Psalm 61:3

Hear my cry, O God, listen to my prayer; for You have been my refuge, a strong tower against the enemy.

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Emmanuel Is Coming

Ladies and gentlemen, Emmanuel is coming. The festive cry had gone out through all of Jerusalem. Jesus was on his way. This famous worker of miracles was coming to town. This infamous preacher was marching on the city.

“There He is. No, not that one. Over there. He is the one riding on the donkey. Yeah, that’s Him. Hosanna!” the people cry. “Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord. Blessed is the coming kingdom of our father David. Hosanna in the highest!” Emmanuel is coming.

The excitement filled the air. The people genuinely wanted to meet this Jesus. They wanted to see him, touch him, be healed by him, be ruled by him.

But be careful what you wish for. You might just get it.

You see, Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem is no regular visit. This is not his vacation. He is coming to Jerusalem on business. And he has two different, yet related items on his agenda. He intends to confront and upset the comfortable. And he will comfort the upset and the confronted. Emmanuel is coming.

He is coming to show those Pharisees and Sadducees who is boss. Long enough have they been theological oppressors. The Pharisees need to learn that they are not so hot. They are not perfect. Their sins are just as great as the adulteress or the thief. They are as much in danger of the fires of hell as those they would not stoop down to help.

The Sadducees were not so great either. They were the high and might ones. They were the intellectual snobs. They were too smart to believe in silly things like the resurrection from the dead. But when Jesus was done with them, they would not be so secure in their knowledge. They would not be so proud of their advanced learning, the letters behind their name, their many titles. Emmanuel is coming.

And then there is the poor widow. This woman had nothing in the world, only two small coins. The Pharisees and Sadducees would have laughed to see such a useless contribution. Jesus sees the trust in God it took to give all that she had to the Lord. And he praises her faith. For the sake of this penniless woman, Emmanuel is coming.

Or the woman who anointed Jesus’ feet with ointment. This woman had probably saved her whole life to buy this ointment, and she pours it out at Jesus’ feet. Her faith did not go unnoticed. She had prepared Christ for his burial. For the sake of this generous woman, Emmanuel is coming.

And Jesus is coming back. He has died and risen. He has ascended into heaven to sit on his throne. And we are here waiting. Like those people in Jerusalem, we have heard of this man, and we are waiting for our glimpse. We are waiting to see him, touch him, learn from him. But remember; be careful what you wish for.

Beware. The Pharisees and the Sadducees were not so pleased with their encounter with the Christ. We may not be either. Jesus is coming with business in mind. As it was for Jerusalem, so it is for us today. Emmanuel is coming.

If you feel that Church is just something people do, if you think that just by showing up here every Sunday, or at least once every few weeks, you are going to impress the man upstairs, if you believe that you have covered all your bases, been pretty good, said the right things and known the right people, then beware. Emmanuel is coming.

If you think that you are too smart to get sucked into this whole religion thing, if you believe that religion is the opiate of the people, something to keep dumb people’s minds occupied, if you are sure that God is simply wishful thinking on the part of every culture in every time and place throughout history, then beware. Emmanuel is coming.

If you think that you’ve got it all, that life will be smooth sailing for you, if you think that you have done all your hard work, you have secured your success, you have taken every precaution, if you think that for one minute you are in control of a single thing in this universe, then beware. Emmanuel is coming.

The content ones will be upset. Those who have grown accustomed to their fat and lazy lifestyle, will be confronted. Those who prey on the innocent, as well as those who claim to be innocent, will be stopped dead in their tracks and exposed for what they really are. Beware. Emmanuel is coming.

However…

If you are guilty; if this message has just scared the daylight out of you and you don’t want to be one of those guys; if the sins of your youth are weighing you down, forcing you to wonder if you deserve God’s goodness; if you are looking for forgiveness, cleansing, and peace; then take heart. Emmanuel is coming.

And if you are sad and lonely; if you walk down crowded streets by yourself and pray to God that one of these people might take notice of you; if you wonder if even God Himself cares for you; then take heart. Emmanuel is coming.

If your heart is broken; if your courage is failing; if your faith seemed so much stronger a few years ago because the woman you love is no longer here; if you are waiting patiently, ever so patiently, for the Lord to take you home; if you are looking ahead to that great and glorious day when there will be no such thing as a cemetery; then take heart. Emmanuel is coming.

Jesus is coming for the sick and the poor, for the weak and the oppressed. He is coming for the men and women who cry out in faith, “Hosanna! Save us Lord!” He is coming to right every wrong. He is coming to forgive all sins. He is coming to wipe away every tear from your eyes. He is coming to gather his sheep, to fulfill his promises, to establish his kingdom forever, to raise the dead. Emmanuel is coming for you.

Jesus came into this world a swaddled infant, lying in a manger. He came into Jerusalem riding on a common donkey. The next time, however, things won’t be quite so small. He will come with all the pomp of the God of gods and Lord of lords. He will come to judge the quick and the dead. He will come to separate sheep from goats. He will come to bring to you and to me the full and abundant life that he has promised.

Behold, he comes quickly. O come Emmanuel. Come Lord Jesus. Amen.

4th Commandment

Honor your father and your mother.
What does this mean? We should fear and love God so that we do not despise or anger our parents and other authorities, but honor them, serve and obey them, love and cherish them. [Luther's Small Catechism]

This commandment signifies that we should not only respect our parents, but also any person or organization who is given authority over us. That could be a family member such as a grandparent or uncle. It could be a governmental authority like the president or mayor. It could also be a vocational authority figure like my employer.
In the Fourth Commandment the Lord bids us to be obedient to these people. We should do what they say as long as it does not conflict with the expressed Word of God. We may not always like what they tell us, but we should comply. This keeps peace and allows the world to function.
But this command is more than a statement that we should obey all the rules that other people make for us. We are also to love and cherish these people. And that, obviously, will not be easy. It is one thing to begrudgingly obey your boss. It is another to always speak well of him, even when he has been a jerk. It is one thing to pay my taxes in protest. It is another to cherish the President of the United States and the Congress who sets the payments.
As Christians we are not only called to acceptance of the rules and mere obedience. We are called to love and service. We are called to pursue good deeds, not simply refrain from evil deeds. This is the new life that we are given in the birth of the Christ child. We now live under the reign of King Jesus where we are freed from sin and death that we might live full and abundant lives, lives that pursue mercy, righteousness, and love.
During this season of Advent, as we anticipate the coming of the Christ, let us anticipate with action. Let us cherish and love those in authority over us and all our neighbors throughout the world.

Friday, August 27, 2010

The First Command

“You shall have no other gods. What does this mean? We should fear, love, and trust in God above all things.” (Small Catechism, 1st Commandment)

This commandment may seem to be a bit outdated. After all, not many of us have little statues in our homes that we bow down to. We don’t make a habit of worshiping gods or goddesses in the traditional sense. We might think that because of this we can skip this commandment and move straight on to the next one.
However, God does not give us such authority. Not one dot of the law shall pass away (Matthew 5:18). This commandment still holds true. It still applies to us, as sophisticated as we might think we are, because there are other gods in our lives. And we often place them in front of and above our Heavenly Father.
Think about where you spend the bulk of your time. Where do you spend the bulk of your money? Does the television get more hours in a day than God? Does the satellite company get more of my money than Christ’s Church? What god do we worship there?
Think about who or what you trust. When the chips are down do you immediately take it to the Lord in prayer, or do you seek help elsewhere? When you are confronted with sinful behavior do you seek the comfort of the Gospel or do you try to justify your actions? Far too often we become our own god. We trust our own two hands more than the pierced hands of Jesus.
Our Triune God deserves to come first in the life of every person and especially every Christian. He has earned that right with His actions in Creation, Redemption, and Sanctification.
And only God can actually do anything about anything. Television does not hold the answers you need. You cannot save yourself from all that life has to throw at you. But Christ has our answers in His Word. He has the power and the prerogative to save us from every sin, failure, and disaster. Why put no other gods before Him? Because He alone has the “kingdom, and the power, and the glory, forever and ever. Amen.”

Friday, July 23, 2010

Virtue

Alasdair MacIntyre compared our understanding of virtue with a civilization, generations into the future, uncovering our civilization. The few pieces that they could put together about our knowledge of science, this would be what we currently know about virtue.
I am not an ethicist, but this idea of virtue intrigues me. Do we even have the faintest idea of how to be good people anymore? Do we know what "good" is? Do we even care?
If we wanted to recapture virtue in our society, where shall we begin? We could look to past examples of virtue and attempt to follow in their footsteps. We could focus in on certain virtues and try to drive them into the minds of future generations.
Personally I favor a multi-pronged approach. It begins with reading the right books. Some books have a sense of the "transcendent". Reading them gives you the impression that there is more to life than simply getting by one day at a time. The Lord of the Rings would be a good example. These pages contain within them the sense that my life does not simply belong to me, even if they do not explicitly say who it belongs to. They give me the feeling that living a "good" life is worth it.
Another prong might be to practice virtue. Pick one virtue for the day-honesty, for example-and practice speaking the truth. Tomorrow perhaps you will choose courage. Practice makes perfect, after all.
This involves study. It involves practice. It involves repentance and forgiveness. There are many virtues and none of us possess them perfectly. Our whole life will be one filled with repentance for our failure to be as virtuous as God created us to be. But let us never give up. We were not created, or reborn, to be idle. There is work to be done, even within our own hearts. Let us be about that work.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

HIT it!

Someone once told me a story that went something like this:
Several men had gathered together at their church to relocate the congregation's playground equipment. One task was to move the giant swing set. The legs of the swing set had been pulled from the ground. However, they were still encased in concrete. The swing set could not be moved and reset until the old concrete was removed.
One of the men, "Martin", volunteered to take a swing at busting the concrete from the metal legs. He picked up a sledge hammer and went to work out of sight of the rest of the men. After a few minutes Martin returned and confessed that he could not crack the concrete even a little bit.
Another man, lets call him "Jack", offered to try. He disappeared in the direction of the swing set. After a long absence Jack returned. "Did you get it?" asked Martin. "Yep," replied Jack, covered in sweat. "It's all off."
Martin and the others were shocked. "How did you do it?" they asked. "Well," Jack said, "When you want to remove concrete, you can't just hit it." He paused for a moment. "You have to HIT it."
The moral of the story? In life, or in the church, if you want to do something, don't just do it. DO it.

Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Forgiveness

One of the most difficult things in life to do is to admit defeat. I don't just mean that we admit we have lost this one encounter, but to say out loud that I have striven and completely failed, that takes guts. Too often I hope to hold something in reserve. I lost but...next time I'll be stronger...I only made one little mistake...they cheated.

This morning I met a challenge that I could not overcome. I bought a workout video and tried to follow along with the leader on the screen. After the first few exercises my abdominal muscles were so tired and sore that I had absolutely no strength left. I could not even fake my way through the exercises. I failed and there was no way around it. I had to say it...out loud..."I failed."

This applies spiritually as well. Forgiveness works best, or rather comes easiest, when I simply admit total failure. If I confess my sins to my wife, yet want to hold something back, she will not wish to forgive. "Honey, I'm sorry but...you are at fault too...it's not all my fault...I'll do better next time."

I know that when others have apologized to me their sincere admission of fault and failure has moved me to compassion and pity rather than anger at what they did. It is easier to forgive someone who is completely repentant as opposed to the one who wants to pass off some of the blame.

It is not that I believe God has trouble forgiving me. He is much more compassionate and merciful than I am. After all, He has already done everything necessary to account for the forgiveness of my sins. (He sent His Son to die and rise for me!) I do believe, however, that the admission of guilt, the admission that I have utterly failed in the roles that God has blessed me with, brings with it a different attitude toward God and His gifts.

If I hold something back, then I might deserve God's forgiveness. But if it is all my fault, if I bear the full responsibility for my sinful actions, then I cannot deserve the forgiveness. I can only be blessed with it. It can only be given freely through God's infinite grace.

Lord, help me to lay all my sins before You, to admit defeat, that You may give me Your victory.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

My Father...

Jesus teaches His disciples to pray. He begins the prayer by addressing God as "our Father". Lately, in light of Father's Day, I have been praying this personally as "my Father". For some reason this hits me hard, to think that God condescends to allow me to call Him "Father". Saint Paul, in his letter to the Galatian Christians, writes that we have been adopted as sons of God through Christ Jesus. I am completely and totally unworthy to call God "my Father" and yet He allows it, even encourages it. When I pray, I am not begging at the doorstep of some "holier-than-thou" cleric. I am allowed, by God's grace, to ask anything of Him "as dear children ask their dear father." (Martin Luther, Small Catechism)

Of course this is all because I have been baptized into Christ Jesus. Jesus is the only true Son of God. He is worthy to address God as Father. That is not only His privilege, but His right. In baptism we put on Christ (Galatians 3:27). Now when God looks at me He does not see me. He sees Jesus, worthy to call Him "Father". Thank God for Jesus. Thank God for baptism, which unites me with Jesus and covers me with His righteous death and resurrection. I can call upon "my Father in heaven" in any need.