Monday, January 30, 2012

This Week at Mt. Olive

Good evening, fellow redeemed!

The time is fulfilled. The Kingdom of God is at hand. Repent and believe the Gospel. In the Gospel lesson for today (Mark 1:21-28), Jesus casts out an unclean spirit and teaches with authority.

Several years ago as a seminary student, I went to hear a speaker who was on campus for the morning. He stood before us and we were captivated. His speech was sometimes difficult to understand - he had lost half his tongue to cancer. Still, we students hung on every word. The speaker was the Rev. Dr. Oswald Hoffman, the former long-time Lutheran Hour speaker. He had a presence; he had authority.

Jesus authority in today's Gospel text surpassed all others. His command of the Old Testament was unsurpassed. He spoke not of prophecy and opinion, but of fulfillment and reality. Jesus ushered in the Kingdom of God, and He was and remains the content of the Gospel.

Little wonder that we as Lutheran stress so much the Gospel - Jesus Christ and Him crucified. In Jesus, the Gospel is not a list of to dos, but a proclamation to be believed. In Jesus, we are delivered from sin, death, and the power of the devil. Everything points to Him.

This Week at Mt. Olive
Wednesday, we will complete the discussion of "A Skeleton in God's Closet." In the few short weeks before Lent, our attention will turn to a few books of the Apocrypha.

I will be out of the office Monday and Tuesday.

Prayer Concerns:
Bill Waterman, Bob Whitworth, Burt Nelson
Those who serve in our armed forces and their families: Rob Vadney, John Sorensen
The homebound among us

This Week at Mt. Olive:
Monday, January 30
6:30 p.m.
Zumba Aerobics

Wednesday, February 1
8:30 a.m.
School Chapel

9:30 a.m.
Bible Study (Revelation 16)

6:30 p.m.
Zumba Aerobics

7 p.m.
Lutheran Book Club (finish A Skeleton in God's Closet).

God bless!

Sunday, January 29, 2012

Transfiguration Day General Prayer

Lord God heavenly Father, we confess with the psalmist that we are blessed to dwell in Your house and sing Your praises. Confident of Your favor, withhold no good thing from us as we call upon Your name in prayer:

Grant to us and all people a renewed reverence for- and holy awe of -Your will expressed in the Ten Commandments. Let our lives be shining examples of those who walk in Your ways and reflect Your presence to the world.

Instill in us a confident faith in Your Word. Let it shine in all of the dark places in our lives and in this world. Grant that our church and congregation would always recognize and confess that the words of the prophets and apostles were inspired by Your Holy Spirit.

Help us to know and believe in Your Son Jesus Christ as he is revealed on the mount of transfiguration—true God and true man—the heaven-sent Savior who has reconciled us to you.

Grant us a ready confidence to face our last day on earth, knowing that there is another life to come and an eternal dwelling place with Your for all who have trusted in Your Son Jesus. Comfort those who mourn with this Good News.

Make us ready to tell of what we have seen and heard in Your Son Jesus Christ. Empower the witness of your church and raise up men for the pastoral ministry.

As we come into the presence of your Son Jesus Christ at this altar, receiving his body and blood for the forgiveness of our sins, drive away all fears and raise us up to walk in his ways.

Throughout our lives, in every moment and circumstance, be to us a sun and shield. We especially ask You to shine upon those who are ill and in need. Grant them your favor and honor them with good gifts.

All of these things and whatever else you see that we need and yet lack the wisdom to ask for, whatever is for our neighbor’s good and to Your glory, grant to us dear Father in heaven for the sake of Your Son Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

The Transfiguration of Jesus

Matthew 17:1-9
All of the Gospel writers record Jesus’ deep and abiding prayer life—that he regularly made time for prayer—that he often sought out solitary places where he could be alone with his heavenly Father, apart from the press of the crowds. But this day was different. The Bible says that:

After six days Jesus took with him Peter and James, and John his brother, and led them up a high mountain by themselves.

Why would Jesus take disciples with him this time when he never had before? It was because he needed and wanted witnesses for what was about to happen—people who could testify to what they saw and heard that day on the mountain.

In our epistle lesson today we have that testimony from one of the men who were there, from Peter, who says that: he and James and John were eyewitnesses of Christ’s majesty—that they heard with their own ears the words of the Father, proclaiming Jesus his Son, because they were with him on the holy mountain.

Jesus never talked about what happened to him that day—he never used these events to strengthen his ministry—he never drew attention to the glory of God that shone forth from his human flesh as he was transfigured—but his disciples (the eyewitnesses) did talk about it—not just to encourage their fellow disciples-- but to encourage every Christian in every time and place, down to the folks sitting in these pews today.

Jesus took Peter, James and John with him so that we could see through their eyes and we could hear with their ears all that happened that day—so that our faith in Jesus and our confidence in the Word of God could be strengthened by the transfiguration. The Bible says that Jesus:

…was transfigured before them, and his face shone like the sun, and his clothes became white as light.

When Moses came down Mount Sinai after receiving the Ten Commandments, the fact that he had been directly in the presence of God was as clear as the nose on his shining face that still reflected the glory of God.

It is that same divine light that shines, not on Jesus as it did upon Moses, but through Jesus and from Jesus upon those around him.

Jesus said of himself that he is the Light of the world. John, who was also with him on the mount of transfiguration, said that Jesus is the light that enlightens all men. These words were literally true that day as the glory of God shone forth from Jesus.

It’s not as if the glory of God had not always been there in Jesus. The angels proclaimed the reality of the glory of God in Jesus Christ at his birth when they sang “glory to God in the highest" as the star shone upon his crib. Every miracle Jesus performed revealed the glory of God.

But there that day on the mount of transfiguration, in the presence of witnesses, the glory of God was revealed in Jesus in a way that all could see so that he could be known for who he is: the promised Savior of us all. The Bible says that:

There appeared to them Moses and Elijah, talking with Jesus. And Peter said to him, “Lord, it is good that we are here. If you wish, I will make three tents here, one for you and one for Moses and one for Elijah.”

There were others there that day besides Jesus and the disciples and they were present to bear witness as well. They were there to give witness from the past—to identify Jesus of Nazareth as the one whom the prophets had always been talking about when they told of the Messiah to come.

Moses was there to bear witness that Jesus was the greater prophet he had promised—that Jesus was the Seed of the woman he had written about in Genesis—that Jesus was the living, breathing embodiment of those stone tablets that Moses had held in his hands on Mount Sinai.

Elijah was there to speak for the prophets—to bear witness that: the suffering servant of Isaiah and the humble king of Zechariah and the refining fire of Malachi were the same person—the humble man who stood between them, clothed in light.

Later on his ministry Jesus would say that all of the Law and prophets testified of him-- and so it was that day as the past found its fulfillment in Jesus.
But Moses and Elijah were also there to testify about the future—to show by their living presence what Jesus had come to do.

Sin had brought death into the world for all people—even for those closest to God like Moses and Elijah. But Jesus came to bring life-- and their presence that day testified to that saving work that Jesus would accomplish by his death and resurrection.

Moses and Elijah were there to bear witness to the fact that in Jesus’ presence death has to give way to life—that death is not the end for God's people--but there is life to come for all who trust in Jesus.

One of these days, we too will take our place there at Jesus’ side along with Moses and Elijah and Peter, and James, and John and all who have trusted in the Lord and we will all testify that life, real life, eternal life is God's gift to all of those who listen to his Son. The Bible says:

Peter was still speaking when, behold, a bright cloud overshadowed them, and a voice from the cloud said, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased; listen to him.”

On the day that Moses went up upon Mount Sinai, there was a great cloud filled the brightness of lightning, and from this cloud (which was the very presence of God) came the words of God—the commands that he wanted to God’s people to follow-- but also the testimony of his own saving work that he had already accomplished in setting them free from slavery in Egypt.

It is that same divine presence who appears on the mount of transfiguration—also with commands and the testimony of God’s saving works.

On Mount Sinai God said: "Listen to me!" On the mount of transfiguration God says: "Listen to my Son!" and there is no conflict between these two commands. To hear the voice of Jesus is to hear what God has to say to us.
Again and again throughout his ministry Jesus said that he had come to do his Father’s will and speak his Father’s words.

All doubts and questions about: who Jesus is- and are there other ways to heaven- and what does God desire of me as his child- fall by the wayside there on the mount of transfiguration in the bright, shining presence of the transfigured Christ.

Jesus is mediator between God and man. He is the way that leads to life. We are to listen and obey what he says. Jesus is God in human flesh and to see him is to see God and to hear him is to hear God and to know him is to know God. The bible says:

When the disciples heard this, they fell on their faces and were terrified.

There would be other moments like this in Jesus’ ministry—moments when the disciples would shrink back in fear.

Early on in his ministry when the disciples had the great catch of fish, Peter begged the Lord to depart from him because he was a sinner. Later on in his ministry, when Jesus appeared before the disciples after his resurrection and their guilt still rested heavily upon them, they shrank back in fear. It happened in the Old Testament as well when Isaiah came into the presence of the Lord and fell on his face, certain that he would die because he was a sinner.

The reaction of Peter, James, and John on the Mount of Transfiguration -and the reaction of Isaiah in the presence of the Lord-- is the natural, normal reaction of sinners when they are cast into the presence of a holy God. But in what happens next we see the perfect picture of what Jesus came to do. The Bible says that:

Jesus came and touched them, saying, “Rise, and have no fear.” And when they lifted up their eyes, they saw no one but Jesus only.

When Adam and Even and hid from God in guilt and shame and fear-- he reached out to them- and clothed them by a sacrifice- and covered their shame. When Isaiah was struck down by fear in the Lord’s presence the angel of the Lord came to him and touched his lips with a burning coal and purged away his sin. When the disciples hid out in shame and fear Jesus appeared before them and proclaimed peace—holding out his pierced hands and side to drive away their fear.

The natural, normal reaction of sinners to the presence of God is fear—but Jesus came to take that fear away. There on the mount of transfiguration was a preview, a prophetic picture of his saving work: Struck down by fear—unable to rise under the load of their sinful weakness—Jesus came to the disciples, touched them—and lifted them up.

So he would do for us all at the cross. We could not come to God and so Jesus condescended to come to us. He took upon himself our flesh and became a servant to us all—God in flesh laying down his life for us on the cross—taking away our sins so that we have nothing to fear from entering into the presence of our holy God.

The words he spoke that day are spoken here today: Rise and have no fear. Rise up from the burden of your sin for I have taken it upon myself. Have no fear of death for there is only life in my presence. Rise and have no fear.

And just as Jesus put flesh and blood on those words that day by reaching out and touching the disciples, so he does the same for us here today—feeding us with the same body and blood that was there that day on the mount of transfiguration—the same body and blood present on Mount Calvary—the same body and blood that came forth from the tomb on Easter morning. The bible says that:

As they were coming down the mountain, Jesus commanded them, “Tell no one the vision, until the Son of Man is raised from the dead.”

Jesus took with him Peter, James, and John so that there could be witnesses as to his true identity--that he was God in human flesh--but what that meant for the world had not yet been reveled--that would only come after Jesus’ death and resurrection.

It is only when Jesus has gone to the cross and suffered and died for our sins—only when he has risen from the dead-- that we understand the greatness of God’s love in sending his Son—that he was sent to live and die and rise again for us and for our salvation.

Who Jesus is—and what he came to do—are the whole story of salvation and that story still needs to be told. May God empower our witness to what we have seen and heard in Jesus Christ! Amen.

Monday, January 23, 2012

This Week at Mt. Olive

This week, the Lutheran Book Club meets on Wednesday evening to discuss "A Skeleton in God's Closet" by Dr. Paul Maier. The reading goal is to be completed through chapter 15 by Wednesday evening.

Saturday, Messiah Lutheran Church will host a Youth Lock-In for ages confirmation instruction (grade 6) through high school. The cost is $5 per person. I need to have a head count by Tuesday so that I am able to convey that information to Messiah. The Lock-In begins at 6 p.m. and will be conducted by DCE students from Concordia-Texas in Austin. The end time is 7 a.m., which will give everyone time to attend the Divine Service before going home and crashing.

Prayer Concerns:
Our nation, its citizens, and its leaders, that they may choose life rather than perpetuating a culture of death
The holy Christian and apostolic Church that it may preach life in the forgiveness of sins
Those who are caught in the culture of death, that they may be brought to repentance and enjoy the gift of forgiveness
Pastor James Autry and the people of Trinity Lutheran Church, West Sinton

This Week at Mt. Olive:
Wednesday, January 25
8:30 a.m.
School Chapel

9:30 a.m.
Bible Study (Revelation 15-16)

7 p.m.
Lutheran Book Club

Friday, January 27
Happy Birthday, Jonathan!

Saturday, January 28
6 p.m.
Youth Lock In at Messiah in Calallen

God bless!

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Chosen by God, We Choose Life

Deuteronomy 30:15-20
The words of our text were spoken by Moses to the children of the Israelites who came out of slavery in Egypt. Their parents refused to believe that God would lead them into the Promised Land and so the older generation died in the wilderness.

But now their children were poised to enter into the Promised Land and there was a choice before them just as there was before their parents. Would they follow in the faithless footsteps of their parents or would they trust God and walk in his ways? Moses said to them: “See, I have set before you today life and good, death and evil.

On this date, January 22nd, thirty-nine years ago our nation and its highest court faced much the same kind of choice that the Israelites faced standing on the banks of the Jordan River. Would they believe in the God of creation who gives life- and walk in his ways- or would they deny him and go their own way?

They made their choice. In a 7 to 2 majority vote, the Supreme Court of the United States ruled that the: "right of broad enough to encompass a woman's decision whether or not to terminate her pregnancy” thereby legalizing abortion—choosing death and evil over life and good.

So that we understand what that “choice” really entailed, almost a million and a half abortions are performed each year in the United States---about fifty million aborted children since that fateful day thirty-nine years ago today.

From this decision to choose “death and evil” over “life and good” has come a culture of death that embraces more and more people than just the unborn. Those who are ill—those who are disabled—those who are elderly—those whose mere existence is an imposition to the lifestyle of others-- are increasingly looked upon as inconveniences to be gotten rid of by those more powerful than themselves.

Just as the Israelites faced a choice as they entered into the Promised Land- and just as our nation faced a choice in 1973- we too face the same choice between “life and good” and “death and evil.” Moses said:

If you obey the commandments of the LORD your God that I command you today, by loving the LORD your God, by walking in his ways, and by keeping his commandments and his statutes and his rules, then you shall live and multiply, and the LORD your God will bless you in the land that you are entering to take possession of it.

It is important to remember that the choice before the Israelites was not whether or not to be saved-- or whether or not to be a part of God’s people—they were saved and they were God’s people. God had chosen them to be his own.

So it is with us. We have been saved by Jesus Christ. We are God’s people. God has chosen us in Christ to be his own precious possession. The choice before us then, is the same as it was for the children of Israel: What will our identity as God’s people mean for us in how we live our lives? You see…

There is an inseparable connection between: believing in God—and how we live our lives. Jesus said: If you love me, you will keep my commandments. John said: This is the love of God, that we keep his commandments.

The choice that was before the Israelites is exactly the choice that is before us: Will we show that our trust in God is real- by loving him and walking in his ways and keeping his commandments?

To encourage us to make the right decision, Moses promises us that there are blessings that come from obedience.

For the Israelites, these were blessings tied to the covenant that God made with them as a people at Sinai, blessings that were unique to them as a people—but are there are blessings for us too that come from walking in God’s ways.

When we follow God’s counsel about marrying a fellow believer it adds a vital building block for a strong marriage. When we follow God’s counsel and abstain from sexual sins we don’t have to worry about damaging our health. When we follow God’s counsel and dress modestly people won’t get the wrong idea about us.

There are blessings that come from walking in God’s ways. But the opposite is also true, that a life of disobedience leads to curse and death. Moses said:

But if your heart turns away, and you will not hear, but are drawn away to worship other gods and serve them, I declare to you today, that you shall surely perish. You shall not live long in the land that you are going over the Jordan to enter and possess.

Just as there were specific covenant blessings if the Israelites followed in God’s ways-- so there were specific covenant curses for disobedience.

The same principle applies to our nation too. Having chosen death, there are curses. Can anyone honestly say: that we are a better people for having legalized abortion? That we are more caring for those around us? That life has become more precious? That the moral fabric of our nation is stronger? The fact of the matter is…

Just the opposite has happened! In the last thirty-nine years, the number of broken homes has risen dramatically. Sexually transmitted diseases are epidemic. Pornography is everywhere. And how can it not be so when a nation enshrines death in its laws as a moral right and legitimate good?

The same thing can happen in our life—there are unintended but real consequences to our sinful choices: relationships are broken—opportunities are limited—life with God is undermined—for the truth of the matter is that when we go away from God, we are moving towards a false god.

The Israelites were drawn to worship the Canaanite gods, which involved child sacrifice and sexual immorality as a part of their worship. The idols in our day of autonomy and convenience and self lead to exactly the same sins of sexual immorality and the death of children in abortion.

And because these idols appeal to our flesh too, we have to be on guard against them and walk in God’s ways of service and sacrifice to others, choosing life.

There is a clearly seen division between those who love God and follow him and take upon themselves his values-- and those who worship and serve the false gods of this age—a clear division between life and blessing, death and curse. Moses said:

I call heaven and earth to witness against you today, that I have set before you life and death, blessing and curse.

The mini-series “Band of Brothers” follows an American army unit as it fights its way across Europe after D-Day. They parachute into Normandy and fight in the Battle of the Bulge. Amazing battle scenes! But the most powerful episode is one towards the end of the series. It is entitled: “Why We Fight.”

The episode follows the army unity as it marches through a prosperous, orderly German town that has already surrendered and begun to rebuild. But just outside this city (where Germans are getting back to normal life) is a concentration camp that has been abandoned by its guards. The scene inside this camp is horrible. What one man can do to another simply because of who he is, is beyond comprehension. But what is even harder to understand are the townspeople who turned a blind eye to it.

So that there can be no denial that it ever happened, the soldiers make every one of the townspeople march out to the camp with shovels in hand to bury the dead so that they can never claim ignorance about what happened just outside their community.

Over the last thirty-nine years, 50 million children in this country have been legally killed by abortion. We dare not, as Christian citizens of the United States, turn a blind eye to the destruction of life that has taken place in our nation over the last thirty-nine years. We are not permitted to ignore it or pretend it is not happening.

Heaven and earth bear witness to this tragedy and so must we. We must make a solemn resolution that we will have no part in this culture of death—that we will choose life—not only for our sake-- but for the sake of those who follow us. Moses said:

I have set before you life and death, blessing and curse. Therefore choose life, that you and your offspring may live,

One of the most painful things for us to realize is that there are consequences for the sinful choices we make, not only for ourselves but for the generation that follows us—consequences for our children. That is certainly true when it comes to abortion.

84 percent of women who get abortions are single. In other words, they and their partners have engaged in sexual immorality and a child is conceived and then aborted in the name of convenience and freedom.

Death is always the direction of sin unless there is a return to the Lord. The Good News for us today is that we can return to the Lord—even those who have chosen the way of curse and death for themselves and their children. Moses said:

Love the LORD your God, obey his voice and hold fast to him, for he is your life and length of days, that you may dwell in the land that the LORD swore to your fathers, to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob, to give them.”

God made an enduring promise to the children of Israel beginning with the Patriarchs: that he would be their God and they would be his people and he would bring them into the Promised Land. God kept that promise as he always does.

But there was even more to his promise. He promised that he would send a Savior for all people—a deliverer who would change the direction of the world from death back to life --like God intended for all of us in the beginning.

Jesus Christ accomplished by his death and resurrection. His shed blood paid for the sins of the world—all sins—including the sins of sexual immorality and abortion. He took upon himself our broken lives to give us wholeness and peace. And his resurrection from the dead is God’s guarantee that death will not be the last word about us--but life and blessing can come from even the darkest of days—for he himself is our life.

We are called by God to choose life and blessing over death and curse—to walk in his ways and be obedient to his commands. We are called by God to take a stand against evil in this dark and dying world.

But we are also called by God to make his voice heard—to let people around us know that they do not have to choose death and curse—but that there is a God who loves them with an everlasting love-- who holds out to them life and blessing in his Son Jesus Christ if they will only receive it in faith.

When we support Lutherans for Life- and when we are merciful to those who have sinned- and when we are welcoming to those who are struggling with critical life issues and need our support and encouragement—we show, in a powerful way, that we have in the LORD, a God who can be trusted to give life and blessing. Amen.

Monday, January 16, 2012

This Week at Mt. Olive

Good evening, fellow redeemed!

This morning during late service, as I prepared to commune a person in the pew, the congregation was mighty in song! The congregation was singing the last stanza of "The Church's One Foundation..." I could hear a tenor part being sung, as well as a descant of unknown origin, but one that fit so well with the music and the words of the stanza that it very built up the sound. As I listened, I thought to myself, "This must be what heaven sounds like!"

"O blessed heavenly chorus! Lord, save us by Your grace, that we like saints before us may see You face to face."

This week at Mt. Olive, Monday the Church Office, school, and extended care will be closed for the holiday. I'll be out of the office that day.

The Board of Elders will meet on Monday at 6:30 p.m.

Lutheran Book Club will meet on Wednesday evening at 7 p.m. Our topic of discussion is Paul Maier's "A Skeleton in God's Closet."

As you make your plans for next weekend, I want to remind you of the ordination and installation service for Pastor Jim Autry at Trinity Lutheran, West Sinton. The service begins at 3 p.m.

Finally, a reminder for the 6th grade and up youth of the Lock In at Messiah Lutheran Church in Calallen. The festivities begin at 6 p.m. and will be conducted by students from Concordia University - Texas. The Lock-In will end at 7 a.m. Sunday, so that all involved will be able to attend the Divine Service on Sunday morning.

Prayer Concerns:
Students and faculty members both from Mt. Olive and around our nation as they return to classes in colleges and universities
The homebound: Ann Cleveland, Ruby Rieder, Charlotte Birnbaum, Bud Bird, Walter and Pearly Theiss
For rain to water the earth in this season of drought
For the unemployed and underemployed among us
Those who serve in our armed forces and their families: Rob Vadney, John Sorensen

This Week at Mt. Olive:
Monday, January 16
6:30 p.m.
Zumba Aerobics

Board of Elders
Church Office, School, and Extended Care are closed for the MLK holiday

Wednesday, January 18
8:30 a.m.
School Chapel

9:30 a.m.
Bible Study (Revelation 14-15)

6:30 p.m.
Zumba Aerobics

7 p.m.
Lutheran Book Club (A Skeleton in God's Closet)

God bless!

Sunday, January 15, 2012

The Model for Christian Marriage

Ephesians 5:21-33
I think that all of us are aware there is a marriage crisis in our country and culture that has spilled over even into the church.

In more and more states, the union of two men or two women is being called marriage-and there are church bodies that support this legislation. Fewer and fewer people are getting married and those who do are getting married at later and later ages and the vast majority of them have lived together before marriage—including Christian young people. And even those who call themselves Christians have a divorce rate that is similar to those who are not believers.

And so what is the solution to what ails us as a country and culture and church when it comes to marriage? How can we have better marriages that will stand the test of time and be a blessing to those around us? What can we lift up to our children as what they ought to hope for when it comes to marriage?

What is needed is a return to God’s Word and the guidance that comes from the Creator of man and woman and marriage. What is needed is a renewed commitment to follow the model for Christian marriage that we have before us in God’s Word. The Bible says: Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ.

The heart of Christian marriage—the very center of our lives as husbands and wives is not the love we have for one another—but the relationship we have with Jesus.

The husband/wife relationship is not just a list of rules-- but the living out of who we are in Christ-- and so to be a better husband and to be a better wife—we need to grow closer to God through faith in Jesus. If you are single and want to have a happy marriage—make sure that the person you marry is a committed follower of Jesus Christ. His work for us that makes us Christians and enables us to be better husbands and wives is found throughout these verses. The Bible says that…

Jesus saved us from our sins on the cross—laying aside his divine dignity and honor out of love for us. He gave us his own life in Holy Baptism. He made us members of his body so that we are perfectly united to him. He nourishes our faith with his own body and blood. And he is working in our lives every day to bring us to heaven.

This is what Christ has done for us and we respond to him with reverence. This life of reverence has a particular shape in our marriage: it looks like Jesus’ own life as we live out our faith in the context of our lives as husbands and wives.

It is out of reverence for Christ that we submit to one another in marriage—not just because of our love for one another—not because of how we feel, which can change. But we submit to one another as husband and wife because of who we are in Christ.

That is the foundation for all that follows in God’s guidance for married couples.

Now, what does it mean to submit? It means that we recognize that God has established a particular order in marriage and family and as husbands and wives and parents and children we gladly take our particular place in it out of reverence for Christ—wives respecting their husbands and husbands loving their wives. The Bible says:

Wives, submit to your own husbands, as to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife even as Christ is the head of the church, his body, and is himself its Savior. Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit in everything to their husbands.

God is a God of order. There is a God-given order in creation. Mankind was given dominion over the other creatures but man is answerable to God for that dominion. There is a God-order in the church. Christ is the head of the church and he rules by his Word. There is a God-given order in society with the government acting as God’s ministers. And there is a God-given order in marriage for the husband and the wife.

Christian wives, out of reverence for Christ, are called upon to confess their belief in God’s “order and design” by submitting to their husbands as the head of their marriage just as the church recognizes that Christ is its head and submits to him.

This is a submission that is based upon love not fear. The church does not fear Christ but serves him in glad obedience on account of his great love for us. So, Christian wives are called by God to show their faith in Jesus by respecting their husbands.

This God-given order goes all the way back to the creation of marriage in the Garden of Eden. It was Adam who was created first. He was the one who named Eve. She was given to Adam by God as a helper fit for him. This has nothing to do with the fall into sin—it predates it. This is God’s enduring will for marriage and so wives are to submit to their own husbands in everything.

Now what does the Bible mean by that word “everything”? It means everything pertaining to their lives as husbands and wives. A husband is not permitted to ask his wife to sin or to tell her to abandon her faith. She does not have to submit to those requests.

Neither does it mean that the husband will make all the decisions. Just as in the church where there are many, many things left free to us as Christians, so the wise Christian husband will give his wife wide latitude in how their home operates and how their children are raised and how the money is spent.

But at the end of the day, the husband is the head of the wife and he is the one who sets the tone and direction for the marriage relationship in a Christ-like way. The Bible says:

Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, so that he might present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish.

Husbands also are to recognize that there is an order that God has established in marriage and submit to their place in out of reverence for Christ by loving their wives like Christ loved the church.

And how did Jesus do that? Was he bossy and high-handed? Did he demoralize her and beat her down? Did he keep her at arm’s length? No! He loved her and laid down his life for her on the cross. He sacrificed everything for her. He took her into his confidence and trusted her with his mission.

So the husband is to put his wife’s welfare above all other earthly priorities. He is to lift her up and encourage her. He is to share his heart with her and trust her with all that is important to him. His life is to be given in service to her.

This is what Christ-like love of a husband for his wife looks like and it does not change with the times—it is not there one day and gone the next—it is constant and enduring, just like Christ’s love for us.

The love of Christ for the church is especially directed towards her eternal welfare. Christ has done everything for our eternal salvation and this too is the Christian husband’s first priority when it comes to his wife.

He is the one responsible for her spiritual well-being—seeing to it that family devotions are held and that time is made for church and Christian giving is a priority and that nothing he says or does tears down, or undermines his wife’s faith in Jesus. The husband’s life is to be lived so that his wife grows closer to Christ and deeper in her faith.

He does this because he is a Christian and reverences Christ with his life. But the husband also does it because he and his wife are united together as one flesh in God’s sight and what he does to bless her is also a blessing for himself. The Bible says:

In the same way husbands should love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. For no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as Christ does the church, because we are members of his body. “Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.”

Every time Christ and his apostles taught on marriage, they turned to this verse written by Moses in Genesis: that marriage is the one flesh union between one man and one woman. Jesus used it when the Pharisees asked him about divorce. Paul used it here to remind us what marriage is and how we are to live as husbands and wives. This verse from Genesis is God’s institution of marriage.

So-called homosexual marriage is impossible because there is not a man and a woman-- and two men or two women cannot establish a one flesh union for which man and woman were created by God.

Cultural values may evolve and a nation’s laws may change --but the creative purpose and plan of God cannot change: one man and one woman joined to one another in marriage become one flesh and produce the fruit of their love in the children they conceive and bear.

When God’s Word and will are simply accepted, all questions about living together- and divorce- and the purpose of sexuality- and the possibility of homosexual “marriage” -simply fall by the wayside.

For Christians, there is even more. This one flesh union of a man and woman in marriage not only goes back to creation, it is emblematic of Christ and the church. Just as we are members of Christ, united in his body, the church—so husband and wife are one body.

And just as Christ cares for his body the church by feeding it with the bread of life -and clothing it with his righteousness- and holding it close to his heart- so the husband is to care for the needs of his wife and cherish her as his bride—demonstrating in their marriage the relationship that exists between Christ and the church. The Bible says:

This mystery is profound, and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the church.
However, let each one of you love his wife as himself, and let the wife see that she respects her husband.

When Christian husbands love their wives- and when Christian wives respect their husbands -they are not only bearing witness to their love for one another --and they are not only living out the Creator’s command to be fruitful and multiply-- they are giving witness to a great mystery: the love that exists between Christ and the church.

That is why our lives together as husbands and wives can never be merely a private arrangement between two consenting adults as society would have us believe—but marriage is a sacred vocation for the sake of Christian witness to the world.

God intends that those around us would learn something about Christ and his church as they view the love and respect that exists in our marriages.

We cannot cure all of society’s ills when it comes to marriage-- but what we can do, by God’s grace and help, is to begin today showing our reverence for Christ by how we live in our marriages: Christian husbands loving their wives and Christian wives respecting their husbands. Amen.

Thursday, January 12, 2012

This Week at Mt. Olive

Good evening, fellow redeemed!

"In the beginning, God created...And there was evening, and there was morning, the first day."

In the last 100 years or so, these words of Genesis have become popular targets for disagreement. There are those who say, "Well, really, the words of Genesis 1:1 say, 'When God began to create the heavens and the earth,' so the materials of creation were already in existence when God began creating." Then, there are those who say, "We really don't know how long the days of Genesis 1 were, so there's no telling how long creation really took." Still others say that the arguments about these things are immaterial, that they really don't have a bearing on the faith. Finally, others say the texts of the Bible are metaphorical and not to be taken literally.

The texts really speak to these issues themselves. The first word of Genesis 1 in Hebrew is a prepositional phrase. It says, "In the beginning..." The word used for day in Genesis 1:5 in the rest of Old Testament literature is a 24-hour day. God's words have a bearing on every aspect of the life of faith, for what God says in His Word is true. Finally, while some texts of the Bible are symbolic in nature, Genesis 1 and its narrative style are to be taken literally.

Praise God for our Lutheran forefathers, for they wrote, "First, then, we receive and embrace with our whole heart the Prophetic and Apostolic Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments as the pure, clear fountain of Israel, which is the only true standard by which all teachers and doctrines are to be judged" (Solid Declaration, Rule and Norm 3).

Blessed Lord, You have caused all Holy Scriptures to be written for our learning. Grant that we may so hear them, read, mark, learn, and take them to heart that, by the patience and comfort of Your holy Word, we may embrace and ever hold fast the blessed hope of everlasting life; through Jesus Christ, Your Son, our Lord, who lives on reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen

This Week at Mt. Olive
The Church Council holds its first meeting of the new year on Monday at 7 p.m. Please pray that God continue to grant wisdom and a servant heart to these faithful servants.

The Lutheran Women's Missionary League will meet Tuesday evening at 6:30 p.m.

Lutheran Book Club resumes this week. The latest book for study is "A Skeleton in God's Closet" by Paul Maier. The Book Club meets in the Overflow at 7 p.m.

Finally, I'm working on an evangelism project for Mt. Olive that will involve all people and be centered on content rather than technique. If you'd like to know more, please send me a blast at the end of this week.

I'll be out of the office all day Tuesday for a Circuit Conference in Rockport.

Prayer Concerns:
Rita Murphy, Bob Whitworth, Ben Muhr, Bill Waterman
Those who serve in our armed forces and their families: Rob Vadney (Ft. Campbell), John Sorensen (NAS Corpus Christi)
The homebound of our church: Ruby Rieder, Ann Cleveland, Charlotte Birnbaum, Bud Bird, Walter and Pearly Theiss (Houston)
College students both from Mt. Olive and throughout our land, as they return to classes this week
The Church throughout the world as she focuses on mission during this Epiphany season

This Week at Mt. Olive
Monday, 9 JAN
6:30 p.m.
Zumba Aerobics

7 p.m.
Church Council

Tuesday, 10 JAN
6:30 p.m.

Wednesday, 11 JAN
8:30 a.m.
School Chapel

9:30 a.m.

Sunday, January 8, 2012

Let Us Boast in the Lord!

1 Corinthians 1:25-31
A baby lying in feed trough-- is the living God of the universe. A humble carpenter-- is the King of Kings and Lord of lords. A man who stands in a line of sinners at the Jordan River waiting to be baptized-- is the sinless Son of God with whom the Father is pleased. A dying man on the cross-- is the Savior of the world.

It is this picture of Jesus that filled Paul’s mind when he wrote: The foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men.

The greatest intellects who have ever lived cannot think their way into heaven or reason their way into salvation. The mightiest men who have established empires cannot storm their way into the presence of God. The world’s most wealthy people cannot buy their citizenship in God’s kingdom.

Fellowship with God- and a place in his kingdom- and eternal life-- come to us only when we believe in Christ crucified for the sins of the world. This is the foolishness of God and the weakness of God that is wise enough and strong enough to take his enemies and makes them into his sons.

As further proof that God’s ways are not our ways, Paul turns his attention from the One who gives salvation-- to those he gives salvation to—you and me. Paul wrote:

For consider your calling, brothers: not many of you were wise according to worldly standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth.

Every time I read these words I always wonder to myself how the Corinthians took them--hearing them for the first time.

Imagine getting a letter from your pastor and him saying, “Well, you are not the smartest folks in the world and you’re not the most influential folks in the world and you’re not the most important folks in the world”. I think we would be offended, wouldn’t we! It flies in the face of how we like to see ourselves, doesn’t it!

We tell ourselves an “aw shucks” false humility, “Well, I’m no Einstein but I’m plenty smart enough to know what’s what”. “I’m not a world leader but I’m the “go-to” person at work, the person that can be counted on to get things done”. “Sure, I’m not a celebrity, but everyone in Kingsville knows me”. And we carve out these sad little worlds for ourselves where we are wise- and we are powerful- and we are of noble birth.

But we’re not. Just like the Corinthians—just like the vast, vast majority of Christians-- we are regular folks who the world has never heard of and never will hear of: unknown, average, and at the mercy of forces in the world beyond our control.

But the great wonder and miracle of our identity as Christians is that God chooses people just like us as the recipients of his grace. Paul wrote that:

God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are,

What really matters—what makes all the difference in who we are-- is not what the world’s attitude is towards us-- but what God’s attitude is towards us.

He made a point of choosing the weak and the foolish and the low and the despised so that the entire world would know that their life with God rested completely on his grace-- rather than their own accomplishments.

He chose the foolish-- so that the wise of the world would abandon their pride that keeps even the possibility of God’s existence at arm’s length.

He chose the weak-- so that the strong of the world would learn that it is not their efforts that earn them a place with God but his work alone.

He chose the low and the despised of the world-- so that the rich and the famous and the accomplished would understand that all people stand perfectly equal around the cross in their need for salvation.

God chose the foolish and the weak and the low and the despised to be his children and he saved them by: the foolishness of preaching- and the weakness of a peasant baby- and the lowness of a man who died a criminal’s death on the cross.

He did this to tear down the great human impediment to salvation: our pride. Paul wrote that God chose who he did and saved them the way he did: so that no human being might boast in the presence of God.

Of all human sins, pride is the most dangerous. It was there in Garden of Eden when Adam and Eve counted their own wisdom wiser than God’s clear word of warning-- and that sin of pride has been passed down to us and resides in our sinful flesh.

Pride not only lifts us up above our fellow human beings (which is bad enough!) but it displaces God from his rightful place in our hearts.

Pride tells us that we know better about our lives than the Word of God. Pride makes us unwilling to forgive others. Pride keeps us from admitting that we are sinners who stand in need of God’s forgiveness. Pride convinces us we can make our own way to God rather than crying out for his mercy. Pride is what caused the downfall of man in general-- and pride is what causes our alienation from God in particular.

God knows this about us. That is why he chose the way of salvation that he did—that is why he chooses the people that he does—so we can come before him in humility as the weak, powerless people that we are--and simply receive the blessings he gives to us in Jesus. Paul wrote that it is because of God alone that:

We are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God, righteousness and sanctification and redemption,

How many times over the course of our life have we sung the words: “Nothing in my hand I bring, simply to they cross I cling”? How many times have we sung: “Just as I am without one plea but that Thy blood was shed for me”? How often have we sung these words-- and not meant a word of it?!

But these words from our hymns ARE a true confession of the words of the Bible that we have before us this morning: it is because of God ALONE that we are in Christ.

He chose us in Christ to be his own before the creation of the world. He created us and gave us life. He sent his Son to live and die for us and rise again. He has brought us to faith in Jesus through the preaching of the cross. And he has promised to hold us safely in his almighty hands until we stand in his presence.

It is because of God ALONE that we believe in- and are saved by- and abide with- Jesus Christ who is our wisdom, righteousness, sanctification, and redemption.

And so what does Paul mean by this? He means that everything we need for a life with God in this world-- and the world to come-- can be found in only one place—and that is in Jesus.

Jesus is our wisdom. Everything we need to know about God can be found in Jesus Christ. Everything we need to know about what a God-pleasing life looks like can be found in Jesus Christ. Everything we need to know about what life and death and eternity hold for us as Christians can be found in Jesus Christ.

Jesus is our righteousness. The holiness and goodness and faithfulness of Jesus, his loyalty to his heavenly Father and commitment to do his will—is the only righteousness that counts in God’s sight for salvation. It is the only righteousness in which there is no flaw. And that righteousness is ours through faith in Jesus.

Jesus is our sanctification. God calls us to holiness. Christ calls us to take up our cross and follow him. And the enduring strength to live a holy, humble, selfless life like our Lord’s comes through Jesus Christ as we hear his voice in the word and receive his real presence in Holy Communion.

Jesus is our redemption. His blood was the price he paid to set us free from sin and death-- free from the burdens and guilt of the past—free to live as God’s people.

Because Jesus is everything to us: Any thought of relying on our wisdom and strength when it comes to our life with God simply falls by the wayside when we see all that God has done for us and continues to do for us in Christ.

Any pride we might have vanishes from our heart when we learn that from beginning to end our salvation is from God. And any temptation to boast about who we are or what we have done cannot stand before the righteousness and wisdom and sanctification and redemption which is ours in Christ.

Therefore, Paul says: “Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord.” There is most certainly a place for boasting in the lives of those who are weak and foolish and low—but it is not boasting about who are and what we have done that is to come from our lips-- but boasting about the great things that God has done for us in Christ.

All around us are those who think that their life matters because of who they are and how much money they have and what they have accomplished—people who will one day learn just how empty and alone they are because they don’t have a life with God.

Before that day, we have an opportunity to tell them of the great things God has done for us in his Son Jesus Christ and the difference that makes in our lives and the love that God has for them too. May God grant that we would always be people who are glad to boast in Jesus! Amen.

Saturday, January 7, 2012

The Mystery of Christ Revealed

I read an excellent essay this week by Russell Moore, a very fine Southern Baptist pastor and theologian. And the rhetorical question he asked was a question that we often ask: What will become of the church? Is there a future for Christianity?

The answer to that question, he wrote, was in the five billion people on this planet right now who don’t know Jesus as their Lord and Savior—five billion potential new Christians waiting in darkness for the light of Jesus Christ on them.

And then he asked another question we often ask: Where will the great leaders of Christianity in the next generation come from? The answer to that question, he wrote, was that they would come from the same place where they have always come from—from the ranks of unbelievers who will one day be converted to faith in Christ.

What was Paul before he became an apostle but a persecutor of Jesus? What was C.S. Lewis before he became a great defender of the faith but a scholar who ridiculed Christianity?

When we look at the future of the church and despair-- it is because we have taken our eyes off of the God who converted the Roman Empire and the German tribes and is, right now, raising up a mighty church in Africa and Asia.

On this Epiphany Day we are reminded that the love of God in Jesus Christ extends to all people—even the most unlikely of people and that his ability to save is still mighty and powerful. Paul wrote:

For this reason I, Paul, a prisoner for Christ Jesus on behalf of you Gentiles—assuming that you have heard of the stewardship of God's grace that was given to me for you, how the mystery was made known to me by revelation, as I have written briefly.

This was Paul’s second imprisonment for the faith. When preaching the Gospel of Jesus Christ at the temple in Jerusalem, he was almost killed by a Jewish mob and ended up in jail for his protection. And so what was the source of their rage that made them cry out: “Rid the earth of him! He’s not fit to live!”? What made them so mad?

Paul dared to teach that the love of God extended not just to the Jews but even to the Gentiles—that all people could come to God through faith in Jesus—that it wasn’t necessary to follow hundreds of laws to have a life with God—that he, Paul, had been called by the resurrected Christ for that very purpose: to reveal the great mystery of God’s saving work in the world. And so what was that mystery? Paul wrote:

When you read this, you can perceive my insight into the mystery of Christ, which was not made known to the sons of men in other generations as it has now been revealed to his holy apostles and prophets by the Spirit. This mystery is that the Gentiles are fellow heirs, members of the same body, and partakers of the promise in Christ Jesus through the gospel.

The great mystery of God’s saving work in the world is that from the very beginning of time, God planned and purposed that the world would be reconciled to him in only one way—and that is through faith in his Son Jesus—that irrespective of race or gender or place in society—all people could have a life with God through his Son.

Now this was a mystery in the sense that it had to be reveled and manifested and made known to the world.

No one could reason their way into the knowledge of God’s salvation—that God himself would take on flesh and become part of his creation; that the Savior of the world would live in obscurity; that eternal life would come through his terrible death on the cross; and that people would enter into life by hearing that message of the Gospel.

That is why the mystery of God’s saving work in the world must still be revealed. No one can come to that knowledge on their own—it must be made known to them.

It must be revealed to those who know nothing of the things of God like the Gentiles of Paul’s day and the unbelievers in our day. It must be revealed to those who know something of God and his ways because they know the Old Testament and the Ten Commandments like the Jews of Paul’s day and Muslims in our day.

But the natural knowledge of God and the moral knowledge of God is insufficient for salvation. It is Jesus who must be known if there is to be a life with God.

That is why Jesus commissioned and sent the apostles and other disciples into the world: to reveal the mystery of God’s saving will in Jesus for all people. It is why Jesus met Paul on the Road to Damascus and sent him to the Gentiles—because the Good News of God’s love extends to even the most unlikely of people. Paul wrote:

Of this gospel I was made a minister according to the gift of God's grace, which was given me by the working of his power. To me, though I am the very least of all the saints, this grace was given, to preach to the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ,

When we despair about the future of the church—when we worry about our own congregation—when we are discouraged about the role of Christianity in our nation—it is because we have abandoned the Christian attitude and outlook we find in these verses.

Paul counted himself a servant of the Gospel. That’s what that word “minister” means—not clergyman, not priest, not pastor—but servant. Now he was a special kind of servant as an apostle—but at the end of the day, still just a servant of the Gospel.

He was who he was solely as the result of an undeserved gift. He knew that he was, by nature, the least of all the believers for he had persecuted Christ. And yet God had forgiven him and gave him an opportunity to tell others about Jesus --and how could he not do so-- since what Christ meant to him and had given to him was beyond measure.

So it is to be for us. We are to count ourselves servants of the Gospel first—before being a teacher or homemaker or student or farmer or businessperson or retired person or pastor. We are God’s servants because of his undeserved gift of a Son—called by God in the context of my daily life to proclaim the blessings that we have in Jesus.

Despair and discouragement about the future of the church and our congregation and the place of Christianity in our own nation has no place in our life when we see ourselves in this light because we are so focused on the mission of Christ.

And how necessary this is: that we see ourselves as servants of the Gospel--that we stand in awe of the riches of Christ--because the mystery of God’s saving purpose still needs to be revealed in the lives of so many people around us! Paul wrote that the believer has a responsibility:

To bring to light for everyone what is the plan of the mystery hidden for ages in God who created all things, so that through the church the manifold wisdom of God might now be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly places.

It is exactly the same God who called the world into being and perfectly ordered his entire creation who also has a plan to save the world in his Son.

In the Bible we can trace how that plan unfolded so that at just exactly the right moment in history the Savior was born. We can look back upon our own lives and see how God was patiently working to bring us to the knowledge of the truth.

And the more we know of the Bible and the more we are reflective about our own life of faith the more we grow in our gratefulness to God and our love for his Son and our willingness to be a part of that saving plan in our own day and time.

It is through us, believers in Christ, the church-- that the amazing wonderful plan of God is made known in our own day and time—to bring to light the love that God has for all. That is the mission of the church!

Over one hundred ago, there were people from all across this country who gave to the work of missions so that a missionary could be sent to the south Texas desert—to people that they had never met and never would meet until they got to heaven. They didn’t know them from Adam-- but they wanted to make sure that people in south Texas knew about the unsearchable riches of Jesus Christ.

And here we are tonight, one hundred years later, with the call of Jesus on our own lives to do all that is within our power to make him known to people that we will never meet until we get to heaven.

Our centennial offering is going to Texas Partners in Mission so that people from Iraq and Iran and Tibet and Africa and Mexico and China who have made their way to Texas can also know the mystery of God’s salvation-- and believe in Jesus-- and take their place with us in the church-- and support the mission of God in the next generations.

This is the wisdom of God that is revealed in nowhere else but the church: that life with him is for all people—not matter their past—no matter their skin color—no matter their language.

That vision is revealed in the pews of Christian churches throughout the world that are filled with all kinds of people-a vision that even the angels of heaven delight to see. Paul says that: through the church the manifold wisdom of God might now be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly places.

From the very beginning of creation the angels gazed upon the work of God. They saw the various parts of creation come into being. But something happened when man was created. Part of the heavenly angels rebelled against God’s purpose and attacked mankind while the holy angels looked on with sorrow.

From that moment on an unseen, spiritual battle raged. Over salvation history God used the good angels as his messengers. They announced the coming Savior. They sang at his birth. They comforted Jesus in the desert and in the garden in the hours before his death. The Bible says that they longed to look into God’s plan of salvation.

It is when they gaze upon the church that they see the mystery of God’s saving plan revealed: that through faith in Jesus Christ, man has been restored to what God always planned for him to be: his sons, members of his family with whom he desires the closest fellowship. Paul wrote:

This was according to the eternal purpose that God has realized in Christ Jesus our Lord, in whom we have boldness and access with confidence through our faith in him.

Every news article I have read and every news story I have seen on TV is filled with fear and trepidation about the New Year. What will happen to the economy? What about North Korea and Iran? Will there be an end to this drought?

But far above these temporal concerns is a God with an eternal purpose that he wisely, graciously accomplished in his Son Jesus Christ: the salvation of the world. And you are a part of that plan. You are the object of his redeeming love and you are his servants, called to be a part of his saving plan in someone else’s life.

Through faith in Jesus Christ, it is not fear and trepidation that fills our heart but boldness and confidence as we take our place and fulfill our role in God’s saving plan! Amen.

Monday, January 2, 2012

This Week at Mt. Olive

Good evening, fellow redeemed!

If you're like me, today is the first of many days on which I'll write 2011, only to correct it to reflect the new year. Happy New Year, many will say for the rest of today, but tomorrow is another day - a day of work, a day of preparation for school, a day on which life gets back to normal, whatever that is. As we heard from the Old Testament Lesson this morning (Numbers 6:22-27), in blessing, the Lord puts His eternal name on us. Specifically, it is in our baptism that God puts a name of blessing and promise. As we venture into this new year and beyond, our confidence is in the promise our Lord has given us in His means of grace.

This week at Mt. Olive the Church Office reopens. Bible Study will continue on Wednesday with Revelation 14. Next Sunday, 8 JAN, officers and boards/committees will be installed in preparation for the next Church Council meeting on 9 JAN.

Also, two big events on Saturday, both at 9 a.m.
The Altar Guild will be undecorating the sanctuary in preparation for the Epiphany season. Help will be needed for taking down garland, lights, etc.

Youth of the Church will begin their annual beautification project by weeding the flower beds around the front door of the church. This is greatly needed, and snacks and perhaps a bit of food will be provided.

Prayer Concerns:
Ben Muhr as he continues his recovery
The Church Council and the various committees as they undertake their duties
Prayer for the gift of rain.

God bless!

Sunday, January 1, 2012

We Are Sons of God Through Faith in Jesus

Galatians 3:23-29
When we think of Moses on Mt. Sinai we think about the Ten Commandments. But there were many, many other laws given there as well--hundreds of laws that spoke to every aspect of the Jews’ lives as individuals and as a nation.

There were laws about food and clothing and relationships and money and social justice and worship. God gave these laws to the Jews and demanded that they be obeyed-- and the penalties and punishments for breaking these laws were harsh. This is what Paul was talking about when he wrote that:

…before faith came, we were held captive under the law, imprisoned until the coming faith would be revealed.

The Jews were hemmed in on every side by God’s law just like a jail cell hinders the movement of an inmate—and that was its God-given purpose—to keep them close together until he could set them—and all men-- free.

Those rules and regulations were never meant to be a permanent way of life—but only a temporary measure until Jesus came into the world to live and die and deliver the world from the bondage to sin and death.

The person and work of Jesus is the “faith” that Paul was talking about here in this verse when he says: before faith came. He is not talking about the faith with which we believe. That had always been the way to life with God.

Four hundred and thirty years before the law was given to Moses at Sinai, the Bible tells us that Abraham believed God and God counted it as righteousness. But here Paul is talking about the faith THAT IS believed—the content of saving faith which is Jesus Christ: his birth, life, death, and resurrection.

The purpose of the rules and regulations given at Sinai was to guard the Jews as a people until God revealed the Savior in his Son Jesus Christ. Paul wrote that:
…the law was our guardian until Christ came, in order that we might be justified by faith.

That word “guardian” that Paul uses here has a very specific meaning. In the ancient Greek and Roman world, a servant would be appointed by a boy’s father to watch out for him. This servant would walk him to school and back home again. He would make sure he wasn’t hanging out with the wrong crowd. He would teach him manners and how to behave in polite society and correct him when he did wrong.

He was his guardian—but only until the boy reached adulthood—for then he no longer needed a guardian. The servant had accomplished his purpose when the boy took his rightful place in the father’s house as a full grown son.

Those hundreds of laws and precepts and rules that God gave at Sinai to govern the life of his ancient people—regulating every facet of their lives—served as a guardian over them until Christ came.

But those ceremonial and religious and political laws of the Jews were never meant to be an end unto themselves or a permanent way of life—they only existed so that the Jews would be preserved as a people until Christ came, as Paul says, so that we might be justified by faith.

Here Paul moves from the faith that is believed—the content of faith—to the faith with which we believe—what we trust in.

The life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ is the content of the Christian faith and when we believe it—when we put our faith in it and build our life upon it--we are justified in God’s sight—that is, we are declared righteous in his sight and we take our place in God’s family as his sons. Paul wrote:

…now that faith has come, we are no longer under a guardian, for in Christ Jesus you are all sons of God, through faith.

The rules and regulations and precepts of the Jews that governed every facet of their lives have no place in the life of a Christian—whether they are Jew or Gentile. That kind of guardianship has come to an end with Christ.

So it is with every new rule or regulation or precept that some Christian group mistakenly wants to impose on us for our own good. To tell a Christian what day of the week they can or cannot eat meat-- or what color their buggy has to be—or what they should do about their children’s education-- is a return to Judaism and the dead works of the law.

The Bible says that we are justified by faith APART from the works of the law.
In other words, our right standing in God’s sight and our relationship with him does not depend upon keeping all the rules and regulations and precepts that God gave to the Jews-- or the rules some misguided Christian wants to impose on us. Instead, our place in God’s family comes solely through faith in Jesus Christ, God’s only begotten Son.

He kept every rule, regulation, and precept God gave to Moses at Sinai. Already at the very beginning of Jesus’ life we see him keeping the covenant God made with Abraham as Jesus is circumcised in the temple, shedding the same blood with which he would forgive the world’s sins at the cross.

Jesus’ circumcision was the beginning of a lifetime of holy obedience to his Father’s will for our sake—so that through faith in Jesus his obedience could become our own and we could be counted as sons in God’s family.

Just a few verses after our text, Paul said: When the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of a woman, born under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons. This is the purpose of God’s redeeming work in this world—that we would be restored to what God created us in the beginning to be: his sons.

It’s interesting and important to note that Paul is not inspired by the Holy Spirit to write the word “children” but the word “son.” It’s not because we are not God’s children (we are!) but that we are “sons” describes our status as full-fledged mature members of God’s family, with all of the rights and responsibilities and privileges as God’s only-begotten Son Jesus.

That’s Paul’s point—that through faith in God’s Son-- we who are God’s adopted sons can expect from our heavenly Father exactly the same blessings as he gives his only-begotten Son. That is how important it is to have faith in Jesus!

But how did we receive that faith in Jesus that makes us a part of God’s family? That came through the power of the Gospel proclaimed in Word and Sacrament. Paul wrote that: … as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ.

The Bible teaches that every person who has been baptized with water in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit—has been baptized into Christ’s death and raised up in his resurrection so that we would walk in newness of life until that day we pass into everlasting life.

The picture that Paul uses in our text is that of someone putting on Christ like a garment-- and that is exactly what happens in baptism. We are clothed in the righteousness of Christ—his death becomes my death—his holiness becomes my holiness—his resurrection, my own eternal life—and all of this through faith in him.

This righteousness of Christ is that wedding garment that Jesus said all must wear to enter into the marriage feast of the Lamb in his kingdom.

Christ’s righteousness is the white robe that all of the saints wear as they worship around the throne of the Lamb in heaven—people from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages—having just one thing in common with one another—the one thing necessary to stand in God’s presence: the robe of Christ’s righteousness they have received in Holy Baptism and put on by faith. Paul wrote that, clothed in the righteousness of Christ:

There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.

There are six billion people on this planet—each of us different from the others—different races, different genders, different places in society. There are many billions more who have lived and died—all of them different from one another.

Perhaps there will be many billions more to come. But there is only one Man who is perfectly holy and righteous in God’s sight—and that is God’s own Son Jesus Christ.

When we were baptized into Christ, his life became our own-- and we were clothed in his perfect holiness and righteousness-- and so through faith in him we also stand before Almighty God in exactly the same way as Jesus does right now—with the blessing of the LORD and his bright, beaming face shining upon us.

And as God’s adopted sons we can count on the same glorious future as his Son Jesus enjoys right now. Paul wrote: …If you are Christ’s, then you are Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to promise. So that there is no doubt in your mind…

The grammatical construction in the original reads this way: If you are Christ’s—AND YOU ARE!—then you are Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to the promises. There is no doubt about it! Baptized into Christ, clothed in his righteousness, believing in Jesus—you are sons of God and you will inherit everything God first promised to Abraham—everything that Jesus earned for you in his life, death, and resurrection. The Bible says that is an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading.

We have a renewed and restored relationship with God. We don’t have to worry what his attitude is towards us because we know what it is towards Christ: love and blessing.

We have the gift of the Holy Spirit--giving us joy and hope and peace despite whatever the world throws at us.

We have the abiding presence of Jesus who has promised to be with always—speaking to us in his word and feeding us with his body and blood.

And we have an eternal life in God’s presence to look forward to and a new heaven and new earth where sin and suffering and sorrow have no part.

The Good News for us on this first day of a new year is that we are God’s sons through faith in Jesus and a great and glorious future awaits us. Amen.