A Different Kind of Kingdom

November 22nd, 2015

Last Sunday of the Church Year (B), November 22nd, 2015
Pastor Brian Henderson-Trinity Lutheran Church,
7210 Lisbon Street, San Diego, CA

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“”Jesus answered, “My kingdom is not of this world.  If my kingdom were of this world, my servants would have been fighting, that I might not be delivered over to the Jews.  But my kingdom is not from the world.” [John 18:36]

On December 7, 1941, a quiet naval harbor in Honolulu, Hawaii was attacked by the Japanese military.  After several years of sitting out the war, that was enough to propel our great nation into action.  We were at war, and we would defeat the enemy at all costs!

On September 11, 2001 our nation was attacked on three different fronts, by a loose but large confederation of Islamic terrorist known as Al Qaeda. That was enough to begin a war on all terrorist who pose a threat against our country, and indeed democracy throughout the world.  Our nation, once again has vowed to win that war at all costs, and even now, that war rages on throughout the world against the same enemy, but now preferring to be called ISIS.

And yet, in our gospel reading, Jesus Christ, the Son of God, who alone is our true and eternal King, was about to be brutally beaten and crucified at the hands of an occupying terrorist force in Palestine, known as the Roman Empire.  Where was the outrage?  Where was the beating of war drums?  Why would God the Father allow this to happen?  Jesus gives the answer: “My kingdom is not of this world.”

What does that mean?  Well simply put, like our King Jesus we do not find our identity here, but in Him we live, breathe, and find our being.  We know that in this world of sin, we will find suffering just as our King found suffering. We have learned to accept this truth as our reality while we wait patiently for our King to return.  And while we wait, we are not a threat to this physical world.

We live in this world, but we are not of this world.  We obey the law, we pay taxes, we do many works of charity, and we give large sums of money to work towards peace in this world, and yet, we suffer for the good we do.  Why do we accept this as our reality?  Because we know that the time is coming when our true King will come in power for us to make all things new and right, but we also know that He is coming to judge the unfaithful and punish sin.

Until the day of our Lord arrives, we are simply to wait; we are to do nothing disruptive, but simply wait and behave as good citizens under whatever government we find ourselves in.  Are we doing anything to prepare for our King Jesus’ return?  Are we preparing by committing acts of sedition?  No!  Are we working to undermine the authority of our rulers?  NO!  So what are we doing?

We are praying, “Thy Kingdom come and Thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.”

So, is prayer all that we do to prepare for Christ kingdom?  Certainly not; you see we also speak God’s Word, which is God’s power, or God’s means in both opening the gates to Christ Kingdom and closing them to those who rebel against His Kingdom; those who prefer to reject Christ and His Kingdom of grace, will be forever banned from His Kingdom of glory, and instead they will be forever banished into an eternal internment camp, built by the Power of God to forever separate unrepentant rebels from God’s children of faith.

The Kingdom of God is here with us right now; we call it His Kingdom of Grace, but His Kingdom is not yet complete.  On the great and terrible day that it comes in full, it will come with power, great power that will not only topple all earthly kingdoms, but it will also destroy both the earth and heaven together.  And when it comes, it will usher in a new heaven and earth that will be one under the rule of the Son of God, King Jesus Christ.

Now, as Isaiah reported in our Old Testament reading, our King has set His Word as a true source of justice and divine light for all of the people of the world.  It’s righteousness draws nearer every day as His Holy Gospel is proclaimed throughout the world.  He has prepared those who will hear His Word to respond to that Word of forgiveness; that is why Isaiah was compelled to write that “the coastlands hope for (their King). [Isaiah 51:4-5]  And what we hope for is what we wait for; so we can say that the Kingdom of Jesus, that is His Kingdom of Power is not yet.

And this is where people who are not God’s children of faith have a problem.  They have a problem because they will not look up to heaven for answers.

The Kingdom of Power is coming whether you believe in it or not; whether you hope for it or not.  The day is coming when the heavens will vanish like smoke and the earth will wear out like a garment, and all will die and all will come back to life.  The only question really is, after you die and you are returned to life, where will you spend eternity.  And what will answer that question will be the kingdom you are trusting and resting in.

You dear saints, who are resting in the Kingdom of Grace, Christ’s Kingdom are also pursuing righteousness. You are seeking God’s Kingdom and waiting for it to come in power.  But waiting in the Kingdom of grace and pursuing that Kingdom of power isn’t easy; in fact it’s impossible without faith.

As we live here in this world of sin, we soon discover that there is very little grace shown to us, and the power we experience seems to be evil and working against the good we try to do.  At best here in this world, we seem to have fleeting moments of happiness, but they elude us so quickly and then we fall to sin ourselves and collapse again in guilt, fear, and doubt.  We can become frustrated when we discover, that we can’t simply take off our sinful nature and hang it up in the closet or throw it in the trash.

So what are we to do?  Well listen of course.  We are to hear the word of God and pay attention to it.  Listen: “Give attention to me, my people, and give ear to me, my nation (of faith); for a law will go out from me (to you).”  What law?  The law of grace that can come only through your King of Grace, Jesus Christ.

You see, God knows that you are but flesh; He knows that in your sinfulness, you cannot come into His Kingdom of Grace, so in His Word, He brings that Kingdom to you.  What word is that?  The Word about Jesus your King; His suffering, death, resurrection, and ascension.  It is that Word that has been sent out and found you.  It is a Word of forgiveness.

Grace to you… grace for you… grace, which is yours right now, if you see a need for it; if you want to be in God’s Kingdom.

God’s unmerited love is yours right now through Jesus who loves you and has set you free from your sins by His blood shed upon the cross.  He has done all of the work and simply calls you to come and rest in His kingdom of grace and pursue every day His Kingdom of Power.  You pursue His Kingdom of Power as His priests as you do the good He desires and as you go about proclaiming the message of His Kingdom of Grace; the message of your God and Father.  And the life we live here in the kingdom of man we live while waiting for the Kingdom of Christ.  And the life that we live is how we give glory to God the Father of our King Jesus, to Him be glory and dominion forever and ever. [Revelations 1:4-8]

At least every Sunday we pray, “Thy Kingdom come” in the Lord’s prayer.  What does it mean then to pray those words?

God’s kingdom comes all by itself without our prayer, right?  So why must we pray those words?  So that His kingdom would be so great within us and among us that others would know that there is a God in Heaven.  We pray those words so that we will be the type of child that not only lives in His kingdom but also helps to make that kingdom grow among us!  How does that Kingdom grow among us?  Through the message from and about our King Jesus, and that message, is the good news that God sent his Son, Christ our Lord, into this sinful world to redeem and deliver us from the power of the devil, to bring us to himself, and to rule us as our King of righteousness.  In this kingdom we are given life, and salvation against sin, death, and the devil. It is this message alone that keeps us in His kingdom and delivers His Holy Spirit to us in power, so that we may have faith to continually be saved by his holy Word and Sacraments.  These are the only means God has provided to save us and deliver us safely into His Kingdom.

When we talk about God’s Kingdom, when we pray that God would help us rest in His kingdom, we are really asking God to help us praise His name and live a Christian life. We ask this so that those of us who have already entered into the kingdom of grace may remain faithful and grow daily in it and also so that God may use us to help others enter it, and together we may all remain eternally in His kingdom that He has now begun in us and among us!

“The coming of God’s kingdom to us” then takes place in two ways: first, it comes here, in time, through the Word and faith, and second, it comes in eternity, with the end of days.  It comes in great power and might, and it is the only way that you can enter the kingdom of God.

Christ has done all of the work.  He has given to you His Holy gospel so that you may hear and believe through His gift of faith.  He has washed you clean in the waters of your baptism.  Not only has he stripped you of your sinful and soiled nature, but he has given you a new nature; a robe of righteousness, which is the very nature of your King Jesus.  And what’s more is, He invites you to come to His holy table to have communion with Him and all of the saints that have gone before you.  He asks you to dine on His very body and blood for the continued forgiveness of sins and the strengthening of your faith.  And all that He asks of you is that you continue to use these things every day and trust in them alone.

Oh yes, there is one more thing He asks of you.  He asks that you pray to Him in Heaven that He would continue to keep His name and you holy, and He asks that you pray that His Kingdom would come soon in power and might.

Will you remember to pray that Christ’s Kingdom would come soon?  Will you look forward to that Kingdom and let all that is within you work towards ushering in that Kingdom first in you then around you?

I pray that God would continually move our hearts to always ask for His kingdom to come among us.  I ask this in Jesus name… AMEN!

On Cleaving and Clinging

November 15th, 2015

Pentecost 25B, November 15, 2015
Pastor Brian Henderson-Trinity Lutheran Church,
7210 Lisbon Street, San Diego, CA 92114

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“And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.” [Hebrews 10:24, 25]

Growing up as a Christian I heard a lot of talk and teaching about cleaving and clinging.  I was taught in Sunday school that I must cleave, or split away from the naughty way and always search out the good way.  I was taught that I must “Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it.” [Matthew 7:13, 14]

Now, I was taught that this meant that I must leave my sinful life and cling to Jesus and the road to salvation.  The only problem with this teaching is that no one ever told me how to do this, and no one bothered to tell me that in Holy Baptism, I was already on the narrow road of salvation; Jesus had already found me and given me the new, forgiven life.

This morning, we will look at what means God uses to both keep us on that narrow way and help others to find it also, and then, we’ll learn to trust in Jesus alone.  And to do this, we will simply allow God’s Word to speak to us and teach us how He draws us to Himself, and then secures us in His love.  And then we will learn how God uses we, who are clinging to Jesus, to draw others who are still trapped within a life of guilt and separated from God’s love.

First, as a way of refreshing our memories, let’s define God’s love, or Agápē love. It is God’s own love for creation, for you and me; a love that is intelligent (He knows all of the facts about you and still loves you) and works to bring about new purpose and new life for you and within you.  It is God’s Agápē love that saw the world and all of mankind from the very beginning as sinful, defiled, and lost in darkness, and yet it was this Agápē love that moved God to act in such a way that His act of love would save every last sinful person who was willing to be saved.  To accomplish this mission of salvation centered in Agápē love, God the Father called upon His Son to make a way, a path, or a road back to Paradise.

God sent His Son Jesus to us as one of us, so that He could be our true High Priest. There were priests before Christ came to us, very many of them who were called upon to serve under the old covenant of the law; they were called to do a monotonous service, “offering repeatedly the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins.” [Hebrews 10:11] But God sent His Son and named Him Jesus (God saves).  The very name was to indicate the mission that this God-child, born of the Virgin Mary was sent on.  He would grow to become the God-man, the only One who could live a perfect life, and then out of love for sinners, by way of Pontius Pilate offer His life upon the cross in exchange, or as payment for our imperfections… for our hideous sins.

Prior to Christ our Great High Priest, the high priest of the old covenant was the only one who could pass through the curtain that separated sinners, all sinners, from the holy of holies, the Ark of the Covenant, and the Mercy Seat.  All of these were physical representations of a spiritual reality, and a real place and position, which was simply beyond the reach and beyond the comprehension of sinful mankind.

“But when Christ had offered for all time a single sacrifice for sins, he sat down at the right hand of God.” [Hebrews 10:12]  This single sacrifice is both the very definition of Agápē love and the source of our salvation and our own expression of God’s Agápē love.  Through the sacrifice of His body and the spilling of His blood, Christ has brought into completion both our rebirth and our perfection.  Through God’s Agápē love, Christ has paid for the sins of the world, but more importantly, His passion, His payment, included your sins.

“By a single offering He has perfected for (eternity) those (of us) who are being sanctified (that is perfected in His holiness.  And so that you will be convinced of this truth), the Holy Spirit also bears witness to us.” [Hebrews 10:14, 15]  Within His Word and throughout your life, as you cling to Jesus, the Living Word, God demonstrates that He has put His law on your heart and He has written His Word in your mind.  And then He says, through Christ your High Priest, “I will remember your sins and your lawless deeds no more.” [Hebrews 10:17]

Here is a truth worth remembering: God draws all sinners to Himself only through the Cross of Christ and His chosen means of grace.

It is through God’s means of grace where all of the Agápē love of the Father becomes yours personally, through the work and sacrifice of your Great High Priest Jesus Christ.  Through the blood of Christ, the entrance into the true Holy of Holies is open for you in connection with that blood, and it shall never be closed to you.  Jesus made a way, a very narrow way back to Paradise for all sinners.  It is narrow because it excludes all other ways.  It is a way, because you follow it every day; it is a living way, because the very veil that you must pass through is through Christ’s flesh.  The Son of God, Jesus Christ Himself is the living way, the truth, and the only source of eternal life.  In the old covenant or the old way, only the high priest himself could enter the holy of holies by way of the great veil or curtain, but this new way is for all of us; each of us are to use Jesus’ flesh as the great means of entry.

The crucified Christ is our entrance into both the holy of holies and the very mercy seat of God.  Jesus reminds us of this truth with these words, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” [John 14:6]  This morning Jesus holds out His hand to each of you and makes sure you understand all of this as He says, “My blood.  My body.  No other means.  I am the veil that separates sinful men from God the Father.  To get to the Father you must pass through me.”

So how may one enter through Christ our great veil and curtain?  We must continue to draw near to God “with a true heart in full assurance of faith, with our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water.” [Hebrews 10:22]  Dear friends, we are drawn by God, that is we are pulled away from our sinful lives and into God’s Agápē love through the cross of Jesus Christ.  Through the suffering, death, and resurrection of our Great High Priest, His very body and blood are the only method of payment the Father will accept as atonement for our sins.  So, “Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded.” (James 4:8)  But how are we to draw near to God?

We draw near to God with a clean heart; with a pure conscience.  How?  With our hearts sprinkled clean by the blood of Christ and our bodies washed clean with the pure water of Holy Baptism.  And what is it that makes the water pure?  Nothing but the life giving, life changing, Agápē making Word of God.  Through His means of grace, God gives us both rebirth and continual forgiveness of all sins.  And through these gifts we are given a new way to love God and each other; we are given Agápē love; the love of intellect and purpose.  A love that finds it’s definition in the cross of Christ; a love that compels us to bear our own cross of sacrifice and the giving of our selves to our neighbor.

“(So) Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful. And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.” [Hebrews 10:23-25]

How do we continually leave our sinful past and cling to Christ? How can we receive the strength and ability to continually love God with all of our heart and mind, and love our neighbor as ourselves?

By holding fast to our confession of faith. By hearing the Word of God often and receiving the blessed assurance of complete forgiveness and the promise of eternal life.  By remembering our baptism and all that it represents.  By gathering each week to confess our sins together before God, and then quickly being assured that through Christ we are forgiven and loved.  By allowing God’s Word read, declared, and preached to sustain our faith and to increase within our hearts a hunger for a deeper relationship of Agápē love with our Heavenly Father.

And then, as faith and love lead us, we are to approach the mercy seat of God, take our place around this altar and receive the very body and blood that continues the Father’s work of Agápē love within us.

And now we must follow this work of Christ that God does within us to a new place.  There is no longer a need to continually focus on only our hearts when God has promised to do such a great work within them.  But now, God asks us to be concerned out of Agápē love, for the countless hearts around us; people lost in darkness and sin that God wants us to focus on.  But how?

By being a living representation of the very Agápē love that saved us; by encouraging “one another, and all the more as we see the Day (of judgment) drawing near.”

In these words, God is telling us that our time is both short and precious; He is inciting us, by the leading of His Spirit and the gift of Agápē love to cling to Christ alone, to come alive, and to help bring new birth and forgiveness to others.

Dear friends, our faith and God’s Agápē love that comes out of us are living, busy, active, and powerful things.  Martin Luther once said that faith and love do not ask “whether good works are to be done; but before the question is even asked, it has (already done) them and is always engaged in doing (those good works).” [C. Tr 941, 10]

Brothers and sisters, we need to meet weekly within this communion of saints,  because from within this very place, out of God’s Divine Service for us, we are continually filled with both faith and God’s Agápē Love, which then sends us out offering and performing good works for Christ’s church and our neighbor.

But because our human nature is constituted in such a way that we would rather be around and deal with those who are only good and perfect, and then neglect and ignore those who are imperfect and hard to love—because of this sinful tendency within us, we notice that those who are weaker cause those who are more perfect to be haughty, spiteful, judging, selfish and unloving while, on the other hand, those who are more perfect, more mature in their faith, cause those who are weaker to envy and be disrespectful.  This is why not only this epistle focuses in on our relationship with other saints, but indeed all of the epistles do the same as a way of warning and countering this evil, so that divisions and false teaching can not arise in Christ’s church.

So how can we avoid these terrible things and live our lives in a way that pleases our Great High Priest and Savior, Jesus Christ?  By leaving these things, confessing these things, and then by clinging to Christ alone; by turning to His cross and seeing atonement, and then turning to the Font and seeing new life.

When these things are active in our lives, it will be God’s Agápē love within us and around us that will bring peace and a strong witness to our community, the very people that need to know Jesus Christ unto eternal life.

This, therefore, is the Christian love that we cling to; it is the Agápē love that is shown to those who are contemptible and unworthy of love; this, Christian love that dwells within each of you, is the kindness that is given to those who are evil and ungrateful. For this is what God did for us; and we, too, are commanded to love as He loves.

Dear friends, broken people are messy, time consuming, and very hard to love; love them anyhow because God chose to love you!  AMEN!

Living the Consecrated Life

November 8th, 2015

Pentecost 24B, November 8, 2015
Pastor Brian Henderson-Trinity Lutheran Church,
7210 Lisbon Street, San Diego, CA 92114

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“Arise, go to Zarephath, which belongs to Sidon, and dwell there. Behold, I have commanded a widow there to feed you.” [1 Kings 17:9]

For some of you here this morning, the scripture readings all point to one conclusion: The pastor is going be preaching on stewardship, or giving.  If that is the conclusion you reached, well you’re not entirely right, but you’re not entirely wrong either.  You see our message is on living, and not giving.

This morning, our message will speak God’s words of faithfulness, which will in turn cause our hearts to trust in His care for us.  And that in turn will lead us to live a life set apart to glorify God as we praise Him and serve our neighbor.  So, in a sense this is a stewardship message, that will move us to live a consecrated life for God, but not the kind of life that some so called “evangelist” 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 yet another test from God in trusting His Word and taking action that is born out of faith. The test from God isn’t meant to trap Elijah, but to prove to Him that God will always provide.  God will do what He says He will do.  But God’s testing of Elijah’s faith, or His strengthening 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 proves that He is real and He does provide for those who receive faith and trust Him.  Through Elijah, God would also test her faith.  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.

We just sang the hymn “Take My Life and Let It Be” (LSB 783) right?  Do you really believe the Words we sang in vs. 5&6?   “Take my will and make it Thine, It shall be no longer mine; Take my heart, it is Thine own, It shall be Thy royal throne.  Take my love, my Lord, I pour at Thy feet its treasure store; take myself and I will be ever, only all for Thee.”  If God were to ask you right now if the life that you were living is a good example of your appreciation for all He has done for you, and an accurate representation of your trust and love for Him, would you be embarrassed?  If you’re honest with yourself, I think you already know the answer.

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?  Well, the quality of our faith of course.  He is always looking to test our faith, so that He can strengthen it.

When Elijah was sent to the widow to be cared for, God was already preparing the widow’s heart to be God’s caregiver for Elijah. When the man of God came and spoke the words, “Do not fear” God was through those very Words 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 this 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 widow’s giving?  Stronger faith; faith to know and experience God’s care and love, even in the middle of hard times.

Now at this point, 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 sacrificing Himself upon the cross.  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 or punish our sins, but to save we redeemed and baptized sinners, who completely trust in His life, death, and resurrection as being done for us and in us, as we are eagerly waiting for Him to come again to bring us into paradise restored. [Hebrews 9:26b-28]

How much of our time, talent, and treasure does God ask us to give to Him?  All of it, everything we have, but when we realize this truth, He also takes away the fear of not being able to call it our own.  You see, He gives it right back to us, and then He asks us to hold onto it for Him, as a trust; something that has been consecrated, that is, it has been set apart as holy, and it is to be used in service to our Lord Jesus Christ and our neighbor.  God asks us to be responsible with our lives and to use them to further the spread of the good news about Jesus Christ and His Kingdom of grace.  He asks us to hold onto our treasure with an open hand so that He can take of it 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 after you have a good job.  No, Christian stewardship demands that we take good care of our time talent and treasure, what ever it is, simply because we have been commissioned by Jesus to manage those things, how ever much or little of those things we have right now, and we do it simply 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 truth and also faith to embrace a consecrated life, and I ask this in Jesus name… AMEN!

Christians Are At War With One Another As Americans Leave The Church In Droves

November 5th, 2015

By Michael Snyder, on November 4th, 2015

Christianity is under attack from a thousand different directions all at once, and yet many believers have turned their guns on one another.  This war among Christians seems to intensify with each passing year, and believers are often fighting for some of the stupidest reasons you can possibly imagine.  Meanwhile, people are leaving our churches in droves and church attendance is way down.  This is especially true of younger Americans.  According to an incredible new report that was just released by the Pew Research Center, only 27 percent of all Millennials (U.S. adults born since 1990) attend religious services on a weekly basis.  When you go into many churches in America on Sunday mornings, all you see are “the greys”, and I am not talking about space aliens.  But instead of focusing on fixing what has gone wrong, many Christians (including a number of very prominent ministers) spend most of their energy savagely attacking their brothers and sisters in Christ.  This is absolutely disgraceful and it needs to stop.

America is on the exact same path to secularization that Europe has already gone down.  The Pew Research Center discovered that the percentage of Americans who are “absolutely certain” that God exists declined from 71 percent in 2007 to 63 percent in 2014.  Meanwhile, the percentage of those that are “religiously unaffiliated” rose from 16 percent in 2007 to 23 percent today.

Atheism, agnosticism and other religions are on the rise in America, and Christianity is in decline.  And as I noted above, this is particularly true among our young people.  Here are some more numbers from an excerpt that I pulled directly out of the Pew report

Millennials – especially the youngest Millennials, who have entered adulthood since the first Landscape Study was conducted – are far less religious than their elders. For example, only 27% of Millennials say they attend religious services on a weekly basis, compared with 51% of adults in the Silent generation. Four-in-ten of the youngest Millennials say they pray every day, compared with six-in-ten Baby Boomers and two-thirds of members of the Silent generation. Only about half of Millennials say they believe in God with absolute certainty, compared with seven-in-ten Americans in the Silent and Baby Boom cohorts. And only about four-in-ten Millennials say religion is very important in their lives, compared with more than half in the older generational cohorts.

It has been projected that if current trends continue, the percentage of Americans attending church in 2050 will be about half of what it is today.

So those that are supposedly “leading the church” in America today need to wake up.  What you are doing is not working.  This nation is falling away from God, but many of you are spending much of your time and energy attacking one another.

Another thing that should deeply, deeply alarm Christian leaders is the fact that a large percentage of “believers” do not even seem to grasp the essential basics of the Christian faith.  I am talking about things like who God is, the plan of salvation and the authority of the Bible.  Here is more from Pew’s new report

Among Christians, two-thirds say many religions can lead to eternal life, and most of them (50% of all Christians) say some non-Christian religions can lead to life everlasting. The view that some non-Christian faiths can lead to eternal life is held by roughly two-thirds of Catholics (68%) and mainline Protestants (65%), as well as 59% of Orthodox Christians. Fewer members of the historically black Protestant tradition (38%), evangelical Protestants (31%) and Mormons (31%) say some non-Christian religions can lead to salvation. Just 5% of Jehovah’s Witnesses say some non-Christian faiths can lead to eternal life.

If other religions can lead to eternal life, then why did Jesus have to die on the cross?  Why couldn’t He have just come down and pointed us in the direction of all those other faiths?  Many Christians don’t seem to understand that Jesus had to die for us on the cross because there is no other payment for our sins.  He took the penalty that we deserved, and now He offers us a new life as a free gift.

Without Him, we would have absolutely no hope and no future.  But because of Him, our sins are forgiven and we have been given eternal life.

But a very large percentage of believers does not understand this.  Sadly, many Christians seem to think that you can believe whatever you want and it will all be okay in the end.

So as you can see, the church in America today is a mess.  As a Christian myself, this pains me greatly.

But instead of working to fix the problems and praying for revival, many believers seem to take glee in tearing down their fellow Christians.

One of the bad things about the anonymity of the Internet is that it gives people an opportunity to show what is really in their hearts.  And in many cases, what comes out of the hearts of many supposed “Christians” is absolutely frightening.

If you venture into places where believers hang out on Facebook, on Twitter, on YouTube and on various Christian websites all over the Internet, you will find some of the most vile things imaginable being said about specific individuals.

I have seen Christians use curse words to describe one another, and good, solid believers that I know personally have been called “whores”, “heretics” and “scumbags” just to give you a few examples.  There are even some “Christians” that publicly wish for their brothers and sisters in Christ to die and go to hell.

This kind of thing should not be happening.  In Matthew chapter 22, Jesus gave us instructions about how we are to treat one another…

36 Master, which is the great commandment in the law?

37 Jesus said unto him, Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind.

38 This is the first and great commandment.

39 And the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself.

40 On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.

On my websites I talk about some very hard things, but you will notice that I don’t attack specific individuals that are on the same side as me.  In this day and age, it is imperative that we all figure out who our friends are.  None of us are ever going to agree 100 percent on everything, and that is okay.

Yes, sometimes there are things that need to be addressed, but the vast majority of times they can be taken care of privately.  I have had some very honest discussions with people that are on the same side as me in private, but I would never air that stuff publicly.

If we are going to make it through what is coming, we have got to learn how to love one another.  And we have got to stop viciously attacking one another over stupid stuff.  Yes, there are some things that are so important that they must never be compromised on, but most of the attacks that I see happening are over very petty things.

And without a doubt, there are times when it become necessary to rebuke someone.  But when at all possible it should be done in private, and it should always be done in a spirit of love.

Because in the end, if we do not have love, we are nothing.  You can have all of the “knowledge” in the world, and you can go around correcting everyone else, but if you are lacking in love you are just a baby.

This is a hard lesson that I had to learn, and hopefully what I have written here will be helpful for someone.

This war among Christians needs to stop.  Our faith is under attack like never before, and we desperately need to learn how to start working together.

At some point, hopefully we will begin to actually live the words of our Savior in John chapter 13…

34 A new commandment I give unto you, That ye love one another; as I have loved you, that ye also love one another.

35 By this shall all men know that ye are my disciples, if ye have love one to another.

Are You Ready For Separation?

November 1st, 2015

All Saints Sunday, November 1, 2015
Pastor Brian Henderson-Trinity Lutheran Church,
7210 Lisbon Street, San Diego, CA 92114

Click here for audio of this message

“Beloved, we are God’s children now, and what we will be has not yet appeared;” [1 John 3:2a]

Think about those words for a moment; what do they mean to you?  Do we really understand what it means to call God our Father, and the Son of God our brother?  How will we think differently about those Words when we leave this world and see and speak to God face to face?  When we are living and praising God with “All Saints” who are arrayed in white?

I am reminded of my youth during the Apollo missions, watching in amazement as each one of the rockets were launched.  Each one started out like a tall building upon the launching pad, until those four words, that to a young boy seemed like magic were spoken: “Houston, we have ignition.”  And then, “Houston, we have lift off.”  And then the real magic took place; some how the cameras were able to follow that rocket being propelled by a continuous explosion of fire for miles into the sky, and when the camera on the ground was no longer able to detect the rocket, “Presto!”  Just like that, a camera attached to the space capsule began to report its images.  Now this is where, the part I especially liked came to happen; the first stage rocket was separated from the second stage with a small explosion, and still the rocket continued forward, until after a few minutes the second stage did the very same thing.  And then, the words I loved to hear were spoken, “Houston, we have separation.”

Are you ready for separation?  Are you ready to shed the things of this world so that you can finally realize perfectly, who God says you already are?

Living a life that leads to separation can be difficult and tumultuous; full of terrifying fire and explosions of emotions. It is both beautiful and frightening all at the same time. Our first reading (Revelation 7:9-11) calls life before separation a tribulation.  Here in this existence of flesh we live, just as untold millions of saints before and after us have lived; saints that make up the church, who have existed since the fall of Adam and Eve.  And each one of us in our own time have been buffeted and attacked by sin, the threat of death, and the devils, and the entire time we are asked by God to simply trust Him,  that our time of tribulation will end soon, and when it does, we will see that it was simply a stage of life that led us to where the saints before us had already passed… into eternity in Paradise.

But is there strength enough to wait?  Yes, in these words…

“See what kind of love the Father has given to us, that we should be called children of God; and so we are.” [1 John 3:1a]  Make no mistake friends, this little word love is not the kind of love that the world so easily gives out in all of its many sinful forms.  This love of God is not fickle, temporary, or conditional.  No, this kind of agape love, is the love of full comprehension and understanding, yet its propelled as unstoppable until it sees you through until your final separation.

What I mean by that, is that God loves you even though He knows your every sinful thought and action.

Jesus, the very Son of God came into our flesh and lived through the many tribulations of betrayal, and even death, so that you would be assured that God understands the many temptations you resist and sometimes fall to, and because He understands, He forgives.

God understands the harsh reality of this sinful world that we live in as strangers.  He loves you, and through His Word and sacraments He is sustaining you, just as He did for the saints who have gone before you.  Why?  Because through faith in the life and death of His Son Jesus Christ upon the cross, He has made a way for you to be His child, and through this same Jesus Christ, He has given you a way to know that for sure, He is your Father.

But then why must we experience so much pain, hardships, and tribulations in this stage of life if God loves us so?  Because…

You have not yet separated from this stage of existence.  You are still in this world where all of God’s Christians are called aliens and strangers.  Listen: “The reason why the world does not know us is that it did not know him.”[1 John 3:1b]  This is why the church is asked to not just preach the gospel hope for today, but the certainty of that hope for the eternal tomorrow; the time when God calls us to go to our new home in paradise restored.  And I hope, that we have been doing an acceptable job of it, but let’s put it to the test, shall we?  Please fill in the blank for both of these hymns:  “I’m but a stranger here, ________ is my home.” [LSB 748]  “Have no fear little flock, for the Father has chosen to give you ________;”  [LSB 740]  But these hymns would be pointless if they did not have the seal of authenticity of Jesus behind them.  Listen to Jesus’ words about where our trials and tribulations in this world are leading us, and allow them to speak faith into your hearts…

“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.  Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth. Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied. Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy. Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God. Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God. Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you.” [Matthew 5:3-12]

Wonderful words of Comfort and Hope, are they not?

So why must we experience these tribulations of life? Because you have not yet separated into that final stage; we’re still in that 2nd stage of Living the new life under the reality and hope of Holy Baptism, where we have been given the promise of new and eternal life.  Maybe we can better understand this stage of life by thinking back to our first stage, before the first separation; I’m speaking about our prenatal nine month stage, before we were born.

No one here this morning, would regard that nine-month period as the whole meaning of life, where nothing else exists. By now we know better.  But let’s just say, by way of illustration, that during our pre-natal life we had the capacity to think, to hope or not hope, and so on. And let us add that while in our mother’s womb we got word that another life was waiting for us, a life that might last an incredibly long time of eighty or ninety years or more. The new world we would someday enter would contain light in which we could see things and vast reaches of space in which we could move around. It would contain towering skyscrapers, majestic mountains, strange looking creatures called animals, large plants called trees, four-wheeled vehicles traveling at shocking speeds; why we were told there were even towers that are propelled into space by an explosion of fire called rockets. Someday, we were assured, we would be able to do such impossible things as walk and talk. What’s more, we wouldn’t be alone in this vast new world; there would be millions of other creatures similar to our self. Yet strangest of all would be the mode of entering this new world, a rather perilous process called birth, involving pain, danger, doctors, and hospitals, a process we would never guess could thrust us into such a beautiful life as we live at presently.

Now what reaction might an unborn child have toward this talk of another and more abundant life, assuming that an unborn child can have reactions? In spite of the fact that the child couldn’t possibly understand what earthly life would be like, that child could still believe in it and look forward to it. And doing that, would make the child’s nine-month existence much more pleasant. Or conversely, the child could be a realist and assume that the dark, warm, and enveloping womb that is home, is all that there is to life, and beyond that dreaded process called birth there is nothing more but the end. All this talk about another life is just wishful thinking, and one might better make the most of what they’ve got.

Then comes the day—the day of birth. It turns out true, after all, gloriously true! There is another life. You can live eighty or ninety years, or more! There are such things as light and space and skyscrapers and mountains and animals and plants and fast-moving vehicles and rockets!  You can walk and talk. And this dreaded process called birth, in spite of appearances, turns out, after all, to be the gateway to this new and wonderful world.

I’m sure you see where we’re going with this illustration. Our present life is not the climax of life; it is but a phase in our journey, until our final separation. In relation to the heavenly life, we might call it a pre-natal stage. We have it on good word—God’s word— that there is another life, another world ahead of us called heaven. In it we shall live unbelievably long—forever! It is a world without space or time. Angels will share mansions with us. We shall behold the face of God. We shall see him as he is. In fact, we shall be like him. All the ills and inconveniences of this present life, chief of which is sin, will have vanished. We’ll be with all those who have gone ahead of us, even the ones we love and miss who went to sleep in Jesus before us!

Dear friends, it will be a great day when Jesus calls us home to glory.  We will behold the Lamb of God, and along with the host arrayed in white, we will behold His nail scared hands, and simply stand before His throne of grace and call out, “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord.”  But that great day has not yet come for us who are called children of God, and yet are still sojourners in this sinful world.  We know that because God calls us His children, we are!  And we also know that there is no stage of existence beyond that final state of separation.  And in this knowledge we not only wait in hope for this final stage of separation, but in this hope we are being purified just as Christ is pure. [1 John 3:3]

Listen, the world will give you all kinds of things that they claim you should hope in.  They will offer you the brother and sisterhood of man and claim that there is no greater calling than to work towards that hope.  They will offer you the hope of science, world order, and the proper disbursement of wealth as the solution to our many ills.  But this morning God assures us, that kind of hope is simply sinking sand, because it’s foundation is not centered on Christ and His cross; the place where God made He and man right with each other.

Are you ready for that final stage of separation, where God shows you that His Son, your Savior has indeed made all things new?  I pray that you are, and I ask God to continue doing this very thing within you and around you, in Jesus  name… AMEN!

Trust The Lord Of The Harvest

October 25th, 2015

Reformation and LWML Sunday in Pentecost B, October 25, 2015
Pastor Brian Henderson-Trinity Lutheran Church,
7210 Lisbon Street, San Diego, CA 92114

Click here for audio of this message

The song that we just heard, “Don’t Worry; Be Happy” by Bobby McFerrin, will be our mental hook this morning, which we will hang our message on.

As you come to worship today, on this joint Reformation and LWML Sunday, what is it that you are worried about? Now, I know that it’s common for folks to do their best to convince us that there’s nothing to worry about, and in fact, one of my jobs as a pastor is to convince you to cast your worries upon the Lord, because He cares for you.  But we do worry and we don’t like others to tell us not to.

So the truth is no matter how many times we’re told not to worry, we do worry. And then naturally, we are drawn to environments and events that seem to limit the drama or worry that we might be exposed to.

Speaking of drama or worry free zones, from what I heard, that is exactly what thousands of saints during the LWML 36th Biennial Convention held in June this year at Des Moines, Iowa. That convention was based around the theme “Bountiful! Sow ∙ Nourish ∙ Reap.” I have been told that at the Convention, the ladies were blessed to be able to sow the seeds of faith in the lives of those God placed in their path.

Those in attendance were reminded of their Baptism where the seed of faith was sown into their hearts. They were nourished through God’s Word and the Sacrament of Holy Communion as they spent much time gathered around that very Word of God in worship in different settings like, Bible studies, devotions, and time together with roommates in the hotels. The convention body put this nourishment to good use in God’s Kingdom as new LWML Mission Grant recipients were selected for the 2015-2017 biennium. In selecting these grants, the LWML commits to support them with prayers and offerings. Those in attendance also celebrated the success God gave to His saints in the mission field through the last biennium.

Everything was wonderful. For many there was not a care in the world as they spent time on that mountaintop of worship. Then in the closing service, the proclaiming pastor shared God’s Word and the urgency to go back into their communities and sow and nourish the seeds of faith, and reap the harvest by the power of the Holy Spirit working in each of them and in those with whom they would share the Good News of our crucified and risen Savior, Jesus Christ.

And at the conclusion of the Divine Service, just like it is here every Sunday when the Divine Service is over, it was time to leave the mountaintop. It was time to go in peace and serve the Lord.

So how do we, the redeemed, the bought and many times brought back, sons and daughters of the King respond to this awesome mission challenge that our Father places before us; how do we go in peace and serve the Lord?

Perhaps we worry as He calls us off the mountain and back into the sin darkened world in which we live to share with our neighbors, the Good News of Christmas and Easter – the Good News of the Savior, born at Christmas, crucified, died, and buried on Good Friday, resurrected Easter morning, ascended back to heaven forty days later; sitting at the right hand of God until He returns to judge the living and the dead. We worry whether or not we “shared it right” and how people will receive this Good News.

Interestingly, even though this Good News is our blessed assurance, for many reasons, it causes us to tremble, tremble, tremble (“Were You There,” LSB 456) every time we hear the call to share it with others.

Now at this point, you might want to say to me, “Pastor, every time you talk about the opportunities God gives us to be “witnesses,” to be sowers and nourishers of those seeds of faith; or every time I hear my Savior say to me, “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations” (Matthew 28:19), or “You will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth” (Acts 1:8), my worry level rises and I tremble.”

And when we get caught up in worry, it can become a burden of fear that actually binds the Word of God within us, preventing it from going out into our families, community, and parts beyond.  So what should we do with this worry?  Well how about this, “Cast your burden on the LORD, and he will sustain you; he will never permit the righteous to be moved.” (Psalm 55:2). And to that promise from the Lord you might counter, “Ok Lord, what do You have that helps me with my case of worry?”

As we ask that question of our heavenly Father, He responds by reminding us to look at how we are already incredibly blessed. In fact the over-abundance is what can lead to worry as we stand looking into our closets trying to pick out an outfit from the abundance of clothes we have, or when we have to throw out food that has been in the refrigerator or cupboard too long and is no longer fit for consumption by man or beast, or when we have to buy another freezer because the other one is full to the brim.

And so we continue our conversation with God and say: “What really causes me to worry, besides health issues for some of those I love, and problems I have with members of my family, or issues I am having in a relationship, or my congregation here that seems to be dying, is when I seem to hear You calling to me and saying, ‘The time is now to come off the mountain, back to the plain, out of the worship service and into a dark and sin-sickened world with the only answer and solution to all of our and society’s ills.’”

Without a doubt, the time is now for each and every one of us, to use our God-given gifts and abilities to meet the challenge of sharing the Gospel message of Jesus Christ with those around us, and into all the world.

To be perfectly honest that is a huge responsibility and it causes us concern, worry, and moments of trembling. This is true as we look at the billions of people who need to hear of God’s love poured out to them through faith in Jesus Christ. This is true as we consider where some of our friends or some of our family members are in their walk with the Lord. We make excuses to our God: “Lord, You know that those conversations are very difficult to have for many reasons and on many levels. It is hard to confront those with whom I am very close in a way that will be perceived as loving.”

On this reformation Sunday, we remember almost 500 years ago how God used a terrified and trembling monk named Martin Luther.

Luther would have been satisfied and happy if God would have simply allowed him to remain shut away behind the walls of the monastery, oblivious to his sin and God’s solution to all sin, through Christ alone.

It was in God’s Word, where Luther began to understand that unless in love, God chose to have mercy on him, he was doomed to eternal damnation.  Listen to the wonderful news that not only set Luther free from his guilt, but also from his worries; it comes from our Epistle lesson, listen: “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith. This was to show God’s righteousness, because in his divine forbearance 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. (Romans 3:23-26)

God wants each of us this morning to first be assured that through Christ, by grace alone and faith alone, we really are forgiven, and all of this is a work of God that comes to you by scripture alone.

Through this very same Word of God, God not only performs His work of salvation, but He also creates an equipping and support system that uses little old you, as a witness to others through your redeemed life, through which, He demonstrates to others, through His means of grace, that in Christ, He really has forgiven them and loves them too.

But perhaps this is where the worry comes; how do we show others the error of their ways without sounding “holier than thou,” or preachy, as we strive through the power of the Holy Spirit, to use God’s Word as the instrument that brings repentance, forgiveness, and new life?  And it is as we are dealing with these worries and countless others, that our Abba Father assures us that He knows what we need and has promised that as we seek first His kingdom and His righteousness first, all these things will be given to us as well (Matthew 6:33).

And still we continue to question God: “But I still have to ask Lord, what do You have to help me with my case of worry?”

Now, first let’s be honest with each other, shall we?  We really don’t want God to take away our worry, because if He does, well that will mean we really will begin to share our faith and His love with others.  But God does answer us in His Word.

Within all of Holy Scripture, God has placed our hearts and feet of faith upon the very foundation of Christ.

In Christ alone, we have been given the very source of our security and the power to come off the worry free mountain of worship, and then cling to Christ alone and His promises of new and eternal life, through faith in the perfect life He lived.  But Christ perfect life will not help you in the least, if you do not claim it as the perfect sacrifice for your sins.  So God asks you to continue to believe by faith, that Jesus suffering and death upon the cross was for your sins, and that His glorious resurrection three days later, is proof that the end of your mortal flesh is not the end of you; God desires that you believe that you too, shall rise to eternal life with Him in Paradise.  He wants you to agree with St. Paul in 1 Corinthians 15:20, that “your brother Jesus Christ is the One who has been raised from the dead, and is the first-fruits of those who have fallen asleep.”

And to this, we might yet again respond to God: “OK, that all sounds wonderful in theory, and I know that this is where my strength and assurance should be, but when and where the rubber meets the road, how can my focus change from fear to faithfulness, from worry to faith, so that I don’t have to be anxious about anything from food, drink and clothes, to working for the Lord in His harvest field ever again?”

Allow me to share with you some of the main thoughts from our Reformation Scriptures.

First of all, hear, believe and find comfort in Jesus’ Words this morning where He moves our hearts to both the source of our mission and the One who completes it.

Listen: “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few; therefore pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest.” (Matthew 9:37) Now why do you suppose Jesus wants us to pray?  I mean, He’s God right; He could do it without us, right?  Yes that’s right, but He has graciously invited us into His mission and into the salvation story of others.  But how do you suppose He’ll do that?  Well by sharing His compassion for those who are dead in their sins.

Listen: “When he saw the crowds, he had compassion for them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd.” (Matt. 9:36). Jesus saw people, His people who were dead in their sins and He wanted to bring them eternal life; He wanted to be their Shepherd and Savior just as He is for you.  And when He invites you into prayer He also asks that you allow His heart and compassion to become yours.  In other words, Jesus not only invites you into His mission to seek and save the lost, He makes you part of that mission.

Let me share with you another well-known passage you can apply to your worries. Hear the inspired words of Philippians 4:13, where our Father in heaven assures us that as His forgiven, redeemed, restored children we can boldly profess with St. Paul, “I can do all things through Him who strengthens me.”

And, if I may share one more passage with you, especially when it comes to God’s call to you to be out in the harvest field doing the works of Him who sent us while it is day, since night is coming, when no one can work (John 9:4), it would be the promise from the very lips of your Savior as He said in Luke 12:11-12, “And when they bring you before the synagogues and the rulers and the authorities, do not be anxious about how you should defend yourself or what you should say, for the Holy Spirit will teach you in that very hour what you ought to say.”

And finally, consider our first reading from Revelation 14:6, 7, listen: “Then I saw another angel flying directly overhead, with an eternal gospel to proclaim to those who dwell on earth, to every nation and tribe and language and people.  And he said with a loud voice, “Fear God and give him glory, because the hour of his judgment has come, and worship him who made heaven and earth, the sea and the springs of water.”

The truth is dear saints, within those very Words, God not only promises success in the mission your on, He also promises to give His Word protection from devils and sinners.  The Word comes from above us and never finds its strength in us, and neither can it be defeated by devils.  When you live out the scriptural promises of forgiveness, you do so by God’s gift of faith which allows you to receive that forgiveness as an unearned gift, that is by grace alone, all because of Christ alone!

My dear brothers and sisters in Christ, all of these promises are ours even when we speak to the neighbor across the street, our friend at work, or our son or daughter who has grown away from the Lord and for whom our heart aches.

You and I have a heavenly Father who does not just talk a good game. “Don’t worry, be happy” is not His mantra. He backs up and follows through on the promises He makes 100% of the time. He acts on that admonition to seek first what is of utmost importance, promising that all of these other things we have been talking about will be given to us as well. (Matthew 6:33)

God’s promise throughout the ages is the same, “seek first the kingdom of God (“desire above all to live under the rule of the one true God” [Lutheran Study Bible Notes, Matthew 6:33]) and His righteousness (the salvation which Christ Jesus has won for us and all people on the cross of Calvary, [John 3:16]), and all these things will be added to you.”

That my friends is providing and coming through on a promise. And since you and I are united with His Son in Baptism, in hearing the Word, in receiving His very body and blood, in His very death, being “buried therefore with Him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life,” (Romans 6:3-4), we have nothing to worry about as we seek first His kingdom, serving Him as we serve those He places in our lives (Matthew 25:40) wherever and whenever He has need of us, carrying out the great task He gives to us of bringing the lost and the erring into eternal fellowship with Him. Amen!

There IS Rest For The Weary

October 18th, 2015

21st Sunday in Pentecost B, October 21, 2015

Pastor Brian Henderson-Trinity Lutheran Church,
7210 Lisbon Street, San Diego, CA 92114

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“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.”  And (to this, Jesus disciples) were exceedingly astonished, and said to him, “Then who can be saved?” Jesus looked at them and said, “With man it is impossible, but not with God. For all things are possible with God.”” (Mark 10:25-27)

There’s a city in Peru named Arequipa.  The name of the city was chosen due to a miscommunication. You see, in 1537, Diego de Almagro, who was the first Spanish explorer to visit there, pointed to the ground and asked the name of that place. The natives thought that he was asking permission to sit down, so they courteously replied, “Arequipa,” meaning “Yes, you may rest here.”

Well this morning, God wants you to know for certain, you may rest here.  He desires that all will find rest here in this place and in His Word.  And He also desires that through His Word, you will find faith to believe that He has prepared an eternal place for you to rest.

Today, we’re all equals; that is we’re all Camels looking at the eye of a needle. And this needle’s eye is meant to cause each of us, along with the apostles to wonder out loud, “Who can be saved.”  And God’s answer through Jesus Christ is, “You can be saved.  You can be saved if you are weary of living your life your way, and if you are ready for God’s idea of rest.”

The rich man from last week’s gospel lesson wanted rest; that’s why he searched out Jesus.  But, he wanted rest according to His understanding of rest.  “What must I do to be saved” He asked?  And how did Jesus answer that request for knowledge?  Sell everything you have and follow me.  Now that’s an impossible teaching… for man.  That’s an impossible request to fulfill, but not for God.

What the rich man lacked was the very same thing the Israelites who died in the wilderness lacked… fear of God and faith in God’s ability to give them rest.  This is why our Epistle lesson (Hebrews 4:1-13) starts out with this simple statement:  “While the promise of entering (God’s) rest still stands, let us fear lest any of (us) should seem to have failed to reach it.”  Are you in danger of failing to reach God’s rest?  You could be if you lack fear in Almighty God, and faith in His ability and love to do exactly what He says He will do, and give precisely what He says He will give!

The good news for us this morning, is that God’s promise of eternal rest through the forgiveness of sins is still offered to us.  Think of the sweetness of these two words “promise” and “good-news”.  God is promising you right now today, that through His Son Jesus Christ, your sins are already forgiven.  Can you believe and receive this?   God wants you to believe, and that is why He freely offers faith that comes through His Word and Sacraments.  And through this gift of faith, God asks you then to obediently come to Him and receive rest; rest here in this place through His Word, and ultimately an eternal rest in Paradise.  But that good news, may also be bad news for some people.

For some folks who lack fear of God and faith in His loving promise of forgiveness and rest, instead of receiving a spirit of obedience, they are now caught up in a spirit of disobedience.  Oh God still calls out to them, He still invites them to come to His house of prayer and to receive His gift of rest in His divine service, but instead, with hearts hardened by a lack of faith, like the disobedient Israelites in the desert, they hear the invitation to come and the promise of rest and they do neither.  Occasionally they will gather with others around God’s Word and Sacraments, but because of their hard hearts they count it as nothing more than formality.

Sadly, some people refuse to believe, and because of their refusal they loose both their rest in Christ here in this sinful world, and also their rest for eternity.  They are Camels who scoff at the possibility of passing through the eye of a needle, even though the only One who can make the impossibility a reality is telling them how this can be done.  Listen to Jesus invite us now: “Come unto me, all who are weary, and I will give you rest.” [Matthew 11:28]

We are all weary, whether we will admit it or not. You can hide your weariness from your loved ones here and at home, you can even hide your weariness from yourself, but it does not change the reality that God through His Word constantly points out your weariness.

God’s Word is indeed sharper than a double-edged sword.  It cuts deep like a butcher’s knife that separates bone from bone and even slices bone in half, exposing the very marrow deep inside.  God’s knife, which is His Word is able to separate your soul from your spirit.  And what is it that He wants us to discover?  He wants us to discover the very thing that we must acknowledge; that without Him, we are sinful and dead and in need of new life and rest.

And here is the amazing part of God’s pronouncement of our condition, even after it is proven to us unless we have faith, which is mingled in with the hearing of His Word, we will justify our emptiness and lifeless condition, by saying, “I’m just tired.  I need a break.”  And what is our idea of a break?  We stop for a moment from our work and we recreate; we use vacation time or we buy something special or many somethings that we really want, and we use these things as a way to put our minds and hearts at ease.  And at the end of the day, ease is all we’ve gathered for ourselves.

Now please hear me, and listen and learn what I am about to teach you.  Ease and rest are not the same thing. Ease can only give you a temporary respite by taking your mind off of your real problem.  And your real problem is that without God’s Word and promises you will never find relief from a guilty conscience, because that guilty conscience is God’s way of demonstrating your real need to enter His rest.

Your conscience can never find rest and peace through work or through ease, but by faith in Christ alone.

St. Paul says “Therefore, since we are justified by faith, we have peace with God.” [Romans 5:1]  So what is it that is preventing you from resting in Christ, in trusting Him, in leaving your old life and following Him into a new life?  Could it be your accumulation of stuff that you are afraid to live without?  Is there something in your life that you have put your trust in that is causing your terrified conscience to waver and doubt the promises of God?  Are you compensating for your guilt before God by working harder to be a better person, a better parent, or better what ever, so that at the end of your life God might see these things and be pleased?  But can’t you see, that these are the very things that are causing you to reject God’s offer of forgiveness and rest?

So let’s take this path to its obvious conclusion, shall we?  In the end you will simply rush headlong towards your ultimate demise pretending to be alright, but inside you are tired, afraid, and in need of the one thing you have refused, and that is rest.

But God will not give up; His Word will always hound you until you simply quit running from Him and admit something we all know to be true; you do not do the good that you want to do, but rather the evil you don’t want to do. [Romans 7:19]  With your mind you are a slave to the condemnation of God’s law, but with your flesh you are a slave to the law of sin. [Romans 7:25]

It is God’s Word that has left you naked and afraid before His ever present eye.  And now shivering in the dark cold of reality, God has you where He wants you, your cornered and crying out to Him, “Who can ever love or fear you enough?  Who can wait patiently while hardships, disease, and personal attacks are coming down upon them?  Who is it that can be so faithful that they never doubt what they hear in your Word?”  And at that point, addressing all of your fears, doubts, worries, in the midst of your emptiness, God points the eyes of your heart to His Son Jesus and says, “He can and He did.  And what’s more is that He did it all for you so that you may find rest.  He is your High Priest who came from me so that you could find, keep, and rest within the abundant life of forgiveness that I give.”

All of this is yours for the taking, if you will simply receive it by faith.  Your sins really have been forgiven at the cross.  You really have been washed clean, recreated at the font.  You really do eat and drink Christ’s body and blood for the experienced forgiveness of sins.  Will you believe?  Do you want to believe?  Good, then simply continue to turn to Jesus every day in His Word.  Continue to come to this place to be filled, healed, and restored with all of these wonderful gifts.

Perhaps this morning, the best way for me to close our message is the same way that Mark closed the 10th chapter of His Gospel; with a further explanation of who Jesus really is and why He really came to us.  Listen: “And they were on the road, going up to Jerusalem, and Jesus was walking ahead of them. And they were amazed, and those who followed were afraid. And taking the twelve again, he began to tell them what was to happen to him, saying, “See, we are going up to Jerusalem, and the Son of Man will be delivered over to the chief priests and the scribes, and they will condemn him to death and deliver him over to the Gentiles. And they will mock him and spit on him, and flog him and kill him. And after three days he will rise.” [Mark 10:32-34]

Do you get it?  Jesus is saying that He would be smitten, stricken, and cast down for you!  He knew that where He was going to, would be a place where He would be mocked, spit upon, beaten, and then crucified for you; He would undertake all of this for your sins so that you can be free.  And then, after all of this was done to Him, three days latter He rose from the dead to prove to you that His promise of eternal life and rest is real and it’s yours, if you will simply believe and receive this gift through His Word.

It is His Word friends that comes to you every week here at Trinity.  It is His Word that not only strengthens your faith to believe but also changes how you think, speak, and live.  It is His Word, which convinces you that the greatest Christians in God’s eyes are not the ones that seek leadership, but the ones who flourish in humble service to others.

Finally, God points our eyes to the last verses of Mark Chapter 10, where we meet a blind beggar named Bartimaeus in the city of Jericho, who encounters Jesus as He makes His way to Jerusalem and then to the cross, and He simply cries out, “Son of David, have mercy on me!”  That cry for help from that poor man was enough to stop Jesus in His tracks, and have that man brought over to Him.  “And (the Apostles) called the blind man, saying to him, “Take heart. Get up; he is calling you.” And throwing off his cloak, he sprang up and came to Jesus. And Jesus said to him, “What do you want me to do for you?” And the blind man said to him, “Rabbi, let me recover my sight.” And Jesus said to him, “Go your way; your faith has made you well.” And immediately he recovered his sight and followed him on the way.”

This morning Jesus is pointing our hearts to that blind beggar and to the camel that must pass through the eye of the needle, and He is asking us if we understand.  He is saying, “Do you get it?  That’s you!  I am here every Sunday passing in your midst and all you must do is see your need for both the faith I give and the rest I provide, and then simply enjoy My gift of forgiveness.”

Dear friends,  all of God comes to work for you, and He comes in response to sinners like us crying out to Jesus, “Son of God have mercy on me!”  If that is your cry this morning, then Jesus answers you, “I have forgiven you and I always will, if you will but trust me, leave everything behind, follow me, and you will have… rest.”  AMEN!

Today Is The Day!

October 11th, 2015

20th Sunday in Pentecost B, October 11, 2015
Pastor Brian Henderson-Trinity Lutheran Church,
7210 Lisbon Street, San Diego, CA

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But exhort one another every day, as long as it is called “today,” that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin. (Hebrews 3:13)

The song that you just heard, “No Show Jones” by George Jones and Merle Haggard will act as our mental hook to hang our message on.  Hopefully, the reason for the choice of this song will become clear throughout this message.

There’s a quote that became popular in the 90’s and still is today, and it goes like this: “It takes a village to raise a child.”  For us this morning, we could say that it takes a congregation to help us persevere in the Christian faith; a congregation that shows up as often as possible in God’s house to receive His means of grace that both creates and sustains faith.  But that same faith is what God uses within each of us to encourage, warn, and assist those who are beginning to falter and leave their faith in Jesus Christ.  A faith, that has sustained the church of God since the fall of Adam and Eve.

The threat of course is the temptation to wonder away from the gifts of God and to replace them with the ways of the world.

The threat is real, and it is immediate. It presents itself any time we become more consumed with the things of the world (anything of the world) than the things of God.  Just a quick thought can allow our minds to expand on what these things might be.  I can think of time with family who are visiting from out of town on a Sunday.  We will gladly go to the zoo, a ball game, or the beach, but to church, well that’s something we may not want to subject others to because, well it’s personal.  Or it might be sleep that competes with our time with God and His saints.  But then, maybe your tired on Sunday because you were up all night doing something on Saturday that you wouldn’t want your church family to take part in?

So this morning, God’s Word is giving us a warning that is for right now, and that warning is, “Watch your heart today.”  Another way to say that is “Hold on to the faith that God has given to you; hold onto it tightly.”  But we’re here today; isn’t that what were doing?  I sure hope so.  If you are here because you know that with out God’s Divine service you’ll end up lost again in sin, then great.  If you’re here because God has convinced you in His Word, that without Christ’s death upon the cross, the entire world would be helplessly lost in the condemnation of sin, great! If you are here this morning because you’ve been baptized in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, and going to church is the thing that sinners who have been saved do, that’s great too.  But I want to warn you that occasional church service is not enough to protect your heart from the sin that is all around us and within us.

Faith is something that is given freely, but it is something that is contingent upon your consistent and constant use of God’s Word and Sacraments.  It is dependent upon God’s plan to sustain your faith until the day He calls you home.  Think of Church and the study of God’s Word as part of God’s Divine Scheduled maintenance program.  Much as corrosion, grime, and constant use can wear down and wear out our vehicle, the same thing can happen to our faith throughout the week, due to the sin that surrounds us in our daily living.  So just as we must care for our vehicles with regularly scheduled maintenance, so it is God’s order that we daily care for our souls.

Warning! Whether you’re a 15 year old boy or a 80 year old woman, no one is exempt from the corrosion of sin; no one on their own can detect and overcome the allure and power of sin.  No one is exempt from sin’s deceit.

The people of Israel certainly weren’t able to do it.  Think of the great miracles they witnessed as God arranged for their deliverance from slavery in Egypt.  Think of the plagues that tortured many but never bothered them.  Think of the Red Sea that was parted so that they could escape the pursuing army of Egypt.  Think of the Manna from heaven and the water from the rock they were nurtured with when they hungered and thirst.  Think of the thundering voice of God they heard from the mountain top as Moses spoke with God.  Think of the pillar of fire that led them as they trekked through the wilderness.  And then think of how they grumbled and how they tested God with their unbelief and lack of trust in God’s care and God’s prophet, Moses.  And now think of the millions who due to God’s displeasure with their faithlessness, were allowed to fall and die in that wilderness.  Think of the millions of sun bleached bones that littered the path they followed, all because they forgot who the God of deliverance was.  So you see, Israel heard and witnessed God’s grace and still fell.

What we learn from this is that yesterdays faith does not save a person today. The fact that you are baptized proves that God saves through His chosen means.  Your baptism is not a one time entrance into God’s kingdom, but rather it is a source of Divine power and a certainty of faith that God has chosen you for today; for this moment.  Your baptism is not meant to simply be a milestone that allows you to check out of the life of faith, simply living on the memories of the past when you were once active in your attendance at church and your service to your church and community in the name of Jesus.  Living in the past does not guarantee anything today!

Today, if you hear His voice, do not harden your hearts as those children of Israel.  Today, there is a need for fresh and new faith, in order to meet and defeat the threat of sin that is lurking at the door of your heart right now!

Today, there is a need for us to encourage one another, to hold onto the faith once taught and to fan that spark of faith into a flame of love for God and His means of grace.  Today, let us look at one another and admit that we need each other to overcome the attacks of sin and the devil.  Let us not be afraid to both encourage and rebuke one another when we begin to neglect the meeting of the saints on Sunday; when we begin to allow other things to take first place in our hearts above God’s Word and our family of faith.  This strategy is a sure defense against unfaith, but it is a strategy that many will resist and even attack you for.

In our Old Testament lesson, Amos says as much when he declares, “They hate him who reproves in the gate, and they abhor him who speaks the truth.”  So once again we find that God’s way is the difficult way; it is the way of the cross and a way that brings discomfort and pain.  This is why we must not attempt to walk this way alone; we need to act as a community of faith.  We need to resist becoming a “No Show Jones” and remember that we are part of that village or congregation that is called to help raise God’s children of faith.

Today, we must remember that what we were yesterday belongs to yesterday.  We must remember who God says we are today through Jesus Christ.  We must remember that we have been baptized for this moment.  And we must remember our tendency to base who we are today on what we have done yesterday and what we hope to do tomorrow.  Like the rich young man in our gospel lesson, we must understand our hearts natural desire to base our identity on our doing and not on the gift of faith that God has given us through Christ.

The rich young man became so enamored by the many regulations he felt he kept since he was a youth, that he seemed completely oblivious to the very relationship of faith and love that he was searching for; He could not and he would not see the great gift that Jesus offered him through faith in who Jesus is.

This morning, God is warning each of us that we too may get lost if we neglect the meeting of the saints; if we allow anything else to take first place over the time and place that God does His Divine Service for us and within us.
The truth is friends, every “today” becomes part of a long line of todays.  On their own they seem insignificant, but collectively they are the very thing that has and will sustain us until God calls us home to paradise restored.

When we live each day for today simply because God says that it is urgent to live this way, over time we find that we have been creating a legacy.  And the legacy we’ve created is not for us; it is not our way of showing God we are worthy of salvation, because that is a gift He has already freely given to us through Christ.  No, instead our legacy is a gift for those who follow us; for those who come after us.  It is a legacy of a life lived by faith, proving to other sinners that the only way back to God is living life one day at a time by faith.  It is a legacy for others to emulate and a legacy for us, that in the end leads to eternity, the eternal today!

Today is the first day of the rest of your life.  It is the day that the Lord has made for you to rejoice in and be glad.  Yesterday is gone and tomorrow may never come, so all we have is today.  Today, you are not a “No Show Jones” and with God’s strength and the encouragement of this congregation, I pray you will also be in place and in service tomorrow, as God provides.  So, What day is it?  Well then, go and do the work of today!  In Jesus name… AMEN!

On Marriage and Families

October 4th, 2015

19th Sunday in Pentecost B, October 7, 2012
Pastor Brian Henderson-Trinity Lutheran Church,
7210 Lisbon Street, San Diego, CA 92114

Click here for audio of this message

“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 are promised a seat at our Lord’s banquet table; you’ve even been promised a mansion in heaven.  Or like I taught the children in their message this morning, by abiding or resting in Jesus, you’ve been given a ticket on the heavenly train to glory.  So, are you going?  Will you be there in glory?

God’s Word promises that you will be there if you trust in that promise; it encourages you to trust in Christ alone; He wants you to rest in everything that He 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 us, 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 want to find another way to our heavenly home.  So is that a danger to us; drifting away from God’s precious promises?  Well it could be, if we allow ourselves to trust in anything for salvation other than the work and the promises of God!

Why do you think we have times when we feel like our lives lack meaning and purpose?  Could it be because we’ve taken our eyes off of God’s promises?!  Why is it that when trouble comes our way, often times we become afraid and filled with doubt?  Could it be, we’ve lost sight of Jesus and His real presence in our lives?  Why is it that when fear and doubt come, we begin to lose that joy in knowing that we really do have a place prepared just for us in heaven?  Could it be, we have begun to judge success by what we do and not by 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 short we fall from that perfection.

So then why do we still think that on our own we can be a good husband or a good wife, a good parent or child?  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.  So 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!

Now please listen; I’m not telling you that we shouldn’t try harder to be better, what I am saying is that you can’t even try harder in a God pleasing way, if God is not the source of both your strength and your goodness.  Without God’s grace, we are just trusting in His Law that demands we do good, but then gives us no power or ability to do that good thing.

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 also easy to spot.  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 at 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.

Maybe, we hear about a Christian who seems to have everything going for them, so we try to find out their secret or technique to happiness.  And if we hear that they get up every morning at 4:00 a.m. to spend more time with God in prayer and Bible study, we resolve to do that too, even though we aren’t a morning person.  And what do you think the result will be for us?  We will probably still be frustrated, but now we’ll also be dazed, confused, groggy and grumpy all day because we didn’t get enough sleep.  And now with inadequate sleep, our marriage is worse and the people we love are avoiding us!

Now at this 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, this must be 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 what?  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 us free from these riptides of life?  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 let go and let God’s power take over our lives; 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 didn’t really see a need to hear from Jesus.  Instead, they wanted Jesus to sit around with them simply 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 do that; 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 the problem of being with Jesus; 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 too needed a new heart; they needed to turn to God confessing their helplessness, sin, and total dependence on His care!

The truth is, eventually all of us finally figure out that we can’t break free of the rip tide of our sins; we can’t ever bridge the gap to eternal life by 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?  Well try this on for size; He doesn’t want you to trust in your own abilities or your self-improvement plans, but instead learn to rest and trust 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 ahold of them, trust them and then watch as He continually renews you and changes you.  In His promises, He tells you of a Paradise restored that is waiting for you on the day the Lord calls you home.

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.  In the middle of the riptides of life, Jesus promises that if you simply quit struggling and let Him take over, He will pull you through.

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 it flows out of you and into your families, your relationships and even into our community.  In essence, God wants you to be amazed at how His Spirit will transform your life, your family, and our community.

In a few minutes you will hear me welcome you to the Lord’s Table.  Most of you will respond to receive Jesus body and blood, in with and under the bread and wine, simply because He invites you to be filled with His forgiveness of your many sins.  And one day, maybe sooner than you think the Lord’s eternal Banquet Table in Paradise will be the only table we are invited to sit at, because this earth bound altar will cease to exist.

So, will you be there, at the banquet in heaven?  Yes by grace alone!  But listen, God doesn’t want you to be satisfied with just your seat or just 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!

Be Patient

September 27th, 2015

18th Sunday after Pentecost, September 27, 2015
Rev. Brian Henderson-Pastor, Trinity Lutheran Evangelical Church,
7210 Lisbon Street, San Diego, CA 92114

Click here for audio of this message

“You also, be patient. Establish your hearts, for the coming of the Lord is at hand.” [James 5:8]

Would you agree with me that waiting can be a hard thing to do?  Would you also agree with me that sometimes being asked to wait with patience can seem unbearable?  Patience is something that is not natural to us, and that is because it is a quality of God, which He demonstrates as He deals with sinful men and women who deserve His anger and punishment, yet He waits patiently for us to turn to Him.  So patience, is a quality that by nature is foreign to us.  But it’s a quality that God gladly gives to us the baptized, if we will simply receive it and live it out.

What does living out that patience mean to we who are now Christians, who walk by faith and live out our baptism?  Well patience is essentially the life of a thankful sinner who has been redeemed by Christ’s cross and recreated in baptism and sustained by God’s Word and Sacrament until…  Until what?  Until Christ’s second coming.  And when will that be?  We don’t know, but what we do know is that God has deferred that Second coming of Christ, the time when He will judge the living and the dead so that as many who desire will be saved.  Why?  Because God is patient, and He does not desire that any should perish, but be saved.  So we wait like God… Patiently.  What does that look like?

A Christian teacher had just finished putting the last pair of rain boots on her first-graders—thirty-two pairs in all. The last little girl said, “You know what, teacher? These aren’t my rain boots.”  The teacher removed them from the girl’s feet. Then the little girl continued, “They are my sister’s, and she let me wear them.” The teacher quietly put them back on her pupil.  Patience, unnoticed by the world yet celebrated in heaven.

A famous teacher of the early church named Chrysostom once said that a patient man is one who although he has the resources and opportunity to avenge himself, chooses to refrain from carrying out vengeance and waits for God.

In our Epistle lesson this morning (James 5:1-12) that is precisely what James is encouraging us to do, wait.  But like we said earlier waiting is hard, but waiting patiently is almost unbearable, especially when we see the world outside of Christ not waiting but taking all they can, even at the expense of others.

This morning, through James God is warning us not to worry about those who live for worldly glory and fame. He is telling us not to envy them or copy their ways because their time of judgment is coming, and it wont be pretty.  Listen: “Come now, you rich, weep and howl for the miseries that are coming upon you. Your riches have rotted and your garments are moth-eaten.  Your gold and silver have corroded, and their corrosion will be evidence against you and will eat your flesh like fire. You have laid up treasure in the last days.” [Vs. 1-3]

In this world where the lives of politicians and the rich and famous are celebrated, it can be hard to not envy their life styles and attitudes, but this warning from God is meant to remind you that their moment is fleeting and futile; it will vanish and wither life a puff of steam on a hot summer day.  Their eternity has been set and their punishment is certain, but the sad part about that is they don’t even care.

Their lack of concern over their sinful lives is then the best evidence and justification for God’s punishment. They have lived on the earth in luxury and in self-indulgence (without a care in the world for their eternity).  They have fattened their hearts for the day of judgment and slaughter.

But God sees and God will act.  He sees His little ones being cheated and neglected.  He sees those who may have the ability to fight back simply rest and wait for the purposes and vengeance of God, and God pronounces us blessed.  We are blessed because…

We are waiting for the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ who will make all things new and right.

Listen to the example James gives starting in verse 7: “See how the farmer waits for the precious fruit of the earth, being patient about it, until it receives the early and the late rains.  You also, be patient. Establish your hearts, for the coming of the Lord is at hand.”

I remember when I was a boy growing up in Wisconsin the anticipation we developed for the sweet corn harvest.  I want to tell you right now that some of the best corn you will ever eat comes from my home town of Pewaukee.  For a period of about 3 weeks, I would have, if I could have, eaten corn every day and in every way.  I loved it boiled, baked, and grilled, but I especially loved it fresh and raw, right off of the stalk.  My friends and I every summer went on wonderful walks through out the country side through forests and farmers fields, and for someone who loves raw corn, walking in early summer when the corn is only the size of your hand being patient and waiting can be very difficult.  Many of my friends just could not wait, so they plucked the baby corn and ate it any how, but not me.  You see I knew that if I just waited another month or so, that sweet delicacy would finally arrive and I would then eat my fill!

So we wait, but remember, we are to wait patiently and anticipate the joy that will be realized when Christ finally comes again.  And because we are waiting for our Savior and Lord, we will wait in a way that will also help others wait.  So… “Do not grumble against one another, brothers, so that you may not be judged; behold, the Judge is standing at the door.” [V. 9]  In other words, don’t take your frustration or your lack of patience out on other Christian folks, because they’re waiting just like you, and like you, they too are struggling to have patience, the patience which comes from God, as a Father gives gifts to His children.

In God’s Word, He has lavishly given to us wonderful examples of saints who have gone before us who were able to persevere in the toughest of trials.  Look at the lives of the prophets who spoke God’s Word and in His name.  Don’t we consider those great men and women of God blessed because through their lives and patience God was able to not only speak through them in their time, but still speaks in the Word preserved in our time?  And what of Job, that great champion of God, who through God’s gift of faith and patience, was able to not only persevere but latter speak great Words about the resurrection and Paradise that still give us hope.  Listen: “Oh that my words were written!  Oh that they were inscribed in a book!  Oh that with an iron pen and lead they were engraved in the rock forever!” [Job 19:23, 24]

Let me just interject and say to Job, “Dear brother they were written down in a book that bares your name.  But the words are not only yours, but the Living Word of God, Jesus Christ!  A Word that not only is written in the rock, but is the Rock of our Salvation!  But go ahead Job and preach on…

“For I know that my Redeemer lives, and at the last He will stand upon the earth.  And (long) after my skin has been thus destroyed, yet in my flesh… I shall see God… Whom I shall see for myself, and my eyes shall behold, and not another.  (And oh) My heart faints within me!” [Job 19:25-27]

These Words are for you dear baptized.  They are meant to give you strength and patience as you hold on to the cross of our dear Savior Jesus.  They are meant to give you joy in the midst of tribulation as you wait for that great and final day, which is the resurrection of the body.

The ancient church has always found encouragement in the truth of scripture, which clearly proves that God’s ways are not only different from man’s ways, but in fact they are far superior. Where the world scoffs at pain and suffering, the church knows that these things will inevitably come to one who gathers at the cross of Jesus.  But the cross of Jesus is what the world calls dead and foolish.  The world will show you the evidence of an opulent and materialistic life, and they declare that is real life.

Martin Luther said that each of us are called to look at two different kinds of wood, one that the world says is living and one that the world calls dead.  But he says, “From the living wood (the tree of knowledge of good and evil) came sin and death; from the dead wood (which is the cross of Jesus, comes)  righteousness and life.”  And so Luther warns us, “Do not eat from that living tree, or you will die, but eat of this dead tree; otherwise, you will remain in death.  That is, do not hunger for the things of this world, but for the things that find their source in heaven.

You who are baptized have a new spirit; one that truly wants to eat and enjoy [the fruit] of a tree, so that you will live in God’s Paradise. Let me turn your hearts then, to a tree that is so full of fruit that it could feed all of creation for eternity. But be warned, just as it was difficult for our first parents Adam and Eve to stay away from that living tree, so it is difficult for us to enjoy eating the fruit from the dead tree. This is because the tree in Paradise that was forbidden, was the very image of life, delight, and goodness, while the fruit from the other tree, the cross of Christ is the image of death, suffering, and sorrow.  To the eyes of sinners, one tree is living, the other is as good as dead. Within each of our hearts there is a natural desire to follow the way of glory now, in this life; that is within this life of those who must die, and then there is a natural fear to run from death where we are promised from God the only sure and certain source of life.  This tension between death and life can only be resolved when we take up our cross and follow Jesus.

Taking up the cross is by nature something that causes pain. We do not choose the cross, but it has chosen us. All we are asked to do is agree with God that there is a need for this tree, and then we are to take up the cross, and by faith follow Jesus and live.  We must agree with God that there is a need to be conformed to the image of the Son of God, which was given to us within our baptism. [Romans 8:29]  We must in the Word of God, hear the Holy Spirit speak to our hearts, and by faith believe that “All who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus can expect and will experience pain and suffering.” [II Timothy 3:12]  We will come to believe that “In the world we will have tribulation.” [John 16:33]. We will know sorrow and weeping in times when the the world will rejoice,” [John 16:20]  But we preach teach, confess, and believe that “If we share in [Christ’s] sufferings we shall also be glorified with him.” [Romans 8:17]  And so we know that “if we are left without discipline, which all experience, then we would be illegitimate children and not sons.” [Hebrews 12:8]

But we who are baptized, have learned by God’s hand to hunger for the fruit of the cross, because we know that the touch of Christ’s hand sanctifies all of our sufferings and sorrows and replaces them with the joy of anticipated future glory. We know that if we run from suffering, then we are siding with the unbelieving world, and turning from our Savior who has given both the gift of salvation and the privilege of sharing in his own passion.

Sadly for those who are perishing, those who do not wish to follow Jesus and bear the cross which God places upon him, there is no future for eternal glory and a return to Paradise.  God will not force them to follow—they are always free to deny Christ. But in so doing they have chosen to forsake the eternal fruit of His cross and will never know the joy of fellowship with Christ.

So hold on dear saints.  What we experience now in our time is no better or worse than the saints who went before us.  The promise that sustained them then is the very same promise that sustains us today.  Even in times where it seems impossible for us to wait for Christ, still we must wait.  Even when there seems to be no supply of patience, still we are ever reminded of God’s baptismal promise that He will never leave us nor forsake us.  It is in the Word of promise that we find both forgiveness of sins and the strength to hold on and wait.  In the washing of the water and the Word we are promised that though weeping may come to us in the dark times of evening, joy will be ours in the morning, and so we wait.  We wait with the church that has always patiently waited in anticipation, when Christ will come again and usher each of us into His kingdom of power and glory, forever and ever… AMEN!