we say confidently. We give encouragement to those who have lost their job or are struggling financially. “It will all work out in the end,” we quip, “It always does.” It is easy to keep a stiff upper lip when it is someone else who faced with the difficult situation.
It is another story when these problems hit close to home. When it is our phone or power that is going to be shut off because we can’t afford to pay the bill, when we are overdrawn at the bank, when we are waiting for the lab tests to come back, when it is our spouse who has had an affair, it’s not so easy to take things in stride. When it is our child that is sick and in the hospital, when we find out that we have cancer, when we receive word that our loved one has died, we worry and fret. We wonder what we are going to do. “How will we get through it,” we ask? 
It is easy to say that we trust God when everything is going well. When we are healthy and strong, when we have a good job and a happy marriage, when our children do well in school and stay out of trouble, we put our faith in God and trust him to take care of things.  But, when something goes wrong, are we still ready to make this confession? Are we not often quick to show doubts and fears about God’s providence and wisdom? “Why has God let this happen to me?” “What good can come from the loss of my job?” It doesn’t take much for us to lose sight of the promises of God, to forget all that he has promised.
What has he promised?  - to be with us always, to help us in time of trouble, to use his angels to watch over us, to turn every tragedy into a blessing, to provide for our needs every day. Need I go on? God’s gracious promises mean that we have nothing to fear or worry about. Even our sins, as terrible as they might be, have been forgiven. We have been washed clean by the blood of the Savior. As a child of God, everyday is a good day, no a GREAT DAY! Every day you can look forward to another day of God’s blessings. Your day may not be easy but with God watching over you, you need not despair. Just put your trust in the Lord and remember his promises.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Look at how much God has given you!

The rancher was very poor, and life was hard. Many times he shook his fist at God and said, “God, if you really loved me, you would see my poverty and send some blessings my way.”  The years went by, and eventually the man died in poverty and bitterness. After a while the property was sold, and the new owner decided to have the land tested. Specialists were called in and soon confirmed the rancher’s hunch – there was oil under the barren soil, barrels and barrels of oil! The new owner became a millionaire overnight.
It was rather ironic. The first rancher had been so angry with God, while all along he was living on top of incredible wealth. The wealth was there he just didn’t realize it. 
I recently read this story and don’t know if it is true. It is not hard to imagine that this or something like this event has taken place. People often complain to and blame God when they think that he has not given them as much as they want or feel they need. Very often, they have what they are looking for and it’s only their shortsightedness that keeps them from seeing it.
God may have given them many opportunities to do something with their life. Hard work or getting an education may be just what we need to get the things we want out of life. But, we passed them up so we could take the “easy way.”  We weren’t ready to do what really needed to be done.
It may have been a job that we passed up because we wanted a better job. One with more pay. We weren’t willing to work our way up the ladder so we let the opportunity slip by. Unfortunately, it never came back. 
It is also true that we often waste so much time complaining about what we don’t have that we fail to see how many blessings God has sent our way. 
The greatest blessings are certainly the spiritual ones. Ironically, they are often the ones we overlook. When you and I were born, we were separated from Christ by our sins. He is holy. We are not. Our sins stood as a giant wall between us and God. 
That wall came down when water was poured on our heads and these words were spoken, “I baptize you in the name of the Father and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.”  At that moment, God said to each one of us: “You are mine. You are a member of my family. All the blessings of my Son, Jesus are now yours, not just today but forever.”
Look away from the problems and frustrations of your day, and focus on the blessings that God gave you when you were baptized and made his own. These blessings are yours now and for all eternity.

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Marriage is a gift from God

With the presidential elections coming up, candidates are always concerned about hot button issues. Making changes to Social Security and Medicare, the abortion issue with the right to choose set against the right to life for the unborn, taxes, what to do in Iraq, Afghanistan, and how to deal with the conflict in Syria, and nuclear issues with Iran. 
Over the last 8 years or so, one of the issues on voters’ minds has been the subject of marriage. It has become a political issue since some states have passed laws to recognize the marriages of same sex couples putting them on par with traditional marriage, a marriage between one man and one woman. While many states, in fact a majority I believe, have passed legislation protecting and defining the traditional definition of marriage, it still feels like we are losing ground in this regard. 
Marriage is certainly under attack or at least not respected. I keep hearing that the divorce rate is around 50 %. More and more couples are choosing to live together as husband and wife without the blessing of being married. While legislation to protect the estate of marriage is useful, the real solution to having a nation that respects the institution of marriage is by changing hearts, by letting the Holy Spirit through Word of God do its job. 
That’s what are lessons are about today. They are God’s reminder to us of his will regarding marriage, the home, and the raising of children. All are blessings from Him and will be blessings for us when we live our lives guided by his Word and will. These truths can be used by us to make our marriage better if we are married, equip us for the day we will marry ,if that is our situation, or equip us to be in a position to help and encourage a friend, co-worker, family member with their marriage. 
God’s record of creation, how this world came to be, is recorded for us in the book of Genesis. In chapter one God tells us what he did on each day and then how he ceased creating and rested on the seventh day which is called the Sabbath (the Hebrew word for ‘rest’. We tells us that the man and woman, male and female he made were the height of his work for he made them in his image and gave them a soul, something the animals were not given. 
In chapter two, verse four, God then begins the story of mankind. He begins at creation, Adam and Eve, Noah, Abraham and man others. It is the story of salvation. The fall into sin and the promise of the Savior. In the New Testament we see those promises fulfilled as Jesus, the Son of God and Son of Man, came into this world, and laid down his life on the cross as our Savior.
In chapter two we find more details on the creation of man and woman that were not given in chapter one. As we review the events that took place during creation, one thing stands out. In a very orderly way God created the universe, world – all things. First he created light, made the continents, the fish, birds, animals and so on. At various times in the creation account, God stops and looks at what had been done and says, “And God saw that it was good.” He says it three or four times. Then something strange happens. It says he saw what was made and “It was not good.” Something was missing. 
Adam had been made by God from the dust of the ground. He took Adam and placed him in the Garden of Eden. He told him to have dominion over all that was created. In other words, the world had been made for him, to be used by him. But Adam was alone. 
Instead of just making someone for Adam, he helped Adam to see that need for himself. God gave Adam and job to do. He was to give each of the animals their name. As Adam did his job, he would see first hand all the creatures God had made. He would see them all, male and female. All had their companion counterpart but not Adam. 
That’s when we hear God say, “No suitable helper was found.” And instead of hearing the Lord saying, “It was good,” we hear God say, “It is not good for the man to be alone. I will make a helper suitable for him.” He then made woman, Eve, from one of Adam’s ribs and brought her to Adam to be his wife. 
When Adam saw her, he said, “This is now bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh; and she shall be called “woman” for she was taken out of man.” 
God had made light by the power of his Word. He simply commanded it and it was done. He did that with the sun, moon, and stars, with the birds, animals, and fish. But man was different. He formed Adam from the dust of the ground and breathed into him the breath of life. Then, in a similar way, he made Eve, forming her after taking a rib from Adam. God then brought Eve to Adam to be his wife. This was the start of their life together as husband and wife. Adam would not be alone. He and Eve would have each other. Through this relationship, through marriage, as husband and wife, they would be richly blessed by God.
One of the main purposes of marriage is companionship. God established marriage so we would not be alone. 
I need to add here that Scripture makes it clear that not everyone will get married. Jesus never married; nor did Paul as far as we know. Some, as Scripture says, have the gift of being able to be happy as a single person. There are advantages as well. 
Anyone who is married understands what companionship is all about. Those who are happily married know what it means to be around their spouse. That does not mean we are around them every minute of every day. Yet when we are not with them we look forward to the time when we will be. That companionship keeps us from being lonely. It gives meaning to our lives as we share what goes on in our lives. If a spouse dies or a marriage breaks up, one of the hardest things to deal with is the loss of our companion. 
I also need to comment on the words, “a suitable helper.” These words are often misunderstood and misused. They are not meant to imply that man is the king and the wife his helper or servant. Husbands and wives should serve each other.  The idea of ‘helper’ carries with it the idea that Eve supplied the things Adam was lacking. His life would not have been complete without her. Married people often use the term “better half” to describe their spouse. Maybe a better term would be “perfect half” for they would be the perfect complement to each other.
You can find many passages from Scripture that use the word help or helper. It does not carry with it a negative connotation or a subservient role. When I am doing plumbing or electrical work, which I am not very good at, if I get in trouble, I call for someone to help me. That person is far more gifted and qualified than I am. So it is in marriage. Each partner is meant to compliment the other. 
Our text concludes “For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife and they will become one flesh.” Adam rejoiced over this gift from God. 
Some have defined marriage as “leaving and cleaving.” Those words come the KJV. They fit pretty well. When a man and woman get married, a new family is formed. While that means that they still honor their mother and father but their primary concern now will be to their marriage and the new home they have started. 
Sometimes marriage problems come up when we forget that. I read one story about someone newly married who had moved away with their spouse. After their first big fight, the wife called her Mom and Dad wanting to come back home. The reply she received is that she was home. Her home was now with her husband and they needed to work things out. 
It only takes a few moments to get married but it takes a life time to make a marriage work. We could spend weeks talking about the things that help make a marriage work. We can’t do it all today. Today we are simply reminded of some precious truths. God established marriage when he made Adam and  Eve and brought them together. Through that marriage, he gives us many blessings, the greatest of which is companionship. Blessings will flow into their lives as they live to love and serve each other and their Lord, treasuring the gift God gave them in their spouse. Since the Fall into sin, remember your spouse is not perfect. When you become disappointed in them because they aren’t everything you hoped they would be, take a look in the mirror. If you want your marriage to be a good one, work at being a good spouse. Remember you are both sinners. Be ready to forgive and ask for forgiveness. 
Ask God’s help to be a good spouse and seek his blessing on your marriage. To the glory of his name. Amen.

Monday, October 8, 2012

Speak the truth in love.

The truth hurts. Boy, don’t we know it! Think back to a time when someone bluntly pointed out some flaw in us or some deficiency in our work.  How did it make us feel? It really hurt, didn’t it? You may have tried to defend yourself, even if the accusation was true. Human nature is always ready to fight back, perhaps with something equally hurtful.
These kind of verbal exchanges are unlikely to produce anything worthwhile – quite the opposite! They usually damage or even destroy relationships. It is certainly not the kind of love that Jesus wants to see among his followers.
When it is time to speak, we dare not speak less than the truth. However, we don’t want to use the truth as a hammer. Christians want to speak the truth in love as Ephesians 4:15 reminds us, “Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will in all things grow up into him who is the Head, that is the Christ.”
Among Christians the truth must be a commodity regularly traded, even when it results in confrontation. For many confrontation is uncomfortable, unpleasant, and to be avoided at all costs. Confrontation can feel like applying antiseptic to an open wound. It may sting, yet it is better than leaving the wound alone and letting it get infected.
Yet, Christian confrontation must start and end with love. You cannot lovingly confront someone if you have a chip on your shoulder or if you expect the worst. Loving confrontation is not nagging. Instead, it states the issue of concern and seeks to deal with it in a timely manner.
There is no surer way of turning a discussion into a fight than to start off by accusing the other person. A far better approach is to use “I” language. When using “I” language, I am expressing how something makes me feel. If I use “You” language, the other person immediately becomes defensive.
Communicate the truth in love. Remember our spouse, our children, or our fellow Christians are our friends not our enemies.
One way to help remember this is to focus on the behavior of the person rather than the person’s character or self. Since we can’t read each other’s heart, concentrate on the facts rather than the motive. Few things are as hazardous as jumping to conclusions about what a person thinks or feels.
We want to understand each other, so it is important to speak clearly and listen patiently and carefully. To resolve the matter, we always want to turn to the Scriptures for guidance and seek God’s help in prayer.

Sunday, October 7, 2012

Submit yourself to God

“Submit yourselves, then, to the God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. Come near to God and he will come near to you. Wash your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded. Grieve, mourn and wail. Change your laughter to mourning and your joy to gloom. Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will lift you up.” James 4:7-10

Several years ago, I recall reading about a pastor who had served his whole life in the ministry. During those years he had to deal with all kinds of situations, some good, some not. As he lay on his bed close to death, he reflected on what had transpired over the years. Worn out, tired of dealing with the squabbles and conflicts that never seemed to end in his congregation, he had but one request. His death bed appeal was that the members of his church would stop fighting and learn to love one another. He spoke as if he knew the congregation believed in God, love and trusted in their Savior, but did not let that faith and love reflect itself in their lives.
As one reads through the book of James, you come away with the feeling that James was dealing with a similar situation. His letter is not about Jesus and his work as our Savior. He doesn’t deal with doctrinal controversies. He doesn’t talk about reaching out to the loss with the Gospel, the work of the Holy Spirit, about being ready for Judgment Day, or the glories and bliss of heaven. His focus, pretty much so, is on how we are to live as children of God. It is about the doctrine of sanctification or living a holy and sanctified life. 
From reading his epistle it seems as if his readers, while being Christians, were not living that way. They were showing favoritism to the rich. They were saying things that were unkind, untrue, and hurtful to others. They were spreading gossip and ruining people’s reputations. Their hearts were filled with sinful pride. They were boastful of what they had done and planned to do never once incorporating God and his will come into their plans or asking for his blessing. 
James’ letter is an appeal for these Christians to live, not like the unbelieving world, but in a way that was pleasing to God. His letter is filled with one exhortation after another on how this was to be done. The reading before us, taken from chapter four, is key to understanding how this how this can be done. 
The opening words of this section set the tone for this entire portion of Scripture. James says, “Submit yourselves, then, to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you.” James had just finished talking to them about wisdom. He had asked, “Who is wise and understanding among you? Let him show it by his good life, by deeds done in the humility that comes from wisdom (v13)’. That wisdom comes from God. Worldly wisdom comes from the devil and leads to sinful pride. James summed it up by saying, “God opposes the proud but give grace to the humble.” (v 6). 
In contrast James says, “Submit yourselves to God.” Our attention cannot help but be drawn to the first word, ‘submit.’ It is a word used often in Scripture. The Lord, through the Apostle Paul, tells us to ‘submit’ to the government for they have been placed over us by God (Rom 13:5). Maybe the most notable use is found in Ephesian 5 where the Lord says to wives, “Submit yourselves unto your own husbands as to the Lord” (Eph 5:22). What is often overlooked is the verse before where it says “Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ’ (Eph 5:21). 

The word ‘submit’, as it is used here and in several other passages, is an interesting one. The original Greek makes it clear that this is not a forced submission like what happens when one nation defeats another and makes them submit or surrender. The submission referred to here is a willing submission. It is one that comes from within. I think its meaning comes through most clearly when we talk about a Christian’s submission to the Lord. When we submit to God, we place ourselves under God and his direction. We give ourselves over to him willingly and completely. It implies trust. It also means looking to the Lord for direction for our lives. We pray, “Let your will, O Lord, be mine.” It means making God and his will the focus of our life instead of focusing on me. 
The world with its sinful pride says, ‘I am the master of my fate; the captain of my soul.’ The world chimes in with Frank Sanatra and says, “I did it my way.” This is how sinful man has thought since the fall into sin. Adam and Eve, instead of submitting to the Lord’s will, did it ‘their way’ or should I say the devil’s way. When Adam and Eve sinned, sinful pride replaced humble submission. That’s the way it works every time we sin. When we sin, we are saying no to God and yes to the devil. James makes it clear that submitting to God means saying no to Satan. 
James goes on to say, “Come near to God and he will come near to you. Wash your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded. Grieve, mourn and wail. Change your laughter to mourning and your joy to gloom.” 
What James is talking about here is sincere confession of our sins. It means making no excuses. It means approaching God in sincere humility for we know we deserve nothing from God but his wrath. We should not be “double-minded” thinking we can have it both ways, doing what we want when we want and doing the will of the Lord when it’s convenient. 
Over 50 times in this short letter, seven times in the verses before us James calls his readers to repentance, to leave behind their life of sin and to walk in the ways of the Lord, to do his will. Stop living in sin! Forsake the ways of the world! Resist the devil and his temptations! Submit yourselves to the Lord! “Grieve, mourn, and wail” because of your sins. 
Then ask God to forgive you. Don’t be afraid. “Come near to God and he will come near to you.” “Submit to God!” Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will lift you up.” Here James brings us the encouragement of the Gospel, the message of God’s love and grace. 
While James does not spend time on it, Scripture makes it clear that faith in God, humbly submitting to him, confessing our sins, changing our lives, resisting Satan, are not things we can do on our own. They are not only difficult but impossible. It is God, through the work of his Holy Spirit, who took us from sin and unbelief and made us his child. Faith is not something we muster up from within. Faith, as Paul says in Eph (2:10) is a “gift from God, not of works.” A sincere confession of our sins, is not something we do on our own. “It is God who works in you both to will and to do his good pleasure” (Ph 2:13). 
The people to whom James was writing forgot this. They were leaving God out of the picture, doing it on their own, listening to the devil, walking in the ways of the world, thinking it didn’t matter. James wanted them to know that it did. He was calling them to repentance, to come back to God, live their faith, and be blessed by God. 
Whenever I read the book of James, I think that he is speaking right to me, that he sees how I would live, hears what I say, and what goes on in my heart and mind. So many of the sins James mentions I have committed not once but over and over again. All too often I let the temptations of the devil get the best of me. I go my way, make my plans and leave God out of the picture. I get proud, thinking I am leading a good life only to have my sinful nature pop up and get the best of me. And it happens over and over again.

I can’t help but think that you’ve experienced the same thing. It really doesn’t matter if you are a preacher or the person in the pew; we are all sinners who need the Savior. We need to  confess our sins; see the need for God’s forgiveness. We need to be chastised for walking in the ways of the world instead of on the path of righteousness, for leaving the Lord out of our plans, for our sinful pride, our rebellious nature, our love of the world, and so much more. We need these reminders every day for every day we sin and fall short. We need to humbly submit ourselves to the Lord.
Every day we need to thank God for his forgiveness which is ours through faith in Jesus Christ.  Every day we need to hear from God’s Word that he loves us even though we don’t deserve that love. We need to hear over and over the promises he gives us, to take care of us, protect us, and in the end deliver us from sin, death, and the devil and take us to glory to live with him forever.
“Humble yourselves before the Lord and he will life you up.”
To God be the glory. Amen.