Don’t be a Jerk

I saw a Facebook post recently that said:

“Sometimes the best evangelism is simply telling people you’re a Christian and then not being a complete jerk.”

There is some truth to that but it definitely does not go far enough in today’s world. There are way too many people who claim to be a Christian but do not follow Jesus (which doesn’t make sense to me). For some, “Christian” is just a title to be used when it suits them but when opposition comes the title is abandoned. Then there are people who claim the title “Christian” but under a new and “relevant” definition. It’s like a Twitter post I saw recently,

“Saying you’re a new kind of Christian with a new kind of Christianity is basically saying you’re an old kind of heretic.” [Burk Parsons]

To “simply” say you’re a Christian doesn’t tell me much now days, which is kind of sad. “Christian” used to mean something but now it is just a watered down title. So now what? Well, you can’t simply tell people you are a Christian and then not be a complete jerk. In today’s world, Jesus-following Christians need to confess with their mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in their heart that God raised him from the dead. That is salvation and that is the message that needs to be proclaimed.
Jesus is Lord.
Jesus is the Son of God.
Jesus died for you.
Jesus was raised for you.
Through faith, when you confess your sins, you are forgiven.

So don’t “simply” stop at Christian, but confess with your mouth what you believe in your heart…and THEN don’t be a complete jerk.

The Pastor -|—

Don’t Play God

image

You know, it’s just not worth it…

Someone does something evil to you and you do something evil back, and then that someone does something evil back to you for the evil you did back to them for the evil they did to you and then you do something else evil back to them for the evil they did to you for what evil you did back to them for the evil they did to you and then…

It’s just not worth it, but rather…

Someone does something evil to you and you respond with something good; messing with their heads.

[19] Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.” [20] To the contrary, “if your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink; for by so doing you will heap burning coals on his head.” [21] Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good. (Romans 12:19-21 ESV)

Or that works too.

Let God be God.
Let God deal with evil.

Besides, you don’t bring glory to God if you are playing God. So bring glory to God by doing good to everyone and always. And think about it, isn’t it more fun to mess with people’s head AND bring glory to God than to get caught up in evil and thus destruction? And you never know if your head-messing might just get to their heart…

…and thus bring glory to God.

Yup, that sounds better 🙂

Let the head-messing commence.

Father God, may I have the faith to respond with good rather than evil and thus bring You glory, in Jesus name, Amen.

“See you later”

No, I am not going anywhere…

[I’m imagining sighs of relief from 10s of people out there :-)]

…but rather this is something I learned from a saint of this congregation nearly 11 years ago.

Still wet behind the ears; I began serving and serving with Salem Lutheran Church on June 1, 2004. I was fresh off of seminary graduation on May 23 and wondering what in the world I was doing.  My ordination was coming up on July 2 and my own wedding on July 3. My head was spinning from a busy May, from what was coming up and from just moving into the parsonage over Memorial Day weekend and then jumping into the saddle. And it was a saddle that I thought, a month previous, I would jump into after the wedding, but Salem wanted me sooner and I thank God that I began when I did.

I preached my first sermon at Salem that following Sunday, June 6 but then was gone the next Sunday (June 13) for synod assembly. A few days later I would meet a family and a saint of this congregation that would change how I look at funerals forever. Hence, my gratitude for starting when I did.

Shirley was dying, and the family called me in. I hadn’t met this family yet and they had not met me. I rushed to see Shirley and was blessed we got to see each other before she died shortly after that. While planning for worship I learned a lot about Shirley and became even more saddened that I did not have the chance to get to know her when she was alive. One of the things I learned about Shirley, though, was that she never said “good bye” to people. Shirley believed that in Christ there is no such thing as “good bye“; only “see you later“.

The theology of that made sense to me but I had never heard it in such a way nor met anyone who lived it quite like Shirley did. And to this day, I share that quote with families and friends at nearly every funeral I preside at. No, I am not making a God-like judgment on someone’s salvation but rather proclaiming the truth of Romans 6 as Shirley lived:

[3] Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? [4] We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life. [5] For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his.

Through faith, Shirley believed she was united to Christ; and therefore, if you placed your faith in Jesus, then Shirley believed she would see you again. Seems like a logical conclusion to make and one that brings great joy to this believer.

And now today, I am planning a funeral service for Shirley’s widow, Jim, and thus this flood of memories flowing out of my fingers and onto this keyboard. Meeting with the family; children I haven’t seen in nearly 11 years, we seemed to have picked up where we left off.

What a holy time.

And I so I remember, share with you and hold dear what Shirley taught us about the Good News of Jesus, and I smile 🙂

See you later, Shirley.
See you later, Jim.
See you later fellow brothers and sisters in Christ.

And praise be to God!

Holy God, through faith in Jesus You unite us to his death and resurrection. May that Good News continue to give strength to Shirley and Jim’s family and may that Good News bring joy to all who call themselves Your children. You are an awesome God and we praise Your name always and forever; in Jesus name I pray, Amen.

The Pastor -|—

Living Easter (Romans 5:6-11)

[From the Easter prayer breakfast at the White House]
“We live our faith when we nurture the hope and possibilities that have always defined us as a country,” Biden said. “We live Easter — and to live Easter is to live with the constant notion that we can always do better.”

NO, NO, NO!!!

That is not living Easter; not even close.

This is living Easter:
For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. For one will scarcely die for a righteous person—though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die— but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Since, therefore, we have now been justified by his blood, much more shall we be saved by him from the wrath of God. For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, now that we are reconciled, shall we be saved by his life. More than that, we also rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation. [Romans 5:6-11]

The hope of Easter is not about the notion of us doing better (don’t get me though, we should want to do better all the time), but rather living with the joy that we have been reconciled to God through faith in Jesus. Jesus did better and therefore we should rejoice and celebrate that. And because Jesus did better I strive to be more like him; striving to be more Holy. But the fact of the matter is I know I will fall short. I will takes steps forward but then take steps back. Living Easter is about God and the promise of the empty tomb.

Living our faith?

“We live our faith when we nurture the hope and possibilities that have always defined us as a country,”

What a vague statement. Living our faith is following Jesus and obeying him. If that is what Biden means then great but I have my doubts whether that is what he is getting at. Call it what it is. Living our faith, Easter faith, is living in joy that despite this messed up and fallen world (which will pass away), though faith in the crucified and risen Jesus, we will not pass away. Living our faith is about glorifying God.

That is Easter faith
That is Easter hope
That is Easter joy

If it is about you getting better in this life then you will be sorely disappointed. Keep your eyes fixed on Jesus and on his perfect obedience that lead him to the cross because we are not better.

Praise be to God that we can have this TRUE Easter faith and hope.

Holy God, thank You that Jesus came to save an imperfect and disobedient people. Help us become more like Your son that we may glorify You. In Jesus name I pray, Amen.

The Pastor -|—

No Separation (Romans 8:38-39)

For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. [Romans 8:38-39 ESV]

There is nothing more horrifying than that thought of being separated from the love of God. And that separation would be the definition of hell. Even among the flames; in the midst of pain and suffering, if God’s love were still there, there would still be hope of rescue and healing and restoration; even if not in this life. Without God’s love, though, there is:

No hope
No rescue
No healing
No restoration and…
No God

THAT is hell and THAT is something that no one would ever want a taste of for even a second. So when people say things like, “That was just hell going through that” or “I’ve been through hell and back” or other such sayings; people have no idea nor do they want an idea. I think we too often minimize hell and therefore we don’t take it seriously enough. Hell is separation from God. The Good News, though, is that through faith in Jesus, you have never, ever been separated from God and never will be.

death
life
angels
rulers
things present
things to come
powers
height
depth
anything else in all creation

None of these things will or can separate you from God’s love. You may think your suffering feels like hell, but it is not. Your suffering here is for but a moment and believe me, you are not alone. If Jesus is your Lord and Savior, you are not alone; you are not in hell; you are not separated from God. Granted, I don’t know what your suffering is like. I don’t know how you may be feeling. I don’t know exactly how I would respond in your position. But the one thing I do know is that in Christ Jesus…

GOD LOVES ME

and God loves YOU.

Cling to this wonderful promise in Jesus Christ and rejoice that hell is not your place but rather God’s love is your reality and hope.

God of life and salvation, we praise You that Your love over comes the powers of this world and therefore gives hope through Jesus. May those who suffer know Your love and may they know they are not alone. Give them hope. Give them strength. In Jesus name I pray, Amen

The Pastor -|—

Have No Fear? Really? (Revelation 15:3-4)

“Great and amazing are your deeds,
O Lord God the Almighty!
Just and true are your ways,
O King of the nations!
 Who will not fear, O Lord,
and glorify your name?
For you alone are holy.
All nations will come
and worship you,
for your righteous acts have been revealed.”
(Revelation 15:3-4 ESV)

I stumbled upon was led to this scripture this morning for some reason. Funny how the Holy Spirit works sometimes.

In any case…

I started staring and reflecting on the question:
Who will not fear, O Lord, and glorify your name?

Seriously who? Who won’t fear the Lord? And why? It is a baffling question, really, when you think about it. God’s deeds are great and amazing. God’s ways are just and true. God is King. God is holy. But way too many people don’t know this or acknowledge this.

What a shame.

I look around and see God’s great and amazing deeds all over the place. I can not fathom the thought that we are nothing but chance; that some random molecules or proteins or whatever it is; came together and started forming the universe and thus life. There is no way whatsoever that life is random. It just doesn’t start out of nowhere and with no reason.

GOD is the author of life and thus God should be feared.

Romans 1:19-20 tells us:
[19] For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. [20] For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse.

It comes down to emptying yourself and trusting God. I saw this quote on Facebook yesterday that said: If you’re not hungry for God, you’re probably full of yourself. That sounds about right but I would say more than just “probably” full of yourself.

Through creation God has made it abundantly clear that God is God Almighty, Creator of the heaven and the earth. God has made it plain who He is. Just look around and see.

So take some time and reflect on the awesome deeds of God. Consider His just and true ways. Submit to His Kingship and acknowledge God’s holiness. Do this in order to foster and nurture a healthy fear of the Lord that sends you NOT running away screaming but running TO God in worship.

The fear of the LORD is the beginning of knowledge; fools despise wisdom and instruction. (Proverbs 1:7 ESV)

Don’t be a fool. Embrace the wisdom of God and learn from Him.

Creator God, You are holy and awesome and just and true and your ways are wholly righteous. May people run to you in holy fear and cling to Your promises through Jesus Christ. Amen.

The Pastor -|—

Condemned but Free (Romans 8:1-8)

There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. For the law of the Spirit of life has set you free in Christ Jesus from the law of sin and death. For God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh, could not do. By sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin, he condemned sin in the flesh, in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit. For those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit set their minds on the things of the Spirit. For to set the mind on the flesh is death, but to set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace. For the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God, for it does not submit to God’s law; indeed, it cannot. Those who are in the flesh cannot please God. [Romans 8:1-8]

Imagine this scene if you can…

You are on death row for the most heinous crime one can think of; and not just one time but you have committed this crime over and over, but you don’t think the crime is that bad. You look out and see that other people are far worse than you. But you are still considered a menace and therefore you need to be condemned and killed.

And so there you sit; condemned, when your attorney comes in. He has good news for you. He tells you he can set you free and remove your condemnation. All you have to do is, with your whole heart, admit your guilt, at which point, your attorney will take your place on death row and your record expunged.

Sounds like a pretty good deal.

But instead of taking the “deal” you are offended. You will admit nothing. So promptly fire your attorney; convinced that you can plead your own case and set yourself free. You don’t need any help.

FOOLISH!!!

Before the Almighty God you stand condemned because of your sin, but through faith in Jesus you are no longer condemned, as he has taken the punishment for you that your record may be expunged and that you may be free. And when you rack up charges again, your “attorney” stands ready to speak for you.

What a deal
What a gift
What mercy
What grace

You see, our flesh is too weak to satisfy the requirements of the law so therefore we have no hope of pleasing God. Yet many people try.

I’m a good person.
I go to worship (often).
I don’t kill people.
I don’t cheat on my wife/husband.
I help people.
I am definitely not like that person over there.

If this is your defense, you are still lacking ~ by a long shot. For you are NOT a “good” person. You are a sinner, evil, bad, condemned, no matter how many good works you do. In the flesh you are dying but in the spirit; that is if the Spirit of Christ lives in you through faith, you will live.

So why in the world would you want to fire your attorney when you stand condemned in front of God Almighty? As the saying goes, “A man who is his own attorney has a fool for a client”. So don’t be a fool.

Jesus has saved you by grace through faith. You did not earn this. You do not deserve this. And you can not live without this.

Set your mind on the spirit and not on the flesh and let Jesus take your condemnation and give you justification, righteousness and life.

That is a good deal so take it and live.

Mighty God, may Your Spirit transform our weak minds and hearts to be inclined towards You through Jesus Christ. May we see this gift of life and receive it with our whole heart. In Jesus name I pray, Amen.

The Pastor -|—

It’s Coming

image

The YouVersion Bible app now has an option to make these cool scripture images. So upon installing the update this verse came immediately to mind after a long and trying day. The only problem with this picture is that the image is not nearly glorious enough. The only appropriate picture would be too blinding to look at, but hopefully you get the point.

May God bless your night and whatever “sufferings” are plaguing you right now, give them to God and wait; your glory through faith in Jesus Christ is coming.

Good night.

The Pastor -|—

Groaning and Sighing ~ A Romans 8 Moment

Have you ever had one of those moments when you felt drawn to God and then you start praying…

God….

…and then nothing?

Have you been there before? Am I preaching to the choir? I’ve been there. It’s a strange feeling because I know what I want to pray for but the words won’t come out because something inside of me says,

That’s not it.

And so I sit there with a dumbfounded expression on my face (luckily those moments generally happen when I’m alone so no one can see my dumbfounded look).

So as I sit there searching for words and almost every time my mind and heart goes to Romans 8:

Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words. And he who searches hearts knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God. And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose. [Romans 8:26-28 ESV]

Weakness? Sounds about right.
Groaning? Yup
Love God? Absolutely

And so this pastor is convicted.

I need to relent and release my selfish desires and mingle my spirit with the Spirit. For I know what I want to pray for but I don’t really know what I ought to pray for now.

Sin
Frustration
Anger
Sadness
Jealousy
Disappointment

Always seem to get in the way of good prayer time with God. So sometimes we just need to shut our mouths and brains off and let the Spirit speak with our spirit.

Would you pray with me…

[groan, sigh, groan, sigh…] Amen

The Pastor -|—

Now what? (Psalm 119:14-16)

In the way of your testimonies I delight as much as in all riches. I will meditate on your precepts and fix my eyes on your ways. I will delight in your statutes; I will not forget your word. [Psalm 119:14-16]

Last night I made my appeal to God for forgiveness; something we all need to do on a daily basis and then some. I appealed to God’s mercy through faith in Jesus Christ and then threw myself at his feet. And then in the words of Romans 5:10-11 I heard that I am reconciled to God through faith in Jesus.

Praise be to God, but now what?

After we have made our confession; after we have appealed to God’s mercy through faith in Jesus; after we have thrown ourselves at God’s feet, what next? Of course we will hear a word of forgiveness, but after THAT; after the absolution of our sins? We certainly shouldn’t go away unchanged or unfazed. There must be something next.

And there is…

In the way of your testimonies I delight as much as in all riches.
Take delight in learning God’s ways.
Take delight in knowing what God desires.
Take delight in following God in all things.

Take delight in God’s law, for in God’s law we see a holy wisdom that is far above anything of human understanding. God’s ways and thoughts are indeed above our ways and thoughts, so desire God more than all the riches ever known in the world and will ever be known.

I will meditate on your precepts
Don’t just read and study God’s law, but meditate on them. Think about them. Ponder them. Reflect on them. May they not be a passing thought. May reading God’s law never be cursory. May God’s law sink in and take up residence in your heart.

and fix my eyes on your ways.
And as you are walking with God; as you are meditating on God’s ways; fix your eyes on the object of your desire. When I take my wife out to eat, I am not staring and gawking at other women. That would be rude and unfaithful. My desire is for my wife and so I fix my eyes and attention on her. In the same way and much more, fix your eyes on God and His ways. Don’t be unfaithful.

I will delight in your statutes;
Delighting in God’s statues will only come through diligent study and appreciation of who God is through faith Jesus Christ. If your faith and trust is not in God through Jesus, then you are never going to truly delight in God’s ways. It’s only through understanding what God has done for you that you can appreciate what God is up to and wants for you and desires for you and commands you to do.

I will not forget your word.
Make your meditation of God and His ways a daily habit that you will not forget. Even one day off can cause our simple and weak minds to go astray. You may think you are smart and have a good memory, but when it comes to God we have the attention span of a flea. Mediate often and seek God continually.

But what if I fail?

You will fail.
You will fall short.
You will turn away from God.

Just don’t accept this sin condition of yours but rather keep running to God, for God’s mercy is great. His faithfulness is endless. His love is all encompassing. His grace is amazing.

Keep running to God and appealing to his mercy through faith in Jesus Christ, and start all over again; desiring to truly learn and desire God’s ways more than anything. Don’t take advantage of God’s faithfulness but desire God’s faithfulness with all your heart and being.

May God be praised in your learning and meditation of His holy Law.

The Pastor -|—