Archive for November, 2009

Sing Praise to God!

Sunday, November 29th, 2009

First Sunday of Advent, November 29, 2009
Rev. Brian Henderson-Pastor, Trinity Lutheran Church, San Diego, CA
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 Our text this morning is verses 37-38 from our Gospel lesson: “As He was drawing near—already on the way down the Mount of Olives—the whole multitude of his disciples began to rejoice and praise God with a loud voice for all the mighty works that they had seen, saying, “Blessed is the King who comes in the name of the Lord!  Peace in heaven and glory in the highest!” [Luke 19:28-40]

One Sunday morning after a worship service a woman came up to her pastor and thanked him for the encouraging sermon he had preached. In response he said, “Well, don’t thank me, give God the glory and praise the Lord.”  She said, “Well, I thought about that, but it wasn’t quite that good.”

Glory, honor, and praise…these are words we use so easily on Sunday mornings when we are around other Christians.  The words seem to flow so naturally from our lips, don’t they?  It is good, right, and salutary (that means beneficial), that we should at all times and in all places give thanks to our Lord, our heavenly king!  But what does it mean when we say that Jesus is our King?  This morning, our message will answer that very question.

I. In our gospel lesson this morning we see the people proclaiming Jesus as their king, and surprisingly Jesus this time accepts their praise.  In the past, the people tried to force their idea of a king on Jesus.  For example, remember after the feeding of the 5,000 how they wanted to grab Him and make Him their king.  Did Jesus allow them to do this?  No, but what did He do?  Why He disappeared; He quickly left them because their idea of a king was limited to earthly reasons and it lacked the Heavenly will of God.  They wanted Jesus to smash the government of Rome, destroy the oppressive system of taxation, conquer Cesar, and rule as their sovereign king…a Jewish king for Jewish people!

Could Jesus have done these things?  Sure… but that would not have been in keeping with God’s will.  In just a few short days after the occurrences of our gospel reading, Jesus would be standing in front of Pontius Pilate explaining this same truth.  As He was standing before Pilate, the very man that could free Him, Pilate asked our Lord,  “Are you the King of the Jews?” Jesus answered, “My kingdom is not of this world. If my kingdom were of this world, my servants would have been fighting, that I might not be delivered over to the Jews. But my kingdom is not from the world.”  Then Pilate said to him, “So you are a king?” Jesus answered, “You say that I am a king. For this purpose I was born and for this purpose I have come into the world—to bear witness to the truth.  Everyone who is of the truth listens to my voice.”

II. So what is the truth?  What kind of king is Jesus?  Since it is good, right, and salutary that we should praise Him as our king, then we want to praise Him according to His will.  Well for the answer to this question let’s turn once again to His disciples.  On the day He entered Jerusalem for the last time until His return to make all things new, the crowd of His followers got it right.  Listen to their cries as their Lord triumphantly enters the Holy City: “Hosanna! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord! Blessed is the coming kingdom of our father David! Hosanna in the highest!”[Mk. 11] “Blessed is the King who comes in the name of the Lord! Peace in heaven and glory in the highest!” [Lk. 19] “Hosanna! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord, even the King of Israel!” [Jn. 12]  In these words friends, Jesus’ disciples were essentially asking for God’s idea of a king.  They were in essence praying the Lord’s prayer…they were saying, “Thy kingdom come… Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.”  They knew that they needed a savior, one who could restore God’s heavenly kingdom on earth—they needed a Messiah!  Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord… Blessed is He who comes to bring heaven’s peace to men…together they were giving glory to God for this type of king!

They didn’t need a kingdom of earthly power; they needed one of Heavenly power…they needed a Messiah… a Savior.  Only this kind of king could bring them and us what we really need, peace with our creator.  Jesus isn’t a worldly king; He isn’t a rival to Caesar or Herod.  Jesus kingdom is not like David or Solomon.  His is a kingdom of heavenly power.  His kingship and kingdom are far greater than anything we could ever imagine; because you see, His kingdom isn’t limited to any country or region on earth, but it includes the entire universe, and it extends to all of creation… visible and invisible.  Jesus says Himself, “All power is given to me in heaven and in earth.” [Matt. 28:18]  Scripture in other places describes His kingdom like this: “There is nothing that is not under Him” [Heb. 2:8] “All things have been put under his feet.”[Eph. 1:22; 1 Cor. 15:25] and He upholds all things by Word of His power.” [Heb. 1:3]

But Jesus brings us much more than heavenly power; He also brings us God’s own love… He brings us grace.  This kingdom of grace is God’s undeserved and unearned love for you.  It is so sure, so strong, and so powerful that nothing can separate you from the love of God through Christ Jesus.  The mighty and oppressive government of the Roman empire has passed away, but the kingdom of He who was crucified for you has continued and flourished in spite of bloody persecution, bitter ridicule, terrible heresy, and the foolish teachings of academia.  Why?  Because it is a kingdom that rests on God’s Word and work within you. 

 It is God’s promise of love and forgiveness that wins sinners for the kingdom of heaven; it is the receiving of God’s pardon that turns them into saints…people who are willingly obedient to their new king.  The real essence of this kingdom isn’t like a congregation or even a denomination, but the “kingdom of God is within you” [Lk. 17:20-21]; it is the rule of Jesus Christ within the hearts of His believers.  It is a kingdom that finds its origins in the Word of God which teaches of divine love and forgiveness.  It is a kingdom that gives wholly as a gift the work of faith which leads a heart to believe that God is for them and not against them.  It is a kingdom that is governed by a King who desires that each of His subjects who He calls friend and child value a personal relationship with Him higher than anything else.  And when you are a subject of this kingdom of grace, the king promises you that He will live and work through you in such a way that you will never be the same.  How can all of this be true?  Because God’s kingdom is also a kingdom of glory and it is our changed lives that give Him that glory!

This kingdom of glory did not originate on earth, but it was truly expressed to sinful man here… here at the cross.  It was a kingdom that through the power of God the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, that God’s love was shown to us in this, “that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” and He rose for us! [Rom. 5:8]  Because of this one act of love, God has assured that those who have been faithful unto death shall follow Him into His kingdom and be crowned with glory and honor [Phil. 3:21; Rom. 8:18] 

III. But for now, we wait for this kingdom in a sinful world… a world where greed, pride, lust, envy and the like seem to rule.  It is a world which taxes its people with sickness, death, and heartbreak.  But we can wait still with expectant joy, because we know that we are just strangers here, and heaven is our true home.  And as we live out our lives here in this place as His ambassadors, we wait with excitement because we know our king is coming soon to take us home.  And when He comes to us He will come as our conquering Hero; a king who has destroyed sin and death, and smashed the head of the tyrant prince, the devil.

Let me close with the story of a determined rooster.  He lived on a farm in Oklahoma.  One day a terrible storm and tornado hit that farm and destroyed the entire chicken coop.  There were dead chickens, destruction and devastation scattered everywhere.  While standing dazed, evaluating the mess and wondering about the future, the farmer and his wife heard a stirring in the lumber pile that was the remains of the henhouse. The rooster had survived and he was climbing up through the debris, and he didn’t stop climbing until he had mounted the highest board in the pile. That old rooster was dripping wet, and most of his feathers were blown away. But as the sun came over the eastern horizon, he flapped his bony wings and proudly crowed.

 Friends, that old, wet, bare rooster could still crow when he saw the morning sun. And like that rooster, our world may be falling apart, we may feel like we’ve lost everything, but if we trust in our Messiah, our Prince of Peace, we’ll be able to see the light of God’s goodness and by faith in He who is faithful, we to will rise out of the rubble of this world, and shout Hosanna!  Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord!  Blessed is Jesus our King and our Savior!

 Jesus is coming….He is coming indeed!  Maranatha…come Lord come!  AMEN!!

How Are You Thankful?

Thursday, November 26th, 2009

Rev. Brian Henderson, Pastor-Trinity Lutheran Church, San Diego, CA
Thanksgiving Eve’ November 25, 2009
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Luke 17: 15One of them, when he saw he was healed, came back, praising God in a loud voice. 16He threw himself at Jesus’ feet and thanked him–and he was a Samaritan.

INRODUCTION: Allow me to pose a question to you:  Are you “Faithfully thankful” or “Thankfully faithful?”  Now this may seem like a play on words, but how you answer can have a great impact on how you approach God.  Tonight, it’s my hope that by the end of this message God will realign your heart and your faith so that you will leave here not only more thankful, but more importantly more faithful! 

I. Aside from our Savior, the main character in our Gospel lesson this evening is a Samaritan.  He is one of 10 lepers that cried out to Jesus for mercy.  We must understand that during the time of our Gospel reading, lepers were common and they usually wandered in groups.  They were required to wear a bell or clang a symbol or beat a drum and call out “Unclean, I am unclean.”  In this condition, they rarely could find work and relied on the charity of others.  The assumption then is that they were expecting food or money from Jesus and His disciples; all but one that is!  You see, the Samaritan saw past his immediate need and he set his heart on something more than just temporary help; he was centered on spiritual things; he needed a clean heart and a right relationship with God.

While this encounter was a historical occurrence, it also can be used to teach us something of ourselves.  The Samaritan leper represents you and me, and indeed all of mankind, who are according to Jesus’ appraisal of the Samaritan in verse 18, foreigners.  We really are foreign to God’s perfect righteousness, and considered unclean or unholy because of our common disease, “sin.”   Just as the 10 lepers together cried out to Jesus for mercy, we too cry out to God for help, but the cry of a true Christian, like that of the Samaritan is one that seeks something more than just help with physical needs.  In our worship on Sunday morning, we all call out to God this way when we sing the Kyrie, which means “Lord have mercy.”  Like the 10 lepers, maybe not all of us were asking for the same things.  Let me show you what I mean.

 If you notice in verses 16 and 17, there were 10 lepers who cried to God for mercy, but only one returned to Jesus to thank Him and glorify His name.  We read: “One of them, when he saw he was healed, came back, praising God in a loud voice. He threw himself at Jesus’ feet and thanked him–and he was a Samaritan.”  I submit to you that this Samaritan leper was asking God for much more than money or food.

 Now, while it’s true, that all 10 were healed of their leprosy, only one found the gift of faith and only one returned to worship Jesus.  Only one heard Jesus say, “Your faith has made you well.”  So what about the other nine? What healed them? Obviously, the answer is Jesus, but it would seem that faith was not a requirement to receive healing from Jesus! It would seem that the nine received a miracle without faith.

This teaching is in contrast to a common false teaching of the “word of faith movement” or the “name it and claim it” crowd, who say that “If you just had enough faith, God would heal you.”  Here we have an occurrence where faith is not mentioned before the healings, but comes afterwards. Did the other nine, who are not told, “Your faith has made you well” suddenly have their leprosy return?  I doubt that!  No, what we have here is a story of ten being healed and only one being saved.

 The Samaritan was not only cleansed, but on account of faith he gained something much more precious, salvation through Christ Jesus.  Somehow, Jesus removed the veil of the world from the eyes of the Samaritan; the veil that hides the truth that Jesus is true God.  He allowed the Samaritan to see Him as Lord and Savior, and as God and Redeemer.  This seeing comes only after God grants us the eyes of faith.

Christianity is a walk of faith, and faith is the gift of seeing Jesus Christ as He truly is; as He has revealed Himself to Christians in the past and as He still reveals Himself to us, the living yet crucified and resurrected Son of God.  This seeing things as God says they are and not as they appear, is not something that people outside of Jesus can understand.  It is completely foreign to them.  Try explaining to your unsaved family and friends that in communion, while we receive bread and wine we also receive the body and blood of Christ.  This eating and drinking of our God is a difficult thing to grasp without the eyes of faith.  We Christians see differently because God sees things differently, and that is why our prayer, our worship, our actions, our whole way of being in the world, has its own distinctive accent and flavor.

 Why did the Samaritan leper return and worship God at the feet of Jesus?  Because when the Samaritan cried out “Have mercy,” his heart was crying out to God for much more than a healing from a skin disease, he was searching for right relationship with his God.  Do you see a need for the love and forgiveness of Jesus in your life?  Do you have faith to believe that God hears your cry of mercy and accepts that as praise?  How is crying out to God “Have mercy” a cry of praise?  Because you are confessing to God that you are broken in sin and that you need His help.  You are praising Him for being your only hope.    Do you have faith in the completed work of Jesus or are you still counting on something else?  Friends, faith IS that something else!

 II. OK Pastor…this is Thanksgiving! So what about Thankfulness?  Well let’s look at that.  In our text this evening, we see God consistently acting with how He always acts, namely, FIRST! When we see this truth, then our proper response to God’s actions is praise and thanksgiving – because we see God’s hand in what has happened.

 God did not tell us, “If you only had enough faith, I would send Jesus to suffer and die for your sins.” No, it was because we had no faith that he sent us Jesus. As Paul writes in Romans 5:8: “God proves his love for us in that while we still were sinners Christ died for us.”  God doesn’t wait for us to have enough faith. God acts first. God’s actions lead to a faithful response.  Are you being led by faith?  Are you truly thankful for what God has done for you?  Have you like Naaman and the Samaritan lepper, laid your time, talent and treasure at the feet of Jesus?

Do we as Americans take God’s blessings for granted?  I know I do!  I remember in 1984, after a four year tour of duty in the Philippines and Thailand, I finally returned to the United States.  I had become so much more thankful for many things we often take for granted in America: flush toilets, running water, drinkable water, gasoline stations, paved roads. Shouldn’t we thank God that we have such good things in our lives?

 All people have been created by God. Many people (and most Americans) have food and clothing, home and family, daily work, and all that they need from day to day. I believe that God protects many people — believers and non-believers alike in times of danger and He for the most part, guards them from a lot of evil. No one deserves this, yet God’s “fatherly and divine goodness and mercy” touches many, many people. How are believers different from the rest of humanity?  Well, we are like that one leper; when we recognize God’s hand in the good that we have, we respond with thanks and praise to Him through Jesus Christ. We respond by loving God and serving Him.

 III. Do you remember when I asked you if you were faithfully thankful or thankfully faithful?  Perhaps by now you have figured out which is the correct response or which one applies to you.  If not let me apply it to all of us.  If I am continually remembering to thank God for all of the “blessings” or good things in my life, I am being faithful in performing the act of thankfulness.  On the surface, this seems to be a good thing; anyone who observes this would quickly agree that I am a good Christian.  But does that make me a Christian?  Does that really make you a Christian?  No, it makes you religious.  Mormons, Muslims, Jehovah Witnesses and Buddhists are continually thanking their god for the many blessings in their lives.  They do not realize that God’s goodness is expressed to everyone of His creatures, even if they have rejected Him! 

 Now let’s reverse the order and look at it from a different perspective.  What if you came to the realization that you, the real you, the one that no one else really knows but you, was completely sinful.  You realized that your thoughts continue to give you away as a sinner.  Perhaps you have said this to yourself before: “Thank goodness no one knows what I was just thinking.”  Maybe you also realize that some of the things you do when no one else is around are shameful and self serving.  If all of us are honest with ourselves and God, we must all admit that we are sinful.  If this is your true confession, then you are crying out to God for help, because faith has let you see that you are caught up in sin and you can’t get out of it on your own—by faith your heart knows that you need God’s help!  This same heart of faith then hears the Gospel Word of God’s love and forgiveness and it clings to His love through the work of Jesus Christ alone.  This same faith then leads you to hear the Word of God spoken through the pastor, “In the stead and by the command of my Lord Jesus Christ I forgive you all your sins in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit,” and it grabs onto it and finds eternal peace with God.  This then is what makes us thankful, believing in and trusting in the completed work of Jesus Christ!  And when God does this work friends, you’re never the same! Friends, believing in Jesus, having faith in He who is faithful, is what frees you from your worries and you become eternally thankful that you have been given the gift of faith; you then are thankfully faithful!

Watch and Wait

Sunday, November 22nd, 2009

Last Sunday of the Church Year, November 22, 2009
Rev. Brian Henderson-Pastor, Trinity Lutheran Church, San Diego, CA
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Our text this morning is verse6 from our Old Testament lesson: “Lift up your eyes to the heavens, and look at the earth beneath; for the heavens vanish like smoke, the earth will wear out like a garment, and they who dwell in it will die in like manner; but my salvation will be forever, and my righteousness will never be dismayed.” [Isaiah 51:6]

Are you afraid of these words?  It is my prayer that you aren’t, and it is God’s desire that in these words you would find comfort, and an opportunity to be thankful and joyful.  Jesus is coming!  During the Easter season our standard greeting is “He is risen!  He is risen indeed!”  This morning our greeting should be, “He is coming!  He is coming indeed!”  “But Pastor, it’s not the same” you say.  “I just can’t get excited about the end of the world.”

 Well no wonder, Hollywood and our society is doing all it can to make you believe that the end of the world is something to be feared.  They are making a lot of money off of this fear.  Last week, the movie 2012 opened and it is selling a lot of tickets.  It’s a movie about the end of the world.  It’s based on a supposed prophetic ancient Mayan calendar, which indicates that the world will come to an end on December 21, 2012. In their sales hype, they promise that “2012” is an epic adventure about a global cataclysm that brings an end to the world and it portrays the heroic struggle of the survivors.  Survivors?  What survivors!?  Wait a minute, God’s Word tells us this morning that nothing will survive.  It is the end of not just the world but also the heavens!  Well, Hollywood has never let a little thing like God’s true Word get in the way of making a lot of money.  If you’ve seen the trailer for the film, it asks this question: “How would the world governments prepare over 6 Billion people for the end of the world?”  Answer: THEY WOULDN’T—Our Answer: BUT GOD HAS!  Together, let’s turn to God’s Word to discover just how He is preparing us.

 In our gospel reading Jesus is getting ready to expound on what Isaiah spoke of in our Old Testament lesson.  It is the Tuesday before Good Friday; Jesus and His apostles are on Mt. Olivet and He is teaching them about what will come; about the last things.  Listen, “But in those days, after the tribulation, the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light, and the stars will be falling from heaven, and the powers in the heavens will be shaken.”  In order to understand these words completely, we must first understand a little something about the tribulation.  The tribulation is now!  Every moment since Jesus ascended into heaven with the promise of His return we Christians have been battered, bruised, and attacked by sin, death, and the devil.  We are like sheep being led to the slaughter.  When others have taken eye for eye and tooth for tooth, those of us who are trusting in our Lord’s return have tried to turn the other cheek. 

In many of the Muslim controlled parts of Africa, Christians are being slaughtered for their faith.  In countries like Iraq and Turkey, where there were once millions of Christians, now there are only Thousands.  What happened to all of them?  Well many were murdered at the point of a Muslim sword.  And in this country, we are told ever more assertively by a politically correct society to sit down and shut up!  They would have us believe that our gospel message of hope is no longer relative in an all-inclusive modern society.

 Yes, we Christians really are good at being sheep led to the slaughter.  Why?  Because we will not be silence… we cannot be silenced.  Because we are watching and waiting for our Lord to return—because we have been ordered to warn others of God’s judgment and the only source of hope—the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ!  Do you see the tension?  This is the tribulation.  It is our time of testing… a time of suffering.  But what is that when we compare it to our Lord’s own suffering upon the cross for us? 

 And now with His own suffering in mind in just a few short days, and our future suffering in this present tribulation, Jesus continues: “And then they (those who are alive) will see the Son of Man coming in clouds with great power and glory.  And He will send out the angels and gather His elect from the four winds, from the ends of the earth to the ends of heaven.”  He is coming!  He is coming indeed!  “But when Lord?”  Jesus knew that this was the question that everyone of His apostles were asking within their hearts.  He knows that it is the question that you ask within your own.  And to this He answers, “From the fig tree learn its lesson.” 

Now some might be wondering why Jesus did not just speak plainly?  Why can’t He just tell it like it is?  Well He is!  Think about this—when the fruit trees blossom in the spring you know that summer is coming.  And in the summer, what will those fruit trees provide?  Fruit!  Earlier in his conversations with the apostles Jesus was talking about earthquakes and famines… wars and rumors of wars.  Have we seen our fair share of these?  Yes!  These are the blossoms.  They are the tribulation.  So when we see these things we know that the end is at hand.  It is very soon!  The end of all things is the fruit that is certainly coming… the final judgment.  Those who are trusting in God’s love and mercy through Christ will be rewarded and those who are not will be eternally punished.  So watch and wait! 

 And still our sinful hearts ask, “But when Lord?!”  And to this Jesus answers most seriously, “Truly, I say to you, this generation will not pass away until all these things take place.  Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words (mark my words) will not pass away.  (It will happen!)  “What generation does Jesus mean” we might ask?  If he meant the apostles, well they’ve been dead for almost two thousand years!  Well then obviously He didn’t mean the apostles generation.  So what other generation is there?  Why none other than the very one that still rejects the gospel today.  The very people that crucified the Messiah they were waiting for, and are still praying for today!  The Jewish people! 

Oh how it broke our Lord’s heart when He looked over the city of Jerusalem and wept for them saying, “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it!  How often would I have gathered your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you would not!” [Matt. 23:37]

Ah, but your weak faith is still asking when Lord, isn’t it?  Very well, and to this Jesus finally answers, “Concerning that day or that hour, no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father.”  And to this many people scratch their heads and say, “But you are God!  I can see the angels not knowing, but you?  How can this be?!”  And here we must relearn a little something about our Lord’s two natures.  Jesus is indeed very God!  In their essential oneness the three persons, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit know all things equally and do all things in complete agreement.  But Jesus is also very man.  He had to be man in order to pay for your sins.  He intentionally chose to enter a state of humiliation out of love for the Father and out of His love for us.  In this state of humiliation Jesus also chose not to use His divine attributes unless they were needed to bring God’s peace.  That’s why there on Mt. Olivet, as He was teaching His apostles, He did not know the day nor the hour—He chose not to know.  Listen friends, knowledge will not bring you peace with God, but instead it is faith, trust in Jesus’ own Words that will bring you that peace!  We cannot understand this deliberate restriction of Jesus’ power because we are not God, so we simply allow it to remain a mystery, but one thing we do know, now that our Lord has returned to Heaven, He knows precisely when He will come again to bring an end to the old and make all things new!

 And now, Jesus closes our message this morning with these Words: “Be on guard, keep awake.  For you do not know when the time will come.”  Now since you have mastered Jesus’ last story, He is eager to use just one more story make this promise of the end times stick in our hard hearts.  Listen, “It is like a man going on a journey, when he leaves home and puts his servant is charge, each with his work, and commands the doorkeeper to stay awake.”  Do you get what Jesus is saying?  Good, “Therefore” he says, “stay awake—for you do not know when the master of the house will come, in the evening, or at midnight, or when the rooster crows, or in the morning—lest he come suddenly and find you asleep.”

Friends, Jesus is THE man!  He is not the man frightening us or keeping us down but the man who has called us into His very home and given us safety, comfort, and salvation!  In our own baptisms we were freed from all fear of sin death, and the devils…even fear of the end of the world.  In our baptisms, He has made us the servants of a very kind and loving God.  He has given each of us a calling.  In whatever station of life we find ourselves in, we are to live and work as if we are doing it all just for Jesus!  We don’t work to please our master so that He will continue to be kind and loving, but instead we work for Him because He is kind and loving.  It is the very essence of our new baptized natures to do this very thing.

Finally we must ask, “Who is the doorkeeper?  Is it the pastor?”  Yes, but it is also you!  Listen again to Jesus’ Words: “And what I say to you I say to all: Stay awake.”  He says it to all of us.  We must stay awake and watch.  Watch for the signs of the age.  Stay awake in the tribulation and wait eagerly for Jesus to come and take us home.  Home to a place where there is no more humiliation, fear, suffering, or pain.  Home to a place where every tear will be eternally dried.  But staying awake is difficult, because after all, we are but weak flesh.  The apostles would soon find out just how hard it was to remain alert and awake in the Garden of Gethsemane.  Jesus asked them as He prayed in agony waiting to be arrested and executed upon the cross, to stay awake with Him and pray…they could not… they were weak… they were but flesh.  So how do we weaklings summon the strength to wait and watch for our Lord?  By living and walking in our new nature… our baptismal nature.  We wait and watch for Jesus return by asking Him to wait and watch with us.

 You see friends, only God never sleeps. He watches us at all times.  He keeps us in Hs care, in His love and mercy, but He does it with His means.  What are those means?  They are His Holy Word and sacraments.  We are to watch and hold onto God’s pure Word (Law & Gospel).  We are to watch over our spiritual condition by living out our baptismal lives where ever he has placed us.  We are to hunger for His Holy meal where through His precious body and blood our sins are not only forgiven but our faith is strengthened.  We are to gather regularly together at the only place where these gifts are lavished upon us… we are to gather as His church.  We are to gather at His cross where His suffering and humiliation ended in His resurrection and His exhalation.  And when we gather, we are to remember that our own humiliation and tribulation will soon end.  It will either end in the blink of an eye when Jesus comes and the heavens and earth are destroyed or when we close our eyes for the last time in death, leaving this veil of tears mixed with joy.  Either way, we wait and we watch, and we say, “He is coming.  He is coming indeed!”

 And now, may the peace of God, which passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus…AMEN!

Faith, the Essential Ingredient!

Sunday, November 15th, 2009

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

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 Him.  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 the 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 were 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. For a moment friends, let’s think back to the 2nd chapter of Nehemiah, when he was finally given the opportunity to present his God given vision to the king.  Nehemiah’s faith must have been  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 to these words from our Old Testament reading this morning  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.  Do you want to avoid the trap of pride?  Then allow God, through your faith in Him, lead you to remember that your inadequacies always need to turn towards 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! 

Nowhere is this proven truer than in how we approach God’s means of grace.  Within these Holy things of God there is a real danger of us taking His real presence in our lives within these things with a nonchalant attitude or even contempt.  Why do you love God?  Because His Word tells you that He first loved you!  Why do you feel free from God’s wrath and the conviction of His Law?  Because He saved you from these things in your baptism!  Why do you see yourself growing in faith and strength to choose the right over the wrong?  Not because you are such a clever and strong person, but because He feeds you with His very body and blood, there at His table.  He feeds you this wonderful meal so that you will continue to experience His love and forgiveness stronger each day!  He is the One working within you!  You have nothing to brag about or feel clever over!  It is God and God alone who saved you, and it will be God alone who will complete that salvation… so stay close to Him and His means of grace!

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 be many more test of their faith as they continued the task of guarding the city and reinstituting temple worship.  And oh yes, the attacks from Sanbalat and Tobiah 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: As we close our series on vision this morning, let me ask you to consider just one more thought, which can be found in our gospel lesson. There we happen upon a desperate father whose son had been possessed by a demon.  Now what is important to remember is that 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!”

Dear 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 even our 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, I pray that you will let the Lord take your empty hand of faith and fill and lead you out of your fears and hopelessness 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!

Sunday, November 8th, 2009

The God of How![i]
Rev. Brian Henderson, Pastor-Trinity Lutheran Church, San Diego, CA
November 8, 2009
Click here for audio of this message.

In our gospel reading this morning, 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: The Providence of God, The Two natures (God and Man) of Jesus Christ, Teaching the Faith, Service to Others, and Care for Others.  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 He could debrief them and give them some well needed rest and food. 

So off they went to get away, but alas, the crowds saw where they were going and they followed.  It seemed 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 (Jesus) 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 in our Old Testament lesson this morning, 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!

Nehemiah knew the answer to “what must be done” before He knew the answer to how it would be done.  He knew that the wall and the Temple in Jerusalem must be rebuilt, but he had to wait 6 months before God intervened and moved the heart of the king to sponsor and finance his vision. 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”!

Friends, when God puts something in our 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 and try to think of any instance where it was the responsibility of a man or woman to figure out how to implement a divine 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!  Listen: “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 the Son came to this world, in our own flesh and lived the perfect life that we must live but cannot.  Through Jesus Christ, God suffered and died for you.  This was the 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 of 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!

Finally, let’s talk about 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 if it is in keeping with the will of God!

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 He has given to us.  We must ask God to help us focus on what He has called us to do, not on what He needs to do or How He is going to pull it off.

 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 the God of how!


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

Positions Please!

Sunday, November 1st, 2009

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

In our gospel reading this morning, 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 had been stricken by a paralyzing disease.  They had sought help in many circles, but physicians, rabbis, and priests were unable to restore the health of their fallen comrade.  But they had not given up…they still had a vision of restored health and community. They had faith that God would restore all that had been lost.  But how God would 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 from 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 way, 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 they kept their eyes focused directly on their source of only source of hope—Jesus!  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 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]  The “good hand” of his God was upon him friends, and God’s good and gracious hand has been upon each and every one of you who have been cleansed and made new in the Holy waters of your baptism.  His hand has ensured that you have been saved through the hearing and preaching of His gospel.  By the gift of faith, you may say along with Nehemiah that “the good hand of my Gracious God has always been upon me!”  What a way to live and spend your life—knowing that whatever may happen around you, God’s good and gracious hand is always guiding your way!

II. You know, 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!  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 a government like the kings 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 friends 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.  We read: “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.  Hopefully we are all praying together for 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.  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 desire to see the vision become a reality.  Like Nehemiah, the thing that 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, smack dab in the middle of a crisis and 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.  Now doubters may ask if this is enough for you to follow a vision, and faith answers, “Yes, with the help of God!”

CONCLUSION: Friends, we don’t know what God is up to behind the scenes of our lives, but God’s Word gives us 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 right now He is fulfilling His purpose within you and around you.  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 pray that you will find comfort, strength and encouragement in these words as you continue to seek out God’s vision and will for you and His church, even our beloved Trinity Lutheran Church.  And I ask this in Jesus name…AMEN!