Friday, October 18, 2019

Crossing Over and Going In

Deuteronomy 8:18-9:3 Unless the Lord comes first, tomorrow is going to turn into today and today will become yesterday.  Ever since there was evening and morning, the first day—time has marched on—and will march on until our Lord’s return in glory to judge the living and the dead and give us all the benefits and blessings of his work on the cross.
The Lord wants us to remember that and live our lives in light of that day—but he also wants us to plan for the future and go forward in faith until that day comes.  That is what we have been talking about over these last several weeks. 
A promise made to Abraham and his children, that they would have a homeland of their own, was about to be fulfilled in the Promised Land. 
More than six hundred years had passed since that promise was made.  The children of Israel grew into a great nation but were then enslaved in Egypt.  Centuries passed.  After their deliverance they wandered in the desert for another forty years.  But now the moment was at hand for them to cross over the Jordan and go into the Promised Land.
What had always been in the future—was now the present.  And so the Lord instructed them as to how they were to plan for this day. 
They were to remember the past and how God had blessed and prospered them along the way and draw courage from their own history.  They were to make sure they were walking in the Lord’s ways so that the future would be marked by the obedience of faith.
Prepared in this way, they were to step out in faith upon the promise of God and lay hold of a new season of life in the Promised Land.  That is not always easy to do. 
When they were getting to leave Egypt and their lives as slaves, they saw the Egyptian armies behind them and they wanted to give up and return to slavery.  But Moses promised them, “The LORD will fight for you!  Go forward! “
When they grew hungry in the desert they grumbled against God and said to themselves it would have been better to die as slaves in Egypt, but the LORD their cries and said, “Behold, I am about to rain down bread from heaven for you.” 
In all these stops and starts, we see how true it is that an unknown future (even when God has promised to bless us in it) can be far more frightening than a familiar past—even when it was difficult.
We of course are made of the same stuff as the Israelites.  Their story is our story.  It can be very difficult indeed to step out on the promises of God and cross over from one day to the next and go into the future with boldness and courage. 
That is why the Lord speaks to us today as he spoke to the children of Israel and promises us that he himself will go with us to warn us and encourage us and do battle against our enemies and in these ways, prosper us in the days to come.  The Bible says:
If you forget the Lord your God and go after other gods and serve them and worship them, I solemnly warn you today that you shall surely perish. Like the nations that the Lord makes to perish before you, so shall you perish, because you would not obey the voice of the Lord your God.
            One of the great temptations that the Israelites would face as they entered into the Promised Land was that they would encounter those who did not share their faith in their Lord and were not walking in his ways. 
Every day they would have to make a choice as to whether they would adopt the thinking of the world around them or obey the voice of the LORD their God.
And so God warned them in the strongest possible way that he would destroy them just like he destroyed the nations around them if they did not walk in his ways and do his will and especially if they worshiped the gods of the pagans around them. 
Please understand, there were blessings without number for them in their future days in the Promised Land-- but there were also dangers-- and they needed this solemn warning if their future lives were to be everything God wanted it to be.  So it is for us.
We live in the midst of the world that does not share our faith in the LORD.  We are surrounded by people who do not walk in his ways or do his will and who worship idols.  The Lord would have us turn a blind eye and deaf ear to this unbelieving world and worship him alone and obey his voice.  This is especially true in our financial life.
The world would have us believe that it is only what we can hold in our hand that is real and valuable.  The world tells us that “the one who dies with the most toys wins”.  The world puts money first.  This way of thinking deserves, and will receive, the Lord’s judgment.
And so then, in our life as a congregation and in our life as individual Christians we are to take this warning seriously and demonstrate with our stewardship that God comes first in our life. 
We do that by following his counsel on how to manage our money and especially by putting the mission of Christ at the very top of our financial priorities and then go forward in faith and boldness, ready to confront whatever challenges lie ahead.  The Bible says:
“Hear, O Israel: you are to cross over the Jordan today, to go in to dispossess nations greater and mightier than you, cities great and fortified up to heaven, a people great and tall, the sons of the Anakim, whom you know, and of whom you have heard it said, ‘Who can stand before the sons of Anak?’
            After forty years the wilderness, their life there had become, if not comfortable, at least familiar.  It’s always easier to face the challenge we know than the ones we don’t know. 
But the Lord had no intention of letting them remain where they were!  They were going to face the future and go forward even though there were mighty challenges ahead.
A wandering group of tribesmen were going to face nations that were greater and mightier than them.  A people that had no cities or fortresses of their own were going to encounter that very thing in the days to come.  They were going to face enemies who had unblemished records of success in battle.
The Lord did not hide any of that from them.  But he did not want them to fix their eyes on those enemies and challenges-- but instead put their trust in his promise that they would overcome them! 
He would not let them remain where they were but instead they were to step out in faith upon his promise.
Not only for the Israelites but for us, it is easy to remain where we are.  Even with the challenges we face, at least they are familiar.  It is frightening to go forward when you don’t know the future and it is even more frightening when you can clearly see the challenges and battles that the future holds. 
In many ways that’s where we find ourselves as a congregation.  There are clear challenges that lie in the future regarding our finances.  We are an aging congregation where most of the offerings are given by the older folks and really by even a smaller group within that demographic.  It would be so easy to stop where we are and hide our head in the sand.
But the Lord will not allow us to remain where we are and he insists that we step out in faith upon his promise and go forward into the future with a courageous attitude that is ready to do his work and trust his promise to be with us and bless us.  The Bible says:
Know therefore today that he who goes over before you as a consuming fire is the Lord your God. He will destroy them and subdue them before you. So you shall drive them out and make them perish quickly, as the Lord has promised you.
            Right here is what should have given the Israelites the courage and boldness to go forward in faith:  the Lord’s promise that he would go with them and he would act for them and he would give them the victory.
If they remembered the past they should have known that!  There was not one step they ever took on that journey to the Promised Land that the Lord did not lead.  There was not one moment in all those years that the Lord was not with them, blessing them and providing for them along the way. Their entire life was a testimony to his power and his presence and his provision.
And as they moved into the future, he promised exactly the same.  He knew better than they did what kind of challenges they would face and what kind of battles they would fight--but he also knew that he was greater and more powerful than all of it. 
Whatever small step of faith they took into the future, the Lord was already there to bless them along the way and accomplish his saving purpose in their lives.
We know even more than they did!  We have seen the Lord’s mighty deliverance in Jesus who died and rose to defeat our enemies.  We know that Jesus is the destroyer of Satan’s kingdom.  And we have seen how the power and the presence and the provision of our Lord Jesus Christ has advanced the church over two thousand years from 12 disciples to two billion Christians today.
Even more we have seen how all this is true in our own congregation and school and the blessings and growth we have experienced over more than 90 years.  We have absolutely nothing to fear as we plan for the future for we know the one who holds that future in his nail-scarred hands promises to bless us in the days ahead.
That is why we are taking this bold step of establishing an endowment that will help fund the mission of our Lord Jesus Christ.  We do that with every expectation that the Lord will generously bless our efforts to step out in faith and do his will and serve him with the resources he has entrusted to our hands.
And we rely on his promise that as we cross over and go into the future, he will be with us and bless us along the way.  Amen.

Walking in His Ways

Saturday, October 12, 2019

Walking in His Ways

Deuteronomy 8:6-18 After God’s people were set free from slavery in Egypt, the Lord led them to Mount Sinai where he spoke to them about how they were to live their lives as his people.  But he did not begin with a list of commands, he began with the story of their salvation.  He said:  I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery. 
Only then did he go on to give them the Ten Commandments:  You shall have no other Gods before me and so on.  This is ALWAYS the way the Bible talks about how we are to live our lives. 
Walking in God’s ways and keeping his commandments flows from his mighty, saving works for us.  It is because we are saved and because we are his people that we desire to do our Father’s will.  It is important for us to keep this in mind as we plan for the future regarding the stewardship of our finances. 
Walking in God’s ways and doing his will with our finances is not how we are going to earn some future blessing.  It’s what we earn for services rendered or a reward for keeping his commands.  God simply promises to bless us in the days ahead and bring us to our heavenly home. 
Instead, walking in God’s ways and doing his will with our finances, and giving, and stewardship:  demonstrates a living faith that lays hold of God’s promises-- and shows gratitude for God’s gifts-- and reminds us that we (and all that we have) belong to the Lord.  When we understand our life of faith and obedience this way, we are prepared to plan for the future.  The Bible says:
You shall keep the commandments of the Lord your God by walking in his ways and by fearing him.  For the Lord your God is bringing you into a good shall eat and be full, and you shall bless the Lord your God for the good land he has given you. 
            For hundreds of years Abraham’s descendants lived as slaves in Egypt.  They were born as slaves, they lived as slaves, and they died as slaves.  There was no hope for them and no future for their children.  But God heard their cries for mercy and raised up his servant Moses to set them free. 
God preserved their lives under the blood of a lamb and destroyed their enemies and gave them the wealth of their former masters.  Surely, they must have thought, this must be the pinnacle of our life as a people!
But God was not through blessing them!  The best was still yet to come as they would enter the Promised Land—a place of unimaginable plenty where all their needs would be met.
It was because they had in the LORD a God who was rich in mercy that they would walk in his ways.  So it is for us!  We have been saved from slavery to sin and death by the blood of the Lamb of God shed on Calvary’s cross.  God has sent a mighty deliverer for us in his Son Jesus who has given us the riches of life and salvation that the devil stole from us. 
But there is even more to come for us!  The future is even better than the past.  God will bring us to an eternal homeland where we will live in peace and plenty forever.  Just like for the children of Israel, the best is yet to come! 
Much too often Christians and Christian congregations think that their best days are behind them.  It is nostalgia for the past and not hope for the future that fills their hearts and minds.  But for the child God and for the Church of God, the future is always better than the past for we are moving to the fullness of god’s saving work.
And so then, no matter what challenges and trials we may have to face, it is hope and confidence that ought to be our attitude for we are headed to better days and a better place.
That is why we are called to walk in his ways and fear the Lord—that is why we keep God’s commands—that is why we follow his will:  because our lives of obedience show our faith in what God has already done for us and promises to do for us in the days to come!    
For the Israelites who were about to enter into the Promised Land, Moses reminded them of everything that God had commanded them at Mount Sinai, including those laws regarding their tithes and offerings. 
While the details of those specific laws applied only to them as a people, God still has a will for our financial lives that is revealed in his word and as a response of faith we are to walk in his ways regarding how we use the money he has given us. 
In our Sunday morning bible study over the next couple of months we are going to see what God says about various aspects of our financial life-- but the guiding principle throughout Holy Scripture—Old Testament and New Testament-- is that God comes first in our financial lives and we demonstrate that by giving an offering that is first-fruits, intentional, sacrificial and proportionate to the blessings we have received.
Our offerings to the LORD demonstrate in a powerful way that we remember and recognize that we have, in the Lord, a Savior God who has set us free and blessed us along our life’s journey.  The Bible says:
“Take care lest you forget the Lord your God by not keeping his commandments and his rules and his statutes, which I command you today, lest, when you have eaten and are full and have built good houses and live in them, and when your herds and flocks multiply and your silver and gold is multiplied and all that you have is multiplied,  then your heart be lifted up, and you forget the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt…
            When we hear these words we are tempted to ask ourselves:  How on earth could anyone who had been on that 40 year journey in the wilderness have forgotten the Lord?!  But that is exactly what they did!   
            They saw the plagues fall upon their enemies.  They heard the screams of Egypt as the angel of God’s wrath killed all the firstborn.  They walked through the waters of the Red Sea on dry ground and saw their enemies drowned behind them.  They were led to God’s very presence on Mount Sinai but at the first opportunity they took the wealth of Egypt God had placed into their hands, fashioned an idol from it, fell down before it and worshiped it, calling it the god of their deliverance.
            Throughout their wilderness years God showed again and again that he could be trusted to meet the needs of his people and yet they grumbled about him and doubted him again and again.  They needed this warning to remember the Lord by keeping his commands and so do we! 
As remarkable as was the deliverance God provided for the children of Israel, what God has done for us (to set us free from sin and death) is even more remarkable.  He has delivered us from Sagan’s dominion and made us his people by sending his own Son to live and die and rise again for us. We are the free people of God, headed to heaven, ONLY because of what Jesus has done for us! 
And as God’s people, he has provided for us every step of our journey to our heavenly home.  We are sitting here today, fed and clothed and sheltered and loved by friends and family ONLY because of God’s gracious provision. 
When we came into this world we did not even have the shirt that is on our back and look at what we possess now!  Can it be possible that we have forgotten the Lord?  Before you answer that question too quickly, hear again how the LORD describes forgetfulness:
“Take care lest you forget the Lord your God by not keeping his commandments and his rules and his statutes. 
From the Lord’s perspective, we have forgotten him, not based on whether or not we can recite the facts of salvation history (the devil can do that!) but we have forgotten the Lord when we do not walk in his ways and keep his commandments, rules, and statutes.
And so I ask you again:  is it possible that we have forgotten the LORD and his mighty, gracious salvation and provision?  What answer does our checkbook give?
What does the way we handle our finances and make our financial decisions and give our offerings say about whether or not remember that the LORD is our Savior and our Provider?  Does the LORD come first?  Do we trust him to meet our needs?  Are we seeking his counsel on how to manage the resources we have?  We should!  Because he is the one who has given it all to us in the first place!  The Bible says:
Beware lest you say in your heart, ‘My power and the might of my hand have gotten me this wealth.’  You shall remember the Lord your God, for it is he who gives you power to get wealth, that he may confirm his covenant that he swore to your fathers, as it is this day.
            The unbelieving world around us says:  MY power, MY might, MY hand, MY wealth.  The Lord warns us that, as his children, we must not talk that way! 
He is the one who gives us the power to get wealth.  He is the one who opens his hand to satisfy the desire of every living thing.  He is the one who pours out blessings upon his children.
That is why sacrificial, proportionate, intentional, first-fruits giving is so important!  It reminds us, each time we give to the Lord, that he can be trusted to fill our hand again and again.
When we make it our first priority—both as individual Christians and as a Christian congregation-- to give to God’s mission was are making a confession of faith.  We are confessing that all we have is from the Lord.  We are confessing that he is the Creator and we are his creatures; that he is our Father and we are his children.  And finally we are confessing our faith in his provision in the days to come. 
God made a covenant with Abraham that he would bless the world through his offspring and he provided everything needed to keep that solemn promise in the person of God’s own Son, Jesus Christ.  He also promised Abraham that his people would have a homeland and now they were about to receive the fulfillment of that promise in the Promised Land.
In material blessings and spiritual blessings the LORD was and is and always will be the God of kept promises who promises to bless his people and provide for his people in this world and the world to come. 
As we plan for the future, and especially as we consider how we can best walk in God’s ways and follow his will regarding our finances, we don’t have to be afraid to step out in faith and give generously to the LORD for he is the God of kept promises who will meet our needs in the days to come!  Amen.

Saturday, October 5, 2019

Remembering the Past

Deuteronomy 8:1-5 The people we encounter in God’s Word today, and over the next several weeks, were standing at a crossroads in life.  They had been slaves-- but now they were free.  They had been desert wanderers-- but now they were going to have a homeland.  They had been a solitary people in the wilderness--now they would live next to those who did not share their faith.
They were at a crossroads in their lives as a people and so God spoke to them through his servant Moses to help them Plan for the Future.
I’ve chosen the words of Deuteronomy chapters eight and nine for a three-week stewardship sermon series because I believe that we as a congregation find ourselves at just such a crossroads in our life together as the people God in this place and we need God’s counsel to Plan for the Future and go forward in faith. 
A crossroads in life is always a serious matter.  It can be a little bit frightening because it calls us to step out in faith and begin to go in a new direction.  But it can also be faith-building as we discover (in a brand new way) that the Lord (who has blessed us this far in our journey) will also be with us to bless us as we journey on.
What we are going to discover in God’s Word over the next three weeks is that Planning for the Future requires three things from us:  that we take time to remember the past; that we make sure we are walking in God’s ways right now; and that we cross over and go forward into the future with faith and courage.  The Bible says that:
“The whole commandment that I command you today you shall be careful to do, that you may live and multiply, and go in and possess the land that the Lord swore to give to your fathers.  You shall remember the whole way that the Lord your God has led you…
            The command that Moses gave was not new—it had been given by God to the people forty years earlier at Mt Sinai.  It had been ringing in their ears for decades.  And even before that, Moses’ words harkened back even earlier in salvation history to a promise that God had made to Abraham and renewed again and again to his descendants to give them the land that now lay before their very eyes. 
That’s why this moment in time was different.  Camped on the east side of the Jordan River, they were Planning for the Future in the Promised Land.  That journey into the future began with them remembering the past. I believe that we are in much the same place as a congregation. 
If only because of the demographic realities of our own congregation, I can assure you that over the next five or ten years, we will not be the same congregation that we are today.  We have a school ministry that is younger than the church ministry and is growing-- while our aging congregation has reached a plateau.  And the community itself around us is changing.
Like the Israelites, we stand at a crossroads and face a future that is very different than the past and we need to plan for that, first of all, by remembering the past.  The Bible says:
You shall remember the whole way that the Lord your God has led you these forty years in the wilderness, that he might humble you, testing you to know what was in your heart, whether you would keep his commandments or not.
            For the children of Israel camped along the Jordan River, when they remembered the past, they remembered God’s salvation and blessing and protection and deliverance.  They remembered all the twists and turns along the way. 
A journey that should have taken them 11 days, took them forty years.  But God was with them through it all and they knew in a powerful way that the Lord their God was a powerful God who led them along their journey as a people.  Can we say anything different?
            This congregation began worshiping in San Angelo is 1926 and was formally organized on January 2, 1927 with six charter members.  For the first two years of our existence we worshipped in another congregation’s building until the church on Kenwood was dedicated in 1929.  Over the years, additional properties and buildings in the neighborhood were purchased so make room for a growing congregation. 
In 1951 this congregation stepped out in faith and began a Christian day school and by 1957 there were 190 children enrolled from kindergarten to sixth grade.  Thirty years later a new church and school building was dedicated here on Lutheran Way.
Ninety plus years later there are over 400 people call Trinity Lutheran Church their home and 70 years later over 300 children are given a Christian education here each day. 
Along with the Israelites camped along the Jordan, and with God’s people in every place and time, in times when we stumbled and times when we were faithful, we can truly say that the Lord has led us on the way and sustained us by his Word.  The Bible says that
The Lord humbled you and let you hunger and fed you with manna, which you did not know, nor did your fathers know, that he might make you know that man does not live by bread alone, but man lives by every word that comes from the mouth of the Lord.
            The Israelites left Egypt with the wealth of their former masters but in very short order that wealth became the source of their spiritual downfall.  Later they would grumble against the Lord about his provision in the desert and they would yearn to return to slavery just to eat the food of Egypt. 
By hard lessons they had to learn that their life with God was not about material things-- but about his promise to meet their needs. And so he did!  Hundreds of thousands of people had their hunger satisfied and their thirst quenched for decades in a desert—and all because God promised to care for his people. 
During all those years they learned again and again that their life did not depend on what they could see and hold and taste and touch in that moment—but on the faithfulness of their savior God who had always provided for them and promised to meet their needs in the days ahead as well.
So it is for us.  Our life together as a church and school has been sustained for over ninety years by the Word of God.  Sustained by the Word of God that guides our lives and corrects us when we go astray.  Sustained especially by the Word of God that assures us that we are forgiven and loved and cared for by our Savior God. 
That Gospel Word of God in Holy Baptism and Holy Communion—in preaching and teaching and absolution—in classroom and lunchroom and playground—has sustained and strengthened us in our life together as God’s people in this place for decades and it is important for us to remember that.
Often times when we talk about stewardship, our minds immediately go to money—and certainly the way that we use our money is important and says much about faith and life with God. 
But the most important gift God has given us-- and the most important gift we have to share with others—and our only reason for existence in this community--is the Good News of salvation that is found in Jesus Christ who has delivered us from slavery to sin and death and promised us a home in heaven.
That message of life (that man does not live by bread along but by every word that comes from the mouth of the Lord) we know!  What a blessing it is to say that!  And so we are charged by God with making it known to our community through the preaching of our church and the teaching of our school. 
But we also have to recognize that the fulfillment of that charge requires financial support that is faithful and sacrificial.  The Bible says that for the Israelites:  Your clothing did not wear out on you and your foot did not swell these forty years.
The unimaginable provision of our Savior God!  The Israelites spent most of those decades outside in the elements, tending their flocks.  They did a lot of walking in in the wilderness over those forty years—most of it because of their own waywardness. 
But in all those years they never replaced their clothing and their feet never gave out, besides have their hunger and thirst satisfied daily.  Truly miraculous provision for their material needs!  As they gave back to God, they knew that he would meet their needs.
Now, just think about our life as a congregation.  Imagine you were one of those six founding members.  First of all, there were only six of you—not hundreds!  Your pastor was actually the pastor of another congregation.  You met in a building that was not your own. 
Could you have ever imagined over 90 years of provision that would have led to the facility and financial resources and personnel that we have now?  If they were here today they would count this place no less a miracle of God’s provision than what he did for the Israelites.
We need to remember that!  Standing at a crossroads as we are now, we have a tendency to only look ahead and wonder and worry about how we will ever meet the challenges that lie ahead—and there are challenges to be sure! 
But what we learn, as we remember, the past is that our faithful God is more than able to meet our needs in wonderful and miraculous and unexpected ways just as he always has—for he is a faithful Father who loves his children.  The Bible says:  Know then in your heart that, as a man disciplines his son, the Lord your God disciplines you.
The meaning of this Hebrew word that is translated as “discipline” in our text is much broader than that.  It means to teach and instruct and admonish.  In other words, it means that God deals with us every moment of our lives as a father deals with his children: teaching and training and disciplining and instructing and admonishing. 
As they planned for the future, God wanted the Israelites to remember that they were his children and they could count on his fatherly presence in their lives in the years to come.
Yes, there were going to be challenges.  Yes, there would be hardships.  But God would always be to them a Father who could be counted on to meet their needs and bless them in the days ahead.
So it is for us.  God does has never forsaken his children and he will not forsake us in the years to come.  Instead, he will be to us what he has always been:  a wise, generous, loving Father who desires only the best for his children.
When we remember the past, we are reminded of how true this is—in our own lives and in the life of this congregation.  And laying claim that relationship of a Father and his children, we are glad to walk in his ways, and plan for the future, and go forward in faith with courage and boldness.  Amen.

Monday, September 30, 2019

Saturday, September 28, 2019

Satan's Defeat

Revelation 12:7-12 There is an entire world around us (a part of God’s creation that the Bible calls the heavenly realms) that we cannot see-- and what goes on in that spiritual world has a profound effect on our lives in the world that we can see.  The Bible says that: 
Our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms”.
Chief among the creatures in that heavenly realm are the angels.  The Bible tells us that the angels were created by God but that at some point early in the days of creation–some rebelled.  The good angels help man and serve God while the evil angels hate God and seek to destroy everything that is good, especially faith in Christ.
Today in our epistle lesson, John pulls back the curtain between the world that can be seen and the heavenly realm that cannot be seen and lets us view one of the most remarkable events that ever took pace in God’s creation–a heavenly war between good and evil.  The Bible says:
“War arose in heaven, Michael and his angels fighting against the dragon.  And the dragon and his angels fought back.” 
In the first verses of Revelation chapter 12, John reveals that when Jesus took on human flesh within the womb of the Blessed Virgin Mary, the devil was right there too, trying to destroy the child of promise who would crush his head. 
The final battle between good and evil (that began with Jesus’ birth) continued throughout Jesus’ life as Herod tried to kill him–as he was tempted by Satan in the desert--as he battled and drove out demons--and finally as he hung upon the cross–rejected by his own people and abandoned by his heavenly Father under the crushing weight of our sins.
John pulls back the curtain that separates what is seen from what is unseen and shows us that while these events were happening on earth, a mighty war was taking place in the heavenly realms between two angelic armies–the good angels led by Michael and the evil angels led by that ancient dragon Satan–the same evil angel who tempted Adam and Eve and brought sin, suffering, and death into the world.
As Jesus drove out demons on earth the evil angelic armies were driven back in heaven. As Jesus fought and won against temptation in the desert, the devil and his army were weakened in the heavenly realm.  As Jesus healed and raised from the dead, defeating evil and sin, Michael and his army of good angels gained the upper hand over the dragon and his army right up until that moment when Jesus was nailed to Calvary’s cross.
What rejoicing there must have been among the evil angels-what a shout of exaltation must have gone up from their ranks–when they saw Jesus broken and bleeding upon the cross.  Surely this must be the end of him–surely this is the moment of our victory!

But that moment of satanic satisfaction was short-lived.  Jesus’ death upon the cross wasn’t their victory at all!  It was their complete and final defeat!  The devil was not strong enough to conquer the Son of God.  Jesus was the strong man that robbed Satan of his power and even his place. 
And so a new sound rose up from the battle field–a mighty voice of saints and angels that cried out: “Now the salvation and the power and the kingdom of God, and the authority of his Christ have come!”
This is the victory that Jesus proclaimed to the dragon and his angels as he descended to the very heart of their evil empire–his victory over sin, death, and the devil so complete–so final--that now, not even in hell, is Satan in control.  And when Jesus rose up the third day it was the visible proof both in heaven and on earth that the battle was over–the victory won.
Forty days later Jesus ascended into heaven and took back his rightful place upon the throne at his Father’s right hand as ruler of heaven and earth and Satan was once and for all cast out of the heavenly realm–no longer able to accuse God’s people.  John writes that, in that moment,
“The great dragon was thrown down, that ancient serpent, who is called the devil and Satan, the deceiver of the whole world—he was thrown down to earth, and the angels were thrown down with him.” 
I want to tell you why the outcome of this unseen battle in the heavenly realms, fought between Michael and Satan and their armies, and won by our Lord Jesus Christ changes forever our lives here on earth and our life in the world to come.
First and foremost this heavenly victory matters because Satan, the accuser, has no basis and no opportunity to accuse you of sin before Almighty God.
In the past, in some way we don’t completely understand, Satan still had access to God even after his fall.  As we learn in the story of Job, the devil could come into God’s presence and accuse God’s people.  But that has come to an end.  Because of his heavenly defeat, Satan was cast out of heaven and no longer has access to God and by the blood of the Lamb he no longer has any basis for accusation.
We need to remember this.  Too often we live our lives suffering under an impossible load of guilt and shame when the Good News is that this burden has been lifted from your shoulders and placed onto Christ’s.
All of your sins–the big sins, the little sins, the sins which you know and are ashamed of, the sins you don’t know, then sins you struggle with week after week, are all washed away by the blood of the lamb.
Satan can accuse you no longer–through faith in Jesus, you are right in God’s sight and clothed in the garment of Christ’s righteousness made white by the blood of the lamb.
Secondly, this heavenly victory is important to you because the kingdom of God has been made manifest and you have been made a child and heir of that Kingdom.

It wasn’t always that way.  When you born into this world you were born a slave in the kingdom of Satan.  But God has rescued you from that slavery and made you his own precious and dearly loved child of God by Holy Baptism.
Just think of it–the greatest spiritual force for evil in the world is made powerless by the simple water and word of Holy Baptism as God adopts you as his own child.
The devil has no power to match the simple bread and wine and word of Holy Communion by which Christ’s own body and blood is given for you to strengthen you in your spiritual life and keep you close to God.
The devil is completely defeated by that simple Gospel Word spoken by the mouth of the servant of God that tells you of the forgiveness of sins by the blood of the lamb that is yours by faith.
Not even martyrdom, when it seems to all the world that there is the victory of evil over good, not even martyrdom is a defeat for God’s people–rather it is simply entrance into the fullness of salvation with God.
What a difference this makes in our attitude and understanding of the spiritual battle that rages around us when we realize that the gates of hell cannot prevail against the church but rather the church is breaking down the gates of hell and robbing Satan of that which is his every time there is a baptism, every time the Sacrament is celebrated, and every time the Gospel is preached.
Thirdly, because of Christ’s victory, there is a profound spiritual power for good that is given to you to make use of in your daily life as God’s children.

Much too often we live our Christian lives as defeated people–saying, well, I can’t help it–I’m just a sinner or even worse the devil made me do it.  Absolute, satanic lies.  We are no longer slaves to sin, bound to whatever the evil one commands.  Christ’s victory is our victory and his power is our power.  In his strength we can say no to sin and yes to God.  By his power we can live the new life that we are called to live as children of God.
We need to remember these benefits of Christ’s victory and daily make use of them because--though the outcome of the war has been decided–though Satan is a defeated enemy–he fights on and his battlefield is now this earth.  The Bible says: “Woe to you, O earth and sea, for the devil has come down to you in great wrath, because he knows his time is short.”
We live in that “short time” between Satan’s heavenly defeat and his final judgement and punishment on the last day.  We see his fury displayed all around us in manifest sins that have our nation’s stamp of approval.  False churches preaching a false Christ abound.  Religious pluralism that proclaims all gods the same has become the religion of our nation.  Truly “our enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour.”
We must be aware of the devil’s schemes-- but we must not be afraid.  We will overcome his temptations and have our share in Christ’s victory just as God’s people always have–by the blood of the lamb.  May God grant it to us all for Jesus’ sake.  Amen.    

Saturday, September 21, 2019

Let Us Pray for Our Leaders

1 Timothy 2:1-7 Regarding prayer, the Bible says:  “You do not have because you do not ask—you ask and do not receive because you ask wrongly.”  And in these few words James addresses the two main problems that we have in our prayer lives:  we simply don’t pray as we should and that when we do pray, we pray with the wrong motives. 
How many things have we done without simply because we neglected to ask God for what we need?  How many things have we asked for that do not glorify God or serve our neighbor but only enrich ourselves?
As the next national election season begins, I hope that we would repent of both of those prayer problems.  That we would repent… 
First of all by asking God for what we need:  fair, peaceful elections in which God’s wise, providential will is done.  Second of all, by asking God for those things that our nation needs from this election with no thought of personal gain for ourselves-- or as an exercise of power over others--but that those people would be elected who would best serve our neighbor and glorify the God of nations by their wise rule.  Paul says:
First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people,  for kings and all who are in high positions,
            The Bible is very clear that our governmental leaders are God’s ministers for our good.  Whether they realize it or not—whether they live up to their high calling or not—even whether they are Christians or not—they are still God’s ministers for our good and we are called upon by God to respect their office and honor them and pray for them.  That is very, very important for us to remember during this next presidential election.
Over the last several elections our nation has been almost evenly divided in its choice of a president.  People on both sides of the political spectrum have strong views on who is best able to lead our nation and about half the nation will be disappointed and perhaps even outraged at the outcome of the next election. 
But what will we Christians do?  We will pray for our new president whoever they are.  Why?  Because we voted for them? No!  We will pray for them and continue to pray for them for the next four years because we are commanded by God to do so and we are comforted by the fact that God promises to hear our prayers for on account of Christ.
 The Bible says that we are to offer up prayers for all people—but especially for those who are in authority over us in the nation. 
If you listen to the prayers on Sunday and join your heart to them you’ve been doing that every week. We pray for our nation and its leaders every Lord’s Day—no matter who they are and no matter what party they are affiliated with-- and we will continue to do so in the years to come. 
We ask God to bless them and guide them and enlighten their minds with his wisdom.  Our prayers are even more necessary for those whose positions on truly important matters such as the sanctity of life and marriage have strayed from far God’s will revealed in nature and Scripture.
The Bible calls upon Christians to pray for their leaders whoever they are and just think what that meant for Paul and Timothy and the Christians of the apostolic church!
The men who ruled Rome were pagans.  Several of them had already persecuted the church and put to death those who believed in Christ.  And yet God the Holy Spirit wanted the church to pray for the leaders of Rome and trust in God’s gracious rule. 
Imagine what could happen in our nation if, beginning on election day, no matter who was elected, we Christians would devote ourselves first of all-- not to the next election—but to praying earnestly for the new president whoever they are.  That is what God wants us to do. 
And why does he call upon us to pray even for those leaders who may not acknowledge him or follow his ways like the leaders of ancient Rome?  Paul says it is so:
that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way. 
            In 1979 Jerry Falwell founded the moral majority—a political action committee made up of conservative evangelical Christians.  In 1980 they were largely responsible for delivering ¾ of the evangelical Christian vote for Ronald Reagan which put him over the top in the election. 
From that moment on, conservative Christians became a voting block for the Republican Party and their spiritual leaders became king-makers who walked the halls of our nation’s capitol and deal-makers who hammered out legislation.
That is a very different picture than what we have here in the words of Scripture where God the Holy Spirit calls upon us to pray for our leaders so that we Christians can live peaceful quiet, godly, and dignified lives. 
How do we reconcile these two pictures of political activism on the one hand and quiet peaceful lives on the other--or can we? 
For the Christians of Paul’s day—their main goal as citizens of Rome was to lead such upright, peaceful lives so that the leaders of Rome would at the very least leave them alone to practice their faith and stop putting them to death—and at best see them as valued members of the Empire.
For the Christians who are assembled here today, our experience as citizens of the U.S. is very different indeed. 
We live under a representative form of government and we have every right—and indeed a responsibility--as citizens-- to vote for those who uphold traditional Christian moral values.  We have every right and a responsibility to petition our government for those things that support and facilitate the exercise of our faith.  We have every right and a responsibility to work and vote for change when our country has lost it way on such basic issues of the sanctity of life and marriage.
But as Christians we also know that whether our favorite political candidate wins or not—whether future legislation on marriage and sexuality and life issues supports our views or not—whether our nation ever repents of its national sins or not—so long as we are simply permitted to live as Christians in this nation, we can thank Almighty God for his providence that brought us to this time and place. 
Because at the end of the day, what we really want and need from our government is to be left alone in peace so that we can be about the work the Father has given us to do while we live on this earth which is making disciples of all nations.  Paul writes:
This is good, and it is pleasing in the sight of God our Savior, who desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.  For there is one God, and there is one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, who gave himself as a ransom for all,
            In his letter to the Galatians, Paul wrote that “when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son.”  That fullness of time included the conquests of Alexander the Great and the Hellenization of the world.  It included the rise of Jewish nationalism and the rise and fall of the Maccabees.  And it included the Roman Empire and a code of laws and the Pax Romana and a system of roads and commerce and an Imperial census and rulers named Pontius Pilate and Caesar Augustus. 
There were political losers and political winners.  Some nations rose in worldly importance while others fell.  And yet through it all the God of history perfectly ordered the affairs of men and nations for his own saving purpose—that his Son would be born at just the right time for the salvation of the world.
Each election season, we have a temptation to almost live and die based on what happens and who is elected.  We have the mistaken idea that each of our elections are the most important election in the history of our country and that the future of America rests upon what we do in the next election.  But I’ve got big new for you:  it doesn’t. 
All of us ought to vote with a conscience informed by God’s Word and all of us need to pray that those who are elected will lead our country in the ways that are just and right and pleasing to God.  But no matter what happens in the next election, our future as individuals and as a nation rests safe and secure in God’s hands. 
And he orders our life and he rules the nations for his glory and our good out of love for each person—a love that he has shown in the death of his Son Jesus Christ who offered up his life on the cross as a ransom for our sin and guaranteed by his resurrection as eternal future of blessing and peace for each us infinitely greater than any good bestowed by this country.
And so then, as Christian people, we pray for our nation and here leaders not so that we can be on the winning side, we pray for our nation and her leaders not so that we can benefit personally—but we pray for our nation and her leaders so that no matter who is elected, we can continue our mission of making Jesus Christ known to the world. 
It is in him alone—not in President Trump or the Democratic candidate—but in Jesus-- that our hope—and our nation’s hope-- for the future is found.  Amen.

Thursday, September 12, 2019

The Law and the Promise

Galatians 3:15-22 By the inspiration of the Holy Spirit Paul wrote the words of our epistle lesson to the churches of Galatia to fight against a false teaching that threatened the very foundation of the Christian Church—a false teaching that continues to find a place within visible Christendom in our own day.
There were people in the church who were teaching that simple faith in Jesus Christ was not enough to have a life with God. 
They were not denying that faith in Jesus was important—they taught that!  But they were also teaching that faith was only the beginning of a life with God and what was needed after that was personal adherence to the Jewish Law if you were to be saved. 
In other words, what really mattered in your life with God—what counted in the end-- was what you did.  Paul called this another gospel which was not good news at all and he said that those who taught this ought to be condemned to the fires of hell!
Now, I don’t think that anyone in the visible church today is teaching people that they have to be circumcised to have a life with God-- but the heart of that false teaching (that faith is only the beginning and we have to add to it to be saved) is still found in the church today. 
One and a half billion of the two billion Christians who claim the name of Christ are taught by their churches that their own good works complete what Christ has begun.  Other churches teach that you must have some kind of ecstatic spiritual experience to be saved or that it is your own decision that saves you.  In other churches people are taught that besides believing in Jesus you must refrain from some activity if you truly believe or you must dress or live in a particular way to be saved.
Just like in Paul’s day these are false gospels that are not good news at all because they deny the simple promise of Holy Scripture (Old Testament and New Testament) that forgiveness of sins and our life with God comes from his gracious promise fulfilled in Jesus Christ and received by faith in him.  That is the argument that Paul is making as he combats these false teachers and that is what the Holy Spirit teaches us today.  Paul said:
To give a human example, brothers: even with a man-made covenant, no one annuls it or adds to it once it has been ratified. 
            I’m not much of a professional sports fan but I know that the Cowboy’s running back was a “no-show” in training camp because he wanted to re-negotiate his contract. 
Now, he agreed to play and perform for a certain amount of money and for a certain amount of time but with two years let in his rookie contract, he wanted more.  How does that make you feel?  I think most fans are pretty much outraged by this!  Doesn’t a person’s word mean anything anymore?!  We don’t think much of that kind of person, do we?
That’s what Paul says false teachers make God out to be when they add to what is necessary to be saved.  By their false gospel (which is not good news at all) they are saying that God has changed his mind and that he has gone back on his Word. 
By their lies they are ruining his reputation and denying his faithfulness because they are saying that the solemn, covenant promise of God to graciously bless the world through Abraham’s offspring named Jesus-- is not really the way that God saves us at all--but that he really does it through the law.
Do you understand now why Paul says that those who teach that our life with God depends on what we do can right straight to hell?!  It is because this false gospel, that makes our actions the cause of our own salvation, is an attack upon the graciousness and the faithfulness of God and the sufficiency of Christ’s saving work. 
That cannot go unchallenged in the church!  Not in Paul’s day and not in ours!  And so Paul once again reminds the Galatians and us of what we ought to know about salvation from the Bible.  The Bible says that:
The promises were made to Abraham and to his offspring. It does not say, “And to offsprings,” referring to many, but referring to one, “And to your offspring,” who is Christ.  This is what I mean: the law, which came 430 years afterward, does not annul a covenant previously ratified by God, so as to make the promise void. For if the inheritance comes by the law, it no longer comes by promise; but God gave it to Abraham by a promise.
            There is a stark dividing line that separates God’s own truth from the devil’s lies when it comes to our life with God and it’s this:  the inheritance of God (in forgiveness of sins, life, and salvation) comes to us as a gracious promise of God, fulfilled in Christ and received in simple faith—OR--it comes to us as a result of what we do. 
One of those is true and one of those is a lie.  They cannot both be true as the false teachers of the past and present try to make them be-- for to add our works to God’s undeserved gift is to deny the gift altogether and make God’s promise a lie!
The fact of the matter is that God’s promise to bless the entire world that he made to Abraham finds its fulfillment only in the obedience of Christ unto death, NOT in our keeping the law, NOT in our experiences or decision, NOT in anything in us at all! 
And it has always been that way! 
The covenant that God made to Abraham to bless the entire world in Jesus Christ was renewed by him again and again in salvation history.  God never changed his mind about giving us forgiveness of sins, life and salvation through faith in Jesus.  God was and is and always will be faithful to his promise to give us a life with him as a gracious gift received in faith in Abraham’s Offspring named Jesus.
This has always been, and will always be, the one and only way of salvation and a life with God.  And so what about the law?  Why did God give Moses the Ten Commandments at Mt. Sinai?  What role does the law play in our own lives as those who are saved by grace through faith?  Paul says:
Why then the law? It was added because of transgressions, until the offspring should come to whom the promise had been made, and it was put in place through angels by an intermediary. Now an intermediary implies more than one, but God is one.  Is the law then contrary to the promises of God? Certainly not! For if a law had been given that could give life, then righteousness would indeed be by the law. 
            The Bible plainly teaches, and the true Christian Church plainly confesses, that salvation is by God’s grace, through faith in Jesus Christ, apart from deeds of the law.  Apart from deeds of the law!  Whether it is our doing or our not doing, salvation apart from the deeds of the Law!  And so why then did God give the written Law to the children of Israel by the hand of Moses at Mt. Sinai?
It was added (not as an amendment to God’s gracious promise to Abraham, not as a codicil to his covenant) but rather because of transgression, because of sin, so that we could know beyond any shadow of a doubt how necessary God’s way of gracious salvation is!
            Let me give you an illustration.  At Cavender’s in Corpus Christi there is a giant plastic horse in the entrance and there is a sign on that giant plastic horse that says:  Do not touch!  Now, I might never have paid any interest at all in that giant plastic horse, much less toughed it,  but when that sign says don’t touch it:  guess what?!  I’m going to touch it!
The problem is not with the plastic horse and the problem is not with the sign—the problem is in my heart.  That’s what the law does:  it reveals and lays bare and exposes the sin that resides in our heart. It shows us why we cannot save ourselves by our obedience. 
It shows us again and again—in ways large and small—just exactly how sinful we are and it impresses upon again and again our complete inability to do what is necessary to earn our salvation and it shows us the absolute necessity of God’s gracious plan to save us through Spirit-given faith in his promise.
The Law was not given to show us how to save ourselves, the law was given to make us despair of saving ourselves. 
And to add one more point about the superiority of the Promise over the Law Paul reminds us that angels and Moses were the ways he dealt with men through the law while it was God himself who would give salvation:  by a promise our heavenly Father made to Abraham, a promise fulfilled by Jesus, and a promise given by the Spirit.
Salvation as a pure, gracious gift from the one true God who has a single-minded desire to save sinners through faith in Jesus.  The Bible says:
But the Scripture imprisoned everything under sin, so that the promise by faith in Jesus Christ might be given to those who believe.
            God made a promise to Abraham to bless the world through his Offspring named Jesus.  Abraham believed God and God counted that faith as righteousness in his sight. 
During his earthly ministry, Jesus promised that because he lived, we also would live.  Jesus promised that he is with us to the end of the age.  Jesus promised that he has prepared a place for us in heaven.  Jesus promised to give us peace and rest and forgiveness. 
Our Savior is the promise of God fulfilled and he is himself the God of kept promises who gives and will always give forgiveness of sin, life with God, and eternal salvation as free gifts of his gracious love for us.  God grant us his grace and the help of the Holy Spirit to believe this simple Gospel promise!  Amen.