Friday, October 14, 2011

sermon for October 16, 2011- Pentecost 18

Text: Matthew 22:15-22
Theme: God and Caesar
Date: October 16, 2011- Pentecost 18
Grace, mercy and peace be unto you from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.
As I drive around, I love to listen to books on CD. The book that I am listening to right now is a book written by Paul Maier called, “The Constantine Codex.” It is the fictional account of a professor by the name of Jonathan Weber who stumbles across an important ancient manuscript that has been lost for centuries. This manuscript may have long-lasting effects on the church. But, Professor Weber is also drawn into an internationally televised debate between himself and an Islamic scholar. They debate the two main religions of our time: Christianity and Islam. At the point that I am at in the book, it appears that Dr. Weber is winning the debate and proving the superiority of Christianity over Islam.
In our world today, that debate continues to rage on. Sadly, it is not politically correct or wise to debate or openly speak out against Islam. It is viewed as narrow-minded and intolerant. It could even be hazardous to your health. However, on the other hand, Christianity is open season to any hack with a pen or a paintbrush. No one says anything if Christianity is mocked or made fun of in the media. It is expected. This is the world that we are living in.
But, as Christians we must not be afraid to give a reason for the hope that we have in Christ, as St. Peter says in his epistle. If called upon, we must not be afraid to debate against or speak to anyone who might ask, but we do so with love. St. Paul reminds us that, “we must hold firmly to the trustworthy message as it has been received and refute those who oppose it.” To be honest there are countless groups of people in our world that if called upon I would love to refute or debate, but it is probably better that it doesn’t happen.
Do you like to debate, not just Christianity vs. Islam, but in general? It is my contention that women are better at it than men or at least men are too afraid to go too far in the debate, at least in a marriage relationship. We don’t want to press the issue too far. But, for many of us debating is very natural. It is as natural as breathing. Who among us doesn’t like a good debate?
In our text for today, Jesus finds himself in a heated debate in first century Palestine. For years, there was a debate among the Jews whether it was legal to pay taxes or were the Romans abusing their power. For Rome, taxes were essential. In order for Rome to pay for its extensive programs and expansion, it had to tax the people that it had conquered. Sounds somewhat familiar, but I digress. But, the Jews hated being oppressed by the Romans and they hated being taxed even more. They also hated the inscription of the Roman emperor on the currency that they had to use in their business transactions. They felt it was idolatrous and blasphemous.
So, in our text, along came the Pharisees and Sadducees who had just seen Jesus ride into Jerusalem on a donkey. They had just seen him kick the moneychangers out of the temple. Their hatred and disgust for Jesus was reaching a fever pitch. So, someone in their motley crew had come up with a master plan to trick Jesus. The text actually says that they hoped to reel Jesus in on a hook, like he was a fish. The issue was this: If He answered that it was lawful to pay taxes to Caesar than the Pharisees could use that against Him in relation to how the people felt about Him. Word about his answer would spread very quickly and He could become very unpopular. If He answered that it wasn’t lawful to pay taxes, then He could be portrayed as a revolutionary and an enemy of the Romans. That news would also spread like wildfire. It was a win-win situation for them or so they thought. They felt they couldn’t lose this debate. Amazing how arrogant we can become as human. Who did they think they were and who did they think they were debating against? Obviously not God’s Son, the Christ, and the King of kings and Lord of lords.
To butter Jesus up, to lower his defenses, hoping that He would let his guard down, they complement Jesus, “Hey Jesus, Teacher (like they really respected him as a teacher), we know that you are true (Sure) and teach the way of God truthfully (Yeh, right, like they really believed that) and you do not care about anyone’s opinion, for you are not swayed by appearances (ironically that part is true).” Right away, Jesus understood that this wasn’t a real debate. He saw through this charade. All the Pharisees cared about was discrediting Jesus, trying to use whatever they could against him but Jesus responded, “Why put me to the test, you hypocrites?”
But, this morning, as we are pondering this text, it is necessary for us to ask: How does this text refer to me? How am I involved? In ancient Greek, a hypocrite was an actor, someone who played a part, someone who often wore a mask, and someone who pretended to be someone or something that they were not. We admit that we too play the part of a hypocrite or an actor. We play the part that we think we’re supposed to play. We wear masks so that others don’t see who we really are. We pretend to be someone or something that we really aren’t in order to be popular, accepted or because everyone else is doing it. It is not beneath us to manipulate others in order to get them to do what we want. We complement our boss so that we get a raise. We help our neighbor in need so we can hold him to helping us later. We treat others in a certain way in order to trap them or irritate them so much that they tire of the fight and want to leave. The ends justify the means. In this, and in many other ways, we show our sinful human nature, and we fall short of any ability truly to render love to God and neighbor.
But, this morning, God’s Law stares at us in the face and we are forced to take off our masks, put aside our desire to manipulate others and see ourselves for who we truly are: sinners in need of repentance. To the hypocrites in our text and to hypocrites everywhere, Jesus provides an answer to their question. He asks for a coin and proclaims, “Render to Caesar what is Caesars and to God what is God’s.”
“To give to God what is God’s” is to see the Holy Spirit at work by the Gospel. It is to believe that same Gospel and to recognize that faith in Christ is the highest worship of the Christ, the ultimate rendering to God. It is to “take the cup of salvation and call on the name of the Lord,” receiving the bounty of His grace in the Lord’s Supper, Holy Baptism, and Holy Absolution. It is to cling to Jesus as the one who paid the tax debt by His suffering and death on the cross for you. And when we hear him cry out, “It is finished,” the tax bill is stamped “Paid in full.”
Peter reminds us in chapter 1 of his epistle, the 16th verse, “Since it is written, ‘You shall be holy, for I am holy.’ And if you call on him as Father who judges impartially according to each one's deeds, conduct yourselves with fear throughout the time of your exile, knowing that you were ransomed from the futile ways inherited from your forefathers, not with perishable things such as silver or gold, but with the precious blood of Christ, like that of a lamb without blemish or spot.” It is Christ’s blood on the cross that purifies our hearts and mind. It is Christ’s blood on the cross that sets us right with God. It is Christ’s blood on the cross that forgives our sins. We know that the payment was complete and perfect because the bill collector of the grave was unable to hold Jesus. The effects of the debt-death and Hell- had no power over him. He rose from the dead to prove that the debt is truly and completely paid.
Next week, we will celebrate a special 200 year anniversary of Dr. Walther’s, the first LC-MS President and founder of our Synod and the following week, we celebrate the blessed Lutheran Reformation. One of the greatest but often forgotten teachings of the Lutheran Reformation is what Luther called, “The two kingdoms, two realms or two swords” doctrine. Luther teaches that God controls the world in two ways. The first way is through the kingdom of the Church where He rules through Law and Gospel and by justification by grace through faith. He wields the sword of the Spirit. The second kingdom or realm or sword is the power He gives secular government to rule. They rule by compulsion and power. Their job is to order and control society. And, as Christians, we have roles to play in both. Neither kingdom should infringe upon the power of the other but both kingdoms should support the role that each other play.
Secondly, Jesus is telling us to “Render unto Caesar what is Caesar.” This is where the rubber meets the road especially when we don’t necessarily care for either the Caesar or the government that Caesar represents. In many quarters today, the government is criticized no matter what side of the isle you might find yourself. But, as Christians, it is our duty to keep the Fourth Commandment and to honor the ruling authorities, and paying taxes as well. That is indeed being faithful to God, because all things are God’s already, even the government He puts in place to govern! Jesus makes it clear in this particular case that by doing our duty as citizens we are giving thanks to our loving and generous God for his gift of civil governance and peace.
Debating is part of what it means to be human. In the debate before us, it was not the Lord’s intention to win by belittling and destroying those with whom He’s debating, so that he could be perceived as brilliant. It was Jesus ultimate desire to be the attention on Calvary’s cross. There is no debating how we love to justify our own actions and manipulate others by our actions. But, there is also no debating how much our good and gracious God loves us and how much He does to provide for us. On one hand, He rules through the church through Word and Sacrament and on the other hand, He rules through civil government. As Christians, we must support the work of God in both realms.
In an invocation prayer at the United States Senate, Peter Marshall said, "Lord Jesus, Thou who art the way, the truth, and the life, hear us as we pray for the truth that shall make men free. Teach us that liberty is not only to be loved but also to be lived. Liberty is too precious a thing to be buried in books. It costs too much to be hoarded. Make us to see that our liberty is not the right to do as we please, but the opportunity to please to do what is right." It is unthinkable that a Christian would not vote! It is unthinkable that Christians would not run for public office! It is unthinkable that Christians would withdraw from the responsibility of taking part in public life. The Christian has a responsibility to Caesar for all the privileges which the rule of Caesar brings. We are citizens of this world and must be good ones, if we are Christ's disciples.”
In the name of Jesus. Amen.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Sermon for Sunday September 25th, 2011- Pentecost 15

Grace, mercy and peace be unto you from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.
This morning, we read from the 21st chapter of St. Matthew. The setting was Holy Week. Jesus was a day or two removed from Palm Sunday, where He triumphantly rode into Jerusalem on a donkey and everyone seemed to love Him. He was also a few days away from Good Friday where He would be arrested, falsely accused, sentenced, tortured, crucified, buried and finally resurrected. In our text, He was in the temple, once again, challenging the authority of the religious establishment, as He often did.
But, in addition to what we heard, I want to read a parable that goes with it, verse 28, "What do you think? A man had two sons. And he went to the first and said, 'Son, go and work in the vineyard today.' And he answered, 'I will not,' but afterward he changed his mind and went. And he went to the other son and said the same. And he answered, 'I go, sir,' but did not go. Which of the two did the will of his father?" They said, "The first." Jesus said to them, "Truly, I say to you, the tax collectors and the prostitutes go into the kingdom of God before you. For John came to you in the way of righteousness, and you did not believe him, but the tax collectors and the prostitutes believed him. And even when you saw it, you did not afterward change your minds and believe him.”
The movie, “Star Wars” has a multitude of them: situations where characters are faced with tough choices. There doesn’t seem to be a right answer or a clear path. The main character has to choose between two options neither of which seem to be the right way at the time. They are caught between a rock and a hard place. No matter which way they go, someone is not going to like it or someone is going to get hurt. One particular scene involves Luke Skywalker who has to choose whether to follow the emperor, give in to his anger and the dark side or not follow him and die. All hope seemed to be lost until Darth Vader has a change of heart and intervenes. Sadly, Luke is saved, but at the cost of losing his father.
Our lives are different than what goes on in a movie in general or in Star Wars in particular, but life has its share of tough choices. We often find ourselves facing moral dilemmas and we have to make some pretty tough decisions at times. It started even when we were children: what friends were we going to hang out with or would we listen to our friends when they did things we knew were wrong? These tough decisions continued in High School. Did we get involved with the immorality that we saw around us? Did we do what we saw our friends doing? Could we avoid the pressures of drugs, alcohol and pre-marital relations or did we join in to be popular and to be accepted?
Life continued to involve tough choices as we got married, got a job, settled into our middle ages and even as we approached retirement age. Would we follow the world, sell out our principles and do whatever we could to get ahead? Would we listen to the world and be unfaithful to God? Would we let our material possessions get the better of us? These and in so many other ways, life on this side of eternity involves many tough choices and moral dilemmas. Sometimes, there doesn’t seem to be a right answer. Sometimes we have the best of intentions, but we say the wrong thing. We do the wrong thing. We go down the wrong path, but our text for this morning is of great encouragement; because, as God’s children, the Father always welcomes us back to Himself.
A father once tried to talk to his son about how college was going: The father said, "How are things going?" The son said, "Good." The father said, "And the dormitory?" He said, "Good." The father said, "How are your studies going?" He said, "Good." “How’s the food?” “Good.” The father finally said, "Have you decided on a major yet?" He said, "Yes." "Well, what is it?" asked the father. The son said, "Communication." So it goes as parents and children try to talk to each other. It isn’t always easy and often is fractured. So it was for the two sons in Jesus’ story.
The story is a parable, but certainly rings true to real life in the family. The Father loved his sons dearly. He wanted what was best for them. He tried to teach them right from wrong. He sacrificed whenever He could so that they could have what they needed. But, the Father had high expectations for his sons. He expected them to do what was right. He tried to get them ready for life outside of the family. He wanted them to be contributing members of society. He wanted them to take responsibility for their actions. When they did something right, He complimented them, patted them on the back, and told them how much he loved them. But, when they did the wrong thing, he was also there to let them know, to admonish and correct them, again telling them how much He loved them. Parenting itself is not easy and it, too, involves difficult choices.
But, as children age, we realize that we can only do such much. Our children are all different. We try to treat them the same way, but in the end, they have to do what they feel is right. Each child has to take responsibility for their actions. They have to follow their own path. We can make suggestions, but in the end, they have to decide what they are going to do. Sometimes, our children do the right thing and at our times, they don’t.
In the parable, the father is making a simple request. We don’t know exactly what the request was, but it doesn’t matter. The children had the responsibility of doing what the father wanted. Initially, the first son rebelled. He told the father that he was not going to do what the Father asked; while the second Son told the Father that he would do exactly what he had asked. At first glance, the second son seemed to be the faithful son. But, as we know appearances aren’t always what they seem.
After awhile, the rebellious son thought about it and told himself, “What am I doing? What right do I have to tell my father no? He has done so much for me. He loves me. He isn’t asking me to do that much. Boy I sure messed up. You know what: I am going to do what He wants me to do. It is the right thing to do.” And, so the rebellious son became the obedient and faithful son.
Meanwhile, the outwardly obedient son also thought to himself, “I really don’t feel like doing what my father wants me to do. He won’t really know if I do it or not. My friends want me to go with them. I’m too tired to do what He wants. I am sick of tired of always listening to my father. I’ve got better things to do than what He wants me to do.” And, so the second son became the disobedient and unfaithful son. Again, appearances aren’t what they seem.
In the parable, the Pharisees and the teachers of the Law were the outwardly obedient sons. By all appearances, they were doing the right thing, but when it came down to do, they were the disobedient son at heart. They refused to see a need for repentance. They didn’t think that they needed any help. They had it all figured out. While, the tax collectors, the sinners, the prostitutes, the outcast, the lowly, those who were in desperate need came to John the Baptist, repented of their sin and then cling to Jesus for refuge, for comfort, and for salvation. They were the first son who was the obedient son.
This story is a beautiful description of the Christian life. At times, we are the outwardly disobedient son who refuses to do what our Father asks. But, as we are confronted by the Law, we repent of our sins, cling to the Gospel of Jesus, and do what our Father asks. And, at other times, we are outwardly obedient Son who mouths the words, say the right things, gives the appearances that we are following our Father, but when push comes to shove, when the heat is on, when we are facing with the decision, we can’t go through with it. Our actions don’t follow our words and we go our own way and do our own thing.
In our lives, we usually are one of the two sons; either we outwardly reject and in the end, we came around or we outwardly accept and in the end, we go our own way. But, there is also a third way, a third son. The Father had one task for this Son and one task only. Leave the comforts of heaven and become man, take on flesh and dwell among sinful humanity. St. Paul, beautifully describes that perfectly obedient Son, in the intervening verses of Philippians 2, “Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.” Throughout, His life, our Lord had many tough choices, but things be to God, He always made the right ones. He always did what His Father wanted. He was the obedient Son who always said yes to the Father and who, as a result, brought forgiveness, life and salvation to all who believe in Him.
As I said before, the Parable of the two sons is an amazing description of the Christian life. We find ourselves playing the part of both sons; but, in the end, we pray we resemble the son who turns from his evil ways, repents of his sins, and does the will of His Father. Because we know we have a welcoming and forgiving Father, we pray we are the obedient and faithful son.
As we have said, life on this side of eternity involves tough decisions. Maybe, you are faced with one at this very moment. I pray God gives you the insight and wisdom to make the right choice. Whatever difficult decisions you may be faced with, may God give you the courage to do what is right and help you realize that if you mess up, He is there to forgive you!
Our epistle reading from Philippians also presents some challenges for us. Here are a few of those challenges that I pray you think about: Will I have the mind of Christ or the mind of man? Will I work for the unity of the church or will I bring disunity and disintegration? Will I operate out of conceit or will I be humble? Will I grumble and complain or will I have a thankful heart? Will I make excuses for my actions or will I take personal responsibility and be accountable? Will I be fearful and afraid or will I trust in God to help me? Will I sell out or stand tall? Will I let go of God when times are tough or hold firmly to His Word? Live involves tough choices, but with God all things are possible. In Jesus name, Amen.

Saturday, February 26, 2011

Sermon for February 27, 2011

Text: 1 Corinthians 4:1-13
Theme: Triumph
Date: February 27, 2011- Epiphany 8
Grace, mercy and peace be unto you from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.
The world is on fire. I mean that both literally and figuratively. Beginning with the unrest in Egypt, demonstrations against ruling governments have caught fire all throughout the Middle East, including the countries of Bahrain, Libya, Tunisia, Yemen and Iran, just a mention a few. The unrest has even reached the state of Wisconsin, although some in that protest didn’t seem to know what they were protesting. Those in power are attempting to crack down on protestors in whatever way possible. The demonstrations or the protests have gotten very bloody, as many have lost their lives fighting for what they believed in. The jury is still out as to what will happen in the future.
Many are convinced that this will lead to gas prices going through the roof, global economic collapse and war throughout the world. Many Millennialist preachers are having a field day proclaiming that this is most certainly the beginning of Armageddon. One could certainly make a case that we are entering the “little season” spoken of in the book of Revelation. But, before I begin to hyperventilate, Jesus words in our Gospel reading this morning ring out loud and clear, “Therefore do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble.” Thank you Jesus, I needed to hear that.
Not only is there great tribulation in many countries, but persecution against the church continues to be on the rise. Because of that, our text will continue to be of great importance in the years ahead. The true church has been, is and always will be hated the world. When we become friends with the world, when we begin to compromise with the world, when we begin to think that this world is all that matters, then that is when we get ourselves into trouble and the Gospel begins to be ordinary and robed of its power and glory.
St. Paul has some encouraging words for us in our epistle reading, although initially it might be a little tough to understand how these words are of comfort. Our text this morning focuses on 1 Corinthians 4, beginning at the 9th verse, ”For I think that God has exhibited us apostles as last of all, like men sentenced to death, because we have become a spectacle to the world, to angels, and to men. We are fools for Christ's sake.“
We are all familiar with a parade. Sitting on the side of the road in our lawn chairs, we all have enjoyed watching the bands, floats and fire trucks slowly go by. Maybe you even been in a parade walking with a civic group or sports team. The ancient Romans also enjoyed a good parade, only their version was not just for fun. It was called a Roman Triumph. Their version was to teach a very important lesson: don’t make us angry. If you’re thinking about protesting our leadership, or you are thinking about a little demonstration, well you might want to think twice. After they would conquer an enemy’s city, they would set up their triumphal parade. The Roman leader would ride in on his chariot surrounded by his other military personnel. They would wear their military attire and carry their weaponry. There would be trumpeters, carts with the spoils of war, and bulls for sacrifice. Toward the end of the parade would also be those who were captured or those who opposed them, often in chains, bloodied and bruised beyond recognition. The Christians also often found themselves at the end of these lines quite often. After the parade was over, the prisoners were often executed. I’m not sure I would be too excited about attending this parade or certainly would not want to be in it. What encouragement then was Paul giving the Corinthians and us? Why was Paul saying that we should be a spectacle to the world at the end of a parade?
For us, by nature, Jesus’s words seem to make little sense. We have no desire to be a spectacle to the world. Who wants to be the fool? We want to be at the front of the parade. We want to have the power. We want the control. This is what we deserve. We play second fiddle to no one. We are also surrounded by so much affluence, wealth and riches that it so often clouds our thinking. Our problems and struggles seem bigger than they really are.
Don’t get me wrong. We do suffer and we do have anxiety. We do have issues with our family and neighbors. We do struggle mightily with financial and health issues. We do have problems at work. We do have personal worth issues. We do have sleepless night worried sick over what is going on in our lives. I don’t downplay those issues. I have them as well. They are painful. Again, Jesus says to us, “Therefore do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble.” Sir Winston Churchill once said, "When I look back on all these worries, I remember the story of the old man who said on his death bed that he had had a lot of trouble in his life, most of which never happened."
However, think about this: we have the highest standard of living in the history of the world. We have indoor plumbing. We have toilet paper. We have our own beds. We have refrigerators that keep our food cold. We have televisions in most rooms in our house. We have several cars. We throw away more food that many families in the third world live on in a month. We have the type of technology that generations before us couldn’t have ever dreamt of. And, I have no way of proving this, but I bet it is a safe assumption our anxiety, our stress and our nervousness in the 21st century is probably seem to be greater than any other generation before us. Why is that? What causes our stress and anxiety?
What Paul makes clear is exactly what Jesus makes clear: it is not possible to serve two masters. It is not possible to serve money and our possessions and serve Christ. It is not possible to be loyal to the world and loyal to our Savior. As Jesus says in our Gospel, “Either you will hate the one and love the other or you will devoted to the one and despise the other.” Our money, our possession, and our attitude have clouded our thinking. When Jesus tells us to, “take our crosses and follow him”, we have a tough idea what that really means.
Thomas Cress spent close to thirty years in a Michigan jail for killing Pat Rosansky. Recently he was released. It was determined that he was actually innocent. I can’t imagine what it would feel like to sit in jail knowing that you didn’t commit the crime for which you sentenced. You were in the wrong place at the wrong time. All the evidence was circumstantial, but it pointed to you. But, you were innocent. You had done nothing wrong. The frustration would be overwhelming.
Our Lord and Savior Jesus was sentenced to death for a crime he didn’t commit. He was accused of being a blasphemer, of saying that he was God when he wasn’t. He was also accused of promoting not paying taxes to Caesar. The charges were trumped up. He was indeed God’s Son. He had, in fact, said that we should pay taxes to Caesar. But, our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ not only innocent of the charges leveled against him, He was innocent of any charges. He was totally innocent of any sin whatsoever. There were no skeletons in His closet. An inquiry into his life would find nothing to use against Him.
But, instead of complaining, instead of running the other way, instead of wishing for a comfortable life, instead of thinking of himself, instead of putting his own needs above our own, He had us in mind. Every man, woman and child was on his mind, as He endured the punishment that He didn’t deserve. He didn’t sit in a jail for 30 years. His sentence was carried out quickly; tried, convicted, whipped, beaten, spat upon, and crucified. As the innocent Son of God was sentenced to death, he was a spectacle to the world. Very few people seemed to care, but that spectacle was also God’s triumph. For, as Jesus gave up His life for us, He proclaimed, “It is finished. Your sins are forgiven. You will spend eternity with me.” Three days, later his suffering was all worth it, as He triumphantly come forth from the grave.
Each and every week, this beautiful message of Jesus Christ crucified and risen changes the focus of our lives. St. Paul proclaims again, “For I think that God has exhibited us apostles as last of all, like men sentenced to death, because we have become a spectacle to the world, to angels, and to men. We are fools for Christ's sake.” Now, for St. Paul He knew what it meant to be a fool for Jesus, to truly suffer. He knew what it meant to be put on display or to be a spectacle. For the sake of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, he had been beaten, shipwrecked, and put in prison. He may have even seen other Christians be forced to walk in the Roman Triumphal parade to their death.
We can’t help but think to ourselves: if called upon would I be willing to be a spectacle to the world following along in a Roman Triumph? Would I be willing to confess Christ rather than promise allegiance to the emperor? Right now, it is legal to worship, but who knows for whole long. If things changed overnight, would I be found to be faithful or would I shrink away from the pain?
Later on in our text, Paul goes on to say, “We are weak, but you are strong. You are held in honor, but we in disrepute. To the present hour we hunger and thirst, we are poorly dressed and buffeted and homeless, and we labor, working with our own hands. When reviled, we bless; when persecuted, we endure; when slandered, we entreat. We have become, and are still, like the scum of the world, the refuse of all things.”
Wars, rumors of wars, earthquakes, and great persecution continue against God’s people. It will continue until Jesus comes back. I love this country. I wouldn’t trade living in this country for anything. However, I am saddened to say that material possessions have blinded us to how easy we truly have it. Let us be thankful for what we do have! Let us use what we have to help others while we still can! Let us never grow tired of what Jesus Christ did for us at the cross and empty tomb; being last so that we can be first. Let us join those at the end of the line, suffering for the sake of Christ, bloody and beaten but triumphant. We are last now so that we can be first for eternity! For we are also part of another parade; this parade is an invisible parade. It can’t be seen with our eyes, but it is a parade that leads straight to heaven. It includes all saints living and departed. We are cheered on by Jesus and by those who have gone before. They tell us, “Be strong, serve God only and know that when you do beautiful heaven awaits.” And, let us also pray for opportunities to confess Christ to the world and trust that God will use whatever is going on in our lives to his glory. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Sermon For February 20, 2011

Text: Matthew 5:38-48
Theme: The Search for Perfection
Date: February 20, 2011- Epiphany 7
Grace, mercy and peace be unto you from God our Father and
from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen. This morning, we focus on our Lord’s words in verse 48, “You therefore must be perfect as your heavenly Father is perfect.”
Sally was beyond frustrated; at the end of her rope, really. Nothing that she ever did was good enough. Growing up, her parents never seemed to be pleased with anything that she did. She got straight A’s in High School and College. She was the star on the softball team and was the valedictorian. After college, she married a doctor. She had 2 kids, a boy and a girl. She worked out at the gym incessantly taking care of her body. She was involved in her children’s school and other community groups. But, deep down inside, something was missing. She was never content. Just when she felt that she was getting close, perfection seemed to be just beyond reach. She didn’t know how much longer she could go on.
As a child growing up, I wanted to achieve perfection on the basketball court. Someone should have told me that I would never get any taller than six feet tall. Nevertheless, I would practice for hours in my driveway, taking hundreds of shots from a variety of locations. I would practice three point shots. I would practice free throws. I would practice lay-ups. It didn’t matter what the temperature was outside, whether it was raining or the sun was shining. I think my parents worried about me a little bit. “Stop playing so much basketball,” they would say.
Many of us understand the search or quest for perfection and how it can consume a person. Is there any area of your life that you seek perfection? Some of us seek perfection in our appearance. How we look in the mirror is of utmost importance. We might spend countless hours in the gym or on the exercise bike or applying makeup. Others seek perfection in how we keep our homes or our yards. Everything must be in its place or we get nervous. We must have grass that is green and we must have a clear driveway no matter how much snow is out there. Others seek perfection at our work. We spend countless hours trying to climb the corporate ladder. Still others seek perfection when it comes to knowledge and education. There is always one more book that must be read. The search for perfection can be a good thing in that it drives us to use our gifts and abilities and do the best that we can.
However, here’s the deal: the search or quest for perfection is allusive. It always seems to be just out of reach. In basketball, I could make dozens of free-throws in a row, but eventually I would miss. No matter how hard I tried, I couldn’t quite get to where I wanted to be. Our houses always need to be vacuumed. The driveways always need to be cleared off. Our bodies are in constant need of exercise. There is always some project that needs to be done at work. We just don’t seem to have the time that we need to read the books that we want to read. As a result, we can become very frustrated.
In our Gospel reading, Jesus tells us that we must be perfect as our Heavenly Father is perfect. How do you feel when you hear that? Does it frighten you at all? Perfect: really? When we hear these words, there is usually one of two responses. The first one is to water-down what Jesus is saying. “Well, yeah, Jesus tells us to be perfect, but he knows that we can’t really achieve it. So, all he asks is for us to try our best. If we just give an effort that is good enough. If He looks down and sees that we are trying hard that is sufficient.”
But, that is not what Jesus says here is it? He says that we must be perfect. Giving it our best try is just not good enough. We can’t ever mess up. The word perfect is pretty clear. We have to do everything perfect all the time, no errors, no mistakes, not once. Jesus really puts on the pressure this morning. If someone slaps us on the face, let them do it again on the other, he says. If someone takes our coat, Jesus says give them our shirt. If someone asks us to go a mile to help them, offer to go two miles. If someone asks for something, we are to offer them more than they ask.
Is anyone else having a guttural reaction to Jesus’ words? “Jesus, if someone strikes me on the cheek, my reaction is not likely to give them the other, but rather to come out swinging. If someone tries to steal my coat, I’m going after my coat and I’m going to get something of theirs as payback. If someone asks me to go with them a mile, I might do it, but there are going to owe me a favor the next time. And, if someone begs something from me, again, I might give it to them, but I will want it back with interest. If we are honest with ourselves, Jesus’ ethical demands this morning are not our favorite words that He ever spoke.
And then, Jesus has the audacity to say, “Love your enemies.” I remember two specific enemies in my past. One was a classmate by the name of Nathan Crary, the only kid I remember who challenged me to a school hard fight. Also, I played for Lutheran High School in Portland, Oregon, and this other enemy played for Corbett. I don’t really remember what started the feud, but I couldn’t stand this guy. He made me angry and when we played, there was going to be bad blood. Over the years since then, there have been other people that I might place in the enemy category.
Do you remember any enemies in your past, someone that made you furious or got under your skin or when you saw them your blood began to boil and your face got read and you wanted revenge? We all have had enemies in our past or currently have people that we might categorize as our enemy. We don’t mind being told to love our neighbor, but when our neighbor is also our enemy, well that’s when it truly gets hard, when Jesus’ ethical demands go a little too far, when we have a tendency to water down these demands or tell ourselves that they don’t apply to us or we just ignore them. But, what Jesus is saying is that our lives must be totally and completely committed to loving God and loving our neighbor all the time, even showing love to our enemies.
“You must be perfect as our Heavenly Father is perfect.”
When we hear these words, we might have a second response: despair, utter despair and hopelessness. When Jesus tells us to be perfect, we throw our hands up and say, “You’ve got to be kidding. I just can’t do it, Jesus. It isn’t worth it. No matter how hard I try, it is never good enough. So, what’s the point? I should just give up and try anymore.” Satan the accuser is right there whispering in our ear, “You are worthless. Everyone else is a better Christian than you. You don’t really love him. You aren’t that committed. Perfect, yah right! You are far from perfect my friend.”
I think we all have had a time where we have failed miserably, where we gave it our best effort, we wanted to do well, but the sun got in our eyes, or we dropped the ball or we lose sight of the goal, or we didn’t get enough sleep or whatever excuse we might want to use, but we failed. We didn’t achieve what we wanted to and we crashed back down to reality. Please pardon this reference, but a scene from the first Toy Story movie comes to mind, “There I was one minute exploring the whole galaxy and then the next, I am sucking down Darjeeling with Mary Antoine and her sister.” We’ve all had moments of utter failure where all hope is lost, where we failed ourselves, where we disappointed others, where we wonder how we will find the strength to carry on.
But, Jesus says again to us this morning, “Be perfect, as our Heavenly Father is perfect.” When confronted by the Law, either, we water down his words and try to convince ourselves that we’ve come as close to perfection as we could. But, we also wonder if we done enough. Or, secondarily, we despair and throw in the towel, admit defeat and stop trying. This morning, dear friends in Christ, there is a third way. There is a way that we can be perfect. In fact, we are already perfect. The quest or search for perfection has come to an end.
Anyone who has ever played a musical instrument knows the challenge of trying to play a piece of music perfectly. Children are encouraged, of course, to practice and practice. At one time or another, a parent, or teacher likely gives them the adage, “practice makes perfect.” And, so they practice and practice. Occasionally a piece might be learned so well that sometimes it is played perfectly. But, as soon as that song is mastered, then it’s on to another, more difficult piece. For those few performers who make it in the big leagues, the pressure for perfection can, at times, overwhelm even the best. No matter how much effort is expended, there always seems to be someone else who’s better, someone who’s gone just a little further in that quest for perfection. While that person may enjoy considerable satisfaction in the music-making endeavor, it may not also be the case that he or she enjoys any lasting peace and contentment. We will never find peace in our own efforts to be perfect before God- however hard we try and practice. But, Jesus was perfect for us- in His life and in his death- and as we are in Him through Baptism, God declares us to be the same.
The search for perfection begins and ends with Jesus Christ. He was, is and always will be our righteousness, innocence and perfection. For, in the waters of Holy Baptism, we have been baptized into the death and resurrection of Jesus and because of that, when God looks at us, He doesn’t see our failures. He doesn’t see our sins. He doesn’t see where we have gone off track. No, because those sins have been washed away. All the Father sees when He looks at us now is what Jesus has done for us. And, therefore the pressure to be perfect is over. When our consciences accuse us or when Satan whispers in our ears and tells us how worthless we are, we tell them, “No, I am perfect. Christ has declared it so. His Word is my hope and redemption. Perfection has been achieved and that perfection is now my perfection. It has been transferred or declared to be mine.” The devil doesn’t want to hear that!
For those who have ever been overwhelmed by the Law or by our own failures, the pressure to be perfect is passed over to Jesus. He has achieved it and it is ours by virtue of our Baptism and faith in Jesus. Now, because the pressure is off, we are motivated rather by the Gospel to grow in love toward God and love toward neighbor. With our Lord’s words this morning, is there something He is trying to get across to us? Is there any area of our life that we can grow in? Is Jesus telling us that we need to spend less time on ourselves and more time on serving those around us? Do we need to pray for the patience and the courage to love our enemies, to give to others in self-sacrificial love, to extend ourselves to reach out to those around us? All of us can benefit from continuing to ponder our Lord’s words this morning. Dedication and devotion, commitment and compassion, perseverance and persistence are all qualities that we can grow in as we mature in our faith.
“You therefore must be perfect, as your Heavenly Father is perfect.” Our sinful human nature is terrified of these words. Anything less than perfection just won’t do. Either Satan convinces us that all that matters is that we try to achieve perfection, to do our best and that hopefully will be enough. Or, Satan convinces us that we haven’t done enough, that we will never do enough, that we are worthless and won’t ever amount to anything. Again, there is a third way, Perfection with a capital P is our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Throughout his life and at the cross and at the empty tomb, He achieved perfection. And, by virtue of our Baptism, that perfection is ours. We have been declared perfect so that when the Father looks at us, He says, “that person is perfect.” Perfection has been achieved. Let us revel in that perfection. Let us soak in that perfection. Let us live out that perfection as we go out into the world and love even our enemies for the sake of Jesus. Amen.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Cavs Win

This has absolutely nothing to do with theology other than maybe a connection to suffering and the theology of the cross. Since the King left, (good riddance) we haven't had much to cheer about in regards to the Cavs. Last time these two teams played, the Cavs lost by 55 points. But, I had to take a moment and take in the Cavs victory last night. It was nothing short of amazing, especially after the Lakers radio station called the game nothing more than a practice game for the Lakers before the All-Star game. There are 27 games left and if we are able to win half of those games, it would be a jump start for next year. Sorry Lakers, it may be the end of an era.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

American Grace

I have just started listening to American Grace written by Robert Putnam and David Campbell. It has been described in this way; "a new religious fault line" exists in America, a deep political polarization that has transcended denominationalism as the greatest chasm in religious life; and second, that the culture (especially its younger generation) is becoming so much more accepting of diversity that thesis #1 will not tear America apart. The bulk of the book explores in detail cultural developments--the boom of evangelicals in the 1970s and 1980s, largely concluded in the early 1990s; the rise of feminism in the pews; the liberalization of attitudes about premarital sex and homosexuality, especially among the youngest generations; and what may prove to be the most seismic shift of all: the dramatic increase of "nones," or people claiming no institutional religious affiliation. Putnam and Campbell (with their researcher, Garrett) have done the public a great service in not only producing their own mammoth survey of American religion but also drawing from many prior statistical studies, enabling readers to track mostly gradual change over time."

My future posts will discuss whether I agree with the authors or not. Good to be back blogging.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Law and Gospel

No matter what community you live in, the needs are the same. These needs may not be what you think they are. What we all need is, first of all, the law to confront us in our sin. We need to hear that we aren't perfect and that we can't live our lives on our own. But, most importantly, we need to hear the Gospel so that we can be assured that our sins are truly forgiven by the shed blood of Jesus and that our lives have meaning and purpose and lastly that we are a part of something bigger than ourselves. May God help us understand the Christian faith in its purity and power.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Evangelism in the Suburbs

Greetings, once again. I want to change the direction of my blog a slight bit. What has been on my mind most recently has been, for lack of a better word, evangelism. As Lutherans, the Gospel of Jesus Christ is of utmost importance to us. We believe that Jesus Christ offered himself on the cross for our sins. We, also believe that three days later, He rose from the dead. His blessed death and resurrection is the bedrock of our faith. As Lutherans, we also believe in the importance of a solid confession of our faith, contained in the Book of Concord. Sadly, very few people understand who the Lutherans are and therefore have a weak understanding of the Gospel at best. Strongsville is also a community in which it is challenging to get the word out about who the Lutherans are. It is my goal that this blog becomes a way that we can get the Word out about Jesus: who He is and what He has done for us. I appreciate any input on how the Gospel message can be proclaimed to the people in the surrounding areas. Soli Deo Gloria!

Wednesday, May 06, 2009

Friday, May 01, 2009

Lone Survivor

Marcus Lattrell was a Navy Seal. He along with 3 other Seals were commissioned to Afghanistan to continue the war against the Taliban. They were called to take out the most difficult-to-find leaders. Their mission was simple: by whatever means necessary, gather intel, find the leaders and take them out. On one particular day, out in the middle of nowhere, they came across some wandering Afghan goat herders and they were faced with a dilemma. Were they enemy combatants or were they innocent civilians? If they were enemy combatants, they had every right to take them out. If they were innocent civilians, there were strict international laws that prohibited them from killing them. If they let them go and they went back to the Taliban, Marcus and his men could be in great danger. If they were innocent and they just shot them in cold blood, then they would possibly face a court marshal and be brought up on charges. What a horrible dilemma! Not knowing what to do, they erred on the side of caution and decided to let them go. In a short time, these goat herders came back with over a hundred enemy soldiers. In the ensuing battle, three of Marcus’ fellow soldiers were killed and he was left for dead in the middle of nowhere. The government thought that all four of them had been killed.
But, in the book that describes his miraculous and courageous story, "Lone Survivor", Marcus depicts the faith that kept him going. Finding safety in a crevice in a rock, with broken bones, a bloodied body, being without water for countless hours, he had lost much hope to ever get out alive. But, one thing kept him going: Believe it or not, the 23rd Psalm. "The Lord is my Shepherd. I shall not want. Even though, I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil. For thou art with me, thy rod and thy staff they comfort me. Though spreadest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies." The enemies were out there. They were out there in full force. The human wolves wanted to find him and devour him up. But, the Lord was His Shepherd, and by God’s mercy and protection, he was rescued and lived to tell this amazing tale.

Wednesday, April 08, 2009

Answers to Four Questions

1) What is the meaning of the term "church" and who or what makes up that church?
The church is first and foremost the "body" of Christ. It is made up of all believers in Jesus Christ across all denominations. Anyone who believes in Jesus Christ is part of the "invisible" body of Jesus or the Church. The "visible" church are those members who adhere to the Church that teaches God's Word rightly and who administer the Sacraments according to the institution of Jesus.
2) What is the mission (purpose, goals) of the Church?
We are, as the Church, to go out into all the world, making disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Triune God, and to teach them to observe the doctrine of God. The mission of the church, then, is to preach the Word of God rightly and to administer the Sacrament of Baptism, Confession and Absolution and Holy Communion according to Christ's institution.
3) What is the nature and purpose of the worship (liturgical) services?
The purpose of worship is to receive the gifts of God. In the Divine Service, heaven and earth come together. Through the hearing of God's Word and the Sacrament of Holy Communion, Jesus Christ gives us His gifts. He forgives our sins, cleanses us from all unrighteousness, comforts us in our trials, and encourages us to live as His people in the world. In response to the gifts that are given to us in The Divine Service, we respond with prayer, praise and thanksgiving. 4) What is the relationship or connection of these three to everyday life of the members? How does it encourage you in day to day living?
Every day, we live as the body of Christ. Everyday, we put to death our old nature and live in our new nature. Every day, we no longer live but Jesus lives through us. We measure our time from Sunday to Sunday. During the week, we perform our liturgy or our service to our neighbor as we serve them in Christian love and devotion. We are part of the body that takes the Gospel out to the world. In our vocation, God serves others through us.

Wednesday, April 01, 2009

Letter to Church in Philadelphia! Revelation 3:7-13

The Christians in Philadelphia had to endure a lot. They had to endure the pressures of Jewish opposition. They had to endure many literal and symbolic earthquakes. But, in Christ, they were brothers, loved by God. And, because of Christ’s death and resurrection, they were victorious. They same is true for us, here at St. John in Strongsville. We are brothers loved by God. The door to eternity is open through Christ. We may have little power, but through Jesus, we keep His Word. We are surrounded by many synagogues of Satan, but they will get what is coming to them. We are enduring the hour of trial, but in Christ, we patiently endure it. Jesus is coming soon, so let us hold fast to our crown. For, in Christ, we conquer because we are pillars. God’s name is written on us. We are His! For He who has a ear, let us hear what the Spirit says to the seven churches and says to us!

Friday, March 27, 2009

The Divine Liturgy

When we step through the doors of the church, our Lord is serving us. Heaven and earth come together. We worship with all the host of heaven. Worship today is seen by many to be about the worshipper. Worship is exclusively about praising God. Sadly, that form of worship is misleading and incomplete. The icon above helps us understand what goes in the Divine Liturgy. God is giving us His gifts of forgiveness, life and salvation. We join with the invisible church in faith, song and praise. Worship should never be cute and cuddly, but full of reverence and respect. May our understanding of worship continue to grow as we realize what is going on in the Divine Liturgy!

Thursday, March 26, 2009

The God Delusion?

Over the last several days, I have been listening to (on CD), "The God Delusion", written by the world famous atheist Richard Dawkins. At the beginning of the book, he boldly sets forth his agenda of trying to convince the reader or my case the listener that atheism is superior to a belief in the Trinitarian God. He even goes so-far-as-to-say that belief in a Christian God is detrimental for society and for the individual. Christians have for centuries "deluded" themselves into believing that there is a God. They have made Him up to make themselves feel better. There is so much that can be said in opposition to the arguments that he makes in the book. However, I will only say this. When Richard Dawkins is at his death bed and thinks back over his life and when he ponders what lies beyond the grave, I pity him. His philosophy sounds so "rational." "God can't be proven, so therefore he doesn't exist," he would say. But, when all is said and done and when he is faced with his own mortality, I wonder if he will be so sure of himself and his atheism. I think not! Christ is risen! He is risen indeed. Alleluia!

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

The Gospel is the Only Answer

This morning, we laid to rest a member of St. John Lutheran Church. Her name was Mary Beranek. She died unexpectedly last weekend. While her body was put in the ground, her soul went immediately to be with her Savior. The theology of the Lutheran Church centers around Jesus Christ and him crucified and risen. It is what I attempt, by God's grace, to preach every Sunday. But, it is at a funeral service where Lutheran theology takes on breathtaking beauty. It is not "our"theology at all. It is God's teaching. It comes from His Holy Word and it is my privilege to preach it especially when we stare death and the grave squarely in the face. But, in Christ, we have victory. We have victory over sin, death and Satan. I am thankful that we have a message to proclaim, especially to our world today. It is my prayer that God would continue to open doors so that we can proclaim His truth to the world.

Friday, March 20, 2009

I Don't Know Whether to Laugh or Cry

This morning, I went to a seminar in which I had the opportunity to hear the well-known and well-respected, at least within the wider Christian community, scholar and Lutheran pastor Martin Marty. Dr. Marty has written over 5o books and is currently the emeritus professor at the University of Chicago. In the course of his lecture he promoted the ecumenical movement, homosexuality as an alternative lifestyle, the ordination of women, and open communion, just to name a few heresies. I shouldn't have been surprised. I have read some of what he has written. But, what truly surprised me this morning was his desire to still connect himself to the Lutheran Church. His "version" of the Lutheran Church is so far upstream from Historic Lutheranism that is hard to distinguish it from liberal Mainline Protestantism. At one point in the past, I truly thought that maybe there was some hope that there were some within the ELCA that still held to historic Lutheranism. After hearing Marty, I am convinced that there can be no discussion. We are of a "different spirit." Lord have mercy!

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Great Luther Quote!

"'As Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness'- That is, God lifted up a bronze serpent like the other serpents that all who looked at it might recover. This symbolized the fact that God would let His Son descend from heaven and be nailed to the cross, where He, too, hangs like a serpent or a worm, the object of scorn and contempt.. But whoever believes in this crucified Christ will not be lost and perish but will have everlasting life, just as those who looked at the bronze serpent in the wilderness did not die but were saved."

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

A Shameless Plug for Issues Etc.

If you want to know more about what the Lutheran Church believes, teaches and confesses, I urge you to check out Issues, Etc or Pirate Christian Radio on the web. Their various programs are fantastic in proclaiming the uniqueness of the Lutheran faith.

Why I Believe that Evolution is True! Not!

Over the last couple of weeks, I have been reading this book, "Why Evolution is True." In the chapter, 'Remnants; Vestiges, Embryos, and Bad Design,' the author states, "Women... give birth through the pelvis, a painful and inefficient process that, before modern medicine, killed appreciable numbers of mothers and babies. The problem is that we evolved a big brain, the infant's head became very large relative to the opening of the pelvis, which had to remain narrow to allow efficient.. walking. This compromise leads to the difficulties and enormous pain of human birth. If you designed a human female, wouldn't you have rerouted the female reproductive tract so it exited through the lower abdomen instead of the pelvis? Imagine how much easier it would be to give birth?"
This is his argument why evolution must be true because the design of the woman's reproductive system does make sense? Come-on! What lunacy! God's Word clearly answers his point in Genesis 3. There will be pain in childbearing. Sin has caused the problem not God. To criticize God's creation and creative design is dangerous, Mr. Coyne! Thankfully, our God is a merciful God.

Who are the Lutherans?

Who are the Lutherans? What do they believe, teach and confess? What makes them tick? What makes them unique? I am blessed to serve Christ's church in Strongsville, Ohio. Most people, in the area that I serve, have no idea what the Lutheran Church is all about. It is my intention by God's grace to get the Word out about the Lutheran church. Please join me in my attempt to spread the Word.

Saturday, November 17, 2007

The Church Is At War

I ran across this section from Conservative Reformation and Its Theology written by Charles Porterfield Krauth. It is so true in regards to the current state of affairs in Lutheranism. It begins on page 147, "The life of a Church may be largely read in its controversies. As the glory or shame of a nation is read upon its battle-fields which tells for what it perilled the lives of its sons, so may the glory or shame of a Church be determined when we know what it fought against; how much it valued what it believed to be truth; what was the truth it valued; how much it did, and how much it suffered to maintain that truth, and what was the issue of it struggles and sacrifices. Tested in all these ways, the record of the Lutheran Church is incomparably glorious. It has contended for great truths at great sacrifices, and in every conflict in which it has borne a part, truth has ultimately been victorious. A Church which contends for nothing, either has lost the truth, or has ceased to love it. Warfare is painful, but they whose errors create the necessity for it are responsible for all its miseries." SDG

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

A Real Myth Buster

Adam Savage is one of the hosts of the popular television show on Discovery Channel called "Myth Busters." On one of the episodes, he spoke a slogan that really caught my attention. Denying that he had made a mistake, he said, "I reject your reality and substitute my own." Trying to be funny, I think he truly summed up in a short phrase, the modern philosophy of so many people in our world today. They reject what they don't want to be true, and put in its place what they want to be true. Breaking a promise is no big deal. Cheating on one's spouse or on one's taxes, also, is no big deal. Worshipping false gods are fine, as long as what you believe, you believe with your whole heart. Taking God's name in vain is freedom of speech. Killing the unborn is a personal choice. "I reject your reality, (that is God's) and substitute my own." Isn't that exactly what Adam and Eve did in the Garden of Eden? In fact, because they did that, death resulted. God allowed us to have our own reality. The skeleton in the picture is quite coincidental but proves my point. It is a real myth to think that we can reject God and there are no consequences. You can reject God's reality, but it will cost you dearly. On the other hand, thanks be to God that it is no myth that God sent His only Son into the world to bear our sin and be our Savior. God took on flesh, dwelt among us, suffered and died on a cross, to take our place. He rose again, three days later, again no myth, and proclaimed to the world that there is life and there is hope and there is salvation and there is forgiveness. "I reject your reality and substitute my own." In fact, that is exactly what Jesus said to us. I reject your sinful reality that leads to death and substitute my own that leads to life. Let us follow the reality of our Lord because it leads to where we want to go. God bless.

Wednesday, October 31, 2007

What Are We Exposing Our Children To?

I just came from our children's school, Muraski, here in Strongsville, where they had a "parade" of children walking around with their costumes. But, as I stood there, a thought came into my mind: what are we exposing our children to? What are our children watching? There were many fairies, many Spidermen and many Darth Vaders. These I don't have as much of a problem with; but, there were a lot of costumes that were scary in every sense of the term. I saw a Jason from "Friday the 13th." I saw a Freddy from "Nightmare on Elm Street" and Michael Myers from "Halloween" the movie. Muraski only goes up to the 6th grade and that means that the oldest child is maybe 13. Do our children watch these so-called horror movies? I ask that knowing full well that they do, because I have talked about it in confirmation. We should be furious that kids of all ages are watching these movies that adults should not even be watching. We live in such a violent society already and we should not make light of violence in any way. What redeeming value is there in letting our children dress up like mass murderers? It is sick and it is wrong. It sends the wrong message and especially if we are not teaching our children what is right and what is wrong. Is it any wonder that children go into schools and act out what they see in movie? If anyone saw the pictures from the shooting at Success Tech in Cleveland, you know exactly what I talking about. Asa looked like someone you would see in a horror movie. When will it all end? I wonder. The bottom line is that we must take a stance against this in our society and we must do it quickly. Lord have mercy on us!

Monday, October 29, 2007

Standing Up For What You Believe In!

From the beginning of my ministry (1998), people, especially District executives, have said that I needed to change my viewpoints on worship. The historic liturgy was on its way out. People today need something more. They need bands and contemporary music. Hymns were too old-fashioned. For a church to be successful, it had to have a contemporary service. But, it is my firmest conviction, that what people need is the Word of God and the historic liturgy, our hymns and confessional Lutheran worship is the best way to bring that to them. We don't need to change who we are for the sake of increasing our membership. Yes, there will be some people that demand a certain type of worship. But, I believe that if people truly understand how our confessional Lutheran worship is structured and why we do what we do, they will desire it. The bottom line is that we have been given a beautiful and magnificent form of worship, i.e. the historic Lutheran liturgy and we must hold on to that no matter what. I will believe that for as long as God allows me to serve Him as pastor. S0li Deo Gloria!

Thursday, October 25, 2007

A Reformation Angel

This image to the left is taken from the title page of the 1534 Bible of Martin Luther.
Revelation 14, verses 6 and 7, "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."
These two verses from Revelation 14 beautifully describe Martin Luther, the man God used to bring the Gospel back into the spotlight. He definitely was an angel, a messenger the Lord used to bring countless souls into the kingdom of God. But remember, this Reformation Angel isn’t gone. He still flutters his wings whenever the Word of God is proclaimed in its truth and purity. He still flies through the air and contends with God’s enemies of sin, death and devil. Thank you, Martin Luther, for being a faithful angel or messenger of Christ!

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Who are the Jehovah Witnesses?

You never know when you are going to have an opportunity to bear witness to the faith (1 Peter 3:15-16). Sometimes, it comes when you least expect it or when you least desire it. On Sunday afternoon, God provided an opportunity for me to confess the truth to two young Jehovah Witness ladies. Sunday afternoon, I am usually fairly tired from the Sunday activities; and this past Sunday, I also had a hymn fest that I was going to later in the day. Needless to say, I was not necessarily in the mood to debate theology at my front door. But, as these ladies came to the door, I knew that it was an opportunity that I could not pass up. As the conservation began, I asked them where they were from and what they were up to (I had previously told them that I was a Lutheran pastor). They continued with their presentation. I listened for awhile and then when the opportunity presented itself, I began to stir the conversation around who Jesus was. Predictably, they informed me that Jesus was a created being, not God. Jesus was a good man, but not our Savior. He was, "our king"- one who shows us how we should live our life. Also, I asked them if they believed they were going to heaven. Their response, "No, only 144,000 are going there. They were going to the new earth that Jesus was going to create." As the conversation continued, we discussed many other topics, but before they left, I presented to them the Gospel. "We are all sinful, truly and completely unable to save ourselves. So, therefore, God the Father, who is rich in mercy, sent His only Son into the world, Jesus Christ, who died and rose again for all people. Those who believe and are baptized into Jesus will be saved." I also warned them to make sure that their beliefs were really from the Word of God. I, then, invited them to St. John and we parted ways. I will probably never know the full effect of this conversation. I pray I may have an opportunity with them again someday. But, as a Christian, the opportunities are all around to bear witness to Christ in what we say and what we do. May the Holy Ghost inspire us to be bold and take advantage of the opportunities as they present themselves! God bless!

Keeping Things in Perspective

I'm upset. This wasn't supposed to happen. This was their year. I had nearly given up earlier in the year; but, as the season ended, I was a firm believer. Everything was lined up and as game 7 with the Red Sox ended, I was in shock. But, as a few days have passed, my attitude has changed. It was disappointing- no question about it. But, keeping things in perspective, it was a great year. We won the division. We beat the Yankees and we were one game away from going to the World Series. I am very proud of our team. It will take time to get over how this season ended; but next year will come. We will be ready to take it one step further. Go Tribe!

Monday, September 24, 2007

What Are the Most Important Things We Can Teach Our Children?

As a father of four boys, I have often asked myself this question: what are the most important things I can teach my children? Is it to throw a baseball or a football or is it to cheer for the Cleveland sports teams or is it how our American form of government works or is it how to deal with our enemies or is it how important our military is to our national security or is it how to spend money? Certainly, all of these things are important, some more than others. But, as a father, I have learned what is most important thing to teach our children: it is the Gospel; and not just part of the Gospel, but the entire Gospel. Teaching our blessed children right from wrong; teaching them that they are sinners in need of God's grace; teaching them that God loves them for the sake of Jesus Christ and his death and resurrection; teaching them that they are God's beloved children in Baptism; teaching them what goes in Holy Communion so that when they are old enough to receive it, they will truly appreciate it; teaching them Bible stories and our blessed Lutheran doctrine; and teaching them that when they die they will be in God's presence forever. This is the Gospel and this is what we need to teach our children.
So often, myself included, I think parents get side-tracked. Because of busy schedules or just a lack of concern, children are cheated out of what we as parents should be teaching them. Sometimes what we are teaching them is not what we want to be teaching them or we are allowing the media, television and the Internet to be teaching them. Being a parent is such a humbling experience. But, as a parent, I know how quickly the time goes. So parents, may we truly heed the words of Moses in Deuteronomy 6, beginning at verse 4 "Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one. You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might. And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise. You shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes. You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates. "And when the LORD your God brings you into the land that he swore to your fathers, to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob, to give you- with great and good cities that you did not build, and houses full of all good things that you did not fill, and cisterns that you did not dig, and vineyards and olive trees that you did not plant- and when you eat and are full, then take care lest you forget the LORD, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery. It is the LORD your God you shall fear. Him you shall serve and by his name you shall swear. "

Sunday, September 23, 2007

1 Goal Reached, 11 games to go!

I must admit that at one point this year, I didn't think they would get it done. They proved me wrong. Unbelievable game, but they aren't finished. 11 games to a championship. The city needs it. We have waited long enough. Go tribe!

Thursday, September 20, 2007

What Do We Believe as Lutherans? Adult Instruction Class

Starting on Wednesday, September 26, at 7pm at St. John Evangelical Lutheran Church, located at 8888 Prospect Road in Strongsville, Ohio, we will be starting another adult instruction class. This class is intended for all adults who are considering joining St. John, for those interested in knowing more about the Lutheran faith, or for those who are already members who want to go back and study again what they learned as youth. Anyone is welcome. It is a great opportunity to learn more and grow in our faith. The class usually lasts anywhere from 10 to 12 weeks. Come one and all.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

He Did It Again?

Unbelievable! Way to go Casey! Twice in four days, he hits a walk-off homer. A 5 1/2 game lead. The magic number is 7. Playoffs here we come.

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Time For Me to Rant!

It's time for me to rant! Yet another "star" has been "exposed" on the Internet. It shouldn't surprise me; and yet, it does. I remember reading a book awhile back that revealed how all of the major female stars in Hollywood had taken off their clothes, in one form or another, on their way up the ladder of success. It was a kind of "rite of passage" to be successful in Hollywood. We've fallen so far as a society. When is it going to stop? The success of the movie, "High School Musical", rather tame in comparison to a lot of what we watch today, reveals just what we value in our society. We value having fun at all costs. We value doing whatever we want whenever we want. We look up to people who lack moral integrity. Where does it lead us? Only God knows. But, here is my plea. America, stop! Stop spending millions of dollars watching the garbage that comes out of Hollywood. Stop going to the movies! Stop buying and renting DVDs. I can't even go to Blockbuster with my children anymore. What they see on the shelves staring back at them makes me blush. Turn off the shows that promote promiscuity and moral ambiguity. As a culture, we must stand up and fight it. If we don't, our future is in serious jeopardy. But, let us not forget that there is forgiveness for all sins at the cross! It is only the grace of God in Jesus Christ that can cure what ails us!

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

What Are They Planning Next?

The day after the 6 year anniversary of 9-11, we still must ask ourselves two very important questions: 1) Are we any safer today than we were six years ago? 2) What are the terrorists planning next? To answer the first question, we must say that in some ways, we are safer. We are more aware of the fact that we have enemies and that is a good thing. I think prior to 9-11, we had forgotten that we have enemies- enemies that are bent on our destruction. I am also certainly thankful for the men and women in our military who are fighting to make us safer. In that way, we are safer. Lastly, certain governmental policy has made us safer. But, it is also questionable whether our airline industry is any safer or if we are any less vulnerable to an attack. Our border to the south is a huge problem and in that regard, we are less safe. So, are we any safer today than we were six years ago? Not sure.
To answer the second question, we must be honest. We don't know what they are planning next; only, we know they are planning something. I believe that it is just a matter of time before we are hit again. Glenn Beck, on the radio and on his television program, brought up the possibility that terrorists may strike at our schools. A couple of years ago, extremists attacked a school in Russia. Many experts today feel that our schools are also vulnerable. Talk about terrorism. There are buses missing in Texas and bus radios missing in the Northwest. Again, we don't know. But it certainly makes you wonder what the terrorists are up to next.
So, the bottom line is simple: pay attention to what is going on around you. Get involved in your local community and vote in office those leaders who you think will protect and keep you safe. But, most importantly, pray. Pray for our nation and especially for our children. God bless us.

Monday, September 10, 2007

What is a Pastor to do?

Pastors today are asked to do a lot and to know a lot. Today, the expectation by some is that a pastor must be able to master many different trades. They are asked to be Cruise directors (make sure everyone is happy and having a good time), Chairmen of the Board (providing leadership and goals for the future), firemen (put out fires), policemen (break up fights), lawyers/judges (determine who is right and who is wrong), doctors (help with medical needs), and accountants (balance the budget). But, first and foremost, the role of the pastor is to do what this painting so beautifully portrays. What is a pastor to do? Point people to Christ. When they are in despair, point them to Christ. When they need help, point them to Christ. When they are in error, point them to Christ. Whatever the situation, point them to Christ. If a pastor is doing that, he is doing what God wants him to do and what the congregation has called him to do. Pastors today must not become distracted from their primary function- point people to Christ. Soli Deo Gloria!

Thursday, September 06, 2007

Chief of Sinners Though I Be!

William McComb, a laymen from Ireland, in the 19th century, wrote one of our greatest hymns about the nature of our relationship with God. In our day and age, to speak of sin is taboo and judgmental. But, to God, acknowledging our sinfulness is good because it leads us to cling to Christ as Savior. Read these words and may Christ lead us to Himself. Soli Deo Gloria!
1. Chief of Sinners though I be, Jesus shed his blood for me, died that I might live on high, lives that I might never die. As the branch is to the vine, I am His, and He is mine.
2. Oh, the height of Jesus' love, higher than the heavens above, deeper than the depths of sea, lasting as eternity! Love that found me- wondrous thought! Found me when I sought Him nought.
3. Only Jesus can impart balm to heal the wounded hear, peace that flows from sin forgiven, joy that lifts the soul to heaven, faith and hope to walk with God in the way that Enoch trod.
4. Chief of sinners though I be, Christ is all in all to me; all my wants to Him are known, all my sorrows are His own, He sustains the hidden life safe with Him from earthly strife.
5. O my Savior, help afford by your Spirit and your Word! When my wayward heart would stray, keep me in the narrow way; grace in time of need supply while I live and when I die.

Tuesday, September 04, 2007

A Six Game Lead with 25 to go!

About 3 weeks ago, I vented my frustration about the Cleveland Indians, wanting them to start winning. Since that time, boy have they turned it on. With a month to play, they have a six game lead over the Detroit Tigers. Keep it going, Tribe! This is the year! 60 years is long enough for a championship.

Thursday, August 30, 2007

Way to Go Mustangs!

Monday, August 27, 2007

God bless our kids!

This morning, I dropped two of our kids off at school. Hard to believe, summer is over. As they begin another year, I pray that they learn what it is they are to learn and disregard that which they are to disregard. May God protect them and all children in our schools this year. Hymn 866 in LSB, sums it up well, Lord Jesus Christ, the Children's Friend. "Lord Jesus Christ, the children's friend, to each of them Your presence send; call them by name and keep them true in loving faith, dear Lord, to You.... That caring parents, gracious Lord, and faithful teachers find reward in leading these, to whom You call, to find in Christ their all in all... Then guard and keep us to the end, secure in you, our gracious friend, that in Your heavenly family we sing Your praise eternally." God bless.

Thursday, August 23, 2007

Going, Going, Gone!

On the final day of its 2007 Churchwide Assembly in Chicago (Saturday, August 11), the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) adopted a resolution which “prays, urges, and encourages [ELCA geographical] synods, synodical bishops, and the presiding bishop to refrain from or demonstrate restraint in disciplining those rostered leaders in a mutual, chaste, and faithful committed same-gender relationship who have been called and rostered in this church."
The ELCA continues to slide down the slippery slope toward compromise with the world. There is no Biblical rationale for this decision. It is entirely based on worldly opinion and a refusal to abide by God's Word. Homosexuality is a sin against God. To have "rostered leaders" trying to justify their behavior is beyond description. For those who are still faithful in the ELCA, my advice to you is get out now. Why the ELCA continues to keep the Lutheran name is beyond my feeble understanding.

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Is God punishing me?

For many, when they hear the word discipline, they also get scared. They think immediately of punishment. Are you one of these people? Bad things that have happened in life or are currently happening in life mean that God is surely punishing them for their sin. What they are going through serves no higher purpose other than retribution on God’s part. God wants to get them back, to watch them squirm. But, nothing could be farther from the truth. God is not getting you back; for He has punished His own Son, our Savior Jesus Christ, with the punishment that was rightly due to you and me.
The prophet Isaiah wrote, “Surely he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows; yet we esteemed him stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted. But he was wounded for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his stripes we are healed.” The Lord’s wrath against sin was unfurled on the shoulders of Jesus, as He endured the scourging, mockery, and finally being crucified upon a cross as punishment for the sins of the world.

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Life Under the Cross

August 13th through the 15th, I attended a Saint Louis seminary extension class hosted by St. James in Cleveland. Dr. Jeff Kloha discussed various chapters in 1 Corinthians. It was truly an enlightening class. Although, I didn't necessarily agree with everything that was said, (who does?) overall the theme was spot-on: all of our lives are lived under the cross. The main problem, if you will, at the city of Corinth was that they didn't see a connection between what Jesus did for them on the cross and their everyday lives. They excused their actions all in the name of Christian freedom. May the Spirit through the Word of the cross lead us to live out our faith in the world now and always.

Monday, August 13, 2007


"Zhang Shuhong, who co-owned Lee Der Industrial Co. Ltd., killed himself at a warehouse over the weekend, days after China announced it had temporarily banned exports by the company, the Southern Metropolis Daily said. Lee Der made 967,000 toys recalled earlier this month by Mattel Inc. because they were made with paint found to have excessive amounts of lead."
I saw this headline and I just had to comment. What a tragedy. It happens every day, but it is still a tragedy. I don't know much about the details, but apparently, this man, so overwhelmed with guilt, saw no way out other than to kill himself.
Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ died on a cross and rose again from the grave so that the forgiveness of sins might be preached to all nations. There was forgiveness for Zhang. Yes, he made a big mistake, but in Christ, there is forgiveness. No one's sin is so large that it can't be forgiven. Just look at Peter. He denied Christ and yet, Jesus forgave him. May we continue to do the work the church has been given and not get sidetracked into a host of other objectives. Preach the Gospel and administer the Sacraments. Jesus forgives your sins and the re is hope for you in this life and the next. Take care.

Let The Rookie Start!

The Cleveland Browns have a dilemma. Which quarterback should start? For me, it is simple. Give the rookie his chance! Neither Frye nor Anderson are going to get it done. Brady has more talent and desire. Let him learn early, make his mistakes and see what happens. Just my humble opinion. What's it going to hurt?

It's Time To Turn It Around

I have to make a brief comment on my beloved Indians. Since moving here in October of 2003, I have become an avid Cleveland sports fan. I fell in love with the Indians very quickly. But, this year, has been very strange. We have been at the top or near the top all year and have not played anywhere up to our abilities and potential. Our family is going to the game Wednesday night. Now is the time. This series is important. Let's go tribe! It's time to turn it around.

It's Good To Be Back

It is good to be back. I have not had a chance to write a new blog in many months. The responsibilities of the pastorate have kept me away. But, I have more to say, so I am making the time. God bless.

Monday, April 30, 2007

Some Quotes from Joel Osteen

1. Joel Osteen-(born March 5, 1963, in Houston, Texas) is the senior pastor of Lakewood Church in Houston, Texas, North America’s largest and fastest growing church averaging more than 42,000 attendees at weekly services. He is also the author of the #1 New York Times bestseller, Your Best Life Now,and his television ministry is the most watched inspirational program in America.

2. Took over Dad’s ministry in 1999: John said, “It's God's will for you to live in prosperity instead of poverty. It's God's will for you to pay your bills and not be in debt. It's God's will for you to live in health and not in sickness all the days of your life.”

3. Osteen quotes:

a) Osteen’s upbeat style is deliberate and authentic. ‘Make church relevant,’ he says. ‘Give them something to be able to take away. I find today people are not looking for theology. There’s a place for it, [But] in your everyday life you need to know how to live.
b) "It's not a churchy feel," Osteen, 40, said. "We don't have crosses up there. We believe in all that, but I like to take the barriers down that have kept people from coming. A lot of people who come now are people that haven't been to church in 20 to 30 years."
c) "I think for years there's been a lot of hellfire and damnation. You go to church to figure out what you're doing wrong and you leave feeling bad like you're not going to make it," Osteen said. "We believe in focusing on the goodness of God."
d) Interview with Larry King: KING: “What if you're Jewish or Muslim, you don't accept Christ at all? OSTEEN: “You know, I'm very careful about saying who would and wouldn't go to heaven. I don't know ...KING: “If you believe you have to believe in Christ? They're wrong, aren't they?OSTEEN: “Well, I don't know if I believe they're wrong. I believe here's what the Bible teaches and from the Christian faith this is what I believe. But I just think that only God with judge a person's heart. ... I don't know all about their religion. But I know they love God. And I don't know. I've seen their sincerity. So I don't know. I know for me, and what the Bible teaches, I want to have a relationship with Jesus.
2 Timothy 4:3-4- For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but after their own lusts shall they heap to themselves teachers, having itching ears; And they shall turn away [their] ears from the truth, and shall be turned unto fables.