Claim it and Claim it!

November 11th, 2018

Pentecost 25
November 11, 2018
Rev. Brian Henderson-Pastor of
Trinity Lutheran Church,
7210 Lisbon Street
San Diego, CA 92114

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“And she went and did as Elijah said.  And she and her household ate for many days.” [1 Kings 17:15]  “For they all contributed out of their abundance, but she out of her poverty has put in everything she had, all she had to live on.” [Mark 12:34]

This morning, our message is one of stewardship; not the way some might define it, with the words “Name it and claim” it behind their message; no our message comes directly from the heart of God.  It’s He alone who speaks to our hearts, not sinful men, and He alone gives us faith and courage to follow and believe what He says in His Word.

In our Old Testament reading (1 Kings 17:8-16), Elijah the prophet is given a test from God meant to help him trust in His Word and then take action that is born out of that trust, or faith.  The test from God isn’t meant to trap Elijah, but to prove to Him that God loves him and will always provide.  But God’s testing of faith, or His creating of faith, didn’t stop there.  God also spoke to a poor widow woman who had a home and family, and no more resources to provide for it.  The world was in the middle of a famine and this poor woman only had enough flour to make one last meal for herself and her child.  She must have been wondering, “Is there a god, and if there is does that god really care?”

And this is exactly the place where the living God desires to prove that He is real and He does provide for those who trust in Him.  God provided for Elijah and through His Word of promise and the faith that comes with it, He would provide for the widow as well. God’s promise to her was simple: the bowl of flour and the jar of oil will not be exhausted until the famine is over.  

When Elijah spoke the promise of God to the widow, she heard and believed.  She passed God’s test of new found faith by preparing the bread for Elijah.  The widow acted as though the flour and oil would last forever.  And that is the very essence of faith; the widow trusted God’s Word.  “Faith is being certain of what we do not see”. [Hebrews 11:1]

Does God still look for examples of that faith today?  

Yes!  But how, how is that kind of faith even possible?  Only by the Word, the promises of God; only when the one being blessed by the promise of God is trusting in the promise.  What promise?  Well there are many great promises that God makes in His Word, but the greatest of them all for sinners like us, is the promise of complete and total forgiveness of sins.  Have you claimed that promise?  Are you truly trusting that God has done that for you?  If you have then it should completely redefine your life.  It should change you in the very core of who you are and why you are living in this sinful world.  Has it; has it really changed you?  Well, let’s put it to the test.

One of my favorite hymns is “We Give Thee But Thine Own”. I like it because the lyrics challenge my faith; it even forces me to measure it.  Listen to this verse: “We give Thee but Thine own, whate’er the gift may be; all that we have is Thine alone, a trust, O Lord, from Thee.”   If God were to ask you right now if the amount that is in your giving envelope is a good example of how much you trust Him and love Him, would you be embarrassed?  If you’re honest with yourself, I think you already know the answer.  

If you are a member here at Trinity, you are provided giving envelopes every year.  Do you ever read the different messages on each envelope?  Each message is designed to focus our hearts and minds on God’s forgiving love and then speak to our hearts as God helps us determine what to give.  This morning’s message on my envelope gets to the very heart of the question, “Why should I give more than a little to the church?”  Listen: “Wherever your treasure is there your heart [and thoughts will also be.” [Matthew 6:21]  So how much is in your envelope this morning?  How much have you decided to praise Him with?

Ok, I know the message is getting a little uncomfortable for us this morning; that always happens when the Law of God begins poking and probing into those secret and protected places.  

And what does God want us to see in all of this poking and probing?  The quality of our faith.  He is always looking to test our faith, so that He can strengthen it.  And how does He do that?  Well, let me first tell you how He doesn’t do it; He surely doesn’t do it through worldly teachings and opinions.

When Elijah was sent to the widow to be cared for, God was already preparing the widows heart to be used by Him.  When the man of God came and spoke the words, “Do not fear” God was already giving faith and courage to the woman so she could hear what came next: “make for me a little cake of it and bring it to me, and afterward make something for yourself and your son.”  Now, those are challenging words, in fact they are impossible words for anyone on the brink of starvation.  It is an all or nothing proposition.  You would have to be a fool to believe those words, unless they were God’s Words.  You see God’s Word always provides faith to believe the promise within the Word.  What was the promise?  That she would never lack!  It was not Elijah saying that but God speaking through a true prophet.  She knew who Elijah was; she knew he was the real deal.  So the question that God was asking her was not if she trusted Elijah, but if she trusted Him.  God’s Word provides faith and it provides courage; God’s Word and not the word of men.  

Earlier I referred to the phony evangelists and preachers who are known as the word of faith preachers.  Some of them use the slogan, “Name it and claim it!”  Or as I like to say, “Blab it and grab it!”  When they speak about seed money and sowing for blessings of wealth and prosperity, they really mean it; the only problem is that they’re talking about their own wealth and prosperity and not yours!  They aren’t preaching the gospel of forgiveness but the gospel of redistribution of wealth, from your hand to theirs.  These are the type of phonies that Jesus was talking about in our gospel reading this morning (Mark 12:38-44), listen: “Beware of the scribes, who like to walk around in long robes and like greetings in the marketplaces and have the best seats in the synagogues and the places of honor at feasts, who devour widows houses and for a pretense make long prayers.”  

Today, we might say beware of the prosperity preachers, who like to walk around in Armani suits wearing Rolex watches, expensive jewelry, living in lush million dollar homes, and driving around in a new Mercedes Benz.  You know who they are don’t you?  Where ever they go they want everyone in the community to notice them.  They are the ones who will use wonderful sounding prayers intended to manipulate you and take your last penny, with the promise that God will bless you.  Baloney!  Jesus says that those kind of phony preachers will receive great condemnation!  He tells you that for a reason; He wants you to take your heart and eyes off of the promises of men and instead focus on the promises of God.

After Jesus condemned the scribes He called His disciples to His side, and He asked them to look at a poor widow who was putting a penny in the offering.  

After the widow deposited her offering, Jesus said, “Truly, I say to you, this poor widow put in more than all those who are contributing to the offering box.  For they all contributed out of their abundance, but she out of her poverty has put in everything she had, all she had to live on.”

Like the widow in our Old Testament reading, God worked within the heart of the widow with the penny to give everything and then trust in His care and blessing.  It was God who did that and not sinful man.  Why did God ask them to give everything?  So that He could be praised, not so the preacher or even the giver could be admired.  What was the reward for the widows in their giving?  Stronger faith; faith to know and experience God’s care and love, even in hard times.  

Now, we’ve arrived at the conclusion of our message and many of us are asking ourselves this question, “Could I do that; could I give everything if God asked me to?”  The answer is simple; yes you could if God willed it!  

But the truth is friends; the kingdom of God does not rest upon your obedience or lack of it.  God doesn’t need your time, talent, or treasure to build His kingdom, but He does invite you to use those things and be a partner in seeing that kingdom grow.  Why?  “Because all that you have is from God; it’s a trust from Him, a tool that God wants to use to test and strengthen your faith.  But faith in what?  Faith in God’s faithfulness; faith in His forgiving heart, which speaks to you forgiveness of sins… the gospel of Jesus Christ!

It was Jesus, the Son of God who “appeared once for all at the end of the ages to put away sin (your sin), by the sacrifice of His own life.  And just as it is appointed for (each of us) to die once, and after that comes judgment, so Christ, having been offered once to bear the sin of many (yes, even your sins dear baptized, He) will appear a second time, not to deal with sin but to save those (you and I), who are eagerly waiting for Him.” [Hebrews 9:26b-28]

How much does God ask us to give to Him?  All of it, everything we have, but when we realize this truth He also takes the fear of giving away.  You see, He gives it back to us and asks us to hold onto it as a trust from Him.  He asks us to hold onto it with an open hand so that He can take of our time, talent, and treasure as He sees fit.

How much should you give?  I do not know; that is between you and God, but I do know this, you don’t decide to become a steward of God’s gifts after your saved, and you don’t decide to become a steward after you have a good job.  No Christian stewardship demands that we take good care of our time talent and treasure because we have been commissioned by Jesus to manage those things for God’s glory and the spreading of His kingdom of grace one forgiven sinner at a time.  You see, we are all stewards, the only question is whether we are good stewards or bad ones.  I know that God is always testing our faith so that we will get better and better at trusting Him and believing that all we have is His alone, a trust from God to us.  May He continue to give us faith to believe this… in Jesus name… AMEN!

More Than a Feeling!

November 4th, 2018

All Saints Sunday
November 4, 2018
Rev. Brian Henderson-Pastor of
Trinity Lutheran Church,
7210 Lisbon Street
San Diego, CA 92114

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And when Jesus saw that he answered wisely, He said to him, “You are not far from the kingdom of God.” [Mark 12:34]

In 1976, the Rock band Boston released the hit song “More Than a Feeling.” This morning let’s use that title to keep us centered in an important truth:  God’s Word, specifically His Holy Law, is not supposed to make us feel good about ourselves.  It isn’t meant to congratulate us on how much we love our Creator and our neighbor; in fact it should produce the opposite effect in us.  God’s Law should first terrify us, because it shows us how little we love Him and how poorly we love our neighbor, and then it should move us to call out to God for a solution to our lack of love.

And yet, like the Scribe in our gospel reading (Mark 12:28-37), we can become comfortable with how we think we are keeping God’s law.  Oh how easy it can become for us to turn off our ears and blind our eyes to the truth; we fall far short.

So is this a message about feelings?  Yes and know.  You see, we all have feelings; God created us to have emotion, but our emotions are defective; they lie.  No, our message this morning is first one of truth; God’s truth, and then God centered emotions, or feelings will follow.

The young scribe in our gospel lesson, is someone we might call a seeker in today’s lingo.  

He is genuine in his desire to live a God pleasing life.  What we must understand is that he comes from a confusing culture, where the Law of God exists within the frame work of not just 10 commandments but 613 commandments.  Can you imagine that?!  There were 248 positive commandments, or commandments that told you what you should do, and then there were 365 negative commandments, or commandments that told you what you should not do.  With all of these commandments a person could get lost trying to prioritize them.  So the young scribe presents a valid question to Jesus, “Which commandment is the most important of all?”

The young scribe, like many people today, felt that he really did love God; He really wanted to please the Heavenly Father, and he thought trying hard to do that would please Him.  And second He had been listening to Jesus for some time now, and he really did respect Jesus and His teaching.  He probably found a great degree of wisdom in the Words of Jesus; he seemed to be comfortable around Him, listening to Him.  So when he asked Jesus, which commandment was the most important, he was really asking for Jesus’ guidance.

And Jesus seeing a desire for truth in the young man looked directly into His eyes and says, “Hear, O Israel”.  (Don’t just listen to the Word of God, but really hear it; let it enter your heart and mind, and let it change you; let it give you wisdom.)  “The Lord your God, the Lord is One.”  (He isn’t like the false god’s of your neighbors; He doesn’t inhabit certain regions or nations.  He is the ONLY real God, the Creator of everything.  He is all powerful, all present, and all knowing.  He can come to you in any way He desires, and His Word and His teaching are the only source of real truth.  So now hear that truth and let it enter you; let it penetrate you.)  You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.  The second (most important commandment) is this: You shall love your neighbor as yourself.  There is no commandment greater than these.” [Mark 12:28-31]

The operative Word there in those two great commandments is Love.  Let’s look at that word.  This kind of love that God demands for Himself isn’t mere affection and it doesn’t mean passion either.  God isn’t telling you to have a warm fuzzy feeling about Him and your neighbor.  He isn’t saying that you should just be passionate about Him and your community either.  He is telling you that the kind of love that you are to have is based on something foreign to you; something that is completely outside the realm of possibility for you.  He is telling you that the kind of love you are to have is more than a feeling; it is more than a decision to be nice.  It is an intellectual assent to something higher and beyond your natural ability.  It is a God given love that will sacrifice everything in order to see this kind of love rule and reign over you and within you; when this God given love is present, it loves all things that God loves and it loves others just as it loves it self.

So we see now, these are tough words, meant to give wisdom.  Is that what the young scribe received?  Well almost; He almost understood.  Listen to His response: “You are right, Teacher.  You have truly said that (God) is one, and there is no other besides Him.  And to love Him with all the heart and with all the understanding and with all the strength, and to love one’s neighbor as oneself is much more than all whole burnt offerings and sacrifices.”

Well, that sounds pretty good.  He did a fine job of paraphrasing Jesus Words.  He even seemed to be paraphrasing another bit of wisdom that Jesus taught earlier concerning worship, “Go and learn what this means” He said, “‘I desire mercy, and not sacrifice.’  For I came not to call the righteous, but sinners.”  [Matthew 9:13]  And so Jesus looks Him in the eye once again and says, “You are not far from the kingdom of God.” [Mark 12:34]  You are almost there; you almost are wise unto eternal life.”  If only that young man would have asked Jesus to give him that heavenly love!

This morning Jesus is teaching an important lesson.  Knowing God and pleasing God are similar but separate.  Oh they’re close, but they aren’t so close as being the same.  There are two things that separate those who know God from those who please God.  And both of those things come only from God. They are the Word of God and the love of God, as given through the Son of God, Jesus Christ.

This morning, the Word of God calls out:  Hear O sinners.  Listen to the Word of God and let it penetrate you.  When you listen to the Word, when you really hear what it is saying you will know God’s truth and you will know His heart.  The truth of God is that you are trapped in your sins.  On your own you can never really love Him or your neighbor.  That kind of love can come only from your Creator.  And how does He give that love?  By allowing us to hear His Word.  And when we let God’s Word do what God intends for it to do, He gives us faith.  “Faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ.” [Romans 10:17]

If our gospel lesson ended right there, we along with the young scribe could go home with a lot to think about; a lot to pray about.  But Jesus does not send us home just yet.  He continues teaching.  I would like to think that as He continued teaching, He winked at the young scribe, slapped him on the back and said “Listen to what I say next, young man.”  

 And this is what He said next: “How can the scribes say that the Christ is the Son of David?  (I mean,) David himself, in the Holy Spirit declared, “The Lord said to my Lord, “Sit at my right hand, until I put your enemies under your feet.”’  (You see there,) David himself calls Him Lord.  So how is He his Son?’

I can also imagine Jesus returning to the young scribe privately and saying, “Did you wonder why I winked at you?  Or did you see and understand what I just taught?  You know all about your traditions that teach about God’s final and righteous rule right?  You know the time is promised by scripture to come when the Messiah will take power and reign don’t you?  So, you also know that when the kingdom of God comes it will be visible and apparent, and everyone will have to acknowledge who it is that really runs all of creation, right?  Well listen now… it is happening right now.  I am the Messiah.  I am God’s Anointed One, who has come to make it all visible to all who have faith; to all who believe.”

This morning, Jesus has given to each of you the wink so to speak; a wink that unlocks the wisdom of God; the truth of His Word.  This morning you are being shown Jesus in the Word; Jesus in your baptism, and Jesus at the table in the meal.  And in these means of grace, you are being given faith to believe you are forgiven and faith to speak forgiveness. 

Through the writings of the apostles and the testimony of all of scripture, you along with the saints throughout time, read God’s Word with Jesus as the central figure and find Divine love, forgiveness, and faith.  

You can go from the commandments of the law to the fulfillment of the Law, which is the gospel, in the person of Jesus, the One true God; God in human flesh.  Because of the love of the Father and the gift of faith through the Holy Spirit, you can hear the Words of the Son of God, Jesus Christ and know that through Him, God alone has made all things new and right, including you.  You learn that the same love that led Jesus the Messiah to the cross to die for the sins of the world also leads you to love God with your whole being, and to love your neighbor as you love yourself.  

What is impossible for you to do, becomes possible when God is the one working in you and through you.  By faith, you know that in Jesus Christ, much more than all of the burnt offerings and whole sacrifices have been provided to make you right with your Creator.  Through Jesus, you see God Himself coming to you offering both sacrifice and obedience, and as a result, by faith you receive His forgiving mercy.  And now as our epistle lesson (Hebrews 9:11-22) states, you have received a Savior Who is your “high priest, holy, blameless, unstained, separated from sinners, exalted above the heavens.”  Through Jesus life and death and the faith that comes from the very Word of God, you have been brought into the Kingdom of God just as was done for the saints before you.  

On this All Saints Sunday, let’s look back in our minds and remember those dear saints who died in Jesus and then, let’s remember the examples of faith, love, and service that they left behind for us to admire and follow. Let’s give thanks to God for the lives they lived and the impact they made on us and Christ’s church. And like those dear saints who have gone before us, let’s also be moved to give thanks to God Our Father In the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.

Yes, let’s remember what real love as given from God is not meant to bring guilt and shame because we fall short, but rather it brings God’s forgiving love that desires to use us to speak words of faith, forgiveness, and love to those who do not yet know the grace and love of Jesus Christ.  

Justified By Faith!

October 28th, 2018

Reformation SundayB
October 28, 2018
Mr. Rick Stark, Vicar of
Trinity Lutheran Church,
7210 Lisbon Street
San Diego, CA 92114

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In the name of the Father, and of the + Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Our text this morning comes from the Epistle lesson, specifically the 28thverse. St Paul wrote in his letter to the Romans,“We hold that [a person] is justified by faith apart from works of the Law.” (3:28)

What this text proclaims is at the very heart of why God sent His only Son, Jesus, to be born in our flesh, to be crucified on the cross, and to rise again in glory.  Can you imagine that this precious Gospel message was hidden out of error and nonsense from the people of God for nearly a thousand years!?!

A little over five hundred years ago, on October 31, 1517, Dr. Martin Luther, a 34-year old Augustinian monk and university professor, in the little German town of Wittenberg, took a short walk from his monastery home at the university over to the other side of town, to the castle church.  And there, on the church door, he posted a written piece he had titled “The Disputation on the Power and Efficiency of Indulgences.” 

This piece was originally written in Latin, and meant for debate among the students, faculty, and other clergymen in the area. The first line read, “Out of love for the truth and the desire to bring it to light, the following propositions will be discussed at Wittenberg…”

This insignificant act set into motion the great Reformation of the Christian church. As Christians, especially Lutheran-Christians, we are the heirs of that Reformation and so today, on Reformation Sunday, we join with faithful Lutherans all around the world in celebrating that historic event and all the blessings of pure doctrine and sound practice that came from it.

So what do we do to remember and celebrate the Reformation? Quite simply by believing in and caring about the same things that Martin Luther and the other Reformers believed in and cared about.  At the top of the list, the most important item in that list, is Justification. Everything else that we talk about in the Lutheran church either flows from, follows after, surrounds and/or supports this central, primary doctrine of justification.

First, let me explain what justification is? Understand that this term “justification” is a legal term, referring to the courtroom of God’s justice and how we stand before Him.

Now when the day of reckoning comes, the verdict will be read.  And, as we stand before our Judge, God will decide if we are justified or condemned by His standards. That is to say, “righteous” or “not righteous.”

The classic passage in the Bible on this subject is from St. Paul’s letter to the Romans, the third chapter–our Epistle for this day–summed up in verse 28, “For we hold that [a person] is justified by faith apart from works of the Law.”But to really appreciate the brilliance, and the clarity, and sheer power of this passage, we need to back up and look at Paul’s argument leading up to this point.

In chapters 1 and 2 of Romans and continuing into chapter 3, Paul, like a prosecuting attorney, lays out the argument that all of us are guilty in God’s sight according to the standards of His Law.

The fact of the matter is, every single one of us, every human being that has ever lived (with the exception of one) will stand guilty in God’s courtroom. God’s Law accuses us. God’s Law convicts us. And, God’s Law sentences us to death, and rightly so. and moral we have tried to live, we all fail… No matter how good we think we are, we all fall, not one of us can live by the standard of the Law.

Paul, sums up the legal case against us in verses 19 and 20 of our text: “Now we know that whatever the Law says, it speaks to those who are under the Law, so that every mouth may be silenced, and the whole world may be held accountable to God. Therefore no one will be declared righteous in God’s sight by the works of the Law; [but] through the Law we become conscious of our sin.”That’s what the Law does.

Jesus tells us, “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’  This is the first and greatest commandment.  But even as Christians, we tend to manage only a half-hearted obedience. Do we have a fervent desire to be in God’s house every Sunday? Do we gladly hear and learn God’s word and hold it sacred?  Do we take time to study the Bible and pray to God with hearts of utmost devotion? I’m guessing, not as well as we should.

And Jesus says, “… the second [commandment] is like [the first]: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’’How well do we do that? Do you love your neighbor and seek his good as much as you love yourself? How many of us even know our neighbors? How well do you speak about your neighbor? I could go on & on, but you get the point.

Back in the courtroom, Law cries out, “Guilty as charged.” And if guilty, then the sentence is death.  Remember, “For the wages of sin is death…” (Romans 6:23), that’s the punishment that the Law requires. No slap on the wrist, no probation, and no time off for good behavior. There is no room for leniency in this Law or in this courtroom.  It’s either, “Keep the Law, perfectly, or break the Law, and you die – which means to be cut off from God forever.”

The point is – the Law cannot save you. It can only convict you and condemn you.

But the Law also does you the valuable service of showing you your sins. You see, you need to know that you cannot please God and earn your salvation by how well you keep the Law. You can never keep it perfectly! No one can!

This is essential for you to know, so you don’t deceive yourself into thinking you can be good enough, or righteous enough on your own. You need to be stripped down of that way of thinking, so that your ears will be open to hear what God’s Word has to say to you, namely, the Gospel, which is the only place where salvation can indeed be found.

That’s what Paul gets at next in our lesson, and this right here is the heart of the Gospel, Romans 3:21-28, the teaching of justification by faith in its most extreme examples. Paul writes:

“But now the righteousness of God has been [made known] apart from the Law, although the Law and the Prophets bear witness to it [that is] the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction [between Jew and Gentile]: for allhave sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and all are justified by His grace as a [free] gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a [sacrifice of atonement] by his blood, to be received by faith. This was to show God’s righteousness, because in his divine [patience] he had passed over former sins. It was to show his righteousness at the present time, so that he might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus.”

And then Paul finishes it off: “Then what becomes of our boasting? It is excluded. By what kind of law? By a law of works? No, but by the Law of Faith. For we hold that [a person] is justified by faith apart from works of the Law.”

This is the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ. This is justification that comes by grace alone, and grace alone that comes through faith alone. That’s what this passage is saying.

The Law is not the only word that will be heard in God’s courtroom. The judge will declare you “not guilty,” but it won’t be because of anything you did or how well you have lived according to the Law. But by the work of your advocate, your defense attorney, Jesus Christ– He who is without sin, the only man who has ever kept the Law of God as it should be kept–Jesus stepped forward and took your place when the death sentence was handed down. Justice has already been served, and Jesus is the one who served it.

You see, out of God’s great love for us sinners, He puts forward his own Son, Jesus Christ, to be the atoning sacrifice for our sins. The precious, priceless blood of the Holy Son of God was shed on our behalf, covering our sins with His righteousness.

And all this is a free gift. It is all because of grace, God’s undeserved favor, freely bestowed on us because of God’s immeasurable love for you. It’s not a matter of your works; it’s a matter of Christ’s work for you. Not because of what you’ve done, but because of who He is; not because of who you are, but because of what He’s done! Call it redemption, salvation–or call it justification, it’s the righteousness of God, you are righteous to stand before God, to stand in His presence–the thing is this: You can’t earn it. You can only receive it. Receive it as a gift.

That’s what faith is: Simply receiving that gift that God is giving you, the forgiveness of sins won for you by Christ on the cross. That “not guilty” verdict pronounced by God–“justified by faith!” that sweet music is ringing in your ears, not because of anything you have done, but rather solely because of what Christ has done for you. Of that, you can be certain.

That’s the enlightenment Martin Luther received through the Gospel some 500 years ago.  And now, you know what the Reformation was all about, a fight to restore this critical and central teaching of the Gospel to its proper place of prominence, to give all the glory to Christ, and to give comfort and consolation to troubled souls–this was the special gift of Martin Luther and the Reformation.

Instead of turning people back to their own efforts at trying to keep the Law, Luther pointed people to Christ and the cross, to this teaching of justification by grace alone through faith alone, apart from works of the Law.

To underscore its importance, Luther would say of the doctrine of justification: “The first and chief article is this:  Jesus Christ, our God and Lord, died for our sins and was raised again for our justification… For we hold that one is justified by faith apart from the works of the Law… Nothing of this article can be yielded or surrendered, even though heaven and earth and everything else falls… Upon this article everything that we teach and practice depends… Therefore, we must be certain and not doubt this doctrine. Otherwise, all is lost… (Smalcald Articles, The Second Part, Article I)

When we grasp just how beautiful, how central, and life-giving this divine doctrine of justification is… we realize it isthe very heart of the Gospel of Jesus Christ–God’s gracious declaration of righteousness for Christ’s sake–when we come to these realizations then we will treasure this teaching. We will hold it dear, we will thank God for it, and we will let it permeate every aspect of the church’s life. And that is why we can say today, with joy and confidence, that the doctrine of justification is the heartof the Reformation. Amen.

 

And now, may the grace of God, which surpasses all human understanding, keep your heart and mind in Christ Jesus! Amen!

Christ Picks Us Up!

October 21st, 2018

Pentecost 21B
October 21, 2018
Rev. Brian Henderson-Pastor of
Trinity Lutheran Church,
7210 Lisbon Street
San Diego, CA 92114

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“Today if you hear His voice, do not harden your hearts.” [Hebrews 4:7]

There’s a worship song by Donnie McClurkin entitled “We Fall Down” that we sing occasionally with a slight change to the lyrics. Listen to how we sing it:  “We fall down, Christ picks us up.  For a saint is just a sinner who fell down, and Christ picked up.  He picks us up again; get back up again; He picks us up again; get back up again.”  The sentiment is clear, the Christian life is a struggle, we live, we sin, we confess our sins,  and for Jesus Christ, the Son of God’s sake, God the Father forgives us, again and again.

Today, listen don’t worry about tomorrow or yesterday, but today, if you hear His voice, don’t let your heart become hard, but instead listen and grab onto the promises of His Word and get back up again and again!

Adam and Eve at first didn’t need the promise of forgiveness; they perfectly walked and talked with God in paradise.  

But then something happened; sin happened and they lost access to both paradise and God.  But God wouldn’t let that separate Him from the people He created in His image, so He did something to restore that image; He gave them mercy and grace, which in turn brought forgiveness and new life.  God gave His promise that one day He would come to them and provide a Savior through the bloodline of the woman.  Adam and Eve fell in sin, and God picked them up by giving them hope; He gave them the promise of a Savior, the Christ, who would  pick them up again and again!

Many years latter, the Hebrew people were in bondage and they cried out to God for help, and He heard them.  He reminded them of the promise He made concerning the coming Savior who would make all things new and right; He reminded them that they were a people of faith who by faith, should grab onto that promise.  So God sent them Moses, a type of savior, but not The Savior.  Moses would lead them out of bondage and into a type of promise land, Canaan, but not The Promised Land of Paradise.  But they began to grumble and complain.  They began to lose faith, and they sinned against God and their neighbors.  Their sin was serious; they would not repent of it and trust the promises of God.  So God allowed them to die in their sins.  But their children did  repent and believe, and God allowed them to enter Canaan.  They fell down, but the promises of God concerning their Savior lifted them back up again.

Their faith in this promised Savior was the only way God would one day give them total rest… Sabbath rest!  And that one day came, and God kept His promise and came to them from their own bloodline.  Born of the Virgin Mary, Jesus of Nazareth, the Son of God came to them in human flesh.  He suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, died, and was buried.  And on the third day He rose from the dead and proclaimed Sabbath rest for all who believe.  Through His death and resurrection He gave complete forgiveness for all sins.  This good news was preached first to the Jews, and then to all who would listen and believe.  Many rejected and fell down, but some believed and Christ picked them up.

And now we read in our Epistle lesson (Hebrews 4:1-16), that some are again in danger of disbelief; of lack of faith in the promises of God.  Some of them then and some now are in danger, so Christ desires to pick us up; He wants us to grab onto the promise of forgiveness and get back up.

I know that some of you here may feel like it might be too late to get back up; you might think that God is growing tired of you.  Maybe you feel that you are no longer counted among the saints.  Well like the song said, a saint is just a sinner who fell down and Christ picked up.  So… get back up again.  Do you need help getting up?  Then let this message from God pick you up again.

What was bad news for the wandering wilderness generation turns out to be good news for us.  You see, we learn that all of those who died in the wilderness, an entire generation of Hebrews, didn’t have to die; they could have repented, and trusted in the promises of God.  God would have lifted them up again, but they would not let Him, so they died in their sins, and the next generation made it to the promise land of Canaan.  But Canaan wasn’t the place where God would give them true Sabbath.  Canaan was just a shadow of the spiritual place and goal that God set before them in the promise of His Word.

Dear friends, that promise is still ours to grab onto, just as it was theirs.  It remains in force as an offer of peace with God; all any one ever needed to do was simply rest in the offer and receive the Savior who is promised in the Word of God.

Since countless men and women that went before us refused to trust in the promise of the Savior and died in their sins, forever cut off from paradise, then let us approach God and His promises with fear and trembling.  Otherwise we too may fail to reach our goal of paradise and peace with God.

The promises of God are the good news; the gospel about Jesus Christ.  Just as the promise came to those before us, it comes to us now… today!  The message they heard didn’t help them in the least, because they lacked faith in it.  You see, faith is the glue that sticks you to God and the hope of His promises fulfilled for you.  Faith is what gives you Jesus when you fall; the same Jesus who gladly calls you not just friend but brother.  He is the same Jesus who picks you up again and again.

By faith, God promises and gives to you Jesus, your true Sabbath rest.  By faith, we who believe in Jesus enter that Sabbath rest immediately at baptism.  And by faith, we walk in that Sabbath rest until we enter forever into God’s peace in paradise.  Since we have that rest and will forever experience that rest, shouldn’t we do everything to stay in that rest? Shouldn’t we put all of our attention on protecting our relationship with Jesus?

How?  How do we protect that relationship?  By staying in the Word of God.  A Word that is sharper than a double edged sword.  It is the Word of God and not our money, things, or prestige that offers peace and delivers it.  The Word of God alone looks intently into our souls and shows us the sin that we hide so well from others, and then it offers us forgiveness and new life.  All that God asks of us is that we trust Him; He asks that we hear Him speak to our hearts in His Word and simply believe.

It is the Word of God alone that strips you naked and leaves you vulnerable before your creator, and then offers to take your shame and cover it with the glory of Jesus Christ; the same glory that our parents, Adam and Eve once had but lost; but then had again when they placed their faith and trust in the promise of a Savior who would make all things new again.

This morning, God wants you to place everything you trust in at the foot of the cross.  He wants you to come empty and return spiritually naked to the waters of your baptism, where He daily clothes you with the righteousness of His own Son, Jesus Christ.  

This morning, God wants you to trust Him with your time, talent, and treasure, so that He can give you the wealth of His kingdom.  In essence, He wants you to enter heaven through the narrow way… Jesus Christ alone.  And to make sure we trust in Christ alone so that a sinner becomes a saint, He speaks Words of forgiveness and assurance to you.

Today, not tomorrow but today, if you are hearing His voice do not harden your hearts but enter into rest.  Turn to Jesus, the Son of God, your Compassionate High Priest.  Grab onto Him and let Him pick you up again and again.  Hold fast to your confession of faith that in Jesus alone you have peace with God the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven and Earth.  Think about this, you don’t have a High Priest in Jesus Christ who is unable to sympathize with your weakness, but instead you have your Savior and God who was born of the Virgin Mary just as you were born.  He suffered, not just in His death but in this life.  He faced all of the same tragedies and heartaches that you face, but He faced them perfectly, without sin, for you!  For you, He suffered, died, and was buried, FOR YOU, FOR YOU.  Let those words ring in your ears; let them soak into your heart and mind.  Jesus fell down; He let them put Him down, but then by His own power, the power of God He got up!  He got up so that you would trust Him and allow Him to pick you up, again and again, until the final day when He takes you up to your promised rest in paradise.

So be bold and grab onto the promises of God that were first given to you within the waters of your baptism.  Be bold and approach His table of grace where you dine on His body and blood, in, with, and under the bread and wine for the forgiveness of all of your sins.

Be bold, believe, and become the saint that Christ picks up.  Boldly believe and become all that God proclaims for you, in Jesus name… AMEN!

Who Then Can Be Saved?

October 14th, 2018

Pentecost 20B
October 14, 2018
Rev. Brian Henderson-Pastor of
Trinity Lutheran Church,
7210 Lisbon Street
San Diego, CA 92114

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“And they were exceedingly astonished, and said to Him, “Then who can be saved?”

Our text this morning is the ultimate question.  If a rich young religious leader who did an excellent job at keeping God’s law had the same chance of getting into heaven as a camel has walking through the eye of a needle, then who can be saved.

I’m reminded of a couple of oldie but goodies songs that kind of say the same thing: “So Close and Yet So Far” And the Johnny Mathis song, “Too much, too little too late.” The rich young ruler was so close to heaven and yet so far, and if he had not met Jesus and heard the gospel, he would have worked and tried to please God for nothing.  The proof of that is in his question and how he received Jesus answer.  “How do I get to heaven?”  And to that Jesus says, “Sell everything you’ve got, give the money to the poor, and then come on and follow me.”

There’s your answer young man; and if Jesus says it’s the way for you, well then, you can take that to the bank!

A Sunday school teacher was examining her pupils after a series of lessons on God’s omnipotence.  She asked, “Is there anything God can’t do?”  There was an appropriate silence in the room.  Finally, one young boy raised his hand.  The teacher, disappointed that the young boy still didn’t learn the point of the lesson, asked somewhat in a disappointed tone, “Just what is it that God can’t do?”  “Well,” replied the boy, “He can’t please everybody.”

Maybe a better way of saying that, is that Jesus knows a way that should please everyone, but most folks think they know more than Him, so they strike off to please themselves in a way that seems right to them, but in the end… well it just leads to judgment and death.

Throughout our lives God is consistently calling out to us.

He’s asking us to take a truthful look into our hearts and admit that our transgressions are many, and our sins are great. But we don’t want to see those things.  He wants us to see that we live in an evil time, and that there is evil all around us.  He’s telling us to seek good, and not evil so we will live; He’s telling us to hate evil, love good, and then spend our lives not just loving God’s goodness, but also working to spread it throughout our community. [Amos 5:6-15]

Sounds like a plan, doesn’t it?  Yet, while we might agree with the plan, secretly, within our hearts, we can’t accept it, because it requires a complete surrender of everything that we have come to believe is important and necessary in this life.  The truth is, money, fame, prestige, and possessions are the things that society has taught us to seek and trust in.

Unfortunately, this will always be the way we live or lives unless God’s Word intervenes and gives us a new perspective;

Before the rich young ruler asked Jesus the million dollar question, he said something that caused Jesus to begin teaching with His own question.  The young man in complete sincerity ran up to Jesus, knelt down before Him and said, “Hello good teacher.”  

Now I want you to understand what the young man means when he calls Jesus good.  He means that he respects Jesus; he admires Him, because He is wiser and better than him. And it’s because of this perception of his, that he came to Jesus with a question that he’d been wrestling with for years: “What must I do to be saved?”

And what is Jesus response?  ‘Why are you calling me good?  You know that in our tradition, we never call anyone good but God, right?  So what is the reason you call me good?  You are struggling with a great concern; you want to go to heaven, but you don’t quiet know how to guarantee your place, right?  Now stop right there and remember, you called me good, on your own.  So, if I am truly good, then hear what I am about to say.’

‘You know the commandments that relate to your neighbor; those in your family and community, right?  Just do them.’  And the rich young ruler said to Jesus, “Teacher, all of those commandments I have kept from my youth.”  And what did Jesus do next?  Did He give Him a theological teaching on the inherit sinfulness of the human heart?  No, instead He looked at the young man and He loved him.  He knew that he was sincere in his belief that he was living a God pleasing life.  The problem wasn’t in His sincerity but in the reality.  While everyone looking at this young man on the outside would agree that he was living an exemplary life, Jesus who is God and looks into the heart, looked and saw judgment and pain.  Jesus knew that this young man had been duped by the world into thinking that doing your best is what pleases God instead of trusting your best with God.

So Jesus helps the young man see what his real god is; that which he trusts in the most.  Jesus says, “You lack one thing: go, sell all that you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come follow me.”

Jesus was trying to get the young man to see that the one thing needful that he lacked was a real relationship with His Creator.  He was moving the young man to realize that he lacked an intimacy with God that can only come through trust in Jesus, the Son of God. 

Today, Jesus also wants you to accept His perfect life and death as the only way to make you right with God. He wants you to see Himself as God’s perfect gift of forgiveness and then trust in that gift above all things.

There’s an old hymn titled “Trust and Obey,” and the first verse goes like this: “When we walk with the Lord in the light of His Word, What a glory He sheds on our way! While we do His good will, He abides with us still, And with all who will trust and obey.The major problem I see with those words is that there are many moments in our lives when we don’t trust and obey. It’s at times like those that we need to remember that Jesus loves us; that through His love for us, God forgives us. If we can remember that truth, then we will continually be drawn back to Him and learn to trust in His presence and work in our lives; then we’ll be ok. Trust and ok. I like those words much better. If we can just keep learning to trust God’s care for us then everything will be OK.  There is no other way.  But that kind of trust in the true God is impossible if you are already trusting in something else before Jesus.

“It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God.”  

The truth is friends, the real reason that the rich young ruler, and you and I have such a hard time receiving Jesus Words this morning is because when He speaks He is messing with our value system.  I mean, let’s be honest here; we all like to believe that what we have is ours, because we earned it; we worked hard for it.  We all like to look at our stuff, as proof of our success and indicators of God’s approval and blessing in our lives.  And now Jesus is telling us that our “stuff” may not be a blessing at all.

What is it that really matters in life?  If it isn’t money and possessions; if it isn’t financial security, then what?  This morning, God wants you to connect with the only One who is Good!  The rich young ruler was speaking to Him, and you do too!  Maybe like that rich young man, you also are asking God what the secret to eternal life is.  How can I know for sure that I am saved?  Well, like that young man, once you hear Jesus speak and you listen, you have what God calls the beginning of wisdom unto salvation… forgiveness of sins!

Then what about our doing good?  Doesn’t that count for something?  Well, the truth is that all of our own righteousness, our good deeds are simply like soiled rags before God, because we still have our sinful nature clinging to us.  And while we continue deceiving ourselves, thinking that we can please God by good behavior, Jesus looks at us and He loves us.  He loves us and dies for us upon the cross.  And from the cross He says follow me.  I have done all things good; all things good for you.  I am your treasure; your true wealth.

So who can be saved if there is nothing we can do to please God?  All can be saved.  All of us have been promised that salvation is ours for the taking, if we will just trust in God’s way; trust then ok.  All things are possible with God.  God alone is greater than our fears and our worries.  In His Word He gives us great treasures that make us rich.  In His Word He gives us Jesus and His righteousness.  By Jesus poverty we are made rich.

In God’s time, at just the right time Jesus died for the world.  

Jesus who emptied Himself and gave up His life on the cross, was also raised from the dead for you.  And in Jesus alone you have life, an abundant life and the promise of eternal peace and happiness.

This morning, Jesus is asking you to be vulnerable before God.  “Come and follow me,” He says.  Amos cries out to us this morning that we should “Seek the Lord and live,” but the truth is, we don’t have to go far to seek Him this morning, because He’s already sought us and found us.  In the cross, God is revealed; more than that, the depth of God’s love is shown to us.  In the cross, God demonstrates the truth that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us..

Jesus who loved the young man loves you as well.  He declared you forgiven when He splashed water over you on the day you were baptized.  You are being transformed even now, as God’s Word of grace is spoken to you.  You eat the bread of life, you drink the cup of salvation and He tells you again and again that your sins are forgiven.  Through it all you experience God’s loving purpose for you as revealed in the cross of Jesus.

I would like to think that eventually the rich young ruler understood that what he had to offer God on his own, was too much of too little.  I would like to think that he realized this before it was too late.  I trust that each of us has learned to place our own security on Christ, the solid rock.

Through Jesus and His cross, through the waters of our own baptism, we discover that a camel really can go through the eye of a needle; we really can be saved. Our hope is built on nothing less than Jesus blood and righteousness. On Christ the solid rock we stand, all other ground is sinking sand!

Childlike Faith

October 7th, 2018

Pentecost 19B
October 7, 2018
Rev. Brian Henderson-Pastor of
Trinity Lutheran Church,
7210 Lisbon Street
San Diego, CA 92114

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“Truly, I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child shall not enter it.” [Mark 10:15]

Each of you who are baptized in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, who trust in God’s Word like a little child, are promised a place in Paradise, or another way to say that is you have a mansion in heaven or a seat at our Lord’s banquet table, which has been prepared just for you by Jesus Himself. So, are you ready?  Will you be there in glory?

God’s Word promises that you will be; it encourages you to trust in Christ alone; God wants you to rest in everything that Jesus Christ has done for you in this life and the life to come.  Is that enough for you, or do you need more?

In our epistle reading this morning (Hebrews 2:1-13), God warns His little ones, He warns you and me that if we don’t continually grab ahold of His promises about our blessed assurance, we might begin to drift away from our seat at the banquet table; we might begin to think that there’s another way to get to our heavenly home.  So is that a danger to us; drifting away from God’s precious promises?  It is if we are trusting in something other than the work and the promises of Jesus Christ!

Why do we have times when we feel like our life lacks meaning and purpose?  It’s because we’ve taken our eyes off of God’s promises!  Why is it that sometimes when trouble comes our way we become afraid and filled with doubt?  It’s because we’ve lost sight of Jesus and His real presence in our lives!  Why is it that when fear and doubt come, we may begin to lose that joy in knowing that we really do have a place prepared just for us in heaven?  It’s because we have begun to judge success by what we do and not what God has done for us!

The truth is we all fall short of God’s will for us here; we all fall short of His perfection, but we still want so badly to please Him; to earn His love and respect.  But it’s also true that no matter how hard we try to be good, we will fail.  And yet we still try to earn our place in heaven by what we do.  

This morning the theme in both our Old Testament and Gospel lessons seems to be marriage and family.  

In both of these readings, God is showing us His perfect will and how far we fall short of that perfection.  So then why do we still think that on our own we can be God pleasing husbands, wives, parents or children?  Because we have a sin problem, and our sinful nature won’t let us see the impossibility of change; it won’t let us see that on our own, we are without hope.  And so, even though we know that we fall short of pleasing God, our sinful desire to be independent would have us believe that we can bridge this gap by our own efforts.  And because of this sin problem, we are deceived into thinking that if we just try a little harder then our marriages will be repaired and our families will be God pleasing.

This kind of thinking is not only dangerous, it is darn right destructive.  It’s harmful to ourselves and to those we love.  You see, when we think that action and effort are enough to please God and restore joy in our lives and our relationships with others, we have abandoned God’s promises of help and hope.  We’ve exchanged the hope of the gospel for the demands of the Law; a Law that will settle for nothing short of perfection!

People who are trusting in the law are easy to spot.  They are the ones who struggle and strive but never really see any lasting improvement in their lives.  

Life guards on our San Diego beaches say that the biggest danger to swimmers are the many rip-tides that are present off our shores.  They say that swimmers caught in a rip tide are easy to spot too.  They are the ones who swim and swim, yet they aren’t moving.  They aren’t moving because they aren’t strong enough to defeat the current.  

Sadly, each of us can get caught up in the riptides of life.  We tell ourselves that if we just try harder, everything will be alright.  And when we become exhausted at trying to fix our marriages or our other relationships, we become discouraged and maybe afraid that God is angry with us because we aren’t spiritual enough.  So what do we do?  We look for another way to maximize our effort; we read another book or take another course.  We try new techniques and try to be nicer and more attentive.  

Now at some point, you would think that we would admit failure and try things God’s way, right?  Nope!  Instead, we’ll tell ourselves that because we’re exhausted and miserable, we must be doing what God wants us to do.  It must be spiritual!  So we keep it up for a few weeks or maybe even a few months, but eventually our discipline will break down, and we’ll abandon this latest technique towards building a better  marriage, and a stronger family.  You know what comes next don’t you?  Guilt!  And after enough guilt we’ll simply move onto the next program or buy another book with 10 easy steps towards fulfillment.

Eventually, we will just give up; we simply won’t have the energy to try anymore.  And then we learn to fake it.  We think that we can bridge the gap to heaven by acting like we’re alright, even though everything within us and around us is screaming in our ears that we aren’t ok.  But we keep up the image; we speak as if we had deeper spiritual experiences than we really have.  Our hearts become cold, and we speak as though our sin bothers us more than it really does.  We pray as though our voice is throbbing with deep emotion that isn’t really there.  Why we might even join in a game of spiritual musical chairs, always searching for a different church or ministry that will provide the magic key.  Some people go from one movement to another, continually rededicating their lives to the Lord, only to fall away again and again.  And if this continues, God is warning us that eventually we will secretly give up.  Oh, we’ll still hope that there’s a place for us in heaven, but between now and the day we die, we’ll spend the rest of our lives disappointed and not even trying to change.

So what’s the answer?  Where is the hope?  What is it that can break this awful cycle of disappointment and death?  It certainly isn’t greater resolve or another program; no I think that we need to follow the example of the mothers and babies in our gospel lesson to get our answer!

We need to get to Jesus!  Listen: “And they were bringing children to him that he might touch them, and the disciples rebuked them. But when Jesus saw it, he was indignant and said to them, “Let the children come to me; do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of God. Truly, I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child shall not enter it.” And he took them in his arms and blessed them, laying his hands on them.”

The Pharisees wanted to sit around talking about the best technique, the most God pleasing program that would free people from the condemnation of the law; in this case they were arguing about divorce.  But Jesus wouldn’t let them; instead He told them that they didn’t have a problem in choosing the best strategy, they had a problem with their hearts.  They were sinful.  They needed a new heart, and that was something only Jesus could give them.

The apostles didn’t have that problem; they had constant access to God’s recreating presence; they were with Jesus all of the time.  No, their problem was their desire to control Jesus; they wanted to limit His audience, and the people who also got to be with Him.  They really wanted Jesus to themselves and they wanted Him to minister to others in a way they thought was best.  So they forbid the mothers from bringing their children to Jesus.  But Jesus wouldn’t have any of that.  He was angry and He let it show!  He told them that not only should they quit standing in the way of these little ones getting to Him, but that if they did not become like one of those babies, they would never get into heaven!  In other words, they needed a simple child like faith and then with that faith, they must turn to God confessing their helplessness and total dependence on His care, just like a baby!

The truth is, eventually all of us finally figure out that we can’t ever bridge the gap that sin creates by turning to our own efforts. We discover that we can never earn God’s love and forgiveness.  We discover that God will always work the way He desires and not the way we want Him to work; we discover that we must become like a child and realize that this kind of love can only come by grace.  A child knows that salvation is a gift; it’s simply something that is given to him; it’s something that he trusts in because it comes from Jesus.  That is why Jesus loves to use little children as his teaching aids.

What is God’s plan for you, your marriage, family, and life?  That you would not trust in your own abilities or your self-improvement plans, but instead learn to rest in what He has done for you through Jesus Christ.  In Jesus, concerning your forgiveness, there is no place for self-improvement because that would negate the need for the cross.  In the cross, God takes you away from your plan of salvation and He shows you His.  He shows you His Son who suffered and died for every sinner that ever lived.  But He also makes it very personal by taking you to the waters of your baptism.  In your baptism He promises that you have been recreated and restored; He promises that in His Word, in His promises you can grab onto them, trust them and then watch as He continually renews you and changes you.  

The mothers in our gospel reading knew what you also know but often forget.  If you can just get to Jesus and stay with Him, there is new life and hope in abundance!  In the Word of God, Jesus speaks to you, to your marriages, to your families; He speaks Words of forgiveness and hope.  Even if you have been marked by divorce or a family tragedy, Jesus promises that this is not what defines you or condemns you; instead, He speaks forgiveness and new life as He continually invites you into His plan of salvation for you; and in this plan, He promises to give you a new and abundant life.  

Listen friends, God doesn’t want you to just be saved by grace but to live by it as well!  God’s plan is for your daily life to be guided, guarded, and energized by Jesus suffering and death for you!  He wants you to live in grace and then watch as that same grace flows out of you and into your families, your relationships and our community.  In essence, God wants you to be amazed at how His Spirit will transform your life, your family, and our community.

So will you be there, at the banquet in heaven?  Yes by grace alone!  But listen, God doesn’t want you to just be satisfied with just your seat, your mansion in heaven, He also wants you to go out and invite others to join you.  You can do that as you let His forgiving love live in you and pass through you.  You can do that as you invite others to come with you to this place of worship so that they too can experience the very same thing.  I pray that you will do this very thing… in Jesus name… AMEN and AMEN!

Salt Is Good!

September 30th, 2018

Pentecost 18B
September 30, 2018
Rev. Brian Henderson-Pastor of
Trinity Lutheran Church,
7210 Lisbon Street
San Diego, CA 92114

Click here for audio of this message

Our text this morning is the 50th verse of our Gospel lesson.  “Salt is good, but it if the salt has lost its saltiness, how will you make it salty again? [Mark 9:38-50]


What is the kingdom of God?  Where is the kingdom of God?  These are a couple of questions I want you to keep in the front of your minds as we receive God’s message this morning.  At first, the apostles thought that the Kingdom of God would be a brand new world order, where Jesus would rule, destroy the reign of Cesar and the Roman Empire, and make all things right.  They wanted the Kingdom of God now, and they wanted it according to their estimation.  In their minds, it was Jesus and them against the world!  But Jesus had other ideas.  He always does…He is God.  Where the apostles saw the kingdom of God consisting in a select few, Jesus has other ideas: “Teacher, we saw someone casting out demons in your name, and we tried to stop him, because he wasn’t one of us.”  Again, Jesus had other plans… “Don’t stop him” he said.  “Don’t you see that anyone who does a mighty work in my name will not be able soon afterward to speak evil of me.  Listen, the one who is not against us is for us.”  

And there you have it…the kingdom of God is a lot bigger than we think.  So some might say this is proof that denominational differences are unimportant—as long as your heart is in the right place.  Right?  Well, let’s keep reading and see if Jesus agrees with that.  

Do you remember the child Jesus took into His arms in our gospel reading last week?  Well, this is a discussion that continues that teaching.  The child is still in His arms, and now He looks at His disciples and says: “Whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him if a great millstone were hung around his neck and he were thrown into the sea.”  

So what causes children to sin?  What causes adult Christians with a simple faith, like the stranger that was casting out demons to sin?  In both examples it is a lack of knowing and understanding God’s Word, both the Law and the gospel.  How can you help protect the young and the simple?  Teach them biblical truths…good doctrine.  Teach them that there aren’t many ways to the kingdom of Heaven.  Teach them that God doesn’t require any work from us before He will give us Jesus’ kingdom of Heaven.  Without faith in the true gospel, a faith that clings to Jesus alone friends, you cannot be saved.  In fact, bad doctrine can actually give us the opposite of salvation…it can lead to damnation… an eternity in hell!

What is hell?  

Jesus compared Hell to the garbage dump right outside of the city of Jerusalem.  It was called the Gehenna.  There, trash fires were always burning as refuse was disposed of.  In essence, Jesus was saying, “Imagine that the Gehenna is like a picture of hell with one big difference.  Where the fires of Gehenna are temporary, in hell they are eternal.  Where maggots eat rotting flesh until the flesh is no more or the maggots die, in hell the fire never goes out, there is an endless supply of flesh, and the maggot never dies.  So what?  Well friends, the fire isn’t burning the demons that are in hell, and the maggots aren’t eating them either, because demons are spirit and they do not have flesh.  So who is burning, and who is being consumed?  People!  People who willing rejected God’s simple method of salvation—the cross of Jesus Christ!  People who refused to cling to Jesus alone and decided there was a better way to the kingdom of Heaven.  These are poor fools who decided that doctrine didn’t matter, and because of that they willingly set aside the kingdom of God and embraced a lie! What is hell?  

Scripture says Hell is a domain where people are eternally banished from the sight of God—eternally excluded from His love and the sweet communion with Jesus Christ.  To these damned souls, Jesus says “Depart from Me” [Matt. 25:41]; (and) “They shall be cast out into outer darkness.”  [Matt. 25:42]  

Friends, we were made for God; we were made to have communion with God.  That is the supreme joy and delight of man—that is the kingdom of God.  But sadly, many people reject the offer of peace with God the Father, because they reject the means to that peace…God the Son, Jesus Christ.  Through their own sinful choice they have embraced a state of damnation where they will experience intense agony of body and soul that scripture calls “tribulation and anguish” [Rom. 2:9], “being in torment” [Lk. 17:4], “tormented in flames” [Lk. 16:24], “where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.” [Matt. 8:12; 13:50]  There in hell, those poor damned souls will see “the smoke of their torment ascending up forever and ever; and they (will) have no rest day or night. [Rev. 14:11]  Friends, think of the horror that awaits those poor souls… for an eternity they shall be tormented day and night forever and ever” [Rev. 20:10], simply because they have rejected God’s only means to save them. 

You know, it doesn’t matter whether you believe that the fire of hell is real fire or a metaphor for unspeakable torment, the point is God doesn’t want you there; He wants you to escape the agony of hell.  It wasn’t designed for people created in His image—it was created for the rebellious and fallen angels…the devils.

So how do we make sure that we never go to hell? 

Well, before we actually answer that question, let’s allow Jesus to stress how important not going to Hell is: “And if your hand causes you to sin, cut it off.  It is better for you to enter (eternal) life crippled than with two hands to hell, to the unquenchable fire.  And if your foot causes you to sin, cut it off.  It is better for you to enter (eternal) life lame than with two feet (and then) be thrown into hell.  And if your eye causes you to sin, tear it out.  It is better for you to enter the kingdom of God with one eye than with two eyes (and) be thrown into hell, where the worm does not die and the fire is not quenched.” [Mark 9:43-48] 

Does that sound crazy to you?  It should, it was meant to be absurd.  Jesus was addressing the mindset that people in that time had about sin.  They like many others in their day were trivializing their personal sins, much like people do today.  “I guess I can’t help steeling, I was born with itchy hands and sticky fingers.”  OK, cut them off!  “I can’t help looking at women that way, I must have been born with a wandering eye.”  OK, pluck it out!  “What do you mean?  I can’t” you say.  Friend, do you want to go to hell?  Well then get rid of the offending body part.  If you had diabetes, and your foot or leg was diseased you would let the doctor amputate it so you could live wouldn’t you?  Well…go ahead, cut it off and pluck it out.  Keep cutting and plucking until there is nothing left of your body!

Absurd and ridiculous isn’t it?  And that is the point Jesus is making.  Your hand, foot, eye, tongue, or any other body part is not to blame.  They can’t think independent of you!  Sinners like us today are to blame…sinners like us have a wicked heart, and there is only one cure for a wicked heart… IT MUST BE SALTED!

You must be salted with fire.  

In the time of Jesus, salt was both a preservative and an antiseptic. When someone had an infected wound they would pour salt on it.  It burned like fire, but that was good because it meant that there was still some life in the tissue that could be saved.  We must be salted too, because we carry with us dead tissue that must be removed.  

How are we salted?  With the Word of God!  God’s Law must be applied to our sin so that we will feel the fire and wrath of God.  We must know that we are sinful throughout every fiber of our being.  We must stand before God knowing that we deserve all of the punishments of hell.  We must be silenced and simply surrender to His perfection and Holiness!  That is the work and sting of God’s Law.  It is at this time, when the Law has had its way with us that we are moved to cry out to God, “Have mercy Lord!  Forgive me!”  

And then…then when we feel our very life slipping away, we must listen—we must listen to God’s mercy.  “Behold what manner of love the Father has given unto us. That we should be called the children of God.”   How are we made the children of God?  Through the salting of His Word.  And it is that Word that tells us about the cross—the cross where He allowed His Son Jesus Christ to willingly and in agony give up His life for those very same sins that condemn us.  And then by faith, we must hear His Son shout loudly from the cross, “IT IS FINISHED!”  “What is finished Lord” we ask?  “My Father’s anger for your many sins” He says.  “How” we ask? “Friend” he says, “the Father no longer sees your many sins because I have covered them with my precious blood.  The blood I, Jesus Christ, your Lord and Savior, your brother and friend shed for you.”  

Will you be salted?  Will you teach your children about this salt, this life saving Word of God that both terrifies and saves us?  This Word has been with you since your own baptism…will you grab onto it and live it out until your last breath is taken on this earth?  Will you remember that in your baptism God made you a mortal enemy of sin, death, and all the devils?  

Friends, think about what God has done for you through the cross of Jesus and the holy waters of your own Baptism.  You have become Satan’s mortal enemy and God’s own child.  How will you survive the constant attacks and temptations of Satan’s devils?  By being salted constantly with the Word of God.  

Now do you understand how important it is to always be in God’s Word?  Do you finally understand how important it is for parents to bring their children to church, Sunday School, and to read and share the Word of God with them?  Do you understand how important it is for you to live this kind of life that clings to God’s Word and Sacraments?  Do you understand that God’s kingdom can only be found at the cross?  Do you understand that the kingdom of God, Jesus’ kingdom was given to you in your baptism?  And do you understand that every time you hear the Word preached and taught, every time you come to His table of mercy, you are being reminded that you are even now part of that kingdom of God?

Friends, don’t lose your saltiness.  Seek this salt in your life always.  I pray that you do.  I pray that you will hunger for this salt, and be at peace…peace with God and peace with each other.  In Jesus name…AMEN!

Help For Our Unbelief!


September 16th, 2018

Pentecost 17B
September 16, 2018
Rev. Brian Henderson-Pastor of
Trinity Lutheran Church,
7210 Lisbon Street
San Diego, CA 92114

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Our text this morning is the 24th verse of our Gospel lesson.  “Immediately the father of the child cried out and said, “I believe; help my unbelief!” [Mark 9:14-29]

The Christian life is “a land of hills and valleys” isn’t it?  In one day, we can move from what seems like the glory of heaven to the attacks of hell. In our gospel lesson this morning, we join our Lord returning from the Mt. of Transfiguration, where 3 of the apostles were allowed to see Jesus in His heavenly glory; a glory that would once again be His forever. But, Jesus knew that He must first begin His painful walk to the cross—a cross where He would once and for all, free us from sin, death, and the attacks of the devil.  Jesus knew that He would do all of this through His own death.  So down the mountain they went as Jesus had his face set towards the cross.

As Jesus and His the apostles came down off the mountain and joined the other nine, they found them enveloped in a problem: they were unable to deliver a boy from demonic control, and the scribes were debating with them and perhaps even taunting them because of their failure. And the demon… well it was doing its best to destroy the boy.  As always, it was Jesus who would step in to solve the problem. 

So what happened?  What went wrong?  Jesus had given all of His disciples authority to cast out demons [Mark 6:7, 13], and yet their ministry to the boy was a failure. Well, there was no time to dwell on their failure because the desperate father was now begging Jesus to help.  Wouldn’t you if that was your child?  But that poor father was not even sure that Jesus could succeed; after all His disciples had failed.  That’s why he said, “If you can do anything, have compassion on us.” [Mark 9:22] 

But something interesting is learned here and it is this, the father was honest enough to admit that he was having trouble believing in Jesus, and he asked the Lord to help him believe.  

The main lesson of this miracle is that faith in Jesus alone gives us the power to overcome worry and the fear of sin, death, and the devil. But then why had the nine disciples failed? Well they failed because they were afraid and worried.  And why was the father successful in seeing his son healed by Jesus?  Because he was afraid and worried.  You see, both are examples of how fear and worry can either have a negative effect or a positive effect on your faith.  

The nine apostles were worried because things weren’t working out the way they understood Jesus had said they would.  

Didn’t Jesus say that He had given them the authority to drive out demons? I can imagine them saying something like, “It worked before when He sent us out.  So why isn’t it working now?  Oh where is Jesus?  Why did he have to leave us alone like this?  What if He doesn’t come back soon?  Well if he doesn’t it won’t be our fault, after all, we’ve tried everything!”  Worry and panic began to take over.  But that wasn’t all; that demon was starting to get nasty with them, and to top it all off, those hypocrites called “the scribes” saw the whole thing and now they were ridiculing them.  OK, now their worry was giving way to fear. They must have been saying  “Oh where is Jesus?  Somebody do something…!”  And to this, the devil sneers and taunts and asks, “Where’s your faith?  Where’s your faith now?” 

Help was so close.  Jesus had taught them that with the faith the size of a mustard seed they could call out to God and if it was according to the Father’s will they could order a mountain to fall into the sea and it would! [Matt. 17:20]    Yet because of their fear and worry, they forgot that help was just a prayer away.  

Have you ever been there before?  So sure of yourself; so certain that you had everything under control and then– “BAMB!”… everything falls apart?  What the nine apostles forgot, and what we so very often forget, St. James gladly reminds us of in our epistle reading: “We all stumble in many ways.  And if anyone does not stumble in what he says (or in what he does), he is a perfect man…”  Oh how easily because of our pride, we forget that everything we have, our health, all of our talents, all of our gifts, and all of our finances are just a gift from God—every second of our lives are being guided by His loving hand.  And when things stop going the way we think they should go, when we’re done coasting downhill and seem to be stuck in the dark valley, we ask, “Where is God?  Why isn’t He here helping me?”

Friends, what do you do when you’re smack dab in the middle of a crisis?  Well let me tell you what Jesus expects you to do.  Stop, remember God’s promise that He will never leave you, take a deep breath, relax, and then pray.  That’s what the disciples forgot to do, and so many times when tragedy strikes, that is also what we forget to do.  Why is that important?  Because prayer invites God into your dilemma and your small faith says, “Here Lord, take over.  I’m tired and ready to give up.  If you want this done please work through me and do it.”  The father of the boy told Jesus that His disciples didn’t have the strength to drive the demon out.  They did not have the strength because they didn’t ask for it.  So remember, stop and pray for God’s strength!

What the disciples forgot, the father of the demon possessed boy remembered.  

“Teacher, I’ve brought my son to you.”  Faith in Christ is compelled to bring its dilemmas and tragedies to Christ.  And when we bring these things to our Lord in faith, He asks us, “Do you believe I can help you?  Do you believe I will help you?  Remember, all things are possible for one who believes.”  It is at this point in our lives where little faith, small almost unobservable faith calls out in the same anguish as that father had for his only son, “I believe Lord; help my unbelief!  Teach me to believe….teach me to trust you.   You Lord Jesus Christ are my only source of hope!”

In these words friends, we hear pain; we hear worry and fear, but we also hear a confession.  “Forgive me for my unbelief O Lord, and help me to believe!”  Dear baptized friends, that is your confession—your confession when you know you should believe; you know you should believe, because of the many promises God has given you, you know you must believe, but for some reason your faith is very small, you are afraid, and you find it hard to believe.  Your privilege friend, as a baptized child of God, is that you can call out to Him and confess all of your sins, including the sin of doubt, and then know with a great certainty that He has heard your prayer.  

God wants you to know that not only does He forgive your doubt, but for the sake of your Savior Jesus Christ, He also gives you what you are asking for because He loves you and because what you are asking for is in keeping with His will.  Friends, the most important thing that God wants you to believe is that for Christ’s sake, you are forgiven of all your sins; forgiven unto eternal life!

But what if you pray and pray; what if you are always confessing your sins and you don’t feel peace—you just don’t feel comforted?  

What if you still feel fear and worry?  Does that mean that God isn’t listening to you?  No!!  Dear friends, faith—your faith is not based on how you feel, but on Jesus’ real presence in your life.  Just because one person feels peace and another still feels fear doesn’t mean that God is closer to one and farther from another.  God stands by all of His children…He stands by you!  

Listen friends, since faith is so important and vital to your spiritual well being don’t think for a moment that God wants you to remain captivated by your fear.  And don’t try to talk yourself out of your emotions, instead confess them to Him and then rest in His presence in your life.  You see, it’s the God of peace that will comfort you.  How?  By helping you to trust in His work in you!  Friends, through His Holy Spirit, God is moving your heart to turn away from your sin—to turn away from your lack of faith and turn to Him.  He wants you to look to Jesus Christ, the lamb who takes away the sin of the world—even the sin of doubt and fear, and then rest in Him by faith. That dear friends is big faith…very big faith!

So don’t be happy with only small faith, instead let the Lord grow your faith as you learn to rest in Christ’s love and then trust in His presence.  And you will need that big faith friends, because when you least expect it, the devil will attack your heart and try to take away that little faith.  When will this attack happen?  I can’t answer that for you, but I do know this, sooner or later we will all have our faith tested.  For sure, when it comes time for you to face your own death, or the death of a loved one, your faith will be tested!  And it’s at this time that you must already be trained to turn your eyes to God, because that is where we will all end our walk of faith.  This is the narrow gate, the straight path that our Lord taught us about. [Matt. 7:14]  God desires for all of us to joyfully walk down this path and then excitedly enter through that narrow gate into Paradise. 

How do you prepare for this journey?  By staying in God’s Word; by allowing the Holy Spirit to give you a hunger to read and hear it as often as possible.  You prepare for this journey by daily confessing your sins and knowing for certain that because of your baptism the sweet Words of absolution are really intended for you.  You prepare for this journey by feeding your hunger to know God’s love and forgiveness through the eating and drinking of His holy and true body and blood.  So receive all of these gifts of God, and then know by faith that He is truly giving you not just the forgiveness of your many sins, but a new life… an eternal life of joy and peace.

Dear friends, though our faith is weak, let us pray with great passion along with the apostles, “Lord increase our faith” and then let us pray along with the father of the demon possessed boy, “Lord I believe; help my unbelief!”  In Jesus name…AMEN!

Saving Faith

September 9th, 2018

Pentecost 16B
September 9, 2018
Rev. Brian Henderson-Pastor of
Trinity Lutheran Church,
7210 Lisbon Street
San Diego, CA 92114

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Our text this morning is the 14th verse of our Epistle lesson.  And it comes to us in the form of a question: “What good is it my brothers, if someone says he has faith but does not have works?  Can that faith save him?”

Indeed, that is the question, “Can that faith save him?”  Can someone who is without works find comfort in God’s gospel proclamation, like the one found in our OT lesson?  Listen, “Say to those who have an anxious heart, “Be strong; fear not!  Behold your God will come with vengeance, with the recompense of God.  He will come and save you.”  James answers this question with a resounding NO!  Instead, James would say that a person who claims faith without works should hear this message more as Law instead of the gospel; perhaps more like this: “But say to those who have no anxious heart; who have no fear or dread because of their sinful hearts, “Be afraid.  Be very afraid!  Because the day of the Lord’s judgment is  approaching.”

What is faith?  

“Easy” you say, faith knows God through Jesus Christ, right?  Well…yes and no.  You see, if you know who God is, that is only a general kind of faith.  “But wait” you counter, I believe that Jesus was born of the virgin Mary, that He suffered under Pontius Pilot, He was crucified, died, and was buried, and descended into Hell.  And I also believe that on the third day He rose from the dead and ascended into heaven, and He is now seated at the right hand of God the Father.”  Well, James would tell you that the devils believe that too, and yet they tremble with fear because they know that God’s judgment is coming very soon. [James 2:19]  “But wait Pastor” you say, “I know scripture pretty well, and didn’t Paul say, “Faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ.”” [Rom. 10:17]?  Ah yes, an excellent proof text for reminding all of us how important it is to be in God’s Word every day.  But, you can bet the devils know that verse by heart, and many others as well.  What good does that do them?

Are you confused?  Well let me give an illustration on what kind of faith is not saving faith.  Let’s imagine that there is a policeman who is issued a bullet proof vest but he refuses to wear it because it is just too hot and bulky.  One day he is tragically shot in an area that the vest would have protected, and he dies.  Is the vest to blame for his death? No, of course not!  You see, the vest can offer no protection if it isn’t put on; if it doesn’t become part of his daily routine.  And that is the way it is with faith that can’t save you.  You can know the entire Bible and be an expert in Christian doctrine, but if you aren’t living in that faith and allowing it to lead you and change you, it can’t save you!  It’s what we call only a general faith.

But, if you know that Jesus suffered and died upon the cross for you—if you admit that He needed to suffer and die for you; that he descended into hell and rose from the dead for you; if you know that He ascended into heaven, and sits at the right hand of God to someday judge you not guilty of being a sinner, but holy, perfect and righteous because you trusted in Him, well then my friend… you have saving faith!  So you see friends, true saving faith grabs onto Jesus and what he provides and it makes Him its personal Savior.

Well the question we might ask next is this, “What does faith look like?  Can you see that faith in action?”  Yes, most definitely.  You can see both general faith and saving faith in action, and you can easily tell them apart.  In our Epistle lesson [James. 2:14-18], James gives us a good illustration of general faith.

General faith sees a Christian brother or sister in trouble…in need of food and clothing and says, “I hope you find food, and I’ll pray you stay warm” and then walks away feeling good about themselves.  James asks us this morning, “Can that kind of faith save him?”  “What kind?” we ask.  Well, the kind of faith that is never seen in practical service towards God and neighbor.  Friends, the answer is no!  Any faith that doesn’t result in a changed heart… in a life that’s changed and desiring to do good for others, James says is really an empty faith.  

So you see friends, while it’s true that it’s faith alone that justifies, it is also true that justifying faith can never be alone… it can never be without works of love.  But saving faith, looks at its brother or sister in need, and because that saving faith is still holding on to Jesus, it is compelled to act.  As Christians who are led by the love of Christ, because of our saving faith, we are also compelled to help meet the needs of our neighbors as God provides.  St. Paul in his letter to the Galatians taught about this when he said, “As we have therefore opportunity, let us do good unto all people, especially the needs of those who are of the household of faith.” [Gal. 6:10]  

Friends, when we serve our brothers and sisters in need, we can clearly hear Jesus reminding us with a smile, “Inasmuch as you have done it unto one of the least of these My brothers, you have done it unto Me.” [Matt. 25:40] Friends, saving faith hears these words of Jesus, and it wants to always be working and serving others.  But saving faith doesn’t work because it thinks it will earn a reward, instead saving faith works because it is powered by the love of God through Christ Jesus and wants to please God.

Dear friends, we love Jesus because He first loved us and gave His life up for us.  Because He sacrificed Himself for us we find that we are also compelled by our saving faith to sacrifice ourselves for our neighbor as well.  When a Christian mother and father loves their child and teaches them about God’s love, and ensures that they are baptized, present at Sunday school, and latter confirmed, that is the love of saving faith being expressed in those Christian parents.  In fact, no matter what calling we find ourselves in whether it is parent, child, civil servant, employee, employer, student or teacher, if we serve our neighbor as Christ serves us, then my friends, that is saving faith in action.  

Well how do we know if we have saving faith?  

Friends, for the answer to this question let’s look at our gospel lesson this morning.  In the gospel we encounter Jesus healing a man who was deaf and had a speech impediment.  Listen: “And taking him aside from the crowd privately, he put his fingers into his ears, and after spitting touched his tongue. And looking up to heaven, he sighed and said to him, “Ef-fa-tha,” that is, “Be opened.”  And his ears were opened, his tongue was released, and he spoke plainly.” [Mark 7:33-35]   What a wonderful miracle!  Everyone who witnessed it agreed that it was most certainly a work of God.  The witnesses proclaimed, “He has done all things well.”  They concluded that Jesus could at any time give anyone who’s deaf the ability to hear and anyone who is speechless the ability to speak.  Did the crowd have saving faith? I don’t know.  They certainly were amazed, but yet, it wasn’t their ears that were given hearing and it wasn’t their mouth that was given speech.  But the man who was deaf and speechless, now that’s a different story.  How could He not have love for Jesus, the loving man that spoke ever so gently to him in a sign language that he could understand?  How could he not have been moved to trust Jesus in whatever He asked or told him?  Certainly he had to be moved to use his new voice to praise Jesus as the Savior, as his personal savior!

Dear friends, in your baptism, Jesus has done an even greater thing than this for you.  Through the water and the Word, He has opened your heart!  Through His Word, He has privately and in a very personal way taken you out of a sinful and dying world and secured you in His love.  Through the gift of faith, He has opened your ears so that you can hear His Word even the Word being preached right now and be changed!  Listen friends, your heart has been recreated so that it no longer fears God’s judgment, but instead it’s resting in His love.  By faith you are now able to live your life knowing that you have a God who through His Son Jesus, has forgiven all of your sins.  By faith friends, you now have a mouth that desires to share with others just how wonderfully God has demonstrated His love for you!  And by saving faith, you now have hands that are being moved to serve God out of love; not because they must serve but because they want to serve.  Your heart through saving faith wants to serve your neighbor here in this church, and there out in the community where there are thousands of people dying without knowing the life giving and life changing touch of the Savior of the world Jesus Christ.   

Dear friends, our faith, our saving faith, is a divine work that God does within us; it’s a work that changes us by killing the old self centered person and then daily replaces it with a personality of faith in action!  Your saving faith is a living, busy, and active faith that is mighty in the power of God.  Your saving faith doesn’t ask if there are any good works that must be done to be saved, but is already desiring to do the good out of love!  I pray that every day you fight to let this living and saving faith control you and lead you as you daily praise the Lord, in thought, word, and deed!  In Jesus name….AMEN!

Put It On

September 2nd, 2018

Pentecost 15B
September 2, 2018
Rev. Brian Henderson-Pastor of
Trinity Lutheran Church,
7210 Lisbon Street
San Diego, CA 92114

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“Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil” [Ephesians 6:11]

There is a battle raging all around us; it is unseen but certainly not unfelt.  It is the classic battle of good vs. evil.  In this battle, God is protecting what is His.  He is protecting those little lambs of Jesus—those little lambs that He suffered and died for.  God is protecting you and me from the evil around us and the sin within us!  In regards to the evil around us, let me say this right off the bat, the devils are evil cowards.  They usually attack us when we are at our weakest, and that is usually when we are the furthest away spiritually from God. And when they attack us, they do it in away that will effect those people closest to and surrounding the person under attack. In physical warfare, we would call it collateral damage.  So the best target for devils is an unprotected target; someone who is not centered in the grace of Jesus Christ…someone who is counting on something else for their protection other than the whole armor of God!

Dear friends, evil is all around us.  

It is the unseen force that the devil uses to separate us from the Love of God which is ours in and through Christ Jesus.  It is a spiritual force, an army if you will, that is well organized under the leadership of the devil.  St. Paul in our Epistle reading breaks down this spiritual army of darkness into 4 divisions: Rulers, Authorities, Cosmic Powers, and Spiritual Forces of Evil.  If we were to put this in contemporary warfare terms we would say the Ruler is Satan Himself, and his Joint Chief of Staff or his generals are the Authorities, the Cosmic Powers would be those who control the Spiritual Weapons of Mass Destruction, and the Spiritual Forces of Evil would be his foot soldiers.  Their concentrated goal is to ensure that we are so overcome with evil that we will simply surrender our lives to them and hope for the best.  In other words, their attacks are meant to “shock and awe” us to the point that we are demoralized and give up!

This battle isn’t something that is distant and doesn’t merit your immediate concern.  It is much closer than you think.  It is raging all around you.  Just watch the news on any given night and see how our community, our nation and our world is being overrun by violence, crime, and hatred.  In fact, the enemy is so close that he is even battling within you!  But don’t take my word for it, listen to our Savior’s own Words found in our gospel lesson: “For from within, out of the heart of man, come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, coveting, wickedness, deceit, sensuality, envy, slander, pride, foolishness.  All these things come from within, and they defile a person.”  There you have it friends—the battle is not so distant after all, is it?  

Now I know some of you are thinking, “Yes Pastor, but God’s Word says that I am saved…I am baptized!”  Very good!  You see God’s work for what it is, a work of love and protection from anything that separates us from the love of God, which is ours through Christ Jesus!  Indeed you are right that your baptism is God’s assurance that He will never leave nor forsake you.  And yet, the battle rages around us and within us.  Our old sinful nature loves to work against these precious baptismal promises.  It won’t admit that it has been crucified with Christ and drowned within the waters of Holy Baptism.  The singular goal of that sinful flesh and the powers of darkness that it clings to is to chip away at your faith a little at a time until you have lost your trust in Christ’s saving presence in your life.  But how?  By getting you to doubt the faithfulness of God’s Word.  This is the oldest trick the devils have, but it is still their greatest weapon.  It is the weapon they used against Eve in the garden, when the devil asked her, “Did God really say….?”  Eve’s error, her sin was not that she listened to the serpent, but that she did not silence him with the Word of God! One little Word from God and the devil would have fled.  One simple statement and he would’ve been defeated: “YES!” she should have said, “ Thus says the Lord our God, “You may surely eat of every tree of the garden, but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die.”” [Gen 2:16-17]  If Eve would have responded with the true Word of God, the serpent would have slithered back into his hole!  But Eve entered into a battle with the master deceiver without the whole armor of God!

Friends, Eve discovered this truth after her error, after her own husband abandoned his role as spiritual leader and joined her in her sin.  If they and those after them could speak to us this morning, they would be encouraging us right now to take up the whole armor of God and “Put it on, put it on!”  What is this armor of God?  It is God’s own Word!

Friends, in your baptism, God has assured you that you are right now connected to His inexhaustible source of power, strength, and might.  You are never to think of yourself as helpless and defeated.  

You see, you have been joined together with a Lord who has conquered sin, death, and the devil.  He is the Stronger One who has defeated the strong one.  Because of your baptism, you are assured of a certain amount of power, but God every day desires to feed and sustain that power.  This is done when we allow Him to strengthen our relationship with Him through His Living Word.  It is through His Word that we are given daily strength to defeat our old sinful nature and silence all of the devils.  Through His Word, God assures us that He is always for us and never against us.  How do we acquire this Word?  Again, by putting on the whole armor of God!

All of the armor described by Paul is just a different application of being in God’s Word!  Let me give you 6 contemporary presentations that explain this armor: #1 God’s Word is truth.  Truth is always truth, but for it to be your truth you must experience it and live it out.  “You will know the truth and the truth will set you free.” [Jn. 8:32]  But how do we know the truth?  By reading and hearing the Word of God.  We must make time and take time for our own private and personal study of God’s Word!  #2 Because many times, our personal study time leaves us with many questions, we discover that we need to be part of an organized Bible Study group that will help us find answers and grow in the Lord.  #3 Liturgical worship is just another way that we take in the Word of God.  In our Lutheran worship, God speaks His Word to us and we speak and even sing it back to Him.  #4 In the Holy Sacraments, God’s Word speaks His forgiveness of our many sins to us, which then causes us to confess even more sins to Him, which then in turn moves Him to speak once again the gospel—the forgiveness of sins for His Son’s sake.  In the sacraments the Word comes alive for us so that we can hear, see, touch, smell, and even taste forgiveness!  #5 When we memorize God’s Word, it becomes an offensive weapon that we can use to drive away the devil.  Luther said it best in the hymn “A Mighty Fortress Is Our God” listen: “though hordes of devils fill the land all threatening to devour us, We tremble not, unmoved we stand; They cannot over power us.  Let this world’s tyrant rage; In battle we’ll engage.  His might is doomed to fail; God’s judgment must prevail!  One little word subdues him.”

What is this little word?  It is a verse of scripture that you have memorized for the sole purpose of silencing the devil!  There are many verses to choose from; the more you have the greater your courage.  Here are some good ones: “Baptism now saves you” [1 Pe. 3:21]. “I can do all things through him who strengthens me.” [Philip. 4:13] “I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.” [Gal. 2:20] “  “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life”. [Jn. 6:68]  Anyone of these little words and many others WILL silence the devil, make him tremble, and flee for his life, because you are letting him know that you know that Jesus destroyed his hold over you upon the cross.  And in your baptism this victory of Christ was made yours!  “But isn’t it hard to memorize scripture?”  Not at all, in fact I’ll bet you already have a few simple words memorized.  If you have been singing and saying our liturgy, you already have quite a bit ready to use.  Dear friends, have your sword, the word of God ready and you will send the devil and the temptations of sin scurrying away like a whimpering puppy!

Finally, #6, the armor of God is with you when you are simply living out your calling as a saved and redeemed child of God.  When you live as a Christian parent, child, neighbor, policeman, lawyer, plumber, or whatever other station of life you find yourself in, you are wearing your gospel shoes.  You are demonstrating and speaking the love of God to your neighbor.  You are witnessing the truth of John 3:16, which says that “God so loved the world that He gave His only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.”  We are to do this as individuals and we are to do this as a congregation.  

It is my prayer that you are individually living out this calling everyday as God leads you in life.  It is my hope for this congregation that we will also be continually and intentionally looking for ways to engage our community in gospel conversations.  We can do this when we find ways to serve our neighbor and sacrificially love them as Christ first loved us.  Why?  So that they too may know how to obtain and put on the full armor of God.  This dear friends is the will of God for us… it is why Jesus died for us.  It is God’s means to save us and then equip us to tell everyone what He has done for them. 

To complete our message this morning, we have one more thing to discuss… one more piece of armor and that is PRAYER!  As God’s Word is the power of victory over sin, death, and the devil, prayer is the energy that keeps us engaged in the battle!

Pray always, or as Paul says it elsewhere, be unceasing in prayer.  Now this doesn’t mean that we are always saying prayers, because Jesus Himself said that we are not heard for our “much speaking” [Matt. 6:7], but instead it means that we should always be in communion with the Lord. [1 Thess. 5:17]  In other words, we should keep the receiver off the hook and be in a constant attitude of prayer.  What should we pray for?  All things!  Whatever the Lord’s Spirit is leading us to pray, then that is what we should pray for.  Thank Him for little things and big things.  Thank Him for your spiritual leaders; for pastors, elders, spouse, parents, teachers, and the like.  And ask God to continue to bless them with great wisdom so they can continue to lead and become even better leaders.  Pray and ask Him to teach you how you can be a more effective witness to His love and forgiveness with your neighbor, and pray and ask Him to show you how you and our church can sacrificially serve our community.  Ask Him how you can help Trinity reach and teach the lost about God’s love through Jesus Christ, and then just jump in and give it a try.  Don’t wait for some miraculous sign…just get involved.  Remember, idle hands are the devils work shop!

Finally, sometimes we don’t know what to pray for, but we do feel the uncontrollable urge to do it.  When this feeling hits you, as soon as you are able, find a private place, fall on your knees or even on your face and simply cry out to the Lord!  Pray with groaning that only your deep and troubled spirit can understand.  Don’t worry about words, because the Holy Spirit who dwells within your heart knows what to ask for and what to say.  He will take your prayer before the Father in Heaven who will hear you because of His Son’s grace, and He will answer your prayer with just what your spirit needs.

So there you have it friends, the whole armor of God, His Word and your prayers.  You don’t have to look for it, because it has all been yours since your baptism.  Take it up, and put it on…wear it always.  Demonstrate its power to your neighbor so they will also one day want to have it as their own.  And remember, one day, in the darkest hour of your life, perhaps when death is close, hordes of devils will test your armor; they will try to cause you to loose hope, but don’t worry because you are in the hands of your loving Father who has saved you from all of your fears, even sin, death, and all of the devils.  May this be so always for each of us, and I ask this in Jesus name… AMEN!