Apnea

June 4, 2017 by  
Filed under Sermons

June 4, 2017

Like many of you, I have Sleep Apnea. I was first diagnosed with this back in 2000. Sleep Apnea means you have periods of time when you stop breathing while you are asleep. Most often, it is Obstructive Sleep Apnea, which describes your tongue and throat blocking your airway. The body is deprived of oxygen, so you wake up repeatedly during the night. The end result is that you don’t feel rested.

I’ve had multiple sleep studies over the years. I have tried both cpap and bipap machines, neither of which worked for me. I have been using a dental device at night which seems to help cut down on the snoring, but I still don’t sleep more than an hour or two at a time. That is why I often take a nap in my office here at the church in the middle of the day. I always look at the latest “Cures” that are out there for Sleep Apnea. I saw one that is still in development that is a cordless and hoseless cpap called “Airing.” They also have what they call “tongue retaining devices” that hold your tongue out of your mouth while you sleep!

Sleep Apnea is not a good thing. But did you know that doctors also have what they call an “APNEA TEST” that they use to determine whether or not a person is alive? If a person takes a breath within a certain amount of time after the life support is disconnected, they are considered alive. If not, they are considered legally dead. Again, they call this an APNEA test.

That word APNEA sounds funny. That’s because it comes from Greek. Pneuma is the Greek word for breath, wind or spirit. We get other words in English from it, like pneumatic. In English, the “P” is silent; in Greek you pronounce it. If you add an alpha/a on the front of a word in Greek, it negates it, like “non” or “un” would in English. So this word APNEA, based on its Greek origins, literally means “Without breath, without wind” or even “Without spirit.”

Today is Pentecost, the Festival in the Christian Church that celebrates the Holy Spirit, whom Jesus promised, being poured out on the disciples. This special gift of the Spirit resulted in those men remembering all that Jesus taught them and finally fully understanding what it meant. The Spirit enabled them to believe that Jesus is the Son of God, the long-awaited Messiah, the one who would save His people from their sins. They realized that by offering His perfect life on the cross, He paid the debt owed for the sins of the world. They knew that His resurrection from the dead meant that He had beaten death for all people. And they understood that this good news had been entrusted to them so that they could share it with others. As you heard in the reading at the start of our service, they did that.

“Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. The promise is for you and your children and for all who are far off-for all whom the Lord our God will call. ” With many other words he warned them; and he pleaded with them, “Save yourselves from this corrupt generation. ” Those who accepted his message were baptized, and about three thousand were added to their number that day. Acts 2:38-41

Earlier in this second chapter of Acts you heard how God sent His Spirit to the disciples. A loud wind. Flames on their heads. The ability to speak in previously unknown languages. This enabled them to share the message of Christ as Savior with all those present in Jerusalem clearly and plainly. This all happened because of the power of the Holy Spirit that rested on the disciples and enabled them to witness. And the Spirit worked in about 3000 others that day, who repented, believed and received God’s gift of baptism. It was cause for rejoicing.

Yet something we have to realize is that there were more than 3000 people in Jerusalem that day. There were many in that crowd who had APNEA. I say that because that word “pneuma” also means “spirit,” and a form of that word (pnuemato) is the word that is used for the Holy Spirit: aJgiou pneumato. Those who did not believe had “a-pnuema” –APNEA. It would be ridiculous to say they had Spiritual Apnea, because that would mean “spiritual no spirit.” The word APNEA, by itself, can be used to describe those who are without faith, who do not believe in Jesus, who do not have the Holy Spirit in their life. Listen to what Paul said about this:

1 Corinthians 12:3 Therefore I tell you that no one who is speaking by the Spirit of God says, ” Jesus be cursed, ” and no one can say, ” Jesus is Lord, ” except by the Holy Spirit.

If you have faith in Jesus, it is because you have the Holy Spirit in your life. He led you to that faith. If you do not have faith in Jesus, you do not have the Holy Spirit. You have APNEA.

There are a lot of people in our world today with APNEA, people without the Spirit of God in their lives. This past Wednesday I attended a luncheon of local pastors. We were told the population of Grayson County is 85,000. Of those, 14,000 claim a religious affiliation. That means 71,000 people do not have any religious affiliation. They have apnea.  What is really discouraging is that they don’t even know they have it. A lot of people don’t know they have Sleep Apnea, but there are hints that clue you in: multiple wake ups in the night, feeling tired when you get out of bed, severe sleepiness in the middle of the day. Those who have the other kind of APNEA, living without the Spirit, will also have signs that make that known: disregard for God and their fellow man. Paul spoke about that in Galatians 5:

Galatians 5:16-25 16 So I say, live by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the sinful nature. 17 For the sinful nature desires what is contrary to the Spirit, and the Spirit what is contrary to the sinful nature. They are in conflict with each other, so that you do not do what you want. 18 But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under law. 19 The acts of the sinful nature are obvious: sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery; 20 idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions 21 and envy; drunkenness, orgies, and the like. I warn you, as I did before, that those who live like this will not inherit the kingdom of God.

I mentioned earlier an APNEA test to determine whether or not someone is alive. If you have the kind of APNEA I’ve been describing, life without the Holy Spirit, you will be dead, spiritually dead.

But there is a treatment! All they need is the Holy Spirit. I mentioned those machines that tried to force air into my nostrils not working for me. Likewise, you can’t force the Holy Spirit on those who have APNEA. He has to be shared in gently and naturally. As Mr. Thies told us last week, this happens when you and I are not normal, but live as those peculiar people God has called us to be.

APNEA, living without the spirit, is spiritual death that will result in eternal death if the situation is not changed. Living with the Spirit, who brings you to faith in Christ Jesus, results in eternal life.

A problem frequently encountered is believers who live as though they have APNEA. I heard about a little boy riding home with his family from church after his baby brother had been baptized. On the way home, the boy started to cry. His father asked what was wrong, but the boy just kept on crying. The father and mother each asked him several more times what was wrong, but he just kept crying. Finally, the father pulled over and said, “I’m not going any farther until you tell me why  you are crying.” So the boy replied, “When the pastor baptized my brother, he said wanted him brought up in a Christian home, but I want him to stay with us!” While we can laugh at a joke, it is truly sad when believers live as enemies of the cross of Christ. When we exhibit items from that list I read earlier, we are not living by the Spirit, we are not letting ourselves be led by the Spirit, we are not keeping in step with the Spirit. Thank God we can confess those sins, be assured of God’s forgiveness and move on.

Those who are led by the Spirit should live a certain way. Paul describes that as he continues in Galatians 5:

Galatians 5:22-25 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law. Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the sinful nature with its passions and desires. Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit.

That’s the ideal. That is what should be showing. Those keeping in step with the Spirit will display these characteristics in their lives. And if you want to keep in step with the Spirit, all you have to do is ask the Holy Spirit to help you. That’s what He is there for. The wonderful result of living this way is that God will use you to spread the message of Christ as Savior and the only hope for salvation. That is also what the Holy Spirit is supposed to do.

If you have APNEA, don’t stay that way. Live by the Spirit. Keep in step with the Spirit. Rejoice in the Spirit. Be led by the Spirit. And if you have the Spirit, don’t live in such a way that you could be accused of APNEA. Remember that the Spirit points you to Jesus and the forgiveness and life He gives to you. Live in that knowledge and joy and certainty. Live by the Spirit.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Purt Near vs. Brought Near

May 21, 2017 by  
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Ephesians 2:11-18 11 Therefore, remember that formerly you who are Gentiles by birth and called “uncircumcised” by those who call themselves “the circumcision” (that done in the body by the hands of men)— 12 remember that at that time you were separate from Christ, excluded from citizenship in Israel and foreigners to the covenants of the promise, without hope and without God in the world. 13 But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far away have been brought near through the blood of Christ. 14 For he himself is our peace, who has made the two one and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility, 15 by abolishing in his flesh the law with its commandments and regulations. His purpose was to create in himself one new man out of the two, thus making peace, 16 and in this one body to reconcile both of them to God through the cross, by which he put to death their hostility. 17 He came and preached peace to you who were far away and peace to those who were near. 18 For through him we both have access to the Father by one Spirit.

Here in south, and especially in Texas, we have a way of expressing ourselves that folks in the rest of the country don’t always appreciate. We’ve got some great words and expressions that you just won’t hear as much when you travel outside the Lone Star state. Words like

  • Fixin’
  • Yonder
  • Reckon
  • Smack dab

One that I really like is “purt near.” You’ve heard it and probably used it. It is used in the sense of “just about” or “almost.” I came across a cowboy poem by a fellow named Barker with the title “Purt Near!” and I want to share it with you now.

Purt Near!   By S. Omar Barker

They called him “Purt Near Perkins,”  for unless the booger lied,
He’d purt near done most everything that he had ever tried.
He’d purt near been a preacher   and he’d purt near roped a bear;
He’d met up with Comanches once   and purt near lost his hair.
He’d purt near wed an heiress   who had money by the keg,
He’d purt near had the measles,   and he’d purt near broke his leg.

He’d purt near been a trail boss,   and accordin’ to his claim,
He’d purt near shot Bill Hickock–   which had purt near won  him fame!
He’d purt near rode some broncs   upon which no one else had stuck
In fact he was the feller    Who had purt near drowned the duck!

Now mostly all the cowboys    On the Lazy S B spread,
They took his talkin’ with a grin    And let him fight his head.
But one named Tom Maginnis    Sorter told it to him rough:
“You’re ridin’ with an outfit now    Where ‘purt near’ ain’t enough!
We tie our lasso ropes to the horn,    An’ what we ketch we hold,
And ‘purt near’ is one alibi    We never do unfold!
In fact, right now    I’ll tell you that no word I ever hear
Sounds quite so plain damn (DANG) useless    As that little pair: ‘purt near’!”

That’s how ol’ Tom Maginnis    Laid it out upon the line,
And like a heap of preachin’ talk,    It sounded mighty fine.
But one day Tom Maginnis,    While a-ridin’ off alone,
He lamed his horse    And had to ketch some neighbor nester’s roan
To ride back to the ranch on.       But somewhere along the way
A bunch of nesters held him up,    And there was hell to pay!

Tom claimed he hadn’t stole the horse–    Just borrowed it to ride.
Them nesters hated cowboys,    And they told him that he lied.
The cussed him for a horsethief    And they’d caught him with the goods.
They set right out to hang him    In a nearby patch of woods.
They had pore Tom surrounded,    With their guns all fixed to shoot.
It looked like this pore cowboy     Sure had heard his last owl hoot!

They tied a rope around his neck      And throwed it o’er a limb
And Tom Maginnis purt near knowed    This was the last of him.
Then suddenly a shot rang out     From somewhere up the hill!
Them nesters dropped the rope an’ ran,    Like nesters sometimes will
When bullets start to whizzin’.    Tom’s heart lept up with hope
To see ol’ Purt Near Perkins      Ridin’ towards him at a lope.

“Looks like I purt near    Got here just in time,” ol’ Perkins said,
“To see them nesters hang you!”       Tom’s face got kinder red.
“You purt near did!” he purt near grinned.   “They purt near had me strung!
You’re lookin’ at a cowboy     That has purt near just been hung!
And also one that’s changed his mind–     For no word ever said,
Can sound as sweet as ‘purt near’,     When a man’s been purt near dead!”

I think most of us would agree with ol’ Tom Maginnis that “Purt near ain’t enough.” We live much of our lives pretending otherwise, but deep down we know that “Purt Near” is not good enough. Even if you could live purt near without sin, it would not be enough. You would still be deserving of death and condemnation.

Ephesians 2:13 But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far away have been brought near through the blood of Christ.

The entire message of Scripture is about us being brought near to God. Our sin causes us to be far away from God, and Isaiah 59:2 says “your iniquities have separated you from your God.” And those sins have consequences, as Paul reminds us in Romans that “the wages of sin is death.” You can try and try and try to live without sin, and even if you could “purt near” do it, you will still fall short.

Purt near is not good enough. But brought near is, when you consider the one who has brought you near, and how He did it. Paul says it was through “the blood of Jesus Christ.” Even though your “purt near” has fallen short of the glory of God, Jesus did not. His life of perfection was lived for you. And then that perfect life was offered as the sacrifice not just for you, but for the sins of the whole world. In that sacrifice, His blood was poured out, making the offering of His life total and complete. Luther reminds us that Jesus made this payment “with His holy precious blood and His innocent suffering and death.” That blood which He poured out washes you, cleanses you, makes you righteous in the sight of your heavenly Father. You have been brought near to him.

Just like ol’ Tom Maginnis, without Jesus we were all purt near dead. Without Jesus we were spiritually dead. But because we have been brought near to Him by what He did for us, we have escaped death, both spiritually and eternally. And I don’t mean that you have “purt near” escaped death, but that you have completely escaped it through faith.

The Ephesians passage talks about two groups – Jews and Gentiles – Chosen People and everyone else. Those who were near and those who were FAR AWAY –  It speaks of the unity that Christ has brought, the message of peace is for us all, we have all been brought near by what He did in our place.

John 12:32 32 But I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all men to myself.”

That means you, and me, and all those who were “purt near” dead forever without Christ have been brought near.  What a sweet sound for those of us who were purt near dead, to hear that we have been Brought Near!  

I’m purt near done, but I have one more story to share with you today. Some of you have heard me tell it before, so you’ll just have to hear it again. A few years back, I got a call from Bob. Bob’s wife had been a member of this congregation, but she had died about a year earlier. Now his son-in-law had died and he asked if I would conduct a graveside service for him. I agreed to do so, and met him at the cemetery the next day. It was a small private cemetery right outside the gate of what used to be Texoma Lutheran Camp. When I arrived, it was just me and Bob. I asked him if his son-in-law had been a believer. He let out a big sigh, waited about 15 seconds and said, “Well, deep down, I’d like to think he was.” So that gave me a clue as to what my message might be. Soon people started trickling in to the cemetery, dressed like you would expect to see people dressed who were going to church – they had their Sunday go to meetin’ clothes on – the men in shirts and ties, the women in dresses. And then I heard this rumbling in the distance. It was growing closer. And very soon the first Harley Davidson turned in to the cemetery, followed by a long procession of riders of those American made machines. As they parked and took their places, about half the people were dressed in their Sunday best and standing on one side, while the other half, including the widow, were decked out in leather biker gear and standing on the other side.

I stood there for a moment, my mind racing, all those people looking at me and waiting for me to speak. There was a definite tension in the air, people on both sides of the line standing with arms crossed and furrowed brows.  By the grace of God, the Holy Spirit gave me the words to say, and they were something like this: “I don’t know any of you, and you don’t know me. I didn’t know the man we are burying today, either, so I can’t say anything about him. So what can I say? Well,  I do know Jesus, and I’d like to talk to all of you about him for a few minutes.” And I saw their arms become unfolded and their faces soften and they were ready to give me a chance. I don’t remember everything I said, but I talked about the life and death and resurrection of Jesus that were all done so that anyone and everyone could be brought near to Him and be assured of forgiveness and life everlasting. I think purt near everyone there heard it. I hope you have today.

Shower the People You Love With Love

May 14, 2017 by  
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[Click to Play audio clip of “Shower the People”]

Many of you know I have been a James Taylor fan for most of my life. I really like his voice and his style. This song tells us to “Shower the people you love with love.” That can be understood on many different levels, and it may be especially appropriate on Mother’s Day as we consider how moms lavish their love on their families. It can be understood in a good way, which is generally how I have heard those lyrics. But a few weeks ago as I was listening to this song, it struck me that this sentiment could also be understood in the wrong way. What I mean is the same thing Jesus was talking about in Luke 6.

Luke 6:27–36 27 “But I tell you who hear me: Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, 28 bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you. 29 If someone strikes you on one cheek, turn to him the other also. If someone takes your cloak, do not stop him from taking your tunic. 30 Give to everyone who asks you, and if anyone takes what belongs to you, do not demand it back. 31 Do to others as you would have them do to you. 32 “If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? Even ‘sinners’ love those who love them. 33 And if you do good to those who are good to you, what credit is that to you? Even ‘sinners’ do that. 34 And if you lend to those from whom you expect repayment, what credit is that to you? Even ‘sinners’ lend to ‘sinners,’ expecting to be repaid in full. 35 But love your enemies, do good to them, and lend to them without expecting to get anything back. Then your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High, because he is kind to the ungrateful and wicked. 36 Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.

Simply loving those who love you is not what Jesus is after. He tells us to do a hard thing: love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who mistreat you. In other words, Jesus wants you to love everyone the way He loves everyone. Not just your family. Not just your friends. Not only those who are kind to you. Everyone. Love everyone completely. Shower the people you love with love. Don’t hold back or withhold it from anyone. Be loving to everyone with the kind of love God has shown to you. 

As I said, that can be difficult. In fact, it is impossible for us. It goes against our natural tendencies. Some people are unlovable.

  • How can you love someone who has hurt you terribly?
  • How can you love a child molester?
  • How can you love a terrorist who blows up innocent people?

That is tough stuff. What we need to remember is that God loves everyone.  Everyone. And He wants everyone to be saved by believing that Jesus has taken care of sin for us, allowing us to be forgiven for everything we have done wrong.

Are you familiar with the expression “preaching to the choir?” It means telling our Christian message to those who already know it. Of course those in the choir need that preaching again and again and again. I need it over and over again. And so do each of you. There is nothing wrong with preaching to the choir. We love to hear it!

Sometimes I think we “Shower the People in the Choir with love.” How much of what we do as a congregation is directed at fellow Christians? Again, that is not a bad thing. In fact it is good.

Galatians 6:10 “As we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, especially to those who belong to the family of believers.”

Doing good to one another, showing love to the people we love, or “preaching to the choir,” isn’t bad. But our Lord wants you and me to do more than preach to the choir. He wants His Gospel to move beyond our fellow Christians to people who do not yet believe in Him. That’s what today’s text is all about. Jesus says that we should do good to those who can’t or won’t return the favor. We should not be content to simply “preach to the choir.” Jesus wants us to widen our perspective. We should be doing good beyond the confines of our congregation and our Christian acquaintances.

The model for moving beyond fellow Christians is God Himself. Our text says that God is kind to the ungrateful and wicked. Be merciful just as your father is merciful.  Merciful is the key word here. Mercies are acts of loving kindness. Mercy is more than an exclamation. It is more than simply feeling sorry for some poor soul that needs help. Mercies are acts of loving kindness. Over and over again, in numerous ways we perceive and in countless ways beyond our perception, God shows Himself to be merciful to you and me.

God is full of mercies for the Christian and non-Christian alike. God’s mercies move beyond the choir. If that were not the case, you and I would not be here today to worship in the name of Jesus Christ. You and I were not born Christian. Quite the contrary. Ephesians 2 tells us you were dead in your transgressions and sins. That is why we confess before God that “we are by nature sinful and unclean.” If you cannot identify with those outside our congregation, if your heart does not go to those beyond the choir, you forgot where you came from.

A Sunday School teacher had just concluded her lesson and wanted to make sure she had made her point. She said, “Can anyone tell me what you must do before you can obtain forgiveness of sin?”  There was a short pause and then, from the back of the room, a small boy spoke up. “Sin,” he said.

We have all got that part covered. Have we forgotten who made us alive again? God was not content to keep His loving kindness to Himself. The Father sent Jesus into the flesh to save you from sin. The Son willingly came to be one of us, to give his life as a ransom for many (Mark 10:45), and to be raised on Easter as your way to eternal life.

Paul added in that same second chapter of Ephesians: because of his great love for us, god, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions. . .consequently, you are no longer foreigners and aliens but fellow citizens with God’s people and members of God’s household (4-5,19).

As His mercies have moved each of us into His household, into the family of Christ, so His mercies move us to do good to those still outside our congregation. Our Father’s mercies move us to “preach beyond the choir.” Shower everyone with love.

That is what everyone wants: MERCY. We all want to be treated with loving kindness, Christians and non-Christians alike. We can thank God that we are able to be actively involved with fellow Christians in preaching His mercies. But we also thank Him for broadening our perspective beyond our congregation. We can share His mercies beyond the choir.

You don’t do this in order to be saved. You show God’s love to everyone because you have been saved. Jesus did that for you. You respond by living the life to which Jesus has called you. Shower the people you love – which should be everyone – with love. The love of God in Christ.

The Good Shepherd

May 7, 2017 by  
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May 7, 2017

John 10:11 “I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.

I would guess most of you have seen a picture of Jesus carrying a lamb on His shoulders, like the one on the screen. I like this picture. It is the image I most often associate with today’s text: We are sheep cared for by a loving, good Shepherd.

How many of you have personal experience with sheep? We look at a picture like this and think they are so cute and adorable. But looks can be deceiving. I don’t have a lot of experience with sheep, but I do remember in high school, our Youth Group staged a live nativity scene every year at our church in Dallas. One year we had some sheep that managed to get away from us when one kid didn’t close the gate. We spent half the night chasing them around Sparkman-Hillcrest Cemetery. Can you imagine what that looked like when the police showed up…and they did! I remember reaching the conclusion that evening that sheep are stupid, smelly animals.

How much do you know about sheep? Do you know what they are like, how they act, how to care for them, how they smell, and so on? If you do, you have a much deeper understanding of and appreciation for the Scripture passages that talk about sheep and shepherds, especially when it talks about the Good Shepherd who loves His sheep and calls them by name and lays down His life for them.

But I would guess that most of you don’t know too much about sheep. There aren’t that many around here. I read a while back that before nylon and rayon were invented, the state of Wyoming alone had more than half as many sheep as there are in the entire United States today. With the exception of the infrequent encounter at a petting zoo, we are not exposed to sheep today.

The things that I have read about sheep are revealing. A man describing the first time he saw a sheep shearing said the barn was small but the noise was big. You could hardly hear yourself think with all the people shouting and shears running. One man would grab a sheep from the pen and drag it to the shearer. The shearer jerked the sheep up on its haunches and went to work. Thick swatches of wool peeled off to the floor. But it was the people making all the noise. The sheep made no struggle, no sound. It was just like that verse from Isaiah: He was oppressed and afflicted, yet he did not open his mouth; he was led like a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before her shearers is silent, so he did not open his mouth. (Isaiah 53:7).

In Bible times, whenever sheep and shepherds were used to illustrate a truth about God, people understood the point of comparison. They were familiar with sheep. Israel was sheep country. In those days, it was an important animal. It gave food in the form of both milk and meat. It’s wool provided clothing. Tents were made from their skins. Three basic needs of life, food, clothing & shelter, came from sheep. Despite their stupidity, their stubbornness and their smell, they were creatures of great worth.

Sheep are sturdy and stocky, able to withstand the elements, efficient producers of meat and wool even on a sparse pasture. At the same time, they are helpless. They have no defenses against predators. They are at the mercy of bears, wolves, coyotes, and wild dogs. They get into all kinds of jams from which they can’t get themselves out. They get lost at the drop of a hat. They are not good at seeking out grass and water. They are dependent creatures. Without a shepherd, they would die. I read that if you take sheep to a new and unfamiliar barnyard, they huddle together, immobilized by fear. They will easily die if they aren’t shown the water tank and the way to grassy pastures. Sheep need someone to lead them.

Sheep are so stupid they can even be self-destructive. One farmer described an obstinate, big-bellied old ewe whose favorite place in the pasture was a dip in the meadow about four feet square. She’d go there to lie down when she was done grazing. When she’d try to get up again, she couldn’t because the dip was too deep and she was too fat. She would lie there helpless until the farmer came to boost her up on her feet. You think she might learn her lesson. But she didn’t. The next day the farmer would find her in the same place again. That farmer probably shook his head in disgust. He knew what Isaiah meant when he wrote We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to his own way; (Isaiah 53:6).

I’ve pointed out a lot of things about sheep this morning that are less than flattering. And I want to be sure you make the connection: the Bible says that we are just like sheep! We get ourselves into all kinds of predicaments because of our stupidity. We get lost and cannot find the way home–lost in our own sinfulness. We wander aimlessly after our self-centered desires and interests. We lie down with the same bad habits and cannot stand on our feet again. We often don’t know where the good pasture is, or where fresh water can be found. Without our Shepherd, we would certainly die! That same farmer described how the sheep once resisted him for two hours on a cold, rainy day when he was trying to drive them into the barn where it was warm and dry. They didn’t trust their own shepherd, who had nothing but their welfare at heart. That’s how sheep are.

The prophet Isaiah knew sheep as well as he knew the lost condition of Israel. And speaking by inspiration, he held out a beacon of hope to a lost people: God’s promise of a shepherd — a Good Shepherd — who would save the sheep: Here is your God! … He tends His flock like a shepherd: He gathers the lambs in his arms and carries them close to His heart (Isaiah 40:9-11). That was God’s ancient promise. And when the timing was just right, He sent His Son to be that Good Shepherd. He sent Him into this world to gather the flock, tenderly care for the sheep, and even to sacrifice Himself for the welfare of the flock. I am the Good Shepherd…the Good Shepherd lays down His life for the sheep.

A shepherd lives a life of considerable sacrifice. He must be dedicated to caring for the foolish creatures in his charge. He goes where the sheep go, traveling the countryside, leading them to pasture, protecting them from danger, hunting for the lost ones. The Good Shepherd not only led a life of sacrifice, but also offered His life as the sacrifice for the sheep. He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, so that we might die to sins and live for righteousness; by his wounds you have been healed. For you were like sheep going astray, but now you have returned to the Shepherd and Overseer of your souls. (1 Peter 2:24-25) It is because He laid down His life that all who believe in Him receive the benefit of His death, which the Scriptures assure us is life and salvation. Jesus gave His life so that you and I could have forgiveness and life. God gives this freely to all who put their faith in the Good Shepherd.

The Good Shepherd gathers people into one flock, His Church. It is in His Church that we drink from the living water of His Word. He washes us in Baptism. We feed on the blessed Sacrament of His Body and Blood and receive forgiveness. He keeps us safe and binds our wounds. He cares for you, His sheep. And He knows you, all of you, who belong to Him. He knows your needs, your weaknesses, the groanings of your heart. And He loves you. You can sing confidently:

I am Jesus’ little lamb, ever glad at heart I am 

For my Shepherd gently guides me Knows my needs and well provides me

Loves me every day the same, even calls me by my name.

 

There was a traveler in Israel who walked along with a shepherd. He noticed that there was one older sheep that moved with difficulty and always stayed close to the shepherd. Curious, he asked the shepherd why that sheep walked with a limp and was never far from his side. The shepherd explained, “That sheep is one of the oldest in the flock. Soon after it was born, I discovered that it was partly deaf. When it was a lamb, it kept straying from the fold where it couldn’t hear my voice. Many times I rescued it from the brink of destruction. At last, I had to inflict that injury on its leg myself. I broke its leg. Ever since that day, it has limped, but it now stays close to me for guidance and protection.”

You may have something that makes you limp through life. You may have experienced sorrow, bitter disappointment, or some bodily affliction. If you carry a burden that causes you to limp, you can be certain that in His love for you, God will use that burden to draw you closer to the Shepherd’s side. You may limp, but you are blessed if you are limping at the side of the Good Shepherd. That affliction should draw you closer to the Shepherd of your soul, leading you to place your confidence in the one who loved you enough to die for your sins and rose again so that you could have eternal life. If He has already given you eternal life, He will certainly provide for your needs here.

Perhaps you have heard the story about the little boy who rehearsed faithfully for his part in the Sunday School program at church. On the day of the program, he stood up to recite. He began, “The Lord is my Shepherd…” and then he stopped, unable to remember what came next. The teacher whispered, “I shall not want!” The boy didn’t seem to hear, so she whispered a little louder, “I shall not want!” A big smile came across his face, and he started again: “The Lord is my Shepherd, that’s all I want!” Though the words were wrong, they could not have been more correct. The Lord is my Shepherd, that’s all I want. May that be your confidence.

That Death May Die

April 23, 2017 by  
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Crown Him with Many Crowns

 

Crown Him with many crowns, The Lamb upon His throne;

Hark how the heav’nly anthem drowns All music but its own.

Awake, my soul, and sing Of Him who died for thee

And hail Him as thy matchless King Thro’ all eternity.

 

Crown Him the Virgin’s Son, The God incarnate born,

Whose arm those crimson trophies won Which now His brow adorn;

Fruit of the mystic rose, Yet of that rose the stem;

The root whence mercy ever flows, the Babe of Bethlehem.

 

Crown Him the Lord of love. Behold His hands and side,

Rich wounds yet visible above, In beauty glorified.

No angel in the sky Can fully bear that sight,

But downward bend their wond’ring eyes At mysteries so bright.

 

John 20:19-31 19 On the evening of that first day of the week, when the disciples were together, with the doors locked for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you!” 20 After he said this, he showed them his hands and side.  The disciples were overjoyed when they saw the Lord.  21 Again Jesus said, “Peace be with you! As the Father has sent me, I am sending you.” 22 And with that he breathed on them and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit.  23 If you forgive anyone his sins, they are forgiven; if you do not forgive them, they are not forgiven.” 24 Now Thomas (called Didymus), one of the Twelve, was not with the disciples when Jesus came.  25 So the other disciples told him, “We have seen the Lord!” But he said to them, “Unless I see the nail marks in his hands and put my finger where the nails were, and put my hand into his side, I will not believe it.” 26 A week later his disciples were in the house again, and Thomas was with them. Though the doors were locked, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you!” 27 Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here; see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it into my side. Stop doubting and believe.” 28 Thomas said to him, “My Lord and my God!” 29 Then Jesus told him, “Because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.” 30 Jesus did many other miraculous signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not recorded in this book.  31 But these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.

I know that this text usually leads us to give Thomas a hard time. Why couldn’t he just believe what the others told him? Why did he have to be so skeptical, so much so that “doubting Thomas” is part of our vocabulary? What I want you to consider with me today is that Thomas was not unique. In fact, he was typical. He didn’t believe until he saw it with his own eyes. This was true of all the disciples, yet somehow he is the only one who has had “doubting” attached to his name. But he was far from the only one mentioned in Scripture as having doubts.

  • When Jesus walked on the water, He invited Peter to come out and join him. Peter got out of the boat, started toward the Lord, but became frightened by the wind and the waves and began to sink. Jesus said, “You of little faith … why did you doubt?” (Matthew 14:31) Yet how often do we call him “Doubting Peter?”
  • Do you remember when Jesus saw the fig tree with no fruit on it? He cursed it and it died. The disciples marveled at this, to which Jesus replied “I tell you the truth, if you have faith and do not doubt, not only can you do what was done to the fig tree, but also you can say to this mountain, ‘Go, throw yourself into the sea,’ and it will be done.” (Matthew 21:21)
  • In Luke’s account of Jesus appearing to the disciples on Easter evening, Jesus asked them all “Why are you troubled, and why do doubts rise in your minds? Look at my hands and my feet. It is I myself! Touch me and see; a ghost does not have flesh and bones, as you see I have.” (Luke 24:38-39)
  • At the end of Matthew’s Gospel, just prior to the great commission, we are told that Jesus appeared to the 11 disciples on a mountain in Galilee. When they saw him, they worshiped him; but some doubted. (Matthew 28:17)

There are plenty of instances of other doubters, yet none of them have been saddled with the label Thomas has. This all goes to my point that Thomas was typical, not unique. All people are by nature doubters. And Thomas was not asking for anything other than what the other disciples had already seen. In this text from John 20, it says that Jesus appeared to the disciples, said, “Peace be with you!” and then After he said this, he showed them his hands and side. Perhaps they even had to opportunity to touch the Lord. But Thomas was not there, he was deprived of the proof the others had all seen. So when they tell him “We have seen the Lord,” he says he wants the same proof they claim to have seen.

Instead of giving Thomas such a bum rap, we should remember that he was one of the disciples who had earlier been willing to die with Jesus. Let’s go back to John 11. If you have your Bible, turn to that chapter. In chapter 10, Jesus had been teaching in Jerusalem, and the Jews became so angry with Him that they tried to stone Him. So Jesus withdrew from the city. Then, in chapter 11, word reaches our Lord that His friend, Lazarus, is very ill. Jesus does not go right away, because He knows that all this will work to show God’s glory. He waits until He knows Lazarus is dead, then tells His disciples it is time to go back to Judea. They remember that the Jews there had tried to kill Him, so they ask, “Uh, Jesus, do you think that is a good idea? Maybe we should go somewhere else?” Let’s pick it up at verse 11:

After he had said this, he went on to tell them, “Our friend Lazarus has fallen asleep; but I am going there to wake him up.” His disciples replied, “Lord, if he sleeps, he will get better.” Jesus had been speaking of his death, but his disciples thought he meant natural sleep. So then he told them plainly, “Lazarus is dead, and for your sake I am glad I was not there, so that you may believe. But let us go to him.” Then Thomas (called Didymus) said to the rest of the disciples, “Let us also go, that we may die with him.” (John 11:11-16)

Did you catch that at the end? Here we see faithful Thomas, believing Thomas, willing-to-die Thomas.

In both of these instances, Thomas, and the other disciples, were faced with death. The death of Lazarus, the death of Jesus, and the possibility of their own death. Death is that final enemy, that ever-present force that dictates so much of what we do, the decisions we make. Think how much of our world today is driven by death. I remember reading a while back that Ford Motor Company spends more on employee health care each year than it does on steel to make cars. Health care, nutrition science, fitness programs, the weight control industry, safety regulations and medical research dominate the modern scene. And they can’t seem to agree on the evils or benefits of eggs, coffee, alcohol and so on. With all of the effort and money spent on research fighting cancer, heart disease, diabetes, and all the rest, it seems as though death is pulling all the strings. Death appears to be in control.

Let’s go back to John 11. Death was all around. They had tried to kill Jesus. Lazarus had died. Thomas was resigned to dying with the Lord. Yet Jesus seems oblivious to it all, somehow free from it all, or, better yet, above it all. When they arrive, Jesus greets Martha. She was grieving, and in the midst of all this death, Jesus says those words we all know so well. I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in me will live, even though he dies; and whoever lives and believes in me will never die. (John 11:25-26) Then Jesus did what He did at every funeral He went to: He broke it up. He called Lazarus out of the tomb. Jesus had come that death may die!

Shortly after this, Jesus was Himself placed in a tomb. Even with all they had seen Jesus do, the disciples only saw now that death had apparently conquered their master. He told them that He must die to pay for the sins of the world. And yes, the battle was over. Jesus had declared so by saying, “It is finished.” But the end result was not what appeared to be so obvious to those grieving followers of our Lord. Jesus won the war. He had grabbed death by the throat, throttled it, and choked all the power out of it. He rose to proclaim that victory, and then showed Himself to His disciples with many convincing proofs (Acts 1:3). Jesus had won.

Thomas had to be convinced that death had not conquered Jesus. So do you and I. We have the account of the eyewitnesses passed down to us. Because the Spirit of God has worked in our hearts to lead us to faith, we are numbered among those Jesus calls blessed: blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.

As those who are blessed, those who believe that Jesus is the Christ, the risen Son of God, we should not let death jerk us around. Death is not in control. Death should not be in control. Jesus lives, the victory has been won, and He is Lord of all. Let’s remind each other of that as we sing together the final two stanzas of this hymn:

 Crown Him the Lord of Life who triumphed o’er the grave

And rose victorious in the strife For those He came to save.

His glories now we sing Who died and rose on high,

Who died eternal life to bring And lives that death may die.

 

Crown Him the Lord of Heaven, Enthroned in worlds above,

Crown Him the King to whom is given The wondrous name of Love.

Crown Him with many crowns As thrones before Him fall;

Crown Him, ye kings, with many crowns, For He is King of all.

Suffering

April 8, 2017 by  
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April 9, 2017

Today we look the crossroad Jesus faced as he moved toward the cross, the crossroad of suffering. The individual we will consider today is one of the disciples of Jesus who was with him throughout his years of ministry and at the last, as he went toward the cross. Today we think about Simon. No, not Simon Peter. The other disciple named Simon. This Simon is often referred to as Simon the Zealot.

What do you think of when you hear “zealot?” What it meant for this Simon was rebel or revolutionary. He had joined a group that was working to get rid of the Romans. Think along the lines of the French Resistance during WWII. Some members of this group were wanted by the Roman authorities for acts of terrorism. Others were quiet supporters of the cause who wanted to see Rome out of their country and their lives.

So where did Simon fit in all of this? He was part of the rebel group, but then he came across this Jesus of Nazareth. He recognized that Jesus was someone special, someone different. Jesus was someone with power and authority, a man of action. Jesus fed thousands with a couple of fish and loaves. He had power to calm a storm. He effortlessly escaped religious leaders who wanted to harm Him, and those leaders were nothing more than lackeys for Rome. Jesus talked of the coming of the Kingdom of God.  Simon wanted to be in on that kingdom. If anyone could pull it off, Jesus could.

But what about Jesus saying his path included suffering and death? Simon was like the other disciples. They were so sure he was going to overthrow the Romans and establish the new rule of King David that they didn’t even hear those things. Or if they did hear them, they thought Jesus was talking in images.

Most of the disciples were hoping for a new ruler and thought Jesus could be that ruler. Jesus was immensely popular. People flocked to him. Thousands sought him out. His name was on every lip when he raised Lazarus. Even Greeks, foreigners were attracted to him. Then He did exactly what they thought he should do: He paraded into Jerusalem on a donkey, just like the Scriptures said the new king would do. He came into Jerusalem with the shouts of people proclaiming him the Messiah, the new king. They shouted a kingly greeting, they threw their cloaks in his way, they called out: Hosanna! God saves! At that moment, Jesus could have been everything they wanted him to be. He could have called the people to rebellion, he could have moved the masses against the Romans, against the corrupt religious rulers … but he did not.

That had to be confusing for His followers. How could a leader with his authority, with his place as the chosen one of God, with his connection with the Father, how could He fail to act against the evil surrounding them? All He did was drive some money-changers out of the temple, and after that, nothing.

The only other thing He did was share the Passover meal with us and go to the Garden to pray. There were no speeches to the crowd, no call to action, no rallying the troops, nothing like that. And it got worse. When they went to the Garden with Jesus, he was arrested. They took Him to the High Priest and He was on trial. And He did nothing.

As I said, all this had to be confusing. How could Jesus choose to allow himself to be humiliated before the council and before the Roman governor, choose to go meekly to the cross. How could he make the choice to suffer and die? Do you understand the choice Jesus made at the crossroad of suffering? Jesus once said,

“Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.” (Matt. 10:39).

After Jesus died and rose again, Simon and the others began to understand. When Jesus invited them into his kingdom, he was not asking them to rule on earth. He was inviting them into a spiritual kingdom, marked by believers who would follow him, even to the cross. When Jesus faced that crossroad of suffering, Simon and the other Zealots faced a crossroad as well. They had to choose whether to continue to follow the risen Christ or seek another leader who might give them the success in rebellion that they sought.

And the rest of the disciples stood at a similar crossroad. They could have gone their own way, sought their own successes, found what they thought they needed. But they chose to stay with Jesus. By the power of the Spirit they stayed, even though they knew that it might cost them their lives. Jesus warned they would be persecuted, hated and even put to death, but they joined him in his choice. They chose to follow.

Those of us who were not there, who did not walk with Jesus, who did not see his miracles or hear his voice … How can we make that kind of choice? Even though you did not see Him the way those first disciples did, you have seen Jesus in the hands of those who have loved and helped you. You have seen his miracles in the hearts of those changed by his power. You have heard his voice in the voice of those who have brought you the Word. You have been touched by the same Spirit and can make the same choice. And remember what Jesus said to Thomas after the Resurrection: Blessed are those who have not seen yet have believed. (John 20:29)

Jesus calls you to follow, to lose your life for his sake, to take the narrow road of discipleship. And he promises to walk with you, to give you his strength and to receive you into his eternal kingdom. Remember St. Paul wrote:

For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us … For in this hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what he sees? But if we hope for what we do not see, we await for it with patience. Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness … because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God. And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose” (Romans 8:18, 24-28).

With that kind of power going for us, how can we fail?

“No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Romans 8:37-39).

 

Declaration

April 1, 2017 by  
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April 2, 2017

When you come to a Crossroad. You have to make a decision. Sometimes that happens with little or no thought, especially if you have been down that road before and know where you are going. But other times the choice is not as easy. In fact, it can be downright difficult or even agonizing. Which way should I go? The answer is not always easy. A crossroad can bring pain: emotional, spiritual and physical. It might even bring you to your knees, which is not always a bad thing.

Today we are thinking about a crossroad that I will call “declaration.” We do so by considering the apostle Peter. We hear a lot about Peter in the Bible, some good, some not so good. Peter is famous for his choices; some he would be proud of, some not so much.

First and foremost, Peter was an apostle of Jesus Christ. He spent his life sharing the good news of Jesus.  He had been a follower of Jesus, was sent out by Jesus, and then spent the rest of his life serving Jesus. Did he always get things right? No, not any more than we do. And that is why he is such a good example for us to observe.

Peter did not always make good choices.  Sometimes he failed miserably. How could he deny knowing Jesus? That is hard for us to understand. He was a leader of the disciples, the one who seemed to understand Jesus and what he was doing as Messiah. He was even commended by Jesus for the bold testimony he offered: “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God!” Peter said he knew Jesus was the Messiah, the promised one, and for that Jesus called him blessed. Could it get any better?

“Let anyone who thinks he stands take heed lest he fall.” Peter was warned, but even with that warning, he denied Jesus. Not once, not twice, but three times. “I don’t know the man.” The one who correctly identified Jesus as the Son of God, the one who pledged to stand by Him even to the point of death, the one who swung his sword trying to defend his Lord now says he doesn’t even know him.

If he could go back and face that crossroad again, I imagine he would make a different choice. He thought he knew what Jesus was doing and that he was on the same page as his Lord. But he was wrong. Jesus had told them he was going to suffer and die, but that did not sink in or register with Peter. Especially after seeing the parade into the city of Jerusalem where Jesus was welcomed like a coming king. Peter wanted to believe Jesus was poised to take over this part of the world for the benefit of His people. He thought that God’s Messiah was the king and ruler they needed.

The talk about suffering didn’t fit. When Peter was at the high priest’s courtyard, everything was going wrong. None of it was making sense. Jesus was not supposed to be arrested. He was not supposed to be on trial. Where was his power? Where were his miracles? Where was his ability to simply walk away when they threatened him? Peter was confused. When they accused him of being with Jesus, he was watching Jesus fail before his eyes. And Peter failed as well. “I don’t know the man.”

Can you blame him, really? He was afraid. He was baffled, confused, disappointed, in despair. I’m not trying to excuse what he did, but to help you understand the context. Peter stood at the crossroad: Are you with Jesus or not? He said he was not.

Previously he had said he would even die with Jesus. Did he mean that? Or was that yet another time he spoke without thinking. Maybe he was trying to impress Jesus and the others. Maybe Peter was trying to make himself look good. He wanted Jesus to respect him and he wanted to be appreciated for what he was doing.

But what about the warning Jesus gave? Wasn’t Peter listening? I have to believe Jesus said a lot of things Peter didn’t understand. And there were certainly times Peter simply didn’t listen. He thought he was strong and secure in his position as a follower of Jesus.  He was sure he would be able to stand up for Him, speak up for Him, even fight for Him. But when push came to shove, he made the wrong choice. He could not say the words he knew he should say.  In a moment of darkness, he made a bad decision. Think how terrible that had to be for Peter.

We all find ourselves in places where we know we should speak the good word.

  • You find yourselves among those who dirty their minds and mouths with words that hurt or shame.
  • You find yourselves among those who misuse God’s name and act as though his commands don’t exist.
  • You are confronted with people who ridicule Christ and all who follow Him.

When you are in those situations, it is not comfortable. It is a struggle. What should you do? What should you say? What if I say the wrong thing? Will I be effective or will I look and sound foolish? Isn’t it better to just keep quiet? You may not face a time when your words would put you in danger for your life, but there are times when we all find ourselves at a crossroad that calls on us to boldly speak Jesus’ name and God’s will, and we fail. We do not speak the words that we should, when we should. We make the same mistake Peter did.

Just remember: this was not the end of Peter’s story.  He did not finish his discipleship in tears of failure. Jesus sought him out and found him that day on the beach, after he had risen. He loved Peter enough to call him back even after he had turned his back on Jesus. “Do you love me?” Jesus asked him three times, and then told Peter to feed his lambs and sheep.

Jesus wants to do the same for you. He seeks you out and calls you back to Himself. He does not leave you in your failure. He does not turn away. He is there every day with the forgiveness you need to go on one more day, to face one more test, to stand at one more crossroad. And by his power, the power of his Holy Spirit, he enables you to be what he wants you to be, what you want to be.

St. Paul said: For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes. . . (Romans 1:16). That’s our affirmation, that’s our calling. We know that Jesus came into this world to save sinners, and that is us.  We know that He lived without sin so that He could offer His sinless life as the sacrifice that would pay for the sins of all people. We believe that His death paid for our sin and His resurrection is our guarantee of eternal life. So we want to stand and speak the Good News because of all He has done us. It is His power, not ours.

And Peter tells you to remember that “you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light” (1 Peter 1:9).

 

Compassion

March 26, 2017 by  
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March 26, 2017

In week four of looking at Crossroads we encounter in our lives, we think about a fellow named Malchus, a guard and servant of the high priest in Israel. He was not what you would call “high profile.” He was not someone well-known among his people. He was a servant. It was not a glamorous job. He got along, did his work, and tried to stay out of the spotlight. But he has an important story to share with us. After all, most of us are not well-known or serving in glamorous, high-profile positions. In other words, Malchus was one of us. And His life was changed by a simple act of kindness.

He was an important character in the story of Jesus. He was with the crowd that had come to arrest Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane. Perhaps he had seen Jesus before. Had he been in the company of those Pharisees and other leaders when they questioned Jesus, trying to trap Him in His words and looking for something they could use against Him? If so, Malchus heard how Jesus was never at a loss for an answer. He would have heard Jesus speak simply and plainly about God’s plan for His people, how they should live. He could have observed Jesus helping those in need and the gentle way He dealt with everyone.

Malchus may have wondered, “Why are the Jewish leaders so dead set against Jesus?” There was nothing wrong with what He did or said. But as you and I know, the Jewish rulers saw Jesus as a threat. They heard that some of His followers wanted to make him a king, to start a revolt, to kick out the Romans. And the Jewish leaders wanted none of that. Well, maybe getting rid of the Romans wouldn’t be so bad. After all, they were oppressors of the Jewish people. But the Jewish leaders wanted none of that other stuff. If Jesus were made king, what would happen to the High Priest and his authority? Remember, that was the one Malchus served. If the High Priest lost his position, what would happen to his servants?

 

At any rate, Malchus was among those who had gone to arrest Jesus and bring him back to be put on trial. They were expecting trouble, that Jesus and His followers might put up a fight. His followers had weapons, and most likely would resist having their Master arrested.

Malchus lived in a world that had much the same mindset as the world today. Protect yourself. Stand up for yourself. If someone strikes you, strike back. In fact, it might be better if you struck first, given the chance. Every man for Himself. And Malchus would have assumed that Jesus and His followers would act the same way. In a way, that is what happened. Peter, lashed out with his sword and cut off Malchus’ ear. After recovering from the initial shock, he was probably ready to strike back. That’s what he knew. That’s how he lived. Strike back quickly!

But that was not the way things went.  Malchus didn’t strike back. Jesus stopped Him. He spoke in a quiet, but commanding tone. He told His followers not to resist. Put away your swords. This had to happen. This was why Jesus had come. And then our Lord reached out to Malchus. Jesus was not reaching out to Malchus in a threatening way. It was not an attack. It was a gentle touch, a healing touch, and instantly his ear was made whole again.

Malchus had been touched by the Master. And it was more than just his ear. His spirit was touched as well. Here was one who had the power to strike back. He said He could have called down armies from heaven. He could have wiped out His betrayer and the troops with him. But that was not why Jesus had come. He came to heal, to care, to love, and to save. When Malchus experienced the gentle touch of Jesus, he had to see things in a new way. An encounter with Jesus changes you. Malchus stood at a crossroad. He had gone there to arrest Jesus. And now Jesus had shown him compassion and kindness. How would he respond?

We often find ourselves standing at a crossroad, a place where we have to make a choice between retaliation or compassion. Which do we normally choose? I would guess that most often we respond in kind. That is the way of the world in which we live. When Jesus was faced with that decision, he chose compassion, even though Malchus was among those who had come to do Him harm.

Jesus looks at people with compassion. Matthew’s Gospel lists several occasions where Jesus looked at the crowds following him and had compassion on them. That is a word that means a feeling that comes from deep inside of you, from your gut, a desire to help those in need. And that is what Jesus feels. A desire to help. Whether it was the people living like sheep without a shepherd, the crowds that were hungry before He fed them with a few fish and loaves, or a guy who just had his ear lopped off. Jesus was full of compassion. 

But it goes even deeper than that. It was His compassion that led him to go willingly with his captors, offer no resistance at His trial, carry His cross to the place of execution, and willingly take His place on that cross. This was why He had come. This was His mission, to offer Himself for the sins of the world. And that is what He did.

You and I have experienced this healing touch of Jesus in our lives. We know and believe and confess that Jesus did this for us, which gives us the guarantee of forgiveness and life and salvation. And that changes who we are, in the same way that compassionate touch of Jesus had to have changed Malchus. 

Malchus was nobody special in the eyes of the world. Neither are we. But Jesus looked on him and each of us with love and compassion. Jesus sees you as someone special, someone worth dying for. And that is what He did. He died for you so that you could have forgiveness and everlasting life.

We don’t know anything more about Malchus after this night. I’d like to think his encounter with Jesus changed him, that he remembered and saw the face of Jesus when confronted with a choice between ignoring the needs of others or showing compassion and mercy.

Hopefully the same is true for all of us who have experienced the compassion of Jesus in our lives. When you are tempted to strike back at someone who has hurt you, to get even with one who has insulted or injured you, can you see the face of Jesus? Can you remember how He reached out to you in your wounded and separated condition to rescue you from sin and death?

You know that in Jesus you are forgiven. You know that Jesus went to the cross for you, that he healed you by his death and resurrection. He showed you compassion.

Paul wrote in Colossians:

 “Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience.” (Colossians 3:12, NIV84)

Because you have experienced the compassionate touch of Jesus in your life, you can live that way. That’s the life I pray for you.

 

Judgment

March 19, 2017 by  
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3/19/2017

This is our third week to consider what happens in our lives when we come to critical crossroads. One minute everything seems to be going great, when all of a sudden we are confronted with an important decision or choice. Which way is right? Which makes sense? Which is God’s way? It is not always easy to tell or discern.
As we consider JUDGMENT today, we do so thinking about someone whose name we mention quite often in our worship services as we speak the Apostle’s Creed; someone who found himself in the position of passing judgment on the Son of God. Today we consider Pontius Pilate.
Pilate was a man who held a position of authority. He was used to having people treat him with respect because they knew he was a powerful representative of the Roman Emperor. And yet many today consider him a poster child symbol of weakness and dishonor. Why? Because of how he acted in the most visible and memorable event of his life: the trial of Jesus.
Perhaps from Pilate’s point of view, he felt he was put in an impossible position, that he had no choice. We can look back on the story and see any number of places where Pilate had options, where he could have acted differently, but we have the advantage of hindsight. We were not there, having to actually make the decisions at that point in time. Pilate did what he thought had to be done.
But did he really have to release that killer, Barabbas? Evidently, he thought it was necessary. He was trying to find a way to release Jesus and not cause trouble with the Jewish religious leaders. He knew they were troublemakers, and they were the ones who brought Jesus before him in the first place. Pilate also knew they were simply using Him to do their dirty work. They hated Jesus. He stood up to them, condemned them to their face and threatened their place of authority, not to mention their cash flow. They wanted Jesus gone. They wanted Him dead. And Pilate was the way to make that happen.
So then why bother with Barabbas? Pilate could have made the choice to release Jesus. He had the power. But he was trying to keep the peace. And he feared that if he released Jesus, the Jews might run to the emperor with the story. They had done it before, and he didn’t want any more trouble like that in his life.
He was under a lot of pressure. Sure, his wife warned him not to condemn Jesus, but what did she know? He was the one facing the choice. And the way he saw it, it was him or Jesus. Sure, Jesus was innocent and should have been set free. But if Pilate did that, he would have risked his position and his future for some nobody he neither knew nor cared about. He wasn’t even a Roman citizen!
We look at Pilate and wonder, “how could he condemn Jesus and hand him over to be crucified when he knew that Jesus was innocent?” He knew it was wrong but he did it anyway. How could he?
Maybe we should take a closer look at ourselves. How many times have you made a choice that would make life easier for you, even though you knew it was not the best choice, or even the right choice? What about the guy who cheats on his income tax, the woman who tells the story about someone even though she knows it will hurt, the youth who goes along and tries the drugs? Sure, they have pressure. They have to do what seems best in the moment. They convince themselves a little shading here or lying there won’t hurt.
And there are those who run others down to make themselves look better, those who lie to improve their standing in the community, and … Well, you know the sins as well as I do. What about those judgment choices? Are they better than the one Pilate made? We all make bad choices. We all stand convicted of our sin.
But there still stands before us the innocent one who stood before Pilate. The one who went to the cross because of your sin, the same Jesus who rose to give you life—he offers you forgiveness for your failed choices and for the pain your choices have caused. You are given a gift that you need more than anything else: You are forgiven and free in Jesus.
Remember what God has done for you in Jesus when you come to the crossroad where you have to make a judgment. Let that guide your choice. You are made new by God’s grace each day. You have the confidence that “if we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9). And you can rejoice in that.

Betrayal

March 12, 2017 by  
Filed under Sermons

March 12, 2017

Crossroads. They are there for all of us. When you come to those places where you must make a choice, how do you know which is the correct choice? What waits down the different paths that lay before you? Which way does your heart call you to go? Which makes sense? Which is God’s way?

This morning we think about an expert on the crossroad of temptation. We are going to consider the one whose name has become synonymous with the sin of betrayal. His name says “failure of loyalty, failure of will, failure itself.” Today we think about Judas Iscariot.

What do you know about this disciple of Jesus? Sometimes we forget that is what he was: a disciple of Jesus. We hear his name and go straight to condemnation. Have you ever known someone named Judas? Of course not. After all, we know the story. He handed Jesus over to the Jewish authorities for a few pieces of silver. And this was in spite of being warned. How could this happen to someone who hung out with Jesus for three years? We read in Scripture about that night Jesus was betrayed and wonder: “How could any of this have happened?” Part of the answer is that Judas had decided what he was going to do before this night. He had previously come to the crossroads and decided to betray Jesus and take the money. And that choice turned out to be a disaster.

But didn’t Judas know it would turn out that way? He had to know that betraying Jesus would lead to his Lord’s arrest and even his death! So why did Judas go through with it?

Maybe it was not as clear cut as we make it out to be. Judas made the choice to take the money because he thought he needed more money. Besides, Jesus kept promising that he was going to set up a kingdom and that His disciples would be rewarded. Perhaps Judas got tired of waiting for the rewards and decided to take matters into his own hands. And then Jesus started talking about suffering and dying. Judas didn’t need that. He needed money.

Satan had convinced him that it was no big deal and wouldn’t be so bad. After all, Jesus wasn’t exactly hiding. He rode into Jerusalem in a grand procession, appeared in the temple and on the streets. Where was the harm in simply pointing him out?  He could escape easily. He had done it before. Judas thought this act was nothing, that Jesus would just disappear through the crowd as he had in the past.

It seemed like such a good idea at the time. All that silver. That’s a lot of money. And he may have thought he was doing Jesus a favor, getting him in a place where he could begin the revolution that would overcome the Romans and start his new kingdom. He thought he was doing the right thing. At least that is what Satan was whispering to Judas, trying to justify this betrayal.

And the money. People do some terrible things because they want to get their hands on money and what it can buy. Everyone thinks that they understand how Satan works, that he is there trying to get us to do bad things. Not true. What he is actually doing is trying to make us believe that the evil that lies before us at the crossroad is actually good, that it will all work out for the good. He is not just trying to make us do wrong, but to think wrong.

Every sin starts with a twisted thought. Look at Jesus when he was tempted by Satan. Some of those things that Satan was trying to get Jesus to do were not wrong in themselves. Jesus could have turned stones to bread and not have sinned, but Satan was tempting him like he tempts us: If you are the Son of God, if you really are, you can use your power for yourself. Sin starts in the mind, in the will, in the choice.

A business man faces a choice to cut the quality of his products. No one will be hurt, he thinks. He is just doing good business. And he makes the choice. He convinces himself that what he is doing is not wrong. Or someone says that getting back at another person who has caused hurt is a good thing to do. It will teach him or her a lesson, we think. The sin begins in the thoughts that lead us to excuse our bad choices, to justify what we are doing. And then we find ourselves down the wrong road—in the middle of the terrible outcome of our choice. And then … it is too late. Or at least we think it is too late. The devil wants you to believe it is too late.

When Judas realized what the outcome of his choice, when he saw Jesus arrested and condemned, he could not face himself, his future, his God. He despaired. And he acted on that despair by taking his own lIfe.

Hear me when I say this: when you find yourself going down the wrong road, facing the consequences of your choice, that is the time to turn back. Repent. Turn around. Turn away from the bad choice. Turn back to the one whom you have betrayed: Your God who loves you.

Judas did not do that because he thought his sin was unforgiveable. Judas had betrayed the chosen one of God and thought it was too late for him. But it is never too late—never too late to turn. If you learn anything from Judas, it should be this: No matter what the sin, no matter the terrible outcome of your choice, no matter how great the disaster, it is never too late. It is never too late to come to the cross, come to the broken Savior, come to the empty tomb and be made whole. It was precisely for this reason that Jesus came into this world. Paul affirmed that when he wrote:

“Here is a trustworthy saying that deserves full acceptance: Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners—of whom I am the worst.” (1 Timothy 1:15)

It is never too late to turn away from sin and back to God. This is true even when the pain is so deep it cannot be spoken, even when the separation from God seems too far, when the damage seems too severe, it is never too late. You can be assured that these words are true:

“If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9).

Even though Judas chose the wrong path, he could have been forgiven.  we can always turn to our Lord and receive his forgiveness. Why? Because of what Jesus did. He lived. He died. He rose. He conquered.  All of this so that those who believe in Him could have forgiveness, life and salvation. No matter what you have done.

Thanks be to God who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.

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