Archive for March, 2009

Not So With You!

Sunday, March 29th, 2009

The Fifth Sunday of Lent-B
Rev. Brian Henderson-Pastor, Trinity Lutheran Church-San Diego, CA
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Mark 10: 43bBut it shall not be so among you. But whoever would be great among you must be your servant, 44 and whoever would be first among you must be slave of all.

INRODUCTION: Have you ever tried to explain something to someone, and now matter how many different ways you said it, they still didn’t get it?  It can be a little frustrating, especially if the message you want to get across to them is important.  I can’t help but think that our Lord was getting a little frustrated with His disciples in the beginning of our gospel lesson this morning.  You see He was trying to tell them what was about to happen to Him as He made His way up to Jerusalem.  And this was now the third attempt to do it.

Jesus first tried to prepare them for the reason He came to walk this earth right after Peter’s confession to Him, when Peter said, “You are the Christ” [Mark 8:29] After that confession, Jesus proclaimed to them that “the Son of Man must suffer many things”.  Peter speaking for the rest of them took Jesus aside and began to rebuke Him.” [Mark 8:32]  That didn’t go well for Peter because right after this Jesus looked at him and said, “Get behind Me, Satan!”[Mark 8:33]

Jesus next attempt to communicate this important message to His disciples did not have any better results.  He clearly said that, “The Son of Man is going to be delivered into the hands of men, and they will kill Him.  And when He is killed, after three days He will rise.” [Mark 9:31]  But you know what, not one of His inner circle reacted, because “they did not understand the saying, and were afraid to ask Him (the meaning).” [Mark 9:32]

[Mark 10:32-34] And so we arrive at His third attempt, as recorded in our gospel reading this morning.  “(Jesus and His disciples) were on the road, going up to Jerusalem, and Jesus was walking ahead of them. And they were amazed, and those who followed were afraid.  (They were amazed and afraid, because they knew that the religious authorities who were out to stop Jesus from becoming the Savior of Israel were located in the very place they were headed, Jerusalem.  And the apostles knew that these authorities would use any means available stop Him!)  And taking the twelve (aside, He again) began to tell them what was to happen to him, saying, “See, we are going up to Jerusalem, and the Son of Man will be delivered over to the chief priests and the scribes, and they will condemn him to death and deliver him over to the Gentiles. And they will mock him and spit on him, and flog him and kill him. And after three days he will rise.”

Wow! Jesus has provided a lot more information this time. You can’t get any clearer than that, can you?!  Surely they had to get the purpose for Jesus birth, life, and ministry now, right?  Well let’s see, James and John approached Him privately; maybe they got it.

[Mark 10:35-37] “Excuse us Jesus can we have a moment with you?  We want you to do something for us, whatever we ask of you.”  And (Jesus) said to them, “What do you want me to do for you?”  And they said to Him, “Grant us to sit, one at your right hand and one at your left, in your glory.” (In other words, let us be your number one and number two guys after you get into power!)”  Nope, they still don’t get it.  So Jesus tried to shed a little more light on His message.

[Mark 10:38-41] “You (really) don’t know what you are asking.  Are you able to drink the cup that I drink (by cup, Jesus was using an Old Testament term that was clear to everyone; He meant the cup of God’s wrath that brought only suffering), (are you able) to be baptized with the baptism with which I am baptized?”  (By baptism, Jesus meant His very death, which He had been trying to prepare everyone for).  “And they said to Him, “We are able.”  O.K., these two apostles still don’t get it, but how about the other 10?  Surely the rest of Jesus’ inner circle finally understands!  “And when the ten heard (what James and John had just asked Jesus) they began to be indignant at James and John (in other words they were becoming very angry with them).  Now scripture doesn’t tell us anymore than that, but by the context we can surmise that a possible reason for their anger against James and John was that they were jockeying for positions of authority at the expense of the other ten.  In other words, they were mad because these two beat them to the punch! 

Well, it was time for another teaching moment, and Jesus was about to teach them a basic truth about God’s kingdom; it would be a teaching that would only make sense after they experienced the very thing He was trying to prepare them for.  They must experience the terror and fear of His betrayal, beating, and execution, and then they must experience the joy of His resurrection and ascension before they would understand this great eternal truth, which He was about to give them.

[Mark 10:42-45] “And Jesus called them to Him,” (He made sure He had the attention of each of them) and (He) said to them, “You know that those who are considered the rulers (of this world) lord it over them.  (They love to use and many times abuse their authority).  (But not so with you!)  But whoever (wants to) be great (in God’s eyes, in my kingdom), must be (a servant among the rest), and whoever (wants to) be first among (the rest) must be (the) the slave of all.”  Just in case this sounded ridiculous and beneath them, Jesus closed the lesson with these words, “For even the Son of Man (even I, Jesus said) came not to be served but to serve, and to give (my) life as a ransom for many.”

Dear friends, do we truly understand the meaning of this lesson?  At first Jesus Words might sound an awful lot like Law.  Whoever wants to be great must be a servant to all others…whoever wants to be first must be the slave of all!  What?  How can we do this?  It is against everything that is natural to this world and my own personality.  We might be tempted to simply shake our heads and chalk this teaching up to another mystery found in God’s Word, but Jesus will not allow us that luxury.  You see he provides the answer to the mystery.  He provides the key that unlocks the teaching in order to change the way we think.  He provides the gospel… He provides Himself!  “The Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”  To give his life as a ransom for many; friends this is the key that unlocks your captivity to a weary and futile sin sick life, and in place it gives you freedom… it gives you a new and abundant life!

How does this teaching change us?  Well let’s look at the world today, people living their lives all around us.  Within this world, people in positions of authority tend to lord it over others, they become a legend in their own minds as they give order to do this and do that, go here and go there, but Jesus is saying He comes to do the opposite.  As God the Son, in human flesh, He came to Lord it under us.  He came to serve us with His perfect life so that we too might have an abundant life and He serves us with His death and resurrection so that we might find hope and an abundant life with meaning!  Because we know that Christ came to stand in our place under the Law of God, to suffer the punishment that we deserve, and to die the death that has fallen upon us we are not afraid of sin, death, and the devil!  Because we know that Christ came indeed to take our place, to be our substitute, to stand in for us, to come to terms with guilt and sin and death on our behalf, our focus is not on our actions but on what He has done for us!  He is the one who came to give his life as a ransom for many, as the Suffering Servant.  Because of His work for us and in us, we become new men, women, and children, who walk this earth with a purpose…and that purpose is to allow Him to work through us as we serve and love God and each other.

ILLUSTRATION: A parable is told of a community of ducks waddling off to duck church one Sunday to hear their duck preacher. After they waddled into the duck sanctuary, the service began and the duck preacher spoke eloquently of how God had given the ducks wings with which to fly. He pounded the pulpit with his beak and said, With these wings, there is nowhere we ducks cannot go! There is no God-given task we ducks cannot accomplish! With these wings we no longer need walk through life. We can soar high in the sky! Shouts of Amen!¨ were quacked throughout the duck congregation. The duck preacher concluded his message by exclaiming, With our wings we can fly through life! WE……CAN…..FLY!!!!¨ More ducks quacked out loud AMENS! in response. Every duck loved the service. In fact all the ducks that were present commented on what a wonderfully convicting message they had heard from their duck preacher…. and then they left the church and waddled all the way home. You know friends; too often we too waddle away from worship the same way we waddled in…. Unchanged.

But this is not why Jesus suffered and died for you! Jesus wants you to be transformed by His presence in your life.  He wants you to look at life the way He does.  Where there is loneliness and pain, with Jesus working within you, He wants to bring hope and joy.  Where there’s want and need in our community, Jesus wants to fill some of those needs.  Where some in our community see this church as a private meeting of likeminded Christians, with Jesus working within us, He sees us also as becoming a place of community and a house of hope for all of our neighbors who live in Jamacha and Encanto, Spring Valley and Lemon Grove.  But we must remember that it is Jesus within us and around us that makes us more than just another face in the crowd.

CONCLUSION: I would like to close with this last story.  The donkey that Jesus rode on Palm Sunday, awakened on Monday morning, with his mind still celebrating the most exciting day of his life. Never before had he felt such a rush of pleasure and pride. He got out of bed, walked into town and found a group of people by the well. “I’ll show myself to them,” he thought. But they didn’t notice him. They went on drawing their water and paid him no mind. “Throw your garments down,” he said crossly. “Don’t you know who I am?” They just looked at him in amazement. Someone slapped him across the tail and ordered him to move. “Miserable heathens!” he muttered to himself. “I’ll just go to the market where the good people are. They will remember me.” But the same thing happened. No one paid any attention to the donkey as he strutted down the main street in front of the market place. “The palm branches! Where are the palm branches!” he shouted. “Yesterday, you threw palm branches!” Hurt and confused, the donkey returned home to his mother. “Foolish child,” she said gently. “Don’t you realize that without Him, you are just an ordinary donkey?”

Friends, this world likes to be rewarded and respected for the service it renders.  It likes to have the center of attention placed of people who do important things, BUT NOT SO WITH YOU!  Because you know, that just like the donkey who carried Jesus into Jerusalem, you are most fulfilled when you are in the service of Jesus Christ. And without him, all your best efforts are like “filthy rags” (Isaiah 64:6) and amount to nothing. When we lift up Christ, however, we are no longer ordinary people, but key players in God’s plan to redeem the word.  Where is God asking you to bring His Son?  Look around you in this church and within our community; the needs are many and if God was counting on only you it could be overwhelming, but dear friends, when each of us simply meets as they arise and as God provides, a funny thing happens we begin to feel fulfilled.  And something else happens, God is glorified and people who need Jesus’ extraordinary presence in their lives are drawn to Him because of your service to Him.  I pray that God bring this spirit of service and love into each of our hearts and into our congregation through the power of His Holy Spirit and because of the grace of Jesus Christ our Lord!  AMEN!

Faith, the Essential Ingredient!

Thursday, March 26th, 2009

Faith, the Essential Ingredient!
Rev. Brian Henderson, Pastor-Trinity Lutheran Church, San Diego
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INTRODUCTION: Few things provide our faith with a more complete workout than a God given vision.  Spiritually speaking, faith is confidence that God through His Holy Word is who He says that He is and that He will do what His Word promises that He does.  Faith isn’t a power or a force… it’s a gift from God that causes you to believe in God.  How is this gift given from God?  By hearing and reading His Word!  Faith isn’t a tool that you can use to get God to do something against His will, but it is a gift that God gives so that you will do something counter to your old sinful nature, specifically it causes you to believe and trust in God’s work and will for you!  In short, faith is the God-given ability to respond to His promises or revelation properly!

Embracing and owning a vision in its infancy, before anything has really happened is in itself an act of faith.  When you place your faith in a vision of God, you are making a statement about your confidence in the person and character of God.  When we pursue a vision of God we are making a proclamation about our confidence in Him.  It’s a proclamation about how important we believe His agenda is…it’s the way we honor God with our time, talents, treasure, and heart!

I. Nehemiah is only one of many of many Biblical characters who lived with the tension of faith and vision.  Scripture is full of stories of men and women following a vision as they are led by faith.  Think of the honor Noah and his family brought God by obeying Him and building the ark-and think of the scorn and humiliation that they must have endured from their neighbors.  They were taking God at His Word…it was going to rain and they had to be ready.  Noah’s faith fueled his vision.  He was taking God at His Word.  There would be a flood and that was final.  Noah was not only a man of faith; he was also a man of vision.  Listen to God’s description of Noah as found in the book of Hebrews: “By faith Noah, being warned by God concerning events as yet unseen, in reverent fear constructed an ark for the saving of his household. By this he condemned the world and became an heir of the righteousness that comes by faith.” [Hebrews 11:7]  Pursuing a vision requires faith; and that pursuit will test, stretch, and sometimes exhaust your faith.

While we wait and wait, and trust in God’s work in our lives, something interesting is happening-God is receiving glory from His faithful servants who trust in Him.  He delights in our tenacity and perseverance.  Our faith and faithfulness bring Him great honor-the honor He rightly deserves!

II. Nehemiah’s faith was stretched beyond recognition, yet he continued to trust that God would fulfill the vision.  What a shock it must have been for the King to notice Nehemiah and be moved to help him fulfill God’s vision.  Instead of the king throwing Nehemiah out of the throne room, he earnestly asked Nehemiah what must be done to fulfill the vision!

Now, Nehemiah was given a chance to lay out his whole plan before the king…the very man that had the resources to fulfill it!  Think about it, Nehemiah had rehearsed this speech a thousand times and now he got to deliver it.  He was prepared for the challenge, but he wasn’t depending on his preparations, and he wasn’t depending on the king; he was dependent on his ever present and working God!  This is the kind of faith God is developing in you and me as we wait for His work to fulfill our vision.  Listen to the confidence in Nehemiah’s words as he addresses the King: “And I said to the king, “If it pleases the king, let letters be given me to the governors of the province Beyond the River, that they may let me pass through until I come to Judah,  and a letter to Asaph, the keeper of the king’s forest, that he may give me timber to make beams for the gates of the fortress of the temple, and for the wall of the city, and for the house that I shall occupy.” And the king granted me what I asked, for the good hand of my God was upon me. [Neh. 2:7-8]

Did you notice who got the credit?  Nehemiah knew it wasn’t his patience or the king’s kindness that fulfilled the vision.  No, but what did he say?  “The king granted me what I asked, for the good hand of my God was upon me.”  Only God could have pulled the vision off and Nehemiah recognized God as the source and success of the vision.

As we remain faithful, waiting for God to fulfill the vision, we are glorifying Him. When it seems impossible, like there is no way that what we are waiting for, what we are praying for will ever come to pass, we are glorifying God.  When our friends begin to ridicule our faith in God’s faithfulness and still we wait for the vision to come to pass, we are glorifying God.  And when the vision finally becomes a reality, and all of our doubts are silenced and our opponents are silenced, God is glorified!  Listen and see how this was true with Nehemiah: “So the wall was finished on the 25th day of the month Elul, in fifty two days.  And when our enemies heard of it, all the nations around us were afraid and fell greatly in their own esteem, for they perceived that this work had been accomplished with the help of our God.” [Nehemiah 6:15-16]

III. Now, please allow me to speak of a very real danger that comes when God’s vision becomes a reality in our lives; it is the danger of saying, “Thanks God, but I can take it from here!”  Few things can distort our perspective like a very public success.  The rewards of success can turn a humble person into a tyrant and bully.  Why?  Because success often leads to self sufficiency and pride.  Launching a successful vision can do the same thing to a simple person or even a church.  As we discussed earlier, faith in God forces us to focus on our inadequacy and His adequacy.  Mature faith is a faith that is able to maintain that perspective even when the vision becomes a reality!  But this kind of faith, faith that can fight off pride is rare, and that is why God works overtime to ground, strengthen, stretch, and mature our faith in the early stages of the vision He gives to us.  Our ability to go the distance depends on it!   

I encourage you all, if you haven’t done so already to read the rest of the book of Nehemiah.  You will soon discover that the fulfillment of God’s vision to rebuild the wall was just the beginning of Nehemiah’s journey and the journey of the Jews.  They would continue to need great faith because there would continue to be much work ahead as they began the task of guarding the city and reinstituting temple worship.  And oh yes, the attacks from Sanbalat and Tobiah’s would continue, in fact they intensified, but Nehemiah and God’s people would not be deterred because they still depended on God to lead them by strengthening their faith!

CONCLUSION: In our gospel lesson, we encountered a desperate father whose son had been possessed by a demon.  Many had tried to help the boy, including the apostles, but nothing seemed to work, and yet the father still had hope beyond hope, he had a vision that God would heal his son…he had faith that Jesus would be willing to restore his beloved son by freeing him from the devils grasp.  And how did the father ask Jesus to help him?  With these words, “But if you can do anything, have compassion on us and help us!”  Here the father leaves it all up to God and the will of His Son to act.  And to this Jesus looked directly at the father and said, “All things are possible for one who believes!”

Tonight friends, do you believe that God loved you enough to intervene and save you from the very thing that separated you from His eternal love?  Do you believe that because of His compassion for you, Jesus suffered and died so that you might no longer fear sin, death, and the devil?  Do you believe that regardless of how hopeless things might seem for your personal life, your marriage, family, job, or church God has a vision for each of you?  Do you believe that it is His will that you might have an abundant life, marriage, family, occupation, and ministry?  Do you believe that He has a plan for you? Then call out in your heart as the father did, “I believe Lord; help me with my unbelief!”  And now, let the Lord take your hand and lead you out of your fears and hopelessness and follow Him as He begins to lead you into the vision he has for you, your marriage, your family, and this church.

[i] This is a series based upon the book “Visioneering” by Andy Stanley, published by Multnomah Publishers, Inc., ISB #1-57673-538-9

The God of How!

Thursday, March 19th, 2009

The God of How![i]
Rev. Brian Henderson, Pastor-Trinity Lutheran Church, San Diego, CA
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INTRODUCTION: In our gospel reading we join Jesus and the apostles at the end of a day full of ministering to the needs of thousands of people who gathered to be with Jesus. The disciples had just returned from a field trip where much was learned through God’s miraculous presence as Jesus taught them how to minister to the needs of others.  If we looked at their day as being a typical day of seminary for future ministers then their course of study for this day would be: Teaching the Faith 101, Service to Others 101, Care for Others 101, Aid for Others 101, and Contributing to the comfort or happiness of others 101.  Yes, it was a full day of on-the-job-training.  The apostles were tired and hungry, so Jesus had them come with him to a quiet place where they could get some rest and food and be debriefed by Jesus.

So off they went to get away, but alas, the crowds saw where they were going and they followed.  There seems that there would be no rest for the weary, because you see, Jesus had compassion on the crowds.  The teaching of the apostles continues…Lesson #1…always have a heart for the things that matter to God!

After hours of teaching and ministering to the people it was getting late in the afternoon, and the apostles were tired and hungry, so they said to Jesus, “(Lord) send them away to go into the surrounding countryside and villages (so they can) buy themselves something to eat.”  Now Jesus could have called an end to their school day, but the most important lessons still had to be taught and learned.  Jesus said, “You give them something to eat.”

How Lord?  With what we have on hand, we don’t have even enough for ourselves.  What you have asked us to do is impossible!  Oh?  Impossible for who?  Impossible for you yes, but for God…never!  If what you are asking for is in keeping with God’s will, then He will take the little you have and do great things with it.  Lesson #2, our God is the God of How!  How can it be done…God knows!  How can the impossible become a reality…God knows!  “Then He commanded them all to sit down in groups on the green grass.  So they sat down in groups…And they all ate and were satisfied.”

Like Nehemiah, the apostles could not see how their vision of feeding the large crowd could ever become a reality with only 5 loaves and 2 fish.  Yet God created a way.  Lesson #3…God wants to do a work of faith within you so that He can do a work of ministry through you.  And what is that work of faith?  That you might know that He is the God of How!

I.What” always precedes “How”! Nehemiah knew the answer to the what must be done before He knew the answer to how it would be done.  He had to wait 6 months before God intervened and moved the heart of the king to sponsor and finance his vision of rebuilding the wall of the city and the temple in Jerusalem.  Nehemiah knew what God had called him to do, but he didn’t have a clue how God would do it.  For months nothing happened, and he had no indication that anything was about to happen.  He knew that humanly speaking, there was absolutely no way this vision was ever going to get off the ground.

But God had a plan.  God knew how to secure Nehemiah’s release from service to the king and God knew how to move the king’s heart to finance the rebuilding project.  God had already worked out all of the critical details.  What God desired was a who!  By embracing and internalizing the burden that God placed on his heart, Nehemiah became God’s answer to “who”!

II. What God originates He orchestrates.  When God puts something in your heart to do, He goes to work behind the scenes to ensure it happens.  Think back for a moment about any Old or New Testament story in which the responsibility of figuring out how a divine vision would be fulfilled fell to the men or women to whom God gave the vision?  Did Moses have to come up with a way to get the Israelites out of Egypt?  How about through the desert?  Was it David’s responsibility to figure out how to get Saul off the royal throne so he could ascend to it?  When Jesus told the apostles to feed the five thousand were they responsible for figuring out how to do it?  Later, were the apostles responsible for figuring out how to spread the gospel throughout the whole world?  When Sanballat and Tobiah were trying to discourage Nehemiah and the Jews in order to stop their work on rebuilding the wall was Nehemiah responsible for shutting them up?  No!  But what did they do?  They turned to the God of How!  They called out to God and said, “Hear, O our God, for we are despised.  Turn back their taunts on their own heads…for they have provoked you to anger in the presence of the builders.”  In essence, they surrendered the hopelessness of their situation into the hands of the author of their vision.  They trusted in the presence and care of the God of How!  “When our enemies heard that it was known to us and that God had frustrated their plan (to discourage us and stop our work), we all returned to the wall, each to his work.”  And the progress and completion of the vision becoming a reality continued.

In every Biblical example of fulfilling a God-given vision, it was God who orchestrated all the events so that everyone involved would stand in awe of God and recognize without a doubt that God had done all of the impossible work!  And this is true in your own life!  It was God through His law that convinced you that you were lost in your own sins and that you could never on your own return to Him and trust in Him alone for your eternal salvation.  And it was God alone who through no help of your own, removed the obstacles that separated you from his eternal love and care.  Through Jesus Christ, God came to this world, in our own flesh and lived the perfect life that we must live but can not.  Through Jesus Christ, God suffered and died for you.  This was your penalty for your sins that you were to experience, but because of God’s love for you, He took your place so that you might forever not just know His love for you but eternally experience it!

Dear friends, when you stand before God and feel the convicting weight of His law upon your heart; when you feel the impossibility pleasing a perfect God, do not turn to your own solution, but turn to the God of How, who has provided the how through the cross…through the completed work of Jesus Christ, for you!

III. Good ideas vs. God ideas!  Good ideas are limited to our own potential, actions, and resources.  If you are chasing after a good idea then you will have to devote a lot of time, energy, and resources in trying to implement your idea.  A God idea, a divine vision, on the other hand, is limited only by God’s potential and resources.  That means anything and everything is possible!

Our challenge is that sometimes we have to stand back for a while and trust in God’s work.  Since we never know exactly when or how God is going to step in, it is critical that we remain focused on our relationship with Him through Jesus Christ, and second we must keep our hearts on the vision.  We must focus on what God has called us to do, not on what He needs to do or How He is going to pull it off.

CONCLUSION: Dear friends, how is never a problem for God. If God has anything that’s even close to a problem, it’s us!  He isn’t waiting on us to come up with everything we need to accomplish the vision He has created within us.  Remember this: If your self esteem tricks you into thinking that you have what it takes to get the vision done, you’re wrong, because this is a God Thing…it always has been!  God has called you but He’s not depending on you.  You are a player and not the whole team.  God is looking for your obedience…He’s looking for your dependence and reliance on Him.  Dependence and reliance that actively waits for God’s how!

[i] This is a series based upon the book “Visioneering” by Andy Stanley, published by Multnomah Publishers, Inc., ISB #1-57673-538-9

It’s Not About You…It’s About the Cross!

Sunday, March 15th, 2009

Pastor Brian Henderson-Trinity Lutheran Church, San Diego
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“For the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.” [v. 18]

INTRODUCTION: One thing that becomes evident to every Christian who takes their walk of faith seriously is that God’s ways are not our ways.  God’s thoughts are not our thoughts, nor are they even like ours.  We aren’t even in the same neighborhood.  We’re thinking preserve the body and He’s thinking, save the soul.  We dream of a pay raise and He dreams of raising the dead.  We avoid pain and seek peace, God uses pain to bring peace.  “I’m going to live before I die,” we resolve and He says, “Die so you can live.”  We love what rusts, He loves what endures.  We rejoice in our successes and He rejoices at our confessions.  We show our children the Chargers football star and say, “Be like LT.” and God points to His crucified Son and says, “be like Christ.”  [Idea from Max Lucado-The Great House of God]

Our thoughts are not like God’s thoughts and our ways are not like His ways.  He has a different agenda.  He dwells in a different dimension.  But through the gift of faith, we now are able to look at something the world calls foolishness and instead see the love of God.  Instead of being intrigued by the power and wisdom of the world we have been captivated by the power and wisdom of God as communicated by the cross…that is until we forget that God’s ways are not our ways, and His thoughts are not our thoughts, and we begin to think like the world.

Dear friends, God knows how easy it is for you to slip into the thinking patterns of this world.  He knows what a strong temptation it is for you to follow the pack and eventually have your eyes turned from Your Creator and instead look to that which is created as your source of wisdom and strength.  That is why he has repeated so many times that He will destroy the wisdom of the world.  Through the prophet Isaiah He says, “therefore, behold, I will again do wonderful things with this people, with wonder upon wonder; and the wisdom of their wise men shall perish”.  [Isa. 29:14  ] In the book of Job, God says that, “He frustrates the devices of the crafty, so that their hands achieve no success. (And) He catches the wise in their own craftiness, and the schemes of the wily are brought to a quick end.” [Job 5:12, 13]   Through the prophet Jeremiah God says, “The wise men shall be put to shame; they shall be dismayed and taken; behold, they have rejected the word of the Lord, so what wisdom is in them?”  And how does He do all of this?  As the prophet Jeremiah has said, He does it through His Word; through the Law and Gospel.

God’s Law comes to us under two tables of stone that can’t be broken.  One table demands that we must love God with all of our heart and mind, and the other demands that we must love our neighbor as we love ourselves.  This foolish world believes that it can satisfy the demands of God’s Law through careful living and doing their very best.  The business owners in our gospel lesson surely thought that they were honoring the first table of God’s Law by providing goods and services that the Jewish worshipers would need once they entered the temple.  They bought their permit to do business and began to sell livestock and birds that would be needed for private and corporate sacrifice for the forgiveness of sins.  There was one problem though…they forgot that they were already in God’s temple.  You see, they set up shop in the court of the gentiles.  This was a place where non-Jews who were in the process of learning about God went to pray and learn more about their new faith; now they had to worship God in a stock yard.

These same business owners also must have thought that they were fulfilling the second table of the Law by offering a service to their neighbors who needed to change their money into temple currency.  There was one problem with that, they were charging exorbitant exchange rates that God’s Law called usury!

Every time the unbelieving wise and powerful of this world thinks they are doing pretty well, God’s Law breaks in like a mirror and shows them their true condition…they are sinners!  Every time they feel pleased with themselves, God’s Law barges in and overturns their tables of comfort and deceit, and demands, “Take these things away!”  “What things Lord,” they may ask?  To which His Law responds, “Your self-righteous, and self sufficient attitude!”  “But Lord” they reply, “we have done our very best”.  And to that he takes the whip of His Holy Law and drives them from His presence. 

Dear friends, when God’s Law terrifies the unbelieving world, they must flee from Him just as the merchants fled from Jesus that fateful day in the temple.  Just as the merchants were forced by the Son of God to flee outside of the sanctuary, so the blatant unrepentant sin of pride and self-sufficiency of unbelievers separates them from their Holy and all-powerful Creator. What can be done to free them from this awful terror?

They must turn to the very thing that they laugh at and belittle; they must turn to the cross and their crucified Savior!  Friends, when the unbelieving world ridicules you for your simple faith in Jesus Christ, do not be discouraged or disappointed; they are not ridiculing you but instead they are laughing at the very means that God has provided for them as the sole source of rescue from His Holy Law…the cross of Jesus Christ!   They cannot understand how something so simple and repugnant can take away the terror of sin and ultimately death.  They cannot understand why you feel no terror in God’s Law.  They can never understand how you can be thankful in situations where they would experience only fear and worry.  They can never understand these things unless through God’s Word and the working of the Holy Spirit they are given the gift of faith to see that Jesus is not only God’s best way of saving them, He is God’s only way!

Finally dear friends, we must remember that while the unbelieving world may look down on us as being simple minded and weak, we must never do the same to each other.  We must not let the ways of the world divide us.  We must learn to put aside any personal, political, cultural, or economic differences that we may have with each other and be of one mind and one heart.  The mind and heart we must have must be that of Jesus Christ!  And where is His mind and heart?  It is with those very same people that belittle His cross; the place where He suffered and died for them.  For this is the will of (the) Father, that none should perish, but that all should reach repentance.  (So) that everyone who looks on the Son and believes in him should have eternal life.

We shall close our message this morning with this short story and a final thought: A reporter went to an asylum for the criminally insane to gather information for a story. He was a bit surprised to find that there were only three guards to take care of a hundred inmates. He said to one of the guards, “Aren’t you afraid that the inmates will unite, overcome you, and escape?” The guard said, “No were not, you see lunatics never unite.” 

Perhaps lunatics never unite but the world we live in is united against our Lord and what they perceive to be the foolishness of the cross and the folly of our faith.  They want to shut us up, because they feel if they can do that, then they have shut out the message of the cross.  Isn’t it time that we united with sole purpose of taking God’s message of the cross to a dying world?  How can we do this and succeed when we are up against such a powerful force?  Well, it’s not about you dear friends, it’s about the cross!  You see, we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block and foolishness to (the unbelieving world), but to those who are called, Christ crucified is the power and wisdom of God unto salvation! 

May God continue to lead us through His Word to continually to His cross as our sole source of strength and wisdom.  In Jesus name…AMEN!  SGD

Positions Please!

Thursday, March 12th, 2009

Positions Please![i]

Pastor Brian Henderson-Trinity Lutheran Church, San Diego
Click here for audio of this message

In our gospel reading this evening, we join 6 young men with a vision…a vision of restoration to a community of friends that has been broken by illness.  For reasons unknown, one of their members has been stricken by a paralyzing disease.  They have sought help in many circles, but physicians, rabbis, and priests were unable to restore the health of their fallen comrade.  But they have not given up…they still have a vision of restored health and community. They have faith that God will restore all that has been lost.  But how God will do this they didn’t have a clue that is until they heard that Jesus of Nazareth had come into their small town of Capernaum.  Jesus was known to be a teacher of God’s Word who also had the ability to heal people of all kinds of diseases.  So off they went carrying their friend on a stretcher.

When they arrived at the home where Jesus was staying, it quickly became obvious by the crowds  gathered there that they had arrived at the right home.  There was one problem though, how would they get in?  The door was blocked by the large crowd, and so were the windows.  And yet their vision of restoration would not let them give up.  Well there was only one choice; if they couldn’t pass through the door or the window with their friend then they would have to make a new one, through the roof!  So up they went and down went their friend as they lowered him directly in front of Jesus!

What were these men hoping for as they followed their vision of health and restoration?  Healing for their comrade’s illness certainly, but they received much more than that…they heard the sweet Word of forgiveness and restoration directly from the mouth of God!  “Son, your sins are forgiven!”  Now there are always those in the crowd that will try to destroy the vision that God has given, and this encounter was no different.  For you see, there were some experts of the law inside this home, and their response was, “He is blaspheming! Who can forgive sins but God alone?”  But our 6 comrades did not lose hope, and their eyes focused directly on their source of hope and what He would say or do next.  I imagine that Jesus moved closer to the man on the stretcher and said clearly so that all could hear, “Which is easier, to say to the paralytic, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, ‘Rise, take up your bed and walk’? But that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins-I say to you, rise, pick up your bed, and go home.” 

And that was it, their comrade was healed.  The very same God who had put this vision of health and restoration into their hearts had now spoken and the vision was a reality!

I. When God’s vision begins to come alive in our hearts we may tend to become impatient and say, “If I’m on the verge of experiencing something divine, then why am I stuck here doing something not even remotely related to what I feel God has put in my heart to do?   The 6 comrades in our gospel reading must have felt this way as they daily saw their once active and supportive friend lying helplessly on his bed.  Certainly Nehemiah must have asked this question every time he thought of Jerusalem and its dilapidated condition, “Lord, what am I doing in Persia?  My vision is to be a builder not a bartender!”

But God knew exactly what He was doing.  He had placed Nehemiah in the right spot from the beginning.  God had spent years preparing and positioning both Nehemiah and the king for everything that was about to unfold.  Think about it.  From the time Nehemiah was a boy God had been arranging all things to work for the good, to enable Nehemiah who was called according to God’s purpose to fulfill God’s will, which was Nehemiah’s vision.  From a boy Nehemiah lived in the royal palace as a servant.  From there God placed him in the ranks of important Persian officials, and within those ranks Nehemiah was quickly became known as a man of integrity.  Eventually he was appointed to the position of cup bearer…a position that guarded the very life of the king by preventing him from being poisoned.

Now, if we look at these things from the eyes of the world, it would seem impossible for him to ever realize his dream…after all, a servant to the king was to be seen and not heard, but again, God had Nehemiah just where he wanted him.  Like a master strategist, God had been working behind the scenes putting all the players into position.  And now the curtain is about to go up: And the king said to me (the queen sitting beside him), “How long will you be gone, and when will you return?” So it pleased the king to send me when I had given him a time.  And I said to the king, “If it pleases the king, let letters be given me to the governors of the province Beyond the River, that they may let me pass through until I come to Judah, and a letter to Asaph, the keeper of the king’s forest, that he may give me timber to make beams for the gates of the fortress of the temple, and for the wall of the city, and for the house that I shall occupy.” And the king granted me what I asked, for the good hand of my God was upon me. [2:6-8]

II. From the outset, just about every God ordained vision seems to be impossible.  It can be a real battle not to be intimidated by the apparent impossibility of beginning and completing that vision.  If you want to throw a wet blanket on a new vision, try sharing it with someone who isn’t part of your praying and planning team that is also following the vision.  You know what they’ll probably say to you?  “Hmmm…that’s an interesting idea.”  In other words, what they’re really saying is “You’re crazy.  That will never happen!”

Nehemiah, like the 6 comrades did not share his vision or his plan with people outside his inner circle.  For months, Nehemiah kept silent.  After all, who would have taken him seriously?  Think about it, he was a slave who worked for the king.  He couldn’t leave whenever he wanted to and visit Jerusalem.  It was the king’s government that destroyed the walls of Jerusalem to begin with.  Why would the king want to rebuild the city and create a possible military threat to his kingdom?  But miracles do happen when God is the author of the vision; when God is the one who is guiding you.

Nehemiah was allowed to begin work on the vision.  But still he kept silent: “And the king granted me what I asked, for the good hand of my God was upon me. Then I came to the governors of the province Beyond the River and gave them the king’s letters. Now the king had sent with me officers of the army and horsemen.  But when Sanballat the Horonite and Tobiah the Ammonite servant heard this, it displeased them greatly that someone had come to seek the welfare of the people of Israel. So I went to Jerusalem and was there three days. Then I arose in the night, I and a few men with me. And I told no one what my God had put into my heart to do for Jerusalem. There was no animal with me but the one on which I rode. I went out by night by the Valley Gate to the Dragon Spring and to the Dung Gate, and I inspected the walls of Jerusalem that were broken down and its gates that had been destroyed by fire. Then I went on to the Fountain Gate and to the King’s Pool, but there was no room for the animal that was under me to pass.  Then I went up in the night by the valley and inspected the wall, and I turned back and entered by the Valley Gate, and so returned.  And the officials did not know where I had gone or what I was doing, and I had not yet told the Jews, the priests, the nobles, the officials, and the rest who were to do the work.”  [Vs. 8b-16]

Can you relate to some of Nehemiah’s feelings as he considered his vision?  Maybe you have a vision on rebuilding your marriage or family.  Or perhaps a vision to rebuild our church so that it can once again become a thriving, living presence of God’s love and forgiveness within our community-a place where people are intentionally and regularly sent out to seek and save the lost with the gospel of Jesus Christ.  If we look at the landscape of our circumstances it might seem overwhelming and even impossible…like there’s no way you could ever pull it off.  But what we must remember is that there will always be more questions than answers when God gives a vision.  There will always be obstacles and there will always be a lack of resources. 

Anyone with a vision from God will at first be alone.  Nehemiah must have felt terribly alone as he rode along the perimeter of the city adjusting his plan and formulating the costs.  He must have wanted to recruit the people immediately.  But God tempered that desire with the negative spirit of Sanballat and Tobiah who communicated displeasure that Nehemiah was there checking on the welfare of the people of Israel.  But Nehemiah was not discouraged, because it was God giving him the vision and it was God creating that unquenchable and insatiable desire to see the vision become a reality.  Like Nehemiah, what will keep our vision alive is the knowledge that it is God Himself who has called us into uncharted territory with a divine purpose in mind…His vision will come true!

III. Dear friends, believe it or not, God wants to do the same work of faith and trust in you that He did through Nehemiah, and the paralytic and his friends.  There is always something in our lives, in our families, at our employment, and in our church that requires following where God is leading in a vision that He has provided.  God’s desire is to work through the circumstances in your life to the point where you are exactly where he needs you.  Now, this is easy to say when you are looking back, but when you are in the here and now looking ahead, it becomes something that we have to undertake by faith.  Many times, when following a God given vision there is no tangible connection between our circumstances and the vision, accept God’s Word, a word that promises you that because of Jesus Christ’s obedience to His Father’s will, you are loved and forgiven; that because of Jesus Christ, God will never leave you or forsake you.  Doubters may ask if this enough for you to follow the vision, and faith answers, “Yes, with the help of God!”

CONCLUSION: You don’t know what God is up to behind the scenes of your life, but God’s Word gives you faith to trust Him that indeed “For those who love the Lord, all things work together for good for those who are called according to His purpose.”  Please hear this important truth: It is not a problem that you are not where you think you should be in order to implement God’s vision.  It is not an accident that you are where you are.  God is very much in control of your circumstances and fulfilling His purpose.  God’s vision for your life is your purpose.  God is using your circumstances to prepare you to accomplish His vision for your life.  If you are “seeking first” His kingdom’s purpose, to seek and save the lost and restore their lost relationships with God through the forgiveness of Jesus Christ, then where you are is right where He wants you!

[i] This is a series based upon the book “Visioneering” by Andy Stanley, published by Multnomah Publishers, Inc., ISB #1-57673-538-9

Praying and Planning for a Vision!

Wednesday, March 4th, 2009

   Praying and Planning for a Vision![i]

Pastor Brian Henderson-Trinity Lutheran Church, San Diego
Click here for audio fo this message

Tonight we will talk about that dreaded period of time when it appears impossible for your vision to come true.  We’re talking about those weeks, months maybe even years when circumstances don’t seem to allow you to act upon your vision.  This is the season when you are not yet free to take action, but your passion seems to push you to do something.  Visions often die during this stretch of inactivity; we can become discouraged while maintaining a vision that seems to have very little potential for happening.  It’s during these times that God is calling us to do 2 things: Pray and Plan! 


In 1989, early in my career with the Border Patrol, something terrible happened in my life that would be the beginning of a burden, which in turn God would create into a vision.  One night, a law enforcement friend showed up at my door in tears asking for a place to sleep.  I later found out that his wife had the police remove him from the family home with a restraining order demanding that he not return.  We stayed up and talked most of the night, but it seemed that most of his problems were spiritual in nature.  I did not yet have the expertise to help him sort out all that had happened, was happening, and might happen.  Not knowing what to do, I referred him to his family’s priest.

The following morning, my cop friend woke up early and waited for the priest to arrive at the church.  About four hours later he returned to my home once again in tears, but this time he was drunk.  He told me that the priest was clueless about the life that cops lived and that he was unable to even sympathize with him.  I spent the next 2 hours with my friend trying to console him, but alas I had to go to work.  As I was leaving for work, I told him that he could spend one more night on my couch.

That night while I was at work, my friend took his own life with his service revolver.    As I stated earlier, this incident would be the birth of a burden that God would turn into a vision.  I knew that if my friend could have talked to a clergy with law enforcement experience, there was a good chance he would not have taken his life.  My friend needed a chaplain, but the Border Patrol did not have a program and neither did any other agencies in San Diego County at the time.  I began to research chaplaincy programs with a passion.  I collected every bit of information I could find.  I even recruited my family Pastor and several other clergy to volunteer for the position, provided I could get them the training.  I submitted all of my research, findings, and recommendations to our Chief in the San Diego area and waited.  Very quickly my answer came back…NO!  He did not want church people bothering his agents! I began to pray and pray and pray!  I prayed that God would make my dream a reality.  About 2 years later, while I was still praying, but also doubting, God began to work.  My pastor recommended that I seriously consider becoming a lay-minister.  I enrolled in the Deacon program and began studies that would eventually lead to seminary and my ordination. 

One day, out of the blue, some 7 years after my friend took his life, I received a phone call from Washington D.C. directing me to report to Border Patrol HQ on temporary assignment to work on a National Border Patrol Chaplaincy Program.  It seemed that the chief of the Border Patrol had heard from several different sources that there was an agent in San Diego who was passionate about starting a chaplaincy program.  They told the chief that I had even enrolled in religious instruction to be a minister with the hope that I could someday help make the vision a reality.  In 1999, God turned my vision into a reality, by establishing the very first National Chaplaincy program in the Border Patrol!  More on this story latter… What’s the point of the story?  Prayer kept the vision alive in my heart and God did the rest! Prayer is critical towards strengthening our relationship with God and developing the vision He has given.  Why?  Because during these times of prayer is when we begin to see what we are looking for.  Without prayer we can often miss what we don’t expect to find.  Nehemiah prayed for two things in reference to his vision: He prayed for opportunity and he prayed for favor.  Let’s look at the first part of verse 1:11 to see how he prayed for opportunity: Nehemiah prayed, “O Lord, let your ear be attentive to the prayer of your servant, and to the prayer of your servants who delight to fear your name and give success to your servant today…”  Normally, we tend to pray for miracles, but in most situations, it is more appropriate to pray for opportunities.  Think of it this way, you have already been given the greatest miracle of all, eternal life.  Through the suffering and death of Jesus Christ, your sins were paid for; you are right with God and eternally forgiven through your baptism; just as Jesus rose from the dead and ascended into heaven, you to have been guaranteed that you shall join Him in heaven in a place that He has especially prepared for you!  What greater miracle could you receive?  So since God loves us that much, shouldn’t we be willing to work with Him in fulfilling the vision that He has given to us?! Parents, instead of praying that your child or grandchildren would become a man or woman of Godly character, pray instead for opportunities to build character in their lives.  Church, instead of praying that God would bless your church with growth and new life, pray for opportunities to become a part of our church’s mission to go out into the community with the presence, power, and purpose of God…seeking and saving the lost! If you pray for an opportunity, most likely you will recognize it when God brings it to you.  Isn’t it interesting that Nehemiah never prayed that God would rebuild the wall, but instead he prayed that God would use him, give him the opportunity to build the wall himself?  This is the difference between dreamers and visionaries.  Dreamers dream about how nice it would be if someone else did something and visionaries look for an opportunity to do it themselves! 

Next, during Nehemiah’s prayer time, he prayed for favor.  Let’s look at all of the 11th verse to see that: “O Lord, let your ear be attentive to the prayer of your servant, and to the prayer of your servants who delight to fear your name, and give success to your servant today, and grant him mercy in the sight of this man.”  Nehemiah prayed that God would cause King Artaxerxes to take an interest and support his vision; he prayed for the favor of the king.  This was a long shot!  The king wasn’t known to be a compassionate man.  In fact, when Nehemiah finally got his chance to speak to the king, we read that he was frightened out of his wits.  “And the king said to me, “Why is your face sad, seeing you are not sick? This is nothing but sadness of the heart.” Then I was very much afraid. [2:2] 

Remember that I told you in my story about the Border Patrol Chaplaincy program that I first tried to implement the program here in San Diego, but the local chief turned it down because he didn’t want church people bothering his agents?  Guess what my first assignment was when I returned to San Diego…I was tasked to sell that very same chief on the now national but not mandatory chaplaincy program.  The thinking was that if San Diego, the biggest patrol area in the nation accepted and implemented the program, the rest of the nation would follow.  What did I do?  I began to pray!  What did I pray for?  I prayed that God would change the chief’s heart.  I prayed for the favor of the king!  I spoke to one of the assistant chiefs, and made an appointment with to speak to the chief about the chaplaincy program…and this was the advice I was given: “You better come up with a real good reason between now and then, because you already know how he feels about the idea.”  Well, I did no additional preparation as far as pitching the idea, but I did continue to pray for favor.  One week later I had my face time with the chief, and in 3 short minutes he informed me that he had a change of heart and decided to implement the program.  What’s more, he said that he wanted me to head the program because I demonstrated moral integrity, passion, and determination.  Just the qualities that he felt were needed to successfully implement the national program locally! 

Think about this, if God could sway the chief’s heart and King Artaxerxes to do a thing that was not in keeping with their nature, he can certainly change the heart of anyone who stands between your vision or the vision of this congregation!  Humanly speaking, there was no way the king was going to support Nehemiah’s vision.  But prayer takes us well beyond human possibilities doesn’t it? 

Finally, let’s talk about something else you can do during the time it seems your vision is on hold…you can plan.  It is important to spend a good deal of time planning a strategy for implementing your vision.  Don’t let the seemingly impossible things about your vision stop you from putting together your plan. 

If you had the resources, what would you do?  If you had the time, what would you do?  If you knew someone would be sent by God to give you the opportunity, what would you do?  Let’s look at Nehemiah’s plan to get some help with our own planning endeavors: 

Step 1, convince the king to allow me to leave his service so that I can go and rebuild the wall.  Step 2, convince the king to lend financial support to the building project.  Step 3, Get letters from the king to the authorities in the area asking them to give me safe conduct along the way.  Step 4, work out a deal with Asaph, keeper of the kings forest to procure enough lumber to rebuild the gates and a new house for me to live in.  Step 5, ask the king to give me the title of Governor of Judah so that I can govern the people and keep order.  Step 6, Organize and equip the people of Judah.  Step 7, begin construction. 

Whew what a list!  Now I don’t know about you, but the fact that he actually implemented everything that he planned for and asked for makes me feel a whole lot better about God’s leading, guiding, and fulfilling His vision that he gives to me, to you, and to the church! 

Our plan, may not be as intimidating as Nehemiah’s, but we must remember that if our passion is in keeping with God’s moral imperative, to seek and save the lost, to repair broken and lost relationships through the gospel, God will be the one creating, leading, and guiding our vision.  Pray dear friends, pray and plan, because God given visions will not fail.  We must always remember that all God ordained visions for His church, His people, our families, and even our vocation depend entirely upon God working in us and through us to draw all people into a relationship centered in His saving love and grace through Jesus Christ.    

This evening we have learned that when considering our vision, we should follow Nehemiah’s example by spending a lot of time praying and planning. In other words, God wants us to pray and plan for and opportunity to work with Him in our visions so that He can do a work in us and through us, so that others may be drawn to him through the finished work of Jesus Christ! 

Let’s pray…

[i] This is a series based upon the book “Visioneering” by Andy Stanley, published by Multnomah Publishers, Inc., ISB #1-57673-538-9

Jesus Walks With Us!

Sunday, March 1st, 2009

Jesus Walks With Us!
Pastor Brian Henderson, Trinity Lutheran Church-San Diego
Click here for audio of this message

This morning dear friends, God’s Word comes to us in all 3 readings bringing parts of the same message: Repent and believe!  As God spoke to Abraham at Mt. Moriah, He also speaks to us: “Take your pride and your joy, along with your fears and worries and offer them to Me as a sacrifice of faith.  Do not doubt, but trust my work in your life.  Give these things to me so that you may draw closer to me and enter into a relationship of love, the likes of which you have never experienced before!” 

What is meant by our pride and joy, fear and worry?  Well friends, we don’t have to look any further than our present economic condition to get an answer to that question.  If you let the media and the government control your attitude, you might just become a little worried and afraid.  Questions race through our minds like, “Will my job survive this crisis and if not how will I take care of my family without that income?  Will my retirement annuity be enough to support me until I die or will I end up being a burden to my children?  When these fears and worries begin to control our thinking we may tend to lose our confidence in God’s care and love and look to other things like money as our source of strength and security.  Friends, our source of hope cannot be found in President Obama, the stimulus package, or the republican tax cuts.  If we trust in these things we will only be disappointed, and this disappointment will invariably lead us to think and do things that we would normally never dream of.  What things?  How about cutting back on your offering to God but continuing your spending on entertainment and non-essential food items and drinks?  How about lying on your taxes so that you can get a better return?  How about over charging your customers for services rendered?  How about stealing from your employer?  After all, they have more than they need, and you are in need!

I recently heard the story about a Christian woman who claimed that God takes care of her by bringing law suits her way.  If her coffee is too hot and she burns her mouth she sues.  If the floor is slippery in a store, she claims that she twisted her ankle and she sues.  If she is visiting a friend’s house and their dog jumps on her to great her with a kiss, she sues!  Why?  Well it’s because she says that they are all better off than she is, and God wants her to be blessed too!

All of these examples can only be described as sin; sin that separates us from the love of God.  What is the solution? The very same solution that Abraham gave to his son Isaac: Believe that “The Lord will provide!”  Friends, don’t trust in anyone or anything for hope but God alone.  

When testing and temptation come, we must learn to draw closer to God.  Now for some, this is much easier to say than to do.  It can be so tempting to take matters into your own hands and find an immediate solution to your problem.  For others, you might not want to hand your problems over to God because maybe you blame Him for letting things get so out of control.  Dear friends, please hear me, this is precisely the time you must turn to God by faith and trust in His promise; a promise that says that “for those who love God, all things work together for good for those who are called according to His purpose.” [Rom. 8:28] To this we might say, “But why then if God loves me is He allowing these things to happen to me?  Doesn’t He know I am hurting and in need?  Doesn’t He love me enough to help me?”  Yes friend He knows your hurting and in need, and He hasn’t left your side for a moment, and that’s precisely the point.  That’s why you should not be afraid.  He’s with you and He’s teaching you to go through the tough times with Him so that you will learn to stick to Him, trust Him, and experience His great love for you.  Now someone might ask, “How can I experience His love and concern when everything seems so dark and hopeless?”  The answer dear friends can only be learned through Jesus Christ! 

Jesus is God’s assurance that we will be protected from all of life’s hardships and He is our insurance that nothing can ever separate us from God’s eternal love, presence, and care!  God teaches us these truths through His Word, which when heard and read creates and strengthens our faith, and then in-turn creates and strengthens our love for God and our reliance on His care for us.  You see, love for God and trust in His care is really the result of our faith.  The Lord’s promises to you stimulates your love for Him; it is God’s love that assures you that He will never leave or forsake you because you love Him.  He delights in giving you the crown of eternal life.  Just as your faith strengthens you when you are under trials, so also does your love for Him who first loved you and died to save you.

Now all of this being true, someone might ask, “But why then does God choose trials and testings when He knows I will be tempted and fall into sin?”  And to this, our Epistle lesson answers, “Let no none when tempted say: “I am being tempted by God,” for God cannot be tempted with evil, and He Himself tempts on one.  But each person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by (their) own desire.” [James 1:13-14]

How many here remember that old 70’s T.V. show Hee-Haw?  In one skit, old Doc Campbell is confronted by a patient who says he broke his arm in two places, to which the doc replies, “Well then stay out of them places!”  The point is, we can’t regularly put ourselves in the face of temptation and not be affected.  You can’t pray “Lead us not into temptation” and then go right in!  God did not lead you there, you did, and this is the test.  Will you follow God’s leading our your own selfish desires and lust.  Scripture says, “Resist the devil, and he will flee from you.” [James 4:8] How do you resist the devil?  Repent!  Turn away from your sinful desires and thoughts and turn to Jesus.

Turn to Jesus as your source of strength during times of testing.  Turn to Jesus as your shield in times of temptation.  And when you fail and fall into sin, and you will fail, turn to Jesus as your source of repentance, forgiveness, and faith.

Now I can’t close this message without addressing one last question from our assigned readings this morning, and it is this: Why was Jesus baptized?  Wasn’t he perfect?  Yes friends, Jesus was perfect and He was baptized in order to fulfill all God’s righteous demands on us.  How did He do this?  By walking the slow and painful course that ended in His bloody death upon the cross.  His walk started at the banks of the Jordan River where He received John’s baptism of repentance for your sins.  It was your sins that moved the Holy Spirit to drive Him into the wilderness to be tempted for 40 days by the devil.  There he withstood every temptation imaginable and He defeated every attack that Satan threw at Him.  And when He had defeated that prince of evil, He put Him on notice that each of you had a new champion that fights for you, and His name is Jesus Christ the Holy Son of God, and wherever you go, He goes with you!  But His walk did not end in the wilderness; no, His final battle with sin, death, and the devil would take Him to Golgotha, where He suffered and died for you!  Why?  So that you might realize that where ever you go, Jesus walks with you, allowing you to experience God’s love for you through the hearing of His Word of life, which then continually moves you to repent, believe and receive eternal life…and that through this gift of eternal life you might choose to live your life here abundantly, without fear or worry. 

May God the Holy Spirit move each of our hearts by faith to know that all of these good things from our Heavenly Father are ours eternally through Jesus Christ our Lord and Savior…AMEN!